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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 discovered through Lunacy's beta reader registry, whose extraordinary patience and editing prowess has resulted in dramatic improvement to this piece. (Thanks, Benet, for all your help!!!)

Where You Go, I Go

by Yellowjacket

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, obviously a little annoyed. "We could keep going at least another half hour," he protested mildly.

"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 sun goes 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 camp. 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 been collected. 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 crouched beside 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 could really 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 tending duties 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 feet from 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. It's kind of standing up about two feet but I'd say there's a whole lot more of that snake hidden in the undergrowth," Mel reported bravely.

Janice heard someone running behind her and she turned to see Santos thrashing his way towards her. "Wait there, Santos," she ordered. He stopped obediently.

"What is it," he queried excitedly, his dark eyes darting back and forth between Janice and Mel.

"Bushmaster," Janice informed him.

"Bushmaster!!!" Mel squeaked. "Aren't they poisonous?!"

"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 about a 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 idea?"

Janice held up her machete.

"You're gonna have to get pretty damn close."

"I know."

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 spastically as it scented the air for prey. "Don't move, Mel. Snakes have lousy eyesight but 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 serpent.

Santos watched the stand off, wagering with himself on the outcome of the confrontation 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 whatever transpired.

A tense coiling could be seen in both the snake and the archaeologist. The viper's tongue flicked furiously, locking in on Janice's scent on the gentle breeze. Janice drew back her machete and waited for the bobbing and weaving serpent to extend itself up just a little more. The snake rose a little higher and Janice jumped forward, swinging the machete in a wide arc and neatly decapitating it. The body fell and twitched, then lay still.

Janice ran to Mel and grabbed her in her arms, feeling trembles quake through her 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 decapitated end 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 down. Finally, feeling like she could walk without her legs collapsing under her, she pulled back a little. "I believe you promised me a back rub?" She grinned nervously, her tension gradually abating.

Janice searched Mel's eyes and saw gratitude and desire mixed with a bright twinkle of excitement at the recent danger. Oddly, she found the same mix pulsing through 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 band clustered near the fire for warmth as the night brought a quick dip to the temperatures.

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 hours through a jungle is just a little more than I'm used to. I didn't know a body could ache so much."

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 hurt pretty 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 promise I'll go to the gym with you every night." Mel pledged.

Janice moved lower and worked the tight muscles of Mel's calves. Diligently working 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 kissed the 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 feeling from 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, her shift at guard duty was to have started at 4:00.

She crawled from Mel's embrace, noting in the pale light of the small flashlight that 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 the fire was burning low and she hastened to add more wood to the flames to build it up.

Her anger was starting to build that one of the team members had shirked their turn at guard and she tried to remember the rotation of duty that had been established the night before. She moved quietly to each of the three men's tents and noted five 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 quietly for sounds that might indicate the wayward guard might be close by. Finally, convinced that something was amiss, she went to wake Santos.

Dressed in pants and boots and shivering slightly in the cold damp air, Santos displayed a hard edge of displeasure at the missing team member who they had determined was Phillippe. He stalked over to his tent, retrieving a shirt, then set to brewing a 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 river. Luckily there's two of them there so we won't have a problem when we get there," he theorized calmly.

"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 average boy scout."

Santos stiffened and brought his gaze to lock with the archaeologist's. "Killian's orders were to provide some able-bodied men to fill out a team for a short expedition into the jungle. He gave me three day's notice and this is the best I could get." 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 noncommittally. "It's your call. I'm just a guide. You're the expedition leader," he deferred. "Though if we turn back now I doubt Killian would let us come back to finish the job. He'd probably just get himself another team... and I'm really counting on getting that finder's bonus."

Janice poured a mug of coffee, handing it to Santos, then poured another for herself before seating herself on the ground near the fire to await the dawn and the awakening 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 departure then flat out asked them if anyone else had any qualms about wanting to continue. 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 anthem... "Where you go, I go."

Janice made short work of going through Phillippe's pack to redistribute some vital supplies amongst everyone's loads. Unobserved, she pulled a few items from Mel's pack and added the extra burden to her own, lightening the load for her lover.

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 away from them as the smaller ground animals like armadillos and wild pigs fled at their approach. Janice had spotted an iguana clinging motionlessly to a tree, its gray and brown hide matching the tree bark and making it's four foot long body nearly invisible.

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 caught sight 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. "Hey, Janice, 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 cleansing waters dousing them.

Janice doffed her fedora and let the rain soak her hair, wishing she had packed some soap.

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 more force than she got from the shower at home.

The small group savored their brief respite for the fifteen minutes it lasted. Then it stopped as suddenly as it had begun and almost instantly a thick mist rose from the ground as the water evaporated in the heat.

Santos called for them to move out and with moans and grumbles everyone struggled into their backpacks and the group got moving again. Walking was more treacherous 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, frequently sweeping 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 the men 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 wasn't sure 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 they stood.

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 followed him.

Janice waded carefully through the tall grass and pushed thick fronds away to reveal a ravaged campsite. Three tents hung raggedly from collapsible metal supports that glinted in the sun. Gear lay strewn about as if a fight had raged about the camp. 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 flesh seemed 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 that clung in patches to the skull showed splotches of blue paint and an arrow stuck sharply from the left side of the chest.

"It's the Mayan arrow sacrifice," Mel gasped in an unsteady voice.

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 hand written journal which she flipped through then showed to Santos. The journal had been written by the expedition leader which identified himself and his team as one of the missing teams.

"Only four bodies, but that was a six man team," Janice observed.

Santos shrugged. "Whoever attacked them may have taken prisoners."

"And if I recall prisoners were usually the offerings in the human sacrifices the Mayans offered to their gods," Mel added pointedly.

"Yes, but the Mayans haven't practiced human sacrifice for hundreds of years," Santos deflected.

"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 wildly in her gut.

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 the day. As they each took to their assigned tasks to set up camp a howler monkey protested 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. Santos sauntered 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, keeping the camp fire burning high and keeping an attentive ear for movement in the nearby brush.

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 activity evidenced by a dark movement across the night sky and a loud flapping sound indicated 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 missing team 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 her translation of the codex. She scanned the text with a growing unease. She sensed Janice's approach, 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 thumb.

"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 feeling that 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. Now I'm worried we'll end up like those other poor bastards, just a part of the food chain 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 other, except 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 hired for this expedition. I talked to Roberto and Ernesto, they both have stories similar 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 neither of 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 tent. "Sounds good to me, I'm so tired I'll probably be asleep in ten seconds."

"So much for that plan I had of ravishing you tonight," Janice teased.

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 toward their tent.

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 vines climbing 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 following and now plowed a path due north, heading for a mountain cluster that loomed ahead in the distance. When they stopped for a break Mel made her way to her partner's side. "We're getting close?"

"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 there?"

"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 the way."

Mel frowned. "It sure would have been helpful if I'd had the whole thing translated 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 elevations. Janice kept the group in a tighter formation as they marched, concerned that those who attacked the other expedition were still around and perhaps just as inhospitable as ever.

Janice called the group to a halt and Santos immediately joined her, automatically 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 search pattern and fan out."

Mel sauntered over to the discussion. Watching as Santos and Janice discussed search 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. She scrutinized the surrounding trees then trotted over to a tall straight tree whose lowest branch 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 the lowest 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 shrine."

"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 slowly across 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 lush field 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 vines.

A half hour later they emerged from the forest into a clearing. Ringed around the perimeter where eight Mayan stelae, smooth stone slabs nearly six feet tall and three feet wide with carvings of Mayan glyphs in their columnar style. The interior 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 dropped their packs and stood gaping at the sight.

Mel was the first to move, entering the barren circle and roaming slowly from stone to stone, spending a few moments studying the large glyph at the top of each stone. 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 other gods."

Santos and Janice joined her before the stone. The rest of their expedition waited 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 waiting men.

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 goddess.

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 papers.

Janice sat quietly, waiting for Mel to find what she was looking for. Finally Mel selected two pieces of paper and frowned in concentration as she moved between the 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 right."

Janice concentrated on following Mel's words. "I don't see exactly what your point is."

Mel shrugged her shoulders. "Just a feeling I got that this is a specific instruction 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 aren't worshipped on one's feet." Mel dropped to her knees and sat back on her heels, pensively rubbing 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 prideful. 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. Santos had 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 with the 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 text.

"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 trotted off.

It took Mel nearly two hours to translate the tablet, most of it being additional warnings about entering the Temple of Knowledge without making sacrifice, but Mel had discerned that their ultimate destination was a grouping of three small mountains 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," Mel said.

Janice gave her lover a tight hug and a smile of undisguised admiration. "You've done it again, Mel. Kept us from chasing off in the wrong direction and wasting time... 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 hundred feet. The craggy rock face, was covered by thick vines that made it appear almost 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 crumbling 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 another side."

"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 life is 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 take Roberto 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 patches that could be hiding an opening into the rock face. Janice kept them in a tight group, never letting any member out of sight of at least one other team member.

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 body turn 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 hopefully.

"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 joined in 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 Janice saw 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 were grinning.

"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 three."

"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 emphatically.

Janice would have none of it. After a short debate she pulled rank on the unhappy 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 flashlight illuminating their way.

Mel could feel the burn start in her legs about halfway up the stairs. Walking with fifty pound packs had been grueling enough but scaling an unending staircase with 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 perfectly formed 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 and stared wide eyed at the level plain of rock that spread before them. Some distance across the plain they could make out a grouping of low stone structures and low rock walls 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 with broad 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 flat surface 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 temple," Janice 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 awaiting 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 good ways down. Mel pulled reluctantly from Janice's arms and groped for her wayward shirt 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 sinking beside it, gasping for breath. Jorge and Miguel soon followed and they too sank immediately to their knees and shrugged off their packs before collapsing on their backs. "I 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 to spend 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 get moving."

They all struggled into their packs then started across the plateau, making quick progress on the hard surface which was devoid of the tall grasses and tangled vines 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 lover's face. She reached up and pulled her in for a celebratory kiss and slid her arm around the translator's waist as they shared in their discovery.

Janice turned to talk to Santos and her eyes widened in disbelief as she faced three rifles aimed directly at her and her partner. "What are you doing?!!!"

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 then relieved Mel of her rifle, machete and canteen before tying her hands behind her back. Miguel 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 about bringing my people the greatness they deserve. I am Nacon, a Mayan priest of the third order. Jorge and Miguel are Chac, fourth order priests sent to assist me on my mission."

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 situation, but 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 that conveyed 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 high priests, 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 patiently.

"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 been waiting 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 them with a team to head into the jungle. A team with a couple of Mayan believers who would see that the others never emerged from the jungle."

Janice gasped at the coldness of the man's words. "Ernesto and Roberto?"

"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 me."

"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 sure."

"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 specific details 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 referred to. 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 high priests and revealed to me only because of my mission."

"And what does the prophecy say will happen if we aren't sacrificed," Janice asked speculatively.

"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 lost forever. 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 lightly.

"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 little clause about what happens if we aren't. The outcome of this isn't certain."

"I'd say it's certain enough," Santos growled, angering at the archaeologist's banter. "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 dropped everything on the small heap already made by the things Jorge had taken from Mel. He picked 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 move.

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 side of 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 superior.

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 satisfaction when his eyes landed on a sturdy wooden crossbeam supported by two thick posts. "Bring 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 there." He nodded towards the small pile of items they had stripped from Mel and Janice. He hefted Janice's limp form over his shoulder and strode easily toward the crossbeam.

Mel tried to pull from Jorge's grip but she was no match for the big man's strength and her struggles only made him madder which resulted in even rougher treatment. As they neared the crossbeam Mel could see a circular hole in the plaza with the 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 her more.

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 biceps and paced irritably, cursing at the scurrying form of Miguel running frantically to where they stood.

Santos gruffly took his pack from his nervous lackey and rummaged deep within. He pulled out a plastic tub and pried the lid off to reveal a blue liquid. He dabbed 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 began drawings of a similar design on his own body. Finally, they both smeared the blue paint over their faces and throats. When this was done Miguel replaced Jorge as Mel's captor and Jorge set about the same process with the blue paint.

"Get the rope ready," Santos ordered the now blue faced Jorge.

Jorge retrieved a length of rope from Santos' pack and headed for Janice, kneeling beside the prone woman and looping the rope around the rope that already bound her 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 herself away from Miguel's grip and spun on the man, kicking him in the groin then smashing her 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, grabbing her bound arms and dragging her to her feet. "Moron!" He glared unsympathetically 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 absorbed 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 snapped.

Miguel rose from his knees and limped over. He grabbed Janice's head from behind, 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 his arms then turned towards the suspended Janice.

Miguel and Jorge joined the chanting as Santos used his own blood to draw several designs on the right side of Janice's face. He stepped back and Janice felt Miguel's hands leave her head, she swayed helplessly. Her eyes shifted to Mel who had tears 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 gaze locked on her lover's gentle green eyes and she knew that if some miracle did not intercede and prevent her lover's death then she would gladly go to her own death as soon after as possible.

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 one."

"I love you, Mel, " Janice gasped.

Santos brought the machete down, cutting the rope. Janice plummeted into the well.

"Janice!" Mel screamed, then fainted, slumping loosely in Jorge's grasp.

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.

Part 3