mystery of all mysteries
Our scruffy yellow-haired space-traveling hero
has been stringing us along through different dimensions and wearing
the same red sweatshirt since early last
year. Heres episode 22 ...
could hear the giant groan from upstairs as he slammed Clay's door
"Shake a leg, Daniel. Your boy Andre is waking
up!" The short, dark Xibalban native gave Mel a withering glance
and began walking.
"We'll shake a leg, Mel, but not because of that
big lummox," said Daniel. "The powwow in the Coliseum
is going to start without us. Clay'll have me made into an armoire
if I don't get you there."
The neighborhood where Clay lived was an urban nightmare
of industrial-looking buildings and reject modern art in the middle
of the street. Its sky was dark, but everything was lit in red by
light that had no visible source. As Mel and Daniel hustled around
a corner beneath a leaning warehouse, they were suddenly enveloped
in blinding light.
This section of the Ordeal had a normal sky at least,
though maybe normal for Africa in summer. It was a raging, deep
blue though for all the light, Mel could make out no sun.
They continued their frenetic walking pace, and Mel barely had time
to notice that the cracked asphalt of the previous block had turned
into a light-orange paving stone sprinkled with sand.
This neighborhood was full of stuccoed houses in an
Arabic style. The road they walked was on the edge of a huge, tented
marketplace. Through gaps in the canvas Mel could see a vast assortment
of people in marketplace mode people, aliens and more doing
business. He hesitated for a moment, but Daniel pulled on the sleeve
of his red sweatshirt.
"We shouldn't stop here," Daniel cautioned.
"Time is funny in this place; we might never leave."
Mel nodded, and they continued up the road.
The road seemed to go on into infinity. With all the
buildings, tents and spires of what he guessed were mosques, the
horizon was indistinct. After a few seconds, though, their track
was obscured by an enormous structure, which Mel guessed was the
Coliseum. It hadn't been there a moment before.
"Come on, come on," Daniel said in a strained
voice. They hurried closer, and proximity to the Coliseum again
changed their surroundings. The desert city had gone. Standing beneath
the huge, round building, Mel felt rain speckle him. The sky was
cloudy, and murky, ancient forest was all around.
The Coliseum's environs were scattered with people.
In an alcove were three Xibalbans playing what looked to be craps.
Daniel flipped them a terse wave and they returned it without stopping
their game. Mel followed Daniel around the curve of the Coliseum,
passing more knots of people who seemed to prefer the moist night
outside the structure.
They were now facing a grand entrance, an ornate arch
that would have looked at home in a gladiator movie. Only one person
was present, an old man with bald head and long beard. He was oriental,
and his bright yellow robe made Mel think he was a monk. Daniel
greeted the man, who slouched against a stone pillar covered in
"Master, has the meeting started?" His tone
held a respect that Mel had not yet heard from the crusty little
The Master grinned randomly and replied in an ageless
voice: "Yep. Clay's going to have you for kindling."
Daniel nodded grimly. With one hand the Master patted
Daniel on the head like a child, and with his other gave Mel a friendly
punch on the arm that hurt like hell. "Get goin'. See ya. Hurry
Mel and Daniel hurried through the arch, where they
could already hear the sound of shouting.
"Daniel, who was that guy?"
"The Master. That's all. Most people seem to
think he's the head Custodian, you know, who runs the place. Personally,
I think he's God." With that cryptic remark still hanging in
the air, they entered the Coliseum.
It was just like the Roman Coliseum back on Earth.
The seats were full of the types of people Daniel had mentioned:
Xibalbans, people in black who were probably assassins, well-dressed
Chinese who were undoubtedly members of the tongs, as well as all
variety of aliens. No dogmen yet, though.
Down in the center of the structure was a platform
on the floor. About 20 people sat in chairs before a long table,
and one of them was talking into the microphone before him.
Daniel handed Mel some opera glasses from a pouch
at his belt. Mel put them to his eyes.
"... can't produce this Candidate who will win
this war for us, then you need to be quiet." The speaker was
in a soft black robe with matching skullcap. He was pale and had
light blond hair: Eriksen. Having never heard him speak before,
Mel couldn't tell if his voice was higher from the proxy kick he
must have felt earlier.
"I have here," Eriksen continued, holding
up a thighbone, "a relic of an Earth legend. I can revive him
to fight for us without him having to pass any sort of Candidacy.
We Custodians must liberate the Ordeal from the DCB, and soon. The
laboratories of the DCB are manifesting more and more Frank Burleys
every day." He paused for dramatic effect. "Something
must be done!"
Eriksen hurled the bone onto the open floor of the
Coliseum, when someone interrupted him. It was Clay.
"Eriksen, you know that the important part of
the Ordeal is the means, not the end. The transformation of Candidate
to Messiah is absolutely necessary. My Candidate is the closest
Daniel began pushing Mel down the aisle stairs towards
the floor. "Come on, come on."
Eriksen seemed unimpressed by Clay's speech, and instead
began to chant. The thighbone on the floor seemed to swirl with
mist, turning into a miniature vortex that at last faded to reveal
a human figure. Mel put the glasses to his eyes again, and when
he saw who it was, had to stop.
The man wore white trousers tucked into black boots,
and a blue waistcoat trimmed with gold. He also had long white hair
pulled back in a ponytail, and an enormous hooknose. The eyes weren't
human, though. They were a solid silver, and the whole figure seemed
to shimmer as if with heat haze. Then he spoke.
"I was promised armies to lead," said the
hollow voice, booming like some awful kettledrum beat before a battle.
Daniel was pushing again, and Mel could not even stop
when a hoarse Spanish greeting arose from the seats to the right.
He could only wave briefly to Ramon, Diego and the rest of the dogmen
who barked and yelled at the sight of Mel.
At last he was on the floor, just a few paces away
from the ghost of George freaking Washington.
As Mel approached the platform, he had never been
more nervous in his life. "Here I am, Clay. Messiah Candidate
Mucho Grande." The Coliseum became immediately quiet. Eriksen
looked on in disbelief, his otherworldly guest forgotten for a moment.
He sat with a glare at Mel as Clay stood.
"Here is the one I spoke of," Clay said.
"The Ordeal can begin at once if he is ready ... and our battle
can soon be over." The cheering was deafening, and when everyone
sat down again, Eriksen and Washington were gone. When quiet resumed,
Clay continued. "There is much planning to do. Let me outline
There was more, but Mel had lost interest. He put
the opera glasses to his eyes again, because he saw others leaving
They were on the back side, near the top, in what
would have been the shittiest seats at a concert. Other than these
people, the section was empty, so their exit went unnoticed. He
trained the glasses on each one as they left: Frank Burley, Frank
Burley, Frank Burley ...
Clay had been right about this place when Mel had
first met him. It was the mystery of all mysteries, and the damnedest
thing was, Mel didn't have time to solve it right now.