Border Barriers Geographic Location in The Engineering Corps | World Anvil

Border Barriers

Being stationed near one of the borders is fun: you can pass just your hand through the wards with little trouble and get the other side running in a frenzy! We had lots of fun during the war! Unfortunately, His Majesty has temporarily decided to play nice with the Austrians, but I'm sure it won't last...
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png

Table of Contents

Ward system and border barrier technologies


I do hope you actually know about ward systems, or I would question the fact that you graduated at all and are worthy of your ranks. In any case, here is a reminder for all of you slackers!
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png

What are wards?

Typical wards are based on shielding magic. While a shield is limited to form a plane of magical energy that protects what is located behind it, a ward curves to surround a whole area under a dome or even into a complete sphere. This, of course, makes wards harder to maintain, and this is why it is quasi-impossible to raise one with only using raw magic and no support.   The most ancient ward and one of the first magic ever practised by mankind is undoubtedly the circle. Tracing circles on the ground and using it as the base to form a ward is still common in children's games throughout the world. Most adults only graduate to using combinations of different materials to form their circles and to inscribe a few runes around it in order to control them.  
I'm sure you're familiar enough with the type of circles you can find around farms in the countryside. So basic and easy to breach, it barely merits the name of wards!
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png
  Proper ward systems can become extremely complex, with many superimposed geometrical patterns. This is an intense field of study generally reserved for the army or practitioners accredited by the state. Every country has its own specific style that is kept secret from outsiders. Although leaks of information happen, they are all punished with a traitor's death—particularly painful and slow torture leading to death.

Ward properties

Wards are characterised by:

  • The source that empowers them. This is generally their owners, although the burning of herbs and regular small animal sacrificew are always commonly used. Nowadays, burning coal in a central furnace is done in most rich estates.
  • The conditions of their activation as determined with the runes engraved around the wards. Keeping a ward activated at all times is the best way to quickly run out of energy and be hit just afterwards and so it is generally avoided. Common conditions are either the physical touch or the magic of someone the caster considers an enemy—both conditions need to be set separately, thus creating a layer of complexity.
  • What they let through or block. Physical body or magic is the easiest distinction, but more details need to be determined. Would rain be let through or does energy need to be wasted protecting against it? Reversely, not protecting against inanimate objects would let all projectile weapons through. The more defined the criteria are, the more complex the ward is to design, activate and use properly.
  • How they retaliate against attacks. Among the possibilities are no retaliation, sending an alarm to the owner of the wards, sending magical attack back to their casters...

Wards have two basic states: unempowered when they are without magics and empowered when magic has been pushed inside of them and they are attached to a specific person. Empowered wards can them be activated when they are actively blocking something, or inactivated when the activation criteria have not been met yet. Wards can be attached to locations or objects. Most houses have some types of protective wards, more or less elaborate depending on the skills or financial means of their owners. At the death of those owners, wards fall and stay down until a new person takes possession of them and empowers them.  
The colonel holds the wards of the garrison, of course. You better be perfectly polite if you don't want the temperature control above your bed to malfunction in the middle of winter...
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png

The king inspecting the garrison of the Engineering Corps in Lyon.

The runes

Runes can be any kind of symbols so long as the writer is able to attach a clear and distinctive meaning to them in their mind. Europeans like to employ Nordic runes for this purpose, although some usage is also made of Egyptian Hieroglyphs, or Chinese or Indian ideograms. The Latin, Greek or Russian alphabets made for poor runes, as letters do not have a separate meaning on their own. Still, some people have managed to make the system work for themselves. Among artists and the illiterate class, simplified drawings can also be used as a substitute.   Attacking the runes of a ward is a common way to weaken it enough that it can be destroyed with a single moderate magical attack. Of course, once activated, runes become fully magical and cannot be erased as simply as by destroying the physical writing. A range of acidic or basic alchemical compounds have been developed to that effect, but of course all of the most complex ward systems now prevent their entry inside the wards where the runes are located.

Ancient parchment with instructions for raising a ward by AmélieIS with images from Pixabay and Vecteezy


What are border barriers?

Border barriers are a subset of wards. They cover a whole country and protect it against a range of phenomena, from physical and magical attacks to natural phenomenon including storms, insect swarms or infections.

How are they different from normal wards?

Because of their functions, the design of border barriers needs to include a set of very specific properties. First of all, instead of following a nice form that facilitates the flow of energy such as a circle, they need to espouse the exact delimitation of the terrain between two countries. It would not do to give the enemies even only a patch of land that does not belong to them, after all!   Secondarily, sections of the border barriers need to be able to move smoothly so as to follow the physical borders when they change through war and conquest. This is generally impossible to do with a ward without letting it fall down and recasting it—attempting to move an inadequate ward will only make it crash. Doing such a thing is of course inconceivable for border barriers, as this would leave the whole country defenceless for a length of time ranging from a few hours to a few months. In addition, recasting such powerful magic would require a huge amount of energy, as the empowering of a ward system is always more expensive than the maintaining of it whether in its activated or inactivated form.   Thirdly, one imperative condition for border barriers is to absolutely never become dangerous to the people living inside of them, as this would be completely anathema to their function. This means that some special precautions need to be taken to prevent the border barriers for ever being turned against their inhabitants by would be attackers as is possible for wards.   Fourthly, the barriers need to be linked to one person:, the monarch. Nevertheless, once the monarch dies, the barriers cannot fall until the heir bind themselves to them as is the case with wards. To avoid this, conditions are implemented into the barriers to ensure their smooth transfer to a previously designed heir or, depending on countries, to the chief of government, religious leader or leader of the senate.

Where does the magic come from?

Border barriers are simply enormous. That huge scale means that an equally huge amount of magic is needed to first power them and then to activate them. The first empowering is usually done with human sacrifices, however this is not a method that is viable to replicate in the long term. For this, a constant stream of power needs to be provided, and while punctual human sacrifices are always good to reinforce the base of the barriers, another type of energy is necessary in between the sacrifices. Burning coal to use of the ancient magic of dead plants and animals is another way to get a temporary but still limited burst of power.   What humans have been doing for as long as border barriers have existed is to combine a small amount of magic from all of the inhabitants, plants and animals living inside the limits of the barriers. This method allows for an easy variation in time of crisis of the amount of energy input into the barriers. Increasing the amount of energy taken should however be done with caution, as if the amount is too high there is a risk of premature death in a lot of people (unborn foetus, recently born babies, and sick, injured or old people). This also reduces the amount of magic and energy all people have for their daily tasks and reduces the productivity of the country. For all of these reasons, increasing the amount of magic taken is extremely unpopular, and unless it is done for a short amount of time it tends to lead to rebellions.

How effective are border barriers?

Of course, border barriers cannot make perfect protections or invasion would never occur at all. Barriers function more as a warning system to prevent an army from crossing over without being notice than as fully fledge wards.   Depending on the magical strength of a country and its inhabitants, some barriers can have a more concrete physical presence. Still, those types only stop magically weak individual. This represents around 25% of people for average barriers, and 50% of people for stronger barriers—generally barriers reinforced because of a war. An important exception is the Austrians which are known to reach 75% of individuals blocked from going through the barriers, although only for brief strategic moments.  
Damned Austrians ready to sacrifice their own people to gain the smallest advantage—and even more if it's only the Flemish and Wallons! Just ask the colonel what it's like being under their tender care...
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png
  While it is also possible to prevent some powerful or specific individuals or artefacts from going through, it is rarely viable to make barriers so specific, as it would allow the rest of the population to go through much more easily.   Even if barriers do not have a physical presence and allow people to go through them, they are not harmless magic. Prolong contact with a barrier can lead to its magical energy running havoc in a person's body and lead to death. This is considered a particularly torturous method to kill someone and is commonly used against traitors.

The stories around the border barriers

A border barrier is intrinsically linked to the history of its country. The rise of border barriers, their spectacular falls, failure in appropriately setting their conditions or an enemy cleverly outsmarting them, barriers turning on their own inhabitants and smothering them all in their sleep. All are the subjects of numerous semi-legendary tales.   Particular favourite stories are of people vaporising when touching the particularly powerful border barriers of the city-state of Rome early in its history, before it became an empire and the barriers too diffuse to offer such a strong protection. Such tales are particularly popular among parents trying to dissuade young children from venturing too close to the border.   Another story is that of Pompeii or Atlantis whose border barriers would have killed all of their inhabitants in an attempt to protect them against the scale of the natural disasters assaulting them. This is also believed to have happened in the Roman empire. Following centuries-long assaults on the borders by Barbarians, the Roman empire kept increasing the magical energy taken from its citizen to empower the barriers. Such constant pressure on the Roman population considerably weakened them, making them easy targets for infections and for the Barbarian themselves once they breached the barriers.  
Ever seen what's left of the inhabitants of a city-state after a siege? Those German campaigns are always so fun. No matter who many times this happens, they never learn!
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png
  A strong favourite with children is the teasing of the barriers. Those stories tell how a particular bold and enterprising person teased a specific border barrier at different places along the border. This process drives the enemies crazy with frustration while allowing for some heroic infiltration at another point of the barrier to go unnoticed. Of course, the stories always end with the tragic death of all the persons involved.  
What? Of course, I've done that as a child! All military children in garrisons next to the borders do! Annoying the Austrians was our favourite game.
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png

Babylon and its border barrier by AmélieIS with Wikimedia Commons
Military children playing soldiers by William Bigg on Artvee

Cover image: Babylon and its border barrier by AmélieIS with Wikimedia Commons


Author's Notes

Summer Camp 2021 prompt 7: An area or geographical landmark wrapped in myth, legend or superstition

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Jul 11, 2021 07:54 by Bart Weergang

This was really interesting to read. I love how you gave your magic a need for a source. whether that is burning coal or sacrificing your firstborn.

Jul 11, 2021 08:22 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

You make me realised this story is missing some newborn sacrifice :p

To see what I am up to: SC list of articles and goals.
Jul 11, 2021 08:52 by Bart Weergang

OH noo :O lol, glad I could be of assistance!

Jul 12, 2021 21:00 by Eliora Yona

What a fun article, I enjoy wards!

~ Eliora Yona ~
Jul 12, 2021 21:25 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

Thanks :D

To see what I am up to: SC list of articles and goals.
Jul 13, 2021 16:52

Like I mentioned in another comment, I really love how you make magic such an integrated part into the setting. It makes so much sense and feels so much more real.   How does this function when it comes to merchants, or regular travel? Or... Allied nations?   Such a killer line: "human sacrifice is always good" ;D   I bet capital punishment usually leads to sacrifice. Do some nations make it mandatory for the old and dying? Those who look like they're about to die anyway? And I'm sure the line of when that looks certain gers blurred pretty quick in wartime!   Also very interesting how it functions more like a warning system than a physical wall sometimes - and how people, kids of course, toy with that :D   Awesome stuff as always :D

Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
Jul 13, 2021 17:49 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

Capital punishment is always followed by a sacrifice - best example is King Louis XVI :p Some of the judges may have an extra incentive to find people guilty... And I didn't consider the old and dying, but you're absolutely right that there would be something going on there... I think the sacrifice of healthy and young people gives more magic and people don't like to have to sacrifice their grandparents so it's generally avoided. But there may be some money incentive to get poor people to agree, and during war all bets are off.   And I've answered the merchants in the other comment.   Thanks for your comments, you made me think about lots of stuff I had not considered XD

To see what I am up to: SC list of articles and goals.
Aug 6, 2021 19:50 by Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull

I like the hint of Pompeii being caused by a border-barrier disaster. Really interesting article. I like how high the cost of magic seems.

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
Aug 6, 2021 20:44 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

Thanks :D Yes, I'm trying to have a very high cost for most stuff and to have strict limits on what they can and cannot do. That makes the role of the engineers a lot more important as the devices they create are the ones that allow everyone to do more impressive stuff with their magic :p

To see what I am up to: SC list of articles and goals.
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