Part One: One Last Hope
The tunnel was getting tighter. Eve persevered, her knees starting to ache as she crawled on. Echoes of her boots scraping the rough stone mixed with her tired grunts as she descended. Despite being far below the desert, she still felt warm and sticky with perspiration. With only a small flashlight to guide the way, there was no telling how far or deep the unmapped tunnel went. But the decline and smaller passageway made her hopeful she was close.
Thank God I’m not claustrophobic, she thought. Yet, as the walls seemingly closed in on her shoulders, Eve couldn’t help but feel something tugging at her nerves. Perhaps the narrowing shaft deep in the earth bothered her more than she could realize. Or maybe it was the fear of yet another dead-end, both literal and figurative. The fear of her last lead amounting to nothing. The fear that her colleagues were right.
Eve paused and wiped her black bangs off her forehead. It has to be here. The thought reinvigorated her. After countless more minutes of trudging through, the tunnel leveled off. With anticipation she hurried forward as best she could, but stopped soon after. She saw that it came to an abrupt end, as if the carvers simply squared it off and left. A familiar force of tears and disappointment flooded through her. There wasn’t enough room for her to turn around, and the idea of having to worm out backwards, with nothing to show for it, was overwhelming.
But Eve fought back and shoved those feelings down. Her flashlight in hand, she moved closer to the end. Her mind flew back to other sites she’d been to. In mine shafts or underground treasure hunts, the workers rarely cared about leaving a clean tunnel. The remains were messy, and at least uneven. Here, the passages felt geometric, intentionally filed to form flat surfaces. All leading to this obstructing square before her.
Examining the surface, she could see faint marks across it. Eagerly and carefully she brushed some of the ancient dust off, revealing a word: Ptolos. Eve’s eyes widened, her gasp disrupting the quiet of the passageway. Ptolos, the famous mythical priest to the god-king Usides. A legend believed to be of great importance to the ancients, but of which little was known. Brushing off more dust revealed an inscription, much to her amazement. Her rushed translation was:
To those who pass here, say farewell,
To light above and heaven’s hand.
For here rests Ptolos’s last hell,
A man of gods and god-like man.
Usides blessed and honor bound,
He walked on thorns, passed burning sand,
Commanding beasts and daemon hounds,
A servant then and servant now.
Eve hesitated in disbelief, then nearly fell apart laughing, tears falling down her face. Maybe not so mythical after all! All of her work over the years suddenly felt weightless, no longer a potential waste but a badge of accomplishment. This one inscription would potentially provide years of research. Compared to the lack of information before, it was a downright monumental discovery. The possibility that it also marked a gravesite felt too good to be true.
The realization that she didn’t have her camera dampened the mood slightly. She couldn’t fit her bag and herself through the tunnel, so in a moment of bad choices had ditched it a ways back. I’ll just go back and get the camera, she thought. Then come back, document it, and show the world. The good feeling swelled again, and it was then that she noticed a few more lines of the writing to uncover:
In life he labored through the day,
In death he sleeps on dormos wings.
We seal him here and turn away,
Disturb his rest, a price to pay.
Torn between academic and primal instincts, Eve felt a chill run through her. She chose knowledge, and comforted herself with all of the other curses she’d seen before. Words meant by ancient people as prayers or warnings, but never posed real danger. Threats against tomb raiding were practically a tradition. Ptolos was a real priest, not a magical being, she reminded. Eve delicately touched the stone words, imagining the moment where she could laugh at the warning in the safety of a museum, like she had with others. Almost there.
So there's part one, I hope you like it so far. The picture is actually one I sketched in Procreate real quick. I couldn't find a good photo online, so I tried to paint an impression of the tunnel as I imagined it.
Thanks for reading!