A shadow covered the open slit of a tent, intentionally blocking the light. It wasn’t easy to get that far, it would be a shame to mess up at the final moment. The tent flap silently fluttered closed behind the figure as it slipped into the dark tent, but a little bit of darkness was fine. Equally silent steps continued forward, and likewise the ground didn’t wobble even slightly as the figure approached the other side of the tent.
A knife came out, moving towards the mouth… but ultimately it was unused. As the prone figure’s eyes snapped open, it was already too late. A gag had slipped into his mouth and roped bound his wrists behind them. He could only scream silently.
Xavier would have liked to cut out the prince’s tongue, but this time they needed him for something else. It wasn’t easy to capture a trained mage alive, especially not vigilant ones like the princes… but he had experience from prior assassinations. Meanwhile, those he came for never got the chance to improve their techniques after failing once. There was the exception of that Cletus, but the only good thing about Scoubar having hundreds of princes was that a large many of them weren’t top tier talents. None were without significant power, but possessing magical power and knowing how to use it weren’t the same thing.
With the prince bound and gagged, Xavier made use of one final spell. Carrying a person out with him was already going to be difficult enough, doing it while they were twisting and squirming would just be a pain. A simple knock on the head with magic and the man was concussed. Then Xavier set about lifting the man. As he expected, he couldn’t do it. He was more than just getting old now. It was already too much to go sneaking around and pretending it didn’t hurt his back, picking someone up was too much. The first attempt… he’d learned that the hard way.
But he’d chosen a camp with a single prince for a reason. Nobody else would feel him using magic, and thus propping the body up with a bit of telekinesis was viable. Unfortunately, maintaining such a spell and invisibility and silence all together… well, it was a bit much for him. So he’d have to forgo the silence. Because he sure as hell wasn’t going to walk through an enemy camp carrying their commander in front of them.
Somehow he managed to half-carry the comatose figure out of the camp and reach the horses he’d brought. That was something he’d learned from his first successful attempt- one horse for two people, one of which was a captive, was quite unpleasant. He’d much rather strap a prince over the saddle and not think about what it did to them. As long as they were alive when he arrived, it would be good enough.
It was clear to Sarah that she’d taken on too many different projects. She had to set aside the research into fertility and safe pregnancies because of the war. She was still working on communication spells and had also been involved with the plan to create a new door into the Endless Library- which had ultimately been deemed infeasible without some sort of internal anchor.
She also had her most unpleasant project- studying the bloodline magic on the princes. She didn’t mind if they died. In fact, she was quite happy if they would. But before that point they were still people and she didn’t like their expressions of pain. Though that was usually brief. She wasn’t torturing them on purpose, but instead trying to study the bloodline magic. She was able to dive deeper into them than Cletus or Faron- not because there was something special about them, but because she wasn’t concerned about the consequences to their health. Even when she managed to avoid triggering responses that would kill her, the princes usually died quickly.
When she finally made her first real attempt to remove the bloodline magic, she found she was successful… sort of. The magic was gone, but it was too much an integral part of the man. He died soon after. Sarah felt sick. She wasn’t the only one working on the project, but she was unfortunately the best at bloodline magic so her presence was necessary. At least they learned a lot with the few subjects they had. Xavier admitted he wouldn’t likely be able to find any more relatively unprotected princes, and he’d had some close calls lately. No long term injuries, but the fact that he was injured at all meant things were close, since he was sneaking into enemy camps.
They learned enough about the bloodline magic to potentially make use of it. Cletus and Faron were ever so polite in allowing her to attempt to dispel things from them, sometimes an unpleasant process. It worked basically as normal for her, but when they took the learned techniques and used it on each other, the results were extraordinary. They were able to break through stronger defenses with less effort by relying on the bloodline connection and the deeply entrenched magic. If that applied to the Mage-King as well, even in a small way, it would be extraordinary. It was just the sort of thing they needed for their upcoming mission. It really couldn’t delay any longer.
The flat field of dirt didn’t seem like much, but in truth Hagen knew it was protecting Dalgare from Scoubarran invasion. With fewer resources to draw from they had to make clever use of what they had. That was a large number of mages who at least vaguely matched those Scoubar sent against them. But that wasn’t sufficient. They needed to be more efficient than Scoubar, and to do that they had to make them in a riskier position. Fortunately, they simply needed to keep the enemy from advancing. Thus, turning the border into a field of explosive spells.
Even Hagen didn’t know which ones were still active or how long they would stay that way. It was by no means a perfect defense, but most of the mages in the alliance were kept busy along the border, preventing Scoubar from approaching through any of the most optimal routes.
Scoubar had their own responses, of course. Their princes were capable of dispelling magic, but with it placed almost haphazardly around an area they had to spend quite a bit of time to do so. They weren’t willing to send their own soldiers to their deaths, as training them took time and expenses. But Scoubar was willing to send prisoners to their deaths. Nobody liked being responsible for those deaths, which was one of many reasons the mages didn’t stay to watch. But they were also busy with other things.
Most of the male mages from Dalgare had their tongues cut out by the Scoubarrans. However, with Xavier Lynwood’s help they learned how to cast spells without speaking. It was still very difficult for some of them, but when it was the only way to cast spells they were greatly motivated. Some of those same people had worked on covert operations before- especially assassinations of princes. The ability to move about with an area of silence covering them was exceptionally powerful, since they could still make use of magic unlike most mages. Even if they might not have the power to throw fireballs in that state, smaller uses like opening locks were still possible.
It seemed like there were always more princes, every time they killed one. Even if they found a camp where prisoners were being kept and freed them, there were always more. But they couldn’t give up even if Scoubar seemed to be endless. Even as some of them lost their lives, they knew it was necessary for the sake of others.
They just needed to hold long enough for the plan to go through. Hagen knew that, and some of the others. The rest… couldn’t know. It should be only a few more weeks at most, and they would have to endure without having sight of the hope at the end of things. For that purpose, Hagen continued to monitor the border, adding his own spells where he found an opportunity. He had no idea when Scoubar next planned a large assault, but they had to be ready.
For the moment, Bryria still controlled the Bryria-Vospia border. That was enough for the assassination group to get across the border. They could have tried navigating through a smaller pass, but there was already enough risk. The slightly longer path would keep them fresh enough to do what they actually needed instead of just having them wear themselves out early. It was unlikely they would find much rest while they were in Vospia. Of course, they would still sleep- but constantly being on their guard would wear everyone down.
The group was made of the three Lynwoods, Sarah Tatham, Cletus and Faron. They would also be bringing Errold and Maynard for their familiarity with Vospia, Kheles, and the shifted Endless Library. Finally, Emerich and Peat would be coming along as well as scouts. Ten people seemed like far too few to even think about killing the Mage-King of Scoubar, but any more than that and they would be too large to have any amount of stealth. If they didn’t manage stealth, then they would need a full army- anything short wouldn’t matter.
Everyone rode along in silence, not because they particularly needed to be quiet at every moment but because there was little to say. There were some concerned looks at the two Scoubarrans by those who didn’t know them, but the trust those who knew them had was good enough to keep things to that level. The logical argument helped as well- the two of them had ample opportunities to betray everyone in the heart of Scoubarran territory already. And of course, Faron’s rare position as a Sister was a significant consideration.
Though Scoubar was mostly in control of Vospia, they couldn’t patrol every road all the time. Those they could patrol didn’t necessarily have princes, so invisibility magic worked. So far, the group hadn’t had to get into any conflicts. Hopefully, they could make it into Kheles and the Library undetected. They would need at least that much if they were going to succeed.