by Jake Christie

a story.

After everything – all the car chases, all the cave-ins, all the double-crosses and all the narrow escapes – the only thing in the hidden chamber was a small metal chest, barely larger than a softball. Alexander was somewhat disappointed. He'd expected to be met with piles of riches and long-lost ancient artifacts, the treasure trove of a dozen secret societies, because this was undoubtedly the place. All the clues had led him here. The end of his quest was right in that box.

“Is this it?” asked Percy, his trusted guide, translator, and – after that close scrape in Morocco – friend.

“Yes,” said Alexander. He took off his fedora and swept it through the torchlight in a wide arc, sending dust floating in all directions. “The Templar map, the Illuminati codex, the Fraternitas Saturni journals, the Black Hand diagram – they all point here. That box holds the most secret knowledge of all the the secret knowledge in the world – so secret that even the world's most secretive secret societies didn't trust themselves with it.”

“So what's in it?” asked Percy. Despite his proclivity for languages, listening was not one of Percy's strong points.

Alexander and Percy stepped slowly towards the solitary little box. Strangely, even after all they'd been through, their instinct was not to rush to the chest and tear it open. They felt compelled by some sort of reverence to do the exact opposite – slowed by the sheer gravity of the moment, as it were.

“It's too small to be a treasure of gold and jewels,” mused Percy as they stepped across the dusty stone. “Too small to hold even a body part, let alone a lost corpse. Too small for a book, even.”

Alexander handed Percy his torch and placed his hands on the chest, gently. He ran his fingers over the top and down the sides until he found the seam where it could be opened. He took a deep breath.

“Maybe,” said Percy, “there's nothing in it at all.”

Alexander looked at him. “What?” he said.

“Well,” said Percy, “if nobody in the secret societies knows what's in it, maybe there's nothing in it at all. Maybe they've been hiding an empty box. How would they know?”

“Why would they do that?” asked Alexander.

Percy shrugged. “Maybe running the shadow governments of the world for centuries gets boring.

Alexander looked at the chest, then back at Percy, then back at the chest again. He hadn't moved his hands from the sides. “Even if that's the case,” he said, “it still leaves a very important question.”

“What's that?” said Percy.

“Why couldn't you have mentioned all of this before the car chase?”

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