This is a prequel to the live game. For that video and continuing narrative, go here.
Joshua Sapa opens the box tentatively. It had already been checked for poisons and traps, but its lead-lined structure means that the contents could be more dangerous than it seems.
The box had come in earlier in the day, an Aztec ceremonial box found in a museum crate stuffed away a century ago. It was definitely interesting, and more than one artifact has been found lying around in some museum thought to be just a trinket before the world’s magic came back.
Subconsciously holding his breath, he pushes in the last button and at the same time, pushes on the lid. It resists for a moment, then as the lid slides back, the lights in the office go dim. At the same time, his AR contacts start showing weird symbols before even the weird symbols fade out. Inside the box, he finds a very small Spanish journal along with a golden disc. Just by instinct, he knows that the disc is obviously the source of the disturbance that affected his electronics. He can hear curses from across the lab, the other two magicians he works with are experiencing similar issues with their electronics.
He realizes in a flash that if his contacts are rebooting, the magical pulse may have affected other electronics. Looking up in the corner, he can see the yellow light of the NeoNet camera rebooting. In a flash, he gets the idea that he could take the book and no one would know. He doesn’t know why, but he slips it into his belt satchel.
A few minutes later, as all of the electronics come back on, he carefully records in his NeoNet official record the contents of the crate.
“Total contents of crate – One Mayan disc: Magical effects unknown, powerful enough to temporarily effect electronics”
Two days later, Blackfeather, as Joshua likes to be called when he’s on a “Run”, is sitting in an old transport plane that has been retrofitted with modern electronics. In some ways, the loud vibration of the old plane was relaxing, putting him in a trance most of the trip as he thought back over what he had pilfered from the box.
For the past few nights, he had worked almost feverously, deciphering the ancient Spanish writing found in the journal. It was the private journal of a Spanish conquistador, Henrando de Elmagro. He described where the Mayan box and disc had been found, an underground Mayan temple! The conquistador had found a cave near the heart of the Aztec empire, what had in modern times, become Aztlan! An amazing find for any anthropologist, but so much more amazing now with knowledge of the kinds of things these temples often held. Hernando de Elmagro himself had died before he could return, then the box and disc had been moved around between museums for decades. The journal described strange runes, traps, and a “weird” feeling. All of this lead to his decision to take some time off work and head deep into the Empire of Aztlan.
A particularly bad rumble brought him back to the present. He looked around, but no one else in the large cargo plane seemed to be worried by the turbulence. “MadM@x”, as the coyote rigger likes to be called, prided himself on the old plane. He swore that Azlan would allow them to land safely in Tenochtitlán in as he regularly delivered UCAS steel and machinery and had the proper permits. He claimed that he intentionally kept a low-tech vehicle because he was viewed as less of a threat. Blackfeather didn’t particularly care, the rigger’s references were good, if not prime.
The other two he had brought along, a troll, Bastion and an ork, Smashup, he was less comfortable with. He knew their combat qualifications were up to par, but if anything, that was part of the problem. The troll had a reputation with a rocket launcher he liked to carry around that gave the troll a reputation that few intentionally wanted to mess with. Smashup likewise had a talent with two heavy pistols that Joshua more than felt certain would help deal with any native fauna they were likely to encounter.
No no, it was their reputation for brashness that he was most concerned with. He talked them out of the rocket launcher, but he couldn’t get them to give up their grenades. He made it very clear in their contract that if the magical artifacts were damaged by their carelessness, there would be no pay unless he authorized the weapons. They looked at him like he was an idiot, but agreed.
He didn’t like being both the Johnson arranging the job and a participant on the Run, but it was satisfying too. Thrilling even.
Three days into their journey, the trip no longer felt thrilling. Angry red welts covered him where the mosquitos regularly seemed to target him and madM@x. The ork and troll seemed uninteresting to the bloodsuckers as long as the succulent humans were around. In fact, the troll hadn’t been bitten even once, and the ork perhaps only once or twice. The chuckle from the troll every time he slapped at one of the unusually large pests feasting on his blood didn’t help. He wanted to pull rank, threaten financial consequences, something… But then he looked at the challenging glare of the 3 meter troll and thought maybe the troll wanted him to try something like that. His skill with assensing made him suspicious that perhaps the troll was looking for any excuse to turn on him and head back to civilization. Maybe..well it doesn’t matter, it was his run, and he’d suffer through it all for the kinds of magical power the trip would deliver into his hands.
His irritation with the troll almost made him laugh when the troll fell into that pit with the webbing. The 3 meter long spiders that quickly leaped onto the troll shook him however, ending his chuckle before it could start. The troll suffered several bites before they were able to put the creatures down, though the venom leaking from the wound didn’t seem to faze the massive warrior in the slightest. Either from his size or from the obvious implants, Blackfeather wasn’t sure.
Bastion didn’t laugh anymore, though, so the bites must not have been painless. In many ways, the massive puckered red rings on the troll’s arms and neck were grotesque mirrors of the swollen red scabs on the mage and rigger. From that point on, the group stomped through the jungle mostly without speaking…
When they found the boulder in the shape of a crescent moon, the group’s excitement returned. Visions of magical foci for Blackfeather and shares of Mayan gold for the warriors swam through their heads. It took some digging to uncover some loose stones that had collected debris over the centuries, but it was exactly where De Elmagro had specified. De Elmagro had intended to return with more men and hadn’t wanted his find to be discovered before he could take all of its treasures. Blackfeather hated the Imperialist Europeans who had decimated his people, but he could appreciate the irony that the Spanish explorer’s selfishness had probably saved the artifacts from being pillaged by other Europeans and would now fall into his, a Sioux’s hands.
Once they had uncovered the pit, they lowered themselves with smart rope to a cavern floor nearly 10 meters down. From there, they took a tunnel through some twists and turns more than a hundred meters in length, which lead deeper into the nearby mountain. Here and there, they could see ancient markings, the meaning of which were unknown to any of them. MadM@x complained about a lack of matrix access down here, he wanted to do a few searches to try and see if he could get some translations.
Blackfeather put the kibosh on that idea straight away! That’s the kind of newb move that got you caught by Aztechnology. No, they’d keep everything locked down tight for as long as possible, months or even years. He had no desire for someone’s random curiosity getting him black bagged.
The jaguar creatures were their first threat inside the cave. Just as they came out into a larger cavern, shadowy creatures leaped upon them. MadM@x’ drones took it the hardest, two scouts being wiped out and the dog drone being severely damaged. Bastion took some bad wounds too, but he assured them that while they looked bad, they weren’t significant. The GM-Nissan Doberman drone ended up getting left behind, causing the rigger to complain bitterly, but the drone just couldn’t walk right and was making a huge racket.
As the last of the growling creatures were put down, they looked closer. The critters turned out to be large muscular quasi-humanoid jaguars. They fought with almost primate intelligence, somewhere between sentients and pack animals. They weren’t awakened and used no tools, but could be dangerous if their technology wasn’t preventing them from being ambushed. Smashup claimed that he had fought some lab-built chimps that seemed similar, combined with the instincts and natural weapons of large felines. Blackfeather suspected the creatures might be engineered creatures by Aztlan released to make the jungles less hospitable to would-be explorers like himself.
Blackfeather assensed that the spirits of the place being both curious of them and protective of the place. He didn’t feel unwanted, however, which he took as a sign to continue going. As they continued going into the cavern, they came upon what De Elmagro had described, the top of a Mayan pyramid buried here underneath the ground. The journal said that the structure was called “The Temple of the Closed Eye” by some natives. Blackfeather suspected the Spanish explorer was being a tad creative, if locals had known of the temple, surely it would have already been pillaged. Then again, perhaps the conquistador had slain anyone who still knew of the story to prevent anyone else from finding it. It surely wouldn’t have been the first time.
They approached the Mayan temple with hesitation, but no further threats leaped out at them. The temple seemed like the ground had simply swallowed the temple hole, leaving only a small space for the top. In decades past, it might have been deduced that the temple had been only built to appear that it had been swallowed, but with what was known now, Blackfeather was sure that the temple had indeed been built on the surface, then somehow taken underground. Definitely some magic was involved! He was trembling with excitement just thinking about what wonders might be found!
Over the next few hours, they carefully worked their way down into layer after layer of the temple. They followed the Spanish explorer’s guide leading into where the case and disc were found, rarely veering off of the path as they didn’t want to encounter anything before retrieving the treasures.
If they had followed that strategy all the way to the end, things might have turned out different. Just prior to the heart of the temple where treasure could actually be seen, they stopped to rest in an antechamber. They had already dealt with more jaguar creatures, a giant anaconda-like snake with fire abilities, and several small but mostly simple traps. They had come through everything mostly unscathed, but Blackfeather was starting to have a bad feeling from all of the noise they were making. At one point, down a side chamber he had seen what looked like a rainbow patterned feathers fluttering away.
Blackfeather froze at the sign of what he most DID NOT want to find here, a feathered serpent. The last thing he wanted to deal with, was a dracoform. He started taking to talking out loud, saying he would like to meet anything that called this place its home. Doing everything in his power to not offend any great being that might still live here, while continuing to move forward in case it was just a case of paranoia.
It wasn’t the feathered serpent (which might not exist, nothing responded to his calls to greet the thing!) that was their downfall, it was the damned antechamber! They were resting, reloading, preparing to go into the treasure room they expected to have the most defenders when Bastion started fiddling with the wall. Blackfeather was in a corner sitting cross-legged, his body left behind while his spirit was tentatively exploring the next room. The next room was the first place where the spirits seemed to balk at him moving any further. Perhaps if he had kept his focus on the antechamber, maybe he would have stopped Bastion from prying a large gem out of the wall.
A great rumble shook the temple as his spirit was snapped back into his body. He staggered to his feet only to slam his head onto a great slab of stone that had fallen inward and now encased him in the small corner he had sat himself down in. He was unconscious for at least a few minutes, because when he woke up, the dust had mostly settled to the ground. He was gasping for breath a little, which wasn’t helping him to think clearly. It was terribly dark, and even with his contacts night vision, there wasn’t much to see, just rubble and debris from some sort of trap that had mostly filled in the antechamber.
His teammates were dead, killed so fast they had no time to react. He cleared out a bit of debris to increase his airway to the outside tunnels but knew he had no mechanism to move the heavy plinths that had fallen into the room. He had five days of food. He was mere meters away from perhaps the greatest magical find of his life, but he couldn’t even approach it safely due to spirits that threatened violence if he did. He could probably handle the spirits, as long as something else would cover him from any mundane threats he might draw by messing with them.
He couldn’t talk to any of his colleagues at NeoNet for help, if any of them turned in, they’d either leave him or come here to kill him and take everything for themselves. He couldn’t ask for local help, Aztlan would probably sacrifice him to their blood magic and take everything for themselves.
It was time to setup a second run, this time for the same rewards but with a second objective, the rescue of himself.