Victor stared at the figure and readjusted his grip on the sword. “My name is Victor Furbank,” he answered, after a pause.
“Very well, Sir Victor of Furbank. State your quest.” The figure’s otherwise masculine voice spiked to a falsetto on the word “quest”. His voice continued to squeak and falter every sentence or two. “Ahem. This hall is guarded by the most fearsome knights in the realm, so speak truly or suffer a grim—ahem, excuse me—a grim fate. What brings you to this hallowed hall?”
“Metronomes brought me here, if you must know,” said Victor. “I sell them.”
“I know nothing of these metro—” the figure here patted his chest and cleared his throat, then attempted the word again without squeaking “—metronomes.”
“Not many people do,” sighed Victor.
“I see you have disarmed one of my knights,” said the figure. “No doubt you are a formidable warrior… warrior. Is it battle you seek?”
“If I must,” replied Victor. “I seek to break the curse.”
The figure leaned forward; cold air sucked toward him again. “The curse? Well then, it is not might you need. Only—ahem—Only wisdom can prevail.”
“Wisdom? What kind of wisdom are you talking about?”
“The wisdom to unravel puzzles and speak secrets, to plumb the depths—damn it—the depths of knowledge and make known hidden wonders. You must answer all my questions, and not laugh at them, or you will face the awful—ahem—the awful wrath of my knights. A more difficult task you will not encounter, for I am the Spectre of Puberty!”
Victor chuckled. “You’re what? The Spectre of Puberty?”
The Spectre stood and shouted, “I told you not to laugh! You don’t even know anything, you dumb idiot! Sir Allan—kill this man!”
A grunt sounded behind Victor; he turned around and saw the lion knight standing directly behind him, towering above him. “Oh sh**!” cried Victor.
The knight raised its massive armoured fist high above its head then brought it down like a pile driver; Victor dived to his left just before the knight’s steel knuckles slammed into the tiles with a thunderous boom. The impact sent two jagged cracks through the mosaic around the knight’s fist and shook the floor; a short drizzle of dust and pebbles rained from the ceiling. Victor landed on his left side, jarring his injured shoulder. He rolled onto his back, groaning through grinding teeth, while two tears formed as he squeezed his eyes shut. The gargantuan knight picked up its stolen sword with one hand as though the mighty blade had weighed no more than a tennis racket. It raised the weapon and swung it down diagonally, right to left with a dreadful swish, then raised it again and brought it down left to right. Victor opened his eyes, breathing heavily, and saw the knight turn toward him. “Oh no, come on.” He rolled onto his right side and pushed himself up to a sitting position with his right hand, as his feet slipped against the floor, scrambling to push away from the approaching giant, who closed in on him with two enormous, silent steps. Victor planted his feet and leapt up; he half crouched and stood still, facing the knight as it raised the sword to strike.
A twitch of the knight’s right shoulder gave Victor warning, and he stepped side-on to his left just in time to evade the glinting blade whipping down and smashing the tiles where he had been standing. The point of the sword lodged two inches into the floor, and in the second it took the knight to wriggle it free, Victor stepped back, turned and ducked low; he felt a rush of wind as the sword slashed sideways, inches above his head. As he tried to stand up and run, he slipped on the tiles and fell forward onto his knees. The knight, who had surprising speed and balance, had his sword levelled and ready to thrust. Victor looked up in fear and saw the point of the blade staring back at him. “Questions!” he screamed. “Wait! Give me the questions! I’ll answer them!
“The Spectre of Puberty raised his arm. “Stay your hand, Sir Allan.”
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