CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-TWO
Tuesday night — 11:02 p.m.
The truth was that Nelson was drunk when he got in bed.
Jeraine had the night off and Nelson, Blane, and Tres had started playing pool on their new-to-them pool table. Right out of the gate, Tres had beaten all of them. After a few games, Jeraine wandered over to the piano and began to play honky-tonk. Tres, Nelson, and Blane became just Tres and Nelson when Blane got sick of losing and went to bed. Jeraine headed off soon after. With the addicts in bed, Tres brought out the whiskey, and they started playing pool for shots.
Even drunk, Tres Sierra could play pool.
Swearing to avenge his loss, Nelson made his way to bed. He stripped off his clothing at the door and fell in bed.
Since his return from Templar-hell, every time he fell asleep drunk, he had a horrible nightmares. Tonight, Nelson had nightmares about the Templars, war, and the horrors he’d experienced in the seven long years of being trapped in the world of Jacque de Molay.
He knew better.
He still fell asleep drunk.
His mind fell into a world of war.
In this dream, he was walking through what had been a wheat field. The trampled wheat was now littered with the broken and bleeding bodies of men. Nelson held his sword — the one his father had made for him — in his hand. The knife of de Molay was tucked in his waist band. He wore the heavy metal armor of the period. The blood of the dead and dying was so thick that it oozed through the gaps in his leather sandals. The day was warm, not too hot, with the promise of afternoon showers.
With his nose full of the metallic smell of blood, his ears began to pick up the sound of people screaming and the clang of metal.
Ahead of him, the battle continued.
Exhausted and depressed, Nelson dropped to his knees in the muck. He prayed to any god that would listen to him.
Thank you for the gift of my life. Please use your power to end this death and destruction.
Still on his knees, he picked up the smell of freshly lit fire. A woman screeched with rage.
“Burning witches,” he said to the open eyed corpse lying next to where he knelt.
He dragged himself to his feet and fell forward. His feet shuffled up a natural rise near the bottom of the field. Just below the rise, there was a quiet, flowing river with impossibly clear water. In the wheat field beyond, the Templars had tied three women to stakes and were in the process of lighting the wood surrounding them. The fire was beginning to catch.
He felt so impotent. Out of his own time, he was unable to do anything to stop this madness. He couldn’t fight or kill. He could only defend himself.
He wished that he were dead.
Like the fire surrounding the screaming women, his rage lit with fierce power. He ran down the small hill and forded the stream in no time. Ignoring the Templars that were fighting with villagers, he ran to the women. He hopped over the fire. The women were unconscious now from the heat and fumes of the fire.
One at a time, he freed the women. He dug a trench and laid their abused bodies into it. As he’d done many times before, he covered the women with cool soil leaving only their heads exposed. He cut the wheat and lay it over the area. The women were effectively hidden from the soldiers. By the time they revived, he and the other Templars would be long gone.
He was dribbling water from his personal water skin into the mouth of the final victim when the world around him became eerily silent.
“Now what?” Nelson asked out loud.
Hearing his voice, the woman shifted, moaned, but did not awaken. He finished dribbling water into her mouth. Standing, he dropped the water skin next to her body.
The wind blew smoke from the fires into his face, blinding him from anything other than the grey smoke and the heat of the fire. Unafraid, he walked forward through the smoke. Ahead of him, he saw the back of. . .
“What the hell?” Nelson whispered.
He was looked at the back of what he took to be a human head. Rather than hair, the head was filled with. . . live snakes?
Nelson knew he should remember something about this creature. He did not.
Across the field, he saw another head covered in live snakes.
“Live snakes?” he repeated to no one at all.
He turned to survey the field.
Everyone was. . .
“Dead?” Nelson wasn’t sure why he needed to hear his own voice. He only knew that somehow the sound of his own voice was comforting. “Stone.”
The human beings across this field had been turned to stone. Just then, the fires crackled and a fog of smoke obscured his view again.
“You saved them?” a sour woman’s voice came from behind him. “Did you rape them too?”
“Not my type,” Nelson said.
Something deep inside him forced him not to turn to the voice.
He heard the. . . Was it a woman? . . . Creature. It sounded more like some kind of mythological creature than a human or an animal. This was something from history before myth became fairy tale.
His heart ached for his friend and his beloved’s wife. The word hung on his lips like a prayer.
“Yeesss,” the creature said. “She said that you belonged to her.”
The creature was so close to him that it could easily touch him. For the first time in years of numbness, Nelson was terrified. He stood absolutely still.
“Tell me now, and I will spare your life,” the creature standing behind him said.
The creature moved closer and sniffed at him. Nelson shook with fear.
“What do you need to know?” Nelson asked.
The creature was silent for a long moment. Nelson could almost hear it think.
“Why are you here? In this place? Out of time?” the creature asked.
“I am trapped here,” Nelson said. “I am to be the last Grandmaster of the Templars; to end all of this madness in the modern world. I am hopelessly lost. Out of time, as you said. I am trapped, stuck in this horror, repeating day after day, and . . .”
Nelson felt tears roll down his face. Embarrassed, he shook his head.
“Yes,” said the creature, its voice shifted to soothing, nearly kind. “Yes. I know this as well.”
“Why are you here?” Nelson asked.
“My sister needs something,” the creature said.
“Something?” Nelson asked. “What kind of thing?”
“Something stolen. . .” The creature’s words were filled with rage and malice. The snakes on the creature’s head hissed. “. . . by these very men.”
“How could men steal from you?” Nelson asked.
“Yes,” the creature said. “That is the question. And yet, they steal. They rape. They murder.”
Nelson nodded. He bent over and threw up. As if to purge himself of this place, his stomach heaved all of its contents in successive rounds until he was dry heaving.
When he looked up, the creature was kneeling in the mud. Her head was bowed. Even the snakes seemed to have their heads lowered in submission. The two other creatures held the same posture.
The figure of a tall, thin, dark skinned woman walked toward him.
“Abi!” Nelson said. His heart soared with hope.
“Bow, boy,” the creature near him whispered. “This is not your friend. The woman you know is merely a projection — an image — of her true self. You cannot look upon her true self. None of us can. She is too powerful.
Avoiding his own vomit, Nelson dropped to his knees and bowed his head. The dark skinned woman’s feet appeared before his eyes.
“Do you remember our conversation about the Templar hoard?” the powerful goddess said in Abi’s voice.
“I do,” Nelson said. “Thank you for helping Alex and I find it.”
The goddess made a noise that sounded like a laugh.
“Within the hoard is the head of a gorgon,” the goddess said. “Look upon it and you will turn to stone.”
“Okay,” Nelson said.
“You must find the head and return it to these three sisters,” the goddess said.
“How?” Nelson asked.
“When you find the hoard, the sisters will return to you and only you,” the goddess said. “They will not kill you. They cannot kill you. But do not tempt your fate by looking upon them. They are not the most patient or trustworthy of creatures.”
“It’s true,” the creature near him said. “I like this one. He’s. . . brave and true. As you said he would be.”
“Yes, he is,” the goddess said.
“I will do my best not to let you down,” Nelson said.
“I know this to be true,” the goddess said.
“Why would someone take her head?” Nelson asked.
“It was taken by another and used in battle,” the goddess said. “He traded with Athena for her shield. Have you seen Athena with her shield?”
“I have,” Nelson said.
“Athena’s shield was returned to her at the same time the head was stolen,” the goddess said. “Those who stole the head had no idea what they were stealing. They died for their efforts and the head was placed into the hoard.”
“What is it?” the creature behind him and the goddess said in near unison.
“I’m not sure,” Nelson said. “Bad people, I guess. Evil. Untouchable.”
“Yesss,” the creature said.
For a moment, neither the creature nor the goddess said anything. The wind picked up. With it, the smoke returned.
“Take this,” the goddess said.
A ring appeared on a hand that looked so much like Abi’s that he had the desire to kiss it.
“Wear it,” the goddess said. “Nothing can injure or kill you with it on. Not the gorgon. Not any one of the evil objects in that hoard.”
“There are more?” Nelson asked.
“Yeeesss,” the creature behind him said. “We are just the first to ask for our treasure back.”
“So I’ll have more nights like this?” Nelson asked.
“No.” As the goddess spoke the word, the world shook a tiny bit. “When your quest is complete, the gorgon will return what was lost to others.”
“Can they be trusted?” Nelson asked.
“We will return what was lost,” the creature near him said. “We will never betray the earth mother.”
“Of course you won’t,” the goddess said.
Before Nelson could respond, he awoke in his own bed in his own house in his own room in Denver. Unsure if he was home, he went into his bathroom. He flushed the toilet a few times just to assure himself that he was in modern times. He washed his hands and wet his face before drinking an entire glass of crystal clear water.
It was only then that he noticed a thin band encircling the middle finger of his left hand. He held his hand to his face to inspect the band. It was hand tooled and made from some metal he didn’t recognize. There were marks on the band in a language that was oddly familiar but he did not recognize. Seeing the ring, he felt oddly comforted.
He climbed into his own wonderful, soft bed and pulled the covers up over his head.
He awoke with a pounding headache when his very modern alarm clock went off. The first thing he checked was whether the ring was still on his hand.
He was still wearing the ring given to him by the earth mother herself.
Getting out of bed, he went through his morning routine. He was dressed and ready to head out when he saw something leaning against his door. He went to the door to find. . .
“What the hell?” Nelson asked.
He was looking at a stone sword. He tried to pick up the sword but it was too heavy for him. He dropped to a crouch to look at the hilt of the stone sword. As if the sword had been made from steel, there were tooling marks from a forge.
Then he noticed.
This was his sword — the one his father had made for him, the very one he’d held in his hand in his dream.
A wave of panic went through him. He pushed, pulled, and dragged the sword away from the door.
Finally able to open his door, he went to find Heather. She was standing in the hallway outside his room. He nodded to her and gestured for her to enter his room. She followed him inside.
“What’s this?” Nelson asked, gesturing to the sword.
“You’ve met a gorgon,” Heather said with a nod.
Not knowing where to start, Nelson just looked at Heather. She picked up his hand to look at the ring. She raised her eyebrows and let his hand drop.
“We have much to discuss,” Heather said. “Do you have time this morning?”
“No,” Nelson said. “I have to be at work and. . .”
“Why don’t you tell me what you need to know?” Heather asked, softly and kindly.
“What are those things?” Nelson asked. He waved his hand over his head. “Snakes. Live snakes.”
He shivered with the terror he’d been too numb to feel when he was in the dream.
“It’s a species of humanoid,” Heather said. “Ancient. Powerful. There are only a few left. The stories talk of three sisters. Gorgons. But there are more than just those three.”
“Are they snakes?” Nelson asked.
“Sort of,” Heather said. “Not actual snakes like we know of now. But snake-like. They have terrible magic, the gorgons. They can turn everything to. . .”
“Stone,” Nelson whispered. “You, too?”
“No, not me,” Heather said. “I know of them, but they’re much older than my kin. If we want to know more about them, we should ask Perses or Hecate.”
“Abi was there,” Nelson said. “The gorgon near me said it wasn’t Abi. That the person we knew was a projection of the actual earth mother. Is that true?”
“It’s a good way of putting it,” Heather said with a smile. “You were lucky to have Abi intervene with the gorgons. They are not. . . reliable.”
“So they said,” Nelson said. “What is this?”
Nelson gestured to the ring.
“I don’t actually know,” Heather said. “Where did you get it?”
“I was standing in a field of muck and blood from dead and dying men,” Nelson said. “Those fighting were turned to stone by the gorgon. That’s after I rescued three women from the flames.”
“Who gave this to you?” Heather asked.
“Abi,” Nelson said. “Or the not Abi.”
“I’d ask you to leave it with me, but I doubt that it will come off,” Heather said.
“I’ve tried,” Nelson said. “It won’t budge.”
“What is it?” Nelson asked.
“I’m not sure,” Heather said. “Nothing bad. Abi loves you.”
“And I belong to you,” Nelson said.
“That too,” Heather said with a grin. “I will tell you that it’s made out of rhodium, the most precious metal on earth. This band alone is likely worth more than our entire home, including Jeraine’s recording studio.”
“This little band?” Nelson asked.
“It doesn’t look like much,” Heather said with a nod. “This is from a mine in South Africa. Ancient. This piece was likely Egyptian or maybe Mesopotamian. This writing here? It’s in a language that has only just been translated. Ancient.”
Heather smiled at him.
“You know the person who cracked the language,” Heather said.
“Who?” Nelson asked.
“Alex Hargreaves and her brother, Max,” Heather said. “But mostly Alex. If there’s language on this, it’s a message for Alex. But I’ll tell you. . .”
Heather looked at the lettering again.
“It looks to me like a password,” Heather said.
“To get the hoard?” Nelson asked.
“That’s a real gift,” Nelson said.
“You should treat it as such,” Heather said. “More than anything else, it will likely keep you safe on your journey. It may protect the entire journey. We’ll see.”
“The gorgon said that they were just the first to ask for their item back,” Nelson said.
“Head of Medusa,” Heather said with a nod.
“Does that mean there will be more?” Nelson asked. “They said that they would return everything to those who it was stolen from.”
“They’ve done it before,” Heather said with a nod.
“Will that wreck our deal with the French government?” Nelson asked. “I really need their help and. . .”
Heather put her hand on his shoulder.
“No,” Heather said. “There is more in this hoard than you can imagine. Than the Nazis could have imagined. The French will be satisfied with plenty to show off in their museums.”
Nelson scanned her face. She nodded to encourage him.
“Now, why don’t we grab your coffee and you can. . .” Heather said.
Nelson jerked awake. He was sitting in a vehicle that had stopped in front of the Denver Crime Lab.
“Thanks,” Nelson said.
He paid the tab on his phone and got out of the vehicle. He was near the building when he looked back at the driver. He gasped.
He was looking into the face of what looked like the face of the gorgon. Her skin was dark as if she were from Africa. She had thick, long dreadlocks. She gave him a white toothed grin and a wave. He waved back and went inside.
It always surprised him how many magical creatures went about their business pretending to be humans. Getting on the elevator to his office, he nodded to himself.
“Including me,” Nelson said.
The elevator doors closed and his work day began.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
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