Their slow and cautious advance through the Endless Library proved justified when they came across a magical formation in their path. A ward that would detect them if they crossed it- and a new one- not an old, fading jumble of unrestrained magical power. They had to be getting close to the interloper’s territory. There were no visible guards, so this was likely an early warning trap.
The small group of New Vospian Librarians studied the formation in near silence. It was well put together, though a majority of its value lay in that it was hidden. A still, undefended ward was just the same as any unwatched structure. It could be dismantled with time and effort- though a ward improperly dismantled might relay information elsewhere.
They copied down the magical formation, and Errold made sure to note what the rooms beyond that area looked like, as far as he could see without getting too close and activating the formation. Then he, Simon, and Maynard silently retreated to a safer distance, discussing what they’d seen quietly as they began to return to their base.
“They’re definitely concerned about other people,” Simon said.
Maynard shook his head, “No way to tell what their intentions are. One could presume the worst, but caution isn’t uncalled for. Though as for why they would rearrange the library, that’s a more difficult question if they have no malicious intent. They should have known it would cause others trouble.”
Errold shook his head, “I also don’t believe their intentions are peaceful. But we have to avoid conflicts anyway. What would we even do?”
To that, there was no response. Seven wizards with various levels of proficiency wasn’t much of an army. Even if they’d gotten lucky with a single heist, that didn’t mean they could outdo the majority of Vospia’s wizards in any significant way.
Looking for other entrances into the interloper’s territory was not going to be quick. It was far enough away that merely walking there took some time, and they had to return ‘home’ at the end of the day. Frankly, spending so long in the near dark not doing much in the way of anything productive was very draining for everyone. They didn’t want to give up, but Errold decided to cut back to one or two days per week. Even in the lower library there were better things to do, areas with books to be found that shouldn’t alert anyone to their presence if they took them away.
There was also the matter of recruiting more people. It was difficult because they were generally being watched out for, though not actively hunted. They were looking for more of the same sorts of people they had already: those who had the potential for magic but who hadn’t gotten the opportunity to learn, those who were students that didn’t like the way things were set up, and theoretically women from magical families. The latter were actually basically the same as the first group, but more easily identifiable. It was possible there were some more established magical families or young men from those families that would be sympathetic to their cause, but the risk was quite high that they would simply turn them in.
Priscia and Julie were debating who they might contact. “… no, she’s too flighty.” Priscia shook her head, “Maybe Jessica?”
“A general discontent with life doesn’t necessarily mean she would be willing to risk a life of comfort to learn magic. I think we’d have better luck with my cousins. They’re quite far outside Kheles, though.”
“Maybe that would be better. Though perhaps someone would be expecting you to try?”
Julie made a face. “I hate having to guess whether or not I’m being taken seriously.”
“Probably better than just being considered as a way to continue some other family’s bloodline.” Priscia sighed, “Though I do miss having a nice bed.”
“We could just leave. Go somewhere more friendly.”
“Go somewhere we don’t speak the language, or somewhere that just invaded Vospia?”
Julie shrugged, “Errold mentioned that he learned a lot from a Bryrian wizard.”
“Sure, but we can’t be sure they won’t kill us instead of listening to what we want to say.”
“Stupid old farts. I’m glad the invasion of Bryria failed.”
“Seriously. Just because they felt like they might be challenged. Did you hear what happened in the Bryrian counterattack?”
“They looted some manors, right? Good, they deserved it.” Julie paused for a moment, “Do you think the interlopers are Bryrian?”
“They certainly weren’t speaking Bryrian. And it seems they didn’t have an entrance to the library? We’d have to ask Errold about that.” Priscia pressed her finger to her lips. “He definitely knows more.”
“It was a silly thought anyway. No way they could do that and travel with the army, right? Though I heard that they barely fought at all. Just chased everyone into Kheles and turned to leave.”
“Right, back to the counter-invasion.” Priscia said, “I’ve been listening for rumors where I could. They’re trying to keep it quiet, but a couple important people got injured by a trap in their home. I heard one was Zachary’s uncle.”
“Wish I could have seen it,” Julie responded. “He deserved it.”
“One of the others was one of the old librarians. It might have been Oswald, who almost caught us.”
“I wish we could celebrate instead of just staying cooped up here.”
“We should bring that up. Especially the Bryria thing. I’m feeling less and less safe here.”
The New Vospian Librarians had already discussed possibly going to Bryria. However, it hadn’t been a straightforward rejection of the plan. It was more of a question of whether they could get there safely, and now whether they would be safe if they got there. Errold had some information from how things had been before, but it was impossible to say what factional changes had happened there in the time since.
“Before the interlopers and the shift in the library,” Errold said, “We were hoping that our little heist would set us up to keep exploring the Endless Library. Now there’s more nearby to explore, but more danger. We are also in worse positions because of how things happened.” Errold shook his head. “I grew up dreaming of the Endless Library, and while I have to admit it’s less glorious than I pictured it was actually more magical, just in ways I didn’t expect. So much to learn…” he shook his head, “But it’s not safe. We’re wanted criminals poking our noses into the lair of the most powerful wizards in the country, and there’s another faction involved as well. I’d like to stay here, but I’m not sure if it would do any good. But I can’t bet on things going well. Even if all of you wish to stay too- and I wouldn’t be upset if you didn’t- we might need an escape plan. A serious one, and not just a vague idea.”
Maynard nodded, “There’s a lot to do. Plan a route, determine how much it would cost to travel. That depends on where we’d want to go.”
“Just getting out of the city might be a problem,” Kevin said. “They have some of our faces plastered around. We can use magic to change our appearance, but most of us wouldn’t stand up to detailed inspection.”
“They also have mages at the gates right now,” Julie said. “If we have time I’m certain we could do it, but if we were suddenly in a hurry…”
“Plus,” Harry Ellis pointed out, “Much of the reason for staying around here was to try to preserve magical knowledge.” He gestured to the part of the warehouse that was filling up with books, “We have a decent collection, but can we even bring it all with us? Should we?”
“Yes to both, I think,” Errold answered. “Though I’ll have to put together more magical bags. The trick kind that can ‘turn off’ and appear normal.”
Everything else could be managed later, but if they failed to get out of the city they would be in a whole heap of trouble. In the worst case scenario, they could sleep in abandoned buildings or tents and steal supplies they needed. Not preferable, but they needed to get out of the city first. Getting out of the city one at a time was possible, so if they weren’t in a hurry it wouldn’t be an issue. While their disguises might not be exceptional, they wouldn’t need to be tested if they just walked out. Kheles was no longer on lockdown, so if there was nothing suspicious they wouldn’t be stopped while they walked out of the city. They were more skilled at hiding their uses of magic than replacing their face with a detailed new one, since they used the same techniques for other magic regularly. That meant casual inspection by a wizard wouldn’t reveal anything, probably.
Errold stood invisibly across the way from the gates, out of the path of traffic. The worst case scenario would be if they were in a hurry and the gates were closed. Maybe they would be running from the Librarians. For that, they needed to break through the gates. But none of them were strong enough for that. The gates were made to withstand sieges by a small army of wizards, after all. Seven was a very small army, and none of them were good at combat magic.
But thinking they had to break it down was the wrong problem. It just had to open. Turning the mechanisms would be tough from down below, since the entire gatehouse was also warded by magic. That was why he was taking the time to study the gates. As usual, all of the runes were on the inside of the gate. They had to be somewhere and having them further from what they were supposed to support would make the magic weaker.
What he was going to do with knowledge of the wards was yet unclear. The gates were still large, durable, and guarded by at minimum a handful of guards. But with the experiences from the heist, having proper back up plans seemed to be essential. Some people were also scoping out the sewers as a possible exit. Everyone hated that idea, but if it was necessary… that was just how things were. Hopefully, they were being overly cautious. Better that than getting themselves killed.