The first flakes of snow drifted down overnight, turning the whole landscape into a world of white by the next morning. Dressed in a navy grey environmental suit, Blake strolled down the newly constructed city with Princess Sherene, who was bundled up in thick furs, her snow boots crunching on the soft snow.

Strips of lighting salvaged from the ship's hatchways and repurposed as street lamps lined the sides of the street. A couple of older elven children could be seen shoving snow off the roads while the younger ones are playing with the snow. A half-track painted in red, with both Common and English wordings on its front and sides, indicating it as a public bus, pulled up next to a bus stop, where queues of elves and some humans boarded the bus.

The area where the elves previously pitched their tents were all removed and a city square was built in its place. Now dozens of wooden stalls and carts replaced the tents, turning the square into a lively market. Several storefronts surrounded the square was still under construction, with more residences available above the stores.

"The City is starting to look more lively, compared to the time when we first came here," Sherene commented, looking around the market with interest.

"Yes, it sure is," Blake agreed, remembering the first month when they landed here. "It's more lively now."

Fresh produce from the hydro farms and greenhouses, salted and smoked meat, eggs from bird wyverns and pico picos to milk and wool from muffalos laid out among the stalls. The elves traded daily necessities with each other with colorful plastic chits issued by the humans, each red chit is valued at a single meal at the public canteen, while greed chits are valued at five meals and blue chits at ten.

Each family or single elves were given enough chits for two weeks worth of food from the canteen, and for each job they worked in they were paid in an equivalent amount of chits for the hours they put in.

After watching the bustling crowd for a while, Blake led Sherene back towards the covered jeep parked down the street. The driver seeing the two of them returning started up the engines. "To the Academy," Blake said to the driver, who nodded and drove off.

Passing by the newly built public housing, Sherene was glad she gave her allegiance to the hoomans. To be able to finish constructing housing over two thousand of her people in less than two months was an accomplishment that no one could have done it except the hoomans.

"What are you thinking about?" Blake asked, seeing the princess staring intently out of the windows.

"You hoomans are so powerful, even if you say it's not magic," Sherene said, "To be able to do so much in so little time, it is so amazing that nothing short of a magical."

"Ha, thank you," Blake smiled. "But all these technology and innovations are developed and perfected over hundreds and thousands of years. We learn and improve as we move along."

"I see," Sherene sat back on the chair, "But our ancestors had been here for hundreds of years, yet we did not develop like you hoomans do."

Blake scratched his head, "Well, I guess it is because we did not have magic, so we can only improve in other ways."

The jeep slowed to a stop beside a large three-story complex, with its own walls and gate. "Sir, we are here." The driver parked the jeep on the lots allocated for vehicles.

Blake and Sherene stepped out to the cold, meeting Magister Thorn who was waiting at the sheltered porch for them. "Welcome, welcome!" Thorn greeted them excitedly.

"Hello, Master Thorn," Sherene did a curtsy which Thorn quickly pulled her up.

"No need for formalities lets go in where it is warm, and out of this snow," Thorn led the two of them into the building.

Sherene removed her fur coat and hung it on the side of the doors, and followed an excited Thorn down the hallway while looking around in curiosity. It was her first time to the Academy.

Blake said, "So, Magister Thorn, how is the school doing?' He had come before, when the building was finished, touring all the facilities for teaching the elves and humans on ways of science and magic. Blake built the Academy as an institute of learning so that the newly joined elves can be educated with the knowledge of humans, making them capable of working in the skilled jobs and other fields of expertise.

Blake and invited Thorn to be in charge of magical studies and also as the headmaster of the Academy, knowing that he had the experience of being one in the past, while Dr. Sharon holds the vice-principal role, teaching modern medicine and science.

Thorn led them through several doorways and finally into another wing of the school. "Here we are!" Thorn waved them into a workshop.

Tables with vices and clamps set evenly filled most of the room, and a large chalkboard adorned the wall, where drawings of a rifle could be seen. Chief Matt, Ford, Lt Frank, and Staff Pike standing in front of the teacher's table set on the side of the chalkboard and was fiddling with something.

As the trio approached the group at the table, they could hear the Pike's voice, "This is not very practical if it is designed is built this way, what happens if it breaks?"

"Oh, Captain, Princess," Chief Matt greeted the newcomers as he spotted him, the rest turned and gave their greetings. "Just in time!"

"In time for what?" Blake asked, looking at the two rifles on the table. "The prototypes are out?"

"Oh yes, we have two prototypes," Matt said cheerfully. "This," He points to the top rifle made out of local wood and metal stamping, "is designed by the Marine's armorer." He worked the bolt of the rifle, pulling the bolt back, and hands Blake the rifle who peered into the chamber of the rifle.

"It uses a simple and reliable electronic firing circuit that ignites the new black powder cartridge that we came out with." Matt held up a bullet cartridge with a pointed tip. "6.5 mm caliber soft tip for the projectiles, as the current bullet molds for the marines, are already in 6.5 mm, no point to retool them, and brass for the casing." He flips the cartridge and displays the rear end, showing a tiny hole coated with a grey substance.

"No primer for the cartridge, instead we have a 0.5 mm hole for allowing ignition of the black powder with external means. The hole is coated with a local tree sap that is waterproof and keeps the black powder grains from falling out." Matt took the rifle back from Blake and dry fired it.

"The bolt extracts the cartridge out from the chamber and when pushed forward, loads a new round into the chamber from the 10-round box magazine. Once the bolt is locked in place, squeezing the trigger will fire the electronic circuit inside the bolt and firing the round." Matt used a pair of pliers and pulled the butt pad off the rifle butt and shows Blake.

"A pair of 12 volts batteries powers the electronic firer. Good for over a thousand shots before needing to replace the batteries." He set the rifle down.

"Very nice, but why no automatic rifles?" Blake asked.

"Black powder will foul up gas operated or recoil operated gun systems, making it jam." Matt shrugged, "Well, not to mention the constant recoil will probably break the shoulders of an unenhanced human, so till we can have smokeless powder, it's a bad idea."

"I see," Blake nodded, while Sherene was totally lost.

"Now this design actually came up by Magister Thorn," Matt points to the next rifle on the table. "Magister Thorn, if you may?"

"Oh yes," Thorn rubbed his hands in excitement. "Oh, this is so fascinating! Well, Mr, Matt came to me with some questions regarding magical runes and us talked about thundersticks, no firearms."

"I learned the basics of how a bullet is fired out of this piece of metal tubing from this 'rifle'." Thorn lifted the similar looking rifle up. "Now instead of using 'eletrokics' for firing the bullet out, I use a fire rune instead."

Thorn worked the bolt expertly and pointed it to away from the group and squeeze the trigger, and sharp hiss and a flash of light could be seen from the muzzle. Satisfied, Thorn placed the weapon down and removed two small red mana stones out from his pockets.

Holding the two red stones up, Blake noticed they were cut into a circular shape with what appears to be some kind of rune carving on one side of each rune. One of the stones were hallowed out in the middle, like a donut.

"Now when those two fire runes touch each other, the magic will be triggered and flames will be created. By placing them both in the bolt, when the trigger is pulled, the bolt with this rune," He lifts up the complete circular rune, "will touch the other rune, and fire will be created. And with the impact of the bolt hitting, the flames will be forced into this tiny hole, and into the cartridge, lighting the black powder." Thorn explained proudly.

"I invented this new runic magic by reading the book of 'Basic Concepts Of Electricity'!"

A note from neo Koh

so tired ... doped up on meds...


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neo Koh


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