Today’s stop was Puerto Vallarta. Needless to say, I stayed on board the ship, reading. Trying to read at any rate. Case did his best to keep my mind off of things, but they were too recent.
I looked out the window at the beaches to the south of the city– the woods where we waited, worrying about our fate. I was so sure I was going to die there.
Case noticed how quiet I’d gotten and asked me about it. I tried to tell him it was nothing, and maybe now it is– but then.
“That’s where we hid,” I told him pointing towards the woods.
He gave me a very gentle look and asked me about it. And so I told him all about ‘the cave.’ I told him about Ayana, Pacal and Yachacheq and the Kachakashqa Amaru, and how sure I was that we were going to die in those woods– so close to freedom.
He was holding me by the time I finished.
“And I was jealous of Emmory,” he chuckled softly. “Wishing that I’d been there for you.”
I looked at him and shook my head. “I was so glad you weren’t there– I don’t think I could have taken everything knowing that you were in danger too.”
He smiled and then winked at me. “And here I was worrying about how you’d cope with the dangers of my job.”
It felt good just to be there with him.
“Besides,” he told me. “This time we have guns.”
Always practical, that’s my Case.
Two days to go and I’m as nervous as I’ve ever been. Case and I have gone over the maps of Cusco, the calendars, tourist information– everything, but we still have no idea what we’re up against.
Worse, the city is big enough we could miss whatever it is we’re looking for and never know we missed it. We arrive in Lima tomorrow afternoon- then it’s a private tour-plane to Cusco.
We’re supposed to be picked up on the 22nd but there’s no telling what’s going to happen once we get to Cusco.
I finished Alan’s book on the Incas, I just hope I’m heading in the right direction with this. If not– at least I’ll have seen Machu Picchu.
We’ll have seen Machu Picchu.
Its really weird– I’m not used to thinking of Case and me as anything other than Case and me, and maybe that’s the way it should be. He’s my partner in all of this.
He ended up getting me to go for a jog around the ship. I think I’d actually enjoy this trip if it weren’t for all the mystery and intrigue that awaits us in Cusco. If we’re lucky-- maybe we’ll get to enjoy the trip back. I don’t really want to think that far ahead.
I need to focus on what is to come– the only problem is I have no idea what it is. We're going to bed early, figuring on getting as much sleep as we can before we get to Cusco...
I ended up jogging with Case this morning. It beat staying in the cabin worrying about tomorrow. After we’d finished, showered and had breakfast, we still had about five hours to kill.
The day passed so slowly. We amused ourselves checking the weather and planning out our itinerary. By the time we made port we were both glad to disembark and take a cab to the airport.
The next four hours we were given an aerial tour of the area. We listened to the tour guide as we flew over some of the most impressive territory I’ve even seen. Mountains, terraced gardens– it was impressive.
By the time we landed in Cusco, we knew just how big the haystack was we were up against. I admit, I was beginning to think we’d never figure it out in time– but Case was there, encouraging me.
“We’ll be fine,” he assured me.
We checked into the hotel around 18:30 and were advised to rest and let our bodies adjust to the altitude. Case smiled and asked about the tourist areas and the concierge told us that most of the sites would remain open until about 20:30, but that Korikancha was closed for the evening.
Case managed to find out that a private party was using the site for a private ceremony. I was a bit surprised by that, but Case managed to keep a straight face. He asked about tours for tomorrow, and was assured that the Temple would be open for tours in the morning.
I’m really glad Case asked the questions. He handled it so naturally– I have to admit, I had trouble signing in as Mr. and Mrs. Casey.
Once we were in our room I looked at Case. “Korikancha, the Temple of the Sun... it couldn’t be that easy could it?”
He smiled. “I don’t know Jess, but it sure fits.”
Case thought about it for a minute. “You said yourself– this is the end of one cycle of the Inca calendar... Tomorrow is the beginning.”
That sent a shiver up my spine. If it was Korikancha tonight would make sense– if it isn’t, we may be too late to go anywhere else.
“We’re going to have to move.”
Case nodded. “But we need to take it easy for a little while– like the lady said... Altitude.”
Waiting is going to be hard, but Case is right– We’ll be useless if we aren’t prepared.
Just when you think you have it all figured out and everything is falling into place life just loves to throw you a curve ball. Last night was no exception.
We were so close-- we had the right place, the right time and it still wasn’t enough.
We finally managed to get inside Korikancha around 2200. The closer we got to midnight, the looser security seemed to be. I remember worrying that we weren’t going to make it– or worse that we would and then we’d find out that it was the wrong ‘private celebration.’
I’m not sure if luck was with us or not, but we had the right place.
My god... the place was crowded with people. Most were just reveling in the celebration of the new year... others... others were gathering in private for the darker festivities.
There was only the quietest whisper about it as we passed through the throngs of revelers. If you listened long enough, you could hear how AZT had ‘invited’ themselves to the party– how they had something very ominous planned for the evening and that if you valued your life, perhaps your soul, you’d avoid them at all costs.
Plainly said, the altar was off limits. That was where we needed to be– I could just feel it.
We found it in the back courtyard– the oldest part of the temple. It was in an open area– old cobbled grounds and the ancient stone altar occupied a commanding view of the courtyard.
Several robed men surrounded the altar, chanting and swaying as they circled it. When they moved I could see the form crudely tied to the altar-- Alan.
I wanted to scream when I saw him– what they’d been doing to him...what they were doing to him...
They continued to sway as they passed what looked like a bronze dagger between them. As one would receive the knife, he would hold it up, chant something, then slowly drag it down one of Alan’s arms– and he would cry out in pain. His screams of pain were echoed with a cheer from those gathered.
They looked like a congregation of the damned. Some were dressed in blood red, others in pure white. Each wore a mask based on the images and carvings found in Aztec and Toltec mythology. Images from every nightmare I had as a child, only this was real.
As I watched, the knife came down again, and again they cheered.
Even now it gives me chills thinking about it. I couldn’t understand what the priests were saying, but all that really mattered to me was the knife, and Alan laying helpless before them.
I was trembling when I felt a gentle hand on my arm-- Case.
He gave me a grim smile and nodded towards my gun. One way or another, we were going to end this thing.
I closed my eyes and let my breath out slowly– trying to remain focused on what we were doing. It was clear that if I lost it now, Alan wouldn’t be the only one tied up there.
As it was, it was only a matter of time.
Finally the priests seemed to tire of their game, that or they were done with that part of their ritual, I don’t know, I don’t care– it really doesn’t matter any more.
I don’t know what I expected. I should have realized, but I wasn’t thinking about it, it wasn’t just the end of the Mayan year, it was end of the Aztec’s as well. As I watched, six more men wearing feathered masks arrived carrying a statue between them.
It was a medium sized gold disk, the Punchao... the sun disk. It was small enough that one of them could have carried it, but instead they formed a protective ring around it and paraded it around. The revelers watched and bowed before it. Its guardians smiled as they did so. That finished, they placed it behind the altar almost as if it was presiding over the ceremony– a place of honor.
Once the disk was in place, all but one of the priests left the altar, standing along side it like an honor guard. The one remaining priest smiled, then looked out over those gathered.
His voice rose over the din from the party and a hush fell over those gathered. I could only understand a few words– but what I did understand was more than enough.
He was going to kill Alan... and from the way he was now handling the knife– it was going to be a very long drawn out process.
Without any discussion, Case and I separated and started moving along the sides. One way or another we were going to free Alan. I tried not to think about it, concentrating on the moment. It was the only way any of us were going to get through this. It helped knowing that Case was on the other side of the room– trying to do the same thing.
I’d almost made it to the far side, when one of the masked revelers grabbed me. My reaction was more reflex than anything. I tried to twist my arm out of his grasp, and in the process, I knocked his mask off his face. Shock took over as I stared into the face I thought I knew. It was Fin– but it wasn’t.
His expression was unreadable– like he was doing something he didn’t want to do, but had to. That got my blood flowing again, but it was too late.
God I want to kill him! After everything he did last night, he has the audacity to ask me to trust him. I don’t think that’s an option anymore. Maybe he needs redemption– but he’s cost me more than I can forgive...
I think he may have been trying to get me out of there, but we’ll never know. Before he could move either way, the priest was aware of my presence and what was happening. He called to Fin and Fin dragged me to him, forcing me to kneel before the altar.
The priest praised Fin’s diligence as he looked me over. Even thinking about it now I want to take a shower. He said something about dealing with me later, and signaled his men.
That’s was all Case need ed. He pulled his gun and activated the laser site. As the red dot appeared on the priest’s chest, the ‘revelers’ surged between them, throwing their own bodies between the priest and the obvious threat.
I was so sure it was all over as the guards closed in on Case from behind. But it wasn’t over– not by a long shot.
Two familiar forms emerged from the crowd– Matt and Andy. I could feel hope surge through me like a tangible thing. We were together, if only for a brief moment. Then Fin was dragging me towards a pillar. I don’t know what he was planning, but as soon as the priest called to him-- he froze.
His expression was a mask of rage, anger and helplessness.
If I live to be a hundred I will never understand, or trust that man again. I don’t think I know him any more... I don’t think I ever did.
He got shot protecting me– he almost gave me to my brother’s enemies, and then he took a bullet that was meant for me. It just doesn’t make sense.
Chaos became the word of the day as most of the revelers fled when faced with armed opposition instead of a helpless man on the altar. Some stayed, prepared to die for their convictions, and they did. The priests didn’t care who they shot. Aztec religion requires blood, and I think they got their fill last night.
When it became obvious that they were losing, the priest turned towards Fin and me. He sneered at me as he said something about vengeance. I had enough time to see the gun, before Fin pulled me behind him– shielding me with his body.
I just don’t know anymore.
It was hours later, after the police had been satisfied, and all the injured had been taken care of, that Case and I were able to talk. When I finally found out that we’d failed.
There was no sign of the boys or the priests, just a lot of unanswered questions.
They still had Alan, that much was clear. There was no way of knowing about Matt or Andy-- they could have followed, but they could have been captured as well.
The only good news after all was said and done was the fact that we had the statue.
It helped that Fin was asking for me, but if I had my way, they’d lock him up under the jail and leave him there.
Case tried to keep me calm, but there’s no denying that he was working with the people who had been hunting my brothers. They had Alan, and maybe the others as well.
It is possible that Matt and Andy could have gotten out under their own power-- just not very likely from the looks of things. I keep trying to tell myself it was possible, but I just don’t know what to believe anymore.
When we got the hospital, Case took me aside. I know I wasn’t being very cooperative, but we had been so close.
“Jess,” he called as he took hold of my arms and forced me to look at him. “Hon, I know you’re hurting... I know this is personal, but you’ve got to keep it in check.”
I nodded. This is why doctors don’t work on their own family– why cops don’t investigate cases that are too close to home.
I could tell he was watching my expression. I could have said anything at that point, it wouldn’t have mattered, he was watching my body language– gauging my mood. He was watching all the things I couldn’t fake. When he was sure I was ready, we went into Fin’s room.
He looked pale, but I knew he’d live. I’d seen his charts. The bullet missed anything vital, probably couldn’t find his heart– .45 cal slug can’t do too much to something that small.
“How long?” I asked him. I’m amazed that my voice remained steady. “How long have you been with them?”
“Jess,” he countered softly. “It wasn’t like that.”
“Fin,” Case interjected. “Talk to us– tell us what’s going on.”
Fin stared at me for a long while and then finally turned away.
“My last job,” his voice had a bitter edge to it, but he kept it even. “It didn’t go very well. Three teammates dead– I almost joined them... “ He looked up at me again. “Jess, they didn’t give me any choice. They saved my life, but they kept the balance. They can take it away anytime they want.”
“Fine,” I answered. “That’s why... now... What...”
“Two years ago,” he answered slowly. “Two years by the Mayan calendar... a man, Ninancoro Ruis began a spell-- a spell to release the power of the Inca... the leader of the Incas. He needed blood and your brothers were no strangers to AZT. To them it was poetic– use the blood of those who opposed him.”
I could see the sadness in Fin’s eyes, but I could also tell he hadn’t know the full story– not until he’d fallen into the priest’s hands himself. I bit my lip and put a hand on his shoulder. This was the man I knew– the one who would never betray me– if it were his choice.
“Jess– the first part of the spell... it nearly killed Alan. They boys were able to free him, but its always just been a question of time. Alan couldn’t deny them– not when the time came. Your brothers knew Ninancoro’s men would find them. Alan was somehow-- theirs.”
I gasped slightly. The thought of Alan being hunted was bad enough, but after seeing what these people were capable of, what they’d done to him... what they were going to do.
“Yeah,” he answered. “I was supposed to watch you– keep you from interfering. Bring you to them should the boys need... convincing.”
My eyes flared at that, but as I they met his, I knew he felt the same rage and betrayal.
“I didn’t have a choice,” he repeated, almost like a protective chant. Maybe it was by now.
“Fin,” Case interjected, bring him back on track. “What now?”
“They need the statue to finish the spell.”
I was beginning to feel hope again. “So, all we had to do was keep the statue from them until midnight tonight.”
Fin’s expression told me it wasn’t that easy, even before he explained. “It doesn’t matter when they finish with the statue.” He looked into my eyes, and I could see the effort it took. “Jess, all they have to do, is complete the ritual today.”
‘Complete the ritual’... kill Alan... I could feel the world closing in again. That’s when the ‘call’ came through.
They spoke through Fin, using him like a ventriloquist’s dummy, with almost as much concern for him. They wanted us to bring the statue to them, in exchange for Matt and Andy. According to them, Alan’s fate was sealed– but we could still save the others, and ourselves.
Once the message was delivered, Fin lay there shivering. His voice echoed in my mind and I knew it was true. He really didn’t have a choice in the matter.
Case and I left him, but any anger I felt was changing. Fin was a pawn, for that matter so was I-- but every now and then, all it takes is a pawn. Sometimes the pawn is anything but.
We have no time to plan, just enough to take the statue to the designated place.... I don’t know if this is the end, but I wanted to keep as detailed a record as I can.
If you know any good prayers, now would be the time...
Case and I were forced to think on our feet. Ninancoro was giving us only enough time to get the statue and meet him. The police weren’t too happy with the turn of events but then again neither were we. Still, I could see they were more than happy to not be involved. They definitely don’t get paid enough for things like this.
It may be true that the spell could be finished any time, but it was pretty obvious that Ninancoro didn’t want to chance it. He had everything in place and I knew all too well that he would kill Matt and Andy if he had to.
I was trying to remain cool, but it wasn’t working. Everything that had happened over the last year had been leading towards this– and I wasn’t going to let the boys down.
Case asked me if I was going to be all right. I doubted it, I still do. He seemed to understand and just nodded.
“What do you think,” he asked changing tact.
When I answered, I swear I didn’t recognize my own voice.
“I’m thinking, I didn’t bring nearly enough bullets.”
Case, bless him, didn’t say anything. He didn’t really have to– there was too much to say and we both knew it. Still, I can’t think of anybody I’d trust more on this hair-brained operation.
Case gave my hand a reassuring squeeze. “Just remember– you concentrate on your brothers, I’ll worry about Ninancoro and his men.”
I nodded, once again forcing myself to concentrate on the mission. I knew it was going to be hard: seeing Ninancoro, seeing what he had done to my brothers. I think that’s why Case wanted me to focus on them. He knew that if I tried to do anything else I’d be too worried about them and not enough about anything else. This way my attention wouldn’t be divided.
It was a good plan too. Alan was the worst. I couldn’t tell he was alive or not. Ninancoro had carved him up to the point that no one should have survived, but then– that was the point.
Matt and Andy were chained to the wall, forced to witness what Ninancoro and his priests did– not that they were spared. No, Ninancoro had been sure to exact his revenge on them for interrupting his ceremony.
The way he looked at Case and me, I knew he had plans for us as well. Case started forward with the statue, but he was stopped.
Ninancoro gave me that leering smile and shook his head. “No– have the girl bring it to me.”
I swallowed hard and started to take the statue from Case. I guess I wasn’t moving fast enough because one of Ninancoro’s men kicked Andy in the ribs.
I forced myself not to look, to block out my brothers and concentrate on the statue and the priests. They were all that mattered. I tried to tell myself that, but it took everything I had to continue. I hadn’t even noticed that my hands were clenched so tight that my nails had drawn blood.
I took the statue from Case and carried it forward. I spared a quick glance at Alan, knowing what this man was going to do– knowing I had to stop him, but still not knowing how. I could feel my Walther holstered behind me, another in my shoulder holster.
The police may not have been able to give us manpower, but they’d made up for it in weapons. There was definitely an opportunistic hatred between the Amazonian Policia and AZT.
Ninancoro smiled greedily as I handed him the statue. He took it and triumphantly held it aloft. As soon as my hands were free of the now hated thing, I was at Alan’s side, checking his pulse. It was the first time I noticed I was bleeding....
Ninancoro let out an inhuman scream as he noticed the blood on the statue– my blood.
I gasped as the change took place. I could feel power surging between me, Alan and the statue. I remember looking up and seeing Matt straining against his bonds, hurt... bleeding...; Andy hanging there with his head bowed-- oblivious to everything, and Case trying to cover us all.
Everything seemed to glow– to come to life.
Alan still hasn’t figured it out completely, but from the looks of things, my blood mingling with his served to link us to the statue. In a way it finished the spell Ninancoro had started, but it also mutated it somehow.
Instead of controlling the power Ninancoro was subject to it– we all were.
Alan began to glow, his wounds closing from the inside as the power surged through him. I gasped as felt it flow all around us. The Inca’s power that had been trapped for so long was free, and it had chosen its vessel for its revenge.
Alan’s eyes glowed as his bonds burned away. As he turned I could see a peaceful look descend over Alan’s face. Unlike Ninancoro, this power seemed to protect and heal as it manipulated. We all watched in a mix of anticipation and horror.
And then the power surged to each person there. Ninancoro, his followers, Case, Me– Matt, Andy. It seemed to judge each of us in turn. It would wash through a person, comparing them to some internal criteria and then passing judgement. I screamed as Case fell to his knees– and then it was my turn.
Alan says it was judging them by their blood, trying to find the next Inca to bear its power and name. It was already aligned to the blood of the Inca royal family, and now because of Ninancoro’s spell, we were tied to it as well. My blood and Alan’s gave it a pattern to check. In the end the only ones still breathing were me, the boys, Case, Ninancoro and one of his assistants. The others were burned to ash.
Ninancoro’s eyes widened in surprise as he saw what had happened. “No!” he growled. He didn’t believe we’d survived.
If you can call it that: Case was still on his knees, fighting for control. Matt and Andy were still bound, and Alan was too drained to do more than look at the statue.
Then Ninancoro began laughing. “Do you really think you can destroy me, girl!?”
I glared at him.
“I am the last descendant of the Inca– the true ruler here...”
He laughed as he moved closer to the statue. I drew my gun.
“That’s far enough,” I told him.
He raised his arms as if to summon something to him.“You cannot kill me.. I’ve seen you.. I know you...”
I shook my head, “You don’t know anything.”
“I know you don’t have the guts to pull the trigger: you’re more concerned about the lives of your family then you are for revenge.” There was a sneer in his voice as he took the statue.
“This isn’t over Miller.”
“It is for you,” I answered as I felt him trying to use the statue’s power.
I fired three shots, two to the chest, one to the head, just like Nick taught me.
He looked very surprised as he fell to the floor. I sagged against the wall.
He was wrong– shooting someone doesn’t take any courage at all– I’ve know that for years. All it takes is conviction.
I looked at his assistant as he stood there watching us. “What about you?” I asked blandly.
“The statue has chosen us all– I will go where it goes.”
Right now– its in our hotel room while we try to understand what has happened.
That question will be decided by a tribunal based on the evidence gathered. Alan and Illaquita, Ninancoro’s assistant, have given sworn depositions that I had no choice– Ninancoro was preparing a spell that would have killed us all.
But how do you explain to the investigators that a non-magically active woman could know this. The only witnesses were now gathered in my hotel room... and the deceased was unarmed– if you can ever consider a mage as ‘unarmed’.
The police did a good job of ignoring the piles of ash in the warehouse– but there was no ignoring the pile in Fin’s bed at the hospital. The initial report was that Fin had escaped. The ash tells a different story. I think in killing Ninancoro– I killed him too.
Ninancoro controlled him– held the power of life and death over him. Thinking about it: about the anger and frustration in Fin’s eye, I think Fin died on the mission he told me about. Its just taken a while to catch up with him.
I think Fin would understand.
We’re still waiting for the police to tell us where we stand. I’m kind of surprised that they’ve let us keep the statue– but considering what Alan and Illaquita are telling me... I can understand.
It seems that the statue appears at times of great change, usually every five hundred years, and the last time, was on the arrival of the conquistadors. On the bright side, the next swing should be on the positive side of things. Still, I can see not wanting to take any chances.
Ninancoro could have had the power, it was his by blood, but he wanted to control the power– not to serve it– or his people.
I can’t really describe it, but that’s how it felt. It wasn’t a question of control, but of self sacrifice. Ninancoro thought that by sacrificing Alan, the power would be appeased. Illaquita seems sincere about helping us, but– he would have let Ninancoro kill us all.
Alan said that that was before, that Illaquita has felt the power of the Inca, and that it is his by right. That all of us were chosen to protect the statue and take it home.
He still hasn’t been able to explain why Case was chosen– as far as we know, there is no Inca blood in his family, let alone the blood of The Inca. I can tell that Alan has a few theories, but he’s not sharing them with any of us.
I’ve heard him talking with Case while I was sleeping. I was just too tired and Case had wrapped his arm around me protectively. I just conked out. I think the boys are a bit upset that Case and I are together– like Case is taking advantage of me.
If anything it’s the other way around. It’s Case’s contacts and job that got us the travel visas we needed.
We still have no idea what we’re supposed to do now that we have the statue. Illaquita, Ninancoro’s assistant, seems to feel we have been chosen to protect the statue and take it back where it belongs.
We still have more questions and troubles that I can count, but at least we’re all together.
The tribunal is set to begin tomorrow.
I don't know what I expected when I showed up for the tribunal. The only thing I can say is it definitely wasn't even close to what happened.
When we entered the courthouse we were searched, I expected that. Illaquita and Alan were singled out and ushered into a separate room. That wasn't really a surprise since they were both magically active and it was pretty much SOP to keep mages isolated during legal proceedings.
Matt was taken to another area to the side of the main courtroom, leaving me, Case, Andy and the statue to actually enter the room.
There was no bailiff, no onlookers, just us, the prosecutors, the investigators and three very stern looking coatl. As if they could do anything other then look stern and menacing.
We were informed that the tribunal would hear the case against us and our own testimonies and determine whether I would be held over for murder, or any of its derivatives.
The interesting thing was the fact that we weren't told to tell the truth, we were told that we were going to tell the truth. I guess there is an advantage to having coatls deal with these trifling human cases.
The prosecutor delivered his evidence to the tribunal in a dispassionate voice, he neither pled for or against me in this, but merely stated the facts as they had found them.
Ninancoro was performing a very illegal ceremony, using my brother to power it. They asked to see the statue and I brought it forward. The coatls, Atoc, Quillis-Sacha , and Inguill studied it and talked amongst themselves for a few moments. I could feel them scan it and talk some more about it.
Finally they looked at me and the others. "Jessica Miller," Quillis-Sacha called.
I stepped forward.
"It is the purpose of this tribunal to determine your motives and the circumstances leading up to Ninancoro's murder."
I nodded, waiting for the rest.
"Will you subject yourself to a mental scan?"
I drew a deep breath, trying to prepare myself and then nodded.
How do you prepare for a 'mental scan'? There's no real way to describe it-- someone else is in your head, looking at your memories, your mood, how it effects you. There's no real way to defend against it, and yet, the human mind being what it is, tries.
Even under the best of circumstances it's an uncomfortable process. The more your mind resists, the more of a battle of wills it becomes. One human mind against three coalts' doesn't stand a chance, I know this intellectually and I had nothing to hide but human nature being what it is...
I tried to let them in, but part of me fought their intrusion anywhere it could. By the end of the scan I was a quivering heap. I could feel their concern for me; hear the anger in Case's voice as he held me. I tried to tell him it was all right, but I think my attempt only made it worse.
Then I felt something singing in the back of my mind. I heard Case gasp and felt him move away from me.
Then I could feel the warmth as the song spread through me, wrapping itself around me, like a mother comforting its child.
The statue had made its opinion known.
The tribunal met with the others, talked to them and in the end declared my actions justifiable. Furthermore they informed us, as Illaquita had said, that we were to take the statue to its proper resting ground...
Or in the case of this statue, its resting waters. I almost regret asking where that was, I definitely regret the giggle fits I got when I learned where we had to take it.
As we left the courtroom, I could hear Inguill say, "I will never understand what humans find so entertaining about Lake Titicaca..."
Case had to support me as I broke into another fit of laughter. I think after all the tension and stress, it was my mind's way of coping... or maybe I'm just not as adult as I like to think I am.