The first step was torture and the second one was worse. I was a rag doll, torn across cactus and left to bake in the sun. I drug my feet up the boulder path that remained lit by the glow of godlings. It seemed the molecules themselves had taken on light, inspired by the energy that had flashed by. In any case it was a simple thing to follow their path in the hour before dawn. That warm awakening was late, in fact, made truant by the Sun-Chariot landing and delayed for some time while the galactic treasures were unloaded and brought to--where? As I stepped with care over rocks and into the twisted sandstone slots, I asked myself a final time if I really wished to continue.
I thought of everything--the car, the cooler full of sand, the sting of the cave bug, the incredible timeless trip of my mind on that terrible venom. I was stabbed in the hand, tore open my foot, walked countless miles, got caught in a flood, and was hammered by debris. Along the way I had seen Spanish miners from a previous century get caught by an ancient curse.
Did I really want to locate the vault these creatures had taken their treasures to?
As I pondered this fundamental issue my feet were moving mechanically, bringing me closer to the location in question. They had chosen a slot that was a near-horizontal path, winding its maze at the bottom of sheer and vertical walls. I followed the sparkle of their passing until I reached an end. It seemed a dryfall--the skeleton of a waterfall in stone. A dead-end cliff rose a hundred feet before me.
I stood at the cliff base and peered at the sandstone patterns. One could often see pictures in the grains. I relaxed my eyes and allowed them deeper perception.
Slowly the darker grains formed a shape, like a handprint, and I responded by placing my crucified palm against the cool rock. Ever so gently I pushed.
There was a sound like a stone sarcophagus sliding and a darkness appeared to my left. A corridor had opened as a stone slab was counterweighted up and back.
The path went into the cool dark, the glow of god feet still bright enough to navigate. The sinuous nature of the snaking way brought to mind my previous adventure, and I thought dimly to look out for stingers.
Farther back in this winding crack, the smooth sandstone gave way to strands of glassy selinite and gypsum. It wove throughout the quartz sandstone like a crystalline grid, revealing nubs and streaks at first but as the cave went on it became more pronounced, like bars and blades that thrust from the understone. I saw rusted spheres embedded in the walls, among the shards of crystal; small iron deposits called Moki stones by the ancients.
My scientific mind was battered and bruised, you see. It was not immediately clear what I was walking into. The geology, the elements exposed, the iron and crystal…
As the twisting tunnel lost its previous outer light, a purplish glow from ahead began creeping stronger into my sight. It was like UV, like blacklight, that strange and mysterious wavelength known for its fluorescent properties.
Without further puzzle, or trap, or damaging fall, I turned the corner and walked straight into the main vault of those inhuman gods.
It was a hoard worthy of the eldest dragon, a vast pile so immense that it exceeded all fairy tales, all myths, all dreams. It was the treasure of worlds, the best of forever, the finest materials in the heavens.
As I fell to my knees I beheld what was before me. I saw a massive amethyst chest, with twin eagles carved in detail atop it, facing off with outstretched wings. It was lit internally by something deep in its hollow. Just behind was a gold and cobalt array, like a chandelier or star-map, with winking gemstones placed in meticulous, visual rhythm. To the side was a stone panel, the lid of Palenque’, revealing one of the god-folk launching some kind of dimensional craft. There were statues of crystal, columns of gold, artifacts of finely carved gems. There were manuals and matrices, the scrolls and books of a thousand lost people. I got back to my feet, and staggered through the vault of wonders.
I saw a thunderbird carved of ancient wood, a totem pole with menacing grins, a headdress made of the last remaining Quetzal. I saw a drum carved out of tourmaline with a skin like spider silk. I saw a staff of bronze studded with sapphire stones.
There were rows of urns and boxes and chests, some rather plain and others incredibly refined. There was a jar carved out of ruby, and urn made of quartz.
There were clay jars stopped with copper, short lead wires out the top. Stacked in rows were crates of wood, crates of iron, copper and bronze. There were glass crates bound in iron, and containers carved from massive jewels.
Everything glowed its own color, and these dweomers combined over the hoard to make a scintillating display of light and hue.
From where I stood at the center I could see the patterns of arrangement, of order, that every object had been placed in. I could see the effects but couldn’t fathom the logic. I was certain that all was in place and that nothing should be moved.