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CATACOMBSChapter Fifteen

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imbus, you’re just in time!” Witte rose from her seat. “I’m done with the analysis of your weapon.”

Nimbus stood in Witte’s dimly lit vine hut, looking down at the black blade that lay across the desk. “So, what did you find out?”

“More or less what I expected. As per Sophian tradition, your sword is imbued with elemental energy, electricity in this specific case, which both fuels the cognitus defense, and amplifies lightning magics.”

Nimbus reached down and retrieved the blade, eyeing the beautiful golden pattern woven throughout the metal. A recollection seemed to surface: standing atop a hill in the rain, holding his sword to the sky, trying to capture lightning… “So, how do I make it shoot lightning?”

“It doesn’t.” Witte shuffled some notes around on her desk, bringing them up to her face to read them in the gloom. “As far as I can tell, you have to cast the lightning magic yourself. The sword is merely a conduit that focuses and bolsters it.”

“So, how do I cast magic, then? Using that… uh… Emotive Science?”

“That would be my supposition, yes. Sophian battlemages mostly cast magics by directly tapping into it with their minds.”

“But didn’t you say that I had to be in the correct mental state to do that? Unless that state is blind panic, I don’t see how I’ve ever managed to pull it off.”

“Ah, yes, but there’s a trick to it.” Witte smiled. “You see, it’s very difficult for all but the most prestigious of emotive mages to quickly achieve the appropriate state of mind for a magic, especially under pressure. Preparation for casting can take several minutes under ideal conditions, which sometimes makes Emotive Magic less efficient than Lexical Magic. However…” Witte’s eyes twinkled with excitement. “Here’s where Emotive Magic gets clever. Tell me, Nimbus, have you ever heard of hypnosis?”

The word was familiar. Nimbus was certain that at some time he must have known much about it. However… “I don’t recall exactly what it is.”

Witte nodded. “Once erroneously considered to be another form of magic, hypnosis is set of techniques used for putting a mind into a highly malleable state. It has a number of applications, one of which is to program a mind to respond to specific a stimulus in a certain way. For example, hypnosis could be used to force someone to completely ignore teakettles, or to instill a terrible, irrational fear in an individual whenever they hear the word ‘gruel.'”

“I wouldn’t consider fear of gruel irrational.”

“And you probably don’t notice the teakettle on my desk.”

“There isn’t one.”

“Are you sure?”

Nimbus rolled his eyes. “Touché, but what does this have to do with magic?”

“Yes, yes, here’s the good bit.” said Witte. “Hypnotism is the key to efficient use of Emotive Magic. Think about it: if the primary issue is reaching the proper mental and emotional state, why not program yourself with a keyword to reach that state instantly?”

“Wait, so battlemages hypnotize themselves to cast magic faster?”

“Yes! They create secret words that could be thought or spoken to activate the correct mindset, ergo activating a specific magic! Most likely, you have a keyword that triggers your lightning.”

Nimbus exhaled slowly, pondering the matter. “What is it?”

“The keyword? I couldn’t know. Think back to when you cast the magic. Did you say anything? A keyword might have been uttered reflexively.”

Nimbus thought back to the time when he and Stinger fought the bloodwolves. He tried to remember what he had said when he hurled the blast of electricity, scorching the stone. Nothing. He probed further into his memory, to the time with Gilgamesh and Talos, the first time he ever used magic. Nothing. “I can’t remember what I said. I’m not sure I said anything.”

“Nothing at all?”

“No, just… maybe…” Nimbus wrestled with his memories. “It’s been a while. Nothing comes to mind.”

“Ah,” Witte sounded disappointed. “Well, we’ll figure this out eventually. In the meantime…” And she was cheerful again. “Would you mind giving me a hand breaking down these mentaglyphs?” In an instant, Witte whipped out the small, worn book that contained the circular symbols Nimbus had identified earlier. “You’re the only one here at the Vinefront with more than a passing familiarity of these symbols! With your help, we could finally work out the spells in this book! We could finally solve…” Witte seemed to catch herself. “Well, there is a particular magic in this book that I’m interested in learning.”

Nimbus didn’t particularly feel up to the task of slowly and tediously explaining how mentaglyphs work. Indeed, he wasn’t sure he knew, but he took the book anyway and began paging through it. There was more inside than just mentaglyphs, small black characters not unlike the ones from Lexical Magic. These letters, however, Nimbus understood. They spelled out the names of various magics, along with some rudimentary descriptions of their function. Kinetics, pyrogenics, luminescence… “Which magic are you interested in?”

“Ah, well…” Witte hesitated. “There is a kinetics magic that might help with gathering vines that would otherwise be located too precariously for conventional harvesting.”

“Hmm.” Something seemed off to Nimbus. “I might be able to help, but mentaglyphs are complex. I can read them and understand what they mean, what I’m supposed to feel, but I’m not sure I can properly explain. I’m not even sure if I could follow the mentaglyphs’ instructions. I haven’t cast magic intentionally before, at least in memory.”

“Fair enough, but take a look at that book would you, when you have time?”

“Sure.” Nimbus closed it.

“You can hold on to it, just don’t take it out into the tunnels, if you don’t mind. You know, just in case…”

“Just in case I get eaten and the book is lost forever?”

“Well, to put it crudely.”

“Crudely is fine; I didn’t plan on going back into those tunnels anyway.”

“Sound plan.” Witte sighed. “Now, I do have a patient I must see to. Run along. Shoo. Read when you have the chance.”


“Run along.” Did she just tell me to run along? Did she tell me to ‘shoo?’

Nimbus wandered aimlessly through the Vinefront cavern. It was true, he had promised to look into the mentaglyphs for Witte, but at the moment that kind of work didn’t appeal to him. That said, he didn’t really have anything better to do. His meandering journey continued for a few minutes, until he noticed a familiar figure.

“Um, Stinger?”

“Nimbus.” The man strode purposefully in onward.

Nimbus fell in beside him. He felt he should say something, having just recently experienced a startling revelation concerning Stinger, that the bowman had once been married and that, somehow, his wife had died. Some manner of condolence seemed appropriate, yet there wasn’t any current prompt. Stinger left as soon as he mentioned his wife. He probably doesn’t want to discuss it. He probably doesn’t even want to remember. Finally, Nimbus settled on a foolproof dialogue strategy: disregarding heavy conversation topics. “So, uh, what is there to do around here?”

“Harvest vines.” Stinger didn’t slow down.

“Harvest vines… Is there a specific way I should go about that?”

“Anyone here can show you.”

“Oh, alright. Thanks.” said Nimbus, awkwardly trying to keep pace. “Hey, where are you going?”

“Back outside.”

“What? Why?”

“Maps.”

“You don’t have this area mapped yet?”

“There’re always places to map. See you, Nimbus.” And with that, Stinger, having reached the vine-woven door that separated the Vinefront from the treacherous tunnels beyond, took his leave.

Poor guy. Nimbus stood for several seconds, watching the door. What’s his deal? Why doesn’t he ever stick around? It was then that he was interrupted.

“Which way did Stinger go?” panted Hermes.

Nimbus turned around, surprised. “You just missed him. He left for the tunnels just a minute ago.”

“The tunnels! But we just got here yesterday! I never got a chance to talk to him.”

“Well, I guess he doesn’t like to stay put.”

“He only left a minute ago?”

“Yeah, I was just talking to—”

“I can still catch him! Thanks, Nimbus!”

“Wait, I don’t think—”

Hermes was already gone; the door slammed behind him.

“Come back!” I need to tell someone. Nimbus looked back and forth, searching for aid, but no-one was in sight. Nimbus started toward the sleeping quarters, then hesitated. By the time I find someone, he’ll be so far into the tunnels… Nimbus turned and charged back towards the tunnels, pausing again before the door. He reached for it, but pulled his hand back. The bloodwolves… Nimbus imagined them leaping at him, tearing at his flesh. He wasn’t even wearing his armor. Hermes isn’t armored, either. Nimbus now imagined Hermes trapped beneath the wolves. Claws. Teeth. Blood. 

Nimbus took a deep breath, dropped Witte’s book on the ground, threw the door open, and disappeared into the darkness.

24 June 2015

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