Friday, June 29, 2012

Xibalba: Enemy of an Enemy.

In this room of Xibalba there burned a bone-white sun, perpetually at the zenith so that it cast no shadows. There was not one trace of shade, no relief from the relentless glare which leached the landscape of color and depth, lending it an almost transparent clarity. Beneath it was an endless, bleak desert, the flat ground broken only by writhing clumps of thornbushes. In the distance was a line of rocky hills, equally forbidding.

The ghost made his way across the barren land. The hills were the only visible landmark, so he directed his path towards them. He wondered what was on the other side. Although he knew that wherever he went there would only be more trials and tortures, he still wanted to explore, to search out Xibalba's secrets, as he once had those of Earth.

He knew that the sun was his enemy. But, he also knew that, somehow, there had once been another sun, a different sun. A different sun? How could that be? The memory kept slipping away from him, like sand running through his hands.

Then, he heard the faint sound of groans and wails of pain, although there seemed to be nothing around but the flat ground. He walked toward the direction of the sound, and saw that there was a deep pit in the earth. Coming to its edge, he peered down.

The sides of the pit were almost perfectly straight and vertical; the sun shone down into it as if focused by a lens. At the bottom lay a strange creature, half-man, half-bird. Like the ghost himself, it was but a spectre, composed of bones and ectoplasm. It had a long, skinny, bony neck, a mainly-human face with a sharp beak, and taloned hands and feet. The bird-man's breastbone was shattered, and the delicate bones of his wings were smashed into a mesh of broken fragments.

The man-bird held out his hand to the ghost.  Mournfully, he pleaded, "Take pity on me, stranger."

At those words, the ghost felt a haunting chill, as though he'd heard them somewhere before. "Who are you, and who did this to you?" he asked.

"I am Ta Hol, the Vulture Spirit," the being replied. "As for the cause of my misfortune, it was twins, two young men, who wore headbands and shone with light  One of them shot me with his blowgun, then they broke my wings and threw me down into this pit, to burn forever in the glare of their hatred."

"I know the Twins of whom you speak," the ghost said. "They are my enemies too."

"Then help me, please," said Ta Hol. "I can't fly; I am trapped here. My bones are drying and bleaching in this dreadful sunlight."

"I can't fly, either," said the ghost. "But I will get you out." He walked around the pit, studying it. There was nothing around that he could use to pull Ta Hol out; he would have to go down and get him. He searched for a suitable angle of descent, and when he found the best spot, lowered himself down into the hole.

The ghost was glad that he had recovered some of his memories, for he remembered how to climb. His hands and feet found sure grips and toeholds, despite the sheer steepness of the pit wall. Inside the pit, the atmosphere was close and stifling. The ghost moved steadily downward into the oppressive confinement,  feeling it close in around him.

At the bottom, there was only a choking stillness, as if motion was impossible. But the ghost could still move. He reached down, picked up Ta Hol, and put him on his back. The Vulture Spirit wrapped his arms around the ghost's neck and his legs around the ghost's waist, and locked together his taloned hands and feet. Then, carrying the Vulture, the ghost headed back up the wall.

The way up was much more difficult. Ta Hol was not very heavy, but the ghost's newly-formed spirit-body was not very strong yet, and the Vulture's talons dug sharply into his spectral flesh. Nonetheless, the ghost remembered how to climb. His fingers and toes found holds in the dry, crumbly soil as he made his way carefully, inch by inch, to the top.

Once they were both safely on the surface, Ta Hol climbed off the ghost's back. Then, the two suffering beings lay down to rest side by side. They breathed deeply of the open air, as if they couldn't get enough of it. The sun still beat down on them mercilessly. But, surely, it was better than being in the pit.

When the ghost had recovered, he rose up on his knees to look down at Ta Hol. "I think I may know another way to help you," he said.

"Yes, please, anything," groaned the Vulture Spirit.

The ghost placed one hand on Ta Hol's forehead, and laid the other, very gently, on the bird-spirit's shattered breastbone. He began to chant; the words came to him easily, as if from long practice. Calling up his inner power, he began to tug at the strands of luminous energy in Ta Hol's chest,  pulling them carefully into place, weaving them back together. As he worked, the torn ectoplasm of Ta Hol's spirit-body knit back together and rejoined. The bird-man sighed with relief, his furrowed face relaxing.

When Ta Hol's breastbone was fixed, the ghost told him to turn over. Then, he went to work on his wings. As he began to repair the subtle, delicate filaments of the bird-man's wing-bones, the ghost's chant changed, shifting into spontaneous song. He composed the lyrics as he went along, easily, effortlessly, the music riding on a surge of joy, his power flowing from within him like sap from a tree, pouring into the wounded body of the vulture.

When he was finished, the ghost watched as Ta Hol rose up and tentatively flapped his wings, testing them, before taking off and rising into the air. He swooped around a few times, soaring on the hot desert air, uttering cries of joy and freedom. Then, he sailed back to where the ghost stood.

Landing on the ground, Ta Hol knelt down before the ghost. "Tell me your name, O stranger," he said, "that I may know whom to thank for such a great favor."

"I don't know my name, " said the ghost. "But I am an enemy of your enemies; therefore you may call me Friend."

"Very well, Friend," said the Vulture. "But I still wish to repay you."

The ghost stroked his lip thoughtfully. "Let us be allies, then," he said. "If one of us is in need, and the other is able to answer, we shall stand and fight together, against whatever terrors Xibalba may wield against us."

"Agreed," nodded Ta Hol.

"So be it, then," said the ghost. "If I may ask, Ta Hol, why were the Twins angry with you?"

"One of them was my rival for the love of a woman," replied the Vulture. He gazed sorrowfully into the distance, and sighed softly. Then, regarding the ghost, he tilted his birdlike head curiously. "And you, Friend? How did you earn the wrath of such ruthless foes?"

"I still don't remember." The ghost took a painful breath, pressing his hand to his forehead. "It had something to do with time. They told me... They said, 'Your time is over.'"

Ta Hol nodded quiely. "It'll all come back, sooner or later. Though, you might wish it hadn't."

"Nevertheless, all that matters is that I must know the truth," said the ghost.

"Well, as they say," said Ta Hol wryly, "it's your funeral."

The ghost smirked. "I think it's a little too late to worry about that, for either of us."

Ta Hol laughed, his ghostly wings rustling. "Well -- what do you say, Friend? Now that we are allies, shall we travel together?"

"Where are you going, Ta Hol?" asked the ghost.

"I am going to fly over the desert and the rocks, in search of the vultures' kingdom," replied Ta Hol.

"That is not my path,"  said the ghost. He had no desire to wander the desert in search of carrion. Besides, he couldn't fly, and he would just slow Ta Hol down. "But travel well, Ta Hol, until we meet again."

"And you, too, Friend," replied the Vulture, as he launched himself into the air.

And so the two accursed ones parted their ways, for a time. As the Vulture Spirit soared off into the distant sky, the ghost stood watching proudly. He still couldn't fly, himself -- but he had made someone else fly, and that was almost as good.

He continued on his way to the hills.

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