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CATACOMBSChapter Eighteen

TABLE OF CONTENTS
G

ilgamesh’s words echoed in Nimbus’ head: “You'd need at least a crossbow bolt!”

“Bolt.” That’s the word.

The familiar sensation snapped through him. He could feel power saturating his being, electricity pulsing through his body, a sensation so potent that for a moment he couldn’t respond. Then the energy sharpened, focused, prepared for launch. Nimbus felt like a dam about to burst as the next second passed at a snail’s pace. He saw the people running, Stinger with his bow drawn, Gilgamesh steadying himself, and at the center of it all was the armor. The silver suit gripped its sword with hollow fingers. It raised its blade to slaughter anything within reach. Behind its visor: blackness and emptiness. Nimbus willed it to be destroyed and released the lightning. A bolt of pure electricity blazed through the cavern, illuminating the Vinefront with unparalleled brilliance. The blast smote the armor dead-center, crackling throughout the metallic hull. The armor shook and convulsed, flailing helplessly as the energy danced across its form. Within a second, the electricity dissipated, and the metallic fiend collapsed into a pile of disconnected armor pieces.

Huh, that actually worked.

Everyone stared in shock as Nimbus collapsed, exhausted.


“In the future, you may want to limit your magical output. You don’t want to pass out if you only need a spark.”

Nimbus blinked groggily. He was in Witte’s hut, lying on the mattress of vines. Witte was at her desk, examining some kind of tiny scroll. A pile of armor lay in the corner, the remains of his foe.

“Feeling alright?” Witte turned from her work. “No burns or bruises?”

“I don’t think so. I feel okay.” Nimbus sat up. “Why did I pass out?”

“My guess would be that you simply overexerted yourself. Were you fatigued when you cast the lightning?”

Nimbus nodded.

“There you go. Magic takes energy, and you cast a lot of it.”

“But it worked? I wonder why; nothing else did.”

“Aha! That’s a wonderful question, one of many surrounding the ‘Husk,’ as I’ve decided to call it. Fortunately,” Witte returned the tiny scroll she was holding to a strange black box on her desk. “I do believe I’ve found the answer, though it may surprise you. Now, I don’t recall exactly, but did we discuss the written form of Lexical Magic?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, to be brief, Lexical Magic can sometimes be written out and executed remotely. Remember this?” Witte held up the scroll she had previously worn around her forearm. “This scroll details a fire spell. It took a while to get it just right, but now it’s an effective weapon. The main issue with writing out the magic, of course, is that it cannot be modified on the fly to fit specific circumstances, and some spells simply require such modifications on a case-by-case basis in order to function properly.

“However, it is possible to use logic in Lexical Magic. That is to say, different parts of the magic can be executed or ignored based on various factors. This can be used to create adaptive spells that react differently in different circumstances. The practice is generally classified and referred to as the sub-science ‘Logical Magic.’ Now, it had been a long time suggestion that, through a complex array of Logical Magic, it might be possible to simulate thought…”

“I’m not sure what this has to do with why my lightning killed the, uh, Husk.” said Nimbus.

“Sorry, sorry! I am getting there; be patient. Now, where was I…” Witte paused. “Ah, yes, simulated thought. With elaborate Logical Magic it might be possible to create an artificial mind. A number of nations have looked into this as a means of creating surrogate soldiers, bolstering forces and cutting down on casualties. However, the amount of space needed to store the written magic, to say nothing of the necessary time that would be spent inventing and writing it, is astronomical. Eventually, these military projects were abandoned in favor of more attainable goals, and yet…” Witte turned to pick something up off her desk. “The solution is all here, inside this box.”

In Witte’s hands was a small, rectangular container, perhaps the size of a half-gallon. Parts of the box were coated with broken adhesive, and the top had been carefully cut open. The carton was packed with tiny scrolls, about the size of Nimbus’ little finger, and in the center…

“Jaktur! That’s not—” Nimbus gagged.

“Goodness, I’m sorry!” Witte swept the box back onto her desk behind her. “I should have asked if you were squeamish about such things. Are you alright?”

“Is that a brain?”

“Yes, it is. Are you feeling faint? Lie back down.”

“A human brain?”

“Well, I’m not a biology expert…”

“Armor that thinks with a human brain, why is everything down here crazy and awful?”

“Alright, firstly, to say it ‘thinks’ with the brain is an oversimplification; secondly, I cannot confirm the brain to be of human origin; and, thirdly, not everything down here is crazy and awful. I, for one, am of an excellent and stable temperament, or else I would be rather cross with you, a milestone we may yet reach if you continue to interrupt me.” Witte took a moment to regain her composure. “Now, where was I… Oh, yes, the brain. From what I can tell, the brain seems to function merely as an interface for controlling the humanoid armor. I would also hypothesize that the brain analyzes visual information and other artificial sensory data. These basic functions would have taken years to write and pounds of scrolls to record, but the brain is a compact, specialized organ that can be harnessed to perform these tasks with relative ease and efficiency. This leaves only the main decision-making process and a few other odds and ends to be written into the scrolls.”

“Um…”

“In short, the brain does the heavy lifting, and the scrolls guide it.”

“But then… was it alive?”

“Well, no, a brain and a soul are quite different. I don’t believe the Husk had a soul, but I’m not completely sure.” Witte sighed and rubbed her temples. “Really, this Husk is puzzle within a mystery within an enigma within a… question? I’m out of synonyms.”

“Conundrum?”

Witte snapped her fingers. “Yes, ‘conundrum.’ There are just so many questions: from where does it draw its power? What was it meant to do? How did it get here?”

“What about my question? Why did my lightning work when everything else failed?”

“Right, right, that’s actually rather straightforward. These scrolls most likely contain the automatic repair spells for the Husk. No matter how much the outer shell was heated or crushed, the scrolls in this box would put it back together—a magic I’d like to salvage, if possible. However, when you struck the Husk with lightning, electricity surged through the conductive armor, through the metal box, and finally reached the brain, where it caused irreparable damage. That’s my hypothesis, anyway.”

Nimbus nodded. “That makes sense.”

“Speaking of which, that was a rather dramatic moment to remember your keyword.” Witte laughed.

Nimbus smiled. “Yes, I suppose it—ack!”

Nimbus shuddered as energy surged through him, building up to unbearable levels within seconds. He felt as though he was bursting at the seams, electricity crackling up and down his body. Overwhelmed he cast the energy away with all his might. Witte ducked out of the way as a bolt of lightning shot through the air, setting a section of the ceiling on fire.

“Oi, what was that about!” Witte grabbed her pitcher of water and tossed it at the newly charred vines.

“I’m sorry!” Nimbus was starting to feel woozy. “It was an accident! I thought of the word!” The word “bolt.” Nimbus could feel the power building again. “No!” The next bolt burned straight through the wall. Nimbus shriveled in panic as his vision faded.

“Oh dear,” Witte sighed. “I suppose this is my fault.”

And again Nimbus’ consciousness abandoned him.

22 August 2015

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