The Walker looked uncomfortable. “I was… brusque with you all, I apologise. You came here to ask things, and my friend sent you here. It’s only fair that I answer some questions.”
Nik raised a hand, realised what he was doing, blushed and lowered his hand before asking his question. “Are you really a Walker?”
He shrugged. “So I’ve been told.”
“How is that even possible?”
The Walker rolled his eyes. “I’m told that when two Walkers love each other very much…”
“Har har.” Nik sighed. “I meant, I was under the impression that Walkers were some kind of myth.”
“Seems you were mythtaken, then,” quipped his brother.
The Walker snorted. “Good one.”
“I have a question.” A Librarian frowned. “You look like some kind of elf.”
It was Alice’s turn to look puzzled. “He doesn’t look like an elf to me.”
“Well, he doesn’t have, you know, the tusks,” he replied, tapping his fingers either side of his chin for some reason. “But he’s got the general look, so to speak.”
“Walkers are – well – were referred to as Sidereal Elves,” said the Walker, raising an eyebrow. “And I do have the horns,” he continued, holding aside some of his beard-feathers to reveal a pair of small keratinous lumps in the places A Librarian had indicated.
“Are elves like, fairies?”
“Alice, I think the correct term is ‘members of the gay community’.”
She glared at the fortune teller. “I mean, Fair Folk or similar.”
A Librarian pulled a face. “Well, maybe? I think elves are a bit like goblins, in that they’re descended from things that migrated from Faerie, but far longer ago.”
“Something like that,” said the Walker.
“Modern elves are speciated along lines based on habitat – their whole thing is adaptation,” said Nik.
“So you get Smoke, Sea, Storm, Sky, Snow, Swamp, Sand and Stone Elves,” his brother added. “Sometimes slightly surreptitious, so suspicions subside!”
“Yes, that, although I’m not so sure about Smoke Elves being a thing.”
“They are, or were, or remain a thing!”
“Well, that narrows it down.”
Alice cut the brothers off before the conversation could be further derailed. “What’s so special about Walkers, anyway? Why’re they a myth?”
“They supposedly were ghost demons from the City of Ash, who roamed the Realms and ate tadpoles who didn’t eat their vegetables or something. Come to think of it, I guess that’s one of those grain-of-truth things given how good he is at sneaking up on people.”
“Okay? Well, we came here to ask questions about Red and any groups he’s supposedly associated with.”
The Walker’s expression soured. “Not supposedly. He’s been associated with them for more than a century – the first description of something matching him was during one of the final days of the old cult – before the First crushed them.”
“ ‘ ’, the First Bookbinder.”
She made a face. “This thing’s name is ‘ ’? Like, nothing? Twelfth’s name was, like, an entire sonnet or something.”
[The First Was Not Given A Name – They Are The Prototype Of All Bookbinders Since. Technically Speaking, Their Name Is A String With Zero Length.]
“Right, that makes… sense? So Red was one of these cult guys back when they were trying to destroy the Causeways?”
“As far as I can tell, yes. I’m not sure how he managed to survive the events towards the end of the cult’s lifetime, but he next resurfaced in an account of the calamitous decline of the Coiled Empire, whose ruins wander the peninsula yonder.” He waved a hand back across the ink towards the mainland.
“Since then,” he continued, “Red has been seen with such dangerous things as the Hating Crimson, the Deathless and the White and Grey.”
“The White and Grey sound familiar.”
“Pray you never meet them. Unpleasant demons of starlight and darkness, respectively. Alice, was it?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
The Walker grimaced. “You’re all mixed up in all sorts of horrible things, aren’t you? I can see Red’s mark on your hand, some kind of… Adversarial brand on your forehead, and… something else. I’m not sure, but I think you’re in over your head.”
She sighed. “Tell me about it. What’re the Hating Crimson and the Deathless, then?”
“The Deathless is a litch-lord from the Necropolis.”
“Well-known for being terrible at parties,” Nik’s brother butted in.
“Quite. And the Hating Crimson is a mineral Fae of tremendous power. I think it’s a descendant of the Frozen Red Tears, which hung in the sky of Faerie as an ominous red moon that haunted the nightmares of whole civilisations.”
“I don’t understand any of these concepts, but that sounds like the sort of thing I wouldn’t want to meet.”
“Yeah. You know what’s funny – I haven’t seen any humans at all for over five years, and just this week, I see sign of two in quick succession.”
That caught Alice’s attention. “Two?”
“You, for one. And STAR’s blue witch, who I saw sign of recently, snooping around the Library towards the Lower Wreaches.” Seeing the look of confusion on her face, he continued. “Well, STAR are some kind of organisation from a partition of Materia, that do some strange things to do with the less material sciences. So, magic and things Realmic. I was under the impression they’d all sequestered themselves behind their universe shields – I’ll have to chase some of that up.”
“Huh. I’m not sure I know what to make of this STAR thing, then.”
“Me neither, but I think there’s a bigger picture we’re missing. The Grey and the White are on the move. Red is acting uncharacteristically. I heard a rumour that the Hollowed Hall had relocated out of sight. The Queen of Worms is… doing something? It’s hard to tell, but this can’t all be a coincidence.” The Walker paused, deep in thought, for a few seconds before continuing. “I need to go now, but I’ll be in touch, okay?”
“Oh, feel free to contact us on any of our cans,” said A Librarian.
“Don’t have a can. That’s how They track you.”
When the Walker said ‘They’, he pronounced the capital letter. Surely a sign of sanity and sensibility, thought Alice.
A Librarian was taken aback. “Er, should we give you a forwarding address?”
The Walker grinned, displaying for the first time a jagged set of pointed teeth. “Don’t worry. I can find anyone.”
And, at that, he wasn’t there any more, like a pattern in the clouds that doesn’t look the same when you look away and then look back.