Red’s smoky projection things looked strange, well, stranger underwater – they glimmered with little scarlet lights and looked less smoky and more… membranous, somehow. They wrapped around her legs, bearing her along beside him. Nearby, Nik and Aidra flitted through the water with implausible grace, and she occasionally caught sight of Twelfth, who moved through the water in a series of long bouncing strides, like an astronaut on a moonwalk, A Librarian clinging to her back, face locked in a rictus of apprehension.
They crossed low subaquatic hills and valleys, the Bathyscape growing larger before them, made not of the weird nacreous shell-stone, but of metal riveted plating and shaped glass. Domes, pillars, pipes and tubes connected and twisted round each other like a bizarre set of those weird pipes they had in hamster cages. Around it twisted fields of strange corals, brightly coloured in the light from within the city. Metal submarine-like ships floated above it like hovering buildings, blinking lights along their sides in shimmering deep-sea jelly patterns.
There’s a berth over here! came the whisper of Aidra’s mind in hers. Red must have heard it too, because he diverted his course and picked up speed, heading towards the frantically-waving frog-man. This particular airlock wasn’t the weird magical membranes of the ferry station – instead, they filed in through a big steel door into a small metal chamber. The door swung shut, and in a matter of seconds, the water had drained out, and Alice was left standing, perfectly dry, in fresh air.
“Eugh,” she said. “Didn’t realise how stuffy it was getting in that bubble.”
A Librarian perked up at that. “Oh, did you start running out of air? I think I should have taken that into account, but maybe-”
She cut him off. “I think it was fine, just kinda smelly after a while, I think? I don’t feel light-headed or anything.”
“You need one of those dangly pine tree things,” said Aidra, with all the confidence of someone who was definitely talking out his arse.
“I’d probably need saliva and skin samples to work on neutralising the scents,” said A Librarian. “Er, maybe for a future project version,” he added when he saw Alice’s expression.
The door at the other end of the chamber swung open, and they were mercifully spared another confusing discussion about magical whatsits as they walked outside. Only A Librarian and Alice had been waterproofed by Red, so Twelfth, Red, Aidra and Nik looked liked drowned rats as they slopped out of the airlock and into the Bathyscape proper, whose corrugated metal floors seemed to be designed to allow easy drainage. Red sighed and snapped the crystal fingers on his right hand with a chiming noise and, after a few seconds of steaming, was dry as a bone.
[Ah, Red, If You Would. I’d Prefer Not To Drip All Over Things.]
“No problem,” he said, making the dampness puff off of her in a cloud of mist, before turning to Nik and Aidra. “You two, too?”
“Ah,” said Nik warily, “we need our skin damp, at least, but could do with dry clothes.”
“Say no more,” said Aidra.
Nik’s eyes widened. “Wait n-”
With a sound like a jet engine that ate an angry hairdryer, they were all suddenly standing at the epicentre of a whirling, scorching-hot wind that stung Alice’s eyes and buffeted her hair and clothes for a few seconds before subsiding in a long, drawn-out fart noise like the air escaping a balloon.
Nik gingerly opened his eyes, wincing. “Ow.”
“It’s good for you, ya know.”
“It really isn’t. I thought you’d forgotten how to cast that?”
“I lied!” replied Aidra cheerily.
He sighed. “Of course. Anyway, everyone, sorry about my brother, but at least we’re a bit warmer now.”
[I Do Not Have Any Temperature Sensors, But I Will Take Your Word For It.]
– – –
“So,” said Alice, muffled slightly by a part-mouthful of something fried and possibly battered. “What’s the plan now?”
They were sitting around a table outside Scillet and Charybistro, and were sampling the restaurant’s eclectic collection of unearthly seafoods. The range seemed to be focused around fried, deep-fried, abyss-fried and poached substances of highly-dubious origin – the thing Alice was currently trying looked like it had the business end of a squid, but the main part of its body sat in a long, conical shell, although she preferred it to the scorpion-lobster-thing from earlier. Above the door to the restaurant, a neon sign – depicting a multi-headed serpent in a series of tiny chefs’ hats above a churning whirlpool – flickered occasionally. Across the plaza, an enormous window displayed the dark vista of the ocean, clusters of luminescent fish drifting occasionally past the kelp-like seaweed forest.
“Well, we’ve managed to mostly shake STAR off our tail, hopefully,” said Red, “but now Syrk’s after us, and while he might get bored and try something else, he might just get bored and try something drastic, so we better keep an eye out.”
“What about Doctor Chalk and Mister Slate? And, heck… that Carp-er person-thing?”
He frowned. “Yeah, those might be difficult, but Hatred In Crimson will keep blocking your dreams, so the Sinistral shouldn’t be able to get in, along with anything else. White and Grey, however, are a bit trickier. They know we’ll have told you that they’re not to be trusted, so they’re probably formulating some other offer you can’t refuse.”
“I’ll wait with bated breath,” she said, stabbing viciously at some rubbery portion of her meal, nearly spilling it from its newspaper container.
A thought occurred to her. Why newspaper? Was that some rule of seafood more powerful than being merely in a different universe? She was so distracted by the philosophical ramifications of this that she failed to notice that Red was talking.
“Hey, Alice? Are you okay? Don’t worry – the White and the Grey are dangerous, but whatever it is they want seems to require you to agree to a deal.”
“I, er, thanks,” she replied. “I wasn’t worried – I was just distracted. This city is really pretty.”
Red looked around, at the gleaming metal, glass and neon lights. “Yeah. Wanna go exploring, everyone?”