“What is Red? And not just literally what is he, but also why’s he part of the you-Gyran-him, er, group?”
“I believed him previously to be a human, by self-description. Given the other two humans I have since met, I believe him to either be an extreme outlier, incorrect or untruthful.”
“I mean, those are the options. What does Gyran think?”
“She said something noncommittal.”
“Is she always like that?”
“Probably. I have not asked her, and in the furtherance of my education, she is not particularly inclined to actually answer many of my questions.”
“That sounds irritating.”
“I think Red agrees with you. I personally do not experience boredom or irritation, so I cannot comment anecdotally on the matter.”
“Fair enough.” She was silent for a few seconds, until a thought occurred to her. “Hey, remember when you squished that vampire for Red at the Carnival?”
“I have a recollection, yes.”
“How did that work? And, I guess that would count as a favour, right?”
“It would count as a favour rendered, although that is not the only thing you could ask from me. As for how it functioned, I have powerful abilities in gravity magic. Such magics are more powerful if one has a source of mass to draw on. And, well-” the empty, masked suit gestured around at the craggy landscape surrounding them- “I am the size of a small planet.”
Alice looked around. “Huh. That does seem rather overpowered. Red did tell me it was ‘gravity magic’, but I didn’t really get a sense of the scale.”
The skull-masked faery fixed her with an empty, level gaze. “Are you afraid?”
“Um. Er.” She paled. “Maybe?” Deep within the most animalistic parts of her mind, a small furry creature froze under the piercing glare of an apex predator.
And then Hatred in Crimson turned away, and she breathed a sigh of relief. “I am a thing that scares people by nature,” they said. “It is interesting, how that works. My initial hypothesis was that it was some measure of estimated danger, but Gyran is far more dangerous than I, and people are less scared of her. It is very interesting, and rather qualitative. I may not ever fully understand it, but it is a fascinating thing to examine.”
“Okay?” The trepidation she was feeling was swiftly being replaced by confusion.
“Ah. Apologies for my digressions. To return to our original subject, I am unsure what Red actually is. He certainly displays abilities unlike the ones you appear to – his form is more fluid, and his mind is shaped differently. Some of this is because of the artifact that replaces his hand, and some of it may be from other sources.”
“Hmm. I guess I’ve got a few difficult questions to ask him when I wake up.”
“Yes. It is possible that he knows more about his origins than I do.”
“I guess Gyran might know more.”
“Undoubtedly. It was her who first retrieved him from wherever he was first found, before he knew how to talk.”
“What? Like, he was a toddler and didn’t know how to talk yet?”
“I do not believe so. He looked much the same as he does now, and was mute. The precise nature of what happened to him, or what he did to reach that point, is unknown to me.”
“Huh. Any more juicy details you can share?”
“I am not sure. It depends how you define ‘juicy’.”
Things were quiet for a good thirty seconds, before Hatred in Crimson spoke again. “Do you wish to return to your normal dreams? I will retreat partially from your dreamspace, if you believe we are done talking.”
“Oh, sure. Nice talking to you, er, Hatred in Crimson.”
“Likewise, Ms Alice.”
And, with that, the ground of Hatred in Crimson suddenly fell away, as if she was falling upwards into the void. It felt like she was falling for hours, watching the gleaming red crystal planet disappearing into the distance.
– – –
She woke in the weird gleaming ‘morning’ light she’d set up eight hours ago on the Seeper Train. From two of the bedposts, twisted metal tendrils had grown, bearing clumps of brightly-glowing fruit from their silver-glinting branches.
“Mmmmmmghhhrghmn,” she said, displaying in full her tact and articulation as she weakly pawed at the lights in an effort to turn them off.
The weird fruit were soft and cool beneath her touch, and to her horror, didn’t stop glowing when she plucked them from their branches. She started to wonder if they were edible, and whether she could hide them by eating them, but by this point, she’d woken up enough to realise that sticking strange things in her mouth was a terrible idea, so she instead sat up, squinted angrily at the confusing topology of the inside of the train, and looked to see if anyone was awake yet.
“Is this edible?” she asked, to no-one in particular.
“Anything’s edible at least once,” Aidra replied.
“One, that’s untrue, and two, that doesn’t answer my question.”
Red, apparently up earlier that the rest of them, put down the book he’d been leafing through and walked down next to Alice’s bed. Without a word, he pulled one of the luminescent train-fruits from its metal tendril and took a large bite out of it.
He swallowed, pulling a face. “Not toxic, but it’s pretty rich in lumniferous humours, and I don’t think you can digest those. They’d slowly be expelled through your skin, and you’d start to glow.”
“That sounds really cool.”
“Also, they taste like old socks, and I’m pretty sure lumniferous humours are a thaumohallucinogen. That’s why you get me to try things first, in case they’re toxic.”
“Aww. You never let me eat any poisons or have any fun. And how’s it that you can ‘taste test’ poisonous stuff like that? Aren’t you gonna get ill?”
Red snorted. “From stuff like this? Nah.”
“Unfortunately for your future plans, Alice,” said Aidra, “he’s quite impossible to poison.”
“Darn. Can’t drown him or poison him?”
“Neither of you are funny,” Red said. “Since I’m immune to toxins of pretty much all kinds, I’m perfectly happy to check things for poison or venom or whatever.”
“There’s poisonous and venomous food?”
“If you eat poisonous food, you die,” said Aidra, “but if venomous food bites you, you die.”
“That makes enough sense, I guess. How much more of a train journey do we have? All this talk of poison reminds me that we’re due breakfast.”