A/N: Like before, you can join the discord channel for questions and discussion with this invite code: X6WeHRn
The electric department of the University was a slightly gloomy place. Magic research was the forefront of everything after all and interest in the electric phenomenon was not very high. Magical devices were just easier to design and make than electrical ones, even if only because of the greater knowledge and infrastructure present.
However, there was one area that electricity had the advantage in. It was fast.
The troubles over trying to make magic move faster was well known. While fast to the human eye, magic was slow when attempting to move signals across long distances like between cities.
Here, and in chemistry, electricity found its niche. A tiny alternating current generator was driven by a steam engine, for University experiments. Hooked up to a long cable, strung up on poles across rooftops and down to other labs on the other side of the University grounds, that much copper cabling was expensive. Wire drawing tools and the insulation had had to be invented just for this.
The devices at either end were made ready and the test started with an exchange of semaphore signals.
Each click of the contact downwards completed the circuit, setting off the meter on the other end. Each signal was recorded onto the chart recorder, to be read off later. The experimenters were more interested in the signal degradation than the content however, they already knew what was being sent was the alphabet and the small scale tests in the lab proved it would work.
The signal was still too weak to travel long distances and the cabling was heavy and expensive. But a crude telegraph was on its way.
The incoming group was spotted by elka patrols days away from contact. Unlike every time before, the escorts for the delegation to the north did not move to engage the zombies.
Yes, they had guns, spell cannons and even a cartful of Landar's Trumpets, plus plenty of supplies, but they did not want to engage in any unnecessary battles. A week away from the Northern Fort meant that their supply was limited to elka trips and a supply caravan would take weeks to catch up. Expedition commander Arand made the decision to avoid fighting as much as they could to save ammunition.
Unlike before, the group of zombies seemed to be wandering directly towards them instead of aiming for the Northern Fort.
The expedition still avoided battle but the zombies were like a persistent reki. Eventually, reaching the banks of a small stream, Arand had no choice but to turn and fight or risk being caught mid crossing.
The zombies coming from uphill would traditionally be a disadvantageous position. But with the advent of guns that could mostly ignore the elevation and the enemy striking with light beams, killing zombies on the down slope of a hill became a common occurrence.
The crack of bullets smashed down the first of the zombies cresting the hill, but almost immediately after, a flash of lightning hit the opposite side of the hill. Unlike normal battle strategy, the Ritual Summon Tempest Bolt was used first, from the summoners' reserve. Bright flashes struck at the enemy blindly, igniting much of the hillside.
As the burning zombies crested the hill, the battlemages rained down disruption bolts and firebolts into the disrupted aura, overpowering the smaller zombie group with their own magic. Most of the soldiers selected for this expedition were knights rather than commoner volunteers, and their volley was somewhat effective.
What survived of the mess was picked off by accurate gunfire as they charged down at the waiting army.
The change back to old pre-gun strategies was dictated by the need to preserve ammunition. Using any purely magical effects would allow their 'ammunition' to regenerate with rest. This was not without risk, the stopping power of guns and spell cannons was important to most current military strategies to ensure the safety of the soldiers against huge hordes.
Arand only commanded such a strategy because the group of zombies barely outnumbered his own group of two hundred. Even with such conservation, they expended nearly two hundred bullets.
The expedition hoped that they did not have to fight too many 'easy victories'.
Ka circled around the expedition again, quite glad that there were so many summoners willing to charge his flight harness. His flight banked behind him as they aligned north.
Two weeks away from the northern tip the landbound's reach, Ka was feeling quite exposed. It crept up on him as they drew further and further away.
In the air, vast distances were no more than a change in the land below, it felt like he hadn't travelled a significant distance. Landing each night with the expedition gave him the feeling that Ka was slowly travelling into the zombie ravaged no man's land.
"Do you feel it?" Ka had asked his flight after the first battle.
"Like we're isolated with monsters on all sides. "
His flight hadn't agreed back then, but they slowly converted over to his side as the expedition progressed further and further from the Northern Fort.
Ka had not realized just how much the elkas relied on the humans. Having a safe perch to furl their wings each night did wonders for their sense of security. And judging by the numbers of zombies wandering around out here, not even Clan One in their heyday could have survived for long if the humans weren't around. Away from the ready stockpiles and support of the Federation, the expedition had to conserve everything from bullets to water.
Once more, Ka reaffirmed that his decision was correct to push Clan Two to work closer with the humans.
The shout from his flightmate drew Ka out of his musings. To the north was a familiar river. The place where he had met these other landbound.
The scar from the previous battle was still there. The pockmarks of spells on the banks of the large river was obvious from their low height. Yet, comparing the battlefield with what Ka had seen from the aftermaths of the Federation's was a huge difference. The lack of huge burn scars and craters of mines was quite obvious.
Unlike his first time here, there was no army around.
All Ka was a single wooden tower overseeing the banks of the river. Some sort of outpost to watch the river crossing in Ka's estimation.
He signaled with his hands to the rest of the flight. Each flight was given a message tube to deliver if they saw any of the northerners on their scouting mission. Landing was disallowed however. No one wanted to get sacrificed.
Ka noticed the humans manning the tower waving to attract his attention as he detached from his flight to descend to a lower height.
The message tube deployed a parachute as Ka threw it out behind him, floating gently to the ground. Containing a greeting and the intentions of the delegation drawn in pictures, Ka hoped the soldiers down there understood their peaceful intentions.
As the flight swung away to report their contact, the last thing Ka saw of them was one of the soldiers running out to retrieve his message.
At the same time as the delegation laboured its way north, a meeting in the Ektal capital went on behind closed doors. With King Ektal as the host, the invited were the Chancellors of each region. It was made quite clear that the invitation was not to be refused.
The movers and shakers of the country had assembled in the comfort of the lavish meeting room in the Ektal palace, wine and snacks were provided but only Duport availed herself of them. No one expected her to really voice an opinion.
"Chancellor Aldar. "
The King opened the discussion by calling on Aldar. Known to be a somewhat distant ally of the king, Aldar was not outright hostile to Minmay but did not support Minmay's recent political independence.
"Minmay, it strikes me that the delegation to meet the northerners is quite heavily weighted in your favour. Curren, the diplomat who is going to represent all of Ektal, is your delegate to the Central Territories. We would like you to clarify what your intentions are in this critical first meeting. "
To Minmay, this sounded like he had caught all of them unprepared. In truth, while the stated goal of the Northern Fort was to contact the northerners and protect them from the predations of the zombies to prevent large swarms, no one had really prepared for contact to be made. Based on the age of the ruins and the old maps before the migration, one could fit all of Ektal into the estimated monster infested zone.
The news that a three week expedition could reach the borders of their northern neighbour was quite unexpected. Historical record indicated the Federation had been out of contact with them for over two centuries. That a contact attempt had been immediately dispatched was a surprise to almost everyone at home.
In truth, this was likely an ambitious play by Curren. Being Minmay's chief representative to the Central Territories was a useful job but not glamorous. Minmay had sent him to the Northern Fort to coordinate the supplies from the Central Territories and he clearly saw the opportunity when contact was made. Being the first diplomatic contact with the northerners would be quite a feather in Curren's cap. Chancellor Minmay would be happy to let him have it if it didn't cause him political headaches back in Ektal.
"This is as much a surprise to me as you. But I can assure Ektal that this mission is merely one to establish contact and diplomatic channels. No agreements will be made by Curren nor will they be recognized even if he did so. " Minmay explained, trying to play down the importance of the meeting.
"And yet the tone of the first contact is the most important!" Aldar pursued his point.
"I am sure my subordinate is willing to follow the policy dictated by his country. "
"The first impression will set the tone for all the following meetings. " Aldar's grumbles seemed to Minmay less about actual worries and more being outraged at the way Minmay was taking yet another symbolic victory.
"Are we going to recall the expedition?" Minmay asked.
That shut the chancellor up quickly. None of them here actually wanted to do that now that the delegation was halfway to the original contact point. Not with the Queen sniffing around. Given half a chance, the Federation would take over the entire contact. Ektal, through Minmay, was in the position of the default point of contact now.
It was ironic how the Minmay's position relative to Ektal was mirrored by Ektal relative to the Federation.
"The delegation will not be recalled," said King Ektal. And that was the end of that.
"In that case, what we should be deciding on is the follow up contact. " Minmay offered.
As expected, being offered the initiative on the issue, Aldar was willing to take it up. "Aldar region has a number of scholars wanting to analyze their language. Something we all need if the contact is to go smoothly. "
"Very well, we shall include them. " Ektal agreed.
"I suppose I will be providing the escorts for the next expedition? The First Minmay Guards are rotating out to the Northern Fort next. "
The King agreed to Minmay's immediate counter.
"Supplies, support and the Iris from us," said the Central Territory representative.
They glanced at Duport who just shook her head. Her territory was recovering but not stable enough to do something like this.
"I shall appoint Mayor Centra as the chief diplomat for Ektal in this matter," King Ektal said once their contributions were decided. A strong noble from the capital region, which was not unexpected. It wasn't as if they could send a Chancellor off on a months long dangerous trek through monster infested lands.
"Preparations shall begin the moment the first contact returns. "
Further south, a very similar meeting was taking place. Queen Amarante and Vorril listened to the reports from her messengers, with King Ebernet from Ranra in attendance. Ektal was busy with his own nobles and Illastein was in no position to comment on anything. The smaller participants like Calva or the two recently independent from Illastein Duchy of Eilan and Triese Principality were present but only as observers.
"Shouldn't diplomatic negotiations like this be the domain of the entire Federation? It concerns all of us and Ektal is part of the Federation. Them taking action by themselves is implying they don't care what the rest of the Federation thinks!"
Amarante smiled at the King but shook her head. It was obvious that Ranra was concerned more about the zombies and viewed the expedition north as a way to take pressure off their own border to the Algami Plains. He saw the delegation as a division of priorities and didn't want the Northern Fort distracted.
"And yet as a country, Ektal is allowed to manage its own politics. " Amarante explained.
"This is not an internal matter of a country! It is a diplomatic contact. "
"King Ektal does know that any treaties he wants should be ratified by the Federation as a whole. His role here is to establish contact, set up communications and limited cooperation. The Federation can provide help, and indeed, the scholars I sent to the north should be up to the task. "
Amarante's explanation barely calmed the man down. She sighed internally as the King began to rant.
She shared a glance with Vorril and got a nod in return.
"In any case, we are too busy in the near future to make much contribution to the second contact expedition. " The queen smiled demurely.
Ebernet blinked for a moment then grinned greedily. "It's time then?"
Vorril grunted at the man's obviousness, "indeed. The recent advancements have allowed a large expansion in the number of Knights as well as their capabilities. Leave the North and the expeditions to Ektal. The rest of the Federation will focus on recapturing Algami Plains. "
The King tried to hide his obvious pleasure at the news but it bled through into his tone anyway. "Ranra is all for it! We have twenty thousand cavalry ready to ride!" It was a well known fact that Ranra chafed at the loss of Algami plains a generation ago but the Federation had not the power to push back since then. That most of the gains would go to Ranra explained the rest of Ebernet's eagerness.
Rumours of the build up for a recapture had been going around for some time and the musters had accelerated recently with the food surplus pushing farmers to try to become knights. Ranra might be pushing it by sending virtually every last fighting person in their country but they had been preparing for just such an attempt for the better part of twenty years.
Part of the reason why Amarante had agreed to this now was that she wasn't sure how long Ranra's economy could sustain that level of mobilization.
"Seven thousand seven hundred knights and four hundred alchemists. " Vorril added. The numbers might be smaller from Inath, but their spellstorms and alchemists were the best trained and the parties came with very strong enchantment support.
Amarante caught a glance from the Calva representative. She nodded fractionally. A small portion of the plains on their border could be given to Calva Principality.
"I'm sure we can convince Clan Three to provide some air scouting. We also have two hundred knights ready for support. "
Vorril nodded at the representative while Ebernet waved his hand magnanimously. Their gains would be small in proportion to their contribution. Ranra could easily spare the territory for the valuable air support.
Amarante raised a finger to signal Ebernet to wait when she caught out of the corner of her eye, the two representatives from the new city states discussing in low tones.
"Summoner clan Ryou and Tsink-ger will also contribute at least one Ritual class and four Major summoning stones each. "
She raised an eyebrow at the pronouncement. Regardless that the representatives were not actually from the summoner clans, they seemed quite confident that they could make the decision to pitch in. And being on the coast of Illastein, they couldn't possibly expect to get any territory halfway across the Federation.
"Ryou might be able to do so, but are you sure Tsinge will allow it? They only have the one Ritual stone," Amarante asked. With the proper pronunciation.
"They will. " Was the man's reply.
"Very well. The Federation welcomes their support. "
She would have to find some suitable non-territory advantage for them. Possibly something she herself gained from Ektal.
King Ebernet proclaimed loudly. "If we are all decided, then we shall begin immediately! Algami plains shall be recaptured!"
The queen watched as the discussion take over the rest of the session and quietly let the matter of the contact drop.
In the long run, the people up north were more important than some grassland after all.