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Mateo and Leona both went to the restroom after waking up the morning of 2104. They drank some water, went to the bathroom again, and then they went right back to sleep. Though their bodies had only gone through a single day last year, their minds had experienced hundreds of days with very little rest. And sleep wasn’t so much about rejuvenating the body as much as it was about recalibrating the brain. By the time they woke up again, it was a few hours from their jump to 2105.
The Cleanser jumped in just after they had finished a nice meal with their now extremely large family. Mateo said his goodbyes, and then casually left everyone behind as if he were just a normal person going off to a 9-to-5 job.
“It looks like you’re getting used to this,” the Cleanser noted as they were walking through the woods.
“I have,” Mateo replied. “You made it necessary in the last tribulation.”
“I have received word that a future version of myself promised you that Leona would be left alone. I felt the need yesterday-last-year to assure you to not listen to anyone but me, not even an alternate version. I own you. Do you understand that?”
“I do.” He did.
He seemed a little perturbed to not be getting a fight out of him. “I don’t know if this is some kind of new strategy, but I want to also assure you that it will not work. Even if you submit to my demands, I will not get bored and leave you alone.”
“This is my life now.”
“This is your life now.”
“What’s on the schedule today?”
“A series of tasks. I want you to retrieve something for me. You shall face three deadly challenges. If you survive them, you will be rewarded.”
“Rewarded with what?”
Mateo laughed a little. “I don’t need immortality. I’m Catholic.”
“I’m speaking literally. Not everyone qualifies for immortality, and many of those who do not have spent lifetimes trying to find the right ingredients, only to be met with death.”
“Only the worthy can be immortal?”
“And it’s a drink?”
“It’s water. But it’s special, taken from a host of different places at different moments in time.”
“And what would I be drinking it out of? A hipster thermos? A mug that says World’s Greatest Dad?”
“Why does it matter?”
“Is it a chalice, is my point.”
“I guess...it certainly won’t be a hipster thermos.”
“What you’re describing is the climax of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.”
“No, it’s not,” the Cleanser claimed defensively.
“Three deadly challenges for the righteous, leading to immortality, taken in the form of water from a chalice. That’s The Last Crusade.”
“Fine. I like movies too. Gilbert Boyce is not the only one who watches movies. I’ve seen multiple version of that film, actually. In one reality, Indy’s father stays behind to replace the ancient knight as protector of The Holy Grail.”
“Cool,” Mateo said condescendingly.
“My point is that, just because you’ve seen one version of the movie, doesn’t mean that’s the one you’ll have to recreate.”
“And my point,” Mateo said, stopping, “is that you’re not doing a movie tribulation because you like movies too. You’re doing it because that’s what The Rogue would have done.”
“I’m nothing like the Rogue.”
“You are now. Ever since you killed him, in the way that you did, you’ve adopted some of his characteristics. He’s told me that that is how it works. He spent years as Donald Trump and was more ruthless and twisted than he ever was in that other Rogue body. But then when he left, he changed, and became more like the next person he possessed.”
“I possessed him for seconds, literally. By your logic, his personality should have faded by now either way.”
Mateo shrugged and started walking again. “I don’t have all the answers.”
“No, you certainly don’t. And you would do well to remember it.”
“Is this cave what we’re looking for?” he asked, ready to change the subject.
He yawned and began to crouch down into the rather small opening. “It is.”
They crawled and walked through the cave. The Cleanser held his hand out as the daylight behind them started to fade. He was somehow able to apport fire above his hand without burning himself. Heh. Time, right? Mateo thought to himself.
“We’re almost there.”
“Is that pirate’s chest?”
“Don’t look back, just stay on track.”
“Have you ever considered a career in rap?”
“Been there.” He stopped at the entrance to a second chamber. “This is where we part ways.”
“Ya know, if this is The Last Crusade, you end up following me in there, drinking from the wrong cup, and suffering an excruciating death while a bad actress screams in your arms for no reason at all.”
The Cleanser looked to his left, and then slowly turned to his right. “There’s no one else here. So I guess we’re not doing that part.”
Fortunately there weren’t any cobwebs to contend with. Mateo wasn’t, strictly speaking, arachnophobic, like one of his grandfathers, but he certainly didn’t like spiders. The main thing that convinced Mateo that the Cleanser was unwillingly holding onto the characteristics of the Rogue—and something he didn’t get to mention to him—was that The Last Crusade was Gilbert’s favorite movie of all time. This was something he had revealed to Mateo and Leona while they were on Easter Island. Either coincidentally, or fittingly, that was also during a quest for immortality. Even more interestingly, that mission actually did end up resulting in Gilbert’s immortality, just not in the way he expected. Mateo wondered if he even ever made the connection, but then realized that the main question here was whether the Cleanser understood these similarities.
About halfway through the passageway, he was stopped by a shirtless man holding a sword. This would be the part in the movie where a rotating blade jumped out and cut off the head of anybody still remaining in standing position. The idea was that you were humbled by the presence of God, and you were supposed to kneel to him. Then you were, for some reason, supposed to do a somersault, because there’s another spinning blade on the floor! Not knowing for sure just how much the Cleanser was expecting him to reenact, Mateo figured he was choosing to be more metaphorical. He decided to forego the somersault, but maintain the humility. He covered his eyes with his arm and knelt down in subservience. “Oh mighty one, please have mercy on me.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Mateo Matic, and I am but a lowly salmon. I pose you no threat.”
“Stand,” the man ordered.
Mateo stood and found the man to be both confused and intrigued.
“What is this place?”
“We are in a cave on Tribulation Island, on a planet that is not Earth.”
“I was not aware that travel to other worlds was possible. This is an interesting development.”
“Are you a choosing one?”
“I am not. I was human, but this sword allows me to steal other people’s powers.” He stepped deeper into the torchlight and widened his arms to show dozens of scars all over his body. “I have a lot of power, but it comes with a price. Though, interstellar travel shall be my greatest achievement.” He reached back and prepared to plunge the weapon into Mateo’s stomach.
“Wait!” Mateo cried. “I can’t travel to other planets. I just happen to be on one right now. Just like you.”
The man stopped. “Oh.” He pretended to wipe sweat from his brow. “Close one, right? I guess you did say you were salmon. Okay, you may pass.”
“Thank you,” Mateo replied, happy to have completed the first challenge. “Hey, what’s your name?”
“They just call me The Warrior.”
“All right, well...please stop killing people. Power isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
He made this face like it was the first time anyone thought to suggest such a thing. He answered genuinely with, “I shall consider it.”
Another man showed up from the aether for the second challenge. He seemed excited to see another person. “Hello, my name is Juan Ponce de León, but I seem to have found myself with the nickname The Navigator. Who are you, and where are we?”
“You’re Ponce de León.”
“Like from history class?”
“Yes, I have apparently become famous. I admit, I do not relish the idea of eventually returning to my time and facing my death.”
“Maybe you won’t have to, the Fountain of Youth is up ahead.”
“Is it really?” He lifted his compass and examined it. “Huh. So that’s where it’s been taking me.”
“I should say so.”
Ponce de León turned around and began walking through an opening that led to a wide open space. Before them was a stone floor, but unlike in the movie, there were a hell of a lot more of them, and they were all the same clean-cut shape. “Follow in my footsteps exactly,” freaking Ponce de León warned. “This compass will take us where we need to go.” The two new friends made quick work of it, stepping only on the stones that would not fall away and destroy them.
For the third so-called challenge, instead of an optical allusion, part of the ground was just invisible...or in another dimension...or something like that, Leona would be able to explain it. Soon thereafter, they were in the chalice chamber. The Cleanser was waiting for them. “Wow. You did that weird. You were supposed to fight The Warrior, and then steal the Compass of Disturbance. I didn’t think you would befriend these guys.”
“You don’t know me very well,” Mateo said.
“Apparently not.” He clapped his hands together, preparing to sell a used car. “You know what to do. One of these contains the elixir of life. The others are poisoned.”
Ponce de León started looking around, hoping to find the right chalice. He likely wouldn’t have seen the movie, and would have no frame of reference for which one was right.
“It’s this one,” Mateo said, confident but cool. He picked up the most extravagant and heavy chalice there. It was gold, and lined with every kind of gemstone Mateo could recognize.
“Are you sure?” the Cleanser asked. “In the movie, it was the modest clay chalice.”
“Yes, but that was Jesus’ cup. You are not Jesus. You are a douchebag.” He handed it to the Navigator. “Here ya go. One glass of immortality, coming up.”
Ponce de León took the chalice graciously and dipped it into the pool of water. Before he could take a drink, the Cleanser spoke. “There is a catch. If either of you drinks, you will become immortal, and your pattern will cease. You will not be able to travel through time in any way, shape, or form. It’s either this, or that.”
“Will remain on your pattern,” the Cleanser finished Mateo’s sentence for him. You’ll see her but once a year. You, on the other hand, Ponce, will remain in this time. The Compass will do you no good, and you will never see your wife and children again.” He paused for effect. “Only one of you will be able to have a drink.” He paused again. “You can choose amongst yourselves, but if one of you kills the other first, the drawback will be removed. Navigator, you’ll be able to go home, and Mateo, you’ll be able to give a drink to Leona. Your pattern will be broken, and you’ll never die.” He looked between them with a sinister smile.
Mateo Matic and Juan Ponce de León looked at each other. Then the Navigator dropped the chalice to the ground and they left the cave together.