Chapter 1:

The Most Interesting Puzzle

Charon's Legacy: The Clockwork Oracle

Hushed murmurs and gasps filled the main chamber in Charon’s Collection of Curious Curios. There were a number of wondrous sights to behold:  A mummified claw of an extinct bird, eerie masks from all around the world, and puzzling sculptures of mysterious origin. Any number of these things could elicit such a reaction from among their number. Yet, all eyes remained fixated on the most mundane thing there:  Lord Charon’s decapitated corpse.

Given the choice, Savio Alves preferred puzzles and riddles to the company of other people. The only problem being, without other people there were no puzzles nor riddles to be solved. Without someone posing the question, an answer became meaningless. That’s why he had exactly one close friend.

Among everyone he’d ever met, Lord Charon proved to be sharper and more interesting than all the rest. The man kept to himself but always seemed to be traveling throughout the world. Letter after letter would arrive at Savio’s doorstep at the most unexpected time with brain twisters his friend had encountered on his travels.

That had been their relationship for several years now.

In that time, Savio had only visited the Lord’s estate once. The sheer amount of oddities and trinkets crammed into his manor, at least six times the size of Savio’s modest home, were a sight to behold. Each one had a story and some even came with unsolved mysteries of their own. A few times, he’d managed to crack the previously undeciphered codes and confounding keyless locks through their many exchanges.

That’s how he knew the sleek, red envelope that arrived on his doorstep that damp, fall day wasn’t like the rest. He’d received another invitation. Excitement coursed through Savio’s veins as he took great care to open the wax-sealed envelope with his silver letter knife (a gift from Lord Charon, of course).

He removed the letter from its exquisite package and unfolded it at his desk. The dim light of the flickering candle danced across the page, illuminating a perplexing message of nonsense. Phrases such as, “Zexolk'p Zliibzqflk lc Zroflrp Zroflp.” and “Qeb Zilzhtloh Loxzib!” Savio ruffled his curly brown hair and scanned the letter for anything useful.

He stumbled on some intelligible text next to a picture of a pocket watch marking the time as 3 o’clock. The words read:  Don’t forget to wind your clock, dear friend.

The only thing Lord Charon could be referring to that Savio owned was the grandfather clock he’d been gifted several years ago after having helped open a troublesome box with no visible seams or locks. However, those aren’t wound like pocket watches. Instead, they require their owner to raise the weights and set the pendulum about once a week.

After setting the letter down, he pulled at the sleeves of his buttoned shirt that fit slightly too loose on his slender frame. A sigh soon followed as he gazed up at the ceiling and thought about the message’s intended meaning.

At that moment, the very same grandfather clock rang out, a long, discordant chime with booming bongs to represent the late hour. The answer struck him with the final bong in the distance, shaking loose an old memory. He’d seen this drawing once before in the letter that had come with it. A cypher so simple he couldn’t help but shake his head at having nearly missed it. “You sly devil,” he whispered to himself.

Savio pulled out a pen and pad to translate the message. A pocket watch wound clockwise and the time marked 3. Meaning, he should shift each letter three spaces to the right so “a” would become “d”, “b” would turn to “e”, and so on. Not too long after he smirked at the completed letter that read:

Dearest friend,

You are cordially invited to attend a private gathering ahead of the public unveiling of my museum:  Charon's Collection of Curious Curios. There people will be able to enjoy my vast collection from my travels throughout the years. I'll even be displaying my most precious item, The Clockwork Oracle!

Esteemed guests, such as yourself, will be able to ask any one question your heart desires and it shall deliver to you a prophetic answer. And yet, this is the least exciting news I have for you today.

I'll be naming an inheritor from among your ranks. They'll receive everything—my title, my estate, and of course, my vast fortune. For you, Savio, it should prove to be the most interesting puzzle yet. What criteria will I use to judge you and who shall I name as my inheritor?

Your expenses will be covered in full. Please arrive at the listed address in two week's time of this letter's postage.

Until then,

-Lord Charon

Despite the late hour, Savio rushed to his feet in excitement, nearly knocking over his chair in his haste. He’d need to make arrangements to meet Lord Charon without delay. The allure of the ‘most interesting puzzle yet’ and an opportunity to see his friend once more weren’t things he could let pass idly by. His curiosity had been thoroughly captured.


The day of the gathering had been one disaster after another. Savio planned to arrive in town a few days prior to meet with Lord Charon at his estate and enjoy an afternoon conversation with him but fate had other plans. Delay after delay—a broken wheel, a drunken driver, and a few wrong turns later—and he’d only just arrived at his destination with hours to spare.

Resigned to his circumstances, Savio ended up being forced to check into a cheap hotel. Losing his head over any of that would be unbecoming when there was such a momentous occasion ahead of him. In a whirlwind, he unloaded his luggage and donned his favorite suit; another gift from Lord Charon, naturally. The cool, silken texture of his gray shirt with thin burgundy stripes running the length of the garment matched the rich brown of the cashmere harmonizing well with the ensemble. These made for a nice contrast with his tanned pants that were a few shades lighter than his skin. Topping the look, especially in the rainy season such as it were, he placed a matching overcoat on top of everything and rushed out the door.

Another delay.

The evening foot traffic on the crowded, cobbled streets that wound their way like a maze throughout the city made it difficult to navigate with efficiency. With several bumped shoulders and just as many pardoning words, he made it to the venue—late.

Charon’s Collection of Curious Curios stood out from among the native architecture. The whole building was like a behemoth, towering over him and stretching farther on either side than anything he’d seen so far. Each part of the intricate design was inspired from various parts of the world, some he recognized, others he didn’t. Not that this mattered, the whole building had a captivating aura not unlike Lord Charon himself, as if demanding all eyes be on him.

Savio made his way inside and did his best to quietly sneak his way to the main chamber where everyone had gathered. He was just in time to see the crimson curtain rise for the grand unveiling of The Clockwork Oracle.

Shock and horror mixed in himself and among the crowd at the morbid revelation. But something else stirred in him as well, a sickening exhilaration as even in death, Lord Charon had managed to make good on his promise:  This was indeed the most interesting puzzle yet.

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