0047 – Bull & Hope: The Tower, Part 6

Destroying the carefully designed “cubes in holes” puzzle had revealed a book called, almost mockingly, “A Reader Who Teleports Up Two Floors, Leaving His Book Behind.

Reading its title aloud had transported Bull and Hope, one at a time, to another floor. This one had another silly puzzle that Bull simply smashed to pieces, revealing a staircase that led downwards one floor, complete with another laughably minor booby trap. The room they emerged in contained a book, chained to a lectern, entitled – predictably – “A Reader Who Teleports Up Three Floors, Leaving His Book Behind.

“This really is ridiculous.” Hope complained, her eyes half-shut in a disbelieving squint.

“I could probably tear it off this thing without too much damage.” Bull commented, tugging eagerly at the chain.

“Don’t.” She put her hand on his, warning him off. “They might not work if you damage the pages. And then we’d be stuck in here.”

He grudgingly conceded the point. This time, the book took them to a very different room indeed.

“Wow.” Bull commented flatly, his eyes wide.

Previous rooms in the tower had at least been designed with the semblance of functionality. This one consisted of a small, raised platform of flat stone, surrounded by water.

They stood, nearly unbelievably, on an island in the middle of a large artificial pool.

“This is new.” said Hope, already scanning the walls and ceiling for anything hidden.

“That settles it.” Bull sat down on the floor with a mighty thump. “We’re in here on a wind up.”

“We’ve no choice but to see it through, though.” Hope commented absently. “We’re on floor seven now, with no windows, and no way down.”

A moment later, she spoke again, her eyes fixed on something below the waterline. “Huh. That’s curious.”

“What is?” Bull asked.

“There’s a hole. Like a tunnel. See?”

Hope pointed to a small opening, around a yard below the waterline on one of the walls. It was but a few feet in diameter, and would, Bull knew the second he saw it, be far too small for him.

“Bugger.” He would have spat into the water in disgust if he hadn’t already realised that, seconds later, his partner would have to wade into it.

“It’s weird though, don’t you think?” She asked, turning to face him. Even though he was sitting on the floor and she was standing at her full height, she didn’t have to look down much to meet his eyes.

“What is?”

“So far, every threat in this tower has been a joke, either figuratively or literally.” She recalled the numbing dart and the trap in the stairwell – which had been designed to administer a light blow to the crotch, but had instead delivered an ineffectual, muted slap to Bull’s fat stomach, on account of his stubby legs and long torso. She recalled the distinct feeling, despite the books being written in a foreign language, that there was something derisive in their contents.

Bull caught her meaning. “But if you mess up getting through a tiny, underwater tunnel, you might actually die.”

“Right.” She nodded. “It’s the first thing in here that’s posed actual danger.” She didn’t count the guards, who had been incapacitated in less than three seconds after all.

Hope gave a shrug and waded right into the water. She preferred lightweight, flexible clothing for her professional attire, and made a habit of storing her various tools neatly and very securely on her belt. This left her with nothing cumbersome or easily damaged to discard.

“I’ll just sit around here then, shall I?” Bull asked, giving her a grin and a little wave.

“I know you get bored with nothing to smash up.” She said. “I won’t be long.”

Thanks to having grown up in a coastal city adjacent to several surprisingly unspoiled beaches, Hope, like many Agarthans, was a strong swimmer. She took a deep breath, ducking herself under the water with a bob, and pushed off hard with her feet from the side of the raised stone platform.

Her aim was perfect, and took her right into the tunnel, which ended promptly roughly six feet later.

Hope surfaced in another, much smaller, pool of water on the far side of the tunnel. She felt perplexed. It was like someone had decided to design a fiendish physical challenge, but then at the last second had experienced an apologetic, slightly pathetic change of heart.

There were even a little set of steps up and out of the pool, complete with a convenient handrail.

Beyond them was yet another spiral staircase, leading – once again – downwards. Hope was beginning to sense a formula emerging in the tower’s design. She was soaked to the skin, leaving sopping wet footprints behind her on the stairs, which was presumably why this set came with a couple of very sturdy banisters.

The trap this time was laughably redundant, consisting of a pail of water (which, once again, presumably required some maintenance) set to drop on her head from atop the doorway at the foot of the stairs. She felt almost sorry for the pitiful setup, and let the water fall on her out of a strange sense of pity. She could hardly get any wetter, after all.

Predictably, the room beyond the staircase – floor six, by her count – was bare, save for another book chained to another lectern. Its title was exactly what she expected. “A Reader Who Teleports Up Four Floors, Leaving His Book Behind.

Hope had anticipated this, and set to work investigating the construction of the chain. It was secured to the book by means of a small hole that had been punched in its bound cover. The link itself, upon closer inspection, seemed to be made of one impossible, solid ring of steel, with no seam. In fact, every link, all the way down the chain, shared this peculiarity. It was as though the chain had been grown.

Hope sighed, reaching for her belt. This would take a little work.

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