Some funny, adorable little jester in Jillian‘s mind kept hopping up and down furiously, screaming, “GET her! Break her NECK! Now, now, now! Do it, do it, do it!”
The jester wasn‘t thin and clever and deft like Jack Snipe. He was fat, clumsy, and angry. He had a bald head, and jowls that shook when he yelled. Jillian laughed so hard at the little clown that she fell on her rear end, and rolled over into the flowers.
“No, no,” said her friend Judy. “It‘s not the time for that now. Take my hand.”
“Take her hand OFF!” shouted the jester, flailing his arms in exaggerated mock combat. “Take her arm off! Take her HEAD off!”
Instead, she let Judy help her to her feet. “Lean on me, Jillian. Let‘s walk and see the city, come on. I‘ve got a stick.”
Judy did seem to have a walking stick. Jillian stared at it, knowing it was perfectly straight but having trouble getting it to look straight. The end that Judy was holding was bound with burnt straw. It looked like a broomstick. It also looked magical.
“Grab it! Beat her down with it!” the jester shouted.
Jillian let her head loll around on her neck, tilting all the way around in one full circle. The little clown in her mind turned somersaults, and rolled away out of sight.
“Okay,” she agreed dreamily. She held Judy‘s arm, and they lurched forward through the field of pink flowers. Through one of the dimensions of space and time that Jillian was aware of, her feet moved in a somewhat crooked line.
“You must be very special,” said Judy.
Jillian wasn‘t sure she was up to talking, but Judy was, like...her hostess or something. She kind of had to try. “Thank you,” she muttered, guessing at a sensible response.
Judy chuckled. “It isn‘t a compliment, darling. I‘m sure you‘ve caused us a lot of trouble. But she brought you in herself, so you‘ve got a role to play of some kind. Something makes you special, or you wouldn‘t be here.”
“Where is ‘here?‘” asked Jillian, in a way less conversational than cosmological. The part of her that was in a field of flowers on a yellow road was very small, and she was struggling with the word ‘here‘ itself.
“Her domain. Technically mine, but that‘s a laugh. You are in what may be the worst, most Titans-forsaken place in all of Erfworld,” said Judy. “This is the Olive Garden.”
Jillian could sort of process the ominous...ness of that, but whatever she was supposed to feel about it was lost in a blue, gauzy wave of air that lifted up through her torso and buoyed up her head, making it float on her neck like a cork in a fountain. She had absolutely no fear, and said so out loud.
“That‘s good, love. Wouldn‘t do you a bit of good if you did, anyway,” said Judy. “The Garden is a pretty dungeon, though. Isn‘t it? I never meant to rule here.”
“Oh?” said Jillian, not because she was necessarily following.
“No. I‘m afraid I never meant to do anything at all in my life. I‘ve still done a great many things, though, all apparently by accident. It works that way. I‘ve been a leaf on the wind,” said Judy. “At times, quite literally.”
Jillian imagined leaves blowing in the wind, and they fluttered through her head at right angles to themselves. Leaves from outside of reality blew through, and vanished to someplace else. A huge, bright rainbow spread throughout the multiple spaces she inhabited, and the wind picked up in strength. The leaf she knew as Judy was carried over it to...somewhere. In the winds, now at gale force, Jillian‘s mind was blown.
“So, you‘re a fellow leaf, I think,” said Judy, walking beside her again. Jillian blinked in the sunshine, snapping into a little moment of lucidity. She looked around. They were near the green city, looming ahead. Back on the weird road.
“No, I fly away sometimes,” she said, feeling the need to deny her helplessness. “I flap!” She flapped her hands, and lost her balance a little.
“But the world blows you back,” said Judy. “Trust me, I could fly away too.” For some reason, she raised up the broomstick when she said this. “Where would I go? She‘d track me down, anyway. I‘ve got this on...” Judy stopped, and lifted up her leg. Just above one stockinged foot there was a thick band around her ankle. Jillian couldn‘t recognize much at the moment, and did not recognize this. But it, too, looked magical.
“No, I‘m here,” sighed Judy, “with the flowers. Or I‘m nowhere. I can‘t live without them. You won‘t be able to, either. Enjoy what they‘re doing for you now, Jillian. Eventually they hardly do a thing at all. You just need them.”
They walked on in silence. Her mind and body took separate paths to the city, but occasionally crossed and merged. Eventually she looked upon the tall emerald spires and realized how truly monumental it was. It was a level 5, called “Efbaum.”
“What‘s thed...the deal with the city?”
“Old el-Efbaum? Grand, isn‘t it?” said Judy. “It was once the most powerful city in the world. Now it‘s just one more capital of a side we conquered long ago. There used to be a man here who ruled it. An awfully nice man, at that. Very powerful in magic. I didn‘t kill him when we took the city. I let him go.”
“You didn‘t what?” Jillian had never heard the word ‘kill,‘ but for some reason she knew what it meant. It struck her immediately as vulgar and wrong.
“Sorry, croak him. I let him escape.” Judy stopped walking, and looked distantly up at the green towers. “That was a very long time ago. I am still, I think...being punished for that. But I don‘t regret it. He was a lovely man.” Her eyes glistened as she blinked in the gleam of sunshine and sparkling towers.
“I kept his city just as he liked it,” she said, her voice growing even more frail and sad, “but I‘m told he prefers blue now.”