The first day of the Lunar New Year was extremely important to every Chinese person. In the Chinese community, the luck they received on this day would determine their luck for the year. This was why the Chinese had a lot of superstitions surrounding this fateful date, which included seemingly unassuming things like avoiding arguments and losing at a round of poker.
For Xia Lei, his luck today was pretty decent. It would be a difficult task to determine his luck for the year but it wasn’t looking too bad with the information he had just received.
In his study at the Peace Mansion, Xia Lei opened the tightly encrypted file inside the USB stick. William Mussi had provided him with one text document and a video file inside the USB’s folder.
“Could this be how the Americans got the AE capsule?” Xia Lei was curious, quickly clicking onto the video.
In the media player was a small valley surrounded by tall mountains. There was no vegetation to speak of on the brown mountain, making the barren land seem particularly desolate. Judging by the angle, the videographer seemed to be standing on the side of the hill. After recording a scenery shot of the valley, he moved the camera to another direction deliberately. Moments later, the Holy Cross Mountain and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the foot of the mountain could be seen from a distance.
There was no doubt that this was shot in the outskirts of Jerusalem.
The focus was returned to the valley once again. The videographer seemed to have begun his hike, causing the footage to be rather shaky. It was as if the camera was a GoPro strapped to the top of his head. He spoke as he walked, “Today is the first Christmas of this millennium and I’m here working in this damned place. But this is going to be worth it. As an archaeologist, discovering the eighth wonder in this world is the best Christmas gift god has blessed me with!”
A woman’s voice came from the video. “George, it’s too early to be congratulating yourself. The information we received might not be accurate. Perhaps that place is nothing but a regular tomb.”
“Trust me, Elena. I’ve got a gut feeling that we found something amazing this time,” replied George.
“Really? I sure hope it is.” Elena mused, “Right… George, what period do you think this tomb would date back to?”
“I called Israel’s Professor Mark earlier. He mentioned that the tomb might be one from the time of the Crusaders. Ah, you know me. I’m a fan of the Middle Ages. My dream ever since I was a kid was to be one of the Crusade’s knights, fighting in the name of the holy God.”
“Oh come on, you’re no material for a knight. Did Professor Mark tell you anything about the who the tomb belongs to?” questioned Elena.
“Nope, our exchange was fairly simple. After that, he urged us to travel here as soon as possible. And ta-da! Here we are.”
They continued to talk as they continued their descent. It took them a full ten minutes to get to the bottom of the valley.
When they made it down the hill, what seemed like a collapsed rock wall appeared in the video. In the midst of the rocky mess was a cave that had a diameter of about three metres and an equivalent height.
The two archaeologists entered the cave.
George turned on his torch, allowing the concentrated ray of light to guide them. It was pitch black. Save for a few cold stones, there was nothing else to look at.
The pair continued to walk forward. It was about a distance of twenty metres that George finally yelled into the distance. “Professor Mark, we’re here! I’m George, and I brought Elena with me.”
A man’s voice came echoing through the dark cave. The man shouted back in English, “George, Elena, I’m in here! I’m around twenty meters ahead of you. Quick, quick! I can’t wait to show you this miracle!“
“Got it, we’re coming!” George and Elena picked up their pace.
The pair continued to walk a distance and immediately met with some light. The space shown in the video had gotten spacious. It was a natural cavern in the shape of a triangle. It was an equilateral triangle. It was almost as if it was a pyramid built deliberately inside the cave.
“Wow! Nature is amazing! The work on this… Oh my god…” George choked on his feelings, no longer able to speak coherently.
“How the hell is this natural?” A white-haired old man appeared in the video. Behind him was a bustling bunch of workers trying to pry open a stone sarcophagus. The size of the sarcophagus was humongous. It looked like a military tank made out of stone. Xia Lei reckoned that it was sturdy as hell.
“Professor Mark, you were right. This is definitely the eighth wonder of this world! She looks like a pyramid built in the middle of a cave! I can’t wait to find out who this tomb belongs to. Professor, do you happen to know anything about the owner’s identity?” George went closer to the old man. His camera shaking ever so slightly with the movement.
“Sorry, George. I too would like to know. The answer would probably have to wait until we find some clue after the sarcophagus is opened. But before that, I suggest that you take a good look above you.” Mark’s tone was full of suspense.
The moment George lifted to look at the scene above him, he froze. Suddenly, the man was unable to move a muscle.
The scene was a sight to behold, stunning even Xia Lei, who was just a mere spectator in front of his screen.
On the top of the equilateral triangle were human skulls. Each of them aligned neatly one after another. Pieces of human bones were arranged deliberately as well. How it stuck onto the rock wall was another mystery. Its arrangement formed a line of bones going around the edges of the triangle. At a glance, the densely packed skulls covered the upper third of the pyramid-like a gigantic ceiling.
“Jesus Christ! Who would do such a thing?!” Elena’s voice trembled with fear. “Is this the devil’s nest?”
“Only God knows.” Professor Mark said, “Come, let me show you the stone sarcophagus.”
“Alright.” George trailed behind Professor Mark. The younger man asked, “Professor Mark, who was the first person to find this place? How did he discover it?”
“This place was discovered around a week ago. There was a slight earthquake that caused the situation you saw at the cave’s entrance. It seems that someone had tried to hide this cave and its existence was uncovered right after the earthquake.” Professor Mark smiled. “It was a bunch of young backpacking tourists that found this place. They reported it to the police and here we are. We’ve been working here for a full week because of this damned stone sarcophagus. It’s crazy sturdy and we can’t use explosives on it.”
“Yeah, using that would be unwise. You’ll risk destroying all the artefacts inside,” commented Geroge.
“But I must say, you guys are lucky. You’re just in time for the opening of the sarcophagus.”
“Is it going to be opened soon?” Elena’s pitch went higher due to excitement.
Professor Mark nodded. “Yeah, that’s why I urged you to come here as soon as possible. In five minutes or so, we’ll be witnessing a miracle!”
The chatter went on as Professor Mark led George and Elena to the stone sarcophagus.
George circled the sarcophagus and stood at its side. A blurry carving on the surface of the stone sarcophagus came into focus.
George went closer and brushed away the pile of dust on top with the back of his hand.
Immediately, everything was clearer. It had the carvings ‘AE’ on it!
At this moment, Xia Lei immediately realized what that could possibly mean for the contents of the sarcophagus. The man was now more eager than George for the moment of its revelation!
“So the AE capsule came to existence from this place. It somehow ended up with me and I had consumed it to create the current me…” Xia Lei’s mind was filled with thoughts, feeling extremely conflicted with the knowledge.
“A…” George tried to identify the alphabets in the carving. “E!”
“George, what are you mumbling about?” Elena approached him.
“AE!” George abruptly raised his voice. “Professor Mark, did you notice that there are alphabets carved in this diagram? It has the alphabet ‘AE’!”
“Hehe!” Professor Mark laughed cheerily. “George, my friend. There’s no need to be so shocked. This place is littered with those two alphabets you mentioned. There’s so much of it that I couldn’t be bothered to count.”
“Why?” George hadn’t come down from his surprise.
Professor Mark replied, “My friend, do not ask me that. I don’t know either. Let us do our best to solve this mystery together.”
A few minutes later, the workers had finally pried the sarcophagus open. It took a few muscular men to achieve that feat.
Before the cover was completely off, George was already at the front of the sarcophagus. The man impatiently stretched his neck to get a good look inside.
With the help of illumination, they found out that the sarcophagus was empty.
There was nobody nor was there any treasures. Heck, there was not even the slightest sign of a relic. Despite that, at the very bottom of it sat an amber with the size of a fist. Its luxurious golden shade was that of a ray of sunlight that cut through the darkness at dawn.
In the middle of the amber was a bunch of glittering material that looked similar to mineral powder.
“What the hell? What is inside the amber?” George was in awe.
“I’ve seen many fossilised ambers throughout my career. Usually, it would be insects or leaves but why is its content so peculiar?” Elena studied the amber curiously.
“We’ll find out after we bring it to the lab,” said Professor Mark as he extended an arm to grab the amber.
Suddenly, a bullet was shot from the back. It immediately went into the older man’s head, bringing along a spluttering mess of brain and blood. Professor Mark’s life was robbed away in that split second.
“Who are you?! What are you doing… Gah!” Another gunshot rang out and George fell with a thud.
The camera was stationary, aimed at the top of the pyramid. The lifeless skulls watched the tragedy unfold beneath them silently.
More gunshots rang, accompanied by a chaos of ear-piercing screams and pleads of mercy. It echoed around the cavern.
Nearing the end of the video, someone entered the frame. With his back to George’s camera, his face was hidden. However, one could tell from the back that his physique was impeccably strong. He reached an arm and grabbed the amber.
For a brief moment, Xia Lei could see a black tattoo on his arm. It was a tattoo of a king cobra.
“Leader, there’s a camera on this guy’s helmet. It’s still recording. Should we destroy it?” Someone spoke in English but was out of the frame.
“No, keep it. Everything other than the bodies must not be tampered with.” The man with the cobra tattoo instructed, “Blast the cave’s entrance when you exit this place. Anyone who knows about the existence of this place must be wiped out.”
“Understood!” There were a few scattered affirmations.
The footage came to its end after the man covered the lens with a palm and turned the device off.
And that was it. Xia Lei couldn’t find it in himself to move, staring blankly ahead at the screen in shock.
He had finally learned how the AE capsules came into the picture but he had more questions than before. Xia Lei could not comprehend how the pyramid within the cave was built and what its probable function was.
Anyway, who the hell killed George and Professor Mark, then took away the amber?