19. The Wells
The room we found ourselves in was about half the size of the entire Stagwood School. To our right was a deep hole with a rope going down, hanging from wooden supports. The hole glowed the same orange as the shield over my flying bed. To the left there was a similar hole, except that it glowed red. Each hole had a handle and crank that attached to the rope. I had been picturing wells like the ones I had seen in pictures, but these looked much older.
“Red is for rile,” Deli told us.
I knew that meant that the orange well was for lore.
The room was wide open without anything significant besides the wells. A quick look around told us that we were alone. After our last few run-ins, it’s safe to say we were happy that there wasn’t a creature in sight. There was another plate in the center of the floor though. It sat between the wells and read:
Remember what’s been found and learned.
The pen is not a gift, but earned.
The safest place to hide creation:
Hands that lack imagination.
“Great, another riddle. Cal, you figured out the last one. What does this one mean?” Soy asked me.
“I don’t know yet,” I replied.
We searched around the room, looking for the pen under every rock and inside every crack. There was no sign of it.
“How do we even know it’s in this room?” I asked Deli.
“It’s in here,” she said.
“Where then?” Soy asked. “If it’s down another hole, I quit. We’re going to reach the other side of the world pretty soon.”
It hit me right away. “Soy! You’re brilliant!” I shouted.
“I know. Why?” he answered.
“There are two holes here already, and we haven’t checked them,” I said.
Deli gave a smile. “Of course!” she said.
I ran over to the Well of Lore and started turning the crank. The rope creaked and groaned as it crawled up towards us. Soy grabbed the handle to help. Deli hopped to the edge of the hole to peer down.
“I see it!” she said. “There’s a bucket coming up!”
By the time I saw the bucket, I was already sure. There was nothing inside. We finished pulling it up, anyway.
“Now what?” asked Soy.
“There’s still one more to check,” I said.
We went over to the Well of Rile and started cranking again. This time the crank turned much slower. Soy and I were both getting tired when Deli called out.
“I see another bucket,” she said.
I kept cranking, but the muscles in my arms had started to burn. The bucket lurched into sight.
“Keep going. This one looks different!” Deli said excitedly.
When I looked down, I saw that the inside of this bucket did look different. Something was moving inside. The last few feet were the hardest. When the bucket was finally within reach, I unhooked it and set it down carefully next to us.
The inside of the bucket was bad news. It was filled to the brim with purple rooze. Except this time, it was much thicker and darker and the smell was overwhelming.
“More of that rooze stuff,” Soy complained.
“This looks stronger,” said Deli.
The pen had to be inside. The words of the riddle floated through my head.
Remember what’s been found and learned.
What had I learned? I had learned that dwarves liked to hide things underground. Soy had already reminded me of that a moment ago. But it wouldn’t help here.
I had also learned that this mountain was filled with tricks (like tunnels that are long and short at the same time). And I had learned from the boat that sometimes making the more dangerous choice is the only thing that will save you. Suddenly, the words gained meaning. I knew what I had to do. I was starting to like these rhyming riddles.
I reached my hand inside the bucket with my right arm, past the surface of the thick rooze, and touched the bottom. I expected to feel the pen at the bottom, and the rooze to disappear like it had in the boat. Neither happened.
“Cal!” yelled Deli.
But it was too late. The rooze had started to travel up my right arm, covering it, and it didn’t stop there. It oozed across my chest. It felt cold and hot at the same time. Soon it made its way to my left arm, then down to my wrist.
“Get it off him!” shouted Soy, batting at arm with his hands.
But when the rooze settled on my left hand it started to condense. It was being pulled and concentrated onto my palm, until it formed a new shape. Smaller. More solid.
I knew without looking that I was holding a pen.