It was getting dark, and Brian was lost.
He and Tom were a famous duo of archaeologists, making many famous discoveries in different places. Today, the golden wolf had started a dig site in Egypt, seeking out the lair of the legendary Spotted Sphinx, and invited his silver panther companion to join him there. Of course, Brian being Brian, he'd managed to lose his way en route, despite the fact that he had a detailed map and compass.
As Brian wandered, he ran a finger over the special tracking bracelet on his left arm. After the incident during their last dig, Tom had given it to him to wear at all times so he (Tom) could find him (Brian) in situations like this.
I suppose I could just set up camp now and wait for Tom to find me... no, I should keep looking.
The panther took a few more steps... only to discover he was sinking. It didn't take him long to realize why.
"QUICKSAND!" he yelled. He was right; he'd blundered into a patch of quicksand.
Quicksand isn't actually as deadly as the movies would lead you to believe. As any sensible adventurer knows, all you have to do is move slowly and work your way to safe ground.
Brian, however, was not a sensible adventurer, so he panicked and thrashed about, which served only to quicken his descent. Before he knew it he was up to his neck, forcing him to take a deep breath and hold it, hoping for the best.
WHUMP! The panther landed square on his rear in an underground cavern, which had apparently been hidden underneath the quicksand. He moaned in pain as he pulled himself to his feet.
Where am I? I can't see a thing...
Taking a flashlight out of nowhere in particular, Brian flicked it on. A path led straight ahead, so he followed it, grateful to be out of the desert heat and wind.
The route ended at a stone double door. Above the handles, the panther could make out a sequence of four hieroglyphs.
A round-ended flag, a dome-shaped valley, a serpentine river, and a one-rung ladder? What could those possibly mean? It'd probably take Tom and me weeks to figure that out... oh, well, let's see what's behind this door.
Brian inhaled a deep breath, grabbed the handle, and pulled with all his might. When the door didn't budge, he pulled again, and again, putting more oomph into it each time. In the end, he collapsed exhausted against the door, which hadn't budged a millimeter.
Panting like a dog, Brian happened to lock eyes again with the hieroglyphs. This time, he noticed that they were, in fact, English letters... and that they spelled the word "PUSH".
As usual, I'm an idiot.
Gathering his strength again, the panther shoved the doors open with ease, nearly falling on his face in the process. The room beyond was well-lit with torches arranged neatly around the area; Brian put his flashlight away once he realized he didn't need it anymore (which he wouldn't for a few more minutes, but let's get this out of the way now).
What sort of place IS this? It looks like... a bedroom?
Indeed, the room looked like a rather fancy bedroom. Brian could make out a wardrobe, a desk, a nice rug taking up most of the floor... and, of course, a bed, currently occupied by someone he couldn't make out.
Against his better judgment (if indeed he had any better judgment, and there are times I wonder), Brian decided to wake up the sleeping figure and ask for directions. He approached the bed and tapped the sleeper on the shoulder.
"Um... excuse me..."
The figure sprang awake. It looked like a female cheetah, quite buxom and dressed in Egyptian ornamental garb; two spots on her forehead resembled a question mark. She didn't seem happy about being woken up.
"WHAT?! What gives you the right to awaken the Spotted Sphinx from her slumber?"
Brian jumped back, blurting out gibberish in an attempt to form a coherent response.
"...Well, whatever. I'll forgive the intrusion... IF you can solve a personal favorite riddle of mine. And trust me, there WILL be consequences if you fail."
The panther gulped.
The Sphinx snapped her fingers, and the next thing Brian knew he was in front of the desk, which was now populated with four neatly arranged bowls and a row of golden coins. A rolled-up parchment lay in one of the bowls.
"Your instructions are on the parchment," the Sphinx instructed from her position on the bed. "Let me know when you're finished."
Brian tried to turn around, but an invisible force was holding his feet in place; it felt like they were nailed to the floor. With little choice, he unrolled the parchment and looked it over.
You have four bowls and fifteen coins. Arrange them so that each bowl contains an odd number (1, 3, 5, etc.) of coins. You must use all the bowls and all the coins, and nothing more.
Sighing, Brian turned his attention to the bowls and coins. The bowls appeared to be made of bronze, and sorted by size, the largest bowl about twice the diameter of the smallest. The coins were all identical, with an image of the Sphinx's face on one side and a stylized pyramid on the other; each coin was polished and very shiny.
For the next several minutes, possibly hours, the panther fiddled with the bowls and the coins. He put coins in bowls and took them out, counting them over and over, but it just didn't seem possible. Every time he used all the coins, one of the bowls didn't contain an odd number, and every time he made every bowl odd, he had a coin or three left over. At one point he wore one bowl as a hat and did his best soldier impression just to break up the monotony.
The Spotted Sphinx watched gleefully from her position on the bed. Said bed was very fine, with a bouncy mattress, a frame made of solid gold, finely woven sheets, and a rather novel blanket made out of what appeared to be large fabric squares of varying colors.
"Oh, Sphinx?" Brian finally called out. "I think I'm done."
Hearing this, the Sphinx got up and peered at Brian's work. She counted the coins in each bowl; the smallest bowl contained one coin, the next-smallest three, then five, then five again.
"...There are only fourteen coins here. Where's the fifteenth?"
"What do you mean? You only gave me fourteen coins."
"No, I gave you fifteen. Where's the last one?"
Brian bore a nervous grin on his face as he shrugged his shoulders. The Sphinx contemplated the matter for a moment, then lifted one of the bowls, revealing the fifteenth coin hidden underneath.
"...You could not solve my riddle properly, so you attempted to cheat. I shall interpret this as failure."
"... ... ..."
The Sphinx stepped back and clapped her hands. A rumbling sound directed Brian's attention to the ceiling up above him, just in time for a square stone piston to slam down on top of him, squashing him from head to toe.
A moment later, the piston rose again, revealing the pancaked panther now stuck to its underside. He was in the shape of a perfect square, his legs, rear, and tail the only things visible from that side.
Before Brian had recovered from the shock, the Sphinx reached up and peeled him free, exposing his face once more. She held him up, examining his back, then his front.
"Um... what are you going to do with me now?"
"Now you join the others who couldn't solve my riddle."
The Sphinx placed Brian on her bed, face up, then picked up her blanket. Closer examination revealed the thing to be made up of several other toons, each one flattened into a square just like Brian was, and each one completely unconscious. The blanket wasn't a perfect rectangle; a few squares were missing on one end.
Without hesitation, the Sphinx slipped her captive into a spot where one of the missing squares belonged, then traced her finger over his edges, magically "stitching" him into place.
"Good night. Maybe if someone manages to succeed where you failed, I'll let every one of you go."
With that, the Sphinx slipped under the covers and returned to her slumber, leaving Brian staring at the ceiling.
I hope Tom picks up the signal on my tracking bracelet and comes to my rescue, and I hope he does it soon. He'd be able to solve that riddle for sure. I guess there's nothing I can do now... but... wa... i... t...
That was Brian's last conscious thought before the Spotted Sphinx's magic kicked in in full, sending him into a deep sleep.