This post is part of an ongoing story set in the pulp-era world of Hollow Earth Expedition. If you are new to this series, I suggest starting at the beginning.
“And now, frau,” said the lazy-eyed Nazi squad leader. “You will die.”
“Before you pull those triggers,” Maia said, backing up against the altar of the ebony skull. “There’s something you should know. Something about this artifact that your commandant wants so badly.”
The two Nazi soldiers looked up from their rifles to the squad leader. The squad leader made an impatient gesture with his shotgun. Her shotgun—he had impounded it from her when she had first entered their camp. The thought still made her flush with anger.
“The thing you need to know about this skull is,” she reached behind her and placed her fingers around its cool, hard sides. “It’s booby-trapped.”
She lifted it suddenly, feeling the tiny hair that was tied to its base pull tight and then snap. For the first time in her life, she prayed that the trap would still work, that the tripwire mechanism hadn’t aged too badly.
Then the ground lurched underneath their feet, and she smiled. This ancient culture—the Atlanteans—they built their devices to last forever.
The two foot soldiers stumbled against the quaking walls of the small altar room, their rifles momentarily forgotten in their hands. However, the squad leader was not distracted for as long. Even as chunks of the ceiling began to fall all around them, he leveled the shotgun at her.
Maia feigned a throw of the skull, thrusting her hands towards him but without carrying the priceless artifact along for the ride. Her gambit worked: the squad leader, perhaps acting on pure reflex or perhaps too terrified to allow his commandant’s prize to shatter, brought his arms up in an attempted catch.
The ruse bought her enough time to slam her shoulder into his sternum, but her weight wasn’t enough to knock him down. Skull tucked under one arm, she grabbed her shotgun and gave it a twist, hoping to wrench it free of his grasp. She got it pointed past her, but could not loosen his grip any further.
They vied over the weapon as the ground beneath them shook and the walls around them crumbled. The other two soldiers had regained their footing, but their rifles were too long to be wielded easily inside the cramped confines of the tiny room. Maia managed to spin them around so that she was closer to the door and the squad leader was between her and the soldiers.
If she let go to flee, the squad leader would blast her in the back before she could take a step out the door. If she stayed there, the other soldiers would take her down with their rifles. Through the opening, she heard a snapping and a popping sound, followed by a wet crash. The bridge that offered the only safe passage over the magma pool was collapsing. She would lose her chance of escape if she didn’t act fast.