Jay’s Second Interview with Faith

(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)


“Geez. That’s really the last episode before LuLu’s hiatus?” Jay wiped his eyes. Seeing Lucille fight her own parents, even forgeries of them, made him emotional. “This show’s more depressing than I remembered. She bought time for the Zephyrs by reenacting her own trauma.”

“You’ve got it backward,” said Dan. “This is a moment of triumph for Lucille. She proves she’s not fighting for selfish personal reasons. She can discard the memory of her parents’ deaths and stand on her own, like a reverse Saturn Devouring His Son.”

Jay pondered that reply. Was Dan’s interpretation colored by his own feelings of guilt for his father’s suicide? “Is she discarding the memory, or cementing it?”

“If she’s cementing it, it’s empowering cement,” said Dan. “She’s Kali, finding strength to destroy the forces of evil and dance on humanity’s ego.” Jay nodded doubtfully. “What do you think, Bob? Was your first episode emotionally resonant?”

Bob blinked. “What?” Both his eyes were bloodshot.

“Is that cricket treating you alright, Bob?” Jay pat his shoulder. “You wanna finish your chicken-nuggets?”

Bob had forgotten his food. He grinned with new hunger and stuffed his apple-pie in his mouth. He spoke while he chewed. “That show looked cool.”

“It has campy charm,” agreed Jay.

Bob munched chicken-nuggets as he watched the credits. His eyes lingered on each still image. “I’m so bug-eyed—I can’t see that as anything but a drawing,” he said. “That’s not a giant robot, it’s a drawing of a giant robot. That’s not a space-laser, it’s a drawing of a space-laser. That’s not the moon, it’s—“

“When I get bug-eyed,” Dan interrupted, “people look like awkward monkeys. Our cheek-bones seem simian. We walk like upright apes. Our language is like primates alerting each other to hawks and snakes.”

“What do you see, Jay?” Bob ate cheese-puffs from Jay’s bag. “Are you having centipede-flashbacks, like Dan said?”

Jay rubbed his eyes at Bob and Dan. It was like seeing faces for the first time. “I need some air.”

“Try the back-porch,” said Bob. “The view’s beautiful!”

“Bob, how’s your internet out here?” Dan pulled out his phone. “I bet I can find you the first episodes of LuLu’s dubbed online.”

Jay stepped out on Bob’s back-porch, a concrete step overlooking snowy grass. In the distance, a forest crawled up the Bighorn Mountains. Stars flocked around a full moon. He counted his fingers. “One, two, three, four, five,” he counted on his left hand. “Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,” he counted on his right. “I’m awake.” Still, his hands were flat and matte one moment, then shimmered with fingerprints the next. He accepted his altered state and tried to relax.

When he lowered his hands, he found a cloud on the horizon. It morphed faster than any ordinary cloud. He thought it looked like a white fox, and was shaken when the fox stepped over the forest onto the snowy grass with the misunderstanding of a Magritte. “JayJay! Are you hallucinating too?”

Jay rubbed his eyes and ears. The white fox remained. He sat on the step and covered his mouth. “Faith?”

“Yeah! I haven’t seen you in—” She couldn’t complete the thought, so she shook her head. “Ages, I guess!”

“You were struck by lightning.”

Faith’s smile faltered. “I was, huh? I never gave you and Dainty your cinnamon buns.”

“Did it hurt? Are you okay?”

“It didn’t. I’m fine, I think.” She sat on her haunches at Jay’s feet. “I don’t know what’s real anymore.”

“I hope I’m real,” said Jay.

“You and me both,” she sighed. “Wanna smoke?” Before Jay could refuse, Faith pawed behind her ear for a bug she’d tucked there. It was a cockroach.

Jay had seen roaches smoked before, raw like this in Eastern Asia or broken up and loaded into hookahs in the Middle East, but he’d never tried one himself. Roaches were thicker than crickets, but stubby. Their spindly legs were roots and their antennae were stalks of dry grass. They came wrapped in their own wings right out of the ground. “I guess I could smoke. Where’d you get that?”

“Mars, I think. Roaches are the only smokes I can dig up near the Mountain.” Faith held the butt in her muzzle and her little black nose exhaled broiling steam until the roach’s head lit. She’d obviously practiced smoking as a fox.

“Faith, I don’t think you’re hallucinating, and I don’t think you’re on Mars.”

 She tongued the butt over each canine to make space to puff, then let Jay take the roach. “What do you mean, JayJay?”

“I think you’re dead.” Jay puffed. It was spicy and harsh. “No offense.”

“None taken. That makes sense, I guess.” Faith bonked her head on Jay’s knee. “I miss you guys.”

“We all miss you.” Jay gave her the roach. As a child, Jay scratched his cat Django just before the ears, and now he scratched Faith the same way. She smiled and closed her eyes. “Dan and your uncle Bob are inside, but it might be inappropriate to bring you in.”

“Hmpf,” puffed Faith. “I understand.”

“They just started watching the first episode of LuLu’s. We shouldn’t interrupt.”

“Ha. Yeah. That’s why.” Faith leaned her head into Jay’s hand to guide his scratching. “I’ll have to go back soon. Back to the Mountain.”

“Are you a Zephyr, whatever that means?”

“I wish.” She puffed again and let Jay take the roach. “I’m a Will-o-Wisp.”

“Is Beatrice there?”

Faith lowered her muzzle in melancholy. Jay hugged her and she slung a paw over his shoulder. “Let me give you the whole story.”

“Hold on.” Jay took his notepad and pen from his pockets. It took embarrassing effort to write the date and time. “Okay, I’m all ears. What’s the last thing you remember after the lightning?”

“I remember blinding light. And then I remember…  Do you remember when we smoked centipede?”

“Oh, do I remember.”

“It was like that. I was in a desert of rust-red dunes.”

Jay hesitated to write that down. “Dan said centipedes probably invoke the same sorts of hallucinations in everyone everywhere. Those hallucinations guided Sheridanian religion, inspiring LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration, an episode of which I just watched while totally bug-eyed.” He counted his fingers again: still ten. “You’re my centipede-flashback. I’m talking to myself.”

“Could a centipede-flashback share a smoke with you, JayJay?” Faith gave Jay the roach. “I didn’t realize I was a fox at first because I was moving by instinct. I didn’t notice my adorable paws, even while I dug worms from their little holes. It was only when I chewed up the worms that I saw this was totally gross. Like, why was I doing that? Should I spit or finish the job? But I noticed my tail and my little black nose on my little white snout. Foxes can eat worms! So I swallowed. I also dug up some roaches, like the one you’re smoking. I’d never smoked a roach before, but there weren’t any crickets around, so I tucked ’em behind my ears for later.”

Jay puffed and examined the roach. The concept of roaches in the rusty desert reminded him, obliquely, of Dante’s woods of suicides, which Dan’s father had mentioned before jumping out a window. Surely not all the dead were worms. “Did you try smoking them right away? You’re pretty good at it for an animal without opposable thumbs.”

“Not yet. I didn’t know I could light ’em with my breath, so I was wandering the desert looking for a Bic. But a breeze had begun, and the longer I was in the desert, the worse the wind got. Eventually sand was just flying off the top of the dunes, and worms were flying with it. Remember when we smoked centipede, you had to keep me from blowing away with a draft?”

“Yeah.” Jay returned the roach and flipped his notepad to a fresh page. He decided he didn’t have the mental wherewithal for writing right now. He’d just doodle whatever Faith described. “After that, you blew away without any wind at all. I climbed the mountain looking for you.”

“Heh. Sorry about that, JayJay. I guess I’d just woken up in the desert because that’s where I’d drifted off to back then. Anyway, the storm only got worse and worse. I huddled at the bottom of a valley waiting for it to stop.” Faith showed Jay how she balled herself up, her nose tucked under her tail. “When the wind had shaved the dunes to half their height, I felt my own body about to sheer apart like flakes of snow.” She waggled her back-end in demonstration. “If it wasn’t for Bug-Bird, I would’ve been powderized!”

“Bug-Bird?”

“You know, the big blue bird with criss-crossed bug-eyes. They called themselves the Heart of the Mountain, but… you know me, JayJay, I like my pet-names. Bug-Bird saw me from the sky and dove through the wind on a sonic boom to land right next to me. I stepped aboard Bug-Bird’s wing, walked up their sleeve, and poked my head out of their collar. I couldn’t feel the wind at all!”

Jay felt a bit invasive asking this. “What was under the robes?”

“More robes!” Thank goodness, thought Jay. “Bug-Bird said they found me because I ate those worms, and the Mountain can detect that sort of thing. They told me the storm was because a warp in the Wheel was making it wobble, and they needed my help fixing it for the Zephyrs to fight the Hurricane.”

Jay giggled at his own sketch of a fox riding a bird over dunes. “Jango’s brother Jun accomplished what he wanted with LuLu’s. It’s impossible for me to take Sheridanian imagery seriously. I just can’t hear ‘Zephyr’ without hearing ‘giant anime space-robot.’ “

“I had the same issue!” Faith finished smoking the roach. She extinguished it in the snowy grass. “I told Bug-Bird I’d be happy to help if they could explain what the heck they were talking about.”

“Haha.”

“As we blasted off to the Mountain—their feathers tilted like airplane flaps—Bug-Bird said LuLu’s space-robots were just as involved as anything else was! Everything would be a Zephyr eventually, they said, but until then, lotsa Zephyrs were just worms. The Wheel was supposed to process worms into proper Zephyrs by sifting them in the sand, or something, but the sandstorm was swirling the worms through the air and they just couldn’t sift right.”

“So you were flying through worms?”

“Hoo yeah! Swarm after swarm, splattering against Bug-Bird’s robes like a windshield on the highway. I thought a bird would love to eat worms, but Bug-Bird said they weren’t supposed to—they’re not allowed to meddle too much. But I was allowed to eat all the worms I wanted!”

“…How many was that?”

Faith’s blush radiated warmth. “Bug-Bird said worms were supposed to find that big red mountain—the Mountain. We were headed to the Mountain, so I thought I’d might as well give ’em a ride. But there were way too many worms for me to eat more than a few! I asked Bug-Bird, how many Zephyrs are there? ‘Innumerably many.’ But how many is that, I asked. ‘Quintillions of quintillions.’ That sounded plenty numerable, so I asked again. ‘It depends on how you count them,’ they said. ‘Zephyrs overlap. You saw me collect the Zephyr with golden wings, which alone redeemed countless worms all at once.’ “

Jay thought Faith did a pretty good Heart-of-the-Mountain impression. “But how many is countless?” he asked. “Bug-Bird was waffling again.”

“That’s what I said! Bug-Bird, how many Zephyrs are there? ‘As many as thousands of thousands, or as few as thirty three.’ I was having fun at this point, and I figured Bug-Bird was, too, since their answer kept changing. C’mon! I said. Gimme a number! How many Zephyrs are there?  ‘Just two, myself and the other.’ How many Zephyrs are there? ‘Only one.’ But honestly, how many Zephyrs are there? ‘I’m done playing this game.’ They sounded like my mom having her patience tested. They blasted fog from their robes to land on the Mountain. ‘Please, disembark.’ They protected me from the worm-storm with one wing. Very cozy!”

Jay thought this sounded considerably more comfortable than his own experience, being hurled onto the big red mountain from a great distance away. “Did they try to shove you in a hole?”

“Nope. They opened a cave, but said I couldn’t come in until they’d prepared it for me.”

“I guess the Heart of the Mountain is improving their bedside manner.”

“Well, they said if I just walked into the cave as it was, I’d be sucked into the Wheel to become a Zephyr, but the wobbling couldn’t handle that. The way they’d prepare the cave, I’d just be a lil’ will-o-wisp.”

“Is that really what they called you?”

“They said ‘wisp of my will,’ but that means will-o-wisp, right? Anyway, Bug-Bird’s other wing turned into a big, briny tentacle which reached deep into the cave and pulled out a fluffy, golden wing—a wing from that Zephyr we saw, JayJay! It smelled awesome up close, like flowers and honey! Bug-Bird spread the golden wing around the cave like shiny rugs and tapestries so we could enter safely without touching the rocky walls or floor. This was when I asked if I could call her Bug-Bird, because Heart of the Mountain’s a mouthful. She said I could call her whatever I wanted.”

“Hold up.” Jay tapped his pen against his sketch of Bug-Bird making tentacles. “Her? She? Not they? Not, uh, it?

“I asked about pronouns, too. That really made her think. She said she was usually she, but sometimes they were they—plural they, not singular.”

“Neato.” Jay doodled Ardhanarishvara.

“The deeper we walked in the cave, the more I felt like I should’ve been worried, but honestly, I felt bored.” Faith? Bored? They must’ve been walking for a whole minute or two. “When I was about to ask how much longer it’d be, there was sound like a flock of seagulls and the golden wing rolled us up, coiling like a carpet. Bug-Bird and I were pulled deep into the Mountain faster than we could’ve fallen. I thought I’d be scared, but the golden wing felt so soft and smelled so sweet that I fell asleep.”

“How long were you out?”

“I dunno! When I woke up it was all green, all around. Bug-Bird and I were standing on the golden wing’s tippy-top as it pushed us faster and faster through all the green. She said we were in the Wheel.

“Did you hear a buzzing noise?”

“We were zooming faster than sound, I think. Bug-Bird and I were talking telepathically, like this!” She stared up at Jay. Jay stopped sketching to stare back. “Are you getting anything?” she asked. Jay shook his head. “Ah, well. It works in the Wheel. Bug-Bird tried explaining the Wheel was actually yellow on one side and blue on the other, but I just saw green, green, green. ‘The Wheel turns the future into the present, the present into the past, and the past into the future—but,’ she said, ‘the Wheel’s wobble was mucking it up.’ Then our golden wing poked us straight through the Wheel’s surface.”

“You were outside the Wheel of life and death? What was there?”

“Well, below the horizon, it was just green—that was the Wheel. Above the horizon, it was just darkness at first. Wow, I said, there aren’t even stars out there! ‘Of course not,’ said Bug-Bird. ‘Reality is beneath us.’ But then the darkness filled with blue and red shapes. ‘The Zephyrs,’ said Bug-Bird, pointing at the blue. ‘The Hurricane,’ she said, pointing at the red. The red and blue were textured like detailed crystals, and they swapped the darkness back and forth. Then Bug-Bird broadened both her wings to direct my attention down to the Wheel.” Faith mimed it out, gesturing with her front paws at the snowy grass below.

“What did the Wheel look like from outside?”

“Razor-thin streaks of light were shooting from the center, to the rim on the horizon, then back to the center. The streaks were actually upright triangles—like, wedge-shapes.” Faith bit Jay’s pen and tried drawing in his notepad herself. When she was unable to doodle what she wanted, she gave the pen back. “Imagine the pyramids of Giza were 2D glaciers zipping by at super-speed. But in the distance, there was a green bulge on the horizon—the warp in the Wheel, blocking the flow of razor-glaciers!”

“How did Bug-Bird expect you to fix something like that?”

“I told her, I had no clue what I was looking at. She tried explaining that the razor-glaciers were combinations of worms sent to live, learn, die, and return. She said I was worms, too, and all the worms in me had been in lots of different razor-glaciers a whole bunch of times. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, so she said she’d send me to someone who could communicate on my level: a Virgil. I told her I had to bring the Virgils a gift, because they brought one to me in Wyoming. She used that information to lower the golden wing toward a specific portion of the Wheel, which she said would be an appropriate time and place for me. As we got closer, the razor-glaciers were just swooshing by. Some were tall as trees, some short as the tips of fingernails. She dipped one of her feathers in the green Wheel, and its wake was sky-blue. She told me to jump into it, but I told her again, I wasn’t leaving without a gift! I had cockroaches, but I didn’t think the Virgils would like them. She swept one of my roaches under her robes and returned it as the biggest bug-stick I’d ever seen, wrapped in its own wings like… like… like awesome fancy scarves!”

“And then you jumped in?” Faith nodded. “Virgil Skyy told me about meeting you on the Islands of Sheridan.”

“Perfect,” said Faith. “I’ll skip that part. Jango didn’t teach me to fix the Wheel anyway—although, his story about his brother Jun convinced me to help Bug-Bird even if I didn’t quite understand what was going on. I steamed up from the Wheel and snowed back beside her onto the golden wing. I said I’d do whatever she wanted, but I wasn’t sure how those space-robots Virgil Skyy talked about were related to anything I was seeing now. She was all like, ‘Perhaps you weren’t prepared for the highest revelations.’ “

Jay drew Faith, the white fox, jumping into and out of the Wheel with razor-glaciers zooming behind her. “It sounds like Jun’s giant anime space-robots are accidentally the perfect way to get folks outside the islands invested in Sheridanian culture.”

“Well, maybe. Then she poked ten long blue arms out of her sleeves and used them to fold the golden wing’s tippy-top small enough for me to bite down on. It was soft and thin as a plush rabbit’s felted ear. ‘This Zephyr’s golden wings stretch to any length and seem indestructible. If you bandage the Wheel with it, the Wheel will spin quickly as the Chain demands with nary a wobble. My desert’s storm will cease, and my water-world’s worm-processing will stabilize.’ “

Faith seemed to have a little too much fun mimicking the Heart of the Mountain’s mode of speech. On one hand, Jay wondered if this meant Faith was faking it. On the other hand, her story seemed consistent with Jango’s lecture on the islands. On both hands at once, this was clearly a centipede-flashback he shouldn’t take too seriously. “So you wrapped the Wheel with the golden wing?”

“Uh-huh!”

“Why didn’t Bug-Bird do it herself?”

“Like I said, Bug-Bird doesn’t want to meddle too much with worms. It’s better if I do it for her. She also told me not to touch the Wheel’s center, because it would ‘scatter my consciousness across the cosmos,’ although the wing-wrapping would be more secure if I passed by the center pretty close. Oh, and the golden wing might try to talk to me, but I should ignore it, because it was new here.”

“So how do you wrap a Wheel with a wing?”

“I just jumped back into the green! It was super floaty in there.” Faith let her body aerosolize to illustrate, levitating around Uncle Bob’s porch-light. Jay worried she would drift away. “It was so easy to fly, I wasn’t sure if I was pulling the wing or if it was propelling me and I just told it where to go. I pulled the wing near the center, then near the rim, then near the center, then near the rim, more times than I could count. Each lap, I flew outside the Wheel to admire the spokes I’d added. It took ages to make each one, but I didn’t mind! The wing was excellent company.”

“Did it talk, like Bug-Bird warned? Maybe, uh, telepathically?”

“No, but it was such a listener. Do you remember…” Faith descended to sit beside Jay. “Beatrice died while we were on centipede. That seriously fucked me up. I could hardly even talk about it.” Jay nodded. “So I told the golden wing about her, and how much I missed her. My mind wasn’t in the right place, and I still thought I was hallucinating, so I wondered if BeatBax was alive, waiting next to me wherever I was tripping, and the golden wing was how I interpreted her keeping me company. The wing kinda cradled me when I said that. I swear, its honey-smell was right outta her shampoo-bottles!”

Jay wiped his tears. “How about after you wrapped the Wheel, Faith? What happened then?”

“Bug-Bird showed up and said the desert wasn’t windy anymore! The worms were sifting, or whatever! The Wheel was still pretty wobbly, but I was done bandaging it.” Faith looked briefly proud of herself. Then her muzzle twitched like she smelled a bad worm. “Next she needed help in another way. Anihilato.

Jay almost dropped his pen. Instead, he shakily flipped to a fresh page of his notepad. Even before asking Faith to explain, he started sketching scenes from an old dream. “Dan mentioned Anihilato, too. What’s Anihilato, Faith?”

“Bug-Bird hardly even described. She just told me there was a visitor on the red mountain which wasn’t ready to be a Zephyr yet. My new job was chauffeuring it far into the desert and dropping it off between any old dunes for Anihilato to find. I was on-board for anything, so I let Bug-Bird wrap me in the golden wing and sling me back up a cave to the Mountainside.”

“And what did you find there?” Jay was already drawing Dan as an orange amoeba boiling with teeth.

“It was so loud!” Faith huddled by herself and pressed her ears flat against her head. “It was some awful ball of dentures! They were all crunching each other up, and themselves, too. When you and I smoked centipede, I helped you with puking some teeth, right? But this? I couldn’t even bring myself to look at it.”

“But it calmed itself down,” said Jay, “didn’t it?”

“Yeah. The tooth-ball became this puddle of water with some worms in it, all tangled together. Bug-Bird had said worms were supposed to find the Mountain, but these ones squirmed for the edge like they’d jump off. Even they didn’t think they were ready to be a Zephyr! I was scared of the teeth, but I thought I could hold my own against worms, so I picked ’em up and beat them against the ground. This was when I realized I could freeze stuff by breathing on it, because I’m all snowy.”

“But you aren’t just snow.” Jay scratched her head to feel the powdery substance she was made of. “You can also breathe hot enough to light a roach.”

“I’m getting to that part, JayJay. But next I turned into a tornado and whisked the worms away, so whatever I am, I’m pretty dang rad.”

“A great and complicated tool,” said Jay. “What did you do with the worms?”

“Far from the Mountain I found some nice dunes I thought the worms would like. I didn’t want to drop them from altitude, so I decided to set them on the sand—but when I looked down, I realized how high up I was! I totally froze.”

“Literally?”

“Like a hailstone! I fell thousands of feet and burst on the sand. The little wormies scattered everywhere. And then!” Faith jumped with all the fur on her back flared up. She was trying to have fun describing something which had clearly disturbed her. “The valley collapsed! Like a—Like a—What’s that thing which eats ants in a death-cone?”

“An ant-lion?”

“Yeah! The valley collapsed like an ant-lion’s death-cone. Anihilato burst out of the center and grabbed me with way too many hands. ‘I’ve got you! You’re mine!’ It was the biggest worm I ever saw. It had a bazillion arms, a bajillion legs, and six eyes.” Jay shivered, drawing the monster from his childhood nightmare. “It used a bunch of hands to smush me into shapeless powder and compress me on the sand, and it used its other hands to eat all those worms I brought. I yelled at it to let me go, but it didn’t listen! It said it eats its own eggs just because the yolks are warm, someday it’d eat the whole Mountain, and today it was gonna eat me!

“How’d you escape?”

“I got all fired up!”

“Literally?”

“Kinda! I got hotter and hotter, and Anihilato had to keep swapping the hands it used to squish me down. ‘Leggo!’ I shouted, and my voice was piping steam. Soon I was all steam, and it couldn’t stop me from fuming through its fingers, so I collected as a cloudy fox far above its reach. Or so I thought! It reached up like a snake charmed out of a pot, grabbing at me. ‘You belong to me!’ it said. ‘I own your worms!’ I still steamed through its fingers, so I kept climbing up water-vapor like a spiral staircase.” Faith was apparently ungraspable. “I asked what made it think it was okay do treat me like that, and it said my ‘worm-certificates’ were in its ‘box of souls.’ It was the rightful owner of all worms.”

The phrases tickled Jay’s throat. “Did Bug-Bird mention anything like that?”

“Nuh-uh! But Anihilato didn’t care. It kept saying it was allowed to eat me, because I was dead. I still thought I was hallucinating, and I told it so. But it said… it said if I was hallucinating, then I wouldn’t mind being eaten, would I?”

“I guess not?”

“I told it, if I’m hallucinating, I’ll go where I choose, and I’d never choose to be down there with it ever again. I’d rather be on Mars, apparently, interning for Olympus Mons. When I flew away, Anihilato called me a frigid rat. I was so mad! I scratched the Mountain’s surface until Bug-Bird opened a cave and crawled up.”

“Did you chew her out?”

“Hell yeah! What the fuck was that, I asked. Anihilato tried to nab me! Aren’t worms supposed to be sifting in the sand, or something, not whatever it was doing? She was all like, ‘I don’t control Anihilato, just like I don’t control you, or the golden wing-thing. I mustn’t meddle with worms!’ I didn’t care. A big evil worm like that has gotta be an OSHA violation or something.”

“At least.

“But Bug-Bird wouldn’t budge. ‘You saw the tooth-ball,’ she said. ‘Anihilato processes worms not ready for the Mountain. It will eat anything—it might even try to eat me!‘ That just pissed me off! How come I could touch the tooth-ball, but not her? How come I had to deal with that evil worm? ‘Ah, if Anihilato consumed you, that would be acceptable for reasons I cannot communicate!’ There was a whole lot Bug-Bird couldn’t communicate. I told her she was awfully tight-beaked.” Faith growled. “I told her in words way more colorful than that.”

“I’ll bet.”

“I tried jumping into the cave. Maybe she was hiding something there? But she blocked me and said she’d send me to someone who could talk on my level. She spread out the golden wing again and we whipped back into the Wheel.”

“Did she send you to another Virgil?”

“JayJay, she sent me here. To you.

“Oh. Oh.” Jay put down his notepad. “I’m afraid I don’t have any cool lecture prepared for you like Virgil Jango Skyy. I can’t tell you what Anihilato’s deal is.” In compensation, he scratched behind her ears.

“That’s alright. I’m just glad to see you!” Faith’s hind legs thumped the grass in appreciation of Jay’s scratching. “What have you been up to while I’m gone, JayJay?”

“Not a lot. You and Beatrice had a great wake. Dan and I came to Wyoming with your uncle.”

“How’s Dainty doing?”

Jay leaned back on Bob’s porch. “He’s in mourning, let’s say.”

Faith whimpered. “Are you sure I can’t pop in and meet him?”

“I don’t even think he could even see you,” said Jay. “You’re a figment of my imagination.”

“I promise I’m not!” She begged, rolling on the grass. “I just wanna tell Dainty everything’s okay! He hides it, but he’s a nervous wreck without me.”

“I know it well as you do.” Jay wagged a finger at her. “But you’ll have to return to that big red mountain eventually, right? Would you make Dan lose you twice?

Faith opened her mouth to protest, but saw Jay’s point and just pouted. “Take care of him for me, then.”

“I’m trying.” Jay stood and brushed dust 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 you’re really dead, you’ll see Dan someday. You’ll meet him in the Mountain.”

Hmpf.” Faith pawed the dirt. “I don’t think that place is good enough for Dainty. I don’t trust Bug-Bird anymore.”

“I suddenly do,” said Jay, “at least in the context of my ongoing hallucination. The Heart of the Mountain taught you a valuable lesson.” Faith’s ears perked. “When Bug-Bird sent you to discard the tooth-ball, it was because they couldn’t risk touching the teeth themselves. In the same way, don’t worry about Dan. Let me worry about Dan. Trust me to treat Dan’s interests as my own. And tell Bug-Bird to get another intern to deal with Anihilato.”

Faith laughed. She turned with Jay to watch the moon. “Maybe Bug-Bird sent me to offer you that position, JayJay!” Her tail steamed. “Think about it! I’ll see you in the next eternity.” Her body was buoyed back above the horizon.

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