The rock wall surrounding the tomb broke with a satisfying crunch. He watched the rocks tumble into the darkness below and waited for the sound of them to reach the bottom of the cavern. He had never been told just how far down it went since they had left the area untouched for centuries. He was pleased with the distance when he heard the unmistakable plunk of water from below, but the darkness set him on edge. He had trained for this all his life, and one of his very first lessons was that water and light did not mix. Anything could be lurking beneath the blackness, and the light would only draw it to the surface.
All tombs had a guardian. And for thousands of years, those guardians had been successful at keeping humans out. Most of them didn’t return. But most of them weren’t trained to deal with guardians. The only problem is that they never knew what sort of guardian they would be dealing with. Some gods stuck to the obvious. Three-headed dogs, reptiles with quickly multiplying heads, sphinxes with their clever riddles. But this God. This one might be tricky.
His friends called him Indy. It started as a joke when he began his training and couldn’t really tell those on the outside about what he did. He used the term “adventurer” though “archeologist” and “cult member” were probably more realistic. They never let him live it down. “Indiana Jones, the adventurer,” they would say as they laughed and teased him. But the name stuck. And after he left college, with a degree in Greek Mythology, of course, the name continued on. He was just glad they stuck with Indiana Jones over Lara Croft.
His friends moved on and went to work in various fields. But they envied him in all his adventures. All their teasing and their jokes, he had become exactly what he said. He spent his days hunting down tombs, climbing on rocks, and studying guardians and their subsequent gods. But they couldn’t know all that. All they ever got to see were the Facebook photos of rock climbing or restaurants in the Mediterranean.
He maneuvered his way into the hole he had created, attempting to prevent any more rocks from tumbling into the water below. An aquatic beast in this kind of tomb could easily overlook a few rocks here and there, depending on its level of intelligence. But if rocks continued to fall, the beast would come to the surface, and would probably have a better view in the dark than he did.
Given the guardian’s subject, though, he figured it would likely lean on the more intelligent side. All his young life and all his training had been spent looking for the tombs, and he had finally been given the chance to open one. To explore, to find a real guardian, to wake the gods.
He just had to get to the other side of the chasm. He needed to know how far across it was, if there was a ledge he could climb onto, a doorway to get him passed all the water, or if he had to swim to find his subject. He needed light, and the infrared equipment they’d given him and all his gadgets and electronics became more and more useless the further into the tomb he got. He’d been searching for a day and hadn’t met with a single guardian. The water below made him nervous. He might be able to fight a land guardian or outsmart a sphinx, but swimming was his weakness. He hated it. And swimming in the dark with a possible monster lurking below that he couldn’t see, made his stomach twist in knots.
He held back the curse that wanted to slip out of his lips. He had to stay silent, just in case the guardian was listening. He might have to give it a few minutes to allow the beast to determine there was no threat. It had been a couple thousand years. The damned thing could probably be sleeping. Or dead. He was really hoping for dead. But given this particular god’s skillset, he doubted it would be anything less than consistently vigilant.
Instead of waiting, he checked his hooks and his ropes with his hands to make sure nothing was frayed or broken. He had enough to get across a chasm of twenty to thirty feet, and he had to hope there was another side and not just a long black lake and empty space. But when his fingers touched the rope, he heard something from above.
Something moved on the rocks. He could hear a tick tick tick of claws against the stone and the flutter of wings. Tiny pebbles rained on his shoulders. He held his breath, hoping the thing was relying entirely on its sense of hearing. But he thought it was too soon to meet the guardian. Maybe it was one of many. Maybe she had set up an entire labyrinth of monsters and guards to make sure the right person reached the subject at the right time.
Something scurried on the rocks again, moving closer. He could feel the pebbles and dirt land on his face as it moved down toward him. He quickly transferred to the hole, but it was too late. He swung downward, and something latched onto his gloved hand. An unmistakable claw, for something unmistakably large. He moved back up again, unable to see it in the dark, but something hot-breathed against his face.
Then it screeched. A loud, piercing sound that ached his ears and echoed through the vast chasm. The sound seemed to echo forever, disturbing rocks from far off and proving that the chasm had no other side. There was nothing but water. For miles. The creature moved as his foot slipped, the claws found his shoulders and lifted him away from the rocks. But he was still stuck to the ropes, and it didn’t make it very far before it lost its grip and slammed him against the wall. He felt his face scrape against the stone and all the breath in his lungs rushed out of him at once as he was pinned to the rocks. The creature held on as it swung forward and cracked the wall. Not once. Not twice. Three times, before the rope was released and then he was in the air.
He’d been trained for this his whole life. Even before he started his true training in college. He’d known about the gods and their guardians. He knew they would fight, and he would have to use his wit and skills to prove to it that reaching his subject was imperative. But he’d never had to put those skills to the test. As far as he knew, he was the only one of his kind who ever made it this far into a god’s tomb. He had to find a way to prove to the Guardian that he wasn’t there by accident, that he meant the God no harm, and that it was vital he reached her.
“I’m a member of the CORE,” he shouted as the creatures wings swayed his whole body up and down and he tried to hold back the bile in this throat.
He hoped that the creature would understand, but then it dawned on him that it likely had no contact with a human being in thousands of years. And of course, it wouldn’t understand him. He’d studied the language of the ancients in depth, but he could never quite get the hang of forming unique sentences. He tried to think, but the fear was clouding his mind, and all he could remember were the dirty words they'd found written on a wall in Athens.
He really should have prepared for this. He’d been so caught up in the thrill of the adventure and the task they’d given him, that he didn’t even think about how underqualified he was. How stupid it was for him to go after this particular God with the one guardian that couldn’t just be fought off with a sword or a spear.
And of course, he’d left those behind too. He’d been desperate to get to the other side of the chasm and through that wall. He’d left his pack behind.
What an idiot.
He was never going to get through her guardian. And he’d probably die there in that black chasm all because he’d fallen asleep in a few lessons and let fear overwhelm him. Hell, part of him hadn't even believed the guardians and their gods were real. He'd known about them since he was a child, but there was always that bit of skepticism at the back of his mind.
That’s when he remembered what else they’d given him. The coin. Which wasn’t really a coin, but a big solid circle of metal with an inscription in the language of the gods. It was in the pack on his side, and if the damned beast would stop flying he might be able to get ahold of it without dropping it into the water below. But he had to try something. His heart was pounding too hard for him to remember how to speak a language the thing might understand.
So he fumbled for the pack latched to his belt. His fingers touched the clasp. And then the creature let go. He couldn’t stop himself from screaming and flailing out in his effort to catch onto something. Sure the beast was probably taking him to its nest to tear him apart, but he’d rather face it with his collection of small knives than have to deal with whatever was in all that water.
He heard his own screams echo off of the walls before the water met him, cold as ice and sharp as blades. He was submerged half a second later, and his feet never reached the bottom. He forced himself to fight back and up toward the surface and had barely broken through when something wrapped around his ankle and dragged him back down. Not the flying creature with the claws. But something slick and slimy.
He was yanked back down under the water, and he knew this was his last shot. He moved his frozen fingers for the pack and located the feel of the coin in the cold, wet darkness. Then he gripped it tight in his hand and pulled it out. It was glowing in the water, but the light couldn’t penetrate all of the darkness. He could see the slimy black ribbons tied all around his ankles as they slithered up his legs to drag him down. In the darkness, nothing but shimmering pinpricks of light blinked back at him from beyond the glow of the coin.
And then all at once, a force shoved him upward toward the surface. He broke through so quickly that he was back in the air in half a second. He had barely enough time to catch his breath before the flying creature shrieked and grabbed him by the ankle. Then he hung upside down, cold and dripping wet, clutching the coin in his hand as it carried him off again.
He lifted it, shining just enough light on the creature to see what it was. It blinked down at him with wide, shining eyes.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. “A fucking owl.”
This story was made for a contest on another site. I got the idea from a dream. Like I've seriously never had a dream this detailed before. It practically supplied the whole story for me. And I've been SUPER excited to get it going. The contest is for a modern day type mythology thing. It's hard to explain. But the dream was too perfect to pass up. Since it's for a contest, I will be updating it as it's being written. So it's another case of "I'm making this shit up as I go and I'll revise it later." So I hope it doesn't turn into a big giant mess. Once the contest is completed, I'll probably go back and make alterations. But it is meant to be more of a comedy than anything else. The character, Indy, initially had a different name. but I kept referring to him as "Indy" and then it stuck. Also, he's not very good at his job.
I also have a few moodboard/aesthetics made for the three most major characters. I will link them at some point.