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jaistlyn

The Crucible Study [Military Base #34]

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The sun shone down on the square where soldiers gathered for training. The shout of commands and rhythmic march of booted feet were constant background sounds that accompanied Delistair as he walked between the buildings in the military base towards the labs.

He had arranged with Cadmium to meet here today, and they were to spend the next week together researching possibilities to combine his abjuration magic with Cadmium’s metal-bending ability. The first time he met the young officer was at the military celebrations, and he even performed a number with him onstage.

At the memory of that, Delistair smiled. It had seemed ages ago. The battle of Last Chance that happened shortly afterward was all that occupied his mind recently. He had been lucky to escape with his life, and even now, physical activities that were too strenuous still eluded him. The jailbreak and escape of Reginald - the wormman - still weighed heavily on his mind. It wasn’t that easy to shrug off his self-blame, despite the reassurances people around him tried to give. Nevertheless, he didn’t intend to mope around forever. Perhaps this work was just the thing that would motivate him back on track again.

He pushed open the door and turned on the lights. He was the first to arrive, but that wasn’t a surprise. Cadmium must be a busy man, and all Delistair had been assigned to recently were non-time-sensitive daily grind within Communications. His promotion to First Lieutenant (undeserved in his opinion) came with new responsibilities, but he knew that they were holding back from giving him the more challenging tasks. Hopefully he would get something out of this research, enough to convince the higher ranking officers that he was ready to resume normal duties.

Delistair looked around the lab. There were various equipment, some he was familiar with, most he wasn’t, and a large white table in the middle. What he did recognize though, was a shielding screen that stabilized magic and prevented the spread of damage should something go awry. Something that they should probably set up before they started their experimentation.

@supernal

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Setting: https://www.valucre.com/topic/37713-military-base-34/

It was sort of an open secret that the higher up you managed to make it on the hierarchy ladder, the more the rungs in your hands turned into the handles of rubber stamps, and beneath you swelled an ocean of paperwork. It was the kind of thing medaled officers joked about, checking watches to comment on how little time there was in a day, that sort of thing.

But really, there was quite a lot of paperwork.

Grunts were like children. You threw food at them, a little shelter, a little water, a little sunshine, and they had the potential to go anywhere from there, grow up to be anything. Their responsibility was to actualize their potential, and no one expected anything but buffoonery out of children.

Officers, especially majors and colonels and generals, were like parents. They went to work to earn a paycheck. They used that paycheck to pay the rent and buy groceries, the food and shelter and all that. They had to balanced the check books, maintain both car and house, and either delegate activities like mowing the lawn and cleaning the gutters, or do it themselves, and there was a cost to either one, whether it was a utility cost or an opportunity cost didn't seem to make much of a difference when tallying up the numbers. They had to do all that and spend time with the kids, and they couldn't avoid any of it because all of that was the work; operations, budgetary planning, maintenance, resource allocation, someone had to do it and now that someone was him.

Unlike parents and children though, Major Cadmium Metireal still had non-critical weekends for himself.

"Hey Del. It's been a while. You're looking . . . better."

In establishing that he knew about Delistair's rehab, Caden was brazen about displaying the fact that he had been keeping minor tabs on the man. Through the workaday grind of military life at the management layer, he had kept his jam buddy and fellow tinkerer in mind.

"Do I look older? Be honest. Oh never mind I know I do."

He did. A thin line of grey streaked through a patch of beard, he had bags under his eyes from several nights of poor quality sleep, which only served to emphasize a nearly invisible spread of wrinkles gathered around the corners of his eyes when he smiled. He looked heavier too but Delistair had caught him at a good time, a short while after realizing how a desk job packed it around the midsection and he realized it'd take a concerted effort to stay ready for the regular fitness tests; his added bulk translated nicely into musculature.

"I've been thinking about you. Err," A smile; wrinkles. "People like you. Soldiers, like you, who use wards and buffs and need to keep funneling power into it to keep it steady. I think the first thing I want to work on is like, something like a battery pack. We'll have to work out how big it has to be, but I'm thinking . . . iron ore and nth. Too . . . think it's too basic?"

Edited by supernal

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The sound of the door opening preceded Cadmium’s entrance. Delistair noticed the young officer’s changes in physical appearance at the same time that Cadmium sized him up.

“I’m fine now, thankfully,” Del waved a hand nonchalantly, having no desire to carry on that conversation.

”Do I look older? Be honest. Oh never mind I know I do."

“Older looks good on you,” Del said. “More authoritative, less green.” He grinned, remembering Cadmium as a newly-minted officer. “Still good for that fund-raising calendar beach shot.”

Cadmium jumped straight into the topic at hand, and Delistair was grateful for it. He leaned against the lab table and looked up at the ceiling, considering the proposition, at the same time running through his knowledge of the various metals that were available for their use. Fortunately Delistair was an avid reader, and though he had never come across many of the metals in their raw form, he had read up on them in preparation for this research.

“Nth might be good to make up the base since it’s light and easy to carry, but I’m not sure how well it can retain an enchantment, I’ve never worked with it before. We’ll have to test it to see. Iron I have experience working with. It can be enchanted, but the length of time it will hold a ‘charge’ is inversely proportional to its size.”

He regarded Cadmium. “I was thinking about it too, and I wonder if we can make use of Auranite somewhere in the setup. The problem is how to stabilize it and ensure it does not get overcharged when we first pump enchantments onto it. Perhaps Nth to conduct excess energy away?” He tapped a foot on the floor. “Or Negabjurium as a shield? It may work against us and weaken the enchantment instead though.”

There was a rap on the door. “Ah, I believe our delivery’s here.” Del had arranged for a sample of metals to be sent to them for some hands-on testing.

Edited by jaistlyn

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On the question of ho best to stabilize Auranite, Cadmium opened his mouth to speak. Fully prepared to interrupt the lesser-ranked officer and speak his mind, as the weight of his station dictated, his interruption was in turn interrupted when Delistair continued, unperturbed. He hit on the notion of using nth to conduct energy away, rather than towards. At this revelation Cadmium's mouth remained open, in fact went downright slack. His eyes glazed over with the distant film of a man quietly underground an internal epiphany.  This practical application was of the sort which seemed obvious in hindsight, so much so it was hardly worth even mentioning, but which had eluded Cadmium the entirety of his waking life.

"That's a definitely thought. We can try swapping auranite out with solabernite. Less energy density. So that means smaller spell stacks, lower peaks, but much more stable. Using auranite with nth though . . . uru is a pretty classic standby. We can pipe the excess into an uru heat sink and place that somewhere around the wearer's center of gravity. It'll definitely be heavier, but the nth can offset that some. I mean . . . yeah? I think it'll –"

A tentative tattoo rapped on the lab's door wrenched his attention; Cadmium looked towards the door surprised, then the surprise smoothed away when Delistair explained it was the simple and inevitable result of a little forethought.

"Good thinking. We can lab both of the solutions out. I, well," Here Cadmium smiled a smile as sly as an aristocrat's laughter and thumbed his nose. "I have something of a higher cap on my discretionary spending than I used to."

When Del returned with the samples Cadmium rolled his sleeves up to the middle of his forearms, then reached out to the array of meta-materials and took hold of a hunk of uru ore. Cad's brow furrows with a sudden outpouring of concentration – uru is as famous for its intractability as for its capacity to store energy, and Del can see a sheen of sweat forming across Cadmium's forehead as the ore levitate from his outstretched hand and begins to alter in shape. Minutely, but steadily.

"Now I'm thinking instead of a sink, a mesh would work better. It'll take work to pull this stuff into wires like that but the weight will be more evenly distributed."

Edited by supernal

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“Hmm.” Del watched intently at the uru ore when it rose from Cadmium’s open palm. An affinity with metals, the young officer had called it. It was the first time that Del had seen it at work. He mused that it was similar in nature to the earthbending abilities that was prevalent among people within Terrenus.

As the raw uru started to take the form of Cadmium’s desire, Del picked up a piece of auranite, pale rose in shade and roughly dome shaped. “Let’s try the auranite first. As I know it, solarbernite tends to favour light-based magic. Abjuration is a little different from other branches of magic - where the rest construct, an abjurer deconstructs or deflects. Solarbernite’s tendency to absorb light may interfere with the abjuration enchantment - but I’m not sure. We will have to see.”

He gripped the auranite in his palm, and held his other hand over it. The first order of business was to see how well the material retained enchantments. Concentrating, he sensed for the magical energies in the environment and within the ore itself. Then he started to pull and weave the external energies into the lattice of the ore. The auranite was relatively simple to work with, its innate structure latching on to the energies being fed to it. Externally, the ore glowed with a pale light while Del weaved his enchantment - a basic one - and the light waned when he was done. He turned the enchanted ore around in his palm.

“It’s not bad for storage,” Del said. “But I didn’t put a lot of ‘juice’ into it yet. This ore is now moderately impervious to damage, and I estimate the enchantment to last for five hours. I want to try and find its breaking point, but that would be dangerous without some form of mitigation. Let’s try it with your mesh, and I’ll pour more into it.”

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"Good point."

He nodded along, conceding the point that it was not just the physical properties of the materials they had to consider; those metaphysical properties would influence the results of their tests as readily as a chemical reaction.

"We should run a scrimmage on it and document the results. If nothing else, it becomes public knowledge."

The blob of uru was only partially formed by the time Delistair began his work on the hunk of auranite. Cadmium let his hand rest on their workbench, the floating uru came to rest alongside it, shaped like a hollowed-out tarantula with stubby legs. Though more demanding than Delistair's material, the activity was not so strenuous as to demand a break; his moment of silence was to observe an expert in their field, seeing the practical application of the theory he'd learned in school.

"Really clean work Del."

Cadmium turned his attention back to the unfinished uru mesh. As he got more familiar with this section of metamaterial, learned more about its individual makeup and irregularities, the shaping came easier. At the end of this exercise Camium would be able to reshape the sample with ease comparable to how he could manipulate iron or steel. And he ended the exercise with what looked like a porous bracer (something like this), a place setting on the back perfectly sized for the auranite.

Once the two components were fitted into a single unit, Cadmium walked off to get a training dummy and returned after a few minutes, wheeling the thing in behind him. He placed it in the part of the lab they could use for this kind of testing, with the blast wall and ballistic shielding.

"I can test its mundane defense capabilities to set a baseline, but I don't know much in the way of spells. Do you have anything offensive in your stock or do we ring up a grunt? You know what, as I'm saying it out loud, let's get a grunt. You should save your energy for any of the abjuration we do."

When Major Metireal ("No, not Steel, this is Cadmium") requests a fire elemental knight, it only takes two authorization forms and half an hour to get someone assigned from next door. When they arrive Cadmium points the private at the training dummy and ducks himself behind the blast wall.

"Take a crack at it! Something simple and straightforward, but with some pepper behind it."

Edited by supernal

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“And yours is impressive,” Del replied to Cadmium’s compliment as he placed the auranite into the holder that Cadmium had shaped for it. “I’ve never seen an ability like yours before.” It was truly wondrous to see how fast Cadmium’s pace increased as he got more familiar with the metal.

”Do you have anything offensive in your stock or do we ring up a grunt?”

“I’m afraid my offensive magic arsenal is limited to the very rudimentary. It wouldn’t be good for it to backfire on us,” he chuckled. “That’s why I use a wind wand for that purpose, and why I’ve learnt to be pretty handy with this,” he patted a holster at his hip, which held the gun that Hana had specially made for him. Unlike the ones she herself preferred to use, his was designed to use with knockout rounds that was enough to incapacitate someone but not kill them. They could also hold normal rounds if he wished, but that had never been his desire.

Del assisted Cadmium in setting up the test area, and they had just finished up when the fire knight arrived. Cadmium eagerly put him to work, but Del interrupted before he started.

“Wait- what’s your name? (Uh, Private L-Leo Camvil, sir!) Leo, I want to estimate the breaking point of our prototype here, so instead of casting one big fire spell, could you go with a series of small ones?”

“Alright, I’ll try..” the private looked at the contraption placed in the middle doubtfully. Del raised an eyebrow, but stood by as Leo began casting his spell, the private using standard hand gestures to channel his magic. A small ball of fire manifested within the shield and opposite the prototype. Leo seemed to struggle a little in keeping exact control over the energy, but when it was roughly the size of his fist, he released it at the auranite. The aim was slightly off, but the spell dissipated all the same, the flames swirling then blinking out moments before it reached the contraption.

“Sorry sir, I’m still learning finer controls over my power,” Leo said, scratching his chin.

“It’s alright,” Del said. Leo was young, and it reminded him of the time when he was a student, and the struggles of learning magic. The journey was fraught with hard work, disappointment, and often danger. The Law of Chaos meant that magic could go awry, especially for a learner who had not yet honed their senses.

Del moved towards the auranite and mesh combination, examining it. It was slightly warm to the touch, but not dangerously so. He nodded to Cadmium, both an acknowledgement and confirmation that they could carry on. “Do that again, Leo. The energy behind your last spell was perfect. Try to keep it the same.” He stepped back behind the shield.

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Since the moment Delistair pointed out the gun at his hip, Cadmium found his eyes wandering to the lethal weapon now and again.

Against the specific nature of his ability, most guns failed to present a threat. Not always, but often they were made of mundane material and fired more of the same, materials with which Cadmium had been familiar since a child. Even more specialized arms often had some critical component, a trigger, a hammer, a barrel, made of something Cadmium could leverage. Naturally, the same was true of many archers and swordsmen. His gift was indeed a formidable one.

And then again, that thing on Delistair's hip was a thing to be reconciled against. That little thing could be tucked under a shirt, held behind a back, hidden beneath a chair or desk. Then fished out and in the blink of an eye a life gets stolen away, a wizard's spell gets cast in an instant or a little piece of metal pushes through a heart or a lung and it's over.

Now Delistair had him curious about something he'd dismissed most of his life.

Leo casts his spell again, his hands steadied by Delistair's cool patience and quiet encouragement. The flaming sphere is larger by half, and a darker, more menacing hue of furious red. He looses it and the ball shoots towards the prototype. It begins shrinking on its path, and by the time it reaches the dummy the ball is smaller than a fist. It hits with a visible impact but the force isn't enough to even knock the mannequin back. A part of it catches fire and the fire burns until Cadmium puts it out by draping a fire sheet over it.

"Three times makes a pattern. Great job Leo. Do it one more time for us."

Later, the porous bracer is resting on a large, flat scale, various probes and metric wands resting nearby. Cadmium is jabbing his finger at the relevant telemetry and trying to make sense of it.

"So this is interesting. We didn't set it up this way but there seems to be an interaction here. Leo's first attack kind of 'imprinted' onto the spell stored in the crystal. Although that same spell was stronger the second time around, it was the same spell, and the bracer already had the signature. The bracer sort of got better at defending itself from the same spell. It was even better the third time around.

"From observation we saw that it only sort of tempers direct damage. The fireball itself. The fire the fireball makes is different, it only works on that primary stage. So. I'm not mad at that actually. Maybe we can, I dunno, add more like, memory to it so it can learn more than one spell? Or try to isolate and amplify the effect or something?"

It was easy to come up with useful things in the abstract, but making vision material was a radically different realm. Ideas would need to be weighed and sorted by how easily they could be given life.

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Delistair picked up the contraption after Cadmium had run his tests on it. "I feel like there's something we're not picking up on. Why would the anti-magic get stronger?" he said, running his fingers across the surface of the crystal, which was a darker shade of colour than it was after Delistair had enchanted it. Auranite turned lighter and more volatile when it absorbed energy. That made sense if they were thinking in terms of the abjuration energy being used up. But the auranite should also have absorbed the fire energy, and so it should turn a lighter colour instead. 

"Hold on, let me try something," Del brought the bracer back behind the shields, and placed it on the mannequin. "Stand back, just in case." He took out his wand, then pushed magical energies out through it. The sound of wind blades cutting through the air reached their ears, even though they were not immediately visible, since the mannequin hardly moved. Delistair waited with bated breath. Nothing happened for one second, two..

Then a blinding light filled the room, and a loud explosion tore through the air. At the first sign of instability, Delistair moved in front of Cadmium and threw up a hasty barrier. Fortunately, it was unnecessary, as the military shields were strong enough to withstand the explosion. Del expelled the breath he had been holding. The mannequin's arm had been blown off, with a hole in its torso. 

"I think I know what happened. The uru is working so well, it took the energies away from the auranite instead. The anti-magic spell on the auranite served to push any excess energy into the Uru sink. When an attack of another element was directed at it, it was absorbed, reacted with the existing energies, overloaded, spilled back into the auranite, and made it explode." He looked at Cadmium, to see if the other officer had come to the same conclusion. He stroke his chin in thought. "We have the first part down though, and the shape of the bracer is definitely working. Is there a combination of materials we can use to make something that would retain abjuration spells, but also capture and dissipate magical energies pushed into it?"

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When Delistair looked towards Cadmium, Cadmium looked back and shrugged.

"Sounds good to me. We'll confirm the hypothesis with the next round of tests but let's save that for tomorrow. My head hurts from squinting and thinking all day. I think I got something in my eye with that last explosion."

Cadmium dismissed Leo with a salute, who then took off at a light jog back to his quarter and an interesting story with which to regale his bunkmates for the night.

As Cadmium would later explain meanwhile he and Delistair locked up the small testing facility and broke for the night, he thought they had the right combination of materials. He suggested that the answer they were looking for would come in the ratios and arrangement of those materials and, more importantly, in decoupling functions into discrete components. Rather than building the 'analyzer', the 'battery' and the 'resonator' all into a single device, Cadmium proposed that the analyzer is something they can launch ahead of troops and that the battery and resonator would belong to a separate propagation device the soldiers carried on them.

"That way," Cadmium explained around a mouthful of beef stew and cornbread. "We can do some kind of 'quick release' thing. The soldier doesn't have to worry about their device mixing with opposed spells and if we notice something dangerous hit the tuner, I'm calling it a tuner for now because I can't get a tuning fork type thing out of my head for this, then we can have a fuse or breaker of some kind that just shuts it all down. No one gets blown up."

Cadmium pushed his empty meal tray to one side. They were alone in the mess hall. It was a new moon night, which meant outside of the windows there was no moon to see, and the stars were hidden behind a cloak of light pollution that the camp's lights threw around like atmosphere.

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“Hmmm that might actually work, but let’s shelf the thought till later. My brain’s fried right now.” Del laughed as he took another bite of the stew. As a studious person himself, Delistair rather enjoyed the company of the enthusiastic Cadmium, but fresher minds would come up with greater insights. 

He paused for a moment before asking the next question. “How is it like to be in a military family?” It was no secret that Cadmium was from the illustrious Metireal family. “I suppose it must be very strict.” 

There was something about Cadmium that encouraged an easy trust between them, and this made Delistair comfortable about sharing his own background, something he didn’t do very often. 

“I lost my parents when I was twelve,” he said, staring out the window at the lights of the camp. “Still trying to figure out what happened. My memory’s pretty hazy. My sister.. she, she’s still alive somewhere- I refuse to believe otherwise- but as her older brother, I failed to protect her.” He relaxed his fist, which he didn’t realize he had clenched. “That’s why I resolved to learn protective magics. So that I can prevent further tragedies from happening.” 

“Some things, however, are sealed in fate, and that is a hard truth to take.” Their victory in Last Chance had been hard won. He had gotten over the self blame, but parts of it still lingered. He shook his head to clear them of such thoughts, then smiled. “But enough about me. What about you? What’s the story behind the man who rose to the rank of officer at a young age?”

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Cadmium chewed on the right corner of his lower lip. After taking enough time to decide that the taste of his flesh wasn't to his liking, and that he'd spring a bloody leak if he kept worrying his skin like that, Cadmium reached out and laid a hand on Delistair's shoulder.

"Hey Del. I'm so sorry to hear that. I can't imagine, I really can't, I won't accidentally make light of it by pretending to. I've been told that thing I hear sometimes, about time and healing wounds and all, but time's more of a butcher than a surgeon when it comes down to it. Doesn't seem to mind leaving scar tissue behind, so there's no forgetting."

The smile Delistair let break through the gloom was authentic but still tinged with that inescapable sadness, a massive engine of which had driven so much of Delistair's years and life, a trace of which touched everything he did as a consequence. It was a hurt smile and it hurt Cadmium to watch Delistair bare it and to bare it himself.

With a reassuring squeeze of that shoulder Cadmium left, giving them both some time, returned with a ceramic teapot and cups. It could have been a trick of the light or of the mind or a simple consequence of a good meal and good company but Cadmium seemed more vital than when their day started; the bags under his eyes were smoothed out and the gray in his beard difficult to distinguish.

"So it's my turn huh?" He poured, cheers'd, sipped, not in the least withdrawn or aloof.

"You asked me what it's like being a Metireal. More or less. My brother says this all the time: 'like eating bitter fruit'. I'd always gotten what he meant, how could I not? But now I see I'd only ever gotten it in a 'sort of' kind of way.

"I'm good at the job of being a soldier because it's what my whole life has ever been. It was all their lives had ever been, the people before me and the people before them. For so long back it doesn't even make sense to me, and it's going to be that way forward too. It's like a bunch of single-cell animals pushing up against each other trying to make a multi-cell animal. It's like, I can be me and live my life but then I'll die, like all the other single-cells. The multi-cell is the future. I can be part of that future. But then I'm not being me anymore. How much better than being dead is dreaming someone else's dream?"

Cadmium shrugged, nodded to Delistair, had another sip.

"The tea tastes good. If I hadn't had made all the choices that put me here with you drinking this tea, then I wouldn't have this tea. So that's something. I guess we're both family men in a way. Is your sister, finding your sister, why you're still in all this?" Cadmium gestured around at the base and at themselves. "All this?"

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“Well, I’m glad I got to know this single cell,” Delistair said, gulping down the drink they shared. It was not exactly beer, and they were not exactly in a bar, but the gesture was the same nonetheless. “Metireal or not, your ideas are your own, and don’t ever lose that.”

”Is your sister, finding your sister, why you're still in all this?”

Del’s eyes followed Cadmium’s gesture. “Perhaps once it was the only reason,” he said. A nondescript canteen, in a mundane camp that was neither luxurious nor illustrious. Unlike Cadmium, he hadn’t been a soldier for his whole life. He could have been, and could still be, something entirely different. His hand inadvertently went to the tattoo on the back of his neck, the symbol of a covenant of mages he had once been a part of, but which had since disbanded. He could be an adventurer. Open an enchantments store in Blairville? Del knew that these options were what Cadmium had lamented as lost to him. But the man was still young, contrary to his view of himself, and one day, he might find his own path.

“I will admit I joined for the information network. But over time, this has become a part of me. The friends I made along the way. The people who thank me. The people who may hate me.” The military worked for the people, but there were always those who would curse them for their inefficiency, curse them for not reaching their loved ones in time, curse them for their failures. “I will continue to seek, but at the same time, protecting our own is a noble cause to take up.. Though on most mundane days, it doesn’t feel at all noble.” He chuckled.

He poured Cadmium another cup of tea, then poured the last bit into his own cup, surprised at the speed at which it was emptied. Time passes too soon in good company. “To family men,” he held up his cup.

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"To kith as well as kin." Cadmium held up his half of the final bit of tea and clinked the lips of their cups together. "May our families of choice and our families of blood . . . I guess sort of, intertwine into a mega-tree of some kind. Salud!"

He downed his tea like a shot then gathered the cups, the pot, the tray.

"That's enough groundbreaking progress for one day. Let me poach two hours of your morning tomorrow to organize everything into some kind of logical order and we can present to the engineer inquiry board and see if they feel this is something worth throwing minds and money at."

Cadmium was optimistic about their prospects. This was good work they had done – it was impractical for the two of them to implement anything more than a precarious prototype but the design concepts were sound, the materials were accessible, the purpose was prophylactic rather than destructive and Empire adored keeping their highly trained and expensive soldiers alive.  

Edited by supernal

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-The next morning-

There wasn’t going to be an audience of four hundred; heck, it wasn’t even forty, it was just four, but still Delistair felt a tinge of excitement and nervousness as he prepared for the demonstration. He turned the piece of auranite he had enchanted around in his hands.

“What we have is definitely enough to show, but you know, there is one more thing I would like to try. I spent some time in the library yesterday before I slept, and refreshed my knowledge of some of these materials we have our hands on.” He bent down to the sample of metals from yesterday, and retrieved a green specimen. 

“Negabjurium, the brother of auracite, and repels anti-magic. Sounds the opposite of what we want, but may just be the thing we need. It’s an expensive material, but we wouldn’t need a whole lot. Just enough to serve as the intermediate contact between the auracite core and the uru mesh. The anti-magic enchantment stays where it is in the core, and the energy of the spells are dissipated into the mesh. In theory, we wouldn’t have the magicks reacting with each other in this way.”

He stroke his chin in thought. “We have time to make it before the demo, but no time to test it. And we will need someone like Leo so that we can try it with magic of different elements. Do you think we can pull this off at the demo, or do you think it’ll be too risky?”

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