Deep in the evening, a beautiful nine-foot tall silver-furred feline woman wearing an attractive sleeveless knee-length tan dress sat at a table, pen in hand with a blank journal open in front of her. A soft light illuminated her journal sitting on the desk in her secluded study deep within an ancient fortress far older than the earliest known civilizations in Sumer and Egypt...a cyclopean monument hidden in the darkest corners of the Andes Mountains far from the prying eyes of modern man. Her intense green eyes stared at the blank page as she gently tapped her pen against the table. She curled her long blazing-red hair tinted with a hint of gray around the slender index finger of her other hand. Finally deciding how to begin, a smile crept across her lips as she started writing.
“As surely as night follows the day, a profound change is coming. I see it in the sky; feel it in the Earth, smell it on the air. Ancient forces lost and forgotten since the beginning of time stir once again in the darkness...the perpetual enemies of Light and Shadow introducing their catalysts into this mortal plane, altering the very reality of the world as the humans know it. That which once was has been lost for there are no humans living who remember it; lost to the forgotten ages of men; erased from their memory by the very Forces of Light and Shadow that reshaped this world in their eternal conflict, cutting off this most ancient and cursed land from the rest of the world ages ago.
“Now those same forces stir once again from their long slumber, introducing once again their catalysts into the mortal plane as they position for the next great battle after ages of truce. That which once was lost will be known again, and the world will never be the same; remade as it was in the beginning. The end is declared in the beginning. Prophecies of old shine once again in the darkness as the Light and Shadow war for supremacy, revealing the true nature of the universe with its infinite mysteries and possibilities with their war eternal. The Gods of Light, Shadow, and the most Ancient Darkness have battled repeatedly on this insignificant blue planet in a remote corner of the universe over its inhabitants and resources since the dawn of time itself. At times, they forget their grudges to fight as allies only when the darkest, foulest, most ancient and dire of threats to all life rise from the deepest depths of the blackest abyss of Chaos to decimate all life in the universe and beyond.
“This universe is vast; its beauty stunning; its mysteries unfathomable, and many of its secrets inexplicable. While seldom revealing answers, the universe is more than happy to confront us with new questions. Why the insignificant little blue planet called Earth by its inhabitants inevitably becomes the focus of these battles between these powerful beings of Light, Shadow, and the most Ancient Darkness may be the greatest mystery of all. Why do the great powers of the universe and beyond covet this little planet so much? When was the beginning to all this? When did the Shadow and the most Ancient Darkness stir again? When did the cogs of the most ancient FATE turn against humanity? Is it because of their potential as a species to rise and challenge these powers directly, or is it because they merely lie in the way of these insidious beings? Why do the ancestral gods of old, aliens, monsters, angels, and demons constantly interfere and fight over this fledgling species on this insignificant little world? I know not, just that my small contribution to this chapter of the history of the unique little blue planet known as Earth begins with a single, uniquely strange human called Hannibal Smith, who is known as the Beowulf to his enemies. Ancient prophecies suggest he is the Sword of the Ancient of Days, destined to reclaim the Amacian throne of his ancestors from the traitorous Demon Emperor that overthrew them during the Days of Darkness in the 1st Age. It’s a role he’s slow to accept or understand; a role he resists even now, yearning for a more peaceful existence.
“I, Leila Carie Karac, Lynxian chronicler of Hannibal’s deeds owe my life and soul to him and his God…the Ancient of Days. They brought me back to the world of the living from the nether worlds after twelve thousand human years of suspended animation, having lived and fallen in the 1st Age during the Days of Darkness immediately before the mythic Cataclysm the people of this age call the Great Deluge. Hannibal’s story is one of terrible violent betrayals, blood, revenge, heartache, pain, and sorrow that span lives, eons, empires, even time itself and dimensions of existence. Even now, he still doesn’t fully comprehend who he is or what he is becoming: the potential alpha of a new species of humanity capable of restoring the balance between the Light and Dark Powers, or destroying it. Therefore, I, along with his new family and his friends help him to find and accept his destiny. As his chronicler, I alone can tell of his saga; a saga that starts long before he found me in my tomb and raised me back into this plane of the living with the power of his God; a power he reluctantly uses at every turn. Eighteen months ago as the end of the 6th Age of Humanity approached, he bade me to begin his tale at his home in the eastern United States as he made his discovery of the Path of the Ancients. As he told me his story in-depth, I came to know this strange, but marvelous human who is unique even amongst his own species; a conundrum of Light and Darkness that defies explanation or description.”
Leila Carie Karac paused her writing as she gathered her thoughts before continuing with Hannibal’s tale; the chronicle of not just a man of the 6th Age of Humanity, but also of a forgotten nation, people, and world from distant antiquity; a lost world from the 1st Age of Humanity.
Chapter 1 Discovery!
In the late afternoon, Harry Clint knocked on the heavy wooden door to the garage of his best friend’s house, peeking in the small window high on the door. As he waited for a reply, Harry habitually checked his jean pockets for his car keys, finding them. A large brown grasshopper jumped from a nearby azalea with white blooms landing on his blue T-shirt. He quickly brushed the insect off with his tough, leathery hands. When no reply came, he ran his hand through his short brown hair with a sigh, glancing at the ominous clouds lowering as a storm approached. The smell of rain perfumed the air with the blooming azaleas. Not a breath of air stirred. His lean bronzed face fell as he pounded on the door. “Come on, Hannibal...I know you’re here,” he mumbled. “You’re the one who called and told me to come over.”
After a few moments, Harry grasped the doorknob and turned, finding it unlocked. “Not smart, Hannibal,” Harry muttered. “You know better than to leave the doors unlocked like this.” He stepped in, closing the door behind him as the air stirred with the coming storm. Seconds later, a peal of thunder shook the garage and the heavens opened in a torrential downpour. “Whoa,” Harry murmured, hearing the rain on the shingled roof of the garage as he looked out the window on the door. The rain fell in sheets, almost obscuring his car in the driveway a mere one hundred fifty feet away. Turning away from the storm, he turned on the lights at the switch next to the door.
Scanning the converted garage with his piercing brown eyes, Harry saw a fifty-year old Caucasian man sound asleep on a recliner sitting near a large drafting table, snoring. The man had tan leathery skin with short black hair and beard prominently streaked with gray. His khaki cargo pants, a gray T-shirt, and socks didn’t escape Harry’s notice. Harry marveled that the storm didn’t wake his friend. A large map marked with a red circle lay on the inclined surface of the drafting table with a magnifying lamp shining a spotlight on the map. Next to the drafting table sat another table with a large topographical replica of a mountain on it. A small table littered with papers, a small lamp, a cap pistol, and a hand-sized solid gold pre-Columbian amulet of very advanced workmanship sat next to the recliner.
Harry’s gaze drifted around the room. A doorway stood near the right corner, leading into the main house. A refrigerator with a small counter/cabinet assembly occupied the far right corner. The far left corner was devoted to a full-equipped weight bench and a large punching bag hanging from the ceiling. In the same area along the far left wall sat a large weapons rack filled with various types of martial arts weapons: swords, Bo-staffs, bokens, spears, etc.... Books of all sizes, shapes, and ages sat on makeshift bookcases filling the walls either side of the weapons rack. Interspersed amongst the books on the shelves were strange ancient artifacts: little statues...some grotesque in appearance, urns with odd writing and illustrations, even small display cases containing ancient weapons and projectile points of stone, copper, bronze, and other metals. Several other cases contained an assortment of coins, medallions, and amulets from ancient times, which included ancient Greek and Roman currency. On the back wall behind the drafting table sat an eight-foot locked cedar chest with a large pile of miscellaneous papers and junk on it. Beside it stood a large table with dozens of other ancient artifacts on it. Nearby on a smaller table sat piles of notebooks and loose paper filled with notes.
“What a mess,” Harry muttered. “Hannibal shouldn’t let this place get so disorganized. How can he find anything in this clutter?” Lightning snapped close by outside the garage, followed by a roar of thunder, startling Harry.
Walking to the drafting table, Harry briefly stopped beside the recliner, glancing at the sleeping man. The mysterious red circle on the map caught his eye, drawing him to the map. Upon closer inspection, he noticed the map covered the Argentina/Chile section of the Andes Mountains with the mountain Cerro Aconcagua circled. While he examined the map, thunder rumbled again, shaking the garage, and waking the sleeping man. Noticing Harry wasn’t paying attention to him, the man inched his hand over to the cap pistol on the table beside him, taking it while Harry wasn’t looking. The rain beating on the roof slowly lessened in intensity, becoming a soft drone inside the garage. A loud snap followed and Harry nearly jumped out of his skin in fright.
Harry wheeled around, finding the man in the recliner laughing so hard he could hardly speak. “God damn it, Hannibal! What the hell did you do that for, you damned twit!” Harry shouted.
“You should’ve seen your expression! It was priceless! I wish I could’ve caught it on film!” Hannibal wheezed with laughter.
“You could’ve done some damage. I could’ve had a coronary!” Harry retorted angrily.
“Oh put a sock in it. I have something that’ll make you forget all about that,” Hannibal said once he calmed down.
“What? Did you find it?” Harry blurted out in a 180-degree turn from anger to excitement.
“Yup...I was up until four this morning doing the last bit of research. It was right where I suspected,” Hannibal replied.
“Which is?” Harry insisted.
“That red circle on the map is your answer...right there,” Hannibal stated.
“How’d you find it?” Harry asked, leaning against the table.
“Remember the amulet I’ve been deciphering for the last week?” Hannibal asked as he reached over to the small table next to him retrieving the golden amulet.
“Yeah,” Harry answered.
“It held the final clue to the whereabouts of Amacia,” Hannibal explained as he rose from the chair, showing Harry the amulet. “Deep within the codes of the amulet are the names of several geographic features defining the boundary of an area that is, according to the legends of every civilization of South America, cursed by an unspeakable evil. Those who go in that area seldom come back. The few that did bore artifacts of an extremely ancient and advanced civilization that existed long before the Colombians, Incas, or even the Olmecs. It may even predate the people who built Tiwanaku.”
“And let me guess, that’s where it is,” Harry replied, pointing to the area and coordinates marked on the map.
“Bingo,” Hannibal chimed.
“Is there anything we should know about this area?” Harry asked. The storm rumbled again as the rain picked up in intensity.
“Just a few things; first off, it’s densely forested and extremely rugged. Also, there are reports of cannibals inhabiting the area. As I said, people have gone in there and never been seen again,” Hannibal reported.
“Cannibals...well, isn’t that special,” Harry chided in a mocking tone.
“Yeah,” Hannibal declared. “The locals say the natives are cannibals and that no one ever goes in there and comes out in one piece. Apparently, they don’t like trespassers.”
“No!” Harry mocked.
“Yeah,” Hannibal mocked back. “But for certain, the path runs through cannibal country, dense swamps, and forests, up mountain cliffs and God only knows where else.”
At that, Hannibal rummaged through one of his desks and produced a large envelope. He opened it and removed its contents: an ancient map made of an unknown material. He handled it gently as he laid it on the map table.
“What’s that?” Harry inquired, not recognizing the artifact.
“It’s a map – an ancient road map,” Hannibal replied as he stood back, looking at the map.
“Where did you get it? I’ve never seen that around here before,” Harry asked.
“We found it in Peru in what we believed was an Incan tomb some years ago,” Hannibal expounded. “At the time of its discovery, I was involved in another excavation nearby with my assistant, David. In fact, David actually found this particular tomb. When he informed me of the tomb away from the main site, I immediately went to investigate and found a tomb unlike any other. Fiendish traps guarded the map. There was a curse carved on the doorway saying that any trespassers would fall victim to the Vehndo.” Lightning snapped and thunder shook the garage when Hannibal mentioned the Vehndo, as if the very mention of their name aroused the wrath of the gods. “Oh...sounds like someone doesn’t like that word,” Hannibal cackled.
“What word is that?” Harry asked.
“Vehndo,” Hannibal replied, after which another snap of lightning cracked nearby followed by a peal of thunder that rattled Harry’s bones. “Look at that; just saying that name riles the storm gods.”
“It’s just coincidence,” Harry declared. “Just because you say the word ‘Vehndo’ doesn’t....” He didn’t finish his sentence as a thunderclap erupted as he said the cursed word.
“Don’t mock what you don’t understand, Harry,” Hannibal warned. “It’s not wise to arouse the powers of Light and Darkness to wrath.”
“Whoa,” Harry murmured. “Maybe we best not say that word again. Each time we say it, the storm gets louder.”
“Good idea,” Hannibal replied. “Even if it is coincidence, powers exist in this universe that defies human comprehension. I’d soon not upset them if I can by repeating that name again since they seem to be reacting to it.”
“So what does this curse do; this curse of the...Vehndo,” Harry asked, deliberately saying the name to see if the storm would respond again. It did with a rumble of thunder that wasn’t as loud as before. Harry laughed. “I guess the storm gods must realize we’re pulling their chain,” he cackled. “That thunderclap wasn’t as loud.”
“Could be,” Hannibal answered, chuckling. “But to answer your question, the curse said that anyone who opened and entered the crypt would fall prey to the curse, which would supposedly infect him like a parasite and drive him completely insane before destroying him by blowing him apart and consuming his soul. Many people consider it the worst curse in South American mythology.”
“Were you there when the tomb was opened?” Harry asked.
“Yes, David and I were the only ones who had enough guts to go in. All the rest of the crew stayed outside because of the curse. I lost him in there, caught in the most fiendish trap I’ve ever encountered. I vividly remember when we first went into that tomb, even though it’s been years since it happened,” Hannibal said softly, starting into a detailed account of the tragedy.
Hannibal and David stood at the front of the newly discovered tomb. Hannibal’s tool-belt with his excavation tools stored in it, hung buckled around his waist. Ancient glyphs and cartouches decorated the posts and lintel of the twelve foot tall by ten-foot wide stone portal. A large winding serpent curled around a great sword that sat stuck in an over-sized skull lay carved into the dark gray andesite door. The crew of workers who uncovered the doorway stood back twenty feet from the entrance, murmuring. David gazed upon the inscription, asking, “What language is that, Hannibal? I’ve never seen writing like this before.”
Hannibal examined the writing closely as he ran his fingers over the carved friezes on the doorway. “It’s a strange combination of Olmec, Toltec, and early Mayan, which is truly unusual this far away from where they originated,” he reported. “They’re from Central America and Mexico. Why we have a tomb with their writing on it down here in Peru is a mystery to me. However, from what I can gather, it says ‘Beware! He who opens this crypt and trespasses on the sacred ground beyond will feel the wrath of the Vehndo.’”
A fearful rumble raced through the crowd of workers upon hearing the curse, causing many to move back farther. “The Vehndo...It’s the Vehndo!” voices echoed through the crowd, terror evident in their tones. Half the workers immediately fled the area, going back to other portions of the excavation site they considered safe.
“The crew is afraid,” David observed.
“And well they should be,” Hannibal declared. “The curse of the Vehndo is one of the worst curses in South American lore.”
“So we shouldn’t expect any help in getting in here,” David surmised.
“That’s right,” Hannibal replied. “I will not force them to participate in this. It wouldn’t be right.” Speaking to the remaining workers, he said, “I know what a terror this curse is so I’ll ask only for volunteers to help open the crypt. You’ll not be seen as a coward for not helping, nor will you be punished. Now who will assist us?”
Three burly men stepped forward; fear radiating in their faces. Hannibal smiled cordially at them. “Thank you, fellas,” he said gratefully. “You shall get a little something extra for stepping up. Now let’s open this thing and see what secrets lie inside.”
“How do we get in?” David asked.
Hannibal ignored him, examining the whole doorway. His hands ran over the stone feeling for any possible triggers. Years of training in ancient languages helped him decipher the different glyphs and cartouches. A smile crept across his lips as he gazed upon an Olmec head frieze. He pushed the eye in and the grinding sound of stone tumblers rumbled from the door. A loud reverberating clunk rang from the door as Hannibal chimed, “Open Sesame.” The massive andesite slab slowly rose, disappearing into the lintel of the stone portal. Seconds later, a hiss arose as a burst of air erupted from the under the door, raising a cloud of dust. Everyone scattered, fleeing the cloud of dust that reeked of ancient death. The foul odor caused some to cough and gag. Within two minutes, the door banged to a stop with the bottom of the door hanging down a couple of inches from the lintel. Beyond the door loomed a passageway ten feet across and twelve feet in height.
Hannibal cautiously peeked into the doorway. “Holy shit,” he crowed. “This door is two feet thick! Guys, get something stout to brace this door. I’m not chancing going in without some precautions.”
“Good call,” David agreed. Then speaking to the workers, he said, “Come on, let’s get to it.”
The workers brought forward two twelve-inch wide steel I-beams just shy of twelve feet long and propped them on either side of the doorway, securing the slab. “Good work, guys,” Hannibal congratulated, wiping the sweat from his face with his dirty sleeve, smearing dirt on his forehead. “Now that we’ve secured the door, who wants to see what no one has seen in more than two millennia?” None of the workers volunteered. “Anyone?” Hannibal asked.
“To be honest with you, Mr. Smith,” the crew supervisor stated. “We’d as soon stay out here as tempt the wrath of the Vehndo.”
“Do you all feel this way?” Hannibal asked of the crew. A loud yes echoed from the workers. Hannibal patted the supervisor on the shoulder.
“It’s okay. I respect your decision,” Hannibal replied with a smile. “Don’t feel ashamed or sorry for your decision. David and I will scout the tomb. We’ll neutralize any perils we come across and you’ll get a share of what we find...if anything.” This went over well with the workers.
Turning to David, Hannibal patted him on the shoulder. “It looks like we get the first peek,” he declared. “Are you ready?”
“Let’s do this,” David crowed, taking a miner’s helmet and crowbar from one of the workers. He switched on the miner’s lamp on the helmet and clipped a square LED flashlight onto his belt so it shined forward.
“Since you’re the one who found this tomb, the honor of first entry is yours,” Hannibal declared, putting on and lighting up the miner’s helmet he got from the crew supervisor. “I’ll be right beside you.” He then clipped a square LED flashlight on his shirt and turned it on. Hannibal then retrieved a large glow stick from the crew supervisor, putting it in his tool belt with the other tools as David sized up the entryway.
David stared into the inky blackness of the doorway...the stench of ancient death slowly dissipating. “Into the belly of the beast,” he commented, stepping boldly into the unknown. Shining his miner’s light around, he noticed the walls and ceiling were covered in strange hieroglyphs. After moving in several steps, he stopped, examining the writing. “What do you make of this?” he asked, “It’s the same symbols over and over again.”
“I noticed that,” Hannibal murmured, looking at the writing. “It’s very strange. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Furthermore, it’s not like the writing on the door. It’s something I suspect is far older. We should be very careful in here. I’m getting a very bad feeling about this place, so be very alert.”
“Yes, sir,” David replied, turning his light to the passage ahead with Hannibal adding his light to the darkness. An eerie moan echoed faintly from the passage. David felt his heart skip a beat as he slowly edged forward. Deeper into the corridor they crept, looking at everything. Twenty yards into the passageway, it became a true tunnel carved from the living rock with no hieroglyphics lining the walls. Roots hung from the sides and ceiling with cobwebs stretched between them.
“You’re doing well,” Hannibal commended. “Keep your eyes open.”
“Yeah,” David answered. “But I’m scared shitless. Something about this place has my blood like ice water.”
“You want me to take the lead?” Hannibal offered.
“Yeah,” David replied. “I’ve explored tombs before, but nothing like this. I’m not sure this is even a tomb.”
“I think you’re right about that,” Hannibal agreed. “It doesn’t feel like a tomb. It feels far more ancient than any of the tombs we found so far.”
The passage sank significantly, diving into the bowels of the earth. “Watch your step, David,” Hannibal warned as his foot shifted on the loose gravel covering the floor. “The floor is getting steep and this loose shit isn’t helping our footing.”
David nodded, following closely. The passage leveled off thirty yards from where it began descending and turned abruptly to the right. Hannibal stopped dead in his tracks, seeing walls covered in hieroglyphs again...the same glyphs repeatedly. His stomach dropped into his boots.
“What’s wrong?” David asked.
“Something’s wrong here,” Hannibal replied. “I’m feeling like we’re being watched. And the writing has returned.”
David stepped forward and looked at the glyphs under the beam of his flashlight and miner’s lamp. “It’s not the same writing we found where we came in and it repeats over and over again. What on earth could it mean?” He drifted deeper into the passage, ignoring the fact that Hannibal remained motionless. “Positively eerie,” he murmured, engrossed in the glyphs.
Hannibal kept shining his light around the passage. The smell of decaying death permeated the tunnel. Suddenly, the air began to move from ahead of them. Hannibal’s miner’s helmet beam fell upon the ceiling above David, showing fine straight cracks in the ceiling a quarter of an inch wide running across the passage. The cracks were regularly spaced six inches apart and were spread over twenty feet of the passage. Hannibal’s eyes grew wide as he snapped the light to wall behind David, seeing the same pattern of thin cracks running both horizontally and vertically.
David turned back to Hannibal with a questioning look, shifting his position. Upon seeing Hannibal’s expression, he asked, “What is it?”
“Don’t move,” Hannibal blurted out as a peculiar snap echoed through the passage followed by a grating sound all too familiar to Hannibal.
“Oh no,” David whispered, abruptly understanding his peril. Before he could finish speaking, thin razor-sharp metallic blades shot out of the ceiling, walls, and floor all around him timed with split second precision, cutting vertically first, then horizontally over the entire twenty foot section. A sickening half-second passed with the sounds of rending flesh and bone as the blades did their diabolical work before retracting. David stood for a moment and then crumbled into a pile of fleshy chunks with an explosion of blood, bone, brains, and entrails. Even his miner’s helmet was cut to pieces. His blood oozed over the floor, revealing the slots in the floor. David’s flashlights and miner’s light still shined from the midst of his remains, covered with blood and shining a scarlet light in the passage.
Hannibal stared in numbed horror, powerless to save David from the ancient trap. The buzzing of the blades slowly subsided to an eerie silence. Faced with the very real possibility he could fall prey to the same blades while retrieving David’s shredded body, Hannibal squatted down, examining the area with a jeweler’s scrutiny. Telltale signs of chopped bone emerged from the dust. “God damn it!” Hannibal cursed. “Why didn’t I see this earlier? I could’ve stopped him. Damn it!” Tears streamed down his cheeks as he looked upon the grizzled remains of David ten feet away. “I’m not leaving you here,” he muttered, taking up the search for the trigger.
Hannibal quickly found the closest blade track. Brushing the thick layer of dust away from the track, he found a stone floor along with several human bones, including a femur. Suddenly, something on the wall caught his eye. Rising, he went to it, seeing a hieroglyph that was different from the others, separated from the other writing by an odd box icon. It depicted a man being cut to pieces by blades from all around him. Running his fingers over it, he felt the stone give slightly. The corners of his mouth curled up in a slight smile as pushed harder. The stone pivoted, revealing a cavity large enough to put a hand inside it. Shining his light into the hole, Hannibal saw a stone trigger twenty inches into the wall crawling with small deadly scorpions, which flooded out of the cavity. His face fell upon seeing the lethal insects. “I should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy,” he murmured. Looking around, he saw the femur he had uncovered and retrieved it. Carefully, he pushed the bone into the hole until it reached the trigger. The scorpions immediately swarmed over the bone. Hannibal pushed hard and the bone crunched, splitting as it pressed against the trigger. The scorpions swarmed his hand and he let go of the bone, quickly brushing them off and stomping them.
Pulling his trusty masonry hammer from his tool belt, he pushed hard on the bone and the trigger moved followed by the same grating noise he heard then the trap went off. The blades emerged from the walls and ceiling, stopping just two inches out with a clunk on the ceiling and walls while barely peeking out of the floor. Hannibal immediately noticed the pattern for the blades. The vertical blades alternated on coming out of the ceiling followed by one coming out of the floor. The horizontal blades appeared on the sides just two inches out, obviously timed to hit just after the vertical blades. Approaching the nearest blade emerging from the walls, Hannibal examined it. He tapped it lightly with his hammer. It rang like a bell. “I’ve never seen this type of metal before,” he muttered. Lightly touching the edge of the blade, it immediate cut him. “And extremely sharp too,” he commented. “Someone went to a lot of trouble to protect something here. It’s only fair that I find it, otherwise David’s sacrifice is in vain.” He turned to the bloody pile that used to be David and sighed. Stepping back, he threw the masonry hammer next to David’s remains. When the blades didn’t move, he cautiously crept through the trap area, retrieving his hammer. Only when he cleared the last blade track did he relax.
Pausing in his remembrance of the incident, Hannibal sighed. “Only when I got past the trap did I see the diabolical cleverness of the trap. The trigger area was a five foot area in the exact center of the trap so when it was set off, the victim couldn’t move fast enough to escape it.” The sound of the storm outside subsided as the rumble of thunder became more distant.
“Did you retrieve your friend?” Harry asked softly, realizing it was a sensitive subject.
“Yes, after I retrieved the map,” Hannibal replied. “We cremated his remains at the behest of his parents. I paid for the funeral expenses still correspond with his relatives. He died doing what he loved and that was a plus. Most people die in the most miserable of circumstances of which they have no control over. He, however, died most honorably, even though it was in a trap set by people who have long since perished from the face of the Earth. Still, it was a terrible way to die, literally chopped into fish bait while still breathing. But let us leave this sordid event and let me tell you about the map. The map lay in the central chamber of the crypt, sitting in a container made of metal and crystal that was obviously booby-trapped. The chamber itself was a sight. The whole chamber, which was about the size of a football stadium, was covered with, or was made of the most beautiful crystals I have ever seen. The closest thing I could compare it to is like being in the center of a giant geode. I took a picture of it before I went for the map.” At that, he turned to a filing cabinet and rummaged through it, producing a picture that he gave to Harry.
Harry looked at it and gasped in astonishment. “Wow. I’ll bet there isn’t another place like this on the face of the whole Earth,” he declared. “It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”
“You’re right,” Hannibal agreed. “But that beautiful place had a very sinister side to it. The map, as you see in the picture, is right in the middle of this chamber. What you don’t see is the narrow winding catwalk to the center where the pedestal and map are. After seeing David mowed down by that machine, I became extra cautious. The crystals in the chamber refract the light, creating the illusion that the place has a floor, which it doesn’t. I’ll never forget that walk.” Hannibal drifted back into remembrance as he continued with the tale.
Standing at the mouth of the crystal cavern with the large glow stick in hand that shined in a soft whitish-green light, Hannibal stared in amazement at the grotto’s beauty. When the shock of the sight subsided, he tossed the glow stick at his feet, pulled a digital camera out of his tool belt, and used it to document the find. Once satisfied with the pictures, he returned the camera to his belt and squatted down, sensing something amiss. Hannibal noticed the crystals lining the massive cave glowed softly, amplifying the light from the flashlight, miner’s lamp, and glow stick, lighting the entire grotto in a strange surreal manner. The cavern floor looked solid enough but he didn’t trust his senses after seeing the trap kill David. Gathering up a handful of dust and small sand, he cast it directly out in front of him. A small bridge four feet wide appeared where the sand landed. To either side of it, the floor appeared to be there, but didn’t have sand on it. “Hmmm…interesting,” he mumbled, gathering another handful of sand. Casting it to the left, the sand disappeared through the floor. “Clever; there is some kind of optical illusion happening here,” he said softly.
Hannibal dropped to his hands and knees and crawled to the bridge, carefully feeling on the floor. When he reached the edge of the bridge, his hand passed through the floor like there wasn’t anything there. “Definitely an optical illusion...most likely a trap to prevent anyone from reaching the pedestal,” he muttered. Backing away from the edge, Hannibal stood and retreated to the passage. Fishing around on his tool belt, he procured a small paper bag used to containing artifacts in the field. Opening the bag, Hannibal filled it with sand from the passage floor. Once he filled the bag, he took two large handfuls of sand and cast them in front of him, showing more of the bridge. The smile on his lips grew. Picking up the bag, and another handful of sand, he proceeded onto the bridge, casting the sand down to illuminate his path. Approximately half way to the pedestal, he noticed the bridge had become visible without the sand, revealing its narrow curvy path to the platform where the pedestal sat. Yet he continued spreading the sand in his path until he ran out ten feet shy of the pedestal. Confident the bridge spanned the gap between him and the platform, Hannibal edged forward, light on his feet. Seconds later, he reached the platform where a mysterious tubular container made of an unknown metal lay in a clawed holder made of solid crystal sitting on the pedestal.
Hannibal examined the container, seeing it etched with writing he’d never encountered before. “Strange,” he murmured, scrutinizing the item and its holder intensely. “Here’s more of that weird writing. Oh well, no guts, no glory. This is obviously a major find. If I don’t get out of here with it, David died in vain.” Slowly, he lifted the three-foot container off its clawed stand, holding his breath and expecting a trap to trip. When the container came off the stand without anything immediately happening, Hannibal sighed deeply. Examining the container, he saw it consisted of an alloy he’d never seen before with clear crystal ends. Looking at the crystal ends, he could see a parchment inside the container. “So there is something in here,” he declared.
A low growling rumble rose from every direction as the platform began to shake. Hannibal’s eyes jerked to the pedestal, seeing the stand slowing rising. “Aww shit!” he cursed, taking off running across the bridge. Halfway across, the crystals flickered and the illusionary floor vanished. Rocks and giant crystals began breaking loose from the ceiling. The platform abruptly collapsed, crumbling into the bottomless pit below, taking the bridge with it. Hannibal sprinted, jumping as the collapse caught up to him. He tumbled into the passage with the container in hand. Looking back briefly, he saw large pieces of the cavern roof coming down as the passage shook violently. A grating noise down the passage caught his attention. One hundred yards away, a large slab slowly dropped to seal the tunnel. Hannibal broke into a run and slid face first beneath the slab as it reached two feet above the floor. The flashlight clipped on his shirt came loose as he slid beneath the closing door. He pulled his feet out as it unexpectedly dropped with a bang, sending out a cloud of dust as it crushed the flashlight beneath it. A relieved sigh escaped his lips.
“Once I got past the slab, I was safe,” Hannibal said to Harry as he concluded his tale. “After escaping with the scroll container, I returned with help to retrieve David’s remains and as they say, the rest is history.” He retrieved the picture from Harry and returned it to its place in the file.
“What happened to the crystal room?” Harry asked.
“Weren’t you paying attention?” Hannibal chided. “I already told you. The slab sealed it up forever. The main trigger where the map sat caused the platform, catwalk, cavern, and the passage immediately outside the cave to collapse, sealing it up for eternity.”
“Sorry about that,” Harry replied. “I guess I wasn’t paying that close attention. But it’s a shame. That was a magnificent cave, more beautiful than any palace anywhere.”
“Yeah, but that is beside the point,” Hannibal said. “We have the map and the map shows us the way.”
“So, does the map show us where to start?” Harry asked.
“It does. The map lined up with the information from the amulet and several other sources, allowing me to pinpoint a jumping-off point. Up until I deciphered the amulet, the map made absolutely no sense,” Hannibal returned. He pushed some of the papers on the table aside and pulled out a map transparency of the area around Aconcagua, laying it down on the ancient map, carefully aligning it. “The path seems to begin in this area around this old airstrip. I won’t know for sure where it is until I get there and do a search. But I’m confident that it’s in the immediate vicinity of this old airfield,” he continued as he heard the rain stop pounding on the roof.
“Well then, I guess that just about does it. We have a jumping off point and a goal. The only problem is how to get there,” Harry stated.
“Don’t you worry about that; I have it covered,” Hannibal replied. “The only problem I see, which isn’t so much of a problem, is whether you want to come along. I’m not going to mince words with you, Harry. This endeavor has an extremely high hazard level. I’m going where people don’t usually come back from. Neither of us may come back from this trip. I know that you have a family and I don’t want to jeopardize that so I will understand if you don’t want to come.”
Harry eyed Hannibal with a very serious look. “Hannibal, I would be honored to accompany you on this expedition,” he declared. “We have been through much together and damned if I going to let you go off to the ends of the Earth without someone trustworthy to watch your back.” Then Harry’s look lightened as he smiled and added, “Besides, I want to see this place as much as you do; however, I must talk to Mary about it first. Something of this magnitude I’ll have to discuss with her and the potential is there that she may not want me to go.”
“I completely understand. I don’t want to put you in a box on this,” Hannibal stated. “You have to do what is best for your family.”
“I’ll tell you what. Give me a week to convince her,” Harry said. “And if she seems willing to entertain the idea, then you can give her the details maybe over dinner.”
“That’ll be fine,” Hannibal answered. “Like I said, since this is such a dangerous thing that we’re going to do, it’s only fair to include your wife in this decision.”
“As a matter of fact, why don’t you just come over in a week for supper anyhow?” Harry suggested. “I know how much you like Mary’s cooking. It very well may be the last time you get to eat a good home-cooked meal.”
Hannibal looked Harry in the eye with a smile on his lips. “I’d be honored to have dinner with you,” Hannibal replied humbly. “And if you decide that you can’t go, don’t worry about it. I’ll always be your friend and a friend of your family no matter what’s decided. Besides, you’re right. I do sure love your wife’s cooking.”
“Then it’s settled. Come over on – what’s today?” Harry asked with a temporary memory lapse.
“Tuesday,” Hannibal answered.
“Okay, let’s say next Monday at six in the evening. I’m sure we’ll have something good for dinner,” Harry said.
“I’ll be there,” Hannibal returned.
At that, Harry started toward the door. Once at the door, he abruptly turned and asked, “You do remember where I live, don’t you?”
“Well gee, I don’t know,” Hannibal mocked, rubbing his chin with his fingers. After a pause, he chimed, “Of course.”
“I guess I’ll see you later then,” Harry said, opening the door and stepping out. “Remember, six o’clock,” he called over his shoulder.
“Will you get out of here already?” Hannibal smiled, waving Harry away. “I have to get some sleep and you have things to do, so go do them.”
Harry grinned and waved as Hannibal shut the door. As he walked down the sidewalk to his car, Harry muttered, “How am I going to explain this to Mary?”
Hannibal went to the window, watching Harry walk to his car and then drive away. I sure hope you know what you’re doing, Lord. This thing is bigger than any of us know, he thought, turning away from the window and locking the door. After returning to his recliner and turning out most of the lights, he fell fast asleep because of exhaustion from days of work on the amulet.