It was Grak’s turn to travel to the surface to check the position of the stars. He grumbled low in his throat at the thought. But, there was no sense in putting it off. He grabbed the bag with all the notebooks and started up the path.
Hours later, he had finally finished his observations. His eyes were watering and his head ached. Why did the stars have to be so bright? It was unnatural. He shoved the last notebook into the bag and scratched behind his horns, claws catching for a moment in his fur. It was time to go home.
He hurried back into the cave and slipped through the door at the back. He leaned against it for a moment and then slid down to sit back against it with a sigh. He kept his eyes closed for a long moment, until the headache was mostly eased.
When he opened his eyes again in the familiar darkness, he was face to face with a tiny human carrying a light brighter than the stars. Ouch. He growled in pain.
The human dropped the light, and it went out. How considerate. Humans really were delightful. The last human he’d met, centuries ago, had known so many interesting riddles. Perhaps it was a human custom?
“Do you know any riddles?” he asked.
“I…I think so,” the human said hesitantly.
“Excellent. Have you heard this one? There are three gems on a table. You take two away. How many gems do you have now?”
There was a long pause. “Two?”
Grak smiled. “That’s right! Your turn.”
“How far can a deer run into a forest?”
Grak thought for a moment. “Only halfway. Then he’s running out again. Clever. Here’s a classic. Poor people have it. Rich people need it. If you eat it you’ll die. What is it?”
The human began muttering quietly to himself. “Nothing. It’s nothing,” he finally said. “I guess it’s my turn again. What can you hold in your right hand, but not your left?”
Hmmmmm. Good one. “Your left hand. My turn. Many have heard me, but no one has seen me. I will not speak back until spoken to. Who am I?”
The human shuffled, then paced. He suddenly stopped and turned. “An echo.” He smiled. “I have the perfect riddle. Never resting, never still. Moving silently from hill to hill. It does not walk, run or trot. All is cool where it is not. What is it?”
Grak thought for a while. He considered all the riddles he’d ever heard or told. He thought about the world above and the world below. “I don’t know. What is it?”
“It’s the sun,” the human said.
The sun. He’d heard of its horrors. It was bright enough to strike anyone blind who dared to look upon it. He shivered.
“So, I win then?” the human asked. “You couldn’t answer it.”
“It wasn’t really a contest, but you did tell me a riddle I couldn’t answer.” Ah, humans. Apparently they were as competitive as ever.
“Then I can leave and you won’t eat me, right?”
“What?” Grak looked around. Oh. He was sitting in front of the door, wasn’t he? How embarrassing. “Yes, of course. You can go now.” He stood up and shuffled out of the way.
The human darted forward and tugged on the door. Grak reached around him and pulled it open. The human looked up warily. “Thank you,” he said.
“You are welcome to come again,” Grak said hopefully. “I’d love to trade more riddles.”
The human shook his head and gripped the straps of his pack tightly. He stepped quickly around the door and started running. Grak squinted and watched him go for a moment, before closing the door.
It was sad that he’d probably not see the interesting human again. But Grak cheered up when he thought about the new riddles he had to tell. He picked up his bag and hurried down the path towards home.