Faith rode wind back to the Mountain. The dunes below her seemed more Martian now that she’d made up her mind to Anihilato. Still, Anihilato made her consider distrusting Bug Bird for the first time. Her mentor in the Mountain was awfully tight-beaked about the details of their organization.
She landed on the Mountainside and scratched at the dusty stone surface until Bug Bird opened a cave and crawled out. “Did you have any issues dealing with our visitor?”
“Anihilato almost nabbed me,” said Faith. “That was a pretty dangerous errand you sent me on.”
“Anihilato is out of my control,” said the Heart of the Mountain. “I’m sorry to hear it was unpleasant. I would have done the job myself if it wasn’t…” They shifted weight and leaned like a tree in the wind.
“Dangerous?” asked Faith.
“Dangerous for me, but not for you.”
“What, are you saying I’m expendable?”
The Heart sighed. “I was more worried about the Shrieking Teeth than Anihilato. Either way, your unusual physiology should make you invulnerable to Anihilato and the Teeth. In any case, if Anihilato consumed you, that would be acceptable for reasons I can’t explain.”
“There’s an awful lot you can’t explain.” Faith peered around the Heart into the yawning cave. “What’re you hiding?”
Faith leapt for the Mountain’s interior. “Wait!” The Heart blocked her entrance with a blue wing. “Be patient. I know you’re still confused. If you need more explanation, I will find someone who can communicate on your level.”
The Heart rolled out the white wing for Faith to tread safely inside the Mountain. Faith followed them into the depths.
The white wing propelled them through the green haze in the Mountain. Faith regarded the Mountain’s Heart stiffly. “Aren’t you supposed to collect worms to make Zephyrs?”
“So why don’t you collect that big-ass worm Anihilato?” asked Faith. “It’s a safety hazard, keeping a monster like that in the desert. It’s gotta be an OSHA violation.”
“As I said, Anihilato is not in my control,” said the Heart. “Just as you are separate from me, so is Anihilato separate from me. You have aided me as a separate entity. Anihilato serves a purpose it could not provide if I consumed it. When I find worms I cannot swallow, I know Anihilato will eat them for me.”
“Hmpff.” Faith impatiently flitted her tail. “Where are we going? And when?”
“It’s not a precise science.” The Heart stepped away from the center of the rising wingtip and directed Faith to stand in their stead. “Direct the wing with your whim. Quest for your questions. Sight what you seek”
Faith didn’t know what any of that meant, but she knew how to guide the wing. She had directed the wing for ages as she swaddled the Wheel. Now she leaned left and right to weave the wing from side to side. “I just want to understand what’s happening to me,” she said.
“That’s a lot to ask,” said the Heart. “Would you settle for accepting your situation, whether you understood it or not? That’s more than most people manage.”
Faith meditated on that for a minute.
Then she closed her eyes and let the wing whisk her where it wanted.
The wingtip burst through the green surface of reality. When Faith opened her eyes, she saw the blackness of unreality above her. She watched a green glacier glide by.
The Heart reached into their sleeves and produced one blue feather for Faith. Faith took the feather’s shaft in her teeth and dipped its tip in reality below. The wake of the feather shimmered sky-blue and yellow.
“Don’t take too long,” said the Heart. “But take your time.”
Faith leapt into the sky-blue wake.
“And now I’m here.” Faith rubbed her head against Jay’s hand to direct his scratching. Her hind leg thumped the grass in satisfaction. “So JayJay, what have you been up to while I’ve been gone?”
“I don’t think my story is as important as yours.” Jay extinguished the last embers of the cockroach-head in snow. “I’m glad to hear you’re alright, Faith, and I’m doubly glad to see you again.”
Jay leaned back on Bob’s concrete porch. “He’s in mourning, let’s say.”
Faith whimpered. “Are you sure I can’t pop in to meet him?”
“I’m not sure he could even see you,” said Jay. “You might be my personal hallucination.”
“I promise I’m not! Dainty could see me if I walked in,” Faith swore. “I just want to reassure him everything is okay. He’s good at hiding it, but he’s a nervous wreck without me.”
“I know it as well as you do.” Jay wagged a finger at her. “But would you make Dan lose you twice? You’ve got to return to the Mountain eventually.”
Faith opened her mouth to object, but understood Jay’s point and just pouted. “Take care of him for me, then.”
“I’m trying.” Jay stood and brushed off his suit pants. “I’m taking him to the Islands of Sheridan. I’m taking him to the Virgils.”
“You think the Virgils can help Dainty cope?”
“I promise.” Jay crossed his heart. “And if I’m right in agreeing with Anihilato—to say that you are really dead—then you’ll see Dan again someday. Maybe you’ll meet him in the Mountain.”
“Hmpff.” Faith pawed the dirt. “I don’t know if the Mountain is the best place for Dainty. I’m not sure I trust Bug Bird anymore.”
“Me neither,” said Jay, “but they’ve taught you one valuable lesson.” Faith’s ears perked and turned to Jay. “When the Heart of the Mountain sent you to discard the tooth-monster’s worms, they sent you because they feared for their own safety. They didn’t want to risk touching the teeth themselves. In the same way, you shouldn’t let yourself worry about Dan. Send for me to worry about Dan. Trust me to treat Dan’s interests as my own.”
Faith smiled. She turned with Jay to watch the moon. “Okay.”
Her tail’s tip steamed. Gradually her body became a cloud buoyed above the horizon.