Two men journey in search of fabled treasures
|Deep in the heart of Mexico, an explosion woke the slumbering jungle. A jaguar snatched her cub before vanishing into the night, monkeys screeched and ran into the bushes, panicked birds darted away as rocky debris scattered over the trees.
A middle-aged man roared with laughter at the chaos, wiping away tears. "By Jove! You've truly it done it, lad."
Holding a stick of dynamite, the younger companion smirked. "Merely child's play, Mortimer. Just imagine if I used an entire one."
They stood at the base of a massive overgrown hill, overgrown with thick vegetation. Pale smoke rose from the summit and curled into the twilight sky. Mortimer gestured to the vapor excitedly. "I say, it resembles a dormant volcano! A tuppence for your thoughts, Blake?"
Rubbing his chin, Blake admitted that he could see the similarity. "I suppose so. Do you encounter many volcanoes in England?"
Beside them, a Mexican girl shuddered and mumbled in Nahuatl. Raising an eyebrow, Mortimer gave the young explorer a questioning look. He translated with a tiresome sigh. "You really must brush up on your Nahuatl, old-timer. She says they are lost spirits from the great massacre."
Blake squinted at the white plumes as they danced in the sky. Perhaps it was a trick of the setting sun, but for a moment the silvery wisps transformed into writhing ghosts before the illusion faded away.
"Oh no... I'm not ready for this." Mortimer moaned regretfully. "This is dreadful. I can't believe we have to climb this damnable hill again."
Snorting at the idea, Blake shouldered his rucksack. "We'll return at first light. I ain't crazy enough to climb that mountain in the dark."
Long after the group left, the hill continued to smolder. A pearly moon ascended the heavens above the ancient mound. Ivory soot slithered up from the scared earth and coiled over the celestial body, until the glowing orb was enveloped by a mysterious fog.
A new shape lurked in the roiling vapor, a primordial relic of centuries past. Silently, the lunar apparition lingered over the dreaming rainforest before slowly dissipating into the luminous depths.
* * * * *
Blake chuckled as crashing leaves and colorful curses floated on the air behind him. British swearing never got old. It was marvelous how imaginative those limey chaps could be when their tempers rose.
A few seconds later, the gray-bearded gentleman burst through the emerald underbrush. "These bloody vines can bugger themselves," Mortimer wheezed. "Be a good lad and tell me we're near the summit?"
The woman pointed and said something to Blake. He grinned at Mortimer. "We're already here."
A large crater blackened the earth, revealing a square hole of darkness. Striking a match, Blake lit an oil-soaked torch and held it over the inky hollow. "Behold," He proudly exclaimed. "The lost pyramid of Cholula!"
Light flickered upon a decrepit stone staircase. Ancient carvings lined the passageway, depicting snarling jaguars prowling down the steps into the gloom below. There was a curious symbol engraved upon the first step.
"Teopancalli ocelotl." The guide quietly murmured. "Temple of the Jaguar, eh?" Blake rubbed his palms together eagerly. "Let's see what treasure you have in store." Mortimer paused on the stairs to peer at a jade mural of an Aztec warrior fighting a tawny jungle cat before killing it and wearing the skin in battle.
"We aren't here to admire the artwork, we're here for gold." Blake grumbled as he entered the antechamber.
A cracked altar lay in the center of the room. It was headless and tail-less but it clearly represented one of the many jaguars decorating the temple. A clay bowl sat on the stone animal, containing some withered offerings and green feathers.
"Is that it?" Mortimer frowned at the meager surroundings. Shaking his head, Blake moved to the next room. "This is the peak. Legend says that there are six pyramids, all built on top of each other."
"What?! That's ridiculous!" Raising a skeptical eyebrow, the British gentleman demanded to know how such a thing was possible.
"Not fully formed ones, think of them more like... steps. It was built in stages over many generations."
Spotting another symbol, Blake asked the guide what it meant. She thought for a moment before translating it as 'The Pyramid of the Painted Skulls."
A strange breeze wafted from down below, stinging nostrils and watering eyes.
The deeper they went, the more air began to grow musty and unpleasant, thick with the rot and decay of centuries. Mortimer harrumphed and put a handkerchief to his nose. "If only there was a window in this wretched place."
It was clear how this stage got its name. Colorful heads grinned toothily from the floor and walls, forming a beautiful yet macabre motif. The ceremonial altar was formed out of an unholy trinity of stucco skulls, eyes bulging, jaws open. Bright feathers littered the shrine, whirling around the room as another gust of rancid wind blew from below.
"No treasure here," Blake coughed once the foul draft subsided. "There must be another entrance somewhere."
The Pyramid of the Flayed One opened up a world of cruelty to the explorers, sputtering torches illuminating gruesome depictions of tribal priests tearing out garnet hearts from captive men and women. Shadows crawled over the mural, making stone figures shift in the wavering light.
Scenes from ritual sacrifices were transcribed into adobe bricks. Charred prisoners dangled over crimson coals before being dragged onto golden altars and then sliced open to remove their hearts. Jade daggers glinted wickedly before plunging into their victims. Priests lifted a basket of offerings before a bloody god with an emerald labret through his nose.
The coral hearts seemed to beat as the torch flickered.
Mortimer paled at the scenes, but pretended not to see them. Blake eyed their guide uneasily. She was deathly pale, muttering to herself as she gazed around wide eyed.
Off in the darkness, something clattered.
Blake whirled instantly, holding the torch up high as he searched for the source. "Who's there?" A hand dropped to his revolver, ready to draw.
In the corner, a pillar of bones supported a statue of a leering deity. Its crimson tongue lolled in a hideous grin as it clutched a fistful of organs, ready to devour them. Mortimer sighed in relief. "It's just an inanimate object."
Narrowing his eyes, Blake pulled his six shooter out. "That ain't no inanimate object." A figure stirred behind the pillar, lurking in the shadows.
With a bloodcurdling screech it jumped out and raced past the native woman, making her scream in fright. Mortimer yelped, jumping behind Blake. "Shoot it!"
The brown monkey hid behind a clay pot, hooting quietly.
"It's just a chimp, you guys are scared of your own shadow," Blake laughed weakly. Peeking out at the group, the curious animal sniffed and then sped off. The rotten wind came again, briefly chasing after the animal.
It wasn't easy convincing Mortimer to enter the Pyramid of the Headless Warrior. But in the end, greed won out.
Brittle corpses littered the rooms, making it difficult to navigate. Each skeleton was adorned with golden jewelry, armbands, and headdresses. Snatching whatever riches he could, Blake filled his rucksack with glee.
Mortimer was a bit squeamish about taking rings and other objects that involved touching the bodies, but he still collected a few trinkets. "Let's not be greedy now, I think we should pop back to camp." He advised.
"Are you crazy? These are just burial offerings. We haven't found the treasure room yet!" Blake scoffed before stuffing an amulet into his bag and moving toward the stairs.
There was a rushing sound, a rumbling gasp. Air swelled, pulling, dragging and then the suffocating wind sucked the grave robber down into the depths of the pyramid.
When Blake awoke, he was in the Tomb of the Wind God.
It loomed above him. Emerald plumes rustled over the decomposing serpent, causing a putrid breeze. Ivory ribs glinted through holes in the feathery body, clouded eyes weeping yellow pus. Dead scales slowly drifted from the cracked underbelly.
The dying entity slithered through the air, slimy gray tongue wriggling, fanged maw gaping as Blake witnessed his doom approach with disbelief.