Logs:A Game of Riddles

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A Game of Riddles
Dramatis Personae

Tock, Dora as ST

21 August, 2016

A curious dream of the sands of Egypt, and an unexpected visitor challenges Tock to a game both during and after sleep.


It was nearly impossible to sleep overnight, with the sandstorm blowing hard through the camp. Everyone had to take shelter in their tents, and the constant wind sent taut canvas to thrumming like a discordant musical instrument long after the sun had gone down. At least there were books to read by the light of the oil lamps, and plans to make once the desert was a bit more hospitable again.

Thankfully, the storm seems to have passed sometime before dawn, though the lingering dust in the air stains the eastern sky a bloody red as the sun finally rises. The hired assistants and porters are already moving about camp cleaning things up that the wind sent sprawling, and breakfast is ready as Tock emerges from her own tent. She finds herself dressed in layers of white and khaki that would, at least in style, find themselves entirely at home in her closet. The hat on her head has a drape affixed across the back half of the brim, designed to help keep the desert sun off. Her assistant from the Cairo Museum, a man by the name of Siddig, looks up from the leather roll he is inspecting, a broad swath of archaeologist's tools on display. "Everything looks to be in order, and they cook is making breakfast. As soon as you've eaten, I think we can have the men open the way into the next chamber finally."

Tock stretches as she slips out of the tent, a gentle arch of her back and lift of her arms as she looks to the sunrise in the distance, seeming entirely more focused on the colours of the horizon than the bustle around her. She turns at the familiar voice at her side. “Well, I suppose it is best not to let it be hungry work even if it means waiting a bit. Though if there are soft boiled eggs to fuss over I may be very put out.” Her eyes slide back over the tools, the camp. “Nothing too vital was lost or damaged, I hope?”

Siddig shakes his head quickly. "No, we had enough warning before it hit to make sure everything was put away. The horses aren't terribly happy still, but once they're brushed out and had a day to regain themselves, they'll be just fine." The dark-skinned archaologist grins then, and confides, "I may have in fact made sure that everything was non-fussy this morning, when I gave orders to the cook."

“Horses are rarely happy. Sensitive, high-strung things...they probably learn it from the people who breed them,” Tock opines with a little twitch at the corner of her lips. “Is there anything else that needs tending before breakfast?”

"Nothing I can think of," Siddig confirms. "And it looks like they're ready for us now."

Breakfast is indeed not something to fuss over. Eggs are involved, but they've been poached in a spicy stew of tomato, peppers and onions, with soft cheese sprinkled on top to melt and some pieces of flat bread to scoop it all up out of the bowl. The workers all eat quickly as well, wasting no time before the group heads down into the excavation.

A set of broken sandstone stairs have been cleared out of the sand, exposing the entrance to a sloping passage that leads down to a small antechamber. Time and the weather have worn away anything besides the blocks, unfortunately, but there is a curious sense of age here nonetheless. The far wall has clearly been the focus of attention, with iron spikes driven into the cracks between some of the stonework. One large block in particular, near the base of the wall, has had two holes driven into it, and a hook-and-rope system has been wedged into place. It's these ropes that the workmen take up, and under Siddig's direction they begin to slowly, rhythmically pull.

Inch by scant inch the stone eases forward until with a great clatter it falls out entirely. The rest of the wall stays in place, as if this block were meant to be pulled out from the rest. Now there is only a black hole, leading deeper into this structure. Siddig looks curiously toward Tock. "Do you want me to make sure the way is safe, or...as you English say, Ladies First?"

Tock manages not to eat her breakfast too quickly, but falls rather short of anything dainty of lady-like in the process. She is methodical in readying tools and kit before continuing to the chamber in question. Though she holds a hand over her mouth and nose anticipating dust and dirt to be kicked up, her eyes are wide in watching the process. She offers Siddig a wry grin. “In walking and sitting if positively nothing else. More light, please?” And that is the only thing she waits on before proceeding.

As if anticipating that request, Siddig turns and picks up an oil lamp, already lit, and offers it to Tock with a matching grin. "I'll bring more in after you, when you give the word."

“Word or screaming. Either one is a good cue,” Tock informs, equally wry, before setting forward into the area illuminated within the new chamber. It's obvious once Tock looks into the dark opening that this brick was definitely put in place as simply a seal, rather than supporting the whole wall, for her lamp reveals a tunnel approximately twenty feet long. It is cramped, requiring her to crawl down the length of it, but seems surprisingly sturdy otherwise.

The chamber it opens into is twice as large as the one outside, and clearly perserved against tomb robbers and the elements for centuries. Four great pillars help support the vaulted ceiling, each carved into the visage of one of the gods: Anubis, Horus, Thoth and Set stand as watchmen of the four corners, while the ceiling itself has been painted to depict the night sky. The walls are covered in heiroglyphics, but it's the feature at the far side of the room that may draw the most attention. On a raised dais is small altar of inlaid ebony, the dark wood cracked and dry with extreme age. The top is still surprisingly flat, however -- save for three short poles of solid gold set into the top. Two of these poles are circumscribed by circles of inlaid ivory, while the third is circled in gold. Sitting stacked around one of the ivory-ringed poles is a pile of three lapis lazuli discs, each one pierced through the center to allow it to slide down over the pole. These discs are in ascending order of size, the largest on the bottom, the smallest on top.

“I hope no one ate too much for breakfast!” Tock calls back as she finds the narrow tunnel and slips inside of it to see where it leads. She pauses in the entryway, slowly getting to her feet and dusting off her hands as she looks up. “Oh, you are going to want to see this!” she barely manages to turn to shout back down the tunnel. She is slow in walking across the room, trying to take in every bit of it as if she were able to make record with her eyes. The ceiling, the painted walls, the carvings. As she walks, she makes her way closer to the dais. What is all this, then?

As soon as she shouts, there's the sound of scuffling up the long stone tunnel. Siddig is the one who comes out first, of course, lifting another lamp that helps light up the ceiling even more. He lets out a low whistle as he stares up at the great statues. "Oh, absolutely magnificent!" “Isn't it just?” Tock replies in a somewhat distant tone. She moves up onto the dais slowly and cautiously (one never knows how well anything has held up with time), to inspect the altar.

Up close, there is little to see that wasn't visible from afar at first; the wooden altar is approximately two feet long, one foot wide, and eighteen inches high, while the largest of the discs on top is perhaps five inches in diameter. Circling around it, though, eventually reveals more heiroglyphics, carved into ebony. The wood's deterioration makes it difficult to be absolutely certain what some of the symbols are, but it /seems/ to read: "The Sektet Boat much reach the Duat. But never forget to pay heed to Maat." Sektet is the name of the boat Ra sails on from Noon until Sunset, where he brings the sun to the Duat, or underworld. Maat, on the other hand, was the goddess of justice and balance; it was her feather that the heart was weighed against, to see if the soul was worthy of passing on into the afterlife.

“This looks like a puzzle, wouldn't you say, Siddig? Perhaps it opens something.” Tock looks over the altar set-up more closely...literally bringing her face in near it. “It looks like a riddle about balance, given that reference to Maat, no? Three poles, three discs. The simplest interpretation might be to put one disc on each pole. The size or weight of the discs on the two ivories should equal the one gold, which almost certainly is Ra's. He gets all of the gold if his name is coming up.” She chuckles at that. “I should check it for traps before actually fiddling with anything. What do you think, Siddig?” For all her playfulness she is serious about looking for traps.

Siddig makes his way over to look at the altar as well, studying it intently. "Definitely something of the sort, yes," he agrees. Behind him, more of the workmen are crawling up out of the tunnel, setting up more light so that the expedition's artists can start making sketches; the photographer will likely be in after, as well. But they go unnoticed for now as Siddig makes his way around to read the same riddle, frowning deeply. "Looking at the discs, though, I don't think they're proportioned properly for that. I do think the gold ring and Ra are an important connection, but as for balance and Maat...something else. But I'm not certain what."

It's very subtle, but it does appear as if the disc of ebony centered around each pole can actually move -- there are the slightest of marks visible aroudn the base of each pole. Also, it's clear that the pile of discs around the current pole they're stacked is just faintly compressing the alter beneath it.

“It definitely looks to do something with weights, doesn't it? See how the altar itself below each pole has give, like a scale?” Tock shakes her head slightly. “The trouble is knowing if you can touch the wrong thing without it ruining the whole set-up, isn't it? One is always able to experiment if it is not guaranteed to explode in one's face.”

Siddig frowns faintly. "I don't think that looks like a scale so much as a trigger, to be fair," he muses. "But that may be quibbling over terminology." He sighs gently, then laughs. "Worried that if you move things incorrectly, it may release some mummy's curse?"

“Weight sensing device that causes an effect,” Tock clarifies. She laughs at the mention of the curse. “Not so much a curse as a trap or an inability to proceed further with the puzzle for whatever reason. Given free rein I could just take all of the discs off, heft them myself to see how they compare. See what happens if I put one on another pole. Play with it a bit, you know?”

Siddig grins wryly. "Yes -- but then that would defeat the purpose of a riddle, if you could just brute force your way through solving it, I suspect."

“Not at all. Brute force would be slamming things blindly or attempting to break the thing to get through it. Experimenting is the way to solve a thing in the vast majority of cases in life. Cause and effect, forming conclusions from collected data. Testing hypotheses. It is the thing that makes humans so very clever at advancement,” Tock argues. “Well, to do /anything/ we must take at least one of the rings off of the first stack, mustn't we? Let us move the first and see what occurs. Staring at it helps nothing.”

Siddig studies her intently as he listens, opens his mouth to say something, then stops and simply nods. "That would seem to be a place to start, yes." Tock reaches forward and plucks the smallest ring off of the pile, just holding it for a moment.

And now -- there is a cool, smooth disc of beautiful lapis lazuli in Tock's hand. Siddig holds his breath -- then lets it out as nothing at all happens. The workers don't even notice as they continue setting up to properly document and clear this chamber.

“Well, then. Let us see what happens when it goes somewhere else,” Tock murmurs. She slips the disc over the other ivory-ringed pole.

The disc slides down...and sits there, atop the altar. Nothing explodes, no stumbles rumble to life, no earthquakes begin.

“All right. Two other conditions. What happens when we put something on the gold pole and what happens if we put more than one something on either of the other poles. Let us try the first.” Tock takes up the second ring from the starting pole.

Again: nothing happens except that Tock has the ring in her hand.

Tock slips the middle-sized ring over the gold pole.

And there it sits. Siddig watches this all silently, a deep frown on his face.

“Well, we do seem to have established that simply moving things isn't going to cause any issues. Which means that we can try possible solutions to the riddle without nearly as much concern.” Tock taps her fingertips against the altar thoughtfully. “The trouble is that I could come up with at least a half a dozen solutions that would be perfectly workable.” She collects all of the rings to be able to determine their relative weights to see if this will help her pick between answers.

Siddig tilts his head. "Yes -- but perfectly workable to answer what question? I think figuring out which one comes closest to the question they're actually /asking/ is going to get you further."

Weighed, the rings weigh about as much as one might expect given their composition and size; the second is approximately two thirds the weight of the largest, while the smallest is approximately two thirds the weight of the middle ring.

“That is the thing with riddles, isn't it? Inadequate data to determine intention.” Tock looks at the rings in her hands. “So, we can neither balance the three poles, nor the gold one with the other ivory one. So simple balance cannot be the goal. Is the starting pole simply a starting space or is it part of the puzzle in any way given that it matches the ivory? Given the inability to balance, one assumes the goal is to get at least /some/ of the weight transferred to the gold pole, without giving all of it. How much knowledge of myth does the riddle wish us to bring in? One might guess that there is to be less weight on the gold pole than the ivory since the goal was to weigh less, in myth. But that could be reading too much into it. It could go any number of ways, really.” She looks between the biggest ring in one hand and the small and middle gathered together in the other. “One of the solutions I came up with was to place the largest on the gold and the other two on the ivory. But I have quite a few more.”

"Perhaps...we are thinking about balance in the wrong context," Siddig suggests slowly. "It is not a matter of weight, precisely, but -- imagine a boat, even Ra's barge. If things are unbalanced in a boat, it will topple over, right? That's not about weight, but...arrangement."

“Yes, but we've a triangle here. If all three poles are even to be considered, and not just the two that had been empty. One cannot balance all three points with the given weights. Nor two if two of the smaller do not equal one of the larger.” Tock holds up all three of the things. “Honestly, the only way to arrange things levelly would be to put all three rings in the centre, not on any poles at all. You see what I mean about having any number of solutions?” Siddig says softly, "But think of the riddle: the boat needs to reach Duat. A singular destination. One more important than the others, yes?"

“Yes, I had thought of that. But I have no clear answer on what is the destination nor what is the boat if we are to be more literal, which is still not a given. Again, multiple solutions exist,” Tock replies.

Siddig tilts his head at that. "You don't think the gold ring stands out there, if the discs are the boat? Especially given the connections to Ra?"

“Yes. That is one of the solutions I came up with and answered before. The largest ring to the gold pole, the two smaller to the ivory. That way the 'most important' ring, if one is to equate size with importance as people often do, is on the gold pole. And there is balance in that the others remain on the ivory. And then there is more weight on the ivory than the gold, working from the reference to Maat's feather, where the goal was to weigh less. I will try that one.” Tock does this.

The discs all slide down into place as Tock puts them there. Siddig holds his breath, but then lets it loose a moment later.

“This may take awhile. I have a lot of perfectly good options that fit the wording,” Tock reiterates. She gathers the rings up again, settling them back on the starting pole in their original order. She shifts the small ring to the gold pole, the medium ring to the other ivory pole, the large ring on top of the small, then the medium on top of the stack on the gold one.

Tock may start to rearrange the discs that way -- but the moment she slides the largest disc down on top of the small one? Well, the reason the poles are gold becomes clear as she gets one HELL of a shock. Certainly not enough to do any damage, but enough to leave her fingertips tingling.

Tock /laughs/ at that response, outright, though she pulls the ring back. “There we go! A reaction at last. That we can work with. That was the first time I made the gold one weigh more than the others, which I had suspected we did not want. Let us see if it is reproducible to be certain, eh?” She collects all of the rings back to the starting point, places the small one on the other ivory pole, the medium one on the gold, then the large one on the gold. Different total, but same issue.

Again: the second the large one slides down on top of the medium disc? ZAAAP!

When Tock pulls the large disc back again, shaking her head against the sensation, she raises it up as if victorious. “There! We have a reproducible phenomenon. Did you see that?” She laughs again. “Let us try this.” Again, she resets the rings. Just in case. She places the small one on the ivory pole, removes it to place on the gold pole. Places the medium one on ivory pole, removes it. Places the large one on the ivory pole. Somewhat suspiciously, she shifts the medium one that she had retained in her hand on top of the small one on the gold pole.

Siddig laughs quietly, shaking his head. "I didn't see what made your hand jerk back, but given the way your hair is starting to stand up, I think I can guess." He watches as Tock ye again plays with the discs -- and winces in sympathy as once again she gets zapped when the medium disc is placed atop the small one.

Tock shivers a little at the remaining tingling sensation travelling through her arm. “I promise this was faster than simply trying all of the options that I could very much argue answer the question. One more variable here.” She shifts the small ring to the ivory pole, the medium to the gold. Picks the medium back up before she removes the large from the starting pole, then returns the medium one to the starting pole. Lastly she adds the large one to the gold pole. Siddig chuckles quietly. "The problem is -- you're not arguing for answers here with someone like it was a debate; there's just what the puzzle-maker had in mind. Just make sure you don't singe yourself, please." This time, there's no shock after moving the rings around.

“I am not a mind reader, and thus there is the experimenting to rule out options until I find the one that was intended,” Tock answers. “I am only letting it shock me so long as it is useful.” She picks up the medium ring from the starting pole and moves it to the other ivory pole.

Siddig shakes his head. "No, I know you aren't. Neither am I, of course, or I might be more use here." He offers a wry smile, even as the pole zaps Tock again as the medium disc is set down atop the smallest one.

“So here is a curious matter. I had before placed this arrangement and it did not shock me. Why does it do so now?” Tock looks at the rings quizzically.

Siddig frowns, then shakes his head slowly. "Actually...no. Not quite the same arrangement, at least. When you tried the first experiment? The two rings on that pole were in the other order: medium on bottom, smaller on top."

“And yet they add up to the same thing. How odd.” Tock looks at the poles again. “It has not minded at all if the ivory side had more than the gold in the past, only the opposite condition. But let us try this if it is going to fuss over order of stacking, as well.” She resets the rings on the starting pole, then lifts them all up. She places the large one on the ivory pole, the medium one on the gold, then the small one on the gold.

"Sometimes, the sum of the parts isn't quite the same thing," Siddig suggests thoughtfully. He watches this new arrangement...which causes no reaction. Tock nods at this confirmed suspicion, then resets the rings again. She places the small one on the gold pole and the medium on the ivory. She picks up the small one from the gold and stacks it over the medium one on the ivory. Then she takes the large one and moves it to the gold. So far this has been okay before. Next, she tries removing the small one from the ivory and returning it to start.

...so far so good. This time Siddig really /is/ holding his breath, and he hasn't let it go yet.

“Oh, settle /down/, Siddig. It isn't as if the shocks have been getting stronger over time,” Tock teases with a twitch at the corners of her lips. She takes the medium one from the ivory pole and moves it to the gold.

That too moves without any reaction. "I'm not expecting it to blow up," Siddig says with a flash of a grin back. "I'm waiting to see what happens if you actually have it this time."

“Given how the experiment has been going, we will not know in a positive direction for at least two more moves,” Tock assures to try and spare Siddig's nerves. She shifts the small ring to the ivory pole.

"Well, hurry," Siddig murmurs. "I'm getting light-headed." Still no zap...

“Drink some water.” Tock shifts the last ring over to the gold pole.

Siddig makes a face -- and then goes utterly quiet. There is no zap as the smallest ring is finally stacked on top of the other two on the gold pole; instead, there is a sudden rumble as the whole altar starts to slowly sink straight down into the dais. As soon as the top is flush with the stone, the dais /itself/ starts to sink as well. Siddig scrambles back out of the way, while the workers all crowd into the far corners, staring at the moving altar with various uneasy expressions.

“Oh, would you look at that.” Tock looks down at the altar sinking, then the dais doing the same. “It seems to be acting as a lift. I am going to see where it goes.”

Siddig blinks as Tock doesn't run away, but nods. "Just in case it does not come up? We'll get rope ready, yes?" He doesn't even wait for a response, turning quickly to shout orders to the workers in Arabic. The dais, in the meantime, continues slowly grinding downward, rumbling steadily beneath Tock's feet. Down, down it goes, leaving the room with the statues further and further overhead. Ten, twenty, thirty...fifty feet, if one had to guess, before there is a shift in the smooth sandstone walls, the top of an arch appearing, then being revealed as a wide passageway as the dais finally *booms* as it comes to a halt. Through the arch is a long corridor that doglegs to the left about a hundred feet down, well outside the range of the lamp's pool of light -- yet still visible because there is flickering light visible from around that corner to illuminate the passage from the other end.

“You think of everything, habibi,” Tock replies in a tone that is a mix of teasing and appreciative. She waves as she makes the very slow descent down, torn between excited curiosity and laughing at the comical picture that must present. Just slowly sinking into the floor. Nothing to see here. She braces as the dais slams into place, then steps off. Though her way is cautious, inspecting each time what the lamplight will reveal, she makes her way toward that other flicker up ahead.

The passageway is smooth, unadorned stone all the way up to the turn. Then, out of sight before one has reached the twist in the road, each side is covered in brilliantly painted murals: gods basking on the banks of a river, monsters fighting heroes, great temples being built. THey look like they were painted yesterday, there is so little wear.

ANd up ahead, the source of the ilght is visible: two great braziers piled high with aromatic woods and merrily burning away. Only a narow slice of the room is visible, the greater part of it out of sight for now around the edge of the wall. But as Tock reaches that corner, a voice calls out -- one that actually seems to make the stone floor beneath her feet rumble. "I promise, you are safe to approach."

“There is sometimes something to be said for being sealed up underground,” Tock opines as she inspects the murals during her walk. She pauses but briefly at the sound of the voice. Curious. “Such assurances are either entirely reassuring or not at all, given the situations they tend to be used in. But I am not about to turn back at this point, am I?” She continues around the corner without further hesitation.

A low, sultry chuckle echoes up the passage. "One never knows. I have seen all sorts."

Around the corner is a large, almost airy room, lit with more of the same beaten brass braziers along either side. There is a raised platform there, lined with plush cushions and piles of deep carpet, all providing the perfectly padded perch for what can only be deemed a sphinx. She is massive, her leonine body easily ten time the size of the largest lion out roaming the savannahs. Unlike many traditional depictions, she actually has human arms along with all four limbs one would expect on a cat, her naked torso and head dark as ebony -- no hint at all of the Ptolemaic Dynasty in this royal creature's history. There are even great wings on her back, but they are currently folded down against skin and fur, while a golden circlet is woven through her braided black hair. Her smile is wry, almost apologetic, as Tock enters the room. "I do hope you will forgive me."

“It is simply a similar statement to 'this isn't going to hurt',” Tock continues, grinning at first, though this fades as she has better things to do in taking in the room and its occupant. “Forgive you for what, if I may ask?” She gives her head a little shake, realising that this has been an odd way to begin a discussion with a stranger. “My name is Tock.” That's better, right?

"I know," the sphinx says. She gestures with one hand over to the side of the room, where a padded chair of woven wicker is tucked between some of the braziers. "If you would care to sit, please feel free to do so." She considers Tock with great cat-slit eyes, then smiles wryly. "For the puzzle. I had not quite expected you to come at it from the direction you did; I made assumptions I shouldn't have, for all that you did solve it quite neatly in the end." A beat, and she adds, "You can call me Hatshepsut."

Tock just tilts her head slightly at that reply. Interesting. She does slide into the chair when it is indicated, given how particularly it seemed to be set up. Her chin lifts up to be able to regard the sphinx-woman better. “I came up with 18 unique and perfectly plausible solutions before I determined that experimentation would be a shorter path than determining which was most likely correct. Particularly since I had not been attempting to exhaust the options.” She smiles again, almost laughing. “I only tried two actual answers, one before testing and one after, and the second was correct. Not too terrible in the long run.” She nods again. “Well met.” Questions aren't happening yet. She has so many on the tip of her tongue that sticking to a reasonable number of them might prove difficult.

"Yes," the sphinx says with a small smile. "But it was meant to be a riddle, not a science experiment. Hence my apology." She shrugs those massive shoulders of hers, then asks, "Would you care for something to drink?"

“It was a riddle. Enough that I puzzled out that many answers. Which if giving me something to puzzle was the goal, did so quite admirably. The experiment was simply to get the correct one keyed into the lock,” Tock reassures, her smile matching. She shakes her head at the offer of food. Beware strangers with edibles. “I just had breakfast before we came down.”

Hatshepsut tilts her head, and a cat-like grin tugs at one corner of her mouth. "Do you often argue with strange and unknown beasts who are trying to offer sincere apology? Or am I simply a unique receiver of such...courtesy?"

A light blush dusts across Tock's cheeks. “I merely meant to say it was not necessary. But thank you.” Given the amount of time she spends in the Hedge, she doesn't comment on strange and unknown beasts.

The sphinx lets out a rich, throaty laugh, then inclines her head. "Understood." She shifts on her platform then, rising up on all four paws to give a slow, languid stretch before she settles again, forepaws crossed in front of herself. "Now, with that settled: part of why I apologize is that it was meant to be...something of an introduction. I was hoping you might be inclined to enter into a game of riddles. It has been...some time since I've found one such as you -- so curious and clever, but not quite as in touch with the depths of that curiosity as I think you could be. I would like to see if I'm right."

Tock laughs at that outright before she catches herself and clamps a hand over her mouth for a moment before removing it again. “Oh goodness, I did not mean... It is simply that my mother always used to say I'd the curiosity of an entire clowder of cats when she was busy tsking at me when I was younger. Which was...a fair amount of the time.” Her blush deepens. Moving right along. “I would certainly be willing to indulge such a game. Is it just to be a game for its own sake or are there terms, though?”

Hatshepsut blinks once, then laughs again warmly, even as Tock blushes. "I assure you; taken in the spirit you intended it, and not as insult." Those great golden eyes of her twinkle with obvious mirth. "Besides, I think I agree with your mother, so perhaps I am in good company? In any case -- just a game, yes." She cants her head suddenly. "Do you not quite still realize where you are?"

“You might come to the same conclusion, but for entirely...divergent reasons. Or at least interpretations. It is a pleasant change of pace for it to be considered a positive attribute,” Tock replies with another little dip of her head. She looks up, then, and glances around. “My apologies for making assumptions, but I had assumed I was dreaming.”

The sphinx lets out a soft sigh, then smiles warmly. "No, no, that's exactly what we're doing. And though I admit I have...done a little remodeling, it is still your dream, and you and all your kind tend to be quick at...slipping free when you wish. I give my word, I wish no harm at all, I am just...curious myself, let us say."

Tock nods at that. “I simply had to check. I spend rather a fair amount of time around types that see all /manner/ of things as deal-making. I'll play.”

The sphinx beams at that. "Fantastic. Any objections if I ask the first riddle, then? I promise it will be much more straightforward than the towers up above."

Tock chuckles a bit. “Please do. I haven't one immediately in mind and would have to wait to come up with one.”

Hatshepsut chuckles again, then grins. "I would make up some story about how when one has been down here for thousands of years, it leaves plenty of time to ruminate on such things -- but I suspect you would know that was only...colorful metaphor, rather than fact." She purses her lips, then nods. "Still, I think especially after everything, a warm-up: Always wax, yet always wane; I melt, succumbed to to the flame. Lighting darkness, with fate unblest, I soon devolve to shapeless mess."

Tock nods at the mention of that being straightforward. “A candle,” she replies simply. Warm-ups are good! Sometimes a bit literal. Ha.

The sphinx laughs, looking not at all chagrined to have her riddle solved so easily. "Exactly. And now your turn -- and please, take your time. I promise, no inclinations at all to bite your head off if you take too long in this game, despite the form that seemed most appropriate to claim."

“Neither figuratively nor literally, I hope,” Tock replies with a grin. “Let me think.” She ponders a moment, then nods. “Give me food and I will live. Give me water and I will die. What am I?”

"Correct," the sphinx agrees with an easy grin. She purses her lips for a moment at the question, then suddenly chuckles. One human hand reaches down to smooth through her fur before plucking out one off-kilter strand; she reaches over then and drops it into one of the braziers, watching it sizzle even before it hits the flickering flames. "Fire, yes?"

Tock nods at that answer. “I though I might stick with the theme for the warm-up,” she admits with a chuckle of her own.

Hatshepsut laughs again, her eyes twinkling in response. "Clever. I knew I'd picked correctly. Let's try something a little more involved, though: I welcome the day with a show of light, I stealthily came here in the night. I bathe the earthy stuff at dawn, but by the noon, alas! I'm gone." Tock can't help but chuckle a bit herself at that laugh. She listens to the puzzle, nodding at each new tidbit, before replying, “Morning." A little pause before adding, "Or sunrise might also be acceptable, as near-synonyms, I'd imagine."

The sphinx blinks at that, then frowns deeply for a time before she mmphs. "Not actually what I was going for, but...I suppose it does answer things, doesn't it. I had been looking for dew. Yet another riddle, not quite as clever as I thought. Or perhaps too clever for it's own good."

Tock nods and smiles at that. “That is the thing with riddles. They deliberately do not give you all of the information. But having more than one answer does not make them bad, I suppose. There is more than one way to get through the gates where one gatekeeper always tells the truth and the other always lies, after all.” And that's a classic! “Is that an acceptable answer or should we try another?”

That huge face breaks out in a broad grin as she listens to Tock. "One of my favorites. And you, my dear, are a /treasure/. Please, entirely acceptable answer, you're quite right. Hit me with the next shot."

That smile is contagious...perhaps it is that it is such a large one. Tock smiles in return, regardless of the reason, then looks pensive for a moment. “Who makes it, has no need for it. Who buys it, has no use for it. Who uses it, can neither see nor feel it. What is it?”

The sphinx considers that for some time, then chuckles low suddenly. "I think that one may be colored by a particular outlook on the afterlife, but...a coffin, I suspect?"

Tock nods and laughs at that, as well. “True enough. These sorts of riddles do have a terrible amount of cultural influence that it is hard to avoid.”

"Such is much the same with many phrases, of course -- there's little one can do to work around it." The sphinx smiles, then consider for some time before she mmms. "All right, let's try this one: So fast you cannot see me; though everyone sees straight through me, I do not stop until the day you die."

“Too true,” Tock agrees with that. As she listens to the next one, she nods more than once. “I might be able to give more than one answer to that, but I am going to go with my initial thought of a blink of the eyes and stop over-thinking it.” There is a little grin at that latter admission.

Hatshepsut laughs again, and shakes her head. "And here I thought that one might at least give you /pause/. Ah well." She grins impishy, and shifts again, forepaws slowly kneading the great pile of cushions she's perched on. "Your turn again, I do believe."

“I paused!” Tock protests good-naturedly. “I had several options going through my head on that one.” She looks up at the ceiling for a moment before nodding and looking back. “Made of ten but two we make. Five together strong, five apart weak.”

The sphinx grins, and rolls her great shoulders before settling down again. "All right, you did pause, that's true." She arches a brow at the new riddle, then grins again before holding up one hand to wiggle her fingers. "Fists, I do believe?"

Tock gives two brief claps of her hands in applause, sticking to theme. “Precisely that.”

Hatshepsut chuckles at the brief applause, then bows her head deeply in turn. "Haven't entirely lost my touch then. No pun intended -- that's a whole other sort of riddle, after all." She considers for a moment, then leans subtly forward as she speaks again. "I went to the woods and got it. I sat down in order to seek it. It came home with me because I couldn't find it."

Tock's first answer to that riddle is a laugh. “Oh, I could answer this with all sorts of maladies given the sorts of things I run into out in the sorts of woods I spend time in. I suspect it wanted something simpler like a thorn or a splinter than cleverer parasites, however.”

The great sphinx lets out a laughing, helpless sigh. "You know, I should have thought again about even suggesting that one, given your skills. You're quite right, though -- a splinter is what I was thinking."

Tock grins broadly at that answer before tapping her fingertips on the arm of her chair to come up with another of her own. “Often held but seldom touched. Often wet, but never rusts. Often biting but seldom bit. Used best when one has wit.”

Hatshepsut stares at Tock with narrowed eyes for a long time, lips pursed. She says nothing, but there is a shift in her body language that says that if there were room, she would likely be pacing back and forth in this chamber currently. Finally, after a long bit of silence, she lets out a disgusted huff of air. "I formally give; what is it?"

Tock sticks her tongue out just a little. Not to tease...but to help Hatshepsut come up with the answer without being told, exactly.

The sphinx blinks, then chuckles very softly. "The tongue, of course. And here we've both been using ours quite a bit. I feel even more foolish now for letting myself be turned down the wrong path."

The clockwork girl reels her tongue back in and smiles. “You probably out-clevered yourself into a corner. It is sometimes hard to come back out of that.”

"Something like that, certainly." Hatshepsut grins again, then suddenly cants her head, expression distracted. She sighs gently, then turns a more wistful sort of smile on Tock. "That is two rounds to you -- first the puzzle above, and now the riddles. I would propose one more mystery, if you are willing? This one may take you down stranger paths, but I think you will find it worth walking them in the end."

Tock returns that smile, as well, nodding. “Willing, surely. It would take rather a lot to keep myself from seeing what is next at this point.” She even rises from her chair.

The great sphinx laughs, and pushes herself up onto her paws before prowling forward, her head lowering as she does until it nearly takes up all of Tock's field of vision. She smiles again, those great golden eyes of hers filling the world as she whispers, "Find my name."

She moves even closer still then, yet shrinks dramatically at the same time, until she is of a height with Tock. Hatshepsut leans in quickly, pressing a fleeting kiss to Tock's cheek, warmer than lips have any right to be -- even as the dream starts to fall to pieces around the pair of them, the walls crumbling back into sand on all sides.

Well, /that/ could have many interpretations. But the theme of the evening has been riddles, after all. That kiss leaves a faint pink mark on Tock's cheek, though whether it was just the heat of it or another blush of her own could be debated. She turns this way and that, watching the walls crumble with a great deal less panic than one would have if not clearly believing themselves to be in a dream. Even so, her breath is a bit quickened by the sight.

There's one last cheshire smile, lasting in the memory even as the rest of the dream fades into black. Moments later? Tock finds herself in her bed, the sun just coming up enough to dust a sunbeam across the pillows -- and the dream vivid as any other memory in her thoughts.

Tock hms softly as she wakes up, or appears to do. She briefly looks down at her comforter and tries to change the colour of it with her thoughts. Just in case.