”They Who Live In The Dark, on the one hundred seventeenth shelf of the fifth floor.” The book was set in its place, and the wheels of the cart creaked loudly, screaming for oil as they were pushed on the wooden floor. ”The Fox and the Carpenter, and Other Stories, on the one hundred twenty-first shelf of the fifth floor. Folklore and Fact, on the one hundred twenty-second shelf of the fifth floor.” The man sighed, and kept pushing the smallish iron frame of the cart while it hummed its worksong. He didn’t expect it to last very long, but he had the same perspective on his stay at this Castle and that was proven wrong. In the meantime, he had the work in the library, which wasn’t what he wanted most, although for now it had to do. He had always hated the office work, that’s why he always took archaeological and exploration expeditions whenever possible. ”But now you’re too old for that, aren’t you?”
“-He may have been beaten, but he’s obviously still here.”
“That’d make sense but there has to be places he can’t reach. When I asked, he confirmed he could only reach the time gem because I had brought it out of the temple, and it wasn’t the gem itself interfering with his power since he moved it right out of my hands…Mir, how would you like to go exploring a temple with me? Once its safe to leave that is.”
Plinny raised his head at the excerpt of conversation he had caught. Halting suddenly, he entered in the corridor between shelves one hundred twenty-two and one hundred twenty-three, and turned right. Walled by bookcases positioned as a square around a table, there stood one of the many reading “chambers” set randomly around the whole library. In the corner, Plinny noticed someone leaving, but didn’t arrive in time to see anything more than a blur. Still, someone stood reading at the table. “G-Good afternoon, mister. May I be of help?”
The other man eyed him warily. “Are you librarians finally free to help? I mean sure there was the whole earthquake and everything but I can’t imagine the Loremaster needed the help of all of you”
“All of us? All of us weren’t enough to help. We had people from outside the guild to help.” Plinny walked closer, leaning on the cart for support. “Most of the mages in the guild are but apprentices, with the exception of the Loremaster herself.” And he thought: ”You aren’t an apprentice, but you are old. You are as good as them, old man.”
The big man raised an eyebrow at this. “And all of you librarians are mages, there is not a single one of you that isn’t?” He crossed his arms over his chest. “I find that incredibly hard to believe.”
Plinny smiled under his beard. “With that madwoman in charge, you either learn something to protect yourself or you get some shot at you with her experiments.”
“Um….right. Look I have to get going soon, can you check out some of these books for me?”
“Sure I can.” He said, letting the cart in its place and walking towards the table to pick up the books. Suddenly, Plinny lost his balance, and then took one hand to his waist and another to the table. “S-Sorry.” He said, trying to hide the embarrassment in his voice. “Ever since that shielding spell I haven’t been on my best health.” A wooden cane appeared from within his robes, and he used it to support himself as he approached the table and, one by one, put the books on the cart.
“Obviously. Not that I can say I’m surprised. I’m no mage myself but that shield looks like it takes up a whole lot of power to maintain.”
“And yet you don’t believe the Loremaster needed the help of all of us.” This time, his smile could be seen behind his beard. “Ah, I apologize. I guess I’m turning into a cranky old man, aren’t I?”
“I also didn’t know all of you were mages before now,” the man pointed out. “So, no I thought there’d be some non-mage librarian free.”
“Didn’t you hear? That woman was taking non-mages as well because they could give out life force. Now that’s life-threatening.”
He shrugged. “Look I don’t even work for her and I know she hasn’t got her head on straight all the time. You sound positively surprised.”
“Surprised? I’m surprised people let that homicidal maniac run this guild.”
“Hey now! Homicide implies intent to kill.”
“Do you have any doubts about that?”
“No doubts. I’m merely saying I’m quite sure she has no plans to kill anyone on purpose.”
“Then you’re the optimist one here.” Plinny put the last book on the cart, or better, second-to-last book. “Are you still going to read that one?”
“They’re all necessary research. Can’t go into a fight against this new guy without plenty of information.”
“Yes, but you can’t take them all with you. If you want to take that one, just tell me and I’ll… Take you to someone willing to fill the paperwork.” Plinny looked to his sides, and then leaned towards the big man. “I overheard you talking about exploring a temple too. What exactly do you have in mind?”
“Look don’t worry about the paperwork, if Lori asks after the books just tell her Marcus talked you into it, she’ll come after me personally and you’ll be fine. Now as to the temple…” Marcus shifted his weight uneasily. “You know, its probably nothing that interesting. Its partially burned out, probably nothing there.”
“Well, I’ve done plenty of archaeological and exploration in my time, I could be of help. As long as you don’t want me to fight that is. I used to be able to at least handle myself, but nowadays I can… Barely walk.” Sadness escaped into his voice as he said that, and the bearded man also raised his walking cane for Marcus to see.
Marcus rubbed the back of his head. “Well you can come if you want but I’m not gonna lie and pretend it’ll be anything resembling safe. Hell the damn place might just collapse on us.”
“Last time an ancient building collapsed on me I ended up here. Which is to say, better than being dead, that crazy woman standing out.” He hit the floor with his cane, and turned to push the cart away. “But anyhow, I’m glad you accepted me into your venture. It’ll be nice if I can be of help, and not drag you behind.” He hit the wooden floor again, the solid thump resonating on the walls of the fake chamber. “Just tell me when you’ll go to the temple and I’ll be there.”
(Timelime note: Takes place before Quest 63)
Mirae rushed down the stairs into the tavern’s common room, hastily sidestepping one of the patrons at the bottom. As she did so, she knocked into a table, sending a block of wood toppling to the ground. “Sorry,” she said, briefly glancing at the woman on the other side of the table before picking up the block. It was a rough carving of some sort, a strange fish with a round head on its abnormally long neck. She took a final look at its stub of a tail before placing it back on the table and moving on.
Just outside, she let the door close behind her and walked a short ways along the street. Every so often, she would pause to scan up and down the road. She spotted a familiar blond head and ran over. “Hey, Marcus.”
The warrior turned and greeted her with a quick kiss. “Hello there Mir. How are you doing today?”
“Stuck in the bottom of a giant bowl of a castle,” she said, kissing him back. “Yourself?”
“Not as hung up as you are about the whole bowl thing,” he replied with amusement. “Besides it’s not really a bowl. If one were to theoretically pour enough water to fill up this ‘bowl’ of your’s it would leak out because there’d be nothing to hold it in.” Marcus took a moment to stretch. “Besides what are you complaining about? You love exploring the castle, what difference does it’s shape make?”
“None at all.” Mirae grinned. “Other than the arguments you try to make about it. What if it’s a bowl full of holes, then?”
“Ah, but its not is it? Holes imply separate openings. Form what you told me the castle is just a big spiral now.”
“And you’ve never made a bowl out of one big spiral of clay?”
“I was never a potter. What about you?”
“Not me,” she said, stretching her arms above her head. “I watched a potter make one like that once, though. I think he was a potter, anyway.”
Marcus rolled his eyes at that. “I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this question but have you ever considered stopping and asking people if they actually do something for a living or just as a hobby?”
Mirae shrugged. “You could turn one into the other easily enough. So he might have been a potter once and had to move on.”
“So that’d be a ‘no’ then?”
“Well, I’ve never asked you, have I?” she replied, smiling broadly.
He rolled his eyes again before reaching over and taking her hand in his. “Getting a straight answer with you is like pulling teeth, you know that?”
Mirae squeezed his hand. “So, we’re off?”
“Not quite yet, I ran into this old librarian who wanted to come along.”
She blinked in surprise. “That’s… odd. Do you know him?”
“Not really but he has experience with these kind of places from what he told me.” He looked off to one side. “I also may not have had the heart to turn him down.”
She frowned as he started to speak, but jerked her head sharply soon after. “Of course you didn’t,” she said, laughing softly. “I’m just being… I don’t know, paranoid.”
Marcus smiled sadly at her before enveloping the tiny mage in a hug. “Hey, I promised I’d protect you didn’t I?”
“Mmph,” she said, mouth muffled by his shirt. Tilting her head back so she could speak, she continued, “I know. And you’re probably right about him.”
“And if I’m wrong it probably won’t turn out too badly.”
“Heh. Well, whatever happens, we can handle it.”
“Alright then.” He released his hold on her and stepped back. “Shall we go meet the man milady?” the soldier teased.
Mirae dropped a fake curtsey and looked up at him, corner of her mouth quirked in a smile. “You lead the way. Or I’d just find the nearest librarian and have done with it.”
“So, which way is it?”
“Once we get outside the city, it’s a ways into the forest.” Mirae jerked her head in the vague direction of the city gates. She kept her pace a couple of steps behind the old man, which was easy seeing as he slowly staggered as he walked, not using his walking cane.
“Well, then, shouldn’t one of you lead then?” Plinny smiled under his beard, glad he finally found an enjoyable distraction from the work at the Library.
Marcus shrugged as he replied. “Don’t let it bother you too much I’ll take point once we get out into the woods. Mir will keep bringing up the rear so she can zap anything that tries to jump us.”
She grinned and dropped her gaze to her left hand. A small pool of light formed in it, and began to ripple as she tried to shape it into a ball.
The bearded man nodded silently. “Ah yes, lightning magic. It flows through matter not unlike magic energy itself. Some scholars theorize electricity is the same kind of energy that powers any other kind of magic, albeit on a... Weaker scale. Or even that electricity is but one shade of the spectrum of magic energy.”
Mirae glanced up. “Wouldn’t lightning magic just be magic energy, though? Just some other form of it?” She looked at the librarian consideringly.
“Indeed, as I just said, that’s what some scholars theorize.” He turned behind to face both of them. “There are many, many theories on this topic. Maybe you could spend your whole life reading them and you’d still have more to read.” Plinny gave a light chuckle. “Understanding how it works and searching for practical uses are a more useful way to spend one’s time. Not that I’m saying you should read at least a few of those theories but… For the average magic user they don’t matter much, or do they matter for you?”
“I just meant like healing was a form of it as well.” She shrugged. “I didn’t know there were magic scholars. At least, none that spends much time on it. I can use magic without theory.”
“The first magic scholars were the most powerful archmages, looking for means to get even stronger. Nowadays, most magic scholars focus on the theoretical part of magic, but of course they at least know a few tricks. You don’t need the theory, but it can make you stronger without the need to use raw force.” He stood quiet for a moment. “Just like about everything else.” Smiling, he adjusted the glasses on his face.
Mirae tipped her head, thinking. She started to walk forward again in silence. Plinny too, followed quietly.
“Well,” Marcus interjected. “That’s all very...very….yeah, I’ve got no idea what you guys are going on about.”
Plinny chuckled in response, again. “Magic theory is indeed very complicated, even more when resumed to a single paragraph. Of course, you can always start on the subject not knowing anything about it.”
Marcus chuckled. “It isn’t that I know nothing about it. Just nearly nothing about it. Here’s the extent of my knowledge about magic: Mirae can call up lightning, somehow.”
“Well, it all starts...” He glanced over at Marcus. “I suppose that even if you wished to learn more, this wouldn’t be the best time, would it?”
Marcus shrugged. “We have a bit of a hike through the forest to get to the temple. I can think of worse ways to spend my time.”
“Well, it’s generally accepted in the academic circles that the manipulation of arcane energies begin at the very soul or core of a being, regardless of the definition you choose to use as explanation for ‘soul’.” Plinny started, and went on.
“Right, here it is,” Marcus declared as he walked up the steps to the burnt out temple. “Home, sweet hideout in its trashed glory.”
“... How did the fire spread so much if the temple is made out of stone?” Asked Plinny, talking his walking cane from within his Loremaster’s robes.
“Zi, our fire mage was having a little bit of trouble with her mental health then if I’m not mistaken. She’s much better now but she pulled a number on the temple before recovering.” Marcus explained pulling out a torch from his bag. “Mir, if you please?” He asked, holding out the tip towards her.
“Sure.” A spark jumped across the end of the wood, and it lit. Mirae stepped up to the remains of the doorway. “We can probably just give most of these rooms a quick look. There were enough people in and out before that not much would have been missed.”
The big man nodded. “Yea, you’re right. More than anything else we’re looking for something we missed.”
“Don’t be so sure of it. Too many people in an ancient place like this and they tend to change it to their whims, eventually overlooking anything that doesn’t matter to them, ergo most of the original details. Probably small details, but who knows?” While the bearded man said that, he quickly produced a seemingly wooden stick from a pocket inside his uniform, and it lit up as fast as he took it from inside the robe. The light didn’t burn nor shine as strong as a torch, rather it simply emanated a purple-tinted white glow. “You said people actually lived here recently, so we shouldn’t have to bother with any traps, is that correct?”
Mirae nodded. “They should have tripped all the closest ones, or disarmed them.”
“Very well.” Plinny stood still for a second, and then, raising his hand, he motioned his open palm towards the entrance of the temple once. “Hmm…” Afterwards, he entered the temple, walking slowly and close to one of the walls. He used the light from the stick to illuminate small sections of the walls and floors, looking at them carefully. Finally, Plinny found a trap embedded in the wall. “This trap… There’s less wearing in the carving in the stone to set up this trap than in the carving used to build the temple itself. Someone booby trapped this place after it was built.”
Marcus walked over and examined the indicated spot. “Now that is odd. I checked out one of the traps Anj had already disabled in here. A set of spears that came out of the wall if you stepped on a pressure plate. They sure as hell didn’t add that after the temple was built.”
“I didn’t mean to imply your group set up the traps. I meant to say that, between the building of the temple, and you inhabiting it, someone set up the traps. They are old, but they still are newer than the temple itself. That’s not totally uncommon - A society builds a temple for any reason, and if it still stands after the society fade away, another one might find it and attribute another use for it.”
“Whoever did it, they decided that the traps that were already here weren’t enough. It could have been someone who had already beaten their way past,” Mirae said.
“Now that is the question.” Plinny resumed analysis the entirety of this one trap. “Say, if you built a religious temple, would you booby trap it? Probably not if it is meant for cults or for honoring a deity. What I mean is that all of the traps could have been added by the same person or group, and if someone had the work to built traps into a place not built to receive them, they surely must have had a reason for it.”
“You’re over thinking it,” Marcus interjected. “Traps are only built for one reason: To protect something. What they protect can change but they’re meant kill the enemy or at least thin the numbers.”
“And that’s absolutely right. This temple is probably much safer than the forest around, and it’s also already here, so they wouldn’t need to build anything, just adapt it.” The bearded man stepped forwards, waiting for the main light source to move on. “But what is it keeping inside, and why do outsiders want it,” He turned to look over at Marcus and Mirae. “Those are the real questions.”
“If you already know what the question is, why are you waiting here?” Mirae asked. “Let’s go find it.”
“Because I can try to understand the meaning behind the carvings and the secrets behind the masonry, but if I can’t watch where I’m going them what’s the use of that?” Under the shifting light of the flame, Plinny smiled a little.
While he spoke, Mirae stepped up to Marcus and put a hand on his arm, facing away from Plinny so that the librarian wouldn’t hear. “I guess you were right. He seems like he knows what he’s doing. But he also seems like he could spend the rest of the year in just this room. Should we keep moving, see what he can tell while walking?”
Marcus grinned back at her. “Well I did have to be right eventually. But yes, we do need to keep moving. We won’t learn anything if we spend all our time standing in the doorway.” Speaking up loud enough for the old man to hear he spoke. “Okay let’s keep moving. I appreciate the info but we need to go further in if we’re gonna learn more about this place.”
And with that, they continued, albeit as Plinny took his time to rapidly study the carvings and the masonry of the temple, they moved slower than they’d have without him. They passed through several rooms without much comment, beyond the occasional exclamation from Plinny, carefully navigating the broken stone. As the outer rooms were cleared, they inched their way towards the temple’s center.
The chamber was rectangular, and was the largest room they had found in the temple so far. It had multiple corridors connecting it to all the other rooms. Plinny wandered to roughly the center of one of the wider walls, and after a few minutes, wandered over the other one. “Just like I thought. Well, as a resume from everything I gathered from the temple, it seems the walls are decorated with carvings detailing mostly information about the temple itself. I assumed someone used this as… A library, for example. Maybe with stone tablets instead of books, who knows? But of course, that means there isn’t much ornamentations in the temple’s stonework. Sans those little details I mentioned, I suppose they are there for thematic purposes, that is, the temple holding the information about itself, in a meta way.” The Loreknight took his free hand to the wall, and gently felt the cold surface of the stone. “There even used to have a map of the temple itself in here, I believe. I can feel the worn out carvings, but if there was anything else remaining in it that we could possibly see, the fire burned away.”
Marcus held up the torch to the wall hoping to catch a glimpse of the carvings the librarian was talking about. It was no use. “Oh well, looks like we’ll just have the head further in and hope that there’s another one of these maps.”
“I fear that we have been in all the chambers of this temple. Unless there’s a secret room in here, in which case we’d have to look for it.”
Marcus paused for a moment rubbing his hand over his eyes. Then he paused suddenly. “I have an idea but I need you two to give me as much light as you possibly can.” Mirae closed her eyes and started glowing, the light misting out above her skin. Plinny took a few crystals from within his robe, and quickly they started to illuminate the room.
Deciding that he had enough light Marcus closed his left eye and began scanning the room with his crystal eye. It took several minute but eventually he found an odd looking line in the wall. The warrior walked over to the wall and pulled out a dagger, jamming the tip into the small crevice he began leveraging the hidden door open. “Okay lightbugs, you can stop glowing and come help me now.”
Plinny deactivated the crystals and put them again inside on of the many pockets of his vest. “There’s… There’s something there behind that.”
Marcus nodded as he began sliding the door further open. “Well I certainly hope someone didn’t put a hidden door here just to mess with people”
The bearded man raised his open hand once again, and motioned it towards the hidden door. This time, the magic pulse was slightly stronger, and would be faintly visible weren’t the flame light. “No… Certainly not that. There’s a magic sink there.” He moved closer to Marcus and tried to help him move the door, though he didn’t add much strenght to the task. “Lady, would you be so kind as to produce some magic energy and project it towards whatever is behind this door when it’s open?”
“Here,” Mirae said, slipping past Plinny so that she could help shift the stone. It moved slightly faster. Once a gap had opened, she stepped away, getting a clear line into the space beyond. Glancing once at the librarian, she shot a bolt of lightning into the hidden room.
“Yes, just as I expected,” He peeked into the hidden room. “A magic sink.” He stared at it silently for a moment, taking his time to understand what he was seeing. “But not any magic sink. It… It is… I… This magic sink… It… I’ve never seen something like this. I mean, I’ve seen magic sinks before, but this one… It’s a masterwork. It seems to be expansive, I didn’t even know magic sinks could behave like that.” Astonished, Plinny gazed back at Marcus and Mirae. “I… Believe I should start with the basic: are you aware of what a magic sink is?”
“Not a clue,” Mirae said, shaking her head.
Not waiting for Marcus’ response, the Loreknight went on. “A magic sink is a metamagical phenomena that can either occur naturally or, as this is the case, be built by human hands. Magic sinks direct any and all arcane energy in a given area towards a specific point, an artifact or an entity. Powerful ones can drain all the magic energy of an area and leave casters powerless, though those are very, very rare.” He turned to face the hidden room. “This one… It does behave like any simple magic sink, and it seems to be linked with many other… Let’s say I believe any traps we find from now on will be powered by magic.”
A grin spread across the warrior’s face. “Something that absorbs magic? Sounds like a wonderful weapon to use against a powerful spirit.”
Mirae crossed her arms, frowning. “As long as we can control it. We have magic users on our side, as well, and we don’t know what he might have beyond magic.”
“I know, I know.” Marcus replied, his hands held up in a gesture of surrender. “I don’t want you without power, love. I just want to catapult the dangerous magic draining object directly in to that spider’s smug face.” Mirae laughed.
Staring back at them, Plinny stood silent for a few moments. “It doesn’t stop here. This sink seems to be able to… Increase its draining capabilities the more magic is present under its area of effect. The more magic you discharge in this area, the stronger the magic current will be directing your magic to the bottom of this sink. It even seems to direct said enormous amount of energy to a different point other than the magic powered traps we might find. Whomever built this not only knew what they were building, but also knew what they were facing.”
Marcus sighed. “So that’s a ‘no’ on taking this death trap and making it into an armament?”
“Magic sinks are rarely movable. You’d need to move this entire temple if you wished to do so.” Plinny scratched the side of his head. “Though I suppose… Its design could be copied, as with any other ritualistic diagram. But the amount of work needed only to discover all of its wiring and then transcribe it… Who knows how long it could take without seeing the actual diagram?”
Marcus nodded. “Okay so we’re probably not going to be able to use this, unless of course….” Marcus pulled out some paper and charcoal. Work on ways to turn temple into a bomb. Stowing the paper Marcus turned back to the other two. “Okay so how do we disable this thing so both of you can still work down there?”
“I believe the easiest and safest way to disarm it would be… Getting to its center. Given the sheer magnitude of this system damaging any wiring could be catastrophic.” Plinny raised his glowing wand. “Besides, our magic should only stop working if we get too close to the center, at which point there shouldn’t be any other magic traps. Even then, I can’t tell how effective our spells would work given we can’t be sure what we’ll find inside. The best thing we could have right now is a staff or pole of some kind, which I’m the only one who does.” He tapped the ground with his walking cane.
“So, we’re just the guard, then?” Despite her words, Mirae was grinning in anticipation.
The look on Plinny’s face was disturbed for a second, before he tried to hide it. “I… I believe so, unless one of you want to use the cane to test the ground, walls and air in front of us for traps instead of this old man.”
“I think we need a better way of testing this than a cane.” Marcus replied.
“We could always do it the usual way of walking in and reacting,” Mirae said.
“That’d be too dangerous. Better to use a cane than to use yourself.”
“And when it springs a trap that sends spears flying through the air? A cane’s not much better.”
“Oh come on, there’s already one trap that does that in the temple,” The warrior objected. “I can’t imagine they’d do it twice, your traps get less effective when they repeat.”
Plinny shook his head. “A cane gives you a few more centimeters to dodge, which is still better than nothing. A staff or pole would be more effective,” He shook his head again. “But we don’t have one, so we’re going to have to use the cane.”
Marcus held up his hand. “Well humor me for a second will you?” Without waiting for a response the soldier reached down to a pouch on his belt and pulled out a handful of walnuts. He cracked some of the shells in his and before throwing them across the floor in front of them. There was a slight “ping” as a dozen swords fell from the ceiling onto where the pressure plate had been.
Mirae walked over to the corner of the room and scooped up a handful of rubble before returning. “We may as well use the cane, too. We’re a bit heavier than walnuts,” she said, casting a glance at Marcus. “And it was an example.”
“That’s correct,” Plinny said, before wandering into the corridor. He shook his cane in the air a few times, then hit the wall and finally pressed it against the pressure plate. A sharp noise was heard, followed by another round of swords falling from the ceiling. “Rule number one: always carry something you can use to activate traps from a safe distance. Rule two: double tap, always.”
Marcus shook his head. “And yet they still employed the same trap twice. Looks like I was giving the trappers too much credit.”
“You had to be wrong eventually.” Mirae shot him a quick smile and walked cautiously after Plinny. “Come on, we should see what else they failed to do.”
Marcus’ expression darkened. “I can tell you one thing they failed to do, win”
“Well, if you had just thrown the walnuts and wandered in there, you’d have been hit by the second roll of swords. If you had wandered inside blindly you’d be hit by both at once.” The bearded man said, slightly frustrated at the other people’s carefree behavior.
Marcus rolled his eyes. "Yes and we're all impressed. However I can't help but notice that this trap has yet to be activated and the secret door hasn't been moved since it was sealed. How is this trap still working?"
“Either who set up the trap knew how to prevent it from being destroyed by the hands of time, set the trap not many years ago, or… As I said, the traps we find from now on probably are all magic in nature.” Plinny mused for a few seconds. “This one probably was only partially magical in nature, a simple spell to protect its components. Maybe even reset it if we’re unlucky.”
Mirae knelt down and ran her fingers over the stone where the floor met the wall. “Whoever it was, they tried to keep it clean, at least. Even if it was completely sealed, there should be some dust from when it was built.” She held up a clean hand.
Marcus nodded, “Okay this begs several questions. Such as why bother to keep this clean? How many of these traps are there? What the hell is even going on here?”
“I know an easy way to find out more,” Mirae said, nodding down the corridor.
“Right,” Marcus replied. “Grab some of the swords, they might come in handy for activating traps. And make sure their hilts aren’t trapped or something absurd like that.”
“I have to say I’m no good with swords. The closest I’ve ever gotten to swordfighting… That was when my son was learning it.” A smile came to Plinny’s face, though if it was a happy or a sad smile that was impossible to tell under the poor lighting.
“Just treat it like a pointy cane.” Mirae was strapping a spare onto her belt. “We have two people who can fight; I don’t think you’ll have to worry about it too much.”
The bearded man muttered something under his breath and took hold of a sword. He studied it for a few seconds, and kept it inside his robes. “I don’t detect any curses on these swords, unless they fade away and return to their place at some point in time.”
“We’ll just have to risk it.” The warrior commented as he slid a spare blade into his baldric. Holding a sword in one hand and keeping the other at eye level. “Okay let’s go and be careful.”
“Would you mind setting off the torch you are bringing with you?” Plinny’s hands brought to light three small crystals from within his robes. They started to glow lightly, until they reached a glow similar to that of the torch, but less shifty. “If this door closes while we are down there we might suffocate with the smoke.” Then, Plinny handed one to each of his companions, and kept one for himself.
Marcus shrugged and threw the torch onto the floor before sticking the crystal into his belt so his other hand was free. “Let’s go.” Before they had gone twenty feet, Marcus’ hand caught hold of something and he stood very still. Looking back at the other two he explain. “A noose trap, an empty hangman’s knot drops over the victim and is drawn upward to hang them,” moving carefully he stepped out and under from the rope. “The only way to avoid it is to keep your hand at eye level, five years of doing that and this is the first time its paid off. If you two would check for secondary traps?”
“I see you have knowledge about traps, or at least how to avoid them,” Plinny said, as he dodged the trap himself. Following Marcus’ instructions, he used his wand to channel a surge of arcane energy in the shape of light, beaming the darkness with purple. Quickly, the floor in front of them opened, revealing a deep pit. “Our first magic activated trap. Usually they are used together with a physical trap that forces a magic-user into casting a spell to defend himself. My guess would be that is what’s happening here, although I can’t tell for sure from here.”
“I’ve led an interesting life.” Marcus said, replying to the librarian’s implied question. “Let’s see, how to get over to that side…” Briefly he looked about the tunnel. “Ah, okay I have an idea,” then the soldier placed the sword in his hand inside the loop and tightened the rope, before pulling out the second sword and severing the rope at its highest point. “Behold, a grappling hook,” he said, holding it out to the other two with a flourish. “Now, all we need is an anchor point.”
“And what do you intend to use as an anchor point?”
Marcus glared. “Look I just made a grappling hook out of some old rope and a sword, you two meet me halfway here and suggest things we could use for the anchor point.”
“We could use whatever it was that rope was attached to in the first place?” Mirae replied.
“Well except we’re standing under what the rope was attached to,” Marcus pointed out as he pointed up.
“We could just turn off all of our arcane sources and run blindly over the chasm into another trap,” The bearded man said sarcastically.
“Yeah, let’s not,” Mirae said, her voice dry. “How about we just make the rope longer and try jumping over? It should act like we’re just swinging over the gap. And if it doesn’t, at least we’re not at the bottom of the hole.”
Marcus stopped looking around and blinked at the short mage. “Amazing, three intelligent people and it took us this long to come up with ‘get more rope’.”
“We could always just get some rubbish back at the temple and try to fill the hole.” Under his beard, Plinny smirked at himself.
Wordlessly Marcus handed the rope over to Mirae so she could add more on. She tugged the grappling hook out of his hand to reattach it, pulling out the sword as she did. Then Mirae pulled out a spare tunic from her bag and knotted it onto the end. She glanced at the pit, gauging the distance. “You have anything convenient we can add?”
Marcus pulled a coil of rope out of his pack before looking at the other two. “You two mean to tell me I’m the only one who thought to bring rope?”
Plinny rolled his eyes. “Of course not.” From under his robes, he produced some more rope. “These uniforms are actually very useful.” Mirae gave each of them a blank stare before taking the rope.
“All right,” she said a moment later, tugging the end of the cord to check her handiwork. “See you on the other side.” With a small grin, Mirae ran up to the lip of the pit and jumped off. The rope caught partway across, and she swung up, half-crashing into the wall on the other side before pulling herself up. The rope fell back to where the others stood.
“You okay over there Mir?” Marcus called over as he handed the rope to Plinny.
“I’m fine,” she shouted back. “Just try not to run into the rock. It hurts.”
Plinny stared at Marcus and offered him the rope. “After you?”
The big man rolled his eyes and attached the rope to himself before duplicating Mirae’s stunt, albeit without the crashing. After climbing up, he swung the rope back to the older man.
I’m too old for this. Was Plinny’s last thought before he jumped. The rope took him across, yet he hit the wall on the other side and nearly lost balance, grabbing the border at the last second. “Some help! Please?”
“Oh relax, you’ll be fine,” Marcus said as he easily pulled the librarian up and over the edge. The older man did a check-up on himself before breathing relieved. Mirae kept an eye on the two until he relaxed, then held up her crystal to check the path ahead.
For a few minutes, they walked for a single corridor that slowly turned more and more sinuous, until it became a staircase downwards after a sharp turn. The steps began wide and easy to navigate, but soon grew shallower. The light from the crystals occasionally threw them into shadow, forcing a halt while they shuffled to make the light clearer.
It was on one of these sections that the stair moved. Mirae had taken the front for now, tossing pieces of rubble ahead of them to trigger possible traps. She scooped up the rock on the next step to reuse. She moved forward, and nearly stumbled into the wall as the step dropped unexpectedly, pushing herself back to the one before. A rattle covered up the scrape of the pressure plate moving back into place.
Mirae held up her crystal, cupping it so that the light only went ahead. A series of chains tightly covered the gap ahead, only a few steps below the trapped one. Small blades glinted between the links. Turning carefully on the stair, she moved to see an identical wall a couple of steps behind the group.
Marcus observed the latest trap with ire. “Well isn’t that special. Okay so what do we do about this one? I assume we can’t just blast the walls with magic.”
Walking gingerly over the step, Mirae went down to the lower wall. “I don’t think just pushing our way through would be an option,” she said, moving her light up and down the obstacle. “I don’t like the look of those knives.”
“Well sure,” Marcus commented. “They’re probably poisoned, its what I would do if I was setting up this trap.”
With his cane, Plinny attempted to push one of the chains, testing its weight. “We’d have better chances attempting to move it with magic, but a single pulse of force won’t do.”
“Would you be able to do that? I can’t,” Mirae said, shrugging awkwardly. “It’s metal. If it were wood, I might be able to burn it, but….”
“An arcane pulse of force can move anything that’s movable. I suppose I can create a forcefield around us, and move it along, but I can’t be sure for how long it’ll hold.” Those last words came out sadly, but Plinny reminded himself of the arcane sink surrounding this place.
Mirae hesitated, studying the wall of chains once more, then turned to the librarian. “Any way I could help?”
“I…” The syllable hung in the air, and floated there innocuously. “I’m not sure I can do it by myself.” Plinny said with gloom, finally assuming his defeat. “The magic sink can drain the power I put into it, and it can do that faster than I can supply the forcefield. Even if it couldn’t, it’s safer to assume it can.”
“Can I give you some of my magic?”
“Certainly. But… Have you ever done that before?”
She shook her head silently.
“Well, given this supposed to be a mobile spell and you are inexperienced… The easiest way to share arcane energy is through physical contact, and this being a simple spell you’d be able to fuel it while I fuel and stabilize it.” The old man extended his hand forward. Mirae gave a brief nod and took it. “Now, whenever you want.”
Mirae imagined filling her hand with light, but directed it through the other’s hand. Immediately, she tensed; the pull felt as if the air was disappearing, emptying her chest. The magic sink down the corridor had only been a slight tug without using her magic, enough to be felt without being disorienting.
Now she could almost feel it bleeding off. Some dissipated into the temple. The rest was pulled away from her, twisting into Plinny’s magic without her direction, though she could still feel it being formed into the forcefield. Her free hand clenched. But she kept letting the magic flow out of her and out of her control. It arced in the air, slowly shaping a dome of energy around them. Without staring at the other man, Plinny said: “Marcus, could you please step forward?” Just when he said that, Marcus felt as if he had just bumped his head into a wall very lightly, except he didn’t fling himself towards it.
“Ow” Marcus commented rubbing his head lightly. “Good job the spell is working. AND YOU MANAGED TO LOCK ME OUTSIDE!!!”
“Just step inside. Halting the process until you got inside you’d be too much effort spent on barely nothing. And for your information I only was sure you were outside after I was halfway through it. I didn’t detect your magic print before I set up the spell.” With that said, he thought to himself. “But you probably should have sensed your surroundings first, old man.”
Grumbling to himself Marcus walked forward and was temporarily slowed as he walked through the forcefield before breaking through. After his entrance, Plinny finished the barrier. It was… Mostly invisible to the untrained eye, but its presence was clear for the old man.
“I’ll start moving now. Marcus, try to not stay behind or I won’t hesitate to push you.”
“Really? Because I was thinking of building a house here in this corridor. It has everything I love what with the disappearing floor and the lack of light and the horrifying death traps,” Marcus shot back.
Plinny considered giving a scornful glance at Marcus, but he disregarded his comment. “Onwards!” The group moved, and the rattling of the chains resonated loudly as the barrier pushed them. They grinded as they were dragged along by the forcefield, and when the group was halfway through it, the chains surrounded them as if they had fallen inside a bush full of thorns or the tentacles of a mighty kraken. The appendages constricted around the shield, and scratched it with its barbs. The sight was terrifying, as there was nothing there to be seen standing between the trap and the explorers.
Once on the other side, the last of the chains was left behind, slightly shaking and rattling, slowly stopping to move. The barrier was undone, although unlike the common fading it popped, like a bubble, the arcane power absorbed by the floor, walls and ceiling, flowing towards the end of the corridor. The glow producing crystals they wore shone their last light, and darkened at once. Plinny retrieved his wand and created a beam of light, sucked straight to the end of the corridor. “At least we can see the path ahead.” He muttered, trying to ease their current situation.
Mirae released Plinny’s hand, looking back at the chains with unease. “Whoever wants to drain intruders’ magic, their plan seems to be working.”
Marcus looked down the way and spotted a door. “Well, lets find out who was so desperate. Shall we?” He asked, gesturing.
Mirae put a hand on the knob and turned it, waiting for a trap that didn’t spring. As soon as the door was opened, the light from Plinny’s wand flickered out. “Hm. That’s the end of magic,” Mirae said, voice quiet. She took another step forward.
A dim light started up above them, then gradually brightened, revealing the room. The walls, ceiling and floor were covered in carvings, through which the magic current was strong enough to protect the carvings from the damage caused by the eons or by intruders. Plinny, astonished, touched one of the engravings with the tip of his cane, and it was repealed and burnt by an explosion of light and sound where contact had happened.
At the center of the room stood a platform, possibly an altar, and a massive kneeling humanoid of iron, copper, gold, silver and many other metals known and unknown by alchemists. Perhaps humanoid would be too kind - An armor, forged to be as sturdy as magnificent, would be a better term.
“That’s… I have no words to describe it.”
A faint glow came from the slits at the helm, from two unseen crystal orbs behind the steel visor, inside a cage of legendary alloys, adorned by a small golden owl with its open wings passing as the visage of a horned demon.
“I think alive works.”
Noise of grinding metal came from its innards, and it stood up. First the legs straightened up - Then the torso, the arms and the head. It was as tall as the chamber’s ceiling would allow, and the arms were almost long enough to touch the floor while he stood upright. Its fingers clenched and then opened, and its whole body clicked multiple times. Finally, it stared at the trio, and then spoke with a voice that reverberated like thunder. “Who?”
Mirae stared up at its eyes, behind lines of silver and bronze and pale electrum. It remained impassive. She gave a small shrug, and called up to it, her voice echoing oddly off the metal structures. “Adventurers.”
It clicked, but stood immobile. “Why?”
The old man glared dumbfounded, the words died in his throat before he could think of anything coherent.
“Information,” Marcus replied. “No offense but there’s really no other reason to come all the way down here.”
“Information.” It repeated in a monotone voice. “Specify.”
Marcus’ gaze hardened. “Shardreach,” he spat out. “Tell me something I can use against him, this is the one place he couldn’t seem to go. Why is that?”
It clicked again, and more metallic sounds came from inside it as it raise a leg and stepped towards the group. “Shardreach. Servant of the King.” Its legs were long; its steps, longer. “Genus loci. Enforces the King’s will.” The entity was already a step of distance from the group, and it raised its hand and pointed at them. “Enemy of my Mistress. Prove your innocence.”
“Of what charge?” Marcus asked glaring back at the creature unfazed.
“Working for Shardreach.”
Marcus cackled at that. “Working for him? The only thing I would do Shard is speed his passage to the next life.”
The insides of the entity clicked, this time very loudly and deafening due to proximity. “Prove.”
“I have nothing beyond my word that I want him to know fear before he dies.” Marcus replied.
It just stood there, silent for a few minutes. “Very well. The information regarding destroying, killing, overcoming, imprisoning, - alongside others - Shardreach are both known by him and by me. Therefore, whether you are or not a servant of him, handing him the information possessed by me will not allow him to empower himself further nor damage or destroy the home of my Mistress.”
“Then there’s no reason to keep it secret from us,” Mirae said. “It can only help to destroy him.” Her mouth twisted in a grim smile.
Gears grinded and it raised its hand to the back of its head, and after a few seconds it took its hand back to the group, holding a tiny disk of bronze.
At last, the old man spoke. “What’s that?”
“The information you need.”
“Can’t you… Write it down or something?”
“After countless years the wood, the leather and the paper have rot. Only I and the temple remain.”
Plinny stared, thoughtfully. “Do you mean this place used to hold information like a library?”
“Correct. Differently from the actual library tower of this floor, this one was a personal information keep for my Mistress and her guests.”
“Your Mistress… What… What is your function?”
It stood, clicking, unresponsive.
“Why do you exist?”
“I keep, and protect, my Mistress’ home, the data within and her memory after she found her final rest.”
There was a long moment of quietness by the entire group present there. The old man finally took hold of the bronze disk, and hid it in his pockets. “Then... You’re not so different from the Loreknights after all.”
“Lore. Knights.” The colossus pronounced the words in monotone, but it was a question.
“Yes. We guard and keep the library tower, and we research to attain more and more knowledge.”
“Lore. Knights. Another group of humans using the library tower.”
“Speaking of which,” Marcus interjected. “You should take that straight to Lori. That was the deal I made with her. Information for information.”
Turning to face the bulky man, Plinny seemed surprised by what he had just said. “So you talked to Lori about this? I thought you were keeping this… A secret mission, if you will.” He adjusted his glasses and resumed talking. “Although, even if she is a madwoman, she’s the one in charge of the Loreknights and can talk to Legias on behalf of the guild, besides being a skilled spellcaster.” The old man stopped for a second trying to believe he had actually said that. “This information is quintessential in order to prevent the Genus loci from attacking us again.”
“Yes, it is. However the only way to stop him is to kill or imprison him.” The warrior replied. “We’ll need everyone to take him, whatever the end goal is. That’s part of why I went to Lori because she is powerful. I also went to her because if anyone would have information on Shard it’d be her.”
Plinny simply nodded. “Assuming the knowledge contained in this disk is true and that there is in fact information stored here, all we need to do is to decipher it. By the way,” he turned to face the walking suit of armor. “How do we decipher the disk?”
“Classified information. You have not begotten proof of your innocence.”
“I see. That was… Expected, I suppose.” Sighing, Plinny turned to the other two people. “How do we… How do we get out now?”
Mirae chuckled. She turned to the construct. “I don’t suppose there’s a back way out? Or at least resetting the traps.”
“No, there’s no way our luck is that good,” Marcus commented.
The titan watched unresponsive.
“...Fine. We can go back out,” Mirae grumbled. “Could you at least tone down the sink for a few minutes?”
“My legs are going to hurt for days after this. In fact my whole body probably will.” Plinny said, frowning.
“I don’t think you’re going to persuade it,” Mirae said, looking at him. “We should probably get moving. At least we know a safe path.” She took a few steps, waiting for them in the doorway. Plinny followed, quickly standing next to her.
Marcus took a step towards the door before turning to look back at the guardian. “In your time fighting him, did you ever see Shard bleed?”
The giant remained motionless. After several long moments, its deep voice came again from behind its burnished exterior. “No.” Its rumbling ceased, but restarted before the echoes could fully die away. “The damage did not include bleeding. Further information will not be requested.”
Marcus turned and walked back to the others with a smile. No bleeding but there was damage. That’s the most important thing I could of learned. He walked over the other two and they started making their way out of the temple.
“Oh, before I forget…” The old man said, as they entered the dark corridor and approached the section with the chains. “Don’t tell anyone anything I said about Lori. I don’t want people to think I agree with her homicide behavior.”
Marcus shrugged. “Honestly old man I don’t think anyone agrees with her behavior, just tolerates it because she’s invaluable.” Plinny simply sighed as a reply.
“From what I hear, she sounds like fun.” Mirae noticed them looking at her. “Okay, maybe she goes a bit far,” she said as they began climbing the stairs, “but still.”
“I just think she needs to keep her experiment room a bit better locked up.” Marcus replied in annoyed. “I mean is it too much to ask so a random person does not get mutated by mystic energies?”
“Exactly. If she were that brilliant, how can she not prevent other people from obtaining such adverse effects by taking safety measures?”
“I mean don’t get me wrong there are benefits to the diamond eye but I was very attached to my old eye.”
"I think we can say we're lucky for no major incident have happened so far."
“How does my eye being replaced not count as a major incident?”
“You at least got a new one,” Mirae broke in.
"I meant death or permanent injury of a person or more," he dodged the question.
Marcus crossed his arms and grumbled to himself as the group stepped out of the temple and into the sunlight. Rolling her eyes, Mirae knocked into him lightly. Turning to Plinny, she said, “Tell Lori to hurry, if she could. Shard’s been quiet for too long. I don’t like it.”
“I’m certain we’ll do our best to decipher the message as soon as possible. I’ll... Talk to Lori herself.” Plinny stood there, gazing at the couple.
Marcus nodded. “Well I’m sure everyone here would appreciate that.” Then there was a low growl as a large, tan cat walked out of the woods and into the clearing. That would have been odd enough but it was also wearing saddlebags.
“Oh, hey Thomas. Why are you here?” Marcus said to the beast. In response the cougar walked up alongside the big man and motioned to the bag. Marcus reached in and pulled out a letter which he read. “Oh, I see. Hey Tom how does the message agency explain this to the clients that don’t know you’re a were-cat?”
The predator growled and stalked off into the woods. “Fine, then! Be an ass about it!” The big man called after the retreating cat. Then he turned to Mirae. “Sorry Dear, Anj wants me back for something. But after that I promise I’ll get you up to twenty, okay?”
“Sure.” She hugged him quickly. “I have someone I should be tracking down, anyway. A favor a farmer asked me to do a while ago.”
“Alright then,” he gave her a quick kiss. “I’ll see you soon then.” Marcus turned and nodded at Plinny. “Been a pleasure having you along.” Then Marcus turned and began heading toward the guildhall.
Mirae started walking toward the city wall, then paused. “Will you get back to the Library all right?” she asked Plinny.
“Yes, I will. Don’t worry,” he lied. “May we meet again soon and well. Try to not get yourself injured before we decipher the disk.”
“Oh, I’ll be there.” Her eyes glittered. “He’ll see we’re not as weak as he thinks we are.” She nodded to the librarian, then set off.
I say we nuke it from orbit...its the only way to be sure.