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THIRD ROCK FROM THE CAVERN OF LIGHT «Alright, someone get me a status update» the foreman grumbled in between elbowing his way through confused miners, struggling to take stock of the situation. Dust and grime clouded his senses as his night vision made out the contours of the cave-in slowly coming to rest before him. Distressed miners and their Ussal steeds were already scrambling to move the rubble out of the way, but the unusual volume of debris made it clear that this would take a long time to clear out, maybe too long. “Please tell me everyone made it out” the foreman asked of a nearby miner, who shook his head with a glum expression. “No, sir, there was still one miner left at the edge of the tunnel when the cave-in came, I’m not sure he even noticed that the tunnel was collapsing” “Spirits,” the foreman exclaimed in distress as he ran closer to where the miners were shuffling away parts of the debris, “did anyone see who was left inside?” “I did,” came a cry from one, “it was Taipu, he was just swinging his pickaxe like he always does, didn’t look like he had room for anything else in his head” “Great Spirit bless him,” the foreman muttered, “if anyone could survive in there long enough for rescue, it’s him. MOVE IT, people” Taipu had at least noticed by now what was amiss. His first clue came when the lights were unexpectedly turned out, leaving only a single lightstone embedded in the roof to light the way for him as he swung his pickaxe with the same resolute motions as he always did. For Taipu was still digging, still chipping away at the rock before him, before bending down to pick up and toss loose rocks out of the way before continuing. He was trapped, but he was certain help was on the way. In the meantime, all he could do was keep digging, it’d be a real shame if all this work was going to be set back because of a lousy little cave-in. Onepu had shown him how to dig for two Matoran for a reason, right? So he pressed on, shoveling aside bigger and bigger loads of dirt and soil as the ground in front of him became looser. He didn’t think much of it, he just wanted to help get the service tunnel finished while he was here anyway. After a while, Taipu was beginning to feel the fatigue creeping into his limbs, and his movements were growing more and more sluggish. The wall of soil and dirt before him was a sea he waded through… he assumed, he’d never actually seen the water, he liked staying in the tunnels, and the world around him was growing darker by the second, so dark that he started fearing he was digging his way into The Makuta’s realm itself. “I really hope… Toa Onua… will save me” he thought to himself, with what was probably his last thoughts. He felt something give way before his shuffling hand, and he fell unconscious just as his eyes were filled by a bright light… When Taipu came to his senses, the light seemed to still be there, the roof above him was visible clear as day, and there was no lightstone in sight that provided that visibility. He looked around, and what he saw was the interior of a small hut not unlike his own or Onepu’s, but something about it looked different. Taipu soon realized what the difference was: the hut was brown. In fact, everything around him looked distressingly brown and dusty, and he could spot blue sky through the window… was he in Po-Koro? He knew that place had sand. But then, a figure appeared in the door, a completely black Matoran, with the trademark green eyes of an Onu-Matoran, he was even wearing the great Toa Onua’s Mask of Strength. A wilting growth of some kind that Taipu couldn’t identify was clenched between his teeth, and waddled slightly as the unknown Onu-Matoran stepped closer to him. “You’re awake, how ‘bout that”, the stranger mumbled as he passed Taipu by on what the miner assumed was the stranger’s own bed (now he felt embarrassed), and started rummaging around in a nearby cupboard. “I… where am I, who are you?” Taipu eventually managed to stutter, the strange Onu-Matoran’s face furrowed slightly as he brought a bowl of something warm to Taipu’s mouth. Taipu didn’t protest as he accepted the stranger’s care, the warmth spreading through his body helped him think clearer, and some of the pain he still felt in his sore limbs dulled. “Name’s Midak,” the stranger finally introduced himself, “and this is my little Ussal pen right at the main road to Onu-Koro. Not much to look at, true, but the view is irreplaceable.” Taipu managed to summon the strength to sit up, and looked at the Matoran who’d introduced himself as “Midak”, he’d heard that name before… “Now I’ve seen that mug a few times before,” Midak replied, “you’re thinking ‘wait, this is that crazy feller who lives on his own right in the sunlight’, and I’m sure you’ve heard far less dignified versions of that account, too, but yeah, that’s me.” Midak stepped back cordially to give Taipu room to get out of bed, the miner tried to struggle to his feet, but once he stood upright, he was overwhelmed with a throbbing pain in his head, and fell over backwards onto the bed again. Midak tsked, and put away the bowl before coming over to Taipu, “no, no, this won’t do at all. Whatever it was that got you stuck in the cave wall must’ve done a real number on you” “Stuck in the… what?” was all Midak managed to ask as he was reseated on the bed. “I found you sticking out of the cave wall like an unusually animate rock, was worried for a moment the Kofo-Jaga had gotten a bite out of you, the way you were just hanging there.” “I… I just remember a big light, and then nothing. I was just busy digging a service tunnel, and wanted to get some extra work done while waiting for the cave-in to be cleared away” “You kept digging a tunnel by yourself while trapped behind a rockslide?” Midak asked in genuine shock, Taipu nodded. “I just didn’t want all that time to go to waste…” he said simply “Well, you’re one dedicated Matoran, I’ll give you that,” Midak replied, “now look, you just get some rest until you’re ready to stand up straight, and I’ll make sure you get back to town in good health, alright?” Taipu nodded, and laid down on Midak’s bed to get some sleep. When he opened his eyes again, he found the hut empty and quiet, with no sign of Midak anywhere. The world around him looked clearer to him now, and his headache had receded significantly. Taipu decided to make another attempt at getting to his feet, and this time he succeeded. Taipu shook of the remaining feelings of sluggishness, and made for the hut’s entrance. He blinked several times, hard, when he peered out at the bright sky and was taken aback by the bright sunlight washing over him, nearly searing his eyes and bathing his body in uncomfortable heat. With one of his hands shadowing for his eyes, Taipu was able to make his way over to where he saw the bent over figure of Midak hunching next to a dozing Ussal Crab. Midak rose to his full height upon hearing Taipu’s steps, facing the miner with a mildly surprised look. “Didn’t expect you to crawl out of bed so soon. How are you feeling?” He asked. Taipu blinked through the bright daylight, until he managed to grunt forth “Alright, I guess, expect for the light… how can you stand it?” he asked. Midak’s face fell into bemused folds, his eyes suddenly twinkling with an unusual spark as he put a hand on Taipu’s shoulder. “You see, I like to live my life right under the ceiling the Great Spirit already gave us, and what an interesting ceiling it is.” Midak gestured across the blue vista that stretched into the horizon, and Taipu gave him the due courtesy of looking at what he was describing as Midak disappeared into his own deliberations and wasn’t paying as much attention to Taipu anymore. “It’s got character, there’s life happening up there, the clouds streaking by, the stars that easily outshine lightstones in the sky at night, but most of all, the sun is His light, it’s a reminder that he always watches over us, and when it peeks out from behind a morning cloud, I can look at it and remember that even when The Makuta’s out to get us, The Great Spirit and his Toa are gonna be there to give us a hand, just when we need it the most.” “Besides, fresh air is hard to come by in Onu-Koro, and my Ussal Crabs like them some fresh air to frolic in, ‘specially Puku here” The Ussal Crab in question chirped excitedly at Taipu, and seemed to try to reach him with its claws. Taipu quickly recoiled, withdrawing his hands, wich seemed to sadden the Ussal Crab, who gave a more somber chirp. “Aww, don’t let old Puku scare ya, girl’s just wondering how you’re doing, she was with me when I found you” Midak reassured Taipu. “Puku?” Taipu asked, “isn’t that Onepu’s old racing crab?” Midak patted one of Puku’s claws with a nostalgic smile, “sure is, took the title three times with him, if I remember rightly. She’s a bit long in the tooth now, but still mighty fast when you need a ride." Taipu’s interest in the prospect of meeting his friend’s old racing mount overcame his fear, and he offered his hands to Puku, who gave them a gentle squeeze as a kind of hello, apparently she’d observed Matoran shaking hands and taken cues from it. Taipu smiled at the gesture. “Well,” Midak said, “if you’re feeling better, best not waste any time getting you back home, someone’s got to be worried sick about you back there if they think you’re trapped in a rockslide somewhere” Taipu nodded “yeah, and it would be too bad if they wasted too much time looking for me” “Alright, then. Puku, let’s saddle up” Midak told the crab, with an enthusiastic chirp in reply. The ride back to Onu-Koro was fairly uneventful, aside from the fact that Taipu and Midak got the chance to get a little more acquainted with each other. Midak was just as intrigued by how incredibly well Taipu’s eyes were adjusted to the darkness as his own were used to bright light, even more so than most Onu-Matoran he ran into. “And there it is,” Midak could finally say, pointing at Onu-Koro in the distance, with its usual cluster of lights and candles lighting the massive cave it was placed in. Taipu’s spirits lifted considerably at the sight. At the entrance, there was quite a bit of commotion happening, when the two Matoran came within earshot, it was clear that Taipu was the source. “Alright, men, you know your mission, comb these tunnels, rock, soil and mud after that Matoran, and Great Spirit willing you’ll bring him home safe and sound” an authoritative voice ordered towards a group of Ussalry members. “Well, isn’t that a bit excessive, Onepu” Midak called behind him, “I’d wager just looking behind the third rock from the Cavern of Light would do the trick” Onepu turned around, his face in an annoyed expression, clearly intending to set straight someone who didn’t recognize the gravity of the situation, but it evaporated the second he spotted Taipu in the middle of climbing off of Taipu’s back. “Here I am” he said simply, walking up to his friend, “Midak here found me and kept me safe while I got some rest” There were a few of the Ussalrymen who’d been shooting Midak less-than-kind looks, but those changed to surprise and wonderment upon hearing Taipu’s account. “Midak, we owe you great thanks for taking care of the Koro’s most valued digger” Onepu courteously declared with a slight bow, his men followed in turn. “Aaah, don’t mention it” Midak waved it off, “Puku and me here wouldn’t dream of leaving a stranger in need to the Kofo-Jaga” Puku supplanted the statement with a confident chirp of her own, and Onepu gave the crab a warm smile. “Always such a dependable girl” he said affectionately, “and that goes double for you, Midak. Turaga Whenua will hear about this” “Much obliged, cap’n,” Midak replied with a salute, “and Taipu, take care of yourself now, eh?” “I will, plus I have Onepu to help me, I’ll be fine” Taipu replied. “So long” Midak bid goodbye, before prompting Puku to get moving with a light brush of his hand against her backside. As Puku scuttled away, and she and Midak disappeared into the dark tunnel, Taipu threw one last glance in their direction, thinking about what he’d been through. Something about the way Midak had seemed so comfortable with his unsual lifestyle had left an impression, and Taipu realized how little he’d actually seen in his life of Mata Nui’s great works. Someday in the future he’d like to go and see more of them. For now, though, it was time to get back to work, back in the tunnel, Taipu retrieved his pickaxe and started digging for two once again. THE END