The Exploits of Grant McSwain, Fearless Adventurer, Man of Mystery, Acquirer of Fabled Fortunes, and Doer of Daring Feats
(accompanied as always by his hapless asssistant, Teagan O'Daire, the Ginger of Galway)
This week's episode: A Clash with Death, and the Chasm of Despair...
The sun beat down on the thick jungle foliage Grant McSwain brushed aside with the flat of his machete. "Told you," he said with a grin as he offered his assistant a view of the ziggurat ahead. "The Temple of Ixthapocl, right where I said it would be."
Teagan clambered the rest of the way up the slope, then took a knee and brushed red bangs away from her dripping face. "The fifth time's the charm, I guess. As usual."
Grant ignored the jab. "Now the true challenge begins!"
"Finding the way in?"
"No, that's easy. I'm talking about sneaking artifacts past customs when we get back to America." He trudged down the hill toward the vine-covered ruin.
"Always ten steps ahead," Teagan said. "Sometimes you forget to plan for the obstacles that still block our way."
Grant shrugged and strolled across the open ground toward the base of the temple. "Who needs a plan when you have style?" His machete made short work of the intertwining vines blocking the entrance. "Already we know that no one else has been in here in years."
"Through this entrance," Teagan muttered. The Ixthacas always built secret passages for their own use. Many a conquistador had been ambushed, thinking they found unattended wealth.
A heavy metal door blocked their way, a ring engraved with animals and men in different poses at its center. Grant unfolded a parchment and double-checked the sequence, then turned the ring to the appropriate symbols. "Dance like the serpent," Grant read aloud, "fight like the bear."
The lock clicked and dust shook loose as the door swung open.
Grant stepped inside, and Teagan saw the stone sink beneath his foot. She dove into him, bowling him over as three darts cut through the air where he'd been standing.
"And duck," she said, "like someone who wants to survive."
Grant dusted himself off and rose, face red as her hair. "Thanks," he said finally. "Get the flashlight, wouldya?"
The light revealed walls of carved stone, with rows of faces at eye level. Every other mouth hung open, potentially hiding more traps. They took a slower pace, testing any stone in the floor that seemed odd.
The halls inside the ziggurat led to several empty chambers—living quarters, based on the provisions and furnishings. Stairs wound up to the higher levels.
Grant checked each room for anything of interest, a process that took a full hour on the first floor. "I've only got one set of spare batteries," Teagan said. "The rest are back at camp. Ceremonies would be held beneath the moon and stars in the top chamber. Maybe that's where the good stuff was kept?"
"Or that's what they'd want you to think," Grant replied.
Teagan rolled her eyes and dutifully followed.
By the time they reached the highest level, the flashlight dimmed and the full moon shining through the open ceiling did as good a job. Stone pillars rose into the night sky at each corner and on each side of the ziggurat's rooftop. Every pillar bore a plate of silver and obsidian displaying a phase of the moon.
On a low platform before the altar in the center of the top floor, silver spheres the size of golf balls glimmered in the moonlight, arranged like the brighter stars in the sky. Grant pulled out a knife and immediately pried one from its setting. "Yep, they're loose, we can grab these." He drew out a thick leather pouch and began filling it.
Then he spotted the shining gold plate set above the altar. Engraved lines radiated from the golden sun. "Hey Teag, grab that, will ya?"
Teagan smiled at the thick gold and approached. But something felt off. She checked the floor, and it looked solid. She inspected the plate from every angle, but saw nothing indicating a trap or trigger mechanism. She tapped the ground in front of the plate with her toes, then put full weight on it. The stones supported her.
Grant had begun plucking the lunar phases off the pillars, sliding them into his backpack with newspaper padding between each plate. "You gonna get that thing?" he asked. "I don't want to be out here all night."
Teagan couldn't spot anything amiss. So she jammed a flat steel file between the golden plate and its setting in the stone, then pried the treasure out.
The Ixthaca worshiped the moon. Why would they put up a valuable image of the sun?
The plate slapped into her hands, and the stone at the top of its indented setting dropped with a sharp clack against the bottom.
Teagan groaned. To identify enemies and intruders, of course.
The floor fell away and she plummeted into darkness with a stifled yelp.
With her weight suddenly removed, the spring-loaded doors snapped back into place.
Grant collected the last plate, hefted the sack onto his back, then turned about in confusion. "Did she seriously just take the treasure and run?"
[To be continued next week, in "The Lolly-pops of Peril"]
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The Ginger of GalwayAdventure
"Prepare to be amazed and astonished, Gentle Reader, by the feats and exploits of the legendary world-traveler, Grant McSwain. Thrill with each terror confronted! Be mesmerized at every mind-blowing mystery resolved! Swoon with suspense at the succe...