The Last Expedition
The expedition to Amos Brandecker’s cave had been planned with the care and precision of a sensitive military mission. The cave’s actual location had been kept a very strict secret by the CaveWomen, they had not even turned over the map when asked politely. Pet would have burned it first; she and Tass had actually crafted a very good forgery –without telling Araceli of course. But it had not come down to them becoming criminals, which was a relief to both women, because the court had ruled in their favor.
Amos had left three pictures of the cave behind; two of them were of wall carvings and one was of a wide vein of gold flowing through the stone. It was because of the third photo that the cave’s location was being withheld. Gold fever turned even the most rational person into a monster of greed; a monster willing to destroy anything that got between it and its quarry. Prospectors, treasure hunters and adventure seekers were already searching for the cave, so the CaveWomen had begun a campaign of subtle disinformation.
It had been Tass’ idea, just some vaguely misleading and seemingly innocuous Tweets to throw the raiders of the scent. The last Pet had heard, the most credible of the groups was searching well over a hundred miles away from the correct site. They were digging in the wrong place, Tass had said with a happy smile and a nod to her greatest love, Indiana Jones.
Putting the team together had been a challenge, they needed to keep the group small for security reasons, but this initial survey required more than just gifted amateurs. Two professionals, one a forensic archaeologist the other a geologist, with indisputable pedigrees were coming along. Their long-time researcher Crandall had been invited, as well as a representative for the native tribes and
came on behalf of the Brandecker estate.
Fulstone had been invited too, he had been there practically since the beginning although it had been quite a while since he’d been caving. The last two members of the team were a cameraman and producer from the Exploration Channel, it was a small cable upstart that had already featured the CaveWomen several times. There was another team too, of roving airplane mechanics keeping sharp eyes out for anyone following the expedition.
After nearly two exhausting days of trickery, deceit and espionage; the expedition had set out in the gloomy morning hours. Tass was the official trailblazer of CaveWomen, she had the map and the lead; even though she had never been to the site, her confidence in their route never wavered. Everyone thought that it was Tass who followed Pet around, but Pet saw the humor in that mistake. It was almost always Nastassja Romero going first.
Dawn had broken and the sky lightened around them in the weak, watery grays and pinks of sunrise. The trees and larger rocks they passed steadily became less like dark specters and much more like trees and rocks.
“We should be coming to a stream,” Tass said in a low voice, not for security reasons though, it just seemed wrong to break the drowsy stillness around them. “Maybe half a mile on. Shouldn’t be far after that,” she said with a look to Pet.
Pet’s heart was already thudding, as much as she loved
Walker; it was the runes
that had captured her affections first.
They were a lover no man could compete with and Walker never tried to compete, he seemed to
understand Pet’s obsession without needing to be told. He had been on her side from the moment they
had met, Walker
had supported Pet all the way and she had cried like an infant when he asked
for her hand in marriage. No wedding
plans had been made yet, but it was an expedition that Pet was looking forward
to very much.
But it was this expedition that was her life’s work and the stream came into view just like it was supposed to. Tass checked Amos’ map again and a more recent survey of the area before splashing across the water towards some large boulders. Even in the dim light, Pet saw the worn glyphs at the base of one the boulders; one could have possibly been her rune at one time and the other was definitely a bear.
Tass led them around the boulders and up a small rocky slope, her sharp eyes had spotted the small, dark opening well before any others. Tass poked her head through the hole and pulled it back out saying, “This has to be it.”
A text was sent to Chuy with the GPS coordinates and the team quietly set about getting all the equipment and bodies through the small passage. It had taken almost an hour, but they were all in; Pet was already examining the trove of glyphs on the chamber walls, unable to focus on any particular one. These glyphs were so varied, some looked like mere rude scratches while others were intricate and deftly carved, that Pet was positive that this was the work of an entire group of people.
She found her rune easily, it was the largest in the chamber and in a prominent place. Pet was so happy that she could feel tears on her cheeks as her fingers traced the familiar lines and grooves. Everything fell away from her, the conversations around her could have been a million miles away as Pet wondered about the hand who had carved all of those glyphs. It was a trail of crumbs that had led straight from
Point Reyes to this
remote spot in the Sierras and it had to have been left for some purpose.
That snapped Pet out of her reverie; she turned to see most of the faces of the team watching her expectantly. Tass had a different look though, “If you don’t mind, we have a cave to explore,” she said haughtily.
They were grouped around a tunnel that had been carved out by flowing water for eons, the stream was just a lazy trickle, but the tunnel was passable if they crouched down. After making sure everyone was ready, Tass stepped up into the water and began beaming her flashlight into the blackness beyond.
The cramped tunnel wasn’t very long and Tass’ sharp intake of breath echoed easily around the group. Pet started to ask what happened when she stepped out of the tunnel and the question froze on her lips. This cavern was enormous and completely black except for the galaxy of stars twinkling brightly overhead. Pet had seen many examples of bio-luminescence in pictures and on television, but never with her own eyes and the array of lights over her head was staggering.
Tass was already moving forward, she was not one to stop and ponder; there was more to find in this cave and she would not be deterred by fairy lights. Both women had studied Amos’ notes thoroughly, they knew there was one final chamber beyond this one and Tass followed the water. The night sky chamber ended at a lazy waterfall about four feet high, Tass climbed partially up to aim her light upwards and looked back to Pet.
“This is it,” Tass said as she climbed back down.
Pet was confused, “Why aren’t you going up?”
“Because this one is for you stupid,” Fulstone volunteered from behind.
Tass laughed and gave Fulstone a look of fresh appraisal, “When did you get so smart?”
Pet took a deep breath, trying unsuccessfully to slow down her heart’s beating, and stepped past Tass up the boulders towards her destiny. The water was freezing cold, but not strong enough to push back against her as Pet shimmied through the passage. The reflected light from her torch was a gleaming golden color and
just stopped; the source of the water was a spring pushing up from deep below.
Pet’s flashlight danced over the gold streaked rocks that lined the well and the clear water pulsing lazily past, gaping at the sheer quantity of the precious ore. She latched onto the rock face and pulled her body all the way in, this chamber was not that big but Pet could stand up. Her memory of that first cave in
Sonoma rushed back
to Pet, she remembered circling around slowly then just as she was doing now,
but these walls were not as bare as the walls of the Sonoma cave.
That cave had only the one lonely rune, one first crumb of bread; but this cave was the entire loaf. It was a feast of gold and ancient history for which
Petra had no words, no sounds to offer in
praise of such wonder. The entire
chamber seemed to be one tremendous vein of gold, it was the grandmother lode
but that was not the treasure.
All of the gold in this cave had been worked, the walls smoothed down so that the carvings could be wrought in the precious metal. The rune was here, all three versions of the rune Pet had found plus one more were inscribed around the chamber like points on a compass. The glyph of circles was here too, beautifully etched but different from the other circles because this one had intricate carvings that seemed somehow familiar to Pet filling the interior.
But it was the bear rune that was most prominent, it had been carved to be practically life sized with the angular lines around the body. Pet dropped to her knees beneath the bear to the familiar pile of stones right beneath it, these were not ordinary rocks though. Every single one was gold, from the flatter pieces at the bottom, to the oval pieces of the second layer, to the carefully arranged tiny nuggets at the top.
It was a pyramid of gold inside a room of gold that gushed out gold laden water.