imbus was severely regretting his decision to ever venture outside the Sanctuary. Both of his previous adventures in the tunnels had primarily featured a mob of bloodwolves, along with a smattering of inopportune tumbles and one electric shock. For that reason, while he was taken a bit off-guard by the specific events that had led to his plight, the situation didn’t seem particularly abnormal. He and Stinger stood back-to-back in the dim, cramped tunnel as the wolves poured in.
“Do the lightning again. We need to break through.” Stinger said.
“I can’t. I don’t know how it happened.” Nimbus jabbed at the first wolf with his sword, but his arm already felt like it was about to fall off. “I think the lightning drained me. I’m so tired…”
“I’m so sorry, Stinger.” Nimbus managed to impale the first wolf. “This is my fault.”
“I’ll take front; you take back.” Stinger shoved his way past Nimbus and brandished his knife, daring the wolves to step within range. A few bloodwolves were approached from behind. Standing back-to-back with Stinger, Nimbus waved his blade in what he hoped was a menacing manner, attempting to dissuade his aggressors from advancing. “What do we do?”
“Stinger? What now?” Nimbus heard a grunt and a snarl as Stinger struggled with a wolf, but he dared not turn away from the creatures before him to see who had the upper hand. A bloodwolf lunged toward Nimbus, prompting him to lash out wildly. The beast backed off with a gash in its nose, but Nimbus nearly dropped his sword in fatigue. “Stinger?”
A snarl coming from Stinger’s side of the fray was abruptly cut short.
“I got one.” said Stinger. “Move!”
Nimbus spared a lightning fast glance over his shoulder to see Stinger, who had just felled an enemy with his dagger, take a few steps forward. Cautiously, Nimbus tried to follow without lowering his guard to the rear. Pressing forward one enemy at a time, we’ll never make it through. I can’t—
Nimbus’ foot caught on the carcass of the bloodwolf Stinger had terminated. His gauntlet scraped against the wall as he vainly struggled to catch himself before slipping backwards and striking his head on the floor. His vision blurred and a ringing filled his ears. Through the fog he could just make out a set of white fangs above his face. In his dazed state, it was he could do to think, Well, it’s over. Phooey.
Suddenly the fangs we gone. A rush of wind tore across Nimbus’ body, whistling through the chinks in his armor and carrying a wave of heat and warm glow. The deafening tinnitus was beginning to die down, and over it he could hear the sounds of combat escalate, accompanied by shouting. Too high pitch to be Stinger… It must be…
“Hermes! What are you doing here?” Stinger demanded.
“Just a little rescue is all. Is Nimbus OK?”
Nimbus felt someone tugging on his shoulders, hoisting him to his feet. Standing seemed to help defog his mind, and his vision cleared up enough to tell it was Stinger who helping him support his weight. The tunnel floor was crowded with several battered bloodwolves, a few of which looked singed, and among them stood Hermes, a smug smile stretched across his cheek. “So, how’s it going?”
“We need to get out of here.” grumbled Stinger. “Bloodwolves don’t scare long. They’ll be back.”
“What? No thank you? No praise for the torch move? Come on! Not many people would think of using their wind magic to blow the magical torch flames around, but I knew it would work! Well, OK, there was a pretty good chance it would just blow the torch out, plunging us into darkness and putting us at further disadvantage, but it didn’t!”
“I thought I told you to stay with the convoy.”
“Ah, yep. You did tell me that, along some threat about breaking my legs,” Hermes said, “but see, I figured that if you were dead you wouldn’t be able to make those kinds of threats anymore, and wouldn’t that just be tragic? That’s why, when I heard you guys fighting down the tunnels, I came to make sure you stayed undead, er, alive.”
Nimbus’ legs, though aching, were regaining stability. He pushed away from Stinger, and the group began shambling forward as fast as they could. “Thanks for the assist, Hermes. I thought we were done for.”
“By Jaktur, if you encourage him, I’ll break your legs too.” said Stinger.
“Heh heh,” Hermes laughed, “You’re were just kidding about the whole leg breaking business, right? …Right?”
The trio pressed on, around a few corners, up a long incline, along a few bends, and, just as the sounds of wolves started to echo in the caves behind them, they squeezed through a tight spot and found themselves in a large chamber with three exits and several torches. In the center of the cavern sat the water cart with half the convoy sleeping alongside it, while the other half kept watch. Needless to say, Nimbus found his way to the floor in the fastest way short of pitching face first onto the floor. Never had rugged stone felt so good, and Nimbus soon found himself less concerned with thoughts of bloodwolves and more invested in the deep, internal struggle of deciding whether or not to get up again and take off his armor.
It was at this time that the argument resumed.
“Never, ever, do that again.” said Stinger.
“What, would you rather have died? I thought it went pretty well.”
“You got lucky. Don’t stick your neck out; you’ll just add yourself to the death tally.”
“You stick your neck out all the time!”
“I don’t have anything to lose!”
“And what, exactly, do I have to lose? I live in a cave too!”
Stinger was silent for a time. “Get come rest. I’m joining the watch.”
“You’re probably more tired than I am.”
“Rest before I break your legs.”
“Heh, that threat is starting to lose its weight.”
“I’ll fix that.”
“Nap time it is!”
A kick to the shoulder jarred Nimbus awake.
“Were moving on. Get up, unless you’d rather wait around for the bloodwolves to eat you.” Gilgamesh scowled.
Nimbus groaned as he pulled himself up. Next time, I’m taking the armor off before bed.
Within the minute, the convoy was in motion, and the plodding quickly coaxed out a few of the aches Nimbus had forgotten from yesterday. With a wince and a grunt, Nimbus fell in next to Hermes. “Maybe you can wake me up next time. I’m getting really tired of Gilgamesh’s boot-n-sneer wake-up calls.”
“Oh, yeah, he’s terrible at those.” Hermes laughed.
“So… thanks for pulling us out of the fire yesterday.”
“It was no trouble. Well, it was a little trouble… kind of heroic, actually. Too be fair though, I did push you into the pit in the first place.”
“Hm, OK, thanks retracted.” Nimbus joked.
“Oh, come on! It was an accident!”
As he laughed, Nimbus wondered why it seemed so funny. Perhaps it’s giddiness from the relief of escape, or maybe I’m just becoming desensitized to near-death. Jaktur, I hope not. Nimbus caught himself. What or who is Jaktur? He’d heard the name used by Stinger and Methuselah, and now it seemed to have slipped into his own lexicon.
“Uh, so,” Nimbus began, “I’ve been hearing the name ‘Jaktur’ recently. Who is that?”
“Oh, that’s a good question. Jaktur is a god.”
“A god of what?”
“I’m not sure, really, but there are a lot of inscriptions of him down here. There are lots and lots of praises, but very little actual information.”
Nimbus remembered the carving he’d seen on the tunnel wall. “Does he ride a horse-thing with the head of an eagle?”
“I dunno. Probably. I’m no expert, but you know who is?”
“I only know about five people, so…”
“Witte. She knows all kinds of stuff about gods and magic.”
“How? Didn’t she lose her memory?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never actually met her in person. She lives down at the Vinefront.”
“Yeah,” came a voice from atop the cart. “She has quite the reputation.”
“Talos!” Nimbus had almost forgotten their injured friend. “How are you feeling?”
“Ah, burned and battered, but what else is new?”
“I’m really sorry…”
Talos laughed, but it sounded like it hurt. “Am I ever going to get a few lines into a conversation without you apologizing? Take it easy.”
“Sorry—I mean, uh…”
“Don’t worry about me.” Talos propped himself up on his side so he could look down at Nimbus. “Witte is the best healer we have. If anyone can fix me up, she can.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“So, how have things been going? I hope you’re treating Gil well; that guy is fragile, you know.”
“I heard that.” Gilgamesh, who was pulling the cart, called back.
Nimbus smiled. “Well, I’ve tried, but he’s so sensitive.”
“We’ll see who’s sensitive when I impale you two and leave you for the dogs.”
Talos chuckled and turned to lie on his back again, leaving the convoy to proceed in silence.
Poor Talos… My sword really caused him a lot of pain. I need to learn how my magic works, all of it, so this never happens again. I’ll bet that lady, Witte, is the person I was sent to learn from.
It was many hours before anyone spoke again. It was Stinger who broke the silence: “Take one more breather. We’re not far now.”