The Rahkshi started to move forward.
As a block, each regiment advanced upon their respective Koro. It was all too clear that they had received the order to begin at last; the ones in the lead brandished their staffs and shrieked, intimidating and terrible. All the Rahkshi marched in perfect synchronicity; their precisely composed footfalls made their approach even more ominous. At first the shock of the creatures’ motion and the awful noise they made shocked the Koro defenders into renewed stillness – thanks in part to the Rahkshi of Fear – but it was not long before the Toa and Matoran of Mata Nui remembered their purpose. Remembered their courage.
Volleys of attacks launched forth against the Rahkshi. Elemental nebulae pelted the ranks of spiny things, catching one in the chest, another in the leg, and perhaps driving them back a pace. Arrows, rocks, and anything small enough to throw were airborne projectiles that rained down on the hard backs of the attacking army; in most cases these ricocheted off, but sometimes a lucky arrowhead would bounce off the shell of one Rahkshi and injure another. Blowguns, Madu Cabolo, disks, knives, throwing axes; the first of the Rahkshi fell to their knees. Some, albeit few, did not stand up again, but their collapse was enough to bolster morale. The defenders cheered.
The Rahkshi, as a whole, hadn’t been slowed by the ranged attacks. They swatted aside elemental constructs, broke through walls of ice and stone as easily as if they’d been made of paper. The dark beasts started to use their own abilities, fighting back. Sonic clusters broke walls, sent Matoran on them flying away; whirring cyclones gathered all around, full of separately summoned chain lightning; hazes of confusion and fear were dangerous pockets of air that, if stepped into, would make a defender lose his or her head until he or she was pulled out; the ground beneath the defenders’ feet warped, lost its density, crumbled; beams of thin laser vision sliced through weapons and unwary bodies.
Where there were gaps to be bridged or large obstacles to be overcome, the Rahkshi leapt into the air and assumed the shapes of arrowheads, hovered for a moment, and then zinged towards their foes. The melee started in earnest, and both sides surged towards each other. Swords and spears and axes and shields blocked the first savage swipes of Rahkshi steel, sparked against the sharp blades at the end of the infamous staffs. The quicker weapons retorted in turn, scored a few blows on their foes; the slower ones were wounded.
The fighting was intense; the Koro defenders were fuelled with the righteous rage of protecting their homes. The Rahkshi were the greater force, but would not be met with surrender. Toa and Matoran fought with fury, fought like they knew that one day their deeds would be remembered in the great legends. This was the ultimate struggle for survival. This was the fight that they needed to win.
But they were losing.
The Rahkshi pressed their advantage gleefully, pushing the defenders back into their Koros, getting their first real footholds into the cities. Slowly but surely, even against a tide of renewed desperation, the Rahkshi advanced further. They crushed homes; they crushed anything they could get their hands on. The defenders were virtuous, but the Rahkshi were too strong. All was nearly lost; the tide of the battle had turned.
And, instantly, it turned again.
It was as though a switch had been turned inside the Rahkshi. All at once, they all seemed disoriented, looked sharply around, hissed to themselves. Upon noticing that they were surrounded by their own kind, the eyes of Rahkshi widened in shock, and then narrowed dangerously. As though suddenly aware that they were all similarly charged magnets and that they felt the strong desire to repel, they imploded. Rahkshi began to fight Rahkshi, and began to slay one another viciously. Slugs squealed as they were plucked out of carapaces and crushed in iron fingers; staffs clanged against one another until first blood; sharp teeth dug into unprotected undersides. Shrill, pained screams filled the air.
It took the defenders a few moments to process what exactly was happening. But once they saw that the resolve of their foes was gone, their spirits soared, and their objective became very simple: push the Rahkshi out of the Koros, let them destroy themselves elsewhere. With renewed vigor, Toa and Matoran cooperated to drive back the Rahkshi, which was a far easier task than before. They were wild beasts now and, when shoved with elemental attacks, blades, and even fists, they opted to take the path of least resistance: backwards.
As they ran on their long legs back the way they’d come, Rahkshi encountered other Rahkshi doing the same thing and, as though mutually offended another had stolen their strategy, they brawled. Usually, only one came out alive. The grounds before the Koro were littered with the rent corpses of Rahkshi, trodden carelessly underfoot by those still fleeing. Into jungles, down snowy slopes, over white cliffs, through dark tunnels, over dunes, into burnt wasteland (or straight into a lava lake), the surviving Rahkshi – perhaps a quarter of those that had attacked – spread out in all directions. They were territorial creatures, and each sought its own domain.
Parties of quick-footed Toa followed some of these Rahkshi and, after difficult duels, killed them as well, but most of the Rahkshi had slipped away too quickly to be caught. The defenders hardly cared; they were so exhausted, so utterly happy to have survived, that the escaped creatures were the last things on their minds. They had won! They had done the unthinkable, and they had won!
It was only once the overjoyed clapping of backs, cheering, and crying had died down that the denizens of the Koros started to wonder why they had won. They’d been so close to being wiped out, until something in their foes had changed... It had been as though the Rahkshi had instantaneously lost their sense of direction, or they’d all been beheaded-
Could it be?
Was it even possible?
It was the only answer that made sense.
Did they dare hope?
Hope is tenacious. It snuck into their heads whether they liked it or not.
The theory spread with the rapidity of wildfire, and it wasn’t long before everyone had the idea planted in his or her mind. The thought was appealing, too appealing. Could they really give it any credit? Perhaps this was all an elaborate trick. Then why had so many of the Rahkshi died, first? He wasn’t one to be wasteful… No… It was still the only answer that made sense.
The rest of the day, for many, was a haze. Post-battle cleanup was difficult, as many vital structures on the outside of the Koro had been broken. Fatalities were surprisingly low, though many had been dealt severe wounds. If the battle had gone on longer, they wouldn’t have received the medical treatment they’d needed to survive. The defenders praised Mata Nui the umpteenth time that day for their good fortune. Everyone milled about the streets, finding their friends and allies, feeling weights lift from their weary shoulders as they saw that these people had survived, too.
It had been a bright afternoon, and it darkened into a beautiful evening. The stars seemed to shine more brightly than they had the evening before. The dead were mourned, and dismissed in the customary way by full-Koro funerals. Guards were still posted at the borders of the Koros, watching for a return of their enemies, but no retaliation came, not that evening, nor the next day.
Blue skies blessed the inhabitants of the island once again. The reparation process continued, and as they patched walls and huts, the Matoran chatted with each other happily. Smiles broke out on faces where they hadn’t been seen for years. With each passing instant, last night’s theory seemed more and more tangible. No Rahi, no more Rahkshi lining up. The warrior Toa assembled in parties to search the nearby wilderness for Rahkshi stragglers. A few were found and caught, but most seemed to have gone quite deep, and they were dismissed as threats for later. It was a gorgeous morning, and their Koros needed their help in restoration.
The only ominous sense that endured clung to the tunnels from which the Rahkshi had emerged. The black holes, wide enough for the passage of armies, were gaping maws in the earth, which made you shudder to look at. Light seemed to be swallowed unnaturally by these vile passages; everyone could guess where they led, and so they were watched with the utmost vigilance. If there were to be a second army, the Koros would not be caught unawares.
The guards saw some motion from within the tunnels. The patter of footfalls echoed around the wormlike passages, emerging amplified into the air outside. The watchmen sounded the alarms, and as quick as lightning, the Koros reassembled for combat. They dreaded what would come out of the tunnels. They held their weapons ready, and they were weary. How happy they had been instants before.
At last, the source of the footfalls emerged into the light. Out of the hole came a tired-looking Toa nobody had seen before. This Toa, dwarfed by the huge tunnel opening behind him, had a hand shielding his eyes from the bright sun, which gleamed off of his armor, revealing it to be a corresponding hue to the Koro’s natural residents. At the sight of the Toa, everyone was quiet. Who could this be? Was it a friend, or an enemy? Silence and stillness greeted the mysterious Toa as he stepped out of the tunnel and into the sunlight.
As the Toa’s eyes adjusted, his hand lowered, and his audiences could see that he wore an unknown Kanohi. Strapped to his body were powerful, noble-looking tools. Something in the Toa’s eyes glowed with a reassuring power. The older Matoran in the crowd found something familiar about the way the Toa bore himself.
When the Toa spoke at last, he didn’t just confirm last night’s rumor to be true; he explained it. His existence explained it.
“Makuta is gone.”
In the distant ocean, amid the dancing waves, a small something broke the surface. The water lapped against it and dotted its thin crystal viewport with droplets of foam.
The eyes below the viewport gazed. They were met by vague mist, the kind of thin fog that clung to land. Sure enough, below the haze was a dark line sitting on the horizon.
The periscope lowered as it moved forward, cutting through the sea.