Metal vs Stone
Henry sat on the ground outside examining his new weapons. Jason was sitting on a bench on the other side of the yard pretty much doing the same thing. He doubted his friend was concentrating very hard, though; Jason had Uluula on the brain. Henry thanked God he didn’t have any female distractions or girls with plans for him. Maybe he’d consider dating again after they did their first job and he could actually afford to get a house or ye olde apartment. It could definitely wait, though.
These days, Henry liked blades much more than girls. He patted his scarred leg, lost in the past. Girls stabbed you in the back, blades didn’t. Henry realized his own thought process wasn’t making a lot of sense so he focused on the task at hand again.
He was holding a khopesh. From his HEMA history studies, Henry knew it was a sword of Egyptian design that was made of bronze on Earth before the Egyptians transitioned to better metals. The weapon itself was sort of like a cross between and axe and a sword. He chose it because it was one of the longer swords in the Jaguar Clan armory and he liked the feel of it. The khopesh had weight and presence but wasn’t awkward feeling to Henry like an axe would be.
Normally Henry wasn’t a fan of bronze weapons in general. They were inferior to steel weapons in almost every way, one of the worst being edge retention. Ancient smiths on Earth and apparently modern smiths on Ludas hammered the edges of bronze weapons to increase their strength and durability, but so far Henry found that bronze weapons dulled fast and were hard to sharpen.
Luckily for him, he had the metal magic mojo.
He ran a finger along the blade of the khopesh, giving the sword a razor sharp edge. Normally someone would have to worry about rolling or chipping the blade of a sword if it was too sharp, but Henry could easily repair it.
He put the sword down as he got an idea. If he could move around metal in blades, maybe he could shape metal more directly. He picked up a small knife and concentrated while he released a slow trickle of power. “Oh hell yes!” he could mold the bronze like clay. This could come in handy…
Henry spent the next hour playing with his new ability. He eventually realized he could help guide the shape of whatever he was forming with his imagination. He still had to use his hands and there was definitely skill involved, but by the time he was done with shaping a new dagger, it actually looked like someone crafted it. He wasn’t ending up with shapeless blobs of material which was what his creations would look like if he was playing with clay back on Earth.
He glanced over at Jason who’d put his weapons off to the side and was sitting in his familiar meditating pose. Henry still thought Jason’s approach to learning magic was dumb, but it got undeniable results. Henry would always be more of a hands-on person.
Speaking of which… he concentrated and… success! He changed the top of just his index finger into bronze. Then he focused and changed the metal to steel. The materials he had magical access to really did seem somehow linked to the metals around him. He still felt like he could probably manifest metals that weren’t nearby, but it’d take a lot more mojo. Maybe all he had.
His big breakthrough came while he was picking up more materials to break apart and sculpt into bronze stick figures. As he picked up a handful of bronze spikes, one attached to the steel he’d created on his index finger. What the… When he dropped the rest of the spikes, the one stuck to his finger remained and it was solidly attached. Well I’ll be…
After a bit more experimentation, he realized the spike had attached when he was trying to grab as much material as he could and unwittingly used his magic to help. The fact he was able to join ferrous and not ferrous metals was interesting indeed. Even magnets couldn’t do what he was doing. He thought about his arm spikes and got an idea.
Henry turned the top of one forearm to steel, grabbed a bronze dagger, and tried to attach it. Success! It not only worked, it was easy for him to do and took almost no magic mojo either. He thought about how he could use this new ability for over several minutes. Blades weren’t all that useful… he could already make those when he needed to and anything he wanted to attach to himself he’d have to carry. Sure, if he stayed pumped up on Earth ‘roids he could carry kinds of crap, but that took a lot of energy to maintain and wasn’t very practical.
He did have a possible solution for his earth strength problems but he wanted to try it later. Plus, even if he could carry lots of blades around to attach to himself, they’d be bulky and conspicuous.
Then he remembered what Jason said about his crappy ranged abilities. His friend was right. Henry had lots of power but chucking rocks around was inefficient and he couldn’t hit shit. The frustrating thing was that he couldn’t throw anything for beans but he was an expert marksman. If only he had guns… His eyes widened. No way, it couldn’t be that simple.
Henry got to work, his new theory rolling around his mind like a washing machine. What he wanted to try would definitely require some trial and error to get right if it worked.
What he eventually created was a handful of bronze balls made by rolling the metal between two palms, the process similar to what he did with mud as a child. He also made a bronze tube slightly shorter than his forearm with an inner diameter the same size as the bronze balls. The balls themselves were about the size of .50 caliber musket balls on Earth.
He put a ball in the end of the tube and shook it around. The ball didn’t fall out. Then he attached the tube to his steel forearm with magic. Yes, by canting his arm a little bit, he could look right down the top of the tube as if he was sighting down a gun barrel. The only thing left to do was try a test fire.
He slowly increased the power he exerted on the ball in small increments. Nothing happened at first, but when the ball finally overcame the friction of the tube and started moving, it traveled the entire length and shot out with a “pop”. Since he intentionally dialed down the power, the ball exited at about standard throwing speed and Henry was able to get up and retrieve the ball.
The friction in the tube was obviously slowing the ball down and making it harder to fire, but more importantly, his idea worked! Henry began experimenting some more. It helped that he could keep reusing the same material over again. It took him longer to create larger items, but molding the metal wasn’t really requiring much magic. It was a surprisingly efficient ability.
Henry played around with a few basic variations to his idea. He concentrated on smoothing the “barrel” of the tube right past the point where the ball was retained in it. That seemed to help a lot with firing. He tried adding rifling to the inside of the tube but that was a disaster. He didn’t seem to have the control or refinement for that yet.
For better aiming, he eventually created a platform of sorts on the bottom of the tube that kept the barrel pointing straight on his arm when he aimed. It added some weight, but he knew it would make the entire contraption far more accurate. He made a bunch of balls; Henry figured he could carry a lot of those. He made a total of four identical barrels to match this size of ball.
Reloading the barrel on his arm using a ball from his pocket was pretty fast. He could take a barrel off of his arm and replace it with another, loaded barrel even faster. One barrel’s weight on his arm he barely even noticed, but if he attached all 4, it started getting a little heavy and aiming was awkward. Overall, Henry was satisfied with the overall functionality and flexibility of the weapon system.
He wanted to try a few more things before full power, practical testing. He made one large, special barrel, roughly three times the size of his standard barrels. This didn’t take him too long since it was just a larger version of what he’d already made 4 copies of. Then he started experimenting with the ammo. The balls he created for it were massive and heavy. In fact, he thought they’d be seriously overkill for most of the monsters he’d seen so far. The thing was, he wanted to be prepared if some big dragon motherfucker popped up out of nowhere. For overkill, a bigger version of his standard ammo was not enough.
The smaller balls in his smaller tubes would probably work fine out to at least 50 yards, but he wanted his larger projectiles to be more accurate than balls fired out of smooth bore barrels probably could be. Since Henry’s tubes weren’t rifled, he needed some way to stabilize his monstrous projectile.
After pondering the problem for a while, he got his inspiration from tank-fired sabot rounds. He’d seen a video or two about them in the past and remembered they had fins. He also thought about how arrows worked, with an arrow’s fletching imparting spin.
What he eventually came up with looked sort of like an elongated football with a tail and fins. He canted the fins so passing air would impart spin. The projectile was huge and heavy, almost as long as its barrel. Its obvious drawback if it worked was that it was made of bronze, a relatively soft metal. What he really wanted to do was change it into steel but as soon as he stopped feeding magic into it, it’d start decaying. …But what if he could make it tougher and denser?
Henry tried adding small bits of bronze to his finished projectile. First he stuck them to the outside of the object and then concentrated on absorbing them into the weapon, focusing most at the tip and fins for added penetration and durability. It definitely worked, but the damn thing just kept getting heavier. It was probably several times the weight of the largest rock he threw during the fight with the demon wolves.
Despite the weight, he thought it should be okay. All he’d tried accelerating before was rocks but his actual magic was Metal, not Earth. He had a feeling throwing bronze around was going to be a great deal easier.
Henry had one more thing to do before he could call his project complete. First went back into the house and asked the first maid he saw for some spare cloth. While he was waiting for that, he constructed a retaining system for his barrels using bronze and leather. When he added the whole thing to his belt, each barrel snapped into place. Forward of the barrels as a small tube he created with a bit larger diameter than his standard size projectile balls. He made a small spring loaded door for the bottom of the tube to keep the balls from falling out that could still be opened to grab one at a time. The result was a convenient ammo tube he could operate with one hand. It held a total of 10 balls.
The maid from the house returned with some thick tan cloth. Henry used it to fashion a crude but effective bag he used to hold the extra balls he created. Lastly, he created two more large, armor busting projectile prototypes. He created retaining clips for these on his holster rig too, but there was only room for two. Perfect. He placed the last projectile in its oversized tube and loaded the other four barrels with ammo balls as well. All done.
He stood up and donned his armor, just a breastplate and a helm. He armed himself with a few knives and the khopesh. He also fixed the large shield he took from the Jaguar Clan armory to his left arm. All of it together was pretty heavy. He probably could handle it okay in a fight, but traveling with this amount of gear plus provisions wouldn’t be reasonable.
He remembered that knights during the medieval era on Earth generally didn’t wear their armor all time; they put it on if they needed it. Unfortunately, Henry didn’t have a squire or much time if shit hit the fan. He had a plan, though.
The start of this idea came to him right after he got to the Jaguar Clan and was still holding his earth strength. As he gradually became less worried about someone trying to tear his throat out again, he began trying to relax his power without releasing it and was mildly surprised that he could do so.
So now, standing in his full fighting gear, he tried absorbing strength from the earth at only about 20% of his maximum. It took more time than usual to accomplish, but the experiment was successful. Henry moved his body and swung his arms back and forth. Even with all his gear on now he felt like he could function easily all day.
A surprising and welcome benefit to this new ability was how little magic power it used. Making himself as strong and as fast as possible usually used up a large amount of his total reserves. However, dialing the power of the ability down like this required a relatively small amount of power, less than he thought it would. He reasoned that the amount of power needed for the ability increased in greater amounts the more he buffed himself in one shot. Since he’d only used strength from the earth at maximum power before, it drained him significantly.
As an experiment, Henry tried slowly dialing up his earth strength until he hit his maximum. “Wow,” he whispered. Increasing his strength slowly like this used less than half the power it took to go directly to his max immediately. No wonder he and Jason kept using up all their power! They still had a lot to learn.
He walked over to Jason and kicked his friend’s foot. “Hey, are you done communing with nature or whatever? I think I might have solved my range problem and I think you’ll want to see this.”
Jason opened his eyes and cocked an eyebrow, “Sure. But first, please throw a rock at me.”
Jason stood up. “You heard me, throw a rock at me. Don’t use magic, just a normal throw.”
Henry eyed Jason skeptically but dutifully stepped back, found a rock and let fly with normal throwing power. The rock sailed past Jason about five feet away, not even close to hitting him. Jason eyed where the rock landed, “Really?”
“Shut up, man. You know I have aiming issues.” Henry dug another rock out of the ground and concentrated carefully before throwing it. This time, it was only a moderately horrible throw. The rock might have brushed Jason’s shoulder if it hadn’t stopped in midair and fallen to the ground. The area in front of Jason looked sort of opaque and Jason’s eyes were narrowed, his jaw clenched. As soon as the space in front of him returned to normal, the strain vanished from his face.
Henry was impressed. “What was that?”
“I’m calling it null-time. I think I’m basically stopping the flow of time in a small area that’s only an atom or two thick, but even that’s a strain. The result is a barrier. Of course, all of this was theoretical until I just tried it out.”
“Then why did you tell me to throw a rock at you?”
Jason grinned, “Because you can’t hit shit. I knew if it didn’t work I would’ve been fine.”
Henry frowned and thought, This smug bastard. “I can’t hit anything, huh? Okay, let’s go over to that rock.” Henry pointed to the huge, 10ft by 10ft rock at the corner of the Jaguar Clan’s estate they were practicing in.
Henry had been planning to test his standard size barrels at full power first, but Jason pissed him off. He slapped his larger barrel with the armor penetrating projectile onto his steel forearm. Jason looked at the contraption curiously but didn’t say anything.
Henry walked until he was about 75 yards away from the large rock. He stared at it for a while, hoping he wasn’t about to make a fool of himself. Oh well, fuck it. He took careful aim and used magic to launch the projectile like he had before when he threw accelerated rocks. In an effort to be safe, he kept the power to about 50%.
What happened next would enter legend and song in the Jaguar Clan for generations. As it turned out, Henry’s ability with metal vs rock was much greater than he’d imagined. His heavy, ultra-dense bronze projectile was instantly accelerated to about the same speed and power as a WW2 tank’s main cannon.
The sonic boom and the SPLIT-CRASH of the round punching into the rock made the ground tremble, shook the surrounding trees, and kicked up leaves from the ground. Sharp shards of rock flew past Henry and Jason, a particularly large piece flying over 200 yards into the air before falling back to the ground. A cloud of demolished stone billowed out from the point of impact.
When the dust settled, a new crater was pounded out of the target over a gaping hole. Large cracks expanded both above and below the impact point. Small, sad pieces of broken stone continued to rain to the ground for an absurdly long time.
Jason swallowed and said in a monotone, “How about you don’t do that again anytime soon?”
Henry mutely nodded. He was excited that his invention was so effective, but he was also aware that the test firing could have gone very, very wrong. Without a proper backdrop or the fact he’d fired at a slight downward angle, who knew how much damage this thing could do. It would have gone through entire houses like they were made of paper.
Both men stood quietly for a while lost in thought. Henry wondered if Jason’s new null-time ability would have stopped this new weapon. Maybe his friend was wondering the same thing.
He was brought out of his reverie by approaching footsteps. He turned to find the maid Tita-abbi regarding the rock in horror. Behind her, he could see several other Mo’hali who’d come out of the house staring at them in silence.
“Who did this?” Tita-abbi’s voice shook.
Jason mutely pointed at his friend. Henry raised a hand, “Guilty. I hope this rock wasn’t important.”
Tita-abbi shook her head. “The rock is not important. Henry-ibbi, what have you unleashed upon the world?”