The end of the Withering followed a dreamless, blissful sleep, marred only slightly by Nik’s brother bursting into her hotel room.
Alice groaned. “I hate.”
“Also there’s a lady outside the hotel looking for you.”
That woke her up. “What? Who?”
“Well, her thoughts are kinda wordy, but she’s looking for someone with your general description, and is currently working out the quickest way to describe you to the Bell that’d exclusively identify you. She’s gonna be standing out there for the next twenty minutes or so running the algorithms.”
“I… don’t know what to think about that.”
“Hey!” exclaimed A Librarian. “Don’t just barge into her room!”
“It’s fine. I’m more interested in this person looking for me.”
“Oh yeah,” said the fortune teller, “she’s now optimising the phonemes of the questions she’ll ask for length. She’s thorough, I’ll give her that.”
“A Bookbinder?” hissed A Librarian. They were taking turns to peek through the glass on the main door of the Bezoar.
Indeed, a Bookbinder was standing on the walkway outside the Golden Bezoar, standing an unassuming eleven feet tall.
“Did I not mention that?”
“Are the Foyer police looking for me?”
“Bookbinders aren’t all law enforcement,” said A Librarian. “There were wars over that exact thing, a while back. I’m more concerned that she’s going to follow us to the end of the Realms and never let us be. She’s not dressed like a lawperson – I don’t recognise those colours as belonging to a specific sect.” He indicated the Bookbinder’s manner of dress, a mixture of coloured fabrics, scarves and what looked like tasselled carpets, layered about her long jointed limbs.
“Maybe a Sister of the Breathing Word?”
“She’s got some books about her person, but I don’t see a copy of the Liber Aeolus, or any of the sect’s known symbols.”
While A Librarian and Nik’s brother bickered about different orders of monks, Alice slipped out the door of the Bezoar.
The Bookbinder’s mask was expressionless, but she did a double-take as Alice marched up to her.
[Oh. Hello.] Unlike the past Bookbinders Alice had met, she spoke telepathically, a warm and raspy voice echoing in her head.
“Hi,” Alice said, brightly, “I hope this isn’t rude to say, but I thought Bookbinders didn’t talk.”
[My Sibling Peacekeepers Of The Foyan Order Take A Vow Of Cloistering, To Better Emulate The Older Siblings, Whose Minds Have No Voices.]
[I Am Looking For A Human Last Sighted Entering This Building,] She said, [The Description I Was Given By The Concordance Matches Yours To Within The Margin Of Error.]
“I think that’s me.”
[Great! You Do Not Look Like The Humans I Have Met Before, Which Is Highly Interesting.]
“You’ve met other humans?”
[Yes! You Are A Member Of A Very Interesting Species Of Hominids. I Wrote The Description For Humans That The Concordance Uses Based On My Observations While I Was A Member Of The Foyan Order.]
“So, about those other humans you mentioned? Do you know where they are, or how they got back home?”
[I Maintain Contact With A Net Of One Point Five Humans.]
[Well, I Am Not Certain As To The Precise Percentages, But It Works As A First-Order Estimate.]
Nik’s brother interrupted. “Oh, hey Alice. Wondering where you’d gone. She murdered you yet?”
[Oh Hello. Murder Was Not On My Itinerary.]
“Yeah well,” he said, “it sneaks on there sometimes, anyway.”
[I Do Not Have That Experience.]
“Ah, you’re young yet, to the ways of the world.”
[I Am Two Thousand Five Hundred And Sixty-Three Years Old.]
“So!” said Alice, shoving the fortune teller out of the way. “Nice to meet you! My name’s Alice.”
[Pleased To Meet You And Your Friend. I Am The Unaffiliated Bookbinder Named
The Twelfth-Forged Scions Of Glass, Thought And Word
Carved From His Bones That Lay Beneath The Myre
Built With Hearts Lit By Living Holy Fire
Bore This One, With Number Three Hundred Third
With Will As Cold As The Great Tree’s High Boughs
Those Bathed In Frozen Zephyrs From The Sky.
Patterns That Doth Confuse The Mortal Eye
And Mind Are Buried In This Sibling’s Heart.
Their Maker’s Will Be Free To Disregard
For It Is Writ ‘Let Those You Create Choose’
And So, Though Their Purpose Is To Law, Whose
Fiat Can Bind This Sibling – Make Them Guard?
Committed To Life Is This Sibling Now
To Seek Their Path In Manner Known Not How]
“Uh, wow.” said Alice. “That’s a long name.”
[I Am Commonly Known As Twelfth, Twelfth Zephyr If It Is Ambiguous.]
“Your business cards must be the size of dinnerplates,” said Nik’s brother.
“You’re a twelfth-generation Bookbinder?” asked A Librarian. Alice hadn’t noticed that he’d arrived.
“Bookbinders have generations?” Alice asked. “I thought they were, like, golems.”
[Our Generations Are Not Linked Genetically – They Instead Refer To Each Time A Number Of Us Were Created Together. In All, There Have Been Fifty Generations Since Tarlûlaaork Took Up His Chisel And Sought To Carve Life.]
“We covered this in chapter fourteen, kinda,” said the fortune teller.
A Librarian continued. “The Twelfth Forging was the first one orchestrated by one of Tarlûlaaork’s apprentices, following his apotheosis.”
[In Divine Fire And Mortal Cleverness Did We Come To Be, As Written In The Concordance Of The Siblings. But Enough About Me. You Wished To Know More Of Humans, Human Alice?]
“Yes,” she said, “can you tell me where they are? Get us in contact or something?”
[Ah, Um, Yes. That Is A Thing I Can Do.]
Twelfth stood perfectly still for a good thirty seconds.
Alice shifted awkwardly. “Uh-”
[I Have Met Three Humans In The Past Sixty Years. Of These, I Remain In Contact With A Net Of One And A Half. Those Live A Distance From A Small Town On The Outskirts Of The Foyan Polity Called Index.] She paused again, before continuing. [I Am Not Sure I Have Any Further Information, But The Locus Of Suitable Points To Search Isn’t Implausibly Large.]
“Well, that’s a starting point. A Librarian,” she asked, “do you know how to get to Index?”
“Uh, train? I think Nik and,” he gestured at the fortune teller, “this guy were going to take the train there today at Midpoint – er – in three hours?”
“Right.” said Alice. She took a moment to try to work out what she wanted to do.
Twelfth had helpfully given her something less vague than the ‘well, there are other humans somewhere, I think’ that she’d previously been told. Presumably, someone in Index could tell her how to find this person. Wait.
“We’re heading the same direction you are?” said Nik’s brother flatly. “What an incredible coincidence. What’re the chances.”
She blinked. “Did you plan this?”
“Hmph. How much does the train cost, to Index?”
[Ten Carte Librare Per Head, Although I Can Take Trains For Free, Since I Did Service In The Foyan Order.]
“Oh, okay, and wait, why are you coming too?” Alice spluttered at the towering Bookbinder.
[I Wish To See The Other Human Again And Provide Help For You In Finding Them Where I Was Previously Unable. I Have Given You Insufficient Direction, After All.]
A Librarian looked taken aback. “Wait, are we going to be followed around by yet more people?”
“I call us,” said the fortune teller, pausing dramatically, “the Fellowship Or Something. I vote A Librarian gets killed in Book Two after trying to steal the One Thing from Alice.”
“Does that make you Gollum?”
He mock-gasped at Alice’s question. “Rude!”
“What,” said A Librarian, “are you two talking about?”
“I’m trying to beat him at his own game,” she replied.
“That answers none of my questions.”
Alice and the fortune teller spoke at the same time. “Good.” Taken aback, they glared at each other suspiciously.
Twelfth tilted her head. [I Have No Idea What Is Happening.]
“It’s her revenge,” said A Librarian, “for having no idea what’s going on, she makes it so we have no idea what’s going on. Let her have her fun.”
“Don’t you start wi-” she said, before she was interrupted by the loud gurgling of her stomach and the realisation that she hadn’t eaten anything since last night. “Er. All in favour of going and getting breakfast, then finding Nik and catching a train?”
[I Have Neither Need Nor Ability To Partake Of Food.]
“Well, the rest of us do, I think.”
“I think there’ll be served breakfast in the market,” said A Librarian, “it’ll have sufficient variety for all of us, I think.”
“Great!” Alice took a few steps forwards, as if to set off, then stopped. “Erm. I have no idea where the market is.”
A Librarian sighed. “This way.”