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Rachel Cruz took one step too many inside the dry gulch cavern. Something crushed under her boot and she winced. It was the crackle of something small and brittle and undoubtedly valuable.
She lifted her foot and tried to put it down somewhere less costly.
What did the Dean say? If she found evidence of ancient Sumer, he'd make her a rich woman. She'd settle for anonymously wealthy. But first she'd have to stop trampling on priceless artifacts.
The light from her headlamp bounced all over the ground, but settled when she caught the glint of white polished pebbles. She crouched down to scoop up a handful of debris.
Smug satisfaction tugged the corners of her mouth upwards. She'd radio for grunt diggers later today and lay claim to the entire site before any of the other universities got the wiser.
Another milestone for the grand diva of digs. Maybe now they would give her carte blanche on future digs without all the politics and begging.
Rachel gnawed on one leather glove and yanked it off with her teeth. She danced her bare fingertips along a gritty sandstone wall until she reached a sparkling bit of rock.
Soul residue. Here?
Her fingers fumbled for the toggle on her lantern to shut it off. In the darkness, the entire cavern radiated with subtle luminance.
Human souls. Hundreds of them.
A pang of guilt prickled her conscience. There was only one reason for human souls to be trapped on the mortal plane. By fate or misfortune, they had touched an immortal.
Like fireflies on a breeze, the remains of the trapped souls drifted near her face attracted by something they could not understand. As the specks drew closer, she pursed her lips and blew them away like a kiss. Whatever spirit remained was nothing more than an imprint, a memory of something that was once human.
"You should have run away," she told them. "Far away."
Rachel stole a glance behind her. The rest of her recon team was in the grand theater of the cave. Doc and Paul hadn't noticed her absence. They were too busy snapping pictures, rapt in the find of a lifetime.
The accidental discovery of a shard, etched with ancient Sumerian, drove the archeological community into a feeding frenzy. The hysteria would have been warranted enough if the relic had been found in Iraq, but this was found in west Texas, more than seven thousand miles away. Every major university on the planet was mad to find more.
Rachel rattled the bone fragments in the palm of her hand then seeded them back to the ground. Her university would be pleased. She found exactly what they were looking for, but that wasn't the only reason she was here.
The first shard, anonymously mailed to the University of Cairo, was ten thousand years old, and it matched the pieces found here precisely. But it was the rock drawings and dwellings that came as a shock. An ancient people lived here, and their writing spoke of Anu and his sons, progenitors of the Nephilim.
She didn't like it when the humans got too close to the truth.