The wall blew apart from the three sticks of dynamite used to “open” the sealed crypt, creating clouds of dust and detritus as it rained from the roughly hewn stone slabs making up the ancient Phoenician structure. Crushing her cigarette out, Jennifer moved from behind her blast shield, a large section of wall that had crumbled untold ages ago, leaving a massive jutting section of mortared stone rising from the puddles of water like a shark's fin.
Coughing, Bud came from around the other side, adjusting his goggles as he looked at the dust cloud kicked up by the explosion. The short man, two bandoliers of grenades and an oversized pistol strapped to his side, pulled an inhaler from his pocket and took a quick hit from it, holding the medicine in as he fought against the allergies being stirred up from century’s old dust.
Casting a dour look at Bud, Jennifer tossed her long plait over her shoulder, hands on her hips as she stared at the cloud of smoke expectantly. One gloved hand unbuttoned the holster of her .45 Magnum, easing the pistol off her hip as she heard the grumbling coming from behind the wall of dust and smoke.
“God, are we really going to have to deal with more of them?” Bud whined, pulling his oversized pistol with a groan.
“Shut up and just do your job,” Jennifer snapped as the figures began to shamble out of the smoke and into the light of the flares set up by Bud earlier. Mummified bodies made dark from years of containment in the confines of a darkened cavern, the undead shuffled slowly, splashing through the puddles as they sought out the warmth of life pouring off of Jennifer and Bud.
They never got more than five feet, before getting blasted apart by the duo’s respective guns. Of the five mummies shambling out, three immediately went down from head shots, their craniums exploding in a shower of leathery flesh and blackened gore as the solid lead bullets came from Jennifer’s pistol, her cigarette hanging from her full lips precariously. The other two doubled over as their hips were shot by the oversized pistol, the twin set of bones shattering beneath the combined assault of the semi-automatic weapon, leaving them crumpled masses of groaning dead flesh in rapidly darkening pools of water.
“God I hate undead,” Jennifer groused, reloading her gun of the few shells she’d expended.
“Well this region is thick with them,” Bud said, adjusting his goggles. “You should have thought of that before having us come out for a chance at the Puzzle Box.”
“Hey, that relic is our key to easy street!” Jennifer growled, moving forward with long strides, past the wounded dead and through the remaining smoke cloud, reaching into her side satchel for a flare that she cracked to life on the jagged entrance to the tomb that had just been blown open.
Bud sighed. Ever since Jennifer had been diagnosed with cancer a year ago she’d been dead set on finding the Puzzle Box of Lemuria, a relic that supposedly held the “secrets of life and death to those willing to eschew such burdens.” To Bud, it sounded too dangerous, but to Jennifer and her ever shortening life expectancy, it seemed like a last chance at getting what she desired most out of this world.
Bud holstered his pistol and hurried along, following the flickering light of the flare Jennifer held high over her head. Looking around, Bud whistled. The tomb was dome shaped, with intricate engravings done in porcelain and jade depicting men standing around a glowing orb, which shed a fraction of light into the dim room, revealing two stone sarcophagi, along with a third standing between the two. Looking around, Bud snorted as he noticed the six smaller sarcophagi flanking the entranceway of the room, knowing that the mummies had been at peaceful rest before Jennifer’s dynamite had awoken them.
Wait… six sarcophagi?
Two strong hands grabbed onto Bud from behind, lifting him up as the beast groaned with unholy delight. Fumbling at his side, Bud couldn’t get to his pistol before the mummy leaned in and took a large bite out of his neck, tearing away a large gobbet of meat with a brutal ripping noise. Jennifer spun at the sound, pulling her pistol as she took a knee and aimed, watching as the toothless mummy used hardened ridges of bone to tear away sections of her partners neck with wild abandon, the semi wrapped leathery body now drenched in steaming red gore as Bud’s neck wound sprayed out.
“J-Jennifer! Help me!” Bud begged, holding out an arm plaintively as the mummy took another bite from the opened wound, widening the throat injury.
“Sorry Bud, but it’s been a good partnership,” Jennifer said around her cigarette.
“Wait, what-” Bud began before Jennifer pulled the trigger, blasting a hole through Bud’s shoulder and into the chest of the mummy. Bud screamed as he fell to the ground, the mummy slumping back from the lack of a sternum it now had to deal with. Two more resounding booms from her pistol severed the mummy’s arms, while a third finally splintered the beast’s skull into rotten shards.
Bud, lying on the ground now covered in bits of rotten, leathery flesh with a gaping wound in both his neck and shoulder, struggled to sit up enough to glare at his partner. “What are you doing Jennifer?”
“Activating the Puzzle Box.” She said simply, shouldering her pistol, looking up with a faint smile.
Bud followed her gaze, to where the glowing orb sat nestled in the ceiling some twenty feet up. He could see now that it had detached from the ceiling and was floating down, gently like a feather on a breeze. Jennifer stood below it, her free hand held out to catch the drifting orb of light. Bud merely grunted in pain as he struggled to watch the sight before him.
Once the orb was firmly in her hand did it begin to soften in intensity, the light growing dimmer until finally an intricately carved sphere of obsidian was revealed, smooth on all sides save for a narrow seam made of yellow gold, a small square resting at on in the center of the seam.
“I’m sorry Bud, I truly am, but for this to work I had to make a choice: sacrifice myself in hopes the orb could revive me once it opened, or sacrifice you and see what the orbs contains for myself.”
“But why?” Bud asked through gritted teeth.
“The Puzzle Box needs a sacrifice of a loved one in order to be opened, to unleash the hidden secrets within.”
“And what good could come from something that requires a sacrifice like that Jennifer? How could it help you?”
“You know the ancient texts as good as I do, Bud. The secrets of life and death await me inside this sphere. All I have to do is let you die to open it.”
She leveled her gun at Bud’s head, spitting her cigarette out as she gave him a look of sadness. “I’m truly sorry love, but if I want to live I need this. You understand I hope.”
“You utterly heartless bitc-” Bud growled before the blast from the pistol blew off the upper portion of his skull, sending him reeling back to land in a puddle of his own fluids, partially atop the remains of the mummy.
“It’s funny,” Jennifer said, twin tracts of tears running down her mocha colored cheeks. “I thought this was going to be the toughest part.”
She felt the sphere hum in her hand, the small golden square spinning slowly as it unlocked itself. Holstering her pistol, Jennifer took a deep breath and opened up the top of the sphere, staring into the inky void within for a moment before screaming in agony herself.
Slowly coming to, Jennifer looked around the tomb in wonder as she sat up from the ground where she’d fallen. “I must’ve blacked out…” She muttered, staring at the once again sealed orb. “What did it teach me?”
Standing up, Jennifer expected to hear her back pop as it usually did, and her chest to ache as always, and was faintly surprised when neither happened. Taking a deep breathe, she laughed as her lungs expanded within her chest without pain, without effort. Crowing in exuberance, she danced around until she saw her arms. Her normally mocha colored arms, flawless chocolate skin leading to her gloves, were now ashen colored, with dark veins running under her skin. Taking a closer look, she realized her skin was darker than normal, and drawn tight over her like she’d lost weight in all the wrong places. Her clothes were even looser! Pulling a small hand mirror from her satchel, she looked at herself before letting out a piercing cry. The sphere had indeed cured her of her affliction… by making her into one of the undead abominations she’d learned to loathe over the years.