The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Three Faces Of God
Chapter 8

15th July 7pm

The caverns below Merida.

"…Someone has broken into our vehicle," Steven says.

"Then go and shoot them," Martyn Aberg murmurs flatly. Without looking at the others he begins to walk forward, skirting the edge of the fire. Blue shadows play over the gun in his hand.

"Seems simple enough to me guv," Keyes says looking at T.R. "We give the skull to Dr. Alnes and he puts it on our flashing friend here after we've had a chance to nip out." Belle-Marie stares at him in disbelief and he shakes his head and laughs. "Oh come on! We're not here to take prisoners, mates! We're not here to form alliances with the bad guys. Kill the bloody alien while we have the chance."

T.R. immediately steps away from him, taking the skull out of his reach. Turning to Eric, he holds it out. "Here, you'd better take this. I need to be ready in case we have company from above. And whatever you do, keep this thing away from the Artful Dodger over there," he adds in a low voice. He motions with his head toward Martin Keyes. "I don't want a repeat of what happened with the cultists."

Eric nods. His face is sorrowful. He glances at Steven only briefly. "We'll worry about whoever has broken into the vehicle when we get around to it. We have bigger fish to fry at the moment, I should say. However, we will need it; I'll want to perform an autopsy on this fellow. For one thing, I want a close look at his skeleton." He looks to Sean. "Try shooting him in the head. If that doesn't work, try the heart."

His tone turns from the dispassionate to the gentle. He could be discussing the euthanizing of a crippled kitten, T.R. thinks, and not the elimination of the greatest source of archaeological information in history. The Plumed Serpent. Quetzalcoatl. Cukulcan. A week ago he wouldn't have thought such a being existed, he would have written it off as an elaborate hoax, and even now with the evidence before him he can't quite believe in it. Walk forward and pull out the electrical cord, a voice in his head says, and all the special effects will vanish.

Aberg has made it half way around the cavern, easing his way through patches of blue fire to where the god lies sleeping.

"Well..?" enquires Quetzalcoatl's voice softly.

T.R. lifts his camera and starts taking pictures. Sean shakes his head, lights up a cigarette and breathes deeply.

"We can't just kill it." He glances back the way they came. "We have trouble outside, and we can't let our selves get trapped in here… I'll make sure that we don't run in to an ambush. Our friend seems to be in a talkative mood, and that's to our advantage, find out what you can from him. I don't want that bitch getting her skull back."

He opens his bag, passes Lalina a camcorder then pulls out a small bundle.

"Dynamite?" Steven mutters. "Where did you..?"

Sean cuts him off. "If you don't come out safely I set that one off by remote. It's booby trapped and will blow if moved, bring the fucking roof down!" He hands Steven another, smaller bundle. "If attacked, press the button, throw and run!"

The others watch wide-eyed as he pulls more weaponry out of the bag. Machine gun, pistols, grenades. Hired thugs against a trained terrorist and soldier, he thinks grimly. Jaime's boys won't know what's hit them. Pausing to smile at Lalina he slips into the darkness behind. After a moment's pause, Keyes mutters something about helping and follows him, leaving the others standing before the Ylid. The silence is broken only by the rustle of flame and the click and whirr of cameras.

Aberg readies his gun.

"Good bye, Feathered Snake," Eric murmurs gently. "Perhaps it will be that we shall bring you peace. I would like to think so."

"You cannot harm me," Quetzalcoatl whispers. But there is a measure of doubt in his voice: they all feel it.

Eric lays a hand on T.R.'s arm. "Don't speak to it." The younger man nods although his mind is bursting with questions he wants to ask. He steps back, putting himself in the entrance way, and gestures for Steven to come and join him.

Aberg's gun cracks: a noise like rock splitting.

Lalina screams and dart forward. Steven grabs at her and she thrusts him aside with such force that he spins into the rock face. The dynamite Sean entrusted to him falls to the ground and rolls. Lalina doesn't even pause to see what she's done.

Again, the gun.

Aberg skirted the flames, keeping clear of them. Lalina runs straight into them. Her voice rises, screaming, higher and higher. Her clothes flash alight, then her hair. The sweet smell of burning fills the cavern. The flames rise up like a whirlwind. Quetzalcoatl's voice. "Betrayal." Shadows bleed across the floor. In Aberg's hands the gun becomes a snake, twisting round, trying to bite him. He holds onto it. Illusion, he tells himself. Belle-Marie runs to Steven's side. T.R. is already hauling him up. He is conscious but dazed, shaking his head groggily as he tries to focus on her face, then jerks upright.

"Lalina?" he asks.

Belle-Marie feels tears hot on her cheeks. Through the haze she sees Aberg wrestling with his gun. She wonders what he's doing, but then some hot force sears her face, a voice shrieking in her mind, pain, despair and rage mingle and fade, replaced by a sudden overwhelming joy and desire to be part of the wind that is tearing her apart.

TR sees her expression change. He lunges for her as she begins to move, his hands just catching at her clothing. She screams, twists in his grip, claws at him as he drags her back. Her eyes are wild with light. Her nails gouge out hot creases across his cheek.

In the same moment the skull is torn out of Eric's hand. Wind slams into his chest and throws him back. He hears T.R. shout, then the sickening crack of his own right arm breaking as he lands. Shock leaves him breathless, too numb to feel the injury.

Aberg closes his eyes and fires rapidly. His hands are bitten and bleeding, the god's voice screams in his ears, stray wisps of fire lash across his face and burn him. He cannot see through the pain, cannot hear anything beyond the howling of the wind. One final time the trigger gives beneath his swollen fingers.

In the sudden hush that follows the gun clatters to the floor.

Sean hears the footsteps in the tunnels before he sees the enemy. Motioning to Keyes to stay back, he readies the machine gun, holding it steady with both hands. Quiet as a ghost he drifts forward.

A gunshot shatters the quiet behind him, and then scream. The footsteps up ahead pause and come on again, faster this time, and heavier.

He takes the first two men down barely before he's registered they're there. A quick scurry of withdrawing and he eases forward. He wonders if it would be safe to use a grenade down here. Too risky - might bring the whole roof down on them. Locked up forever in the dark with that… whatever that alien thing is. The thought makes him shudder.

"What's happening?" Keyes hisses. Sean passes a pistol back to him.

"Use it if you have to." He rounds a corner, flattens himself against the wall and fires again. Another man screams and slumps to the ground. How many are there, Sean wonders? That's three he's taken out. Got to be more. He wishes he knew what was happening back in the cavern, too. His left hand brushes against the remote for the dynamite He will use it, he tells himself. If they don't make it out, he will use it.

He can see light up ahead - a faint blur that looks like daylight. He hadn't realised they were that close to the tunnel entrance. Vaguely aware that Keyes is just behind him, Sean edges forward again, stopping every few steps to listen. The light grows steadily brighter. Another figure comes into view. He fires without thinking.

"Wait," Keyes says.

It cannot be daylight, of course it cannot be. It is evening, and the light is bright, far too bright. A pressure seems to fill the space around them, almost as if the air is pooling together all in one place.

"Astrid," Keyes breathes.

The woman smiles at them both. "It is a good name." Behind her, a cluster of men, barely visible in the light that streams from her. Sean struggles to ready his gun. The metal feels cold and unresponsive in his hands, heavy as stone.

"What do you want?" he grunts. He can hardly get the breath into his lungs to speak.

Her eyes are bright. "Three things. The skull. To see my enemy dead. And…" her eyes lock with Martin's. "I like you, Senor Gringo," she murmurs, smiling. "I cannot remember the last time I felt liking for someone. Is not that strange?" She gestures to the men behind her. "Kill that one," she orders, pointing at Sean. "Then get the skull. The Englishman I will keep."

"But Madam…" They recognise Reconvaco's voice.

"Do as I say," she snaps. Jaime gives Martin a look of pure, jealous hatred.

Keyes manages to rouse himself out of the dream a fraction. "No," he says. His voice comes out thick. He tries again. "No. Let him go." Somehow he finds the strength to look the goddess in the eyes and remain standing. Reconvaco twists the gun out of Sean's frozen hands as she nods.

"Very well." She laughs softly, making the light dance around her. "Leave him be. Fetch the skull." She motions to Keyes and moves away. He feels himself follow her.

Reconvaco reverses Sean's gun and smashes him in the face with it. Sharp fragments of pain explode across his vision, enough to shatter Ahuan's fading hold on him and send him reeling back. He struggles to his knees, but someone kicks him in the stomach and then again in the face. His skull cracks against rock as the last of the light fades from the tunnel.

All around them, the flames flicker and go out. By torchlight they stare around. Eric is white-faced, clutching his broken arm, Steven's hair matted with blood at the back. Belle-Marie pulls back from TR, her eyes widening in shock as she sees the mess her nails have made of his face. Aberg's hands are cut in several places - deep puncture wounds that look like bite marks.

In the middle of the cavern Lalina lies crumpled over the motionless body of the Ylid.

Eric drops to his knees beside her. "Dead," he says, touching both of them, using his left hand awkwardly. He bows his head a moment then looks up. His blue eyes are heavy with grief and pain. "TR, do you think we can take the body with us? I'd like to perform an autopsy."

TR hesitates, torn between wanting to get out as quickly as possible and wanting to preserve something of this creature. He looks for the skull, wanting to take that back with them, but there is no sign of it, and no time to search further. "I suggest we hurry," he says quietly. "We don't know what's waiting for us out there so we should take a different route out. Martyn, is there anything marked on your map?"

Quetzalcoatl's body is surprisingly light as he hefts it up onto his shoulders. Stumbling with exhaustion and injury, the group make their way out. A slow wind shifts once across the walls behind them, then is still.

Sean slowly pulls himself back to consciousness. He is alone and the tunnel is dark. He groans and sits up then hauls himself to his feet. It takes him a moment to remember what happened. Ahuan has Keyes, Reconvaco and his men are on their way to collect the skull, and probably kill anyone who tries to stop them. Forcing back sickness, Sean straightens. They have taken everything: guns, grenades, the lot. But it's not the first time he's been unarmed and outnumbered.

His hand closes over something hard in his pocket. The remote for the bomb. Did he trigger it? He thinks not but he can't remember for sure.

A flash of movement by his ankle draws his attention. A tiny, wrinkled face peers up at him. "You took your bloody time," Sean moans. He checks his watch - he's only been out for about five minutes. He might even be able to catch Reconvaco if he hurries.

"Come on," he says. He starts down the tunnel. The leprechaun follows, grinning.

The car has been stripped, the windows smashed, but when Steven turns the keys in the ignition the motor roars to life.

"We can't just leave," Belle-Marie protests. "Sean is still here, and Martin. What if they're hurt?"

"We're all hurt," TR replies tiredly. Right now we need to get Eric to a hospital and then decide what to do about Ahuan and Tezcat. We can't do that sitting here."

"It's Hernandez," Eric insists. "Tezcat is Hernandez. Where's Martin? We can send him after Ahuan and find out for sure." He hears his own voice slurring. Steven's face is tight with worry as he swings the car around and heads back in the direction of Merida.

The room is small, but it is comfortable. There is a bed against one wall, a pair of armchairs. Thick curtains hide windows which are covered with metal shutters on the outside and locked in several places. Keyes knows - he's already looked.

Ahuan smiles at him. "Well? What do you think?"

He frowns. "I'm not sure. Where are we?" She doesn't answer. "Then who are you?" he asks. "And are my friends going to have to destroy you one day to save the world?"

She laughs. "To save the world from what? Humanity will be the cause of its own destruction. What influence I have here will not be enough to tip the balance one way or the other." She sits down, crossing her legs. "Now, Senor Marty, I have been thinking. Your friends would kill me given the chance, but I will forgive you that. You were never told the whole truth. You think we are monsters, that we will destroy the world, but why would we do that? And if we wanted to, why did we not do it millennia ago when humanity lacked to power to prevent it?" She tilts her head on one side and looks up at him, almost shyly. "Marty," she says, "you must decide. Whose side are you on? Will you join me if I ask you?"

Martin's mouth has gone dry. "I'm thinking that I should steal the museum's skull. Properly steal it this time, that is," he says. "What's the difference between that one and the one my friends have? Whose name is on it, so to speak?"

Ahuan shakes her head slowly and stands up. "Poor Marty, you still hope to stop me, don't you?" She lays a hand on his cheek. Her touch is like ice, spinning his mind out of control. "Marty, Marty," he hears her say through his own sudden gasp of agony. "You must learn. You can't lie to me. When I have the skull I will have all the information I need. But join me. Tell me what you know now. An act of faith, if you like. Join me and I will reward you beyond anything you could imagine. That is a promise."

Sean presses himself close against the tunnel wall. Up ahead he can see the shadow of the cavern entrance, and within it a light flickering. He creeps closer and stops when he hears a man's voice.

"…Who cares what killed her? Lets just find that skull and get out of here."


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