It was good that they weren’t lost. It was entirely possible that they might never be able to return to where they came from if they truly became lost. It wasn’t as if they could just walk in one direction and hope to find something familiar- the tie between the way rooms were arranged and a standard coordinate plane was extremely loose in the current state of the library. Counting on getting lucky was a terrible idea so Simon, Errold, and Priscia had to follow the route they knew- which was currently towards the Scoubarran mage-hunters.
The group moved tensely, following Errold’s memory. They didn’t speak, because more sound might alert those ahead of them. They had considered using a silence spell, but then they might miss people coming up behind them or around corners. They could see the light ahead of them, a concerning fact that meant if any of the group ahead turned around their own light would be seen. Dim as they were keeping it, against stark blackness anything would stand out.
So far they kept the same path. That meant the Scoubarrans weren’t wandering randomly, but finding whatever traces they left behind. The fact that they stopped occasionally was a good sign, in that it meant their ability to pick up the traces wasn’t perfect. They didn’t seem to be using magic for it, or at least such magic was very subtle.
It was a concerning thought the Scoubarrans might follow whatever trail all the way back to the New Vospian Librarian’s base. Along the way there were rooms without dust or debris that would make the trail more difficult, but if they were determined they could search two or three rooms deep from wherever they lost the trail. They would surely be able to pick it up again given enough time.
The more immediate concern was in fact that they would give up too early. If they just turned around to head back they could spot the trio following behind. They had to slip past the group at some point, either when they started to return or preferably when they were exploring to pick up more tracks.
Errold kept the group well back. He had a good picture of the rooms directly on their route, but some of those connected to the route he was less certain of. If he brought the group forward to slip past when the mage-hunters had just stepped into an empty room, it could spell disaster. If they could just move past invisibly that wouldn’t be a problem, but they had a mage with them. The mage-hunters shouldn’t be able to sense magic use directly, though betting on anything would be dangerous. If it came down to a fight, they might be able to take down a Scoubarran prince together- but it would be a lot harder with a sword in their gut. Mage hunters had enchanted armor that negated magic, which made it pretty much impossible for the trio to defeat them. None of them had any martial training or even weapons and they didn’t have an advantage in numbers either.
They were close enough to pick up some sounds of the Scoubarrans talking. Sadly, none of them spoke the language. They could only use it as a way to keep track of their enemies position.
They stood in the dark, covering their light spells with their hands. Behind a wall, nobody would see it. Errold peeked his head around the corner, looking towards the lights ahead. The room directly in front of them was empty of enemies, but he could see light in the one following. That was what they needed. Some shelves got in the way of determining exact placements, but he thought they were mainly to the left.
When the light started to fade, he moved, gesturing to the others to follow him. Errold took a circuitous route through the room ahead so that they would never be entirely out of cover until the time they reached the door. Errold peeked his head once more, freezing as he saw one of the mage-hunters. The man’s helmet turned towards them. Then he continued to rotate as he did one last visual sweep of that area before stepping into the room after the others.
Errold’s mind was torn between using a silence spell to quiet their steps and not using magic. The latter won out, because it was likely that the gathering of power would be felt by the mage. Speaking the words of magic probably wouldn’t be too much of an issue compared to the sound of their feet on the hardwood floor, but they had to hope that the rooms had enough shelves to reduce how sound carried.
Errold grabbed Simon’s hand then let his light spell disperse after Simon grabbed one of Priscia’s hands. They were in darkness, but Errold felt his way along the wall. He didn’t remember any rough flooring, but he carefully moved his feet as well. The shape of the room in his mind matched up, as they had to circumvent a shelf just before the door. From that point, they could see into the room with the mage-hunters, the light of their lamps nearly reaching their feet as they slipped past.
As they entered the next room, Errold found he was holding his breath. He focused on letting it out very slowly, wary of alerting people with any large exhalation. They weren’t safe yet. He picked a path he thought was straight across the next room, but his outstretched arm told him he was either incorrect in his memory of the room or off target. He stumbled around for a moment before he found his way around. Each step of a boot behind him put him on edge, no matter how light it was.
His hand felt wall once more. Feeling left and right, he found he was off just to the left, the opening a half meter to the side. He trailed his fingers along it as they moved around to the left. He did his best to circumvent a bit of broken floor, but one of the two behind him stumbled. There was a sharp inhalation of breath from the other, but no yelling from the distance.
When Errold felt they were into the next room, he cast his only remaining light spell, brighter than they had been using but focusing it in front of him with his hands. “We need to move,” he whispered with as much emphasis as he could. The speed of their footsteps increased as he brought them through twisting rooms, broken and decaying. His stride was confident. Now that he could see, it was basically trivial. They had more light than usual, even. If they alerted anyone else to their presence they might be ruined, but they couldn’t slowly pick their way ahead. They had to gain ground.
They were almost running. It was good that all of them had been spending much time on their feet exploring, because to keep up that pace for over an hour was draining. But Errold led them ever onward, even moving through a few areas that they normally didn’t pass to save time- and hopefully confuse any trail they had. They passed through a run of a half-dozen rooms in good enough condition he didn’t think they could be tracked via dust or other disturbance- though they briefly stopped to clean the bottom of their boots once, just in case.
“I wish we had non-magical light,” Simon commented. “A trail of magic shouldn’t linger for long and would likely be confused by the background nature of the Library itself, but it would be nice to be able to completely forgo magic for a moment.”
The other two agreed, though nobody had enough breath to say much more on the subject at the moment. And then they were at their doorway. Sensing nobody watching, they stepped through into their little warehouse. They nearly collapsed onto the floor, but managed to make it to some tables nearby.
Harry Ellis was there, studying. Their sudden appearance concerned him. “What happened?”
It took a moment, but Priscia was the first to manage something. “Scoubarran mage-hunters. Or someone with the exact same aesthetic and the same enchantments.”
Harry swallowed nervously. “I don’t think there are any else. So that’s it, then. Scoubar. What do we do?”
Errold shook his head. “I don’t know. We can’t really do anything. Not to them. The wizards of the Library might not know who they are yet. Or they’ve kept it secret, to avoid panic.” He bit his lip. “We have to tell them. I know a route from their entrance to the Scoubarran territory. It will reveal something of us, but they have to prepare to fight.”
“I don’t think…” Priscia shook her head, “I don’t think we can stay. Scoubar… if they’re serious, they could send a whole army through the Library. Vospia can’t withstand that. Maybe they could match mage for mage, but the actual soldiers Scoubar has at its disposal, depending on the location of their entrance…” Her eyes grew distant. “We can’t stay here. The current Vospian magocracy has problems but Scoubar is so much worse. Vospia might have been preparing to fight Scoubar, eventually, with the idea that they would come through Dalgare and Bryria. This is… something else entirely.”
Right,” Harry said. “We need to gather everyone. This is important.”
Errold was already working on a large strip of parchment, beginning his map. He wasn’t sure what details to include, but at least most of the rooms had a pretty recognizable four directions of potential exits to follow. That might be enough. Though even if he had the map, he wasn’t sure who to give it to- and the full consequences that would arise. Errold managed to keep his voice somewhat even. “We have big decisions to make now. Things we weren’t really prepared for. I hope we can handle it.”