The door didn’t creak as it opened, thankfully. The wall and door were made of thin bleached wood in rough, driftwood-like shapes, carefully cut to fit together neatly. The corridor on the other side of the door was similar, and led off left and right, with a black and white zig-zagging pattern on the carpet and partway up the walls. Overhead, the strange dome of the ceiling continued, starting to dip back down towards the ends of the corridor.
After a brief moment of consideration, she went left, and set off along the hall. Down the corridor, between each of what she assumed were the doors to other rooms, paintings hung in frames on the otherwise plain walls. Each of them depicted a landscape, rendered in greyscale, with bold, wide brushstrokes and a certain macabre theme of enormous bones jutting up from grey sands, stretching between horizons, with a dead grey sky overhead.
With the art sufficiently appreciated, she continued on, past the rows of doors and round the corner, as it opened up into an atrium, built into the open mouth of an enormous fanged skull. Each of the atrium’s enormous teeth was nearly five feet long, jutting from the sandy loam of the ground and hanging from the upper jaw like a parody of stalactites and stalagmites at the mouth of a cave. Around the mouth of the skull were a number of picnic tables, each bearing a pale, withered-looking umbrella, and extending out towards the road like the skull’s tongue were a series of paved stones, set into the dusty ground.
She approached the desk at the back of the atrium and greeted the skeleton who unsurprisingly stood behind it. “Hi there. Is there a party of… an A Librarian, two — I think they’re called Children of Nursiir — and a Bookbinder around? Oh,” she added, remembering a recent addition, “there might also be a devil?”
The skeleton cleared their throat with a noise similar to a xylophone being shaken in a bag. “I believe they are at table fourteen, outside. Just over to the left.”
She turned and set off towards the mouth of the atrium, ducked around the gigantic hanging teeth, and immediately spotted Nik, Aidra, Twelfth, Zkrith and A Librarian. The biological members of the party had drinks sitting on the table. Aidra’s had a paper umbrella and curly straw in it, incongruously bright against the general greyscale aesthetic of this unfamiliar Realm.
Aidra looked up, grinned, and waved. “Ah, she walks amongst us again! How’s Red?”
“Asleep,” she said, walking up to the picnic table and sitting down.
“Oh, huh,” said A Librarian, “how much does he need to sleep? I always assumed it was similar to how much you seem to need to sleep, but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t slept since we left that Syrk place.”
“I think he can delay sleep,” said Nik, “but as for his actual biology, he looks like the same human thing as Alice is, but not quite?”
“No clue,” said Alice.
“Yeah,” said A Librarian, “I don’t know how much the differences are due to normal variation.”
[He Is A Different Shade Of Beige Than You Are.]
“Oh, that. That’s normal variation, I guess.”
[He Is A Bit Taller, Also.]
“That’s normal,” she replied, through gritted teeth.
“Ooh, ooh!” Aidra said, raising a hand. “And his right hand is a crystal thing!”
“No, that’s not normal. Haven’t we been over most of this before?”
“Will there be a test at the end?” Aidra asked, raising his hand again.
“Then why was I making all these notes, then?”
Alice leaned over to look at the index cards that he had apparently summoned from up his sleeve. They were covered in doodles, strange symbols, and roughly-drawn portraits of everyone else in the group. The likeness of herself was okay, although the new scar on her face from the other-Red’s claws would take some getting used to.
“I don’t think those are notes.” she said.
“I’m a visual learner.”
[I Assume He Needs Sleep, As He Is Sleeping. He Was Keeping An Eye On You, I Believe, And It Would Have Been A Dereliction Of Duty To Stop If He Did Not Need To Sleep.]
“‘Watching over’ me?”
[He Seemed Rather Concerned About Your State.]
She paused, briefly conflicted between that being touching or being annoying. “Well,” she said, after a pause, schooling her expression, “that’s kind of silly of him, to pass out from lack of sleep.”
“That was totally the only thing you were thinking of saying,” said Aidra, “and I for one believe you.”
She felt herself flushing. “Shut up.”
“Never! I’m not shutting up till this book is over!”
“You don’t have a book.”
He nodded. “That’s very meta, for you to say that. I approve.”
[Aidra, Do Not Torment Her.]
“Hey! I’m merely needling. Torment is more of a—”
Twelfth placed one hand on top of his head, her fingers reaching most of the way down his face. [Do Not.]
She looked gratefully to Twelfth, then paused. Twelfth looked… different. Something was slightly in disarray about her clothing, and her motions seemed slightly jerky, as if she — Alice briefly searched for a metaphor that made sense — as if she hadn’t been oiled.
[Ah,] she said, noticing her confusion, [Do Not Be Concerned. I Merely Suffered Damage When Syrk Disassembled Me.]
“What?” she replied, dismayed.
[None Of It Is Permanent, But… Bookbinder Chassis Are Very Delicate Machines. A Librarian And Red Did A Relatively Good Job When Putting Me Back Together, But I Still Require Fine-Tuning, Which I Will Likely Only Get From An Expert.]
“Does it hurt?”
[No. It Is Merely Irksome Until I Find Someone Who Knows The Work Of Tarlûlaaork, Likely Back In The Library.]
“You know what else is in the Library?” said Zkrith, not looking up from the book she was reading. “My home.”
“Hey now,” Aidra replied, “I read your boat’s fortune and it said you’d be able to find it.”
“Yes, but you have repeatedly refused to say what state it’s in.”
“Har har. I live there! All my possessions are there!”
“I can only tell you a certain amount of stuff! Otherwise the future changes!”
She glared up at him from over the top of her book, pipe clenched between her sharp teeth. “Even if you’ve got an excuse, it doesn’t mean I’ve got to like it.”