Excerpt from: The Puzzle Box
Ari found the well before Julian finished climbing over the broken-down stone wall at the edge of the ruins. He pulled off the cover and stared down into the hole.
“I’m not going down there, no matter how much the Hermit wants to pay me.”
“Why don’t you check over by the ruins of that house, while I see if there’s anything in here.” Julian smiled as he lowered himself into the dry well. “It still looks damp around the edges. I might find something.”
Ari didn’t answer because he was busy digging around in the ruins of a house near the well. He found a few Saint John’s Wort, but before he was leaving, he slipped on some loose stones and went crashing through the rotted floorboards. Beneath was a cellar that hadn’t been touched in decades. Ari could smell the dank mold and sneezed from the unsettled dust. He crawled up from the ground and began searching around in the dim light.
Ari stopped. A faint humming from under a pile of rocks caught his attention. He poked at the mound with a broken stick. When nothing jumped out at him and he knew it was safe, he removed the stones, one by one. Soon Ari was staring at the source of the humming. A dusty box sat among the stones and debris, its curious hum drawing him closer. He reached out and gingerly touched its edge. Dust and dirt fell away at his touch, and Ari could see part of a white tiled square. He licked his finger and dusted off another place and saw part of a red square, with filigree designs on it. Finally, he started to pick up the entire box, when a noise from behind startled him. He dropped the box and jumped back. Whipping around, he glared, breathless.
“Julian! Geez! You scared me!”
“Sorry. I thought you got hurt when you fell in.”
Ari turned around to face the box. “Naw, but I found something.”
“What is it?” Julian tried to see around Ari, but because it was so dim, he had to step up next to him.
Ari bent down and picked up the box, holding it in a protective cradle. At the same time, Julian reached out to touch it, but Ari pulled away.
“I want to see it, too!”
“Let’s go out in the light so we can get a better look at it,” Ari turned his back on Julian, looking for a way out of the cellar.
Julian walked towards the wall and bumped into a stone staircase. “Over here!”
They climbed up the set of stone steps that ran up one wall and out of the old cellar, into the bright sunlight. Both young men squinted and shaded their eyes, trying to get a better look at Ari’s find. Ari sat on the edge of the broken stone wall and held the box in front of him. He let Julian pull off chunks of mud from the corners. After dusting off the dirt and gravel bits from the box, they saw it was made up of square tiles, decorated in delicate designs. Each side had a different color dragon on one tile, a cloaked man with a sword on another, and a robed magician on a third. The rest of the tiles were designs and odd writing. Ari and Julian shook their heads at each other, neither one knowing what they were looking at.
“Maybe we should try to open it,” Julian suggested.
Ari shook his head back and forth. “No. Let’s take it to the Hermit. He knows about the history of this place. Maybe he can tell us what it is.”