They were in bright sunshine, on a green hillside, with white puffy clouds easing by on a warm wind. They weren’t standing on anything but grass.
Jeanette said, “Oh my god--Thyrsis and Antithyrsis--!”
The crows flew upwards from grass that wasn’t long enough to hide them. “We saw you vanish, so we flew into the same ground.”
“Well, this is pleasant,” said Grandmère Hutan, “but at the same time it’s a disaster. Where are we?”
“And was that or was that not a Decision Tree gateway? That shouldn’t have worked on you, Lord Elphinstone, nor you two crows.”
“We’ve got names,” said Thyrsis.
“Well, two crows with names, would you mind going aloft and checking out the vicinity?” Said Senhor Capoeira Capybara. They went into the air without comment.
“If we can’t find our way back, this would be a stupid way for our story to end,” said Jeanette. She sat down, though, and ran her fingers through the grass.
The crows came back, and reported that there was something over the hill’s edge to the north. Nothing alive, though. The group picked themselves up and walked over the gentle rise.
There before them, was a long line of big stone squares--maybe twenty, each the size of the base of an office building. The ground was flat around them. The slope continued down into a dell where a small brook ran. When they walked to the first one, Dr. Ransom knelt down and inspected them carefully.
“The scratches and weathering make this very old, but this isn’t natural stone or ordinary concrete. The nearest thing it resembles is heat-resistant ceramic, like you’d line a furnace with. And it’s cool to the touch, even in the warm sun.”
“Launchpads,” said Grandmère.
“So it would seem,” said Dr. Ransom.
O Tse spoke up, leaning on his pike. “Maybe the blockhouse we were in was a central control for big gateways. Hundreds of people at a time. Once here--or similar planets, ships were here to take them further away.”
“Mass evacuation. Thousands--maybe millions,” Grandmère sighed.
“Yes, but how long ago?” asked Dr. Ransom. “When Deep Chaos first came to what is now The Night Land? Or after some terrible reversal that led to them retreating to the Redoubt?”
“Or after the Redoubt’s fall?” said Senhor Capoeira. “If it happened ages ago, might we be a couple of thousand years late to the party?”
Jeanette asked, “If this planet is this beautiful, why would they go further? Unless it’s not safe somehow?”
“It’s my belief, borne out by all our experience, that no place is safe,” growled Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone.
“Well, if they came by door and left by starship, we’re kind of f--out of luck,” said Jeanette, remembering that her father was standing right beside her. Had she been hanging out with the wrong crowd or what? “But let’s see if we can find anything on these pads. Inscription or something.”
“Why not? It’s all we’ve got,” the capybara said.
“Not us. There’s got to be a sorcerer’s castle around here somewhere,” said Thyrsis, as he and Antithyrsis took off into the lovely blue sky.
It seemed a tedious task even with everyone participating, but Jeanette tried to be intelligent about it: checking out the center of each square’s edge before going back and going all the way around all of them. And of course, everyone working non-methodically would end up in it taking ten times as long. But she was the one who thought of it and, on top of that, she was the cute little girl, right? And she promptly felt guilty, and started doing it the methodical way.
She realized that there were no birds anywhere--except for two, and those she knew personally--and no insects either. One of the things she liked about her old planet Earth was that you could lie on your stomach in the middle of the back yard lawn, and if you got close enough you could see that all the blades of grass were different and that there were tiny insects moving about. She reminded herself to stay focused, but she also wondered if this world were artificial--set up for the evacuation, if that’s what it was.
It was well along the second square that her fingers rubbed on something--something that was more complicated than the ordinary weathering. She lifted her hand and stared at it, but it was so faint and rounded over that she could see essentially nothing.
She mentally snapped her fingers, took off her backpack and rummaged around in it until she found the vial of tears from Haven. She took off the top and dripped a few drips on the ceramic. Success: she still couldn’t read it, but she thought she recognized the writing. Yes, it was definitely Haven. “Found something!” she cried out.
Maybe Grandmère could read it--but no, just because they had found her hung up in the dungeon of the bug castle that Haven had become didn’t make her an expert. And she wasn’t either, but…
...But the bracelets might be. Of course, it had nearly strangled her to death the last time, but that had been Pilgrim and not Haven, and… When the others were gathered, she grabbed her necklace tightly in one hand as she ran the other over the area of ceramic.
“We cannot hallow this ground,” the bracelet said in a deep voice.
“Hunh? The Gettysburg Address?” Her father exclaimed.
She was more startled by her father’s words than those of the bracelet, but Jeanette’s fingers slipped and pressed the central jewel on the necklace,
The vision (the one of the greatest evil that had occurred at that place) was huge, taking up the whole area. Everywhere there were masses of people, human and otherwise, wearing dirty and ragged clothes and fear in their eyes. The sky had become half-filled with a hand of roiling shadow moving across it. And in the center of the teeming mob rose up--
--She let go and it all vanished. She wasn’t sure what everybody else had seen, so she said, “this isn’t launch pads. This is a--”
She yelped now, because something had grabbed her other hand, the one holding the vial of tears. She pulled away, and watched, growing in ultra-fast motion like vines and smoke, a structure assemble.
“--Is a train station.”
In only a minute or two the great gothic open train station had built itself, huge canopies between where the squares were. The towered and spired castle sported a big name sign: NEW HAVEN. As they got up and moved to the end, they started to see signs in every bay, flipping through various names. But one at the end didn’t change. It said, in austere and slightly sloppy print, TROOP TRAINS ONLY. They made for that.
They looked around at the enormous empty space. Then noise filled it: the sound of steam and the steam itself made things obscure. When the noise subsided and the steam dissipated, there were now gleaming rails and a two-story Gothic engine with one car on those rail. It pulled up slowly beside them.
The door opened, and the pointy-eared conductor leaned out and said “Tickets, please.”