The Snake and the Mirror

Sky Burial

 

It hadn’t been the worst way to die, all things considered.

Eli’s spirit looked over his fallen body where his allies had left it. With no recourse and little else to do, they had followed Constance’s instructions to leave his body for sky burial.

A knife to the throat had killed him relatively quickly. And while it was painful, it didn’t hold a candle to being torn apart by one of Shadiya’s monsters. That death in particular sent a shiver down his spine.

Still, he was grateful he was dead for the following ritual. Sky burial was relatively rare, reserved for the places where the ground was too hard for burial and plants too infrequent for a funeral pyre. Eli’s body would be left there, on the cold ground of a mountain outcrop outside of the city, and the birds would take his flesh away.

Eli, however, was unconcerned about his body’s fate. He knew what would be coming soon.

Before long, when the sun was still high above them, a scintillating ball of light seemed to float down from somewhere near the sun. It moved gently like a drifting feather towards his body before reforming itself, expanding and solidifying into human shape.

Within a few moments, the ball of light had formed into an image of Eli himself. This one, however, was far more radiant. He was dressed in white, his hair worn loosely, and a pair of long colorful wings were folded like a cape behind his back.

“And here we are again,” The other Eli, his Fravashi, said. “Have you learned anything this time?”

“I’ve learned what having my throat cut feels like,” Eli sighed. “And I could do without.”

His Fravashi frowned. “Not quite what I was hoping for.”

“I’ve already learned my lesson,” Eli said. “So I have to ask, what is this? Is it punishment?”

“Well, no, it’s not punishment,” The Fravashi said. “Not quite, anyway, though I understand it could feel like that. This is something a bit more…complicated.”

“Normally, I’m supposed to leave with you,” Eli said. “My Fravashi and I off to wherever we’re meant to go. But you just keep sending me back.”

“It’s not me that’s doing it,” Said the Fravashi. “I don’t like it much either but it’s-“

“It’s the way things are,” Eli sighed. “I know…we keep doing this again and again. I’m doing my best.”

“I know you are,” The Fravashi put a hand on his shoulder. “And I’m proud of the progress you’ve made. The pacifism, the calm-headedness. You’re doing really well.”

“And I keep coming back,” Eli said. “It’s not…pleasant. It’s not like you’d think eternal life would be.”

“Have you considered that you don’t want to come back might be one of the reasons you keep being returned?” The Fravashi asked. “This is a gift, Eli. You can keep doing good.”

“I’m not doing a whole lot of good,” Eli said. “Asha, Leyla, they’re both doing good. I’m trying to help but there isn’t a whole lot I can offer them. I don’t fight and I don’t know how to instigate a coup.”

“I can think of a few reasons why they might need you,” The Fravashi said. “They’re good people, some of the best I’ve ever seen. But they’re consorting with demons and could hurt a lot of people with what they’re doing, people who don’t deserve to be hurt.”

“So, you want me to do what? Tell them what I think is right and wrong?”

“Perhaps not in so many words,” The Fravashi smiled. “But be the anchor that keeps them tethered, your words can’t topple governments but it might keep two people on the righteous path when they’re prone to slip away.”

“I mean, I suppose I could.” Eli shrugged. “It’s the best I can do, I think…”

“Doing the best you can is the first step.”

“First step to what?”

“This power you have. I told you it wasn’t a punishment, even if you insist it is. It’s a means, a way for you to do some good in the world,” the Fravashi said.

“I try to do good, that’s what I’ve been saying,” Eli said, growing slightly irritated. “But I have nothing but this ability. I’m not like Asha or Leyla, I’m not a monster slayer or possessed by some potent spirit.”

“Most people aren’t,” The Fravashi said. “And coming back from the dead time and time again is nothing to sneer at.”

“All it does is make me less afraid of death. Possibly a little too much,” Eli said. “Did you see the way I tried to stop Freny?”

“That was brave…a little stupid too.”

“You’re telling me,” Eli sighed. “But you never answered my question earlier. If you’re not the one bringing me back, then who is?”

“You need to ask?” The Fravashi asked. “The Spirit has plans for you. I can’t say what they are, but your soul has been imbued with an aspect of Ameretat.”

“So, does that make me a…chosen champion, like the ones Asha talks about in Rome?”

“Not quite, I don’t think,” The Fravashi pondered. “Similar in concept I suppose but…distinct. You see, the Amesha Spentas are not gods in the sense that the Greeks and Romans believed. They are entities to be sure, and great ones, but they are merely pieces, divine sparks of the Spirit that are bound to universal principles. Yours is Ameretat.”

“Ameretat,” Eli repeated. “Immortality.”

“Perhaps more accurately perpetuity and renewal,” The Fravashi smiled. “When the destroyer crushed the first great plant, Ameretat spread its remains across the world from which all vegetation sprang. You will always come back, Eli, but you don’t always need to come back the same man.”

“So that’s what it is?” Eli asked. “A piece of a divine spirit working its way through me, that’s what keeps bringing me back.”

“That’s right,” The Fravashi said. “This isn’t penance. Only you can know when the crimes you committed are repaid, this is because the Spirit believes you can do great good in the world. Enough that he has sent you to travel with two more of his chosen.”

“Wait, two more?” Eli asked.

“A bearer of the Sacred Flame,” The Fravashi said. “Leyla is a blade against evil and has been for years. Asha is…well Asha is something altogether more special.”

“She’s unified with her Fravashi,” Eli said. “I can feel it in her. Every time I’m near her it’s like…being near you.”

“There’s more to it than that,” The Fravashi said. “Time and time again, she has been chosen. She’s a hero to be sure, but her unification with her Fravashi was merely a way to grant her power. Her goodness, her righteousness, and all her other aspects are born from her and made her an ideal candidate for another divine spark. The three of you carry the touch of the divine within you, and that is why you’ll find the right path, even beset as you are by demonic influence.”

“Well I suppose all I can do is try,” Eli sighed. “It is…the least I can do.”

“You’re still not convinced?”

“Oh no, I think you’re right,” Eli said. “But about this not being a punishment…maybe not, but I’m not going to stop treating it like one. I’ll do the right thing because it’s right, but also to try and fix the wrong I’ve done.”

“There is a lot of evil in the world, Eli,” The Fravashi said. “There’s more to it than just destroying that evil. You have to put some good back in it as well.”

“I took one very good thing out of it,” Eli sighed. “I’m not sure I can fill that void.”

“You can try,” The Fravashi said. “And in trying you’ll do things you never thought were possible.”

“Is it time?” Eli asked.

“Just about.”

 

It was evening on the mountainside where Eli’s body lay. The blood on his neck had dried and the wound had closed as his skin stitched itself together. The birds had avoided him, avoiding the entire mountain as if fearing to transgress. And in the fading light the skin of Eli’s body began to reflect an unnatural shine from the setting sun.

The blood stained on the rocks vanished, evaporating into the fading light until nothing remained. Slowly, as the first of the stars began to appear, Eli sat up from where his body had been laid and stretched his tired muscles.

He glanced around, as if still expecting the Fravashi to be standing over him, but he saw nothing, still alone on the mountainside. Dusting himself off, he turned back towards the city. It was time to get moving again.

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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