Ethan Trivian’s lungs drew in enormous volumes of oxygen in efficient rhythmic cycles as he sprinted through the amber splashed corridors of the endless labyrinth. In his tight grasp he protected a letter signed by the chancellor that guaranteed his fully compensated retirement. His mind swirling with guilt from the thought that his entire professional life has been left unshared with his longtime live in girlfriend Christine Miller. He would share everything with her but, first he had to navigate the one place which once entered by man swallowed them whole and never offered an exit. As Ethan rounded a corner he caught a glimpse of something moving into the shadows. He wasn’t sure what it was but, for certain it was bigger than any man he had ever seen. Ethan halted immediately. He quickly scanned the hallway and on the walls he saw deep grooves dug into the dense, cold material. Taking a closer look Ethan realized they were tally marks. What was counted and kept track of and by who…..or what? A shriek bellowed from the bowels of the cavernous center of darkness. Terrified, Ethan stumbled backward and tripped over something on the ground. Dazed and straining to focus his eyes on what tripped him, Ethan’s vision slowly returned as blurriness changed to a disbelieving stare. His career as an adventure seeking anthropologist provided the intellectual storehouse to know what he saw to be a signal that his curiosity has gotten him into trouble. Emotional shock prevented his body from it’s fight or flight response.
Ethan’s blue jeans absorbed the stream of blood cascading in sheets from the wound he suffered from the fall. Thinking of the fall. What had he tripped over, thought Ethan. A silver sliver of light pierced through the grey rock ceiling. Its spot light gave way to an opaque cylindrical form. Ethan grabbed the ovular object for closer inspection. He felt the sudden rush of panic pass through his body like jolts of electricity. It…it’s a human femur…….Ethans thoughts sharpened. He knew he was in danger. The shadows seemed to crawl along the walls towards him. A faint sound of a hard object being drug across the stone floor became increasingly louder. First thing Ethan saw was a hand covered in translucent leathery skin, easily the size of his satchel. Next, the rest of an arm as long as a ski pole swung forward, followed by a leg as thick as Ethan’s waist. Ethan quickly scooped up the human femur and squared his stance. Shoulders as wide as a barn doorway entered the room. A groan bellowed from the depths of hell as the creature revealed it’s face. Haphazardly balanced on top of it’s obtusely angled shoulders projected a neck and head covered in scars. Large black ink colored eyes sunk into it’s pale face. Large tusks protruded from it’s lower jaw. It’s bowling ball sized fist contained a mace constructed of bone and held together with human hair. Ethan took two steps backwards. The creature trudged forward, raising the mace above it’s head. It began a downward swing of it’s weapon. Ethan remembered his martial arts training that Christine called his education on being the protector of the family, and dove and rolled to the left just as the spiked club struck the floor – making it look like a scrambled jig saw puzzle. Ethan stood, swung and connected with the monster’s knee. Its leg buckled and the room trembled from the impact the creatures body made with the floor. With the monster dazed Ethan removed the key the monster wore as an earring. The beast howled in protest. Ethan struck the beast in the skull ensuring the beast wouldn’t be making a comeback.
Ethan emerged from the crumpled monster with the key in hand. He then secured the key by storing it in his worn leather satchel which the strap was slung over his left shoulder and the bag sat on his right hip. Grabbing a flashlight from his satchel, he turned it on. Ethan took in a deep, slow breathe, exhaled, then thought, “Good thing I have life insurance.” He then began a light jog into the darkness. Ethan emerged into a room with a ceiling almost too tall to see. On the walls danced shadows to the irregular rhythm of flames burning atop torches, located in each corner of the room. Ethan immediately saw the checkerboard floor. Across the room he discovered a square surrounded by a pit. Stairs led across the pit to a large drop above the square.
To his left was a pedestal with a plaque that read:
What is a question that leaves a mark?
Ethan wondered what it could mean.
Ethan took a step forward onto a black square. He heard the ding of a bell. Ethan pondered the implication. Undecided of its meaning, Ethan took a few more steps forward and now stood on a white square. Nothing happened. Ethan made a left turn and now stood on a new square. This time the bell sound was a pitch higher than the first. Ethan realized the white square caused no sound but the two black squares caused bells to ring, in successive higher pitched notes. His next steps led him to another black square diagonal from the last. A bell rang….”another note higher!” Ethan said out loud. “The question that leaves a mark is a question mark!,” shouted Ethan. Ethan took footsteps that lead him to another black square at a diagonal to the last, then a final left turn that finished the question mark. A bell rang continuously as the square surrounded by the pit rumbled and rose upward, its edge meeting the top of the stairs.