Tintin goes to visit Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus at their new home in Marlinspike Hall. On the train, he reads about a team of seven explorers led by Professor Sanders-Hardiman returning home after a two year expedition in the Andes where they discovered the tomb of the ancient Incan priest Rascar Capac, with the latter's mummy in tow. A strange man compares them to the Egyptologists who unearthed Tutankhamen's tomb and claims the same fate will befall them. Later on, Tintin attends a music hall with Haddock and is surprised to find General Alcazar, having been deposed of power and now performing as a knife thrower. Another act by a psychic also mentions the Incan expedition and claims its members are in grave danger.
Concurrent with these events, each member of the Sanders-Hardiman expedition starts falling into a mysterious coma, one by one. Thompson and Thomson are investigating and reveal that the only clue present at each scene are fragments of crystal spheres, which apparently contained some sort of mysterious gas that caused the comas. Despite the efforts of Tintin, Haddock, and the Thompsons, they are unable to stop the attacks and finally decide to personally guard the last explorer, Professor Tarragon, an old friend of Professor Calculus, who accompanies them to the former's house. After the Rascar Capac mummy disappears from the house in a mysterious bolt of ball lightning, Tarragon claims that this is the culmination of a prophecy: Rascar Capac has "returned to his element" and will go after Tarragon personally. Despite the escort, Tarragon succumbs to the coma as well, becoming the last of the seven. To make matters worse, Professor Calculus is kidnapped after finding the mummy's bracelet.
Tintin and Haddock chase the kidnapper and manage to track him to the Pachacamac
, a ship bound for Peru. Tintin also discovers that Alcazar's assistant Chiquito, one of the last descendants of the Incas is also involved. Tintin and Haddock depart for Peru to rescue Calculus, closing part 1 of the two part story that concludes in Prisoners of the Sun
- And I Must Scream: The seven explorers themselves, especially Professor Tarragon.
- Call Back: See below.
- Continuity Lockout: An extremely minor example, but when our heroes are contacting the explorers to warn them of the curse, Professor Cantonneau greets Tintin as an old acquaintance ("My dear Tintin" in the English). This is because Cantonneau was also one of the experts aboard the Aurora in The Shooting Star. It's a nice little grace note, but perhaps too subtle: in stark contrast to most of the series' numerous callbacks, there isn't a word of explanation as to how the professor already knows Tintin. So, those happening to read Crystal before Star are liable to be puzzled (indeed, given Cantonneau's minimal role in Star, even those reading in order may have forgotten about him). Of course, it wouldn't be too much to suppose that Tintin had already met Cantonneau in a non-adventuring context, but that would be surprisingly rare for this protagonist: unlike e.g. Haddock and Calculus, Tintin is shown to have virtually no a priori acquaintances (with the obvious exception of Snowy). For just about anyone he recognizes, you can find them meeting for the first time somewhere earlier in the series.
- Curse: The explorers and archaeologists all fall victim to a curse due to desecrating a tomb.
- Dangerous Windows: Two of the members of the Sanders-Hardiman expedition fall victim to crystal balls hurled through their windows. Professor Cantonneau is attacked this way just as Tintin tries to warn him not to go near the window. Dr. Midge is then placed under police guard, but the police in question are Thompson and Thomson, and they try to guard everything but the window. With predictable results.
- Fainting Seer: Mrs. Yamilah, a stage fortune teller, tries to look into the fate of a woman married to one of the explorers. She gets a glimpse into the fate of the husband and seems physically affected.
- Fireballs: A huge fireball of lightning crashes into the protagonists' household. What some readers may be amazed to know is that this phenomenon actually has some basis in reality. Ball lightning is one the least understood meteorological phenomena known to man. Essentially a ball of light that occurs during a thunder and or lightning storm, these little (or huge) buggers have been known about since antiquity. By the late twentieth century most of the scientific community had deemed ball lightning a myth, however the proliferation of color photography soon would prove the existence of phenomena, and by the early 2000s with the advent and wide use of the internet and digital photography, the scientific community had again accepted the existence of ball lightning. No body knows exactly what the stuff is though, other than a ball of light with electric properties. They are semi rare as whole, only a quarter of Americans surveyed have claimed to see it (must only claim to see when prompting though as they don't initially report the sightings for fear of being deemed crazy or a liar). Its reported characteristics very wildly, some times it can pass though people without out harming them or times they discharge massive amounts of electricity, even up to a normal lightning strike. Ball lightning can sometimes move erratically and swiftly but often seems to move slowly and lazily. These balls of light often seem to also be attracted to wires, electrical appliances, and metal. There are many theories as to what exactly ball lightning is, however ball lightning's rarity and unpredictably will likely mean that this phenomena will likely remain unexplained for several more years.
- High-Class Glass: In the previous adventure of the series, Captain Haddock had acquired a treasure through inheritance. His newfound wealth is indicated in this album by his residence in a mansion and by his new habit of wearing a monocle. Not being accustomed to them, he loses a lot of them.
- Knife-Throwing Act: General Alcazar, exiled in this book, has his own stage act. After creating a full Knife Outline around his Indian target, he asks an audience member to blindfold him. His blind throw hits right in the center of the fruit held over the target's chest.
- A Mythology Is True: In-story example. The curse of Rascar Capac is scoffed at by the rational characters. Until it turns true to the letter.
- Nightmare Sequence: Tintin and his companions all have the same nightmare: that they are visited by the Inca mummy Rascar Capac who enters their bedroom by night and then throws a crystal ball on the floor.
- No Communities Were Harmed: The story accurately depicts the French port of Saint-Nazaire. The English translation renames it Westermouth for no good reason.
- Rule of Seven: Seven cursed explorers, seven crystal balls hurled at them and and placing them in comas.