The Fountain of Turtles.

The Incas of Vilcabamba had believed that the Fountain of Turtles would give those who bathed in its waters the strength of carapace and plastron that was needed to protect their warriors from the guns of the Spanish conquistadors. But with the destruction of Vilcabamba in 1572 and the death of the last Sapa Inca, Thupaq Amaru, the last living being who knew the location of the fountain perished.

Val Dempsey aimed to prove otherwise.

Reading stories of Inca warriors mysteriously invulnerable to musketry and cannonades in the Bibliotheca National de Peru, the former surveyor had begun to believe that there might be a grain of truth to the legend after all. Months of achival research gave way to nearly a year of interviewing toothless old men along the Peru-Brazil border. Val was not only convinced that the Fountain of Turtles was real, but that he knew its location.

The only thing that kept him from uncovering it, from landing the greatest archaeological find of the young century? Just a silly little thing like a rebel insurrection.

With the rise of a group of radical narcotics-funded insurgents in the wild areas near the border, roads were cut off and airports were shuttered. The Fountain of Turtles, if Val’s hunch was right, lay in the track of desperate wilderness now contested between the Peruvian government and well-funded, well-armed, well-pissed-off rebels.

There was only one thing to do.

“We’re over the drop zone,” said the pilot, a civillian skydiving instructor lured from the Himalayas by the promise of action and most especially an action-filled paycheck. “Such as it is.”

Circling the tract of jungle that Val was certain contained the Fountain of Turtles, they had found a clearing and dropped a series of colored smoke markers for the jump before climbing to altitude. Unfortunately, colored smoke signals do not discriminate, and the rebels were rapidly converging on the position. Ground fire began to rise lazily up toward the rented Cessna as Val checked his straps and his reserve chute.

“You know, once you jump, I’m going to have to bug out,” the pilot added. “No rescue’s coming, either. Best case scenario, you wind up holding today’s newspaper in a hostage snapshot for the rebels.”

“No,” said Val. “Best-case scenario, I find the Fountain of Turtles and walk out of there without so much as a scratch.”

“You’re crazy, man,” the pilot replied. “But your check cleared, so you’re good to jump.”

The drop wasn’t so bad, really. The rebels were terrible shots more focused on the plane, and the clearing was just wide enough to make it a viable landing spot, albeit one filled with thick purple smoke. No, the real problem was waiting for Val further up the mountain slopes, after he spent hours evading rebel patrols and losing his pursuers.

The Fountain of Turtles was, in fact, filled with turtles. There was no water. There was only the turtles, even crawling through the mouth of a great stone terrapin to “drip” back into the “pool.”

And the turtles in the fountain? They were anything and everyone that had fallen in.

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