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"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. Crawling on all fours, he crossed several arched bridges without railings which led to a third gate, the smallest of all. He dragged himself through it on his belly and, slowly raising his eyes, saw a dome-shaped hall of gleaming-white ivory, and on top of it the Magnolia Pavilion. There was no path or stairway leading up to it. Atreyu buried his head in his hands.
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. She had traveled many days and nights. The four Powers had carried her through blinding rain and scorching sun, through darkness and moonlight, onward and onward, just as she had ordered, "no matter where." She was prepared for a long journey and all manner of hardship, since she knew that the Old Man of Wandering Mountain could be everywhere or nowhere. 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.
"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. "I was not having a joke at your expense, Atreyu," she said. "I am well aware of what I owe you. All your sufferings were necessary. I sent you on the Great Quest -- not for the sake of the message you would bring me, but because that was the only way of calling our savior. He took part in everything you did, and he has come all that long way with you. You heard his cry of fear when you were talking with Ygramul beside the Deep Chasm, and you saw him when you stood facing the Magic Mirror Gate. You entered into his image and took it with you, and he followed you, because he saw himself through your eyes. And now, too, he can hear every word we are saying. He knows we are talking about him, he knows we have set our hope in him and are expecting him. Perhaps he even understands that all the hardship you, Atreyu, took upon yourself was for his sake and that all Fantastica is calling him." Little by little the darkness cleared from Atreyu's face.
Atreyu buried his head in his hands. No one who reaches or has reached that pavilion can say how he got there. The last stretch of the way must come to him as a gift. Suddenly Atreyu was in the doorway. He went in -- and found himself face to face with the Golden-eyed Commander of Wishes. She was sitting, propped on many cushions, on a soft round couch at the center of the great round blossom. She was looking straight at him. She seemed infinitely frail and delicate. Atreyu could see how ill she was by the pallor of her face, which seemed almost transparent. Her almond-shaped eyes, the color of dark gold, were serene and untroubled. She smiled. Her small, slight body was wrapped in an ample silken gown which gleamed so white that the magnolia petals seemed dark beside it. She looked like an indescribably beautiful little girl of no more than ten, but her long, smoothly combed hair, which hung down over her shoulders, was as white as snow.
At length she smiled at him. Her voice when she spoke was as soft as the voice of a bird singing in its sleep. "You have returned from the Great Quest, Atreyu." Atreyu hung his head. "Yes," he managed to say. After a short silence she went on: "Your lovely cloak has turned gray. Your hair is gray and your skin is like stone. But all that will be as it was, or better. You'll see." Atreyu felt as if a band had tightened around his throat. All he could do was nod his head. Then he heard the sweet soft voice saying: "You have carried out your mission. . ." Were these words meant as a question? Atreyu didn't know. He didn't dare look up to read the answer in her face. Slowly he reached for the golden amulet and removed the chain from his neck. Without raising his eyes, he held it out to the Childlike Empress. He tried to kneel as messengers did in the stories and songs he had heard at home, but his wounded leg refused to do his bidding. He fell at the Childlike Empress's feet, and there he lay with his face to the floor.