The Casebook of Skasis Fane: K-ASHER (pt. 4)
“Just like in an airport,” Erfin murmured to herself. The guards had already come for her and Thor, so she was obediently making her way to her possible doom. To make things worse, soon the corridor divided in two, and she was separated from her possible guide. “We still gonna participate in the same event, are we?”“Stop talking!” The guard puncher her under the shoulder-blade.“Freaks no geeks,” Erfin snarled and dodged the stick aiming for her eye. “I asked you a question. Or do you understand the fist language only?”She did not receive any response, but was thrown onto the floor, and the door slammed shut between her. Immediately, yelling and rooting, although muffled, made her feel as if she was underwater, metaphorical bells ringing in her head. Cursing under her breath, Erfin sat up and saw that she was in an empty hexagonal room with a door in each of its walls. Those doors would be identical if it were not for the patterns on them – those were the faces of a playing die, each with a different number of dots.“I’m Mr. King Dice, I’m the game’st in the land, I never play nice, I’m the devil’s right hand man,” Erfin hummed, attempting not to allow herself to freak out. “Right then. Guess this place is full of traps. K-ASHER!”The third sector of device on her hand flashed silver, and Erfin found herself in the adult body again. Having let out a loud exhale to calm down, she examined the doors once again. Five, three, six, two, one, four; the first one was the entrance and locked for now. Erfin flexed her fingers to prepare a lightning bolt and pushed the door numbered one. It led to a similar hexagonal room with six doors, so Erfin almost felt disappointed. The damn electricity zap in her hand made it tremble, so she shook it off and strained her ears. Now she could hear laughing. No, not laughing, cackling. And more rooting. Erfin felt her insides curl up: she knew for sure that this rooting was not for her, but against her. She walked through three more rooms in complete silence, but the sixth one made her open the door with a kick and howl with distress. It was not the similarity of the rooms and not that she was stuck here. Erfin didn’t want to confess to herself that she was lost and didn’t know what to do. She sat cross-legged on the floor and stared at the device on the back of her hand.Cyan, red and silver. Rhodie, Hamish and herself. Wish one of them was here, Erfin thought not without another attack of anger at herself. They’re experienced… but once they were just like me. Newbies. And what do newbies do? They learn. Only now Erfin realized that she was instinctively following the one through six number sequence when entering the previous doors. But this did not give any results. So it’s not working, and there are much more numbers than six here, she summed up. Then she tried to recall the sequence of turns, but this only made her mind boil. Going round in circles was not an option.Erfin tugged on the handle of the door she had just passed, but it did not open. “Superheroes do not dumbly wait!” she shot out. “Superheroes find a way out!”Roar of collective laughter from far away followed. Erfin sneered:“Yes, I will find a way out! And I’m gonna win this game!”The voices faded, but Erfin got what she wanted. She supposed that the exit could be in the direction of the main public, so she entered the door which could lead her in that direction. This time she yelped two or three offensive phrases in every room, putting as much poison in them as she could, until the laughter began turning into booing.“In your face!” Erfin exclaimed, having realized that she was coming closer to the source of anti-rooting. Then she recalled the numbers on the doors which she had entered one by one. “Six, one, three, four, two, five… Gosh, is it as easy as that?” she groaned, a bit disappointed with herself. “Riiiiight, it’s dice! Two opposite sides form seven if added! At least now I know the pattern!”After passing some more rooms she made sure that her guess was correct: the booing intensified, and she could’ve sworn she saw insects crawling on the ceiling. Metal insects. “I’ve seen it somewhere,” Erfin murmured. “Playing dice and insects… Pop culture expert, damn it all!”“Erfin? Is that you?” One of the doors opened, and a long golden mane appeared. This time Erfin had to fight the urge to run and give Thor a bone-crushing hug, for her nerve was about to be lost. “Of course it’s me,” she snapped instead, doing her best to play cool. “I told you that you have more hair in your ear than a monkey when we first met,” she added. “Yeah, I was privileged to hear that,” Thor replied. “Besides, there’s no one else here except for the labyrinth monster.”“Freaking Minotaur, you mean?”“Don’t remember its real name.”“Why are you this calm, Thor? Or should I call you Theseus, if so?”“This task is considered to be one of the easiest,” Thor explained. “Mainly because it does not require physical strength as much as mind work. I’ve passed it a couple of times. If we win, there’s a chance that my siblings won’t have to participate.”“So you’re not sure? Last time you said it, you were sure that they won’t have to.”“If I were playing alone, it would’ve been for sure.”Erfin felt a prick of guilt: after all, she wanted to help Thor, and it came out that her presence here made it worse.“I hate making promises,” she confessed, “but now I promise I’ll scare the dayliving lights out of those who dare touch my siblings or yours.”This time she heard hissing, raised her head and regretted that she did it, for the sight of a striped metal snake slithering across the ceiling made her half-sick. It certainly shouldn’t have twirled so much if it was imitating the real one… Striped? Twirling? Dice?“The Nightmare before Christmas!” Erfin exclaimed, having made a group of metal bugs on the closest wall scatter every which way. “Oogie Boogie Man! That’s who’s here! Damn Oogie Boogie Man! Are we gonna play roulette with him?!”“Roulette?” Thor parroted, confused.“Guess you’ve never had a chance to learn what it is,” Erfin recalled. “It’s a game based on pure luck… Wait a mo’, you said that you’ve passed this challenge more than once. Are there different… monsters each time?”“Guess so. During my first time it was a man with a bull’s head, and then a red man with horns.”“This time it’ll be a living bag full of bugs,” Erfin informed and shuddered upon this thought: the corresponding movie scene had always made her shiver. But Thor didn’t need to know about it, so she gallantly went on: “But now I am Captain Sparklefingers, and no metal bugs will stand in my way. And yours as well.”Her first prediction came true after four more doors. Erfin could’ve sworn it was the genuine Oogie Boogie from the movie if she didn’t spot a tiny hole in its side, through which metal insects filling it could be seen.“Allow me. I know where their soft spots are usually located,” Thor muttered, backing away to the wall as slowly as he could. The bag-like creature made such motion as if it was smelling the air. “The previous time there were scales and hairs…”“Get to the core,” Erfin snapped almost too loudly, figuring out that the Oogie Boogie would be confused if it heard (if it could hear at all) two creatures from different sides. She crept to the opposite wall, attempting to keep focused on both the ‘bag of bugs’ and Thor.“I mean, those usually have lots of little tiny bits,” Thor explained syllable by syllable. “One or two of them mark the faults. Like nails become rusty… I guess no one has greased them or taken care of them.”“Show me a movie where a character greases their car,” Erfin murmured. “How am I going to determine the weak spot?.. Right then! I don’t care!” she roared, tackled the fake Oogie Boogie and whacked it against the floor, having made it immobile for a moment. That was enough for her to tug on the rope on the top of its head, dive her hand inside and send a lightning which made her shake from head to toe for some moments (although it seemed much longer to her). “Should be fried… This is how it’s done.”“Wow,” Thor only managed to let out. “I didn’t think you could do things like that.”“Neither did I,” Erfin confessed, kicking the now immobile smoking bag of bugs to make sure it wasn’t going to attack again. “Now what?”“I think you should not transform back. They will see what you’re capable of and may do the dirty on you. For now let’s search for the exit… and I don’t think that ruining this place to the ground would be the best option,” Thor stated: Erfin had already begun gathering more electric energy in her palms.“Dammit,” Erfin sighed, allowing the collected energy to dissolve. “You’re no Tesla.”Skasis kept his mouth shut along the way, mainly because he didn’t want to throw up. During his short life it had never happened to him, but now the sensation was just that – he knew that for a fact, maybe because of the residual memories of his four parts. Pewds was poker-faced, and it couldn’t be said clearly about Tardis, but her breathing became tenser as the place where they were led was closer and closer.“Now get out,” one of the guards snapped. Finally they were pushed into a pitch-dark place, the door was slammed shut behind them, and Skasis closed his eyes because the light that flashed on seemed too bright for him. When his sight got used to it, he took some deep breaths to calm down, for the impression was as if he was in the middle of a letter hurricane. Every square inch of the walls of this not so large space was covered in words at impossible angles, upside down and inside out, layers and layers of painted, printed, drawn, handwritten words in all possible languages and then some. As a Timelord, Skasis was well-versed in languages, but only in theory – he had never had a proper chance to apply this skill to practice. It worked kind of automatically. Only when he had had to interact with merpeople, whose language was unlike any sensible one, he had had to use the telepathic translation device. “Movable pictures,” Tardis said.“What do you mean by that?” Skasis asked. “Movies?”“Movable pictures,” Tardis repeated. “Those which could be moved… at will. Some watched others move those pictures.”“Some watched others… Wait, Tardis, you mean video games? And let’s plays?”Tardis did not reply, but Pewds did:“That’s just it. My clan is keen on those movable pictures. Some of them required brains. Coded messages and hidden meanings needed to proceed.”“Coded messages?” Skasis glanced at his hand device. Its silver sector had turned off, and he secretly hoped that Erfin was fine.“The worst part. Made me totally lose my religion,” Pewds replied, wrinkling his nose. “I learned them the hard way. See how skinny I am? One undeciphered code, and I was left without breakfast or lunch. Every day. Every. Darn. Day.” “My cousin Harkness once had to participate in a similar challenge,” Tardis informed, studying the pattern of letters and hieroglyphs above the ceiling. “Thank goodness he stayed alive, but he turned completely bonkers after that.”“Did he tell you anything about the keys to these codes?” Skasis asked, the temptation to transform beginning taking over him.“He managed to break some simpler ones.” Tardis began ticking her fingers off. “1 means A, 2 means B, 3 means C and so on. Also some half-letter ones…” she crouched, wrote her name on the dusty floor and rubbed the right halves of the letters off, “and letter stacks,” she wrote her name again, this time writing each letter over the previous, so in the end it was more like an absurd logo. “But nothing more.”“If those are simpler, then I have no idea what the complex ones are,” Skasis admitted. “Did you have to solve ones like those, Pewds?”“Yes, sometimes. But those related to numbers and labyrinths were more frequent. There are lots of empty room blocks out there,” Pewds waved his hand to the side, “and I had to search for… hidden eggs?.. there.”Skasis walked along the longer wall, searching for anything sensible. Sometimes familiar phrases or chunks of them could be spotted. “Winter is coming”. “I don’t give a damn.” “I see you.” “Elementary.” “Fantastic.” “I’ve heard those phrases like a million times from various members of other clans,” Tardis said and pointed at the first one. “They use ones like this as greetings.”Having recalled his success with reading a note that had been complete gibberish for the rest of his pals after the first transformation, Skasis stubbornly continued studying the word and letter patterns, but to no avail. Pewds and Tardis did not achieve anything either.A distant roar of laughter, followed by almost soundless ‘I – hate – them’ from Pewds, approved that they were going round in circles. Finally Skasis’s patience ran out, even though he felt as if he was about to cheat.“No worries, I’m still on your side,” he stated, preparing for the worst. Even though he had made sure that Tardis and Pewds were not his foes, he still believed they could react in any possible way, including not the best options.“Skasis?.. What are you doing?” Pewds asked.“Here goes nothing… K-ASHER!”At first it seemed to Skasis that the surroundings, including his pals in misery, shrunk, but then he looked down, saw his uncharacteristically broad shoulders clad in purple and understood that it worked. In addition the purple section of his device flashed on.“Stop iiiit,” he droned, suppressing his laughter at the sight of dumbfounded Pewds. “I’m not used to this either…” He touched his face and was pleasantly relieved to make sure he hadn’t grown any facial hair (he didn’t want to make sure if it was green like the rest of it).“So all those rubbish tales are true?” Pewds choked out, protectively placing his hands on Tardis’s shoulders.“They’re fictional, but there were times when they predicted stuff,” Skasis shrugged. “No worries, my puny self will return pretty soon… Can you give me some space? Time to make sure that this form has some perks besides height.” He walked around a bit, getting used to this strange new body.This time Skasis’s brain switched on by itself: it began offering various combinations of words on the walls, but none of them made any sense, so he had to close his eyes with his hands not to go blind at least. Skasis Paradigm, he thought to himself and removed his hands from his face, although didn’t open his eyes. There were no patterns as those about which Tardis had told him or half-letters. Only whole ones, completely chaotic… Skasis looked at the wall once more, this time forbidding himself to pay attention to the random combos. If there is an exit, there should be a hint, if any logic stayed in this insane world…“Anything?” Tardis meekly asked.“Nothing,” Skasis replied, disappointed. “There isn’t anything, Tardis. At least regarding what you said… Come on, there has to be a reason why you were given this form, Skasis Fane! Wild Card, dammitall!..”“Card? Did you say card?” Tardis suddenly asked.“Yes, I did. It should’ve been my superhero name, but now it seems…”“Cards,” Tardis repeated. “What are cards? Those pictures showing the world and hung on the walls?”“N-no, Tardis, those are maps,” Skasis corrected.“Harkness was drawing on the walls after he returned from the challenge,” Tardis informed. “He was repeating: cards, cards, cards. You sure?”“I am,” Skasis nodded. “What was he drawing?”“Scrawls. Not even letters, scrawls… Remember, Pewds, you showed me the ancient pictures of the world?”“Yes. There were ways shown on them,” Pewds approved. “Hand-drawn ways. From one point to another.”From one point to another… Faint hope appeared in Skasis’s soul as he recalled the point-connecting puzzles. Only his idea was that those were not points here, but letters!.. His mind immediately reacted with showing pictures of connecting the same letters on the wall, but then he fell down to earth again: no patterns could be spotted among those. It was more of a web made by a drunk spider (to put it lightly), no matter which letter he took as points to be connected.“Pffff… It’s not working, guys. Total mess, nothing more.”“What if those are not letters, but words?” Pewds supposed. “Look, they’re all from various sources. I mean… what if we connect ones from the same source?”“It could work, Pewds!” Skasis approved, hiding his being upset with himself that such easy ideas had not occurred to him earlier. But then another reason to be upset appeared. “Erm… how are we going to recognize which phrase belongs to which source?”Pewds made up an oh-you-idiot expression:“Are you talking to me? You haven’t grown in this world! As a bad apple, I had to do something at least to get noticed by the genuine members of my clan. And learning the mottos and phrases of each clan was one of the easiest ways! Leave it to me!”“You just have to tell me the correct sources, I’ll remember,” Skasis said aloud and begged to himself that his brain wouldn’t get stuck in midway.For the first time Pewds’s face was brightened up with… no, it was not a smile, it was a distant shade of it, but still contrasting with his constant gloomy mask. It was more of triumph than of joy. Then he turned to the wall, and his long finger traced along the phrases, both distinguishable and not:“Game of Thrones… Gravity Falls… Supernatural… Adventure Time…”“Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa, wait a minute, wait a minute! How do you know?” Skasis shot out, having noticed that Pewds labeled the ‘hing, Jo’ chunk as ‘Game of Thrones’.“Bah! Wake me in the middle of the night, and I’ll tell you which fragment belongs to which source!” Pewds snapped. “And fonts are important as well… Sherlock-Supernatural-Fran Bow-Undertale…” he went on at insane speed before wheezing and stopping to catch his breath. Tardis understood and caught up.Not less than twenty minutes passed before the vision was clear before Skasis’s eyes: the words from the same sources formed human shapes in various poses which he immediately attempted to recreate.“Erm… Skasis… what are you doing?” Tardis asked, observing his motions.“Do these gestures have specific meaning in your world?” Skasis asked in return, stretching his right arm and bending the left one so that the shoulder was pressed to his side and the forearm was pointing forward. Tardis tapped at the bottom of her mask:“What are the other ones?”Skasis lowered his arms, standing straight, then put his right leg to the side and his right hand on his hip. “Okay…” Pewds stated cautiously.The next gesture was similar to the first, but with putting the right leg forward. Then Tardis snapped her fingers:“Got it! Those are letters! A codeword or something! Do them again, Skasis, do them again!”Skasis obeyed, his mind gears creaking with the absence of logic. No wonder: maybe he would’ve realized it sooner if he could take a detached view of himself.“F-I-R-E A-N-D B-L-O-O-D,” Tardis spelled, following Skasis’s movements. “Fire and blood, fire and blood… This is the greeting of one of those Throne clans, I guess the strictest one.”“Which?” Skasis asked.“Tarren… Targo… geez, I can’t even spell its name.” Tardis spread her hands. “And what do we have to do with it? None of us would fit its standards.”Skasis rubbed his chin, trying to figure out the next step.“And what are the greetings of your clans?”“Like and subscribe,” Pewds replied.“Doctor Who?” Tardis added.“No, I don’t think it’s gonna work. I mean, this room was designed not specifically for your clan members, but for anybody… Where’s the pop culture expert when she’s needed?” Skasis groaned. “Bet Erfin would’ve cracked this puzzle in no time… What other greetings are there?”Pewds began counting on his fingers:“Winter is coming… Hear me roar… We do not sow… Ours is the fury… Elementary… Trust no one… Everybody lies…”“Is that a motto list or a conspiracy theory script?” Now Skasis was so irritated that he couldn’t keep himself from commenting. “I’ve got a feeling that these greetings won’t get us anywhere. Greetings, greetings… What other attributes do clans have? Flags, maybe?”“I don’t know about flags, but there are coats of arms,” Tardis answered. “Ours is the blue police box on the black starry background.”“The coat of arms of those who use the Fire and Blood greeting is a three-headed dragon, and there are three of us,” Pewds supposed. “Nah, it’s not gonna work. There are only words here…”Skasis examined the walls once again, attempting to find any other patterns on the mad map of sources which was now burnt into his brain. This didn’t work either, for the only patterns were the letter-forming silhouettes. Words, words, three words…“Goodness’s sake, I’m an idiot. That couldn’t be simpler,” Skasis said aloud. “I think we need to find those three words in this chaos. All other words should repeat themselves, but those three… although ‘and’ is a widespread one… Scan those two walls, and I’ll take the widest one, okay? Or no. I’ll do it myself. There’s still no use of me other than this.”“I don’t think so,” Pewds hummed.The sped-up mind quickly distinguished the required words. And indeed, they were located on some kind of flat buttons – almost indistinguishable from pieces of paper glued to the wall to the touch. Most primitive mechanism disguised as a grandiose riddle, Skasis thought. How ironic.