imbus wasn’t sure what he expected the Sanctuary to be like, but with its name came certain connotations: dignity, order, modest elegance, and, above all, safety. Unfortunately, the Sanctuary was a hole in the wall.
Perhaps that description didn’t quite do it justice. The Sanctuary was, after all, a rather large hole, a cavern, really. Roughly circular and several meters across, the chamber had a number of passages leading off from it, some lit, some dark. The walls were covered with carvings of all sorts, from pictures to runes. The domed roof of the cave made Nimbus feel as though he were within a giant tortoise shell. Otherwise, the so-called “Sanctuary” was rather featureless, save for the bizarre, glowing lights, about the size of Nimbus’ fist, that meandered around the ceiling, dimly illuminating the room, and save for the old man in the grey cloak who sat, hunched over, on a green mat in the center, a pile of dirt before him.
Nimbus wasn’t sure which of his many questions to ask. This is the Sanctuary? Who are these people, Stinger, the boy, the old man? Why are we all here? His new associate, the boy who greeted him and Stinger at the door, interrupted his thoughts.
“It’s not much, but it’s pretty awful. I mean, it’s something. It’s a bit better than the caves. Well, it is a cave, but…” The boy thought a moment. “It’s safe. -ish. Whatever. It’s your home now. Welcome home, I guess.”
“Um, thanks.” Nimbus turned to Stinger. “What do we do now?”
“Take the tour. Settle in. Wait.”
“What are we waiting for?”
“Freedom or death, if there’s even a difference down here.”
“Hey!” the boy interjected, gesturing to the man in the center of the room. “I think Methuselah wants to talk to you.”
Nimbus hadn’t seen the hunched man move or acknowledge their presence in any way, but he and Stinger followed the boy over to the man’s mat.
“Ah, a fresh face.” Methuselah glanced up only for a second, before returning his eyes back towards the mound of earth before him. “You must be famished, weary, perhaps fearful. We will do what is within our meager power to satisfy these needs, but I most apologize for the trials ahead.”
Nimbus suddenly realized that, in the chaos of the last hour, he had indeed worked up a notable appetite. His legs ached dully with fatigue.
“Tell me, friend,” Methuselah continued, “Are you named?”
“My name is Nimbus.”
“Well met, Nimbus. As you’ve been told, I am Methuselah. You should rest.” He turned slightly towards the boy. “Please, show him to the sleeping quarters for a darkhour respite.”
“Is ‘darkhour respite’ a really ominous way to say nap?” asked Nimbus.
Methuselah smiled at his pile of dirt. “If it suits you to think of it that way. Stinger, will you be staying with us?”
“No. I’m going back out. Don’t argue with me.”
“I will not attempt to dissuade you further. I’ve given you all my words on the matter; you may revisit them in you memory as often as you wish.”
“Hm. I need vines and water.” Stinger strode towards one of the doors that lead out of the chamber.
The boy watched him go with a frown, then turned to Nimbus.
“Well then, food?”
I suppose food, as a category, Nimbus thought, might, by some definition, stretch to include… these.
The victuals, to use the term loosely, consisted of a few contorted pieces of coarse, chewy vines and water. Though the vines were bitter and scarcely palatable, at the very least the water tasted fresh and clean.
“Is that all you’re going to eat?” the boy asked.
“Uh, yeah, I’m not too hungry, thank you.”
The boy looked at him carefully. “Yeah, you are. You’ll get used to the vines, though. They start to taste good after a while. Well, they taste OK. Yeah.”
“No. No, they always taste awful.” The boy interrupted. “I just try really, really hard to like them.”
A moment passed. Nimbus looked around the room, which was basically a small cavern with a pool of clean water. A large pile of vines sat beside the pool, their ends trailing into it. Presumably, this was to keep the plants fresh. One of the floating lights from the main chamber bumbled lazily around the ceiling. Nimbus watched it for a time.
“What’s with the magical, floating lights?” Nimbus asked at last.
“Old man Methuselah makes them. They’re pretty handy. It would be dreary in here without them. Well, it would be completely dark. Actually, we probably wouldn’t be here at all.”
“And why exactly are we here, anyway?”
“Your guess is as good as mine… No, mine is probably a little better. Anyway, no-one who comes here has any memory of how they got here. Some of us don’t even remember our original names. We usually come up with a nickname for those people.”
“Hence ‘Stinger’.” the boy confirmed.
“And do you have a name?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry. I’m Hermes, and you’re Nimbus, right? It’s a shame. I hoped you were a namer. I was going to suggest ‘Pitch’ or ‘Tar’ or something. You know, because of your armor.”
“I have never been so relieved to remember my own name. So, people just show up?”
“All the time, but… well, not everyone is as lucky as we are. Most people get… uh…”
“Most people get eaten by wolves?”
The silence answered his question. Finally, Nimbus broke it again.
“Didn’t Methuselah say something about dark-naps or something? I’m really tired.”
“Darkhours. We don’t know when it’s day or night down here, so we just arbitrarily set up our own cycle. During lighthours Methuselah lights the place up a bit brighter. Come on; I’ll show you were we sleep.”
The light woke him. Nimbus sat up, shielding his eyes from the sun as its radiance shone through the window, reflecting off the marble sill. He crawled out of his soft, comfortable bed and fumbled blindly with the drapes until he managed to pull them shut.
Even the sliver of light that stabbed through the rift between the curtains was enough to illuminate his room. The lucent shaft revealed his carved wardrobe; his fine black and gold armor, glinting on its stand; and his desk, covered with papyrus, scrolls, and books. Something about the papyrus caught his eye: the writing covering it was fuzzy and indistinct. Holding it closely to his eye and squinting, he was able to make out symbols, letters, words even. However, they seemed devoid of any meaning. Shrugging, he replaced the papyrus and walked to the window.
His eyes now adjusted, he threw open the drapes and looked down upon the green courtyard, surrounded by white, pristine walls of marble. Trees and statues decorated the terrain, as clean, well-swept stone pathways wound through it. The courtyard was populated by numerous people, most in colorful robes or armor, some passing through, some lingering and chatting. The sight was so pleasant, so familiar, Nimbus couldn’t help but smile.
“…hey…” The voice caught Nimbus by surprise.
Nimbus’s vision blurred, his body shook.
Nimbus’s eyes fluttered open. A man with a short, tangled beard was standing over him, shaking him with a boot. The man’s wool outfit might have had padding at some point, but if it did, that was now worn away.
It took Nimbus a moment to remember where he was, and when he did, his heart sank. The sleeping quarters of the sanctuary were no more than a cave with disheveled people, mostly men in their twenties and thirties, by the looks of them, lying about on either the cold stone floor, or thin mats of vines. Compared to the sun he had enjoyed moments before, the cave was oppressively dark. He was more sore than when he went to sleep. Even sitting up, he could still feel the lumps of the hard rock floor on which he had slept, as though there were stones lodged in his back.
“You’re new, aren’t you?” The man squatted down. “Fresh meat, probably just dragged in by Stinger?”
Nimbus nodded. “Uh, yeah. And you are?”
The man ignored the question. “That soft-spined scoundrel. Doesn’t he realize we have enough people to feed without him bringing more in?” The man rose to his full height again. “Well, if you’re going to be eating our vines and drinking our water, you’re going to pull your own weight. Can you fight? You got a weapon to go with that fancy armor?”
“Yeah, its… It’s at the bottom of the salt-water pond in the tunnels, though.”
The man rolled his eyes. “Get up and put your armor on then. We’re going on a water run.”