While the Heart climbed into the Mountain’s hole, Faith sat on her haunches and considered the Heart’s job-offer. It might be nice to be a Will-o-Wisp or whatever instead of a Zephyr; 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?
She heard shifting rock. The Mountain rumbled as the Heart crawled to the surface. It surfaced head-first with no limbs visible, apparently moving through the Mountain with undulations of its robed body. When the hem of its robe passed the lip of the hole, Faith gasped: the lower portion of the Heart was a blue tentacle as thick as its body. Its suckers dragged a white wing from the depths of the Mountain. The Heart withdrew the tentacle into its robes and became a sky-blue cloth cone with a sapphire head.
“So I’ve been thinking,” said Faith. “I might be willing to be your Will-o-Wisp, 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 used them to adjust the white wing. It spread the wing and spiraled it within the hole so the downy feathers concealed every inch of the cave. “Follow me. The wing will insulate you from the Mountain’s interior.”
Faith followed the Heart into the hole. She walked with such an airy gait she did not even bend the white wing’s feathers beneath her. In the dark, Faith could not see how the Heart of the Mountain ambulated barely five feet in front of her. “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?”
“What are your pronouns,” asked Faith. “I’m sorry to bring it up, but if you want me to file paperwork for you or something like that, I might need to know your pronouns. He, she, they?” Faith smelled tentacle-brine. “It?”
The Heart pondered pronouns as they plumbed the Mountain. “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 without sensation walking in the dark. She realized she should worry about her surreal situation, but she couldn’t muster any concern. “Are we there yet?”
Faith heard noise like an approaching flock of birds flapping in unison. “What’s that?”
As soon as she asked, the source of the sound swept her away. The whole length of the white wing rolled like a coiling carpet at several times the speed of sound, and it spun Faith round and round in its fluffy feathers. She and the Heart rolled into the Mountain’s deepest regions faster than they could have fallen there. Faith thought to scream, but the downy fluff swaddled her so comfortably and smelled so nice that she fell asleep.
When she woke, green haze replaced the darkness. She sat perched at the top of a slender white peak; she felt incredibly heavy, and realized the peak was growing underneath her with awesome acceleration. Beside her, the Heart stared 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. If there was any space between the green’s yellow and blue, Faith couldn’t see it. “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 a short distance above her. 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.
Above her everything was black and below her the wing was white. The Heart of the Mountain led her to the edge of the white wing and showed her the green circle far below them, 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.” They both watched the green circle. Faith noticed its surface was not totally smooth; razor-thin, wedge-shaped glaciers raced as quickly as yellow chased blue, streaking from the bright center of the circle to its rim. Some glaciers were only an inch tall. Some were tall as trees. The Heart pointed one feather at the horizon. “Look.” A swell of green like a risen tide embossed the horizon with a pregnant bulge. The bulge meandered across reality’s surface, and it warped the flow of the wedge-shaped glaciers. “That is the wobble in the Wheel. It is the reason I need your assistance.”
“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 even any legs under their robes. “I realize I cannot effectively communicate my predicament to you. That is okay; I can teach you to navigate by feel. But I do know someone who might explain where I’m coming from.”
“A Virgil.” The Heart commanded the white wing to sink closer to the surface.
“Virgil Skyy or Virgil Blue?” asked Faith. “I’ve met them both!”
“Have you now?”
“Uh huh! In Wyoming!”
The Heart dipped one of their blue feathers into the green sea. In its wake the circle’s surface shimmered sky-blue and yellow. “Well, do you have a token to exchange for a lesson from the Virgils?”
“I’ve got some cockroaches.” Faith bat her ear with a hind leg and knocked one 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. Barely a second later they returned the roach to Faith, and it was a massive, elaborately-wrapped cricket.
“Wow!” Faith tucked the cricket back behind her ear. “So how do I meet the Virgils?”
“Hop in.” The Heart gestured to a sky-blue region of reality left in the wake of its feather. “I’ve prepared the perfect moment for your arrival at their donation-box.”
“Oh, geez.” Faith stepped with trepidation to the edge of the wing and looked into the sky-blue wake. “Are you sure, Bug Bird?”
“Absolutely. Be careful not to touch the yellow area, or you’ll appear on the antipode of your intended destination.”
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 understand that 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 led her to the very tip of the white wing. They extended ten human hands and folded the wing’s tip until it was narrow enough to hold in one hand. They showed the tip to Faith. “This Zephyr which arrived when the Chain was pulled 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. She thought it would be heavy, but the wingtip had the thinness and smoothness of 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.”
“Huh,” Faith mumbled through feathers. “Seems easy enough.”
“I must return to my seat in the epistem, in the center of the Wheel,” said the Heart. “You may feel the epistem pulling you irresistibly inward; if you stray too close I will help you escape its attraction. Unless I am collecting Zephyrs in the desert, then you will have to wait for my return.” The Heart turned to leave, and Faith prepared to leap into the green ocean. “And,” remembered the Heart, “if you hear the wingtip speak, you may wish to ignore what it says. It’s new here.”