0043 – Bull & Hope: The Tower, Part 5

Hope had hurried up the stairs, worried about her partner, despite the constant stream of reassuring cursing. When she reached the top, she was greeted by the sight of Bull trying to pull a tiny dart out of his his buttock.

“Bloody thing!” He cried. He was dragging his leg, as though the dart had numbed him.

Hope plucked the dart from its embarrassing target by the flight, and tossed it into one of the room’s dark corners. Aware now that there were traps, however petty, she quickly scanned her surroundings as a matter of urgency.

This new floor, thankfully, was somewhat easy to appraise. The room in which the pair found themselves was empty save for a broad, raised dais in the centre, enclosed by thick glass.

Hope’s eyes frantically searched the stonework of the walls and floor, finding nothing of note. Once again, she realised, there was no path onward. Only when she finally got around to inspecting the top of the staircase behind them did she notice the blindingly obvious hole in the masonry from which the arrow had been fired.

Hope pointed to the hole. “You need to watch out.” Her words were chiding, but her tone had barely changed.

Bull rubbed his buttock and thigh, dragging his foot along the floor as he turned, cursing, to see what she was pointing to.

“Oh, come on.” Bull said.

“It wasn’t very hidden.” Hope observed.

“I was in a hurry!” He cried, using the wall to pull his heavy form upright, his foot finally back on the ground.

She was watching his posture. “Is your leg numb?”

“Yeah.” Bull patted his thigh a few times, kneading the powerful quad hidden beneath layers of fat, trying to rub some life back into his limb.

“But if this tower was here before the city,” she pointed out. “Then how come…”

“Maybe the guards change the ammunition in the traps?” He mused, shrugging. “Does it matter?”

“I suppose not.” Hope conceded. “But it probably means there are more guards here than just the two you knocked out.”

He nodded, marking her warning.

The two of them turned their attention to the central dais. It was both wide and long, like a single stone table supported by a central pillar. Atop it, within the sturdy glass walls, were an assortment of cubes, each with an unfamiliar symbol on one face. Some of them were sitting, already, in square-shaped recesses clearly designed to accommodate them, while others were strewn haphazardly all over the enclosure.

On each face of the tank-like glass structure, there were two holes. Each led to a comically lengthy rubber glove, designed to sheath a person’s whole arm.

“I think,” Bull stated slowly. “That this is a puzzle.”

“Yeah.” Said Hope, a concerned expression on her face.

“Whoever built this tower was taking the piss, surely.” Bull observed.

“It does seem like it, yes.”

“Those hidden books, that ruddy little dart, and now this. If he’d wanted to keep people out, there’d be better ways. And if he’d wanted to hurt whoever came in, why not tip the dart with something deadly? Why make the consequence something just… little and annoying?”

“Maybe it’s a test.” Hope said. She began sliding her arms into the rubber gloves, getting the feeling that no real harm would come to her for doing so.

Bull tried to join her, but found that his thick arms wouldn’t fit through the holes past the elbow.

“A test of whether you’re a fat bugger, maybe.” He clicked his tongue in annoyance. The rubber gloves, half filled with his forearms, flailed around uselessly.

Hope tried not to laugh. “I can’t make sense of this.” She announced.

Giving up and pulling his arms free, Bull peered through the glass to inspect the contents more closely. He really didn’t recognise the symbols at all. Each had the vague look of a letter, and some even resembled familiar characters so closely that he felt he could hazard their pronunciation, but none rang a bell.

“D’you even know what the symbols are?” He asked.

“I think they’re from some Surface religion.” She said, turning one of the blocks over in her hand. “Remember that Regulan guy from a few months back?”

Bull searched his memory. It wasn’t as good as hers, as a rule. “The one whose shop we knocked over for that fat bloke?”

“That one.” She nodded. “I’m pretty sure I saw this symbol, right here.”

Hope held a cube up in her gloved hand, awaiting Bull’s inspection through the glass. The symbol on its surface looked a little like an uppercase “F”, albeit with its horizontal lines distorted slightly.

“Sorry.” He confessed. “I don’t remember seeing it.”

“It was above the door of his shop, on the inside.” Hope said. “I remember now. It was definitely this.”

“So this is a puzzle about Regulan religion?” Bull asked, his tone betraying his annoyance.

“The Regulans don’t have a religion.” She corrected him. “But some of them secretly practice one of the Surface ones, I heard.”

“Old habits die hard.” He commented. “Still, do you know enough about it to solve this?”

“No.” She took her hands out of the gloves, and stood well back, anticipating his next move. “Go on, then.”

Bull grinned, adjusting his hand wrappings for a moment before slamming his heavy fist on the glass once, twice, and smashing through it on the third strike. He flexed his bleeding fingers inside the case, gripped the insides of two of the cube-shaped recesses, and began using them as hand-holds by which to rock the dais back and forth on its thin central pillar.

After a few hard shoves, the stone table came loose from its strained support, sliding to the floor with a resounding crash.

Bull panted, his hands dripping with blood, a broad grin on his face.

“All yours, sis.” He told Hope.

Her agile hands began picking through the rubble.

Sure enough, here was another book.

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