So many eyes were fixed on Arval, enough to make him sweat even if he wasn’t tending to a burgeoning conflagration.  Although the fire was contained, it was still hot: hot enough to make its metal containment glow ruddily thanks to the venting Arval arranged.  It burned hotter than a blacksmith’s forge on a summer day.

               Above the oven was bolted a canister full of water.  Arval stood up from tending to the fire to check on the water; it was already beginning to simmer, but it would need to reach a raging boil before anything substantial began to occur.  He tried not to think about his audience, but it was hard to forget that the Prime of Merolate, his Advisor, and several ministers were standing in his warehouse, which managed to feel both cavernous and confined simultaneously.

               None of them were the most critical of his work, though.  “It won’t work,” Evry declared, her arms folded as she glared at Arval.  In truth, he had never seen another expression from the Pifechan engineer.  “This way is too inefficient a harnessing of the motive power of fire, and the materials are insufficiently thermally insulative.”

               More reasons to sweat, but Arval did his best to ignore Evry.  His machine worked in testing, if imperfectly.  True, it didn’t do everything he wanted it to do, and he couldn’t imagine it powering something on the scale of a Pifechan warship, but it did function.  It was, after all, just a prototype.

               The first bubbles began to roll up from the bottom of the canister, and Arval leaned in to hear them, since he couldn’t see inside the metal cylinder that held the water.  His eyes tracked along the progressively narrower pipes through which the steam generated from the boiling water in the canister would run, giving it more and more pressure until it could fill the spherical vessel with its single outlet and set it spinning.  That would draw on a chain, which wound around a series of gears, and eventually the motion of the steam spinning the spherical vessel would cause the cart to move across the laboratory under its own power.

               Granted, the cart was significantly smaller than Arval first envisioned for this project, more like a child’s toy than the full-size wagon in his original sketches.  In testing, its trundling pace across the warehouse floor was slower than a one-legged man walking, and it only made it a third of the way across the cavernous space.  Even that was an unprecedented accomplishment, but Arval struggled to be impressed with his own feat, aware that Evry, who knew how to harness steam so efficiently that it could propel a ship across the ocean and against the wind, would scoff at it.

               If only it didn’t take so long for the system to generate sufficient steam for motion; this awkward wait and the impatient murmurs of the Prime’s ministers were exacerbating Arval’s nervousness.  He wondered if the Pifechans had found a solution to that problem, or if they kept their fires always burning, but he was not supposed to ask Evry, even if he thought she would tell him anything useful.  Doil wanted their work kept separate for security, and Evry didn’t like him, anyway.

               At least it was cooling off outside, so Arval could open the warehouse’s windows to provide some ventilation before it became too stifling.  During his experiments, while the heat of summer was still beating down, he’d sometimes been forced to wait outside the warehouse because it got so hot with the fire.  That was doubtless another sign of inefficiency in his design.  He sighed, but then cut the expression off when he spotted the first wisps of steam escaping from the spherical vessel.

               Arval clamped down the stopper on the outlet, letting the steam build up; after enough time passed, he yanked out the stopper by its cord and leapt backwards so that the spherical vessel could begin spinning freely.  Well, ‘freely’ was probably the wrong word; even with the gear ratios Arval employed to create a mechanical advantage, the amount of mass being moved via the chain that looped over the spherical vessel meant that the steam did not produce a very rapid rotation.  But it was moving!

               Grinning, Arval turned to his audience as the contraption strained and began to lumber across the dusty floor, lurching forward at less than half a normal walking pace.  Yes, he still found it exciting, and he could have watched the cart move back and forth across the warehouse all day, but he’d seen this before, and it was more important to see his audience’s reactions.  Doil was scribbling notes as he watched the approaching cart with one eye, and Kiluron had his head cocked in an expression of curiosity.  Evry, of course, had her arms crossed and was frowning as she shook her head.

               When the cart rocked to a stop, its supply of steam exhausted, Arval went about shutting up the furnace to deprive it of air and extinguish the fire, and then he held up his arms to invite questions.  Doil raised a finger.  “This is adapted from the aeolipile designs?” he asked.

               Arval nodded.  “Yes.  I changed the furnace and canister positioning in order to make it fit on the cart, dropped and moved forward the spherical steam vessel, and then connected the steam vessel to a gear chain in order to drive the rotation of the wheels.”

                “Is that as fast as it can go?” Kiluron asked.

               Arval flushed.  “Well, I’m still working on optimization, this is just a prototype, you see, but, ah, yes.  That’s the only speed it can attain right now.”

               Evry stepped forward.  “This is ridiculous,” she declared.  “Your contraption is slow, ponderous, and inefficient.  It bleeds heat all over the place, its fuel usage is impractically high, and its cargo capacity is nonexistent.  In Pifecha, we have…” she snapped her mouth shut on whatever she’d been about to say.

                “The flying machine was better, lok,” Inpernuth interjected, ignoring the looks he received.

               Arval sighed.  “Think of the potential, though.  I can iterate on this idea, try different things, come up with something that can move a whole wagon.  Imagine wagons that could move without needing horses or blummoxes or kungas.”

                “That depends on the efficiency and cost-effectiveness you can achieve with your design,” Borivat observed.  “It will not be useful if it is cheaper and easier to use traditional beasts of burden.”

                “I…yes, I suppose that’s true,” Arval admitted.

               Doil looked around, saw no other comments, and nodded to Arval.  “It’s a worthy project, and it shows progress on understanding the principles upon which Pifechan technology is based, even if it does not produce a practical application.  Please keep me apprised of further developments.”

               That was it.  The ministers, Evry, the Prime, and Advisor Doil all filed out of the warehouse, leaving Arval alone to contemplate his invention, lurking where it ran out of steam.  “Well, Hemi, looks like I won’t be freeing all of your cousins from the harness anytime soon,” he muttered.

               He reset the contraption, cleared out the spent fuel, and set his warehouse in order.  Evry was waiting for him when he stepped from his door, and he nearly leapt to the top of the warehouse.  “What are you doing here?” he demanded.  There were no guards in sight.

                “Your fuel is wrong.  Charcoal is too inefficient for your design.  You don’t have enough insulation, and your steam is insufficiently pressurized.”  Evry crossed her arms.  “Don’t you understand anything of thermodynamics?”

                “Thermo-what?” Arval demanded.  “And why are you here without guards?  You already told me my design was useless.”

               Evry snorted.  “Maybe if you came out of your warehouse more often, you’d know that I’m allowed to walk around the city unguarded, now.  Follow me.”  She began to stride off, and Arval stared after her.

                “Where are you planning to take me?” Arval asked.  He crossed his arms.  “I know you don’t like me, so I can’t imagine this is a pleasure visit, even if you aren’t lying about being allowed to walk around unguarded.”

                “Correction: you are going to take me to the former Pifechan naval vessel docked in the harbor.”  Evry’s command of the language was remarkably improved since her arrival.  “And I don’t dislike you.  I dislike that your Prime’s Advisor could start to rely on you instead of me for technological understanding.”

                “Could’ve fooled me.”  Arval hesitated, but curiosity won out over caution.  “Alright, fine.  Let’s go.”

               There was a chill, evening breeze coming over the water when Arval and Evry reached the harbor.  The guards blocking the way to the commandeered Pifechan vessel hesitated on seeing Evry, but to Arval’s surprise they accepted his presence without question and allowed both of them up the gangplank to the Pifechan vessel’s deck.  It was silent, eerie, and Arval hoped that he would not still be here by the time it was fully dark.  Hulking shapes of thundercasters and other devices loomed in the shadows.

                “Alright, we’re here,” Arval confronted Evry.  “What did you want to show me?”

                “Before we go any further, I need some assurances.”  It was Evry’s turn to cross her arms.  “My role here is precarious.  If I help you, I need to know that you will vouch for me with the Prime.”

               Arval hesitated.  “That’s not really my role…”

                “Your word,” Evry insisted.  “Or I will leave you fumbling around with your trinkets when you could be building something like this.”  She gestured around at the metal ship.

                “I…” Arval wished he had more time to think; this was moving far too fast for his preferences.  He thought of the engine room and the blueprints he reviewed, and he knew he could only give one answer.  “Alright.  I promise I’ll make sure the Prime knows of your role.”

                “Good enough.”  Evry nodded sharply.  “Now, follow me.  We need to discuss thermodynamics, and fuel.”

               She led the way down into the ship, snatching up a lantern and lighting it to provide some illumination in the dark passages.  Arval followed her, trying not to be nervous, as they made their way towards the engine room.  “What’s this thermodynamics?” he asked, wincing at how his voice echoed in the metal confines.

                “The way heat moves,” Evry replied.

                “Heat doesn’t move,” Arval retorted.  “Hot things move.  Like flames of a fire, or hot air, or steam.”

               Evry shook her head, sending strange shadows playing across the yellow lantern glow.  “Wrong.  Heat moves.  Its movement induces motion in things, not the opposite.  It can move in three ways.  You know of convection.  There is also conductance, and radiance.  Radiance is the heat you feel from a stove when you hold your hand over it.  Conductance is the heat that burns you when you grab a pot handle.  Burning is just the heat moving from the handle into your hand.”

                “You can prove this?” Arval demanded.

               Evry snorted.  “Don’t need to.  It’s just fact.  Who are you, that idiot Advisor?  Anyway, that’s not important.  What’s important is insulation.  Your machine is bleeding too much heat.  That means less steam ever gets to the chamber.”

               Arval grimaced.  “I know.  I tried wrapping the pipes in cloth, but it didn’t make much of a difference.”

                “That’s because you need something with a higher insulative factor.”  Evry pointed up at pipes in the low ceiling beneath which they were walking.  “These are covered by a material manufactured from whale blubber and sawdust, which is then coated in an additional thin layer of plaster composed from gypsum, water, limestone, marl, slate, sand, and iron.  Superheated steam can run through these pipes, and the outside will only feel warm.”

               Even though he knew there was no steam now running through the impounded vessel, Arval still reached up and touched the insulation around the pipes, poking and prodding at it to understand its texture.  “So, this will make the cart go faster and further, because it will mean more steam reaching the spherical vessel?”

               Evry snorted.  “Marginally.  You still need a better fuel, and your design is all wrong.  Continuous rotation is a stupid design.  You need something more like this.”

               They’d reached the engine room, and now Evry gestured at a set of metal cylinders that three men could not have encircled and that were three times as tall as Arval.  At the top of each was a long arm which disappeared into the shadows of the cavernous ceiling.

                “Pistons,” Evry explained, which actually told Arval nothing about the cylinders at which he was looking.  “Boilers generate steam, steam fills the chamber, raises the piston inside the outer cylinder until it reaches the release point, the steam comes out, the piston drops back down, the cycle repeats.  The steam is recondensed and can be fed back into the boiler.  The movement of the piston moves a lever that induces motion.  That motion is converting into rotational motion to drive the paddlewheels and other functions around the ship.  Got it?”

               Arval was fumbling with paper and pen, trying to sketch and take notes in midair while Evry spoke.  “No!  I don’t get it at all.”

                “Figure out how to build one, then you’ll understand.”  That, at least, made sense to Arval.  “Now, heat.  Charcoal is no good.”

                “All the smiths use charcoal,” Arval argued.

               Evry shook her head.  She seized a wheel, grunted as she forced it to turn through screeching protests, and opened a dark, cold chamber.  The lantern’s beam revealed a blackened, soot-stained room lined with tiles, some of them cracked.  Reaching in, Evry came out with a handful of black, gravel-like substance, which she held out to Arval.  “Here.  Anthracite.  Peak combustion temperature up to twice that of charcoal.”

               Weighing the anthracite in his hand, Arval frowned.  “Hold on.  Even I know that steam isn’t nearly as hot as charcoal burns, and that it stays the same temperature.”

                “Wrong.  You can superheat steam.  Which happens more effectively, and more efficiently, if you burn anthracite instead of charcoal.”  Evry looked smug.  “Of course, to attain the dry saturated steam necessary to achieve superheating, you will have to modify your design even further.”  She dusted off her hands, snatched up the lantern, and stomped out of the room, leaving Arval alone in the darkness.

                “But…” he sighed.  It was a long, fumbling journey out of the ship without a lantern, full of smarting shins and bumped heads.  Even had it not been, Arval’s head would still have been spinning.  If even half of what Evry claimed was true, it could enable him to create the freight wagons he imagined, instead of the rickety plaything he had thus far managed.  He headed back to his warehouse and began trying to create superheated steam.

               Maps came in all forms, from the oversized, stylized, politicized map hanging on the wall near the conference chamber, to the waxed, pocket-sized, topographical versions the guards used for their border patrols, complete with a guide for interaction with the steppe barbarians, or the detailed geological map rolled out on the conference table that Kiluron currently contemplated.  He looked at the pointer sticking up from the Uir Mountains.

                “And this will let you build machines like the Pifechans?”  He looked from one face to the other, but he focused mostly on Arval.  Evry’s motives were still suspect, and he did not miss how Arval glanced at her before answering.

                “I believe so, yes, my lord.”  Arval brushed at his baldness again and fidgeted with the pointer.  “From old scout reports and observations, plus, uh, analysis of mineral content from waterways coming from the mountains, the necessary resources should be there.”

               Doil crossed his arms.  “That presupposes that we can locate, identify, and extract these materials, not to mention it would require securing an unprecedented transport corridor through the Unclaimed Territories, plus into the Uir Mountains, which are also unclaimed.”

               Just the four of them were in the conference chamber: Kiluron, Doil, Arval, and Evry.  If Kiluron and Doil decided Arval’s proposal had merit, then the Chief Inventor would present the idea to the whole group of ministers for a wider discussion on the implementation details.  Kiluron tapped on the map where Arval had been pointing.  He frowned, and traced a line straight south, to a point less than a day’s ride north of the Merolate border.  According to the map there was nothing at that location.  “I wonder…”

                “It could serve as a staging ground,” Doil admitted.  “It’s still a long way to and from the mountains, though, and the village is hardly a fortification.  If the barbarians react against our presence, we’d be bringing a lot more trouble there.”

                “They’ve had more than enough trouble,” Kiluron agreed.  “Three major raids, though nothing recently.”

                “You just know that?” Doil asked.

               Kiluron nodded.  “What?  I try to pay attention to these sorts of things.  Even if I somehow missed an entire rebellion happening in Corbulate.”

               Doil looked down.  “That was a failure of a lot of different people.”  He took a breath.  “Also, not the point of this discussion.”

                “Right.”  It still took Kiluron a moment to bring his attention back to Arval’s proposal.  “So, rocks.  You want us to secure a border position, a transport corridor all the way to the Uir Mountains, and a mining encampment of a scale capable of extracting more material than is going into the harbor defenses.”

               Arval swallowed and looked at the map.  “Er, yes.  That’s about right.”

                “This is not a small undertaking.”  It seemed unnecessary to add that, but Doil said it, anyway.  Granted, Arval was not the most adept at framing his pitch or convincing his audience that he understood the full scope of what he was requesting.

               Evry stepped forward.  “Yes, it is a large undertaking, and only the first of many if you are intent on modernizing your nation and establishing combat parity with my…with the Pifechans.  Imagine leading a fleet of ships like the captured one in your harbor.  Imagine weapons you can give to your guards that require minimal training.  It all starts with this.”

               Coming from anyone but Evry, it might have been more convincing.  Kiluron wanted to believe that she was only seeking to be given command of her own ship, but he knew better than to trust her.  “I’ll authorize a scouting mission, for now,” he granted.  “And we’ll talk over the logistics and feasibility with the other ministers.  Beyond that, I can’t make any promises.”

                “I…thank you, my lord.”  Arval bobbed and clumsy bow, and then retreated with Evry, doubtless returning to his warehouse.

               Kiluron turned to Doil.  “What do you think?”

               Doil shrugged.  “You know I don’t trust Evry.  And this…I don’t know if we can pull this off, with everything else we’re doing.”

                “I know,” Kiluron agreed.  He punched his palm with his other hand.  “But I don’t want to be so helpless before the Pifechans next time they come.  Even if it’s two generations from now, I want to make sure that I’ve done everything in my power to make Merolate ready.”

               Doil sighed.  “I know.  But there are other concerns, and we can’t afford to do everything.  And you know we can’t trust Evry.”

                “Yeah.”  Kiluron nodded towards the door, and they both began walking as servants hurried forward to clean up the map.  “This is not going to be a fun meeting when all the ministers debate this.”

               That debate couldn’t happen until the scouting mission returned, which took three weeks.  Guardcaptain Ulurush delivered the report to the ministers with her customary brevity, which Kiluron appreciated as a welcome change from Vere’s sonnets until he started feeling guilty for thinking that way.  There was a pause while the ministers read the report, and Arval made his proposal.  It was a little more polished than the one he made to Kiluron.

                “Fascinating,” Regicio murmured.  “Such wealth and opportunity…I’ve long said that the Unclaimed Territories are a source of untapped potential to be exploited by the first nation with the capacity to claim them.”

               Olidryn glared at him.  “The Territories are unclaimed for a reason, Regicio.  The tribes would never tolerate this.”

                “Well yes,” Regicio nodded, “it would take a full military occupation to subdue the barbarians.  We’d need that just to keep Rovis and Ebereen from trying to stake their own claims.”

                “The resources involved to do this may not be offset by the materials obtained from the mining efforts,” Adima observed.  She scribbled a few numbers on her copy of the agenda.  “The scouts confirmed that the desired materials exist there, not the quantity.  There’s no way to know that until the mining begins, and we could be wasting a lot of effort, time, money, and resources on something with little reward.”

               Arval fidgeted.  “I’ve, ah, not come up with a way to provide that information ahead of time.  But it’s a big mountain range.”  Even Kiluron knew that was a weak argument.

               Borivat held up a hand.  “Regicio raises a valid concern.  Attempting to claim a portion of the Territories would disrupt the balance of power in Lufilna.  Rovis is certain to object, and Ebereen in its own way.  Even Old Sankt might seek involvement.  There is already distrust of the Union’s size and power; this would only exacerbate that problem, and it could perhaps prompt attempts to rectify the imbalance.”

                “That wasn’t meant to be a concern,” Regicio spluttered, but the others were nodding.

               Admiral Ferl picked up from Borivat.  “Our forces are strained, even with the contributions from the provinces, just maintaining the border and routine operations.  This would require a troop levy from the populace, and I don’t know how that lines up with the Charter.”

               He looked meaningfully at Inpernuth, who made a show of dragging his eyes open and starting to pay attention.  His response belied the act, though, as he held up two fingers.  “One: the Charter allows the Prime to levy troops under specific circumstances which do not include territorial expansions of the Union, not that that would stop a clever lawyer.  Two: consider treaties with the tribes, instead of fighting.”

               Regicio went from frowning to staring, as did the other ministers.  “A treaty?” Admiral Ferl asked.  “You think that would work?  The tribes aren’t civilized like us.”

               Inpernuth shrugged.  “Don’t see why not, lok.”

                “That’s it?” Olidryn demanded.  “Don’t you think you owe us a little more justification of that claim?”

               Inpernuth raised an eyebrow.  “No.”

               Before the discussion could devolve further, Doil interjected.  “Please, the topic at hand.  Is this effort worth pursuing, in any form?  That is the first question.  Your recommendations are appreciated.”

                “Well, I’ll go first.”  Regicio inflated himself.  “The opportunity which is implied by this proposal is too valuable to be ignored, regardless of the risks and the probabilities of success or failures.  I recommend fully enacting Chief Inventor Arval’s proposal.”

               Borivat and Admiral Ferl exchanged glances.  “Due to the costs, logistic and military concerns, and risks, I recommend against the proposal,” Borivat decided.  Admiral Ferl echoed his recommendation.

               Adima hesitated.  “Well, I don’t know about all of it, but…if we could do a smaller version, as it were, and take Inpernuth’s idea of making treaties with the tribes…that I could support.  Is that a half-recommend?”

               Olidryn crossed her arms.  “Recommend against.  This project would just distract from everything else we need to do.”

               The discussion reached Arval, who flushed.  “Uh, well, it’s my project, so I recommend for?  But I do see the points some of you have raised, certainly worth considering, I can’t say I really thought about…” he trailed off, mumbling.

                “Inpernuth?” Doil prompted.

               Inpernuth stuck out his tongue for no reason Kiluron could discern.  “I agree with Adima.  Without the ellipses, lok.”

               Doil turned to Kiluron.  “Your decision, my lord?”

               Bringing himself back to the present from his tangent about Inpernuth approving of random ‘loks,’ but not ellipses, Kiluron scratched his head.  “I…hm.  I think I like Adima’s idea, too.  Let’s see if we can’t get a small company together, do some experimental mining and negotiate with the local tribes.”  It was a halfway decision, which he knew he was supposed to avoid, but it seemed the best for this circumstance. 

               Snow fell.  Not a lot of snow, but enough that it was already coating the muddy track through the mining camp, the piles of rubble, the canvas tents, and Arval’s fur hat, and it was still falling.  The day before was warm and sunny, but now it was snowing.  The wild weather swings in the Uir Mountains were almost normalized to Arval, but there was something jarring about snow in the middle of autumn.

               For once it wasn’t windy, and that was some relief.  Arval stood near the palisade surrounding the mining camp, looking south towards the gateway village.  Why there was a Merolate village inside the Unclaimed Territories Arval did not know, and the people there hadn’t said, so it was the gateway village to him.  A thin track, little more than a set of wagon ruts, was already covered with snow and disappearing in that direction.

                “Cold enough for you?”  Evry stood next to him, looking unperturbed by the chill in the air and the snow falling and melting on her hair.  She was wrapped in a jacket that defied the elements as well as a house, with stitches more even than any seamster or seamstress could manage.  Arval was glad she at least scraped off the Pifechan flag from the sleeve, though her ship’s name remained in a font no human being could replicate so precisely.

               Arval’s own jacket was leather and fur; it was warm and comfortable, though it stank.  He sniffled and wiped his nose on his glove.  “Maybe we should move into the mine for the winter.”  It hadn’t taken him long to grow accustomed to Merolate’s comforts and luxuries, and his old home, for all it was rural, was a far cry from camping out in the mountains.

               Evry just shook her head and turned back to the encampment.  Three dozen people dwelt there, plus Arval and Evry; the Inventor was still surprised that Doil had allowed Evry’s joining the mining expedition.  Twenty-four of them were miners, and the remainder were guards.  A small force to repel a sustained attack, but the tribes had little interest in the mountains, and the miners could fight almost as well as the guards if need be.  It still made Arval nervous; he remembered his journey to Meronua with Doil too vividly.

               Turning from his southward contemplation, Arval crunched through the thin rime of snow and frost over the mud to the shadowy mine entrance.  Mounds of rubble as tall as he was (not that he was especially tall) rose for two paces on either side of the entrance, which was a pair of pinewood doors that swung on leather hinges beneath a crossbeam made from a whole boule.  Inside, Arval took a lantern from a hook, donned one of the padded leather hoods, and shuffled down the steep incline.

               He did not have far to go, though he was daily impressed by the progress the miners made.  Ringing pickaxes rent the air, but Arval couldn’t stand the waxy cloth swabs that the miners liked to stuff in their ears, so his solution was to spend as little time actually in the mine as possible.  There were plenty of projects to keep him busy on the surface most of the time, or so he told himself when he felt positive.

               Now, he sought out Foreman Prog.  The mine consisted for now of only a single shaft descending into the depths, so all he had to do was push into the burgeoning noise, holding his lantern before him, until he saw the dirty backs of workers wielding their pickaxes.  Their foreman worked alongside them; Arval waited until Prog stepped back to evaluate their progress before he sought the man’s attention.

               “Chief!  What brings you down here?” Prog asked.

               Prog reminded Arval of his former neighbor, but the man was always respectful in his enthusiastic way.  “Well, it’s good to be out of the snow for a moment,” Arval admitted, “but I was hoping you might have found some more rocks for me to work with?”

               Most of the rubble the miners separated from the mountain was just ordinary rocks, but Arval had Prog separating out any new varieties he found that were in any way different from those already extricated.  There were usually at least a few each day, but Prog shook head.  “Sorry, Chief.  Nothing so far.  I’ll let you know, though!  Anything else?”

               Suppressing a sigh, Arval shook his head and headed back to the surface, letting Foreman Prog get back to work.  His workshop was little more than an open frame with a canvas tarp stretched over the top.  If this snow was indicative of the winter to come, that wouldn’t be sustainable.  Already Arval did not want to be working there in the snow, not to mention the liquids he was using in his experiments needed to be kept from freezing.

               “Should’ve just sent a smith,” he muttered.  Separating metals and ores from random rocks the miners dug up was not his area of expertise – he knew almost nothing about the process and was working on extractives based mostly on vague hints and descriptions from Evry, who refused to give him any more details and just laughed at his numerous failures.

               He had made a few contributions: here was now a cart mechanism that employed a network of pulleys to easily transport material in and out of the mineshaft, and an ox-driven hammer made from converted wagon parts crushed rock into gravel and powder.  Periodic caravans coming north from the gateway village brought recent news from Merolate along with fresh supplies and any resources Arval might request, and he would send letters back with them so that he could remain involved in the council of ministers.

               Even so, he felt superfluous, and he was increasingly worried that this entire effort was folly.  For all their progress, the miners had not found any useful materials in quantity, and though Foreman Prog was undeterred, and insisted this was normal for this type of mine, it did not reassure Arval.  Plus, he worried about Evry.

               Maybe it was being out of Merolate, or something else Arval could not imagine, but ever since crossing the border and establishing the encampment Evry was more enthusiastic, and more arrogant, than her usual attitude.  Arval wondered sometimes if this was all part of a complicated plan to get revenge on Merolate, but he could not fathom what it might be.  In the meantime, she needled him incessantly with his lack of understanding compared to hers, and she ordered the miners and guards about as if she was some noblewoman.

               What Arval really wanted was to be back in his warehouse, tinkering with aeolipiles, with no knowledge of Pifechan steam-powered paddlewheel naval vessels, no condescending Pifechan deserters judging his every experiment, and no distractions from guards and miners.  If there was a single bright spot to being isolated at this sparse encampment it was that he was no longer obligated to attend minister meetings – he just wrote up occasional reports to send back with the supply caravans.

               Instead, one of the guards was waving for his attention again, before Arval had a chance to really focus on any of his projects.  He sighed, and wandered over to the palisade, where Vribon, the sergeant for the small group of guards, was inspecting the entrance.

               “If this keeps up, it might be tough to get supplies here during the winter,” Vribon observed, nodded up at the grey clouds and earning a snowflake in the eye for his trouble.  “We’ll need to keep a larger stockpile.”

               “Um, I’ll send a request with the next shipment,” Arval agreed.  Nominally, he was the leader of the expedition, and as one of the Prime’s ministers was far higher ranking than either Vribon or Prog.  He wished that didn’t mean he had to be in charge.  “Any trouble from the, uh, tribes?”

               Vribon shook his head.  “They stick to the steppes, mostly.  Don’t like the mountains.  It’s the caravans that might have trouble, not us.”

               “Alright.”  Arval shoved his hands in his pockets.  “Anything else?”

               The sergeant shook his head, so Arval wandered back to his ‘workshop.’  He picked up a hammer and tapped on a few rocks, but he couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for the effort.  It was just going through the motions until it was time for supper, which was another bland stew, same as it had been almost every night, and then Arval could crawl into his tent and fall asleep dreading the day to come.

               Eight more days passed, each one about the same as the one which preceded it.  On the ninth day, around midmorning, one of the miners ran out of the mine, waving his work gloves over his head and calling for Arval.  Looking up from staring blankly at the page of a book on ancient Sankt that Advisor Doil sent him with the last shipment, Arval pushed himself up with a sigh.  “Yes?”

               The miner, Orleb, stumbled to a panting stop in front of Arval and wiped at his face, smearing more dust.  “Foreman says we found something you should see.”

               Some of Arval’s lassitude fell away, but there had been false alarms before, so he did not grow too excited.  He followed Orleb down into the mine, which felt eerie without the usual rhythm of the pickaxes striking stone filling the cramped space.  Aside from the entrance, if the miners weren’t actively working in a spot, they kept lanterns lit only often enough to leave ribbons of deep shadow between pools of luminance.  Arval had suggested glowjars, but the miners claimed they didn’t like the color of the light; it was probably another superstition.

               “Chief!” came the exclamation as Arval followed Orleb into the light at the shaft’s bottom.  Prog had a strange expression on his face that Arval could not interpret.  “Think we found something.”

               “You don’t know what?”  That surprised Arval; Prog knew far more about identifying minerals than he did, and Evry had described what to look for to isolate the materials in which they were most interested.

               Prog shrugged.  “Take a look.”  He pointed towards the very rear and bottom of the mine shaft, and Arval shuffled forward to inspect the indicated spot.  At first, all he saw was more rock, just like the rubble the miners had been extracting since they began the mine.  Some of the rocks seemed brighter, though, and when Arval looked around for the source of the extra illumination he saw nothing.  It took gingerly picking up the rock before he realized that the rock itself was emitting light.  It was also strangely warm.

               “What…?” he asked, whirling to look at Prog.

               The foreman just shrugged again.  “Don’t know.  Why we called for you.”

               After Arval convinced himself that there was no reason for the sudden surge of panic he’d felt, he bent down again to examine the warm, softly glowing stones the miners had begun breaking out of the bottom of the mine shaft.  He wondered if powdering it would make an improving addition to his glowjars.  “Might be useful.  Go ahead and, um, collect as much as you find,” Arval decided.

               Prog nodded as he crouched down beside Arval.  “Something else, too.”  He gave a few, gentle taps with his pickaxe, and used his gloves to brush aside the dust, revealing a slender curve of mineral that stood out from the gently glowing rock surrounding it.  It looked…like a rib.

               “You don’t think?” Arval breathed.

               “Not any stone I know,” Prog observed.

               Arval stared long at the aberration.  It looked just like a rib bone, but far larger than the rib bone of any creature but one that Arval could think of, and it was harder than the stone around it.  “I…I’ll write to Advisor Doil, ask for what to do.  I don’t know…”

               Prog stood up and scratched his chin.  “Keep mining?”

               “I…yes.  Yes, keep mining,” Arval decided.  “But be careful of these, um, bones.  If you extract them, maybe put them aside?  Yes, let’s do that.”

               He barely noticed Prog’s acknowledgement as he made his way back up the mine shaft and the miners resumed working behind him, nor did he notice Evry demanding to know what was happening and why he was summoned.  His preoccupation was so great that he almost missed sitting in the chair as he lowered himself to his writing desk, instead about falling on the frozen ground.  Once he’d righted himself, he took a pen in trembling hands and began writing a letter to inform Advisor Doil that he…that he had discovered the bones of an ancient Gruordvwrold.

               An impossibility sat on the workshop’s folding table, innocently glowing in the darkness.  It was night, and the encampment was silent, save for the occasional wind rustling a tent flap, or the quiet murmur of the guards keeping the watch.  They were turned outward, though, watching for tribal barbarians, so they didn’t see Evry slink from her tent, pad on very cold, bare feet across the frosty ground, and slip inside Arval’s workshop.

               On the table, inside of a glass jar, was a sample of the glowing stone the miners had excavated from around the suspected Gruordvwrold skeleton.  It was the size of Evry’s fist, and it emitted enough light that the inside of the workshop was bright as day; Evry was careful to avoid presenting a silhouette to the guards, should one of them glance towards the tents.  There wasn’t much risk, even so, since they would probably assume she was Arval, occupied with some late-night tinkering.

               Evry snorted at that as she uncovered a few glowjars despite the luminance from the stone, helping to dispel the strange shadows cast by the light source sitting on a table in the center of the workshop – the shadows themselves weren’t strange, just the angles at which they fell.  The so-called ‘Chief Inventor’ was no true engineer, not even to the level of the tinkerers in Pifecha who played with harnessed lightning to wow ignorant audiences.

               Glowing stones weren’t impossible.  Evry knew of them, and she had even seen a few samples in museums or fairs back home.  Fluorite, or the rare scapolite, even autunite all glowed naturally, although autunite was linked to rotting sickness in those who worked with it.  The impossible part wasn’t, therefore, a stone that glowed.  It was that this particular stone glowed.  Just to convince herself that she hadn’t imagined it, Evry grabbed a magnifying glass to examine again the glowing stone, but it was still the gabbro she’d identified the previous night.

               Evry was an engineer, not a geologist, but she knew gabbro didn’t fluoresce, and she could see the shiny patches of feldspar in the dark, but somehow glowing surface.  From her observations of the miners, the stones glowed throughout, and there was no discernible fluctuation in the light they emitted.  It was like magic, which was what the idiots from Merolate seemed to think it was, even Arval, who she would grudgingly admit was marginally intelligent.

               Magic was not a conclusion Evry was prepared to accept.  She knew some of the local superstitions, and she knew the stories the guards told about how her people had been driven back across the ocean, but she gave little credence to stories about magic.  Perhaps, maybe, she had doubted her conviction when giants walked out of a rift in the sky, but even then, magic could not be the explanation.

               The true explanation eluded her, though, because the evidence led to an unacceptable conclusion.  It was the very same conclusion the foreman came to, that the Gruordvwrold skeleton somehow caused the rocks around it to glow.  The evidence was consistent with that explanation, but it didn’t answer how that could be.  To answer that, Evry would need to study the skeleton itself, but it was too closely watched.

               The mystery of the glowing stone was secondary, though, a distraction that Evry only indulged because it would help throw off anyone suspicious of her, and, well, because she was genuinely curious.  Her real purpose was quite different, and far less innocent.  It was also far more difficult, which was part of why she was so easily distracted by the glowing stone.  She forced herself to concentrate.

               Heretofore, she’d been kept separate from Arval, but it was not difficult to discern that his projects were primarily related to reverse-engineering Pifechan technology.  Steam engines, open-hearth steelmaking, metal ships, guns: Evry didn’t, strictly speaking, care much if they figured out any of these things.  Even firearm technology – what the barbarians called ‘thundercasters’ – didn’t bother her.  What concerned her was that, when Doil had finished using her for her engineering skills and Pifechan secrets, he would have her conveniently retired, and by retired, she meant killed.

               Kiluron might not agree, but Evry knew Doil was the real power behind the throne.  If she ever wanted a chance of getting her own ship, of having some semblance of freedom again, she needed to make herself invaluable.  That was a difficult proposition, though; Evry was an engineer for a naval vessel, not an inventor or a scientist.  She could build a steam engine if she had the right parts, but starting from scratch?  Reinventing liquid fire technology?  That was a different matter.

               It became a balancing act.  She had to convince everyone important that she knew valuable things and was willing to share them, but she couldn’t reveal what she actually did know too quickly, or they would start to realize that she did not know as much as she implied.  Her recalcitrance was carefully calibrated.  Giving Arval hints about building a steam engine was a risk, but she thought it might pay off, as long as it didn’t happen too quickly.

               That was the real reason she was here, in the encampment workshop, in the middle of the cold, mountain night.  Arval’s stacks of notes and papers were always haphazard at best, so he never noticed that they were disorganized in a slightly different way in the morning, or if he did, he blamed it on the wind.  Nor did he notice the small changes to his equations, designs, notes, and theories that Evry inserted.  She was careful to not change anything too obvious or fundamental, and she took her time to make her handwriting as close to Arval’s scrawl as she could manage.

               Long term, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.  If Arval was really getting close to understanding the concepts necessary to implement Pifechan technology, changing a negative sign in an equation or altering a note wouldn’t affect what was in his head.  This was a delaying tactic, something to give Evry more time to make herself invaluable.  When she was finished, she covered the glowjars, cast one last glance at the glowing stone in its glass jar on the table, and slunk back to her own tent.

               Getting up in the middle of the night to manipulate Arval’s notes meant that she wasn’t sleeping well and was more snappish than she ordinarily was, and she was hardly a smiling face under normal circumstances.  She noticed that the guards and miners both avoided her, which suited her just fine as she shoveled in a bowl of bland porridge; being tired and stressed always made her eat more.

               Between bites, she watched Arval.  The inventor was yawning as he missed his mouth with a spoonful of porridge because he was too busy trying to sketch with his freehand.  A few of the miners laughed, and Arval smiled ruefully.  Evry shook her head, finished her meal, and stomped to the edge of the camp to pass another long, useless, boring day.  At least in Merolate she’d been occupied with the harbor defenses and allowed to walk about, even if it was under guard.  Here, there was nowhere to go and nothing to do.

               She was half-dozing in the afternoon sunlight when a shadow passed over her and she looked up through half-closed eyes that transitioned rapidly to fully alert when she realized to what the shadow belonged.  Scrambling to her feet, she looked up, squinting and shading her eyes, to track the reptilian form swooping in lower and lower spirals over the encampment.  Dust and snow blew up in a cloud at the center of the camp as everyone converged on the landing Gruordvwrold.

               Its scales were off-white, mixed with crimson, so that the draconic creature, if it crouched still, could be mistaken for a statue.  Evry stared, wondering if they were under attack, but the guards were not acting frightened of the beast in their midst.  Arval was walking forward and holding up a hand, so Evry edged over to stand on the outskirts of the people encircling the Gruordvwrold.

                “Cinnabar!” Arval called up to the creature.  “I didn’t expect a Gruordvwrold to come in person.”

               The Gruordvwrold dipped his head.  “These matters are larger than you know, young mortal.  There is much to discuss.

               Evry nigh fell over in shock.  The voice resonated in her head, though she knew, somehow, that the Gruordvwrold was speaking to Arval, and only included everyone else for sake of politeness.  The fact that the Gruordvwrold was capable of speech, let alone telepathy…she had thought that the dragon-like creatures of which she’d overheard her guards speak were just animals, like the fossils of extinct lizard-creatures that were sometimes sold as curios at auctions in Pifecha come to life.

               Despite its alien form, there was something sensibly ancient about Cinnabar as he strode across the encampment with Arval to speak.  Evry followed them, keeping to the shadow of the tents or the rubble piles; she wanted desperately to hear this conversation.  They stood contemplating each other as Evry peeked out from under the edge of a tent, but neither seemed to be speaking.  Then a voice thundered inside of her head.

                “Should I include the eavesdropper in our conversation, Inventor?” Cinnabar rumbled.  His presence in Evry’s mind kept her frozen in place; she could not move her limbs to scramble away, had she believed such a move would be effective.

               Another voice spoke in her head, and somehow having Arval of all people speaking telepathically shocked her more than the Gruordvwrold.  “I suppose there’s no harm in it.  Unless you would prefer that this information remain private?

               Cinnabar demurred.  “Always it was a matter of time.  Perhaps it is appropriate.  Let her participate.

               Evry sensed Arval’s agreement, and she found that she could move her limbs again.  “Come and stand with us, if that is your will, mortal,” Cinnabar instructed.  “There is no point in skulking in shadows.

               Trembling, Evry stumbled out of the tent, but could not bring herself to stand directly in front of the Gruordvwrold; she stayed a step back and behind Arval, as if the short, balding inventor could protect her from a…a dragon.  The conversation was already resumed.

                “I hope that we did not offend you.  We had no idea,” Arval was saying.

                “Nay, there is no cause for offense,” Cinnabar reassured him.  “Of the world are the Gruordvwrold, and unto it do they return in death; however, cause there is for concern.  Even in death is there power in the Gruordvwrold.

                “The glowing stones?” Arval asked.  “They’re dangerous?

               Cinnabar dipped his head.  “They glow by the residual magic of which the Gruordvwrold are composed, leached from the depleted form into the surrounding bones of the Physical Plane.

               Arval frowned.  “But what makes them dangerous?  Do they retain some residual intent from the Gruordvwrold or something?

                “No.”  Cinnabar frowned.  “The power is unformed and uncontrolled, and therein the danger lies.  The cost is thus eliminated from magic, though it be limited in quantity, and the consequences remain.

                “I don’t understand.”  Arval was taking Cinnabar’s words about magic seriously, which Evry was struggling to do, although her skepticism was admittedly shaken by her inclusion in a telepathic conversation with a mythical creature.

                “Recall that the magic of mortals and of the Gruordvwrold is different, as your Advisor Doil observed in conference during the recent crisis with the Ipemav,” Cinnabar instructed.  “The magic of the Gruordvwrold is our substance, and that which we do with it must be aligned with our natures and that of the Physical Plane.  It is…a difficult concept to explain to one who cannot experience it.

               Arval paused.  Evry rolled her eyes, but Arval was beginning to nod.  “I think I understand, a bit.  These stones that have absorbed some of your residual power would let us mortals use magic like you do, but without the limitations.  I can see how that might be dangerous.

               Putting aside the ridiculousness about magic, Evry still found the conversation preposterous.  “I don’t,” she interrupted.  “So these magic stones have some ancient energy, and we can mine them and use them for energy.  So what?  That’s no different than anthracite, really, or the ingredients for liquid fire.”

               Cinnabar swung his head higher to look at her over Arval, and Evry swallowed as she found herself confronting a predatory stare set in a skull as large as she was.  “Mortal, can these resources of which you speak tear holes in reality, or defy the fundamental nature of Physical existence?

               Evry licked her lips.  “Um…I guess not.”  She tried to recover her confidence.  “But it’s still just energy, right?”

                “No.”  Cinnabar seemed to dismiss her then, and he returned his attention to Arval; that was both frustrating, and a relief to Evry.  “You understand?

               Arval nodded, but he was frowning.  “We’ve already discovered the stones, though.  People know about them.  Is it any safer to leave them here than in the Merolate vault?

                “A valid concern,” Cinnabar acknowledged.  He paused to consider.  “Whether buried here or contained in your vaults, always would mortals be tempted by this power.  Even if it were well-intentioned, in times of need would the power call.  Perhaps it is best if the Gruordvwrold take custody of these stones you have mined, until a better solution can be identified.

               To Evry’s frustration, Arval was actually nodding to this proposition.  “I think that might be best.  As long as the Prime agrees, I’ll see that we set aside for Gruordvwrold protection any stones we find that have been affected by the presence of Gruordvwrold…remains.

               Cinnabar bowed his head.  “This is wise.  I will confer with Eldar and your Prime upon the details.  Expect a Gruordvwrold to return in the coming days.

               Maybe the Gruordvwrold said more to Arval, but if so, he did not include Evry in the conversation.  The massive creature, moving stiffly, turned about, launched himself over the palisade, and winged away to the south.  Guards and miners stared after him in awe.  Evry watched him go, too, her hands on her hips, and wondered how long it would take her to understand what just transpired.

               A damp, chilly breeze wafted over the steel deck plates of the Pifechan ship in Merolate’s harbor at night.  Guards stood on the docks, but none were stationed on the ship.  That was unusual, but no one would speak of it.  Wrapped in a dark cloak, Doil stood in the even deeper shadows at the base of the observation tower and fought down his shivers and his impatience.

               He heard the shifting of the metal around him as the ship rocked on the gentle waves in the harbor; each noise sounded like a dangerous intruder, but Doil remained alone.  With the stars invisible behind the misty veil, it was nigh impossible to tell just what time of the night it was, but he wondered if no one would come to meet him this evening.  That would be…concerning.

               After a long time, or at least it seemed like a long time to Doil as he stood in the cold and the damp, a different sound reverberated through the ship’s structure, followed by a muffled imprecation against ladders.  Another dark-clad figure crawled onto the deck near the prow.  The visitor paused for a moment to readjust his cloak and swipe back his thinning hair before looking around the vessel.

               Doil stepped just out of the deeper shadows.  “Here,” he whisper-called, his word swallowed by the enveloping mist.  The visitor turned, seeming relieved, and picked his cautious way towards where Doil waited.

                “You’re late,” Doil remarked.

                “Sorry.  I was…preoccupied.”  Arval sounded nervous beneath his concealing clothes, and he shifted from foot to foot as he stood in the shadows with Doil.

                “No one followed you?” Doil confirmed.  He waited for Arval’s nod before he continued.  “The package?”

               Merolate’s Chief Inventor shoved his hands into his pockets and looked out at the ocean before looking back at the Prime’s Advisor.  “I…don’t have it,” he admitted.

               Doil blinked.  “Excuse me?”  His voice was a furious whisper that he hoped would not carry beyond the vessel’s confines.

                “I don’t have it,” Arval repeated.  “I sent it all away with the Gruordvwrold to Meronua.”

                “I see.”  Doil licked his lips.  “You had explicit orders…”

                “I know.”  Arval shifted a step back from Doil.  “It’s just – I couldn’t do it.  Even if I could manage to hide it from a Gruordvwrold, it’s too dangerous.  Cinnabar was correct.  The power to break reality itself should not be held by mortals.”

               Doil tried to keep his voice impassive, though he was certain some of the tension he felt slipped into it.  “That was not your decision to make.  It was to be a tool, a backup for the Prime of Merolate to defend the Union if some dire threat was to arise again, like the Ipemav.”

               The Inventor nodded.  “I know.  And maybe I could trust that you and Prime Kiluron would only use it for something like the Ipemav.  But what about a threat like the Pifechans?  How easy would it be to treat another invasion as a threat worthy of such measures?  And what of your successors?  It is better this way, that the temptation be removed from mortal hands.”

                “It only delays the problem,” Doil observed.  “Eldar has not made it explicit, but I believe the Gruordvwrold are dying.  What happens when they are gone?”

               Arval hesitated.  “I don’t know.”

               Doil frowned, but he paused before arguing further.  The Chief Inventor seemed nervous, even now that he’d informed Doil of his decision.  The man was still hiding something.  “Well, if it is done, it is done.  We will not speak of this again.”

               It was a dismissal, which Arval eventually recognized; he bobbed a bow, slipped turning on the slippery deck plates, and hurried back to the ladder.  Doil waited until the Inventor reached the docks, and then followed after Arval’s retreating form.

               Despite hurrying, Doil was in better shape than Arval and easily kept apace of the Inventor as he tripped over mist-slicked cobblestones in the darkness.  The main difficulty was not losing track of him in the mist and not letting the Inventor know he was being followed, but after a few turns it was clear that Arval was just returning to his warehouse.  Doil almost decided to turn aside, but he had come this far; he continued to the warehouse.  With some difficulty, he climbed onto a nearby roof that was high enough for him to peer through the narrow windows near the warehouse’s top.

               Inside, Arval was little more than a vague, humanoid blur through the smudged, wax-cloth window.  Another blur joined him as Doil watched, but Doil could not tell who it was.  He wondered if his hunch was wrong, and if he was just being a voyeur, but he needed to know.

               Light blossomed inside of the warehouse as the two blurs leaned over a table together.  It could have been a glowjar, but the color of the light seemed wrong, even filtered through the window.  Doil nodded to himself and hurried back to the castle, having seen enough.  He wondered what Kiluron would say about him skulking around in the dark, spying on the Prime’s ministers.

               Not that he was going to inform the Prime about what he’d seen, any more than he’d told Kiluron about his request that Arval retain a quantity of the magic stones; the Prime would probably have agreed with Arval’s logic, unless he was in a particularly bad mood worrying about the Pifechans.  As much as they trusted each other, Borivat had taught Doil that sometimes it was the Prime’s Advisor’s role to handle less savory tasks like this for the Prime.

               That Arval reserved at least one stone for himself was more concerning, and Doil would need to keep an eye on what transpired with it.  He doubted that the Chief Inventor intended anything nefarious; more likely his curiosity about how the power stones could be utilized got the best of him.  He might even have convinced Cinnabar that he could be trusted with some limited number of the stones.  Regardless, Doil intended to allow Arval space to experiment, at least for now.  He was curious to see what the Inventor might discover.

               Safely back in his warehouse, Arval breathed a sigh of relief.  Lying to Advisor Doil might not have been as stressful as even thinking about deceiving Cinnabar – the Prime’s Advisor at least wasn’t a telepathic millenarian – but it wasn’t much better, and Arval was a poor liar.  Confronting him on the ship was one of the most stressful things Arval had ever done.

               Once the door was locked, he hurried to the counter on which sat the thick, soot-blackened glass jar.  Even with the blackening, he could see the light emanating from the stone within the jar.  He reached for the lid, but he paused when he saw a figure approach out of his peripheral vision.

                “It went well, then?”  Evry moved to stand across the counter from him.  She stretched and looked around.  “It does feel good to be able to walk around the city whenever I want without being guarded.  Thank you for that, though I’m sure I’m still being watched.”

               Arval nodded, less sanguine about Evry’s presence and their shared secret, but his eyes kept being drawn to the jar.

               Evry followed his gaze.  “Well?  Go ahead and open it.”  She rubbed her hands together.  “I wonder just how much energy we can extract out of this.  It’s surely all just energy, perhaps very highly concentrated.”

                “Perhaps.”  Arval was less convinced, but he unscrewed the jar’s lid, letting the light from the power stone flood out into the warehouse, brighter than the greenish glowjars and with none of the sickly coloration.  When his eyes adjusted, he used tongs to draw the fist-sized rock out of the jar and set it on the counter.

                “What should we try first?  Heating it?  Combine it with acid?  Base?”  Evry rubbed her hands together.

               In answer, Arval produced a small hammer.  He tapped until a fragment of the stone broke away, and then he placed the fragment into a shallow bowl and began to crush it into a powder.  Evry stared at him as he broke it down into a palmful of gravel, then sand, then dust.

                “What are you doing?” she demanded.

               Arval ignored her, save for a slight smile.  Using a piece of paper, he transferred the brightly glowing dust into a small pot that was already bubbling with a greenish sludge.  He stirred the mixture together, took it off the stove, and poured it into a waiting set of jars.  Once the lids were secured, he shook them, stepped back, and sighed contentedly.  Warm, yellowish light glowed from the jars, far more natural and pleasing than the harsh, greenish fluorescence from his old glowjar formulation.

                “Lights?”  Evry sounded incredulous.  “You convinced a legendary, millennia-old creature, lied to your nation’s leadership, and smuggled a rock with the power to break reality itself across most of a continent in order to make slightly more appealing lights?”

                “I really don’t like working with the green light at night,” Arval explained.  “With this, I can be far more productive, especially when the days get shorter in the winter.”

               Evry put her head in her hands.  “You’re going to use the whole stone for this, aren’t you?  That’s why you weren’t concerned about only having a single stone.  This…this might make me be sick.”

                “Not on my floor, please.”  Arval put the glowing stone back in the blackened jar and screwed the lid on before he placed it in a locked cabinet.  He tucked the key into his pocket.

                “You’re crazy!” Evry shouted.  When Arval just nodded in agreement, she threw up her hands and stomped out of the warehouse.

               Alone, which was how he preferred to be, Arval nodded to himself.  It probably was crazy, just as crazy as Evry implied.  When Cinnabar sensed his intentions for the stone he requested, the ancient Gruordvwrold just laughed and laughed, a rumbling sound that terrified the miners waiting with the other crates of infused stones.  That was alright.  It was true he would be more productive with the change in light color, and he would get fewer headaches.  Mostly, he’d just wanted to try it.

               There were measurements he would make, experiments he would do.  He had every intention of determining what particle size was most efficient, how long the glow would be retained and what affected retention rate, how much was the minimum required to keep his glowjars from being too green: plenty of experiments, and none of them involved trying to make anything explode, trying to power a ship, or trying to extract anything.

               Arval draped cloths over the new glowjars and the old and smiled to himself.  He might be Merolate’s Chief Inventor, he might crack the secrets of thundercasters and steam power, he might be credited with introducing Evry’s thermodynamics to Lufilna.  As Evry had named him, though, he was really just a tinkerer, and now he was a tinkerer with proper lighting.  That was good enough for him.

The end of Blood Magic S3:E9: Drive On. Thank you for reading. If you are so inclined, please consider posting a review in the comments below. Your continued support of IGC Publishing is much appreciated. Don’t forget to set your calendar: the next episode goes live on October 31st, 2022.

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Copyright 2022, IGC Publishing

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