Nialus’s End - Prologue to "A Fire Within"
Clang!… Clang!… Clang!
The sound of the mighty hammer striking the piece of metal lying upon the protosteel anvil echoed across the dimly-lit cavern and reverberated back to the Toa of Earth’s now-frail ears. His muscles ached with exhaustion, and his throat was sore from dehydration. He had been down here for weeks, maybe months; he had lost track of time. He had drunk all of his water and consumed all of his food, and he hadn’t slept a wink the past three nights. He was weary, sick, and ready to quit. But Nialus was so close… so close to finishing. He just had to hold out one more night. Then, it would be over.
After all the preparation, all of the widgets spent and risks taken, it was almost done. His masterpiece, which he had spent months planning, sketching and getting resources for, was near completion. And when it was, his life would be complete. Already, he could feel his heartlight dimming - his limbs were weak, his heart and lungs ached terribly, and every breath was taken with pain. Already he was losing his short-term memory; he could barely remember the events of the past few days, except for the ever-present pain. Then again, it was the same every day. Get out of bed, take pain depressants, forge, fix errors, take pain depressants, forge some more, clean up the forge, take pain depressants, go to bed. It was monotonous, to the point of insanity; but he had to finish. If he was going to die today - which, without a doubt, he was - he would go out with honor. He would finish his ultimate masterpiece.
His back trembled with weakness as he continued to pound. The pain was getting greater - a sign that the workday was almost over. He would have to take more medicine, the last of it, actually, to make it through the night. For there would be no sleep tonight - there would be only hard, relentless work, the hardest work produced by Nialus since he had started his project. His hammer would swing proudly, his masterpiece would come through in perfection, and, in the end, his heartlight would go out. He would die, a truly unfortunate case, but a necessary sacrifice nonetheless. He was not even elderly - but he had known younger Toa to die, and he was grateful for the length of his life.
A miner, a Chronicler, a warrior, a shopkeeper, a collector, a writer, a mercenary, and, in the end, a blacksmith - he had been all these and more. He had scaled the peak of Mt. Iho, trudged across the Fau Swamp, plunged into the depths of Lake Naho, and even explored the treacherous caverns of Mangaia. He had Chronicled enough adventures to fill a library (which they had), and defeated enough Rahkshi and Skakdi for a trophy room dedicated completely to the weapons of enemies. He had saved lives, endangered lives, destroyed lives, lied, cheated, and been redeemed only to rise again as a symbol of goodness for the island. And now, in this lost, terribly hot cavern of Mangai, where poisonous Fikou crept and the bravest Toa dare not go, Nialus was going to die - hardly any would remember him. Only the handful would know. Only the few would remember. Those who read the Chronicles that had survived the fires would know him as a myth or a legend, not a once-living being. But Nialus did not care; for though he had been nearly everything and gone nearly everywhere, there was a single title that he had never been capable of reaching, a title that achieving had meant everything to him But now, he would gain it with his last gift to the world and to the Great Spirit. This title would be his, and it would be his soon - much sooner than the Toa had expected.
With all of the reminiscing, Nialus had gone into a meditative state, shut off from the world as he recalled past memories. But now, as he came back to reality, he saw before him his finished product, forged from his own clawed hands while in the daze, polished and shining in the light of the forge as he drew it from the bucket of water beside him. Nialus dropped his hammer and fell to his knees - the shock of seeing the piece of art completed freezing his heartlight with a mixed feeling of fear and wonder. It was… beautiful. Striking and glorious. It was his greatest - and final - treasure, one that he had made himself. One that would glorify his creator and be used for the good of Matoran-kind for millennia to come. He could do nothing more for the next few minutes except sit there and examine the wonderful object resting in his hand…
The sharp pain that suddenly jutted through his chest reminded Nialus of his dwindling minutes alive - and he had two final tasks to complete. Taking his glorious creation, the Onu-Toa began to hobble from the forge as fast as his dying body could carry him, not bothering to put out the fires still leaping from its entrance. He ran into another cavern on his left, one that seemed completely bare to the naked eye. But when the feeble warrior struck his left fist into the ground - erstwhile smashing his wrist useless - a single pedestal rose from the center of the room, barely visible even with the excellent night vision of his Matatu’s scope. Quietly, and with great care, the being inserted his creation halfway down a slit on top of the mysterious-looking column. A sudden flash of light entered the cavern as a lightstone descended from above the pedestal and shone brightly, illuminating Nialus’s masterpiece. With a grinding clung, the pedestal sank down a few inches, locking the masterpiece in place and locking itself into the floor. It had accepted his gift.
With a raspy breath of relief, the brave Toa reached into his weather-beaten satchel and pulled out bundles of harakeke plants, which he then spread around the base of the pedestal. Finally, he took a single necklace of Ga-Koro flowers and draped them over his masterpiece and around the pedestal. It was done. Now all that was left was to write his final story.
Hobbling painfully out of the cavern, the Toa used his powers over earth to close up the tunnel behind him. Someday, somebody would find it - the Hau-bearer, the Toa-warrior of Ta-Koro whom he had seen in his dreams. As sure as Mata Nui lived on around him, it would be so - the Great Spirit had told him. Nialus entered his “room”, a small cave with only a hammock, a stool, and a table, and took a seat. His headaches were getting worse, and his joints were on fire - indication that the end was present. But he had a single task left, one last tablet to add to his personal archive - his last journal entry. His numbing fingers grasped the carving tool and steadily began recording the last events of his life, from the moment he woke up this morning to till he was sitting in this chair, writing the entry. With a weak smile and one last swish of the tool, Nialus carved the last words he ever wrote:
And now, in the end, I bury myself within the ground. My gift to Mata Nui and his beloved Matoran is finally finished… my last entry written… and the final title bestowed upon me. I was a lost villain, a criminal unawares of his crimes. But Mata Nui rescued me from unrighteousness, and gave my direction... and a destiny. May he show the same to my old teammates - my friends - who still remain lost. Forgive them, my creator - for they know not what they do.
Thus, it is so - I have earned the greatest honor to ever be give. I, Nialus the Transient... the Cryptic...Toa of Earth, and defender of Light… have become a hero.
And with that, the Toa dropped the tablet and tool to the ground, and fell from the chair. Using his once-mighty powers, Nialus opens the ground beneath him. As he fell, he gave a single wave of his hand, and at once the last of his power was used to close the ground around him. He couldn’t help but smile. Then everything was black.
Far away in the forge, the flames of the furnace leapt from its mouth. A single spark flew through the air and ignited a fuse on the ground. A blaze started and crawled along its line, leading to a stack of barrels in the corner. With a shudder and blinding light, the forge exploded into a million shreds of metal and stone, ashes and smoke billowing in every direction. The shock from the explosion caused a massive cave-in, blocking all the entrances to the tunnels and filling them with boulders and stone. A creeping silence swept over the now blackened tomb.
The wait had begun.
TO BE CONTINUED
More information on these short stories can be found here.