He held the stone up to his eyes. It took a week of hacking his way through the jungle to find this half-buried structure, then another three weeks where he single-handedly shoveled it free from the encroaching hill to make a space in the interior corridor that was just big enough to wriggle through on his stomach, but finally Indy held the Jewel of Apotequil in his hands.
It was a blue crystal, cut into the shape of an egg, glittering in the torchlight. He grinned.
“Oh yeah,” he said to no one in particular, “let’s see what they call mythological now.”
He wrapped it in his scarf and tied it around his neck and started wriggling back out the tunnel slowly.
The first sign that something was wrong came when he felt a touch on his bare ankle as if from a falling leaf. Another touch, and another, and he kicked out violently, struggling frantically with his elbows to free himself. His feet touched the ground and he raised his head from the passage, looking straight into the white-rimmed eyes of a spider monkey. It stared back.
About two dozen had surrounded him, hanging in the lower branches or crouching on the ground. Three were going through the backpack he had to leave behind when he entered the tunnel.
“No - get off,” he said, and made a shooing motion. The one closest to him rose and started barking. “Aw, fuck.”
He whirled around, taking a quick step to pick up his bag when his scarf came undone, the knot rubbed open during his struggle to exit the temple. It fell with a low thump, and was immediately snatched by one of the monkeys, who threw it to the next, who rapidly climbed into the canopy.
“Hey!” he shouted, “Hey, you give that back - don’t you dare-” Too late. The majority of monkeys had cleared out, either uninterested in the noisy human or satisfied with their loot.
He cursed and threw his hat to the ground.
He’s nervously fidgeting with his tie, scraping his shoes on the doormat.
“Ah, Doctor Jones. Welcome!” A tall man in his thirties has opened the door. He’s dressed incongruously in a grey dinner jacket and a thick, woolly jumper.
Indy knocks the snow off his boots and shakes his hand.
“Just Mister for now. I won’t have the title until next year.”
“Of course. Come in.” Warmth blasts him when he enters, and a young woman stands ready to take his jacket.
His host is Mr. Landsvall, a private collector who - by some miracle - is both the owner of several interesting pieces that disappeared out of Swedish museums and a distant friend of his father’s. Indy hopes that Landsvall won’t actually send a message to his father, as Doctor Jones is buried in his notes and probably hasn’t even noticed Indy’s disappearance yet.
He looks around quickly. The interior is opulent, held in light tones and woods. There’s a wreath by the hallway door and candles are burning in a window.
“We’ve already begun,” Landsvall continues, “but you’re still in time for dessert.”
Indy makes his most apologetic face.
“I’m sorry. The roads are snowed in, and my train was late as well.”
“Trains!” Landsvall says with distaste, as if public transport is something to be desperately avoided. He has a hand clamped on Indy’s shoulder, steering him along like a friendly gaoler. “Here we are - Gentlemen, this is Doctor- sorry, Mister Jones, from New York. Mr. Jones, Doctor and Mrs. Torp from Lund University, Mr. Ingersleben from Heidelberg, and my wife Lisa.” There are polite nods all around. The Torps make room for him at the dinner table, Mrs. Torp handing him a napkin. He settles in, prepared to make polite dinner conversation until the right moment.
It comes sooner than expected. When a maid comes to clear the table and his host is herding them into the smoking room, he excuses himself and follows the directions to the amenities. He then takes a quick turn and sets out through a room with landscape paintings to find his treasure.
Somewhere in this building there’s a miniature of a ship that will unfold when he tickles it in the right spot.
He’d laughed when Brody had told him the legend. Skíðblaðnir, a ship created by dwarves for a God that can be folded together like a piece of cloth? Brody had laughed as well, but then there had been rumors of a shipwreck disappearing off the Swedish coast, and Landsvall had been in the area that day at an auction…
And now Indy is sneaking through the man’s house. He checks his watch. He has maybe fifteen minutes before his host sends someone after him, and he will not be able to claim too many times that he got lost.
Another hallway, this one decorated with spears and shields behind glass. He checks the doors leading off into two bedrooms, a study, and a library. He pauses in the doorway of the last one. There’s a niche between the bookshelves and the light from an oil lamp is falling on a glass case right in the middle. He steps closer and makes out scaffolding and sails.
Before he knows it, he’s lifted off the glass and is holding the ship in his hand. It’s small enough to fit into his pocket. He hesitates before pocketing it though. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to check?
He turns it over in his hands. It appears seamless, somehow manufactured from a single piece of reddish wood, rendered in incredible detail. The sails hang loosely with folds and creases, strung on ropes and beams the size of needles. The door to the forecastle swings open at a curious poke, and reveals a small room with yet another door. He’s marveling at the lightness and detail, running his fingers over it in search of the magic spot when someone clears his throat behind him.
“I see you’ve found my wife’s library,” Mr Landvall says. When Indy turns around, he’s standing close, an amused expression on his face.
“Ah I’m sorry,” Indy begins, “I got a bit lost on the way back-”
“Your father sent me a letter once talking about you,” Landsvall continues, as if he hadn’t heard Indy. “His adventurous son, always going off to crawl around in some distant caves and follow legends.”
He steps closer still, taking the ship from Indy’s unresisting hands.
“What do you think this is, Mr. Jones?”
Indy licks his lips.
“Skidbladnir,” he says. Landsvall throws his head back and laughs.
“The ship of the Gods, in my library,” he chuckles. “No. Watch closely.” And Indy watches as he thumbs the bow of the ship and a portion of wood slides away to reveal a black stamp. Timber&Co, UK Est 1863.
Landsvall sets the ship back into Indy’s hand and keep his fingers closed over his palm.
“Now. How adventurous are you, Mr. Jones?”
He’s been clambering through the dig site for four straight weeks now, trailed by a tall blond who introduced himself as Sven Solberg from Tulane University. He’s dirty and sweating and it hasn’t rained once since they arrived at this forsaken piece of Mexican coastline with suspiciously detailed directions to the location of a buried temple.
He shifts slightly, balancing precariously on a plank of wood he’s praying hasn’t rotten through. Ahead of him, there’s a structure with an opening that should be the entrance to a side chamber. There’s also a wide gap where the ground has fallen through. Behind him, he can hear Sven unearthing the rest of the ramp. The entire area is situated on a gentle slope and covered in heaps of earth and sticks connected by strings outlining the temple walls. Downwards and opposite the cliff, their tent shimmers in the afternoon sun.
He gauges the distance to the chamber entrance and uncoils his whip. Reckless, he can hear his father say, a mockery of proper archeological procedure, endangering your life…
He throws the whip.
The tip snaps around an overhead beam, coiling itself tightly. He tugs, and it doesn’t waver. Eyes focused on the opening that might hold the key to his search, he jumps, sailing through the dry heat for a few short meters. The beam breaks the moment his feet hover over the ground, crashing down behind him.
“Are you alright, Doctor Jones?” Sven shouts.
“Yeah, yeah,” he says. Absently, he cuts down a bit of vegetation covering the entrance. “Damnit.” The chamber is covered in dirt and dust, and leads off into a tunnel.
“We’re gonna have to start digging this way.”
By evening they’ve uncovered the chamber and one more adjacent room, bringing the total up to nearly nine-hundred square feet uncovered and neatly drawn up on a site map. Exhausted, they leave their tools and crawl back into the tent.
He’s awoken much later by insistent knocking. For a moment he thinks he’s back in his father’s house and has overslept. Then he feels something cold touch his naked feet and sits up quickly. Outside, it’s pouring. The water has crept into the tent they’d left open in deference to the heat and is surrounding their bedrolls. He quickly shakes Sven.
“Wake up, come on - wake the fuck up, kid! We’re in trouble.”
He doesn’t stop to see Sven rise. He dashes to the excavation site and swears at what he finds. Their marking strings have all been swallowed by the mud. Their unearthed chambers are drowning in it, every single one of them filling back up with the earth they’d laboriously shoveled to the side.
He scrambles a few feet ahead and swipes up his hat which had been slowly sinking. “Shit,” he says without breaking his stride. “Goddammit.” He takes two more stumbling steps and his worst fears are confirmed: the North American Monsoon has ruined their carefully drawn map. The paper has soaked through and the ink has dissolved, brown splotches marring spots where they’d marked down hallways and entrances, four weeks of work undone in a single night.
He curses, loudly and extensively, while Sven is collecting their tools and belongings. He curses all the way to the nearest village where they arrive soaked through and empty-handed.
Theft from private collector prevented at the last minute
During the reopening gala of the Musée de Louvre (full article on page 1) an unknown man trespassed onto the grounds of famous private collector Doctor Remy Ballieux and attempted to steal a valuable artifact. He escaped before he could be apprehended.
Dr Ballieux had purchased the mansion in 1951 and moved his extensive collection from his previous home in the Netherlands. Our source tells us the object in question is a medean mask said to belong to the ancient King Phraortes. It was purchased by Dr. Ballieux from a Greek collector and briefly lent to the Musée de Louvre for exhibition in 1922.
When asked for comment, Dr Ballieux praised his security personnel and urged other collectors to be on the lookout for the would-be thief.
He is described as a man in his late forties, wearing a leather jacket and a fedora. From the few words he spoke to the personnel chasing him, he is believed to be an American. The Prefect of the Police of Paris has issued a statement saying the number of police forces protecting the gala at the Musée de Louvre would be increased.
Indy slouched in his seat and put his hat between his feet. The security personnel had indeed been excellent. They’d also numbered far more than he’d planned for. He fingered a tear in his shirt, evidence of a bullet that had come a bit too close, and downed his glass of scotch.
“Oh, can you believe that?” An air hostess’ voice rang out. She was leaning against the opposite seat and pointing at the paper in his hand. Panicked, he looked down. “They really were crazy!”
Nazis sought Holy Grail! proclaimed a headline just below the article about the theft.
“Crazy, sure,” he said, and flashed her a smile.
She smiled back a little. “Did you have fun in Paris, Sir?” she asked.
“I’m afraid it was very boring,” he replied. “You wouldn’t happen to know a good bar in New York City, would you?”
The message arrives after his last class. The college hallways are filled with running students, knocking against the walls and each other in their haste to leave as quickly as possible. His own office is blissfully empty in comparison. Mrs. James - Sumerian Studies - is leaning against his desk.
“There’s a letter for you,” she says. “Apparently the writing was smudged and they gave it to me first.”
He waits for her to leave, even loosens his tie before he starts reading. Ten minutes later he’s on the phone with Brody.
“How do you get into China these days?”
A reference from Brody gets him in contact with a General and Brody apparently assures the man Indy could recover items of the utmost importance. From New York, it’s a few long hours to the Philippines via plane, then one week on a military base in miserable conditions. He thanks his lucky stars that he’s too old to fight this war. Then he’s off on a ship carrying specialists to Taiwan, dozing in a truck up the coast, then on a smaller ship headed to the mainland.
“Keep your head down,” his companions advise. “You take the train up to Runan. Your friend will be waiting.”
The train is nearly empty. He dozes some more, buys food from a vendor at one of the stops, and a pack of cards from a fellow traveler. It’s almost dark when he finally arrives in Runan; the train has emptied out and he’s the last passenger. There’s a boy waiting on the platform, and for a second he’s thrown back in his own memories.
“Doctor Jones?” the boy asks.
Indy nods. “Er, yes,” he coughs.
“Mister Wan is waiting at the university. I will take you there.” It turns out to be a brief walk and before he knows it, Indy is standing in front of a man he last saw half a lifetime ago.
“Shorty!” He grins, and the man says, “Indy!” and then they’re hugging. Short Round isn’t short any more - he fits neatly under Indy’s chin, all lanky and grown up.
They separate a bit awkwardly, as if suddenly aware that they haven’t seen each other in three decades.
“You came,” Shorty marvels. “And you came quickly, too.”
“You said the magic word,” Indy counters.
“Treasure,” they both say.
Indy laughs. “It’s good to see you, kid.”
“You too, my friend. Come on, we can take the car.”
The car - whether it belongs to the university or Shorty himself, Indy doesn’t know - is a truck laden with construction material.
“Don’t tell me you actually live here,” Indy says as Shorty takes them on the road. “You could’ve stayed at Marshall.”
Shorty waves him off. “I live in Shanghai,” he says. “And it’s a good job. I came here for the legend.”
“Right.” Indy shakes his head. “Two swords?”
Shorty nods. “Ganjiang and Moye. It’s not a well-known story. Have you read it?”
“I didn’t have the time,” Indy says. “I got on a plane as soon as I got your letter.”
“Well, the story goes that in the Spring and Autumn period, King Helü told Gan Jiang and Mo Ye to forge two swords for him. It took them three years, but finally they made two swords and named them Ganjian and Moye. But Gan Jiang knew the king would be angry that it took them so long, so he hid the Ganjian sword and told his pregnant wife to give it to his son.” He looks at Indy as if to make sure he’s paying attention, and Indy nods.
“Bit of a classic.”
Slowly but surely, they’re leaving the town, storied houses and sidewalks giving way to lower buildings and fields.
“Then he took the Moye to the King of Chu,” Shorty continues. “The King was so angry at the delay and that he was only receiving one of the swords that he cut off Gan Jiang’s head with it. Mo Ye gave birth to a son named Chi, and when he was old enough he was given his father’s sword. The King, who still wanted the second sword, put a price on his head.”
Shorty pauses. They’ve cleared the town now, following the narrow road uphill into the mountains.
Indy takes the opportunity to ask, “Where are we going?”
“I’ve rented a place,” Shorty says. “We can work out our plan there.”
“Anyway, one day the boy met a stranger on the road. He told the man his story, and the man said, ‘I am an assassin sent by the king. Give me your head and your sword, and I will seek revenge on your behalf.’ So the boy cut his throat with Ganjian-”
“He cut his own throat?” Indy interrupts.
Shorty shrugs. “He was being hunted, after all. Anyway, the assassin took the head to the king who was delighted. He ordered it to be boiled in a cauldron. When the head still had not boiled after three days, the assassin said ‘You must step closer and stare back at it.’”
“Ha!” Indy interjects.
“Yes.” Shorty grins. “When the king bent over the cauldron, the assassin used the sword to behead him, and the head fell into the cauldron. Then he cut off his own head and it fell into the cauldron, too. And the flesh on all three boiled away until the king’s guards could not tell which had belonged to the king itself. They buried all three heads together in the Tomb of Three Kings, with the swords.”
As the story comes to an end, so does their car ride. Shorty brakes in front of a small house by the side of the road.
“There’s a lot of rolling heads in that story,” Indy says, grabbing his bag and stepping out of the car. “I’m not sure I like it.”
“Let’s find the tomb first and worry later, all right?” Shorty asks. “The story says the grave is in Yichun county in north Runan.”
Shorty unlocks the door and ushers him in. Inside, there’s chaos: boxes overflowing with documents are stacked against a large table buried in more papers, and maps are pinned to the walls. Indy quirks an eyebrow.
“You’ve been hard at work.”
Shorty snorts. “Four months now. Half this stuff is probably useless, but the rest…” he trails off.
“Show me what you’ve got,” Indy says.
They deliberate into the night, fueled by coffee. Finally, Indy sighs.
“It doesn’t exist.”
“It does,” Shorty counters. “There are drawings of the tomb by contemporaries.”
“Sure,” Indy says, “but there’s no Yichun in Runan anymore, and it’s never been there.”
“It must be.” Shorty stares at the map of the province. “Northern Runan, the story says.”
“Look.” Indy sorts through the stack of papers in front of him until he comes to a rough drawing, “This is a pyramid. There’s no way it’s been overlooked this long.”
Shorty cocks his head. “Our pyramids don’t look like that. They’re flatter, with a platform.” He freezes, then jumps up. “Actually - hold on, I’ve got it right here-”
Indy watches, excitement slowly returning, as his friend digs through one of the boxes.
“Ha! I knew we’d find it.” The picture he hands Indy is markedly different. The pyramid is stylized and flat-topped, drawn at the place where a mountain-range meets a quickly narrowing river curving down and west.
“Okay,” he says slowly, “this is- this is a good start. We’ve got a map.” He looks up at the map pinned to the wall, but Shorty is already ahead of him. He’s tracing the path of a river.
“The Luohe,” he says triumphantly. “It must be, it’s the only one that fits. And it only narrows once - and there are the hills!”
Indy raises and joins him. The spot Shorty points at is roughly two hundred miles north-west of their current position, in the middle of a forest.
“We can go tomorrow,” he says.
“Grandpa needs his sleep?” Shorty teases.
“Grandpa’s gonna make you one head shorter, kid.” He ruffles Shorty’s hair, who ducks out of the way.
“All right, tomorrow.”
They attempt to play a few hands of poker to clear their heads, but the game quickly devolves into an argument when Shorty lays down a Flush.
“Pay up, Doctor Jones.” He’s laughing at Indy.
“You still cheat,” Indy says, outraged.
“So do you,” Shorty points out.
The morning dawns clear and cold. They load the truck with their own tools and whatever of the papers still fits in the back. Shorty takes the first turn, rounding the lake until they reach a wide road. Then he brakes and steps out.
“Your turn, Indy. Just follow the road north.” He waits until Indy has scrambled over to the driver’s seat, then takes the passenger seat and dozes. One, two hours pass until there are signs by the side of the road. They switch again, heading further west, passing the time by telling each other stories of their adventures. It rains intermittently but Shorty doesn’t slow down - he’s learned his driving skills in Shanghai, after all. When they cross a river, Indy feels his heart beat faster.
“It’s not the Luohe,” Shorty says. “But we’re close. Another thirty minutes, maybe.”
They cross the Luohe at its narrowest part. The mountains grow tall and nearly block out the sun as they come closer. Shorty steers them towards a patch of green in the distance, a forested hill.
“It’s hard to miss when you know what to look for,” Indy says, staring at the mound. It’s covered in trees and shrubbery, but it’s still unmistakably a pyramid. It looks smaller than the one on the drawing, but then it had been a map point rather than an accurate representation. It still takes them half an hour to circle it completely.
“Two possible entry points.” Indy stares at the mound, lost in thought. “East or west.”
“West is in view of the street,” Shorty points out.
“East it is.”
Immediately, Indy is glad they brought a pickaxe. The point they’ve chosen looks like it was once an entrance, but it’s covered with vegetation and the earth beneath is hard. After an hour of digging, Shorty sets up for a strong swing and the axe goes right through the earth, the force of momentum taking Shorty with it. He hits the opening with a wet splat and disappears.
“Shorty! You okay?” Indy throws his shovel to the ground and bends down to peer into the darkness. A moment passes, then a light flickers - Shorty’s flashlight.
“I’m all right! Come down here, it’s-” Shorty’s voice breaks off abruptly, and Indy hastens to climb down. Earth clings to his jacket and trousers. Once he’s inside the corridor, he straightens and sees what must have taken Shorty’s breath away. In front of them, the corridor widens into an open room. The beam of Shorty’s light dissolves before it reaches the opposite wall, but in-between it glints on hundreds of small golden figurines. Bigger human figures line a wide corridor; the light plays over delicately carved wooden faces and colorful silk faded with age.
“Nice,” Indy murmurs. They share a triumphant look.
The walk through the corridor seems endless. Indy’s mind races at the thought of recovering everything inside the chamber. There are wooden animals as well, he realizes, carved of darker woods and poised attentively.
At last they reach the doorway that had not been visible from their starting point. It’s so narrow they have to walk single-file through it and into the corridor that leads further into the earth. They’ve taken ten steps when something beneath Indy’s foot clicks. He looks down. There’s a gap between the stone he’s partially standing on and the rest of the floor. Instinctively, he throws himself to the ground and yanks Shorty down by the collar of his shirt.
Above their heads, two blades spring from the wall and swing in a horizontal circle where moments before their necks had been.
“Fuck,” Indy curses.
“How did you know?” Shorty asks, wide-eyed.
“I’ve seen this one before,” Indy answers. “Come on.” He rises.
The burial chamber is round. In the middle stand three large coffins decorated with ornate engravings. But their eyes are immediately drawn to the table in front of them. It’s a rough slab of metal with two indentations, perfectly shaped for the two swords that shine in the light of their lamps. Reverently, Shorty steps closer.
“Careful,” Indy says. “There could be more traps.”
“Not inside the burial chamber itself.” Shorty waves him off. He grasps one of the swords firmly, and Indy moves to his side to take the other.
The moment his hand touches the hilt, it’s as if he’s stepped outside his own body. He watches himself unsheathe the sword and discard it, his arm swinging in a perfect curve towards Shorty. His friend moves to block the blow and shove him back. Shorty’s eyes are distant, unfocused. His feet planted firmly, he swings wildly at Indy, knocking him back into a coffin. Indy can’t feel the sword in his hand or the stone beneath him. His body parries without conscious thought. They trade blows with a skill that is not their own, at times fighting on the ground of the chamber, at times using the coffins to their advantage.
Finally, Shorty has trapped Indy against the chamber wall. The blades lock, their bodies caught in an involuntary struggle. Shorty jerks his arm, and with a loud clanging, Indy’s sword slides from his grasp and falls to the ground.
Abruptly, air rushes back into his body. His arms hurt from the force of the blows and he’s out of breath. He stumbles to the side, out of Shorty’s reach. The flashlight he’d dropped when he took up the sword lies at his feet, and he picks it up now and directs the beam at his friend’s eyes. Blinded, Shorty raises his arms to shield himself and Indy aims a kick at his hand, knocking the sword from his grasp. It clatters to the ground somewhere in the darkness.
Panting, they face each other. Indy is the first to speak.
“No traps, eh?”
Shorty makes a face. “It wasn’t technically-”
“Yeah, yeah. Come on, let’s get these covered and outside.”
They use their jackets to wrap the swords up, taking care to hold them by the blade. The mood on the walk back to the surface is oddly subdued. Outside, the sun stands high in the sky and the air is clear.
“Thank you, Indy,” Shorty says. He’s looking back at the tomb. Indy puts a hand on his shoulder.