Making their way through the Library, the group staggered their way back to their side entrance. The former concubines were generally in the best condition, though some had been injured in the fighting on the way out. Others were in various stages of pregnancy, which slowed them down. When the group arrived at the exit, they took the chance to stop and bind their wounds. Errold immediately began studying his spellbook to open the portal once more- it had only been temporary, given the requirement for speed.
As people finally got a chance to rest, they took stock of the people with them- and who wasn’t. Faron was missing, along with the woman helping her along. Nobody had noticed when it happened, even though everyone was watching out for each other.
As soon as he found out, Cletus was already moving back along the path they travelled. Lucy hurried after him. “We can’t wait for you, you know.”
“You’ll just be killed.”
“I understand,” he said.
“You should at least get rid of… that.” Lucy gestured to the head he was still holding. “Though the blood all over you also makes you a clear target. And possibly trackable.”
He looked down at the Mage-King’s head. “It’s not dripping anymore.” He pulled out his bag and shoved it inside. “It’s fine now.”
Lucy shook her head. “Fine. Just try to make it out alive, will you?”
“Oh, I’ll try. Hard to bring Faron with me otherwise.” He continued onward, alone, while Lucy returned to the rest of the group.
In front of the yet-unopened portal, people sat to recover from their exhaustion, but they also took out their spellbooks to memorize spells. They had very little mana to make use of any memorized spells with, but that would recover with time.
The trained mages among the former concubines had no access to spellbooks, but the Sisters and others in the group shared theirs. It wasn’t necessarily easy to memorize something from someone else’s spellbooks, but if they could find even a few spells they could use among the unfamiliar styles everyone would be in a better position.
Once he finished his studies, Errold strained himself to open the portal back to the random warehouse they had previously rented. The portal itself was even less stable than before, but he quickly stepped through. “Come on, it won’t last long.”
Everyone began to hurry through, gathering on the other side. Errold stuck his head through one last time, calling out. “Cletus?” No response. He pulled his head back and let the portal fade away. He hadn’t thought he would ever want a Scoubarran to live, but it seemed Scoubar was even awful to its own princes. Errold looked at the temporary setup forming the border of the portal on their side. “Shouldn’t let them find this.” He started pulling things out to toss into his bag. “Everyone just grab any of this.”
It only took a few moments to dismantle the temporary structure, and they were heading out to the streets. Emerich stuck his head out first, looking down the street in both directions, after making sure there was no torchlight coming in through the small windows on the warehouse. “Follow me, this way.”
They followed their previous path for several blocks through the streets. It was still the middle of the night in Kheles, and though it was under Scoubarran military control the amount of soldiers actually out on the streets at all times was minimal. Emerich kept some distance ahead of the rest looking for patrols, signalling for them to wait when necessary.
Then they reached an entrance to the sewers. Several people stood guard while everyone climbed down, some of the women taking longer due to their pregnant states. An uncomfortable and literally magical silence covered them as they did so.
The group was several times as large as they had been previously. It wasn’t good for their ability to remain stealthy, but they weren’t going to leave anyone behind. If they were caught and couldn’t defend themselves, they might perish- but if so they could do so knowing the world was better off. But everyone would prefer not to die, and instead reach a glorious victory.
They found their way out of the sewers and back into the woods. The horses waited for them, but not nearly enough of them for everyone. They hadn’t exactly planned a rescue operation. Leaving them with the Sisters in Aysgarth wouldn’t be safe either. The city would certainly be scoured for them, and for anyone else they could find. It would eventually break down into the chaos of princes fighting for control, and then the danger to everyone would increase.
Those who were slowest due to injuries or pregnancies were placed on the horses, while those who could walk had to do so. It was the middle of the night and many of them were exhausted, but they couldn’t just stop. News could swiftly come through the Endless Library, and they could have an entire army hunting them, once Scoubar realized what was going on. The chance that they would just be ignored after the Mage-King’s death was extremely unlikely, even if the princes didn’t like him personally. It would still be beneficial to their position to track down his killers.
Emerich led the way through the woods, trying to find a route that was easily passable but didn’t leave too many tracks behind. While he had the magic to hide a portion of their tracks, covering all of them for a long distance was impossible. They could only hope it would take some time for Scoubar to put together all the pieces of their actions.
Other unanticipated problems arose from suddenly having more people. They didn’t have adequate amounts of tents or bedding, nor did they have sufficient food. They had enough for a few days- with their expected numbers, it would have lasted at least two weeks, more than enough to get them back into safe territory.
The former problem was solved by cramming as many people together as possible. It wasn’t comfortable for anyone, but there wasn’t much they could do without giving away their location. Approaching a settlement risked revealing them, and purchasing or stealing a large amount of bedroll, blankets, or tents would stand out. Since they weren’t travelling at full speed, news of their passage could make it back to whoever ended up looking for them. It was too much of a risk.
Food was at least something they could come by. Scouts were used to getting along in the wilderness, and both Emerich and Peat were able to hunt and provide wild plants to eat. This slightly slowed their travel, but that was mostly necessary for their injured members regardless. Even with the extra help, food wasn’t abundant. Everyone was hungry- but nobody was starving. They only had to make it to the border with Bryria and cross to be relatively safe. The official crossing was too far away, further along the border… but a small group should be able to make their way through smaller passes.
As if their other predicaments weren’t trouble enough, three days into their flight one of the women went into labor. There was an immediate response as people realized what was happening. Several of the women had given birth before, but Sarah was the most prepared to actually do something. While her research had been into reducing the mortality rate of women with magical potential, she still ended up learning about mundane midwifing. At least, enough to be of use.
“We need hot water! And any clean cloth we can get!” Sarah started giving orders.
Ordinarily it would have been nearly impossible to collect a large amount of hot water in the middle of the wilderness, at least on short notice. However, the current collection of people was not just random travelers. All of them were capable of magic to different extents. The most difficult part was finding something to actually hold the water. That vessel ended up being a rock that Peat hollowed out with magic. After that, conjuring water into it and heating it up was relatively easy.
Sarah wished she had all of her notes with her, but going into a near-suicide mission to kill the Mage-King, details about birth hadn’t seemed important. So she did whatever she could remember, conscripting those with more flexible magic to help her out.
The birth, as such things went, was quick. The woman’s labor quickly advanced, and though she was in significant pain- dulled slightly by magic- the child seemed eager to come out.
Douglas wanted to help, but he didn’t know more than anyone else. All he could do was pace helplessly at a sufficient distance to not be in the way, biting his lip. None of the magic he knew would do anything at all in the current situation. He wrung his hands together and occasionally formed words, talking to himself. “Unless…” he shook his head, “No, that would be… without practice…” Perhaps he was the sort to use the tools most available to him for everything, but he wondered if spatial magic could allow for an easy birth. Just pop the child right out! But he knew it was too crazy to bring up where they were. Sarah could explain why it would be a problem later. Or Lucy, but she seemed equally unready for a birth.
The child finally came into the air, after a very long yet also quick hour. The mother held him in her arms, smiling slightly. Her voice was weak in half-practiced Scoubarran. “Erkin will be his name,” she said. “It means freedom in my home country.”
With that, she breathed her last. Sarah cursed. It was exactly the sort of thing she was trying to avoid, but it happened again right in front of her. It was followed up by additional unpleasantness. A heated discussion began about whether they should keep the child, or abandon him. Some even went so far as to suggest killing him. A child of the Mage-King. None of them wanted to bear his children, nor care for them. But on the other hand, it was just a child. Innocent, as of yet.
One of the women finally interjected. “Enough. He has a name, given to him by his mother. Erkin. I know many of you wish nothing more than to be rid of any connection to the Mage-King. I as well. But his mother named him, and he deserves a chance to live.”
Nobody could come up with a rebuttal to her. One of them had made the choice to accept him- it would be a shame on her memory to immediately ignore what seemed to be her wishes.
More importantly, they could not afford to waste time arguing. They had to continue on the road. Peat opened up a hole in the ground for the dead mother, burying her and returning the earth to rest atop her. He even returned the covering of grass. It was all they could do- anything more and they would leave traces of their presence.
The mood of everyone worsened as they continued onward towards bleak hills and hidden passes, trying to leave behind location and memory.