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At the top of the stairs was another pair of guards. However, the appearance of Cletus and Faron seeming to belong delayed their reaction to the rest following them. They were taken out in just a few moments.
Even with nine mages total, they didn’t have unlimited capacity to use magic. It was best if they could avoid having to fight. Faron reminded everyone of the next steps. “This is indeed the library in Aysgarth. That means we can actually proceed with our plans as intended. The two of us will stand in front as we walk while the rest of you conceal your features. That should at least be sufficient to get us to the palace. Once there, I will get in contact with one of the Sisters. We should be able to get inside, and hopefully we can be led to the Mage-King. It’s still the middle of the night, which likely means his chambers. They should be defended, but only by a small number of guards immediately nearby. As long as we can avoid the others along the way…”
The chances that everything would go perfectly were slim, but the prospective assassins were able to make it out of the library without incident. The first snag came as they walked outside. Coloration dotted the clouds to the east. Emerich commented on that as they scurried vaguely in that same direction along the streets. “Is it possible that we took longer than we thought to get here?”
Cletus frowned, “This should actually be correct. With how far we theoretically travelled in the last hour… we’ve gone around a significant portion of the planet, towards the sunrise. So time is different by some hours.”
While many of them would have liked to talk about how interesting it was to actually see such a change only vaguely noticed by ships in the past and offhandedly mentioned in scholarly works, they didn’t have long to talk… and with the dawn came people walking around the streets. That actually helped them be less suspicious, in a way, since they weren’t the only people walking the streets. However, conversing in a foreign language would certainly cause some strange looks- more than hoods pulled up to mostly cover people’s faces as they followed behind two Scoubarran natives.
Faron followed a simple map she had, leading them to a small complex of buildings near the palace. As they were approaching, a severe looking olive-skinned woman was just locking her door. “Sophia? You are Sophia, correct?” Faron called out to her.
“Yes. That’s my name.” Sophia’s eyes flicked around constantly as she saw the large group, including many hooded figures and Faron in full mage-hunting armor
Faron looked around, seeing no one else, then removed her helmet. “The Sisters should have told you we were coming.”
She looked over them carefully. “I was expecting something in the middle of the night some night. Not dawn.”
“We were met with complications,” Faron explained.
“Seems likely,” she frowned, her face wrinkling. “So this is it, huh? I’ll need a moment to get in contact with the others.” She stepped forward and pointed at a smear on Faron’s shoulder, “While I do that, you should wipe off that blood.” Sophia knocked on a nearby door, handing a small slip of paper to someone. Then she turned back to the group. “I assume this can’t be delayed until tonight?”
“Dead bodies in the library,” Faron commented. “Someone will find them today, or notice them missing.”
Sophia shook her head, “It would have been nice to have different timing, but this will have to do. The Sisters will act. I’ll show you to the servants entrance. You should return there after a quarter hour. Or you can go in without support…”
“Do you know where he will be?” Faron asked.
“Possibly in his chambers, but likely awake and active already. That would lead him to his personal library for some time.”
It was unfortunate that they couldn’t catch the Mage-King asleep, but even if they had entered Kheles sooner, they might have instead run into trouble there. They could abort the attempt, but at this point security would undoubtedly be heightened at any later time. Instead, they waited on a road without much traffic until the designated time.
When they came to the servant’s entrance, Sophia let them inside. “I hope you are all you’re said to be. Whether you succeed or fail, my life will undoubtedly be forfeit for this.” Though she spoke about her own death, she looked determined. “The Sisters have done their best to find a route with minimal wards. It basically matches up with the servants routes. Some of them will be waiting for us.”
As Sophia led them through the palace, its designation as a place of luxury and not a fortress became quite apparent. Though their path was convoluted so as to avoid encountering any guards, as a place that was constantly traversed it wasn’t possible to ward everything. Even having wardstones like the Endless Library would be prohibitively expensive if they needed one for each servant walking through designated areas.
The group moved through dingy hidden- but not actually secret– passageways, meant for the servants to avoid bothering people. Various side passages turned away as they moved.
Finally they came to a handful of figures. Sophia presented herself first, and Faron revealed her face to the other women present. “The Sisters,” Sophia introduced. “Those available here in Aysgarth.”
Faron translated as they began to speak in Scoubarran. “Three of us will go with you to find the Mage-King. These two will be going to cause a distraction in the harem.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up when she heard that. “I want to assist.”
Faron looked back at her, then nodded. “Very well. If you can undo some of the restrictions… it should provide us with a significant opportunity.” There was no need to mention risks- all of them were as deep in danger as they could be without actively being in combat. No part of what they were doing would be safe.
Before Sarah left with the two Sisters, their actual goal was established. They were to attempt to free as many women in the harem from the various magical restrictions as possible before they were noticed. Preferably, they would lead everyone out before causing a ruckus, but it was important that they did cause an alarm. It was ultimately intended to draw guards away from the rest of the area. Freeing women was an honorable goal, but if they could kill the Mage-King it would ultimately be better than anything they could do with just a small number of individuals.
Even when Sarah saw the expansiveness of the area and realized that even his personal harem was not a ‘small’ number of individuals, it still had to be compared to the entirety of the Scoubarran empire’s effects.
The exit from the servant’s tunnels led to an open room. At some other time of day, it might have been guarded, but it only had two soldiers who weren’t prepared for an attack from the tunnels. Before they could think to look, they were dead.
The room itself was of little consequence. It was just a small connecting room between the outer hallways and various rooms, as well as the hallways to the sleeping quarters. The guards were only present on the chance that members of the harem were aware of the hidden passageways and had methods to access them- and the will to attempt an escape. In most circumstances, even if they got out of the palace they would quickly be recaptured.
The Sisters and Sarah quickly began to disable wards in the area, specifically the ones preventing the use of magic. That wouldn’t be possible with anyone watching and stopping them, but the remaining guards were elsewhere.
They moved their way to the sleeping quarters as quickly as was safe. So far they had avoided triggering any alarms, but as they disabled wards they also had to contend with backup wards that were watching for such activity. The Sisters had been making plans for quite some time, so they were ready. Sarah was mostly an accessory- though when trouble came she would be able to be of more use.
The restrictions on the members of the harem varied widely. If they were well behaved they were able to roam around within certain areas as they pleased. Most weren’t mutilated by having their tongues cut out, unlike male mages. Even so, their life expectancy was lower- they were expected to bear children, and Sarah was well aware of the chances of a woman’s survival when two mages were involved in a pregnancy. The more power, the lower it was- and it was unlikely that the Mage-King’s women perished quickly.
As they started moving towards the sleeping quarters, Sarah tried to avoid thinking about how many women had passed through, and how many more were given to various princes. She couldn’t very well be everywhere all at once. She was now present, doing what she could to help.
The two Sisters were quite adept at picking locks in a mundane fashion, opening the doors to various rooms and quietly waking the occupants therein. The women fairly quickly understood the situation and silently followed along.
The difficulty came with the more restricted rooms for those who refused to behave. There, women were chained, and they could only be removed with magic. The Sisters had limited stores of mana and spells. While the various women they were freeing were theoretically capable of magic, practically many of them would not be able to use it. Wizards wouldn’t be allowed to access a spellbook, for obvious reasons. Thus, they could only rely on memorized spells from whenever they last had access, if their minds could even maintain memorized spells for weeks or months. That would require constant effort each day, something that was difficult in a situation that seemed hopeless.
Through some sort of miracle- and Sarah felt a little bit of negligence in maintaining proper security and wards- they managed to free over a dozen women without setting off any wards.
In fact, the danger in the end came from one of the very women they were rescuing. It hadn’t seemed necessary to watch people whose lives they were saving, but one woman ran off and started calling for guards. Sarah had no idea what could possibly be going through her mind. Did she think she would somehow be treated better for her brief lifespan? Perhaps she would, but Sarah had no idea how it could possibly be worth it. However, she would never have a chance to ask.
She had lingered near the back, watching for trouble. Seeing the woman wander into the next room hadn’t alarmed her, but when she started yelling Sarah was the first to run into the room. On the other end were guards just about to enter.
Sarah’s quickest attack spell was a bolt of fire. Hardly useful against armor, since it didn’t have the power necessary to heat a suit of armor significantly, and it wasn’t made to slip between the cracks. However, her target wasn’t any of the guards. The hysterical woman was running towards the guards as if they weren’t her captors… and she was quite undefended. Then her screams quickly changed tone as she was set on fire.
She didn’t feel good about it, but it wasn’t as if she intentionally drew out the act. The woman perished quickly as her hair and clothes caught aflame with magical fire. But not quickly enough to spare Sarah her screams.
Then she was slinging other spells towards the guards, though some of them had anti magic armor. She was not proficient in the spell Douglas had made specifically to destroy it, but she had a few other methods they’d prepared. Oiling the ground was one thing that the armor didn’t help against, and that slipped up several of them long enough for the Sisters to come back her up- as well as one of the sorceresses from among the captured women.
Though they’d mostly accomplished their goal, Sarah still hoped they could get out safely… or at least as many of the women as possible. The chances of everyone being unharmed were extremely unlikely. They might even all perish. If that could provide enough distraction for the Mage-King to be killed… it would be enough. Though she didn’t plan to just let herself die.