Had a little trouble in the middle but towards the end this chapter practically wrote itself. I'm really enjoying this story, I might actually cut off my other fanfic a little short so I can focus on this one. Hmm... decisions.
There was a long silence after Francisco finished his silence, him looking at the group of explorers with pleading eyes, begging them to believe him and understand, and everyone else at a loss for words. Because really what can you say to a ancient Mesoamerican curse story after being chased by a horde of blood thirsty daemon monkeys? Except maybe, "I buy it."
Four pairs of incredulous eyes turned toward Montana Smith.
"Really?" Francisco wasn't sure what to do next. He tugged nervously at his long blonde beard. "that's, uh… great. I suppose."
Scarlet and Karma shared a look. Communicating silently that, yes for the sake of survival they'll assume the conquistador knew what he was talking about but that priority number one would be getting the hell out of here as soon as possible with the idol.
Scarlett cleared her throat. "I second that buy it." Karma nodded in agreement. And they turned to Zack, who just shrugged.
"So now what?" Zack looked like he was about to have a panic attack and Montana put a consoling hand on his shoulder.
Montana was grinning, "Now I'll introduce you to my friend!" He picked his way around the some ancient looking wooded crates and barrels and pulled open yet another hidden door.
"Come on! He will be very glad to meet new people!"
"Ten bucks says it's a volley ball named Wilson." Scarlett muttered as she got up to follow Francisco into the dark hole. Montana shot her a disapproving look, which only fueled her anger towards him. She raised an eyebrow at his new prim attitude and smiled wickedly. "Problem professor?"
He sighed, almost sadly, but Scarlett ignored him. Where does he get off on judging her? He has no right to any opinion on her humor, or life, or… well anything!
As the filed through the tiny door she rushed forward and squeezed through next to Karma to try and avoid any fleeting contact with the hypocritical douche.
The group felt their way through a dark tunnel. Scarlett ad Karma kept a hand on one another's shoulders to keep track of the other while slowly working their way around twists and curves. The silence was absolute. At some points they could hear the grunts and shrieks of monkeys outside the tunnels walls.
Then all of a sudden the tunnel widened into a brightly lit cave. A large fire was burning in the center of the rock room, the smoke escaping from a small hole in the high roof.
"Guy?" Francisco called, looking around the room. More wooden crates lined the rough hewn walls. But stacked on top of these were more modern looking satchels and canteens, lengths of rope and even rifles. On the other side of the cave was open, looking over a long winding ridge of rock a bit in the distance. However that view was obscured by leafy creepers and ferns which grew up around the cave, concealing it from anyone on the outside.
Suddenly an arm appeared from the growth blocking the cave entrance. A young man pulled himself up into the cave and collapsed, eye closed and breathing heavily. He was tall and well-muscled and had the kind of rugged good looks that male models could really only achieve with the help of professional make-up artists and photo shop.
Scarlett took a moment to appreciate the gorgeous hunk of man meat which had appeared before her like a gift from God.
"Best ten bucks I ever lost." Karma dug a tiny elbow into her side, but Scarlett could tell she was fighting a laugh.
"Ah Guy, there you are. We have new peoples!"
Guy's eyes snapped open and he looked up at the four strangers gawking at him. A slow grin stretched across his face and he pushed himself slowly up. "Thank God, if I was seriously considering death by monkey to avoid listening to Francisco's "Cortez the imposter" story for the hundredth time." He had an Australian accent which added a rough sort of lilt to his words.
He extended a hand to be shook, "Nice to meet you names Guy Dangerous. I would stand but I'm a bit torn up at the moment." He nodded his head nonchalantly to the rapidly spreading blood stain on his leg.
Cortez sighed, "I told you not to bother with monkeys, Guy. I've tried for hundreds of years there's really no escaping this place and one day they'll catch you. It's too dangerous."
Guy grinned at him, "Danger is literally my last name. Besides it's just a scratch."
Scarlett decided not to listen to the part about no escape and stalked over to the man, laying prone on the floor and promptly ripped his pant leg open to about mid-thigh.
"Whoa, how about buying me dinner first?"
Scarlett smiled, "I would but seeing as you're practically bleeding out, we may have to skip the pleasantries." She winked before turning to Karma who was rummaging around in the little silk sack hanging on her side. She pulled out herbs and needle and thread to stitch up the massive gash in his calf. It looked like something had clawed him while he was running.
"Monkeys?" She asked,
"Treat him for rabies too." Karma nodded and went about sterilizing and packing the wound with the proper herbs. She had learned much during her time in China, no matter how hellish it had been.
Guy grunted in pain, then laughed, "If I die… I probably won't mind." Then he passed out.
Scarlett helped Karma finish up the wrapping then stood. "Put him by the fire." This she directed at the boys, and she monitored their handling of him, barking things like, "careful of the leg!" Or "Don't you dare drop his head Professor."
Montana however did drop his head, and nudged his limbs back to his side with his boot, as though the thought of touching the other man again was just too much to stomach.
Karma was rooting around in the piles of stuff and brought back a blanket to prop under his head.
"Ok Montoya, how do we get out?" Scarlett pinned the man with her favorite, tell me or die look.
Montoya just sighed, "If there were an escape do you really think I'd be here?"
Scarlett hadn't wanted to consider the possibility that all this magic meant no escape and still didn't she simply smiled a little feral, "There is always a way out of everything."
A strange look passed over the conquistadors face, but it passed to quickly for Scarlett to follow. She glanced at Karma whose eyes had narrowed a bit.
Francisco however had moved on and clapped his hands together, "So, who wants to eat?"
The group sat around eating very old… oat meal like mush, supplemented with whatever fruit Montoya and Guy found growing around the temple. Mainly bananas, and not very ripe bananas either.
Scarlett and Karma choked down their share but refused when Francisco offered them more.
"Oh don't worry about us running out! There seems to be an endless supply hidden all around the temple."
"Trust me Montoya," Scarlett smiled sweetly at him, "worry has nothing to do with it."
He hesitated then nodded jovially, "So you are a professor?" He continued speaking with Montana, "What is it that you profess?"
"Well, ancient history mostly, I also do a bit of archeology in my spare time. Searching for lost temples and recovering artifacts."
Scarlett snorted derisively at that. Montana ignored her.
"Occasionally I'll take a student along."
"That would be me." Zack cut in, "A student." The boy had been quiet for some time and now Scarlett examined him more closely. He had seemed very young to her before but now he could see he wasn't really a boy. He was young but more like college freshman young, build like a linebacker… or maybe a quarter back she really didn't care too much for football. He was actually around Karma's age, tanned skin from long practices in the sun, freckled face, longish brown hair. Cute really. As opposed to Montana who simply looked rakish, tanned and leanly muscled, his hair mussed, and several days growth on his chin. He still wore the hat.
The stupid leather hat which should have fallen apart after so many years but somehow still held itself together, sturdier than Scarlett had anticipated.
Montana caught her staring and raised an eyebrow, her first instinct was too blush and look away, pretend she hadn't been watching him. But instead she held her ground. Cocked her own eyebrow in response.
Eventually he broke eye contact. Zack was still talking about school. How he was there on scholarship for football but had found that he really enjoyed Professor Smith's classes, asked to accompany him on his trip, wound up here.
Story short the kid was definitely thinking of switching his major.
"Hey Francisco mind if I borrow a blanket or two? Think I'll pack it in for the night."
Montoya nodded, "But of course, get your sleep. You will be needing it."
Scarlett dug around through the crates, which apparently held nothing but the awful oat mix and pulled out a couple blankets. She made a place by the fire and looked over at Karma, expecting the younger girl to want to sleep with her. She just shook her head and stayed seated.
Scarlett shrugged, pretending not to be hurt and wrapped herself in the blankets to protect from the cold stone floor.
She surprised herself by falling asleep rather quickly.
Scarlett startled herself awake, or maybe it was just the aching from the cold stone floor. She pushed herself up groaning. Everyone was bundled up similarly to her around the fire, Karma had eventually joined her next to Guy who now had a blanket tucked around him.
Karma looked so different while she slept. You could see her youth then, the girl was only eighteen, maybe even seventeen, they were never sure. Her face was normally so guarded and calculating.
A movement towards the mouth of the cave caught her attention. She could see Montana's hat outlined by the moonlight. He was leaning against the wall, looking out across the strange, twisting paths.
Scarlett walks silently over and sits down next to him. He doesn't look at her. They sit silently for a moment, the dying flames make strange shadows which bounce around on the uneven walls, casting Montana's entire face in shadow. She rarely ever saw Montana's entire face, it was always at least partly cover by the wide brim of his hat.
That wasn't true. There had been a time, before the hat, when Scarlett saw his whole face quite often. She felt the old familiar ach, somewhere deep I her chest, like a rock was sitting on her heart.
"Can I ask you something?" Scarlett's voice was very composed, smooth and quiet, completely at odds with her inner turmoil.
Montana nodded, "Why do you still wear it?"
Montana was silent for a long time. Scarlett caught herself holding her breath and let it out slowly.
"You know why I wear it." Scarlett nodded, she knew. She knew it wasn't completely Montana's fault that they didn't work out. She knew that the hat reminded him of why he could never love her the way he had before, that when she had given it to him, it had been her good bye present. Bought that day in the crowded bazaar, in a country so far away it was like another world, the world where they had existed together, young and dangerous and in love.
The hat was the symbol of their fall from grace. Or Scarlett's anyway. Stolen along with some artifact she couldn't even remember. She had taken it for him because the sun had been so hot there. She had also taken a life. Something she swore they would never do.
That's when Montana saw the ugly side of the business they were in. That's when he had wanted to get out. And to take Scarlett with him. To marry her and go somewhere quiet. Somewhere safe.
But she couldn't do it. And so he left. Leaving her alone in the desert. He gave her the jewels. And she gave him the hat. And they abandoned whatever love they had felt for each other there in the scalding sand.
Scarlett felt that aching loss again right there in that godforsaken cave. She felt tears well up in her eyes. She wanted Montana to look at her. To realize how much she really does love him. To take her into his arms and tell her that it would be okay. They would make it out of this place and be together again.
But Montana didn't hold her. In fact he didn't even look at her. He simply stood up and walked away. Back to his place among the others, leaving Scarlett alone again. She watched him leave. She felt a strange symmetry with that day years ago. He looked the same to her, wearing the hat cocked slightly to the side. Even her tears tasted the same.
Ooh poor Scarlett, I really wanted to let her just be happy with Montana but story's thrive on conflict. Maybe Guy'll cheer her up? We'll see! You may have picked up on this but Karma has a dark past as well. And what to do about this curse! So many plot points! So little time!