While the Heart climbed into the Mountain, Faith onsidered the job-offer. It might be nice to be a Will-o-Wisp; Zephyrhood sounded like a lot of responsibility. After all, she was hallucinating. When she sobered up would she even remember her job interview with a giant bird?
The Mountain rumbled as the Heart crawled to the surface. It surfaced head-first with no limbs visible, exhuming itself by undulating its robed body. When the hem of its robe passed the lip of the hole, Faith gasped: the lower part of the Heart was a blue tentacle as thick as its body. Its suckers dragged a white wing from the depths. The Heart withdrew the tentacle and became a sky-blue cloth cone with a sapphire head.
“Maybe I could be your Will-o-Wisp,” said Faith, “but I need to know more about you, first, Heart-Bird-Mountain-thing!”
“Ask what you want.” The Heart of the Mountain unsleeved ten blue human arms and spiraled the wing so the downy feathers covered the cave interior. “The wing will insulate you from the Mountain.”
Faith followed the Heart into the hole. Her weight did not even bend feathers beneath her. In the dark, Faith could not see how the Heart of the Mountain ambulated. “First, what do I call you? Heart of the Mountain’s a mouthful, and I like nicknames. How about Bug Bird?”
“Call me what you want,” said the Heart of the Mountain.
Behind Faith the wing’s tip curled up and blocked the sunlight. She heard the cave’s mouth close. “Okay, but do you have, like, pronouns? He, she, they?” Faith smelled tentacle-brine. “It?”
The Heart pondered pronouns. “I haven’t considered the concept in some time. I may need to think.” They thought. “They.”
“Got it, Bug Bird. They, them, theirs.” Faith grew bored walking in the dark. She couldn’t muster any concern about her surreal situation. “Are we there yet?”
Faith heard noise like an approaching flock of birds. “What’s that?”
The white wing rolled like a coiling carpet, and it spun Faith in its fluffy feathers. She and the Heart rolled deep into the Mountain faster than they could have fallen. The down swaddled her so comfortably and smelled so nice that Faith fell asleep.
When she woke, green haze replaced the darkness. She sat perched on a slender white peak; she felt incredibly heavy, and realized the peak was accelerating underneath her. Beside her, the Heart glared at the green haze with inscrutable intent. “Where’s that white wing?” asked Faith.
“We’re on its tip.”
“Where are we?”
“I just told you, we’re on the white wing’s tip.”
“I mean, what’s all that green?”
“It’s not green. One side is blue, the other side is yellow. See?” They shook a sleeve at the green haze. “Asking where we are is a losing proposition. I’m not sure I can adequately explain.”
“Try, at least. Isn’t this supposed to be a tour?”
“We’re in the Mountain, but all of reality is in the Mountain, so that doesn’t narrow it down much.” The Heart pointed their longest feather like an index finger. “Do you see how the blue chases the yellow, and the yellow chases the blue?”
“Sure,” lied Faith.
“That’s the Wheel. The Wheel’s turning advances the progression of the present into the past, the future into the present, and the past into the future. But the Wheel is wobbling.”
Faith held the white wing.
In the following instant she swore she could see yellow and blue chasing each other. She wasn’t sure which color she saw first or which she saw last before she passed through that ceiling into darkness. The wing thrust them an immeasurable distance outside reality.
The Heart of the Mountain led her to the edge of the white wing to show her the green circle far below, but Faith just looked at the black sky. “Gosh,” she said, “there aren’t even stars out here!”
“How could there be? Reality is beneath us.” Faith noticed the green was not totally smooth; razor-thin, wedge-shaped glaciers streaked from the bright center to the rim. Some glaciers were only an inch tall. Some were tall as trees. The Heart pointed to a green bulge on the horizon. The bulge warped the flow of the wedge-shaped glaciers. “That is the wobble in the Wheel.”
“I don’t know what I can do about something like that.”
“I understand.” The Heart of the Mountain sat cross-legged, if there were legs under their robes. “I know I cannot effectively communicate my predicament to you. I must send you to meet a friend of mine.”
“A Virgil.” The Heart commanded the white wing to sink closer to the green circle.
“Virgil Skyy or Virgil Blue?” asked Faith. “I’ve met them both!”
“Have you now?”
“Uh huh! In Wyoming!”
The Heart dipped a blue feather in the green circle. In the feather’s wake the circle’s surface shimmered sky-blue and yellow. “Well, have you an offering to exchange for a lesson from the Virgils?”
“I’ve got cockroaches.” Faith bat her ear with a hind leg and knocked a roach onto the feathery floor. “I don’t think they’d like ‘em.”
“What would they prefer, pray tell?”
“Crickets!” said Faith. “I’m sure they’d like a cricket.”
“Goodness.” The Heart covered their beak with their free wing. “I’ve left humanity with bad habits. So be it. Give me that cockroach.” They swept the roach under their robes. They returned the roach from their sleeve as a massive, elaborately-wrapped cricket.
“Wow!” Faith tucked the cricket behind her ear. “How do I meet the Virgils?”
“Hop in.” The Heart gestured to the region of reality in the wake of its feather. “I’ve prepared your arrival at their donation-box.”
“Oh, geez.” Faith stepped with trepidation to the edge of the wing. “Are you sure, Bug Bird?”
Faith steamed from the green reality and snowed in a big heap on the white wing. The Heart of the Mountain helped her sculpt herself into a fox. “Did the Virgils help you understand my predicament?”
“Not really. We talked about giant robots more than anything else.”
“Perhaps you were not ready for the highest revelations.” The Heart of the Mountain walked along the white wing. “In any case, you can see the wobble in the Wheel represents an imbalance of cosmic proportions. If the Chain was pulled now, the Wheel would warp so wildly the Mountain melts.”
“Ohhh. Well why didn’t you say so?” Faith followed at the Heart’s right hand. “I can understand a Mountain melting.”
“Yes. So can I.” The Heart’s eyes tilted with worry. “So come.” They extended ten human hands and folded the wing’s tip. They showed the tip to Faith. “This arch-Zephyr has remarkable properties. It stretches to any length and seems indestructible. If we reinforce the Wheel with the wing, it will spin as quickly as the Chain demands with nary a wobble. Here, take the wingtip in your teeth.”
Faith did. The wingtip was as smooth and thin as a rabbit’s velveteen ear.
“I need you to jump back into reality and wrap the wing across its breadth, then pop out the other side,” said the Heart, “again and again and again, each time adding a feathery spoke to the Wheel.”
“Seems easy enough,” Faith mumbled through feathers.
“Stay away from the center. It might entrance you.” The Heart turned to leave, and Faith prepared to leap into the green ocean. “And,” remembered the Heart, “if the wingtip speaks, ignore what it says. It’s new here.”