“And, if you look out the window now, you’ll see the Western Spiral in its full glory. We’ll be going down it to reach Brobdingheim,” said A Librarian, head buried in a brochure.
Outside, through the window (or, depending on perspective in this strange gravity, a section of glass floor), the massive sloping walls of the Western Spiral formed something like an enormous funnel, leading down and out of sight into the murky water. Other trains were visible, pinpricks against the vast blue darkness, slowly circling the funnel as they descended the sides, like water going down a drain.
“So, what happens on the other side?”
“Er.” He flipped through the brochure for a moment. “Aha! These are aquatic trains, so the station’s at the bottom of a lake, on the Brobdingheim side.”
“Are we gonna have to swim again?”
“I don’t think so – the thing here mentions some kind of escaligator to the surface.”
“Kinda like a mixture between a snail and a crocodile,” said Aidra.
“That sounds… weird.”
“You’re one to talk, hominid.”
“Since when has an accurate description of my, er, genus been insulting?”
“Help, Nik,” Aidra hissed, “she’s seen through my ruse!”
“Did you hear anything?” Nik asked.
[Technically Speaking, No. I Have No Ears.]
“Huh. Must have just been some hot air.”
“Brother, no! Don’t abandon me! Not in my moment of weakness!”
“No, officer,” he replied flatly, still reading his book, “I’ve never seen that man before in my life.” A Librarian snorted.
“A pox, you hear? A pox upon brothers unsympathetic to my plight!”
“To answer your earlier question,” said Red, ignoring Aidra’s antics, “Escaligators aren’t that weird.”
– – –
“That’s really weird.”
They stood in the Brobdingheim station, before the gleaming metal jaws of the Escaligator. Between the giant, jagged teeth, a tongue undulated, folded into a set of steps that slid upwards and away like ripples in water more than the stairs of an escalator. Foot traffic, a mixture between fish people she’d seen in the Bathyscape (naiads, she’d heard them called by Nik), and the strange clumpy diving-suited figures apparently called ‘naughts filed past, heading up through the gigantic steel gullet of whatever beast this was and out of sight.
“Don’t worry,” said A Librarian, “apparently, despite appearances, they’re potentiovores – they siphon off ambient releases of gravitational potential energy across gradients such as these.”
“But this escalator goes up.”
“I think they skim a little off the top of whatever potential you’re gaining, then.”
“Right. I still don’t like this.”
The tongue of red-painted steel shifted slightly beneath her feet as she stepped onto it, and she suppressed a shudder. The handrail was slightly warm and damp to the touch, so she put her hands firmly in her pockets. The Escaligator rose at a gentle incline up to the surface of Brobdingheim, arriving in a large stone hall that echoed with the bustling sounds of a a large number of people with Places To Be. They ducked out of the way of the busiest of the foot traffic, and Alice gave the space they were in another, more careful glance. The entire space resembled the inside of a windowless cathedral, large pillars stretching up to a vaulted ceiling, weathered flagstones beneath her feet, and pointy Gothic arches leading out of this hall to, presumably, more places. But this was merely the skeleton upon which the true noisy meat of the space’s ambiance was lain. Up the sides of this vast vaulted space, a market seemed to have been built. Layers upon layers of ramshackle stalls, walkways and scaffolding piled up against the pillars, concealing the stone and spreading out almost to the point that it impeded the progress of the crowd through the building. The main sounds that filled the air in this echoey space were the noises of the crowd, but she could still hear merchants yelling.
She turned to Red, half-yelling over the din. “What is this place?”
“Main transport hub!” he replied, at similar volume, leaning in towards her so she could hear him.
“Which way now, then?”
“Er.” He looked around, then pointed towards one of the slightly distant archways leading out of the chamber. “That way!”
[It Is Rather Noisy In Here, Is It Not?] Twelfth asked, and Alice realised that one of the features of having a telepathic voice was that it couldn’t be drowned out by background noise.
The crowd was dense, but she avoided most of it by following in Twelfth’s wake – the Bookbinder was an excellent snowplough. What Alice did notice, however, was how large some of the people in this crowd were. Where Twelfth normally towered, at eleven-odd feet to the more humanlike proportions of other Realmic citizens, a goodly chunk of the people here were at least ten feet tall themselves. This subset of the population varied, but most of them looked like they were made out of living wood, craggy skin of bark and protruding branches topped with leafy canopies. Kinda like A Librarians writ large, if she squinted.
Through the arch, the corridor was oddly quiet and cold, like a breeze was coming from the outside. The bustle just beyond the threshold seemed to deaden, but not supernaturally so.
“Yeesh,” Nik sighed. “I could barely hear myself think out there. We’re headed for the Causeway, right?”
“Yeah,” said Red. “To double back into the Library, probably? We’ll have shaken STAR by then, and I’ve got a few things there I want to check on, to try and get a better idea of things. Stuff like the place you entered the Library and stuff, to see what the heck’s going on with that and so forth.”
As they talked, they were walking down the corridor, and the air temperature was dropping. By the time she could see the light at the end of this particular tunnel, Alice’s breath was fogging in the air. She looked around at her current travelling companions. Nik and Aidra’s breath came out as thinner, paler clouds than hers, speaking to some lower blood temperature probably. Twelfth didn’t need to breathe and A Librarian’s exhalations were apparently the same temperature as the air, so no fog there.
What was more noticeable, however, was that Red’s breath didn’t fog in the cold air, as they stepped through a new archway and into the sunlight, the landscape of Brobdingheim stretching out impossibly before them.
Something to bring up later, she thought.