The stranger closed the door behind them, the other side turning out to be a small sally port in a far larger set of double doors. Alice’s boots squeaked on the tiled floor as she shuffled awkwardly forwards, trying to move away from her position at the front of the group.
“Please, take a seat,” said the stranger, gesturing at a couple of floating chairs, either side of a grand fireplace.
Now they were indoors, Alice managed to get a better look at her. She was humanoid in basic aspect, with a long nose and slightly sunken eyes. The pair of tusks that stuck out from either side of her chin and the passing resemblance to a less feathery version of the Nameless Walker made her think that the stranger was… some kind of elf? Was that the takeaway from the conversation with the Walker about the various features?
The stranger strode across the atrium to a set of stairs on the far side, summoning or conjuring another three chairs with an offhand gesture and flashes of pale light. As she walked, the pattern on the tiled floor shifted to remain arranged in concentric circles around her feet, changes rippling out like the wake of a boat.
“Um,” said Alice, “who are you? I mean, er, not that we’re not grateful for being rescued, but I don’t know who you are?”
The stranger paused at the bottom of a stone staircase, let go of the handrail and turned back to face them, meeting Alice’s eyes with a gaze so intense that she nearly flinched.
“Ah. My apologies. I am called Gyran, and I was told where to find you by a mutual acquaintance who, I believe, has told you to call him Red.”
“Oh! You’re Red’s friend?”
A pause. “I believe so.” Another pause. “You are injured.”
The strangely intense woman came back over, sending more ripples of muted colour through the tiled floor.
“I didn’t do it, ma’am,” said the fortune teller quickly, “scout’s honour.”
The corner of Gyran’s mouth twitched. “So it was you, then. I thought I recognised that variety of lateral thinking.”
“I still want an explanation,” said Alice as Gyran examined her hand.
“He severed the Scarlet Sign that Red placed in your right hand, thus sending Red a signal informing him that you were in danger. At that point, he called in a favour I owed him, and informed me of your approximate location.”
Alice felt her touch the knife, the slightest grating of metal on the bone in her hand. With a flicker of light that left black spots in her vision, Gyran did… something, and the knife faded, becoming silvery and transparent. At that, the blade simply slid through her hand, insubstantial. Another gesture from Gyran, and a flicker of silver light stitched the wound.
“Is that adequate?”
“Um, yes, thanks.”
Gyran nodded. “Good. I cannot honestly say that any friend of Red’s is a friend of mine, but you are a friend of his who I hope to maintain a friendly acquaintance with.”
“Wow, Gyran,” said the fortune teller, “that sure was a lot of words to express a simple concept. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Given the level of sarcasm, neither have you.”
“I didn’t comment on this earlier,” said Alice, “but you two know each other?”
“She’s probably my oldest friend.”
“Do you just… know everyone?”
He shrugged. “I can’t help it, I’m just so charming.”
“Har har.” She paused. “Um, Gyran?”
“I- um, where is this?”
She gestured expansively. “This is Hollowed Hall. My demesne and home.”
A Librarian, Nik and Twelfth all made startled noises and started to ask questions at the same time. Gyran watched them placidly as they realised they were talking over each other and stopped.
Eventually, Nik spoke up. “This is Hollowed Hall? The Hollowed Hall?”
“I do not know of any other.”
[That Must Mean That You Are The Triskelion.]
“I. What? How?”
Gyran gave a little shrug. “My name is Gyran, and I am of the family Triskelion. I do not recall what made the name stick, but people often call me ‘the Triskelion’.”
“I’m new here,” said Alice, “so, er, what’s so special about her being ‘the Triskelion’?”
A Librarian sounded almost too awestruck to speak. “The- the Triskelion is the only current member of the Aeon Mages.”
“Oh! Those people who made the Causeways?”
[Indeed. No Offence, Gyran, But Seeing As I Have Neither Met You Before, Nor Been To Hollowed Hall, I Have No Means Of Judging The Veracity Of Your Quite Extraordinary Claims.]
“No offence taken. When the opportunity arises, miss… you look like a Twelfth-generation, am I correct?”
[Ah. Um. Yes, You Are Correct. Twelfth Zephyr Is My Preferred Shortening.]
“That would make you… the creation of Elphizur?”
[Yes. Erm, While This Knowledge Is Very Impressive Considering That I Observe No Reference Material, It Is Irrelevant To The General Concern Of You Being Or Not Being The Last Aeon Mage.]
“Indeed. I digress, and I must confess I was showing off somewhat,” said Gyran, remaining entirely stony-faced. “I will, when the opportunity arises, see if I can find something irrefutable.”
Alice was about to say something – another question – but was distracted by the sounds of rapidly approaching footsteps from deeper into the Hall. With a creak and a slam, a door hidden in the large bookcase across from the fireplace burst open, Red nearly tripping over himself as he entered.
“Ah,” said Gyran, “Red. Good of you to join us.”
It took a moment for him to get his breath back. “What happened? What set the Sign off?”
Alice glared at him. “Yeah, I’ve got some words to have with you about putting some kind of creepy tracking sign in my hand or something without my permission or knowledge.”
“Yes, yes, I’m very sorry and so forth, but are you okay? What happened?”
“They were being accosted by uncharacteristically aggressive ruins of the Coiled Empire,” said Gyran, “and Aidrailomon stabbed her through the sign to alert you before the significantly more dangerous ruins were upon them.”
Red blinked. “Who?”
“You may know him as Aidra?”
“I don’t think I’ve heard that name before.”
Gyran pointed at the fortune teller. “Him. I thought you two knew each other?”
Alice turned to him, but stopped when she saw his face. Nik’s brother had stopped smiling, which still looked like a weird expression on him. He looked shocked to his core, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, swaying slightly as he looked to Gyran.
Is he crying? Alice thought. His eyes were certainly glistening more than normal.
Gyran looked mildly concerned, too. “That is your name, is it not?”
Aidrailomon sniffed, loudly. “Everyone forgot. The Accusative Devourer…”
“Ah.” Gyran smiled softly. “My sympathies. With luck, it’ll start falling back into use as the Devourer’s influence over it starts to crumble.”
He grinned, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. “Should’a known you’d remember. Too dang old for the Devourer to steal your connections.”
Nik finally stopped looking shocked. “Aidra, I’m so sorry… I didn’t realise. I mean, my own brother! I forgot you had a name!”
Aidra snorted. “I didn’t remember I had a name until the whole tragic backstory thing a moment ago. Definitely not your fault. But, if you’re looking for something to recompense me with…”
“But I wanted a pony!”
“Wait,” said Nik, “how’s she your oldest friend if I haven’t ever met her?”
“Eh, it was before your time.”
“You’re nine years younger than me! There is no ‘before my time’ that isn’t before yours as well!”
“Way before your time.”
“I am his chronologically oldest friend,” said Gyran.
Red, who like Alice had been watching the proceedings with some bafflement, realised something. “Wait, you stabbed her?”