Carapar knew that the words “stop killing everything” would sound to Ehlek like a foreign language. Nervous by nature as “the Eel” might be, he was still the only one of the Barraki who called the ocean floor home. He felt a special hatred for the Matoran for invading his domain and for killing so many sea predators with their air shooters. The existence of this mysterious “Mask of Life” was just an excuse for him to take revenge.
Still, Carapar would have to make the effort, and he had assembled an army of keras crabs to back him up. Keras were normally fairly placid and gentle creatures, but the waters of the Pit had long ago changed them to aggressive, violent beasts. Carapar had split his forces in two. Half followed him to confront Ehlek and his venom eels, and half were sent to inhabit the fields of air.
“Takadox says stop,” he shouted. Ehlek’s response was to give off an electric shock – generally, his response to everything. Carapar was already braced for the pain, but it still stung. He grabbed Ehlek in one of his pincers and squeezed until his fellow Barraki screamed.
“If I so much as see a spark, I’ll cut you in half,” Carapar snarled.
“What do you want?” Ehlek screeched. “I’ve done nothing to you!”
“It’s what you’re doing to them that matters,” Carapar answered, gesturing with his free pincer to Mahri Nui. “Takadox says stop. He doesn’t want them slaughtered… yet. Says they have something we want.”
“Yes,” Ehlek responded. “Lives. Breath. Futures. All of which I am going to take from –”
Carapar squeezed harder until he heard something crack. “What did I say? Did I say, ‘Ehlek, go ahead?’ I didn’t hear myself say that.”
To Ehlek’s credit, he wasn’t about to give in. “You said… not to kill… our enemies. Water… has rotted… your brain…”
Carapar’s features darkened and for a moment he considered how nice Ehlek’s head would look mounted on a wall. Then the moment passed and he actually began to laugh. “Despite your bad nerves, you always did have guts,” he said. “Don’t make me spill them out into the sea, okay?”
After a few seconds, Ehlek nodded. Carapar released him. Once he had checked to make sure he was still in one hideous piece, Ehlek signaled his army of eels to halt their attack. “Now what?” he asked.
“Now this,” Carapar answered, swimming toward Mahri Nui. He easily dodged a flurry of air spheres, then came to a halt in front of the launcher. The Matoran were frantically reloading. Smiling, Carapar reached into the air bubble, grabbed the launcher and crumpled it into scrap.
“My army is in your air fields,” he said. “See? And they stay there until we get the Mask of Life.”
The Matoran gunner stared up at Carapar, defiant. “Even if I knew what that was, I wouldn’t give it to you… whatever you are.”
“Crabs get awful hungry sometimes,” the Barraki answered. “Awful hungry. They’ll eat just about anything that won’t eat them first. Ever see a crab eat? First they take their prey in their pincers, then they rip it apart… Pretty gruesome until you get used to it… only it’s something you never get used to.”
The Matoran tried to appear brave in the face of this veiled threat, but the slightest tremble in his frame betrayed him. Carapar leaned in close to the bubble and said, “So, why don’t you be a good little future meal and go tell whoever runs this place to hand over the mask? Go ahead. We’ll wait.”
Glancing toward the fields, the Matoran could imagine the keras ripping and tearing their way through the airweeds. That would destroy any hope Mahri Nui’s inhabitants had for survival in this watery realm. He had to make a decision – but what to do?
Then the decision was suddenly taken out of his hands. He looked up, past Carapar, past Ehlek and his legions, toward a massive shape cutting through the water like a juggernaut. He looked and he wished he had not seen.
Gar kicked the stone wall of the cave and cursed. Then, realizing his behavior was just making Idris more nervous, he said, “Sorry. It’s all this waiting.”
Idris nodded, her eyes never leaving the cave mouth and the sharks beyond. “I know. Do you think Defilak is ever coming back? Or did he end up like poor Sarda?”
Gar didn’t answer her directly. There was no point in dwelling on things they couldn’t control. They both had at least a little bit of air left in their bubbles. If they made a break for it, maybe one would be lucky enough to make it back to the city. Anything was better than this.
“We’re not going to hang around and find out,” the Onu-Matoran said. “Get ready to swim. When we reach open water, I’ll try to hold off the sharks long enough for you to get a head start toward the city. Don’t turn back, and don’t stop for anything – understand?”
Idris turned to look at him. She said nothing, but her eyes reflected what she was feeling. She knew Gar was quite possibly about to sacrifice his life for her, a Ga-Matoran he barely knew. She was also quite certain neither one of them was going to live through this escape attempt. But Matoran will survive, she said to herself. Mahri Nui will survive. As long as there are Gars in the universe, somehow we will find a way.
“I’m ready,” she replied.
“All right, we go on three. One…”
A violent impact shook the cave. Idris could see the Takea sharks outside being hurled about like strands of seaweed in a whirlpool. She didn’t know if this was something natural – an undersea quake, perhaps – or another attack, but it was their chance. “Three!” she shouted, rocketing out of the air bubble and heading for the cave mouth, with Gar right behind.
Outside, the sharks were doing something no Matoran had ever seen before – they were fleeing for their lives. A glance upward told Idris and Gar the reason. The sharks had good sense, it seemed, and would survive to see another day. Unless they got moving – fast – the same would not be said for the two Matoran.
Lesovikk struggled in vain to escape the fiery chains of Karzahni. All the while, the smiling face of Karzahni loomed over him.
“Don’t bother to fight,” said his captor. “No one, not even the legendary Manas crab, has been able to break those bonds.”
“You… don’t… remember me, do you?” Lesovikk said. “No, I guess you wouldn’t – but we have crossed paths before. It was many, many thousands of years ago. I came to your realm seeking to free my friends, who had been sent there by a mad Turaga. I was driven off by your Manas crabs, but I came again, and again… only to fail each time. By the time I slipped past your guardians, my friends had been exiled from your realm, I knew not where.”
Karzahni laughed. “Then failure is nothing new to you, Toa. You can take comfort that your defeat today will come as no surprise.”
“He’s not a failure!” Sarda shouted. “I… I remember! I remember Lesovikk defending our home from Rahi beasts and anything else that threatened us… I remember when he and his team left, never to return… at least not while I was still there. He’s not a failure – he never was – he’s a hero!”
Lesovikk looked up at the Matoran. It had been a very, very long time since anyone had called him “hero.” The word acted on him like a bolt of energy. Drawing on every last bit of his power, Lesovikk flexed his muscles and snapped Karzahni’s chain.
“Impossible,” whispered Karzahni. “You were downed… defeated… stunned.”
“I am stunned,” said Lesovikk, rising to his feet. “Shocked and amazed too, that you thought mere links of metal could hold a Toa.”
There was something in the veteran warrior’s eyes now that made even the mighty Karzahni hesitate. Exhausted, weakened, Lesovikk still stood, weapon at the ready and primed for battle.
“Now, you rancid remains of a Rahi’s dinner,” said the Toa of Air. “Let’s try this again.”
Defilak had no idea where he was going.
He had lied to Pridak to buy time to think. There had to be a way to escape and free Gar and Idris. But first he had to ditch this Barraki, and as anyone who has ever tried to evade a shark knew, this would not be easy.
“I think we quick-hid it there,” he said, pointing toward the lowlands. “Under a clump of seaweed… funny, they all look alike now. I’m sure that’s happened to you – you know, you’re all set to slash-kill some innocent Matoran, but then we all start to look alike to you.”
Pridak ignored the jibe. He was more concerned with a slight shift in the feel of the ocean’s energy, something only one with his enhanced senses would pick up on. Something wasn’t right, but he could not put his fin on what. It unsettled him.
“Hurry up,” he growled. “You are stalling, morsel – keep doing it and you’ll be returning to Mahri Nui in pieces.”
“It’s down there. I’m sure of it,” Defilak said. Then he added, “I think.”
When Pridak didn’t answer, Defilak turned to look at him. The Barraki was hovering in the water, his eyes fixed on nothing, as if he were waiting for something to happen. The Le-Matoran scanned the surrounding water. Prey fish and predators alike were scrambling for cover, as if they sensed impending doom.
“The last time this happened,” Pridak muttered, “your city sank beneath the waves, crushing everything in its path. What new disaster are you Matoran unleashing now?”
Then both Barraki and Matoran saw. Being residents of the ocean’s lower depths, both were used to the frigid temperatures of the water. Physical cold was something one learned to live with in order to survive here, and eventually, it could even be ignored.
But the sight that greeted Pridak and Defilak’s eyes was one to freeze the spirit. It was death given form, and it was headed right for them.