[Dinner with Friends | HP: High Value Target]
“Dammit, Aldguin, you always do this,” Kalcyphir shouts, pounding on door. “It’s 1985. You can cancel plans with a phone call.” He leans against the door and presses his ear below the peephole. Nothing. Kalcyphir knocks again. Still nothing. His shrugs his aggravation off and pulls a lock pick from his black, summer coat. With a gesture, the doorknob clicks and Kalcyphir slides Aldguin’s apartment door open. For the most part, it’s clean, minus the stench of American Spirits, rum, whiskey and perfume permeating from the furniture and several shirts and pants thrown over the couch. “Al?” Kalcyphir calls out. “Di Fara’s and beer, remember?” Still no response. Kalcyphir sighs. He walks around the apartment, examining trinkets, hats, pictures and other pieces of sentimental garbage. Nothing important stands out. Unlike most of the other immortals, Aldguin became immortal at an older age, but has not been immortal for very long, relatively speaking.
Still exploring, Kalcyphir runs his finger on Aldguin’s kitchen counter and table, shaking his head at random coffee stains and sticky spots. How do women tolerate coming here? Elles would probably lose her mind in this filth. He sits on Aldguin’s couch. It’s comfortable. Dammit, Aldguin doesn’t have a TV. The couch faces a large Panasonic SG-D26 record player behind a glass cabinet. Kalcyphir fumbles around for some entertainment, but finds nothing except superhero comics, western novellas, DIY-books and pornography. “What’s this?” he mutters aloud, grabbing a snakeskin-wrapped journal. Tracking the binding, Kalcyphir pulls and loosens the clasps that seal the dried-up, timeworn journal. Most of the yellowed pages are torn, except for the last few. Curious, Kalcyphir reads what appears to be a journal entry.
June 12, 1892
I fear this is my final entry. The light from the hole in the ceiling seems to grow dimmer by moment. What little strength I have left is all I could muster for these remaining pages. The rest of my entries are in the pit of ash you will likely find my corpse huddled around if you are reading this. I leave this so that I may atone for my ignorance. May history remember those who I failed.
Many of the famous excavations of the early 20th century brought with them rumors of archeological wonder and ancient knowledge hidden somewhere in the sands east of Bethlehem. The rumors were such that all manner of discovery were lying in wait, should one be courageous enough to seek it. In my stupidity, I found such courage and strength. It was that boldness that drew Eloise, myself and our small team to the grave you are likely reading this in. While surveying the desert, we found an oasis along the Nahal Kidral. A small tribe exchanged information for several pounds and some food. They told us of a kiln that belonged to the ancient deity called Knavili. The kiln was said to be intact within a recently discovered series of tunnels directly south of the oasis. For more food and coin, they showed us where and we set up camp, unprepared for what awaited us.
Several days into the excavation, Eloise found a necklace made of opal in one of the tunnels. The multi-colored, pristine artifact glistened in the sunlight, but in the evening, under the moonlight, its illumination was quite different. It just so happened that the full moon occurred the same evening of the day we found the bejewelled necklace. Direct moonlight encased it in a soft blue glow that emphasized the speckles along the opal. At first we thought it a trick of the cut, until Allen D. Gwinneford, one of my close colleagues from Boston, indicated that it was a map. More specifically, a map of the underground city. We, as any adventurer worth their salt, transposed the map onto paper, then concentrated our efforts to the key points. The kiln was to be my greatest discovery. Our greatest discovery.
We worked out a deal with the local tribe: they would watch our belongings and we would pay them a handsome sum every day they stood guard. They obliged with little reluctance and much indifference. “Don’t make arrangements, you cannot keep, Englishman,” the tribal leader said lightly, adjusting his turban and tightening his white waist wrap around his burgundy tunic. “Many an explorer have come in search of knowledge, prestige and riches. We have been able to survive well from their unclaimed belongings. Such treasures are not without perils. It should speak volumes that we dare not go ourselves, you understand?” In my excitement, I failed to heed his words. It seems so obvious now.
After days of collecting the minor treasures and amassing a decent stockpile, we collectively decided our last push should be the kiln. We traversed the heart of the damp, sandy tunnels, hearing the click of insects and settling stones overhead. Flashlights and torches illuminated our descent. Had my wits been about me, I would have felt that the air was different. Thick, heavy and tense almost as if the air itself where a predator and we its prey, leisurely stepping into its mouth.
When we came to a room lined with hieroglyphics Allen, the brightest of us all, remarked that we should turn back. He warned that the cuneiform appear to warn of a curse. I didn’t listen. Instead, I told him that he could watch our belongings, along with anyone else who lacked the spine to be an explorer. Allen, being Allen, did just that, while Eloise and several others decided we would pay a handsome amount of money to have the tribesmen translate the cuneiform for us.
A blind elder with one foot in the grave and the other in a memory, said he could tell us exactly what the cuneiform contained without venturing with us. He had seen it in his youth, playing with some friends in the same entombed catacombs many years ago. What he saw drove him to put sand in his palms and rub his eyeballs raw. We laughed at his cowardice and primitiveness. We didn’t heed his words. We simply laughed. Then, we pressed for a translation, putting pound note after pound note into his frail hands until the man finally said that the cuneiform read:
‘All who would disturb the sunken crypt, know you that the eye of madness watches. Only accursed riches lie dormant in this place. Sorrow and death await those who would venture further. The one called Ka’Leb has made it so. Before Ka’Leb we revered our deity, Knavili. We were simple. Sowing the land and offering our harvest to Knavili by burning it within his bronze kiln. Then, the false god Ka’Leb appeared. The Kiln that brought prosperity, strength and beauty to us in ways unimaginable had become rusted, black and malodorous. As the kiln spoiled, so did we. Wickedness, sin, disease, famine, plague and misery claimed our people. As penance, they took the appearance of our dying deity and shall forever suffer as he did from our betrayal. We know not what the affliction brings save for deformity and feral behavior. We are only certain that the damned suffer horrors we cannot comprehend. We urge you to turn back. You have been warned.’
Of all the instincts man posses, lust, greed and envy are the triple triad of disaster. Once they consume a man, no amount of gold, food, drunk or promiscuity could satiate his hunger for more. I write this knowing that I am to blame for the deaths of my fellow archeologists. I scribble in silence praying that I expire from thirst or starvation and not from the deathless horrors that crawl through this dungeon. We shot them, burned them, strangled them, but they do not understand the pain we inflict. They merely walk and shriek at nothing, look at nothing. I, like the true coward I am, have not the courage for self mutilation nor the strength of will to take my life under such circumstance. Using loose stone and some of my comrades’ bodies I made a wall to shield me and my fire from the inhabitants of this hell. This is where I will die. An unknown, forgotten coward lost in the throes of avarice.
The teachings of my mentor Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie have all been for naught. Eloise, my dear friend and companion, I am sorry. Allen you were right. I am deeply sorry for the ridicule and insults I so casually hurled at you, old friend. I hope that you are able to make it back to your family.
“Ka’Leb,” Kalcyphir mutters. He groans, slams the journal shut and slides it back into place. He sits on Aldguin’s couch and places his face into his palms. After taking a deep breath, he looks around, observing the rock posters, framed guitars and vintage memorabilia. “You seem to have done fine for yourself Allen,” he says, crossing his arms. Kalcyphir grabs the remote for the stereo system. The front door opens, then slams shut before he can play anything.
“Kal, buddy, sorry I’m late. I got pizza!” Aldguin shouts, ruffling plastic bags. “And, uh, I brought the beer! Oh yeah!” he exclaims, grinning ear-to-ear. He sets the pizza box and 6-pack down on the coffee table, then unslings his favorite guitar from his back. “I didn’t forget about our hangout. Just got caught up helping a neighbor with their groceries. I leave this planet in a few months, remember?”
Kalcyphir smiles, or at least makes an attempt to do so. “It’s fine, Allen,” he says.
Aldguin raises an eyebrow. “What’d you say?” he asks, curious and confused. He looks at Kalcyphir’s still, expressionless face and laughs. “I’m just kidding, pal. You got me. Al D. Gwinneford, the man, the myth and the legend. Now, let’s get good and drunk so you’re more amicable when your girlfriend comes around. I ain’t leaving Earth without making the most of our time.” He grabs his stereo remote and presses a button. A panel opens in the wall above the record player. Aldguin glances at Kalcyphir and smirks. “You hide it well, bud, but I can tell by the look on your face, you probably thought I was way too old school for one of these,” he says, standing up and up rummaging through a nearby bin. “I’ve got Miami Vice, Cheers and Black Adder on VHS. Pick one, Kal.”