The moment the wire touched the rod, the dull pain behind my jaw doubled and began to throb. Bat and Sir Hagan both raised their hands to their chins, and I saw Sir Bliss visibly grimace. As I turned my head, I could feel the throb shifting, as though there was a thin thread tied between the pain and the orb at the top of the pole, a thread kept just tight enough to feel the tension.
Irandrya doubled over, crouching down and holding her head between her hands. “I am… I am sorry I didn’t take your… your warning, Piet.” She sucked in a deep breath. “You were right. This is… extraordinarily uncomfortable.” General Byrne extended a hand toward her, but she waved him off. “No, I’ll… I’ll be fine in a moment.”
I looked over at the Escanans standing next to us. The leader of their delegation had was touching the place under his chin where his lodestone was planted with one thumb, and the middle-aged soldier behind him was moving his head slowly back and forth while his eyes stayed locked on the iron orb. Members of the other delegations were doing similar things; while not as obvious as our reactions had been, it was clear the others could also feel the aura in their planted lodestones as well.
The elven woman lowered her hands to her knees, and stood up. General Byrne turned back toward her. “All right?” he asked.
“No,” she replied, “but the discomfort is bearable for the moment.” She looked over at Piet, her face even paler than it had already been. “You said you needed me to help test your device. I imagine that means spells?”
“Yes, miss. If you’re willing.”
Irandrya began to loosen the laces on her sleeves, rolling the fabric back from her wrists. “I can tell you already that magic from within the aura will be impossible. I…” Her eyes narrowed, and she shook her head. “No, I cannot, nor could any other Fae.”
“Good,” Piet said, “that’s as we’d hoped. A good start.” He gestured to a few other men in philosophers’ robes and they approached, one of them taking the staff from him as the others picked up the arms of the cart. Piet pointed back behind him, to where a series of boards lay in even parallel rows on the dusty ground. Distance markers, I realized. “Miss Irandrya, everyone, if you’d step this way please.”
Piet and Irandrya lead the way toward one end of the line of markers, while the other philosophers moved the staff and cart toward the other. “We wanted to ensure the apparatus could be moved while it was operating,” Piet said as we walked, “thus the separation of the ferro-lodestone from the cart. We’d originally mounted the pole on the cart itself, but with the weight of the coil and the length of the pole, any wobble in the movement of the cart tended to eventually cause the pole to break.”
“Why mount it on a pole to begin with?” the leader of the Helvontovan delegation asked.
“Maximum coverage, for one,” Piet said. “The shape of the aura is wider than it is tall, and flatter at the middle than the edges. Holding the coil up high keeps the aura high enough to protect those at its center from attacks from above.” He cleared his throat. “Also the lodestone aura grows quite strong near the coil itself. At ground height and maximum power, this one can pull a knife off of a table and across the floor from a little over a pace away. I imagine it’d do much the same to a short sword. Or, Fates forbid, a planted lodestone.”
I cringed at the thought; several men from other delegations did, as well. As we moved away from the cart, I could feel the throbbing in my jaw subsiding again, and I heard Bat sigh in relief a few paces before we reached the end of the line of markers.
Piet stopped, and motioned for Irandrya to stand just behind the marker. General Byrne stepped up just behind her, and the rest of us filed in behind him. Down the line of markers, at the other end of the yard, the philosophers wheeled the cart in behind a line of sack-on-pole archers’ dummies.
Irandrya rubbed her hands together as though warming them, all trace of discomfort gone from her. “What would you like me to start with?” she asked Piet.
“Something direct, I think. I’d like to test the range of the aura first. And, ah…” He gave her a weak, nervous smile. “If you could, aim it at least a little away from the operators. Just in case.”
General Byrne gave the philosopher a dubious look, but Irandrya just nodded and closed her eyes. In a language I didn’t understand, she began to speak in a low voice, lowering her hands to her sides and then raising the right one again and pushing it slowly forward. As she said the last word, her fingers curled into a claw and the muscles in her arm seemed to clinch, and then a glowing red-orange orb the size of an olive shot out of her hand, trailing a thin line of flame behind it. The flaming projectile flew forward a dozen paces, well less than half the distance toward the target dummies, and then evaporated into the air with no sound or fanfare.
“Yes!” Piet laughed and clapped his hands together. “Just as I’d predicted! Wonderful!” He turned back toward General Byrne and the rest of us. “General, I give you our anti-magic apparatus.”
Byrne nodded to him. “Good work, Piet. Irandrya, if Piet agrees, I’d like to see you hit it harder than that.”
The elf looked at Piet, who shrugged. “The strength of the aura shouldn’t be effected by the magnitude of the magic.” He pointed to the sack dummies. “I’m relatively confident at this point that it’ll protect our army there from anything you can throw at them.”
“Hmm.” she said, “very well. Let us see.” She rattled off another string of incomprehensible syllables, and more flaming orbs shot out as she spoke, one after another. The moment each got within twenty paces of the cart, it vanished. She pushed both hands forward together, firing out a much larger orb that hit the ground just before the point where the other orbs had vanished. Fire burst from the point of impact in all directions, but any that extended into the invisible aura dissipated into nothing almost immediately.
The elven woman wrapped her arms across her chest and started another incantation, and dark-colored orbs even smaller than the fireballs she’d thrown began to wink into existence around her, suspended in the air like motes of dust. She held perfectly still, moving nothing but her lips as the orbs continued to appear, until there were so many she began to disappear within the cloud of them. Then, in one quick gesture, she flung her arms out to the sides, and the orbs streamed out away from her, shooting out in all directions and then curving in toward the cart. Each orb struck the limits of the lodestone aura as though hitting a solid wall, bursting into a cluster of icy crystalline shards that hung briefly in the air before fading away. It was possible almost to see the shape of the aura itself in the pattern of bursting orbs, a flat ring of small, icy explosions like a continuously-blooming bush of blue-white roses.
“Ooh, quite pretty,” Bat murmured.
“Blow a man’s leg clean off, I’d imagine,” said Sir Bliss. After a moment, he added, “But you’re right, it’s very pretty.”
Irandrya raised one hand skyward just as I’d remembered one of the elves doing during the battle of Kintinvale, and just as it had then, lightning flashed down, striking the ground around the edge of the aura. The sound of thunder was near-deafening.
Piet blinked, wiggling one finger in an ear. “Ah, right. We were a little worried about lightning, actually. Afraid the height of the coil might attract the bolt. Good to see it wasn’t.”
It wasn’t clear whether Irandrya heard him. She nodded, possibly to herself, and then lowered herself to one knee and placed her hands flat on the ground. I felt a brief rumble through the soles of my feet, and then a stone the size of a man’s torso pushed up out of the ground before her, pushing the wooden distance marker to one side. The stone rose up, hanging half a pace above the ground in front of the elven woman, and then flew forward toward.
Unlike her other attacks, this one didn’t evaporate immediately at the edge of the aura, but it did slow substantially, striking the border as though hitting a solid wall. It dropped almost straight down, hitting the dry earth with an audible thump and kicking up dust and small pebbles.
Irandrya stood. “Given time to experiment, I imagine it would be possible to find a way to injure those within the aura, but it seems effective against anything that comes immediately to mind.” She turned to Piet and to General Byrne, genuine astonishment in her eyes. “You’ve done it.”