Addy had studied the list of hazards until she could recite them in her sleep. According to Jaci, she had done just that last night. Addy wasn’t sure whether or not to believe her.
Triple-checking her equipment, Addy made sure that the relic was safe in it’s protective pouch, and started up the steps to the temple entrance.
Tourists could go up the steps onto the balcony surrounding the entrance, but could not go inside. Officially, this restriction was due to the temple lacking structural integrity. Unofficially, it was because the inner temple had become extremely hostile to pretty much everyone since the theft of it’s sacred treasures, and none of the locals wanted to add a supernatural body count to their list of problems.
Addy would be the first person to set foot in the temple in a very, very long time.
Knowing the dangers in advance, Addy avoided the first three traps with relative ease and the help of finely-honed reflexes. Her body would protest that extremely flexible move she had used to avoid the last trap later, but for the moment, Addy was still alive, and that was the important bit.
Her first real challenge came in the form of a shadowy figure, materialising out of a wall, but appearing solid. Addy had no intention of getting close enough to find out.
The being, whose gender was impossible to make out, spoke in a harsh, guttural voice. “¿Por qué has venido, forastero?”
‘Why have you come, outsider?’ Addy translated the Spanish in her head, surprised and then promptly annoyed with herself for being surprised. The relic had been stolen several decades after the arrival of Cortez and the Conquistadors, long enough for Castellan to be introduced as a language, and probably used as the default when conversing with foreigners who were not recognisably one of their own. For all Hollywood and most history books liked to pretend otherwise, Europe had been extremely multi-cultural.
It was a good thing that Addy was passably poly-lingual, even if her accent wasn’t fantastic. “Vengo a devolver lo robado.”
I come to return what was stolen. It was a risk, revealing her purpose, but still better than getting into a fight this early on. From what the Elder had said, the corrupted ones fell into two categories: those who surrendered and were cursed to eternal unrest (potential allies if their punishment was broken by the relic’s return) and those who willingly assisted the raiders and were cursed for betraying their oaths (probably hostile, since breaking the curse would send them straight to their religion’s version of Hell).
This corrupted one was probably the former, since they immediately dropped their threatening posture. “Luego pase, pero tenga en cuenta que otros de mi tipo no le darán la bienvenida.”
Then pass, but be advised… no, that was be warned… that others of my kind will not welcome you. That confirmed Addy’s suspicions that there were some that wanted the artefact returned, but she was more likely to encounter the ones that didn’t, and she nodded. “Muchas gracias, y pronto te traigo descanso.”
My thanks, and may I soon bring you rest. Compassion was rarely misplaced, and the spirit seemed to appreciate it. At least, the corrupted one stepped aside without further argument and waved her on.
Addy slowed her pace as she continued on, the traps becoming more and more difficult. A rumbling sound, easily recognisable from countless movies, came from behind her, and she indulged in a groan as several more dark figures, likely the less friendly corrupted ones, appeared in front of her. “Oh, come on!”
Running forward wasn’t going to help, but Addy couldn’t stay put, either. The walls of the passage were smooth, but the ceiling was not, elaborate carvings protruding downward. The passage was narrow enough for no more than three people to walk, which meant close enough for Addy to parkour up and brace herself across the ceiling.
As she suspected, the boulder was just small enough that it didn’t damage the carvings, so while she got a torn shirt and a few scrapes over her stomach, she avoided becoming a human-shaped smear on the floor. Several of the corrupted ones had not been so fortunate, and a few more were cautiously poking their heads back out of the walls. Dropping back to the floor, Addy pulled a short cudgel from her belt and dashed past them.
The floor had not yet closed after the boulder, an ingenious mechanism that seemed to rely on an underground passage and force of motion to return the boulder to it’s starting point. Addy cleared the trap-door at a bound as it dropped again, sensing the movement of an intruder, and skidded to a halt just in time to avoid a spray of poison darts exploding from a wall.
Breathing a sigh of relief at the close call, she instinctively lashed out with her cudgel, sending a corrupted one who had managed to follow her flying backward. It vanished down the trap-door, and Addy hoped that it didn’t mess up the mechanism. Such fine engineering deserved better than to be spoiled by a random spirit.
There was a reason that Addy used a cudgel rather than something more lethal. First, there was no assurance that what worked to damage one type of guardian would also work on others. Second, an already-hostile temple with a vague form of sentience tended to sit up and take notice when it’s protectors were hurt in a fight, and treat the attacker as a serious threat to be annihilated. Returning the relic was already tricky enough, and Addy saw no need to go courting trouble.
Besides, she could see the podium ahead, illuminated by the same shimmering green light the artifact emitted, the place where the artifact had first been stolen still miraculously clean and spared the decaying nature of the rest of the temple.
Reflexes saved Addy’s life as a tear - there was really no other word for it - opened in the air above the alter, and something far more monstrous than the corrupted ones clawed it’s way out, lunging for Addy’s throat. A swing of the cudgel pulverised the creature’s head, and Addy threw herself forward, dodging a second - demon was was an accurate enough term, she supposed - and pulling the relic out of her backpack. A well-aimed kick deterred the third demon long enough to place the relic on the alter.
Light, searing and cleansing and almost blinding, exploded from the relic as soon as it’s base touched the alter. The demons screamed as they were scorched out of existence, and the tear disappeared as though it had never been. Addy blinked the spots out of her eyes and pulled out a notebook, quickly sketching the demons she had seen. Jaci had done extensive research on South American mythology, and if she couldn’t identify something, her grandmother probably could.
Tucking the notebook back into her pouch, Addy turned to leave as the light changed from searing to a soft glow, almost with a feel of… approval? Benediction?
The poison darts stopped in mid-air and retreated back into the walls as she passed. The floor barely trembled beneath Addy’s feet before it steadied again, and the corrupted ones were nowhere to be seen. At the entrance, a ghost or spirit, dressed in what Addy vaguely recognised as the clothing of a high priest, waited. “Well done, go with the High One’s blessing.”
Addy only nodded, too drained from the adreniline rush to think of much more than how long it would be before she could collapse into her own bed. Or any bed that she could lay claim to for a couple of hours, at least.
Stay tuned for Part 4...