Light Reading

On the train to Melville, Alice gave the notes of the Nameless Walker a read, along with a glitter-encrusted purple pamphlet – given to her by Nik’s brother – that purported to “TEACH THE MAGNIFICENT BASICS OF MAGYCQK!!!!!!”. She was fairly sure it was a joke.

The journal was fragmented in both subject and materials, different types, weights and colours of paper and parchment jostling with neat cursive writing and small ink drawings of various strange things.

On the Properties of Nixies (also known as ‘necks’ or ‘knuckers’ – naiads are a different genus of water sprite, but are similar)

This was followed by a hand-drawn illustration of a young lady with something of a fishlike aspect to her, and very minimal clothing. She was sitting on a rock, posing demurely.

Nixies – water sprites known for employment of illusion and glamour, are endemic to Realms with medium-to-large bodies of water (or water-containing liquids, see blood necks, ink nixes and the like) – the stereotype is that nixies lure in sailors with more beautiful forms before eating them.

In the second illustration, she had opened her mouth in a wide grin and in doing so had revealed row upon row of thin, needle-like teeth. Her pupils had narrowed to slits, and her various fins were extended, giving her a wholly more alien look.

Uuthil, the nixie pictured, claimed that she was a member of a large ‘pod’, or tribal family, who lived in one of the worldseas of the East-Katan Arboretum – Aqua Victus. Their staple diet is apparently fish, ammonites and the occasional small whale, no sailors involved. I’m not certain how truthful she was being, but she agreed to pose for the attached drawings and showed great interest and amusement with the results, especially the ‘scary face’. The rest of her pod watched from a distance, seemingly more wary of outsiders. Further investigation is needed, but nixies don’t appear to all be dangerous, although those teeth do indicate a certain capacity to cause harm when slighted.

Certainly interesting stuff, and Alice spent a good deal of time reading descriptions of strange monsters and odd phenomena, in the vain hope that she could be less out of her depth when encountering things in future.

What worried her more, however, were the pages that didn’t read like a dry bestiary.

It can SEE ME. I am observed, and the agents of the heart close in as the EYE sees me. And then, beyond the fleshy breathing halls, the other monsters. THEY SCREAM MY HIDDEN NAME.
The RED RIGHT HAND, IT PLOTS AND SCHEMES.
CAN IT SEE ME IN MY DREAMS?
DOES IT WATCH ME WHEN I WAKE?
BIDING ITS TIME, MY SOUL TO TAKE?
The heart still beats, the hands still move.

Those pages were also covered in drawings of eyes, both simple and detailed. In some places, the pen had been pressed nearly hard enough to break the paper, and the lines were shaky and occasionally splattered. It was certainly concerning, especially when she got to the pages with the occasional splatter of something red-brown. HP sauce? Sure. That was totally a thing it could be, and she refused to think about it any further.

She WALKS IN LIGHT and he LURKS IN THE DARK. Not inimical, not inimical, demons from beyond the shape of things, that hunt the Real, wounding it like a stalking redcap does its prey. They are not those! Not those! She is an element of Creation, fallen, whilst he is likely some being or aspect of the Umbra – the growing dark that smothers the world beyond Paradise. They claim opposing forces and yet co-operate. They have many names, and like a fool I took one of their poisoned deals. In a fit of luck and non-idiocy, I managed to cheat them of most of what they wanted, but I am still technically in their debt.

The rest of the page was covered in strange circular symbols that made her eyes itch. She showed them to A Librarian, who said they were ‘probably summoning signs’ and that it was a fairly bad idea to mess with them.

She decided that was enough of the journal, which had shifted in a more morbidly maudlin direction, and turned to the pamphlet.

YOU THINKT A THING – MAKE THING HAPPEN. LISTEN TO THE SONG OF OTHER WIZZIDS AND PRACTIC RELPICATING IT IN YOUR HEDBRAIN. IF NUT WIZERDS, MAGYCKQIcAL OBJECTYS , WORDS AND SYMBOLSES ARE WHYT YOU NEED, READ THE PNEUMAS. TAKE THE AIRS AND THE SHAPES WILL REVEAL THEMSELVES.

It was fairly completely incomprehensible. What she got from the mixture of the overcomplicated and the patronisingly facile was that it was very hard to learn magic on one’s own, needing a practised magician to ‘get an impression’ from, and that there were two broad kinds.

“Facilitated” magic was the type that involved rituals and things such as the Words. It was simple – say the right things, write the right things, wave the right candles around and use the right ingredients and stuff would happen. Each Word had a very specific effect, for instance, and facilitated magic tended to end up looking an awful lot like a particularly esoteric form of computer programming. It was easier to get started with than the other kind, she read, but the spells tended to get incredibly complex very quickly, and were nearly impossible to create on the fly.

“Intrinsic” magic was more wizard-hat-and-staff than programmer in style; it was a means of mentally making the universe, or ‘the Real’, cough up the supernatural effects. Harder to initially learn, it required some manner of ‘inspiration’ and ‘finding one’s own truth’. Exactly how to find one’s ‘own truth’ was not really elaborated – apparently it was presumptuous to even provide any hints as to how to find the ‘own truth’.

“You know,” she told the fortune teller, “this isn’t really very helpful.”

“You know,” he said, dangling by his legs from the overhead luggage compartment across the aisle, “I think that journal-guy was a bit nuts.”

“And the pamphlet?”

“Oh, I got that for free from a canvasser or maybe a litter bin.”

“Wow, how prestigious.”

He stuck out his tongue. “It breaks suspension of disbelief for me to have everything you need in my pockets, no matter how big they are.”

“Brother,” Nik said, “get down from there.”

Fiiiiiine,” he grumbled, “if you insist.”

With an exaggerated sigh, he slid out of the compartment, landing on his hands and flopping upside-down into one of the seats.

Alice rolled her eyes and turned back to the journal.

The Red Right Hand have many faces, and some of them have many names. They all bear the sign, and bear the hand, but sometimes it’s hard to discern. The cult was crushed by the First and the rest of the bookbinders at the end of the last demiurge war, so why are their symbols still being bandied about?

The ‘Red Right Hand’ did sound an awful lot like Red. What, exactly, that meant was a bit harder to determine. Was Red a member of this cult? From what the journal person and Twelfth had said, the cult had been dismantled by something called ‘the First’, who was apparently one of the Bookbinders. Exactly why Red was hanging around nowadays, and had – according to Nik’s brother – been around for a few hundred years, was a mystery, even to the journal-keeper.

She’d even read a little bit of The Annal of Psychogeology, under the advisement of Twelfth and Nik, who said it would probably not be too dangerous if she didn’t read more than a page. She hadn’t even got that far – the words were strange and seemed to wriggle on the paper. It made her feel faintly ill, so she shut the book and asked the fortune teller if her mind was any harder to read.

“Bit solider,” he said, “but you wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from your natural defences.”

“And those are… ?”

“Ah, y’know, the thingummies. The whatsits, the sie-onniks that’re’ll part of your mental immune system.”

“What.”

“You’ve been around a bunch of psycho-winglers for a while now, so you’re building up a bit of a resistance.”

[At Some Point,] Twelfth chimed in, [We Are Going To Have To Instruct You On Discernment In Inputs. Otherwise, You Will Be Unable To Hear My Voice, Which Is Wholly Psychic In Aspect.]

“That’ll be part of your mental magic training,” said Nik, conversation about obscure Realm transit mechanics with A Librarian seemingly shelved for the moment.

“Around about the three-year mark,” his brother said, “according to the lesson plan popularised by A Librarian, original headmaster of the Foyan School of magic.”

Alice winced. “Three years?”

“He’s exaggerating,” said A Librarian, “but it still takes quite a long time to become a practised mage. It’s a skill, after all, not something you can pick up in an afternoon. I study magic for a living, but I’m still not what one would call a ‘practised’ mage.”

“He scraped through his magic A Level, but went and did a degree in magic theory, then specialised to Causeway and Realm stuff,” said the fortune teller. “And now he’s got no marketable skills.”

“If I had the first idea what you were talking about,” he retorted, “I’m sure I’d be insulted.”

“Okay,” she said, “I think I get it. It’s like… an esoteric practical skill.”

“It’s a mental skill too, which is why I’m so good at it. Nik’s brother, still lying upside-down on the seat, waggled his fingers at her.

She rolled her eyes, rather than dignifying that with an answer, turning away to look out the window at the Library landscape whipping past. A forest of densely-packed pillars filled her view, disappearing into some kind of pale haze. Far below, the black waters of an inky sea lapped against the pillars, glimmering in the Library’s strange illumination.

She was interrupted from her examination of this region of the Library by the gentle chime of the tannoy, announcing that the next stop was Melville.

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