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As soon as my eyes adjusted to the brightness, the air escaped from my lungs. Before us was carnage. There were two wooden pyres burned to smoking ruin with the charred remains of people on top of them. The air reeked with the smell of burned flesh. Several more pyres stood, two currently burning, three more untouched, all of them in a circle surrounding a large cage.
Filled with children.
Guards walked from one of the burning pyres and lit torches, walking to the neighboring one to set it ablaze.
The children inside whimpered. One screamed, her hand reaching through the bars. Most of them silently wept, watching as their loved ones succumbed to the smoke.
I couldn’t just stand by and watch this. I took a step forward, my hand going for my sword.
My father stopped me, his eyes troubled with sorrow.
Queen Nix turned to me and smiled. “Do you wish to declare war?”
“Let them go,” I commanded, my voice ragged. “What have they done to you?”
She stalked toward me, her nose nearly touching mine, all semblance of beauty twisted with rage. “They refused to submit to me.”
I stared at her aghast, my hands clenched, my jaw tight. “So because you couldn’t control them, you’re going to destroy them?”
The rage turned cold across her features as she drew away, her shoulders back. “Are you so weak?” The muscles in my cheek twitched.
Father took a step toward us. “Perhaps we can reach a mutual agreement.”
Someone in the cage screamed, the scream turning to ravaged sobs.
I let out a growl. “You will stop this!”
The queen turned her eagle-eyed stare to me. “I do not take orders from a mere boy.”
“Queen Nix,” my father started, “let us be reasonable.”
She took a step back and assessed him.
“The Umira have never been a harmful Family.” My father’s hands were wide at his side, his expression open. “They have always lived in peace with the Hands.”
Her eyes flared and she advanced on him. “You’ve allied yourself with them.”
Father’s eyes widened as he took a half step back.
I watched in alarm, unsure of what to do. My father was the strongest man I ever knew.
The queen grabbed his coat and pulled his face close to hers. “The Umira have always been a peaceful Family, so imagine my surprise when they assaulted us with cannons and weapons.”
“They have the right to defend themselves, Nix.”
“Not against me.” She pushed him away and turned to her gathering guard. “Take him and his heathen son. Throw them on the pyre.”
My father drew his sword and faced the guard. “Go, Synn, now!”
Our men drew their weapons and stood by his side.
“I’m not leaving you, Father.” My sword was in my hand. I was ready to die an honorable death by my father’s side.
He backhanded me and roared, “You will protect our people, Synn El’Asim.”
I was torn. I wanted so badly to fight beside him, to protect him.
But my father had given me an order. One I could not ignore.
I turned and ran.
|Choose a Tarot Doll (from left to right): Swords, Wands, Coins, or Cups?|
“They emerged from the black, dripping jungle night already bruised and drenched from the hot rain of the Tumbala Mountains.”
They emerged from the black, dripping jungle night already bruised and drenched from the hot rain of the Tumbala Mountains. Ben and José, his tribal guide, were making progress, but it didn’t feel like it. In every direction unbroken jungle spread out around them in spirals of verdant green, impeding their every move, slowing down every step as it clutched at their limbs, trying to trip them up and hold them back. Something was following them in the trees above their heads. Ben guessed it was monkeys disturbed by the flames of José’s Cahune palm torch and made anxious by this intrusion into their nighttime privacy. Mosquitoes patrolled in jerky circles, mounting regular painful attacks on their sweating skins. All around, the buzz of cicadas crested and receded like tropical ocean waves, making it hard to listen for any sounds of impending danger.
Just like the heat, a sense of menace cloaked the ancient Mayan rain forest like a deadly veil. The gods had been starved for over a thousand years. Now they wanted a sacrifice. They demanded blood.
The temptation to turn and run was almost overwhelming, but Ben knew he couldn’t give up now. This search for a sacred truth was his chosen quest. If he could pull this off, his reputation as an archaeologist and astrophysicist would be assured. He would win his place in the history books forever. His hunger for the truth had led him inexorably toward this ancient prize, the captivating pyramidal Temple of Inscriptions. Beneath its stone interior lay the mysterious subterranean death crypt of King Pacal that Ben was risking everything to unveil. The tribal elders and survival experts he had consulted had all issued the same warning, telling him of the wet season's bloodthirsty mosquitoes, vicious horseflies and mud traps that could suck in a man up to his knees, or worse. Everyone said it would be best to wait until the place dried out in summer, but the lure was too great and Ben was too impatient. He couldn’t risk waiting even for a few months and losing out to a rival. Inside this jungle lay a giant Mayan lost city, with a secret concealed for a thousand years, a secret that he now had the code to unlock.
The sweet smell of orchids filled the hot, wet air and brilliant blue butterflies floated randomly past, like musical notes, suspended in narrow beams of moonlight.
Ben's shirt snagged on the spiky tropical leaves, making him twist awkwardly. His foot shot out from under him, toppling him sideways. Suddenly he was falling through the air as if the ground had opened up beneath him. Grab something, his mind shrieked. Anything! A jolt slammed through him as his hand caught a tree root, halting his fall, while his left knee smashed into hard stone. Dirt and rocks were falling around him. His muscles screamed in pain as he clung on in the dark. He must be hanging over the side of a ravine but he had no idea how deep it was beneath his flailing feet. The root shifted in his hands as the earth began to surrender its hold. He glanced up, and a fresh shower of dirt stung his face.
|Image of the Overnight Sensation Prize Pack|
|Image of Overnight Sensation Prize Pack|