They had left the Peterson household that morning. The entire family had been there to see them off.
“Bye, Meat Lady Alice!” Liz had cheerfully shouted.
Alan rolled his eyes. “Here, Alice, take this,” he had said, placing a tin can with a string attached into her hands. “Keep in touch. It’s always nice to see another human around.”
From there, they’d hiked back to Index and caught the train again, heading for ‘Melville’ and, hopefully one of the Journal Guy’s haunts.
Alice, back in the present, took the can out of her pocket and looked at the label again. ‘Campillo’s Classic Morsestrone Soup’, the label proudly proclaimed, and Alice groaned inwardly. She didn’t even know who ‘Campillo’ was, but there was a certain pun-related inference that could be drawn.
“If you’re worried about not being able to use it,” Nik said, noticing her expression, “you just hold it up to your ear and either think of who you’re going to call, or say their name into it.”
“That seems a little too simple.”
“Well,” his brother said, “don’t pick up a call that you can’t subsequently put down.”
Nik sighed loudly. “That is not what that phrase means!”
“Am I wrong, though?”
“Fffffine,” Nik conceded, “if you get things fantastically wrong and manage to call up some terror, demon, dragon, wyrm, Principality or Dominion, it will go very badly wrong for you. You’ll probably get smote.”
“She’s already smitten.”
“I am not.”
“Who’s the telepath, here?”
“How,” she asked Nik, “do people deal with telepaths? Isn’t there a whole bunch of privacy things about it?”
If not to keep his brother out, she thought, it might do something about Carpalithos and the Apostate Speaker.
“There are a couple of simple occludosophic techniques,” said Nik, “which can be used to make your thoughts near-impossible for all but the most skilled telepaths to penetrate.”
“I’m one of those!” said the fortune teller, beaming.
“Unfortunately enough, yes he is. However, it’s still tricky for him, and the intrusion would then be detectable. Better than nothing, I suppose.”
“He’s just mad because I always knew where he was hiding when we were kids and I was seeking.”
Ignoring him, Alice addressed her next question at Nik. “How do you learn these… occludo-sopphic techniques?”
“Sophistristic techniques are one of the more basic forms of mind-magic, so it’ll probably be fairly easy for you to learn, provided you’ve got some form of basic magical education.”
She facepalmed. “Nik. Nik. There’s no such thing as magic where I come from.”
[Materia Is Certainly A Strange Place.] Twelfth looked fairly silly, sitting in an A Librarian-sized train seat like the lovechild of a spider, a flamingo and a pile of assorted coathangers.
“Yeah,” said A Librarian, “even among the known Realms, it’s a rather weird one.”
Alice harrumphed and folded her arms. “All this stuff is weird to me,” she grumped. “And I can’t do magic, so how do I protect myself from telepathy?”
“A tinfoil hat?” suggested Nik’s brother.
A Librarian tapped his chin, frowning. “Well, besides teaching you magic, which would be a fairly long-term thing, I think I might have something lying around in my personal library that’d help occlude and harden your mind against intrusion.”
“You could teach me magic?” She was definitely listening now.
“Er.” A Librarian stumbled over his words, taken aback. “I’m not much of a teacher, myself. We could probably find you some instructive books and stuff?”
“I’m still very excited, and nothing you can say will make me less excited about the possibility of learning magic.”
“Believe me,” said A Librarian, “it’s significantly more boring than it sounds.”
“Nothing. Can. Dissuade. Me.”
“I think our buddyfriend Red could get you in touch with some good teachers. Or teach you himself, if he really wanted,” said the fortune teller, chuckling at a private joke.
“Oh sure! Bug him about it a lot, he’ll love that.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I’m pretty sure you’re being sneaky.”
[I Believe That Mind-Related Magics Are Relatively Difficult For A Beginner To Learn. It Is One Of The More Abstract Forms, And Thus It Is Better To Have Mastered A More Physical Form Before You Start On Neurosophic Forms.]
“Huh,” said Nik, “I haven’t really thought about it before; can Bookbinders even do magic?”
Twelfth’s laughter was like the tinkle of a windchime, musical and light. [Of Course We Can! Bookbinders Are Woven From Magic; It Is The Underpinning Of The Language Our Minds, Our Shem, Are Written In. We Speak The Words As Easily As You Can Swim, Child Of Nursiir.]
[From What I Have Heard, Our Connection To The Twelve Million Words Is A Fair Bit More Intuitive Than That Of Mortals Or Lower Sentients. I Am Not Sure, Miss Alice, That I Would Be Able To Provide Much More Than A Lexical Instruction.]
Alice frowned. “Magic’s about learning these… Twelve Million Words, then?”
It was A Librarian who corrected her. “Ah, no. The Twelve Million Words are one of many magical systema, ways of appealing to, er, the Dominions and Powers of the Realms.”
“So… religious magic stuff? Say prayers, burn incense, and then something happens?”
He pulled a face. “No? Dominions aren’t gods, they’re entirely different things. I, um, I’m not sure how to explain what they are, apart from – you know – Dominions.” He glanced around at the rest of the group. “Does anyone have a better explanation?”
[Knowledge Herself Is Venerated, Certainly, But She Is Not A God. In General, Gods Are Things That Somehow Gained Investiture, Becoming Something Greater Than They Once Were. Dominions Were Always, Barring The Creation Myths, And Do Not Request Anything, Belief Or Sacrifice Or Any Of The Like. They Are The Fundaments, And From Them All Flows.]
“If She’s not a god, what is She?”
[She Is The Fact That Information Is Possible, That Knowledge Is A Thing That Can Exist. We Give Her A Pronoun, Call Her Knowledge, And It Is An Attempt To Make Her Seem More Like Us. We Can Not Even Conceive Of A Real Where She Did Not Exist, Because To ‘Conceive’ Of Something Would Require Knowledge In Order To Be Possible.]
“…Huh. I think I get that, but what does that have to do with magic?”
“Ooh,” said the fortune teller, “let’s get some flipcharts and handpuppets! This’ll make the explanation of a subjective system faaaaar easier.”
Nik shoved his brother off the train seat where he was lying. “What the best books and magic instructors tend to say is that it’s important for the trainee mage to find their own truth. I’m not sure a moving train is a great place for a basic education in how to rend the fabric of the Real, however.”
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” asked his brother from the floor.
– – –
“I’m sure it was around here somewhere.”
A Librarian’s personal library, back in Foyer, was an absolute mess, books piled high on and then stacked next to the shelves. As well as books, the library seemed to be a generic storage for ‘occult lab equipment’, as Nik called it. As it was, the five of them could barely fit in A Librarian’s apartment, which sat in a small building in the ‘suburbs’ of Foyer – outside the trunk of the Great Tree, where the city had spread.
Nik raised a hairless eyebrow at A Librarian’s travails. “Are you sure it’s here? How do you even find things in here?”
“Mostly,” said A Librarian, “I don’t. It’ll get less messy once I get my study set up at the University, hopefully. Ah-hah!”
He emerged, triumphant, from behind one of the shelves, clutching a slim book bound in beige leather.
“What’s that, then?” asked Alice.
“The Annal of Psychogeology,” said A Librarian, “and if you read too much of it at a time, I think it might petrify your mind entirely. So be careful. A short reading will just harden your mind to intrusion for a few days.”
“Er.” She looked at the book like it was a live grenade. “Petrify my mind?”
“Not if you take precautions!”
“I fail to find that reassuring.” She had a closer look at the book’s cover. There were letters on it that she didn’t recognise, imprinted in gold. Below them on the front cover was a line illustration of a gorgon’s head that seemed to move and twist mesmerisingly, like an optical illusion writ in gold foil.
She tore her gaze from that of the Medusa. “What does mind petrification even involve?”
“A Brain-stone pickle,” said the fortune teller.