Each and every stone of the demesne was hand-hewn, carved with symbols of protection. A number of tall bookshelves were set into the walls of the main atrium, stretching up to a vaulted ceiling and forming part of a library. Not The Library, seat of Knowledge Herself; this library was a carefully curated personal collection. Further into the Hall, the tiled floor of the atrium gave way to thick, inviting carpets, but the walls were still made of hand-carved stone. Chiming glass globes, filled with the idea of light, hung from the rafters, filling Hollowed Hall with light and its silences with the quiet music of the spheres. The rooms of the Hall, however, were empty, and nothing living moved in the labyrinth of studies, corridors, arcane libraries and bedrooms.
Back in the atrium, there was a fireplace in which an emerald flame flickered, bathing the room with scents of courage and warmth. On either side of the fire, twin antique rocking chairs hovered, balanced above their support runestones, patched upholstery describing decades of use. The massive double doors that led into the atrium from Elsewhere were an element out of place, solid iron inlaid with Words and runes in olythreme, copper and lead.
It was a testament to how well-made the doors and their frames were, and to the ingenuity and thoroughness of their craftswoman, that nothing broke when Red slammed through them in a billow of russet smoke. He paused a moment, dispelled the vague tentacled shapes that were forming in the smoke with a dismissive wave, then stalked over to one of the rocking chairs and sat down, with but a moment of alarm at the sudden shift in balance. A piercing glare and an exertion of will later, and the doors had silently swung closed on the scene of absolute darkness outside the Hall.
He was just settling down for a nice long sulk when a series of runes on the doors flared into life, and they opened, briefly showing a mountainous and snowy landscape as someone strode through the doors. They slammed shut behind her nigh-instantaneously, and the icy wind she bought with her ceased.
Gyran regarded her visitor. “Red.”
“I don’t even get to make a crack about you being cold, do I?”
She paused a moment, considering. “No.”
Gyran was some kind of elf, apparent from her pointed ears, fur and the short horns on either side of her chin. Her eyes were a dull grey, and seemed somewhat sunken, but her gaze was still piercing. She wore a long, teal coat over a slate-coloured t-shirt, maroon sash around her waist under her coat, a paler green scarf and dark green wizard’s gloves. These were missing the pinkie and index fingers. Her fur was a beige-grey, and rose to a curly bird’s nest of hair on her head.
She stood in a neutral pose, wore a neutral expression, and barely seemed to move apart from to talk.
She looked him up and down. “What brings you here?” Her voice was smooth and calm, betraying little emotion. “And why are you sulking?”
“I’m not sulking,” Red said sulkily, “I’m just… frustrated, is all.”
He glared up at her, but it was pointless. His acid gaze wasn’t nearly powerful enough to defeat her stony countenance, and they both knew it.
An awkward silence later, he relented. “It’s about Alice’s situation.”
“Ah yes. Your lady friend.”
“Don’t you start,” Red growled, trying and failing to glare at Gyran again. “Look, I was a prize idiot and made a Vow, because I was confident that I’d be able to voidwalk her home, and then the way was blocked! Some transubstantiated symbol of blocked access, which suggests that it’s been done on purpose. How was I supposed to know that this one person in particular was somehow banned from accessing her home Materia Partition?”
A short nod. “Unprecedented, certainly.”
“That all you’ve got to say? ‘Unprecedented’?” Red waved his fingers in a sarcastic set of airquotes.
She made a motion similar to a shrug. “I can say little else about it. It is not within my sphere of knowledge.”
“That’s… worrying.” Gyran’s so-called ‘sphere of knowledge’ was almost unfathomably vast. That something wasn’t something she’d seen or at the very least heard of was deeply concerning on several levels.
“Yes, it is. ”
Red wondered briefly if she was joking. Her sarcasm and deadpan delivery were a thing to behold, in a sort of quantum way. Sometimes she blindsided him with an incredibly dry remark. It’d be an endearing feature, if she was the kind of woman you could use the word ‘endearing’ about without the word feeling deeply embarrassed, out of place and awkward. This awkward silence would last for a short while, before the word ‘endearing’ took the chance in a pause in the conversation to slip away. From there, it’d change identities and generally go to ground, far away from the scary magician lady.
“Well, that’s helpful, I suppose. This is an incredibly rare or normally completely deadly phenomenon.”
“I do recall something in Yrith the Forsaken’s notes about something similar.”
Gyran didn’t move, but Red felt it, the shift as the Hollowed Hall’s internal structure moved around at the whim of its master. A door slid into view on the wall opposite them from behind one of the bookshelves and swung slowly open with a melodramatic creeeaaak, revealing a long hallway that curved gently out of sight, deeper into the Hall.
Red almost jumped out of his skin when a slim book shot down the corridor, whooshing through the air at a frightful speed. Gyran snatched it from the air with a fluid ease and flipped it open.
“In their description of the workings of the Silent College, Yrith describes a system of security countermeasures to prevent access to the more dangerous materials.” She passed the book to him. “The effects you described to me are very similar to the notes here.”
Red glanced at the book sceptically. “Isn’t the Silent College the one that imploded? And how can you call it unprecedented if some weird notes from the Forsaken Scholars mention it?”
“The Silent College did indeed implode. They were experimenting with some fairly dangerous things.”
“You’re interrupting. And the methods described by Yrith are substantially different – they locked all mind-bearing creatures out of the micro-Realm containing the College. They had to lower the defences to allow anyone in, and in fact it was this that lead to the incident with the Demiurge Morpheus and the subsequent implosion.”
“Huh. Is a selective filter so very different?” He wasn’t extracting much useful information from Yrith’s cramped writing and weird diagrams of thaumaturgical procedures.
“Apparently. Materia is mostly uncharted, so I lack information, unless you have any to volunteer. What manner of creature is your lady-friend?”
Red glared, but she remained impassive. “She’s… a human, from one of the centre-cyan Materia spaces.”
The decaying ghost of a smirk crossed Gyran’s face. “Oh? Another human? I see, your lady-friend is some connection to your theoretical past.”
“She is not ‘my lady-friend’, you patronising witch.”
“Is she not a young lady of whom you are acquainted? Maybe even friendly with?”
“You’re not funny.”
“One can’t be universally talented. Now, our mutual crimson friend tells me that you called in a favour at the Carnival.”
“Hatred in Crimson is such a snitch.” He sighed. “Yes, I called in a favour to squish a vampire. I didn’t realise I had to seek your approval for this.”
One of Gyran’s eyebrows twitched. “You lost my copy of Auguries, by inconveniently dying due to overconfidence. It is now in incredibly dangerous hands. I believe I am within my rights to pay close attention to your judgement, as of late.”
Red winced. “I’ll get it back, I promise.”
“Given the Deathless’s resources, I doubt he doesn’t already have a copy, but it’s still alarming.”
Another voice joined the conversation. “Are you-”
Red nearly jumped out of his skin. “Shades of Satan! What the hecking crap are you doing, sneaking up on people like this?”
“I did not sneak up on you. You are unobservant.” Hatred in Crimson’s voice rang like a bell, if that bell was made of a cold slab of psychic pseudonoise. So, not that much like a bell.
They looked like a maroon suit, empty apart from coiling tendrils of red and black smoke. Hovering in the position a face would be, surrounded by the smoke that issued from the neckhole of the suit, was a mask, red crystal in substance, skeletal in form. They stood as tall as Red, and slightly beyond the ends of its sleeves, two loose collections of sharp, curved crystal shards hovered, forming the approximate shapes of hands.
Red looked at Gyran. “What’re they doing here?”
“Gyran called me here.”
“I called you here,” she replied, “because there is something the three of us need to discuss. The Grey and White are active again in the known Realms. Given their predatory attitude to travellers from non-Causeway Realms, I suspect your Alice might be a target.”
Red pulled a face. “Oh no. I- I need to tell her to be wary and prepared.”
“Indeed. Hatred, would you kindly work out where they’re headed? If this is actually something substantial on their part, I might also need to move the Hall back into your shadow.”
“I will do as you advise.”
Gyran turned back to Red, another request on her lips, but he had already gone.
“Well, I’ll have to tell him when he gets back. I do believe the man is infatuated.”
“I would not know. I defer to your judgement on issues such as these.”
“Mmm. Now, come along.” She strode towards the end of the atrium, and the wall of the Hollowed Hall parted like water. Stones slid into their new positions, lining the walls of a wide, arched corridor, leading downwards into the guts of the Hall.
“It’s time we blew the dust off of the War Room.”