My new website http://www.everyhealthything.com/. Traditional medicine, health and aging.
THE END OR THE BEGINNING
“Are we having an after lunch nap?” Asked a voice interestedly.
“I did not have any lunch,” I answered without opening my eyes…. Mom could keep those sarcasms to herself. She knew very well I did not eat since morning…
I opened my eyes and wildly looked around. I was back in my chair in front of the computer!
“I guess I did fall asleep,” I said when a wave of relief hit me.
“You were really bored,” Mom observed sadly. “Perhaps this place is too stuffy for you after all. Perhaps military would be better.”
“No,” I assured her quickly. “It is not boring. I mean it is boring, but I like boring. In fact, being bored is what I like best. I don’t think any adventures are for me.”
“What caused this change in your mind?” She asked and eyed me suspiciously.
“Nothing,” I said. “I just had a funny dream. All this history stuff just got to me. I am pretty sure I will like biochemistry and anatomy better. They are predictable. I like that.”
Mom was watching me thoughtfully. “I guess I will take it. I don’t know what got into you but if this is what you want, that’s fine with me.”
“One more thing,” I said. She raised an eyebrow.
“I have my last summer vacation coming up.”
“You have,” she agreed. “So?”
“I would like to backpack around Europe,” I said.
“OK,” she said in surprise. “Provided you do it with a group of friends so it is safe and make some money over summer to help pay for it, you can. Where you want to go?”
“Here and there,” I said. “I think I will stop in France: In Chartres.” I squeezed the Crusader’s cross in my pocket. “I heard they have some nice old chateaus there. And cemeteries.”
I averted my eyes and stepped around what remained of Father Angelico. Bo was waiting not far away.
“Ready to take me home?” I asked.
“If your home is Jerusalem,” he responded.
I climbed on his back.
“Go for it, You are the number one horse in the universe.”
He made a line straight for the river. He didn’t even try to slow down and plunged in. The ride back to the Holy City was uneventful since this time ghouls didn’t show any interest in us. Bo was not edible as far as they were concerned and I was too small to notice. He stopped when the gates of Jerusalem came into our sight, and sat down. I slid down. He watched me quizzically.
After a period of awkward silence, I mumbled: ”Thank you.”
How do you say goodbye forever to a friend? I leaned ahead and wrapped my arms around his neck.
“Happy Hunt.” He licked my nose, or rather the whole face, and disappeared among the rocks of the desert. I turned with a heavy heart and started my long march to the town. It took me the whole day, but I finally reached its Gate. It was easy to sneak in at night, and I made my way toward the Rabbi’s house.
It was a small town, Jerusalem at that time. The robbers were busy though, and I avoided them and the guards alike by diving into the holes in the house walls. It seemed nothing changed since the time of Christ, only the decay made the town convenient for creatures like me. I avoided a few rats, which were thinking of me as a potential dinner, and finally arrived. I climbed the wall, again not a very difficult feat for someone like me, and made it to a window. I poked my head over the edge and ducked when a shoe flew past me.
I looked in again and yelled: “It is me, Alex!” A large body stirred in the room and got out of the bed. The Rabbi sat up as I pulled myself up on the windowsill and lighted up a candle. Then he went over, gently picked me up and lowered me on a table.
“I apologize,” he said, “I thought it is the …bird”. Then he stopped.
“It is your bird, is not he?” He said guiltily.
“What did he do?” I asked as he pulled up a chair to the table.
“He got rid of all the pigeons in the neighborhood,” he said and the corners of his mouth twitched. “That was a good thing. The problem is he is very proud of himself and insists of showing me his prey when it is still warm. He does not take no for an answer either, the stubborn thing.”
I realized I missed Arrow.
“Is he coming back?” I asked eagerly.
“Don’t worry,” the Rabbi said, “he will be back soon. He always sneaks in when I am asleep and he usually likes to sleep there,” he nodded to his writing desk. “Every day I have to clean away his droppings.”
You would not be patiently cleaning it away if you actually did not like him to be around, I thought. Instead I said loudly:
“Everything else alright?”
“Yes,” he nodded, “but tell me, how have you been, my boy?”
“I made it to Babylon.” I said. “Did you know there are Jinns?” He nodded his head.
“So those all tales are true. I have never seen a Jinn in my life.” He stopped.
“Did you get what you want?” He finally asked.
“I did,” I said. I fished in my bag and pulled out the ring and handed it to him. He held it reverently between two fingers.
“The Seal. Perhaps, if I use it, we can bring Israel back.” He abruptly pushed it back at me.
“Keep it.” He commanded. I took it back and put it where it came from.
“You could use it to do what you just said,” I said. “Why don’t you?” He shook his head.
“Nothing good can come from it.” “It did not make Solomon happy, you remember? It threw him into slavery until the Jinn got tired of it. Imagine what it could do to the whole nation.” He stood up.
“Let’s have some sleep. I will take you to your room. Tomorrow, after we feed you a bit, you can start the journey home. That is, if I meantime don’t kill your damned bird.”
The damned bird showed in the morning landing at the table where we had breakfast and proudly placed a dead rat in front of the rabbi. He observed the rat thoughtfully, then he picked it up by the tail and placed it on the windowsill. Arrow observed him and said:
“It is good food. I will bring pigeons if you like them better.”
“He prefers his people food,” I told him. His head jerked in surprise. I remembered he did not know I could understand him.
“I learned your language when I was away,” I told him.
“So you are back,” he said, recovering quickly. “Are we going back home? It is too hot here and the old man is difficult to feed.”
“Right after I finish my breakfast, if you want,” I said. In response, he walked over and nibbled my ear.
“I take it as yes,” I said and winced.
I adjusted my bags as we flew over the sea. The Rabbi provided for us well. Neither I nor Arrow were going to starve, but if our heavy load slipped, it may drag us straight into the sea under us. Arrow circled as he was trying to use the air currents to carry us toward Greece. We landed there in the evening, in the middle of ancient ruins. Ruins were good as far as I was concerned. The less people, the better.
The next morning we started on our trip above the forests of Balkans toward Bohemia. If I had any doubts Arrow will be able to find Kelley’s castle, he dispelled them pretty quickly. In the afternoon of the second day since we left Greece, we began to descend toward the courtyard of Kelley’s hideout. I watched for Father Angelico’s spies, but didn’t see any. Either they were taking a break away in town or they left. There was a person standing there, but it was neither a spy, nor Kelley. The leather tunic was unmistakable. Arrow landed on Jakub’s shoulder like he never made a long flight from Asia. Jakub beamed. Then he carefully carried us to the stables, chattering all the time to Arrow in Bohemian. I noticed my new language skills extended to human languages. Arrow hopped from Jakub’s shoulder to another perch and accepted a large dish of meat. Jakub finally paid attention to me.
“You good, little guy?” He asked. Then he started to untie me.
“Master is in his study as usual. I will take you there. We will see if he is awake.” He sighed.
“Recently he starts drinking in the morning as he is asleep most of the day. He says he wants to avoid nights, but then I hear him screaming when he falls asleep even during the day.”
Kelley was awake sitting in his favorite chair and glumly observed what else, a bottle at the table. It was almost empty. It was as if I never left. He turned his bleary eyes to Jakub. “What do you want?” He asked querulously and then he spotted me sitting on Jakub’s shoulder. He stared at me for a moment and then he averted his eyes.
“I cannot see well in this light,” he said as the sun poured in through a window.
“Is it your hawk on your shoulder Jakub?” He asked offhandedly. Aha, so now he thinks he sees ghosts.
“It is your Homunculus, Milord,” Jakub said calmly.
Kelley pulled himself up from the chair, staggered for a moment, then he steadied himself and lurched toward us. He grabbed after me and missed falling onto Jakub. He caught Kelley and steered him back to the chair.
“Here Master,” he dropped him there and placed me at the table.
“You are back,” Kelley leaned ahead, sobering up quickly. “Did you get it?”
“I did,” I said.
“Leave us alone,” Kelley ordered Jakub. He waited until the door closed behind his servant, and asked eagerly:
“Where is it?”
“Here,” I said and fished it out of my back.
He reached for the ring.
“You are going to send me home now, right?” I asked, with a knot in my stomach.
“I will try it out first,” He said, not really listening. He put the Ring on his finger.
“Now, how did it go?”
“אני המלך,” he stated. I am the King, I translated quietly. For a moment nothing happened. Then the light shimmered in the middle of the room. A golden whirlwind commenced there and then, in a fraction of second it stopped. In its place stood a figure, towering above Kelley, its head reaching all way to the ceiling. It was familiar.
“You are not the King,” said Marduk menacingly as he stared down at Kelley.
“I have the Ring, thus I am the King,” said Kelley and stood up looking up. I had to give it to him. He was not cowed by the Babylonian God of Gods.
“What do you wish?” Marduk asked. Then he noticed me.
“I should have squashed you in the Gardens, you worm,” he said bitterly.
“Show me your power,” Kelley demanded.
“Wait, no. I take it back. Give me gold!”
Marduk laughed. The walls around us transformed. Everything changed. I surveyed the golden twilight around us. The walls shimmered and shone as they were made of pure gold. So were the table and the chair. Even the bottle changed from glass to the precious metal.
“I am rich,” Kelley laughed uncertainly, seemingly awed by Marduk’s power. Then he turned to him again.
“Get rid of the demons!” He demanded.
“What demons?” Marduk asked.
“Those that come at night,” Kelley screamed. “They don’t let me sleep anymore. Make them leave.”
“I cannot do it,” Marduk said calmly.
“You are that weak?” Kelley asked in a voice in which mixed anxiety and contempt. “You cannot stop other demons?”
“I can,” Marduk said, “but nobody can stop your imagination. Those are only in your head.”
“You are useless,” Kelley screamed. “Useless fraud. “
“Is that so?” Marduk asked. “Then you don’t need me?”
“No,” Kelley said. “What good are you?”
“In this case, I am permitted to do this,” Marduk said and reached down. He picked up squirming Kelley and lifted him to the ceiling. I thought he is going to throttle him, but instead he pulled Solomon’s Ring off his finger. Then he was gone.
Kelley lay splat on the floor, but was still moving. Petr who must have been listening behind the door, burst in and ran to him.
“I will help you, Master,” he said and carried Kelley to his chair. “That little devil did it, Master. May I kill him now?”
Kelley moaned again and vaguely waved his hand. I had no idea what it meant and Kelley may not know either, but Petr was sure. He turned to me and bared his teeth in a wicked smile.
“Now I will give you what you deserve.” He picked up a poker and swung it at me. I did not wait and ran for the door, which was mercifully left open. Petr cursed and went after me. I dodged another of his blows and spotted a hole that mice use to travel around the castle. I did not hesitate and dived in. Petr’s shoe blocked the exit, but I was temporarily safe. I sighed.
I hope they don’t have any ancient spiders here. I went in. It was dark, but the tunnel did not branch out and soon I saw light at the end of it. I was near a kitchen. That was another place I was not welcome in, I remembered. I sat, then I lay down. More importantly, I will never be able to get back, I remembered with a sinking feeling. There was not a chance that Kelley will tell me the formula. I frowned and tried to remember. How did it go? Guardian…I sighed. I could not remember. Besides, it was in Egyptian, and I don’t have a computer to translate…I can do it now! I sat up with a jolt. I speak all the languages now, don’t I? If I can understand all languages, I should be able to understand Egyptian. I may even be able to read directly the Dee’s code. I don’t need a computer. You still need the manuscript or the spell said another voice in my head. I considered the situation. Kelley must have it. How else would he know? Where does he keep his books? I looked out of my hole. My nose caught a whiff of roasting beef. I was hungry. Now, if I can only get some food.
This time I waited until the cook took a break and left the kitchen before I sneaked out and filled my pockets with whatever I could get my hands on. They will not be able to tell anyway, given my size. I don’t need that much. Then I thought it over. The library must be near Kelley’s room, that’s for sure. He needs it nearby. I have to wait until Petr gets tired of waiting.
I went back to the other end of my hideout. Petr’s shoe was gone. I looked out cautiously and jumped back just in time to avoid being decapitated by a mouse trap Petr placed right there. OK, that was smart of him, I admitted, as I studied the lethal contraption. Lethal for the things my size that is. I looked out again. He was not there. I hugged the wall as I cautiously moved around the corridor. I examined the row of doors on the left. A library should have a large entrance. After all, it used to be a place of pride in those times, wasn’t it?
Finally, I decided on a double door, which was a third one from the Kelley’s room. Unfortunately, it was closed. Fortunately, it was not closed very tight since there was a space below it like with so many other doors at the castle. I sneaked in under it. It WAS the library and a big one. I surveyed the stacks which seemed to reach all the way to heaven or at least to the painted ceiling which was made to resemble an ancient Greek heaven with Hermes in his chariot and angels beaming beatifically on the mortals below. OK, so the angels were a later addition, but you get my drift. I scanned the titles near me. They were in many languages, but I could understand them all. Still, reading all that, and going up and down those ladders that were here and there attached to the shelves was not going to be fun.
I worked the rest of the day before the darkness stopped me, and started again in the morning. Nobody came in. Kelley must have been really sick and none of his crew looked like a bibliophile. In the afternoon I gave up. I was covered in dust, but the manuscript was not here. Either Kelley hid it somewhere or he simply did not have it.
If he did not, then what? I was thinking as I stepped off the ladder. That was a mistake, there were still two shelves to go before I was near the ground. My carelessness landed me in a wicker basket. At least I was not hurt, as I picked my way out from between some scrolls. I stopped. That thing, that code – it was originally written in Egypt before Dee copied it and coded it, was not it? What if Kelley got the original version, in addition to the Dee’s coded one? After all, Dee had both, naturally. My heart started to beat faster. I pushed with all my might some of the scrolls out of the basket. Latin here – Egyptian here! I unrolled them, breaking some in the process. I guessed that became brittle after a few millennia. Here! My heart almost stopped. The code: …the Gate’s Guardian,…I coughed and started loudly: “ …” I waited and waited some more. Nothing. I sat down heavily. I was going to be stuck here. Forever. How did Kelley do it? How did I do it? I tried to remember retracing my steps. Of course. The ankh. Where did Kelley put it? It must be on his person. I fell on my back. I have to go back. But first I need some sleep.
When I woke up, it was dark. Only a line of dim light from underneath the door illuminated the room. I crawled out. Petr or someone lighted up the corridor with few torches. That was helpful. Now, if I could only get to Kelley’s room. I listened beyond the door. Two voices talking. Kelley and Petr. That gave me an idea. I started to push one of the mouse traps Petr left so thoughtfully for me to die in toward the door. Then I scratched the hard wood. Petr did not leave me waiting for long. The door opened almost flattening me behind it, and Petr ran out scanning the corridor for signs or mice or preferably me dead or alive in the mouse trap. Unfortunately for him, he did not wear shoes. His scream of pain could wake up dead. He stumbled ahead cursing mice, me and life in general.
I sneaked behind his back before he could figure out it was not him who put the trap there. Kelley was eating and did not notice me. I dived under his armchair and waited.
It took dinner and two bottles of wine before I heard the familiar snoring. Petr removed the remnants of food and hobbled out, quietly cursing under his breath. I waited until I was sure he must be in the kitchen and then I climbed up Kelley’s chair. I studied the sleeping alchemist: where could he hide the ankh, if any? He cannot be sitting on it, that would not be comfortable. I took a deep breath and dived under his robe. He must have a pocket somewhere. I climbed in that stuffy smell toward his waist trying to touch only the chair and not Kelley. He had pockets, alright. The whole inside of his robe was covered by dozens of them. I guessed he used conjuror’s skills in addition to magic to impress the multitudes. I explored them one by one trying to breathe only with my mouth. Finally! My hands touched something cold and hard. I pushed on the fabric until I saw the shape of the ankh. My heart leaped. It may work yet. I climbed into the pocket, sat on the ankh and opened my mouth. A hand squeezed around me.
“I got you,” Kelley growled. “Do you think I don’t notice someone in my clothes?”
He tried to pull me out. I held on the ankh and felt it slipping out of my grip.
“,…,” I screamed in desperation. Then I fell.
THE TOP OF ONE WORLD
A warm breeze touched my face. It would be pleasant, if it didn’t stink like rotten meat. I opened my eyes and stared into the wide jaws of a furry face of a lion. It sniffed at me again and yawned. I didn’t move and fervently hoped it was not hungry. It yawned again and turned its head away. I allowed myself to move my eyes. A pack of lions crowded the sand circle I landed in. They slowly moved their wings, which shone like silver as they lay on the ground or lazily walked around the circle. The one which discovered me lazily swaggered away and I exhaled. I slowly rolled over and started to crawl on my knees, until I reached a column, one of many which lined the lion’s home, and hid behind it. I wiped the sweat off my forehead. I was temporaly safe.
Now what? I escaped Marduk, at least for now, but where shall I go? I must find the Ring. Semiramis said it was protected by a powerful demon, the strongest one of all, according to Marduk. How did he call it? Gone? But Gone didn’t have the Ring itself. Still, I guessed I must find Gone first. If I find him, the Ring must be somewhere around. I scratched my head removing a few insects from their newly found home. I ignored the faint sound of the fierce protests this action triggered. I may understand the animals, but it does not mean I have to listen. Gone is the most powerful demon so it must be residing in a special place.
I absentmindedly fished out of my hair another creature. I glanced at it and put it down and jumped away as far as I could.
“Scared? Hah!” Said the brownish scorpion and waved its tail at me. It was a young one, perhaps a tenth of an inch long. If you are six inches tall yourself, it is as big as mouse.
“Yeah,” I said. It almost visibly swelled. It looks like vanity is not the sole province of humans and Jinns.
“I can make poison already, you know,” it said proudly.
“I figured,” I said. Then it hit me.
“Did you ever hear of someone called Gone?” I asked.
“Mom told me never to sting him,” it said. “It does not work for some reason.”
“So you did,” I said. “Where can I find him?”
“You want to sting him?” the baby killer asked suspiciously. “It will only make him mad.”
“I just want to see him,” I said patiently.
“In that mountain past the river,” it said and almost visibly shrugged. “But not now. You have to wait for the night.” it turned away and slid under a stone.
“It is time to sleep anyway,” it said from under it. I turned to where he pointed. I was looking at the ziggurat. The horizon behind it suddenly brightened up. I did not notice it was almost morning. The ziggurat turned in front of my eyes from a shimmering white pyramid into a mountain of sand and rubble. I blinked. I stood in the ruins of Babylon which looked just as I have seen them yesterday. The column behind which I hid was now only a stump, perhaps a foot tall. I ran around it. The lions were gone.
I sighed. It was going to be a long trip. I spent the whole morning climbing over the rubble that was Babylon. The sun was merciless and I was thankful that my small size let me hide even in minuscule shadows. I still had my water skin and my food. I stopped for lunch when I reached the foot of the ziggurat.
As I chewed, I sized up the mountain. Up close, I saw it was built of bricks, now they almost fully covered by sand and dried up mud. There was no entrance. I remembered the line of people going up last night. This was built solid, no rooms inside. I must go up and see if there is any shrine of top that could hide the Ring.
I started to climb. The rubble slid under my feet, but I was light enough so I did not disturb it too much and could climb on. I fervently hoped that I will not start an avalanche. The stones rolled down from under my feet and sometimes also at places far below me. I nervously looked over my shoulder. Was I being followed? I almost felt eyes in my back, but the slope of the mountain below me was empty. I turned around and went on. I must be getting paranoid. Five hours later and my water almost gone, I was at top. I looked around and my heart sunk. I stood on a flat platform with no temple in sight. So where was the Ring? Was it all in vain? Then I spotted a staircase. It was mostly covered in rubble, but there was one, no question about it. It led down into the ziggurat. There was no way I could clean it up, but there was a tiny black hole at the top, not big enough for an ordinary person, but good enough for me. It was dark inside, though, and I didn’t have a flashlight. Still, what have I got to lose? I slid inside.
I crawled a few yards before I noticed a faint light ahead. It did not make any sense. I cautiously proceeded, the slope becoming steeper until the rubble beneath me gave way and I fell down. I landed on soft ground covered by dust from centuries. I coughed and covered my mouth with my sleeve. Finally, I could breathe again. I lifted my teary eyes up.
Above me opened a vast dome, at least thirty feet high. The walls were covered in gold and blue mosaics which looked as if they were made yesterday. I scanned the pictures of chariots, winged lions – just like the real ones I saw yesterday! – but quickly turned toward the source of light. The cathedral-like space was illuminated by white light that emanated from the center of the floor of the room. I shaded my eyes and cautiously approached the source of light. My heart lifted up with hope, but then it quickly sunk when I realized there is no Ring hidden by the white rays. Instead, they were coming from a little hole in the floor. I slowly turned around, searching the room for any signs of the Ring.
The hall was almost empty, except for a little clay statue which was about a foot high, near the back wall. I walked over and quickly examined it. It depicted some sort of an animal sitting in a human pose on its haunches. The clay it was made of was so old, it lost any distinguishing features except two pairs of horns. I turned away toward the light. There must be a room below this one, where the light comes from. I strode over, briefly hesitated, and then I stuck my hand into the light. I felt, or perhaps imagined a moment of resistance, but then my hand was in and it felt fine. I sat on the floor and let my legs inside the hole. The soft light enveloped me and my spirit somehow lifted. I felt…safe. I slid deeper inside the hole and then I let go.
I floated slowly down until I landed on a black square rock in the center of a small room. In front of me lay a ring. I recognized it instantly: the six-pointed star gave it away. It was gold and looked heavy. The light emanated from the center of the star. I bent and picked it up. I staggered under its weight a bit. Definitely not something I could wear on my finger. I put it into my bag. I noticed its light started to dim. Now, how do I get back? The roof was almost five feet above me. I checked the walls. Same mosaics as above, yet different. The cuneiform writing was replaced by Hebrew. If they built it, there must be an exit.
I walked around the room until I stopped in front of a lion . His ruby eye looked straight at me. Ruby eyes? This was not a mosaic. I pushed on the eye. A section of the wall turned revealing a narrow spiraling staircase. A wave of relief washed over me. A few steps admittedly a bit tall for someone my size and then toward the river. If I can found Ssiassu, I may be back together with Bo even today, or perhaps tonight.
I made it to the top of the stairs in another hour. A flickering shadow at the wall stopped me before I made the last turn. Then I remembered. It is already night, so Jinns will be around. I should be able to get lost among them. I made the last turn and found myself back under the dome. I froze on the spot. The huge space was not empty, but it was not filled by people either. Instead, they were milling around the foot of a brown mountain. My eyes traveled up and I stuffed my hand in my mouth to stop myself from a scream. The mountain culminated in a huge animal head with four horns, two at each side, pointy ears and deep red eyes over its snout. The head and neck of the monster were covered in a silvery mail. I scanned the goat feet, the claws at the ends of its huge hairy arms and started to shuffle away, to where I recalled the staircase. I should have smashed the little statue, if a statue it was, when I had time. The worshippers meantime dumped at its feet their offerings. There were flowers, but there were also bound animals, and to my horror, I recognized bound people. These are Jinns, I reminded myself, but what if Jinns could feel after playing on being people for a few thousands of years.
The huge head bent down and the claws picked up a pile of offerings including five writhing bodies, people and animals alike, and brought it to the monster’s mouth. Gone was his name as I remembered. I retreated another step. Then his eyes found me. Those red holes devoid of any pupils were gates to hell. I turned around to run.
He roared an order and ten obedient hands reached for me. I felt myself lifted. He roared again and I understood a single word – Solomon! My heart stopped. He saw the Ring. It shone still, its light penetrating my bag. A huge claw reached toward me. I pushed and kicked until I felt the grip of his servants released and I felt onto the grown. Yet, the claw hit the ground around me with a thud enveloping me in darkness. Then it started to close. I wildly looked around. Then, in a flash, I remembered.
“Enlil!” I screamed in desperation. The ziggurat shook. A gust of wind lifted in the air and the world spun. Black and blue ribbons rotated around me, until I lost the sense of up and down. They played with me like with a toy and their roar overwhelmed my sense. Then the sound abruptly stopped and I found myself hanging in the air in absolute silence. The whirlwind and its threatening colors disappeared and I saw I was back in the hall. I slowly floated back to the ground. The hall was not closed. Instead, one wall was torn open, creating an arched doorway, perhaps two stories high. The dust has been slowly settling down and I saw stars of the Babylonian sky behind the doorway.
Something blocked them. There was a shadow – no, it was a figure. The only light was provided by moon and the Ring in my pocket. I could not recognize any features beneath the cape it had over its head. Then it reached up and pulled the hood off. I jumped back. The eyes of Father Angelico bore at me with the intensity only insanity can produce.
“So,” he said in a scratchy voice. “You thought you can stop me? Nobody can. Not your friends the ghouls which I killed or made run. Not the desert either,” He laughed. “You don’t need to drink when you have a mission. And then there was a river. Not these Jinns, either. They will be useful once you give me the Seal. All it took was to follow you here. I knew you will bring me the Seal or power.”
He moved toward me and reached out with his hand.
“Give it to me now you worm!” I backed away and wildly looked around. Is there another door? No. There are only holes in the walls. But they are big enough for me. I turned and run. I heard the evil priest’s steps behind me. I reached a hole and dived in. A hand stuck in and caught my shoe. I kicked it off. I heard a curse, but he could not reach any deeper.
“I will wait,” I heard a growl. “You will come out when your are hungry. Then you will be my slave.”
I crawled in deeper. The hole widened and I stood up. I was at a mouth of a tunnel, big enough for me but little else. I could not really stay where I was. If I did, Father Angelico would surely get his way. If I follow the tunnel, perhaps I can find a way out. The light of the Ring reassured me. At least I could see ahead. How long I walked I know not. Then, perhaps an hour, perhaps a day later, the tunnel abruptly ended and below me loomed an abyss.
I peered into the darkness, failing to see its bottom. Yet, there was a rope in front of me, many ropes in fact as thick as the full-sized adult’s finger. They crossed each other creating a net. I peered at them, trying to figure a pattern, until it struck me. This was a spider web! A shiver ran down to my back. I was trapped. I started to turn.
”What are you?” Asked a voice. I turned to the other side a looked into the myriad of eyes of the creature. It was a spider, alright. It was as big as a puppy and it stood firmly at the edge of its web.
“I am a homunculus,” I offered.
“I don’t know what it is and you look just the right size to be my dinner except for the thing you have in your pocket,” Said the spider. “Where are you going? I will not hurt you. You have the King’s Seal.”
“I am trying to get out,” I said. “I cannot go back, there is someone waiting for me.”
“What size is he?” the spider inquired?”
“The full size,” I said. “you cannot eat him, sir.”
“Hm,” said the spider. “In this case, you can cross my net. There is a way outside on the other side. And it is madam,” she added.
I hate heights. I gingerly stepped on the ropes they were close to each other and as I stood on one, in sank under my weight and I could use another one to hold on with my hand. I slowly started my trip across the abyss. The she-spider watched me and slowly moved along. I hoped she will not change her mind.
“How do you know about the Seal?” I asked.
“I remember when it was brought here. I came with it, hidden in people’s clothes.”
“You must be thousands of years old,” I said in surprise.
“That long?” she said. “Perhaps. I lived here and guarded the abyss for a long time.”
“Guarding it from what?”
“From whatever lives down there,” she said shortly. “Don’t ask.”
Finally, we were across and my legs gave way after me. I sat heavily down on the firm ground. The spider observed me.
“If you take this tunnel, you will get out of here soon,” she said. I rose.
“Thank you,” I said. I staggered on. Finally, I saw the light. The round opening beckoned. I noted there was daylight. I must have spent the whole night walking. I stumbled toward the exit, until I finally stopped at the opening. I stood near the top of the ziggurat. In front of me opened a fissure. The pyramid must have cracked when Gone fell. The fissure was about ten feet wide, but my attention was on something else. On its other side stood the menacing shadow of Father Angelico. He opened his thin lips and laughed in triumph.
“So you thought you escaped, you fool? The Seal is mine.” He leaned ahead and jumped. I froze, unable to move. Yet, when in the air, he suddenly stopped as if he hit an invisible wall. He hung in the air for a second, a horror on his face, and then he tumbled down screaming into the bowels of the ziggurat. Where he used to stand was the small figure of Bo, holding in his teeth a piece of Father Angelico’s cloak. He spat it out.
“You are lucky he did not drag you down,” I said. And dropped to the ground again. He grinned.
“He didn’t,” he said simply.
“How did you get here?” I asked.
“I swam across,” he looked toward abyss. “If he could, I figured I can, too.”
“I will meet you down there,” I said. “Right after I get some sleep.”
Bo snorted and sped up.
“Slow down,” I growled, holding for dear life. “You are not a race horse.” I could almost feel him grin.
“Didn’t I say I want to be one?” He threw over his shoulder.
I grimly continued to hold and prayed for the ride to be over. I didn’t have to wait long. The dark line grew up tall, and gained a blue color as it became an impossibly tall wall. As we approached, I recognized pictures of animals and chariots, decorating the Walls of Babylon as far as I could see. Bo unexpectedly slowed down to a trot.
“What are you going to do about this?” He asked conversationally?”
“This sea,” He said shortly.
“What sea – oh.” I saw it. It was not a sea, although it may appear so to Bo. Between us and Babylon flew a mighty river, strangely contrasting with the surrounding desert. There were some stunted trees and unhappy patches of grass near it, but overall the desert seemed to win the battle and reached and squeezed the river in its bed. The river was wide, though, and there was no way I could swim across it.
“Stop here,” I told Bo. “I will figure it out in the morning.”
When I woke up, the sun was high and the heat reached the hole we slept in. I crawled out. Bo continued to sleep, which is something he liked to do throughout every day. I squeezed my eyes to keep out the impossible brightness of surroundings. When I opened them, Babylon towered in front of me. The famous walls were dusty, but still stood proud after many centuries. I made my way to the river edge. How am I going to get across?
I searched the bank, going back and forth. There was no sign of a bridge. Then I spotted a dot on the river, which quickly became a boat. Two men in it were pulling up nets. Surely they didn’t live near the haunted city, but they came to fish since it must be plentiful here, far from human settlements. I contemplated asking them for a ride, but then I remembered my size: if they would not run away in terror, they would probably kill me. How was I going to get across? A screech above me turned my head. A bird was descending toward me. He looked just like Arrow, except for its beige color. I remembered I could talk to him.
“Can you help me across the river?” I called. He continued toward me and sped up. Another screech, this one I could understand:
“Prepare to die!”
I dived behind a rock. He was going to kill me! Falcons are birds of prey, I should have known. I ran amongst the piles of bricks and mud that lettered the ground. An angry shout announced that the falcon missed me, but was not giving up. He rose into the air and made a circle above me.
“Here, amigo!” hissed somebody. I jumped into a hole near me and rolled into a little tunnel, just big enough for someone my size. When I got up, I looked into yellow eyes of a black snake.
“Welcome!” it hissed. I retreated.
“Don’t be afraid,” it hissed again. “I am not hungry. Besides, an enemy of that flying monster is my friend.”
“That’s good,” I said, unsure what to do.
“What are you?” it asked curiously. “You look like a little human.”
“I am,” I said tiredly.
“What are you doing here?”
“I want to get across river,” I said.
“To that place humans avoid?”
“I need something there.”
“I get it. You are looking for the shiny stuff humans like,” it said.
“Something like that,” I admitted.
“You cannot get across river,” it observed.
“Right,” I agreed.
“I will help you,” it said unexpectedly. “Since you are new Ssiassu’s friend.” “You are Ssiassu?” I asked.
“That’s right,” he agreed. “I can swim. If you just hold me, I will take you over.”
Hm. Seems like knowing languages does bring you new friends. I stopped at Bo’s hole and told him to wait. He yawned:
“Have fun. Wake me up when you are back.”
I mounted Ssiassu and we entered the river. He swam fast and quietly. I held my head above the water and let my legs float, holding its neck with both hands. When we landed, we were still at least a few hundred feet from the Walls, but they seemed to reach all way to heaven. Were they one of the Wonders of the Ancient World? I slipped off the Ssiassu’s back.
“Thanks,” I said gratefully. It regarded me curiously.
“Where are you going to look?” It turned to the city.
“First, I need to find a gate,” I said.
Once Ssiassu left swimming back across the Euphrates, I began to walk along the Walls. Winged lions and Bearded men hovered above me appearing ready to step out and resume their life. The silence of ages enveloped me. I determinedly stumbled on until I was rewarded: between two semicircular bastions was, or rather used to be a gate. Its wooden remnants did nothing to prevent me from getting inside Babylon.
I walked the paved road still smooth after so many centuries, and before me lay Babylon. I observed the mounds of mud and bricks, the remnants of old walls, the missing roofs and a feeling of desperation hit me. I was never going to find the Seal in these vast ruins. Rabbi said to look for the six-pointed star. He said I should know then I was in the Jewish quarter and then I should try to look for a temple. Where was I going to start?
With a heavy heart, I walked in. Rabbi mentioned Jews lived near the river, so I tried to keep near the Walls. By evening I was exhausted and there was no sign I was getting any closer. There were rather tall mounds however and I decided to climb one of them to look from above. Perhaps I will have more luck this way. I climbed the debris that littered the mount. Fortunately, there were not big steps I had to negotiate, not any more, anyway, and I made it to the top in one hour. I stopped. I was tired. I lay down in a lengthening shadow and decided to take a break. Then I will search some more.
When I woke up, I kept my eyes closed. The sound of women’s laughter and an unearthly music still filled my head. What was the dream I had that left behind this beautiful residue? I could not remember. I sighed and decided to get up. The laughter did not disappear. What was going on? I opened my eyes. A woman’s face leaned over me.
“Look at how small and beautiful he is!” The sound of her voice bypassed my ears and directly entered my brain.
“He is soo cute!” Said another one. “Can I have him?”
“I will keep him,” said the first woman. I felt a hand picking me up, but was too stunned to object. I stared into an oval face with large black eyes. Her nose was small and delicate and her full lips were painted bright red. On her head she wore an elaborate crown consisting of interwoven golden leaves. My eyes traveled over her emerald green dress generously cut at the top and flaring into a long skirt at the bottom.
“Who are you?” She asked again. Her lips moved, but I again felt her voice directly in my head.
“I am Alex,” I said. “Who are you?”
“He wants to know who I am,” she turned to her retinue of young women, which fluttered around like beautiful colorful birds.
“You must be from far,” she told me kindly, ”if you don’t recognize the Queen Semiramis. You are in my palace and these are my gardens.”
I turned my head back and forth. Where were the ruins of yesterday? There was a river like before, but it was far and below us. Multiple rows of terraces raised above the one we stood on. They carried trees and blooming flowers that I have never seen before. Blossoming creepers crawled from one terrace to another twinning around tall white marble columns that supported the whole structure. Fountains splurged clean sparkling water, pushing away the heat of Mesopotamian Desert. Where was the desert, actually? I could not see any. Right beyond the river instead rose a tall step pyramid – a ziggurat, I corrected myself. They did not build pyramids in Babylon, they build ziggurats as temples to their gods. There was a long line of ant-sized people, which moved along the walls of ziggurat climbing all way to the top.
“Are we still in Babylon?” I asked.
“We are in the real Babylon,” the Queen said and laughed. “You are lucky you walked right in and since you are so special, we allowed you to see it.” I recalled the Kobu’s words.
“Are you Jinns?” I asked bluntly.
“We are people, don’t you see,” said Semiramis, sounding upset. “We may have been jinns once, but we have recreated the one and true Babylon and in the process we became people.”
Perhaps, I thought to myself. Instead I said loudly:
“If you were Jinns and you are not any more, perhaps you can help me. I am looking for something.”
“Why don’t you come to play with us instead,” Semiramis said. “Is not it beautiful around here?” She turned and tossed me to another woman. I gasped when I was caught firmly in another hand.
“I am not a toy,” I protested.
“He is no fun,” said my new owner reproachfully and dropped me. I landed at a soft meadow which fortunately softened my fall. Semiramis squatted next to me and spread her skirts around.
“What is it you want, little one?” she asked exasperatedly. I carefully weighed my words.
“I would like to go back to my home,” I explained. “I used to be a normal size too. A sorcerer shrank me and send me here. He will let me go home only if I bring him back something he calls a Seal of Solomon. It is a Jewish relic…,”
Semiramis raised her hands in horror.
“Please don’t say the name loud,” she whispered. “Whoever uses the Ring would destroy us.”
“I thought you are people now?” I could not resist.
“Almost,” she sniffed. “We are as long as no mortal gets the Ring.” There it was again. So it is a ring.
“Where is it?” I asked.
“It is well protected,” she said. “No human can get it, a little creature like you has no chance.”
“So you can tell me about it so I don’t try,” I proposed. Surely she will not fall for this cheap trick?
“It is protected by Gone,” she whispered triumphantly. Vanity, your name is …Semiramis.
“He is a demon even our Lord Marduk cannot defeat. Gone protects the Seal and will devour anybody who tries to get it.”
“Really?” I asked trying to sound appropriately awed. Now, how do I get her tell me the place?
“Traitor,” thundered another voice. My head jerked to the right to follow the sound. About thirty feet away in that direction, the earth opened in a fountain of soil and out of it emerged a human like figure, at least fifteen feet high and clad in shiny silvery armor. Its head ended in a golden snout, which it pointed toward us.
“Traitor,” it barked again in a deep voice. Semiramis dropped on her face.
“Please forgive me, O Mighty Marduk,” she cried. “I have not done anything wrong.”
“You have told this little worm about the Seal,” Marduk growled deeply and the columns that supported the garden vibrated.
“I have not told him where it is,” Semiramis whimpered covering her head.
“He will never get the Ring, but if he even tries and Gone gets it, he will try to rule us all,” Marduk continued ignoring Semiramis’ protestations.
“I will take care of this dwarf myself,” he concluded and pointed his snout toward me. Little eyes behind the golden mask mercilessly observed me.
“You will pay the price later, Semiramis.” He raised one foot, and the huge iron shoe hovered above me. I waited for no more. I fled to the nearest shrub. Its thorns tore at me and I rolled on my belly to get under its branches. A thud next to my head and the giant boot that appeared there announced that Marduk saw me. I got up and ran, bent forward, almost on my knees zigzagging among the roots of the ornamental rose shrubs that decorated the Hanging Gardens of Semiramis. I escaped the boot again, but it was relentless.
“A sword,” I heard Marduk. A swoosh removed my cover as Marduk cut through the vegetation. He stomped again missing me by inches. The power of his muscles was such that the ground broke. The supporting structure of the terrace gave way and beneath me opened a hole and I fell through a shower of soil. The terrace above me tilted and then it came right after me. I desperately tried to escape the avalanche and ran toward the edge of the terrace I stood on. It shook under the impact of falling mountain of stones and dirt and I realized it is not going to hold. I desperately caught a liana hanging from one of the columns that supported the terrace I stood on and quickly slid down. the columns started to twist, however, and I pushed myself away, searching for a place to land. Before I could find any, the gravity got its way, and the gardens tumbled all down. I was tossed up and down and finally catapulted high into air, only to fall down toward the earth. I spotted below me a sand circle and then I knew no more.
René Daniel, the site founder, physician, scientist (gene therapy, HIV, aging) and a writer of adventure and fantasy novels. His first novel, Spear of Seth, is set in the ancient Egypt Underworld. His second novel, The Last Secret of Nikola Tesla ( an unknown Tesla's legacy leads to Indiana Jones-like adventure in Egypt).