Jora awakens first. Pain wracks his body from the impacts of huge blocks of stone. His backpack is battered but intact and his questing hands locate his grandfather’s sword still strapped to his hip.
Groans draw his attention; his three friends lie sprawled around him on the smooth gray floor. They all struggle against the grip of unconsciousness and soon sit up, amazed to be alive. Everyone’s clothing and gear are battered but intact.
Jora looks up expecting to see the pit extending upward to the tower but above him is a smooth gray stone surface, identical to the floor. No marks or seams are visible, not even where the ceiling meets the walls. There is no way they could have fallen through this ceiling from above.
“Lamia, Safir, can you use your staves and see if the opening is hidden above us by illusion?”
If the ceiling is just another illusion, perhaps they can climb out f this place and return home.
The girls struggle to their feet and walk around the room poking the ceiling with their wooden staves. Each poke results in the solid thunk of wood against stone. The ceiling is no illusion; there will be no easy escape in that direction.
The room is circular and has walls of the same strange gray stone.
“What kind of stone is this?” Conrad touches the floor and then walks to a wall and rubs his hand across the surface.
The stone is as smooth as marble but looks like no marble they have ever seen.
“It’s not granite or like any of the stones in the Hollow.”
“It almost looks like it’s been turned to liquid and poured,” Lamia peers intently at the surface. “There are no cracks or lines like you’d see in normal rocks.”
“Oh Gods,” Safir wails. “This is the afterlife. We died and are in the Hall of Souls awaiting the Judge of the Dead.”
“Do you feel dead,” Jora says. “I know I don’t. We’re alive and somehow we’ve been moved to this room.”
“Magic,” Conrad says in a whisper.
“At least we have a way out,” Jora says and gestures toward the opposite sides of the room.
To their left is a large black wooden door bound by iron straps. The door is nearly eight feet tall, almost reaching the ceiling, and appears immensely heavy.
Opposite this impressive portal is an identical door except that the door is white.
Conrad jogs over to the black door, opens it, and peeks through. He repeats the action with the white door before anyone can regain enough composure to react.
“There’s a room behind each of these doors. The black door is black in the next room and the white is white. It looks like each room has another door of the opposite color to the one we’ll enter. I think it’s a way to keep track of what door is used.”
“Is this some kind of sick game?” Lamia looks like she wants to hit something.
“Conrad,” Jora says, a muscle in his jaw twitching. “Don’t ever do something stupid like that again.”
“I just wanted to look.”
“We’re in a wizard’s lair. For all we know every door is a deathtrap.” He catches the eye of every person in turn.
“From this moment on, we’re adventurers, just like our ancestors. This is not a game anymore, people.”
Safir gives voice to a small shriek and throws herself against Jora’s chest, hiding her face.
“Oh Gods, what now?”
She extends a trembling finger to point across the room but refuses to show her face.
Following her finger, they see a figure which sits against the wall midway around the circle from either door.
The figure wears dust-covered steel armor of archaic design. To Jora, the armor’s design looks even older than the style which he wears. The open-faced helm reveals a withered brown face. Upon closer examination they see that it is not a brown-skinned person, but that the skin has become darkened with age. The person has been dead a long time and all the moisture has fled his (or is it her?) body. The mummy looks like a dry raisin clad in ancient clothing.
There are no indications whether the person was male or female, the face is hairless but many men forego beards.
“Look, there’s a scroll in its hands,” Lamia says.
Lamia and Conrad look at each other. Conrad minutely shakes his head as does Lamia, neither is willing to touch the corpse.
“Oh, for Gods’ sake,” Jora says. He extricates himself from Safir’s grip and walks over to the corpse.
The scroll is made of parchment, yellow with age and probably as fragile as a leaf.
Jora tentatively touches the scroll which, thankfully, does not crumble. With the utmost care, he bends back the fingers of the corpse’s hand. Cracking sounds accompany the action and puffs of a dark dust waft from the joints of the steel gauntlets. Four cracked fingers later, the scroll comes free.
Jora unrolls the scroll slowly; it is surprisingly supple considering its apparent age. The scroll is covered in writing executed with a looping, ancient handwriting style.
The writing is a dark brown, unlike any ink Jora has ever seen. His heart skips a beat when the realization hits, the ink is dried blood.
“What does it say,” Lamia says.
Jora clears his throat and reads the words of the long-dead warrior.
My companions are dead, I alone remain.
I do not know how long I have been wandering through this wizard’s trap. Time does not move cleanly here; I feel that it has been weeks since we entered the tower.
The mirrors did not kill us, it was hunger and thirst. Gods forgive me for the things I had to do to remain alive this long.
If you find this, I pity you, friend, for you are trapped. I never found my way through the maze nor have I had enough courage to touch all the mirrors and make my way through all the alternate shadows of this dungeon. I only made one right choice and grasped the blue of the sky. I fear I shall die soon, trapped and lost.
Should you win your way free, make your way to Dragon’s Hollow and tell my Ingrid that I loved her and did not stay away willingly.
Gods have mercy on me. I know not the day, but we entered this hell on the fourth day of Harna in the third year of the reign of Kellam IV.
May the Gods smile on you as they have not upon me.
Saval of Dragon’s Hollow.
“Kellam the fourth?” Lamia counts on her fingers, muttering beneath her breath and then looks up with a shocked expression. “That was over two hundred years ago.”
“We’re going to die here,” Safir wails.
“Shut up,” Jora says more forcefully than he intends. “We’re not going to die. We’re going to be smarter and braver than this Saval fellow.
“So what do we do,” Conrad asks.
“We’re going to go through one of these doors and see where it takes us. We’re going to approach this like hero adventurers, not children. I’ll take point. Conrad, you bring up the rear. Lamia and Safir will be in the middle as we move.”
“You’re not going to stick me in the middle just because I’m a girl,” Lamia says.
“That’s not it at all. Conrad and I are just better armed. It’s a smart marching order in case of any threat.”
Jora leans in and whispers in her ear. “Also, I need you to keep an eye on Safir, she’s not dealing with this well.”
Lamia gives the still weeping Safir a pitying look and nods.
“Alright fearless leader, where do we go?”
What choice should the adventurers make?