The Tiger's Jaws

My trip back to the temple was much quicker than my trip out with Brains. Not only because I did not have the physical weight of the engineer on my frame, but also because my anxiety for my friends and for Tin-Tin had increased. I knew that with each passing moment Belah would be working against me, doing whatever his sick imagination would direct to those I cared for. Even to the point of a sacrifice to the demons believed to haunt the temple.

I shook my head and rid myself of the fearful thoughts. I knew my mind must be clear and focused on one thing: to rescue my friends and my sweet child and break Belah's hold on them.

The temple clearing came suddenly upon me as I swept along the barely- noticible pathway. I looked at the edifice carefully from the beginning edges of the greenery. With my infrared equipment, I could see the outer wall clearly. My heart sank. Scott was no longer crumpled beside the concealed door. Someone had removed him, and very likely he was either a prisoner or once again a tool of the Hood.

I crept over to the wall and flattened myself against it. The bitter cold of the stone once again shocked my body and gooseflesh rose on my skin. I slowly slid along the wall toward the concealed door and then my breath caught in my throat. The secret entrance was ajar.

I stopped, confused. Did I leave it so when I brought out the engineer? Or did I close it and someone else left it open as an invitation or even a warning to me? I cast my mind back to the incident and found I did not remember one way or the other.

This posed a problem. I still felt that going through the main doors on either end would be a major error on my part, like walking into the open jaws of a tiger. But the passage behind the concealed doorway was a place where an ambush or attack could as easily be perpetrated and less easily fought off due to lack of light and space. Which way should I go?

My friendship with Jeff often allowed me to show him a different, sometimes unconsidered path. And that ability came to my rescue this time. I realized that I had not quite completed my examination of the walls that made up the temple on this level and that before I made any move, I should finish the circuit. Perhaps there was more than one hidden portal to the bowels of the temple. I had to at least try.

I passed the opened doorway and continued my stalk of the perimeter, using the infrared torch along each meter. My concentration was split as I also tried to keep an ear on the surrounding jungle, using it as a warning system should another human being approach.

Finally, I saw the same sort of markings that had alerted me to the first hidden egress. It was close to the stairs that led up to the door at the back of the temple. This one was half the height of the first one and looked like it would open more onto a crawl space than a walkable corridor. I felt all around for some sort of catch to open the door, but found none in the vicinity of the actual opening. Only when I repeated my actions from the last search did I find the trigger, in the same place as at the other concealed entrance.

The thin piece of block swung upward and in. I got down on my hands and knees and played the torch around in the resulting opening. It was nearly blocked by webs and there were bits of bone from the skeletons of small animals strewn across the floor. This would not be pleasant.

I took out the rod and extended it to its fullest length, then plunged it into the mass of webs, stirring around until the webs covered the rod and the crawlspace was clear for a few meters. I scraped them off with some gauze from the medikit, then, after sliding the holster and pouch around the belt to my back, I crawled in and repeated the motion. In this manner, torch at the ready, I forged my way through the crawlspace and into the depths of the temple. At one point, I must have tripped the mechanism that operated the portal, because I saw the dim starlight fade from behind me and the world behind me go black.

Still I crawled on, clearing the way ahead of me, until I got to the point where I could go no further. The way was blocked. I felt around on the floor for a mechanism to open what I hoped was another concealed door. I kept at it, finding nothing, while my anxiety for my friends grew and a fear of being forever trapped in the small, dark crawlway also made itself known. My breathing became ragged and my heart raced from my fears. Suddenly I realized that my emotions were taking over. This would never do; I had to calm myself. Taking a deep breath, I found my center and concentrated on the unruly bodily functions. A few minutes of meditation and my heart slowed to its regular rate, my breathing became less ragged, and my fears receded to the back of my mind. Calmed and clear-headed once more, I continued my search for the elusive trigger. Finally my hand must have brushed over it, for a doorway opened much like the first had and I could proceed.

It is good that I held the rod out in front of me as I crawled along, for if I had not, I would have had a bad fall. The floor before me dropped precipitously. I stopped crawling just at the mouth of the crawlspace, and, laying on my belly, I reached the rod downwards as far as I could, and shone the light around as best I could. It seemed to be about a five foot drop to the floor, manageable were I not head first. I withdrew and began the laborious process of turning so I would come out of the tunnel feet first. Then I grabbed the far edge of the door flap and edged my feet, then my legs out. The rest of my body followed and I made an ungainly, but safe, drop to the floor. I stayed crouched near the floor for a few moments, then eased my body all the way down and sat cross-legged there. It was time to reach out again with my mind.

As I did, I noticed two new lights on the velvety surface where the minds of my friends and family rested. One was a firey red, hot and dangerous. I knew this to be the mind of my half-brother. The other was cool, actually cold, like ice, and every bit as dangerous as the first. This I took to be Heimana, the woman who had injured Brains. I could feel the cold rage emanating from her and a great desire to cut and hurt. I stayed away from Belah's light, knowing that it would take a great deal of my flagging energy to fight him should he try and take me again for his own. But I made brief contacts with the minds of the others. Virgil, Alan, John, and Gordon were all under the thumb of the Hood; I could feel his influence over them. Jeff was not, neither was my Tin-Tin. But he was horrified, and she was terrified. Even as I reached for her, I felt the influence of the Hood fall over her mind. I knew I needed to move quickly.

I searched again for Scott, looking to see where he might be physically by searching for his light mentally. Finally, two things alerted me to his presence. The first, seeing his still dimmed light very close to me, and the second, hearing a small snore off to my left. I came out of my trance and looked. There he was, red in the light of my torch, sleeping the sleep of the innocent. The sedative had not yet worn off. I shook my head at my own idiocy. I should have known it would not have left his system so quickly. He was restrained much like Brains had been. Once again I used the rod to advantage and removed his shackles. Then I went to look at the door.

This door was older than the other, still made of teak, but with hinges that showed on the inside of the door. I could use the points on the rod to demolish the hinges and then to lift the door from them, freeing myself. This I proceded to do, though it was long minutes before the first was free for they were stubborn and not well maintained. The second took longer than the first, but soon I was moving the door back on the other side. I found that instead of being locked with bolts as before, this has a newly installed modern hasp and padlock on it.

I left the door open for Scott should he regain consciousness any time soon. Then I hurried down the passageway, taking little thought to my own care or defense. Thus it was that I found myself facing three out of four of the remaining Tracy brothers.