Not The Hero
"There is something to be said about the Matoran that call the island of Mata Nui their home. These are no mere bystanders who sit back and depend upon another bigger, stronger being to defend them. Here, every Matoran is expected to band together with his brothers and sisters to brave any danger. Here, even the most humble of Matoran can be a great hero."
- from The Journal of Meench Vyzumi
He stood in the tunnel, alone in the cold, empty darkness. Silence, broken only by his heavy breathing. He was lost... confused... afraid.
The shadows started to move. He felt them reach out, ensnare him, and choke the air out of him. They whispered in his ear, an eerie chorus of black tongues. Terrified, he tried to run, but his legs would not respond. He was trapped... suffocating.
The whispers grew louder and louder. Now, they were deafening, as if the earth itself was roaring. Consciousness slipping away, his eyes fell upon his hands, and what he saw made his heartlight flicker.
"No...!" he tried to cry out, but his voice died in his throat. "No...! No...!"
His palms were caked with blood.
"No!" screamed Frosam. The tunnel vanished and the Onu-Matoran suddenly found himself sitting bolt upright on his bed, in the comforts of his own home.
He was panting heavily. Although he could feel beads of perspiration coating his body, he was shivering from head to toe. Panicked, he stole a glance down upon his palms. To his relief, they were clean.
With a sigh, Frosam lay back down upon his bed and shut his eyes. "It was only a dream," he whispered to himself. "Just a dream."
"Wax harder, Frosam! I want that Ussal crab's shell so shiny, I can see my Kanohi Pakari in its reflection!"
Frosam nodded dutifully. "Yes, Onepu."
The Onu-Matoran dipped his sponge back into the can of Ussal wax before intently scrubbing it against the Ussal's carapace, slowly and steadily working his way down the crab's arm. Under the provided illumination of a lightstone in the crab pen, he could dimly see his own bronze armor and fuchsia Kanohi Pakari mirrored on the Ussal's gleaming ebon armor.
The Ussal stared back at him and chirped softly, but otherwise sat still and let him continue waxing without interference. Frosam chuckled softly to himself, silently noting that this was one of his better days. On some other days, he would be stuck with the misfortune of having to wax the Ussal crabs that were less willing to be waxed, turning the chore into an intense struggle that usually lasted a few hours longer than necessary.
Beside him stood Onepu... or rather, "Onepu, Captain of the Onu-Matoran Ussalry Regiment, Champion of Ussal Racing, and Special Aide of Turaga Whenua," as he would always make sure to introduce himself. He leaned in closely to inspect Frosam's work. "These crabs must always be ready for patrol," Onepu reminded Frosam for what must have been the third time that week. "Saddles must be fresh. Discs must be supplied. And the crabs themselves must be clean! Since you're not a miner and you're not a soldier, make yourself useful! There's always plenty of work that needs to be done, merc!"
"And that's precisely why I'm here," Frosam said with a smile, carefully scrubbing the Ussal's claws. "That's why they call me 'merc'. Because who else would be so willing to perform these mundane tasks required to keep things running? If it weren't for me working behind-the-scenes, I'd daresay this Ussalry would fall apart!"
"Don't be ridiculous!" scoffed Onepu. "The Ussalry hasn't fallen apart under my command, and so long as I'm captain, I have no intention of letting it do so! It's my duty to Onu-Koro, after all. Even in peacetime, it's still my duty to protect our village and our people."
"Peacetime," murmured Frosam. Although his body continued working, for a moment his mind left Onu-Koro as he reflected upon what that word meant to the Matoran.
Only a few months ago, that word was just a distant hope, a dream of a better future, to those that lived on the island of Mata Nui. And now, that better future had finally come. With the arrival of the legendary Toa, the dark spirit of Makuta and his Rahi minions were vanquished. When Mata Nui was besieged by the Bohrok swarms, the Toa entered their nest and imprisoned their queens, the Bahrag, and recently foiled the Bohrok-Kal's plot to free the Bahrag once more. Now, at last, it seemed that peace was here to stay.
"I've said this before, I'm sure," continued Onepu, "but even with the Toa Nuva having defeated the evil scourge of Makuta and the Bohrok, we mustn't let our guard down. These tunnels are still swarming with dangerous wild Rahi, and should another threat arise... well, I don't want any repeats of that incident with the Lehvak-Kal, got it?" As he spoke, he paced back-and-forth and earnestly waved his index finger, as though he were Jaller drilling the Ta-Koro Guard.
"I'm sure that you Ussal riders can handle it. You're the brave heroes, after all. Me?" Frosam shrugged. "Well, I'm not exactly cut out for heroics."
Onepu raised an eyebrow. "We all have a duty to Mata Nui and Onu-Koro," he reminded Frosam. "I fulfill my duty as Captain of the Ussalry. Taipu carries out his duty in the Great Mine, carving tunnels and excavating minerals that bring prosperity to our village. And you? What do you do?"
Frosam turned away from the Ussal so he could face Onepu, then he held up his sponge. "My duty is performing these mundane yet necessary day-to-day tasks that no one else wants to do. It's not a lot, but it's my lot in life, and I'm fine with that. You already know why I'm not digging tunnels anymore, and I've long ago come to grips with the fact that I'm simply not the hero. Just an ordinary hard-working Matoran."
Onepu sighed, shaking his head. "Not the hero? You'll never go anywhere in life if you keep wallowing in self-pity, merc."
"I'm not wallowing in self-pity," insisted Frosam. "Just the opposite, in fact; as I said, it's something I've come to grips a long time ago. I'm perfectly content with life, even if it is a more... humble... life than yours."
"And I've got every good reason to have pride in my life," declared Onepu, puffing up his chest. "The Ussalry needs a proud captain, a hero who does not shy away from greatness. Even you, whose contributions to the Ussalry are limited to these Ussal pens, need someone like me, someone who knows what to do and can give you direction in life."
Frosam chuckled softly. "And where would you be without me? You might have to scrub your Ussal crabs yourself!"
Frowning, Onepu crossed his arms. "Speaking of which, get back to work!" he ordered. "I'm not paying you for conversation, and these Ussal crabs aren't going to wax themselves, you know!"
Once more, Frosam nodded dutifully. "Yes, Onepu." He turned away from Onepu and back to the Ussal, dipped his sponge back into the wax, and diligently continued cleaning the crab's shell.
"And... there we go!"
With that, Frosam examined his handiwork: a length of rope tightly knotted around the base of a metallic hook. Handing it over to Azibo, he asked, "Will this do the trick?"
The Onu-Matoran prospector looked it over and nodded. "Hmm, yes, I do think it will. You're not bad at knotting ropes, I see."
Frosam shrugged. "Not quite as good as those Ga-Matoran sailors, but always happy to help out around here. Zemya did assure me that the rope and fishhooks he receives from Ga-Matoran traders are of the finest quality, though."
"So I see. Thanks for saving me the trip to Zemya's shop." With that, Azibo paid Frosam in widgets. "Here you go, merc, this should cover the cost."
"Is there anything else you need?" inquired Frosam.
Azibo waved his hand. "There is always plenty of help needed down here in the Great Mine. Ask Mamru if he's got any work for you; I'm sure he does. As for me, well..." Azibo sheepishly looked down at the ground and scratched the back of his head. "There's a sluice at the bottom of a crevice that needs to be retrieved. Wish me luck."
"Have fun fishing!" Frosam said, grinning as he realized why the prospector requested the hook and rope.
Dismissed by Azibo, Frosam walked down the Marn Tunnel, where he expected to find chief prospector Mamru. All around him, hard-working miners dug for ore, crystals, and other the minerals that granted great prosperity, working under the illumination of the very lightstones they excavated. They raised their arms and swung down with pickaxes, and the cacophony of metal striking against rock rang throughout the tunnel, coalescing into a steady percussive rhythm.
One particular miner stood out from the rest. He was easily identifiable as the strongest, with tough sinewy muscles coursing through his bronze armor. With every swing of his pickaxe, he cleaved through the rock walls with little effort, cracking solid boulders that would be too hard for his companions. But, despite his tough appearance, his eyes gleamed with hearty enthusiasm when he saw Frosam approach. "Hello, old friend!" called Taipu. "It's good to see you again!"
"Same to you, Taipu!" greeted Frosam, clasping hands with the miner. "How goes the mining?"
"Good as ever!" said Taipu, grinning. He gestured towards an Ussal crab hauling away a cart filled with ore, and Frosam wondered just how much of it was Taipu's handiwork alone. "These tunnels are rich in resources. We've excavated much already, and there's still plenty more to dig! Even if we lost most of the Great Mine during the Gahlok attack, we won't let that deter us... instead, we'll show how hardy and resilient we Onu-Matoran can be!"
Frosam nodded. "Nice work."
"And you?" inquired Taipu. "How's your work been treating you?"
Frosam puffed his chest out and dramatically waved one finger. "Saddles must be fresh!" he declared, doing his best impression of Onepu's voice. "Discs must be supplied! And the crabs themselves must be clean!"
"Still waxing the Ussal crabs for Onepu, I see?" Taipu sighed. "There's nothing exciting about that. But, I'm sure Onepu appreciates your effort."
Frosam shrugged. "I suppose, but sometimes I think that he just keeps me around so can admire himself in the mirror whenever he looks at an Ussal crab. When he isn't placing himself on a pedestal, he barks orders at me like I'm one of his soldiers."
"Oh, come now, don't be that way," frowned Taipu. "That's just the way he shows his appreciation. I'm sure Onepu likes you. He likes everybody!"
Frosam chuckled and shook his head. "No. You like everybody. He likes himself." Taipu opened his mouth to reply, but Frosam raised a hand to cut him off. "Now, don't get me wrong. I definitely respect Onepu and all that he's done for Onu-Koro... I just think that he could use a little more humility at times. He's gotten so used to you doing his mining for him that I don't think he remembers what it's like to be... well, you know, one of us."
"As a friend, I trust his judgment," said Taipu. "After all, I can dig in Onepu's stead. I'm strong enough. I even dig in your stead, too."
Frosam swallowed hard, feeling guilty over adding to Taipu's already-doubled workload. "I'm... sorry if I've placed a burden on you."
Taipu shook his head, laughing ebulliently. "Don't worry. I'm happy to be doing work, especially for a friend. It keeps up my stamina and my strength, so I'll always be ready for the next time Takua asks me to go on an adventure!" Briefly staring off into space, the miner's eyes gleamed with excitement as he considered that prospect.
Relieved, Frosam smiled. "Thanks, then. I do appreciate that you're doing this for me while I'm off doing chores for the rest of the village."
"Though, I have to ask... why don't you come back here and do some more digging with me?" inquired Taipu, offering his pickaxe to Frosam. "You used to enjoy mining so much."
Frosam's smile faded as shook his head. "I wouldn't say that. Somehow, when you put a pickaxe in my hand, I always know just where to strike the wall... I can pinpoint the exact place where it is least stable... where, with a single strike, I can bring down the wall, and the ceiling with it, too, and the next thing I'd know, I'd be buried in rubble along with anyone unlucky enough to be working near me. It's hard to say that I truly enjoyed mining when my ears were always ringing from a landslide occurring on my head."
"A bunch of rocks fell on my head once, and they didn't hurt that much," Taipu said, shrugging. "That can't be the reason you left."
Frosam sighed, glancing down upon his empty hands. Then, he turned away from Taipu to stare down into the darkness of the tunnels beyond, outside the warm glow of the lightstones. "You know the answer to that," he spoke softly. "I don't mind coming down here to help out, but... the memories of what happened down in these tunnels are still too painful... the wounds, still too fresh. Trust me when I say that, for the good of Onu-Koro and its people, I should not be a miner. Nor can I be an adventurer or a hero like Takua. I have found my lot in life, and even if it is a life of fetch quests and Ussal waxing, it's one that I can use to bring good, not harm, to my fellow Onu-Matoran."
Taipu looked disappointed. "I see."
Frosam noticed Taipu's expression. In an effort to cheer up his friend, he patted him on the back. "Don't worry too much about it. I still come and visit, don't I? I'm still happy to help out down here when an extra hand is needed. And besides, I'd bet that Dosne would give a hundred of me just to get another digger as strong as you, and Takua must have been proud to have such a courageous Onu-Matoran in his company!"
These words brightened Taipu's mood. "Thanks! And-"
"Okay, break's over!"
Frosam and Taipu turned to see Mamru striding over towards them. Taipu immediately resumed digging as the chief prospector pointed a finger at Frosam. "You there! Merc! I need you to go tell Dosne to send more engineers into Sector B, pronto! The tunnel will keep collapsing if we don't set up some reinforcement beams right away!"
Frosam nodded. "Yes, sir!"
At last, the day was done.
Unlike those who lived on the surface, day and night meant little to the inhabitants of these dark caves. However, even those with the greatest of stamina need some rest in order to keep working the next day. As the day shift of miners exited the Great Mine to retire for the evening, so did Frosam.
Entering the massive cavern that contained the village of Onu-Koro, Frosam paused for a moment. He inhaled slowly, letting the familiar air of home greet his senses. An underground stream cut through the center of the village, and he listened to the sound of water running over rock. A group of merchants and traders from the other villages had set up shop along the river, eager to sell their fish, torches, and other goods to the miners returning home from work. Even if these underground caverns were dark, the illumination emanated from the lightstones gave the village a warm, comforting glow.
Frosam smiled. There was no place like home.
Relaxed, he walked slowly, crossing the bridge over the stream and passing the merchants as he made his way to his hut. It was modest; a little on the small side and lacking in ornaments and other such luxuries, but it was all he could have ever asked for. Stepping inside, he was greeted by the familiar comforts of home.
The room was illuminated by a lightstone hanging from the ceiling, and Frosam had to duck to avoid bumping his head. As he made his way to his bed, he grabbed a bula berry from the basket of fruit sitting on a table to replenish his energy. Next to his bed, he laid down his backpack full of ropes, nets, lightstones, nails, and other supplies he carried around for use in his daily tasks. Then, he reached under his bed and pulled out a small bag, in which he deposited his day's earnings before sticking it back underneath his bed.
At last, Frosam picked up a small wooden case and sat down upon his bed. He inhaled slowly, letting the cool underground air fill his lungs. The day was done, and now it was time to relax and unwind with a little entertainment. He gently opened the case and gazed at the small musical instrument lying within.
It was a flute, which he had recently purchased from a Le-Matoran merchant after saving up on spare widgets for months. It had taken him at least a week just to learn how to play, having no proper instructor other than Taipu offering a few tips such as "I remember Sanso holding it this way, see?" and "Uh, I don't think the flute is supposed to sound quite like that." Even now, Frosam knew he was far from mastering the instrument. Still, even if he was no Le-Koro musician, he at least got the hang of playing the flute and was now trying to teach himself a song.
He pressed the flute to his lips and blew gently. The soft sound of the instrument's notes wafted through the hut, stringing together to form a melody. It was loosely inspired by the short tunes that Frosam used to hear some of the miners whistling to keep themselves entertained while they worked. These memories hearkened back to those simpler days of working as a miner himself, digging tunnels and excavating precious minerals, and so Frosam found that this melody took on a tone of somber nostalgia as he played it on the flute.
Or at least, playing that melody was Frosam's ultimate goal. After only a minute, Frosam hit a note that seemed out of place. He broke off and furrowed his brow, trying to figure out what was wrong. He then began playing again, starting a few notes before that incorrect pitch. He hit a wrong note again, so he tried again until he found a pitch that allowed the song to flow as it should. He restarted the musical phrase one more time for good measure, making sure he learned the note correctly before continuing the song. The next time he hit a wrong note in the song, he would repeat this exercise until he got it right. Then, once he finished the song, Frosam intended to go back to the beginning and try again, continuing to practice until he could iron out those moments where he had trouble earlier.
This simple exercise was time-consuming and required much patience. Still, with each wrong note Frosam played, he knew that he had the ability to fix his mistake. An opportunity to redeem himself and return things to the way it should be. As he played, Frosam reflected upon this notion and wondered if this was the source of that somber tone of nostalgia contained within this simple flute song. He could do with this flute song what would be impossible in reality.
Frosam suddenly broke off the song again. Staring at the flute resting in his hands for a minute of silence, he sighed deeply in regret. Perhaps it was a little too somber, a little too nostalgic.
No longer focused on his music, Frosam slowly returned to reality and became aware of the sounds of activity outside. There was shouting and the scuttling noises of a dozen Ussal crabs on the move. Frosam thought this was odd; shouldn't everyone have retired for the evening by this point?
Curious, Frosam put the flute back in its case, got to his feet, and stepped outside his hut. He quickly jumped back as several Ussal crabs scurried past at a hurried pace, each with one of the Ussalry riders on its back. Once the Ussal crabs passed by, he stepped outside again to see where they were heading. Noticing a crowd gathering around the entrance to the Great Mine, Frosam grabbed his pack of supplies before following.
Frosam joined the crowd, but could barely see or hear anything from the back. Glancing around, he found a small unused mine cart full of rocks and climbed on top of it to get a better view. From his new vantage point, he recognized Dosne and other members of the mining guild standing at the entrance. The Ussalry had lined up behind Onepu, who stood with his arms crossed and a concerned expression behind his Kanohi as he listened to Dosne speak.
"... have gone missing. Even worse, the Onu-Matoran I sent earlier to find them had not returned either! We're going to have to shut down that branch of the Marn Tunnels until we can catch that pest, but right now I'm more concerned about the safety of my Matoran than I am about some Rahi."
"We'll find them," promised Onepu. "And we'll exterminate this threat before any more miners get trapped in its labyrinth."
Onepu turned to face the rest of the Ussalry. He cleared his throat and spoke with authority. "Soldiers, this is a standard search and rescue mission! Stick together and be aware of your location at all times! We will be planting flags along the way so we can find our way out. And keep your bamboo disks at the ready... don't get caught unaware! It is our duty to find and rescue these miners... not to be the ones in need of rescue ourselves!"
Then, Onepu looked directly at Frosam and pointed at him. "Ah, merc! There you are! You're coming with us!"
Frosam blinked in shock. All eyes turned to look at him, and Frosam suddenly felt very small as he climbed down from his perch atop the mine cart. Just to make sure he hadn't misheard, Frosam raised a shaking hand to his chest and, very quietly, asked, "Me, sir?"
"Yes, you!" said Onepu, nodding. He strode over to Frosam's position and clasped his shoulder. "You said you didn't have it in you to be the hero? Now's your big chance to prove yourself wrong about that! Come on!" With that, Onepu led Frosam towards the entrance to the Great Mine, where there waited an Ussal without a rider.
"But... but..." stammered Frosam, still in shock, "but I'm just the Matoran who waxes the crabs! I'm not a..."
Onepu smiled. "So long as you're responsible for keeping my crabs clean and fit, you're a member of my Ussalry! You're one of us, merc! You'll do fine; just don't bring the tunnel down on your head this time!"
Frosam was stunned silent by Onepu's words. With a chuckle, Onepu heartily patted Frosam on the back, then turned away to mount his own Ussal. Shaking his head to snap himself out of his stupor, Frosam took a deep breath and climbed on the back of the Ussal crab in front of him. The crab stared at him and chirped softly. In response, Frosam smiled nervously and gentled patted the crab's carapace. He recognized this Ussal as one of the crabs that he had to wax earlier that day.
Frosam leaned in closely to Kaj, the Ussalry rider next to him. "Excuse me, could you bring me up to speed?" he whispered. "I'm afraid I missed the beginning of the brief."
Kaj nodded. "Sure. Some Rahi got loose in Tunnel 14 and started digging a lot of tunnels. Those landslides earlier today? Those were thanks to this creature's digging destabilizing the area. Dosne noticed that several of his miners went missing today and he suspects that they got lost in the labyrinth of tunnels left behind by the Rahi."
Frosam swallowed hard. "What kind of Rahi are we talking about?"
Shrugging, Kaj shook his head. "We haven't confirmed since no one has seen it yet, but based on its behavior, it sounds like a Blade Burrower to me. They're usually responsible for digging these sorts of labyrinths." Noticing Frosam's worried expression, Kaj smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry; from my experience, Blade Burrowers typically aren't hostile... you just need to make sure you don't get lost when you're tracking one."
Now riding his Ussal crab, Onepu looked up and down the Ussalry. "Attention, soldiers!" he proclaimed. "We've got some miners to rescue and a Rahi to catch! May our crabs ride swift and true! Now, let's move out!"
With that, the Ussalry was on the move, their Ussal steeds clicking furiously as they crawled through the entrance to the Great Mine. Frosam was not ready when his own Ussal suddenly lurched forward and nearly fell off its shell. "Whoa, there!" he whispered to the crab as he struggled to regain his balance.
The first thing that struck Frosam was just how foreboding the Great Mine could be.
Normally, he would only visit the Marn Tunnels during work hours, during which time the entire area was illuminated by the comforting glow of lightstones, full of the ringing of metal cleaving through rock, and populated by tons of miners hard at work but typically up for a quick, friendly chat.
None of those were present after hours. Now, beyond the glow of the Ussalry's own lightstones, the tunnels were as black as the Makuta's heart. Now, there was no sound but the scuttling of their Ussal crabs and the echoing dripping of water. Now, these tunnels were cold, empty, devoid of life.
Frosam felt a few chills run down his spine. He shuddered and, for his own comfort, patted his Ussal crab's shell just to remind himself that, at least, he wasn't alone.
They approached the mouth of a tunnel when Onepu gave the command to halt. He lifted his lightstone into the air to reveal a pair of signs reading "DANGER" and "DO NOT ENTER", most likely hastily put into place by Dosne to make sure no other miners wandered down the tunnel.
Grimly, Onepu declared: "This is it. Beyond this tunnel entrance waits a labyrinth. Follow protocol and make sure you keep your sense of direction at all times. If you locate the miners or find yourself in danger, blow your whistle and we will find you. Use your flags to mark our path so that, when we split up, we may find each other again." In demonstration, he took his own flag and planted it in the ground to mark the tunnel exit. "Move out!"
One by one, the Ussal crabs and their riders filed into the tunnel. Onepu was in the lead, while Frosam brought up the rear. Once inside, Frosam noticed how narrow and cramped it was compared to tunnels dug by Onu-Matoran. A feeling of claustrophobia started to settle in, which only elevated Frosam's uneasiness.
For several minutes, the Ussalry moved down the narrow tunnel as it twisted and turned through the earth like a writhing serpent. Then, they reached the first fork in the tunnel as the tunnel branched into three different paths, none of which looked appealing to Frosam. And here's where we get lost, he thought bitterly.
Still, Onepu remained composed and ordered one of the other riders to plant his own flag in the ground to mark the exit, then divided the Ussalry into three groups. One group took the left tunnel; another group took the right tunnel. Frosam and a few other riders were assigned to the center tunnel with Onepu in the lead.
Despite his words earlier that day, Frosam found it oddly comforting to be in Onepu's group. While Onepu could be full of himself, Frosam could now see how he was cool, calm, and collected in the face of danger. It was reassuring to have someone with a clear head in charge.
Unfortunately, that comfort was not to last. The winding tunnel very quickly led to another fork, this time diverging into two separate paths. After marking the exit with a flag, Onepu split the group in half. Safety in numbers, Frosam felt, was starting to slip away. The next fork in the tunnel divided the group again, and each subsequent fork halved the group until it was only Frosam and Onepu. And then, they arrived at yet another fork in the tunnel.
Onepu sighed grimly. As he planted another flag in place, he did not turn to look at Frosam, but he spoke in a low, solemn voice that Frosam had never heard from a Matoran usually so boisterous. "You take the right tunnel, I'll take the left tunnel. I am sorry that I cannot stick with you for protection any longer, but I trust you know what to do. Stay safe, and may your crab ride swift and true."
Frosam stared at Onepu. Now, he truly saw Taipu was right about the Ussalry captain. As bossy and proud as Onepu could be at times, he did genuinely look out for Frosam as a member of his Ussalry in his own special way. Perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to judge next time, thought Frosam, filled with a newfound admiration for Onepu and a sense of dread emerging from the fact that he was about to be alone.
Swallowing hard, Frosam managed to respond with a simple "May yours as well," without letting fear slip into his voice. With that, Onepu departed, and both he and his Ussal crab vanished into the darkness of the left tunnel in a matter of seconds. Inhaling slowly and trying to keep his nerves, Frosam lightly patted his own Ussal while holding out his lightstone in the direction of the right tunnel. "Let's go," he whispered, and the Ussal crab obeyed.
For what felt like a few minutes, Frosam rode through the winding, narrow path alone with the Ussal crab. He was barely able to see anything more than a few meters in front of him, and the only sounds he could hear were the fierce clicking of the Ussal's legs. He forced himself to breathe slowly to fight back the growing fear of being lost and alone in these tunnels. It'll be okay, he reassured himself. You've got a lightstone, you've got an Ussal crab, Blade Burrowers aren't hostile-
Without warning, the Ussal came to a halt, nearly throwing Frosam off its back. The crab started looking around frantically while chirping nervously. "What's the matter?" asked Frosam. Then, Frosam realized something disturbing.
Even though his crab had stopped moving, he still heard the scuttling noises of a Rahi on the move.
With a panicked chirp, the Ussal crab took off in a frenzy, clicking furiously as its six legs moved in a blur. "Whoa!" gasped Frosam gripping tightly onto the carapace just to stay on the crab's back. "Slow down! You'll-"
Before Frosam could say another word, the Ussal tripped over something in its path. It recovered quickly and continued running, but Frosam lost his grip and immediately fell off the crab's back. He fell face-first into the earth and dropped his lightstone, which shattered into fragments and plunged the tunnel into darkness. By the time Frosam recovered from his daze, the scuttling noises of the Ussal crab were distant.
Darkness, claustrophobia, and cold fear threatened to swallow Frosam whole. He thought he could feel the tunnel walls closing in, the shadows reaching out to ensnare him. His gaze drifted downward to the palms of his hands...
Panicking, he shook his head to dispel the memory, and then he took off his backpack and frantically rummaged through it. Lots of ropes, a fishhook, a net, some bamboo sticks... and a spare lightstone. Frosam sighed in relief as he pulled it out, once more providing a warm illumination to the tunnel.
Under the glow of the lightstone, Frosam noticed something lying on the ground several meters away; the object that the Ussal crab had tripped over. He approached it and knelt down to get a better look. Frosam blinked in surprise at his startling discovery: a pickaxe.
The lost miners! he realized. They cannot be far away!
Slowly, Frosam picked up the pickaxe. As he did so, he heard something other than the echoing drops of water and his own breath: scuttling. It came from behind him and seemed to grow closer and closer. Despite Frosam silently pleading to his legs to run as fast as he could, they ignored his commands, and he remained frozen in place. Hot, wet breath and cold dread simultaneously washed down the back of his neck.
At last, Frosam mustered up the will to force his body to turn around and face whatever stood behind him. He immediately wished that he had not.
A monstrous Rahi insect loomed over Frosam, appearing even larger and more terrifying due to the darkness surrounding it. The illumination of the lightstone glinted off the ebon armor coating its massive form. The Rahi had six spindly legs that ended with razor-sharp blades, and it had raised two of these appendages into the air like knives ready to cut through Frosam's armor. The Rahi stared intently at Frosam with a pair of large green compound eyes bulging from its hideous domed head. It gnashed its mandibles together, creating a horrible sound of metal scraping metal as it did so.
Terrified, Frosam shielded his own eyes while he thrust his lightstone into the Rahi's face, hoping to stun it with brilliant illumination. The creature screeched, sending shivers down Frosam's spine, as it recoiled back into the darkness. Then, the Rahi turned and fled back down the tunnel.
Frosam breathed heavily, standing still for several moments. He had never seen such a Rahi before, but he was sure that, whatever it was, it was definitely not a Blade Burrower. If that was the case, he could no longer assume that it was "not usually hostile." He had to assume the worst... that he and everyone else in these tunnels were in grave danger.
He looked down at the pickaxe in his hand. He could not be certain now if the lost miners were even still alive. This Rahi had to be stopped at all costs... but where was the rest of the Ussalry? They were the ones armed with discs and weapons.
Remembering Onepu's words from earlier, Frosam put away the pickaxe and started rummaging through his bag again. Then, much to his disappointment, he realized that he did not bring a whistle with him. If I survive this, he thought, I'd better remember to ask Onepu for one. Instead, all I've got is lots of rope, and what use is...
He paused for a moment as he held the rope in his hands.
No, he scolded himself. Frosam, you can't be serious! Do you really think you can catch that Rahi yourself? This is the Ussalry's job, not yours!
Frosam gritted his teeth and sighed bitterly. I saw this Rahi. I know it's here. The rest of the Ussalry does not, and so long as they don't know, they are in danger. I will not simply stand back and do nothing. This is my responsibility now... my duty to the Ussalry and to Onu-Koro.
Before he could give himself enough time to convince himself otherwise, Frosam took the rope out of his backpack and gave chase to the insect Rahi.
Frosam ran in the direction in which the Rahi had fled, and followed the tunnel as it winded through the earth, guided by the illumination of his lightstone. Unfortunately, even now the Rahi's scuttling was growing faint, and Frosam started to doubt if he could hope to catch the beast on foot. Still, he had to try, or at least hope that he could find his Ussal crab again or, even better, another member of the Ussalry so he could warn them.
Frosam stopped short. What he found was neither an Ussal nor an Ussalry, but yet another fork in the tunnel. This time, the tunnel branched off into five different paths, and none of them looked particularly appealing to Frosam. Worse, he could not even hear the Rahi anymore, leaving only blind luck to decide which tunnel to take.
Frosam cursed silently to himself. He could not afford to take his time to determine which tunnel would be most likely taken by a fleeing Rahi. Checking his backpack, he also realized that he no longer had any more flags with him to mark the tunnels, and that meant that, if he chose unwisely and lost his sense of direction, he could end up trapped down here. That prospect meant the return of those cold feelings of panic.
Frosam took long, drawn-out breaths to keep himself from hyperventilating. He mentally started reciting the lessons Onepu had taught him in order to keep his mind off the subject of getting lost forever. Prosperity, he silently recalled. It is the principle of Onu-Koro and its people. From prosperity, we learn stamina. Through prosperity, we perform our duty and achieve our destiny.
Frosam shut his eyes and spun around several times. When he stopped, he opened his eyes and looked at the tunnel before him. He knew this was a long shot. He had no way of telling if this was the right path and knew that he was relying solely on blind luck.
No, not luck. Destiny. I am performing my duty to Onu-Koro... may Mata Nui guide me to destiny.
With that, Frosam inhaled slowly, puffing up his chest in an attempt to emulate Onepu's confident air, and entered the tunnel before him. He had walked no less than a few meters when he hit a dead end and was suddenly stricken with the horrible realization that he had definitely taken the wrong tunnel.
So much for destiny, he thought bitterly.
Worse, the scuttling noise had returned. Very loud. Behind him.
Frosam spun around, but he was too slow and was immediately tackled to the ground by the insect Rahi. The monstrous creature stood over him and leaned in so close that he could smell its foul breath as it screeched angrily.
It raised one of its bladed legs and brought it down upon Frosam, who rolled out of the way in the nick of time. As the leg hit the ground, Frosam could feel fragments of rock broken off in the impact bouncing off against his armor. The Rahi tried again to impale him, but Frosam was able to get back to his feet and shove his lightstone in the insect's face. The Rahi hissed in response, averting its gaze and raising two of its limbs to shield its eyes.
While the creature was stunned, Frosam felt a rush of energy and leapt into action. He threw off his backpack to make himself lighter and faster, and then he jumped onto the Rahi's thorax, took his rope, and began to tie it around the insect's form. Time to see if Azibo was right about my knotting abilities, thought Frosam.
The Rahi jumped around and tried to shake Frosam off, but Frosam clung onto the insect's armor and refused to let go, instead letting the momentum of the Rahi's movements make the rope even tighter. In only a matter of moments, he could have the rope knotted around the Rahi's appendages and prevent it from being able to move or attack. Just give me a few more seconds... Frosam silently pleaded.
The Rahi would not give him that time. Razor-sharp spines suddenly erupted from the back of the insect's thorax, tearing through the rope as though it was merely flax. Frosam cried out in surprise and, trying to avoid being impaled by the deadly spikes, promptly fell off the Rahi's back, leaving him once again at the creature's mercy.
As he scrambled to get back onto his feet, Frosam tried again to stun the Rahi with his lightstone. This time, the creature anticipated it, swung one of its appendages, and knocked the crystal out of Frosam's hand.
Desperately, Frosam went for his backpack, hoping that he could retrieve something that would help him. He reached inside and pulled out the pickaxe that he had found earlier. Not what I was hoping for, he thought bitterly, but he did not have time to rummage for something else.
The Rahi slammed into Frosam and backed the Onu-Matoran against the tunnel wall with nowhere to run. He dropped the pickaxe and helplessly watched it clatter to the ground next to him.
Hissing, the Rahi raised its forelegs in preparation to strike. Frosam saw the sharp metal blades and swallowed hard in fear. In desperation, he reached out with one arm in an attempt to retrieve the pickaxe.
The Rahi struck once. Frosam scarcely had the time or space to dodge, just barely able to duck and move his head out of the way. The bladed appendage hit the wall and Frosam was met with a shower of rock fragments.
The Rahi pulled back its limb and struck a second time with the other leg. Once again, Frosam was only barely able to evade the attack. A spider web of cracks formed on the wall as more dust and rock particles rained down upon him.
This time, as he ducked, he reached forward and felt his hand close around the handle of the pickaxe.
Without a moment to waste, Frosam held up the pickaxe, but even then knew that it would not be of much use against the Rahi. The insect's armor was too thick, and this was not a weapon, but a tool for digging through rock. And even then, it was in the wrong hands; the only thing Frosam could hope to do with the pickaxe was...
Frosam remembered the words that he had told Taipu earlier that day. In his desperation, he was ready to see if he was right. He shook his head, unable to believe that he was considering such an option, but he knew that his dire situation left him little choice in the matter. Staring in the pickaxe in his trembling hands, Frosam inhaled slowly to keep himself from panicking. With solemn resignation, he thought, Destiny has a cruel sense of humor.
The Rahi's compound eyes were locked onto Frosam as it gnashed its mandibles together in frustration. Then, with an ear-piercing screech, it raised its legs one last time and struck with both bladed appendages at once.
Frosam ducked out of the way, letting the blades hit the tunnel wall again. As he did so, he shut his eyes and swung his pickaxe upward with all his might, striking the wall with the pointed end of the tool. The sound of metal cleaving through rock rang throughout the tunnel.
The combined impact of the Rahi's twin blades and Frosam's pickaxe caused that section of the wall to buckle and collapse. The destabilized earth shook violently and roared deafeningly as the landslide occurred. Seconds later, the tunnel ceiling caved in.
Frosam could see instinctual fear in the Rahi's eyes as it screeched in terror. He felt a surge of panic rush through him as he realized that did not have enough time to make his escape. Dirt and boulders rained down upon the Onu-Matoran and the Rahi, completely burying them both under the rubble. By the time the earth had quieted down and the dust had settled, all was silent and still.
Everything went black.