Part 15: Medusa
Chapter 15: Medusa
We drove back to the Luveno and headed for Palma. Odin sat with his head in his hands the whole flight. I tried my best to cheer him up, but he insisted he was just tired.
The mountain path leading from Gothic to Medusa's tower was too narrow and twisty for the Land Rover to easily traverse it, so we went on foot. The path was long and steep, and it took a lot out of us. We rested for the night at the foot of the tower before entering.
The walls of Medusa's tower were lavishly decorated with tapestries, murals and reliefs. Some were so new the paint was still wet, while others were fading or flaking away. The artworks all depicted scenes of luxury to the point of decadence: kings being entertained in their harems by dozens of scantily-clad women while eunuch slaves brought food and wine, cultists dressed in bizarre clothes engaging in wild drunken orgies, obese men gorging themselves at huge feast tables and vomiting when they'd had their fill so they could eat more.
We found an old man, held prisoner in the tower and bearing the bruises and scars of repeated torture. When I approached his cell, he looked at me with madness in his eyes and began raving incomprehensibly. He violently resisted all our efforts to free him, and eventually we had to leave him be and move on.
It would have been hard to get him out alive even if he'd cooperated; the tower was crawling with monsters.
Noah's conversation with the dragon we ran into was even more cryptic than usual.
Noah's continued exercise of his mental powers also led him to gain new insight into a spell to raise the dead! If that meant we never had to visit a priest again, that was fine by me.
We found a narrow spiral staircase and climbed to the second floor of the tower. This floor was decorated with scenes of combat and violence: muscular wrestlers, duelling gladiators, generals leading great armies into bloody battles. I noticed that Odin was taking special care to stare straight down the corridors and avoid looking at the walls, as if they reminded him of something he wanted to forget.
Great fire-breathing serpents slithered down the corridors. For every one we killed, another was just around the corner.
We also found another mad prisoner. This one had been put to work painting the murals that adorned the walls. Once again, he resisted all our attempts to help him.
As we ascended further up the tower, the decorations grew still more grotesque. The walls were covered in scenes of human sacrifice, children being eaten alive by monsters, men and women of all ages being stretched, pierced, burned and broken with instruments of torture. Were these Medusa's idea of fine art? The depths of her depravity sickened me.
The monsters grew more numerous and powerful as well. Our path was crossed many times by twisted demonic creatures who wielded massive halberds with superhuman strength.
The next prisoner we found was still clinging to the last shreds of his sanity, but was too terrified to leave his cell. He wished us the best of luck in killing Medusa.
At the very top of the tower, we came to a locked door. When we saw it, Odin, Myau and I all stopped in our tracks.
A large mural above the door depicted a naked woman -- no, a girl, not any older than me -- chained to a bloodstained stone slab. Looming over her was a demon, its eyes full of bestial malice and lust. After all the other horrors I'd seen in this tower, it wouldn't have affected me, except for one thing.
The demon was the same one from my nightmare, back in the Governor's mansion.
"What's wrong?" asked Noah.
I turned my head to face him; it didn't shake out the memories, but it helped bring me back to the present.
"It's nothing. Just a dream from long ago."
"Dreams can't hurt you unless you let them," Noah told me matter-of-factly. "They're not real."
"Aren't they?" I said half to myself as I turned my dungeon key in the lock.
I listened at the door before opening it, and heard the hissing of a thousand snakes. I stood aside and let Odin open the door and enter first, Perseus' shield firmly in hand. At long last, I could help Odin take his revenge on the foul monster that had defeated him long ago.
As I entered the room I caught a glimpse of a grotesque hybrid of snake and woman, wielding an axe with a blade of shining blue-green metal. I immediately turned my head away from her, while Odin held out his mirrored shield in front of Medusa's face. She screeched in fear and raised her empty hand to cover her eyes while flailing blindly at us with the axe.
(Video / Backup)
With the help of Myau's magic, my sword cut deeply into her bloated serpentine body, while Noah attacked with bolts of lightning and Odin fired at her around his shield. Then, with a well-timed gust of wind, Noah knocked Medusa's axe out of her hand. With her only remaining means of defending herself gone, Myau seized the opportunity to leap up and deliver a mortal wound. Oily purplish blood spurted from Medusa's throat.
As the life bled out of her, Medusa opened her mouth and tried to gasp out her last words. I kept my head turned away from her and the point of my sword held to her bleeding throat, expecting some final curse or vow of revenge.
Her voice, once it came out, was faint and choked with tears.
"I'm sorry. Everything I did... they forced me... they wouldn't stop... unless... unless I... Please... before I die... I want you to see my face."
My mind screamed out at me that I was a fool, that this was her final trap for me, but something deep within me compelled me to turn my head to look at her.
As the demonic glow in her eyes faded, and the snakes framing her head turned back to long black hair, I realised why she wanted me to look at her.
Her face was the face of the girl in the mural outside.
I felt as if I'd been punched in the stomach. Medusa had been an ordinary girl, forced to bear unimaginable torments until even becoming a monster enslaved to Lassic seemed better than continued agony. Was she from a town like Camineet? Did she have an older brother like mine? How many of the other monsters we'd killed had been victims of Lassic's twisted magic? If it had been me in her position, would I have endured until Lassic and his demonic servants grew bored and let me die, or would I have made the same choice she did?
I fell to my knees, sobbing helplessly. Odin put away his gun and shield and knelt in front of me; I threw my arms around him and cried into his shoulder.
"It's over, Alis," he said. "Her pain is over now."
I pulled back from him and looked up into his face.
"You... you saw? You looked at her face too?" I asked through my tears.
Odin nodded. "Now you understand why I don't think of myself as a hero."
After holding on to Odin for a little longer, I wiped my tears away and rose to my feet. I watched the body of the girl who had been Medusa as it slowly turned to stone and crumbled to dust. Noah tried to restore her to life with his magic, but it was no use. We'd already done all we could for her by killing her.
Odin picked up Medusa's Laconian axe and looked it over approvingly -- but I could tell he was looking at it as a weapon, not as a prize.
"Being a hero isn't about fighting powerful enemies, leading armies or finding treasure," he said. "If it were, Lassic would be more of a hero than any of us. Heroes are supposed to protect people, and make the world a better place. But instead of protecting your brother I let him go alone to his death. And now, instead of protecting a poor girl who was forced to become a monster, we had to kill her. When we've killed Lassic, maybe then we'll have the right to be called heroes. Until then..." He sighed.
I finished his sentence for him. "Until then, we're just very dangerous people."
"That's right. So it's best if we spend most of our time around things we want to kill." He laughed weakly.
I used the flute to get us out of the tower, used my magic to teleport us back to Gothic, then headed straight for the Luveno. I wanted to get as far away from Medusa's tower as possible, as fast as I could. Travelling to another planet seemed very appealing right now.