Chapter 16 - Traitors
Kopeke dodged one of Thok's icy blasts just in time. The Piraka had appeared from behind a large boulder and had immediately begun an assault. Clearly, he had been looking for him.
Thok laughed. "I bet you could dodge all day. Running and hiding - that it what true Toa are made of."
Kopeke did not respond. Instead, he gambled that Thok wasn't as resistant to ice as a Toa of Ice was and strained his newfound powers to create a blizzard. Dalu leapt out of the way of the storm to see Thok being zapped by lightning bolts amidst it all. Kopeke's peculiar nature as a Toa Inika was proving an edge once again.
As Thok fell to the ground, Kopeke ended the storm. He had assumed victory too soon, however. Thok lifted his head from the snow and used his spellbinder vision to make Kopeke fall into a state of vertigo.
Dalu leapt into action then. She ran at Thok, twin chargers at the ready. Thok was not prepared for an assault by a Matoran and fell as the Ga-Matoran warrior ran into him. This caused his concentration to break, freeing Kopeke of the effects of his vision powers.
Thok rolled over and launched a Zamor sphere at Dalu. Dalu barely dodged the projectile that would have enslaved her. By then, Kopeke had made it to the two and held his sword over Thok.
"Surrender. You cannot win against both of us," Kopeke said in a tone of voice he imagined would frighten the Piraka. Nothing would frighten Thok, though. The white Piraka nodded, but as soon as Kopeke lowered his weapon, he brought nearby rocks alive to assault the Toa and Matoran. Thok laughed as he saw his creations batter the duo.
"You have not yet learned that we don't play clean, Toa. If we did, the Toa Nuva may have defeated us in the first place."
Kopeke froze a nearby rock and then shattered it. He couldn't help thinking that maybe Thok was right. If the Toa Nuva had not been so virtuous, perhaps they would have recovered the mask of life by now, and saved the universe?
No, he thought. Some moral standards are never worth sacrificing. When you lose your virtues once, you may lose them forever. And after that you are no longer useful in this world.
Dalu activated her chargers to increase the willpower of Thok drastically. Now having a much higher mental capability to use his power than ever before, Thok lost control over it. Around him, every molecule became alive, bringing every single pebble and piece of shrub to life. With no experience at controlling so many beings at once, Thok was overwhelmed by his own creations. He fell down and every inanimate object went dead once more.
Taipu would perhaps have applauded Dalu's achievement, but Kopeke simply aimed his sword and made an electrified ice prison around Thok.
"That should hold him for a while," he said.
"Let's take him prisoner," Dalu suggested. "He may have information on the mask of life... and we can't let his kind roam freely on the island of my people."
Kopeke had his doubts. With all of his teammates at the stronghold - surely they had finished their missions by now - there was nowhere to take and hold Thok. Caging him in the Matoran hideout was out of the question. Resourceful the Matoran might be, but they could not be tasked with keeping a monstrous Piraka in place.
"Make sure he doesn't escape," Kopeke said to Dalu. "I'm going to check with the other Toa, see what their status is."
Before Dalu could respond, Kopeke activated his Iden and separated his spirit from his body. Kopeke's body went limp, leaving Dalu waiting for his return and to guard the Piraka. Kopeke's spirit soared through the air at a magnificent speed. Eventually, he reached the lava reservoirs and saw a terrifying sight: Kapura, Hafu, Tamaru, Garan, Velika and Kazi were there, fighting against Hakann, Vezok and several Nektann. The numbers would have been on the Toa's side, if not for the fact that Tamaru, Kazi and Garan had all been felled already by Hakann's mental blasts.
Kopeke realized then that Macku was missing. She was the only one who could see Kopeke's astral form, but she was nowhere to be seen. Had she still not completed her mission?
Kopeke sent his spirit towards the Green Belt in search of his friend.
"In case you're wondering, this little gun of mine can fire blasts that magnetize you to the nearest physical construction," Avak explained to Macku, who was trying to pull herself free from the cliffside in vain. Avak tapped his magnetic gun and chuckled. "Now I'll just have to walk over to you and finish you off. When you're done with, I can butcher this annoying Ta-Matoran at my leisure. Then I'll walk down the staircase you so generously opened up for me, and take the mask of life. Perfect crime, with all profit remaining in my hands."
"Do you really think the other Toa won't find a way to stop you? Or even your treacherous friends?" Macku said. She was really stalling, preparing her elemental energies for an attack.
"The Toa? They will be too busy mourning your corpse to pay attention to anything beyond that. As for the other Piraka, by the time they realize what is happening, I'll be long gone already."
Avak lifted his other tool, the seismic pickaxe, in preparation of the final blow. Macku chose this moment to act, seizing control of the underground waters and sending them through the ground to blast the brown Piraka from down below. Avak had not been expecting an attack from underneath. He toppled over and suddenly found himself sinking into mud. Macku had increased the moisture of the soil.
The magnetic effect of Avak's launcher wore off, releasing Macku. Balta was free now as well, Avak's concentration having been broken.
Kopeke's spirit arrived at the scene. He was surprised to see a hole in the cliff with a staircase inside.
Macku could see Kopeke's spirit, thanks to a side-power of her mask. "Kopeke! What are you doing here?"
Balta looked around for a while, then remembered what Kopeke's mask could do.
"The others are in trouble!" Kopeke told Macku. "And I caught a Piraka as well. But... what is that staircase for?"
"It's the entrance to the mask of life, Kopeke," Macku answered. "But now Avak knows about it too. We have a little problem here."
"We have no way to - look out!" Kopeke suddenly shouted. Macku turned around to see Reidak leaping at her from behind. Macku rolled on her back, caught Reidak with her legs, and sent him flying over the Toa. Balta was ready with his twin repellers. Reidak fell on the Ta-Matoran's tools, sending him flying back again.
Avak managed to free his pickaxe and used it to knock Macku off her feet. Kopeke watched the battle unfold, shouting warnings to Macku. Thanks to Kopeke's spirit guiding her, Macku managed to evade most of Reidak's attacks and deliver well-timed ones herself. Avak succeeded in finally dragging himself out of the mud and joined Reidak, only to be distracted by Balta. Although not a match to the Piraka physically, the Ta-Matoran was able to keep him from joining Reidak.
Kopeke realized the battle was futile. One Toa and Matoran could not possibly beat two Piraka, especially since Reidak had one of the most unusual and powerful abilities - adapting to all defeats and rising more powerful than before.
"Retreat!" Kopeke called out to Macku. "We have to regroup."
"But the entrance..."
"We will get to it later," Kopeke said. "We will go after the Piraka and stop them, but we cannot do it without the others."
Macku understood, but was still tempted to argue. She didn't, reasoning that they didn't have the time for that.
"Balta, we need to go!" she shouted and grabbed the Ta-Matoran. Balta protested, but Macku took her away from the entrance and towards the lava reservoirs. She did not hear Reidak and Avak behind her, so she had to assume they were taking advantage of being the only Piraka to know about the entrance to the mask of life. It saddened her, but she trusted Kopeke's wisdom.
Kopeke was about to return to his body far from here, but decided to linger a bit longer to overhear Reidak's and Avak's conversation.
"They're gone," Avak said. "There's no one here but us... we can go down the staircase and retrieve the mask of life! Just the two of us, Reidak."
Reidak grabbed Avak by the chin and held him in a grip. "You fool!" he spat. "You would lead me into that tunnel to burn with you. You and I both know that the staircase is guarded and booby-trapped. That's why we Piraka have decided to remain a team all this time - so we can reach the mask at all. Go by yourself and you will be turned to ash for sure."
Avak struggled to breathe in Reidak's grip. Even as the black Piraka released his grip, Avak understood that he was right, however. Charging in would be suicidal right now. Besides, there was a battle going on near the stronghold. They would be needed there.
They were about to go there when a huge axe-wielding figure emerged from among the trees. Reidak had seen him once before.
"You," he said. "I thought you would've learned something from last time."
Axonn's eyes were full of hatred. The Piraka had never stood a chance against him - it was Brutaka who had beaten him. Reidak was boasting, everyone present knew that.
"Uh, we were just on our way..." Avak said. Axonn lifted his axe in response.
"You had better. I would crush you now if not for... my own purposes."
"Then why are you here?" Reidak asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Don't tempt my wrath," Axonn said. He was clearly very tensed up. Avak took that as a sign that it was best to retreat while they were being offered the chance. Grabbing Reidak, he dashed in the direction of the stronghold. Axonn watched them leave, then grabbed onto a nearby tree for support. He had been bluffing, for his strength had not yet returned. It would take a while for him to recover from his fight with Brutaka. For now, he would stay at the entrance of the 777 stairs and guard it against the Piraka. There was no way he would let them get by him if they came before the Toa Inika.
Hafu coughed heavily. The entire lava reservoir was surrounded by smoke. Vezok and Hakann had decided to use teamwork for a change, and activate their elemental powers in unison. Fire and water had resulted in smoke that covered the entire place. This was very bad news for the Toa, for they knew Hakann could probably see well even in these conditions. He would strike by surprise and take down each one of them.
Hafu spotted someone in in the fog. He squinted, but realized too late that it was Vezok with one of his water daggers ready. Vezok struck at Hafu. Being a Toa of Stone, Hafu was especially vulnerable to water attacks, which did not bode well for him. Before Vezok could deliver a follow-up attack, however, someone grabbed him and flew with him high in the air.
Taipu! Hafu thought as he rose back to his feet and struggled to find his way out of the smoke.
Nearby, Vezok had blasted Taipu with impact vision, causing both of them to fall. Taipu's stout body made the impact fairly easy to bear. Vezok did not receive much damage either, and was on his feet soon... only to be swept off by a tidal wave that electrocuted him at the same time. Macku arrived at the scene with Balta.
"Sister!" Taipu exclaimed. "It is nice to see you again, especially now."
"We have to hurry," Macku said, not sharing in the enthusiasm. "We've got to regroup and head out again, Taipu. Where are the others?"
Hafu emerged from the smoke nearby, carrying an unconscious Kazi. Balta gasped as he saw this and immediately went over to help his Ko-Matoran friend.
"Kapura and Tamaru are still there," Hafu said, panting. Even for a fit being like himself, all this fighting and running was taking its toll. "Tamaru was out, last I saw. Not to mention Garan and Velika."
"The smoke is dissipating," Macku noted. "Wait... is that... Hakann?"
Hakann charged at the assembled Toa, firing lava blasts from his lava launcher. Athletic as she was, Macku dodged them while Hafu used his Sanok to shoot a laser beam from his laser axe at just the right spot underneath Hakann. The stone cracked, trapping Hakann in a small crevice.
Taipu looked around, trying to find Vezok. The blue Piraka had obviously fled, which was probably smart of him. The wall of smoke had completely disappeared now, revealing Tamaru, Kapura, Garan and Velika, all of them battered by Hakann's attacks. They were easily revived though.
Hafu was about to capture Hakann, but the Piraka had used his heat vision to burn a hole inside the crevice, allowing an escape route. The Toa decided not to track him down, since there were more important things to deal with.
"As soon as Kopeke arrives, we should get moving," Macku said. "You won't believe it, guys... I found the entrance to the mask of life."
The other Toa and Matoran were indeed surprised by the news.
"My guess is that Avak and Reidak are already going down the staircase," Macku continued with resolve. "We had to leave them, but we will catch them and prevent them from taking that mask."
"Wait a second!" Taipu interrupted. "This is all so sudden! What about the Toa Nuva? We need them to help us down the staircase! And to stand up against the Piraka."
"If they are still alive, they are being held at the stronghold," Garan said. "The Piraka are all scattered at the moment. Now is our chance to storm that fortress and save your friend... as well as destroy some important equipment the Piraka may be using."
"There's no time!" Macku insisted. "What if Avak and Reidak actually make it down there and steal the mask of life? All hope will be lost."
"The other Piraka are still a threat," Hafu reminded. "They will certainly go after the Matoran once they see we are somewhere else... or worse, find the entrance themselves and descend after us. Then we'll be trapped between two groups of Piraka. Not to mention that Brutaka guy, who may be anywhere at the moment."
Macku sighed. The search for the mask of life was urgent, but without the Toa Nuva to help them out, their chances were not good. As much as she hated to ignore Avak and Reidak, they would need to attack the stronghold and help the Toa Nuva. Twelve Toa would actually stand a chance against the Piraka and even Brutaka.
"Let's make it quick, then," Macku said. "Kopeke is on his way here, with Dalu. Then we'll move in."
Zaktan heard the sound of a dimensional portal opening up behind him. Leaving the vat of antidermis alone for a while, the Piraka-leader turned to see a grim-looking Brutaka.
"I need more of that stuff," Brutaka said, referring to the antidermis. That strange substance was known to increase Brutaka's strength instead of slaving him, which none of the Piraka could understand. Consuming too much antidermis would make Brutaka feel sick though, which was why he only fed on it occasionally.
"What happened?" Zaktan asked, then turned at the sound of Vezok, Hakann, Reidak and Avak walking inside the central chamber. None of them looked very well.
"This is the last time you send us in battle without participating yourself," Vezok growled. "You may be the leader of this group, but that doesn't give you the right to step aside and watch us being beat down."
"We defeated the Toa Nuva," Zaktan responded. "They were more powerful than these new Toa. What makes you unable to deal with them, may I ask?"
Reidak gave Zaktan a glare. "They're immune to our spheres, for one thing. They also have those weird lightning powers and that cursed Matoran team to help them out."
Zaktan scoffed and walked around the room, waving his arms. His body seemed to be constantly shifting, as the protodites that made up his body readjusted themselves. The Piraka had gotten used to this weird sight, but for anyone else it was sickening.
"All we need to do is to beat those Toa, find the mask of life and we're done," he said, exasperated. "While you were fighting the Toa, I was gathering information delivered to us by our Nektann. You know they are monitoring the island and looking for the mask as well."
Reidak glanced at Avak, who nodded.
"Zaktan," Avak began. "I found the entrance in the Green Belt. Yes, while fighting one of those Toa, I actually achieved something you were supposed to."
Zaktan froze, even his protodites stopping their movement. For a moment, all was silent. Even Brutaka was surprised. He had known where the mask of life was all this time, but had never actually encountered the entrance. If he had, he would have stolen the mask long ago.
"Where is Thok?" Zaktan asked.
“We haven't seen him since you sent him after the Toa along with us," Hakann said. "I hope the Toa burned him down."
"Doesn't matter," Zaktan said. "We will move out immediately. Brutaka, you will transport us to the Green Belt. Then you'll -"
Brutaka grinned. "Guess again."
With that he opened a portal with his Olmak and stepped through, vanishing.
"That traitor!" Zaktan scowled. "He must be going for the mask himself! We must go after him!"
"Uh, I'd gladly do that..." Hakann said, looking out the window. "But we have company."
Wow, this was a long one! To be continued... be sure to let me know what you think about this chapter and the epic as a whole.