The tunnels were far darker than the outside space of Brobdingheim, so Alice was left blinking at the threshold for a few seconds, too dazzled to pay attention while her eyes adjusted to the light. What she saw was, briefly, so confusing and disorienting that she had to close her eyes again, count to ten under her breath, and open them again.
A vast gulf of space loomed before her. The semi-familiar domed sky of a Bioterra was there, but paler, far more distant than the other she’d seen. The view was stupendous: she could see the skyline of a city, nestled between two massive cliffs, stretching before her into the haze of distance. They were standing on a wide stone ledge across from the city, and when she looked up, she could see another enormous craggy cliff disappearing up into the light of the Bioterra’s static sun. A fierce, freezing wind picked up, buffeting the ledge, raising cries of dismay from those members of the party who could truly feel the cold. A Librarian started to pull a variety of warm-looking clothes from his seemingly endless satchel of tricks – although she did remember seeing him buying them in the Bathyscape, so it wasn’t quite as magical. Either way, the thick coat, hat, trousers and gloves he handed her were a much-welcome relief from the biting cold in the air, as her teeth had started to chatter by the time she’d struggled her gear on.
“So,” she managed to ask, as she tried to warm up her hands, “we’re going to the city, right?”
Red, who was aggravatingly immune to the cold, it seemed, looked at her slightly confused. “What? We’re in the city.”
She looked back out in the direction of the city, and in a sudden dizzying shift of perspective, she realised that the ‘cliffs’ that stretched up on either side of what she’d thought was a vast canyon were actually buildings. She took a couple of steps forwards, nearly to the end of the ledge, looked right and left, and then back at the cliffs the ledge stuck out from. What had previously looked like craggy, cracked patterns across the stone now looked like the seams between gigantic limestone blocks. She glanced tentatively over the edge and, sure enough, at the bottom of the vertigo-inducing leagues of space she could see the cobbles of a road. Quickly, she backed away from the edge, and in her scramble to get away, trod on and then tripped over someone’s feet.
The identity of the mysterious feet-owner was quickly revealed as Red’s yelp of pain echoed off the cliffs. As she fell, he managed to grab her by the coat and then help her get back vertical with a minimal loss of dignity.
“Look where you’re going, you prat!” he hissed, once he was sure she was stable.
“You stood in my way!”
“You stood on my feet! And, in any case, are you okay? I’m sure we can find another route if you don’t like heights.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s- it’s fine. I was startled, I thought the city was further away, and that we were on a big cliff.”
“Ah yeah, it’s your first time being someplace like this. I mean, you probably did better than I did.”
“You’re just saying that.”
He shrugged. “I might be. You can’t prove anything.”
Nik piped up. “So where to from here?”
With a flicker of umber light, Red pulled a piece of parchment from nowhere, and it fluttered in the wind as he scrutinised it, before returning it to wherever he’d pulled it from.
“Right,” he said, “we’ll travel down the Stormwall for an hour or so – we’ll need your help for that, Twelfth, some bits are uncomfortably vertical – and then take the Ghost Ferry across the square to the Grand Chapel, and I think the miniaturised Causeway is on one of the rafters, from what I can glean here. It’ll be maybe a day or two of travel?”
“This place is just unreasonably big. We’re going to take two days to basically cross the street?”
“I mean, it’s like a couple of blocks, but yes.”
[Ah, More Walking. It Would Be Good For My Heart, If I Had One.]
– – –
Down between the cyclopean stones they descended, mostly roped to and held by Twelfth, past snow-covered villages set into the crevices between the titanic rocks, like ants in dry-stone walls. Entire forests clung to gaps in the stones, little pieces of nature in a parody of moss. She caught a glimpse, as they descended the last stretch towards the Ghost Ferry terminal, of a beetle nearly the size of a house climbing through the alpine woodland between the rocks. Twelfth reached the bottom of this latest descent and let them down.
“So,” Alice asked,, “who built this city? And where are they?”
“You’ll see, when we take the Ghost Ferry,” said Nik. “But the people who built this city are mostly extinct, or have moved on to greener pastures.”
[Ah, I Believe I Have Heard Of This. It Was Apparently Quite A Sight, When The City Was Still Living.]
“And now it’s just run by people around our size,” said Nik.
Aidra chuckled. “It’s getting overgrown – ‘the rats, mice and cockroaches are taking over, as the Great City of Brobdingheim crumbles into dust. No more shall the great crooning songs be sung, and no more will the ground tremble with Their footsteps, for the Gibborim walk no more,’ according to Hyrkon’s Realm Guide, Edition, er, seventeen? Which is funny, because I’m pretty sure there’s still a couple Gibborim kicking around, in various places.”
[I Believe The Ink Giants Are Somehow Related?]
He waved a hand vaguely. “Gibborim were cousins to the Titans, and thus Auld Magog and Co, so yeah?”
[Ah, I Suppose That Is The Connection. Fascinating.]
Alice was about to ask something to clarify, but was cut off by a tremor in the ground. They were standing on something approximating a pier, sticking out on rickety-looking struts from one of the stones of the Stormwall, and it swayed alarmingly as the booming, thunderous sounds started to draw closer.
“What’s happening? Earthquake?” she squeaked.
Red placed a steadying hand on her shoulder. “Ghost Ferry. Don’t worry, it’s trod this route a thousand times, according to the tourist information.”
With a series of footfalls that shook the ground, the Ghost Ferry rounded the corner and started to advance towards the pier-terminal. For a brief moment, it was outlined by the sunlight, a titanic humanoid-ish shadow with no distinct features, lumbering down the vast cobbled street towards them.
Its flesh was cracked stone, and it was peeling, leaving a gaunt and skeletal face gazing forwards with lifeless eyes. Around its face, chest and shoulders, a structure of wood stood, like a palanquin, around and through this expired titanic creature. Lumbering forwards, it swayed dangerously, unbalanced due to the missing weight of its left arm, which ended with a cracked and splintered stump just below the second elbow. Pipes and chimneys emerged from one of its ears and through multiple holes in the top of its head, belching dark green smoke in thick clouds in the same rhythm as its swinging gait. And all the while, tiny figures clambered over and around it, like beetles on the flesh of a putrefying corpse. It drew closer, and even though it must have been huge, its shoulders barely crested the height of the pier as it slowly came to a stop. One of the strange insectoid fuzzy creatures hopped across onto the platform, tying various ropes and readying some sort of gangplank.
“Far be travelled thee, passagewise coin-yon, aye?” they asked, voice high pitched and punctuated by the clicking of its chelicerae.
They were diminutive, and they blinked each of their four eyes slightly out of sync with each other, looking back and forth between them with sudden twitches of their long neck. Their lower and shorter pair of arms seemed to be continually wringing their hands, while the long pale claws of their upper set of arms tapped with a kind of nervous energy on one of the mooring posts. Behind them, a tail with a tuft like a lion’s at its end twitched back and forth.
“Yep,” said Red, fumbling around for a moment before pulling a little cloth bag from a pocket and tossing it to them.
“Patronage-thy appreciate Ghost Ferry-we!” they chirped, happily, gesturing for them to come aboard. “Coin-yon good be, passage-yon gladly-us.”
“What language is that?” Alice whispered to Nik.
“It’s a dialect of the Larynx Local, called Goblintongue, or Gob,” he replied. “I can barely understand it, either.”
The goblin captain started to shout to the rest of the crew of the Ghost Ferry’s stony corpse.
“Trap-flapping stop, halvedwit-thee! Customers waytreat, any this! Busy gettingwards-thee! Thing-this aroundface helmsmanly!”
The Ferry lurched as the captain started to yell incomprehensible directives down brass speaking tubes, away from the Stormwall and out into the freezing air that whistled down the roads of Brobdingheim’s Great City.