Having a good excuse to dive deep into magical studies once again was quite liberating for Lucy. She’d had limited time, because of needing to deal with so many other responsibilities. The mages of Bryria weren’t completely united internally. Nobody had been trying to kill anybody, but they did worse things instead… like mire things up in bureaucracy. It was too late for them to regret that instead of getting along and organizing themselves better. They’d stood up against the Vospian invasion well enough… but ‘well enough’ still meant they were pushed back to their very last stronghold. While many Bryrian wizards were interested in the same revenge on Vospia that the nobles wanted, they would have likely preferred it to be on their own terms.
Lucy wasn’t sure if she would advocate for a mageocracy like Vospia- the problem was that people would still be running things. While she might trust herself and a few others in positions of authority, any others were a mixed bag that might turn out worse than Bryria’s current setup. Of course, attempting a transition of power would be a process involving far too much death- Bryria couldn’t afford to have more losses of soldiers or mages after all of the recent war. That was one reason they needed to do everything the best they could- bringing down the Vospian defenses before they even considered it was possible.
Douglas and Librarian Reed had compiled quite an excellent list of potential weaknesses. It wasn’t wise to assume the defenses would remain static, especially after what Douglas did to the Endless Library. Even if it was just their walls around it, that would certainly make Vospia think about their defenses. Then again, they’d been stagnating for the past few centuries, rarely innovating- and even then usually just discovering old magic buried deep within the library already. Still, it was better not to underestimate them. At the bare minimum they had many more wizards than Bryria, all of which had spent decades learning magic. Bryria had fewer, and mostly with less experience. Senior Mage Lundgren and Jonathan Herbert from Vospia both were quite capable, and there were certainly others developing… but they couldn’t match Vospia directly. They also couldn’t set up traps for the enemy, instead having to move towards them. They would need everything they knew about the Vospian defenses now and any spells they could prepare to counter them… and more information than that.
Lucy began dusting off notes from the war with Scoubar. She had worked with Douglas to develop a spell for just that sort of thing… amplifying the visibility of runes, even through solid surfaces. In short, a spell that would let them see magic ahead of them- on fortifications and hopefully traps. There was no way Vospia wouldn’t try to use some of their own traps against them.
The important thing was that they didn’t have to win a war. In fact, the more they avoided fighting the Vospians the better. They had locations of various estates of leading wizarding families in Vospia. They would hit as many of those as they could and withdraw once they had done enough damage. That was the plan, anyway. For that, they would need everything they could get… and that included regular soldiers. After the war with Vospia the army had been cut back again. Countess Irieby was working on convincing the other nobles to take proper time raising and training troops earlier, even if it cost money. Hopefully they would get it back. Lucy would rather not go off to war when they didn’t strictly have to… but then again, it might be necessary to inform Vospia they couldn’t just do whatever they wanted.
Light streamed in through undrawn blinds. It would have been preferable not to wake up so early, but unfortunately Priscia Saunders didn’t have the option to lie in her comfortable bed all day. She had lessons, of course. This morning was… history? Music? Etiquette? The first two weren’t so bad but the third just reminder her that her only prospect for the future was to be polite arm candy and to bear children. It was completely unfair, because her older brother Harvey had gotten to learn magic. The reason Priscia couldn’t learn magic? “We don’t want to increase your risk of dying in childbirth.”
Priscia grumpily started getting ready for the day, complaining to herself silently that she wouldn’t die in childbirth just for being a wizard because she didn’t have to have children at all. But of course, that wasn’t her choice either. She’d be married off to Peter to produce more mage-babies for the Wheeler family even though he could barely do magic at all. Priscia hadn’t had the opportunity to learn exactly what good wizards could do, but she’d had a few chances to see people better, at least. She was sure she could do better if given the chance. But while it wasn’t quite forbidden to teach daughters magic, almost nobody did it. Sarah had gotten to learn magic- even if her opportunities were more limited. Then she’d up and disappeared with her family. Priscia wished she could do that… without her family. As it was she found herself restricted to overhearing magic discussed at dinner, though mother didn’t really like such talk. She was such a perfect wife, willing to only talk about polite things and never think about being useful in the slightest.
Priscia glanced at the family library as she walked past. So much knowledge was right there, but she couldn’t even step foot in the room most of the time. She couldn’t sneak in anymore, either. She used to be able to pick the locks, but they were enchanted now. If only she’d learned how to undo that before she was caught… but sadly she hadn’t even learned more than the fundamentals, and never even got to use magic. Maybe she should have just tried to directly cast that light spell in the book.
Her lesson indeed was etiquette. She consoled herself by pretending that the words she was being taught to say were like magic. Granted, the only thing they would do was make social events pass uneventfully, but at least that was a form of magic she could get behind. “Oh yes, did you smell the roses? They’re the exact same as every damn year.” She supposed the lessons were good so she remembered not to say that second part out loud. Harvey had enchanted a rose to smell differently once. Granted, the smell had been foul, but Priscia thought there should be a way to make them better than they were.
The day managed to pass without incident or excitement of every sort. Like nearly every day. Priscia looked out her window into the moonlit gardens. She wasn’t too tired yet, but she had little else to do but reread histories- and she would prefer to fall asleep on purpose instead of with a book on her face. She watched as a bird fluttered through the night. It was a curious bird, with thin wings and a strange body. It almost looked nothing like a bird at all, and it flew without flapping its wings. As it approached the window she saw that it was made out of folded paper and hardly bird shaped at all, except for the point at the front and wide wings. The paper continued to fly until it struck her window.
Or at least, it should have struck her window. Instead it hit her in the face. Priscia stumbled back in surprise more than from any sort of force it had. The folded paper was on the floor. She looked at the window in front of her, feeling it with her hands. It was still quite solid. Then she unfolded the paper.
As a mage with insufficient access to knowledge, you are hereby cordially invited to a secret council. You will find the southwestern gate of the manor opens quite more easily than you would expect. Enclosed are instructions to a spooky back alley from where you might find your way to the council. Though perhaps it need not be said, do try to make sure you aren’t followed if you choose to join.
A Potential Friend”
Priscia frowned, tapping the paper against the glass. She could sense some remnants of magic on it, but she had little practical knowledge of how that worked. But she might be able to learn something. A spooky back alley… either someone making a joke, or kidnappers trying to lure her out with gestures of friendliness. But they knew how to get her interested. If she turned out to get kidnapped, at least her ransom would cause her family some annoyance. In short, she could reasonably expect a good outcome.
She pulled her socks back on, carefully picking up her shoes. They would be too loud in the halls. She had none of the practical, quiet sorts of shoes that some had… but she wasn’t going to go outside in bare feet or just socks. She carefully snuck past closed doors. It had been long enough since she last did this that there weren’t guards watching for her anymore. That was something, at least.
There were still guards patrolling the grounds, but she had watched their routes from her window many times. There wasn’t much else to do… and she’d been thinking about trying to sneak over to a magic shop. Most of them wouldn’t sell to her and weren’t open so late regardless, but she could dream. Now… she hoped there would actually be something as she slipped past the guards. She still sensed magic on the southwestern gate as she approached. Was the letter wrong? Was it a trap? She didn’t expect her family to bother putting her up to this. As she touched the gate, nothing happened. Then she was through and out in a few seconds.
She followed the directions on the unfolded paper… and came to an alleyway that was quite spooky indeed. The light didn’t reach the ground through the rooftops and cobwebs crossed between broken boxes and the sides of the buildings. Priscia took a deep breath. She might have access to magic beyond there. She just had to take a step forward. So she did, and found herself in a different alleyway entirely.