RAIDERS AND TOMBS

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1916

For weeks, Clara had been trudging through sand and dust. This arid and sun bleached land was a new experience and in her opinion, the perfect stand-in for one of the seven levels of hell.

Like Europe, war was no stranger to these lands. Occasionally, she came across abandoned battlefields, some buried by the sands of time, while others bore fresh scars of modern warfare. Had they gained anything by unleashing such carnage?

Clara had been assigned to an expedition, exploring the ruins of a city abandoned for over six-hundred years. Specifically, their interests were centred on an abandoned portal site.

Why had a portal been built here? Some gates existed for obvious reasons, there were always portals leading to Paris or London. These were major cities of colonial powers that provided access to vast populations.

While this city had been the centre of a revived Sumerian culture, that was true for a comparatively short time. Curious that this gate appeared to have been used well after the city had been lost in the desert.

Clara kept an eye out for anything out of the ordinary; ghouls, djinn, and angels of death were all creatures of myth that originated from this part of the world. The fact that vampires and Georgians were also interested in this region only heightened her suspicions.

On this particular day, they were searching the ruins of a structure of great religious significance; Clara supposed that it functioned in much the same way that cathedrals did today.

"A ziggurat," Professor Jones said.

Clara had never dealt with Professor Jones before this mission. Under his tan clothing and pith helmet, there was a man with a chiselled jaw and a day-old beard. His roguish good looks would have been a diversion to blossoming girls. That alone might explain why he instructed male students exclusively.

"Quite right," Father Allen replied.

Father Allen was the team archivist and a fixture at the Tower's numerous libraries and archives. His thick glasses, pale skin and balding head made him seem inoffensive. Clara guessed that many underestimated him based on his appearance.

Clara looked at the pile of rocks while Father Allen sketched out the site. Today was an especially warm day. The world shimmered in the distance. If only she could find some shade instead of being cooked alive.

"Shade," Clara said.

"Something to share, Miss Grey?" Jonesy asked.

While her statement had been nothing more than a slip of the tongue, it was time to speak up. She was tired of this infernal heat and perhaps she could move things along.

"Yes, shade," Clara said. "We are exploring the surface of a city that was important to them. So travelling overland in broad daylight would have been impractical."

For days, their search had yielded no immediate signs of underground structures. There should have been ventilation shafts or even a few sinkholes. Clara knew this, but it was time to think outside the box.

"If the Tower had to be abandoned," Clara said. "Sensitive areas would be collapsed, filled in or concealed to deter future expeditions," Clara added.

"How does that help us, Miss Grey," Jonesy asked.

"This step pyramid is directly in line with the gate room," Clara said. "The chamber is located by the city's secondary harbour and would have provided ample escape routes."

"How—," Jonesy inquired.

Clara could have told them how the ruins were mapped out in her mind, but that would be a bitter pill for academics to swallow. She could have used a compass to prove her point, but there was a simpler way of pointing out what should have been obvious.

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