The proceedings for beginning the trial were surprisingly swift. Acmain, having caught The Pot back from Humanland, proved herself to be a force of nature in this regard. Not that she was allowed to take charge: with both a vested interest in the case and her skin colour being wrong for the job, she was forced to defer to a panel of mostly Seilies who had been instated to preside over things.
But she didn’t let that stop her. Arranging evidence, talking to everyone, circulating press releases, making absolutely sure that everything could be heard through the new portable-design Lesser Antenna (actually a radio transmitter “acquired” by Menda from Humanland, named after the first radio antenna to be operable in Faerie). And it was amazing how much she could get achieved by reminding the people in power about their chromatic make-up.
You absolute fucking twatting cunting arsehole. What right did You have to be still alive? What right did You have, indeed, to look absolutely bloody chuffed with Yourself? Here we were, standing in what was becoming heavy rain and the midst of a despot’s collapse; and here You were, all too visible in the rain-filtered moonlight, with a smile as gleaming as the crescent moon itself.
The science of things coming through gates, gates that can be aimed, isn’t quite clear. It’s clear that if people appear in normal air, they’re utterly safe. And it’s clear that a volume of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, transported into a tree, doesn’t do any good to either the OED or the tree. Menda wasn’t willing to transport any of us into anything or near anything that might cause a collision, although whether this was passed down in folk lore as A Bad Thing To Do or just her being cautious was unclear.
So when we managed to push through The Hard Place in its entirety, smack bang into the foundations of the royal palace, with me and Menda curled into little balls below decks, we didn’t quite know what would happen. There was a chance that we, and the boat, would be merged with the walls. And presumably die, taking goodness knows how long to do it.
It was a couple of days after I’d been whipped back through The Pot. A couple of days of waiting and hoping. A couple of days of sharing a very small flat with a bunch of people who didn’t belong in this world. A couple of days of having no money, and neither did they. It was like being back in my commune days, only everything cost shitloads (because London) and there was nowhere for us to grow our own food, nothing for us to barter with.
I didn’t even have my bag, which was somewhere back in Faiebaile, presumably a heap of ash now. There was an Oyster card in there. So we couldn’t even go anywhere apart from by walking.
Menda acquired food. I didn’t ask where it came from, and she didn’t tell. It was a mutually beneficial agreement. But it wasn’t much, and there were lots of mouths to feed, including kids.
It felt like being pulled apart into my component atoms and being reassembled. Or perhaps I was an e-mail, being sent between worlds, text travelling as raw data before becoming text again. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant, apart from the fact that I felt a bit motion-sick when I landed (bear in mind that I’d spent my last five years on a boat, up until recently anyway, I don’t get motion sick easily any more), but it was definitely weird.
One thing it didn’t do was cure the feeling of impending dread.
I had a nightmare. It was a fairly banal nightmare as nightmares go: all my friends being brutally murdered, bit of light assault, that sort of thing. Enough to put me in a cold sweat, but the sort of thing you barely remember ten minutes after waking up.
“Morning prince, rise and shine.”
Unless the reality’s worse than the nightmare. Which it wasn’t: only a couple of my friends had been brutally murdered, and I… didn’t think I’d been assaulted? But it was the combination of the moment of relief that the nightmare wasn’t real, followed by the sudden realisation that a substantial chunk of it was.
“Menda,” asked Rognari, “do you fear death?”
“Death. The cessation of existence. Do you fear it?”