Though the conflict on the border between Dalgare and Testror had briefly gone in the direction of the alliance, Scoubar had rallied and was once again advancing. Meanwhile, there was very little presence in Vospia to take advantage of the momentary disorganization. They had pretty much lost the war, with more refugees- mostly normal civilians but some mages- coming to the border every day. Despite their treatment of mages, Scoubar’s rule wasn’t much worse than others for most people- generally only those who had friends or family who were mages found their presence most intolerable. But wars were never easy on the populace.
The border was extremely busy, especially with regards to mages. They were a valuable asset, but many had recently been involved in a war against Bryria. Managing all of that was difficult. Lucy found that handling mundane duties was made worse by the fact that there were important magely things for her to do, that others were doing. But she wasn’t needed there. She was needed on the border, watching. Scoubar had nearly completely conquered Vospia- and that meant they could soon start pressuring the alliance from both sides.
On the other side of Vospia were Fotharia, Eshela, and Yaspal. Vospia had done what it could to receive their assistance, but there was only so much they were willing to offer. They preferred to build up their own defenses instead of wasting troops on hopeless battles. There was little chance that Bryria and the rest of the alliance would have more success in forming a pact with any of the countries- just communicating with them was difficult enough. Perhaps if there were a reasonable chance of actually driving Scoubar out of Vospia they might be interested, but they wouldn’t want to expend resources on helping others simply defend themselves.
Emerich was keeping himself busy along the Vospia-Bryria border as well. Though the passes they had carved their way through with magic couldn’t feasibly carry an army, a few dozen mages could still be a significant concern. The task of finding and sealing passes, or at least marking them as potential difficulties, took his squad and many others. It was never possible for a border to be perfectly secure- especially with mages involved- but they weren’t going to make it easy for Scoubar.
The war with Scoubar wasn’t something that could be won with a disadvantage in both number of mages and soldiers. The former wasn’t quite correct- though the fey weren’t numerous in comparison to humans, they could all use magic. It was just a question of whether it was to an extent that could be used on a battlefield. Most of them dealt with peaceful magic, and even some of those with training in battle were still needed to protect their villages from wild animals and the like. But soldiers couldn’t just come out of thin air, and there were only so many able-bodied young men that each country could spare to help with the war efforts. Though there were some moments of economic prosperity, repeated wars were wearing the countries very thin.
It seemed as if only a miracle could save them. But from the other side, a miracle would seem like a disaster. Even if it wasn’t truly divine, a huge sweeping change was necessary. That was what Douglas and Sarah and the others were working on. If it worked… it would be some of the most tremendous magic seen since the founding of the Endless Library. It was only potentially possible because of the Mage-King’s own widespread magic. If it led to his death, it would be an ironic twist of fate. And completely justified. But time was needed, and that meant keeping the border secure.
In Vospia, mages and nobles were the same thing. You couldn’t be part of the nobility without being a mage. Lucy had little love for the normal system of nobility nor the way it was implemented in Vospia, where it became more about who was already established than the merits people had. Lucy had targeted their manors specifically in the counter-assault into Vospia, and now some of them were trying to flee into Bryria.
It would be easiest to just let them die, but while all of them had been part of a systemic problem, they weren’t all on the same level. And some had been half decent. She had a whole series of notes, and some of the mages who had fled from Vospia were acting as her assistants in the matter.
The current group Lucy was inclined to refuse on principle. That might have had something to do with the fact that the man leading them was spending so much time talking with Commander Gustav… as if he was actually in charge of the decision. That wasn’t Gustav’s fault. He was doing his best to explain the situation while also trying to deal with the rest of those coming alone. Anyone who wasn’t a mage had different standards for passing the border- mostly they wanted to keep out Scoubarran spies.
While the man was talking about how important he was, a younger woman shuffled away from the group towards Lucy. “Have you been stationed here at the border for a long time?” she asked.
“On and off for a few years. I have other duties that can take precedent,” Lucy answered.
“I was wondering if, a while back… someone else like me came through?”
“Lots of people come through,” Lucy said. There was something, but she couldn’t quite place it.
The young woman sighed and muttered to herself, “I should have just listened to her…” She looked back towards her father quickly, finding him still busy. “It was my sister, Kristine. And my cousin Julie. They should have been with a group of others…?”
“And your name?” Lucy asked. She was fairly certain, but the father hadn’t properly introduced himself in her presence.
Lucy nodded. “You should come with me.”
Nichole looked over her shoulder, “Should I…?”
“He’ll be busy for a while. Nobody’s going to be leaving without you anyway. They can’t. Come on.” Lucy led the young woman towards her office. Some desks were arranged nearby for her assistants. “I have a surprise for you,” she said, stopping in front of one of them.
The woman sitting there looked up. “A surprise?” then she looked around. “Nichole!”
The surprise was evident on both of their faces.
“I can’t believe it!” Julie exclaimed. “You made it out. I thought… Scoubar controls most of Vospia now. It could have been too late.”
Lucy gave the two cousins a few moments to catch up, which included Nichole summarizing her journey to the border, which included travelling offroad to avoid soldiers. Lucy didn’t think the terrain was particularly difficult, but it seemed Nichole had little experience with it. Not that she would have expected otherwise.
Nichole’s presence was the only good news. While it had been pretty clear, she was able to confirm that Scoubar controlled basically all of Vospia as far as she was aware. There likely wouldn’t be any more mages coming out after them- they would either be captured or dead.
“While I’m certain you have much catching up to do,” Lucy eventually interrupted. “We need to determine what you want.”
“What do you mean?” Nichole asked. “We’ll be allowed across the border, right?”
“Of course, but there’s more to it than that. You have the potential to be a wizard, of course.”
“Wouldn’t approve of that, I’m certain. But you’re old enough to act on your own. If you don’t want it, he doesn’t have any more authority over you here.” Lucy shook her head, “I know that would likely mean breaking ties with the rest of your family, but your sister and Julie are already here. I doubt there will be a sudden reconciliation,” Lucy looked at Julie, who shook her head.
“It wouldn’t be easy.” Julie looked over to Nichole, “Kristine would want to see you. But your father wouldn’t be happy.”
“We can do whatever you want,” Lucy said. “We can even deny some of your family entry, if you want.”
“No!” Kristine shook her head. “No… we have some problems, but I can’t just leave anyone behind.”
“Good,” Lucy said. “It’s best… when family can be together. Even if things are hard. And they will be, from more than just the war.”
The barest framework for the spell was starting to form. The problem was that it wasn’t just something that could be done by a single person. For it to work, it had to be the product of many people acting in concert. Douglas had his part almost ready. He would be responsible for connecting everything across the vast distances involved. He knew it would be a test of his mastery of spatial magic and stretch his understanding to the limits. Distance was an illusion… but that didn’t make it so easy to overcome. But the bloodline magic already in place would carry some of that weight.
The next portion fell upon Sarah. She would be responsible for the core of the bloodline magic. There were several reasons for the job to fall to her instead of Cletus or someone with the actual bloodline in question. First, she was the most capable of performing the magic, so passing the hardest component to her made sense. Second, if the spell worked it was important to have a controller outside of the bloodline… because it might not happen entirely all at once, and once it was working people would begin to die. Killing people arbitrarily was difficult, but the bloodline of the Mage-King already had something built in that would serve the proper purpose. The lightning that had happened when first trying to inspect it, nearly a pure form of magical energy, was tied to more than just Faron and Cletus.
Each prince who had undergone the ceremony should have the same ties, and the same possibility. If it could just be targeted inward, it could bypass the defenses of each prince and use their own magic against them. The important sticking point was the Mage-King. While killing every single prince at once- if things worked as they hoped- would be immensely disruptive to Scoubar, but ultimately insufficient if the Mage-King lived. While they might be able to follow up with another assassination, he would be much more cautious. Thus, each distributed portion of the spell would also contribute to forcing the effect to happen to the Mage-King through the bloodline connection, whether he performed the same actions to himself.
Yet once they finished the discrete portions that would be performed by Cletus and Sisters who were trained in magic, they had to actually get the spell to them somehow. Their communication magic wasn’t set up to properly transmit spells- trying to incorporate written magical runes inside of another spell would likely result in disaster. That meant it had to be delivered directly, and if any portion were intercepted… the consequences would be great. After that, they still had to pull everything off.
One step beyond that, even if it worked Sarah had other concerns- specifically related to Erkin and the former concubines. While the women wouldn’t have a connection, the few of them with current pregnancies would. Some had miscarried during the period of draining following. While Erkin hadn’t been part of the ceremony, that bloodline connection could still be enough. She didn’t want any innocents to be caught up in the effects. And she was so close to a solution. She just needed a bit more. And to work on the other spell. And to sleep. She should probably stop to eat at some point too.
Douglas didn’t appear any better, with huge bags under his bloodshot eyes. He was thinner than usual, and rarely even stepped away from the research area, constantly scribing runes and getting caught up on minute imperfections. His obsession with things fitting together perfectly was ultimately useful, but with a grand ‘puzzle’ like they were solving, it wasn’t good for his health. Someone had to make him rest before they actually had to perform the spell, though hopefully that could be done while the copies of the sub-spells were being delivered.