“A tower! I’ve always wanted one of those!”
Alice managed not to start too violently as Aidra’s voice rang out from just behind her, but Red yelped and nearly fell over, before catching himself and glaring daggers at Aidra. They’d been leaning up against a shallow rock wall, talking about nothing in particular while they waited for everyone else to arrive, and it was atop this ridge that Aidra perched, like a glib and obnoxious cockatoo.
“How long have you even been up there?” she asked, snippily.
“Long enough! You guys are totes unobservant.”
Red snorted derisively. “Yeah, and the fact you can mask your presence would obviously be unrelated to us not noticing you.”
“He can do that?”
“Most telepaths can – they just nudge your thoughts away from noticing them, move only when you’re distracted and so forth.”
“I hided, like a ghost, behind the thickness of your very skulls!”
She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Oh come on, the pair of you. We have more pressing concerns. How do we-” she gestured vaguely at the gigantic, slightly phosphorescent building before them.
“Storm the tower? I’d have thought Red’d know how to get in – he built it, after all.”
“No, I didn’t. If it was anyone, it might have been a splinter consciousness I have no access to.”
“Yeah, buuuut… this other you will have started from the same place as you! Shadows in the cave of plates, like Alice said! So, think! What would you do when building a big tower to hide your secret base in?”
“I said Plato’s Cave,” she corrected.
“And additionally,” said Red, “if I were to build secret bases, I wouldn’t even make them in towers! It doesn’t make any sense – it’s not even hidden! I’d probably make saferooms and other stuff under… ground… Oh, hang on, let me check something.”
“See,” said Aidra as Red started to circle the tower, looking carefully at the flat area it stood on, “I’m a veritable phil-o-soph-ot-ic-al master, giving people the tools they need to answer their own questions!”
She raised an eyebrow. “What, by annoying them into epiphany?”
“Look, you can argue with my methods, but the results are undeniable!”
She was partway through composing a snappy retort when she saw the elongated frame of Twelfth emerging from down the hill, up and onto the platform around the tower, shortly followed by Nik and A Librarian.
“Oh!” A Librarian exclaimed. “There you all are! You definitely wandered off ahead. Or we went the wrong way. Or we dawdled.”
“A bit of options two and three,” Nik added.
[This Island Apparently Is Coated With Many Examples Of Interesting Flora And Fauna, As We Have Painstakingly Discovered.]
“Twelfth!” Aidra crowed. “You’re sassing them?”
[I Am Not. It Was Genuinely Interesting, Although A Librarian Did Tread In A Nest Of Biting Clams.]
[Due To Their Torpor, They Were Not Dangerous, But It Is Still A Reminder As To The Levels Of Hidden Wildlife Here.]
“But, but,” Aidra whined, “I was gonna give you a high five for sassing them!”
Twelfth looked down her lack of facial features at him. [You Would Not Be Able To Reach, Small Man.]
The bickering was blissfully interrupted by Red.
“Hah!” he exclaimed, from the other side of the tower.
[What Is He Doing?]
“Attempting to out-think himself,” Aidra explained. “Truly, a clash of intellectual titans,” he added in a whisper.
“I HEARD that!”
“Yeah, well,” he yelled back at Red, “I always thought you were a goat, too!”
“Rude! I’ve been a not-children for… many years.”
Alice ‘heard’ the sound of a telepathic sigh, just before Twelfth picked up Aidra by the scruff of his neck and started to walk over to where Red was doing careful ground-examinations. She looked over at A Librarian and Nik, shrugged, and followed the Bookbinder over.
Red was gesturing at the ground, and she felt the now-familiar tingle of magic behind her eyes as she drew closer, watching as the fine grit that covered the ground lifted up and away in what looked like a miniature tornado, sucking it up and dumping it to the side like a vacuum cleaner. Revealed beneath the sand was a trapdoor of dark stained wood with a brass handle that glinted in the half-light.
“Ah,” said Aidra as Twelfth deposited him back on his feet, “you and you think alike, it seems.”
“Up, shut,” he replied, squatting down to examine the trapdoor.
“What’re you talking about, brother?”
“Oh, you didn’t read the last chapter? Well, Red’s a nerd who has evil twins or something, and one of them is in charge of this place, probably, so to catch a Red you’ve gotta think like a Red, and who else could Red like Red could. Red.”
“Yeah, at least four.”
“Wouldn’t that make them evil quintuplets?”
“I’m right here, you know,” said Red.
“No,” continued Aidra, unheeding, “it’s actually heptuplets. There’s at least seven of them to make a full rainbow! You know, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. That’s totally their names and I’m sticking to it.”
“Nope, we’re all called Red, and we all consider ourselves ‘true’ aspects of the Red Right Hand or some such nonsense.”
“I prefer my rainbow warrior version.”
“You would, but that doesn’t make it true.”
“Wait, does that mean your true name is Roy, short for Roy G. Biv?”
“No, it really doesn’t. Now, as I was saying-”
Finished with his examination of the trapdoor, he reached down and pulled it open, revealing a ladder descending into darkness.
“That sure is a hole,” said Aidra.
“Correct. Now, following this idiot’s sage advice, I figured that what a… call it a twisted reflection of me would do is build a secret way into the tower, or maybe have the tower itself be a decoy, and the actual base be underground. Little bit less sure on the last one, but here’s some kind of secret entrance. It was actually warded against detection, but the other me seems to have made a mistake – they didn’t block it from their own perceptions, and therefore it’s not blocked from mine, either.”
“Does that mean that other-you and, by extension, you yourself are an idiot?” Alice asked, as innocently as she could manage.
“Yes, fine, keep laughing. I suppose what I could claim is that I wouldn’t suspect that another shard of myself would come here, and it’s difficult to distinguish between my selves at the best of times, even magically. Happy?”
“Okay, yes, sorry for… impugning your preparedness?”
[The Shaft Appears To Be Around Eighty Feet Deep.]
Red looked confused for a second before realising. “Oh, I forgot that Bookbinders could see in the dark. Well, if it’s not obviously a trap, we can head down and see what there is, and if it’s a real way into the dang tower.”
[I Suppose There Is Only One Way To Check.]
She stepped over to the open shaft and, with a fluidity and speed of motion, she descended the ladder, almost as fast as if she’d just jumped over the edge.