Sophia and the Last Scroll

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Prior to the Age of Obscurity, knowledge of the worlds and dimensions that make up the omniverse flourished. Dimension Alpha's Great Bibliothecum dyiH Eridug housed a copy of every document ever composed. Thanks to the tireless work of scribes and teachers, the hoi polloi learned not only to read, but to apply critical thinking and reasoning to what they read. The result was that the Tenebrae (a group of wealthy and influential folk believed to pull the strings of figurehead rulers) launched a violent campaign in 532 R.C. to obliterate the documents at Eridug. The loss of the scrolls of Sapientiae, as the works have been called, is considered to be a greater disaster than the cataclysm that ended the Mesozoic era of dinosaurs.

During the Bibliothecum raid, the onsite bibliothecaries were rounded up and removed from the premises in preparation of the building being burned to cinders. Bibliothecary Sophia the Erudite grabbed the oldest and most important scroll in the library and dashed through the winding corridors of the building, barely staying one step ahead of the militia. Pursued into a tall tower as the library began to burn, she barricaded herself in a scribe's bedchamber.

It took only seconds for the militia to start hacking at the door with an axe. The Tenebrae's general called to Sophia from the other side of the disintegrating door, commanding her to come quietly as the other librarians had done. Should she refuse, he would let his soldiers have their way with her.

Fingers trembling as the door broke apart, Sophia grabbed an empty cryptex off the desk and locked the precious scroll in it, endeavoring to hide it up her sleeve.

"It's no use," the general said. "Give me the cryptex."

"You will never extinguish knowledge and illumination. You will never kill hope," she proclaimed as the general sauntered in.

He merely chuckled. "How can you spew such nonsense when even now the scrolls burn?"

"I have faith!"

"And what is faith compared to steel and flame?" he said, nodding back toward his soldiers who each held a sword in one hand, a torch in the other. "Your faith can save neither you nor your so-called knowledge." He turned and walked out, commenting, "Torch the room. Do with her as you wish."

Sophia's sacrificial leap of 532 R.C.
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Just as a sneering solder reached to grab Sophia, she turned and leaped out the tower window, landing on the rocky shore below.

A pair of fishermen acquainted with her witnessed the leap and scrambled to her side.

"Sophia, what have you done?" said fisherman Phidelio.

She held up the cryptex. "Keep it safe," she garbled, choking on blood.

"What is it?" one of the fishermen asked.

"The answer."

"The answer to what?" the other asked.

"No time," she rasped. "Take down these letters. They unlock the cryptex."

Just as she spoke the final letter in the code, the life went out of her eyes. As a garrison of militia stormed out of the building, the fishermen lifted Sophia and the cryptex into their boat and rowed away frantically.

"Quick! They're escaping!" the general shouted.

The troops thundered toward the skiff. Had the soldiers been armed with spears or arrows instead of swords, the fishermen would have been easy targets. "We'll find you ... and your families!" the general hollered as the fishermen rowed by.

Once well out of sight of the militia, the fishermen tried the code on the cryptex. It opened. They carefully unrolled the scroll, but being as the message was written in ancient Naturim—a language few could read—they were unable to make out the words or their meaning.

"Whatever this scroll says, it can't fall into the Tenebrae's hands," Phidelio said. "Sophia was right. We must keep it safe."

"But how can we do that if we can't even keep ourselves safe?" said his fishing partner, Fortis. "You heard that general threaten us and our families."

They quickly made their way home, gathered up their few belongings and their loved ones, and set off for a grotto long rumored to be ruled by magic. The journey to the grotto being more than a day in length, the travellers went ashore at sunset to make camp for the night and cremate Sophia's body.

Later, as they slept, they were set upon by a band of armed brigands.

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Like all the fishermen in their realm, Phidelio and Fortis were uncommonly meek and passive. It had long been a joke in the land that if a fisherman were ever attacked, he would do nothing more than flop around like a fish. But tasked with the welfare of both the cryptex and their loved ones, Phidelio and Fortis summoned courage and strength they never knew they possessed, trouncing the brigands with their bare hands. After being buffeted, the brigands scurried away in fear, mumbling about the fearsome Fighting Fishermen as Phidelio and Fortis came to be known.

The next morning, armed with newfound confidence and the brigands' weapons, the fishermen and their families got back in their skiffs and made their way to the grotto.

"Do you think this place is really a portal to another world as they say?" Fortis said as they approached the small dark hollow.

"We'll find out soon enough," Phidelio said, tying a rope around his waist. "For all we know, the brigands reported us to the constabulary. I'll go through first. If all's well on the other side, I'll tug on the rope."

"How will I know it's you doing the tugging?" Fortis asked.

"I shall tug thrice then twice then thrice again." Tucking the cryptex down deep inside the pocket of his tunic, a brigand sword hidden under the fabric on his hip, Phidelio stood erect and walked into the darkness.

Fortis tied the other end of the rope around a tree trunk. Seconds passed with nothing happening. Finally, Fortis felt the rope tug three times, two times, and three times again.

"He made it!" Fortis cheered.

The members of the family walked single file toward the grotto's opening, all keeping their hands on the rope. Fortis sent the two skiffs adrift down the river then untied the rope around the tree, bringing up the rear as he walked toward the grotto's entrance.

The entire party got through the portal intact, finding themselves in a strange world known as Dimension Q, in the year 1111 AD.

Word of Sophia's legendary leap quickly spread through the dimensions, giving rise to the traditional observance of Saliolum (translated Leap Day). The Anglers of Sapientiae (as Phidelio and Fortis preferred to be called) gained fame too, and they feared if their identities became known, the cryptex would be in danger of being taken. After several years of living as vagabonds, the anglers grew weary of being on the run.

Their combined five children now grown (Phidelio's two sons and daughter, plus Fortis' son and daughter), the fishermen sent the younger generation away with the cryptex and instructions to keep both the artifact and their identities under wraps.

The fishermen dubbed their offspring the Knaights of the Firmament. For their sigil they chose a rosette, as was fashionable at the time. The rosette is five-petaled, with one petal for each of the children. The center of the rosette contains the symbol of the omniverse—a symbol unrecognized by those in Dimension Q who by and large believed their planet was the center of the universe and that there were only three dimensions: height, width, and depth.

Now flying under the radar, appearing to be just another band of Christian crusaders, the Knaights of the Firmament evaded notice. Saliolum celebrations began popping up every four years, and Sophia's legend became part of interdimensional lore. Now and again, a rumor sparked about the existence of the cryptex in Dimension Q. Each time, the Knaights moved the cryptex to a new location.

When the Age of Enlightenment advanced thinking and exploration in Dim Q, the Knaights were forced to employ more complicated measures to keep the cryptex hidden. Over the intervening centuries, several searches for the cryptex have been initiated, all eventually abandoned as fruitless. Consensus was the last scroll of Sapientiae had been lost. That is until ...

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A week ago, Rosa, a Dim Q graduate student who'd learned of Sophia's tale while researching the Bibliothecum dyiH Erudig, found herself in possession of the cryptex without knowledge of how to open it. Hers is a story in and of itself, but the upshot is, in her attempts to unlock the cryptex, she turned one of the numbered rings and something clicked. Putting the cryptex to her ear, she found the cryptex was ticking softly.

"That can't be good."

Rosa tried every combination she could think of to open it, spinning the various lettered rings. None of the combinations unlocked the box. Returning to the library at school, she looked up everything she could find on ancient cryptices, comparing hers to what she read. As with all cryptices of the era, hers was stamped with numbers on one end:
  

She recognized the symbols from her research and upon digging deeper, she learned they represented the number 333 in the ancient language Naturim. Reading on, she learned that the number on the end of a cryptex refers to the number of duraa the cryptex has from the time it's activated until it self-destructs. She also learned the dura is a measurement of time, with 333 duraa being equal to approximately 277.5 hours.

"It's already been ticking for four days. That's ninety-six hours. Take away ninety-six from two seventy-seven... There are still a hundred eighty-one hours left. There's still hope!"

Rosa put posts on social media, Reddit, and Quora asking for help and suggestions. No one knew anything about how to open a cryptex, but one Reddit writer suggested she post on the Nethernet, a term unfamiliar to her that refers to the nether regions of the web that exist in shadow. Following the writer's directions, Rosa put out a plea on the Nethernet, asking for help in unlocking the cryptex.

Cryptex Crusaders were swift to guess she had Sophia's scroll and began pressing her for information. She fears for the safety of not just the scroll, but for herself and her grandmother. That's where you come in.

Rosa needs your help. The entire omniverse does.

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