Chapter Twenty-Eight: The World

Nyssa woke up the next morning feeling oddly clear-headed, not the least bit groggy or fuzzy. She'd had dreams, and she felt sure that they'd been wonderful, but they slipped away from her when she tried to remember them, and anyway she had so much ahead of her on this day. She wondered if she could make the trip all the way back to the gate in the park by curiosipede in a single day. It had seemed like a long way the first time, but she'd kept stopping. Perhaps a straight shot would make it much quicker and she'd be home in time for lunch.

Breakfast was served to everyone who was still present in Wonder's palace, but it was fewer people now; many had gone home after the festival or overnight, and those who remained seemed to be planning to reside in Credence permanently. Nyssa, seated at Wonder's right hand, dined on postulates and axioms served on a tabula rasa. There were also otics, each of which had to be cut in half before it was eaten; there was a ceremony associated with this which all the natives seemed to understand but Nyssa politely opted out of.

"I guess I go home today," Nyssa told the Princess in a soft voice.

"There's no terrible rush," said Wonder, "if you feel there's something left undone here, or things you've got to find out before you return."

Nyssa thought. "No," she said, "I don't think so. I've rescued you, and set that right, and now it's all about what's interesting, and I know now there's plenty of that where I came from."

Wonder smiled. "Well, then. Do you think you want an escort?"

"Only Golden," said Nyssa. "That's how I got all this way and it's how I'll get back."

"I'll come with you to the gate," Golden said, "but I can't go any farther than that. I don't think there will be any way to meet other hours, there."

"You're right," Nyssa frowned. "There isn't. You're sure you can't come anyway?"

"I'll miss you," Golden said. "But I want to build a forever."

Nyssa nodded. "I'll miss you too, but - I understand."

And her curiosipede rolled into the palace and right up to her dining chair. Nyssa hugged Wonder goodbye, and set her wisdom of crowns straight on her head, and checked her bag for all her other things. She scooped Golden onto her lap - it was a much more substantial lapful now.

And she waved to everyone, and amid shouts of gratitude, she rolled out of the palace, and out of Credence, and down the road.

Faster and faster, she wondered what-all she'd do when she got home. She'd return the book she'd read to the library, of course, and then she had all those questions she'd written down. Would the librarian be helpful, or would she have to ask someone else? She had a whole stack of other books at home, were they all as good as this one? What was her father going to think when she reported on what she'd learned this week? Was she going to be in trouble over having been missing so long? Or perhaps they were worried and she wouldn't even miss a dessert, they'd be so glad to see her.

They went through Percepolis. They found the fence down and easily went in Ference, then out again. They reached the Observation Deck and hung a left onto the boardwalk, the wood clacking as the wheels turned over it. The boardwalk yielded to stone, the stone changed to concrete, the concrete disappeared in favor of asphalt.

And there, right where her map expected it, was Nyssa's gate.

Nyssa hugged Golden tight. It was big enough to properly hug back now, wrapping around her softly, and they sat there like that for a long time, and it must have been worthwhile because Golden didn't ring at all.

Then, finally, Nyssa let go. Golden slid down to the ground and scooted out of the way.

And Nyssa rolled toward the gate and clonked to an undignified stop. The curiosipede was too wide to go through.

For a moment she just sat there, stunned. Then she backed up a couple of yards, turned it a quarter of the way around, and got down, to push it sideways. But even this way around it was too wide for the gate, which was just barely big enough for one person to walk through without bumping their head or needing to sidle through elbow-first. The wheels of the curiosipede were not wider than its bench, but they were still too much. The vehicle bumped against the posts of the gate and would not go through.

Nyssa stuck her tongue out of the corner of her mouth and turned the curiosipede a little at an angle, thinking to sneak it through that way. She made some progress, and got much of the left wheel and some of the bench through, only for it to unavoidably catch and be stuck on the far end of the wheel no matter how she twisted and hauled. She backed up and tried again. She turned it around and tried putting the right wheel in first, though the curiosipede was symmetrical, in case starting over from a new perspective helped. She tried again, and again, and again.

Golden began to ring softly.

"It's not going to work," said Nyssa, "is it."

"I don't think so," said Golden, low and gentle. It nuzzled up to Nyssa's leg and she stroked it and took a deep breath.

"Then I guess it's yours now," she said. "Have fun finding more hours, Golden. I hope you build the most beautiful forever there can possibly be."

"Thank you," said Golden, and it climbed up onto the curiosipede bench so it had enough height to nuzzle Nyssa's cheek, too. Nyssa gave it a squeeze.

Then, having nothing more to say, she took a deep breath, turned, and walked through the gate on her own two feet.

The air in the park was chillier than the air in the Realm. The sky was a slightly different blue. The gate, when she whirled around to check - was gone.

But the wisdom of crowns was still comfortingly heavy on her head, and her bag was still full of all her things, and her own two feet sufficed to get her back to the park exit, and down the street, and to her house.

Nyssa found, when she arrived, no panicked parents, no circled police cars - no sign, in fact, that she had been missed at all. She let herself in, and found her mother in her office, her father in the kitchen.

"What's today's date?" she asked, and she missed already the familiar sound of the curiosipede winding itself up that little bit more when she asked questions, wanted answers.

It transpired that it was the same day on which Nyssa had left, and she was home in time for lunch in more ways than one. She ate ordinary soup and ordinary bread and drank ordinary milk, and it was like they were suddenly exotic and fresh. Nyssa's parents did not ask her about the crown she was wearing, or wonder where she'd gotten her new bag - not quite as though they were invisible, but as though they were ordinary, as though they expected her to have them.

"What have you been learning lately?" her father asked over his own bowl of soup, and Nyssa answered him - at length, so much length that he listened to her while assembling brownie batter, while the brownies baked, and while eating the results. Nyssa took a brownie, too, and only this stemmed the tide of what she'd been learning lately, and that only for a minute. Oh, she didn't tell him about the Realm of Possibility. She might do so later, or she might not, but for this afternoon she only told him what she'd found in her library book - she pulled it out to show him pictures, fetched her notes and asked him her questions, circled the questions he couldn't answer for her.

Nyssa's father was so impressed that he gave her an extra brownie. And after she'd finished it, Nyssa ran to her stack of library books, and devoured them all.

And then, when she'd finished every one - which took her just two days, because while the stack was very high she'd already read the densest, most advanced book and the rest were simpler and puffier - she found that the most curious thing happened. Without wheels, without any telltale winding sound, without any help at all, she was propelled - on her own two feet, but quite inexorably pulled along nonetheless - out of her house and up the avenue to the library. With no curiosipede at all, she returned the books she'd exhausted and she went to the librarian with her pile of questions and asked for more. She took them home in her bag and in her arms because they wouldn't all fit at the same time, and raced tirelessly home to start in on them. And when she'd gone through all of those books, too, she made the trip back again - and again - and again - because on a curiosipede or not, Nyssa so very badly wanted to know.

The End

The End