American Relic Hunter and Adventurer.
Stepping over something scurrying by his foot James shivered. It was an odd sensation. He hadn’t felt this odd on a job since his first one but here he was, several hundred feet below the surface approaching what he hoped was the Vault of Tsao’shen, the hair standing up on the back of his neck. James mind raced back, no reason he should be feeling this way as the job was just like the 26 others he’d been on in the last seven years, at least it seemed the same. One month ago he had been contacted by his employer, someone wanted his services, his special knack for finding that which can’t be found. In this case it was the Chinese government, they wanted someone to find the Vault of Tsao’shen. It seemed legit, a government wanting to find something on their own soil, he’d taken that type of job many times before so he set to work. First there was the research, the Chinese government had come through and provided him with fully translated documents. Combining what he had gleaned from the documents with his own knowledge of ancient cultures and he was easily able to discern a starting point. From there he had spent two weeks on the ground talking to the locals, taking in the local hearsay and that had led him to a small village in the mountains. The village was no different than any other secluded village either, why was he nervous?
Tsao’shen was part of Chinese folklore, a warrior wizard according to most sources. Easily dismissed in James mind because ancient cultures had a habit of deifying people who were ahead of their time or surpassed the cultural norm. Texts said he was a warrior of the light that had triumphed over the forces of darkness due to his powers, that he soared over his foes and struck like a golden eagle, he probably was just a good man who beat up the local bully exaggerated just like every other story. The world was flat once due to the scope of human knowledge at the time. A bunch of mumbo jumbo. Still, something wasn’t right.
James snapped back to the present and the task at hand. Though a structure such as this shouldn’t be booby trapped one can never be too careful, he needed to focus on the task at hand. He was now approaching a large chamber and those can be dangerous. Mag-lite in hand he swept the beam over the room, yes this is what he’d been searching for. Such a large room would normally be rigged with multiple traps, so he pulled several glow sticks from his pouch and methodically began tossing them into the room from the doorway until it was luminated enough that he at least had some vision where his light wasn’t shining. With that, he cautiously stepped into the large room.
The room was large but simple in its design. Off to the sides there were racks with old weapons and shelves of books but the center was wide open and the perfect size to train in. One small alcove appeared to house what could have been an old stove for cooking and across from it old mats that would have been used to sleep on. As he neared the back of the room, James could start to make out the sound of water, possibly a hot spring to bathe in, that would explain the warmth of the cave being this high in the mountains. Inspecting that would have to wait for later however as James’ attention was drawn to a large table just in front of the passage to what he believed to be the spring, and more importantly an item he thought he could just make out resting on it.
While the Chinese government had been interested in proving the existence of Tsao’shen as a whole, there was one primary artifact they were looking for over all others, in fact it was the only artifact they had saw fit to work into negotiations, allowing James and his employer to work display deals for any other artifacts found with ease. Time to see what this artifact was truly about. Almost forgetting his unease, James picked up the item from the table. It was a long staff intricately carved from some type of wood James could not determine in his limited light and inlayed with gold and silver. Picking it up James spun it in his hand, it was extremely light and well balanced. Most important of all though, it perfectly matched the description of the Winged Staff of Tsao’shen. While the craftsmanship was something to marvel at it still appeared rather normal outside that. Leaning the staff against the table James began to look over its other items when a chill suddenly hit him and the shadows around the room seemed to jump. James spun around expecting to find someone from the village had followed him from the village intent on taking the items from the ruins for themselves, he had dealt with his fair share of thieves and cutthroats in his profession in fact that was the main reason he spent so much time training in the martial arts. You have to be able to defend yourself and weapons are a pain to get through customs. Spinning around he found the room to be empty quite, maybe he was just being paranoid. After quickly scanning the room with his light he returned to searching the table and that’s when he heard it, a voice so unnatural his heart quickened.
“Weeee thank you for leading ussss to the vault but weee lay claim to it now, leeeaaaave or perish.” James quickly spun around and swept his light from side to side, still nothing. Yet the voice spoke again. “We seeeeee you wish to perisshhhhhh.” Only then did James see the shadows once again begin to jump and this time they seemed to come to life taking on strange forms that began to move towards him. It was at this point that James realized that while he held his light in one hand he must have subconsciously picked up the staff in his other and that he was holding it in a defensive manner, yet more intriguing the gold and silver inlay on the staff had begun to glow with light. Someone in the village must have drugged him, yep that was obviously what was happening, they drugged him and now they were messing with him to take the relics. As the thoughts raced through James’ head one of the shadows leapt towards him and almost instinctively he dropped his light and plunged the staff into the center of it causing it to dissipate and fall to the ground. It was then he heard yet another voice, calmly soothing that simply stated, “Strike the shadow’s heart with the inner light to destroy it”. That’s it, James was never eating Chinese food again…
The next thirty seconds seemed like a blur, shadow after shadow leaping at him and James deftly parrying them and striking them down one by one. When they all had fallen James slumped back against the table dripping with sweat, yet the sinister voice spoke again. “Aid me my children and we shall pluck the feathers from the wings of the fledgling.” The fallen shadows then began to spin around the center of the room and slowly merge into a hulking apparition that once fully formed lumbered towards James. With lighting timing James struck at the center of the entity only to have it catch the end of the staff in a huge clawed appendage. It seemed to smile and then said “Pain is good, it fuels us, yessss”. With that it struck James with enough force to lift him off his feet and send him and the staff hurtling over the table and into the passage beyond.
Skipping across the shallow of the hot spring, James slammed into the cavern wall and splashed into the knee deep water. Trying to shake out the stars in front of his eyes he thought to himself, “This is when you wake up from the nightmare right? I’ll just wake up now.” Yet as the stars cleared from his eyes, he looked up to see the apparition standing before him in the dull light of the cavern and his heart sank as he saw the staff lying on the ground on the far side of the room, well out of his reach. “I definitely want to wake up now,” he said under his breath. The creature once again spoke, “Poor warrrrior without your relic, now weeee shall feast on your pain”. With amazing speed, the beast grabbed James neck and lifted him from the ground. “We have not feeassted in sooo long, since we were banished by the prevviousssssss relic wielder.” The apparition opened its maw and timed slowed to a crawl as a soothing voice once again spoke in James’ head. “The beast does not understand. It is the will of the warrior that is the source of the power, not the warrior’s weapon. Calm yourself and strike it now or perish.” As the voice faded James felt a warmth come over his body and the room began to brighten with an unknown light, it was then that the monster screamed in pain and dropped him into the water. The warmth of his body began to travel to his hands and James witnessed to blades of light beginning to form. With his last ounce of energy, he plunged both blades into the center of the beast want watched as it’s shadowy form vanished from the room. James collapsed in the shallow water and passed out.
It had been three months since the trip to China and the hallucinations in the ruins. The job had worked out ok and the Chinese government had been extremely happy with the find of the staff. For the month following the job, James had had recurring dreams of a man claiming to be Master Tsao’shen but they had finally stopped. James had still avoided any jobs in the mean time telling his employer he just need a break and some fresh air. Deciding a change of local might be just the thing to clear his head James used some of his pay to rent a jeep and travel west. Maybe some place simple like Idaho, nothing strange ever happens in Idaho and he could probably avoid Chinese food there too.