While the large majority of Bryrian soldiers postured for an attack on Kheles and the Endless Library, smaller groups continued to find their way to manors owned by Librarians and any magely nobles. While a majority owned land in and around Kheles, they were also not limited to a single place of residence.
Vospia did not have a large standing army. What they did have was mainly stationed around Kheles, and the few weeks Bryria had been attacking didn’t allow for much time to raise more soldiers. Individual cities had the means to defend themselves somewhat, but the measured advance of the main army had enough momentum to secure their path along the way. There was still quite a way to go to reach Kheles, but that wasn’t ever actually the goal.
Wagons full of Vospian books and wealth were already being sent back to Bryria. Financially, it barely made up for the costs of raising an army. However, that didn’t count whatever value could be found in the books and other documents. More importantly, it reduced what Vospia had. They weren’t suddenly going to become unable to perform magic because some books were stolen, but even if it forced more wizards to remain in Kheles to study, it limited what they could do elsewhere. If nothing else, the rebuilding efforts would take time and attention, while Bryria was already fortifying the border… a border they would take much more seriously now. Vospia had been too lax with their defenses- though they couldn’t be expected to predict that their wards would be studied from a distance- and had assumed that Bryria wouldn’t dare to attack. They were still half right.
Lucy had found her way to a half-dozen manors, with very little time to rest in between. Just time spent traveling, which was hardly restful. Conflicts varied significantly, with some manors being better defended by troops and mages and others merely having a handful of guards quite willing to surrender to the few squads Lucy had under her command.
Currently they were inside a specific manor. “Yes, right there,” Lucy directed. “In front of the window.” Soldiers were rolling barrels into a library. Not barrels full of flammable liquids or anything valuable, but barrels of water. They stacked them up along the rear wall, in front of the window, along the outer edge of the library… it would have been better to have them start sooner, but she was quite busy setting things up. Now there was only one more piece to place.
“I have to say,” Captain Larsson commented, “I don’t understand what we’re doing here. Besides making it more inconvenient for them to move about the room. Why aren’t we burning it with the rest?”
“We are,” Lucy said. “Just not now.”
“I will believe you about that, despite all of the barrels of water. You’re the wizard. But why here? This isn’t that important looking of a manor.”
“It’s not important,” Lucy said. “Just personal. This belongs to the Hunnisetts, with whom my brother had some history.” Remembering to talk about Douglas like he was dead was sometimes difficult. “I had an opportunity to kill one of them during the last war, but found no body. One of their more influential members is acquainted with a Librarian. If we’re lucky… they’ll be here together. But I would not say it’s likely. The strategical importance of this is minimal.”
“That is why it is good that it is last,” Captain Larsson shrugged. “They’re just about done.”
The last barrel was placed in front of the door. Lucy finished carving runes into the door, then carefully shut it. “Now we don’t even think about going in. Everyone away.” They moved to the end of the hallway where she could just see the door. Words of magic flowed out of her as she spoke them into being, one at a time settling into the door, slipping inside. “That should do it.”
“I understand that the barrels are there to prevent them from sensing the magic,” Captain Larsson said as they moved outside. “Like dampening sound. I just don’t get how that won’t shield them from the explosion. Wouldn’t hiding behind a barrel full of water protect someone from a fireball?”
“Absolutely,” Lucy said. “Water can absorb a large amount of thermal energy, and would damp any shockwave. So it would help, unless it was the barrel exploding. Turning it into steam… requires the same amount of energy as just heating it with fire, with a step of conversion less. That’s why the barrels at the front are set to collapse first.” Lucy shook her head, “But if it all fails, we don’t lose much. Stolen barrels full of water and some magical materials we acquired here. I could guarantee it would work if I could replicate that one time Isabel made water explode. Though I’m not sure if that was actually more efficient.” It was certainly startling and with a surprising amount of residual fire as aftermath. Though any amount of fire from water was surprising. Flash-boiling water usually just resulted in scalded mages- if they weren’t cautious enough to have shields up all the time. That was something quite different.
“I will take your word for it, Senior Mage Lynwood. Any further orders?”
She shook her head. “No. Will we meet up with the main body of the army, and unless plans have changed we will be returning to Bryria.” Plans always changed. Just hopefully not too much.
Errold pressed himself against a bookshelf, almost holding his breath. Of course, if he actually held his breath he might run out and be unable to control his exhalations. Simply breathing shallowly and quietly was better. It had been hours since they fled into the lower part of the Endless Library, and they were still being searched for. Cautiously, but a librarian and two other older mages were far too close to stumbling onto the right area. Perhaps if things hadn’t kept changing, they would have already encountered some of the others.
The group was carefully examining the wall between two sections of the library. From what Errold could hear, they were considering whether it was safe. Errold had two answers for them, not that he would share them. The first answer was that it was entirely safe. The second answer was that it was extremely unsafe. As long as nobody was crossing at the time the rooms decided to be in different places, there would be no problem. Until the point the library collapsed. If one were on the threshold, however… that person would find themself in two places at once- which was not beneficial in the slightest. Half a person was at best barely functional, and the way most halves would come into play… would just result in a messy death.
“It seems stable, Librarian Nielson.”
“Yes. Like the others,” the Librarian shook his head. “That is what I find most worrying.”
“What do you mean?” the third present wizard asked.
“The Library seems to be about to fall apart at any point. I will admit that the magic that has held this place together over the centuries is quite impressive. Recently it has been declining, but… this doesn’t seem right.”
“I would rather expect the segments to connect at points that are not doors, if they were connecting randomly. Or to nothing at all. There are very few such cases.” Librarian Nielson shook his head. “Regardless, we shall make our way forward. There are still rats to catch.”
Errold almost breathed a sigh of relief as they continued forward. While that part of the library certainly seemed more habitable, as far as Errold was aware it didn’t connect to any of the places they were working. Not directly, at least. The one to his right was only three segments away, and if they had entered and looked down the right hallway they might have been able to make out some light, if the others didn’t notice them first. The group had decided on slightly different colored lights than the norm. It might make them more easily spotted, but they would hopefully be able to differentiate between each other as they approached. The Library at some point had lighting all throughout, but many of those spells had faded or been intentionally dismantled before they caused anomalies. Errold would have preferred to repair them, but that wasn’t how the policies had been for at least several decades.
He created a small light for himself after they were far out of sight, sheltering it with his body. He started making his way towards the others. He was worried about what Librarian Nielson said. If it wasn’t just falling apart… was someone manipulating the library? It shouldn’t be Douglas, though he was the only one Errold knew that stood a chance. Douglas had already cordoned off a section of the library, intentionally separating it.
Then again, it was the Endless Library. It wasn’t just local to Vospia. It extended throughout the world. Someone else might be trying to stabilize it, with unfortunate side effects in the local area of Vospia. It didn’t change their plans, but Errold wondered if they might end up fighting against other magic. Hopefully, they could complete their task regardless of the reasons for the instability. If it wasn’t just failing, it would be best not to fight too hard against the other changes, and instead work more on the local stability and power. That was their main goal regardless.