The Battle of Durenmar never officially happened. Be aware of that before you discuss what I say with anyone else. This is what didn’t happen.
The Diedne leadership were never apprehended, as you know, so we can only conjecture as to their tactics from what we observed. They found it difficult to amass force in their staging area. This was due to a mixture of factors, none of which they understood. In hindsight we know that the psiloses were corroding their logistical base, that the Foolish Fires were wrecking their ability to gather information, and ambushes by Mycetian magi based in Durenmar were destroying the ends of their pickets. This forced the Diedne into a single mass, moving slowly through the Black Forest, sterilising it as they came. It stopped just below the horizon from Durenmar, and made final preparations for an assault. They did not choose siege warfare.
I can’t say for certain why this was the case, but perhaps they felt that the tide of the war was too closely balanced for delay. They had spies in our camp, and knew that we had lost House Flambeau. They knew that if Durenmar fell, House Mycetias planned to fall back to Bohemia, essentially ceding the Western continental Tribunals. Against that, they knew that the Trianomas were turning more of the neutrals to our side, in terms of material, if not soldiers. There was also the chance that House Flambeau would change its mind, break off its overtures for peace, and come off the defensive. One perfect blow, now, made everything so much more certain for them. THey threw everything they had into the battle, save only small garrisons at key points.
The leaders may also not have dared to negotiate. House Diedne had spent dozens of magicians to gain the territory they now controlled, and to build up the momentum they had. It would have been a brave Primus who marked those down as a cost of war, and refused to strike. Once you have an army at the walls of the enemy’s castle, it must be very difficult to face your subordinates and tell them that you won’t risk a battle.
So, the day dawned. We knew which day it would be. The preparations in the enemy camp were obvious. My people had been out doing our usual, trenches filled with spikes and illusions over the top. We followed that with by trenches filled with spikes, over which we had stiff mats and real turf. Nothing decisive, but still, you had to show you were putting in the effort. We only did a few of the illusory trenches, because we needed them to last more than a day. Vis was less scarce and for such a simple little trick it seemed excessive.
Everyone felt the flicker of the day, and hundreds of us chanted the Parma Magica. I felt, at that moment, a sense of communion with the rest of the Order that I’d never experienced before. Here we were, all cultists together, about to determine what it meant to be a magus. I still treasure that memory. Did you know that some of the veterans used to hold breakfasts at Tribunals, where we’d all renew the Parma together? Do they still do that outside? I’ve lost track a little.
The Diedne began a ritual. The finest magical theorists in the Order were watching them, and within a minute sent around a prearranged signal. It was Call to Slumber. I wasn’t in Durenmar at this point: I was a spotter over the enemy camp, but Apophany tells me her job was to create the largest version of Snap of Awakening ever cast, and time it for slightly after the enemy ritual, on the off chance they managed to get it finished. They didn’t of course: even the most basic ritual takes twenty minutes. The Primus of Bonisagus waited six, so that the Diedne had invested the vis in their ritual, and were all linked in communion. Then he had his apprentice blow the Horn.
The Horn was crafted as a talisman by a Bonisagus archamgus. Like most talismans, it ignored the material limitations of magical devices. Its intended use was peaceful. It supressed magical energy. If a laboratory exploded in Durenmar, and threated to compromise those around it, the covenant could be saved by temporarily making everything less magical. It would destroy all of the experiments and ruin all of the research in its area of effect, but that was a small price to preserve the generations of work embodied by the library and specialised laboratories. The horn’s Wind of Mundane Silence was as powerful as it could be, given the limitations of magical items, but it had the penetrative force of battering ram.
I heard the horn, multicast some flares over the main Diedne positions, and fell back. Those were my orders. The flares were mostly for morale. I could see that one part of the Diedne formation had crumbled more than the others. I presume someone had lost control of the monsters there, and they’d begun fighting each other. The flare for that section was a different colour. I was almost certain that my spells would have no effect on the outcome of the battle. but you can never tell how the tenuous web of happenstance works itself out in mass combat. It may have been important. I hope it was. I cannot every really know.
My orders were to head for three of the obvious escape routes, and make sure they didn’t look like roads by the time anyone tried to use them. The Jerbiton twins had a similar task. You may have heard that armies suffer the most casualties after they break and run? My job was to make sure that when they ran, it was in circles. THe plan was to lay down some basic illusions and chop up the ground with some magic items that could shift earth.
The Diedne forces lost cohesion right after the horn was sounded. My guess is that one of their officers thought he needed to use his monsters or loose them, and so he sent them toward the wall. The Diedne performing the ritual didn’t stop, so perhaps they’d targeted a particular part of Durenmar, and would not have struck their own forces. Apophany tells me that their ritual did get past the first Aegis. The second Aegis, hidden from scrying inside the first, was the most powerful she’d ever seen. She saw their ritual just curl up and slough off, like parchment in a fire. That’s another reason I wasn’t in Durenmar: they wouldn’t give Mycetians casting tokens for the inner Aegis. Possibly the Diedne plan was always to assault physically and magically simultaneously, and the monsters had just started a few minutes late.
At this point, for me, the trick was revealed. As I flew toward one of the obvious roads for retreat, intent on blocking and hiding it, I passed over a line of Flambeau magi. They were cautiously working toward the Diedne positions. I presumed they were following my flares, but that seems unlikely now. One of them, also a flier, gave me a mixture of wave and salute. How he saw through my invisibility I still don’t know.
House Flambeau had stripped its defences and thrown all it could spare into this battle. Their philosophy, that attacking was the only way to win wars, served them well this time. They were a few minutes late, and some of them had certainly been struck by the Horn, but that didn’t really signify. I followed my orders, so I missed the main part of the battle. All who I’ve spoken to say that the area before the gates of Durenmar was a bloodbath. Each House claims their people broke the Diedne. Each House has myths about a particular archmagus doing something wonderful or terrible and the Diedne fleeing. None of that really matters. They did flee, and they fled into a wall of fire magic. Some few broke through, but the wayward paths of the forest bought them, again, and again, back into the conflict.
My orders were to make sure that no-one escaped on the three paths I’d been charged with. No one did. I didn’t kill any of the myself, but I didn’t need to. They started swatting down invisible fliers, so I stuck to the ground. Some few druids had devices with the Leap of Homecoming or the Seven League Stride invested into them. Some few could turn into creatures that burrowed through the Earth. They escaped to Branugurix, and most died there.