} Once inside the magnificent, marble entrance hall, the Oracle put a
} hand on the supplicant's shoulder and pointed with the other one at
} a fountain surrounded by statues.
} "This is..."
} A bell rang, loud and terrible. Lights flashed. Shouts could be heard,
} both distant and near. Sudden commotion erupted, footsteps sounded
} above and below. The Oracle and priesthood froze and looked at each
} other, a sudden dread in their faces.
} "... this is impossible!"
} "Um," the supplicant tapped the Oracle on the hand still resting on
} their shoulder, "this isn't the let's-welcome-the-new-priest-bell,
} is it?"
} The Oracle seemed not to have heard them. It hastened to a statue
} displaying a knight dipping his sword into the fountain and pulled
} its shield arm. Racks of odd devices sprang up from the floor, all
} of them as much alien in their shape as they were obviously weapons.
} "Everybody grab a zotrod! Quick!"
} The supplicant reached for one of the six foot long staves that made
} up the bulk of the available weaponry.
} "And now..."
} But again, the Oracle was interrupted, this time by shouts from
} the priests.
} "The roof! Woodchucks on the roof!"
} Things went too fast for the supplicant. Turning simultaneously
} with the priests, they raised the zotrod over their face, more in a
} desperate effort to bring something between a couple of organs they
} had grown rather fond of and the homicidal rodents that crashed through
} the glass dome of the temple than to perform any kind of attack.
} They closed their eyes. There were more shouts, there was the sound of
} shattered glass raining down on the floor. A brilliant light flashed
} through their eyelids several times, and something heavy brushed
} against their shins.
} When they dared to look again, a priest was laying at his feet in a
} puddle of blood. One of the priests knelt and held her head.
} "No! Not Clarissa!" His voice was pure panic. "They knew! They knew
} we're helpless without..."
} All eyes suddenly turned to the supplicant. Time seemed to stop for
} a heartbeat, and after what seemed like an eternity, the Oracle spoke:
} "You. New one. You're good with math, right? Numbers are your thing?
} Well, congratulations, you just got a promotion on your first day.
} We need you in the tower. Pete, take him and get the Zototron going!"
} "But, but..." the supplicant stammered as one of the priests grabbed
} his arm and pulled him towards a nearby stairway, but the Oracle was
} out of earshot before they could form a remotely coherent sentence.
} Turning to the priest that kept dragging them up the wound stairway,
} the supplicant asked "What is going on here?"
} "Much as I'd like to," the priest replied, "there's no time to tell you
} the entire story with the proper dramaturgy. So let's just say that
} you happened to choose the day our ancient and most feared nemesis
} attacks us for your initiation. And we," he added while kicking open
} a door at the top of the tower, "are the only ones who can stop it
} while the others buy us time."
} The room was littered with odd and antiquated computer equipment,
} the marble floor hardly visible for all the cables covering it like
} so many snakes. Pete threw himself into a chair in front of one of
} the many monitors and began hammering on the keyboard.
} "I need you to go to the window. What do you see? How many are there?"
} As told, the supplicant did step to the window. For a moment, they
} did not realize what they saw, for the sight was too strange, too
} bizarre to recognize or even accept. From the wall below him to the
} distant horizon, the earth was brown with woodchuck.
} "How many?"
} The supplicant counted, the supplicant estimated. The supplicant
} gulped. The supplicant told him.
} "Have they breached the wall yet?"
} "Some are climbing it, but they haven't breached it. They're trying,
} though - they have siege towers!"
} "Siege Towers! How many?"
} The supplicant counted, the supplicant told him.
} Pete looked at him. "Alright. Now, I need to figure this out. In order
} to get our very own doomsday device going, I must know exactly what
} subspecies of woodchuck it is. And that, " he took a deep breath,
} "I can determine if I know their speed. They can't have been here
} for longer than a day, or our scouts would have reported them.
} They probably used the entirety of your initiation for the preparation
} of the attack. Now, each siege tower takes twenty logs of wood. So tell
} me how many logs did each woodchuck provide per hour, and quickly."
} The supplicant calculated, the supplicant opened their mouth.
} The supplicant hesitated.
} The supplicant thought.
} "I can't tell you."
} "What? You said you're good at math. I need you to do this! You're our
} only hope!"
} "I mean, I could tell you. But I won't. You remember that oath I swore,
} like, twenty minutes ago? Apart from all the odd stuff about mangos,
} which I suspect is a joke, it also included that I will never ever
} answer the woodchuck question to anyone." He paused. "And so I will.
} Not even to you."
} Pete glared at the supplicant. "Are you insane? You are destroying
} the temple!"
} "It would be destroyed," the supplicant answered with a sad smile,
} "either way. This way, it may go down faster, but I will not have
} its... well, I will not have on my hands whatever temples have instead
} of blood."
} There was another flash of light, this time blinding the supplicant,
} and then there was - applause.
} Disoriented, the supplicant looked at the Oracle and the priesthood
} as they stood around them in the fully restored entrance hall.
} "Well done", the Oracle said, "you handled yourself pretty well.
} Although you could have thrown in a pun or two, you didn't really
} use the comedic opportunities."
} The supplicant sighed in relief.
} "So this was all a test. To see if I'm worthy, to see that I won't
} answer the forbidden question, even when under the greatest pressure."
} And the Oracle said: "No, don't be silly. There are no tests. We were
} just plain messing with you. Gives you a taste of what the supplicants
} will do to you - on a daily basis. Now, take the rest of the day off,
} and I see you tomorrow at five. And oh, keep that zotrod."
} To the Oracle, you owe your deepest psychological scar.