Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 365
Explosives and Ignition Powder
After Lieutenant-Colonel Schank was transferred to war theatre HQ, he brought quite a bit of trouble to Claude. Within the span of the week, a mountain of paperwork had built up, most of them being the various things Schnak had been in charge of. Claude stayed in his office for the whole afternoon impatiently to finish them up. He had to depart during the night for Grinosburg to be able to make it to the meeting on time.
But the moment he entered the carriage, Claude found Myjack with a beat-up face. He didn't need to ask to know that it was the work of his sister.
"What? Anna got into a fight with you again and even struck you?" Claude asked with concern.
"Ah, no... it isn't that..." Myjack hurriedly explained, "I went to send Anna her dinner during the evening and helped her out with an experiment. An explosion went off there and a basin that was sent flying struck me on the forehead..."
Claude sighed. He didn't believe his aide and brother-in-law at all. Myjack had always been chewed at by Angelina and he didn't dare to go against her at all. When she was feeling down from a failed experiment, she would even go all out and vent on him. Regardless, there was not much Claude could say about it. It was a matter between husband and wife and he could only watch and sympathise.
It could all be blamed on Claude telling the story of explosion freak Alfred Nobel to Angelina, but with him being a magus of their world as the twist. Claude said that Nobel discovered a black powder even more powerful than their current gunpowder. He had read that the magus Nobel mixed lime and sulphuric acid to make a kind of liquid, nitroglycerin, which was toxic and volatile and could be used to treat heart diseases.
Then, Magus Nobel tried to experiment with making nitroglycerin safer. In the end, he decided that mixing it with dirt allowed for easier storage. It was said that this kind of explosive was more than ten times more effective than conventional black powder. It was too bad nobody showed much interest in Nobel's innovation during the magic civilisation.
Later, Nobel managed to create sulphuric acid with some coal tar to get a kind of bitter-tasting, solid powder called picric acid. Initially, it was used as a yellow dye, but it was also a kind of explosive which was far safer to handle than nitroglycerin. Nobel, according to Claude's tale, also went on to invent something called mercury fulminate. But the book he allegedly read didn't detail how that came about and only stated that it was highly unstable and would easily explode from contact with a spark.
In fact, nitroglycerin and picric acid were two types of explosives Claude had in mind. Nobel from old Earth was famous for developing nitroglycerin that allowed for the making of much safer explosives.
As for picric acid, it was something he had read about in web novels. The westerners made picric acid and merely used it as a kind of fuel for a hundred years until the French discovered its applications in war and went on to conquer the battlefield for a time. Later, the Japanese developed Shimose powder based on picric acid and went on to deal a huge blow to the Chinese's Beiyang fleet in the Battle of the Yalu River, kick-starting the half-century-long occupation.
As for mercury fulminate, Claude only knew it was a kind of explosive but didn't know how it came about. He was merely an IT manager by profession and was horrible at chemistry. He only learned it for the test and returned all of it to his teachers after the tests were done with. So, he couldn't recall how it came about at all. But if he could solve it, making proper jacketed bullets for guns would no longer be an issue.
Sulphuric acid and nitric acid both existed in this world according to what he heard, but their uses had yet to be discovered. Sulphuric acid, for instance, was a waste product from refining iron ore and was considered to be a strong corrosive. Nitric acid was the same. The alchemists managed to discover it during their experiments on saltpetre and treated it like a toxic substance.
Claude told Angelina that he got the biography on Magus Noble during the five-year war and tossed it aside after he finished reading it. When he moved, the book was lost, probably sitting somewhere at one of their previous campsites, much to Angelina's disappointment. She had wanted to read it for herself.
Claude knew that beneath his sister's refined and gentle exterior was a huge, trouble-making demon. Ever since he had her help out with designing the revolver and grenade, she put her herbalism studies on hold and fell in love with explosive experiments. What disappointed her was how weak black powder actually was. As a result, the grenades she made were a little too large and required lots of force to throw some 30 metres away.
Claude and Bloweyk could use Magus' Hands to throw them past a hundred metres. But normal soldiers on the battlefield couldn't. So, Claude told her to minimise the design by increasing the explosive's force. Only when a weapon could be used by the common soldier could it be called a well-designed one.
That was when he came up with the idea to rework Nobel into a magus of their world. Having heard the story, Angelina instantly popped into her herbalism lab and said she would make the explosives Nobel developed. Since she knew the names of the original ingredients, all she needed to do was find out the ratio they were needed through trial and error to find the proper one. Claude was quite worried and didn't know whether he should stop her or pray for her success.
Claude could no longer take the annoying nagging that started ever since the small wooden shed Angelina carried out her experiments in burned down due to her carelessness. If she didn't use Silence before her experiments, the explosion would have long shocked her mother unconscious. It wouldn't end with just a simple wooden shed burning down.
Having no other choice, he had Myjkack find Angelina an empty, two-room property near the lake for her experiments. Little did he know that his mother wouldn't be satisfied with that either. Angelina would often forget the time throughout her experiments and would neglect to groom herself. Even if she did make it home for dinner, she would always look rushed and covered in soot. Their mother had reminded her all too often to mind her attire and stay with Myjack longer to get pregnant with a child as Kefnie had.
While Angelina would always agree with a face full of smiles, she didn't take the slightest action the moment she turned around and left. So, their mother turned to Claude and hoped that he could do something about his disobedient sister. That was when his troubles began. He now regretted taking his men to Lanu where his mother's nags could easily reach him.
"Fine, I'll believe what you say about the basin. How's Anna's experiments going?" Claude seated himself in a comfortable position and closed his eyes to prepare for some rest. He had traveled a few hours during the night. It would be nearing three when he reached Grinosburg.
"I really was struck by the basin! I even got scolded by Anna for it..." Myjack stressed again, "Anna helped me with the medicine. The swelling should be gone tomorrow. She was also making a kind of transparent liquid with sulphuric acid and nitric acid. She called it nitrorin-something. Just like you said, it is unstable and dangerous. The slightest shock can cause it to explode. Anna said that she's experimenting with mixing it with different kinds of dirt to find the most suitable one."
"You should lie down and take some rest too," Claude said, "Tell Anna to try using clay. I recall the biography of Magus Nobel stated that he used a mixture of clay and nitroglycerin to make a safe explosive. It didn't describe how effective it was, but I did read that it was really easy to stick on walls and blast a hole through them with the smallest ignition."
"Alright, I'll make sure to tell her that when I get back."
"Get some sleep. We still have lots of ground to cover during the night." Claude said. The inside of the coach fell silent and the two gradually fell asleep to the rocking rhythm of the horse's trot. Only the two carriage-driving soldiers and the tent of guards outside the carriage were awake.
Just as Claude was rushing to Grinosburg, the first batch of settlers had arrived in Tyrrsim under escort by Storm. On Storm's flagship, Dragonwhirl, a white-haired old man seemed to be taking a casual walk, accompanied by an attractive woman. Behind the two was another young boy around the age of nine, looking around curiously.
"Father, I didn't think that the ones researching firearms in Aueras' National Firearms Institutes would be a bunch of stubborn fools. They refused to admit that the guns we developed that uses firing pins are far more convenient than their matchlocks. There's still so much we can do to develop it as well. However, the old fools insisted on keeping their muzzle-loading system for no good reason and believe that it is the most reliable and ideal method since it's been used for the past few centuries and stubbornly refused to adopt our breech-loading mechanics.
"I admit that loading from the breach is still a little testy, it can definitely be improved after a few more iterations, but they just shot it down without another word and even sent you to Nubissia to be some supervisor of their armouries... We could've refused that order and stayed at home doing our research before going to the old fools with the finished product to show them..." she complained.
The old man merely smiled. "Sonia, don't forget that Askilin is no more. We are Auerans now, and were even given noble Titles. There's a good reason those at the institute denied our breech-loading design. The reduction of the firing range by a third is huge enough.
"Additionally, loading from the back is rather troublesome at the moment. We'll need to clean out the burnt paper in the barrel each time before we can reload the next round. We also have to make sure the firing pins can accurately hit where they're supposed to. In this context, the traditional muzzle-loading guns are much faster, considering that the soldiers are already quite used to them.
"On the battlefield, soldiers are always on edge and straddling the fine line of line and death. They'll have to rely on movements drilled into them through long-term training. Using a breechloader requires attention to the distance between the firing pin and the bullet, which is something nervous soldiers can easily forget to do and will result in a misfire.
"I accepted the post because I want to use this chance to perfect our design. Is there a better place than an arms factory for us to do that? Even though that place is in the war theatre, war won't break out there for at least another three years as Shiks gets ready.
"If we use that time to develop our breechloader which gives the soldiers an edge in combat, wouldn't it be more valuable to the troops? You have to understand that firearms are fundamentally weapons. Their true value can only be shown through actual fighting, not the comments of a select few. The true experts are the soldiers on the battlefield. Only they are fit to judge what a good firearm should be like."
The beauty holding the old man's arm started in realisation. "Oh, so that's how it is, Father. I've faulted you wrongly. I thought you had compromised with the old fools who treat you like an outsider and even sent you to Nubissia. Yet, you took it without comment and let them mock my design without standing up for me. I was really angry back then and wanted to shoot their stone heads off..."
"Hahaha... Sonia, that doesn't make their opinions any less valid. Actually, I've been considering for quite a while why the breechloaders' shots are less powerful. I suspect two main reasons. First, the barrel's diametre relative to the bullet isn't tight enough, so a portion of the exploding gas that propels the bullet leaks out, hence the decrease in firing range.
"The other possibility is the ineffectiveness of the gunpowder we use. The paper-jacket bullets you made were far too thick. Not only did the amount of gunpowder kept within get decreased, they also leave a lot of residue in the barrel, rendering it useless for a second shot before further cleaning. That's why those at the institute would mock your breechloader for not being able to reload as quickly as a good old matchlock."
"But Father, the paper-jacket bullets are filled with the best gunpowder I can find! And if the paper jacket isn't thick enough, the firing pin can too easily push the paper jacket ahead and cause the ignition to extinguish. The bullet wouldn't be able to fire that way. I needed it to be thick enough to make sure it stays stuck in the barrel," she argued.
"That's something we can work on in the future. However, the problem with the gunpowder's power won't be easily solved--" The old man sighed. "--in the past few centuries, apart from magic crystals, we haven't been able to find a replacement for the ignition elements of gunpowder. Triggering an explosion with magic crystals also requires a magic array and the cost would be too high."
"But Father, didn't I invent ignition powder? I trust that with some time, we will soon develop a more powerful variety of gunpowder," she said with some slight dissatisfaction.
"Hah, you invented it?" The old man chuckled and waved for the child behind him to come to him before stroking his little head. "Without lil' Mark here, I doubt you would've discovered it before a year had passed. It's thanks to his naughty antics mixing those chemicals together that the discovery was made, hehe..."
The captain of Dragonwhirl, Leisding, came over. "Lord Count, Madam Baroness, the ship will soon enter the Sea of Storms. The weather here is really unpredictable. It's quite possible we'll run into huge storms. I would suggest that you return to rest in your quarters."
The old man nodded. "Thank you for the reminder, Colonel. We will return to our cabins so as to not cause you any trouble."