One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming the earth, going back and forth on it.
Timna Valley, Israel, Negev Desert, 1840 A.D.
Timna Valley was a horseshoe shaped area of mountains with layers of multiple colors of sand, and sparsely placed trees, flowering cactus, and shrubs. The large rock formations that could be seen off in the distance were the direction they were headed, and those formations sat on three sides of the valley which were the north, west, and south. They would travel the valley until they came upon King Solomon’s Pillars which lay just southwest of Mount Timna where they would begin the search for Solomon’s Copper Mines. The Mountain should provide adequate shade and hopefully a cave large enough to house all of them for however long they were going to be here. They had also brought along tents for just that purpose, but a cave would work much better. If they found one large enough then they could erect the tents inside, giving everyone more privacy.
They also understood, from what the Dragoman had told them, that this desert valley strangely enough had a small lake known as Wadi Nehushtan which was fed by one of the three stream beds that ran according to the seasons, giving a viable water source to animals native to the area, but only during rain run off which was during the winter months. Seeing as how they were in the mid-summer months water would be minimal during this time. With all the people and animals that had to make this journey, they would have to work as quickly as possible to not run short on the water supplies.
Zaccai Razi Wekesa was used to dry, arid climates. She had been born and raised in the African plains at the foot of the Kilimanjaro Mountains in Moshi. Her father had been a tribal chieftain of the Chaga tribe. Thankfully she had been born during the colonial era when Christianity had been introduced to her people. Her father had already accepted Christ by the time she had been born, so therefore she had been saved from some of the more traditional customs of early tribal beliefs.
At the age of twelve her father had started grooming her to be a leader amongst her people. By the age of fourteen her father had made a pact with a neighboring tribe for peace and had bartered her hand in marriage to that village chieftain’s son, Viho; also, of a Chaga tribe. They had been thrown together almost daily for hunting, social events, anything really where they could spend time together before marriage, allowing them to get to know one another. Not that it mattered one way or the other, for if they ended up with a dislike for one another, the marriage would still have taken place, and Zaccai would have done as her father had asked and married him. It was her duty as a tribe royal. Whatever was needed from her to bring peace and prosperity to her people she would have done.
She and Viho were to be married on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, and she had found over the years that Viho would have made a good and honorable husband. But that was not the plan that God had for her life. When she was seventeen years of age, she, Viho, both of their fathers, and several other village warriors had been in the Serengeti plains when a brush fire had started and roared through the savannah at an alarming rate. The fire had burned so fast and hot she hadn’t had time to escape. She had been tracking some game alone on one end of the plains when the fire had started, and the winds shifted in her direction. The heat was so intense that a portal had opened right where she had been kneeling and praying to God to save her, transporting her to Malachi’s safe house at Barrier’s Edge. She awoke three days later to a new world and a new calling.
She hoped and prayed every day that her father, Viho, and the others had made it out of the fire in time. If he had survived, she knew her father thought her dead, burned up in the fire. That was eighteen years ago. She only prayed that God had given her parents, and Viho comfort.
She and Viho had become very close. She wouldn’t say she had been in love with him, but she had loved him. Zaccai had never allowed herself to experience real love towards a man. It was a luxury she couldn’t afford in her youth and now it wasn’t something she had time for. Not to mention there weren’t many age appropriate men around. Until lately that is.
Since the convergence of all the Dragoman and Peregrines on Reader’s Island she realized there were more men closer to her age than she thought. Most of them were very attractive as well. One man in particular, Ezekiel Raphael Davis, known as Zeke to most was just such a man.
Zaccai watched him as their slow-moving caravan of twenty made its way across the Araba Valley of the Negev desert headed toward Timna. He was close to her in age, maybe a few years younger. He was also a man of color; strong, virile, and most of all, Godly. Viho had been all the above except for the Godly part. He had been determined to stick to the old beliefs and ways, and as his wife, Zaccai would have had to sacrifice her belief in God and follow the customs of her husband. Even though she had been a tribal princess it was the tribe’s men who had been the ones to rule.
She shook herself from her reverie to scan the area around them. She had taken to riding the rear point of the caravan to keep a keen eye open. Zeke had agreed to ride mid-point which gave her the perfect vantage point to watch him. She hadn’t really had much of a chance to speak to him while on the island but had noticed him looking at her on occasion. Whether it was purely coincidental, curiosity, or he was truly interested was still a mystery. Perhaps she would take some time to find out during this peregrination.
Some of the other Dragoman and Peregrines were in relationships and seemed to make it work just fine. At least, so far it had worked. They probably hadn’t had any problems since they had all only been reunited just a few days ago.
Zaccai looked up at the blazing sun. It was reaching well past noon and the summer sun was high in the sky with no cloud cover evident anywhere. It was stiflingly hot and dry with no relief to be seen for at least another hour. They were growing ever closer to the mountain ranges but still had several miles to go before they reached the base of Mount Timna. The entrances to Solomon’s mines were an unsure thing since none of them had ever been here before. But current period maps placed them approximately sixteen miles southwest of Mount Timna.
Zaccai noticed some of the younger kids looking particularly hot and tired and rode forward to make sure they were drinking enough water.
“Dominic,” she said, “are you drinking your water?”
“Yes ma’am, but it has been awhile since I had any,” he answered.
“How long is a while?” she asked.
“Maybe an hour or so?” he responded.
“Then I suggest you drink some. You need to slowly sip from your canteen regularly while out in this heat or you might dehydrate. At least every half hour, all right? Make sure that your body doesn’t stop sweating,” she told him, and rode off to check on the others.
“Wade, Bridget, are you two drinking enough water?” she asked the two teenagers.
Bridget shook her head as she answered, “Yes, but it’s awfully hot.”
Wade responded as well, “To bad there isn’t any shade,” he said, sweat streaking the large boy’s face.
“It won’t be much longer now. I’ll ride up and ask Ezekiel if he can do anything about some cloud cover,” she said, riding off to speak with him, knowing full well that was probably a definite no. You can’t make clouds without moisture and there was no moisture anywhere around them, save the little they had for drinking and they weren’t wasting that for a little bit of shade.
“Ezekiel, is there any way you can conjure up a little shade to block some of the sun for a while?” She asked him as she approached.
“No way, not unless we find some water somewhere and I doubt that’s likely to happen anytime soon,” he answered apologetically.
“I figured as much but, I told the kids I would ask,” she said grinning as they bounced along on horseback.
“By the way, you can call me Zeke for short if you like. Most everyone does,” he said, flashing his bright smile at her. “How much longer do you think we have?” he asked.
“All right, I shall do as you wish, Zeke,” she said, smiling back at him before answering his next question. “We may have about an hour left before reaching the mountain’s base, then another bit of time up the side of it. Hopefully we will find a cave at the base or on the side somewhere that will allow for more shade than camping on the top would,” she answered, thinking aloud.
“A cave would be a lot cooler than tents. Especially since there are probably no shade trees of any kind at the top,” he said hopefully.
“Yes. Let us hope that we find such a place. And one large enough for all of us. It is highly likely that we will. These mines were once very populated and housed many slaves to work them. The slaves likely lived in tents but the men in charge who ran the mining surely lived in the multiple caverns. Perhaps some of the caves located within the mines themselves are large enough for all of us,” she stated, remembering the information that Malachai had given her to read about the area’s history.
“Yes, but then we have the horses to worry about. We can’t leave them in the hot sun all day with no shade, food or water,” he answered.
“I believe we will find a place large enough to house them as well. Surely our God will provide for us,” she said with a smile, turning to resume her place at the back of the line as Zeke watched her go.
They made it to the base of the mountain by two-thirty where they did indeed find a large cavern mid-way up where they could all fit, including the horses, with plenty of room to spare. Several of the women pitched the tents while others tended the animals. Some of the men gathered the wood they found along the way that Jason had insisted on picking up. Because of his foresight they had wood to make a fire to cook on for several days, allowing them to save the premade fire logs they had brought along as a latter provision. Not knowing how long they would be here, they had to ration appropriately.
The average temperature for the day was a scorching 100 degrees or higher and cooled substantially by nightfall with the temperature often reaching the low sixties. Burning the fire throughout the night for warmth might be needed but might also be a necessity just to keep any unwanted predators away from the camp and the horses. At the same time, they also didn’t want to alert any traveling nomads to their presence. Of course, a group of twenty people and horses would be hard to hide anyway.
As everyone busied themselves with their chores, the group leaders, which consisted of Jason, Seth, Oz, Sofia, Zaccai, Zeke, and Nick, made their way to the top of Mount Timna to get a panoramic view of Timna Valley and where everything lay in perspective to the maps they had brought with them.
Seth stood upon the mountain top looking out over Timna Valley, marveling at the beautiful landscape before him. He had never seen so many natural sand colors all in one place. The shades ran from black, red, pink, yellows, whites, golds, many shades of brown, and of course the green of the copper minerals that ran throughout the mountains. The stone pillars known as Solomon’s Pillars were large and oval shaped, formed by the years of water runoff and winds slicing away at the rocks. There were many other large rock formations, such as one particular rock that looked like a huge mushroom. Another was a large spiral mountain that twisted up towards them from below, and an area known as the arches which had large archways and holes within the rock. According to their information the large mountains that surrounded the valley had large, cavernous areas throughout them. Hopefully they led inside the mines that lay buried deep beneath the valley floor.
Some other fascinating things to discover in the valley were the statues and the altars built by the people who once inhabited these lands thousands of years before. There was also a large sphinx statue guarding one area of the valley entrance along with several Egyptian statues standing out in the desert sands.
They were sure to find all other manner of things down in the mines as well. These mines hadn’t been worked or inhabited for hundreds of years. Seth’s curiosity and imagination were beginning to excite him. He had always had an adventurous side and was more than ready to climb down into the mines now and have a look around. They still had to find the entrances to the copper mines and to see what they would need by way of ropes or ladders to venture down inside. The original plans were to explore the caves and tunnels early the next morning.
The maps they had brought with them showed many entrances to the mines. The shafts should be scattered throughout the valley at the base of several of the mountain ranges. Most of which seemed to be located due west by the Arches.
Also located around the base of Timna Mountain were smelting areas which consisted of bowl type structures in the ground, which sat on the side of small stone fire pits, with bellows placed on the opposite sides to stoke the fires. Someone would stand upon the bellows rocking back and forth, and stoke the fire pit, which in turn refined and separated the mined copper which was either placed in the bowls or ran into the bowls from inside the fire pits. Exactly how it was done was uncertain since archaeological sites from later time periods had not deduced the exact science of how all the ancient tools were used in the process.
Jason and several of the others pulled some binoculars from their packs and scanned the area surrounding the mountain.
Jason spoke as he slowly looked out over the vast desert lands. “Well, I can see several other formations more clearly, but we’re too far away to see any mine entrances with the binoculars. Half of us can head west later this afternoon and see what we can find, while the rest remain here to watch over the camp, at least until we know what we’re dealing with. The mines are about sixteen miles from here, so depending on whether or not we can find some caves like the one we found below, will decide whether or not we move camp.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Seth stated.
“Yes, I agree,” Zaccai spoke. “The cave below is very large and will provide good cover from the heat, but sixteen miles is very far by horseback. To make that daily or more than once a day will be difficult, especially on the animals. Now if we had Camels, it would be much easier.”
“Yes, but there is nowhere to buy a camel, Zaccai,” Zeke stated teasingly.
“True,” she answered him with a grin.
“Let’s get back to camp and have some dinner, rest, and pray. Let’s also not forget that before God reveals the location of the Belt of Truth that someone or several of us, have some trials to go through,” Jason said, turning to look at his friends, an uncomfortable look on his face.
As they made their way back down the mountainside, they all became a bit more somber as they retreated mentally into their own thoughts and worries on the mention of the trials. Each of them wondering when and how God would begin to reveal their deepest secrets and biggest flaws, not only to themselves but quite possibly to the others as well.
“We also need ta’ remember that we have a trait’r among us that we need ta’ be lookin’ out fer too,” Oz chimed in.
Jason turned thoughtful, “Seems like we have a lot to pray about. Make sure not to slip and let on that we are searching for a traitor when in groups,” He turned to glance at everyone before continuing onward down the mountain path.
It was an hour or so past noon when camp set up was completed and everyone had eaten and rested up a bit. Jason, Seth, Zeke, and Oz set out in search of the mines, while Zaccai, Sofia, and Nick, stayed behind to watch over the others who milled about doing whatever menial tasks they could find to occupy their time at the moment.
Gabrielle Hannah Bailey, a young woman of 18 years of age and of Japanese and British descent, quietly sat on top of one of the large boulders that jutted out from the cavern floor with her ukulele in hand, strumming one of her favorite tunes and humming along. Her short pageboy-style haircut, swinging around her oval shaped face as she swayed and plucked the strings to the rhythm of the music. Gabrielle had always loved music and had been fortunate to have parents who believed in giving her a very well-rounded education. Her parents had enlisted private tutors for her who instructed her in the performing arts when she was very young. On top of that, her father, who had been of an aristocratic birth, had a personal trainer from his childhood who was from Japan. He instructed her father in the art of Karate, and he had become a master black belt at a young age. Her father had seen to it that she also knew how to fight and how to wield a Katana, starting her training almost as soon as she could walk.
Her parents had met while her father had served as first mate on board a ship overseas, sailing around the continental coastlines in the year 1365 A.D. Her mother had been the product of a sailor’s weekend furlough and had been born to a very young Japanese woman, Gabrielle’s grandmother. Her grandfather, by birth only, had been a sailor who, like so many, had cruelly taken advantage of a local girl. Her father on the other hand was a man of honor and had truly fallen in love with her mother upon seeing her. He married her very quickly and returned home shortly after, taking his new bride with him. Gabrielle had been born a year later. Even though she was mostly of British descent, her mother’s genetics ran thickly through her blood. She appeared more oriental than British, but had no accent, for she was born and raised in the British Aristocratic circles.
She had found the ukulele on one of her missions to a futuristic time period and had purchased the instrument. It being small enough to carry in her pack enabled her to take it with her wherever she went. She had also experienced several different types and styles of music on her missions over the last two years and had discovered she liked a group known as the Beatles from the British era of the 1960s. The advances made by man over the years should have astounded her, but the things that she had discovered while traversing time and space for God, far outweighed man’s advances and was far more magnificent.
She looked around the cavern, watching the different people going about different activities when her gaze stopped upon Sean Doran. He was helping Uriah Mose tend to some of the horses. She was very familiar with Uriah, as he was her travel partner over the last two years, until six months ago when Dominic first peregrinated. After he arrived, she began traveling with Zaccai, who was like a much older, much wiser sister. Zaccai and Uriah were vastly different personalities. Uriah tended to fly off the handle and let his temper get the better of him. Where nothing seemed to ruffle Zaccai’s feathers. She watched everything and spoke little. But when she did, people tended to listen. She had a presence about her that seemed to overpower a room and gain her the attention of all present, whether she wanted it or not.
Sean Doran was a sort of enigma to Gabby. He was pompous at times, like many of the young men she had grown up around, but at the same time, a very genuine person. She had watched him closely while they had been on the island, and he fascinated her. She was oddly attracted to him. She wasn’t yet sure if it was romantically, but she often found herself watching him without realizing it. She would definitely like to get to know him better. She continued to watch him from beneath her lashes as he and Uriah watered and brushed down some of the horses.
Uriah Mose swiped at the sweat that was running off his forehead while tending to the animals. He was a man of 55 and had been a Hittite iron worker during 1400 BC before peregrination, which seemed like an eternity ago to him now. His first peregrination was in 1360 BC at the age of 40. He had lived this lifestyle for fifteen years now and had seen his fair share of death, war, greed, and betrayal. Hiram Burke had been his mentor back before he led most everyone to their death’s, but he had also been his friend. One of the closest that Uriah had ever had. Uriah had also been like an uncle to Bridget before Hiram had taken her and disappeared all those years back. She surely wouldn’t remember him now. Uriah watched the young girl, along with Wade and Dominic, playing with some of the horses. Obviously using their Keeper abilities to train and communicate with the animals. He would have to try and speak to her later about her father and let her know that not everyone here held ill feelings toward the man. She had a friend and ally in him, and he would make sure she knew that.
Dominic Amando, who had been his peregrination partner for the last six months was a decent fighter. It had surprised Uriah to know that Dominic had been called to be a Keeper. He was an agile young man of fifteen who could handle himself quite well. He remembered Dominic’s first peregrination very well. The young man had been terrified when he awoke from his PS sleep. He kept yelling and asking if someone had put something in his food or drink because he was having serious hallucinations. It had taken Malachai Harel, their Dragoman, several hours to calm him down and convince him that nothing of the sort had happened. Dominic was very Greek, and spoke his mind and gave his opinion openly, even for one so young. He and Uriah had had it out more than once, and the young man defended himself and his views fiercely. Uriah respected him greatly for it, even if it was annoying at times. Uriah supposed he could understand being so young and trying to maneuver through this way of life. He himself had at least been a fully grown and capable man when he had first peregrinated. Some of these kids hadn’t even finished puberty yet.
Uriah looked around the cavern at everyone doing little odd jobs or activities, killing time until they received their orders from the group leaders, when his gaze fell upon Zaccai, who also happened to have looked at him at that particular moment. They respectfully nodded to each other before he went back to grooming his horse.
Zaccai, watched Uriah and Sean lightly conversing while they tended the animals. She had to remind herself that there was a traitor amongst them, and it could be any one of these people. She hadn’t the faintest idea who it could be, but she would have to be very observant and extra cautious when trying to listen in on conversations. She never liked spying on people, it wasn’t her nature. But she supposed she would have to learn to deal with it because the fate of everyone could very well depend upon it. She sat there on the large rock, watching the different activities taking place around them. There were several newcomers to the group that she wasn’t sure she could trust just yet. Of course, most of these people she had only met briefly over the last fifteen years or so. They never really got to know anyone other than the select few people that they peregrinated with, or the few Dragoman they chanced encounters with over the years. However, she did know most everyone because she had been at this for eighteen years. Most others were fairly new ranging from a few months to about ten years. Only a handful of them had lived this life for more than a decade. She would have to begin taking notes and plotting graphs to figure this one out. There were way too many people to try and remember all the little details that she was sure to uncover on this trip. She would however have to keep mental notes until she was alone. Making notes in front of everyone would surely draw quite a bit of curiosity as to what she was doing. Especially since she wasn’t prone to keeping a diary or anything of the sort.
Zaccai had gotten to know the new-comer, Caroline Jager, while on the island. She liked her a lot but, liking someone doesn’t mean you can trust them. She had also gotten familiar with Nadia, Dina, and Odessa. She of course knew more of Odessa Megalos, being as she had been around for almost as long as herself. The other women, not so much. She would also have to figure out how to become acquainted with the younger crowd which included Sean, Kristen, Timothy, Bridget, and Wade. Of course, she had to remember that she wasn’t the only one looking into the whole traitor thing. She just tended to over think everything. She liked a challenge and enjoyed puzzles, and this was just such an occasion to her.
Her thoughts drifted to the four men who had left over two hours ago to head to the mines on horseback. Until they got the exact coordinates for the copper mine entrance, they couldn’t travel via the Portgens. But once they mapped it out, traveling would be much simpler. Hopefully they would discover a cavern large enough at the mine entrance where the whole camp could move, making searching much easier and quicker. However, she didn’t know how the searching would go until they dealt with the trials. When, how, and where that was going to start was a mystery to all of them. The anxiety of waiting was enough to drive a person mad. Unsure as to just what you were going to discover about yourself, or others. Human beings tended to judge others based on what we think we know or things we find out. How were these trials going to affect the friendships and relationships that were built over the years and the last few months on the island? Zaccai prayed that those friendships would withstand whatever was thrown at them, and that the betrayer wasn’t one of her own.
Seth, Jason, Oz, and Zeke finally made the almost two-hour journey across the blazing hot sand in search of Solomon’s Copper Mines. If it had not been for the immense beauty of the area and the striking colors of the differentiating sands, it would have been a miserable ride. But the beauty of the area, and the carvings laid into the massive walls and surrounding rocks, gave the eye plenty to look upon. Statues stood out amongst the flat sandy plains, lending light into man’s history in this vast desert. Stones and rock mountains shaped from the years of wind and water erosion stood out from almost every angle. If they didn’t know any better, they would have thought that the rocks had been carved by man, but their glimpses into the future and technology told them these formations came about by natural forces.
They came upon the mine entrances, southeast of Mount Timna where camp was being established in their absence. The opening to the mines were scattered across the floor of the Negev desert. Large holes were dug straight down. Some had ladders that still protruded up from the depths of the mining shaft. Whether or not those ladders could still hold weight was the question. With this in mind, Oz and Zeke decided to stay topside and keep watch over the horses and ropes, while Seth and Jason propelled themselves down into the mines on ropes tied to the horses’ saddle horns. Neither willing to trust ladders that were built hundreds, possibly thousands of years before.
The first shaft they decided to explore was one that didn’t appear to be too deep. Peering down into the hole, they could see a large floor area about fifty feet below. Taking their canteens and flashlights, Seth and Jason slid down the ropes to the flat ground beneath. The cavern was rather large, and light filtered into it from several different shafts that apparently led down into the same area. Possibly allowing large groups of people to enter and exit the area simultaneously, making quicker work of the mining. There were some ancient pickaxes, shovels, and other tools, laying against the perimeter of the cavern, forgotten there by whatever civilization last inhabited the area. As their eyes adjusted to the dim light streaming into the cave, they realized they didn’t need the flashlights just yet and stowed them at their sides as they walked around the cave floor, studying the carvings, tools, and multiple shafts that broke off from the center, snaking further down underground, twisting and turning into the darkness.
Seth spoke first. “I think we are going to need some more help with this. There are way too many caverns for just us to explore and this is just one entrance.”
“Yeah, I do believe you are right,” Jason answered. “Why don’t we head back up the ropes, set the coordinates into the Portgens, and see if we can possibly find another cavern close to here large enough to house everyone and the horses. I don’t want to continue making that trip across the desert and traveling by Portgen so frequently could get dangerous. If anyone is around, we could be seen.”
“I agree,” Seth replied. “Let’s get back up top and make a map of what we have here and the location coordinates. That way we aren’t stumbling over ourselves exploring the same areas twice. I figure these caverns could all start looking alike once you start walking around down here for very long.”
“Good idea, Seth,” Jason replied.
The two men shimmied back up the ropes, vowing to have everyone back at camp to start work on several sturdy ladders to make climbing easier. After reaching topside, the four of them set out in search of large caverns and explored a few more shafts that were easily accessed by simply walking into them, making accurate marks in the Portgens for pinpoint coordinates.
They marveled at the large holes the sat within the center of some of the rock formations. As though someone or something had blasted a hole right into the center of it. Upon further searching, they did indeed find some caverns large enough to house all of them, allowing them quick access to the mine entrances for more searchable daylight time. Some of the caverns were cool and dark inside, the entrances carved back inside hollows and clefts in the rocks, hidden from view of the open plains.
The men decided to call it a day and set the Portgen’s coordinates for Mount Timna. After taking stock of the area and making sure no one was around to see them, they walked the horses into one of the large caverns and opened a portal, walking through to the large cavern sixteen miles away at Mount Timna.
Not too far across the Araba Valley, on top of one of the vast mountains, someone lay watching the four men. They watched them through the long spyglass as they walked into the large cavern. These strangers had not yet exited the last cavern they explored. Were they still inside, bedding down for however long they were here for? Or had they found another shaft inside and continued down into the mines? What were they here for? There was only one way to find out and that was to go exploring, but not until the safety of nightfall.