Kachina - American Indian ancestral spirit
The San Francisco Peaks were the remains of an eroded volcano but it was not that which drew Judson to the area north of Flagstaff. For the Hopi people, the peaks formed an important part of their religious heritage. They used the alignment of the sunset from the Peaks to their villages on Black Mesa to calculate the winter solstice; a significant day in their calendars. They also believed that the peaks were home to the Kachina spirits.
Kachinas could represent many different things, from a revered ancestor to an idea or natural phenomena such as the sun, wind and even insects and corn. They were powerful entities who used that power for good even when the opposite might seem true, such as the Nataska, who try to instill good behavior and morals in children by threatening to kidnap or eat those that misbehave. It was the equivalent of the monster will come and get you if you don't be good tactic used by parents all over the world.
Except the Hopi believed in those spirits, believed that they floated in the clouds between the peaks, and came down bringing rain to help the crops grow.
Judson settled the backpack more securely on his shoulders and carried on climbing, occasionally looking at an old Spanish map that was supposed to lead to a hidden treasure. The Spanish had come to the Hopi lands many times over the centuries, later trying to convert the Hopi to Christianity by building their churches on land sacred to the Hopi. In the beginning, those churches were often torn down and the priests killed out of anger but, once in a while, a legend formed around an abandoned and lost mission, speaking of Spanish Gold buried within it.
A particular legend that had caught Judson's attention many years ago. Now he back on his own after both Mac and Gabe moved on, and with the Vast Explorer currently having her engine rebuilt, it seemed the perfect time to seek the origin of that legend.
The Bell of St. Joseph of Arimethea, supposedly made of solid gold.
In the legends, the kachina signifying the mountains had destroyed the mission, burying the bell under a landslide, but other local legends had the priests hiding the bell in caverns beneath the mission. Judson knew from the local geology maps that it was plausible as the Peaks were riddled with caverns and lava tubes from earlier eruptions.
Over the years, many had searched in vain, using maps forged to fool the treasure hunters, but Judson had a strong gut feeling about this particular map. He had learned to listen to that sixth sense, knowing it had led him to many other treasures in the past--both on land and at sea. Judging that he was not going to reach the spot before nightfall, Judson searched around for a decent campsite and set it up quickly. By the time he had his bedroll laid out and food cooking, the first stars were appearing in the sky. It was going to be a beautiful, clear night for sleeping under the stars. All that was missing was the familiar rocking of the Vast Explorer beneath his back.
On quiet nights like this, it was so easy to lose himself in memories. He thought of Gabe moving on the finish his education, and Mac needing to start a new life. He recalled past lovers and friends, not surprised when his thoughts inevitably turned to Stefan, even though he had tried not to think of him too much over the years.
The last time their paths had crossed, Stefan had tried to kill him, and had almost died instead. The Governor's people had taken Stefan to the main hospital in the capital, but by the time Judson had wrapped up the mystery and handed all rights to the Jade Altar over to the Governor--for a generous finder's fee--Stefan had gone.
A year had past since then, and locating him was the one time when his finding skills had deserted him--or maybe his subconscious had known he needed more time before they faced each other again. He understood Stefan's pain, and hated that he had caused some of it, but he was no more able to change his insightful abilities than the sun could change its course across the sky. His abilities were as natural to him as breathing.
He missed Stefan though, more than he missed Gabe and Mac.
Back when they were friends, they would lie side-by-side, staring up at the moon and stars as the boat rocked beneath them. They would dive together in search of lost treasure--with Stefan the far more skillful of the two of them. Watching Stefan underwater was a thrill that Judson had hid; seeing the powerful arms and legs propel him through the water with a grace that Judson could only try to emulate.
In shallow water where an oxygen tank and wet suit were unnecessary hindrances, they would snorkel together, and Judson closed his eyes so he could bring back a vivid memory of water-slicked skin and strong muscles. Judson mostly followed underwater, partly because Stefan was more at home beneath the waves, but also because it gave him the excuse to watch the way Stefan moved; the firmly curved ass, broad shoulders and powerful arms cutting through the water. Long calves and the strong thighs kicking. Stefan was beautiful, and Judson couldn't resist opening his pants and sliding his hand inside. He was already hard just from the memory of Stefan's muscular body, and it took only a few strokes before he was seeing more than the stars in the night sky.
Afterwards, he lay quietly beneath the stars--sated and pleasantly tired--and even though the Hopi did not worship their kachinas, he offered up a small yet respectful request on Stefan's behalf, wishing his former friend could find peace. Eventually, he cleaned up and climbed into his bed roll, letting sleep claim him.
It was still dark when he opened his eyes, but the moon was up, casting a silvery glow around him. A shadow moved and Judson froze, reaching slowly for the gun left close to hand in case he was attacked during the night.
"You won't need the gun, Judson."
The shadow moved closer and sank down beside the rekindled fire. Judson would know that voice anywhere.
Judson sat up slowly, unable to take his eyes off Stefan, partially for fear that it was all just a dream and that, if he looked away even for a second, Stefan would disappear. Stefan threw some more kindling onto the fire before staring straight at Judson.
"I was in San Francisco yesterday, near the harbor, when I started thinking of you." Stefan's lips twisted wryly. "I got into my rental and drove, wanting to clear my mind. The road brought me here, and still it wasn't enough. So I picked up my supplies and started to walk. I let my feet choose their own path... and they led me straight here... to you."
He cocked his head to the side as if expecting Judson to comment.
"I'm glad. I'm searching for the Golden Bell. Do you want to go with me?"
A slow burning smile lit up his face, captured in the flickers from the fire and in the moonlight. He shuffled around the fire until he was seated next to Judson, and when he leaned in, Judson met him halfway. Perhaps the spirits were granting both of them peace.