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It was almost strange to have a period of half a year with no emergencies that needed settling, but the appearance of little happening was only on the surface. Information from the Sisters supported what had already been assumed. Scoubar was raising troops, stationed mainly in Aysgarth. That made it the most likely location for the entrance to the Endless Library that was being used. With just the information about the army it would have been hard to discern exactly what was happening, though preparations might not have been much different in any of the countries associated with the Mage’s Alliance.
Bryia, Dalgare, and Othius had a formal defensive pact between the countries as well. It might not last for more than a decade or two, but it was well supported during the current time where Scoubar was near the height of its power and extremely aggressive. It was expensive to maintain large armies, but all three kept larger than normal in training for the war they knew was coming, and soon. Additional information came that Scoubar was also gathering troops in Testror. Whether it was a plan to attack Dalgare or something else, they had to be ready. It would be too late to raise troops after the attacks began.
Every day was tense with Scoubar suddenly having access to the lower part of the Endless Library. Nobody in Vospia was happy about how things were, but Gabriel couldn’t convince anyone to seal the entrance. Fortify it, yes, but Librarians Oswald and Nielsen were against completely cutting off access to the true parts of the Endless Library. Enough others supported them that Gabriel could only give up, focusing on what they could do. He didn’t think anything that was being done was enough.
The Vospian Endless Library was like a military fort now, rather than a place of learning- though Gabriel supposed the aspect of learning it purported was rather limited anyway. Yet it didn’t feel like enough. The others conceded to remove some more important books from the library ‘in case the battle spilled out from down below’. That was the closest he was going to get to them conceding that Vospia was in an untenable position. Any attempts to press into Scoubar’s territory were repulsed. Gabriel wanted to launch a large offensive so they could just attempt to destroy the other entrance- but by the time he had any support Scoubar was more entrenched than they were.
Now every day was tense waiting, and Gabriel just wished something would happen already. He immediately regretted it, and he regretted it more when a few days later there was frantic yelling and knocking at his door. One of the new apprentices burst into Gabriel’s office. What an unlucky young man- despite his doubtless privileged position, he was born in the wrong time. “Has the attack begun?” Gabriel asked with all the serenity he could muster.
“It’s worse than that,” the young man said, breathing heavily as he leaned on a chair to support himself, “They’ve already broken through most of the defenses!”
“What? There’s no way they dispelled them all so quickly, is there? If not…”
“They simply overwhelmed them. Not with the magic of their princes, but with sheer numbers. They herded captives and animals in front of them to trigger most of the wards.”
Gabriel sighed and held his head in his hands- though he didn’t really have time for that. They’d expected some potential trickery, but many wards were attuned to only trigger with a certain number of people around, with explosively violent results. Apparently they’d learned that, or guessed at it.
“We have to flee, Librarian. The others are already moving.”
Gabriel shook his head. “You go. Take my horse, I won’t need it.”
He ran. He wasn’t as young as he used to be, but the duties of a Librarian did require some active movement. Though as of the last decade they’d had to venture further with less to show for it down below.
Gabriel knew he could have left Vospia long ago. Should have, even. Hagen was right about the corruption, but while Gabriel’s position afforded him benefits from that very same problem, the real reason he was compelled to stay was the country itself. It was his home to which he was deeply attached. Stupid sentimentality was probably a dumb reason to stay, but maybe he was just unwilling to accept change. Old wizards could be stubborn folk. Very few were flexible like Reed- and he had his own areas he stood firm.
He pushed his way past soldiers into the Library proper. He could already hear the sounds of fighting- and soon enough he rounded shelves where he could see it. Actual Scoubarran soldiers were pushing their way forward through the Library, and it was far too late to do anything. But Gabriel wasn’t above a bit of pettiness. He stood behind the soldiers valiantly sacrificing themselves to buy time, casting a spell. There was at least one prince who noticed him, but they were behind their troops- and they weren’t ready for what he did.
During the course of a battle a wizard would usually be conservative with their abilities, focusing on personal defense and efficient damage. While they would usually try to quickly defeat enemy mages, they preferred not to exhaust themselves on regular troops. A giant bolt of lightning streaking down the aisle was certainly going to be unexpected. The only care Gabriel took with it was avoiding his own troops- destroying the books and setting the place on fire was of no concern to him. A dozen soldiers died and several times more were injured. Instead of staying to try to take advantage of the situation, he ran around the corner.
A quick invisibility spell wouldn’t fully hide him from princes, but it would let him get close enough to his destination. That was, of course, the entrance to the upper level. Despite his attempts to get it removed, it was still just as well warded as it had been in living memory. As he weaved his way past soldiers, taking advantage of movement so that enemy mages had no time to properly discern his precise position, he ran.
A good combat spell took only a few seconds at most to cast. Words of fire appeared in his mind and on his tongue. The most fire he could have. He couldn’t directly destroy the entrance. The wards would protect it too well. But it needed a structure to work, and while the Library would suppress any fires inside it, that was only enough for accidental foolishness. A proper high ranking Librarian could power through that. Several heads turned towards him as he cast his spell- mundane soldiers and princes alike. One enterprising soldier stabbed out with his sword, sending Gabriel reeling back as his defenses barely held. Then fire sprayed in front of him.
It was a waste. A waste of good books that should have been transported elsewhere. A waste of his life, because he would probably only delay Scoubar with his suicidal actions- they clearly had significant knowledge about manipulating the true Endless Library. But he did it anyway. Fire crackled along the shelves, lighting books and stray spider webs that hadn’t been prevented by the wards, as well as lighting some of the soldiers on fire. Then Gabriel took a spear through his chest and a few spells struck him simultaneously, ripping apart his defenses and body. He knew he wasn’t the only soldier or mage to sacrifice his life today, but as he collapsed he saw flickering flames near the entrance and simply hoped that he’d done enough to help preserve his country, despite its flaws.
The news of the attack on Vospia took time to reach Bryria, but it arrived at the quickest possible pace with fleeing refugees. None of the common folk had been prepared ahead of time, but they also had little to bring with them. Bryria wasn’t so callous as to refuse them entrance, though they did continue to inspect everyone crossing the border. The numbers started small- mainly those fleeing in panic at Kheles suddenly being attacked. It seemed that the enemy forces had been contained in the library complex. That stalemate only lasted a single month, and shortly after that Kheles fell. Scoubar simply had an overwhelming number of troops and mages to bring to bear, and were able to fall back to the most secure part of Kheles, using their own fortifications against the Vospians.
After that, more people chose to flee- including some mages who avoided being sent to fight on the frontlines. The mages Bryria was much more careful with inspecting. Many of them had doubtless been part of the war between Bryria and Vospia, and while Bryria didn’t want to leave them to the fate of death or maiming, they also weren’t necessarily pleased to accept them.
Though it seemed that Vospia was able to cause many casualties to Scoubar, all of their magical defenses they relied on were overwhelmed by sheer numbers- whether sacrifices to set off traps or actual soldiers and mages. Vospia still had remaining fortresses they could defend and soldiers to form an army, but Kheles had fallen.
Yet that wasn’t the end of Scoubar’s actions. The preparations in Testror were also increasing, and it was beginning to seem like the other nations would soon be drawn into the war as well. The question was whether or not they would leave Vospia to their own devices, or attempt to aid them.