The robed lady inclined her head. “Even though you meet me outside the confines of time, we had once met on Earth and in the flesh. Dear Ninsal, you recognize me because I was your guide at the temple.”
“Saneel,” I said. “How wonderful it is to see you.”
Seeing my friend compressed all the years between this meeting and our last into a distinct sense of knowing. I was her again, a young neophyte preparing for an initiation into the mysteries of the cosmos.
“You found the gate,” Saneel said, and raised the torch to the arch that towered above the gate. The stone crescent was inscribed with symbols.
I looked up. “What do they say?” I asked.
“It is your task to decipher them so that you may cross to the other side.”
“It’s simple,” Saneel said with a glimmer in her eyes. “You must use your imagination,”
A row of characters made of crisscrossing lines glowed with an iridescence. Looking at them stirred within me a faint awareness of their meaning. Just as I knew her, I knew this writing. These were runes. Our forefathers brought the language with them when they ventured into the Far East to settle new lands. I glimpsed their long pilgrimage in my mind. The symbols, along with the rites and mysteries, were passed onto the priests and priestesses for safekeeping, and every neophyte studied them to use in rites and divination.
The more I looked at the symbols, the more intensely they glowed, their shapes burning into my psyche, rushing in like an avalanche of spells, opening internal channels. The veils lifted and the meaning came alive.
“Nothing ever dies,” I whispered and looked at Saneel.
“Only forms change,” she added.
“It is the same thing that Daniel told me at the hospital.”
“Yes, I know that. He came here.”
“You met Daniel?”
She nodded. “The doorway to truth is always open to those who seek it. And knowing that shall set you free,” she said, and then pointed beneath the arch. “Look, Ninsal!”
The gaping void that spread beneath the gate had become a mirror. I approached it and saw my reflection. I was wearing a black robe. The veil Daniel had put on my head covered my face.
“You can take it off now. You will not need it anymore,” Saneel said.
I looked at my pale hands and lifted them slowly to touch the veil with my fingertips. The fabric turned to ash revealing my face. In the mirror, I saw Ninsal. Her hair was light, long just like Saneel’s, and features soft.
“Go ahead, take a step,” Saneel encouraged. “You are ready now.”
I reached my hand into the mirror and it vanished from my sight. I withdrew it back and quickly and looked at my hand, which was intact, and then at my companion.
“Do not be afraid,” she said, her eyes gentle.
“Will I see you again?”
She smiled. “I am always with you. In a place where time is not, you shall always find me,” Saneel said and her body slowly dissolved.
Looking into the mirror, I lifted my foot and carefully stepped through. My body swayed lightly and I passed to the other side.
I landed on a gray rock, my bare feet kicking up a small cloud of silver dust. The landscape around me was grim and gray. Up above, a myriad of stars danced across the sky’s inky blackness.
“Just the way I remember seeing you in my dream—walking across the surface of the moon. Remember when I told you about it?”
Quickly, I turned to my side. “And you,” I said to him, “are always materializing out of thin air.”
“There is certainly not much of it around here,” Uri grinned. He too looked different. Older perhaps, or timeless rather. Surely more regal. His black hair flowed down past his shoulders and his blue eyes shone with celestial brightness. He wore a long blue cape cinched by a belt from which hung a silver key. He had become Uriel, the keeper of Tartarus.
“I do remember when you told me that you dreamt of me,” I said. “We were behind the old, gray theater. Next to my school.”
“It was a gray cold morning. And now we are on a gray cold moon,” Uriel said.
How distant that November morning seemed now. It was only four months ago, but it felt like so much more time had elapsed.
“Where is he?” I asked and I knew he understood whom I meant. Will you show me the way?
“We must get to the dark side,” Uriel said, and reached for my hand. Our fingers interlaced. I looked over my shoulder to catch the last glimmer of sunlight.
Entering into the area of permanent shadow, the black cloak I was wearing turned into a long white dress. Both of our bodies glowed in the dark. While I didn’t feel cold despite only wearing a thin dress, I also didn’t need oxygen to breathe. A frightening thought came to me.
“Uriel, am I dead?”
He looked at me and smiled. “Far from it. It is just that your mind is no longer bound to it.”
“Is it like dreaming, then?”
“Not quite. You are fully conscious. In fact even more so than when you are awake.”
I let go of his hand and paused our walk to stretch my arms towards the sky. I wanted to use my whole body to feel the essence of his words.
“‘You yourself are even another little world and have within you the sun and the moon and also the stars,’ once said a mystic,” Uriel said and pointed upward.
The heavens above were riddled with thousands of stars, more than I had ever seen, spilling like shimmering diamonds over black velvet. All the knowledge of the universe was on display in front of me, its intelligence contained in the smallest speck of moon dust. And I knew at once what it was like to be free of trying to grasp, and one with it all.
“As above, so below,” I whispered.
“If the whole universe can be reflected in a single drop of water, why can’t it be the same with us?”
“I feel like it is exactly the same with us, “ I said, looking at Uriel. His eyes were looking at something far in the distance. I followed his gaze. There, I saw a column of smoke rising from a pit.
“This is the farthest I can take you,” he said. “You must proceed from here on your own.” He reached toward his belt to untie the silver key and handed it to me. The key looked as if it was made of quicksilver. Opalescent veins shifted across its surface. “It will help you get through the barrier.”
“How will I know how to use it?”
“The key will show you,” Uriel said. “Now go. It is time.”
I smiled, though my eyes remained solemn. I didn’t want to go alone, and yet I knew that I had to. Uri placed his arm over his heart and closed his eyes, and I watched my companion disintegrate right before me, just as Saneel did by the gate. Holding the feather light object in my hand, I aimed for the gorge.
Not too far from where Uriel and I had parted, I encountered the invisible barrier, much like the one I had come across inside the cathedral. I leaned my body into it, sensing its composition. Its surface was neither smooth nor hard; I could press in deeper, to try to force myself through, but the deeper I got, the more resistance I encountered. I looked at the key in my hand. It was glowing blue.
Nearing the key towards the barrier, I felt it shift in my hand like a small snake becoming grandfather’s wand. I curled my fingers around it and plunged my hand deeper. The wand ignited in a blue flame, which quickly spread, revealing the blockade’s dome shape. I opened my palm and the wand melted like a snowflake. The moon’s ground rumbled and shook, lightning crawled across the curved surface that was now rippling like water. I took a step back. When the shaking abated and the flames died out, the watery shell of the enclosure began to boil. It hissed, bubbles spreading across the entire enclosure, turning the liquid into vapor. At last, I watched the steam lift like a cloudy veil toward the heavens.
The passage was opened.
And then I heard them, the howling incantations from my dream.
The wails grew louder the closer I got to the gorge, the singing more feverish, carrying with it the restless thumping of my invisible heart. Besides the column of rising smoke before me, there was nothing else in sight but endless planes of gray rock swathed in silver dust. My glance traveled down to my bare feet stomping across the moon’s surface, toward the ruptured ground. When I reached its edge, my toes curled over the precipice. Next to my feet, I saw a peculiar object. I recognized it and bent down to pick it up. It was the obsidian from Grandpa’s box, the stone of truth.
The voices stopped wailing. I looked at the rock reflecting in its smooth, polished exterior the orange flames raging below. Curling my fingers around it, I directed my gaze down towards the pit.
“Ninsal. . . . ” his call arose from the abyss like a long exhale. I found him. I found the entrance to the Tartarus.
Fear made me waver but not for long. There was no point in delaying the moment. My flight could be over soon and I had a quest to complete. If I wanted to see him, I needed to enter his domain. I leaned towards the gorge and squeezing the rock in my fist, let the gravity of the moon pull me toward its center.