The land was oppressively dark without being completely black. There were dots and gashes of red fire, and there were sullen glows at the horizon in a few directions. The sky was just illuminated enough to show and angry roiling darkness. The land was low but irregular, but you had to look for a while to make it out. If this was in fact The Night Land, it lived up to its name.

Truthfully, Jeanette would just rather have panicked and clutched at her father. She did hold him close enough to feel the strength in his body, but could not stop thinking.

Terence Ransom said carefully, “If somehow the doorway destroyed itself when we came through, we’re definitely in trouble. But I suspect that it’s just invisible at this end. If that’s the case, one of our friends should follow as soon as it becomes evident we aren’t just stepping back. That means, of course, we should stay precisely where we are and try to prevent them from coming through all the way.”

“We were dumb just to go in unprepared like this,” she said.

“Well, now we know that all Decision Tree doors don’t behave the same way.” His hug responded to the emotion that was in the reasonable remark. “I notice you don’t have the necklace on.”

That was a whole big thing--another whole big thing--that she hadn’t told him, between Queen Parise and her. How long would it take to catch him up on everything? And how would he feel after it was done?

“Yeah, I should have had it on. And my backpack.”

Her father looked up at the sky. “If that’s Deep Chaos up there, then maybe there’s a positive force around us keeping it at bay.”

“The Redoubt, you mean.” She said.

“Or some weapon of the Redoubt.”

They turned to a disturbance a few feet away. They ran at top speed toward it once they realized that it was Senhor Capoeira Capybara. Jeanette groaned aloud when he popped all the way through.

He was wearing a harness but the cabling had snapped. He looked up with a sad grin and said, “Well that answers that question.” He got up. “I am of course pleased to find you alive, my friends. Is this the Night Land?”

“All signs point to yes,” said Dr. Ransom.

Fortunately, within a minute, a long hairy orangutan arm showed up in approximately the same place.They grabbed on in a chain, and Grandmère Hutan’s powerful muscles pulled.

They were back on the smoke planet, and the rest of them crowded around. She could see a big half-completed device pointed at the boulder that contained the Decision Tree carving, and Diotima, Wynken, Blynken and Nod scrambling over it.

After relief was expressed, Terence reported that what was beyond the door was almost certainly the Night Land. “And the end of our journey,” he said sadly to Ngozi Makena Odile, captain of the Paradox Swan.

Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone said, equally morosely, “Unless you can shrink the ship down to have it fit through the door, this is where we must part.”

The Captain’s face was impassive. “Most likely yes, but there’s still something I want to try. There’s no way to track one of these interdimensional passages from the outside, and no, I can’t fit the Swan in my pocket. But with the right kind of cabling, you could bring a transmitter through that we could find, especially if we entangled it properly.”

“That sounds like a long shot. You’ve done more than enough for us,” said Terence.

“I’ve left my suitcase full of trinkets on board,” said the tiger. “We’ll not need it from here on in.”

The Captain nodded. “Understood. But I’d still like to see this mad little adventure through to the end, if at all possible. But your generous overpayment leaves me no choice to give you better equipment for the last leg than you’ve somehow absurdly seemed to muddle through with.”

“We love you too, ” said the capybara, with such a well-spun irony that it could be said , and the genuine message transmitted, without tears.

Jeanette went through her cabin while the Captain’s three daughters were busy, making sure she had everything. Captain Transcendent’s dress packed very compactly, even with Diotima’s wishing machine inside it. She paused before putting on the Haven--or rather, the Pilgrim--necklace. It still had mysteries galore in it, and not all of them were good ones. But she put it on, and the backpack, and hurried out.

The half-built machine now looked as if it had been half-again built in a different direction, with a coil of massive cable leading back to the ship, now sunk a little further in the dark mud. There was a stack of heavy-duty weapons before the boulder. “I know you can draw all sorts of stuff from beyond that sixth wall--but there’s no guarantee that will work everywhere. And a small pack of pharmaceuticals of various legalities that should see you through emergencies you’re personally not equipped for.”

She came close to Jeanette. “The girls wanted you to have this.” And she gave Jeanette a cutlass ideally suited to her size and strength.

Diotima said, “All right, let’s check up an the source one more time before the run-through,” and she, the Captain and her crew hurried back to the ship. The others picked up their weapons with only the slightest of hesitations.

Then there was a sound.

It was like an earthquake-sized thunderstorm, and a heavy shuddering impact. Then it repeated. And came again, closer.

Out of the ocean of smoke came a thing that looked like it was born of it, a thousand feet high at least.

Dr. Ransom cried out, “Forget the cable! Get the hell out of here!”

Either his shout was heard or was unnecessary, because the Swan started up its main engines, building up in record time.

But, insanely, the dark ground held it. The ship tilted, slid sideways, but only rose a fraction.

Jeanette suddenly thought that the ground batteries of the Theravaders might not have been meant only for them.

Searing beams erupted from the Swan, down into the ground to cut itself free. But the thing, which seemed all mountain sized legs because the rest of it was above the clouds, thundered closer.

They all watched in unspeakable horror as a column the size of the world came down out of the sky, and the Paradox Swan exploded.


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