She carefully pinched the edges of the hand-pressed parchment between thumbs and metal-tipped forefingers, then tore it slowly. The greyed ink glimmered as the sigils separated, a sigh like the wind escaping the shearing paper as the magic dispersed. This was the last scroll.

Without a word, she set down the ruined parchment, finishing her stacks on either side. They swayed, almost weightless despite the paper’s thickness, air pressed between the sheets like mortar in a column. Her work was done. The library had been infiltrated and destroyed.

A shrill gasp shattered the silence of the immense chamber; she turned, feathered cloak rustling softly, to see one of the aliens staring in horror. “You… you…” It lifted a long, knobbly arm and shook it at her, its myriad joints rattling like a fleshless human spine. “Why would you do such a thing!”

Time to go. She nestled into her cloak, shrugging it close until the gap showing her bare chest and stomach was closed by red and purple feathers. The hood draped low over her brows, and she lifted an ink-smudged hand to secure the clasp of a beak-shaped mask across her nose and mouth.

“No!” the alien cried, shakingly distraught, as she spread her arms like wings. It jolted forward, an unnaturally quick motion, but stopped as she sprang upwards and left the ground with the first downstroke of coalescing pinions. Her feathered tail fanned, her shrinking legs tucked up, and she was ten feet above the ground as the alien watched in shock.

The light streaming into the room from the skylight changed then, hue swinging from natural yellowed sun’s-breath to a deep, bloody ruby. She sucked in a deep breath past her sharp-edged beak and flew for the sky, the glass an illusion she left in her wake when she broke into the library. She knew no one expected her to succeed, let alone return alive; the pomegranate light staining every surface agreed with her poor odds.

She risked a glance downwards as she flew at an angle, checking to see if the alien was going to intercept her– and yes, it was already moving, its four stilted legs a biomechanical blur as it hopped long tables and hammock-like chairs below. She was twenty feet above it, ten feet below the faintly arched ceiling with its luxurious murals, but she was still thirty-five feet away from the round eye of her only exit.

The alien kicked off of a table, its bony weight not even rocking the heavy construct, and the color tinting the sunlight swept towards its sailing body like reverse-filmed ink in water. As soon as the room was gently yellow again, the alien’s fog-colored skin was painted a vivid burgundy, and it no longer had a care in the world for the gravity that she struggled against in a still-aired room.

Still, she had one advantage: the alien thought her target was still physical glass, not a generated hologram. It aimed its leap to land against the glass and catch her up when she attempted to dive through it, but unfortunately for it, it sailed cleanly through the broken skylight and into the windy atmosphere beyond.

She had to fight the breeze pushing into the room, but once she, too, was free of the library, the air was her friend and no longer an obstacle. She spread her bright wings wide, flared her tail, and tucked her bootless talons to her body; the sky tasted sublime to one who narrowly escaped death.

When she glanced back, just enough to catch the library’s white-tiled roof in her periphery, she could see the alien slowly drifting back down, the red draining from its skin, whatever uncanny biology or magic it used to defy gravity being released so it didn’t continue soaring to deadly heights. It was waving both arms vehemently after her, but she only kept flying.

Step one in securing human freedom: complete.