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CATACOMBSChapter Fourteen


lease, take a seat.”

Nimbus carefully lowered himself to the floor of Witte’s hut, wincing as his fresh bruises ached. “Gilgamesh doesn’t mess around…”

“No, he doesn't.” Witte scanned her stack of books before pulling out a few tomes and joining Nimbus on the floor. “Now…” She thumbed through the pages of a large, leather-bound book. “I caught a glance at your armor the yesterday, and if I had to guess…” Witte held up the book for Nimbus to see. “Can you read this?”

Nimbus squinted to read the text in the gloom. The symbols were small and intricate, inky black upon the yellowing sheets. Some of the characters appear familiar, but no matter how long Nimbus peered at them, no meaning revealed itself. Nimbus shook his head: “No.”

“I suspected as much…” Witte closed the book and began leafing through a smaller, more worn book. “How about this?” She asked, unraveling a long page that had been accordion folded to fit within its leather constraints.

This page was decorated with ten much larger symbols, circles three inches across. Within these circles were other shapes, ellipses connected with curved lines in irregular patterns. Color oozed across the diagrams, flowing from one area to the next, blending and swirling, but never extending beyond the outer circles. It was clear that every detail had been painted with absolute precision, every color placed with supreme deliberateness. As Nimbus gazed at the beautifully crafted symbols, he felt something well up within him. “These are emotions. I mean, they’re diagrammed emotions.”

“Yes!” Witte’s eyes lit up. “That’s exactly what they are! More specifically, they’re mentaglyphs. This sequence in particular is a base kinetics matrix, a key starting place in many different practical magics.”

“That sounds… kind of familiar.”

“It should!” Witte clapped and scrambled for another book. “Due to your recognition of mentaglyphs and your high-caliber armor (which I would guess is composed of augmented fortisium), I do believe you were, before you arrived, a Sophian battlemage.” She flipped a book open, paged through it, and held it up, displaying an illustration of a suit of armor not unlike Nimbus’.

Everything seemed to suddenly click. “Wow, I think you’re right!”

“Naturally! The Battlemages of Sophia have an affinity for the Emotive Science of Magic. They do train a bit in the Lexical Science, but, judging by your age, you probably haven’t advanced that far in their curriculum.”

Nimbus wasn’t sure how to respond. He had no memory of being a battlemage, and yet he knew that everything Witte had said was true. Or actually… Now that I think about it… “I think… maybe I’ve had dreams about this stuff.”

“Well…” Witte closed her book and started turning it over in her hands thoughtfully. “You wouldn’t be the first to report such a thing. Others have had dreams they believe to contain past memories, but dreams are a rather nebulous area of study. I’m afraid I don’t know much about their precise function.”

Nimbus struggled to recall details from his dreams, but their substance evaded him. “I think… There was definitely a castle, a big, marble castle.”

Witte shrugged. “The Battlemages of Sophia are situated in a castle, but my books don’t describe anything beyond that.”

“Where did those books come from, anyway? How did you get books down here?”

“Oh, they came with me. I first arrived in these tunnels with no memories of my own and no name to my… well… name. However, I did have my faithful tomes, all wrapped up in pack. Believe me, it was heinous schlepping their weight all the way to the Vinefront, but they provided what I lacked: memories, though regrettably not my own; and a name, Witte, borrowed from Witte Eldritch, the inventor of the Lexical Science.”

“I see… So… I was a battlemage—”

“In training.”

“Yes… but how did I end up down here?”

“Oi, Nimbus, if I knew that, why any of us were down here, I would tell everyone posthaste. I’ve been working that mystery since day one and have only dismal results to show for it. I’ve found traces of magical tampering that seem to confirm that magic is culpable for our memory loss. Beyond that… I don’t know.”

“Huh…” So, someone wiped my memory and put me here… I may not know myself very well, but that seems just about inline with my luck.

“Speaking of things I don’t know…” Witte continued, “You can read mentaglyphs! That’s fantastic! You simply must help me read this text sometime; I’ve been trying to teach myself, but mentaglyphs are virtually impossible to learn from a book, and no-one down here can read them.”

“Um, sure.” Nimbus was reminded why he was having this conversation. “So, can we try and figure out what the deal is with my magic?”

“Yes, yes, of course.” Witte stood up, brushed the dust off her green skirt, and began digging through the paper scraps on her desk. “Now, let’s see…” she said, not looking up from the papers. “There are two different methods or sciences to magic. The first is the Emotive Science, which has been in use for all of recorded history. The Emotive Science is based on the psyche of the user: by reaching the appropriate state of mind the user can tap into and manipulate magic itself. Different states of mind are required for different magics, and it is extremely difficult to master, but once the user becomes proficient, it is the most intuitive and flexible method of casting.” Witte stopped shifting the papers around and frowned. “Now, where did you go?” She began paging through her books.

“Sometime in the late Pathogenic Era, when most of the world was still suffering from the Necromal Plague, Witte Eldritch, my namesake, invented or else discovered the second science of magic, the Lexical Science. She discovered that magic could also be controlled by language and writing. This method is far more stable, yet technical. With the Lexical Science the user must precisely spell out what they mean to happen and how it is to be accomplished. It requires a superior understanding of the world’s natural mechanics, and writing a practical spell can take weeks. However, it is, in a sense, more accessible. Once a spell is written, any magician trained in the Lexical Science can cast it with ease. Because of this, when a remedial spell for Necromal Plague was developed almost a century after Witte Eldritch passed, it quickly ushered in the end of the epidemic, arguably saving the entire human race.

“A third method has been developed by a group of monks living in Bear-heart Forest, but they’re rather secretive… Aha!” Witte triumphantly produced a torn leaf of paper that had been tucked between the pages of a book and spread it out on the desk. “May I see the sword, please?”

Nimbus drew the blade, but hesitated to hand it over. “You can’t touch it.”

“I know. Just put it down on the table.”

Nimbus reluctantly complied.

“Now,” Witte gestured towards the sheet of paper she had found; it was coated with hundreds of the small black symbols Witte had shown Nimbus earlier, lexical magic. “This is an analytical spell I developed a while ago. It can tell me a few key things about magical items, but it will take a few minutes to get through. Why don’t you step out for a minute and visit Talos? You’ll find him in another hut, just out the door and a ways to the right.”

Nimbus stretched, then immediately regretted it. He was still feeling battered after his dual with Gilgamesh earlier. Still, it felt good to be out in the open cavern of the Vinefront.

After trudging through all those tunnels, this spacious cave almost feels like being out under the sky… whatever that feels like.

Nimbus missed the weight of his sword. Ever since the incident with Talos, Nimbus had kept it with him perpetually, fearing some unknowing soul might touch it.

Remembering why he was out here in the first place, Nimbus turned and headed in the direction Witte had pointed him in. It didn’t take him long to find the hut, tucked behind a giant stalagmite. The small living space wasn’t as well maintained as the others: the vines were older and more withered, completely brown. However, when Nimbus stepped inside, everything seemed orderly, with a full pitcher of water and a fresh mushroom illuminating the room. In a corner was a pile of irregular, makeshift arrows, none of which looked particularly functional. A bed of vines, this one larger than the others Nimbus had seen, sat in another corner, and lying upon it was Talos.

“Talos?” Nimbus said quietly, unsure if he was awake.

“Hmm?” Talos blinked his eyes open. “Oh, hey Nimbus. Sleep well?”

“Better than usual. You?”

“Yeah, it’s nice not to live on a cart anymore.” Talos pulled himself into a sitting position, wincing.

“Hows the pain? Did Witte figure out what’s wrong?”

“Nah, she’s going to do some more tests. At least the pain’s not worse, though.”

“That’s good.” Nimbus looked for something else to say. “I see you’ve got a private room here.”

“Heh, not really. It’s Stinger’s. He’s letting me use it.”

“Stinger has his own hut?” I guess that explains why he didn’t show up at the sleeping quarters.

“Oh, you didn’t know?” Talos sighed. “Stinger used to live here at the Vinefront. He was involved in everything, practically ran the place. He was different back then. The people built this hut as a gift when he… when he married.”

“Wait, Stinger is married?”

“I was.” said Stinger, causing Nimbus to jump. He walked in, pushed past Nimbus, and poured a drink of water from the pitcher into a crude metal cup. “She’s dead.”

Stinger downed his water, turned, and left, without another word.

6 June 2015

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