It screeched, it snarled, it revved like a chainsaw. It lunged, mismatched jaws closing around the arm Red raised in defence, tearing at his sleeve with jagged and ever-shifting teeth. There was a grating, chiming noise as it bit down on something beneath his coat, and then Twelfth was there, grabbing at the creature, at its jaws and teeth, attempting to drag it free of him. Red was shouting something, but he seemed more alarmed than pained.
Alice shook free of her mute, stunned horror upon hearing his voice and rushed forward to help Twelfth, but the Bookbinder was having trouble gaining purchase on the creature. It shifted and flowed beneath her hands as she clawed at it, its substance bunching, stretching, like Twelfth was gathering up armfuls of multicoloured spiderweb. Her struggles, however, freed up Red’s hands enough to cast spells, and with a flash of crimson light and wave of rust-coloured smoke, everyone was pushed back, away from him. The creature shrieked like a bike horn being eaten by a rubber chicken and leapt away, vanishing into nothing like a bath full of iridescent suds down a plughole.
Alice hurried over to help Red up. “Are you okay?”
Beneath the tattered right sleeve of his jacket, there was no arm. Instead, there was a thin rod of the same red crystal as his hand, undamaged by the creature’s bite, which terminated just below where the elbow should have been. Floating above that, at the ‘elbow’ part of his arm, was a sphere of the same material, and then another rod, leading back up, into his sleeve towards his shoulder.
He looked down at his ripped sleeve. “Well, it’d have been a lot messier,” he said, “if I’d fed it my other arm.”
She offered her hand, helping him to his slightly unsteady feet.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Not sure,” he replied. “I was too busy avoiding getting my face bitten off to tell.”
Nik was looking around, worriedly. “I mean, it appeared out of nowhere, and disappeared just as fast, so I’m mostly worried that it’ll reappear.”
[Oddly Amorphous And Insubstantial. It Would Make Sense For It To Spend Most Of Its Time In Some Other Dimensional Substrate, Only Emerging To Attack Intruders, Or Something Similar.]
“A Librarian, you got anything in that dictionary of yours that’ll keep extradimensional things away, or at least force them to manifest with more warning?”
“Er,” he replied, starting to rummage in his satchel, “I’ll take a look?”
“Cool. Now…” He reached down to his ragged sleeve, and with a murmured incantation, the fabric started to move, little beads of red light glimmering along the torn edges like embers as the material started to stitch itself back together.
Alice noticed that, while she knew the arm underneath was basically a pair of sticks, the repaired sleeve of Red’s coat still sat like there was an actual arm beneath it. She made a mental note to ask how that worked once they were out of imminent danger.
“Aha!” A Librarian was holding a small book, open at a page covered in weird scribbled notes. “There’s a thing here I can adapt into an interdiction for dimensional intrusion. Now, if I had any idea what these things are, and the mechanism they use for getting around, I’d be able to be more precise, but for now a scattershot approach will hopefully be good enough.”
“Right,” said Nik. “Now, we don’t know how intelligent the thing was, or if it can hear us, so while A Librarian writes this, we better keep watch.”
They formed into a small circle around A Librarian, looking outwards at the darkened chambers of, presumably, the inside of the pale tower. The only noise was their own breathing, and the scritch of A Librarian’s quill on paper as he penned his enchantment. It took maybe a minute, which felt like an eternity, but Alice was finally able to relax when she heard the hum and felt the magical crackle of the spell taking hold.
“So, what this does,” he explained, “is raise this section of the Real away from other abutting dimensions, spaces and such. If you imagine the reality potential of this place as a rubbery sheet or something, we’re now on a little hill, the opposite of a reality well.”
“The veil is thick, here, then?” asked Aidra.
A Librarian levelled a suspicious look at him. “I know this is the setup for some joke, but you’re correct.”
“I mean, it’s not much of a joke, but we’ve gone from a set of gauzy net curtains to some great rubber sheet, in terms of veil-thinness. And isn’t the veil, by its very name, thin everywhere?”
“That’s a fairly good analogy, I guess. It’s more like a potential field, but that’s a more mathematical treatment of reality emanations, so it’s probably a bit too technical. I’m not actually sure what kind of range we’ve got on it, either, but here’s hoping.”
The problem of the sudden monsters possibly solved, the group started to more warily examine their surroundings. Alice examined the broken glass sphere, watched it refract the light of her magic into a thousand different shapes on the floor. She tapped at one of the floating fragments, discovering that it was fixed so solidly in place that it didn’t even chime.
“Any idea what this is?” she asked.
Red looked up from the tools on the table. “Looks like it’s in some tightly-wrapped stasis field. Dunno what that’s about, though – I doubt it’s just a sculpture, but I’ve no idea what else it could be.”
“What’s the stuff on the table, then?”
He looked back down. “Well, there’s a bunch of… like, er, wizardly paraphernalia, I guess? Basic magical tools, ethereum tuners, some kind of focal array? Nothing particularly interesting, honestly. It’s mostly just… stuff.”
[There Are Some Stairs, Back There,] said Twelfth, emerging from round the corner. [They Are Likely Our Route Upwards. Still No Signs Of Recent Habitation. How Are You Two Getting Along With That Door?]
“It won’t budge,” said Nik. “Unless we want to try blasting it off its hinges, I don’t think we’ll be able to get it open.”
“Yeah,” A Librarian added, “it’s not responding to any of the glyphs of opening I’ve been trying.” He indicated a number of pieces of paper he’d stuck to the wall and door, each of them bearing a set of Words, arranged in weird linguamancy formations.
Twelfth crossed to the closed door, braced herself against it, and pushed. For a long few seconds, nothing happened. Her feet scraped against the floor, little rivulets of dust dropping from the ceiling as the door shifted and creaked in its frame.
“I mean,” said Aidra idly, “she’s literally tireless, so either the door breaks or she does, I guess.”
[I Do Not Believe Those Are The Only Options. This Seems More Sturdily Fixed In The Wall Than The Stones Of The Wall Are Attached Together. Maybe It Would Be Wise To Attempt To Get In Via The Wall,] she said, her voice the same quiet telepathic calmness as normal – oddly dissonant, lacking the strain a flesh-and-blood creature’s voice would hold in a similar circumstance.
“Eh,” said Red, “I think we should leave it for now, keep going upwards. At some point, we’ll find out if there’s actually anything but weird vanishing monsters in this place.”
Twelfth stood back up, and the door creaked again as it shifted back into its old position. [Fair Enough.]
The quiet was briefly interrupted by an echoing, garbled screech as a creature flickered briefly in and out of existence, twitching and growling, before disappearing again, blinking out of existence and leaving the chamber quiet once more.
“Well!” said A Librarian brightly. “I guess that means that the thing I made worked!”