The Jaguar Eye
Chapter 1: Dust to Dust
Amy briskly pushed her way through the crowds, as her leather-shod soles pounded sharply upon the weathered stone path. She quickened her step as she aspired to put as much distance between her and Golgotha as fast as she could. The sun had already begun to stretch out towards the horizon and would soon make its embrace, as it would put to rest another day. Though when this day ended, so would the world, at least the world as it was known by those of this time and place.
An uneasy feeling closely followed behind her, continually tapping her on her shoulder. Each time it nudged her, she would throw an uneasy glances back towards the mount, towards the setting sun. No matter how many times she had come here, that same feeling always engulfed her. It was if someone gathered every human emotion, put it in a blender, and then force-fed it all back into her belly, where it churned and angrily awaited its reprieve.
Another stabbing sensation caused her to clutched her stomach as it forced her to stop in her tracks, pausing momentarily as the pain pushed its way past the other sensations and up against her gut. She was tired, stressed and teetered upon the precipice of hangry. She had a kingsize Snickers waiting for her in her backpack, outside the city walls, all she had to do was get to it. All she had to do was get past the city walls.
She pulled her soft blue scarf up around her shoulders, as she righted herself and continued in her pursuit of that elusive distance she so grandly desired. She glanced again over her right shoulder towards the waning light, as trepidation continued to hound her, its warm breath fell heavy upon her neck. As she looked back once again, she almost feared that she would see something, someone, waiting for her, gesticulate her to stay. She even feared that she would see death itself, its emaciated finger being pointed towards her, as it beckoned her to come and partake of the eternal slumber. But all she did see was the light from the warm spring sun as it continued its perpetual path towards the completion of another day. But she knew that the burial of this days sun into the distant horizon would give birth to the night, a night would not be like any other night. So she ignored the siren calls which implore an extended stay with these walls, for she knew that if she was caught with the walled city, she would never see another day again.
Despite its distance, she had learned, that entering and exiting via the Water Gate in the southern portion of the city was the best option. An added bonus is that it provided a chance to fill up her Hydro Flask with some water from Gihon Spring. She always liked to have a little bit of it stored in the refrigerator back at the Cabin. She would often refer to it as her special elixir to help with an assortment of bothersome ailments, especially ones that might afflict the stomach. Some while ago, she had read in a previous Keeper conicals that they swore by the spring water healing abilities for such maladies. The prior Keeper referred to the liquid provided by the spring as being “mystical and of divine origin.”
Ironically, despite her calling to her current post, Amy wasn’t the most superstitious of people, nearly the exact opposite. She was skeptical at first of the celestial composition of the fluid until she had tried some herself. Even then, she credited the molecular structure more than the immortal aspect for its success. As it turned out though, being overly grounded and desiring proof at every turn, was a good thing in a world where she dealt with demons and Forbidden who sought to destroy not only this life but the next to come as well.
Her view continued to be preoccupied with the day’s dying embers, and thus was completely blinded from seeing the man directly in front of her until she had already run directly into him. Upon the sudden impact, the glass jar which had been so carefully cradled within her arm, was jolted from her grasp and fell instinctively towards the cobblestone street of the busy market. A slight yelp escaped Amy’s lips as she watched the glass container hastily fall, its contents being pulled rapidly towards a shattering demise. All this work, the purpose of her entire mission here, and risking being seen again, had just all slipped from her fingers in an instant.
Before anything could be done, the unknown man quickly reached down and snatched the jar moments before it smashed against the rocks below. “To katálava,” he said, his Greek impeccably perfect.
Amy smiled as she reached out to grab for the lost jar. Her mind was too bothered to give a proper response. Instead, she just bowed her head slightly and smiled as she retook possession of the glass container. Then once the prized possession was once again retained, she continued her rushed journey.
By the time she reached the Water Gate, most of the city residents were busily finishing their preparations for the approaching Sabbath. The hurried atmosphere spurred her to quicken her pace, as she decided to abort her original plans to stop by the spring. She will just have to wait till the next time she comes to get a refill of the spring water. Instead, she chose to get out of town as fast as she could.
She had never been inside the city walls during the event and was unsure if any portion of the wall or surrounding buildings might actually fall during the night's activities. It was for this reason that she always originated her excursion into town from outside the wall, to ensure nothing would fall on top of her during the upheaval. Luck had been in her favor thus far, there was an uneasy feeling in her gut which continued to grow, that she had only a few more punches left on that ticket. For the first time, a seed of doubt had somehow been planted within her mind.
She swept aside the fledgling pretenses of fear, not wanting to allow it to grow into something greater, as she hoped to geld it in its infancy. She sped up her pace once again, causing her gait to fall into that awkward stage between walking uncomfortably fast and running at a slow jog. She would take a few swift steps before jogging a few feet, then reverted once again to a rapid walk.
Despite the awkwardness of her jaunt, she was able to make good time, and before the outer ring of the sun could caress the horizon, she found herself successfully outside the city walls and within the shadow of the Mount of Olives. The sun had been consumed by the distant horizon by the time she reached the foot of the mount. She still had a way to go until she reached her backpack, whereupon she would be able to be guided towards the location of the Cabin. However, for now, this would be as far as she would dare travel, as she feared that she had already pressed her luck far enough.
It was within the gaze of the mighty olive trees when she first heard the heavens rip apart, and for the next hour, she quietly huddled down low under a tree at the base of the Mount of Olives. During her first trip back, she had found herself next to this very olive tree when everything was torn apart, and she was able to survive the ordeal. Ever since then, she always made a point to stop here and wait out the event.
As she sat there, under the tree, she could hear the screams of those within the city, as the heavens and earth shook themselves apart. Then, just as suddenly as everything had started, it all abruptly ceased, as if someone had flipped a switch and instantly caused the chaos to stop.
A soft breeze ran across the desert floor unabated as it gathered dust and a cornucopia of fragrances within its arms, redistributing the scents as it traveled uninterrupted along its journey. It wrapped its ventilated arms around Amy’s body as it passed her by. Even now, after four years of making this trip, after countless encounters with it, she never got used to the feel of its chilled touch. Every time this breeze embraced her, her gut tightened and a foreboding sensation coursed through her veins. It was as if the Earth was giving its final gasp, that the breeze was the dying breath of one who finally accepted defeat.
A heavy silence fell upon the city and the surrounding landscape, while the apoplectic heavens calmed once again as they stretched out high above. The night was pitch black, void of any ambient light. Even the stars above were seemingly afraid to shine, their light, unable to slice through the mourning shroud draped upon the Earth. Small fledgling fires pockmarked the distant horizon, where sheepherders and travelers had set up camp for the night. Even the light from their distant fires seemed to be slowly absorbed by the encroaching darkness.
The chilled, damp air fell all around Amy, thick and wet. She could tangibly feel the darkness upon her, feel it on her skin and in her lungs with each breath she took. As she sat with her back up against the familiar olive tree, her knees bent and pulled into her chest, she slowly counted down from twenty. Calmly, smoothly, methodically, she counted. Fourteen, thirteen, twelve, by the time she reached ten she closed her eyes, ensuring that they were sealed up as tight as possible.
Upon reaching the count of one, a blinding light ferociously raced across the sky, as it ripped a jagged line across the darkened abyss. The lambent dagger was there one moment and then vanished, all within a fraction of a heartbeat. The searing light was followed a breath later by an ear-shattering boom which not only shook the sky but the very ground that Amy sat upon. She knew all too well what that sound was, and what it wasn’t. While most around the old walled city mistook the sound as of thunder, Amy knew it was something far more dangerous and sinister.
Amy waited for another second before she slowly opened her eyes. The darkness that greeted her was beyond anything she ever had experienced in her life. But it was one she was oddly comfortable with. As the thunderous boom, continued to reverberate in the distance, slowly some form of visible light began to return to the landscape around her. Another fifteen minutes passed before she finally felt it was safe enough to move.
She slowly stood up and dusted herself off. Then once again she began her half jog, half walk gate towards her hidden backpack. It didn’t take long to get to the area where she hid her pack, but exactly locating where it was, seemed to be a bit more problematic. She paused momentarily as she looked around and tried to locate where she had hidden her supplies. With her hands on her hips, she took in a deep breath and tried to recall from which direction she had entered the city gate. Much like a password only used once a year, remembering the landscape beyond the city walls was a difficult task for her to master.
In all of her time as a Keeper, which consisted of more than four years of service, this was only her fifth trip to the old city. Because there was so much time in between each of the journeys, it prevented any sort of memory to be formed through repetition. Instead of memories, in its place was an overwhelming sense of familiarity, minus the familiar part. It was a lot like déjà vu, or like grasping at a fading dream in the early moments of consciousness at the start of the day. The harder she tried to focus on the details, the faster the dream vanished from her mind.
She was tired and felt emotionally and physically bankrupt. She knew that she was far past hangry and was quickly approaching a total meltdown. If she could just find her pack, there would be a kingsize Snickers bar waiting for her, along with some modern clothes and comfortable shoes. Her feet ached and each step only increased her frustration. At this point, her building frustration was a rock in her shoe that could only be removed with a kingsize treat of chocolate covered nuts and nougat.
After another ten minutes or so of gingerly retracing her steps, she thankfully saw the faded blue cloth dancing about in the night breeze. Upon arriving at the marked location, she dropped to her knees and dug vigorously. After a few moments of digging she pushed aside layers of sand and sediment to reveal a worn green canvas backpack.
She pulled the knapsack out, and quickly threw back the cover before she stabbed her hand forcefully into its contents. Her fingers greedily rummaged around until she found the grand reward resting at the bottom, a kingsize Snickers bar, which unfortunately had partially melted. Even half-melted, it was still a much-needed treat at this time. Amy excitedly peeled back the plastic encasement and devoured the nougat chocolate delight inside.
With her blood sugar level comfortably restored, she shoved the empty wrapping into her backpack, ensuring that she didn’t leave Twenty-First Century trash behind. She half chuckled as she thought of what a nearby sheepherder might think if they came across the used Snickers wrapper, with the words “Savage” boldly emblazoned upon it.
With the newly acquired sugar rushing through her veins, Amy quickly refocused on her next task at hand. She once again reached into her backpack and pulled out a pair of khaki pants, her favorite NJ Devils T-Shirt and a worn but loved pair of Asics running shoes. It didn’t take her long to change out of her period appropriate outfit into something far more comfortable. Along with a change of clothing she pulled out two glass containers, one about the size of an average decanter, the other was a thin glass vile, about the width and length of a pinky. She poured her newly acquired sand, first into the decanter, then a small amount into the glass vile. She then replaced the decanter into the pack, while she shoved the glass vile into her right front pocket. The last thing she pulled out was the golden amulet. She held the chain in her hand, while the prized possession swung freely from side to side like a pendulum. A few moments later, she had her pack slung around her shoulder and the amulet back around her neck.
Amy took one last look around as she wondered if and when she might come back to this time and place. Using her right hand, she pulled the amulet away from her chest and wrapped her fingers around the worn circular casing. She looked down at the center of the amulet where the green arrow-shaped jewel spun around freely. It made three complete rotations until it finally came to a stop. The tip of the jewel pointed off to Amy’s right, indicating the direction she needed to take to get back to the Cabin. “Finally,” she thought. Soon she would be back in the Cabin, relaxing and getting some much-needed rest.
Seemingly as soon as the thought of rest arose in her mind, it was shattered by a voice coming from directly behind her. She stood motionless, unsure what action to take. She could run, but how far would she get? The candy bar had done its job at pumping some energy into her, but that energy was limited and fading fast. If she did make a run for it, she knew that she wouldn’t get far. Though she wasn’t sure what had been said, she did know that the question directed at her was in Greek, and this meant that it was most likely a pair of Roman Legionaries.
Quickly Amy placed a smile on her face before she slowly turned around. While doing so, she held up her left hand, as she slowly slipped her right hand into her front right pocket, where she had just placed the small glass vile of newly acquired sand. She slowly pulled it out and as subtly as she could, she unscrewed the top of the vial, using her thumb and index finger while she did her best to delay the soldiers.
“Hi boys,” Amy said boastfully, without even attempting to speak Greek.
“Poios eísai? Ti kánbis odó?” one of the Roman soldiers asked as he held up his torch. The torchlight revealed complete confusion, upon both of the Romans’ faces. They had no clue as to what Amy was wearing and why a woman would be out in this area so late at night, especially now that the Sabbath had started.
Amy smiled a bit bigger and nodded, “Yes, I know right?” her voice laced with laughter. The whole time, her nimble fingers rapidly worked at loosening the top of the vial of sand. Until finally, it gave way. With the lid off of the vial, she casually pulled it out of her pocket and held it behind her back, where quickly her left hand joined with it. With her hands behind her back, she lowered her left hand and cautiously deposited the sand into her palm. With the sand literally in hand, she was ready to get herself out of this jam.
“Pos se léne?” the same Roman asked, this time his words were followed by an authoritative action. Now, instead of idly standing by, both of the Roman soldiers took a solid step forward, the one without the torch, reached toward his belt to take hold of his gladius.
At this point, Amy knew she couldn’t stall any longer. Without hesitation, she drew her left hand up to her lips, the small amount of sand still held tightly within her grasp, as she whispered the well-rehearsed Greek words into her fist, “Prostasía apó tin ierí ámmo.” (Protection, from sacrosanct sand)
Upon the utterance of the final syllable, a brilliant white light erupted from within the grasp of her left hand. Rays shot out from between her fingers, as the light turned the darkened night into day. Then as quick as a snap, the light retreated back towards its origins, and just like that, it was night once again.
It happened so fast that neither of the Legionaries had time to shield their eyes, as the sudden and tremendous display of light temporarily blinded both of them. By the time the two Roman legionaries readjusted to their darkened surroundings, they were shocked to see Amy standing in front of them, a cutlass in her hand.
It wasn’t just any old cutlass though, it was one previously owned by her 14th Great Grandfather Thomas Wyndham. During his life, he had served as a bodyguard and as a Vice Admiral for both Henry VIII as well as Edward the VI. But it was the love of the open water and exhilaration of chasing a treasure that would be his downfall. It was in the year of1553, while branded as a Pirate and searching for gold, that he met his demise at the Bight of Benin in Nigeria, Africa.
Now, fourteen generations later, his Granddaughter, Amy Wyndham wielded his prized possession, his razor-edged cutlass. The sharpened cutlass was polished to a mirror finish, with an inscription etched down the center of it. The three simple words, written in a fanciful script in the Dutch language, humbly read “Vrede Door Agressie”. Light from the Harvest Moon fell ponderously upon the polished steel as it gave it a reddish glow. Off in the distance the crimson moon slowly crept up above the distant horizon, as it created the appearance of forbidden beast clawing its way out of the depth of Hades. The sight of Amy standing confidently, sharpened blade in her hand, gave the two Roman soldiers cause to step back and rethink their approach.
It was always a strange comfort to hold the cherished family relic in her hand. The aged cutlass felt firm, heavy and, most of all, at home in Amy’s hand. It had taken her nearly two years of using it before she even realized that it had once belonged to one of her ancestors. Once this vital piece of information was discovered, it allowed her to build an emotional connection with the weapon, which ultimately made her not only a better fighter but a stronger fighter. In an odd sort of way, by knowing that it was given to her because of who she was, made it feel special, made her feel exceptional. It seemed that once she realized that it was her weapon, by blood, by lineage, and by right, it opened up to her, and in a strange way, taught her the best way to use it to her advantage. Sometimes, she even swore that she could feel the grasp of Thomas Wyndham himself, upon the blade, his hands intertwined with her.
With her weapon in hand, she took a forceful step forward, ensuring to keep her body sideways, presenting a thinner target. An aspect of fighting she credited Sach with teaching her as well as her ancestor. With her strong leg anchored back, she could thrust or, if needed, retreat fairly easily from this position with minimal adjustments to her footing.
A full smile wrapped itself around her face as she gave a wink towards the two Romans before she simply asked, in perfect Greek, “Étsi tha kánoume aftó í káti tétoio?” (Are we going to do this or what?)
In complete and utter shock, both Roman soldiers assumed Amy to be some sort of witch or priestess. It was clear to them that she was someone who dealt with black magic. Wisely, they both realized that there were battles that could be won and others that should be retreated from. They decided this particular battle clearly indicated the latter of the two option. So with that decision made, both Roman soldiers cautiously nodded towards Amy, then slowly backed away. They walked backward for a good fifty to sixty yards before they felt safe enough to turn and run.
With the threat averted, Amy placed a gentle and loving kiss upon the cold steel of the cutlass blade. Its polished surface welcomed the soft embrace. With the imminent threat of danger no longer looming, the sturdy cutlas began to fade away, until the final remains of it drifted away with the breeze.
“Now, where is that Cabin?” Amy asked aloud as she pulled out the amulet one more time.