“We… we destroyed it!” said Defilak. “There is no mask, not anymore.”
Pridak did not loosen his grip on Idris, but he did not drag her out of the air bubble either. His dead eyes regarded Defilak carefully, looking for any sign of deception. But the Le-Matoran met his gaze, and the Onu-Matoran behind him was nodding his agreement.
“Is this true?” Pridak growled at Idris. She was too frightened to even try to answer.
“She doesn’t true-know,” said Defilak. “She wasn’t there. Gar and I decided.”
Pridak let Idris go and swam toward where Defilak stood. “Why would you destroy anything that might help you survive down here?” he asked, suspicious.
Defilak shrugged. “Help us survive, how? Matoran can’t use mask powers. We have extra masks if one of ours gets far-lost or broken. All we could do with another Kanohi is hang it up as a piece of art. We don’t have room in our city for anything that isn’t useful.”
Pridak reached into the bubble and passed the edge of his weapon beneath Defilak’s chin. “Before you said you didn’t know of any mask… now you say you destroyed it. Why deny knowing of it if it was already gone? What are you hiding, little meal?”
“We should tell you the business of Mahri Nui?” Defilak answered, defiantly. “You attack us, you imprison us – what right do you have to do any of this?”
“What right?” Pridak replied, his tone as cold as the water he swam in. “The right of a ruler. The right of a conqueror. The right of a Barraki.”
A memory suddenly exploded in Defilak’s mind. He saw himself on dry land, sitting at the feet of a Turaga. The Turaga was telling a story about six powerful beings called Barraki and how they dared the impossible… and paid the price for it. He could hear only brief snatches of what the Turaga was saying, but it was enough to tell him that this shark-thing in front of him could not be a Barraki.
Before he could stop himself, Defilak said, “You’re a fraud. Barraki were not creatures of the water-depths. They were warlords of the surface world.”
Pridak reached into the bubble and dragged Defilak out. Only the fact that his personal air bubble was still in existence, if razor thin, kept the Matoran from drowning immediately. “Come with me,” said Pridak. “I want to tell you a tale, morsel. I hate to see anyone die ignorant.”
Pridak brought Defilak up to the top of the salt mountains that overlooked Mahri Nui. The Matoran’s eyes widened with shock at the sight of his friends fighting for their lives against an army of venom eels. Pridak laughed at his obvious concern.
“They will be the lucky ones,” he said, gesturing toward the defenders. “They will be free of the Pit in the only way you can be, through nonexistence. And they will die in battle – glorious, all-consuming battle – a privilege not granted to the Barraki. No, we were condemned to a living death.”
“You keep calling yourself by that name,” Defilak said. “But the Barraki were said to be titan-masters – rulers who dominated wherever they went and left lesser beings in awe. They weren’t… um…”
Pridak brought his face up close to Defilak’s mask and hissed, “Say it! Go on, morsel, say what you are thinking. The Barraki were not monstrous creatures of the sea, skulking in caves or lurking in the black water out of sight of ‘civilized’ Matoran.”
Defilak didn’t answer, preferring to go on living for at least another minute. Pridak slowly backed away, his rage subsiding. The Barraki gestured toward the battle with a clawed hand and whispered, “Isn’t it glorious? The fighting… the shouting… the desperate struggle to survive…”
“No,” said Defilak. “It’s horrible.”
“Ah, well,” Pridak replied, shrugging. “As I always say, good taste is in the jaws of the devourer. But I promised you a tale before you died, didn’t I? There was a time when I did not look as I do now, or have to subsist on the bottom feeders of this cursed sea. I was a conqueror, and undisputed leader of the League of the Six Kingdoms.”
The name stirred another memory in Defilak’s mind. Yes, his Turaga had mentioned the League in the tales told around the night fires. Something about the alliance of rulers falling from its exalted position and coming to a very bad end…
“We rose up against the Great Spirit Mata Nui,” Pridak said, sounding as if it had just happened yesterday. “And we were crushed for our efforts, our armies shattered, our realms no doubt ground to dust. Makuta would have taken our lives – the only decent thing he could do – had not the creature Botar intervened. He brought us to a place of darkness and misery, and there we stayed for thousands and thousands of years.
Pridak snatched a passing fish out of the water. He eyed it as if it were a potential meal. Then, dissatisfied with its size, he threw it to some Takea sharks that were circling overhead. “We survived, and we planned,” he said. “And we learned to hate with an all-consuming fury – hate Mata Nui, hate Makuta, hate everything that could walk on dry land and breathe the air, as we no longer could.”
The sharks had devoured the fish and now moved on in search of other prey. They split up, herding smaller fish into a tight ball before mounting their ferocious, and very successful, attack. The sight chilled Defilak.
“Then came our deliverance,” Pridak continued. “A great earthquake shook our world. The walls of our prison ruptured and we were able to swim out into the black water. And there we… changed… into what you see before you, and worse. Working together, the six of us built a realm here, a first stepping-stone toward greater conquests. Then your city, Matoran, came crashing down through the water and obliterated all that we had created. Fate, it seemed, had struck at us again.”
Defilak shook his head, just trying to take it all in. The sinking of Mahri Nui had been so traumatic that none of the Matoran had a very clear memory of it. Certainly they had never realized that their city had destroyed another. He could well understand why that must have seemed to the Barraki like the wrath of the Great Spirit unleashed.
“And now this mask,” said Pridak, slowly. “It is a new element. Perhaps it is the weapon we have waited for. You can tell me where it is – or you can spend the last moments of your life watching your people and your city die.”
Defilak looked from Pridak to Mahri Nui. Then he made his decision. “All right. I’ll give you the mask,” the Matoran lied. “But I can’t quick-tell you where it is – I’ll have to show you.”
Carapar swam toward Mahri Nui, Kyrehx in tow. The Ga-Matoran’s air bubble was almost gone and her breathing was shallow. In a few more moments, she would be dead from suffocation and of no use as a “gift” to the Matoran. With this in mind, Carapar brought her to the edge of a field of airweed, taking care to stay far away from the plants himself. Like the other creatures of the Pit, air was toxic to him.
Kyrehx groped through the plants until she disturbed one enough that it unleashed a bubble of air. She thrust her head inside it and took a long breath. Then she turned to Carapar, puzzled. “Why did you save me?”
“’Cause if I kill you, I have to explain it to Takadox,” the Barraki answered. “And I hate explaining things to Takadox.”
Carapar dragged her back out of the field. Pointing toward the city, he said, “Go home, while it’s still there. Make your peace with Mahri Nui. You and yours are about to be swept away with the tide.”
Kyrehx couldn’t respond without exhaling, so she turned and swam as fast as she could for Mahri Nui. Carapar watched her go. Then he looked up and spotted his fellow Barraki, Ehlek, swimming amidst a swarm of venom eels. He moved to intercept.
* * *