Ch. 3: Luck’s Child Stone

Rin fell, tumbling head over heels and spinning through an impossible void of nothingness. Pain flared as he stretched out to an impossible height before being snapped back and squeezed down even tighter. His blood boiled in his veins as white light flared in a nova all around him and through him. Then everything went completely numb before he froze and shattered. Pinpricks of darkness overtook everything and exploded into a kaleidoscope of dizzying colors.

Abruptly he was spat out.

He fell to his knees on a smooth stone floor and promptly lost his breakfast all over it. Then his stomach made a fair attempt at tossing everything he might eat in the next week as well.

Three times…I have to go through that three times?! He bit his tongue to keep from muttering aloud, and shakily wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

Then he realized he could actually see his hand. Immediately, his head swiveled around to find the source of light. Set into the stone block wall in what looked like a bronze bracket, a good dozen hands above his head, was a torch.

A brief glance around the rest of the room made Rin spend the next ten to fifteen minutes desperately trying to scale the wall in order to reach that blessed torch.

The room was large and completely dark except for two torches on opposite sides, incredibly far apart. Only one torch illuminated a door. And it wasn’t on Rin’s side. The torches lit up only a small amount of the room, namely a bit of stone floor and a slightly raised wooden section that stretched out into the darkness. On either side of the wooden section was pitch blackness. And nothing that Rin could feel when he tentatively reached down. Just…darkness.

Blood and bone! Rin griped to himself as he once more slid down the just-rough-enough-to-hurt-but-smooth-enough-to-be-unclimbable wall. Glaring up at that torch, just out of reach, he kicked the wall. And nearly jumped out of his skin when his boot connected with something, not wall, and sent it flying. A great clattering shattered the silence.

Spinning about, Rin saw a wide, shallow bowl of pale wood spinning on its rim. A collection of small river stones, smooth and flat, skittered across the stone floor, ricocheting off the wall and the raised section. A few dropped into that blackness. It took several long seconds before he heard them hit the bottom.

One hand gripping at his heart, Rin slowly sidled closer to the bowl. He tentatively nudged it once with a toe. Then again when nothing happened. A third nudge got it to stop spinning. Gingerly, heart still racing, he picked it up.

Heavier than it looks. The character for luck was burnt into the bottom of the bowl.

A fortune bowl?

Picking up a few of the stones confirmed it. Each stone was etched on both sides with a character; love, strength, beauty, etc. Though Rin didn’t find any stones marked with child, which was odd. He didn’t know much about fortune bowls, but the child stones were essential. Every stone was a critical part of the whole, but child stones meant…well, babies and stuff. Which was really important to Grandmother and all her old lady friends.

Grandmother had several fortune bowls, all with their own set of stones. None of which he was allowed to touch. She’d freaked out when one of the amber stones from the tanza wood bowl had gone missing. She’d taken her slipper to him, Azti, and Nika. Which hadn’t been fair. Nika hadn’t done anything.

Okay. A fortune bowl. With missing stones. In a dark room. Rin considered the problem as he picked up the stones that hadn’t fallen into the black pit. Should I take the bowl with me? Or maybe the stones?

A closer look revealed a low shelf set into the wall near the floor. The shelf stretched the entirety of the platform, ending where the dark pit began. It was empty save for dust.

Rin replaced the bowl of stones on the shelf and skirted the puddle of sick as he made his way carefully to the raised wooden section of floor. Maybe I just need to make it across?

The torchlight showed just enough of the wooden walkway for Rin to examine it. It was just under two hands wide, with a two-by-two pattern of large wooden squares set edge-to-edge into the walkway. Each square was sliced across the grain, each a different kind of wood: one pale, one orange, one hydrawood, and one black plantain.

Rin frowned as he stared at the squares. Is this important? He could just make out that the pattern of woods repeated farther out, extending past the edges of torchlight.

I’m never getting anywhere if I just stand here! And with that thought, Rin hefted himself onto the wooden walkway. The wooden square beneath his hand depressed with a loud click.

With a panicked thought of pressure plates?! Rin flung himself back off the walkway.

Nothing happened.

Tentatively, Rin reached across to the walkway and pressed another square. It also depressed with a click that set his teeth on edge. But nothing happened.

At least, nothing I can see, Rin thought with a glance at the surrounding black pit.

Gingerly, he crawled onto the wooden pathway. When nothing terrible happened, he continued crawling out into the darkness. The pressure plates gave way at the slightest shift of his weight as he moved, sometimes several activating at once. Every click raised all the hair on the back of his neck.

But nothing happened.

Until, suddenly, something did.

With a click, just like all the others, Rin abruptly found himself back where he started. By an out-of-reach torch, a fortune bowl, and a puddle of vomit.

What?

For a moment he just stared out at the darkness. What in the abyss just happened?!

He hoisted himself back onto the wooden path. So one of them does do something, he thought, studying the four wooden pressure plates he could see. Right: pale and black plantain. Left: orange and hydrawood. If he could keep track of the pattern in the darkness, maybe he could figure out which one triggered and sent him back.

He ran his fingers over the plates, not applying any weight, just feeling for something he could use to differentiate them in the dark.

There!

A hairline crack between the two plates. He couldn’t see it, but dragging his hands over the plates let his nails catch slightly on that hidden seam. It wasn’t much, but it might work.

Rin set out again, slower this time, as he tried to keep track of which wood the last pressure plate he’d set off was, based on what he’d seen of the pattern.

Then his left hand hit what he thought was a hydrawood square and he was, once again, back at the start.

It was a bit disorienting, suddenly being somewhere he wasn’t before. But Rin shook off the sensation in favor of clambering back up onto the wooden path. If I can just avoid the hyrdawood squares, I should be fine!

The path wasn’t that wide but Rin wasn’t that large. He could keep to the right side. Probably.

Crawling across constantly clicking pressure plates was nerve-wracking. But crawling across constantly clicking pressure plates while his right hand slid along the very edge of the walkway was downright terrifying.

How far down is it? Rin wondered absently as his fingers once more brushed the right edge. It had taken so long before those stones hit the bottom. But there was a bottom. The visceral thought of falling, of screaming as he fell, flashed through his mind, invoking a shudder along his shoulders and neck.

He slid his left hand forward.

There was nothing there.

The wooden bridge ended.

Don’t panic! Rin reminded himself, as his fingers reflexively tightened on the path underneath him, the pressure plates clicking erratically under him. He stared across the room at the glimmering twin to his torch, just in line of sight but far out of reach.

He couldn’t make that jump. Not even with a running start, which he did not feel comfortable doing on this narrow of a platform in the dark.

Maybe if I had a really long bo staff. But he didn’t. He had nothing.

No one could bring anything into the Pyramid. Depending on what an item was made of, bad things happened. Mum had been vague when he’d ask at Aapo’s Questing. She hadn’t been vague last night.

Most materials from outside reacted…strangely once immediately past the threshold of the Pyramid. For instance, solid pieces of most woods (not all types had been tried…for obvious reasons) began rapidly growing into a living tree, often fusing with whatever was in contact with them.

Anything made of iron or steel immediately melted. Just…sploosh, and you had liquid steel all over your boots. Silver kept its shape, but it sparked, attracting mana like lightning to copper. There were only a handful of materials known to be stable inside the Pyramid. And all of them were expensive.

Focus, Rin reprimanded himself with a shake of his head. Very carefully, he ran one hand along the very edge of the path. He found that the edge in front of him was wider than the rest of the path. His hand trailed farther right. Then farther still.

Wait…was it another corner?

It is! The path turns! He almost giggled in relief. He did sag down onto the clicking pressure plates, and just…breathed for a moment. Then he continued on, carefully keeping to the right side. He wobbled once or twice navigating that corner, but made it over.

Rin glanced back the way he’d come. Not directly behind him. He didn’t feel balanced enough for that. But now that he’d made it around the corner he could make out his torch, back at the beginning. He compared the distances between himself and the two torches. Halfway, he thought. Maybe a little more. Though, if the path wasn’t straight, it could be a lot longer.

Then he slid his right hand forward. Click.

Rin found himself back where he’d started.

I know I didn’t hit a hydrawood plate! He frowned darkly and thought, eyes trained on that distant torch. So much farther than it had been just a moment before. Maybe…maybe it switches which one activates the jump back after the turn? The thought wasn’t particularly confident.

But there was nothing else to do but try again.

This time, when Rin got to the turn, he awkwardly slid across the path to the left side. Once “safely” situated along the left side, he started forward again.

Click.

Rin bit his lip to keep from screaming in frustration.

He was back, once more, at the beginning.

Maybe…maybe it’s not enough to just switch sides. Rin considered the four different pressure plates. Maybe…each one of them triggers the jump back…just in different parts of the path.

However, Rin was fairly confident that a hydrawood plate had triggered the jump the first time. And he knew the pale wood and black plantain squares were safe until the corner. Then…

He rubbed a hand over his face and sat back on his heels, staring at the wooden bridge. This was a lot harder than he’d originally thought.

Maybe two of them can trigger there, Rin muttered to himself, working his way through what he knew. The hydrawood and…pale or black. So…I have to stay right…then move to the left at the corner…and avoid the hydrawood.

Which meant that he would need to keep track of which pressure plate was the hydrawood the entire way there.

Maybe he should just stay on the left side. Just keep track of the hydrawood plates instead of switching back and forth. Then, if the plates did switch which ones activated at different parts of the path, he’d only have to worry about two plates instead of four.

Rin began again down the path. In order to depress only the orange wood squares, he couldn’t just crawl. But each square was just big enough that he could place his hands side by side. His feet were more awkward. One foot fit nicely inside the square, but two just brushed the edges of the other pressure plate, sometimes activating it.

He ended up moving in an odd, hobbling shuffle with one leg always up in the air. He moved one hand at a time from orange square to orange square, and took steps that were just a little too big to be comfortable.

Balance was an issue. Rin was normally very balanced. Mum had had him practicing forms up on beams by the time he was ten. But in the darkness…trying to keep track of which plates were the orange ones…and trying to move in such a way that he never touched any of the others. It was a lot. So Rin took it slow.

But he did eventually reach that bloody corner again.

And he did maneuver past it.

Very tentatively, he placed his hand down on the next orange square.

Nothing happened.

Rin sighed out the breath he’d been holding. Thank you, he mouthed. He wasn’t exactly sure to who. But it felt important to express gratitude for finally making progress.

Slowly, taking great care with each movement, arm or leg, Rin made his way deeper into the darkness. There was no change in what he could see of the path. But, somehow, facing away from both torches caused his chest to tighten uncomfortably.

Gradually, the light of the torches fell further and further behind him.

Finally, it vanished from his periphery altogether.

Rin reached forward. And felt nothing.

Drawing in a shaky breath, he carefully felt for the edge. Then carefully explored that edge, first left, then right. He wobbled more than once, balanced on only a hand and a foot while moving an arm.

Another right turn, he determined. Another corner. The last corner had caused him so much grief.

Should I switch what square I’m on? Or stay with orange? Rin sighed and bent his elbows a bit to ease the muscle strain there. He just wanted to keep going. He desperately wanted to get back to the light.

I want out of the Pyramid. And the first step for that was getting beyond this room. And that meant reaching the far torch.

So he shoved back his discomfort and forced himself to be still and think.

If I switch now…I could be wrong. And I’ll be sent back. He frowned down at the pressure plates as he thought. If I’m right…I’ll just keep going. But…if the squares shift after the same amount of distance I’ll lose that information.

Rin nodded to himself and stayed on orange, slowly making his way through the turn.

And continued. No jump back.

Orange it is.

It was a little reassuring to have made the right guess. It was even better to have a torch, any light source really, back in his line of sight.

I’m so sick of darkness.

But he pressed onwards. Slowly, but steadily.

Eventually, Rin came across yet another corner, sooner than he’d expected, actually. He investigated this one in much the same way as the previous.

Left. Away from the light. That was not a happy realization.

He glanced around as best as he could without upsetting his precarious stance. It was hard to properly gage just based on the positions of two torches in an otherwise dark room, but he thought he might be near the center of the room. Assuming it’s square…but if it is, that means I’m halfway there! That was a decidedly happier thought.

Rin stayed on orange, for much the same reasons as before, as he made his way around the corner. Once more, it paid off.

One more corner in, he thought happily to himself. Progress!

And with one small click, all that progress was gone.

Rin whirled around and slammed his fist into the stone wall below the torch. Which, as he slapped his other hand over his mouth to muffle the cry, wasn’t the brightest thing he’d ever done.

With knuckles freshly bruised, Rin dropped his forehead to the cool stone wall. I hate this.

He slumped against the wall, and slowly slid down to the floor. Eyes squeezed shut tight (really, what was the difference between one darkness and another), he just…breathed. Inhaled the scent of cold stone and old must and tried to clear his head. All he really wanted to do was hit the wall again. Preferably until one of them broke.

I hate this.

He had no idea how long he’d been in that room. Too long, came the dark thought. It certainly felt like it had been years.

This is the first puzzle room. Somehow he had to find two more ring rooms. And work through at least two more puzzles. His breath hitched uncomfortably at the thought.

Nika would know what to do.

Nika wouldn’t have moved from the stone floor until he’d figured out what the pressure plates did. And what the bloody hells that fortune bowl is for, Rin thought bitterly, resisting the urge to kick the bowl.

Nika wouldn’t have been able to outrun the nekhesa.

His fist hit the wall once more with a thud. The pain was a welcome distraction from that particular train of thought.

Nika’s safe in Hifumegu, Rin told himself. And he made himself believe it as he stood back up. Dad won’t risk him in the Pyramid.

Dad wouldn’t have risked Rin in the Pyramid if he hadn’t been Mum’s son. But he was. And that was all there was to it.

Shaking out his hand, Rin made his way back over to the wooden path. He glared at it, scowling at each individual wooden pressure plate.

Alright, he thought. I was only touching the orange wood last time. He carefully climbed back onto the path. So, if I stay on orange until that third corner…or was it fourth… He gave his hair a yank, ostensibly to tighten the tie, but mostly out of frustration. Stay on orange. Then switch to hydrawood after…after…when the path turns from the light again.

With a somewhat stiff nod to himself, Rin set out once again in that hobbling gait that worked his muscles in ways they’d never been worked before. Muscles that were beginning to strain. But he wouldn’t stop to rest. Not once he’d started out again. He could rest when (if) he reached the far torch. Or if (when) he got sent back.

Anger was not a nice companion to have when trying to balance awkwardly on three limbs while moving precisely. Frustration even less so. Both of them made Rin impatient, hasty. He wavered near the edge more often. He nearly fell more than a few times. But they were excellent fuel to keep him pushing forward when it felt like his arms were going to collapse.

One corner down. He stayed on orange.

The second corner was successfully traversed. He stayed on orange.

The third corner was trivial by that point. He hesitated.

Maneuvering around this corner had caused Rin to turn away from the light provided by the torches.

I think this is it…so…I switch to hydrawood?

He was fairly sure that he needed to switch which square he walked on. But…what if I made a mistake last time? What if…I have to stay on orange?

He had been certain that he’d stayed on orange last time. That he hadn’t touched any other squares. Now, though…he wasn’t so sure.

So, he hesitated.

He stared down at the solid darkness beneath his fingers (which he couldn’t see either), and imagined the pattern of squares. Situating them mentally where they should be based on where his hands were currently. The next hydrawood square should be just a fingernail away from his fingertips.

Still, he hesitated.

Just the thought of having to redo this entire path all over again because he’d messed it up again because he didn’t really know what he was doing because he was twelve and was warrior caste and not scholar because he was Mum’s son not Dad’s first son because Aapo had died and left Nika first son and even if Aapo had come back Rin would still be stuck here because he was just no good at puzzles apparently.

Grief, fear, and shame coursed through his soul, the bundle of black emotions knotting into one indistinguishable mass until nothing but overwhelming frustration could be made out.

All things a warrior shouldn’t feel.

Rin gritted his teeth and slammed his hand down on the next hydrawood square.

Click.


Let me know what you think!

FYI: I’ll be busy around Valentine’s Day, so Chapter 4 will be posted February 26th.

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