Flight to the West

Esteban sat at the controls of the Condor, guiding the flight of the golden bird. How he loved flying! It was so much a part of him now that he could hardly remember a time when he was afraid of heights. The Golden Condor flew west across a vast country.

"We have been flying for a long time," Zia noted, breaking the long silence.

Tao nodded. "We'll probably want to find somewhere to land soon and try to cross the Pacific tomorrow."

"All right," Esteban agreed, "let's look for a good place to spend the night." He continued to fly towards the setting sun while the other two children scanned the landscape speeding past beneath them.

They had crossed a wide body of water shortly after leaving the land of the Mayas, but Esteban knew from speaking with Mendoza that this was merely a great gulf and not the Pacific Ocean. The condor eventually began to fly again over land, which land steadily rose until they were flying over high mountains. But, abruptly, the mountains dropped away to reveal a great valley, cloaked in mist.

"Oh, how lovely," Zia sighed at the breathtaking view.

"What's that in the center of the valley?" Esteban asked, learning forward to get a better view of the land beneath them.

Both Tao and Zia gazed down at an object shining in the light of the sunset.

Squinting, Tao said, "It looks like a huge lake."

Esteban banked the condor in a large arch so they could all get a better look. "To bad the mists are covering most of it," he said gazing at the water. "Still, it might be a good idea to spend the night on the banks of the lake. Let's see if we can find a good place to land." They sat in silence for the next few minutes, scrutinizing the land around the lake.

"What is that!" Tao exclaimed suddenly, almost pressing his face against the glass dome of the Condor. The other two children followed the direction of his gaze, looking for what had caught the Hevan boy's interest.

"Oh," Esteban said in awe. "It's a city!"

"But I don't see anyone down there," Zia put in. "It looks like it's deserted."

"Shall we take a look?" Tao asked.

"Yes!" Esteban agreed enthusiastically as he brought the Condor around to land in a wide avenue at the center of the city.

As soon as the Golden Condor had ceased all movement and the glass dome of the cockpit had opened, the three children slipped to the ground.

"Amazing!" Tao said joyfully as he looked around in wonder.

"It's unbelievable," Esteban agreed. He glanced at the setting sun. "We still have quite a while before the sun sets. Shall we explore this place?"

"Yes!" the other two children replied immediately and followed Esteban as he set out for the largest structure in the ruined city, a colossal pyramid that dwarfed any they had seen before in the Maya lands. Beyond it, further down the avenue, they could see another pyramid that was only slightly smaller than the one which was their goal.

Standing at the base of the huge pyramid, Esteban, Tao and Zia stared up at the summit which seemed to touch the heavens. "Come on, Zia," he said taking the Inca girl's hand and together they climbed the steps leading up to the apotheosis of the monument. It seemed to take an eternity. By the time they reached the top, both children were gasping for breath.

When he had recovered, Esteban turned to survey the way they had come. "Even the Condor looks small from here," he laughed. "Who could have built this enormous city?" He automatically turned to Tao to hear his answer, but was surprised to see only Zia. "Where has Tao gone?"

Zia was confused as he was. "He was with us at the base of the pyramid," she said, shrugging helplessly.

The pair peered out over the ruins, searching for some sign of their friend while their calls echoed eerily off the stones. After a few moments, they saw a small turquoise dot rise up from the buildings below and fly towards them. "Zia, Zia, Esteban, Zia," Kokapetl called to them.

"Tao must have sent him to fetch us," Zia concluded.

"I guess we'll have to go see what he wants," Esteban sighed. "And after we went to all the trouble to climb up here!"

They carefully retraced their steps down the treacherous stone steps while Kokapetl flew in circles above their heads saying, "Careful! Careful!" As soon as they had reached the last step, Kokapetl flew off to the east. Esteban and Zia had to run as fast as they could to keep the bird in sight as he led them down the wide avenue. To their surprise, the parrot took them toward the section of the city that was not dominated by the two huge pyramids. They picked their way through rubble and crumbling masonry until, at last, they spotted their friend.

Tao stood in front of another pyramid although this one seemed tiny when compared to the other mountainous structures of the city.

"What are you doing here, Tao?" Esteban asked incredulously. "Why didn't you come with us?"

"Look," Tao simply said in reply, pointing to the pyramid.

Zia and Esteban's gaze turned to see what had captured the Hevan boy's attention...and gasped in astonishment. The pyramid, though small and unassuming from a distance, was elaborately decorated with stone carvings of a figure that was very familiar to them.

"The Winged Serpent!" they gasped together.

Tao nodded. "I wanted to know whether this city had any connection to the Cities of Gold and decided to look for a statue of the Serpent like the ones we found in the three ruined cities in the Maya lands." He laughed and winked at his friends. "But this temple was a surprise even to me!"

Esteban stepped up to the base of the pyramid and examined one the Serpent heads more closely. The sun had almost disappeared behind the mountains to the west and long shadows draped across the valley giving the serpent statues an unearthly appearance. Esteban felt he could almost see them moving.

"I feel like we were meant to come here," Zia whispered, "just as we were meant to find the three ruins and the Burning Shield."

"Yes," Esteban agreed.

"This place must hide some secret," Tao concluded as the sun finally sank from view, "and we are going to find it!"

What lies in store for Esteban, Zia and Tao in this strange new city? What secrets does it hide? Find out in Chapter 2: The City of the Gods.