Alice had resolved to ask whatever freaky demons she saw in her nightmares tough questions about why English seemed to be coincidentally exactly the same as Inkomon. In a demonstration of the full pettiness of cosmic justice, and despite the lumpy bedroll, her sleep was uninterrupted by dreams of any kind.
The rattling chime of an alarm clock was what jolted her from sleep. Blearily, she sat up, rubbed her eyes and unzipped the tent door. Sitting outside, still sounding loudly, were three shiny metal creatures – oversized beetles with clock faces on their backs, chiming tiny alarm clock bells at her.
“What?” She was fully awake now, more amused than alarmed. “Go on, shoo!”
The beetles clattered angrily at her, but she was many times their size and weight, so they bid a hasty retreat and skittered away into some of the myriad cracks that split the ridge.
[Ah, So You Saw The Clockroaches.]
[I Do Not Think It Works If You Vocalise The Noun Of The Utterance.]
“Groan to you too. What are clockroaches?”
[They Subsist On Mortal Dreams, I Believe, And Agitate When It Gets Light.]
“Well, I’m awake now. Everyone else?”
[I Have Not Checked. However, When I Was Scouting During The Night, I Noticed Something You May Find Interesting.]
“Ooh. Whassat? Also, do we have coffee or anything like it somewhere?”
[It Is A Coiled Ruin, Come Into Hopefully Temporary Existence. Harmless, Unless We Get Too Close. As For Your Second Question, I Am Unsure. I Believe A Librarian Could Make You A Copy Of An Invocation Of Wakefulness If You Want One.]
“Sweet. Now, where’s this ghost house.”
[Right This Way.]
– – –
Twelfth led her about half a mile from where they’d set up camp, and Alice was fully awake by the time the ruin came into view. They crested the top of a shallow hill stepped with narrow terraces of bookshelves, and there it stood in the valley below. She noticed it immediately – it stood out starkly from the Library’s general design aesthetics, a squat building of dark green stone. It stood in the centre of a wide valley, out-of-place, like it had dropped from orbit, or been dumped there like an erratic – a rock from elsewhere left behind when a glacier retreated. The shape of the building itself was hard to describe, like a collection of connected pyramids and polyhedra, covered in triangular faces, such that there were no vertical walls or horizontal floors natural to the structure. Even the doors and windows were triangular, and strange zigzagging towers rose from the main body of the building, stretching towards the ceiling. The entire structure had cracked like an egg and lay in two almost-halves, and there was a scattering of triangle-faced bricks around the base of the structure where they had fallen out of the broken walls.
[It Appears To Be At A High Ebb Of Existence, But It Is Not There. Observe – It Has No Shadow.]
“Huh.” Alice had wondered what had been bothering her about the building. “You’re right. That’s freaky.”
[It Is Certainly Strange. Right, Field Trip Over. Let Us Go See If The Others Have Awoken, Before They Start Worrying If We Wandered Off.]
[Young Lady, These Ruins Are Dangerous. We Can Come Poke Them At Our Leisure When We Have The Rest Of Our Group Of ‘Tough Customers’ With Us.]
“Aren’t you the toughest customer in our group?”
[Debatable,] she said, matter-of-factly, betraying only the tiniest hint of smugness in her tone.
– – –
A Librarian was doing something strange with the runestove when they got back to the campsite. “Oh, there you are. Found something interesting?”
[A Coiled Ruin.]
“Huh. Well, we better not head that way, then. Anyway, breakfast.” He handed Alice a wrapped stick of whatever that pale stuff was. It tasted like a melange of sawdust and rock candy, along with a couple of more transient tastes she couldn’t name, but A Librarian assured her that it probably wasn’t poisonous to humans.
“It’ll be two days, max,” said Nik; “that’s what I keep reminding myself, anyway.”
A Librarian looked up from where he was packing one of the tents. “My cooking feels insulted.”
“If your cooking can feel,” he replied, “I think us disliking it is the least of your problems.”
A Librarian’s retort was cut off by a yodelling cry from the one tent still standing, followed by the voice of Nik’s brother. “Gooooooood morning, campers! My my my, what a wonderful selection of tricks and treats do we have for you today! Well, technically, a day or two after tomorrow, depending on what time this chapter is posted. And what timezone you’re in.”
Alice turned to Nik. “I can’t tell if he’s still groggy from waking up, or if this is as lucid as we’re getting today.”
“Hey! Rude! I’ll have you know that I’m gonna get far less lucid as the day progresses.”
She rolled her eyes. “Good to know. Anyway, there’s weird breakfast foodsticks, come have some.”
“Weird breakfast foodsticks! They’re my favourite!”
[I Remain Glad That I Have Neither Mouth Nor Tastebuds.]
As breakfast ended, Alice gave A Librarian a hand with packing the rest of the tents up, but she couldn’t maintain concentration. It was something like a headache, but tinged with the sensation of… whispering? It was quiet enough to simply ignore, however, and she assumed it was some side-effect of having your dreams eaten by Clockroaches.
She didn’t notice the octahedral dark green bricks slowly undisappearing, forming small piles across the landscape behind them. In fact, no-one in the group did.
They weren’t there, after all.
– – –
“So that’s them?”
“Yup. Yonder, the Isles of Linguahans!” A Librarian held up the map, and a line danced over the surface of the paper as an unseen artist sketched the landscape in front of them, labelling prominent features of the Isles in looping handwriting.
“So, we’re gonna need a boat?”
“Just a sec,” he said, digging through his tote bag, “where were w-aha!”
He produced a service bell – one that’d be used to summon the staff at a hotel’s front desk – and rang it with a loud ding. With a rush of displaced air, a neon orange inflatable liferaft materialised out of thin air, fell to the ground and slid a few feet before Twelfth caught it.
“Wait. Wait. You dinged that bell, and then… oh god.”
He gestured to the raft. “It’s a dinghy!”
“Get in the damn boat so I can throw you overboard.”