Chapter 29:

Chapter 29 - Puzzle Box


They left Marka behind in the first chamber on account of his bad leg. Roulette had some reservations about it, of course, but his promise to fire off Voidthrower if he needed anything eased her mind a little. She couldn’t pin down why she felt so worried about leaving him–maybe it was that odd noise she’d heard further in?

After some debate, she and Morgan had ended up deciding to explore the leftmost path. “When you come across a situation like this,” he’d said, “Always go left.” She’d asked him why, but the answer hadn’t made much sense to her.

The girl suspected he was just posturing.

“See? Left is best, I’m tellin’ you,” he said. “Five minutes of walkin’ without a hint of danger. Obviously the mages subscribed to the Sarada school of effective explorin’ and built their deathtraps to match.”

His bluster sent her eyes rolling. “‘The Sarada school’? You’re tellin’ me they followed the teachings of a Wessoner who hadn’t even been born yet?” she scoffed. “Anyway, what makes you think this place is a deathtrap? Seems pretty peaceful to me so far.”

“You heard machinery, you said. And this hallway has doubled back on itself and come to a crossroads more than a few times already. That can only mean one thing.”

Roulette waited in silence for the man’s conclusion, waving her gun over the right-hand wall as they went. Light blossomed from the arcan with every motion, and she was grateful for it; the spectacle gave her something to watch besides the back of Morgan’s head as he expounded on things he knew nothing about.

“It’s a maze. A labyrinth. Built to keep folks like us out, most likely,” he said. “Couldn’t say why. But a twistin’ passage or two ain’t enough to stave off intruders on its own. You’d want defenses–traps, maybe. Or devices only a wizard could work.”

“The front door was like that,” she observed. “Didn’t do much to keep us out.”

Morgan scratched his chin. “True. Probably traps, then.”

As if on cue, the mouth of the hallway suddenly gave way to a large, empty room. It was too spacious to make out any of the surrounding walls by arcanlight. Roulette poked her head out from their narrow corridor, squinting into the darkness.

“What do you think, professor? Am I good to just walk on in, or will I get carved up like a flizzard filet before I take a single step?”

Morgan paused, suddenly thoughtful. “I sure don’t like this. We’ve got to cross, but it’d be a fool’s errand to try it without light to guide us…”

He glanced at her pointedly.

“How did I know this would end with me goin’ in first?” she grumbled, taking a tentative step forward. A shiver ran up her spine as she inched into the wide open room, her eyes darting this way and that as she tried to suss out which angle death was liable to approach from.

“Try and stick to the wall,” he encouraged (unhelpfully). “Whatever’s in there, it’s probably not near the walls…”

“And how in the hell would you know that?” she snapped.


She barked a laugh. “Your intuition ain’t worth a fart in a hurricane.” Roulette knew she was being unkind, but being expected to navigate deadly hazards on another person’s behalf could have that effect on a girl.

She followed his advice, though, following along beside the wall with her gun outstretched. A steady, shimmering light crept along beside her, illuminating the immediate area up to a few feet away from the wall. She managed to continue in this way until she reached the corner, which was a full twenty feet away from the darkened recess in which Morgan stood.

“Great work! Lookin’ good!” he called.

“Save it,” she called back. “What do I do now?”

“Keep goin’! Maybe you can hug the wall all the way to the other side, and I could follow?”

“That’s it? That’s your plan?” she shouted.

“Well, keep an eye out obviously! You might find some way to figure out the trick of this room as you go.”

Roulette bit back her next retort, deciding instead to focus on getting them through this alive. This was all on her; that much was clear, and no amount of bellyaching would change it. So she forged ahead–albeit slowly–keeping her gun level with the wall. She was just about to open her mouth to question the plan again when Lady Luck brushed over a raised, circular spot among the curving lines of arcan-hewn designs to her right.

Unlike the other patterns she’d set aglow, this one generated a sudden burst of steady, ambient light–a light that remained even when she drew her hand away! She glanced across the room to find that an identical design on the opposite wall had lit up just as brightly, and together they bathed the first third or so of the vast chamber in a swath of luminescence.

Morgan cheered, stepping into the light with a wide grin on his face. “Not bad! I think you cracked it,” he declared, gesturing toward the glowing sigils that had appeared in various places all across the lit patch of floor. “I’ll bet these symbols are there to tell us where we shouldn’t step. Ergo…”

The man strode forward confidently, taking care to plant his feet only in the empty spaces between the glowing sigils…

…And promptly triggered a trap.

A pressure plate–which had, up to that point, been nigh-on-invisible–slid into the floor beneath his shoe, and the portion of the flowing arcan design nearest him began to glow an angry shade of orange.

“MORGAN!!” Roulette screeched, trying her best to warn him of the danger…

She soon saw that she needn’t have worried. A jet of flame projected from the wall, seeking to incinerate her unwary companion, but the man had been so thoroughly thrown off-balance by the lowering pressure plate that he’d tripped and fallen flat on his face. He lay there for awhile as the fire raged above him, no doubt questioning the wisdom of having acted like such a know-it-all.

Roulette smiled smugly. “I’ll just go on then, hmm?” She pressed on alongside the wall, figuring she could at least proceed far enough to activate another of those lamp-like arcan protrusions.

She was wrong.

Before long, Roulette had triggered a pressure plate of her own! A gout of bone-chilling frost sprang from the wall, proving once and for all that even keeping to the room’s rim had its risks. Fortunately, she reacted similarly to Morgan–except, in her case, the girl fell back onto her butt. Even so, her bangs suffered a light dusting of frost, causing a few of the strands to crystallize before her very eyes.

“Haw haw…” Morgan crowed, having propped himself up on his elbows to watch.

“You shut up!” she chided. “Unless you’ve got any other bright ideas?”

As it happened, he did. First he suggested that she try moving alongside the opposite wall. When that, too, nearly ended in an embarrassing and unceremonious death, they tried inching forward across the room together… Then apart. They even tried stepping directly on the glowing sigils. And each time, they were nearly burnt, frozen or shocked to death, much to their chagrin.

“We’re not gettin’ anywhere!” he complained, nursing a particularly nasty scorch mark on his wrist. “If we keep goin’ this room’s gonna be the death of us!”

Roulette paced in the safe region just before the plates, her hand rubbing at her chin. “What’re we missin’? It’s got to be somethin’ obvious…” She thought on it deeply, trying her best to think the way a wizard might. What did they have that she and Morgan didn’t?

“Hey, Morgan,” she asked, “Wizards had a lot more power than we Gunslingers do, right?”

“Well, sure,” he replied. “They could do the impossible. Cast spells–shoot fireballs from their hands and such. Makes me wonder how the Gunslingers of old won out against ‘em in the end.”

“What if,” she began, glancing out at the wide, sigil-pocked floor before them, “the thing that’s makin’ this so hard on us is how little arcane energy we can muster? Wizards probably had so much of it that it’d leak out all over the place–enough that, when they walked down those hallways we took to get here, both walls would light up to guide their way.”

Morgan knit his brow, glancing back at the mouth of the corridor. “It’d make sense. Explains why there’s nowhere to set a torch anywhere inside this hellhole, at least. Don’t see how leakin’ magic would help us cross a room like this, tho–”

Roulette held up a finger and moved over to the dangerous part of the floor, stopping just short of the stretch of sigils and pressure plates that had made their life so difficult. She knelt down and waved her gun over the floor, her eyes seeking for a hint of something…

…There! As Lady Luck passed over the empty floor space between the sigils, more sigils came alight. She looked back at Morgan with a genuine smile on her face, and was pleased beyond words to see it reciprocated.

With their newfound knowledge, crossing the room became a simple matter. By revealing these new sigils, a truly blank and unadorned path became obvious; a path that guided them right to the circular patterns on the walls, which lit up the entire next leg of their crossing in turn. By proceeding slowly, and with frequent help from Lady Luck, the duo finally managed–after an hour or more of trying–to reach the other side!

“Hell yeah!” Roulette cried, hardly able to contain herself. She jumped for joy, noting with no small measure of pride that Morgan was looking on approvingly… Until his eyes were drawn to something on the floor of the forked hallway beyond–something neither of them would have dared to expect in a place like this:


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