This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
There was a legend about an ancient fortress so vast, located on a remote island known as Calyra, a small sandy region hidden just at the very border of Egypt. The entrance appeared to be held by three large pillars, or at least that was the archway, the doorway behind appeared to be barricaded by wisps of corroded wood. The building was made up of sun baked bricks, Nile mud and straw, creating a giant sandstone townhouse in fact. It looked much like a dwelling even fit for the Pharaoh; it took the appearance of a luxurious palace. The Egyptians were able to build houses as big as they wanted, as long as they used their own resources and had enough land space to build on. Most palaces built in the past would have crumbled into remnants by now, much like this one, which was no surprise to the adventurer herself. There was once a rumour about this desert once having a sandstorm so wild; it tore the majority of the island to smithereens, although there were still sections of this one palace still standing on the sandy surface. Lara assumed it was greatly taken care of, despite that most of it was now in vast rubble. There was once a throne room located here, vast lounges, even chambers crammed with various golden treasures. Lara wondered if those treasures were still present, anywhere to be discovered.
There was a mystery to undertake, a brand new discovery to pursue, as there were many secrets concealed beneath the tale of this supposed ruler. Upon venturing the ruins of Calyra, an ancient temple residing in the land of sand, surprisingly enough Lara could already sense a lash of evil bloom within the atmosphere the moment she stepped closer into the crumbled entrance hall of the catacomb. There was a slight rumour about a demonic force currently dwelling within these ruins, the commander of the land, this “Arcanimus” had indeed risen once more. Lady Arcanimus, a woman who also went by the alias, Neuro Stone, she appeared to be this land’s so-called shadow empress. The only piece of information that Lara gathered was that this ghost was known to be an energy which hailed from the times of yore, or at least her spirit still roamed this day, even managing to sink beneath the skin of an innocent young female. She possessed the ability to control the dreams of humans, she had the power to enter, explore, manipulate, and thus control the dreams of those that are greatly vulnerable. It was most likely how she created her many followers, by planting her vile sorcery within the minds of others during their slumbers. She was known as the island’s Queen, the land’s ruler. However, this was merely the beginning. Lara had yet to begin her journey as a whole, and there were many clues she had yet to discover. How did this Queen Arcanimus return? Who even was she? And who were her followers? As for now, Lara was in company with a rather fierce commando; Claire Farron was her name, a woman known to be a rather skilled fighter. This solitary young woman only ever spoke little of herself; even her true name remained a mystery. She was known to others simply as ‘Lightning’, even Lara never knew of her true name. She was a woman with wavy rose-coloured locks, and pale aqua hues which simply beamed with bravery. Lara had known her for a long while now, ever since they first met a few years ago at the unseen temple of the New World where warriors alike were destined to come together as one, and now they both agreed to work as a team in order to overcome this demonic presence threatening the land of Calyra. If not, this presence could soon take-over the entire world, and possibly even the depths of the universe. After all, this mission was given to them by the weeping goddess of the waking world.
Claire was briefed by Lara of their mission and that they needed to find out the true source of Arcanimus’s return, this was not the first time Claire had to tangle with a so-called “evil goddess”, nor was it her first time in Calyra either. As they made their way for the island’s temple ahead, Claire flicked a quick glance over towards Lara.
“So then Lara, have you ever fought a demon before?” Claire was curious as to what Lara could do if she was to ever encounter one alone.
“Once,” Lara answered dryly, returning a response with a bitter smile appearing. “Although that was a long time ago, I’ve had the experience at least.” Lara added.
Demons, they were merely pests which continued to pry on the living, they continued to dwell in a world of life where they know they do not truly belong. Their presence was unsettling; it was not welcome in the waking world. Even though Lara had once experienced battling a demonic energy, she was still fairly new to them as a whole. Lara assumed Claire was skilled with battling demons, especially with all the tales she heard from the other during their journey to Calyra. With Claire fighting by her side, Lara knew they would reach their desired outcome in one piece. They were destined to restore safety to Calyra, and especially to the land of Egypt. As of now, they began their journey through the ruins of an abandoned building, now nearing towards a barricaded door. Lara was positive there was at least some evidence located here regarding Arcanimus, after all there were many unusual documents scattered about the area.
Claire was glad that Lara at least had some experience but was also glad to be called in; she was pleased Lara even viewed her in such an honourable way. She was a worthy dame, a countess skilled with a sharp blade. Claire cracked a small smirk as Lara told her of her fight against a demonic spawn, still being fairly new to demon hunting as well.
“Well it’s a good thing you requested my help, it’s been a while since I got to stretch my legs.” Claire answered sardonically.
As they were approaching the barricaded door, Claire felt a rather heavy presence within the area, as if it was enclosing the entire pile of rubble even. Claire could feel a powerful energy so vile, a negative presence. The small smirk curved along her rims soon widened with confidence, shortly before she stepped closer towards the wooden slacks of the door, knocking on the nearest scrap mindlessly.
“...I wonder if anybody is home, I’m sure they’d feel delighted to have company waiting at their door.”
Of course, the negative vigour was strong within this region of miscellany, Lara could sense it dwell just behind the cracked walls of the current extent that her and Claire loitered in. Lara knew something was here, she could feel it within the building’s atmosphere. She could even hear the silent chiming of the chandelier fixed on the ceiling above, dinging and dinging with the serene airstream. She knew nobody would answer the door, no matter how many clouting knocks Claire gave the wisp of wood almost hanging from the barricaded door. Lara merely knew that the dead were the only ones listening, surrounding them even.
“Hold on...” Lara whispered, moments after averting her gaze towards the west angle of the ceiling above.
Upon viewing the decorative crimson curtain trailing down the nearby wall just at the west of her, Lara immediately shot up towards the torn fabric and caught the material in her grasp. Now hooked against the wall, clenching onto the old-fashioned drape, Lara started to slowly climb the mucky cloth. Lara believed there was an access residing at the very crown of this extent, as she noticed a ledge and opening just above the room’s door. Lara merely wondered if there was a way to enter the other side, the extent next door.
“...Hey, follow me!”
Upon listening to the other, Claire soon backed up from the entry with a small shrug of her shoulders, moments before proceeding to approach the sun-bricked wall. Her fingertips simply traced along the crimson fabric at first, before glancing towards the barricaded doorway another time, a faint sigh escaping her lips.
“I guess nobody’s home... that’s too bad.” Claire uttered shortly, now glancing up at Lara who currently had their gaze focused on the ceiling above, Claire’s aqua hues wandered towards the area Lara was focusing on, witnessing the same ledge as Lara saw. As soon as Lara said her piece, asking Claire to follow her footsteps, Claire finally nodded in response. Great minds think alike, as Claire thought.
“All right, I’m coming!” With determination now blooming inside, Claire soon grabbled onto the crimson curtain as well, now beginning to follow Lara by ascending the cloth also.
The building that they were exploring appeared to be a fortress of some kind, even a legend rested in history about this island once overcoming a mighty sandstorm long ago during the times of yore. Even though most of this fortress was crumbled into remnants over the many grains of sand, a few rooms were still standing and in one piece as it seemed, although the many sun dried blocks surrounding the area were in a pile of sandy ruins. The curtain in which Lara was climbing, it appeared to be trailing along a wall made up of Nile mud and sun dried bricks, given that this fortress was indeed from the past. There was no wonder as to why an evil presence continued to dwell within this palace; it was a home simply for the dead after all. There must be a source of at least something breathing behind the barricaded doorway, Lara was sure of it, even if it was possibly one of the goddesses’ loyal followers.
With each gasp within her throat after every attempt of climbing this tacky cerise drape, Lara neared and neared towards her desired spot at last. From brick to brick, rising towards the crown of the entrance, Lara now reached up with her right-hand to grab onto the ledge just above her. After pulling herself up, now out of breath, she reached down in order to offer Claire a helping hand.
Claire watched as Lara climbed the curtain, glancing about the room that they were present in, it was clearly an ancient palace and must have been somewhere for those who praised Queen Solaris to pray in the past. Claire shot glances here and there once more, still sluggishly ascending the curtain herself, following the other warrior above her. The moment Claire noticed Lara finally reach the top and thus lend a hand to pull Claire up, Claire soon gave a fleeting nod and started to climb the drape a tad more hastily now, soon reaching up to seize Lara’s hand. Now standing on the ledge, Claire witnessed a strange crumbled statue that resembled something from the past, resembling a beast that only the ruler could tame. Claire somewhat feared what lied behind these walls, although she never allowed fear to take-over her thoughts.
“...Could a serpopard still be living here?” Claire questioned herself, inching towards the ruined statue of twinned beasts; their long necks were coiled around one another’s to resemble a loop. Claire was curious; she turned to face Lara approaching behind, although without a word slipping from her lips. Lara already caught sight of the sculpture.
The creature was a combination of two animals, featuring the body of a leopard; it also had a long neck and head representing the serpent. The creature’s neck, however, was unusually long. It bears the characteristic tuft of the species at the end of the tail, there are no spots, the round-eared head most closely resembles the lioness rather than a serpent, because serpents do not have ears, and there are no typical serpent features such as scales, tongue, or head shape. The serpopard represented “a symbol of the chaos that reigned beyond Egypt’s borders”, which only the king must tame. They were normally shown conquered or restrained, as in the Narmer Palette, or shown attacking other animals.
“It seems like something here still breathes...” Lara assumed, perceiving the crumbled statue herself, moments before flicking a quick glimpse towards Claire beside her. “...Do you think something could still possibly be living here? I mean, other than this so-called Arcanimus, do you think a living creature of some sort could be somewhere nearby?” Lara questioned, casting yet another gawp towards the sculpture before them.
Lara had heard many tales about this citadel, although only a mere summary of its history, even its supposed divinity. Of course, the only piece of information that Lara knew was only a brief outline of this sandy islet, although enough to look into. Even though the history still remained unknown, only fragments of it scattered about here and there within this abandoned wasteland, Lara knew enough at least. Before the two, an unlit torch resided just beside the statue that Claire spoke of, and immediately Lara collected the nearby stick of wood she noticed poking out of the many grains of sand beneath her.
“Flint... we need flint... and possibly something flammable...” Lara muttered quietly, beginning to glance about the narrow extent. Ahead appeared to be only darkness, although enough to see just faintly.
“I have us covered.” Claire stated, seconds before summoning an orange flame just above the palm of her right-hand to light the way, and thus light the dusty torch as well. It was not often that Claire would cast a Fire spell, or use Black Magick even, but this moment seemed worth the use. Now that was handy, Lara thought. As Lara noted the flame bloom within Claire’s palm, she simply smiled in response. As Claire and Lara stepped over the many grains of sand, more of the city’s history could be viewed upon the walls, as hieroglyphs were carved into the sun dried bricks. “Living creatures have been here, it’s obvious to tell, which means there must be at least something- somewhere within this wreck.” Claire was certain at least, as she drove her hand towards the east wall to shine the flame’s glow over it, and thus show Lara what she could see.
Hieroglyphs, that was what she could see, a parade of hieroglyphs along the wall, and also cobwebs.
Even though Claire kindly lit the way using her mana’s power, Lara still equipped the stick of wood for possible later use. It was better to be safe than sorry, that was for sure. The narrow corridor was dark, dusky, and even the ground was covered in not only many grains of sand but also specks of dirt and dust. The stench of the area also smelled like death, and not only the feel of it within the atmosphere. The place was lifeless, it felt bitter. It was not an area to stay put in, that was for sure. Ahead appeared to be a rectangular opening, narrow and south from the hieroglyphic wall, an opening where one could access simply by crouching and thus crawl through. The area appeared to be rather box-shaped, each crook possessing a skeleton of human beings which once breathed in this fortress long ago. Those skeletons were most likely builders in the times of yore, or possibly guards of this fortress, or perhaps even followers of Queen Arcanimus. Lara could almost feel the presence of the many lingering spirits roaming within this area, the bitter coldness of those that passed over, or were even killed by the sandstorm long ago. There was so much history, so much to learn, and Lara was simply intrigued by it.
“I guess they were determined to finish their prayers...” Claire muttered, highlighting the few corpses with the flame’s glow, and scanning not only their bones but also the clothing that simply hanged from their bony figures. Only shorts, cloth used as shorts even, given that they could possibly have been slaves in their time. “...Such a pity.”
“We must not slow down...”
Stooping down to her knees now, Lara breathed in deeply before beginning to slowly crawl into the narrow gap, setting her knees in a gradual motion along the sun bricked surface. It was fortunate that this narrow access was merely small in length, not at all a lengthy passageway, as Lara could perceive the light of the other side. The light, given that something was breathing here for sure, as Lara could just about witness the glow of a torch simply dancing along the far edge of the tunnel. Something was either present within the area next door, or something was expecting Lara and Claire’s company. Aside from the demonic queen, of course, there was something indeed breathing within this remote fortress. Lara merely wondered what it could possibly be. Could there really be a serpopard on the other side?
“You smell that?” Claire questioned the other, catching a smell of the breath of whatever was waiting for them, she watched Lara enter the small passageway, her aqua-coloured hues wandering towards Lara’s behind, she could not help but simply smirk at the sight before averting her gaze elsewhere. She noticed something on the ceiling above, it was a story of a man with some sort of what seemed to be a samurai sword and he was striking the blade into the ground, whilst the next engraving looked like a bunch of shadows fading into a large rectangular object. Claire tilted her head to one side, observing the many diverse carvings within the ceiling. It was a shame that Lara was already crawling through the tunnel and not here to see what Claire could see. “Hmm... I wonder what this was about...” Claire muttered quietly to herself, only to glance back at Lara now inside the narrow access, only being able to perceive her lower legs at this point.
Nearing towards the end of the tunnel, Lara chanced upon a rather vast span the second she reached the opening at last. The room looked much like a lounge, rather luxurious with four lit torches in each distant crook, there was even a chandelier fixed on the heart of the ceiling above. The ground was decorated with patterned black and white flooring, polished black and white tiles following one another to complete the design as a whole. At the far west appeared to be two sets of crimson curtains trailing down the pale yellow wallpaper, two sets distant from each other as a fireplace was situated in between. At the south appeared to be a vast staircase, covered by a cerise rug trailing up the flight of steps, taking the appearance of a red carpet. At the east appeared to be a parade of bay windows, four of them in line with one another. Each window was at least eight-foot in height and extending to the ground. They looked much like doors, although instead they were merely window panes, and each window was separated by a wide mass of wall and also pot plants. Finally, beneath the chandelier appeared to be a greenish settee decorated with two pairs of golden-coloured cushions. As a whole, the span walls were painted with whites, yellows, even tads of silver. Although surprisingly enough there were no specks of dirt or dust anywhere, which gave Lara the thought that something was indeed living here. The room looked comfortable, that was for sure, far too deluxe compared to the palace’s front entrance.
“Oh, would you look at that...” Lara whispered at the sight, her lips parted somewhat in disbelief as she glanced around the area slowly from the narrow passageway, noticing many deluxe fixtures here and there, even two spurting fountains abutting either side of the lengthy staircase. The tall torches were lit, the chandelier was bright, and even a very faint piano could be heard playing within the background of the extent. Something lived here, that was for sure.
“What is it? What do you see?” Claire called out to Lara from behind, as she could only imagine just how terrible the room might look seeing as it was connected to this wreckage, she wondered if there were cobwebs or possibly more skeletons in fact. Claire wondered what was waiting on the other side for them, what Lara had spotted, what she was observing. “Do you see what was breathing? What does it look like?” Claire would again call out as she was still on the other side of the gap, her face inches away from Lara’s behind. Oh dear.
“Not everywhere is in debris...” Lara noted, before shooting a faint glimpse over her shoulder towards the rose-haired female, although not being able to fully perceive her due to the narrow surroundings which enclosed them. “There is actually a palace here.” Lara added, seconds before averting her stare towards the north of her once again. “Chalices, fountains, a fireplace, there’s even a couch in the centre.” Now making her way out of the small passageway, she soon rose to her feet the minute she finally stepped out of the narrow gap, and thus hastily brushing down her clothing to rid of any dust or dirt. Lara was simply amazed by the sight, amazed by the many decorative fittings which decorated the lounge room. Deluxe, luxurious, Lara was almost certain that something rich lived here.
“I’m coming over, okay?” Claire uttered shortly, whilst making her way through the small opening now, and thus following Lara into the newly discovered room. She crawled out to see exactly what Lara was astonished about, and as she had no other way to express her thoughts other than to simply place her hands onto her slender hips; she possessed only a look of awe upon her features. “Wow... the owner of this... must be wealthy...”
Somebody rich lived here indeed, Lara agreed with a faint nod of her head.
There were many treasures scattered here and there, such as gold-plated chalices, glittering relics, even small piles of jewellery scattered upon the three small end-tables which divided each bay window in the east. This palace was worth a fortune at least, although unfortunately a wicked presence currently ruled the dwelling. But, then again, every wealthy habitat did always seem to have a frightening, and yet a mystifying tale resting beneath it, or at least that was what Lara gathered by her many previous discoveries.
“I wonder if this goddess owns this place...” Lara muttered, shooting a glance up towards the many crooks of the ceiling above, and then towards the sparkling chandelier located within the centre. It looked beautiful, all of it did. “But, how could something so demonic, so vile, be living in a place as grand as this?” Of course, worthy possessions such cash, diamonds, jewels, rubies, and the like. Power would simply take-over one’s ego for some time in the past, even within this day even. It was no surprise to Lara that something so dark would own something so valuable, so grand, it often suited their ghastly personalities after all.
What could be dwelling in a deluxe fortress such as this? Other than the wicked Arcanimus of course, unless the young girl that she possessed was living here instead. Since after all, Queen Arcanimus was an evil spirit, as Lara heard.
“It’s quite likely that this place could be part of the citadel, or...” Claire paused for a moment, looking about her surroundings before flicking yet another glance over towards Lara beside her, once more. “We could have just entered a gateway of some kind, knowing the location of this mission I’d say those odds aren’t too ridiculous...” Of course, Claire would not be surprised even if there was a gateway located somewhere here or there, although she dismissed the thought with a quick shrug of her shoulders. Could there possibly be an unseen gateway located somewhere within this fortress, a gateway in where Lara and Claire were both engulfed in without realizing? Claire doubted the thought for sure, even though she could sense something truly odd about this place, about this entire dwelling even. As bizarre as it might sound, an unseen gateway could perhaps be a possibility within this situation.
“You could be right...” As peculiar as it sounded, Lara simply nodded in agreement with Claire’s assumption. Due to how odd this journey was thus far, including the time they travelled to this remote island by a helicopter, travelling from the New World and to the borders of Egypt that was. Lara would not be too surprised either, even if they were engulfed in a possible unseen gateway. Being an archaeologist, Lara had experienced bizarre discoveries in the past, including the mission of the Bermuda Triangle. If there was a gateway located somewhere here or there, Lara would not be too surprised by the thought at least. This wreckage resided within a remote islet after all, surrounded by debris and sand, although the inside of the fortress was nothing but a grand escape. Who knew, an unseen gateway could be a possible answer for this state indeed.
Upon viewing the staircase residing just at the far west of them now, Lara started to approach the vast flight of steps ahead. “We should go.”
Lara proceeded to lead the way, only to chance upon a similar crumbling statue as the one Claire had witnessed previously, another statue which belonged to the same ancient legend, it was very similar to the serpopard statue after all. Lara assumed the opponent was nearby, or perhaps even an ally, she assumed they were watching, watching both Lara and Claire. It felt like a plan was already hidden behind this entire situation, Lara felt like she was being followed and not only by her companion, Claire. The corridor ahead only seemed to darken and thus cast a ghastly shadow on the way, turning into nothing but a dark vapour. The statue of the serpopard as seen previously at the very peak of this path, odd plots and occurrences popping up here and there throughout the entire investigation, and not to forget the whole idea of the demonic Queen Arcanimus behind this whole dilemma. What could crop up next?
“Something must be close... them even...” Lara believed, swallowing her own spit at the mere thought of it.
The thin hallway only seemed to grow darker and thus murkier as they ventured to where they are now, another statue similar to what Claire witnessed before, just like in the other area behind the rectangular tunnel. Could the two statues be connected, perhaps? If so, that would only suggest some sort of demonic creature was possibly heading their way already, or even waiting for them on the other side of this shadowy extent.
“Lara, get your guns...”
Without another second to waste, Claire withdrew her blade moments before re-adjusting her position to strike a pose for an upcoming battle, a smirk soon crawling along her rims another time. Claire was determined to fight whatever was waiting on the other side of the black mist.
“Come out, show yourself.” Claire muttered, narrowing her eyes, the aqua colour within them only seeming to beam with determination. What could possibly be waiting for them on the other side of this darkened corridor? Claire could only imagine, but they both were certain what it could possibly be.
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