Chapter 48 - The Treasure
We took the treasure along with the mummified dead. The volume of riches could make a hundred men wealthy beyond all understanding. Gold, silver, artifacts, and jewels of incredible clarity, filled thirty wagons. We ignored the curse at the command of our superiors, but we would pay the price in their stead.
Every night our number dwindled one by one as men disappeared without a trace. We searched, and even as we did, we suffered more losses.
We had to move, for if we stayed there would be none of us to deliver this bounty to our master, would that we died in the desert.
We reached Rome, and of the hundred men who trekked into that cursed desert, only ten remained and never did we see our dark avenger.
They stored the treasure inside the palace of Caesar, and in his storeroom. On the first night, ten guards disappeared. The palace staff also found two maidens slaughtered and disfigured.
For a fortnight it continued and then the curse spread. Thirty of Ceaser’s best gladiators vanished from the Coliseum, and the trainers found all Ceaser’s prized beasts dead in their cages, even the tigers and great brown bears.
Caesar ordered the treasure returned to the desert, and he commanded that we destroy the black tomb.
Three hundred men marched into the desert, and fifty perished before we reached our destination. We brought with us kegs of Black Powder from China and a man that to work this dark magic.
We placed a hundred barrels of powder in the Black Tomb, but it only removed the upper structure, and we realized that we had far miscalculated the building prowess of these ancients. The tomb next door suffered grave damage and some of the others. Shrapnel and debris killed ten men despite our distance from the explosion.
We foolishly stored the treasure in the underground tomb, and now sand and debris blocked the entrance. We had to dig open the passage to finish our task. Twilight already settled, and we awaited the morning.
We woke to find the man from the east gone, along with fifty of our men. We discovered their decapitated bodies in the plain before the city. Something inhuman had ripped off their heads to impale them on their spears. They also planted the weapons in neat rows, precisely equidistant, in a mocking square formation.
Some men saw this and deserted. There were only fifty of us left when we opened the passage to the tomb. When darkness fell, we built a great fire, and we waited.
Come morning, only thirty remained. Our adversary took twenty men from among us during the night. We reached the tomb and found it empty. We thought the deserters stole it, but there was no way to have carried it. Most of the kegs of powder also went missing.
We searched nearby tombs but found nothing. There was no point in trying to destroy the underground chamber without the correct amount of gunpowder. We had released this evil into the world, and we did not have the means to stop it. We situated ourselves inside a tomb and took the remaining powder with us. Our adversary would not get to us.
At this stroke of midnight, we heard a terrible wailing noise outside. I ran to see where the men were that cried so but ordered my men to remain, and five disobeyed by following me.
We found the men dead. Their arms and legs ripped from their bodies, the wounds sealed by a heated sword. Their attacker cut their throats, but they barely bled. Too late, we realized the mistake we made. Behind us, someone ignited the powder. We were alone, and I admitted to myself that I expected that we would not survive this desert. More than four hundred men died in vain.
Come morning; I was alone. I write this to warn those who would find this place. It seems my tormentor left me alive to finish my account.
Last night I thought I glimpsed it, half man and half something else. His terrible glaring blue eyes settled on me, and when he grinned, I spied fangs like that of a wolf. It spoke to me in my sleep. He instructed me to hide this account, and that it will be all of me that will remain for those that follow.
It informed me that I write this log for an unknown man and the two women with him. He gave me a container of ingenious design to keep the manuscript safe. Told me to hide it where only they would look. He compels me to say to you that you would find records of this treasure at the Great Library of Alexandria, but it seems war will destroy it before you come. It occurred to me to spite the creature and burn this account, but a beautiful woman appeared to me in my sleep, and she implored me to stay my hand. The future of humanity lies in your hands.
Reading those words became a soul-chilling experience to Rowan. Aurelius wrote his letter to them. Although they loosely translated and skipped much of the detail, as if he touched them from beyond the grave.
“Who found this?” Marcus asked.
“Rowan,” Alena answered.
“How?” Marcus asked the obvious question, but the answer wasn’t an easy one.
“We felt drawn to the empty tomb and repelled by the other. Rowan figured there should be a good reason. Aurelius hid it in a compartment in the wall,” Alena explained. Marcus looked at her long and hard.
“If you have any more secrets, tell me now,” he demanded, and they dared not glance at each other. His calm tone of voice did not deceive them. Marcus’ words were an ultimatum. He suspected something. It was there in his eyes. He assumed the truth, and they confirmed his impressions.
“You already know, Marcus,” Alena admitted with a tired sigh, and his eyes burned with anger.
“Ariana has a connection with us,” Rowan tried to distract him, and he knew it, but what she said made him frown.
“And if she’s connected to us, so is he,” Alena uttered the words that both of them avoided even thinking.
Rowan turned her head as if she heard some faint inner voice and Alena seemed troubled by some thought that occurred to her. Marcus watched them, and only his concern kept his anger in check.
“Only you can sever that connection,” Rowan supplied, and Marcus became even grimmer. “Replace it,” she clarified.
“We’re in danger Marcus,” Alena added with the air of someone tired beyond words, “but you owe us nothing. We betrayed you. I betrayed you,” Alena admitted, and they sensed his anger flare, even as they saw it happen.
“I owe you nothing?” Marcus asked with deadly calm.
“You are my responsibility, both of you. Your father left everything to me, and that included both his daughters. I treat you fairly. I allowed you to be the little princess, and I let her be the angry stranger. Both of you betrayed me,” Marcus ground out with such anger that his teeth showed.
Rowan would have protested, but the bigger picture became clear to her. Someone orchestrated every move they made since before Alena and Marcus met her. Helena manipulated them from beyond the grave, and Ariana had a hand in molding their destiny. She did not doubt that no matter what happened tonight, this letter sealed their fates and set their path.