Huang Shen ascended the scaffolding on the legs of a mortal. Finger by finger, he peeled the black leather glove off of his hand and caressed the face of a god. Its skin was parchment brittle, so he took care.
“What was your name?”
These lips had peeled back in a grimace eons ago. He imagined with pride as being the first to return the smile. Shen knew so little, but his mind already raced with the fantastic possibilities. Could this be an ancestor of his? Coyly, he pushed the thought from his mind, but it returned again and again, waiting in the periphery of conscience only to creep back in when he wasn’t looking.
It was in the realm of possibilities, wasn’t it? What a tempting, juicy destiny to possess, to be descended from a god. To have this as a birthright.
And his hands wandered to the bones on that once shook the realm. The skeleton of a god. Upwards and upwards they glided on each side of him, the coldness seeping in through his palms, until the smooth, ivory beams arced in ascent beyond arms’ reach. The scaffolds creaked and wobbled while he lifted one leg over the railing, then the next. He leaned out over the emptiness, suspended by his hands on the rail behind. He wasn’t afraid. Only lesser men fell.
He let his forehead come to a rest against the colossal rib, then let go of the rail. His body rocked perilously, balanced soley between his head and his toes. The ecstasy prickled his every hair. He was so close to it now. He listened to it. He imagined his chi moving in and out of it. He lifted his chin towards it. He kissed it. He licked it. The god tasted salty and acrid, like a white wine that was once good.
He took that moment for himself, as long as he could. Then he climbed back down.
The chamber was magnificent now that it was fully illuminated. The walls were plastered with silken robes and bronze plates embossed with ancient scenes. Jade figurines as tall as living men were ensconced at regular intervals, standing watch. In a corner, men in yellow, plastic suits were zipping up the last pieces of the deceased Americans into yellow, plastic bags.
A man seated in a camp stool before a wide-band receiver stood abruptly to salute.
“General Huang. Still nothing from the detachment that took the intruders captive. We’ll keep scanning, but I recommend we send out a search detail.”
“I have reason to believe the Americans have stolen something very precious from this chamber. A great treasure that belongs to all of China.”
“The Americans, sir, they should be dead. Captain Long’s last orders were to dispose of them.”
“I have a strong feeling they’re very much alive and well. And make sure the new orders are to take them gently. We wouldn’t want to damage our cultural inheritance.”
“Understood, sir. Shall I inform the Ministry of Culture of our findings here?”
“You will inform no one.”
“Yes, sir. No one.”
Huang Shen pulled a black leather glove back over his hand, meticulously tightening each finger. This moment, and all the moments soon to come, were his alone to savor. He alone saw the truth of what happened here. He alone had the vision to master it. This was his destiny. He snugged the last bit of the glove around his wrist.
“And Sergeant,” he added, half turning, “make sure a detail is dispatched to take care of everyone in that village.”