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Halls of Amenti

"An American fortune hunter finds more than treasure in some ancient desert ruins."

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Then for a dwelling place,

far 'neath the earth crust,

blasted great spaces they by their power,

spaces apart from the children of men. 

Surrounded them by forces and power, 

shielded from harm they the Halls of the Dead.


                                     - The Emerald Tablets of Thoth 


  I was once told by a friend that the desert was a terrible, unforgiving place. He wasn’t wrong.

  In the end, though my pride as a fortune hunter overcame me. I had come into possession of a map supposedly leading to a treasure of incalculable wealth, buried beneath uncharted ruins somewhere in the vast Libyan desert, south of Benghazi. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

  Elaine, my tenuous partner of many years, is the one who gave me the map during what was to be our final meeting. I’d rather not explain our circumstances at the time, but we are no longer together. She had been meaning to give it to me and I’m glad she did before we parted ways that day. Perhaps she did it out of spite, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to resist temptation.

  My friends told me to stick to trophy hunting in Africa, but my mind was made up. Many considered my expedition to be a fool’s errand; I didn’t care. Needless to say, they wouldn’t help me. I was on my own. At least I would get to prove them wrong and keep the riches for myself.

  I spent many nights researching lore on this long-forgotten hoard, often finding nothing despite my efforts. That is until the fateful night I read an entry in a dead explorer’s journal, acquired through somewhat illicit means, re-counting the astounding find. This though didn’t go into any great detail, and of course I wasn’t able to speak with the man, but at least I now had tangible proof of the treasure’s existence.

  Months after I found the map would mark the day I left my home in Arkansas for Benghazi and, with my hired Arab entourage, traveled into the desert in search of the cache. Abd Al-Aziz, a shrewd Libyan man, was my native chaperone, and the only soul that knew of my true intent in the desert. Of course, he wanted a share of the profit as well as the small fortune I had already paid him.

  I had reluctantly agreed.

  Two weeks we traveled the endless Cyrenaican sands until, weary and on the cusp of defeat, we saw it. There was no official name for the ruins, nor any historical texts about their existence to tell of, and so Abd Al-Aziz dubbed the place al-Maghrib, meaning “the place of the sunset”. The name he chose was fitting, I thought, as the first time we saw the ruins the sun was sinking down behind them, casting the old stone structures in the dying light of day. We made camp there that night, amongst the crumbling stone of a place lost to time.

  I spent the late hours of that night gazing at the stars while Abd Al-Aziz and the others laughed and joked amongst themselves. Visions of what we may find on the morrow filled my thoughts. I dreamt of fame and power, wealth and women--all of the things my exploits would bring me.

  I woke to Abd Al-Aziz tapping my boot and repeating my name. “Dawson, Dawson Bradshaw," he said over and over. I sat up to find our entourage either packing up camp or perusing the ancient structures. More unpleasantly incessant prompting from my guide spurred me into wakefulness.

  I had joined them in the search, but for what I wasn’t sure. We spent many hours of that day studying every aspect of the Cyrenaican ruins. It wasn’t until shortly after mid-day that we made some well-deserved progress.

  Initially, we thought it was dry quicksand, but quicksand doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the ground. The pit was found at the expense of one of Abd Al-Aziz’s compatriots, who barely had time to scream before the earth swallowed him whole. I peered down into the bottomless chasm, the stale, musty air turning my stomach. I’ve seen things that would drain the color from any ordinary man, but even I had to collect myself before further analysis of the geologic sinkhole. It was wide, wider than a man was tall. I suggested that the hired hands be lowered down first but they obstinately refused. Eventually, I had to relent and volunteer as the first to be lowered into the pit. Abd Al-Aziz offered to go with me, at least, and after his fellow countrymen saw that he was willing to go, they did too. A few of the men naturally had to stay up top with the camels and supplies—they were the more superstitious bunch anyway.

  The ropes used to lower us were old and frayed in places; I was relieved when my boots touched solid ground. The rays of sunlight shining down from above lit the area around us but nothing more. The man who had fallen was killed on impact, the back of his skull caved in on the cold stone. Torches were tossed down so that they could light our way. I led, holding the burning brand out before me and proceeding cautiously through the dank subterranean halls.

  The winding maze of corridors led us through twisting passages and narrow channels that allowed only enough room to traverse single file. One such channel was particularly challenging. Abd Al-Aziz and I made it through unscathed, but when he called back for the others to proceed he was answered only with silence. He called out again but received nothing back. It seemed that our troupe had finally lost what shred of courage had compelled them to follow us into this wretched place.

  We pressed on after a time but were stopped by a blood-curdling scream that echoed through the dark halls behind us. I froze, not knowing what to make of it at first. Abd Al-Aziz looked as dumbfounded as I. The outburst was followed by an eerie silence that lasted uncomfortably long.

  For another hour, or so I assumed, we traversed the ageless realm of al-Maghrib. I began to think we would never find the riches we sought until finally, we stumbled across a staircase descending into the bowels of Duat itself. Abd Al-Aziz, my stalwart guide, offered to lead, but I declined. What kind of fortune hunter would I be if I couldn’t brave the underworld myself? He may have noticed my hesitation, but only because, for the briefest instant, I was sure I saw the eyes of a pale, sunken figure leering at us from the black abyss below. Its face was nothing more than a horrid amalgamation of putrid flesh and bone.

  The light of my torch quickly quelled such phantasms of the imagination, though I couldn’t help but feel as if our presence was unwelcome.

  It was cold at the bottom, cold enough that I could see a cone of vapor exuded by my breath. Abd Al-Aziz was affected too, the man shivered and wrapped his headscarf tighter around his neck. I was transfixed by the age-old murals and time-worn texts adorning the walls. The light cast by my torch was bright enough to illuminate the bizarre hieroglyphs well enough for me to see every intricate detail, perfectly preserved by the darkness of thousands of years.

  A door at the end of the long hall marked the way to what I was now sure to be the great lost treasure of al-Maghrib. I excitedly ran my fingers along the glyphs arrayed across the stone, trying to decipher their meaning. After several minutes of this, my hands brushed across a section of stone outlined by a barely discernable groove. I pressed my weight onto the stone, which yielded to the pressure and sank inward. There were the dull and distant thuds of shifting mortar before the heavy door shuddered for the first time in many millennia, sending billows of dust into the stagnant air. The entire slab of stone descended into the floor, leaving my Libyan friend and I coughing and squinting into the gloom.

  Beyond was a chamber so gigantic it defied belief, I could scarcely fathom how such an immense space beneath the earth had not yet been discovered. Ten widely spaced columns, oddly Egyptian in design, towered into the darkness above to support a ceiling the meager light of our torches couldn’t reach. The stone floor of the chamber was littered with scrolls from an unknown age, priceless artefacts and ornate weaponry inlaid with precious gems. There were no heaping piles of gold coins and bejeweled goblets one might expect from the tales of fantasy novels, where greedy red dragons guarded their mountainous hoards of treasure, but there were enough riches for a man—and even his children’s children—to live in luxury for the rest of his days.

  I descended the large central staircase down the main floor of the chamber. The only sound, which in the deathlike silence of the place seemed deafening, was the crackling of our flaming brands. Abd Al-Aziz followed cautiously, nervously glancing about. I picked up a scimitar with rubies set into the pommel and gave it a few swings. The blade was so well balanced it seemed like just an extension of my own arm. I decided I would keep the sword, it would become a fine addition to my hall of trophies.

  I walked about the chamber, lighting the sconces along the walls with my torch. At the far end of the chamber was a gigantic hole in the ground with a large candle-strewn altar built before it. The hole was perfectly circular, suggesting it was man-made. Where it led I couldn’t begin to guess. I called back to Abd Al-Aziz, still peering into the gaping black void, imploring him to gather the most valuable items he could find for our packs.

  The Libyan did not respond.

  I turned back, wondering where he had gone. Again, I called his name with similar results. I walked back to the center of the chamber, scimitar held out before me. The immensity of the space around me was suddenly dizzying; my breath became laboured and I started to panic. I began breathing techniques I often used to steady myself when hunting big game out on the savannah. This helped to clear my mind and focus my thoughts.

  It was then, after I had brought myself back from the verge of panic, that I saw my Libyan guide. He was standing not far from me, staring blankly at the altar atop which the candles suddenly burned brightly. His eyes were hazy and pale, like those of a blind man. I asked him what he was doing but he either ignored me or didn’t hear, instead, he walked slowly towards the ceremonial platform. I rested a hand on his shoulder as he passed. The Libyan finally looked at me as I did, though whether or not he actually registered who I was I can’t be sure. Either way, he quickly resumed his unwavering march.

  I nearly cried out as another form brushed past me. Then another, and another.

  I faltered, not knowing what to make of the spectacle I was witnessing—a spectacle no man should ever have to witness. I recognized most of them as the men we had been traveling with--or at least recognized the clothing they wore, as most of them sorely lacked the physical features of what had once made them human. They were little more than skeletons with shrunken skin stretched tight over her bones like dry seaweed. My legs froze, rooted to the spot despite every instinct screaming for me to run. There was little I could do as the desiccated dead filed in behind the Libyan towards the altar. I fell in line with the charnel procession—my legs hardly seeming to obey my commands—and came to stand just behind Abd Al-Aziz.

  The Libyan held his hands up in supplication and chanted in a tongue unknown to me. The dead behind him remained chillingly silent. I hadn’t noticed before, being too preoccupied with the mummified Arabs, but there was a shadowy, featureless human form bound to the altar. The shadow-man struggled against his ethereal bonds like a thing possessed.

  I watched in dread as the sacrificial rite unfolded before me.

  A faint blue glow began to emanate from the cavernous pit as Abd Al-Aziz continued his mysterious chants. My heart was beating faster and faster, I knew I should have fled but was compelled to stay. By whatever merciful gods were watching the profane ritual, I should have fled! The ground beneath our feet began to rumble and shake, sending bits of debris raining down from above. The light grew stronger until I had to shield my eyes from the sheer intensity of it.

  "svāhā Apeptsut, asesha sakshi,” the Libyan cried.

  What I beheld then upon opening my eyes, while I still had eyes to witness such horror, would surely haunt me beyond the grave. The aberration that rose from the darkness was nothing that could have been contrived by nature. The heads of six draconic serpents, encircling an abysmal maw which all of the head’s lower jaws collapsed into, glared down at me with twelve shimmering cobalt eyes. The wormlike creature’s hide was covered in a sort of gold plating that seemed to act as an exoskeleton, underneath which a strange bioluminescence shone through the gaps in its organic armor. I stared into that terrible maw for what seemed like eternity, shuddering at the thought of being torn to shreds on those cylindrical rows of jagged, inwardly facing teeth.

  The mummified dead genuflected before the enormous monstrosity, as did Abd Al-Aziz. “Apeptsut,” he said reverently, bowing so low his forehead scraped the floor.

  I gazed upon the abhorrent spectacle of this primeval god—what else could it have been?—and knew that I was gazing upon a being older than history. This creature had observed the rise and fall of empires; burrowed through primordial earth as continents drifted apart; dined on mammoths in the Cenozoic era and Mesozoic life millions of years before that.

  In the same instant, I lost my sight and my mental faculties were reduced to ruin. Just a fleeting glimpse of the god was enough to shatter my mortal sensibilities and drive me into madness. For the briefest moment, I experienced the uncanny sense of leaving my physical body. My transitory journey into the astrophysical ended when I again opened my eyes to find myself bound to an altar, Abd Al-Aziz beside me and the very maw of chaos hovering above. I struggled vainly against my bonds. Then I looked to the gathered dead and amongst their sallow faces saw my own hazy eyes, pale like a blind man’s, scimitar still in hand.

  I understood then: the shadow-man was me.

  My soul.

  The horror of that realization was the last conscious thought I had of that evil place, deep within the ancient ruins called al-Maghrib on accursed Cyrenaican sands. Now I float through perpetual darkness, caught in a surreal state of limbo. I imagine my physical body is now a mindless slave to Apeptsut and think that perhaps it was for the best that I was evicted from it.

  My purgatory has revealed many things to me, perhaps because I have had infinite time to ponder them. I know now that our world is simply a tenuous illusion held together by our severely limited ability to process it. I shudder to think what would happen if we ever discovered the unimaginable horrors that lurked just beyond the veil of human perception! There are things hidden in the deepest recesses of the earth, where unhallowed ritual fires burn, that are far older and more malevolent than even Apeptsut.

  Perhaps one day you too will see. 




Written by Anonymous
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