Layla’s torch illuminated the dark spiraling tunnels ahead of her, the light glistening against the layers of dust that, until this point, had been undisturbed for millennia. She examined the small black notebook in her hands with a puzzled look in a last hopeful attempt to get her bearings straight. Michaela, who had hastily copied the tunnel’s blueprint from the formal archives on the notebook's pages, seemed to have missed the turn Layla currently found herself at.
With a sigh, Layla glanced back up hesitantly, her dark eyes gleaming in the dark.
According to Layla’s somewhat shady sources, an archeology team had accidentally discovered this channel of tunnels under the city of Alexandria three weeks ago. Despite their curiosity and excitement, the archeologists did not seem to have any idea of the magnitude of their discovery, unlike others... who, like Michaela, were very eager to retrieve what had been hiding around just beneath this lively metropolis. However, Layla did not care for any of that; she only cared about the $20,000 she had been paid to recover Tyche’s orb of fortune before the archaeologists' found it or realized what exactly they had stumbled upon.
This is why today, Layla found herself 20ft beneath the busy city of Alexandria, pondering whether it was wiser to take a left or right turn, shaking her head at the absurdity of being the first human lost in this tunnel system in thousands of years. After a faltering second, she shoved the small black notebook with the rather useless blueprint in her back pocket and took a left turn.
Each step she took echoed loudly around the uneven brick walls which loomed eerily above her, the noise breaking the ancient perpetual silence in which the walls had been plunged. As time dragged on, the walls of the tunnel began narrowing more and more, to the point where Layla had to crunch down on all fours and hold her torch in her mouth as she crawled her way across the channel.
As she slithered and wriggled her way through the narrowing tunnel, Layla’s mind tried to get comfortable with the thought that she may be lost in an ancient labyrinth of constricting, icy corridors.
“This is fine,” Layla whispered to herself as she crawled forward in the cramped tunnel, sweat dripping down her forehead. With some difficulty, she held up her torch, trying to spot the end of the tunnel. “$20,000 better be worth this, though...” The words barely left her mouth before the channel started abruptly collapsing on itself; the rocks began rolling down under Layla’s weight, pulling her down with them. Layla lost her footing and started crashing down the steep descent. She tried holding on to the walls, but her sweaty palms failed to grip the sharp rocks, and she tumbled down unceremoniously.
“I knew this job was going to be rubbish.” Layla coughed as she tried to adjust her eyes to the darkness that had enveloped her. Realizing she had lost her torch in the fall, Layla reached into her jacket’s pocket in the hopes her cell could brighten the surroundings.
“Maybe not worth $20,00…” She pondered, dusting off her jeans with one hand and switching on her phone with another.
The phone's torch illuminated the walls in front of her, and Layla had to take a double-take. Unlike the walls of the halls above, these walls were painted gold, with beautiful paintings of exuberant cornucopias; the pictures emulated unparalleled wealth and plenty. They were so enchanting that Layla felt compelled to lightly trace one of the cornucopias overflowing with colorful fruits with the tip of her finger. If someone had been down in the tunnels with Layla, they would have seen evident confusion plastered on her face. Indeed, she couldn’t comprehend how those paintings had remained so pristine over the centuries. But that wasn’t even what was bothering her the most.
Layla once again leafed through the small black notebook containing Michaela’s own drawings. She stopped on one of the pages just after the blueprint. There were the drawings. Drawings of what she had been sent for. Drawings that up to this point Layla thought were an approximation, a guess of what she had to find… Because how could Michaela know? How could Michaela have traced the exact cornucopia Layla had just traced with her finger.
Layla spun around, taking in the room in astonishment... for every drawing, every line Machaela had drawn on the notebook was delineated on the walls. Layla had done many odd jobs for many strange people, but Michaela was not supposed to be strange. Surely Michaela would have warned Layla if there was anything peculiar about the tunnels… right? Though Layla felt her skin crawl, she was already at least 25ft underground, and Michaela had already paid in advance. Layla glanced at the $20,000 cheque attached to the back of the notebook.
With that, Layla shook off the spookiness she felt and carefully examined the milieu. The most striking painting in the room was of a beautiful woman, more like a deity Layla thought absently. She had fierce almond eyes and long white robes. In her right hand, she held a pouch teeming with golden coins that cascaded down to her naked feet.
“Hello, Tyche,” Layla said with a sly smile dancing on her lips. The goddess of Fortune returned her icy stare.
She had taken the right turn, after all. Layla approached the painting, scrutinizing it. Michaela had warned Layla the orb of fortune would be guarded by Tyche herself; Layla had thought Michaela was joking. Now she was not so sure. Michaela seemed awfully well informed. Why hadn’t she come down herself like she usually would instead of paying Layla to do so?
One of the coins, in particular, Layla noticed, displayed an emblem vaguely familiar to her. She examined the drawings on the notebook once more. There on page 7, Michaela had sketched the very same emblem with a dark, bloody color. So different from every other color she had used on the book. So different from every color displayed on the mural.
Layla ripped the page from the notebook in one quick movement, and as if guided by an invisible hand, she placed the drawing carefully over its counterpart on the wall.
She had no idea what she expected would happen… Perhaps the floor in the center of the room would cave down and give way to a spiral staircase. Or torches would suddenly light up the room. That would be normal. That Layla was used to. What she did not expect was for the gold paint to melt and crumble before her eyes and for the drawings to distort themselves into crimson depictions of agony and destruction.
Astonished, Layla stared back at the beautiful deity with almond eyes, but she was nowhere to be found. In her place was a woman with dark hair and silver robes. Her eyes gleamed red with real mischief, and her lips curled into a cruel smile as she reigned over ashy ruins and crackled bones.
Layla stumbled two steps back, almost falling over herself in shock… Because it was Michaela who was glaring at her with fiery triumphant eyes.
In Layla’s head, she heard the last words Michaela chanted to her before Layla took off on a plane to Alexandria: “Don’t forget your escape plan.” At that moment, she realized two things almost simultaneously: she had not been sent to recover a long lost orb of fortune and that the $20 000 in the small black notebook in her back pocket had most certainly not been worth it.
Not The End...