0055 – Bull & Hope: The Tower, Part 8

Bull and Hope had failed to consider one very important thing about the way the tower worked. They had grown used to the idea that whoever designed the tower intended no harm upon trespassers, and this had bred an amused and bewildered kind of complacency. Consequently, they had both overlooked the possibility that straying from the intended course of progression through the tower could have unpleasant consequences.

The book they had found in the wreckage of the ground floor of the tower had taken them up a single floor, leaving the book behind. Much like the surface world, the nations of the Earth’s interior also had a long-running dispute over whether this floor should be called the “first floor” or the “second floor,” due to the disagreement over whether the initial floor of any building is the “ground floor” or the “first floor.”

In Agartha, where Bull and Hope both hailed from, they had the confusing habit of jumping from “ground floor” to “second floor”, with no “first floor” between them. Thus it was that the two of them had, upon experiencing their first teleportation, earmarked the floor of their arrival as the “second floor.”

With this arbitration in mind, the staircase they found had taken them from the second floor to the third floor, where Bull had thoughtlessly smashed a carefully prepared puzzle and found the second book. Since two Sermomantic texts with the same Name (and thus, the same effect) cannot coexist, this one had been designed, instead, to take them up two floors. So it was that they arrived on the fifth floor.

The fifth floor had held another puzzle, which Bull had, once again, simply tore into sad little pieces, ruining the intended fun of progressing up the tower. Its destruction had revealed a staircase down to the fourth floor, where the third book had been found. This one, predictably, was designed to take them up three floors.

It should be noted that this book was chained to its lectern. Despite both of them being rather intelligent, and Hope being renowned for her perception and memory, they had not considered why this might be. It was, in fact, a measure intended to ensure that this book was read on the fourth floor, and not taken back up to the fifth floor to be read.

Reading this book on the fourth floor deposited the two of them on the seventh floor, where a physical challenge was presented instead of a puzzle. Only Hope had been able to pass it, Bull having been too wide to fit through the hole. Knowing this, when she found a book on the sixth floor below, she carefully removed it from its lectern and brought it back up to floor seven. This book was designed to teleport its readers up four floors.

Had it been read on its intended floor – the sixth – it would have deposited the duo on the tenth floor of the tower, where they would have faced yet another tame irritation.

Reading it on the seventh floor deposited them, instead, on the eleventh. This broke the intended sequence of progression. And as a result of this, Bull found himself deposited atop a wooden table, which immediately broke under his weight, scattering playing cards everywhere.

He had only a few seconds to register the surprised faces of the guards whose game he had interrupted before Hope materialised a few feet above him, her sodden form landing on top of him with an inconvenient squelch.

The delay this caused negated any element of surprise which Bull’s materialisation may have given him. The guards were already reaching for their weapons.

“Sis!” Bull shouted at Hope, shaking her from her dazed state. She sprang to her feet, immediately drawing two daggers from her belt.

The guards nearest her flinched, backing away a few steps, surprised at her speed.

Bull couldn’t move anywhere near as fast as his partner. He didn’t even try to get up before he started fighting. His right hand darted out, grabbing one man’s ankle before yanking it down toward his hips as fast as he could. The surprised guard toppled, his upper half sprawling into the space above Bull’s head, knocking back another guard who had been standing there.

With the space to his head and side clear for a moment, Bull gave a powerful kick with one of his well-built legs, connecting with the shin of one of the guards whom Hope had startled.

In the seconds that followed, Bull was able to pull his heavy frame upright, issuing a guttural, obese wheeze. Hope covered for him, making several rapid and threatening movements with her arms, fixing the eyes of the guards in front of her on the sharp blades before surprising them with a swift roundhouse kick that sent one man barreling into another.

The pair were stood back to back now. Hope’s knives were still at the ready, and Bull had found a second in the confusion to slip on his knuckle dusters. They had never killed so far, and never planned to, and this led to a natural disparity in the effectiveness of their choice of weapon. A punch from Bull, even without the dusters, could knock a man cold, but Hope’s blades had limited non-lethal use, and no fight could drag on for too long before someone on the opposing side noticed this.

Unfortunately, in this instance, that happened rather quickly.

An experienced looking guard who, up until now, had been calmly watching from some distance away, stepped forward purposefully, making eye contact with Hope. She made hostile gestures, but without a second’s hesitation, he grabbed her wrists.

The movement was so overt, so no-nonsense, that it caught her completely off guard. She could do little more than gasp as he effortlessly pushed one of her own blades against her opposing wrist, poised in the perfect position for a downward stroke along the vein.

Bull froze the second he saw it.

This fight was over.

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