The enormous stained-glass windows were illuminated with the last lights of summer. The rays created multicoloured patterns on the mosaic floor and the elegant slender pillars. Golden yellow, scarlet red, lapis-lazuli blue, deep purple, and cold violet—colours 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 splendour 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 percents of the church’s underground space had been flooded for decades, causing not only the spreading of damp and mould, 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 her 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, being caught unawares, when somebody’s 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 travelled all over the world on expeditions, research and excavations. Julian preferred the silence of libraries and archives. Bella was very surprised, knowing 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 which 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 evidences 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 only 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 8th 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 to the 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 a spaceship which destroyed the church, when she had landed.’
‘…And they came here to test biological weapon of mass destruction on humans,’ Julian continued mockingly, turning around from the screen. ‘That’s what you’re going tell me about the plague which killed 80 percents of the town’s citizens.’
‘Damn! It wasn’t the plague!’ Bella lost her patience.
Julian was the only person she could trust 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 details, and they had nothing in common with the plague. In fact, they don’t look like any other disease known nowadays. ’
A creaking noise distracted them from their conversation. The large metal door, which led to the crypts, opened. Bronson, the civil engineer, dressed in a safety jacket and a helmet appeared on the doorstep.
‘I thought I was the last one, who was 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…Have spent ages, waiting for it to be fixed, and then needed to wait again till the water has gone completely. 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 out special 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 the low arched ceiling. Bronson was right. The walls, the ceiling, everything was wet, damp and covered in mould. Metal girders supported the arches and columns, preventing the ceiling from a 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 shared her thoughts.
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 torch.
The wall looked higher than the walls of the crypts and much older as well. The dark beams divided its entire surface into some kind of polygonal cells which created an intricate pattern.
‘There shouldn’t be any wall,’ Julian took off his backpack, taking out the building plan.
‘Here shouldn’t be any other corridors either,’ Bronson 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 greyish mucus.
‘Maybe some sort of mould,’ Julian shrugged, continuing to examine the wall with his scan. ‘I’m not surprise to see so much of it here.’
‘I’ve been working with flooded buildings for thirty years. It’s everything, but mould.’
‘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 torch’s light.
‘Oh, it’s unable to identify it…Weird, the scan worked ok today in the morning.’
‘Doctor, I’ve found something else,’ Bronson drew Bella’s attention. ‘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 gasped, not believing in the reality of this moment.
Julian frowned, but she started to wipe the wall with such determination that he had nothing to do but to help her and Bronson.
Five minutes later, the entire picture became visible.
Each “cell” consisted of a complete scene. The top bit presented the evil angels with shining halos, who came down from the sky, throwing lighting and fire to the basilica. In the next one, the group of angels were meeting the clergy with the dean in front. Two of the angels attracted Bella’s attention. One of them held a red and white rose symbol in his hands; another one—the richly decorated casket with some kind of crystals in it.
‘Look at this symbol here,’ she pointed Julian to the rose. ‘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 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 symbols, Doctor,’ Bronson interrupted him.
‘It’s not a rose,’ Bella continued to examine the wall’s painting, without paying any attention to 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, bring all the necessary equipment, make proper photos…’
‘My scan is going crazy,’ Julian didn’t notice his remark. ‘It’s showing that there is a void behind the wall.’
‘How big is it?’ Bella distracted from her examination.
‘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 may stay here the whole night if you wish, 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 supported her colleague. ‘Please, Bronson…’
The engineer rubbed his grey moustaches. 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…
‘Ok,’ he nodded finally. ‘I’ll be back with the saw and the other stuff we may require.’
‘Look,’ Bella pointed to the wall, when Bronson disappeared in the darkness of the corridor. ‘This picture here, it shows the angels and the imps. The imps attack the citizens, and it looks like…The same pictures of imps 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 behaviour 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 appearance interrupted their conversation.
‘I brought the laser saw, the bigger torches and some other tools.’
‘We need to have a look, what is behind this wall,’ Julian grabbed the saw from the engineer’s hand.
Bella didn’t recognize her friend. Julian had never been an adventurous person. No way, he would have worked overtime.
Meanwhile, he progressed very quickly with the saw. He looked excited and impatient. Bella must admit she had never seen him being like that before.
‘Ready?’ he asked, kicking the part of the wall which had been cut with the saw.
A piece of unknown metal fell down, and the colleagues came into a huge tunnel. Surprisingly, the air didn’t smell of damp and mould. It seemed much fresher and cooler. The same strange greyish mucus covered the walls of it. The tunnel had a very high ceiling. It was so high that they barely could see it in the unstable light of torches. The roof was supported by some sort of curved beams.
The guys held their breath.
‘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 the greatest archaeological discovery, my friend. When was the last time anything exciting happen in the archaeological world? Do you remember?’
‘The bones of Richard III have been found under a car park?’
‘Exactly. It was ages ago. Now, we discovered the whole building under the church. This,’ he gestured to the walls, ‘is more valuable than a couple of boring crooked bones.’
He continued his way into the darkness of the tunnel. Bella followed him, still being surprised by such an unexpected change in his attitude.
The tunnel seemed endless, and had a few other smaller corridors which went in both directions. The group decided not to turn anywhere and followed the main corridor.
Finally, the tunnel widened, and they found themselves in front of a gigantic door. It was all covered in unknown writing (or something that looked like writing). Julian switched on the scan 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 the huge, about five metres in diameter, schematic picture of the rose sealed it as a lock. ‘Actually, it’s not a rose.’
He came very close, touching the petals.
He hadn’t finished his thought, when the door slid open quickly and almost soundlessly, as if it was used only yesterday.
An enormous hall appeared in front of them. It was twice, if not three times, bigger than the church. Two endless rows of thin columns on high pedestals formed lancet arches which divided the hall into three parts. The centre 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, where I’ve ever been,’ Bella raised her head, trying to have a look at the ceiling, but the arches went higher than the light of her torch could reach.
Julian made a determined step forward.
‘The scan can’t even detect the approximate era, when it was constructed.’
‘If your scan isn’t broken, do you know what it means?’ Bronson frowned.
‘It means that the church was built much earlier than we thought.’
‘It also means that all the documents, all medieval texts… everything is 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 started the old song. ‘Who do you think you are? Indiana Jones?’
‘I found something,’ Bella’s excited voice sounded somewhere in front.
She stood on some kind of 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. It was the rose symbol in the centre of the platform. The double rose, again…
Julian made a few photos of the hall and the platform. Bella squatted, trying to have a better look at the writing. Probably, she 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,’ she jumped in surprise.
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 to the hologram.
‘What? Who’s map?’ Bronson still couldn’t believe in the reality of what was going on.
‘It looks like I’ve started to believe in “The Imp’s Chronicles”,’ Julian walked inside the hologram, trying to make a shot.
Their conversation was interrupted by a scream. Julian dropped his camera, and they turned around, staring into the darkness. Bella felt panic. She saw Bronson’s whole body was shaking.
The bleak light of the torches snatched some movement in the right arcade. It was something which looked like a cocoon. It was about two metres long and a metre wide, covered in sticky flagellums. A dark liquid trickled out of it. On the top of the cocoon, some kind of dark crystals grew. The low scream repeated again. No doubts, it was coming out of the cocoon.
‘What the fuck?’ Bronson lost control.
He had no time to finish. The next moment, the cocoon had been ripped out, and a creature, screaming and spilling dark liquid around, came out of it.
It was about a metre tall. Its dark, almost black skin without hair was covered in horn-type excrescences, the longer excrescences crowned creature’s head, creating a crest. Its reticulate eyes were positioned at the sides of the head; the mouth was huge with several rows of fangs. The beast constantly sputtered, screaming and hissing.
It looked at archaeologists, turned to them one eye then another one, making a few steps closer.
Bronson wanted to drop all the equipment and run, but looked petrified.
‘It’s an imp,’ Julian whispered, backing away. ‘It looks exactly like the ones in the pictures.’
‘Where did you come from? Why? Why do you want to destroy us?’ Bella forgot fear for a moment.
She found them; she needed to know the truth.