“Mata Nui preserve us,” Dekar whispered, in shock.
He had seen a beam of energy shoot from the mask in the fraction of a second before his blow would have landed. It had lanced deep into the cave, disappearing into the darkness. Even as it did so, Kalmah got close enough to wrap his tentacle around the Po-Matoran. Dekar yelled in pain.
“You’re out of your depth, Matoran,” Kalmah said. “Destruction is our job, and –”
The Barraki’s words were interrupted by a screech that grew into a roar that shook the ocean floor. Kalmah glanced away from the Matoran long enough to see a huge, dark shape hurtling toward him from the depths of the cave. Then something smashed into him, sending him tumbling uncontrollably through the water.
Mantax had hung back, so he was still outside the sea cave when it happened. He saw something moving – saw the Matoran and Kalmah demolished by a single blow – and then ducked aside. Something massive shot from inside the cave and up into the open water. Then it turned, its crimson and green eyes fixing on Mantax.
It was like nothing the Barraki had ever seen. It was a venom eel, but one easily 300 feet long, with jaws large enough to swallow the Matoran city whole. Slime dripped from its skin, raining down on the seafloor. It lashed out with its tail, striking the undersea mountain and sending a violent tremor through the caves beyond. Mantax barely got out of the way of an avalanche.
The Barraki had spent many, many long hours buried in sand, watching the sea life all around him. He knew everything that lived down here, or thought he did – how they thought, how they felt, what they needed to survive. But he could have been the barest novice, underwater for the first time, and he still would have known what the monster above wanted.
It was enraged. It was in pain.
And it was hungry.
Takadox emerged from his cave. He had felt the intense quake and was afraid it meant Ehlek had gone ahead and destroyed Mahri Nui. If his fellow Barraki had succeeded, the Mask of Life might be lost forever beneath the rubble.
When he saw the nightmarish creature, his keen mind realized what had happened. Someone threatened the mask, he thought. And it protected itself. Its power reached out to an eel and made it grow… and grow… so it could serve as a guardian.
Takadox staggered backward. Venom eels were evil and destructive by nature. Giving one more power was like giving a Takea shark sharper teeth. No good would come of it, and in this case, everything under the sea might be destroyed.
Unless… the Barraki said to himself, a tight smile creasing his misshapen features. It’s still just a dumb animal, and my powers are just made for use on dumb animals. Look at Carapar. If I could entrance it – get it to obey – then Pridak and the rest will be answering to me.
Everything that lived beneath the ocean was fleeing from the creature the Mask of Life had created… everything but Takadox, who began to swim toward it, savoring thoughts of death and destruction.
Lesovikk stood, ready for battle. Before him stood his ancient enemy, Karzahni. Faced with a fighting-mad Toa, Karzahni should have been at least a little worried. Instead, he was smiling.
“We have no reason to fight, Lesovikk, none at all,” said Karzahni. “Why should I waste my energy on you, when there is easier prey to be found?”
The emerald-hued villain turned his gaze to Sarda, the Ta-Matoran who swam nearby. Using his power to make others see what could be and what might have been, he touched Sarda’s mind. The Matoran stiffened as a vision filled his thoughts, a vision of the day the city of Mahri Nui broke off of its island and sank beneath the waves.
In real life, Sarda had survived the plunge, saved by finding a bubble of air emitted by the airweed below. But in the vision Karzahni gave him, he did not survive – none of the Matoran did – they all drowned before they ever reached the waters of the Pit. It was a horrible sight and Sarda’s eyes widened in fear.
“Stop it!” shouted Lesovikk. When Karzahni didn’t respond, he unleashed a mini-cyclone from his sword, striking the villain dead on. That was enough to break Karzahni’s concentration, but the damage was done: Sarda had passed out on the ocean floor from sheer shock and fear.
“I have better things to do than toy with the likes of you,” growled Karzahni. “So will you fight me, or will you help your little friend?”
Lesovikk wanted to batter the smile off Karzahni’s face. But he could see that Sarda’s air bubble had disappeared – the Matoran was drowning!
“This isn’t over, Karzahni,” said the Toa. “Wherever you go, you had better be looking over your shoulder – because one day, I will be there. And I promise I will be the last thing you’ll ever see.”
Gar and Idris were out of air. They had moved as quickly as they could up toward Mahri Nui, but it hadn’t been fast enough. They weren’t going to make it to the city in time.
In desperation, Gar pointed toward the fields of air. It was their only hope. The two Matoran swam for the nearest patch of airweed. If they could salvage a bubble from the crop, it might hold them until they could make it back to the shelters.
They hit the field at the same time. One ripe stalk would be all they would need. There had to be one somewhere the hydruka had not harvested yet.
Then they noticed that something was very wrong with the beds of soil from which the airweed sprang. The ground had begun to move. Gar backed away, gesturing for Idris to flee. What had looked like rich earth from a distance was anything but – the fields were infested with keras, all of them more than happy to see potential prey.
And the Matoran had one of those difficult choices life sometimes presents – was it better to drown, or be devoured?
Pridak was stunned at the sight of the monstrous venom eel. Defilak was as well, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him from escaping. He swam off at top speed, heading for the edge of Mahri Rock. With luck, there would still be time to save Idris and Gar from imprisonment.
The Barraki took no notice of his captive’s flight. He was no longer even paying attention to the monster bearing down on him. No, his attention was focused on the direction from which the creature had come.
This is no beast in nature, he thought. Something made it this way. And that something can make me what I used to be… Once it does, not all the power of the fates can save Makuta and Mata Nui from my vengeance.
Pridak dove and swam, trying to evade the monster even as he followed the trail back to its lair.
Ehlek dragged Carapar down into the depths, hanging on to his claw. He ignored his fellow Barraki’s protests. Of all the Barraki, Ehlek knew best just what a venom eel was capable of, and he did not want to see what a 300-foot-long one would do.
There were other reasons for flight as well. Pridak would no doubt be occupied dealing with the monster, since no shark could resist combat. That left his cave home unguarded. Ehlek had long believed that one of the Barraki betrayed them all to the Brotherhood of Makuta, all those years ago. If that was so, he had no doubt Pridak knew who it was and was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment to take revenge. Now was the time to find out for certain.
The two Barraki maneuvered their way through twisted coral reefs below the Pillars of Salt. Ehlek led the way into Pridak’s cave, then stopped short – someone was already in there! He hurled an electric bolt into the darkness. It struck something and ricocheted, almost hitting Carapar.
The stranger charged. Carapar grabbed him with both claws while Ehlek maneuvered behind and tried to jolt the fight out of their opponent. He fought well, this mysterious new arrival, but he was obviously not used to combat in an underwater environment. The water slowed his blows, robbing them of much of their power. Eventually, the two Barraki pinned him against a stone wall. Carapar brought a claw close to the newcomer’s throat, leaving no doubt what he would do with it given the chance.
“Who are you?” asked Ehlek. “What are you doing here?”
The stranger looked around, confused. Ehlek had seen that look before. Lifelong land dwellers had a hard time adjusting to life in the Pit. In most cases, the water mutated them rapidly so that they could breathe in the depths – if it didn’t, the new arrivals rarely lived long. The Matoran of Mahri Nui were the exception, thanks to their fields of air. This one was hesitant to open his mouth, expecting to drown. Carapar dealt with that by slamming him into the rock a few times until he cried out.
Shock merged with realization on the stranger’s features. There was water in his mouth, but he could breathe and he could speak. The knowledge seemed to restore his strength. He shrugged off the two Barraki and said, “My name is Brutaka. And you are some sort of sea monsters? How did you learn to talk, or are you just talented mimics?”
“We are Barraki,” said Ehlek. “And you are in our territory.”
“Ah, Barraki,” Brutaka replied. “You were important once, weren’t you, a long time back? No matter – you’ll answer to me now.”
“As long as the question is ‘Who’s that killing me?’” Carapar shot back. “Then we should get along fine.”
“I came from the island of Voya Nui,” Brutaka continued, ignoring Carapar. “I was there to guard the Mask of Life, but I decided it would be better put to use in my service. My fellow guardian, Axonn, disagreed – and he had the stronger argument. When I woke up, I was underwater. I swam until I found a hole and eventually wound up here.”
“The Mask of Life,” said Ehlek. He went on to describe the mask that Carapar claimed was in the possession of the Matoran.
Brutaka’s eyes brightened. “That’s it. It’s here! Amazing! Fate must want me to have it; there’s no other explanation. And once I do… Axonn and I will resume our discussion. Take me to the mask – now!”
Carapar started to object, but Ehlek cut him off. “Of course, of course. Only we have a little problem reaching it at the moment – actually, a 70-bio-long problem. But maybe you can help with that?”
“You may have a bigger problem than that,” Brutaka answered. “If I am here… and the Mask of Life is here… then six Toa are not far behind.”
The monstrous eel crashed into the peak upon which Pridak had been standing just a moment before, shattering it into rubble. Its mind and memories were a jumble. One moment, it was sleeping in its cave – the next, it was too big for its own lair. The cave had provided a safe haven from other predators, but now Tarakava and Takea sharks were snacks.
Its eyes were drawn to something glittering in the dark waters. Its dim brain couldn’t know that what it saw were lightstones shining in the city of Mahri Nui, but it could smell prey. More, it caught the scent of other venom eels down there, thousands of them. No doubt they were after the source of the lights. Little did they realize that no one could deny the creature anything it wanted now.
Pridak, the Mask of Life, all were forgotten. The creature turned and sped toward the city, ready to feast.