“Only a few people would expect a thief to place an item inside a vault.”
I lower the crate to the ground and kneel down in front of the closest tile. Each of the enchanted tiles has a side length of roughly thirty centimetres. More than enough to comfortably place a foot on it. My inspection of the tile confronts me with an unexpected problem. Whoever designed this alarm system wasn't a fool.
The tile is enchanted with a fairly simple spell which activates through pressure. That's it. Nothing fancy will happen. I reach out and use my magic to tug at the tile's enchantment in order to test it.
No. It's certainly nothing more than an alarm spell. A ward which reports that the tile was activated. The principle is the same as the interlocking enchantments which I used to create Illum.
The advantage over other traps is obvious. I don't get to learn anything from studying the tile. It's nothing more than a switch, a sensor. I can either choose to activate it or to leave it alone. The enchantment which controls the crypt's guardians is probably well-hidden and safely out of reach. At least that's what I would've done.
I could try to disable the tile, but that might activate the crypt's defences anyway. The question is why the crypt's creators enchanted each and every tile separately. There must be some kind of combination which allows crossing the tiles safely. Of course, that knowledge is lost and this isn't a cheesy entertainment show where the crypt's creators were so nice as to hide the answer in the form of a riddle on a nearby wall.
Just to be sure, I check.
Nope, the cheapskates didn't leave a cheat-sheet for me.
I study the other tiles within my reach, but five minutes later I conclude that, in principle, all of the tiles are the same. One nasty little detail is that not all of them have the same activation requirements. Some sense warmth, while others seem to react to air pressure. One spell even comes close to a photoelectric sensor which detects changes in the ambient light. That's a nasty trick. It means that a simple mage light is enough to activate the alarm. Luckily, my mask doesn't need light in order to allow me to see.
Abandoning the floor as an option, I turn my attention to the walls and the ceiling. There are also detection spells, but far less than on the floor. My force magic might allow me to levitate across the room.
And then I still have to open that stupid iron door at the other end, which is probably keyed to the very same tiles. The more I look at it, the more this seems like a bank vault.
I sigh and get back to my feet, then I shoulder the crate and cast the levitation spell. I allow myself to float forward and to the left, staying close to the wall. When nothing happens, I continue onwards and take the risk of floating further into the room to stay away from the traps on the walls.
Reaching the first coffin, I take a look inside. The corpse inside it seems to be dead. Or should I say non-functional? The guardians seem to be in some kind of stasis when they don't have to defend the crypt.
My inspection brings me closer to a coffin which doesn't hold one of the guardians. The brown robes make it clear that it is the corpse of one of the researchers. And the body looks far better than I would expect after a few months of decomposition. So they do turn the caught victims into more crypt guardians. What a joy.
I concentrate on the new convert and try to remember what Janice told me about creating zombies, draugr, and other undead. She has hope that, as a Mirai princess, I'll one day be able to raise people with their minds intact. According to her, it's a matter of preserving the corpse with a set of complex enchantments and to link the soul to the body.
As a person who will simply reincarnate after my death, I see no reason in such a practice. Though, I admit that normal people might not oppose a few more years with their memories intact. The Mirai ambassador doesn't seem to live a bad life... Apart from being unable to get it up... no food...
Okay, personally, I would rather be dead than undead.
I study the corpse and compare the network of spells to what Janice taught me. The coffin is an artefact which weaves spells around the body. It looks like an early version of the Mirai spellwork which Janice taught me. The basic principles to reanimate the nervous system are the same, though the preservation spells are clearly inferior and there are no regenerative capabilities.
The soul is also recalled to the body, but it's suppressed, giving the guardians only marginal mental capabilities. I can't tell if that's intentional, or if the creators of this place didn't know better.
Be that as it may. My visit to this place has already paid off.
I had the theory that this crypt is an ancient precursor of the Mirai culture. It proves that Janice didn't lie to me in regards to the old civilisations and the perpetual cycle of the rise and decline of this world's cultures. Getting undeniable proof for a part of her story makes her a little more trustworthy.
After a few more coffins, I am pleased to find out that the detection wards around them are just basic switches. Without further ado, I float to the large iron door. It's heavily enchanted, so I don't dare to touch it.
The tiles around the door are safe, so I land and lower the crate to the ground. Five minutes of studying the door get me nowhere. Neither do I understand the runes, nor can I decipher the spellwork. Enchantments get harder to read the more complex they get.
I would compare the issue to a circuit board. Every skilled technician can tell at a single glance what a simple circuit like a potential divider does. But if the circuit has hundreds or even thousands of components, the issue gets tricky.
Time to test another of Janice's claims. I am still not sure if she is lying, or if she wants to use me for her own goals. If this works, then she might really be trustworthy.
The Sovereign said that the ghost cat isn't just a familiar, but also proof of the bloodline. If this place is a historical Mirai site, then there should be something in this crypt to prove that the cat is indeed important to the Mirai. I would hate to find out that Janice only gave me the kitten to spy on me.
I study the runes on the door for a long time. The door is the only artefact which shows more than ornamental decorations, so I am willing to indulge myself. What strikes me as odd is the single rune which holds a central place on the door. It's a large, black dot with four smaller dots above it. The whole set is encased by a larger circle.
A stupid thought occurs to me. “That would be too easy.” I bend down and open the crate again. Then I unseal the small compartment at the crate’s left side. The kitten looks at me with big eyes, clearly asking why I locked it away for the duration of this trip.
I grab it by the scruff of its neck and lift it with my right hand. With my left hand, I take one of its paws and press the paw against the rune. There is a little spark of energy, then runes on the door light up and it opens, retreating into the ceiling.
I gape, more surprised than I want to admit. Those early Mirai were idiots! Who turns his familiar into a key!? Not to speak about Janice! I am practically a stranger to her, yet she simply gives me the key to her society. That's something I would never do. It goes against any logic. Does she really think that I will become a part of her family? They must have some kind of genetic defect. No, wait. That would mean that I am also affected!
Or is she that desperate?
She mentioned that she doesn't have many allies among the other reincarnated people on this world.
Absent-mindedly, I stuff the kitten into a pocket and pick up the crate. The room on the other side of the door is filled with treasure. Golden statues and coins sparkle in every corner, but I have no need for wealth. Even the large prize on the altar in the centre of the room doesn't interest me. It's a tiara which was made out of gold and silver. Some blue crystals are embedded in it.
I place the crate on the altar next to the tiara and take out the large power core which is supposed to convert this crypt. The core heats up and sinks smoothly into the large stone plate which is the altar's surface.
With the core installed, my work in this horrid place is finished. It's not like I don't appreciate adventuring, but there are better activities than to crawl through dusty, dirty places which are filled with life-threatening traps and monsters.
It's not like I need any of the treasures. I have more than enough money. Well... maybe the tiara. It looks nice and the blue crystals match my style. I quickly pocket the artefact which is made out of several interlocking segments. It's just a piece of jewellery.
Turning around, I am suddenly faced with one of life's unpredictabilities. Patting my pocket confirms that the kitten is indeed not inside my pocket and that what I am seeing isn't a bad dream.
The kitten is stumbling around in the first room, activating all the tiles. The Draugr are awake, facing me. The kitten must've slipped out of my pocket as soon as I put it in there. With a 'crack' the large iron door slowly starts lowering itself.
The guardians howl and rush towards me. I jump forward, using the first guardian as a stepping stone to launch myself over the closest attackers. Outside the treasure room, I roll over my shoulder, grabbing the kitten as I come back to my feet.
One guardian tries to decapitate me, but I launch a fireball into his face and lean back as I rush past him. His blade passes just an inch from my nose. Then I dodge and weave myself through the crowd, casting force spells as I run. My body follows the instincts which I honed through several lives. Luckily, the guardians aren't clustered together too tightly after leaving their coffins.
My personal protections flare up with energy when a spearhead strikes my shoulder. Then I am through the crowd and running, laughing like mad. Stupid kitten!