1

From a perch high above the Piraka, the six Matoran prepared their first strike. Two of the enemies, Reidak and Hakann, had already departed, heading west. This was fine as far as Garan was concerned – the fewer obstacles to this operation, the better.

“Vezok put his launcher down,” he said to Balta. “Get down there and grab it. If you can’t, at least make sure you get one of those spheres. My guess is they have something to do with what happened to our friends. If we can capture one, maybe we can figure out what it is and how to undo what it’s done.”

Balta nodded and disappeared into the night. Garan mentally counted down the seconds. If everything went as planned, Balta would be there and back with no problem. If something went wrong, his Ta-Matoran friend was as good as dead.

“Thirty seconds,” he said to the others. “Get in position. We’ll see if Velika was right about that pebble.”

“Garan, look!” said Kazi. “To the west – are those fire bolts?”

Down below, Zaktan was asking the same question. Avak’s eyes glowed as his telescopic vision focused on the scene in the distance. After a moment, he shook his head.

“You’re not going to like it,” he reported. “We have company. And thanks to Reidak being careless about where he throws his boulders, they know we’re here.”

Zaktan didn’t need to be able to see the sight for himself to know what Avak meant. “Toa,” he spat as if the word were poison in his mouth.

“About time,” said Vezok. “I was beginning to think we were never going to get any action here.”

A rumble sounded above them, rapidly growing until it sounded like thunder. The Piraka whirled around. A sudden lightning bolt illuminated a huge rockslide heading right for them. The first of the boulders hit an outcropping, bounced, and flew right toward Zaktan. The green Piraka’s body separated into its trillion component parts, each flying away from where he had been standing so that the rock passed right through. Then he reformed, anger twisting his features.

“Scatter!” he commanded.

Balta waited until the last possible moment. The boulders were almost on top of him as he darted forward, his eyes fixed on Vezok’s launcher. The Piraka were diving for cover, apparently unwilling to gamble that their powers would be enough to stop an avalanche.

The Ta-Matoran reached the launcher just as Vezok realized he had forgotten his weapon. He turned to see Balta stealing it.

The Piraka charged. Balta grabbed one of the spheres and took off up the slope. Once out of the circle of torchlight, the Matoran had the cover of darkness to conceal his flight. Vezok started to pursue, then turned to retrieve his launcher. By the time he got it, Balta was long gone.

Toa and little Matoran thieves, he said to himself. Now this is more like it.

“You idiot! You moron!” Hakann raged. “You stupid, incompetent –”

Reidak grabbed him by the throat and choked his words off. “I really don’t think you want to finish that sentence.”

The two Piraka were crouched behind a huge boulder as fire and ice bolts flew by them. Reidak waited until Hakann’s arms started flailing in panic before releasing his hold.

“Now. You were saying…?” the black Piraka snarled.

Hakann coughed violently. “I was saying… it was an honest mistake. Anyone could have made it.” His apologetic tone differed wildly from the fury in his eyes.

“That’s better.”

“If I can make a suggestion,” Hakann said, as an ice dart chipped off part of the rock by his head. “The next time we see six obvious Toa heading for us, don’t start throwing half the mountain at them. You know what they say: An ambush is worth a thousand rocks.”

“I never saw Toa with armor like that,” said Reidak. “Or weird-looking masks like the ones they’re wearing.”

“If it walks like a Toa, and throws fireballs like a Toa, it’s a Toa,” Hakann replied. “But you have a point about their appearance. Who are those guys?”

“I don’t know who they are,” said Tahu. “We can ask them after they’re captured.”

“Enough fire and ice will drive them from their hiding place,” Kopaka said. “Then we can find out why they attacked us.”

Pohatu stepped in between the two Toa Nuva. “Um, they’re hiding behind a rock,” he said. “Remember me? I’m Pohatu. I do rock.”

The Toa Nuva of Stone reached out with his elemental powers, seeking the planes of the rock and its weakest points. Then, using his control of the molecules of stone, he made the massive boulder fracture and fall apart. Now the Toa Nuva’s enemies stood revealed.

“There,” said Pohatu, smiling. “Not as flashy as an ice bolt, I guess, but…”

“But results are what matter,” agreed Kopaka.

The red-armored figure unlimbered a weapon and began hurling balls of molten lava at the assembled Toa Nuva. Tahu stepped out in front of the group, saying, “Oh. Lava. If that’s the best they can do, this will be a short fight.”

Tahu raised one of his magma swords, prepared to swat the incoming missiles away. As he did so, Hakann’s eyes glowed. The Piraka’s heat vision struck the ground at Tahu’s feet, turning the stone to magma. It was Lewa Nuva who spotted it and grabbed the Toa of Fire’s arm, yanking him away from the pool.

“News,” said the Toa of Air. “Not going to be a short fight.”

The black-armored figure charged down the slope, bellowing. Onua concentrated and sent a column of earth slamming into the oncoming foe, knocking him senseless.

“One down,” he announced. “Who wants the red one?”

Gali pointed to the downed Piraka, who was already stirring. “He’s getting back up. Is he supposed to do that?”

Onua shook his head. “That was enough force to knock out a Kane-Ra bull. Must have just hit him at the wrong angle.”

The Toa Nuva of Earth sent his elemental energy forth again. This time, the hammer of earth was twice the size as before and struck Reidak dead-on. When the dust and dirt had cleared, the black Piraka stood unharmed.

“I know we haven’t had a real fight since the Rahkshi, but this is getting ridiculous,” Tahu grumbled. “Six of us. Two of them. Let’s do this.”

Zaktan had ordered the remaining Piraka to split up. Vezok and Thok were to go after the Matoran thief and recover the sphere. Avak was to stay and keep an eye on the Matoran slaves and make sure they kept working. Zaktan himself would go to the aid of Hakann and Reidak.

“Two of us for one Matoran?” complained Vezok. “The fight is down below, not up here.”

“That’s right,” said Thok. “The only six beings with the power to rival ours are down below, and Zaktan is going to confront them. Imagine what would happen if he won them over to his side?”

The idea wormed its way into Vezok’s mind, trailing suspicion and anger in its wake. “We wouldn’t have a chance. With six Toa behind him, Zaktan couldn’t be stopped. But who are we kidding? No Toa is ever going to ally with him.”

“I know that. You know that. But do the Toa know that? We’re all on a barren piece of rock in the middle of nowhere, and probably all after the same thing. In a place like this, you find friends where you can.”

Vezok stopped climbing and looked at Thok. “So, what are you saying?”

“I’m saying, if the Toa don’t demolish Zaktan, maybe we should.”

“Avak tried that,” answered Vezok. “He got nowhere. And why should I trust you, anyway?”

Thok laughed. “No reason. No reason at all.”

It was worse than Zaktan feared. Six Toa… no, not just Toa…

Toa Nuva.

The green-armored figure paused, puzzled. How had he known that name? And what did it mean?

He decided neither mattered. What was important was getting to the scene of the battle before things went horribly wrong. These Toa were no doubt on the island to retrieve the Mask of Life for themselves, and that had to be prevented.

He started forward, then stopped again. There was, in fact, very real doubt about why these Toa were here. After all, hadn’t the legendary Nidhiki been a Toa before defecting to the Dark Hunters? What if an entire team of Toa had somehow been recruited by that organization and sent to Voya Nui after the Piraka?

Or after me, Zaktan thought darkly. Of course. One of the Piraka – Hakann or Avak, most likely – made a deal with the Dark Hunters. They would get me, and maybe the others as well, and the traitor in our midst would escape with the Mask of Life.

Zaktan resumed his journey, this time walking a bit more slowly. His course of action was clear. If the Toa Nuva were working for the Dark Hunters, they would need to be captured and interrogated to find out how much they knew and which Piraka, if any, they were working with.

If, on the other hand, the Toa Nuva were only here to get their hands on the Mask of Life, everything was much simpler. They would just have to die.

Zaktan continued down the slope, trying to decide which choice he liked better.

Lewa Nuva stood, feet planted firmly on the mountainside, air katana gleaming in the moonlight. Facing him was Reidak, who did not seem to be capable of any other expression but a vicious smile.

“Why don’t you make things ever-easy and surrender?” offered Lewa. “We are Toa Nuva, after all. We quick-defeated the Rahkshi, so –”

“Rahkshi, huh?” said Reidak. Then, moving so swiftly Lewa could not react, he snatched one of the Toa’s air katana and snapped it over his knee. “I pick my teeth with Rahkshi.”

Pohatu Nuva triggered his Mask of Speed and raced toward the black Piraka so fast he was a blur. Just as he got close enough to tackle his enemy, Reidak lashed out with a backhand slap and sent the Toa Nuva of Stone tumbling back down the rocky hillside.

A sudden burst of flame blinded the Piraka. When his vision cleared, he saw Tahu, Kopaka, Gali, Onua, and Lewa all closing in on him. He glanced behind, looking for Hakann, but his teammate was gone.

“All right,” Reidak grumbled, turning back to the Toa Nuva. “Who wants to die first?”

Zaktan met the red Piraka halfway up the slope. “What are you doing?” asked the Piraka leader. “Where is Reidak?”

“Let’s say we need to do one less division of the spoils from this expedition,” Hakann replied. “Last I saw, the big idiot was surrounded by Toa, and good riddance.”

“Shall I guess?” Zaktan hissed. “He attacked the Toa for no reason. He charged into their midst when a sane being would have held back. Reidak almost begged to be captured, didn’t he?”

Hakann’s smile faded. “How did you know?”

“Because if I were planning to betray my partners to a team of Toa,” Zaktan snapped, “it’s just what I would have done.”

Reidak had been utterly defeated.

In fact, he had been utterly defeated so often, Tahu Nuva had lost count. But each time, the Piraka got back up again, stronger than before. Worse, he never seemed to grow tired. If anything, he appeared to be more and more amused.

All six Toa, individually, had brought him down, only to find their powers ineffective during his next attack. There was still the option of using their powers in combination, but if Reidak were to rise again after that and be immune to it… the thought wasn’t a pleasant one.

Tahu’s thoughts suddenly went back to another battle on a volcano, when the opponent had been the mountain itself. It would be a tough trick to pull off, but it might work. Hurriedly, he whispered his plan to Pohatu, Onua, and Lewa.

At the Toa of Fire’s signal, Pohatu grabbed Onua and called on the power of the Mask of Speed. Even as he did so, Onua triggered the power of his own Mask of Strength. Pohatu began running rapidly in circles around Reidak as Onua used his hand to slice through the rocky slope. Once the section of ground on which the Piraka stood was cut loose, Lewa used his elemental power of air to catapult both it and Reidak high into the air. At the apex of the flight, the Toa of Air abruptly cut off the flow of his power, sending Piraka and rock plunging to earth.

The impact was so great it shook the mountainside. Rock dust filled the air, making it difficult for even Onua to see. And then the Toa Nuva heard it – a sound coming from the crater more chilling than a Rahkshi’s hiss or the chittering of a Bohrok.

Reidak was laughing.

“You know, come to deep-think of it,” said Lewa Nuva, looking at his shaken partners. “The island of Mata Nui was not really so bad. Think we could go back?”

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