Sam turned his head and yelled, “We found the mountain!” Sam arched his neck and examined the wall. “The pyramid must have been built at the base of this cliff face.”
“But why?” Maggie asked.
Sam thought out loud. “The Incas revered mountains. But why build a huaca, or holy place here? What was so special about this cliff?”
Maggie answered after a moment, “Wh… what if there was a cave?”
Sam slapped his hand against the granite wall. “Of course. Caverns were considered to be pacariscas, mystical places joining the three worlds of their religion. They were often used as places of ritual. It makes sense!”
“But where’s the entrance?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t know, but the statue must be a key. Did you notice the silver archway behind the statue? It’s large enough to cover a narrow opening.”
Maggie and Sam returned to the statue. Sam leaned his shoulder against it and tried to shove the idol aside.
“Be careful,” Maggie warned.
Denal stood with one fist clenched at his throat.
But nothing happened. The statue could not be budged. “Damn it,” Sam swore, taking off his Stetson and swiping his damp hair back. “The thing must weigh close to a ton.”
Maggie frowned at him. “Brute force isn’t the answer. With the complexity shown here, there has to be a mechanism to unlock the pathway.” She elbowed Sam aside and approached the statue. Stretching on the tip of her toes, she examined it closely, her nose only inches from the golden surface. Slowly she worked her way down the statue’s physique.
Sam grew impatient, especially when the floor began to tremble again. “This place isn’t going to stand much longer,” he mumbled.
“Aha!” Maggie exclaimed. She turned to Sam, her face at the Incan king’s waist. “Here’s the answer.” She pointed to the statue’s belly button.
“What are you talking about?”
Maggie reached and pushed her finger through the hole. Her entire finger was swallowed up. “The Incas considered the navel to be a place of power. They believed the umbilicus once joined the physical body of man to the gods of creation.”
Sam crouched with Denal. “Another fusion of worlds.”
Maggie slipped her finger out. “It’s a keyhole. Now we just need to find the key.”
Sam straightened, thinking aloud. “The navel links the gods of janan pacha to mankind in the physical world… to cay pacha. If this chamber is a point where all three worlds unite… then the key must be something from the lower world, from uca pacha.”
Maggie clutched his elbow in understanding. “By inserting the key into the navel lock, then all three worlds would be united.”
“Yeah, but where do we find such a key?”
Denal nudged Sam. He pointed to the statue’s feet, to where a small mound of gold and silver offerings were piled. “Uca pacha lies at bottom of feet.”
“Och! We’ve been feckin’ fools for sure.” Maggie dropped to her knees and began sifting through the objects. “The lower world! Sometimes it’s best to hide somethin’ in plain sight.”
Sam joined her. Working through the pile, he held up a golden figurine of a panther with ruby eyes, then cast it aside. “There’s enough wealth here to finance a small nation.”
“And it’ll do us not a nit of good if we don’t survive.”
As if to remind them further, the temple rumbled and shook as another section gave way. The tiles overhead trembled and clanged. One of the booby traps sprang on its own, triggered by the roof’s shaking: a huge granite block carved with a demon’s face crashed to the floor and embedded itself in the silver tile below.
Maggie and Sam eyed each other grimly.
Ralph called from behind them, coughing slightly. “That’s it! We’re sealed in, folks! If there’s another way out, I suggest you find it damn quick!”
Maggie whispered, “The structure of the floor and trap is coming apart. If Norman and Ralph are goin’ to join us—”
“You’re right. Keep searching.” Sam stood up. “Ralph! Norman! Come on over! Now!” The two other students were obscured in a cloud of granite dust. But Ralph waved his flashlight in acknowledgment and started toward them.
Sam returned to Maggie. “They’re coming. Any luck?”
She shook her head; her hand trembled as she picked through the pieces. “I can’t think clearly. What if I miss a clue? We won’t have a second chance.” A small sob escaped her throat.
Sam knelt beside her. “We’ll get out of here.” He put an arm around her shoulders and held her tight.
She leaned into his embrace, silent for several heartbeats. Then a final shudder passed through her, and she seemed to relax again. Slipping from under his arm, she turned to Sam, her dusty face marred by trails of tears. She wiped at her cheeks and mumbled, “Thanks, Sam.”
No words were needed. He nodded and returned to his own search alongside her. They worked as a team, sifting through the pile of objects. Sam almost tossed aside their salvation, but Maggie stopped him, grabbing his wrist.
Sam held a foot-long golden dagger with a silver handle. “What?”
“Look at the carving on the hilt.”
Sam raised it into the beam of the flashlight Denal was holding. It bore the figure of a man with prominent fangs. Sam recognized the figure from ancient ceramic pottery. “It’s the fanged god Aiapaec.”
Maggie nodded. “A god of the Moche tribes!”
Sam remembered his uncle’s assessment of this buried pyramid. It was clearly Moche. Here was more proof. “This will make Uncle Hank happy… that is, if we get out of here to show it to him.” He began to place the dagger aside.
Maggie stopped him again. “Wait, Sam. Some scholars say that the Incas may have incorporated the Moche god, Aiapaec, into their own pantheon of gods. But the Inca’s renamed him—Huamancantac!”
“The god of guano… bat dung?” Sam stared at her as if she were mad. What was her point? Then understanding dawned on him. “The god of bats… and caverns! A spirit from the lower world, uca pacha!”
Sam sprang to his feet, dagger in hand.
“It must be the key!” Maggie exclaimed.
Just then Ralph and Norman joined the trio by the statue. “I don’t know what you’re all excited about, but I’d suggest we get out of here.” He pointed toward the rear of the chamber.
Sam turned. There was no rear of the chamber. With the dust settling from the last of the major rumbles, the back of the room was a tumbled pile of blocks. “Christ!” Overhead, a quarter of the heavy roof tiles hung crooked or tilted. And in the background, the continual groan of tons of granite sounded from above their heads.
Norman’s voice was a squeak. “There’s no place else to run.”
“Maybe there is,” Sam said. He turned and stabbed the dagger into the statue’s belly. It sank to the level of the hilt.
Norman shifted his feet, staring at the impaled knife. “Okay, Brutus, you’ve stabbed Caesar. What now?”
Sam tried turning the knife like a key, but it refused to move. He pulled the dagger back out, his eyes on Maggie. “I was sure you were right.” He held the gold dagger between them, clutching it tightly. “Th… this has to be the key!” he said between clenched teeth, frustration trembling his voice. “It must be!”
As he spoke the last word, the dagger shifted in his hands. The length of gold blade molded itself into a jagged lightning bolt. It shone brightly in the beam of the flashlights. Sam almost dropped the knife, but his left hand steadied his right, both palms now clutching the hilt. “Did anyone else see that? Or did my mind just snap?” Sam ran his fingers over the knife, searching for the catch that had triggered the transformation. He found nothing.
Another cascade of rock tumbled behind them. It was the chamber’s roof collapsing, taking out half of the roof tiles. The clang of rock and metal echoed sharply. Death rolled toward them in a gnash of rock, but none of them moved.
Instead, Maggie raised her hands toward the dagger, then lowered them back again, clearly afraid of disturbing the miracle. “It’s now the symbol of Pachacamac. The Incan god of creation.” She met Sam’s wide eyes. “Use it!”
Sam nodded and turned back to the statue. With the tip of the dagger trembling, Sam edged the knife into the belly of the Incan king. It took a bit of rocking back and forth to insert the jagged blade fully, but with one final push, the knife slid home.
A cracking grind of gears exploded, loud enough to vanquish the crash of boulders behind them.
As Sam held tight to the hilt of the dagger, the Incan statue split neatly in half, from crown to feet, a seam appearing from nowhere. The two halves pulled apart from the dagger’s hilt, along with the silver archway behind it. Beyond the statue, a natural fissure in the rock was revealed.
Sam stood frozen before the split statue, the knife still in his grip, the blade now pointing toward the cavern entrance. “Holy shit!”
Stunned, Sam raised the dagger. It was once again just the straight blade he had first found. He let his arm drop and turned to the others. A blinding flash of Norman’s camera caught him off guard. Sam rubbed at his eyes with the heel of his hand. “Warn a guy next time,” he complained.
“And ruin that natural expression of awe,” Norman answered. “Not a chance.”
The others all began talking at once—amazement, wonder, and relief ringing brightly. Ralph shone his flashlight down the throat of the fissure. It delved deep into the cliff face, beyond the reach of Ralph’s light. “I hear what sounds like running water,” he said. “The cavern must be plenty deep.”
“Good,” Sam said. He finally held up his dagger, getting the others’ attention. “I have no idea what just happened here, but let’s get our asses out of this temple before it crushes us flat as pancakes.”