Whatever reassurance the line of big guns at the edge of the city may have had, the fact that, first, none of them had fired, and second, the creature of Deep Chaos walked through them like phantoms ruined it.
In order to try to make sense of the bewildering situation Sir Elphinstone and Jeanette Ransom both asked their antelope-man companions, “Did you see THAT?”`
Since neither of the antelopes good see or hear each other, being so unaware of each others existence that it was a good conjecture that they existed on different planes of existence, their answers might give some clue as to what was really going on.
Antelope #1 said, “By the balance! The guns had no effect!” (which made things more confusing) while Antelope #2 said, “What is that thing?” (which didn’t help one way of the other.)
Sir Elphinstone said “It has come for us. We must join the fight.” He turned to leave the observation platform. “Which way to the armory?”
“The first left will take you to the nearest staging area. Sub-level 16.” And as the mirror-armored tiger strode away, added, “Hey! Wait for me!”
It seemed a bit preposterous for Jeanette to out-hurry an antelope, but they were humanoid and, it seemed not endowed with much of the antelope’s abilities other than their heads and their pelt, so she and Lord Elphinstone managed to get far enough ahead to talk without being overheard.
“So, what do you think?” Jeanette asked, a bit breathlessly.
“I’m beginning to suspect that the weirdness may be with us and not with them. They seem to be existing in two separate worlds--but we, for some reason, can see both at the same time. And be seen.”
“Yeah!” Jeanette’s mind was in overdrive. “What if--yeah--what if there are two alternate worlds, both divided by an important event--but not enough to make the city any different? The people are different, but not the building. And we can see both building and both sets of people, but we see the building as one thing!”
“It doesn’t explain everything, but it may be something like that,” Silvertyger said. “The question is, what does that mean with respect to the monster?”
They had reached the doors of the lift, and the antelopes had caught up with them, so they stood there quiet as they waited. When they got on, the lift was filled with antelopes, some in heavy battle armor, some in coveralls with enormous tool belts. Whichever plane they were from, they stared at the two of them, since they were quite a bit taller than Jeanette, but much much smaller than Lord Elphinstone. No one, at any rate, dared speak.
They all let out at sub-level 16, which was the last level but one, except for a couple of the antelopes with tool belts. The room they entered was immense with huge solid columns and crossbeams, and jammed with weaponry, from racks of rifles to giant robot battle suits, which gave Jeanette a twinge of familiarity.
Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone was being led over to a station where armaments were being handed out, but Jeanette tapped him on his armored leg to stop him. She pointed wordlessly.
In the center of the floor, surrounded by the noise and bustle, was a bunny rabbit. The bunny rabbit she had seen before. It was looking at them.
Once they had both turned to look back, it hopped half a dozen hops away, then turned and looked at them again. They followed.
There was a side archway, which led to a bay that was stacked with boxes and barrels, and there were no antelopes. It was also somewhat quieter. When they were standing together, the rabbit said in a high but distinct voice, “I’m extremely relieved that you can see me. It gives me hope that together we can avert a great disaster--that is, if you are what I think you are.”
Jeanette was not about to explain more than what was necessary, not even to a cute animal very obviously in distress, so she pulled the piece of flexible gold, unfolded it and handed it to him. He took it, looked at it it, sighed, and handed it back.
“I’m Jeanette Ransom and this is Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, Lord of Maurya. The monster out there is pursuing us.”
“I’m Saint Boniface the Enlightened, and I’m afraid i’m responsible for this whole mess. The Half-Enlightened, it should be,” he said.
Despite it all, despite everything, a giggle arose in Jeanette’s breast. “Pleased to meet you, Saint Bunnyface.”
He combed one ear with a pink humanoid hand, and sighed again. “Everybody called me that back in the forest, so you may as well. But I have to explain things and there’s not much time.”
“To you giants, it may seem improbable, but back in the Forest of Eternity I was a churchman and wizard of high repute. It was through decades of research and meditation that I learned how to open The Portal In The Tree. I set out on my journey of exploration.”
“I came to the City--the City of Amblioconchordis is its name, by the way. While they do not seem it now, the Amblioconchordisti were a race of brutal conquerors with a history of plunder and atrocity. I took it as a sign that I was meant to rehabilitate them.”
“I preached to them, and they were surprisingly receptive. I wrote a book for them, full of sayings like ‘That which offers no resistance overcomes the hardest of substances’ and ‘The supreme good is like water which benefits all of creation without trying to compete with it.’ They were making real progress.”
“But after a century a schism erupted, despite everything I could do, and it came to a bloody civil war, in which the two sides nearly destroyed each other, and being evenly matched, nearly annihilated each other--all on differing interpretations of my writings. So using insights I derived from my decipherment of the Portal, I intervened again.”
“I saved the race, but split it into two alternate worlds, one in which one side had won and one where the other had--the City of Amblioconchordis, and the City of Amblioconchordat. They both returned to sanity--but their power and vigor as a people was cut in half. They withdrew to the confines of the city, and continued to decline. I have continued to try to bring them together--but now there comes this monster that would be a trial to them at their height--and will simply destroy them in their two ghostly halves. And it is all my fault.” Saint Bunnyface buried his face in his breast.
Lord Elphinstone said “We stand ready to draw the creature away from this divided city, since it is us it seeks. What matters is that it be done quickly, before too many throw themselves on the pyre of the city’s defense.”
“I think I have the solution to that.” Bunnyface said. He led them around the boxes and barrels, and Jeanette let out a little gasp. For there, cemented into the thick stained wall, was the broken arch of a Gateway.
“This seems to be a variant version of the Portal in the Wood, but it’s beyond my ability to decipher. It also seems large enough to accommodate the monster.”
“It will do fine,” Jeanette said.
“There’s no time to waste,” Lord Elphinstone said. “We’ll join the fight and draw it here.”
The rabbit led them out of the side bay and before a huge piece of armament that looked like a gun emplacement with the open rear deck of the Paradox Swan on top of it. “I’ve put as much of my energies into this one ship as I can. And none of these half-beings can pilot it. I must leave this up to you.”
“We will not fail you,” Silvertyger said.
They climbed aboard, and could feel the ship vibrate.
“Will you take the wheel, daughter?”
Face glowing, Jeanette stepped up. Before them was a broad opening with a ramp heading up to day light. Lord Elphinstone stood before a second console, then thrust his arm upward.
“And with one hand raised high in the dark!” He roared. The ship fired, and the ramp opening blew open into a gaping hole. Jennifer reached to the side, grabbed the handle of the engine telegraph and rang it, saying in Captain Odile’s voice, “All ahead flank!”
The ship roared out of the whole to the battlefield, where Jeanette’s exuberance turned into dismay.
The monster stood atop a mountain of twisted metal wreckage, glowing with energy.
“It’s a hundred feet tall,” she whispered.