All of them avoided one particular area of coastline.
Nothing grew in this strange patch, though it wasn't due to the sun's merciless claws. Zinc was so heavy in the soil here it stained the ground a sickly white, and poisoned anything that dared grow in it. There were no shrubs or trees, and even the stubborn beachgrass that dotted many a soil-less rock further down the coast was absent here. The only things that dotted the landscape outside of Volta were strange towers. They were vast constructions of steel and copper wire, artfully spiraling up five times the height of a man into the sky. At first glance, one might see them as strange art installations or guard towers. Then again, there were no platforms for a man to stand on. Only copper wire. The next thought that had sprung to the mind of many a bandit was nel. Here it was, free for the taking, standing out in the open, a mile from the city with no guards in sight! Only touching the tower or drawing too near would reveal a fatal error.
The towers were the things that most benefited from Saun. Warm air agitated the zinc in the soil, mixed with the cool salt water air blowing in from the sea. Add a little copper, and the mixture was electrifying. Lightning would rush toward anything near the invisible cloud of electrons and crackling energy, and the only warning was subtle. Hairs rising on a man's skin, and a distinct feeling of discomfort. Volta protected its own, and a few blackened corpses littering the landscape made that warning clear. If that wasn't enough, a cheerful sign was posted along the road. It was large, artfully carved from cedar and painted bright red to catch the attention of unwary travellers and caravans. It stood on two posts, right at eye level for the average human, and placed just so next to the road that a caravener would take note of it for his driving.
'Greetings!' The sign proclaimed in large, friendly letters.
'Ilaren protects and blesses this city. Please wrap all metal in cotton or natural fibers. If you are unable to do so, please do the following:
1. Turn back to your nearest city and ask for the Conductivity Ambassador to aid you in safely traveling to Volta.
2. Put all metal objects in a sack and drag it behind you at a safe distance (The Volta Office of Conductivity recommends ~20 yards)
3. Proceed at your own risk.
If you are illiterate, we apologize to the person assigned to collect your corpse.
No hard feelings.
--- The Volta Office of Conductivity'
If one was foolish enough to disregard the sign, he himself would turn into his own personal lightning rod. A distinct pressure would build upon him, as energy attracted itself to metal weaponry, armor, buttons, clasps, or trade goods. Proceeding further still, headaches and dizziness would result. If the unwary explorer was stubborn enough to resist all this, a blinding flash would encompass him from one of the nearest towers, and the problem would solve itself. It was safe to say for the prepared traveller that the men calmly watching atop the walls of Volta were not in fact guards, but those assigned to carry away corpses. It wasn't a good look, after all, to have blackened men frozen in various poses wearing the armor that killed them. These corpse-fetchers were paid a decent wage to dart out from the gates of the city (dressed safely in soft leather with wooden toggles) and drag away the unfortunate. The risk for them came with what had killed the men before them. Metal had to be safely grounded with pen-thin steel rods, then swiftly wrapped in cotton.
In that way, Volta was a rather dutiful if not deadly place to travel.
The city itself was a welcoming cavalcade of color. Without the landscape to add flowers or trees to Volta's streets, colored cloth had to suffice. Men and women dressed in dazzling colors of all arrays. It appeared as if a large troupe of circus performers had decided to set up shop in a white desert and, uncomfortable with the idea of buildings, had stretched as much color across the streets as possible. In times of celebration such as Saun, this went double. Every street was shaded in chartreuse, tangerine, crimson, teal and fuchsia. The size of the cloths ranged from small triangles shading the doorway of a house, to gigantic sheets fit for the bed of a king that crisscrossed the town square and stained it rainbow. The city was a loud one, and not just in color. The Volta Office of Conductivity boasted a gigantic teal sign that proclaimed to safely store metal and conductive objects for visitors. People chatted endlessly, filling the air with a cacophony of sales pitches, fevered discussions on electroalchemy, and song.
Volta's Benediction of Storms consumed the diamond-shaped main square. Food was one of the main attractions for tourists, and not just due to taste. Volta's electrifying air produced a strange phenomenon; a little of their soil dissolved in water, and given a salt of the opposite charge, could suspend a small bolt of lightning between raised metal tines. Street vendors suspended spiced meats and vegetables between these tines, letting the electricity swath over and cook the food. Others took a different route, using the same lightning to heat large pans of oil to fry dough and meats.
The Sugarcane, Volta's own confectionary, had its own stall. Painted in white and teal stripes, Julie Mul herself was hand stretching a Volta specialty on a wooden hook; saltwater taffy. Tourists and locals alike were mesmerized by the small, bubbly blonde heaving over brightly colored lumps of sugar, butter, salt, and molasses to stretch them into the sticky treat. Mrs. Mul was shockingly strong, hauling ten or twenty pounds of the kneaded dough onto the hook and using every bit of her strength to stretch out a rope, loop it over the hook, and repeat the process. Colors and flavors of all sorts were added, then the dough was divided up, wrapped in wax paper, and sold. During the heighth of the storm season of Saun, white, blue, and electric yellow were the favored colors.
Not to be left out, Volta's major industry was on its feet. Salt sailors were the city's bread and butter. They were specialists in gathering seawater, and using the sun to evaporate out and purify the salt. It was then ground up, and sold both to the public and sent to Rharne. Their greatest achievement was in uniting with the Ellunes. With the Ellunes' speciality being ice, and the salt sailors' being salt, they had discovered an alarming concoction. An ice and salt slurry could keep itself cold for trials upon trials. It would keep Rharne beer frosty and cold, even through caravan travel, as long as the barrels were double-walled. After the cask was delivered, even the most curious of bartenders could puncture the outer barrel wall to find....only plain salt water leaked out.
Volta was indeed a city of innovation, on the absolute cusp of modern technology. It was hardly surprising that one of their greatest prides was Ilaren's Cradle, a gigantic vestibulary of alchemical knowledge. They were represented in the celebration as well, trying to drum up interest in Alchemical research. Admittedly, their dry subjects paled next to the ice-cold beer served by the salt sailors or the talents of Julie Mul...but they were there for the academics and academics alone would be interested in them.
Overseeing all of this madness was a single woman. Emelia Bram was the Mayor of Volta. She was rail-thin, tall, and imposing. Her silver hair was drawn in a tight bun behind her head, giving the spotlight to her elegantly arched eyebrows and sweeping cheekbones. A sea pearl the size of a man's thumbnail dotted each ear, with a matching string around her throat. Her clothing might have been considered outrageous for the current sunny weather; a high collar, long sleeves, and a long dress. Leather boots, tailored to be light and comfortable, peeked out from underneath her plum-colored ensemble. Her claw-like fingernails drummed against one arm as she watched the festivities. Her eyes raked over the sailors with a weary tolerance, and rolled at the giggling figure of Julie Mul handing out sweets.
At her side was another eminent figure. This one advanced even Emelia in age. Long white hair held at bay by a ruddy headband joined a long beard in drowning out the majority of the old man's features. Even though wrinkles disfigured most of his face, and his hands were scarred and gnarled, his eyes were a bright and twinkling blue. His mustache wriggled as he sucked on a little of Julie's lemon taffy, his eyes crinkled in a smile. Nikolai Ohm was the legendary alchemist responsible for the inventions around Volta. He had built the towers that kept them safe, provided the lightning rods that guided Ilaren's light into the ground rather than the citizenry, and had harnessed it to cook food. He hummed a little tune to himself in time with a band that was setting up, content to ignore the sour politician next to him.
"Stop it." Emelia said. Her voice carried as much threat as the towers; gentle, but with power.
Nikolai blinked and shrugged at her, unwrapping another taffy. It disappeared under his mustache, and she had to contend with more of the sucking noises. Emelia's jaw tightened.
"We have a problem." she emphasized. "And it's your fault."
Nikolai chuckled at her. "My fault?" he said around a lump of taffy.
"Yes, your fault. Your security system is supposed to be infallible. Any metal within a hundred yards of the city turns a man into a torch. That's what you told me." Emelia dropped her voice. "And yet someone got a knife through your security, past my guards, through the Conductivity Office. This is your slip-up."
Nikolai's mustache wriggled a bit in indignation. "And what exactly happened?" he asked, though he sensed he knew.
"Jormund is dead. Stabbed. Someone put it through his neck, in broad daylight, in the Saltmaiden Inn not a hundred yards from here. My guards refuse to remove the body. They say it's cursed." Emelia hissed. "I need you to find me someone brave or stupid enough to investigate this. They're all refusing. Jormund is who I'd ask, and I know better than to ask you to get off your lazy rear."
Oh, that had stung a bit. A bit of the amused light dissipated from Nikolai's eyes, replaced with a furrowing of his large furry eyebrows that somehow obscured more of his face. "Aren't you the mayor?" he asked pointedly.
"And it's my job to be at this festival playing for tourists and participating with the Benediction to Ilaren. Not dealing with dead bodies and a captain that got himself stabbed. It's your slip-up, you find someone stupid enough to fix it. Preferably not one of my voters."
"A tourist." Nikolai's tone was incredulous.
"An expendible." Emelia corrected. She gave him a disgusted look. "And stop eating candy. Your teeth are going to get as soft as a bad dry-docking."
Nikolai ignored that last little jab as Emelia walked away. As impatient and corrupt a person as she was, he was always impressed by her. The second she'd headed toward the crowd, that withering presence had melted into a happy old lady greeting her citizens. It was like watching a scorpion turn inside out and become a kitten. The old alchemist sighed and rooted around in his taffy bag. Finding it empty, his frown deepened and he scanned the crowd. It was a task simultaneously distasteful and mammoth. Emelia would expect results. Good results, and the longer he waited the fouler the corpse got. He prayed she had at least shut down the inn for a day, and submerged the body in ice-salt slurry to preserve it. The first he could count on; she would never deign to look bad in front of so many tourists. The second....well...that he just had to hope for.