11 – 41

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The cloud cover had broken not long after midnight, and the following day dawned unusually clear and cloudless for Tiraas. It was still cold, winter having apparently decided to stay now that it had come. The city itself was in fairly good shape, its army of civil servants having been hard at work through the night with salt and shovels. Only along the northern districts, where water mains had broken and frozen, was the clean-up still impeding business. Elsewhere in the city, particularly in its bustling central districts, life went on at its usual pace.

Of course, the High Commander of the Sisters of Avei would probably not have delayed her activities even for an active hailstorm, and so Principia was summoned to her office shortly after breakfast.

“He said that?” Rouvad demanded skeptically.

“Yes, ma’am,” Principia replied. “Obviously, I cannot attest to how serious he was or what he will do next, but Lord Vex’s exact words were ‘none of this happened.’ Considering the factions and individuals represented, I can understand how the Imperial government would prefer to avoid untangling the diplomatic mess that would result.”

“You implied there was more,” Rouvad prompted.

“Yes, Commander. The demolition of the fortress, he said, is to be recorded as a deliberate action by the Empire to remove an unsafe structure, preparatory to replacing it with a modern facility. And…he made it quite plain that, Imperial cover-up or not, the actions of everyone present would be taken into account the next time any of us have to interact with the Imperial government.”

“Splendid,” the Commander said sourly, then heaved a sigh. “Suddenly I feel a little nervous that I haven’t heard from Intelligence yet. It’s early, but I don’t believe that man actually sleeps. And he definitely saw the disruptors?”

“Saw, and demanded that they be handed over,” Principia said. “I refused. I apologize for any trouble that results, ma’am, but that seemed to me both the best thing to do given the tactical needs of the situation, and the course of action most compliant with Legion regulations.”

“That rather depends on the manner of your refusal, Sergeant.”

“I was forthright and completely honest, ma’am. I told Lord Vex those particular devices were made by me personally, on a mandate from you and using Avenist resources, and thus the property of the Sisterhood. I…mentioned that if he wanted them, he would have to take it up with you.”

“That will be an enjoyable conversation, I’m sure,” the Commaner said wryly.

“Yes, ma’am. I did not mention anything regarding how we obtained the specs for those disruptors. He will surely demand that information.”

“Then I’ll take great pleasure in passing the buck. Vex can try to drag his answers out of the Thieves’ Guild, and much good may it do him. You said there was another matter on which you wished to report.” Her eyes dropped to Principia’s hands; Rouvad had not asked about the objects she was carrying.

“Yes, ma’am,” Principia said, approaching the desk. She reached out and carefully laid a tiny ball of lead on its surface. “I wish to put Private Lang forward for a commendation. I realize that she cannot be awarded the Red Star due to it being on a mission not disclosed even to our captain, but she was wounded in the line of duty.”

“Reasonable,” Rouvad said with a touch of impatience. “I’ll instruct Dijanerad to approve it. Is that immediately pertinent, Locke?”

“Yes, ma’am. This object was removed from her arm. It punched through her shield, through the defensive enchantments on that shield—both of which were completely destroyed by the impact—and then through her armor and bicep. By that point it had lost enough momentum that it merely broke the bone on impact rather than taking her arm off entirely. That piece of metal had to have been moving at a significant fraction of the speed of sound to have that much energy behind it.”

“I see,” Rouvad said noncommittally, glancing at the object in the sergeant’s other hand. “You have some insight, I take it, into the kind of spell which could do this?”

“That’s just it, ma’am. I don’t believe there was any spell. Shahai managed to retrieve this from the snow while Zanzayed was teleporting dwarves back to the Svennish embassy.” She laid the device on the desk. It was a simple thing, seemingly little more than a short length of pipe with a wooden handle and a clicker mechanism. “We have both examined it and found no evidence of enchantment present at all, though there are burn marks and traces of chemical explosive inside the tube.”

“I see,” Rouvad repeated, picking up the object and turning it over in her hands. “What do you make of it?”

“The lead ball fits neatly in that tube,” Principia said. “From there, we can deduce how it works. An explosive powder is packed into the base of it, the ball is placed in on top of that, and the powder is ignited by a sparking mechanism triggered by squeezing that switch. The explosion, contained as it is, propels the ball with tremendous force, and the length of the tube guides its trajectory.”

“Ingenious,” Rouvad marveled.

“This is extremely concerning,” Principia said, frowning. “You are of course aware that all magical shields are weakened by contact with physical objects. That thing hits with enough sheer kinetic force to collapse any shielding charm I’ve ever heard of, and probably a lot of personal caster shields. A paladin or archmage’s shield could stand up to it, most likely, but… Ma’am, I know just enough physics and math to do my various jobs, but I am pretty sure this technology could be scaled up without any real limits. A cannon-sized version of that could destroy any magical shield in existence, and any fortification behind it.”

“Dwarven engineering at its finest,” Rouvad noted. “What intrigues me most is that I’ve never heard of such a device before. I don’t suppose you’ve analyzed the explosive used?”

“Not in detail, ma’am, but I did a very basic charm test on the traces inside the tube, and I think the results were the most interesting part of this yet. No alchemical agents were present; this was a completely non-magical explosive compound, which has to be a deliberate design choice, as the effect could be achieved far more easily with enchantments. This is a non-magical and anti-magical weapon. We can’t know the range without testing it, but it’s surely comparable to conventional wands. If a force armed with these faced off against a unit of the Imperial Army, they’d have similar firepower, and the Army’s defensive measures would be useless. It would be a rout.”

“Hm.”

“Of course, as soon as they use these where the Empire can see, countermeasures will be in the works. I think they must have been desperate and planning to wipe out everyone there, to have used it in sight of us last night. But if they pick the right battle, it only has to work once. If a dwarven force were able to secure or destroy the right high-value target, they could truly change the fates of the Five Kingdoms by forcing the Empire to terms.”

“Locke,” Rouvad said patiently, “I find your various skills and aptitudes useful in their place, but there is something backward about you lecturing me on matters of military strategy.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”

“Needless to say,” the Commander went on, “you may consider this as classified as everything else which occurred last night.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Have you anything else to report, sergeant?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Principia stepped back from the desk, leaving the lead ball and its launcher with the Commander, and stood at attention. “The fortress was destroyed by the adventurers summoned by General Avelea, at the command of Bishop Syrinx, who was sent to fetch them. According to Avelea’s plan, which Syrinx knew, my squad should have been in it when that happened.”

“And so you both improvised,” Rouvad said flatly. “Basra with her pyrotechnics and you by involving the dragon who involved the Empire whom I’ll be dealing with for the forseeable future about this.”

“Ma’am, destroying that fortress was an action with no strategic application in that situation. I believe its only purpose was to destroy us.”

“You are, in fact, my third meeting today, early as it is,” Rouvad replied. “I have already been over this with General Avelea and Bishop Syrinx, who has explanations for every one of her actions last night. Something tells me you don’t particularly care to hear them.”

“That’s correct, ma’am. With regard to—”

“Locke, my patience for repeating myself to you is thin. I’ve already made it plain I’m not having this infighting. I will deal with Syrinx, and you will drop it.”

“No,” Principia said flatly.

Very slowly, Rouvad leaned forward in her chair, her face suddenly devoid of all expression. “What did you say, soldier?”

“I said no, Commander,” Principia repeated. “Attempts on my life don’t much bother me; it doesn’t pay to take these things personally. But if that woman tries to murder my soldiers one more time, I am going to murder her right back. And the difference between me and Basra Syrinx is that I accomplish what I set out to. If you want to keep your Bishop, get her under control before someone else has to.” She saluted. “I will now report for court martial if that is your command, so long as you understand that it won’t change anything.”

Rouvad stared at her in silence; Principia stared right back. It was almost a minute before the Commander spoke.

“Do you want to be removed from the Legions, Locke?”

“No, ma’am.”

“You have what you signed up for, now. Trissiny is on speaking terms with you; let’s not pretend that wasn’t your whole purpose for doing this. So why are you still here?”

“I—”

“Tell me the truth,” she ordered. “And don’t assume I won’t know if you don’t.”

The sergeant hesitated before replying. “I find serving here…much more satisfying than I expected. And I want very much to continue looking after my girls. Their potential is enormous, but with so much arrayed against them I don’t want to leave them.”

The High Commander suddenly sighed and eased back in her chair. “Trissiny reported on your performance, by the way. She said you are insubordinate and failed to follow her orders. She also said that your strategies on the ground were better than her own, and your refusal to respect the chain of command saved your soldiers’ lives and contributed significantly to her victory. I would suspect she was sugar-coating it were that not exactly what I have observed from you from the beginning.”

Principia kept silent while Rouvad studied her thoughtfully for another long moment.

“It’s useful, having someone on one’s side who isn’t a slave to regulations and the chain of command,” Rouvad finally continued. “It’s one of the things that has made Nandi so valuable to me, and to my predecessor, and why I was so reluctant to cede her to you. As I recall, you’ve seen firsthand that I tolerate backtalk from her that would send any other soldier immediately to the stockade. But she has devoted more time and energy to the Legion’s service than all of us combined; the leeway she has is more than earned. And then there’s you.” She paused again, peering up at Principia with an expression that was almost quizzical. “That’s the damnable thing about you, Locke. You’re just so…useful. For all the headaches you cause me, I can’t help getting the impression you actually are loyal to the Legions, and you do get results. But you’re just not ever going to be a good soldier, and I think I’d get no use out of you at all if I forced you to be.”

Rouvad folded her arms on the desk and raised an eyebrow.

“Dealing with you is a lot like dealing with Basra Syrinx.”

Principia let the silence stretch another moment before replying.

“That wasn’t called for, Commander.”

“No, I’m not going to have you court-martialed,” Rouvad said, suddenly more brisk. “Instead, I shall take it as a sign of the urgency of the matter that you’re willing to risk speaking to me that way—and only because we are alone here, Locke. Open your mouth like that where anyone else can hear it and by the time I’m done with you, I promise you will be grateful for the mercy of standing before a military tribunal. Is that clear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Is it believed?” Rouvad said more pointedly. “You think you’re smarter than I—don’t deny it. But I did not become the mortal leader of the cult of war without being as crafty and as ruthless as the situation demands. I certainly wouldn’t be keeping a creature like Syrinx on a leash otherwise. And let’s not forget the weight my words have with the only person alive whose opinion matters to you enough that you’d subject yourself to all this.” She smiled, as cold as the snow outside. “I can hurt you, Locke, if you make it necessary. So don’t.”

“…yes, ma’am,” Principia said quietly.

“And just keep away from Syrinx, for now,” Rouvad said with a heavy sigh. “Yes, I’m aware of the situation and what she did, and she as usual has conjured sufficient justification to evade official censure for her actions. The thing she and you have in common is that you both seem to think I can’t punish or contain her under such circumstances.” She straightened up in her seat, that frosty little smile returning to her face. “You’re both wrong. Basra is being dealt with as we speak, by one of my more…unconventional assets.”


Basra whirled, scowling, when the door of her office was opened without the courtesy of a knock, but quickly marshaled her expression when she saw who had walked in.

Trissiny was still wearing her street clothes and slightly battered coat rather than the silver armor, and hadn’t removed the dye from her hair—yet there was a distinctive change in her demeanor. She had put enough effort into cultivating a casual, non-military bearing that her stiff spine and purposeful stride were now all the more distinctive for their return.

As was the black bird perched on her left shoulder.

“Good morning, General Avelea,” Basra said smoothly, shutting the cabinet in which she had been digging and stepping away to meet her guests. “And…Mary, always a pleasure. I wasn’t expecting to see either of you again so soon.”

The crow ruffled her feathers, but remained mute.

“Good morning, your Grace,” Trissiny said, staring pensively at her. “Sorry to interrupt so early in the day, but I have a full list of errands myself and I hoped to catch you before you headed to the Church.”

“Not at all, my time is yours,” Basra replied. “Please, have a seat. What can I do for you?”

Trissiny tilted her head, making no move toward the proffered chair; on her shoulder, the crow mimicked the expression, which would have been comical if not for the suddenly fraught atmosphere.

“I wonder if you could clarify your tactics for me,” said the paladin, “as an experienced commander to one still learning. What purpose did the destruction of the fortress serve?”

“Considering our list of allies and enemies,” Basra replied immediately, “and the likelihood of those extremely professional dwarves discerning your procession’s goal and moving to intercept you, I realized, upon reaching and surveying the field, that that fortress was just waiting to be used as an ambush against you. Had they reached it first, your attempt to secure it would have led to your group’s downfall. I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t think of any of this in the first place, but I was unfamiliar with that old ruin before seeing it for the first time last night.”

“I should mention,” Trissiny said quietly, “I have already spoken with Joe, Mr. Weaver, and their other friends this morning. None of them reported any sign of dwarves reaching the fortress. They simply said that you directed it to be destroyed.”

“And that bloodthirsty little gnome was more thrilled than I have ever seen anyone to oblige,” Basra said dryly. “Honestly, I was expecting her to start a fire or something. How or why she had munitions of that quality on hand I’m afraid even to ask. But the result was satisfactory. The purpose was to deny the enemy a fortification, not catch them in it; acting before they arrived was thus the entire point. You know this very well, Trissiny, it’s basic military strategy. The general who prepares the ground ahead of the battle controls the field.”

“And,” Trissiny said more quietly still, “according to my orders, Squad One would have been in that fortress at the time.”

“According to your orders,” Basra said with an indulgent smile, “there would have been no dragons and no Imperial presence. Your ambush would have succeeded, thanks to the adventurers you sent me to rally and my initiative in removing that fortification. Zanzayed was…overkill. And involving Vex will carry a hefty political price for all of us. I did not anticipate that, exactly, but I expected things to go south if we assumed Locke’s part in the plan would be carried out correctly. Believe me, Trissiny, I know how Locke thinks.”

“Did you scout,” Trissiny asked, “to make sure the squad was not inside?”

“We observed no tracks,” Basra replied. “In that snow—”

“In that snow, tracks would have faded quickly; it was still coming down.”

“Not that heavily, and only two of the squad are elves. Six women in full armor would leave easily discernible tracks—”

“And so you checked every approach to the fortress?”

“Why on earth would they have circled around to the back?” Basra tilted her head in a mimicry of their earlier gesture. “I must say I’m sensing a little hostility, here. Everything went exactly as I expected, and according to my plan—with the exception, of course, of Locke’s needless complications. Had it been any other squad, I would have considered it a risk. That woman is congenitally unable to do as she is told.”

“I came here,” Trissiny said, “hoping you would help me understand why such a risk was warranted. I confess that I’m still not there.”

“Perhaps,” Basra said more firmly, “you should be mindful of your own preconceptions. I understand you may have an emotional attachment to Sergeant Locke, that’s only natural. Just…don’t forget what kind of creature she is, Trissiny. Her interest in your existence began when you became someone it was politically useful to know. She is only here because of that, because she sees in you the chance to advance herself. Don’t let her deceive you.”

“I won’t,” Trissiny replied, smiling thinly. “Her, or anyone else.”

Basra sighed. “I see you’re not convinced. I have been over this in more detail with the High Commander already this morning; she accepted my reasoning. If you doubt me, I encourage you to take it up with her. And it might profit you to ask her opinion of Principia Locke’s performance as a soldier while you’re there.”

“Right,” Trissiny said, nodding agreeably. “You have all the angles covered just enough that nobody can authoritatively call you down. Well done.”

“I don’t think that tone is necessary,” Basra said mildly.

The crow suddenly emitted a soft croak, and very gently pecked at Trissiny’s ear, then turned her head to jab her beak toward the door.

“Well, then,” Trissiny said, smiling again. “I suppose that covers what I came to ask. I also wanted to offer a word of advice, Bishop Syrinx: you should not assume you’re the only one who can make things mysteriously explode.”

Basra raised one eyebrow. Before she could speak, however, the rapidly approaching sound of pounding boots echoed from the hall, through the door which Trissiny had left open a crack. The Bishop turned, frowning, and stepped toward it to investigate.

The boots skidded to a stop outside and the door was yanked open to admit Private Covrin, breathless and disheveled. “Your Grace!” she panted. “The—they sent—I mean, I only just learned, I’m sorry for the delay but I think my message was intercepted—”

“Spit it out, Covrin!” Basra said in exasperation. “Sometime today!”

“Ma’am,” her aide said desperately, “there’s a fire. At—at your house.”

She gazed nervously at the Bishop, still regaining her breath, but Basra had gone completely still and expressionless. Slowly, she turned to stare at Trissiny.

The paladin had stepped to one side, and was now trying to roll a doubloon across the backs of her knuckles. She went at it with excruciating slowness, clearly unpracticed in the maneuver, tentatively shifting the coin one finger’s increment at a time.

At Basra’s stare, she looked up and smiled. “Well, that sounds rather urgent; don’t let me keep you any longer. Excuse me, private.”

Covrin stepped aside to let her leave, and both of them stared after the departing paladin in silence.

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41 thoughts on “11 – 41

  1. Great chapter. But I can’t buy that either Ravoud, Trissiny, or Locke would give Basra so much slack. Locke honestly believes that Basra has tried to kill her squad for a second time—and she’s going to hold off revenge until there’s a third time? Seems a bit like madness, particularly after Ravoud’s last punishment didn’t deter a second murder attempt. Trissiny and Ravoud both seem to genuinely believe that this was a murder attempt as well, and given that they intend to just settle for a bit of intimidation? These are two folks who have unparalleled access and support of a god, if they really feel restrained by their lack of proof they should believe that Avei, if called on, can make a proper judgment. Right now the only countervailing consideration seems to be the need to play politics and subterfuge with/against Justinian, and since they can’t necessarily trust Basra to work in the sisterhood’s interest regarding that this seems like a pretty poor excuse.

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    1. Yes-no. Basra’s nest just got torched. For her, this is a bigger slap on the wrist than you realise. Those were her things. That was her security.

      And, Triss has the authority to get away with this. Worse, trying to get as Triss means going through Mary and Avei. Good luck with that.😄

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    2. You need to understand what she is to truly understand what sort of blow this is to her. At least in the conventional sense of the term, a sociopath does not have friends, homes or objects they hold with great fondness. They have things. These things, however, are theirs. People do not mess with their things.

      Growing up with one I can tell you how they tend to react. My father tried to kill me the day I touched one of his things. Because I was another one of his things, this decision was made in a heart beat of learning this, and of learning that correcting my actions would likely take more effort then simply killing me.

      Now I can’t say if this is the same for Basra but we are aware that apparently everyone is aware now of what she is, to one degree or another. Particularly the High Commander. So it is possible. Basra has been affected by the typical things that would affect Sociopaths in the past.

      More over, Basra IS that carefully. Remember that in this world everything and everyone has strings tied to them. If the High Commander plucked the wrong string when taking Basra down it would upset several people in a position to make things worse for her. Not, possibly, overtly. But in a world of spies and subterfuge the overt attempts are probably welcome for their simplicity.

      I personally still don’t think it justifies what the High Commander is doing and still hold her accountable for Basra’s actions. At this point it almost seems like she’s willfully ignorant of Basra. However, it has been made clear that she is not. Neither is Avei. They see a monster they think they have leashed, not understanding certain aspects of her condition.

      So my dislike of the High Commander at this point is more about a general ‘she is in charge and thus everything is her responsibility’ rather then a more personal kind, like it had been when I first discovered (along with everyone else) that she was ignoring Basra’s condition to a degree.

      Speaking of, a personal apology to the writer for my… vehemence on the topic. It did touch a bit close to home but that is no excuse for going at the topic so strongly.

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      1. Actually, I think Schmidt is right, and Avei is not *fully* aware of Basra’s actions. Avei might tolerate politicking, but we’ve seen how she reacts to women being victimised with “Silky” and I think that was genuine. If she found out what Basra has been doing to the women under her command, right under Avei’s nose, I’d expect a new record for most consequtive lightning strikes on the same spot.

        I think partially Trissany and Rouvald are falling into the trap of thinking that Avei doesn’t make mistakes and is close to omniscent, which is holding them back when dealing with Basra. Thinking that Avei has a plan for her and thus they shouldn’t take her off the board entirely.

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      2. ” At this point it almost seems like she’s willfully ignorant of Basra. However, it has been made clear that she is not. Neither is Avei. They see a monster they think they have leashed, not understanding certain aspects of her condition. ”

        Actually, I disagree. It was made explicitly clear to us that _something_ is blinding the gods to the actions of the archpope. What I suspect is happening is that Justinian’s hold over Basra is by way of extending that protection over her. “Obey and you can do as you please, disobey and Avei learns what you’ve done.” If so, then the High Commander thinks she can keep Basra on a leash because her goddess told her so, or possibly Rouvad is a hidden “paladin” of a goddess who lives things like backup plans for long enough for Avei’s attitude to heavily influence her own.

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    1. Agreed. I love the politicking in this so much more though. Webb has successfully created not just one, but three paladins that don’t piss me off by virtue of personality. Not to mention all the other foreground characters he’s made. When this book becomes fully published I will be buying it (or them, if it ends up a series), in Hardback for me and my father.

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  2. I keep wondering why Trissiny doesn’t hand her sword around more often. I mean, yes, it’s immensely satisfying to see Syrinx’s house burn down, but in a world where the Black Wreath exists and apparently doesn’t really have a hard time hiding themselves from the gods, it seems like it could be worthwhile to bring her Goddess’s attention to things more often.

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      1. The Black Wreath are hidden from the eyes of the gods, so Avei didn’t see Embras picking up Trissiny’s sword.

        Other people need to pick up the sword without Trissiny’s permission, if she gives it to people then nothing happens since they aren’t doing anything wrong.

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    1. Yeah I’m pretty sure he did, can’t remember the chapter number but I recall that Trissiny was bound and tried to trick him by picking it up, he taunted her for her lack of subtlety and picked it up like it was nothing.

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  3. Oh wow, I was not expecting Trissiny to do that. And that Commander Rouvad was apparently told of it and didn’t try to stop it in any way just makes it even more awesome and hilarious 😂

    So the guns turned out to be as powerful, or perhaps more than what I initially “theorised”. I really hope that the Black Wreath don’t get their hands on them. Wouldn’t surprise me if they already got the blueprints though. And no magic whatsoever in them! Not even alchemy? The Five Kingdoms are really getting desperate…

    Thanks for this chapter Webb!😊

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  4. I have the feeling that, once she fully learns about how Triss “dealt with” Basra here, that Principia is going to be *so proud.*

    I’ve also been getting the feeling that, at whatever point things with Basra come to a head, that Trissiny is going wind up invoking Avei’s judgement on her, like she did with Juniper. And Basra probably isn’t going to like the result.

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  5. I’m curious about shielding charms and personal shields now.

    So far I was under the assumption that the charms somehow intercepted incoming wand shots before they could hit the wearer and were able to keep that up until a certain capacity was reached. Now we’re being told that they work against kinetic projectiles, too. Are there different kinds of shielding charms? The leader of the White Raiders was wearing one that counteracted wand shots, would it have worked against arrows, too?

    If all shields are weakened by physical contact with objects… then… uh… aren’t they all weak against the exact thing they are meant to deflect? It’s like using an inflated rubber bubble to protect yourself against pointy and sharp objects.
    Everything in the world is a physical object, including the air. Ok, maybe that doesn’t count because it’s not solid but rain drops certaintly do count.
    The energy/force of a sword is at least approaching that of a bullet and a rapier’s or arrow’s cross section isn’t much bigger than a bullet either.

    Let’s assume Rogrind’s pocket cannon fires a bullet equivalent to .45 ACP which would roughly match the description Principia gave (sub sonic speed, high stopping power), then we’re looking at about 1000 joules of kinetic energy.
    An arrow could transfer about 300 joules of kinetic energy. It’s also a larger, heavier object than a bullet, so it would interact even more with a shield.
    Basically… if one bullet can collapse that shield, then 3 arrows would manage the same.

    I tried to find similiar numbers for melee weapons like swords but that’s an exercise in futility because that depends a lot on the weapon and the user and is compounded by the fact that the weapon is still held by the user at the time of impact.
    I believe the tip of a sword at the end of the swing transfers about as much kinetic energy to the target as an arrow, despite some of that energy going back to the user and similiar physics stuff. (This could be a fantastic question for xkcd’s What if?)

    Anyway, I don’t really see the utility of shields when they are weakened by almost everything and are only good against pure energy like wand shots and maybe fireballs, provided it isn’t raining. I mean sure, they are awesome because they neatly counter the most common weapon of this age… but shields have been around for millenia and the only people slinging energy around back then were cheesed off wizards. Why were they used at all when they aren’t all that useful against swords, arrows and other medieval style weapons?
    And if shields already existed, why would people develop a weapon (wands) that have trouble overcoming them? Isn’t that counter-intuitive? Ok, fine… the vast majority of people didn’t have any shields, those are probably only affordable now that they are being mass produced.

    Am I missing something? Is my logic flawed? I just can’t see an army using shielding charms, because that would mean they’d have to depend on good weather to get any use out of them. Every shaman or witch would start fights by making it rain or by throwing gravel or similiar tactics.

    Trissiny is an outlier (half-elven paladin) but she was still inside a demonic dragon protected only by her shield as a huge physical object pressed against it from all sides. I guess anyone else attempting the same feat would lose first their shield and then their life?

    So for millenia paladins and casters were using shields to protect themselves against mostly physical objects like swords and arrows and it seemed to be worth the effort. If bullets are three times as effective as arrows as long as it isn’t raining, then I don’t see why anyone bothered using shields beyond maybe deflecting that first hit. I’m sure there are more efficient ways to use magic on the battlefield.

    Somewhere is a disconnect here and I just can’t find it…

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    1. One of the main benefits seems to be that wands don’t run out of ammo and have pretty good effective range, plus stopping power against anything that isn’t shielded. If a sword takes down your shield but you cut the sword’s speed while doing so, that’s pretty much worth it. If you assume you’re losing a set amount of energy on impact with a shield (and we know rain messes with shields, so it could be spread out over time), the more energy you initially have the less effective that cut is going to be – for a sword, it might make the swing a lot more manageable and for an arrow it could be the difference between a lethal wound and an injury. But for a bullet with three times the force…

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    2. it turns the hit into heat. We have seen them used against arrows before, the kinetic motion gets turned into heat. So a fusillade of arrows does overwhelm a charm, but it takes more like a few dozen, and then there’s still the shield and armor to get through. the bullets are going over that in one shot, generating all the heat before it has a chance to dissipate.

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    3. The disconnect (that I can see) is that Mage’s personal shields and similar things that existed way back when are reportedly much stronger than shielding charms, and with a conscious caster could be reinforced if depleted by an impact. Then mass produced wands get developed to deal with the vast majority of non-shielded targets and things like bows and swords start to fall out of favor because wands are so much easier (like happened with guns in our history) and with the reduction in kinetic weapons, mass produced shielding charms to deal with the wands starts to make sense.

      This would make the decisions of certain cults, like the sisterhood, to preserve training in archaic weapons make more sense too. If it only take 3, lets say, hits from a sword to take down a shielding charm that could handle dozens of wand shots then all you have to do is outfit your “outmoded” troops with shielding charms of their own and they suddenly become the more effective of the two forces.

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      1. I imagine there is some kind of cut-off speed were shields stop working.
        In one of the previous chapters it was mentioned that personal shielding charms get depleted/fail in the rain. So they interact. So the cut-off speed is lower than 10 m/s (googled speed of raindrops).

        Since magic works not only on physics alone and since it absorbs lightning which has almost no mass but incredible speed and charge, it is reasonable to assume the enchantment triggers to some any sort of force that moves towards the shield.
        It is just a matter of how much force per area per time the shield can absorb.
        Lets consider … the FORCE! Not. not that force.

        After some googling, I reached speculations on the velocity of swords, being ~26 m/s.
        More interestingly, I reached a fairly scientific data collection on the dynamics and kinetic force transmission of swords.
        An arrow shot with about 100 m/s and 23g weight would hit with about 114 Joules. And 23g is a rather heavy arrow.
        Even a typical crossbow bolt delivers about only 135 Joules.

        A sword on the other hand can weight about 0.9 to 3 kg, and depending on the impact point (on the swords length) can deliver between 281 and 937 J.

        From a table I have read that a bullet has about 564 Joules (.45 ACP, no idea how a previous commenter got 1000).

        Compared now to a (natural) lightning strike that has 10^6 to 10^7 joule…
        A shielding charm either absorbs/deflects different kinds of energy with different efficiency, or a standard lightning wand has much less juice than its natural counterpart.

        My working theory:
        1) A lightning wand has much less juice than a natural lightning. Makes sense. It burns, but doesn’t seem to shock. (or was that the case previously in the story?)
        2) Shielding charms are optimized to absorb or deflect lightning wand/staff charges, so possibly their energy is distributed among the shield’s surface.
        3) A shielding charm needs to be able to hold an arrow strike, because otherwise the military would still run around with bows. (Shaath’s huntsmen do not count)
        But the shield would not necessarily stop more than one arrow on the same stop in rapid succession.
        4) Swords and Lances seem to penetrate shields, otherwise nobody would use them any more.
        5) Shields regenerate only when not stressed. Continuous application of little force can break it quite easily.

        So the breaking point of shield seems to be between 150 J (for a heavy crossbow) and 200 J (sword) applied to a narrow spot (around 1 cm²)
        When applying the theory that lightning is distributed over the whole surface,
        minimally 2 m² if the whole body is covered directly on the skin. If its a sphere, that would be a surface of almost 50m²
        But since electricity is an ungrateful bastard, it will not strike the surface evenly, so even with a full sphere, it will still apply its force primarily around one spot. so lets take pessimistic 2m² as active surface area under attack (ASAA).
        With 2m² and 200J/cm² breaking energy, this would make 4*10⁶ J of potential energy that this little shield can absorb. Scrap assumption (1).

        I conclude, a personal shield needs to be able to absorb 4*10⁶ J per shot.
        Assuming the shield restores itself with a part of the power it absorbs, minus loss, that would explain why rain whittles it down rather fast: the loss in energy makes it impossible for the shield to restore itself with the absorbed power from the raindrops.

        Concluding words:
        Mathematics of fantasy worlds, because why not?

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    4. ohh, and , your average blackpowder pistol with a barrel of 7-8 inches fires at 900 to 1200 feet per second muzzle velocity.

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      1. From checking websites, I see that you’d get about 38 round 1/2″ lead balls in a pound of lead. So for half-inch balls, each one weighs roughly 4/10 of an ounce or about 12 grams per ball or about 182 grains.
        80 grains 2F GOEX Black Powder = 1318 ft/s
        90 grains 2F GOEX Black Powder = 1427 ft/s
        100 grains 2F GOEX Black Powder = 1460 ft/s
        Let’s take the fastest speed with the most powder, because why not.
        KE = 1/2 * m * v ^ 2 says about 1200 joules or roughly 1 kilojoule. Wikipedia says if we got up to a megajoule then it’d be about as much energy as a one-ton truck moving 160, but “one square metre of the Earth receives about 1.4 kilojoules of solar radiation every second in full daylight.”

        Just for fun.

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    5. So, I think shielding charms don’t react to physical things.

      As to actual shields, I think it could be something like a pane of glass; you could hit it a thousand times and not break it, but hit it three times as hard once and it shatters; the concentration and quantity of force could destabilize the spell, I think.

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  6. _”You are of course aware that all magical shields are weakened by contact with physical objects. That thing hits with enough sheer kinetic force to collapse any shielding charm I’ve ever heard of, and probably a lot of personal caster shields.”_

    You know, there was an enormous amount of foreshadowing for this, from the effects of rain on personal shields to the discussion of how much power Trissiny’s divine weapons must have to survive contact with the wall of the tunnel when she’s bailing up Grip.

    And nobody caught it. One comment on the last post was even speculating that there was something special about this weapon because surely the Tiraasians had tried out SOME kind of firearm.

    Also, all the people doing the calculations in the messages above this one are assuming a linear or at least a simple relationship between the momentum and kinetic energy of the impacting object and the effect on a shield. The effect could be increased by the density of the impactor, or reduced if it was spread over a larger area (as it would be with a sword), or it could have an exponential term.

    Wand shots are electromagnetic energy, not kinetic. So they don’t have the same effect on arcane and divine fields.

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    1. Everyone is kinda missing the point about Shielding Charms vs physical items.

      We know that Magic in this ‘verse is defined as applying a subjective effect, whereas the base reality is objective.

      The implication is that altering base reality is hard, especially when you don’t have much time to do it in or there’s an immediate change to the local base reality (such as a pellet flying at the speed of sound).

      Shielding Charms don’t work by normal physics. They work because the subjective opinion of the caster is that they should work.

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      1. “Shielding Charms don’t work by normal physics. They work because the subjective opinion of the caster is that they should work.”

        So all we need is someone like Telmage to come make a spectacular demonstration in the capital of a new super shielding charm, then start selling them to everyone (and their brothers), and the collective faith of everyone that they do indeed work will carry the day and they’ll actually work?

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      2. It’s not collective belief. And I’m not sure Shequi’s explanation is strictly correct, either. It seems like a potential in-verse theory, but I don’t think it interacts well with what we know of transcension fields. For one, transcension fields are definitely objective; it’s just a ‘sufficiently advanced technology’ thing where their effects interact with thoughts and manifest as intuitive, subjective effects to human minds.
        One place you might be getting the collective belief stuff from is God’s personalities; I don’t think there is any evidence of their corresponding transcension fields interacting with it though.

        I don’t really think we know much about shielding charms, but I seem to remember something about them grounding the lightning? I think they are very specific counters to wands, and that’s why they aren’t at all relevant to bullets.

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    2. lightning is plasma. there is an electromagnetic component, but that superheats the air, turning it into plasma. There is a force, though im not seeing anyone having calculated it, from teh return stroke pushing plasma ahead of it. In addition, the thunderclap is a physical burst of air caused by the superheating.

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  7. Was that my exploded building? because I was sleep-deprived and not very serious when I said that you didn’t have to put my tip in the jar if you volcano’ed a building.

    *Reads passage again* Eh, I’ll take it.

    I think Prin is overestimating how much damage the guns can do. From the description, it sounds like a muzzle loader. That means slow loading, probably with crap accuracy. Staves, on the other hand, sound like they have a rate-of-fire comparable to at least a single-action modern weapon, and iron-sights accuracy.

    The first volley would be hard on the imperials, but all other things being equal, I doubt it would be decisive.

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    1. That assumes that all defenses are equal in that case. If an army equipped with M4 Carbines attacked a force equipped with muzzleloaders, then yes. However, comparing this is more like comparing a machine-gun pillbox fighting a tank. Both are almost impervious to small-arms fire; but the tank can blast through whatever the public can muster with a few cannon shots, while the public has to blaze away for an eternity before it can do lasting damage to the tank (if at all).

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      1. In 9-37 it says that imperial army shield charms will bounce wand-fire but not staff-fire. Assuming that these are ‘light’ charms, I’d hardly liken the hypothetical dwarven force to a tank – more like modern infantry in bulletproof armor with ceramic plates.

        Also, that little piece of lead shouldn’t be a ball or fit in the barrel anymore, not after going through a couple layers of plywood and sheet metal.

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    2. Wands and staves have very little ‘ammo’ which can potentially be a really big difference. Plus, I think the Imperial Army would feel the casualties of even just one volley pretty keenly.

      I also suspect Trissiny’s idea of a ‘small’ gun isn’t all that close to ours.

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  8. The evolution of defensive technology always lags behind offensive technology. It is equally true that no defense can be good against everything (though Prin is trying).

    Lets look at the real world: Plate armor stopped arrows just fine but wouldn’t stop a bullet. Conversely a bullet proof vest can stop bullets but wouldn’t stop an arrow. This is a reasonable trade off because using a bow requires a great deal of skill, and with the introduction of guns it’s not a skill that many people cultivate anymore.

    There is something similar in this world. Plate armor stops arrows. But bows are hard to use and fall out of favor once mass produced wands are invented. Plate armor would be a death trap against a lightning wand, so shield charms are invented. Shield charms are weak against kinetic impacts, but as wands are much easier to use no one uses bows anymore (the only previous kinetic ranged weapon). Now that guns have been invented that’s going to have to change. But there’s always an overlap. The very first guns were not more effective than bows, just easier to use, so militaries used both for a while. The same is true here. Against an unarmored target wands are going to be much more effective than guns at the level of sophistication we saw here.

    The solution here is a bit simpler than it was in history. Someone needs to invent something like Kevlar, and probably trauma plates as well. The ease comes with the fact that since shield charms are nearly weightless one could wear both without additional hindrance. Though one would likely have to wear multiple shield charms since the obvious tactic against that would be to fire with a gun once at first to take out any raised shields then hit them with wand fire. So one would need to be able to raise a second and possibly even a third or more shields at need. Another possible solution (though I don’t know if this magic system could manage it) would be a spell that ignites gunpowder at range. That would make guns very unpopular real fast.

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    1. @kuro_neko
      That last thought is exactly where my head went while Locke was building her scenario. Guns wouldn’t work on a large scale in this world be cause witches like Schwartz have fire elemental familiars and wizards can throw fire balls. As a tool for assassination though or for sneak attacks they definitely have potential.

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