The Temple of Medusa looked as if it had been built yesterday.
Every white brick looked as if they had been bleached, and pink and red bricks formed mosaics that seemed to leap out of the wall. The archaeologists had stopped every few feet, eyes widening as yet another relic of gold or silver glinted off the light of their lamps.
At last they came to the central chamber, where the murals on the wall practically smelled of fresh paint. And in the middle, an altar, with a marble statue so lifelike that the archaeologists turned away. Then, laughing at their reflexive reaction to the creature whose gaze turned men into stone, they looked in wonder at the twenty-foot tall likeness whose hair of snakes seemed to writhe and spit.
And ringing the altar, one statue after another, armies of them.
“It was a fanatic cult, according to the legends,” said Clement, the chief archaeologist, who, with a gloved hand, removed a cloth scroll from a leather tube. “The story goes that they stole Medusa’s head from Athena, and would perform sacrifices in which they would force people to stare at it.”
Grayson, one of his graduate students, looked at him with a smirk.
“So, you’re saying these statues are…”
“People. And the legend also says that even though Athena got the gorgon’s head back and gave mortals a scroll to free those she had turned to stone, the cultists continued to worship her. The legend says that they did something so hideous, so horrible, that the mortal dared not read the scroll. Ever.”
“And we’re about to find out if the legend is true,” said Grayson with a smile. Clement smiled back, stood in front of the altar, and unfurled the scroll.
As Clement read, the words that came out of his mouth sounded as if they were the first words that any human had spoken, words that all had used before one language split into countless families and subfamilies. As he the finished the words, the scroll disappeared, and the statues shimmered. Then they began to move as stone became flesh.
And just as Clement and Grayson entertained the archaeological dream of talking to those who’d lived thousands of years before in a world of dark magic, rivers of blood ran down the walls as the temple sagged, and caved in upon itself as the countless corpses from which the cultists had made the temple’s bricks became bone, flesh and muscle.