Terri grinned to herself as she reached out for the medallion. As it sat in its small pedestal on the large stone altar, it looked like a completely ordinary gold medallion, but she knew what it really was. It was the biggest treasure she had ever caught, and even considering the fact that she was a treasure hunter, she couldn't believe that she, a common green Acara, could ever have managed to find it.
Holding the medallion, she felt its powers coursing up her arm like electricity, and she knew the legends had been right. This was the legendary medallion of Khuami.
It had been a long journey, but now it was almost over. Travelling from Mystery Island to the sands of the Lost Desert had only been one of the long steps in the journey, and the boat ride alone had cost her half of her savings, but she hadn't thought twice about spending the neopoints. Nobody else knew about the diary of Sehl Khuami; she had excavated it from the Lost desert on her own, and the tomb had shown no sign anybody else had entered it since the great king himself. The medallion was bound to be hidden in the desert, and after almost two months of deciphering the diary, she had set out.
The temple itself had been a long journey too; though she had seen the medallion almost from the start, the temple was a maze of ancient glass tunnels, and she had spent countless hours navigating through traps. She had lost both her sense of time and her sense of direction, and in the end she counted time by the simple fact that she had paused to eat a meal four times. 32 hours. Roughly.
Her sense of direction hadn't mattered to her in this maze, and she had made no attempt to regain it or keep count of which direction she was walking. The temple consisted of a single large room, and the entrance led directly into the maze which ran in haphazard swirls and loops along the walls before finally opening up on the large altar set just below the entrance. She had walked the entire maze keeping her eyes on the podium, and the medallion sitting atop it.
She moved slowly through the large stone room, keeping one eye on the stone podium set in the center of the room and the other eye on the floor, looking for traps. There had been several traps already, and though she had been lucky enough to avoid most of them, she didn't want to take any chances. Especially not now.
The maze looped its crazy way along the walls, sometimes dipping down and forming a small valley which she had to climb, sometimes rising up and creating a uphill battle of ancient stairs which threatened to give in under her weight at any moment.
The podium disappeared from view momentarily, hidden in the hazy fog of distance, and she felt a momentary surge of panic. Without the podium to navigate by, she didn't know which way to go anymore. She continued onwards, praying silently to herself that she would not encounter one of the countless points where the maze split in two; one half going off in the right direction, the other half leading her into a trap, or even worse, a dead end. The dead ends in this maze didn't come at once; she had walked for almost an hour without seeing a split, and then the maze had simply ended in a flat wall with no way to continue, and she knew –from experience- that without the altar to use as a safe point when trailing the maze ahead for the right way, she could be stuck there for too long. The provisions she had packed was already thinning out, and she had a strong feeling she couldn't afford to spend several hours first going in the wrong direction and then the same amount of time backtracking.
After what felt like hours, she once again saw the faint outline of the podium, and she stopped and looked at the maze ahead, faintly visible through the dusty glass-like stone. She trailed the maze, holding up one crooked and scarred index finger to make sure she didn't do it wrong, and then exhaled a breath she hadn't been aware she had been holding. She was still on the right track.
Knowing she was on the right track, and that the podium was still there, she sat down and pulled out a packed meal from her backpack. Dry bread and cheese. It didn't taste good; the taste had been blasted away by the sand, but it was nutrition, and that was what she needed.
She didn't like admitting to herself that she needed the nutrition; this was the fourth meal since she had entered the maze, and she didn't like the empty feel of her backpack. There were only four meals left of what had been enough food to survive in the desert for a week, and four meals were just what she needed to get back out of the maze.
When the meal had been eaten, followed by a single sip of water –she had to ration it by now- she tended quickly to the makeshift balance on her leg. She had tripped one of the traps, a simple spear trap which struck her leg, just to the left of her shin. The wound hadn't been bad, but it had been deep enough to continue bleeding. She had torn off a piece of her pants –they were ruined anyways- and tied it around the wound. It had stopped the bleeding, but she still felt it was best to check the bandage. Just to be safe.
She didn't know how long she had walked; it might have been two hours, it might have been twenty, but as she looked up, meaning to track the maze ahead, she realized the maze was lit by faint light coming from the cave leading in to the temple. It wasn't much light; the cave was too long to let in any actual sunlight, but the light was still comforting. It told her not only that it was day outside, but it also told her something different. She was getting closer to the point where the opening and the podium holding the medallion stood on separate sides of the thick glass-like stone. She was closer to her goal.
She celebrated this fact with another sip of water, and continued walking, only managing to fight the urge to run by reminding herself that the maze was littered with traps. Still, walking slowly, keeping one eye on the faint light leaking out of the mouth of the cave, and the other eye on the floor ahead, she knew it wasn't much time left until she reached her goal. As the light started to darken, she felt a twinge of desperation, and as the light disappeared completely, she once again had to fight the urge to run. She would get there in time, and she still had the podium to navigate by.
She continued walking.
The maze dipped down into a steep valley. The decline was a plain, hard sandstone surface with jagged edges poking out at random intervals. These might have been stairs once upon a time, but she couldn't be certain. They might just as well have been a hindrance, forcing any potential treasure hunters to traverse the dangerous rocks.
She attached her rope to a stone outcrop in the wall just above the start of the incline, fastening it so it would support her weight but still come off with just the right twist of her wrist when she pulled it. A trick she had learned from Alfonso, another treasure hunter she had worked with from time to time. This done, she lowered herself into the pit.
She yanked a single time at the rope, and it tumbled down the steep slope. As she coiled the rope up, she sent a warm thought out to Alfonso, and wished she had brought him along. He was a font of knowledge, and he always packed five times as much food as they would need, but these things weren't too important right now. Plain and simple company was what she needed from Alfonso. She would even split the medallion with him if she could just have someone to talk to.
She sighed, and forced herself not to think of Alfonso, or company in general. She had heard enough horror stories –they both had- about explorers who had been out exploring alone, and spent more time than they had expected. The locations were always different, but the outcome was always the same. The explorer always returned home months later, babbling wildly and jumping at shadows, broken by the lack of company.
"I won't jump at shadows," she said and then clapped a hand over her mouth as she realized she was talking to herself.
She shook her head silently, and continued moving through the labyrinth.
The stairs looked dangerous. The stone was weather-worn and already crumbling at the edges, but that was only half the danger. She hadn't encountered a trap for ages, and instinct –or paranoia- told her she would meet a trap soon. She took off her backpack and threw it a few feet up the stairs. It landed on the seventh step, and stood teetering for a moment before tilting down to the step below. It rolled over three times more, and then landed on the floor in front of her. At least she knew these first seven steps were safe.
She began walking, moving gingerly up the steps, careful not to thread too close to the crumbling edge, and as she stepped on the fifth step, it sank under her foot. She had a split second to react, and though she pulled her foot back, it wasn't enough. Four arrows shot out from the alcove the sinking step had revealed. Three of them missed her –though she thought at least one of these three was meant to go straight through her leg- and the fourth graced the side of her calf.
She swore loudly, counting this too as talking to herself, and fell to her knees as the recently opened leg started sending its distress up to her brain in searing hot Morse code. She balanced on her knees for a moment, and then fell backwards as the stone step gave way under her weight. She landed flat on her back, barking another curse in breathless pain, and as she lay on the stone floor, she realized she had been lucky. Ten, maybe even just five steps further up and the fall would have done much more than knock the breath out of her.
She sat up, and looked at the wound on her leg. It wasn't bad; the arrow had just grazed her leg, but the wound kept leaking blood, and she wondered briefly if the arrows had been coated in some poison. Then she brushed this idea aside. If they were poison, there was nothing she could do about it.
She opened her backpack, and then closed it again, feeling a twinge of annoyance. She knew she had forgotten to pack bandages, and checking the backpack had only made her more annoyed.
She studied the torn leg of her pants, and then tore off a long strip. It didn't matter much; the pants, already battered and torn, were useless anyways. The strip of cloth from her pants wasn't much of a bandage, but she knew it would work. This wasn't the first time she had used her clothing as makeshift bandages, and though she knew the wound would need extra care and proper bandages soon, the cloth would at least stop the bleeding and keep sand out of the wound.
Once this makeshift healing was done, she continued on down the maze.
The fresh air from outside drifted through the long cave which led in to the temple, and she took deep breaths, savoring the almost palpable taste of freshness. The podium holding the medallion was visible under her and as she traced the maze leading from the podium and along the wall, disappearing into the hazy no-spot of distance maybe three miles into the temple and reappearing on the other side, leading its crooked swirls along the wall before finally ending at the entrance, she grew to love this fresh air even more. The maze in all its complexity might be three days worth of exploring. Maybe more. Outside, the sun rose, filling the cave with a hazy, warm light, and she appreciated this as well, despite her inability to be out in the sun without getting a sunburn. Taking this dark, cave-like temple into consideration, any light was wonderful.
The boat running between Mystery Island and the Lost Desert cost her half her savings, but she didn't care about this. She could always scrape up more neopoints. If worse came to worst, she could sell off one of the relics she had kept after her previous explorations. She'd gladly trade all of them for the medallion.
She spent the entire boat trip sitting on the deck, enjoying the fine spray of rain and seawater which occasionally came over her, and daydreamed about all the things she could do with the medallion's power. She tried not to daydream; she wanted to explore the power as a new thing, but as the boat trip dragged on, she found no other option but to daydream the time away.
Terri sat in her library, reading through the diary of Sehl Khuami. It was an advanced book, and she had several reference books stacked on her desk, along with a large notebook filled with cross-referenced language and hieroglyphs. The book showed signs of heavy use and the back was all but disintegrated. She didn't care about this; she had nearly unlocked the secrets hidden within the diary.
She had been a treasure hunter for as long as she could remember; just a green Acara who had felt the need to search for hidden riches ever since she was a child. But this treasure was different. This was the mythical medallion of Sehl Khuami, one of the earliest kings of the desert.
She read through his diary again, muttering each word to herself; speaking it first in the original language –though nobody knew how the words were pronounced anymore- and then translated to English. When this was done and she reached the end of the diary, she began again, hoping to unlock the last few words; the few words which held the secrets of the medallion.
On her fifth read-through of the day, it finally happened. She got to her feet, and started packing her backpack right away. She now knew everything she needed to know in order to find the mystical medallion of Sehl Khuami; a medallion which gave the owner the ability to travel through time.
Now read the story backwards.