It is certainly possible that, in time, the Fae Conflict will be remembered more as a golden age than a dark time, more for the knowledge we gained than the men we lost.
-Caurus Etrenius, “Philosophy, Magic, and War”
The Philosophers’ Guild sat on a low hill, within the city walls but well away from the crowded city center. It was a low, single story structure, and while the front of the building bore a painted frieze held up by a marble columnade, I could see as we were lead around the back that the building was really of quite simple construction; flat straight walls of marble and sandstone bricks, no windows, a roof of sandy clay tiles set on timbers.
We came around the side of the building and passed through a gate into a fenced-in well-trod dirt yard, lead by a nervous looking man wearing a robe in a similar tan color to the one the philosopher Piet had been wearing at the meeting. Piet himself stood in the yard, as did General Byrne and the other members of the Euphentine delegation, with the other delegates standing around them.
“Looks like we’re the last to arrive again,” Bat muttered to me, rubbing the bandage tied under his chin absent-mindedly.
I nodded, and reached a hand up to gingerly touch my own bandage, feeling the pain from the tender spot underneath. True to his word, Sir Hagan had made the five us the first of the Tillish soldiers to be “planted”. The process had been simple, but extraordinarily painful. The physician had held a tiny iron bar, half the length of a needle but twice as thick, in a pair of tongs over the tip of a candle flame, heating it until it glowed. Then, he’d set the bar on a rail inside a short tube that was wrapped end-to-end in copper wires. He let it sit there just until it’d stopped glowing, and then he’d made a cut in the skin of my throat just under and behind the chin and, almost before I could feel the pain of the cut, pushed the still-hot piece of iron deep into the wound.
The pain had been blinding; I’d felt like I was going to bite through the leather-wrapped wooden rod the physician had strapped into my mouth. After the wound had been stitched shut smeared with some kind of unguent and bandaged, though, the physician had made me drink a little cup of something that smelled like tea and tasted like thickened whiskey, and while it’d made my head swim in a way that wasn’t entirely pleasant, by the time we’d set off for the city gates the pain had dulled to a persistent but bearable ache.
General Byrne raised a hand in greeting as we approached, and a few members of the Escanan delegation shuffled aside to allow us to step in along side them. Irandrya stood next to the General, looking calm and composed, showing no sign of the emotion she’d shown back in the Concord headquarters. Her eyes met mine as our delegation stepped in next to the Escanans. She frowned at me, then gave me a slow, single nod before turning her attention back to Piet.
The unassuming-looking Euphentine philosopher was standing next to a small 2-wheeled partially-enclosed cart which held 3 neat rows of narrow rough clay jars. A pair of iron rods extended from the lid of each jar, with copper wires wrapped around and between them, connecting all of the jars together and running off over the front and sides of the cart. On the far side of the cart, a long wooden pole poked out the front, a full pace longer than the cart’s handles.
Piet pointed to one of the jars. “We wouldn’t have thought to try anything like this until Tusus Cianicus’ experiments created the first of these lead-coil cells. Using a rotary generator directly would have been ineffective, and while some of the ferrochemical cells we’ve discovered would provide the necessary current, they’d require frequent replacement or rebuilding, so deploying them on the battlefield would have been too impractical. But the lead-coil cell, while not producing any current of its own, functions as a sort of reservoir, the ferric equivalent of a flywheel or a coiled spring. Current applied to the cell fills the cell, which will then empty into any circuit path it’s attached to in a direction counter to that in which the initial current was applied.”
Bat leaned toward me. “He explaining what he’s got in the barrow?” he whispered.
“Maybe?” I whispered back. “I’m pretty sure he’s speaking Euphenti, but I don’t recognize half the words, and the ones I do recognize don’t make any sense. He says the jars…” I struggled to process what I was hearing into Tillish. “…hold running water? Running water that goes in through the wires and comes out in a backwards circle?”
Bat narrowed his eyes, and then nodded sagely. “Yep. That’s definitely nonsense.” He thought for a moment, and then shrugged. “On the other hand, it’s apparently nonsense that they can use to make strong lodestones from scratch, so they’re probably on to something.”
I touched the bottom of my chin again, and looked over at Irandrya. In the haze of the medicine, I’d not really realized that I was standing the presence of a Fae without being effected by her glamour.
Bat cleared his throat. “Incidentally, you may not want to put that helmet of yours on for a while. While you were still getting stitched up, Sir Bliss tapped the hilt of his dagger against his chin without thinking about it, and damn near fell over. Said he almost passed out, it hurt so much.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I’ll try to avoid that.”
Back over at the cart, Piet was reaching down inside one of the side walls of the cart. “…and, of course, we never would have made any of this if not for Miss Irandrya’s initial explanations of ferric current and lodestone auras.”
The Fae woman gestured to Piet, and shook her head. “As with your other projects, you and your fellows have struck the spark and stoked the flame; I have, at best, brought you kindling.”
“Hmm.” Piet paused for a moment. “Important kindling, though. Kindling without which we would never have invented fire. Metaphorically speaking.” He looked back down inside the wagon, and then lifted the long wooden pole from the box with a grunt.
The pole was about three paces long, all together, around the same length as a longspear. Where the head of the spear would have been, there was a ball of black iron the size of a man’s head. As Piet planted the end of the pole in the dirt and hefted the iron globe skyward, I could see that wires ran up the length of the pole, connecting the globe to a cylindrical brass tube connected to the middle of the shaft, and two more wires ran from the tube back to the cart.
“This is, of course, only an initial prototype,” Piet said. “There are a number of modifications I’d want to make before we settle on a design and begin sending them out with the men. At very least, we’d want to wrap these wires in cloth, or leather if we can get it.” He gingerly pulled the pair of wires running back to the cart away from each other.
“If it works, we’ll see what we can do,” General Byrne said. “What is it exactly you’ve built here, Piet.”
Piet gave a slow, careful quarter-twist to a knob on the bottom of the brass cylinder. “It’s actually not all that dissimilar from the lodestone coils Miss Irandrya helped us to develop, but put toward a different end. You see, when we tried to examine the process more closely, we found that while heating a piece of iron or steel prior to placing it within the coil caused it to become a lodestone permanently when it cooled, even a cool piece of metal will act as a lodestone so long as it remains within said coil. With that in mind, and given the disruptive effects that lodestones seem to have on Fae magic, we’ve attempted to build what you could think of as a ferro-lodestone, designed to spread a lodestone aura over the maximum possible area.”
He turned to Irandrya again. “Miss, if your previous reactions to our experiments are any indication, I’m afraid you may find this unpleasant. I suggest you back away.”
Irandrya shook her head again. “Thank you, Piet, but I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Piet shrugged. “As you wish.” He gave the knob at the bottom of the cylinder a final quarter turn, and then reached into the cart and quickly wrapped a length of wire around one of the jar-top rods.