The orange lines spread across the floor and up the sides of the alcove until the hollow was crisscrossed by a net of orange. It surrounded the Keystone, but Britta had no idea what it meant.
“What’s happening?” asked Dad.
“It’s drawn a bunch of lines on the floor,” she said.
“Like a grid?”
“And the hole’s in the middle?”
“Yes, exactly.” He seemed to have a very clear picture of it in his head, so it felt like he’d come across something like this before. “Do you know what I’m supposed to do?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe. Are there any numbers on the edges.”
If it was a grid, it could be a map. It might even lead her to the location of the six keys. She bent down and inspected the lines more carefully. There were no numbers that she could see. No text, either.
“Nope. Nothing. Just the lines.”
“Is there any way you can make the room go back to its normal position?”
Britta straightened up and looked around. She had thought she could run back the way she’d come to get the room to tip over in the opposite direction, but now she realised that would be more difficult than she first thought. The floor had gone completely vertical and everything felt quite stable.
The ground here wasn’t shifting as she moved around. She got out of the alcove and walked back and forth, avoiding the pools of lava that hadn’t drained away. The ground was solid underfoot and showed no signs of tilting.
Even if she had the HP to spare, or a bunch of potions to make up the shortfall, how was she supposed to get to the exit?
There had to be a way. One that any character had access to, not just the ones who could levitate.
She wasn’t thinking clearly. The way she’d made the grid appear hadn’t been by using her brain, it had been more or less luck. And Dad goading her.
Why was she so resistant to taking the longer, more time-consuming route? She wanted shortcuts and quick solutions. She was constantly trying to do less to get more, as though that was the secret to success.
She had a good look around. Somewhere was a way out. It had been put here in order for her to find it. Whether by Nigel or the devs, or a mixture of both, the point wasn’t to trap her. No one wanted her to fail.
Britta sat down on the lip of the alcove with her short, hairy legs dangling down. She made her ball of light as bright as she could and looked for any more patches of differently coloured stone.
There were some, but not as uniform in appearance as the one she’d pressed. Once she’d seen it, she knew it had been put there on purpose. The lines around it had been too exact, too straight to be produced by random chance. Once you saw it, you knew. You just had to be willing to look.
On top of which, if the room had been the right way around, she would have stepped on it even if she hadn’t seen it. They had designed it to be found.
But they wouldn’t use the same approach twice, probably.
You step on the square, activate the grid, then… what was the logical next step?
She stood up and positioned herself where she’d be if the floor was still a wall. She was at ninety degrees to the alcove rather than standing in it like in a telephone booth, but she could imagine what it would look like.
The Keystone hole would be in front of her with the lines spreading out from the middle. Everything started from the middle.
Did she need to find the keys first? Was she supposed to have found them already? Or could she put something else in the hole?
She brought her light closer to get a better look. Then she put the glowing ball in the hole.
It was on a whim, really. What could it hurt? It was about the right size to fit, and light would be something most players would have with them. A candle, a torch.
There was an immediate effect. The orange lines began glowing, just like the lava. She could feel heat emanating from them. If she’d been standing in the alcove instead of over it, she might have taken damage.
But she was supposed to be standing in it. That’s how they had made it, so she would be in the alcove, facing the Keystone.
She climbed back into the hollow. If it killed her, so be it. But she wanted to follow her line of thought through to the end. Her bare feet tingled. She checked her health bar. She wasn’t taking damage.
She got down onto her knees and then lay down on her stomach. She felt a bit dumb, especially with the people at APE watching, but it was the position she would have been in if she could stand.
It was almost pleasant, like being on a tanning bed. Her feet pressed against the stone pressure pad.
She waited, but nothing happened. The Keystone was further up. She shimmied along until she had it at eye-level. She wouldn’t have been able to do that if the room had been on its intended axis. Not without a box to stand on.
She looked into the Keyhole with one eye, like it was a telescope. Everything went orange. Then white. Then she was looking down on three people talking. The Mayor, the kobold king and a third man, very fat and dressed in black.
“First,” said the Mayor, “we kill the gnome girl.”
“Agreed,” said the other two.
If you have a moment, please vote for the story on TWF. Just click the button below.Afterword from Mooderino