Explosions rang out all around. As solutions to a minefield went, Hagen Reed had to admit that the Scoubarrans had settled on a pretty good one. It was likely they still had more prisoners they could force out into the battlefield, but when they wanted quicker, more widespread results magic was the solution.
Not fancy, complex magic. Just throwing it everywhere. Even if the magical mines weren’t set up to trigger from spells, if the ground around them was disturbed in a violent explosion, they would either end up triggering on accident or have their locations distorted enough that they were no longer valid as even temporary wards. The individual mines were spaced out so as to not interfere with each other, but with the Scoubarrans rending the ground apart with their spells they could affect a few mines at once. They didn’t have unlimited numbers of princes to draw upon, but it was enough to clear a path to launch attacks into Dalgare.
Though he would have much preferred to directly attack the princes, they remained in the rear of their soldiers providing support, much like himself. Even if he could reach them, his magic was more necessary to stem the tide of soldiers marching on their front lines. Every time they were pushed back, more of Dalgare was vulnerable to future attacks.
Hagen formed magic into a blade, wide and low to the ground. Over a large area it was difficult to make it both sharp and durable, so he had developed his spell err more on the side of stability. As his magic surged forward it struck at the legs of soldiers and horses, cutting into them and sending them tumbling onto each other. It wasn’t a pleasant sight, but war wasn’t pretty. War was the bodies of common soldiers filling up battlefields, and it would include his own body if he wasn’t careful.
He had a limited number of spells he could memorize and imbue with his mana, so he tried to make them count. He kept some general dispels ready, disruptive magic that would at least allow him to mute the effects of enemy magic on their own soldiers. Fortunately, the alliance was at least able to somewhat match Scoubar in terms of mages on the field, and being in a defensive position gave them just enough edge to continue fighting. For now. Hagen just hoped that the operation was going well. If it was even half successful… it should be extremely disruptive to Scoubar. There should be something soon. He hoped.
Being in the true Endless Library, with all the nearby parts under Scoubarran control, there was no hope that their presence would be unnoticed or ignored. Nor could they be mistaken for soldiers… except one of them. Faron still had her mage-hunter armor that fit her, and they needed every edge they could get. She was most accustomed to fighting in that armor as well. Upon making sure there was nobody around, they took a short break to recover mana and memorize any final spells they needed to.
With magic absorbing armor, Faron wasn’t able to become invisible, but that didn’t apply to the rest of them. It was just a matter of whether they could reasonably maintain it for long enough to make it a good idea. Since they likely wouldn’t have another chance to rest or stop to re-memorize spells, they had to conserve their efforts as much as possible.
Errold led the way, his knowledge of how the various rooms connected to each other being invaluable to their movements. Everyone stayed on their guard, expecting enemies around every corner… but there was a significant period of time before they were really at any risk. The secret entrance was quite a bit off the path between the Scoubarran part of the library and the Vospian part, and Errold knew a path closer to the Scoubarran end. They still had to be cautious, because they couldn’t know if anything had changed.
As they approached they slowed down, checking for wards. When they found some, they took a different path, trying to find a way through without having to dismantle anything. Once or twice they heard groups of soldiers moving, but none spotted them.
After surveying the area and finding no simple path, they retreated some distance to where they could talk in peace. “There are more wards now than before,” Errold commented. “Not that I’m surprised, but it seems like it would be difficult to move large numbers of soldiers. Perhaps many of them are just informative.”
“I’m sure they are,” Faron said, “But there’s likely more to it. I would imagine they use a wardstone. It would suppress the wards as they move by. Similar things are used in a few secure places. Unfortunately, neither of us had any, and this is new regardless.”
“We could try to ambush a group,” Cletus suggested. “Anyone moving through should have a wardstone, so if we make our way past the outer layers of wards, we can go from there. Though we should be expecting trouble once we act.”
Everyone was already prepared for something similar, so the nine of them once more approached the Scoubarran section. Errold commented, “We should keep a bit away from the main entrance, so they don’t notice us early.”
With ten minutes and some of their magic, they were able to breach the outer wards. Then they just stood waiting, listening and watching. If more than a squad was coming through, they would have to retreat. However, they could easily take out ten or twenty soldiers- hopefully without any being able to flee.
When they heard footsteps approaching, Faron and Cletus edged forward towards the next section of wards. The group couldn’t disable all of the wards in the area, not without wasting their limited resources. Most of the group waited out of sight, another room over, ready to jump out when needed.
As the footsteps became more clear, Faron and Cletus started walking towards them. Three figures came into view- one prince and two soldiers. “Greetings,” Cletus opened, doing his best to fall back into his old Scoubarran speech patterns. “Gloomy as hell down here.”
The prince shook his head, “You’re telling me. At least you’re getting to leave the front.” He frowned as he looked past them, but shook his head.
The prince didn’t seem interested in talking, as he continued past Cletus- until he was parallel to Faron. Her armored arm came up around his throat while her other hand pulled out a sword at her waist. The prince’s defenses fought against the magic disrupting effects of her armor as she stabbed her sword into the man. At the same time, Cletus drew his own sword and slashed towards the back of one of the two soldiers, striking him in the neck.
The third immediately turned, pulling his weapon and calling out in alarm. Realizing he was facing two opponents, he turned to flee- but Cletus had already started a spell. Killing a single soldier in standard armor was not impossible for magic, but it was easier to trip up the man, sending him stumbling as an ankle was yanked backwards. Brother and sister set upon the man, knocking his sword away before finishing him with their own weapons. They checked the bodies before calling for the others.
Emerich grimaced as he looked at the bodies. “That one’s a prince, right? Isn’t he your brother?”
“Half-brother,” Cletus said. “Maybe a nephew or something. But our whole mission is to kill the Mage-King, who we are even more related to. Don’t think of us like family. We’re never treated like it. I only have one family member,” Cletus gestured towards Faron. “Everyone else is just people with the same bloodline.”
“I suppose I shouldn’t have expected any familial bonds considering what these princes do to everyone else,” Emerich frowned. “But still…”
“We haven’t considered ourselves as part of Scoubar for years,” Cletus looked towards Faron, “Or ever, I suppose.”
Faron grimaced, “When you have to pretend to be someone else just to be alive, you never really feel at home.”
Xavier held up a carved metal tablet, swishing it through the air.
“Right,” Errold said. “We should get going.”
Xavier had already dragged the bodies into a side room and around a corner. Douglas performed a quick cleaning spell to remove the largest bloodstains. Then they continued onward.
It was to their benefit that they encountered a group heading in the opposite direction. Nobody would be expecting somebody to show up before them. As for anyone else they encountered, Faron and Cletus at least looked like they belonged. The other seven trailed behind them trying to stay out of sight.
“We’re almost there,” Errold said. “Just a few more turns. Two rooms that way, then a left, then a right. There has to be a checkpoint or something, right?” Everyone nodded. “We need to be invisible, then. We can’t just let these two deal with it all.”
Through their various methods, everyone disappeared from view. They tried to stand far enough apart they wouldn’t bump into each other as they walked while they followed the two with Scoubarran blood.
The only checkpoint seemed to be at the very bottom of the stairs leading up. It was reasonable that Scoubar had become complacent- there likely hadn’t been anything happening in the Endless Library in months, with all of the relevant sections fully under their control.
Two mage-hunters stood at the bottom of the stairs, spears upright. “Transfer papers, please.”
“Of course,” Cletus smiled, while at the same time signalling behind his back. “Let me just…” he reached into his bag without approaching much closer.
The mage-hunters never knew what was coming. If they were capable of using magic themselves, they might have sensed the buildup of mana, but they wouldn’t have heard any of the words of power… because they were silent. They likely still didn’t understand what happened when their armor pulled inwards, crushing them, their bodies falling limp.
Faron grimaced, “I’m glad you hadn’t developed that when you met me.” She knew Douglas was responsible for that spell, developed by studying her own armor- and of course his father had been the first to put it to practical use. It wasn’t easy and took quite a bit of mana, but overcoming magic-proof armor with magic was still quite a feat. Cletus and Faron looked up the stairs. “If the library is as we expect, we’ll lead you out and towards the palace. Hopefully we don’t run into too much trouble before then.”