Coiled Impression

“Okay. Inventory. Tents?”

[Check. Three Of Them.]

“Cool. Alice, the food?”

“It’s a bit of a stretch to call it food, but I have it here. Twenty-odd dried sticks of something, a couple of tupperwares of lumpy material and a baggie of soil. Ew.”

“Enough of your lip, young lady. What camping gear did Kallie hit me in the head with?”

“Well,” said Nik, “I think we’ve got a stove runestone, some reusable glow and anti-glowsticks, several lengths of Gordian rope and… I think this is a toaster.”

“That was probably ballast, to make sure it had the right oomph when it hit me in the head.”

“No, no, we eat that when we run out of food.”

[I Am Ever More Glad I Am Not Able To Eat.]

“Yeah, it’s from 3993 – that was a terrible year for vintage toasters.”

Firstly,” A Librarian said, before Nik’s brother could say anything more, “we’re not eating the toaster. We have the actual food Kallie sent us.”

“And secondly?”

“I was getting to that. I think we should head here,” he indicated a path he’d drawn on the map down the Melville-adjacent peninsula, “and the locals I’ve asked say there hasn’t been any activity from the ruins lately, so I think we’ll be fine. Nevertheless, we’re steering well clear of the known activity hotspots.”

“Wait, what year did you say that toaster was from?”

“3993.”

“What year is it now?”

“4372 P.S.”

“P.S.?”

“Post-Spinach.”

What?” She blinked at the fortune teller in disbelief.

“We’re getting off-topic,” said Nik, “but what my brother means to say is that it is currently forty-three seventy-two Post Sundering.”

And,” A Librarian added testily, “this is all the kind of stuff we can go over when we get going.”

“Oh fine. What’s next on the checklist?”

– – –

Walking was surprisingly comfortable in the boots Twelfth had insisted she get. Her Earth shoes were starting to fall to bits, a little, and she’d mostly replaced her day-to-day clothes over the… was it a month by now? A month and a half?

[So, The Twelfth Creation, To Which I Belong,] she was saying, keeping up with the group effortlessly, given how long her stride was, [Happened In 1809 P.S. – The First Attempted Following The Death Of The Demiurge Who Created The Original Bookbinders.]

“When was that?”

[Tarlûlaaork Died Permanently In One Of The Early Demiurge Wars. That Was In 2071 F.F. – Foyan Founding. It Corresponds To 2570 Before-Sundering. They Created The First Eleven Creations Of The Bookbinders In The Thousand-Odd Years Preceding That, Shortly After The Founding Of Foyer Itself.]

“That’s a… long damn time.”

“Bookbinders are hells of old,” Nik’s brother chimed in. “Even the Twentieth and most recent Creation was more than a thousand years ago.”

[The Concordance Needs To Agree On Whether A New Generation Should Exist.]

“And they’re a bunch of bickering ninnies, sometimes. And, heck, there’s no real need for more Bookbinders right now.”

[I Would Prefer You Speak More Respectfully Of The Collective Unconscious Of My People, But I Do Not Disagree.]

“Family can be a pain,” he agreed, “but that still means it’s family.”

“I heard that!” Nik was walking ahead of them, leading the way alongside A Librarian.

The landscape they were walking through, discussing weird history, was dominated by the Atrament – the ink sea – and the writing pillars that stretched from it, far above to the ceiling of this floor of the Library, probably more than a kilometre up. The pillars weren’t some uniform, regimented collection – they coiled around each other, sat at strange angles, like some giant’s pile of sticks or a magnified view of tangled hair. The long wooden shelf that made up the peninsula they were walking across was cracked, buckled, and would have convinced her even if A Librarian hadn’t told her that a large chunk of the landmass had slipped into the sea.

“So, where are the ruins of this Coiled Empire?” she asked brightly, looking around at the undulating fissured hills, dotted with the occasional small tower of bookshelves, but nothing like the ruined empire’s last stand she had been half-expecting.

A Librarian, ahead of her, gave a long-suffering sigh. “We’re avoiding those, remember?”

“I know, but shouldn’t we be able to see them from here? It just looks kinda empty.”

“That’s because,” A Librarian replied, “following their defeat, the Coiled Empire ceased to ever have existed.”

“Total ontological reversal.”

“Yes.”

Alice frowned. “So they never existed?”

“It’s… complicated. The original form the Coiled Empire took was something like a parasitic timeline, attempting to infect its way into existing properly, to always having had existed. The civilisation kinda grew out of nothing, subjects, disciples and all, trying to force its way into the Real.”

[Alternatively, It Was Theorised That It Was A Normal Civilisation That Tried To Render Themselves The Original Rulers Of All Realms Through Infecting The Timeline, And That Simply Went Away When They Were Defeated.]

“Right. So there’s no ruins?”

“Actually, there are. They just spend most of their time in a decayed alternate worldline, so they kinda drift back into existence on occasion, and-”

Nik’s brother cut in. “Eat your time, eat your reality to make themselves more real! Spooky ghost ruins!”

“Which is why,” Nik said, elbowing his brother, “we’re avoiding them.”

A Librarian had settled for a tone of voice between ‘narked’ and ‘long-suffering’. “They are visible, however, from certain angles and at certain times. I’ll be sure to point them out if they become visible.”

“Sweet.”

“We seeing us some time vampire buildings.”

“More vampires?”

“Anything can be a vampire, if you think too hard about it. You drink water, which runs through the veins of the Hydra-NT. Thus, you are a vampire.”

She ignored him. “Another thing that bothered me was that stuff you said about Inkomon, or whatever language I’m supposed to be speaking. I speak English, and a little bit of Mandarin, not ‘Inkomon’ or whatever.”

“Huh.” A Librarian looked pensive. “Interesting question, because I’m certainly hearing you speak in Inkomon, making the right lip movements and everything.”

“She stepped in something Realmic when she made the transfer,” said Nik’s brother, “and now the language she always spoke is the trade language of the Library, by complete coincidence.”

What?” She looked at A Librarian, waited for him to say that made no sense, but he walked quietly ahead of the group for a good thirty seconds.

“I mean, that could work. It’s merely a hypothesis, though, until any hard evidence appears.”

“Wait, what?

The fortune teller shrugged. “Well, if you were just getting everything translated, why can you still understand the puns?

Alice almost stopped walking in shock. “I hadn’t thought of that.

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