There’s a bookcase, loaded up with books. That’s not very odd on its own – what’s odd is that it’s suspended by ropes over an empty vat.
That’s not the sort of thing that happens by accident. It’s also fairly elaborate for a prank. You think that, for whatever reason, this was set up deliberately. But why?
Well. You’ve heard plenty about wizards putting spells in books. Maybe there’s a bunch of spells in those books and they were used to enchant whatever was being brewed.
No, wait, hold on. There was that play you did once where it was a big deal that liquid didn’t hold magic well. The trick was to enchant the container, not the liquid itself. You think that might be a real thing with magic, and not just a story, but you can’t say for sure. You’re no expert.
If it’s right, though… then what could the point of this contraption be?
Distillation. You don’t need magic to stay in the liquid if you’re taking something out of it. Something that’s hard to distill otherwise.
Well, how about that. You might just have stumbled onto the answer to one of the things you were investigating. Doesn’t do you a lot of good right now, but you can give Marian a real surprise if you manage to arrange another rendezvous.
You hear pounding. They’ve started trying to dislodge your pile at the door. Right, you don’t have much time to investigate this, just mentally note it for later. Got to focus on the task at hand.
First step is to get the barrel in a position where it’s hard to retrieve. You think putting it on the bookcase might do the trick – you don’t see an obvious way to get it down. There’s probably something, but even if there is, it’ll take the gang time to figure out how the machinery works.
But you’d also need a way to get it there. You wish you’d brought throwing gloves, that’d make this a good deal easier. As it is, you need to improvise.