A miserable few weeks of traveling through muddy backroads made Kheles seem much further than it should have been. The rain was probably a beneficial factor in helping them stay unnoticed, but it didn’t make anyone feel better. Using magic to ward off the rain was a waste of energy and counterproductive to remaining stealthy, and nobody had bothered to make an easily concealable version of the spell to begin with.
As they passed by homesteads in the woods, everyone hoped that they would be taken as whatever figures people thought was more favorable- Scoubarran soldiers or Vospian. Either way, nobody chose to confront them.
With Peat covered by a cloak, his small size would make him seem like a child. That was not in keeping with the hope they would be seen as soldiers, but they could hope people wouldn’t be paying that much attention- or couldn’t see that well.
As they approached Kheles, it was less practical to go off road. In more populated areas that was simply suspicious and there were fewer places that a horse could travel that wasn’t through someone’s crop field. The crops were still being properly tended, once again showing how little Scoubar taking over affected the normal operation of a country. But that was mostly on the surface.
Emerich directed everyone off the road to the cover of a small copse of trees. The density of foliage was actually insufficient to conceal them, but Peat was able to whip up a quick bit of magic to conceal them. As a fey, his ability to improvise spells was innate, and he’d spoken the language of magic since birth. Lucy was the next best at improvised spells, but Peat was the most experienced, spreading out the foliage and creating illusions to fill the gaps in just a few moments.
Everyone remained silent as the patrol passed. While they could undoubtedly kill a group of Scoubarran soldiers without any escaping, their disappearance would be noted. So far they had managed to remain unnoticed, and they needed to keep that up as long as possible.
Emerich once again rode out in front of the rest of the group, his spyglass and a bit of magic allowing him to look far ahead with significant clarity. A short time later he let the others catch up. “Guard station ahead. Should be the last one before Kheles itself…” he looked to Errold to confirm their location.
“That’s right,” Errold nodded, “We’re close.”
“We’ll have to go around then, but we can take the risk. If some farmer notices us going through his fields… hopefully, we can be in the city before they successfully complain to anyone.”
Shortly after nightfall, they arrived at the very same sewer grate Errold and the others had left from. Their horses were tied off in the woods. Hopefully they wouldn’t be found, but they couldn’t worry about that at the current moment. Unsurprisingly, the grate was fully repaired. Somewhat more problematic was that it was warded.
Several of the group crowded around- as much as could be done when staying a safe distance from magical wards. Lucy whispered with a low voice. “Is this Vospian work?”
Errold and Douglas were the experts on that topic, and they shook their heads, the motion just visible in the moonlight. Faron gave the answer everyone was concerned about. “Scoubarran.”
Whether that meant that Scoubar had noticed the removed sewer grate when they took over or simply had decided to fortify the sewers, it still meant they were aware of the vulnerability. Yet it should still be the best method to get inside unnoticed. It certainly wasn’t possible for them to pass through the city gates safely. They had seen how thorough inspections were, and they didn’t have a believable reason to enter the city. War was still present in Vospia, after all.
“We should go to another entrance,” Errold suggested. “We should expect it to be warded as well, but there might be more traps along this path.”
Everyone concurred, and they quickly moved around the city as carefully as possible. They came upon another sewer grate that was indeed still warded, but Errold was already planning out the route they should take in his head. Going in a different entrance shouldn’t trip them up too much.
It was difficult for Douglas to communicate in the dark and creating light might draw too much attention to them, so he left the fiddling around with the ward to Lucy and the others. It was sophisticated enough to not be a trivial task, but it was meant to catch people who weren’t on their guard. Without someone watching it it was inevitable that it would be taken down by people who knew what they were doing. Lucy even managed to use the magic making up the ward to break open the grate so they could go through.
They all stepped inside, letting their scout lead. They had to use light to navigate, unfortunately, and that meant the others could spot them. Even Vospia had several guards patrolling when Errold was fleeing the city- though in that case, they were likely concerned about Scoubarran spies. The Scoubarran guards were likely more interested in stopping smugglers or fleeing mages. To that end, they weren’t necessarily expecting people to be entering the city.
When they came across one, he was facing the other way, walking slowly along the mostly-clean walkway on the side of the sewer. Without anything being said, Xavier silently moved ahead, drawing a dagger. A few moments later the dead body of the soldier was thrown into the sludge, weighed down by his armor. The guard would be found missing at some point, but they would likely either be successful or dead by the morning.
Soon enough they came across an exit. “Where does this lead?” Emerich asked.
“This should be…” Errold held his head, “Merchant’s district. Still a bit far from the warehouses, but… I don’t know where all the entrances are down here.”
“Then we should go up,” Emerich said. “Any disagreements?”
“We’ll have to move invisibly,” Lucy said. “But there shouldn’t be too many princes patrolling here, right?”
With no disagreements, they prepared to climb out of the sewers- the entrance to the surface was of course warded as well. After dismantling it between them, Emerich peeked out. Then they successively climbed out invisibly, forming a link of hands so that Errold could lead them- in silence.
As they walked through the streets, several patrols of Scoubarran soldiers were spotted. No civilians, as there were curfew laws even before the military occupation. Everyone kept track of the person in front and behind of them in the chain, and that was it.
Down one street a squad of mage-hunters was spotted in their black armor. Various hands tensed along the line, and there was a momentary swirl of magic before things were brought under control. Errold didn’t seem to have noticed and kept walking towards his target, bringing them out of sight. When they arrived at the correct warehouse, he took a few moments to pat the wrist of the person behind him, a signal they had arrived. Everyone remained invisible while Emerich picked the lock on the warehouse- something they could only be certain of when the door swung open.
Everyone began to press inside, with a bit of jostling at the door. Inside the warehouse were piles of crates and barrels- the things that would normally be expected of a warehouse. Errold dropped invisibility first and pointed over to a wall. He began to move over towards it, fiddling with the boxes there while others filtered inside and closed the door. He briefly moved out of the area of Xavier’s silence spell before everyone moved closer.
The only thing that could give them away was if someone happened to look up and see light filtering through the windows and cracks- but unfortunately there was so little light coming in from outside they couldn’t do without. Eventually they managed to move all of the boxes out of the way, and they had to drop the silence for Errold to help coordinate them more specifically.
“Okay, first these go around the edge,” he pulled out some of the same materials that had been used for the portal before. Since they knew they would be coming here, they prepared everything they could so the process wouldn’t take days. Douglas and Errold were the most proficient in spatial magic and thus did most of the work themselves, while the others waited and watched patiently, trying to stay quiet. “And… there,” Errold whispered. “That should do it,” He nodded. “Before I activate it… everyone should enact their best defenses. We might not be able to maintain stealth any further.”
All of the mages had some level of shields already, but they took the opportunity to apply their somewhat more obvious but more effective defenses. It was strange to think that in a way, they were extremely close to the heart of Scoubar, even if it was thousands of miles away. Those who needed to prepare additional spells took the time to do so, consulting their spellbooks.
When everyone was ready, Errold activated the portal. It wobbled briefly as it appeared, but their light revealed a nearly empty intersection beyond. Errold confidently stepped through first, and the others followed behind. He had mapped out the directions for everyone in case something happened to him, but following him would be most efficient while he was still able to properly direct them. Stepping through the shaky portal was a bit unpleasant, but they were inside.