I awakened to birdsong, the sun’s rays tugging at my eyelids. I sat up quickly and scanned my surroundings, then looked down at my body. I was back in the meadow wearing Mom’s gown. I had no mirror nearby, but I checked the color of my hair. It was brown. I must be back in my earthly body.
But Daniel and Uri were not with me. I called their names, but got no reply.
Was this it? Had I failed? I came so close to Sariel, but something must have gone wrong.
Just as I was about to walk toward the creek to see if my companions were there, the sunlight dimmed and with it all sounds went mute. I squinted my eyes and glanced up.
The moon was obscuring more than half of the sun. I had no idea that we would be having an eclipse. Cupping my hands, I tried once more to call for Daniel and Uri, directing my shout in all four directions. They should be here to see this. Alas, my ears registered nothing but deaf silence.
As a cape of encroaching shadow cloaked the grass fields and neighboring forests, the meadow lit up with flickering blue flames. One by one they ignited and arose from the grasses. Up in the heavens, the moon and sun’s orbs locked together, leaving visible only a corona of fire. The trickling sound of the river returned and a symphony of crickets and birds filled the night air. My journey was not over yet.
Behind me, something was looking at me, luring me there. I felt their eyes piercing my back . . . Slowly, I turned around and saw it: the shielded glade from my childhood.
Nearly ten years had passed since I had first discovered it, and with it the blooming seed of my femininity. It should by now be overgrown and impossible to enter, the
trees growing too tall and too wide to preserve the dome shape inside. But today, the glade seemed to look the same as it did back then, its trees young and leaning toward one another.
The ground was moist and water welled up around my bare feet as I walked. Holding the gown high to my shins, I followed a path marked for me by the tiny blue flames that hovered above ground. What kind of magic is this?
The soft tree branches parted, as if pushed aside by invisible hands, and I entered the clearing. White flower petals carpeted the ground. I counted sixteen candles swinging from branches in jam jars.
“I know your birthday is seven days away, but I thought you might like an earlier celebration,” I heard his voice behind me. I turned and gasped. Sariel reached his hand out to me and gently stroked my cheek.
“At last,” I sighed. “There are no more barriers between us. Does that mean you can stay?”
“Dear Eve. This is your spirit flight; this is why I am here. Remember what I had told you before. I am forbidden from coming into your world.”
With trembling lips, I decided to ask the difficult question.
“Is it true what my grandfather said about you?” I asked. “That you are destroyers of innocence?”
Sariel smiled, but his eyes remained somber. “It is the awareness of death that erodes human innocence,” Sariel said, “It is easy to blame the fallen for the ills of your world.”
“Why did you break into my dreams?”
His eyes ignited with a glimmer of fire. “So that our legend could continue to live on.”
“Do you speak of the legend of Sariel and Ninsal?”
“You and Ninsal share the same soul,” His eyes were now glowing like two suns. “Your remembrance freed me from my chains.”
“But how is it possible? How could we be the same? She lived so long ago and in a world that was nothing like the one in which I live.”
“If you allow me, I will show you.” He opened his arms towards me, and two black wings unfurled behind his back. “In my embrace, you will find the answers you seek.”
Reluctantly, I stepped forward. I could feel the heat emanating from his skin and a scent that knew so well. I was falling under his spell again, but there was no point resisting. He was offering to illuminate me. And this was my quest.
“Allow me,” he repeated, his wings folding around me. “Allow me to show you what it means to fly.
Standing over a blanket of rich green grass, I watched moisture-bearing mist float low beneath a milky sky. The air smelled of the sea. My body was clothed in a green, flowing robe, and a wreath of leaves crowned my long copper hair. As I did each day since the start of fall, I had something important to do. But on this early morning it was more difficult to concentrate on my task. Nature was so alive, and speaking directly to me. I pressed the dry bundle of twigs to my chest and turned to walk toward a circle of nine stones, in the midst of which nestled a stone bowl. A small fire kindled inside of it. I gazed into it and with my freckled hands added a few small twigs. The moisture on the wood hissed before the flames caught. I added a handful of leaves and the smoke engulfed me in a familiar smell. I watched the fire grow and recited my invocations, holding my hands over the amber flames.
Just then a feather descended from the sky, landing directly over my extended palms. “My angel,” I whispered, and looked up, but the skies were blank.
The scenery changed and I found myself in a land of perpetual snow. It was night. A large tower of fire burned inside of a circle, warming the faces of a dozen, keeping away the encroaching shadows. Their faces were red from the elements, their hair wild. Hands they held out toward the roaring flames were scarred and smeared with blood’s rust, bodies covered with animal skins, feet stomping a rhythm, throaty sounds intoning a primal song of the elders. The ritual was coming to a peak. The voices rose to a crescendo, and hands ventured toward the sky. I thrust the charred end of a torch into the fire and sparks scattered at our feet.
It was sunset. The air was warm and arid, suffused with a scent of oregano. I stood inside an open temple of twelve pillars of stone. Rolling hills of green fields and olive orchards surrounded the temple, peppered with human dwellings and rock outcrops. I kneeled down and aimed the torch I was holding toward the flame. A heavy necklace weighed down my breastbone, and a golden diadem ornamented my forehead just beneath the hairline. The end of the torch ignited and I rose up to turn toward a cloaked man who stood behind me. I bowed and handed him the torch. But when I looked up I encountered his flaming eyes.
The music carried me around the room. My body felt open and free, bangles on my wrists chiming to the rhythm of drums. In the center of the room burned a fire. Flickering oil lamps patterned the walls. I was dancing for the shadow-cloaked audience that surrounded me in a circle. As I twirled, droplets of sweat trickled down my back, the ends of my hair sticking to my neck. The air smelled of heavy incense, musk, and the sweat of bodies, their eyes upon me. But in my mind, I only danced for one being—the dark angel for whom I waited each night in the garden.
The women screamed as the scorching flames devoured their wounded flesh. Tied to a post mounted over a stake, agony replaced my earlier rapture. Once my ally, the fire now seared my skin, filling the air with an unbearable stench. I looked at the crowd with bloodshot eyes, hoping the end would come soon. I spotted him from afar, his face hiding behind a hood. He pointed his arrow at me and soon I felt it pierce through my heart. Free from pain at last, my soul soared toward the moon.
I couldn’t move. My arms were bound, tightly wrapped around my chest. Everything was white and the same. Snow? Sky? No. These were the walls. The fear returned with a memory of a man and a woman in white suits. It was what they did that left me so confused. They numbed my pain and made me forget. They severed the cord turning memories into fragments of a broken mirror. I let out a scream that tore away from my chest like a discarded scab. You took him away from me! I cried.
The lights flickered on and a man entered the room. In his hands I recognized the agent of amnesia. I knew that no amount of protest would make him hear me, so tossing my head to the side, I looked to a scraped white wall as the needle punctured my flesh. Soon I was fading into oblivion until only an inkling of awareness remained. A tear moistened the skin of my cheek and the hot flame that burned at the base of my spine dimmed to a whisper.
“This is not the first time,” I said to Sariel, looking up toward his face. My whole body was vibrating as if plugged into an electric current. “I’ve been obsessed with you for lifetimes.”
“You remembered me.”
“Sariel, I am scared,” I said, nestling myself in his chest, feeling conflicted again. It was so hard to resist him. “I feel that if I let this go on, I will vanish from the earthly plane of existence.”
“Don’t be afraid. I will never leave you.”
“But this is a dream. And it will fade the moment I wake up.”
“Then don’t wake up,” he whispered in my ear. “Stay with me. Merge with me.”
“But I must go back. There are people I love who are waiting for me.”
The angel let go of me. I shivered again, but this time from the cold. Sariel took a step to the edge of the glade, his eyes directed toward the eclipse.
“Your mother was once the beloved of an angel,” he said. “I believe you knew her when her saga began. You two were very close at the temple. But she now chooses not to remember. One day, it will be the same with you. You will no longer remember me.”
“Mom and Saneel are the same person?” I asked.
Sariel turned towards me. “History moves in cycles, souls reunite in new times and places.”
“My mother was taken by force, Sariel. It nearly destroyed her,” I said.
“You are wrong. Saneel gave herself to Ramiel willingly,” he said, stepping closer to me again. “Just as you once gave yourself to me.” The moon was beginning to retreat, letting in the first rays of sunlight. One by one, the candle flames were beginning to fade, leaving behind snaking tendrils of smoke. “If you stay with me, I will make you immortal.”
“Which means death to my world.”
“But eternal life in another world,” he said. Sariel’s body was becoming transparent, but his eyes were burning bright. “You now have the power to command the elements. Stay with me, Ninsal. Close the gate and remain.”
“But I’m no longer Ninsal,” I said and dropped to my knees. “She is dead.”
“She is within you.”
“No Sariel. I am Evelina, a girl who belongs to a world, in which you cannot live, a lost human who used to want to escape and go somewhere else. But she is beginning to see that all this time she thought of her world as mundane, it’s been teeming with beauty, love and magic.”
Sariel’s body was almost completely faded now. More sunlight entered the meadow. It was so bright, the rays were blinding.
Sariel came closer and placed his palms over my face. My eyes fell shut and the darkening felt soothing. There, beneath my closed lids, I saw the truth and shared it with the angel.
“The awareness of death, the acceptance of our mortality is not the end of innocence,” I said. “It is the end of ignorance.”
When I opened my eyes, Sariel was no longer there.
In his place stood my grandfather.
“My dear granddaughter,” he spoke. “As you approach the end of your quest, you can now see that the journey was not only about finding the angel. It was not even about finding the truth about Daniel. It was about so much more than that. And now that you have found it, no one can take that away from you.”
“It was a journey back,” I said to him. “To find myself again.”
He smiled. “Herein lies your initiation.”