Chapter 1: A Good Haul
Virpan crawled along the jungle pathway, only now noticing how loud breathing sounded. A patrol of painted warriors was advancing down the trail towards her, their load yammering echoing loudly beneath the canopy. She slipped behind a fern and watched as the column of warriors marched past. Their leader brandished a torch, its flickering light piercing the darkness around them. She shrank away from it, waiting for the warriors to pass.
The moment she was certain they were gone, Virpan hopped back onto the trail and hurried towards the rendezvous point. In the distance a large shape loomed into view. Her eyes gradually readjusted to the darkness, bringing the old pyramid into focus. The imposing structure seemed to tower over all of creation, a silent witness to the ages. When she drew nearer to the edifice, Virpan spotted a small light glowing near its summit. Concerned, she stepped off the path and picked her way through the jungle foliage the rest of the way.
Just a few yards from the pyramid she came to the spot where her partner was supposed to be waiting for her. It took only a moment to discern his location. Virpan strolled up to the tree he was hiding in and yanked him out by his foot. The boy toppled to the ground, landing in a heap at its roots.
â€œOw, geeze, whatâ€™d you do that for?â€
â€œFor this,â€ she replied, scooping up his now empty wineskin. â€œI see you havenâ€™t learned quite yet what it takes to be a forager.â€
â€œApparently,â€ he said, rubbing his back. â€œThat was water, by the way.â€
â€œThis was a waste of time anyway; weâ€™re not getting in,â€ Avuksik said, â€œthat seal you found is too heavy.â€
â€œDonâ€™t be so quick to give up,â€ Virpan muttered, walking over to side of the structure.
She hopped up onto the lowest terrace of stone and tested the carved circular cap. It didnâ€™t budge. Undeterred, she slid her fingers around the edges. Near the top she found a weak spot. Excited, Virpan hopped up over the door and heaved it with all her might. The slab heaved out of its ancient resting place and flopped to the ground with a thud. The sound reverberated through darkened trees, alerting all in the vicinity what was happening. She tensed, knowing what Karriv would do to them should they be discovered.
â€œI told you it was too high up,â€ Avuksik moaned, â€œI bet they heard that all the way in back in town.â€
â€œQuiet, I saw the last patrol leaving the area. Weâ€™re in the clear.â€
â€œI hope thatâ€™s the case.â€
â€œIt is, now follow me.â€
â€œIâ€™m still not sure about this place, Virpan.â€
â€œToo bad, now get up here or youâ€™re walking back alone.â€
She hopped down into the small passageway, feeling the stone for any sign of weakness. Certain it was safe, Virpan leaned over and offered her hand. Avuksik hesitated for a moment before grabbing hold.
The tunnel was cramp and the octagonal shape gave them little room to maneuver in. After crawling up at least a full story and around a corner, Avuksik pulled out a small torch. As he fumbled for a match Virpan spotted a light appeared. Intrigued, she grabbed the torch away from him and pulled herself forward.
Around the next corner was a small hole in the side of the passageway. A flickering light danced on the wall, a low voice murmuring from an adjacent chamber. Needing to know what was being said, Virpan pulled herself to the gap and peered into the chamber. Before she could get a good look Avuksik clambered over her, trying to get a look as well.
A short exchange of smacks later they both had a view of the room. A large circle of stone stood at one end with a dragon like image of Valtor above it, partially carved into the ceiling. Two men stood in near the centre of the room, one wearing brown robes and holding a torch, the other in red with a gold amulet around his neck. The red man was speaking.
â€œI understand that, Father, but do you really believe the risk outweighs the consequences of failure?â€
â€œSilence, Valtor will guide us to glory and from this time of darkness. We must trust in the chroniclers of old.â€
â€œAs you command, Father.â€
The two fell silent. After waiting for them to resume for some time, Virpan gave up, and was left to wonder what they had witnessed.
â€œIs that the Sanja, the Father of Lulnaâ€™ap monastery?â€ Avuksik asked.
â€œI, what in the world would he be doing out here?â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I asked you.â€
â€œWhy would I know?â€
â€œStop answering a question with a question.â€
â€œNo, really, why would I know the ansâ€¦â€
A tremor shook the temple. Panicked, Virpan and Avuksik fell over each other trying to get to the exit. Then a loud grating noise echoed through the chamber beside them. Both sprang back to the hole in time to see the stone circle rolling to the side. Behind it was another chamber, though they could see precious little of it. The two figures hurried into the room.
â€œWhatâ€™s in there?â€ Avuksik asked.
â€œWeâ€™re not starting that again, ok?â€
â€œOk, do have any idea, based on your extensive explorationâ€¦ah, forget it, letâ€™s get on with this.â€
Virpan sighed and allowed Avuksik to light his torch. By its dim glow they spotted something strange. In an alcove just a few feet from the hole was a pair of lenses aligned with bronze rods protruding from the wall. She leaned in closer, noticing a long shaft above them. It was barely two inches across. Cobwebs and bits of debris blocked the view.
Deciding it was of no interest; she ignored it and crawled past it. About ten more feet and they were near the inner chamber. Hesitantly she tested the seal, finding it quite loose. Before Virpan put all her weight against it however, a voice caught her attention. Someone was talking in the sealed chamber. Intrigued again, both leaned up against the seal and listened intently.
â€œSilence, we must have faith in the chroniclers. Must put our fate in Valtorâ€™s hands.â€
â€œOf course Father.â€
Silence gain fell. Within moments the tremors began gain, something large moving not far away. Hoping it was the large door, Virpan kicked the seal out of place, hopping into the room. The seal had indeed moved back into place. Excited, she looked around the chamber, her hopes of a big hall imploding. The room was virtually empty, save for a few selves and table against the wall, and a sarcophagus sitting atop a squat stature of Valtor in the centre.
â€œDarn, looks like itâ€™s a bust,â€ Avuksik said quietly, â€œso much for your years of experience.â€
â€œThink you can do any better?â€
â€œI, uh, never mind. What do you suppose those Order guys were doing in here?â€
â€œBeats me,â€ Virpan murmured looking over the shelf. â€œOoh, these are nice jars. ,maybe it wasnâ€™t a complete waste.â€
â€œYeah, great, jars, Iâ€™m gonna see whatâ€™s in this box.â€ He flipped the lid off the sarcophagus and reached inside. Virpan considered scolding him, but after glancing at her paltry haul decided that sheâ€™d let it slide. â€œWhat did you find?â€
â€œA musty old scroll.â€ He replied, unfurling it. â€œHuuuh, oh my.â€
â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œI canâ€™t read.â€
â€œPuhf, well, neither can I.â€
â€œGreat, bet this isnâ€™t worth a grain of maize.â€
â€œPut it back then, this place isnâ€™t as abandoned as I thought.â€
â€œFine,â€ he said, stuffing the parchment back into place.
A few gold leafed jars in hand, the two exited the chamber, carefully pulling the seal back into place behind them. Avuksik grumbled the whole way back to the entrance, apparently underwhelmed by the spoils. When they passed the alcove again, Virpan noticed a strange blue glow on the other side of the passage. Opposite the shaft above was one below, a blue something built into the wall just few feet down.
Now more curious than ever, she reached into the upper shaft and knocked some of the debris away. Unfortunately she knocked it all loose, sending a miniature avalanche onto herself. Virpan coughed and sputtered, wiping the junk off herself. Then she looked up, seeing a small patch of sky beyond. Above her was the constellation of Valtor shining through the gap.
â€œWhat do see?â€
â€œC-constellation,â€ she coughed. â€œOf V-valtor.â€
â€œBah, useless. Come on, letâ€™s go.â€
Once outside, Virpan divided up the haul, Avuksik eyeing his jar at armâ€™s length. Feeling a bit bad for him, Virpan clambered up a nearby tree. She returned moments later with four eggs clutched in her hands.
â€œAt least we got breakfast out of all this.â€
â€œGreat,â€ he muttered.
â€œLetâ€™s split up, and head back to town.â€
â€œYeah sure, why not.â€