One hundred one

One hundred one

Jeanette didn’t want to sleep but couldn’t help it. She wanted to stay awake and think, but her body (and maybe other parts of her) were terribly drained. She lay there, excitedly thinking of what the legendary Pilgrims might actually be like, but she found herself again and again standing in front of the Decision Tree, full of fear and drenched in menace--which meant she knew she was asleep, and shook herself awake.

Could Senhor Capoeira Capybara be right? It would be very nice if it was--that something as fundamental (as far as she could tell) as the Decision Tree would be better if it were blocked off rather than gone bad. And maybe, as Dada said, it was set up to make her feel awful--but none of that, she knew, didn’t add up to the bad stuff not being true. (There was that long talk Dada had had with her about Mom not coming back.)

But the Pilgrims! If their idea that they were going back in time through each Gateway, they must be back to when they were still around. They’d have to have answers, and maybe even help! She wanted to have dreams about that, and not the awful Tree, but that wasn’t how it worked.

The Forest changed color, and while she still wasn’t satisfied with a really good sleep, she had been laying down long enough. With all those suns/stars in the sky, the fact that the forest was a bit redder now would have to do for morning. She went over to Senhor Capoeira who, she knew, could be counted on for a satisfying breakfast. She was not, as it turned out, disappointed.

She knew that he had a portable hole dimensional pouch where he’d collected, from nearly every place they’d been, all sorts of goodies, but how he managed hot and crispy strudel pastries with mainly energy weapons as cooking implements, she still didn’t know.

When she was sufficiently full, she said, “you know my working on my necklace? Trying to get down to the bottom level of the voices? Well I tried it again last night--and I think I got answered. I think we’re back far enough in time that there are still Pilgrims around!”

The capybara continued to spread some black stuff on small toast rounds.

“Well?” Jeanette asked.

Without looking up, Capoeira answered “That’s amazing news indeed, Jeanette. I’m just wondering why you mention it as if it was finishing another chapter in one of your books.” He then raised his head snd looked at her unsmilingly and with great intensity.

She was flustered. “Well, you know, I didn’t want to make too much of a thing out of it, in case it turns out to be a disappointment…”

He drew a bit closer to her. “You know, Jeanette Ransom, of all the things i’ve heard you say since this whole thing start, nothing has made me sadder than this.”

Then he issued an ear-splitting rodent whistle. “Everybody! Jeanette has something important to tell you!”

And when her father, Lord Elphinsone, OTse, and the crows Thyrsis and Antithyrsis, all converged with some speed, Senhor Capoeira made her repeat what she had told him.

Dr. Ransom, aware of the peculiarity of the dynamics and disturbed by them, nevertheless said, “That’s amazing! And they’re coming here?”

“Uh-huh. I hope they won’t be upset when they find out I’m not one of them.” Jeanette said, and the capybara lowered his head again.

It was O Tse who seemed to be the most moved. “I’ll confess that it’s been difficult to maintain resolution since the Redoubt. My guide Parvati always shaped our journey as one of sacrifice and revelation, and its been harder in the aftermath. It will be a good thing to encounter beings with knowledge.”

Senhor Capowirs Capybara perked up. “Well then, lets, get this place cleaned up! If we’re going  to have legendary creatures about to show up, we can’t have them thinking we’re as slovenly as were are in fact! Let’s police this area, and that means you especially, young lady!”

It was difficult to gauge time based on the complicated color changes seen through the forest canopy, but it wasn’t long enough to feel like going to sleep again, before the crows announced that there were figures in the distance.and while ‘distance’ meant just that, the excitement hadn’t had a chance to pall when the figures arrived.

There were five of them, tall and not thin, and not simply humanoid. They walked on two legs and had two arms, but their heads were differently proportioned. Their eyes were big and were like those of owls, and while their moths were mobile, their hands were six fingered, and divided into groups of two. At the corner of the eyes, mouth, and at the wrists there were something like clusters of feathers, but held in a scale-like calyx. They radiated calm, and smelled like delicate spice.

The first one, who was dressed in a tunic of a spectrum of reds, and wore heavy brown boots, came right up to Jeanette. “I could tell that you were not of our kind when we first heard how you listened. But we all heard your need. We are pleased to meet you.”

“All of you,” the others said.

Another walked in the general direction of the gateway and the construction shed. “We must confess, we thought this an odd place to get a sending from.”

Dr. Ransom said, “Really? From a Gateway?”

“But the Gateway is unfinished. Can’t you see that?”

Terence turned and looked at the big circle. It was true: there were sections only connected with a single cable, and in other places there were outright gaps. “And yet we came through it,” O Tse murmured.

“Very odd indeed,” agreed the Pilgrim. “Our fellows’ great ambition to sew Cosmic Infinity together with a system all could use has been one of blind alleys, misgivings, and indecision. It’l will be a long time, we feel, before it begins to work.”

Jeanette felt this almost as a blow: while perilous, camping out by a Gateway gave the comfort that they could just pack up and go. “But if these gateway’s don’t work, how do you travel b between the universes? You do do that, don’t you?”

“Walking works quite well, if you do it properly, if your mind is present and your heart is unopposed,” said another, “but our progress is improved by this,” and it held up a small drawstring bag. It handed the bag to Jeanette, who felt that it was so light that it might be empty.

“You see, we…” Jeanette began, but the foremost Pilgrim raised an odd hand. “You may not know this, Jeanette, but you have been recording a diary from the moment you acquired this necklace, so we are well aware of your trials and your sorrows.”

She slapped a hand over her mouth, which was a stupid enough gesture that the crows squawked. That’s two unpleasant revelations: what would the third one be?

“It grieves us,” said a Pilgrim in a pearlescent pale grey tunic. “What we have seen is a landscape deeply penetrated by Deep Chaos, which in this era is little more than a philosophic peculiarity. And it seems to have made this penetration by our own works, or own instrumentality. It’s hard to credit, but harder to dismiss.”

O Tse spoke up. “How is it, masters, that you have not survived to our day? Or should I ask that question?”

If the owl-faces smiled, it was hard to decode, but there was indulgent in the Pilgrim’s  voice. “None of us First Children reproduce ourselves. We are what you’d call with accuracy immortal, but what we were meant for is evidently different from those who come after. And from Jeanette’s account, some of us may live on--but would have walked to worlds unimagined at this point.”

“You’ll stay for dinner?” The capybara asked.

“We will indeed, and with thanks. The mystery of you coming through an unfinished Gate requires some thought--as will what we can do to help pull your worlds back from the peril they now stand in.”

That at least sounded encouraging to Jeanette, and she felt such harmon y coming out of their voices that she wanted to just sit among them and soak in it. And, yes, she felt something she didn’t realize was dead, come back to life.

They had a very good meal, and the Pilgrims proved to be good guests, talking mainly about the food. One of them sat next to Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, who had been silent as he was wont to be in matters of metaphysics,  and convinced him that for once he could sleep in peace, since their vigilance was probably better than his.

Jeanette continued to soak, until the light once more changed. In her tiredness she went so far as to put a hand on the pilgrims thigh as it sat next to her. The pilgrim took her hand in its peculiar but pleasant grasp.

“We will give you what we can, Jeanette Ransom. Together with your own strength we think it will bring you through the terror that lies ahead.”

She fell asleep quickly then, and in her dreams she saw owls in a great tree, and did not remember the last words the Pilgrim spoke.


next chapter