The Matoran resistance members led the Toa Nuva up to the main floor of the Piraka stronghold. The building was in sad shape, with entire walls blown out by the battles that had been fought there. Now all was quiet. The Matoran almost dreaded what they might see – what if the Inika had lost? To their surprise, there were no bodies to be seen.
The virus chamber had changed significantly. The crystal vat had been shattered and there was no sign of the antidermis virus anywhere. Another wall had been smashed, evidently by a being or force more powerful than any yet unleashed in the room. Even the rubble had been pulverized.
“What went through there?” wondered Kazi.
“One problem at a time,” answered Balta. “The Kanohi masks are through here.”
The Matoran watched in silence as the Toa Nuva reclaimed their masks. The act seemed to re-energize them. Tahu Nuva turned to Garan and shook the Onu-Matoran’s hand.
“We thank you,” he said. “Now where are these Toa Inika you spoke of?”
“I wish I knew,” Garan replied. “Toa Jaller said –”
“Wait a moment,” Tahu interrupted. “Toa Jaller?”
“That’s right, he and Toa Kongu and Toa Matoro –”
Lewa Nuva chuckled. “Kongu a Toa-hero? Oh, this I must see.”
“When you are finished being amused, Lewa, they may well need our help,” said Kopaka.
Garan nodded. “Here’s hoping they aren’t already beyond help.”
Zaktan smiled. “We have been awake for some time now, of course. We just felt it made more sense for you to exhaust yourselves in battle for the Mask of Life. Now that you have it, we will take it.”
“You mean you’ll try,” said Hewkii. “And fail.”
Both sides braced for the fight, but it was not to happen. The effect of the zamor sphere on Vezon and Kardas had faded. Although it left both too weak to be a threat for the moment, Kardas was not going to be defeated so easily. As the beast collapsed, it unleashed one last blast of energy that struck Matoro. The shock made him lose his grip on the Mask of Life.
The Piraka started forward, ready to scramble for the mask when it hit the ground – except it never did fall to the floor. Instead, it hovered in midair before flashing out of the chamber almost too fast for the eye to follow. It was headed back the way the Toa and Piraka had come.
Zaktan and his team turned to go after it. The Toa Inika ran forward, too, determined to get it first. “Hewkii!” Jaller shouted, pointing at the Piraka.
The Toa Inika of Stone nodded and loosed his elemental powers on the enemy. Stone vises erupted from the floor to grab all six Piraka and hold them fast. Zaktan avoided the trap by dissipating into a swarm of protodites, only to be flash-frozen in the next moment by Matoro.
“That buys us maybe ten seconds,” said Hewkii.
“Then that will have to be enough,” Jaller replied, racing up the staircase.
The six Toa Inika ran as if their very universe depended on it, for in truth it did. So fast were they moving that they did not notice the words of fire forming on the stairs beneath their feet… words that read:
Beware the depths of darkness
That wait with chill embrace,
For those doomed to dwell within the pit
Can never leave that place.
No one will know your fate
If taken by the shadowed sea,
Only whispers of the waves will say
Death has at last claimed thee.
As Hewkii had predicted, it took the Piraka only seconds to shatter their bonds. They debated for a moment whether to free Zaktan or not, then decided they would need their full strength to stop the Toa Inika.
“What about Vezon?” said Thok. “He’s still alive. Do we just leave him here?”
“No,” snarled Vezok. “We don’t.” He marched toward the Spear of Fusion, saying, “Someone use this on me and Vezon. I want to be one being again.”
“We don’t have time for that!” snapped Zaktan. “Come on!”
“No!” yelled Vezok. “We do this now!”
Zaktan nodded at Reidak. The ebon-armored Piraka reached Vezok in two quick strides and brushed him aside. Then he seized the Spear of Fusion and, before Vezok could react, broke it in two, and then broke both halves again. Satisfied, he threw the pieces at Vezok’s feet.
“There. Done. Let’s go,” said Reidak. “Or do you want some of the same?”
The Toa Inika had been lucky. Their passage back up the staircase had been unimpeded by guardians. Apparently, the mask’s protectors were in place to stop anyone from reaching the lower chamber, not those fleeing from it.
Still, the mask managed to stay just ahead of them. Attempts to use elemental powers to slow it down or stop it all met with failure. Matoro offered to unleash his spirit and have it fly ahead to see where the mask was heading, but Jaller turned him down. He wasn’t going to leave Matoro’s body unprotected on this staircase with the Piraka right behind.
The Mask of Life shot out of the stairway entrance and into a driving rainstorm. The Toa followed right after it, fighting to keep pace. The many rounds of battle, followed by this chase, had made their limbs feel like lead and their lungs burn with exhaustion.
The mask never hesitated. It shot away to the north, heading for the bay. Nuparu launched himself into the sky and flew after it, at one time almost coming close enough to grab it. It seemed like every time the mask was lost from view of the other Toa Inika, it would slow down slightly, as if it wanted them to keep up.
“It’s leading us somewhere,” Nuparu shouted down. “I don’t see any traps ahead, though.”
“If you could easy-see them,” grumbled Kongu, “then they wouldn’t be very good traps.”
The chase continued over rocky slopes until both mask and Toa reached the icy coastline. The mask flew past the edge of the land and hovered for just a moment before plunging into the water. Toa Hahli immediately went after it. As soon as she dove, Matoro’s body collapsed as his spirit went to follow her down.
The Mask of Life was easy to follow even in the murky water, for it gave off a telltale glow. Not so easy was going down after it as the pressure increased beyond even the tolerance of a Toa of Water. More than once, Hahli wished she had Toa Nuva Gali’s Mask of Water Breathing to sustain her. Her lungs were desperate for air and the mask was no closer to being in her grasp.
Suddenly, she faltered. The water pressure increased abruptly, forcing air from her lungs. Water rushed in to fill the void and Hahli began to drown. Matoro watched in horror, unable to affect her physically while in spirit form. His only hope was to flash back to the surface and get the others.
He was gone in an instant. He never saw the small shape swimming rapidly up from the depths toward Hahli.
Back on the coastline, Matoro’s body suddenly bolted up from the ground. “Hahli’s drowning!”
The other Toa made for the water, Jaller already figuring out a rescue plan. He never had to use it. Hahli’s body suddenly appeared on the surface. All five Inika wondered if they had been too late, and their companion was dead.
Then she sputtered and coughed, the sweetest sound any of the Inika had ever heard. Jaller went to pull her back to shore. That was when he noticed someone was already holding her.
A head broke the surface, wearing a Kanohi mask. It was a Matoran! Toa Jaller helped both him and Hahli to the beach. The Toa of Water was already recovering, but the Matoran collapsed as soon as he hit land.
“Who are you?” said Jaller. “Where did you come from?”
“No time,” gasped the Matoran. “Help us… city beneath the sea… help us or we’re lost…”
“What city?” asked Hewkii. “What are you talking about?”
But the Matoran wasn’t saying any more. His heartlight stopped shining and his eyes faded to black. He was dead.
The Piraka had seen the entire turn of events from up among the rocks. The Mask of Life was lost, temporarily, and the Toa Inika were exhausted and confused. It was a perfect time to strike.
“We’ll split up,” said Zaktan. “I’ll take Reidak and Vezok this way. Hakann, Thok, and Avak, attack from the left. We’ll trap them between us.”
The two teams started in opposite directions, but had gone only a little way when Avak said, “Wait! Look!”
On the edge of the jungle, the Piraka could see a most unwelcome assemblage of beings. The six Matoran who had made up the Voya Nui resistance were standing with Axonn and the freed Toa Nuva. A defeated Brutaka was being carried by some entity the Piraka did not know, and that same being was deep in conversation with Tahu Nuva. As they watched, the strange being and Brutaka vanished in a wisp of smoke.
“Does anyone think we can beat twelve Toa and Axonn, without Brutaka’s help?” asked Thok. When no one answered, he added, “Didn’t think so.”
“So that’s it? We give up?” said Reidak.
Zaktan’s protodites buzzed angrily. “No. We’ve come too far for that.”
“Not to mention that having the Mask of Life is the only thing that will keep us safe from the Dark Hunters when we leave this island,” said Hakann. “I doubt the Shadowed One was very pleased with our defection.”
“We watch,” said Zaktan. “And we wait for the perfect time to strike. Let the Toa think we are defeated and have fled Voya Nui. That is the Toa’s greatest weakness – they are always so quick to believe they have won.”
Matoro stood over the body of the dead villager. “Mata Nui watch over him.”
“He sacrificed his life to save mine,” said Toa Hahli. “That may make him a greater hero than any of us.”
“And he brought us more mysteries,” said Hewkii. “Who was this Matoran? What killed him? What city was he talking about? And why did the Mask of Life vanish beneath the waves?”
Toa Kongu shook his head. “Why do I deep-think we’re all about to go for a swim?”