Bitter 535

The door slowly opened inwards. It was much thicker and much heavier than it looked. Gradually, the vault was revealed, a not very big room that was very full. Inside were stacks and stacks of books, rising from floor to ceiling.

“It really is all books,” said Stan, sounding a little disappointed.

They entered and closed the door behind them so it wouldn’t look too suspicious. Britta made sure to keep the key on her. It wouldn’t be good to get locked in.

The walls were grey and smooth, with a small glowing nub on each providing enough light to see by.

“Do you think these are magic books?” asked Britta.

“We’ve hit the jackpot if they are,” said Stan. “Imagine if you could gain skill points and spells from these.” He picked up a book and opened it. “Correct Posture for Sword. Then again, they might all be worthless crap.”

“I don’t know,” said Britta, “I think we might find some hidden gems in here if we had the time to look.”

“But we don’t, so…” He opened the pouch on his belt and began stuffing books into it. They disappeared into the mouth and were gobbled up without so much as making a bulge.

“You’re stealing books from a school?” Britta didn’t like the idea of depriving others of their chance to learn. It felt inherently wrong.

“That’s right,” said Stan, getting faster now that he had the rhythm. “Don’t think of it as a school, think of it as an exclusive club where they only let certain people become members. I’m making knowledge available to all.”

“Available to all the people in your exclusive club,” said Britta.

“It’s not exclusive,” said Stan. “Anyone can join. And anyone can read—” he looked at the spine of the book currently in his hand “—Shield Maintenance for Knights. Sounds like a real page-turner.”

“I think we should only take the ones we need,” said Britta. She was browsing through the ones next to her. None of them jumped out as essential reading.

“We don’t know which are useful and which aren’t. Safer to take them all. No one’s going to read them locked up in here, are they?” said Stan. “Makes no difference if they’re locked in here or with me.”

It still didn’t sit right with her. She opened The Decline of the Scabbard as Primary Utility. Why would mages need to know any of this stuff? The text was small and hard to read. If this was a magical tome, the magic appeared to be to put the reader to sleep.

“I think they might be useless. Just lore and background decoration.”

“Locked up like this?” said Stan. “I’m willing to bet they have some use. Maybe not straight up skill bonuses, but something.” Half the books had already gone into his bag, which looked no different. “You can try to play fair, Britta, but that won’t stop others from taking advantage where they can. Think how far ahead the Chinese are. Do you think they would leave anything behind that others could use to catch up? No way. If you want to compete, you have to be willing to take what you need and also deprive others so their progress is slowed down.”

It sounded like a terrible way to behave but, as much as she hated to admit it, his words also made sense. You couldn’t just do your best and hope it was better than everyone else’s. No one cared about a moral victory, they would be doing everything in their power to get an actual victory.

Britta picked up a book. Perfect Positioning for Illusions. She stuffed it into her bag. If she was going to be locked up anyway, might as well do the crime. Footwork and Fireballs. Yep, that one too.

“Let me know if you see any pendants lying around,” said Stan.

“Isn’t it a bit odd she wears the pendant?” said Britta. “Wouldn’t it stop her using magic, too?”

“I guess,” said Stan. “She must be really worried about someone getting the drop on her. Your wizard is the primes suspect, I’d say.”

Was the dean really so scared of someone using magic against her, she was willing to cut off her own abilities?

By the time they’d finished, the room was practically empty. Stan had taken dozens of books and squeezed them into his tiny bag. Did it have infinite space? It was definitely an OP item. Her own bag could carry large items without transferring the weight to her, but there was a limit to how much she could fit into it.

They had grabbed all the loot in the vault, now they just had to figure out how to escape. They quietly opened the vault door and peered out. The dean was standing there with her hands on her hips and a group of men led by Keith.

The dean’s fingers played with the purple crystal hanging from her neck and she had a big smug smile on her puffy round face. “You had the key. I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist the compulsion. Please hand it over and empty your bags. No need to make this any harder than it needs to be. Your punishment will be fair, I promise you.”

“Quick,” said Britta. “Close the door.”

They pushed the door shut and Britta locked it. They could hear the cries from the other side as Keith and company tried to get to the door, but they were too late.

“Now what?” said Stan. “This is worse than the storeroom.”

He was right. It felt a lot more claustrophobic, and they would have to wait here a long time.

“At least we’re safe for now,” added Stan, trying to peer through the keyhole. “They can’t use their magic on us in here.”

“Oh, of course,” said Britta as she opened up her screen.


“They can’t use their magic on us, the vault’s impervious.”

“I know,” said Stan. “That’s what I just said.”

“No, I mean they can’t use their anti-magic on us, either.” She checked her screen. The Teleport spell wasn’t greyed out anymore. “Here, take my hand.”

Stan held her hand and she teleported them both out.


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Afterword from Mooderino
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