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What Ukto Saw

In Enji, the citizens fell through the world. On the eighth day of summer when the sun was high over the sand, their floors and streets swallowed them. Many died or disappeared, but some did not – they were stuck jutting from the earth, alive, with twisted limbs and bent backs. This is not interesting in-and-of-itself; in the world of Ataal, such things are commonplace. Enji is different, because Enji went on.

On the eighth day of summer, not all of Enji was inside Enji. Not all of a city’s work happens in the city: farmers in the fields, hunters in the desert, mystics sitting upon marble pillars. They did not fall through the earth and when they returned home, they found their loved ones crying out in pain. They sat with them, and stroked their hair; they spoke of the land-locked as if they were already dead. They gave palliative care and they did not weep. They held meetings about dealing with broken bones, and filthy clothes. They got very good at caring for the land-locked. They loved them, you see: they bathed and fed them, but they also hugged them, and sang to them, and told them stories about the changing world outside. They coated them in perfume made from sweet desert flowers.

In time, the society of Enji twisted to accommodate their new lives. Industries sprang up: a man could not could not care for his land-locked husband every hour of every day, but he could pay another man to do it for him. In time, that changed too: one man to feed, one man to bathe, one man to sing songs. Enji was rich in mineral wealth, and in time the city refilled on its own. New arrivals were briefed on the land-locked. Many took jobs looking after them, and when more folks showed up, the old-new-arrivals briefed them. The oasis of Enji rose higher: a city of jasmine, chrysanthemum and gold. Wealth flowed through the streets of Enji – the city of men-within-earth.

When one of the land-locked died, there was clear procedure. A priest would lay garlands of sweet-smelling flowers around the deceased, then call out to Ukto, the vulture goddess, to carry them away into the sky. No man in Enji would dare to hurt a vulture, for fear of angering Ukto, the cleaner of the dead. The temple of Ukto was the tallest in Enji: its golden minarets towered over the city of sand. If the family of the deceased were wealthy (and many in Enji were wealthy) they’d commission an artist to encase the body in beautiful enchanted glass so it could last forever.

As the land-locked died off (of old age, or some other invisible malady that carried their kind away), the city of Enji became littered with prisms. At sunrise, sunset and the hour when the sun was most high, the glass sang – light refracted off the prisms in just the right way to have them ring out. A true citizen of Enji could set their watch by it. Clever men with mirrors would stand by the prisms and play music for travellers – the locals saw the practice as tacky but there were always strangers’ feet upon the streets of Enji. Enji: the city of men-under-glass.

In time, the last man who remembered the face of a land-locked –Ibu, a merchant who’d been on the road outside the city– died. When Ibu’s husband had gone to the earth, Ibu had cried and cried until his neighbour shouted at him. Ibu had cried with his husband Yaji, and expected him to die. Yaji died, but not for forty years. Ibu died ninety years later, at the ripe old age of two-hundred and six; Ibu died peacefully, in his sleep, and took with him the last memory of Yaji.

In time, the last man who remembered the purpose of the prisms –Ajata, who lived a thousand years unremarkably– died. His father told him stories about why the city sung at dawn and dusk. He told him the prisms once contained skeletons. Little Ajata had not believed it, but had rushed to his classmates to tell them anyway. They hadn’t believed him, and had forgotten all about Little Ajata’s strange lie. Big Ajata died because he said vile words at a vulture and it pecked his eyes out. He died in the mountains, with Enji stretched out below him. He took the memory of skeletons with him and so Enji was left only with prisms of coloured glass that sang at dawn and dusk; Enji was left with men with mirrors, who played songs on the prisms and who were beloved by all.

A university rose and bloomed. Archaeologists studied the glass and said “maybe it is to capture the sun” or “maybe it is to pay homage to Ukto, the goddess of the sky” and made careers of this speculation. They made sure the glass was well-kept. Tourists flocked to Enji, and took photographs, and even though the earth had long since ceased to spring forth gold, Enji remained a rich city – the envy of Ataal. Enji: the city of glass.

The world turned, and another nation (its name does not matter –I cannot remember it, therefore it does not matter–)  attacked Enji and burnt the great city of prisms to the ground. They took its riches, and killed its people, and smashed its musical glass. They took their loot home. They drank wine and toasted the murder of a city.

In time, the last man who remembered Enji –a singer, a storyteller. His name does not matter– died. The sand covered up his bones, as the sand covered up Enji.

In time, the sun above Ataal got so hot that it cooked men inside their homes. Oceans evaporated, and silence came to rule Ataal. The deserts around Enji got so hot, they turned to glass. If a man had walked across the desert –though there were no men left on Ataal– he might’ve seen a ruined city under glass. When the sun was at its highest, it struck the glass and the glass sang out.

It sang for nobody save Ukto and the endless open sky.

When the earth opened up, Enji went on. When the skeletons rotted away and their memory was lost, Enji went on. When war came to Enji and smashed its glass, Enji went on – silent beneath the sand, not even a memory. It is not a lie to say: even in death, Enji went on. Enji: the city under glass.

Published inProse Fiction

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