Maxilos and Spinax caught up with Hydraxon on an undersea mountain overlooking the Barraki’s meeting place. He had made an effort not to follow too closely, so that Hydraxon would not hear his approach. His caution was wasted when Gadunka’s bellow ripped through the water, startling Hydraxon. The jailer turned then, seeking the source. He spotted the crimson robot closing in and visibly relaxed.
“I wondered where you had disappeared to,” said Hydraxon. “Come on, we have a runner to catch.”
Maxilos’s face remained cold and still, but inside, the mind of Makuta was amused. Hydraxon still believed Maxilos was nothing more than his loyal robot prison guard. He had no idea there was a ghost in the machine.
Under ordinary circumstances, Makuta would have gladly joined in any effort to hunt down and destroy the Barraki. The warlords were upstarts with delusions of godhood, too bitter to be trusted and too independent to be used. They would have to be eliminated at some point, he had no doubt. But not, he reminded himself, while the Kanohi Ignika was in their possession. Mata Nui needed that mask to live, and the Great Spirit had to live if Makuta was to someday rule.
“Turn back,” he said, in the flat, robotic voice of Maxilos. “There are two dozen escaped prisoners two kio to the east of our position that must be recaptured.”
Hydraxon frowned. “Two dozen? That will make for a busy day. But none of them have a glowing Mask of Power, I’ll bet, and this runner does. Keep an eye on that mob and I will join you when I’ve caught my prey.”
Well, I tried, thought Makuta. I wanted to do this the easy way, but if he insists on being destroyed, who am I to say no?
Maxilos raised its arm and a bolt of electricity shot from it, striking Hydraxon square in the chest. This was followed by a wave of magnetism that dragged the jailer down to the sea bottom by his armor and pinned him to the ground. Then came a burst of sonics, sufficient to turn a normal being’s mind to mush. For someone with Hydraxon’s enhanced senses, it was sheer agony.
“I asked you nicely to turn back,” said Maxilos, although the words were Makuta’s. “I never ask twice.”
“You’re… not… Maxilos…” Hydraxon gasped through the pain.
Maxilos reached out and touched the jailer’s mind, scanning it. Then the robot gave a short, sharp laugh. “And you’re not Hydraxon… you only think you are. The real Hydraxon is dead, slain by Takadox and buried in the rubble of the original Pit. You’re a copy, just some wandering Matoran the Mask of Life decided to have some sport with. You’re not even worth the time it’s taking to demolish you.”
For an instant, the expression of suffering left Hydraxon’s face, to be replaced by one of rage. With enormous effort, he forced two words from his mouth: “Manas zya!”
Even as Spinax suddenly wheeled and launched itself at Maxilos’s throat, the mind of Makuta was analyzing. “Manas” was the Matoran word for “monster,” but “zya”… that was an ancient term, so old even Makuta barely recalled it. Judging from Spinax’s reaction, its meaning was pretty clear.
Spinax was clawing and snapping at Maxilos’s armor and doing damage. Maxilos swept the beast away, but it kept coming back to the attack. The distraction had given Hydraxon a chance to recover and the jailer was back on his feet, already unlimbering a dagger.
“Spinax worked with Maxilos, but he belongs to me,” said Hydraxon. “He won’t stop attacking until you’re down for good. And don’t bother running – there’s nowhere he can’t find you.”
“Run?” snarled Maxilos, as he flung Spinax away. “A Makuta does not run! Away from me, you miserable creature!”
Hydraxon had never met a member of the Brotherhood of Makuta before. But his memories contained enough overheard conversations from Pit prisoners to have some idea of the level of power he was dealing with. He would have to strike without mercy.
Twin daggers flew, burying themselves in the joints of Maxilos’s left arm and left leg. Hydraxon knew every detail of the robot’s construction, and just where to hit it. Both limbs went dead.
Maxilos opened its mouth and screamed, but not in pain. Instead, it was an attack. The sound smashed Hydraxon down and again ravaged his mind. Maxilos advanced, maintaining the power scream and tearing the daggers out of its metallic body as it walked. The jailer fired his Cordak blaster, shattering part of an undersea mountain and bringing a rain of boulders down on Maxilos. The scream was cut off as the avalanche buried the robot.
At the appointed hour, the Barraki had all assembled at the rock formation called the Razor Whale’s Teeth. As requested, they had come without the support of their undersea armies, though no one was foolish enough to believe the legions were far off. Kalmah was the first to arrive, taking the opportunity to scout the area for possible sites of ambush. Ehlek straggled in last and stayed far away from the others.
For most of their lives, these six warlords had been allies, if not necessarily the best of friends. There had been arguments over the millennia, threats, even physical conflict – but never had they actually gone to war against each other. That had all changed in the last day. A combination of accident, their own bad tempers, and a little “help” from the Toa had fractured the six into four factions – Pridak and Takadox, Kalmah and Carapar, while Ehlek and Mantax stood alone.
The object of their dispute was the Mask of Life. They believed that the mask would be able to reverse the mutation sparked by the waters around them, which left them water-breathing monstrosities. Once they were back to what they had been – air-breathing peaks of physical perfection – they intended to reclaim their lost kingdoms on the land and begin anew their march to power.
Of course, if only one of the Barraki were to be aided by the Mask of Life, he and he alone would be in a position to conquer. The now defunct League of Six Kingdoms would be reborn, but as one kingdom under one warlord.
If the Barraki had known the facts about the Kanohi Ignika, not just the legend, then they would have been assured the mask could do what they hoped. Whether it could be made to do so was another matter. If it did, though, its effects need not be limited to just the being who possessed the mask, so all six could benefit. But for beings who had spent their lives seizing and defending territory, sharing did not come naturally. After 80,000 years of confinement in the Pit, the Barraki could be forgiven if every minor slight became a major offense and mutual suspicion flared into open war.
But some things, Mantax knows, cannot be forgiven… ever.
“You all came,” he began, climbing up on a rock. His five former allies watched, a mixture of anger, uneasiness, and greed on their faces. “Of course you did. You want what I have. But then, that’s nothing new. When we lived on land, you coveted my kingdom and my power. Under the sea, you desired to know my secrets. Well, now you will.”
Mantax crouched down, never taking his eyes off the others. He picked up a small, triangular shaped stone from the top of the boulder and held it close to his chest. If any of his visitors were reacting to the sight of the object, they were hiding it well.
“Ever since we escaped from the Pit 1,000 years ago, I have been returning there,” Mantax continued. “You all wondered why. Takadox and Kalmah even followed me there, trying to learn my reason. Now I can tell you: I was searching for something… and I have found it.”
Mantax held up the stone so the other Barraki could see it. One side of the rock was blank, but the other had the symbol of the Brotherhood of Makuta carved upon it. Every Barraki knew that symbol well, for it had been an army of the Brotherhood that had defeated them in battle so long ago. That defeat had resulted in their exile to the Pit.
“Do you know what this is?” Mantax said quietly. “One of you does, I know. It’s a Brotherhood tablet of transit. In an era long past, whoever held this could not be detained by the Brotherhood for any reason. It was a sign to Makuta the universe over that the bearer was a valued ally of that ‘honorable’ organization.”
“We know all that! Get to the point, Mantax,” snarled Pridak. Then he smiled, revealing row upon row of sharp teeth. “Or else I will get to mine, and mine are infinitely sharper.”
“I found this down in the rubble of our old cells,” Mantax answered, his tone as cold as the black water around them. “It belonged to one of us. There was only one reason a Barraki would have this and hold on to it so long.”
He paused for a long moment to let his words sink in. Sensing Mantax intended to make a dramatic pronouncement, Kalmah decided to deprive him of the satisfaction. “He thought he might need it. And the only reason for that –”
“– Would be if he knew the Brotherhood was going to come after us!” said Carapar, his glance darting to each of his fellows in turn. “Someone double-crossed us!”
Pridak’s mouth was set in a grim line. “Now it all makes sense. 80,000 years ago, one of our number informed the Brotherhood that we planned a revolt against the Great Spirit Mata Nui. In return for that betrayal, he was given that tablet. Once we were defeated, it would have allowed him to walk away while the rest of us were executed.”
“But things changed,” said Ehlek. “The Brotherhood captured us, true, but then that other creature – that Botar – appeared from nowhere and sent us to the Pit. Even Makuta didn’t seem to know who he was.”
“All right, but then why keep the tablet?” asked Takadox. “What good would it do down here?”
“Insurance,” said Kalmah, “against the hoped-for day when we escape. If the Brotherhood is still active, they will be after us the second we reappear on land – after all of us, that is, except one… the one with that tablet.”
“You want to share in the power of the Mask of Life,” snapped Mantax. “I want the traitor. One of you will confess now, and face punishment – or none of you will ever see this mask again!”
The six Barraki glared at each other in uncomfortable silence. No one spoke. Pridak took a step toward Mantax, who pulled back, holding the mask high as if he would smash it on the rocks. A scaly hand reached for a hidden dagger.
A faraway rumble became a roar. The Barraki looked up as one to see an avalanche heading right for them. The six scattered as boulders rained down around them. Mantax darted away, mask in one hand, tablet in the other. A dagger flew by, slashing the organic tissue in his left arm. He dropped the mask to the sandy ocean bottom.
“You won’t be needing that,” his attacker said, poison in his voice. The shadowy figure reached out and twisted Mantax’s arm until he dropped the tablet. “Or that.”
Mantax whirled in the water to find a dagger at his throat. “You! Of course, it had to be – who else would –”
“You know, I really didn’t intend to end your life, you miserable mud-dweller,” said Takadox. “But I must admit, I will enjoy the peace and quiet when you’re gone.”