Like a matchstick sculpture, the Far-Square Terminal of the Ghost Ferry sat sticking out of a broken ground-floor window of Brobdingheim’s Great City. Great jagged boulders of glass, easily the size of houses, lay around it, glittering in the golden light of evening. The Ferry drew to a stop, the great head of the titanic walking corpse barely reaching the edge of the windowsill, and the crew of goblins burst into action. With a series of loud twangs, gigantic harpoons shot up from the shoulders of the giant, flying over the edge of the sill and landing with great clattering crashes out of sight. Barely had the ropes stopped moving, when there were goblins scampering up them, ropes being thrown down from above and cantilevered gangplanks being raised and lowered, forming a precipitous path from the peak of the Ghost Ferry’s skull to the rickety collection of fragile-looking buildings that hung over the edge of the carved-stone cliff.
“Hence disembarken can-thee!” came the crackly voice of the PA system, issuing from a series of tubes, funnels and loudspeakers attached at a number of scattered locations around the main passenger platform.
Alice gripped the knife and started to cut the knot of cables she’d had indicated to her, and as soon as the first one parted her chair started to creak ominously. With a series of groaning noises, pings and twangs, the chair the goblins had constructed for her unfolded, shoving her into a standing position before falling into separate pieces, some of which were launched at alarming speed just barely missing her, to fall over the side and down to the street, far below.
“Huh,” said Red, watching the display. “They said it was an emergency release, I’m surprised it didn’t-”
Before he’d finished speaking, with a single very definite pwa-ting, the final chunk of chair shot out like a rocket, and Red barely managed to snatch her out of the way as it whooshed past and out into the open air. The thing span through the air as it fell for a few seconds, before a tiny parachute unfolded from it with a flumph, and the whole contraption gently drifted down and out of sight.
“There we go,” said Red, once he’d got his breath back. “Goblin engineering at its finest.”
“Yeah, I think that was supposed to go off before the rest of the chair deconstructed.”
“That’s not better!”
“It’s kinda the trademark of goblin engineering, however. So c’mon, let’s get going.” He offered a steadying arm as they started to climb the scaffold-rigging of the Ghost Ferry towards the solid ground of the windowsill.
As they reached the end of the gangplanks – luckily for Alice, these did have actual handrails – the entire windowsill and Ferry station came into view. The station building was near-dilapidated, a state assisted by the fact that one of the gigantic harpoons that had been used to moor the Ferry had gone straight through the front of the building, shattering it almost entirely. Around, stretching what looked like miles was a landscape of scattered translucent boulders – glass from the shattered window, far above. As they drew closer to the ferry terminal, garbled yelling became audible, as apparently the harbourmaster goblin (it was possible to tell from the size of the hat they were wearing) was hollering at the captain of the Ghost Ferry about property damage.
“Calamitous halfwit, thee’n crew yon!”
“Dodge-not, shed thine problem-yon!”
“Building! Dodgen-not obvious, stonebrain-thee!”
Twelfth, Nik, A Librarian and Aidra were waiting off to the side, near where she and Red had come ‘ashore’.
“Do you think they do that every time?” asked A Librarian, watching the exchange. The harbourmaster had pulled out a crossbow, and was starting to take potshots at the captain of the ferry, who was contemptuously dodging, without missing a beat in their yelling and rude gestures.
[The Crew Do Not Appear To Be Particularly Concerned. I Would Not Worry Too Much About It.]
A great number of the ferry terminal crew – and, on the other side, the ferry crew – were sitting on their haunches nearby, watching the exchange nonchalantly. Occasionally, Alice could make out the sight of money changing hands as some particularly scorching insult was thrown.
“So, where’s this ‘mini’-Causeway, then?” she asked Red.
He looked around for a few seconds, frowning, but it was Aidra who answered.
“That way,” he said, pointing off across the jagged plain, down a path that zigzagged between the glittering boulders.
Red sighed, then grabbed him by the arm and pulled him round until he was pointing down a different path.
“That’s what I was trying to say, Red! Sheesh!”
“Well, if that was what you were trying to say, you should probably have your eyesight checked. You missed by miles.”
“Look, all roads lead to Rome.”
[What Is Rome?]
“It’s a type of lettuce.”
“Anyway,” Red interrupted. “What I suggest we do is stay the night in the terminal’s boarding house, and then set off in the morning – we’ve had a pretty long day’s travel, and given the verticality of this place, I think we should have a rest.”
[I Mean, I Require No Rest, And I Was Carrying You For The Vertical Bits.]
“True, but us mere mortals require sustenance and sleep.”
[You Do? That Sounds Tiresome.] Twelfth paused for a few seconds. [And Also, That Was A Joke.]
– – –
The following morning, she discovered that she was starting to get used to Aidra’s startlingly loud and accurate Morning Rooster Noises.
[I Apologise, Alice. I Did Not Manage To Catch Him In Time.]
“Mmmmmgh,” she replied eloquently. “It’s fine, Twelfth. ‘M awake now, might as well go get breakfast.” She glared at Aidra, who was hanging by the leg from Twelfth’s grip. He grinned and waved back.
Breakfast in the goblin-run boardinghouse was rather an interesting affair, as the muffled sounds of strange industrial machinery clattered and occasionally emitted great hisses of steam from the kitchens, spiderlike goblins running every which way at full tilt, carrying various combinations of knives and spanners.
Red took a spoonful of something that looked a bit like if jelly had coagulated in cubic crystalline growth patterns, and winced.
“Ooh, yeah, this one’s quite a potent neurotoxin,” he said, in his new duty as Alice’s food-taster. “Might want to gib dath a mith – ah freck, tumgs gun nmumb.”
She snorted, and returned to the weird-tasting but apparently perfectly fine strips of fried purple meat. She’d decided that asking where it came from was a question for another day, and instead was watching Red trying to scrub his tongue on a napkin.
“Ab I wab-” he cleared his throat “- as I was saying, I propose we go through the Causeway, back to the Library, and then I’ll double back and see if we’ve been followed. I very much don’t like the idea of Syrk or STAR on our tail, and making sure they can’t easily find us is a top priority.”
“Yeah,” said Aidra, “because confronting Syrk on your own went so well for you last time.”