Tell the emperor that my hall has fallen to the ground. Phoibos no longer has his house, nor his mantic bay, nor his prophetic spring; the water has dried up.
- the last recorded prophesy of the Delphic Pythia, 362 AD
Uxmal, Mexico - August, 1933
The humidity was stifling, and sweat was trickling in a slow, endless drip into the collar of his shirt, turned up against the equatorial sun that made its way through the break in the canopy of leaves. The river was running sluggishly behind him, as stultified by the heat as the small crew of local laborers leaning on shovels and picks behind him.
But Steve was focused. Electric even.
He brushed and chipped at the layers of clay hardened by the millennia into a protective shell around the roughly hewn obelisk marking the edge of an ancient territory. The gods that watched over it had long since passed beyond praise and worship, and the people who defended it were long since buried.
But not forgotten.
Not if he had anything to say about it.
With a breathless gasp, he pulled up short with the tiny chisel he held in his hand. A small, brittle chunk of earth fell away from the rounded protrusion he had been carefully chipping away at for the past four hours.
Clear and brilliant gold shone back at him underneath.
Now able to work a tool between the clay and the treasure below, the task progressed quickly. In no more than ten minutes, the golden, angry face of one of the twelve Bahlam of Uxmal, the jaguar spirits that guarded the people of the once great city, shone as bright and clear under the mid afternoon sun as if it had only just been carefully placed in its rocky sconce.
Two years. Two years spent searching for the last of the twelve Bahlam. The museum's collection would finally be complete.
"Hello beautiful," Steve let out in a hushed and triumphant whisper.
It was quiet, as if the entire jungle was holding its breath to let him have this moment.
Scratch that, it was a little too quiet.
Steve jerked backwards, only to jam his shoulder painfully against what felt distinctly like a double barreled shot gun held at his back.
The sound of the firing hammer being cocked split the air like a siren. Steve let out a long suffering sigh and raised his hands.
"I didn't know you felt that way, Dr. Rogers," came the smoothly accented tone that Steve knew only too well.
"Well you never asked Laufeyson," he ground out, casting about for options while trying to keep his hands steady. "Always come into a situation barrel first, never stop to chat."
"I try not to waste time, Dr. Rogers," the long arm moved around his right side, plucking the idol from its stone casing. Steve winced at the thought of what the oils from those ungloved hands would do to the patina. "Which is why I'm rather put out by how long you and your little god here have evaded me."
He felt both the man and the gun start to retreat, so he risked carefully turning around. Five more men stood behind Loki Laufeyson, guaranteeing the older man’s clean escape to the river boat beached on the bank. They must have drifted up silently. One look at all the firearms they carried and Steve wished he could have made a run for it like his crew must have.
"Let this one go," Steve said, even as Laufeyson was backing away towards the river. "It's the last one, it belongs in a museum with the others."
"Ahhhh Dr. Rogers, don't you see? That's what makes it one of a kind. No, I don't think I shall be letting this one go." His gaze as he looked at the idol he held was covetous, but Steve knew full well that Laufeyson never wanted these pieces of history for their own sake, only for what they could bring him.
Steve hadn't really thought he would give it up. He'd been beaten by Laufeyson to treasures like this before. The man was relentless, and somehow able to talk foreign officials into letting him export their most sacred pieces of history to his own personal collection. He had a reputation in the business for having a silver tongue.
Steve was of the opinion that it was more about having a golden pocket and no respect for human life, but somehow that side of Laufeyson never seemed to make the papers.
Still, Laufeyson did love a good speech, which meant that he hadn't noticed Steve's left hand inching back towards his chisel, still resting on the top of the stone obelisk.
"And," he continued with a sort of casualness that turned Steve's stomach, "I don't think I shall be letting you go either. You've been a thorn in my side, Dr. Rogers. You should feel honored really. Not many men have the ability to rate even a mild annoyance."
"Mild annoyance?" Steve scoffed, "I clearly haven't been working hard enough."
Laufeyson cracked a twisted smile. "Well, I certainly won't miss your wit," he said coolly. "Goodbye, Dr. Rogers."
He turned, giving a short hand signal to the men with him, who raised their weapons.
"Wait!" Steve called desperately, taking a lunging step forwards and surreptitiously grabbing the chisel at the same time.
Laufeyson half turned. It was enough.
"I'd hate to let you leave without a parting shot," he grinned swift and sharp, sending the chisel flying towards Laufeyson. He waited long enough to see it strike the right side of that sneering, aristocratic face before he dove behind the stone obelisk and rolled into the jungle beyond it.