I walked into the darkness of the back room of my grandfather’s shack. The scuffle of my feet along the boards becomes a soft tread through rocky soil. I started to see stars above me. The constellations I knew so well from sitting with him on those endless summer nights in the mountains: the Pleiades, the Hyades, Orion, and the Bear. I followed the Bear’s golden eye toward the slowly brightening light of dawn ahead. The red glare of Aldebaran followed me, like always.
My grandfather and I had spent many nights walking through the Mapa Mundi. Orlando acts as a gentle caretaker for this domain, which I think of as a microcosm for the entire universe. There are endlessly playing scenes, characters having repeated battles and fights and weddings, gateways, and trapdoors. A traveler could easily lose his way.
I ascended stone steps, and beheld a valley beneath me, with opposing spiral paths leading to two cities. One was at war and one was at peace. On the right, the walled city was encircled by soldiers, who seemed to be from two different armies. Some of the soldiers wore tunics and had long ragged black hair, while others wore bronze armor and had shaved heads and faces. From the hillside, I could see into the city, and defending soldiers practiced marching, clad in golden armor.
My thoughts slowed, and I suddenly felt very drowsy. I snapped back to alertness, cursing the cognitive lag that comes with being here. My brain was wired to move forward, not circle in rivulets like a whirlpool.
To my left, a city without gates and without walls. Pleasing melodies wafted to my ears on the light breeze, and I regarded youths dressed in soft clothing, carrying flutes and processing clockwise around a group of young women with flowers in their hair. A group of older women stood behind them on a platform, cheering and embracing each other.
I wanted only to stay, to take a bride from these maidens, and make a home in the Mapa. This was what they did, they tried to trap you, hypnotize you into staying forever. I remembered my friends, Erik in prison, my beloved Theodosia lost at sea, and I bit my lip and proceeded toward the siege.
The bald bronze soldiers readied a trebuchet with huge stones, while the black haired soldiers lit torches and prepared to rush the walls. They paid me no mind as I walked through their ranks, searching the walls for the pillar with the eagle’s head at its apex.
I sighted the bull, and approached the wall. I raised my left hair in the air and pointed to the ground with my right, and the defenders atop the wall tipped the bucket of flaming tar back away from the wall. I walked to the back of the pillar, stepped on the concealed platform, pushed the ox’s head knob in front of me, and dropped under the wall, back into darkness.
I fished my matches and candle out of my pocket and illuminated the darkness. There’s a long corridor in front of me, so long that if I shot an arrow, it wouldn’t reach the end. I walked forward, and eventually reached a garden, walled on all sides, with the sun shining in from above. I walked through the pillars to see men and women in togas eating and drinking, seemingly inured to the impending slaughter in the city above. Their voices murmured around me, silencing as I came to the center of the garden.
I tried to look at their faces, but each time, they blurred. I was getting close. I felt a pair of cold, icy eyes in the center of my back, and I whirled around to see a pale man with red eyes in a white suit coming through the pillars. I quickened my steps, and found a winding staircase at the garden’s corner.
At the top of the stairs was a wooden door set in the stone wall, emblazoned with a lion’s crest. I tried the handle and it was locked. I briskly knocked four times, watching the pale man approach the bottom of the staircase. The door opened and I stumbled inside, closing and locking it behind me.
In the center of the room was a set of scales, a tremendous glass hourglass, and a mirror.
I walked to the mirror, Solomon’s mirror, equal parts silver and gold. I regarded my reflection and contemplated my target, Hugo Gabreel. I recited the words of the prayer, aligning my mind with the twelve dimensions of reality, visualizing the 12th dimensional construct. I felt drowsy, then a blinding flash filled the room, and I saw the black face of an angel replace my image, and then I saw Hugo’s face, rough nose, sharp eyes. I turned around, and I was him.