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