A few days after returning to London Below, Richard started Dreaming again.
He hadn't stopped lowercase-d dreaming. His first night back, sleeping in the room that used to belong to Door's brother, he dreamed he was back at his old office. Jessica walked in wearing a raggedy taffeta dress and a battered leather jacket that only pointed out how much she was not Door. She told him that he was late for their dinner reservation, which was really their wedding, and what was he going to do about it?
He woke up screaming.
Capital-D Dreams were something else. The last time he had those, he was in a dark, smelly tunnel and holding a spear in a hand that was not his own. In those Dreams, the Beast charged at him over and over and over again. Those Dreams were full of screaming and mud and fear.
These Dreams were different. They were a lot quieter, for one thing, and brighter. There was a gentle, grey light, like sunrise on a cloudy day. As in his other Dreams, there was mud, but this wasn't sewer muck. It smelled clean, if one could say such a thing about dirt.
More than anything else, however, there was water. Richard couldn't see it for the mist, but there was the sense of rippling and the sound of a current rushing past.
Unlike his earlier Dreams, or the dream about showing up at work (which had also involved a distressing absence of trousers), this one didn't cause any sense of worry or alarm or fear. This Dream had brought with it something that was more along the lines of a gently pleased:
Oh. So that's how you do it.
The water would carry him along. He didn't recalling diving in, but he did, and even though the water surrounded him and carried him along in a current faster than he could fathom, he could still breathe. He wasn't scared. The water would not hurt him.
He didn't wake up screaming from these dreams.
He did, however, wake up desperately needing to take a piss.
Door had given him a key, but even after two weeks Richard still had some difficulty navigating through the House Without Doors. That morning he barely found the toilet in time.
Finding the breakfast room was a little simpler, perhaps because Door was waiting for him there, and waiting with intent. So was the Marquis de Carabas. Door looked up with a guilty sharpness when Richard walked in. There was also a look of desperate hope Richard hadn't seen in a long time. The Marquis simply looked morbidly curious.
"What now?" Richard sighed.
"Nothing much. Just a little matter of an errand your lady needs you to run," the Marquis drawled.
Richard, not being entirely stupid, asked what the errand was.
The Marquis didn't even get halfway through the request before Richard cut him off.
"No. Find a different route."
"Don't be silly," the Marquis said, as if silly and sensible had changed places completely when Richard wasn't looking. "You have to cross the bridge to get there."
"I'm sorry, but no. You'll not get me crossing that damned bridge again. It's too expensive. I'm not going to have someone pay that price again. Tell him, Door. I'll do what you need, but find a different way."
Door shook her head. "He's right, Richard. It's the only way."
The Marquis smirked. Of course he was right, he very loudly did not say.
"What are you talking about, 'he's right?' The last time I crossed Night's Bridge, one of the people I was with was... taken."
Not killed, he told himself. Hunter had said Anaesthesia was dead, or as good as, so there was a chance she wasn't dead.
"Things were different, last time," Door said gently. She was gentle with him in much the same way the Marquis told him not to be silly. "You've faced worse since then."
He couldn't argue with that, although he was tempted to.
"It has to be you, Richard, and it has to be by that route," she said apologetically, responding to all his silent protests. "You have to get to the Three Crowns by Night's Bridge, or you can't get in."
"The Three Crowns?"
"A bank," said the Marquis. "A very special bank. And we need you to make a withdrawal now that we finally have the wherewithal."
Richard was confused. Door was one of the wealthiest people in London Below, and the Marquis could simply procure whatever money he needed from unsecured locations such as other peoples' pockets.
"Actually, it's more of an exchange. Or rather, a loan," Door explained. "The Three Crowns is a very exclusive sort of bank. They store valuable information. If you give them the story of what happened to Islington, that might be enough for them to be willing to give you something in return."
"Something such as?"
Door looked up at him from her breakfast of toast and oranges. Her fire-opal eyes seemed to be a dull violet that morning, but there was a frighteningly bright spark of hope in the midst of that dullness. He knew then she hadn't wanted to tell him this next part, because if she told him, she would take away any choice he had in the matter.
"They can tell you where to find your sister," he said numbly.
"Maybe." She sounded very young.
Richard sighed. "I'll go. I'll cross the bridge."
"It won't be like before," she said. "For one thing, you'll be going alone."
This was not as reassuring as she had probably intended.
Before, he was Richard Mayhew, lost soul. Now he was Sir Richard of Maybury (or possibly Mayfair), the Warrior, the Slayer of the Beast, the one who had been given the freedom of the Underside, the only one who could cross Night's Bridge alone, the One With Whom the Darkness Would Not Fuck.
Or so Door and the Marquis each told him in their distinct ways.
Richard had only been the Warrior for less than a month, and that not-quite-a-month had been interrupted by several weeks in London Above. In short, while he was still the Warrior, he had not had nearly enough time to overcome the bit of him that had jumped nearly to the ceiling upon discovering a spider in his bathtub the other day.
When he stood at the foot of Night's Bridge, he had to take a few deep breaths before crossing. He couldn't make himself step forward, however, until he slipped his hand into his pocket to feel the bead he had brought with him.
The Darkness crept up on him like before, but instead of assailing him with horrible images plucked from his own mind, all he heard was the rush of water, and all he saw was a suggestion of motion in the Darkness. He felt it, too, and it seemed to push him along across Night's Bridge.
Oh. So that's how you do it.
When he finally came out of the Darkness, his shirt and jeans were unpleasantly damp.
This time, the passage leading up from Night's Bridge did not take him to Harrods and the Floating Market. Today, it led to a venerable bow-windowed storefront that was set into the side of the passage. He tried peering through the windows, but the view was blocked the backs of what might have been dressers or bookshelves. A sign stuck out into the passageway: three crowns over what looked like two stylized curls that Richard took for scrolls of paper.
It didn't look much like a bank, but that was London Below for you.
When Richard opened the door, he was unaccountably disappointed not to hear the jingle of bells.
The room was full of old barrister bookshelves, but he couldn't see what was behind the glass. He knew better by now than to assume there would be books. There was a massive desk in the center of the room, the sort that came up to Richard's collarbone. It made him feel as if he were about six years old and in trouble with his teacher.
An old man in a raggedy black coat sat behind the desk. He put down his quill pen, and craned forward to look over his glasses (of course there were glasses, and of course they were half-rimmed) and down the beak of his nose at Richard.
"I am here on an errand for the Lady Door of Marble Arch," Richard announced. It did not sound as grand as he hoped. Still, the old man seemed mildly impressed.
"Ah. So she wants to know something. Her sister's whereabouts, I presume. I'm surprised it took her this long to send someone after it. What does she propose to offer as collateral?"
"The story of what happened to the angel Islington. Oh, and not just what, but why," he added, remembering the Marquis's advice on the matter.
"Ahh... What and why!" The old man's hand trembled with excitement as he pulled a small, leather-bound notebook over to him. His eyes were quite bright behind his glasses. "Do tell, do tell..." he muttered, and it had the sound of ritual incantation.
Richard told his story. The old man wrote every bit of it down, grinning and licking his lips as Richard mentioned what happened to Atlantis and why. "Generous, most generous," he said. He put down the pen. "Tell me, Sir Richard. How much of the story you just told me do you remember?"
All of it, of course Richard almost said, before realizing that he no longer remembered any of the story he had just finished telling.
The old man closed and patted the notebook. "All safe and secure, then," he said. "Although I do reserve the right to loan it out if someone offers suitable collateral. You'll get it back--minus the requisite interest, of course--when you or Lady Door return the information I've loaned you."
"That sounds reasonable enough," Richard said, although it sounded nothing of the sort. He wondered how long it would take before this sort of thing became normal for him. "Where can Door find her sister?"
The old man took off his glasses, and put them down on the table. He sighed, and Richard knew that whatever he had to pass along, it wasn't good news.
"I'm afraid that the Lady Ingress has been taken to the White Chapel," he said.
That meant nothing to Richard. "But she's alive, right?"
Someone--he couldn't remember who--had said something about them needing to keep Ingress alive for some reason.
"If she's in the White Chapel, then if she's not dead, she's as good as," the old man said, full of regret.
Dead. Or as good as. The words set off an echo in Richard's mind. Small wonder, given he had just crossed Night's Bridge. It was what Hunter had said to him when he'd asked if being taken by the Darkness meant that Anaesthesia was dead.
"Uh, thank you. I suppose. I don't know what that means, but I'll pass it along." He might not know what it meant, but he did know that whatever it was, Door would not be happy.
Dead. Or as good as.
Richard went to let himself out, but he turned just before putting his hand to the latch. "I don't suppose I can make a withdrawal for myself, can I?"
"Of course you can! If you have the proper collateral, that is."
He probably didn't, but there had been too many reminders today for Richard not to ask.
"When people cross Night's Bridge, they usually go in large groups, because one of them is generally taken."
"The Darkness takes its toll, yes, yes," the old man said, putting his glasses back on in a way suggestive of someone shutting a door firmly. "I'll have you know we don't deal in common knowledge here, young man."
"No! That's not my offer. It's my question. Well, the lead-up to it. What I want to know is, when the Darkness takes someone, what... what happens to that person?"
The old man looked at Richard over the top of his glasses for a very long time before he spoke. "Do you know how many other people have asked me that question, young Sir Richard?"
"More than you can count?"
The corners of the old man's mouth lifted ever so slightly.
That didn't seem possible. Richard said as much.
"Surprised, are you? You shouldn't be. Most people would rather not know--not for certain, anyway--what happens to the people who are taken to secure their own passage across Night's Bridge. Are you certain you really wish to know the answer to that question?"
He wasn't. Anaesthesia hadn't wanted to cross the bridge with him, but she'd had no choice. She'd had no choice about the things that had happened to her in her childhood in London Above, either. How was it fair that his story would end with victory and a wonderful (if strange) new life, but hers would end with pointless sacrifice after all she had been through?
It might not have been his fault, but it still felt like his responsibility.
"I don't want to know it." He reached into his pocket and felt around for the little bead he'd put in there before starting this journey. "I need to know what happened to Anaesthesia, the girl who was with me the last time I crossed the bridge."
The old man smirked. "Aha. A lost lover. Well, that explains things, then."
"Lover? No, no, she was just a kid," Richard protested. "I only knew her a few hours, but she didn't deserve what happened to her."
The old man looked at him consideringly for a while. "Wanting to know the why along with the what will require higher collateral, you know."
"I don't care!" Richard slapped the quartz bead down on the desk. "I didn't know the price of crossing the Bridge when I went across, and she paid it for me. All I know is that when I came out of the darkness, she was gone. I looked back, and while I could see back to the other side of the bridge, there was no sign of her. Just the beads from her necklace."
He remembered how they had clattered down to the foot of the bridge, and he remembered how proud Anaesthesia had been of the necklace she had bought for herself.
The old man's eyes went wide. He clutched the edge of the desk to brace himself and stared at the yellow bead as if Richard had just plunked down a three-hundred carat diamond.
"The Darkness gave you something back?" he whispered. "That has never happened before."
"Yes!" The clattering of the bead had sounded like derisive laughter, as if the Darkness had been mocking him with what he had so unthinkingly lost. "I kept it. Someone had to remember her. Do you know why she was sent with me? It was because the rat-speakers thought she was expendable. They didn't care that she was taken! Just like her family didn't care about her when she needed it. I owe it to her to find out what happened to her."
Richard picked the bead back up, cupping it in his palm. Such a little thing, but it had been precious to its former owner.
"I also owe her because if it hadn't been for her, I wouldn't have passed the Black Friars' last test. I almost failed, but I put my hand in my pocket and this was there." He put the bead back in his pocket, where it would be safe. "I felt it, and I remembered. I heard her telling me to hold on."
"The Black Friars' third and final test..." The old man tried but failed to keep his hands from twitching greedily. "Do tell, do tell..."
Now that he knew what would happen if he told, Richard found he was reluctant to do so. That didn't stop him, however, just as his fear of the bridge hadn't kept him from coming to this place.
The story of the Black Friars' test and what it entailed flowed from his mouth to become cramped letters in the old man's notebook. This time, Richard was aware of the story leaving his mind bit by bit as he told it. He wondered how much of it would be kept back as interest on the loan.
All he remembered, when it was over, was that he kept Anaesthesia's bead in his pocket and that it had done something important for him once upon a time.
"Was that good enough? For collateral?" Richard had no idea what he would do if it wasn't.
"Yes, yes. Good enough and then some, but that doesn't mean I'll be as generous in return. You really need to learn how to bargain, young man. Now wait here..."
The old man dropped from his stool. He was short enough that Richard couldn't see him behind the giant desk. There was a spate of rustling and muttering from behind the desk's modesty panel, and then the old man fluttered back up to his roost. What Richard had taken for a shabby black coat was, in fact, a pair of shabby black wings.
"The Darkness takes people here." He handed Richard the scrap of paper he had retrieved. "To the Two Rivers' Never-Green Tree."
Richard studied the paper, then turned it right-side up when the old man informed him he had it wrong. The symbol on the paper didn't look much like a tree to Richard. It was a simple diagram of six lines. Three formed a point-down triangle. The other three lines descended straight down from each of the triangle's corners. It looked like a three-legged stool drawn by someone for whom 'perspective' was just a fancy word.
"The 'Never-Green Tree?' Where is that? And what two rivers?"
The old man smirked. "Bargaining. Learn it. Now, as for that 'why' you had the wits to ask about..."
The old man shrugged his wings. "It's because Life Isn't Fair. That's all."
"What? What the hell kind of answer is that?"
"It's the only answer there is, and the only answer you'll get." The old man gathered his notebooks together and stoppered his inkwell. Richard knew when he was being told to get out. "We here at the Three Crowns only guarantee the veracity and quality of our information. We do not guarantee that our clients will like what they hear. Good day, Sir Richard. Do be careful crossing the bridge."
Richard slammed the door behind him on his way out. It didn't make him feel any better. He tucked the useless scrap of paper in his pocket and set back out across Night's Bridge.
The Darkness closed in around him, but Richard was more annoyed than anxious this time. Once again, the strange current pushed him briskly along even though he was going the opposite direction as before.
The Two Rivers' Never-Green Tree. The only rivers he had seen in London Below were little more than sewers, so it was no surprise that a tree would never be green. Odd, though, that he now heard what sounded like a river rushing through the chasm beneath Night's Bridge.
He wondered if the Marquis knew anything about this tree or where it was. There was no way he was going to go back to that old coot at the bank and hand over another memory to find out about it, that was for certain. Maybe Door had heard about it--no. He wouldn't ask her. Not when she was bound to be worried about Ingress with no room to spare about his stupid, pointless, guilty wonderings.
From the sound of things, the White Chapel was something to worry about indeed. He just hoped Door could do something with the information he was bringing her. If she couldn't--if it was as useless to her as 'Life Isn't Fair' was to him--he hoped instead that he would at least be able to say something to her that wasn't completely stupid.
The Darkness continued to rush past him and push him along. Even so, worry about Door made the trip seem longer than it should be.
To think that he would have come to find the Darkness dull. If only there was a faster way home than this.
He should have known better, he really should have. A split second after thinking about how slow and uneventful the trip was, the Darkness swirled around him viciously. It knocked him to his hands and knees, and before he could regain his feet, it shifted direction and surged violently, sweeping him up and over the railing into nothingness.
Richard had just enough time for shock to give way to panic before the current shot him straight up. He broke surface just as his lungs started to burn for air. When he came to rest, he found himself kneeling in muck with cool water rushing past him waist-high.
The light was gentle and grey, and the soft sky overhead was that of an overcast sunrise.
Richard floundered free of the muck, but not without losing his balance and falling underwater twice as he tried to get to his feet. He spat out a mouthful of water--clean, if faintly brackish--and looked around to see where he was. Grassy swampland stretched away in all directions. He wasn't sure if the dark to the west was trees or clouds. Off in the distance, he saw the silver of what looked like another river.
He grabbed handsfull of the sharp, silicate rivergrass and hauled himself ashore. There was no one else around, no buildings, nothing. Just a nearly overgrown track through the grass to indicate that something living walked this way often enough to leave a mark.
"Hello? Anyone out there?"
Not knowing what else to do, Richard followed the track. It led up to a large stone covered in runes, and he soon saw that the stone marked the spot where his track crossed another, equally overgrown one.
Now he knew where he was. He had been here once before, right before he had made the mistake of returning to London Above. Everything in him clenched. Heart, stomach, throat. Even his bones seemed to contract.
Just weeks ago, he would have given anything to get back to his old life in London Above. Now, he was equally as desperate to stay in his new one.
This wasn't fair. It wasn't.
"Door!" He turned in hallooed in every direction, heart thrumming wildly as he hoped against hope. "Door! Are you there?"
Oh, God. What was he going to do?
"Door! Can you hear me? Door!"
"Of course I can hear you, silly, now come inside. Were you able to find out anything about Ingress?"
Richard wheeled about. A door had opened up smack in the middle of the marker stone. Door's impatient expression had given way to wide-eyed puzzlement as she took in Richard's surroundings.
"Richard? What is this place? And why are you all wet? How did I--"
Whatever she was going to say, it didn't matter. He ran to her before she could disappear and hugged her tight to him even though his clothes were sodden and muddy.
"You look like a drowned rat," the Marquis observed, not offering to pour Richard some of the hot tea he was enjoying.
"Thank you." Richard snarled. His trousers squished when he sat down.
"I didn't mean it as a compliment."
"I'll clean up later," Richard said. "This is more important. I found out where they sent Ingress."
He tried not to look at Door, but it was too late. He saw her eyes spark brilliant blue and orange with hope. He hated himself so much right then for having to say what he was about to say.
"They took her to the White Chapel," he said.
He didn't see if the spark of hope died in Door's eyes because she got up so fast she knocked her chair over as she dashed off to be sick in the corner of the breakfast room.
The Marquis closed his eyes slowly, and his mouth went drawn. That simple display of pity from someone like him said nearly as much as Door's vomiting and weeping.
"Don't," the Marquis told him softly.
"Don't? Don't what?"
Door had finally stopped being sick. She was sat in the corner, hugging her knees to her chest. "She's just a little girl!" she yelled. "Those monsters! How could they? How could they!?"
Her voice trailed off into a strangled keening, and Richard went to her side to offer what comfort he could. When he put his hand on her shoulder, she swatted it away viciously, then opened a door to somewhere else and ran off.
Even if he could have, Richard knew better than to follow.
"Is it really hopeless?" he asked the Marquis. "Door can break into nearly anywhere, right? Or is this one of the exceptions?"
"I don't know if she can open the doors to the White Chapel or not. It's entirely a moot point, as there is no way she can possibly get there." The Marquis sounded as apathetic as ever, but Richard was starting to recognize the signs that said otherwise. "The White Chapel is at East's End, the far eastern end of everywhere, and there's the problem. No matter how far east you travel, there's always more east."
"Oh." Richard thought for a moment. "So, how did they get Ingress there in the first place?"
The Marquis gave Richard a look that reminded him he should know better by now than to try to be sensible about things.
"So, what now?" Richard asked.
"We wait. And since you're obviously going to ask 'wait for what?', we're going to wait until the first day of winter, at which point, the considerable pains Lady Ingress is no doubt suffering will finally end, the Nuns in their infinite charity will return her corpse, and Door can stop imagining the hell her baby sister is going through and finally get on with mourning the last of her family."
There was nothing he could say in response to that. Richard felt like a heel, but he pulled out the scrap of paper he got at the Three Crowns, figuring he may as well show it to the Marquis while he was around.
"Do you know what this means?"
The Marquis barely looked at the drawing. After a quick glance, he stared coolly at Richard then crumpled up the drawing and tossed it back over his shoulder.
"Haven't the faintest. Sorry."
The Marquis took his leave shortly after that, along with a few pieces of the silverware. Richard thought he heard the Marquis say something about checking to see who might owe him a really big favor, but it rather hurt his brain to try to think of the man having anything like a charitable impulse.
There was still breakfast left, but Richard wasn't in the mood to eat any of it. He looked under the table to retrieve the paper the Marquis had tossed there, but there was no sign that any piece of paper had ever been there.
Richard went back to his room to clean up and change clothes, although he did wonder if he should go look for Door. Well, it wasn't really his room he went back to. It was still very much Arch's room, even though Arch was never coming back to use it.
And now another member of Door's family would never be coming back. It wasn't fair. Too many things weren't fair.
Life wasn't fair, and thus Anaesthesia had been taken to the Never-Green Tree. Richard wondered if that was worse or better than being taken to the White Chapel. At least no one had told him--yet--that he had no chance of finding the Tree.
He flopped down on the bed and tried to picture the drawing the Marquis had stolen. The more he thought about it, the more he thought it looked familiar, like something he'd seen in London Above. Where would he have seen a picture of a three-legged triangular stool?
Nothing came to mind, neither about that nor about how the picture was supposed to represent a tree.
Without meaning to, Richard started to doze off. Once again, he heard water rushing past. It sounded just like the river that rushed beneath Night's Bridge. Had he been swept into that river? Had it really carried him back home?
No, it hadn't. It had dropped him off in the London of thousands of years ago, at the old crossroads that would one day become the intersection of Oxford and Park at the Marble Arch. He knew what the place was, now, except...
Except there wasn't a river at the Marble Arch. There certainly weren't two rivers.
Richard sat up straight. "The rivers! Of course."
"How did you find me so quickly?" the Marquis asked. He was sitting on the edge of the wharf right where Richard climbed out of the water. He was less interested in Richard's sudden appearance from the estuary than he was in the little yellow birds that were flitting about everywhere. Richard would not have been surprised to see him pluck one out of midair and eat it, he was staring at them so hungrily.
"I don't know. I was just wondering if I should to try to find Old Bailey if I couldn't find you, and then I fell into a... well, I'm trying not to think too much about what I fell into, and here I am."
Richard sloshed down next to the Marquis. His clothes were not as sewage-ridden as he had feared.
"Well that was lucky. For you, anyway," the Marquis said disdainfully. "If I had wanted to spend more time with you, I wouldn't have left your house, you know."
"I'd like it back," Richard said. He held out his hand.
"I beg your pardon?"
"The bit of paper you pocketed when you pretended to throw it away. I'd like it back. You told me you didn't know what it meant, but you were lying, weren't you?"
This was met with a withering silence. Richard countered with a persistent silence. For once, he actually won one of these contests.
"It won't do you any good. You won't be able to find it any more than you can get to the White Chapel," the Marquis said.
"Oh. Okay. That's good to know." Richard turned to look out at the underground lake. The little yellow birds swirled around his head. They barked at him. He and the Marquis sat in awkward silence for a moment. "So if that's the case, why'd you take the paper? You wouldn't be looking after my well-being out of the goodness of your heart. I know you better than that."
For some reason, the Marquis seemed pleased by that statement.
"I was curious to know what information you might have paid for at the Three Crowns. And don't be so stupid as to pretend you don't know how I figured that out."
"It was the timing."
"It was the timing," the Marquis confirmed. "And knowing you, you grossly overpaid for it."
"I did not!"
The Marquis just smiled. "As I thought. It doesn't surprise me that you would ask a question for yourself while you were there and get rooked in the process. But frankly, what does surprise me is that you of all people would ask a question where this was the answer."
The Marquis held up the scrap of paper, now unaccountably uncrumpled, between two fingers.
"I wanted to know where someone vanished to," Richard said. "That's all. What is it? And what does it have to do with the Marble Arch?"
"How did you know it used to be near Marble Arch?" The Marquis was good and curious now. Richard could hear it even though the Marquis was trying to hide it.
"Because of the rivers. There used to be two rivers near that spot. One of them was pretty small, probably small enough it was never on a map, but the other one wasn't. The old man at the bank said this was the Two Rivers' Never-Green Tree, and that... my friend had been taken there when the Darkness took her from Night's Bridge."
The Marquis blinked. "You asked about what happened to the people the Darkness took as toll? What possessed you to ask--oh, never mind. Of course you asked. It's you. Still, interesting that you would know about the rivers. Not many people know about that."
Richard shrugged. He didn't care to tell the Marquis about how he'd read up on London before moving down there, and had been fascinated by the idea of the subterranean rivers that ran beneath the city. He had had vague, romantic notions about candle-lit boat tours through majestic grottoes, only to find out that the massive underground tributaries of his dreams were in truth little more than paved-over drainage ditches.
But they hadn't always been that. They had been real rivers once, unpolluted, shining faint silver in the light of an overcast sunrise.
"So they called it the 'Two River's Never-Green Tree,' did they?" The Marquis grinned, and his teeth were sharp and bright in the gloom. "I've heard 'Never-Green Tree' before, but the two rivers bit is clever. Very clever. They do love their wordplay at the Three Crowns."
"I'm not following you."
"Of course you're not. Anyhow, this 'tree' you're talking about used to stand near where Marble Arch is now--both in London Below and London Above."
"Oh, yes. It's long gone, now. Long gone, as is the river by which it stood. Tyburn--the name means 'two rivers,' or it did, once. This," he said, holding up the scrap of paper again, "is the symbol of that nasty old thing. More commonly known as the Tyburn Tree. It's long gone in both places, but trust me, you'd want nothing to do with it."
"That can't be right!" But Richard knew it was. He recognized the symbol, now. He'd seen it on a church in London Above in his tourist days, or maybe in a pamphlet about the people who'd been martyred on the giant triangular gallows known as the Tyburn Tree. He'd seen the marker near the Marble Arch that noted with an obscene politeness the spot where, for three centuries, criminals and those inconvenient to the state were routinely killed. "Why would Anaesthesia be taken there? It's not fair!"
The Marquis smirked. "Life isn't fair."
Richard went for his throat.
Too much wasn't fair. Anaesthesia. Ingress. Door. What right did the Marquis have to joke about it?
The Marquis was able to keep Richard from strangling him without too much difficulty, but Richard was in a full rage, and stopping him took more of a struggle. That struggle knocked them both off the wharf and into the water.
It's not fair, Richard thought. Why did it have to be the Tyburn Tree?
The instant he thought of the Tree, the current swept around him and pulled him away.
"What is it with me and falling into water today?" Richard said. He pulled himself back out of the river and onto the rich, squishy ground of pre-historic London.
The Marquis said nothing. He seemed less than pleased at the mud that had gotten on his clothes and downright disgruntled about getting wet.
"This makes it three times. Hopefully that's the charm. Oh, look," he said wearily. "There's that little footpath again."
Still, the Marquis said nothing. So that was how it was going to be.
"Last time I was here, there was a marker stone, but it's not here now. Wonderful. How's Door going to find me now? I can't say I'm looking forward to being stuck in pre-history with you."
When the Marquis still did not answer, Richard turned back to look. The Marquis was standing right behind him, but that didn't matter. Richard now saw what the Marquis was staring at in rapt silence.
On the shore opposite them, three huge trees rose up from the ground, going up so high their tops disappeared into the low-hanging clouds. Their branches intertwined to form the sides of a rough triangle.
There was not a hint of green anywhere on the trees. Instead, their branches were shrouded in a dull, red mist. Blood, he thought at first, but then:
No. Not blood. Buds.
The branches were covered in the bronzy-red buds of early spring. The trees might not be green, but they were literally bursting with new life.
"Now, that's different," the Marquis said, and Richard was pleased to hear that his voice shook, even if just a little.
"The Tyburn tree, I gather?"
"N-yes. Perhaps," the Marquis said slowly. He studied the trees carefully.
"Should we go take a look?" Given the what he'd read about the Tyburn tree in the helpful little tourist pamphlets, he thought he should find this grove to be a grim and frightening thing. But he didn't.
"Oh, why not? It's not as if we have a better way to pass the time." The Marquis would not overtly betray his curiosity on the matter, Richard knew.
They followed the path upstream until they found a natural ford. It took them what felt like the better part of an hour to reach the trees--they were much further away than they'd seemed at first, and much, much bigger.
"Do you know where this place is?" the Marquis asked as they walked towards the trees. Richard couldn't tell if it was meant to be a rhetorical question or not.
"I think it's near Marble Arch, or where it will be one day," he said. "But the place is bigger now. See that river on the other side of the trees? It was much closer by, before. And smaller. And these trees certainly weren't here. I would have remembered something like that. But I'm pretty sure it's the same place."
The Marquis was very good at making himself look unrattled, Richard had to give him that.
"Perhaps you're right. But if so, it's only the same place in the same way that Door's fiefdom is also a huge hunk of decorative stone by a major traffic intersection," the Marquis said.
Or in the same way both of those were also a marker stone at the crossing of two footpaths.
"I see." They kept walking. Richard kept thinking.
"That's a useful trick of yours, you know," the Marquis said with a casualness Richard didn't believe for a moment. "Using the old rivers to move from place to place like that. The oldest roads of all. I wonder how you ever came to master them."
"So that's what I was doing? I honestly have no idea how it happened." It might have had something to do with the way the Earl had given him the freedom of the Underside--maybe the gift ended up being more than the Earl had intended. Maybe it had something to do how he was the only person ever to ask what happened to those taken by Night's Bridge, or was the only person who had ever received something back from the bridge. Maybe it was something else entirely. He had no idea why he would be Dreaming about it, but if he ever had Dreams again, he would be sure to pay very close attention.
How the river-roads worked, though, was clear. If he thought of a place, the waters would take him there. Or somewhere close enough.
"There are times," the Marquis said, as if completely a propos of nothing, "when being able to get to places quickly and reliably would be extraordinarily convenient."
"So you're saying that if someone were to agree to take you someplace, it might count as a really big favor?"
The Marquis made a sound that was not far removed from a growl.
Richard laughed, and not just because the idea of him becoming a living water taxi was amusing enough on its own. An idea was already occurring to him, and he was eager to poke at it, but he had other things to do first.
They reached the base of the closest tree. Richard didn't see the usual splay of roots at its base, and something gave him the idea that these weren't three different trees but rather three branches of one immense tree, one that started much further down than the earth and went much higher up than the clouds obscuring its top branches.
"You seem awfully happy," the Marquis observed.
"I know." He was. He really was. It was the same kind of feeling he had when someone was about to get to the punchline of a really good joke or when he was about to figure out the answer to a challenging puzzle. "What was the Tyburn Tree in London Below?"
Richard was starting to figure out some of the strange correspondences between London Above and London Below, but he knew he would keep on getting surprised for a long time.
"Much the same thing as it was in London Above. Fewer ropes and more iron spikes, though. The 'Tyburn Briar,' some called it."
Richard wondered how much of that knowledge was based on experience. He also wondered how long the Marquis had been in the habit of keeping his life locked up in a safe place far, far away.
"This was here first, though," Richard said, startling both Richard and the Marquis as he sauntered around from the other side of the tree. "Hullo, you two. I thought I'd find you here today."
The Marquis recovered first. "Hmph. One of you was bad enough. I do have to say, though--you've aged well."
Richard would have to agree. The other him was definitely the same person he saw in the mirror every morning, but with another twenty or thirty years added on. His hair was mostly gray, but Richard was pleased to see that he still had hair. He also had a few more scars and a wine-red velvet frock coat that somehow didn't look ridiculous. He seemed very pleased to see them.
"We can't stay here long, so I'll make this quick. Your plan to rescue Ingress, the one I know you're starting to piece together right now? Well, it works. Not quite the way you expect, but it works." Future Richard absently scratched at a nasty burn scar on his neck. Richard took note of this, just as he took note of his future self's cheerful grin.
"A future self coming to warn you of what happens next? My, my. Now that is far more convenient than rapid transit," the Marquis whispered to Richard.
There was no way that the future Richard could have heard that, but he laughed. It wasn't a mocking laugh. "It doesn't work that way, de Carabas. Unless I've got a surprise in store for myself in my future, this is the only time I meet myself. And don't look at me like that--I remember what you said to me back then. Just now." He shrugged. "Whatever."
"I suppose it's comforting to know that you're still a prat."
"Do shut up," both Richards said at once.
"So this is where the Darkness takes people?" Richard asked himself.
"Yeah." Future Richard rested his hand on the bark of the tree and looked up into the red cloud of buds, smiling. "Life isn't fair, you know."
"I know," Richard said. "It's not fair, and it's nothing to smile about!"
Future Richard patted the bark a few times. "Funny, how things repeat in all of the different Londons. It's hard to tell which things came first, and whether they trickled down from one London to another, or bubbled up in the other direction, or flowed across, or all just sort of happened at the same time. But this London, this one is old. Older than old, and even then I'm still not entirely sure it's the first one. You'll be seeing a lot of this place. Not just the Tree, but this London. The other Tyburn Trees, they were places where justice supposedly was served and people were--also supposedly--sent on to another life. You'll learn more about this later, Richard, but that's what happens here, except that it happens right."
"Life Isn't Fair," Future Richard repeated. He thumped the tree. "And that's why there's justice. That's why Anaesthesia--and others who may need it--can get a second chance, or even their first, through the Tree."
Richard thought about his plan to rescue Ingress, and all the ways it could go wrong, and all the things that might never be right afterwards.
"I suppose if I ask you why you're telling me this now, you're not going to tell me."
"Not the details, no, but I remember this encounter happening when I was you, and so..." Future Richard shrugged. "Here we are. As it turns out, I'm just on my way to pick up some curry. I had a bit of a craving. I'd tell you to remember this moment, but I know you will."
There were so many things Richard wanted to ask (such as how his future self managed to not be soaking wet), but he knew it would be a bad idea.
"Before we go our separate ways, I do have one question for the both of you," the Marquis said.
"Yes?" both Richards answered at once.
"If you two were to touch each other, would the universe explode?"
Richard took the Marquis back to Canary Wharf, and then the rivers took him right back to the House Without Doors. It was a little harder to find Door herself, once he was inside. No doubt she did not want to be found. In hindsight, he should have probably thought to check Ingress's room first. Door was sitting on the carpet, leaning back against Ingress's bed. The bed, like nearly everything else in the room, was very pink, and the covers were rumpled. Door had pulled the pillow out from under the coverlet, and was hugging it tight. When Richard walked in, she was sniffing the pillow, as if trying to catch any remaining trace of her sister. She looked like she had cried herself out.
Richard crouched down in front of her, deliberately ignoring the muttered 'go away, Richard.'
"I'm not going to go away. I'm going to help you get Ingress back, and before you tell me it's not possible, it is. Trust me."
Door, who had just been opening her mouth to tell him exactly how impossible it was, glared at him.
"Come on, I'll show you it's possible. Where's the closest bit of running water?"
An hour later, they stood among the three trunks of the Never-Green Tree, looking up at its thousands and thousands of buds while Richard told Door about all the second chances they represented.
"This isn't part of London Above," Door said. "I thought it was when we where here before, but it's not, is it?"
"It's not London Below, either. I think it's, well, London Before. It's beneath, or rather, before, both of them. This is where--when--the rivers ran free."
They weren't walled up underground, and they hadn't been turned into sewers, with their old purpose echoed by the London Underground. They were the roads that were older than roads, and in London Before, they still ran free and untrammeled.
No wonder the rivers would sometimes take him into the past to get him from Point A to Point B; they could move much faster back then.
Door took in a sharp breath as she caught the implications of what he was saying, and Richard thought he saw a blue-orange spark of hope in her eyes.
"I think the Earl maybe did more than he knew, giving me the freedom of the Underside, but I don't think I'll ever know for sure." He took her hands in his. "That doesn't matter, though, because I can take us anywhere, Door, even to East's End. I can take us there, and you can let us into the Chapel and we can rescue your sister."
The hope flickered again, then started to fade. "Richard... no one knows exactly what happens to people in the White Chapel. We only know that it's bad. Very, very bad. Ingress has been there for months. There's no telling what her mind--"
"Then start thinking of something you want to get from the Three Crowns."
"What? There's nothing I could tell--oh." She started to smile. "Oh, very clever, Richard. The Marquis will be so proud of you."
"Won't he, though?"
If no one knew exactly what happened in the White Chapel, the bankers at the Three Crowns would find a first-hand tale extraordinarily valuable indeed. They could pull the entire horrible story from Ingress's mind, and for once, defaulting on a loan would be a good thing for all involved.
It might not work, and if it didn't, then there was always the Tree. What had happened to Ingress wasn't fair, but things didn't have to end at unfair. He didn't say anything just yet. There would be time to talk of contingency plans later.
"Are you ready?"
Door smiled, and even though she was too overcome to talk, the vicious glint in her eyes told him everything he needed to know.
"Come on then," he said. "We have a rescue to plan."