Silent steps went unnoticed as they walked down the street. Wherever they went the sound washed away. The unseen figure approached an unassuming tavern, an unlocked door seemingly swinging open on its own. Steps carried it down to a basement where a paper depicting a stylized tongue was slipped under the door. Silence and invisibility faded away as a man knocked on the door to draw the attention of those waiting.
A few moments later a woman opened the door, looking suspiciously at the man standing there. “What business do you have here?” The man opened his mouth and pointed. Then he held out a thin tome. “This is it, huh? Does it really do what they say?” The man held out his hands and shrugged. “I suppose you wouldn’t. It’s for us to use… or not. Can I offer you something before you go?”
The man shook his head then bowed slightly. Magic flowed around him and his figure once more disappeared, once more silently and invisibly slipping onto the street.
In the basement of the tavern the woman looked at the tome. It wasn’t large, but there were many more pages than she expected for two spells. That included notes written in a handful of languages and casting guidance- the actual spells were somewhat shorter, but no less than a page each. She also held up the paper that was slipped under the door, depicting a stylized tongue. “They have as much reason as us, yet they can’t act directly. What a shame.” She clutched the tome tightly. “This will need to be studied carefully. It seems we don’t have long.”
Sarah stood over Erkin with a half-dozen others. Up until the current point their efforts hadn’t been entirely successful, but they couldn’t wait longer. Scoubar was pushing into Dalgare, and their forces were also forming at the borders between Vospia and Bryria. It was impossible to say how long it would be before attacks began there, but with the forces of the alliance split they couldn’t hold on forever. Scoubar still had sufficient troops to field full armies in both places, their resources seemingly inexhaustible given the many regions they controlled.
This had to work. With the event coming in only a few weeks, it would be unconscionable to allow innocent children to die if they could do something about it. But if they failed… they might die anyway. Sarah was concerned about the actual process of decoupling the child from the Mage-King’s bloodline as well as the events following it. But they had to try this one first. They were as certain as they could be that the magic would work, so they had to start now. Erkin wasn’t the only one. Some women didn’t want reminders of what they’d been through, but others preferred to think of the children as signs of freedom, as uncomfortable as they might be.
The ritual might also provide some assistance for the future. It wasn’t clear yet if it would work, but the ruby was placed in the secondary circle. The seven women coordinated to begin the ritual, speaking words of magic that manifested as glowing runes flowing from their hands to the formations on the floor.
Erkin began to wail. It could have been from pain or simply an unconscious aversion to the magic or strange circumstances. Either way, they couldn’t stop, couldn’t allow themselves to be distracted as their magic burrowed its way into him and the area around him. What they were trying to accomplish fought back against them, forcing them to continuously expend mana. Sweat beaded on their foreheads as they continued… but as the candles around the area began to burn down a ghostly shape pulled out of the infant in front of them. The shape was slowly peeled away from him and brought towards the ruby, where it was forced inside. The ritual wasn’t quite over, as it had to be properly sealed.
After the completion of the ritual, they were left with a crying baby and a ruby that felt strangely magical but had little magic inherent in it. Erkin had survived… but they couldn’t yet be sure that they had succeeded. They quickly followed up with diagnostic spells… and when they found no trace of the connection to the Mage-King in him, they were overjoyed. And the ruby had served its purpose as well, not quite fully inheriting the connection, but each sliver would help their efforts in the future. Now they just had to do the same for the remaining few infants, and hope that they could also withstand the ritual.
A section of mountainside had been carved out with magic, unnaturally straight cuts and strange blocks of stone nearby making its origin clear. Such a project would have been extremely difficult in other circumstances, but they needed a large open space and a solid surface to carve runes into. Wooden walls and a door had been put up to cover the opening to prevent swirling snow from disrupting what happened inside.
Three intermingling circles as well as other arcane shapes and countless runes were inscribed into the ground. Around the circle stood many mages and a handful of fey. In the center of each circle sat three different people. Two were Sarah and Douglas to guide the bloodline magic and the spatial magic respectively. The third was one of the Sisters. Sofia. Douglas sat cross-legged in the middle of his circle, his body in a strange twisted posture. Runes of ink covered his body, leading directly to the circle beneath. Sarah had none on herself. The Sister, however, had taken things a step further. The magical runes were carved into her skin, some already turned to scar tissue while others were scabbed over. Both methods increased the connection at the cost of greater risk. The burden on Douglas would be high- but that on the Sisters would be even more.
There was no chance that the woman would live through the ritual. That was, in fact, the entire point. A number of rubies were arrayed around her, their faint stolen bloodline connections adding to her own.
Sarah took a deep breath. “It’s about the right time.” Coordinating such a ritual across multiple countries was extremely difficult- it wasn’t possible to time things precisely, which meant that they would have to continue for as long as possible to let everyone add their power. Those who weren’t participating in the ritual had been using communication magic to sync with other sections. Some places wouldn’t have anyone spare, so they could only hope that the timing was close enough. A huge burden to ask of the sisters, sacrificing their lives for simply the potential that they might contribute. Yet they were also given a second spell to protect themselves. It was risky to distribute in case it had been intercepted, but it was important to keep the trust of the Sisters. The whole plan seemed crazy, but it was what they had. “Sofia, Douglas. Let’s begin.”
Two voices chanted, and one silently weaved his magic. The edges of the room around them darkened… then seemed to light up with the presence of others. A lone woman on one wall, a group of three. Then another man, surrounded by eleven women. Cletus had the most determined look on his face. He was going to bring down the cause of widespread suffering… and the theft of his only family.
Magic twisted together from many sources, being guided across great distances, ever expanding. More and more figures appeared, not exactly visible outside of the magic they were channeling. Outside of the circles, mana was contributed by others. The Sisters included hidden women who were able to use magic, not just those born of the Mage-King or his sons. Secure Vantage had the support of various mages and a large number of fey.
Finally the first connection was made to someone not part of the ritual, a man sleeping in a princely bed. Others like him became part of the connection. Many figures began to awaken as blood started to drip from the carved runes in Sofia and similar markings in Cletus and a few of the more determined others. People fulfilling the roles of commanders and mages riding through hills or on battlefields in midday found themselves with a strange feeling, a sense of something happening. Others camping on battlefields where the sun was already fully below the horizon. Hundreds were connected. Finally, a lone man stood on a balcony looking into the evening sky. Some responded by trying to defend themselves, but there was an inextricable connection between all of them- and most importantly, with the Mage-King.
Lightning burst from inside of a prince, but the same happened with one of the Sisters. Then the chain reaction began its precipitous and rapid escalation. One after another people died, crying out in pain, cries that everyone connected heard not with their ears but with their souls. The final and loudest one was a man crying out in frustration and indignity as the Mage-King realized the full extent of what was happening- and how he had set himself up for his own downfall, if only he had considered that others might sacrifice themselves to destroy him.
Fourth company found itself deeply embroiled in a battle on Dalgare’s eastern front. No matter how they strived to slow the advance of the Scoubarran forces, they ultimately couldn’t hold up. Magical traps were greatly effective, but with the many princes of Scoubar and their willingness to send people intentionally into the traps to trigger them they only worked so much. The commander was able to see that the mages on their own side were doing the best they could, but there was only so much that was possible. One spell from their side was overwhelmed by four or five from Scoubar.
Little by little they were forced back, seeking prime defensive locations to hold as long as they could. Janette Allegri and a beleaguered Hagen Reed were the strongest counter Dalgare had to the assaults, coming up with clever ways to stymie Scoubar’s overwhelming force.
But eventually, Scoubar was going to win. As balls of fire fried soldiers and trembling earth collapsed walls, another city was about to fall. But something miraculous happened- miraculous, yet terrifying. The spells of the princes suddenly slowed, the bombardment halted momentarily. There was no doubt it would begin again within minutes- except for a sudden change within the Scoubarran lines. Lightning flashed from prince to prince, changing between them in an instant. The entire battlefield lit up brighter than the noonday sun, momentarily blinding people. Defenders cover themselves with shields, fearful of what was happening. Yet the Scoubarrans were equally surprised- and when they were able to see the results, more than that.
Only a small portion of their soldiers were dead, but the snaking lines of the lightning carved clear pathways between the princes. When captains went to consult the princes about what magic was happening and how to counter it, they realized they couldn’t find any. At most, they found bits and pieces of the princes- distinctive boots or the head of one. No more magic came from their side, and no defenses against magic for the majority of the soldiers were able to be arrayed. Dalgare and the alliance soldiers saw confusion among the enemy ranks and began to press forward, but the Scoubarran response was slow and disjointed. The princes were not only their mages, but also most of their highest ranking officers- their sudden disappearance led to a disorganized scramble as soldiers saw enemies gaining ground without receiving orders as to how they should form up. Some stuck to their training and held their lines, but those who actually saw what had happened, the parts they were able to determine from the dead soldiers and barely recognizable princes, turned and fled without much of anyone to tell them not to.
Yet it wasn’t just one battlefield or one war. All across Scoubar and their territory- including places who knew nothing about what was happening in Dalgare, Bryria, and Othius- princes died from a cunning yet selfish measure placed into them, twisted to be used as a weapon against them… and the one who thought he was in control. But he relied too much on his own plan for immortality, never thinking it could cause him harm. And very, very few were aware of what actually happened.