"Stay here." Slade whispered to his two companions, as he took the lead with torch in hand. Jez and Rondo both nodded in solemn agreement. There was no telling what kind of traps lay waiting for them within the hallowed halls of the ancient tower, and Slade wasn't the type to of thief to take any unnecessary risks. Those lead to an early grave.
Slade crept forward slowly, cautiously, examining every stone tile, every primordial crack, anything at all that might conceal some sort of secret. It was not just the traps that concerned Slade, for he knew that if the legend of the jewels held any truth they would not be easy to locate. Even the action of entering the shrine had been no easy task. Had the vicious storm not sent away the usual patrol they might not have been able to get inside at all. It was almost as if fate itself had opened the door for Slade this night, given him this one opportunity for greatness. The world had been a cruel mistress to the thief. Poverty stricken and forever overlooked by Galam's elite, he had been forced to scratch out a living at the bottom of his kingdom's twisted economic hierarchy. The chasm between rich and poor sickened him. Slade felt no guilt in breaking laws to balance the disparity.
The King was not an evil man, merely out of touch. He had kept their nation strong and grand, even through the most perilous of times, but though their military flourished, the kingdom's social programs had grown ineffective, not that they had ever been subject to very much praise. The bulk of the taxes had always gone towards the army. It would always be this way. Slade found that he could not respect the King, nor those who came before him, for he could respect no man who chooses to spend more gold on crafting swords than on starving peasants.
The thief then noticed, as he turned the corner, a set of steps leading down to one of the lower chambers. He grabbed a piece of rubble that was strewn across the ground and tossed it at the stairs hard. Slade half expected a set of spikes to shoot out from the wall in an attempt to skewer intruders like himself, but nothing occurred. All remained still.
Perhaps the traps of the tower had already been triggered long ago, Slade thought, by foolish amateurs seeking to claim their fortunes, or perhaps there was still strange magic alive within the shrine, magic they had yet to encounter. Either way Slade had no intention of turning back. They'd come much too far to leave this place empty handed. This was the greatest chance they'd ever had to make something of themselves. He motioned for his companions to follow and they dutifully obeyed, their hearts yearning to look upon the treasures of the ancients.
"Be careful on these steps, we don't know what might be down there." Slade warned, whilst he drew his dagger and crept tactfully down the stone staircase. Jez and Rondo nodded but said nothing with their swords drawn. Slade had not led them astray this far. They continued to trust in his words.
The thunder seemed to roar with vengeance as they drew ever closer to the bottom. Slade felt the aura of something powerful, something he could not fully comprehend. There was a force calling to the thief within the tower, a call he willfully answered. He would gladly take uncertain risks when the possible gain appeared to balance out the possible costs of failure. A single treasure from the old ones could potentially change everything that had ever gone wrong for him, for his friends, even for many of the serfs who continued to endure suffer poverty upon Galam's cold streets. That chance alone was reason enough to press on.
At long last, they came to the bottom chamber of the tower. Runes were written on every block of the wall, inscriptions placed there long ago by the ancients. He wondered if in their infinite wisdom they had foreseen this occurrence, foreseen thieves defiling the sanctity of their shrine. Legends spoke of a great darkness sealed within this place, but Slade had categorized the tales as nonsense. Demons, devils, dark Gods, he had no interest in theology. Riches, riches were all that counted. He wondered now, if there had been truth to those stories. He sensed something in his heart, something strong, but quickly dismissed it as mere anxiety. There was too much at stake to allow for hesitation. The thief then advanced ahead of his comrades swiftly and confidently, feeling what he sought was now within reach. That's when he saw them, glimmering upon an old pedestal, the legendary jewels of light and evil.
"This…this is it…" Slade said, awestruck by his findings. Jez and Rondo hurriedly entered the chamber behind him and were equally amazed to see the glimmering pieces of jewelry resting comfortably, undisturbed by the passage of time. One of them was blue, surrounded by a bright aura. The other was red, bearing a hazy blood-red glow. Forgetting the caution with which they had advanced throughout the shrine, Rondo sprang forward and made a grab for the blue jewel.
"Hold it!" The rat yelled, but by then Rondo had already grabbed the jewel of light. The man was not harmed as Slade anticipated he would be. Instead, Rondo simply found he could not make the precious gem move even a single inch from where it lay. He tried again with more force, but gained no results for his effort. They just remained stagnate, unmoved.
"I can't get the damned thing. It won't budge." Rondo said, confused. With a scoff, Jez stepped forward and pushed him out of the way.
"Move over. Let me show you how a real man does it." Jez remarked, grabbing the same jewel He applied similar force, and yet despite the strength of Slade's companions neither one succeeded in acquiring the objects. Jez looked even more shocked then Rondo at the resistance, as there was nothing visible holding the jewels in place. He nearly fell backwards from the last good pull he gave. They then tried several times to free the red treasure, but it too laughed in their faces.
"Give it up you two, there's obviously something else at work here and all you're going to do is damage them." Slade uttered angrily as he walked over to the pedestal, examining the jewels himself. He put away the dagger and handed the torch to Jez, then gazed into the heart of the ancient treasures.
"There has to be some kind of spell protecting them. Now how do we break it…?" Slade asked, placing his hands instinctively on both jewels. Something triggered inside the rat's mind, but he didn't know what. Somehow he sensed this was the right course of action. The nameless force was calling to him, ever stronger. With eager fingers, he grasped both the jewel of evil and the jewel of light, pulling them with all his power. There was a great flash and then Slade found himself strewn upon the floor, a treasure in each hand. The thieves were shocked beyond words.
"My god…you did it Slade. You have the jewels!" Rondo said helping him up from the ground. Slade shook his head. Whatever happened had dazed him, though a single glance at the jewels seemed to wear away the stun. The men then stood for a moment, their eyes transfixed upon the treasures, those that would make them kings, free them of their lives of thievery and banditry. Several thoughts ran through Slade's mind as he gazed deeply into the gems. He pondered for a moment if the riches of the world would corrupt him, make him like the very order he had spent his whole life defying. He saw the greed in his companions' eyes. It was the same greed he saw in all men, even himself.
Are we no different from the ruling class? Slade asked himself.
The thief had no time to conjure up an answer. In that same moment a burst of lightning tore the land asunder, and the ancient tower itself began to shake. They steadied themselves, felt the ground beneath them giving way, while the shrine growled at them with angry resentment.
"Move quickly!" Slade ordered before tucking the jewels into his pack. The thieves wasted no time in running for the stairs, as it appeared the entire shrine was destined to fall upon them. They were quite fortunate. As they ascended the staircase with great haste, fear of death pushing them beyond their physical limitations, pieces of the tower fell all around them. Some of it should have hit them, even killed them, yet not a single shard of stone made contact with their bodies. It was as if the Goddess herself was protecting them.
Does Mitula now favor me?
When finally they reached the main room, the thieves bolted for the entrance. As they did, several giant pieces of the shrine came loose from the ceiling. Slade felt the shock of the debris hitting the floor right when his feet he exited the shrine. Everything behind them collapsed.
The three men were nearly breathless once they got out into the rain. The winds howled, and the darkness of the storm intensified. The thieves were merely grateful to have escaped with their lives. They crept away into the night, offering thankful prayers to the Goddess whom they thought had never cared for them. Slade gazed back into the distance for a single moment, halting their retreat, as a bolt of lightning scorched the earth. He thought he heard a man scream.