The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Three Faces Of God
8pm 15th July
Sean - the tunnels below Merida.
Martin Keyes - ?????
The others - heading for the hospital.
Steven swings the car around, scattering dirt. Eric stirs at the motion. "Belle-Marie is right. We can't just abandon Sean, even though he might be able to take care of himself. T.R. is right too, in that I need medical attention. Steven, you probably do too, with that blow to your head - it could be serious." He draws in a shuddering breath. "For these reasons I propose that Steven and I go back to town, and that the rest of you stay and try to find Sean, and if you can, the skull that I dropped too."
"One thing at a time," TR murmurs. Dabbing at the scratches on his face with one hand he fishes for his cell phone with the other and punches out a number. "Kellsal, we've got trouble," he says without preamble. "We dealt with Quetzie, but Lalina is dead, Eric's badly hurt, and we're missing two men. Get us another car right away and meet us at the hospital. And be ready to move fast once we arrive. I'll need to trade cars with you - what's left of Quetzie is in the trunk of this car. You'll have to get it to safety before the authorities arrive and start asking questions. Eric wants to study the remains before you send it to SITU." As an after thought he adds, "Also, see if you can find out where Hernandez is and what time he gets off work today. We may want to tail him later." He puts the phone down and catches Belle-Marie watching him.
"Sorry about your face," she says.
He gives her a wincing grin. "It's not the usual reaction I expect when I hold a girl." He dabs the last of the blood of his cheek and his expression turns serious. "I just wish I had realised what was going on in time to stop Lalina."
The group lapses into silence. Steven drives on. His face is pale beneath the blood but his hands are steady on the wheel and he maintains a constant speed. Probably breaking the speed limit, but under the circumstances no one can blame him.
Martyn Aberg anxiously studies the puncture marks on his hands. A couple of them are tender and swollen, though the skin doesn't feel hot around them. He hopes it's a good sign. Stiffly he reloads his gun. "If the police find out about this, we'd best play the parts of innocent tourists, say we were attacked in the caves." He glances up. "In fact, it could be an idea to send the police to the caves now, to get in the way of any Enemies trying to use the place."
"No need," says TR, "we're here."
The lights of the hospital are before them.
Sean flattens himself back against the wall of the tunnel. He can't make out who is in the cave, can't hear the voices of any of the SITU group, but he has to assume they are still in there. He hears rock shifting and catches his breath. If any of them happen to knock the bomb
Think. A woman is dead in there according to Jaime, a woman his men didn't kill. Who is it, he wonders? Belle-Marie? A cold stab of fear goes through him. Lalina? He reaches for a cigarette and stops himself. Can't afford to give himself away now. He needs the skull - if only because Ahuan wants it, he has to get hold of it. He wonders whether it might be best just to blow up the cave now. With luck, the skull will be destroyed along with it and Ahuan's plans fail. And even if it survives the explosion it will take her a long time to dig it out.
"Any sign of it?" Reconvaco asks inside the cavern.
"No. What the hell happened here, anyway?" The crunch of footsteps over stone. "Stuff's all fused together. Don't know of any weapon that can melt rock."
Sean strains to see into the darkness beyond. A flash of something green by his ankle makes him look down. He crouches.
"Hey, Seamus," he hisses. "Why don't you help me out here? Go and see what's happening and see if you can grab any of my stuff. There's a bottle of scotch in it for you."
The leprechaun tilts his head on one side, then with a quick shrug he trots forward. Sean watches him go. He hopes to goodness the little fellow isn't just some figment of his imagination.
The agony stops as abruptly as it began. Ahuan / Astrid still has her hand on Keyes' cheek, but now the hand is soft, sensual, almost affectionate. Her eyes hold his for a moment then she sits, folding her hands sedately in her lap. She looks as if she is waiting for something. Keyes takes a moment to catch his breath and paces around the room. The curtains sway gently at the windows, hiding locks that he knows he can handle. Yet there are four locks on each window and the metal shutters outside them looked as if they were fastened to the wall from the outside.
His eyes quickly take in other details. No light switch, although the single bulb is lit. The switch must be outside. The shutters let in no light at all. He could be underground for all he knows.
Ahuan sits silent, regarding him calmly until he gives up and turns to face her.
"Astrid, or whatever your name is, I haven't been particularly honest with you up until now, and you have not been honest with me at all," he says with a smile. "Let's not change a system that works. Besides, what do you think I have that you want? And if it's love, then just come back with me to Cambridgeshire or Yorkshire. We'll open up a little Mexican restaurant and we'll have lots of little Ylids. You are a Ylid, aren't you? Would your parents object to you marrying outside your species?"
A frown crosses Ahuan's face then she laughs softly. "Marty, I'm going to have to teach you some manners. "If it was love I wanted I could have it right now." She snaps her fingers and Keyes gasps. A warm rush of emotion floods him. In that moment Ahuan is so beautiful, so perfect, that he knows he has never loved anyone this much. So much that he would die for her, that
She shakes her head and releases him. "I don't want you like that, Marty. I want you to be yourself and choose me." Her lips curve into a smile. "Let me give you an honest answer for once. Poor Jaime has served me well, but he has been at the centre of trouble once too often. Too many people know him. I don't expect him to live much longer. If your people don't kill him, the Zapas will, or someone else. I want a new agent to serve me here, and I happen to like you."
"Is that all you want," Keyes asks. "To replace Reconvaco with a younger model?"
Her head bobs in a nod. "A younger, more efficient model, yes."
Keyes considers this in silence. If she wants him, then she obviously wants him alive which is a good sign. On the other hand, what is she going to do when he refuses? He runs a hand through his hair and leans back against the wall. "The problem, as I have been led to understand, is that the Ylids are too busy fighting among each other to finish us off," he says slowly. "Otherwise, why did you want Cukulcan dead?"
"Because Mexico isn't a big enough power base for the three of us," she says promptly. "And for other reasons you wouldn't understand. Family rivalries that go back thousands of years." She stands up. "I don't expect you to swear allegiance to me straight away, Marty. Think about it, that's all. And don't worry about your safety: you won't be harmed while you're here."
It's not his safety he's worried about, Keye's reflects. He opens his mouth to speak again but Ahuan cuts him off with a gesture. "You know what I want. Think about it for now. And rest. We'll talk again soon."
Kellsall is waiting for them at the hospital. Grim-faced he tosses TR the keys to his car.
"Kellsal, see that Eric gets admitted to the hospital," TR says. "He is in very bad shape." He looks back at the others, his gaze pausing when it comes to Aberg and Belle-Marie. "I'm going back down there. I can't leave Sean and Keyes on their own. Is anyone with me?"
Both Belle-Marie and Aberg agree at once, Aberg flexing his fingers a few times. The swellings on his hands are going down he notes with relief, and only one of the wounds is bleeding now. He wraps a cloth around it as he heads to the car.
Eric stops him. "One thing to remember. Quetzalcoatl felt that he had been betrayed. By whom? It seems hard to believe that it would have been by Ahuan. So, Tezcat, some fourth Ylid, or by a human ally? We'll probably never know, but if we can find any clues to that, it should be a priority."
"We're onto it," Aberg assures him. "You take care of yourself." He and TR head off.
Steven, and Eric stay behind. Still dazed from his head injury, Steven is however able to walk unaided. Eric allows Kellsal and to help him along behind.
They bring Kellsal up to date on what's happened while they are waiting for treatment. He lets out a long, tense breath when they finish. "I can take care of Quetzie's body, get it to SITU. This is the best hospital in Merida so you'll be all right here for now. You'll have to go back to the hotel, of course, but with a bit of luck Reconvaco's men don't know you're staying there yet. Might be a good idea if I get away now. That body is going to be of prime importance to SITU."
Steven nods and winces as pan dances along his line of vision. "Like you said, we'll be all right here. Stay in touch."
The leprechaun's voice buzzes in Sean's ears. "There are eight of them in here. There's a girl lying dead - I think it's the one you fancied. None of your other friends. No other bodies. Your bomb's buried . Ooh, I think one of them's going to find it any minute now."
Sean comes to his feet. "Jaime!" he yells. His voice echoes around the cavern. "I planted a bomb in the cave which will go off if moved, so be very careful where you walk. I also have a remote detonator so don't try to rush me. You will die and Ahuan won't get the skull .."
Inside the cavern various shadows freeze in position.
"Sean?" Jaime's voice is careful. "I knew we should have hit you harder. All right, let's assume you're telling the truth. What do you want?"
"How about some information. Why did Ahuan want Quetzie destroyed? I notice that he is no longer imprisoned in the chamber, maybe he is stalking your beloved lady as we speak?"
Jaime pauses a little too long before answering. He hadn't thought about that, Sean thinks triumphantly. Should shake him up a bit. "Maybe he's dead and buried," Jaime calls back. "You want me to look?"
"Only if you want to be buried there with him. So, why do they want to destroy each other so much, they could rule this land, maybe the whole world if they worked together "
"She doesn't want to rule the whole land together with anyone," Jaime shouts back. "The land united under the worship of one goddess is what we're aiming for. Listen, why don't we talk about this outside?"
"He's coming towards you," the leprechaun mutters.
"One more step and I'll set off the bomb," Sean warns. "I know that they can't exist any where near each other, if they met they would both die. Why is that? Where did that weakness come from "
"Who the hell cares?" Jaime's voice is sharp with irritation and a note of fear. "All I know is they need some stuff in their blood stream to be able to get close to each other. She never told me why and I never bothered to ask."
Sean takes the detonator out of his pocket and fingers it. "What about the skulls, then. It seems unlikely that they created them, Quetzie told me that the one that led me here was also connected to Ahuan. Why is that? Why were there so many skulls and only three Gods?"
"The skulls aren't linked to the gods, you fool. Some of them were made for the gods, some not. And all of them were created by someone at some time or other. They work as a focus for occult power, if you must know. As soon as I find the one your friends so kindly dropped here I'll be happy to demonstrate."
Sweat slicks Sean's fingers. Time's running out, he thinks. Casting a quick glance behind him to make sure his escape route is clear he shouts one last question. "Why do you follow her so blindly? It's so clear that she doesn't trust you enough to tell you what is really going on!"
He looks down. "Seamus, time to say bye bye to the fools," he mutters. He presses the button on the detonator and begins to run.
The explosion rocks the cavern behind him. He hears screams, someone shouting orders, and then everything is blotted out in the crash and rumble of falling rock.
TR stops the car within sight of the entrance to the tunnels. There is no sign of any other cars, or of Sean and Martin Keyes for that matter. Quickly, the three of them jump from the car run towards the tunnel entrance.
As they do, a rumbling shakes the ground.
"Keep going," Aberg orders. He follows his own advice and disappears into the tunnel. Confident that he knows the layout of passages now, he leads the way. His flashlight picks out sharp angles of rock and secondary passages, and then two humped shadows on the ground.
"Reconvaco's men," he whispers in relief, turning one of them over. Both have been shot. Aberg straightens. "I "
Footsteps sound, pounding over rock. TR tenses, picking up a rock. Aberg readies his gun. Belle-Marie flattens herself against the tunnel wall, her hands raised.
But it is Sean.
"Where's Keyes?" TR demands. The Irishman shakes his head. "Ahuan's got him. I set off the explosives. Jaime, his men and the skull are buried, I hope." He bends to search the dead men for weapons. "Are we going or what?"
"Good to see you've got the situation under control," TR comments.
"Unfortunately," Keyes says, "I feel like I owe Sean my life. I didn't ask him to save it, but there it is." He pauses and looks at the goddess imploringly. "Give me something, some sort of information, anything I can take back to my comrades. There an independent minded group. If you make a moral argument for us to end the mission then I'll go along with them. Believe me, our Dr. Eric and the skinny Belle-Marie are not going to follow orders blindly, SITU's or yours. Convince them to back off, and you can use me as you like."
Ahuan sits quietly, considering. Finally she gets up and comes to him. Laying her hands on either side of his face she stares into his eyes. "You think I'm going to let you go," she whispers. Her lips brush his. A shock of pain runs through him and she draws back. "You're wrong. I want you."
Keyes tries to speak but tiredness overtakes him. The last sound in his mind before he loses consciousness is the soft laughter of a woman he called Astrid.
"I can't believe you killed Quetzalcoatl," Sean rages. "That's the second time you fucked up by starting a fight when I advised you not to. You did exactly what Ahuan wanted. If you're not going to listen to me, you can get on the next plane out of Mexico."
TR grips his shoulder hard. "You'll listen to me. We do not follow your orders. We're supposed to be a team."
Aberg leaves them to it and goes to join Belle-Marie. "There's no sign of anyone out here," she tells him in a whisper. "I think we're all right for now. We should get back to the hospital and then to the hotel It's where Keyes will come if he gets away."
If he gets away, Aberg echoes. It doesn't sound very likely to him.
Dawn stains the sky pale violet.
Eric, right arm in plaster is sitting by the window. The others are sitting or standing in various parts of the room.
The ringing of the phone breaks the tense silence.
"Good news," says Kellsall's voice. "Quetzie is safely in SITU's hands. They're keeping him on ice for now. Eric, Blaize says you're welcome to conduct a full autopsy when you get back. He also asks if anyone is too badly hurt to continue."
They look at each other.
"We're fine," Steven says. "We'll manage."
"Good. Well, I've been advised to stay out of it for now, but you've got my number and if there's anything you want I can get it to you. Just let me know. That includes weaponry, if it's necessary."
Sean, who had been thinking of buying new weapons through Lalina's friends, suddenly pays attention. He reels off a list of equipment which George repeats before hanging up.
"What now?" TR asks. He answers his own question. "First we need to determine where Astrid and Keyes are. Then we have to figure out who Tezcat is, and finally get Keyes away from Astrid. Sean, do we still have the dart gun and the anti dubhium?"
It is Aberg who answers. "Yes, both here."
"Eric?" Belle-Marie asks, "you're very certain Hernandez is Tezcat. Why?"
The doctor turns to face her. "Just a feeling I have," he explains. "The Ylids all seem to be major players in this. Ahuan was watching us almost from the start. We know she's working with Tezcat, so it makes sense that he's someone we came into contact with early on as well. And Hernandez has been right in the thick of it. Maybe I'm wrong, but I won't be surprised if he turns out to be the third Ylid in this triangle."
TR looks doubtful. "But someone should trail him when he leaves the museum tonight," he suggests. He looks at Sean and Aberg enquiringly.
"Tonight's a long way off," Aberg points out. Sean doesn't speak, lost in thought.
Steven offers to look into Hernandez's background. Belle-Marie has already contacted her fiancé to ask him about Ahuan and Tezcat.
"Another thing is to enlists Mahmoud's help," Eric suggests, "and simply watch the situation here, see who benefits from Quetzie's death." He makes a vague gesture with his left hand. "Shall we get to work?"
A couple of hours work on the computer turns up a lot of information about Hernandez. He has had over a dozen papers publishes, all on various aspects of archaeology and mythology. The last paper was published just over a year ago. Other museum employees check out similarly.
Daniel, Belle-Marie's fiancé emails in a list of information about Ahuan, Tezcat and Quetzie. None of it is stuff they haven't seen before. If the mythology is to be believed, there have been battles between the three of them right through the centuries.
The local newspaper carries a report of a group of tourists being attacked whilst exploring the cave systems under Merida. No names are mentioned, thank goodness. There is also mention of a cave in at the heart of the system and a warning that the whole area has been cordoned off as dangerous. There are no reports of any shifts in power in the locality. Whatever the effect of Quetzie's death will be, it's obviously too early to say yet.
While Sean makes plans for a raid on Reconvaco's hideout, the others seek to establish its exact location. Keyes was carrying his com link when Ahuan took him and with a little work Steven manages to re-establish a contact with it.
"Problem is, they're not intended as homing devices," he says. "But it might be possible to triangulate a location." He shows Martyn Aberg how to use the mobile receiver and leaves them to it while he goes back to the computer. Keeping in touch with a separate com link it's easy to keep track of what's happening.
Driving around Merida for an hour, Aberg is ready to give up. As fast as he seems to be getting a strong signal, the direction shifts and he loses it again. "Maybe he is moving around," he suggests. He wants to get back to the hotel to take another look at the videos from last night. He's studied them all carefully once already, but there might have been something he missed, something that will give some clue as to where to take things from here.
"We could always try telling Hernandez that Quetzie is dead," TR suggests. "It'll be interesting to see his reaction."
They drive on a little further and stop.
"With the skull gone, we should think about getting the one from the museum," Aberg says thoughtfully. "It could help as a bargaining tool and " he pauses. "Hold on, I think I've got something." He quickly unfolds a map and compares references. "Yes, here look."
They all pore over the map. Aberg points out an open area, just outside Merida.
Keyes wakes slowly. His head feels stuffed full of cotton, his mouth is dry. He blinks, forcing his eyes to focus.
"The time has come to make your choice, Marty," Ahuan murmurs. "Bad news, I'm afraid. Reconvaco is dead, which means I need someone to step into his shoes quickly. What's it to be? Yes or no?"
Keyes doesn't answer.
Ahuan sighs and sets a clock down on the table between them. "It is now just past midday," she says. "I will give you an hour to make your decision." Her face suddenly turns hard. "I don't want you as an unwilling servant. Neither do I wish to kill you, but you know too much now. If you live, you will live for me. Willingly, of your own choice. Else you will die."
"Hey," Eric calls to Mahmoud. "We need your help." He shows the boy Aberg's map. "Do you know what's in this place?"
Mahmoud looks at the spot Eric indicates. "Si senor. Is an old factory. No one works there any more, no one goes there. Empty." He grins widely. "Senor, the men who were asking about you, they have not followed you today. Maybe you are rid of them. Is there anything more I can do?"