"Diabolus... Mortiacus..." The voice was deep and guttural, speaking in a harsh form of Latin that had died out centuries before. Underlain with the words came the occasional groan of pain, as if something was being pressed down on the cloaked and hooded figure that was kneeling on the floor in the empty room, empty apart from the complicated pictogram on the floor, the junctions of what looked like red chalk studded with lighted candles.
A new sound drifted downwards into the room, a low chime that bounced off the walls and resonated in the air, sound building upon sound until the floor shook. The figure completed the chant and then slowly stood up and looked at a point in the ceiling in front of him.
"At last..." it said. "The prophecy is fulfilled. It is found again, in the year that it was prophesised... The time has come!" The last word was a roar that shook more dust from the ceiling and echoed down the passageways leading from the room.
The figure drew back the fold of its cloak and looked down at the hand that emerged into the light - a hand with talons, with red folds of skin and scale. The hand flexed into a fist, the tendons moving beneath the skin.
"The time has come..." the figure repeated and then sank back into its former crouch in the pictogram.
bLondon, Great Britainb
He'd always liked the night shift. He'd tried the day shift a few years back, but had found that he hated the crowds, the noise, the idiots who thought they knew about history, the other idiots who thought that certain sculptures were 'pretty.' He'd even heard some kid describe the Rosetta Stone as a 'dumb rock.'
Harry Perkins shook his head and then started down the next passageway on his beat. No, at night the British Museum was quiet, placid, a haven of peace and knowledge. As long as he avoided some of the newer guards, who tended to be far too exuberant, he was happy being a security guard. Not that he'd ever really had to do very much. The British Museum, which held hundreds of thousands of artefacts either on display or in the warren of storerooms, had a state of the art security system... plus those people in Room 42.
He'd once seen the bloke from that room on his beat one night. He was all right, for a Taff, he seemed to know a lot about the museum. He'd been looking at one of the Assyrian statues, with the body of a lion and the face of a bearded man. The Taff had had a pensive look and Harry had asked him if he was all right. Fine, he'd replied, just wondering what it must have been like when Nineveh fell all those millennia ago. A brutal people, the Assyrians, he'd added. Powerful, but brutal. Brought down by hubris, a powerful kingdom that had been a force for evil.
They'd chatted for a little while, Perkins remembered, and the Taff had told him about the fall of Assyria after he'd asked about it. Then he noticed the time and had hurried off. No, Perkins thought, he had no idea what they did in Room 42. The two birds looked nice though.
Speaking of time, he looked at his watch. 0230. Time for young Smith to call in. Or rather forget to for at least 5 minutes. He walked on, his footsteps echoing a little in the hallways. His wife Molly would have kept the bed warm for him when he got home in a few hours time. And today their son would be home, with the twins.
Perkins smiled. He liked to spoil his grandkids. Shame that they supported Man U and not West Ham, but kids were kids. He looked at his watch again. 0238. A new record for Smith. He needed to have a word with that boy, he really did.
At 0240 Perkins had had enough. He reached for his radio and unclipped it from his belt. "Night sweep time check," he snapped into it. Nothing. "Night sweep time check." Again nothing. "Smith, where the bloody hell are you?" Silence.
Perkins swore softly and changed frequencies. "Control, this is Perkins."
The reply came swiftly: "Go ahead Perkins."
"Smith is late for his time check, but I can't raise him."
There was a pause. "He's on the west sweep isn't he? When did you last talk to him?"
"0200 hours. Or rather 0205, he was late. Nothing to report on his side."
A sigh issued from the radio. "Okay, if you've finished your sweep head back his way. I'll send Cameron along. Silly little bastard's probably dropped his radio again, he did it two weeks ago."
"Confirmed, Control," said Perkins and let out a sigh of his own as he started to walk back down the corridors. 0205... that would have put Smith in the area of Room 100. He heard footsteps up ahead and he lengthened his stride slightly. The footsteps stopped and he saw that it was Cameron, a tall, quiet Scotsman who read ferociously.
"I'll murder the little sod," growled Cameron, "I was in the middle of the latest Falco novel on my break."
They started off towards Room 100, which was empty, before starting out on the route for the west sweep, a patrol that covered a large part of the west wing of the British Museum.
It wasn't until they got to Room 122 that they saw something out of place - an open door that lead to a storeroom. "Smith?" called Perkins, who was now starting to worry. "Are you in there?"
"Hang on a sec," said Cameron. "I went past there on lockup time. That was locked, I checked it myself."
"What's in there?"
"Egyptian relics. Nothing's been on display there for ages, it's the place they put all the junk that doesn't fit the theories."
As they approached the door Perkins' nose wrinkled. There was a smell coming from the room, a smell that reminded him of the butcher's shop where his wife worked...
Cameron smelt it as well, because he went pale. "That smells like mah grandad's farm. On slaughtering day."
Perkins approached the door slowly and pushed it open further. The light inside was off but the smell of... he wasn't sure what it was, but the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end now and his heart was pounding. Cameron unclipped his torch from his belt and turned it on, the powerful beam flashing into the room.
Perkins frowned. "That's odd, the walls aren't supposed to be that colour..."
Then he realised what was on the walls and he turned away and grabbed the waste bin that stood next to the door and voided his stomach into it, heaving until there was nothing left to bring up. When he turned back to the room Cameron was standing, pale and sweaty-faced, in the doorway, facing away from the room. With a trembling hand the Scot raised his radio and triggered it.
"Control..." he said in a shaking voice, "This is Cameron. We've found Smith. Or what's left of him. Call the police." He looked down at Perkins and then grimaced.
"And wake up the people from Room 42."