115. NaNoWriMo Day 20

14

Even the blazing desert sun could not clear the chill in the air as the two ventured deeper into the eerily silent cemetery of broken masts, torn sails, and broken dreams. Rayna proceeded ahead, and the Swordsman was only vaguely aware that his left hand was clutching a little too tightly onto the sheath of his blade.

He has never liked tight spaces. For now, the noon sun shone down directly from above their heads, their shadows only a pool by their feet. When time passes and the sun sets, however, shadows will soon come over the place as the light and the heat disappears from this ancient graveyard.

The Swordsman had never considered himself a superstitious person, but he was never really fond of things that came with the dark and the cold of night. Especially out here in the open desert.

‘Would you look at all these stuff!’ Rayna danced along like a child in a toy store, eyes bright with wonderment and fascination. ‘This – this is the mother lode, Stubs! This is the jackpot!’

‘Meaningless if we do not find our way out of this desert,’ he reminded her; but of course, she paid no heed to his words. She put a hand up to shield her eyes from the glaring sunlight, peering into the darkness of the ship some forty meters ahead of them–

‘THERE! RIGHT THERE!’ she shouted excitedly. ‘C’mon! Help me out with this thing!’

‘Don’t–’

Before he could warn her about the dangers of running into spaces hidden in shadow, the girl had already sped off, leaving her scooter and the Swordsman behind with his. To her credit, however, she did slow down as she approached the vessel and raised her dagger out of its sheath.

‘Caution,’ he called to her. ‘It has kept many a man alive.’

‘Ah, shut it,’ she said playfully, eyes fixed on the wooden box just visible in the darkness of what used to be the ship’s lower deck. ‘Stop being such a scaredy-cat and watch my back for me, will ya?’

The Swordsman did, and when she was certain that nothing was going to leap out suddenly and attack her, she put away her weapon and put her energies into pulling the wooden box out into the sunlight. Form the way she grunted and tugged away at the thing, it seemed to be considerably heavy.

As the box came out into the light, he saw that the box was painted red and engraved with gold accents. Though it was old, chipped, and worn, even the box itself would likely fetch a fortune with some collectors, assuming the box could be sold before anyone catches wind of this place.

Rayne then turned to look at the Swordsman with a scowl. ‘Are you gonna help me with this, or are you going to just stand there?’ she snapped.

Without a word, he loosened his grip on the sheath secured by his hip and walked over to where the marauder was struggling with the box. He tried at first to push it lazily, but found that his feet could find no solid ground beneath them to push against – the sand only gave way under the tremendous force required to move the box.

He dug his feet into the loose sand and found some sort of firm footing. Leaning forward, he grunted as he shoved against the red box with his shoulder. With a scraping sound, the thing moved forward a little less than a meter.

‘Not bad,’ Rayna remarked, ‘But ultimately nothing to shout about. Still, good effort.’

Now safe in the open sun, she knelt by the box and found the keyhole on the topside of the box. ‘Let’s see…’ she said, ‘Fourteenth century Chinese lock, huh. Merchant ship, so this should do…’

She popped open a pocket on her utility vest and brought out a crude lockpicking set, which to the Swordsman, looked like two ordinary little rods of iron, one in the shape of the letter L, and the other with a little hook attached to one end of it. Rayna stuck first the one with the hook into the keyhole, then worked the L-shaped one in after.

‘Say,’ she said while working away at the primitive lock, ‘That thing you did back on the airship? That nifty psychic lock-breaking you did to bust us out of our cages? That would really come in handy right now.’

‘It is not something to be used in vain,’ was his reply.

‘Unlocking a box containing more money than you’ll ever make in ten lifetimes is something I’d hardly call vain, mister,’ she said, eyes ever focused on her task. ‘You could at least teach me how to do it.’

‘Concentrated force of willpower,’ the Swordsman said. ‘It is something that my teacher taught me after years of training my mind. I was twice your age when I could finally muster enough willpower to move a single leaf.’

At this, Rayna suddenly stopped her work and glanced up at him. ‘How old do you think I am, really?’ she asked, eyes narrowed at him.

‘Sixteen years old,’ he said simply. To this, Rayna scrunched up her face as though beginning to frown, but then shrugged and returned her focus to breaking the old lock.

‘So I take it that you won’t teach it to me?’

‘I am not one who is qualified to teach this technique.’

‘And you won’t use it to help me?’

‘It is a sacred skill, only to be used in the most dire of situations.’

‘Maybe you could introduce me to your teacher? I mean, he taught you, right? He can teach me how to do that too.’

‘My teacher has been dead for twenty years.’

‘Well,’ she said, twisting the iron rods in her hands violently – and CRACK! – something broke inside the box, and with one easy lifting motion, she pulled the lid off the box. ‘That just makes my life difficult, doesn’t it?’ she looked up at him. ‘You won’t help me, you won’t teach me how to help me, and you won’t introduce me to the man who could teach me how to help me coz’ he’s dead.’

‘There is no honor in seeking the easy path to travel in life,’ he began. ‘One must learn how to live within the means that they are provided by nature–’

‘Yeah, shut up,’ she said simply, and dug her hands into the box, pulling off the rotting silk cloth that laid over its contents, revealing the cloudy green crystal stacked neatly within it.

‘Bingo,’ she grinned.

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