“Oh, okay,” said Nik, “I can see why a planet’s the opposite of a bioterra. There’s not much information out there about Materia.”
“If planets are alien to you, what’s the Realmic cosmology like then?” asked Alice. She, Twelfth, and Red had given ‘explaining Material astronomical structure’ a go, hindered only slightly by Aidra and his inane digressions, and now she was curious about ‘bioterra’.
“I mean,” he replied, “Materia is a Realm, just one that’s kinda… beyond the Causeway-linked Realms? And, well, each Realm is different, and Materia is no exception.”
“Right. Some examples?”
[The Library Exists In A Flat Space With Finite, Unbounded Height And, As Far As Anyone Has Been Able To Determine, Infinite Width.]
“I have only the faintest idea what that means.”
The Library was, Twelfth explained, a gigantic circular plate that slowly expanded over the millenia from a central pillar – the Tower of Axioms. This Tower, with a capital T, was taller than the world, stretching up so far into the Written Sky that it eventually reached the bottom of the Library and connected up with itself. That was what was meant by ‘finite and unbounded’ – if you fell off the edge of the world, you’d eventually fall past it again.
“You can actually see the Tower from the highest parts of the Tree,” said A Librarian. “Foyer’s pretty close to it, as befits the seat of Jöurnalmungandr.”
[The Tower Of Babliothèque Was An Ill-Fated Attempt To Duplicate The Axiom. Most People Agree That It Would Have Shattered The Current Structure Of The Library If Completed, And That Is Without The Metaphysical Effects Of Having Two Towers Too Close To Each Other.]
A Librarian continued. “Luckily, it’s probably impossible to straight-up build an Axiom, given that the Tower itself is supposedly the spear-quill of Knowledge Herself, thrust into the Void through the beating heart of Ignorance. And then, the Library sprouted from it, nourished by its ink – that which became the Atrament.”
Alice frowned. “Wait, I’m not sure that gels properly with the creation thingie you told me back when I first came to Foyer. There was something about Ignorance Himself’s blood becoming the Atrament.”
“Well, lots of these stories are both allegorical and true, and there’s a lot up to interpretation, given that very few beings can remember the Age of Mythed Connections.” He ignored her loud sigh at the name of the Age. “Plus, if She stabbed through the liferoot, the ‘heart’ of Ignorance, His blood would be on the spear-quill, right?”
[And That Is Without Getting Into The Thorny Issue Of Whether These Beings Have Blood Or Not. It’s Probably A Metaphor.]
“The prevailing theory,” said Aidra, “is that all of this is equally bogus.”
[That, In And Of Itself, Is Also One Of The Popular Theories. Proposed By Diatticus The Ambivalent, I Believe.]
Alice interjected before they could get sidetracked by an incomprehensible discussion of the philosophers of the ancient Library. “I heard you call the… Nursiian Smoglands a ‘bioterra’. What’s that?”
Nik’s face lit up. “Ah, those! Imagine your Material cosmos, but inverted. So, instead of small lumps of minerals in a vast empty space, bioterra are spheres of emptier space within the infinite solid expanse of stone, earth and flesh that is the Arboretum. The voids, called bioterra, are filled with air or water, or whatever, and their inner surfaces are the ‘ground’ of the Arboretum.”
“Huh,” she replied. “That they’re the opposite of planets actually does make sense. How do you get between them, though, through the rock?”
He shrugged. “Tunnels get dug, elligators get installed and start nesting. That kinda thing.”
“We should go back to the Old Country, Nik,” said Aidra absently. He was staring out of the window at the passing landscape – the explanation had lasted through the rest of the Wax Bracket, and now they were travelling through a grey expanse, with nothing but titanic looming shapes showing through the dense fog.
Nik raised a hairless eyebrow. “Why?”
“C’mon, it’ll be fun!”
“That thing you seem tremendously averse to?”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine. Why do you want to go back home right this instant?”
“It’s relevant to our quest!”
“You have a quest?” asked Red.
“Absolutely! We’ll throw STAR off the scent, and be able to loop back into a better position for planning a next move.”
Red looked taken aback. “Huh. I wasn’t actually expecting you to say something sensible-ish.”
“I’m not just a pretty face, you know. Plus, Alice made the same joke last chapter, which is probably a bit too soon to set up a running gag.”
A Librarian leaned forwards in his seat, looking sceptical. “Surely they can track us if we use the Causeway in Babliothèque? The Causeways keep records, and they’re pretty easy to track passively.”
“Yeah, it might be better to- Wait.” Red’s eyes widened, and he grinned with sudden realisation. “Oh, star and sceptre, if that worked, that’d be hilarious.”
“If what worked?” This kind of technical Realmic-whatevers conversation was hard for Alice to follow at the best of times, before people started getting too excited to articulate themselves properly.
Unperturbed by her expression, Red grinned more. “You see, STAR don’t like or understand the Causeways, right? I found it out when I was working for them – they think they’re some kind of dangerous voidcutting device! I mean, arguably they are, but they’ve been working fine for millenia. Anyway, STAR prefer to make their own way through the Void with devices they build themselves or inexpert Voidwalking, which is far slower and more unreliable than the Causeways.”
“So? I mean, I’m not sure what that implies?”
“So! It means that when we travel through the Causeway, firstly our trails are gonna be mixed up with the hundreds of Realmic travellers who cross Causeways every day, and secondly that they don’t actually want to follow us the easy way, through the Causeway. They’ll take longer finding out where we’ve gone, longer to follow us, and even then, they’ve a good chance of ending up in entirely the wrong bioterra, with no easy way of finding us, and by then we may well have moved somewhere else entirely, another Realm or something. We’ll have plenty of time – remember, they took a month to find you in the first place, and that was two Agents acting independently.”
“That sounds pretty good,” she admitted. “Hold on, though. How can you tell they haven’t just overheard our plan by whatever spooky method?”
“Well, I’ve been keeping an eye out, and I’m pretty sure none of that kinda-stormy impression we were getting back in Foyer has followed us onto the train. Aidra’s probably been keeping an eye out too, and he’d have said something smug if he’d spotted something I hadn’t.”
Aidra chuckled. “You know me well. Too well.”
Red stuck his tongue out at him, before turning back to Alice. “So, then. Fancy going on a trip to the Arboretum?”
“What’s it like?”
He shrugged. “Lively, I guess?”