Best Left Unearthed

Post Reply
User avatar
Straken
Posts: 787
Joined: Fri Dec 24, 2010 4:40 pm

Best Left Unearthed

Post by Straken »

The early evening air was filled with the hums and trills of hundreds of different animals and insects, and was so humid a person could sip it with a straw. The sun was beginning to sink close to the ridgeline of Gunung Tumpu, one of the mountains dotting the Central Sulawesi peninsula in Indonesia, and clouds were beginning to blow in from the Banda Sea to the South. There would be a storm hitting the island by nightfall, but the Northside of the island might be able to put it off for a while longer as the system meets the mountains. That was good.

Griffin Fairburn knelt patiently at the top of a steep bluff as he looked through a small pair of binoculars. Below him was a claustrophobic river valley; flanked on one side by bluffs of varied slope similar to one he was on, and directly across from him on the other side of the small river were sheer cliffs. Most important, spread across this valley were a series of ruins that dated back to the early Srivijaya Empire. Contemporary estimates from what few surveys had come through attributed them to the Majapahit, but even through binoculars Griffin could tell the later Empire had merely repurposed the ruin and built some additions. The clever bit that he appreciated was how purposeful the Maja had been in trying to make the ruin look utterly unimpressive. They were hiding something beneath the stonework.

Sadly, he had not been the first to figure it out, nor was he the first to arrive.

“Twelve? No, wait, thirteen, almos’ missed the lad tucked there,” Griffin’s Geordie accent slipping through, as it tended to do when he wasn’t around Waverly’s stiff Central London RP. Scratching at a layer of dirty blonde stubble that began to fleck with grey, he counted out a number of armed men patrolling the ruin complex. Mercenaries hailing from Central Europe by the look of them. Tanning of the skin, and the material of a number of souvenir scarves suggested they’d operated in the Northern Congo.

“Ten to one I know who hired them,” Griffin said with a smirk as he tucked the binoculars back into his satchel. Moments later the sun descended behind Gunung Tumpu’s peak, leaving the North valley in dim light. Down in the ruin the mercenaries started a generator and lit up a grid of electric lights. From over the ridge distant thunder rumbled.

“Time to move.”

Griffin adjusted his fedora as he secured his gear. His well worn satchel filled with assorted supplies, a vintage Webley Mk VI service revolver that his grandfather used in World War One nestled in a hip holster on his left, a simple bowie knife, and a coiled leather bull whip belted on his right. Everyone gave him guff about the whip, but by Jove the damn thing worked and thus kept a permanent place in his equipment loadout. Once he was certain nothing would come loose, the rugged Brit moved to his preplanned avenue of descent before moving in a controlled slide down the bluff in the dark shadows of some particularly dense jungle trees.

Moving carefully, Griffin came to a stop at the foot of the bluff. Watching from the treeline he noted the outer patrol. A group of two mercs were moving slowly about ten feet beyond the trees. They’d be easy enough to avoid. His main concern was the two mercs standing guard at the stone bridge that spanned the river as it flowed through a deep section of the valley. Cursing silently at the task ahead of him he went to work. Skirting the treeline he paused only once in order to let the patrol pass, and wasted no time in finding a spot to cross to the ruins that shielded him from direct view.

Every step was cautious as Griffin willed his sturdy leather boots to not make noise once he stepped onto the cut stone bricks. The dim light continued fading as he reached the stone bridge. While keeping it, and the two guards, on the other side of a well weathered statue the archeologist considered his next step. Fighting these two guards would almost certainly alert the others, and with two of them here he couldn’t ambush one. Scanning the area immediately around him gave him the inspiration he needed. Picking up a sizable chunk of stone in a leather gloved hand and gauged its weight. Once he had the feel, he braced, took a deep breath, and lobbed the brick high up overhead. It flew up and over the path before plummeting into the plinth of an opposing statue. Griffin winced as the statue proceeded to topple and crash.

The guards jumped and immediately rushed over to the destroyed statue, and Griffin wasted no time in moving in a quick crouch behind the distracted guards and across the bridge. He had to hurry, that noise would draw more attention than he would have liked. True enough he heard men approaching from the far side of the bridge. Tensing up he began to rush, and with wide eyes he made the end of the bridge and dove behind a low stone rise. Army crawling like he’d never army crawled before he wiggled around the corner and into a shadow as six men came running with rifles in hand. Holding his breath, Griffin listened as the men continued past his hiding spot and over the bridge. Once he was sure no one else was following the group he got back up and continued to make his way into the ruins.

Avoiding the areas where he’d surveyed the other surface guards, Griffin almost forgot he was surrounded by professional gunmen as he gawked at some of the stone structures in the complex; taking time to provide a hearty British scoff at the pile of junk the mercs had left sitting in one of the courtyards. Before long he found what he was looking for. Off the side of the main temple in the complex was an easily missed low building with two more guards standing out front. If his theory was correct those men would be guarding a stairway down into the true temple. Now he just had to get inside. His eyebrow quivered, and he looked over his shoulder. He had an idea.
User avatar
Straken
Posts: 787
Joined: Fri Dec 24, 2010 4:40 pm

Re: Best Left Unearthed

Post by Straken »

“Ayo, man, keep an eye on things, I’s gotta piss,” said one of the burly guards.

“Yo’r joking, a’ight? There was a security response litr’ly a few minutes ago, an’s now ya gotta piss?” responded the other guard.

“Ye’h, jus’ cover f’r me, kay?”

“Oh nah, mate. Ah’ll keep eyes out, but any’n’ ask’n ‘bout ye an’ Ah’m tossin’ ye under the bus.”

“Piss off.”

“Say’n’ the guy act’ly pissin’ off.”

With a rude gesture the first guard moved a ways off and ducked around a corner.

“Bruv’d be the first one tak’n out were dis a movie. Ah swear.”

“Right right? Seriously, who actually wanders off without a buddy these days?” sounded a new arrival.

“That dumbass, tha’s who,” the second guard responded before turning to see who had shown up. Cocking an eyebrow, it was just some bloke. Inspecting the man, he looked like he belonged on a jungle expedition well enough, but he was definitely out of place. What’s more, he was just standing there holding a ladder.

“Joys of being the new guy, am I right?” the man said, adjusting the metal extending ladder on his shoulder for effect.

“Aye man, those things are a bitch ta move.”

“Lend me a hand?”

“Piss off. Ain’t my job. ‘sides, Ah gotsa keep on look out double time Jenkins gets back.”

The new guy sighed and began the arduous task of hauling the ladder down the narrow dimly lit ancient stairs.

“Who was that, eh?”

“New guy. Got ladder duty ‘parently.”

“Sucks ta be ‘im.”

“Right?”

~~~

“Man, really can go anywhere by carrying a ladder,” Griffin mused as he sat the ladder down by a wall once he was out of sight. Stretching his shoulder, he scoped out the vine covered walls burrowing deeper into the mountain. Ancient roots and creeping green tendrils covered much of the old stonework, and a number of kerosene lanterns lit the way with dim light. With sure feet, he moved quickly and as quietly as he could. He had gotten here last, and as such had a lot of ground to make up.

Three turns into the complex and Griffin found a rather macabre example of why it paid to not be first. The body of a recently deceased guard sat slumped against a wall in a pool of its own blood. Near it on the ground was a spray painted square.

“Pressure plates, how vintage,” he mused as he saw slots in the stonework wherespears would thrust outward upon activation. Four more hallways a seven booby traps later (five pressure plates, one pitfall, and a slot that probably would have dispensed snakes but seemed to be out of stock), and it seemed he had caught up with the primary group. Peeking around a corner, he saw three heavily armed men carefully combing the hallway for traps while another man and a woman barked orders at them. The woman wore a smart looking outfit that consisted of baggy khaki pants tucked into a tall pair of boots, and a button up white linen shirt. The man on the other hand was wearing a beige seersucker suit, and looked like a proper British expat.

Smirking at having won his bet with himself, Griffin now had to deal with how to get around not just the men with guns, but the remaining traps. These catacombs had been straightforward. Beyond the winding hallway there had been a handful of side rooms, but no other branches through which he could try and bypass; and he did relish smacking at wall panels hoping to find a secret door rather than spikes. Squinting suddenly, he realized there was another option. Doubling back, Griffin returned to the pitfall trap. He had paid it little mind, but in hindsight it stuck out. Looking it over, the trap itself had seemed rather curious. It sat just in front of a vast expanse of darkness with a small lip of stone separating the pit from the chasm.

“Now why bother with that?” Griffin asked himself as he knelt down and inspected the area. The lip on the opposite side was perhaps a couple inches thick and ran flush up to either wall.

“Ah! There!”

Gesturing despite being alone, his keen eyes picked up damage on the right side wall. It looked almost as though there had been bricks set into the wall. Had it been brand new, the bricks probably would have been a small path someone could shimmy across. If true, that meant in the darkness of the chasm in front of him there was an opening that warranted special hiding. Whatever the case, this was going to be a gamble.

Waving his hands in front of him in a gestured cross, Griffin backed up, got a running start, and leapt. The first hurdle was the pitfall. Fifteen feet across it would have been an easy enough jump were it not for needing to also do three other things. One, he needed to jump fifteen feet and land on a strip of stone a few inches wide. Two, after landing on said strip of stone he then need to jump again out into a yawning void of subterranean darkness. Third, he needed to deal with the void and whatever new obstacle it provided.

One, two, three, and just like that he was sailing through barely perceptible space. Sadly, there was no deus ex platform onto which he could easily land. In fact, there appeared to be remarkably little out in the void lit only by a far off lantern, and his upward and forward momentum were beginning to swing downward. Just as he was about to begin panicking the back wall came into view, but all it brought was more vines and roots. Gritting his teeth he flung his coiled whip forward, and with a guided grace it found purchase and wrapped around a good looking root; although any root that could hold his weight would have looked good to him right now. Tensing his entire body, his whip swing concluded in him slamming into the rough foliage cover wall. Eyes wide as his caught his breath and begging his hands not to slip.

Shaking off the shock, Griffin let go of the whip with one hand and grabbed some vines, eventually finding large enough spots to also plant his feet. It was slow going as he tested vines strength, and gradually he coiled the whip around his arm as a safety in case he should fall. Then his heart skipped a beat. Almost unnoticeable, he heard something just to the side of him. Something moving. Very carefully, he reached into his satchel and pulled out a small torch. He lit it, and then immediately turned it off again as he stifled a whimper. The only reason he turned the light on again was because the thought of doing the climb in darkness now filled him with ever so slightly more dread than doing it with light. Gripping the small torch in his teeth, Griffin lit up his climbing path, as well as the dozens of tarantulas that shared the wall with him.

“They’re just tarantulas Griffin, they can’t hurt you,” Griffin scolded himself.
“I know that Griffin, but a spider is a spider!” Griffin responded.
“A spider is a spider,” Griffin mocked himself in a silly voice.

At long last Griffin reached his whip tether, and with it the level of the wall that had the path remnants set into the wall. Scanning the vine cover it took little time to see a gap beneath the foliage. Climbing into position he belted his uncoiled whip and pulled out his knife. After quickly using the blade to knock away a couple of errant tarantulas he began to cut away at the vines until there was a gap big enough for him to pass through. Stowing the knife and redrawing the whip, he began to coil the whip with practiced ease, at least up until a hitchhiker passed from the whip and onto his gloved hand. Noticing the spider with a double take, he finally jolted, stumbled, and heard a click-kachunk-shink as his foot tapped a pressure plate and rusted spears shot up from the ground. From his cockeyed stance, Griffin froze as he stared at the spike that was a mere centimeter away from giving him a face lift. Looking down at the spider casually riding along on his arm, the man whipped his hand and flung the spider back out through the opening.

“Every. Goddamn. Ruin. Why? In every goddamn ruin! What do they even eat down here?!”
User avatar
Straken
Posts: 787
Joined: Fri Dec 24, 2010 4:40 pm

Re: Best Left Unearthed

Post by Straken »

A twist here, a turn there, three spike traps, another one of those snake dispensers, and an uncomfortably close crawl through a jammed doorway saw Griffin squeezing into a vast, dark room. The sound of water falling into a small pool echod through the darkness. Casting his small torch around, the narrow beam wasn’t strong enough to illuminate much beyond five meters. Grinding his jaw, he did his best to examine the room, but the lack of light was properly kneecapping his effort. He took a deep and steadying breath as he gathered his wits. Sudden clarity, Griffin began to move quickly.

“That smell. Smells like its from… Somewhere… arooooooooound… here!”

The beam of light focused on a small basin set against the wall filled with what appeared to be an impenetrably black pool. Griffin leaned close to examine it with the tip of a pencil drawn from the satchel. With great effort he sampled the substance and the wrinkling of his nose confirmed his suspicions.

“Bitumen? Not quite. Some manner of composite resin, must be,” Griffin said to himself. The room must have some significance indeed if it warranted a lighting system more advanced than the standard edition torches that had been aligned on the walls of the hallways leading into the complex. First things, he made a quick turn to make sure he didn’t miss anyone standing mysteriously behind him, or any evidence of the opposition closing in. Then he pulled out a book of matches he had picked up in a Cambodian gin house, and with a proficient flick he struck one of the wooden matches before dropping it into the basin. For a brief moment nothing happened and he was prepared to pout, but the match flame began to grow and eventually spread through the basin.

To Griffin’s pleasure, the flames sped up and even began to extend beyond the basin. A series of gutters seemed to wrap around the room filled with the same resin. Flames snaked along the walls and over a number of stone arches. Within a minute’s time the chamber was illuminated with a stable light source. After flicking his torch off and tucking it back in the satchel Griffin quickly gave the room a proper survey. Twenty meters square and about half as high, the room bore the tell tale stone work of the Srivijaya Empire, and various murals and mosaics reinforced the conclusion. The half of the room he was in seemed to be an observation area for the back half of the room. At the very back of the room was a raised dais with an indented section of wall flanked by two more flaming basins; and the walls on either side depicted a number of couples dancing. The floor of the back half was paved with curious tile work.

Approaching a pillar near the edge of the tiled area, Grffin looked over a series of Sanskrit inscriptions. Biting his lip in mild frustration, the archaeologist withdrew a journal from his satchel and began to page through until he arrived at a shorthand translation guide. He’d dealt with Sanskrit before, but it wasn’t exactly a specialty; and as much as he’d like to fully examine this place he was working on a time limit.

“Gotta get through that door before he comes through that door,” Griffin muttered as he translated the gist of the inscription. Looking once more to the back half of the room, it was a fair assumption that the odd tilework had to do with the puzzle; but what was the key to the puzzle? A closer look at the tiles revealed inscriptions on each tile, and were simply numbered and lettered. Panning his eyes upward to the back wall, he looked once more at the murals.

“Dancing?” he asked the wall before looking back to the tiles. “Looks like a variation on the Kathar folk dance.”

Taking his position, Griffin started by testing a wrong tile. Schnk. Yup, spikes if performed poorly. Wonderful. He looked over the dance steps illustrated on the wall and matched them with corresponding tiles, and then with aplomb began to dance out onto the tiles. Each tile sank in turn with a pitched grinding of stone on stone, and thankfully weren’t triggering any traps. The best hypothesis he had was that the stone panel would move upon receiving the correct code input. Slowly and surely he moved across the floor, feeling properly silly the entire time, until finally he stepped off the tiles and onto the dais. At which point absolutely nothing happened.

“Oh piss off, I gotta do it again?” low grumbling marked the man’s displeasure as he carefully went back to the start. This next time, he went through the motions in reverse as the following partner, all for the same result.

“Ugh!” Griffin huffed and went back once more.

“Okay, it’s a partner dance, so I must need another person,” he reasoned. “Or I can play Twister.”

Looking around again to make sure no one was going to see what he was about to do, the trained archeologist with years of experience, a doctorate, and a book got down on all fours and began to move across the tiles like a crab. It wasn’t his proudest moment, but if the rumors about this complex were to be believed it would be worth it. It was slow going, awkward, and his weight alone seemed to be having trouble depressing the increased number of pressure plates; not to mention he got a great view of where the spears came from.

“C’mon you stupid c…” Griffing began to say.

“What the actual Hell am I looking at here?” said a femanine voice from behind him, which was promptly followed by the snickers, chortles, and guffaws of a number of men.

“It seems Doctor Fairburn is having a bit of trouble with a puzzle,” added a man.

Turning his head with no small amount of dread and embarrassment, Griffin looked at the newcomers. It was the man and the woman, as well as their posse of mercenaries; all of the mercs happened to have guns leveled at him while trying to manage their laughter.

“Good to see you again, Bancroft,” Griffin called to the man as he abandoned his attempt and stood up. “Was wondering how long it’d be until you and your goons caught up.”

Doctor Bancroft, good sir,” Bancroft emphasized.

“Naw naw, you dropped out, remember? So unless you finished your PhD at the University of the Balearic Islands, you ain’t a doctor. Just like stealing one of my TAs doesn’t exactly make you a professor. Good to see you again, Turner, by the by,” Griffin now stood fully upright and held his hand slightly up and away from himself to avoid spooking the mercs.

“It’s impressive as always how you manage to ferret yourself into places you shouldn’t be, Professor Fairburn,” the woman, Turner, said as she looked around the room. “You must have used a priest passage to bypass us, but how in the world did you get inside in the first place?”

“A ladder,” Griffin’s response was instant and wry.

“I’m going to pretend that makes sense and move on,” Bancroft interrupted as he walked towards the dance floor. “Time is money, and we’ve already wasted enough of it trying to find this ruin and get inside. So, simply put, here’s the deal. You are going to finish solving the puzzle, bring me the artifact, and then sit like a naughty little boy in the corner until my companions and I leave. Sound amiable?”

“Any room for negotiations?” Griffin asked. One of the mercs pointed his rifle directly at Griffin’s chest.

“Is the length of a seven point six two cartridge enough negotiating room for you?” Bancroft’s riposte was for the point. Griffin gulped. At the very least the other man wasn’t intent on outright killing him, so he’d had time to…

“And do try to keep your plotting to a minimum, I’d rather you not muck this up,” Bancroft’s voice was obnoxiously posh and tinged with a slight Spanish flair as he interrupted Griffin’s plotting. Sighing in resignation, Griffin shrugged and began to move back to the beginning.

“I’ll need a partner,” Griffin stated. “Can’t do it solo. Care to volunteer Bennett?”

“Shame, that crab walk number was hilarious, but no, I will not be dancing with you. One, I’d never let you lead, and two, you may very well take the opportunity to sabotage me and push me on to a wrong panel. Penelope shall dance with you,” Bancroft waved a dismissive hand before gesturing to Turner. Seeing she was about to protest he raised a finger. “I cannot conceive of a world where Professor Fairburn kills his star pupil.”

Former star pupil,” Griffin interjected. “She did run off and start stealing artifacts for profit with you.”

“As opposed to you stealing artifacts to put in a museum?” Turner sniped. Griffin could only look abashed at the prod towards the British Museum of Natural History. “But, very well. Let’s get this over with.”

Taking a minute to explain the steps, motions, and starting locations, Griffin was soon interrupted by the woman and sent to his position opposite Penelope. While Griffin focused on footwork, Penelope went the full nine yards and adopted an impeccable stance.

“Aw c’mon, just gonna make me look bad like that, huh?” Griffin feigned indignation.

“Focus,” Penelope said flatly.

“Show off.”

“Fairburn!”

“Just start!” Bancroft snapped.

The pair began their dance. Precise steps, pivots, and flourishes brought them across the tiled floor. All was going smoothly until Penelope missed a step and a spear lanced upwards. Were it not for a quick shift of her weight she would have been skewered. Instead she was left with a mean slice across her left bicep.

“Told ya. Show off. Should focus on the fundamentals,” Griffin chided.

“You sound like a WNBA coach,” Penelope said as she worked her way back to the beginning so they could start over.

“Do try to be careful, I am serious when I say I don’t want to dance with him,” Bancroft added to the mistake when the pair began again.

Performing more carefully this time, but still with more flair than Griffin was giving, Penelope moved across the floor in time with her partner, and after a couple stressful minutes of weaving across the room they reached the dais. Upon pressing the final tiles and leaving the dance floor, a series of deep bass sounds reverberated through the stone as ancient mechanisms began to shift. No sooner had the door begun to move and Penelope started to catch her breath then Griffin had her arm pinned behind her back and his Webley revolver drawn. The mercenaries had their guns leveled almost at once and were shouting before Bancroft silenced them.

“Don’t do anything rash, Griffin. The only way out of this is through us. Release Penelope, collect the artifact for me, and I will still allow you to get out of this alive,” Bancroft reasoned, his tone severe.

“Think of Willow, Professor Fairburn,” Penelope pleaded. “This artifact isn’t worth her losing her dad, is it?”

Griffin held the grip of his revolver tight enough that his knuckles popped. He hated losing, he hated the thought of Bancroft robbing this temple and auctioning off its artifacts, but more than all of that he loved his daughter; and Penelope was right. He was squarely on the losing end of this one. If he had been faster in finding this place perhaps he could have managed something, but he needed to accept that there was no foreseeable way out of this alive and in possession of the prize. Reluctantly he let go of her.

“Thank you, Professor,” Penelope said as she rubbed her wrist. “Now please, do as Bennett said.”

Looking up the dais to the fire lined doorway, Griffin climbed the steps.
Post Reply