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On Thieves and Punishment

If prostitution is the world's oldest profession, then theft must come in at a close second. From the moment sapient life conceived the concept of owning things, an equal and opposite concept was conceived, focused solely on the taking of things owned by others. As cavepeople squatted in their caves gnawing on roasted meat, Neanderthals from a different cave looked on and thought to themselves about how much nicer that venison would look in their hands.

But as with all professions, it was only a matter of time before someone elevated it to an art form. Thieving as a profession and thieving as a craft are as different as night and day. Any schmuck with a crowbar and two hands can be a thief, but it takes a professional to do it well enough that they become a paragon of every aspiring con-artist, cat burglar, and pickpocket. This tome records but a few of those artisans.

The First Thief

But we must always pay our respects to our forebearers. The Wanderers of the Library have peered back through the folds of time and discovered the identity of the first sentient being in the universe to commit the Unoriginal Sin.

A single-celled organism on a now-dead planet, unnamed as single-celled organisms lack the brainpower to conceptualize "names". While floating in the primordial ooze, it eventually collided with another single-celled organism. A small, dead protist was caught in the awesome impact. As the second organism spread its body to envelop the appetizing microscopic corpse, the first pulled away the food source before the other's eyes, if it had had any, with lightning-quick speed. For the purposes of this tome, that single-celled organism was and forever will be the First Thief.

Robitér, King of Thieves

The vast majority of thieves set their sights on the simple and easily-attainable. Not so with Jor Robitér, at the time merely a lowly pickpocket in some forgotten city in the sands. He made a living stealing just enough food to survive and sleeping in abandoned minarets and shacks. Robitér happened to be identical in all appearances to the reigning king. The king was a recluse hermit, said to have gone mad as a result of an inter-generational dedication to keeping the power in the family. At his annual public speaking appearance, their eyes met, and in a fit of terror at this unwashed doppelganger, the king suffered a heart attack (which his doctors curiously believed was caused by an absence of mercury in his diet) and was put to bed until he could recover. From there, it was a simple matter for Robitér to sneak into the palace and garrote him in his bed.

The kingdom records show that after his heart attack, the king had a miraculous return to sanity, and declared that he would once again rule the kingdom and bring it back to prosperity. He began appearing in public and (to no small amount of pearl-clutching in the court) actually speaking to his subjects. His rule was by all accounts just and prosperous, and even after his untimely death at the hands of a runaway elephant parade, the kingdom thrived. Though some of the more veteran palace guards continued to whisper stories about a body that the king ordered to be wrapped and burned in the desert, far from the city. "Steal an object and you are a criminal; steal an identity and you are anyone."

Emporer Bravis

Plic Bravis was the appointed governer of Trovil, a small colony planet on the far reaches of its ruling empire. Granted only a small local legislation, the planet was regularly ignored and heavily taxed by the Empire despite being an economic hub for the area. After a few years of this treatment, one dark night in his study, Bravis hatched a scheme with his legislation that he promised would end in nothing but profit for all of them. A few months later, Bravis brought before the local courts a case. One of his coconspirators, also his neighbor, had pushed his property line a ways into Bravis', and Bravis demanded that the courts make it right. The judge ruled in favor of the neighbor, pointing at an ancient bylaw from the more primitive days of the Empire: "Any land taken during conquest is the property of the invading persons until they relinquish possession of it."

By the next morning, the planet was free. Overnight, the local militias had smothered the quartered soldiers in their sleep and taken control of the bases. Bravis was no fool; he knew there would be consequences. So when the Imperial ships landed from orbit to put down the rebellion, he pointed to the ruling by the judge. The planet, he argued, had been taken by conquest, and as such, it was now the property of the people of Trovil. The captains, confused at this legal tomfoolery, communicated to the seat of the Empire. Changing the laws of the Empire was a long and ardous process, and after their week-long emergency session, the lawyers of the Empire advised the captains to simply glass the planets from orbit and call it a day. But at that point, Bravis had rallied all the neighboring planets, also neglected by the Empire, to his cause, and the captains found themselves flanked by stolen Imperial ships.

Months later, a peace treaty was hammered out between the Empire and the new Free Alliance of Rim Planets. Bravis' ingenuity taught us that all you need to steal anything, even a planet, is to take advantage of the flaws around you and have the guts to press that advantage long after normal people would've quit while they were ahead.

Yves Midae

While all these thieves are pioneer of the craft, Yves Midae stands out in a unique way. Not a single sapient being in the universe has managed to achieve the unprecedented theft that he pulled off, despite infinite attempts at it both before and after him. Midae pulled off the impossible, and for that he is recognized — the only individual to have stolen from the Wanderer's Library itself.

Theft of knowledge stands as one of the few actions considered absolutely intolerable in the Library. Despite the strong warnings from the Archivists and the imposing presence of the Librarians, every so often a person or persons attempt to take something from the Library. Sometimes the Jailors, sometimes the Bookburners, most often some isolated fool unaware of the lengths the Librarians will go to to protect their precious books.

The Archivists gave up their eyes for knowledge of where every single book in the Library is at all times. The moment one is stuffed into a bag or a coat, they are aware, and will alert the Docents and Pages. From then on, it is only a matter of time until the perpetrator is caught. The Ways are the only entries and exits to the Library. The Librarians control the Ways, and whoever controls the Ways controls the Library itself. Any Way the thief attempts to enter will refuse entry and the circle of Librarians will tighten until the criminal is caught. There is no hiding and there is no running. Anyone caught trying to steal from the Library will find themself trapped as a Page or Docent, working in the Library until they've paid back their debt with interest.

All of this goes to show the scale of the heist Midae committed. The secret of exactly how he evaded the long arms of the Librarians has been lost to time, but theories continue to float in the air. Most accept that he manufactured a portable artificial Way and escaped through it. But the second question of Midae's theft is what he stole. The Librarians are unable to divulge this knowledge, and the Archivists unwilling. Whatever it was, it is generally accepted that it was incredibly useful and powerful — after all, who risks their eternal soul for Four Thousand and Two Ways to Make a Salt Circle + Four Bonus Methods? And the third question is the most asked. Where is Midae now? The pessimists maintain that he couldn't escape the Librarians forever, and is now sentenced to spend eternity serving the Library. The optimists claim he is living the good life using whatever was in the tome he took with him. The realists say he is dead. But even if he is, his legend lives on in the hearts and minds of every thief in the ranks of the Wanderers.


For every organized and law-abiding society, there exists a mirror society dedicated to ignoring the laws laid out by the first. The Library is no different. This book only appears to those with the skill, talent, and intention to attempt to perform a heist of knowledge. Now that you are aware of your progenitors in the art of theft, you may set this tome down and step into the small doorway in the shelf that has opened to your right. Welcome to the Thieves of Knowledge, Wanderer.

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The Wanderer's Library is infinite, which makes meeting other people while browsing the shelves relatively uncommon. Alcandar and Cai met while looking through the same section of the shelves. Cai was looking for a treatise on Way formation; Alcandar wanted a creation myth about his homeland. Seeing the scroll tucked underneath a stack of books, he grabbed it. The Library's shelves are treacherous, and often give way when even the smallest lynchpin is removed. The bookshelf collapsed, books cascading onto him. By the time the docents dug him out of the mess, Cai was doubled over on the floor with laughter. She stopped when she noticed the scores of cuts and bruises marking his skin.

She cleaned and dressed his wounds, and they introduced themselves. He was scholar, having stumbled across a Way just a few months prior and fallen in love with the Library. Cai was a rare Child of the Library; she'd been born and raised in the halls, devouring books as soon as she could learn to read. She said she'd never known her parents, and been cared for by the librarians. He asked where she got her manners from; she just laughed. She had a nice laugh, like windchimes.

She brought him to a Way leading to the Front Desk and sent him along, giggling at the silly, carefree young man. She might've been too open about herself with someone she'd just met, but at least they'd never see each other again.

The next time they saw each other was at the Sea of Words.

The Sea of Words is one of the Library's greatest curiosities. A freshwater sea, planted right in the between the bookshelves. It's said that more bookshelves lie beneath it, containing knowledge on the various species of fish that inhabit it, but no one has bothered checking. Several vessels roam the surface of the large sea, transporting Wanderers from one side to another, or sometimes just enjoying the scenery. Alcander was one of the latter; everything in the Library was considered shared property, and he'd taken one of the small ships out, something that resembled a Chinese Junk. The air was clear and the clouds rolled across the roof of the library, the nearest bookshelf so far that it was barely a speck on the horizon. The clouds continued rolling and rolling and rolling, until they had rolled themselves into a storm.

Sheets of rain hammered the deck of the ship, and waves rocked the ship back and forth. Lightning made night into day. Alcander sought refuge in the cabin of the ship, huddled in a bunk with a stack of books. The pounding on the door of the ship interrupted his reverie. The door opened to reveal the girl he remembered from that day weeks ago in the shelves.

Her smaller boat had capsized in the storm, and she had clung to one of the boards for dear life. Eventually, it struck another ship, and she had climbed aboard to avoid death.

The pair hid from the storm in the cabin, listening to the rain batter the boards. After Cai had changed into a dry set of robes, they took to discussing the love of every Wanderer — books. They whiled away the hours discussing the strengths of Varnassi literature and classical Librarian fables, and everything in between. They slept in neighboring bunks.

The storm was still pounding when they woke up. The weather of the Library is just as fantastical as the Library itself, and it doesn't bow to anyone else's understanding of it. That particular storm would be remembered as one of the longest in the Library's history, at a full seven days and nights.

On the second day, the pair talked about each other, more than just their childhoods. Cai was a skilled flutist, and played songs from her youth for them. Alcander taught her to play card games, and lost his pouch of gold in only four rounds.

On the the third day, they wondered when the storm would end. They both said they hoped it was soon; neither wanted to admit they were enjoying where it had put them.

On the fourth day, they were spending the night playing dice games. Alcander brought out a bottle and two cups, and they spent the night drinking and laughing. They woke up in the same sheets.

Alcander was trying to disentangle himself, blushing, when Cai kissed him and pulled him back in.

The next three days flew by. When the storm ended and the sky of the Library once again grew blue and bright, they made dock and parted with a kiss and a promise.

The next few months rolled by like that — meeting every few days to explore different nooks and crannies in the Library. They'd tour the gardens, the crypts, the canopies, and spend the nights in Cai's cozy room in the Stacks. Small and lit by yellow hanging lights, it doubled — in the number of inhabitants, the amount of toothbrushes in the bathroom, how much time was spent inside it.

Seven months after the shelf collapsed on Alcander, he sat on the top of the same shelf with Cai. The gondola ride lasted a few minutes, and they reached the top just in time to watch the shades of the roof go from blue, to pink, to orange, to a brilliant red. As it turned to purple and the bright stars embedded in the roof began to twinkle, the pair nestled into each other and exchanged sips from a glass bottle. All was well.

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