Jeanette opened her eyes.
She didn’t quite know what to think about that.
That there was a she was remarkable, but before theory ran away with everything, she figured she’d better find out more.
The one thing she realized that she didn’t want to be the case was her waking up on Earth and everything all being a dream, so she sat up.
As she did, she hurt, which started a sort of internal argument: she had, in fact, felt her body giving out, and life draining from her: she hadn’t been wrong. She had--
--fallen through the portal.
The sky was blue above her, there was grass below her, and she was wearing her terribly torn dress and still with her backpack--though one strap had broken and it was next to her. But her body, though in some pain, was different: it wasn’t in the shattered state, pouring blood, that she had been. Something substantial had happened.
She got to her feet, which she did without much trouble, and looked around. After a little rise in the grass, there was a lake--or maybe a sea, because it was very big. A beach borderd the edge, and there were rippling onto it.
There was a figure sitting a way down the beach, so she started for it.
As she walked closer to it, she noticed a few things that made her really want to know what was going on. The first thing was that the beach was made of jewels--world-jewels, to be precise. And the figure, sitting on a chair, had wings. So having died and gone to Heaven rose on her list of possible explanations.
The figure’s wings were big and white and spectacular, but there wasn’t a white robe: instead, there was a loose-fitting white shirt, loosened tie and black suit-pants with a ribbon down the side. Shiny black shoes completed the outfit.
The angel had big owl-like eyes: Pilgrim eyes. It was staring out onto the big lake, chin on hand, with a morose expression. One hand was doing something.
She hurried, now. She wanted some answers with an intensity that was very close to anger, though with a certain amount of wonder mixed in.
The angel turned to look at her, and smiled--and that almost made everything all right. He was handsome in a Pilgrim-like way, and his smile was warm and inviting.
“Hello, Jeanette,” he said in a rich, deep voice. It went a considerable additional way to making things all right. “Glad you could make it. That was an amazing fight.”
“Hi,” she said. Nothing of the thousand questions seemed ready to come out.
“The first answer as to why you’re here more or less intact, with pack and all, is explained by that:” and he pointed at Jeanette’s chest.
There, attached to her dress close by her shoulder, was the orchid that King Oberon had given her the first time they entered the Forest of Avalon. “You are his; and while that doesn’t make you immune from death--you are dead, at least technically--it becomes a little bit different for you. That, and your arrival by the Path of the Tree. Come sit: you still must be tired from the trip.”
There was a plain wooden chair on his other side, and she walked around behind him. There was a suit-coat lying on the jewels, and it looked like the kind of frock-coat Oberon and the King of Ys wore.
She couldn’t help touching the wings with a finger: they extended, perhaps only by reflex.
She sat on the chair, which was also facing the lake. “I’d advise you not to look at the light over that way--strongly advise. That is, in plain fact, Heaven, and the pull it generates if you look at it too long--and in your case that’d be about thirty seconds--is extremely difficult to get out of your head and heart. So, at least for now, don’t.”
His hand was still raised. It was holding a world-jewel. “What are you doing?” Jeanette asked.
In answer, the angel made a sidearm throw. The jewel skipped across the lake. “I’ve gotten it so that I can get it off into the light in under a dozen skips. Another bunch of blessed energy returning home.” He looked at her., his smile lopsided. “It’s so exciting I can hardly tell you.”
In the face of Jeanette’s puzzled frown, he laughed. “Oh, it’s good and important work, and normally it’s quite fulfilling. My problem is, like you, my darling Jeanette, I’m also a toon. Yes, when I wore the white gloves, I was the star of the program Walther the Wacky Angel. It was great: I was the good-hearted, slightly bumbling, and near-omnipotent angel granting peoples desires in amusingly inappropriate ways, and when my well-intentioned disaster was explained to me by my little friends Mary and Martha, I fixed things by the end of the show. It was great fun, and we got pretty wild in some episodes.”
“When the Exile came, Deep Chaos of course couldn’t do squat to me, but it did throw me back here, where I sit in judgment as to the excellence of souls and their passage further on. Yours is pretty exemplary, by the way, my courageous young girl.”
Jeanette jumped off her chair, opened her pack, and started looking. Her own white gloves had been burned away with the Nemesis Gloves in the battle, but she knew that Senhor Capoeira Capybara had made it his business to collect gloves from the Exiles who had fallen. She had to go pretty deep into the dimensional hole, but felt them at last. She pulled out two pair, put one on herself, and offered the other pair to Walther.
He put them on, said ‘Yes!’ in a piercing voice, and for a split-second stood there hundreds of feet high, wings covering the entire sky. Then he was back to normal, which is to say, a bit taller than Lord Elphinstone. “You have absolutely no idea who good this feels, after all this time. I’m in your debt, Jeanette Ransom.”
“I’m happy for you,” Jeanette said, a little morosely. Despite it all, it was now sinking in that she really was dead.
“I know what you’re thinking--literally, I do,” Walther said as he guided Jeanette back to her chair. But you know the other reason, and the main reason as it turns out, that you made the transition more or less intact?”
He paused, which made Jeanette scowl again. What, he thought she could guess?
“You went and visited the Civitate Rhei and met Change--a very powerful entity, even by our standards. She asked you all what you wanted, and do you remember what your father asked for?”
“‘My daughter safe.’ he said.” Her eyes welled up with tears, even now, even here.
“And what did you say you wanted?” Walther asked.
“My friends back.”
“Well, then, let’s see about that.”