It’s been a long dusty day of moving crates and scrubbing floors around the guild. You pause to crack your back and open the attic windows.
There’s been a lull in jobs lately (because of the warm spring weather no doubt). Even the beasts and bandits seem to have taken the week off to enjoy the sun and flowering trees. Unfortunately for you, Guild Master Humongous felt your free time would be better spent doing some spring cleaning.
After moving a few more boxes of junk, you discover something odd. The part of the wall that had been concealed by the stacks of boxes has a large piece of plywood nailed to it.
It sounds hollow when you knock on it. How curious…
You retrieve a hammer from one of the crates and wedge the claw-end between the wood and the wall. With a few hard tugs, it pries free.
To your surprise, you find a small crawl space with a battered chest inside. Judging by the accumulation of dust, it’s been in there for years.
With a couple of swings of the hammer, you break the brass lock off the front of the chest and flip open the top. Inside is an odd little cube made of metal and some other unrecognizable material. Beneath the cube is an old journal bound marked with a bit of ribbon.
Inside it reads:
“5/10/38 - Raided a bandit camp yesterday and found a strange item in their loot hoard. Some sort of a puzzle box. I've always liked antiques, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out who made this one or where it’s from. Maybe there’s a clue inside. Guess I’ll need to solve the puzzle.”
“5/15/38 - I’ve wasted days now trying to solve the puzzle with no luck. Still, the little box is intriguing. Sometimes it feels warm in my hands, other days it’s cold to the touch. Can’t decide if it’s my imagination or not. I’ll keep picking away at it in my free time.”
“5/30/38 - I’ve finally solved the puzzle box! Disappointingly, there was nothing in it. There is some kind of writing engraved on the inside, though. I can’t even tell what the language is. Maybe I’ll ask Farius at the Mages Guild. If anyone can shed some light on this it’s him.”
“6/20/38 - Mystery solved! Well…partly, anyways. It took Farius some time, but thankfully the Mages keep an excellent library. It’s written in Salantaugh, the dead language of the summoners. The box must be centuries old! Farius is working on translating it. I wonder what it’s worth…”
“6/30/38 - The words are instructions:
The user must serve the box for the box to serve the user. Place the box against your skin and take the pose of supplication. Close your eyes and be still. To look upon the beast is to know madness. To flinch before the beast is to show weakness.
It's some sort of a challenge. Farius has warned me not to meddle with such things, but after so much time and effort, I can’t help but wonder what will happen if I do it.”
“7/10/38 - I passed the challenge and the reward is amazing! Now when I assume the pose an amazing thing happens. Everyone watching thinks I'm doing push ups! Farius thinks it’s a trivial reward for such a dangerous artifact, but for someone in the Fighters Guild it’s as good as gold. I think my arms are getting stronger too somehow...
I wonder if this is all the box can do or if it’s simply a reflection of my heart’s desire?”
Tucked into the spine of the journal, you find a folded piece of paper with a more detailed translation by Farius. You wonder if the box really does what the writer claims.
The test looks a bit difficult but by no means impossible. You could probably just do it right now and find out.
Without any particular expectation, you lay with your elbows on the ground and your back straight. You tuck the puzzle box into your shirt and close your eyes.
Immediately it feels as though the temperature in the room has dropped 10 degrees, like the spring air has been suddenly sucked from the attic. The normal sounds of voices and movement in the guild are all gone as well.
What you can hear are slow and heavy padded footsteps of something very large in the attic with you. The floorboards creak under its enormous weight. Whatever it is, it walks on four legs and drags a tail.
You can hear it breathing heavily as it paces around you, drawing closer.
As your back starts to ache, you regret taking the puzzle box so lightly.
You struggle to stay motionless as beads of sweat form on your forehead.
The creature stops with its muzzle next to your head. It smells of sulfur and rotten meat as it exhales down the back of your neck.
You struggle not to flinch or shudder as every fiber of your being screams for you to open your eyes and roll away.
Something hot and sticky drips onto the top of your head. Is it saliva? Blood? You feel the viscous liquid slowly run down your forehead and along the side of your nose.
It won't be long before you reach your limit…
Plank for 2 minutes with your eyes closed. Keep a timer in front of you but for the sake of your sanity, DO NOT OPEN YOUR EYES OR BREAK POSTURE. You must have no indication of how much time has passed until after you break posture.