The routine was repetitive now: take her weapon, run up the mountain, break in. Tightening her ponytail, Raya slammed the weaponry’s door open.
"Alright, attempt number one hundred and... something. Let's go."
Grabbing her twin arnis, Raya dashed across the roofs of the houses. She skidded over the roof's tiles, rain starting to pour above her. A loose tile tripped her up, and she slipped as she ran forward. Hitting her head hard off the roof, she scrambled blindly, getting up just before she dropped to the hard ground below. Struggling to balance on the slippery surface, she lunged toward the top of the roof, shouting when she lost her footing once more.
She winced, bracing herself for a long tumble toward the ground. But the warmth of her blood pooling around her never came. By sheer luck, she had managed to cling on when she reached for the top of the roof. Laughing nervously more than anything, she heaved herself up before she lost her grip and actually fell down. She knew that her knees would be scraped, and that her head probably had a massive bruise on it, but she was infinitely grateful that she hadn't fallen to the ground.
Panting heavily, she thanked the dragons that she was able to get back into a relatively safe position on the roof. She let the rain wash over her, watching Heart have a moment's rest as the rain kept everyone from doing daily activities. Raya let herself catch her breath, still shaking from the adrenaline that slip had given her. Taking out Tuk Tuk, he whined in annoyance, probably from the recent turbulence he had to endure moments ago.
“Sorry, Tuk Tuk. I didn’t think I’d slip.”
He trilled angrily in response. She rolled her eyes, but still smiled.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll be more careful.”
He smiled brightly in response, letting himself be pet. They stayed up there for a few minutes, until she insisted that they got back to the task at hand, and carefully put him back into the pocket he was resting in.
Aside from losing her balance two more times during her journey to the vault: once from slipping down another rooftop, the other time slipping up the mountain where the dragon gem was held – accompanied by an angered Tuk Tuk each time –, she made it with relative ease. Squeezing the excess water from her hair and clothes, she made her way in.
Raya knew the entrance like the back of her hand, although the long corridor stretched out before her felt too... empty, and abandoned as well, to not be hiding something. Tentatively placing a foot forward, she yelped and leapt back just in time before a net came down from the ceiling, and almost ensnared her. Looking to the cobblestone ground, she could see the floor had hidden tiles that triggered once weight was placed upon them. She sighed in relief, thankful that at least some of her training had kicked in.
“Looks like someone’s trying to be clever,” she mumbled under her breath, smirking just a little. Reaching into that little pocket under her shirt, she carefully brought out Tuk Tuk again and whispered, “Alright Tuk Tuk, let’s show ‘em what clever really looks like.”
He trilled in pure delight as she gently placed him down onto the ground. Immediately, he started rolling forward, setting off the remaining traps and rendering them harmless. It was days like these when she would miss his tiny stature, though she knew he’d grow big soon enough, whether she liked it or not. Nearing the last the last trap, Tuk Tuk decided that a small bug around the size of his paw would be much more interesting than helping Raya to not get ensnared. She would have found it funny, were she not in a bit of a rush today.
Rolling her eyes while crawling underneath the nets, she hissed, “Tuk Tuk! Come on, focus!”
Sulking quietly to himself, he begrudgingly slid his attention to focus back on the task at hand. Rolling a lot slower than he had moments ago, he nonetheless released the last trap and made the area completely safe for Raya. “Thank you,” she beamed at Tuk Tuk, who in turn squealed in delight.
Resting her head on her arms, still lying on her stomach, she added, “Hey, bud, that was awesome. Give me some shell.” Holding her hand out low to the ground, clenched into a fist, he rolled into it enthusiastically. The force of the impact had knocked him off balance, and now he was on his hard-shell back, struggling to upright himself.
She giggled at his currently helpless state, and he pouted in return. “I got ya.” She murmured, before rolling him back on all four legs. He smiled, curling up into a ball and letting her pick him up. Carefully, she put him back into her pocket, feeling him squirm around until he was comfortable. Once he went completely still, she heaved herself up and stood before the ancient stone door.
Dusting herself off, it was time to get what she came for.
Walking closer to the stone door, she examined it carefully. The engravings had been worn down over the years, and moss crept into the crevasses. The architect must have been ingenious, no visible entrance into the vault was in sight. That is, to those unfamiliar with Heart. She knew better, however. Taking out her arnis and feeling the markings around the outer rim of the stone, she eventually placed them into the hidden keyholes and grunted as she turned the heavy door open.
Sighing in relief and wiping a drop of sweat from her face, the door slowly swung open, beckoning her to go in. Taking off her shoes, she entered the vault. As she walked up the stairs, she noticed how the water on the eroded surface was trickling up, not down. It was fascinating, and she had almost stopped to admire it, the way the light reflected off the surface and how the bits of debris was carried with it. She knew she could not afford to be distracted after she had gotten this far though, especially not now.
After reaching the top of the outer ring, her eyes narrowed in on the prize. She gasped in awe as she saw the dragon gem once more, pulsing with magic and radiating a soft, blue glow around it. No matter how many times she slipped into the vault, it never ceased to continuously amaze her. The thought of the last remnants of dragon magic and their kind being housed here, in this small alcove in a mountain, was baffling to her. But for something so seemingly valuable, there was no one in sight left to guard it.
“Wait a second, this feels too… easy…”
Drawing her arnis, she held them up defensively while looking around for any sign of traps or guards. The darkness of the early morning, mixed with the plants hanging over the ceiling, made it difficult to see much of the room. Her only source of light was the dragon gem, and even then its light wasn't much. However hard she looked, she couldn’t see or identify anything that would pose as a potential threat. Not even a slightly raised tile, or the light shine that would give away tripwire.
Turning behind her, she expected to see a small group of elite soldiers, lying in wait to ambush her. Instead, she saw only the hanging nets that Tuk Tuk had set off for her. Squinting in the dark, she tried to see if any of them gave away someone moving. Once she was sure she hadn’t missed anything, she turned herself back forward. Instead of the dragon gem straight ahead however, was a masked figure with a sheathed kris standing defiant between her and it.
Gripping her arnis with more force, she snarled under her breath, “Chief Benja,” then added in a louder voice, “I know it’s your job to try and stop me, but you won’t.”
“Don’t mistake spirit for skill, young one,” he chided, calculating eyes behind an elaborately carved mask. “I promise you will not set foot on the Dragon Gem’s inner circle, not even a toe.” His voice echoed across the cave, assertive and unmoved.
Her heart was pounding under her chest, she could not, would not, lose another fight with him. Not now, not ever. Masking her fear, she tilted her head toward his sheathed kris and sneered, “You might wanna take out that blade, you’re gonna need it.”
Shaking his head and chuckling softly, he responded in a low voice, “Not today.”