A large battlefield stretched before Librarian Oswald, teeming with horses and men on either side. At least, it could be a battlefield. Perhaps instead there would be another day of watching and posturing without battle. He was unsure which he would prefer. Waiting was bound to make him go insane sooner or later, but he wasn’t optimistic about the results of a battle either. He thought about how things came to this.
Over recent years, people had been whittling away at Vospia’s resources. Hagen had kept a troublesome mute as a library assistant instead of choosing an apprentice to properly teach. Then there had been that murder and he fled the country. Bryria had begged for assistance to repel Scoubar from their territory, then been entirely ungrateful for the help. Even more, they had killed several perfectly viable low level mages and seduced others to stay with them.
When Vospia sought just compensation for the damages Bryria refused and laid vile traps aimed at harming the honorable mages of Vospia. Then their saboteurs assaulted the library, ultimately failing after damaging the walls. Still, it forced Vospia to retreat to assess the damage. Then Bryria turned around and claimed that they were the ones wronged, attacking in coordination with the shifting of the library, proving they were aligned with Scoubar the whole time. Disgusting.
What was worse, after raiding the countryside they left traps behind, one of which caused a wound in his leg that Oswald could still feel the remnants of with every step. They even co-opted the daughters of prominent mages, tricking them into abandoning their proper duties and stealing important resources.
At least some of the surrounding countries had realized the threat the Scoubar posed, though some of their assistance was merely token. It would do well for Vospia to remember, once they prevailed.
They would prevail. Vospia wasn’t the world’s foremost in magic for nothing. While recent events had caused minor setbacks, hundreds of years of history couldn’t be wrong. Bryria would soon discover the mess that allowing just anyone to study magic- those of no significant bloodline and especially women– would cause them. After they successfully repelled Scoubar, a proper campaign would be set up to deal with Bryria.
It did seem rather more difficult to deal with Scoubar than expected. They had quite the ingenious system that resulted in many wizards of proper birth. Of course, their methods were simply barbaric, but Oswald saw the results plainly before him.
The biggest issue was how the Scoubarrans were able to sneak their way into the Endless Library and open a path for their many soldiers and wizards. Perhaps Gabriel had been right and they should have sealed off the library temporarily. It was simply that the old magics on spatial magic had been lost, and nobody knew how to make use of the few carefully kept tomes they had on the subject. The Scoubarrans no doubt had used some sort of tricks.
Now they waited in the field, stalling for time. Vospia had plans to maneuver to attack them, but both sides were ready with traps placed around their forces, hidden. The stalemate could last for just another day, or it could take weeks. Oswald was unsure. Perhaps once they got in the next batch of recruits, they could use them to probe the enemy defenses for the traps, following up with their proper forces. Yes, that should do nicely.
Part of the reason Dalgare had fallen so quickly in the initial Scoubarran assault that was now close to two decades past was that there were very few strong defensive positions they could take. No single mountain pass or river crossing that they could set up in. Combined with their lack of organization in the area of magic, they had never stood a chance.
This time things would be different. They might not have more troops of their own but the mages they had underwent intensive training for certain more practical skills, guided mainly by Bryrian wizards who had participated in the last war. In addition to mages, troops from Bryria and Othius were ready to assist. Dalgare was more prepared, and though the Scoubarran occupation had not been good for their economy they still had strong youths who could pick up a sword or spear.
Anticipating the war with the assistance of spies of various sorts had also limited one of Scoubar’s common advantages of attacking without a declaration of war. The element of surprise could be extremely advantageous with one country being weeks or months behind on raising troops. Even if they could quickly call upon forces, proper time was necessary for them to be in fighting shape.
Even with those detriments overcome, Dalgare and their allies would likely be at a disadvantage. Scoubar might have been devoting some of their attention to Vospia as well, but the vast amount of land and resources they could call on was enough to maintain several fronts at once.
Yet when the assault began, Scoubar could find no clear advantage against the allied forces. Their troop movements were anticipated to set up ambushes, and previous tactics were called upon once more. Sneaking more than a handful of people into Scoubarran territory was difficult, but The Reaper and others with the resolve to use the same tactics began their work. Sabotage and killing of important officers began. Scoubar could no doubt attempt the same in return, but they tended to rely on overwhelming magical and military force, with a reasonable amount of tactics.
One final advantage the allied forces had was their ability to communicate over long distances. Only a small portion of their mages were able to cast the generalized communication spell they had developed, but the version involving bloodlines was easier for most to make use of. Even where there was only one practicing mage in a family, one-way communication could still happen with messages sent to the non-magical members. Neither magic was particularly widespread, but it was only really necessary to have one person with each force of note to provide the option of communication.
Realizing this was a significant advantage for them, the alliance also took care to guard the spells. Spellbooks were trapped, or in some cases the individual spell was kept separately to prevent damage to other spells. That was somewhat related to preference, but keeping any magic out of the hands of Scoubar in the case of spellbooks being captured was best. Besides the communication spells nothing was so important that it would significantly change the state of the war, but with many spells being shared among the mages it was best to not give Scoubar any advantages. If they knew exactly what people might do, they could create more efficient defenses or dispelling magic.
Though neither Cletus nor Faron were participating on the battlefield, they were doing their best to contribute to the war efforts. They were involved with translating missives and instructing others on the language. Whenever spellbooks were captured they helped sort through them.
Years of their presence in Secure Vantage had allowed bonds of trust to grow between them and the others. Faron’s assistance establishing contact with the Sisters was significant both before and during the war.
Currently, they were working with Sarah. Her plans to make pregnancies safer for women were reluctantly set aside for more immediately critical work. The research into the bloodline magic connecting all of the princes and the Mage-King had never stopped, but it seemed likely to be critical to stopping Scoubar once and for all. If that was even possible.
So far, they had managed to circumvent the portion of the magic that reacted with powerful magic when it was being investigated. That was arguably the most important step in the process, but it turned out the rest of the magic was extremely complex as well.
The first thoughts were whether or not it could be removed. Both Cletus and Faron were obviously uncomfortable with an enchantment that lived inside them and could use their mana without their consent. Unfortunately for them, it seemed fully ingrained into them to the point that attempting to remove it would be dangerous- possibly lethally so. After months of careful study they determined that whatever the ritual was, the end result of the process inscribed runes into the bones of all of the Scoubarran princes, effectively making them walking wards or magical formations. Yet figuring out what it was for except preventing people from inspecting it with force was difficult.
Cletus was currently proposing some of his ideas. “It could simply be measures against interrogating princes. It is rare that one gets captured alive, but it can obviously happen. But there’s one important detail in particular. The Mage-King performs the ritual himself, so there should be some sort of direct connection to him. Though it’s not clear what that is for.”
Faron considered the thoughts, “Perhaps it could allow him to seal the magic of princes? More than a handful of princes have been prepared to make attempts on his life, but they always fail even when acting in concert. It might also extend to allowing the Mage-King to actually use the mana of those present around him. His great power on the battlefield, when he used to deign to go there himself, seemed to be more than what a single person can do. Even accounting for some likely exaggeration, some of the Sisters were able to witness it personally decades ago or talk to those who had.”
Sarah nodded, “It could certainly be all of those things. There is evidence of connection to a particular source, presumably the Mage-King, that is stronger than just the bond between the two of you. To that end, the bond between both of you is more than just a regular bloodline connection. The only question is how we might exploit it. I would hesitate to attempt anything with just the two of you… but if we can capture a prince…” she shook her head. “It seems immoral to use them as human test subjects, though.”
“No more than what Scoubar does,” Cletus noted. “It may also be that we have to personally make use of the connection. I have no compunctions about killing some of the other princes, if the opportunity arises. In fact, if we could figure out how to make it work I would almost say the most damage could be caused by freely distributing the information and letting the princes settle their rivalries themselves.”
Faron shrugged, “Unless that would just cause the Mage-King to remove it. Though I suppose that would be a victory as well. Either everyone dies or he has no way to benefit from it. Or both. Though I’m concerned how that might affect us. Or that if the knowledge becomes known, he might be motivated to modify the princes still in his domain.” Faron shook her head, “It might take years, or he might have the ability to make adjustments within weeks or months. Perhaps even monopolizing his attention for that time could be worth it, but it might instead make him personally participate in the war. That would be something we’d want to avoid at all costs.”
Everyone agreed on the last part. If the Mage-King simply failed to conquer Dalgare, he might leave them alone for a time. Years, decades… maybe he would simply turn his focus in a different direction. There were more nations to be had than just the allies, and if they could be enough of a thorn in his side he might just give up. But only to the point they were an annoyance and didn’t seem to be a real threat. A hard balancing act, as the alliance had to do their utmost to defend their homelands.