Even when airships began to burble their way across the skies of the Hearthlands after the Cloud Compact had been signed, their journeys were often delayed by days, or regiments, with crews grounded on low pay and captains gazing angrily at turbulent skies that seemed to drop rain almost as a mockery. No-one but madmannish piloted through a storm, and whole shipments were lost or spoiled by the delays that they caused.
Many trade routes routinely were struck by huge storms, stretching hundreds of leagues and heavy with lightning; as most airships were constructed from wood, and painted in bronze, a single bolt would incinerate the vessel in a passage. They were not to be trifled with, and it seemed that maybe the airship would founder like so many other inventions, waylaid by its weaknesses and rendered defunct.
However, from the Blanki came an ingenious, if dangerous, solution. It was not without cost; the Blanki are secretive to the point of paranoia, and rarely part with their inventions for less than a baron’s ransom. Many believe that the Lightning Bilge was taken wholesale from some construct hidden deep within God’s Hand, but, as with anything from the walking city, rumour is all that one has.
The Lightning Bilge is more than the room that holds its name; it is an entire system that runs throughout the ship, heating cabins, cooking food and protecting the vessel from harm. Some airships use the energy it captures to maintain huge shields that defend from attack, whereas others provide a heated nest for their hazefarer, so that the lookout need never descend from his post and neglect his prodigious talents.
As an airship equipped with a Lightning Bilge passes through a storm, lightning strikes large bronze poles that protrude from the upper deck. Often a ship’s railings will also be modified to perform this task; however, unwary passengers have occasionally met their deaths while taking an ill-advised stroll and grasping the railings to steady themselves, and so this is a rare practice. The lightning travels along the poles and into the ship, where insulated bronze wire takes it to the Bilge itself. This is a large room, coated in iron, lined with pylons for the lightning to jump between, and open to the sky below to prevent fires. Though the lightning is stored here, the power of the storm is not diminished; it is an unpopular task for a crewmannish to perform maintenence in the Bilge, and ship’s captains practice many forms of idiosyncratic protection and ritual to placate the storm and keep engineers safe.
When the airship docks, the Bilge is emptied by mages and engineers, employed either by the port or by local businesses to retrieve the energy and store it for consumption. The lightning of high storms is infused with the Haze, and is often bought by meg-users for their experiments, or is else used to power machinery, heat homes, or provide ammunition for weapons of exceptional cruelty which find their way into the mirror markets of darker neighbourhoods.