Douglas winced as his shield was struck with a staff. It didn’t hurt, not really. However, it showed how weak it really was. Only a few hits would probably shatter his shields. That was a few hits he didn’t have to take… but he also had to consider what was hitting him. Librarian Reed was older and not terribly strong- but the strike was enhanced with magic to be ‘as strong as a normal man’. They would likely be attacking with something sharp, but testing his shields with something that wouldn’t kill him was a good starting point. Douglas held firm against the second blow, and the third shattered his shields and impacted his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. “You’re dead,” Librarian Reed declared.
He couldn’t argue with that. In fact, he couldn’t do much of anything for a few moments. Then his lungs started working again and his brain started thinking right. He scratched out a reply to Librarian Reed. “I could still cast a spell like that. I could learn.”
Librarian Reed nodded. “You could learn that. Or you could have stronger shields so you don’t get hit to begin with. Both would be good.” He reached out a hand to help up Douglas, which he accepted. “I would certainly prioritize the shield strength. However, casting in unfortunate circumstances is a useful skill to have. Since you don’t speak, that means any time your brain is functioning… but of course there are many sources of distraction. Worry, fear, pain, surprise… and if you haven’t fought much before you’ll run into all those and more.”
Douglas nodded. His mind had shut down in crisis before. When the soldiers came for his family, he didn’t act rationally at all, in the end causing his sister to get captured. Even when he’d tried to, he couldn’t even cast a light spell at that moment. He’d at least managed to cast his invisibility spell when being chased by Zachary and the others.
“It is possible attacks won’t come one after another and you will have time to ready yourself… but never count on that.” Librarian Reed shook his head, “If you misjudge something down below, you might find yourself facing off against a mass of magic all at once, and you’ll need to withstand it. For that… you’ll want to give a little more ground. Standing up to my swings is all well and good if you intend to throw me off balance and counterattack… but if you pull away you can reduce the force on yourself.”
Douglas nodded. That made sense… but he hadn’t exactly fought much. He’d ‘won’ a fight as a little kid, then been defeated by soldiers- if that could even be called a fight- and beyond that managed to avoid physical conflict for the most part. Well, Zachary and the other had hit him some. It wasn’t a fight, but he had sort of learned to pull away from a punch or elbow. He just hadn’t thought it applied to magic because… well, because magic was better so obviously he wouldn’t need to. As that puzzle piece fit into his head, everything made more sense. Magic was only better if he used it better. He nodded more, indicating he understood. Then he went to his ‘spellbook’ for his shield spell. The fundamentals pieces were right. He knew that as he studied the clothing. It was just he hadn’t put enough magic in the shield… and he hadn’t used his body right. He could do better.
Shields weren’t the only thing he worked on- though they were the most unpleasant. Offensive magic was the next subject. Librarian Reed was firm on what should be avoided. “No fire. But you already know that. At some point you will likely be attacked by large spiders.”
Large spiders? Was that all? Douglas took the chance to write, “That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“They’re incidental to the real danger, but you can’t just let them bite at your shields. That’s a waste of your energy. How do you think you should deal with them?”
Douglas thought for a few moments, then wrote, “Step on them?”
Librarian Reed shook his head. “That won’t do you much good. They’re likely larger than you imagine. They could be thirty to forty centimeters from end to end. Occasionally more. Tell me, do you think you could break a barrel by stomping on it?” Douglas shook his head, “Spiders have exoskeletons- you have likely not noticed them being particularly tough because they were so relatively small compared to you.” Librarian Reed thumped his staff on the ground, “If your arms are up to it, you can bash them with a staff. Maybe break a leg or two. Then they might retreat. Fortunately the big ones are fairly solitary. You could also use some other weapon- though that could weigh you down. You don’t do much more than carry about books… though you’re also not the least fit wizard I’ve seen either.” Douglas didn’t have anything to say to that. “We’ll work on a few things and see what you take to best. However, as I said, spiders aren’t the biggest problem down below. Rampant magic is. Your shields will protect you from accidentally triggered wards when we’re done, but those are generally a short and unintentional problem. Ghosts are something else entirely.”
Douglas had read about ghosts. A little bit. They weren’t actually the spirits of the dead- but then again it wasn’t exactly that different either. It was a sort of lingering will controlling magic. The difference was that a ghost could be formed when a wizard was still alive. It only required sufficient magical power and stressful circumstances. If a wizard died with enough power, they might form a ghost… but if there was enough atmospheric magic it could happen without them dying. In addition, there was no rule that said only a single ghost would form- there could be multiple incidents with a single wizard. Ghosts had no set form, but they might look like the wizard or perhaps someone they cared about- or were afraid of at the time. Generally, they would not last long without atmospheric magic to keep them formed… but that would certainly be the case down in the lower levels of the library.
Librarian Reed explained a few of those details to Douglas, since he didn’t know how much Douglas was aware of. “Because of their nature, a simple dispel can destroy a ghost… but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. The energy likes to hold together. It still requires sufficient force or technique. You should be able to sense them coming at a distance, so remain aware… and we’ll have you practice more dispelling. Then, once you’re ready, you can go back down to the lower levels- and actually venture further. Though we’ll want to keep track of Oswald. It would be best if you were unseen by him. In addition… before that… you’ll need to make a staff. After we determine what magic you’ll be needing it to support, you can carve it.”
Douglas knew he had a lot of work ahead of him… but if he wanted to explore down below, it was necessary. Besides, it would give him experience fighting- or at least defending himself- and he still had soldiers to take revenge on. He knew it was already too late to save his sister, but the war between Scoubar and Bryria was just near the beginning and he could perhaps do something. Not that he was eager to go off to war, but he couldn’t just ignore them either. It just took time to learn. Too many years.