The Ultimate Power

A Tale Of the Man From Peru

By Geoff Gonzalez

All right then. A story...

Once upon a time, there was an ancient Inca Peruvian who had dreamed endlessly of a powerful world that would never end...one that he alone would rule. The desire for this perfect world grew until it consumed his entire life and eventually drove the man to do everything he could to make it a reality. Unfortunately for him, however, he was in a low place in his tribe's social hierarchy because his family had always lacked any form of ambition and had been content with their familial mediocrity. Not to be discouraged by his background, it became a constant obsession of the man to rise up through the ranks of society through his physical superiority and become the sole lord and master of the entire Inca nation. He trained for years...and years...and years...until he was the biggest and strongest human being in all of South America. When he walked by, men hid and cowered in his shadow, for he carried with him an evil disposition, and his titanic frame and volatile personality only aided the uneasiness of those who met this monster from the mountains. Now it was a custom of the chief Inca tribe to hold a kind of festival every year in which anyone who desired the throne could challenge the Inca king in a battle for supremacy. And so the cunning and ambitious giant of a man, who called himself Kokoclan the Great, decided that he would participate in this yearly festival and finally gain the throne for himself. So upon arriving at the festival, at which the entire Inca population was in attendance, the gigantic Kokoclan strode into the arena before the magnificent stepped palace of the king and demanded in a proud and mighty voice...

"King Quetza! Answer me!"

Now, save for the king's one personal manservant, no Inca had ever seen or even heard the actual voice of the king himself before, for he had supposedly been kept in total seclusion since his birth. However, he was known to be a kind and just ruler who was very in touch with his loyal subjects (albeit remotely) and for this reason, none had dared oppose his rule at the now-jovial festival...

Until now.

The monstrous Kokoclan now stood in the great arena, fiercely jeered and booed by the audience at first, but they were silent once the hulking beast glared at them. They knew they had to respect the ancient customs of the tribe, regardless of how old or unused they were, and so they were silent for a time. Then a voice came from the top of the palace where the king supposedly lived...an ethereal voice that was laced with both the richness of an aged mind and the youthful vigor of a newborn child. But it was not just the audible voice that rendered every Inca silent, for the enchanted voice seemed to penetrate the very minds of men, so great was its power. It answered slowly...as if it had known this day had been coming for a long time...

"WHO ENTERS MY DOMAIN?"

Kokoclan, though slightly disturbed by the power of the king's voice, haughtily responded...

"It is I, the mighty Kokoclan the Great. The one once shunned and ignored by all, but has now risen to great power. I challenge you for your power, old man, and your family's dominion over this empire."

The ancient voice chuckled slowly. After a time, it spoke again...

"KOKOCLAN, YOU ARE A FOOL TO THINK YOU HAVE RISEN TO POWER. YOU DO NOT REALIZE WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE POWER, FOR IT HAS NOT YET BEEN REVEALED TO YOU."

Now it was Kokoclan's turn to laugh...

"You are the fool, Quetza! You sit upon a throne you have inherited, not earned! Power is not a concept your feeble mind can comprehend, old man, and you are trying to tell ME, the greatest of all the Incas, what power is?"

The voice spoke again...

"CHILD, THERE IS A REASON MY FAMILY HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE LORDS OF THE INCA; A REASON YOUR FEEBLE MIND OBVIOUSLY CANNOT UNDERSTAND. HOWEVER, IF YOU STILL WISH TO SEE WHAT TRUE POWER IS, THEN CALL MY NAME ONCE MORE AND IT WILL BE SHOWN TO YOU."

A little bewildered, Kokoclan pondered for a moment...

"Do I really want to do this? Of course I do! What am I saying? Kokoclan the Great bows to no one, ancient Inca king or not!"

Ever the proud one, the mighty Kokoclan defiantly roared with a roar that shook the very Andes at their base and reverberated throughout the entire palace...

"QUETZA!"

Total silence in the shocked world...not even the proverbial crickets chirped, for even all of nature had quieted to hear the response of the unseen king. Five long minutes passed...Suddenly, the ground shook and the air trembled, so much so that the very stones of the nearby dwelling places seemed to be ripping themselves apart. Finally, the voice, thoroughly angered but still remarkably restrained, gave its answer...

"VERY WELL. A CUSTOM ESTABLISHED BY MY VENERABLE ANCESTORS IS NOT TO BE DENIED. PREPARE NOW TO LOOK UPON YOUR KING WHOM YOU DEEM TO BE SO WEAK."

The entire audience scrambled to get into a spot to see the king come out of his dwelling place. The air continued to tremble and the ground continued to shake, but the uneasy, yet still-defiant Kokoclan still stood his ground in the arena. Then calm and silence once more. The doors of the palace slowly creaked open. The crowd, now fearing a great creature of power, cringed and whimpered in their seats. Then slowly...from between the gigantic arches of the palace summit...

There came a man.

But it was not just a man...it was a small man...a small and pitifully weak man who was barely able to walk down the steps from the lofty aperture to the arena below. The sound of rushing air swept through the arena, as the shocked crowd gasped a great gasp. In their consternation, they began to think among themselves that perhaps this was the king's rarely-seen servant, for they now believed their master was a being of extreme power and stature. But as he got closer they could all see that he was indeed the king. He bore the ornate crown of the ancient world upon his brow, walked with the Staff of Power given to man at the beginning of time, and bore the golden crest of the ancient Inca kings on his breast. He strode slowly; limping, yet confident, up to the great Kokoclan and calmly said to him in a quieter, weaker voice than the voice that had emerged from the palace just moments before...

"I am here, Kokoclan. Behold your King."

The laughter and ridicule of the people seemed to last forever. Once they had finished, the king turned and said to them,

"This day, all of your lives will be changed forever. I have not forsaken my seclusion to be the laughingstock of my subjects. Verily, I have been challenged to prove myself, and so I have come forth to show the world the true meaning of power. Kokoclan, are you ready to test your "power" against your lord and master?"

Kokoclan, who was easily bigger than two or three normal-sized Incas, merely laughed once more and produced his weapon of choice; a gigantic battle axe which had been proven just the day before for this very occasion; cleaving a bull-sized boulder in two as easily as a loaf of yucca bread.

The king, as placid and unfazed as ever, simply returned Kokoclan's mocking laughter and shook his head at the menacing giant before him...

"As I said before, Kokoclan; you are a fool to think you have power. I have not come here to match your skills with an oversized hatchet.

Confused and bewildered, Kokoclan thought for a time, and then asked slowly...

"What do you mean, old man? Strength in arms IS the only true measure of strength, for at the end of all things, it is the power over life and death that has the most influence. Even you can understand that, can't you?"

The diminutive king merely chuckled and shook his head once more. Turning from Kokoclan to the palace, he said in an even softer voice than before...

"Kwahlico, come out here."

A second figure soon emerged from the summit of the stepped palace. However, this figure seemed much more like the fearsome creature expected the first time; he was young and of great stature and walked with great confidence and power. The only conspicuous items he bore were a thin crown of gold, a simple iron ring with an emerald on his finger, and two curious black and purple spikes, one protruding from each shoulder. He obediently came to the aged king's side, dwarfing the old man's frail body, and bowed in respect to his beloved sovereign. Taking him by his right shoulder spike, King Quetza pointed Kwahlico to the now less monstrous-looking Kokoclan and said...

"Kwahlico, this is Kokoclan the Great. He has come to our celebration today for the sake of honoring the greatest of the ancient customs of our ancestors; the challenge for the kingship over the Inca Empire."

Kwahlico merely nodded blankly and bowed slightly in greeting to Kokoclan, whose ire was now growing with every minute of unnecessary delay.

The king continued in a louder voice to ensure that all could hear...

"Kokoclan, this is Kwahlico, my good and faithful servant. Prior to this day, he was the only man to ever lay eyes on his king and see him for what he really is, and things would have remained that way had it not been for your boorish and overambiti..."

The king was abruptly silenced by another great roar and an audible oath from Kokoclan, who growled...

"ENOUGH OF THIS! I did not come here to meet and exchange pleasantries with you and your servants; I came here to prove my right to the kingship and I fully intend to do so without any further diversions! What is your challenge, Quetza, so that I may defeat you?"

The crowd looked on in total disbelief; interrupting and swearing at the king was a crime punishable by instant death in the Inca traditions. However, since the ancient practice was bloody mortal combat to decide the ruler, the rules of respect and courtesy never applied to these competitions. And so, the crowd could only turn its attention back to King Quetza and his manservant to see the sovereign's reaction to this direct disrespect and insubordination. King Quetza and Kwahlico were both silent for a time as they waited for the anger seething inside of them to subside before answering, furthering Kokoclan's already bitter frustration at the king's delays...

Finally, the king looked up at Kwahlico, then, looking at Kokoclan, shook his head and said...

"Fine."

With a single fluid motion, the king grasped Kwahlico's black and purple spikes and viciously wrenched them from their places, leaving a gaping hole about the size of a child's handball in each of his massive shoulders. As Kwahlico cried out and reeled from the sudden pain and shock, the king, perceptibly upset, angrily cast the bloodied spikes on the ground and glared at Kokoclan...

"This is important, Kokoclan; do you know what these spikes are?"

Kokoclan shook his head slowly...

"Then I shall tell you the story, so that you may understand as a fellow human being and not the impudent underling that you truly are."

As his anger rose and fell, the king's face gradually softened and his body relaxed into a more regal pose. And after taking a deep breath, the king continued...

"Long ago, when our ancestors first came to this place, a young member of our tribe named Maruca explored the lower caves in these mountains that surround our great city. In his wanderings, he eventually came to a naturally cut room in the deepest part of the caves; the very roots of the mountain itself. In that place, he found two spikes of stone protruding conspicuously from ceiling. In his later writings, he said that, at first, the spikes seemed to be made of ebony or amethyst or some combination thereof, but upon closer inspection, they were far more beautiful and exotic than any stone or gem that he had ever seen or heard about. Because they looked valuable and would probably fetch a fair price in the market of the new city, he hacked them off and carried them back to the village. However, despite their great beauty, nobody wanted to trade for them, leaving poor Maruca with his useless, but marvelous discovery. Unwilling to discard his prize, he kept the spikes safe in a heavy wooden box in his home and eventually forgot about them...

As time passed, however, Maruca and his three neighbors started to notice several changes in their appearance and physical being; they grew taller and stronger and eventually became great giants of enormous strength and intelligence, even as you and Kwahlico are. As the confounded group tried to determine the source of their unnatural growth, Maruca noticed that those who were closest to his house were the most affected. After close observation, he found that his suspicions had been true after all; it was the spikes from the cave that had given him his new power and size. Upon presenting his discovery of his discovery to his new companions in power, they began to think among themselves. 'With this new power', they realized, 'we could easily become the masters of all the Incas, for who is there who can stop us?' Empowered by this knowledge, the four immediately marched to this very arena and demanded control over the tribe and the city. The chief and his guards saw that there was no stopping these monsters so they surrendered this palace to Maruca, the strongest and greatest of the four. Maruca, who wanted the great power of the spikes to be shared with all of humanity, ceremoniously placed the spikes in the very ground on which we now stand, so that their power might be distributed evenly among the inhabitants."

As he said this, the king gestured towards two blackened holes in the ground nearby, each large enough for the spikes to fit through.

"Indeed, the effects of the spikes were instant and pleasant for the Inca tribe. The people grew in physical and intellectual power, enabling the village to become advanced in technology and conquer all of their hapless neighbors. This is how our city became the capital of the Inca Empire, ruled solely by King Maruca the Great, the first true Inca lord. However, after a glorious score of years of domination and power, the king's three companions suddenly became terribly ill and eventually died in quick succession, Shortly afterward, several of the commoners also became sick and died of unknown causes; none of the victims were feverish or bore any marks on their bodies. The king, who was still growing wiser with every moment that passed, determined that these people had to be dying from the inside out and immediately set out to find the cause and destroy it.

To his horror, Maruca soon discovered that the very spikes that had fueled the power of his tribe were now the source of the plague that was bringing about their demise. They seemed to be emitting an energy that enhanced growth, but sustained overexposure to this power caused people's insides to slow and eventually fail. He immediately knew what had to be done; the only way to save his people from annihilation was to safely store the spikes inside a single human body, which would eventually cause that person to die many years before their time, but would contain the harmful energy. And since the energy would still be emitted after death, it would always have to be kept in a living human body to properly contain it. Calling the city to assemble in the arena, Maruca explained the situation to his subjects and asked for a single volunteer to save the tribe and forfeit the longevity of their lives. To his disappointment, nobody stepped forward.

Without another word, King Maruca somberly ripped the sharp spikes from the ground and thrust them into his own shoulders as hard as he could without so much as a cry or wince. The shocked crowd gave a tearful cheer, for they realized that he had saved them all, but had forfeited his life in doing so. In the days and weeks that followed, the people gradually recovered from the epidemic and everything was back to normal in the great city. Everything...except the king. Poor Maruca, who had bravely sacrificed his life for his people, now paid the price for his heroism, as he became mortally ill in less than a month due to the magnified concentration of the toxic energy that had once given him unquestioned dominance over his empire.

As he laid on his deathbed, King Maruca the Great called his only son, Prince Wakahalla, to his side and whispered his last words...'Wakahalla, these spikes are powerful and will destroy our people if they are not kept safe inside a living person...it is my final wish that this burden should be borne only by the Inca king and his descendants, for it was their king who brought them into this world and no commoner should have to pay for our mistake. Once you insert these into your shoulders, you will grow in power and strength, but your power will eventually diminish and you will die in exactly twenty years. However, if you pass them on to your children before the adverse effects take place, you will retain the power the spikes give you and you will still be able to live a naturally long life. If you keep the spikes too long, the adverse effects will become permanent, but as long as you rid yourself of them before you die, you will continue to live. Remember my words, my son, and tell the people to remember the sacrifice we made to undo the destruction we brought upon our people. Long may our family rule the Inca Empire, the greatest civilization in the world...'

And so, King Maruca passed from this world by his own will, leaving his fatal discovery as an heirloom of the Inca lords; to be forever contained in the body of a king or his son for the preservation of his subjects."

To the sound of grave silence from the crowd, Kokoclan quietly started to ponder the implications of the situation...

"So...that would mean..."

The king quickly interrupted...

"Yes, Kokoclan. Kwahlico is not merely my servant, as I tried to explain earlier; he is my son. I am frail and weak now because I did not pass them to Kwahlico until the very last possible moment, for I did not wish him to bear this terrible bane. But as I lay upon the very threshold of death, it occurred to me that the spikes must be passed on, for it is the only way that our world can be safe from this evil power."

Again frustrated, Kokoclan's rigid body shook and shuddered as he growled at the king through his clenched teeth.

"You talk in circles, old man! I still do not understand what it is you want me to do to gain the kingship from you, for all you have done is told me a history lesson that is completely inconsequential to my quest for domination. Tell me what I must do to end these mindless games!"

King Quetza looked sadly at the spikes lying on the ground and humorlessly chuckled...

"Is it not obvious, Kokoclan? These spikes had been safely kept in Kwahlico's body, but are no longer...Since you are so desirous to rule my world, I offer you a choice; if you take these spikes and drive them into your shoulders right now, I will abdicate my rule and you and your family will have unquestioned domination over the Inca Empire for all time."

Without any further hesitation or contemplation, Kokoclan dropped his battle axe, grabbed the heavy spikes from the ground and prepared to drive them into his great shoulders.

"STOP KOKOCLAN! You must understand what this means; if you do this now, you will indeed grow in power, but since your body is already so accelerated, it is not certain that you will live more than five years hence. Think also that you would have to have somebody to pass the spikes on to, for even if you die, the spikes must be contained. If you still wish to do this and can find somebody to pass the rule on to, you will be hailed as a hero; a true warrior willing to sacrifice his life to save his undeserving subjects from annihilation, but you will forfeit the "power" you have now and eventually die as a result of your decision. Do you still accept my challenge?"

Kokoclan dropped his arms and looked intently at the spikes in his massive hands. While he pondered his destiny, he noticed that the blood that had been on the spikes had suddenly disappeared and that the holes on Kwahlico's shoulders had ceased bleeding and were now just a quarter of the size they were just a few minutes before. There was indeed something unnatural about the spikes that gave Kokoclan a shiver that ran up and down his entire body. He looked from the spikes at the king, and then at Kwahlico, and then back at the spikes in his hands...

"If I do this, I will gain the power I want, but I will lose the life and power I have now. And for what? The "salvation" of these peasants? They do not deserve my care and devotion and they never will, even if they did become my subjects. There must be another way to do this..."

He imagined other, less-than-honorable ways that he could get what he wanted without having to bear the wretched spikes on his beautiful shoulders that he had worked so long to perfect. However, when he found that the only feasible solution was the one that lay before him, he began to panic and anguish over the prospect of what had to be done. He lost his nerve and, not knowing what else to do, threw the spikes on the ground, hacking at them as hard as he could with his heavy battle axe. The force of his blows caused the nearby pillars to crumble and the ground around the spikes to turn to fine dust. But, as the king watched with pity, Kokoclan's attempts to destroy the spikes went unrewarded, as the massive axe head shattered into several small shards, but the defiantly smooth surface of the spikes still bore no marks of the blows. In horror and despair, Kokoclan threw his ruined axe on the ground and started to cringe and whine at the king.

"I can't do this, Quetza. As much as I am willing to rule this puny world, I will not sacrifice MY life, MY POWER for the sake of these undeserving people sitting around us now. You can have these back. I do not want them anymore."

The king sadly responded...

"Well then, now we have a problem; the spikes are still on the ground and no one is willing to take them upon themselves. Even now, the "undeserving" people around us are being poisoned by the energy of the spikes and grave consequences will follow if no one does something."

"Can't Kwahlico just take these spikes back?"

"No, child. King Maruca warned against reinserting the spikes into someone who has already borne them, so we cannot be certain of the consequences."

"WELL SOMETHING MUST BE DONE, QUETZA!"

The ancient king's voice suddenly rose to the great roar that had shaken the arena earlier...

"INDEED!"

King Quetza boldly wrapped his warped and knobby hands around the cold spikes of stone that lay before him and, as he uttered a great cry, plunged the spikes into his own frail shoulders that had already borne the pain many years before. Kokoclan and Kwahlico both backed away in shock and horror as the king's body writhed and convulsed unnaturally in pain and the spikes, which were driven completely into his shoulders, hissed and seethed like an angry asp. With a final, terrible cry, the king dropped to the ground and lay still as the hissing spikes dissolved inside his lifeless body, reducing the king to a pile of black ash in a matter of minutes, leaving only the golden crown and the Staff of Power in the dust of the arena. Once all was quiet, Kokoclan gingerly inspected the pile; no trace of the dreaded black and purple spikes remained anywhere among the remains.

Hanging his head, he turned slowly to Kwahlico and shook his head gravely. As Kwahlico closed his eyes in assent, a single tear rolled down his face and dropped to the ground as gently as a drop of morning dew falling from the soft petals of a new flower. A single tear, and nothing more. As Kwahlico and the sorrowful crowd of Incas wept for the death of their beloved sovereign, Kokoclan tried in vain to realize what had just happened. Trying to speak past the hard lump of shock in his throat, he eventually spoke to the prince...

"I'm afraid I don't quite understand."

With a pained look of both sorrow and anger, the quiet giant glared at Kokoclan and said slowly...

"Maruca the Great knew almost everything there was to know about the spikes and spoke truthfully when he warned against reinserting the spikes. What he did not know, however, is what exactly would happen if one did do such a thing. King Quetza, since he was the first to be with the spikes for almost the entire 20 years, somehow discovered what would happen if one were to reinsert the spikes, but kept it secret and hoped that he would never have to do such a terrifying thing. Today, your ambition and pride and eventually your cowardice caused him to do the only thing he could do to save his people and his family once and for all."

Pondering as he had before, Kokoclan remembered why he had been there in the first place, but was still troubled by one thing...

"I don't understand, though. Quetza said he had power; the ultimate power, yet he turned himself into a pile of dust with a couple of pointy rocks. How is that power?"

"Kokoclan, is the power he spoke of not obvious to you now? As King Maruca found out for himself when he first placed the spikes in his shoulders, true power does not reside in our physical or intellectual strengths and majesties. It is not measured by how many foes we can vanquish or how much we know or even how much time we may spend pondering the mysteries of our world. Verily, true power is measured by who we are on the inside; how much we care for others, what we perceive to be good and evil, and how much we are willing to give up for the sake of those we care about. In all circumstances, the ultimate power that we as humans can possess is the power of love, and what King Quetza proved today, Kokoclan, is that he loved his people and humanity more than he loved himself and was able to sacrifice everything for love of them, no matter how undeserving and ungrateful they might be. And yet you, who boasted that he was the greatest of all the Incas, were not able to do such a selfless thing, which proves that you and your family are not now and never will be worthy of the crown that lays before you in the dust of our fallen king."

Upon hearing these words, Kokoclan the Great shrank from Prince Kwahlico in fear and disgrace and ran with a great shout of despair to the woods at the edge of the city as fast as his legs would carry him. No Inca would ever hear or see the giant again, but modern-day Peruvians will tell you that when the night air is quiet and the moon rises over the tops of mighty Andes, you can often hear a noise like a great bear roaring into the silence of the night. That noise, the natives say, is the ghost of the great Kokoclan, crying out in anguish for the loss of his perfect dream and the lack of the ultimate power that the good King Quetza so perfectly demonstrated all those many years ago.

- 11 -