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.


Comments

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Sage Dylonishere123
R. Dylon Elder
14 Jan, 2020 19:36

Story was complete to me and I didn't feel ot needed anything extra. Love your style and the dialogue was excellent. As always, a joy to read. One thing I will note: I'm super conflicted on some of the dialogue. on one hand, I love it. It flows beautifully and it doesn't take much effort to figure out who is speaking. I particularly like how you insert thoughts between dialogue. On the other hand, mainly in the beginning tbh, the lack of dialogue tags made it disorienting and a bit hard to get hooked in.   "Scoffing, “I’m the linguistics expert, Höbin, and I’m telling you it’s impossible.”..."   This is where it happened for me. Up to this point, I completely followed it. I knew two people were talking and that they would be introduced but the inclusion of the "scoffing" showed 1st person for the first time. Could just be my fault to be honest. Shame on me for assumeing it was 3rd, but perhaps one or two dialogue tags to start can bypass it if its a major issue for others.     Either way its fantastic and not a huge issue if you really focus, which granted, the reader should be anyway XD   great work as always man. Have a good one and I hope I offered something of use.

Check out my work | The Web | Expedition Demeter
15 Jan, 2020 23:38

Thanks for the feedback =D   Always love knowing what people think and to see through their eyes. It's always a challenge writing--so one of the things I tend to do is just follow my writing habits in the hopes of staying consistent throughout stories and books.   Höbin is such a pivitol character, and I love writing from his perspective for the simple reason that it's how I think and speak myself in everyday life. So having HIM as a popular character among readers gives me an extra giggle (or three).   My only real question now is: Did you figure out the dead character before the reveal?   Always a pleasure to hear from you!

JAIME BUCKLEY
Author | Illustrator | Dad of 13
Follow Wanted Hero | YouTube | Artist for Hire
Sage Dylonishere123
R. Dylon Elder
16 Jan, 2020 01:03

I enjoy him to be sure! He's quite funny. I know what you mean. I write the same way I think in general excluding dialogue. It doesn't work as well XD   As far as the reveal, I didn't figure it out beforehand, I do believe you're fine there!   Glad I could give some help! Have a good one and good luck!

Check out my work | The Web | Expedition Demeter
28 Jan, 2020 16:55

Wait, that's Finnish with more ä's xD

1 Feb, 2020 22:38

Hehehe, think so?   You would be correct in a big way. My magical language is based on Finnish--as I think it's a beautiful sounding language. Not all words match, but yes, Finnish has a HUGE part in my world.   THANK you for noticing!!

JAIME BUCKLEY
Author | Illustrator | Dad of 13
Follow Wanted Hero | YouTube | Artist for Hire
2 Feb, 2020 06:58

Kinda hard to not notice because I'm Finnish xD It looks hilarious, especially the randomly placed extra dots

3 Feb, 2020 03:02

Ahh, but that's the cool part (other than you BEING Finnish)---they are NOT 'random'. Maybe for Finnish, but this is Baiumen. (wink)

JAIME BUCKLEY
Author | Illustrator | Dad of 13
Follow Wanted Hero | YouTube | Artist for Hire
21 Mar, 2020 23:35

The main character is fun, if a bit prideful; I enjoyed this story a lot! It't interesting how you have magical ruins requiring a specific incantation to open, but the guy is figuring it out on his laptop and got there in the first place by following a radio transponder.   From the number of decimal points the main character calculated what percent of humans would know what to do here, is he some sort of computer?

22 Mar, 2020 02:43

Hey Kendallonian,   I believe you're asking the wrong question. It's not so much what percentage of humans would know what to do here, but rather would a human know what to do at all?   The answer is "no".   Humans have never come to this location or tried to do anything more that look over the ruins above ground. Those mägo seeking knowledge would have far TOO much pride to crawl underground, which was only possible because Höbin is a gnome =)   Höbin is a cyborg, but he doesn't have the ability to calculate with anything other than his own brain.   Did I answer your questions?   You might like "Demoni Vankil" written by Höbin and I. You can google it.

JAIME BUCKLEY
Author | Illustrator | Dad of 13
Follow Wanted Hero | YouTube | Artist for Hire
22 Mar, 2020 03:33

My questions are awnsered, thank you.   I will put that book on my wish list, thank you again.   And, I'm almost too afraid to ask, but with you being a published author and all, would you mind looking at my story here on World Anvil and letting me know what you think?

22 Mar, 2020 13:14

I'm always willing to discover new worlds and enjoy them for myself--but i'll let you in on a little secret:   Opinions are like butts, everyone as one and they don't really matter, except for spewing crap.   I make a lot of mistakes in my books. I really do--and I do the very best I know how--the writing, editing, formatting...so when people give me feedback or reviews and they find something negative, I ask them two specific questions:   #1) Did the mistakes pull you out of the story and ruin your reading experience?   #2) Did you hate the story?   If they answer "no" to both those questions, then I let it go. People will like and dislike our stories. There are SO many factors why that can happen.   So what?   The thing to look for is feedback--and when you get 30-50 people saying the same thing, pay attention. Make the corrections and move on.   Otherwise, just keep writing, practicing and making the next adventure for those around you! Been doing this professionally since 2004 and it's the only way I personally recommend to do it.   With that said, yup--I'll check out your world. =D

JAIME BUCKLEY
Author | Illustrator | Dad of 13
Follow Wanted Hero | YouTube | Artist for Hire
25 Mar, 2020 11:01

Even this was the first piece of your writing that I have read, I loved that i was still able to get a full picture of what was going on without being inundated with information. The pacing was great and I especially enjoyed how you showed the personalities of the characters as opposed to just throwing adjectives at the problem.   i have a few super technical notes, but on the whole this was really well constructed. You piqued interest with the swollen corpse and followed that through in a really satisfactory manner, leaving slight clues within the text so that the reveal felt valid and not just an ill conceived shock-factor.

25 Mar, 2020 15:58

I'm so glad!   Thank you for the feedback. It's nice to know the perspective of readers. =)

JAIME BUCKLEY
Author | Illustrator | Dad of 13
Follow Wanted Hero | YouTube | Artist for Hire
Master Kaleidechse
Kathrin Janowski
26 Mar, 2020 20:16

This was an interesting read! The story felt complete - part of a greater context, sure, but I did not feel like anything was lacking. I like the mix of fantasy and magic on the one hand and technology on the other. And yeah, I also like smart characters who are not ashamed to show their abilities. ;) The twist about Casey was perfect - I did not see it coming, despite the clues. You managed to make them subtle enough that the surprise was not given away beforehand, but makes sense in hindsight.

26 Mar, 2020 23:18

Glad you enjoyed the story, Kathrin =)   Thank you for the comment--glad you stopped by!   Cheers,

JAIME BUCKLEY
Author | Illustrator | Dad of 13
Follow Wanted Hero | YouTube | Artist for Hire
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