Makuta's sons, the most feared creatures on the island save the Master of Shadows himself. One alone was enough to send an entire village running for cover, six enough to draw the attention of every self-proclaimed hero for miles. The insectile monstrosities had struck twice in recent years, once in Po-Koro, and once in Le-Wahi. The village of stone took months to recover, and while the village of air was spared, it was at the cost of so many lives.
One Rahkshi was worth two Toa. This wasn't conjecture or hyperbole, it was the honest truth. Two trained Toa would stand a chance at dealing with one. Anything less, and it simply becomes a matter of how long until they lose. Rahkshi were relentless, vicious, and startling intelligent.
And a force of roughly a hundred strong stood outside the gate. Every known type, every known variety, assembled in one place. They had fanned out, encompassing the village in a wall that simply could not be escaped. Kualsis were useless in the gloom, and as horrified onlookers watched, a single Kakama was torn apart as he made a break for it. A few brave beings, Mata Nui bless them, attacked, hoping to stop them before they could make their move. As the screams tore through the air, the villagers looked away from the scene, blinking back tears. Some simply ran. They did not know where they ran to, all they knew was what they ran from.
A few Ussalrymen broke down at the mere sight, cowering behind any structure they could, naively hoping that if the Rahkshi couldn't see them, they would be safe. The remainder marched to their posts, faces grim, fear bright in their eyes. This was not a war to be waged, this was a slaughter waiting to happen. Onu-Koro had not the manpower necessary to defend themselves, they lacked the fighting strength to hold off this many foes. Cut off from reinforcements, with no way to escape, the village was truly trapped. Never before, not in the time under Kyju, not after Whenua's assassination, not even in the Great Mine bombing had things ever been more bleak. The village had long held out, mining and living where no one else dared, on Makuta's very doorstep. They lived openly, in sheer defiance of the Master of Shadows, but now their time had come. The darkest hour had arrived, and many simply cowered before it.
But even as the world descended into madness around him, one Matoran stayed still. He was flanked on either side by a Matoran of unknown element, and a small Onu-Toa. Even as the world fell apart around them, these three stood strong, stood resolute. Three pillars of determination, in a place consumed by terror.
Tarnok's eyes took in the scene, and he could feel fear growing inside. His heart beat faster, pupils dilated, adrenaline pumping. Every nerve screamed for him to run, for him to get as far away as possible, for him to survive. They screamed that duty wasn't worth it, that he couldn't fulfill his duty if he was a corpse. Almost numbly, he watched as more and more Ussalrymen broke rank, running back, fleeing before this onslaught. The ones that stayed were disorganized, scared. The reports were just hitting Ussalry Headquarters, and no orders had come through.
For a moment, he thought to seek out his squadron. Sulov, Rubigo, Kol, Gavarm, Uyism. His teammates, the ones who always had his back. But they were gone. Sulov exiled, Rubigo missing, Kol dead, Gavarm gone, and Uyism on the brink of death. He had no team, he had no backup, he had no plan. His eyes widened, heart freezing, limbs quaking.
"Believe." A familiar voice chimed in. It wasn't really there, and on a conscious level, he knew that. Uyism was lying in a hospital bed, held from death only by her own stubborn refusal to die. But at the same time, here she was. She had never left. Gavarm, Sulov, Rubigo, Kol, none of them had left. He could almost see them, gathered near him. He could see Kol and Rubigo, staring at the oncoming force, the oncoming storm, daring it to take a step further. He could see Gavarm, grinning as he drew his weapons. And Sulov, ready to lead the charge, nodding.
None of them had ever really left. Seventh Squadron was here, as it had been all along. Even divided, even separated by the boundaries of the world itself, not even the divide between the living and the dead could keep them from this place, this time. Their devotion transcended mortal limits, it was greater than that. Every single one of them, somewhere, somehow was fighting the good fight. Uyism, straining to hang on, refusing to give in to her own darkness. Kol, eternally frozen in his final struggle, protecting his squadmates, prepared to fight again, even now. Rubigo, no doubt preparing for his own struggle. Gavarm, back at Headquarters, doing everything in his power to keep this village steady. Arkom, behind his desk, working to create a plan even as the reports flooded in. And Sulov... Somehow, the Onu-Matoran knew he was closer than ever, fighting his own battle. The commander had never forsaken his village, even when his village forsook him.
They were all here. In spirit, in determination, in all but physical form.
His breathing slowed, his eyes narrowed. He was not alone, he was never alone. This entire village, from the lowest Matoran to the mightiest, was counting on the Ussalry. Was counting on him. There were no Toa to save them, there never had been. There were no Toa to save the Great Mine, there were none to save Tarnok's mining team, all those years ago. But they had never needed them. They had never needed Toa before, and today, they would rise or fall on their own merits.
With a newfound calm, the Onu-Matoran drew his saperka, resting the tip of it against the ground. The fire in his eyes had become an inferno, a raging blaze that refused to be put out. His stoic demeanor had fallen away for the first time in years, that same fire enveloping his entire form. Every muscle was consumed by it, filled with a righteous determination that was almost infectious.
"The Makuta has tried to break our spirit."
"For decades he has been trying to break us, to make us submit. He has been trying to crush our will, he has been trying to make us give up. He has sent his minions forth, and each time, we have sent them back in shambles. Finally, he has sent his own Sons against us."
"I care not if it is one, one hundred, or one thousand. It all means the same to me; one more enemy to break through on our way to victory." The head of his weapon suddenly came up, the shaft resting on his shoulder. "Even if there's a million of them, we'll show them why Makuta hasn't won, and why he never will."
"This is Onu-Koro. Dependable as the earth in which it is built, with a will of iron. This is our home. And he will not take it from us." Green eyes snapped sharply to a young Ussalmatoran, one marching steadfastly towards the front lines. "You.""Go to headquarters. Tell Arkom from me that it's time to take a stand. His village is in danger, and it needs its heroes. Tell him to get his hide out here, or I'll do it for him." The Matoran scampered off to do as he ordered, even as Tarnok himself looked to his left, and to his right. Leli and Whorok, and beyond them, his squadmates, fighting with him in spirit.
"This is Onu-Koro's darkest hour. And our actions here will dictate whether we come through alive, or not at all. Get me every Matoran, every Skakdi, every Vortixx with a working arm, and the will to fight. It is always darkest before the dawn, and I say to all who can hear me now,""We. Will. Not. Lose."