Up, Down and Around

Twelfth was waiting for them at the bottom of the ladder. The chamber was dark, and it was with no small amount of smug glee that Alice conjured a light so she could look around, illuminating the chamber with a pale, washed-out, green radiance. It was a small chamber, walls of dark inkstone, with the occasional bracket where a pile of melted, unlit candles slumped like a summer snowman. The walls themselves looked like they had been rough-hewn, but they were now smooth, and glittered wetly in the light she was magically casting. She reached out and touched the wall, her finger coming away with a blotch of dark ink on it.

She looked down at where she was standing. “Sheesh, I’m gonna have inkstains halfway up my trousers at this rate.”

“There’s some things I could do,” said A Librarian, “which’ll clean us up, once we’re out of this muck.”

[This Setup, With The Hidden Trapdoor, Reminds Me Of Where We Found That Nameless Walker.]

Well,” said Aidra, “it’s either Red being unoriginal, or a repeated motif?”

“I choose to ignore both the nonsense and the insults you’re spouting,” said Red.

[This Is My Penance For Bringing This Comparison Up In The First Place. Shall We Proceed, Rather Than Squabble?]

“Why not both?”

[Does That Not Require You To Be Capable Of Walking And Talking At The Same Time?]

Aidra winced, laughing. “Oooh, ouch. I think that deserves a high-five.”

[You Still Can Not Reach.]

“Izzat a challenge?

Twelfth paused, inclining her head to the side slightly. [Yes.]

“You’re on, you stringbean scarecrow.”

[Now That Is Sorted, How About We Explore Further. I Will Travel At The Fore Of The Group, In Case There Is Danger.]

“I mean,” said Alice, “that’s very noble, but-”

[I Can Also See In The Dark, And Am Far More Durable Than Any Of You, With Some Exceptions.]

“Okay, you’ve got me there. Go ahead.”

Halfway down the small, dark tunnel leading up from the ladder room, the walls transitioned from wet inkstone to the pale, almost gleaming blocks of some unknown rock that made up the tower itself. They paused a moment, while A Librarian cast some linguamatic cleaning spells, so they stopped collectively leaving a trail of inky footprints on the otherwise spotless floor. Much to her delight, as they travelled up the mildly inclined corridor, Alice was able to keep her conjured light going, something she’d never have been able to manage before. In time, the tunnel opened out into a large room of that pale tower stone, empty apart from the wide pillars that supported the roof. Across the floor, the seams between the massive blocks of stone formed a complex, geometric pattern, like a series of spirals and crystal facets covering the floor in zigzagging lines, almost like giant runes or jagged writing.

Red looked around cautiously, his eyes shining like a cat’s when they caught the light. Satisfied, he waved her over.

“Look, here,” he said, indicating one of the gigantic pillars.

It was easily ten feet across, covered in the smoothly indented lines that separated the cycloptic stones of the tower. She glanced over it, but it took her a few seconds to work out what he was pointing out. At the centre of one of the stones, a tiny set of seams outlined a square, separate from the other lines between the stones.

She pointed at it. “That?”

“Yeah. I think it’s a switch. Want to give it a go?”

Her expression was answer enough, and he laughed.

“No, no, it’s safe – I’d know if it was dangerous immediately. It’s not a trap or anything, don’t worry.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “You sure?

“Fine, I’ll do it, if-”

As he was speaking, her hand darted forward and pressed at the square, which depressed beneath her fingers with a satisfying clack.

“Hey now!” he exclaimed in mock-offendedness. “I thought you were worried about traps?”

“Turns out, I was more worried about you rambling.” She stuck her tongue out at him.

He snorted. “Very mature. Now, nothing’s happened yet, but-”

The pillar rumbled, and small rivulets of dust poured down from between the cracks in the ceiling. In a smooth motion, with the soft grinding of stone, the pillar slowly rose, revealing an archway set into the stone, rising up from beneath the floor. Behind the arch, a spiralling staircase led upwards and out of sight.

“Hurrah!” cried Aidra. “You solved the Room Puzzle!”

“Possibly,” said Red, “but we might still want to check the other pillars and walls.”

[I Do Not Believe I Have Seen Anything Like What You Describe.]

“Fair enough. We’ll double back if we reach a dead-end, then.” He leaned through the archway, looking up the stairs. “And, well, up is the way we’d expect to be going to reach the tower itself, so… onwards?”

“Upwards!” Aidra exclaimed.

“Yes, that too.”

The spiral of the stairs went around twice before it reached a landing, almost claustrophobically tight – especially for Twelfth, who practically had to fold up and crawl up after the rest of them. The landing was a smaller, square chamber, a wide arch on each wall showing four similar chambers beyond it. In one, a table stood, covered in bolts of cloth and a variety of metal tools that glinted in the light her magic cast. The second chamber held, hovering at its centre, a shattered sphere of glass, pieces separated like it had been paused in time, mid-explosion. The third chamber was empty but for a closed door, and the fourth was much longer than the rest, stretching off into the darkness and out of sight.

“This place is oddly quiet,” said Nik. “Where are these supposed demons that She talked about?”

“Too quiet?” asked Aidra.

“He’s not wrong, much as it pains me to admit it,” said Red. “This is quieter than it should be, and we haven’t been being stealthy or anything, so whoever or whatever’s here should know we’re here?”

[I Do Not Sense Anything In The Immediate Vicinity, But My Senses Are Not Unlimited.]

“Well, we better keep our eyes peeled, for-”

He was cut off as a screeching, multicoloured thing leapt out of nowhere with a force like a rocket, flickering with strange lights and slamming into Red. The impact threw him backwards, into the ground, and the thing landed on top of him. It moved like a headache mirage, flickering with inconsistent and kaleidoscopic motion as it snapped at him with at least five jagged jaws, growling like a dial-up modem being attacked with a rubber hammer.

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