“Did you hear something?”
Alice glanced back at Red. “No, what?”
He was looking down the corridor and into the vague darkness, past someone unremarkable. “I’m not sure. I could’ve sworn I heard something.”
“Alice,” said Tim, “who’s your new friend?”
“Oh, um, right, this is Red. He helped me get here, and find you.”
“Hello,” said Red, awkwardly. He gave a little wave, realised that Tim was staring at his crystalline right hand, and waved with his left hand instead.
“Please don’t mind him,” she said, “I’m just glad to see you again.”
“For a bit, I wasn’t sure if you were real or not. I thought I might have imagined you.”
“Well, I don’t feel imaginary. How did you even get here?”
Tim sat up on the edge of the bed. “I think I was… there were weird lights, in the library at night. I saw them when I was passing, and… I’m not sure what happened, and then I was here? Occasionally this really creepy Silas guy or one of his friends come and ask me weird questions about you, and memory, and other stuff.”
“Huh. Well, I kinda know why you’re in this box in a general-narrative sense — there’s this Men-in-Black-esque group called STAR, who try to sequester ‘weird’ stuff away from ‘normal’ stuff — but I’m still not sure about why you in particular still remember who I am.”
“How could I forget you?”
“That’s very sweet,” said Red, “but I’m not sure the power of friendship is actually that strong in a Materian world like this.”
Alice stepped in. “Don’t confuse the man. He’s been in here for… days? It’s been days, right?”
Tim shrugged. “I really don’t know.”
“Alice, why’s your new weird friend with the glass hand talking about ‘material worlds’, though? Isn’t that a song?”
“Okay, so, my hand isn’t made of glass,” said Red, before she had the chance to answer, “and it’s ‘Materian worlds’.”
“That’s not a real word.”
“While I will admit that it’s unlikely to be a term you’ve heard, it’s a derivative of a proper noun. It’s real.” Red looked over at her. “Back me up here, Alice.”
“I’m not going to involve myself in this,” she said. “You could have been telling me made-up words this entire time, for all I know.”
“What? No! You met other people in the broader Realms, and they agreed with me on what the terms were!”
“Sounds fake,” she replied, smirking as Red spluttered indignantly. “Sounds fake, right Tim?”
He snorted. “Super fake.”
Red groaned. “I didn’t have to come rescue you, you know. Actually, if this is how you miscreants are going to behave, I’m going to go open your other friend’s cell. Maybe Sasha’s a less grating conversationalist.”
She lit up. “Oh, right! Sash! Yes, do. Actually, how are you even breaking the windows? I’d have thought that this ‘clear adamant’ stuff would be tougher than that.” She gestured around, where nothing at all remained of Tim’s cell window, not even powder.
“Crystalline resonance magic-stuff. Fairly hard to explain, but it’s very much stuff from Creation’s Forge, and even the faintest hint of Cessation can cause it to retract. It’s why they don’t build stuff out of it in the wider Realms, it’s physically very difficult to destroy, but very flighty.”
The process to open Sasha’s prison was similar — Red drew his right hand across the surface of the window with a beautiful chiming noise, the adamant shivered, sang and then simply ceased to be. Unlike Tim, the noise didn’t actually wake her up, she merely grimaced and rolled away on the bed.
“While that is extremely like her,” said Alice, “I’m not sure she could sleep through that.”
“The sleep enchantment is still sticking to her,” Red replied. “I’ll see what I can do to break it.”
He held out his hand, tracing glowing shapes in the air, and Alice felt the magic moving, prickling across the back of her scalp, or wherever it was that she kept her pneumatic senses.
“What’s he doing?” Tim asked from just over her shoulder, and she nearly leapt a foot in the air in surprise — she’d been so rapt that she hadn’t noticed him getting up and walking over.
“Oh! Uh, he’s… he’s undoing the magic that’s keeping Sash asleep.”
The wonder was audible in Tim’s voice. “Magic? I mean, he’s got the floaty hand thing, and he’s drawing glowing lines in the air, but actual magic?”
She smirked, held up her hand, and shaped her thoughts just so, and watched his amazement as a bead of light blossomed to life in her palm.
“You can do magic? How does that even work? How did you learn? Could I learn?”
She took a moment to process the barrage of questions. “Um, in order, yes, it’s complicated, I had a good teacher, and probably?”
Red, who was still concentrating on whatever he was doing, glanced over, with a raised eyebrow and a little smile.
She returned the smile. “I had a good teacher,” she clarified, “and Red helped, too.”
“Cruel, to suggest that Aidra was the more serious of your teachers,” he said.
Red and Alice looked at each other.
“A mutual, er, friend,” she said, as Red simultaneously finished the sentence with “annoyance.”
“Right,” said Tim.
“This is a weird enchantment,” said Red, deftly changing the subject. “Not actually anything to do with sleep, per se.”
She thought back to her house. “That weird thing that the sunglasses guy did? You said that was Void-related.”
“Uh, magic related to the spaces between spaces,” she explained to Tim. “Sort of?”
“It’s about as good an explanation as any,” said Red. “And she’s not so much asleep, as… knowing so much of the Outer Void that there’s no more space for consciousness.”
“So you were watching that, then,” said no-one of consequence, to themself, probably.
“Is it… has it done her any damage?”
Red frowned. “I don’t think so. The Outer Void can corrode the reality of things, but this is still very minor. It’s all information about nothing, inherently paradoxical, so it’ll eventually annihilate itself and she’ll wake up.” He saw her worry, and tried to be reassuring. “You’ve walked through the Void several times — this isn’t nearly as high a concentration as that.”
“Hm,” she replied. “Fine.”
“This conversation seems high in proper nouns and low in context,” said Tim, blithely. “Can I help with anything? Actually, which way’s the exit?” He looked one way and then the other, down the dark concrete corridor.
“Well, we came in via the Void, so we’ll just… leave, I guess?”
“Uh. More like… hyperspace? We go into the Void, Red walks around for a bit, or just kinda moves around? I don’t think ‘walking’ is the right verb, although the process is called ‘voidwalking’.”
“Interesting similes.” Tim paused. “I’m not sure if they’re informative similes, however.”
“So you have better similes?”
“I mean, no, but—”
Red light flickered, and Sasha gasped, groaning and sitting up. “Wh’rm… what…” Her eyes opened wider. “This isn’t my room. Wait, who are you?” Her tone shifted quickly from groggy to worried.
“Uh,” said Red. “I’m a… friend of Alice’s?”
“What? You’re on about this ‘Alice’ too? First those weirdos, and now—” Looking around, she saw Alice and paused, frowning. “Wait. Do I know you?”