The Sumerian Jigsaw

The Sumerian Jigsaw

By: Mark J. Hadley

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CHAPTER 1

"The Beginning"

The sun rose over the farmland...it was quiet, as it was every morning in the middle of Nowhere. Only a single figure was up and about this early. Courage stepped out from the farmhouse, taking in a deep breath of the fresh morning air. This was always his favorite time of the day, where the morning sun eliminated the terrors of the night. This was one of the few moments that he looked upon the world not in fear, but peacefully.

Only one thing could make everything perfect... "Now, where did I bury that yo-yo?" he said to himself. He couldn't remember, so he just shrugged, and started digging in a random place. As luck would have it, his intuition was correct, and after several minutes of digging, he popped his head up out of the hole he made, holding the yo-yo triumphantly above his head, "Yes!"

As he started to climb out of the hole, however, his foot struck something solit inside the soft earth on one side. "Huh?" he said, surprised. Curiously, he began to dig in that spot, and was even more surprised to uncover a large, wooden chest buried there.

Strangest things I find out here all the time, he thought. With some effort, he dislodged the chest and managed to pull it up and out of the hole. Now that he had taken a good look at it, he saw that it was locked, but the lock was rusty and ready to fall apart.

"Courage!" came a shout from the farmhouse. Turning to look, he saw Muriel standing by the door. "It's time for breakfast!" Courage smiled...he was getting hungry. He didn't want to leave the chest behind, though, so he grabbed hold of it and dragged it back to the house.

Inside, Eustace was already seated at the table, and Muriel was just setting down a huge plate of pancakes in front of him. She looked over and saw Courage dragging the chest into the house, and said, "Oh! What have you got there, Courage?"

Courage shrugged, and Eustace frowned at him, "Stupid dog must've dug somethin' up out there again. He's always bringing junk into the house..."

"It looks like a treasure chest," Muriel remarked. "I wonder what's in it?"

After a few moments of silent staring in Eustace's direction, he grumbled, "Eh, all right...I'll get my tools..." He got up and left the kitchen, returning a minute later with his toolbox. Pulling out a huge wrench, he clamped it over the lock and twisted, trying to break it off.

It was hard work, though, and the lock, rusty as it was, wouldn't budge. Courage helped him out, and after a few more minutes of tugging, it finally gave, shattering into pieces. Both of them together pried the top of the chest open, and stared inside in expectation. Their faces fell when they saw the contents, however: a whole trunk full of rocks.

"Well, isn't that peculiar..." Muriel said.

"Rocks! Like we don't have enough of them around here already!" Eustace said angrily, glaring down at Courage. "Whaddaya gonna bring in here next? A giant sack of dirt, maybe? Stupid dog..." Courage whined and lowered his head.

Muriel scooped up one of the rocks from the chest and said, "Now why do you suppose anyone would go to all the trouble of locking these into a chest..." She glanced down and said, "Oh!" in surprise, as something caught her eye. In the spot where she had moved the rock, she had uncovered something hidden beneath it. A small object wrapped in an old cloth.

Eustace moved some more of the rocks aside so that they could pull it free. He lifted the object out carefully...it wasn't very large, only about six inches long on each side, and about half an inch thick. He unwrapped the cloth slowly, uncovering whatever was inside, and his eyebrows rose in astonishment.

Courage was also amazed by what he saw, as was Muriel. It was a flat tablet, that appeared to be made of solid gold. The edges of the tablet were strangely shaped, with sections that portruded out, and similarly-sized notches here and there. Some ancient cuneiform writing was etched into the surface. Moreover, it was in excellent condition...not only weren't there any nicks or scratches, but it was clean, like it had recently been polished. That couldn't have been, though, since the cloth it was wrapped in was old and dusty.

"Oh my..." Muriel said breathlessly. "It's lovely!"

"Lovely, nothing," Eustace exclaimed. "It's expensive-looking! We're gonna be rich!"

Courage climbed up onto the kitchen table to get a better look. He pulled out a piece of paper and started making a quick sketch of it. As he did, Muriel looked curiously at the engravings on it and said, "I wonder what this says, or where it came from..."

Eustace held it up in the light and said, "Who cares? I'm more interested in finding out what it's worth!" With that, he walked over and picked up the phone to call the museum. "We're gonna be rich! Rich! Rich!"

* * *

Courage ran upstairs to the attic with his sketch. He sat down at the computer and started typing, "Found old tablet...ancient writing...solid gold..."

The computer sighed and printed on the screen, "All right, let's see."

Courage fed the sketch into the scanner and waited as the computer analyzed it. After a few moments, it printed, "Oh! Quite a treasure you've got there, kid."

He smiled and typed back, "What is it?"

The information was displayed, along with an image of the tablet, matching the drawing he had made. "What you have there is one of the pieces of the Sumerian Jigsaw. It's quite old, created long ago by a powerful sorcerer." Eight similar tablets appeared on the screen around each sides of the tablet that was already displayed. "There are eight other such pieces that were scattered across the world shortly after their creation. Legend has it that assembling all nine of the pieces together..." The pieces on the screen came together slowly, interlocking with each other. It started to glow. "...would grant the one who assembled it great power."

Courage was startled to hear this, but started typing anyway. "Is this legend true?"

"Well, if I knew that," the computer replied, "it wouldn't just be a legend, now, would it?"

"Okay, okay," he said. "What do the writings mean?"

"Well, when translated, the engravings on the center piece, the one you have, give out the supposed locations of the four pieces immediately attached to it. Their engravings translated together will reveal the locations of the last four pieces. Of course, there's no guarantee that any of these pieces will be there anymore, if anyone ever moved them."

Courage scratched his head, and typed, "Where are the first four?"

"Hold on." The computer continued analyzing the engravings, and finally said, "Well, one piece is located in South America, deep inside the rainforest. I'll need some more time to translate the rest. This isn't like reading a book, you know."

"Hmm..." he said, looking over this last bit of information. As he did so, Eustace walked into the attic, with the tablet in hand, and said, "Where's that phone book...can't call the museum without my phone book..." He stopped by the computer screen, noticing the information about the tablet it had printed out, "Eh?"

Courage watched as Eustace read over it. After he did, he shouted with joy, "There's eight more of 'em? Heh heh heh!! We'll be rich! Nine times as rich! Whoopee!" Turning around, he ran from the attic, shouting, "Muriel! Pack yer bags! We're goin' on vacation!"

As he left, the computer displayed, "I suppose you'll need my help, of course. You can contact me with that text pager on the desk."

Courage looked to one side of the computer, and there was indeed sitting there. He picked it up and said in surprise, "When did we get this?" Shrugging, he headed out of the attic to pack his own things.

The computer printed out one last thing on its screen, "Good luck in South America."

* * *

At the airport, Eustace and Muriel sat in the waiting area near the gate for the plane that would take them to South America. Muriel was busy knitting a sweater while they waited, and Eustace was reading a newspaper. Courage was apprehensive about the trip at first, but now he was actually beginning to look forward to it. It was almost like a vacation.

He looked down at a small box, which he kept with him, containing the Jigsaw piece he had found. Best not to leave it out of his sight, he thought. He didn't want to lose it.

Across from them, sitting in another row of waiting room seats, were a few people reading newspapers. One of them slowly lowered the paper and gazed over the top edge of it...he was wearing a black hood, wrapped around his head like a ninja. His eyes were also a deep red color. Glaring in their direction for a moment, he raised the newspaper back up.

Courage cringed, and said to himself, "I don't like the looks of this..." He casually got up and walked off towards the gift shop, taking the box with him. As he walked, he glanced back over his shoulder, and sure enough, the men had gotten up and started following him. All three of them were dressed up completely in black, as the first one had been. Whining slightly, he started walking faster, and they, too, quickened their pace.

He darted into the gift shop and walked down one of the tiny aisles of overpriced merchandise. Peering around from the edge of a rack of magazines, he saw the men enter. They looked around, not knowing where Courage had gone. Suddenly, one of them spotted him, pointing in his direction, and each of them drew a long, nasty-looking sword with a serrated edge.

Courage screamed, "Aaaaaaaugh!" and jumped away from the merchandise display as one of them swung their sword, cutting the magazine display in half. Pieces of paper fluttered about the air, and Courage ran as fast as he could between them, back out into the airport. They turned and ran after him, waving their swords in the air.

"What do I do? What do I do?!" Courage exclaimed. He looked around, trying to find someplace to hide, but there wasn't really anywhere to go. People didn't even seem alarmed as the men brandishing the swords ran past them, almost as though they couldn't see them.

However, someone apparently could, because before they reached Courage, another man jumped out between them. He was wearing a military-issue covert operations uniform, and brandished a strange-looking pistol-like weapon towards the men with the swords. They stopped in their tracks. One of them shook his fist in the air silently, then all three of them were surrounded by wisps of smoke, almost shadow-like, and simply vanished.

Courage howled, "Ooooooh...what's going on here?!"

Once the soldier was satisfied that they were gone, he turned to Courage and said, "Listen up, dog...it's imperative that you succeed in your mission. The Order of the Ebon Shadow already knows what you're looking for. They won't bother you as long as we're around, but we can't keep an eye on you all the time..."

Courage didn't know what to say, so he said nothing and waited as the soldier continued, "If you need our assistance again, contact us anytime." He handed him a small business card, then disappeared into the crowd.

Scratching his head, Courage glanced down at the card and read it, "Bureau 13...Top Secret Government Organizations, ltd." He felt a chill run through him...did they know about the Sumerian Jigsaw? How did they know he found that one piece? And who were these Ebon Shadows that were after him? He had the feeling that he probably didn't want to know the answer to any of those...

Another thought occurred to him, and he quickly ran back to the waiting area, "Muriel! I hope she's okay!"

When he got back over there, they were still in the same place. Courage let out a sigh of relief, and sat down next to them. Almost immediately, a voice spoke over the loudspeakers, "Flight 921 to South America now boarding..."

"That's us!" Muriel exclaimed. She put her knitting away and picked up her carry-on bags. "Isn't this exciting, Courage? We needed a vacation..."

Courage nodded, but still didn't feel too good about this whole thing. He didn't even know what lay ahead of them, once they get to their destination. Staring down at the box in his hands again, he said to himself, "Ohh...I just know I'm not going to like this..."

TO BE CONTINUED...