We spent the rest of yesterday getting ready for the trek southward. That and having me read the boys the riot act. After all their cloak and dagger work, after everything I've been through as a result of basically being in their wake, they decide now to go all protective on me and try to have Case 'talk some sense into me.'
Case, bless him, just looked at them in shock. Poor Illaquita didn't know what he was getting into, when he said he'd go where the statue goes.
I think my tirade began with, "It's too dangerous!?"
It went on from there. I'm pretty sure I actually managed to keep my temper under control enough that I didn't just start sputtering, but it was close at times. I don't think Matt and Alan were ready for their little sister to lay into them quite that much, but they had it coming. Andy too for that matter, they were all in on this.
Alan tried to object that I wasn't prepared for dealing with the kind of trouble they were going to be facing.
I've faced Raz, dealt with the reality of Blood Magic, helped pull them all out of the fire, and I'm not capable of understanding the ramifications of going walking through the wilds of Peru. I gave him an earful on that front.
Then Matt tried to tell Case to talk some sense into me. Its perfectly fine for them to manipulate me, use me as their wild card- but now he wants to go all caveman on me and have my man reign me in.
Case just gave him a look that said 'you have got to be kidding.' I think if Matt were thinking he'd have noticed and left it at that, but he didn't.
When Case didn't tell me what I was going to do, they started in on him. It was obvious that he didn't really care about me- only about finding out about the rest of the situation.
Yeah. We're in the middle of Peru, with awakened creatures telling us to take this statue to a sacred lake and that's only the outside edge of whatever it is they've been up against.
Illaquita finally intervened with a simple pragmatic, 'the statue has chosen all of us.'
That stated, we moved on. We've been able to drive as far as one of the lake's northern tributaries. From there we raft. Illaquita seems to accept whatever we decide, but I bet he's really wondering why the statue picked us.
Have I mentioned that we Millers are a bit dysfunctional?
If it weren't for our cargo, I'd be having the time of my life. Rafting through the sacred valley has been one of the most awe inspiring experiences of my life. Add to that the fact that Case and the boys are with me and it's like I've been holding my breath all this time, and suddenly-- I can breathe again. All the broken pieces of my life seem to be coming together, making more whole than I have ever felt in my entire life.
And that's nothing in comparison to what is happening all around us. We can actually feel the change as we make our way down the river. Everywhere we've gone, people have gathered along the river to watch us, to cheer us, to celebrate the statue's return.
Descendants of the Incas, Quechua, Machiguenga, Yagua... tribes Alan and Illaquita couldn't identify-- awakened creatures I'd only heard of, they were all there to witness our progress.
When we had to pull our kayaks from the river and climb around some of the treacherous waterways, they would gather on either side of us and cheer. Some would pat our backs, or reverently touch our boats. Their priests would stop us and offer us food and water. As we ate, they would bless our craft and offer up prayers for our safety.
It was incredible.
Still with all the excitement, no one would touch the statue itself. I asked Illaquita and Alan about this and they told me that unless you were chosen by the priestess of the island, or by the statue itself- it was considered very bad luck to touch the statue. I nodded, once again glad that things had turned out the way they had.
Things could have turned out differently all too easily. Still we are here and soon, the statue will be where it belongs.
We reached the lake today and camped along its shore. The lake is huge. I mean- I read that it was the largest lake in South America- and the highest navigable lake, but all those statistics and numbers don't really mean anything until you actually see it.
Illaquita stood looking down the lake until he spotted the Island of the Sun. It's the sacred island in the middle of the lake, and its where we're supposed to take the statue.
"That is where we go in the morning," he told us. "But beware... if you fall in the lake... no one will help you... it is... tradition."
I'd read about that. It was considered a sacrifice to the lake, ensuring good fishing and a plentiful supply of reeds. It was an ancient custom-- I had hoped that it wasn't practiced anymore, that we're all a little more civilized, but then again, we've got Dragons, and Coatl walking the Earth. Forty years ago they were myth, superstition. I'm not sure anybody knows what's 'real' anymore- I certainly don't.
Illaquita seemed total unfazed by the proposition. To him it was just the way things were. At first I thought that the experience with the statue had changed him, but I'm realizing that that's not exactly the truth of the matter- he's always served the statue, he just accepts whatever must be done as part of that service.
Its not that we really trust him either- we just know where we stand with him. We were all chosen to protect the statue, but as he sees it- we are to defend the statue with our lives. To us it's a case of, making sure we all finish this journey.
Of course, its not going to be easy.
Now that we're away from the river- I can hear the familiar buzz of a drone flying overhead. I figure it's only a matter of time before someone tries something. I mean-you can't carry around a statue this old, with as much power as it seems to have, and not attract the unwanted element.
Of course technically, we are the unwanted element... but still we're the ones with the statue.
Remember what I said about it not being easy? ...Yeah...that. I hate it when I'm right.
I don't think there's a part of me that doesn't ache. Even my hair hurts. It hurts to move; it hurts to think. It just plain hurts.
The others aren't much better off, but at least they're sleeping. I'm beginning to wish I'd accepted the priestess' potion but-- the others were in worse shape and at least one of us should be awake.
Not that I'm going to be able to do an awful lot if we're attacked again. I could probably cough on somebody, but in my current state, it would indeed hurt me a lot more than it would them-- unless I get really lucky and they laugh themselves to death.
All things considered, I think we did rather well--did I mention that they had the firepower, and magic and power boats? --And guns, lots of guns...
I mean its bad enough we had the statue and they wanted it-- but did they have to be so insistent?
Anyway-- I'm too far gone to worry about it. If I make it through tonight, I'll write it all down.. but for now I think I'm going to watch the fireworks behind my eyes and try to keep the roaring in my ears from waking up the others..
Did I mention I hurt?
Everything looks so different from 50,000 feet. I'm on my way home-- alone. Case and the boys will be joining me as soon as they get everything straightened out. I don't really like it-- but I'm due back at work tomorrow morning, and the major danger is over.
The boys are still working out the rest of whatever it was they were involved in and Case has been officially assigned to help deal with it. Unlike the statue-- its not my business. Then again, they're supposedly just going through the paperwork, so I should consider myself lucky.
I should consider us all lucky.
I think. Maybe I'm still feeling paranoid after everything that's happened over the past few days-- weeks for that matter. I keep jumping at shadows, getting nervous whenever I see somebody looking at me. I keep telling myself its over but I just can't believe it.
I've been running on empty so long that I don't know what to do now that I'm somewhere where I don't need to run. That should change tomorrow at least. Work should keep me nice and busy, especially now that I'll be back down town. In the middle of the action... I'm wondering if I've had enough of that...
Middle of the action... more like middle of the final battle in a war that had dragged on far too long.
They were waiting for us, watching as we made our camp on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We knew they were there, and I'm pretty sure they knew we knew. It didn't really change anything though.
They waited until just before dawn to try anything. I guess they figured we'd be sound asleep and not ready for them. They were wrong. Case has been on enough raids to know that early AM is the best time to start a raid. Matt and the boys have been on the run long enough that they know better than to let their guard down. And Illaquita... Illaquita used to be one of them- he knows their tactics all too well.
As for me, I've been running 24 hours shifts long enough that I can go from asleep to dressed and rolling in less than two minute, and getting dressed wasn't part of the equation.
The first wave was led by a blood spirit, at least that's what Alan called it. It was created through blood magic- a spirit bent on revenge or whatever its assigned objective was. I admit, I froze when I saw it.
It was the same sort of thing I'd seen leave Raz's little chamber of horrors when she and her men worked me over. Seeing it now, from the outside, was more than I could deal with. Case moved over to cover me. As he did, he put a hand on my shoulder, letting me know he was there- that I wasn't alone.
It helped... a little.
Its screams seemed to echo through my mind as it struck out at us. Bullets passed right through it, rendering all but Alan and Illaquita useless when it came to fighting the thing.
Matt and Andy lay down some cover fire to keep the mages and muscle at bay, while Case and I prepared the kayaks. Even that proved to be futile when the other half of their force arrived by lake: three power boats and seven jet skis. At least in the end, they ended up providing our transportation to the island, but only after we finished fighting our way to them.
For a moment everything stood still. I could feel the release of power as Alan and Illaquita finally managed to overpower the blood spirit. I could almost sense them channeling the power back on their attackers... and then we were moving again-- fighting, trying to keep to what little cover we had.
We were outnumbered, outgunned; pretty much outeverythinged.
We managed to get two of the jet skis, and that's when the tide finally turned. It was just as well, by then we were in no shape for rowing.
I don't really remember much of the trip over... by then I was sitting on the deck of a powerboat, holding the statue in my lap, praying it would be over soon.
Alan and Illaquita had long since exhausted themselves fighting off the magical attacks-- Andy was running the boat and controlling several of their remotes... and Matt had entered a battle frenzy like I'd never seen. Case sat across from me, gun in hand.
I don't think he could have lifted it if he'd tried.
The final attack hit right before we reached the island. I don't remember much of anything after that point-- just two boats closing in on us, and nobody in any shape to take them on.
I'm pretty sure I passed out, but I don't know. I remember them closing in on us and then the world seemed to tunnel in on me-- everything blending into gray.
Right before everything faded from sight, I swear I saw the form of a jaguar rising out of the lake between us and our attackers. I asked the others about it, but they just shook their heads. The priestesses on the island merely smiled as they took the statue.
"The lake is a sacred place," one of them told me. "Many people have seen the jaguar- few have lived to tell of it."
I don't know if she was trying to easy my mind, or add to my paranoia-- I do know the boats washed ashore: empty.
I'm trying to remember more-- but it's a world away now and 50,000 feet below
After a few weeks of mayhem it was nice to return to a 'normal' day in Seattle. Normal being nominal right now. I made it to the station an hour or so before shift and began going over my equipment. I'd grabbed a second cup of soykaf and was inhaling it when Cap came in.
"Miller," he teased. "I heard you were coming back."
I grinned up at him and offered him a cup. "Caff's bad as ever," I answered.
He took the cup and nodded. "I heard that." He looked at me a minute then sat down. "So- you changing your name?"
His question took me by surprise. I'd been thinking about getting down to Cusco; about finding the boys... about being married- but I never thought about my name.
I looked down at my uniform and shrugged. "And re-stitch name tags into every thing I own?" I asked shaking my head. "Are you kidding?"
He looked at me for a minute and nodded. "Somehow- I couldn't see calling you 'Casey'"
I grinned. "I probably wouldn't answer to it without having to think about it first."
I had just started my third cup when the first call came in. Someone had wandered out into traffic. Four cars, a van and a truck all collided in a failed effort to keep from hitting him. Seven injuries, two serious one fatal.
The fatality was a man in his mid to late twenties- the pedestrian. The only thing we could for him was run an autopsy. The others should be all right but I can tell the driver of the first car in the chain was going to need somebody to talk to. From the sound of things, he'd managed to stop in time, but then the other vehicles drove him into the pedestrian.
There was nothing he could have done- but its hard to accept. I know. I keep thinking about Fin.
When I got home, one of the gang was waiting for me. He had a note from Fin. It was something he'd written before we'd headed off to Cusco- to be delivered upon my return.
I didn't want to read it- and yet I had to. I'd done what I had to in Cusco and I'd convinced myself that Fin understood- but did he?
If I'd had any sense I would have either burned the letter or read it- instead I sat there staring at it, unable to do either. Doubts and self recrimination filled my mind- paralyzing me.
It took me a long while to realize that that was not what Fin wanted. I finally opened the letter, but I could only read the first paragraph.
How do I explain what has happened? How do I make you understand it wasn't me- it wasn't what I wanted? I hope everything worked out- I hope your luck held and you were able to do what I couldn't. If there is a God, and he is just... you'll be home with your brothers and we'll all have what we wanted.
Fin. I keep thinking about him- how he was when I came back to Seattle. How he helped me- how he used me... He wasn't and altruistic friend, he was definitely in it for himself- but he didn't deserve what he got.
I keep trying to tell myself that there was no other way- but was there? I know it doesn't really matter, the time for alternatives is long gone, but still...
I'm beginning to wish I was on a 24 hour shift- nine hours alone gives me way too much time to think.
I read the rest of Fin's letter today. Somehow it was easier now. I think... I think I'm coming to terms with what happened, and the letter helped. He was trapped- they'd taken everything from him and worse- they were using him to betray me, and they let him know it.
He didn't go into detail but I could see it- feel it in his words. Fin was a lot of things, but in spite of the way he acted- he did look after his own and I was one of the people he considered his.
The only guilt I felt over Ninancoro's death was hurting Fin. Intellectually I knew I wasn't hurting him, not really, but on the emotional level when I think about it-- sometimes it's Fin's face I see when I remember pulling the trigger.
I keep thinking about that- and how many Ninancoros there are still out there? Is there anyway to stop them other than a bullet? Is a bullet enough? I don't know any more.
I'll be glad when the boys get back- when Case gets home. Until then- I have my job to keep me busy.