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.
Enfeebled and trembling, the innermost heart of Fantastica was still resisting the inexorable encroachment of the Nothing. But the Ivory Tower at the center still shimmered pure, immaculately white. Ordinarily flying messengers landed on one of the lower terraces. But Falkor reasoned that since neither he nor Atreyu had the strength to climb the long spiraling street leading to the top of the Tower, and since time was of the essence, the regulations and rules of etiquette could reasonably be ignored. He therefore decided on an emergency landing. Swooping down over the ivory buttresses, bridges, and balustrades, he located, just in time, the uppermost end of the spiraling High Street, which lay just outside the palace grounds. Plummeting to the roadway, he went into a skid, made several complete turns, and finally came to a stop tail-first. Atreyu, who had been clinging with both arms to Falkor's neck, sat up and looked around. He had expected some sort of reception, or at least a detachment of palace guards to challenge them -- but far and wide there was no one to be seen.
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.