Time marches ever forward, unmindful of the humanity it condemns to death, looking only to the future. What if someone had the power to not only stop time, but reverse it?
Those who built the legendary Tower of Babel found a way. But the hand of God crushed the tower before the Genesis Clock’s power could be harnessed. Its pieces were scattered across the world, guarded by creatures and societies long since forgotten or shrouded in myth.
Evie’s father spent his life searching for the clock’s parts. Now it’s left to Evie to distinguish between fact and fiction, friend and foe, and to determine if her father’s quest is worth her life. She can’t lose her soul—that she already bartered away when she assumed the role of priestess to the sex-starved Star Goddess—but if she’s not careful, she could lose her heart to the man sent to kill her…
Because not everyone wants to see the clock resurrected.
Reader Advisory: Evie’s adventures through the remains of earthy, ancient cultures while host to a lascivious, immortal goddess involve some sexual detail.
Company: Ellora’s Cave Publishing
The sun relentlessly flogged the back of Evie’s neck. Reprieve from the roasting temperatures, tennis racket-sized creepy-crawlies and bacteria-breeding moisture was a rare luxury and in this part of South America, usually ill-gotten. She ignored the unpleasantness the best she could, though she’d kill for a Popsicle about now. A minor exaggeration but not far off the mark. The bit of hide she held in her hands might lead her to enough treasure she could afford to treat all the villagers to Popsicles. Then again, it just might get her killed. Either offered her amnesty.
Only a handful of people, mostly forgotten old men with too much unoccupied time on their hands, could read the variation of Vartanian script written on the hide. Even less could write it. Thanks to her father, she could do both.
Hide didn’t survive thousands of years in this climate. The aforementioned niceties often contributed to its demise. More likely someone had viewed the original script on a chunk of stone and copied the symbols to the hide to facilitate traveling. Rock made a poor traveling companion, particularly when hacking a path through the brush.
Why would anyone bother to copy it if they couldn’t read it? Unless they intended to find someone who could. The writing explained how to safely navigate the perils of Nantuk’s tomb. The Vartans revered Nantuk, priestess to the star goddess Quakoralina, though archeologists quarreled on whether it was out of fear of her mistress or for her supposed supernatural skills. Rumors of gold and jewels, including the goddess’s headdress, had sent more than one unwary treasure hunter on a meandering goose chase ending in an undesirable death.
If she had been her father—god forbid that particular nightmare ever came to pass—she would already be rushing to commandeer the village’s sole Jeep. She had learned from his actions exactly what not to do. Caution and careful planning led to results. Results garnered sponsors. Without results and sponsors you were just another crackpot spouting off tales of treasure in the hopes a bored and clueless millionaire wanted to live vicariously through your adventures. In her case, she also had to sort through the true financiers and the wannabe fuck buddies.
Feet shifted, beating an impatient rhythm on the hard-packed path.
Raising her head, she wiped sweat out of her eyes with the back of her hand. “Tell me again. Where’d you find this?”
Evie stood a full head taller than her bronze-skinned companion. She’d taken to wearing a huipil, the natives’ version of a blouse, heavy with elaborate embroidery, but shucking her cargo pants in favor of their long skirts wasn’t going to happen. Nor was she willing to risk snake or insect bite to run around barefoot. No matter what she did, be it speak their language—which she did fluently—or adopt their dress, she wouldn’t blend in. With the usual fair skin that accompanied the blonde-haired and blue-eyed, she stood out like a gringo tourist on market day.
Tolto knew how to write his own name and not much else. But he had the heart of a true buccaneer. Without him she would have stumbled into a few of those unmentionable deaths others before her had. Without her he wouldn’t be wearing commercially made thick-soled leather boots and packing a Glock 25 pistol. Oh, he’d still be armed, just not in style.
Add a dash of sex and it would have been the perfect arrangement. Only Tolto’s tastes didn’t run to gangly fair-skinned women who wore pants and wielded guns and knives just as well as a man. Pity. She rather liked Tolto.
“Pedro picked it off a body west of the stelae we uncovered last season.”
So not all Houltan villagers were squeamish of dead men’s ghosts. She tucked the knowledge away. “Did he say how the man died? Was he local?”
Tolto shook his head, straight black hair swinging around his face. “Not local. Too dark-skinned. Others say the man died of fright. No apparent wound on the body though the lizards had gleaned the tender parts.” He grinned, a wide white smile. Tender parts included eyeballs, nose, fingers and toes.
The stelae, tall narrow sandstone pillars carved by the Mayan, didn’t bear Vartanian marks.
“What does it say?” Tolto asked.
“It’s a description of a tomb.”
“Does it lead to treasure?”
“Perhaps. Death, more likely.”
The news earned her another wide grin. Leave it to Tolto to ignore her warning. “I knew it!” He wanted to purchase a bit of property at the edge of town and establish a respectable business. Many Houltan women inspected a man’s dwelling before even agreeing to a date.
“Don’t get all starry-eyed. It’s Nantuk’s tomb. We’ve been through this already. It’s too risky.” She was fairly certain they knew where the tomb was. The fact that it was carved into Wiskingsly Gorge was deterrent enough for most. The mound of skeletons stacked at its entrance usually stopped the rest that rappelled down.
“But you have directions now.”
“What if they fudged a symbol?”
“I trust you.”
She carefully rolled the hide up and secured it with the agave string it came with. Tucking it in her pack, she snagged her walking stick and headed toward the village. She needed a drink and some time to think.
Tolto, familiar with this side of her, followed in silence.
“Did Pedro find any identification on the person?”
“You report him to the authorities?” Without identification and fingerprints the dead man became just another picture in a file thick with unidentified corpses. Unless he had wealthy relatives seeking him, he wasn’t worth the paper the photo would be printed on. At least not to the authorities.
Tolto shrugged. “I did not ask.”
“How much did you pay for the hide?”
Tolto gave her a sly glance. That long straight nose and those finely chiseled bones could have served as a template for pictures painted on ancient Mayan ruins.
“Pedro owed me a favor.”
She rolled her eyes. Everyone owed Tolto favors. Had the man been born in the States, he’d have been a successful bookie or salesman or infomercial rep.
Last season’s excavation site was a good day’s ride from the village. That was assuming the roads were open. An overly wet season paired with already rutted roads mired anything on wheels. Traveling by horse would take an extra couple days. She could already feel the calluses on her ass protesting.
“Would Pedro take us to the body?”
Tolto crossed himself. “Why would you want that?”
“To see if he missed anything.”
“The bones will likely be picked clean.”
It was her turn to shrug.
“You have no respect for the dead,” Tolto muttered. “I will send word to Pedro.”
“When do we leave?”
“When we know Pedro will guide us to the dead man.” She caught sight of her hut and quickened her pace. She needed to add another layer of sunscreen to the one she’d already sweated off.
“If we are heading to the gorge, it is out of our way.”
She paused. “There’s only a handful of people who know how to read Vartanian.” She ticked them off on her fingers. “My father, myself, some crusty British scholar my father works for and a couple of monks somewhere in France, I think. They weren’t a brilliant race. The bulk of what they wrote that we’ve found fills less than a notepad, and there’s around six hundred symbols in their alphabet.”
Frankly, she didn’t know why her father bothered with it. The Mayans and Incas amassed hordes more wealth than the Vartans. While all the early civilizations had their own deity rites upon which life often revolved, the Vartans were the ones who were obsessed with them. Hunting and farming took a backseat to religion and in a region like this that was tantamount to signing one’s own death warrant. She shrugged. That was why their civilization—no more than an eccentric extended family of the Toltecs really—died out in less than two hundred years. A blip on the South American radar…or it would have been if the Mayans hadn’t taken over some of their sacred sites.
Tolto was staring at her expectantly.
“I want to know who has an interest in the Vartans and why.”
“I will do my best.”
“Thanks.” She clapped him on the shoulder. “You always do.”
“I have a vested interest.” He headed off to his own hut.
If there was another treasure hunter haunting her sites, she wanted to know about it. She was meticulous, not omnipotent. If one of her former excavations had yielded the hide’s symbols, she needed to know how she missed it.
Gods above, sometimes she wondered how she’d ended up here, sponsorless, funding digs off the finds from previous ones. A hand-to-mouth existence at best. Gambling, that’s all it was. Most times she didn’t mind. When she stumbled over a better-financed dig—the men who actually had use of their own Jeep, rather than the local village’s cobbled-together deathtrap—the green-eyed monster set in. She had guns and the local villagers’ support. They, oftentimes, had soldiers, also with guns and the government’s consent. The lack of sponsors gnawed at her. It wasn’t as if she had a lack of buyers. On the contrary, she maintained a list rivaling Heidi Fleiss’ black book in its breadth of clients. It was just that her reputation now scared away more public funding of her work. She would starve before she prostituted herself in exchange for a sponsor.
She sighed, surveying her life’s work. Photos were tacked up on the bamboo walls, more as art than any sort of record. Her reed bed was rolled up in one corner, the remnants of her breakfast fire still smoldering in the fire ring’s center. Tree stumps and a car’s hood served as her desk.
She could be working on tenure at Setonville University. A steady paycheck, hours probably only half as long as the ones she kept here, no chance of getting bitten by poisonous snakes. Probably a real desk too. Bet at the university she’d own more pens than guns. Pulling off her shoulder holster, she hung it on a peg on the wall.
Lunch was waiting for her on two legs, pecking and scratching at the bit of corn she left it this morning. She pulled a knife out of the sheath strapped to her thigh.
Just another day at the office.