“Row, row, row your boat,
gently ‘cross the ink,
merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
god do Nik’s feet stink.”
The fortune teller turned to his brother. “Look, bro, I am but a simple bard telling my own truth about this world we live in. Now keep rowing, mush, or I’ll have to clap you in irons and keelhaul you.”
[This Boat Does Not Have A Keel.]
Alice groaned. “Are we there yet?”
The Atrament was as still as a millpond, the ripples of their passing vanishing far quicker than they would on a normal sea. The jagged wooden shapes of the Isles of Linguahans pierced the flatness before them, and a teeming ruined city of odd geometric green buildings sat on the shore behind them… wait. That wasn’t right. The shore behind them was definitely bare, and always had been.
The itch in the back of her mind was a complete coincidence.
Three atonal sea-shanties later, the boat arrived at the isle with a scraping crunch on its beach of seaglass. On a closer look, the myriad small pieces of smoothed and shattered glass that covered the beach were actually the remains of tens of thousands of tiny bottles in every conceivable colour – inkwells, she realised.
She crunched up the beach, turning back to watch A Librarian dismiss the boat with the sound of a reversed ding. “So, which way now?”
He pulled the map back out of his satchel and glanced at it. “Erm, this isn’t a big island at all, so I guess we should just… look around?”
“Orrr,” said the fortune teller, “we could rely on the fact that we have a tremendously talented seer with us, and rely on their expert guidance in these clairvoyant matters.”
Nik grinned. “Oh, I didn’t realise that you’d managed to smuggle Madame Pythia here with us! Why didn’t you say so? We’ll have this place found in no time!”
His brother paused for a long moment before speaking, expression unreadable. “Touché.”
[Are You Going To Need A Moment? Not Many People Can Recover From A Burn That Severe Without Reconstructive Surgery.]
“Hey, I took that excellent burn my brother made in good grace, thank you very much! I will not be made a snarkiness hypocrite, you pack of vultures!”
“I think,” Alice said, “of all the things that could be said to not be something you brought upon yourself by your own actions, this is not one of them.”
He stuck out his tongue. “Did you wanna find this place or not? Because I’m feeling more uncooperative by the second for some unknowable reason.”
“Fine. Lead on, then.”
“Oh, that? We’re standing right on it, pretty much. Entrance is over there.” He gestured at a nearby shallow dune of crushed glass bottles and inkwells.
“What can I say? I’m a talented seer. Talented enough to rock the boat until it’s pointing at the place we’re headed for? Maybe!”
Twelfth crunched over to the hillock. [Thank You. Now, How Do We Enter This ‘Hideout’?]
“Blood sacrifice. I nominate Nik.”
[The Actual Entry Method, If You Please.]
“Ugh, fine. You should be able to just lift the lid off, but it might set off some kind of alarm. It’s difficult to tell without further examination – the stuff’s fairly difficult to examine from out here.”
[Stand Back, Then.]
Once they were standing at a ‘safe distance’, Twelfth plucked the entire small hill with little apparent effort. The ‘plug’ was seemingly entirely stuck together in a manner designed to look like loose-piled glass, blending in with the rest of the beach, even when she put it down, to the side of the newly-exposed metal trapdoor.
[An Olythreme Alloy,] she said, gesturing at the iridescent, almost oily-looking surface of the metal, [I Would Presume That It Is Almost Impenetrable To Magical Means Of Clairvoyance.]
“Yeah,” Nik’s brother confirmed, “dude takes his security seriously. And is apparently loaded, given how expensive that stuff is.”
Alice interrupted his musings. “What’s olythreme?”
[A Magical Metallic Mineral From The Forge, Known For Being Near-Impervious To Most Things If Properly Worked And Alloyed.]
“And the reason we’re pausing is that we’ve got no idea what’s underneath that.”
[I… Doubt That, If There Is A Trap, It Could Kill Me Instantly Or Permanently.]
“It does occur to me,” said Nik, “that we have no idea how paranoid this ‘Nameless Walker’ is.”
A Librarian pulled a face. “I don’t think Alan would knowingly send us into a deathtrap. But I don’t know how much this person trusted him and his discretion.”
“I’m still concerned by this ‘possible deathtrap’ thing!”
[Do Not Be Concerned, Alice. I Do Not Feel Pain Or Fear Death. Additionally, I Am Durable Enough That Death Is Rather Unlikely.]
“That does not make me any less concerned!”
[I Would Still Recommend Myself For A Opener Of Dangerous Doors.]
“Can’t we do it… remotely?”
“Olythreme alloy,” said Nik’s brother, “magic-resistant and very heavy. No dice, only death.”
[In Any Case, This Is An Entrance, Presumably To This Nameless Walker’s Hideout. Stand Back.]
Despite her protests, Alice found herself ushered back to behind a dune a few hundred feet away, as Twelfth gingerly lifted the inches-thick trapdoor – despite everyone’s misgivings, unleashing no dangerous traps or deadly forces.
[It Is A Ladder Downwards,] Twelfth said, her telepathic voice sounding exactly as close as it always did, making Alice near-jump out of her skin.
– – –
The ladder descended through a narrow, smooth-walled hole made of various different colours of glass, as if the substances of the beach had been melted together by something incredibly hot. Every now and then, a sigil carved into the wall of the pipe flared with light as they passed, some kind of automatic lighting system, glimmering with the thousand colours of the beachglass.
Down and down they descended, despite A Librarian’s mumbling about ‘being too deep, beyond the Ink Table’, until the ladder abruptly bottomed out in a small chamber dominated by a large set of double doors that glimmered in the half-light with the same olythremic iridescence.
“Another one?” She was incredulous. “Didn’t you say this stuff was expensive?”
[Very Expensive And Hard To Reliably Source.]
“It’s a different alloy to the trapdoor, too,” said Nik. “Look, the colours cycle in a different order.”
His brother grinned. “You’re a nerd.”
[We Have Not Seen Any Traps So Far. Do You Want Me To Open The Door Now, Or Wait Until You Retreat Up The Ladder?]
“Ergh,” said A Librarian, “for safety’s sake, we should head up the ladder. The lack of traps is pretty suspicious, now.”
The fortune teller’s gaze suddenly snapped upwards, looking up the ladder. “Trapdoor just shut by itself.”
He continued. “Aaaand… yeah, that’s a pretty dangerous-looking series of wards.”
“I guess that’s what the catch was,” he said with an air of grudging respect, “that’s really very clever. Things can get in, but can’t get out without his help.”
[Well. Given The Lack Of Choices, I Will Open This Door Now.]
“Can we prop it open?” Nik was squinting up the ladder, where the circle of daylight had been replaced by the cherry-red glow of whatever ‘dangerous wards’ there were.
The giant set of olythreme-alloy doors would have creaked theatrically as they opened, but apparently preferred to remain ominously silent as they parted to reveal…
One of the messiest rooms Alice had ever seen. A series of rough wooden shelves stood at the opposite end of the room, covered in folders, books and piles of loose papers such that the shelves themselves were barely visible. The walls were covered in shelves, too, arranged with stacks of strange crystals, more books, glassware and weird-looking metal tools, the functions of which Alice could only guess at. On top of that, it looked like most of the cabinets that sat around the room had been ransacked, drawers pulled out and contents discarded on the floor. Piles of scattered teeth and small animal bones, boxes of marbles and piles of metallic leaves were spilling out of a number of tipped shelves and crates, such that the floor was nearly entirely covered in various forms of detritus.
“Wow,” A Librarian breathed, “this place is a tip.”
“We’ve all seen your rooms,” said Alice, “so don’t take the moral high ground, here.”
“Hey, they’re not this messy!”