Chapter 45 - Legend
Talmud returned during the daylight hours with some workers and unearthed the entrance to the tomb. He understood the unease of his men because he experienced it for himself, but he kept them in line. A week of work cleared the entrance and exposed a crudely built wall that didn’t match the surrounding workmanship.
The vampires explored the city as far as they could and found many interesting trinkets. Talmud had a friend with an interest in antiquities who studied ancient civilizations through the artifacts they left behind, and they left their finds in Talmud’s care. Trinkets had no value to them, but it kept them occupied until they could enter the tomb.
Talmud’s men refused to break down the wall, and the vampires did this task on their own. The Romans left such precise notes that when they entered the cold, musty darkness, they realized this wasn’t the right tomb. The walls were unadorned, bare of paintings, precious metals, inscriptions, clay pots, or any indications of human burial. The wall at the back had no markings, no warnings, and led nowhere.
Rowan found what amounted to a map of the tombs painted on one of the rear walls. A single panel created with precision by a master hand.
“According to this map, there were fifteen tombs. Ten kings, three Queens, a prince, an empty tomb and something you should rather see for yourselves,” Rowan revealed. Her time with Alena and Marcus taught her to read some glyphs.
Unlike the other tombs, the one in the center was unmarked in yellow gold but depicted in black onyx with no indication if the occupant was either male, female or a child, and it seemed somehow sinister.
“If this is the unoccupied tomb, then it stands to reason that the black grave should be the next one over and to the west,″ Rowan concluded.
“Back then they flattened the dunes to put the city and the tombs on level ground, and precisely equidistant to create a triangle with the city as the base,” Marcus deduced, and Alena agreed.
The map gave them the details to narrow down their search. They discovered two more tombs, one nearly destroyed and the other encased in a massive dune, but for one cornerstone.
They marked each as they found it and by the week’s end, they had mapped eleven. One entire tomb seemed to have gone missing, and all that remained of another was rubble. The thirteenth tomb stood partially demolished between two dunes and number fourteen retained only its foundation.
The black tomb proved harder to find. It had to be in the center of the damaged area, but a month passed without them finding it. Talmud ended up having to shift an entire dune with shovels, sleighs, and camels.
Rowan and Alena’s instincts assured them the tomb would be there, but keeping the men convinced without revealing their reasons, took some doing. It had to be there, and it was.
As with the surrounding tombs, the structure above ground almost entirely destroyed. One could almost interpret the damage as if a giant slammed his fist into the ground and destroyed everything in its wake. It took another week to cart the sand from the stairs that led down and stabilize the entrance.
Talmud stood beside them that evening as they were about to enter, and he shook his head in disbelief.
“I never thought we would find it,” he admitted, and Marcus didn’t reveal that he shared the same doubts.
The workers blankly refused to go beyond the steps to the doorway that led below, and the four of them did the final preparations by themselves. Talmud declined to follow them further inside than the lower chamber.
The moment they entered the darkness, they could feel what repelled the men. The inside of the tomb held an unnatural, clammy chill that made the hair on the back of their necks stand upright.
Red markings in the elaborate panels led them, and they made their way carefully through the empty tomb. Rowan had the oddest sensation as if they were walking back in time. The murals were brilliant, much brighter than those of the other graves, but they were all empty, stripped bare of treasure.
The glyphs told of a thriving society and a strong king for whom they had intended this tomb and then, abruptly, as they neared the lower level, the panels ended, abandoned in mid-story. The red markers overpainted some of the original art.
Someone painted a single red warning against the far wall. They followed the stairs down, and these panels were undecorated but painted a dark brownish color that reminded of dried blood.
They discovered the two pillars the scribes described at the bottom of the stairs, just as the depicted on the scroll, but with a broken wall between them. The torches flickered and sizzled in a breeze that didn’t exist, and they glanced at each other.
“I don’t like this,” Alena admitted, but her voice somehow seemed muted as if the walls absorbed the sound. Rowan fought the urge to turn on her heel and run outside like a scared child.
“Neither do I, but we have come this far,” Marcus encouraged. He squared his shoulders, touched his sword, and entered the darkness. Alena followed him without hesitation, but Rowan hesitated. She felt eyes on her and thought Talmud might have joined them, but her torch revealed only shadows. Rowan frowned as dread broiled in her stomach, and she hurried after Alena.
The passage narrowed until they could only walk in single file and Marcus lighted the myriad of torches placed in niches against the walls. They ignited with ease and burned as if someone left them there the day before. Drawings covered the walls and ceiling, but this place appeared much older than the tomb above it.
Painted in blood, ochre, gold, brilliant yellows and faded blues the walls told the story of terror, the tale of a boy who grew to be a man and a monster. In some panels, the artist depicted him as a naked toddler playing in the water and just beside him always a dark shadow; after that, the water reflected his deeds.
Some drawings were almost childlike, but they gained structure and skill as the panels progressed. The tale depicted the terror brought down by a reign of destruction upon his people.
According to the panels he killed his mother with his birth by ripping from her womb before she was ready to give birth. Rowan surmised he had a thing with women because he seemed to hate them for their weakness. Perhaps he blamed his mother for dying?
“Dear heavens,” Alena said with horrified fascination, and Marcus seemed angered by what he saw.
The central chamber had a domed roof, something none of the other tombs had. Near the top of the dome, the artist painted several women, and their features differed. Their wombs appeared ripped through, someone tore their breasts off and plucked their eyes out.
Nearer to the floor the artist rendered his makings; the turned that would live only a short while and then die. In another panel, near the center of the alcove, two women sat placidly at the feet of a man. This almost pastoral scene jarred amid the paintings of dying or dead soldiers, burnt towns, beheaded or maimed men. The tale of the destroyer and his destruction didn’t fit with the peace of that single panel.