“Since time began people have search for lost treasures, The Holy Grail or the Arc of the Covenant, The Golden Menorah, legendary tombs, sun discs, golden cities. In most cases nothing is ever found. Why – I believe searchers will never find most of these things because they were never lost. Take the Grail the single most important relic of Christianity. I don’t believe for one second religious leaders would allow it to vanish. They know precisely where it is and keep it hidden to protect it. Yes, my friends the truth is they only want you to think these things are lost.”
I wrote this story in answer to the following prompts:
Mindlovemisery menagerie – Wordle — Obliterated, Astrology, Forbidden, Render, Airless, Frown, Hesitation, Quick, Stone Carvings, Massive, Burst, Perplex
FOWC with Fandango — Subsequent
Authorworld — Picture – Reflection
Your Daily Word — Precipitous
It had to be here. I’d followed the astrology right into the town square. Now, all I had to do was find the entrance.
Professor Axim had told me I was on a wild goose chase with a puzzling frown on his face. Without hesitation I ignored him. All the researchers before me had made a massive mistake. They’d forgotten the serpent. Their subsequent investigations only served to render failure upon them.
They’d been too quick to abandon their searches too. I smiled while turning a slow circle. Taking in the colourful market square with his hubbub of shoppers. City Hall with its clock tower framed in the grey clouds of the precipitous day loomed high above the square. The banks, fashion stores and the supermarket at the fringes didn’t deter me. I knew it was here somewhere.
The others had used the map with the modern twelve zodiac signs. Babylonian astrologists created a thirteenth sign – Ophiuchus – the serpent. With the final constellation added. This square was the final destination.
One slight problem, if there was a tomb here, everybody would know about it. The problem was the infrastructure. I was looking for a tomb hidden seven hundred years ago. Since its interment, the city had grown around it. Buildings, roads, sewers, everything had raised the ground level and hidden the history deep beneath its foundations. Still, I knew it was here somewhere.
Ignoring the greengrocer trying to sell ridiculously expensive oranges, the woman yelling at her husband for buying bath mats in the wrong shade of purple, I tried to think. The map was designed to perplex and yet the answer had to be here.
My eyes fell upon a puddle at my feet. Rainwater gathered in a depression within the grey cobbles. A black-and-gold face looked back to me from the mirror surface. The City Hall clocktower with its copper spire turned bright green with age. There it was, the answer right in front of my face. Although I was looking at the clock tower, upside down it was the perfect image of the ‘U’ symbol of Ophiuchus.
My feet burst into life. I ran through the market and up the steps. Ignoring the main entrance to City Hall, I walked beneath the tower. Again, grey concrete paving hid any signs of buildings that came before. Didn’t matter, I would bet my university education that the entrance was inside the tower.
Reaching the tourist entrance, I paid for a tower tour. The tour guide, a pretty redhead called Suzette, soon led a small group consisting of two families with their children and an elderly couple into the building.
The hallways were all oak-panelled in here. Every panel, the possible hiding place of ancient secrets and treasures.
Suzette was in her element describing the 1930s building and its associated history.
None of it interested me, I was here for something that happened long before this building existed. My pulse quickened as we entered the square rotunda at the base of the tower.
“Nobody knows the reason why the snake was so beautifully mosaiced into the floor here among the lord and ladies,” Suzette went on.
I only heard the word ‘snake’ looking at my feet I grinned. There was my serpent. An almost cartoonish, lime-green snake slithering across the U-shaped arch of the mayor’s legs. The symbol of Ophiuchus hidden in plain sight.
There was something else, the snake’s head was oddly angled from the rest of its long body. A directional marker. I followed it, with my eyes, to the south-facing wall. Oak panelled as with much of the building, the wall was home to a small camouflaged door. Had it not been for the evidence of the lintel above, it would have been invisible.
“Let’s go up to the tower lookout now. Follow me.” Suzette opened a glass door and beckoned the group into the stairwell.
“Thank you,” I said as I stepped into the stairwell ahead of the elderly couple. Veering right of the door, I ducked into the shadows beneath the steps and held my breath.
The door closed and twelve pairs of footsteps grew quieter as they ascended the tower.
It was time to claim a victory. Stepping from my hiding place, I returned to the tower.
Smiling at the snake, I approached the little door.
There was no handle and so I began to feel my way around the oak panel. The smallest indent revealed the secrets. Pressing my finger into the depression, I heard a click and watched the door open ajar.
Stealing inside, I sealed the door behind me. There was no light, only a musty smell here. Taking out my phone, I engaged the torch function. Stone walls were bathed in the orange you like. Yes, this is much older. An arched entrance opened into a spiral staircase descending into the earth. Words seem to glow upon the wall above it.
“Entry forbidden — of course, wouldn’t want everybody to know your dirty secrets, would you?”
Flouting the rules, I set off down the winding staircase. Thirteen deep, stones steps brought me into a room like the undercroft of the church. Great pillars supported the floor above. Between them, stone carvings of proud sphinxes lined what felt like an aisle leading into the darkness.
My footsteps echoed as I walked deeper into the chamber. The light glinted upon the gold detailing of the sphinxes and hieroglyphics on the plinths. Some of the statutory had been obliterated over the decades. A couple of broken spears and the hilts of a rusted sword discarded in the rubble indicated a battle that resulted in the decapitation of one sphinx sometime in the distant past.
The far wall appeared out of the gloom. A foreboding archway led into impenetrable darkness. On the Keystone was a very important glyph. Shaped like a medicine capsule, it was topped with the symbol of a lion at rest. Beneath among other symbols were two magnificent eagles.
I smiled, “Hello, Cleopatra. I found you at last!”
“And, now you shall die here with her!” said another voice echoing through the chamber.
In that second, the room became airless as I struggle to breathe through rising fear. A bright light was beamed upon me —blinding me. I could tell by the footsteps three men were approaching.
“We told Axim to stop people hunting from this place,” said the man drawing closer.
“Axim hid Ophiuchus. Some of us are smart enough to follow the clues regardless.”
“Or dumb enough to get themselves killed by sticking their noses where they don’t belong!” said one of the black-clad guards flanking the man.
“Shut up you idiot!” he barked as he emerged into view. The man decked out in a fine black suit was instantly familiar.
“Mayor Nelson, I’m surprised to see you here. I thought you’d want the city to bask in the glory of the great Queen of the pharaohs.”
“Wrong. If Egypt knew we had her, they would wage war to see her back in their desert. The loss of life would be enormous and we can’t allow that. Cleopatra is ours and she always will be – kill him!”
“Wait!” I yelled causing a horrible echo. “It doesn’t have to be that way. Claim that you were doing renovations and discovered this place. Use the discovery to build bridges between the UK and Egypt. Become a hero of the people by returning Cleopatra!”
“Fast or slow?” said one of the guards drawing a Beretta. The other brandished a kukri knife.
“What?” I asked from beneath the mask of sweat drawn from the tension and claustrophobia filling the stale air.
“I’ll kill you fast. He’ll kill you slow. How do you want it?” The guard said with a sneer.
“How about — go screw yourself!” I brandished my middle finger then focused on the mayor. “I was able to walk straight in here. It won’t be long before more people do the same thing. Are you going to keep killing people?”
“You’re the first to trip my alarm in almost ten years since I caught that Professor down here. Nobody else will come,” said the Mayor folding his arms.
“If Axim came here, why is he still alive?” I asked as things stopped making sense in my mind.
Footsteps echoed from behind me. “Because I joined him,” Axim said.
I whirled to face him with a fury welling inside me. “What! You knew about this place. You knew about this hidden history and evil people keeping you from the world — and you joined them? You let me walk into danger and did nothing about it. You’re despicable, Professor!”
“I’m sorry, Edward. I hid the Ophiuchus and warned you to stop following the wild goose chase. I’m sorry you became a great historian and discovered the secrets, my boy.” Axim looked resigned as he approached me.
“No, I can’t believe you let this happen. You’ve lived almost 80 years and every one of you put to serving and protecting history. Why —”
“Enough! Guards, kill him!” ordered the mayor.
I felt something slam into the back of my knees. I collapsed to the floor as three gunshots rang out. One zinged into the wall. The remaining two struck home with sickening thuds. Screams of pain echoed throughout the chamber.
Rolling onto my knees, I saw both guards had been shot in the chest. They lay dying.
“Sorry about the knee. Didn’t want you shot you see, my dear fellow.” Axim winked at me as he stood over them pointing a gun of his own at the mayor. “Now, it’s you with the choice, Mayor Nelson. You will reveal Cleopatra to the world and return her to Egypt, or you will die and I will see it done anyway. Choose, now!”
“Blast!” Nelson stomped a foot. “You win!”
“Good choice. Edward, I want to thank you for following the leads to this place so well. You realise I couldn’t have rescued Cleopatra without you creating a distraction.”
“Yeah, that’s just great! You could have told me,” I said with a smile of relief.
Ten days later Professor Axim stood before the Prime Minister and an Egyptian delegation. He was taking great delight in detailing how he helped uncover the discovery of Cleopatra when renovations had discovered her tomb hidden in the City Hall.
I stood to the side all smiles. Axim had accredited me with helping him. This was one time where a great historic treasure would be returned to the people. Right where it should always be.
Holly Ward Investigates – The Steam Train
For one family life is about to be derailed. Only Holly can save them by solving a whole steaming train of mystery!