imbus wasn’t sure what a ‘water run’ entailed, but seeing as he had no idea what else to do with his time, he agreed to go along. He carefully donned his armor and headed for the food cavern.
The glowing orbs were out in abundance, swirling, dancing around the ceiling and generally illuminating the caves much more thoroughly than before. It must be lighthours. I wonder how long I slept? Ugh, my stomach feels like an empty well.
There were more people patrolling the tunnels and chambers of the Sanctuary. Most of them were men, but there were a few women. Many of them wore battered armor, scraped leather, or ragged robes, and a number of them had weapons at their sides. They kept their eyes and words to themselves, for the most part, ignoring Nimbus unless he was in their way or vice versa. However, whenever one of them did make eye-contact, Nimbus saw the confused and hollow gaze of eyes that had seen much, but remembered little.
Grabbing a piece of vine from the food cavern, Nimbus headed back to the Sanctuary’s entrance chamber to rendezvous with the man who had woken him that morning. The vine was still tough and bitter, but Nimbus did his best to force it down.
“The little shellfish finally got his armor on?” the man said gruffly.
“You’re wearing armor too.”
“Heh. But mine don’t take all day to put on.” The man rapped his knuckles on his breastplate, his only armor, save for a single shoulder pauldron and a crude iron helmet. An ax hung from his belt and a spear was slung across his back. “Anyway, we’re still waiting on Talos. He’s coming on the water run.”
“That would be me.” A man in a ratty wool tunic hurried up, a shield on his back, a craftsman’s hammer at his side, and three large, nested buckets in his arms. “I’m the resident handyman, you might say. I built the door mechanism.” He gestured to a large wooden box that sat directly adjacent to the door. A crank protruded from its face, and the door itself was partially inserted into a slot on the side. “I also built the time pieces, if you’ve seen them.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t.”
“Ah.” Talos sounded disappointed. “Well, they are my finest work. What might your name be, if you’ve got one.”
“Nice to meet you, Nimbus. As you know, I’m Talos, and I assume Gilgamesh neglected to introduce himself. I know: it’s a mouthful. Most of us just call him Gil.”
“Don’t.” Gilgamesh glared.
“Most of us ignore the death threats too.”
“One of these days…” Gilgamesh grumbled and turned towards the door. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Gilgamesh reached for the crank that moved the heavy stone door. As he turned it, the creaking, clanking sound of large gears rumbled on the other side of the wooden facade that masked the actual mechanism. The door groaned as it reluctantly relinquished access to the tunnels beyond, before coming to rest within a slot in the mechanism itself.
Nimbus’ second journey through the tunnels seemed uneventful at first. There were, as far as he could tell, no sign of the bloodwolves that had plagued his last visit, although this didn’t do much to appease his nerves. He could not help but imagine that, at any given moment, he might hear a snuffling around the corner, that around the next corner he might see that shaggy silhouette in the torchlight.
“So,” Nimbus broke the silence. “we’re getting water from the reservoir? Isn’t it salty?”
“That it is; you aught to like it, Shellfish.” said Gilgamesh.
“Ha ha. No really, we aren’t using it for drinking, are we?”
“We are. Methuselah can purify it.” Talos explained. “He knows a lot of various practical magics, more than just light balls.
“Ah, OK. Do a lot of people down here know magic?”
“Several of them do.” said Talos. “In fact, its only a bit less common down here than people with weapons. We get all kinds of tough guys in these catacombs. I don’t know why, but of course, that’s nothing new.”
Nimbus took a moment before asking his next question. It had just come to his attention that there was a vine tendril stuck between his teeth, and he spent the better part of a minute vainly trying to work it out with his tongue. Finally, he gave up and just tried to ignore it.
“So, what do we do if those bloodwolves attack?” Nimbus asked.
“Knock you down and run.” Gilgamesh said. “No, we fight, of course. What did you think?”
“I don’t know; they just seemed too dangerous to fight the last time I saw them.”
“They are really dangerous.” said Talos. “However, they’re not quite as much of a danger as Gil is a cheater. He’s gotten pretty good at keeping them at a distance and poking them with his stick… like a coward.”
“I’ve told you a thousand times: the spear is a tactical choice against these creatures in these tunnels!” Gilgamesh grumbled. “Anyone with a lick of sense would use one! You’re not even a warrior; you have no right to question me!”
Talos turned back long enough to give Nimbus a wink before returning his gaze to the tunnels ahead.
It wasn’t long before they arrived at the reservoir, which was just as Nimbus had left it. The pool of water was deep and clear. He could just make out the glint of his sword, rippling through the water, barely illuminated by the torchlight. The hole in the ceiling through which, just yesterday, he had fallen, was scarcely visible in the darkness. The room was quiet save for the constant trickle of water seeping through a crack in the cave wall. Nimbus wondered how far that water had traveled. How many feet or yards or miles of rock and earth did it penetrate on its quest from the sea to the cave? It was somehow unreal to imagine that, at some point, the liquid in the reservoir had been on the surface, that the sun’s rays had graced its surface and seeped, wavering, into its depths.
The sun… Nimbus turned the idea of the sun over in his mind. He knew of it, that it was a great, round light in the sky; he remember that much. Somehow, though, he couldn’t quite replicate its image in his mind. I think I had a dream with the sun last night. How did it go… Unfortunately, like most dreams, it seemed to have vanished into oblivion, leaving behind only a faint residue on his memory. Nimbus wondered, not for the first time, not for the last time, how much stone separated him from that sunlight.
“How long do you think we’ll be down here?” Nimbus asked.
“I can’t say for sure.” Talos knelt at the pool and scooped up a bucket of water. “Nobody knows the way out of these tunnels, and exploring them is extremely dangerous.”
“It wouldn’t be, with a large enough party, if people weren’t too cowardly to do anything.” said Gilgamesh.
“Don’t listen to him. It’s been tried before.” Talos scooped the next bucket. “Acting rashly is lethal down here. We need to focus on survival right now; it’s all we can do to collect water and vines.”
“Couldn’t we dig our way out?” said Nimbus.
“We’ve tried that, but wherever we dig, we run into a layer of impervious rock. Also, digging outside of the Sanctuary is far too dangerous, and digging inside the Sanctuary means that if we hit another tunnel, we create a vulnerability in our defenses. Without any practical digging equipment, further attempts at tunneling are a waste of our meager resources.” Talos finished filling the last bucket.
“So, we just collect water and vines until… what?”
“Until we think of something else, or until something changes. Stinger, if you know him, has been trying to map the tunnels for a while, with surprising success. Who knows? Maybe he’ll find the way out.”
“Yeah, and then what?” Gilgamesh snorted. “He’ll just turn around, trek back into this deathtrap and show us the way out? If I ever got out of here, believe me, there would be no going back.”
“And that’s why you have no friends, Gil.”
Gilgamesh rolled his eyes. “Just get the sword and so we can leave.”
Talos opted to dive for the sword, as he was the only one not wearing armor. He swam out to the middle of the reservoir, just below the hole in the ceiling, took a gulp of air, and disappeared below the surface.
“I hope you know how to use that thing.” said Gilgamesh.
“I think I do. I just… don’t remember the details.” Something was off. Something was dangerous, but Nimbus wasn’t sure what.
“It’ll come back to you. It’ll might take—”
Suddenly, it hit Nimbus. “No!”
Nimbus ran towards the water, but it was too late. The reservoir flashed brightly as electricity surged through the water; a cascade of bubbles rushed to the surface. In an instant, it was over. Nimbus leaped into the once again uncharged water and paddled furiously to where Talos had gone under. He took a deep breath and plunged downwards, groping for his new associate. Quickly, he found and seized the back of Talos’ wool tunic.
Nimbus kicked with all his might, but his armor, which was just barely light enough to swim with, made it impossible to bring his fellow man to the surface. His lungs ached for relief, but he couldn’t leave Talos at the bottom. Finally, Nimbus sank to the bottom, braced himself, and pushed off as hard as he could. He broke the surface panting and gasping, just in time for Gilgamesh, who had discarded his heavy armor and jumped in after him, to rip Talos from his hands and haul the craftsman to the shore.
Talos shuddered and spewed water, coughing violently.
“Are you OK!?” asked Nimbus.
“No, he’s not.” Gilgamesh glared at Nimbus. “He’s burnt and waterlogged. What on earth happened?”
“My sword… I think it has a security measure. Only I can use it safely.”
“Well, you had better get it up here real fast: the bloodwolves will have heard the commotion.”