The train drew to a chittering halt in Foyer’s station, and the six of them alighted, stepping out onto the creaking familiarity of the boards. The monk Bookbinders of the Siblinghood of Tracked Traversal stood stalwart around their sacred platform, each of them wearing the pale sashes that were the mark of their order.
“That’s pretty cool,” said Alice, once Twelfth had explained. “I think someone told me they were monks before, but that’s really interesting. And not a pun. That’s good too.”
“Soooo,” said Aidra, adopting the practised tone of innocence only found among the profoundly guilty, “how’d you get to know all this about the Order, eh Twelfth?”
The Bookbinder had no eyes, so it was a pretty impressive feat to still give the impression that she rolled them. [I Know This Because I Had A Brief Dalliance With A Member Of The Order, Not That It Is Any Of Your Business.]
[You Are Telepathic. Asking Questions, For You, Is Most Definitely A Performance Art.]
“You wound me, ma’am.”
[Should I Feel So Inclined,] she replied, [I Could Do Much More Than Wound You.]
His response was a long chuckle, joined after a moment by Twelfth’s own laugh, telepathic and musical.
They walked down through the layers of Foyer, crossing catwalks and gantries with, in Alice’s case, surer step than before. She was surprised to see how complete everything looked, since that Formless creature had torn through it what felt like mere days earlier – the power of an Archangel on display, she supposed. Bits of memory she wasn’t sure were entirely hers floated gently to the surface as she pondered, snatches of blinding light, anger, a terrible hunger and a dread ambition. She shook herself out of her reverie as the group of them arrived at the tiny, red, out-of-place postbox that was the direct line to the Name of Knowledge Herself.
“I’ll see if I can get to see Her again, or at least get a notice, then we’ll check with this… Bookbinder Concordance?”
“They’ve got a central offices, down in the root of the city,” said A Librarian, “so I guess we’ll get there last?”
“Cool,” she replied, idly picking up one of the ivory tokens.
She was just reaching over for a pen to write her name on it, make an appointment or similar, when she noticed the slip she was holding had something written on it already, printed with a mathematical precision.
YOU HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH JÖURNALMUNGANDR UPON SECOND BELL OF GLEAMING, TOMORROW. YOU HAVE MATTERS TO DISCUSS.
SEE YOU THEN.
She read it out, incredulity clear in her voice, and then looked up at the rest of the group.
“Welp, that’s that sorted,” said Aidra, clapping his hands, “where’re we going next? The pub?”
“Is this a thing She does often?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say She does it often, and this is definitely unusual,” said A Librarian, “but it’s definitely a thing within Her power.”
“She’ll probably tell you what you need to know,” Red said, pausing for a moment before continuing. “Although, sometimes that isn’t what you need to know.”
“You gonna run off like last time?” asked Aidra.
“I’m sure She’ll appreciate my presence,” he replied serenely.
[I Mean, If These Matters Were Desperately Urgent, She Would Probably Have Sent An Agent Rather Than Asking You To Meet Later, If That Is Of Any Reassurance.]
“Thanks, Twelfth. Now, er, where should we go next? I could really do with some lunch, I think.”
“I know this great Idolatalian place, down by the fungal baths,” Aidra said excitedly.
The Idolatalian restaurant, ‘Flesh Of The Gods’ as it was oh-so-ominously named, smelled simply… divine. The air was thick with myriad familiar and unfamiliar scents of cooking, dense enough to be damn near tangible in their pungence. The restaurant resembled some relative of the bar-and-grill, albeit one who had left that particular evolutionary path several eons and maybe a couple of planets back. The tables that stood outside were of a deep, dark red stone, carved with symbols and grooves. As they approached, they were greeted by one of the waiters – a tall, thin four-armed creature in a voluminous hooded robe.
“Greetings,” they whispered, one set of hands clasped before them and their other set clasped behind their back. “Welcome to Flesh Of The Gods, petitioners. Do you wish to be seated, thus to contemplate the menu?”
“Er.” Alice shot a desperate look at Aidra. “Yes?”
“Most excellent,” they replied in that same stage whisper. “Come this way, that you might yet sample the terrible might of flesh.”
Inside the restaurant, it was warmer, and significantly more humid. The stench of cookery increased another notch, almost uncomfortable in its strength, cloying fragrances underwritten by the tangy metallic scent of blood. The menu she took from the robed figure was written in jagged runes that swam gently before her eyes, resolving suddenly into words she could recognise.
A different, shorter cloaked figure appeared behind her. “If you would place your hand in this,” they said, offering a bowl of water to her, “it will tell us which of our sublime fleshes would be inimical to yours, as we do not recognise your manner of being.”
“Okay?” She dipped the ends of her fingers in the water, which flushed first pink, then green, as if different inks had been dripped in it.
“Excellent, dear petitioner. Your enumerative meatling pamphlet will change to reflect the hungers of your selves.”
The hooded figure took a spoon out of a pocket and, with deliberate care, scooped a small amount of the coloured water onto the menu Alice was holding. The writing on it shivered again, crossing out the ‘suppurating Echidnatic flank’, ‘strong aetheric-battered naga fillets’ and a handful of other options from the menu.
“So,” Alice asked quietly, once the ‘wait staff’ had left them be, “what is even this place’s deal?”
“Hey now, Idolatalian cuisine is top-notch. Heavenly, if you will.”
“Aidra, this place is weird.”
“This place,” said Nik, “is one of the restaurant-temples of a religion-slash-cult that worships meat. I think they also serve some vegetables.”
“Yeah, here on the menu. Braised Yggdrasil buds. Sounds… weird.”
“It’s on the list of things you’ll supposedly find edible,” Aidra pointed out.
She was distracted from further argument by the re-arrival of one of the cloaked wait staff cultists, who started asking for drink orders.
“Some of our customers, who imbibe of the most holy ichors,” they explained, “experience sudden delusions of grandeur, along with visions, glossolalia, brief bouts of temporal misdirectedness, death, rebirth and sometimes other, rarer conditions. It is recommended, if you are new to our sacred beverages, to go for one of the less concentrated ones, which contain barely a full drop of pure ichor.”
“Wait, run that list of side-effects past me again?”