Archive for September, 2022


Inspired by the 3400-year-old palace from a mysterious kingdom surfacing in Iraq during drought

An eldritch creature lives within an ancient, submerged temple

The desk phone on the old wooden desk rang with a shrill chime, causing Ahmed to jump slightly.  He couldn’t remember the last time that phone had rang, in the age of mobile phones.  He momentarily marveled that it was even still in service.  

“Department of Antiquities” he answered into the handset, then listened intently to the caller, his eyes going wide.  He pulled out a battered notebook and fumbled for a pen.  “Wait, please… say that  again, but more slowly.”  He jotted down the information relayed by the thick Hindi accent on the phone.  “And this is where, again?” he asked, again jotting down key information.  “Yes, thank you – I am very glad you called.  We will send someone out right away.” he said.  “Yes I understand that it may be there only briefly.  I thank you, yes.” he said, returning the phone to it’s dusty cradle and pulling out his mobile as he sat at his laptop.  

“Doctor Puljiz, yes, it is Ahmed.” he said, typing frantically into his computer.  “What is the most up to date satellite survey images we have of the Tigris, Mosul dam area?” He entered more information into the computer.  “Yes, that’s it, it’s coming in now-” 

He stopped, staring at the screen.  He saw the familiar path of the legendary Tigris river, normally a dark blue-black ribbon stretched across the ocean of desert sand, looked like barely a thread, the water levels drastically reduced by the years-long drought, but Ahmed had never seen anything like this.  The water levels seemed much lower than he had ever witnessed, and due to those levels the river was revealing secrets long lost to time. 

The satellite photo, even without the high resolution render that would take another hour to complete, clearly showed a large rectangular object in the middle of the tigris, and based on the current image scale, it was massive – hundreds of feet on a side.  He was staring, lost in the image, when he heard the voice on the phone and placed it back to his ear.  

“Yes, yes I’m seeing it.  I don’t think we have anyone in the vicinity, there’s nothing there – or at least that’s what we thought.” he scratched his head, trying to calculate how long it would take him and a small team to get there.  “I have no idea what era it could be from, no – we’ve never encountered anything like it.  We need to get there ASAP and at least start investigations before the waters rise again.” He found himself bouncing with excitement at the possibilities.  

The team reached the site twenty hours later, as the sun began to rise over the landscape.  It was already hot, and would only get hotter in the blistering sun that had already baked the riverbed solid, so that the team could drive down the steep embankments and get their Land Rovers close enough to the ruins to begin unleading gear.  It was mildly frightening, seeing how deeply submerged the area they drove upon was, normally, if the river was actually full, but that was exactly why the structure they sought was now uncovered.  

Ahmed had the team begin to set up the command tents first, to ensure they had shade and some protection from the heat and desert winds before the day’s heat was at its peak.  The team was assembled very quickly, due to the nature of the situation, and was mostly grad students, with one other staff archeologist, Perkins, who was only available because he missed his flight to Oslo the previous day.  

As the team started setting up, Ahmed and Perkins made their way to the ruins.  They were actually bigger than Ahmed had expected, based on the satellite photos, and fortunately they were so remote it looked like they were the first ones there and would not have to contend with looters.  Ahmed could clearly see the walls, two meters thick and at least five meters high in some areas.  He could see carvings still clearly visible on the sun-backed walls that had been submerged in the darkness of the Tigris for millennia.  

“Perkins…” he called out to the other archaeologist.  “Do you see this?  I can’t identify it.” He pointed out an elaborate series of characters and the remains of a bas relief.  “I was thinking it could be Mittani, but these characters are all wrong.” 

“It’s not Egyptian either.” Perkins said, looking closely.  He took a brush from his kit and gently brushed off the characters.  “I’m not sure.” he shook his head and examined the wall more.  “And these carvings, what could these represent?” He highlighted carvings midway up a wall, and Ahmed stared at them, perplexed.  It showed a scene of what appeared to be worshippers lined up in reverence or supplication to some deity, as was common with much of the art from these kinds of temples, but this deity was… disturbing.  It was huge, with exaggerated features and what could only be described as wholly alien or monstrous features.  

“That’s a new one to me.” Ahmed responded.  “The deities of this era were typically human or human with animalistic features, but this… And is that a whip, or…” he stared at the carvings and then started following them down the massive wall.  “Look here – that same creature, and the worshippers seem to be building something?” 

“This temple?” Perkins asked.  “Wait, no – look, that seems to be a representation of, is that the underworld?” 

“Not a representation I’m familiar with.  It seems more like subterranean, based on these figures – not supernatural, but look, there’s some kind of gateway represented here?” Ahmed said.  “This is…” 

“This is groundbreaking.” Perkins said with excitement.  “This may be a completely undiscovered civilization, buried beneath the waters, undisturbed for countless centuries.” 

“We should get the photographic gear.” Ahmed said, “We need to catalog all of this immediately.  We have no way of knowing when this will be reclaimed by the river, and due to the normal flow of water I doubt we would be able to investigate once the water returns.” 

“Ahmed!” Perkins called out.  Ahmed thought his colleague was staring at a new section of wall, but suddenly realized it was not a wall, but a massive doorway, framed with heavy carved blocks.  A doorway with a heavy door with the same pale color as the heavy blocks, but made out of something else entirely.  

“What is this?” Ahmed asked, pressing his hand to the surface of the door.  “It isn’t wood, but it doesn’t feel like stone either.  It’s oddly cool.”  As he pressed his hand to the surface, there was a low grinding sound and the door swung slowly open, stopping after a foot.  There was a cool, damp wind that blew out of the opening, which was bathed in a heavy darkness on the other side of the door.  The archeologists looked at one another.  

“We need to get the equipment.” Ahmed said.  

“Just a quick look!” Perkins said, squeezing carefully through the gap in the open doorway, turning on an ultra bright LED flashlight.  He stopped as soon as he entered, frozen in place.  

“What do you see?” Ahmed asked, but there was no response.  He could see the flashlight beam bouncing off a far wall, moving slightly.  

“Perkins.” he called, more forcefully.  “Perkins, what do you see?”  Getting no response, he followed his colleague through the portal, turning on his own flashlight. 

“Perkins!” he said, walking up to the man, who still had not moved.  He was staring up, and Ahmed realized his hand was shaking, the bright LED beam jittering in the pitch darkness.  He followed Perkins’ gaze across the room and up, to where the LED beam pierced the shadowy temple.  He saw the beam of light glint off something large and shiny, something round.  He made a step towards the round object, but the movement froze him in place as something enormous… blinked.  

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