The likely danger of the interlopers didn’t stop the New Vospian Librarians from trying to investigate them. It merely meant they had to take it slower, more cautiously. Any time they might be close to dangerous territory they were careful to check for hidden wards, which were harder to detect when functioning properly than the malfunctioning pieces of the library.
One ‘comforting’ detail was that the interlopers didn’t seem to have noticed them. They seemed to be exploring very little after having found the entrance to the Vospian library. There was too much activity in the area to safely observe what was happening, but it didn’t seem like anything had erupted in battle yet. Even so, they could observe more wards being placed which made travel more difficult.
It was quite convenient that their current fastest route towards the interloper’s territory seemed quite circuitous. With the way that rooms were ‘adjacent’ to each other, one could continuously make left turns and still make progress in a specific direction. That was likely not how it was originally set up, but each segment of library wanted to fit next to something. It wasn’t just one big continuous space but many smaller pieces, so it wasn’t strange that they had shuffled around over the centuries even before it was actively messed with.
The current route passed through many formerly dangerous areas.
Giant spiders, despite the fear that might be associated with them, were relatively safe in a non-ambush situation. Magical defenses were still quite necessary, but as long as one had defenses that could resist getting pierced by their fangs once or twice and a decent offensive spell it was sufficient. In fact, a simple knife could replace offensive magic for some of their group. Stabbing a spider’s eye was much easier when it was large enough that its legs stretched out to more than a meter and a half wide. A spear would have been better, but those were harder to get without drawing suspicion. A quick bit of lightning to the eye would also usually be enough. In groups safety was more secure, as long as nobody foolishly walked face-first into their large webs. Unlike at a smaller scale, their webs weren’t hidden. Though the spiders mostly subsisted on the magic in the area.
The only thing the spiders could really eat were the bookworms. A surprisingly diverse group of insects that were for the most part not worms. For the most part they were silverfish and termites ranging from relatively normal in size to twenty centimeters in length. These too mostly subsisted off of the magic of the area. While they could feed off books and even the shelves in sections where the magic had faded, when a section was properly working they couldn’t even pass through. Same with the spiders, which was why they tended to be in isolated pockets. Usually one type or the other, since the spiders tended to wipe out the other vermin when they had the chance. While the silverfish and termites could be creepy, they weren’t dangerous to people. The only ‘bookworms’ that were actually worms were the larvae of some moths, and neither stage was dangerous. But they could certainly spook people.
The path was now clear of such creatures, and while that was something that might indicate their presence, they hoped their path wasn’t even being searched for. To be honest, they hadn’t even been completely certain it was leading to the right area until the last time they went through, to their furthest point. They’d spotted signs of areas they’d seen from other angles.
Errold was currently exploring with Simon and Priscia, the first able to quickly rememorize spells he had cast without stopping to open a spellbook, and the latter good at precise spells. Errold was responsible for finding their route, and most importantly doing so without the use of magic that would alert people to them.
They stood in an empty room. It seemed to have been intentionally cleared instead of ravaged by insects, because it was clean- and the floor was intact. Any termites that would have eaten the bookshelves would have been happy to chew on the floor as well. Instead, it was basically intact, with no holes through to the nothing below. The same with the walls.
“I think it’s truly empty,” Errold kept his voice low as he spoke, “I don’t sense any magic, or see anything that could be hiding wards. Either of you?” They both shook their heads. “Right then.” He stepped carefully forward. One good thing about the nothingness below the floorboards, they rarely ever creaked. Technically the floorboards were extraneous, but he could understand why the makers of the library wanted floors, walls, and a ceiling. Being in a room was much more comfortable than being in a void. Though they’d never come across a fully destroyed room, despite each part being made of wood that could rot or get eaten. Perhaps those rooms simply couldn’t remain attached, though not every individual room had its own magical formations to make it a part of the whole library.
One of the exits led somewhere familiar, though from a different angle. Errold was getting good at turning rooms in his head and postulating what they might look like- shelves were arranged differently in many areas, sometimes blocking the middle or sometimes leaving clear paths to the typical four doorways to a section. Perhaps it was to break up the monotony but either way it was one of the things that made the space somewhat navigable, like landmarks in a barren countryside.
Simon held up a hand, pointing to the border of the doorways between the sections. Even though they were looking specifically for magic, there was only a faint glow at best. Their intentionally dim light spells barely touched the runes. Simon leaned slightly closer to try to get a better angle to see the wards. He held out his hand, careful to not get the magic itself too close. As the wards were lit up by his spell, he saw the dim, nearly inactive magic suddenly spring into action.
A wave of magic poured through the doorway at the three of them, the brunt of it hitting Simon. The magic clung to his shields like a swarm of ants, clinging and biting and digging. His light winked out of existence first, as the dispelling effect ate into its structural integrity. They were plunged into extremely dim light as Priscia barely managed to hold on to her own spell, a patch of light barely enough to see her hand ‘holding’ it.
“We have to go!” she said. The light started moving, and Errold and Simon followed after, glad that the floor was smooth.
Simon felt the magic on his shields, devouring it. He didn’t want to give up, but he wasn’t sure what the magic might do if it broke through. Probably nothing, if it was any sort of dispelling magic, but he had to wrestled with his shields to push the crawling magic away and then bent his shields around it, tossing it back towards the trap.
The light grew slightly as Priscia poured more magic into her spell to stabilize it. It wouldn’t be as good as starting with a new spell, but they didn’t have the precious seconds that would take. If they cast new magic and any wizards were nearby they could be in serious trouble.
“This way!” Errold’s voice came from right next to Priscia’s light as he grabbed her wrist, pulling the light along. The light moved almost erratically as they half-ran, twisting and turning. “Now put it out!”
Then they were in the dark. Simon calmed himself down by memorizing another copy of his light spell. That was the best thing to do if he had to cast it anyway, because as it turned out memorizing a spell from a book in the pitch black was… pretty impossible. They might be able to improvise some form of light spell, but that was for another time.
Three figures breathed in the dark, none of them speaking. In addition to their own breaths they heard the sound of feet. Heavy boots, and more than one person. But not as much feeling of magic as they expected.
A hand gently bumped into Simon. “Wrist, please,” Errold said nearly silently. Simon moved his wrist to Errold’s hand, and they grasped onto each other. Then Errold began pulling them very slowly further.
Nobody said anything. Asking what he was doing was pointless- he thought going wherever they were would be helpful. Each of them shuffled their feet as quietly as possible as they moved. The sound of the interlopers was almost deafening in the quiet.
Light came into view first. Then a lantern, with a barely visible hand carrying it. Simon was yanked back, something scraping along his back and blocking his vision as he saw black armor. He swallowed, doing his best not to make too much noise.
Heavy boots stomped. How long did it take the group to pass? Minutes? Hours? Days? An eternity, but likely only a minute. Breaths were released, one at a time. All three of them breathed heavily. “Did you see anything?” Priscia asked.
It took Simon a moment to realize he was the one being asked. “I-” he wasn’t quite sure. Not about what he saw, but if he wanted to say it. “A lantern. And black armor.”
Simon was newest to the world of magic- though Priscia wasn’t able to learn, she would hear about it. Even so, all of them were quite aware what that meant. The mage-hunters of Scoubar had only been a country away- half a country, even, at their closest. The armies had been more of a concern to Simon at the time, but he still knew what the black armored soldiers meant.
There couldn’t have been a worse group. Scoubar. “How do we get out?” Priscia asked.
“Is it safe to make a light?” Simon asked.
“Should be,” Errold said. Simon did so. They were wedged behind a bookshelf in a corner. Errold looked around, peeking his head out, then nodded grimly. “Well. We’re where I thought we were. Which means out is… that way.” Simon followed his finger, hoping it might go anywhere but where it did. The same direction as the mage hunter. Or hunters, maybe, with all those heavy footsteps. At least one mage as well.