Quinn Chapman and the Altar of Evil I
The flames of Hades flickered off the roughhewn walls of the cavern as I stumbled my way deeper into the earthen maw. Acrid, black smoke invaded my eyes, blurring my vision and clouding my lungs. Dark voices shouted in a rhythmic chant somewhere beyond the hall of fire through which I now walked. My body was cut and bruised; my clothes turned to rags barely clinging to my sweat glistened flesh.
What maligned road led me to my current state of depravity? My mind flickered back to that fateful day in the warrens of Singapore, to one of the myriad of seedy opium dens lining the alleys. It was there that I found the remnants of the infamous Anglo explorer Sir Percival Covington.
I pushed back the shoddy veil of the curtain to find Sir Percival upon his back, clad in sweat-stained khaki and a weeks' worth of grime. So much for the hero of the British Empire. His glazed eyes alighted upon me, and a flicker of recognition danced across his ruddy face.
"By jove!" He rasped through the haze of the poppy. "Quinn Chapman, I'll wager."
I nodded and pulled a wayward crate to me and sat, gazing expectantly at my addled host.
"Right, let's get on with it. Now here is what you need to know about the maratakam, one of the nine gems of Navaratna."
I sucked in a breath and leaned in close as Sir Percival divulged his mythical tale to me. A tale in which he related to me the finding of a manuscript within a hidden chamber of the cave library of Dunhuang, written by a queen, and describing the riches of the court within the Kyunglung Ngulkar Karpo. This was the Silver Palace of Tibetan legend, the crown jewel of the Shang Shung kingdom and the apparent resting place of the maratakam emerald. A palace of a thousand rooms with walls lined in gold and agate.
By its end, Sir Percival Covington looked drawn and haggard, his bronzed skin was stretched tight like paper over of his skull. Yet he smiled, having told me where I could seek the great emerald of Hindu legend.
Sir Percival grasped my arm in a grip of iron, the last of his fleeting strength. "Find it. Find it but beware the Gongpos. The black priests of the Bon cult." He said to me ominously before taking one last deep, shuddering breath. It was his last.
From his other hand I pulled a crumpled piece of paper, upon which was drawn a crude map. I followed the smudged lines of charcoal from Lhasa down to the Garuda valley and westward to a hidden canyon where the ruins of the Shan Shung kingdom were hidden.
I leaned back from the lifeless form before me and contemplated my good fortune and his lack thereof. In my grasp was the route to a treasure worth far more than I could conceive. A glimmering emerald the size of my fist. There seemed only a few obstacles in my way. The shadowy Bon cult, if it still existed, was known in the distant past to engage in bloody rituals by which they sought to expand their consciousness. The Gongpo monks would have themselves locked into chambers with corpses sand would tear out their tongues. These they then used as talismans to battle demons of their religion.
A shuddered passed over my body with the thoughts of these black priests and their human sacrifices. I had encountered many primitive tribes in my adventures and bore witness to hideous rituals and depredations, but what would a man not risk to achieve such fortune and glory.
It was with that revelation that my question was answered as the glowering jowls of a behemoth of a man broke through the stilted curtains of my retreat. In a blink, his ham sized fist grasped me by my shirt and lifted me from my stool.
My assailant's arms were corded with muscled, his grip unbreakable as he slammed me into the rickety wall. Behind him came another less formidable personage, yet no less menacing. He carried himself with a superior bearing, poised like a cobra ready to strike with dark, bloodthirsty eyes. His sallow skin was that of worm, long bereft of the healing light of the sun.
I cursed myself for letting my guard down. My trusty Colt was stowed at the small of my back, unreachable with my arms pinned by the weight of the brute's vice. I could do nothing as the cold-eyed stranger brought his pale, rat like face up to mine.
"My name is Hauptsturmführer Wolfgang Braune and in the name of the Führer, where is the emerald?" He asked in a slithering Germanic accent.
I met his withering gaze with steely eyed determination and kept my trap clapped shut.
"Klaus," the man snapped his fingers and the behemoth that was Klaus brought his right hammer home into my gut. I gasped in agony, the air blasted out of my lungs like a hurricane. Another and another blow fell upon me, I could do nothing but gasp and wheeze out obscenities of vengeance. My hard-boiled exterior gave way against the onslaught as a rock is slowly eroded by the unending tide of wind and water.
"Speak! Or ve shall start removing body parts."
I valued my body parts enough to know that my options were spent against these Huns, so I made a plan to negotiate, or they would bleed me dry. "Fine, I'll lead you to the emerald. Let me live and I'll take you there, otherwise the way is lost."
I watched the beady, snake eyes of the German Captain contemplating my offer. The burning gleam of greed ran like a fire across his face and the captain snapped his fingers again. Klaus dropped me to the ground and with a flick of his mighty wrist, drew a Luger from within the confines of his coat. I put my hands up as the monster reached around my back and took my prized fighting iron.
"Vell, you shall live as long as you prove useful. Take us to the treasure."
As we marched out of the reeking confines of the opium den, I smiled in spite of my predicament. For the map drawn by Sir Percival was laying upon the floor, crumpled and forgot. No use to the Germans. They only had me and my memory to guide them now.