Dreams of Days to Come
Part One – The Tomb Unveiled
The torrential rains that had swept their way across the rolling hills with an elemental fury, like some admonishing deluge of the kind that had drowned far Muru or wicked Tela, or the gleaming golden spires of Helastra, had at last abated, their wrath spent. The sky, swept clean of the clouds that had once curtained it, now shone forth a brilliant azure. Rivers and streams, swollen near to bursting, thundered forth, their waters churned up and carrying before them the detritus that had been swept up in their path by the storms, of broken branches and entire trees and more.
Two brothers, herders native to the hill country, picked their way through the land with utmost care, for footing had been made treacherous by the mud left behind by the rains. Shrubs were still heavy with moisture as they brushed passed them. During the height of the tempest, a number of goats had broken free of their confines, escaping into the hills. These the brothers searched for, before they fell victims to predators or rustlers.
The brothers were of the curiously mingled people who lived in the hills between the ancient kingdom of Metsheput to the south, and the cities of the plains to the north. Herders for the most, they went about their lives indifferent as to who ruled over them, and they had seen rulers aplenty over the long course of the centuries, each new influx further stirring the pot their mingled blood until they bore little resemblance to their ancestors. There had been bronzed Metsheputi, dusky men of the plains, the wiry, hawk faced Hashalites of the deserts, ebon men of the far southern kingdoms and even at times pale sea reavers from the frozen northern islands.
The rough goat track that they pursued led down towards one of the raging torrents that roared onwards towards the distant sea, the brown waters frothing as they crashed upon jutting boulders lodged in the river bed.
“Look there, Harl,” one brother called to the other, his arm pointing across the river.
The wiry Harlafa followed the direction of his taller brother’s arm, and there he saw a section of the river bank that had been swept away by the raging waters, leaving a ragged earthen scar in the hillside. The wound had revealed something else, something most unexpected, a section of crude stone wall. Part of it had collapsed, opening into a chamber that had lain buried beneath the hillside, lost to memory until the storm had revealed it. From within the chamber there emanated a pale glow of subtle radiance.
Such occurrences were not unheard of in the hills, for ancient tombs, and this was what the brothers gathered it was, were hidden away in many locales, remnants of an ancient people, guarding treasures of a measure that would elevate them far beyond mere goat herders.
Few there were who dwelt in the hills who knew of the history of those ancient places, or the people who had built them, or why. If they had then the brothers would not have been so eager to inspect the tomb, but that history had long faded into myth and legend, and even further, out of remembrance of all but an obscure handful who poured over dusty old tombs and scrolls. Long before their own people, before even the rise of the Metsheputi, there had lived the Baktheri, steeped in evil, a cruel and malevolent people, tyrants who ruled over the other races of men through fear and terror. Their tombs were not places to venture into lightly. This one went beyond even that, a tomb cunningly concealed so that what lay within would never be disturbed or see the light of day again. Yet millennia had passed, and as the long years flowed on, so too did the course of the river until at last the tomb had been unveiled by the forces of nature.
All that remained unknown to the brothers Harlafa and Mhekri, and thus they sought for safe passage across the river, making their way along the banks until at last they came upon a ford, one where the waters raced and crashed. Slowly they forded it, pushing through the swift flowing waters, fearful of loosing their step yet lured on by the prospect of long hidden treasure. At last they were across and they made their way back down the bank of the river towards the uncovered tomb, hoping that none other had stumbled upon the unveiled ruins before they had returned to it.
None had. With a mix of trepidation and anticipation they crept in through the opening. When their eyes adjusted from the bright light of the sun outside to take in the pale light within, they found a chamber none too large, being merely a room of rough hewn stones fitted together to form walls. The floors and roof were of one solid slab of stone each. Beyond the opening that had been formed by the wall collapsing, there were no other entrances into the tomb.
It sat not empty though. Sitting silent in the centre of the chamber was a large block of grey stone, in appearance much like an ancient heathen altar. A solitary object lay upon it, a knife, the blade of which had been formed of shimmering black obsidian, while the hilt had been formed of beaten gold, shaped into the form of a leering face. Red gems were set in the eyes. The pale light they had perceived from outside originated from the knife, providing scant illumination to the chamber. Dull and crimson, it lent a bloody cast to the tomb.
On the far wall from the side they had entered, there hung the skeletal remains of a body, bound at its wrists and ankles to stones by bands of gold. Alien, esoteric markings were inscribed upon the golden bands. Golden nails had been driven through the eye sockets of the skull, transfixing it to the wall. Tattered robes still hung from the skeleton.
The two brothers made warding signs against evil, their skin crawling at the sight that they beheld. Though they remained unaware of the exact nature of what had transpired occurred their in the tomb in ancient days, it was obvious that whoever had been entombed there had not been done in a natural manner, and indeed may have even been alive when it had been done.
“We should let this be,” spoke Harlafa, shrinking back at the gruesome display before them. “Tis a place of great evil.”
“Let us at least take the knife,” Mhekri replied, for though as timid of heart as his brother, the wealth that the knife promised had transfixed his mind. “It is of some worth at least.”
“Make a hurry of it then,” Harlafa told him, slowing back towards the exit.
Mhekri tentatively reached out for the gilded hilt of the knife. His fingers closed around it, and as they did so, the glow within them flickered and faded. The skeleton transfixed to the wall tumbled to the floor in a clatter of bones, the skull bouncing across to rest against the altar. A strong gust of wind swirled in through the opening, driving dust before it. Upon the wind came a susurration of whispers, tantalising in their content yet remaining just beyond the reach of understanding.
“Come, Mhekri, let us begone from this accursed place. It fills me with an ill aspect,” Harlafa announced. From Mhekri came no answer, nor any movement. He still stood reaching out for the knife on the altar, his hand closed around it, unmoving. Harlafa stretched out his hand and took a hold of Mhekri’s shoulder. Beneath his grasp it felt as if he had locked his hand onto a rigid statue.
Harlafa shook at his brother’s shoulder. “Mhekri, we must go,” he insisted.
At last there came a reaction from Mhekri. He turned, and as he did, his free hand lashed out, closing around Harlafa’s throat. Harlafa beat at the hand, trying to break free from it and the fear that struck his heart. The grip was as iron, unbreakable.
With ease Mhekri lifted aloft his brother and forced him down onto the altar. With horror did Harlafa look upon his brother’s visage, for it was if another face had been transposed upon it, trying to force its way from beneath his brother’s. Dead eyes stared at him, cold, unblinking, unfeeling.
For the first time in millennia the knife fell and rose, and with it died the whispers, and Harlafa. The chamber that had for many hundreds of years known only silent screams now echoed to unearthly laughter.