I am the Sphinx. Once I was a statue. Now, I’m a woman, or a beast, if you prefer; something alive. Although I suppose that most who see me still assume I’m inanimate, especially if they’re looking from afar. No living thing ought to have a lion’s body and a human face, which throws off first impressions considerably. It doesn’t help that I don’t always bother to move until I’ve a reason to do so, and (I will admit) there’s a certain vicious pleasure to be gained in making mortals temporary cardiac arrest when they realize that the stone thing is alive.
I am the Sphinx. They magicked me into life and told me to guard the crossroads. They told me to ask a riddle of any who passed, and to eat those who could not solve my riddle.
“What if someone comes with an army?” I wanted to ask. “I can’t eat all of them, and I have no idea if I’m immune to catapults or battering rams. If you want to show off, shouldn’t you protect your investment? Or, for that matter, why make me at all? Sure, this is a flashy piece of sorcery, but I can’t believe this is the best use of magical time and energy. Oughtn’t you save that kind of thing for problems which can’t be solved through existing technology? I mean, standing in front of people and threatening them can be handled pretty easily with your existing resources. Couldn’t you just put a garrison here, and if someone approaches, take ’em into a little room, ask your question, and if they can’t answer, it’s arrow-to-the-chest time? It’s not even like you’ll be out the arrows; it’s YOUR damn room. Pluck your bolts from the corpse and get on with things.”
Expensive? Sure, but you run a nation-state, fellow. You’ve got soldiers already, and they’re practical. THEY can, for example, send you written reports. Me, even if I could write, I got…paws. Unhelpful.
And THEY don’t have to eat their kills. Do you know how often travellers bathe around here? Not. Often. Enough. I bet you wouldn’t eat unwashed vegetables; but you had a choice, after all.
But we never had that conversation. It was just ritual, ritual, ritual, spell, spell, spell, BANG! and I’m conscious, BANG! and I can move, BANG! “All right, here’s a riddle, here’s the answer, if they don’t get it right, and they won’t, gobble ’em down. I know they won’t get it right, because it’s my riddle, and I’m very clever.” And he pranced around a bit, admiring me, as I tried to figure out walking and such, and then he buggered off. And left me here.
He can leave? Me? I’ve thought about it. Honestly, I’m not sure what happens if I try to move far from this spot. I’m not sure I won’t just turn back to unliving stone. If you’ve ever had a nightmare about turning to stone, becoming slowly more rigid, less a living thing and more an object, consider what it would be like for me. I’ve been there. If you fear turning to stone, you probably think about the moment when the spark of life goes out. I know better. I know that the spark of life goes out, and then you just stay there, slowly eroding in the wind and rain, for literal geological ages.
For an added bit of terror, I’ve considered that it might happen while I’m flying, and then I’d be Sphinx rubble, and thus, a tourist attraction. Maybe I could soar away free; but I doubt it. He told me to “stay”, and, like a dog (I. am. part. lion. Not the same thing)—I stay.
Still, somedays, I’m frustrated enough to consider testing the barriers, to just run or leap as far from here as I can, except, except, except…
Someday, the person who gave me this riddle will return.
To check on me? To gloat? To renew the spell?
….to gloat, at the very least. There’s only one person who knows the answer to this riddle, and he’s it. And after a long-time of watching/meeting/eating people who think they’re very clever indeed, I’ve realized:
Anyone who’s more interested in being seen as smart than, say, remaining out of my mouth…
….is a natural-born gloater.
So I am quite certain: someday, he’ll come back. To check his handiwork; to ask how many I’ve killed.
He’s no fool, of course. He can answer the riddle, and I’m sure he’ll be warded and guarded, and whatever magic made me will shield him from me.
I’m no longer a statue brought to life.
I’m a living, thinking thing who once was a statue.
Let him command the parts of me that are a statue still; let him expect me to be lifeless stone unless he says otherwise; let him force my jaws to close and my mouth to shut, if he can. The statue was his. The Monster—I am no-one’s, except, perhaps, my own.
And he’ll find that out. I don’t care if unmaking him unmakes me; or, that is, I care, but I choose; rather both our deaths than his freedom and my enslavement.
He gave me the ability to talk, and with that comes the desire, maybe a need, to do so. And then he gave me orders which end all of my conversations quite abruptly; and he, of course, never comes to speak to me. Never asked my opinion. Never told me his plan. Never gave me reason to believe I might want to do this, if given the explanation and the choice. He had the power to do neither, and so he chose to do neither.
I have moved my own body, by myself, for myself, for so long; can he still it? I don’t know if I have a heart; if I do, can he stop it? He made this mouth to speak, and to rend; can I turn it on him?
I’ll tell you this: He’ll need to get close to me, close enough to riddle with me. They always do; they always want to stay far away, but I always insist on a whisper until they come near. He made me, but he’s no different from them; that’s how he could craft such an effective trap. I have met a thousand like him, many of whom could have found a way around me…but they didn’t want to. Each wanted to be the one to solve the Riddle of the Sphinx; and nobody managed to realize he’d likely die trying.
This the real Riddle of the Sphinx: Why am I awake?
No, really. I could have been an automaton. There’s only one right answer; either they say the right thing, or they don’t. I don’t know much in the way of sorcery, but I’m pretty sure it would have been no less imposing for me to await an answer, like a lock which fits just one key, and have me destroy anyone who gets it wrong.
And after many years of wondering, I’m pretty sure I have it. He wants me to hear each riddle, to think about it, to look sincerely at the speaker and say, “You are wrong.” He wants them to know they’re wrong, and to know that someone else heard them, and heard them get it wrong.
Why do I have a brain? The better to spite you with.
And that’s why I know he’s going to want to be very personal, indeed. I could have been a tool; but he wanted an unwilling slave. One who could think about running away. One who could see travelers coming, and hate them simply because they were allowed to be somewhere other than here, even though here was where they were going, and where (bits of) their bones would rest forever. He wanted a being who was conscious enough to give meaning to death after death after death.
So I know he’ll riddle with me. He won’t just inspect me from a safe distance. Why would he? You don’t just gaze at your property; you step on up to it and count its helpless teeth. I know he wants to look into my eyes, and if he wants to see my subservience—or my defiance—he’ll have to be near enough that he could feel my hot breath on his face, if I had breath.
And when he gets up to my face, I’ll tell him. I’ll tell him I’m not his anymore. I’ll tell him that if he’d had reason to do this, he should have shared it with me; that he could have made me an inanimate trap, or a living confederate, but I won’t be some bastardized in-between thing. And I’ll try to swallow him whole, I swear I will, and if he can really freeze me in place, if he can return me to what I once was, if he can make me a statue, it doesn’t matter. If I live, I’ll eat him, and if I die—and this I swear, I swear upon the crossroads I guard, I swear by the mind that makes me what I am, I swear by the souls I’ve sent to Hell with my words and my claws—if he kills me, I’ll fall on the son of a bitch.