In the lower Ivory district of Mictlan stood the Aeon’s Causeway, a grand edifice of ash-grey stone. It stood alone, its greyscale construction and decoration contrasting with the harsh black-and-white of the rest of the city. The pyramid’s flanks were decorated in swirling patterns in different shades of grey, and its sides were smooth, rather than the stepped shapes of the other Mictlanian ziggurats.
They crossed a plaza to get to it, between neatly-planted rows of pale and skeletal trees. As they got close enough to see the stairs that led up the front, to a wide arched doorway about halfway up the structure, details started to become clearer on the pyramid. Lines of strange writing circled the structure, etched into the stone or inlaid with a darker mineral — looking at them made Alice’s relatively weak ‘magical senses’ prickle at the back of her head, like the air was full of a slight static electricity, a thrumming power that lurked just beyond reach. Around them, the undead inhabitants of the tomb city wandered, ranging from unadorned skeletons to linen-wrapped, dried-out mummies, humanoids of every size and shape, as well as more alien and esoteric things, represented after death. Across the plaza, the enormous hollow exoskeleton of a centipede as big as a train ponderously made its way across the square and up a building on the other side, placing its feet with exaggerated care as it moved.
Once they reached the top of the stairs, the interior of the pyramid was visible through the massive, twenty-foot archway. A hollow interior, stretching from a vaulted ceiling overhead and plunging down to a floor that descended in a series of circular steps towards the centre, where the main body of the Causeway stood. It was very similar, in basic structure, to the ones Alice had seen in Foyer — rings of carved stone that formed a series of concentric shells around a point of strangeness and dimensional disconnect that was a little bit difficult to look at. Footbridges extended, eight in total, into the centre of the Causeway, and a small but steady stream of various peoples from across the Realms made their way in or out of the Causeway, the various rings and slabs of stone that orbited the centre avoiding them with an uncanny mechanical precision.
She looked around, to see if there was any sign of staff, or an information desk, or something that looked public-transport-y.
Seeing nothing, she spoke up. “Sooo… How do we select the destination, here?”
“Oh,” said a quiet voice from directly behind her, “you ask me.”
Long hours of training in the school of ‘putting up with Aidra’ allowed Alice to voice her shout of surprise internally, rather than externally. Instead, she turned around and saw a ghost. Said ghost was, on the face of it, approximately human-shaped, although they had two arms on their left and one on their right. Beneath their indistinct, transparent flesh, the dark shapes of bones were visible, and they hovered a foot or so above the floor, more because the ends of their legs dissipated into a swirling mist than because they were actually floating.
The ghost’s indistinct features shifted, as if they were frowning. “Ah, I didn’t introduce myself. I am one of the Port Spirits.”
“Okay,” said Alice, who seemed to have been elected spokeswoman by virtue of speaking first, “nice to meet you, I’m Alice. Could we go to the Library, please? Foyer, specifically.”
“Absolutely,” they replied. “Take one of these tokens for the Library and just walk on through the Causeway.”
They reached into an ectoplasmic pocket and pulled out some small knobbly ivory scrimshawed things carved with a prominent icon of an open book — they looked like they might have been knucklebones, but Alice was hardly an anatomist — and handed them out to the group.
“Thanks,” she said. “This is simpler than I feared.”
They gave a ghostly chuckle. “Us Port Spirits are only really here to guide newcomers, and put the tokens back in the boxes if someone drops them.”
“Speaking of, what do we do with the tokens when we pass through the Causeway?”
“Deposit them in the collection boxes. I believe, in Foyer, they’re behind the reception desks, and you can ask for the Mictlan boxes. One of our number goes through at the end of the day, to collect them from each of the destinations people have visited.”
“Oh, so you get to see a bunch of different Realms?”
The indistinct figure inclined their head in an indistinct nod. “It is one of the benefits of the job. After all, Port Spirits get their name from when they used to inhabit docks, travelling with ships across the Silent Waters, across the entire Necropolis. This is a rather more modern invention, but it serves well.”
“Good to hear! Thanks again for your help.”
She bid the friendly spirit goodbye, and the group got into line, queueing towards the centre of the Causeway down one of four ‘departing’ queues, each of which was a familiar, jarringly mundane and airport-esque zigzag of rope barriers and bollards.
“Well,” she said, after a moment or so, “that ghost person was very helpful.”
“Very spirited!” Aidra added.
She groaned. “Forget I said anything.”
Stepping through the Causeway was the same as it had been last time — a disjointed moment of vertigo between one step and the next, and then back on solid ground, at the top of the stairs that led down from the Foyer Causeway.
[So,] Twelfth was saying as they arrived, [Ms Zkrithlinos, For Finding Your Home, Where Do You Think We Should Start?]
Zkrith frowned, thinking. “We were Apeliotic of the Inscribed Archipelago when we stopped, due to the engine melting. We can’t have drifted too far before we were run down.”
“Could we charter a boat to head out that way?” Red asked.
Zkrith raised an eyebrow. “You got any money in that silly little hat of yours? I don’t exactly have much left over, given that that boat contained most of my worldly possessions.”
Red self-consciously adjusted his fez. “It’s not that silly. And, come to think of it, Jöurnalmungandr told us to go to the Inkstone Isles, to seek out the other me who was lurking there. I wonder if we could convince her to give us either a material reward or see if she could comp us for a ride over to the Archipelago.”
“Right, right, you weren’t there for that, it was from just before we met. It’s why we were heading that way, to the weird tower and, I guess, everything that resulted from that?”
“Oh, to return to those halcyon days, maybe a week or so ago, when the only thing I had to worry about was that I’d recently been killed by a rampaging monster.”
“Yes,” said Aidra, “so very long ago. Nearly an entire Act, given how thoroughly we got distracted.”
“I had to put up with you for longer than I’d want to, in any case,” she retorted.
“Ah, don’t worry, I’m sure we all feel the same. Now, let’s go bother the powerful snake lady about getting payment!”
[As The Holy Patron Of The City Of Foyer And The Name Of Knowledge Herself, I Feel That ‘Bothering Her’ Might Not Be The Best Idea.]
“Since when have I suggested a bad idea?”