With a grunt the man pulls himself up over the ancient stone ledge. The passage is small and narrow; he proceeds on all fours, drawing centuries-old air in ragged breaths. Just as his exhaustion nears its peak he reaches the end of the tunnel and pulls himself upright into the secret chamber. The artifact is there, resting on a stone pedestal, glowing softly in the darkness. Waiting for him.
He reaches for it but hesitates. Its eyes are reflective, like the sheen of oil in water. It is grinning with teeth the length of his finger. It is horrible to look at, and for an instant he imagines himself leaving it there, resealing the passage cut directly into the limestone, carefully making his way back through the gauntlet of traps, returning the outer rock to its original position, and burning the notebook that contains all of his research.
But no, he’s come this far, there’s no way he’s turning back now. He reaches out and swipes it from its resting place in one smooth motion. He puts his knapsack on the ground, opens the flap, and jams the artifact into it, hopefully deep enough that he won’t have to look at it.
It doesn’t fit.
Two large rations occupy most of the space of the pack, and in the corners he has stuffed medical gauze, his house keys, and a wad of bills in the highly devalued local currency. In the side pockets he has his flashlight, a lighter, and his notebook. All things he’ll need to make it back home alive. He tries to wedge the artifact in again.
It doesn’t fit.
He sits down on the floor of the chamber and stares at the bag. It is jam-packed with stuff, overflowing. And yet, he can’t bring himself to get rid of anything. An ancient cursed statuette from a dead civilization won’t do him much good if he trips over a wire on the way back through the Hall of Trials and breaks his leg without his splint kit handy. What if his camel has deserted him and he must walk back to the village? He’ll never make it without extra food. Not to mention it being wasteful. It’s not like he can leave some stuff here and come back for it later.
In one hand, the artifact, looking straight through him with its mirror eyes. In the other, his knapsack, filled to the brim. He stares at them. What can he do?