The boarding houses in the upper parts of Foyer, not touched by the Formless’s rampage, were absolutely heaving with displaced people from the lower levels. In this vein, Alice and company were sitting on and around a public bench, watching the goings-on of the city slowly returning to normal.
[Third Uriel Will Finish Repairing The Damage By This Evening,] said Twelfth, [But People Are Wisely Staying Out Of The Way Until That Is Completed.]
“The repairs are dangerous?” asked Alice. All this angel stuff was very perplexing.
[Possibly Fatal, If Unpreparedly Observed. Uriel Is An Archaic Scripteraph Of Great Power, And… You Recall, When They Told The Formless Thing To Stop Moving, We All Froze Too?]
[That Was Not Intentional, But Even Minor Use Of Their Power Has Great Potential For Collateral Damage. That Is Less Of A Problem When Telling A Thing To Stop And Then Sleep, But The Restoration Of Lower Foyer Is Significantly More Heavy-Duty, So People Are Staying Out Of The Way.]
“What’d collateral damage look like, in that case?”
[Difficult To Say. Their Power Is Only Truly Limited By Semantics. In Any Case, We Keep Our Distance.]
“Yeah, the Scripteraphim normally keep to themselves,” added A Librarian, “up in the temple Hive, which nestles in the high branches. There’s probably something about them communing with the Written Sky, up there at the top of the world.”
The conversation fell into a lull, which Alice broke with a thought she’d been having. “So, what do we do now? Wait for the Causeway to do whatever the- wait. The Causeway’s below everything, right at the bottom of the Tree, right?”
[There Are The Docks, Where The Tree’s Roots Meet The Atrament, But Yes.]
“Then didn’t the Formless thingie bust through the Causeway in order to get up to where we were?”
A Librarian winced. “Ah. That- that makes sense.”
[Well. Third Uriel Will Repair The Structure Of The Causeway Itself, And Will Take Approximately This Afternoon To Do So. Reconnecting The Causeway With Its Counterpart In The Outer Void Will Be Somewhat Harder, And Will Probably Take A Week Or So – Causeways Are Extremely Important For Inter-Realmic Trade, So They Are Very Well Maintained.]
Alice sighed loudly. “More waiting.”
[It Does Not Sound Like A Lot Of Waiting, But Then Again I Am A Perpetual Creature Who Needs Neither Food, Rest Nor Mental Stimulation. Thusly, It May Be Hard For Me To Understand Your Perspective.]
“You just don’t know the true joys of having biological processes, Twelfth,” said Aidra. “There’s farting!”
[I Am Afraid I Will Just Have To Take Your Word For It.]
Something caught Alice’s attention, and she looked around, trying to work out what it was. A prickle of the hairs on the back of her neck. An electrical smell, a tension in the air, like it was somehow heavier than the normal dry air of the Library.
“Hey, guys? Does it feel like there’s… going to be a storm or something?” she asked, grimacing as her ears popped.
“Er, no?” said A Librarian. “We don’t- uh, I mean, there isn’t actually weather in the Library that could be described as ‘storms’.”
[There Was That Incident With The Wrath Fog Of Nineteen-Hundred And Seventy-Two, But There Are Barriers Now To Prevent Such Disturbances To The Aesthetosphere Reaching Foyer.]
“It’s just that- ow!” She yelped as Aidra poked her in the arm with an audible crack of static electricity.
“You’re electrifying, Alice.”
“I, too, am shocked.”
“Firstly, shut up. Secondly, that – ow – means that what I’m feeling isn’t something I’m making up, and-”
At this point, a voice cut through the background noise of Foyer and the stuffy headiness that had so suddenly filled the air. “Hey there! I’ve been looking all over for you!”
The person who had stepped out of the foot traffic of Foyer looked like an actual human. She grinned widely, her dark skin framed by the reddest hair Alice had ever seen, a great tangled cloud of it that came down to her shoulders. She wore an eyepatch, and her visible eye was a blue so bright and deep it swallowed the white, like staring into an ocean or a clear summer sky.
“Are you… a human?”
The stranger chuckled. “Guilty as charged! Name’s Ariel, and you’re Alice Huang, I’m led to believe? Who am I kidding, of course you’re Alice, you’re the only human I’ve seen in the entirety of Foyer.”
“Uh,” she replied, glancing over at Red, “yeah?”
Red, who looked very much like a human, slowly raised a finger to his lips and winked.
“Excellent! Now, I am an agent of an organisation known as STAR, that acts to – aheh – re-universalise wayward souls who have slipped reality.”
“Wait, hold on a sec. You’re one of those STAR people, and you want to take me back to Earth?”
“Got it in one! Now, we’ve got a containment facility a few days away where we can run decontamination, but I can probably get you there faster if-”
“A series of processes that remove all the Realmic taint and experiences from your base conceptual matter.”
[You Mean To Say,] said Twelfth, slowly standing from her squatting position next to the bench, drawing herself up to a height that towered over Ariel, [That She Will Forget All That Happened To Her Here? You Are Bold, To Come To The Library And Speak Of The Destruction Of Knowledge.]
Ariel looked up at Twelfth, eyebrow raised. “Ah. I forgot the fanatic robot monks are, y’know, fanatics.”
“I mean, she does have a point,” said Alice. “If I don’t remember anything that happened here, what’d I do if it happened again? Heck, I’ve met some cool friends and seen some cool things here, am I allowed to hang onto those?”
“I’m not sure you get what I mean by decontamination.”
“Is it a sheep dip?” asked Aidra.
“What? No. Every experience you’ve had in the wider Realms can pull you back there, can slowly affect you, make you less material and more Realmic. The unreality of this place is seeping into your bones as we speak!” She paused, then shook her head wearily. “Anyway, while your cooperation is appreciated, it is not required.”
“What’cha gonna do, STAR?” Aidra retorted. “Bleat at us?”
“No,” she replied. “I’m gonna ask my colleague to come over, and they’re going to beat you up with their brain.”
Behind her, a figure started to pick their way awkwardly towards them through the foot traffic, giving the passing pedestrians a wide berth. As they got closer, Alice started to hear them over the crowd.
“Ah, er, sorry, um – right, sorry ma’am, excuse me,” they murmured, their soft voice worried as the people of Foyer navigated past them.
Ariel sighed and buried her face in her palms. “Oh, come on. Thaumiel, you were supposed to swoop in, guns blazing!”
‘Thaumiel’ finally extricated themself from the crowd, stumbling closer. “I, um, sorry? It’s just that there’s Scripteraphim about and also it’d be rude to just push people out the way, and…”
Their mouth was hidden by a gasmask, but their glowing cyan eyes looked worried, flickering with a strange energy.
“Less talky, more zappy.”
“I, well, I don’t think that would be prudent. At this juncture.”
“Jay Ess Why Kay,” murmured Aidra, looking somewhat pained, “the teal one is quite a powerful psion, so no funny moves. They’re not gonna attack us unless we move first.”
“Look,” said Ariel, either ignoring or not noticing what Aidra was saying, “all I need to do is grab her and thunder out.”
“That- that doesn’t work here.”
“Balls. Well, you can definitely fight your way out.”
“I won’t, though.”
Thaumiel took a step backwards. “Er. What I mean to say is, um, that I don’t think breaching the peace here is a good idea. Plus, it’s very rude.”
Alice could hear Ariel grinding her teeth. “Listen, you milquetoast excuse for a councilmember, now is not the time to grow enough backbone to start defying me.”
“Listen, listen,” said Aidra loudly, “Antenna and… Tunnel, was it? We’re busy people, so if you can go have this argument somewhere else, then come back with what you’ve discussed, we can all get on with our days, hey? Maybe fetch another council doofer and get them to cast the deciding vote, unless you’re here on entirely unofficial matters against the advice of your peers or something.”
Thaumiel’s face lit up. “Oh, absolutely! And, er, it’s possible we’re bending some rules slightly.”
Ariel’s jaw dropped. “Hey, wait a sec-”
“Cool! C’mon everyone, let’s get going!”
He stood up suddenly and walked off into the Foyan thoroughfare, followed after an awkward pause by Alice and the others. As they left, it looked for a second like Ariel was going to do something – her eye glowed, and her hair and hands started to flicker with little sparks, but Thaumiel placed a hand firmly on her shoulder, and she seemed to reconsider.
When they were out of earshot, Alice let out the breath she had been holding in one enormous gasp.
“I get,” she wheezed, “the sensation that that was a bullet dodged.”
Aidra gave a noncommittal wave of a hand. “Eh, close-ish. They’ll definitely be back, and we should make ourselves scarce in the meanwhile.”
She rolled her eyes, pre-emptively regretting her question. “So, what do you suggest? Where do we go from here?”