Magpies in the Archives
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The magnetic dust formed to a sharp point just southeast of their location. Cordon looked down and smiled at the dust formation on the hovering stone.

“Are you sure?” asked Hallamane.

“Did you not hear me utter the words asili mbaya zaidi?” Cordon asked with a glare.

“Those words mean nothing to me. But of course this is your field of expertise and I trust you know what your doing since you've gotten us this far, lead the way.”

Cordon collected his items as he arose “By morning you will understand what those words mean, but I assure you that will be just the beginning of it agent Hallamane.”

“And you are sure that nothing will stop us if you use this key of yours, we can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of the Foundation,” Hallamane said.

“The key will prevent us being seen as a threat, I’ve tested it myself,” said Cordon reassuringly.

It was another hours camel ride to the well, although it didn’t seem that long to Hallamane who was too focused on actually raiding the library. What seemed more odd was the way that Cordon led them to the well, as they rode Hallamane could hear him speaking some words, a small turquoise orb grew in his hand and suddenly they were upon the well. It had appeared in front of them like an apparition. The square stones looked aged and sun-baked, like those of the pyramids. The rotted ladder that led up to its mouth looked as though it would not hold the weight of a mouse, much less a man.

As they prepared to descend into the well Hallamane gave a quick briefing to his team. “One last time, each team has a unique shopping list of titles so no two teams should go after the same book; each team has a lookout, a copier and a snatcher. You will be out of visual contact with each other so check in at the top of every minute, act casual when you're in there. We have five minutes to snag em and go, Cordon you're on point,” said Hallamane, pointing to Cordon.

Cordon rappelled into the well, the cool water lapped at his body as he gently lowered himself in. “I’m in, wait for the signal,” radioed Cordon.

Cordon took a breath and submerged himself into the water, as he swam down into the darkness he focused on the key he possessed. The one that he had forged using the slightest bit of energy he stole from the key of the Master. He had bonded that key to an old way that had long been forgotten, was out of the way and could be easily destroyed.

As Cordon swam, a lambent turquoise orb appeared in the palms of his hands. He opened his eyes and saw three glowing points, the two orbs in the palms of his hands and the brick of the well that glowed the same color, illuminating the dark waters around him but leaving the dark crack next to it still a small dark maw. The old way he had used so long ago revealed itself to him, he swam to it with glee remembering the words of his mentor.

"The power to find old ways and make new ones belongs only to the Master and the library itself, I assure you many have asked what you ask now, but no one without the full power of the key will be able to control the ways,” his mentor had said. Look at me now old man, look at what I have done, I am no Master and yet I have bent the library to my will and with this act I defy your old knowledge.

At the end of that thought Cordon wiggled the brick ever so slightly, the turquoise light of his hand orb and the brick meeting each other creating a pulsating glow. He jiggled the brick in its loose mortar ever so slightly and pressed himself into the crevice.

As he entered the crevice he braced himself to run into the brick and mortar headfirst. When he realized he was still in open water he opened his eyes and saw a ray of light in a perfect circle above him. He swam towards it. Slowly and carefully he swam up into the light and breached the surface of the water. He blinked as his eyes readjusted, looking around he could see he was in some sort of small round reflection pool. Pumice stones lined the perimeter of the pool from which bright orange plants sprouted, their powder blue roots plunging through the stones. Around this garden small tables, chairs and mats encircled the area, but none of them occupied by anyone.

Slowly Cordon rose out of the pool and stepped onto the stones. “Area secure," radioed Cordon.

A short time later Hallamane emerged from the pool “I thought you said we were coming out of a big ass fountain?” Hallamane said after inspecting the area.

“It’s been fourteen years since I used this way, tell your people it will be a tight fit so they need to go one by one,” Cordon responded.

“So much for a swift exit then,” scoffed Hallamane.

“Melra you go through first after you plant those charges, everyone goes through one at a time, it’s no longer a fountain on the other side, just a small pool,” Hallamane radioed.

“Affirmative,” said Melra

The rest of team exited one by one and quickly dried themselves fully with parts of an anomalous quilt that absorbed all liquids as one of its primary properties. Once the entire team had assembled Hallamane gave the order to sync watches.

“Sync watches, five minutes in 3… 2… 1."

Each of the seven teams knew where they had to go and what texts to take. Cordon had ensured the maps were up to date and completely memorized by each member of the team so that physical copies were unnecessary. The process of quick copying each text had been tested and was sure to work, at least long enough for the team to make it’s escape. One property of the anomalous ink they used was self replication and thus eventually the ink would expand and would begin to spread from the pages of the book it was bound to. This is why they weren’t going to take the copies of the books.

Cordon, having been a member of the Serpent's Hand felt a pang of sadness in knowing what leaving behind the ink would mean for many of the books in the library. But of course Cordon’s vengeful rage propelled him forward, if he truly cared for the library as he once did he wouldn’t have assembled this expedition in the first place.

As the teams scattered throughout the library Hallamane left two of his best, Jericho and Mattheson to guard the entrance. Cordon, Hallamane and McKenzie then left to seize the grandest prizes of the entire expedition.

The seconds ticked past as time slowed down for Cordon. He looked up to the stacks that surrounded them and wondered if he could take on the new Master of books if they were to come face to face. Cordon imagined that if he had the aid of the entire team they would be able to handle it, perhaps even if it were just himself and Hallamane the Master could be dealt with. But in reality, they would face far more than one person if they were caught in the library. They would be up to their eyes in Docents, Pages and Serpent's Hand members, the way may also be closed to them in addition to attracting the attention of the fabled Master of Books.

Cordons presence would actually be the only reason for the Master of Books to appear. Cordon smiled at the thought that his presence would cause such concern, he almost wished they would be caught so that he could face the Master himself.

As Cordon walked down one aisle in particular, he tilted four books out of their row seemingly at random from two different shelves on adjacent stacks. He muttered some words and then pulled a large tome from the bottom shelf of the stack on his left and opened it to a page marked by a red leather bookmark. As he read from the page he touched the paper with the palm of his hand and released the energy of a yellow key orb from his hand and onto the page. Soon the bookmark grew and writhed to life, growing to an immense size and wrapping around the trio.

Hallamane and Mckenzie lurched as it tightened around them. “Don’t worry,” gasped Cordon.

Hallamane blinked and found himself in a small, dimly lit hallway. Looking around he only saw Cordon facing a door and holding a bronze lantern at the end of a chain. Behind them he thought he heard the growl of a bear.

Hallamane blinked again and this time he was inside some sort of dormitory. The beds were massive, wider than any he had ever seen. A large tree with bronze lanterns growing out of its branches illuminated the high ceiling. The other furniture in the room consisted of large round tables and chairs with backrests the size of benches. Some tables were resting places for sewing machines, one of which had a large hooded cloak resting on its base. Others tables contained game-boards of some type or large spreads of food, some half eaten and some Hallamane had never seen before. Large metal washbasins and glowing orange orbs at the end of metal receptacles were also scattered about at regular intervals. On the walls, murals of Docents, Pages, Boilermen and Archivists at work lit up the room with bright browns, greens and oranges. The murals themselves seemed to glow and bring the figures to life.

The entire scene passed by quickly for the trio as Cordon led the way out of a door and onto a walkway that circled the perimeter of the dormitory. The walkway was attached to a rail system that was itself attached to a massive bookcase. Hallamane peered over the railing but saw only a dark chasm, while above them the chasm was lit by three massive bronze chandeliers all in the shape of lanterns attached to a roof which was reminiscent of tree bark. Across a wide gulf of space was another massive bookcase with more dormitories attached to the side of it.

Cordon looked at the shelf and read off the letters and numbers. He then turned to what appeared to be a control panel and adjusted the numbers and letters on its face using a series of marble like spheres. Pulling a long lever the dormitory shot up diagonally, not following any pre-made track but merely making its own as it went. The dormitory stopped and Cordon began pulling book after book from a single shelf. He handed them to Mckenzie who held a metal wand with a scanning eye on one end and a runed ink well on the other. The wand scanned the books as she used a physical manipulation spell to quickly turn the pages. She then opened to the first page of the blank replacement book and squirted the ink out of the wand and onto the page. The ink would absorb through the pages and form the same text as the original thus making a passable copy. Cordon then shoved the book into his bag of holding. Hallamane noted the time on his watch, three minutes to go.

When Evans reached for the same book that the patron was looking for he gave it to her gladly and proceeded to look for the next one on his list. There was one more minute to go and they had time for one final grab. Unfortunately he was moving too quickly to notice the woman’s curious paper sprite that followed him, hidden among the books. It tailed Evans and his two comrades as they moved to apprehend the next text on their list, it watched patiently as Melra copied the book and Evans stored the original in his holding pouch. As the sprite flew away Malich saw it and burned it with a quick flame spell.

“We need to move, now!” said Malich.

As the three moved with haste towards the pool, the woman Evans had met earlier emerged from two tall stacks of books, flanked by a Docent on either side of her. She appeared to be showing them something from a little notebook in her hand. Melra beaded with sweat as she realized it was a book of origami papers complete with seer carbon copies. Melra knew the woman was showing the Docents what the sprite had seen before it was destroyed. The woman looked up and pointed to the trio.

“It’s them, they have the book,” said the woman.

Without hesitation Melra used her corroding gear talisman which oxidized and destroyed the lamp wielding arms of the Docents. The woman was prepared however. Her book fluttered as more origami creatures flew out of it, whipping past the team and leaving all three with severe cuts. Malich played another flame spell to make short work of them. As Melra surged with adrenaline she rose to dispatch the woman when one of the Docents broke a bottle of constrained lightning on the ground before them.

Malich dove behind a desk as the lightning felled Melra and Evans. Malich then removed his sawed off shotgun from his coat and fired. The woman and both Docents were vaporized and became a gunpowder mist that floated to the ceiling. Malich wasn’t firing regular buckshot but instead vaporizer gunpowder that used the magic potential emitted from one's body to turn them into a mist of pure aura. The effect was temporary, and soon they would be whole again after the gunpowder consumed their potential. It was meant to clear full rooms of magic users in one shot while leaving them unable to cast for some time after they were reconstituted.

More Docents appeared from behind the stacks along with some patrons. Malich made a mad dash for the exit and radioed to Hallamane what had happened.

“Loose them dammit!” hissed Hallamane in response.

“Melra’s team has been compromised!,” said Hallamane as he turned to Cordon.

“We have what we need, lets go!” said Cordon.

“All teams head to the exit we’re leaving now!” radioed Hallamane.

Flying to the controls, Cordon forced the dormitory to the far end of the seemingly endless bookcase. The trio exited the walkway and passed through a door set in the face of a looming stone wall. They passed through two small rooms, each containing carts of books and scrolls, and finally through a third room where they rushed past a Page filling some carts. Cordon glanced at the Page briefly and cursed under his breath.

Finally the trio entered into a dimly lit passage with scrolls placed in slots in the walls of the passage. Hallamane could hear the Page skittering close behind them. As they neared a door Cordon yanked a scroll from one of the slots which caused the entire tunnel to shake. Hallamane was the last to exit, and when he was out, he turned to witness the passageway close itself before the door slammed itself shut.

“Come quickly now!” Cordon said as he descended a staircase onto the floor of the library. The trio rushed to the reflection pool just as the door behind them burst open. Hallamane’s team were the first to arrive.

“Cordon your first!” said Hallamane.

“No, Mckenzie you take the bag. The rest of you will need me if the Master shows up or you won’t stand a chance,” said Cordon as he handed his bag to Mckenzie.

“Mckenzie you're up,” said Hallamane.

Mckenzie dove into the reflection pool just as the other teams began to arrive.

“Get in, get in, lets go!” ordered Hallamane as several others filed into the pool.
Gunblasts could be heard reverberating through the stacks. Hallamane’s men noted several Pages stalking the shelves around them. Then, several Docents emerged from the stacks, as did Malich running frantically.

Footsteps could be heard coming from the direction that Hallamane’s team had taken. The magpies closed ranks as more Docents and Serpent's Hand members moved to surround them. Talismans, amulets and guns with anomalous bullets emerged from the hands of the magpies as they prepared for a fight.

Where is the Master? Come on you bastard, can't you sense that I am here? Thought Cordon to himself.

Malich emerged from the pool “I can’t get through, I just hit the bottom of the pool!”
A moment of silent dread fell over the entire team at those words, they were completely trapped with no choice but to fight their way out and somehow find an open way.

“And who might all of you be, Chaos Insurgency, cultists, gangsters?” called out a woman who was somewhere among the growing crowd of Serpent's Hand members.

“We are dangerous magpies that will kill a lot of your people if you don’t let us out of here!” Hallamane exclaimed.

“As long as you have those texts you're not going anywhere, return them to us or you will feel our wrath; you are outmatched and to fight would be suicide!” replied the woman.

“Dammit, god dammit,” said Malich as he raised his gun.

More Docents and Serpent's Hand members crowded around the group as Pages descended from the stacks. Hallamane scanned around for an exit and noticed a hallway with only a few Docents guarding the corridor.

“Concentrate fire on the hallway with the two Docents, that’s our best escape route,” whispered Hallamane into his radio.

“I’ll make the opening move,” muttered Cordon to Hallamane.

A purple aura manifested over Cordon’s mouth as he shouted a silencing spell. The aura disappeared just as the mouths of many of the Serpent's Hand began to melt closed. Hallamane's team took full advantage of their confused opponents and opened fire. The Docents and unenchanted Serpent's Hand members retaliated. The room erupted into balls of blinding light, whipping chains and writhing talismans. Hallamane’s men collectively moved toward both Docents as Hallamane lept onto a table and fired implosion rounds from his customized MP5 to clear a path for them. He lept down and rolled as the Docents enchanted him with a disintegration spell that targeted his organs.

As Hallamane struggled to regain his footing he turned to fire on the Docents and found his team members retaliating. One Docent used a shield spell on his lantern arm, making the chain grow long and thick as it wrapped around him. However, this barrier was being pounded with bullets and energy strikes. The other Docent had its cloak and skin being eaten away by multiple deconstruction spells. Hallamane quickly downed his only reconstruction potion from his belt and then felt a sudden chill in the air before he and all of his comrades were lifted off the ground.

The Serpent's Hand took advantage of this and blasted at the bewildered magpies, sending one flying over Hallamane’s head. Hallamane turned himself around to glimpse one of his team being lifted up and away by an opportunistic Page. He then beheld Cordon, with a flushed face, straining in absolute concentration. He faced an enemy hovering above him, wearing a gray suit and half in the shadow of one of the massive bookshelves. A quick pulse of energy radiated from Cordon and Hallamane felt the pull of gravity again.

Another shockwave shoved the belligerents from the reflection room and into the aisle ways. Hallamane and two other magpies rose to face four Docents, lifting his weapon Hallamane fired, crumpling two of the Docents in on themselves. A small explosion resounded behind him, his flesh singed from the intense heat, turning he saw Cordon unleashing raw vapors of energy at the figure above him. As his two teammates covered him from behind he aimed his weapon and squinted to see his target through the light of the vapors. He fired a spread to cover the entire top of the two bookshelves across from him.

With the last of his clip emptied, he went to reload when one of his team called to him “Hallamane the passage is clear let’s go, everyone this way!” The magpies that weren't in the thickest of it had disengaged and filed past Hallamane who reloaded and fired at the figure again. This time the figure dropped to the ground, hovering ever so slightly before making contact with the floor.

“Cover me!” shouted Hallamane as he rushed to catch the collapsing Cordon.

As spells were cast around them Hallamane threw Cordon onto his back, turning just as a woman with dark hair ran forward and raised her hand to them, her black jade bracelet cut in the form of a spider reverberated. It fired a black pulse of energy at the fleeing Hallamane, but the pulse meant for the two men instead was absorbed by a charging crystalite minion that had been released from one of the magpies. The crystalite strained to move as a cocoon encased itself around the creature. It broke free as Serpent's Hand members blasted it. Hallamane ran forward and into the hallway as the remnants of his team followed him in their flight.

As they ran, a member of Hallamane’s team named Sero threw crystal eggs down each hallway they passed. Hatching quickly, the four foot tall crystalite beasts would lash out at anything before them. This would hopefully buy them time as they ran. Hallamane had thrown Jericho his gun and together with Malich they blasted a path forward, darting occasionally down a different corridor to prevent their enemies from building up directly behind them. As they came to end of a shelf, Mattheson, who was covering the rear, noticed a door at the end of the bookshelf.

“There’s a door here, turn around!” yelled Mattheson.

The remaining team members quickly turned and followed him through the door. On the other side they were greeted by an office room. Suddenly the door to the office burst open and an old man with a swollen eye, singed beard and wearing a tattered gray silk suit appeared and with one small flourish of his hand paralyzed the first four team members that had come through the door. Cordon reached for one of the potion bottles on Hallamane’s ammo belt, held it in his outstretched hand towards the man and then let a yellow orb fire out of his hand. The bottle shattered, and the orb gained in mass as it mixed with the contents of the container and rocketed toward it's opponent.
Hallamane and the remaining two members of his team turned to the office window next to them and jumped through the glass.

Hallamane awoke outside of a house seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Desert stretched for miles around the cinder block building with busted out windows, one of which Hallamane’s teammates had busted through. The team quickly took stock of their surroundings and found an abandoned car; after Malich hit it with an electric spell, followed by a temporary perpetual motion spell courtesy of Cordon, the four entered the car and drove off.

“Step on it. Those bastards are trying to find us as we speak. We need to figure out where the hell we are and make contact with the rest of team,” said Hallamane.

“You mean what’s left of it,” said Sero.

“We all knew the risks,” responded Hallamane.

“She’s right,” replied Cordon, pausing to catch his breath. “We lost more than half the team in there!"

“We made it out wi—,” started Hallamane.

“I know exactly what we made out with dammit! I know that we would have had more had everyone survived, and if I had killed the Master more would have made it. I thought that we were ready… that we had mapped everything out enough to account for where the librarians would be and the best way to get out. Instead, we fared no better than the Foundation, I made the same mistakes as my mentor,” lamented Cordon.

“We are alive because of you, take that from this if nothing else. Who else can say they survived a raid of the archives and came back with something to show for it,” said Hallamane.

“What will you do, spread that word around so that the Serpents can find you?” replied Cordon.

“No, I’m going to lay low, we are all going to lay low, until the heat comes off. I will listen to the word on the street that some shit went down in the library and that some crazy bastards made it out with archive texts. When we sell our knowledge, our clients will hardly care how it was obtained,” said Hallamane.

“So we take our money and hide away, the stories of the magpies and the Master our only legacy?” Cordon let the words hang in the air as he pondered them.“If that is what they called it then maybe it would be something…if the Master was known, it would certainly be a change. I wondered why we were allowed to escape through that office window. Why they allowed the magpies to fly free with their shiny trinkets,” reflected Cordon.

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