“Be careful what you wish for. It might be granted.”
“Damien, we really shouldn't be doing this!” Amanda wrings her hands and looks frightfully down into the pit where the second group of heavily armed adventurers disappears. “People died down there. Wasn't Edmund's failure enough?”
I turn and glare at her. “Edmund was a fool who wasn't worthy of his status. Unlike him, I will succeed in exploring the ruins of this ancient civilisation!” There has to be something important down there. Something that's worth protecting. Something powerful. And I will take it for myself!
Amanda doesn't look convinced. She glares gloomily at me and then back at the pit. “I didn't want it to turn out like this.”
“Didn't you want to be my second?” I ask her and step closer, looking down at her.
She seemingly shrinks beneath me, giving me the satisfaction of exerting power over her. It feels good when others give the respect I deserve.
I continue, “Didn't you support my testimony on Edmund's carelessness, which got him kicked out of the conclave? If we hadn't gotten rid of him, it would have taken us years to get to our current positions. Your assistance was the reason why I made you my Second.”
Amanda withers a little under my gaze, plagued by her doubts and her bad conscience. “But I only said the truth during the hearing. If Edmund hadn't gotten so absorbed in exploring the ruins, a lot of people would still be alive today.”
I snort. “But you painted his behaviour worse than it was. And it didn't stop you from taking the position which I offered you as payment. Just think of the prestige. Uncovering these ruins in his stead can get us set for life. Even if there is nothing else to get besides what we found down there the last time, we will still make a name for ourselves. Do you really think that we will get so lucky with our investors a second time?”
Expeditions like this one aren't cheap. And even less so are the adventurers who are clearing the crypt for us. If it hadn't been for a mysterious investor who dumped a lot of funds into my project, I wouldn't have been able to gather the money for another decade.
It is quite strange for someone to assist a research project without giving his name, but I take what I can get.
Amanda averts her eyes, saying nothing while she pretends to study the big pyramid next to us and the thick, green jungle which swallowed the remnants of this old civilisation.
Turning, I return my attention to the pit with the teleportation circle. It took a lot of funds to hire adventurers who are strong enough to clear out the old crypt. They are going every day on a 'dungeon dive', as they call it. After a lot of preparations, they enter the ruins and fight the guardians until they are exhausted. Then they return to the surface.
We started out with three groups, though one of them disappeared down in the tunnels without a trace. I assume that they got caught in some kind of trap, though it doesn't matter. The other two groups are reasonably effective at clearing out the crypt's guardians.
My reminiscence is interrupted by an adventurer appearing down in the pit. He gestures at us. “We have found something. It looks like something important. A large room with coffins and a big door.”
“What about the guardians?” I ask, excited.
“We thinned them out over the last week. There were a lot of them in the main chamber, but it seems like we got all of them. We explored the whole complex, but couldn't find more of them,” the adventurer answers and shoulders his heavy axe.
“Good!” I gesture at Amanda and the other three scholars who are busy with investigating another digging site. We follow the adventurer down into the pit and assemble on top of the teleportation circle.
Moments later, there is a flash of light and we find ourselves inside the crypt's first chamber. My foolish colleagues rush forward to study the runes and glyphs on the walls, while the adventurer observes them with a bored expression.
I step forward. “Guide us to the main chamber.”
He nods and Amanda and I follow him down a network of corridors with our three colleagues in tow. One of them is drawn down another corridor by a faint light, but the adventurer stops him. “Don't stray from the group. We haven't cleared these catacombs of all the traps. There are still some magical ones which reset a short time after triggering them.”
The man follows us in dismay, looking longingly down the corridor, but he doesn't protest. I wonder what he saw.
Finally, we arrive in a large room with many coffins. On the ground are the hacked up remains of several crypt guardians. Apparently, the adventurers hadn't any other choice than to chop the guardians into tiny pieces.
The rest of the adventurers, nine in total, are waiting in front of a large door.
“It seems like these 'things' were able to create more of their own by putting them into the coffins. We had to fight two of your former comrades.” Our guide gestures at a hacked up figure who is lying on the ground.
Amanda cries out in pain and dismay, “Marscha!” She rushes towards the corpse and falls to her knees in front of it. Her shoulders start shivering and I realize that she is crying. One of the younger scholars, I think his name was Meind, follows her and starts rubbing her back in an attempt to soothe her.
I ignore the noisy woman and head over to the other adventurers. The door is interesting. “It seems to be yet another magical protection,” I muse, studying the glyphs on it.
One of the adventurers raises his hand. “I should be able to open it if you give me some time. This door is clearly enchanted, so I would suggest being careful.”
The man carries a staff and wears only cloth, unlike the other men who are heavily armoured. He must be one of those self-important mages.
Turning my back to him, I study the dusty door and try to remember the translated rune-set which my colleagues put together. “I think that won't be necessary.” We copied enough of the texts on the walls to decipher most of it. Reaching out, I touch the rune which most likely means 'open'.
Nobody knows how to pronounce the forgotten language, but we are quite sure that this is the burial site of an important matriarch of an advanced culture. My historical studies showed me that this world has forgotten a lot of its history. If I am right, then there may be more to find than just simple treasure.
A tiny spark of green magic shocks my hand I quickly pull it away. The adventurers gasp as the door shudders and slowly opens, retreating up into the ceiling. They ready their weapons and I step back, should anything unpleasant be caught behind the door. After all, we are paying them to deal with nasty surprises.
But there is nothing. Just another room.
Shoving one of the gawking adventurers aside, I step into the crypt and feel my face widen into a grin. The room is filled to the brim with ancient artefacts and treasures.
My eyes get caught on the altar, which takes a central place in the room. Settled on top of it is what looks like a power stone, but it is one unlike any I have ever seen. It pulses slowly, almost as if it’s dormant.
I approach it and reach out with my hand. If this is really what I think it is, then I am truly a well-off man. Oh, of course, the Alliance's military will confiscate it, but it's well known that the finder's reward for even small power stones is enough to sway the hearts of nobility. And this is a large one which is already refined, possibly with lost magic.
My skin brushes over the hard crystal's surface and a voice surprises me.
'What do you wish for?'
Shaking my head, I turn and glare at the adventurers, but they are still at the crypt's entrance, their eyes glued to various treasures. They weren't the ones who spoke and it seems like they didn't hear anything.
'What do you wish for? Knowledge? Power? Riches? I can give it to you. It's my purpose.'
The voice urges and I realize that the sound comes from the crystal. Its alluring tone intrigues me. “Well, of course, I want power. Is there anything else one could want?” When I was evaluated as a small boy, I was tested positive for magical ability. Sadly, I was just a meager student of the magical arts. I didn't do well in my education and was kicked out soon after my apprenticeship, denying me the chance to further my powers.
With my path to power and influence closed off by fate, I had no other choice than to pursue the profession of a scholar, or to return to a life of peasantry.
The voice chuckles evilly, causing some doubt in my decision to answer its question so eagerly. Is it a demon?
'Not a wise choice, but a good one.'
A surge of energy jolts out of the power stone, through my arm and into my body. Someone screams at the top of his lungs and I realize that I am the one who is screaming. The power rearranges something within me, widening my horizon and my perception. Suddenly, I am painfully aware of my surroundings and the adventurers who are hurrying forward to pull me away from ‘my’ power stone.
I strike out at the closest one and he is flung away like a doll. His upper body twists and impacts the door frame of the room. It doesn't stop his flight and just sends his body into a spinning motion. At last, his broken remains impact the wall at the far end of the large room which holds the coffins.
The adventurers just stand there for a moment, too shocked to do anything. Then they raise their weapons, but I don't find the gesture threatening.
Raising my hand I send a wave of pure force at them, crushing the closest ones and sending the rest flying. I laugh maniacally and bask in the feeling of power. There is so much of it. Is that how it feels to be a real mage? “I can conquer the world with this power! Nobody can stand against me!” Raising my hand, I notice sparks of energy dancing over my skin, branding a complicated network of runes into my flesh. It hurts, but if that's the price for power, then so be it.
Something at the back of my mind tells me that I shouldn’t be able to ignore such pain, but the thought is drowned in the euphoric rush. This artefact is better than I hoped for!
I could lift a mountain with this power. Is that how the bitch with the flying island did it? I haven't forgotten the whore who kicked me between the legs, almost turning me infertile. Back then I wondered how someone like her can be so powerful, but now I know. She must have found a similar artefact.
“He totally lost it!” The adventurer with the staff crawls back to his feet, a frightened expression on his face. His eyes survey the room, assessing the situation. His face pales when he realizes that his comrades are down, maybe even dead. “The crystal did something to him. It must be a weapon of some kind.”
“You are right,” I answer him, reaching out for one of the adventurers at my feet. A gesture is enough to toss his body into one of the coffins. Something tells me that the stone on the altar didn't just give me power, but control over these ruins.
If the coffins can create more guardians, then they can supply me with an endless army that's worthy of a Mirai necromancer. A second and a third body quickly disappears inside the coffins. I am so enraptured by the thought of my own legions that I don't react in time.
Before I can stop him, the adventurer with the staff turns and hurls himself at the person closest to him. Incidentally, it isn't one of his own comrades, but Amanda. My Second was still kneeling next to Marsha's remains.
My display of force carried the mage further away than the men in heavy armour, so he chose the scholar over his comrades.
The last thing I see of Amanda and the mage is a flash of light as they are teleported away. He decided to run. Amanda's horrified expression lingers in my mind but quickly fades as I turn my attention to the remaining survivors within the catacombs. The unconscious adventurers and the three apprentice scholars. There are also the people back in the camp.
They will not escape.