The Puzzle Sphere
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 peered at the dust cloud kicked up by the explosion. The short man, two bandoleers of grenades and an over sized sidearm 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 a century’s old dust. Following behind his wife, he kept a careful eye for any lingering signs of danger.
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 firearm off her hip as she heard the grumbling from behind the wall of dust and smoke.
“God, are we really going to deal with more of them?” Bud whined, pulling his pistol with a groan.
“Shut up and just do your job,” Jennifer snapped as figures shambled out of the smoke and into the light of Bud’s flares. Mummified bodies, made dark from years of containment, shuffled slowly. They groaned in an ancient language, arm’s raised, splashing through the puddles as they sought the warmth of life pouring off of Jennifer and Bud.
They never got over 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 mottled flesh and blackened gore. The other two doubled over as their hips were shot by Bud, 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 the undead,” Jennifer groused, reloading her gun of the few shells she’d spent.
“Well, this region is thick with them love,” Bud said, adjusting his goggles. “You should have thought of that before having us come out for a chance at the Puzzle Sphere.”
“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 she cracked to life on the jagged entrance to the tomb they had just blown open.
Bud sighed. Ever since Jennifer had been diagnosed with cancer a year ago, she’d been dead set on finding the Puzzle Sphere of Lemuria, a relic supposedly holding 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 the last chance at getting what she desired most out of this world: Time.
Bud holstered his sidearm and hurried along, following the flickering light of the flare Jennifer held high over her head. Looking around, he 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 entrance way 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 gun as she took a knee and aimed, watching as the toothless mummy used hardened ridges of bone to tear away sections of her partner’s neck with wild abandon, the semi-wrapped leather-skinned 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 rotting shards.
Bud, lying on the ground now covered in bits of rotting, moldering 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 Sphere.” She replied with a small smile.
Bud followed her gaze to where the glowing orb sat nestled in the ceiling some twenty feet up. He could see now 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 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 in the center of the golden lines.
“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 orb contains for myself.”
“But why?” Bud asked through gritted teeth.
“The Puzzle Box needs a sacrifice of a loved one to be opened, to unleash the hidden secrets within.” She said, a grim smile marring her features. “Now I know you and I have had our differences this past hunt, but I want you to know I still love you. Do you love me?”
“I do, how could you even ask me that?”
“You know the ancient texts and I do, Bud. The secrets of life and death await me inside this sphere. All I have to do is k-kill you to open it.” She stuttered, tears welling at the corners of her eyes, her gaze hard. Bud pushed himself up into a sitting position, throwing the mummies remains off himself as he looked his wife in the eye.
“You don’t have to do this,” he said, gritting his teeth from the pain he was in. “We can find another way.”
“What way?” Jennifer exploded, waving the pistol wildly. “The doctors said it was inoperable and that I only had a few more months’ worth of exploring in me before I’d be confined to a bed.”
“But to kill me? We’ve been through? I’ve loved you with all my heart, risked my life for you countless times. How could you do this?”
Jennifer shrugged, her eyes watery. “I need to live, Bud. I’ve seen what’s after death in this tomb, and in so many others. I can’t let myself ever become something like that.”
She leveled her gun at Bud’s head, spitting her cigarette out as she gave him a look of sadness and determination. “I’m sorry, love, but if I want to live, I need this. You understand I hope. Just know that I love you.”
“You utter, 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 would 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. Neither happened. Taking a deep breath, 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. Inspecting, she realized her skin was 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 Puzzle Sphere had cured her of her affliction… by making her into one of the undead abominations she’d learned to loathe over her years of tomb raiding.