“Jinx, if you’re leading us on a wild snipe hunt, I’ll snap your neck like a twig.”
Cobe hated being called Jinx. The only problem, however… Marion was the one calling him by that name. If Cobe’d been twice as big or Marion half as small, he might’ve kicked his ass. The major problem with that theory: Cobe was a little coward, and Marion, a giant bully. Besides, Marion carried a metal bar as tall as Cobe. If and when he sought revenge on Marion, Cobe would be sure to take his time and stretch out Marion’s pain. He would be doubly sure Marion was asleep beforehand, and the bar was missing.
“Look, I told you what I found. I told you I can’t open it by myself. It has to be something huge to have such a large rock blocking it.” Cobe tried to use logic. He should’ve known that would never work with this group. In his small village, he’d never found a huge pool to choose friends from, pickings were slim. It seemed all his peers were long on muscles and short on brains. Cobe wished he might someday find someone as intelligent as he, but he seemed destined to fail at that quest.
His train of thought was interrupted by the dirt clod that shattered against his skull. “Dammit, who threw that? If you don’t want to go open this tomb with me, you can all kiss my ass, and I’ll figure out a way to do it myself.”
“Calm down, Jinx, we’re only having a little fun. If you didn’t get pissed so easy, you might find life a little more enjoyable.” That was Edie, he wasn’t nearly as bad as Marion, but he could still be an ass. Cobe fantasized about slipping into Edie’s house at night and slitting his throat, but he never built up the courage to do it.
Cobe continued up the path he’d taken every day since he started watching the Matron’s herd. Usually, he would take them to the higher valleys, that way he’d spend his days in peace away from the morons of the village, like Marion, Edie, and the rest. He’d tolerated them since as long as he could remember. The five of them grew up together: Cobe, Marion, Edie, Alon, and Zibilly. It’d been a torturous childhood and school years, and now all indications pointed towards a miserable adulthood.
He would’ve left the isolated village if he’d somewhere to go and the guts to do it. Aggravated, he snuck a piece of stolen dried meat from one of the secret pockets hidden in his coat. The food would help to keep his mind on the task and away from killing the lot of them.
In a way, Cobe considered himself fortunate. He might be in the same situation as Zibilly. When they were about eight years old, Marion beat Zibilly so severely, he hadn’t spoken since that day. If his mother hadn’t been Matron of the Village, Cobe was certain Marion would’ve been banished into the desert.
Oh, he wished his mother had been someone influential. After she ran off with the blacksmith, his father fell into a bottle of alcohol and never crawled out. Cobe thought it better to forget his worthless last name and stick with his first only. One day, people will fear my name!
“Jinx, dammit, how much further do we need to walk? I’m getting tired of this, and we’ve only been gone an hour.” Alon, never one of the stronger boys, latched on to Marion’s shirt at a young age and never let go. He became the perfect yes-man. Cobe was sure he would go far in life. If he would only part his lips from Marion’s ass long enough to make his own future.
“I told you it was going to take us a while to get to the valley. I make this journey every day. If you weren’t such a wuss, this would be no problem.”
Cobe was certain he made a mistake with the wuss comment, but it felt good. That is until the next dirt clod pelted him.
Ready to fight, he whipped around, prepared to pummel the person who threw the dirt, until he saw Alon standing in front of Marion armed with two more chunks of earth.
“If you don’t stop it, I’m not going to show you where this tomb is. It took me three years to stumble across it. How long do you think it will take you to find it?”
Marion laughed as he spoke. “Just get going asswipe. If you don’t take us to it, we will beat you until you tell us what we want to know.”
“And rape your ass while you’re knocked out.” Alon went a little too far for the others. They all glanced at him with questioning eyes.
Cobe spun around and continued his drudge under the full moon. He cursed around the dried meat, soft enough that the group of young men behind him couldn’t hear. Cobe had devised a special plan, all worked out for Alon’s ass. He would somehow drug his family’s dinner, not sure with what or how, and once they fell asleep, he would lock them in their house and torch the whole lot of them. That would teach ’em!
Three hours later, the full moon approached its zenith in the night sky. Below in the village, the air stayed much denser, hotter, oppressive at night. Up here in the high valleys, there grew a chill in the night air, which raised goose bumps on uncovered flesh. Cobe had been smart enough to bring his favorite coat and a scarf as cover. The others weren’t. The trek up the steep canyon worked up a sweat that quickly evaporated in the cool, clear night. Cobe smiled as he listened to the others wheeze in the cool thinning air.
“How much farther? If there is nothing at the end of this, you’ll be sorry.” Marion was never the sharpest tool in the shed, but his threats always seemed to be much milder than the consequences. He would beat the crap out of anyone that displeased him. He grew to be the strongest man in the village, so even the older men gave him a wide berth.
“I would tell you not to get your panties in a bunch, but women tend to complain less than you do. I’ll tell you it’s up that mountain there. In that outcropping of rocks standing out against the night sky.”
In no time, Cobe scrambled up the side of the mountain, constantly on the move. He made it harder for the dirt clods to hit their target. He would’ve made it quicker, but he needed to continually wait for the other four.
The others spent their lives in the lower valley living off their mothers’ money. Cobe thought them more worthless than the beasts he herded—at least the animals provided meat, fur, and hides. By the sleeping god, he hated those four. If there were anyone else he could ask for help on this little adventure, he would’ve.
If he could think of a way to strand them in this remote mountain valley and not get caught, he would do it in a heartbeat. He couldn’t remember how many nights he lay awake considering their demise. If he prayed, he would give anything to send them to Torment. He’d lived in Torment his whole life.
Cobe had never given it much thought, but if he did, he might’ve changed his mind about his peers. His village was so remote and small that the five young men were all related by blood. The rarity of new people joining their small community made interbreeding a reality. The men were all cousins, even if Cobe would never admit it. They shared the same straight dark hair, same tanned skin, even the same facial features; close-set eyes and a pug nose.
He’d probably spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking of how he might kill his cousins in their sleep. Of course, it would have to be in their sleep. There was no way he would beat them in a fair fight. Sanity or cowardice always seemed to hold him back from his righteous vengeance.
“Here it is.” Cobe stood on top of a rock more massive than the five boys combined.
“That’s it?” Marion stood back and inspected the size of the rock in front of them.
Zibilly shook his head, looking at Cobe with disgust.
Alon stood with his hands on his hips, still armed with the chunks of dirt. “It’s just a rock that fell off the side of the mountain.”
Edie, being the smart one, at least took the time to inspect the area around the rock before commenting, “No, I think there’s something, an opening behind the rock. I can hear a whistling, like there’s air blowing from around the stone.
“Maybe that’s just the air blowing out of Jinx’s ass.” Alon always needed to pull the chain.
Edie nodded. “Possibly, but Cobe may ’ave found something. We should at least try to check it out.”
“How are we ever going to move that rock? It’s got ta weigh more than a house.” Marion slapped the rock with the flat of his hand.
Cobe made a motion to the rock with his hands. “We can move some of the rocks around and use that bar of metal you carried as a lever.”
Marion looked over the bar. “A what?”
Cobe decided he wouldn’t live long enough to take the time to explain simple mechanical advantage to Marion. If he tried, the snark in his voice would’ve gotten him a beating. He didn’t want this adventure ending with losing the gift of speech or worse. Using his brains over brawn and jumping down off the rock, he took the weighty piece of metal from Marion and found a purchase from which to pry.
“We keep prying here, and every time we make a small crack we cram a stone in to hold the big rock in place. Once we take the weight off the smaller stones, we can remove them with our hands.
Cobe sensed the smoke as Marion tried to follow his explanation, a blank expression on his face. If it hadn’t been for Edie and Zibilly, Cobe would’ve given up and went searching for his herd. However, everyone worked by prying, cramming, and pulling. Slowly the effort began to work, creating a crack that formed between the boulder and the smaller rocks filling the gap. Before an hour or two passed, a space developed broad enough for the two smaller men, Cobe and Alon, to squeeze inside.
“Hand me that pack, I brought some torches.” Cobe motioned to Zibilly to hand him the bundle of torches.
Edie, quick with the flint and steel, lit two torches in no time.
“You ready for this? You want to go first?” Cobe listened to too many ghost stories and cautionary tales concerning people who robbed tombs, but if they found anything of value, he might escape the crap hole of thirty families he called home.
Cobe would’ve been perfectly happy to allow Alon to go first, but the decision wasn’t left up to him. Marion, Edie, and Zibilly all picked him up, lifted him up over their heads and dropped him headfirst through the crack into the cave. The torch flung in after him, the fire only slightly singeing him.
After cursing, picking up the torch, and trying to get his bearings, his heart sank. The tomb looked to be empty. Someone already beat them to the treasure.
Step by step he worked his way deeper into the empty cave, aware his next step might be his last. He found nothing. Focused on the empty space, he couldn’t help but jump when Alon’s voice came up behind him.
“Where’s all the treasure?” Alon had never been talented at hiding his emotions.
Cobe ignored him, the last thing he wanted was to argue with an ass.
“I said where’s all the treasure you promised?”
Cobe hadn’t even made it to the back of the small cave. He let out a deep sigh and turned around to confront Alon for the last time, murder clearly on his mind. He never saw the torch swinging at his head. When the flaming head of the club struck Cobe on the right side of the skull, his hair singed to the scalp, and a cracking noise echoed through the cave.
His last memory: Alon’s cursing as he scrambled out of the crypt.