The three Av-Matoran settled down behind the blackish green foliage, their jet packs still warm from the long flight. Beyond them was the terrifying sight of the Nui-Kopen nest.
Immediately the orange colored Av-Matoran rushed off behind them, following through with the plan.
“I don’t like being here,” one Matoran commented, glancing around the swamp, almost as if trying to see right through the trees.
“I know. None of us do,” Radiak replied. He paused, staring at the abandoned nest. This area was dangerous, known to inhabit mutative plants and Rahi all transformed from the liquid that poured through the middle of their world.
“I believe our job is done here.” Radiak continued. “All we needed was a closer look. Have you seen any?”
“None. It’s amazing. Just like we assumed, not one left behind to guard the old nest.”
Radiak nodded. It did seem as though the nest was empty. By now, they should have at least seen one of the insect Rahi.
“Photok?” The red colored Av-Matoran called faintly.
Only a few seconds passed before their friend returned.
“Glad you called, we need to get going. Swamp Stalkers all around this area. I’m sure that a few are following me.” Photok spoke quickly, his voice tinted with excitement he couldn’t hide. The Matoran took hold of his weapons, should worse come to worse.
If it had been his way, he would have fought them all here and now just for the fun of it. Radiak thought with a smile. He couldn’t remember the great Toa fully, but he was sure that a leader like Tahu would never have acted so rashly.
As the leader of his own group, Radiak would do his best to follow that example.
“Let’s get out of here. We’ve waited long enough and I haven’t seen any Nui-Kopen even patrolling the nest. I am surprised though. There are plenty of lightvines left in this area.”
“Should we really fly from here?” His other companion asked, gesturing at the thick trees above, “Let’s head back to the opening a few meters behind us.”
Radiak shook his head. “Swamp Stalkers are smart. They’ll sit and wait to ambush you. We landed there, but I don’t like going back now. It may already be a trap.”
The three ignited their jet packs where they stood, confident now that the skies would be clear of Rahi on the way home.
“It’s obvious,” the Radiak continued, but with a new worry and a frown, “The Nui-Kopen have relocated elsewhere.”
Across the landscape beyond his eyes was an expanded ocean of mist that completely covered the vast world. Hidden inside the mist lived creatures that sought to feed, waiting for the moment their prey let its guard down in this haze.
To the right of him, a giant waterfall poured itself into the shroud, being devoured by it. For about half a millennia since the Fall, water had begun to breach and drown the world below, creating a swamp that contained too many secrets. After all that time the known world had barely begun to fill.
It was too massive.
This deemed their world both terrifying and beautiful.
Standing on the edge of his village’s stalactite, Kirop watched these universal happenings and wonders with a worried sigh.
A villager had died yesterday.
It was an uncommon thing. Most Av-Matoran knew how to protect themselves in Karda Nui. You learn quickly if you wanted to live in this vast, bright cave.
But that was the second death in a month, a very rare occurrence. Stranger still was the fact that both deaths were caused by the same reason.
The cause was rogue Nui-Kopen searching for food. These very quick and aggravating creatures could, at times, be hostile. But if you left them alone, every Matoran knew, they usually showed you the same respect.
Obviously, these are not normal Nui-Kopen, he reminded himself.
There were already too many other hostile Rahi in Karda Nui, Swamp Stalkers for example. If the Nui-Kopen were going to be a problem … it would make things much more difficult for the Matoran here.
Kirop was the leader of the Av-Matoran settlements, thus he felt as if a solution to this problem should have already been found and solved. At first, everyone had deemed this a-one-in-a-thousand shot. A poor villager had been near a dangerous straying Nui-Kopen at the wrong place and wrong time, just outside the lightvine field. The Rahi had charged him from behind.
The only explanation for the lack of protection against the Nui-Kopen, was the absence of ScareRahi, normally present. ScareRahi were statues made of wood, rock and sometimes flora, of monstrous creatures. They were extremely effective in keeping most Rahi out of the Stalactite Villages.
But what were the odds of that same event, an Av-Matoran being killed in that way, right outside the being’s own hut?
The ScareRahi stationed around the home had been purposely destroyed; something had taken its time, like ruining that statue had been personal.
It could either have been a Rahi, or maybe -to Kirop’s fears- a Matoran.
This worried him even more.
“Kirop? Are you busy?”
The Av-Matoran turned towards his green-tinted brother. Tanma stood upright with his eyes fixed on his leader’s.
“Just thinking,” Kirop replied.
“About the Rahi?”
“It’s interesting, most Nui-Kopen don’t attack us, and even if they do … well, the attack isn’t usually fatal.” His last few words were spoken softly, respecting the dead.
Kirop returned to gazing out into space.
“What I wonder,” Tanma continued, understanding and unbothered by Kirop’s behavior, “Is not only why those Rahi became so disturbed, but also why they were so far from their usual territory?”
Kirop eyes shifted back into focus at those words. He had sent a group of Matoran down into the swamp to check up on the Nui-Kopen hive. If the Rahi had moved from their home, then maybe they had positioned a new hive in the stalactites.
That would explain their multiple and recent sightings, but what about their behavior?
“Tanma, I want be sure this doesn’t happen again. Is Gavla in her hut?”
“I’m pretty sure. She should have just finished with her duties.” He paused and frowned. Tanma personally didn’t understand why Kirop would go visit the icy Matoran.
“I want to ask her about the ScareRahi. If the Nui-Kopen felt threatened enough to strike it, we need to figure out why. She created them. She’ll know.” Kirop said convincingly as he walked past his friend.
Kirop walked quietly into Gavla’s hut. The dark blue Matoran of Light was crafting stone spikes, used to secure the bridges connecting across the wide gaps of the stalactite. If those bridges ever broke while a Matoran was crossing it … there was a reason the villagers took extra care of them.
“Never learned to knock?”
Kirop ignored the Matoran’s remark. Galva was known for having a sharp tone of voice.
“What do you think went wrong?”
She didn’t glance up from her work, but she did reply.
“I have an idea.”
Her companion waited patiently. He’d let her explain it to him whenever she was ready. Pushing for it would only make her pause longer.
“Nui-Kopen feel threatened by the ScareRahi. That’s why it attacked that one.”
Kirop sighed. So she was just deliberately wasting his time.
“No plan either? Fine. Thanks for nothing.” Kirop said in disgust. Even when he just wanted a simple answer from her, she refused to cooperate.
Even as he began to walk out the door, she continued.
“Kirop,” she paused for a moment, until he was willing to turn and look at her, “I think the Nui-Kopen felt threatened by the ScareRahi. It attacked that one because it happened to look like a Swamp Stalker, a Nui-Kopen predator.
“I think it got scared.”
Kirop thought about that for the moment. True, Swamp Stalkers were natural enemies of the Nui-Kopen and that may have solved why the ScareRahi’s was destroyed … but what didn’t make complete sense was its actions. Why attack the Matoran as well?
“So what do you suggest?” Kirop finally asked.
“No idea. But I thought it was worth noting. If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.” Gavla resumed her work in silence.
He nodded before exiting her hut. He didn’t know why Gavla’s exterior was so cold. She was a great worker, but most just naturally avoided her. And while she did deserve the ridicule, it wasn’t completely her fault.
She was just different for a Matoran of Light.
Tanma stood outside as Kirop approached from inside the quarters. Behind him, stood the three venturing Matoran sent out below. They held interesting news.
“You’re back! Good. How did it go?” Kirop asked in a hurry, ready for this problem to be solved.
“It’s just as we thought, Kirop,” Radiak answered downheartedly, “They’ve moved. I don’t know why, but we can assume it was because of the increase of Swamp Stalkers. Most of their food wasn’t taken with them. Lightvines everywhere.”
“I see.” Kirop stood, reflecting on these new circumstances. They needed to know where the Nui-Kopen had moved to. If these creatures wanted to inhabit closer to the village, or any of the other villages, then no one was safe until they were gone.
Tanma kept his head down in respect as the deceased Matoran was taken inside the hut. They were in a different village now. The death count in this particular village was now two, and the Matoran living here were terrified of the new threat.
Solek stood with a grim expression on his face. He had just been through a huge ordeal. Tanma understood Solek’s fright, but that wasn’t going to stop Kirop from asking him to revisit the scene.
The Av-Matoran, his armor white in tribute to his favorite hero, explained the events. He and his friend had been working in the lightvine fields. Watering them and caring for them so they’d grow stronger.
Then it happened. A swarm of Nui-Kopen charged the field. At least a dozen of them tore into the ScareRahi and continued against the two Matoran. There was no time to defend themselves, nor for one to help the other. Solek rushed into the cabin and slammed the door. His companion had been taken hold of.
Solek’s heart raced as multiple Nui-Kopen struck the house, attempting to penetrate its barrier. Finally as the attacks slowly died away, Solek stole a quick glance outside the shuttered window.
The Av-Matoran had confirmed Kirop’s assumption. The Nui-Kopen had destroyed the ScareRahi; every one of them. Relentlessly striking them in hatred were Solek’s words. Afterward, they flew towards the lightvines, engulfing all of the crop’s light energy before departing.
His unlucky friend had been found right outside the door.
Tanma grimaced at the story he overheard. Things were becoming worse. He could see the fear on the Matoran’s faces. They questioned their own survival. It had taken half a millennium for the Av-Matoran to build a society and live safely. Nothing could hinder them, it seemed.
They were unwelcome here.
They had to be stopped.
For the next few days, Kirop had sent out scouts of Matoran to locate the new nest. They searched all along the villages, flying high and low. After three laboring days, they had finally found it, situated in the same village that was producing most of the lightvines and had already suffered two attacks from the Rahi.
Many weren’t surprised.
In the mean time, another Matoran had encountered a hostile Nui-Kopen. That Matoran had made it out alive, scaring it off with a small blast of light and finding shelter. The reaction from the people was anger. They wanted to strike back, restoring the feeling of security.
When the nest’s position was determined, Kirop began gathering volunteers. A group of ten Av-Matoran would fly directly toward the new and still fragile nest. As of now, its foundation was shaky at best. It was constructed with a few stems of wood and other sticky materials that attached to the stalactite. This would make a clean break easily possible. As it grew, more stems would be added before eventually the whole nest would grow solid in the rock.
With all the Nui-Kopen still looking for supplies in the swamp or above in the sky, Kirop figured about five of them remained to protect the nest at all times. If they struck fast, the mission should go smoothly.
Gavla hammered another spike into the ground and untied the rope connecting to the old rusty one, belonging to the massive bridge. Pulling the rejected spike and placing it in her pack, she inspected the sturdiness of the bridge, walking along the entire structure twice.
It had taken quite a long time for the Matoran to find a material that was strong enough to carry beings as they walked across the sky. And an even longer amount of time to find a material which wouldn’t be eaten by the Rahi inhabitance of Karda Nui.
It seems, that the longer we live here, the thinner the population of Rahi become, Gavla reflected, certain species no longer live here. Either because they’ve died out, or have found ways to escape this place.
That was something the Matoran still hadn’t been able to do.
Glancing to the right of her, she took notice of Photok the guard with weapons in hand, watching across the open sky. It was a new position Kirop had suggested after the second Matoran attack. At first, Gavla personally thought it was ridiculous. One extra Matoran standing and watching for Rahi wasn’t going to help anyone and more importantly it was wasting work potential.
But, she admitted that they did spot Nui-Kopen regularly and she would rather know beforehand if they were going to charge.
Tanma approached the workers a few minutes later. He was recruiting for the departure today.
Gavla tried tilting her head slightly to hear what the Matoran was specifically asking the new guard, but the effort was unnecessary. Tanma spoke with her next.
“You’ve been drafted,” Tanma said with both sarcasm and a smile. “You don’t have to come with us, but Kirop does think you’ll help greatly.”
Gavla looked at him, studying his face. She didn’t reply and just shook her head. She had no reason to go.
She knew what he was thinking. Why her? Why the Matoran who rarely spoke and probably didn’t want to go in the first place? She was a good fighter. That was probably the only reason.
Personally, she wasn’t sure what to think of these Rahi. They were considered threat at the moment, but why they’d suddenly go hostile was beyond her. It was interesting though: Matoran being drafted in an army was the last thing anyone would have suspected.
And her e we used to believe in all good and decency. Whatever that means.
Gavla wanted all this to end. She didn’t enjoy Matoran being killed anymore then a Makuta being forced to become someone’s servant.
Why in the world did those Nui-Kopen decide to travel here anyway? Why cause all these problems?
Gavla looked around the village and towards the other stalactites in the distance.
We ended up moving just like the Nui-Kopen did. And like them, we truly don’t belong here.
Of course, the Av-Matoran had a better excuse. They didn’t plan any of the catastrophic events that took place five hundred years ago. Their population fell into the giant cave without any warning. They had left behind everything. Everything they had worked so hard to produce and care for … gone in a moment.
And the Nui-Kopen? They had no excuse.
Why leave everything behind anyway? Gavla asked herself, hardly caring. But then, she did begin to wonder; why would they leave behind their nest? Why would they leave their shelter, food, water and territory? Why would they even consider it?
Then, her mind began to look through the eyes of a Nui-Kopen. What was it like for them?
“Photok!” She asked sharply to the orange Matoran.
“Yes? What do you need Gavla?” He snapped into position looking ready to serve, he even began to check the sky again, thinking perhaps she had caught something he hadn’t.
Hoping to just a get a straight answer. “Were there any lightvines near the Nui-Kopen nest?”
It took Photok only a few moments to remember.
“Well … we weren’t looking for lightvines, but I can say I did see a lot.” He paused for second, “Yes. There were many. Why do you ask?”
Gavla remained silent, and stared out into the mist.
We are wrong.
Even as she ran towards village that held a surplus of lightvines, Gavla knew she was already too late. The group of Matoran set to launch were gone.
Remembering this was the village that contained the Nui-Kopen nest, the one that had taken the most beatings from the Rahi, only strengthened Gavla’s theory.
“Am I too late?” Gavla asked urgently to a near Matoran. He nodded.
“Yes. Sorry Gavla. You may be able to catch them on the way up though before they attack the nest.”
“The way up?”
“Kirop explained that they were going to venture down below the Nui-Kopen nest and come back up to attack it from the south. The entrance to the nest is on top, so they’ll be hidden longer.”
Gavla did the math. She might be able to stop them if she left now.
Activating the jetpack she wore, Gavla flew off the edge before her companion could ask what was wrong.
Kirop flew north along the rock with his small force. The mist was thick, but he was sure his direction was clear. Only a few more moments, and the nest should be in sight.
That moment came quickly.
“Charge up your weapons, strike fast.” Kirop called to the group. Hopefully only a few direct hits at the connected points would bring the whole nest down. It was still small.
He could see something ahead though. It was a sparkle, a small light that twinkled towards the nest like a falling star.
Light energy from a Matoran. Why would he…
Kirop found the answer. The blast of light was launched directly into the nest’s opening. Immediately the Nui-Kopen swarmed out, looking for their attacker. They were half blinded by the exposed energy.
Everyone in the squad knew it was impossible to follow through now. The danger was just too high.
With an anger that blazed, Kirop called a retreat. Their flight outmatched any Nui-Kopen’s.
And Kirop glanced down in anger as the lone Matoran in dark blue armor, flew away.
Kirop barged into Galva’s hut.
She was working once more.
“Why?” Kirop asked shortly. His voice failed to contain that small trace of fury that poured through his mind. He would make sure she listened to him this time.
For once, Gavla turned to look directly at him. He took it as a challenge.
“First,” Gavla explained calmly, holding up a hand, “Let me say that I had no choice. I wasn’t going to be able to warn you in time, so I had to stop your plan.”
“Stop. My. Plan. Why?!” His voice rose now, “Are you stupid enough to believe we won’t banish you for this? You placed lives at stake!”
Gavla’s gave him a look of rage.
“No. I protected lives. You were wrong, Kirop. Everyone was.”
“What are you talking about?”
Gavla looked on, studying the Av-Matoran. She was surprised just how much he hadn’t thought this through. Of course, none of them had.
“ScareRahi. That’s how all this started. We’ve been so intent on discovering how the ScareRahi failed to work, that we lost interest in the why they were even struck. Why did the Nui-Kopen attack them? Not just the Matoran - that was normal - but specifically them.”
Kirop waited as the Gavla continued. If she had any kind of statement, he’d let her speak it.
“Then I started to think about it. Why did those Nui-Kopen leave their nest, Kirop?”
The black armored Matoran shrugged.
“It was something we never discovered. Maybe it was food, or more likely predators. Swamp Stalkers I’d assume.” He replied easily.
“It is Swamp Stalkers. Photok told me that they had plenty of lightvines. So food wasn’t a problem. But still - that didn’t make sense. Plenty of Rahi fight against one another and never make drastic changes to their way of life. So I realized it’s a combination of both.”
“What do you mean?”
“Those Swamp Stalkers are tricky beings. They wait for hours, watching as their prey gets closer…” She rose and clamped her hands together, “before striking. That’s why the Nui-Kopen moved. They had no way to reach their food, Kirop. Swamp Stalkers would know that Nui-Kopen needed the lightvine’s energy.
“The attacks all happened around lightvine farms, remember?”
Kirop finally sat down, dazed. The pieces were falling into place. The Nui-Kopen slowly lose members of their nest, one by one. They are cut off from all food and have no way to attack their invisible defensive opponents. Their only option, is to move elsewhere.
“So when they attacked the ScareRahi that looked like Swamp Stalkers, it was a move of desperation.” Kirop theorized.
Gavla nodded. “That’s what I assume.”
“They weren’t expanding their territory…” Kirop started slowly.
“They’ve been running from it.” Gavla finished, “Just like we did.”
Kirop nodded in understanding. These Rahi were confused, angered and unsecure in their home, driven to attack others so they could live. But not out of contempt.
It was fear.
An emotion any living being can feel.
The Av-Matoran leader immediately began making plans for these creatures. Maybe with the shift in Rahi migration, it would stop other Rahi from approaching the villages more often.
We may have to move from that village. Maybe leave that stalactite alone for them with the lightvines.
Kirop knew he could be rationalizing out of pity for the Rahi. Moving a whole village for just one group of Nui-Kopen seemed a bit extreme.
But what would have happened if they’d killed those Nui-Kopen? They were the only settlement the Av-Matoran knew of. Without them, who would support the Swamp Stalkers? Would that species die out as well?
What could they do to bring things back into the natural flow?
“I’ve been thinking.” Gavla spoke quietly, interrupting his thoughts, “I was thinking about all those times Matoran asked for help. All those stories of Matoran who were attacked by stronger forces and evil beings, those Matoran only did their job for Mata Nui. It was always their duty.
“And now, we come across beings that are in danger, and through a misunderstanding, we attack them, hardly caring. It makes me wonder how many times that’s happened before.”
Kirop winced at the thought and tried to defend the argument against the one who thought so darkly.
“It was a mistake. It won’t happen again Gavla.” He stood and looked directly at her, “We’ll find a solution for this problem.”
It was a promise.
She nodded, but didn’t answer.
Things aren’t always in shades of black and white, especially in a world of mist. Beings fought for control all across the universe. Beings of good and evil; sometimes neither could be trusted.
Even Matoran of Light, She reflected sadly.
But that’s what it took to live sometimes. Fighting your way out. Catch or be caught. Beings coming to a point of desperation, their only thoughts are turned to survival.
And they will survive, even if it means losing all you stand for. All you care about.
With a shaky sigh, she hoped that never happened to her Matoran villagers. It would lead them to a dark place. One, perhaps, that was inescapable.
Last year I would have said that this was my best story yet. But now that I look back, there are a few things I would have wanted to change. Hopefully however you enjoyed it! This is a ATYU2 Story Winner, so that means it's canonized in Bionicle. Can't tell you how happy I am about that. =D Thanks for reading and reviews are welcomed.