It was strange to stay up late at night, waiting for something unknown to happen. A week prior he’d received a letter from Lucy informing him to be awake and alone at a certain time. The letter explained little more, except to reply with the results.
Suspicious. But if there was going to be something harmful, informing him ahead of time seemed counterintuitive. He couldn’t possibly imagine any magic that would be more harmful to him awake.
He remained as alone as ever, with guards outside his room that were generally unnecessary. Defensive spells were active, just in case something were to happen. That was generally the case with every mage of significant power he knew for the entire time they were awake. It would be a shame to be injured in an accident when the circumstances were entirely preventable- and intentional danger could always be hiding around the corner.
Minutes crept by as Claude waited, the candle on his desk burning down to almost nothing. He could use magical light, but he preferred to keep that small amount of concentration free.
He thought that perhaps he missed something or that nothing would be happening at all. Those thoughts lingered until the very moment that magic appeared before his eyes. Words clearly formed of that magic yet of a mundane language.
He was so surprised he almost forgot to read them. Making words with magic was not the most difficult of tasks, but doing so directly in front of someone while apparently not being nearby was something else entirely.
The words were a simple code phrase. He wasn’t entirely certain why the creator of the message needed him to relay the code to Lucy when they clearly had contact with each other, but he was eager to find out. He quickly sat down and penned a letter, eager for morning when he could send it. He deeply wanted to know how that form of communication worked.
For all that they claimed magical superiority, the roads in Vospia were merely adequate. The old roads from previous times had clearly been special at some point, but the centuries had not been kind to them. The roads were cracked where they were even visible at all instead of buried under layers of dirt and plant matter.
It was truly a shame that a country that claimed to have the greatest mages devoted so much of their efforts to making sure that only those from already established families could actually be great mages. Meanwhile, the Endless Library they were so proud of was falling apart and the only commonplace magic was used to prop up the institute of magic and the manors of those in power.
Each of the nine traveling along the road realized the state of things at different points in time. Several of them had only recently been introduced to magic, though they knew the old stories. Having experienced magic for themselves, the tales of the past seemed less exaggerated and instead the present was disappointing.
“I thought once I learned magic I would have more control over my life,” Julie shook her head, “More than this, I mean. Instead, I’m still forced into action by the same people even when they aren’t trying.”
“I thought I’d be able to fly,” Simon said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted.”
Maynard was next to get a word in, “I had all sorts of ideas when I was a kid. Throwing around fireballs, rescuing princesses from towers, fighting dragons…” he shrugged, “Don’t even know if dragons still exist. But I have to say, magic has a lot more practical value than I expected.” He gestured to the bag hanging over him, and his shoes. “It allows for options that simply didn’t exist. Carrying more than one person possibly could without a wagon, safely and securely. And what you can do with materials… a missed cut no longer ruins a whole section of leather. Still takes time and effort to fix, but there’s so little wasted material. People could live much better if all had a good pair of shoes without holes. And everything else, of course. Leaky roof’s as bad as leaky boots.”
Rina shared her thoughts as well. “Tales of enchantresses seducing kings were quite interesting.”
“Too bad the best we could do was cajole people into a shop,” Mattea continued the thought.
For all that they were speaking about their disappointments with magic, nobody regretted having the ability. The group travelled during the day, camping when they had to and stopping at waystations when they could. Publicly available waystations were rare and usually in disrepair, barely better than sleeping outside. Proper inns, however, weren’t always available along their path and came with monetary expenses. While the group might be wealthy in a certain sense with their stores of magical knowledge and the like, their actual coins were a very limited resource.
Priscia and Julie had provided some money to the group when they were still able to live with their families, but that money quickly dwindled due to the consequences of the heist. Rina and Mattea had some small amount of savings but mostly just managed to support themselves. Maynard was the best established of any of them. He had little in the way of extra finances for them usually, but knowing that they were leaving he took out a loan against his shop and residence. The bank would certainly come looking for him when they received no payments, but it would be at least a month. In the end, they would be content with the results- they were both still set up for use, and the loan wasn’t as much as the sale price would be.
Maynard’s wealth wasn’t insignificant, but travel expenses for nine people would add up. In the best case scenario they had no delays and reached the Bryrian border with over half of it left. Even that was somewhat concerning, because there was no guarantee they would be allowed to cross, or safe if they did. Maynard was fairly confident in their resources before they reached Maketh, but what happened then was an open question.
Maketh was off the most direct route to the border, but they had a good reason to stop there. Julie had two cousins she wanted to convince to join them. There was a bit of risk, but Julie was certain that even if they refused to come her cousins wouldn’t betray them. They didn’t need more people, but not making the attempt wouldn’t sit well with anyone. Not when they knew what was coming, or what sort of life they had to look forward to even if the Scoubarrans were kept out of the country. It was one thing being reduced to just a child bearer but even worse to have a known increase of risk to life for that very thing.
The long road stretched out in front of the group. Each day of travel brought with it passing travelers and the risk of being discovered if they didn’t conceal their features, with the exception of the twins. Most of their magical efforts were spent on preparing spells to change their faces for several minutes at a time, for each group they passed. The occasional wizard was a larger concern, but they did their best not to get too close. Soon enough, they arrived near Maketh.
The benefits of going from a high security area to one with lower priority were obvious. While there were guards at the gates of the city there were no wizards among them. They only gave the group of travelers a quick glance before waving them through.
They arranged for several private rooms at a respectable inn, where most of them would be staying for the duration of their presence in the city. Having a group of nine people out spying on a manor would be anything but subtle, and frivolously moving about the city was an unnecessary risk.
Julie was the most important to the plan for obvious reasons. Simon would be going along as backup. If he was recognized as a mage it would likely be assumed he was the apprentice of someone unknown. Likewise his face was only seen in passing during the heist in Kheles- he hadn’t ever been an apprentice and thus seemed to be unremembered. A vague description of him had been circulated, but it was so vague it could apply to nearly a quarter of the country.
The two of them stayed away from the front gates of the manor. Guards wouldn’t take kindly to people snooping around, and if they recognized Julie it could be problematic. That didn’t mean they could stand around long elsewhere, but Julie had hopes to spot one of her cousins out and about, or perhaps a friendly servant who might deliver a message for her. The two of them had no luck on the first afternoon, so they returned to the inn to discuss possible approaches to the problem.
“I want to make sure they’re alone before sending them a message,” Julie said. “Otherwise it would cause trouble for all of us. I know there have to be seeing spells somewhere… the problem is casting it from a distance would be too difficult and from close by… too obvious.”
“I might be able to help with the distance,” Errold said. “I’m the best at dimensional magic among us.”
“Or we could modify a spell to seek them out and only activate when there’s no one else,” Kevin suggested.
“Can you not see them from a nearby roof?” asked Rina.
When everyone turned, surprised, Mattea shrugged. “It seems like the easiest result. Maybe you’d want to use magic to hide yourself, though.”
With that, a plan that barely required the use of magic was hatched.