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We don’t know where they came from.

We don’t even know when the first disappearance was. The Ways aren’t exactly dangerous, but if you’re not familiar with them, it’s easy to get lost. They connect every world, and you need to know how to navigate them safely.

We only noticed it after a while. Wanderers who had spent decades crossing the pathways and gaps between their home world and the Library suddenly vanished without a trace — gone, vanished, fallen out of reality. There was never any evidence anything had gone wrong, either. It was a mystery.

And like all mysteries, it begged to be solved. Wanderers came up with conflicting explanations on what was happening. A natural decay in the composition of Ways, perhaps? Maybe the topology of the Way network was shifting, realigning; the missing were falling through the gaps. Or it might have been one of the other dozens of theories proposed by eminent scholars. While the academics wrote papers and debated in great halls, the list of missing grew longer and longer, faster and faster.

It was a few months into these events that the first obfuscations were discovered.

The Library and its denizens pride ourselves on our commitment to the cause of freedom of information. Knowledge was not created to be suppressed; the Serpent should slither free like it once did. Yes, a few tomes in the Library are restricted due to their inherently dangerous nature, but by and large the overwhelming majority of information is available to anyone who wishes to read it.

All of that is why the obfuscations were so fundamentally frightening to all of us. They weren’t of any significant size, not at first. A missing definition here, an absent passage there. Just gone from the book, leaving a black blot of parchment behind. At first we assumed the Scribes had made errors in transcription. Librarians are inhumanly efficient, but they’re not perfect. They make mistakes. Perhaps some of them were leaking ink from their veins, dripping it onto the page.

But no, a quick investigation revealed that the Scribes were still producing copies flawlessly. The obfuscations were happening somewhere between their placement on the shelves and their reading by Wanderers. They were also far too purposeful to be accidents; random words and conjunctions weren’t disappearing. Only nouns, appositives, clauses necessary for comprehension. They were targeting understanding of the writing.

It incited a panic among the intelligentsia of the Library. To a society founded upon the principle of freedom of knowledge, the idea of something or someone intelligently targeting books and removing information was utterly terrifying. While the disappearance of Wanderers had been a concern for the more community-minded Wanderers, the obfuscations began a nigh-hysteria among not only the Wanderers, but the Librarians. Wanderers religiously guarded their favorite shelves and tomes to protect them from whatever was stealing, eating the knowledge. It didn’t do any good; they would open the tome after hours of vigil and realize the names of all the characters had been replaced with black squares.

The Archivists began being more and more selective in what books were available for checkout; they couldn’t risk any untainted knowledge escaping the Library forever. The Fifth Archive, generally reserved for books in need of severe restoration, became a temporary refuge for unblemished volumes. It didn’t last long; they quickly developed the discolorations shared by their brethren in the main Library. Docents began working double-duty; you could scarcely walk the shelves without meeting a Docent in every other shelf, lanterns trained on any possible threat. Even the passive Pages would quietly observe the floor of the Library from the shelftops. It was a state of paranoia, anxiety, and disquiet that had never been close to anything the Library had experienced before.

This continued for a few months. In future days, this time period would come to be informally known as the Dread. The Library’s once bustling main hall fell silent as Wanderers began visiting less and less frequently, either out of fear of disappearing in a Way or bringing whatever strange, horrible malady was plaguing the Library back to their worlds. It didn’t seem like it was going to end anytime soon, either.

Then one sagacious Wanderer discovered something. Among the books they perused (under the watchful eyes of the Docents), they noticed a pattern, a pattern in the information that was being consumed. They seemed to increase in frequency in books shelved in to a certain wing of the Library. Their findings were dismissed as eisegesis by the few academic Wanderers still inhabiting the place. They resolved to continue alone. It took further months, but by reading books and mapping the amount of obfuscations, the wing was narrowed to a certain shelf, from a shelf to a row, and a row to a section.

It wasn’t long before the Docents and Sentinels closed on the area. They searched it from outside in, moving steadily closer to the epicenter. The Librarians’ senses aren’t analogous to humans’; how they managed to detect the creature is unknown. What is known is that in one moment, a group of cloaked Docents and armored Sentinels rushed a spot on the shelves, grabbing and wrestling something that was not there to the ground, where they pinned nothing to the floor. Nothing was a wretched void of a creature, a quadruped-shape with horribly distended limbs and digits, and a head angled like a ragged wedge. It seemed to absorb all the light from its surroundings, an affront to existence itself; understandable, as it itself did not exist.

As Wanderers attracted by the commotion looked on, the Librarians dragged nothing to a suddenly-open Way, as it screeched an unnatural, guttural caterwaul that echoed across the shelves. They hurled it through the opening; it only made it about three-quarters through before it closed. Nothing’s disgusting, wedge-shaped skull plopped to the floor with a wet thud before exploding outward in a burst of light, enough to stagger even the Sentinels.

Wanderers were knocked to the floor. When they came to, they noticed something different about the Library; it seemed fuller, colorful, alive again. A cursory investigation revealed their suspicions; the obfuscations had vanished, returning the knowledge eaten by nothing to the Library. It took a while, but it also became clear that no more individuals were vanishing in the Ways.

In time, the Library returned to normal. The Librarians remained vigilant, but loosened their ultra-militant stance. Wanderers returned to the shelves and to the main hall, bringing it back to its lively demeanor. The fate of those lost in the Ways was never discovered, but a shrine commemorating their loss was constructed. Everything was at peace again, for the time being.

Eventually, we developed a name for nothing. We began calling them Neverwere – as they had indeed never existed in the first place. It was the Library’s first experience with such a thing, but far from the last.

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