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Apollo's Soldiers
by Margo Fallis
Chapter 14

     “It’s only going to get worse as we head into winter,” Leith said of the weather. “I’m glad we are doing this now instead of in January. At least it’s bearable.”

     The five boys stood in the tunnel. Fraser’s flashlight added a much needed light.

     “I wasn’t sure I could get away tonight,” Duncan said.

     “Me neither,” Murray added. “Roslin Somerville was sick and throwing up. He kept running past our beds to the loo. We had to stuff our pillows under the blankets so there was a mound. He almost caught us, but was so sick that he staggered straight to his bed.”

     “I’m glad you could come. You missed out on our last adventure with all the spiders,” Sandy said. “Leith made himself invisible and lured them away. Have you ever heard of spider invasions in Edinburgh before?”

     Duncan shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t pay attention to the news. It was probably just one of those freak things that happens now and then.”

     “All I can think about it tomorrow night’s supper. Tuesday night is pizza night,” Fraser said.

“You are a bottomless pit. Which tunnel? Turn off your flashlight for a minute, Fraser,” Leith said. A dim glow came from their right. “That one. Please let it be warmer than it is here.” He leaped through the warp.

     “Wow! This place is much warmer. We should leave our coats here. We won’t need them. We’re in a jungle of some kind,” Sandy said.

     “It’s humid and hot! Look at all the vines,” Fraser said. “Are we in Africa?”

     “There is only one way to find out,” Sandy said and ran ahead. He stopped abruptly. “We aren’t in Africa. We’re in Central America, probably Mexico.”

     “How do you know?” Murray pushed his way under Sandy’s legs to see. “Step pyramids.”

     “These are probably Mayan ruins, but look at those big stone heads. Those are Olmec,” Leith said. “I have always wanted to see these things close up. They’ll be scattered all around this area.”

     “Why on earth have we come here? How does this place tie in with Atlantis? Did the Atlanteans have huge heads?” Fraser pulled a strand of spider web from his hair. “This is great! There are spiders here too. What else?”

     “Probably jaguars, monkeys, snakes and crocodiles,” Sandy taunted.

     “I wonder what we are supposed to take back with us. I know the Olmecs used a lot of jade when they decorated sacred buildings,” Leith. “As for Atlantis; maybe some of the Atlanteans escaped here. I remember reading once about a man who was led by some of the early Mayans to this mountain in the Andes and he found wall drawings showing the destruction of Atlantis. There are all sorts of theories. At least we know that Atlantis did exist. We just have to find out where and how to get there. We’ll learn the answers sooner or later.”

     “The Andes Mountains aren’t around here. They’re in South America. I know there were other ancient civilizations that made big head statues, like the people of Easter Islands to name one,” Sandy said. “I want to climb to the top of that pyramid. Race you.” He rushed off.

     The boys climbed the step pyramid to the top and stood, gazing at the scene around them. All they could see were hills covered with trees, vines and massive leaves of all shapes and sizes. Noises filled the air. Monkey howls sounded all around them. The smell of steamy vegetation hung thick. “Are those volcanoes?” Duncan turned to gaze at the cone-shaped mountains in the distance. “They look like volcanoes. There are no trees growing and the black chunks of rock lying all around here are pieces of hardened lava. Stuff, probably smoke, is billowing from the top of them. I hope they don’t blow their tops while we’re here.”

     “Just what we need, active volcanoes. Leith, do you remember where the warp is? We walked quite a distance. I’m not sure if I remember and I don’t want to be stuck here. I don’t like it. It’s too humid,” Murray said.

     “At least we aren’t wearing our uniforms. Imagine how our purple pants would stand out?” Sandy laughed. “The animals would think we were parrots.”

     “Are there any tunnels or hidden rooms in this pyramid? Where do you think we might find jade?” Fraser walked along one of the steps, all the way around the pyramid. “There are some strange markings and they’re scary looking. Did the Mayans sacrifice people here?”

     Sandy answered. “Yes, they cut people’s hearts out and held them above their heads still beating. Then they’d eat them raw and drink the blood.” The noise intensified, ending Sandy’s detailed description.

“It sounds like every monkey in the jungle is howling. Look at all the birds. They are flying away. What’s going on?” Duncan pointed to the sky.

     “Uh oh. I think it means there might be a black jaguar,” Fraser said.

     Murray’s eyes bulged with fear. “Can jaguars climb  pyramids?”

     “They might be fleeing because the volcano is going to erupt,” Sandy said. “I have heard of that happening.”

     “That’s all we need. Leith, do you have any feelings on where we are supposed to go?” Fraser kept his gaze on the flocks of birds.

     “We’re in the right place, or close. This used to be a huge city. Look at all the ruins scattered about. I think I see another pyramid to the south. It probably is part of this city. We need to go there.” Leith pointed.

     “Don’t say that. It’s a long walk through the jungle. There’s nothing but bug-infested overgrowth and snakes. I read an article in the newspaper about anacondas. They live here and can swallow a human whole.”

     “Fraser, think positively. I have my golden arrow for protection. We have to go to the other pyramid. I know that’s the right place,” Leith said.

     They climbed down and headed into the jungle. No animals were in sight, nor could they hear any. “This is way too spooky and quiet. I don’t like this.” Murray parted the thick, leathery leaves; cobwebs tore in half and tiny lizards darted into the matted undergrowth as the lads moved along.

“What is that noise?” Duncan stopped to listen. “I heard it again. It sounds like heavy breathing.”

     “It’s probably Fraser panting for some food,” Sandy said with a laugh.

     “The noise came from behind me. Are there headhunters in this area?” Duncan watched for wiggling leaves. “See! Did you see that? Something moved over there. I saw the leaves move. It’s big too.”

     “I think we should climb this tree,” Leith whispered. “Hurry. You go first, Murray.” They pushed his bottom until he had a grip on the branch. “Climb as high as you can go. Duncan, it’s your turn.” Soon all five of them sat on the highest limbs looking down. “Be really quiet.”

     A dark shadow crept out from behind a flowering bush. Eyes glowed neon green. Four paws, padded and silent, moved the creature toward the tree. The black panther sniffed the air, searching for prey. Right behind it stood another panther. Ten more appeared, all hungry and eager to hunt.

     Leith silently mouth the words, “Nobody move or say a word.”

     Fraser’s leg shook; he wrapped his arms around the tree trunk. As he tried to adjust himself, his foot slipped and a twig broke off. The other boys watched in horror as it glided to the ground and landed in the center of the jaguars. At the same moment they looked up and spotted the boys. One of the animals roared.

     “Fraser, you fool. Even though Leith just warned you not to move, you did. Now they know we’re up here. Look at them! I see hunger in their eyes. We’re going to die,” Sandy said.

     Murray and Duncan climbed higher. The branches grew thinner and weaker with each step.

     “Can jaguars climb trees? Nobody answered Murray’s question?” Sandy’s eyes filled with tears.

     “Yes. Jaguars can climb! I wonder why they didn’t run away like all the other animals,” Leith said.

     The jaguars circled the tree, their roars increasing. The ground shook and the trees rattled back and forth. “Hold on!” Sandy wrapped his legs and arms around the thick trunk and held on for his life. Duncan nearly toppled. Fraser lay on the branch as it bounced up and down. And then it stopped. One of the volcanoes erupted, blowing smoke and fiery ash high into the sky. The deafening explosion frightened the jaguars and they ran off; their sense of fear being stronger than their hunger.

     “They left. We’ve got to get over to that pyramid before we suffocate from ash. Any minute now a pyroplastic flow could rush towards us.” Leith jumped from branch to branch and leaped to the ground. “Hurry.” He didn’t wait for the others. He raced through the jungle toward the other pyramid.

     “Wait for us!” Duncan yelled at the top of his lungs. They sped through the bushes and tangled vines. Duncan turned and looked behind him. “It’s spewing lava now.” He didn’t wait for the others to reply.

     The concealed road seemed to go on forever. With scratched legs and arms, the group made it to the end. “There’s the pyramid and just in time.” Leith pulled himself onto the first step and helped the others up. Lava spilled down the volcano’s side, burying everything in its path with flaming molten rock. “It’s heading for the other pyramid.” They continued their ascent of the large stone blocks. Smoke reached into the upper atmosphere.

     “Does this mean we can’t ever get back? The tunnel will fill with lava. What should we do?” Murray reached the top step.

     “We’re safe here for a while. This pyramid is much taller than the other one,” Leith said.

     “I’m not going to just sit here. While we’re stuck, we should look around for something to take back.” Sandy grabbed Duncan’s arm. “Come with me. I saw a door.”

     “Are you crazy? I’m not going inside this thing. There might be Mayan zombies or skeletons with knives,” Duncan said, wrenching his arm away.

     “Will you come with me, Fraser?”

     “No way.”

     “I’ll come,” Murray said. “It’s better than standing here watching the lava flowing towards us.”

     Murray and Sandy walked over to the door. “It’s made of stone. There must be a button, or a handle to open it. Look around,” Sandy said.

     “What about this thing?” Murray pulled a wooden post jutting from the wall. The door inched open, scraping stone against stone. “I thought so.”

     “It stinks in there.” Sandy held his nose closed.

     “Like what? Dead bodies? Limbs? Cut out hearts?” Murray gulped.

     “Probably, but we need to go anyway. Coming, or are you a coward like them?” Sandy pointed to Leith, Fraser and Duncan.

     “No way. I’m no coward.”

     Sandy felt the walls and used his feet to search the floor. “There are some steps. They must lead to the bottom. Go back and get Fraser’s flashlight.” Murray came back a few minutes later and handed it to Sandy, who turned it on. “That’s much better.” The stone steps were narrow, curving as they went down. “Hold onto the wall, Murray.” The steps led them to an empty room. “No treasure in here.”

     “We’ve got to find something.” Murray heard explosions coming from the outside. “That’s the volcano. Are we going to die, Sandy?”

     “No. It will all work out. What’s that over there? There are bottles lined up in a row on this shelf. I wonder what’s in them. I think I’ll open one.”

     “What if it’s someone’s heart, or a baby’s head? Those Mayans did some pretty gross things to their sacrificial victims.” Murray scrunched up his face in disgust.

     “Look at the writing and the picture markings. These are probably worth millions. Let’s take a couple of them with us, but first I want to see what’s inside.” A piece of cork plugged the hole on top. Sandy pulled it out and held the cork to his nose. “It stinks, whatever it is.” He ran his finger over the colored portion. “Blood.”

     “Blood? Let me see.” Murray gazed at Sandy’s finger. “That’s sick. Put the cork back in so the blood doesn’t dry up. That might be the blood of a king or queen. It might belong to a baby. I’ll carry one and you carry one. It fits in my pocket just fine.”

As they walked toward the steps, Sandy saw something else. He picked it up. “This is some sort of stone, or jewel. Here’s another. They’re lying all over the place.” Soon he had a handful.

Murray filled his pockets. “They’re pieces of amber and turquoise. I’m taking this big piece of amber.”

“That should be important enough. Do you want to go down further?”

Before Murray could answer, they heard Fraser calling them. “You guys had better get up here!”

They bounded up the steps and out the door, leaving it open. “What’s the matter?” Sandy climbed onto one of the pillars. “Oh. That’s what’s the matter.”

The lava encircled the pyramid and was slowly climbing. “We’re in a mess now. There is no way of escape. I can fly away, but you four can’t. I think it’s one of those emergency situations where we contact Abaris.” Leith pulled the golden arrow from his pocket. “How do we do it?”

“I think you call his name,” Fraser said.

“I’ll try that. Abaris, we need you. Abaris, please help us.” Leith repeated this over and over.

“I don’t think you need to do a chant. Once should be enough. I mean, after all, he lives with Apollo, the Greek God,” Sandy said.

The lava reached the third step from the bottom. Fiery boulders spat from the volcano, exploding all around the pyramid. The smoke billowed into the sky, dropping ash and coating the ground with a blanket of gray. They curled together under a ledge at the top.

Sandy turned to the open door. “Maybe we should go inside. At least we’ll be protected from the poison gasses, sulphur and ash.”

“He’s probably right,” Duncan said.

The five lads went through the door. Sandy used the flashlight to lead them to the empty room. “Call Abaris one more time.”

“Abaris.” Leith held up the arrow high above his head. “Abaris. Help us.”

In the corner of the room a wavy pattern appeared. Though it started out invisible, they watched as the rippling turned lavender and then aqua blue. Abaris appeared behind a wall of sparkling color. “I heard your call. How can I serve you?”

“We’re stuck. A volcano erupted and the lava is going  to bury us alive. We can’t get to the tunnel. Can you get us safely back to the cemetery?” Leith lowered the arrow.

     “Close your eyes and do not, under any circumstances open them,” Abaris said. “Grab hold of each other.” They felt warm air swirling around. A fine misty spray covered them as they lifted off the ground. “You can open your eyes now.” Abaris’s voice seemed distant and softer.

     “We’re back in the tunnel and we didn’t die!” Murray clapped his hands.

They climbed out and saw that Abaris stood next to the Pictish headstone. The man grinned. “I am proud of you all. You are accomplishing your task with honesty and integrity. You don’t have much more to do. Have you found the descendant of Macbeth yet?”

“Not yet, but we know her name and who she is. We know we’ll meet her soon,” Leith said.

“Abaris, how do Mayan ruins tie in with Atlantis?” A curious Fraser asked.

“The Atlanteans traded with their ancestors. You will learn more soon enough. Everything ties in together. That is how life is. That is how the universe is. We are all part of it and all of us equally important. I must leave. I will return at a later date.” Abaris left them standing alone in the pouring rain.

“We didn’t get anything from the ruins,” Leith said.

“Oh yes we did.” Sandy and Murray pulled out the two small bottles and the pieces of turquoise and amber. “You take these and keep them. We’ll give them to the professor tomorrow. I have an aversion to keeping somebody’s blood with me.”

“Blood?” Fraser shook his head.

“Come on. I’m getting drenched,” Duncan said.

“At least it’s washing all that gray ash off us.” Murray brushed his sleeves.

Once inside the safety of the school they made their way to their halls; plans were made to meet at Professor’s Wilson’s room the next day during lunch, as usual.

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