There was no time to waste if Sarda was going to be saved. Scooping up the drowning Matoran’s body, Toa Lesovikk rushed him to a nearby, free-floating air bubble. What followed was one of the strangest things Lesovikk had witnessed in tens of thousands of years.
At first, it seemed to be working. Sarda gasped, choked, but the life-giving air was doing its job. Then it suddenly seemed as if he were drowning again, this time in air. It was then that Lesovikk noticed the changes to Sarda’s body. No longer protected by a personal air bubble that surrounded him, the waters of the Pit were mutating the Matoran. He had become a water-breather, and air was poison to him now!
Hastily, Lesovikk pulled him free of the bubble. Sarda took a deep “breath” of water and his spasms ceased. “Are you all right?” Lesovikk asked.
Sarda smiled weakly. “You… you promised me a story.”
Lesovikk nodded and began to speak. In as few words as possible, he told Sarda how he and his team of Toa had gone on a vital mission many ages ago. Lesovikk had hesitated for a crucial second in battle, with the result that his entire team had been killed. Haunted by guilt, he returned home – only to find that all the Matoran he had befriended had been sent to the realm of Karzahni.
Unable to free them, Lesovikk had become a wanderer. He had picked up new equipment along the way, including a combination sky and sea sled. And he had done some good, but never enough to atone for his past mistakes.
“Then maybe this is your chance to do that,” said Sarda. “Karzahni is a menace. If he were to ally with the Barraki, Mahri Nui wouldn’t stand a chance. We have to stop him!”
Lesovikk shook his head. “If he is stopped here, he will just return to his realm and do more evil to his Matoran captives. No, Sarda, we need to do more than stop him – we need to destroy him.”
Gar wanted to yell for help, even though he knew it was a stupid idea. His air bubble was gone, and shouting would have just led to drowning. No one was near enough to hear and help anyway. Still, somehow it would have made him feel better if he could have let out a good yell at least once before he died.
He had fallen behind Idris. She was getting near the city, trying to avoid the venom eels that were swarming around the borders. Gar could feel the claws of the keras crabs snapping at his feet and legs.
A strong hand suddenly grabbed his upper arm. He felt himself being pulled along at high speed toward the city. Glancing up, Gar saw the familiar mask of Defilak. The Le-Matoran paused only long enough for Gar to grab Idris before resuming his rapid swim toward Mahri Nui. Venom eels who tried to get in their way were slashed aside by Defilak’s blades. Only when the three were inside one of the large air bubbles that protected the shelters did Defilak slow down.
“Happy to look-see you are still breathing,” he said.
“For now,” Gar answered. “Or haven’t you seen that monstrosity heading this way?”
“I’ve seen it,” Defilak replied. “And you all wonder why we Le-Matoran hate the water?”
Takadox watched with a mix of horror and anticipation. The monstrous venom eel was dead on course for Mahri Nui, despite the hail of air spheres fired from the city and the hundreds of vampiric sea squid that had attached themselves to its massive body. The combination was not even slowing the creature down.
It slammed into one of the lower peaks, turned, and whipped its tail at the Pillars of Salt, shearing off the top of one. Then it headed for the city again, piercing one of the Matoran air bubbles and reducing a storehouse to rubble. It banked away and swam toward the surface, then turned to make another dive.
This time, it barely missed the Matoran buildings, but the impact sent a tremor through the entirety of Mahri Rock. The swarm of venom eels that had been besieging the city fled in panic. The keras crabs were not so swift or so fortunate. As it turned away, the creature opened its huge jaws and swallowed several hundred of the crabs as they tried to get away.
Magnificent, thought Takadox. It would almost be worth losing the Mask of Life to gain control of such a beast.
Even as the thought crossed his mind, the monster lifted its head and took notice of the Barraki. Takadox met his gaze, exerting the hypnotic powers the Pit had granted him. If all went well, in a matter of moments the beast would belong to him; body, mind, and spirit.
Dekar woke up. Every part of his body hurt. He wasn’t sure what had happened or how much time had passed, or even why he was still alive.
Without moving from where he lay, he scanned his surroundings. He was still in the sea cave, the mouth of which was partially blocked by rubble. The only light came from the Kanohi mask he had brought with him with the intent of destroying it. It had also provided enough air to reinforce his bubble.
Dekar struggled to remember how he had ended up like this. He had been about to strike a blow to shatter the mask. Then there was some sort of flash of energy, and a monstrous creature, and –
It… it was defending itself, he realized. The mask knew what I was about to do, and it –
He pulled away from the Kanohi. It looked just like any other mask, but somehow the empty eye sockets seemed evil to Dekar. He could almost feel it watching him, waiting to lash out and destroy him if he should try to harm it again.
No. That’s ridiculous. Get a hold of yourself, he thought. All right, maybe it’s damaged… maybe somehow it can work even when no one’s wearing it… maybe it even has some way to protect itself. But it’s a thing – it can’t be good or evil. It’s just a thing, and it can be used or broken like any other thing. Can’t it?
Dekar brought his hand close to the mask, moving as hesitantly as if he were reaching into the jaws of a shredder fish. If I can just touch it – and if nothing happens – then I’ll know I’m just being crazy. I’ll know it’s just a mask like any other, maybe a little more powerful, but…
The tips of his fingers brushed the hard surface of the Kanohi. There was no second burst of energy, no new sea monsters, no sudden disaster. In some ways, to Dekar’s point of view, what happened was worse.
The mask spoke to him.
No, it didn’t talk like a Matoran did, or even form words in Dekar’s mind. Instead, Dekar saw a jumble of images that swirled as if caught in the tide. With great effort, he made them coalesce into some kind of a comprehensible whole – it was do that or go mad.
Suddenly, he understood. He was seeing history through the mask’s “eyes,” and he had knowledge that no other Matoran had ever possessed.
The Kanohi Ignika, or Mask of Life, had come into existence not very long after the first Matoran ever walked through this universe. It was to be the first of the masks of legend, and in many ways, the most important – for the lgnika was the difference between life and death for everything that existed. Molded by the Great Beings who created the universe, heated in forges fiery beyond imagining, cooled in caverns of ice, it housed power that dwarfed that of any being – even those that had created it.
In its first days, it did nothing but sit inside the armored shell that had been crafted to protect it. Although it was the Mask of Life, it knew little of what that meant or even the reason for its existence. Then one day, one of the Great Beings grew curious about the mask. He opened the shell, reached in, and laid hands upon it.
The Kanohi reacted. It sensed this being was not the one destined to make use of it – still, it was willing to share its gift. The mask flooded the Great Being with life, so much that everything around him became alive. Furniture, equipment, the stones that made up the walls and floor, even the rays of light that illuminated the chamber became living, feeling entities. Each had needs and wants and each now found voice to demand them. It seemed to the mask a wonderful gift to bestow, especially on someone who prided himself on his ability to create.
Unfortunately, it had not proven to be a blessing. The Great Being reacted with shock and horror to his new abilities. Since the power was now part of him, he could not hope to outrun it. Eventually, the others of his kind had to step in and confine him so that he would stop bringing their inanimate objects to life. There were whispers of madness. After this, the other Great Beings treated the mask with less idle curiosity and more respect.
It was a short time later that two more of the mask’s creators came to transport it elsewhere. They were careful not to touch it, using special tools to handle its armored shell. They brought it to someplace far beneath the ground and placed it on a pedestal. A guardian, Umbra, was posted, and other traps were laid for the unwary. The mask, too, used its power to create additional guardians, transforming microscopic protodites into large, savage protodax, for example.
It waited. And waited. Centuries passed, then millennia, with only the occasional intruder making an effort to claim the mask. None ever made it past the guardians. Then a team of Toa arrived, led by a Toa of Magnetism. They battled their way past the guards and the traps and reached the mask chamber. The Ignika did not fight them – it could tell they were meant to use its power. They removed it from its pedestal and brought it to another place, where it was needed.
After the mission was done, the Toa were left shaken and fearful of the Ignika. They returned it to its underground chamber and then transformed into smaller, less powerful forms. One, the former Toa leader, remained aboveground to watch over the mask, taking on the title “Turaga.”
Many, many more years passed. The mask felt the universe rocked by some great cataclysm, though it knew not what. Over time, though, it began to sense disturbing disruptions in the patterns of life above. Something was wrong with the fundamental fabric of all existence. Beings had arrived on the surface who coveted the mask’s power, while others journeyed toward its hiding place with noble intent.
Realizing the power of those who wished to seize it, the Ignika used its power to call one of their number to its chamber. The being, one called Vezon, attempted to take the mask and was cursed for his efforts. The Ignika fused itself to him, and then fused him in turn to a massive spider creature evolved by the mask’s power. A new guardian had been created, although one more evil and less sane than perhaps the Ignika would have liked.
At the same time, the Mask of Life reached out with its power to the ones who came to use it for good purposes. It selected one of them – a Matoran named Matoro – as a potential future guardian. It tested him, and he proved himself worthy. When Matoro finally reached the mask, though, it was not as a Matoran but as a Toa. He removed the mask from Vezon, prepared in his heart to take it wherever it needed to go.
Here, at last, the Ignika rebelled. The time was not yet right to make the journey. The universe was still damaged, though not beyond repair. Not wishing to harm Matoro, the mask used one of its other guardians to free itself from the Toa’s grasp. Then it flew to the surface and plunged beneath the waves, going to where it sensed the damage was greatest and hoping the Toa Inika would follow.
But something had gone very wrong. The waters were proving deadly to the mask. It had already begun to crack and crumble, energy leaking from it in the form of air. Hostile forces once more sought to possess it, and the Toa were facing great danger in their efforts to reach it. If they did not arrive in time, the Ignika might fall into evil hands, or worse, destroy itself completely in the toxic brew of the Pit.
For the first time in its 100,000-year existence, this awe-inspiring mask, this most unusual artifact of power, knew what it was to be afraid.
Defilak, Gar, and Idris had gone mad – or so it seemed to the other denizens of Mahri Nui. With the fields of air cut off and the city menaced by a sea monster beyond all imagining, the three of them were swimming from place to place committing acts of vandalism.
“Smash them! Smash them all!” Defilak yelled. Then he swung his blade and shattered another lightstone, while the other two Matoran did the same. Working from one end of the city to the other, they broke every lightstone they ran across, plunging Mahri Nui into darkness.
“What are you doing?” Kyrehx demanded. “Have you lost your minds?”
“No, come to our senses,” Gar replied.
“Venom eels – think!” Defilak snapped. “They react to light and movement. Douse all the light and this one won’t see the city. Get everyone away from the borders and into shelters – especially the fortress. Anyone outside has to remain-stay perfectly still. The slightest motion will bring the creature back. Go!”
Kyrehx took off on her mission. She still wasn’t sure she understood the plan – were the Matoran supposed to remain motionless and in darkness for the rest of eternity? And what about the invaders? With no one to guard the borders, what was to stop them from conquering Mahri Nui? But she supposed it made sense to face one danger at a time.
She herded the villagers into their shelters, while getting another group moving into the fortress. As she did so, her eyes were drawn to the peak in the distance. It was a most unusual geographic feature, even for this place, for the very top of the mountain extended toward the surface with a narrow cord of stone. The mountain was riddled with caves, but those few Matoran who had tried to explore them had never returned. She often wondered just where that cord led to, and if she would ever see the world above the waves. Now and then, she would get a flash of memory of living on dry land, but the flashes never lasted long. She dismissed them as fantasies.
“Come on, get moving,” she said to a straggling Ta-Matoran. It was time to deal with reality again. Maybe later, if the city survived, there would be more time to dream.
The creature was troubled. Just moments before, there had been a lush, glittering hunting ground down below. Now all was darkness and stillness and it could no longer spot the site of its previous attacks. The only things moving were the keras crabs, and as small as they were in relation to its size, they barely constituted a meal.
Oh, there was one other thing in motion. It was a being that hovered in the water near the creature’s face, staring into its eyes. The being had strange eyes… There was something compelling about them… so that the creature did not want to look away… yes, best to keep staring so the being could not slip away without the creature noticing…
The venom eel suddenly started. It had heard a noise, then another and another, sounds that were not a natural part of the undersea world. They were coming from the stone cord atop the great mountain – no, they were coming from inside the cord. Was there some new enemy hiding in there? Or better yet, a meal?
This was much more interesting to the creature than the strange little being’s eyes. It shot forward, heading toward the cord, and plowing into the being in the process. The monstrous eel swam on, paying no attention to the unconscious Takadox spiraling swiftly down into the black waters.
Pridak spotted Mantax first. The Barraki was swimming as if every creature of the Pit was chasing after him. Pridak intercepted him before he could dive into a sea cave.
“Our prey is the other way, is it not?” the Barraki leader said. “Or have you forgotten, in the years we have been down here, how to advance toward a battle?”
Mantax hurriedly related all that he had experienced – the Matoran with the strange Kanohi, the monster that emerged from the cave, and his own valiant efforts to go find help for Kalmah.
“Help from whom?” Pridak asked, unconvinced. “The seaweed? The shells? That is all you will find here. Show me where this happened, and we will help Kalmah ourselves.” Then he smiled, baring his wickedly sharp teeth. “Or at least make sure he does not go to waste.”
The two Barraki made their way toward the cave where Dekar and the Mask of Life had been spotted. As they neared that point, Pridak’s keen senses picked up the approach of others. Two of the scents were familiar – Ehlek and Carapar – and one was not.
Pridak signaled for Mantax to keep going while he circled behind. If there was a newcomer to the Pit, it might be someone else seeking the mask. In that case, Pridak would make short work of him. Someone else to share the loot with would not be a welcome sight.
He spotted them quickly. The two Barraki were swimming rapidly with the newcomer between them, barely keeping pace. He looked powerful. Pridak decided to take no chances – bite now, ask questions later, if the stranger was still alive to answer them. He moved in, silently, his jaws aching for the thrill of the first attack.
The stranger glanced over his shoulder. He spotted Pridak, but the Barraki was confident his prey had no time to react. Then a sizzling bolt of energy shot from the newcomer’s sword and struck Pridak, sending spasms through his body. He managed to grab on to a rocky ledge and held on tightly despite the convulsions. If he sank to the bottom of the black water in this condition, he would never rise again.
When he regained control, he opened his dead eyes to see Ehlek, Carapar, and the stranger looking at him. No doubt they were waiting to see if I would die, so they could get to me before the carrion fish did, Pridak thought. How disappointed they must be.
“Who… is… this?” Pridak said, with some difficulty.
“He says his name is Brutaka,” Carapar answered. “And that we work for him now.”
“I have come for the Mask of Life,” Brutaka said. “Anyone who tries to deny me my rightful due will be an obstacle that must be removed.”
“I know… a little something… about removing,” Pridak replied, letting go of the ledge and starting to swim again. “Arms. Legs. Think about it.”
Mantax joined them. If Brutaka was concerned that the odds were now four against one, he didn’t show it. He simply followed the Barraki as they made their way down to the sea caves.
Once I have the mask, it won’t matter how many of them there are, he thought. It might even be amusing to see what the power of the Ignika would make of these… monstrosities.
The creature circled the stone cord, eyeing it with suspicion. The noises were still coming from inside. It sounded like many living things inside, not just one, and all of them locked in battle. The creature had no idea if the cord contained land animals, sea animals, Matoran, Toa, or something else, nor did it care. It did not believe in discrimination. If they lived, it would eat them, whatever they were.
But how to get at them? There were no openings in the cord large enough for a venom eel of its size. And it wasn’t very likely the prey would be accommodating enough to come out where it could be eaten.
Then the bestial brain of the monster got an idea. It wrapped its coils around the portion of the cord closest to the top of the mountain and began to squeeze. It would take only the smallest exertion of its strength to shatter the cord and spill out its contents into the sea. Whoever or whatever was journeying through the cord was about to have their trip stopped dead.
The Barraki and Brutaka found Kalmah first. He was just recovering consciousness after the attack by the venom eel. Unlike Mantax, the experience hadn’t left him wanting to find a safe haven. Instead, it made him that much more determined to get his claws on the mask.
“Spread out,” Pridak ordered. “If the Matoran and the mask are still in that cave, there’s no telling what other surprises might be waiting in there. Carapar, clear away some of that rubble.”
The crab-clawed Barraki looked at Pridak for a long time before complying. Sometimes the group’s “leader” forgot that all six of them had been rulers in their own realms. They were not servants to be ordered around. Of course, saying any of that wouldn’t be wise if Pridak was anywhere within earshot.
Carapar pulled some of the rocks aside. He could see a mask glowing inside, illuminating the Po-Matoran who was holding it.
“Get back!” said Dekar. “I’ll destroy it!”
Pridak glanced around. His army of Takea sharks had begun to gather in the waters nearby. Then he turned back to Dekar, saying, “Is that mask really worth your life, Matoran?”
“You’ve probably seen what it can do by now,” Dekar replied from the darkness of the cave. “Is it really worth yours?”
“Let me handle this,” Brutaka whispered. Then he swam toward the cave, treading water where he knew Dekar could see him. “Matoran! You can see I am not one of these foul creatures – my name is Brutaka. I am a member of the Order of Mata Nui, an organization dedicated to following the dictates of the Great Spirit. If you give me the mask, I vow by Mata Nui that the Barraki will never get their hands on it.”
Brutaka waited. Nothing he had said had been a lie. He was a member of the Order of Mata Nui, just a fallen one – and he had no intention of giving the mask to the Barraki.
Inside the cave, Dekar pondered. Was this Brutaka telling the truth? Was there any point in trying to resist, when the Barraki could just come in and take the mask if they wanted it? Should he just hand it over and hope they wouldn’t kill him?
“No,” he said finally. “If you were destined to have this mask, then you would have been the one to find it. You want it? Come and take it.”
“Well handled,” Pridak said to Brutaka, all the while signaling to Kalmah. “Order of Mata Nui indeed – who would believe that?”
“Stand back,” Brutaka snarled. “I will go in there and get the mask myself.”
“No,” Pridak answered. “I don’t think so.”
“Right,” Carapar added. “Save your strength. You’re going to need it.”
Before Brutaka could respond, he felt powerful tentacles wrap around his arms and legs. Despite his own great strength, he found himself being dragged away from the Barraki, helpless in the grip of a gigantic squid. He looked over his shoulder to see that the creature was pulling him toward the edge of Mahri Rock, beyond which was nothing but the black water.
“Wait!” Brutaka shouted. “You can’t do this! Do you know who I am? Do you know what I am?”
“Sure,” Carapar replied. “Lunch.”
The Barraki watched until Brutaka and the squid had disappeared. Then they turned their attention back to the cave. Carapar tore the rest of the rubble away from the mouth. Then Ehlek moved in, hurling electric bolts toward Dekar. One struck the Matoran, causing him to drop the Mask of Life. Pridak was there almost before it hit the ground.
“No,” Dekar said weakly. “Please. You don’t know what it can do. You’ll destroy it… if it doesn’t destroy you first.”
“Oh, there will be destruction,” Pridak answered. “Of that, I can assure you. But it will not be the Barraki or this mask that goes down to ruin – it will be the Brotherhood of Makuta, the Toa, and the Great Spirit himself!”
The Barraki reached out and touched the Mask of Life. It flared up, its glow filling the cave. Then the light grew brighter and brighter, spilling out of the cave and blinding the Barraki. Dekar shielded his eyes, but the intense light was still visible even through his hands. Incredibly, the light hit like a physical blow, forcing the Matoran against the wall. He could hear the Barraki yelling in shock and anger.
The light continued to grow. It spread across the entirety of Mahri Rock, throughout Mahri Nui, up the mountain peak and the stone cord menaced by the venom eel. It looked as if a sun had appeared beneath the waves to illuminate the entire ocean with a painfully bright white light.
Throughout the Pit, every eye was closed against the glow to keep vision from being lost permanently. Thus, there was no one to see just what the light did, or how it had changed the course of destiny.