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The Childlike Empress picked up AURYN

Little by little the darkness cleared from Atreyu's face. After a while he asked: "How can you know all that? The cry by the Deep Chasm and the image in the magic mirror? Did you arrange it all in advance?" The Childlike Empress picked up AURYN, and said, while putting the chain around her neck: "Didn't you wear the Gem the whole time? Didn't you know that through it I was always with you?" "Not always," said Atreyu. "I lost it." "Yes. Then you were really alone. Tell me what happened to you then." Atreyu told her the story. "Now I know why you turned gray," said the Childlike Empress. "You were too close to the Nothing." "Gmork, the werewolf, told me," said Atreyu, "that when a Fantastican is swallowed up by the Nothing, he becomes a lie. Is that true?" "Yes, it is true," said the Childlike Empress, and her golden eyes darkened. "All lies were once creatures of Fantastica. They are made of the same stuff -- but they have lost their true nature and become unrecognizable. But, as you might expect from a half-and-half creature like Gmork, he told you only half the truth. There are two ways of crossing the dividing line between Fantastica and the human world, a right one and a wrong one. When Fantasticans are cruelly dragged across it, that's the wrong way. When humans, children of man, come to our world of their own free will, that's the right way. Every human who has been here has learned something that could be learned only here, and returned to his own world a changed person. Because he had seen you creatures in your true form, he was able to see his own world and his fellow humans with new eyes. Where he had seen only dull, everyday reality, he now discovered wonders and mysteries. That is why humans were glad to come to Fantastica. And the more these visits enriched our world, the fewer lies there were in theirs, the better it became. Just as our two worlds can injure each other, they can also make each other whole again." For a time both were silent. Then she went on: "Humans are our hope. One of them must come and give me a new name. And he will come." Atreyu made no answer.  

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"They've all fled!" he thought. "They've left the Childlike Empress alone. Or she's already. . ." "Atreyu," Falkor whispered. "You must give the Gem back to her." Falkor removed the golden chain from his neck. It fell to the ground. Atreyu jumped down off Falkor's back -- and fell. He had forgotten his wound. He reached for the Glory and put the chain around his neck. Then, leaning on the dragon, he rose painfully to his feet. "Falkor," he said. "Where must I go?" But the luckdragon made no answer. He lay as though dead. The street ended in front of an enormous, intricately carved gate which led through a high white wall. The gate was open. Atreyu hobbled through it and came to a broad, gleaming-white stairway that seemed to end in the sky. He began to climb. Now and then he stopped to rest. Drops of his blood left a trail behind him. At length the stairway ended. Ahead of him lay a long gallery. He staggered ahead, clinging to the balustrade for support. Next he came to a courtyard that seemed to be full of waterfalls and fountains, but by then he couldn't be sure of what he was seeing. He struggled forward as in a dream. He came to a second, smaller gate; then there was a long, narrow stairway, which took him to a garden where everything -- trees, flowers, and animals -- was carved from ivory.

Atreyu raised himself with difficulty

As the Childlike Empress was speaking, Atreyu raised himself with difficulty. He looked up to her as she lay on her bed of cushions. His voice was husky when he asked: "Then you've known my message all along? What Morla the Aged One told me in the Swamps of Sadness, what the mysterious voice of Uyulala in the Southern Oracle revealed to me -- you knew it all?" "Yes," she said. "I knew it before I sent you on the Great Quest." Atreyu gulped. "Why," he finally managed to ask, "why did you send me then? What did you expect me to do?" "Exactly what you did," she replied. "What I did. . ." Atreyu repeated slowly. His forehead clouded over. "In that case," he said angrily, "it was all unnecessary. There was no need of sending me on the Great Quest. I've heard that your decisions are often mysterious. That may be. But after all I've been through I hate to think that you were just having a joke at my expense." The Childlike Empress's eyes grew grave.

Not even the most intrepid mountain climbers ventured into these fields of everlasting ice

Not even the most intrepid mountain climbers ventured into these fields of everlasting ice. It had been so very, very long since anyone had succeeded in climbing this mountain that the feat had been forgotten. For one of Fantastica's many strange laws decreed that no one could climb the Mountain of Destiny until the last successful climber had been utterly forgotten. Thus anyone who managed to climb it would always be the first. No living creature could survive in that icy waste -- except for a handful of gigantic ice-glumps -- who could barely be called living creatures, for they moved so slowly that they needed years for a single step and whole centuries for a short walk. Which meant, of course, that they could only associate with their own kind and knew nothing at all about the rest of Fantastica. They thought of themselves as the only living creatures in the universe. Consequently, they were puzzled to the point of consternation when they saw a tiny speck twining its way upward over perilous crags and razor-sharp ridges, then vanishing into deep chasms and crevasses, only to reappear higher up. That speck was the Childlike Empress's glass litter, still carried by four of her invisible Powers. It was barely visible, for the glass it was made of looked very much like ice, and the Childlike Empress's white gown and white hair could hardly be distinguished from the snow roundabout.

A long silence followed

She bent forward, picked up AURYN, and let the chain glide through her fingers. "You have done well," she said, "and I am pleased with you." "No!" cried Atreyu almost savagely. "It was all in vain. There's no hope." A long silence followed. Atreyu buried his face in the crook of his elbow, and his whole body trembled. How would she react? With a cry of despair, a moan, words of bitter reproach or even anger? Atreyu couldn't have said what he expected. Certainly not what he heard. Laughter. A soft, contented laugh. Atreyu's thoughts were in a whirl, for a moment he thought she had gone mad. But that was not the laughter of madness. Then he heard her say: "But you've brought him with you." Atreyu looked up. "Who?" "Our savior." He looked into her eyes and found only serenity. She smiled again. "Golden-eyed Commander of Wishes," he stammered, now for the first time using the official words of address that Falkor had recommended. "I. . . no, really. . . I don't understand." "I can see that by the look on your face," she said. "But whether you understand or not, you've done it. And that's what counts, isn't it?" Atreyu said nothing. He couldn't even think of a question to ask. He stood there openmouthed, staring at the Childlike Empress. "I saw him," she went on, "and he saw me."

They had finally reached the frozen heights of the Mountain of Destiny

Still, the four invisible Powers were not guided entirely by chance in their choice of an itinerary. As often as not, the Nothing, which had already swallowed up whole regions, left only a single path open. Sometimes the possibilities narrowed down to a bridge, a tunnel, or a gateway, and sometimes they were forced to carry the litter with the deathly ill Empress over the waves of the sea. These carriers saw no difference between liquid and solid. Tireless and persevering, they had finally reached the frozen heights of the Mountain of Destiny. And they would go on climbing until the Childlike Empress gave them another order. But she lay still on her cushions. Her eyes were closed and she said nothing. The last words she had spoken were the "no matter where" she had said on leaving the Ivory Tower. The litter was moving through a deep ravine, so narrow that there was barely room for it to pass. The snow was several feet deep, but the invisible carriers did not sink in or even leave footprints. It was very dark at the bottom of this ravine, which admitted only a narrow strip of daylight. The path was on a steady incline and the higher the litter climbed, the nearer the daylight seemed. And then suddenly the walls leveled off, opening up a view of a vast white expanse. This was the summit, for the Mountain of Destiny culminated not, like most other mountains, in a single peak, but in this high plateau, which was as large as a whole country.

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