On his fifth morning in the jungle, Johnny woke up to the sounds of screaming and gunfire. His first instinct was that they were under attack, but what baffled him was that out here, deep in the heart of the jungle, they used bows and arrows, and spears… not automatic weapons.
He leaped out of bed and sprinted to the door. He could see people running in all directions and on the far side of the village; he could see a small group hastily putting up a weak defence.
He ran back inside, threw on his robe and ran outside, hoping to spot Jade in the chaos. He couldn’t see her anywhere. Gripped by panic, he ran down the steps, desperate to find and protect her. He stumbled across the Guardian, sheltering behind a nearby hut, and knelt down beside him.
‘Where is Jade?’ he asked frantically. ‘What’s going on here?’
‘I do not know, my Lord, but the time has come to vanquish the enemy,’ he said pointedly.
… The ship! The ship could help!
He sprinted off into the forest, hoping that none of the enemy stood in his way. Dodging this way and that, avoiding roots and branches, Johnny ran as fast as his legs would carry him.
Reaching the pyramid only slightly out of breath, he started the long climb. He placed his hand on the imprint by the ramp and it opened up for him. He ran up the stairs, sat down at the controls and let his breathing return to normal. The villagers needed his help, and he hoped it wasn’t too late.
Placing his hands on the controls, he closed his eyes and willed the ship into the air.
He opened his eyes – something was wrong – dreadfully wrong. He tried again.
The ship was dead.
He jumped up and ran to the central column. Opening the panel, he stared in consternation at the broken crystal inside. No longer suspended within the blue glowing casing, it had finally cracked in half and now lay in two pieces.
Johnny choked back a cry of anguish. Without the ship, he was doomed; not only him, but the entire village too… and Jade.
He grabbed the two halves of the Star and raced out of the ship, risking his neck as he clambered recklessly down the steep, perilous steps of the pyramid.
Reaching the village, Johnny stopped in horror. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The attackers had brutally murdered every single person in the village – bodies were strewn all over. He looked around in disbelief. How could anybody do this to his fellow human beings? Then he remembered Jade.
‘Jade… oh no! Jade!’
He searched frantically, running between the lifeless bodies, hoping to see a blonde head amongst the dead, but afraid of what he may find.
He heard a faint cough and spun around. The Guardian was lying a few feet away, hidden from view by the stairs to Johnny’s hut where he had seen him earlier. His eyes were open and he was trying to say something. Johnny knelt down next to him and cradled his head in his arms.
‘Guardian, what has happened here? Where is Jade?’
Weakly, the old man beckoned Johnny to draw closer and whispered into his ear.
‘These were not our usual enemies, my Lord. I did not know these men, but they took Jade. I saw them dragging her away into the forest.’ Johnny’s heart began to race as he imagined what might be happening to her.
‘My Lord,’ the Guardian beseeched, struggling to prop himself up, ‘you must find her. She is all that remains now.’
‘Guardian, I need your help now more than ever before,’ Johnny said fiercely. ‘I must find the Star. Without it the ship is dead, and I cannot find Jade without the aid of the ship.’
‘I am sorry my Lord, but I have told you. I do not know of the Star,’ he replied faintly.
Johnny reached into his robe and pulled out the broken pieces of the crystal.
‘Guardian, I have brought this from the ship. It is the Star, but it is broken. Without it, all is lost.’
The old man looked down at Johnny’s hands and reacted violently. He struggled to sit up, his eyes open in awe.
‘The Eye of the Sun!’ he whispered. Reaching out one hand, he touched the stone. ‘It is the Eye of the Sun,’ he said again.
‘The Eye of the Sun?’ asked Johnny, anger rising in his chest. ‘The Eye of the Sun? Why did you hide this from me? Your people are dead and Jade is captured, old man! I demand, as your god, that you give me this thing!’ he shouted.
‘My lord, I did not know of the Star you spoke of,’ the old man replied weakly. ‘The Eye of the Sun is our most treasured possession, and even Jade does not know all there is to know concerning it.
‘It is well hidden, my lord, and I do not have the strength to aid you. I fear it may be too late,’ he finished, collapsing back to the ground.
‘We’ll see about that!’ said Johnny aggressively. He pulled the Guardian to his feet and took his weight on his shoulder.
‘Guide me!’ he ordered.
The jungle was hot and humid and Francesco and his men were weary and irritated. He was not happy and considered calling the whole thing off, but he restrained himself – he did not want to show any sign of weakness in front of his men. He led them by force of will, and the back of his hand. They understood and respected violence; it was their language and their religion.
Their raid had proved futile. All they had to show for it was a single captive. No treasure, no undiscovered ruins, nothing.
Qircamo had disappeared as soon as the fighting began and hadn’t reappeared since. Without him, Francesco wasn’t even sure that they would find their way home, and on top of it all, he had lost four men, nearly half his force.
‘We will rest here for half an hour!’ he shouted, dropping his pack to the ground.
‘Pedro! Bring the girl here,’ he ordered. Pedro brought the girl over and Francesco looked her up and down. Not bad, he thought. A very pretty little thing and she certainly seemed to be one of those mythical, white non-Europeans Pedro had mentioned – blonde and blue-eyed.
‘Pedro, tell her that she will come to no harm if she tells us where El Dorado is.’
Pedro turned to the girl and rattled off a few terse phrases in the local Indian dialect. She gave him a blank stare. He switched to a different dialect and tried again… still no response.
‘What’s keeping you man?’ Francesco demanded.
‘She doesn’t seem to understand me, El Torro. If Qircamo were here then I would know for sure; I am sure he can speak her tongue, and I only know the more widely-used dialects. It is possible she speaks a language that I don’t understand.’
Francesco motioned Pedro over and walked a little way out of earshot of the others.
‘Do you have any idea where the hell we are?’ he demanded in a whisper. Pedro paused for a moment before replying.
‘I cannot say for sure, but I believe we came this way on our way in. I would say we would be able to find our way back across the border, but I would dearly love to get my hands on that guide,’ Pedro replied.
‘Forget the guide you fool!’ Francesco hissed. ‘This fruitless expedition has lost four of my best men! Do you think they grow on trees? And what do you think has been happening to our cocaine plantation since we have been away, hey? If you think for one minute that I’m going to chase butterflies with you while our main source of income rots away in the sun, then you are a bigger fool than I originally thought!’
‘But, El Torro, El Dorado…?’ Pedro desperately wanted to continue their search.
‘Silence! If I hear one more word from you, I will leave your corpse in this jungle. The fact that you dragged me out here in the first place already puts your life at considerable risk, Pedro,’ Francesco was red with fury, his fist in Pedro’s face.
Turning to his men he shouted, ‘Get up, you lazy dogs! We are going home!’
His men met this announcement with a ragged chorus of cheers, as all of them had had enough and were ready to get out of the jungle. Pedro came up behind him and whispered in his ear.
‘El Torro, what about the girl…? And the ruins of El…’ It was the final straw, and Francesco rounded on him in a blaze of fury.
‘So that’s it Pedro? You want to stay in the jungle and look for treasure that doesn’t exist?’ he roared. ‘Well then, have it your way. Antonio! Give this rat your water bottle!’
Francesco’s response floored Pedro; he had hoped to use his silken tongue to sway Francesco as he usually did, but he had not expected this attack, and he did not like where it was going.
‘I meant no disrespect, El Torro,’ he spoke in a wheedling tone.
‘Shut up! Take the water Pedro, and understand me well: If you follow us, I will personally shoot you dead. You wanted to come here, and now when it is time to go you still hesitate and try to be clever with me? You will remain in this jungle, and you can keep the girl. I suggest you learn her language quickly, my friend, she may be the only hope for your salvation!’
Francesco turned back to his men, none of whom would meet his eyes.
‘What are you looking at? March!’
Pedro watched in stunned disbelief as the motley band of tired men walked away into the trees, leaving him standing, helplessly alone. He glanced down at the girl who was lying on the ground; wrists tied behind her back, and resisted the urge to kick her.
It was all her fault, he thought, seething. She was playing dumb and had made him look a complete fool. He knew there were ancient treasures here, and she knew it too; he was convinced.
‘You stupid little cow!’ he shouted at her. ‘Look at what you’ve done! I’m stuck in this god forsaken jungle, and it’s all because of you!’
To his absolute astonishment, she started to laugh. He could not believe his ears.
‘You dare laugh at me?’ Pedro threatened, taking a step forward. For the first time since they had captured her, the girl opened her mouth and spoke in a clear, calm voice.
‘Yes Pedro, I laugh at you. I laugh at your stupid dreams and desires. I laugh at the predicament in which your greed has put you, but most of all I laugh at what my Lord is going to do to you when he finds you… and find you he will.’
Pedro lost his temper then, and the beating began. It did not stop until long after Jade had lost consciousness and Pedro had run out of breath.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2012
Cover artwork: Adam Van Der Riet © 2012
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© 2012 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved