Chapter 27 - Mirage

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It is essential that you use what you find,

For only it will befit the holder of time.

The suns' gazes linger when on time's quarter.

When fast do lag, the slow remain hoarders.

But if you give what's meant to be given,

The orb is yours, completing thy mission.

The riddle kept playing in Zain's mind as he paced around the sundial. After receiving it, he had gone to the library and found there was only one sundial on the Central Core, and it was located in Funjhi Desert. He was pretty confident in his observations, for the references to time and the suns' gazes couldn't mean otherwise.

His fingers caressed the rough granite pillar that sprouted from the ground. The sundial had been cut to resemble two cupped hands. The shadow pointed to two forty-five, but Zain needed to wait until three. That was time's quarter, after all.

As he paced, he looked around at the surroundings. Trees bordered a small lake near the sundial. To the north were larger sand dunes, and to the south there were only dunes, boulders, and a rusty sword, which, for whatever reason, was sticking up in the middle of nowhere, hard to miss, for it was at the bottom of a large sand dune that Zain had needed to climb. He hadn't picked it up because he already had a sword. A good one at that.

His gaze darted to and fro and then back to the sundial. It was close now. Was someone hiding behind the sand dunes or the boulders, waiting for him? Tundra mentioned there was another contestant with the same riddle. Where were they? He kept an eye on the time, but unease still rippled through him. Don't second guess yourself.

Zain clenched one fist. This was it. Three o'clock.

A loud, grinding sound erupted from the sundial. Where the shadow struck three, a slot opened. Heart pounding, Zain consulted his riddle once more.

But if you give what's meant to be given,

The orb is yours, completing thy mission.

"What is meant to be given?" Zain examined the slot. It was the perfect shape for a sword. Am I to give mine? He read through the riddle again.

It is essential that you use what you find.

Images of the rusty sword danced through his mind. The sword, the sword. Am I supposed to use the sword? He turned and backtracked, but he only got as far as a nearby boulder before there was a grinding noise behind him. The slot was closing. How much time is left?

He ran back and gripped the sundial's base. This will have to do. He unsheathed his sword and held it to the Axiumé. Fluidly he pushed it down, forcing it into the slot. A motor inside clunked.

Stillness. Silence. Sound.

A grinding. A crack. A hiss.

Steel fell around him like rain, and Zain covered his neck and head. Broken pieces littered the ground. My sword. It's . . . it's ruined.

He scrambled to pick up the shards, sharp and hot to the touch. No. No. No. This can't be happening. Try as he might, he couldn't gather them all. He ignored the burning in his hands and the pain of poking shards. I can still win. I need to still win. I can put this back together.

"Another trial lost."

Zakk! His ears perked. His skin prickled. He looked around but saw no one. His friend couldn't be here. Zakk was dead. Was he hearing things? "Show yourself!" Zain gripped a piece of broken sword like a dagger. The blade bit into his hand, drawing blood. "I'm not afraid of you."

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