There wasn’t any weapon they could turn on the thing that was enveloping Jeanette’s father without disintegrating him or roasting him alive. He was already unconscious within the dirty purple gelatinous mass, which continued to thicken.
Jeanette did the only thing she could think of doing: she plunged her hands into the goop and tread to tear a breathing hole for her father. The stuff stretched but then started climbing up her arms. The fear in her couldn’t get any higher than the death of her dada, so she just kept pulling.
Weren’t these gloves supposed to be Nemesis Gloves? Didn’t they do something against creatures of Deep Chaos? Shouldn’t they glow? Shouldn’t this stuff liquefy? The stuff was beyond her elbows now, and though all it felt was cold and slimy, it was still climbing.
Then the others had also their hands into the goo, pulling and tearing. It seemed only to gain in bulk.
She shouted out so high as to be painful, “Die! Why don’t you die?”
And suddenly the stuff’s consistency changed. It started to foam and crinkle. And sure enough, the gloves began to glow.
The stuff came off her father in sheets and strings. She dug into his mouth with her fingers, then brought her mouth down upon her father’s and started to blow. Grandmère Hutan moved her aside so she could press down upon his chest.
Then Jeanette remembered and touched the healing button on her necklace. Nothing happened, but then she wiped the gruesome slime off her hands and tried again. Her father let loose a huge gasp and, after Jeanette wiped his eyelids clean, Terence opened them.
Senhor Capoeira Capybara held up his hands, looking closely at his gloves. “They could have told us how to activate them.” He sighed. “But they’re dead now.”
Then he pulled a peach and a number of packets out of his wallet. He handed the peach to Dr. Ransom, who bit into it with avidity. The packets he gave to Jeanette. “It does my heart good that you’ve not yet learned to steal towels and toiletries out of hotel rooms, or in this case, interdimensional railway suites.” He pulled out another peach for himself.
Dada said hoarsely, “It’s hard to get peaches at precisely the right point of ripeness. But I suppose scientific advances have been made.”
“Did you bring enough for everybody?’ Jeanette’s bracelets said.
The capybara’s only response to the crows was another bite of his own peach.
Even though her father’s hair wasn’t matted with goo, Jeanette still got into working the soap into his hair thoroughly.
It was Terence who brought up the subject. “So where do we go from here? It took us a long enough time to hear the name Redoubt, and a vastly circuitous rout to get here. Do we start all over from the beginning, with not even that to guide us?”
“Put that way, it does sound dreadful,” said Grandmère.
“And in most syntactic variations that I can think of,” said Thyrsis.
O Tse spoke a bit reluctantly, being the latest addition to the group. “We might find it difficult enough just to get away from the Night Land. Mr. Ostensibility said that Deep Chaos had booby-trapped all the Decision Tree portals.”
“Fortunately, we have another way, granted to us from millions of years in the future,” Dr. Ransom said. “The disadvantage would be that we’d be taking a number of giant steps backward to places where we’d already been, but that might be a good thing all around.”
Thinking of the Queen of Broceliande and the King of Avalon, a wash of desire and pleasure came over her. She could certainly use some benign serenity from people who could make ”I don’t know’ sound reassuring.
“Whatever it is, that doesn’t sound at all bad,” said O Tse. So Terence took out the case of chalks. He went over to a panel of the room, being careful to put his gloved hand on it and intone “Die, oleaginous colloid!” He then drew the black area and the small white tunnel shape within. With the purple chalk he drew a barely identifiable figure of an orchid, which was precisely what Jeanette wanted to see. Then he drew the Decision Tree.
He put his hand in--and succeeded only in smudging the drawing.
Senhor Capoeira sighed. “I was afraid of this,” he said. “Mister Obstreporous said that that all dimensional barriers were stiffened here.”
“That at least removes the need for debate,” said Dr. Ransom. “We take our chances with this portal, booby-trapped though it might be.”
Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, having stayed silent as he did in all matters except fighting, stepped forth and said, “O Tse and I will take point.”
“Thank you, with one amendment,” said Terence. He was about to push open the door marked with the Decision Tree, when Grandmère sidled over. “Let me have my turn, Doctor,” she said, and pressed her hand.
As soon as the door swung open, four projector rifles were shouldered and fired. There was a hollow echo as if the parallel beams sped off into a far distance. That was all that happened, and the others made way for the tiger in his mirror armor and the Weasel-bear with his feathered pike.
They walked through--and found themselves in a towering dark forest.
The light was not quite yellow sun, but it was either early morning or twilight. The ground was tilted as if they were on a mountainside. The smell was invigorating. It wasn’t quite that of a pine forest--more like pine combined with some cinnamon, some lilac, and even some vanilla. Jeanette blushed a little at her own perception that it smelled a little more like pine floor cleaner than a genuine forest, and she apologized mentally to the woodland spirits of the place--if any.
There was no sign of a return portal, but this bothered the travelers not at all.
“Well, what shall it be?” Terence asked. “Downslope or upslope?”
“Most fortresses and enchanted castles would tend to be up, so we vote down,” said the crows.
“Seconds? Discussion?” Said Ransom.
“You’re being entirely too sprightly for someone who was covered in living goop twenty minutes ago,” said either Thyrsis or Antithyrsis again.
Lord Elphinstone started sidestepping down the slope, and the rest followed.
Jeanette actually felt the lack of a firm purpose as a positive thing as they walked, and the cool vitality of the woods reminded her just a bit of the Broceliande Forest. A new start, maybe? She allowed herself to think that.
But then she felt rather than saw a tiny dark motion at a distance behind them.
Something was looking at them.
No. At her.