Chapter 5 - Arsenal of Faith

"It is finished!"

Sylviane breathed out those exhausted words as she released the tension from her sore limbs, leaving Hauteclaire in control of the flight magic keeping them aloft.

The Weichsel main force had caught up to the retreating Skagen army this morning. The moment Pascal received the news at Nordkreuz, Sylviane had Sir Robert rush them up through a chain of teleportation jumps. It was vital for the representatives of Rhin-Lotharingie -- herself and her Oriflamme Armigers -- to fight alongside their Weichsel allies as much and as visibly as possible in this campaign. Because soon enough, she would need all the help she could muster from them in exchange.

Her father had taught her long ago that when it came to the lives of nation-states, there was no such thing as 'free goodwill'.

Everything had a price, paid in gold, in influence, or in blood.

Well, gold did not grow on trees but through the sweat and toil of her people, and she had no intention for Weichsel to dominate the future politics of Rhin-Lotharingie. This left her only one option.

Royal blood might seem an expensive commodity, but her body could certainly spare a few drops.

The battle had seemed simple on paper. The Weichsel army led by King Leopold von Drachenlanzen had numbered 48,000, more than twice the numerical strength of their foes. Furthermore the Skagen Army of the Home Isles, lead by the half-brother of Admiral Winter, Jarl Eyvindur Sigmundsen, had been stripped of its mobile striking power in the decisive Air Battle of Nordkreuz. With supplies cut off and morale sapped by constant raids from Weichsel cavalry, the 20,000 strong Skagen force had been battered and exhausted.

But the Northmen were a tough people bred by the harshness of the arctic gales. Cornered by their Trinitian adversaries, they had fought on like wounded beasts.

Thrice the dreaded Housecarls and Västergötland Adventurers charged the Weichsel lines, their final assault lead by Jarl Sigmundsen himself. Through the smoke of hellish rimefire, the ferocious Skagen onslaught almost broke the Weichsel center. But King Leopold had stuck his courtblade into the ground in defiance, allowing no retreat for either the men or himself. His courageous rally, assisted by a searing countercharge from the Oriflamme Princess, had bought enough time for General von Blumenthal's right wing to pivot around the Skagen flank and smash into them from behind.

With their path of retreat cut off, the ensuing bloodbath had become a massacre.

From her vantage point in the air, Sylviane estimated that at least a third of the Skagen force -- around seven thousand -- had been wiped out, their blood dyeing the fields of wintry slush in crimson death. After morale disintegrated and the commanding Jarls fell alongside their Housecarl bodyguards, the less trained militia had surrendered in droves. Only a few small detachments had managed to break out and escape.

The defeat was more than crushing for the Northmen. Their Army of the Home Isles had been destroyed, annihilated. After the loss of Nordkapp, the sinking of their skywhale flotilla, and the burning of their beached North Sea Fleet, this fourth hammer blow would surely put an end to northern resolve.

At least, that was what Sylviane hoped. She needed the military support of her Weichsel allies for the war in Rhin-Lotharingie, and this could only be accomplished once hostilities in the north came to an end.

"Your Highness!" the petite Elspeth flew up from near the ground, her caramel-whipped hair billowing in the icy, blood-scented breeze.

It always struck Sylviane as unnatural how such a cute girl could seem so comfortable on the battlefield. Elspeth's leather brigandine was smothered in blood by all the faces her short blades had gouged this fight. Yet the young girl was... grinning; her large, apple-green eyes marked not by fatigue but the dancing lights of exultation.

"Your Highness!" her bubbly voice repeated. "They've captured Jarl Eyvindur Sigmundsen!"

Sylviane furrowed her brows as her pupils dilated in surprise. That can't be possible! There was no way a Northmen commander of his ranking would even contemplate surrender!

"Someone must've bonked his head unconscious in the melee," Elspeth explained. "But I just saw the Weichsens carrying him off on a stretcher!"

"Then Weichsel has a serious chance of negotiating a swift end to this conflict," the Princess truly believed this time. "Any idea how many other Jarls they've found or caught thus far?"

"They've already counted three dead and one other captured, also injured," the reply came from Sir Robert this time, who had linked back into the communication loop.

The Grand Jarldom of Skagen had only eight Jarls on Fimbulmark Isle. It also bore remembrance that the Northmen leadership marched to war in generations, with their brothers, sons, and even grandsons following close behind. After such devastating losses among their upper nobility, it was impossible to think that they could continue this war.

"Then let's pray for the best," the Princess spoke to the distant horizon.

She would have a voice in the negotiations of course, bearing the royal authority of Rhin-Lotharingie. But it would be Weichsel who made any territorial demands. Her home country was far too distracted to integrate any newly conquered lands.

In either case, time to call Pascal up.

Her fiancé had been furious when she denied him the opportunity to join the battle. Her excuse was that teleporting an extra always cost more, and Sir Robert needed every ounce of ether he could spare for the battle itself. But in reality? She just wanted him to stay out of the fray this time. Unlike during Operation Winter Typhoon, this was an orthodox battle for which the King already had a plan, as well as the generals to carry it out.

Besides, Pascal is no great fighter unless he breaks into his jewelry box, and I'd rather he save that for later...


----- * * * -----


Kaede's trip up the next day took a series of four teleportation jumps that left her almost ready to vomit. It certainly didn't help that her meager hours of sleep last night further added to her sleep deprivation. The transit spells then hurled her senses through a repeated cycle of physical sublimation and being flushed down an ethereal whirlpool, which gave a whole new meaning to the concept of 'travel sickness'.

I am never going to get used to that...

"Good Morn... Kaede are you alright?"

Kaede's pale cheeks sucked in deep breaths of cold, icy air, and Princess who had been awaiting their arrival stepped up to hold the smaller girl's shoulders.

"Yeah, just... give me a moment."

The familiar girl sighed as she felt the soothing warmth of Hauteclaire's aura engulf her once more. Her whispers of thanks to the phoenix came answered by a sympathetic chirp.

"You really did not have to come outside to greet us," Pascal smiled as he took the Princess' hand and gave it a formal kiss before clasping it between his palms.

They were in the presence of Weichsel soldiers guarding the beacon, after all.

"I could use some fresh air from the negotiations earlier and you could use an escort; it seemed a good deal."

Kaede had to hide her grin as the Princess struggled to maintain eye contact. Even for the sake of appearances, Sylviane would never openly admit that she had been waiting just to see him earlier.


"Is there a need to section the camp off like this?" Kaede asked a few minutes later when guards at yet another checkpoint waved them through.

It felt as if the army was multi-national, with each group having its own partition inside the overall camp. Compared to open-ground bases that promoted camaraderie, all the fences and sentries in this massive encampment felt stifling.

"The term is 'compartmentalization'," Pascal looked back to explain. "It enhances security and limits the chaos inflicted by surprise attacks. With all the illusion, teleportation, and alchemical transmutation spells we have available, just how hard do you think it would be to insert a strike team of infiltrators and saboteurs?"

One of the key tactics of military special operations was 'Insertion', where a small number of elite troops would infiltrate hostile lines to destroy high value targets and/or sow confusion before a major assault. The availability of magic added a whole new dimension into this realm of asymmetric warfare, as commandos could literally appear out of thin air to wreak havoc upon a military base.

"Couldn't they just ward this place in the same fashion as castles? I mean there are thousands of mages in this army."

"--And each with a finite reserve of ether that they need to perform other tasks, including fighting," Pascal noted the opportunity costs. "Remember that exposed ether slowly degrade and diffuse their energy back into mana? The magical requirements to keep large-scale wards and barriers continuously running grows astronomical over time. Castles and cities are built over ley-lines where they may benefit from a Projection Focus -- have you read about those yet?"

"They're enchanted devices that uses magic from ley-lines to power wards," Kaede mustered a simple reply.

She had mostly glanced over them. For someone more interested in the far-reaching, sociological impacts of technology, she often found herself bored by the technical details of 'machinery'. To skip past the minute details to see how innovations altered civilizations and shifted cultures was far more fascinating.

"Correct," Pascal nevertheless gave her a passing grade. "Remember that natural mana, not processed ether, flow through the spiritual ley-lines that stretch across the land. Without a soul to refine it, mana lack the malleability of ether that would allow them to simply be injected into a supernatural spell effect."

In other words, Kaede summarized, you can't pour crude oil from a derrick straight into the engine and expect it to run...

"This is where the Projection Foci come in," Pascal continued on. "They are built specifically for their deployment locale, attuned to the ley-lines each taps by design. They do not refine the mana itself; instead, they harness the magical pressure of the mana stream to energize near-depleted ether cycling through wide-area spell fields."

The mental imagery that Kaede painted was a steam engine connected to a geothermal vent, using water to translate heat power into mechanical torque.

"But armies in the field have no such blessings," Sylviane hastened the conversation as they neared the destination. "Mages can either use their reserves to fortify, or bolster the army's mobility and firepower." Then, as she looked back with a grin: "Bet you can guess which choice Weichsel picks."

"Of course," the familiar girl smiled back. The Weichsel army always attacks.

Her magic sensitivity could feel the tingle of layered auras as they passed into the innermost camp. Only this small area offered a full assortment of wards that would block teleportation and detect all manners of intrusion, since it protected the single most vulnerable point of failure for a Monarchy -- the King.


King Leopold's expandable cabin -- or at least the outer room -- featured little more than a row of cushioned chairs and a huge desk that doubled as a map table. The only decorations were the man-sized Black Dragon Crest adorning the wall behind him, flanked by the judging stares of copied oil portraits on each side: the founding King Leopold I von Drachenlanzen, and his greatest general, the 'Commoner Marshal' Hermann von Mittermeyer.

"Pascal," the smiling figure in his adult prime looked up from a stack of parchment. "It's good seeing you again. How have you been? Brilliant work you did for our country in the Skagen campaign, and your familiar as well," he nodded towards Kaede before acknowledging the Princess.

"Thank you, Your Majesty," the Landgrave stood sharp to return a knightly salute. Meanwhile Kaede followed it with one of her own, glad to skip the curtsy now that she was an 'Honorary Lieutenant' of the Weichsel army and holder of the Knight's Cross.

"I do wish I could have been here for the battle yesterday as well."

"What? Two promotions in three months is still not enough for you?" the King quipped in good humor before gesturing to the whole group. "Please, grab a seat."

"It is not about the rank, Your Majesty. It is the opportunity and experience," Pascal added as Lady Mari pulled up a chair for her mistress, prompting Kaede to follow suit. "I can learn all about command, leadership, and decision-making from books and lessons, but it is simply not the same as experiencing it in the heat of battle."

"Thanks," he muttered in surprise as Kaede offered his seat before taking her spot standing behind him.

Even I can be a good little familiar in front of your boss...

"Your insights do you merit, Pascal," the King flashed an approving grin as he leaned back with a cup of steaming coffee. "What you just spoke of is exactly why I've sent for General... Professor von Marienfeld, to immediately begin developing a course for 'Command Exercises' using this 'Tabletop Wargaming' concept that we've discussed by letter. It's still far from actual experience, but it will at least put the tactical-track cadets in the spotlight as they formulate large-scale battle plans and respond to an ever-changing battlefield."

Kaede beamed as she stole a glance at Pascal. She wasn't sure when he had began this conversation with the King, but it was always nice to see her suggestions receive adoption on a national level. The Prussian General Staff had first developed wargaming, or Kriegspiel, in the early 1800s using metal pieces and dice. But on Hyperion, the availability of magic meant they could enchant dedicated tables to automate the wargame's mechanics -- something not possible on Earth until the advent of the information age.

"Thank you for your support, Your Majesty," Pascal unfurled his own proud smile.

But before he had a chance to continue, the King snatched back the baton:

"So, I'm fairly certain I know what you came here for today. But before you speak of any adventurous fancy, I must know that you're meeting your current obligations."

King Leopold's fatherly smile faded away as his brown gaze beckoned a stern if not grim shadow.

"How is Nordkreuz doing?"

"It could have been worse, Your Majesty," Pascal sighed as though he really should have expected this conversation. "The final death toll reached just under sixteen thousand -- over one-quarter of the city's original population. Ninety percent of all structures within the city were either destroyed outright or damaged beyond repair, including all port facilities on the lake-side docks. Of the city's defenses, only Headquarters Keep and my estate survived in repairable conditions; the outer fortifications have been reduced to ruins and will need to be rebuilt entirely from scratch."

The faces within the room grew dark and darker as the Landgrave of Nordkreuz recited the aggregate numbers from his countless damage reports.

As a city that thrived on its strategic location, Nordkreuz served as both an important military staging point and the largest trade junction in Northern Hyperion. Yet now, with its fortifications gutted and its water traffic stopped, the city once known as the 'Jewel of the North' had become little more than a lakeside fishing village.

Well, perhaps not quite that disastrous, as Pascal began to list off the 'good news' next:

"But the most important factors are that one, the bulk of the city's population -- especially its richer, mercantile sector -- survived the calamity..."

It wasn't really fair that the city needed its rich more than the poor, but the world was never fair. The most essential resource for the city's reconstruction was money: coins to purchase supplies, hire engineers, and organize labor. Spare muscle always proved easier to find in the aftermath of a disaster; it was the materials and expertise that proved rare.

"--Two, the city held sufficient stocks to survive a long siege, and the bulk of our underground storage facilities survived. Thanks to General von Falkenhausen's excellent logistical preparations, the army also left enough extra winter supplies and camping equipment that Nordkreuz will have little problem providing for its own refugees."

It'll still be an unpleasant winter for them, just not a deadly one...

Without a shortage of food, water, and shelter, there would be no need for Nordkreuz's survivors to disperse into the countryside; not unless they feared a repeat of the disaster.

"--Three, our decisive victories against the Skagen forces have eliminated any major threats to the city and uplifted the morale of the populace. While there remains a great deal of sorrow, many feel that their grievances have been avenged by Your Majesty and the army."

That was an optimistic assessment, as Pascal had omitted the outcry that called for the heads of the Skagen leadership. Weichsel's own propaganda certainly didn't help, as they piled on the blame for the Northmen's 'ruthless butchering of civilians' in order to draw the spotlight away from their own defensive failures. Nevertheless, it was true that civilian confidence had largely been restored.

Shadows of smile and confidence had returned to the King's lips after Pascal presented one point after another. By now, his eyes shone with light that not only agreed and approved, but stood impressed by the young liege lord still scarce of twenty.

...And that, was when Pascal added his finishing touch:

"In light of these conditions, I have created a system to fund rapid recovery and reconstruction for the city through the open trading of investment funds. All private commerce and industry owners have been invited to publicly speak their business propositions, where they will sell a percentile share of their future establishment in exchange for cash investments necessary for rebuilding. I have also taken initiative to do the same for the housing sector and public facilities, beginning with a sizable investment from my own coffers."

For the first time, the King's eyes widened as his mouth opened in stunned silence. Then:

"You are just full of ideas, aren't you?" he chuckled with astonishment still trailing his voice.

Kaede was now grinning from ear-to-ear.

With morale boosted by the recent victories, the geo-societal conditions that once shaped Nordkreuz into the 'Jewel of the North' would inevitably bring forth its recovery. Reconstruction was synonymous to 'growth', presenting business opportunities that entrepreneurs would seize with relish.

The only limitation was the availability of funds.

The modern concept of a stock exchange had been established as early as 1600 when the Dutch funded the mercantile ventures of the East India Company, and the idea of 'investment shareholding' traces back even further to ancient times. There were signs that the Holy Imperium's commerce guilds and the Grand Republic Merchant Alliance of Samara have adopted similar practices. But this foundation of modern finance had yet to establish itself in the militant state of Weichsel.

Since their return to Nordkreuz when she heard Pascal's money concerns, Kaede had spent many hours inspiring and advising him to create a system of public investment and stock trading. Although her lack of financial knowledge left countless questions unanswered, she had no doubts that the local business and legal experts would be more than capable of filling in the blanks once the idea took hold.

"How are the local merchants and craftsmen liking it?"

The young lord shrugged as he answered his sovereign:

"Mixed, as with any new idea. Some think it is brilliant, some approach tentatively, and some reject it outright, fearing it will rob them of their business' freedom. Overall, the younger generations are more optimistic towards the concept than the older, more established. The guilds are also afraid that it will destabilize the hierarchy; so I had told them that if they want to retain control the market, invest, because Nordkreuz will rise from the ashes -- with or without them," Pascal finished with a satisfied smirk.


The King had almost burst out laughing. Mirth filled his eyes as his lips and shoulders continued to shake in suppressed glee.

"I'll have to ask the good Cardinal to stay an eye on this project and keep me informed," King Leopold chuckled again before taking another drink of his coffee. "If this works, we'll need to consider expanding to the other cities."

"It will not be easy to achieve this under normal conditions, since any established guild will feel threatened by their loss of market control," Pascal added.

"Well, I'm sure Lisbeth will convince them somehow; she's a resourceful woman."

Leopold closed the topic as though he knew exactly what kind of underhanded if not illegal methods Cardinal-Chancellor Lisbeth von Lanckoroński utilized to make ends meet, which left Pascal frowning with concern.

"You are your father's son, Pascal. I could not have asked for a more confident report of Nordkreuz's situation in light of recent events," he nodded with an approving grin. "Thus... onto the main topic then! How many troops do you want?"

The Landgrave blinked back in surprise, as did Kaede and the Princess. None of them had expected the King to be this straightforward, or agree so readily.

"I haven't said 'yes' yet," King Leopold raised a finger as though he read their minds. "But Weichsel certainly owes Princess Sylviane for our swift victory in the Skagen campaign. It is only natural that we support her rightful claim to the throne of Rhin-Lotharingie in return."

So everything till now hadn't just been a report, but a test as well, Kaede surmised.

Like money, military aid in men was an 'investment', albeit on a national scale and for diplomatic rather than financial returns. The King must have determined even before this meeting started that he was potentially willing to support Sylviane and bump heads with the pretender, Duke Gabriel's backers -- the Knights Templar and the Papal Inquisition. But first he had to establish his confidence in the venture through knowledge of Pascal's strategic mind, in both military and civilian affairs.

Now, with his assessment satisfactory, he had no intention to look ungracious in the eyes of the world. This meant that Sylviane's initiative to join Operation Winter Typhoon weeks ago would soon pay its dividends.

The only question that remained was 'how much'.

Clearing his throat, Pascal decided he might as well play along and dance to the King's tune:

"One company of the Knights Phantom."

This time it was the Leopold's turn to look astonished.

"That's it?"

"I would ask for two, but I doubt you will allow me that."

"Of course not."

It almost sounded as though the King was toying with his subject. But behind his swift reply came a tilted frown and a pained look in his gaze.

"After the Skagen campaign and the Air Battle of Nordkreuz, I have less than five hundred Phantoms left, and that's including every graduating cadet for this year and the next."

That's only about three full-strength companies...

The victory Weichsel achieved over the Grand Duchy of Skagen in this short war would cripple the naval and colonial power for years if not decades to come. But in doing so, they had incurred heavy losses of their own, especially among the aristocratic cavalry corps that was difficult to replenish.

"I was expecting that you would ask for more than just Phantoms."

Pascal shook his head at the King's presumption:

"We plan to head south first. This means bypassing much of Rhin-Lotharingie without drawing attention to ourselves, especially in the northeastern Belgae region where Gabriel wields a dominating influence. Only the Knights Phantom can manage such a journey fast enough."

"It would also be damaging for my image if we brought too many Weichsel soldiers," Sylviane interjected into the conversation between liege and vassal at last. "Hence quality over quantity is our best option."

The King looked down in deep thought. One-third of his remaining Knights Phantom was hardly a cheap price. But...

"You shall have it," his firm reply set the deal in stone. "I'll give you Walther's Falcon Force company, plus all the surviving elements of Erwin's Ghost Riders and anyone you could recruit in time to replenish it. But in return," King Leopold dangled the strings attached with an open smile, "I want you to fund Erwin von Hammerstein in building at least three new Phantom companies."

Pascal gave a faint cringe at that. The specialized equipment and high-quality armaments of the Knights Phantom made them very expensive units. Recruiting from the middle-class yeomanry rather than the aristocracy, it would fall upon him to subsidize the costs that they couldn't afford.

"The Grenadiers Phantom are accepted then?"

The King nodded:

"They've certainly proven their worth in the Air Battle of Nordkreuz, so much that I plan to elevate all of survivors from the Ghost Riders to full Knight Phantom status. The nobles in the current Knights Phantom won't like it; but we must recruit more men from somewhere, as we've all seen just how much of a difference the Phantoms make. The Imperials seem set for an eventual intervention in this war between Rhin-Lotharingie and the Caliphate, and Weichsel could hardly stand by when that occurs."

The Knights Phantom were more than just an elite unit. They represented the dominance of Weichsel cavalry in the air, and the battlefield strength of air power could not be understated.

But perhaps even more importantly, the expansion of Weichsel's air forces showed just how much King Leopold had been alarmed by the recent events. As far as he was concerned, the coup in Rhin-Lotharingie was a conclusive sign that the Pope -- Weichsel's longtime ally -- could no longer be depended upon to check the ambitions of the Holy Imperium.

Hence even before the current war against Skagen drew to a close, the country was already gearing up for an even greater conflict.

"I understand and agree, Your Majesty," Pascal confirmed his end of the bargain. Then regrettably: "although it will be a shame to leave Colonel von Hammerstein behind."

The King almost snorted at that.

"You only say that because you haven't known him long enough or realize the amount of trouble he'll eventually make for you! During the War of Imperial Succession, your father couldn't even find the man and his unit half the time! Since he only answers Farspeak calls when he feels like it, rascal that he is!"

"Nevertheless, he is still one of the best tacticians we have," Pascal stood his ground.

"Of course, but he's also a hero to the commons and a lion to fresh recruits," the King highlighted the importance of this reassignment. "Don't worry. His second-in-command might be a novice, but she's still a Manteuffel and they're as determined as they come!"

The young lord couldn't help smile at his own memories of Ariadne: "that she is, Your Majesty."

"In addition to the Knights, I'll give you the 36th Logistical Company," King Leopold added. "Operation White Typhoon taught us that we need logistical units that could keep up with just the Phantoms, and they're among the first to receive some training for it."

Pascal hadn't expected that as he blinked back. A full logistical company could carry enough to supply two combat companies for extended operations in the field. Just how much supplies did the King expect him to bring?

"Your Majesty?"

"In for a pfennig, in for a mark," the King beamed towards the Princess. "You said too many Weichsel troops would be a liability, but surely that doesn't speak for the weapons themselves. During the Rhin-Lotharingie Independence War, we became the arsenal of your freedom, supplying the Coalition with arms and armor against the Imperial oppressors."

The Princess' eyes almost glistened with appreciation as King Leopold resurrected the century-old bonds between the two nations. As a major steel-producer, Weichsel was known for its blacksmithing industry. Without them and the millions of high-quality, armor-piercing bodkin arrowheads and artillery bolts they supplied, it was debatable if Rhin-Lotharingie could have ever thrown off the Imperial yoke.

"I see no reason why we cannot do so again, now that our joint faith is threatened by the corruption of greed within and besieged by the violence of infidels outside," he spat in contempt. "Weichsel has long stood as the 'Northern March of the Trinitian Realm', the bastion of true belief. We are more than ready to serve as the Arsenal of the Holy Father as well!"

Emotions stirred as the King declared his adamant faith, pledging his commitment to support the Holy War.

Riding upon this cresting wave of enthusiasm, Leopold soon turned towards his Landgrave once more:

"So what do you need?"

It took Pascal several moments of quiet contemplation. But in the end, he settled on one item with all conviction:

"One hundred Weichsel 150-millipace tandem-charge mortars, with no less than thirty rounds each."

It was enough to outfit two artillery battalions, and that was just to start.


----- * * * -----


"ummm... Pascal?"

It was late that night when Kaede knocked at her master's door.

Pascal was still wearing his undershirt when he opened the thick mahogany door to the main residence.

She averted her gaze in an instant. It had been hard enough just to work up the nerves to knock on the door. To look him in the eyes as she asked the humiliating question would be outright impossible.

But as a flushed-red Kaede was still trying to build up enough courage, Pascal took her hand and pulled her inside first:

"Good timing Kaede. I need to show you something."

He led her over to a dresser by the corner. Sitting atop the intricately-carved table was an item she would never expect most men to own: a rosewood jewelry box, complete with gold trim and magical enchantments.

"W-why do you have..."

"I am a gem magic user, remember?" Pascal reminded her with an ecstatic smile, as though he was about to show her one of his heirloom treasures.

"Runic Magic values stones with crystal lattice structures, especially non-metallic elements, because they can retain the most ether with the least amount of diffusion over time. High quality gemstones offer some of the most perfect crystal lattices found in nature. So for us, they are not just decorations of beauty but valuable tools for sorcery. Gem magic users like myself take this into an art form by maximizing the compression of ether inside the most flawless of gemstones."

Pascal opened the box's lid to reveal dozens of glittering gemstones filed neatly in rows. At the center of attention was an oval intense-green diamond of at least a hundred carats, with worth easily in the tens of millions had it been auctioned on Earth; perhaps even more, as a mysterious radiance seemed to emanate from within the diamond itself -- sparkles of turquoise light flowing across its perfect luster from the high compression of infused ether inside.

With her magic sensitivity trained up over the past few weeks, Kaede felt her gaze sucked in by the sheer brilliance of the intense ether concentration; the cascading light of her master's ether no less, which seemed to call out to her through its very glow.

Her eyes had grown so mesmerized that Pascal had to shake her out of it.

"I know girls are always entranced by beauty, but you seem to have forgotten yourself completely."

"It's not the gems, it's the ether," Kaede rubbed her eyes. "There must be some kind of resonance effect since I'm your familiar."

Pascal's thoughtful expression revealed that he hadn't considered such an effect, but he wasn't surprised by it either.

"Besides," she scowled at him. "I'm not exactly a girl."

Only biologically, and that's your fault.

"But you are so cute as one!" he happily announced, almost prompting Kaede to punch him.

"Anyways!" she rushed to switch the topic. "You were concerned over finances when we first came back, but you never considered selling this?"

Pascal pursed his lips as he stared back inside:

"There is something like a third of my life's ether in there. Just that diamond alone probably contains enough magical power to blow up a town if I pour a cascading explosive spell into it. Of course I cannot sell these!"

Now that he brought it up, Kaede did remember the many hours Pascal spent infusing one gemstone or another back at the academy. She had always thought he was creating more magical items, like the turquoise casting ring she wore which could replicate several basic spells. The box itself had probably been hidden away in his extra-dimensional storage.

"Besides, I will likely need them in Rhin-Lotharingie," he finished, his eyes glazed with sentiment as they stared at the precious stones that he spent years collecting.

"Has anyone ever accused you of having an obsession with shiny rocks?"

"Do not remind me about it," Pascal grunted in displeasure. "There was one time when Sylv thought I was ignoring her as I finished my daily infusion process. She threatened to make an engagement ring out of that diamond, enchanted so only she could take it off my finger."


Kaede barely kept herself from breaking down in laughter as the image of Pascal forced to wear an oversized diamond every day passed through her thoughts.

Unable to suppress her obvious glee, she attracted a piercing glare from Pascal.

"Oh do not worry, you have yours coming," he spoke ominously as his fingers reached inside the box.

They returned seconds later, fingertips carefully holding two drop earrings: each an array of five tiny rose-quartz arranged around a diamond like flower petals, with three thin strands of white gold dangling one more gemstone each.

Seeing those brought an instant end to Kaede's lingering humor.

"You're kidding me!"

"Not at all," came Pascal's turn to smirk. "I spent a good number of hours enchanting them so I expect you to wear them. Brings out the color in your eyes too."

"You want me to punch holes in my ears?" she cast back an outraged glare.

The mere thought of marking her skin offended Kaede to the point that tattoos in the old world outright disgusted her.

She had forgiven him for the runes on her arms thanks to their utility. Though to be fair, she had never minded the look of other girls wearing cute earrings.

...But still!

"Parizfal had told me that you accumulated quite some hearing damage during the Battle of Nordkapp from those Firemist Ignition explosions," Pascal explained as his countenance fell serious. "Your hearing is far too acute to not protect it. These are actually enchanted to further enhance your hearing, but at the same time protect your ears from sound bursts and air pressure shocks."

Kaede sighed as she pouted, puffing out her cheeks.

He was right in that her ears needed some protection. Given how useful her familiar-boosted hearing had been on multiple occasions, she certainly couldn't wear enchanted earmuffs or something that would impede sound waves. Ear clips always held a chance of falling off, and male ear piercings were even more intrusive.

"Furthermore, they allow you to receive Farspeak communication spells and will attempt to auto-translate Brython, one of the three official languages in Rhin-Lotharingie," Pascal finished the feature list. "Both of those may prove useful in the future, since the familiar telepathy does have range limits and I cannot speak Brython myself."

It was a nice and handy set of utility function, as communication failures were easily the worst impediment while operating in foreign lands.

But still...

"Couldn't you have at least picked something simple?"

Pascal beamed with mischievousness once more:

"If you are going to wear something most of the time, might as well make it beautiful--"

This time Kaede did punch him in the gut, though her attempt to hold back at the last second meant it had struck with almost no strength.

Pascal raised an eyebrow as he rubbed where her fist had landed.

"That was adorable."

"Don't make me reenact our first morning," Kaede snarled back at his teasing smile.

But thanks to her wispy voice, even that must have sounded cute as Pascal lit a wide grin:

"Ask Marina to help you with those earrings. If you are worried about the piercing, ask Lady Mari -- Sylv always praises her embroidery for being extremely precise."

Kaede was still fuming when Pascal handed her a small velvet box with the earrings inside.

"By the way, what did you need me for?"

She had almost forgotten thanks to all his distractions. But since they were planning to depart Nordkreuz for Rhin-Lotharingie tomorrow and she really couldn't afford any more sleepless nights...

Kaede then remembered just exactly what she had come here to ask. Her eyes glanced towards her thin, fidgeting legs in their pure-white stockings as a fiery crimson blazed across her cheeks.

"Let me sleep in your bed tonight."

It had been scarcely a whisper, nearly inaudible even to herself.

"Uhhh... sorry? I could not hear that."

Kaede could feel her shoulders quaking. With embarrassed tears in her shut eyes she almost cried out:

"Please let me sleep in your bed tonight!"

A second passed in the silence that ensued, followed by another.

By the time a fearful Kaede opened her glazed eyes to look up, she found Pascal's jaw hanging open as rounded eyes gawked back at her.

"W-what... I mean, I am not really against it, but..."

Ever since coming to Hyperion, Kaede had demanded her own bed. Yet just a week after she finally had the leisure of using her own private bedroom, she was requesting to sleep in his once more.

It was apparently beyond his comprehension.

"I c-can't sleep!"

Kaede felt so humiliated that she wanted to cry.

"Ever since we came back... even when the herbal tea helped me fall asleep early, I'd still have nightmares and wake up in the middle of the night and then I can't fall asleep until it's almost morning!" the torrent of words rushed out. "It's been driving me mad and I don't even know why only except that I slept fine with you! And..."

With an exasperated sigh, Pascal stepped in and wrapped both of his arms around her thin shoulders, hugging her closely.

"It is alright. You can sleep here..."

Pulling away just enough to make eye contact, Pascal stroked her long, silky hair as he made an expression that seemed halfway between the adoration and helplessness, between 'I promised to take care of you' and 'just what am I going to do with you'.

"Sylv is not going to like this," he warned. "I think she can understand, and I hope she will agree to look the other way. But even then she is not going to approve and you had best be prepared."

Kaede bit down on her lip as she nodded.

She knew the consequences. It was a shame to rock the relationship so soon after the Princess grew kind to her.

But she couldn't think of any other way. After all, she could hardly spend every afternoon sleeping once they embark on the campaign. With an average of three to four hours of sleep per night, it would not take long before she collapsed from mental if not physical exhaustion.

"Sorry," she apologized to him in advance.

Another sigh emerged as the atmosphere fell into uncomfortable silence, before an odd chuckle from Pascal soon broke the lull:

"Forget just Sylv, are you trying to kill me with temptation?"

Kaede almost yelped as Pascal's quick tug pulled her onto the bedcovers. For a second her eyes snapped up in fear. But the turquoise gaze that shone back at her were still soft and caring.

"Stop worrying so much. You know I would never do anything to you without consent."

He always did have the oddest way of trying to cheer others up.

Kaede knew most men had standards and expectations. She knew that she wasn't being fair to him. Yet at the same time, the alternative seemed unfathomable.

Leaning in without doubt as she took comfort in his words, she could only offer one voice in response:



Next Chapter ]

67 thoughts on “Chapter 5 - Arsenal of Faith

  1. Ranon

    Ya know... destruction of the city would have been an excellent opportunity for Kaede to suggest Pascal develop a sewer infrastructure complete with working toilets.

    1. Aorii Post author

      They have sewers (many ancient civilizations with proper infrastructure did). They don't have toilets. These two are not the same thing =P

  2. Ved

    "Runic Magic values stones with crystal lattice structures, especially non-metallic elements, because they can retain the most ether with the least amount of diffusion over time. High quality gemstones offer some of the most perfect crystal lattices found in nature. So for us, they are not just decorations of beauty but valuable tools for sorcery. Gem magic users like myself take this into an art form by maximizing the compression of ether inside the most flawless of gemstones."


    Aside from diamonds, I cannot think of any gems that aren't at least partially "metallic."

    Most of the periodic table are metals of some description. Alkali, rare earth or transition. And they like to glom onto the nonmetals for reasons too nerdy to bother with here. As a result, you mostly get a lot of useless-seeming rocks in nature. Some of those rocks just happen to be really pretty.

    I guess you could argue that covalent bonds holds magic widgets better rather than metallic ones. I'll admit it'd be pretty funny if good conductors are not just good at conducting heat and electricity but ether/mana.

    The idea of magical superconductors and semiconductors puts a grin on my face.

    1. Aorii Post author

      Good thing materials aren't polarized between 'metallic' and 'non-metallic' =P There's metalloid semicoductors and scales of purity after all~

      But the idea is, yes, metallic conductiveness applies to magic. And why wouldn't it be, given the more flexible nature of metallic bonds? Unless we want to agree that magic ignores molecular physics... in which case spells will shoot through walls and I have no desire to figure how to balance that nonsense.

      1. Gurbo

        Oh, god, now I really want to see Kaede give some pointers to help in the making of magical railguns. Bring as many units of trained mages as you want, the commoner sharpshooters armed with the power of sci-fi are waiting.

        1. Aorii Post author

          Not happening =P
          I discovered some time ago that I had no desire to write scifi, mostly because that genre's audience is so entrenched in their thinking that it's difficult to do anything creative.

          Besides, magic is far more than firepower. It's capacity for deception and information warfare alone means you'd need a whole lineup of gadgets to compensate.

    2. eduardo

      Quartz. It is very common, cheap and SiO2 is its chemical formula. Sand is made in great part of quartz.

  3. Ved

    "She had mostly glanced over them. For someone more interested in the far-reaching, sociological impacts of technology, she often found herself bored by the technical, inner workings of 'machines'. To skip past the minute details to see how innovations altered civilizations and shifted cultures was far more fascinating."


    I'm not quite so much the opposite. Technology is just the more practical manifestation of scientific insight. It's the little insights that give quite a lot of far-reaching power. The history stuff is interesting in giving relevance and context to the knowledge. (Like knowing that Einstein is regarded as a "bend in the path" where the history of physics is concerned. The first and last scientist of different generations.)

    Your setting thus far implies to me that mana does work. Mana is therefore energy, or if you want to be pedantic, is a medium for using energy. (In the sense that gravity isn't itself energy but is the medium by which you can store it.)
    More than that we already know that "mass = energy" and that "magic," such as it is, is capable of quite a lot of fine chemical legwork and a bunch of other things that defy easy categorization. Assuming physical laws are nearly similar to our own.

    A big question is why it should be a sentient being or living thing that is capable of direct and using such things. Living things themselves are not more special than nonliving things, despite human feelings and intuitions to the contrary. (Unless assuming radically different physics altogether. Though a bit of a stretch.)
    Are there natural examples of "ether" evolved in nonliving or nonsapient things? And what can be learned from such things?
    Could you build a self-aware machine (barring animals) that could do the same task?

    Perhaps such details seem petty to you. But it's the little puzzles like that that really wind up breaking the world over its knee when solved.

    1. Aorii Post author

      Being of engineering background myself, I'm more technical than that as well. But it makes no sense to give someone of Kaede's background/interest technical skills =P

      My opinion of fantasy can be summed simply as: "Magic is what we can't understand, and technology is what we can. All magic eventually becomes technology as we seek to understand the universe around us." But yes, magical energy is just another form of energy. It doesn't follow physical laws of conservation as we know it, but it has its own universal laws.

      I have no more desire to explain why "souls generate ether" than "why does our universe have dark matter". There're theories, sure. But they're just theories. In the end, I'm an engineer, not a scientist. I apply what's understood; I don't bother with the unknown that much. I'm sure questions like that would get solved eventually. However, what's outside the time frame of the story is... beyond my concern =P Worldbuilding is about establishing what you know and following existing rules, not trying to grasp the unknown.

      1. Ved

        I will admit the souls things does annoy me, if only because I have a proprietary sense of logical parsimony I try to adhere to. Having lived so long in a reality where the concept of a soul is just an unnecessary ad hoc. A lot of the great breakthroughs of science were really just destroying popular assumptions that seemed intuitive but proved dead wrong. (Vitalism or fixed notions of absolute Newtonian space.)

        Mind you, I'm not demanding an explanation, but the exercise for the exercise's sake is, well. Fun. And I probably have the perverse notion that it should be a useful critical thinking skill to be able to comfortably work around such things as though it were true.

        Now that I think about it, I'm not much inclined to take any of the in-universe explanations of a soul at face value. Perhaps there is a separate organ that might go by the name of a soul, perhaps not. And it may be no more significant in importance than a heart or gall bladder, except for the obvious super powers it bestows. Assuming the tasks are not divided-up across a biological system holistically or that the soul is just what a brain does, rather than being a separate entity into itself.

        Our universe is less exotic than theirs, but it didn't keep us from ascribing mystical powers to our own minds and personalities anyway. Early philosophers are just a little incredulous that their minds apparently work at all or should be so useful. But we've long had the suspicion that we could make machines think. And that particular power may not be especially super, but a power nonetheless we'd like to think was special.

        Hence I figure:
        Interesting lines of inquiry are things like, "Is there a singing stone or maybe a cute spring that puts on a good lightshow somewhere?"
        Energy likes to go in all manner of different places, so it seems logical enough that mana would bleed out and do work, if not in a way anybody would recognize as "magic." Raw and unrefined to be sure, but those are just different words for "Not useful in any form that humans find useful or economical."
        We have flying whales, so highly developed sentience is not the requirement at a minimum.

        Also in what ways can a brain be damaged before a magician ceases to have any recognizable "ether engine" at all. Could I, perhaps, make an implant, esoteric or conventional, that would simulate some of the ether generation that natural magicians possess? Seems like for your settings wizards, they're complicated biological computers that has twiddly black box components that programs spells to do more or less what they want, by repetition and developed intuition.

        Anyway, to cut a long rant short, you'll have to forgive me for nerding out.

        1. Aorii Post author

          I don't pretend to be a biology major (or even a psych one, despite how much I read on it). But I have yet to come across anything that could positively prove 'a soul does not exist'. For starters, nobody can even agree on what a soul is and for it does, if anything! The most common 'proof' I've seen lauded as why souls don't exist is (as you wrote again) brain damage -- well, dharmic cycle religions don't believe souls house memories/personality to begin with, otherwise each reincarnation would bring exactly the same memories/personality along every time. Even the Dalai Lama doesn't remember the details of his past lives. Rather, the reincarnation of souls in those religions contain only emotions and attachments that links one soul to other souls (or objects 'tainted' by souls through prolonged use). Sure, our brains can feel nostalgic due to the fuzzy way memory works; but that doesn't mean something else cannot generate a feedback portrayed by similar emotions.

          I mean, the whole concept of a soul is that it is an entity of our selves that is non-materialistic -- and therefore untouchable to physics, chemistry, and all those sciences -- which can only be measured in spirituality. Well, I've yet to come across a scientific measurement or procedure that is capable of accurating determining faith or conviction. So to me, the concept of "science has proven souls don't exist" is nothing more than the proselytizing of atheists -- a religion so keen on denouncing all other religions that is has essentially become the next generation of Evangelists who claim "history has proven the bible is true"

          1. Ved

            Let me put it this way. Examine what you really mean by "nonmaterial" or "supernatural."
            So you have a soul, yes? It is made of some substance. For the sake of argument, you can call this whatever you want. Mana. Ectoplasm. Doodads. All you've really done is posit a unique form of "exotic" matter which follows different rules from what is already known. It's only any object of awe because it is unknown and unproven. You might be able to detect it with a special sixth sense. So that technically makes it observable, if only very difficult to observe. But so was the fact time dilation occurs.

            The fact that nobody can "agree" on what a soul tells you all you need to know. It's an inarticulate non-explanation.
            A soul is a claim that our personality persists after death OR that there is some substance to it that gets recycled and overwritten by some other personality (or non personality), depending on whatever cosmology you ascribe to. But we already have perfectly useful words to describe, cogitation, personality and whatever else without appending unecessary additional claims as to their actual nature or origin.

            I can claim to be your father. That's an explanation alright. I just don't expect you to actually believe me.
            A lot of things are philosophically possible. And we are forced to admit that they are. But that's says a lot of nothing.

            Really, "supernatural" boils down to, "can actually be observed and tested but don't go bother looking for it." Zombies. Can be hacked to pieces. Might eat your brains. But by the way, it's *above* nature. Whatever that means. Gods answers prayers and makes it rain. Okay, yeah, that's above nature too. Whatever that means. Apparently those things are following rules, affect our material reality but they're "above nature." It amuses me that there are folk who can describe the ecology and culture of pixies to a "T" and probably turn around and call them supernatural. They got it all figured out, like they're watching some nature documentary about lions chasing down gazelles. But sure. Yeah. That's supernatural.

            I mean you've already basically proposed mechanistic magic and the whole "Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science."

            The Dalai Llama is a theocratic priest-king who ruled over serfs. I'm not much inclined to give a damn what he thinks is real, much less moral. There are cargo cults, conspiracy theorists and who knows what besides. He doesn't deserve more respect than any of them.

          2. Aorii Post author

            Honestly that is the same kind of explanation that the creationists champion, such as since we haven't discovered any other intelligent life equal to mankind, there must be none in the universe.

            For thousands of years, humans were also utterly baffled by other inconsistencies of human behavior -- especially emotions and sexuality. People chalked it to all kinds of weird explanations. Then in the recent century we discovered neurotransmitter receptors and hormones, and discovered that it is just another part of biology that once evaded all detection and measurement.

            The fact something is inconsistent based on our lack of understanding and that nobody can agree on it is not proof that it does not exist. It just means much of what we conceive of it now is probably wrong; but it could easily take place in another form. Sure, it is not proof that it DOES exist either...

            However, even IF it didn't exist, in the great words of Voltaire: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." The spirituality of man is simply too much of a necessity to the mortality and limited understanding of man; and the concept of a soul serves as a foundation for almost all religious belief.

            Insipid writer, you pretend to draw for your readers
            The portraits of your 3 impostors;
            How is it that, witlessly, you have become the fourth?
            Why, poor enemy of the supreme essence,
            Do you confuse Mohammed and the Creator,
            And the deeds of man with God, his author?...
            Criticize the servant, but respect the master.
            God should not suffer for the stupidity of the priest:
            Let us recognize this God, although he is poorly served.

            My lodging is filled with lizards and rats;
            But the architect exists, and anyone who denies it
            Is touched with madness under the guise of wisdom.
            Consult Zoroaster, and Minos, and Solon,
            And the martyr Socrates, and the great Cicero:
            They all adored a master, a judge, a father.
            This sublime system is necessary to man.
            It is the sacred tie that binds society,
            The first foundation of holy equity,
            The bridle to the wicked, the hope of the just.

            If the heavens, stripped of his noble imprint,
            Could ever cease to attest to his being,
            If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
            Let the wise man announce him and kings fear him.

            - Response to The Three Imposters, Voltaire

            In the end, I put faith in what the mongols once believed: that we do not have sufficient wisdom to truly grasp the answer to this. Modern society has grown a lot smarter; but wiser? *looks at the consumerist materialistic capitalism that defines society today*... I think not. I hope nature saw it fit to make ends meet. But any argument whether it exists or exists not is, to me, entirely premature, and the hallmarks of a man or woman who believes themselves wiser than they truly are.

    2. Ved

      A statement of belief is not the same as faith. Let me elaborate.

      There are differences between following statements.
      1) I cannot state for a fact that unicorns do not exist.
      2) I do not believe unicorns exist.
      3) I believe unicorns exist.

      The first is trivially true. (Except when the unicorn you've defined is logically or factually contradictory or impossible.)
      Claiming the third statement for a fact, without evidence, is irresponsible. Insisting upon it despite evidence or cognitive dissonance is faith.
      And you can easily subscribe to more than one of the statements above without it being necessarily a matter of faith.

      Betrand Russell's teacup around Saturn demonstrates this point.
      Do you know, exhaustively, for a fact, that there isn't a teacup orbiting around Saturn. Technically no.
      Do I believe it? No.
      Do I think it's reasonable to make at least a fair claim of knowledge that there shouldn't be one there now without being bereft of all sense? Yes.

      You'll forgive me, but the declaration that "I know nothing" doesn't actually come across as humble as people would like to think. It's more irritating than anything else. Because you clearly must think you *do* know something, or at least a suspicion about something, even if you happen to be mistaken about it. And having this estimation of your own abilities doesn't make you dogmatic or arrogant. It's basically a non-answer copout.

      Personally, I've always thought that if a god did exist, it would soon become necessary to kill him.
      Earnestly, if gods do exist, they aren't worthy of worship. For the same reasons that you don't worship monarchs. It isn't healthy behavior either way. Any person that *demands* worship is probably a sociopath anyway. If that god claims ultimate responsibility and agency for everything? I've got some questions for him.

      The Euthyphro dilemma is ascribed to Socrates and goes:
      "Is the righteous loved by the gods because it is righteous? Or is it righteous because it is loved by the gods?"

      Voltaire sounds like a deist. Which fits. Which really, to me, is just getting rid of the disagreeable parts of Christianity so you can have the nice sterile bits of a singular dispassionate and impersonal God. Because Christianity simply ceased being rational enough to them. Though why you'd bother calling anything impersonal a god at all bugger-all confuses me. But whatever, the point is that deism is not a general claim of skepticism towards everything. It is a claim that there is a god, albeit, a fairly unconventional one.

      I wouldn't be so quick to claim that the idea of a soul is the foundation of religion either. You can theoretically be superstitious and have a dogma without needing a cosmology involving souls. Pretty sure there are a few out there. I'd say it more speaks to the human fear of mortality. The idea that you can die forever really isn't a palatable one.

      You'll note that I have described two emotional reasons for two different beliefs. You can probably guess that I don't consider them very honest reasons. I don't think you ought to believe things merely because they make you feel better to believe them.

      1. Aorii Post author

        ...At some point the excess of technicality ceases to be amusing and starts becoming insolent.

        Souls are the foundation of religion for the very reason religion is useful to society: because when we believe there is something eternal about ourselves, an identity beyond the body which may be judged for our mortal, materialistic actions, we tend to see a greater purpose in life than to simply 'live as pleasure dictates'. Because you know who lives purely according to self-pleasure with no moral or spiritual qualms? Sociopaths. They aren't evil; they're simply incapable of grasping morals and thus lives purely according to 'logic' -- things like ethnic cleansing actually makes sense when you consider it's long-term benefits (China is a perfect example; it's relative cultural unity was achieved because Qin Shihuang butchered everyone who disagreed with how he standardized linguistics/ceremonies); but does that make it acceptable to us? Heck no.

        Thus to me, to insist upon others that 'there are no souls' is the same as 'there is no god' -- an attack on the foundation of religious belief and thus people's freedom of religion/faith. In the end, this is no different than proclaiming the 'religious superiority' of atheism -- much like thousands of Abrahamic zealots have done across centuries.

        A religious zealot may be at least excused for ignorance caused by indoctrination; he simply doesn't know better. A atheist zealot is just intolerable, because he has had ample opportunities to hear and acknowledge the various, differing faiths of humanity, yet reject them all on grounds of pure, unbridled arrogance that his logic (impaired by human psychology as we all are) is the 'true fact'.

        1. Ved

          "Souls are the foundation of religion for the very reason religion is useful to society: because when we believe there is something eternal about ourselves, an identity beyond the body which may be judged for our mortal, materialistic actions, we tend to see a greater purpose in life than to simply 'live as pleasure dictates'. "

          Firstly, no. Because it doesn't explain religions in which doesn't include souls as a part of its cosmology. Nor ideologies motivated completely without them. Or entirely secular governments which emphatically places religion below the law, rather than drawing upon it for authority. Morality doesn't come from religion, it never has. It's sufficient that people are motivated by consequences and emotions. You are making a claim that I am denying here, by the way. If you want to say a soul is a *necessary* feature of religions in general, you're going to have to do a lot more proving than just declaring it to me.

          I'm also a little tired of the specious argument that a non-eternal finite life is somehow less valuable or less motivated to be moral, because, you know, being killed permanently means I can completely ignore consequences. Religion often has had the opposite problem in its theology. You have to ban suicides from getting into the afterlife because why would your current life be worthwhile if you have an eternity of blissful afterlife? Maybe your god doesn't like cowards or having his grand plan or whatever thwarted. Point is, you can't just skip to the good bits.

          It's an irritating cliche I was hoping to avoid. What motivates atheists to be good? The same thing as everybody else before an eternal hereafter. If you really believe that you can die forever, then you really can't be squandering your time frivolously.

          Also, I can't exactly afford to snort cocaine off of hookers all day, even if I wanted to.

          "They aren't evil; they're simply incapable of grasping morals and thus lives purely according to 'logic' -- things like ethnic cleansing actually makes sense when you consider it's long-term benefits (China is a perfect example; it's relative cultural unity was achieved because Qin Shihuang butchered everyone who disagreed with how he standardized linguistics/ceremonies); but does that make it acceptable to us? Heck no"
          Ummm, that kinda contradicts what you are saying no? A person that doesn't value human life can think long-term and can delay gratification. And I agree, he's not particularly nice. But it shows that you can value things and not be nice. That you can build things longterm for something larger than yourself.

          "Thus to me, to insist upon others that 'there are no souls' is the same as 'there is no god' -- an attack on the foundation of religious belief and thus people's freedom of religion/faith. In the end, this is no different than proclaiming the 'religious superiority' of atheism -- much like thousands of Abrahamic zealots have done across centuries."
          That . . is absurd. My stating an opinion about your religion doesn't prevent you from practicing your religion.
          If you examine your biases, you will realize that any criticism of any claim held sacred to a religion is held *above reproach.* For no good reason at all. No other area of thought gets this sort of privilege. If I claim the existence of unicorns or teapots around Saturn, then you'd rightfully be skeptical.
          The only difference is that those views are not politicized and people don't build entire codes of ethics, cosmology and culture around them. They don't demand positive action from others (i.e. prescriptions of moral behavior, money, effort and time).

          One more minor point:
          Don't call atheism a religion if you're going to say it's a religion that disbelieves souls. That's a contradiction according to you.

          And by the way, you can be an atheist that believe in souls or ghosts too. Turns out a lot of people seem to believe in ghosts, irrespective of religion or irreligiosity. Not sure why.

          "A religious zealot may be at least excused for ignorance caused by indoctrination; he simply doesn't know better. A atheist zealot is just intolerable, because he has had ample opportunities to hear and acknowledge the various, differing faiths of humanity, yet reject them all on grounds of pure, unbridled arrogance that his logic (impaired by human psychology as we all are) is the 'true fact'."
          Atheists actually generally know more about religions than most people do.

          It's why a lot of them are atheists to begin with. And by which, we're probably talking people who do so as a rational and conscious decision, rather than simply out of apathy, uncertainty or indifference.

          And here's the trouble. Atheism isn't an ideology or a doctrine. Some doctrines and ideologies proscribe them, certainly, but it isn't anything like a religion. You can be a very literalist Buddhist *and* an atheist. Because Buddhism never really concerns itself with the existence of gods. (They can only help or hinder on the path to Enlightenment. Assuming you believed they existed anyway.) And no, they wouldn't be sitting around worshiping Richard Dawkins.

          Some Buddhists are in fact religious atheists. Not all atheists are religious. Atheism just concerns itself with the question of whether you believe a god (or particular god) exists. Or if you want to get really fancy, whether you disbelieve the proposition of a god. Which is subtly different.

          I can also further confuse semantics by talking about gnostic/gnostic atheists/theists. But honestly, talking about the subject just annoys me because there's a lot of hair-splitting involved. Depending on how narrowly you define a particular god claim, I can variably be a gnostic atheist or an agnostic atheist. Or somewhere in between. And I'd have to be a theist if you could prove a god, but I'd still wind up being a maltheist. Or I dunno, whatever you call a person who might be indifferent to a god. (Meaning sure, in that scenario, I'd be a gnostic theist, just not a happy or religious one.)

          Finally, I've actually been accused of arrogance a couple of times or so in life. Not a lot. But I'm a strident contrarian and anti-authoritarian, by nature. It's easy to confuse the two. There are a lot of people who say they value the truth, but I don't really believe them.

          Honestly, if I had god-like powers, I'd be a little disturbed if people *weren't* trying to find ways of inventively killing me, imprisoning me or otherwise putting me under their control. Anybody with that kind of power is automatically a potential threat to every religion and government in the world.

          1. Aorii Post author

            "My stating an opinion about your religion doesn't prevent you from practicing your religion."
            Oh getting technical again are we? Well Christian prosecution didn't stop people from practicing their religion either. Religious discussions are made on the foundation that you can actually respect another religion. When you begin an argument with what is akin to 'your soul is a lie' such goodwill is out the window. What's next? Shall we discuss race and culture after beginning with a statement of "all Blacks are lazy and ignorant, all Asians are physically lacking, and all Caucasians are bloodthirsty maniacs"?

            "Some Buddhists are in fact religious atheists. Not all atheists are religious."
            I find this hilarious, because Atheists, by definition, "denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings". In Buddhism, those who have achieved enlightenment (buddhas) ARE supreme -- or at least superior -- beings, because they have reach nirvana and achieved powers worthy of divinity and near-omnipotent enlightenment. They may not be 'creators', but in terms of power and wisdom they are a match for any traditional pagan 'god'. Don't even start getting technical on what 'supreme' means; there is nothing more asinine than a linguistics fight.

            "Don't call atheism a religion if you're going to say it's a religion that disbelieves souls. That's a contradiction according to you."
            In the end, any system of belief can become a religion; you can start a cult that worships the toaster as the central figure of our lives and that would make a 'religion'. It just doesn't serve the purpose of religion. Sure, what I should of said is "Souls are the foundation of religion (in the traditional sense, and) the very reason religion is useful to society"; and that a religion who does not embrace something beyond the mortality of man also fails its purpose of bringing morality to man. But you know what, troll on about technicalities in wording -- because clearly no-one ever miss details or need spellcheck in writing a comment post.

            (sigh, what am I doing arguing with an OBVIOUS internet troll... you sir do not value the truth by any margin of the word; you value being contrary to others as showing off a so-called 'superiority of logic', yet fail to acknowledge that because you're a human with established opinions in the subject, your logic is automatically flawed by psychological bias.)

            (there will be no further discussion from this point)

          2. Hakurei06

            Not the most devout follower, I'll admit, but as a Buddhist I'd like to clarify something, Ved: Sure, you could call it hair splitting, but your description of Buddhist doctrine is more accurately called nontheism. I'd hardly believe that an orthodox Buddhist would be an atheist. As a form of attachment, the denial of a supreme being would be roughly as hindering to one's path to enlightenment as its affirmation, thus the "no comment".

            That said, I disagree with the notion that the (or any) Buddha should be construed to be a god, which isn't to say he isn't. All well and good to pay one's respect to the man, but at the level of holding him as sacred and worshiping him, your path to enlightenment is hindered, if not outright occluded.

            In the first place, I fail to see the purpose of any part of this argument in general, beyond trolling. Because you don't believe in things like gods and souls in real life, you think that they shouldn't be written into this work of fiction, that it is somehow worse for it?

          3. Aorii Post author

            The word "god" has been too colored by Abrahamic religions. In the end, all 'god' means is that they are a deity, someone we deify and idolize. This could be anyone from the holy father to a saint/bodhisattva to supernatural Italian dinners to Japanese tree spirits to ... Prince Phillip.
            As lists as #7 -- god: "any deified person or object."

            I guess the question becomes would idolizing an enlightened being make it impossible to reach enlightenment? And therefore a Buddhist should not deify a Buddha... except most Buddhists I know do deify/pray to some Buddha or Bodhisattva

          4. Hakurei06

            This is my own view, and I admit that it may not be the common or even correct one: I would answer that no, a Buddhist should not deify a Buddha. Prayers to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas should be not much more than an extension of the respect one pays to their ancestors, or more aptly, their teacher, and secondary to meditation. That they are deified stems from the laity tending to pray more often then they meditate, and attaching more meaning than they should. Like I said, I'm not the most devout follower, it's been a while since I went over a discourse on the subject.

          5. Aorii Post author

            @Ved when I deem a discussion is over, it is over. This is not a forum; this is where I post Daybreak. It is not a public space, and you are not 'entitled' to having an ideological crusade that I do not approve of here. it is within my right to send those posts straight into the garbage can (they will not pass Go, be read, or collect $200). Any further attempts to reply to this thread will only further convince me that you are a troll intent on peddling bias and zeal on the excuse of '(your) logic and reason'.

        2. Ved

          Fair enough. You censor others, accuse them of an "ideological crusade," of being over-technical pedants and like to defend yourself by playing the victim of persecution. I didn't read up until past this chapter just to "troll" you. And believe it or not, I did enjoy reading Daybreak.

          I don't hold this against your writing or any future success you might earn from it. I just choose not to be a part of it, or the community, any longer. I'm just not big enough for that.

          Best of luck.

          1. Hakurei06

            I personally fail to see how this isn't an "ideological crusade" you are launching here.

            Let me reiterate that from my standpoint your argument stands on the premise that Daybreak, a high fantasy work of fiction no less, is not worth reading since it affirms the existence of a soul within its setting.

            I wish I could say "it's sad to see you go" or even "have fun", but I'd hate to imply that anyone deserves this sort of harassment.

  4. artificer-urza

    So, assassinations, sabotage and espionage of a magical variety are or were common enough tactics to have countermeasures developed. How effective are those against more mundane means?
    How much magical power can a single mage bring to a fight? I'd have to re-read all of it, but I don't think we've seen the direct application of magic in combat. We've seen body enhancing and mental enhancing enchantments as well as magic fuelled weapons (flame-throwers), but nothing direct. Could a single mage be a mobile artillery or have the fire-power of a tank? Could manipulation of wind and weather through magic overthrow the air units the enemy possess? What about directly attacking the mind, sowing fear and confusion in combat situation would not be difficult. Or even using it on your allies; imagine an army of berserkers who simply would not stop attacking regardless of what wounds the incurred. What about necromancy? Could a single or group of mages raise an army of undead or would that be either taboo (probable because of religion, but that's never really stopped a determined group before) or too inefficient power-wise to be feasible?
    There's a lot I feel we don't know about the capabilities of magic in and out of wartime. Could they make biological weapons? Do they have rules of engagement and things no one does because everyone agrees it's simply too inhumane to use regardless of circumstances?
    I've got to go back and read it all and see if there's anything I've missed. I need more info to properly devise tactics!

    1. Aorii Post author

      Pretty much all of those questions there have been touched upon in writing one way or another. The firepower of mages is shown in one battle or another so you can judge yourself, their role can be both battle tank or mobile artillery depending on their depth of training. Both wind and weather magic have been used. The effects of 'Ether Resistance' on impeding mental and physical manipulation have been discussed in multiple chapters, and even their side-effects of mental manipulation raised in v3ch4. Necromancy will not be used because I don't believe souls work that way. Rules of engagements have been mentioned in v2ch6.

      Hyperion has shown enough appreciation for the medicinal sciences that biological warfare would be sheer and utter idiocy. Germs respect neither nationalities nor political boundaries as they evolve and mutate. The Black Death killed equally across all of Eurasia, propagated because some fool thought it was beneficial to catapult corpses into a Crimean city <_<

      1. artificer-urza

        Necromancy doesn't necessarily have anything to do with souls, just using corpses like puppets.
        Explosives (grenades, dynamite and the like) haven't come up, except in this chapter mentioning the diamond that could destroy a city. Has anyone developed the magic equivalent of a nuke yet?

        1. Aorii Post author

          Except magic requires sustenance in Daybreak. They don't just pull energy out of nowhere. I am enacting the Law of Conservation of Energy in spiritual terms.
          If some archmage was smart enough to create a nuke, they were smart enough to hide it (Oppenheimer failed so hard).

          1. Ved

            Well seems like if you could animate a corpse you might as well animate a suit of armor to do all the same god-bothering then call it a "golem."

            By "animate," I'm not talking about some annoying metaphysical crap like imbuing a mind or a soul. So much as just reproducing all the basic steps of a thing that can move its limbs in the semblance of locomotion and smashing faces.

            "Rules of engagement" really just translates into, "politely worded suggestions." I mean, it's pretty taboo for a king to order one of his subordinates to violate guest-rights, but it did happen one too many times and a bunch of Scots from different clans are still het up over the issue to this day.

            On the subject of the Black Death, in fairness, it was probably bound to happen eventually anyway. Cursory examination of Wikipedia confirms it. Silk Road and all that. So the first gasps of global trade really. (But yeah, I guess you're being facetious.)

            Interestingly enough, white people have a higher chance of being resistant or immune to AIDS as a result. A rather ghastly example of natural selection.

          2. Aorii Post author

            Actually, "rules of engagement" is 'the rules I agree to follow so you'll also agree to follow them'. Because nobody always wins in war, and we'd like soldiers belonging to our families to be treated humanely too when they get captured, etc etc.

            You do realize the Black Death ravaged China and central eurasia first before it spread to the white man right? And given the trade in the Mediterranean, it should of spread to Africa as well. The only reason the 'Black Death' is associated with europe is because of modern history's eurocentric bias.

          3. Ved

            I'll agree that I'm oversimplifying for rhetorical purposes.
            I just find that some people assume a social contract that isn't necessarily there or that people will accept the contract, but bend the rules when they think they can get away with it. Laws and codes are only as useful as your ability to enforce them. It's really quite dangerous to assume people are bound by the same rules, logic or scruples as you are.

            I remember a high school math teacher who didn't comprehend the "hacker" subculture or mentality and probably couldn't. I don't even think she could comprehend why anybody would be a criminal either, even on a pragmatic or intellectual level. She didn't like anybody who could think even just a bit critically. She wasn't a terribly imaginative person. She knew the rules after all. And she projected them on everybody else. She was the sort of person that probably liked math because math offers "right answers." (A rote learning mentality that I never really liked.) Suffice it to say, we didn't get along. And you run into her type now and then.

            If you're at all familiar with TF2, I was the type of player who dedicated himself to one class. I'll leave it to you to guess which one.

            As for the Black Death, I suppose that calls into question viral resistance in some populations. Or at least raises questions about it. The rest seems logically evident enough.

  5. XRick

    I'm still reading the chapter but the "leylines" part caught my interest.
    Is it me or does that sound somewhat similar to FF7's lifestream?
    If so, does the ether/mana used from the leylines manage to somewhow return to the land in a non-harmful way?

    1. Aorii Post author

      Donno, I never played FF7 =P
      This system is very eco-friendly, since it consumes raw energy rather than combusting something with side-effects.

      1. XRick

        Good enough. Capitalism at it's best, in a good sense.

        But I was actually asking if that energy resource, that is being extracted directly from the planet's "veins" and used to magic-related purposes, has any way to return later to the planet in a non-harmful way.

        1. Aeir

          It's stated in the chapter that 'static' enchantments dissipate naturally on their own. Most likely, they're only refilling as needed and not overdrawing.

          1. Ved

            Ironically enough, the Lifestream in FF7 could be used for power, it just wasn't eco-friendly to do so. Tended up to whack out the ecosystem since you're messing with the powers that imbue life with spiritual widgets. So the reactors that drew on it just wound up blighting the land around them.

            Aesthetically, it sort of suggests that all things are bound by entropy. Spiritual widgets notwithstanding.

  6. Absum

    Hm, maybe I will wait for finished versions from now on after all, and compare with older version after reading the finished one, cause I don't really feel like reading it all again (I did check out the differences on the work site though). Most of them are good, but I do not like one or two. For example when King Leopold offers weapons, I understand that you wanted to make it less of an info dump, yet something about Sylviane's respone and his response to that feels off to me. I think I feel this way because only supplying weapons would be somewhat hard to see as a full intervention, and either way a history reminder is not much of an answer if it is an actual concern that people will feel this way. Umm I should probably clarify that I'm merely trying to help by thinking aloud about why I might feel this way, I do not mean to say it is worse or to make you feel bad (I feel bad about having typed it now, I am insecure lol).

    One thing I do just kinda don't like straight up is the ending. It is slightly better than before (standards -> urges) but I really dislike this notion that she is being unfair to him or this generalization of male expectations, especially in combination with your blog post. I take less issue with the second one because those general expectations are quite possibly true even now, never mind the age of Imperialism. Actually, I should first be asking this question: Am I supposed to feel Kaede is being stupid about being unfair to Pascal? I did not get that impression if so.

    fake edit: Oh this version isn't even the same as the latest one on the work site oops. I noticed the little minx comment isn't there, and indeed it didn't really feel like something Pascal would say then and there.

    real edit: After such a long post of trying my hand at constructive criticism (and probably not saying anything useful) I do feel I should again say I enjoy your work and thank you for writing this story, Aorii.

    1. Aorii Post author

      Supplying weapons isn't interventions, but opponents in a civil war will usually point towards it as 'foreign influences'. Nevertheless I think I'll remove that line; it really doesn't fit Sylviane's goal and diplomacy to reject aid before she even hears the details, even if it is nice for a reminder of v3ch2's discussions.

      Changed the ending word back to 'standards'. I think that word does fit better. As for the unfair stuff... well, it is stereotyping, but I do use the word 'most' xD

      Thanks for your input ^^

  7. Addictoholic

    Man, without thinking I blitzed through this story in the last couple of days. It's absolutely enthralling. Thanks so much for all you've written so far, I hope to read more!

  8. Leecher5515

    LOL I think Sylv would rather Kaede be HER mistress, rather than his "">\\\\<"" Pascale designed it that way after all.

    1. Hakurei06

      Not as her familiar though. She needs an Rhin-Lotharin phoenix as hers for a claim to the throne.

  9. mellester

    I wonder if kaede will ever be suggested to just mastrubait to relieve her stress or here relentless sleep during a campaign . I doubt proper ladies even talk about it but maybe a female soldier will comment on it.

    1. Aorii Post author

      Lol, it's not that women don't talk about it (the female gender is far more liberal than the males when it comes to discussing sexual activities xD), it's that this is an awkward topic and not one to raise without a good entry into it.

  10. moutonslayer

    Thanks for this chapter ;)
    Like always I love the realism in your story, the character are deep and their reaction are understandable, if I was like Kaede I think I would react in the same manner : your first problem isn't that you became a girl but that you was called in a world in the middle of plot and war. Your world isn't black and white but a mix, there are no distinct ennemy (the use of the assassination of the dad of Pascal by the king is a pretty good framework, I loved this part).

    Personnaly I prefer quality over quantity so take your time to protect this must to read series ;)

  11. noone

    your update are slow as hell so whens the next chapter coming hopefully not after almost 2 months again -.-

    1. Aorii Post author

      #1 This is not a paid service.
      #2 I have a real job that actually keeps me fed and pays my mortgage.
      #3 I hear has speed in abundance.

      Although this chapter would have met the 'one month' timeline had Kadi been available on time, or if I didn't trash an entire first draft because I thought it was substandard. At any rate, the chapters have been growing longer so it's only fair that updates take longer as well.

      1. Ein

        That's why we're thankful that you updated this novel. And I personally am waiting for your releases - and possible publication.

  12. Sanngrior

    It's okay Kaede :S we will look out for you >.<

    while I know I wouldn't have a nightmare in such a situation, my nights would likely be no easier.

    Course the flow of events would probably have had me bedded already and under stern scrutiny of Sylv :S when confused it is just so hard to keep a grasp on things... and since I can't resort to violence I would have had no options of fighting back :S

    1. Aorii Post author

      "while I know I wouldn't have a nightmare in such a situation, my nights would likely be no easier."
      What, you've killed people in gruesome ways at point-blank range? =P

  13. Irina_Akashira

    Thanks for the update


    With a development like this, I can imagine that Kaede will be officially adopted as a little sister or will become in the Pascal second fiancee

    Is my presumption similar to your idea?

    1. bunny

      from the hints we where given in book 2, it seems the princess wants kaede to be a mistress she can keep on a leash while he is off to war.

      1. Aorii Post author

        What women logically want and what women emotionally want are very different things. The sooner you realize this, the better =P

        Also, no spoilers shall be given.

        1. Ein

          Most women would like to be the one and only and the rest are lying . Of this, I believe.

        2. bunny

          yeah maybe you will have kaede in a guillotine for seducing pascal right before pascal and princess are set to be married. Or she might even see that dungeon under the castle

          its what keeps the story interesting, knowing that any number of possibilities can happen

          1. Technomo12

            or that Kaede became a doll for sylv and pascal approves of it since technically Sylve will treat her more like a little sister with a carot and sticks approach since I can rememeber a past few chapters sylv is kinda a sadist

  14. Ein

    At long last! Thank you for granting us a continuation of this good story. A cute chapter indeed.

  15. Bareus

    The end of the chapter is sooo adorable funny and yet somewhat sad... poor Kaede... Aorii, stop giving Kaede more nightmares!
    Two promotions in three months not enough for you?"
    Two promotions in three months is not enough for you?"

    1. Hakurei06

      Whoops, I didn't even realise it was out.
      Copypasta from the email, Aorii:

      >>"Remember that exposed ether slowly degrade and diffuse theirits energy back into mana?

      >>Without a soul to refine it, mana lacklacks the malleability of ether that would allow them to simply be injected into a supernatural spell effect."

      >>In other words, Kaede summarized, you can't pour crude oil from a derrick straight into the engine and expect it to run...
      I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure the derricks don't actually pump oil, just support the drilling apparatus to allow pumps access to the reservoir via that vertical tunnel we call a well.
      and since pumpjack doesn't have the same ring to it and sounds sort of lewd (joking), I suggest the general term "the well" in place of "a derrick."

      >>Only biologically, because of your fault.
      I'm not quite confident I can declare this in need of correction, but I will admit that that wording is new to me.

      >>Just that diamond alone probably containcontains enough magical power to blow up a town if I pour a cascading explosive spell into it

      1. Sonoda Yuki

        "Forget just Sylv, are you trying to kill me with temptation, you little minx?

    2. Aorii Post author

      All fixed, I think.
      "Derrick" vs "well" is a technicality =P I prefer Derrick because that's what people envision when they drill for oil.

      1. Sonoda Yuki

        I'd dispute that and claim that most would be envisioning the pumpjacks and not knowing what they're called, conflate them with the term "derrick", but I'm working with a smaller reference pool where general knowledge may be different.

  16. bunny

    dam I thought i was first :(

    god i have been hitting refresh like 20x a day waiting for this chapter


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