John and Helen made their way down the ledge and into the watery cavern below. The white way, the sacred road, lead from the cenote to this cave. It couldn't be a coincidence, Helen thought. If something was alive in Sabak Ha, then the answer to what that something was and what it wanted lay somewhere within these caverns.
They waded back to the altar they'd found the day before. The water diverged around the formation, leaving the nine idols of Chaac, the rain god, intact and unharmed.
"Nine idols," Helen noted. "Is there significance to the number?"
"You know how Mayans were about numbers, Helen" John said. "Five and 20 were sacred numbers, but sacred to man. Five fingers, 20 fingers and toes….Thirteen represented the Mayan gods, but nine…." Druitt smiled.
"What?" Helen asked.
"There were 13 Mayan gods of the upperworld, but nine Mayan gods of the underworld."
"And this cavern, the cenote are all entrances to the Mayan underworld," Helen said.
"Correct," John answered.
"There has to be something more here, John. The Mayans recorded everything. If they used this as a ceremonial place…" Helen started.
"Then they likely would have written it down. Documented it in some fashion. I agree," John finished.
"I'll check over here. You look over there," Helen directed him, pointing with her light. "If this was their ceremonial altar, their writings, their paintings shouldn't be far from it."
They trudged through the water scanning the walls and crevices surrounding the altar. After several minutes, John called out.
"Helen, over here!"
Helen followed the dim light of John's torch. "Look," he said, pointing to a large flat slab of limestone standing on end. "Does this look natural to you?"
Helen smiled. "Not at all. Shall we?" she asked.
"Let's," John replied. He pushed against it, and it opened, revealing another, smaller cavern within. "After you, my dear," Druitt told her.
Helen entered the room and scanned the walls with her light, John following behind. The cave was lined with Stucco, the walls painted in Mayan art. Muted colors of turquoise, brown, orange , and red surrounded them. Placed neatly on the ground were artifacts, statues of gold, jade, silver, amethyst, and turquoise. Painted pottery, carved wooden jaguar skulls, and incense, lay between.
"Look at these murals, John," Helen said, examining the paintings. "Mayan priests."
"Nine of them. And each one carrying an object to the water, to the cenote," John said, circling the room along with her. "Helen, if you're correct, if there is a sentient being in Sabak Ha, what would it want with bits of pottery and jade?" John asked, puzzled.
"I don't know," Helen shook her head. "But it wouldn't be without precedent. Aside from humans, primates, raccoons, even certain birds have been known to collect artifacts, jewelry, rings, and so forth."
"Helen, if this creature can naturally generate an electromagnetic field, it could have caused nausea, disorientation, even sickness among the people here. To appease it, they might have brought it gifts, sacrifices, so the sickness would stop. And in desperate times…"
"They'd sacrifice a human being, like at Chitzen Itza," Helen finished.
"Yes," Druitt said.
"So, what do the paintings tell us? What does it want from us" Helen asked, looking at them.
John stood beside her, staring at the murals. "Nine Mayan priests bearing nine gifts: gold, turquoise, silver, jade, amethyst, pottery, incense, jaguar, and blood," he said, naming the gifts the priest carried in the pictures.
Helen looked at the artifacts at their feet. "Tribute," she said.
"Tribute indeed," John agreed.
They followed the white road back to the cenote, their packs filled with each of the items shown in the paintings. The area was flooded from the storm. Whole trees lay on the ground. Limbs and leaves were scattered everywhere. But Sabak Ha remained eerily still.
"Well, Helen?" John asked when they arrived at the water's edge. "Do we simply throw the lot in or say a few words?"
"I have no idea," she said shaking her head. "But I am going to assume that whatever ceremony surrounded this was for the benefit of the Mayans, not whatever creature might reside here."
"However, there was an order to it," Druitt said, considering the paintings. "Perhaps it would be best to follow it?"
Gold, turquoise, silver, jade, amethyst, pottery, incense, and a carved jaguar skull. John tossed them into the center of Sabak Ha one by one, watching them sink into the murky darkness, giving each time to make its way to the watery depths.
"In the last mural, the priest held a knife. His other hand was dripping with blood," Helen reminded him. John nodded, pulled out his switch blade, and prepared to slice the side of his hand open, holding it over the water.
"No," Helen said, gripping his arm. "It has to be me, John. I'm the one who took the Keek'enkay's life, or so it believes. I'm the one who needs to give life back."
John nodded. Helen held her hand over the water's edge, John gripping it tight in his. He looked at her to see if she was certain. "Now, John," she said. Druitt nodded. He took the blade and sliced the base of her palm cleanly. She winced, but didn't look away. The blood dripped into the water, sinking to the shadowy depths below.
She pulled her hand back, wrapping it in what was left of her clothes. John moved to wipe the blood off his blade then hesitated, transfixed for a moment. Helen's blood. So rare, so warm, so beautiful….He turned away from her and licked the blade clean, his body shaking, then put it neatly away.
Within moments the water stirred, ripples of energy rose from its center. Waves formed from the core and pushed outward, splashing against the banks.
"What's happening?" John asked.
"I don't know," Helen answered honestly.
"The water bubbled and churned. The ground began to shake. A huge black mass emerged from the depths of the cenote moving up and up until all of Sabak Ha was covered in an inky, black darkness. Suddenly in her mind Helen heard a voice speaking, a thought cast toward her in Mayan.
Puuts' ene'ex tu t's'u noj k'aax. Ma' sut ka wiche'ex!
"John?" she yelled, the water roaring now. "Did you hear it? Do you feel it?"
"Yes," he said, grabbing her hand and pulling her away from the water's edge. "We have to go. Now!"
"But what did it mean? What did it say?"
"Run!" Druitt said. "It told us to head to the forest and run!"
"But John," Helen yelled, not able to keep her eyes off of the water, the creature, the energy, whatever it was that inhabited this place. "We need to find out…."
"No time, Helen. If we don't leave now, we might not get another opportunity. Hold on to me."
"Now, Helen!" Druitt shouted.
She threw her arms around John's waist, gripping him tight. She could feel the burst of energy pulsate from him to her. Feel herself dissolve into nothing, only consciousness. When suddenly, as quickly as it had dissipated, time and matter returned. She opened her eyes to find herself standing in the middle of her office in the Sanctuary, her arms around John's waist, his arms wrapped around her.
"Magnus?" Will said, dumbfounded. He dropped the stack of papers he was holding, letting them scatter to the floor. Henry jumped up from the computer console. "Doc? Oh my God, we were just getting ready to send a rescue team…."
"Magnus, are you all right?" Will interrupted moving quickly to her. She was wet and filthy, her clothes in tatters. Blood seeping from her hand, her head. John thought she never looked more beautiful.
"I'm fine, Will," she said, looking up at Druitt. "We're fine," she said, unaware that they were still holding on to one another.
"What happened? We've been trying to reach you for nearly 24 hours?" Henry said, coming from around the desk.
"I'll explain everything, I promise," she told Henry. She looked down and realized she was still holding on to John. She moved to let go when he stopped her, grasping her tighter.
"Helen, promise me you'll take more care. We need you. I..." He stopped, silent.
She nodded. Will and Henry traded a look.
"Stay, John" she said to him. "You should clean up, eat, get some rest…."
He looked at her, could feel his body responding to her. It was so very tempting…to stay…to wall himself away here in this place…with her. But he could feel the change beginning. His demon was returning. He was losing himself to it. The taste of Helen's blood had accelerated the transformation. Now, it was only a matter of time. Besides, he still had business in Morocco. And the act of a righteous kill might satiate him…for a time.
"Thank you, Helen," he said gathering all his strength to pull away from her, letting his arms drop and hers follow. "But, I have matters to attend to. I'm glad," he hesitated. "I'm glad that you are safe."
She nodded. "Thank you John, for everything." She felt hollow inside.
"Dr. Zimmerman? Mr. Foss? Will you please be so kind as to see that Helen's concussion is thoroughly examined? Don't let her fool you into thinking she escaped this adventure unscathed." And with a smile and a nod he was gone.
'Unscathed.' No, Helen thought. She'd hardly done that.
Helen had bathed, bandaged, briefed Henry and Will, eaten, and was ready to retire. The thought of sleeping in her own, thankfully dry, bed incredibly beguiling. A gentle knock came at her door and she rose to open it. She smiled.
"Thought you could use some tea. Help you sleep," Big Guy said.
"Thank you," she told him. "That was very thoughtful of you."
"Do you need anything else?" he asked, lingering longer than normal. Magnus could see he was concerned. She put a hand on his shoulder and patted it. "I'm fine. Really. I promise. I will be more careful."
"Swear?" he said
"Swear." She told him, holding up her hand.
"Hmmph," he grunted. "All right. Goodnight then."
"Goodnight old friend," she said and closed the door.
Helen slipped off her robe and laid it on a nearby chair. She took the tea to her vanity and sat down to drink it. It was an herbal recipe that tasted of chamomile, lemon grass, and mint. The mere odor of it soothed her. She set it down on her desk, took up her brush, and began brushing her hair.
He held the velvet box in his hand and opened it. She could see a ring, an opal in the center with diamond stones surrounding it. Her heart soared.
"I promise to make you happy, Helen, for all eternity," he said.
Helen looked at herself in the mirror and set the brush down. She turned to her jewelry box, opened it, and removed a small silver key that hung on a thin silver chain. She took the key, reached down to the bottom drawer of her vanity, and unlocked it, pulling the drawer back slowly. Inside was a picture of her mother encased in glass, a packet of letters from her father that she had tied neatly in red ribbon, and a silk scarf from India, a gift from a cherished friend. She reached beneath those things and found what she was seeking. She pulled it out, and held it in her hand. It was soft and smooth, just like the day she'd received it. She looked down and saw the gold letters etched upon it.
Hampton & Sons
She opened it. A perfect opal, pink and oval, surrounded by tiny diamonds, as beautiful and pristine as the night he had given it to her. Tears welled in her eyes.
It had been early spring in London, she remembered. The roses were just beginning to bud in Regent's Park….