Sigurrós faced off against the faceless entity in front of her with growing curiosity.
She sent out her thoughts again, and probed further this time, feeling her mind enmesh with the mind of the thing in front of her — if it could be called a mind. It was like staring into an eternal maze of strings, stretched out on some vast cosmic framework in too many dimensions at once.
There was something else there — something —
Her mind touched something that wasn't there, and the backlash sent her physically flying backwards. She landed on her back, gazing up at the open sky, too stunned to move.
The voiceless voice and songless song filled her head again.
Sigurrós lifted herself to her feet. It was really very strange operating this body, this physical shell made of bones and muscle and tendons…
No. She couldn't get distracted, not right now. She focused on the blank-faced/many-faced thing in front of her.
Which was sort of easy to do, because it was sprouting massed of tentacles. And with her spirit-sight, she could see it spreading a countless number of wings.
The world stopped existing for a moment. Sloppy. Sigurrós brought it back.
"You can't just soft delete things," Sigurrós said. "It's super easy to bring back. It comes back on its own after a minute anyway and no one notices."
The thing did not answer in words. It opened its mouth without opening its mouth, and a river poured out — no, a tsunami, a tsunmai of blue-black water imbued with want and longing and forever. Sigurrós turned the water into a swarm of birds and butterflies, blanketing Site-17 with the sound of wings.
The thing flew into the air and thrust its tentacles into the buildings surrounding them, and the buildings turned into a massive wave of spiders that came crashing down on them. Sigurrós, who'd always liked bugs, let the wave come.
That was a mistake. The spiders weren't just spiders. They were the idea of spiders, the fears and genetic arachnopobia of everything that had ever walked this corrupted Way. All that and more was concentrated in each of every one of the billions of spiders making up the wave.
Sigurrós screamed as the mass swallowed her up.
Alison was planting her focus flower in the middle of Site-17's personnel offices when the mental attack bowled her over. In her mind's eye, she could see the tendril lashing out, piggybacking on Sigurrós' mind straight into hers. She was only a couple gestures away from success — gods be damned, if she could just —
NEVER NEVER NEVER
Alison rolled on the floor, clutching her head as if that would do anything useful, trying to regain control.
WHAT IS MY NAME WHAT IS YOUR NAME WHAT IS MY NAME WHAT IS YOUR NAME
She forced herself to hold still. Concentrate. Concentrate.
ALISON CHAO BLACK QUEEN LITTLE SISTER LOST SINNER LAST SAINT LONELY SERPENT LOKI SCAR-LIP LEASE SIGNATORY LITTLE SISTER LITTLE SISTER LITTLE SISTER
She felt her eyes roll back up in her head, and struggled to hold on to her own existence.
"Rita," Cross said.
Rita seemed … not in a very good state. She wasn't crying, but she was all but. The gun shook in her hand, ever so slightly, but not enough that it wavered from being aimed at her sister's head.
"I wouldn't believe it when they told me," Cross said. "My sister, working for the Foundation."
No, shut up, wrong thing to say— Campbell thought. But of course thinking at Cross that she should stop talking was even less effective than telling Cross to stop talking, which was remarkable in and of itself.
"My sister working for the Serpent's Hand!" Rita shouted back. There were definitely some tears there, now, but Campbell couldn't tell what kind. She'd never seen Rita like this. "My sister the terrorist," Rita continued. "My sister the woman trying to destroy the world!"
"I'm not trying to destroy the world," Cross said. "I'm trying to save it, goddammit—"
"Don't you fucking move!" Rita jerked the gun tip slightly downwards for emphasis. "Put the plant down."
Cross slowly lowered the plant towards the ground. "Rita—"
"Don't you say my name! Set the plant down on the ground."
"I think she's telling the truth, Rita," Campbell said, hesitantly.
"And you," Rita said. "You've been working with her this whole time? I trusted you, Kendra. I trusted you!"
"I didn't know a thing about this until today!"
"I don't believe you."
"You saw the logs," Campbell said. "I know you did, I saw your requisition request on them. You know exactly what I knew until today." Well, except the single unreported message, but Campbell wasn't about to split hairs with an angry woman holding a gun.
"You read the logs," Cross said. "I didn't think you would."
Rita was silent.
"Everything I said in there was true," Cross said. "Everything—"
"Be quiet," Rita said. "Just… for the love of God… shut up!"
Sigurrós writhed in hopeless fear for a long minute, at the bottom of the sea of spiders. Then something in the back of her mind said really now.
The solution was obvious, actually, that small detatched part of her mind said. The way to not be afraid of spiders is to be a spider yourself.
So Sigurrós became a spider. She didn't just become any spider. She became the Queen of All Spiders. The other spiders around her bowed their spider heads in awe.
She was about to command them to become something slightly more adorable when the other thing's mind struck at her, trying to hammer her into submission with direct force.
That made Sigurrós particularly mad. Really, she thought. That's just insulting. Boring. Not clever at all. She hurled her mind back in response. But at the same time, she turned the world around them into cotton candy. Fluffy spider cotton candy.
The thing's physical body, naturally, went toppling over, struggling to disentangle itself from the cotton candy. Sigurrós took advantage of that to probe again into the things's confused, alien mind.
No. Not mind. Minds.
There was something else there, something that also wasn't there at all. A crouching parasite piggybacking behind the many eyes of the corrupted Way.
She knew its name, the name of the lack of name. Neverwere. Neverwere, Neverwas, Neverwillbe.
She suddenly, once more, felt extremely tired. It wasn't just the corrupted Way exerting its will at her.
She hadn't had to exert herself this much on purpose in… in ever.
Alison and the others had warned her about this. They said that when it happened, she should look for her foci. They would shine like bright stars in her mental landscape. Use them as anchors, they said. So you don't get cut loose and drift away.
But her mental landscape was barren.
The Way's tentacles wrapped around her. Each of them had a different emotion, a different tantalizing nature. Each one was a different path through the worlds. Each one could smother and strangle and kill.
But she was finding it harder and harder to care.
All these visions. All these visions of things she'd never seen, touched, tasted, experienced. She'd thought she had it okay, keeping her physical form asleep, drifting around and watching in an astral body. Occasionally lurking on milder parters of the Internet.
She was wrong. She'd experienced nothing like the visions she was seeing now. She was walking the beaches of Zebedee. Running through the jungles of Albenon. Tasting the redfruit juices of the Ravelwoods.
She could die here, and that would be okay. Rather than live experiencing a twentieth of a lifetime, she could die experiencing more than most experienced in a thousand lifetimes.
Then she saw the vision she'd had before, the vision of the future, of the Way-Neverwere-Way self-destructing into the hole in reality that would stay forever until the heat death of this universe. A black smirch where there once was a living, promising planet.
There were still things she needed to do. Here, on Earth. She'd never been to high school. She' never played a video game. She'd never gone to a movie theater. She'd never been grocery shopping. She'd never been to Disneyland. These were silly things, but sometimes the silly things mattered the most.
No. Not yet.
She pulled herself back from the brink and threw off the Way's tentacles, one by one.
The Way-Neverwere-Way resisted. It flung its mind at her again, but this time its mind was like a world in and of itself. She couldn't counter it — she envisioned its mental attack as a vast metal scorpion's tail, and deflected it with a conjured mirror-shield. The tail-sword deflected off the mirror and flew upward in the sky, striking it as if it were a dome, cracking the sky down the middle.
The world around them turned to barbed wire and ice. She transformed it to autumn leaves and gentle snowflakes.
The world turned to blood and ash. She transformed it to strawberry jello and diamond dust.
The world turned to the deep blackness of space. She transformed it to the cool midnight of full moons.
Unfortunately, time was still running out, and to borrow a sports metaphor from a game or games she only half understood, she was just playing defense.
Two minutes left until the end of the world.
"I've been thinking about this a long time." Rita steadied her arms. "This is about courage. The courage to do the right thing, even when everyone else is telling you not do."
"The right thing? Are you going to kill me, Rita? If I pick up this plant to save the world, are you going to kill me?"
"I will if I have to," Rita said. "That's what courage is."
"Courage? The courage to kill your own sister? Are you even listening to yourself, Rita?"
"I said, don't call me that!" Rita narrowed her eyes.
Thunder rolled in the background. Flashes of light came from outside. Campbell glanced at the cameras. Most of them were down. The few left showed… places like other worlds, protean, shifting. Distant views of a grudge match like the world almost never saw, between ancient gods from the primordial world. Campbell tensed, ready to… ready to she-didn't-know-what.
"Maybe it is about courage," Cross said. "Yeah, the courage to do the right thing. But what the hell is the right thing here?"
"It's about having the courage to follow the rules," Rita said. "Even when it's the hardest thing to do."
"What if the rules are wrong?"
The wall shook. Black ice crept across the windows, then receded. The area of effect of the reality benders was increasing. Rapidly.
"They're not wrong," Rita said. Though there was a slight note of hesitation in her voice. "The Foundation defends reality. We're the last line of defense between humanity and—"
"The world could end any second right now," Cross said. "Literally any fucking second! There are two reality benders fighting out there and you're making sure I can't make sure the good guy wins. What kind of last defense of humanity is that?"
The two sisters stared at each other. A thunderstorm raged, suddenly, in the corners of the room, replaced by radiant diffuse gold light, replaced by a rainbow array of snakes, which finally vanished altogether.
"I'm sorry," Cross said. Her shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry for … for not always being a good sister. For pretty much never being a good sister, actually. I'm sorry for steamrollering you in every friendly argument we got into. For not giving enough of a shit about your feelings. Hell, I'm even sorry for always hiding your dolls when we were growing up. Really. I mean it. Petty as that sounds. Just… please. Consider what I'm saying."
"Even if you're right," Rita said in a quiet voice, "it wouldn't matter. It's how things are. You don't understand the reach of the Foundation — even if the world ended right now, they could bring it back three times over — you can't just leave something like that, you can't—"
"Please," Cross said. "Please just listen."
"I can't," Rita said.
They were all surrounded by snow and sleet, for a split second, and then it was gone. A flock of winged blue frogs flew overhead.
"Please," Cross said. "You don't have to be alone anymore. Come with me. Come home."
"Maybe they can bring you back too," Rita said.
Campbell saw the decision on Rita's face a split second before she pulled the trigger, before she really processed the words that had come out of her mouth, and leaped at her. She collided with Rita just as the gun went off.
The world changed to water, for a split second, suspending them all in slow motion just for one moment. In that split second, Campbell caught a glimpse of Cross falling backwards, clutching herself, blood ballooning outward.
Sigurrós groped for her foci. She found a few — one, two, three. Four and five, though — not there. Gone.
It wasn't enough.
Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir, she thought. My name is Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir. It's a good name. But I might not have it for much longer.
She felt like she was floating at the top of a well, with deep, deep water before. It would be so easy to just … let go, and sink, sink forever, into the blissful abyss…
She didn't let go, but she sank anyway.
She felt herself becoming half-real. Half-real, and falling asleep.
She was so very tired, she realized. So very, very tired.
One minute left until the end of the world.
never… never… never… never…
Rita scrambled to her feet. Campbell was impressed for just an instant to see that she'd managed to keep hold of the gun.
For a moment, the two of them just stood there, neither knowing what to do.
Then Rita's eyes widened, she went limp, and collapsed to the floor, gun clattering away from nerveless fingers.
Campbell looked over at Cross. The woman was up again, too, clutching her side with one bloody hand, the other holding a jagged piece of metal, aiming it at Rita.
After a moment, Cross let the piece of metal drop, picked up the strange plant and determinedly started making hand gestures again.
Abruptly, a web of light burst from the pot end of the plant and rooted itself in the floor. The red-pink blossom at the end suffused with light.
The Neverwere loosened its grip on Alison's mind, sensing Sigurrós was becoming — astonishingly — an easier kill. And certainly more tempting, too.
Alison forced herself into action. She pulled herself off the floor, held onto the damned focus flower stem for dear life, and with great difficulty performed the last two hand motions.
She allowed herself a small victorious smile as the flower bloomed before her eyes, lighting up the room.
Thirty seconds left until the end of the world.
Sigurrós had almost lost sight of the surface when the last two of her foci glimmered like sudden lights in her mind's eye.
With a sudden burst of metaphysical adrenaline, she forced herself through the heavy water and back into her own mind.
Fifteen seconds left until the end of the world.
She was encompassed by the tentacles of the Way-Neverwere-Way, both in the physical world and the spiritual world. But instead of panic, the position brought her a sudden burst of clarity.
She'd been going about this wrong. You couldn't kill a Way. It was a Way. And you couldn't kill a Neverewere. You couldn't put something out of existence that didn't exist in the first place. No matter what.
Five seconds left until the end of the world.
She felt its anguish reach its fever pitch in response to its contact with her mind.
Zero seconds left until the end of the world.
But she wasn't afraid anymore, because she knew the answer. She didn't need any more seconds to stop the end of the world.
She couldn't kill it. But she could heal it.
She felts the Way's core begin to collapse in on itself- she felt the end of the world begin
She saw it all in her mind, to hole tearing in the middle of reality, all of Earth collapsing into the hole left in the middle of Site-17. That vision of her drifting off into space…
And she said, "No."
She reached into the forming hole in the world, into the heart of the suffering, broken Way, and she pulled it inside out. She pulled the Neverwere right out of it, and into…
Into "essence". Into existence.
Inside Site-17, the earth and sky shook for nearly a full minute.
And then all three of them, Sigurrós, the Neverwere, and the broken Way, disappeared into thin air, leaving only dust and quiet behind.
Campbell pulled herself up off the ground once she was sure the quake was done. She glanced over at Cross, with a questioning look.
"I… I'm alright," Cross said. "Just a flesh wound, as they say in the movies. Missed all my vital organs. Sealed it up temporarily with a bit of the old "doin' magic'. Gonna leave a nasty scar, though." She laughed, wincing halfway through. "I can see why it had to be you."
"Alone, I would've died," Cross said. "Rita would've shot any of my people on sight. Any of your people would've shot me before she did.. Had to be you."
"Still not getting what you mean," Campbell said.
"We didn't know why the augurs said that I had to approach you," Cross said. "That's why I went to you today. Why I tried so hard to convert you last time we met. Not just, you know, affection. The augurs said that if you were here, I might survive, and if you weren't, I wouldn't." She looked down at her side. "This bullet would've been in my head if you hadn't come. Thank you."
"Augurs," Campbell said. "I thought Fate wasn't a real thing. No gods no plans, right?"
"Right." Cross chuckled. "Nothing's meant to be. Just mathematical predictions and knowledge of possible futures. Just… playing the odds. Turned out alright, didn't it?"
She hauled herself to her feet and walked slowly over towards Rita. She started at her sister's face for a long moment, at her wide-open, staring eyes.
"Paralytic spell," Cross said in response to Campbell's unasked question. "Will wear off in a couple hours and she'll be fine. Well… fine from a certain point of view. Physically, anyway."
She reached down and carefully, with one hand, closed both of her sister's eyelids.
Campbell said, "They're gonna establish security pretty quickly now that the reality benders are gone. We, uh… we've had practice. You have to get out of here."
"Just me?" Cross asked.
Cross pressed an object into her hand. Campbell looked at it. A small green card, with a tiny moving holographic arrow dancing on its surface.
"It's a temporary Library Card," Cross said. "Site-17's East Gate is breached. That thing blew a hole in it when it went. There is a Way in the forest outside. You'll recognize it — a crook in between two trees with a bit of blue spraypaint on it. That little arrow will guide you there. It will automatically open for you."
"I'm a Foundation member," Campbell said. "I can't use Ways to get into the Library. Even if I could—"
"This card will get you in, unharmed," Cross said. "Just once, and only if your intentions are good."
"I have my own ways out," Cross said. "I can only take them alone. So you have to go alone too. Listen. This will probably be your only chance. If you want to risk it… now's the time to take the leap."
Cross held Campbell's gaze for a long second, then — surprisingly, without more words — turned and hobbled off for the opposite door.
Campbell made her decision, and headed for the East Gate.
Alison took the scenic route of out Site-17's personnel office building. It took her about twenty extra minutes — twenty dangerous minutes, during which Site-17 inched closer and closer to sealing their numerous security breaches — but it was well worth the effort, she thought, when she finally found the right office. With the name plaque reading, simply, "Doctor Gears".
Except that the office was not, as she expected, unoccupied.
Alison held her father's gaze for a long moment, before either of them spoke.
"Alison Chao," Gears said. His voice betrayed no emotion.
"Yes," Alison said.
Neither of them said anything for a long moment.
"Temporary office, right?" Alison asked.
"Yes," Gears said. "I was assigned here in anticipation of dealing with a security breach, as you know. Your security breach, I presume."
"I'm on my way out," Alison asked. "Unless you have a method by which you are able to detain me."
"I do not," Gears conceded.
"I'm just stopping by to leave you this." She held out the long-stemmed black flower, in offering.
After a moment, Gears took it.
"It's an anise rose," Alison said. "Doesn't exist in this particular universe. Should give you some good data. Don't lose it. It's extremely expensive."
Gears contemplated the flower for a moment in silence.
"Goodbye, Doctor," Alison said.
"Goodbye, Miss Chao," Gears said.
Campbell stumbled through the woods east of Site-17, following the tiny arrow on the card. She hadn't even known there were woods here, not until today. She'd only ever seen the outside of the front gate, surrounded by concrete and iron, for seconds before she'd been bustled into the.
She felt dizzy. Insane. She still only half believed she was doing what she was doing.
She wasn't as in shape as she could be. At this point, she was nearing total exhaustion. Fear was driving her more than anything else.
Maybe it's not too late, she thought. But, no. She'd just seen the Serpent's Hand save the world. How could she go back the Foundation now?
A little map showed her that the entrance to the Way was just ahead. What it did not show was the sudden sleep slope before it.
Campbell went tumbling.
She finally managed to catch herself halfway down the slope, recovered the bent Library Card, unbent it, and made the rest of her way down the slope more carefully, and much more covered in mud and sticks. Now she properly looked the part, she thought inanely, the part of the fugitive from the Man.
She reached the bottom of the slope and found the trees with the blue spray paint. She stood in front of them expectantly, feeling a little foolish.
She got up closer to the tree. Feeling even more foolish, she put her hand on the fading spray paint. Then both hands. Then waited some more.
Still, nothing happened.
She pulled the Library Card out of her pocket, waved it in the air, up and down, around and around, feeling sillier and sillier by the minute.
She took another look at the Library Card. The front looked normal, except the little arrow had disappeared and there was a crease where she'd bent it. She flipped the card over.
Little holographic letters had appeared on the back of the Card, in English, all caps. WARNING: CARD UNREADABLE. PLEASE RETURN TO LIBRARY FOR REPLACEMENT AT EARLIEST OPPORTUNITY. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATRONAGE.
Then she laughed again. And kept laughing. She turned around and sank to the ground, back to the blue-spray-painted trees, still laughing.
"Jesus," she said aloud. "After all that. Nothing. Can't even get in. Just… Nothing."
"Shame," a voice said from amongst the tree trunks.
A man stepped out from the shadows. John Peters. MTF Tau-9 local section leader.
"Was really hoping that would work out," Peters said. "For your sake."
"You knew I'd defect," Campbell said.
Peters chuckled. "I give you credit for not trying to hide it. Like I told Butler… it's about courage. Shame it's coming from you."
"How long did you know?"
Peters glanced to the side for a moment. "We knew Cross would target you from the moment she showed up. We got some pretty good intel there. We knew it was never gonna be her sister. It was always gonna be you. Unfortunately, we didn't know why she was targeting you. Hell, we still don't. We tried a whole lot of junk that didn't work. You remember those questionnaire list. That was supposed to induce some kind of memetic trigger, I think. Didn't work too well. Or at all. Memetics is fucking bullshit. Anyway, since we had to throw you to the lions anyway, we — well, I — I just hoped you wouldn't fall for all that shit. "
Campbell found herself wishing she had a drink. I mean, if she were gonna die, may as well be dead drunk. Ha. Accidental pun.
"What's to fall for?" Campbell asked. "They literally just did save the world. I was there. It was pretty convincing."
"Oh, c'mon, Campbell," Peters said. "The world isn't so fragile that it needs some snake-worshipping nutjobs to save its ass every fucking Tuesday. I guarantee you that you all hadn't been there, we'd be just fine. We'd have figured a way out. The Foundation always does. That's why we're still here."
"Weak anthropic principle," Campbell said. "Conditions that are observed in the universe must allow the observer to exist."
Peters laughed. "Man, that Cross girl. She really did a number on you, didn't she?"
"How come it's just you here?" Campbell asked.
"Should've been a whole MTF squad waiting here for you, but what with that breach and all, I think I'll do the job just fine. See, I wasn't even here, but I got thinking… if I were gonna defect, when would I do it? And… you can guess the rest."
"You thought I was gonna be able to get into the Library."
"Yeah. We had a plan to piggyback. At least get a bug in there on you. Set up eventual entrance." Peters shrugged. "That's all garbage now, of course. Like I said, shame." Peters raised his gun. Aimed it at her head. "Any last words you want me to pass on?"
"Yeah," Campbell said. "Yeah, I do. I have a confession to make."
Peters raised an eyebrow. "And that is?"
"I think the Foundation can go straight to hell," Campbell said. She raised both middle fingers. Kept them there. "Nothing personal. Just asking you to pass these on."
Peters chuckled, looking at her. "I guess there are worst last words," he said, and he pulled the trigger.
Campbell waited, watching the gun fire.
Strange. The gunshot seemed to be happening in slow motion. The whole world had slowed to a crawl. Is this what it's like to die? she wondered. Kinda cool, I guess. All things considered.
Then she noticed the light glimmering behind her. The Light of the Way opening.
She turned. Beyond the Way's light, she could see… tables. Books. Stacks and stacks of books. Books lined up to high heaven.
And Kendra Campbell realized that she truly was no longer a member of the SCP Foundation.
Nevermind, she said to herself. Guess it's not time to die yet.
She walked through the Way, into the Library, not looking back to see the Way close behind her, cutting off the path of the slow-motion bullet that had been traveling for her head.
Back in the forest, the bullet carved out a path in the crooked trees, instead, ricocheting through trunks before harmlessly burying itself in a pile of mud some distance away.
"Well," Peters said to the empty forest. "Alright then."
Alison reached the Hand safe house, finally, thirty minutes behind schedule.
She walked in on Joanna Cross having her torso wrapped in bandages by an annoyed-looking Septima.
"You're late," Cross said.
"Who shot you?" Alison asked. "Dr. Campbell?"
"Nope. She saved my life, actually." Cross winced as Septima wrapped another bandage a little too tight. "My sister shot me. Rita."
"Shit," Alison said. "I'm sorry. I told her to go help you."
"I thought you might have," Cross said. "Don't worry about it. Maybe there's still a chance. I mean, she did fail to kill me. So there's that."
"Not giving up on her, huh?"
"Not any sooner than you're giving up on your dad." Cross smiled.
"Fair," Alison said. "What happened to Campbell?"
"She made it to the Library," Cross said.
"We'll head over there in a bit, give her a welcoming party. When I'm, you know. Less horribly in pain. What did you do with the Witch Child?"
"That's between me and her," she said.
Rita Butler awoke in the medical ward.
The paralysis was still taking its time wearing off. But she managed to prop herself up and look around.
The ward was swarming with activity. She'd been relegated to a corner stretcher, probably because the doctors didn't know what was actually wrong with her. The Foundation didn't deal in magic, after all.
She could call out, she thought, with enough effort. But she wasn't sure what the point of calling out was. The effect was clearly waving off.
A woman walked by with an open, friendly face that Rita recognized from Tau-9. She briefly debated calling out for her. Just for the company. But… she couldn't remember the name. Adele? Lily? Jill? Something with one or two syllables… and it didn't matter anyway, the woman was heading for another bed, and sitting down and grabbing the hand of the woman lying there with much enthusiasm.
Rita wondered if her sister had survived. She remembered those last moments, before she'd made the final decision to pull the trigger—
No. There was no final decision. It was always going to pan out that way. That was how things had to have gone. She was sure that Joanna knew that, deep down, too.
Acceptance is its own kind of courage, she told herself, though it felt a little hollow. She wasn't sure why.
She couldn't pin down what she was feeling, overall. It was… not quite regret. More like… some strange kind of dread. Not a dread of an event to happen, but a different kind of dread, a dread of the opposite nature.
Rita Butler lay there long into the night, on her stretcher in the corner, alone.
In a maternity ward not so far away from Site17, in the world of the mundanes, a newborn baby blinked into existence, taking in its first breath of air out of its mother's womb. The quickening. The moment when, metaphysically speaking, the soul enters the body. It had a matted black hair and somber brown eyes. It had soft red baby gums and soft pliable baby fingers and soft solid baby skin. It had cartilage and tendons and bones and blood and a mind.
It was real. It existed. It was happy.
"I have to admit," Alison Chao said, surveying the crowd below her, "I did not expect that outcome."
Next to her, Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir kicked her feet. "I couldn't kill it. But I could make it real."
"You realize that's never been done before, right?" Alison asked. "At least, not that anyone knows of. The Neverwere can't be real. Ever. That's their defining factor. It just… breaks the laws of the universe to say otherwise."
"Maybe the problem is with the laws of the universe, then," Sigurrós said.
Alison laughed. "Maybe that's why you exist. You're entirely too precocious for your own good, you know? Maybe one day soon you'll be a god asking me to bring burnt offerings to your altar."
Sigurrós frowned. "No," she said. "I'm not gonna become a god. I'm just… me."
"Maybe so," Alison said. "Not a god, not a demon. A witch girl. I approve of that. You know, that reminds me. Septima wrote you some poetry."
"She did?" Sigurrós' mouth formed a perfect "o". That little kid was really too adorable for her own good, sometimes. "Tell me!"
"The Witch Child and her worshippers went to the Jailors ground," Alison began.
"There to fight the enemy, the Neverwere.
"For the Witch Child is the only thing that can prevent the unmade from unmaking.
"And lo, did Sigur make the Neverwhere made.
"And lo, did they become defined and real,
"Their torments as half-truths and ephemera ended,
"For the only thing that can end the torture of half-existence is existence.
"By Septima Varan the High Enchantress and Ever-Faithful Follower of The Woman With Stars In Her Eyes." Alison paused. "That last part still means you. Septima seemed very insistent on that particular title."
Sigurrós smiled and clapped her hands. "It was only one Neverwere, though."
"Artistic license," Alison said. "I didn't say it was very good poetry. But it's heartfelt." She paused. "You know, you really could be quite the god if you wanted to."
"Nope," Sigurrós said.
"So you're sure you want to go back to the Foundation after this," Alison said. "Go back to your half-real coma?"
"Yes," Sigurrós said. "I have… I've got unfinished business. Not ready to leave yet. And I have friends there."
"Suit yourself," Alison said. "Let me know if you change your mind. But first… We made a bargain, didn't we? You performed me a service, I need to perform you a service. That's the rules of magical bargains. Even exchange. Makes the whole universe balance out. And I am told that I am a woman who makes good on her bargains."
Sigurrós grinned a huge grin. "Yup."
"So." Alison looked down from their perch atop the archway entrance to Disneyland. "Which ride would you like to go on first?"
"I've always wanted to see the Pirates of the Carribbean," Sigurrós said seriously.
"That one's cool," Alison said. "Jungle Cruise is better."
"That's the one with rainforest animals, right?"
"Only if you let me turn all the animals real for a minute."
"No. Definitely not."
"Just for a second! Promise!"
"Fine," Alison said. "But only for one second. No further. Deal?"
"Deal," Sigurrós said.
"Alright." Alison said stood up. "Let's go to Disneyland."
And so they did.