The Lost Tomb of the Old Kingdom
The sun’s light shined upon the dunes of the Lost Desert, casting away the cold spell that enveloped the night, giving way to waves of heat, as if the sands were lit ablaze. The seemingly endless rolling hills of sand extended far beyond the horizon, each grain sparkling in the sun, undisturbed and still. All except for one particular stretch, where the sands shifted, step by step, as three young travelers hiked through the vast expanse.
Arthur led the way, holding a map and a compass in his hands, glancing back and forth between them and the desert. His younger brother, Parlebb, followed close beside him, and trailing behind, his little sister Clara.
They walked for quite a while, up and down many dunes, braving the harsh terrain and unforgiving climate, their sandals keeping their feet high above the scalding grains. Clara had her head hung low, ears drooped, her back slightly arched as she climbed up yet another hill of sand, feeling the heat of the sun on her back.
As he reached the dune’s crest, Arthur stopped in his tracks. He stared down at the compass, then to the map and raised his head. He scanned the desert landscape. There was nothing, no sign of mountains in the distance, no white sandstone pillars or obelisks, not even the Seeral river that ran between the cities of Sakhmet and Qasala, anywhere in sight. Nothing but more sand. He stood there for a moment, eyeing his compass with a raised eyebrow.
Parlebb walked over to his brother. Clara raised her head when she heard him speak. She could barely make out the words over the roaring wind. She pushed herself, straining her legs as she climbed up the dune, the sand’s friction nearly causing her to slip. When she reached the top, their voices became clear.
“…not lost, we’ve just wandered a little off the path, that’s all.” Arthur said.
“If you say so, I’m just following you.” Parlebb replied.
“Right. Look, it’s probably nothing, but I think my compass might be faulty. You still have yours right? If I can just borrow it for a second…”
A stronger gust of wind drowned out their voices, casting dust into her eyes. Clara lowered her head, staring down at the sand. For a moment her vision blurred, then the sand turned into a shapeless void of tan before suddenly fading to black.
“Okay, so all we have to do is follow the compass and make sure we’re going north at all times, then once we see the mountain range, we should be able to find our way to Sakhmet from there. Clara, what do you think? Sound like a plan?”
There was no response. All he could hear was a sigh, followed by a slump.
Arthur looked over his shoulder. His little sister had collapsed into the sand, panting heavily.
“Oh, crud! Sis’, are you alright?” he said, rushing to her side.
He kneeled beside her and shook her by the shoulder. She only groaned. He hastily reached into her knapsack and rummaged through it.
“Where are all your waterskins?” he asked.
Clara lifted her head to meet Arthur’s gaze with weary eyes. She raised a hand, pointing behind her. Arthur looked, a trail of empty waterskins several yards apart from each other, stretched as far as the path they traveled.
“Wha—? Clara, you used them all up? You’re supposed to drink water only when you really need to!”
“In this…heat? Are…are you…kidding?” Clara said in between breaths.
“Told you we should have started walking at dusk.” Parlebb muttered.
Arthur reached into his knapsack and produced a waterskin, “Here, I’ll give you my spare. Don’t drink all of it right away, ok?” he had barely finished his sentence when Clara snatched it from his hands and drank it all down in a few gulps.
Parlebb looked at her. He removed his conical hat and placed it on her head.
“Here, you need this more than I do.” he said.
Clara turned to him, “Thanks, but, what about you?” she said, softly.
“Come on, we have to keep moving.”
The brothers helped her back onto her feet, carrying her along as she walked slowly, limping. They continued on their way through the desert, the heat bearing down upon them as they hiked for several more miles.
“Ugh! I hate the desert. Why...why did we come out here again?” Clara said, her voice weary.
Parlebb glanced at her, “And she said she always wanted to visit the Lost Desert.” He said.
“I said I always wanted to visit Sakhmet!”
“I know, it’s hot and unbearable, but we aren’t too far now, just hang on a little bit longer.” Arthur reassured her. Clara’s only response was an annoyed groan.
Time passed. Soon enough, Arthur was feeling the effects of the heat; his knapsack and wooden shield on his back provided some shade from the sun, but his legs ached from all the walking and the back of his neck burned. He leaned over to check on his younger brother, who soldiered on despite the insufferable conditions, an unbreakable stoic expression shaped his face, keeping a close eye peeled for the slightest hint of shelter.
Clara, on the other hand, seemed quite worse for wear, looking as if she were ready to pass out any moment. He handed her another one of his spare waterskins, which she hastily drank down to the last drop. His heart sank; he felt a strong sense of guilt putting his little sister through this. Now he wished he could have been able to find a guide, anyone willing to give them a lift through the wretched dunes.
“Please…promise me we’ll never walk through the desert again.” Clara spoke up, her voice nearly a whisper.
“I promise, sis’, we won’t. From now on, we’ll take the airships.” Arthur replied. He was just as tired of the desert as she was right about now.
When they reached the top of yet another dune, Arthur gasped and his ears perked. The rocky mountain ranges that adorned the borders of the Lost Desert were in view.
“Yes! We must be close! All we have to do now is follow the mountains!” he exclaimed.
Parlebb came to a stop. He tugged on Arthur’s shirt, stopping him in his tracks.
“What, Par’? Why did you stop?”
Without a word, the blue Yurble pointed to the west. Arthur looked; there was something in the distance that stood out against the monotonous color of the sands. His eyes widened. Miles away, almost at the horizon, was a huge cloud of dust that stretched high enough to reach the sky. It was moving fast, riding with the wind, coming closer and closer with every passing second.
“Oh, crud! Where did THAT come from?”
“Race you to the mountains?” Parlebb said. Arthur nodded.
Tightening their grip around Clara’s shoulders, they slid down the dune and started sprinting across the sands as fast as their feet could carry them.
“Uh…guys? Why are we running?” Clara moaned.
“There’s a sandstorm! And it’s gaining on us!” Arthur replied.
“A…sandstorm?” she mumbled, her eyes and ears perked.
“Don’t worry, Clara! Just don’t let go!”
The kids ran, kicking sand into the air as they picked up the pace. The storm was coming for them, the wind started to pick up, casting sand into the air, shifting the dunes as it ravaged through the desert, threatening to envelop its escaping prey.
“We’ve got to get off the sand!” Arthur exclaimed.
“Not sure if you noticed, but it’s all sand!” Parlebb said.
The base of the mountains was close, just a few yards away, but the storm was gaining ever closer. The cloud blotted out the sun, the sky above them darkened and the wind turned to gusts. He could feel it, the storm was almost upon them and they were running out of time, out of energy. Arthur squinted as tiny particles of dust and sand stung his eyes. He shielded his face with his arm. He did not dare to look back.
“Shelter, over there!” Parlebb shouted.
Arthur raised his head; through squinted eyes he could just barely make out a large structure, hidden within the mountain range, partially buried in sand. He made a dash for it, leaping off the ground, both feet landing flat on the terrain. He began hopping, his powerful hind legs racing both him and his siblings, who stumbled about as they tried to keep up with his speed. Soon they were at the foot of the mountains. They were almost there, just barely a couple more yards and they would be safe.
Arthur cursed when he felt a sudden sharp pain in his foot. His toes struck a stray rock just barely covered beneath the sand, knocking him off balance and causing Parlebb to trip, sending them all sprawling to the ground. Clara gasped as she collapsed into the sand. The siblings clambered to their feet, but it was too late, the storm hit them with full force, the massive cloud of dust enveloped them in seconds.
Clara let out a coughing fit as sand and dust completely surrounded her. She immediately covered her mouth with her shirt, though it did little to fend off the noxious air, with each gasp burning her lungs. She felt the sands shift, rising and piling up underneath her, between her toes, up to her feet, then her legs.
She tried to stand up, but a gale-force blast of wind knocked her back down to the ground. The shifting sands made movement difficult as they covered her hands and feet. The air so thick, she could hardly breathe. The storm shrouded the sky above, leaving a blanket of darkness as it tore through the desert. She was practically blind. In a last ditch effort, she called out to her brothers, but her voice was lost in the storm, the howling wind blocked out all other sounds as sand continued to pelt her.
Another gust struck her from the back, pinning her to the ground. Her eyes watered, her vision blurred. All she could do was gasp. She ached all over, she could feel her energy fade away. Beneath her the sands shifted again; her hands and feet were buried as it piled up all around her, the loose sand rolling over her like a wave swelling over the shore. She lay there, unable to move, speak, see or breathe, fated to vanish under the dunes, to become just another unfortunate lost soul in the sea of sand.
She felt a sudden tight grip on her arm; at once she was lifted up, her limbs wrenched free from the sand’s grasp.
“Clara! Don’t let go!” a familiar voice shouted, just barely audible over the howling wind.
It was Arthur. He pulled her to his side, latching onto her with one arm while wrapping her arm around his neck. Another arm wrapped around her shoulder. Through half-closed eyes, she reached out; her fingers brushed thick strands of fur. Almost instantly she recognized Parlebb’s mane.
The siblings powered through the sandstorm, kicking their legs as they ran. Sand, dust and debris pelted the trio like tens of tiny rocks thrown from miles away. They didn't stop running, even as the storm ravaged them in its wake. The structure came closer and closer. Sand stung their eyes and coated the air in their lungs, the storm fearful of losing its prey.
Taking one leap, they came skidding to a halt as they sped through the entrance. Finally they could see clearly again, but strong gusts still raged through the open space, casting sand everywhere.
Arthur turned to the side; a stone slab sat next to the doorway. Signaling his brother, they latched onto one side and pushed with all their might, their muscles strained as the stone slid across the floor. Finally the slab depressed into the opening and sealed shut, cutting off the flow of sand and dust and the wind subdued into a draft.
Parlebb lay back against the wall and lazily slumped to the floor. Arthur sank to his knees, coughing, gasping for breath and fresh air. He was quite exhausted; he had not been forced to run quite a considerable distance in a long time, especially in such dangerous weather. But they were safe, for now.
“Ack! Jeez, there’s sand everywhere!” Arthur coughed, sputtering out particles of sand and dust, his eyes red with irritation, brushing off the grime from his shirt.
Parlebb only uttered an exasperated growl.
“That storm was insane!” he continued, “I heard sandstorms were dangerous, but that was something else! In fact, that was way worse than that rainstorm we got caught in back on our trip through the Haunted Woods! For a second there I really thought we were—”
Arthur stopped himself as he noticed Clara lying still with her back to the wall, coughing. He ran up to her, reached into his knapsack and gave her another spare waterskin and a small healing potion. For a short while there was silence as they took a few minutes to catch their breath while the sandstorm howled outside.
They stood up, examining the room they were now within. There was nothing but stark darkness up ahead. The sealed entrance left only a tiny ray of light from the outside world peeking through the thin slit in the space between the door and the archway. Arthur noticed the ground beneath him was smooth, cold and flat and the air was cool and insulated thanks to the mud walls, a welcoming change from the mounds of burning sand and the sweltering heat of the wind and sun.
“Mind shedding some light?” Parlebb spoke up.
Arthur just looked at his brother. Raising a hand, he took a deep breath and exhaled, a small jet of flame burst from his mouth, taking the shape of a small fireball levitating above his palm. Light flooded the space, casting away the shadows in an instant. The siblings found themselves in a small chamber. It was empty, save for four large cubbyholes carved into both sides of the walls, the ceiling barely high enough for them to reach with the tips of their fingers. Directly ahead of them was a passage leading to a set of stairs.
Arthur approached; he reached out his arm, extending the arcane torch’s reach. The stone stairwell descended into a void of darkness down below.
“Let me guess, the stairs just keep on going don’t they?” he sighed.
His siblings joined him by the passageway. Clara’s eyes were drawn to the empty, dark void, peering down into the depths. She could feel the ice-cold air breeze past her, chilling her to the bone. She clung to Parlebb’s arm, hiding behind him.
Arthur turned to face his siblings, “Alright, you guys know the drill, right? If you see any sign of movement, see or hear anything out of the ordinary, we get ourselves out, immediately. Got it?”
Clara nodded and took a deep breath. She hid herself behind Parlebb as they began their descent down the dark tunnel, their footsteps echoed off the narrow walls around them.
Arthur led the way, his younger siblings stood close together, careful to stay within range of the torchlight. The walk down the dark stairwell wasn’t quite long. Within a minute or two they were led to a wider space. The arcane torch banished the shadows around them, the rough ground giving way to smooth tiled sandstone that coated the floors and ceiling. A series of hieroglyphs descended the walls all across the chamber. Dirt-coated pottery, crates and other mundane materials cluttered the corners of the room.
“Wow, is this place what I think it is?” Clara said, looking around in awe.
The siblings looked on with avid curiosity. Arthur held the torch high in the air, illuminating the symbols on the wall. He scanned the mural, running the light across each row. Many of the hieroglyphs had faded away due to time. Some so dulled that entire rows of symbols were missing. What was once vibrant with many shades of bright, vivid colors had been rendered muted and lifeless. What little that hadn’t been lost were just symbols that neither he nor his brother could recognize or read.
“Arthur, wait!” Clara said.
“What is it, sis’?”
Clara pointed towards one of the hieroglyphs. Arthur focused the light on the spot she indicated at. There was a mural depicting a group of people kneeling in line before what appeared to be a queen atop a throne, draped in traditional elegant white robes, traditional of Lost Desert royalty, decorated with a jeweled necklace and golden bracelets on both arms. In her hands was an ornate scepter; its hilt coated in gold with gems the brightest shade of turquoise, emerald and sapphire, and the orb at the top end, the brightest shade of red, its shape mimicking a ball of fire. She noticed that there were large scratch marks in place of the queen’s face, possibly by tool or claw, obscuring her features. Despite this desecration, she could tell from the hoofed hands holding the scepter that the individual in question was an Ixi. This struck her as odd, why were those scratches there? There were no such marks anywhere else on the wall. Was this done deliberately on purpose? Or was this some cruel joke by tomb robbers or miscreants?
“What, you know her?” Arthur said.
“No,” Clara said, raising her voice, “actually, I’m not sure. I’ve read many history books on Sakhmet and all the other provinces of the Lost Desert, but I don’t remember any mention of this particular queen anywhere.”
“Well, she’s an Ixi. Maybe she’s Nabile’s grandmother? Or great-great-great grandmother?”
“I strongly doubt it. If she were her relative, don’t you think the texts would mention her, especially since Nabile was revealed to be of royal blood?”
“Maybe you should ask the queen of Qasala herself?” Parlebb said.
Arthur and Clara just stared at their brother.
“Just a thought.”
“I think I might have an idea who this may be though,” she continued, “are you familiar with the Old Kingdom?”
The brothers exchanged looks for a moment. She was met with no response.
Clara sighed, “It’s the dynasty that ruled the Lost Desert long, long ago, way before any of us were even born. Legend has it that long before the pyramids were built, they created one of the longest and most valuable trade routes in the whole world that stretched far and wide across the entirety of the desert, connecting all of the towns and villages in between the cities we know today as Sakhmet and Qasala. According to some surviving texts, since the pyramids weren’t a thing yet, they had to build smaller structures meant to house their fallen noble family members.”
Arthur’s eyes widened a little, “You mean, we could be standing in a really, really old king or queen’s tomb?”
“It’s possible. But they should have all either crumbled to ruin by now, or at least, been buried deep under the sands. Let’s just say, we might be in for another big discovery…again.”
“Better keep a sharp lookout for booby traps,” Parlebb said, “I heard the people of Sahkmet really hate grave robbers.”
Arthur just stared at him, “Guess its a good thing we’re not here to rob this tomb.” he said, followed by a silent gulp.
They continued on their way, navigating the darkness beyond. The retreating shadows gave way to pillars, intricately decorated in bright, vivid hues of blue, orange, red and yellow. Some were in fine condition, reaching all the way to the ceiling, while others were broken in half or completely crumbled to dust, with piles of rubble surrounding the base. Soon enough, the siblings reached the end of the chamber, coming to a stop at a sandstone wall with thin symbols etched into the stone. Clara’s eyes widened, her mouth agape in a quiet gasp of awe. Right in front of them, at the very edge of the room was a large sarcophagus, sealed and intact, coated in a thin layer of dust, sand and grime. She stepped away from Parlebb’s shadow and slowly made her way towards it, curiosity dwarfing her anxiety.
“Whoa…a sarcophagus!” Arthur spoke up.
“Yeah, and it’s in pretty bad shape.” Clara answered, approaching the stone coffin.
“I’m not going to touch it. I just want to look.”
She bent down to get a better view. Shaped and carved from ancient stone, it seemed to have seen far better days; cracks, dents and chips riddled the base. The lid itself was in worse shape; where there clearly used to be a carving of an effigy, as was the tradition for Lost Desert royalty, in its place was nothing but chipped and cracked stone, shattered into bits and pieces scattered all across the floor.
[i]Strange. All this damage looks like it could’ve been done by looters, yet the lid hasn’t been moved at all[/i], Clara thought, [i]I wonder why?[/i]
“Done playing archaeologist?” Parlebb quipped. Clara tore her attention away from the sarcophagus, staring at the Yurble, narrowing her eyes into a glare.
Arthur glanced at Parlebb, eyes bolted wide for a moment, then back to his little sister, “He’s just saying, we really shouldn’t mess around with that stuff. You know, ancient Lost Desert curses and stuff?” he chimed in.
Clara turned towards Arthur for a moment, “Yeah, but that’s only if you disturb their final resting place,” she said, backing away from the ancient coffin, “besides, I didn’t even touch it.” she raised both hands, leering at her older brothers. She took another glance at the tomb, “Then again, this sarcophagus is quite ancient. I bet it’s a lot older than what you can find in the pyramids near Sakhmet, I can tell. I can’t help but wonder what could possibly be inside?”
The young red Zafara approached her and rested a hand on her shoulder, “Whatever it is, it’s probably best some secrets are better left undiscovered. Especially this one.”
Clara looked at him for a moment. She let out a soft sigh, “Yeah, you’re right.”
Arthur took a moment to look around, “I think we’ve seen enough. Come on, let’s head back up, and see if the sandstorm passed.”
His siblings looked at each other for a moment, then nodded in agreement. They followed their older brother, his arcane torch casting the shadows back as they retraced their steps.
“This place has been giving me the creeps come to think of it. The sooner we get out of here, the better.”
As they approached the dark stairwell leading back up to the surface, there was a sudden sound that made them all jump, a loud boom, followed by the sound of stone dragging along stone. The kids spun around. It came from the end of the chamber. The sarcophagus began to tremor, bits of sand slipped off the edges, its lid trembling, sliding off.
“Did you…?” Arthur whispered, leaning towards his siblings.
“But I didn’t touch anything!” Clara murmured back. Just as she had finished speaking, she saw something that made the fur on her neck stand on end. On the floor, surrounding the sarcophagus was a thin line of what appeared to be paint drawn in a circle. Her eyes widened as she saw that a strip of the paint had been smeared across the floor, the exact area that she had walked through moments ago, breaking the perfect circle. Her heart sank, how did she not notice it there before?
The lid kept moving, the sound of stone grinding against stone ringing in their heads. Arthur gritted his teeth, covering his sensitive ears with both hands. To his siblings, the sound was little more than a nuisance, but to him, the sound felt more like the shrill screeching of nails grating against each other. The lid came to a stop right as it was reeling on the edge before gravity took hold, crashing violently to the floor, sending shock waves across the room.
“And, that’s it. We’re leaving. Now!” Arthur commanded, grabbing his siblings by the shoulders, pushing them back as he turned tail and ran for the stairwell. As they ran, their feet landed on a peculiar panel, indistinguishable from every other stone tile, that depressed into the floor with their weight.
Suddenly, a slab came crashing down from the space between the archway and the stairs, slamming shut with earth-shattering force. Arthur and Clara screamed in shock and Parlebb barely managed to hold back a flinch as they stopped right in their tracks.
“Crud! Not good!” Arthur exclaimed, running up to the door, his hands feeling around its surface in disbelief.
For a moment, there was complete silence. The kids turned around slowly. Clara hid herself behind her brothers, trembling. Parlebb swerved and reached for his swords, fangs bared. There was a sudden noise, a shrill voice echoed throughout the chamber. A weak groan. At that moment, something emerged from within the sarcophagus. It was a hand, completely wrapped in some kind of fabric. Moments later, a full figure rose up; it was pale and thin in appearance, its features obscured in bandages wrapped all around. It then lowered its head, staring down at its bandaged hands and body.
“I was afraid something like this would happen.” Arthur muttered, a wave of unease washed over him.
Clara peered over Parlebb’s shoulder. Her eyes widened when she caught a glimpse of the creature before them, an image of a particular hieroglyph flashed in her mind.
She didn’t finish her sentence. The mummified figure suddenly veered its head in their direction. Clara gasped, taking cover behind Parlebb’s mane. As it set its eyes on the trio, Arthur shuddered.
“Well, well, well…what do we have here?” the mummy said, its voice was that of a female, her expression unreadable, “children?”
To be continued…