Even though I had heard stories about Rome being ancient, historical, beautiful, I found the long drive to the research facility to be quite mundane. Growing up interested in ancient ruins should have led me to believe that Rome was some kind of Atlantis. Yet for my visit, it was all but relaxing. My view was the complete opposite of the familiar, lush northwest coast back in the States, but the old city paired with the evening sun was distracting in the midst of my journey’s purpose.
Recently graduating with a degree in archaeology from a top university, I was contacted by a group known as the Speedwagon Foundation. The foundation was famous for its research in science and archaeology, being recruited as a recent graduate was nearly a dream come true. The objective had been classified, but after pouring over the documents they finally delivered to me during the ride over to the facility in Rome, I knew I was getting into something serious.
There was a report on some artifacts that had been found in a Mexican pyramid and an incident that involved someone named a “pillar man” which was detailed as such, “a man carved into the stone, depicted as resting, showed signs of a heartbeat, amino acids, and cells...” and the form had somehow awoken. That word struck me at first,
The figure was surrounded by stone masks that were believed to have turned humans into vampires. The research behind the mask had begun in the 1800’s where that myth became reality for the wealthy Joestar family. The idea made me chuckle, but I couldn’t dispute this scientific fact. I had read about animals being able to consume the blood of other animals but humans? It was fictional, until it wasn’t.
According to the documents the head of the foundation, Robert E.O. Speedwagon, had been betrayed by a friend when investigating the pillar man and was almost killed, the pillar man was relocated to be studied by German scientists, that is how I was contacted. Apparently the Speedwagon Foundation had heard of my aptitude at my university and had me on a list, although I wasn’t sure if this list was good or bad, the reality of it all became more sinister as I continued to read the files.
The pillar man who had awoken had been subdued by Joseph Joestar, a descendant of the Joestar family who first discovered the masks. The pillar man was taken back to the Speedwagon facility in Washington D.C. to be kept under surveillance. During this incident, it was reported that another pillar man, or men, had been discovered in Rome where I was headed.
I finished the last page of the report as our car had pulled up to the building.
Lined with German military trucks and guards, it was clear that this situation wasn’t entirely in the foundation’s hands. The door to the car flew open and I was met with the stare of a German officer.
“Miss Morris, come with me.”
I was ushered out of the truck and led into the laboratory, protocols ensued with security checks and evaluations, but I was lead in all the same. During the walk I was debriefed by a German soldier with more decipherable English. These new pillar men were awakening too, but the facility had kept them under the same UV rays the foundation was using back in D.C. but there was only a certain amount of time before they woke. Once I had my name badge, I was escorted to the room where they were kept.
There were spectator rooms for the scientists to observe the stone without the threat of them awakening, I was lead right to the men themselves. Directly to the large cave where militia were on guard waiting. The cavern had been dug around the pillar, bright UV lights made the reflection off the wall almost blinding; however the men in the pillar itself were much more mesmerizing. Inside were the three men that I had read about, large and muscular, they were asleep in fetal positions. The thought hit me again that they would not be asleep for long, only time would tell. Staring up at them was menacing, they were unworldly, and it was my job to help research their origins.
“Miss Morris, we’ve been expecting you, how was the ride?”
Another officer approached me with more regalia to his uniform, one of higher status. He was the definition of condescending, even in the way he walked. I was handed a pair of UV goggles and gestured towards the pillar.
“Fine, thank you,” I retraced my gaze back to the stone, “these men, they’re alive?”
“Yes, they are displaying the same signs as the one found in Mexico, pulse, body heat, cells...we invited you here so we could learn more about their history, do you think you can find something for us?”
I knew what those words meant, if you don’t find something... we will make you find something .
“Yes, I will get started right away...sir,” I fixated my focus to the artifact. The Germans were making progress on extracting the figures, but I was instructed to work around them and take notes.
Once receiving my bags with my reports of the men and my notepad, I began to work on identifying their clothes, jewels, forms, anything that could lead to the history of these “pillar men”.
It was now late in the night, I had some scribbles down about the attire of the pillar men dating back centuries, their hair, body structure, the jewels that were embedded near them. I had begun to discern these men were royal, or high ranking in their culture.
“Miss Morris, please step back,”
A hoard of the guards on duty came to conglomerate in front of the artifact, scientists and researchers being steered away. It was understood that they were going to make contact with the men and needed all hands on deck in case anything went awry.
Major Condescending (as I nicknamed him) was in the middle of this group, gazing sternly at his company and the stone men. One was equipped with a small ladder to reach the stone man in the center of the pillar, stepping up to observe his crown (of which I had made note regarding their high status).
The cave now was uncomfortably silent as the air settled. We all watched the two officers investigate.
“I can’t see anything, there’s a shadow.”
“Take a closer look.”
We all heard the wind rushing to the pillar where the officer was looking, as if an Egyptian tomb had opened and the air whirled in for the first time in centuries. The whoosh of the hole drew the officer closer until-
“I hear something!”
“ AGHHHHH ”
Bursting from the hole came a pike, piercing the officer right between his eyes and sending him back dozens of feet. It shot out from the hole, impaling him until he was left hanging from the pole.
The stillness erupted into gasps and yells from across the cavern,
“He- He couldn’t be-!”
The stone around the pillar’s face began to...vanish...melt? Disappear? His face filled with color and his eyes opened, the stones were coming alive. I stood in shock, knowing that I was putting myself in danger by remaining there, but understanding that this was something extraordinary. The man impaled on the horn wasn’t the last to be struck. As the pillar began to move his horn with it, seamlessly cutting across the bodies of more soldiers like scissors gliding along paper. The gush of blood sprayed across the cave, darkening the light of the UV bulbs.
“He’s using the blood to cover the lights!”
Shrouded in darkness, the man emerged from the wall. Soldiers were dead or gouged, their blood pooling around them. The Germans, researchers, and me...we all stood in shock. Peeling himself away, he stepped down into the cave. I tried to make sense of how this stone animated and appeared in front of me. It was phantasmal. Yet, it was all too real. The soldiers were armed, but adrenaline and fear kept their feet planted and their triggers unpulled.
“ The world has changed while I slept. ”
The pillar man spoke, and English too. Who would have thought that someone who had just awakened from stone could speak perfect English and with a voice that demanded your attention too? After what I had just seen, it wasn’t too out of the place.
Almost at once, everyone in the room understood that he was the most powerful being in the cave. There were still two pillar men left in the wall, but not enough guns or soldiers to go around. It was a lost cause.
The pillar man darted around the room like a mosquito finding its next meal, screams echoed in the room. Those who weren’t running or dead were pursued by the pillar man for blood. The cave became a sight from a novel, a nightmare…
I couldn’t remember if I had tried to run or if I fell where I stood, the last sound I heard were the footsteps of the man striding towards me in the cave before it all went black.
Wammu drained the soldiers of their blood, leaving them in a deflated chain across the floor. Half of the guards had bolted when he opened his eyes, some collapsed at the sight of him, something he wasn’t unused to with humans. He left a trail of blood across the lights, the floor, and the walls.
After scourging the room for potential leftovers, he halted at the fallen girl in front of him, she wasn’t dead and there was no blood, she must have been one of the ones who collapsed. Wammu left her to assist with with the rest of his kind.
“ Awaken, my masters! ”
Unlike his own seamless transition, once Wammu pressed his fingers to the face of his masters, they cracked and fell to the ground like newborn birds hatching from their eggs. Yet, his friends had been alive once before, millennia ago. It was their time to be born again.
The first thing I felt was the hard floor beneath back, pebbles like small thorns jabbing into my shoulders and neck. There were voices, they were deep and silvery and...inhuman, I remembered what had transpired before I hit the ground and shuffled to sit up.
There were three men now, standing as tall as the inside of the cave itself. They were convening and hadn’t noticed I sat up. After my eyes become accustomed to the darkness, I could make out their differences in appearance as I had studied them upon the wall.
What is your plan Lord Kars?
“ Searching for the whereabouts of the Red Stone of Aja, of course. All we need is the stone and the mask will be complete! ”
“ But Master Esidisi, the human world has changed much over the years. Long ago, the Emperor of Rome had the stone. But that age has ended, I’m sure. ”
The emperor of Rome? How old were these men? They were talking about periods in human history as if centuries in our world were seconds in theirs. What kind of beings were they?
“ Then we might find out where the stone has gone. ”
“ They say the emperor cherished the stone, I am sure humans still tell stories of it. I shall find the stone. ”
I staggered to the edge of the wall to eavesdrop, the Red Stone of Aja? So it was real? I had only ever read excerpts about the stone from old textbooks in our university library. It had been transferred over the years and eventually disappeared. Could that stone have any supernatural powers? Or was it just a treasured gem that the men coveted? How would they utilize it with the mask they spoke of?
Only until after the room was silent did I understand now that in the middle of my mental rambling I had caused a rustle of stones to skid across the cave floor. The pillar men were now listening, they heard me.
Their footsteps sent chills up my spine as I tried to feign unconsciousness once again to derail their attention, but it was too late.
“Wammu, it seems you have left one alive.”
“Forgive me, Lord Kars, some had collapsed amidst the others I had taken.”
Since it was revealed that I had been awake myself, I opened my eyes to stare up at them. They were...beautiful, as ancient men could have been. I held onto my tongue in fear of ending up like those on the floor around me. I dared not try and move now.
“I heard her before I awoke, she is knowledgeable about human history and artifacts, she might be useful in locating the stone, Lord Kars.”
My heart began to beat like a drum in my chest as the three of them studied me like I was the one who jumped out from a thousand year old pillar. The man in the turban kneeled down to my level, still watching me. I tried to meet his expectant glare with one of my own, but I faltered. His eyes were a deep maroon that began to enthrall me more than scare me, supernatural or not, these pillar men were comparable to the mythical Adonis.
As if he could hear my thoughts, he smirked, straightening back to his full stance.
For a moment I was fixated on his eyes, but that maroon gaze soon was replaced with the dark rust of blood on the floor and walls around me. My fright skyrocketing at his next words.
“I think she will, Wammu. Take her.”