As one approaches one of the walls of the Library, they will find that company grows scarce. The Atria where so much of the business of the Library is conducted tend to congregate around the center, where there are beings capable of doing business. Only a purposeful search, or a deep love of the esoteric knowledge that accumulates in the backs of libraries, would drive someone out into the lonely stacks. And it is here, in one of the few Atria that exist near the south wall, that six creatures have managed to find themselves.
There is a young woman in her twenties, with deep bronze skin and long blonde hair that's almost white. She is reading a battered copy of Brother Calbach's Unabridged Herbal. There is a female troll, of the Fardowns subspecies. She is reading Among the Lesser Savoy Kingdom: A History of Elrich's Enemies; Volume 4 of 17. There is a male Caniloper, with brown fur, a handsome muzzle, and bright blue eyes that suggest a distant ancestor of his had spent some time on Earth, in Siberia. He is not reading, but resting with one eye open. There is a sheepish-looking human man in his forties. He is reading several books at once. There are two male Desthari, of such disparate appearance that the only possible explanation is that they're brothers. One towers at 4 feet, and is nearly as broad, with dullish blue scales fading to boggy green. The other is shorter by half a foot, purple scales slick with scented oil, with all of his broadness concentrated in his shoulders. The shorter one is waiting for the larger one to finish a page in the less-well known Tu Sunz' Art of War, the one with much more attention given to fighting positions.
This Atrium is a masterfully laid out rock garden, donated by an eastern sorcerer whose name was long ago reduced to birdsong on the winds. The silence is peaceful, broken only by the flipping of a page or the occasional dull thud of a Docent's endless patrol of the stacks passing by.
Or… a sudden shout of "Damned Magpie!" followed by hundreds of dull thuds containing significantly more purpose. The occupants of the Atrium shot up from their seats and made it to the entryway just in time to see a figure, half-obscured by shadows, rushing down the corridor with an enormous dusty tome in its hands. Shortly after it disappeared around a corner, a squad of ten docents rushed by, slightly but significantly faster. The group of patrons hesitated for a few moments, then followed with varying degrees of interest.
When the group caught up with the Docents, they were crowding around a single door in the wall, obviously the way to a Way. Unlike most of the doors closer to the center of the Library, this one was unmarked. The Docents did not appear to be anxious to cross the threshold, which was odd. If a Docent had a thief's scent, it would chase them anywhere. After a minute of silent straining, one Docent turned, and noticed the group watching it. Immediately the rest of the Library's defenders turned and focused their eyes on the six. After another minute of silent deliberation, they separated and formed a nonhuman corridor leading to the door. They held out their hands, making various gestures indicating money, secrets, and other, simpler pleasures.
The purple Desthar was the first to break the silence. "You want us to chase a Magpie, gents?"
The Docents were surrounded by a generally affirmative air.
"Any particular reason why you can't go and get the book yourselves?" the Caniloper asked.
The Docents gave no indication that they would answer this question.
The Caniloper looked at the purple Desthar, who shrugged. The Desthar looked at the blue Desthar, who shrugged. The blue Desthar looked at the girl, who shrugged. The girl looked at the troll, who shrugged. The troll looked at the man, who blanched and said, "W-what are you looking at me for? I j-just like books. You all can go off and be badass Magpie chasers without me."
The remaining five looked at each other, shrugged, and stepped towards the door. The last Docent handed the purple Desthar a laminated card. The Desthar bowed and stepped through the door to find himself on a path in a maze of twisting trees. He was too busy staring to notice the entryway on this side of the Way become fuzzy and fade out.
This time, the girl broke the silence. "What gives?"
The blue Desthar looked over at her. "What gives what?"
"I thought that Ways only opened in civilized places, where a lot of people gather."
"Who told you that?"
"What do you mean, 'who told me that?' I thought that… everyone… the Ways I use were always in the middle of cities. This is a forest."
The troll, who had been staring at her surroundings in rapt fascination, chuckled at that. "First of all, whoever told you about the Ways was an idiot. Second of all, this isn't just a forest, human girl! These are the Ravelwoods! We're in the Ravelwoods!"
The Caniloper glanced at the troll. "Most people aren't particularly happy to find themselves in the Ravelwoods unexpectedly, troll." She didn't seem to notice his wry tone in the grip of her scholar's stupor.
"I've studied them at the Rheeve for years. I never expected… Even on my world, more closely connected to the woods than most, there's only… And I thought, once I'd gotten back from the Library… to save up for a trip through the Petwise Pathway…" the gaps in her sentences were filled to the brim with wonder at every aspect of her surroundings.
''Excuse me," said the purple Desthar, "but am I to understand that we are talking about the same Ravelwoods that is said to house wild Margrawns? The place where the gods of all worlds are said to keep their summer homes? The place that houses everything wondrous and homicidal under the sun and quite a few things that prefer to skulk around in rather dark places?"
"Yes," said his brother.
The purple Desthar clicked his horny feet together. "Right, then! I suggest that the rest of you return to the Library. I can tell from the way you all carry yourselves that you lack military training. I and my brother Rathin are the only ones qualified to go forward with this mission."
The troll turned. "Excuse me, Mister…"
The reptile bowed low, showing off the oiled scales of his back. "Rosort Serrin, my dear."
"It's Gartroth, thank you. Mister Serrin, I am not going anywhere. I've dreamed all my life of seeing the Ravelwoods with my own eyes."
Rosort smiled, though it appeared strained. "You are… a scholar, my dear?"
"Gartroth, and yes, Mister Serrin."
"I have, in my career, been… privileged to escort learned men through hostile territory before." There was a slight hesitation before the word privileged, as though Rosort had been planning on saying something else. "If I may say so, I strongly suggest that you return to the library. The world does not work quite so well as it seems to in books. You may find-"
"That I'll shy away from learning as soon as I see a speck of dirt in the way? Mister Serrin, I am a troll, in case you haven't noticed. I am perfectly acquainted-"
"I meant no disrespect my dea- Gartroth. I only meant that-"
"Er… I'd be happy to go back to the Library, Mr. Rosort, but how do we do it from this side?" The speaker was the young woman. "The Way seems to be gone."
Everyone looked over. The slab of mossy cobbled wall jutting out of the ground did seem to be completely solid.
"I can do it," the Caniloper said, padding over. When the others raised their eyebrows, he said, "The name's Rivsk. I'm a Wayfinder. You know, find unmarked Ways, find out how to open them from the other side? I was actually hired to look for a Ravelwoods path, and I brought a few opening ritual kits with me. Just need to do a quick check to see what kind of Way it is…" There was indeed a many-pocketed belt looped rather hilariously around his midsection. He approached the wall, and stood up on his hind legs unsteadily. It was then that the group saw that he was wearing prosthetic thumbs. He reached into one of the pockets, pulled out a handful of varicolored powder, threw it in the air, and blew it at the wall. He glanced at the girl who was watching wide-eyed. "No jokes about huffing and puffing, or I leave you behind, human."
The girl wrinkled her face. "What?"
"It's a story. I thought every human knew the story of-" Rivsk looked back at the powder, which should have been forming glowing words with arcane serifs spelling out a basic hint as to the nature of the way, but was instead drifting away in the wind. He rose again, and blew another pawful of powder at the wall, but it did no more than color the air around them. "Er…" Rivsk said. "The Way seems to be… gone."
Gartroth said, "There are very few stable Ways to the Ravelwoods. It's something about the background magic rejecting that of the Library. The woods like to stay hidden."
Rosort spoke up. "I imagine that's why the Docent gave me this card before I stepped into the Way." He held it up. "It looks rather like a temporary card. Good for one Way out, I assume."
"Oh, good," the girl said. "It's not that I want the magpie to get away with that book, but I don't have any hunting tools or supplies."
Rivsk shrugged. "Well, I've got to get looking for a more permanent Way. My pay for finding it might not be as amazing as the reward the Docents promised, but it'll be a lot easier to get."
Rosort nodded, "Nobody could blame the two of you for wanting to retreat. It's quite a reasonable response." The girl shot him a quick glance of distaste for that, but he didn't seem to notice. He held the card to the wall and stuck it into a slit in the stonework.
He tried again.
It happened again.
Rivsk reached up and took the card from the Desthar's clawed hands. He looked at it closely. "Gartroth, what were you saying about Ways into the Ravelwoods?"
"They're very rare and unstable. The woods' natural magic make it very hard to get in or out."
"Probably why the Docents couldn't risk going through…" he said absently. "The spell keeping them obedient is tied to the Library." He sat down.
"So… we're stuck here?" the girl asked.
Even Gartroth's wonder seemed to dampen. "It looks that way."
There was silence. The girl spoke again. "Well, then let's get after that Magpie. It must know a way out."
Rosort sputtered, which is quite difficult to do without lips. "Er, my dear woman. I admire your eagerness to get into things, but I would still feel better if I lead. Rathin and I are the only ones qualified-"
"Excuse me, sir, but which military are you currently serving under?" Rivsk asked.
"Er… that is… we are currently between engagements as…"
"So the one that lost. Got it." Rivsk tilted his head into the wind. "I smell parchment, dust, and shadows. They went this way." He padded off, then turned and shouted. "Well? Lead the way, General Rosort!"
Rosort shook himself. "Er… yes… Let's go that way." He ran ahead of Rivsk, his silent brother following behind with a look of exasperation on his face.
Gartroth turned to the girl. "You never said what your name was."
"Oh, sorry. It's Euryllia."
"It's a pretty common human name where I'm from."
With that, they trudged off through the trees.