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.”