"It was as if, for a heartbeat, the world awoke, and lashed out in rage at those who disturbed it."
Full Item Description
Potential Cannons are relatively simplistic devices to look at; constructed around a compact steam engine that drives powerful puissance converters, the business end of the device resembles nothing quite so much as a long-bore cannon with a strangely disfigured accumulation of crystals at the base of the barrel.
The history of civilization is a long and bloody one, with each era of prosperity built upon the blood-drenched soil of the prior era of strife; each time, newer and greater weapons are forged from the peaceful insights, the better to efficiently shed the blood of the enemy.
So it is that the potential cannon was developed during the Second Heresy Wars by the greatest minds of the city-state of Ulfdin; beset on three sides by hostile forces, with the only safe route out leading through the pass held by the notoriously independence-minded rabble of Perin's Folly, much of the city's remaining resources were poured into the development of several devices that would, if not win a war, at least have the potential to buy the city's people time and space in which to recover and prepare for the next assault.
The Potential Cannon was the first weapon put to the drawing board, but the last finished; it was initially proposed as a weapon that could turn the kinetic force of the swift-moving Wyrmriders of the Kirylun Crag into their own destruction. It underwent many evolutions in concept from this beginning, each one more exotic than the last, even as the wars reached nearly to the lightning walls of the city itself.
It was during such a siege that the thaumatechnologists tasked to developing the weapon emerged from their laboratory at last; some never emerged, and were never spoken of by their colleagues, nor were any remains found in the laboratory afterwards. All of them showed some sign of having been afflicted by terrible forces, bearing the scars of aetheric mutation.
It was in unnerving silence that they carried their creation, a crude device of metaclockwork, strangely deformed crystals, and puissance converters, to the top of one of the anchoring towers of the lightning wall, hooking it into the tower's generator.
In the distance, some the the wyrmriders wheeled to flee, spooked by something none in the city could see; then the lightning wall flickered, once, twice, and then went out entirely for three full heartbeats. The crowds in the city were just beginning to panic that perhaps the researchers had turned on the city when the cannon discharged.
In the middle of the wyrmrider army, a mote of light flickered, brighter than the sun itself; then a pulse of pure white light erupted outward, raw aetheric energy concentrated densely enough to be visible to the naked eye. It raced out to nearly half a kilometer from the initial flash point before it faded out, and behind it was a scene of utter catastrophe and madness. Reality, for a single heartbeat, was horrifically scarred and ruptured, blending with twisted alien dimensions as the fabric of existence strove to deal with the hammerblow dealt to it.
The effect was over almost before it could register to any of the watchers, but the results were obvious and horrific; where a powerful army had been a moment before, there was now a landscape of crazed glass, glowing in eldritch colors as it cooled and cracked. Of the army, only a few traces remained; a few had fled beyond the blast, alerted by some temporal ripple, while here and there were piteous, mewling abominations, the fused and mutated remnants of rider and wyrm alike. Of the bulk of the force there was no sign; they had been snapped through the gaping cracks in existence, never to be seen again.
The engineers saved the city the trouble of deciding if they should be lauded as heroes or reviled for creating such a monstrous device; all but three threw themselves off the tower, and those three turned themselves into the city's sanitarium. Reports from the sanitarium keepers indicated that they had lost the power of rational speech, communicating only with each other in a kind of glossolalia until their deaths.
It was with reluctance that the city sent other engineers to retrieve the blueprints of the device from the vacant lab, much less produced and deployed more of them against their foes; were they not so devastatingly effective, the Potential Cannon would likely have been taken apart and quietly forgotten about.
As it stands, the sheer potency of the weapons has made them an item very much in demand among the other major nations that can afford the cost of having one constructed. Few have ever been fired, as the simple threat embodied by one of these nightmare devices is enough to keep would-be conquerors at bay. At the same time, news of a nation acquiring one is often enough to spark riots and protests in the streets of more enlightened cities, similar to the protests against nuclear weaponry in the modern world.
The Potential Cannon works by creating a 'kick start' pulse of energy that draws in ambient local energy at the target point; it draws in all kinds of power, including those which are only potential; this last is part of what gives rise to the weapon's name. The other part lies in the power of the aetheric pulse, which sunders reality between the True and the myriad Potential Worlds that Might-Have-Been, as well as the horrifically alien realms Beyond.
The aetheric blast creates ripples in time as well as space; while the first versions of the weapon only gave a few seconds of notice, the more powerful iterations produce strange 'ghosts' up to several minutes in the past, as Potential Worlds intrude briefly upon the True World, colorful and half-substantial mirages that warn the wiser heads in an area to flee before the attack goes off. On occasion, particularly 'near' Potential Worlds will overlap with the True World, with mildly out-of-place echoes of vehicles and people appearing. These, if they overlap their True counterparts, have extremely painful and grisly results as the Potential and the True fuse together into a horrific amalgamation of metal or flesh.
The actual detonation is nearly instantaneous, although the few who survive it will swear it seemed to go on without end. The initial pulse of energy begins a chain reaction, converting all the energy at the point of ignition into aetheric energy, which then detonates; it shreds the boundaries of Potential and the veil blocking the Beyond for a single heartbeat, expanding to engulf a roughly spherical area that ranges from half a kilometer in diameter to nearly two leagues across in a storm of sundered reality.
Within this space, all potential realities of all the worlds touched upon are momentarily brought into True existence; ordinary men become gibbering nightmares with a dozen screaming mouths and hundreds of ruptured, bloody eyes; vehicles become insane sculptures of wreckage. Things from Beyond suffer these effects, but are often less concerned, as their alien biologies are rarely material things. Blasphemous horrors of protoplasmic nature slop through the breach in existence, consuming whatever they spill over in that brief instant. Alien spores drift across the tear, settling on terrestrial ground and giving rise to loathsome new forms of life. Even the very earth is devastated, as the soil is forced into conjunction with countless echoes of itself and other, alien soils, the pressure melting it and turning it to a lake of glass.
When the pulse ends, the True World reasserts itself, sealing the shredded borders of existence anew. All that is left are the few living things which survived the event, usually airborne spores of loathsome plants from the nightmare realms Beyond, and a few unfortunate souls who were unlikely to have been there, and thus survived being fused to only a few echoes of themselves.
Any sort of steampunk at all from thaumatech to simple old-fashioned steamtech.
Wind up your imaginations and start the kettle boiling!
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? Responses (26)
Updated: Ouroborus and I were discussing the initial idea of this thing; it was stalled out, but his Conversion Device and our subsequent conversation gave it new life.
Gotta give it to you, this one turned out excellent!
Entirely thanks to the discussion with you. It also fits much better with Kuramen in this form than the initial version did.
A magical WMD. It must help keep the peace.
You could say that. Nobody wants to risk being hit by it, once they've seen the aftermath; not many want to fire them a second time, either.
It is said the best weapon is the one you never have to use. I disagree. The best weapon is the one you only have to use once.
Brutal, nasty, a good bit of logic behind the effects. Very nice Kassil
Thank you. I was trying for something logical but hideous, and seem to have succeeded fairly well.
Stark? Is that you?
I'm afraid you lost me.
What Scras said.
Boom, indeed. It'd be a particularly nasty weapon if fired at a pack of thaumavores like the Whisps; they'd absorb a tremendous dose of aether, overload, and detonate in fallout reactions pretty much at the same instant as the pulse shreds the world, making it the equivalent of a radioactive blast.
Weapons of mass destruction inevitably are horrifying. The delivery is what makes these subs as good as they are.
I think the worst component of this would be for the soldier at the epicenter, witnessing the ripples preceding the event, and realizing he's too close to the heart of it to escape. The kind of sudden fear, panic, and apathetic despair that would have to crash over him in that moment would potentially be as destructive as the weapon itself; I imagine some commit suicide before the detonation occurs, if they know what's happening.
And invariably, some will pretend to have these weapons, to dissuade invaders and increase their pretense of power.
Not for every campaign, but it is worth considering. You could make a WWBMWI for nuclear weapons. :)
Great work, Kassil!
You're correct; I imagine mock assemblages of components would relatively common among the less-prosperous states, leading to a kind of cold-war state where everyone distrusts everyone else. Ulfdin likely has a top-grade counter-spy network in place to protect their control over the key components of the devices, and that there are probably those among their welathiest rivals trying to reverse-engineer one of the cannons in order to create their own...
I don't recognize that acronym. WWBMWI?
I thought he might mean that, but the acronym was a bit scrambled.
Damn! Its going to be hard votin' this time around...
Truth. Some of the entries were awesome.
Steampunk is obviously a very rich genre.
I now see this when I think of potential cannons: http://www.sonicbomb.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=59
That's... Quite an interesting device they have there. Airburst weapons have so much potential for utter devastation it isn't funny.
This is fantastic. I imagine they are relatively more expensive than nuclear weapons in our world, hence a powerful nation might only employ a handful of these, correct? Then, I would think that most war efforts would consist of espionage and sabotage, locating and deactivating these weapons so that a conventional invasion would be possible. Very very good submission, and an easy 5.
Something to consider is that powerful countries don't necessarily have the resources to field a large number of these. Depending on any number of factors, these could result in a global Cold War, or roughly the equivalent to the US after WWII, when we were the only ones with The Bomb for a while.
Heck, you only need one to be the most dangerous world power.
They are, indeed, fairly expensive; given their sheer bulk and come delicate components, they're not battlefield-portable, so they tend to be emplacements. Ulfdin tends to see a fair surplus to their treasury whenever one gets comissioned, as they have the secret of growing the 'warp crystals' that help focus the transformation effect. I expect other nations are vigorously researching the method of creation, but as the sub suggests, it involved less than pleasant methods to divine the secret. That said, it's only a matter of time and will, and I'm sure that eventually you'll have battlefields that have soldiers equipped with firearms equivalents of Uther Doul's Possible Sword, each firing producing a swarm of nigh-bullets.
A Cold War situation is highly probable as a result of their creation, yes.
It reminds me of the Conversion Device in effect, a WMD that sunders reality.
That was the chief inspirational effect, yes. Rather than a sustained and steady operative field, this is a split-second pulse of utter devastation. The Device is a bomb with fallout. The Cannon is just a devastating gun.