Seals of darkness

Chapter 2 ; Accidents Happen

Times fly faster then pen can record, good as well as bad, and what was once a common terror became a danger left far behind. Fearful men would still speak of vampires raiding a village here and there, a gossip over a mug of ale in the local tavern, or a story for wide-eyed youngsters around a comforting fireplace. But everyone knew by the Sun which had at last returned to the world, and by the land which begun to recover beneath the clear sky, that the Night-lodrs were no more.

And praises were sung to the bold Sarafan, and thanks were sobbed in the dawn, and cries of joy and laughter of children running over fresh green fields was never without thanks for the freedom from the undead.

And so it was that the new world was born from the ashes of the old one, and what had once been a threat for all of mankind became folklore, a twisted version of the true story, of how brave heroes gave their lives for their fellow men, and killed the Night-lords in their den. And that story too grew more pale, the more the years passed. Eventually, few would still even mention a creature of the night, and none but the wisest could remember their names. No one remembered those times, because no one wanted to remember, and all the old fears finally faded into the mists of time.

Even the order of the noble Sarafan retreated to the shadow of history, for their night watch was at last done. A few would still appear in glistening armor, golden sun pure upon their breast as a symbol of legend, and where they would appear people would cheer and greet them with gratitude and awe. But the long night had passed and with all the unnatural evils gone, the last of the Sarafan knights retreated out of sight, and than out of memory.

Ages came and went, and the evil of man became the only true fear. For men had multiplied like a horde of locus, and mastered even the lands which were wild and untouchable. Ancient forests were swallowed by buildings of stone and steal, science and technology replaced the mystic arts, and old ways of bloody rituals gave way to new religions of love and tolerance.

But trough all that progress, men became bold and arrogant, gods of the earth and all which their eyes would fall upon, and much of the land suffered under their avarice. Many wonders of the ancient world were forgotten and lost, entire species of creatures erased from existence, and barely a tear was shed in the name of all that progress. Yet the greed of men was insatiable and their lust for even more power caused many wars among them.

And thus came this war ; The Second Great War of mankind which ignited hatred across the world, and the new invading power began to grow and take form under the banner of a Nazi Cross. Men stood under that banner and killed other men, and other men killed them, with weapons of iron and earth powders which grew more deadly and more horrible by the day.

For five long years the power of Hitler spread across Europe, and all over the free world, the fear of Germany chilled like late frost. But the world it self would not be enough for such a man. Under the Nazi Cross, the armies of Hitler marched over the lands seeking the forgotten powers, legends, myth, and any artifact which could lead them to the proof of their Aryan superiority. Any work of the ancients, peaces of puzzles, scattered clues to the hidden past were secretly gathered to once more unlock that power in the hands of the Nazi.

And so does this story begin…

Herr Herbert Shtrouber entered a wealthy chamber, decorated in all the splendors of the conquering army. Fabulous commandeered art work, busts of the Fuhrer in black marble, animal hides, red flags with the swastika... It was truly a chamber fit for a Nazi monarch, though a bit too dark for his liking. The only light was a large fireplace of unseemly white marble and an occasional thunder flash, pouring in through high windows.

It was raining outside. 'Shatto Verboten' at the Austrian-Hungarian border, nestled on the slopes of the Alps, was hardly reachable to any let alone those without the proper documentation. The security was tight and armed to the teeth due to the nature of the resident visitors, one of them, a man now before him in a large chair of brown leather, placed on the left side of the fireplace.

Herbert made his presence known by a slight cough. He had been a butler of the castle for ten years now, and he knew his manners well. Short blond hair with a bit of gray showing off, was neatly combed back. A plain white envelope had one corner over the edge of the elaborate silver tray that was balancing on his fingertips and his blank expression gave away his professionalism more than his black butler coat, a bit of white shirt and a tie. He offered the silver tray with the note to the man in the chair.

The person was casually reading local newspaper when Herbert came in. The slender man had a red sateen robe and a warm pair of fuzzy black slippers. Gray hair was thin around his head, and his hooked nose was decorated by a pair of gilded spectacles.

As Herbert coughed, the man tossed a gaze at the tray and a hint of sourness passed over his features. Folding the paper to his knees, he took the slim envelope and opened it. After a few minutes of reading, his calm facade completely vanished. The contents of the letter made him grimace in anger. Practically jumping up, he tossed the note into the fire and snarled :

" Too late ?"; he snarled to himself :" We were too late ?"

" What are you so upset with, Klaus ?"; another voice came from the entrance.

The man named Klaus turned towards the speaker. It was a man a bit older than him, with considerably more weight, and a black wooden walking stick with a silver handle in the shape of a bear's head. He too wore a red house robe, and had a golden chain emerging from its folds to sink into his pocket, ending in his golden pocket-watch. His bald head had only a few white strands of hair on the sides and at the back and he seemed both annoyed and cunning every time the Herbert saw him. The sudden appearance of the newcomer was almost startling and chill inducing in its dark mystique.

Klaus frowned in his general direction

" The girl, Von Zitter !"; he spoke through his teeth :" The girl beat us to it !"

The bulky man, Von Zitter, dropped his gaze to the hide of a dead tiger on the floor. Animal's glassy eyes were reflecting the fires of the hearth and his bare white jaws were so life like they seamed ready to roar.

" Did you hear what I said ?"; Klaus shouted :" Someone else is already digging on the location !"

Braun Von Zitter looked back at the other man. He was quite nervous. Quite useful. Quite a fool. A pity they had to put up with him, but his knowledge was valuable still. No one else was so familiar with ancient texts and solving the puzzles of the ages. But when it came to matters like this, Klaus was a bumbling infant throwing a tantrum.

" Calm yourself Klaus. "; Braun spoke :" You say this woman found the site before us. Does she have any clue as to what might be buried there ?"

" Have you bean listening when I detailed my find ? No one knows ! I was the only one smart enough to unravel the lies of history. "

" If you did, she could have too. "

" Impossible. " Klaus sniffed dismissively. " Our army took all the relics and documentation. The Fuhrer is not a fool to let clues to his victory lie around for another to find. The girl must have stumbled upon the site by sheer force of luck. "

Braun frowned as he got to the drink cabinet. Luck was a dangerous and tricky thing. As he was poring two glasses of scotch, he reflected on the old axiom of the Lady of Chance being a bitch. Four years have passed since they went putting the bits and peaces together, and now by a simple accident, it was all compromised.

Frau Barker was a skilled and intelligent archaeologist. A woman of great renown over the sees. In a way, it seemed only logical to cross paths with her sooner or later. Just last year she'd discovered a bunch of new sites in the Valley of the Kings, and rumor had it she even gave a hint or two to the discovery of Troy in Turkey. A pity none of her colleagues took her seriously, mostly due to her claims of some mythical lost civilization, or she might have gotten some credit for all her finds. British were fools.

And now, the very ridiculed, but renowned girl was interfering with all their hard work. God only knew how she managed to get the permit for the excavation in Africa, especially now when the majority of British funds was focused on their military. Clearly, she was more resourceful than she appeared. It was a fine mess, but Braun had a cool head for these sorts of things. He was not the project leader just for his rank.

" So, frauline Barker is digging in Africa, "; he sighed :" at the authority of the British museum ? Strange. I've always thought of her too young to pose any kind of threat. "

" Obviously we've underestimated her. "; Klaus said :" And now she risks to ruin everything. "

A thunder cracked trough the sky and its boom shook the wet window in its frame. It seemed that the rain was coming to an end.

" What is life without a few risk, eh ?"; Braun smiled and offered one of the filled glasses to his companion :" She is not the only one who has men in the Colonies. "

" But if she should find… "; Klaus started

" … we shall retrieve. "; Braun cut him off :" And frau Barker will learn too late the price of meddling. "

Klaus slowly took the offered liquor and smiled :

" After all, "; Braun continued :" Africa IS a dangerous place. Let her do all the work, and after that… well… Accidents happen… "

Herbert the butler nodded as he received the reply note and clapping his wooden heals, turned and left for the wire room. Klaus giggled softly trough his nose, and he and Braun joined their glasses in a toast.

" Ms. Barker !"; someone yelled :" Ms. Barker !"

A slender girl with straight black hair falling down to her shoulders raised her brown eyes from her charts. She was about 28, in green outfit of pale shorts and coat, white explorer's hat, and a bit worn-out brown leather boots. A red silk scarf was tucked in her tightly buttoned coat, protecting her neck from hot gusts of cruel desert winds. The wind was particularly strong that day, and the map she was studying had to be held down by many stones, spread out over a crude wooden table.

She smiled at the running man. It was Nm'bopo, one of the natives, and a personal friend from a few similar expeditions on the continent. He was a tall and athletically built black Zulu warrior with a bold head, wearing a plain crude leather vest and dusty pants. He was barefooted and around his neck was a necklace of a simple cord and a peculiar beastly fang decorated with short red feathers. Parrot's feathers or some such. Nm'bopo was in charge for the excavation. He was monitoring the workers, mostly the Arabs from the eastern parts, who were to a man garbed in loose white robes and turbans wrapped around their heads.

Whenever it was not an official call, Nm'bopo was deep somewhere within the tropical jungle with a spear and a leather shield, bare to the waist, staying away from people. He loved Africa and her wilderness and didn't feel comfortable in a crowd. Except when she would stop by.

" Ms. Barker. "; he said as he came to a stop before the table. A run like that would have taken the breath out of many people she knew, but not him. He was not even winded.

" What is it, Bo ?"; she asked him. She called him that since forever, it seemed. It wasn't hard for her to remember his full name, but this nickname was made in a fit of friendship, and Nm'bopo liked it too.

About five years ago, on her first expedition to the southern banks of the Nile he and she got in a bit of trouble and he practically carried her on his back as they fled before the raging natives who chased them out of their tribe's territory. Since than they became more than friends, and whenever she'd visit Africa, the two of them would always thread together. Unfortunately he'd never leave the continent, so they'd always have to say goodbye at the harbor, not knowing when they'd see each other again.

How he always knew when she was arriving, she had no idea, but this time as always, he was waiting for her when she got off her boat.

" I've just bean to area 41 !"; he said and his voice, though in perfect English, was thickly seeded with hollow thumping vowels :" We think we've found the entrance !"

A smile of excitement blossomed on Eidolon's face. She could barely contain her joy :

" Fetch Jack and Yrona !"; she said :" Tell them to get there as soon as possible. "

Running over the desert sands, Eidolon had to hold her safari hat, not to lose it on the wind. She wouldn't be without her hat in a dessert, particularly during the dry season. African sun was a killer after the damp British climate she was accustomed to. But none of that mattered now. If she'd lose her hat, she wouldn't go back for it even if it should simply land at her feet. This was too important.

This region of the Libyan dessert east of Cairo was near a thick tundra west on the horizon and bordered by dull gray mountains at the far south. The excavation sight had 53 areas and east of that terrain were white tents for diggers, a few archaeologists and other people in charge of the work. The British museum gave her and her team funds for only so much and she had to beg even for that.

But now, success was at hand. She was about to present proof to the world of a civilization skipped in all the history books. Her theories would be accepted for facts at last.

As she got to area 41, diggers and workers made way for her, giving her space. A hole beneath the earth, was exposing a stone-made door frame, still half buried at the bottom of the digger's pit. It was MAN-made ! She didn't get too close yet though. She had to wait for Jack and Yrona. But she had time to observe the carvings and she almost laughed with joy.

" What is this all about ?"; Jack spoke, catching his breath after running here. Nm'bopo's endurance didn't grace him apparently.

He was in the similar green safari outfit with a white hat though his short pants were a bit longer, and his lengthy blond hair was fastened in a ponytail. Instead of boots he had plain rough shoes and a pair of white socks. His coat was unbuttoned, exposing a matching green shirt and his green eyes were squinted from the bright tropical sun reaching beneath the hem of his tilted safari hat.

Yrona arrived next to him. Unlike Jack and Eidolon, she was a geologist. It was her job to determine the exact age of the relics by the rock compounds in the resident soil. Her hair was brown and her skin copper, the kind of color that would make a man's eyes linger on her. Since her family was Asian in origin, her appearance resembled people from that territory with tilted eyes and flawless black hair. She too was in a green outfit with a safari hat, though her sleeves were folded up all the way to her shoulders and under her unbuttoned coat was a simple green t-shirt, also damp with sweat.

The two of them were accompanying Eidolon on this expedition, and they had all been friends since high school. The only thing they didn't share was Eidolon's theories about the 'mythical lost civilization' she was constantly on about.

" Here !"; Eidolon pointed on the entrance.

The thing was still half obscured by the deep sands, but the top part that was sticking out of the bottom of the digger's hole gaped with an assaulting darkness of its interior. And most importantly of all, the 'door-frame' made of square blocks of stone was inscribed with big carved markings of an unknown scripture. The work was beautiful in its precision and detail.

" I have never seen this kind of alphabet before… "; Jack inspected it closer

" If it is an alphabet. "; Yrona spoke skeptically

" Why don't we have a look inside ?"; Eidolon grinned at them, too awed to pay attention to Yrona's doubts :"What do you say ?"

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