The attack April was worried about never came. Others did, though. Karl kept us in the loop as events unfolded, and it was a kind of bleak picture. Reports came in from outlying areas of raiding bands of death-demons raiding towns. They came out of the forests like vengeful spirits, shouting unintelligible words, making off with food, clothing and other basic goods, and wielding fearsome magical devices that would place bloody, deadly wounds in any who opposed them.
They did seem to only shoot people who directly opposed them, which was both good and bad. Good, that I was right about them having limited ammo, but bad that they seemed to be fully aware of it! Though of course it did mean less defenseless people being killed, which was good too.
And the kingdom really was defenseless; that was the most frustrating part of it! The Royal Knights, with their armor, swords and shields, were wholly ineffective against guns, and the Ranger Corps scarcely fared any better. Many of the soldiers appeared to have some sort of IR and/or night vision goggles that made ambushes practically impossible to pull off, and without the element of surprise, well… a bow is still a deadly weapon but it’s got nothing on an assault rifle.
And so it was that I found myself participating in a mirror conversation with one of the few guys in the kingdom who was actually facilitating something like an effective defense against the invaders.
“What do you mean, hide the heat of a person’s body?” the Archmagus of the Circle asked me.
“It’s a trick that they are using to locate our ambushes. You know that a bar of iron, when heated in a forge, will glow red?”
Gerald nodded. “But people do not!” He looked terrible, like he hadn’t slept in a week. And maybe he hadn’t; the news of this unprecedented war had been rough on the gentle healer.
“No, but there are colors of light that the eye cannot see, and one of them is the color that an object the temperature of the human body does glow at. They have technological spectacles that translate that color into visible light for them.”
“So you need an enchantment that will hide the… light… of the heat of their bodies?”
“Yes. We need a thousand of them, and we need it yesterday!”
“A thousand? Paul, that’s not even…” he sputtered a little. “Speak sense to him?”
Beside me, April turned to look at me. “The Magi have no factories,” she said, using the English word as there was no equivalent here. “Every magical item must be built by hand, individually.”
Gerald nodded. “And first the magic must be understood! Light is one of the most mysterious things in nature, and even the greatest of wizards who study it cannot agree on the most fundamental things about it. Some claim it is made of something; others insist that it exists as something. How are we to control this light-that-is-not-light as you request when we do not even know what it is?”
I looked at April. “Did he just say ‘particles or waves’?” I asked, guessing at the words I didn’t understand. She nodded, and I sighed. I didn’t have time to teach Gerald about quantum physics, especially since I’d never understood 90% of it myself!
“If you first need a correct understanding, then don’t think of it as like light but not light. It is light, it is simply light that your eyes cannot see.”
Gerald thought about it for a moment. “Like Sven.”
“Yes,” said April. “Well, sort of.”
“Who’s Sven?” I asked.
“A wizard who can’t tell red from green,” Gerald replied. “More than once, I’ve tried to heal his eyes, but without something.”
“Is that another word for success?” I asked April.
She nodded, then said to Gerald, “so there are some eyes that can’t see all colors, and there are some colors that no eye can see at all.”
“How is this possible?”
I had no idea how to explain this with my limited vocabulary, so I looked over at April. She thought for a moment. “Consider the cloud-bow.” It actually used the Silva word for bow, like the weapon. “Every color has its own place in the cloud-bow, from red on the outside to purple on the inside. This is because light is like a wave, and each color has its own wave-height, with red being the largest. This is the essence of color itself, in fact: all light waves with the wave-height of red light will be seen as red, and so on.
“The eye has a something inside that responds to certain wave-heights, and we see that light. But it does not take hold of the waves beyond the red or the purple. The body heat light is the color beyond red.”
The old wizard frowned a little. “So light is a wave, and not a particle?” He sounded slightly disappointed.
“It’s both,” April said. “It’s…” she looked at me. “Do you know how to explain this? I haven’t needed this knowledge in centuries, and I’ve forgotten the details.”
I did, actually. I’d seen a very good explanation online once… but the vocabulary was beyond me. “Translate for me?”
She nodded, and I started to explain. “Light is made of particles that travel in waves, along a medium generated by the particle itself as it moves. The medium is composed of two fields at right angles to each other and to the direction that the particle travels, one of the Force Electric and one of the Force Magnetic. The particles carry energy, and the shorter the wavelength, the higher the energy. This is why the infrared, which is larger than red, is the color of things too cold to glow red.”
I had to speak slowly and pause while April translated, but he got it. “And you knew all this, and never told me?” Gerald asked.
As clichè as it is, I had to fall back on one of the oldest excuses around, the good old ‘you didn’t ask.’ “I never knew you were interested in the nature of light!”
He bit his lip. “And this knowledge is safe to share?” He tended to tread a bit lightly around the subject of physics ever since I warned him about how discovering what matter is really made of could lead to the development of things like atomic bombs.
I nodded. “It’s strange. This is perhaps the one thing my people never learned to forge a weapon from. It’s possible to greatly increase the energy in a beam of light into something called a laser, and we’ve found hundreds of beneficial uses for them, from healing, to measuring long distances, to storing and moving about great quantities of information. But no one has ever managed to make a laser weapon, or at least not one that’s practical. It’s theoretically possible, but making it actually work has been beyond our researchers for decades.”
He smiled. “That is… a relief. This gives me much to think about. I will need to confirm these concepts and work out a model…”
I couldn’t help but sigh a little. “Please remember that people are fighting and dying. We need that spell to hide the heat of people’s bodies, and we need it quickly.”
Gerald nodded, a certain solemnity settling over him again. “I remember. This does need to be done, though. I will try to work quickly.”
We said our goodbyes and broke off the call. Then April looked over at me quietly.
“What is it?”
“Does that remind you of anybody?”
“What do you mean?”
She took a slow breath. “I canna do it, sair! I’m givin’ her all she’s got, but I need more time!”
I groaned softly. “He’s facing down engineering constraints, and here I am worrying about practicality, telling him I need things faster.” I buried my face in my palms. “How in both worlds did I turn into management?!?”
She sighed. “The same way that I became a general, I guess.”
“Sarah badgered me into it?”
April laughed and rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean. Because we got invaded by a bunch of Marines and the world doesn’t make any sense anymore.”
I nodded. “Speaking of which…”
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” April groaned. But she turned and headed for the stairs dutifully. I followed, since the folks outside were nominally loyal to me rather than her. We’d sent out everyone who had scouting or tracking experience already, to try to find the soldiers, but keeping in contact with them had been difficult. After a minor catastrophe occurred because Aylwyn found herself cut off from communication, she had strongly encouraged the Circle to produce more travel-size magic mirrors, but we didn’t actually have any of them here yet.
The first scouts had found the base camp in the forest abandoned, with the scales of Ryell strewn all over and the messy bones looking to have been hastily stripped of flesh. The implication that the soldiers had harvested her Mistress’s body for meat just about drove Syrixia apoplectic with fury. Kayora was somewhat more level-headed, and he called for the dracora army to gather the remains to protect them from scavengers, and now the basement of the tower held a store of wealth that would make the Royal Treasurer envious. When I briefly mentioned the possibility of burial to him, he gave me a blank look and asked what the purpose of that would be. I suppose that burying your dead wouldn’t really be a thing for a race of immortals that lived in caves, so I just let it drop.
But now, even after sending a fair number of dracora out to gather intelligence, we still were stuck with an army of over 200, and little by little, more of them kept arriving every day. The first thing April did each morning when meeting with the dracora was review any new arrivals. So she and I walked over to the tent the two tractumil had set up to house and care for their unresponsive brethren. The dracora knew to send newcomers there.
I suppose it was inevitable, then, that I’d eventually come face-to-face with Eleanor one of these mornings. Even so, I was a bit surprised to see the woman who had successfully run one of the biggest, most audacious cons in living memory present herself and swear allegiance to me. There was some sort of organization to the dracora, whose details I still hadn’t gotten the tractumil to explain clearly, but some of them were special, given important powers and duties by the dragon, and Eleanor was one of them, the first to come here.
That brought a disturbing thought to mind: would Kyle Rogers come here too? With Aylwyn still hanging around, there was no way that would end well. For that matter, she was actually standing nearby. Why hadn’t she already confronted Eleanor? Those two had a bit of a history as well!
…oh. Right. Aylwyn didn’t know what Eleanor really looked like; she had disguised herself with an illusion, impersonating Princess Ashley de Morgan, when she met Aylwyn before. Wow. How to deal with this?
“Hello, Master,” she said with a slight drawl, walking up to me with a smirk on her face. “What name do you go by here?”
Ugh. She knew too much about me already. And… yeah, that was a good question. The world in general thought Paul Twister was dead, and really, that was fine with me. The dracora, though, all knew me by that name… which was somewhat less fine. It was Syrixia’s doing, of course, and she was completely unapologetic about it, calling it the truest identity I had.
Whatever that means.
“Here, I am simply Paul,” I said.
April glanced at the two of us. “Have you met?”
I gave Eleanor my best evil grin. If she was going to be like that with me, I could give as good as I got. “Why yes,” I said, not actually projecting or anything, but speaking loud enough that I knew Aylwyn could hear. “General, this is Eleanor de Morgan. I believe Sarah told you about her?” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Paladin’s head turn, looking over at us. “Eleanor, this is the legendary General Thunder. You will be under her command.”
Eleanor stiffened when I said her name like that. Yeah, she’d seen Aylwyn then. She glared at me, then looked off to the side at Aylwyn nervously. Aylwyn saw, and walked over, standing beside me, directly opposite Eleanor. “So this is your true face. You will something explain to me why I should not immediately something you back to Keliar.”
Eleanor squared her shoulders, stood up straight and looked into the angel’s eyes, somehow looking dignified about it even though Aylwyn had about ten inches on her. “I something-ed a great disaster when I spoke to you before. If anything, you should show gratitude.”
“You created a great disaster,” Aylwyn countered. “The revolt in Aster was worsened by my presence.”
“It was caused by your presence,” Eleanor responded haughtily, sounding just a little bit condescending at having to explain this. “Had you not been present as a something for the revolt, it would never have happened at all, until now, with current events something-ing the Crown’s hold over the province. Then the revolt would have been successful, and horrible, far bloodier and more something than the one you experienced. I created a very small disaster to something a much worse one. It is the way of the dragon.”
She smirked at Aylwyn. “Also, you will not return me to Keliar because Syrixia, and your duty to mind her, remains here.”
Aylwyn took a deep breath, then nodded. “As you say. But do not think you are free to do as you wish.”
Eleanor looked to me, then April, then Aylwyn. “Who is it who has authority over me, Master?” she asked innocently.
She was really starting to bug me. So I looked over at April and asked, in English, “you mind if I hand her over?”
April shook her head. “Go right ahead.”
So I turned back to Eleanor. “I think it would be best,” I said slowly, “if you reported directly to Aylwyn.”
Eleanor looked at me, her confident expression faltering a little for the first time. I just grinned at Aylwyn. “Please don’t kill her,” I said, “at least without…” I turned to April. “How do you say ‘severe provocation’?” She gave me the words. “Not without severe provocation.”
Aylwyn nodded, and I thought I saw a hint of a smile on her lips. “I will put her skills to good use.”
Eleanor looked actively worried. “And tomorrow, when Kyle gets here, will you hand him over to Shadowbane as well?”