Monsters and Mysteries in the Dark
“I hope I’m not disturbing you with these sordid details,” Hannibal said in an apologetic tone while gazing at Harry and his family. “Remember Dennis, this is one of the things you may encounter walking in my shoes. Anyway, Dan got word to me about the find and I immediately mounted an expedition to the area after dealing with Namil. It took almost a year to get the proper paperwork through both our government and the Indonesian government. But when it did go through, it took another four months to get the supplies together and to reach the site. Strangely enough, the remote tribe Namil spoke of had vanished by time we arrived there. We found their village... or what was left of their village, on the way to the site. It had been totally destroyed by some unknown agent. There were no bodies. The village looked like it had been crushed underfoot and burned to ashes. Some of the huts were burned with something that has never been seen before. It was unprecedented: something far hotter than anything conventional that we have anywhere on the planet. It completely consumed what it touched, leaving nothing but ash. You might be tempted to think nuclear, which is what I thought at first, but after some preliminary testing, I decided against the nuclear hypothesis. Here are some pictures of the site.”
Hannibal looked through his pack and pulled out a pile of folders. He then proceeded to rummage through them. As he did that, Mary arose and asked if anyone wanted anything to drink. Everyone answered yes. While she retrieved the drinks, Hannibal exclaimed, “Ah, here they are!” He pulled out a stack of pictures and handing them to Harry.
Harry’s face grimaced with astonishment. “Yikes! Man, you weren’t kidding,” he exclaimed. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It almost looks volcanic.”
“I thought the same thing when I first saw it too,” Hannibal stated. “But if you look closely at it, you’ll see the highly selective and localized nature of the burned areas. Volcanic activity wouldn’t be that selective and the heat from it would have scorched areas around it. That’s when I thought nuclear, but when the Geiger counters only registered nominal readings, that theory too was scrapped.”
“There was no radiation?” Harry asked.
“None whatsoever; but just look at how some huts were burned to ashes and yet the trees over and near to the huts had no sign of any heat, not even the grass,” Hannibal explained, becoming a guide to the pictures. “That’s why both the volcanic and nuclear options were not feasible. We still don’t have any cause for this phenomenon.”
Harry sifted through the pile of pictures and then stopped at one. His jaw fell open as he tried to find the words. He turned the picture to Hannibal with a questioning look that betrayed his amazement.
“Yes, Harry, believe it or not, that is a footprint; made by, if we are to believe Namil, the draken colossus. One thing I can tell you about that footprint, there’s nothing like it that has been found anywhere else on the face of the Earth and it was made recently,” Hannibal expounded, interpreting Harry’s surprise.
“The print; tell me you made a model of it,” Harry finally said as he stared at the picture.
Hannibal raised an eyebrow, smiling. “What do you think? Of course I did,” he replied. “We made a computer model because of its prodigious size. Do you get the significance of the scale? That’s me standing in the middle of the print. We’re talking Godzilla-size with whatever made these tracks. These tracks are larger than the largest dinosaurs that walked the Earth made by something weighing many hundreds of tons. It’s a conundrum that defies my intellect.”
At this point, Dennis hovered over Harry’s shoulder, drinking in the images. “Wow dad: a real draken footprint from a real draken,” Dennis crowed, his eyes sparkling with wonder. Mary re-entered the living room with the drinks, which she promptly served.
“Thanks,” Hannibal said appreciatively, taking a large swallow from his glass.
“Honey, look at these pictures. They’re incredible,” Harry said to Mary, handing her the pictures he had already looked through.
“I’m sure they are. I’ve been listening,” Mary said, accepting the pictures and looking through them. Her mouth fell open in shock upon seeing the images.
“The four-toed draken print in that picture is some eighteen feet wide by thirty-five feet long and nearly four feet deep. And that was just one print. The whole village had prints like that all over it,” Hannibal reported. At that, Hannibal retrieved the pictures from Harry, rummaged through them, and gave one back to him. “This is apparently where the beast came from,” Hannibal declared. Harry stared at a picture showing a colossal swath of jungle some seventy-five feet wide, looking as if something truly enormous had come crashing through the rain forest. The cavity in the jungle growth reached almost to the top of the tree canopy. Harry gawked at the unfathomable path through the trees. “The path in that picture runs for three miles,” Hannibal explained. “There are trees four and five feet in diameter along that path that are broken off like toothpicks. Whatever erased that village tromped through the jungle for three miles and then vanished without a trace. Three miles from where we took this picture, the swath of destruction abruptly stops with no clue of where it went. It vanished into thin air. One thing I can say about the thing that did that is it went on four legs and must have stood at least seventy-five to one hundred feet high. Who knows how long it was. But we were able to measure its stride though. It was a good one hundred fifty feet between the prints. That was but a side bar. Our main goal was the Temple, which curiously seemed to provide an answer for the prints.”
“What do you mean?” Harry asked.
Hannibal rummaged through the pictures again and pulled one out, handing it to Harry. “I’ll explain in a moment,” Hannibal stated. “Some eight miles from the end of that path, we found the Temple and the draken colossus. This is one of the few pictures we were able to get of it.”
Harry drank in the picture with his eyes. As he looked, Hannibal handed him several other pictures of the same thing, declaring, “This thing was so big that we had a problem photographing it. Also, the pictures you have there are the old-fashion film cameras. We tried to use our digital cameras and camcorders but they turned out to be useless. All we ever got from them was either static or a picture that was so distorted that you couldn’t tell what it was.”
“The energy vortexes,” Dennis piped up. “You said they’d do that.”
“Yes, I did. That’s very perceptive of you, Dennis. You may yet make a good archaeologist,” Hannibal congratulated. “This location must have somehow been affected by one of those vortexes.”
Harry continued to stare at the pictures. It showed an enormous draken colossus with thirteen heads carved out of a sheer rock face, each draken face being different as if representing a different breed of draken. Harry estimated the size of the colossus at about seven hundred feet. He also noticed the intricate detail in which the draken was carved, right down to the individual draken scales. “Exactly how big is this thing anyway?” he asked.
“Fifteen hundred feet; it’s carved out of a two thousand foot cliff,” Hannibal reported.
“Fifteen hundred feet…my god; it looks like it’s only maybe seven hundred, if that,” Harry replied in astonishment.
“Those pictures don’t do it justice,” Hannibal said.
“My goodness, it’s beautiful and so lifelike,” Mary beamed after receiving the picture from Harry.
“That it is. There isn’t anything like it anywhere else on the planet,” Hannibal agreed. “And to add to the mystery of this place, we measured the feet of the colossus out of a whim and found they were an exact match for the prints we found at the village. Now tell me if that isn’t weird.”
“You’re kidding,” Harry balked.
“I wish I were,” Hannibal answered. “The specs for the feet of the colossus perfectly match the prints at the village. I’m still at a loss at how that could happen. It makes Namil’s story about the colossus coming to life and chasing him a more believable.”
“And yet,” Harry began as he stared at the photos. “Despite its beauty and the coincidence about the feet matching the prints, I get a really bad feeling about this thing. I can’t explain it. It’s like something that should never ever be messed with.”
“I’m glad to know you feel that way because that was the way I felt when I first saw it. An unspeakable evil seemed to hang over that whole valley. Nevertheless, we went in after setting up base camp. I lost several of my best men in that place to traps and things that are not to be believed in our initial foray into the place,” Hannibal murmured as he remembered the deadly perils of the Temple. He once again rummaged through the pictures and pulled another out. This picture had an image of what appeared to be a gigantic smooth-bodied black and red spider on it. He looked at it briefly and shuddered before handing it to Harry. “That’s one of the denizens of the Temple,” he said as he handed Harry another picture, “and this was its home.”
Harry stared in disbelief at the two pictures. The one with the spider, which appeared to be the size of a large bison with a twenty-foot leg span, made his blood run cold. “How did you ever survive that thing?” he asked.
“Sheer luck and the Lord watching over us, but our encounter with that monster didn’t come without casualties,” Hannibal admitted as he described the incident in detail.
Hannibal led a heavily armed team of four men down a tunnel fifteen feet high and twenty feet across deep inside the newly discovered Temple of Tiamat. Each team member had a miner’s helmet with lamp along with shoulder-mounted lights armed with a large machete. Hannibal carried a .45 automatic pistol on his hip and a bandoleer of grenades while the other members packed nine-millimeter pistols. The walls were curiously bare, unlike other portions of the Temple where hieroglyphic and cuneiform-style writing and cartouches of a long-dead language decorated everything. The air in the tunnel smelled of rancid decaying death.
“I don’t like this,” Hannibal’s second in command murmured. “I’m getting a very bad vibe down here. This isn’t like the other areas we’ve seen.”
“I hear you, Dan,” Hannibal replied. “Something about this place crawls. It’s as if we’re being watched but I don’t know by who or what, so we’d better be on our toes here. As far as I know, this place has not seen the foot or eye of man for over five millennia, maybe longer.”
“If no one’s been here for over five thousand years, then why are we being so careful?” an Indonesian man named Keshi asked.
“Just because people haven’t been down here for five thousand years doesn’t mean some animal hasn’t taken this place as its den,” the third man, Jerry answered. “There could be some unknown variety of snake, spider, or other creature down here that no one has seen before that could be very dangerous. I remember stories of explorers going into very deep caves and finding insects and animals never seen before that were very aggressive and predatory.”
“Jerry has a good point,” Hannibal stated as he edged forward cautiously. “There are animals that adapt to environments such as caves and never see the light of day or human eyes. The deep-sea creatures are the same way. The bottom of the ocean is just as alien a place as this is. Jerry’s just pointing out that this is an unknown complex of caves, much of which seem to be artificial. That’s what’s bothering me here...the artificial nature of this tunnel. It seems to have been cut by a force unknown to modern science. It’s completely smooth and not a natural formation, like a lava tube. The closest thing I can compare it to is the tunnel a nuclear driller leaves behind.”
“I noticed that too,” Dan stated, becoming more ill at lease. “I’ve also noticed that the farther we come, the worse the smell is.”
“Me too,” Jerry agreed.
Keshi felt the wall of the tunnel and noticed not just the smoothness of it, but a silky substance on it. “Hannibal, I think you may want to look at this,” he called out in an insistent tone.
Hannibal stopped and walked over to Keshi, seeing his hand coated in a silky substance. The group gathered around and looked at Keshi’s hand. “What is that?” Jerry asked.
“It looks like spider silk,” Hannibal replied as he tested the material. “It’s not sticky so it’s not part of a trap web. It’s almost like the web some spiders use in their burrows.” He picked at the wall with his finger, peeling off a small portion of the silk and holding it to the light coming from Dan’s headlamp. “It’s also translucent. I can see right through it. But when I look at the wall casually, I don’t see a thing. This is very strange.”
“Is it possible that we have a new species of spider down here?” Dan asked.
“Could be,” Hannibal stated, dropping the silk. “Or this could just be some residue of regular spiders who managed to get down here. In any case, stay together and don’t touch anything. Also, keep your eyes open and your voices down. If there is some unknown variety of spider in here, we don’t want to announce our presence to them as a food source. I’d rather not end up on the menu if I can help it.”
Keshi trembled at the thought and quickly wiped the silk off his hand. “Then why are we going on?” he asked.
“Because we need to secure this area,” Hannibal stated. “And to find out if there’s anything dangerous in here. If we don’t go on and there’s something hazardous down here we don’t know about, it could come calling when we least suspect. I’m not about to let that happen. Come on…now let’s go.”
Hannibal took up the lead again, this time with much more caution. He searched the tunnel ahead of him religiously as his innate ability to sense danger ramped up another notch. Dan, Jerry, and Keshi likewise searched, often turning around to see that they weren’t being followed from behind. The smell became very rancid and nauseating as they moved down the tunnel. Slowly, the tunnel began to descend.
“This tunnel is getting taller,” Jerry murmured softly, “and it’s getting wider too as we go down.”
“I noticed that,” Hannibal agreed as he stopped for a moment, flashing his headlamp up at the ceiling. The ceiling seemed to be arching up and away from them, rising to thirty feet just ahead of them. “Come on,” he said, pulling his .45 automatic. “I suggest you pull your guns out, guys. Something is very wrong here. I can feel it.”
They did as Hannibal ordered and followed closely as Hannibal searched the expanding darkness ahead of them. A hundred feet down the passage, the descent leveled out as the tunnel abruptly opened into a colossal shaft so wide the far side couldn’t be seen. Heat and a low rumble rose from the pit before them as they stood on a fifty-foot wide ledge at the mouth of the tunnel. The smell of sulfur perfumed the air along with the smell of rotten eggs.
“Holy shit,” Jerry cried in disbelief as everyone looked across. “It looks like we made a wrong turn here. No way can we cross that. I can’t even see the other side. What is this?”
“It may be a volcanic vent,” Hannibal answered. “The rumble, heat, and stench of sulfur dioxide in here tell me that’s what it is.”
Dan happened to look up as Hannibal scanned for a way across. What Dan saw caused his blood to run cold. “Uhh…Hannibal,” he murmured. “I don’t like to be an alarmist, but I think we stumbled into a world of shit here. Look up, but not too quickly. We’re definitely being watched now.”
Everyone looked up with the lights, seeing a spider web unlike anything ever seen on the planet before. The web consisted of strands the size of large ropes with the fine silk they found on the walls hanging from them like ghostly curtains. The strands attached to the sides of the shaft and went up out of site above them. Within the web were many dozens of cocoons with skeletal remains of animals and what appeared to be people hanging out of them. “Oh my god,” Hannibal breathed. “I don’t believe what I’m seeing here. What kind of spider spins a web like this?”
“I’d rather not meet it,” Jerry answered, backing towards the tunnel. “This place is right out of a nightmare.”
“Hannibal, is that an egg sack?” Keshi asked fearfully, pointing high in the web out over the pit with his machete.
Hannibal blinked in astonishment. Hanging one hundred yards up and out two hundred yards into the pit just at the limit of their lights sat a cocoon the size of a tour-bus. It pulsed slightly as the light struck it. “I think you may be right about us landing in a world of shit here, Dan,” Hannibal whispered. “Back away slowly and don’t make any sudden moves. That’s an active arachnid egg sack. I can see it pulsing. We need to get out of here and seal this tunnel. Do not touch anything. Whatever made that sack could still be here watching us.”
“I don’t ever want to meet that bitch,” Keshi answered in a fear-fueled panic, backing away and then turning to sprint away.
“Keshi,” Hannibal called out urgently. “Don’t run! Any sudden movements could call the mother down on us!”
Hannibal had no sooner issued the warning than a noise on the wall above them attracted Hannibal’s, Dan’s, and Jerry’s attention. “Oh dear god!” Jerry cried in horror. “What in heaven’s name is that?”
An enormous black and red spider the size of a bison with a leg span of twenty feet raced down the wall, jumping at Keshi. Hannibal didn’t hesitate in opening fire with his pistol. Dan and Jerry did the same, firing at the giant abomination as attacked Keshi from above. The bullets did nothing to the monstrosity. It struck Keshi in the back with two of its front legs that had strange foot-long stinger-like appendages in the ends of the legs. Keshi shrieked as the stingers impaled him in both shoulders from the back until they protruded from his chest. Blazing, paralyzing fire filled Keshi’s body and mind as the toxin completely incapacitated him in seconds. The spider lifted its hapless victim high in the air and then body-slammed him to the floor, pulling out the stingers in the process. Hannibal saw the beast’s head drop, revealing foot long fangs that ripped into Keshi’s back. A primal scream rattled out of Keshi. The spider then pulled back and lunged for Keshi’s head, biting it off completely in a spray of blood, which it drank. Only ten seconds elapsed from the time the spider jumped at Keshi until it delivered the decapitating deathblow. Hannibal, Dan, and Jerry stared in horror at the brutality and speed of the giant spider that killed Keshi before they could blink twice.
It then turned to Hannibal, Dan, and Jerry; blood still dripping from its hideous maw. Hannibal, Dan, and Jerry had emptied their pistols trying to stop the monstrosity from killing Keshi. The monster spider hissed at them, clicking its fangs. Dan snapped a picture of it as it eyed the trio. The flash briefly blinded the monstrosity, causing it to back off a few steps. A hissing roar rolled out of the spider as it reared up like a tarantula on the attack, suddenly spitting a caustic substance at them as it came down, forcing the trio to dive for cover. Hannibal threw his machete as he dove aside. The machete struck home in the spider’s head puncturing two of its eyes, causing it to shriek and thrash about trying to dislodge the machete. It used its front legs to scrape at its head to pull out the blade lodged in its eyes.
“Grenade the mother fucker, Hannibal,” Dan called out urgently from near a broken stalagmite six feet across. “Do it or we’re all dead!”
Hannibal stood up with two grenades in hand. He popped the pins on them and threw them at the beast before diving behind a small boulder as Dan and Jerry found cover behind the broken stalagmite. The spider knocked one grenade out into the pit with its leg, but the other landed beneath its belly. The explosion ripped the monster apart, sending pieces of it flying everywhere, while the second grenade went off harmlessly in the pit. The spider’s head landed in front of Hannibal’s boulder with a sickening plop while one of the two stinger appendages on the front legs fell in front of the stalagmite Dan and Jerry used for cover. When the smoke cleared, Hannibal stood up and looked, seeing the back third of the abdomen lying on the floor with pieces of the rest of the spider scattered everywhere.
“Dan, Jerry; are you okay over there?” Hannibal called out.
“Yeah, we’re okay if you can be call being nearly eaten by a giant monster spider okay,” Dan answered in a shaky voice as he and Jerry got up.
“What about Keshi?” Jerry asked as they approached the decimated spider carcass.
Hannibal shook his head sadly. Tears dripped from his eyes. “I tried to warn him,” he said. “You just don’t bolt when faced with a predator like that. It makes them think you’re prey.”
“Is there anything left of Keshi?” Dan asked with grief evident in his tone.
“No,” Hannibal murmured. “What the spider didn’t get, the grenade scattered. There isn’t enough left to even bury.”
“What kind of spider was that?” Jerry asked. “Or is it even a spider? It can’t be of this world. Spiders here just don’t get that big.”
“I don’t know,” Hannibal admitted. “It’s unlike any arachnid I’ve ever seen. Did you see how it used its front legs? It apparently has some kind of stinger inside those legs like a bee has in its tail.”
“What about this?” Dan asked, walking over to the head. “Look at the head and those fangs; the venom coming out of those fangs is so caustic that it’s liquefying the rock.”
Hannibal squatted down and examined the head, seeing the venom dripping from the foot-long fangs and eating into the floor. “Holy shit; that’s some nasty venom…it’s eating the floor away,” Hannibal stated. “What is this thing?”
Jerry happened to look up at the egg sack and saw it pulsing. “Hannibal, I think we need to beat a hasty retreat here and come back with some major firepower. That egg sack is moving. We need to destroy it before those monsters swarm out of there. We’re not going to be safe until we do so.”
“Good call,” Hannibal replied, rising. “Let’s get the hell out of here.” Hannibal, Dan, and Jerry slowly backed into the tunnel and then fled the area once they were out of sight of the web.
Hannibal paused in his account as a tear rose for Keshi. “We were exceptionally careful in our explorations after that incident,” Hannibal stated with a quiver in his voice.
“Was Keshi your friend?” Harry asked softly.
“Yeah,” Hannibal replied. “He was a fairly new recruit from the local area. He had such potential too. Who would have thought his fate was to be killed and eaten by a giant spider that I suspect is not even of this world. If I hadn’t the foresight to bring those grenades, chances are we wouldn’t be having this conversation. That monster was the most alien thing I’ve ever encountered and it was highly intelligent. I could feel its hostility and evil nature. All it wanted to do is feed on us.”
Harry rubbed his chin for a moment, pondering the horrifying tale of the giant spider as Dennis clung to his mother’s arm. “Hannibal, is it possible that this spider may be the reason the area around Tiamat was considered cursed by the native population? After all, something like that would have surely been able to get out of there and hunt on the surface. Any native who saw it and survived would have definitely considered it a demon of some kind associated with Tiamat. And didn’t you say you saw both animals and people cocooned in the web?”
“I did,” Hannibal admitted. “It’s a legitimate possibility the spider could be at least part of the reason for Tiamat being cursed. I will say that I’ve never encountered anything that fast or vicious. And when we studied the remains of it, we found the venom from the head a thousand times more deadly than that of the sea snakes. That makes the venom from the spider potentially the most potent poison on the planet. And it was so caustic that only the highest quality ceramic glass could contain it without being melted. The poison was like super-concentrated acid made out of some kind of organic enzyme I’ve never encountered before.”
“What about the stinger things you said the spider had?” Mary asked. “I didn’t believe spiders could have stingers.”
“Spiders of this planet don’t that I know of,” Hannibal replied. “That’s why I suspect this spider is an alien of some sort. Where it came from I don’t know, but it’s definitely not from around our neck of the universe. The venom in the stingers turned out to be quite remarkable. It wasn’t nearly as potent as the poison from the fangs, but it was still very dangerous. The stinger venom seems to be some strange form of neural toxin that only interferes with voluntary nerve impulses. It completely shuts down the voluntary nerve impulse part of the nervous system and slows down in the involuntary part. For example, if…god forbid, I were struck by a stinger from this species of spider, I would go into instant shock with complete paralysis from head to toe and my involuntary functions would slow to the point that I would seem to be dead. It’s much like the tiny amounts of the blowfish venom used by some voodoo practitioners to perform the zombie rituals. The stinger venom from the spider essentially does the same thing, but doesn’t kill like the blowfish venom. It immobilizes the prey so it can be consumed while still alive.”
“That’s horrid,” Mary replied with disgust. “You mean that the spider in this picture first paralyzes its victim and then eats them alive? That’s a terrible way to die.”
“You’ll get no argument from me on that,” Hannibal stated. “I saw that monster pounce and kill Keshi before I could react. I never believed something that big could move that fast. It’s my fault Keshi died at the fangs of that fiend. I knew he wasn’t ready to go in but he insisted. I should have….”
“Stop it, Hannibal,” Harry retorted. “You know that’s bullshit. It’s no different from going into battle. You were never responsible for Keshi. He made the decision to bolt after you warned him. It was a stupid foolish mistake on his part, which cost him his life. You’re not to blame. If the thing hadn’t jumped him, it would have jumped someone else…maybe even you, so stop beating yourself up over it. Some things are meant to be.”
“You’re right, Harry,” Hannibal admitted. “It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt though or even have to like it. That’s a way to die I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
“Of course it hurts,” Harry stated. “But you weren’t responsible for his actions. You’re only responsible for your actions and no one else’s. Now what about this monster’s nest…the egg sack, what did you do about it?”
“I did as Jerry suggested after we killed the beast,” Hannibal answered. “We went back with a large, heavily armed contingent and torched the egg sack along with the entire web. I personally destroy that egg sack with flamethrowers and phosphorus grenades so I could sleep easy. After disposing of that monster’s nest and sealing that tunnel, we continued our explorations with much more caution.
“God, we must have stumbled around in there for months. The place is vast, much bigger than anything I’ve ever encountered before. We never did find the ends of that place. It became so dangerous in places that I decided not to proceed any farther. The spider was just one of the monsters we found in the darkness of that place. But while we were exploring the Temple, I did happen across something of great value that wasn’t a monster.”
“What would that be?” Dennis asked.
“We found a chamber deep in the place that seemed to be some kind of library or archive. The chamber was the size of a football stadium with a ceiling that was about one hundred feet high. In this area were row upon row of stone sarcophagi, hundreds of them. Each top had a very ancient and archaic type of hieroglyphic writing on it that was unlike anything ever seen before. We opened only ten of these coffins. Inside were tablets with the same type of writing on it. These tablets are made of some strange composite that we were unable to identify. All of our efforts to identify it failed. The only thing we could determine about the metal was that it was manufactured alloy and not natural elements like gold or iron. Its molecular structure is much denser than anything we have now and strangely enough, its actual structure is a strange type of lattice that is incredibly strong and light. These plates looked like a combination of gold, platinum, and mercury. They’re beautiful.” At that, he pulled out another picture and handed it to Harry. The picture showed the tablets in their stone sarcophagus, sitting there awaiting someone to read them.
Harry looked closely at the picture and whistled softly as he handed the picture to Mary. “Indeed,” Harry agreed. “It’s a beautiful treasure.” Dennis looked at the picture with Mary and gasped in delight.
“True, very true; it’s a treasure all right. The greatest treasure ever uncovered,” Hannibal returned. “But not in the way most people would see it. You see, when I entered the Temple, I immediately saw the writings on the central passage and recognized them as the dialect that the draken cult used. I noted the curses and warnings that were scrawled all over passages. It was then I forbade anyone but those who I personally chose to go in with me. All the rest were to stand guard outside in relative safety. A couple of guys decided to go in without me in spite of my warnings. They were never seen again. I can only assume they met with a bitter end at the fangs of one of the monsters or in one of the deadly traps that infested the Temple. This Library is buried deep in the Temple, much deeper than where we encountered the spider. Many traps had to be tripped and disengaged before we could safely access it. On the door of the chamber were several different types of glyphs, vaguely similar to the dialect of the cult: the same writing that was on the sarcophagi and the tablets.” At this, he turned and rummaged through his pack again and pulled out a piece of paper rolled up. Handing it to Harry, who immediately unrolled it, Hannibal announced, “This is a picture of a portion of one of the plates. It seems to be a list of some sort.”
Harry looked at the strange writing intensely.
“How many tablets or plates were in the box?” Mary asked as she returned the pictures to Hannibal.
Hannibal got a far look in his eye for a second as he searched his memory. “The sarcophagus is four feet by ten feet by three feet deep,” he replied after a few seconds. “The plates are two millimeters thick bound into books of generally five hundred pages. In one of the sarcophagi, we found some two hundred such books. The picture I showed you is but a small portion of a single page. The pages of these books are two and a half feet by three and a half feet square.”
Mary shifted in her chair, trying to grasp the sheer volume of knowledge Hannibal was talking about. “You know, Hannibal,” Harry declared. “I’ve seen this strange writing before. I don’t rightly remember where, but I know I’ve seen it.”
“That you have, my friend. That you have,” Hannibal answered with a smile as he reached into his coat pocket, which hung on the back of his chair. The golden Amulet came out when he pulled his hand out. “You’ve seen it here,” he said, tossing the Amulet to Harry, who fumbled but managed to catch it.
“The Amulet you were deciphering,” Harry said.
“Look closely at the markings on it,” Hannibal instructed.
Harry looked closely at the amulet and then the rubbing several times. His eyes grew round as saucers as he realized what he was seeing.
“Yes, Harry…they’re the same language,” Hannibal crowed, interpreting his reaction to the picture.
“Is this how you deciphered it?” Harry asked bluntly.
“Yes,” Hannibal answered after a sigh. “At first, I didn’t realize what I had uncovered. It was only later after the way to the Library chamber was secured that the real work in there began. I had found the Amulet some ten years earlier, so for some eight years, I toiled unsuccessfully trying to decipher that thing. Then we discovered Library at Tiamat where I found the key to the writing.”
“Not to get you off the subject,” Mary intruded. “But how big is the whole Temple?”
“Oh, it’s not off the subject at all,” Hannibal answered. “The complex turned out to be inside a dormant volcano and its total extent isn’t known but we managed to explore a five mile radius from the entrance, all of it underground and nearly all of it carved out of solid rock. That which wasn’t man-carved is natural in origin; great caverns that boggle the imagination with their splendor. Many caverns were lit by some strange electromagnetic phenomena which lit it up like the evening twilight.”
“It was lit? Wow!” Dennis exclaimed.
“Yes, it was. Not only did we explore a five-mile radius, we discovered it had many different levels to it. I estimated that at the lowest level that we explored, we were almost two thousand feet below sea level,” Hannibal explained. “It was at that level that we stopped pushing out and down. For one thing, the heat at that level was a stifling one hundred twenty-five degrees. The rock itself was hot and air was full of noxious fumes. The place is a legitimate labyrinth. The Library chamber is up much higher than that level even though there lies nearly three thousand feet of solid rock over it and nearly three miles of passages to reach the entrance.”
“Any idea on how much more of the complex there is?” Harry asked.
Hannibal shook his head no. “Only God knows how much farther it stretches,” he admitted. “All I know is that the deeper we went, the more hazardous it became. The traps became more and more numerous and fiendish and we encounter several more giant spiders and some things much more horrendous than the spiders. Giant scorpions nearly as big as the spider in the picture were encountered on more than one occasion. Bats the size of the condors of South America were found, though they were among the more benign of the denizens of that place. We encountered other creatures there that defy explanation. Snakes capable of swallowing a man whole were seen and other manner of reptilian things were encountered that I’ll not go into. We encountered creatures of such ferocity that on several occasion we were forced to flee. But there is one thing that I learned all too well in the exploration of that place: there are much darker and fouler things than giant spiders and scorpions in the deep places of the Earth. Monsters do exist.” At that, he once again rummaged through his folders of pictures and produced another picture. This one showed a wide view of a vast cavern with enormous stone drakens lining the walls. They rose to the ceiling some three hundred feet up. He handed it to Harry. “This is what I dubbed the Hall of the Drakens,” Hannibal declared. “There are over one hundred draken statues of various size and shapes lining the walls of this cavern.”
Harry looked intensely at the picture and spoke up. “This wasn’t a good place, was it?” he asked.
“No, it wasn’t,” Hannibal said as Harry handed the picture to Mary, who seemed to recoil with a bit of revulsion at the picture. She immediately handed it back to Hannibal. “It was a very bad place,” Hannibal said soberly. “This cavern was the entrance to the lower level where we ceased to explore in that direction because of the conditions and hazards.” Hannibal looked intently at the picture as he reminisced. “This place was very strange; unearthly. It had eyes,” he admitted. “I swore that the stone drakens were actually following our progress across the cave. Bones, human bones were scattered everywhere. Some of those bones were of a giant nature. I saw human-like femurs almost four feet long amongst the normal-sized bones.”
“You saw giant bones?” Dennis queried. “Awesome!”
“Are you sure those giant bones were of people?” Harry asked.
“Absolutely,” Hannibal replied. “There weren’t many of the giant skeletons, but they were definitely present. Some of these giants had to have been nine to ten feet tall, maybe bigger if the femurs are any measure of their stature.”
“Wow,” Dennis crowed with delight. “I like hearing about that much better than I did about the giant spider. Just thinking there are spiders that big scares me.”
“It would scare any sane person who has a brain in their head,” Hannibal stated. “But don’t worry about the spiders. We killed all of them. They were just too dangerous to let live. I don’t care if they were a new species, but those beasts were a threat to everyone. I had to think of the people who were with me.”
“And so you should have,” Harry agreed. “That’s what a good leader does. He or she takes care of the people they lead. What else did you find in that cave?”
“Well, getting back to the bones,” Hannibal stated. “There were piles of skulls and bones against the walls and scattered across the floor, so many bones that we crushed them under foot walking across it. It was as if the Hall of Drakens was a place of feeding. It made my blood run cold. One thing about the cavern the picture doesn’t show is that there are as many smaller gargoyle statues as draken statues. They sat up on the walls and stood among the drakens. A strange echo permeated the whole place, like that of a distant roar or bellowing of a beast. Also, the entire complex down to this point had a comfortable temperature, about seventy degrees, which I thought was most peculiar. Most caves systems and undergrounds have an ambient temperature of fifty-five to sixty degrees. It was almost as if the whole place was heated. Maybe being inside a dormant volcano contributed to this phenomenon. Who knows? There were several antechambers off to the sides of this cavern. One led to this cave.”
Hannibal smiled as he pulled out yet another picture and handed it to Harry, who nearly fell out of his chair when he saw it. It was a picture of another cave about a third the size of the Hall of Drakens. This one had a giant draken carved out of a single emerald crystal. The emerald draken was one hundred fifty feet long and fifty feet high, carved with the most exquisite detail. The cave itself seemed to be a giant diamond geode that scattered the light so that the smallest light would brighten the cave to the point that shadows were cast. Also, there were huge piles of gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds, rubies: all manner of treasure. The piles reached some twenty feet high with barely room to walk between the piles. Harry stared, speechless at the picture. “It was there that I found the scarab that I gave you,” Hannibal announced.
Dennis gawked at the picture, gasping in astonishment. Harry then gave the picture to Mary, whose eyes grew to the size of saucers. “It’s a king’s treasure!” Mary exclaimed. “I can’t even fathom how much its worth.”
“There’s enough treasure in that cave to completely pay off the debt of the entire world some ten thousand times over,” Hannibal declared. “The sum is astronomical. It can’t be calculated. It actually reminded me of the tales of the draken’s treasure hordes. If that doesn’t qualify as a treasure horde, nothing does. And the neat thing about it is there are only five people who have seen it in person and know how to reach it. Each of us took a modest share of it. I filled a small sack with the treasure, which included the scarab. We hid most of it from the authorities. We gave them a token payment, which insured that we would be left alone...a bribe if you will. The Hall of Drakens and the treasure cave are four and a half miles from the entrance at a depth of eighteen hundred feet below sea level; some forty-five hundred feet below the entrance altitude on an extremely treacherous path guarded by many traps and denizens.” Hannibal retrieved the pictures and rummaged through the folder again, pulling out yet another picture. He promptly handed it to Harry.
“This is where we stopped because of the perils,” Hannibal announced. “As I said earlier, the temperature at this level was one hundred twenty-five degrees. It was like being in a blast furnace.”