Descending to a lower level, we were surprised to find it less damaged than the floor above. Swirling pools of lava still belched thick smoke into the air, but there was more solid ground, firmer masonry that had held up against the onslaught. Scroll cases held works the likes of which were unknown to the rest of the world, but we found little information that would help us bypass the barrier.
There was information about how Graven Ashe used the Sages as go-betweens, mediators to carry missives from himself to Voices of Nerat, even before the Conquest. I took notes from the head Sage’s repository to that effect and continued – even as I was investigating the Scarlet Chorus, I was finding more and more about the Disfavored having had a role in the idiocy of this campaign. Not that the campaign itself was problematic, Kyros’ will had to be pushed to the last pocket of resistance, but it should have been much more smooth, saving the great armies time, personnel, and strife.
We encountered opposing Scarlet Chorus teams, the ones Censor sent in ahead of us, largely bent on our destruction. Diplomacy and tact had little effect, and so as they drew their blades we drew ours, and stood victorious. Hollow successes, each of them, but forced by their own hands. I wanted nothing more than to find my way beyond the barriers and leave this place, but they were here for the glory of murder, taking any opportunity to knife their colleagues.
Eventually we discovered that several of these groups had been as successful as we – their Sages had translated parts of mystic sigils that looked quite different from the protection spells and traps found elsewhere in the library’s blasted remains. We were able to place the elegant notes side by side, and where once I saw only confusing scrawl, a flash of insight let me translate the works, though the rest of my party seemed as oblivious as I had been just moments before.
For those that have the strength of will, the door to the North shall open.
Second comes passion, burning in the South like an unending fire, to provide vitality to the dedicated.
Then from the West shall the one with true resolve come to explain the gravity of commitment to knowledge.
Lastly, look to the East and brace yourself against those who would pull you down. Let your might be solid as stone.
Confident we had what we needed, and wary for other Scarlet Chorus ambushes, we pressed toward the glowing barrier that had blocked our progress deeper into the library. Where once glowing patterns seemed to pulse randomly, chaotically upon its surface, to my eyes now four individual marks stood out, the others receding to mere flickers against the background. In accordance with the scroll’s directions I reached out and touched the four symbols in order, feeling a surge of electricity through my arm, building with each. As I lay my palm flat against the final sigil, there was the feeling of a thunderclap without sound – a compression of the very air, and the barrier vanished.
Behind it we found an immaculate hallway, untouched by the calamity that had befallen the rest of the structure. Barik and Verse kept careful watch behind us, leery that other explorers may use our success to their own advantage. Eb and I took the lead, venturing down the long staircase into the basement darkness.