Chapter 24 - Riddles

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By the time the knock came to wake Hydro, he was already dressed in a boiled, mottled-gray rhinoskin breastplate strapped at the sides. A coat of chainmail hung over him, protecting any uncovered flesh. His cotton pants allowed air to circulate through the day, and the black-leather boots would be comfortable enough with the foot-length sack of down feathers placed in the bottom of each.

The necklace he seized in the first trial stared back at him from the dresser drawer he hid it in. He wanted to find out more about its history, but so far he had only uncovered what Cain told him before the first trial—that if this was the prize, then it could make denied blessed and grant Hydro the ability to use power even if the source was not physically present.

Wear me, Prince Paen. Together our bond will win this trial. The girl's voice was enthralling; since the first trial, it had caused Hydro to pick it up multiple times. But when he did so, the scales would clench down, biting his fingers and drawing little specs of blood. The trance would break then. Or others would come and knock on his door, like what happened the day before with Cain.

"May I help you?" Hydro had said. He had just started skimming The History of Epoch.

"You took the labyrinth's prize?"

"I do not know what you are talking about." Hydro tried to close the door.

"Eirek told me he saw you pick up a necklace. . . . Where is it?"

"I picked it up, yes, but left it there."

Cain searched his eyes. Hydro didn't blink. "You lie." Cain tried to move past Hydro.

"I would not think about that, Prince." Hydro grabbed the hilt of his blade.

Cain traced his arm diagonally down, then looked back at Hydro. "The prize belongs to Epoch. To my family."

"Your family will need a new prize now."

Cain's brows furrowed. Hydro unsheathed his sword a little—just enough to hear it come out from the scabbard. After that, Cain left without a word, and Hydro went back to studying his dry text—receiving no additional answers.

If you wear me, the others will not be able to steal me. Keep me for yourself.

He put a piece of clothing over it and pushed the drawer back in place. The last thing I need in a trial of wit is my own leaving me in the form of a talking necklace.

After Hydro sized himself up in the mirror, he made his way to the lobby and found he was the only contestant there. To the left of Guardian Eska, Senator Numos stood with his cane out in front of him, the dark-gray mockingbird sigil as poignant as ever on his overflowing silk robe. A vast majority of the lobby was illuminated by the light filtering in through the stained-glass windows on the side of the lobby's door. Above, half-circles—one red and one blue—symbolized the rising suns. 

Conseleigh Luvan led the other council members as they made their way down the winding steps. He wore a buttery-yellow silk shirt with lines of black and buttons of silver. The outfit gave Luvan an albino appearance; his eyes looked more russet than usual. At the rear, a younger man in his late thirties wore an orange fleece, nearly matching the color of his hair. If Hydro remembered correctly, his name was Riagan. And Ethen wore a vest coated with leaves and a black shirt underneath that exposed his scarred upper arms. The three men sat themselves behind three wooden tables placed in the lobby. Conseleigh Tundra stood to the right of the tables near Guardian Eska—showing her seniority and, Hydro assumed, that this was her individual trial. She wore a silky blue gown and ice-clam pearls around her neck. Her left hand relaxed on the table, opened, and returned back to her hip. A pair of keys sat where her hand had been.

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