Index’s station was far smaller than Foyer’s, and few people other than Alice and company alighted there. There was just a raised platform and what looked like a ticket office, with a couple of Bookbinders standing around impassively, in the ‘traintrack sash’ that trainworking Bookbinders apparently all wore.
The town of Index was small, at least from a first impression. Set against the bottom of a massive pillar stretching to the roof of this Layer of the Library, it looked diminutive. A Librarian had informed her that the town extended quite far down into the substrate of this wordmaze, and she could see that tunnels and buildings had been constructed up the side of the pillar, emerging and perching on the shelves that ran round it.
[Index Is Much As I Remember It,] said Twelfth, telepathic ‘voice’ sounding rather wistful. [I Have Not Been Out This Way Since The Last Minor Incursion.]
“You know,” said Alice, “how do you even see?” There were no eyeholes in Twelfth’s mask, but she still moved her head, as if looking down at her.
[Think Of It As A Blend Between Echolocation And Clairvoyance. I Can See The Shapes, Textures And Aggregate Colours Of Things,] she explained. [I Am Led To Believe That It Is A Broadly Similar Sense To Your Own Vision, Based On People Who Have Received Prostheses Based On Bookbinder Creation Methods.]
“Huh,” she responded. They were stepping off the platform now, and the train had tooted its goodbyes and scurried away, seeking its next station.
“So,” said Nik to his brother, “why’d you insist that we get off at this stop?”
Nik’s brother, who’d been almost suspiciously quiet, piped up. “Oh! The Carnival’s in town! Can we go, Nik? Can we? Can we?” His voice rose and he started making pleading motions in the general direction of Nik, who looked unimpressed.
“The Carnival tends to surface at the next town over, and is far too dangerous to take an inexperienced traveller to.”
“But I could just go on my own! And- and you could always leave her behind!”
“Hey!” Alice interjected. “What’s the Carnival?” It had a capital letter in its name, she could just tell.
“It’s the greatest show in all the Realms!” Nik’s brother was almost thrumming with excitement. “And we could go and get clownmeat burgers and candyfloss made from real candies and-”
“Excuse me, clownmeat?”
“Yeah, yeah, meat that comes from clowns.”
Alice felt faintly ill. “Wh-what?”
“Don’t worry, clowns lose limbs all the time, and grow them back.”
“This just raises more questions!”
“Look, I never said I supported the Carnival’s business practises, I just think their food is delicious and their company sublime,” the fortune teller finished, huffily.
“Oh,” Nik said, raising his eyebrows and smirking.
“Don’t you start, Nikr-” his brother began, before Nik clapped a hand over his mouth.
“Okay, okay. I won’t tell them about you wanting to go to the Carnival to visit you- ow!” Nik snatched his hand away.
“Well, Nikrodeimus Ischalion Dimetaliios, your wish is answered.”
The brothers glared at each other for a few seconds, before Nik sighed and seemed to concede defeat. “Okay, you can go to the Carnival. In fact, we can all go, I’ll need to keep an eye on you.”
“Sweet! Who knew that the way to get you to do what I wanted was to use your full name? Mind if we tag along with seeing this new human, Alice?”
“Cool! C’mon, Nik, we can meet some new peeps who I totally haven’t met before, and then go to the Carnival!”
He started to walk off, but Nik grabbed him by the arm.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“To where the human lives, duh.”
[How Do You Know Where That Is?]
“I’m a fortune teller, so I can look in the future and see which way we go!”
A Librarian frowned. “Isn’t that an information paradox?”
“Well,” he responded, shrugging, “I just ignore it and it doesn’t cause a problem.”
“But isn’t that extremely danger-” A Librarian looked very concerned.
Nik put a hand on his shoulder. “I hate to admit it, but he does know what he’s doing.”
“Hah! Vindication! Cut to us arriving at this guy’s house!”
“Wait, what the h-”
– – –
The house was approximately half an hour out of town, and stood like a collection of cardboard boxes, crudely welded together at strange angles. Despite its weird shape, it seemed to exude confidence and solidity. This was a house that had been built in segments, over years, and the materials for the last bit hadn’t been available the next time round, but the parts gelled well together, and fitted in the hand-me-down nature Alice had seen in most Library buildings.
The hair rose on the back of her neck. This was the closest she’d been to a human (possibly excluding Red) in an amount of time approaching a week. What should she expect? Twelfth had apparently met him, so he shouldn’t be some kind of lunatic, but was he even from the same time as her? The same original Earth? It was apparently ‘close enough’, but the fortune teller was a complete loon most – if not all – of the time. How far could his word be trusted?
She crunched up the path through a small allotment-style front garden of some plants she recognised, and some made of carpet or folded paper. Alien and Earthy, together. The door, maroon in colour, was at a bit of a kilter, but it seemed to be solid as she knocked a few sharp taps on it with the knocker – a utilitarian one of simple shape.
There was the sound of footsteps from within, and the door creaked open. “Hello? Who are you?”
Alice was confronted by a young A Librarian, six or seven years old – at least by comparison with human children. She had a mess of wavy, leafy green hair, coupled with piercing yellow-on-black eyes.
She barely managed an “Er-” before the girl noticed Nik and his brother, and pushed past Alice to greet them, showing surprising strength for one so young.
“Heyy! You must be Nik! He’s told me about you!” she exclaimed, hugging the fortune teller at approximately hip height. In response, he ruffled her hair, making her giggle.
“Hey there yourself, kiddo,” he said warmly.
“So who’s your friend? She’s a meat person, I didn’t know there were more of those.”
[She Is A New Wanderer And A Very Interesting Datapoint About Human Morphology And Psychology.]
Elizabeth, in a series of quick motions, clambered up Nik’s brother like he was a climbing frame, ending up standing on his shoulder, keeping her balance with no apparent effort. “Dad’s not in right now, if you’re looking for another meat person to say hi to, meat lady.”
“My name’s Alice, not ‘meat lady’.”
“Okay, meat lady! That sounds like a nice name. My name’s Liz!”
“Hello, Liz,” she replied, and Liz grinned widely. “When’s your dad getting back?”
In response, Liz’s eyes flared yellow, their entire surface glowing with a blank and pupil-less field of colour. Alice heard A Librarian make a strangled noise of alarm at that.
“He’s just heading back now. I’ll tell Mum you’re here,” she said, before hopping down from her perch on the fortune teller’s shoulder and yelling through the door of the house. “Hey, Mum! Visitors!”
The A Librarian who came to the door was taller than Alice, and was methodically sharpening an axe that was almost as tall as herself, a long mahogany handle supporting a blade made of some kind of orange glass. Her hair was a darker green than Liz’s, and was significantly longer. Despite the sheer menace in the weapon she was holding with no apparent effort, the green fires in her eyes were kind, and she was smiling.
“Ah, nice to see you again, Spawn of Nursiir and Twelfth. And you bought some visitors I haven’t yet had the chance to meet.”
Alice sounded more nervous than she intended. “Hi ma’am I’m Alice that’s a very nice axe you have.” Okay, scratch that. Significantly more nervous than she intended.
A Librarian chuckled gently. “My apologies, Alice. You and your friends caught me in the middle of something,” she said, gently placing the axe on a rack next to the coatrack in her porch.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Nik.” He turned to his brother. “Wait, how do you know these people?”
“I’m a man of many talents?”
“And I’m A Librarian,” A Librarian said. Wait, the one who’d been travelling with her, not the one she’d just met.
“Actually,” Alice asked, “why do you need to tell her your name? Surely she already knows it’s A Librarian? Also this is hurting my head.”
“Well, I can certainly have a fairly good idea,” A Librarian said, shrugging her shoulders, “but it doesn’t hurt to hear their names from their faces. In any case, come in, come in. Don’t stand on the doorstep like a flock of kites. I assure you it’s nicer on the inside.”
She turned back into the house and, with no small amount of awkward jostling, they followed.