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The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Janice and Mel are owned by
MCA/Universal and no copyright infringement is intended by this work.
This piece is essentially an "alt" adventure with some hurt/comfort. The
depiction of the physical intimacy between the heroines is left mostly
to the reader's imagination. As in most X:WP fanfiction there is some
violence and peril to the main characters, but I'm not one to go in for
reading too much gore much less writing it so it's kept to a minimum.
I have to give special thanks to my editor, Benet, an absolute gem I
Lunacy's beta reader registry, whose extraordinary patience and editing
resulted in dramatic improvement to this piece. (Thanks, Benet, for all
Where You Go, I Go
Part 2 of 5
With an hour of daylight left Janice
pulled the team to a halt. In seven hours of
hiking they had made pretty good progress. Santos stepped near to her,
a little annoyed. "We could keep going at least another half
hour," he protested
"Look, everybody's tired and this looks like a good spot." She
waved her hand at the
small clearing she chose as a camp site. "It's at least 300 yards
to the river, so
we won't have to worry when the gators start looking for dinner when the
down. I want camp set up and everybody settled in before the sun sets so
we don't have anyone
stomping around in the dark."
Perturbed, Santos grunted his acceptance than started organizing the set
up of camp.
Two men were sent on wood collection, needing a good sized pile of dry
wood to make
a mini-bonfire which would keep most any wild animal well away from the
other six members of the group began hacking away at the low vegetation,
clearing all the
ground cover away to give them a clear place to set up their tents.
Within half an hour the tents were up and a heaping pile of wood had
Everyone settled for a few minutes of rest after the arduous day.
Janice was tending the beginnings of the cook fire, feeding small twigs
to the struggling
flame until it caught strong enough to take the larger branches. Mel
her and gently rubbed her neck. "I'm going to go and answer the
call of nature.
Ya think you might be able to meet me in our tent when I get back? I
use a back rub," she whispered.
Janice's eyebrow lifted and an amused grin twitched on her lips.
"Hmmm, back rub...
I think that can be arranged. Just be careful out there."
Mel grinned then stood and headed into the surrounding vegetation.
Janice had pulled Phillippe over to the fire and handed over the fire
to him when a scream was heard. The archaeologist was in motion before
her mind even
consciously registered what she'd heard. She ran unheeding through the
foliage towards the sound of the scream... in the direction Mel had
gone. "Mel?!!!" she yelled, her
heart racing almost as fast as her mind.
"Over here, Janice!" She heard a panicked response.
Janice turned to the direction of Mel's voice and saw Mel some 50 fifty
her, her eyes wide and focused in terror at something on the ground
before her. Janice
darted towards her partner.
"Stop!" Mel yelled when Janice had covered about half the
distance. Janice ground
to a sudden halt.
"What is it, Mel," Janice asked between gasps for breath.
Mel tried to control her near hysteria. "About five feet from me
there's a rather
large snake," she squeaked.
Janice took a deep breath, calming herself as best she could. "OK,
Mel, just stand
still, I'm coming to you. What does the snake look like?" Janice
started a slow progression
through the tall grass.
"Well, what I can see of it is a reddish yellow body with dark
bands across its back
and sides and a black stripe from its eyes to the corner of its mouth.
of standing up about two feet but I'd say there's a whole lot more of
hidden in the undergrowth," Mel reported bravely.
Janice heard someone running behind her and she turned to see Santos
way towards her. "Wait there, Santos," she ordered. He stopped
"What is it," he queried excitedly, his dark eyes darting back
and forth between Janice
"Bushmaster," Janice informed him.
"Bushmaster!!!" Mel squeaked. "Aren't they
"Yeah, but I wouldn't worry, only about 10% of the people they bite
die. Mostly it's
just some excruciating swelling and respiratory problems that go away in
month," Santos informed her placidly, pulling his gun from its
holster and heading
slowly towards Mel.
"Wait," Janice ordered. "It's only five feet from her.
If you don't kill it with
your first shot it's likely to strike."
Santos froze, his eyes back on Janice. "You got another
Janice held up her machete.
"You're gonna have to get pretty damn close."
Janice started slowly toward her anxious partner. Finally she was able
to make out
the gently bobbing and swaying head of the viper, its tongue darting out
as it scented the air for prey. "Don't move, Mel. Snakes have lousy
it knows you're there, thankfully you're downwind and it can't quite get
a fix on you." Mel
stood as still as a statue... a sweating, hyperventilating statue.
Janice eased forward, trying not to disturb the vegetation. The snake
sensed her anyway
and its head bobbed in a weaving pattern that eventually twisted its
body so it now
faced Janice, who was now only ten feet from the reptile and almost
within its striking distance. "Stay still, Mel," Janice
reiterated, her eyes never leaving the weaving
Santos watched the stand off, wagering with himself on the outcome of
between woman and venomous predator. "You're crazy,
Covington," he rumbled with a
hint of admiration. He closed some of the distance, prepared to react to
A tense coiling could be seen in both the snake and the archaeologist.
tongue flicked furiously, locking in on Janice's scent on the gentle
drew back her machete and waited for the bobbing and weaving serpent to
up just a little more. The snake rose a little higher and Janice jumped
the machete in a wide arc and neatly decapitating it. The body fell and
then lay still.
Janice ran to Mel and grabbed her in her arms, feeling trembles quake
lover's body. She tightened her hold and rubbed Mel's back to calm her
as the woman
returned the embrace and breathed her thanks in Janice's ear.
Santos strolled over and looked at the snake with a wry grin.
"Looks like we got some
fresh meat for dinner," he said, then bent down and picked up the
of the creature, pulling its slithery body from the underbrush and
coiling it loosely
in his hands. He let out a low whistle. "Looks like about a twelve
footer, more then
enough to feed everybody in camp." His eyes focused on Janice and
Mel. "Nothing like
fresh bushmaster, one of my favorites." He smiled and headed back
towards camp with
the snake dangling loosely over his arm.
Mel clung tightly to Janice as she waited for her heartbeat to settle
feeling like she could walk without her legs collapsing under her, she
a little. "I believe you promised me a back rub?" She grinned
nervously, her tension
Janice searched Mel's eyes and saw gratitude and desire mixed with a
of excitement at the recent danger. Oddly, she found the same mix
her own veins and after hotly claiming Mel's lips for a preview of what
was to come
she clasped her lover's hand in hers and led her back to camp
After a rather tasty dinner of roasted
bushmaster, Janice and Mel retreated to their
tent. Santos also headed to his own tent while the rest of the small
near the fire for warmth as the night brought a quick dip to the
Mel lay on her stomach on her sleeping bag with Janice straddling her
hips. The archaeologist's
hands roved gently over her partner's back, stopping to give extra
attention to her
neck and shoulders. Mel moaned at the touch.
"This isn't what I thought you had in mind," Janice grumbled
good naturedly, continuing
the massage. Mel chuckled under her hands.
"I'm sorry, Janice, but carrying a 50 lb. pack and hiking for seven
a jungle is just a little more than I'm used to. I didn't know a body
Janice leaned forward to place a healing kiss on Mel's shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she
whispered in her ear. "I guess I got you into more than you can
handle." She felt
a sharp pang of guilt shoot through her. If Mel was complaining it must
bad. She gentled her touch and moved down the tall woman's bare back to
her butt, slowly rubbing
and kneading the tight muscles.
"I'll be all right. I guess it's my own fault for not joining you
in your conditioning
routine to stay in shape. Remind me about this when we get home and I
go to the gym with you every night." Mel pledged.
Janice moved lower and worked the tight muscles of Mel's calves.
to treat the tired muscles but taking a little sensual delight in the
feel of Mel's
skin against her hands. She grinned at her lover's oath. "Oh I
won't let you forget
this, love, and I'm going to remind you of your promise... you know how
I like it when
you get all sweaty." Her voice was low and throaty. She leaned in
for a kiss to her
partner's ankle then started a slow trail of kisses up her leg. When she
back of Mel's thigh she heard a soft sigh and she smiled, knowing what
would come next.
Janice woke on her side with the pleasant
feel of Mel wrapped around her from behind.
She dredged her mind all the way to consciousness as she felt a warning
her gut that something was wrong. She groped blindly in the dark till
her hand found
a small flashlight which she used to illuminate her watch. It was 4:35,
at guard duty was to have started at 4:00.
She crawled from Mel's embrace, noting in the pale light of the small
Mel frowned in her sleep at the movement. She dressed quickly and
crawled out of
the tent, scanning the camp for a sentry but saw no one. She noted that
was burning low and she hastened to add more wood to the flames to build
Her anger was starting to build that one of the team members had shirked
at guard and she tried to remember the rotation of duty that had been
the night before. She moved quietly to each of the three men's tents and
sleeping forms and a sixth empty sleeping bag. The hairs on her neck
started to rise as
a sense of anxiety hit her and she waited several minutes, listening
sounds that might indicate the wayward guard might be close by. Finally,
that something was amiss, she went to wake Santos.
Dressed in pants and boots and shivering slightly in the cold damp air,
a hard edge of displeasure at the missing team member who they had
Phillippe. He stalked over to his tent, retrieving a shirt, then set to
pot of coffee on the now flaming campfire. "He must have decided he
wanted out and turned
back. Probably planning on taking one of the rafts and heading down
there's two of them there so we won't have a problem when we get
there," he theorized
"He wouldn't have just walked off into the jungle in the middle of
the night." Janice
paced as she spoke. "He can't see the trail markings to find his
way back... he
didn't even take his backpack."
"I've seen it before...jungle fear. People think it's a walk in the
park, then they
see what it's really like and panic... he just wanted out before he was
in too deep."
Santos growled in annoyance. "He's a coward."
"And that's another thing," Janice started, her eyes falling
harshly on the dark guide.
"He didn't seem to have much experience with jungle expeditions...
I've been watching
these guys and some of them don't seem to know much about what's going
on. Bill Killian insisted that he would provide a qualified team and
from what I've seen we've
got a bunch of amateurs who don't have as much camping know-how as your
Santos stiffened and brought his gaze to lock with the archaeologist's.
orders were to provide some able-bodied men to fill out a team for a
into the jungle. He gave me three day's notice and this is the best I
He deflected the complaint.
Janice sighed, feeling a knot of uneasiness twisting in her gut.
"Maybe we should
turn back, pick up a more experienced team, then give it another
go." She watched
Santos' face for reaction.
Santos held an impassive expression, shrugging his shoulders
your call. I'm just a guide. You're the expedition leader," he
if we turn back now I doubt Killian would let us come back to finish the
probably just get himself another team... and I'm really counting on
getting that finder's
Janice poured a mug of coffee, handing it to Santos, then poured another
before seating herself on the ground near the fire to await the dawn and
of the rest of the camp members. It was a tough call, considering the
uneasy feelings she got from Phillippe's disappearance.
At 6:00 a.m., as stray tendrils of sun
broke lightly through the canopy of leaves,
Janice roused the rest of camp. She quickly advised them of Phillippe's
then flat out asked them if anyone else had any qualms about wanting to
Without hesitation the men reassured her of their intentions to continue
and finally she came
to Mel who shrugged and merely responded with what was becoming her
you go, I go."
Janice made short work of going through Phillippe's pack to redistribute
supplies amongst everyone's loads. Unobserved, she pulled a few items
pack and added the extra burden to her own, lightening the load for her
The weather was being most uncooperative
as the temperature soared into the nineties
and the humidity approached 100%. They had been walking for over five
hours and as
mid-day came and went the small group trudged determinedly onward.
Every so often they'd catch a glimpse of movement in the brush scurrying
them as the smaller ground animals like armadillos and wild pigs fled at
Janice had spotted an iguana clinging motionlessly to a tree, its gray
hide matching the tree bark and making it's four foot long body nearly
Mel was entranced by the splendor of the rainforest. Orchids grew in
expanses of exotic
colors, and the teeming vegetation offered variety beyond anything she
had ever seen.
Indeed, within eyesight there were thousands of species of plants and
hundreds more of insects, birds, reptiles and mammals. The jungle was
pulsing with life.
Mel had kept a watch on the river they followed. Though they kept a
minimum of 200
feet away from the waterway to avoid the alligators, she frequently
of the water and riverbank through gaps in the trees. It dawned on her
that she hadn't
spied one of the amphibians in quite a while. They were stopping for a
short break and
Mel glided over to where Janice conferred with Santos over the maps.
I haven't seen any alligators in a long time. Any chance we can take a
dip in the
river to cool off," she asked.
Santos chuckled. "The only reason you don't see alligators is
because those waters
are inhabited by something even more deadly."
"And what would that be," Mel asked curiously.
"Oh my. I guess I won't be getting a bath anytime soon."
"Maybe not a bath, but you can expect a shower any minute."
Janice glanced towards
the sky which shed a few drops to prove her point.
Santos shoved the maps into his backpack as the sky opened up in
torrents of water.
The men quickly shed their shirts to take advantage of the warm
Janice doffed her fedora and let the rain soak her hair, wishing she had
Mel rubbed the water over her face and arms, loosening dirt and sweat
that clung to
her skin and feeling a little cleaner as the water pelted her with even
than she got from the shower at home.
The small group savored their brief respite for the fifteen minutes it
it stopped as suddenly as it had begun and almost instantly a thick mist
the ground as the water evaporated in the heat.
Santos called for them to move out and with moans and grumbles everyone
into their backpacks and the group got moving again. Walking was more
since the rain had made the leafy vegetation under their feet slippery
and the exposed
earth had turned to mud in many places.
Mel was taking her turn at rear guard, her
rifle held ready in her arms, its weight
seeming to have doubled in the last half hour. Her eyes were alert,
the areas to the sides. She looked behind herself often to be sure they
hadn't picked up any stalking predators. An odd glint caught her
attention off in the distance
and her eye kept being drawn back to the spot each time she swept her
gaze in that
direction. She called out to Janice who was separated from her by one of
and Janice waited for Mel to catch up.
Mel pointed off to her right. "Over there. I think I see some kind
of glint... like
the sun reflecting off metal."
Janice followed Mel's gaze and squinted, making out something but she
what. It certainly didn't look like something that would occur naturally
in a jungle.
She called up to Santos and the guide halted the group and sauntered
back to where
He looked disinterestedly at the glint and seemed uninclined to
investigate, but Janice
started moving towards the spot so he reluctantly followed her and Mel
Janice waded carefully through the tall grass and pushed thick fronds
away to reveal
a ravaged campsite. Three tents hung raggedly from collapsible metal
glinted in the sun. Gear lay strewn about as if a fight had raged about
The threesome walked slowly, rifles held at ready, though they knew
whoever or whatever
had attacked the camp was long gone.
Janice walked towards a dark heap, realizing as she neared it that it
was a pile of
three bodies strewn like broken dolls. What little was left of their
petrified. "Fire ants," Santos informed her. "They'll
leave nothing but bones eventually."
A high shriek sent Janice and Santos running to where Mel stared wide
eyed at a human
figure slumped against ropes binding him to a tree. The leathery skin
in patches to the skull showed splotches of blue paint and an arrow
from the left side of the chest.
"It's the Mayan arrow sacrifice," Mel gasped in an unsteady
Santos looked at Mel in mild surprise. "Yes, I believe it is,"
he confirmed, then
walked back into the camp to survey the rest of the scene.
The three of them looked through the tents where Janice came across a
journal which she flipped through then showed to Santos. The journal had
by the expedition leader which identified himself and his team as one of
"Only four bodies, but that was a six man team," Janice
Santos shrugged. "Whoever attacked them may have taken
"And if I recall prisoners were usually the offerings in the human
Mayans offered to their gods," Mel added pointedly.
"Yes, but the Mayans haven't practiced human sacrifice for hundreds
of years," Santos
"Tell that to the poor bastard tied to that tree over there,"
Janice growled, then
headed back to their waiting contingent, a hard knot of worry twisting
They had found a fresh water spring
offering a clear pool of easily collected water
and Santos conferred with Janice who quickly agreed to an early stop for
As they each took to their assigned tasks to set up camp a howler monkey
loudly from high in a nearby tree. Santos obligingly pulled his pistol
and shot the animal
between the eyes. It fell, making a soft thud when it hit the ground.
over to the still form, he picked it up by the scruff of the neck,
giving a wink
to the aghast Mel. "Monkey meat...even better than
bushmaster," he explained as he headed
away from camp to do the butchering.
"Damn, wish we'd brought some steak sauce," Janice groused,
earning her a raised eyebrow
from her partner.
Mel had actually enjoyed dinner, finding
the monkey steaks a little tougher than beef
and a little gamier. She and Janice had drawn consecutive shifts at
watch and now,
while the rest of the camp slept, they shared each other's watch duty,
camp fire burning high and keeping an attentive ear for movement in the
The hoots, chirps, snarls, chitters and caws of the nocturnal denizens
of the jungle
serenaded them in the crisp hours of the early morning. A rush of aerial
evidenced by a dark movement across the night sky and a loud flapping
the passing of a swarm of bats on the hunt for their dinner.
Janice puffed on a cigarello, reading through the expedition journal
they had found
at the campsite. She finished the journal, having found nothing to
indicate any kind
of trouble, concerned that she had found no explanation for the two
members. She threw the cigar stub into the campfire and stood up.
Mel sat on a rock near the fire, using the flickering light to continue
of the codex. She scanned the text with a growing unease. She sensed
closing her eyes involuntarily as her lover's lips grazed the back of
her neck. She felt a light charge course pleasantly down her spine. She
twisted around and
pulled Janice's lips to her own, indulging in their late night privacy
for a deep
drink from the well she had been craving all day. They exchanged
unspoken words of
love and finally Janice settled beside Mel on her rock, holding her
partner's hand in one of
hers, intertwining their fingers and rubbing the back of Mel's hand
gently with her
"Janice, there's one thing that kind of worries me..." Mel
started, keeping her voice
low so as not to awaken their companions.
"Only one?" Janice chuckled softly.
"The codex makes reference several times to a prophecy about the
opening of the temple
but it doesn't ever explain what the prophecy is. I keep getting this
it's an important part that's missing. I wish we'd had the time to
complete a full
translation of the codex before we came here... maybe I could have
researched the prophecy
and we'd know more about what we're walking into."
Janice sighed deeply. "I guess I kind of jumped a little too
quickly at this... let
Bill Killian call all the shots instead of insisting on doing it my way.
worried we'll end up like those other poor bastards, just a part of the
of the jungle."
"Do you think we should turn back?" Mel ventured.
Janice locked eyes with her partner. "Do you?"
Mel smiled reassuringly. "I go where you go. It's up to you."
She leaned in to give
Janice a light kiss to seal her words.
"I keep thinking, if I'd turned back every time I felt in danger
I'd have turned back
on every expedition I've ever been on. This is no different from any
maybe we've got some Mayan fanatics somewhere out there trying to guard
one of their
sacred sites. If we've got it figured right we should be there late
tomorrow. I can't
just walk away."
"What does Santos say?"
Janice frowned. "Now there's something else that bothers me. I get
the sense that
something's not quite right..." she paused.
"What's not right?" Mel encouraged.
"I don't know. He just seems so cool about everything, just blew
off Phillippe's leaving
and didn't bat an eye at that campsite today. Then there's the guys he
this expedition. I talked to Roberto and Ernesto, they both have stories
to Phillippe's... no jungle experience, hired a couple of days ago.
Roberto was a dockman
in Telas, Ernesto a migrant worker on the sugar cane plantations... and
them have family to speak of."
"What about Miguel and Jorge?"
"Couldn't get either of them to talk much to me. I thought maybe
their English wasn't
so good so I tried Spanish but they both just clammed up."
Janice consulted her watch. "It's 3:00...shift's up. You head into
bed, I'll wake
Ernesto and be right in."
Mel stood, organizing her papers into a neat sheaf and headed for the
good to me, I'm so tired I'll probably be asleep in ten
"So much for that plan I had of ravishing you tonight," Janice
Mel's eyebrow shot up. "I'll be awake," she smirked, then
headed for the tent.
Janice grinned, watching the inviting sway of Mel's hips as she walked
The terrain was taking a decided change as
they ascended the foothills of the mountains.
Vertical expanses of granite rose high above them, long tendrils of
the face of the stone, not to be denied even by the rock. The higher
they went the
more the temperature and humidity fell and in a matter of a couple of
hours they felt
almost refreshed by the dry, cool mountain air.
Mel could see that Janice was getting tense, talking frequently with
Santos over the
maps he now constantly consulted. They had left the river they had been
and now plowed a path due north, heading for a mountain cluster that
in the distance. When they stopped for a break Mel made her way to her
partner's side. "We're
"Yeah, I think so," Janice mumbled. "Should take us
another hour to get to the mountain."
"Well, that's pretty good news. What do we do when we get
"That's the part that's making me nervous. The map and directions
kind of end there
but it doesn't really say that's where the city is. It says that is
where we'll find
the gods and we must pay homage to Ix Chel, the moon goddess, and she
will show us
Mel frowned. "It sure would have been helpful if I'd had the whole
instead of relying on Killian's spotty translations so much. We'll just
have to see
what we've got when we get there." She sighed unhappily.
Though they were walking steadily uphill
the hike seemed far easier then the earlier
part of the trip since the climate was far more temperate at the higher
Janice kept the group in a tighter formation as they marched, concerned
who attacked the other expedition were still around and perhaps just as
Janice called the group to a halt and Santos immediately joined her,
producing the map and codex translations for reference. "This is
pretty much where
it ends," she said, slipping tiredly from her backpack and dropping
it to the ground.
"Yes." Santos agreed, surveying their surroundings with a keen
eye. "Somewhere around
here is a shrine or perhaps a small temple. We'll have to establish a
and fan out."
Mel sauntered over to the discussion. Watching as Santos and Janice
methods in the thick forest. "How about somebody climbs up a tree
and just gets a
good look around?" She suggested timidly.
Santos sniffed at the suggestion but Janice smiled at the thought.
"Now there's a
good idea," she encouraged, handing the papers she held to Santos.
the surrounding trees then trotted over to a tall straight tree whose
soared some forty feet above their heads. She shimmied up the tree,
alternating moving her
hands up while gripping the tree trunk with her legs then moving her
legs up while
gripping with her arms. In a short time she was perched precariously on
limb and scanning the surrounding forest.
Running smoothly in all directions was the deep foliage of the forest
and Janice could
not find anything that looked like a man made structure. She took
another 360 degree
scan and sighed in disappointment. "I guess we'll have to do this
the hard way,"
she called down. "I don't see anything that looks like a temple or
"Janice, try to forget about looking for some kind of
structure," Mel called. "Just
look for something that doesn't look quite right."
Janice took another scan of the surrounding forest, moving her gaze
the verdant growth. Her eye stopped at a place not because of what she
saw but because
of what she didn't see. It looked like a bare circle in the middle of a
of green. Excitedly, she climbed higher into the tree and felt her pulse
quicken at the
anomalous looking bare spot. "I think I see something... it looks
like a large circle
with absolutely no plants." Janice pulled her compass out of her
pocket to get a
bearing. "About a half mile due east by north east." She
pointed off in the distance.
Janice slid quickly down the tree then grabbed Mel and rewarded her with
a big kiss.
"You just keep coming up with those ideas, love."
With renewed energy they all grabbed their packs and headed into the
forest with Santos
leading the way, clearing the path with his machete. Janice followed
behind him with
her compass keeping them dead on course in the dense trees, grasses and
A half hour later they emerged from the forest into a clearing. Ringed
perimeter where eight Mayan stelae, smooth stone slabs nearly six feet
three feet wide with carvings of Mayan glyphs in their columnar style.
of the ring was nearly twenty feet across and of dark hard packed dirt.
It seemed eerily unnatural
that the vegetation had not invaded the circle. Everyone in the party
packs and stood gaping at the sight.
Mel was the first to move, entering the barren circle and roaming slowly
to stone, spending a few moments studying the large glyph at the top of
After reaching the fourth stone she started sharing her findings.
"The first stone
is dedicated to Nucuch Chacob, the rain god. The second is Cobel Cab,
goddess of the earth.
The third is Cit Chac Coh, the lord god of war. And this," she
pointed at the fourth
stone she stood before, "is for Ix Chel, the goddess of the
moon." She swept her
hand toward the remaining stelae. "Each of those are dedicated to
Santos and Janice joined her before the stone. The rest of their
respectfully outside of the eerie ring. "The codex says pay homage
to Ix Chel, I
assume that means we travel that way." Santos offered, pointing off
to the east beyond
the stelae to the moon goddess.
"I suppose that makes sense," Janice concurred. "Let's
rest the men for fifteen minutes
then get moving again." Santos and Janice headed back towards the
Mel continued studying the stelae, not entirely convinced that Santos
had the right
idea. She walked back to her pack and pulled out her papers and
reference book and
returned to the stone. She sat cross legged before the stone, searching
through Killian's translations for the passage about the moon
Janice ambled over to Mel, seating herself beside her lover.
"They're fantastic, aren't
they?" She gazed admiringly at the workmanship of the carvings.
Mel mumbled a distracted agreement.
"Something wrong," Janice queried.
"Um... wellll... I'm not so sure Santos has the right idea
there," she offered tentatively.
"What do you think we should do from here?"
"Just give me a minute," Mel grumbled, shuffling through the
Janice sat quietly, waiting for Mel to find what she was looking for.
selected two pieces of paper and frowned in concentration as she moved
English text and the Mayan glyphs. She raised a tentative eyebrow and
turned to Janice
with her findings. "See here." She pointed at the translation
provided by Bill Killian.
"This says 'pay homage to the goddess Ix Chel', and this..."
she pointed to the Mayan
glyphs says 'worship the goddess Ix Chel.' The translation's not quite
Janice concentrated on following Mel's words. "I don't see exactly
what your point
Mel shrugged her shoulders. "Just a feeling I got that this is a
of something that needs to be done exactly as told."
"Ok, how exactly do we worship this goddess?"
Mel stood, biting her lip as she surveyed the ring of stelae. She moved
to the center
of the ring and faced the stelae to Ix Chel. "Well... most gods
on one's feet." Mel dropped to her knees and sat back on her heels,
her chin. She vocalized her thoughts as she tried to figure out what
came next. "Actually,
many cultures would not look up at their icons, it would be deemed too
They would be humble before their gods." Mel knelt forward,
bringing her hands down
to the dark loam. Suddenly, a thought struck her and she began to sweep
away the dirt
with her hands.
Janice caught Mel's thought and dropped to her knees. Pulling her
machete from the
thong on her belt, she used it to scrape through the hard packed dirt.
noticed their activities and been drawn over to see what was going on.
Only a couple
of inches under the soil Janice's machete scraped stone and with a
little more work an inlaid
tablet was exposed.
Santos dropped to his knees to help Mel and Janice brush away the dirt
from the carved
tablet. Fully revealed, it was perhaps three feet high and two feet wide
distinctive Mayan glyphs carved deeply into the stone. They worked
carefully to remove
the dirt from the carvings and finally Mel could discern all of the
"Looks like we'll be staying here a little while, Santos. Mel's got
to translate this.
Have the men find water to refill the canteens." Santos nodded then
It took Mel nearly two hours to translate the tablet, most of it being
warnings about entering the Temple of Knowledge without making
sacrifice, but Mel
had discerned that their ultimate destination was a grouping of three
to the north that appeared quite close on their map. "The tablet
says that we must enter
the middle of the three mounds and take the stairs to the city,"
Janice gave her lover a tight hug and a smile of undisguised admiration.
it again, Mel. Kept us from chasing off in the wrong direction and
I'm never going on another expedition without you at my side."
Mel beamed and returned the embrace.
The hike to the mountains had taken little
more then an hour and now they stood confounded
by the solid mass of vertical stone that towered over them by at least a
feet. The craggy rock face, was covered by thick vines that made it
like a solid wall of vegetation.
Janice scowled at the surface, considering the possibility of scaling
the wall. Santos,
as if reading her thoughts, climbed up several feet then felt the rock
away and he leapt down to the ground, shaking his head. "This isn't
gonna be easy,"
he said, stating the obvious. "Maybe there's an easier way up on
"I don't think that's the way. Remember what the tablet said...
'enter the center
of the three mounds'... I think somewhere under all this rampaging plant
the entrance to a cave," Janice responded.
"Ok, so let's split into two groups and circle around the mountain.
If you find anything
shoot off three shots and stay put, the other group will reverse
direction and find
you. You and Mel take Jorge and Miguel and head around that way, I'll
and Ernesto and go around this way," Santos proposed.
After three hours of hacking at the thick
plants along the rock wall Mel's shoulders
were getting weary. She moved further down the wall, looking for thick
could be hiding an opening into the rock face. Janice kept them in a
never letting any member out of sight of at least one other team
Mel was heading past where Janice was just beginning to flail at a
tangled web of
the thick vines. She stopped to take a drink from her canteen and soak
in a wanton
glance at her lover's sweaty body when she saw the weariness of Janice's
to an excited flurry of motion. She hurried over to see what had
precipitated the change and
saw a dark crevice in the stone. "Janice," she asked
"Help me, Mel," Janice spurted in excitement.
"Jorge! Miguel! Over here!" Mel joined her partner, the two
women slashing savagely
through the vines and exposing an opening in the rock.
Jorge and Miguel came running and saw the growing gap in the vines, they
the work and soon the entrance was fully exposed. Not quite six foot
high and four
feet across, the entrance was pitch dark and a cool dank breeze wafted
from it. Janice
pulled out her flashlight and pistol. "Stay here," she ordered
then tentatively stepped
into the opening.
Perhaps fifteen feet into the cave it turned abruptly to the right and
rising before her an incredible stairway carved out of solid rock. At
the top she
could see the bright light of day and blue sky. She retraced her steps
to share the
news with her companions. Mel's exuberance was uncontainable and even
the dour Jorge and Miguel
"We should send the signal," Miguel said in what may have been
the longest sentence
Mel had heard him speak. He pulled his pistol from it's holster and
flipped off the
safety, shooting off four rapid shots.
"Four shots," Mel queried, "I thought the signal was
"Um... the gun has a very sensitive trigger. I guess my finger just
squeezed an extra
time," Miguel explained.
Janice jittered with excitement and tried to contain herself as they
waited for the
rest of their team to find them. After twenty minutes, she could stand
it no longer.
"I'm going up there, I just can't wait another hour for those guys
to get here. You
three stay here and wait for the others."
Mel jumped to her side. "Oh no, Janice, where you go, I go,"
she insisted with a determined
glint in her eye. Janice hesitated then nodded her agreement.
Jorge protested. "It would be safer if we all stayed
together." He cast a panicked
look to Miguel.
"Yes. We should wait for the others." Miguel concurred
Janice would have none of it. After a short debate she pulled rank on
duo. "You're safe here. Just wait for the others then head on up.
We won't stray
far from the entrance. I just gotta see what's up there." And with
that she and Mel
hefted their backpacks and headed into the cave, Janice leading with her
Mel could feel the burn start in her legs about halfway up the stairs.
fifty pound packs had been grueling enough but scaling an unending
the heavy load was excruciating. At 100 feet in height, it was like
walking up a
twelve story building. To distract herself from her discomfort she
turned her attention to
the construction of the stairway itself, realizing that each of the
steps had been chiseled out by hand. Probably the lifedraining drudgery
of the vast
Mayan slave population.
They crested the stairs to blink blindly in the late afternoon sunlight
wide eyed at the level plain of rock that spread before them. Some
the plain they could make out a grouping of low stone structures and low
defining walkways through the maze of buildings. Looming majestically
from the center of
the plain was a massive four sided pyramid typical to the Mayan design
stairways on every face of the structure.
"Great, more stairs," Mel grumbled. But when Janice looked to
her partner she saw
a wry grin and a gleam in her eye.
Janice tried to estimate the size of the plateau but from its nearly
her perception of distance seemed somewhat surreal, wavering like a
mirage in the
desert. At least a thousand yards across and stretching off just as far
in the other
directions she guessed, but she couldn't even tell if she was seeing the
ends of the plain
or if they merely dipped a little and continued on.
Beyond the pyramid, the edge of another large stone structure could be
seen with most
of it obscured behind the towering pyramid. "That's probably the
surmised, pointing at the structure. "Since the Mayan cities were
only used for religious ceremonies I'd say the priests lived in the
smaller structures, guiding the common
people from up here. Safe from the invasions of warring tribes with
their needs provided
by offerings from the worker caste or by their slaves, they'd have had a
pretty easy life."
Janice and Mel settled their packs to the ground and settled back
against them. Janice
grabbed Mel's hand and held it while they sat regaling in their find and
the rest of their team.
After several minutes of rest Janice fished in her pocket for a cigar
but put it back
at Mel's scowl, knowing how much her partner hated when she smoked.
"I was just looking
for something to occupy my hands while we're waiting for the
others," she explained defensively.
"Oh, I can give you a better idea than that." Mel grinned,
shamelessly pulling the
archaeologist's hands to her breasts and kissing her passionately.
Janice groaned. "Like I said before, you just keep coming up with
those ideas, love."
The sound was amplified by the stone
tunnel of the stairway and they could hear their
companions tiredly stomping up the stone stairs though they were still a
down. Mel pulled reluctantly from Janice's arms and groped for her
while Janice worked to make her own clothes presentable. They indulged
in one last searing
kiss then headed to wait at the top of the stairs.
Santos topped the stairs first, dropping his pack to the ground and
it, gasping for breath. Jorge and Miguel soon followed and they too sank
to their knees and shrugged off their packs before collapsing on their
think I'm gonna die," Miguel whined.
Santos stared, mouth agape, at the center of the plain.
"Unbelievable," he choked
in between gasps for air.
Janice looked down the steps but saw no one else coming up.
"Where's Roberto and Ernesto?"
"They didn't want to make the climb if they didn't have to... seems
a little odd to
have come all this way and not want to see the prize. But if we need
them we just
have to fire a shot and they'll hustle their lazy butts up here...or
lose their finders
bonus," he explained.
Janice shook her head, finding their attitude incomprehensible.
"We'll make it to
the pyramid about an hour before sunset," she estimated. "And
I have no intention
of getting there just to turn back right away. They'd better be prepared
the night with just each other's company," she growled.
"Oh, I think they'll be fine where they are." Santos allowed
with an odd grin. "Let's
They all struggled into their packs then started across the plateau,
progress on the hard surface which was devoid of the tall grasses and
that had slowed the pace on their trek in the jungle below.
The small band stood at the base of the
imposing pyramid. They doffed their packs
and began to slowly walk around the structure, arriving eventually
before the temple
itself and standing in silent revelry in a broad plaza before the goal
of their expedition... the Temple of Knowledge.
Janice found herself with Mel at her side, a broad grin beaming on her
She reached up and pulled her in for a celebratory kiss and slid her arm
translator's waist as they shared in their discovery.
Janice turned to talk to Santos and her eyes widened in disbelief as she
rifles aimed directly at her and her partner. "What are you
Mel turned and froze at the tableau of guns before her. She felt
Janice's body tense
under her arm and she dropped her arm from around the archaeologist's
waist and took
a step away to give her room to maneuver.
"Stay perfectly still," Santos commanded with a sneer.
"Jorge, tie up Miss Pappas."
Jorge pulled a loop of rope from his belt, cutting a short piece off
with his machete.
He crooked his finger at Mel. "Over here," he growled.
Mel looked uncertainly to Janice.
"Either one of you disobeys and the other will suffer," Santos
threatened with a flick
of the rifle towards Janice.
Mel complied and moved towards Jorge who slung his rifle over his back
Mel of her rifle, machete and canteen before tying her hands behind her
kept his rifle aimed at Mel while Santos kept his rifle and an
unwavering eye on
Janice who glowered heatedly at the traitor.
"So you want to get all the credit for finding the temple. Do you
think Killian will
give you my share of the finders fee," she asked venomously.
Santos snorted derisively. "This isn't about money, Covington. It's
my people the greatness they deserve. I am Nacon, a Mayan priest of the
Jorge and Miguel are Chac, fourth order priests sent to assist me on my
Janice's heart pounded in her chest as her mind absorbed the situation.
If it had
been greed they might find a way to negotiate their way out of the
with religious zealots they had no leverage for negotiation. She glanced
at Mel who
stood helplessly beside Jorge, his beefy hand wrapped firmly around her
arm. Though a tense
fear lined her face Janice could read the trusting look in Mel's eyes
her unwavering faith that Janice would get them out of the jam.
Janice turned her attention back to Santos. "Just what is this
mission of yours,"
she asked, stalling for time and perhaps an opportunity.
"I am honored to be fulfilling a prophecy. It is time for the
temple to give back
to us, to the Chilan, the second order priests, and the Ah Kin Mai, the
the books of mystical ceremonies which will bring us back into favor
with Itzam Na,
our greatest of gods. Our followers will be blessed and we will
prosper," he explained
"So, it is about money." Janice accused.
"No, it's about power. But in this world power begins with money so
perhaps that is
true enough," he philosophized dryly.
"So this prophecy says exactly what?"
Santos smiled amusedly. "That from the north would come two women,
one of the light
and one of darkness, and they will lead the way to the temple. We've
for you for four hundred years."
A light dawned in Janice's mind. "The other expeditions?"
"We knew who had the Coracol codex. I wangled my way into Bill
Killian's trust as
a local functionary. He sent down his expedition leaders and I provided
a team to head into the jungle. A team with a couple of Mayan believers
see that the others never emerged from the jungle."
Janice gasped at the coldness of the man's words. "Ernesto and
"Quite dead," he assured them calmly. "Four shots... the
signal that we no longer
had to continue the charade."
"Phillippe?" Mel groaned.
"He was just a little too chatty, spilling my little secret like
that. His misfortune
that he'd picked up that information from some local wench that knew
"When I got word that you and your partner were coming, I suspected
the time for the
opening of the temple had come. When I saw you, I knew for
"So we've brought you here and you can help yourself to whatever is
in the temple.
You can just let us go," Janice suggested reasonably, knowing it
was not at all possible.
Santos smiled again. "Ah, but you know I can't just trot into the
temple like that.
The codex itself warns that sacrifices must be made. The prophecy adds
to the ceremonies. The two who lead us here are to be sacrificed, the
being of darkness to Yum Cimil, the god of death, and the one of light
to Kinich Ahau, the sun god.
I almost made a mistake, assuming the light and dark referred to your
hair, but then
when I got to know you I realized it was your inner beings that were
So Dr. Covington will be sacrificed to Yum Cimil in the Well sacrifice
and Miss Pappas
will be honored in the Heart sacrifice to Kinich Ahau."
Janice felt her anger rising, she pushed the explosive rage down, trying
to keep her
mind thinking clearly on the situation.
"If only I'd fully translated the codex... researched the
prophecy," Mel agonized.
"You'd have never learned about the prophecy anyhow," Santos
assured. "It's never
been written down. It's been passed down over the years among only the
and revealed to me only because of my mission."
"And what does the prophecy say will happen if we aren't
sacrificed," Janice asked
"That's kind of a moot point," Santos chuckled. "But we
only have this one shot. Now
that we've entered the city the sacrifices must be made before sundown
and the temple
must be opened or the gods will destroy it and the knowledge will be
Surely as an archaeologist and a scholar the loss of your own life
should seem a small
price to pay to ensure the safety of such wondrous artifacts."
It was Janice's turn to chuckle at the man's absurdity. "I think
I'd rather live.
"As we've established, that is a moot point," Santos responded
"Maybe not as moot as you think. The prophecy says we must be
sacrificed, it doesn't
say with certainty that we will be sacrificed... even has that nice
about what happens if we aren't. The outcome of this isn't
"I'd say it's certain enough," Santos growled, angering at the
"Miguel, get Dr. Covington secured."
Miguel approached Janice, swinging his rifle over his shoulder. He
relieved her of
her rifle, machete, whip, canteen and the revolver at her waist. He
on the small heap already made by the things Jorge had taken from Mel.
up the rope that remained from the piece Jorge had used to tie up Mel
and moved behind
Janice, grasping one hand and twisting it hard behind her back.
'Santos needs us alive for now.' Janice reasoned and made her
Janice snapped her head back to connect hard with Miguel's chin, she
twisted in his
grip and grabbed for his rifle but he beat her to it. He grabbed the
barrel of the
rifle and swung the weapon like a club, the stock hit Janice hard on the
her head and she fell like a stone.
"Janice!" Mel screamed, restrained from moving towards her
partner by Jorge's firm
hands clamped viselike over her bound arms.
"Idiot!" Santos slapped Miguel hard before kneeling at
Janice's side, feeling for
a pulse. "We need her alive and conscious!" he glared at
Miguel who wiped a smear
of blood from his lip and retreated several paces from his enraged
Santos grabbed Janice's discarded whip and began wrapping it tightly
around her ankles.
"Tie up her hands in front of her, fool," He barked at the
twitching Miguel who jumped
to his master's bidding.
Santos scanned the plaza before the temple, releasing a grunt of
his eyes landed on a sturdy wooden crossbeam supported by two thick
her," he snarled at Jorge with a snap of his hand toward Mel.
"Miguel, go get my
pack. We must complete the rituals before the sun goes down or all this
will be for nothing.
Take all that stuff and put it up with the other backpacks while you're
nodded towards the small pile of items they had stripped from Mel and
hefted Janice's limp form over his shoulder and strode easily toward the
Mel tried to pull from Jorge's grip but she was no match for the big
and her struggles only made him madder which resulted in even rougher
As they neared the crossbeam Mel could see a circular hole in the plaza
crossbeam directly over it. A realization of what was going to happen
started to form in her
mind and her heart pounded... the Well sacrifice. She agonized that
Janice was unconscious
and their escape now depended solely on her. She put more effort into
her struggles against Jorge, knowing her struggles would be in vain,
knowing he would only hurt
Santos laid Janice on the stone plaza before the hole and waited
impatiently for Miguel
to return. He stripped off his shirt, revealing his well muscled chest
and paced irritably, cursing at the scurrying form of Miguel running
to where they stood.
Santos gruffly took his pack from his nervous lackey and rummaged deep
pulled out a plastic tub and pried the lid off to reveal a blue liquid.
his fingers in and began to make patterns on his arms and chest.
Miguel stripped off his shirt and dipped his fingers into the tub and
of a similar design on his own body. Finally, they both smeared the blue
their faces and throats. When this was done Miguel replaced Jorge as
and Jorge set about the same process with the blue paint.
"Get the rope ready," Santos ordered the now blue faced
Jorge retrieved a length of rope from Santos' pack and headed for
beside the prone woman and looping the rope around the rope that already
wrists. He tied the end in a knot then took the other end of the rope
and threw it
over the wooden crossbeam. He walked to the far side of the hole and
grabbed the dangling
rope and pulled it in, dragging Janice over to the pit and then pulling
her up till
she dangled from the crossbeam, suspended over the pit. Jorge tied the
rope off on
one of the upright posts.
Mel could feel her anger rising and in an explosion of rage she tore
from Miguel's grip and spun on the man, kicking him in the groin then
knee in his face as he doubled over in pain. She heard footsteps behind
her and spun
to see Santos hurtling towards her, he grabbed her around the shoulders
and tackled her
like a football player. She lay gasping for breath as he rolled off her,
her bound arms and dragging her to her feet. "Moron!" He
at the retching form of Miguel who knelt dry heaving from the pain.
"Jorge, hold this bitch
and keep her under control," he seethed.
Santos stormed to where Janice hung swaying lightly from side to side.
He pulled his
canteen from the strap over his shoulder and splashed her several times
in the face
till she sputtered to consciousness.
Janice shook her head, spraying small droplets of water and trying to
focus her eyes
which blurred terribly. Finally, she managed to make out the forms and
then the faces
of her tormentors and her anguished lover. A look around and she quickly
all she needed to know about the severity of her situation.
"Good, you're awake. Now you can die." Santos laughed a little
at his own words.
"Oh great, just what I need, a funny big blue meaney," Janice
wheezed in futile defiance.
Santos picked up the tub of blue paint, dipped his fingers in and
smeared a stripe
down the left side of Janice's face. Janice jerked her head away,
causing her to
sway violently. "Miguel, get over here. Hold her steady," he
Miguel rose from his knees and limped over. He grabbed Janice's head
holding her steady while Santos completed his artistic work.
Santos stepped back and retrieved a long thin implement from his pack.
It had a sharp
point on one end and he displayed it to Janice. "Sting ray
spine," he informed her,
then proceeded to slice open a finger on his own left hand. "Our
gods accept no offering unless the worshiper also makes a blood
contribution of his own." He started a
chant and took his heavily bleeding finger and began to make designs on
then turned towards the suspended Janice.
Miguel and Jorge joined the chanting as Santos used his own blood to
designs on the right side of Janice's face. He stepped back and Janice
hands leave her head, she swayed helplessly. Her eyes shifted to Mel who
streaming down her face.
Mel's heart was breaking. Powerless to stop the men, she felt her legs
grow weak and
knew if not for Jorge's support she would have been unable to stand. Her
on her lover's gentle green eyes and she knew that if some miracle did
and prevent her lover's death then she would gladly go to her own death
as soon after
Santos pulled his machete from the loop on his belt and walked to the
post where the
rope that held Janice aloft was tied. He drew the machete high and
yelled to the
heavens. "Yum Cimil, I send to you the soul of the dark
"I love you, Mel, " Janice gasped.
Santos brought the machete down, cutting the rope. Janice plummeted into
"Janice!" Mel screamed, then fainted, slumping loosely in
A soft thud was heard from the well, then silence.
"One down, one to go," Santos snickered then turned to see Mel
slumped in Jorge's
arms. "Oh well." he sighed. "Might be easier carrying her
up the pyramid if she's
unconscious rather than having to drag her up there fighting all the
way." He retrieved
the tub of blue paint and sealed it with it's lid, smearing red across
the lid with his
still bleeding finger. He stuffed the tub into his backpack then heaved
it to one
shoulder. "Miguel, help Jorge carry our guest of honor to the
altar," he ordered,
then bounded towards the towering pyramid.