With swift, sandaled feet and loose-fitting tunic and trousers, Jacob scouts his squad of mounted adventurers through the night, reaching a lonely inn during the quiet dark before dawn. A cramping calf makes him wince, and he stretches it as his companions rein in around him.
Shortsword in hand and armor clinking, Beorn hops off of Theros, his giant gray goat. “If we hurry, we can loot and escape before sunrise.”
Jacob gestures up to the dimming stars as the sky gains a hint of blue. “The sage warned that our enemy controls flying spies.”
Leather armor creaking, Sylyca dismounts her sweaty horse and spins thin elvish hands about with a hypnotic flair. “I can cloud our travel. No tracks, and blur eyes looking our way.”
“Nice.” Jacob smiles at the petite elf who makes him regret his vow of celibacy as he fingers a blocky stone key. “The secret entrance should be under a stall in the stables. Follow me.”
With the flat of his blade, Beorn smacks the steel studs decorating Messoack’s armor. “Whoa, Mess. You’re staying up top with our mounts.”
The halted magician bares blunt white teeth, and his skin darkens from blue-gray to charcoal. “Why deny me the sage’s library? I can feel the secrets under my soles. There are mysteries below that I must know. Would you also tease a vampire with your throat? I will not stay up here to babysit your goat.”
Jacob rests his calloused hand on Messoack’s slight shoulder. “You’re our best sniper. We can’t let anyone sound the alarm while we’re stuck down there.”
Clearing her throat, Solaris parts her fur cloak and raises her pale graceful hand. “Shall I grab books for you? Belazar can tote lots ‘cause he’s got the big muscles.” She slaps the orcelf’s broad, bare back. “Right babe?”
Belazar grunts and whispers in his giant hyena’s ear. The beast growls at the horses and goat, and then moves to a spot farther away from the other mounts.
“Thank you, Ms Solaris Yandere.” Messoack shrugs off Jacob’s hand. “Heavy tombs with dust and mold. I want things that fool sage is too afraid to know.”
Jacob bows to Messoack. “I’ll look for something too, but our priorities are the three books Master Sage Pipit sent us here for: a chronicle about rusty lords, a journal that mentions Lady Harmony, and a treatise on dream magic.” He shoos the last two by, the eye-glowing Telisa and her shambling zombie. “In and out, quick as we can.”
In the last stall to the right, under a fouled pile of hay, Jacob finds a crusty key hole. He nods, feeling around the edges of the room’s stone floor. A tingle and his arm hairs stand on end.
Heart thudding, he hops out of the stall. “A mystic trap for sure. I can’t tell what it does, but if this key is wrong, be ready to drag me and run.”
His squadmates back away as Jacob reenters and digs the key hole clear with the tip of a crossbow bolt. Biting his lower lip, he jams the thick key in and twists.
Telisa whistles, raising her hand. “My zombie could’ve done that.”
A click and the floor shudders and stills. Jacob lets out a breath and presses his feet at the edges until a side lowers with his weight, making a ramp to a dank stairwell down.
Sylyca hurries over and clutches his side, handing him a lit torch. “Be careful.”
Jacob snorts. “Dawn’s in minutes. No time for caution.”
With his free hand slapping the ceiling, he skips down three steps at a time.
The stonework shifts from foot-sized bricks to man-sized blocks as the stairs open into a small room with a dim-glowing fungus in the corner and a wide stone door next to it.
His squadmates come down after him, and Jacob creeps closer to the knee-high fungus. He holds up his fist as four dark vines attached to the glowing creature writhe about.
“Must be one of the shelving helpers the sage mentioned,” says Jacob.
He picks up a loose bit of stone from the floor and tosses it next to the fungus. With snake-striking speed, the creature blasts the rock with its tentacles, smashing it into gravel.
Beorn chuckles. “Well, the old man did warn that they’d likely gone feral.”
Jacob circles around the fungus to get to the door and holds his torch up to a tile puzzle built into its frame. “He also said these cyclopean riddle locks are tricky even with the answers he provided. I must always move the pieces straight and get the story order just right. So once I start rearranging them, please don’t disturb me. Not unless you’d like to take over while I recover from a triggered trap.”
Nine square tiles, each with a simple symbol made with straight lines. Jacob jerks them about. Careful to avoid curving motions, he completes a fable that depicts a triangle falling off a square.
Beorn taps his shoulder. “Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Do not touch me, Lover of Goats.” Jacob slaps the center tile, and the door opens a smidgen. “Hah! It’s not just entering the right answer, you have to answer it the right way.” He punches the wall. “Manipulation must be with straight and firm movements.”
Belazar leans against the door, pushing it open. “Heavy.”
Jacob holds his torch forward and eases down a long hall. Halfway to the library’s entrance at the end, he stops at a side door.
“Anyone else read dwarven?” He leans towards the door’s fable puzzle. “Cyclopean is basically ancient dwarven.”
Telisa raises her long-fingered hand. “I had a proper education which includes, dwarven, elvish—”
“Fine. Fine,” says Jacob. “Come over here and double check my interpretation.”
Telisa shines her glowing eyes on the puzzle. “Looks like a riddle about transcending through meditation, or maybe it’s a fable about the journey towards enlightenment.” She taps three different tiles. “The choices are, waterfall, mountain top, or… well this last one is blank.”
“It’s the blank one.” Jacob shoves it into the answer slot. “Waterfalls are too noisy. Mountain tops are too cold.”
Beorn slaps his forehead. “Really? After all that talk about staying on mission?”
Jacob motions Belazar over and points at the door. “Give this a little push, and don’t worry. I’m pretty sure it’s probably safe.”
The orcelf grunts, leaning until it opens into an empty room of rose quartz.
Jacob gasps and hurries past, running his hand across its smooth walls. “This is amazing, a cyclopean meditation room. Their martial arts are legendary, and I think this kind of place gave them their edge.”
Solaris peeks in. “But… there’s nothing in here.”
Jacob grins. “Exactly.”
Belazar, warrior—rugged former Verdant crusader
Beorn, Ranger of Thorn—Colgrevance’s right hand
Jacob, martial artist—tumbling scout with mystic fists
Messoack, magician—loyal explorer of madness
Solaris, sea witch—whimsical lover of the grotesque
Sylyca, druidess—elvish caster of dreams and life
Telisa, necromancer—teenage olympian rebelling with morbidity
Theros, giant goat—a gruff that serves as Beorn’s mount