Chapter 3 ; Hidden
The air within the shaft seemed thick with claustrophobia, or maybe it was just the effect the light of their torches had on the long undisturbed dark. Eidolon, Jack and Yrona paced trough the empty cavern carefully, for snakes, scorpions and other unpleasant creatures had a tendency to reside within such places. As soon as the entrance had been all cleared up, Yrona went first to check the interior :
" A natural made cave. "; she spoke to them :" A crevice in a layer of clay beneath the sands. "
" The entrance isn't natural. "; Jack spoke handing her one of the torches he held
Behind them, Nm'bopo held another torch, leading the company of four diggers in case there was heavy lifting waiting for them up ahead. The cave was dark, hot and dry, with old draft streaming through it towards the freshly opened entrance. Its ceiling was high enough for torches to be razed all the way up, and they danced on the song of the rushing air, singing of the ages that have passed as it hummed along the tunnels.
The diggers were nervous, jumping and twitching on the smallest noise like frightened mice, their eyes darting around rapidly, but Eidolon and her friends were too astounded to notice. Though the cavern was empty so far, it surely concealed great finds deeper within its womb. The entrance itself was a beautiful find, and they even had a word on the subject of somehow taking it with them, instead of simply snapping pictures.
But the more they would explore the cavern, the smaller did their enthusiasm become. Though it was very long and branching off in several places, the cavern was as hollow as any hole within the earth. With her initial excitement faded, Eidolon was slowly losing hope, though it was still too soon to give up. What if tomb raiders had visited this place before the sands covered it up ? This was supposed to be her big find. It was not fair to have it turn out like this.
At once, one of the diggers screamed, making the group turn towards him. His wide eyes dropped to the flour where their torches exposed a black scorpion skittering over the floor and into the dark. And a big black angry bruise appeared on the ankle of the worker who had screamed. In a moment he started shaking, his eyes rolling up into his eyelids, and than he collapsed on the ground, giving off a few more twitches before stilling completely.
Nm'bopo used the but end of his torch to crush the big bug, while Yrona fell on Jack's chest, hiding before the sight.
" I don't know how I missed it, Ms. Barker. "; Nm'bopo spoke :" I was constantly minding every corner. It couldn't have gone past me. "
" We all make mistakes, Bo. "; she told him shaken, swallowing hard to calm herself.
" Just try not to make it again. "; Jack said in a shaken voice holding the weeping Yrona for comfort.
" It is cursed. "; one of the diggers spoke bringing disorder into the group :" We should not have come here… "
" Oh please. "; Jack scoffed skeptically. It made him sound far more resolved this time :" If this bug would signal a curse, the dessert would be the lowest ring of hell by the number of them. "
" Do not mock the power of the dessert, sahib. "; the digger replied frightened :" Sand remembers long after books forget. "
Jack just rolled his eyes and focused on comforting Yrona while Nm'bopo selected two diggers to carry the body back out and give it a proper burial. He than came next to Eidolon who was a bit further off, trying to catch glimpses of what lay in the dark ahead. Accidents like these were inescapable on any expedition, certainly on most of them she had partaken in, and the only way to deal with it was to move on and not let it eat at you. Focuss on the task at hand. Don't get distracted. There would be time to cry later when everyone was out of this place.
" Something isn't right here, Ms. Barker. "; he whispered :" That scorpion seamed to have come out of nowhere. "
" It's ok, Bo. "; she faced him :" No one's blaming you. "
" No, Ms. Barker. It's not that. The floor in this place lay undisturbed for ages. I would have seen signs of its nest or some tracks in the dust. But there was nothing. This cave doesn't feel right. "
She gave him a faint laugh, glancing sideways at him : " Now, don't start with the curse-thing too. There's a perfectly logical explanation for this. It was probably just… My god ! Jack ! Yrona ! Over here !"
Her torch revealed another stone doorway akin to the entrance and she ran through it, followed by Nm'bopo and the rest of their party. The two diggers that remained to carry the body of their dead friend were left behind taking it by feet and shoulders. They had one torch with them, but as they turned towards the entrance, the draft abruptly changed direction. The two men stopped frozen in their tracks as the wind now blew in their faces, moaning in a tone remarkably alive-like.
Just as Jack and Yrona caught up with Eidolon, they came to an abrupt halt. This section of the cave was also not natural. It was a circular room with seven elaborate iron torch holders, holding worm-ridden remains of torches long since decayed into dust. Only a few inches of the handle would remain here and there. And on the floor was a round stone mural with a carving of a six-pointed star. It stretched over the entire floor about twelve to fifteen feet in diameter, and in the center of it was a big symbol that seemed like a man with four arms. Or were the upper two wings ? On each point of this star were also symbols, but unrecognizable, curved and twisted like roots of a tree. All the runes and glyph mentioned were of pure silver, now aflame with its first torchlight in an unknown while.
" It's beautiful. "; Eidolon said :" Look how well it's preserved… "
" I have never seen the like… "; Jack said slowly, kneeling down to examine the border of the huge mural. Every line and edge was covered with delicate writing of a beguiling origin which made him dizzy to follow.
He was about to touch the carving, but suddenly a scream from the outer tunnels made them all stop in their tracks. The two diggers that were supposed to carry the body of their dead friend away, came running and shouting, almost colliding with Jack and Yrona on their way here. Nm'bopo managed to stop them before they would cause any damage to the site, but the force of men on the run made all three of them fall back and hit one of the six surrounding symbols near the tip of its star's angle.
" What is the meaning of this, men ?"; Jack almost shouted
" Ghost, sahib !"; One of them spoke :" This place is cursed ! We… "
Before he could finish the sentence, a sound of grinding stone resonated around the room. Only than did they notice that when Nm'bopo and the two diggers fell down, they had actually pressed the symbol like a button, triggering some ancient mechanism.
Floor started to shake making them back away with caution. Tremors caused some of the ancient torch holders to fall out of the walls followed by thin streams of sand and dust that pored in through the gaping holes. Fear and confusion held them all spellbound as the center of the star with the symbol of the winged man slowly parted open and a big pedestal lifted it self out of its dark embrace. For a while longer the place quivered and then with a distinct click the ancient mechanism subsided and all went quiet once more.
Eidolon, Jack and Yrona were the first to get to their senses. Hesitantly approaching the pedestal, they observed the treasure it held upon it. A skeletal corpse. They all gaped once they realized that it was clothed in a medieval-style armor, now all rusty and dented by the gnawing of time. This whole room was thousands of years old, and they were looking at a medieval knight from fifteenth or sixteenth century.
" It's… impossible !"; Jack uttered
Though only brown bones remained, some things were plain and obvious. For one, it was a female knight, considering the shape of the chest plate. Rust still didn't eat all the traces of silver from her armor, nor did the dents erase all the strange markings and letters from the metal surface. The body was laid on her back, with arms, now only dark bony twigs, crossing on the chest. She was remarkably preserved and never before have they seen her like.
" There must be an explanation… "; Yrona spoke, still a bit shaken :" This female knight got lost and… "
" In Africa ?"; Eidolon asked her dubious
" Than what do you suggest ?"; she asked her
" I suggest, "; Eidolon said :" we take her out of here, and study her on the… wait… What's this ?"
She reached to the armor and very gently lifted a leather cord that went around the corpse's neck. A few torches were barely sufficient for a chamber of this size, so the thin leather cord was barely visible. Still, Eidolon's slim fingers exposed it for all to see as she followed it around the corpse's neck. A necklace. And the hands, or what was left of them, were hiding and holding its jewel secured on the chest plate.
Nm'bopo frowned. Something in the fact that she saw it puzzled him. At the time he couldn't quite put his finger on it, and he had more pressing matters, like settling the two deranged diggers down.
Jack and Yrona stood next to Eidolon, all of them surrounding the stone pedestal with the knight's corpse. Hesitating briefly, Eidolon gently grabbed hold of the corpses arms and with some soft cracking, parted them to reveal what hey had been concealing ; a round medallion of blackened silver with a pattern of well-polished copper flowing upon its surface. It was the size of a bigger coin, the copper pattern it self ambiguous, but clearly the same one that was pressed to trigger the secret mechanism.
" We must get out of here, Sahib. "; the frightened digger urged nervously from the back :" There is evil in this place that should be left alone. "
But the three Europeans paid him no mind. Yrona and Jack were studying the armor and the body. Jack was trying to determine any similarities with armors from other periods, and Yrona was trying to chip a chunk of granite off the pedestal for later analysis. That had to be done with extra care, not to make a dent at something as pristine as this.
And as for Eidolon… Her eyes were fixed on the knight's skeleton. She suddenly became aware of nothing but her own heartbeats. The medallion glittered in the torch-suppressed dark like a thing of priceless beauty, the proof of her claims of the lost civilization. But it was somehow more than that. The air grew very cold all of the sudden and somewhere in the back of her mind, fear started to resurface again, though something blocked it from her awareness and she couldn't recognize it for what it was. Her thoughts were spinning over every inch of the small disk on a leather cord. She was almost terrified of it, and than again, inescapably drawn to it. She wanted to take it. Suddenly, she didn't care about the knight or the armor or anything else this place could divulge. The medallion was calling to her longingly, almost by her name, causing her trembling fingers to slowly release the skeletal arms and go for it…
A rumble made it all go away in a snap, and Eidolon became aware of Yrona saying something… What did she say ? It sounded like…
" Whoops !"; Yrona shouted as a large chunk of the crude stone cracked broken off under her chisel and thumped on the floor in a small roll barely missing her.
But it wasn't the cause of the rumble. Now missing a sizable peace, the pedestal was lighter and the difference in weight triggered another mechanism. And the entire room started groaning in ominous shakes and trimmers, a trap for whoever would dare to remove the knight from her bed.
" Everybody out now !"; Jack shouted
The two diggers ran first, shouting about ghosts, and the rest weren't far behind. Eidolon was still confused, like her thoughts were somewhere far away, but she reached out and took Nm'bopo's hand which pulled her to reality. After that she just ran as the cave shook, collapsing behind their stride in a tremendous noise. She couldn't see the others, just Nm'bopo and all she could do was follow his silhouette, flying on wings of fear.
Finally the two of them jumped out back into the heat of the day, followed by a cloud of exploding dust and the horrific rumble finally ceased.
Rising her head off the sandy ground and coughing some of it out, Eidolon tried to still her beating heart. That had been... too close. Far too close… As she looked around, she saw Yrona and the frightened diggers safe, but suddenly she realized that Jack wasn't there. Yrona seemed to reach the same realization instantaneously. Abruptly, she forced herself to her feet and gazed at the entrance shaft which still spewed out thick clouds of dust.
" …Jack… "; Yrona whispered horrified
" We… we must get him out of there. "; Eidolon shivered, her eyes wide :" We can't just… "
Coughing came from within the shaft, cutting her off.
" Jack !?"; Yrona shouted jumping :" Jack, can you… "
" No need… "; his answer came from within the cave, followed by more coughs
Slowly dragging himself out, he emerged through the curtain of dust clouds, winded and grinning like a loon. He was covered from head to foot in a coating of yellow and gray dust, and there was a trickle of blood running down the corner of his lip. And than they realized why he had fallen behind ; Over his shoulder was a bunch of old bones held together only by straps of armor. He'd saved the knight from being lost to them, and was carrying it like a sack on his back. But all the mishandle and damage he may have caused to this relic never crossed the minds of his friends.
" You bastard !"; Yrona shouted at him :" Do you realize how close you came to killing yourself !?"
" Don't you ever do something like that again !"; Eidolon snarled at him :" Do you hear me !? Not for me ! Not for the bloody Atlantis ! Not for anything !"
Jack stood there looking at them, then he dusting himself off a bit and brushed the blood off his lips with his knuckle.
" Well, if you two are done thanking me, "; He spoke annoyed :" I think I will go and take a bath… "
He just dropped his load of armored bones at their feet and left them gaping after him.