Even with her head covered, Adrian could feel the scorching heat of the desert. The windowless Jeeps large inflated tires, allowed it to traverse the dunes. For the most part, it was a pleasant, if hot, ride, but now and then the vehicle jolted as the engine revved and sand was kicked loose. She had received a call the previous day from her boss demanding she takes the first flight to Egypt. Something was happening with the pyramids. What? She didn’t know, but it must have been important, or they wouldn’t have rushed her out on such short notice.
Putting up her hand to help block the glare reflecting off the sand, she could make out the shape of the pyramids of Giza. She had seen them before, but her curiosity still peaked at the majestic sight. A small group in the archeological field believed the gods themselves had built them.
“Almost there miss,” said her driver, pointing to a small camp of tents that had been erected near the Sphinx.
The Jeep skidded to a stop once it reached the first tent where a man stood waiting. He wore a wide brim hat that threw shadows across a tanned and weathered face that sported a brown goatee speckled grey.
Adrian jumped down and grabbed her gear from the back seat. The man waited patiently as she grabbed her things and hurried over to him. “What’s going on Dr. Stein, nobody has told me anything!”
The brows on the professor's weathered face creased as he pointed to a medium sized tent standing in the middle of the cluster. “You will be staying there. Drop your bag off, then follow me. I'll explain as we walk."
The sweltering breeze ruffled the tent flaps around her as she tucked her belongings into a corner of her lodgings. She used the back of her hand, wiping away beads of sweat, then grabbed a drink of turbid water from the canister hanging from a strap on her shoulder.
Rejoining Dr. Stein, she tried her best to hide her exhaustion as he looked her over. He took notice of the bags under her eyes then ignored it all in a single look. He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again, becoming visibly frustrated. Adrian remained quiet feeling a bead of sweat swell on her brow and roll down to her chin before he started speaking. "Two days ago, our instruments started going haywire. We scrambled to see what the problem was, but could not find any answers. Then, just yesterday, they blacked out completely, becoming unresponsive.”
Adrian pursed her lips as her employer motioned for her to follow him, forcing her to hurry after. “I hope you didn’t rush me out here without notice just because some instruments went bad.”
Their boots crunched through the sand, and after a short time, Adrian had to stop, hands resting on her knees as she panted. Dr. Stein didn’t seem affected and walked at a quick pace ignoring her struggles waving her onward. “This way, to the Sphinx.” She forced herself to follow. “Now you wouldn’t have heard about what I am going to show you. You are not to repeat anything you see or hear.”
Adrian gulped, when had her throat gotten so dry? "Yes, you know me better than to have to ask." The only reason they would show it to her now would be because of her vast knowledge of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Dr. Stein nodded, “Good, anyways I believe it is probably best for you to see for yourself.”
They walked in silence, whatever was going on it must be severe. She had always been annoyed by her bosses’ constant small talk, but today he had dispensed with it and was walking beside her in uncharacteristic silence. The sound of their boots slapping the stone at the entryway to the Sphinx was jarring after minutes of the soft grinding sound of their shoes in the sand.
"This is one of the best-kept secrets," said Dr. Stein, leading her down stone steps at the side of the room.
Adrian followed him, once again she couldn't help but marvel at the age and perfection which these structures had been build. The glyphs on the walls drew her wonder, and she wished she could have been alive to see how all this had been created.
A soft glow bathed the walls as they descended, the air growing considerably cooler. “Why are you using torches to light the space instead of bulbs?” she asked.
“No electronics are working around here, you will see soon enough.”
Their steps echoed as they continued. Finally, they reached the reclamation room, the lowest level beneath the Sphinx. It was empty.
Adrian was about to say something, but Jason was already across the room. He stepped carefully with a foot pressing a stone while his hands felt along the wall. With a grunt of satisfaction, his fingers strained as he pushed forward and all three stones ground as they sunk into the surfaces.
Adrian leaned against the wall for balance as the room began vibrating, and with the sound of grinding rocks, a passage opened. There was something to be said about secret places, at the sight of the door open it was as if the exhaustion that had been plaguing her disappeared.
“Quit standing there with your mouth open, hurry up,” said Dr. Stein as he grabbed a torch from a bracket on the wall and stepped forward into the darkness.
Adrian pulled back her attention and followed. It took ten minutes before they reached another chamber, more extensive than the last, in fact, she thought this chamber could comfortably fit her two-story house inside it. Glyphs covered the walls, brought to visibility by the flickering torchlight. She was surprised when she realized that many of the symbols were new to her. Slowly she turned soaking in the sight till she completed a circle, then noticed a statue standing in the room’s center. It had a pharos headdress in the style of a king cobra and beak of a bird, a depiction of the Egyptian god Ra. In the figures outstretched arms rested a sphere, so dark it seemed to suck in the light flickering around it.
Dr. Stein snapped his fingers pulling Adrian’s eyes to him. “The reason I called you here is to translate those glyphs on the walls. We have a feeling they are the key to understanding what is happening.”
Adrian found her eyes riveted to the stone. “What is that?” she asked, voice filled with awe.
“We don’t know, all I can tell you is similar stones have been identified across the globe at the sites of ancient ruins and pyramids.” He looked at his watch, “Get yourself situated, then begin translating. In the largest tent at the back of our site is paper books and hopefully everything you will need. I will have someone bring you food while you are working. Time is of the essence.”
The door to the medical room opened, barely making noise on its well-oiled hinges.
"Thought I would come back to check on you,” said Gabe, his eyes widened when he took in the changes to Nyx’s body and the white scars, “seems you are doing just fine though, how are they healed?"
Nyx shrugged, he didn’t feel like elaborating.
Seeing he wasn't going to get an answer Gabe continued, "I wanted to apologize for Dan's behavior, he is rash, and I'm sure, still dealing with the near-death experience."
Dan's anger didn’t trouble him, it was akin to a barking dog, and he sensed it was a show to hide insecurities; masking his fear with anger. Nyx changed the subject, "what does this place have to offer?"
Gabe looked off to the side, a little sad, misinterpreting the abrupt change. Nyx could tell Gabe felt responsible for Dan's outbursts; he was a genuine guy who wore his emotions on his sleeve. "What you didn’t learn before is that we are part of a larger network. Most major cities have similar facilities. If you decide to join you would be privy to secrets, as well as resources to aid in your training."
Nyx felt his interest peaked. "Can I see these resources?"
He wouldn't rely on this organization, it was on him to shape his own future. When it was time to move on they would not be able to stop him. He had his own goals.
Gabe smiled, though Nyx felt there was something reserved in his expression. "Follow me, I'll give you a tour. Your clothes and belongings are in your duffel bag under the bed."
Nyx slipped on a comfy pair of joggers and tee-shirt along with his shoes. When he pushed open the medical room’s door, light spilled out into the corridor illuminating a spacious hallway that appeared to have been built from stone and mortar. The door closed behind them with a click and their footsteps gradually fell in sync, the patter of their feet echoing off polished cobblestones in the wide corridor.
Gabe gestured ahead. "This is one of the main hallways of the complex, most major areas branch off of here."
Nyx dipped his head in acknowledgment. The dim yellow lighting, set back in the ceiling, was soothing after the sharp white fluorescent light in the medical room. The edges of the cobblestones were highlighted, shadows filling the depressions. It was almost as if they walked down a castle corridor as dark shapes danced in continuous movement as they passed under the lights.
"Turn right up here, were almost there," said Gabe pointing at the entrance to a side tunnel. A girl wearing what looked to be a grey uniform with black stripes exited the hall. She looked Gabe up and down while somehow keeping her nose in the air, then huffed under her breath. Gabe muttered under his breath, “good to see you too Stacy.”
Nyx met the girls light brown eyes for a moment before she walked away from them down the hall. “I take it you know her from somewhere.”
“You could say that. Around here everyone is split into teams that train together. Stacy is from another team, I asked her on a date… and things… went south you could say,” said Gabe, with a sheepish grin scratching his head. Gabe led Nyx onto the narrower passageway and almost immediately he felt a breeze wafting down the tunnel, tickling his skin. He focused ahead and was able to sense an abundance of air Chi.
Gabe reached out with his hands brushing both walls of the tunnel. "Good thing it's late, during the day these side passages can get tight."
The tunnel opened into an empty room that Nyx felt could easily host fifty people. There were a series of holes in the stone walls through which gusted strong winds. The currents of air swirled, flowing with a concentration of the air element. A young man in grey uniform was kneeling on a pillow, eyes closed, straight hair blowing erratically behind him. He had a pin with the stylized white triangle on it, marking his element of air. Many more cushions were stacked beside the entrance. The boy's dark brown eyes swept over them, pausing curiously on Nyx though he made no move to get up or talk to them.
All around spiraled air Chi, glowing a light blue. This was the densest amount Nyx had seen so far on Earth. The intensity of the wind forced him to use his hands to keep his shirt down. Gabe waved for him to follow, and they backtracked out of the side passage. While walking through the maze of tunnels they encountered several other people Nyx assumed were students, too young to have been training for more than a handful of years. They arrived at another identically shaped room, but this one contained the fire element glowing red.
It was familiar to him, fire had been his manifested element in the higher realm. Braziers stood around the edges of the room with flames flickering upward, lapping at the air, Nyx could feel the heat emanating in waves. On the metal of the braziers were carved tetrahedrons with intricate overlapping lines, the symbol of fire. At the room's center was a pit with a bonfire crackling lively. The opening in the ceiling sucked smoke from the room, leaving behind the fresh aroma of a campfire tickling his nostrils. It was a pleasant smell that relaxed him in a way few things could.
The room for water Chi had its walls covered in sheets of falling water splashing lively into a pool that circled the room’s exterior. There were many students here, mostly women all with eyes closed. He could see how they drew the Chi from their surroundings into their pores then cycled it into their cores. He frowned, they did not refine the Chi as should be done, but he was not their instructor, so he ignored it.
In the room containing the Earth element, they were greeted with the smell of fresh soil. This chamber was slightly larger than the others had been. Myriads of plants, trees, and flowers grew around a packed dirt path. Nyx breathed in the fragrant smells deeply, and tilted his head back, eyes drinking in the warm light shining high above through gaps in the ceiling.
Gabe was watching him closely, then closed his own eyes and breath in the room’s fragrant smells, “this is my room, both Dan and I are learning to cultivate the Earth element.” He poked the pin on his chest; it depicted a brown square, the symbol for earth.
Nyx raised an eyebrow. "What about the demonic? Is there a room for that?"
Gabe regarded him for a long time, then shook his head slowly, "I wouldn’t mention that idea around here, Demon Chi is forbidden."
Nyx nodded not wanting to press the subject. At least the facility was located beneath a city. He didn’t think finding demons would be troublesome.
Gabe seemed reluctant to leave the cultivation room, and Nyx could see tension appear on his shoulders when they were back in the tunnels. As they walked around a few students waved to Gabe, but when they saw Nyx, they refrained from coming over. The two of them stopped in front of a large door made entirely of brushed steel. There was a slot at the side that looked like a keycard reader.
"I'm not sure what's inside this room, it is always locked as far as I can tell," said Gabe, his knuckle rapped on the door. A dull echo sounded off the thick metal.
Nyx closed his eyes and reached out with his spirit. He could feel a barrier blocking him from sensing beyond the door. He hardened his will, searching for a gap. It felt like trying to force to magnets of the same polarity together. He still had his eyes closed when Gabe tapped him on the shoulder, and an angry voice shouted something. He ignored it, pushing his physical senses to the back of his mind as he focused in on a weak point. With a concentrated effort, he managed to punch through.
Nyx's eyes lit up. This was it! He could sense heavenly Chi on the other side just out of reach. It was very slight, but for the density he expected on Earth, it was impressive. He wondered why it would coalesce underground; usually, heavenly Qi only originated in places of pure tranquility.
Nyx opened his eyes smiling and began processing the world through his physical senses again. A man in uniform was shouting at Gabe, the veins on his neck bulging out. The man was in his mid-twenties and had his chestnut colored hair tied up artfully in a man bun, though a few strands were currently swinging loose. He jabbed a finger angrily at Nyx. “And who is this kid you are dragging around with you?”
Gabe stood meekly, hands in his pockets as he looked at the floor. He snuck a hopeful glance at a girl in her late teens standing awkwardly behind the man. “I’m sorry Benjamin, he is new and I was just showing him around.”
Nyx’s smile slowly disappeared, he walked over to the girl who shifted nervously brushing back a lock of blond hair and extended his hand. “Hello, I am Nyx. As my friend Gabe said, I am new around here.” He winked suggestively.
Almost like clockwork Benjamin lost interest in Gabe and turned, stepping between Nyx and the girl. “She isn’t interested buddy,” he growled, crossing his arms.
Nyx shrugged acting nonchalant then squinted up at the guy. “Hmm, she seems a little young for someone your age. What did you have to threaten her with so she would spend time with you?” he peeked around the student at the girl's red face, “If you want to be with someone your age just say the word.”
Benjamin sputtered, “I will say this once. This area is restricted, especially for someone fresh off the streets.” He shoved Nyx who stumbled back, away from the metal door. The girl gave Nyx a tentative smile as he waved one last time then turned walking away.
He heard footsteps coming up behind him. “What was that about,” said Gabe, “you don’t want to antagonize people, especially not on your first day here.”
“He asked for it. I just wanted to get away from there.”
Gabe groaned, “Benjamin is a top cadet, he can make your life difficult here.” he lowered his voice. “and that was his little sister back there.”
Nyx shrugged and tried to change the subject. “That room…”
Gabe interrupted him. "I know that look. Don't bother. I asked Joshua about it, but he wouldn't tell me a thing."