Ten years ago. . . .
After his first match with Heavyweight, Night Vision spent most of his time training. He trained with a wide variety of beings, mostly other elementalists, such as the Roffican codenamed Aqua, who could control water, and the bone hunter codenamed Mute, who despite her name was far too chatty for Night's tastes, although that didn't stop her from wiping the floor with him in their first training session a week after he came to the Bunker.
As the days turned into weeks, a schedule soon became apparent to Night Vision. Every day early in the morning, an alarm that sounded like glass being broken against metal rang throughout the entire Bunker, awaking him and his fellow elementalists. They were then summoned to the cafeteria, where they would eat a breakfast composed of food carefully chosen by Ignika Industries scientists for its nutritional value, as well as the effects it had on elementalists.
This meant that all elementalists received the same meal every day: Toast, with some jelly and butter to give it flavor (although not too much), a bowl of Thornax stew (which only Night Vision seemed to appreciate), cooked sand bat, and a tall glass of water or sometimes arang juice. There was rarely any variation in the meal and eventually Night Vision joined the other elementalists in calling it 'sand food,' a term that was usually only applied to tasteless food but which could also describe food you ate day in and day out that lacked variety.
After breakfast, the elementalists would be split up. Some would go into training, others would undergo experiments by II scientists designed to test their abilities in non-combat-related situations, and still others . . . well, Night Vision was unsure what happened to the last group. He knew for certain, at least, that they weren't given free rein of the Bunker. None of the elementalists were allowed to wander the Bunker as they pleased, apparently for security reasons, as one scientist told Night Vision.
At lunch, they would once again have the same meal from breakfast, although they sometimes changed it up a bit by allowing the elementalists to have cake and the like. Still, the puritanical way they were given their food made Night Vision wistfully recall the homemade meals Grandfather had always prepared for him back home.
Speaking of Grandfather, Night Vision had been unable to write to him because of the strict schedule. He had not been given any ink or paper. The elementalists apparently were not allowed to do any writing at all, if Heavyweight was telling him the truth. She explained that the II scientists were uncertain how paper and ink might react to the elementalists' new powers, which sounded like ###### to Night Vision but he didn't say that aloud.
After lunch, they would do another round of testing and training and then have dinner. After dinner, all of the elementalists were required to return to their rooms and sleep for the night, after which they would get up the next day at the same time as the last and begin the cycle all over again. There was so little variation that Night figured he could have set his watch, if he had one, to the schedule.
This schedule quickly became impractical for him. Night Vision had never been a night owl before, but suddenly he found himself staying up all night when the elementalists were supposed to be sleeping. He would only crawl into bed just as the alarm went off announcing the new day. He tried to catch naps during mealtimes, but mealtimes were so short and noisy that he could only catch maybe a few minutes of sleep a day, if even that.
As a result, during the first few weeks of his time in the Bunker, Night was even more irritable and grouchy than usual. He lashed out at the tiniest mistakes or annoyances and more than once found himself on the receiving end of a beat down from one of the other elementalists during mealtimes due to a sarcastic or rude comment he made. It became so bad that the II scientists had to ask him what was wrong and when he explained that he was not getting enough sleep, they took him out of his normal room and placed him in a special lab where they monitored his sleeping patterns for a week.
At the end of that week, the scientists reported to him that they believed his newly-found darkness powers were disrupting his usual sleep patterns. They explained that his body wanted to sleep during the day and become active at night when it was darkest. That meant in order for Night Vision to act with his full strength, he would need to be on a different schedule from the others.
Not that Night Vision minded that. He could barely tolerate his fellow elementalists, who ranged from the drama queen Gadarian codenamed Bright to the perpetually chatty Mute. The only two he really got along with were Taniru – whose codename, she told him, was 'Blaze' – and, much to his own surprise, Heavyweight.
Befriending Heavyweight was something he had not seen coming. After their first training session, during which she had defeated him and treated his culture with disrespect (although as he soon found out, most of the people in the Bunker thought even less of the Skrall than she did), the two spent nearly all of their mealtimes together, talking about their pasts, sharing stories, and discovering each other's interests. Blaze had joined them and soon the three became friends . . . or as close as a Matoran, Vortixx, and Skrall could ever hope to be, anyway.
Heavyweight revealed to Night Vision that prior to volunteering for Project Elementalist, she lived in a small Vortixx mining town in New Xia. She apparently tried to take over the mining company she worked for, failed, was fired, and subsequently lost all of her property. She signed up for Project Elementalist because it afforded her a chance to make some money, not starve to death (her words, not Night Vision's), and have a place to sleep. She also told him that her real name was Hamate.
As for Blaze, she had originally been a student at the New Atero Academy for Future Toa, where she had been in training to become a Toa. Apparently, her love of science had earned her quite a bit of bullying from her classmates, which got so bad that she actually dropped out and applied for Project Elementalist because she desperately needed the money and shelter, now that she no longer had a place to stay in the city.
And much to Night Vision's surprise, he found himself genuinely enjoying these mealtimes with Heavyweight and Blaze. Sure, sometimes he and Heavyweight would get into big arguments and he got frustrated with Blaze's sometimes astonishing ignorance of Skrall customs (for example, she apparently believed that Skrall glorified murder until Night Vision corrected her), but he looked forward to those mealtimes nonetheless, even when he was tired. They made the Bunker seem a little less confining.
So when the scientists told him that his new schedule would make it impossible for him to eat with his fellow elementalists, he asked if it was possible for him to at least eat with Heavyweight and Blaze, if nothing else. The scientists were confused by the response, not to mention a little indignant that he would dare question their neat little schedule they had set up for him, but nonetheless they complied.
Thus, Night Vision's schedule changed. He now did all of his training and testing at night, while the others slept, but he was awoken at breakfast, lunch, and dinner so he could dine with his fellow elementalists. It was an awkward schedule, to say the least, but as Night Vision was allowed to spend time with his friends, he didn't mind it.
What he did mind, however, was the strange testing exercises he was forced to undergo most days. Such as the time he was dumped into a lightless, muddy pit whose walls were too steep and slimy to climb out of. He was given the task of collecting the various bits and pieces of a ladder that were in the mud and then put them together himself and use the ladder to escape the pit. The lack of light wasn't a problem thanks to his night vision, but digging through the mud for every last piece was. He spent the rest of the day in a bad mood after that.
Nonetheless, Night Vision was assured that half of his earnings were indeed going back to his grandfather in Nenas, as he had arranged when they first hired him. That was the main reason he was here, after all. All Project Elementalist volunteers were paid a little money in exchange for their services. So long as Night Vision got his pay, he was willing to put up with some of the crazier crud he had to deal with day in and day out.
The only non-elementalists who lived in the bunker were the II scientists and guards. In particular, the head scientist, a Ba-Matoran named Sorox, seemed to take a special interest in Night Vision. Sorox was present at almost all of his training and testing sessions, taking notes and sometimes even coming down to talk to the Skrall. Night Vision learned from another scientist that Sorox was something of a workaholic and that he treated every elementalist this way.
At first, Night Vision was self-conscious about being watched by other people so intently. The scientists rarely interacted with the elementalists during their training and testing sessions, but it was easy to feel their eyes following the elementalists' every movement. Night Vision was not normally self-conscious, but for some reason it took him a month to get used to the idea of being watched so intently by a bunch of people whose names he didn't even know.
Soon, though, Night Vision grew used to his schedule. He slept during the day, except during mealtimes, and trained at night. Most days he would return to his room exhausted and doing his best to forget that he now had control over his elemental powers equivalent to that of a Toa.
For most of his life, Night Vision had always looked upon elemental powers as a strange thing, a curiosity, one that should be treated with fear and caution. His father had been frozen to death by a Toa of Ice during a riot started by Skrall Imperialists when Night Vision was a child. In addition, Grandfather suffered from an old burn he had sustained during the war from a Toa of Fire. It never occurred to Night Vision – not even in his wildest dreams – that he would ever get control over elemental powers someday himself.
Indeed, if Night Vision had not been forced to train every day, he probably would never use his powers at all. Watching shadow bolts fire from his hands awoke a primal fear in the pit of his stomach that he couldn't explain. Whereas Heavyweight, for example, often used her gravity powers even outside of training for basic needs, Night Vision didn't use his powers at all and tried to forget about them. It just seemed unnatural to him that a Skrall could use elemental powers, a thought he confessed to Heavyweight and Blaze one day a month after he had joined Project Elementalist, while they were eating lunch in the cafeteria.
“Most of us were unused to it,” Blaze said in agreement, nodding as she ate her toast. “At first. But now, well, it comes second nature to me.”
“That's because you're a Matoran,” Night Vision said, pointing his spoon at her. “You might become a Toa someday. It's no wonder you find elemental powers natural.”
“I don't see any reason to get upset over them,” said Heavyweight, sipping her water. “I've always been annoyed by Toa and other beings who use elemental powers. They've always acted like they're better than us. When the elementalist serum is finished, this will surely equalize our society, wouldn't you say?”
“Maybe,” said Night Vision.
He glanced down the table at the other elementalists. None of them seemed disturbed by their powers. Day in particular was something of a show-off. Out of all the elementalists, she seemed to take to her light powers like a fish to water. Right now, she was using her light powers to make herself invisible and visible again, much to the amusement of the other elementalists, who were watching her with glee. (Day had apparently been a famous actress before signing up for Project Elementalist, which certainly explained her attention-seeking behavior.)
“It's probably just the serum,” said Heavyweight. “Everyone has to deal with these bizarre mood swings. For example, at night I became extremely happy-go-lucky. No idea why. It just happens.”
“I fall into a deep depression at night,” said Blaze. “So deep that I usually can't get out of bed in the morning unless someone drags me out. After that, I'm usually good for the rest of the day.”
“I haven't noticed any extreme mood swings in myself,” Night Vision said, scratching his head. “Maybe I'm different or something.”
“Maybe,” said Heavyweight. “Or maybe you just haven't had enough time to develop some. If you start acting like Day over there, I'll blame it on the serum.”
That conversation stayed with Night Vision afterward. Yet he didn't realize just how relevant it was to him until two months later, during a training session with Aqua.
Outside of Heavyweight and Blaze, Aqua was the only other elementalist Night Vision respected. Respected, but not liked. The Roffican was a retired soldier of the New Atero Army who had signed up for Project Elementalist because he saw it as a way to help his society now that his service was done.
Thus, Aqua and Night Vision understood one another on a level different from that of the other elementalists. Whatever differences there might be between races, Night Vision discovered that those who had been trained in the art of war were much more alike than they were different.
This particular session had been rather brutal. Whereas Aqua had more experience, both in combat and in using his water elemental powers, Night Vision's youth gave him more stamina, energy, and speed than the old Roffican. And despite his instinctive reservations, Night Vision was becoming more comfortable with his powers.
The two faced each other, sweating and panting. Aqua held two large spheres of water in his hands, while Night Vision's arms were cloaked in shadow energy. This fight may have been a training session, but that hadn't stopped either of them from going all out and doing their best to take down the other.
“You're quick and young, Skrall,” said Aqua. “Yet speed and youth can only take you so far.”
Night Vision felt the sweat trickle down the side of his face as he smirked. “You're right, elder. It just needs to take me far enough to beat you.”
Aqua laughed a great, booming laugh. “You are absolutely correct, Skrall. A tool that can only be used once is useful if it is used wisely.”
That was another thing Night Vision respected Aqua for. Out of all of the people in the Bunker – scientists and elementalists alike – Aqua was the only one who did not call him by his codename. Whether he did it because he respected Night Vision's culture or for some other reason, the Skrall appreciated it and wished the others would follow Aqua's example.
Before the next blows could be traded, the alarm blared suddenly. It startled both of them, causing their manifested powers to dissipate into thin air. Night Vision and Aqua looked up at the box where the scientists had been observing the fight and taking notes. All of them were gone.
“What's going on?” Night Vision said, looking back at Aqua. He had to speak loudly to be heard over the alarm. “Where did they-”
A voice blared from the speaker in the top right corner of the room, booming, “Alert, alert! All elementalists must return to their rooms immediately! This is not a drill! I repeat, this is not a drill!”
Night Vision and Aqua exchanged a puzzled look. Why did all of the elementalists have to return to their rooms? What was the problem?
The two tried to leave the arena, but for some reason the door was locked. They took turns trying to bash it down with their elemental powers, but it stood strong. So they retreated to the other end of the arena, deciding that they would simply wait in here until the problem was solved. After all, whatever the problem was, it clearly wasn't happening in the training arena. Indeed, Night Vision speculated that the arena might be safer than other places, as its walls and door were made out of protosteel, which was the strongest metal on the planet.
Just as Night Vision was beginning to relax, Aqua pointed at the door and said, “Skrall, look!”
Night peered at the door, but at first saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then he noticed that the door was sweating.
No, it wasn't sweating. It was melting. The metal was beginning to pool at the door's feet, dripping off its surface in huge drops. Night Vision had no idea what the heck was going on, but if there was something on the other side of that door trying to get in, he wasn't going to be taken unprepared.
Shadow began arcing up and down his arms like lightning. Next to him, Aqua had summoned two spheres of water again, except these two were much larger than the last ones. The two exchanged one last glance as the door finally melted into a puddle of liquid metal. And then the scariest thing Night Vision saw in his entire life stepped through the door.
It was a walking fire. At least, that was the only way Night Vision could describe it. A hissing, burning noise arose from the puddle of liquid metal at its feet, but the walking fire did not appear to take notice. It strode slowly into the room and as it did so, the temperature skyrocketed in a minute. Night Vision let out a gasp for air. So did Aqua, who looked close to fainting from the sheer heat.
The newcomer stopped and looked around, as if confused. Night Vision realized it was not a walking fire at all. Rather, it was a humanoid being who was on fire. Why the being wasn't screaming for dear life, Night Vision didn't know, but he occasionally caught sight of a Gadarian's face through the flames that shrouded its body.
“Who is that?” said Night Vision. “Have you ever seen him before, Aqua?”
Aqua shook his head. “Never. But whoever he is, he's clearly a threat. A little water ought to cool him off.”
The Roffican hurled both water spheres at the newcomer. The walking fire did not attempt to dodge them. When the spheres collided with the newcomer's flaming body, they exploded into steam that briefly obscured the flaming Gadarian from view. The next moment, however, a stream of flames flew out of the steam and probably would have totally roasted Aqua had not Night Vision tackled him to the ground in time.
As it was, the stream of fire struck the wall behind them, scorching a deep hole in the rock face. Night Vision and Aqua scrambled back to their feet as the fiery Gadarian waved both arms and dissipated the steam. Though it was impossible to tell what the Gadarian was thinking, Night Vision nonetheless believed their enemy was probably quite unhappy with Aqua's attempt to put out his flames.
This was confirmed when the Gadarian raised both arms and unleashed two streams of flames at the elementalists. This moved forced Night Vision and Aqua to scatter. Night Vision hurled twin bolts of shadow at the Gadarian, which hit him directly in the face, but that did nothing except cause the flaming Gadarian to turn toward him and raise its arms yet again.
Before he could fire his flames, however, a huge burst of water struck him in the back. This created yet another steam cloud, this one much larger than the last, not only obscuring the Gadarian from view, but also making the entire room difficult to see. Consequently, the room became nearly impossible to breathe in because of the combination of heat and steam, which made Night Vision feel like he stood in the center of a boiling cauldron.
Then he heard someone running nearby and out of the steam came Aqua, who grabbed Night Vision's arm and started dragging him away.
“Hey!” Night Vision protested. “Where are you taking me? The fire-”
“We can't beat him,” said Aqua in a strained voice. “He's too powerful. We should retreat and alert the rest of the Bunker of his-”
Aqua never got a chance to finish his sentence because at that moment a stream of fire broke through the steam. He only noticed it just enough to twist his body out of the way, but it was too late. The fire stream struck his left shoulder, knocking him flat off his feet as he let go of Night Vision, who jumped back in shock.
“Aqua,” said Night Vision in horror. “Are you-”
He heard a blast of fire, like the sound of cannon fire, and ducked and rolled away as yet another stream of flames flew out of the steam. He stopped, kneeling on one knee, and watched as the flaming Gadarian stepped out of the steam cloud. Again, it was impossible to read his face, but Night Vision realized that the Gadarian wanted him dead, for reasons the Skrall was not entirely certain of but which he realized were unimportant in the face of almost guaranteed death by fire.
Once again, the Gadarian raised his arms and unleashed another trail of fire. Night created a shield of shadow, but when the flames hit, it was with such force that he felt like he was trying to hold back the tide. And in the end, he failed. His shadow shield shattered and the flames got through, but not before Night Vision rolled out of the way.
He rolled to a stop and stood up, panting. In addition to the fire, smoke now arose from the Gadarian's body. Combined with the steam, Night Vision knew he only had a few minutes before the toxic air killed him. That meant he had to end this quickly, but his mind offered no immediate solution to his problem, which meant he was as good as dead.
So he decided to be desperate. He raised his hands and concentrated hard, harder than he ever had before, on summoning a deep ball of shadow around the fiery Gadarian. He had no idea if it would work. He was hoping to cut off the Gadarian's oxygen, thus rendering his flames inert, but he had never tried something like this before, so he had no idea if it would actually work. Yet it was the only thing he could think of doing, because otherwise he'd never live to see Grandfather ever again.
Thankfully, the Gadarian seemed confused by Night Vision's newfound courage because he just stood there for a moment watching the Skrall. Then he raised his arms, but it was too late for him. A huge ball of shadow immediately appeared around the Gadarian and, with it, the temperature dropped to a more reasonable degree. Night Vision let out a gasp, allowing the rapidly cooling air to enter his lungs, but he didn't let up. He kept the ball, kept deepening its shadow, forcing it to hold the flames inside it, to kill them, even.
Yet the strain of sustaining the ball was too much for Night Vision and he soon fell to his hands and knees, panting, sweating, and coughing loudly. He looked up just in time to see his shadow ball disappear, but the Gadarian was no longer on fire. He stood there, wearing completely charred black armor, with unblinking eyes, before falling flat on his face. He did not rise again, nor even so much as twitch.
Night Vision weakly looked over at Aqua. The Roffican was lying in a ball on the floor, his right hand gripping his left shoulder, muttering curses under his breath that the Skrall failed to catch. Nonetheless, he looked all right, despite his badly burned shoulder. As for Night Vision, he felt so weak that he could barely keep his eyes open.
A few seconds later, however, a group of scientists and guards entered the room. Most of them gathered around the formerly flaming Gadarian, but some came over to Aqua and Night Vision and started asking them all kinds of questions. To Night Vision's mind, their questions sounded like little more than strange noises that held no meaning and his answers (which ranged from a meaningless grunt to something that sounded like “ugh”) sounded the same.
When the scientists saw that Aqua was badly burned, however, they focused almost all of their attention on him and his shoulder. This allowed Night Vision to see the guards carry off the charred Gadarian. He caught only a brief glimpse of the Gadarian's face as his body was hauled out of the room, but that one glimpse was certain to stay with him for the rest of his life:
The Gadarian's mouth was stitched closed.
And he did not have any eyelids.
Present day. . . .
The squid's saliva dripped onto his face and into his eyes, yet that didn't stop Night from struggling to break free with all of his might. Unfortunately, it rapidly became clear that pure physical strength alone was not enough to escape. The squid's tentacles were slimy, yet strong. It was like he being held down by extremely thick ropes.
Its beak was coming closer and closer. He could feel its putrid breath flowing over him. It smelled horrible, like blood and guts, and still he failed to break free. He tried to summon a shadow ball in his hand, but the squid squeezed extra hard on his limbs, breaking his concentration and causing what little shadow he had managed to summon to dissipate into thin air.
His mind ran over the various ways he had escaped from death traps during his Dark Hunter years, but unfortunately all of the methods had always involved him working with Heavyweight. Remembering Heavyweight caused him to remember her death, which released an influx of grief into his body that he had not even realized he had been repressing, which in turn paralyzed him completely.
Guess this is it, then, Night thought as he looked up at the squid's beak, which was a mere inches away from his face now. This is how I die. At least I will join Heavyweight in the afterlife. Then again, do Skrall and Vortixx go to the same place when they die?
And then a burst of sound – so loud it actually hurt Night's ears – blared suddenly, like the Bunker's alarm system. It was so loud that the squid screeched in pain and actually let him go. The Skrall fell to the floor hard, landing on his feet and then falling to his knees because his legs were too weak to support him. The sound grew louder and louder, however, and the squid still screeched and flailed its tentacles, forcing Night to roll out of the way to avoid being hit.
He looked over his shoulder just in time to see a figure in white robes walking down the hall, hands up and palms outward. With a shock, he realized that the figure was Masqouth. There was no mistaking those robes or that childish grin, but for the life of him Night could not figure out what that moron was doing here or how he'd even known Night was here.
The squid didn't seem to share Night's surprise. When it noticed the source of the sound, its tentacles flew out toward Masqouth and wrapped around his arms. The noise stopped abruptly, but Masqouth didn't look alarmed. His mask shape-shifted into the traditional shape of the Mask of Life and it glowed briefly.
The next moment, the squid's tentacles dried up. Not only that, but the dryness traveled up the squid's tentacles to the squid itself. The Rahi had just enough time to let out one final screech of terror before its whole body became as dry as dust. Masqouth pulled back and the giant squid fell from the ceiling, exploding into dust when it collided with the floor.
Night stood up, wiping the slime off his face, but said nothing. Instead, he dashed at Masqouth. He didn't know what Masqouth was doing here, but it was irrelevant. He was going to kill that moron, just as he said he would. He knew that the Almighty Ones wouldn't like that, but right now the Almighty Ones weren't here and besides what did he care for what they thought?
He raised his sword and slashed at Masqouth with it. Masqouth slid out of the way, however, like he was skating, and his mask shape-shifted yet again, this time turning into the Mask of Repulsion. Night knew what was coming this time and so jumped out of the way to avoid being blasted back. To his surprise, however, Masqouth used the mask to fly into the air over the Skrall's head.
Masqouth landed on the ground behind Night and lashed out with a punch. The blow sent Night staggering. It was much stronger than he had anticipated, but no matter. He recovered quickly and activated his wrist shield, which spiraled out just in time to block a kick from Masqouth. That blow, too, was strong, sending Night skittering backwards across the floor and creating a dent in the shield.
Looking at his opponent, Night realized that Masqouth was wearing the Mask of Strength. That certainly explained why Masqouth's blows had been stronger than usual. All that meant was that Night would need to keep his distance for now.
That was easy. Night raised his sword and fired a couple of shadow bolts from it. Masqouth's mask shape-shifted yet again, however, this time into the Mask of Shielding. Night's shadow bolts struck the shield with impressive force, but they did little to crack it. As soon as the shadow bolts disappeared, the shield dropped because Masqouth's mask had shape-shifted once again, this time into the Mask of Speed.
Before Night could move, Masqouth ran at him with super speed and pinned him to the wall. Night didn't drop his weapons. He lashed out with a kick, striking Masqouth in the abdomen and forcing the Echo to let go of him. Night followed this up with a blow from his sword, slicing across Masqouth's chest.
Masqouth's mask immediately change once more, but before Night could get a good look at it, his enemy vanished. Surprised, Night looked around, wondering where Masqouth had gone, before he felt two strong hands grab him from behind and lift him up in the air. It took him a second to realize that Masqouth had somehow grabbed him and he last out with his arms and legs, but that did nothing to stop Masqouth from hurling him through the air.
Night crashed on the floor painfully, but he rolled with the momentum and was back on his feet instantly. He looked up in time to see Masqouth's mask shape-shift again, this time into yet another unfamiliar shape. When it glowed, however, Night found himself facing four Masqouth's instead of one.
“Illusions?” Night said, holding up his sword and shield. “Is that what you're trying to scare me with now, Masqouth?”
“We are not illusions,” said one of the Masqouths. He tapped his Kanohi and said, “Great Mask of Time Duplication. Let's me summon as many of my past selves as needed. I think four should be enough to take care of you, wouldn't you say?”
All four of the Masqouths charged. Night swung his sword, unleashing a wave of shadow that struck all four of the Masqouths. Then they all disappeared, save for one, the original, who was staggering from the shadow wave. Night dashed forward and slashed at Masqouth again.
The Echo raised his arms just in time, however, and blocked the sword. The blade clanged off his arms and he lashed out, but Night raised his shield just in time to block the blow. Like before, Masqouth wore the Mask of Strength, so when Night's shield took the blow, he not only went skittering backwards across the floor, but his shield shattered, too.
“Oops,” said Masqouth. “Looks like I broke your toy. Just like how you broke my parents.”
Night had no idea what Masqouth meant, but he didn't get the opportunity to ask because for the nth time, Masqouth's Kanohi transformed. For the second time, it took on the shape of the Mask of Speed. Masqouth shot forward, but Night was ready. He pulled the trigger on his sword and it burst into flames and he slashed at Masqouth.
The Echo just barely managed to move out of the way in time to avoid it, but he went too fast and slammed into the wall hard enough to crack it. Dazed, Masqouth staggered backward, but Night didn't give him a chance to recover.
The Skrall ran up to Masqouth, grabbed him by the back of his head, slammed him against the wall again for good measure, and shoved him to the ground. He pinned the still-dazed Masqouth to ground with one foot and pointed the tip of his still-flaming at Masqouth's face.
“This is where it ends, Masqouth,” said Night, panting and sweating hard. “This is for Heavyweight!”
He raised his sword, but before he could bring it down, Masqouth's mask transformed into a shape he did not recognize. Twin lasers fired from the Echo's eyes and struck Night's hand, sending his sword flying out of his grip. Taken by surprise, Night accidentally took the pressure off Masqouth's chest, allowing the Echo to roll out from underneath the Skrall's foot and get to his feet.
Not to be taken by surprise again, Night charged shadow energy through his hands. At the same time, Masqouth's mask changed shape again and twin balls of fire appear in his palms. The two stood with their hands aimed at each other.
“Looks like we're at a stalemate,” said Night through gritted teeth.
“Why makes you say that?” Masqouth asked, his teeth equally clenched.
“Because if we both blast each other, then I doubt either of us will be able to dodge it,” said Night.
“It doesn't matter,” said Masqouth with a snarl. “You killed my parents. If I must die in order to kill you, so be it.”
“What the heck are you going on about?” Night asked in annoyance. “I've never even so much as touched the Almighty Ones. Are you trying to confuse me or something? Because if so, it's working.”
“Don't lie to me,” Masqouth said. “Atuje told me the whole story. He told me you and your two friends killed my parents. I saw the warehouse. You are a deceitful liar of the highest order.”
Night shook his head. “And you're the biggest moron I've ever met if you believe that obviously false lie.”
“You're the liar,” Masqouth said. “I always knew you weren't perfect, but this? This is beyond redemption.”
“Did you see your parents' bodies?” Night asked. “Did Atuje show you their graves?”
A flicker of doubt crossed Masqouth's face. “Well, no, he didn't show me the bodies, but-”
“Did he offer you any proof at all that I or Jet or Kiriah killed them?” Night asked. “Did you even think to ask?”
Masqouth's doubtful expression quickly turned into a scowl. “Are you saying I'm stupid?”
“I'm saying you're naïve,” Night said. “Think about it. You and I are clear equals in battle. The Almighty Ones dwarf us both. Even with the help of Jet and Kiriah, do you think I could possibly even hurt the Almighty Ones? Ask yourself that.”
For a moment, Night was certain Masqouth was going to ignore him.
Instead, the Echo said, “Now that you mention it . . . no. I don't believe you could kill my parents. It's impossible.”
“So now you know who the real liar is,” said Night. “Atuje. He lied to you. He's the king of liars.”
Masqouth pursed his lips, but didn't get rid of his fire balls. “But . . . he's never lied to me before. Why would he lie to me about something as serious as this?”
Night looked at Masqouth suspiciously. “So you really have no idea what Atuje is actually trying to accomplish? You have no idea how he has manipulated you from the start?”
To Night's surprise, Masqouth's fire balls dissipated and he put both hands over his ears. “Stop it. Stop saying those words. You're wrong. You're lying. Atuje would never manipulate me. Never.”
Night, of course, didn't let his guard down. “Then maybe it's time you learned the truth. The Almighty Ones told me and the others your story. I know your origin. Will you at least listen to that?”
Masqouth seemed like he was going to say no. Then he nodded slowly as he said, “Don't expect me to believe you, though.”
“All right,” said Night. “Then listen.”
Night told Masqouth all about the vision the Almighty Ones had shown him. He told Masqouth about Wyoko, about how Atuje had originally tried to kill him, about how Atuje had fought the Almighty Ones over Masqouth's murderous deeds. He spared no detail. Even when Masqouth began looking more and more upset, Night did not attempt to sugarcoat this story. Masqouth needed to know the truth. The whole truth.
When Night finished, Masqouth was silent for several moments. Night wished he had telepathy so he could figure out what Masqouth was thinking. As it was, Night kept his guard up, just in case Masqouth decided that he didn't believe him.
Then Masqouth looked up and said, “I . . . I believe you, Night. What you say, all of it, is true. I don't want to admit it, but I can't ignore it any longer. That would be dishonest of me.”
Night critically looked at Masqouth. The Echo wore an expression of solemnity and child-like sincerity. His mask resembled the Ignika again, but Masqouth didn't look like he was going to use its power. His arms hung at his sides and his shoulders sagged.
Finally, Night nodded and said, “Good. I was hoping I'd get to punch you out, but I guess this works, too.”
“We should leave immediately,” said Masqouth. “Go after Atuje. I am starting to think that he was the one who really killed my parents or did something else equally horrible to them. I am not going to tolerate his lies anymore, no sir.”
“I understand, but not yet,” said Night, shaking his head. “Kiriah and Jetrupi are stuck in this maze. We can't leave without them.”
Masqouth bit his lip. “But I want to go now. I don't want to waste any time here.”
“I don't like wasting time, either, but if we're going to take on Atuje, it makes sense to get as many allies as we can,” said Night. “And Kiriah and Jet are both allies. Besides, they cannot leave on their own because Atuje took our dimension-hopping powers away from us when he banished us here.”
“Oh,” said Masqouth, snapping his fingers. “That's why you are wandering around in this maze. I was confused about that.”
Night folded his arms. “How did you even find me, anyway? It's not like I left a trail for you to follow.”
“I followed the open paths,” Masqouth said. “There were a couple of other paths, but they were completely blocked off.”
Night looked up at the ceiling and muttered, “So Mendos is herding me and the others in one direction. That can't be good.”
“Who's Mendos?” Masqouth asked.
“I'll explain on the way out of here,” said Night. “For now, we gotta go. The only way we'll find Kiriah and Jet is if we keep moving forward. We have no time to waste.”