Wednesday, September 2, 2009


It takes a moment for Carlos’ incredible story to sink in.
Amy struggles to keep down her bile. “You mean to tell me that my life has been endangered, I’m being held hostage, and one of my dearest friends might be dead because my name happens to sound like someone in one of your ancient legends?!?!”
Carlos spreads his hands in apology, but his reply is cut off by the squeak of a door. Amy looks over his shoulder to see Zhenzhen.
“Please to come in. Breakfast is served.”
Carlos steps to one side. “He’ll be wanting to dine alone with you. I’ll talk to you, later.”
“Damn right you will.”
“Tread lightly with the General. He’s in a bad mood.”
“That makes two of us,” Amy replies, and pushes past Carlos to meet with the man who holds her future in his hands.
As Amy passes through the double doors leading to the dining room, Zhenzhen deftly slips behind and closes them. Before Amy turns, the click of the lock echoes in the large sparsely-furnished room.
A chair scrapes. At the end of a long table dotted with gleaming silver settings and covered dishes, General Fu stands alert. Amy forces a smile to mask her dismay and notices something about the man that failed to register during their first meeting. As expected, the man, thin and gaunt, stands with a stiff military bearing in a uniform that twinkles with ribbons and medals. The set of hard, tight eyes and a thin, humorless line of a mouth were also anticipated.
General Fu is short, Napoleon Complex short.
Much as she tries not to generalize, Amy knows there are few opponents in her line of work that are angrier, more bitter, or more at war with the entire world than an extremely short man.
“I am so glad you’ve decided to join me,” the General smiles. “I hadn’t realized you were so tall.”
“I hadn’t realized you were so short,” she replies and starts forward with an air of indifference.
Anger sweeps across his gaunt face. Like many short men, lack of height was a point of annoyance for the General.
Amy settles without invitation into the chair at the opposite end of the table. “I’m starved.” She lifts the silver cover off her plate to reveal a steaming plate of eggs, surrounded by hash browns dotted with green and red peppers and silvers of bacon. Reaching for a plate of toast flanked by bowls of butter, jelly and marmalade, Amy steals a glance towards the General and notes his stiffness.
Yes, General, you’re in charge, but I’m in control.
Within her feigned nonchalance, Amy realizes she is indeed hungry. The food is warm and tasty, and she allows herself to enjoy it, putting her uncertain future in the background.

Whether by watching from some secret hiding place, or silently summoned through some pre-arranged signal, Zhenzhen appears as Amy clears her plate and empties her glass of tea. Amy nods as Zhenzhen offers her more tea, then stands and wanders over to the massive fireplace dominating one side of the room. She studies the large portrait of General Fu, wondering if it might reveal another chink in the man’s armor.
The air stirs as General Fu moves to her side.
“My official PRC portrait.” With a bit of a wistful tone he adds, “It once hung in the Hall of Heroes.”
“How the mighty have fallen,” Amy notes. “Must have been an especially long drop for someone of your size.”
Through a tight jaw the General asks, “Why do you persist in insulting me?”
“Who are you trying to kid, General Fu? With a warm meal and phony pleasantries? You’re either planning to kill me, or imprison me here for the rest of my life. Either way, I’m not going to make it easy for you.”
“Death or imprisonment? Do you really think so little of me?”
“You’ve given me no reason to think otherwise.”
“There is another alternative. One that leads to your total freedom.” The edges of the General’s mouth ripple, which Amy supposes is the closest the man can come to smiling. He indicates for Amy to precede him back into the adjoining weapons room. Intrigued, she complies.
Among the array of displayed weapons, the Sun Goddess sword draws Amy toward it. At the same time she keeps note of the displayed weapons that can be most easily grabbed and used against General Fu. One of the many swords seem the best bet.
Perhaps sensing her train of thought, or out of natural caution, General Fu keeps several feet between them, even as he himself stops to admire the Sun Sword.
“Magnificent,” he murmurs. “I understand you’ve been told the legend of the Ah Mah Lin Say.”
“Who led you to understand that?” Amy asks.
“I have my spies,” the General replies cryptically. He goes on, “South American is very much like China. Fraught with myths and legends. And here, just as in China, they can be used to tear people apart. Or bring them together.”
Something Carlos had said pops into Amy’s mind. People will rarely be roused to fight for a cause. It is much easier to get them to fight for a legend. So the Brotherhood invented a legend. No, not invented. We have always had the story of Ah Mah Lin Say, the Sun Goddess. We more like, re-wrote it. Amy wonders which legend the General has been told.
“I am not a violent man by nature,” the General continues. “If a goal can be achieved without violence, I’d prefer it.”
“I’m sure a lot of the families of those you crushed with your tanks in Tiannamen Square would have preferred it.”
The General makes a casual gesture, tossing it off. “Violence can be an effective tool at times, and should never be wholly abandoned. It is usually the best way to handle betrayal,” he lectures. “Though, diplomacy and negotiation have their place, too.”
“Like now?”
“Please, sit,” the General requests, waving to a small couch several feet away. Amy settles on the couch, noting that the General does not follow, but rather moves to stand with the Sun Goddess sword in the background over his shoulder. She realizes: He’s planned this moment very carefully, choreographed it, in fact. It might do her well to listen closely.
“I have had long discussions with your friend Carlos. He would like to see his people reunited, brought back together to better protect themselves, to achieve prosperity. That is one reason the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid was revived. One way to bring people together is through fear.”
“You mean fear of the consequences of screwing up and earning the wrath of those who’ve assumed control.”
“An acceptable method for the short term, but as time passes, fear of the retribution of the rulers lessens. It happened in the Soviet Union. It is happening in China. Authoritarianism has its uses; for a limited amount of time. Until something better comes along.”
“Such as …?”
“The consolidation of power can be a tricky matter, Miss Lindsay. Yes, fear can be a useful tool. If you have the manpower and the resources to justify that fear. If you don’t have the manpower and resources, alternative methods must be employed.”
“Again: Such as …?”
“Finding a viable Shepherd.”
Amy shakes her head, not following.
“The overwhelming majority of people in this world are sheep, Miss Lindsay. Easily led … waiting to be led, wanting to be led. Needing to be led. Most of them are looking for the slightest excuse to follow someone, to find a Shepherd to do their thinking for them. The trick to becoming a good Shepherd is getting the Sheep to believe you have their best interests at heart and will lead them down the path of safety and prosperity.”
“Fool all the people all the time.”
“And how do you propose to do that?”
“Oh, I’m not going to do it, Miss Lindsay. You are.”
The soft squeak of the double doors leading to the hallway offer a distraction giving Amy a moment to think on, and decipher General Fu’s curious assertion. The squeak heralds the arrival of Carlos.
“Ah, Carlos!” the General exclaims. “Perfectly timed. I was just about to explain your plan to Miss Lindsay.”
“His plan?” Amy tries reading Carlos, but his face remains impassive.
General Fu escorts Carlos to a spot near the couch … they are an odd sight, the big South American and the slight, tiny Chinaman. General Fu precedes to the Roman chariot and climbs aboard … like a professor taking the stage to deliver a lecture.
“Tell me, Miss Lindsay. Have you ever seen the film ‘The Man Who Would Be King’?”
“A couple of times. Based on a Kipling short story. It’s a ….” Amy stops, remembering that the movie is a particular favorite of Genius. For all I know, he could be dead now, she realizes. “A couple of times,” she repeats through a suddenly constricted throat.
“Two British soldiers decide they want to be kings of a country,” General Fu begins. “To the first tribal chief they come across they offer to train his army and conquer his enemies. In a battle one of the British soldiers is struck with an arrow, but is not wounded because it strikes his bandoleer. Because he does not bleed, the natives think he is a god. The two British soldiers go along with this because they realize conquering the country will be much, much easier if their army is led, not by a man, but by a god.”
Now Amy understands. “You want the Ah Mah Lin Say to lead your army. You can’t be serious?”
“Nothing so dramatic, Miss Lindsay. I’m a military man. I don’t ask civilians to fight if it can be helped. They tend to make a mess of things.”
“More fit to be crushed under the treads of tanks, right?”
“I don’t have any tanks here, Miss Lindsay. But I do have a god. Or, rather, a Goddess. Words will be more persuasive than tanks.”
“Or bullets,” adds Carlos.
“Wouldn’t be much good to reunite your people if you have to kill half of them to do it, would it?” asks Amy.
“No, it would not.”
“So, to save your people, you’ve become a traitor.”
“A pragmatist,” Carlos corrects. “Take a look at history. No lesser advanced civilization has ever survived an encounter with a more advanced one, even a friendly advanced civilization not bent on conquest. Change, Miss Amy, can either lift you, or crush you.”
Amy shakes her head. “Take a look at history yourself. Its full of failed attempts by the few trying to tell the many how to live.”
General Fu’s laugh is short and derisive. “You Americans must rid yourself of the notion that Freedom is the natural yearning of Man.”
“Isn’t it?”
“Sheep, Miss Lindsay. The world is full of sheep more willing to be led than to think for themselves. Your country would be better off understanding this basic fact. Save you a lot of trouble in the world. Freedom may be a good thing for Americans. It is too much a burden for most of the rest of the world.”
“Which needs to be run by a shepherd?”
“Like yourself?”
The General spreads his hands, and his mouth crinkles to hint a smile. “I’m willing to take on that burden.”
“With a little help from a ‘goddess’ who will put in a good word for you with the sheep?”
“It would save a lot of lives,” Carlos puts in.
“You mean save you two a lot of trouble.”
“I’ve never shied of doing things the hard way,” says the General. “In case you should demonstrate a bit of reluctance in assisting us.”
“It will be more than a ‘bit’ of reluctance.”
“I figured you would say that, Miss Lindsay.” General Fu jumps down from his perch on the chariot. “So I’ve arranged a bit of incentive.” With a child-like stride Amy would have found comical in other circumstances, Fu scurries over to the large fireplace. On one side he presses and pulls at something, causing a large section of rock to swing open and reveal a large monitor. He peels a remote from a clamp. “Let’s see. What room is it?”
From her seat on the couch Amy sees images flicker across the half obscured monitor too rapidly and too piecemeal to discern.
“You’ve no doubt noticed, Miss Lindsay, I do enjoy a certain level of comfort. I stole away from China with more than just the clothes on my back. I wasn’t about to have my dream of a jungle empire cut short by jungle fever or the bite of some obscure serpent or arachnid. I came, you might say, pharmacologically prepared.”
General Fu crooks a finger for Amy to join him at the monitor. Cautious, she approaches.
The security video quality of the scene on the monitor shows a room similar to the one where she awoke. The bed in the view, a static shot taken from a corner, Amy notes, is a large hospital bed. Beside the bed stands an ICU monitor and an IV stand. A woman sits reading in a chair next to the bed. A lump too indistinct to recognize lies on the bed.
General Fu fiddles with some controls. The camera zooms closer to the bed and focuses on the woman. “You do recognize the woman, Miss Lindsay?”
Amy squints. “Yes. It’s Zhenzhen, your … whatever she is.”
“I wanted you to make certain so you would know this was no bit of Hollywood trick photography.”
General Fu fiddles some more with the remote so that the face of the patient enlarges and grows clear.
Amy’s heart leaps into her throat.


The corridor leading into the jungle castle of the mysterious Chinese ex-general is much cooler and damper than Amy expects. It feels good.

Almost out of nowhere, a stone wall blocks their path. Chewie finds another stone ring and twists it. The wall swings silently toward them. The room beyond is a kitchen lit by a single yellow light glinting off the highly polished metal surfaces of world class furnishings.

Chewie waves Amy into the kitchen, then signals for her to wait while he hangs the torch inside the cave, then closes the secret door, which is camouflaged on the kitchen side by a large set of pots and pans dangling from hooks.

The click of a flipped switch and a sudden explosion of light prompts Amy to drop to a knee. She twists, looking for something to dive behind, sighting the large utility island in the middle of the kitchen.

“No need to hide, Miss Lindsay,” comes an unfamiliar voice… a voice a bit high pitched, and spoken with the precise words of someone well taught English as a second language. “We’ve been waiting for you.” Seeing Chewie has made no effort to hide; in fact seems nonplused, Amy stands slowly.

Across the kitchen, holding open a pair of swinging doors, waits a grim faced Carlos in his green uniform. And beside him: a small, gaunt Oriental man. Despite his lack of stature, he stands barely over five feet tall, and though he wears a thick, inoffensive silk lounging robe, he maintains a strong, commanding, military bearing. General Fu

“A bit early for my liking,” the man continues. ‘So forgive me if I delay the introductions for a more suitable hour.” He signals Chewie with a nod.

“Sorry, Miss Lindsay,” Chewie says.

As Amy turns to look at him she is unable to avoid his touch as he reaches for her arm. She feels the brief sting where he taps her upper arm. Amy jerks away. The shiny room begins swirling, and she feels herself falling. Darkness smothers her.

Awareness washes over Amy Lindsay in smooth, warm waves. Softness envelops her body from her chin downward. She arches languidly against the persistent pressure of, her body and mind inform her, a thick silk quilt. Her eyes flutter open. A dim light above and behind her is quickly swallowed by darkness.


Awareness slams into her conscious mind, flooding it with memories. The Canadian border crossing. Bobby Chung’s gruesome death. The attempted kidnaping, then the successful one. Genius showing up the compound in Mexico. The flight to South America and betrayal by Carlos. The incredible underground village and Genius–-


Amy’s body bolts upright in the bed. Her training (Assess Your Surroundings) kicks in just in time to remind her not to cry out. She settles back down and waits for her eyes to accustom themselves to the dim light.

Before her vision adjusts a soft knock drifts to her from across the room. A creaking door allows a splash of light to fall across the room… a room dominated by bare stone walls and floor, and a single window covered by a dark, thick curtain. Amy sits up, working her legs to reduce the binding effects of the heavy quilt in case escape offered an opportunity. Then the door closes, filling the room with an oppressive gloom.

The gentle hiss of soft footsteps whisper across the room toward Amy. She readies herself to throw aside the thick comforter, but the whispering footsteps drift away, and a whoosh of thick fabric being swept aside is followed by a surge of daylight. Amy’s first instinct is to protect her eyes, but the burst of light is gentle… sunrise, judging by the glow.

Amy wonders: Sunrise when? How long have I been out? Just a couple of hours? Or a whole day?

Revealed by the wash of light is a small oriental woman. A black kimono dominated by a serpentine green dragon fits neatly over a firm, narrow back. The woman turns, and seeing Amy awake, smiles. Amy estimates her age to be early twenties. In her arms, she holds a neatly folded green robe.

“To get cleaned up, please,” the woman says, her accent slight. With one hand she gestures toward a thin, silk print (dragon motif, of course) covering a narrow opening in the stone wall. “Breakfast almost ready.”

Amy pulls the thick comforter to her chin. “Where are my clothes?”

The woman holds up the robe. “To wear this now, please?” She points to a small changing screen, again dominated by a dragon design, angled in a corner. “Clothes behind there.”

Amy accepts the robe from the demure woman and rolls off the bed’s other side to keep it between them. As she slips into the robe, which seems just her size, she asks the woman, “Who are you?”

“I am Zhenzhen,” she replies with a slight bow. Smiling politely, she adds, “It means precious. People always ask.”

“My name is Amy. It means loved. Not that anyone ever asks.”

Zhenzhen’s lips curl a bit with a genuine smile. Then, she resumes her serious pose. “Breakfast in fifteen minutes. Please to clean up and dress.” After another bow, she turns and scurries from the room.

Amy waits until she hears the click of the door being locked. “Food and clean clothes,” she murmurs, “but I’m still a prisoner.”

Prompted by her training to, first, get your bearings, Amy makes her way to the window. It was clean, double-paned and immovable and overlooked the castle’s rear courtyard and jungle beyond from a height of about three stories. Onto Plan B. Go with the flow.

The side room contains a shower stall, small basin and an abundance of towels. Amy soaks one of the larger towels (noting the flash heating of the water… General Fu may like to secret himself in an ancient castle, but he required certain modern comforts) and invigorates herself with a quick, thorough rub down.

The sole article of clothing behind the changing screen is a powder blue silk cheongsam (the ubiquitous dragon design on the back) draped over a full length mirror. It slips on comfortably and Amy has to admit satisfaction with the way the high, closed collar, loose chest, tight waisted traditional Chinese dress compliments her form… especially the high slits accentuating her long legs. Though, she notes disapprovingly, how, despite the slits, the dress is tight and clingy enough to somewhat restrict her range of movement. She spies a pair of oriental sandals at the foot of the mirror. They appear nicely broken in and just her size.

As Amy shifts her weight from one foot to the other to slip on the sandals a short, insistent knock on the door startles her. She looks at the sandal in her hand and realizes it provided a wholly inadequate weapon.

Go with the flow, she decides, and resumes slipping it on while calling out, “Yes?”

Peering over the changing screen she watches the door crack open and Carlos peek around the edge of the thick, wooden door.

“Are you decent?”

“Would it matter?” she replies, stepping out from behind the screen. She begins ticking off in her mind the many ways to kill a man with her bare hands.

Carlos freezes a moment at the sight of her, then smiles and edges completely into the room and eases the door shut behind him. “You look incredible, Goddess.”

“Think you boss will approve?”

A flicker of uncertainty… and something Amy can’t quite place… rushes across Carlos’ face. “You are a blonde. He will approve.”

“There’s a ringing endorsement.”

“What I mean-– .”

“Never mind,” Amy replies, snapping a bit so as not to give Carlos the impression she was anything less than disgusted with him. “Are you here to escort me to breakfast. Shouldn’t keep your master waiting.”

Carlos stiffens as if slapped, then, tight-lipped, opens the door and abruptly waves for Amy to precede him.

The corridor is as Amy imagines: stone on all sides, a bit narrow, and slightly chilly. As another concession to modern conveniences, the jutting torches spaced out along the walls to Amy’s right are made of plastic and tipped with incandescent bulbs shaped like flames. On the left the corridor stopped abruptly at a large steel door.

Carlos produces a large key and unlocks the door. A brief landing beyond gives way to a gently spiraling stone stairway. Carlos waves toward the stairway.

Within the first couple of steps he says softly, “You’ve put me in a very difficult position, Goddess.”

“I’ve put you in one?”

“I’d had a different plan for getting you and Genius into the castle.”

“You mean for kidnaping us?”

Carlos gently touches her arm, signaling to stop their descent. “I had planned to explain things when we reached the village.”

“That would have been a hell of a story,” Amy says with derision. “Which village? The fake one the ‘dragon’ attacks? Or the one underground?”

“It would have been a hell of a story, yes. And a long one. One more believable after I’d earned your trust. Now, I have to give you the short version, and pray you believe me.”

“That’ll take some heavy praying.”

“I realize that. You see, I am what you call…” Carlos looks up and down the stairway, then back to Amy. “… a double agent.”

“I know. We saw the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid tattoo.”

“I realized that when you abandoned me in the jungle. Yes, I am a member of the Brotherhood. But it is not what you think. If I know Genius, he searched my jeep, right?”


“He found a nine millimeter pistol? Biometric lock?”

“Yes. Standard C.I.A. issue. He wondered what agent you killed to get it.”

“My killing the man it was issued to would have been an act of suicide.” Carlos spreads his hands and tilts his head, as if to ask… Understand what I’m saying?

Amy studies the big man’s imploring expression. Carlos? A C.I.A. agent? Or, just another ploy to gain her trust? “I’m supposed to take your word for this?”

“The reasons to distrust me only seem justified,” he laments, seemingly with genuine emotion, “If only you and Genius hadn’t been so rash, so quick to mistrust.”

“Or you had been quicker to take us into your confidence.”

After a moment, Carlos sighs and concedes her point with a nod. “We should be going. The General can be very paranoid, at times, and he will wonder what is keeping us.” He motions for them to resume down the stairway. “Just do me the favor of not doing anything rash until we’ve had another chance to talk.”

“Of course,” Amy promises, fully intending to ignore that promise the first time opportunity provided her a chance of escape.

The stairway ended at another locked, steel door… unlocked by Carlos with the same key, Amy noted. He led her through a couple of turns of the repetitive, featureless corridor, then, a massive wooden double door (unlocked) into a large exhibit room dominated with a large fireplace, and filled with ancient feudal weapons: maces, lances, crossbows, shields and things Amy did not recognize. Taking up most space is a ancient Roman chariot.

Amy’s eye is drawn to a wall dedicated to swords of various types and sizes. She moves for a closer look. Prominent in the middle of the wall display, lit to am almost a golden glow by small, strategically spotlights, hung the glass, dragon slaying sword of Ah Mah Lin Say, the Sun Goddess.

Carlos moves beside her to study the sword. “Chewie told me you were told the legend of the Ah Mah Lin Say.”

“An incredible story.”

“Yes, it is. So is the real story.”

“What do you mean, the real story?”

Carlos takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly. “What you saw on the scrolls was a fiction. Our ancestors didn’t record legends on scrolls. What you saw was something the elders of my tribe and I came up with several years ago, as a way to protect our people.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The Brotherhood, the new Brotherhood, some time ago realized two things. There will always be invaders, interlopers come to conquer us. We also realized the power of the myth. People will rarely be roused to fight for a cause. It is much easier to get them to fight for a legend. So the Brotherhood invented a legend. No, not invented. We have always had the story of Ah Mah Lin Say, the Sun Goddess. We more like, re-wrote it.”

“Starring me. Why?”

“The resemblance in names.”

It takes a moment to sink in, and when it does, Amy struggles to keep her anger in check. “You mean my life has been endangered, several times, I’m being held hostage, and one of my dearest friends is close to death, if not dead already, all because my name happens to sound like someone in one of your ancient legends?”

Carlos spreads his hands apologetically, and his reply is cut off by the squeak of a door. Amy looks over his shoulder to the far side of the display room and sees Zhenzhen.

“Please to come in. Breakfast is served.”

Carlos steps to one side. “He’ll be wanting to dine alone with you. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Damn right you will,” Amy tells him through a grit smile.

“Tread lightly with the General. He’s in a bad mood this morning.”

“That makes two of us,” Amy replies and pushes past Carlos to meet with the man who, through the most improbable of circumstances, holds her future in his hands.



From his spot on the mats of the death hut, Genius nods towards the doorway and barks, “Out there! Is anyone by the door? Come on, Goddess! Get with it! We don’t have much time.”

Startled by his sharp tone, Amy snaps from her lethargy. She steps to the narrow doorway to look out. Knots of somber murmuring people in groups of four or five gather, several yards away, as if afraid to come too close to the hut.

“Any one close enough to hear us?” Genius asks.

“Well, no.” Amy turns. “But, it’s not like they could understand what we say.”

“No,” Genius agrees. He yanks the arm of the Kidnap Leader. “But, I don’t think our friend, here, wants it known around the village that he understands and probably speaks English.” Genius yanks his arm, again. “Right, buddy.”

The native pulls his arm from Genius’ grasp and rubs his wrist. His wide face pinches for a contemplative moment, then, he sighs and nods.

“Okay. You got me. Yeah, I understand, and speak, English.” He pats the tattoo on his back shoulder. “I’m the leader here of what you would call the local branch of the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid,” he tells them in precise, unaccented English. Turning to Amy, he tells her, “I was the one who gave the order to get you.”

Amy shifts to put Genius between her and the native. “Why did you want me killed?”

“Ah, mere semantics. My Spanish isn’t as good as my English. We wanted you kidnaped and brought here. The order was meant to ‘get’ you, not ‘kill’ you. “

“Brought here? What for?”

His reply is interrupted by Genius murmuring, “Oh, Sweet Jesus,” as he flops back and splays out on the pile of mats.

“What is it?” Helplessness overcomes her, as she wonders what to do.

Immediately, Genius props himself back up with his arms behind him and looks at the native. “Carlos is your… uncle?”

“He is married to my mother’s sister.”

“And, his job, all along, was to actually get us here safely?”


“And, I screwed that up?” Genius asks. The native forces a grin and shrugs. Genius continues, “He could have told me at the beginning.”

“Would you have come? Would you have let her come?”

“Probably not.”

Amy spreads her hands. “Will there be some point in this conversation where I’ll begin understanding what you two are talking about?”

The men look at one another, and finally, Genius nods for the man to explain.

“I’m not sure where to start.”

“Start with your name,” Genius suggests.

“I’m not sure you could pronounce my name. Call me Chewie. It was the nickname the Americans gave me, when I was a young boy. They got me hooked on Juicy Fruit, when I worked as a guide and messenger boy for the people who built roads and bridges around here.”

Genius extends his hand. “Hello, Chewie. Your Uncle Carlos knows me as Guillermo, I guess you can call me that, too. This is Amy Lindsay.”

Chewie gives Genius a perfunctory handshake as he stares reverentially at Amy. “The Ah Mah Lin Say.”

“Let’s start with that,” Genius suggests. “When did you discover an American actress was the patron saint or whatever for your village?”

“About two years ago, I was visiting my Uncle Carlos. He showed me a movie, SECRETS OF A CHAMBERMAID.” He turns to Amy. “You wore glasses in the beginning, so I didn’t see it at first. It was quite a shock to recognize you.”

“How did you ‘recognize’ her?”

“At the time, I was the apprentice to our medicine man. I had seen the sacred scrolls, including the legend of the Am Mah Lin Say. I told my Uncle Carlos about the incredible resemblance. I didn’t know he was already planning to bring me into the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid, the Reformed Branch of the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid. You see, that was about the time the Chinaman appeared in the jungle. With his dragon.”

Amy asks, “You do know the dragon is a helicopter?”

“I do. But, you must realize, very few of my people have traveled more then a mile or two away from our villages, including the Chief and the Medicine Man. Here, they are the authority. If they say it is a dragon, the people accept that it is a dragon.”

“Which can only be banished by the Ah Mah Lin Say,” muses Genius.

“We have tried to mobilize the people to fight the Chinaman. His followers are few, and we are many, but they have guns. And, he occupies the sacred castle, and to some of my people, including my Chief, that gives him special power and authority.”

“That can only be overcome by the Ah Mah Lin Say,” Amy spreads her hand. “You know I’m not a goddess.”

“Bite your tongue,” Genius interjects.

Chewie smiles. “And, you know there really isn’t a dragon. Even if there were, our plan doesn’t require you to slay it.”

“What does ‘your’ plan require?”

“There really is a holy glass sword. It was supposed to be well hidden in the castle, but the Chinaman found it. Our people have seen it on display. We; my Uncle Carlos, and other members of the Brotherhood, feel that all we need to get our people to come together and defeat the Chinaman is for the Ah Mah Lin Say to retrieve the sacred sword. All the villages will rally around you, and you can lead us into battle to defeat the Chinaman.”

“So, you want me to steal the sword and play Joan of Ark?”

Genius notes, “A role I’d say you were a bit old –.”

“Bite YOUR tongue,” Amy warns.

Genius asks, “Could you answer this question: Why should we believe you? And, why is your Uncle Carlos flying around in General Fu’s fake dragon and burning down villages?”

“That’s two questions,” Chewie points out with a grin. When he sees their seriousness, the grin vanishes. “Uncle Carlos is… how do you say? Undercover. Tales were told of how he… worked on the edges of the law? The Chinaman is ‘blackmailing’ him.”

“A bit hard to prove.”

“No it isn’t,” Amy realizes. “If he were really working for General Fu, why hasn’t he burned down THIS village?”

“He knows about this place?” Genius asks.

“He helped build it many years ago.”

Genius laces his fingers behind his head and stretches out on the mats. Reflection covers his face. Finally, he tells Chewie, “Can you wait outside for a minute.”

“Of course.” His eyes dart towards Genius’ wound. “I’ll go get something to put on that.”

Amy’s forgotten the snake bite. She glances down, and a lump clogs her throat. In the short time they had spoken with Chewie, the small puncture grew to the size of a golf ball and turned a pink, grayish hue. The scratch had a similar color, but was not as large.

Chewie flashes Amy a worried look before ducking out the hut doorway.

“How did you know he spoke English?”

“He laughed, back at the pit, when I made an ‘other white meat’ joke.”

“That was a joke?” Amy’s forced smile fades, as she kneels beside Genius and nods towards his wound. “Bad.”

“Very bad. I’m going to have to go away for a while.”

“Go away?”

“Shut myself down. Induce a coma.”

“Can you do that?”

“I have before. Once. It may be my only chance. I took a small dose of venom; good thing I caught only a glancing blow, and it got mostly bone. But, it’s going to spread through my bloodstream, and if I can slow it down, while it loses its strength, the potency might thin out enough not to paralyze my heart and lungs.” He takes hold of Amy’s hand. “I’m afraid that’s going to leave you on your own. I’m not going to be able to slay the dragon and save the damsel. She’s going to have to save herself.”

“I’m not entirely helpless.”

“No, you’re not.” He unconsciously rubs the scar she’d put on the back of his left hand once during fencing practice. He closes his eyes and takes a long deep breath. “Get the sword and get out of there. Don’t take any unnecessary chances.” He opens his eyes. “And, remember, don’t take any crap from them. You’re a goddess, damn it.”

“And, you’re a genius, damn it. You find a way not to die on me.”

“I’ll be here,” he assures her. “I don’t know how good I’ll smell.”

Amy chuckles, despite the lump in her throat. “Quoting AIRPLANE. Always with a joke.”

Genius closes his eyes. He takes another long breath and settles deeper into the mats. “Amy?”


“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Letting me love you, pure and chaste, from afar.”

What response is there to that? “Just keeping you in line until Mrs. Genius…”

“Whoever she might be,” they say together.

“… comes along,” Amy finishes.

Genius’ chest rises and falls. And, after several frantic motionless seconds, rises and falls, again.

A soft rap on the door frame heralds Chewie’s return. He cradles a gourd with some gooey, grey concoction that makes Amy’s eyes water even more. She starts to speak to him, then, sees a teenage girl trailing in behind Chewie. Her inquisitive eyes linger on Amy for a moment, then, she kneels at Genius’ side. Chewie speaks to her in low earnest tones and demonstrates how to apply the mixture to the wounds.

Chewie finishes the instructions and stands and takes Amy’s arm to lead her outside the hut. The lights have dimmed, giving the underground village a sense of dusk. Chewie looks around to make certain they are alone.

“The Chief insists we take you to the castle tonight.”


“We have a group going out in a few minutes.”

“A group? For what?”

“The ‘kidnapped’ villagers my Uncle Carlos told you about? The Chinaman is forcing them to work in his fields. Our own people are overseers, so, we ‘rotate’ the workers. The Chinaman and his people are too few to guard them all the time so they don’t notice the different faces. By doing this, our warriors learn the layout around the castle. Every two weeks, we do the change. Tonight is such a night.”

Amy glances back at the death hut.

“Your friend will be given the best care possible, I assure you.”

“He’d better,” Amy warns. “Or, the Ah Mah Lin Say will be very, very angry.” Amy gives the hut one last, lingering look, then, tells Chewie, “Okay. Let’s go get your damned sword.”

“I’ll be damned,” an awed Amy Lindsay whispers.

Thanks to Chewie’s night goggles, she spies the medieval castle springing out of the middle of the jungle. An orchid field a couple of acres wide and sits within a large stone wall, forming an outer courtyard. It ends where another wall rises up to enclose a second, hidden inner courtyard. Amy’s gaze lingers on the back of the castle and its imposing stone wall and high rounded turrets.

“To the right,” Chewie whispers. “Near the corner of the outer wall, there is an escape tunnel.” He turns from where they crouch among the foliage on the ridge and emits a series of whistles. There is a brief rustle, as the two dozen men and women who accompanied them on the six hour trek move off.

Whispering, Chewie tells her that the replacements will work their way around to the south side of the castle, the servants’ quarters. The jungle grows to the edge of the castle on the north and west sides, but is ‘guarded’ by General Fu’s menagerie of dangerous animals. The rear of the castle is a different story. “The Chinaman thinks the Brotherhood is his ally. Uncle Carlos is in charge of castle security. We know exactly where to go, and when.” He lifts the goggles from Amy’s face. “Stay close.”

Within ten minutes, Chewie halts them at the foot of the twelve-foot grassy incline that leads to the fifteen-foot outer stone wall. Signaling Amy to wait, he scrambles up the slope to the corner of the castle’s wall. After aligning himself, Chewie paces off long, measured steps. After a dozen steps, he stops and turns. Dropping to all fours, he skitters down the slope. Three quarters of the way down, he stops and begins feeling around in the grass.

Realizing he is searching for a door or secret latch, Amy scurries to his side. Chewie whispers, “Here.” He pulls something, and several feet up and to the left of them, a soft grinding sound accompanies the upswing of a four-by-four section of the grassy incline. Dim, flickering light, as if from a flame source far down a corridor, crawls down the slope.

“Quickly,” Chewie urges. “It shouldn’t be visible from the castle, but we can’t take the chance.”

Amy scrambles down the slope to the opening. A short set of steps lead downward to a long stone corridor. About sixty feet down the corridor, a single torch clings to a wall. Beyond, complete darkness. She hesitates.

Chewie joins her. “Don’t worry. Uncle Carlos left the torch for us.”

Chewie squeezes through the opening. Amy follows. Chewie waits for her to move past, then, twists an iron ring on the wall. The hatch slowly drops.

The corridor is cooler and dryer than Amy expected. Chewie sets a quick pace, and soon, they are at the torch. Chewie plucks it from the wall, and they continue into the darkness.

Almost out of nowhere, a stone wall blocks their path. Chewie finds another stone ring and twists it. The wall swings towards them. The room is a kitchen, lit by a single yellow light glinting off the highly polished metal surfaces of world-class furnishings.

Chewie waves Amy inside, then, signals for her to wait, while he hangs the torch inside the cave and closes the secret door, which is camouflaged on the kitchen side by a large set of pots and pans that dangle from hooks.

The click of a flipped switch and a sudden explosion of light prompt Amy to drop to one knee. She twists, looking for something to dive behind and choosing the large utility island in the middle of the kitchen.

“No need to hide, Miss Lindsay,” says an unfamiliar voice… a voice a bit high pitched. “We’ve been waiting for you.” Seeing Chewie has made no effort to hide; in fact seems nonplused, Amy stands slowly.

Across the kitchen, holding open a pair of swinging doors, waits a grim-faced Carlos in his green uniform. And, beside him: a small, gaunt Oriental man. Despite his lack of stature, he stands barely five feet tall, and though he wears a thick, inoffensive silk lounging robe, he maintains a strong, commanding military bearing. General Fu.

“A bit early for my liking,” continues the voice. ‘So, forgive me, if I delay the introductions for a more suitable hour.” Fu signals Chewie with a nod.

“Sorry, Miss Lindsay,” Chewie says.

Amy turns to look at him and is unable to avoid his touch, as he reaches for her arm. She feels a brief sting and jerks away. The shiny room begins to swirl out of control, and she feels herself falling, until darkness smothers her.



The Chief of the vast underground village stands at the edge of the “Valley of the Snakes.” Slyly, his hands signal for quiet, as he speaks.

Genius quietly translates. “Paraphrasing, he’s reminding everyone of what a great and benevolent Chief he has been, yada, yada, yada.” With an occasional snide, editorial comment thrown in, Genius passes along the gist of the Chief’s dry and insipid speech.

The Ah Mah Lin Say has come to rid the world of the dragon and has brought along a champion to retrieve the glass sword that was stolen from the village. But, because those of “pale skin” have betrayed them so often, Ah Mah Lin Say’s champion must prove himself a true and honorable champion by walking through the Valley of the Snakes.

From across the way, the Chief signals for Genius to move to the edge of the pit.

Genius spreads his hands. “Well, Goddess? Anything?”

“Nothing, I’m afraid.”

“Then, into the Valley of the Shadow of Death I go.”

Genius starts to turn, then, stops and genuflects. “Looks like you’re blessing me or something.”

Amy rests a hand on his bowed head. “Be careful.”

“You can count on that.” Genius looks up and sees the worry creasing her face. “Buck up, Goddess. I’m sacred enough for both of us.”

“Don’t you do anything stupid in there.”

“Who, me?” he replies with a grin. His expression grows serious. “You’re a goddess. Don’t take crap from anyone.” With that, he turns and starts for the end of the pit, where a pair of the snake-tattooed natives stand at the end of the ladder.

Amy peeks over the ledge. Her breath catches in her chest. The first thing leaping into her mind is the line from Raiders of the Lost Ark. “Why does the floor move?”

The pit’s depth looks to be about fifteen feet, but that’s hard to verify through the crawling, squirming, slithering multi-colored mass undulating along the entire floor of the rectangular pit. Green and it’s various shades seem the dominant color, but just about every hue of the rainbow writhes. Her knowledge of herpetology is extremely limited. The movement inside the pit seems measured and calm to her; no frantic movement or fighting.

Genius had carefully avoided looking into the pit on his journey around. Now, he stops and bends to look into it. His eyes dart around and his expression is studious.

Amy takes some solace that he didn’t immediately faint dead away. She remembers something he said. Extraordinary women make ordinary men do extraordinary things.

Genius swings around onto the ladder and begins his descent. With his head still above the edge, he flashes a smile and scans the crowd. His eyes linger on Amy for a moment, giving her a cocky wink. He looks down into the pit.

“Here I come, Boys. USDA Grade-A Prime. The other white meat.” He looks up and grins for the crowd. Suddenly, his eyes narrow. He glances at Amy. There is something almost urgent about his expression.

Amy furrows her brow.

With a hint of frustration, Genius focuses his gaze on the Chief and his entourage. He looks back at Amy and starts to speak, but stops, takes a deep breath, and resumes his descent.

Amy chances a glance across the pit to the Chief and his minions. Nothing strikes her as unusual. What did Genius see? The Chief stands, haughty and aloof. His Chief of Staff maintains his usual sour expression. The leader from their bridge escort seems pensive. Why doesn’t Genius just tell her what he saw?

With several deep breaths, Genius readies himself, makes his face an emotionless mask, and continues down the ladder. A couple of feet from where it disappears into a tangle of snakes, Genius pauses to turn around on the rungs to face the pit’s inhabitants. His eyes scan the pit…

Across the pit, the Chief of Staff punctuates a bit of muttering with a grunting laugh. A few around him chuckle. Genius looks up and makes an abrupt reply. From the speed by which the grin disappears from the Chief of Staff’s face, Amy suspects the translation of Genius’ remark was probably of the ‘Bite me!’ variety.

After a moment’s searching, Genius picks out a landing spot. He edges further down the ladder. One foot reaches out, and with gentle firmness Genius wedges it between the thigh thick bodies of a large pair of motionless snakes, one green, one gray. Carefully, he duplicates the cautious move with the other foot.

As soon as his hand leaves the ladder, a pair of the natives haul it up and hustle around the pit to deploy it at the far end. Amy watches Genius take several deep, calming breaths as his swiveling eyes take in the writhing floor of the pit. She follows his eyes, trying to figure out just what he is looking for, wondering how she might be able to help him.

Within a minute his plan became clear to Amy. Sliding his feet, lifting them only when necessary, Genius began a slow, measured, shuffling trek across the pit, staying as close as possible to the larger snakes. Carefully, cautiously, wiggling and wedging his feet among the reptiles, arms extending occasionally to keep balance, as if he were walking a tightrope, Genius moves with calm persistence across the pit using the larger snakes, often given space from the smaller ones, as kind of stepping stone guides.

Three quarters way through the pit he stops. Following his squinting eyes, Amy sees a seven to eight foot snake of dull green, thick as her arm, slithering across the wide back of an anaconda sprawled out a couple of feet in front of Genius, cutting across his path. The arrow shaped head of the green snake elevates. Its dark, forked tongue flicks at the air. That it makes Genius pause causes a jump in Amy’s heartbeat.

Genius gazes left, then right. He looks beyond the snakes blocking his way at the ladder, a tantalizing five to six feet away.

As if sensing the moment of distraction, the snake lunges at Genius. A collective gasp rasps out from the crowd. Amy starts to cry out a warning.

Genius’ hand is a blur, and almost faster than Amy’s eyes can register, Genius, having anticipated the strike, is gripping the snake, just below the head. The gasp of the onlookers turns into a babbling ‘ah!’ of disbelief… Genius, a wry grin creasing his face, displays the snake for everyone to see.

Despite the thudding of her heart in her chest, Amy is unable to resist looking across the pit at the Chief’s entourage. Among the sea of faces displaying shock, the expression of the Chief of Staff stands out with sour dismay.

Casually, but forcefully, Genius tosses the green snake far across the pit. Its landing is greeted by hissing and bared fangs. In an instant, slithering, coiling living ropes entwine and bury it.

Refocusing on the task at hand, Genius sucks in a deep breath, then, releases it, and studies the ground between himself and the ladder. His furrowed brow hints at the gauging of distances, angles. Thinking of jumping to the ladder, Amy realizes. With another sigh and a brief shake of his head, Genius decides against that strategy. Carefully, he lifts a foot and eases it across the wide back of the anaconda blocking his way.

As his foot descends downward Genius freezes, foot hovering. A flash of brown and green erupts from the other side of the anaconda. Genius has just enough time to start to pull back, but not fully out of range. The gaping mouth of the snake misses his foot, but hits and attaches itself to his shin. Genius lifts the leg and snatches the snake from where it dangles by one fang just above his ankle. Gripping it just behind the head, Genius lifts the snake to study it. Its tail immediately tries to coil around his arm.

Simultaneous with a expletive from Genius, the on looking natives let out a collective gasping moan. That mournful sound, and the curse from Genius, tells her all she needs to know about the four foot brown and green snake dangling from his fist. Poisonous. Perhaps, deadly poisonous.

With another curse, Genius hurls the snake away.

Genius gives his shin a cursory glance. Quickly, with less caution, he steps over the anaconda. Then, he leaps to the ladder. It lets out a protesting crack against his sudden weight as he lands on the second rung, but it holds.

Amy hurries around the pit and reaches the ladder just as Genius clears it and throws himself on the ground in a sitting position to examine his wound.

Amy kneels at his side. A small puncture wound oozes a drop of blood above his ankle. Beside it is a red scratch from where the other fang scraped but did not penetrate. “It doesn’t look too bad,” she notes.

“No,” Genius agrees. “It’ll take a while longer to kill me than normal.”

The crowd pressing over them parts on one side to allow the Chief and his entourage access. Amy notes that even the dour Chief of Staff shows a bit of concern in his expression. The Librarian was apparently also the Medicine Man, as he edged between Amy and Genius to kneel down and peer expertly at the wound.

The Librarian/Medicine Man looks up at the Chief and shrugs. The Chief asks a question, which elicits another shrug.

“A lot of help you are,” Genius tells him.

The Chief signals to two natives and barks out an order.

Genius raises a hand. “No, just him.” He points to the man who led their capture at the bridge and makes a short remark in their language.

The man hesitates, his expression showing… fear? But, then, the Chief insistently beckons him forward. The man complies, bending down to slip an arm around Genius and help him stand. They swing around and start moving, Genius putting as little weight on his injured leg as possible.

Amy hurries around to confront them and ask, “Where is he taking you?”

“To what they call a ‘death’ hut.” Before Amy can ask, he adds, “Yeah. It’s just what it sounds like. A place for me to die.”

A stupor descends over Amy as she follows Genius and his helper through the silent, subdued crowd that parts reverently. She is afraid to ask Genius if he is kidding because a large part of her believes, this time, he isn’t.

The ‘death’ hut is one of three identical grass structures, about the size of garden sheds, set off a little ways from the rest of the village. It consists of a single room covered by dozens of multi colored woven mats. Fresh, fragrant herbs dangle along the walls, filling the small room with a rich, heavy sickly sweet scent … to cover the stench of previous deaths, Amy realizes.

After helping Genius to a sitting position on the mats, the Kidnap leader turns to leave. Genius grabs his arm. To Amy, he says, “Is there anyone hanging around out there?”


Genius nods toward the doorway. “Out there. Is anyone by the door? Come on, Goddess! Get with it! We don’t have much time.”

Startled by his sharp tone, Amy is snapped from her lethargy. She steps to the narrow doorway to look out. Knots of somber, murmuring people, in groups of four or five, gather several yards away, as if afraid to come too close to the hut.

“Anyone close enough to hear us?” Genius asks.

“Well, no.” Amy turns. “But its not like they could understand what we say.”

“No,” Genius agrees. He reaches up and yanks the arm of the Kidnap Leader. “But, I don’t think our friend her wants it known around the village that he understands, and probably speaks English.” Genius yanks his arm again. “Right, buddy.”

The native pulls his arm from Genius’ grasp and rubs his wrist. His wide face pinches for a contemplative moment, then he sighs and nods.

“Okay. You got me. Yeah, I understand, and speak, English.” He pats his shoulder, indicating the tattoo on his back shoulder. “I’m the leader here of what you would call the local branch of the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid,” he tells them in precise, unaccented English. Turning to Amy, he tells her, “I was the one who gave the order to get you.”



The King speaks and gestures, and the men turn around and begin to unroll the long, thick scroll for the benefit of Amy Lindsay and Genius.

The Librarian speaks in the low monotone of a seasoned storyteller.

Genius translates: “This is the story of Ah Mah Lin Say, the Sun Goddess.”

The men with the scroll stop to reveal only the first foot or so.

Amy sees the revealed image, a faded but clearly distinguishable painted face.

Her face.

Genius looks back at Amy, and in an awed, hushed tone, says, “My God, Goddess. You ARE a Goddess.”

The two guards continue to unroll the long scroll and hesitate at each panel, as the Librarian recites the story in hushed tones.

“No need,” Amy says, as Genius resumes translating. She deciphers the tale from the scroll as it unravels. A humongous serpent is devouring the countryside: the jungle, villages and villagers. Then, the Sun sends down a goddess of golden hair. The village presents her with an invisible sword. She slices the winged serpent in half, and the villagers feast on the remains. The Sun calls back the Golden Goddess, amidst the weeping and consternation of the people. “That about cover it?” she asks Genius.

“One correction, Goddess. Not an invisible sword, but one made of glass.”

“Either way, they’re expecting me to go slay their dragon, right?”

“I guess so.”

The dour-faced Chief of Staff circles around to stand between them and the scroll. He speaks with a defiant tone, pointing from them to the scroll and back at Genius.

Amy murmurs, “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Me, neither. He’s pointing out that, while you might bear some resemblance …”


“… to the Golden Goddess, there is nothing in the sacred scroll about the Golden Goddess being accompanied by an ill-mannered troll.”

“You’re not ill-mannered.”


The Chief of Staff returns to the King’s side. He gives Genius a smugly defiant sneer. The King crooks a finger to summon the Librarian. They speak in tones too low to hear. At one point, the King waves inquiringly at the other scrolls. The Librarian shrugs. The King signals for the Librarian to step away, then, asks them a question.

Genius translates, “He wants to know what purpose I serve.”

“Besides comic relief?”

“Not funny.”

“Sometimes.” Amy thinks for a moment. “Tell them you are my chosen champion.”

“Good one.” Genius turns and translates.

The King remains uncertain, the Chief of Staff scornful, and the other native watchful. The Chief of Staff asks a question that drips with contempt.

“He wants to know what tests of bravery I passed,” Genius tells Amy. “And, if he refers to me as the male offspring of a female dog, again, I’m going to kick his–- .”

“Tell them you have proven your bravery to me, time and again, and I’ll thank them not to question my judgement.”

“Right,” Genius agrees with a smile, then, turns and delivers her message in a stern, almost threatening tone.

The Chief of Staff, still smug, speaks to the King, but keeps his eyes on Genius, challenging him.

Genius turns to Amy and speaks in a low tone. “If I’m so brave, why did we hide and not attack the dragon at the village?”

“Why didn’t we?”

“I’m open to suggestions.”

“You’re supposed to be the creative one. Come up –- .” Glancing at the scroll triggers inspiration. “Because I didn’t have the sword.”

“Brilliant, Goddess.” Genius turns and asks for the sword in English, then, translates the request into their language.

The King, Chief of Staff, kidnap Leader, and even the Librarian, all look down or away, adopting identical expressions of men faced with a subject they would prefer to ignore.

“That is, for lack of a better word, a strange reaction.”

Genius snaps his fingers in realization: “They’ve lost the sword!” Genius asks a question in their language.

The King reluctantly nods.

The leader from their bridge capture leans towards the King and asks a question.

Genius rolls his eyes. “Oh, Dude, don’t help me.”

“What did he say?”

“He’s wondering if, perhaps, the reason I’m here is to retrieve the sword. That’s why the Golden Goddess brought a champion with her.”

The notion sours the Chief of Staff. Something crosses his mind and he speaks to the King. They converse for several seconds.

“From the frying pan into the fire,” Genius remarks.


“Our sour friend there is wondering if I’m not really in the employ of the dragon. Perhaps, I have some kind of spell over you, and what I’ll do if they send me for the sword is actually lead the dragon back here to kill them all.”

Amy notes, “And, the King looks like he’s buying the possibility.”

The King summons the Librarian back, and the four conduct a brief discussion too low for Genius to hear and translate for Amy.

After a minute, the King gestures that the talking is over, and everyone returns to their spots. The King clears his throat and makes an authoritative pronouncement.

Genius whispers an obscenity Amy would have sworn he would never utter in her presence.

“What is it?”

“Well, I’m hoping it’s a metaphor, but loosely translated, I must ‘Walk the Valley of the Snakes’ to prove I’m not one of the dragon’s minions. Immediately.”

The King signals for two of the guards to remove Genius. When Amy objects to their being separated, the King relents. The guards lead them to a nearby hut much smaller then the rest. One guard disappears for a moment, then, returns with a loin cloth and pantomimes for Genius to undress and put it on. They bow deferentially to Amy and back out of the hut, and block the doorway.

Genius sniffs the loincloth. “At least, it’s clean.”

“Does ‘Walking the Valley of the Snakes’ mean what I think it means?”

“Probably, Goddess. These strike me as a very literal bunch of people. They’ve probably got an area where they keep them until they’re needed for food or ceremony.” Genius grabs the bottom of his shirt to pull it up.

Amy lays a gentle hand on his arm. “You can’t do this. And, we both know why. In the three times I’ve seen you encounter a snake, you fainted twice and broke your ankle.”

“Sprained it, Goddess. Sprained it.”

“And, you think you’re going to walk through a bunch of them? How?”

“Because, I must.” Genius squeezes the hand she has resting on his arm. “Because, you need me.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.” Genius smiles a grim smile, but a confident one. “Extraordinary women make ordinary men do extraordinary things.”

Amy tries to smile. “You’re hardly what I’d call ordinary.”

“I appreciate that. But, I am ordinary, and it’s slowly killing me.” Genius turns away with a sigh. After a moment, he turns back. “The modern world has stolen from me, from men like me, the one great Ideal every man craves.”

“Ideal? What Ideal?”

“I don’t know if a woman can understand how excruciatingly unfulfilling it is for a man who’s a romantic idealist to live in the time of the glorification of the sensitive male, of the era of the metrosexual and ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’

“There is a place, at the heart of the soul of some men, that yearns to cherish, that hungers to protect, that longs to love pure and chaste from afar. And, when he can’t do that, when it is taken from him, when there is nothing that prompts him to nurture that special place, he stops having a purpose, he stops being a man, he stops being human. That such a place ceases to exist in just one man is an unspeakable human tragedy. That it seems to exist in so few of us makes life an absurd farce.

“In ‘Casablanca,’ Rick tells Ilsa that he’s no good at being noble. It’s the ‘macho’ thing to do for a man to let you think he’s only looking out for himself. That makes him look all the more better when he does do the noble thing, the thing his soul cries out for him to do. But, we’re not allowed to do the ‘noble’ thing any more. We’re not allowed to slay the dragon. We’re supposed to negotiate with evil, understand evil. We’re supposed to look inward at ourselves, dwell on our faults, real or perceived, when we should be spitting in the devil’s eye.

“A man can’t live without feeling the confidence of the romantic idealist. Of the chosen dragon slayer. It’s that spark deep within a man’s soul that tells him of all the dragon slayers in the village, HE is the one who can save the damsel in distress because of the goodness of his heart, of his soul. HE is the most worthy.”

“My strength is the strength of ten because my heart is pure,” Amy recites.

“Exactly. But, I’m not going to feed you a line of bull about having never imagined you in anything, but a chaste, virginal white dress, pure and untouchable in some high ivory tower. Still, and though I’m usually loath to presume to speak for others, I feel quite confident in saying this: there are hundreds, if not thousands, of us for whom, to a man, the greatest imaginable rapture can come, when the organ a woman strokes his heart.”

Tears sting Amy’s eyes. “You’re trying to prepare me for the possibility that you won’t make it out of there alive.”

“I’m trying to tell you I’m scared to death. But, I’m not afraid. You allowed yourself to be our Noble Cause. One day, I hope you’ll understand just how precious that is to us. Death doesn’t mean Life ends. Death is when Life becomes meaningless. Death is when the dreaming stops.

“You let us dream, again. You let ME dream, again. You let MY Soul soar, again. I may not slay the dragon. But, you helped me think I could. Nothing I can do for you, even remotely, compares to that. And, that includes laying down my li-–”

Amy quickly covers his mouth. “Don’t say it. Don’t even think it.”

Genius squeezes her hand and slowly pulls it from his face. He turns her around. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve must change.”

“Don’t want to expose me to any more of your shortcomings?”

“Ha, ha. I’m supposed to be the comic relief.”

The “valley” of the snakes turned out to be a long narrow pit, ten feet wide and twice as long. Amy and Genius begin a short journey with a two-man escort, and soon dozens of pensive women and excited children of all ages fall in behind them.

A wooden frame of vines and leaves covers the pit. A pair of natives with chest tattoos of wrestling snakes lifts the frame and sets it aside. As Genius steps forward for a closer look, one of the men signals him to stop. He makes a quick apologetic comment.

Genius steps back to Amy’s side. “He thought I was going in. He says I have to wait for the Chief.”

From out of the nearest hut, another pair of natives with the twisted snakes tattoo maneuver through the crowd with a crude, twenty-foot split-rail ladder balanced on their shoulders. They edge towards the pit, and with the help of the other two men, lower the ladder.

“Probably, best I not see too much,” Genius decides. “Like not looking down when crossing a high bridge.”

“You are going to come up with some brilliant plan that’ll get you out of having to do this, right?”

“I’m open to suggestions.”

A murmur behind them catches their attention. The ever-growing crowd parts, giving way to the Chief and his entourage. They assume positions on the far side of the pit. The Chief raises his hands for quiet and begins to speak.

Genius quietly translates. “Paraphrasing, he’s reminding everyone what a great and benevolent Chief he has been, yada yada.” With an occasional snide, editorial comment thrown in, Genius passes along the gist of the Chief’s speech.

The Ah Mah Lin Say has come to rid them of the dragon and has brought along a champion to retrieve the glass sword that was stolen from the village. But, because those of ‘pale skin’ have betrayed them so often, Ah Mah Lin Say’s champion must prove himself a true and honorable champion by walking through the Valley of the Snakes.

From across the pit, the Chief signals for Genius to go to the side with the ladder.

Genius spreads his hands. “Well, Goddess? Anything?”

“Nothing, I’m afraid.”

“Then into the Valley of the Shadow of Death I go.”



As Genius raises his hand in greeting to the men approaching them from the untouched section of the burnt out village, the ‘Chief of Staff’ brusquely pushes him aside. With a haughty, almost snide expression on his face, he reaches toward Amy.

Recalling the way Genius responded at the bridge, Amy shifts her weight slightly, and duplicates the same blow with the heel of her right hand to the man’s sternum, achieving the same result. The ‘Chief of Staff’ grunts and coughs as air whooshes from his lungs. He stumbles back, not falling, but dropping to one knee.

Genius steps to Amy’s side. “Good work, Goddess. He caught me by surprise. This time.”

“What do you suppose –.”

The ‘Chief of Staff’ looks back at the other men and gasps out an order.

Genius spits an expletive and swings around, putting himself between Amy and the others.

“I’m not going to like what he just said, am I?” Amy asks.

“Your powers serve you well, young Jedi. He just ordered the others to kill us.”

The leader and his two companions hesitate, showing the ‘Chief of Staff’ matching expressions of uncertainty and surprise. The Leader gestures toward Amy and speaks with a mystified tone.

The Chief of Staff spits out a repeat of the order to kill them. One of the other two men reaches for the blowpipe dangling from its loop on the waist of his loincloth. He looks at the Leader, who shrugs and nods. The other of their group reaches for his blowpipe.

Genius tries stretching up and out to protect as much of Amy as possible. “Looks like I’ve made a serious miscalculation. My apologies, Amy Lindsay.”

The Leader cries out suddenly, as if suddenly startled. The two underlings freeze with their hands on their blowpipes. The Chief of Staff, still on one knee, whips his head around to look at Genius and Amy so fast his neck cracks audibly.

The Chief of Staff speaks, his tone haughty, but with a bit of fear, as he asks a demanding question. At the end Amy makes out an odd pronunciation of her name.

Keeping his gaze on the four Indians, Genius leans toward Amy and speaks in a low tone. “They want to know how I know the Sacred Name of Amy Lindsay.”

Even speaking her name in a low tone causes a noticeable rise in the fear and uncertainty of their captors. A sudden memory flares in Amy’s mind.

“The way he just pronounced my name,” Amy tells Genius. “It’s the same way one of those men who tried to kidnap me pronounced it. The one who said he never would have let them rape me. The one who had the Brotherhood tattoo. Ah-ma Lind-say.”

Amy’s pronunciation causes gasps of varying degrees from the four Indians. One looks about to drop to a knee and genuflect. The Leader helps the Chief of Staff to his feet and pulls him away for an intense conversation that waxes and wanes between discussion and argument.

“This is an interesting turn of events,” Genius notes as he watches them.

“We’re having too many interesting turn of events for my liking.” Amy’s brow furrows. “Or would that be turns of events?”

“This may be a good one. The way they respond to your name tells me – .”

The conversation between the Indians ends with the Chief of Staff stalking off toward one of the razed huts. The Leader makes a deferential approach to Genius and Amy. His tone is almost apologetic, and from his gestures Amy deciphers he wants them to accompany him.

Genius makes an assenting nod and wiggles into the photographer’s backpack. “They’re going to take us to the High Priest.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“Yes, Martha Stewart. Anything that doesn’t involve us being pierced by sharp, poisonous objects in the near future, is a good thing.”

With the Leader moving out front they form a procession toward the hut remains where the ‘Chief of Staff’ was pushing and moving mounds of leaves and branches several feet behind the lump of leaves and branches. Suddenly, he disappears from view into the ground.

Upon reaching that spot Amy sees a heavy steel hatch nestled in the ground.

The Leader mutters something as he braces himself and grabs hold of the rope ‘knob’ and pries up the thick, squeaking door.

Amy wonders, “What did he say?”

“Cleaning it up, he says its just like that spiteful male offspring of a female dog not to leave the hatch open for them.”

“What a sweet talker you are.”

“I’m just a translator, sweetheart.” Genius edges past Amy to regard with a sour expression a set of stone steps descending into the darkness.

The Leader waves one of their other escorts to come hold open the door. He takes a couple of steps downward, still muttering. He stops and feels around the wall. Light flares out of the opening, revealing more steps that descend and make an abrupt ninety degree turn out of sight.

“I didn’t know these huts had basements,” Amy murmurs.

“Usually, they don’t,” Genius replies. “And not with electricity.” His brow furrows. “Strange.”

With a twinge of exasperation, Amy sighs, “I wish you would stop doing that.”


“Saying ‘Strange’. Just say what it is, you don’t have to preface it saying the word: Strange.”

The tone of dismay prompts the ‘Kidnap Leader’ to halt on stairs and regard Amy with a troubled expression. The escort not holding the door takes a fearful step backward.

“Careful, Goddess,” Genius warns. “It makes the natives restless when you’re unhappy.”

“As it should.” She forces a smile to show the others all is well. “This could turn into a pretty comfortable gig. I like men that jump when I bark.”

“Spoken like a true b –.”

“Careful yourself,” she warns.

The Leader speaks to Genius in a questioning tone. Genius offers a short reply that placates him, and the Leader turns and resumes down the steps. Genius waves for Amy to precede him.

Looking down, Amy spies, cutting through musty dirt walls showing a glint of moisture, a series of twelve stone steps ending at a small landing that executed a ninety degree turn, followed by another dozen of steps ending at another small landing, followed by a repeat of another twelve steps, this time giving way to a larger landing, more of a brief hallway, with a closed wooden door at the end.

As they edge down the steep, damp steps, Amy asks: “What was ‘strange’ up in the hut.”

“A village with an ‘escape hatch’ leading down. Usually, at a sign of trouble, the village would just scatter into the jungle. In fact – “

Before Genius can elaborate the procession stops at the large landing. The Leader taps on the massive wooden door, listens to a response, taps, listens, tap, then steps back. The door squeals open. A pair of dark, narrow eyes regard them through the cracked opening. The eyes withdraw and the door widens. The Leader edges out of their way and waves them forward.

Amy steps forward, and stops suddenly in the doorway, almost causing Genius to bump into her. “Are you going to use the ‘s’ word when you see this?” she wonders as she turns to give Genius a look past her.

The door opens to a small plateau, and stretching out far below them, in a wide underground valley bisected by a small river, a village of dozens and dozens of grass huts spreads out hundreds of yards in all directions. Dirt paths crisscross between huts and, like something out of Victorian England, street lights made to look like gas lamps light intersections.

Genius replies, “Oh, like this is the first underground village I’ve ever seen. You really need to get out more often, Goddess.” He glances over to Amy. His mock disappointment in her morphs into genuine awe. “Damn,” he whispers.

Before they can take in more of the sight the Indians jog past and down a winding path leading from their spot down to the village below. Leader nods and starts down the path, expecting them to follow.

Grass-skirted, topless women, some with vegetation stuffed baskets on their heads or infants on their hips, eye them nervously as they pass. Children gawk, and when several began to trail behind them, the ‘Leader’ genially shoos them away.

Their zig-zag trek along the dirt paths between huts and cooking pits ends at a ‘block’ dominated by a single large hut differentiated from the rest of the grass structures by a set of wooden steps leading up to a wide porch.

“City hall,” Genius decides.

Their guide signals for them to stop at the foot of the steps, then continues up and pushes through the dangling vines blocking the hut’s doorway.

Genius shrugs off the photographer’s backpack and executes a slow three-sixty to take in their surroundings. He sighs and shakes his head.

“Under the circumstances,” Amy tells him, “it’s okay for you to use the ‘s’ word.”

“I’ll behave myself,” Genius promises. His brow furrows. “There is just enough wear and tear around here to tell me this place has been around longer than a few years. I like to believe stories of a dragon flying around, burning villages, would have reached the outside world a lot sooner, if the reason this place was built was to hide from a dragon.”

“Think this place of refuge was here before a dragon started menacing their villages?”

“If that was their ‘regular’ village above us.” Genius squints at Amy. “Goddess? Your hair.”

Amy tucks her hair behind her ears. “Well, I’m sorry. It’s been a long day. We had to ditch an assassin, hike through the jungle, I got mud splattered – .”

“I don’t mean that. It was moving.”

“It was …?” Amy touches her cheek and scans above her. “Blowing air. A breeze,” she realizes. She begins a slow turn, eyes on the massive cave ceiling. Here eyes narrow. “Are those holes up there?”

Genius follows her gaze to the far side of the cave. Near where the distant cave wall met the ceiling, he picks out a line of nine dark circles evenly space about a hundred yards apart. “Lined up all nice and straight,” he observes. “Manmade, not natural.” Turning, he spots another nine on the opposite wall. “And their twins.”

“Phony village above, underground village with ventilation below.”

“Used by natives,” Genius points out, “that we are supposed to believe are so technologically naive as to mistake a helicopter for a dragon.”

“I thought a renegade Chinese general living in a South American jungle castle was strange.”

“There’s that ‘s’ word again. I wonder – .”

A commotion from the ‘town hall’ hut interrupts Genius. Two tall, grim faced natives file out and take up positions on opposite sides of the opening. Genius instinctively maneuvers himself protectively in front of Amy.

A tall, narrow man with a heavily lined face and a pinched, unfriendly expression steps haughtily onto the porch. An intricately woven crown of silver, gold and bronze rests tightly on a round, nearly bald head. His bare chest is covered with several tattoos, including a small version of the blood red tattoo of the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid. His eyes set in a squint as he steps to the end of the porch and leans out to look around Genius at Amy. Those narrow eyes widen and he straightens, as if slapped. He spins and is through the vines dangling in the doorway almost before Genius and Amy can register what he is doing. The two other natives rush to follow him.

Amy asks, “What do you suppose that was about?”

Before Genius can reply, loud bickering voices filter out of the hut. Amy picks out ‘Ah Mah Lin Say’ just before one commanding voice barks out something, and the voices soften.

Genius leans forward, trying to make something of the chittering. He looks at Amy and spreads his hands a bit. “The best I can make out, is they’re arguing whether or not you are really the Ah Mah Lin Say.”

“And just what is the Ah Mah Lin Say? And she is supposed slay dragons?”

Through the hanging vines at the front door, the Kidnap Leader’s head pokes out. He signals for them to enter.

Genius lifts the backpack over a shoulder. “I guess we’re about to find out.”

Through the doorway and through a brief ante room, the Lead Kidnapper leads them into a spacious room singly furnished with a large, ornate wooden throne decked with intricately carved animals and flowers. The tall narrow man with the crown sits perched on the throne, his chin in the air, trying and failing to look aloof and disinterested. Behind the throne and to the left, the sour faced ‘Chief of Staff’ glares. A half dozen natives stand near the throne … the chief’s ‘secret service’ protection, Amy decides. Their Kidnap Leader friend quickly takes up a position to the left of the Chief of Staff. Each corner of the wall behind shows maws of open doorways.

Out of the corner of his mouth Genius tells Amy, “Remember, you’re the Ah Mah Lin Say. You outrank everyone here.”

“Meaning …?”

“Look haughty and disinterested.”

Genius stops several feet from the throne and shows the palm of an upraised hand … the Universal gesture of friendship.

The Chief starts to speak. He has to halt to clear his throat. As he speaks Amy detects the slight tremble of forced courage. When he pauses, Genius turns to Amy.

“He says there is some question if you are indeed, the Ah Mah Lin Say. He hopes the matter will be cleared up in a moment.”

“What happens ‘in a moment’?”

“He didn’t say. I would guess – .”

The Chief of Staff speaks to the King, his tone dismissive.

Genius glares at the man, then turns back to Amy. “The King’s toady there is wondering if you are the Ah Mah Lin Say, why do you need me to translate? Why don’t you speak their language?”

“Why don’t I speak their language?”

“My reply to him is going to be if he’s such a high mucky-muck, why doesn’t HE speak YOUR language. Look annoyed and dismissive and condescending.”

Amy follows his direction as Genius turns and snaps out his response in their language. The Chief of Staff tightens. To his left, the Leader from their bridge capture, fights to keep a smile off his face.

From one of the doorways in the back corner, a smallish, white haired, stoop shouldered native hurries into the throne room. Amy’s first impression is: librarian. That impression is further strengthened by a bundle of large, thick yellowed rolls of paper … scrolls … balanced precariously in his arms. As he stops to kneel in front of the throne, several rolls drop from his arms.

The King snaps at him with a tone of irritation and embarrassment that needs no translation.

The Librarian bobs and nods and searches through the scrolls. He finds the right one and, head bowed, extends it to the King. The King signals to two of his guard. The men step forward, one takes the scroll, and together they begin unrolling it, facing the throne.

Amy taps Genius on the shoulder. He answers her inquisitive expression with one of his own. The scroll is thick; nothing shows through the back.

Fully unrolled the scroll looks about eight feet long and two feet in height. Just over the top Amy sees the King’s uncertain expression. The Chief of Staff shows annoyance, and the leader of their capture seems awed and mesmerized as his eyes dart back and forth between the scroll and Amy.

The King issues orders, and the men holding the scroll begin re-rolling it. The King speaks and gestures, and the men turn around and begin unrolling the long, thick scroll for the benefit of Amy and Genius. The Librarian begins to speak, in the low monotone of a storyteller.

Genius translates: “This is the story of Ah Mah Lin Say, the Sun Goddess.”

The men with the scroll stop, revealing only the first foot or so.

Amy sees the revealed image, a faded but clearly distinguishable painted face.

Her face.

Genius looks back at Amy, and in an awed, hushed tone, says, “My God, Goddess. You ARE a Goddess.”



“Now, we’ll need to shake a leg,” Genius tells Amy as he turns away from watching their abandoned jeep float down river. ” I want to put as much distance between us and that jeep as possible.”

Amy glances down river and sees the jeep bobbing in the rapids, about to disappear around the river bend. “I wonder,” she begins, still watching the jeep as she takes a step to follow Genius. Her musing is cut off as she bumps into him. “Stopping for a rest already?”

Genius raises a hand for silence, then points to the far end of the bridge. Amy peers around, following his pointing finger.

Four tall, bronzed Indians, wearing only loin cloths, block the end of the bridge. They adopt identical poses, crouching slightly, one foot in front of the other, blowpipes ready at their lips.

A fifth, larger man stands on the bridge, just in front and to one side of the others, his arm raised, ready to give the signal to fire. The angle of his body exposes a portion of the skull and blood orchid tattoo high on the back of his left shoulder, the signature tattoo of the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid.

“This is not good,” Amy points out.

“Could be worse,” Genius replies. “They could have shot us already.” Genius raises his hands in the Universal ‘I’m Unarmed’ posture and tells Amy from the corner of his mouth, “Stay behind me. Be ready to run.”

“Where?” Amy asks. “Back the way we came?”

The group’s leader barks an order at them.

“He said – .”

“Shut up,” Amy completes. “That pretty much translates in any language.”

The Leader beckons them to come forward.

“Well?” Amy asks.

“Since they’ll probably dart us anyway if we don’t, lets get on their good side and save them the trouble of that.” Hands upraised, Genius starts forward.

Amy starts to mimic his moves, but Genius tells her, “No, Goddess. Keep your hands down, but where they can see them.”


“A hunch. They don’t see many tall blondes around here. If you act superior, they might treat you superior.”

“Are you –.”

The Leader again barks the ‘shut up’ command.

As they come abreast of the Leader his hand flies up to signal them to stop. He waves for the other four to stand easy. They comply immediately. His expression grows curious as he leans around Genius to look Amy up and down. A hand reaches toward Amy.

In a quick, precise, practiced move, Genius slaps the man’s hand up and to the side with one hand, and delivers a quick, hard punch underneath to the big man’s sternum with the heel of his other hand.

Stumbling back, the big man and two of his compatriots land in a tangled heap. The remaining Indians gawk in surprise, then turn and begin to raise their blowguns.

Genius immediately falls to one knee, bowing his head in a placating manner. “Forgive me, Great one. But you were in danger. It is death to any man who touches the Goddess without her blessing.” Genius looks up speaks rapid fire in a language unknown to Amy.

The two men lower their blowguns and look to their leader, who’s expression mixes surprise and uncertainty. He gestures the two men tangled with him to rise, and all of them to be at ease. His head tilts sideways as he speaks strange words in a curious tone.

Genius responds in English: “The Goddess has come in response to your call.” He then speaks in the strange language of the Leader, apparently translating his English. The Leader signals his four men to follow him. They move off the bridge and several steps down the path stop and huddle.

“You are full of surprises,” Amy tells Genius. “I thought you said you lacked any talent for learning foreign languages.”

“I don’t.” Genius taps a spot behind his right hear. “Universal translator implant. Another bit of electronic wizardry from the Alcomist Club.” He glances where the five men are conferencing. “I can understand their words as they speak them, but I have to say my response aloud in English to get the unit’s translation before I speak them. Cumbersome. We’re working on –.”

The Leader ends his urgent chat with his men and steps forward. Just to the edge of the bridge, Amy notes, telling her that Genius has, for the moment, earned their respect. He speaks, the tone suggesting a question.

Genius freezes for a moment, then nods. “Cha.”

The Leader says a few more things to Genius, then returns to talk with his men.

Genius turns to Amy, a grimace crossing his face. “This goddess thing may not have been such a good idea after all.”

“Why not?”

“You know what the big guy just asked me?”


“Well, when I said you were here in answer to their prayers, right? And they accepted that because, apparently the whole village has been praying.” Genius grimaces again and adds sheepishly, “For a Deliverer.”

“A Deliverer? What kind of Deliverer?”

“Well, the big guy wanted to know if you were here to slay the dragon.”

“The dragon?” The strangeness of that had barely registered with Amy when something else occurs to her. “And you told him I was, didn’t you!”

“Kind of.”

“Kind of?”

Genius makes a placating gesture with both hands. “Now calm down. They’re going to take us to their village, which he said is about, translating from their concept of time to our’s, I think about an hour’s walk. I’m sure before we get there I’ll have thought of something.”

“You damn well better. Or I’m going to demonstrate it is indeed death to mess with the Goddess … by strangling you.”

The Leader and two of his men assume positions in front of them, with the remaining two dropping in behind. Amy notes how, when she slows, those behind slow, keeping a respectful distance. Any amusement that might have brought her is mitigated by worry of how they were going to take the knowledge at their village that she was neither heaven sent, nor remotely capable of slaying their dragon. Or whatever it really was they were praying for deliverance from so fervently.

Amy’s confidence is further shaken when, in less then twenty minutes and not the hour projected by Genius, the narrow path winding through the jungle opens up to a village of dozens of seemingly random placed grass huts separated by moist dirt paths and the occasional cooking pit. It appears, from the arc of the path, that the village continues out of sight around a bend.

“An hour’s walk, Genius?”

Genius tosses a nasty look at her over his shoulder.

“Careful. I’ll bring fire down from heaven and wipe that disrespectful expression off your face.”

“Don’t get too caught up in the role, Goddess, we may –.”

The Leader turns and signals them to stop. He waves the two trailing men forward, and the five hold a quick, intense conference. The Leader nods to two of the men, and they take off running through the village and out of sight around the bend. He turns and speaks to Genius.

Genius nods, listening without comment. The Leader finishes and he and the remaining Indians walk deeper into the village, also disappearing around the bend.

Genius begins shrugging off the large photographer’s backpack. “We’re to wait here.”

“Where are they going? To get the dragon?”

“Ha, ha. There’s no dragon. Dragons don’t exist. Its just their name for something they don’t quite understand.”

“You hope. Where’d they go?”

Genius carries the backpack over to the nearest hut and sets it on the small stoop. “He sent the first two off to get the High Priest. Apparently he doesn’t have the authority to take us where ever the High Priest is hiding.” Genius looks around. “Where the High Priest and the rest of the villagers are hiding.”

“Rest of the village? Hiding?”

Genius waves to encompass the few huts around them. “Where are the people? This place feels deserted.”

“Carlos said people were being kidnaped.”

“Yeah. Carlos. Although we should take everything he’s told us with a grain of salt, I think we can believe the kidnaping part.”

“Kidnaped by the strange Chinese general living in a castle?”

“General Fu exists. We’ve established that.”

“And what about that lovely tattoo on Fearless Leader’s back? Friend of Carlos?”

Genius shakes his head. “I don’t know. Remember, the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid were mercenaries. Sellers of themselves to the highest bidder. That they ordered your death, then called it off, suggests there might be some kind of schism in the group.”

“I hope we’ve fallen in with the good guys.”

“Assuming there are good guys.” Genius checks his watch. “You know what worries me right now? That we’re in the village at a time when the rest of the village thought it best not to be here. Let’s take a look around. Carefully.”

“What are we looking for? Carefully.”

“I don’t know.” Genius hefts the photographer’s backpack and drapes it over a shoulder. “Dragon sign?” They start for the bend, and stop quickly when they reach it. “Like this.”

From their spot at the bend Amy and Genius see the village spread out on three large paths. Where should have stood numerous huts lay only wet, flat scorched shells of over a hundred huts. Charred wood, fragments of frames, jutting skyward mingled with clumps of ash and remains of leaves and grass.

Genius notes, “This is a rather unpleasant development.”

“You’re telling me.”

Genius shrugs off the large backpack and hands it to Amy. He motions her to stay as he walks over to the nearest burned out hut. He pushes at a bit of the burned out frame, then kneels to shift through a mound of sodden, partially burned leaves. “Strange.”

“I just hate it when you say that.”

“Sorry, Goddess.” Genius stands and brushes his hands. “In a climate like this, there’s only two ways a village reaches this state. One is the use of a flame accelerant. There’s no sign of that.”

“What’s the other way.”

“Repeated setting of fires.”

“Like from a fire-breathing dragon?”

“Or a reasonable facsimile.”

“Like what?”

Genius suddenly snaps his eyes skyward. “Like that thing coming at us right now.”

Amy has a split second to make out the approach of something large and green before Genius grabs her arm, nearly pulling her off her feet.

“Come on!” he hisses, hustling her around the remains of the nearest hut and into the jungle. When she slows to turn and look up, Genius encircles her waist with an arm and tosses her into the waist high foliage.

A sudden roaring growl erupts above them, a sound that clutches at the base of Amy’s spine and stands the hair on the back of her neck.

From their hiding place at the outer edge of the village they watch the dragon land at the ‘intersection’ they had just fled.

Forty yards from where they lay the ‘dragon’ settles to the ground. The squat body measures about thirty feet, and a thick neck stretches up about fifteen feet, tapering to an oval head with, blackened, fist sized nostrils and a gaping mouth with sharp, triangular teeth. A large tail forms a kind of ‘s’ shape, tapering to a point. The beast seems to have landed on flat on its belly, the front and back legs remained splayed out, as if it still in flight.

And extending out of the middle of the creature’s back is a short strut leading to rotor blades that make hardly a sound as they furiously rotate.

“A helicopter?” Amy whispers. “Made to look like a dragon. Like a parade float.”

“A ‘float’ attached to one of the Chinese Army’s state of the art stealth choppers,” Genius amends. He sees Amy’s questioning eyebrows. “I, ah, got a look at the blueprints a few years back. Unofficially.”

Another animalistic roar erupts from the ‘beast’ … an obvious recording to their ears, but still a sound that shakes their spines. Jets of flame spew from the nostrils. The dampness of the remains of the hut it strikes results in a bit of smoldering, but no flames.

Genius nudges Amy and points to the head. “Probably flame throwers in the nose.”

“You figured the dragon was a chopper all along, didn’t you?’

“You don’t think I believe in actual flying, fire breathing dragons, do you?”

“You often manage to leave me plenty of reason to question your sanity.”

A sound from the dragon copter, prompts Genius to signal for quiet. A hatch slides open up along the side of the fake beast, and a large man dressed in green jungle fatigues and carrying a large military looking walkie-talkie jumps to the ground. Though he moves bent over against the wash of the rotors, his height makes him instantly recognizable.


He walks directly toward them, his head swivelling left and right, checking out the village. About twenty-five yards from where they lay he stops, turns, and speaks into the walkie-talkie.

Genius strains forward, then settles back with a sign. He taps an ear, shakes his head, then shrugs.

Carlos speaks for less then a minute before deactivating the walkie-talkie and returning to the copter. A moment later the pitch of the engine deepens, and the helicopter rises up and whines skyward. In seconds it is out of sight.

Genius stands and edges cautiously into the razed village. After a moment he signals for Amy to join him.

“I know I’ve probably asked this before, but, what next?”

“Well, if I’ve got my bearings right, the copter headed off in the general direction of General Fu’s castle.”

“Are we going to go dragon hunting then?”

Genius thinks a moment, then sighs heavily. “I’d like to.”


“It would be rude to take off on our guests.” Genius nods and points toward the untouched section of the village .

Following his finger Amy sees four men approaching from behind them: the Leader, two of their escort, and a man of about thirty, dressed in the same loin cloths as the others, but with several thick, grass and twine bracelets around his wrists and ankles.

“Looks awful young to be a tribal Chief,” she notes.

“More likely his Chief of Staff, or protege. Apparently our friend’s word wasn’t enough to warrant the chief coming for us himself.” He steps forward. “Let me do the talking.”

“Just don’t promise them I’ll be slaying any dragons.”

As Genius raises his hand in greeting, the ‘Chief of Staff’ brusquely pushes him aside. With a haughty, almost snide expression on his face, he reaches toward Amy.

Recalling the way Genius responded at the bridge, Amy shifts her weight slightly, and duplicates the same blow with the heel of her right hand to the man’s sternum, achieving the same result. The ‘Chief of Staff’ grunts and coughs as air whooshes from his lungs. He stumbles back, not falling, but dropping to one knee.

Genius steps to Amy’s side. “Good work, Goddess. He caught me by surprise. This time.”

“What do you suppose –.”

The ‘Chief of Staff’ looks back at the other men and gasps out an order.

Genius spits an expletive and swings around, putting himself between Amy and the others.

“I’m not going to like what he just said, am I?” Amy asks.

“Your powers serve you well, young Jedi. He just ordered the others to kill us.”