Wrath of the Gods - J. Robert Kennedy - ebook
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"A little bit of Jack Bauer and Indiana Jones!"USA TODAY and BARNES & NOBLE #1 BESTSELLING AUTHOR • “A MASTER STORYTELLER” • OVER 800,000 BOOKS SOLD • OVER 3,000 FIVE STAR REVIEWSA THOUSAND YEARS OF HISTORY ARE ABOUT TO BE REWRITTEN!A strange people land on the shores of the Mayan Empire, triggering a battle for the very survival of a civilization already in upheaval from a punishing drought, the fight falling to a young chieftain left to face what he believes is the wrath of gods angered by a loss of faith.A thousand years later, Archaeology Professors James Acton and Laura Palmer are invited to an incredible discovery that reveals the truth of what happened in those fateful days 400 years before Columbus. Yet before they can fully explore this amazing find, they are thrust into the middle of the Mexican drug war, Acton and Interpol Agent Hugh Reading taken hostage, leaving it up to Laura to save them.Four-time USA Today Bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy once again takes history and twists it to his own ends in Wrath of the Gods, an action-packed thrill ride only he can deliver. Prepare to be on the edge of your seat as a forgotten history is revealed, and a race against time unfolds with enough heart-pounding excitement, laughter and tears, to satisfy any action fan.With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 Five-Star reviews, it’s time to join those who have compared Kennedy to Patterson, Clancy, Brown, Cussler and Rollins.Buy your copy today and find out why so many readers have fallen for USA TODAY bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy’s thrilling series!About the James Acton Thrillers:"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J. Robert Kennedy."Though this book is part of the James Acton Thrillers series, it is written as a standalone novel and can be enjoyed without having read any of the previous installments."James Acton: A little bit of Jack Bauer and Indiana Jones!"The James Acton Thrillers series and its spin-offs, the Special Agent Dylan Kane Thrillers and the Delta Force Unleashed Thrillers, have over 3000 Five-Star reviews and have sold over 800,000 copies. If you love non-stop action and intrigue with a healthy dose of humor, try James Acton today!Available James Acton Thrillers:The Protocol, Brass Monkey, Broken Dove, The Templar's Relic, Flags of Sin, The Arab Fall, The Circle of Eight, The Venice Code, Pompeii's Ghosts, Amazon Burning, The Riddle, Blood Relics, Sins of the Titanic, Saint Peter's Soldiers, The Thirteenth Legion, Raging Sun, Wages of Sin, Wrath of the Gods, The Templar's Revenge

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Wrath of the Gods

A James Acton Thriller

by

J. Robert Kennedy

From the Back Cover

“Kennedy rules the genre.” (Malcolm Stone)

“A master storyteller.” (Betty Richard)

A THOUSAND YEARS OF HISTORY ARE ABOUT TO BE REWRITTEN!

A strange people land on the shores of the Mayan Empire, triggering a battle for the very survival of a civilization already in upheaval from a punishing drought, the fight falling to a young chieftain left to face what he believes is the wrath of gods angered by a loss of faith.

A thousand years later, Archaeology Professors James Acton and Laura Palmer are invited to an incredible discovery that reveals the truth of what happened in those fateful days 400 years before Columbus. Yet before they can fully explore this amazing find, they are thrust into the middle of the Mexican drug war, Acton and Interpol Agent Hugh Reading taken hostage, leaving it up to Laura to save them.

Four-time USA Today Bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy once again takes history and twists it to his own ends in Wrath of the Gods, an action-packed thrill ride only he can deliver. Prepare to be on the edge of your seat as a forgotten history is revealed, and a race against time unfolds with enough heart-pounding excitement, laughter and tears, to satisfy any action fan.

About the James Acton Thrillers

"James Acton: A little bit of Jack Bauer and Indiana Jones!"

Though this book is part of the James Acton Thrillers series, it is written as a standalone novel and can be enjoyed without having read any of the previous installments.

About J. Robert Kennedy

With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.

"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard

"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford

"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity

"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen

"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer

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Find out more at www.jrobertkennedy.com.

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Books by J. Robert Kennedy

The James Acton Thrillers

The Protocol Brass Monkey Broken Dove The Templar's Relic Flags of Sin The Arab Fall The Circle of Eight The Venice Code Pompeii's Ghosts Amazon Burning The Riddle Blood Relics Sins of the Titanic Saint Peter's Soldiers The Thirteenth Legion Raging Sun Wages of Sin Wrath of the Gods The Templar's Revenge

The Special Agent Dylan Kane Thrillers

Rogue Operator Containment Failure Cold Warriors Death to America Black Widow The Agenda Retribution

The Delta Force Unleashed Thrillers

Payback

Table of Contents

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Table of Contents

Beginning

Preface

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Acknowledgements

Don't Miss Out!

Thank You!

About the Author

Also by the Author

For the over 100,000 dead from the Mexican war on drugs.

“Having received the Mandate from Heaven, may (the emperor) lead a long and prosperous life.”

Inscription by Prime Minister Li Si on the Heirloom Seal of the Realm, circa 221 BC

“We’re all afraid in Mexico now. We can’t let fear beat us.”

Marisol Valles García

Preface

There is a story that when Columbus arrived in America, the natives couldn’t see his ships, as their minds couldn’t perceive them, the concept of vessels so large, simply too much for them to comprehend. This has been largely dismissed as ridiculous, the very idea that large ships could park offshore and not be noticed for hours or days, laughable.

Yet dismissing this idea out of hand would be premature. There is evidence to suggest that the natives saw the boats, yet simply had no concept as to what they were looking at, therefore didn’t see them as boats, but something else entirely.

Or nothing at all.

A mirage.

And it has been suggested these sightings—or lack thereof—weren’t the first.

Legends, maps, and even pre-Columbian writings bearing a remarkable resemblance to ancient Chinese, have been found, suggesting the Chinese visited the Americas long before Columbus.

Yet if this were true, shouldn’t there be some evidence left behind? Some tangible proof that the Chinese had actually arrived?

Of course, there wouldn’t be, if that evidence were intentionally erased.

1

Pacific Coastal Region Maya Highlands, Maya Empire 1092 AD

Balam Canek stared at the sea, the waves roaring against the shore, the water extending out into the distance, lost to the sun low on the horizon. Something was wrong. Something was different. He couldn’t put his finger on it, what it could be, though something was definitely not right.

“What is it?”

He glanced at his wife, Nelli. “I’m not sure. Do you see something? On the water?”

She stared, squinting into the sun, then shook her head. “No, nothing. Do you?”

He shrugged, holding his hand up to shield some of the light. “I don’t know. Something isn’t right. It’s like a mirage. I know something is there, but I can’t quite make it out.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Where?”

He pointed directly ahead. “I think there’s something there, but there can’t be, right?”

She stepped toward the water, her bare feet leaving cute little indentations in the sand. He followed. “Was there ever an island there?”

He gave her a look. “We’ve lived here our entire lives. You know the answer to that.”

She grunted. “Then I don’t know what I see.”

He grabbed onto the words. “But you do see something!”

She frowned, her head bobbing slowly. “Yes, there’s definitely something there, but I have no idea what it is. It must be a trick. Perhaps Bitol is having fun with us?”

He chuckled at the reference to the Sky God. It could be. The gods were known to toy with their creations from time to time, or to show their displeasure. Sacrifices would be made over the coming days, he had no doubt. The gods would be appeased, and whatever this was, would go away.

Nelli gasped, jabbing a finger toward the sea. “Balam, look!”

He turned to where she was pointing and his jaw dropped. It was a boat, filled with perhaps ten men, men dressed as nothing he had ever seen. Suddenly everything came into focus, as if a great fog had lifted, though this was nothing physical, nothing natural, instead a fog of the mind as it made sense of what he had been staring at for so long. “May the gods protect us! I see it! It’s a floating island!”

Nelli stared, her mouth agape, then she grabbed his arm, gripping it tight. “But it can’t be! That’s impossible!”

He didn’t say anything, instead standing frozen in place, his entire body shaking as his heart hammered. It was an island, floating on the water, rising and falling with the waves. Yet it was more than that. There were at least half a dozen of the islands, all clustered together, giving the illusion from a distance of one massive creation. And now, several boats, loaded with strange men, strange creatures, sailed toward the shore, toward them.

“I-I’ve never seen anything like it! Who could create such a thing?”

Nelli tugged on his arm, trying to lead him away. “Come, we must go warn the others. Nothing good can possibly come of this.”

He resisted at first, continuing to stare at the strange land floating upon the sea.

It must be the gods. And they must be angry!

“Balam! Come!”

The first boat hit the beach, its prow cutting into the sand, those aboard jumping over the sides. They appeared to be men, yet not. They had two arms and two legs, like himself, though their eyes were thin and slanted, unlike any he had ever seen.

Except in an animal, glowering in the dark.

He shivered. These were not men at all. They were covered in some sort of thick, rigid hide, like the scales of a reptile, one of them, obviously the leader, stepping onto the sand and saying something in a tongue he had not heard before, shimmering in the sunlight as if his skin were made of gold. One of them pointed in their direction. Something was shouted. Balam turned and grabbed Nelli by the hand, terror gripping his chest.

They must be here to punish us!

“We have to warn the others!”

2

Fairmont Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya, Mexico Present Day

“Man, this is the life.” Archaeology Professor James Acton held up his margarita and clinked glasses with his wife and love of his life, Archaeology Professor Laura Palmer.

“It is, indeed.”

Acton swapped hands and presented his glass with salted rim to one of their best friends, Interpol Agent Hugh Reading. Reading eyed the ridiculously emasculating glass and tapped it with his own beer, in a bottle, that he had managed to have warmed to his own liking, everything at the exclusive resort chilled to North American expectations, not the cellar temperature his British heritage demanded. “Cheers.”

“Cheers.” Acton drained his drink then raised it high, a cabana boy rushing over.

“Another, señor?”

“Absolutely.” The young boy smiled, taking the empty glass and turned to Laura who waved him off.

“No, love, I need my legs working later.”

“Damn right you do.”

“James!”

Reading snorted then drained his bottle, handing it to the boy. “It tastes like another.”

“Right away, señor.”

The boy rushed off, and Reading let out a loud sigh as he sank back in his lounge chair. “Did I thank you for inviting me?”

Laura winked at her husband. “Only a few dozen times.”

Reading gave her a look. “Well, thank you again.” He glanced at Acton. “Add it to the tally, I’m sure you’re keeping score.”

Acton grinned. “I just wish Greg could have come with the family.”

“Back problems?”

Acton shook his head, thankful that wasn’t the issue. His friend had been shot in the back several years ago, and initially, the doctors had thought he’d never walk again. Thankfully, they were wrong. Greg Milton could now walk, though his stamina was still a challenge, the pain eventually returning to the point where he’d have to sit down.

But walking was walking.

“Alumni problems. The state cut some of our funding, so he’s trying to make up the difference.”

“Is your job at risk?”

“He’s my best friend. It better not be.”

“Well, if it is, Professor Acton, perhaps you can come work with me.”

Acton flinched then twisted around to see the source of the comment. And smiled. “Eduardo! What the hell are you doing here?” He stood, extending his hand, Eduardo Morales taking it and pulling him in for a thumping hug.

“My friend, I am delighted you are here! So much so, I will not chastise you for failing to tell me you were coming with your lovely wife.”

Laura rose, giving Morales a hug. “Good to see you, Eduardo, it’s been too long.”

“Yes, the antiquities conference in Jordan.” He motioned toward Acton. “Before this one found you and made an honest woman of you.”

Laura grinned. “I like to think I made an honest man out of him.”

Reading eyed the colorful margarita just arriving. “Are you sure you made a man out of him?”

Acton feigned a punch to Reading’s midriff. “May I introduce our good friend, Hugh Reading of Interpol.”

Morales shook Reading’s hand. “A pleasure.”

“Likewise.” Reading took his beer, testing the temperature and giving the cabana boy a thumbs up. “Keep them coming like that, lad, and you’ll have a good tip at the end of this.” The boy beamed then rushed off to his next customer.

Acton gestured toward an empty chair under the large umbrella. “Take a load off and tell us what’s new with you. Are you here on vacation?”

Morales sat then leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “No, Jim, I’m here looking for you guys.”

Acton’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

Morales leaned in closer, lowering his voice. “I’ve made a discovery, one so significant, I don’t know who I can trust.”

3

Pacific Coastal Region Maya Highlands, Maya Empire 1092 AD

Cheng Jun steadied himself in the boat then leaped into the water as they reached shore. He and the others pulled the boat aground, careful to keep their feet in the water, for the honor of setting foot upon dry land would be that of their Admiral, Khong Hui. He had doubted they would ever see land again, yet here they were, on the shores of some strange, new world, a world none of his people had ever before seen. It was terrifying yet exciting, and it was truly an honor that he had been chosen to not only serve aboard the fleet’s flagship, but to be part of the initial landing party. His family would never have believed it, and he just prayed that one day he’d see them again, so they could share in the honor this day should bring to his children and grandchildren, for generations to come.

For today was a great day.

They were here to spread the mighty Song Dynasty across the sea, to the lands long rumored to lie across the great ocean, and perhaps return with untold riches, a share every man in the crew had been assured of, should they do their duty.

And he had done his duty.

“I claim this land in the name of the Emperor, and the Song Dynasty!” Admiral Khong stepped from the prow and onto the beach, walking several paces inland, no one daring move until his boots touched the dry sand. Admiral Khong surveyed the area, his head held high, chin jutted forward, the air of superiority evident to all, a superiority well-deserved.

For he carried the great seal, the Heirloom Seal of the Realm, given to him by the Emperor himself, to prove his authority should it ever be challenged. Though here, in this desolate place, Cheng could imagine no one challenging the Empire, the Emperor, or his representative on this mission.

With a flick of the wrist, Admiral Khong ordered them forward, and Cheng, with the others, pulled the boat farther ashore then fanned out, forming a protective wedge in front of their leader. What strange beasts may be lurking in the thick forest ahead of them, he did not know, but he would happily sacrifice himself to its claws should it mean saving the life of Admiral Khong, and guaranteeing the security of his family for years to come. To die saving one’s admiral was the dream of peasants like him, and though he hoped his armor would protect him so he might live to see his beloved wife and their three children again, his death would bring them far more.

Something moved to their left and he gasped, a man and woman, perhaps his age, were standing at the tree line, staring at them, almost naked. He pointed. “Sir!”

4

Route 295 Approaching Tepich, Mexico Present Day

Professor James Acton held onto the doorframe—tight. Eduardo Morales not only had a lead foot, he also appeared to have an aversion for keeping his eyes on the road, every word spoken needing to be addressed with eye contact. Thankfully, he used the mirror for Laura in the back seat, Reading merely staring ahead, saying nothing, probably regretting his decision to join them.

“As you know, when the Spanish first arrived, they burned all of the Mayan books they could find, considering them blasphemous as they too often described the Mayan gods. Ybanez de Landa was particularly guilty of this, despite the fact he is responsible for most of what we know about the ancient Mayans.”

Acton nodded. Ybanez de Landa had been a Spanish Franciscan monk, and had been responsible for burning almost all of the Mayan’s written works—priceless, irreplaceable artifacts. Ancient texts, literature, manuals—the records of an advanced civilization—all destroyed by ignorance and arrogance. Until today, only four Mayan books were known to exist.

Until today.

“I’ve read his book of course, and copies of the four Mayan texts—the translations at least. My Mayan is rusty, but hers is excellent.”

Morales spun in his seat, staring at Laura. “May I confess something?”

“You just might have to. We’re about to die!” Morales glanced at Reading then spun around, swerving back onto the road. “How about I drive?” suggested Reading.

Morales laughed. “Not to worry, God, I think, is on our side today.”

Reading frowned. “It’s not God I’m worried about.”

Laura playfully slapped him and leaned between the two front seats. “What is it that you have to confess?” Morales turned to face her, but she gently pushed his face back toward the road. “I must insist, otherwise my friend back here will either have a heart attack, or shoot you.”

“I don’t have my gun.”

“Heart attack, then.”

Morales laughed. “You’d never survive the streets of Mexico City if my driving bothers you!” He adjusted his mirror so he could see everyone in the rear seat. “My confession”—he glanced at Acton and gave him a rueful smile—“is that I actually came looking for you, Laura.”

Acton’s eyebrows rose. “I thought you said Greg told you where we were?”

“He did. I didn’t know how to reach your wife, so called your university to ask. Dean Milton told me you were both here. I, umm, didn’t want to hurt your feelings when you thought I came to find you.”

Acton chuckled. “My feelings would have only been hurt if you were looking for him.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at Reading.

Reading grunted. “Nobody’s ever looking for me.”

Laura patted his knee. “Now, now, don’t get grumpy.”

“I’m hungry. We missed lunch. I’m going to be grumpy.” Laura reached into her purse and handed him a protein bar. He brightened until he took his first bite. “What is this, chocolate flavored chalk?”

She gave him a look. “There’s just no pleasing you today, is there?”

“No.”

She handed him a bottle of water. “Here, this makes it go down easier.”

Reading chewed as he unscrewed the cap then took a swig, saying nothing, apparently content enough. Laura turned her attention back to Morales. “So, you were saying?”

“I need an expert in Ancient Mayan, and that’s you.”

“Forgive me for saying, but that’s you, too, isn’t it? In fact, aren’t you considered the Ancient Mayan expert?”

Morales bowed slightly, his head dipping below the dash, Reading’s eyes bulging. “Some would say so, yes.”

“Most would say so,” said Acton, pointing at the road. “But, yes, my wife is definitely up there as well.” He beamed a smile back at her with a wink.

“Thank you, dear.”

He grinned. “You’re welcome, dear.”

“Ahh, new love. I remember when I felt the same way about my wife.”

“Eduardo! You don’t love your wife anymore?”

“Oh! No no no no no! I love her very much, it’s just different after twenty years of marriage. You don’t show it as much.”

“And you aren’t so quick to show it in front of others.”

Laura slapped Reading again as Acton unbuckled his seatbelt and turned around. “I’m coming back there to make love to my wife. Object?”

“Bloody hell!”

Acton roared with laughter, returning to his seat and strapping back in. He glanced at Morales, still laughing. “So you needed a second opinion on what you found?”

“Yes.”

“But I thought you found a lost Mayan library? Surely you don’t need Laura to confirm that?”

Morales shook his head. “It’s not the library that concerns me, it’s what else we found in the library.”

Acton’s eyes narrowed, the excitement in Morales’ tone palpable. “What did you find?”

“Something that changes everything.”

5

Pacific Coastal Region Maya Highlands, Maya Empire 1092 AD

Balam Canek rushed through the dense forest, one hand extended in front of him as he pushed the thick brush aside, the other tightly gripping Nelli. His heart slammed hard as he tried to make sense of what he had seen. A giant floating island, regurgitating strange men onto the sea as if some portal to another world had opened, unleashing demonic minions into their peaceful existence as punishment for something, something they must have done, something that the human sacrifices were no longer enough to satisfy.

But what could it be?

He had heard about the great drought, though its effects hadn’t been felt by his people, at least not yet. They had taken in refugees over the years, those who had fled the devastation rather than hold out and trust that the priests and shamans would save them. They were the cowards, the unfaithful. To abandon one’s home and family in the face of adversity was shameful, which was why those welcomed into the village lived a lonely life on the outskirts.

Tolerated, and not much more.

Balam and Nelli reached them first.

One of the refugees rushed up to him, concern on his face. “Balam, what’s wrong?”

He came to a halt, gasping to catch his breath, Nelli doing the same beside him, and though he felt safer now that his home was in sight, he feared there would be no safe place from the creatures now arriving. “Something’s happened. Something terrible.”

The man’s formidable muscles tensed. “What?”

“A great darkness has arrived. Strange men. Strange creatures. Coming forth from the belly of a beast so large, it can only have been sent by the gods.”

Others had gathered, the fear in their eyes mounting, Balam growing more terrified with each word that came out of his mouth, for it couldn’t have been an island. Islands didn’t float. It had to be a creature of the sea, a creature so massive it was unfathomable to even consider the power wielded to create such a thing.

They were doomed.

“I need to see the Chief.” He grabbed Nelli’s hand. “We must raise a war party! We must prepare to fight!”

The newcomers sprang into action, the men rushing to their homes as Balam led Nelli deeper into the village, the refugees emerging with weapons, prepared to defend their new home. Balam looked at his friend, Kawil, a newcomer who had been here for as long as he could remember, still not fully accepted into the village, the diaspora from the drought-ravaged areas, no matter how long ago their arrival, forever relegated to the fringe of society.

Yet not Kawil.

For some reason, they had become friends, though it was a friendship of the forest lest the others find out and ostracize him as well. A nod was exchanged, and little else. And his chest ached with the knowledge they could never truly be friends. Though after today, it might not matter, should the wrath of the gods be unleashed upon them.

He spotted the Chief in the center of the village, congregating with several of the elders. “Chief! I must speak with you!”

A hand was held up, and nothing more, one of the elders talking.

“The well is as low as I’ve ever seen it.”

The Chief waved his hand. “But look about. I see no signs of drought.”

“It’s the river. Its banks are showing like never before. Its source is to the east, where we know the drought has taken hold. It’s only a matter of time before we too are affected.”

Balam bit his tongue as he waited impatiently for his chance to speak, interrupting the Chief and the elders, something that just wasn’t done.

“What would you have me do?”

No answers appeared forthcoming until the priest finally spoke. “The gods must be displeased.” He motioned toward where they had just come, toward the settlement of newcomers. “Perhaps it is because we tolerate those who would show their lack of faith by abandoning their homes and their gods so easily.”

Heads bobbed, and Balam’s chest tightened as he realized what was about to be proposed.

“We should banish them immediately. Perhaps then the gods will be satisfied, and spare us this curse.”

More bobbing heads.

“Forgive me for interrupting, but—”

The hand rose again, and this time was accompanied by a glare, a glare that caused Balam to shrink away like it had since he was a boy.

“Things have become worse with the latest arrivals, and more seem to be coming every day as word spreads of our generosity. I have always felt that the gods wished us to show mercy to our fellow man, however I am just a man, and perhaps have been mistaken.” The Chief sighed. “Perhaps my generosity has been misplaced. It was one thing to willingly share what little we have with a few, but the few have turned into many, into a flood, and that flood threatens to overwhelm us. Even if the gods are not punishing us for our misplaced generosity, we nonetheless suffer because of it. There are only so many crops, so many fish in the river, so many animals to feed and clothe us, and now this.” He motioned at the communal well. “I think we have made a mistake by letting these people stay.” He squared his shoulders, and Balam’s stomach flipped as the words he had dreaded for years were uttered. “Let it be known, that from this day forth, no one not born to this village will be welcome here unless it is through marriage.” He turned toward the newcomers’ encampment. “They leave, today.” Murmurs of assent grew from the others gathered. “And choose one for a sacrifice. We must appease the gods for our arrogance.”

Applause and cheers erupted, and soon the gathered men left, reappearing with their spears and axes, marching toward the edge of the village to deliver the news and choose their victim.

Balam felt sick, his purpose forgotten.

“What is it, Balam? What is it that has you so flustered?”

Balam stared at the Chief for a moment, his mind blank. Nelli elbowed him.

“Balam!”

He glanced at her, the urgency in her eyes finally reminding him. “Demons! On the beach!”

The Chief’s eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?”

“We saw them, dozens if not more, landing on the shore, coming from some huge, floating island or creature.”

The Chief stared at him, a slight smile finally breaking out. “You were always the joker, boy. Like your mother.”

Nelli stepped forward. “He’s not joking, sir, it’s true. I saw it with my own eyes. Strange creatures, standing on two feet like us, but covered in thick scales with narrow, slanted…evil eyes.”

The Chief stared at Nelli, his smile gone. “You two are being serious, aren’t you?”

Balam nodded furiously. “Yes. And there isn’t much time. More were coming.”

The Chief grasped at his temples, pushing against them as if battling a fierce headache. “If these are indeed demons, then they must be from the realm of the gods.” He glanced at the priest. “What do you think, holy one?”

The priest gestured at the well. “We have already seen the anger of the gods, and this lack of water was just a warning. It has been going on for over a year, and we have done nothing to heed it. Just this week we took in three more who have turned their backs on the gods. Perhaps these demons are our punishment for not listening.”

The Chief turned toward the edge of the village where screams and cries could be heard from the newcomers as the men of the village emptied their homes, some as well-built as any in the village, others makeshift shelters for those who had not yet committed to staying permanently. “Will ridding ourselves of them appease the gods?”

The priest shook his head. “I fear it may not. We may yet need to pay a price in blood.”

“Then a sacrifice?”

“Yes, but one of our own. It is hardly punishment to kill an outsider.”

The Chief sighed, closing his eyes. “I refuse to believe the gods would punish us for doing a good deed. These people may have turned their backs on their homes, but they pray as we all do, participate in all the rituals. I see no evidence beyond doing whatever it took to save their families, that these people have any less faith in the gods than you or I.” The priest recoiled as if physically wounded by the words. The Chief recognized the perceived insult and reached out, gripping the elderly man’s shoulder. “I, of course, should have excluded you. None have more faith than you.”

This appeased the priest. “Then a sacrifice it is?”

The Chief shook his head as he watched a young man race by with a bowl of blue paint. A scream erupted, a scream Balam recognized only too well—it was his friend, Kawil. Two villagers were dragging him toward the square, Kawil kicking and screaming as he realized what was happening, the blue paint used for only one thing.

To mark those about to be sacrificed, the blue color chosen to honor the rain gods.

Tears welled in Balam’s eyes as he stared at his friend. He spun to the Chief. “Sir, please, not him.”

The Chief patted him on the shoulder. “There will be no sacrifice today.” He stepped forward, raising his hands. Everyone fell silent, only Kawil’s whimpers breaking the hush. “Raise a war party! We must go to the beaches and meet these messengers of the gods and convince them that we have repented!”

The priest, his voice low, stepped closer. “And should they not listen?”

“Then the price in blood will be paid by both sides.”

6

Universidad Veracruzana Archaeological Site South of Tepich, Mexico Present Day

James Acton pushed through the trees and gasped as he stepped into a large clearing, half a dozen members of Professor Morales’ team hard at work on what was a stone entranceway embedded in the side of a hill.

And he felt a little disappointed.

“I thought you said it was huge? The hill doesn’t look that big.”

Morales slapped him on the back, urging him forward. “My friend, this is nothing. The tip of the proverbial iceberg. They buried it underground.”

As they approached the entrance, Laura surged ahead, taking out her phone and recording the hieroglyphs surrounding the archway.

“What does it say?” asked Acton as Reading stepped up beside him, looking much the worse for wear. Acton picked several burrs off the poor man and flicked a millipede he clearly wasn’t aware of, off his shoulder.

Laura traced her hand along the archway, pointing at each symbol as she went along. “Roughly, it says, ‘Here lies the wealth of knowledge shared by the gods, preserved lest the wrath of the new arrivals from the west prevail.’” She stepped back, running over it again, mumbling the words. She turned to Morales. “Am I right?”

He shook his head, smiling. “It took me hours to be sure, but yes.” He pointed at one of the hieroglyphs. “You said ‘new arrivals from the west’ here, and not just ‘new arrivals.’ Why?”

Laura stepped closer, pointing at the stone in question. “See the slight indentation in the symbol on the left-hand side. There was something here, but it’s eroded over time. I’m assuming it was the sun, and based on its position, it was indicating the sun in the western sky.”

Morales’ jaw dropped. “Of course!” He stepped back, rereading the symbols to himself, tapping his chin rapidly. “Very strange.”

Reading picked a stray bug from his hair. “Why? We know the Spanish arrived here and destroyed the Mayans. So they built a library to protect their knowledge.”

Acton shook his head. “You’re missing the key word.”

“What’s that?”

“West.”

Reading shrugged. “Yeah, so? The west. The Western world. Heard of it?”

Acton grinned. “Yes, we have, but how would they? ‘The West’ is a modern day term. And for them, Columbus and those who followed came from the east, not the west. It’s the wrong ocean. If the new arrivals they are referring to came from the west, then that’s the Pacific Ocean, not the Atlantic.”

Reading paused, his eyebrows slowly rising. “Oh.” His eyes widened. “Oh!” They narrowed. “Then who the bloody hell are they talking about?”

Morales smiled. “I have something to show you that just might answer your question.”

7

Pacific Coastal Region Maya Highlands, Maya Empire 1092 AD

Cheng Jun stood near the edge of the forest, his eyes peering into the darkness of the thick trees, seeing nothing but shadows, the creatures living within, loudly protesting their arrival. He glanced over his shoulder as orders were shouted, over one hundred now ashore, supplies of food, water, and weapons quickly accumulating on the beach. Admiral Khong had ordered a camp to be set up and scouting parties deployed to search for fresh food and water, and any sign of civilization. They had seen two people already, a young man and woman, though they had appeared primitive, like those they had found on several islands in the ocean, there little wealth among those so unsophisticated living surrounded by water.

Yet this land appeared vast, stretching for as far as the eye could see, and they had sailed along its coast for days without any signs of manmade structures. There were no boats, no ports, no cities. But today, he had heard shouts from the others of wisps of smoke, perhaps campfires, the first sign of people.

And where there were people, there could be treasure.