With the internals of the Endless Library now being still, the New Vospian Librarians were able to map out the surrounding area. Some new sections were interwoven among the area between their warehouse portal entrance and the exit to the upper library. Many of them were bare shelves but others were infested with magical verim. The area was no longer shifting but it was still on a path of degradation. They didn’t dare to continue reinforcing the area, however, because not only did they have to worry about the Vospian librarian, there was also the new threat. The ones to force the great shift in the library. Clearly the Vospians were concerned about them as well- or maybe their group- because they had fortified the entrance to the upper library. They didn’t have a chance to inspect it up close, but their inspections revealed that it was at least able to withstand the efforts of a few wizards long enough for some sort of response to be raised.
They had no particular interest in attempting to force their way into the upper library. While it did have most of the more useful books already there, they still had access to areas that hadn’t been fully cleared out. Now there were some new ones that kept them busy, transporting and cataloguing the books. Whatever organization system had once been in place hadn’t lasted through the centuries, though the lower library had apparently been stable enough to keep the books around. With the arrangement of rooms now being shifted, the chance of finding the same sorts of books in one area was skewed even more.
Not that they needed anything more at the moment. The New Vospian Librarians had enough books to keep them occupied for quite some time. However, they still had areas of insufficient information. Especially if they wanted to be able to support all sorts of wizards long term and not just their handful of people for the next couple of years.
Before they could even think about the next few years, however, they had to figure out who the new interlopers were. Neither Errold nor Julie had recognized the language they spoke, but Errold had no real chance to travel and the only ‘proper’ language for Julie to learn had been Vospian. Though of course she still picked up Bryrian because everyone spoke it. Vospian did have a few useful traits when talking about magic because it was easier to have precise language, though it was likely both languages had shifted enough that the ‘reason’ barely mattered now. Wizards mostly spoke Vospian because it was more difficult to learn and it separated them from the common folk.
Maynard had the best chance of identifying the language- at least he had travelled to some of the nearby countries. Getting him to hear the interlopers speaking without being discovered was a tricky proposition, because they seemed to be on alert as they moved around and didn’t make their movements obvious.
The current plan was to explore a bit further and try to find pieces of the library the interlopers had brought with them. Finding books in their language could avoid a direct confrontation, though they also didn’t want to get too close to whatever entrance they had. It would likely be well guarded, at least as much as the Vospian section.
The part that slowed down exploration the most was caution. Nobody wanted to trigger confused wards or run head first into a giant spider den. The local area around Vospia’s section had been fairly clear, but the library was extensive. Certainly not actually endless, but it had the name for a reason. If they went too far they might have to ‘camp out’ in the library. That would be a problem if they were actually close to their destination, because it left them stationary for a long time. They were able to travel further once they had safe paths to traverse, but the other problem was if they cleared too many obstacles they might reveal themselves. Similarly, going through sections cleared by the Librarians or interlopers risked encountering them along the path.
Even before the great shift, Errold hadn’t had the local area completely memorized. He’d been able to recognize the pattern of how rooms were shuffling around, but knowing approximately which rooms would have moved where only did good if he knew what either of the rooms had been before. An unknown room in area A and an unknown room in area B were equivalent.
However, he was also able to approximately identify where the section that had been shifted the most was, though it took some weeks. It took wracking his memory and honestly a bit of guesswork. Of course to get to it the easiest path was past the upper library. They had to take a more circuitous route and the longer they traveled the more random danger they might pass by. It was also just tiring, walking through dark, empty shelves watching for danger.
All of the New Vospian Librarians now kept a supply of water and food on them whenever they entered the Endless Library. Dried food of various sorts was pretty bland, but they’d be happy to have it if they needed it. Still, they tried never to go more than two hours before turning back, small groups alternating throughout the day and adding to each other’s progress.
Now it was Errold, Maynard, and Simon. Simon was good at utility spells which might need repeat casting, and his ability to rememorize them without pulling out his spellbook was quite useful. Maynard was quite capable in his own right, and would be useful if they overheard any of the interlopers speak. Errold himself was pretty decent at messing with wards, and had a good head for space magic and thus navigating them through unknown territory and back.
“I’d like to leave markers,” Errold said, “But any visible signs we leave behind could be dangerous.”
Maynard nodded, “I have to say, though I was somewhat bored with my life before becoming a wizard, I do want to have a life. Caution is quite appropriate.”
“I’m working on a spell I hope will help. It relies only on the caster and not markers to trace the way back where they came. I just need to streamline it so it’s more tolerable to cast.” Errold didn’t want to use the word ‘easier’, because while spatial magic was indeed difficult that wasn’t the main problem. All of the New Vospian Librarians had managed to perform equally difficult tasks, they just weren’t all suited for the right sort of thinking. The less it relied on spatial magic, the better. He also had another idea that was a memory boosting spell, and he had ideas for versions that would be used before they set out for the day or one that dredged up details that weren’t consciously remembered used when they wanted to return. He was being cautious with both because messing with minds was quite dangerous. But creating a path based on previous spatial coordinates of the caster was extremely cumbersome, and if done the wrong way also quite visible to people anywhere along that path.
He also toyed with the idea of creating a temporary path from wherever they ended up back close to home, but unlike what he did in the surface library the spatial coordinates were all jumbled up, so he’d have to diagnose where he was with magic and then hope he had the power or technique to open a temporary portal. If he was willing to use magic materials he could do better, but that would either involve ones that were consumable or they would be left behind. They had a limited supply, especially since they were avoiding too much ‘salvaging’ for the moment.
“Okay,” Errold took mental as well as physical notes on their path and the side rooms. If they could find the same room later in their path, they could have a shortcut. For that, they needed to track key details. State of shelves, any books, or occasionally other furniture. “We passed another reading room. It doesn’t seem to be related to the first.” Reading rooms were a new thing, had Vospia removed them from their section? There were some surprisingly empty sections, but he had half presumed whatever was in that area had disintegrated from age.
Speaking of age, the floorboards were pretty old in many places. Even though they were all magically enchanted, there was damage to many of them. He hadn’t run across that problem in the Vospian section, but he sort of wondered why he hadn’t thought of it earlier. Some of the floors were stone, but those also grew old and cracked, albeit at a much lower rate since the only thing to really disturb them was dust and vermin. No aging from temperature changes and weather. Underneath the floor was… nothing. At first that seemed extremely dangerous, but after some poking and prodding with bits of wood, it was only moderately dangerous. Space ended below the floor, making what was effectively a surface. Touching it was… safe enough. Not something Errold would rely on, but a more likely result than part of someone being erased was a twisted ankle from stepping in an unseen hole. He didn’t think the floor would collapse separately from the entire section, but he wouldn’t be chancing it. It was just unpleasant to step on nothing. It was a hard surface but with minimal feedback other than keeping them from passing through. There was no sound of boots scratching on a surface, just silence.
“This area looks more traversed,” Simon commented. “There are tracks in the dust.” With the recent shift in the library, thickness of dust could vary significantly in now-adjacent rooms, depending on how well the wards in a particular area had held. They avoided going in any sections with heavy dust, since they were theoretically heading towards the interlopers. Simon kept his voice low- and their lights were less bright than they could have made them as well. “People passed through here though. I have no idea how to tell if it was today or a month ago.”
“At least you notice such things,” Maynard said. He crouched down, “Prints aren’t clear enough, but they seem to have boots. Though I can’t say I ever practiced identifying shoes by their prints. I usually just have the shoe in hand.”
Errold nodded. “Well, at least that means progress. I wish it wasn’t dangerous to use extra magic. I’d like to just use a book-finding spell or something. We’ve mostly got empty shelves or Vospian works so far.” They set off cautiously into the next section, always watching out for lights ahead or to the side. As long as they could spot the interlopers’ lights first they would have the advantage, presuming the others didn’t have ways to see in the dark. The few groups they’d encountered had light spells, but that could also just be more practical. Nearly anything could be done with magic, if they had the knowledge.