The Atlantean Bangle
Prologue: During the War
Remote Coast, Italy
As the German artillery thundered above them, the two lost American soldiers took shelter in an archaeological dig site. Sam Schofield hit his flashlight as the beam weakened, banishing the Stygian murk for an instant before dying completely. In the momentary illumination, he saw the unmistakable physique of his companion staring down a side-tunnel. Unlike his tall and muscular companion, Sam's frame was wiry and short. Slung over Private Roger Burrow's shoulder was the pair's sole functional rifle, as Roger had always been the better shot between them. His blond hair was concealed under his helmet, and same temporarily removed his headgear to run his hand through his sweat-soaked curled brown hair.
"See a way out?" Sam asked. "It's another dead end ahead."
"Better," Roger said as he turned to face his companion, the beam of his own flashlight illuminating his sharp face and the long tunnel ahead. "A breeze. We're getting closer to the surface."
"If you say so."
"I know it."
"Having your old man be archaeologist must be nice," Sam said, amazed he could pronounce the entire word. "He served back in the Great War, right?"
"Yes, but he was a tomb robber, plain and simple."
"Yeah, but if no one who buried the body's been alive for centuries, wouldn't it just be science?"
"Sam, would you like a stranger digging you up in a thousand years and wondering what a curious specimen you were?"
"I don't want to think about getting buried now."
"Of course, how we see the past can depend on the values of the present. Who knows what peculiar ideas they'll have in the future?" Roger asked rhetorically.
"Hopefully not Nazi or fascist ones, so let's skedaddle," Sam said as he walked behind Roger in the narrow corridor.
"Sam, are you really that eager for the Sarge to chew us out again?"
"Yes. I'd rather have Sarge chew me out than spend another minute down here. He likes you because your dad's famous."
"Just follow the fresh air, Roger."
Roger said nothing as he turned his flashlight down the long corridor before them. Sam observed the rough, hand-hewn texture of the tunnel around them. Fetid air shifted down the tunnel like breath from a corpse's windpipe. Rotting wooden strut groaned as the supported the ceiling above them. Long-extinguished lamps dangled from the ceiling above, having exhausted their fuel supply after the original excavators fled. The steady, distant echoes of dripping water and settling earth were interrupted by the eruption of loose stone from the ceiling due to the reverberations of a shell impact. Sam increased his cadence to keep close to his company, fearing the passageway would collapse and prematurely entomb him.
Gradually, the tempo of artillery bombardment lessened. Sam could not tell if they were heading deeper underground or the enemy had ceased their bombardment, but some part of his mind took solace in the frequent eruptions of debris from the walls and ceilings. He eagerly anticipated the platoon sergeant shouting at him for the mud and grit that now coated his tattered uniform. With trepidation filling his heart, he anxiously scurried behind Roger as he slowed his pace around a bend.
The air of antiquity in the next tunnel was unmistakable. What were undoubtedly marble blocks protruded from the walls, many only partially exposed to air. At irregular intervals of the tunnel were small crates. The first of them was filled with pottery shards of unmistakably classical origin, many remarkably intact. The proportional artwork of stylized hoplites battled across a pile of shattered ceramics. Other boxes were similarly filled with pottery shards of slightly different styles, each labelled in Italian. He felt an almost irresistible magnetism drawing him towards the boxes.
"You see, Sam, this is proper archaeology, the exact opposite of my father's methods. Here, the box label lists the date, depth, and location of discovery for each batch of artifacts," Roger explained.
Roger paced deliberately down the corridor as he examined each cache of artifacts. Sam walked slightly behind him, listening with the rapt attention of an observant pupil. "You see, there are Roman, Greek, Etruscan, Phoenician, and other artifacts I am not aware of."
"Father was insistent upon teaching me how to recognize the great civilizations and their artifacts, if only to spot counterfeits."
"I wish my old man was that smart," Sam said in astonishment.
Roger's mouth moved as they continued walking, but Sam never heard the words that he said. Instead, the ground crumbled beneath them and swallowed them whole. Instinct caused him to flail madly in all directions in a hopeless search for a solid grip. Sam tried to dig his fingers into the slick, wet stone and failed, accelerating faster down the gradient. In the subterrene blackness beneath his feet, a distinctly unnatural light shimmered with the radiance of burnished bronze. He felt himself sliding towards it, with Roger passing beside him along an impossibly smooth slope. He closed his eyes and braced himself for impact.
Sam was unsure if he had blacked out or lost consciousness, but he lost all sense of time until he realized he had stopped moving. Cautiously opening his eyes, he found himself on solid ground. He felt his torso and legs with some apprehension, fearing himself cut or impaled. He felt only small cuts, but he was more relieved to find himself missing the mortal wounds that his imagination insisted he had. As his eyes acclimated to the cavern, he found a distinctly unnatural radiance that cast shadows before him.
Roger stepped into his field of view and extended a hand to pull him up. The taller soldier had a minor bruise marring his square jaw, but he seemed no worse for wear from the fall. He carried Sam over his shoulder until he found the strength to stand by himself. When he came to a stop, Roger pointed to the source of light within the cavern. Sam exhaled as his heart raced and jaw opened agape like a swallowing python.
The cavern was illuminated by the eerie reflections of sunlight from a narrow opening in the rock upon a magnificent statue. While the gap was easily big enough for him to reach and crawl through, the idea of escape vanished from Sam's head as he and his companion beheld the grandeur and majesty of an undoubtedly ancient sculpture. It was the brass likeness of a man sitting upon a stone throne, his features completely encased within a suit of bronze armor. The lack of verdigris in the sculpture gave the alloy that comprised it the shimmer of newly-shined brass.
The helmet and armor reminded Sam of the Greek hoplite he had seen on the ceramic sharps before. Even without a face, the ornate engravings upon the armor gave the figure an aura of regal significance. In an extended hand was a bangle engraved with curious and queer pictographs, as if offering it in amity to his first guests in millennia.
"It almost looks Greek, but the metallurgy's unlike anything I've seen," Roger said. "I wonder if it's all one piece?"
Before Sam could react, Roger stepped forwards and tugged lightly on the bauble suspended from the statue's bronzed hand. The trinket came free with a disturbing ease like an overripe fruit succumbing to gravity. For a moment, Roger puzzled over the trinket that now rested around his fingers. Sam, too, marveled at it, for the queer pictographs looked as though they had slightly shifted position once in Roger's hand. With their gaze transfixed by the artifact, they were unprepared for what then occurred.
Sam had exhaled when he saw the statue's head move to the side. The clinking and clicking of unseen mechanisms reverberated within the body of the antediluvian construct. The helmed head gazed directly at Roger, as much as an eyeless eidolon could be said to stare. Thoughts of wonder turned immediately to thoughts of flight. Roger reached the cave wall before Sam did and clambered through the orifice in the rock. Behind them, unseen machines ratchetted in a frantically increasing lilt. Not forgetting his comrade, Roger extended his hand to pull Sam up.
For Sam, the moment dragged on for manifold eternities. His heart raced as his fatigued body was driven beyond its physical limits by a primordial and irrational terror he dared not question. Whatever ancient engines stirred, he had no urge to witness when they fully awakened from eons-old slumber. He recalled his shortcomings in basic training and leapt for Roger's outstretched hand. Behind his companion, he saw the welcomed rays of the sun promising freedom from the chthonic machineries below. As he grasped Roger, he ignored the temptation to let go as he struggled to reach freedom.
Sam had no doubt he would have blacked out if his body had not been soaked with adrenaline. For what he hoped was a long time, he laid in the soft sand of the beach. The soft sand was a comfortable bed for him he would have dozed off on if Roger had not yanked him to his feet. In a fleeting glance back into the cavern, Sam thought he saw naught but an empty stone chair.
Sam wondered that if perhaps he had hallucinated the entire episode, but Roger's physical condition indicated otherwise. His once-nonchalant comrade was soaked in sweat, and Sam noticed the bracelet partially protruding from Roger's pants pocket. Roger turned towards the wine-dark sea, putting his scraped hand over his eyes. He waved towards a vessel sailing towards them.
"Hey, Sam, see the flag? It's one of ours," Roger said as he frantically waved his arms.
In his carefree excitement, Roger ran across the golden sand of the beach towards the ocean. Sam was still forming words when Roger forever vanished in the ochre dust of the landmine's detonation.