by L. Salt
The enormous stained-glass windows were illuminated with the last lights of summer. The rays created multicolored patterns on the mosaic floor and the elegant slender pillars. Golden yellow, scarlet red, lapis lazuli blue, deep purple and cold violet—colors were everywhere.
The air felt cool and damp. The church was closed to the public due to renovation works in its crypts.
Bella enjoyed the tranquil splendor of the place. She took her seat on one of the benches, opened her laptop, and started to look through the scans of the documents and photos.
The crypts were in complete disrepair. In fact, 85 percent of the church’s underground space had been flooded for decades, causing not only the spread of damp and mold, but also erosion of the basement’s structure.
This project promised to be troublesome. Bella had already known it, familiarizing herself with the conditions of her employment contract. But she couldn’t miss the chance to prove the theories she had been working on for the last few years.
The working day was over. The team of builders, engineers, and divers had finished their work and left the site.
“You’re still here. I brought you a meal.”
She jumped, caught unawares, when a hand touched her shoulder.
“God! Julian, you scared me to death,” she sighed, shuffling up the bench and giving her colleague a space.
“You’re obsessed with this project,” Julian continued, unwrapping his takeaway.
She smiled warmly.
“You know how much it means to me.”
They’d always been not only colleagues, but also good friends. Well…sometimes it seemed to her that Julian would like to become more than just a good friend, but she didn’t want to question his friendship. He had never shown his feelings towards her either.
She was an adventurer; she traveled all over the world on expeditions, research, and excavations. Julian preferred the silence of libraries and archives. Bella was very surprised to hear that her colleague was going to join her.
“You’re a dreamer,” Julian only waved his hand, making a sip of his coffee.
“Look at these photos.”
“Ah, I’ve seen them hundreds of times. A few photos of very bad quality that have been taken of a manuscript that never existed can’t prove any of your crazy ideas. They have the same value as the photos of, let’s say, the Loch Ness Monster. What evidence, apart from these pictures, do you have? Just your speculations. You’re an archaeologist, not Lara Croft the Tomb Raider.’
“The Imp’s Chronicles existed,” Bella nodded stubbornly. “I’m going to prove it. That’s why I came here.”
“Even if the manuscript existed and had been destroyed in flames,” Julian chuckled, “nobody would have believed in your theory of aliens who came here and taught medieval architects how to build the church.”
“According to The Chronicles, this church replaced the old Roman basilica around the end of the eight century century. Why?”
“Because it was struck by lightning and caught fire. This information can be found in every document that belongs to the building,” Julian shrugged.
“The manuscript clearly shows that the old basilica had been destroyed by highly intelligent extraterrestrial beings.” Bella turned the screen of her laptop toward her colleague. “Look at this photo. This image here at the top. It looks like…”
“This is the image of a stormy cloud with lightning and angels above. I can’t see anything else.”
“It’s not a cloud. It’s the spaceship that destroyed the church, when she had landed.”
“…And they came here to test biological weapon of mass destruction on humans,” Julian continued mockingly, turning away from the screen. “That’s what you’re going tell me about the plague that killed 80 percent of the town’s citizens.”
“Damn! It wasn’t the plague!” Bella lost her patience.
Julian was the only person she could trust with her theory, but he didn’t even try to listen.
“The first plague came to this country in 1348; you know that better than me. The symptoms of the disease were described in The Chronicles in all detail, and they had nothing in common with the plague. In fact, they don’t look like any other disease known today. “
A creaking noise distracted them from their conversation. The large metal door that led to the crypts opened. Bronson, their civil engineer, dressed in a safety jacket and a helmet, appeared on the doorstep.
“I thought I was the last one left in the building,” he greeted the archaeologists.
“We thought we were,” Julian smiled, shaking the engineer’s hand. “What are you doing here on a Friday night?”
“I’d rather leave and have a pint with the guys in the pub, but this damn pump…we’ve spent ages waiting for it to be fixed. And now we need to wait until the water is completely gone. Somebody has to stay here to look after the bloody thing. But…I’m glad I’ve met you,” he nodded to Bella. “I thought you’d like to have a look at it.”
“To have a look at what?” Bella frowned.
“Follow me,” Bronson gestured to the crypts.
They went down the narrow spiral staircase and stopped at the fist platform. They put on safety boots and high visibility vests, and Bronson handed them gloves and masks.
“God knows what kind of germs we could catch in this stale, damp air.”
They started to descend again and finally arrived at a spacious hall with a low-arched ceiling. Bronson was right. The walls, the ceiling, everything was wet, damp, and covered in mold. Metal girders supported the arches and columns, preventing the ceiling from total collapse.
“When the water had gone, I realized that the crypts are much bigger than we thought.” Bronson gestured to the archaeologists to follow him.
They passed the central hall and turned to the right. The corridor was much narrower than the central hall, and it seemed like it had a slight gradient.
“It looks like this corridor is descending,” Bella said.
They had been walking for another ten minutes, when the corridor made a turn again.
“Strange…There are not any corridors on the building plan,” Julian murmured more to himself than to his colleagues.
“Look at this bad boy!” Bronson, who walked in front of them, stopped and raised his flashlight.
The wall looked higher than the walls of the crypts, and much older as well. The dark beams divided its entire surface into polygonal cells, which created an intricate pattern.
“There shouldn’t be any wall.” Julian took off his backpack, taking out the building plan.
“There shouldn’t be any other corridors either,” Bronson said and nodded.
Meanwhile, Bella was completely swallowed by the wall’s pattern. She walked along it, peering into its surface. “This wall is much older than the church,” she said finally.
“It might belong to the old basilica.” Julian took a laser scan and a camera out of his backpack.
“I’ve never seen such stonework before,” Bronson shared his concerns. “Look at this.”
He touched the wall and showed Bella his finger;
“What is this shit, guys?”
His rubber glove was covered in some sort of grayish mucus.
“Maybe some sort of mold,” Julian shrugged, continuing to examine the wall with his scan. “I’m not surprised to see so much of it here.”
“I’ve been working with flooded buildings for thirty years. It’s anything but mold.”
“What does the scan show?” Bella turned to her colleague.
“Strange. It seems like it doesn’t want to work.” Julian looked confused.
“It identified that the wall is constructed from metal, not stone.” He pointed to the scan’s screen. His colleagues gathered around him.
“What kind of metal?” Bella gripped his sleeve, trying to see the screen under the flashlight.
“Suddenly, it’s unable to identify it. Weird, the scan worked okay this morning.”
“Doctor, I’ve found something else.” Bronson said. “Actually, this mucus preserves the wall against moisture.” He wiped one of the cells with his hand, and the images, slightly faded but just visible, appeared.
“God! This is it. The exact copy of The Imp’s Chronicles,” Bella sighed, not believing in the reality of this moment.
Julian frowned, but Bella started to wipe the wall with such determination that he could do nothing but help her and Bronson.
Five minutes later, the entire picture became visible. Each cell consisted of a complete scene. The top bit presented evil angels with shining halos, who came down from the sky, throwing lighting and fire at the basilica. In the next one, the angels were meeting the clergy with the dean in front. Two of the angels caught Bella’s attention. One of them held a red and white rose symbol in his hands; another one, a richly decorated casket with some kind of crystals in it.
“Look at this symbol here,” she pointed Julian to the rose. “It’s the same symbol repeated in The Chronicles many times.”
“It looks like the Tudor’s rose, but…I mean, the white rose in early Christianity was traditionally associated with the Virgin Mary. The red rose was a symbol of Christ, and its five petals are supposed to…”
“I didn’t know we came here to listen to a lecture about early Christian symbology, Doctor,” Bronson interrupted him.
“It’s not a rose.” Bella continued to examine the wall’s painting, ignoring Julian.
“What is this, then?”
“I don’t know. Not yet.”
“I don’t like it, guys.” Bronson frowned. “We’d better come back here on Monday with the others, and bring all the necessary equipment, take proper photos…”
“My scanner is going crazy,” Julian said. “It’s showing that there is a void behind the wall.”
“How big is it?” Bella asked.
“Well, according to the scan, very big…bigger than…than the church’s nave.”
“Guys, maybe I’d better go home,” Bronson made an attempt again. “You can stay here the whole night if you want, but I…”
“We need to cut through this wall,” Julian interrupted him impatiently. “Could you, please, go back to the crypts and bring us a laser saw. I’ll try to cut this metal or whatever it is.”
“I just wanted to show you this corridor and the wall. I didn’t plan to spend the whole evening here.”
“You’ll be paid double overtime,” Bella added. “Please, Bronson?”
The engineer rubbed his gray moustach and scowled. This damp, dark place wasn’t his idea of a perfect night. The guys, probably, had already finished their pints and left the pub, but…double overtime.
“Okay,” Bronson nodded finally. “I’ll be back with the saw and anything else we might need.” Bronson disappeared in the darkness of the corridor.
“Look, Julian!” Bella pointed to the wall. “This picture here shows the angels and the imps. The imps attacked the citizens, and it looks like…the same pictures of imps that are in The Chronicles. The same symbol of the rose repeats there many times.”
“How does The Chronicles explain it?”
“It says that the city’s authorities and the higher clergy were so corrupt and mired in sins that such behavior enraged God, and he sent his angels here. The angels came and brought their devastating power with them. The Chronicles calls this power the Darkness of Beasts.”
“It sounds like these beasts are the imps who served the angels.”
Bronson’s reappearance interrupted their conversation.
“I brought the laser saw, the bigger flashlights, and some other tools.”
“We need to have a look at what’s behind this wall,” Julian said, grabbing the saw from the engineer’s hand.
Julian had never been an adventurous person, Bella thought. She wasn’t sure she recognized him. Julian progressed very quickly with the saw. He seemed excited and impatient. Bella had never seen him being like this before.
“Ready?” Julian asked, kicking down part of the wall where he’d cut with the saw.
A piece of unknown metal fell down, and the wall opened up into a huge tunnel. Surprisingly, the air didn’t smell of damp and mold. It seemed much fresher and cooler. The same strange grayish mucus covered the walls, however. The tunnel had a ceiling so high that they barely could see it in the unstable light of the flashlights. The roof was supported by some sort of curved beams.
“Something is not right here, guys. I feel it.” Bronson looked scared.
“I can’t believe you’re afraid,” Julian grinned. “We’re on the threshold of a great archaeological discovery, my friend. When was the last time anything exciting happen in the archaeological world? Do you remember?”
“When the bones of Richard III were found under a car park?”
“Exactly. It was ages ago. Now, we’ve discovered a whole building under the church. This,” he gestured to the walls, “is more valuable than a couple of boring, crooked bones.”
Julian continued his way into the darkness of the tunnel. Bella followed him, still surprised by the unexpected change in his demeanor.
The tunnel seemed endless, with a few smaller corridors shooting off on either side. The group decided to follow the main corridor.
Finally, the tunnel widened, and they found themselves in front of a gigantic door. It was covered in what looked like some strange writing. Julian switched on his scanner again. “The door is constructed from the same metal as the previous wall.”
“And again this symbol, the double rose.” Bronson pointed to the middle of the door, where a schematic image of the rose, some five meters across sealed it as though it were a lock. “Actually, it’s not a rose.”
He came very close, touching the petals. “It’s…”
He hadn’t finished his thought, when the door slid open quickly and almost soundlessly.
An enormous hall appeared in front of them. It was twice, if not three times, bigger than the church above. Two endless rows of thin columns on high pedestals formed lancet arches that divided the hall into three parts. The center looked like the nave of a Gothic church; the two smaller arcades were barely visible in the light of torches.
“It is much taller than any other Gothic building I’ve ever been in.” Bella tilted back her head, trying to see the ceiling. But the arches went higher than the light of her flashlight could reach.
Julian made a determined step forward. “The scan can’t even detect the approximate era when this was constructed.”
“If your scan isn’t broken, do you know what it means?” Bronson asked.
“It means that the church was built much earlier than we thought.”
“It also means that all the documents, all the medieval texts, everything: It’s just one big fake.”
“It also means that the Gothic period in Europe had started significantly earlier,” Julian nodded.
“I’d rather finish our research for today and come back on Monday morning,” Bronson repeated. “Who do you think you are, Indiana Jones?”
“I found something,” Bella cried.
They found her standing on a round platform in the middle of the nave. The platform was covered in unknown hieroglyphs, similar to the ones they had seen on the hall’s door. Again, they found the double rose symbol in the center of the platform.
Julian took a few photos of the hall and the platform. Bella bent down, trying to get a closer look at the writing. She must have pressed some hidden button, as in the next moment, the whole platform lit up, and a 3-D hologram filled the hall with its dull, bluish light.
“I didn’t touch anything,” Bella said, jumping off in shock.
The stars, the planets, the suns of other galaxies, fiery and frozen…The hologram in the shape of the double rose moved, unfolding its petals.
“This is the galaxy, where they came from. This rose is a map. Their map,” Bella nodded at the hologram.
“What? Who’s map?” Bronson asked.
“It looks like I may have to start believing in the The Imp’s Chronicles,” Julian said, walking into the hologram, trying to take a photo.
Their conversation was interrupted by a sudden scream. Julian dropped his camera, and they turned, peering into the darkness. Bella felt panic rise and she saw Bronson’s whole body start to shake.
The bleak light of the flashlights caught some movement in the right arcade. It looked like a cocoon. It was about two meters long and a meter wide, covered in sticky flagella. A dark liquid trickled out of it. On the top of the cocoon, dark crystals grew. The low scream repeated again. No doubt now–it was coming out of the cocoon.
“What the hell?” Bronson gasped.
The cocoon ripped open, and a creature, screaming and spilling dark liquid, emerged.
Its dark, hairless skin was covered in horn-type growths, reaching their peak on the creatures head like crest. Reticulate eyes were positioned at the sides of the head; the mouth was huge with several rows of fangs. The beast sputtered, screaming and hissing.
It looked at archaeologists, turned one eye to them, then another, and taking a step closer.
“It’s an imp,” Julian whispered, backing away. “It looks exactly like the ones in the pictures.”
For a moment, Bella forgot her fear. “Where did you come from? Why do you want to destroy us?” She had finally found them; now, she needed to know the truth.
The imp screamed again and made a jump toward her. Then, a gunshot echoed under the vaults of the hall…then a second and then a third. The imp fell back. Three wounds ripped its chest open.
“Julian! What have you done?” Bella tried to pull the gun out of his hands, but Julian pushed her away.
Without a word, he took out the laser saw and made his way to the dark arcade. His guess had been correct. Dozens of cocoons were there, waiting for the right time to hatch. The fire from the laser took them all.
“What have you done, Julian? Have you lost your mind?” Bella stood in front of the first opened cocoon, searching for some lingering life. She turned to Bronson for help, but he was bent over, vomiting on the floor.
Julian took a square metal container out of his backpack and started to collect the cocoon crystals in it.
“What are you doing?” Bronson had finally pulled himself together. “Julian–these crystals, they’re…”
“God, Julian, one of these crystals wiped out the whole town. You’ve seen the pictures,” Bella screamed. She felt horrified spasms seize her stomach as she realized Julian’s intentions. “This amount is enough to decimate the population of the entire country.”
“Now, the gun makes sense,” Bronson growled. “Who are you working for?”
Julian turned the gun on them. “Easy, easy, my friends. I’m very grateful to you, Bella. You’ve done the whole shitty job for me. I just reap the benefits.”
“You’re a traitor,” Bella sobbed. “We’ve been colleagues for so many years. I trusted you, but you…”
“Everything has its end, darling,” Julian grinned. “It’s time to say goodbye, now. You’ve seen too much…” He raised the gun, pointing it at Bella’s head.
The low howl filled the hall from all directions. The walls and the floor started to crack.
“The water is coming!” Bronson shouted, and ran toward the exit.
Julian shot at him, but missed. Suddenly, the support column behind him cracked, ripping it in half, and burying Julian under the rubble of its weight.
There was no time for thoughts and doubts, now. Jets of water fired from all directions—from the ceiling, from the cracks in the walls. A few seconds later, Bella and Bronson found themselves swimming.
“Come on, girl!” Bronson grabbed her shoulder. “Let’s get out of here!”
The door to the hall started to close, but the water pressure was so high that it smashed the door into pieces, and flooded the tunnel.
Bella felt the cold water surround her ears and mouth, even her eyes. Never much of a swimmer, she realized that she was about to drown. Bronson’s head appeared in front of her and disappeared again as the water carried her along the tunnel.
“Come on, girl! We can do it!”
Bronson’s voice and his hand on her shoulder had been the last things caught by her consciousness before the complete darkness swallowed her.
Bronson visited her in the hopital a few days later. Bella felt fine and was ready to be discharged. She asked him about Julian.
“His body still hasn’t been found.” The engineer bowed his head.
Bella sighed heavily. She still couldn’t decide what was worse—the fact that her friend betrayed her, even wanted to kill her or the news that he had died.
“What about the ship and everything what was inside?” Bella broke the awkward silence.
“What ship? What are you talking about?”
“The ship, the cocoons?” Bella frowned.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Doctor.”
Bella’s breath caught and she whispered. “The crystals, Bronson. The imps? Where are the imps?”
“Maybe, you should spend some more time here, Bella.” The engineer smiled, patting her shoulder. “It was the flood. The water destroyed everything. It’s a miracle that the church wasn’t destroyed as well. But it was just the river, Bella, nothing more.”