Dice of Destiny
The wall fell into a crumpled heap of mud brick, bathed in dust. After a few hacking coughs, two figures emerged from the hole, one holding a lantern and the other a couple of heavy tomes.
“Mr. Mayflower, I admit that this tomb is fascinating and indeed as old as you said, but I see nothing that could be of even remote importance to our research on the old civilizations of the Lost Desert,” the haughty voice spoke out.
“Don’t worry, sir, you will be pleasantly surprised,” the Wocky with the lantern panted excitedly, clearing the rubble and running down the forgotten hall.
Teeming with hieroglyphs and mysterious pictures of ages long gone, the tomb was a beautifully preserved specimen of a place that time had forgotten. Near where modern day Sakhmet stood was once a lovely and prosperous city of Araj, but how it disappeared was a mystery. Even the daily lives of the inhabitants were unknown, and save for broken pottery there was very little with which to work with.
The tomb would change everything.
The portly Quiggle with the books and a trimmed beard reached the excited Wocky at last, wheezing slightly.
The hallway opened into a beautiful open room engraved in pictures and glyphs, where there stood three doorways. In the center of the room was a risen platform, dusty but intact.
“By Fyora’s wings, what is this?” the Quiggle asked, adjusting his spectacles.
Mayflower smiled. “It is a game.”
The Wocky grinned at his superior’s outrage. “Not just any game, a magical one,” he soothed. “It can open the doors to this place, and tell us about Araj! Chester, please.”
The professor sighed and stepped up to the platform, a scowl etched upon his features. “What is it?”
Mayflower brushed some dust aside. “About two months ago I got lost here and found myself in this room. This game was so confusing, so enrapturing, that I almost lost consciousness from the lack of water. But then my expedition recovered me and we escaped. I remembered the game, and I finally realized how to play!”
The board itself was odd, a rim surrounding a rectangular playing field. Held on top were nine scarab-shaped slots, each with a number tile above. Below it was a smaller rectangle with a traditional Hissi engraved, and further down was a pair of glowing golden dice.
“Interesting.” The Quiggle reached for the dice but Mayflower pushed him aside.
“No,” he said before Chester could retort, “I will play. Touch those dice and you are doomed to play for eternity. I only managed to escape the bondage as I was quite gone by the time my friends found me.”
Professor Chester raised his stubby arms without complaint and stepped aside.
“So what do you do, Mayflower?”
And he rolled the golden dice.
A smile danced upon the lips of the king.
“My Master Builder, this Knowledge Tomb is beautiful. It will preserve our glorious history for many moons indeed.”
The Shoyru bowed low, pleased by the praise. “All for you, your Highness.”
The shadow Krawk touched the plastered walls of the tomb with an elegant claw, cocking his head in puzzlement.
“Ur-dun, what measures of protection have you implemented? I will not have my wonderful Tomb of Knowledge desecrated.”
The Shoyru fidgeted for a few moments, took a deep breath and then calmed down. “Honestly, sir, we just used the usual. Traps – all very efficient mind you – and puzzles.”
The King of Araj scowled.
“Tenebraeus, my lord, I was hoping that you would offer us some suggestions. You are very wise and efficient in magic. Truly, magic is the best protection a tomb can have? Even one that guards knowledge, not a king.”
The Krawk beheld the purple Shoyru with deep hazel eyes that seemed to conceal a wisdom that accumulated throughout the ages. The Master Builder was always in awe of his superior, who even though he had seen over a hundred cycles of the sun was still seemingly very young in face and limb.
Maybe it was one of the many benefits of using magic?
“There is indeed a puzzle, my friend, which can do a great service to the protection of this place,” Tenebraeus said at last, his expression that of a thoughtful scholar. “But I need your finest stone masons to do as I say. Are they up to the task, Ur-dun?”
Ur-dun nodded solemnly, feeling oddly excited. “I will get them. Are there any materials you need, Shining One?”
“A block of good stone, leaves of gold, and the masons’ tools of the trade. Nothing more,” Tenebraeus announced.
At once, the Master Builder offered his master a low bow before rushing out of the tomb to find the masons.
Of course, he quickly found six volunteers to help with this puzzle that King Tenebraeus was plotting to make. A lovely stone block was found, and the gold as well. When everything was gathered, it was dragged down the polished floors of the tomb, right to the main chamber. Curiously, Tenebraeus hadn't moved from his position since Ur-dun left.
“Carve the block into a rectangular platform. Make the edges perfect; a single flaw shall ruin the wonder of this puzzle,” the Krawk commanded.
The masons set to work immediately. Their hammers, chisels, adzes and other tools made short work of the stone. Using mathematical calculations to assure precise measurements, the masons managed to finish the task in less than an hour. While they worked, Tenebraeus kept giving them orders as to how the platform would look like. A depression in the middle was added, leaving a barrier two inches high and one inch thick surrounding the top of the block.
Carvings were made all around as per his instructions, and it was not long before the thing was complete. Ur-dun was baffled. It looked like some kind of dice game! How in the world could it serve as veritable protection from those seeking to snuff out Araj’s rich history?
King Tenebraeus seemed to know what his Master Builder was thinking, for he gave him an amused and reassuring glance. The Krawk stepped forward to the lovely block, and as he did his eyes and claws became bathed in a lilac light.
To the astonishment of the assembled, new carvings – instructions – appeared on the side of the block, and the board and the dice developed a mysterious enchantment. The entire room then began to tremble, and a thin stream of light appeared at the three doorways, and thick stones set in place there as if by magic, guarding the rooms that concealed a treasure trove of information from unwanted guests. When all was done, the trembling ceased and the light sputtered and died like a flame in a chill wind, leaving everyone apprehensive.
“Fair friends, fear not my magic. It is protection, after all. You there, Tonu, come to my creation.” Tenebraeus smiled.
The stout Tonu looked at his comrades with a hint of fear before stepping forward to his mage-king.
“Roll those dice, if you please.”
The Tonu reached forward and took the dice that were plated with gold. Suddenly, his eyes widened, and the masons and their master gasped.
“Roll the dice, mason,” Tenebraeus commanded.
The Tonu mason rolled the dice, and they landed to reveal a four and a two. Without prompt, the Tonu reached for the number six token at the top of the board, and as his stubby fingers touched the number it rapidly flipped to reveal a side engraved with a scarab.
Again he rolled, and again, and again. Finally, he cried out with fright.
“My lord, I wish not to play this game, but I cannot move from the board!”
As if the enchantment that kept the mason to the game was but a veil, the shadow Krawk simply lifted it with his hand and the poor Tonu ran back to his fellows, visibly shaken from the experience. Indeed, none were left untouched.
“Five rounds, fewer rolls in each round. Each roll decides your fate...” Tenebraeus chuckled. “Upon finishing the board before your turns run out, a spell is lifted from the rooms. And you cannot leave the board until you win, or fail.”
The King of Araj drew his flail across the room in a sweeping motion, a childish grin upon his lips.
“The perfect trap,” breathed Ur-dun, eyes wide. “But master, what happens if you lose?”
“Nothing?” Ur-dun echoed.
“Of course. After all, the frustration of nothing is much more effective than anything else. My friends, you have borne witness to the Dice of Fate. No, the Dice of Destiny, for if one is truly gifted – and lucky – to win, then they shall have a great destiny ahead of them indeed.”
Mayflower rolled the dice, beads of sweat popping up upon his brow.
Every few moments the tomb shook, and the trembling was becoming more frequent. With every round that he completed, it felt as if a heavy blanket was taken off the atmosphere of the room. By the grace of hidden spirits, he reached the last round and was only a few rolls away from finishing. There was one number left on the board, a nine, yet each of his rolls seemed unsuccessful.
Professor Chester was gripping his books, frightened beyond imagining, watching as dust from the ceiling of the tomb fell upon his spectacles. “Mayflower... are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Yes, yes,” the Wocky responded, sticking his tongue out for concentration and begging the dice to keep him in luck.
One more roll.
Blowing on the golden cubes, shaking them quietly, the Wocky dropped them. They chipped at the board as they fell; rolling so slowly that it seemed as if time itself was saving him from the terrible moment. The chances of getting a nine were low.
Suddenly, one of the dice stopped and landed on a six. Crossing his fingers, Mayflower watched as the other spun on a vertex, slowing down too slowly, and then stopping at long last on a number that filled him with release.
With feverish haste, the Wocky touched the nine, watching with joy as it flipped and disappeared. The board was cleared, and the tomb began to shake. Another, final layer was lifted, and at the same time the blocks of stone at the doorways shimmered and faded, revealing something within that would change the course of Neopian history. The two archaeologists walked to the first doorway, mouths hanging, astonished by what lay beyond. And as they crossed the threshold from present to past, a voice seemed to echo though the chambers like a gentle wind.
“- Then they shall have a great destiny ahead of them indeed.”