Chapter Twenty-Six: The Escape

By the time they reached the ground from the top of the tower, Nyssa had a pretty good understanding of why it was going to be more difficult to get out of the Valley than it had been to get into it. The Tower's base was at the lowest part, and traveling uphill would mean that Nyssa's curiosity would have to fight gravity. In fact, she probably could have rolled to the tower without being the least bit interested in knowing anything, although this would have sacrificed some steering power, but uphill into the mountains, she'd have more difficulty.

Before they could be attacked by any demons - any that were more than an inch tall, that is to say; the demons of Academia were waiting for them right there at the base of the Tower but just weren't very threatening once you knew how they ticked - Nyssa tucked her book away, turned to the Princess, and said, "There are a couple of bicorns here who are very silly but aren't wicked, and there's a person called Prima who won't leave without her pile of rocks that has to be moved just so, and it would be a pity to leave them here in the Valley."

"You're quite right," said Wonder. "Do you have any ideas?"

"The bicorns are pretty big," said Nyssa. "I bet they could drag the rocks, but it's so hard to make them listen. They just want to argue about things that don't matter."

"Let's see if adding another voice makes a difference," suggested the Princess, and Nyssa nodded and asked her if she'd often convinced silly bicorns of things in the past, and with that they were off.

The bicorn shed was in slightly shabbier shape than it had been when Nyssa had left (some of the paint had been deliberately scratched off), but it turned out both Billy and Biff remained uneaten, and they were bickering still when the curiosipede rolled in.

"We don't need a weathervane!" cried Biff. "How many times do I have to tell you, we don't need a weathervane?"

"At least one more, I'd reckon," said Billy, "because somehow despite you just stating that, without any real argument or anything, I still think we'd better have a weathervane! How else are we meant to know which way the wind is blowing, huh, Biff, answer me that!"

"Oh good," said Nyssa, "you're here."

"Oh, it's you," said Biff.

"Is that the Princess?" blinked Billy.

"Yes," said Wonder.

"Your highness!" cried the bicorns, and they fell into an odd quadrupedal kneel.

"Hello," she replied. "I wonder if you could do us a little favor."

"We're slightly occupied at the moment," protested Biff.

"I can see that," she agreed. "But have you considered starting your shed over from scratch?"

The bicorns looked at each other.

"We've gotten so far on it though," Billy said.

"Yes," said the princess, "I can see that it must have been very difficult, but I'm not sure you fully considered all the implications of the site you chose."

"It was all Birgitte's idea, really," said Biff. "Since she's not here arguing that this place has the best soil for that garden she wanted to add to improve herd morale -" (Nyssa quietly slapped her forehead) "- I don't suppose anybody's going to defend the place in particular, only we've already started here and all..."

"It may well be that it makes sense to build here," said Wonder briskly, "but you haven't even looked at a second choice. I've got one in mind for you."

Billy got up from his bow to shuffle awkwardly. "I suppose we could at least look at it."

"Where's the harm?" said Biff.

So they trotted out after the curiosipede, which made for Prima's cave. In the process they narrowly avoided the Bottom Line, a monster that crept low to the ground and tried to attack from below. They dodged in such a way as to convince it that they were going south, and then when they doubled back to go east instead nothing could convince it that it had been wrong.

They only just evaded the Pride of Lion, a lion-monster that looked sickly and stumbled but spoke constantly of all the other lions it was better than: "And he's got a bad leg, to boot, look at me, do you see me favoring my leg? No more than a little, really, you should see him limping," it whined after them while it gave loping chase. "And his sister's so much the worse, she's easy to hear coming, she's got a bell 'round her neck like a housecat - hey now, you can't get away from me, it isn't as though I'm wearing a bell, compared to her I'm terribly stealthy, I'm one of the deadliest lions there is -"

But get away they did; they tricked the Pride into the jaws of a vast and stationary demon called Abstention, who smiled wanly, licked its lips, and declined to chase them because it was too consumed with the high-mindedness of its refusal to engage. It would have been dangerous if they had walked right into it, but so long as they kept moving they were safe, because it would take no risks and make no moves lest it lose all the nothing it had.

And finally curiosipede and panting bicorns reached the cave, where Prima was still hiding. "You again!" she huffed.

"Hello, Prima," said Nyssa. "You have a tarp, don't you? I think you mentioned."

"Yes, but so what? You wouldn't help me. I see the Princess is good enough for you to help, but not me, is that it?"

"The princess doesn't weigh what nine hundred twenty nine rocks weigh, and didn't have to be moved in sub-piles," said Nyssa flatly. "But I found these bicorns and I think they can drag your rocks if you get them onto a tarp."

"Hey now," said Billy. "I don't think we've put this to a vote yet. There are bylaws, you know."

"I vote yes!" Prima exclaimed, and with Nyssa and the Princess in agreement the bicorns grumbled and consented to hold corners of the tarp in their teeth and haul all the rocks along thereon. Prima pushed the pile onto the tarp all of a piece so none of the rocks was ever out of contact with the rest, and sat on Billy's back, and commanded her steed and his neighbor out of the cave.

They were nearly to the canyon now, but the bicorns were slowed down by their burden. Fortunately, all that pursued them here was the demon Equivocation, which did not seem very committed to the chase: "Of course I'm FOLLOWING them," it told itself, "yes, understand every word they say, quite - and once I've caught them then they'll be FINISHED - with whatever they're doing -" Presently they'd left it behind and all they had to confront was the canyon-dwelling demon Akrasia.

Nyssa had been nearly beaten by this demon before, and approached the canyon with some trepidation, but kept her nose firmly in her book so she'd be able to pilot the curiosipede on through. Perhaps if it were wound up enough before Akrasia spoke to them, it would carry on however listless its passengers. She read the last few pages, a conclusion mostly about the history of science, and then abruptly all she had left to her was index. The curiosipede drifted to a halt barely ten yards from the entrance to the canyon. The path was narrow enough to keep out most of the larger demons from the Valley, but it contained -

"All that work and all you've done is come back here," drawled the Passive Voice. "What an embarrassment."

"Well, I never," said Prima.

"There's another way out of here," Wonder told Nyssa. "You don't have to do this again - not today, anyway, the demons sometimes wander."

"What's the other way?" Nyssa asked. (The curiosipede crept forward.)

"There's a little stream, only just around that bend there," Wonder said. "It's not very wide or very deep right now, but it's always big enough."

Nyssa didn't remember seeing a stream. She managed with some effort to be curious about how she'd missed it, and then she asked aloud, "Why didn't the curiosipede show it to me as a way in?"

"It doesn't flow that way," Wonder said. "The Flow will only take you away from the Valley, not into it. But it's the fastest way to leave."

With a little more nudging of the party through the disparaging remarks of the demon Akrasia, they found the Flow: a little trickle of water, barely enough to dampen the rocks. But, oddly enough, it was traveling uphill: the water bubbled up from a tiny spring in the ground, and it wound its way up through crevices and across the wall of the canyon, up the face of the mountain, till it disappeared, too small to see at much distance.

"How is this big enough?" said Nyssa.

"Just dip your finger in, and you'll see," Wonder smiled.

Nyssa leaned forward, and touched her finger to the water, and found herself pulled along. She was still, in a way, climbing the mountain. Her hands gripped outcroppings and her feet wedged themselves in corners. But it wasn't complicated, or rather it was precisely the right amount of complicated; she seldom had to pause to find the next place to climb to, she rarely faltered or lost her footing and when she did she swiftly recovered. Higher and higher she climbed. She could see the Valley stretch out before her, hear the voice of the demon receding into nothingness below, and the greater Realm of Possibility verdant and lovely to the right.

The Flow turned a corner, and Nyssa followed it, having no trouble gripping the stone however slippery the water made it. And then it went downhill: faster and faster she climbed, then scooted, tentatively then with wild abandon, finally turning around and using the Flow as a water-slide. It widened, here, and there was plenty of water to carry her along down the mountain.

When Nyssa landed on her feet at the end of the slope, ankle-deep in a glittering creek, she found that she wasn't wet at all, just exhilarated and pleasantly tired. She looked over her shoulder, and stepped out of the way as two bicorns, Prima, the pile of rocks, Pomodoro, Wonder, and even the curiosipede followed to splash down beside her.

"That was so much fun," said Nyssa breathlessly.

"There are more of them, here and there in the Realm," said Wonder. "In fact, I think this one carries on to just where we want to go."

And they all dipped their fingers into the stream again, which here widened into a thin river, then a broad one, and they floated toward the deserted capital city of Credence.