Jeanette realized that she was the only one there not kneeling. O Tse was on both knees with his forehead pressed against the floor, and the crows, who were perched on Lord Elphinstone’s shoulders, had lowered their heads until they were in danger of falling. She struggled to perform a curtsey, but realized that her feet were placed all wrong--and the woman was in front of her.
She was a woman, both because of her voice and the way she moved, and her large dark eyes were beautiful, even though they were placed a quarter away from the front of her face. But how could she be--how could any person be--something as universal as Change?
The creature smiled. “Do you not know me, Jeanette Ransom?”
“I-I-I--yes I do,” said Jeanette, because she did. She didn’t know that she did up until now, but now she did.”
“Then say my name, if you know it.”
“Jeanette.” It was her father, who had risen from his knee and stepped up to the both of them. “Get behind me.”
She did, and he turned to the woman. “Telepathy, or the power of suggestion, or some sort of magic, will not prove anything more than a power superior to ours. I’ll thank you not to use it on my daughter.”
She bowed, smiling, and stepped back. “If you wish to think of me as an extremely powerful sorceress in a big fabulous castle, you’ve earned that privilege, Terence Ransom. Conduct yourself accordingly, and all will be well.”
Dr. Ransom looked at her levelly. “I’m sorry if I offended you.”
“You are too kind,” said the woman. “However, I will pose this to both you and your daughter. Consider the river you crossed. Is the river its banks? Is the river the water at the source running down to its end? Or is it all the water at the same time, at the source and at the mouth? Is the river all the water that has ever been through it, or ever will? And if so, can you cross that river?”
“If you balk at Chance, then call me River.”
Senhor Capoeira Capybara ambled up to the trio. “Excuse me, Your Changingness, but we’ve basically come here with one purpose in mind, and that’s to get help on our mission. Can you help us?”
“Indeed yes. As a matter of fact, your mission is doomed to failure without some direct help from me. The Pilgrims knew this, as did the kings of Avalon and Ys. I am, whether you believe me or not, the mother of both Order and Chaos, and their daughter. And the war between Imagination and Deep Chaos goes badly, and has done ever since the Exile. I cannot grieve, because I am on both sides: in a sense I am both sides. But it has become a bad game.”
“There are great forces assembling themselves, and the day won’t be won by one ragtag bunch of plucky adventurers. But there is a needle that is necessary to make this a game worth playing. Yes, and even won, insofar as it can be won. You may be it.”
“Swell. Wonderful,” said the capybara, meaning something quite different. “What do we get?”
“What do you want?” She asked. “What do you most want?”
There was a wave of something coming out from her, that dug deep. Jeanette knew that if she tried to say something stupid, it wouldn’t come out. It pulled at her heart.
O Tse spoke first. “Harmony.”
Sir Elphinstone said, “A useful death.”
Thyrsis said, “A free flight in an open sky.”
Antithyrsis said, “Hope.”
Senhor Capoeira Capybara said, “Understanding why.”
Dr. Ransom said, “My daughter safe.”
Jeanette said, “My friends back.”
Change nodded, and the pressure released.
And they were on the mountainside, by the brook. The sun was going down, and clouds were threaded among the white peaks.
“Why of all the…” sputtered the capybara.
“You should have wished for a bigger gun,” said Thyrsis the crow.
“And a blessed shield of invincibility,” added Antithyrsis.
Jeanette said, voice thick, “I just wished for what I knew I wasn’t going to get.”
“Was it all a lie, do you think?” O Tse said.
“I don’t care,” said Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone. “I shall have what I want.”
Jeanette said, “I don’t know, milord. I could wish for ‘happily ever after’ for you.”
The tiger reached out and put an enormous paw on Jeanette’s head, saying nothing.
“So I wonder if we should walk down by the brook to the train station--unless it won’t be built for another thousand years or so,” said Ransom.
“Well I vote for you using the chalk to take us somewhere nice and familiar,” said Senhor Capoeira. “Avalon would be nice.”
“We’re woefully exposed up here on the mountainside,” said Lord Elphinstone. Whatever we do, we should leave here quickly.”
“Agreed,” said Terence. “I’m not sure what would happen if I tried to draw a portal on an irregular surface. Let’s climb down until we reach a rock face, or something.”
So they began to descend. Much to everyone’s consternation, darkness fell rapidly. “And either this world has no moon, or our timing is just incredibly bad.,” said O Tse.
Soon they were climbing down a pathless slope with only a few stars to guide them. Jeanette slipped once, which panicked everybody. “That’s it: I’m drawing a portal. Does someone have a light?”
“I think I can use my phone. Magic power bank.” Jeanette said. She scrabbled around in her backpack and found her phone. She pressed it, and it lit up, even though it said LOW BATTERY. She touched the LOW POWER MODE option.
“It’ll have to do,” Dr. Ransom said. He broke out the pack of chalks, found an embedded boulder, and started to fill in a black area.
“We’ve attracted something,” O Tse said, and Silvertyger drew his longsword. The white tunnel shape was next. Then he pulled out the purple chalk.
There were three of them. Mountain lion size, and black. One of them leapt, but the armored tiger’s sword rang out and sliced it thoroughly. The corpse landed on Dr. Ransom’s back, and bounced off.
He started on the Decision Tree glyph, when the other two jumped, one from each side--and a third (or a fourth) came snarling down. Dr. Ransom was hit again, though this time live. Jeanette screamed and pulled a weapon out from beyond the sixth wall, but in doing so dropped the phone.
It didn’t clatter to the ground, but echoed down a tunnel that wasn’t there previously. She tumbled in the dark towards her father and the cat, and they all fell. The rest ran towards the sound of Jeanette’s echoing scream.
They landed. Silvertyger tore the cat from Ransom’s back and broke its neck.
Then they looked around.
“Oh my god,” said the capybara.
There could be no doubt about it: they were back in the Night Land.