The giant hand stood in the midst of a large circular chamber, rising some fifteen feet above us, almost reaching the ceiling of the room. I had to admire the artistry that had rendered it. It looked so real, like the hand of a giant man turned from living flesh into stone, so smooth and with such detail had it been carved. I looked at my own hand in the light of my torch and found it a smaller but otherwise perfect match. In its own way, the thing struck me as beautiful.
The hand rose from the floor on a wrist as big around as a large tree trunk, palm upraised, fingers and thumb relaxed but extended. A grown man or woman could lie down on that gargantuan palm and find it an ideal fit, which did suggest to me its initial purpose.
“This was an altar!” Oran said, arriving at the same conclusion. Or perhaps the bones, pieces of bones, that lay scattered all over the floor, surrounding the gargantuan wrist, suggested to Oran the thing’s former use. “Human beings were sacrificed here in some perverse and evil rite!”
“The Hand of the Devil,” one of the others commented, giving voice to words that I would have expected from Oran.
“There appears to be another opening on the opposite side of the room,” still another said. He moved deeper into the chamber with his torch held before him.
Faster than it takes me to write these words, faster even than it took to see it and call out a warning, the Devil’s Hand came to life. From dead stone it became as flesh, living stone. With a sound not of rock grating against rock but of something in motion that has not moved in some long time—the best comparison I can offer is of a rusted hinge, now lubricated but still giving voice to a slight protest, that sound, only magnified a hundredfold—with that sound and faster than I can describe, the hand reached down and snatched the man, closing around him, crushing him in its grasp. He managed only a portion of a scream before the wind was crushed out from his lungs.
“God in Heaven!” Oran shrieked. I cursed, leaping back. We all leapt backward as the hand, still closed, still gripping the man, raised itself to its full height and then slammed itself down, the fingers extending, slamming the man against the floor, between its palm and the floor, with enough force to cause the very walls to shake. I felt the impact through the soles of my boots. Then, as if the poor wretch were not dead enough, the hand raised itself again, curled its fingers into a fist, and brought itself down two more times like some gigantic hammer on the man’s broken, crushed flesh. He burst open like a grape beneath it, spraying blood across the entire chamber. It splashed my arm. The ruin of the man scarce looked human after the hand, in a matter of seconds, had finished its appalling work.
I looked at all the little pieces of bones scattered over the floor of the chamber with a new understanding.
“Christ, have mercy!” Oran took a knee and prayed. I cursed again. This time I cursed the old woman, who had not warned us about the giant hand. I could not believe she hadn’t known about it.
“We won’t be going that way,” one of the others said.
I sat down on the floor, my back to the wall, well out of reach of the Devil’s Hand. “I’m afraid,” I said, “that we must go that way. Or at least I must. That which I seek waits on the other side of this room.”
“How can you know that, my lord?” Oran asked, having finished his prayer.
“My gut tells me so,” I replied. “The instinct of the beast tells me so. And where else would you put a treasure except where it can best be guarded?”
“But you saw what that thing did,” Oran said.
“I saw as well as you. Better, since I was standing closer.”
“Then how can you hope to get past it?”
“Quiet!” I snapped. “I need to think.”
Fear at this point would have stopped most men, I daresay. Not to flaunt my bravery; I have never said that I was a brave man, only desperate. Fear: the sight of the giant’s claw having come to life, having slaughtered a man in so horrific a manner; the prospect that it might, it would, do the same thing to the next man to attempt to get past it. This idea, this horror, would stop most men. But I had lived for far too long with greater horror, had become somewhat numbed to it. It would not stop me.