Malifaux Fiction: Unexpected Treasure
I ended up missing last month’s Iron Quill competition, so I made more of an effort to get an entry in this month. Even then I was still a couple of hours posting up my entry. Luckily, they still accepted it. Here were the ingredients for this month’s competition:
Theme: How to Keep a Secret
Character: The Bookkeeper
Line: “How hard can it be?”
Personally, I felt my piece was a little rushed. Okay, it was a lot rushed, taking me only an hour or so to complete (while watching TV). It’s understandable that I was surprised when I ended up coming in joint first place.
I volunteered to drop to second since I was a little late getting my entry in, but one of the judges shot that down saying I’d earned my place.
The rest of the entries are up on the Malifaux forums. I’ll let you judge for yourself whether this is indeed the case.
Garrett was enjoying a quiet drink alone one night when a well-built man approached him. “This seat taken?” the man asked. Garrett lazily gestured for him to sit.
They sat in silence for a moment before the man finally spoke. “You mind if I tell you something. I’ve got a problem and need some advice. Problem is, it’s a little sensitive. Can you keep a secret?”
Garrett was a little shocked by the man’s forwardness. “Umm… sure, I guess.”
“Tell you what,” the man continued, “how about I freshen your drink in return.” He gestured to one of the bar girls.
“Well, if you put it like that.”
The drink arrived as the man began to tell his story. Earlier that day, he had led a small group of men to some ruins outside of the city. Rumours were it was the location of a secret cache of riches and other treasure. The only reason it had not yet been plundered was due to a series of traps that protected the only known entrance. He and his men had attempted to either disarm or bypass the traps, but had been less than successful. In the end, he was the only survivor.
Garrett listened, enthralled by the story. When it was done he finally spoke. “Why are you telling me all this?”
“Tell the truth, I have nobody else to tell. Those dead men were the only people I knew in this godforsaken town.”
“So are you going back? Hiring more men and trying again?”
The man laughed, “Not if I had a hundred men do I think I could break through those traps. Who, or whatever, built them was just too good.”
“Well, that’s a shame,” Garrett said. “Still, at least the odds are good it will still be waiting for you should you get enough help.”
“There is that!” Both men laughed and clinked their mugs before parting ways.
Early the next morning, Garrett quietly left the town, heading for the spot described by the man the night before. After a few hours of walking, he found himself in front of a non-descript mound. One end had been heavily excavated, revealing a narrow passage that led down into its centre. Reaching into the bag he had bought with him, Garrett produced a lantern and a long-bladed knife. Lighting the lantern, he headed into the passage with his knife at the ready.
It didn’t take long before he came across the first body, a series of small wooden stakes protruding from his abdomen. From the way his face was twisted, Garrett guessed they had been tipped with poison, causing an excruciating death.
Taking the time to check for other hidden triggers, Garrett made his way more slowly down the passage. He prodded at anything suspicious, taking the time to make sure an area was clear before moving on. Further down the passage he discovered more bodies, each man having met his end in a way more gruesome than the last.
He was about to give up all hope of reaching the prize when he turned a corner and found himself in front of a large stone doorway. Piled up in front of the doorway were the bodies of a half dozen men, slashed across their necks by some hidden blade. Stopping a few feet short of the door, Garrett turned his attention to the surrounding walls. He used the blade of his knife to feel for any grooves that might conceal the hidden weapon, but there was nothing to find.
Having to resort to less savoury means, Garrett crept forward, keeping low, and dragged one of the bodies away from the door. Propping it back up on his feet, he carried it back towards the door, inch by inch. He was less than six inches from the door when a blade shot out from within the door itself. It slashed from left to right, barely missing the body.
With the trap revealed, Garrett dropped the body as respectfully as possible. Moving to the side of the passage, he edged his way around the bodies towards the edge of the trap. Staying low, he fetched a knife from one of the bodies and wedged it into barely visible slot that concealed the blade. To be safe, he fetched two more knives and added them to the first.
Finally assured that the trap had been properly disabled, Garrett examined the rest of the door. It was covered in intricate carvings, possibly hieroglyphs, but nothing that betrayed how Garrett could get it open. After a few minutes of poking and pushing, movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He had accidentally bumped his lantern and it was now shining on the body he had moved earlier. The hem of the man’s shirt was moving, as if being blown by some invisible wind.
Moving over to the body, Garrett placed his hand next to the fluttering shirt. Sure enough, there was a faint breeze. Moving his hand towards the source of the wind, he eventually found himself facing the wall of the passage. Fetching his lantern, he could see a tiny crack running along the point where the floor met the wall. Placing the blade of his knife into the crack, he ran it to one side as far as it could go. He then withdrew his knife and felt around for a corresponding vertical gap. Sure enough, there was one.
A short while later Garrett had exposed the outline of the true doorway to the treasure chamber, cleverly hidden within the wall of the passage. Pushing on the door it silently slid inwards, revealing a room that might not have been seen by mortal eyes for centuries.
Walking inside with his lantern held high, Garrett realised that the fabled treasure what not nearly as impressive as he had been led to believe. He had expected piles of gold and jewels, but instead was presented with what looked more like an ancient library. Shelves lined the walls, each filled with scrolls. In the centre of the room was a large casket, not long enough to be a coffin; at least, not for a human.
Moving into the centre of the room, Garrett paid closer attention to the casket. It appeared to be carved out of stone, but not the same stone used in the construction of the false door. The side of the lid facing the door featured more carvings like those on the false door, equally incomprehensible to his eyes.
He was about to try opening the lid when he heard a sound behind him. Worried he had missed a trap, he turned quickly to discover the man he had talked to the night before.
“So nice of you to open the door for me, I knew I could count on your curiosity and for you to be discrete.”
“But, what? How?” Garrett was shocked, starting to wonder if he’d just been used to open the door.
“Don’t worry, I knew you’d come here,” the man continued as he walked into the room. “Why do you think I told you so much? I was hoping you would succeed where my men had failed.”
“Good to know I didn’t disappoint then, I guess.” Garrett knew he was in trouble. All he had was his knife and this man was cleared armed with a pistol. “Not exactly the treasure you were hoping for, is it?”
“I wouldn’t say that.” The man walked over to one of the shelves, “These scrolls will fetch a high price, to the right bidder. Who knows what secrets are contained within this room.”
“And the casket?”
“That is a mystery. The map I found made no mention of it. Why don’t you be a pal and open it and see what’s inside.” He drew his pistol but kept it by his side.
“I’ve opened every other door for you,” Garrett said, “what’s one more.” He gave a lid a shove, but nothing happened. Next, he tried lifting it, but it was far heavier than he expected. “Looks like you might need to give me a hand with this one.”
Annoyed that he might have to get his hands dirty after all, the man put his pistol back in the holster and joined Garrett at the casket. “Right then, on three. One, two…”
They lifted together, finally moving the stone lid. Seeing an opportunity, Garrett only lifted his end a little. As the man lifted his end, there was a groaning sound and a blast of dust hit him in the face.
He dropped the lid and staggered backwards, clutching his face. He pulled his hands away and Garrett could see that his skin had been eaten away, exposing his flesh and bones.
Letting go of his end, Garrett walked over to the now incapacitated man. “When will people learn, there’s always another trap.”
After collecting the man’s gun, Garrett perused the scrolls on the shelves. They certainly were a treasure.