The inside of the vault had not changed overnight. It was magical, but despite what the common man might think that didn’t make it able to spontaneously fill itself up. Librarian Oswald stared at the room which was still empty, thinking. “We verified the integrity of the wards and the locations of the keys. They neither dispelled the wards on the door nor used one of the proper keys to open it.” Oswald turned to the mage next to him, “Did we not get the best locksmiths we could find to try to open it, declaring it impossible without magic?”
“Yes, Librarian Oswald,” the mage responded nervously. “It would seem they had some knowledge of the workings of the vault door. The two women-”
“Should never have been allowed onto Library grounds.” Librarian Oswald crossed his arms. “Mages Saunders and Smedley will face disciplinary actions, and the families shall be firmly chastised about their inability to control their daughters. I understand that they found their way into the vault. How did they take everything? They carried almost nothing on them as they ran, and nothing was found stashed nearby.” He tented his fingers in front of him. “Perhaps there are more people involved than we have seen.”
“Or they used a magic bag?” the assistant timidly offered. “I read about those.”
“Are you telling me… two nothing apprentices and a more than mediocre mage created a magic bag?”
“There were also two more, and the women,” the assistant pointed out. “But maybe… they found it? Down in the Library?”
Oswal frowned, “They do seem to have some familiarity with the lower library. Too much. That one… Errold? Was sent down unsupervised by his master. He should never been informed of its existence to begin with.” He turned and strode out of the vault, “Come.”
“Shouldn’t we lock it?”
Oswald looked over his shoulder and raised an eyebrow, “To what end? We might as well be reminded of what transpired. A frustrating setback.” The vault didn’t hold all of the wealth of the mages. It would be inconvenient to have it all stored in one place. Most of the money was simply in banks, and magical materials were constantly being used and purchased. But the principle of the thing… that was the issue. The Endless LIbrary itself, burgled, with many Librarians present as well. “There’s another detail I don’t understand. How did that apprentice get in?”
“They kept a record that they turned him away at the gate, Librarian Oswald. It never opened after that, so he couldn’t have snuck in.”
“Yet there he was. Right in front of me. After we fortified the walls, we made sure there were no other entrances.”
“Perhaps they came in through the Library? If they have another exit, it would explain why they can’t be found.”
“If there were another entrance to the Library in Kheles, or all of Vospia, it would have been found long ago. This… group… is merely taking advantage of the chaos to hide in the Library, if they have not gotten themselves killed.”
“Of course, Librarian Oswald. That must be it.”
It was unclear to Errold if the patterns he was seeing were real or merely because he hadn’t slept. Patterns in how the arrangement of rooms shifted, not the patterns in front of his eyes. Those were definitely from not sleeping. But they had to stay alert. Nowhere was safe. Errold was honestly surprised that only a small handful of people seemed to be looking for them. Perhaps the rest had the good sense to stay out of the lower Library with things as they were.
But the patterns. If he was right, the whole library was on a giant, shifting grid. The change of rooms was becoming more frequent, and areas previously unknown to him appeared. Sometimes, there was nothingness. Perhaps that was the Bryrian section of the Library, the area that was cut off from the rest? If it was a shifting grid, then the original configuration was… Errold had dozens of sheets of paper in front of him, ink splattered over some of them due to his haste. The rows and columns, then, were shifting irregularly. Or rather, it wasn’t always the same number of rows and columns that moved.
The actual space did not fit together so neatly, and some rooms had fewer or more entrances. That threw him off with unpredictable results. In the current state of the library he had noticed that an opening might appear in a wall behind bookshelves, or it might not form at all.
Whoever was doing this clearly didn’t care about the safety of others. But… it was absolutely the work of someone. Not random. Most of the changes were focused on one ‘row’ and ‘column’, though with both shifting regularly that threw other rooms out of alignment. But in addition to just making the library appear unstable, there were real problems. The changes had to stop, but they couldn’t fight against whoever was doing this. They had to work, if not with them then alongside them.
The others had already slightly stabilized the local area, but the efficiency was lowered because of the constant shifting. More than that, it was difficult to work when the area around you constantly changed. But Errold had some plans, and now he just had to tell people about them in a way that didn’t sound crazy and sleep deprived.
Three figures stood in a steady but dim magic light, looking at runes on the wall. “Should I dispel it, Librarian Nielson?”
“I think not,” Nielson declared. “Any mistakes would destabilize the area. And, from what I can tell it seems to be causing no harm. There are unfamiliar runes… or rather, runes I don’t know the meaning of. Generally I see them in the older wards on the library, failing. But these are recent. Extremely. Either we’re dealing with another group here, or these apprentices have discovered long lost knowledge. I’m not sure which I’d prefer.” He held the light spell floating above his hand closer. “No reaction. Yes, we should leave it alone. It does not seem to be a trap. It may be tied to the library’s instability, but improperly removing it would certainly not be wise.”
“Very well,” the second other mage acknowledged. “I managed to detect magic in that direction. We should be able to reach it, if things don’t change…”
“But they will,” Librarian Nielson declared. “It’s certainly not over yet.” He sighed. “Lead onward, then. We should make haste. I do not enjoy finding myself in unexplored passageways.”
They moved quickly, but the man in the lead stopped abruptly two rooms later. He took a step back and quickly chanted a spell. A bolt of fire came out of his hands as a spider with leg stretching out to the size of his torso dangled down from the ceiling. The creature was struck directly, the strand of web it was hanging from quickly burning away and the creature itself catching on fire. It landed on its back, and though it made efforts to move it was unable to turn over then, finally, its legs folded up as it died.
“Fire. Really,” Librarian Nielson commented.
“It is the most straightforward attacking solution,” the mage defended himself. “I didn’t have anything prepared for delving into the library. And… there’s not that much to burn here anyway.” He looked around at the shelves of books, half empty to begin with and with many books crumbling to dust at a mere touch.
“A poor excuse. Do be careful with your aim. Now, how much further?”
“Not far. From here on, we should be stealthy.”
It was hard to be entirely unnoticed when you had to carry a light source along with your person. In the past, each section of the library had provided its own lighting- but most of that magic had faded over the centuries. They moved forward step by step, no longer speaking as they hoped to catch someone by surprise. The mage with the tracking spell was in the lead, and he stopped, holding a finger to his lips. He pointed to a figure in the next room, working under their own dim light. He held up his fingers, reducing them one by one. As he closed his fist, the group began chanting spells, as subtly as they could.
They wanted to capture at least one of the group. They started spells to bind and restrain while Librarian Nielson was responsible for dispeling primary defenses. His spell was completed first, runes streaking slightly behind the actual effect of the spell, before they latched onto the figure and devoured it. “Dammit! An illusion!” From a corridor to their left they felt a large amount of magic being gathered. It was easy to see the light from a spell gathering, forming a ball of fire. It grew and grew in size, slowly. Librarian Nielson had the mental acuity to throw up an additional defensive layer he rarely ever had to use. It could stop any spell he knew of, though the power he sensed was somewhat worrying. He placed down the shield just as the ball of fire flew towards them. The other two wizards dodged to the side to hide behind nearby shelves, but Nielson was confident in his shields. Until the spell connected, breaking through his shields as the hot fire washed over him. Except… that wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t hot so much as… warm. Like sitting in front of a cozy fireplace. More importantly, though the spell had gone through his extra defensive shield… it hadn’t damaged it at all. Another illusion.
“Agh!” one of the other wizards cried out. Nielsen felt his defenses unravel, along with a free-floating light spell- truly unravel, and not in an illusory fashion. There had been another spell launched nearly simultaneously… covering the man in water? An illusion or…?
Librarian Nielson turned towards where the final dispel must have come from. There was no light in that direction… and he was loathe to step into the unknown. No matter if he could overcome the apprentices with sheer power, they still had the advantages of number… and he’d wasted some of his spells. And with one mage now undefended… “Regroup! Back the way we came!” He was certain there had been no one in the preceding rooms. Not even an illusion appeared as they gathered themselves between a set of bookshelves out of the way of any possible setup by the thieving group of wizards.
Their short sprint had left them all breathing heavily, though Nielson somewhat more. He wasn’t exactly young. The youngest of them, however, seemed to be having trouble. He was soaked by water… and shivering greatly. “Dammit… those kids… I’ll kill them…”
Nielson shook his head, “Do you have another set of defensive spells? Because if you don’t, you’ll be the one to die. It doesn’t take much-” he was peeking out around the end of the shelves, his standard complement of defensive spells still quite intact. He sighed. “The room connections changed again. We should prioritize finding our way out. There’s no point in staying like this.” It irked him to even hint at a loss to a bunch of kids- plus two older mages- but the very fact that he was annoyed meant he should take the chance to calm himself down. Using magic while excessively emotional could result in unfortunate accidents- and accidents weren’t good for longevity.