A Librarian froze. The newcomer was another A Librarian (Alice could already feel that was going to be very confusing) and was shorter than the one she knew. His clothes – some kind of long-sleeved robe, blue trimmed with silver – were impeccably creaseless in contrast to A Librarian’s reasonable-yet-rumpled getup. It looked like the newcomer had just stepped out of a mannequin display at a department store, one that specialised in wizard robes or possibly cultist outfits. In any case, he was glaring at A Librarian – who for his part was studiously not meeting his gaze.
“I mean, seriously, what are you doing here?”
“This is still my lab, right?” A Librarian asked weakly.
The other A Librarian sighed, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. “…Yes. Yes it is. Still, I feel I’m owed an explanation as to why you’re back. Maybe, even, why you left in the first place.”
“Well, haha, something of a funny story there-”
“And who are these people?” he asked, gesturing at Alice and Nik’s brother with the long carved wooden staff he carried.
“Um,” she said, “hi. I’m Alice, and A Librarian was helping me with some science-magic stuff.”
“He was, was he? And you?” He turned to the fortune teller.
“I’m too cool to have a name, and I have nothing to declare but a rapier wit and a dazzling smile.”
The second A Librarian raised an eyebrow. “Are you in the habit of picking up stray hawkers and conmen now, A Librarian?”
“No. No, not at all! He’s following us around, and I guess we’re technically looking to reunite him with his brother, who’s around somewhere.”
“Look,” said A Librarian #1, “are you going to continue hovering around, making pointed comments, or are you going to get out of the doorway so we can leave? Do you want to use the lab or something?”
“I’ve already told you what I want. You left without a word, and I was worried! And now you’re back, with no warning, telling none of your friends and performing a favour for someone I’ve never met!” He paused. “I mean, I don’t need to run background checks on everyone you meet, that’s not what I’m saying.”
A Librarian shifted awkwardly. “Well, I mean, I finished my thesis and submitted it, so I decided to go take a break, and the last time we spoke it was… kinda acrimonious? And I kinda didn’t think you’d want anything to do with me afterwards. So, um, I’m sorry for worrying you.”
The other A Librarian looked like he was about to say something, but was interrupted by the loud booing from Nik’s brother.
“I wanted drama! Why’re you communicating like adults rather than throwing things at each other? This is a ripoff. Dunno why I bothered coming here. Dang A Librarians are so sensible.”
“Are you quite done?” said the other A Librarian.
“Good enough.” He turned back to A Librarian. “So, does that mean you’re going to be taking the job?”
“Oh, were you worried about that?” A Librarian laughed in surprise. “After how long I’ve been waiting for it? Of course!”
Alice leaned over towards the fortune teller and whispered. “I’m not sure what’s going on.”
“THEY USED TO DATE,” he exclaimed in a near-bellowed stage whisper.
A Librarian (original flavour)’s face flushed slightly green. “That isn’t relevant,” he said, coinciding precisely with the other A Librarian’s flustered denial.
“So we’re free to go, officer?” he asked. “You’ve reconciled and it’s all very touching, but we’ve got places to be, people to be, things to be.”
“I am not an officer of the law,” A Librarian said levelly, “and Foyer is a free city, with some minor exceptions. You may go where you please.”
As they were leaving, A Librarian turned back to A Librarian. “I… sorry, again. For worrying you. I was being an arse.”
He smirked. “Well, better late than never. Like I said when you handed your thesis in after seventy years.”
A Librarian’s only response was to grumble something about style requirements as he lead them out through the corridors of the University.
– – –
Beneath the main body of the city of Foyer, spanning the width of the hollow trunk above the roots of the Great Tree, above the Atramentic Seaports, was the Aeonic Causeway.
Above the seething inky black/do pillars shine, of bronze and bone/the Aeon’s Gate, afore the wrack/of parted Void where dark beasts roam.
The words came unbidden to her mind, and they seemed appropriate, as they descended the wide suspended stair that coiled down the last few hundred metres to the atrium of the Causeway. It was mostly formed from some kind of marble, covered in runes inscribed finely enough to have required a toothpick and a toffee hammer to carve. Larger symbols made of bronze were set into the stone, each of them covered in the same tiny runes in turn.
What really dominated the view of the Causeway, though, were the Gates. Reality, geometry, parallel lines seemed to relax their laws as her eyes approached the centres, twisting and turning shapes of bone and steel orbiting points that seemed too bright, too dark to see. Occasionally, the concentric layers of branching strips moved, as if set in invisible spheres, shifting into new configurations. A gangway would extend up through an opened gap in the shells to the centre of a gate, and people would walk, scurry or slide out, to be replaced by people entering the singularity. Alice assumed that was the bit of the Gate that took you somewhere else. The Causeway had three such Gates, one in each of its three corners, and a steady stream of foot traffic seemed to be leaving and entering the Gates.
<Hmm,> said the Masquerade man- um, personning the Causeway Enquiry Desk. <certainly an irregular Realmic Signature, but not prohibitively so. We will, however, have to custom-tune one of the Causeway Gates to track a path across the void, ‘tween bones of gods and ghosts of worlds.>
“Very poetic,” said Alice, “but how long is that going to take, do you think?”
<That’s difficult to say,> came the whisper in her head, <but I suspect we’ll either have completed the tuning within the week or discovered that it will in fact take much longer than expected.>
“Oh, okay. Is there anything else I need to do?”
<Well, unless you want to make a donation, I don’t think so.>
“I… don’t really have any money that works here.”
<Well, you can’t make a donation, then. I’ll just make a copy of this Realmic Signature for our use in the tuning process, and we’ll contact your friend A Librarian when the situation develops, and that’ll be the end of your involvement for the next week or so.>
“Oh, okay, thanks.” She took the offered original of her Realmic Signature and got out of the queue, wandering back over to where A Librarian and Nik’s brother were arguing.
“Look, I find it hard to believe you’ve met one of the most reclusive and powerful mages in recent history.”
“I know Red, and he knows her. She’s shorter than you’d expect. Oh, hey Alice.”
“Hey. The Causeway will have our results in a week or so,” she said, jerking her thumb back at the ‘Enquiries’ desk, “so what do we do now?”
“I reckon we find bed and board, at least for the night, then we’ll give this guy back into the custody of his brother, and head on back to Seven Twenty,” said A Librarian.
“I know a place!”
“I vote we don’t go to whatever place he wants to go to,” retorted Alice.
“Shub Niggurath’s House of Eternal Screeching Pain is a perfectly good establishment!”