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The High Priestess

 Premiered August 22, 2003

Chapter Sixteen


Machu Picchu is about 60 miles, as the crow flies, from Cuzco.  By rail, with the tracks twisting along the canyons of the Urubamba River -- one of the wilder and more turbulent rivers of South America -- the Lost City of the Incas is considerably further away.  Known to the world as Machu Picchu, the city was the last stronghold of the Incan Empire.  Its strength derived from the fact that the Conquistadors never found it.

The tourist train which connects Machu Picchu and Cuzco is one of the best maintained in Peru.  Nevertheless, what should have been a modest trip took a full three hours.  But only the tourists, whose attention was on their goal or their destination, seemed to care.  For the locals, more into the process or the journey itself, the train ride itself was the treat.

Catching the train at the last minute, Dawn and Alex ended up, initially, in the poorer accommodations, where the local Indians inevitably found themselves.  Because the cost for traveling third class was minimal, this ensured a large, boisterous crowd out on holiday.  Because Alex and Dawn had arrived too late to find a seat in better accommodations, they found themselves in this compartment.  Ironically, this may have saved them scrutiny from anyone expecting them to ride first or second class.

At the same time, while an Indian would have been required to show their first or second class ticket if they so much as wandered through the first and second class cars, two Americans, even dressed in the latest fashions from the only shopkeeper in Cuzco willing to open up early, could easily pass among the rich and tourist type.  Which is what Alex and Dawn decided to do.  Standing up, Alex picked up Dawn's backpack purse, evidently surprised.  "This thing's a lot lighter than before," he observed.  "What did you do?  Unload your cosmetics?"

Dawn quickly stuffed her feelings and joined Alex in his laugh.  "Something like that."

A certain camaraderie established, the two began wandering about the train, moving from car to car, and enjoying themselves as they periodically spent time in the open space between railway cars.  Alex even took one of the latter moments to become positively nostalgic.

"I rode this train back from Machu Picchu many years ago.  It was at night on the way back to Cuzco.  I would stand here between the cars and look up at the sky.  There was no smog, pollution or city lights to interfere with the view, and the elevation we were at meant there was even less atmosphere between us and the stars!"

"How high are we?" Dawn asked.

"Cuzco is a little over eleven thousand feet above sea level, while Machu Picchu is about 8,500 feet, I think.  So somewhere in that range, probably around 10,000 feet."  When Dawn seemed sufficiently impressed, Alex went on. 

"What was particularly exciting was the fact I was looking at the Southern sky with a whole new set of constellations.  The Southern Cross, for example, is absolutely spectacular.  It's comprised of four of the brightest stars in the heavens, and really stands out.  It’s impossible to miss.  In fact, the whole of the Southern skies are really more impressive than the Northern skies.  And on that night there was absolutely nothing to interfere with my vision.  I stood here between the railway cars for over an hour, absolutely feasting on the view."

Dawn was enjoying Alex's display of emotion, "Maybe we'll have a chance on the way back."

"Probably," Alex replied.  "The train doesn't leave Machu Picchu until almost dark.  They like to let the tourists have as much time at the ruins as possible."  Turning to the door of the next car, he looked through the glass window, and for several moments just stood there.  Then, the tone of his voice notably tense, he said to Dawn, never taking his eyes off his view of the interior of the next car, "There's a man in the next car.  He's wandering around the car, talking to people.  Might be a little suspicious."

Dawn, immediately anxious, looked through the glass window as well.  The man Alex was concerned about was easily identified as there was only one person standing up in the aisle talking to the other passengers.  The man was heavy set, dark haired and had the appearance of someone who needed to shave every three hours just to appear to have a clean face.  He was smiling -- as if being very congenial -- but Dawn didn't fully trust the appearance.  Then she noticed his dark, thick eyebrows virtually connected.  Faintly she recalled some old racist statement about never trusting someone whose eyebrows met.  But in this case, she abruptly realized, she was feeling no threatening vibes.

"I see who you're talking about, but I'm really not picking up anything."

Alex, his eyes never leaving the man, replied, "Stay here.  I'll check it out."

Dawn grabbed his arm.  "Do you think that's wise?  Maybe it's you he's looking for!"

Alex turned to look at her.  "Then, do you want to check him out?"

Dawn looked blank for several seconds.  Then, blinking once, she replied, "No."

Alex turned back to look at the man.  "Then I'll do it."

Dawn was slightly ticked.  "Well that's certainly brilliant logic."

Alex tried to ignore her statement.  "Cover me.  I'm going in."  He almost laughed at himself.

"With what?" Dawn asked.  "My arsenal is somewhere back on the slopes of Popo."

Alex took a deep breath, and said, "Then get ready to scream.  If necessary."  Before Dawn could reply, he opened the door and began casually walking up the aisle toward the suspicious man. 

Dawn's intuitive sense went on full alert, as she tried to pick up on any early warning signals.  But all she could sense was the obvious: Alex approaching the man, the man showing no apparent recognition of Alex, and the two talking for a spell.  Then Alex turned around and began to saunter back toward Dawn.  Slowly a broad smile broke out on his face.  When he came through the railcar door, he was almost laughing.  Dawn's expression of concern slowly faded to one of pique.

"His name's Larry.  Sells mobile home parts wholesale.  Came all the way from Winter Haven, Florida.  He's here because his wife is a history nut, and always wanted to see the ruins."

Dawn smiled slightly, but still had a question.  "And what's so funny about that."

Alex laughed.  "He told some joke about a man telling his girl the coast was clear, and her replying that he must have awfully good eyesight, for the coast was over a 100 miles from here."

Dawn joined Alex in his laugh, sensing the relevancy to their own situation.


At the base of Machu Picchu, they deboarded the train and went directly to a series of buses.  Taking the first one available, they settled down and watched the tourists file in, including an ebullient Larry and his attractive wife.  Larry boisterously acknowledged seeing Alex again, and made a statement about the four of them getting together up on the mountain.  His wife, apparently, was going to be the best tour guide the ruins had never seen.  "She knows everything there is to know about this place!"  Alex and Dawn merely smiled their best polite smile.

The bus ride up to the ruins was something of an adventure in itself.  The road is a series of switchbacks, crisscrossing a direct ascent some fourteen times.  There is, in fact, a delightful result of this rather unique road.  When tourist buses leave the top, a youngster from the local area, waits at the middle of the first switchback, and when the bus drives by, he screams as if he were falling off the mountain -- a long ahhhh, slowly decreasing in volume.  The young entrepreneur then runs directly down the mountain and at each subsequent switchback as the bus passes by, he screams as if he were still falling.  With the bus proceeding down the mountain in its back and forth motion, the boy is able to greet the bus on each and every switchback with his rendition of the falling off the mountain scream.  At the bottom the tourists get off the bus to find the boy sweating profusely from his run and smiling from ear to ear.  The tourists are so delighted by this unique and totally unexpected event, they literally can't wait to stuff money into the hands of the boy.  It's a very lucrative fall for the kid.  One suspects, however -- based on the fact of several other young boys loitering around the area -- the honors of making the run are carefully apportioned among the locals, and the monetary rewards are shared in some equitable manner, i.e. the big boys get the most.

Alex and Dawn, unbeknownst to them, were to miss this entertaining event.  Alex had witnessed it on his last visit, but had decided not to mention it to Dawn -- letting her be surprised.  Which was nice of him.  At the same time, however, he ended up being quite surprised himself at their own unique return to Cuzco.

From the moment they got off of the bus, Dawn seemed to be in another world.  As they passed by the tourist hotel -- which she totally ignored -- and entered the main entrance to the ruins through a heavy stone portal (the stones in the same tradition as those at Sacsahuaman), Dawn was oblivious to everything.  She began to smile, as she started to walk the grounds.  With virtually no hesitation, she crossed the elongated central open area and proceeded directly to The Intihuatana -- traditionally referred to as the Sun Observatory, and where the northern bound sun was harnessed with a rope at the winter solstice and encouraged to return on a southern trek back to the land of the Incas.  There she went directly to the stone and let her hand caress the upright protrusion on the strangely shaped rock. 

Alex had followed her, feeling some need to watch over her in her present condition.  Then as she turned to him, he saw tears in her eyes.  Instantly, he became concerned.

But Dawn was smiling.  "It's wonderful!  Like coming home again."

Alex was genuinely surprised.  "You've been here before?"

Dawn laughed.  "Not in this lifetime."

Her companion understood immediately.  Almost simultaneously, the first of the tourists began to reach the observatory.  Alex recalled their mission.  "I need to ask around for The Mother."

"The room with three windows," Dawn said simply.  With that she walked back into the midst of the ruins and made her way directly to a small patio-like area where the southern wall of massive stones encapsulated three virtually identical windows.  The windows appeared to be some four foot high and thirty inches wide, as well as eighteen inches in depth.  The construction was the smooth, undecorated stone Dawn and Alex had seen at Sacsahuaman, and lent an atmosphere of immense solidarity.  When they arrived in the grassy area before the windows, no one else was there.  Alex was momentarily disappointed, but Dawn merely wanted to sit on one of the window sills and look out to the magnificent view, the multi-terraced slopes and the greenery surrounding the moss-covered white stones. 

Before Alex could even ask, Dawn said, "You go ahead.  I'll wait for you here."

Without a word, Alex accepted her decision, and left the Temple of the Three Windows, trying to find someone with whom he could ask about the whereabouts of the Great Lady.  Dawn remained behind, relishing the feelings even without any specific memories.  Only the remembrance of having once been very happy in this locale.  Maybe she had been a princess here.  Or a prince.


Another room far from Machu Picchu was quiet except for a middle-aged, brown-skinned woman, with long coarse black hair tied into an indistinct knot on the top and back of her head.  In many respects, she was puttering about -- perhaps a little confused because of the removal of almost all of the room's contents.  She was also recalling a confusing, brief earlier conversation, trying to understand if she had been told not to come back here again.  The language barrier had made things very unclear for her, and now even the tools of her trade were missing.

She had wandered around in her state of confusion for perhaps twenty minutes, when two doors on opposite sides of the room where flung open, and armed men came rushing into the room.  One saw her and immediately opened fire.  Seven bullets quietly rammed into her body at chest level and the woman was thrown back against the wall, where she collapsed, dead before she hit the floor.

As the men moved through the adjacent rooms of the laboratory, their guns occasionally making their presence acutely felt, Kurt looked down at the lifeless body of the woman.  When he didn't recognize the woman's face, he walked away uncaring, and began to inspect the pieces of equipment on the laboratory bench.  Most of the items he was well acquainted with, but there was nothing in the rooms that wasn’t expendable.  His men began destroying the equipment, just in case.        


Alex returned for Dawn within an hour.  He was not looking pleased.  When Dawn saw him, she said, "Let's go further up the mountain.  To the cemetery.  I want to see the ruins from there."

Alex accepted the obvious.  "Might as well.  I've talked to a dozen locals and all I'm getting is stonewalling.  Either they have no idea what I'm talking about, or they're hiding something."

"I'm sure it's the latter," Dawn replied.  "Now... Come with me."

Alex didn't seem to have any better, immediate plans and went along with Dawn.  For several minutes they climbed up high stone steps, moving continually up the mountain known as Machu Picchu.  Eventually, as they reached the upper edge of the ruins, Dawn turned and set down on the steps.  The view was classic.  Along the left side of the saddle ridge were steep terraces covered in greenery, then the Sun Observatory and the open grassy area just beyond it.  Slightly to the right were the main ruins, a seeming labyrinth of head-high walls and terraces.  Further right and lower were additional ruins along with the main entrance to the city.  Directly ahead was the mountain peak of Huayna Picchu -- Huayna being "the little one" in the native language.  Beyond were ranges of green-covered mountains and a sea of clouds just behind the multiplicity of steep peaks. 

Interestingly, by far the most famous views of Machu Picchu show the ruins on the saddleback between two mountains, but instead of showing the mountain, Machu Picchu, they show the smaller mountain Huayna Picchu, a very steep, green-covered, rocky peak -- with just the hint of ruins near its top.  The mountain for which the Lost City of the Incas was named is, in fact, the vantage point from where the pictures are invariably taken.  Its peak is much further up, nearly a mile from the uppermost point of the city itself.  The connecting ground between the two peaks then provides the cradle for the city, while below on three sides, the Urubamba River takes a horseshoe route around the extremely steep-sloped mountains and thereafter delivers its waters to the Ucayali River and thence to the Amazon.

The Lost City was designed so that anyone in the canyons below would never perceive what lay on the top of the mountain.  The original access was along a torturous, secret Incan path, around one side of the mountain, Machu Picchu, and alongside sheer cliffs towering thousands of feet above the canyon floors.  The success of this design is evidenced by the fact the Spanish conquerors never found the City, despite the clues and tales of major gold hoards in its care.  The city was, in fact, lost until 1911 when Hiram Bingham Powell, with the help of locals who had been to the ruins, found the city for modern man.

For some time, Alex and Dawn marveled at the majestic sight of an ancient city, precisely placed on top of an almost inaccessible mountain.  Then Dawn stirred, as if some deeply felt memory had demanded her attention.  "We have to climb Huayna Picchu," she stated in very firm words.  With that she stood up and began retracing their paths down the broad, steep steps to the main ruins. 

Quickly they passed through the ruins themselves, and found a small, well-used path along a tiny ridge connecting the city with the sheer, rocky peak.  The path led up the peak, switch backing back and forth.  It was a standard path for tourists, and a single strand of wire ran alongside the path, allowing those travelers without mountain climbing experience to find some comfort as they struggled toward the top.  The path, as such, was extremely steep, even in its winding back and forth along the city side of the peak.  Both Alex and Dawn had to stop to catch their breath more than once.  Like maybe forty times.  In some cases, Dawn felt a strong urge to forget the whole thing and turn back.  It was almost like a sudden panic, one with no apparent reason.  She had a fear of heights, yes.  But this was not like scaling a sheer cliff.  Several times, she had to force herself to go on, to keep up with Alex, the man she had insisted climb the peak with her.

Finally they came into the first small terraces, and then into the peak area.  Dawn immediately went pale, a fact of which Alex was initially unaware as he tried once again to get his breath.  Abruptly, she went to her knees next to where he had decided to sit down, grabbing his upper arm with a firm, if not desperate, hand.  Alex was shocked to have her grab him, but had just enough sense to realize it was a grab for support more than anything else.  For several moments, she looked out into the space below them, the vacant air which connected them to the river far below.

Then she began to speak.  "It's as if I were here but yesterday.  I was a young prince, maybe ten years old.  But one who stood in someone else's way.  Two men had me by the arms, hurting me.  Then they simply threw me off the terrace, and I fell.  A very long way."  Abruptly, she shuddered, and Alex reached up to steady her.  Sweat began to appear profusely on her face, while her color momentarily departed.  Then she swallowed hard and managed to say, "It was so real!"

For awhile, the two of them sat there -- Dawn holding on to Alex with desperation, and Alex holding her with a firm but gentle arm.  Slowly, Dawn's thought returned to the present.  Her expression became one of “I’m okay now”, as she looked at Alex. She then realized how tightly she was holding his arm.  Quickly letting go, she said, "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to hold so tight."

"No matter," Alex replied.  "I have another."  He smiled with delight.  He had long wanted to use that famous line from Shakespeare.  Now he fairly beamed, his fond dream finally realized.

Dawn didn't fully appreciate Alex's sense of gratitude to her for allowing him to use the famous reply, but was thankful for the use of the arm.  "Thanks," she said gently.  "It was a nice arm."

Alex couldn't top Shakespeare, so he just smiled.

For another half-hour they sat there, entranced by the view, making small talk.  Then they noticed the other tourists on the mountain making noises about getting back in time to take the bus down to the train.  As they began to filter down the steep path, Alex frowned slightly.  He didn't want to leave.  His business wasn't complete.  Then he looked down at the tourist hotel, where the buses were parked.  The Huayna Picchu, after all, was, among other things, an excellent watchtower in which to observe the city and all of its access routes, both ancient and modern.  Then he made a decision.

"I think we should stay the night here."

"You think we can get reservations?" Dawn asked.

Alex was adamant.  "We'll sleep out in the open if necessary.  We can't leave.  Not yet!"

Dawn looked at him for a second, could think of no rebuttal, and silently acquiesced.  The result was the two continuing to sit where they were, while the other tourists continued their trek down the peak of "the little one".  A slightly cool breeze found them, and removed the last vestiges of perspiration, yielding even a slight coolness on their skin.

Then they stood up, absent mindedly brushing off their clothes.  They turned, thinking to head back down the path, when they saw the woman watching them.  She had stood up when they did, making them aware of her for the first time.  And with what a presence!  The woman was, let us say, substantial!  Not overweight.  Just big.  And she carried her two hundred or so pounds with immense authority.

Dawn momentarily panicked, thinking about the possibility of a repeat, no-frills flight off the top of Huayna Picchu.  She reached again for Alex's arm -- but with considerably less effect in cutting off the blood supply to his lower arm and hand.  As the well-muscled woman approached them as if she owned the place, Dawn strongly suspected Alex's ability to protect her would occur more likely from his intelligence and ability to talk himself out of a situation than from his brawn. 

Alex, on the other hand, unaware of Dawn's analysis of strength and/or fighting skills between him and the woman walking up to them, was less intimidated and more demanding of why this woman was approaching them.  But before he could speak, the woman smiled.

"My name is Iris," she said simply.  "The Mother will greet you now."


The trip down Huayna Picchu was panic free for Dawn, the unspoken expectations providing little room for other, more mundane thoughts.  The woman led them back to the Temple of the Three Windows, where several women clustered about just outside.  Further back stood several men, like guardians, ready to rush to the aid of someone, should the need arise.  Everyone was quiet and passive, as if meditating with their eyes open.  Most seem to hardly take notice of Dawn and Alex.

Iris bid Alex and Dawn to sit down on the grass, and then she stepped quietly into the Temple.  After a few moments, she came back out and motioned for Dawn and Alex to join her.

As they entered the Temple, Dawn saw a very old woman, with flowing white hair and dark, heavily tanned skin, sitting with her back against the stone walls between two of the windows.  She sat on a deep purple covering, brightened by the late afternoon sun beaming down across the roofless ruin.  Dawn was immediately struck by the woman.  The Mother had obviously been a very beautiful young woman in her prime -- even if her prime was about the time of Moses. She had the same ancient quality Dawn remembered from Nathan -- a sense of having seen far too many sunsets.

As they stepped toward her, Dawn had the urge to fall on her knees -- not so much in homage, but to put herself on eye level with the Mother.  But for the moment, she held off.  Then she saw their guide, Iris, drop down on her knees, facing perpendicular to both The Mother and where Alex and Dawn faced her.  But there was no bow; only the simplicity of sitting on one's heels.

Dawn immediately dropped to her knees as well, facing The Mother.  Alex watched his companion drop down, but remain upright.  With a slight hesitation, he joined her.

For several long seconds, Dawn looked at the woman, the ultimate personification of The High Priestess: Serene, devout, and spiritual, with undoubtedly the extra quality of being psychic.  There was the sense of uncertainty, hidden forces, and a host of factors concealed from view.  But somehow, Dawn realized, there was also the awareness of secret, fortuitous changes forthcoming.  This realization prompted a deep sigh in Dawn as she smiled contentedly at The Mother.

Then The Mother opened her eyes, and smiled in an incredibly gentle way.  "Welcome my children," she said.  "You've come a long way."

Alex glanced at Dawn, thinking she might be better to speak first.  When Dawn only smiled, luxuriating in the old woman's presence, he began, "We're looking for someone."

"And you've found her," the white-haired lady replied.  "And at a very appropriate time.  Just when the pendulum begins its swing back toward the center.  Auspicious, wouldn't you say?"

Alex smiled, as his eyes deflected down.  "Very."

The Mother smiled in return, and asked, "And your question?"

Dawn, without thinking, blurted out, "What is your name?"

The old woman laughed.  "You've come such a long way just to ask my name?"

Alex was suddenly agitated, as if Dawn had just used up one of his three wishes.  But Dawn was blasé.  First things first, she decided in her mind.  "I just want to know you," she finally said.

"But you already do," the Mother replied.  "I was there when you were first threatened with extinction.  But I did nothing.  I said then 'I shall not forget...  I shall be mindful of those days, forgetting them never.'"  For a moment, the old woman's resolve was evident.  "And I have not forgotten them.  Others have shown little pity for your plight, but they have never fully had their way.  They have never been allowed such carte blanche

"Your father and I -- your true father, not the one who claims the honor -- have always been there for you.  And we have not been without success in our efforts.  We were able, among other things, to obtain a growing space for you, a space of years in which you could come unto your own.  We have provided you teachers -- at least for those who cared to listen and who had the wisdom to ignore those who would misinterpret their teachings."  For a moment, the emotion in the old woman flared.  But just for a brief moment, as she again began to smile.  "But that time is coming to an end.  It is the beginning of the end, when you may choose better things for yourself."

Suddenly, she laughed.  "Your father and I never imagined your potential when we first began.  It's been quite a surprise."  Then, after a brief, smiling pause, "A delightful one, I might add."

In the momentary pause, Alex decided to get to the point.  Or at least, his point.  "Can you tell me about the Golden Tear from the Eye of Horus?  How to consume it?  The method of properly swallowing 'the teacher of righteousness'?"  His intensity was obvious to all of the women.

There was a momentary silence of surprise, before the Mother laughed and answered, "Ah yes.  The very focused one!"  In a wonderfully gentle fashion, she added, "You remind me of a grandniece of mine; someone who put aside all of the distractions in her focused quest for the Me."

Alex blushed slightly, while Dawn turned to join the old woman in smiling at him. Taking a deep breath, he replied, with appropriate modesty, "I didn't want to take too much of your time..."

This unaccountably made the Mother laugh even more than before.  Rolling back with a genuine belly laugh, her arms swung around to hug herself.  Everyone else smiled as well, with Iris laughing out loud herself.  Alex grimaced in a nice way, not real sure what to say next.  The Mother then relieved him of the burden.  "Oh, I have plenty of time!"  Then, with an added emphasis, "Especially for someone as delightful as you."  When Alex merely blushed, she added, "I like you."  For a moment she just looked at him, letting the words say it all.

Dawn followed the old woman's eyes in the direction of Alex, and added her own smile, silently suggesting she agreed completely.  Alex shrugged his shoulders, as if unaccustomed to such blatant compliments.  He couldn't quite manage a thank you.  Instead, he asked, "Enough to tell me..."  His voice trailed off, no longer containing the focused energy to follow through.  He suddenly felt uncomfortable.

The Mother smiled at him, with the eyes of complete forgiveness for any possible breech.  Then her expression became more somber.  With a tone of sympathy, she replied, "I once told that secret to a man, a son of mine.  And in return, I received much grief."

Alex said nothing in return -- not knowing what to say!  Dawn, glancing at him and then deciding he would remain silent, directed her eyes back to The Mother.  Quietly, as if pointing out the obvious, she said, "When it comes to one's children, there is always grief."  It was a truth Dawn knew all too well.

The Mother turned to Dawn, her face bright and gentle.  "Yes.  But it was not my son who caused the grief."  Then, turning back to Alex, she said, "This time, it is not my decision.  You must go to the source."  Taking special care to look into his eyes, she added, her voice precise, "But before that, you must go to Axum, where the words still exist, even with the absence of their container.  Then to Sheba's tomb and Marduk's prison.  Then you will know where to find the one to answer your question."

Alex's mind was running rampant; as he glanced down to consolidate what he had just heard.  The three clues were instantly analyzed, a solution was forged, and within seconds, he was smiling at the understanding he reached.  Then he looked up again, at the old woman, one last question on his mind.  "There are those who would prevent us by any means..."

The Mother's hand went up immediately to stop Alex from continuing.  Quietly, she said, "They do not have the power you think.  Not yet.  Your father and I have them at bay for now.  Do not concern yourself.  Simply seek out the truth without delay."

Alex smiled slightly, but was not yet satisfied.  "There is also a group called the Humanki."

"When the time is right," the Mother interrupted, "They will reveal themselves to you."

For several moments, Alex remained quiet.  He continued to look into the old woman's eyes, as every sense available to him seemed to confirm he had all he needed.  Then he smiled and said, "Then, we are complete?"  Only the barest notion of a question lingered in his voice.

"Not quite," she replied.  With carefully chosen words The Mother added, "There are others about, some friends playing the role of enemies, some enemies still very much enemies.  Even now, there are those wandering these grounds you will not want to meet.  Iris will show you the old way." 

Alex and Dawn, both startled by the revelation, started to say something, but The Mother held up her hand.  "It is time for you to go.  We are, indeed, now complete.  At least, for this time."

Alex and Dawn both stood up, slightly energized out of the almost meditative state they had been in, and turned to leave.  Abruptly, Dawn turned back, and fell on her knees before The Mother, her head slightly bent.  Plaintively, she asked, "Could you bless me, Mother, before I leave?"

"Don't be silly," the old woman replied.  "You're already blessed.  Always have been!  Now get out of here."  When Dawn only slowly got back to her feet, The Mother looked slightly exasperated and said, "Oh all right.  You're blessed!  Now, hit the road!  Okay?"

Dawn smiled with the biggest smile she could remember.  "Okay," she answered.  Suddenly an old thought occurred to her.  "Oh, I almost forgot.  Nanau gave us a message for you.  He said, 'The frying pan is once again becoming quite warm.'"

The Mother laughed out loud.  Then with a bit more control said, "Nanau has always had the talent for massive understatement."  With a wave of her hand she indicated they were to leave.

Dawn smiled and turned to join Alex, just as Iris led them out of the sacred space, almost immediately breaking into a fast walk.  No one said anything while they quickly made themselves scarce, and Iris took a private route through the ruins.

At the top of the stairs to the cemetery, where Alex and Dawn had viewed the panorama of the ruins earlier in the day, Iris stopped and turned to them.  Pointing ahead, she said, "Follow this trail.  It will lead you to safety.  It is the old Inca flight route."  Alex and Dawn looked up the trail as it approached the mountain top of Machu Picchu and then around to the right side.  As they did so, Iris added, "You have less than two hours of light left.  It is necessary you reach the wooded area on the other side of the mountain before you stop to rest.  There you can conceal yourself."  Handing Dawn a small vial, she added, "At the first bridge, dump the contents of this on the trail.  Now go!"  Then she handed Alex a small, native bag -- one designed to be slung over the shoulders and attached to one's belt.

Dawn took the vial as Alex accepted the shoulder pack, and with his arm, urged Dawn to go before him.  His leader, however, turned instead to Iris, gave her an emotional hug and a heartfelt 'thank you', and then turned and began to run lightly up the path.  Alex, taking his cue from Dawn, added his own 'thank you' and an arm momentarily grasping Iris' shoulder.  Then he too turned and trotted after Dawn.

Alex had intended Dawn to go first, thinking he could match her pace whereas she might not be able to match his and thus he would be forced to be constantly looking back to check on her.  He quickly realized, however, he would be pushed to keep up with her.  His mind began to alternate between being pleased she was able to move at a fast pace, and silently hoping she would be unable to keep up the pace and he would be able to ease up on his own aerobic workout.  Alex was in fairly good shape, but he was quickly beginning to suspect Dawn was in better shape.  And inasmuch as the incline varied from slight to moderate, and the elevation was still above 8,000 feet, there wasn't a lot of air to fuel their energy requirements.  This was not going to be a romp in the park.

Finally they reached a high point, just before the trail angled down off an intervening ridge and began to weave off to the right and skirt the rocky peak of Machu Picchu.  Dawn stopped, breathing hard, and looked back at Alex.  He came up to her, breathing even harder -- and with a newly found, very healthy respect for her physical abilities.  With her eyes she gestured back along the trail.  Alex turned and saw, just above the cemetery where Iris had left them, four khaki colored figures moving in their direction.

He squinted slightly, trying to make out details, but the figures were still some distance away.  Then Alex managed to recognize two noteworthy items: The four men were wearing what appeared to be military-style caps, the kind with dark bills and khaki covers.  There was also at least one dog running alongside.  "Federales," he conjectured.  "Just what we need."

"We've been so out in the open thus far... They could have seen us for miles."

"But for right now," Alex replied, "They're too far away to bother us."

Dawn smiled bleakly.  "We just have to keep moving!"

"Exactly," he replied, turning back to her.  "So let's quit talking."

Dawn smiled at him, realizing they were both still reaching hard for breathing space.  Kidding, she asked, "You keeping up with me okay?"

Alex gave her a major league frown, staring at her.  Dawn laughed, turned and began to jog down the slight decline toward the next incline of the path.  Alex, bound and determined to uphold the honor of all males everywhere, took off after her.  When the path turned again and sloped upward again, they both slowed and Dawn began again to establish what was, hopefully, a sustainable pace.

The pace worked for several minutes, until the path rounded a bend and the ground on one side fell into oblivion.  Dawn's immediate reaction was to stop, and say, "Oh shit!" 

Fortunately, Alex was far enough behind he did not run into her back.  Instead, he drew up behind her in a controlled fashion, and then seeing what lay ahead, said, "Double shit!"

Ahead of them and infinitesimally to the left was a sheer rock cliff, rugged, and with only the slightest break in its monolithic nature.  Two feet to the right of it was a sheer drop-off, falling what appeared to me several miles to the greenery of the canyon floor below. In between was a poorly maintained path that had been built by stonework from a lower baseline.  The path extended for as far as the eye could see (just around a slight bulge in the stone cliff ahead), and over a small wooden and mud covered bridge.  Along the trail in front of them, there was not the slightest hint of a handrail or an indication of where the trail left off and oblivion began.  This was not a tourist route.

Alex, still breathing hard, suggested, "I suggest we take 60 seconds to allow our breathing to catch up with us, and our muscles to stretch out.  We don't want a muscle spasm or a sudden dizziness while we're moving along the rock face."

"Good idea," Dawn concurred.  "Bad place to trip or blank out."

Sixty seconds is not a long time, but it's amazing the amount of recovery that is possible in such a short period.  A sixty second break in any number of endeavors is often worth its weight in gold.  (But not necessarily the weight of Rhodium which sells for about eight times as much as gold.)  Sixty seconds is also more than long enough for the pursued to begin to feel antsy and ready to move.  In fact, it was a mere 48 seconds before Dawn declared the cease-march over, and began to walk very determinedly along the path.  Her pace was respectable, but considerably slower than before.  Alex kept up, taking station ten feet behind her.  It was also not a time to jostle one another.

The path was as wide as an old residential sidewalk, but infinitely more precarious.  People walking on such a sidewalk almost never worry about falling off the sidewalk, and in fact, almost never inadvertently step off of the concrete path.  But a strange aspect of life is such that a concrete path where one edge drops off into an abyss, is never walked upon without trepidation.  The chances of falling off are very slim, but the consequences are dire in the extreme.

When they reached the bridge, they found a combination of four long tree trunks, the exposed edges whitened from the sun and stripped of bark, along with cross planks held in place with hand-packed mud and dirt.  It appeared fairly stable, until those moments when one encountered foot-sized holes in the surface and a great deal of sky just below.  Dawn concentrated on breathing as she stepped lightly across.  When she made it to the other side, she walked another five steps, stopped, turned and braced herself against the rock face.  Then she smiled encouragingly, and waited for Alex to make the crossing.

When he made it across as well, she smiled again, and handed him the vial Iris had given them.  Taking the vial, he turned slowly and knelt by the end of the bridge.  There he poured the contents on its near edge.  Using his finger, he took a small sample and smelled it.  "Pepper," he said quietly.  Then he looked at the bridge.  "What would happen if we destroyed the bridge?"

"We'd reap some very heavy karma," Dawn answered.

Alex seemed to agree.  "One of us would probably fall off in the process anyway."  But then he reached down, drew some lines in the dirt, and then brushed them slightly to obscure them.

"Some kind of weird curse?"

"No.  But someone might think we've rigged the bridge and hesitate before crossing."

Then he rose slowly (a sensible precaution when standing on the edge of oblivion), and turned back to her.  Smiling, he added, "On the other hand, if you just happened to have one of your maladroit moments..."

Dawn frowned.  "My moments are not something I have control of.  I would think that would be obvious!"  Without waiting for a reply, she turned and began walking again, concentrating on keeping her balance.  She did hear Alex's 'sorry', but was otherwise focused on the immediate goals:  keep moving, and move always in the roughly horizontal direction -- more importantly, avoid the rapid vertical movement.

Twice the trail widened out while crossing a less ominous slope, but each time it quickly slipped back against some rock face of varying degrees of scariness.  Each time, before tackling the next challenge, they would stop for their sixty second recovery period.  On the third narrow trail section, they thought they heard the sound of a dog, wailing at the moon.  But they couldn't be sure.

Finally, they came to a portion of the trail, where it began to climb steeply.  The trail still crossed a slope at an angle, but the slope was enormously less threatening.  It was just much more tiring.  Then as the sun began to reach the horizon and the coolness of the coming evening made itself known, the two apparent fugitives came to a wooded area.  As they both rested and took another chance to breath -- still twenty feet from the edge of the woods -- Dawn looked at Alex and asked, "Who was The Mother?"

Surprised by the question, Alex looked up at her.  Then reflecting for just a moment, "She's either the original Ninki, thinks she is, or is her reincarnation."

"How can she be the original Ninki?  The Mother of man was doing her genetic experiment to cross breed mankind from Home erectus...  What?  A quarter of a million years ago?"

"Thereabouts," Alex said.  "Two hundred and fifty to four hundred thousand years ago."

"Then how can the woman we just met, be the original Ninki, the so-called goddess?"

"You mean, the Mother of Mankind, who millennia ago, taught man how to use the gold, how to prepare what was known to the Melchizedek priesthood as 'the teacher of righteousness'?"

"Whatever," Dawn replied.  "The one doing her thing hundreds of thousands of years ago!"

Alex hesitated.  "You're making an assumption that the Anunnaki have the same life span as we do.  That's really not a valid postulate."  When Dawn seemed bewildered, he added, "Remember, the first men, from Adam to Noah, had a life span of more than nine hundred years.  The sole exception was Enoch, who left the planet at the youthful age of 365.  But his was a special case.  He didn't die.  'God' just took him."  Alex took another long breath.  "Plus which, based on one small phrase in the Book of Genesis, Adam and the others may have had life spans one hundred and twenty times as long as those recorded in the Bible.  At the same time, the Anunnaki may live as long as a half million years!

"Now.  Doesn't it make sense that if you cross-bred a very long lived species such as the Anunnaki, with a short lived species such as Homo erectus, that the result will be something in between?  And as the genes become more and more diluted, or the offspring don't eat right, perhaps the extremely long lives of the Adam's Family becomes progressively diminished.  Eventually, humans have lifetimes of less than one hundred years.  Slaves seldom live as long as their masters."

"That's absolutely incredible!" Dawn replied.

"Any crazier than what you've already encountered thus far?"  When Dawn could only smile and shake her head, Alex added, "There is, of course, another possibility.  Are you familiar with the way the Dalai Lama is chosen?"  When Dawn shook her head no, Alex replied, "The assumption is that the Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of all the previous Dalai Lamas.  When one dies, it is assumed he reincarnates within a few years, and the high Lamas go on an immediate quest to find him.  In the case of the present Dalai Lama, he was found in Western China.  Only about three years old at the time, he was quickly put to a series of tests, where among other things he correctly identified the leader of the search team -- who, incidentally, was dressed as a servant.  The three year old also took a necklace from around the Lama's neck and put it on himself.  It turned out that the necklace had been worn by the previous Dalai Lama."

"Yes," Dawn replied.  "Now that I think of it, I seem to recall the story."

"The key, of course, is a belief in reincarnation, and the idea of each soul suffering amnesia from its previous life.  In the Dalai Lama's case, an individual who may be distinctly more spiritually advanced, his amnesia is not so complete."  Alex paused for a second.  "If on the other hand, a species such as the Anunnaki were sufficiently spiritually aware -- i. e. were thoroughly cognizant with the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil -- that they didn't lose their memories between incarnations, then it would simply be the case of a soul proceeding from one physical body to another without any loss of consciousness.  And if this was generally accepted by the race, each soul would continue from body to body with the same name, status, and conceivably whatever property they had accumulated.  There are even some Druid traditions which suggest the same continuation of property ownership and liabilities."

Dawn seemed to understand.  "So Ninki, for example, might be a long-lived woman, who at the same time, is the reincarnation of herself over many lifetimes in different physical bodies."

"Exactly," Alex confirmed.  "Her soul, her personality, however you want to think of it, continued from lifetime to lifetime, while her physical bodies were no more important than the personal automobiles we purchase and sell, switching models with only the slightest degree of concern as to what happened to the last one we owned."

Dawn laughed.  "I'm trying to imagine a soul between lifetimes shopping for a new body."

Alex shared her laugh, but the rest period over, he said, "I think we should go as far as we can while there’s still light.  Then get off the trail and find a place of cover for the night."

"Good plan," Dawn said, between breaths, while her mind tried to evaluate Alex's latest in a series of wild theories.  But then she shelved the thoughts for the time being.  It was time to execute Alex's plan to forge ahead and find cover with the first moments of darkness.


Chapter Fifteen -- The Star

Forward to:

Chapter Seventeen -- The Devil



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