The Last Oracle

Page 44

Gray continued onward. “There’s only one way to find out.”

After another two turns, the canyon suddenly widened into a small bowl. Water tumbled into it on the far side, dumping over a short cliff and into a pool that fed the creek they’d been following.

Abe stopped and waved an arm around the bowl. “We are here.”

Gray frowned. The canyon was empty—then lightning crackled with a brilliant display that lit the basin. Silvery light bathed the cliffs and reflected off the central pool.

All around the bowl, the sandstone walls had been dug out into notched tiers. Each level sheltered cliff-dwelling homes. They climbed from floor to the lip that overhung the valley. Sections of homes had broken away over the centuries into boulders and rubble. It reminded Gray of the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi Indians. But from the style of architecture, no Indians—neither Native Americans nor the peoples of India—had built these dwellings.

Gray stepped forward and turned in a circle. The facades of the homes were white marble, stark against the darker stone. The cliffs, composed of softer sandstone, had long been worn down by centuries of wind and rain. The homes looked like they grew straight out of the walls. The white marble reminded Gray of fossilized skeletons jutting out of a cliff face.

Despite being half swallowed by the storm-melted walls, the basic architectural elements of the marble structures were still evident. Low triangular roofs supported fluted columns. Carvings and sculptures, long softened by age, decorated pediments and cornices.

There was no doubt as to the source of the architecture.

“It’s Greek,” Elizabeth said with awe. She stared around, water streaming down her face. “A Greek temple complex. Hidden here.”

Masterson stood beside her. He had his sodden hat in hand and combed his fingers through his soaked white hair. “Simply amazing. Archibald, you old fool, you could’ve told me…”

Gray also gaped, wonder washing away his exhaustion.

Elizabeth pointed. “That’s a temple in antis, one of the simplest Greek architectural units. Over there’s a later-era prostyle structure. And look at that rounded facade of columns. It must mark a tholos, a circular temple, burrowed into the cliff.”

While she spoke, Gray’s attention focused upon a structure on the far side of the bowl. His heart beat harder. A temple lay halfway up the cliff face. Boulders were strewn at the foot of it, marking where a part of the canyon’s lip had cracked and fallen. Rainwater flowed through the upper crack and streamed across the front of the temple, giving it a watery, illusory appearance.

But there was no mistaking it.

Six columns supported a triangular roof and framed a dark doorway.

“Just like on the coin,” Rosauro said, noting his attention.

Abe headed toward the tall temple. “That is not all.”

Straining with curiosity, Gray followed and dragged the wet party with him.

Once they reached the pile of boulders, Abe crossed to one side and waved them to follow. He mounted the stack of boulders and clambered higher. He seemed to know a path up the rubble.

Climbing single file, they followed the Hindu man.

Elizabeth and Masterson continued an ongoing dialogue. “Why do you think they built the temple complex here? And in such an odd manner?”

“They were clearly hiding,” Masterson said. “It’s a bloody hard place to find, especially buried into these walls. But I’ve seen similar cliff-dwelling arrangements among the Harappan ruins deeper in the Indus Valley. Perhaps these builders took over an old Harappan site, modified it to their tastes.”

“That could be. It was common for one civilization to build atop another.”

As they talked, Gray stared at the temple. Closer now, he saw that what he’d thought were black shadows on the marble columns were actually old scorch marks. Finer details emerged. Cracks and fissures marred the facade; one large section of the upper pediment had broken away.

Gray suspected the damage was not from age alone. It looked like an ancient battle had been fought here.

Ahead, Abe jumped off the top boulder and climbed between two pillars. Gray went next and shimmied onto the marble floor of the temple, finally out of the rain. The six support columns stood a yard from the building they fronted, creating a small porch.

He stood to make room for the others. Kowalski and Luca helped Elizabeth and Masterson. Rosauro came last, burdened with a pack. With everyone gathered, Gray headed to the door, but Abe knelt for a moment and whispered a prayer. Gray waited, sensing to do otherwise would be like trespassing.

Abe stood and nodded.

Gray took out a small flashlight and flicked it on. He entered first, his light blazing into the dark interior.

The chamber was large and perfectly square, twenty feet on a side and again as tall. More columns lined the walls, several broken into rubble. Dug out of the center of the floor was a fire pit, deeply blackened. To either side, arched openings led into side chambers, like chapels in a church.

Gray noted something piled in the smaller rooms. He shifted for a closer look as the others entered the temple. Abe kept to the side, his arms crossed nervously. He didn’t follow.

As Gray pointed his flashlight, he understood the Hindu man’s reluctance. Bones filled the room, stacked like cords of wood, topped by hundreds of skulls. All human. From the rotted appearance and yellowing, the skeletons were ancient.

Gray pictured the scorch marks on the building.

Abe spoke. “We were told stories, passed from father to son, mother to daughter. Of a great battle here. A thousand years ago. It is told how our ancestors found this place full of bones. In honor of the dead, we gathered their remains and interred them in these temples.” He waved toward the bowl outside. “There are many more bones out there.”

Gray turned away from the room. Someone had discovered these people and massacred them. He remembered Abe’s cryptic words from earlier.

These walls do not guarantee protection. Not forever.

The fate of the original inhabitants was a warning to Abe’s people. It was a good place to hide, but one could not escape the world forever.

Gray stepped over to the only other feature in the room.

Like the temple facade, this feature was also depicted on the coin.

Gray crossed to the back wall and shone his light across its surface. The wall of creamy marble had been inset with stark black stone, forming a familiar symbol, climbing twenty feet tall.

“A chakra wheel,” Elizabeth said, mystified. She pulled out a pocket-size digital camera and began taking pictures. “Like the other side of the coin.”

Luca ran a hand along the wall. Gray could read his thoughts. Was this the ancient symbol that was the source of the Romani emblem?

Had Archibald Polk wondered the same?

Kowalski sighed, clearly not impressed with the room. “What a let-down.”

“What are you talking about?” Elizabeth chided. “This is the archaeological and anthropological discovery of a lifetime.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, but so what? Where’s all the gold and jewels?”

Gray hated to admit it, but he agreed with Kowalski. He stepped away. He swung the flashlight in a full circle around the chamber. Something was missing, but it wasn’t gold or precious gems.

Rosauro joined him. “What’s wrong?”

“Something’s not here,” he mumbled.


Others heard them in the confined space. They stared over.

Gray made one more circle. “On the coin…there was that prominent E? The Greek letter epsilon.”

“He’s right,” Elizabeth said.

Gray wiped drips of rain from his face. “Everything on the coin is found here—the temple facade, the chakra wheel—so where is the Greek letter?”

“It’s one minor detail,” Masterson said. “What does it matter?”

“It’s not minor,” Elizabeth argued. “Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to mimic the temple complex at Delphi. What we saw outside…the temple in antis was the shape of the Delphi’s treasury buildings, the round tholos temple looked like a fair facsimile of the one built to worship Athena at Delphi. And this place here. The exterior and interior are how the Oracle’s temple was laid out. And the E was one of its most prominent decorations.”

Gray recalled his discussion with Painter, about how the Delphic E grew to symbolize a cult of prophecy, a code trailing throughout history in art and architecture.

Luca stepped forward. “I may also know of this letter.”

Gray turned to the Gypsy clan leader.

“I told you of the children who were stolen from us,” he said. “Those of my people who first came upon the massacred camp spoke of a stone church there. The door had been broken open, but upon the shattered planks a large bronze E was found. No one knew what it meant. The only ones who knew were buried in that mass grave. The secret died with them. Perhaps this is the same E?”

Marking the chovihanis, Gray thought. Gypsy fortune-tellers. Another cult of prophecy.

“All well and good,” Masterson persisted, plainly growing tired, too. “But what does it matter if the E is missing here?”

“Maybe nothing,” Gray admitted, but he said it with little conviction. He turned to Abe. “When did you first show Dr. Polk this site?”

He shrugged. “I took Dr. Polk here the first time a year ago. He looked around, took notes, and left.”

Elizabeth’s eyes looked wounded. “He didn’t tell me anything about this discovery.”

“Because he respected our secrets,” Abe said stiffly. “He was a good man.”

Gray studied Masterson’s sour expression. The professor had initially been surprised by the discovery, but after the shock faded and he found no real worth to his own line of research, his interest had waned. Had Dr. Polk experienced the same? The archaeological discovery was significant, but because he couldn’t connect it to his own research, he’d respected the achuta’s secret and had kept quiet about it.

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