“Ariel,” said the enchanter, “fetch me some moondust.” He was hunched over an illuminated book, studying the swirls of language. He ignored her when she materialized in the form that he couldn’t stand—as a negress with skin the color of the sea at night where no star or moon shone.
“Is there a particular kind you would like, Father?”
The enchanter turned around, annoyed. His robes, splashed with stars and crescent moons, was crumbled and dirty. His white hair was wild and his long beard had crumbs from the morning’s breakfast in it. “I don’t know. Moondust. The spell does not specify.”
“Oh Father,” she said, “there are many places to collect moondust, and each grade is unique. Dust from the Wintry Lake is fine and pale; dust from the Lake of Death is black and crumbly, like fine soil…”
“Ariel,” said the enchanter, waving away her lecture “why do you insist on that guise?”
She bit her tongue; she had been about to tease him with, Do you not find this form pleasing? But she sensed that he wasn’t in the mood for jests, and besides, he could really harm her, if he wished. Wordlessly, she shifted her shape. Voluptuous darkness folded into narrow angular paleness, until a youth stood before the old man. He shaped fabrics out of the air, let them settle on the new body like dew.
A smile briefly played on the old man’s lips, before he reiterated the request, finishing with “I don’t care what kind of moondust you bring back. Just don’t take too long.” The enchanter handed him a glass jar. Ariel bowed, and vanished from the parlor.
In the Between Place, Ariel sloughed off his male form. He shed the name the enchanter had given him. Sky Pearl was his, her true name. Sky Pearl was a mere thoughtform in the Between Place. The thought formed an image, an idea. Luna, Diana, Selene—the names rifled through the mind. Her shape flickered, gibbous, crescent and full. In the dark of the Between Place, a sphere was made manifest. Sky Pearl could see her, just on the edge of forever, a glowing sphere that was sometimes white like chalk, yellow as cheese, and blue as his, her own soul. There was a trick to getting there, walking the obtuse paths and skewed angles of the Between Place. In the darkness, he, she saw beings such as him, herself. A constellation passed by, in blinding, fiery garments; she ignored Sky Pearl, apparently on some urgent business. A flock of chattering cherubs rested in a fold of the Between, grooming each of their wings with fat baby hands. Sky Pearl forged on, in the obscure, the sphere-thought moving nearing slowly.
At last, Sky Pearl emerged from the endless tunnel that was the Between Place. Atoms of selfhood shimmered into existence, and Ariel into her preferred form, dusky skinned with tight, close hair. She stepped on a pockmarked hillock, and felt the deep, deep chill of space. The stars glittered coldly and sang their icy songs to each other. Ariel paused, listening to them send light flashes to each other, utterly unaware of the other heavenly bodies. How she longed to soar among them, listening to the solar choir. But she was a servant, as long as the enchanter needed her. Here, for a brief moment, she could be herself, always from that blasted hump of sand miles from anywhere else.
Sky Pearl stood on the edge of the Lake of Death. She saw, in the distance, a group of lunar elementals were involved in some discussion in a crater. Like Sky Pearl, they were transparent, in filmy, flowing gowns, and it was impossible to guess their sex. They were wild things, with limbs a little too long and unevenly spaced eyes. They didn’t bother with noses. In the dark of the moon, aesthetic sensibilities were not valued. Sky Pearl caught wisps of their snaky voices, with lots of s’s and vowels that stretched out like filaments. They ignored her, as she knew they would. When she first saw them, on an earlier journey to the dark side of the moon, she was terrified of them. They looked like a macabre child’s drawing of humanity. But, she learned, that humanity was not their concern. Though she couldn’t understand what they said, she could intuit their feelings. They thought she was beneath them. A mere earthbound slave girl. A spectral puppet.