Long before the Morbuzakh, long before the actions of the false Dume, long before the coming of the Toa Metru, the city of Metru Nui was a place of peace and learning. Outside of the city-wide akilini tournaments in the Coliseum, the only real excitement was when Rahi beasts would appear on the outskirts. Then Toa Lhikan and the Vahki would go into action, driving off the creatures or trapping them for display in the Archives.
Being an experienced archivist, it was not unusual for Whenua’s day to begin with news of the latest captures. But on this particular day, the pounding on his door was more frantic. He went to open it, mouthing a silent wish that no exhibits had broken free and trashed an entire wing again.
Onepu didn’t even wait for the door to be fully ajar before slipping inside. His eyes were bright with excitement and his heartlight was flashing wildly.
“It’s amazing! You have to come see! No one knows, not even Toa Lhikan!”
“Slow down,” said Whenua. “You’re talking faster than a Le-Matoran. Come see what? Were more Rahi delivered? Or did the miners find more of those Bohrok things?”
“Better than that. But I can’t explain. The Chief Archivist wants you, me, and Mavrah there right away.”
Onepu dashed back outside, with a confused Whenua following along behind. The last time the Chief Archivist wanted to see him, a few dozen ice bats had escaped from their tubes and infested the administrative offices. He hoped this time the meeting would not involve nets, boxes, or anything that flew.
The trip took longer than Whenua expected. Onepu led him on a winding path to the Archives through chutes that dove deep beneath the surface and emerged in sub-levels with which Whenua was only barely familiar. Then it was a long hike through abandoned tunnels to another chute, this one badly in need of repair, and another steep drop to a sub-level that didn’t even show up on any Archives charts.
“Where are we?”
“Come on,” said Onepu. “Wait until you see this.”
The two Matoran rounded a corner to behold a stunning sight. This sub-level consisted almost completely of water, and in that water were creatures out of an archivist’s dream… or nightmare. There were huge, aquatic beasts, large enough to swallow a Muaka in one gulp. Nearby were monstrous crabs strong enough to crush stone in their claws. The sight of one such Rahi would have been shocking, but there were dozens of them here.
Whenua did not know what to say. Onepu simply smiled. Mavrah was already there, just staring at the amazing display before him.
“I told you,” said Onepu. “Even the Chief Archivist was speechless.”
“Where did they come from?” asked Whenua. “What… what are they?”
Mavrah turned at the sound of voices. “They appeared off the coast of Onu-Metru last night,” he said. “It took Mata Nui knows how many Vahki squads to herd them in here. This was the only spot in the city big enough to hold them all.”
Whenua watched as one of the creatures surfaced long enough to reveal a Takea shark trapped in its jaws. Then it dove again, leaving little doubt what the fate of that unlucky sea beast would be.
“There isn’t a stasis tube big enough in all of –” Whenua began.
“They aren’t for exhibit.” The three archivists turned to see Turaga Dume coming toward them. “The Chief Archivist has requested, and I have granted, permission for these creatures to be kept here for study. They will not be placed in stasis so that the three of you can learn from conscious specimens.”
All three of them thanked the Turaga. Dume waved them off. “Don’t thank me. This is against my better judgement. Unleashed, creatures like these could destroy half the city. For that reason, this matter is to be kept a strict secret. I do not want a panic in the city, do you understand?”
The archivists nodded. Never before had the Turaga knowingly allowed a danger to the city to exist within its borders. It was a little frightening to realize that not only the safety of the Archives, but perhaps Metru Nui itself, depended on how well they did their jobs.
“What about Toa Lhikan?” asked Whenua. “Surely he must know.”
“No,” answered Dume. “Lhikan’s first duty is to the safety of the city, and he cannot see beyond that. But the advancement of Matoran science requires risk. I have been convinced that there is something that can be learned from these… monsters. Do not prove me wrong.”
A serpent that looked roughly the size of Po-Metru raised its head above the water and bellowed. The sound shook the sub-level.
“And Mata Nui protect us all,” said Dume as he walked away.
The three Onu-Matoran soon settled into a routine. Early each morning, they would travel together to the Archives. Staying in each others’ company helped them avoid talking with any other archivists who might be curious about their new project. They spent all day and most of the night observing and testing the strange sea creatures, noting down everything they could about the behavior and characteristics of the Rahi. Then they would return to their homes for an all too brief rest before starting all over again.
Whenua and Onepu complained early and often that three Matoran were not enough to do this job well. But Mavrah insisted that secrecy was vital to the success of the project, and the Chief Archivist backed him up.
Fatigue and overwork eventually took their toll. The three Matoran began to quarrel over the slightest thing. Notes were misplaced, experiments accidentally ruined, and at one point one of the Rahi almost slipped past both Onepu and a Vahki squad to make it back out to sea.
That was enough to drive Mavrah to fury.
“You idiot!” he shouted at Onepu. “Do you realize what might have happened if it escaped?”
“He’s right,” Whenua said. “It might have turned toward the city and harmed Matoran before it was stopped.”
“Before it was stopped?” Mavrah repeated in disbelief. “Before it was killed, you mean, along with our entire project. Your stupidity could have led to this Rahi’s destruction, a tragic loss to science – all because you weren’t paying attention!”
It took some time for the hard feelings left over from that incident to ease. But worse was yet to come, and this time on Whenua’s watch. He had been concentrating intensely on a creature that looked like a Tarakava, only with multiple flippers that might evolve into feet one day. Though not big enough to be a physical threat to its neighbors, it was able to defend itself quite well with the help of twin ice beams from its eyes.
The Rahi was so fascinating that Whenua never saw a far larger beast erupt out of the water. Other creatures immediately moved to challenge it, but the monstrous serpent shrugged them off as if they were raindrops. It was sick of captivity. Now was the time to escape or die trying.
The monster leapt out of the water and crashed into the stone ceiling. The impact violently shook the Archives, sending Whenua plunging into the makeshift holding tank. Before he could scramble back to safety, the Rahi struck again. This time the force of the collision cracked the ceiling and shattered displays even on the uppermost levels.
Whenua had his own problems at the moment. He was not a strong swimmer. Worse, his neighbors in the water had noticed a newcomer in their midst, one with no claws or teeth to defend himself. This would be an easy meal, they decided, and began to circle the Matoran.
The archivist deperately tried to remember anything he had ever heard about fending off sea Rahi attacks. In a panic, he realized it was a subject he had never discussed. Onu-Matoran didn’t go for swims, after all. Only Ga-Matoran were that insane.
One squid-like Rahi reached out with its tentacle. Whenua frantically slapped it away. But he could already feel his arms and legs growing tired from treading water. He would run out of energy long before the Rahi ran out of interest. Then he would be just another archivist lost in the pursuit of knowledge.
A shark moved in for the kill. Too tired to fight anymore, Whenua shut his eyes and waited for the end. But instead of a painful bite, he felt hands seize him and pull him out of the water. A second later, he was back on solid ground, coughing and gasping for air.
Mavrah stood over him. “What were you thinking, diving in there?”
“I decided I needed a bath,” Whenua snapped. “You think it was my choice to be Rahi bait? The earth tremors knocked me in.”
“Those weren’t tremors,” Mavrah responded grimly. “One of our guests tried to escape. It’s under control now, but… there was a lot of damage up above. A Kraawa broke free.”
Whenua winced. The Kraawa was an unusual Rahi who turned any force used against it into energy to grow. Hit it enough times and it would be bigger than the Coliseum. Getting it into the Archives had taken multiple Vahki squads and resulted in three levels being trashed. If it was loose…
“How bad?” he asked.
“A dozen Vahki smashed; three levels suffered critical damage, four more are being evacuated; at least a few hundred exhibits awake and on the loose. It’s a disaster.”
“You have a gift for understatement, Mavrah.”
The words came from Turaga Dume. The elder was striding toward them, with the Chief Archivist running alongside, babbling apologies. Dume waved him away and looked directly at Mavrah.
“This project is terminated,” he said. “As soon as order has been restored in the Archives, the Vahki will drive these… these monsters back out of the city. A security zone will be established in the waters around Metru Nui. The Vahki have authorization to kill any of these Rahi who violates that zone.”
“No!” Mavrah shouted. “You mustn’t do that! Think of the knowledge we will be losing, the potential for progress –”
“This is not a debate,” Turaga Dume replied. Then, in a softer tone, he added, “I am sorry, Mavrah. I know what this project means to you. But I cannot jeopardize the safety of the Archives – or the city – further. These things do not belong here.”
Dume turned to the Chief Archivist. “See to it that the Vahki get any cooperation they require. I want these beasts gone by morning.”
That night was the longest Whenua had ever lived through. He couldn’t help thinking that if he had been paying more attention, maybe this would never have happened. Of course, he couldn’t say how he would have stopped a massive Rahi who wanted out, but that was beside the point. Now the Archives were half-wrecked and the project was shut down.
He tried to apologize to Mavrah for his mistake, but the Onu-Matoran was too upset to speak. He just stood there, staring at the Rahi, looking like he had lost his best friends.
The next morning, Whenua returned to find the Archives under lockdown. Vahki Rorzakh were everywhere, watching carefully as Onu-Matoran crews struggled to return Rahi to their stasis tubes. Inside, other crews used regeneration disks to repair structural damage. The sheer magnitude of the damage was staggering.
He made his way down to the sub-level where the Rahi had been held. He expected to find it abandoned. Instead, it was filled with Rorzakh and a very worried Chief Archivist.
“They’re gone,” the administrator said. “All of them. Disappeared.”
“Wasn’t that the point?” Whenua asked.
“You don’t understand. The Rahi are gone, but the Vahki didn’t take them. They escaped back to sea somehow. The Vahki are bringing Onepu and Mavrah here now.”
A Rorzakh squad appeared a moment later, shoving Onepu in front of them. A second squad was right on their heels, but empty-handed.
“Where’s Mavrah?” asked the Chief Archivist.
The Vahki shrugged. Whenua had no doubt they had searched Mavrah’s home and everywhere he might be hiding before returning to admit failure. Rorzakh were nothing if not thorough.
“He must be on his way then,” the Chief Archivist muttered, not sounding at all convinced that was the case. “I have already spoken with the Turaga. He is sending Bordakh and Rorzakh to find the creatures. Of course, the important thing is that they are gone. But I think we all want to find out how and why.”
Whenua said nothing. But he had a horrible suspicion he already knew the answers to those questions…
The mystery of the missing Rahi was never solved. The Chief Archivist’s official report to the Turaga stated that the creatures must have contrived a mass escape. The Vahki on duty had done nothing to prevent it because their orders were to see to it that the Rahi left. It made no difference to them how that happened.
The report further stated that, in trying to stop the escape, Mavrah had been lost and was presumed dead. Although his sacrifice could not be publicly recognized without revealing the existence of the project, the sub-level was renamed in his honor.
Whenua always suspected that Turaga Dume knew more about what had happened than he let on. He called off the Vahki search for the Rahi after only a very short time, as if he knew they would not be found, nor would Mavrah. Whatever the Rorzakh knew about the situation, they communicated only to the Turaga.
After a while, things returned to normal in the Archives. Whenua and Onepu both made an effort to forget all that had gone on. It was easier to simply accept the official report and mourn for their friend. After all, the only alternative theory of what happened that night was too far-fetched to ever believe.
Or so they thought…