The human and I stood there for a a few moments after dispatching the previous round of rats as Graenas gathered up the handful of coins our attackers had left behind. “That was a nice workout, but I’m not sure it got us anywhere,” I said casually.
Danny nodded and said, “Perhaps it’s a timing thing. What if we were to pull the levers at the exact same time?”
My brother joined us as he slid our latest gains into his bottomless magical pouch. “I think it’s worth a try.” With that, he reached up to the lever on the left and turned his head to Danny. “You call it and I’ll match time with you.”
Danny nodded and reached for the other lever before beginning his count. “One. Two. Three. Go!” At that, both men pulled down their levers. The levers made a clicking sound, then there was a sound like an inrush of wind coming from the ceiling. I glanced up, but saw no ventilation shafts or any other openings. We still seemed to be in a completely sealed, perfectly cubic room. The levers returned to their resting places.
“Try that again,” I said. “I want to watch the ceiling this time.” I stilled my mind and put my sight and senses at their fullest alert as the fighter repeated his count. I heard the sound of the levers once again being pulled and latching into place. Once again, I heard the sound of in-rushing air, but saw nothing. No door opened. No other opening appeared. No dust or other particle gave any indication of a source of new air entering the room. Despite the complex mechanical nature of the contraption, there appeared to be a highly magical aspect to it as well. I supposed this was to be expected, given the involvement of the fey.
“Well, this isn’t getting us anywhere,” Graenas said impatiently. “I say we try the next position on the dial. I silently worried that my brother’s impatience would one day get him into deeper trouble than he already was in. In this case, however, he was right. It was time to try something different. I nodded and turned the dial back to the previous direction indicator and watched as the numeric display reset to 2. Graenas and Danny each took a lever and pulled on Danny’s mark. We instantly heard the same fog horn sound and shuffling sounds behind us. We turned around to confront five spiders, each the size of an adult rottweiler. Graenas let out a string of Sylvan profanities. I suspect that he had learned some of them from Auril, as I couldn’t make a few of those words out enough. But my lessons with our father allowed me to understand enough to know that Mother would be reaching for the soap dish had she heard the things my brother had just sputtered. He launched a blast of eldritch energy at the southern-most spider. He just barely grazed it, though it was enough to make it mad.
Danny moved to engage the two spiders in the north and was immediately attacked by both of them and the spider in the middle. The spider Graenas had attacked launched itself at him and overshot onto the contraption. That left me to approach and attack the one remaining spider. I hooked the sickle in my right hand around one of its legs. I heard the leg crack and tear as I used it to pull the creature towards me. Once its body was in range, I drove the point of my other sickle between the spider’s eyes. There was a squelching sound as more of the curved blade sunk beneath the surface and the spider screeched and shook violently for a moment then went completely still. I pulled both sickles free. The one dripped with blood as I joined Danny to take care of whatever spiders had not yet gone still beneath the fighter’s warhammer.
Graenas soon turned the spider he was fighting into dripping bits scattered across the contraption and he began to attack those Danny and I were engaging with his bolts of power as well. When the final spider had been almost perfectly bisected by the long sword in Danny’s off hand, I wiped the blood off my sickles and said, “I hope we figure out how this damn contraption works soon or we’ll be able to ride a wave of our attackers like they were horses. The human snorted in what I assumed was agreement and we returned to the device.
“Three?” Graenas asked.
“I feel like we’re just doing the same thing and hoping for different results, but I have no better suggestions,” Danny said gruffly. I shrugged. Graenas reset the dial so the number on the reading was three. The men executed their choreographed lever-pulling routine once more. We instantly knew by the sounds we heard that it was time for another battle. This time, we were faced off against five of the largest rats I have ever seen and three iron chests that somehow managed to drool and snarl. I had heard of mimics before through the tale-swapping that takes place in taverns at Albion City, but I had never seen one. Their unnatural and surely magical construction unnerved me.
Graenas shot another blast of eldritch energy at one of the mimics, which immediately descended on him. It bit him hard and my brother shrieked, “That hurt, you diabolical piece of luggage!” Danny was instantly busy with three of the large rats. I saw another rat headed my way, but one look at the fighter informed me that he would soon be overwhelmed by his wounds if I didn’t intervene. I silently hoped that my attacker wouldn’t inflict too much harm on me as I extended a hand palm forward toward Danny and intoned a healing incantation Father had taught me. I smiled in grim satisfaction as the gashes on the fighter’s skin began to close and his bruises began to fade. The renewed health and strength clearly reinvigorated him as he continued his assault on the rats now surrounding him.
I found myself splitting my attention over the next several seconds between fending off the rat attacking me and applying my knowledge of field medicine to keep both Graenas — who seemed to be getting worn down by the rat and mimic that were tag-teaming him — and Danny from succumbing. I finally managed to kill my attacker when one of the two as-yet uninvolved mimics caught my scent and moved forward to attack me. I quickly tucked away my sickles and drew my wooden shield and mace, figuring that a blunt weapon might do more damage to the wood and iron that made up the strange creature than a pair of small curved blades.
Danny manged to turn the small group of rats attacking him into piles of goo and sliced meat as the third mimic attacked him. Somehow, he managed to get the rat attacking my brother as well as the mimic engaging me to redirect their attention to him. This allowed Graenas to focus on his mimic. My brother shouted, “Enough! Let’s try fire!” Then he blasted a whole through the top of the chest that served as the mimic’s body with a firebolt.”
“Nice shot!” Danny called out as he smashed the mimic we were both attacking, sending a few more splinters into the air. The mimic finally went still and he turned his attention to the final chest. I came around beside him to help, smashing dents into the creature with my mace. Graenas began attacking it with frosty rays of magic. Soon, the final enemy quit moving. Graenas took out his medical kit and tossed it to me, saying, “Thanks for keeping us alive, Uri. This will make sure you can keep doing it.
Danny reached into his own pack and began to pull out another such kit, but I held up my hand to stop him. “Hold onto it for now. This will allow me to keep attending to all of us for the time being. And if something happens to me, one of you might need to be able to quickly stabilize me. You’ll need the means to do that if it becomes necessary.” Danny thought for a moment, then nodded as he repacked his own kit. I continued, “At any rate, after that intense battle, I think we should rest for a bit.” With that, I undid my pack and set it on the floor, sitting down beside it.
“Sounds good to me,” Danny said as he followed suit. “And maybe you can tell me a little bit more about what exactly is going on here.”
I glanced at Graenas, who had just finished gathering up the coins left by that last wave of attackers as well as three pieces of parchment he apparently found in the remains of one of the chests.. He shrugged as he sat a few feet from us and pulled out his sewing kit and some sort of needlework project. I paused, then said, “Graenas’s power comes from an evil fey deity he made a pact with four years ago. She’s the one who sent us here. We’re trying to destroy an unknown number of statues erected by her sister.”
“What?!” Danny said, his face twisting with anger as he glared at Graenas. “Why on earth would you do such a foolish thing?!”
Graenas’s needle stopped moving as he looked up. I could see the frustration and embarrassment on his face as he spoke. “I was young and foolish at the time. Plus I thought I was in love and my heart was breaking. When Auril appeared, she told me that if I just agreed to do some favors every now and then, she’d make it so William….” His voice cracked as he spoke the name of one of our few childhood friends, the one Graenas had so desperately wished would see him as more than a friend. My brother fell silent, staring at the piece of cloth in his hand.
After a few moments, I spoke. “He made a mistake. A foolish and costly one, but one that’s easy to make when you’re a teenager struggling with emotions and hormones.” I willed myself to accept that defense, myself. I also hoped I was speaking the truth as I continued. “I think he’s learned his lesson. Now he’s just trying to make the best of a bad situation until he can find a way to fix it completely. I’m trying to help him.
The fighter huffed. “I guess I get it. I still say it was a stupid thing to do!” I inwardly bristled. While part of me agreed with our human companion, I felt very protective and defensive of my brother. I knew what that moment of desperate folly cost him, and not just in terms of being bound to the fey Ice Queen. Graenas really had cared deeply for William, and I suspect their friendship had been ruined forever. I knew the pain of that reality weighed on my brother, along with the knowledge of how deeply he had wronged and hurt William. I hoped his regret and anguish would remind him to make better choices in the future.
We fell silent after that and I closed my eyes, leading my mind through the exercises that would draw me closer to the natural world around me. I briefly wondered how well that would work while we were sealed in this chamber that I suspected was separated from the rest of our world by strange magics. Assuming it had ever been a part of our world in the first place. It must have worked to some degree, however, as I felt much more refreshed when I stretched and opened my eyes. A glance at the rows of new stitches Graenas had made suggested that two or three hours had passed. He had a slight smile on his face. I guessed his needlework had brought up memories of helping our mother with various sewing projects. It was the one thing that would always soothe his troubled spirits after he had a negative encounter with other residents of Shadeville while growing up. Granted, he also tended to cause a lot of those encounters and exacerbate even more of them. But Mother would always get him calmed down, then gently reprimand him for his own actions a few hours later. He always took her criticisms far better than he reacted to the times I would scold him. Then again, I had neither Mother’s patience nor her compassion. At least not when it came to childish antics.
Danny looked at both of us and said, “I can’t sit here any longer. Let’s get back to it.” I think he just wanted to get away from the weirdness of this place and back to something simple and straightforward, like chasing after orcs and splitting their skulls. I nodded, stood, and returned to the contraption along the east wall. I reached out and turned the dial so that the numeric display would reset and turn to 4. As it did, I noticed a slot that opened on the front of the machine. “Wait,” I said as I pointed to the narrow opening that must have been just a couple inches long. “Did anyone notice this before?” I feared I would have to apologize to Graenas for criticizing his failure to notice the dial earlier.
“No, can’t say as I have,” Danny said, running his finger along the slot.
“I think I did briefly, but thought nothing of it at the time,” Graenas said. But now that we have four pieces of parchment….” He shuffled through the four square pieces of parchment and attempted to slide the one marked with the number four on it inside. Some unseen mechanism whirred as he got the edge of the parchment started just inside. That mechanism pulled the entire square inside. The slot then closed and the button on the contraption began to flash. I tried pressing it, but it woouldn’t budge.
“Perhaps the levers unlock the button,” Danny suggested. Graenas nodded in approval at the suggestion, then reached for his lever. The two men pulled the levers in unison and I pushed the button as the levers clicked into place. We heard a rumbling sound behind us. We turned to see a large set of double doors now filling most of the western wall.
Graenas walked over and examined the doors. “There appears to be a four keyholes. Two embedded in each door,” he said. Danny and I were investigating the dial, which now had a piece of metalsticking out of it. It was thin and roughly a couple inches long.
“Do you think it’s broken?” Danny asked.
“I don’t this so,” I said as I leaned over to get a better look. “It looks like the other end is actually sticking in a socket in the dial. Let me just,” I said as I pulled on it. I stopped mid-sentence as the piece of metal came free. Now free of the contraption, four small teeth popped along one end of it. “Well, there’s one key,” I said.
“We need three more and there are three more major marks on the dial,” Graenas said as he rejoined us by the contraption. “There’s an obvious hypothesis there, I think.” Danny grunted his assent. Together, the three of us worked through the process of turning the dial, inserting the proper piece of parchment, and working the device to retrieve all four keys. Once we retrieved the final key, the contraption pulled all of its controls inside of itself and then folded itself back into the wall. In seconds, we were facing a blank stone wall.
Once they were in hand, Graenas took the keys over to the door and examined both them and the keyholes. He said, “There’s a face-plate containing each keyhole. They’re all different colors: yellow, green, blue, and orange. The thing is, each key has four teeth, each tooth being one of those colors.”
“So it’s not going to be obvious,” I said, a bit annoyed. “Why couldn’t each key be all one color?”
Danny thought for a moment then said, “Is the first tooth on each key a different color when compared against the other keys?”
Graenas looked each key over. “As matter of fact, yes.”
“So let’s line the keys up so that we put them in the keyhole whose color is the same color as the key’s first tooth,” Danny suggested. I nodded, appreciating the fact that our new companion had more brains than many weapon experts I had met in the past. While I was thankful for his skill in battle, I was also glad he had other ways he could contribute to our collective efforts. Plus I hoped it was a sign that I wouldn’t have to worry about him leaping headlong into an unwinnable battle without any thought.
We got all the keys lined up as proposed. Graenas said, “I think we should try turning them all at once. Danny can you manage two keys at once?” Danny nodded and placed his hands on the two keys nearest him. Graenas and I each grabbed the key in front of us and turned to Danny. He counted us down and we turned all four keys in unison. We were rewarded with a resounding and promising click. I pulled on the doors and they swung out and open, only to reveal another set of doors behind them. They were identical to the previous one.
Graenas grinned. “I can see where this is going. Sort them according to the colors of their second teeth. We did so and repeated the process to open this door and the two behind it. As the final door swung open we found ourselves looking into a giant chamber. As we entered we saw a dreadful sight. There were three more spiders the same size as the last wave we had fought scurrying toward us. The thing that caused the blood to briefly drain from my face, however, was the red spider that was approximately the size of a small hovel that stood behind them.
The three of us began to attack the middle spider of the three smaller ones, who had all descended on Danny. Graenas, who had moved thirty feet away so he could attack from a distance, managed to strike the same spider with a blast of energy before the giant red spider managed to hit him with a stream of webbing. My brother cursed as all his limbs became entangled and he fell to the floor. I redoubled my attack efforts with Danny, hoping I’d be able to get free to help Graenas in time.
The giant spider ambled over and was just about to attack my defenseless brother when Danny brought his warhammer down on the badly bleeding spider we had been wearing down. The giant spider heard the crunching sound its diminutive companion’s body made and turned its attention and anger toward the fighter. It began to shoot streams of webbing at Danny but missed, covering the wall behinds us with a white sticky mess.
Graenas struggles paid off as he finally broke free of his sticky bonds. “That’s enough!” he snarled and I glanced at him just long enough to see the icy hatred in his eyes. I cringed at how much he seemed like Auril at that moment and longed for the day that we could free him from her influence. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too late. He uttered an incantation I had only heard him use a couple times before and I once again cringed as I began to smell the now-dead, rotting flesh that hung from parts of the giant spider’s body.
Graenas continued to use his power to instantly destroy the giant spider’s cells as Danny and I each killed one of the two remaining smaller spiders. We finished our work and turned to help my brother put an end to the red monster. At that moment, the creature finally managed to hit Danny with a spray of webbing. The fighter went down. I stepped forward, hoping Graenas and I could hold our own with the creature long enough for the fighter to free himself.