It wasn’t real.
I was still sitting in a half lotus position, the portal to Valkynne dilating around me.
At last I understood Valkynne’s paradox. It was both myth and reality. A paradise of the mind. I was trapped inside my own skull with no idea of how to escape.
Suddenly I was back in the jungle of living gems. Rainbows exploded through the iridescent trees. I smiled for a moment. But this wasn’t real either.
My mind spoke to itself in the mind’s own language.
There was light. Real light.
And in the light of real light, I saw Just.
Fissures had formed on his cheek in the same tiger pattern that once marked his scars. “Just me make it through your damn wall,” he said. He gripped a heavy, iron bound book, its ponderous cover bolted on. “Just m Beat through it with this.”
He raised it high, preparing to strike.
“Teach Just me how to get to paradise, or Just me crack your skull.”
Just swung the heavy iron book. Weakly, I turned aside.
The book rang a chord as the two covers struck the ground.
I curled into a fetal position, slipping in and out of paradise. In spaces between synapse connections, while dodging Just’s blows, I slipped through a cascade of Valkynnes:
…in idyllic pastures, where winged horses graze;
…in libraries filled with the books I am destined to write;
…in a house, where I am married, cradling a new born infant in my arms;
…in a castle where my subjects cower before me;
…in a grave where there is quiet and an end to trials.
I conjured some ineffectual spells. Misty translucent forms projected toward Just. He swept them away with the iron book, as if they were cobwebs. Then Just tossed the book aside. Irritated by the spells, and running out of patience, he extracted a gun from his coat. “One of us is go to paradise, Xyr. Which one it be?”
I hurled a scroll at Just, the only available weapon. The scroll unraveled in mid-air, blocking Just’s view. He fired three shots.
I took the opportunity to get lost among the stacks. Within moments, I found refuge in the shadows of a cul-de-sac aisle, under a sign which read, “These books are sacred to twelve religions. Please show proper respect.”
Just paced up and down a parallel aisle.
This was not the kind of challenge I had yearned for, hiding from an armed, unreasoning foe. In the quiet of the library, his footsteps sounded like artillery fire.
As Just approached the Lycanthropy Section, I shifted up alphabet to Kabbalah. Pushing a row of books to one side, I cleared a passage between aisles, then crawled through.
“There are too many books. Too many aisles,” shrieked Just. “You hide here forever… could, Xyr! But Just me not let you!”
Just set his bulk against a towering bookcase and began to push. He strained, sweating and grunting until the bookshelf swayed from side to side, seeking stability. Loose books began to rain from the peaks. Gravity took hold in predictable Newtonian fashion, and the enormous book case fell. It collided with its neighbor, causing all the bookcases to topple in succession like a row of giant dominoes. One after another, they hit and fell. Books leaped into the air like flocks of frightened birds. The sacrilege was so great, the sound so deafening, it was like the roof of heaven collapsing.
When the crashing stopped, the dust of ancient volumes floated on the air like a dense fog. I lay dazed, half submerged in a sea of texts. Just stood above me, leveling the gun.
“There’s nothing to tell.”
Just opened fire. But I deflected the bullet with the iron bound book. It had come to hand like magic.
I ran across the fallen books, like a stone skipping over the surface of a lake, splashing loose pages.
Just was reloading his gun. By that time, I had reached the card catalogue. The bullets were sliding into place, as I stood before the terminal. I tapped out a data entry.
Suddenly, the long silver mechanical arms whipped from their casings. The pincers grabbed Just by the wrists. In surprise, he pulled the trigger, but his shot went wild.
Just was caught, his arms forcibly held upright. He struggled.
I said to him, “The enchanted card catalog thinks it is handling books. Shall I give the order to re-shelve?”
Just surrendered the gun, letting it slip from his hand. He stopped struggling.
I walked over to Just, looked him up and down. Just dangled, as if upon a gibbet, in the silver grip of the pincers. He seemed helpless, and I had every reason to feel smugly superior again. But I still felt uneasy. There was something I was overlooking.
HERE, FRANCESCO NOOGIN AND CROW DIVERGE IN THEIR THINKING. FRANCESCO NOOGIN HAD AN UNFULFILLED YEARNING FOR HARD REALITY, MAYBE BECAUSE HE INTUITED THE FACT THAT ILLUSIONS WOULD KILL HIM. HIS SOLUTION FOR XYR IS FOUND BY TURNING TO SEGMENT FIFTEEN.
CROW, PREOCCUPIED WITH DREAM STATES FELT A DEEPER MYSTERY REMAINED. HE BELIEVES THAT SEGMENT SEVENTEEN SHOULD BE CONSIDERED THE NEXT IN SEQUENCE.