Chapter 8: "Paradise Lost"
Unknown Mountain Range
Dr. Edward Richtofen
January 5th, 1940
"Und how exactly did I end up here? This is one of my many, many questions regarding yesterday’s events. Hopefully, my experience with these villagers will illuminate the answers to said questions. My power over them is so strong they have provided shelter for me over the night; They have even thrown some type of banquet in my honor. It’s quite fascinating. I’m no anthropologist, but their lack of experience with any outsiders and apparent disdain for clothing is quite the topic of interest. I’m sure Doctor Schuster would love to meet them. Oh, how I do hope he is alright. There is no telling what sort of commotion this ordeal has caused at Der Riese. I can only hope he will be able to- NO! Shhhh! Sh!”
Edward’s hands clenched around the dirtied recording device he had recovered at the site of his arrival in the jungle, shutting it off completely. The voices had continued to call out to Richtofen throughout the feast provided to him the night before and into his dreams. That night, Edward dreamed of a city engulfed in flames, near a river. There was someone, a woman, crying out for help before disappearing in a flash. The voice took many accents and in some instances many languages, and it always seemed to ask for help. It would interrupt Edward in the worst of times, like a mosquito buzzing near his ears. Though, there was no shortage of actual mosquitos in this tucked-away jungle.
Edward swatted at the little pest preparing to land on his face, then pushed open the hand-crafted wooden door to his hut to reveal what seemed like the whole village anticipating his awakening. They all kneeled upon noticing him, headed by their leader from the night before. Wary of the attention, Edward nervously approached the head of the village, offering him his hand.
The elder did not seem to understand the gesture, looking visibly confused and frightened.
Edward spoke up, "Take me to the pyramid.” He made a hand motion indicating the shape of a pyramid, then pointed in the direction he had seen it the day before.
The leader seemed to understand this command, standing on his two feet and motioning the others in the village to step aside. It seemed the entire village was subservient to him and only him. Despite the fear Edward had instilled, it was he whom they respected and followed. So long as Edward stayed in his good graces, the village would follow suit.
The elder stopped for a moment as he led Edward on, approaching a woman with a baby in her arms. He rubbed his right hand on the child’s forehead, before placing his arms onto the woman’s shoulders and muttering something as he placed his head onto hers. By Richtofen’s hypothesis, this was the elder’s son and possible heir.
The center of the village was at the top of a steep hill. Interestingly, the path upwards was marked with bamboo shoots entrenched into the ground with space between them. They seemed to hold no purpose, until Richtofen looked back from the top of the hill to see the older, weaker members of the village using them for support when traversing the hill. Despite their violent attack at Edward’s arrival, the natives were quite closely bonded and supportive of one another, especially the eldest members of the village.
As he passed through the village square, Richtofen took note of much of the peoples’ primitive, yet, impressive technology. The people had created an irrigation system and structurally sound platforms for their huts to stand high on above the nearby river. Most impressive of all seemed to be a boat on the river with a bamboo crank to churn the water and propel the vessel.
Yet, all of these achievements paled in comparison to the wondrous stone structures built on the site just outside the village. They scaled high into the sky, blotting out the sun in many places. With the sheer amount of man-power required to build this architecture using no machinery, Edward hypothesized these people may have been here for centuries, given his limited knowledge of the region, which he also believed to be somewhere in East Asia, due to the fauna and some of the markings within the temple walls.
Though he initially believed the people to have been uncontacted, Edward’s belief was shaken as he entered one of the temples. Near the entrance were two ceremonial gongs, gold in color, and most definitely made of a type of metal, be it actual gold, brass, or something undiscovered in the West. Throughout the village he had passed, there had been no signs of metal work or blacksmithing; All of their architecture was crafted from stone, and yet before Richtofen’s eyes were massive, circular gongs suspended in the air, marked with precise script in what he believed to be their written language. Perhaps Edward was not the first outsider to arrive at this village, and he was intrigued to find what else this precursor may have left behind.
Past the gongs was a vast inner space occupying the structure, its walls lined with engravings etched into stone, as well as animal skulls native to this jungle.
The head of the village barked out of the entryway towards a grouping of his people. On his orders, they scrambled with a club made of bundled bamboo, lighting it aflame using flint, before a single member of the congregation approached the leader, bowing his head as he offered the torch.
Returning the bow, the leader looked into Edward’s eyes to assure he was watching his actions, before he illuminated the nearby wall by lighting another torch held tightly in the stone. Above the torch was a fair-sized illustration. It appeared crude, but Edward could understand the message it conveyed. It depicted a gathering of humans surrounding one in the center who appeared larger than the rest; This center leader wore a headdress very similar to the one worn by the man before Richtofen.
He lit another torch, guiding Richtofen along the wall as it told the story of their people. The next etching showed three humans in various of situations. One hunted a jungle cat, another appeared to be constructing a hut, and another held a spear.
Continuing along the wall, Edward viewed an etched piece depicting a group of villagers and their leader kneeling before a large object that appeared to be emitting something outward. The next etching was very similar, however now, there were more figures, their outlines marked with some kind of red coloring. These figures were attacking the villagers without weapons, simply pouncing on them.
The next panels showed what seemed to be a war with the mysterious figures from before, with much violence and death on both sides. It soon became clear, however, that the others were attempting to devour the villagers. These monsters continued to terrorize the people of the village, until Edward reached another panel, portraying some larger figure before the villagers. The large figure looked very similar to the less-detailed humans, but held many odd features, including an elongated skull, large teeth, and it seemed to float above the people. They were praying before the creature, the leader even offering his headdress.
All through this demonstration, the leader of the village was narrating in his own tongue to Richtofen. As he approached this etching, the leader’s voice seemed to elevate in urgency. The small humans in the etching stood dwarfed behind the massive, angular figure as it rained down lightning onto the red monsters that had been attacking the village.
Further down, Edward witnessed the arrival of more of the tall figures as they appeared to conjure up tools and assist in construction of temples for the villagers. This collaboration culminated in a pyramidal structure betwixt three of the floating forerunners, its tip emanating some type of radiation. The final etchings chronicled the gift of one of the creatures’ heads to the people, and their eventual leaving of the village. In one last panel, the villagers were depicted worshipping an altar holding the elongated head of their gods as the sun appeared solid black above them.
As Richtofen admired the stories and the statues of monkeys and elephants surrounding him, the head of the village motioned to him towards the center of the room. Illuminated by his torch, the altar from the story was there before Richtofen, and atop its perfectly flat surface was the strange skull he had seen in wall etchings.
"This is… unbelievable.”
The head of the village pointed his unwavering finger to a handcrafted bowl full of black rocks sitting nearby the skull on the altar. He spoke to Richtofen in a pleading manner, but with no method of understanding, Richtofen was simply confused.
The head of the village then placed both of his cupped hands around the bowl, then pulling them outward as if an explosion were emanating from the bowl. Just then, Richtofen noticed a crowd had gathered before him at the altar. Daring not to disappoint, Edward reached for his pocket, pulling out his lighter. Some in the crowd began to cheer as he did so, before silencing once again. Edward then lit the flame, and ignited the bowl of rocks creating a lasting fire on the altar. The spectacle had created an uproar in the crowd as they chanted in delight of the event. Through their cacophonous jubilation, however, Edward heard the soft, yet, striking voices once again, their sudden arrival raising Edward’s heart rate.
"Certain events have come to pass just as they were foretold. They love you, Edward. They will do anything you say.”
Edward slapped his right ear with his palm hoping to stop the voice in his head, before noticing another set of etchings in the side of the altar. The style, however, was very different from those on the wall. The figures were more detailed and finely precise, bordering on impossible to create with the stone tools available to the village.
From left to right, the illustrated story showed a being appearing from above wielding the power of fire from his hands. The members of the village were shown giving the gift of food to the god-like being. The next panel showed the fire-wielding figure before the rock shown in previous etchings that created the monsters. The figure was blasting the rock with a power emanating from his hands, destroying it as the villagers surrounded him, worshipping him.
"You’ve got them eating out of your hands, now. Haven’t you always wanted power, Edward? To make a change? Use them, Edward.”
"Leave me alone!”
Not understanding of his frustration, the members of the village mimicked his speech, seeming to believe it was the chant of their gods.
"Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”
Overwhelmed and sweating from a combination of the fire and his fear of the voices in his head, Edward stood dumbstruck as he was lauded by the people.
"Your name. Give it to them. Show them who will bring them salvation!”
Trembling, Richtofen stood in place, whispering to himself.
"No… stop it. Stop, stop, stop! I won’t!”
"Do it now, Edward. NOW!”
Shaken, Edward unhooked the name tag of his white lab coat, on it was marked his last name, ‘RICHTOFEN’. With his quivering hand he tossed it onto the altar, backing away from it as the villagers examined it. The leader picked up the harmless plastic, gazing upon the Roman lettering before understanding what he must do. He called out to the crowd, and a single male villager approached, kneeling as he arrived. After a command from the leader, he took a chisel beside the altar and began to etch a design into the opposite side of the altar. The leader of the village pointed the tag at Edward, saying something in his own language, awaiting his rebuttal.
"Tell them, Edward. Tell them who their new king is! Do it!”
With hesitation, Edward spoke softly, looking to the stone floor.
The crowd began to mutter, still looking to Edward.
"… I am… "
The village leader said in his own foreign accent, "Richtofen.”
"Yes, I am Richtofen!”
"Richtofen! Richtofen! Richtofen!”
The crowd chanted his name with a candor Edward had never seen before.
"You’ve made a brave new step Edward. Use them to find a way home. You will make the change that you want. But you must help us.”
Dazed and mentally exhausted, Edward replied. "Und what is it you want? How will I leave?”
"Exit their temple through the path ahead and all of your questions will be answered.”
The wall closest to the altar appeared to be a large, moveable slab. Edward approached it, sweeping his hand along the symbolic, bumpy surface. The head of the village let out a cry, and several men came to the right side of the slab, as they slowly shoved it aside to reveal the sunlit outdoors. The sight just outside this side of the temple was beautiful to Richtofen’s worn eyes.
Stepping out of the temple, Richtofen could see the lush, green trees of the surrounding jungle paradise for miles, their many branches populated with vines and birds. In his ears were the sounds of flowing water from a nearby waterfall, and the howling of monkeys in the distance. The air was warm with very little wind, and the rays of the sun obscured just slightly by the cloudy morning skies. Below Edward was a series of stone steps leading to stone with grass and dirt sifting between the man-made floor. At the center of this area was the ruins of what looked to be an ancient stone-brick temple. It was overgrown with flora and the structure was barely standing with over half of the bricks seeming to be missing. Aside the bottom of the stair case were two stone-carved lizard-like creatures with sails on their heads. A monkey could be seen resting in the crevice behind one of the dragons, scratching at its head with one hand. Most interesting of all were two possibly wooden stands atop the ruins in the distance to Richtofen’s immediate right and the left of the central ruins. High up in what would be the treeline, these stands held peculiar crystal orbs, larger than even the tires of an automobile in circumference, the beautiful, spotless crystals intrigued Richtofen greatly, who desired a closer look when he had the time.
"Beautiful isn’t it? A true, secluded cornucopia of harmony. Your purpose here will soon become evident. It was not by accident you found this place.”
Pacing further out into the open air, Edward marveled at the gargantuan mountain range appearing through the fog to the immediate right of the temple.
"In just what area of the world am I?”
"Its location has been sought after for all of mankind’s existence. You are in the legendary Shangri-La. There are men who would kill to find a home in this paradise. Follow them, and you will know why you are here.”
Edward searched his feelings, unsure if the voice was to be trusted, and unsure if this voice could feel the conflict in his heart or the thoughts running through his head. He felt as if he were taking advantage of the friendly natives of Shangri-La, promising them some form of heroism and leadership. Edward only wanted to find home, yet he was still tantalized by what this beacon of delight may bestow upon him if he continued.
He took a few steps out, placing his feet just above the next step down the stairs. The steps were muddy, appearing to have been unused in a fair amount of time, and in his best interest, he was careful in his footing. The members of the village followed suit and looking back it appeared as if even more of the village had joined than he had thought.
Now at the base of the steps, Richtofen stepped forward into the stone-brick ruins before him. Entire sections of the structure were completely missing, leaving it entirely exposed to the sky. At the center on the floor was a large slab pushed into the ground with large bags of dirt on each corner of the square stone. There was a design engraved on the slab: An eight-pointed star filled with small squares, and at the center a large skull. It was eerie in appearance, but even more unsettling was statue just out of the corner of Richtofen’s left eye, in the corner of the small area. The statue was of a monkey, divided into four sections from top to bottom. To the right of the monkey statue was a circular stone sticking out of the wall, with a skull engraving similar in design to the slab at the center of the floor. Looking around him, Edward also noted the same circular stone sticking out of the other three corners of the structure, and another at the center of the back wall, just above head-level. Nervous there would be some sort of strange ritual, Edward looked towards the villagers, who were now fanning in all directions towards other areas of the ruins as they were directed by their leader. The leader approached Edward, bowing his head, and directing him to step away from the center slab.
After following his instructions, Edward watched as the villagers lifted the bags of dirt off of the stone slab. With no pressure on it any longer, the slab began to rise out of the earth slowly, scraping the inner stone wall as it did. The monkey statue in the corner began to clatter, and the head section began to spin in circles continuously, revealing the same head on both sides. As he continued to wait, Richtofen watched as the other sections of the statue began to spin from some sort of mechanism underneath their feet. Then, as villagers previously unseen returned to the group, they all looked towards the stair case leading up to the temple, and that is when Richtofen noticed two eight-point star-shaped stones descending down the sides of the staircase slowly, as if on a timer. As Edward mentally counted roughly a half a minute, the stones had reached the bottom of the stair case, and an entire section of the stone stair case sank into the ground near the base. To follow, a surge of water gushed out of the head of the temple, falling to the steps, and like a waterfall, flowing to the very bottom via gravity, before collecting in a small trench where the bottom steps had been. After a short amount of time, the two dragons at each side of the steps began to stream water from their mouths, frightening the monkey previously sat atop one. The water then drained into a hole in the ground until the water stopped gushing from the temple.
The villagers began to chant in revelry as the leader approached Edward and kneeled before him, directing his attention to the head of the temple. He then directed four villagers at each corner of the small structure to press the circular skull tablets into the walls. After a few moments, Edward’s vision became blurry, and he covered his eyes attempting to re-center his vision. He felt a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach, with a hint of altitude sickness and a similar weightlessness felt during teleportation, only this time it felt more sustained. Upon opening his eyes once more, it became completely and utterly apparent just what he was meant to do in Shangri-La.
Atop the temple, where a large chunk of the stone had appeared to be missing, there was now a massive, pulsating red meteorite of Element 115. It matched exactly the rocks he had been testing with at Der Riese, and the deposit found there by Doctor Maxis was not even this large.
"So you see, Edward, it was destiny we met. Think of the possibilities with this meteorite. These people, they have no use for it; But you are a genius, and you know what must be done. There is more here, just below ground, ready to be mined by your loyal subjects. Do the right thing, Edward, for humanity’s sake. You will find a way to return to the pyramid where we met, and there we will acquire more power than you could possibly imagine.”
"Power… that’s what this is, is it? This… can’t be right. You aren’t real. I’ve just spent too long in this jungle.”
"Don’t be foolish, Edward. We are real. We only want what’s best for you and your race. I promise you that there is a great reward for you, but you only need to listen.”
"In time, Edward, you will see what you are capable of, and we will assure that you do.
"Celebrate with the village; Make a spectacle of how you will destroy the meteor that has terrorized them for generations. They will show you the ways of the ancient Vril-Ya, and the powers they held, and what they left behind here in this land for us to find.”
"Vril? No, no, no… those are just Groph’s ramblings… they can’t-"
"There are many secrets to find here. Only time will tell what awaits us. When the time is right, return home, and bring back the tools to harness the power that Shangri-La holds!”
"I can’t! These people and this land have been untouched for-"
"They’ve been waiting for you, Edward. You are their hero. Don’t disappoint them. Don’t disappoint us.”