It's Never What You Think
Written by Höbin Luckyfeller.
For language translations, see my entry on Baiumen.
“You’re not going to do it in time.” “Sure I am.” “You have less than four minutes to tide. You’re out of time. We need to leave.” “I have plenty of time.” Scoffing, “I’m the linguistics expert, Höbin, and I’m telling you it’s impossible.” “But I’m better at my job, Casey.” Which had always been true. But there was something else he failed to take into account. “Plus, I’m smarter than you.” Rude, perhaps, but true and we both knew it. We’d worked at the FAF for thirty years together—both of us top in our fields. But my job as a field scribe historian encompassed every aspect of the FAF, including the linguistics of Casey Thaddeus Boltcutter. Casey opens his mouth, then thinks better of it and starts pacing the chamber instead. No time to worry about beta-boys feelings. That, and I don’t actually give a vallen-turd how he feels. We might be colleagues, but he's still an ass. I keep typing in the variables as the scanner does its job—pulling the remaining symbols off the altar and into the system. “Can’t believe you brought me back here, Höbin.” I spare a glance to find him fidgeting, eyes wide as an opera singer's mouth and biting his nails. Not that I blame him—this isn’t a comfortable place to be, I get that. Took us hours to get down here--crawling through narrow cracks, swimming under fallen pillars...only to reach a dank, molding, cut off chamber. A chamber containing scattered bones, a battered body, and the most frustrating puzzle I’ve had to solve since the Demoni Vankil. …the biggest difference being any participant who fails to solve the correct translation of the Nocturi gets to drown under six hundred feet of ocean where no one can hear you scream. Hence, the fresher, bloated body in the corner. Hey, it’s Monday. Casey won’t come near the glowing etchings I’m working on. Fair enough. But he’d been paid to do a job and bungled it. Management sent me here to complete what the linguistics department couldn’t. Break into the Nocturi Temple. “Didn’t have much of a choice, Case. When you botch an assignment and don’t return to report your failure, well…” BEEP!…BEEP!…BEEP! My laptop lights up. Three more words and I’ll have enough to work with. “I need you as a sounding board to get this chamber open.” Casey starts shivering. Violently. Not that I care if he’s uncomfortable, but I do need him to focus. It’s then that I hear the sound of water—a distant echo from the opposite doorway. “You’re not gonna drown. Remember that. Focus on me.” Snapping my fingers near his face, “Casey, hey! Focus on ME. Stay calm.” I wasn’t prepared for his reaction. His head spins towards me like a fat kid looking for cake. Eyes glittering in the wake of the magical runes, he bares his teeth in an unsettling snarl. “CALM?!? You want ME to be CALM!? I’M NEVER LEAVING HERE!!” BEEEEEEP! Last word processed. Bingo! “MY WIFE WILL NEVER SEE ME AGAIN BECAUSE MY BODY IS GOING TO ROT UNDER THE OCEAN.” Taking a breath, Casey’s hands curl into fists. When he finally exhales, his tone lowers, but his breathing quickens considerably. “And for WHAT? So people can have another historical book to read?” Water pours into the chamber and splashes up against my boots. It’s a big cavern, but the waters coming quick. I pull out my notes from a sealed pouch at my hip and adjust the red awakening stone next to me. Last thing I want is having it slip off the altar and into the water. “No, Casey,” I reply firmly, “we die because we don’t do our job correctly. So I’m gonna make you a deal. You focus and help me, right now, and both of us will go home. Deal?” For a split second, his eyes shift from me to the water rushing in and rising to our ankles, then back at me. The fear in his eyes gives way to terror. “Your word?” My heart doesn’t miss a slow, steady beat. “Upon my scroll, you have my word.” His nod is almost indistinguishable amidst his bodily shakes, but it’s good enough for me. I flip the laptop around and show him the screen. The patterns are too complex to describe to a human (and most other races, so this isn't a personal insult), but for my own people, it’s the air we breathe. Just trust me when I say it was a hell of a lot of math and ancient symbols. 99.98724% of mortals wouldn’t understand it any more than why fat people wear spandex. Seriously, there should be laws. “This is the sequence you initiated to ignite the containment spell, correct?” Casey scanned the screen and nodded. My fingers danced across the alter, tapping a specific sequence around the circle. Each rune touched lit up with a pale turquoise hue. Behind us, the wall, which had a single eye craved in stone, also lit up...along with a deep hum that vibrated through the floor. Casey looked down at the rippling water. “This is where it all went wrong, Höbin. We’re going to down!” “Hey!” I snapped, leaving the growl in my voice. “Now it’s MY turn, so keep your mouth shut unless I ask you a direct question!” Casey clamped his teeth together. “The combination for this spell just needs the final key, which is…” “Verbal,” Casey cut me off. My glare at him could have killed. He bit his lip. “Sorry. Shutting up.” “Verbal,” I finished again. “But this is where you got it wrong. The script given to us from your department says, ‘Sydämeni on ävoin tiedon viisäudelle.’ That translates over, according to the database as ‘My heart is open to the wisdom of knowledge.’” I looked up at my colleague and waited for his reply. Casey nodded, “Correct.” “The problem with you using the information from the FAF database is that it was collected by the entry-level employees who don’t ever see more than the books and scrolls we give them.” The point might be lost on Casey, but it was important for me to work through the process out loud. “And?” “And,” I repeated, “that doesn’t take into account the fact that the Nocturi language is an active language. Unlike other races, every citizen of Väthinerä was schooled in the ways of the mägo.” The water had already reached our knees, but I needed one more missing piece. My eyes locked onto Casey's. “What is the difference between ‘Sydämeni on äuki’ and ‘Ävoin sydämelleni’?” The water rose to my groin before his mouth dropped open in understanding. “One is a statement, the other a request.” I didn’t bother hiding my grin. “As an incantation to open the vault door, a mägo would make a request, not a statement, don’t you think?” “How could I have…” he started to say, but it was lost in the surge of water pushing through the secondary door. I climbed onto the altar, grabbed the laptop and encouraged Casey to follow my lead. “You were looking for a literal translation word for word, not the actual meaning or purpose behind those words. That’s where studying a culture gives me an advantage. This door is protecting what the Nocturi treasured most of all: Truth. As a people, it was in their nature to have open hearts. Even from childhood, a Nocturi is taught to improve oneself line upon line, principle upon principle. But to enter here, the most sacred of their domains, one had to be more than that.” Turning towards the glowing eye, I typed in the exact phrase. I needed the phonetics. We only had one shot before the water consumed us both. Casey looked over my shoulder, now all but ignoring the water rising around us. “How does that help you chose the correct phrase?” I smirked. Not that Casey said anything funny, but because it never ceases to amaze me how the Universe helps me solve puzzles. Usually under life and death situations, sure, but it's quite remarkable if you think about it. “It helps me to know that these people were anything but prideful. They loved truth for truth, virtue for virtue, and knowledge for knowledge. The reward was simply enjoying it, while the rest of us are more likely to seek influence and power. It tells me that any priest who entered here would openly admit that they were not perfect and required more knowledge—which is the purpose of this vault. It tells me that being ‘open’ is to make accessible. That 'wisdom' to a Nocturi is making the right choices, and that the definition of 'knowledge' in this society is what SHOULD be known.” BEEEEEEEEP! The correct translation and its pronunciation lit up my screen just as the water hit me in the chest. The icy water had already numbed my lower extremities, but now, encasing my chest, it suddenly got hard to breathe. Casey stood beside me in complete shock. He’d never come close to figuring this out. “That’s why studying history is so important. Where your literal translation may have meant ‘My heart is open to the wisdom of knowledge’, the real translation to this puzzle is ‘Tee sydämelleni käytettäväksi oikeät välinnät, jotkä tulisi tietää.’” As the last syllable left my lips, blazing blue light engulfed the chamber. The water beat against open doorways, now unable to enter, while the glowing blue eye blinked once…then rolled back into the wall. “Make accessible to my heart the right choices that should be known,” Casey whispered over my shoulder. “They were humbly making a request for further light and knowledge.” Damn, I am good. With a grating sound, the humming grew louder as the wall containing the closed eye fell away. Without hinges, the stone folded back into the exposed room—allowing the water to flow freely into the Chamber of Truth. …and me right along with it. My body slid across the slippery stone, following the water until I hit the farthest wall. Soft blue light revealed more than a hundred rows of wooden shelves stretching so high the light failed to touch the tops. Each shelf accented with curious workmanship in gold and silver, all angled to create a grand circle. At its center, a small network of granite tables and chairs, beckoning readers to come and have their fill. It was more books than I’d ever seen in a single location. The Chamber of Truth was a historian's dream. “Höbin?” Casey’s voice pulls me back to the moment and I look about for the awakening stone. “You did it, Höbin.” “You doubted me?” I chuckled out loud. The awakening stone had washed into a corner, buried under a few rocks and silt. Casey shrugged. “Yeah. I did.” Rinsing off the stone brings Casey’s image back into view. He grins sheepishly. “Sorry about that.” “Hey, you did better than I thought you would, even if it was the second time around.” Which was true. I didn’t think he’d be able to function when the fear of drowning twice hit him. Not that a spirit can drown, but the mind is a powerful thing. “So if you’ll forgive me for putting you through that ordeal, I’ll forget what a pansy you are.” I smiled at him until I realized my mistake. “Uh…were.” Casey nodded sadly. “Yeah.” For as annoying as my colleague was, a promise was a promise. Holding the magical device Chuck had loaned me to find Casey’s spirit, I approached and spoke with as much sympathy as I could muster. “You realize that your efforts have changed the future of the world, don’t you?” “What,” he looked up at the beautiful array of untapped knowledge the world now had access to. "...this?" “Yes,” I whispered, then waved an arm out across the Chamber of Truth, “all of this. The Nocturi led the world in healing, religion, philosophy, and magic.” I smiled brightly, waiting for him to look at me. “The contents of these books will help us understand languages from before the Great Sundering if nothing else…and you unlocked it all.” He shook his head. “No. You unlocked it, Höbin. Not me.” I tapped a finger to my lips. “Hmmm. That’s funny, I swear I followed your transponder through a treacherous maze hundreds of feet below sea level, found your body hunched in a corner of a magical chamber, filled with thousands of enchanted volumes.” He frowned at me, but I could see the signs of understanding dawning upon his face. "And if I remember Section 12, Paragraph 4B correctly, it says, Any field agent who loses his life during the completion of their assignment shall receive full retirement benefits extended to his or her surviving spouse as well as any direct offspring until they come of legal age." For a small eternity, the chamber was silent. The awakening stone flickered, and for the first time in a decade, I was actually sad to be alone. "Thank you, Höbin," Casey choked. He smiled weakly then, "People are right about you. The ones that like you, I mean. You might not always tell the truth, but I see why they trust you." “Well, the truth Casey, is that I always thought you were an arrogant ass.” As he slowly faded, I gave him the cheesiest grin I had. “But it takes one to know one. Rest now. I'll get you home.” The red light flickered out.