David checked out the temple with the binoculars that the dream world had been thoughtful enough to pack for him. Whatever god this temple was dedicated to, he wanted nothing to do with. The road that led to the gate of the temple was lined with statues of people, each one posed in a unique and horrible form of torture. One had his limbs splayed out with rope going off into nothing and another had a barbed cage around his head. And those were the nice ones.
The step-pyramid temple was surrounded by a wall and a single, thin tower rose from the top. Judging by the sand covering the road and crawling almost halfway up the wall in places he guessed that this place wasn’t used very often.
There was only one way in or out.
“What do you guys think?” He asked, looking back to the others as they crawled up to the edge of the dune where he lay.
He thought back to his choices that led him to be surrounded by three monster women in a dream-world desert hunting a dark goddess.
Gretchen squinted at the temple and took another drink from her canteen. At first it had been a little disturbing to see Gretchen looking like some kind of shark-woman. But he quickly realized that it was just an illusion and the real Gretchen was in there.
They hadn’t really spoken much, but she always slept next to him now. He knew what he felt about it, but he had no idea what a girl like her thought about it. Some times she gave the impression of being from some isolated Amish town and sometimes she gave the impression that there was no sin she hadn’t seen first hand.
“I was told that they wouldn’t see us coming,” Gretchen said.
“Told by who?” David asked.
Gretchen looked down into the sand.
“Gretchen? Who told you? Who sent us here?”
She turned her head away from him as she answered.
“Nylarthotep,” she said.
Several things rushed through his mind at once but only one question surfaced.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was worried.”
“That you’d be upset and do something irrational.”
Okay, he was upset. He didn’t believe that this dark god entering his life again was any kind of coincidence.
“Is this about me?” He asked.
“I don’t know.”
“What exactly did he tell you?”
“He told us to find Hecate.”
“Somehow we have to report to him where she is.”
“He didn’t say.”
Beth crawled up to them.
“So, we just find them and tell this Nylar guy, right?” Beth said.
“I believe so,” Gretchen said.
He looked back at the temple. No guards so getting in wouldn’t be a problem. Still….
“It can’t be this easy,” he said.
“I can go in and look around.”
Then Sayako spoke up.
“Wait. Temple not safe,” Sayako said.
“Why isn’t the temple safe?” David asked.
“Um…I no know word in English. Bad things.”
“That’s specific,” Beth said.
“What kind of bad things?” David asked.
“Monsters, but that not right word,” Sayako said.
Beth sighed and rolled over on her back.
“For once I’d like things to be simple,” Beth said.
“I sense something else,” Gretchen said.
“Don’t know. Strong magic of some sort. I can feel it like background noise,” Gretchen said.
On the horizon was a smear of dark clouds that had been growing rapidly for the past fifteen minutes. He didn’t like the looks of it.
“Let’s go then. Stay alert and keep your eyes open. Scan to the sides and don’t forget to look up and down,” David said.
He hefted his SAW and began walking down the dune to the stone temple. The others followed behind.
They walked down the nearly covered road to the front gate. The wooden doors had rotted off long ago and the place was wide open.
Suddenly Gretchen’s hand came up to his chest and stopped him in mid step.
“Don’t move,” Gretchen said. “There’s a barrier.”
Gretchen reached in her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. She was the only one he knew that still carried a handkerchief. She tossed the cloth ahead of them.
The cloth burst into black fire and vanished.
“A destruction ward. I’ve never seen one so powerful,” Gretchen said.
“What the hell was that?” Beth asked.
“A barrier that destroys everything that comes into contact with it,” Gretchen said.
“There’s a shut off button, right?” David asked.
“Not from our side, but I can see if I can create an opening,” Gretchen said. “This won’t be easy.”
Gretchen closed her eyes and raised her arms. For several minutes she stood like that, not moving.
Then he saw sand begin to stir around her in a faint vortex, like a dust devil. He noted her brow begin to crease from concentration.
David looked up and saw the black clouds looked much closer. Too close if he was being honest.
“Sand storm is coming,” Sayako said.
“How long until it gets here?” David asked.
“A few minutes,” Sayako said.
“Is that bad?” Beth asked.
“Sand storms can blast skin off bones,” Sayako said.
“Wait, that storm can kill us?” Beth asked, pointing at the approaching wall of dark sand.
“Yes,” Sayako said.
Even the ghost girl was starting to look nervous.
“What happens if we’re killed in the dream world?” Beth asked.
“Then you die. You no wake up,” Sayako said.
“How long’s this going to take, Gretchen?” David asked.
“Few minutes,” Gretchen said.
The sand around Gretchen was turning from a dust devil into a giant vortex around her. He could no longer look at her because sand was flying all over and hitting him like a sand blaster.
He could also feel the wind picking up from the approaching storm. The door to the temple was a good hundred yards away.
“Fish lady? Please hurry,” Sayako said.
The storm now filled up the entire sky behind the temple and it was growing higher by the second. The wind began pushing at him and the sand was hurting his face.
The wall of death was almost to the temple.
“Got it!” Gretchen shouted out to be heard over the wind.
Without pause he grabbed her hand and began running.
They ran through the gate and towards the doors of the temple. It was becoming harder to run, let alone move forward.
“Hurry!” Beth shouted out.
Beth turned incorporeal and suddenly the wind and sand didn’t bother her. She ran ahead of them, unhindered by the storm and began opening one of the stone doors.
They burst through the doors and into the cold, dark hall of the temple. A few seconds later the sand storm roared past the doors in a wall of flying, microscopic blades.
He was breathing hard and he sat down. Carrying a machine gun, body armor and backpack slowed a guy down.
Gretchen sat down next to him, also trying to catch her breath. She looked over to him and wordlessly gave him a ‘thumbs up.’
“We made it,” Sayako said.
“Couldn’t you just turn into a ghost?” Beth asked.
“I ghost in real world. Not here,” Sayako said.
Once he could breath again he took out a cloth and his gun oil. He opened up the action of the machinegun, wiped the sand out and re-oiled it. He wasn’t going to be caught with a weapon that couldn’t fire because it was jammed with dirt. No, sir.
He slammed the top of the SAW back down over the ammo belt and stood up. He took out his flashlight and turned it on.
“We ready?” He asked.
The three girls nodded and they continued walking down the long, doorless hallway. No one spoke. They moved slowly and quietly.
Then he heard something. It sounded like a moan or a cry of some kind.
Everyone stopped in place. They all listened for a good minute. He looked around and saw that everyone was wide eyed. Gretch had her mouth open showing her sharp teeth and Sayako looked more like she was grimacing.
After a while he waved them forward and they continued on. On the outside the temple looked no bigger than a large house, but it was at least two miles before they came to an intersection. It was a four-way with each hall going off into the dark. The illumination from his flashlight only penetrated so far.
“Which way?” He asked.
“Does it matter which way? Either way is a guess,” Beth said.
“I say we continue on forward,” Gretchen said.
He was about to respond when they heard the groan again. This time it sounded much closer. They all fell silent and he moved the butt of the machinegun up to his shoulder.
Then there was another moan followed by a different sounding moan, an angrier moan; from the left. This was answered by more moans from the other directions.
He could hear shuffling feet now, coming from all directions except behind them.
Beth pulled out her Beretta and Gretchen’s hands began to glow. Sayako moved to the wall and climbed up it like she was a spider. She hung there on the side and watched.
Normally he’d be surprised and maybe disturbed by this, but with everything happening lately he just shrugged and went back to watching the halls.
A shape emerged from the darkness. It was man shaped and walked with a limp and stooped over. It looked thin and weak. It’s shuffling gait grew louder with each step and the smell of dust and mildew grew stronger as well.
Despite its weak movement, a feeling of dread and foreboding filled his mind that the thing brought with it like smoke from a fire.
Then it came fully into the light.
A mummy. It was wrapped in filthy gray wrappings and was covered in gold that was so thick and wide that he didn’t know if it was heavy jewelry or light armor. On its head it wore a small crown with wavy spiked that went straight up.
More of the mummy things came into view; each one covered in unique gold apparel. Their black, vacant eye sockets stared at them and their lipless mouths hung open.
“Fire!” David shouted.
He raised his SAW and opened up. The recoil of the full auto weapon kicking up helped him hold the heavy machin gun on target.
His bullets ripped into the first mummy shredding dry skin and linen wrappings. The thing took a dozen hits all over its torso, arms and head and fell back in a smoking heap.
Beth took careful aimed shots at the shuffling mummies’ heads. He saw her blow one mummy’s skull open and another shot blew the bottom jaw off another mummy.
Gretchen launched a ball of blue fire at another mummy and engulfed it completely. The mummy thrashed around until crumpling on the ground in a smoking ruin.
There were dozens of them coming from the three directions. One of them got close to Beth. She turned ghosty before it could grab her. She was safe but couldn’t fight back.
What he thought at first to be black rope shot out and grabbed a mummy by the neck and arms. He looked over and saw that it was Sayako’s hair. It was shooting out and grabbing three other mummies like a spider. They struggled but the Japanese ghost girl was stronger than she looked.
Then one of the mummies in the rear raised a staff and said something in a foul sounding language. A light flashed out that blinded him for a few seconds. As he cleared his vision he saw the mummy he had blasted push itself off the ground and begin to get back up. Other destroyed mummies also began getting up.
“We need a plan, B,” David said.
“We must keep going or they will overwhelm us,” Gretchen said.
“Forward?” David asked.
“Everyone cover your ears!” He yelled out.
From one of his pouches he pulled out a frag grenade. He thumbed off the safety, pulled the pin and let it fly towards the hall in front of them. The grenade hit the ground and rolled under the feet of the mummy with the staff. He had just enough time to cover his ears and look away before it went off.
Even with his ears covered the powerful concussion in the narrow halls felt like a hammer to the head. He felt the blast pound his internal organs and smash against his bones.
When he looked up he saw that the middle path was clear of mummies but filled with smoke.
“Run!” He shouted.
He helped Gretchen back to her feet and pulled her along. She was still reeling from the blast. Beth must have been ghosty because she didn’t seem affected in the slightest. Sayako jumped down to the floor and ran after them, letting the mummies go from her hair.
They ran as fast as they could and continued to run until he had to stop and take a break. He took off his helmet and held it down to his side as he wiped his forehead.
“If Hecate didn’t know we were here, I’d imagine she does now,” Beth said.
“Doesn’t matter,” Gretchen said.
“Care to share?”
“As soon as we see her, I’ll call out to Nylarthotep using a spell.”
“And pray that it works?” David asked.
“And pray that it works. If it doesn’t she may flay us alive,” Gretchen said.
“Coulda done without that image,” Beth said.
“Se we see her, send up a flair and hope the boat sees us before the tidal wave gets us,” David said.
He didn’t know how long this temple was, they walked for hours until they finally stopped and made camp.
“My flashlight’s dying,” he said.
“I can fix that,” Gretchen said.
She took his flashlight, held it with both hands and concentrated. When she gave it back, the whole thing was glowing in a strong, pale blue light.
“Neat trick,” he said.
He gave everyone ponchos, spare clothes and blankets to use as pillows on the hard floor.
From his backpack he pulled out his last three MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) and began splitting them up among the four of them. He got the beef stew course and crackers with Jalapeño cheese. Gretchen like the peaches and skittles and Beth liked the Cheese Tortellini. Sayako had the ‘stir fry’ MRE which she ate with gusto despite it being disgusting.
“We’ll get there tomorrow,” Gretchen said.
“Yeah?” Beth asked.
“I can feel her power. We’re much closer.”
As the ate he noticed that they all looked kinda downcast. They needed a boost in their moral.
“Hey, Beth, want to make a bet?” He asked.
One of her black spots for eyes grew bigger.
“I bet you can’t eat four of these crackers without taking a drink of water,” he said.
She eyed her packet of crackers.
“No problem. What we betting?”
“The winner gets to pick the movies for a week.”
He handed her his crackers, which he was positive he’d see again. He’d only seen three people pass the cracker challenge.
“You have five minutes,” he said.
She began eating the first cracker. She ate quickly but not even halfway through she began slowing down. By the time she finished the first cracker she was chewing slowly and swallowing even slower.
Hesitantly she took the second cracker and began biting into it.
Halfway through that cracker her cheeks were full like a squirrel’s and she was barely making any progress. It looked as if she were eating sawdust.
Gretchen began snickering and Sayako covered her mouth to avoid laughing.
Beth finally finished the second cracker with only a minute to go.
“One minute left,” he said.
Her shoulders slumped and she tossed the other two crackers back at him.
“Screw you,” she said.
She pretended to be angry, but by the tone of her voice, he could tell she was laughing on the inside.