“You know, this doesn’t look like Legoland.”
“Huh,” said Aidra, “it’s possible that I wasn’t being entirely truthful.”
Alice injected some fake hurt into her voice. “You’d lie to me?”
“I never tell lies, I swear upon my name – Dooblefart McChuckles.”
“That isn’t your name.”
[Much As This Is Entertaining,] Twelfth interjected, [I Am Not Sure Why You Led Us Here, Aidra.]
They were standing, all six of them, on one of the platforms of Foyer’s train station. It was busier than the last time, as people milled around, chattering in confusion and excitement. Alice overheard some people talking about ‘that big grey monster’ that had ‘come tearing through lower Foyer’, so that probably explained the confusion.
“Well, you did see those STAR-ry peeps that came to say hi to Alice, right?”
[Ah Yes. But, Surely You Wish To Return To Your Home Realm?]
Alice pulled a face. “I dunno if going home is worth losing my memories of this place, honestly? I mean, I may eventually take it, but this place-” she gestured around at the alien train station, filled with the strange people of the Realms “- is just… I think I want to exhaust all other options before going with those STAR people.”
“That reminds me.” She turned to Red, who immediately tried to look inconspicuous. “Why didn’t they think you were a human, too?”
“Er, well, I mean,” he stammered. “I might only be some kind of constructed thing that looks human. But, in this specific case, they couldn’t see me.”
He shuffled awkwardly. “They want to arrest me, for historical reasons.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Historical reasons,” she flatly replied.
“Hmm. How to put this… I impersonated one of their high-ranking members? I mean, I was fact-finding, attempting to work out what they were about, but they were still pretty narked when they found out.”
“Huh. Did you find anything interesting out?”
He shrugged. “Nothing worth mentioning.” He coughed exaggeratedly before turning to Aidra. “Anyway, why’d you drag us here?”
“I have a cunning plan.”
“Well, it stands to reason that they’re gonna come back and try to get Alice to come with them again, right? So, we should really be as vamoosed as possible, as quickly as possible.”
“Is that really necessary?” asked Alice. “They don’t seem to be willing to cause a scene in the middle of Foyer. I’d say that sticking to more populated places would be better.”
[That Is A Good Point – I Would Say That We Should Remain In Areas Under The Direct Supervision Of Jöurnalmungandr.]
Aidra waved a hand noncommittally. “Mmmmmaybe? I kinda prefer them not knowing where we are. And, for that, we might need to do some evasive manoeuvres. You feel it too, surely?”
“Feel what?” asked Alice.
“We’re being watched. It’s harder to tell in the Library, where all is under the power of Knowledge Herself, but it’s definitely there, all the same.”
Alice closed her eyes, trying to see if she could ‘feel’ being observed in some abstract, insubstantial way. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes, frustrated by the lack of ESP she’d suddenly not developed.
“Now that you mention it,” said A Librarian, “there does seem to be… something off with the air? It’s much like that lady from STAR – kinda like there’s weather when there shouldn’t be.”
Aidra’s eyes seemed more luminous than normal, his grin more manic. “Precisely. A thing moves in the currents of the world, and will report back to our friend Ariel.”
“Firstly,” Alice replied, “this is the longest string of lucid sentences I’ve ever heard you say.”
He giggled at that, and blew a raspberry at her. “Piss off.”
“That aside, though, what are you suggesting?”
He shrugged bonelessly. “I’m just an ideas guy. Red’ll probably know how to be sneaky.”
“Is he right, Red?”
His response was to frown. “Hmm… Ariel, also known as the Shepherd, is a Blue Witch, from what records I remember reading when I ‘worked’ for STAR. The preoccupation with air and storms seems to support this, so if she’s trailing us, she’ll be able to track our scent through miles of the Library’s air currents. I suggest that Twelfth, whose voice doesn’t rely on air vibrations, and can’t be overheard, books us all some train tickets to somewhere on the edge of the Foyan Polity, and then… I’ll explain on the way.”
[All Right Then. I Suggest We Head For The Tower Of Babliothèque. It Is Right On The Edge Of The Foyan Economic Zone, And Would Also Allow Us Opportunity To Visit A Librarian, Alan And Family, Since Our Route Would Pass Through Index. Does That Sound Reasonable?]
Alice started to say something, thought better of it, and nodded instead.
– – –
“Demon trainssssss,” Aidra whispered, waggling his fingers in a multiversally-recognised indication of extreme spookiness.
Outside the train carriage, the familiar landscape of the Wax Bracket slid by, forests of dripping candles and multicoloured flames. It was much the same their first trip out towards Index, but the train was noticeably more populated.
“As a demon,” Alice replied, “I stand in solidarity with my train brethren.”
“I mean, that means you’re in solidarity with me and Nik too. Spawn of Nursiir aren’t actually from the Library, we’re from… well, I hatched in Aqua Mensis, but that’s not where we’re from either.”
“Place in the Arboretum. Wet.”
“Yeah, me and Nik are from the Nursiian Smoglands, an isolated bioterra of the Arboretum. The family were just living in Aqua Mensis when I hatched.”
Alice squinted at him, attempting to determine if he was talking out of his arse or not. “About one in three of those words made sense.”
Nik sighed, putting his book down. “Aidra, must you be quite so obtuse to the relative Realmic newcomer?”
“Yup, I must.”
“Well, Alice, the Arboretum is a Realm, much like the Library, but centred around Life Themself. Both Aqua Mensis and the Nursiian Smoglands are places within the Arboretum.”
“That’s… refreshingly simple,” she replied. “Thanks.”
“They’re the exact opposite of planets!” exclaimed Aidra, apparently deciding to make everything even more confusing.
Now it was Nik’s turn to look confused. “What’s a planet?”
Alice looked at him blankly, fumbled for words for a few seconds, gave up, and buried her face in her hands.