Durenmar remains. It did not fall, or move. The Diedne fundamentally misunderstood the distraction of the Order’s researchers for military ineptitude. House Bonisagus, early in the War, was politically divided, lacked trained soldiers, and had no logistical chain. That meant they could not project force. At that time, Hermetic generals thought of war as a series of attacks. A House that could not attack could not be strong. This was wrong, though.
People say Durenmar is a library, or a research institution. That is only tangentially true. Compare it to the great mystical foundries of Lycaneon or Verdi and you will see what I mean. Durenmar is really a comfortable madhouse, where we keep people obsessed with the fringes of magical discovery safely tucked away. It’s the Cave of Twisting Shadows for a cult we happen to be members of. House Bonisagus say they are researchers, and they are, but so many of the trivialities they had lying around were, when placed into the hands of my House, deadly tools of war.
When we arrived, there was already a political storm brewing. A contingent of psiloses had arrived from Transylvania When they other Houses learned that we had been training a specific caste of assassins how to hunt and kill magi, they were livid. When we ignored their feelings, and gave our assassins some of the most powerful magic items ever made, the Guernicus magi were almost radiant with anger. They didn’t have a choice though. They needed an army. We had one.It was another issue tabled until after the last druid was dead.
The Quaesitores can hardly blame us for the psiloses. You are not of my House, so let me try to explain it to you. Mycetias tried to take control of the order, and he failed. I believe that was a fortunate thing, as do many other Mycetians. He failed because the minds of his lieutenants were broken. House Guernicus negotiated a treaty of peace. The minds of my ancestors were restored, provided they agreed to stand down, and to never seek to know who had driven them mad. For the rest of the Order, this is a story of justice and heroism. It gives them comfort to know that we can never threaten the Order. Try, though, to imagine it from the perspective of my ancestors.
Somewhere in the world, right now, are a conspiracy who can control my thoughts. The finest defences of the most militant House cannot stop them. We do not know who these people are. We do not know why they want “peace”. We know absolutely nothing of their larger objectives. We do not know why they were inactive during the Corruption. We do not know why they were of no assistance during the Schism. Some Mycetians believe that these later questions prove that it was an inside job, by the Founder’s successor. Others say we can’t take that chance. We call this theoretical conspiracy the Umbraculo, because it is the thing that casts a shadow over all of our accomplishments.
Our punishment for the actions of our ancestor is that we, today, are never sure of our safety. Tomorrow the Umbraculo, like two whole Houses before them, may fall to darkness. Who protects my apprentices then, when they rant and writhe and mew like animals, as my ancestors did? What had stays the knives of our watchers? The psiloses are our haphazard attempt to protect ourselves from the victors of the Sundering. They are the monster born of the short-sighted cleverness of our enemies.
The other Houses had held my House in check, with fear, for centuries, and it had made them feel safe. For the first time, they realized that, even as a child scared of shadows may cling to a simulacrum of a terrible bear, we too had sought a greater but tamer monster to soothe our fears. Dozens of mortals – anonymous, unGifted and barely differentiatable from the mass of mundanes – came to Duremar to be armed. Each was met by our sodales as a new horror. Our assasins were terrible because they did not seem like the rough men who work in the dark. They were utterly unremarkable people from many professions.
The symbol of the psiloses is a donkey. The asinus is not levity. The machinery that creates psiloses requires no magus for its operation.. You could kill every Mycetian and psilos, and raze our covenants to the ground, and our system would still create a cult of magical assassins, The hope, of course, is that they would save some of us. At the least, though, they could scour the world of our enemies, and leave a green field for a new Order to grow from. We took these people, mundanes unafraid of magi, and trained to kill, and gave them the most terrible and unpredictable weapons we could make from the laboratories of Durenmar. Many of those weapons have been since been duplicated by my House.
The other Houses saw the great bear that had been standing silently behind them, for generations, and they were angry. Our elders spat back our explanations: that these were the nightmare they had made for themselves. They knew we were right. They knew what they had done to us was terrible. Worse, they knew that now, they could not stop doing it to us. They had held a weapon to our neck for so long that we had managed to slip our own dagger to theirs. Could they now lower their hand, and risk us cutting their throat? We could not give up the psiloses, because the Umbraculo exists. They could not tell us who the Umbraculo were, for fear of the psiloses would kill them all.
The psiloses were the first wave of defenders for Durenmar. The Diedne thought that the covenant would fall quickly, and so they lost cohesion. Their faster units rushed to raid the covenant’s vis sources. A surprising number fell to enchanted arrows while they unpicked Watching Wards. Many died from poisoned wells. There is a ligature in the collection at Fudarus, which was ceremonially interred after the War. It had been the death of two druids.
After the druids began to arrive in force, the psiloses changed tactics. They ceased picking off isolated mages or their creatures, and instead targeted the Diedne logistical train. Key servants of the druids began to silently vanish away. Carts broke down. Freak accidents occurred. Bridges washed away. Bandits raided granaries. Everything became a little harder.to finish. It sounds impressive to say that you have a vast force of magical animals under your control. It is, however, dozens of times more difficult to procure and transport the food of a menagerie than of an infantry army. Few magical creatures will passively starve to death if their meals become unavailable.
The druids only came close to catching one psilos, and they let her escape. Eight of their servants had disappeared near a little village, and a druid was sent to work out what was going on. He died, eating a poisoned apple pie sold to him by the blousy, middle aged woman who claimed to be the miller’s wife. Afterward, House Diedne later laid to rest the spirits of the miller and his family. Psilos Dorota had needed a cover, so she just killed them and took their place. Even then, the Diedne decided she was a Jerbiton magus.
So, the first wave of assaults came at us as if through swampland. This bought us time, which House Bonisagus used well. Very few people know as well as they what makes a laboratory explode. The Trianomans began a whirlwind of diplomacy. The decisive battle of the war was won in the Black Forest, but like all of the best legerdermain, by the time the Diedne thought they had begun the siege, the trick was already complete.