Toa Nuparu had discovered a little corner of paradise beneath the sea. He, Hewkii, and Hahli had split up to search for the Mask of Life. Nuparu had found no sign of that, but he had stumbled upon a cavern full of treasures. When Hahli and Hewkii found him, he was busily testing out a multibarreled weapon that looked like something that would be mounted on an airship.
“Nuparu, what are you doing?” Hewkii demanded. The Toa of Earth turned, startled, and accidentally hit the weapon control. A minirocket blasted from the launcher, hitting the cave wall right next to Hewkii and blowing a hole in it. The Toa of Stone barely got out of the way in time.
“Um, sorry,” said Nuparu. “You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that.”
“Says the Toa wearing a Mask of Stealth,” Hewkii grumbled. “What is all this? Planning to start a war?”
“No,” said Nuparu. “Just planning to still be around when it’s over.”
The three Toa ran into Jaller and Kongu on the way back to Mahri Nui. None of them had seen any sign of the mask or had spotted Barraki during their search. But a large Takea shark with a damaged dorsal fin had been shadowing them since they reunited. The hahnah crab that was still following along behind Jaller bristled at the sight of the predator.
Nuparu and Hewkii had brought a load of the weapons from the cave. The inscriptions on the side of them read “Cordak revolving blaster.” No one had a clue who had made them, but since “cordak” was a Matoran word meaning “desolation,” it wasn’t hard to guess their intended use. Kongu immediately took two. When the others gave him questioning looks, he simply said, “Two hands.”
They expected to find Matoro waiting for them in Mahri Nui. Instead, they were met by a hail of solidified air bubbles from the city’s defenses. Defilak stood by the launchers, saying, “Turn back! We have no need for ever-friends of the Barraki here!”
“All right,” Jaller said to the others. “We don’t have time for this. Hewkii, you and I will take out the launchers, and the rest of you –”
“I know an easier way,” Hahli cut in. “Kongu, use your power – make the air inside that bubble shove him out of it.”
“What good will that do?” asked Kongu. “He has a personal air bubble around him, so he can breathe in the water. He’ll just swim back into the city.”
Hahli smiled. “Oh, no, he won’t. Do it.”
Kongu summoned his elemental control of air, creating a hurricane force wind inside the air bubble directed just at Defilak. Before the Le-Matoran could grab on to anything, he had been flung out of the protective bubble and into the ocean. Hahli shot forward and began swimming in a circle around the Matoran, faster and faster, until the force of the whirlpool had stripped his air bubble away. All Defilak had left was the air in his lungs, and even that would not last long in the vacuum Hahli was creating.
Then the world abruptly stopped spinning. A strong arm grabbed him and hurled him back inside the city’s protective bubble. It belonged to Hahli, who now hovered in front of the launchers as if daring the villagers to shoot. “You see? If I wanted you dead, you would be dead. I don’t. Neither do my friends. We’d like to help, if you would just stop shooting at us long enough to let us do it.”
“Why should I faith-trust you?” said Defilak. “Nothing in the Pit can be trusted.”
“I am not of the Pit,” said Hahli. “I am of the sea – it belongs to me, not to the Barraki or their servants. And through me, the sea belongs to you, too.”
Defilak looked into the eyes of the Toa of Water. The decision he was about to make would change the future of Mahri Nui, for good or ill. “Very well. We will lower our weapons… for now. But how will you help us?”
“The Barraki have something that belongs to us,” said Jaller. “We are going to get it back.”
“And they’re going to resist… which is just too bad for them,” said Hewkii. “Give us a hand, and maybe you’ll have six less Barraki to worry about when it’s all over.”
When Hahli spoke again, it was more gently, as she remembered the valiant Matoran of Voya Nui. “Once that’s done… there are some other friends you might want to meet. I know they will want to meet you.”
“If you are what you say you are, we have much to talk-discuss,” Defilak said. “But first, we will need to seek-find your other companion. He quick-fled into the black water and never returned… but with luck, maybe there is still a body left to recover.”
Hovering in the shadowed waters nearby, Maxilos/Makuta smiled at his Toa companion. “How sweet, Matoro,” he said. “They are willing to spare a moment to recover your corpse.”
“Perhaps we should swim over there and tell them reports of your death are… premature. But not a word about who inhabits this crimson shell – you know what I can do to your friends, if I so choose.”
Matoro looked into the dead eyes of the robotic Maxilos. It was hard to believe a being of ultimate evil hid inside that crude mechanical body. “Why? Why are you doing this to me?”
“Isn’t it obvious? It’s because you’re so good at keeping secrets.”
Far below, Nocturn had finally grown tired of staring at, handling, and tossing and catching the strange mask the Barraki had left with him. He could tell from the activity in the water around him that Ehlek and the other Barraki were planning something. Sharks and eels and squid and rays were darting every which way, getting themselves ready for action. He wished he was with them, tearing and rending and destroying enemies – always a cure for boredom.
Frustrated, he tossed the mask aside. It landed in the center of the Razor Whale’s Teeth and settled into the soft sand. Nocturn reached out to grab a passing mudfish, looking forward to the sound it made when crushed. To his disappointment, the second he touched it, the fish died.
Puzzled, he tried again, only to find the same result. At first, it was sort of exciting. After all, he was now assured an endless supply of easily caught food. But somehow it was less satisfying when they didn’t put up a fight, when the life just drained out of them in an instant.
So engrossed was Nocturn in his newfound ability that he stopped paying attention to the mask. He never noticed when a tiny blue sea creature crawled underneath the Mask of Life seeking shelter. Nor did he see the flare of energy from the mask when the little organism, called a gadunka, brushed against it. By the time he turned back to the mask, the damage was done.
Nocturn wasn’t sure whether to be angry, pleased, or fearful about this new death touch he had acquired. He decided it would be best to go ask Ehlek about it. And if he ran into Pridak on the way… maybe Nocturn would shake his hand.
He picked up the Mask of Life and left in search of the Barraki. Behind him, the little gadunka was already beginning to grow.
The five Toa enjoyed a brief, if happy, reunion with Matoro. If they were curious about his chilly attitude when introducing their new ally, Maxilos, they didn’t comment on it. There wasn’t time to worry about the Toa of Ice’s moods, not with the Mask of Life to find and an entire ocean to search.
It was Maxilos who suggested the Toa would be better served by splitting up. Matoro started to object, then apparently thought better of the idea. Feeling it would be best that no one travel alone, Jaller suggested he would team with Kongu, Hewkii with Nuparu, and Hahli with Matoro and Maxilos.
“That’s all right,” the Toa of Water said. “I will move faster on my own. After all, I’m more at home here than any of you.”
As they double-checked their weapons, Defilak swam near. “Perhaps living so long in this night-black water has made us see only darkness in others,” he said. “If you are truly about to face great trouble-danger on behalf of Mahri Nui… we would be honored to call you Toa Mahri.”
Not so very long ago, the Toa Inika had been Matoran. They had met Toa who came to their island and placed their faith and trust in those heroes. Their faith had been rewarded. Now it was their turn to protect a village of Matoran who were relying upon them. It was Matoro who finally put what they were all feeling into words.
“The honor is ours, Defilak,” he said. “We’ll try to prove worthy of your trust.”
Oh, yes, thought Makuta, master of shadows, in the body of Maxilos. Indeed we will.
* * *
If a Chronicler told me this story, I would never believe it.
The Shadowed One’s story amounted to this: he had possessed the item we sought, the Staff of Artakha, but he had given it to the residents of the island of Xia as payment for a supply of weapons. He was willing to set us free and tell us where to most likely find the Staff, if we did a service for him. It seemed Roodaka, one of Xia’s “leading citizens,” had been selling the Dark Hunters information – and doing the same for their enemies, the Brotherhood of Makuta. The Shadowed One wanted her eliminated.
To my surprise, Tahu agreed. It was only later he told me that he had other plans for Roodaka, plans that involved sending Lewa Nuva back to Metru Nui. Meanwhile, the rest of us headed to Xia. (Pohatu, of course, had to leave a little gift behind for the Dark Hunters. He told me later that within an hour after we left, every stone in the Shadowed One’s fortress was going to suddenly crumble to dust.)
I had never been there before, but I had heard the island was an industrialized nightmare. As it turned out, the accent was on the “nightmare” part – a massive beast called the Tahtorak was rampaging through the place, and an even nastier Rahi matching the description of the Kanohi Dragon was battling him. Buildings were collapsing, factories burning, even their famed Mountain had chunks torn out of it. It was utter chaos.
Tahu sent Onua tunneling into the island to find the Staff in its underground hiding place. The rest of us did what we could to rescue the natives and get them out of the way of the beast battle. It was Kopaka who had the “good fortune” to find himself saving Roodaka.
“Toa,” she spat, as if hating the taste of the word. “I don’t need your help!”
“Perhaps not,” Kopaka replied, with an icy smile. “But we are going to get yours.”