Henry found his tongue, almost choking. “But this is an amazing discovery. Wh… why the secrecy?”

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“To preserve mankind’s hope for salvation,” Abbot Ruiz stated solemnly. “Upon the Holy Edict of Pope Paul III in 1542, our Spanish sect of the Dominicans was given the mantle to pursue any end to keep the demonic metal from corrupting mankind. To keep its existence secret and to sanctify it.”

Henry’s eyes narrowed. “You keep saying that—your sect. What do you mean by that? Who exactly are you?”

The abbot stared at Henry as if judging whether or not he was worthy of a response. When he spoke it was low and with an undercurrent of threat. “Who are we? Our order is one of the Dominican’s oldest, founded in the thirteenth century. We were once called the Keepers of the Question. It was our order that first accompanied the conquistadors into the New World, into the land of heathens. As discoverers of el Sangre, we were granted the task of confiscating every ounce of the demonic metal and putting everyone associated with its discovery to the Question, until knowledge of the el Sangre vanished into the folds of the Church.”

Understanding slowly dawned in Henry. He remembered the symbol of the crossed swords on Friar de Almagro’s ring. “Oh, God,” he mouthed.

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Abbot Ruiz straightened, unashamed. “We are the last of the Inquisitors.”

Henry shook his head, disbelieving. “But you were disbanded. Rome disavowed the Spanish Inquisition in the late nineteenth century.”

“In name only… the Holy Edict of Pope Paul III was never revoked.”

“So you fled here?” Henry asked.

“Yes, far from prying eyes and closer to the source of el Sangre del Diablo. Our order considered our mission too vital to abandon.”

“Mission to do what?” Joan asked. “Surely with all your research here, you don’t still believe the metal to be tainted by the devil?”

Her words drew a patronizing smile from the abbot. “No. On the contrary, we now believe el Sangre to be blessed.” A smile grew at their consternation. “For the metal to be able to divine the mind of man and turn his thoughts into physical reality, the hand of God must be involved. Within our labs, our sect has worked for centuries to refine the material and to expand the metal’s receptivity to pure thought.”

Henry frowned. “But to what end?”

The abbot spoke matter-of-factly. “So we can eventually reach the mind of God.”

Henry could not hide his shock. Joan moved closer to him, reaching for his hand.

Ruiz continued, “We believe that with enough technologically refined ore, we can build a vessel sensitive enough to receive the mind or spirit of our Holy Lord.”

“You must be joking,” Joan gasped.

The abbot’s expression was somberly stoic.

“And what then?” Henry asked, sensing something was being left unsaid.

The abbot cocked his head. “Professor Conklin, that’s our most guarded secret. But if we are to win your cooperation, I suppose I must show you everything. The final revelation.” Ruiz stepped toward the altar. “Come. You must understand.”

Henry sensed that the abbot, though he might whisper of guarded secrets, actually enjoyed this little dog-and-pony show for his guests. In some ways, it worried Henry. To reveal these secrets so openly suggested that the sect had no real concern that Joan or Henry would ever be sharing such knowledge with the world. The abbot’s confidence and willingness to talk, more than anything, made Henry edgy.

Once at the altar, Abbot Ruiz waved an arm over the golden figure. “Here is our ultimate goal.”

“I don’t understand,” Joan said. Henry shared her confusion.

The abbot touched the sculpture with a single trembling finger. “Here is an empty vessel, responsive only to our thoughts. But with enough raw material, we hope to reach the spirit of God Himself. To bring his will into physical form.”

Henry stared at the sleeping figure of Christ. “You’re not suggesting—”

“We believe it was by providence that el Sangre was delivered into the hands of the Church when first discovered in the New World. It was a challenge to our faith. A test of God. If we bring together enough of this divine substance, God’s mind will reach out and enter our vessel here, bring it to life.” Abbot Ruiz turned to Henry, his eyes bright with zeal. “Our goal is to bring a living God back to this earth.”

“You’re talking about initiating the Second Coming!” Joan exclaimed.

Abbot Ruiz nodded, turning to stare across the golden figure. “Christ born again here on Earth.”

Henry shook his head. This was insane. “So why us? Why do you need us?”

Ruiz smiled and drew them away. “Because you discovered the remains of Friar Francisco de Almagro, one of our predecessors. In the sixteenth century, he was sent to search for a rumored deposit of el Sangre, a strike so large that it was said by the Incas to ‘flow from the mountaintops like water.’ He never returned and was assumed killed. But when I received word from Archbishop Kearney in Baltimore, our hope was renewed. Maybe our ancestor had discovered the mother lode, only to die before he could bring back the knowledge.” He glanced at the slumbering Christ figure. “We pray, Professor Conklin, that you’ve stumbled upon our means to reach God.”

“You truly think this mythical mother lode is at my dig?”

The abbot raised his eyebrows. “Word has reached us from our agent on-site there. Signs look promising. But after that accident at the underground temple, it’ll take us a while to—”

Henry tensed. “What accident? What are you talking about?”

Ruiz’s face grew grim. “Oh, yes, that’s right. You would have no way of knowing about the collapse.” The abbot quickly related what had happened at the ruins.

The blood drained from Henry’s face.

“But fear not, though the students are trapped, their last transmission suggested that they’d found a natural cavern in which to take shelter.”

“I need to get up there! Now!” Henry blurted out, pulling from Joan’s grasp. All interest in anything here died to cold ash. Oh, God… he had forgotten all about Sam. He had not even considered that his nephew might be in danger, too.

“There is nothing you can do. I’m in contact with my men up there. Any change, one way or the other, and I’ll tell you immediately.”

Henry’s blood, which had drained from his face, rushed back. “You’ll get no cooperation from me! Not until I know my nephew is safe!”

“Calm yourself, Professor Conklin. I’ve already sent a team of mining experts to assist in the rescue.”

Henry wrung his hands together. Joan stepped nearer, drawing an arm around his shoulders. He stood stiffly in her embrace. After the death of his wife and brother, Sam was his only family. Henry had no room for anyone else. If he had not been so enamored of his old college flame, Henry might have been thinking more clearly and avoided this whole mess. Stepping out of Joan’s embrace, Henry spoke to the abbot through clenched teeth. “If any harm comes to Sam from this, I will kill you.”

Abbot Ruiz backed up a step, while Friar Carlos moved in with his Glock, warning Henry off. The abbot’s voice trembled slightly. “I’m sure your nephew is safe.”

Another booby trap!

As the gold floor trembled underfoot, Sam pulled Maggie to his side. She had been attempting to unlock the statue’s door, but it had locked tight behind them. “Brace yourselves!” Sam yelled above the growing roar of rushing water below. “Be ready to act!” Through his bootheels, the reverberations thrummed up his legs and tingled his ribs and spine.

A step away, Denal supported Norman; the young Quechan’s eyes were huge saucers.

The rumble below grew deafening in the small space, and the floor bucked under Sam’s boots. “Hang on!”

Suddenly the roar filled the space around them; the floor trembled as if holding back an immense pressure. Then the loud knock of catches releasing echoed all around them. The platform shot upward under them. Norman fell to his hands and knees, crying out in pain as his injured limb struck the metal floor. No one else spoke, hushed with fear, frozen in tense postures.

The platform rocked and jolted, but continued on its upward course—slowly at first, then faster, spinning slightly as it ascended the shaft. Underfoot, the floor continued to tremble with whatever force propelled it.

“Hydraulics!” Norman cried out over the roar. He was helped to his feet by Denal.

“What?” Sam asked.

Maggie pushed free of Sam’s embrace and studied the floor. “They must’ve tapped into an underground river, perhaps a tributary of the one we swam in yesterday. It’s a bloody hydraulic lift!”

Sam stared up into the throat of the passage above. “But where is it taking us?”

Maggie frowned. “If they wanted to kill intruders, this is an overly elaborate way to do it,” Maggie said, eyeing the flow of smooth walls. “I think it’s taking us all the way up.”

“To the roof?” Sam said, remembering the stance of the Incan king, arms raised up, palms on the ceiling as if supporting the ceiling of the cavern. He pictured the statue’s form. It was a straight shot up.

“Hopefully not just to crush us up there,” Norman said sourly. “That would ruin an otherwise perfectly good day.”

“I don’t think so,” Maggie answered, her voice unsure.

Denal suddenly cried out. He pointed overhead. “Look!”

Maggie swung her flashlight up, but there was no need. Far above them the end of the passage came into sight, a dome of gold, the interior crown of the statue’s skull. Light streamed from regularly spaced cracks in the roof’s surface. Then like the petals of a flower, six sections of the roof peeled fully open. Bright sunlight flowed down toward them.

“It’s a way out!” Sam exclaimed. He whipped off his Stetson and let out a whoop of joy. “We’ve made it!”

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