One hundred four

One hundred four

“I don’t see anything but a brook. Do you see anything but a brook? All I see is a brook,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara exasperatedly.

“Civitate Rhei was a stop on the Last Train Out Interdimensional Railway,” Jeanette said gingerly, hoping to avoid an outburst, “But all I saw was a brook then too.”

“The translators in our gloves are amazingly sophisticated, but I’m not sure in this case,” Terence Ransom said. “In our, well, cultural matrix, it comes out as a pun. The first part’s Latin and the second part’s Greek. Not,” he added quickly, looking at his daughter, “that I know either language. But ‘Civitate’ means city, which I know because there’s a famous book I managed to avoid reading in college by Saint Augustine, which was the Civitate Dei, or City of God. The second part means ‘flows’ in greek, which comes from a famous phrase in ancient philosophy, panta rhei, everything flows. The City of Flows.”

“Well, that would explain the brook, but only the brook,” said the capybara.

“It’s an invisible gateway that you can’t even see until you solve the puzzle,” Jeanette said. There was an inaudible “duh” at the end of her sentence, since there were so many games where this was how you leveled up.

Her father, who had played enough himself to know exactly what she was thinking, raised an eyebrow at her and said, “That would make sense, leaving only the solution to the problem, Jeanette.” Her ears burned. She deserved that one.

O Tse was looking down on the ground, “I’m finding it hard to believe that beings like the Pilgrims would leave the next stage of our journey to a puzzle.”

Dr. Ransom said, a bit slowly, “Perhaps intelligence may be as important in some cases as courage and resolve.”

“Or the solution may illustrate a point--though I agree with you about that touch of banality,” said Senhor Capoeira.

“Or,” said Lord Elphinstone Silvertiger, who was usually silent on these matters, “it is a puzzle they themselves don’t have the answer to.”

Jeanette had to admit that Senhor Capoeira Capybara had a point. Up until now, the problems they’d faced had been anything but arbitrary. Yeah, they seemed that way sometimes, but that was mainly because she didn’t know the science--or the magic. She was her father’s daughter: in addition to being decent, fair, polite, and kind, she had said to her many times, ‘always be aware of what you don’t know.’ He said that that was most of what being a scientist was-- and a big part of being a good person in the bargain.

But this seemed arbitrary because of course the Pilgrims would know how to get into the City, and why couldn’t they just let them look at the cheat sheet this once?

She sighed to herself. Sometimes it might just be a puzzle, and she’d just better go about figuring it out. But she still didn’t like it.

The surrounding scenery was majestic: mountains and deep, deep valleys, clear air so you could see for miles and miles. Not a sign of humans--of any sort. She looked at the small stream, and tried to trace it, but it went into a notch way down to the left, and nothing more could be seen of it.

She went over to sit by her father, who was also looking far into the distance. “They said not to step into the brook, not to step over it, and not to drink from it. What else do you do with a brook?” He asked the air.

She sat there, leaning on Dada because it felt so good, and telling herself her story from the time Senhor Capoeira had shown up with his mice--they were mice, after all--on and on.

Then she straightened up. “I’ve got it!” She cried. She took off her backpack and rummaged around in it. She pulled out a tiny glass phial she had almost completely forgotten about.

“What do you do to a brook that isn’t stepping in it, or over it, or drinking from it? You add to it, of course!”

“Of course,” her father laughed, as she took the cap off the phial of Haven’s tears, and added some, drop by drop, to the water.

Before them stood a castle to end all castles, with hundreds of turrets and walls and airy thin bridges from one to the other, and everywhere, everywhere, waterfalls. The surrounding walls directly in front of them were at  least fifty feet high, and were of precisely fitted blue-white stone.

“AHOY THE CASTLE!” Jeanette shouted, even though it wasn’t strictly appropriate.

What had seemed like a massive ornament now started to lower itself on chains. “A drawbridge! A real drawbridge!” She said excitedly.

“Well, what’s a proper adventure without one?” Her father asked.

The only moat the drawbridge was over was the small brook, and even though it was more or less stepping over it, they did so, Lord Elphinstone, O Tse, Senhor Capoeira and the two crows hurrying to catch up. The drawbridge was covered in streaming water but not slippery, and Jeanette liked the feel of it over her shoes as she walked through the tremendous arch.

When they came within the walls they were greeted by a group of creatures that were man-sized otters but the coloration of giant pandas. They wore ornaments, but if Jeanette had been expecting any sort of dignified array or procession, she was disappointed: they behaved like otters, sliding over each other in a chaotic mass, rising up to stare Jeanette in the face and then pulling her hand forward to shake it. They proceeded to shove and cajole the travelers forward (saving Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, whom they respectfully avoided after the first attempts.)

The place was truly enormous, making the castles of Broceliande and Avalon look snug. All the ornamentation was either falling water or rising, and there were great panes of glass with creatures from whales down to tiny fish. The travelers could do nothing but gape. It didn’t rise to the level of going through the atmosphere of a star, but it seemed to be less a city than a whole world.

They went through a three-story pair of doors into a chamber dominated overhead by a slowly turning jellyfish that was the most magnificent chandelier imaginable. The otters guided them over to a relatively modest desk in a corner.

The being that rose to meet them was bipedal and two-armed, but under his long thin arms were the wings of a manta ray, and his head had eyes set more to the side than forward, with the coloration of an orca.

Lord Elphinstone and O Tse took the front, and the being spoke in a voice that was surprisingly female.

“Pleased to meet you. I am Change.”


next chapter