While the Heart climbed into the red mountain, Faith considered the job-offer. It might be nice to be a Will-o-Wisp, and Zephyrhood sounded like too much responsibility. After all, she was hallucinating! When she sobered up, would she even remember her interview with a giant bird?
The mountain rumbled as the Heart exhumed itself head-first by undulating its robed body. When the hem of its robe passed the lip of the cave, Faith gasped: the Heart’s lower half was a blue tentacle long and thick as its body. Its suckers dragged a white wing from the depths. The Heart withdrew the tentacle and became a sky-blue cloth cone with a sapphire head.
“Maybe I’ll be your Will-o-Wisp,” said Faith, “but first I need to know more about you, Heart-Bird-Mountain-thing!”
“Ask what you want.” The Heart unsleeved ten blue human arms and spiraled the white wing to cover the cave-interior. “This wing will insulate you from the Mountain.”
Faith followed the Heart onto the wing and into the cave. Her weight didn’t bend feathers beneath her. “First, what do I call you? Heart of the Mountain’s a mouthful. Would Bug-Bird be okay?”
“Call me what you want,” said the Heart of the Mountain.
Behind Faith, the wingtip curled up and blocked the sunlight. She heard the cave’s mouth close. “Okay, but do you have, like, pronouns? He, she, they?” Faith smelled tentacle-brine. “It?”
The Heart pondered pronouns. “Let me think.” They thought. “They. Sometimes she, but nowadays mostly they.”
“Gotcha, Bug-Bird. They, them, theirs.” Faith’s surreal situation didn’t concern her. In fact, she grew bored walking in the dark. “Are we there yet?”
Faith heard noise like flocks of birds. “What’s that?”
The white wing rolled her up like a coiling carpet. She and the Heart spun deep into the mountain faster than they could’ve fallen. The down swaddled Faith so comfortably and smelled so sweet that she fell asleep.
When she woke, green haze replaced the darkness. She sat on a slender white peak. She felt heavy, and realized the peak was accelerating upward beneath her. Beside her, the Heart glared at the green haze with inscrutable intent. “Where’s that white wing?” asked Faith.
“We’re on its tip.”
“Where are we?”
“I just said, on the white wing’s tip.”
“I mean, what’s all that green?”
“It’s not green. One side is blue and the other side is yellow. See?” They shook a sleeve at the green haze. “I’m not sure I can explain.”
“Try, at least. Isn’t this a tour?”
“We’re in the Mountain, but all of reality is in the Mountain, so that doesn’t narrow it down.” 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 makes the future into the present, the present into the past, and the past into the future. But the Wheel is wobbling.”
Faith held the white wing.
In the next instant she saw yellow and blue above her. She wasn’t sure which she saw first or last before she passed through that ceiling into darkness. The wing thrust them an immeasurable distance outside reality.
The Heart of the Mountain showed her the green circle below, but Faith gawked at the black sky. “Gosh, there aren’t even stars out here!”
“Of course not. Reality is beneath us.” Faith noticed the green circle wasn’t smooth: razor-thin triangular glaciers streaked from the bright center to the rim. Some glaciers were millimeters tall. Some were tall as trees. The Heart pointed to a green bulge on the horizon which warped the flow of the razor-glaciers. “That’s the wobble in the Wheel.”
“I don’t know how to fix something like that.”
“I understand.” The Heart sat cross-legged (if there were even legs under the robes). “I can’t communicate my predicament to you. I must send you to an acquaintance.”
“A Virgil.” The Heart commanded the white wing to sink near the green circle’s surface.
“Virgil Skyy or Virgil Blue?” asked Faith. “I’ve met both!”
“Have you now?”
“Uh-huh! In Wyoming!”
The Heart dipped a blue feather in the green circle. In the feather’s wake, the circle shimmered yellow. “Well, do you have an offering to exchange for a lesson from the Virgils?”
“I’ve got cockroaches.” Faith bat her ear with a hind leg and knocked a roach to the feathery floor. “But I don’t think they’d like `em.”
“What would they prefer, pray tell?”
“Crickets!” said Faith. “I’m sure they’d like a bug-stick.”
“Goodness.” The Heart covered their beak with their free wing. “I’ve left humanity with bad habits. So be it. Give me the roach.” They swept the roach under their robes. They returned the roach as a massive, elaborately-wrapped cricket.
“Wow!” Faith tucked the bug-stick behind her ear. “Now what?”
“Hop in.” The Heart gestured to the yellow region of reality in the feather’s wake. “I’ve prepared your arrival on their island.”
“Oh geez.” Faith stepped to the edge of the wing. “Are you sure, Bug-Bird?”
“Virgil Skyy told me about your meeting,” said Jay.
“Okay,” said Faith, “I’ll skip that part.”
Faith steamed from the green circle and snowed back onto the white wing. The Heart of the Mountain helped her sculpt herself into a fox. “Did the Virgils explain my predicament?”
“Not really. We talked about space-robots more than anything else.”
“Perhaps you weren’t prepared for the highest revelations.” The Heart walked along the white wing. “In any case, you can see the Wheel’s wobble represents a cosmic imbalance. If the Chain were pulled, the Wheel would warp so wildly the Mountain melts.”
“Ohhh. Why didn’t you say so?” Faith followed at the Heart’s right hand. “I can imagine a mountain melting.”
“So can I.” The Heart’s eyes tilted with worry. “So come.” They extended ten human hands and folded the white wingtip. They showed the narrowed tip to Faith. “This Zephyr has remarkable properties. The wings stretch to any length and seem indestructible. If we reinforce the Wheel with the wing, it will spin quickly as the Chain demands with nary a wobble. Take this wingtip in your teeth.”
Faith did. The wingtip was smooth and thin as a rabbit’s felted ear.
“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, adding feathery spokes to the Wheel.”
“Seems easy enough,” Faith mumbled through feathers.
“Stay away from the Wheel’s center. It might tempt you, but touching it will scatter your consciousness across the cosmos.” The Heart turned to leave and Faith prepared to leap into the green circle. “And,” remembered the Heart, “if the wingtip speaks, ignore it. It’s new here.”