Yeah, I thought I was so clever, finding that one of my old treasure hunts had more bright and shiny things for me to snag. The History Channel whispered into my thoughts that there had to be plenty of things to go around, and my snapping up a spare necklace or ring would never be noticed. Uncle Harry had left the night before and told me, "Emma, I won't be back for at least a week. If you need anything, call me or Riley. Promise?"
I'd laughed and said, "Don't I always?" Not really promising, but it was close enough, and Uncle Harry was distracted enough he hadn't noticed the verbal wiggling. I hugged him and went back to my little cottage at his estate and continued to research the newly discovered site I'd seen on the History Channel program.
I rationalized my popping over to the chamber I'd been in a long time ago; it was nearby the place that had been shown on the show, and I figured that I'd see what the camera crew hadn't bothered to film. It was early the next morning when I got my gear together. I'd figured out from my various issues in the past a few more things to toss in my backpack. Water, power bars and a lithium battery flashlight were the basics, but I added a few more things, and put the custom made sheath over my shoulder. Uncle Harry had liked the blade that I'd been given by Sapphire the dragon back in the salt mine, but he thought I should have my hands free. He had someone craft a harness set up that kept the sword nestled between my shoulders. I had to reach behind my head and pull it out warrior style, so he set Riley to the task of training me to easily clear my noggin and swing the sword without damage. I had the muscle memory and still some deep-ass bruises from the training.
My backpack was now dropped much lower on my spine than I was used to, but I had popped in and out around the estate to make sure everything went with me when I went in and out of phase. Once I was prepared as best as I could, I finally decided to write a note in case I was longer than anticipated. I knew Uncle Harry wasn't going to be around for a week, and I was positive that I'd be able to explore and get back before he even knew I was gone.
The chamber was precisely where I'd remembered, and with the flashlight, I discovered that it had been dug out -- or I should say 'up' -- and there was a rough ladder that exposed the cavern to the surface. That hadn't been there last time I visited. I cautiously crawled up the rather rickety ladder to the top, where there was a wooden cover slapped over the top. A quick push with my palms and I found that the wooden exit wasn't bolted or even nailed down. It was just to keep someone from falling down the hole, it seemed. I shoved the cap away carefully and the bright sunshine made me reach back into the backpack and snag out my sunglasses. There wasn't another living soul around. I kept looking to make sure I wasn't missing anything and figured out that this site had been abandoned a while ago. There weren't any fresh footsteps or any signs of humanity other than the ladder and wooden cover.
Once I figured out that there weren't any guards or sheep herders loitering around, I began to walk around the massive site. It took me a good hour to find a shady area to relax and sip my water. I'd seen quite a few wooden covers and hadn't yet opened any. I was mentally plotting out the best place to explore when I spotted a huge bird of prey swooping down about a hundred yards from me. I went slowly over to the space and the bird flew off with a rodent grasped in its talons. I figured I had nothing to lose and wandered that way.
The predatory bird had been busy ravaging a nest; once I was closer I could see there were bits and pieces of fur and shredded paper. The nest was nestled beneath one of those wooden coverings and the bird had moved it slightly off to the side. I figured it was the closest I was going to get to an invitation, so I used my foot and shoved the lid off. One of my latest items in my backpack was a small lantern that could be hooked to my belt and kept my hands free. I flicked it on and hooked it to my side and began a slow climb down the ladder. Every now and then I glanced down and found that the cavern was much deeper than I'd expected. The sides of the tunnel down were roughly hewn, having been dug out manually, I concluded. Thankfully wide enough my backpack didn't get hung up, and I didn't feel too nervous as I kept going down.
I finally found the bottom of the cave and looked around. There were two choices, and mentally I flipped a coin and went into an opening. The rodents had been busy, and I heard scurrying in the tunnel, so they knew they weren't alone. The air wasn't exactly fresh, but it wasn't bad. I'd been in worse. I wiped my hands on my jeans and set out to see what I could see. The tunnel wasn't overly large like the salt mines, but reasonably sized; two people could walk side by side without brushing up against each other. The lithium lantern gave me a large ring of vision and I'd yet to see anything but dirt walls and rodent droppings.
I finally could see that there was something in the distance. Once I got closer I could see it was a gate. There wasn't a padlock on it so I easily opened it, and found there was an immense room on the other side that had dusty piles of pottery and some vague shapes I wasn't able to figure out until I drew closer.
It turned out that whoever had been down raiding the spot had brought tarps with them -- probably to assist them in pulling stuff up to the top. I shrugged and went to pull back the corner on one of the tarps when it moved. I bit back a shriek and pulled my sword free. A huge rat ran out from the edge with a chunk of cloth in its mouth. Shuddering slightly, I used the edge of my sword to peel the tarp back. A stack of sticks covered with tattered cloth were beneath the edge. I further pulled back the draped material and jumped back a foot as another rat sprang out of the pile. Then I saw that it wasn't a stack of sticks, but a decayed body. The skull of the human had fallen off to the back of the tarp and once the rat skittered across the bones it spun forward as if to greet me.
This wasn't like my first time seeing a body in a cave, much less even my tenth or eleventh time, but it was disconcerting to have the body parts moved by a rat and spun nearly onto my toes. I shuddered again and felt a finger of fear rip down my spine flaying open every last nerve. This wasn't an ancient burial site, but rather more recent; a Timex watch wrapped around what I guessed was a wrist bone. The nasty little scavengers had removed the usual signs of humanity, leaving only bare bones and bits of clothing. I was thankful I was spared the sight of a fresh corpse, but I was totally creeped out by how the body couldn't be very old given the modern watch. The leather band had been gnawed on a bit, but mostly the rodents had worked on the flesh and sinew of the man. I was assuming male, due to the thick watchband and the style of the watch, but I wasn't willing to poke around for a wallet to confirm my guess. I left the tarp and looked around the rest of the room. I noticed a few more suspiciously placed tarps that seemed to spell out to me that a rather violent little battle had taken place in the room. There wasn't another exit, so I backed out slowly. I didn't see signs of anyone having been this way recently, but decided to go down the tunnel in the other direction.
I walked down the corridor that was at least a full city block long before I found another gated room. This one had a padlock snapped on the latch. It was a much sturdier-looking portal than the flimsy gate that had been keeping the corpses contained for the local rats to eat. Carefully I gave it a tug, and it didn't immediately fall open. Breathing in deeply I tried to peer into the dark chamber and see if there was anything worth snapping up much less wasting my time wrestling the lock.
My little lantern spread some blinding white light into the cave, and I saw some promising sparkles in the distance, and some kind of furnishings around the area. The air was stale, but since it didn't appear that there had been anyone in visiting for a few years from the dust on the ground and the slightly stuffy feeling, I decided not to worry about it. Impulsively I reached up to the top lip on the gate's door frame. I felt quite a bit more dust, and then carefully tapped over the lip on top of the frame to see if I'd guessed correctly. Sure enough, something moved. I felt the shape and grinned, realizing whoever locked the gate had stored the key on the frame, like some of my stupid neighbors did back in the day. Those too-trusting sorts of folks hadn't realized they shouldn't have bothered locking a door if they left the key nearby, allowing anyone with a minute or three to find it. Shrugging, I pulled the key down and slowly slid it into the padlock. It took a wiggle or two but sure enough I heard a snick and the lock was open. Smiling, I pulled the padlock off and opened the gate.
My lantern illuminated more of the inciting sparkles and to my pleasure and happy surprise, it appeared that I'd found a treasure room. I wasn't stupid, so I put the lock and key inside with me on a dusty box just a foot or two inside the cave. There weren't any tarps that I could see, so I gathered the slayings down the corridor hadn't ended up in this cave. The vast room wasn't nearly as musty as I'd expected, and I didn't smell death. I hated that I could know the scent of death so easily, but I lived to tell that tale, so I wasn't going to over-think it.
Cautiously I ventured into the room and didn't see anything disturbing, but rather the signs of a good treasure chamber that had been gated off for future ventures. It made me think that the dead folks in the other cave had probably died before they could clear the room out. I had no way of confirming my guess, but from all the gold and silver I saw, I didn't see anything to dispute my conclusions.
So fortified by my leaps of faith, I wandered further into the cave. My little lantern was enough for me to keep venturing deeper into the chamber. As I looked around, I was amazed by the loot.