Part 71: Puzzles

8 to Wakening Sun, Inalis, 43 days remaining

A storm hit us as we bade Actaeon and Malkarion farewell and rowed our boats towards the bay and the only beach we could find on this barren island. The sky is dark and rain slashes down on us, oddly cold in the humidity of the Cerulean Gulf. And its not just the sky that is gray; everything on the island seems to lack color entirely, except for us. We were only able to make out a singular path ahead of us, leading into a small canyon towards the stone tower-like formation at the center of the island. Theo had spotted caves in the tower. What manner of monsters lurk in there?

Not one to wait and find out, I scouted ahead. Well, that’s not quite right. I scouted above with my flying boots. I was up at the top of the canyon looking around when I perceived an odd creature ahead of us. It looked like a centaur, at least in the same basic shape as my sister Briar, but it was also very similar to Father. That is, it was very feline in its form. In place of hooves like Briar’s feet, this creature had paws like a tabaxi and a long, flicking tail. I could only guess it was some sort of sentry at the caves which, to my mind at least, lead into the domain of the Fates themselves.

Something else struck me as a little terrifying. This centaur-like creature was standing near a pool, a shallow pond that could be no more than a few feet deep. Even from this distance, perhaps only half a league away, I could tell that this pond was not something we should bathe in. There were bodies in it. Skeletal remains are in it. I can’t tell if they’re moving or not.

Before I made my way back down, I turned back towards the sea to watch Actaeon and Malkarion sail away safely aboard our haunted ship. My attention was instead drawn to what looked like an old ruined watchtower just out of sight of the bay. It was up high on a cliff and was mostly flattened. In fact, I didn’t even know it was a watchtower until Father told me so. I flew back to my friends to tell them what I saw.

The group weighed its options, and we opted to go towards the ruined watchtower first. After all, that seems to be where Sokrates and his master (whoever that is) wanted us to go. Should we trust Sokrates? That’s very hard to say at this point, but Sokrates had said the Scaled Book of the Dead is in his and his master’s possession. That’s as close to an ally as we have right now. Plus, the scary cat-centaur didn’t seem overly friendly at a glance. Maybe that’s judgmental, but after the Lady of Coins’s betrayal, I personally will not take that kind of risk.

The cliff up to the ruined watchtower was problematic to everyone but Shadow and Torag – they climbed up to the top without much difficulty. Briar shapeshifted into a large bird and flew up to the top with Clio on her back. Theo is made of literal stone and it uses a lot of Rendu’s energy to gain his angelic wings, so I carried them up to the top myself.

Heh, that’s not entirely true. I used the magic trap device we have for Triple. Triple is safely on the ship with Actaeon, but the device was with us. I had to make a few trips, but I managed to get Theo and Rendu to the top of the cliff.

While we were up there, Briar and Clio continued to fly above us, scouting around to see if anything was watching. I’m glad they did! They saw some bat-like creatures off in the distance, at first taking no notice of us. But soon they began to come in our direction! We had to act fast.

I’m getting ahead of myself. What were the rest of us doing that required fast action? Well, while overhead, Briar and Clio inspected the watchtower while we all climbed, and they saw what looked like a staircase descending into the rocks. We worked to unbury it from the rubble on top. I can’t say I helped much at first, but once Torag started breaking rocks into smaller pieces, I was able to help out. I had to hide my fatigued panting from Clio lest she see how flimsy my arms actually are!

Once the stairway was cleared, we quickly gathered inside it and past a door at its base. The room we found ourselves in was small and tight, barely able to fit us all in here. Theo is exceptionally difficult to cram into a room. Unlike the rest of us with our squishy flesh, Theo doesn’t really make space for the rest of us to fit anywhere. We stuffed ourselves into this tiny room and shut the door, hopefully safe from whatever winged things were on their way towards us.

Clio made a good point while we were in here: the Fates knew exactly where we are. They can see a lot of stuff. It’s creepy to figure out. In fact, they probably know I’m writing this right now as we rest in the Library-

Whoops, I’ll get to that.

This room! How do we go onward? There was nothing in here except for ourselves and a little light we made to see better. One thing was on the wall ahead of us: a mural painted directly onto the stone that showed a long path leading to a wealth of books. The Endless Archive, we surmised! But the problem was how do we get there?

Before any of us could do anything, Torag punched the mural. Why did he punch the mural? That’s anyone’s guess. Even now, I asked him why he did it. He just responded, “I hadn’t punched anything in a while.” Huh. That’s as good a reason as any.

Upon doing it, he changed. I don’t know how to describe the fact that he suddenly became more sophisticated and… smarter? Oof, that’s a rude thing to write. But how else do I put it? He hit the mural and suddenly four locks appeared on it, each one further away in the painting. This lock closest to us had what looked like one of those strange sliding puzzles. I was never really good at those things, but we all took a shot at solving it. Once the pieces were in place, the bolt on the lock would come undone.

Did it take us too long, or did we make too many mistakes? I’m not sure. Either way, it hurt us. Some magical energy began seeping from the lock, making us all a little weaker. But finally, Shadow managed to get it done after frustratingly punching the painting himself.

And he became smarter, too.

What is going on?

The next lock was covered in arcane sigils, another puzzle. Clio and I both thought we could solve this one (the sigils were very similar to those that I copied from that magic book back when we were children!), but Torag punched the painting again, got even smarter, and started spouting off how the arcane sigil puzzle was simply a matching game of sorts. “One only needs to hit the matching pairs in the proper order,” he claimed. What was the proper order? Honestly, I don’t know. Torag had it solved in mere moments.

The third lock was a word cypher, or so Torag claimed. The characters were strikingly similar to fey-speech, but the writing was almost backwards. Regardless, Torag and Shadow (after punching the walls a few times and gaining more intelligence somehow) managed to solve it, dispelling the third lock.

The final lock was a large symbol with what looked like ancient mathematical formulas all around it. Torag and Shadow couldn’t do this one, and we risked the lock hurting us again for making too many mistakes. I got frustrated with it and ended up punching the wall myself. It is weird how suddenly clear the symbol became. I realized it was upside down, likely on purpose to dissuade people from solving it. Once I discovered this, it wasn’t hard to put the formulas together and dispel the final lock.

And all that smartness Torag and Shadow had gained from punching the wall suddenly vanished. Our brains all went back to normal, or whatever, and a gateway appeared in the mural. We passed through it and found ourselves in a long and dark tunnel that lead to a singular stone door.

There were letters in an old form of the common tongue with a riddle above it that read, “A spoken word unseals me. It starts with T. Halfway between twins, the next character lies.”

Stumped! I was completely stumped by this one. Everyone tried various suggestions to solve it, but it was Rendu and Clio that came up with the answer. Rendu suggested a way to solve the riddle: finding the pairs of letters from T and using the letter between them as the next letter in the answer to the riddle. He and Clio had it figured out pretty fast: the answer was ‘Thresh’.

With that, the door opened. We found ourselves in a terribly dark room, our footsteps echoing in the darkness around us. Briar and I risked some light to make it easier to see, and we saw bookshelves all around us. The Lost Library! We briefly wondered what we would find in here before I risked a simple, “Hello?” out into the darkness of the room.

“Hello,” was the response, and hundreds of books flew off their shelves and coalesced into a humanoid shape (a book golem?). It introduced itself as Sokrates, the one who wrote to Clio in the magic book. Sokrates welcomed us to the Endless Archive and claimed that his master, yet unnamed, was pleased we made it here. The master had yet many other puzzles for us to solve before we could meet him, and Sokrates relayed some information to us. Our first puzzle was in this room, the Lost Library. Once we solve it, we can descend further down.

The puzzle was not easy to solve, though. We split up, looking in different places in the Library. Torag and Shadow found a large stone crown and tried passing it to one of four stone statues, but the statue dropped it. Shadow discovered that these four statues are each different in slightly different ways – one had blood on it, one was covered in thick ink, one was blackened somehow, and the last was pristine and clean. Briar discovered a small oasis of sorts between rooms in the Library, and Torag and I dug up a stone dagger in there. Rendu found a stone book. Torag also found a large stone hammer.

These four items – the book, the hammer, the dagger, and the crown – all had to go into the hands of the proper statue. But we got the order wrong. A wraith appeared and attacked Briar! We quickly subdued it – Rendu obliterating it with a flash of his chakram – and set ourselves to do the puzzle again. This time, we put the crown on its statue last and a staircase descending to the next level of the Endless Archive appeared. Sokrates invited us below to the Orrery, and we began to follow him down the stairs.