Bright Wings, Bright Sun
Leyla almost leaped backwards in alarm. The crystal box he had found was opening of its own accord, the quiet grinding of its movement speaking to the great weight of the lid, which was only confirmed when it slammed to the floor, leaving the box open to the air.
Slowly the figure rose from the box. As if waking from a deep sleep, she supported herself with one hand upon on the edge of the vessel as she sat up. She arched her neck and back as she began to spread her wings, like stretching her arms after a long rest. The wings were enormous, over five meters across and filled with feathers of bright blue and gold, the inside lined with white. They weren’t stubby either, but resembled the great wings of an eagle or hawk with a boxy shape and finger-like contour feathers at the edge.
The young woman looked around the temple, still only dimly lit by the sacred fire Leyla had replaced nearby. Her eyes were a brilliant pale blue the color of a sunny sky, and she examined her surroundings with a passive indifference until her gaze fell on Leyla.
“You,” she said. “Who are you?”
Her voice was gentle, and so quiet Leyla almost didn’t hear her over the rapid thumping of his heart.
“Go on, answer her.” Derya’s voice came inside Leyla’s mind.
“I’m uh…Leyla,” he said finally. “Sorry if I woke you up.”
The woman did not speak for a few moments, staring at him passively as if trying to process someone else’s words.
“Leyla,” She finally repeated. “And who am I?”
“Ummm…” Leyla hesitated. “That’s harder to answer.”
He paused, trying to think of a proper, satisfying response.
“Well, I know pretty much everything about me.” Leyla started.
“Us,” Derya corrected, which Leyla mentally shushed.
“So it stands to reason that you should know more about you.”
The woman stopped to consider this for a time. “I…do not.” She finally settled simply. “I have forgotten…who I am.”
“Do you remember what you are?” Leyla asked hopefully, but the winged girl only gave him a look of non-comprehension.
“Well, most people don’t have wings,” Leyla said. “In fact no humans have wings, meaning you probably aren’t human.”
“Human,” The young woman tested the word. “No…no I know that I am not human.”
“Well that’s a start!” Leyla clapped his hands excitedly, trying to lift the mood.
“It is?” The woman asked.
“It is?” Derya asked.
“Sure,” said Leyla. “If you can remember you’re not human, then you might be able to remember other stuff about yourself. Meaning we might be able to narrow down precisely what it is you are.”
“That…makes sense.” The winged girl said.
“That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” Derya said. “We can’t possibly narrow down everything she isn’t.”
“It’s a start,” Leyla replied to both. “But for now we should get moving. If there are answers we probably won’t find them in a dusty old temple. Unless…”
Leyla pointed to the golden script. “Can you read that?”
The girl had to lean over the side of the box to look at the Avestan writing inscribed on its lid, but the moment she did she recoiled back, one hand clutching her head while the other gripped the edge of the box tightly to keep herself study.
“W-what happened!?” Leyla said in confusion.
“I didn’t sense any malevolent magic in that writing,” Derya said. “It can’t have been some kind of curse.”
“Maybe it’s something wrong with her.” Leyla mused.
“What?” The girl looked at him in confusion.
“Oh, nothing,” Leyla waved it off. “Ignore me, just…why did you respond like that?”
“I’m…not sure,” The girl said. “It was…chaotic to read…like I only half-understood it.”
“It could be something in her nature,” Derya offered. “Like how demons react to holy scripture. It is antithetical to their nature so they recoil, even if the words themselves have no magic power.”
“I don’t think you’re any kind of demon,” Leyla said to both of them. “No demon could exist so long so close to one of the sacred fires, right?”
“I…suppose not” Derya said.
“I suppose not.” The girl said. “Ah…wait yes…the sacred fire, I know of it.”
“You do?” Leyla said excitedly. “Well come on, let’s see what else you’ve got. Tell me more about what you know.”
“Hmmm,” Still kneeling in the box, the girl screwed up her face in intense concentration as she tried to summon the thoughts from some locked recess of her mind. “I know that…the fire is to be respected and protected…that I…am related to it but…I’m sorry, nothing else comes.” She finally sighed in defeat.
“Still that’s a great start!” Leyla said, trying to lift her spirits.
“Agreed,” Derya said. “Unless this is all a clever act to get us to lower our guard, it is unlikely that she is trying to deceive us, meaning her nature is likely a good one.”
“I believe…we should leave.” The winged girl said. “I cannot think of a reason that I should stay and…I believe there is somewhere I need to be, something I need to find.”
Leyla smiled. “Seems we have a destination.”
“One we don’t know and can’t possibly find,” Derya reminded him. Leyla only frowned a little at this.
“Could you tell me what is out there?” The girl asked.
Leyla stepped forward, offering a hand to help her out of the glass box. Gently she took his arm to support herself, and Leyla felt a supernatural warmth to her skin. It was very much like standing near a warm fire, and the fire in his own soul seemed to grow in response as his essence reached out to touch hers. Carefully he helped her out of the box and onto her feet. She shook slightly with the first step, but soon regained herself as she grew steadier.
She was slightly taller than Leyla, who had never been particularly tall. She was thinly built with long legs and arms, and her long dress was fastened around her waist with a loop of golden rope. Her arms and neck were bare, as was her head of shoulder-length tousled brown hair. She was careful with her first few footsteps, her wings spread slightly for balance and to catch her as they occasionally flapped awkwardly to steady her fi she stumbled. Soon enough, however, she got the hang of walking and had her wings folded like a cloak behind her back.
“To answer your question,” Leyla said. “There isn’t a whole lot out there for a hundred kilometers. It’s mostly deserts, scrub, and the occasional monster.”
“And beyond that?” The girl asked naively, Leyla was unsure if she even knew how far a kilometer was. Maybe he should tell her in cubits.
“Well…there’s Babylon.” Leyla shuddered slightly.
“What is a Babylon?” The girl asked.
Leyla almost did a double-take. How long had this girl been asleep? There had been a Babylon for the entirety of human history as far as Leyla knew, in one name or another. So either this girl was indescribably old, or she was hopelessly naïve.
“Or quite possibly both”
“Babylon is a city…a place full of people. But right now it’s ruled by monsters.”
“What kind of monsters?” The girl asked.
“They’re servants of the Sumerian Primordial being known as Tiamat.” Leyla said. “She’s the mother of all monsters and commands them from whatever dark corner of the world she hides in.”
“Tiamat…” The girl tried but shook her head. “I do not know that name either.”
“That’s less surprising,” Leyla said. “You didn’t seem to me to be Sumerian. If anything you look like an angel.”
“An angel?” The girl looked at her curiously.
“Well, we call them yazatas in Zoroastrianism.” Leyla said.
“You’re confused,” Derya said. “She looks like a Judeo-Christian angel, and not even an accurate one at that. They didn’t start looking like winged people in art until the middle ages.”
“Okay true you look more like a Christian angel as some people think of them,” Leyla shrugged, admitting defeat while still trying to help the girl. “Like Michael or Gabriel, any of those names ringing a bell?”
“No,” The girl shook her head. “I’m sorry but those names carry no more meaning to me than Tiamat.”
Leyla sighed. “Well, any progress is better than no progress I suppose. We can rule out you being a Christian angel.”
“Tell me more about these monsters.” The winged girl said.
“Sure,” Leyla said, “But come on, we should get walking.”
Together they set off out of the small temple. When they left the relative darkness of the interior, the light of the midday sun was almost blinding, and even Leyla had to wince and turn away as he covered his eyes. Turning to the girl, however, she seemed entirely unphased by the sudden brilliance of light and heat.
“Guess you’re pretty darn resilient huh?” Leyla smiled as his vision slowly accustomed to the brightness.
“I suppose” The girl said.
“Right, well about these monsters,” Leyla began. “It happened about a year and a half ago when Tiamat rose from her tomb beneath the Persian Gulf. She’s not a physical monster anymore, you see. The legend goes that Tiamat was slain by the god Marduk in combat during the forming of the world, so in a way Tiamat is both alive and dead.”
“How can such a thing be a threat?” The girl asked “If it has no physical form…”
“Ah, but it has influence, and that breeds power,” Leyla said. “All monsters of the Levant are descended from Tiamat, and when she released her unearthly call they all heard her. Most are too stupid for her insidious plots and just sew havoc across the desert. Others, however, are intelligent enough to work behind the scenes.”
“In Babylon?” The girl asked.
“That’s right,” Leyla nodded. “Some of her smartest brood have allied themselves with humans of evil purpose for their mutual ambition. They offer Babylon as a sanctuary city against the monsters and desert sands, but it’s a trap.”
“They receive shelter and food,” Leyla said, his expression darkening. “But they live as an abused under-class, forever vulnerable to the predation of monstrous overlords. Many of them are taken to be eaten or experimented upon.”
The girl only fell silent at this, and Leyla saw the somber expression growing on her face.
“But that’s what people like me are for,” Leyla said. “It’s my job to hunt monsters wherever they can be found. It’s just…Babylon is more than a one-man job.”
“I would like to help,” The girl said “Your cause is righteous and your will strong…but…”
“But I know there is something I must do first,” The girl said. “This feeling…the more we walk the more sure I become. There is something out there that I need to find.”
“Well maybe we’ll find it,” Leyla shrugged. “The way I see it, helping you is a pleasant change of pace, and it might be for the better if finding whatever it is you’re looking turns out to help us against Tiamat.”
“Whomever.” The girl corrected her.
“Excuse me?” Leyla asked.
“When you said what you just did…” The girl said “I wanted to correct you…I know now it is a person I’m looking for, not an object or a place.”
“Well then,” Leyla smiled. “A person? One in several million no doubt throughout the Levant…well it’s a start.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=55&sl=943