Safes and Sounds
It was the biggest lock Chael had ever seen.
A double-acting, seven-lever tumbler lock, with a trapped keyway and notched levers, all mortised into an 18-inch vault door made from layered panels of celestial bronze and quick-cured lime mortar. It required a triple-bitted key, and a two-inch bolt throw. And that didn’t even open the door. That just started the timer. Then you waited, for a month, while a pendulum swung, an escapement clicked, and a massive gear train slowly aligned the eleven rune-etched discs of the real lock, which dispelled the magical warding and released the twelve hell-forged steel cylinders in the door.
Opening it without the key would require a week of work, by a team of rogues, and a wagon full of tools. Chael only had themselves, the odds and ends they had either looted from the bodies of kobold guards or boosted from the saddlebags of nomad shepherds, and maybe a day or two before they got caught.
So it was nice that the vault was already open. It would save everyone a lot of effort.
It would save Chael the effort of doing something legendary like picking Materia’s greatest lock with the bent tooth of a sheepdog comb, it would save numerous bards and scholars the effort of documenting the event, it would save the crowds of townsfolk from having to hoist Chael on their shoulders and parade them down the streets, and it would save generations of young rogues from years of living in the shadow of the greatest thief of all time.
But why was it open?
Chael took the lead-lined pouch from the pocket of their new, recently stolen, shepherding cloak. Which, on Chael’s frame, was more like a new, recently stolen, shepherding jacket. Similar to the way their new, recently stolen dagger was actually just an old, recently dropped kobold longsword. Maybe when the bards got to the part where the heroic rogue entered the deadly dungeon and replaced the damaged godstone, saving not one, but two, universes from millennia of war, they’d gloss over the part where Chael was barefoot and half-naked because all their clothes were bleaching in a kobold scrap pile.
They brushed the pouch off, creating a cloud of reddish dust. After Chael had landed in that kobold cage, but before the kobolds had dragged them around the mesa, they had buried the pouch in the gravel, so the kobolds wouldn’t find it. After escaping the Mad Mesa, they had managed to dig it up again before fleeing to the prairies.
“Should have buried a pair of boots,” said Chael to themselves, opening the pouch.
The rose-colored godstone glimmered in the dim light. Chael smiled, closed it again, then placed a hand on the back of the lock, tracing the cold, dark glasswork arcana.
“Soon,” they said, to the lock.
Chael paused, furrowed their brow. It was strange. They had expected the lock’s power supply to be weak, that’s what they were there to fix after all, but not to be nearly dead. Kneeling down, with their face inches away, they could see the faintest suggestion of flickering life within the filament. Not nearly enough to power the magic wards. But despite the looming suspicion that things inside the vault were going to be worse than expected, Chael was still thankful those wards weren’t up. Nothing could get through godstone-warded silverbrick. Not even the multiverse’s greatest thief, not even an Angel of Death, not even someone who might be both.
Chael unwrapped their finger and inspected the nailbed, touching it lightly. Still tender. It had been almost two days since the injury. Since the event. Since the incident. Since a crazy demon ripped their fingernail off with a pair of pliers. And still. And still, Chael had known in the same moment they felt the table melt around them, felt their body become briefly incorporeal, that Glig had known all along. Known how to help them escape. Known how to teach them something new. Known exactly who they were, who they were capable of being. The exact same kind of monster that killed Glig’s mom. The exact same kind of monster Chael was trying to put out of work by repairing the barrier between heaven and hell.
Chael wrapped their finger back up. They had a job to do. They had waited more than 15 years to be exactly where they were right now. In the entrance to the Apocalypse Vault, with a new godstone in their pocket. They had pictured it a thousand times. Usually when they pictured it they had boots, but either way, their quest was almost over. The barrier would be repaired. The war would be over. The fighting would stop. The guilt would stop. Chael had no idea what happened to Glig and Mahani. There was no guarantee they even made it out of Mad Mesa. Maybe the kobolds shot them down. Maybe Glig took over as the demon king of Materia. Or maybe they did escape after all, then found a way to get Glig home to his little weird demon family. Either way, Chael was sure they would never see each other again. And couldn’t be happier.
Something echoed from deeper in the dungeon. Chael’s hand went to their belt. Screaming? Maybe whoever opened this door was still here. Maybe they were dying in one of the Apocalypse Vault’s many deadly corridors. One less trap to worry about, Chael thought, unsheathing a kobold longsword.
The scream echoed through the halls again. No, not quite a scream. Not quite a squawk either.
Thanks for reading this. It means a lot to me. And somewhere, somewhen, it means a lot to Glig, too.