Through the cabin doorway there came a thumping rush of wings as Thyrsis and Antithyrsis entered. The crows headed directly for Jeanette and started pulling with their beaks on her necklace and bracelets. Since the stranglehold was not mainly a physical contraction, they came off. Jessica could breathe.

“We got an emergency call for a security alert,” Said Thyrsis. The voice, oddly enough, still came from the bracelets lying on the deck.

“Only it was from the bracelets and not from you, and that sounded bad.” Antithyrsis continued.

“Thanks. Both of you.”

“Now what’s all this about?” Asked the first crow.

“Well, there’s this book--it’s pretty good, actually--and it had a transcription and translation of an old Pilgrim manuscript.” Jeanette said.

“‘Pilgrims’ being the race that laid out the trails the Railways later  followed, before our partners built Haven and the lines themselves.” Antithyrsis said.

“I know who they are! I didn’t just fall off the writing desk!” Thyrsis said, puffing his feathers out.

“Actually, it says that the Pilgrims came to Haven from a place called Centre,” Jeanette said. “At least the notes say that.”

“Let’s have a look at it. I know a bit of Pilgrim.” Antthyrsis said.

“So do I,” said Thyrsis.

“You do not,” responded the other crow sourly.

Jeanette turned the book so that the crows could read it, making sure that it stayed on the warm blankets so that the ink wouldn’t return to invisibility. Diotima now crowded closely to get a look.

“Ah. There’s your problem right there,” said Antithyrsis triumphantly.

“What?” asked Jeanette.

“You see this symbol in the upper right? (Pilgrim goes from right to left.) It’s a ritual symbol that means ‘Not to be spoken aloud in public rituals. For the ears of the Priesthood only.’ I’ll bet you the book doesn’t even try to translate it and calls it a decoration.”

“Let’s have a look,” said Thyrsis.

“Not yet. So what very possibly happened is that you touched the symbol with your bracelet by accident, and, you not being a priest or -ess, you tripped the security alarm.”

“Then that means--” Jeanette began.

“--It means two things we didn’t know before. The first thing is that your jewelry, which the Bug Princess had and before that a Healer of Haven, might originally be made by the Pilgrims. And second, that your bracelets might be able to translate the inscription--provided it doesn’t kill you first.”

“Assuming your conjecture is correct,” said Thyrsis huffily.

“I may have brushed the page. But after all this time--and with a copy--” Jeanette said.

“That’s magic for you.”

“All right, let’s go to the translation and see what these ignoramuses think it says,” said Thyrsis.

Jeanette started to thumb through the pagers carefully. She wasn’t wearing the bracelets anymore, but she still didn’t want to go through that again.

“What’s The Ipsiad?” Asked Antithyrsis.

Thyrsis hissed.

“Here we are,” Thyrsis said as Jeanette soothed down the page. “You were right. No translation of the symbol.”

“But at least they get it right that this was Pilgrim poetry--or even song.”

Jeanette started to read.

“From center to center to edge to edge/

The edge of life, the edge of magic, the edge of everything/

We set out to trace, to track/

The steps where none have stepped/

The sights where none have seen/

And with one hand raised high in the dark…”

She stopped. She had heard that before.

The crows looked over the page. “The notes say that the next symbols are not Pelerein--their word for Pilgrim, it seems--but there’s what may be a Pelerein phoneticization parallel to it. There also may be tonal or musical notation parallel to both, but those are attested nowhere else.” Thyrsis said.

“Oh swell. You can read,” grumbled Antithyrsis.

It was a bit of a mess, with four columns competing for space (plus footnotes!) But she read the passage.




It sounded silly. But then she remembered.

“When we first started out on the Paradox Swan, one of the girls whispered to me, ‘With one hand raised high in the dark.’” She said. All three of them looked at her. “And the Captain made that gesture--one hand up.”

She swallowed. “And when the King of Ys told us that we had to leave Avalon, he made the same gesture. One hand raised high in the dark. And now this.”

“The King of Ys? Really?” Diotima said, genuinely shocked.

“She’s right,” the crows said. “Otherwise Deep Chaos would come after Avalon.”

“But why would--never mind,” the lynx said.

“This--is incredibly creepy,” Jeanette said.

“No argument there,” said Thyrsis.

“I think--we should maybe give the bracelet a shot at the text,” said Antithyrsis.

“Being very, very careful not to get you in a stranglehold. After all, maybe that’s just an accident of translation.”

Jeanette nodded. Here she went again: right into danger without hesitation. But at least Diotima wasn’t going to call her spoiled this time. So she picked up one of the bracelets and held it, flipping back to the transcription. Being careful to keep the bracelet away from the special symbol, she started to run it gingerly over the writing.

The cabin filled with music.

As she moved the bracelet, the words came out in an angelic high clear voice, singing rather than chanting, although it was a strange melody. The words were remarkably close: “all” instead of everything; “tread” instead of “step”--but there was no mistake. “And with one hand raised high in the Dark.”

As she she moved over the ancient maybe pre-Pilgrim characters, it was like a choir of a thousand voices singing the syllables, now sounding majestic and powerful and not at all silly. She pulled the bracelet away, and the choir tapered slowly into quiet.

“Look,” Diotima pointed at the deck.

The necklace was blazing with color, all the stones bright including the ones she still didn’t know what they did. It continued to pulse for minutes after the music faded away.

“Nope,” said Jeanette.

“I agree: nope.” Said Thyrsis.

“Not going to put it around my neck. Not today and not this week.”

“So say we all,” said the lynx. “Although…”

“Uh-uh. Don’t go there. Don’t even start the engine,” said Antithyrsis. “Step away from the thinking machine.”

“Okay,” Jeanette said. “I think I’m going to continue reading the book. It’s kind of fun. The guy calls an official he meets, quote, a bag of scented tobacco that had somehow managed to pass a job interview.”

“Ha,” said Thyrsis. “Probably worthwhile then.”

So they went back to their spaces aboard ship. Jeanette snuggled down into bed and opened the book at the bookmark. Then she closed it again. She was a little bit scared, a little more weirded out, thrilled a but but scared a little more over that. But even though it was the middle of ship’s day, she began to fall asleep. She was definitely tired. Definitely.

The last thing she thought before she fell asleep was that she was going to put the necklace on again. The only question was when.

She woke up the next morning with a klaxon in her ears, the bed at a very bad angle, and the voice of the Captain loud and clear, “All sail in! Batten down the hatches! All supercargo strap down tight! We are headed into a thousand-year storm, and it’s only Wednesday!”

The ship shook.


next chapter