Troops continued to pour through Dalgare in a constant stream. It was clear they came from many different locations, not just points of origin but nationalities as well. Soon enough Dalgare would be providing soldiers for Scoubar, if they had their way.
Anna wasn’t going to let that happen. At the very least Dalgare had remained unstable enough that Scoubar wasn’t forcing their young men to join their armies. They had more loyal areas to draw from… but of course a decade of uncertain rule wasn’t good for anyone. Driving Scoubar out of Dalgare would be… difficult. But maybe not impossible.
In the past, The Reaper had been a big part of what they could do against Scoubar. Hit-and-run attacks, assassinations, fear… Xavier was good at it, but he was only one man. Now there were more. Unfortunately, they weren’t him. Not every one of them could have a nearly flawless record. Missions would fail, and some of them died. Soon enough Scoubar would notice something new was going on, if they hadn’t already.
But the resistance efforts were bigger than ever before. Everyone knew of crippled men and abducted women. Even if they had no connections to mages, some people didn’t like the way Scoubar ran things. Not even necessarily the iron fist they had, but just administrative policies and new taxes. Anna shook her head. Those did matter, but they seemed trivial next to the ruined lives. Even so, they weren’t going to turn away anyone who wanted to join the cause.
They were planning something big. Or maybe it was closer to a last desperate attempt. The people of Dalgare were like burnt out logs. Throwing more fuel onto the fire was letting it flare up for a moment… but after that they would be out. Anna herself was tired, organizing people for so many things that seemed to have no lasting effect. Any soldiers that died were replaced, supplies always were sent anew, and whatever they did only caused more pain and suffering for the people of Dalgare when the Scoubarrans retaliated. But the people hadn’t given up yet and Anna wasn’t going to quit before then.
These days, they were stealing more supplies than they destroyed. Killing soldiers was basically pointless, but any time they had their chance at a prince they took it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Even Xavier had failed a few times… though he’d never gotten himself killed or captured. So far… they’d been able to avoid the second thing for the most part. Most people didn’t know enough to give everything away. Those who knew more were cautious, knowing that they weren’t so strong that they could stand up to Scoubar directly. Not yet… and at best, they could only do so when they were occupied. Like with the war in Othius. Not much news came from there, but it at least seemed like they were giving Scoubar one hell of a time. Anna hoped they could keep it up. They needed everything they could get. Especially those who could do magic. In Dalgare, that was men with their tongue cut out or a few people who had lived in obscurity, as well as those who were now young. But there was also…
Anna shook her head. Douglas didn’t owe her anything. She had fought against Scoubar, but he’d done so as well. He didn’t have to help Dalgare. He had his own dreams to fulfill. Xavier was already doing everything he could. But if possible… Anna really wished they could get more support. Xavier was able to contact him… maybe Douglas and the rest of them could contribute in some way. They had to ask, at least.
The movement of Scoubarran troops was common and continuous. Their routes were technically secret, but practically there were only so many ways to cross a country efficiently. The actual secrets were which groups princes would be moving with. That information was harder to find, but individuals could travel faster than a company… and many people wanted to see Scoubar hurt.
More secret than that, however, were the mage-hunters. Xavier had only heard there were troops passing through the area… but seeing a squad in full black armor had given him a chill down his spine. He was breathing heavily, his eyes dilated.
Nothing stopped him from running away. They didn’t even know he was here, and if they did they couldn’t track him if he wanted them to go. It would be so easy to just leave… but he couldn’t. They had to die.
But it wouldn’t be easy. They knew they were priority targets. Along with them were a large number of other troops, and there would be guards day and night. They didn’t stop in the cities, instead camping nearby. Anyone who approached would die. There were constantly mage hunters on guard as well, even throughout the night.
Even if he could get close… silencing them wouldn’t do any good. Except for the one exception that Douglas had encountered, they didn’t use magic. At most it would prevent them from yelling for help- until they ran out of the area, or killed Xavier. He could use other silent magic, but their armor already resisted magic. There was no way he could beat them in any sort of physical capacity. They were trained soldiers… and he was a middle aged man, if he was generous. And he was alone.
But he couldn’t leave. These may not have been the same exact soldiers that cut out his tongue, the ones who almost killed his son and abducted his daughter. Just because they had all managed to survive didn’t excuse Scoubar’s actions… and if mage-hunters were in the area, they were going to do more of that. Maybe on in Dalgare itself but if not then in Othius, to others who had lives and families.
The other reason he couldn’t just leave was that maybe, just maybe he could do something. Douglas had gotten some of their armor, studied it, broken it down. Xavier would be the first to say that his children were both amazing geniuses. He liked to think he was pretty smart too, but their mother was excellent as well. Xavier certainly didn’t feel like a genius, just getting by with his son’s casting method and his own spells using it… but that didn’t matter.
Douglas had made a spell, and sent him the details. It had taken many nights to transfer all the pertinent pieces of information, and Xavier had to interpret some of the parts himself since it hadn’t been quite clear. After all, it wasn’t written down but runes floating in the air. Douglas gave precise instructions for which pieces would be placed where… but Xavier operated differently from him. Even if he could recreate the spell as Douglas had it in his book, it wouldn’t be just right for him.
He’d been refining it and practicing it, as much as he could without an actual target. Now that he had one, he couldn’t not use it… but he was also afraid to use it. Not because he thought it would fail. It might… but he was more worried if it succeeded. It was actually based off of Douglas’ magic devouring spell. Xavier hadn’t seen that in action, but having it described to him and seeing what it had done to Douglas himself… he was cautious. Of course, Douglas had long since ‘perfected’ that spell. It was now ‘safe’, and so was this one.
Somehow, Xavier felt like killing people in their sleep or even cutting out their tongues when they were alive would be nicer than what would happen if this spell worked. He shook his head. Douglas certainly had an interesting train of thought. How did he deal with magical formations defending a fortress? Use the fortress to destroy itself. Special armor that both repelled and absorbed magic… would be both repelled by magic and attracted to it. That was what it was already doing, but the implications of how it would work were… unsettling.
Xavier needed to test it. On a real target. It wouldn’t chain from target to target like the unrestrained magic devouring spell. That was a safety feature and a drawback. It wasn’t such an easy spell that he could memorize many of them… and he would need to use other magic concurrently. If he wanted to survive, which he did. He needed to tell Douglas it worked, if nothing else. Though Douglas would probably say something like ‘of course it worked’. Xavier smiled.
It was a shame he might only be able to kill one… but that might not be such a bad thing. If he killed two, it might betray his limits. One person dying mysteriously… that was a scare tactic. It said he could do it whenever he wanted, and they could do nothing about it. That not being true didn’t mean people wouldn’t believe it. Xavier had been The Reaper long enough to know what sort of effect the unknown could have.
He checked his spells. Shields. That was important if he screwed up. Invisibility. He couldn’t get inside the camp otherwise. A very small area of silence. To keep his lower body quiet, avoiding the sound of snapping twigs or leaves while not disturbing others and letting him hear the movements of nearby troops. It was actually easier than a large area, and if he wasn’t fighting wizards or trying to sneakily kill anyone… just as good.
In addition to his spells, he would need to have an idea of the layout of the camp. He wanted to get in and out quickly, and with the smallest chance of bumping into someone. Blindly swinging soldiers could hit his shields, maybe even knock him down… and he could easily be overwhelmed. But he also couldn’t spend days making preparations, since they would probably be gone in the morning. One lap around the camp and a bit of hope would have to do.