Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
There are things in the dark and ancient corners of this world that nature should never have allowed to exist. In spite of the decay of millennia they live on, the last remnants of the world that should have been forgotten. There was much that I sacrificed to learn that firsthand. Every day for the last ten years I wish that I had never heard the word. All I can do now is try to keep others from having that same regret.
I was studying ancient archeological sites in Egypt at the time, trying desperately to make a name for myself by making some important discovery. After two years of digging through the sand with nothing to show for it, I became somewhat reckless. I had several instances of ‘differences in philosophy’ with our dig leader that found me working alone from that point on.
Now unrestricted, I used every resource at my disposal to dig into the darker corners of Egypt. I bought several relics off the black market and paid a great sum of money to dealers in the back alleys of Cairo in this pursuit, but I finally found something worth finding. It was evidence of a cult that seemed to predate Egyptian mythology. It did not appear often, but it was always accompanied by a picture of four skulls in a diamond pattern; a picture that seemed very different from any previously seen Egyptian art. I enjoyed a modest celebrity status for bringing this cult to the attention of the academic community, but I had much higher aspirations.
At least two sets of hieroglyphs mentioned something about a tomb in the desert. This place was talked about with such reverence that it had to be the center of this cult. One set included a word that translated as ‘Malgam’. I thought that this was surely the name of the site or perhaps even the name of the cult itself. I put out a bounty on any piece of information that could lead me to this tomb. It was only three days before I received a call that directed me to a newly opened tomb outside of the Siwa Oasis. My contacts said they would make sure I was the first researcher to enter the tomb.
As I entered the ancient structure, there were two things that stood out. Firstly, that it was a very large space, denoting that a very important person had been entombed there. Secondly, the room had been completely looted. I thought that my contact had cheated me until I saw that one thing remained. On a pedestal against the far wall, there was a single tablet. As I approached, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. In bold relief at the very top of the tablet was the emblem of the four skulls. Below it was the word: Malgam. Whatever looters had ransacked the tomb had not thought it was valuable enough to take. Or perhaps they were afraid of it. I took several pictures of the tablet and then smashed it. No one was going to know about it but me. It told me the exact location of the tomb. It was dead in the center of the Libyan Sahara.
It took me a few weeks to gather supplies and hire a guide willing to go that deep into the desert. The journey went more smoothly than I had any right to anticipate. A day away from the tomb’s location we met a Bedouin caravan. Taking a chance, I asked them about ancient myths. They laughed and told me all sorts of mad rumors and legends. They talked about gods, demons, sand monsters, sea monsters, and ancient cities like Lasaria, Holm, and Zatan’nataz. But I noticed that in all of these stories, they never mentioned the tomb I knew was so close at hand. I finally just asked about it. The laughing and storytelling stopped instantly. After a lengthy silence, I heard a voice from behind me say the word I had wanted to hear. I turned to see an old man staring at me. He told me that it was a place of sorrow and death; a mistake of the ancient world. The Bedouin went no closer to it than we were now. I told him I would not be dissuaded. He believed me. Before we set off the next day, he tried to warn me one more time.
“The ancient places of this world have spirits,” the old man said. “Some are benevolent. Others are not. You will feel which one lays beneath the desert tomb.”
My guide and I reached the rock formation the tablet had spoken of late the next evening. It looked like a landslide at the foot of a large cliff face, but I knew there was an entrance beneath it. My assistant and I began to clear the rocks away as the sun set over the horizon. Half an hour after nightfall, the entrance to the tomb laid exposed: a six foot high tunnel leading down into the abyss. We made camp and planned to enter the tomb the following morning. That would have happened, except that late that night, probably around midnight, I awoke to a sound emanating from the tunnel.
I quickly got up and ran to the tunnel. The sound of crumbling stone came from below me. At that moment, I was terrified that shifting the rocks at the entrance had caused some form of collapse inside the tomb. Without waking my guide, I grabbed a flashlight and headed for the entrance, if only to see what damage had been done by our clumsy excavation. It would have been better if the tunnel actually had collapsed.
As I approached the entrance, I no longer heard the sound of shifting rocks. Every moment seemed like an hour as I sat and waited for what might as well be my dreams crumbling. I don’t know how long I stood there, but I finally decided it must have been a single rock or perhaps my imagination. As I turned to head back to camp, I heard another sound, more subtle than the first. It was the sound of the wind. I almost ignored it, but then I realized that the wind was at my back. It was coming from the tunnel. I spun around and shined my light onto the entrance. I walked very slowly back towards it, until I was absolutely sure about the wind’s source. I remember wondering whether I should wait until morning or if I should wake my assistant. None of those thoughts won out. I could almost hear the wind from the tomb whispering to me, calling me to find it. I could not bear to decline that invitation.
The passageway descended at a gentle slope into the earth. The ground was littered with rocks and debris, forcing me to move slowly. I had been moving down the tunnel for about ten minutes when the ceiling abruptly rose above me, opening into a large chamber. I shone my light above me, trying to determine the size of the chamber. The ceiling rose at least 30 feet into the rock above. As I looked up, my foot struck something on the ground in front of me that felt like metal. I moved the light down and saw a ruined chandelier at my feet. It appeared to be wrought iron made to look like a mass of conjoined bones. A number of skulls along the circumference had cavities for burning substances. I could still smell a trace of whatever rank oil had once burned in them.
Carefully stepping around the ancient fixture, my gaze came to rest on the wall opposite the entrance. A plainly carved doorway opened into the next room. On all sides of the door was writing etched into the stone. Although it was not aesthetically impressive, I was awestruck by what it implied. The carvings said what I assume was the same phrase in varied languages and scripts. In that moment I felt as though the Rosetta Stone paled in comparison with what I had found. Among the writing I counted Egyptian hieroglyphics, ancient Greek, Sanskrit, Chinese characters, classical Latin, and even some form of cuneiform! The only ones I could decipher were the Egyptian and the Latin. They stated, and I presume the rest did as well, that ‘they live eternally’. Upon closer inspection, I noticed something that sent a chill down my spine. Someone had scrawled out the ‘live’ in the Latin text and replaced it with ‘patiantur’. They suffer eternally.
I scanned the room carefully for what might have made the noise I had heard above ground. The layers of dust on the chandelier implied that it was not the culprit and I could see no substantial debris on the ground. I thought briefly about turning back, but the tomb breeze still whispered to me, calling me deeper into the darkness. I walked through the doorway and into a forgotten age.
I’m not sure how the room was lit, but it was. The closest I can come to comprehending it is moonlight being reflected through the ceiling. After the fact, I found that odd seeing as I remember there being no moon that night. The light, however, was the farthest thing from my mind at that moment.
In front of me laid a panorama of an ancient world. The opposite wall was concave and completely covered in a vast work composed of silver and black onyx, every bit of it shining in the dim light. After the initial awe at the work faded, I realized that the wall was in fact a vast map. I knew this only because of the coastlines because the map itself did not represent cities of any kind that I knew. There were rivers and forests depicted where none had existed for several thousand years at least. Strange symbols covered much of the wall, as well as many depictions of creatures I had no recollection of in history or mythology. And, of course, at the exact point where I stood on the map was the emblem of the four skulls. I walked forward to inspect the work more closely, stepping around a ruined pedestal in the center of the room. I was an inch from placing a hand on one of the emblems when I noticed that it appeared to be tarnished. Turning my flashlight towards the wall, I realized that it was not tarnished. It was stained red. Looking at the rest of the map, I saw that a full two thirds of the symbols had similar residue. The anxiety I had felt was replaced by dread. I ripped my eyes away from the map and scanned the rest of the room at last. There was nothing else except for the stone pedestal in the center of the room and a door at the side leading deeper into the crypt. I wanted to go through the doorway back to the entrance. I wanted nothing more. But the voice in the wind came to me again.
I left the light of the map room and entered the new passage. I had been walking for barely a minute when I came upon two alcoves to either side of me. Turning my light into them, I finally found the first graves. But something was severely wrong with them. The coffins were thick stone carved from the very rock beneath them. At one point, heavy stone lids had laid on top of the graves. Those lids had been thrown off and were lying on the ground beside them, one in several pieces. Investigating the intact lid, I found a large sun design crafted out of black onyx embedded into the stone. I paused for a long while before turning my light to the inside of the open tomb. I finally took a deep breath and looked inside. There was no body. In its place was a large reddish-brown crust that reminded me immediately of the stains on the map. Whoever had been placed in this tomb had still been bleeding. I made my way across the corridor to the other alcove. I picked up a piece of the shattered lid and saw that it had a design of waves made out of sapphire. Flipping the piece of stone over, I saw what could only be half of a bloody handprint on the underside of the lid. I dropped the shard to the ground, where it shattered in two. As I looked at the floor I saw something else. There were marks on the floor. Drag marks. They led from the stone coffin to the corridor and beyond. I didn’t want to follow those scars in the stone, but I had no choice.
As I walked through that ruined necropolis I passed grave after grave, hoping that at long last I would finally find my reason for being here. Scientific curiosity had left me long ago. Academic and financial reward had no meaning to me anymore. I just wanted the whispering to stop. I wanted the wind to stop blowing. And then I came to it; the last doorway, where all the marks on the ground led. It was a large stone archway with no decoration, save for a single word hewn into the keystone. I don’t believe I need to tell you what that word was.
I stepped through the door and came to the final chamber. I knew as soon as I entered that this was what it was all for. All the stone, silver, and blood were for whatever was in this room. The floor continued for twenty feet in front of me before ending at the edge of a massive pit. I cannot say how wide or how deep it was, but I will say that in that darkness, it seemed to have no end. Time stood still as I stared at its edge, waiting for some purpose to reveal itself without having to look into the depths. The breeze that had taunted me for so long took on an acrid, putrid stench as it emanated from the pit. It was almost like my feet moved by themselves to the very edge. I did the only thing that I could to bring this night to an end. I raised my light and directed it into the abyss.
I saw four skulls in the dim light. Four normal human skulls facing up out of the darkness. I almost breathed a sigh of relief. Then the wind stopped blowing. Whatever magic the voices in the wind had worked on me dissipated. I was a moment away from turning and running when the skulls began to move. More skulls came into view beside the four. As they shifted in the darkness, the light revealed more than I could count. I swung the light away from the pit, but as the light moved, the eyes began to glow with their own. I gazed down at dozens of sockets glaring at me with a dull blue light.
I felt the entire tomb shake. A cacophony of clattering bone came from the abyss as I stumbled backwards, my legs no longer seeming to function. As the rattling bones became louder, a colossal hand reached up and clung to the edge of the pit. Its fingers were arm bones bending at more joints than I wanted to count. There were eight digits, each ending with a skeletal human hand grasping sightlessly at the rock beneath its tip. As I watched in horror, another hand gripped the edge. The rattling was deafening as the creature pulled itself out of its lair. Before the mass of watching skulls could break the surface, another arm, stretching impossibly long, reached out of the pit towards me, impacting only feet away. I fell to the ground in shock, landing a foot from the mass of skeletal hands. The arm behind it was a ramshackle nightmare of femurs and spines with ribs jutting like spikes. I climbed to my feet and ran before I had to see the eyes once more.
The graves flashed by me as I ran. Now I knew exactly where the bodies had gone. I knew what they had been fed to. This was no tomb. This was no holy place. This was a pit of sacrifice for madmen worshipping a monstrosity. I saw the light of the map room ahead of me. Surely the thing could not make it through the corridors beyond its pit. I was at the graves nearest the map room when it happened. I felt my arm grabbed from behind and I fell sideways into an alcove, slamming into the stone coffin within. I looked up frantically, trying to see what had grabbed me. I saw only crypt air behind me. I began to get up when I felt it; my arm being pulled of its own accord. No, not my arm…the bones. The next pull sent me sprawling onto my stomach. Pain began to wrack my hand as the bones inside attempted to burst through the skin and tendon. I was slowly being dragged back to the pit. I looked around in a panic and saw the piece of stone lid I had broken earlier. The shattered edge looked sharp. I grabbed it. I used it. It took six strikes, but I was freed of its grasp. I turned and ran. I ran through the map room, through the room that promised they would live eternally, and, finally, through the tunnel that led to the surface.
My guide awoke ten minutes before sunrise to the sound of me screaming and trying to roll rocks back onto the entrance to the tomb with one hand and a bloody stump. I don’t remember much of the next week, but thanks to my guide and the Bedouins we had met the day before, I made it back to civilization in time for treatment. I asked my guide how he managed to find them and he answered me that he did not. The old man that had warned me away from the tomb before had convinced them to follow us in case we required aid. He was miles away when I finally regained my senses. I never had the chance to thank him.
I paid dearly to learn a lesson that day. To learn that there are indeed spirits in ancient places and that they are best left alone. That lesson cost me my hand. Although I cannot truly say that I lost it. I know exactly where it is. I still feel it. I feel the decay in the air, the wind of the crypt, and the rattle of countless bones. My hand will live eternally; it will suffer eternally; attached to the arm of the Malgam.
Credit: Alex Taylor