The tome that lay open on the desk looked fairly new, but was already heavily bookmarked. Tara had seen the cover a few times on the train down to Colwdvatn, enough to know that it was a volume of the Registry of the Novus Packus Magicae, which Seema had told her was a registry of known rune circuit patterns. Olsen had freely, and she suspected unwisely, admitted to not knowing how to read rune circuits. Clearly, this wasn’t on the local curriculum.
With a gleam in her eye, the Tinlander had dragged the two of them upstairs to the bedroom and sat down at her desk with Tara over her left shoulder and Finn to her right. The tome had been lying open on page 220 or 229 before, but the other girl had quickly turned to page 15. This bore the title “Simple Light Circuit.”
“So, this is the source rune,” Seema began, tapping a symbol that looked like a pair of parallel lines with a stylised arrow pointing perpendicularly away from one. “It draws heat in and then starts routing it through these channels that you carve into wood or steel. The little arrow here shows which way the heat should go.”
“What happens if it goes the other way?” Finn asked.
“Then it’ll run into the sink. That’s the same thing at the end of our wands,” Seema replied, moving her hand below this towards a three-pronged symbol that resembled the claw on the end of her wand. “If it does, then the heat goes back into the air without doing anything.”
“Can you add in another link after doing that?” Olsen asked before Tara could.
“Sure! I forgot to do that once, and burned the wallpaper on my bedroom.” Seema grinned up at him for a moment, before turning back towards the schematic and tracing the thin black line towards a circle with a giant X. “Anyway, the heat goes through to this thermocistic converter, which is set to turn it into light. The conduit then goes back to the sink and gets rid of what it doesn’t need.”
“Seems simple enough,” the boy commented. “And the heat just goes back into the air or the ground?”
“It could, but the really great thing is you can route that heat into another circuit. That means you can tap into another package that somebody’s already built, instead of having to do it yourself.” Seema paused and reached for a leather-bound folder, extracting a page that showed a bewildering array of hand-drawn lines and symbols running into each other. “This is what I was working on before I came here. A clock that uses these light circuits to display the time. There is a simpler one available, but I chose this as a side project.”
“What else can you do with these?”
Three rapid raps on the doorframe prevented Seema from replying. All three up them looked up and around to see von Clief standing in the doorway, face set into a frown. “Whatever the Archmage requires us to, preferably with the minimal amount of these NPM circuits as possible,” he finished.
“Wha – why?”
“A rather irritating legal case where one of these rune packages depending on another, which depended on fifty others scattered across four or five layers, and one of the fifty or so dependency packages provided a licence that required the user to turn relinquish all commercial applications to the creator.” The warlock rubbed his eyes. “While building upon other’s work can be useful, I am inclined towards simplification.”
“What does the Archmage wish for us to do, sir?” Tara put in. He lifted his arm to reveal a folder of some kind, and instructed the two of them to follow him. Olsen took that as his cue to disappear downstairs as the warlock lead Tara and Seema towards an outwardly normal door that he’d told them was his study. Neither of them had been inside yet, and if she was honest with herself, Tara was vaguely looking forward to it.
She was not at all surprised to see that most of von Clief’s study was so ordinary. The tomes that lined the creaking bookcases on two walls could have easily been in her own father’s, and the desk next to the window was nothing out of the ordinary, if at least solidly built. But the skull that sat on the desk made up for it; she didn’t know what it was, but the four square eyeholes and grossly protruding lower jaw clearly weren’t human. And that eerie blue glow from the eyeholes could only be magical.
“That…is creepy,” Seema breathed. Tara was disquieted to realised that she only partially agreed.
“That, ladies, is the skull of a particularly annoying troll I had to hunt down a few years ago. After all the trouble, I decided it would make an excellent paperweight and candlestick,” von Clief replied as he closed the door behind him and gestured towards the chairs. He lit his pipe as he waited for them to sit before folding himself into the remaining chair behind the desk. “One of the recurring problems that affects the Collegium and military out here, is that we are reliant on old-fashioned scouting patrols and the telegraph to track beasts like this or hedge-wizards…and more often that not, a complete lack of contact from a village or outpost.”
He paused, dark eyes sliding from Tara to Seema and back, before continuing, “One suggestion I have made is to look at providing a linked system of thermocistic sensors to track the beasts. It may surprise both of you to know that this simply has not happened out here yet.”
“Really?” Seema’s grin had a large serving of disbelief.
“It surprised myself, and for that matter, the Archmage as well. At the very least, there are no written records of this. However, Andersen is more interested in the potential…industrial applications for this. Both Sydtel and the Colwdvatn & Kerbalstead are pushing for something of the kind.”
“How?” Tara asked. “Do they mean somehow enhancing the telegraph?”
“You have been paying attention,” von Clief smirked around his pipe. He lowered it and continued, “The railway lines are obsessed with punctuality and want to know of anything that can affect this – rockslides in a particular canyon, a moose or direwolf on the tracks, or even knowing when a train has passed a bridge. And since the telegraphs follow the railway, they are the most appropriate conduit for this.”
He slid open the folder and extracted a collection of pages, spreading them on the desk in front of the girls. Tara’s eyes skipped over the Collegium’s intricately decorated symbol, focussing on the first paragraph.
It is declared, in Accordance with Article 1 of the Articles of Thermocisty, that a network of thermocistic sensors shall be deployed along the railway lines of the Sydfjords, with a view to developing a better picture of events that would have an impact on this most urgent of lifelines towards industrial and civil society. This network shall at minimum cover the following settlements and railway lines connecting them: • Colwdvatn • Kerbalstead • Birgthra • Fort Bregen It is declared that the network of sensors must cover all potential events that could impede or otherwise impact the productivity of the railway network, including but not limited to: • Land-slides and emissions of a volcanic nature • Fauna of a domesticated or undomesticated nature • Collisions during transport • Transport levels and times near certain geographic locations It is expected that these events shall be recorded in such a manner which is conducive to bi-directional dispatch by telegraph without manual labour. Be it so declared, Archmage Arnor Anderssen
Tara turned her attention to the other pages, and was immediately lost in the dense verbiage of the specifications. Erticulator junction, Lagrange frequency shift, synergise, reticulated splines…lots of ten-taler words that sounded like a madman had invented them while drinking. Beside her, Seema made a noise that could have been one of fascination or disbelief.
“I don’t quite understand what sort of sensors they require,” Tara admitted as she looked up again. Von Clief raised an eyebrow, smirking faintly. She suddenly felt like a fool; surely she should have-
“Deciphering their words takes some practice,” he chuckled. “Most of these specifications are intended to show the writer’s technical prowess. What they really want is some sort of pressure or motion detector around bridges or valleys. And what we have asked to do is to find a way to link it to a telegraph.
“As a starting point, you should both acquire yourselves something more appropriate to the local climate. You have seen the local ponchos? The coats that everyone wears?” He paused long enough for them to nod, both confused at the sudden change of topic, before continuing, “They will not win any fashion awards in Levarche or Tinland, but they keep out the wind and snow. Especially when we have to go out of the town to examine the sensors.”
If she hadn’t been paying attention to his words before, she was now. The storm that blew past the window, blurring the far side of the street, did not look inviting. And inside the city, there was at least shelter. Walls to block the wind, rain and snow. Fireplaces.
There wouldn’t be any of that out in the valleys.
So, Seema is an absolute nerd about rune circuits, the Collegium’s written communications are needlessly pompous, and rune schematic licences are just as big a pain in the hole as in software development. That last one (and the below sketch) may or may not be inspired by three agonising months going through this.