65 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO At the moment, I was watching John Smith who was in turn watching his brother. No one was watching Mrs. Claire, so it came as a complete surprise to each of us when she suddenly started yelling in some angry kin to Latin. As I turned to look at her, there was a sizzling sound as a ring of some sort of powder in a rough circle around her started to light.
“What in the world…” I thought aloud, but I could barely even hear the sound of my own voice over her yelling and the steadily increasing hiss of the sparkling powder. It was growing brighter as well, throwing off light like a dozen or more Fourth of July sparklers all lit at once, casting shadows outward in all directions; the effect was mildly disconcerting to say the least.
I saw some vague sort of movement out of the corner of my eye and turned back to see Alex moving again, speed walking towards Mrs. Claire. He wasn’t skipping over the distance as he had previously, which puzzled me at first, but as I watched more closely, I realized that he was having enough problems walking forward as it was. Each step looked a strain–even stranger, there appeared to be ever so faint lines of dust streaming out behind him.
Mrs. Claire’s Latin grew to a crescendo; now she was staring right at Alex with an unblinking gaze. She had something in her hands, some small curved piece of what could have been clay, I didn’t recognize it at first.
When I did, my gasp could almost have been heard even over the other sounds. I knew that piece, it was the same shard that had cause all of the trouble back in Iraq. Everything started to click into place. Alex, Jackson, everything was connected.
But what was Mrs. Claire doing with it?
And why was it glowing like that, deep red running along each of the grooves I’d seen all those years ago? That was new.
I could barely understand what she was saying as a combination of my own rustiness–at best–with the language and her increasing difficult to make out screech. But three words she kept saying over and over.
“… tu autem effugare …”
“… Tu Autem Effugare …”
“… TU AUTEM EFFUGARE …”
With the final two words, any remaining powder in her circle burst into flames, the overall effect shooting up several feet into the sky. It was so bright that I had to turn away or risk going blind, and there was nothing I could do about it.
The last thing I saw was Alex’s form, barely holding together now, the streams of dust flying off of him stretching back a foot or more now.
And then it was done.
Mrs. Claire had gone silent with those last two screamed words. The flames died down and the glare with them. It took my eyes several long moments to adjust to the returning darkness with only the pink neon–miraculously still glowing through all of the commotion–providing any lighting.
The first thing that I noticed was that Alex was gone. Whatever he was, being essentially sand blasted to death couldn’t have been good for him. Still, I had a feeling that wouldn’t be the last I’d see of him.
The second thing was Mrs. Claire lying in a heap right across the scorched remains of her circle. From my vantage point, I couldn’t tell if she was just unconscious or even …
I ran towards her, muttering under my breath as I did. “I could have sworn you said you were faking it…”
66 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO I squeezed my eyes shut, willing them to adapt more quickly to the sudden light from the hallway. It seemed to work out well enough; when I opened my eyes, I could at least make out some of the details of my current living arrangements.
The room was small, no more than eight feet deep by six wide with my cot taking up the entire back wall. So far as I could tell, it was a bare stone shelf with some sort of pad sitting on top of it. The only other nearby feature was a single iron ring half embedded in the wall, as thick around as my thumb with a pair of surprisingly looking handcuffs leading from that to one wrist.
The rest of the walls were bare stone, worked to an impressive smoothness with no particular signs of aging–no molds or water damage at least; no cracks that I could see. It was almost too smooth to be natural stone, perhaps concrete?
On the far side of the room, there was the door that had just opened. It was set into the wall, a solid three inches of what looked like some sort of metal swung into the room with no grate or bars that I could see.
The one thing that stuck out in particular was more conspicuous for its absence more than anything. Private Jackson. Nowhere to be seen. Yet, I’d heard him no more than a few moments before. There was nowhere that he could have gone–save out of the room. Although I guess if he was either some sort of ghost or nothing more than a hallucination, either way he wouldn’t need a door, now would he?
Perhaps surprisingly, the last thing that I noticed was the man that had opened the door in the first place. He was most remarkable in that he was completely unremarkable. Of average height and build, I guessed that he would be slightly shorter than me, but not by much. I didn’t think that he was local, but his features were a strange blend that I couldn’t quite put a finger on.
One second, he could have passed for mainland European, the next Middle Eastern; one moment he could have been East Asian, the next South African. It didn’t seem possible, but the more I watched, trying to narrow down what it was that was changing about him–something had to be changing–the more disconcerted I grew.
When he spoke, his voice was much the same. He soft softly, but other than that, it was only remarkable in how it could have been any accent, seeming almost to flow from one to another from moment to moment. Just when I thought I had narrowed one down, it would change to something completely different.
“I trust that your stay has been comfortable?” He said it completely without sarcasm, with just the right touch of what sounded like genuine concern that for a moment I was taken aback. Comfortable? I’d been chained to a wall in some dark basement somewhere.
But I didn’t say that, instead I asked him a question of my own. “Where am I?” After a moment’s thought, I added another. “And why am I here?”
He stood there for a moment, his face expressionless. He seemed to blink more slowly than I thought he should have, but even that I couldn’t be sure of. Finally, he nodded once; to what I couldn’t say. “You are in a cell underneath the city of Baghdad, as I’m sure you are already aware. The situation is only temporary, I promise you; once you have fulfilled your purpose, you will be free to go.”
“My purpose?” I started to ask, but he kept speaking, so far as I could tell ignoring me completely.
“Said purpose, as you may have gathered, relates to certain artifacts which we have reason to be in your possession.”
But he just ignored me again. “Of course, you may choose not to comply with our requests. I should warn you however, that doing so will not be … pleasant.” This was the nearest to an expression that I’d seen the entire time. There was the hint of a smile and not at all a pleasant one at that. He had too many teeth. In hindsight, I decided that I preferred nothing to that.
Taking his silence to mean that he might actually answer a question, I asked again. “Artifacts?”
“The pottery,” he said without hesitation. “Certain pieces in particular, but you needn’t consider the details.”
Of course. I thought. What else?
67 - Rome
PRESENT DAY “So what makes you think that this time will be any different?” He blinked at me. Had he not even considered that? “After all, you say that you broke the cup once and it didn’t take, why would a few thousand years make any difference.”
He was silent so long I thought that perhaps I had somehow offended him. Granted, that wasn’t high at the moment on my list of things that I actually cared about. Actually, it was more helpful than anything, as it gave me another chance to look around, to try to figure out some way to make my escape. Since Father Antonio and Amira had vanished so completely after all, I had to believe that there was actually another way out. It was just a matter of finding it.
Finally, Lazarus came back with a reply. “Because I still have faith. Even after 2000 years, I still believe that Jesus is true to his word.”
His reply stopped me in my tracks. He still had faith? If he was who he said he was, he had not only met Jesus face to face but had been the subject of perhaps his best known miracle of all time. How could you not have faith after something like that?
Lazarus went on, “But I digress. Whether or not I believe this is actually going to work is irrelevant. I came here to acquire what is mine. I know that you have it, so why don’t you just cut to the chase and hand it over.”
“But I don’t…”
He cut me off. “Cerberus says otherwise.” The name still sounded so familiar, but I couldn’t seem to focus long enough to dig it out. Something about being threatened by a man that should have died before my great, great, etc. grandparents had even been born. “If you don’t play nicely, I’m afraid I’m going to have to sick her on you.”
There it was again, that odd way that he kept referring to her. She was a human being, not a dog, so why did he keep referring to her in such a condescending manner. Could this really be the man that Jesus loved?
It all came together then, my subconscious finally putting together the clues that my waking mind had found too impossible to put together.
That one from Greek mythology, the one with three heads.
Now I knew why the name sounded so familiar.
Granted, it didn’t make any sense–she was a woman with a sword after all; that was about as far as you could get from a three headed canine guardian of the Underworld.
But then I swear I saw her flickering. Just like an over the air television broadcast too close to another, where two pictures fight for the same screen, she flickered from one form to another. One was the woman, standing there with her sword in hand.
The other was a massive, black, three-headed beast of a dog, shoulders matching Lazarus’ inch for inch.
“That’s not…” I started to say, but the words wouldn’t come out. They’d started to lose their meaning anyways; I’d seen too many thing to think anything was really impossible anymore.
It seemed Lazarus knew exactly what I was thinking though. Either that or my stunned gaze focused not on him but on the form he’d been essentially ignoring caught his attention. In either case, he turned to look back over his shoulder, nodding once as he did. “Ah. Finally figured it out, did you?”
“Figured what out?”
“The identity of my little pet.” He lifted a hand and idly patted her/it on her/it’s shoulders. It was a strange motion, as her form kept shifting from woman’s to dog’s, although at least the shoulders were at roughly the same height. “See, that’s the problem with beings such as this.”
He glanced over at her, for the moment more woman than dog again. “The mortal mind has such a huge bearing on reality. In the presence of those that have forgotten what they look like, certain immortal beings tend to take on a more… familiar form. I have to admit, this one is new to me.”
If it had been the first time I’d heard such a notion, I would most likely have dismissed it out hand. As it was, it sounded all together too similar to how Father Antonio had described Michael and the other angels. So sure, why not? It made a strange sort of sense after all.
Now though, Cerberus was spending far more time in its canine form than its human one. The more I thought through the whole situation, the more solid that form in particular seemed to be come. And that was one heck of a big dog. If I was going to actually make a break for it, sooner rather than later was seeming ever the better plan.
“All right then,” Lazarus said. I realized that he’d been watching me for the past minute or so while I’d grappled with the idea of Cerberus. “Have it your way.”
Without even giving me a chance to respond, he turned to the dog standing at his side. The woman was gone, there was no longer any flickering. Worse still, he looked perfectly capable of giving the dog and order face to face. And that order chilled me to the bone. “Cerberus, fetch.”