[When we last left our Apocalyptically Doomed Beer Adventure, he had just found the seventh seal, MAELSTROM. Now he finds himself on the verge of running into an old acquaintance.]
I ducked behind the next big boulder I could find and surveyed my surroundings. I hated being shot at. Of course, that would be axiomatic for most people, but their beliefs would have been built most likely from what they saw in action movies and police shows. My hatred however, had been built by hard empirical experience.
I looked around for another vantage point as two more bullets ricocheted off the cave wall above me. It appeared at the moment that I had efficiently pinned myself into a corner, there being to much open ground between where I was and the next group of cover. Deciding that escape was not going to be an option, I took the only other one that seemed left to me. “Hey!” I yelled out into the darkness of the cave. “I don’t know who you are, but I’m not here to stop you or take anything from you. In fact, if you’d give me a chance, maybe we could help each other.”
I stopped and listened. My hope was to get this guy talking, bide some time until I could figure out my next move. Hopefully his curiosity about how I might help him would prove greater than his actual knowledge that I couldn’t. The stretch of silence was encouraging, he hadn’t jumped at my invitation to talk, but at least he had stopped shooting. Throwing caution to the wind, I raised up on one knee and peered over the rock. The cave seemed empty and silent, but I knew he was out there somewhere. Unfortunately, I made the foolish mistake of directing my focus to much in front of me and I caught the flash of movement behind me to late. I turned as quickly as I could, only to be greeted by a sharp pain to the side of my face.
My jaw throbbed with pain as I started to regain a sense of my surroundings. I was sitting on the ground, leaning against the rock that only a moment before had been my shield. My mind was still to fuzzy to totally make out the voice that was coming from above me, but I definitely caught the a spark of recognition in its tone.
“What are you doing here?”
I looked up but was greeted by two flashlight beams shining in my face. I blinked a couple of times, and as my vision cleared, the two beams merged into one. I contemplated my first words when something caught my eye. Standing on the cave floor before me, directly under the flashlight, were a pair of leather boots. I slowly followed the boots up until they ended, their lines continuing into a pair of very attractive legs. I shook my head and looked again, making sure that my eyes weren’t deceiving me. “Lara?”
The flashlight lowered to reveal a stern but beautiful female face, her piercing brown eyes looking down at me with contempt. “I said, what are you doing here?”
“Asked”, I replied wondering why so many people always got that wrong.
“You asked, what am I doing here. And if you can resist the urge to shoot me for a few minutes, I’ll be more than glad to answer you.”
I stood propped against the rock rubbing the side of my face trying to make the pain go away while I assessed my situation. Lara stood in front of me, clad in her usual…unconventional…outfit. But it wasn’t her tight shorts that was the object of my focus. Nor the leather top that didn’t cover her mid rift. Nor was it her face, framed with one lock of brown hair that had fallen out of her trademark ponytail. No, it was the 9mm Desert Eagle she had pointed at me, a BLIGHT on the otherwise captivating vision in front of me. I had to laugh on the inside, only Lara could manage to pull off sexy while she had a gun on you.
“Now, as I asked, what are you doing here?”
I thought for a moment. I could try several approaches with Lara, but she probably would see through any deception I attempted and this wasn’t the situation in which to piss her off as I had done on occasions in the past. Instead, I decided to us a tactic that I probably wouldn’t have used with anyone else, the truth.
“About a year ago I was contacted by a group of unknowns to track down certain artifacts of interest to them. They claimed these artifacts were spread in and around Mesoamerica and had some link with the Mayan Doomsday Prophecy.”
Lara laughed, “Really, Hunter? That’s bullshit and you know it. There is no ‘end of the world’ prediction in the Mayan calendar. The prophecy isn’t real.”
This coming from the woman who bragged one night over a couple of bottles of wine about how she’d saved the world with some “Triangle of Light” thingy? Really? “Well the artifacts I’ve discovered so far definitely have been real. Eight bottles, or seals as they refer to them, each containing a different liquid with some interesting properties. There are twelve all together, one of which I believe is hidden in this cave.” I kept going with my story, recounting my adventures of how I’d came upon each seal and the clues that had lead me to the next. I was doing a nice bit of mental multitasking, keeping the story flowing uninterrupted as I tried to figure out what that flash was that went across Lara’s face whenever I said the word bottle.
When I’d finished my tale, I could tell that Lara was skeptical, but still curious. “And that’s all they hired you to do? Find each of these, seals, and drink them?”
“Yeah, I was given specific instructions. Drink each one. Take no notes,” I tapped my temple with my forefinger as I said the last three words. From the several times our paths had crossed, Lara no doubt remembered my almost eidetic memory for remembering flavors in things I ate or drank, and realized why I’d be a perfect person to trust to such an unusual task.
I regained my feet and took a step towards Lara, hoping our conversation and our past had bought me a measure of trust. The gun re-aimed at my head informed me that it had not. “Look Lara, I helped you out a bit several years ago with that whole Pandora’s Box business you were caught up in. I’m just asking for a little help now.”
Lara eyed me for a minute, obviously trying to process everything I’d just told her. “OK,” she said, finally re-holstering her pistol. “Let’s see if you’re telling the truth.” She reached into a satchel that was draped around her neck and pulled out a familiar bottle. She rolled it around in her hand a bit, examining it as if almost mesmerized by the light bouncing off its quartz like surface. Finally she held it out between us. “Open it.”
This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but there didn’t seem to be another option. I cautiously reached into my pocket, making sure Lara got a good look at the object I was removing, after all I didn’t want to get shot over a bottle opener, stepped forward and with a quick flick, opened the ninth seal.
Lara put the bottle up to her nose, but her face gave no indication of what she was smelling. “Cheers,” she said as she put the bottle to her full lips and took a long drink. When she finally pulled the bottle down a displeasing look came across her face. “Not my thing,” she said as she handed the bottle towards me.
I took the bottle and, deciding that reaching for my glass would probably be pushing the situation, I took a long drink. “Pumpkin,” I said after I had swallowed, ” or at least pumpkin spices.” Well, one spice anyway. The beer definitely had a touch of cinnamon, but the predominate flavor was more like brown sugar, giving the beer an almost pie crust taste. I waved the opening of the bottle under my nose and picked up similar notes in the aroma. I took another drink and passed the bottle back to Lara.
The second sip allowed me to get a better taste of the liquid. It didn’t seem to have a lot of malt but did have a nice touch of pumpkin under the spice. The finish at the end was clean with a nice soft bitterness and a lingering spiciness.
As I watched Lara take another drink, I felt the warming properties of the liquid begin to flow through my body. My jaw began to ache less and I could sense the cloudiness of my mind starting to lift. About the time the liquid was starting to have its reinvigorating effects on me, I could see that Lara suddenly was very interested in her right hand. She turned it around in front of her several times and then began clinching and unclinching it into a fist.
“Hand felling better?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yeah,” she nodded, a look of amazement and disbelief etched across her face. “You were telling the truth.”
“I always tell the truth,” I said in a mock insulted tone. “To a woman with a pistol pointed at my head, anyway.”
Lara, took another swig and then without a word, resealed the bottle and put it into her satchel.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“You got what you wanted. You tasted it,” she said tapping a finger to her temple in a mocking fashion. “It would be a shame to waste all those interest properties on just a sore wrist. They may come in handy sometime in the future.” She stopped for a second and licked her lips. “Although, I wish it came in another flavor.”
“It does,” I permitted myself a joke, “eleven others.” I couldn’t just let her walk out with the bottle and the rest of its contents, although at this point I didn’t see any way to stop her. I’d rather go a few more rounds with the goon again then mix it up with Lara. Could I take her? Maybe. Was I willing to risk getting shot to find out? No.
“Watch yourself Hunter,” Lara looked back at me, a hint of compassion now on her face. “I’m sure you’ve figured out that you’re being placed in a dangerous situation. When you reach the end of your quest, you’ll be the only one with any real knowledge of these, seals. We both know history hasn’t always been kind to people who hold a secret.”
I nodded softly in agreement, “Thanks.”
Lara turned and started walking back down the tunnel, her long ponytail swaying with each step. As I watched her figure disappear into the darkness my mind snapped to a sudden realization. “Lara?” I called into the darkness. “Can you be a dear and tell me where you found it? I need to find the clue to the next one.”
“Go down the tunnel about 150 feet,” a disembodied voice called from the darkness. “On the left you’ll find a small passageway which leads to a room filled with stalactites. You can’t miss it.” I started to gather my things when suddenly the voice echoed through the cave again. “Oh, and Hunter?”
“If you ever call me ‘dear’ again, I’ll deck one more time.”
[To be continued]