“Elymas! Elymas! Elymas!”
A boy was shouting as he ran down the stone corridor. He quickly became a victim of momentum and in attempting to halt his speed catapulted his body forward and tumbled into Elymas. Quick to react Elymas had caught his brother and up-righted him before he damaged himself on the hard floor.
“Keep your voice down Ehi, you’ll panic the neighbours.” Elymas chided.
“B-b-but, but I was…” Ehi turned his head to the ground under the stern stare. “I’m sorry.”
Elymas lifted the boy’s head, “What was it you wanted?”
“I saw in a man in a tree,” the boy exclaimed.
In a tree? Thought Elymas. Trees weren’t exactly commonplace within the stone construction of The Tower, admittedly much of the tower’s inner architecture was supported by timber beams, but the posts and supports could hardly be referred to as trees anymore. He supposed that the gardens lacing the outside edges of The Tower had the occasional tree, but no one would be mad enough to climb one of those at God knows how high.
The thought rang inside Elymas’s head, he panicked and grabbed Ehi’s shoulders and shook the boy shouting, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner! What tree? Take me there! Quickly!”
Hurried by Elymas’s insistent voice, Ehi darted through the tunnel like corridors of The Tower. They raced through the passages of rising and falling slopes, navigating their way through the different districts. Mostly Ehi dragged Elymas upwards, higher in The Tower and away from the areas they usually roamed. To rise above your station in The Tower was something that happened both literally and figuratively.
Ehi’s small hand gripped tightly and more than once Elymas had to pull him back to stop the boy from tumbling again. Elymas had recently entered his twelfth year and had been given work as a labourer. The work was hard and though he had not been at it for longer than a month he was already feeling the improvement to his body.
They traversed well worn pathways of The Tower, where the crenulated floors had worn to a smooth and oft slippery surface forcing them to slow down. It was not long, however, until they emerged into the naked sunlight that washed over the exterior of The Tower.
A strong breeze blew refreshingly cool air over them. Elymas took a moment to breathe in a lungful of it as it was a much needed change from the stale air that permeated throughout The Tower’s interior.
The moment passed and Elymas became aware of Ehi tugging on his tattered khameez. The boy pointed off to the right and Elymas followed his finger but did not see anything unusual.
The exterior regions of The Tower were usually reserved as gardens and nature reserves, at least as best they could be. Long, wide pathways wound around the tower, often broken up by stairs, slopes, archways and occasionally disappearing altogether, in which case one would have to navigate inside The Tower for a while before they were able to head outside again.
On this particular level of The Tower, perhaps a third of the way up, they had arrived at the beginning of one such pathway. To the left the path trundled on and was mostly obscured by groups of people talking, walking and working. To the right was a wall with a small nook and a bench nestled inside.
Two roaring noises mingled harmoniously together whenever you were outside. One was the call of the wind, which travelled faster the higher you climbed. The other was the frothy, crashing noise of the infrequent waterfalls that cascaded down the sides of The Tower, pumped higher by an intricate network of pipes. Together the noises conspired to drown any other sound and it was not uncommon to see groups of people shouting at each other on The Tower exteriors in an attempt to carry out a conversation.
The steep drop of The Tower’s edge was warded off by a wall that reached waist high, it was adequate to prevent accidents but even so many of the more squeamish inhabitants kept away from it. Large flowerpots and hanging baskets adorned the path, growing some small fruit trees and bushes but mostly vibrant flowers. On the roof above them, taking advantage of the space left between the reduced size of each ascending level, was a series of terraced flowerbeds. At intervals trees had been planted into large, circular beds supported on a pillar half submerged into The Tower.
It was one of these trees that Ehi was pointing towards, one that could just be seen above the wall to the right. Shading his eyes from the light Elymas looked but saw nothing.
“Are you sure this is the place?” Elymas inquired.
“Yes!” Said Ehi, disapproving of his brother’s doubt, “He’s right there.”
“He must have moved then,” Elymas explained, he was unconvinced the boy had seen anything more than a trick of the light, but felt it better not to antagonise him further. It was what he himself had mistaken as a trick of the light that now caught his attention. There was indeed, he realised, a figure seated on a stray branch that reached out over the edge of The Tower.
The figure was covered completely in a white robe, such that Elymas could discern nothing of its features. The robe was difficult to focus on, it was almost blinding to the eyes, as though emitting a light of its own.
“Hey you!” Elymas called out into the wind ineffectually. He darted across the pathway and thrust up against the bordering wall in the hopes of getting a clearer view of the figure in the tree. A brief glance downward revealed they were high enough that the people who worked the fields on the plains below were barely distinguishable. He was immediately struck by vertigo and fell backwards onto the hard paving.
“Are you alright?” Said Ehi, poking his brother’s shoulder. Elymas sat up and shook his head to clear it.
“Uh, yeah, I’m fine.” He stood up and timidly approached the waist high wall again. Firmly gripping the lip of it, he leaned out and around so that he could see the figure in the tree once more. He was very careful not to let his gaze descend the enormous distance to the ground and remind himself of just how high he was.
The head of the man or woman turned to look at him, or so Elymas presumed. Then, confidently and without any motion to suggest the need to balance itself, the figure stood up on the branch. It floated towards them, its robes rippling in the wind.
As it drew closer Elymas was able to see it had two pairs of transparent wings. They moved gently back and forth but did not give him the impression that they were capable of sustaining flight. Indeed the motion of the figure seemed too straight and true to be mimicking the flight of birds who live at the mercy of the wind.
The figure alighted upon the pathway and bowed before them. Ehi moved closer to Elymas.
“My name is Haroot,” a voice emanated around them without coming from a clear direction. “It is a pleasure to meet you Elymas, Ehi.” The figure nodded where its head must have been. Its voice was soft and lyrical, it was soothing and reminded Elymas of lullabies.
The boys were speechless, not just because of the supernatural event they had witnessed, but also, it seemed to Elymas, that the figure had an air about it like one of the nobility. Elymas instinctually lowered his eyes to the ground in reverence and could think of nothing that would be appropriate to say.
It was not surprising then when the figure said, with its disembodied voice, “Follow me,” that the two boys did.
Haroot moved silently and followed by the pair of unkempt boys made quite the spectacle. A graceful, winged, pure white figure flowing over the stonework whilst two scruffy boys, dressed in dusty, torn clothing that ill-fitted them, especially considering Elymas’s recent growth spurts. Their sun-burnt, scratched and bruised skin matched with the unkempt, black curls on their heads, and for Elymas a few beginning wisps of facial hair. They looked like nothing more than mud monsters traipsing after the virgin beauty of a maiden.
Strangely though the group attracted no attention. For Elymas and Ehi this was no surprise, the higher they travelled in The Tower the nobler the inhabitants became and the more they ignored those beneath them, until eventually the guards caught them and sent them scurrying home. But the figure was strange and new, how could anyone possibly ignore it?
They covered about a quarter of The Tower’s circumference by Elymas’s reckoning before the figure turned them inside, following a rarely used corridor. Its lack of regular use was made apparent by the roughly carved edges that not only signaled a lack of attention to the creation of such a minor pathway, but also a lack of wearing.
Their way forward was lit, and ventilated, by skylights. Small tunnels bored into the stonework of the ceilings and installed with a system of mirrors. The light provided by the system was not great and most inhabitants carried a lantern when travelling deep into the core of The Tower, it was enough, however to light the way and prevent tripping.
Curiously though Elymas found the corridors did not darken as he expected and had grown used to, he surmised that the figure with its strange ‘inner’ light must have been the cause.
“Where are we going?” Whispered Ehi.
“I don’t know, I think its storage,” Elymas replied. He had been peering into the openings they passed, doors were usually only reserved for homes of the wealthy, and whilst unable to make out anything he was sure that no one lived here. The Tower was mostly divided up into areas or districts by function. A large part of it was residential, there were workshops and smiths grouped together and even a few areas dedicated to being marketplaces.
Haroot made no indication it had heard the boys and they continued on. The magic of authority was beginning to wear thin though and Elymas was starting to become nervous about following this figure to such a quiet and isolated place. Before he managed to work up enough courage to openly question the figure though, they arrived at their destination.
The passageway ahead of them led to another opening and the flickering shadows beyond betrayed the presence of lit torches within. They followed Haroot inside and found themselves part of a gathering.
The room was large and plain, empty of any of the furnishings and tools that would have labeled it as a living or working space. Though probably a storage room there were no items in it save from a few broken boards in a corner, likely the remains of a smashed wooden crate. Sconces on the walls had been lit and warmed the damp air.
There was a slight convex curve to the far wall and Elymas realised that this must be The Tower’s central pillar, which meant they had travelled to the heart of it. He tried to imagine how wide the core must be based on its curve but could only guess that there must be a great many more rooms on this level alone that used it for a wall.
Inside the room were a few dozen people, several boys like Elymas and Ehi ranging in age. But there were just as many girls and some fully grown men and women. They all sat silently on the floor in an irregular ring around the room, huddled in clusters perhaps of families and friends or just out of an instinctive bonding.
In the centre of the circle was another figure. This one was an exact copy of Haroot, from the enveloping white robes to the four ethereal wings sprouting from its back.
Haroot continued into the room, passing through a gap in the gathering to join the second figure whilst Elymas and Ehi remained where they were unsure of what to do now that dozens of pairs of eyes watched them curiously.
“Greetings Elymas, Ehi,” the second figure said nodding at each of them in turn. It spoke similarly to Haroot, with an enveloping sound that seemed to have no source. The voice was deeper than Haroot’s, but maintained the same lyrical quality that suited a baritone. “I am known as Maroot. Please join us,” Maroot gestured with a covered limb for the boys to join the circle.
Ehi looked up at Elymas with uncertainty, silently imploring his elder brother for direction. With no reason not to comply Elymas took hold of Ehi’s small hand and led the way into the circle. They sat down behind a group of boys Elymas had assumed must be of a similar age, but whether scared or uninterested the others did not speak.
“We are glad you have chosen to listen to us,” said the voice Elymas recognised as belonging to Haroot. “We are angels sent by The Lord to bring you knowledge.”
“The knowledge of the Heavens?” One of the women at the gathering asked querulously. The covered head of Maroot shook gently from side to side.
“We are here as teachers, but we do not teach what we know.” It said.
A man snorted derisively, “You want to teach us what you don’t know?”
“The Lord forbids us certain knowledge for we are merely vessels of His will. But we may carry that knowledge for others if He wishes it. It is you beautiful creatures who have been given the gift of choice. You have been made in His image and have a will like Him with which you may do as you please.” Haroot explained. Throughout the conversation the two angels stood side by side but facing in opposite directions so as to see as much of the gathering as possible. But they made no movements, never directly addressing an individual.
“What will you teach us then?” Said the man who had snorted earlier, he shuffled to the fore of his small group, evidently their elected speaker.
There was a long pause following the one word. The silence gorged on suspicion as the gathered people questioned the answer. Was it a joke, a prank? These ‘angels’ couldn’t be serious. Wasn’t magic heresy? But if it was given by The Lord. If we had power like that…
Whatever the individual reactions no one spoke out against Haroot and Maroot. Though fear might have led those gathered to doubt and mistrust the two angels, perhaps even attack them should something initiate a conflict, there was a very strong sense of another world coming from them which cowed the gathering. Elymas didn’t know if this was some kind of holy aura, or an inherent reverence for the messengers of The Lord.
“We do not give this knowledge away without warning,” Haroot broke the silence. “It is a test of your faith. A test of your will, to determine if you are able to turn from the path of evil and follow the path of truth.”
“As angels in His service we cannot bring you harm and therefore the knowledge we offer also cannot bring you harm. But. It can be used to bring harm to yourself.”
There was a pause as the warning sunk in.
“We ask you now, armed with our warning, do you still wish to learn of magic?”
“Choose wisely for we are but a temptation. You may leave of your own will.”
The angels fell into silence. Looking around Elymas could see confused looks on the faces of those gathered, worried and scared but also curious and conniving. One by one a frantic whispering started up amongst the gathering.
The boys in front of Elymas and Ehi began talking of what they might be able to do with magic, some of them dreaming of strength and of flight, others of food. Elymas tried to remind them of the warning but the boys shot him a disdainful look.
Eventually some people started to leave. Rising from the floor they left the circle and walked around the edge of the room leaving by the entryway. A small group of adults at first, then a few families pulling their children with them. A few individual boys and girls left too, obviously saddened that their friends were remaining behind. There was a shouting and a commotion as a woman pleaded with her husband to leave with her. The man told her to go then ignored her until her companions pulled her away and out.
“What should we do?” Ehi whispered in Elymas’s ear.
“I’m not sure,” Elymas mumbled. The angels had warned them certainly, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that if he was being offered this knowledge there must be a reason for it.
“I think I’d like to learn,” said Ehi, “I mean, we only get in trouble if we use it right? They didn’t say there was anything wrong with just learnin’ it. And what if we need it one day, what if we could save people with it?”
“What if…” Elymas repeated turning the words over in his mind. He looked at his brother’s eager face, “You’re right, it wouldn’t hurt to know, if we were responsible with it.”
More than half of the gathering had left leaving behind mostly the young ones and a few adults as well. Once silence had descended Haroot spoke once more.
“Do all those who have remained present wish to gain this knowledge?” There was a consensual murmur and nodding of heads in response. “Then we shall begin.” The two angels moved forward until they stood mere inches away from the gathered people, each at an opposite end of the fractured circle. They lifted an arm over the heads of those before them and began to sing.
It sounded, to Elymas, like a hymn, similar to a chant but with the words changing in each verse and telling a story. What story he couldn’t tell as he found it impossible to understand the words though they were as clear as if they had been spoken directly into his ear.
Haroot and Maroot moved around the circle until they had completed one circuit, when they had finished the singing ceased and they returned to their positions in the centre. Their wings brightened and with a blinding flash the angels disappeared leaving behind a stunned audience.
In the silence preceding their exit Elymas mulled over what had just happened. The song had penetrated his mind and opened it up. He understood magic, he knew how to create magic. It was as if he had always known but it had been kept locked up behind a closed door.
Around the room expressions betrayed that the others were feeling the same thing. After awhile those expression began to change and diverge into concern or elation. The group dispersed. Some leaving silently to think over the event in privacy, others sprinted away eager to practice with this newfound gift.
The boys that Elymas and Ehi had seated with remained and were soon joined by a small group of girls. They were all talking excitedly with one another, Ehi joining in, about what they should do first. Elymas was roused from his introversion when one of the boys skipped away from the group and shouted.
“I wanna see what I can do, stand back!” The boy thrust his hands out before him with open palms, Elymas’s new understanding told him this was unnecessary and must have been a sympathetic reaction. The boy did summon forth a magical power correctly though and a great gout of flame burst out before him. It singed the stones and sent an enormous amount of heat washing over the children.
“You’re not supposed to use it…” Muttered one of the girls, slack-jawed with awe. The others heard her however and there was a pause as everyone waited in fear of retribution.
None arrived however and with much excitement the children began playing. They carved lines and drawings into the stones without touching them. They repaired their clothes and some of them even changed the colours from dirty browns to rich reds and blues. Two boys fought each other, one creating balls of fire which the other would try to hit with floating spheres of water. When the two collided a burst of steam would sizzle upwards accompanied by a cheer.
The children made quite a lot of noise and it was only faintly that Elymas thought he could hear the angelic singing again. It was difficult to make out and he thought it might be a different song with different singers, but dismissed it as his imagination. It was most likely the original song playing through in his distracted mind, it would not be something he would soon forget.
“Elymas, look.” It was Ehi, pulling on his Khameez. Elymas turned to face Ehi and saw his brother had also been practicing with the magic. He wanted to scold the boy, to chastise him for being so reckless. But he new it would be futile and he himself was feeling the urge to try his hand at some.
Ehi was kneeling on the stonework floor and pointing to plant that was growing there. Elymas was amazed. The plant was truly growing, growing at a rate that could actually be seen. A small green shoot poked up in the gap between two stone slabs. It rose up and soon began dividing into more shoots that grew into vines and crawled over the stonework. A web of roots pushed through the gaps between and dug into the hard stone. Small chips and dust fell off as the plant continued to grow and more shoots emerged as it spread. At its beginning, and as each growth of the plant reached maturity, buds appeared. A split ran down the length of each green bud and slowly they unfolded revealing long white petals tinted pink in the centre.
The plant attracted the attention of the other children and they scurried over. As their noise died down it became apparent that Elymas hadn’t imagined the singing and chanting. He looked up at the ceiling for although the song sounded everywhere he felt instinctively that it was coming from above.
As it continued he felt a similar sensation to that of Haroot and Maroot’s song. As though his mind was opening, but this time he felt as if not only were doors being opened, but some were being closed too.
The children seemed oblivious of it though and their fickle attention led them away from Ehi’s still growing plant to seek new things to do. But somehow it all began to go wrong.
One boy announced that he was going to make himself older, to turn himself into a man. But instead of the magic just happening and the boy growing a series of symbols appeared on his arms and legs and head. They glowed in black and white shades and then disappeared. The boy’s hair grew and turned grey in seconds and then began to fall out to his horror.
A girl in the corner shouted some unintelligible words as she made a series of hand gestures, then fell through the floor with a splash as the stone beneath turned into liquid.
Another girl began chanting a rhyme in more words that Elymas could not understand. When she had finished chanting, appearing surprised with herself as she did so, a plume of smoke welled up around her. When it disappeared the girl was gone and a frog was in her place.
“Everyone stop using magic!” Shouted Elymas but all he elicited were confused stares.
“Τι είναι να συμβεί Elymas; Είμαι φοβησμένου.” The voice came from Ehi who looked at him as the very epitome of a frightened child.
A loud explosion knocked them all to the floor as another magic attempt backfired. This one struck the curved wall that was part of The Tower’s central pillar.
As the stones exploded outwards and more uncontrolled magic added to the chaos Elymas was sent tumbling. The floor gave way beneath him, shards of rock bit at his skin and clouds of dust stung his eyes. Something struck his head and Elymas passed out.
When Elymas came to he was in a great amount of pain and sure that many of his bones were broken. All around him was a bleak landscape of dust, dirt and rubble. He didn’t dare look to closely for fear of seeing mangled corpses and smashed limbs. He could hear strange words being shouted as people presumably looked for survivors.
He was lying beneath an outcropping of stone that was embedded into the earth and leaning over him, protecting him. On closer inspection he could see that the large slab was held together by an extensive, wall creeping vine with pink tinged, white flowers.