We picked our way back down the cold, damp stairs. The temple acolyte’s dim smoking oil lamp showed which direction to go, but did not point out the trash or rat corpses. Were there so many new corpses already? My feet did not remember so many, with their bones poking around and through my rotting sandals. The huge key looped around my arm banged and clattered against the wall. At last I found level ground and followed as the lamp swung past several metal doors along a wall to halt in front of the one, my goal. The familiar nightmare figures carved onto the door glinted in the flickering light. I stood in front of the great door, surrounded by the others in the flickering torchlight. “This is Vault B, as you wish,” the elder priest said as he stepped behind me. They all watched me silently. Something slimy passed across my foot, and I heard the hiss and chitter of creatures in the near-darkness.
“Will you open it?” the priest continued. “You should not.” His voice took on a lilt of reciting a poem. “You should not, for your own good. You should not, for our good. The curse you will rain down upon us and the whole land, nothing inside this room can compensate. Nothing you do can atone. I urge you, go now in peace.”
“Why don’t you stop me?” I asked. The ache in my head squeezed my eyeballs and pressed my ears to meet my nose. “I can’t get back upstairs if I wanted to.”
“This is your decision,” he said. “I only read what is etched here, as we have read for thousands of years. So. Will you go in?”
I gasped with the exertion and wrestled the key loose. It fit into the large keyhole as they told me it would. I cranked the key to the left and leaned against the doorframe. My knees wobbled and my fevered eyesight grew cloudy.
“Is it safe to open it?” he asked.
I grunted, spat on the ground, turned the key and swung the door open. “I’ve got nothing to lose,” I said before I stepped inside.