Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: LUST (all-consuming desire; excessive craving) (01/08/15)
TITLE: Sky City
By Rachel Barrett
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Ambara flicked the end of his leather quirt against his boot. “We will be back. It is only a short way to the mountain. Kwatoko will care for you.” He fixed a burning gaze on the map sketched in the dirt. “We must find the city of gold.”
The ancient prune-faced Indian squatting beside Lorencio made a disapproving grunt. Lorencio shaded his eyes from the desert sun and tried again. “Kwatoko told us before not to go.”
“Many spirits guard the Sky City.” Kwatoko's displeasure cut like a whip. “It is not for men to trespass there!”
The warning bounced off Ambara as he reached for the stirrup to get on his horse. “A few unhappy ghosts will not stand in my way. When we return, we will bring the treasure.”
“Others have sworn the same.” Kwatoko ran his gnarled fingers over the dirt map, obliterating it. “None have lived to carry it away.”
Lorencio frowned. “Captain, the Indians here have traded us much already.” He held up a carved turquoise stone that gleamed in the sun. “We have enough.”
“Hah!” Ambara scoffed. “When you see the treasures of the Sky City, that will become chaff in your eyes.” He swung into his saddle. “Not even the king himself can boast such riches as we will bring him!”
With a wave of his quirt, the tall Castilian spurred his horse. The soldiers fell in behind him, and Lorencio watched the cavalcade gallop out two by two. Brass armor plates flashed blindingly until swaths of dust closed in behind them.
Shifting his bandaged leg to ease the discomfort, Lorencio turned to Kwatoko. “The Sky City and the gold—are they real? Or only legend?”
Kwatoko hesitated so long Lorencio thought he had not heard. Then the old Indian nodded. “They are real. As real as the stick in the sand that becomes a biting snake when one steps upon it. And it will strike.” He rose and stalked away, muttering.
Lorencio looked back at the desert and watched the dust plumes kicked up by the riders slowly flatten into nothing. In the distance, storm clouds massed over the red cliffs, flickering out tongues of lightning. In spite of the heat, Lorencio shivered.
A day had never passed so slowly. Lorencio remained on his pallet, watching the distant mountains until the sun set, and the moon rose, then a second sunrise threw the desert into bold relief.
The heat of the day had grown fierce when a shout alerted him. He sat up, wishing for a better view, as the Indians gathered between him and the approaching dust cloud. As the riders came into the pueblo, he searched vainly for a sight of Ambara on his splendid white horse.
The weary men dismounted in a ragged line. Jaime, one of the soldiers, led the white horse, its saddle empty. Behind it dragged a hide hitched to two poles, with a body lying on it.
With the aid of Kwatoko and a stout crutch, Lorencio struggled onto his feet and hobbled to the men. “What happened?”
Jaime looked at him with haggard eyes. “First one man, then another dropped out, climbing the mountain. We could not keep up with Ambara. Dios mio, he was possessed. Finally he left us all behind. When he reached the top, he pointed to something and gave a great shout. He screamed over and over. 'The gold, the gold!' He ran forward. Then . . .” Jaime shuddered and hastily crossed himself. “I do not lie, amigo . . . he stopped in horror, as if all the evil in the world had risen up before him. We saw a terrible flash, like a great flame, and he disappeared.”
Lorencio stared down at Ambara. The captain lay sprawled on the hide, beard jutting to the sky, his eyes fixed wide in death.
“We saw no gold when we reached him,” Jaime whispered. “Only him, just as you see him, and the empty mountain, and the storm.”
Lorencio's skin prickled, and he backed away. Far off, the soaring cliff shone in the sun, its red rocks dancing with flecks of light.
He heard Kwatoko's dismal mutter beside him. “The snake will strike . . .”
“And the Lord God placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24b ESV
“And He said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all kinds of greed'....” Luke 12:15a ESV
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