Sueryan Juniper Philips
Dr. Maartens acted like he had discovered the chamber all by himself instead of being summoned to it by his personal hoard of dust and sweat covered graduate students. His isolation chamber just happened to be the only place with air conditioning on the entire excavation. Dr. Philips was sure that he had told the grad students not to bother informing her, but she wasn’t so dim that she would ignore the scurrying of that many feet.
A golden triune statue dominated the underground chamber, illuminated now by sets of hastily assembled flood lights. The statue had one face looking left, one center and one to the right. No doubt it was meant to represent Suri, Nupi and Pili, the so-called ‘looking’ goddesses of the lost Huazactl culture. Dr. Philips had written her doctoral thesis on their religion, unique in the region for worshiping no male deities. At times, it seemed that they worshiped three goddesses, but other indications pointed to the worship of one goddess with three aspects. This statue, and whatever else was in the chamber, should shed light on the question. And glory on the discoverer of such a treasure.
“No photographs, not yet, no, no, not even cell phones, give that here.” Dr. Maartens was not experiencing much success at herding the excited students. Dr. Philips edged to a corner of the chamber still in shadow. He wouldn’t hesitate to try and make her wrangle them in his stead.
As she leaned against the wall, she felt it give behind her with a faint click. The soft rasp of stone on stone above drew her gaze. A darker space grew from a slit to a shoebox and then something fell. She caught it.
“Angie, darling, confiscate these phones, delete all pictures of the statue, that’s a good girl.” Dr. Angela Xavier tensed, but acquiesced. Would nothing make her snap on that sexist pig? Dr. Philips shook her head and slipped out of the chamber with the mystery box in her shoulder bag. Let Maartens have the statue, out in the open where anyone could find it. This could be so much bigger.
Stone, smooth and carved with Huazactl story runes, the box ends had cylinders sticking out of the sides, and a section in the middle that was a confused jumble of lines that was no language Dr. Philips recognized, not from this region or any other.
She began to translate and soon got lost in the story they depicted, a religious narrative she had never before seen.
In the seventh year of the reign of Suliacna, there was a high priest named Cuazcu, who could not find a mate worthy of his love. He searched throughout the lands and found many beautiful and talented women, but none that could speak to his heart. He prayed to Nupi-Who-Looks to help him find his perfect mate, but she told him that such a woman did not exist. He prayed to Suri-Who-Looks-Back to help him find his perfect mate, but she told him that such a woman had never existed in the past. He prayed a third time to Pili-Who-Looks-Forward and she smiled upon him, lifting his heart. She told him that such a woman would someday exist, and she gave him a way to summon her to him, if he was truly pure of heart.
The runes ended where the cylinder on the left joined the box. Dr. Philips turned it, trying to get a better angle to read by, but there seemed to be no more to the story. Was that a sliver of rune at the edge of the cylinder, hidden?
She gently pulled, and the box clicked. The center section expanded, allowing the cryptic lines to rotate freely. She wiped her hands on her jeans and set the cylinders on her legs as she turned the central lines. How did the tale end?
She spun the thin stone pieces one at a time, trying to align them into patterns that would fit what she knew of Huazactl runes, but they did not want to fit those patterns. The lines were too even, too long to be story runes. This was something else, perhaps a picture or even abstract art.
Two pieces clicked into place. Dr. Philips put the box down and grabbed a bottle of water from her shoulder bag. Taking a long swig and wiping her brow, she looked back at the box. Impossible, but the locked pieces looked like pieces of letters, in English, three rows. She ignored the voice in her head telling her to stop, to find Dr. Maartens and tell him this was a rotten joke to play.
The pieces clicked into place quickly now, spelling out something her mind refused to process until she could no longer ignore it.
The cylinders shot apart with another click, and between them lines of light began to shimmer. A man appeared before her, his warm brown eyes imploring her. He spoke words that she could almost understand, words that spoke to her heart. He reached out his hand.
She took it, and stepped into the shimmering light.
The cylinders slid back into their places, and the letters of her name crumbled into dust that blew away to reveal the happy ending of the tale of Cuazcu’s search for his perfect mate.
The parameters for this story were:
6 Time Travel Romance
7 The capital city of a lost civilization
3 A Puzzle Box