“Through the hand?”
Aidra shrugged. “Had to break the Scarlet Sign, Reddy-boy.” With his foot, he grabbed the knife by the handle – he has thumbs on his feet, Alice noticed – and with a flick of his ankle, threw it upwards. He caught it offhand and shoved it back up his sleeve, all without breaking eye contact with Red.
“Speaking of scarlet signs,” Alice began, but Aidra cut her off.
“Bup bup bup! It’s Scarlet Sign, with Capitals Because It’s Spooky.”
“Right. That. A… Scarlet Sign that you put in my hand without asking me?”
Red visibly squirmed. “Ah, um, yes. That. I’m very sorry for the thing?”
“That is a terrible apology.”
“Well, I’m sorry about that too. Now, the thing is th-”
Before he could finish his sentence, his eyes clouded over and he stood ramrod straight, swaying slightly.
“I AM THE ONE KNOWN AS RED, AND I AM A FOOL WHO FAILS TO THINK HIS ACTIONS THROUGH. I OFFER MY UNRESERVED APOLOGY, AND WILL ENDEAVOUR TO ADDRESS SUCH BEHAVIOUR IN FUTURE,” he said, in a voice that wasn’t wholly his own. Red-brown smoke started leaking from his eyes, nose, mouth and ears.
“Uh.” Alice was pretty dang sure that whatever was talking, it wasn’t Red. Far too humble, for one.
“All right,” said Gyran, “I think the point’s been made.”
“CERTAINLY. I WILL RE-aaaaaaaaagh get out of my head get out of my head! Get! Out! Of! My! Head!”
“Wow, Red,” said Aidra pleasantly, “what a heartfelt and totally-non-coerced apology.”
“Gyran,” Red growled, “did you put them up to that?”
She shrugged. “It is certainly possible that I grew disenchanted with your evasion of responsibility for your actions.”
“Hey! Firstly, I wasn’t being evasive, and secondly, I’d prefer if Hatred in Crimson didn’t rifle through my brain at a moment’s notice.”
“You were certainly being evasive, and while Gyran has attempted to explain why, I do not understand.”
The new voice sounded like it was coming from everywhere at once, a deep melodic chime like an alien bell, that set Alice’s teeth on edge.
“Show yourself, you damn goblin.”
A humanoid shape of maroon fire slid through one of the doors. “I am not a goblin.”
The newcomer solidified, russet flame giving way to a meticulously-arranged suit and hovering skull mask, as if an invisible person was wearing it and the suit both.
Gyran stepped forward. “May I introduce what is known as ‘Hatred in Crimson’, although I am trying to convince them to take up a better moniker.”
Alice grimaced. “Yeah. I think ‘Hatred in Crimson’, er, sounds like someone I wouldn’t want to meet at night. No offence.”
Hatred’s mask tilted slightly. “Why would you not want to meet me at night? I am equally dangerous during daytime.”
“Um.” She paused a second, processing. “I can’t see in the dark?”
“That would make your trepidation understandable, yes.” Then, as an afterthought, “Thank you for trusting me with one of your weaknesses.”
“Don’t… mention it?”
“It’s a figure of speech,” said Gyran, rescuing Alice from what was rapidly becoming an incredibly awkward conversation-slash-interrogation.
Twelfth was ‘watching’ Hatred closely, tension clear in her body language. [Might I Ask, What Manner Of Being Is This… Hatred In Crimson?]
Looking around, Alice saw that A Librarian and Nik looked tense, too. Something about the skull-mask red fire creature must have been unsettling. Well, beyond the obvious, so on some strange mystical level that she couldn’t process or something.
“Pneuma feels like they’re some kind of elemental,” murmured Nik, barely loud enough for her to hear, “but that power, that’s really unsettling.”
“They’re a mineral fae,” said Red, “and you get used to the whole creepy vibe thing eventually.”
“I don’t really get a ‘creepy vibe’,” Alice replied, “I mean, besides the fact that their face is a skull mask thing. But that’s not very creepy.”
“Where there’s no sense, there’s no feeling.”
“Red. You have not yet apologised to your lady friend.”
“Why do you keep-” Red paused, sighing. “Okay. Alice, I’m sorry for not telling you about the Sign. It’s not actually within my control, it’s a semi-autonomous marking process, but I should have been paying better attention to context.” While he spoke, she noticed he was looking at his right hand, possibly without even noticing where he was looking. “Ask Gyran,” he continued, “she’ll back up my story.”
“He is telling an incomplete but non-misleading version of events,” she said.
“Thanks, Gyran. You’re a real help.”
She shrugged, leaning back against a wall of bookshelves. “I’m not sure what you were expecting, asking me to back you up on these things.”
“Alright, fine. Thanks, Red, for apologising. I mean, thanks for the whole rescue thing too, but still. Warn me next time, deal?”
He cracked a smile. “Deal. And, in order to not misrepresent myself, if you die, my Vow means I’ll die too. So I’m not doing this solely from the kindness of my heart, okay?”
“I’ll try to remember you’re a heartless bastard.”
He snorted. “Like I make it so difficult.”
She was distracted from trying to formulate a snarky retort by the sound of Aidra fake-retching.
“Oh shut up.”
He wheezed theatrically. “The cloying sweetness… it clogs my lungs… tell my family… they’re gonna need to pay my library fines…”
[You Have Library Fines?]
“Shh, don’t tell the Bookbinders. I’m on the lam.”
[… Okay. I Will Not Tell Them,] she replied unconvincingly.
Gyran stepped away from the wall she’d been leaning on. With a gesture, the bookshelves and stonework before her parted like water, revealing a long, wide passage that sloped gently downwards, lit by globes filled with shifting blobs of light that dangled from the ceiling.
“Now that Red has finished apologising for the time being,” she said, “I have, well, matters to discuss with them. I would recommend, Alice, that you come along. Red was about to warn you about some of these, before he became distracted from finding you by matters of sending me to rescue you.”
“Finding me? I thought the- the Sign thing was a tracker?”
She was… almost too expressionless. “He didn’t mention that it only gives him position information when it senses that you’re injured? How careless of him to leave out that crucial detail.”
Alice glared at her, immediately thought better of it, and tried to glare at Red instead, but he’d already started walking down the passage, rather quicker than necessary.
“C’mon, Alice,” said Aidra, striding past her, “let’s go fight in the War Room, and hear some cool things about how doomed you are that we’ve already heard in previous intervals!”
There was a creak of stone and he tripped on a suddenly jutting flagstone, falling forwards with a yelp. He managed to turn the trip into a forward roll, landing back on his feet.
“Hah! You’ll have to try better than that, you dang outhouse!”
He grinned fiercely. “Hollowed Hall is gonna have to get up earlier in the morning if it wants to catch me out.”
Setting off again, he ducked to avoid a blade that swung across the hallway from a hidden recess, skipped over a section of floor that had flipped to reveal a side covered in wickedly sharp spikes, and proceeded down the passage, whistling jauntily as the Hall seemed to do its level best to kill him.
[Is… Is That Safe?] Twelfth asked Gyran, who had been watching the proceedings impassively.
“I generally let the Hall and Aidra have their fun. Don’t be concerned, it knows not to injure my guests.”
“Oh, it’s… a separate entity?” asked Alice. “I thought you were controlling it or something.”
“A common and sometimes useful misconception. The Hall does what I tell it to because of our mutual respect, but it is its own being. Now, the War Room awaits, and hopefully I will be able to answer some of your questions, and give you some warnings. My apologies that it took this long for you to get them.”
And, with that, she set off down the now un-hazardous hallway, closely followed by Hatred in Crimson.
“I can still barely believe I’ve met the actual Triskelion,” said A Librarian.
“Same,” said Nik.
[It Is Certainly An Experience That Rattles One Somewhat.]
“Oh come on, you starstruck dweebs,” Alice said, “I want to get some dang answers.”