Riddles? You cannot answer riddles when no one knows you are there. You crawl back into the skyship and step back into fate. Tail flicking, the lioness observes you as you emerge from the airship. Mei Mei dances circles around you as you stand next to Chiyoko.
Masaru stands tall and folds his hand behind his back. “I’m a member of this circle too.”
Aiko rolls her eyes. “Of course you are member of this circle, Masaru.”
“Why do you keep fucking ditching me?” He takes a deep breath to calm himself. “Whatever we decide, we should stay together. “
“What is your opinion, Svante?” Chiyoko asks.
“We should try for the Hearthstone room. If we can claim this manse, we may get in less trouble for crashing the ship.” And it delays having to explain everything to Elder Kejak. You imagine Elder Kejak waiting outside of the manse, his long face etched with disappointment.
“What do we do if we get a question wrong?” Masaru counters.
Chiyoko draws her sword and ignites it. “We deal with the lioness.”
“Three against one. We go to the Hearthstone room” Aiko relays the group’s decision to the lioness. The Ruby Lioness rises and pads her way past the broken fountain. She sits in front of a door on the far side of the courtyard.
“What always runs but never walks, has a bed but never sleeps, has a mouth but never eats?”
“River” you answer instantly. You have heard this riddle. You retrieved a memory of you and Sasha playing riddle games as children.
“Svante!” Aiko hisses. “We should discuss the riddle before we give an answer.”
“But I already knew the answer.” You turn towards the lioness. “River what the right answer, correct?”
The lioness inclines her head and leaps out of the way of the door. The door pushes open at a touch. “See?”
Aiko exchanges a look with Chiyoko. Chiyoko sighs. “Svante, back at the skyship you said you were in charge and we had to do what you say.”
“Um….” You were an asshole back on the airship. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“In what way did you mean it?” Aiko crosses her arms.
You scratch the back of your head. “If it is my mission, I should be in charge.”
“Svante, you haven’t been in class with us.” Masaru explains. “You know more about Dragonblooded than most, but you don’t have enough tactical knowledge to be in charge.”
“Chuzei Enki was dying. Only resistance charms were keeping him upright.” Chiyoko adds. You remember the pebble the Chuzei was running though his fingers.
“I was trying to save everyone.” You counter. “And I would have too if it wasn’t for Sunan.”
“You robbed him of an honorable death.” Chiyoko replies.
You scowl. “That’s stupid. Death is never certain. Why not try to save everyone?”
Chiyoko looks at Aiko for assistance. “He doesn’t understand. He’s not Dragonblooded.”
“Svante, this is what I am talking about,” Masaru explains. “We can’t work together if we aren’t on the same wavelength.”
You did not want anyone to die for you. Not for such a stupid reason. “What, I’m not going to let you commit suicide? Because that is what an honorable death sounds like to me.”
“It not about dying, you idiot.” Aiko starts.
“We talk about it later.” Chiyoko interrupts. “We discuss the riddles in a group, even if one of us knows the answer.”
“Because the answer you know could be wrong.” Aiko adds with a smirk.
You snort at Aiko’s comment and follow Chiyoko and the others down the hallway. The Ruby lioness leads you past a mural of…. You are not really sure of what. The mural does not make any sense. Trees, if you could call them trees, grow out of the sky… They were made of bark, branches, and leaves but everything was put together wrong. The veins in the leaves did not run down the middle….
“This mural was painted by the former master of this manse.” The lioness’ voice breaks the spell of the painting. “He invented the artistic style called Wyld-touched. Each color of paint was ground by claw in the Bordermarshes.”
You avoid studying the mural as you walk past. The lioness sits by another door and ask, “Feed me and I live, give me drink, and I die. What am I?”
You remember this riddle too. You stay quiet as Aiko translates.
“I don’t know,” Chiyoko admits. Masaru shrugs.
Aiko thinks for a moment. “It’s fire. You feed fire wood and it grows. If you pour water on it, it goes out.”
You nod. “That makes sense to me.” Aiko relays the group’s answer.
Beyond the door is a spiral staircase. More traditional landscapes line the walls. Akachi would love this manse. Your guardian used to take you to various art exhibits around creation, until he realized your lack of interest.
You pause at a gap in the paintings. “What was here?”
The lioness walks down past Masaru down stairs. She stares at the blank spot on the wall as if this is the first time she noticed it. “I have no record of any art in this spot. The former master had not completed his collection before the lockdown.” She continues up the stairs.
You stare at the spot and try to remember.
“Is something wrong?” Chiyoko asks when you do not continue up the stairs.
You grasp at a wisp of a memory so old it was before Rikali. “It was a village. Laughing woman were stomping grapes. The vineyard trekked back towards the mountains and the horizon….” The memory fades. “It’s gone.”
“How do you know what was here if you have never been to this manse before?” Aiko questions.
You ignore her and join the lioness at the top of the stairs. The lioness recites the next riddle. “What has roots nobody sees and is taller than the trees? Up, up, up, it goes and yet it never grows?”
You translate the riddle and add, “I remember this riddle from when I was kid. It’s a mountain.”
“Yes,” Aiko frowns. “These riddles are too easy.”
“That’s good right?” Masaru asks.
“These riddles are the security system.” You explain. “If you make the riddles too easy how do you keep anyone out?”
Chiyoko, flaming sword in hand, glances back down the staircase. “We have no choice but to keep going.”
You continue down another long hallway of artwork. You pass a couple more empty spots. The lioness stops by another closed door. “At night, they come without being brought. By day, they are lost without being stolen. What are they?”
“Dreams,” Aiko offers to the group.
“No,” you disagree. “it’s stars.”
Aiko shakes her head. “Don’t let being a Sidereal color your perception. It’s dreams. You don’t remember dreams when you wake up.”
“But sometimes you do. All stars are lost when the sun rises.”
“The stars are still there guiding fate. We just can’t see them.”
“So they are lost to sight but not stolen.”
Masaru tentatively adds. “I agree with Svante. So far, no riddle has been about an abstract concept.”
“Maybe that is what the manse’s security system wants you to think,” Aiko retorts.
“You don’t give hints, do you?” You ask the lioness.
You smack your forehead. “This is stupid. We can just ask my spider.” You pull your pattern spider out of your pocket and repeat the riddle to it. A thread of fate hands down and the spider begins to climb.
Swat! A ruby paw swats the spider down. Your pattern spider attempts to flee, but the lioness catches the spider by the leg. The Spider struggles against the lioness’ mouth. Pop! A leg detaches from the spider. Your pattern spider limps back and curls up in your pocket.
The lioness swallows the starmetal leg and licks her lips. “No cheating.”
A stunned silence follow. You have never seen anything stop a pattern spider in its duty.
“What is star in Spirit Speech, Svante?” Chiyoko prompts
Everyone waits. The lioness considers your answer. “Correct.”
The lioness pushes open the door with her nose and reveals the last hallway. No artwork hangs in this hallway. Blacken clay tiles cover the ceiling, walls, and floor. The stench of burning soot burns your nose. The lioness waits for you by a large set of ornate red jade doors. Carvings of dancing people engulfed in flames decorate the door. Wait. The people are not dancing. Their faces twist in agony as they burn.
Chiyoko studies the room and says, “Masaru, you are right. This was a stupid idea.”
“Too late now,” He replies in a small voice.
“We will be fine.” Aiko stands before the lion. “Ask the last riddle.”
“The past four riddles have had a common theme. What is it?”
What is the common theme of the riddles asked by the Lioness?