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After far too much fussing, Kristine and Julie had to be cut off from trying to make any more adjustments to Kristine’s outfit and instead get on the road. The practical clothes doubled as a disguise, and there had already been one close call with riders along the road. The two women wanted to give Kristine a better disguise but they also weren’t equipped to make any significant changes. The only thing they could really do was to cut Kristine’s hair much shorter, which would be good enough as long as nobody stopped to get a good look at her.
“I’m worried my father will come by,” Kristine said. “But you can disguise me with magic, right?”
“We can, but he might be able to sense it,” Julie shrugged, “It’s better if nobody even chooses to look at us. Especially since some of our faces are known.”
“Are you a wanted criminal just for running away from home?” Kristine asked.
“Sort of,” Julie admitted, “But there’s more to it. Practicing magic is part of it, and the rest wouldn’t have been necessary if there weren’t so many hidden restrictions on who could deal with magic.”
“It’s not so easy to learn magic on the road,” Julie admitted. “How are your language skills?”
“Normal?” Kristine shrugged, “I learned Vospian and Bryrian, of course. I’m better at the former.”
“Since Vospian has become intentionally harder to speak over the years, I suppose that’s good. Though we are going to Bryria.”
“I speak it,” Kristine confirmed. “Just not as much. I don’t really get the chance except with the servants.”
“Well, no servants now,” Julie confirmed.
“…I know. What do my language skills have to do with magic?”
“Oh right. We didn’t introduce that. Magic has its own whole language to make it function. It’s very technical, generally pretty terrible for conversations or written prose.”
“I can help you learn,” Priscia offered, “I had more training in language to begin with.”
The discussion continued as they walked along the road, though they switched to other topics when passing others. It was impossible to have fully relaxed conversations when constantly wondering who might be looking for them, but deep hoods only brought suspicion and not as much concealment as people might sometimes like to think.
Another group of riders approached, and Simon was the first to start applying a magical disguise to Kristine, while several others worked on themselves. He didn’t need a disguise for himself, and was able to quickly re-memorize spells without them having to stop for someone to pull out their spellbook- or stumble along the road with in hand while they memorized complex magic. The twins and Kristine knew basically no magic at all, except what spells the twins new innately.
The twins were being taught magic as much as they could learn, but as sorceresses they didn’t seem to be able to use magic like wizards. They’d had a few weeks of practice with no real results, but being able to use the spells they did have access to with guidance from others with proper training helped them improve. Kristine had only been learning for a few days and had only just begun learning how to sense her own mana.
The group of riders passed, seeing on their return only what they would have seen before. Reusing the same disguises for the same people was not only easier but also simply practical. Using different disguises for individuals would potentially result in someone noticing the change- and the people they were most likely to encounter multiple times were those looking for them. The particular trio of riders passing them weren’t wearing any livery associated with the Vances or Maketh, but they couldn’t be certain there was no connection.
The walking group did their best to look convincingly uninterested in the riders, and it worked well enough since they were passed by without issue. After the group passed, everyone’s disguises were maintained for a time- as long as people could, for the most part. Those who had formal training- Errold, Kevin, and Harry- were all able to maintain the spell all day. Years of practicing magic allowed them to be more efficient with their use of mana as well as increasing their reserves. Of the others, Simon was the one with the longest amount of practice, and Priscia the least. That was all in relation to their old code names which probably hadn’t mattered. Simon had slightly less than two years of experience, with Priscia closer to a single year. The way they were able to use magic was quite amazing given their accelerated learning, but they were still hindered by the limited time spent.
The border between Vospia and Bryria had been quiet. That was annoying, because Vospia’s aggressive posture had quickly reversed after their retreat. Even given the information Lucy was privy to, recent activity had been too limited. They should have at least been posturing and making demands. It was concerning that they were delaying, but not problematic for Bryria. In fact, every day allowed them to grow stronger. The mage’s alliance was going through and Bryria was establishing itself quite well. Their only weakness was they had too few truly exceptional mages. That was just something that would take time.
To have that time the border needed to stay secure. They currently controlled the main pass between the countries, but given how quickly it had swapped to their hands they couldn’t just take that for granted.
Overseeing the implementation of wards ended up being Lucy’s job. She didn’t have to do all of the work herself, but she came to check on the situation for a few days out of every month or two. They’d refactored the defensive wards already present, the most important part being changing their main orientation to face Vospia. Lucy also checked to make sure they didn’t have any of the same weaknesses they’d exploited in their own attack. They also had more than just a single mage on duty at any one time. No fewer than eight mages were present at any one time, and they were trained to be able to react to enemy tampering.
If the wards held, they would be able to hold against almost any number of attackers. Of course, everything was finite. If Vospia prepared all of their magical forces, overwhelming the defenses would not be too difficult. Keeping such preparations secret, however, would be nearly impossible. Even with basically no passage between the two countries at the current time, they had contact with some spies that would keep track of large scale movements. Bryria would at least be able to prepare a response if such an attack were to come.
Thoughts of grand defenses and magical items that could wipe out armies filled Lucy’s head, but most of the ideas weren’t practical in terms of time or expense. At a certain point, Vospia might simply try to open another pass. They were developing measures to watch for large scale magic, but there was only so much that could be done at once, even if they got the support of Dalgare and Othius. Though Secure Vantage was a factor that might make any sort of research simple. They had access to large stores of information, and Douglas still surprised Lucy occasionally.
Having finished her inspections for the day, Lucy was eating a simple meal in the mess hall. The border fort had little difference in fare between soldiers and those of higher rank, which meant some of it could only barely be called food- but Lucy was the sort who forgot to eat when she was deep into magical research, so just consuming food was good enough for her. She was just finishing when she felt the wards trigger. Only some of them, and lightly, but that meant something had happened. Hopefully it wasn’t one of the other mages using magic in the wrong area again.
She quickly found her way atop the walls. Commander Gustav was there, looking down at the Vospian side of the border. There were a few lieutenants around him talking. One noticed her approach. “Senior Mage Lynwood,” he inclined his head. “We had not expected you.”
“Why not?” Lucy asked. “The wards were triggered.”
“Truly?” the man looked towards one of the duty guards. “Is that true?”
“I didn’t sense anything,” the man admitted. “But if it had been significant it would have been more obvious.”
“Unless there’s a group of mages trying to stealthily pick apart our defenses,” Lucy said.
“Stealthily?” Commander Gustav took the opportunity to interject. “Would you consider them stealthy?”
Lucy looked down on a group of ten or so people standing out in the open. She could see their mouths moving as if they were speaking- or casting magic- then the wards very slightly triggered again. Several of those down below turned to conspire with each other. “Maybe not stealthily, but they’re certainly using some sort of magic.”
“Is that so?” Commander Gustav stroked his chin, “I had thought they were trying to communicate. Look. They seem to be speaking with raised voices. They’re too far for that, though. I had planned to send someone down to inform them the border was closed, and ask if they are official envoys. They don’t look it, but…”
Once more Lucy felt the wards respond, just slightly. She also took care to sense the magic that was causing the reaction. She wasn’t quite sure, but she could figure it out quite quickly. “I’ll try something first.” Lucy walked to the very edge of the wall and leaned over slightly. “Try shouting!” she called down, taking her own advice.
“Hello!” a voice boomed from down below- and Lucy saw all of the group wince and cover their ears. The figure tried again a few moments later- the sound amplifying magic seeming to be gone and no longer triggering the wards. Lucy wasn’t sure if they should be restricting amplified sound at that level, but she couldn’t deny it was necessary at some intensity. “Hello!” the voice repeated. “We come in peace!”
“The border’s closed.” Though he didn’t shout, Commander Gustav’s voice carried down below quite easily.
“I believe I should handle this,” Lucy commented. “They’re wizards.”
“Don’t look like it,” Command Gustav replied. “Look like vagabonds.”
“Sometimes it’s the same. Trust me, they’re wizards.”
Command Gustav inclined his head, “Then I shall trust your handling of the situation, Senior Mage.”
Before Lucy could say anything more, the speaker down below continued. “We are aware the border is closed, but we were hoping you would allow refugees to enter Bryria!”
Lucy looked to Commander Gustav. “What’s the policy on refugees?”
Commander Gustav shrugged. “Haven’t had any. Though if that group down there is made of wizards, it’s up to you. Once we determine they aren’t spies or saboteurs.”
Lucy nodded. She leaned back towards the group below. “What are you-!” she was getting tired of yelling. “Why are you all standing so far away?”
“It’s… safer here?” came the call from below. “We weren’t exactly sure what those wards would do.”
“… Stay right there!” Lucy called down. She turned to the duty mage. “Where can I find the two on reserve? I’ll be taking them out with me.”
“Are you sure?” Commander Gustav asked. “I’ll defer to you in the area of magic, but there are ten of them…”
“I’m fairly certain I could take them all out at once,” Lucy said, “Taking two others with me, I guarantee they won’t be a danger.”
“Just putting in a fair word of caution,” Commander Gustav concluded. “We’ll monitor the situation from here, though I’ll also send a squad out with you.”
Soon enough, Lucy was out on the field with a squad of soldiers and the two wizards who weren’t on duty for any of the three shifts that day. That left the normal two on the walls, keeping the fortress secure.
She stopped a good dozen meters away from the group- far enough to be able to react to anything they did, but close enough to not have to actually shout. It also left Lucy closer to the wards. “Now then,” Lucy continued. “We don’t have to shout.”
The spokesperson was actually a rather young man. Not someone Lucy recognized, but she hadn’t expected that. “That was why we tried sound amplifying magic. But it failed for some reason.”
“That would be the wards,” Lucy commented.
“Oh. Of course.”
After an awkward pause Lucy spoke once more, “Anyway, you say you are refugees. Aren’t you wizards?”
“We are wizards,” the young man nodded.
“Actually,” a woman spoke. “Aren’t the two of us sorceresses?”
“Well, yes,” the man admitted. “We’re mages. But Vospia makes it quite hard for those not of established families to learn magic. Even more so for women,” he gestured around him at the half of the group that was women. “We were hoping Bryria might provide us some sort of refugee status.”
“How can I know you’re not spies or the like?”
The way everyone looked around at each other and started trying to speak in both Byrian and Vospian gave Lucy the rest of what she wanted to know, but they eventually came up with an answer. “It’s not something we can prove, except by the very fact that we are not. However, I do also know a Bryrian wizard who might be able to vouch for me. Douglas Lynwood.”
“That’s unfortunate,” Lucy said, “Because he’s dead.”
“What?” the young man’s shocked face was extremely genuine. “When? How?”
“That’s not important right now,” Lucy said. It was still technically a secret that he was alive, so if they did talk about it there was a good chance something would come out. “What are your names?”
“I’m Errold Filby,” he said. “The rest of these are…”
Lucy listened without comment, but she couldn’t help but make a face at the name Priscia Saunders. She didn’t have anything in particular against the woman, but her brother was partly responsible for trouble with Douglas. Even if it was a long time before, the connection was unfortunate. On the other hand… given the situation, it made sense. “I am willing to allow you to enter the country if we can verify what you say. I will need to ask you to come with us and not perform any magic. We’ll also need to confiscate your spellbooks.”
Errold clutched his bag to his chest. “But I need that! I can’t replicate that work!”
“I swear they will be returned to you intact if your stories check out.” Lucy was already fairly certain, but being casual about such an important thing would be disastrous. “We’ll have you approach one at a time.”
Errold sighed. “Sorry everyone. I thought it would be less oppressive here. I still think it might be better, though.” He began to step forward.
“I do speak Vospian, you know,” Lucy commented, causing Errold to pause for a moment. “And I promise that if you are not spies, I will do my very best to see all of you treated fairly.”
“That’s all I can ask, then. We might as well start with me.”
“Good idea,” Lucy said. She wanted to speak to him in private.