Apex (Challenge repost)

They sought out her clockwork tower to hear the gods’ words from her lips.

Bronze-plated dragons with snapping shrapnel teeth guarded the landings. Those who weren’t eaten faced a wind-up Sphinx that spat out ticker-tape riddles. She hated it when they answered incorrectly; the Sphinx’ broken voice-recorder played back their dying screams for hours, until she went out and gave it a kick.

It played a fanfare when they got it right, and the whirring gears as the door to her chambers unlocked warned the oracle of impending guests.

They all entered the same way — awestruck, breathless, grateful to be alive… but smug, too. After all, hadn’t they bested dragons? Hadn’t they outwitted the Sphinx? Sometimes, when the gods were done speaking, she’d add an extra task for the most arrogant. The gods didn’t seem to mind.

When they were gone, she’d feed new riddles to the Sphinx and stare out across the city, wondering why heroes rescued princesses from dragon-infested towers, but left prophetesses behind.

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