Sander woke up with a start.
“Did I miss the competition?” he asked Philip.
“No,” replied Philip. “It won’t be happening for another week.”
Sander looked around the unfamiliar room. It was painted a creamy white and very sparsely furnished, with just a bed, two chairs, and a small table that was laden with fruit and flowers. Sander looked to Philip, who was staring at him expectantly.
“Why are you here?” asked Sander.
“You saved my life,” said Philip. “Do you remember?”
“I — yes,” said Sander. He felt a yawn coming on and stretched out until he felt like he was going to crack his bones. “How long was I out?”
“Six days,” said Philip. “Much longer than they’d thought it would be. There was some worry that you had brain damage.”
“And you’ve been here this whole time?” asked Sander. He had never saved someone’s life before, but that was more gratitude than he’d expected.
“No,” said Philip. “I have to attend a number of meetings during the day. Part of my duties include reading from ledgers, meeting minutes, and legal documents, so I’ve taken to bringing them with me and doing my reading here. It’s just as quiet as city hall and this way there was a better chance of someone being around when you woke.” Sander could see a stack of documents on the chair beside Philip.
Sander stretched out a second time. “I feel fantastic.” His muscles seemed more powerful, his limbs lighter. “I was unconscious for six days?”
“Yes,” said Philip. He folded the book he was reading. “You should go talk to your father. He’s been worried about you.”
“Dad’s alright?” asked Sander.
“Overworked and stressed about everything that’s happened, but perfectly healthy last time I saw him,” said Philip.
“And is —” Sander stopped. His memory of the frantic battle was a blur, punctuated by frozen moments of crystal clarity. Helene’s fingers had sunk into something like black tar as she screamed in pain. A darkling with horns had charged straight at him. Philip had stood in a ruined field, borrowed sword in front of him, facing down the Schism. There had been bodies laying around the field, blood pooling on the ground …
“Is Merry okay?” asked Sander. He closed his eyes as he waited for a response.
“She’s fine,” said Philip. Sander breathed a sigh of relief. “I can give you a list of the deceased if you’d like, but I don’t know who you had a connection with.” He shifted in his seat. “If you knew anyone who died, you have my condolences.”
“Most of them were friends of my father’s,” said Sander. He waited, but Philip said nothing in response, so the words started pouring out. “They would come by the house and tell me how much I’d grown.” He shook his head. “The wardens are close-knit, and my mother was especially well-liked. Every time someone who knew her dies, I get upset, not just because they’re gone, but because … people are information, right? They’re collections of facts, like a favorite food, or mannerisms, like the way they brush hair from their face, or their cause-effect pairs, like how they react to a probing question or an unexpected gift. If you had all the time in the world and math more complex than I’ve ever even heard about, you could reduce every single person down to their own beautiful equation with all its own variables. When a person dies, that equation gets washed away, but everyone she knew still has a piece of it, an expression of that underlying truth. When my mom’s friends die, they’re taking some of the last pieces of her left with them.” He pinched the bridge of his nose to stealthily wipe away a tear that was forming. “I don’t want to know who died, but if I hear it later it’s going to be a punch to the gut, so … just tell me.”
Philip flipped through his papers until he found a single loose leaf sheet. He glanced at Sander with impassive, pale blue eyes. “Hephzibah Hepburn, Helene Hepburn, Jonas Jardine, Evan Edwards, and Thelma Thornton.”
Sander laid back in the bed and closed his eyes. He’d known three of them as friends of his father and mother. He could put a face to every name though. Evan was the youngest of them, young enough that he and Sander had been going to school at the same time, though Evan had been four years ahead. Sander opened his mouth to ask when the funeral would be, but then he remembered that he’d missed six days and it was a certainty that the funeral had already come and gone.
“How many of the Auxiliary?” asked Sander. The bodies that he’d seen had never been his focus while the battle was going on, though he’d been aware of them. The memory of them was blurred and indistinct. When he tried to make a count of them in his mind’s eye, he could feel his mind inventing details, adding more bodies, until there were stacks of corpses —
“Thirty-one,” said Philip. The number seemed high and low at the same time. “You were one of five survivors and the only one who stayed to fight the entire battle. The others broke and ran.”
“You were there too,” said Sander.
“I’m a civilian,” replied Philip. Sander had forgotten that. It made the image of Philip facing down the Schism all the more impressive.
“Thirty-one,” murmured Sander. “But … how many are in the Auxiliary?”
“One hundred and thirteen,” Philip replied.
Sander shook his head. “That doesn’t make sense, we were all supposed to come when the alarm sounded.” He remembered the bodies and shut his mouth. Sander was no stranger to death. His mother had died when he was ten years old and even before that he had attended funerals with his parents for every glimwarden that fell in the line of duty. Most of the time there hadn’t been a body, but on two memorable occasions the wardens had limped back to town with a mortal injury. This recent attack represented death on a much larger scale, but it had the same, familiar, wretched feeling to it.
“The Auxiliary are commanded to stop whatever they’re doing when they hear the alarm and move with all due haste,” said Philip. “Some of those who didn’t show up were sleeping at the time, taking a mid-day nap, so they didn’t hear the alarm. Those at Watcher’s, Builder’s, and Singer’s would have had a longer journey, conceivably long enough that they wouldn’t have gotten there until after it was all over.”
“There should have been more,” said Sander.
“I agree,” replied Philip with a shrug of his shoulders to punctuate his indifference. “In this case, I don’t think it would have helped much.” He looked Sander over. “Are you doing alright?”
“I’m fine,” said Sander. He stretched out and started to swing his legs over the side of the bed before realizing that he was naked beneath the sheets. “Six days? What did I eat? How did I use the bathroom?”
“You were conscious enough to be fed broth,” said Philip. “I imagine that you can guess what happened with regards to your other bodily functions.”
Sander felt a brief moment of shame over not just the thought of soiling himself, but the help he must have had for the last six days. He’d been useless in the battle as well, saved two or three times by people stronger and more skilled than he was. He hadn’t actually done anything, aside from saving Philip’s life. No matter; time only moved in one direction and there was no point in dwelling on the past. The only thing to worry about was making sure that next time, he could actually contribute something.
“Melanie stopped by,” said Philip. “Once on the day of the battle and again two days ago. Perhaps more than that, given that I haven’t been here the whole time.” He nodded to the table. “She baked you a small cake, it’s the one wrapped in paper and twine.”
Sander smiled. He still felt the miasma of depression, but that added one high note to his day. “Wait, we took her swords,” said Sander. “Did you pick them up?”
Philip nodded. “I was going to wait for you to wake up before taking them back,” he said. “There was some concern that you weren’t going to come out of it. I thought it might have seemed inconsiderate to bring her the swords without having some good news.”
“Alright,” said Sander. “Well, let’s go do that then.”
Philip began collecting his books and papers. “You’re going to need to speak with the doctor first, then with your father. I have some business at city hall, then a meeting at Rogue’s Lantern … which, actually, I might want your help with. Do you know an engineer by the name of Kelso Kelly?”
Sander shrugged. “The name rings a bell, but I wasn’t an apprentice for long enough to know everyone important.”
“Meet me outside the lantern in three hours or so,” said Philip. “I’ll bring the swords. Before we see Melanie, I’d like to borrow your engineering expertise.”
Sander was seen to by five doctors, who examined him together. One was older, a white-haired man in his sixties with a serious demeanor, but the other four had been in Sander’s graduating class. The younger ones weren’t there to help with the diagnosis. Instead, they were there to learn. Healthcare, like engineering, was considered a vital profession which couldn’t be left to the whims of the market. A fair number of the graduates were taken on as doctors every year, with their wage paid for by the city. Once they reached the end of their first two years, they were evaluated for progress and either kept on to fill the spot of someone who was retiring, or (much more likely) released back into the labor pool where they would try to find an apprenticeship. In this way, there was never any shortage of people who knew the basics of medical care. The elderly doctor, Womack, had asked Sander whether it was alright for the others to listen in, but though Sander wasn’t exactly enthused, he considered it to be part of his duty to the town.
“Are you feeling well?” asked Womack.
“Fine,” said Sander. His leg and arm were both completely healed; they must have suffered shallow wounds. The only things troubling him were in his head, images of the dead and a feeling of worthlessness. The doctor didn’t care about that though. “I’m fantastic, actually.”
“You were a member of the Auxiliary?” asked Womack.
“I — I still am, aren’t I?” asked Sander.
“Yes, of course, forgive me,” replied Womack. “Now, how long had you been a member of the Auxiliary?”
“A single day,” said Sander.
Womack nodded. “Do you feel dehydrated or hungry?”
“No,” said Sander. He frowned. That didn’t seem right to him. He’d had a diet of broth and water dripped into his mouth. “What happened to me?”
“Your father gave you roughly two hundred darkling hearts,” said Womack.
Sander flexed his muscles and thought about that while Womack and the apprentice doctors watched him. He tried to do what Merry had taught him and feel something like heat coming from his skin. This time the sensation was instant and obvious, so obvious that he wondered at not having felt it any sooner. Power was soaking him and leaking out through his skin.
“How is that possible?” asked Sander. “I wasn’t conscious enough to swallow them. And … two hundred, a fifth of the way toward being a glimwarden, in the course of six days? The math doesn’t really work right unless —” Sander paused and swallowed. Merry had said she took in thirty hearts in a day, but she’d also implied that this was a constant rate since she’d begun, which probably wasn’t true given that both her skill and level of bind had been increasing since she was made a glimwarden. But she’d also implied that perhaps bind wasn’t entirely linear either. Either way, Sander had received two hundred hearts, which was thirty-three and a third per day, or forty per day if he hadn’t gotten any this morning. That was an entire glimwarden’s productive output, including what should have been going to the lanterns.
It was something that he would have to ask his father about. It was also something that he probably shouldn’t have started saying in front of other people.
“The hearts do not need to be ingested, as I understand it,” said Womack. “Only enveloped in flesh. They can, for example, be held in the mouth if one is willing to wait for them to shrink down there. You can feel the effects?”
“Yes,” said Sander. He flexed his muscles again. This time, because he was paying attention, he could feel the bind doing its work. He wasn’t actually any stronger, he was just being assisted in everything he did. But that wasn’t quite the right way to put it, because the increase in bind was now a part of him, forever. At least, until the next time he ran ahead of his recharge rate.
“This intervention was done without your consent,” said Womack. “However, it was felt that without the additional bind, the degradation might overtake regeneration and leave you permanently disabled in some manner, or possibly that death would result. When you were brought to us, you were quite unwell, worse than any other case I’ve seen in my career. Normally there is some sickness accompanying the overdraw, in most cases only nausea, dizziness, and a depressed immune system. There have only been a few times when a coma-like state occurred.”
“Okay,” said Sander. He really should have been happier about being alive and having an appreciable amount of bind, but all he could think about was how much trouble everyone was going to for someone who hadn’t done something to deserve it yet. Sander was perfectly confident that he would prove his worth at some point, probably within the next few years, but his father didn’t believe in him — nor did anyone else — so all the love and charity was more like pity than actual support. “When can I go home?” Sander asked.
“In normal circumstances we would ask that you stay for a day, but the hospital has been quite overworked this past week and I believe I could let you leave with only a few more questions and a handful of tests,” said Womack. He gave Sander the practiced smile of someone who is pleasant as part of their job.
It wasn’t too much longer before Sander had dressed himself and gotten ready to go. The hospital table was crowded with flowers, but the only thing Sander took from it was the small cake Melanie had baked for him. Sander disliked flowers unless they were in the ground, where they could live and thrive, continuing on with their cycles of change. He was fairly sure that he’d told Melanie that once and he wondered whether that was why she had baked for him. It was dense and sweetened with honey, flavored with preserved lemons and herbs that made it almost savory. Sander ate it in bits and pieces while he walked. He was looking forward to seeing her again, even though it had only been a few subjective hours.
He was halfway home by the time he’d finished the cake, which gave him ample time to test his newfound power. The bind made him stronger, but one of the things the battle had taught him was that the bind couldn’t be trusted to make its own decisions. It had nearly sapped him of his strength while protecting him from a threat that was too far away to hurt him. When Sander stretched, the bind put power into his muscles, helping them along. Since his total store of bind was limited (if replenishing), this was a fairly terrible use of his reserves. He was certain that this was something one of the glimwardens could teach him, but there was a lot he had left to learn, and he didn’t want to come to them asking for help without having at least made an attempt at figuring it out on his own. Experimentation couldn’t hurt.
Sander pictured his arm like a reservoir filled with water. When he tightened his hand into a fist, he could feel the bind supplementing the strength of his muscles. Sander tried to imagine the water emptying from his hand. The metaphor started getting in the way when he started thinking about what kind of mechanism would have to be created to pump water from down in his hand up to his shoulder. Eventually he solved that conceptual problem by simply raising his hand into the air, which would cause the “water” to run down, away from his fingertips. The change was noticeable right away, as Sander felt his grip weaken. It took another few minutes of practice to think his way past the metaphor he’d been using (since the bind didn’t actually behave like water and any constraints would be purely psychological), but by the time he arrived at the house, he could retract the additional strength at will.
Sander crept into the house, hoping that his father was out hunting darklings and not home. When his father came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on his apron, Sander felt like running and hiding. He locked eyes with his father. There was no warmth there, no exuberance at the fact that Sander wasn’t dead, only fatigue and resignation. Sander’s father took off his apron and set it on a hook, then sat down in a large chair that was built for his solid frame.
“You almost died,” said Sander’s father. “So many times, you almost died. I saved your life. Baxter saved your life. Merry saved your life. Aaron saved your life. When we had to pull away, to go defend the lantern … I made a covenant with this town, and I nearly broke it to save your life yet again. I thought it was the last time I was ever going to see you alive. When the lantern had been turned back on, I went rushing to find your body. Philip saved your life too, did you know that? You overdrew so hard that it nearly killed you.”
“I had to come,” said Sander. “I ate the heart, that puts me in the Auxiliary.”
“There were dozens of men and a handful of women who should have been there and weren’t,” his father replied. “They walked to the lantern; you ran. They waited to see whether the alarm would continue; you came at the first sound.”
“They were dishonorable,” said Sander. “I’m not going to stand back just because everyone else does.”
“You should have,” his father replied. His tone was cold and passionless. “You were worse than worthless on the battlefield, you should have known that about yourself. Merry told me that you had already overdrawn once, earlier in the day. You ignored the creeping sickness that had overcome you, you ignored your lack of ability, and you ignored everything that I’ve asked of you. I saved your life for the last time by giving you those hearts. When the next alarm rings, if you show up, it will be up to you to save yourself.”
Sander swallowed. His skin felt cool and clammy. “I should have some time before the next time a lantern fails,” he began. He had meant to go on about how he had time to learn and train, how he had already managed to learn one technique on his own, but something in his father’s face stopped him. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing.” It was a clear and obvious lie. His father was a terrible liar.
“It’s usually years between failures,” said Sander. “Between serious failures, anyway. Sometimes its as long as decades. What’s going on with the lanterns that you think it’s going to be soon?”
“It’s official council business,” his father replied. “It’s nothing that you need to worry about.”
“Of course it is!” said Sander. “I care about this town as much as you do, if there’s something the matter, and with a new darkling out there, and the wardens dead —” He remembered the bodies, strewn across the field, Helene screaming in pain and clutching at the black tar on her chest that seemed to swallow up her fingers.
Sander felt a hand on his shoulder and opened his eyes. He hadn’t even realized that he’d closed them. His father was standing in front of him.
“Everything is going to turn out fine,” his father said. “You fought in your first battle. You saw your first deaths. It takes its toll on a man, but you’ll pull through it. The town might be going through a rough patch right now, but it’s nothing that we can’t ride out.”
“The Schism,” said Sander. “Are there more than one of it?”
His father hesitated. “We haven’t seen it at all since the attack. For now, we take that as a good sign. With Eppie gone we don’t have a scout though, so don’t go into the woods.”
Sander nodded along. His father was trying to be soothing, but it wasn’t working. The chief glimwarden was not the sort of person to soothe. That he was trying was a sign of how bad things must really be.
“I’m sorry,” said Sander. He knew that it was something that needed to be said, and the sooner the better. “I’m sorry for … for overestimating my abilities and rushing in to help when I didn’t have any idea how I was going to help.”
“You know that I don’t want you to die,” Sander’s father replied. “But I don’t want to break my commitment to this town either. I don’t want to have to turn my back on honor and duty in order to keep you safe.”
“I’ll be safe,” said Sander. “If the alarm goes off again …” Sander thought about how useless he’d been at the battle for Healer’s Lantern. “I’ll do my best to be a coward.”
When Sander arrived at Rogue’s Lantern, he saw Philip standing outside, surrounded by people.
“Are those the swords you used?” asked a girl that Sander didn’t recognize.
“I only used one of them,” said Philip. He had a gentle, knowing smile, as though he was talking to a close friend. Sander stood back to listen in. “Sander Seaborn used the other. They were on loan from the Black Mare, where they serve as conversation pieces. We’re actually going to return them today.”
“How many darklings did you kill?” asked the girl.
“It’s hard to count in the heat of battle,” Philip replied. “When you’re in the thick of it, everything just blurs together. I killed far fewer than the glimwardens though.”
“And what about the big one?” asked a man with his hands folded across his chest.
“Well, I didn’t kill it, I can tell you that,” said Philip. There were laughs from around him. It was at that moment that he spotted Sander, or, perhaps, on that note that Philip wanted to end things. “Sander, are you ready to go?” He smoothly disengaged from the people around him, waving goodbye.
“I don’t even know where we’re going,” said Sander. He looked down at the two swords, which were slid through the belt loops on Philip’s pants. It looked like at any second he was going to pull them out and start dual-wielding them. Sander could imagine that. His mind flashed back to Philip standing in front of the Schism, staring it down. If Philip turned out to be proficient in dual-wielding two swords that weren’t made for that purpose, Sander wouldn’t have been entirely surprised.
“I told you,” said Philip. “We’re going to talk to Kelso Kelly. He’s an engineer who was supposed to be responsible for building some kind of rotary gun to help in defense, but it never got built. It’s not really important, because no one on the city council is after him for it, but I want to find out why he never delivered.”
“Then why do you need me?” asked Sander.
“I’m not even close to being an engineer,” said Philip. “But I do know that when you’re talking to someone outside your area of expertise, it’s quite easy for them to swamp you with terms and concepts you don’t know in order to deflect attention away from whatever it is they don’t want you to see.”
“You think that he’s hiding something?” asked Sander as they walked. Rogue’s Lantern had one of the smallest communities of the outlying lanterns, but Kelso Kelly’s shop was apparently quite far away from the center mass of buildings.
“I don’t know,” said Philip. “I know that the project was commissioned six years ago following a lantern failure, but there’s no further record of it in the city council meeting minutes. There’s probably some trace of the project in the city accounting ledgers, but I would need to talk to my father in order to get access to those.” He paused. “I would rather not bring it to his attention if the answer is trivial, and the ledgers likely wouldn’t tell the whole story anyway.”
Sander was silent for a moment as they walked. Kelly’s building was situated out among the fields. It was likely an old farmhouse that had been converted to another use. “Do you attend all the city council meetings?”
“Yes,” said Philip. “The councilors sometimes have meetings amongst themselves that aren’t part of the council per se. I only go to those when I’m welcomed, which isn’t often.”
“Do they know when the next failure will be?” asked Sander.
Philip turned to look at him with pale blue eyes, then looked around them at the empty fields. There was a runework tractor in the distance, creeping its way across a field, but it was far from earshot. Sander waited on tenterhooks for Philip to speak.
“Your father talked to you about what’s been going on?” asked Philip.
“Yes,” said Sander, which wasn’t entirely a lie, technically speaking. “He said they would be looking for the Schism if they had a scout.” The thought of Eppie, dead on the battlefield without him even knowing about it, ran through Sander’s mind. Sander was sad, but at the same time impatient for the gaping hole of loss to patch itself closed. He hated being sad about things he couldn’t change.
“If we could make a prediction, we could prevent it,” said Philip. He shook his head. “I don’t know anything your father doesn’t know.”
Well crap, thought Sander. The moment had apparently come and gone, as Philip started walking again and Sander followed after him.
Close up, the building reeked of strange, unnatural smells that Sander couldn’t identify. The gray brick house had once been a typical farmhouse, a single arched shape that kept snow off in the winter and provided two stories of livable space inside. Here, additions had been made that were visible on the outside, including several chimneys and air intake fans. It was then that Sander noticed the thick power lines coming out from the ground and into the house. It was uncommon for electricity to be run this far away from a lantern, especially if large quantities were being used. Sander began to feel a stirring of excitement that was hard to tamp down. He’d never seen this facility before.
When Philip knocked on the front door, it took only a few seconds for it to open and reveal the tall, thin figure of Kelso Kelly. He was dressed in simple clothing and had a beard that had been unevenly tended to. He stared at them with steady green eyes.
“What are you here for?” he asked. He glanced down at the swords on Philip’s hips. “Please don’t kill me,” he deadpanned.
“I’m Philip Phandrum,” said Philip. “This is Sander Seaborn. We’re here from the office of the mayor to talk about the rotary gun.”
Kelso snorted. “Alright, come in then.” He pulled back and walked off into the bowels of the house. There were no walls in the interior, only supports made of the same gray brick used for the exterior walls. It was brightly lit with dozens of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, illuminating a wide variety of equipment, only half of which Sander recognized. There was a persistent buzzing sound whose source wasn’t obvious. Kelso reached the back of the large room and pulled back a dusty tarp. Beneath it was a gleaming metal machine consisting of a heavy stand and ten long barrels bundled together.
“Ta da,” said Kelso. “One rotary gun. I don’t suppose you’re going to haul it out of here? Frickin’ thing weighs close to fifty pounds. It was meant to be given a stationary mount.”
Sander wanted desperately to touch the machine, to find out which pieces of it moved and how it handled. It didn’t appear too complicated, but Sander had never seen anything like it before.
“I’m sorry,” said Philip. “But what was wrong with it?”
“Wrong with it?” asked Kelso. He spat at the floor. “Nothing’s wrong with it. It’s a rotary gun, works just like I described to the council six years ago. It flings metal at high speeds, it’s durable without the need for runework, it can be operated by people without the bind, and it has no need to tap into the supply of hearts.”
“Can I touch it?” asked Sander.
“Sure,” said Kelso. “Don’t get your fingers pinched.”
Sander walked forward and began looking over the gun. It got complicated at the place where the bullets were loaded in, almost as if — yes, on close inspection Sander could see that it had a mechanism to eject spent casings, but there was something more than that. With the right kind of input, it would be capable of loading itself with the recoil action.
“So why is it just sitting here?” asked Philip. “No formal report was made to the city council about its completion.”
“I made plenty of informal reports,” said Kelso. “Both to Linwell and to Seaborn.” He paused and looked at Sander. “Any relation?”
“Son,” replied Sander. He was still looking over the rotary gun. It was built in such a way that the firing and reloading were synced to each other, so that it was all part of a single cycle.
“They both told me the same story in different ways,” said Kelso. “It’s too expensive to actually fire the thing.”
“Sulfur?” asked Sander.
Kelso blinked. “Yes, how’d you know?”
“I remembered your name,” said Sander. “You make bullets for Merry?”
“She said they were expensive, but it can’t be the casings or the bullets themselves that are expensive, because those are just small pieces of metal that need to be shaped, and it can’t be the process that’s expensive, because you should be able to just do it with a press and anyway the bullets are uniform so it’s not a bespoke process. That leaves the gunpowder, which is charcoal, saltpeter, and sulfur. The first two are easy, the last one is hard, so unless you were bilking Merry, it’s probably that one that’s tough to get.” Sander paused. “But I don’t know exactly why that would be a problem.”
Kelso snorted. “So you’re fourteen years old and think you know everything?”
“I just said I don’t,” replied Sander. “And I’m sixteen.”
“Is he right?” asked Philip. “Does Light’s Hollow lack the sulfur reserves?”
“He’s right for the wrong reasons,” said Kelso. “I make a special blend of gunpowder with a different process, but it’s still sulfur that’s the bottleneck. I have pyrite heap leaching in the back, but that’s a pain and a half with its own costs. At least we have a fair amount of the pyrite to convert over. When I made my proposal six years ago, I had said that we should establish a sulfur mine to supply the gunpowder, but while I was building the Kelly machine gun here, apparently the council members got cold feet.”
“What did they say, specifically?” asked Philip.
“Seaborn said that a sulfur mine would get glimwardens killed,” said Kelso. “Then he went on to say that the gun was a stupid idea and that it, too, would get someone killed. I’m paraphrasing there. Linwell said that it would cost too much money to build the mine, whereupon I said then maybe you shouldn’t have voted for it, whereupon she said that I was a short-sighted idiot who would never move up the ranks. Again, paraphrasing.”
“You should have come before the council,” said Sander. He tore his eyes from the rotary gun, which was one of the most beautiful pieces of engineering he’d ever laid eyes on. Philip was looking in the direction of the gun, but clearly not seeing it.
“He knew how they would have voted,” said Philip. “The original motion was three to one and called for a prototype to be built. He could have gone before the council to ask that they authorize the mining of sulfur, but he knew it would be two to two at the very least, meaning that at worst —” Philip paused and looked at Kelso. “— meaning that at best he would have humiliated Linwell by calling her to task for a project she’d approved, while at worst it would silently get voted down.”
“Not worth the hassle,” said Kelso. “I built the gun, I got paid for building the gun, everyone wins.”
“Except that it was never installed anywhere,” said Sander. “So it cost the people of Light’s Hollow some non-zero amount of money while providing absolutely no benefit.”
“Such is the way of the world,” said Kelso.
“How far away is the sulfur mine?” asked Philip. “And how quickly can you build more of these?”
“I would have to dig up the patterns I used,” said Kelso. He was watching Philip closely. “This one is tested and ready to fire, but my original idea was to have one stationed along the natural approaches of all six outlying lanterns. Five more guns … done in parallel, maybe a year of work if I’m still tied to my other duties. As for the sulfur mine, there was sulfur found in an experimental boring fifteen miles radial seventy-nine from here. They were looking for metals, they found sulfur. It’s two hundred feet down, which makes for a long shaft. Once you’ve got all that running, you need wardens to babysit a traveling lantern on top of it while the mining is done. I’ve heard there’s been some success in sealing mineshafts from the darklings so long as everyone clears out, but if not, you’re looking at digging a shaft again every time you want sulfur. And that’s before getting into the large quantities of gunpowder that would need to be mixed and the thousands of bullets that would need to be forged.” He shrugged. “Linwell wasn’t wrong about it being expensive.”
“Sorry to have wasted your time,” said Philip. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to make use of this weapon.”
Sander looked at the gun. “You test fired it?” he asked. “How many rounds does it put out?”
“Six hundred a minute,” said Kelso. “That’s theoretical, because I’ve never had six hundred bullets to waste. The most I ever shot at one time was fifty, which was a glorious few seconds. All without any cooling issues.”
Sander frowned at the gun. This was exactly the sort of thing he’d taken on a job as apprentice engineer for, but no one had let him close to a project like this. And even if they had, it seemed as though this marvelous weapon was just going to sit under a tarp forever, fired for fun at great expense a few more times in its life. It was the darklings’ fault, stopping their town from growing, preventing peaceful walks in the woods, and confining them to sub-par materials. Sander sometimes wondered how no one seemed to notice the restrictions that the darklings placed on their lives. Dropping a shaft for sulfur would be trivial without the darklings around, but it was going to take time until the glimwardens were back to full strength, and the fifteen mile expedition would represent an enormous amount of resources. It just didn’t seem fair. Something tickled at the back of Sander’s mind.
“Could you melt the sulfur?” Sander found himself asking.
“Melt it?” asked Kelso.
“Melting point of sulfur is just a bit higher than the boiling point of water, right?” asked Sander.
“Right,” said Kelso. Philip was looking back and forth between them.
“So … superheat some water by pressurizing it and then pump it down to the sulfur,” said Sander. “Use hot water to melt the sulfur. Then you can bring the sulfur up in a pipe, no need for a shaft.”
“That,” said Kelso. “Might actually work.” He grabbed a pen and paper from a nearby table, then swore when a quick test showed that the ink had dried up. “Well nevermind that then,” he said. “I’ll work out the details later. If it would actually get the sulfur up … there are going to be problems at first, kinks to work out, but if it does what I think it would, that might just make getting sulfur economical, which means more than enough bullets for the Kelly.”
Sander left the workshop feeling buoyed. He’d had a clever idea that someone, for once, responded positively to. If he’d met Kelso Kelly during his apprenticeship, there was a strong possibility that Sander would still be an engineer. It was too soon to get his hopes up about free-flowing sulfur and the thundering of fully automatic guns, but he felt a grin spread over his face all the same.
“I’m worried that it won’t be fast enough,” said Philip.
“It won’t?” asked Sander. “Six hundred rounds a minute seems plenty fast. Maybe even enough to take down the Schism.”
“How much did your father tell you?” asked Philip.
“Oh, that,” said Sander. “Uh … enough.”
“Enough to try to get information out of me?” asked Philip. His expression was blank.
“Yeah,” said Sander. “Sorry. He just seemed sure that there was going to be another failure, and he wouldn’t tell me, so … will you tell me?”
“The lantern failure was an act of sabotage,” said Philip. “There were nine people at the inquest who heard that, plus however many engineers were involved in both the initial investigation and the repairs to the lantern. I’m skeptical that the secret will hold for long enough to make any progress in the matter.”
Sander stretched out, feeling the strength that the bind lent him. Being powerful felt good, good enough that he could almost push away the horror of what Philip was saying.
“We can’t handle another attack,” said Sander. “If we lost a quarter of the wardens this time, we’ll lose more the next time. Unless we could kill the Schism with Kelso’s gun … but you’re right, even if melting the sulfur works, it’s not exactly going to be fast.”
“I was hopeful when I thought the problem was just that it hadn’t been finished,” said Philip. He shook his head. “It was worth a few hours of my time though. Thank you for the help.”
Sander looked up at the sky. “Can I ask a favor in return?”
“Certainly,” said Philip.
“Time me,” said Sander. “And if I fall unconscious, drag me to the hospital.”
Philip raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I want to take responsibility if you do something dangerous.”
“Tell them there was no reasoning with me,” said Sander. “Ready?”
“Sure,” said Philip.
“Time starts when I disappear,” said Sander. He got down into a crouch and felt the bind swelling in him. He had no idea how much bind he had in him, but reasoned that there must be a way for more experienced people to tell, if they were able to prevent themselves from getting sick. He paid attention to the feeling of power radiating from his skin as he pushed off the ground and started running. He retracted the bind from his limbs, so he was running under his own power, then teleported, just a minute distance forward but three seconds into the future.
The shift in his perceptions was so subtle he might not have noticed it if he hadn’t been paying attention. That made the impact of the bind all the more apparent; he felt the power drop in that small instant of crossing. He wasn’t exactly sure, but he imagined that he’d used perhaps a tenth of his power, which meant that he could safely teleport another eight times without worry. He’d come out running at the same speed; he skidded to a stop and called out to Philip, who was standing on the road behind him.
“Three seconds,” Philip replied as he started jogging to meet up with Sander.
Good, thought Sander. That was one experiment down, another hundred or so to go. The power seemed to work by altering his speed in accordance with the teleport’s distance over time, but it also obeyed some form of conservation of momentum as well. It was really just a matter of adding two velocities together.
“Was that dangerous?” asked Philip.
“Not really,” said Sander. “I’m about to do the dangerous thing right now.” Though it wasn’t really necessary, Sander looked up at the overcast sky. He frowned for a moment as he worked through the math (it would be a parabola, with time spent going up roughly equal to time down, and sufficient speed) then teleported straight up.
Wind was instantly rushing around him, pulling at his clothes and whipping through his hair. The wind borne of his passage slowed quickly as gravity sought to reclaim him. Sander’s attention was focused down at the ground below him. Light’s Hollow was a patchwork of ordered fields, six outcroppings of buildings where the lanterns were, and Chancellor’s in the center of it all. Sander could see people down there in the streets, but he tore his attention away from them and looked outward. Light’s Hollow was a bit of manicured land, a flower with six petals, surrounded by a thin rim of planted berry bushes and fruit trees, but beyond that … there was wilderness, untamed forests which had only been nibbled on for wood, and stretches of prairie beyond them. Where trees didn’t obscure the ground, Sander could see the darklings roaming, like insects on the canvas of the land.
There was no sign of the Schism. There were fallen trees that marked its passing, or the passing of a Fracture, but it should have stuck out from the surrounding landscape. Sander doubted that it had just disappeared, but at least there wasn’t any evidence that there were multiples.
He’d just reached the apex of his journey and felt a brief, thrilling moment of subjective weightlessness when he saw the caravan. They were in a clearing, either stopped for lunch or repairs, but no more than five miles from Light’s Hollow. He felt a surge of excitement at seeing them, since caravans from Gossom were always a rare treat, but that excitement dimmed when he realized there were too many people gathered around the traveling lantern, hundreds instead of the two dozen or so that normally came. And there was a tall man in red armor, tall enough to tower over the others, obviously a glimwarden —
Sander looked down at the ground and gave his full attention to the descent. The really fun thing about his power, one he’d started sketching out the possibilities of while on his way from his house to Rogue’s Lantern, was that it combined with itself. Since his hunch about added velocities was right, that meant that it was possible to teleport in one direction to gain speed, then teleport in the opposite direction to instantly shed that speed. It was complicated, because air friction was definitely a factor, and the calculations had to be done on the fly. Worse, that math had to account for how long the math took. For something as simple as falling though, Sander could do most of the math ahead of time and wing the corrections.
When he was a second from hitting the ground, Sander teleported again, aiming himself just a slight bit upward, crossed the distance very quickly. He managed to kill his velocity almost entirely, though of course he started falling again, since he was five stories up. This time he teleported upward from much closer to the ground and found himself falling from ten feet up. He let himself drop and felt the bind cushion him. He’d used perhaps half of it in his transit, if what he was intuitively feeling was correct.
He looked over to Philip with a manic grin on his face. What he’d done was basically just as good as flying, and proof that he could function as a scout for his father. Philip didn’t seem terribly enthused by it.
“There’s a caravan from Gossom,” said Sander. He ran his hand through his wind-ruffled hair. The sense of speed had been incredible. The view had been incredible. It was almost certainly true that he should have done more tests first, but he had needed something like that, some proof that he was walking the right path, that it wasn’t all for nothing. “Hundreds of people, five miles out.”
“We should go see Melanie then,” replied Philip. “If there are a hundred people coming into Light’s Hollow, we should attend to business while things are still calm.”
“I flew,” said Sander.
“Yes,” said Philip. “I saw.”
Author’s Note: Most discussion for Glimwarden takes place on /r/rational. Chapters are posted there shortly after they’re posted here. Here’s the link for Chapter 9. Also, have you tried Rationally Writing, the podcast I host with DaystarEld?