Alanna grabbed Kael’s shoulder, wrenching him backwards. “Stop!” she hissed, pointing at the spot where he was about to step. The warrior looked down, his face paling visibly as he noticed the slightly raised edge of a round disk on the elaborately carved floor.
“Trigger trap,” he confirmed. “Better keep a close eye on the floor too from now on.” He proceeded carefully, plated greaves clinking softly with each step.
“Do you think we can risk more light?” Alanna asked. Kael nodded. A nimbus of soft light surrounded her left hand, and she drew in a breath as the shadows around them retreated. They were in a great hall that stretched out as far as they could see. Alanna’s eyes widened as she tried to take it all in at once. The walls were covered in fine stucco engravings, the light casting strange intricate shapes that seemed to dance around the two explorers. Semi-precious stones glittered from the lofty ceiling, stars in a forgotten sky now buried deep beneath the ground. Tall pillars guided the way to a raised dais at the very end of their field of vision.
“The god-king’s throne room,” Kael said, breathless with wonder. He looked up at the ceiling. “Just a handful of these gems and we could retire to the Isles of Amara until the end of our days.”
“If the stories are true, then the biggest prize waits for us at the end of this hall.”
Kael grunted. “If the stories were true, we’d be dead by now. Let’s grab what we can and get out of here.”
Alanna leveled a gaze at her companion. They had worked too hard, searched too long, to give up now. No one had set foot in the lost city of Bataar-Ilan for centuries, until now. “You know why we’re here.”
“I hope you know what you’re getting us into, Alanna,” Kael said as he renewed his slow advance. “This book you’re after had better be worth it.”
“The entire city’s population died to protect it, and then the god-king buried this place under a mountain,” she reminded him. “It’s worth it.”
A faint click was all warning they had. Alanna reacted instinctively, surrounding the two of them in a protective shield of energy. The smell of burning wood tickled her nose as a volley of arrows sizzled to ash and fell at their feet.
Kael shot her a sheepish grin. “Didn’t see that one.”
Carefully, oh so slowly, they advanced towards the dais. While Kael’s gaze swept the darkness around them, searching for hidden traps and other unknown threats, Alanna’s thoughts were bent upon the prize. For years everyone had believed it a myth, but she had known it was real. It had to be real, and it had to be here.
“There it is,” she said almost reverently. Relief washed through her, she had been right all along. The legendary Book of the Dead rested upon a golden plinth next to the throne at the top of the dais. The power of immortality lay within her reach.
“Careful,” Kael warned as she ascended, but Alanna scarcely heard him. She reached out for the book.
“It’s… empty.” Alanna flicked through the blank pages, disappointment burning like bile in her throat. “All this way for nothing!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”
Startled, Alanna and Kael spun around. A man stepped out of the darkness. He was dressed in a long golden robe, skin as pale as moonlight, black eyes cold as obsidian. He was so thin he seemed almost skeletal.
“It’s been a while since someone has come in search of the book. But, finally, you are here.”
Kael leveled his sword at the man. “Who are you?”
“You know who I am,” the man replied.
Alanna inhaled sharply as realization dawned. “The god-king.”
The man inclined his head slightly, a sardonic smile playing across is lips.
“It’s a trap,” Alanna said as she descended the steps to stand beside Kael. “There is no Book of the Dead.”
“Of course not. Immortality belongs to the gods, not mere mortals such as yourselves.”
“Even gods must feed.”
Kael swore loudly. He charged at the god-king, his wordless roar echoing through the cavernous hall. The man side-stepped him deftly and then effortlessly swatted the huge broadsword from his grip. He pushed Kael over as if he were a small child, then drove his foot into the warrior’s chest. Kael grunted.
Fire shot from Alanna’s hands. It hit the god-king in the back and sent him sprawling, giving Kael the chance to regain his feet. Alanna grabbed him by the hand and pulled him behind her.
“We can’t win this,” she hissed as they ran. “He’s a god.”
“What are we going to do?”
Alanna risked a glance behind her. The god-king was on his feet, smoke smoldering from his golden robe. His face was contorted with rage.
“The only thing we can.” A faint rumbling sounded and the ground shook. Pebbles fell from the ceiling.
“You’re bringing the mountain down again,” Kael said, understanding lighting up his eyes.
They dashed through the hall, heedless of traps, dodging arrows flying past. The entranceway collapsed just as they sprinted through it. A great bellow, louder even than the roar of the mountain, sounded behind them.
“Immortality might be overrated,” Kael quipped as he evaded another trap.
“Hurry!” Alanna urged, pointing at the exit. Rubble had covered almost half of their escape. They scrambled over fallen rocks and tumbled out into the blinding sunlight. They stopped a safe distance from the entrance and turned to watch the mountain envelop the ruins of Bataar-Ilan once more.
“Isles of Amara, Alanna,” Kael said as the riches of the lost city was buried again.
“I know, I’m sorry,” she replied. She grinned impishly at him. “Maybe next time.”