Powerful magic was amazing, but equally amazing was what could be done with smaller scale magic or no magic at all. Julie knew that many people got by without magic, but before she’d been introduced to it she hadn’t had the courage to try to change anything about her life. And now she couldn’t even dream of going back. Even if she’d chosen to remain ignorant, it would have only provided her with a single year of peace at most.
She waited out back of an old seamstress’ shop. The reply from Kristine had indicated she thought she could sneak out to meet her, and from the framing of the reply Julie was certain it was her. The place where they’d first argued over a dress. Even with the message being authentic, several of the others waited nearby for safety. Julie doubted Kristine would choose to set her up, but it was possible she would be followed.
It was half of a good sign when Kristine showed up alone. She didn’t seem to have been followed, but Nichole wasn’t with her. “Just you?” Julie asked.
Kristine nodded, face half lit by the sunset. “Just me. Can’t believe you showed up here. I heard some crazy things.” Her eyes looked down as she bit her lip in thought. “You really learned magic?”
“Some. I’m learning more along with the others. Though at the moment we’re… kind of leaving the country.”
“Kind of?” Kristine raised an eyebrow.
“That’s the plan.” Julie’s eyes drifted towards where some of the others were hiding. “You need to come with us. Nichole too. It’s dangerous.”
“Running away from home to learn magic is dangerous,” Kristine countered.
“Better than just letting your father tell you who to marry and have babies for, if you don’t die in childbirth.”
Kristine shook her head, “Not terribly fond of the idea myself, but I also don’t like the thought of living on the streets, begging for food.”
“You can do magic you know. Plenty of ways to earn money. And what about Nichole? She didn’t even come…”
“She knew you’d try to convince her to leave.”
Julie balled her fists, starting to raise her voice. “What else is she going to do, get married to some fop?”
Kristine held up her hands. “Calm down. I’ll have you know she genuinely likes the fop to which she is engaged.”
“He’s not that bad,” Kristine shrugged. “Actually treats people well. Talks to her instead of just at her.”
“That’s great,” Julie rolled her eyes. “But you can’t stay. Scoubar is going to invade Vospia.”
“A bold statement. They’ve been driven out of Dalgare, far to the east. They can’t even get close.”
“I’m serious. They have a way to directly attack Kheles, through the Endless Library. We confirmed that with our own eyes.”
Kristine continued to bite her lip. “You really mean that?” Julie nodded. “Look, I’m not really fond of the idea of staying here to begin with. I just didn’t want to leave Nichole alone. She’s really attached to her life, though. I don’t know if I can convince her to leave.”
“We can’t stay long,” Julie said. “It’s probably too much already. People must have noticed the alarms.”
“So it was you,” Kristine laughed. “I just saw a ball of light floating through the night. It was quite surprising.”
“I can do much more magic than that.” Julie looked up at the sky. “It’s getting dark. You better be getting back. Please. We need to leave soon. Tomorrow.”
“I need time to convince Nichole. Two days.”
“In the morning,” Julie said. “We’ll give you a way to contact us in case you need help. As for what you should bring…” Julie shook her head and gestured to herself. “I don’t believe you have any practical clothes. If you can get out any magic books from the library, we can always use more of those. We have ways to transport as many as you can carry, at least.”
Kristine sighed. “I’ll see what I can do. You’re getting practical clothes for me?”
“And for Nichole. Don’t worry, they’ll fit.”
“… See you then.” She muttered to herself as she walked off. “Can’t believe I’m actually doing this…”
Julie found it hard to believe anyone wouldn’t. Just sitting around waiting for things to happen and other people to make decisions was the worst.
The side door in front of them was a problem. It shouldn’t be a problem to get people through. While it might be locked from the inside, the servant’s gate was meant for people going in and out without disturbing anyone. It was still secure, though. Magically enchanted, and watched by at least one guard. On the inside at least, so they could stand around looking at it from the outside without raising too much suspicion.
Julie exchanged glances with Harry. The two of them were the best at unraveling defenses, but they only had a day to create something for this door. Kristine had managed to send another message through Rina and Mattea that she would need help getting out the door.
Doing it subtly would be more difficult. If Kristine and Nichole just needed to get out, they could run past the guard. Unfortunately, Kristine had already used up her leeway to sneak out the one time. The event had probably been noticed, and she would be under tighter watch.
“So we’re agreed. We can suppress the magic on the door without alarming anything,” Harry nodded.
Julie nodded slightly. “For a few minutes. With a minute of preparation.”
“We can do more than a few minutes. Maybe half an hour?”
“Maybe.” That wasn’t the only thing they’d need. Incapacitating the guard would also be required, a task made much more difficult by the fact that the door would be interposed between them. Lobbing spells over the wall was likely to be blocked, set off an alarm, or both- in addition to being much harder to control.
“What if we get Second, uh, Simon to help?”
“Maybe with Errold’s help?”
“So we’ll have four of us gathered around here. I suppose going from four to six doesn’t really matter. We just need to get to the city gates before any alarm is raised.”
“Please,” Kristine pleaded with her sister.
“For the last time, no.” Nichole shook her head, “I’m not willing to give up my life for… lunacy. Scoubar attacking Vospia directly? It’s crazy. Look, if you want to leave, I won’t stop you. I’ll keep quiet. I can even help delay things a bit, but I have no desire to go.”
“She must be wrong! Or trying to scare us.”
Kristine shook her head. “Maybe. But I’m sure she has a good reason. Just… when Scoubar comes, flee as fast as you can. Don’t bet on Vospia’s victory.”
“Fine. If I hear word of Scoubar, I will flee. But while you’re off traipsing through the countryside I’ll be getting comfortable married.”
“I just want you to be safe.”
Nichole sighed. “I know. But I don’t want the same things you do. Just remember I still love you. And Julie.”
“I love you too, sis. I need to go.”
“The sun’s already coming up,” Nichole observed. “I’ll go down the hall to try to fend off any servants who are already awake. I hope… we can see each other again.”
“Maybe. Once we get some sort of status in Bryria, if the tensions die down…”
Nichole waved her sister off, doing as she said and walking ahead. Kristine waited a minute before heading out herself through hallways she rarely used. The manor wasn’t so large that it took her more than a few minutes to be outside.
“Good morning, miss Kristine.”
The guard. She did her best to put on a calm smile. “Good morning.”
“Going on an early morning walk?”
“Yes. I couldn’t sleep.”
“The gardens might be better.” There was a pause, “What’s the bag for, if I might ask? It’s-” his voice cut off. Kristine could still see his mouth moving as he tried to speak. She continued smiling and nodding slightly, even as she saw him reach a hand up to his chest curiously. Then he collapsed.
Kristine quickly hurried around him towards the gate. She really hoped that display of what had to be magic was the people she expected.
Three unknown figures met her as she stepped through the small side door. Two young men, one skinny and one scruffy. One somewhat older and portly. She almost panicked before she spotted Julie.
Julie leaned to the side as Kristine closed the door behind her. “Nichole?”
Kristine just shook her head. She didn’t trust herself to actually say anything.
Julie looked up and down Kristine. She was wearing normal clothes for her, which were far too impractical for travel and carrying a bag draped almost over all of her. “We’ll have to get you changed quickly. And that’s bag’s far too big.”
“… I tried to be conservative.”
Julie rolled her eyes, “At least you kept it to one. Errold?”
He nodded, grabbing her bag and putting it in his own. It was barely wide enough at the mouth to start fitting her bag, but the whole thing was inside and the bag looking no more full for the process.
“… teach me how to do that.”
“Later,” Errold promised. “Should probably just put on the boots, the gates are opening.”
Kristine put on a pair of boots that didn’t look like much… but were surprisingly comfortable and fit perfectly. “… these are good,” she admitted.
“Maynard will be glad to hear that,” Julie said.
A few blocks away they grouped up with three more women and an additional two men. Kristine recognized Priscia, though they’d only met in passing. The other two women were twins, though their clothing choices weren’t exactly the same. A third young man who kept himself nicely tailored, and then someone quite a bit older and plain. Perhaps that was Maynard?
His pointed look at her boots and his nod answered that question. “Good, got the measurements right.”
There wasn’t much discussion as they hurried towards the gate. The guards there basically waved everyone through as they casually glanced at their faces and clothes. They lingered for a second on Kristine, but didn’t stop anyone. A bit of disguising magic helped the process.
Then they were out of Maketh, and it hit Kristine that she would probably never see home again. That thought wasn’t so bad, but the thought of not seeing Nichole was much worse. She kept her tears to a minimum, and everyone else kindly pretended not to see them.