The climb was much harder than he expected. The way she had told him about it he was expecting a pleasant little walk up a slowly sloping hill. So far they had climbed three of them with no signs of stopping or slowing down. His legs were tired, had been since hill number two, but now his throat was dry and he was breathing heavily. He could see that she was sweating and he wondered if maybe, just maybe, she didn’t want to be the one to suggest a rest first. Some ego thing perhaps? Taking a deep gasp of air “can we stop for a moment?” “Huh? Oh, yeah sure. As soon as we get to the top here” goddamn it. God-fucking-damn it. He felt like just sitting, right where he was like a petulant child but no. He would get to the top if it killed him, which, judging by how tired he was and how strenuously his heart was beating it just might.
The truth was that she was just as tired, but unlike him, she had a need to continue forward. She could feel it. There was something up ahead, something good. These hills weren’t walked much and though she could find little information about the area online, she knew there was something here. And this sense had never failed her before. There was something good and she was going to see it today. With or without him. She brought him along because she thought he would enjoy it. She didn’t know what it was, but it would be something both of them would like. She couldn’t explain this to him, at least, not without sounding insane and so she kept quiet about it. Telling him it would be a pleasant day out. Reaching the crest of the hill she shrugged her backpack off, letting it drop to the ground and she quickly followed it. They would rest for fifteen minutes or so. Enough to cool them down, then they would continue.
They sat in silence for a few moments, catching their breath and drinking water. He could feel his heart, booming against his ribcage. He hadn’t considered himself out of shape until now. He didn’t exercise much, but he knew he should be able to handle these hills a little better. His only consolation was that she was equally tired. He hadn’t realised it and neither had she but they were walking quickly rather than strolling, something was pulling them both forward, pushing them on, wanting them to go faster, faster, faster.
They considered eating but neither was hungry yet, they didn’t want to waste their food and find themselves starving in the middle of nowhere and despite their thirst they were careful to conserve their water. Feeling somewhat strengthened by the brief reprieve he stood, hoping there would be some kind of view at some point that would make this all worth it.
It seemed that this hill was slightly lower than those around it, preventing him from seeing much of anything at all, but, at the base of this hill there was a small stream. When he saw it he wished he had brought something that would sterilise fresh water. Though they were careful with there water, he was worried that it may be all drunk before they were able to make it back to the car and dehydration was the last thing he wanted to deal with. He knew that upstream there could be dead animals lying in the river, or chemical run off. The water there was off limits for drinking, but they could use it to cool off if they needed. From what he could see of the stream he guessed that it meandered wildly through the hills. As he turned the sun bounced off its surface, at least, that’s what he figured. As he turned the water turned blood red. Looking back at the stream, it was as clear as it had been a moment ago. He shook his head slightly, then sat down. They had a few more minutes of rest before they needed to push off again. “See anything?” “Not really, there’s a stream down there, but other than that just some more hills.” “I don’t think we’ll be going much further, one or two more hills at the most.” He looked at her suspiciously “why? What’s after that?” “I dunno, we’re both getting tired and I don’t think it would be a good idea to go much further than that. That’s all.” “Ok. Well, it is up to you. You are the one who wanted to come here.” she smiled, then started to put her water away. “c’mon, lets get going.” He stood up, legs feeling slightly shaky but much better for the rest and together they made their way down hill.
About halfway down he started to hear the stream. He didn’t notice on the hilltop that there was no sound, only realising it once the noise hit his ears. It was a pleasant sound, soothing. As they drew nearer he realised that the stream was less of a stream and more of a river. It was wider than he had thought, deeper too. Though they could see the bottom clearly, it was at least thigh deep. Each walked in the opposite direction of the stream, trying to find some place that was shallower and each finding none, they returned to where they had first reached it. “It doesn’t seem to get any shallower or slower at either end. Here is as good a place to cross as any.” “Holding onto one another to keep their balance they carefully made their way across and, though now they were wet, they would be dry again soon enough. Once they had crossed the river, each had a thought jump briefly across their minds, “why did we not turn back?” which was quickly pushed away. They could have followed the river further, trying to find a bridge or a spot that wasn’t as deep.
This hill was steeper than the others, they were closer to climbing that walking, scrambling for purchase with both their hands and feet. Despite the difficult journey, they quickly reached its crown, standing there, looking at the valley beyond them.
They stared in silence, awe struck by what they had found so unexpectedly. Before them lay a city, a giant sprawling city. From their vantage point they could see the houses lining the streets, the roads twisting and turning, what appeared to be a large temple along with smaller ones dotted around. He looked at her “did you know this was here?” “No I had no idea, there was nothing on the maps or internet that even hinted at a city.” “How old do you think it is?” “I don’t know. It looks old enough, I mean it’s made out of stone.” She stepped forward “c’mon” “where are you going?” “To get a closer look” “shouldn’t we tell someone?” “We will of course but do you really want to pass up this opportunity? I mean when is the last time anyone has walked here?” together they slowly made there way down to the city. He could see the river twisting through it, spanned by bridges and surrounded by houses. How ever long they were sitting undisturbed they remained in good condition, only a few of the houses had collapsed, the majority were still standing. Their facades worn and faded by wind and rain but still clean and visible. There were statues dotted about the place, some were missing appendages others remained intact. As they reached the edge of the city, they paused again. It was quiet here. A hush had fallen over the world. “Do you think it’s safe?” “Well, we’ll be careful walking around the buildings. I don’t exactly want one to crash down on top of me. Nor do I want to fall through the ground.” “It’s strange though, isn’t it?” “What?” “That it was built in a valley? The logical place to put it would be on the surrounding hills to have them as vantage points and then expand downwards toward the river.” “Maybe that’s what they did, the places on hills would be more exposed to the elements, maybe there’s ruins there that we didn’t notice? Maybe they all collapsed? Who knows really? Besides, maybe the hills acted as walls? You couldn’t exactly bring an army over them without making a lot of noise.” “And another thing, why isn’t it buried? Or plants growing all over it?” “I don’t know. Maybe they salted the earth or something. C’mon for christsakes, just be happy that we’re here. We’ll look around, then go back and alert someone. We’ll figure out who when we get back but for now, just enjoy it.”
Together they moved around the city, towards what appeared to be a main road, a large arch had once spanned the road, but it appeared to have collapsed at some stage. The large pieces of rock that littered the road were covered in intricate designs, fantastic animals cavorted while wreaths of flowers twisted around the outsides. As she passed by she wished she knew the tale behind the carvings. Carefully stepping around the stones, they walked deeper into the city.
Everything was remarkably intact, as they wandered its depths he wondered if perhaps it was an archaeological dig that hadn’t been announced to the public. Maybe it was just some new museum they were designing to attract tourists. Either way, it was fascinating. They went into two or three of the houses, each had a similar lay out, a large main room with smaller ones branching off it. It was still pretty easy to figure out what each room was used for, there were still some jars sitting on a counter in one of the houses. They moved deeper, heading toward the largest building in the entire city. The temple. It was on raised ground, hundreds of steps leading upwards to it. Up close it was even larger, giant columns reaching up towards the sky, supporting the giant ceiling. Stepping inside they could feel the air change. This was defiantly a place of worship. There were four altars, each one had a hole the centre, below each hole was a channel, the four of them moved in a straight line towards the centre of the room before twisting around one another and finally, they reached another hole. Statues decorated the room, each majestically tall, reaching the heights of the ceiling. They were exquisitely carved, each one appearing as though it may step off its pedestal at any moment. Every wall of the temple was a blazing with colour, each wall depicting a different scene. She followed one along, reading the story. It was of a large procession moving around the town before reaching the temple. The people were cheering and shouting, she could almost hear them. As she followed the story on one wall, he looked at the others. Of the other three walls, two depicted great, bloody battles which appeared to have raged for days. In the final scene the ground and river were red with blood as bodies lay littered around the victors. The final wall was covered with a story of the gods. The four statues that were in the room were shown on this wall. They were fighting off some grotesque beast, covered in sores and gaping maws, they fought to protect the people of the village. When the battle ended, it showed the four gods walking towards the centre of the town, which was a slight hill, and standing at four corners, each looking into the distance, surveying the land. As the guardians stood watch, they turned to stone and the temple was built around them for protection. It was obvious that the people of the city believed that the gods would return to their original form from the stone.
She followed the procession around the town, by following the picture she was able to identify different buildings for what they were, that strange building they passed was a market, another was a fish mongers she moved along with the picture slowly, following each step. The crowd were carrying four large boards, on which four people were chained. They were not as clear as those that carried them, but she assumed that they were criminals or a sacrifice of some sort. Finally the procession reached the temple and carefully carried their bounty up the steps. Though knowing what was coming next, she continued on, the people were slightly clearer now that they were the focus of the painting. As she got to a scene towards the end, she called him over. “Hey, c’mere and look at this?” “What?” “Just look for a sec” as he moved closer she moved out of his way so he could get a better view. “What is it?” “Those two there” “what about them?” she gave him a second to inspect them. “Do you see it?” “That they kinda look like us?” “Yeah.” “Ok, that is freaky. I mean what are the chances. But, in saying that, this was made possibly thousands of years ago, plus, there are only two of us. If there was four I would freak the fuck out and run like there’s no tomorrow, but they’re not even wearing similar clothes to us. Besides, this part is kinda worn. I can name a few other people they look like too.” “Your right, and I’m not saying it is us or anything. It’s just weird.” Together they looked at the final scene, it showed the four people being sacrificed and the four statues coming alive. Having seen everything in the temple they began to leave. Though they were both slightly unnerved by the painting, neither wanted to admit it fully.
They were half way down the stairs when they heard it. Drumming, rhythmic and repetitive, booming out from all around them. They looked around trying to pinpoint its source, but it was coming from all directions. They started down the stairs quickly, wanting to leave as soon as possible. They didn’t know what the sound was, nor where it was coming from but, as it began to get louder they realised just how far away from the car they were. No one really knew where or what they were doing beyond hiking. As they reached the bottom and stepped onto the ground the drumming stopped. There was no lull or wind down. It was instantaneous. They looked at each other, then began to walk back towards the entrance of the city. As they walked they became more disorientated, the layout seemed to have changed since they entered. After passing the same building for the fifth time, she stopped him. “Wait. This is pointless. We’re going in a circle. We need to stop for a moment. We’re both freaked out, that’s why we’re lost. Ok. Did we pass this building on the way in?” “Yes. We did. It was one of the first ones we passed.” “Are you sure? It could just be one that’s really similar.” He looked again. “I was sure until you said that. Ok. If it was the one on the way in, the gate should be up ahead and to the left. Otherwise we took a wrong turn.” There had been no noise since the drumming, the silence, though unnerving was calming. They would hear anyone coming. “Ok. That’s no big deal if we took a wrong turn. Some of the buildings here are two stories. We can go to the top of one and use it as a vantage point to see where we should go from there.” All around them were large hillsides. They did not know from which one they had descended, nor did they want to make a mistake. Though they knew the river was at the base of the one they came down, it could be at the base of another. Nor did they want to have to traverse the entire city again. It had seemed so much smaller from the top of the hill, now they realised how big it actually was. They moved slowly, cautiously, trying not to give in to panic again. Once they reached the turn, they went left, then continued down it for a few minutes. “No, this is definitely wrong. We would have come across the entrance by now.” “Ok. That’s no problem, we’ll go into one of these buildings and see if we can see anything.” As they turned toward the entrance the drumming started again. A different rhythm but still deafening. They tried to shout to one another but no noise could be heard over the deep, heavy beat. They stood where they were, unsure of what to do. As they listened they could hear it getting closer. It was coming from their right. From where they had just been. They looked at each other, each realising it at the same time and together they began to run.
They ran for what seemed like hours, every turn they took, every alley they ducked into, the drums followed. The belief that they would come across the entrance soon was fading quickly, they seemed to move deeper into the city regardless of which direction they went. They found themselves being pushed closer and closer to the temple. Though they were being chased neither had seen a single person, the drums made it sound as though there was a great gathering of people, it could have simply been the reverberations, the drums bouncing around the buildings, building and building, layering upon itself.
They were both sweating profusely, they had run out of water a long time ago, abandoning the empty bottles in the road. They had not eaten, both of their stomachs rumbled but it barely registered as they tried to find an escape. Any at all. Though at first they were being pushed toward the temple they had begun to move away, though they were still being chased, she found it reassuring that they were making some progress. If they could last a little longer they might be able to get out of the city and hide in one of the hills that surrounded it.
He could see a large open space up ahead and, grabbing her hand, he ran faster. He could sense their salvation up ahead. Soon they would leave the city, they just had to go a little further. Together, hand in hand, they ran out of the alley way and stopped. They were surrounded by a sea of people, but the crowd made no noise, no one shuffled or coughed. There was nothing but silence. Not even the wind blew across the crowd. As one they exhaled, it sounded almost like a sigh of pleasure. They turned, to dart back into the alley, to try and escape, but the crowd had moved together, as smoothly as water, making no noise, they blocked the exit. They were surrounded. The drums had stopped without either of them noticing. Before they had wished for silence, but now, now they wished for noise. Any noise.
The people were wearing trousers and t-shirts, their clothing looked like it was made using modern methods, they did not look like the ancient savages they had both expected. From the loud, tribal drumming, they expected large tattoos, piercings made from wood and bone, tribal scarring, they expected to see loincloths and bare breasts, spears and twisted daggers, made from the bones of dead animals. The crowd began to move forward, closing in on them.
The crowd reached them, and in silence, grabbed them both. Despite their screams, despite fighting back they were held down. Two wooden frames were brought forward. They were each tied to one, then lifted above the heads of the crowd. Though he could barely lift his head he could see two other wooden frames, both with people attached were brought from the sides. As the crowd began to move forward, the crowd’s unnatural silence broke and they started to shout, scream, sing and dance.
The procession had begun.
Together as one they made their way toward the temple, the drumming began once more, though not as loud. The noise of the crowds drowned out the noise of their offerings. After what seemed like hours they reached the temple once more and they were carefully moved forward, lifted up and placed on the stone alters. She had appeared to have gone catatonic, the only thing that moved were the tears that slowly moved down her face. He still screamed, still tried to fight, but there was nothing he could do. He was tied securely, there was no escape.
Four people stepped forward, each one carrying a large, silver dagger. They positioned themselves above their offerings, and, after taking careful aim, plunged them into the stomachs of the four victims.
At first the knife in his stomach burned, causing exquisite pain, but as his blood began to fall on the ground and run along the channels he started to become numb, then cold.
He tried to hold on, but he was so tired now. So very tired. As his eyes began to close, he could feel the ground shaking. Bits of rock began to flake away from the statues of the gods. As he drifted away, he saw the head of a statue turn and look at him sadly, it was crying tears of blood.