From a very young age, Douglas understood that communication was difficult. His young experience with that had all been trying to use a single language, though his sign was basically its own language. Or like a system of not-writing. The various weirdnesses there only made him more aware of how hard communication was. That was with his father and sister doing their best to support his efforts and no sources of interference.
When one added in different native languages, distance, and a need for secrecy things got difficult. Codes weren’t hard, especially compared to the language of magic. Especially not codes where you had the key to unravel the message. But choosing which languages to write in and which codes to use and thinking about transporting those messages was hard. The transport, at least, was well within the capabilities of the Sisters. Their agents were quite experienced in avoiding notice in the areas controlled by Scoubar, and while being noticed outside of Scoubar would be bad for the secrecy, it was only a problem if news made it back to Scoubar.
Whatever the case, communication would be slow and that bugged Douglas. He hadn’t found a good way to get around that, however. For non-secret communication he had several decent ideas that would at least work in one direction. The easiest would be similar to how he communicated with his sister and father, but instead of using his bloodline connection to them he would use his memory of a place, or perhaps leave a token to help aim his magic. The drawback was that it required a person to be there paying attention when the magic happened. He had agreed upon times to potentially communicate with his family, and they were guaranteed to be there, since the spell sought them out. Doing that with people not related to him was much more difficult, and if it worked, more troublesome. Because if a friendly spell could track people so easily, so could unfriendly spells. It wouldn’t really be simple to send something truly dangerous over a large distance. Distance didn’t matter in theory, but in practical terms no spell was perfect and so simple manipulations of light into letters was already quite difficult.
Douglas recalled reading about certain communication methods that were lost. These involved paired items, both imbued with the same spell- or two halves of the same spell. Books that shared whatever was written in them, mirrors that reflected a different place, or on the extremely simple end stones that glowed when the other was activated. From what Douglas understood, those still had limitations based on distance and the actual methods to make them had been lost to time. Books were destroyed by accident or war or simply the passage of centuries and mages simply hadn’t considered it as important. The Endless Library itself had been built during a time of widespread peace, where a great many countries chose to share knowledge between wizards. The Endless Library itself effectively opened their borders with the different entrances. Douglas didn’t know where they all were, except for the two he’d been to. Some of the languages in different areas weren’t anything he recognized, indicating it either died out or was more than just the next country over. He supposed things didn’t have to line up in geographical order compared to outside the library. Perhaps it had more to do when each section was put together.
The Sisters worked with Faron and Douglas’ knowledge of Xavier and Dalgare, which was the closest place and thus the easiest to communicate with. They would, of course, have to get him to agree to take part in what they were doing, but Douglas didn’t think he would refuse information about Scoubar’s inner workings. He might not trust it immediately, but refusing it? Impossible.
There were plans to communicate with Secure Vantage as well, though being more than half a country further it was a bit more difficult. The Sisters were also interested in Lucy, but it could take some time before everything was properly arranged.
The plans took several days, during which Douglas wasn’t ever physically present while people were discussing details. That was frustrating, but he could understand the lack of trust in him- and Cletus especially. Though Cletus did provide a few helpful tidbits about how princes might try to intercept messages. Even if they didn’t know about the Sisters, princes would try to intercept any sort of communication they noticed, if they could get away with it. And they usually could. The best method was to just not look like someone delivering a message- but the Sisters already knew that.
Then, it was time to leave. Faron would be more useful to the Sisters outside of Scoubar’s territory, and none of the rest had any desire to stay around. “Ugh,” Faron complained, “Does this mean we have to go back to dealing with cloth?”
“It worked well enough in the other direction,” Cletus pointed out. “And it would be strange to suddenly not be a cloth merchant. Besides, we have enough capital now that we don’t need to do so much repairing and the like. Douglas already cleared out the markets around here anyway.” They didn’t sell any of the rejuvenated bolts of cloth in the same city they bought them in, so that nobody could notice how much they changed. Like magic. Because it was magic. Though Douglas could do a pretty decent job without magic, it seemed.
“Fine. I hope we travel quickly so I can wear pants again.”
“I won’t stop you now…” Cletus shrugged.
“I’m not going to compromise our disguise for comfort. I wore full armor for over a decade, and I can tell you that it is not at all comfortable. The wards against magic are so… itchy.”
The Sisters were able to provide some help that was immediately useful. Better forged documents. While it would be best to never have their documents required at all, if they were needed they wanted them to be as good as possible. They did have a legitimate mercantile license. That just required money, and the details on it were minimal. It basically just had Cletus’ name and occupation as a cloth merchant, and allowed their cart into cities with a smaller tax. They had debated before they even entered Testror and Scoubaran territory as to whether or not he should have a fake name, but they decided to keep it. It was a common enough name closer to the core of Scoubar, and he couldn’t accidentally be called the wrong thing. He did have a fake surname, though.
They did run into a problem, however. There was a long line ahead of them at the gates to Dakor. There hadn’t been a slowdown in the other direction, but all of them could feel that was because something had changed. There was a prince at the wall checking people passing through. He was scanning everyone passing by with magic.
“What should we do about this?” Cletus whispered.
“Turning around now would be too suspicious,” Faron said. “If nothing else they’d think we’re smugglers. We’ll have to hope we’re concealing things well enough.”
“What if we let all of our magic fade?” Sarah asked.
Faron shook her head, “That wouldn’t be better. We’d be defenseless if something happened, and they might be looking for mages regardless. Plus there’s Douglas’ magic bag.”
Douglas pointed to his bag. He did his best to be clear with his signing. “I have your armor. Wanna try it?”
Faron grimaced, “That’s a guaranteed conflict. No thank you.”
Douglas shrugged, “I could kill him?” he drew his finger across his throat a bit subtly, since normal people might recognize that.
“So could any of us,” Cletus said. “It would be better to avoid something so high profile.”
“It could just be an accident,” Douglas said. Sarah had to translate some of what he was saying, since she had more experience with his sign language. “His shields mess up and squish him, or he was hiding advanced pneumonia and his lungs are full of liquid.”
“That second thing isn’t possible,” Cletus frowned, “Is it?”
Faron just grimaced.
“… well. How about we watch his technique. If his spell looks to be something that could catch us, he could suffer an accident. At least it’s guaranteed to be silent,” Cletus shook his head.
They continued ever forward in the line. It seemed a bulk of the delay was simply the prince re-memorizing the spell continuously. It was used on a batch of people at a time. Everyone agreed he was bound to have a terrible headache at the end of the day, and that it didn’t seem too dangerous.
Then it was their turn, with the people directly in front and behind them. The gate guards seemed to be performing standard checks while the prince cast his spell over the area. He turned his head back and forth, seemingly with no results. Then he stopped. “You there!”
Douglas pointed to himself.
“Yes, you! Hand over your bag.”
Douglas nodded, his head held low. Inside his head, he was forming the word-image for a spell. It took some time to call up the whole thing but his steps were even and unhurried. Not too slow, but certainly not quick. All he needed to do was flood the spell with power. It was better to add the power as the spell formed, but this would be the fastest method he could do without drawing suspicion.
He handed his rucksack to the prince, who turned it out on a table in a clatter. Boxes made to hold needles of various sizes and shapes fell out along with spools of different sorts of thread. Douglas winced at the harsh treatment.
The prince scanned his eyes across all of them as the guard checked Cletus’ documents. Douglas didn’t think much of the skills the prince had displayed, but things could still go terribly wrong regardless. He was just about to call up the power of his concealed mana when the prince shoved everything off the table back into the bag. “You may pass. Next.”