This story is excerpted from T.W. Fendley’s historical fantasy novel, Zero Time, and is based, in part, on an Inca folktale. To play the prank on Seven Hunahpu, Pax and the others manipulated the rate at which the stones of the gateway vibrated. To pass through, a person’s energy had to match that of the stones.

Seven Hunahpu called the younger children for the traditional story. They followed him to the top level and sat next to Ocllo by the stone monument.

“Today Ocllo has done a great thing by becoming an Initiate,” Seven Hunahpu told the twenty children who sat cross-legged on the ground around them. “She studied since she was as young as you.” He motioned at a toddler barely old enough to understand what he was saying. “All of you are training, too, so that one day you can carry on the work of Pachamama and Father Sun and fulfill the Law of One. But do you have to wait until then? What does the hummingbird say?”

“The hummingbird says ‘no!’” the children shouted in unison.

As if on cue, two green hummingbirds flitted among the children, moving too quickly to be caught.

“They’ve come to sip the nectar of your expanded love,” Seven Hunahpu told the children, before the tiny birds visited nearby flowers to dip their long beaks into the yellow and orange blossoms.

“That’s right. The hummingbird, one of the smallest birds, once challenged the condor, the largest bird, and won. Do you remember how that happened?” This time he pointed to the oldest child.

“All the birds were bragging about how high they could fly,” she said, “and they decided to have a contest. After all the other birds had flown as high as they could, the condor flew higher and higher. Just when he got ready to say he was the winner, he heard a voice from above him.”

“And who was that?” Seven Hunahpu asked the children.

“The hummingbird!” They clapped their hands, and the youngest ones jumped up and down. “It was the tiny hummingbird!” Some tried to wave their arms as quickly as hummingbird wings, but quickly fell to the ground, tumbling and laughing.

“That’s right,” Seven Hunahpu said. “When the condor had passed through the clouds, the hummingbird hid in the feathers around its neck. So, when our Initiates have soared to the heights, we tell them not to be too confident, like the condor. Even the smallest child can do great things, like the hummingbird.”

Ocllo nodded and smiled at Seven Hunahpu. “After all these years, I finally understand that story.”

He hugged her. “I’m sure you will remember.”

Xmucane felt Quetzalcoatl slide between her and Ocllo as Raya joined the group.

“It must be time for the serpents to leave the nest.” Raya winked at Ocllo. “They’re waiting in Pachamama’s Heart,” she told Seven Hunahpu.

Xmucane saw that Raya had arranged it so all the other Initiates and Daughters of Light passed through the gateway into Pachamama’s Heart before Ocllo and Seven Hunahpu arrived. After Ocllo walked through, Seven Hunahpu followed but ran into the gateway’s stoned-in wall.

“What!” He rubbed his forehead. He put out his hand and felt the solid wall, then looked back at Xmucane, who tried her best to look innocent. “Okay, what’s going on?”

Xmucane shrugged and hurried through the gateway. When Seven Hunahpu tried to follow her, again he hit the stone wall.

“This can’t be!” he said, his voice carrying through the wall.

A moment later, Quetzalcoatl slithered through to the other side. Before the end of her tail reached the gateway, Seven Hunahpu stepped through. Just inside, Ocllo and Raya stood next to Pax, waiting to see what his reaction would be.

“Finally! What in Pachamama’s name happened?” Then Seven Hunahpu looked at the three. “No sense trying to fool me. You’re the guilty ones, aren’t you?”

“We thought we’d try a new version of that hummingbird story,” Pax said, smiling. Laughter rippled through the room as others learned of the prank played on their leader, whose befuddled expression kept the jokes coming until Quetzalcoatl’s offspring appeared.