MoboReader> Fantasy > The Curse of Kalaan

   Chapter 2 The mysterious edifice

The Curse of Kalaan By Linda Saint Jalmes Characters: 19598

Updated: 2018-05-17 15:15


As the awkward Lil' Louis descended the dune on his rear end, the sand began, once again, to produce the startling sounds they call the 'song of the dunes' and the song continued as his three more dignified companions went dashing down after him on their feet.

A few moments later they were standing at the entrance of the astonishing construction while the count of Croz's men followed close behind. Among the thirty odd men were some local workmen, but also sailors and Kalaan's traveling companions. Everything about them showed how frightening they found this discovery. The anguish in their eyes spoke louder than words.

What the devil! This isn't the first time they've found themselves in front of a tomb! Kalaan thought gloomily.

"We mustn't remain here, " grumbled Salam.

Meanwhile Jean-Fran?ois went up to the hieroglyphs covering the wall that served as a door. Kalaan didn't bother wasting his breath yet again by replying to his stubborn friend. He crossed his arms over his powerful chest and waited to hear what Champollion would reveal to them.

"These inscriptions are magnificent!" exclaimed the scholar. "Pure hieroglyphs, so many figurative symbols and cartouches... all in such perfect condition. I could swear they were only just carved yesterday! I'll get started immediately on the translation!"

He started moving back and forth from one point to another almost bouncing with excitement and every time he stopped, he would loudly exclaim 'I've got it!' before scribbling something in his notebook. It was as if Champollion had, all of a sudden, completely shut out the rest of the world.

"You've got what?" Kalaan couldn't help but ask after sighing heavily. He had been watching his companion's odd little dance for at least twenty minutes.

"It's fascinating..." he gasped without stopping what he was doing.

"Ye know what's fascinatin'? We're all goin' te be roasted like pigs on a spit. There's already a smell o' burnin', " muttered Lil' Louis wiping his damp red face for the hundredth time.

"Return to the boat!" Kalaan was more concerned for the older man than annoyed.

He was clearly worried for his old friend who stood up with difficulty after sitting a few minutes on the sand, when Champollion exclaimed, "That's it, I've translated the most important parts and I still can't believe my eyes!"

He nervously went up to Kalaan.

"This name, Imhotep, I saw it at Saqqara where the step pyramid is! But I also noticed it while I was studying the royal collection in Turin. He is described as some sort of healing god, 'son of Ptah', doctor, grand vizier, scribe, architect and magician. It is difficult to know if he was a man or a real divinity. I hope to learn more in continuing my journey. However, my dear Kalaan, the best is yet to come!"

Jean-Fran?ois was positively beaming at the count. Not able to resist anymore, Kalaan had to ask, "What is left to come?"

"Akhenaten!" exclaimed a very excited Champollion. "He is mentioned here, on this very door! And it is not a woman, as we presumed, but a man, a pharaoh! Listen. It is written that in this place, so that the reign of the pharaoh Akhenaten may pass in peace, a magic ritual was practiced, according to the sacred dictates of Imhotep. Wait. I must read this again!" and Champollion, returned grumbling to study the inscriptions.

"Ancestral charms!" Salam was not pleased. "I warned you that this had nothing of a tomb. We must go no further. The magic of the ancient ones is feared and respected, for it is all powerful."

"Ye hear dat lad? Let's return!" added Lil' Louis as he started turning to leave.

"No!" responded Kalaan, harshly. "Something is pushing me forward. I don't know how to explain it. I simply must enter this mausoleum, tomb, crypt, whatever it is, I must enter!"

"There, " said Jean-Fran?ois, completely indifferent to the growing tension in the group, so absorbed he was by his deciphering and the sheer scale of what he was discovering. "It is written, 'Imhotep stands guard here, all the Pharaoh's fears, concealed or retained by the magic stone will be to bring purity to Aton and the eternal prosperity of the people of Egypt.'"

"So, this Imhotep, if he's revealed to be human, would he be buried here?" Kalaan made no effort to hide his interest.

"No, " Champollion replied as he turned back to his work with the inscriptions. "It is more about using his science through magical formulas and especially a stone, to free the pharaoh Akhenaten of all his fears and — here I've only partially translated — a curse. It's hardly surprising; apparently it was customary to warn tomb robbers that they would be cursed if they crossed the threshold of any sacred or royal structures. Perhaps it would be more prudent to..." Jean-Fran?ois suddenly added as he slowly backed away. In a split second his attitude had completely changed from pure joy to obvious apprehension.

What? Now he's shirking as well? Kalaan could not control his surge of anger come from only lord knows where; at that moment he was acting like a man possessed.

"Curses are only for cowards who have nothing in their trousers!" he said, squaring his shoulders. "In that aspect, Mother Nature was very generous with me, and, as I certainly would not want to offend her, I owe it to myself to pay no heed to your warnings and pass through that damned door!"

"Oh, mis'ry, " Lil' Louis sighed, covering his eyes with his hand. "The impetuous brat has returned... What we 'ave in our trousers does not make us real men, Bejesus!"

Jean-Fran?ois stood with his mouth open. He had no idea how to react. A feeling of dread was gnawing at him, gripping his spirit and numbing his body.

Seeing how pale and confused he was, Kalaan gave him a sly smile.

"So, are you one?" he whispered.

"One…what?" Jean-Fran?ois, surprised by the question, could barely speak.

"A coward!"

The Egyptologist could not help but glance down at the buttons on his trousers, thinking about what the count had said. He jumped like a child caught in the act when he heard his friend laugh huskily. That rascal! He'd got him yet again!

"No, of course not!" he retorted, laughing stiffly.

"And what about the intelligent speech you made a short while ago? Fear can be perfectly respectable when it pushes us to make the right choices?" Salam subtly questioned in his strong accent. "Cowardice and fear are synonymous; this would be the time to make the right choice and not cross that threshold."

Salam's words were torment to Kalaan's mind, in which reason and folly were doing battle. Was he a victim of the heat? He, who was usually in perfect control of his thoughts and actions, no longer recognized himself.

"Would you like me to tell you about the curse, my friend?" Jean-Fran?ois offered. "I will decipher these last inscriptions so that they are complete. In this way you will have all the information necessary to make your decision."

Kalaan sighed deeply and nodded, before Champollion spoke again.

"Woe to he who profanes the den of fear, for on you the stone will unleash your worst fears, you will suffer, you will become, you will beg for the release that only… death... can bring you, " as he finished reading his voice became more and more unsteady.

A deep silence fell over the group of men. The scorching heat was still very present, despite the setting sun; and yet their bodies were suddenly overcome with cold as if by there had been a cold breeze. Kalaan was the first to collect his thoughts as he approached the door; and when he spoke it was as if to himself.

"Look at Amarna and the ruins of what should have been an eternally prosperous place. Where are the people who were promised such splendor? There is nothing but dust! If ever there was magic here, we can come to the logical conclusion that it did not work. Following the same logic, we could also reasonably think that there was never a curse. This said however, I will yield to your wishes. We will turn back and leave this place to the sand and desert wind."

He never knew who sighed with relief behind him because as he was speaking, Kalaan placed his hand on the warm stone, which instantly turned to ash.

Finally free of the door that had cut it off from the world, in a low mournful moan, the entire building took in a deep breath of the air from which it had been deprived for hundreds of centuries. There was nothing left of the door but a pile of dust at Kalaan's boots and dark whirls of thick smoke that danced around the men before slowly disappearing. Kalaan paid little heed to these because, in front of him, he could see a long dark rectangular cut hall, gently sloping down into the darkness of the earth.

"Wha…what have you done?" Champollion stuttered, his brown eyes bulging incredulously at what he had just witnessed and his blood curdled by the sound the building had made.

"Nothing!" Kalaan managed to reply while forcing himself to breathe slowly and calmly, a muscle in his jaw throbbing nervously. "Perhaps the door was made of a soft substance... like the clay that we can find everywhere along the Nile? I scarcely touched it and everything collapsed."

"But lad, clay canna turn te dust, " Lil' Louis responded with difficulty, as he tried to sweep away the dark smoke fluttering in front of his face with his hands. "And what is this smoke?"

The Egyptian laborers began screaming and one of them even ran off in to the west. He was completely panic-stricken, and didn't even realize he was running to certain death in the desert.

"You! Bring him back!" Kalaan ordered two of his Breton sailors, who immediately ran off after the panicked laborer. Salam meanwhile shouted orders in Arabic to calm the re

st of the frightened workmen. One of them had pulled off his cheich, and threw it on the ground.

"Allah will protect you. Pray!" Salam scolded them as if they were children.

All the laborers kneeled and began chanting their prayers reinforced with extra "Allahu akbars1", raising their hands to the sky before bending forward to place their hands and forehead on the ground. Kalaan's sailors whispered among themselves but kept their positions. They were all men of honor and made of the same stuff as warriors. Never would they abandon their courageous buccaneer captain.

"It's a sign of fate, I'm going in!" Kalaan announced firmly once everything was somewhat calmer. "Bring me a torch and my sword!" he ordered, tucking his pistol into his belt.

"It could also be a trap, " replied Salam, as the count grabbed a torch after sheathing his sword and entered the building.

"God only knows." Kalaan's response came as he began moving forward into the narrow tunnel, bending over to compensate for the low ceiling.

Jean-Fran?ois hesitated a moment, looked questioningly at Lil' Louis and Salam and, after realizing that they were not going to move, followed his friend into the tunnel.

"Wait for me!" he called in vain, because, as usual, Kalaan was far ahead, his silhouette barely distinguishable in the light of the torch; it was as if the darkness of the tunnel was sucking him in.

"Nay, this time the lad is alone." Lil' Louis said quite miserably and he sat heavily on the ground in the shadow of the entrance. "May God forgive me, but Oy simply canna enter there. Oy dinna have the strength."

"He is not… alone, " retorted Salam who had planted himself in front of the edifice, legs apart and eyes searching in the shadows. "Champollion is with him. This is where the fatum2 of these two men must play out. Everything is already written."

As Kalaan advanced into the dark entrails, his breathing became more and more labored and his heart started beating furiously. The little air there was was dry, thin and noxious. His mouth was dry and his throat burned atrociously. His tongue began to swell signaling the beginning of dehydration. The young man berated himself for not thinking to bring a goatskin of water before setting out into the unknown. His body and mind, already harshly tested by the desert heat, were starting to play tricks on him. His overly tense muscles were becoming painful. As for his mind, he thought he could hear low moans coming from the walls around him.

"Keep moving, " he said out loud in a hoarse voice, hoping to cover, even for a moment, the groaning from beyond the grave.

"Kalaan! Wait for me, please!"

Judging from the sound of Champollion' boots on the sand, the count knew that he was only a few yards behind, but lost in the darkness of the place. He was breathing heavily from lack of oxygen, or from the quick pace necessary to catch up, or both. For a brief moment, the count felt some regret, but he quickly let it go.

So he decided to follow me after all, Kalaan thought to himself without real astonishment.

The decipherer of hieroglyphs had a strong character and had proven it many times. Jean-Fran?ois certainly didn't lack courage, which is one of the reasons Kalaan counted him among his very select circle of friends. He slowed his pace, but continued to move forward. Soon, he found himself facing a wall. At this point the tunnel continued its slow descent on the right. He called back to let his friend know.

"Wall ahead!"

Only moments later he heard a shout of pain and some juicy swear words followed by an indignant exclamation.

"As I was insane enough to follow you, you could at least wait for me!"

Ah, that sounded very much like an order, which delighted Kalaan, because he did not like to be ordered and usually did the exact opposite of what he was told. However, at that moment, he had no choice but to heed his friend. Another wall stood before him and he could no longer move forward. The path had come to a dead end.

"Confound it, " he muttered in anger.

Champollion finally appeared in the halo of light given out by the torch. He was rubbing his nose, probably a result of walking into the wall at the last turn, despite Kalaan's warning.

"You've lost your hat, " Kalaan observed coolly.

"Most likely in the same place that your cheich fell off, " Jean-Fran?ois retorted, not in the least duped by Kalaan's attempt at diversion. Bast it all! Why was it so difficult for the aristocrat to apologize?

"The tunnel ceiling has obviously sagged some over the centuries at that spot. At least we weren't injured in any way."

"Speak for yourself." Champollion was miserably fingering the bridge of his nose.

"It's not broken; nothing is swollen, or bleeding. Your nose will serve you well for quite some time to come, " Kalaan said in an amused tone before turning to face the wall, lighting it completely, from top to bottom.

"It looks like we're at a dead end!"

Champollion's useless comment brought a mocking smile to the count's lips, but the smile quickly turned into bitterness. They hadn't come all this distance underground to be stopped by a wall! They should also have thought of bringing a pick, along with the water flask. There must be a way out! But where?

"Look, " Champollion's voice was barely a whisper. "We're not facing just a wall, but another door! Very well concealed by these limestone rocks, but a wall, it is not!"

Indeed the rocks had all been carefully cut to look like a group of stone blocks, placed one on top of the other, fitting in with the rest of the construction. Kalaan whistled in admiration. The illusion was perfect and had it not been for Champollion's sharp eyes, he would never have noticed the deception.

"This is a fine example of meticulous workmanship, " Champollion said as he kneeled down in front of the wall. "Would you mind bringing a bit more light over here?"

Jean-Fran?ois pointed in direction of the lower right-hand section, which was hidden in the shadows. It was not easy to move in the tight tunnel, but the two men finally managed to find a position. As Kalaan lowered the torch several minute inscriptions appeared.

"What do they say?" Kalaan asked.

"This is a final warning to any tomb raiders. It is written, 'The door of fear will close on you; only death will liberate you.'

"That damned curse, again!" Kalaan grumbled.

"Well, we can't say we weren't warned." Champollion made a feeble attempt at humor as he stood up with difficulty. The tunnel was so low that when standing, the men's bodies were almost doubled over.

Kalaan did not respond, not even with a smile. His amber-green eyes, lit by the flames of the torch, were examining the wall. Apparently something had caught his attention.

"Hmm; I wonder…" he murmured as he raised his hand to place it on the wall.

"No!" Champollion couldn't help but shout when he realized what Kalaan had in mind. He intended to repeat the same exploit as when he 'opened' the entrance to the edifice.

Startled by his friend's cry, the young count hesitated, his hand in mid-air barely a few inches from the stone.

"What frightens you so? That the stone may turn to dust? Should that happen, it would make it much easier for us to continue our investigation."

"No… yes… oh, I don't know…"

"You're hesitating again, Jean-Fran?ois, and yet you followed me. Your curiosity is as strong as mine. Come now, we cannot be stopped by a curse and a few conjuring tricks! Or am I mistaken?"

"No, my friend, you are not mistaken." Champollion sighed and stepped back to leave more room for Kalaan. "After you."

"Very well, " replied the count raising his hand once more to the wall.

He laid his hand flat on the false wall and spread his fingers applying pressure. When nothing happened, he pushed harder. Something was happening, but not what he expected. His hand could feel a strong heat, not hot enough to burn him, but enough to make him think of the bricks on a chimney where there was a raging fire. But what could possibly be behind this wall? Lava? Kalaan asked himself, both surprised and intrigued.

"No dust at our feet, no dark smoke plumes whirling around us. The wall is intact." Jean-Fran?ois' pedantic tone irritated Kalaan.

"It was too much to hope that the miracle would occur twice." Kalaan muttered while caressing the carved lines on the wall with his fingertips.

One spot in particular caught his attention? a flat protuberance looking like a flaw in the otherwise perfect workmanship and covered with the same cream-colored plaster as the stone. He began to scratch it absent-mindedly.

"Those who designed and built this place would never have left such a flaw." The count continued scratching the soft plaster until a blue color showed through. It was a very finely carved blue stone, the size and shape of a cameo.

"It appears to be lapis lazuli, " observed Kalaan. Jean-Fran?ois nodded his head in agreement. "The stone is loose. I have a feeling it was placed in a cavity of sorts... and... and it is impossible to remove from its setting."

Kalaan pushed the lapis-lazuli and it sank deeper into the stone. The men heard an unusual clicking sound. Before they could react, there was a loud sound of turning gears followed by a low rumbling. The ground began to vibrate under their feet and then shake, not unlike in an earthquake. Dust was coming down from all directions showering them.

"It's a trap!" Kalaan managed to shout before coughing as if he had just inhaled contaminated air. He immediately dropped the torch and braced himself.

The flames were quickly smothered by falling sand and the two men found themselves prisoners of a void.

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