Since there was nothing troubling, Claude returned to the estate to spend the rest of his days. He patrolled the place, trained in magic, and researched flintlocks.
He was only unhappy that he was refused entry by Eriksson when he went to pay him a visit one afternoon. He wasn't even allowed in. Madam Eilina didn't apologize either. She merely looked at him coldly as if she didn't recognize him.
It was apparent they had found out about the nightmarish pirate attack and knew Captain Altroni had been left on an uninhabited island. Unlike the other sailors' families, however, Eriksson and his mother pushed their anger on Claude's father and the other investors. They were the root cause of the captain's untimely fate as far as the two were concerned.
Claude could only return home moodily. He understood the two's feelings, but he was unable to forgive them for venting on him. Captain Altroni had also been an investor.
Welikro came to visit him later and told him he was at Eriksson's because he wanted to console him after hearing about the news. He was still unhappy when Claude went there, but Welikro didn't think he'd actually stop Claude from going in.
He did say Claude got off light. When his father and the others went there to deliver the family's share of the compensation, Eriksson chased them away shouting about them murdering his father all the way. His mother even threw the money out of the window.
Claude could do nothing but sulk. He didn't think he'd lose a good friend because of bad luck. Eriksson had always admired his father and had wanted to become like him. Nobody expected him to push the blame for his father's misfortune onto his good friend.
He supposed the boy's behaviour was mostly because he worshipped his father an unhealthy amount and it kept him from acting like an adult. If he couldn't be mature about it, then he might not be such a good friend after all, though Claude was still sad to have such a good friendship end so unfairly.
Spring came quickly, though, and with its arrival Claude's hunting came to an end. He couldn't think of anything fun to do with Welikro, his remaining friend, so he showed him his new musket. The boy didn't ask where he'd gotten the parts, especially the barrel. He just tested the weapon, then asked what the point was to replacing the slow match. It didn't give the weapon any obvious advantages, and in its current state even worsened its reliability.
He did have good things to say about Claude's decision to put the sights on the barrel rather than the cock, thinking that the flash pan ought to be moved to the side of the gun for the sights to be installed on the top so that it would make more sense for aiming. Claude couldn't possibly tell his friend that, inferior as it was, the flintlock unlocked future developments that lead to breech-loading rifles and eventually 'modern' firearms, while the matchlock was a dead-end, so he didn't know what more to say.
He gave up on his proselytising, and instead decided to agree to Welikro request to help him modify his old Gally by moving the serpentine and flash pan to the side to leave space in the middle for the front and rear sights. It didn't hurt that the boy had offered to pay for the modifications. The moment Claude accepted, the boy dashed him like a little boy who'd just got a present to get the musket.
Claude turned his attention to how he could retrofit the Sioris' charcoal kiln into a small smithy. He had to at least have a reasonable explanation for how he worked the iron.
Welikro left the moment he handed the musket to Claude, however, making all his worries void, promising to be back for it in a couple days. Claude found a crown on the table in the wake of his friend's departure as well, certain the boy was afraid he'd refuse payment if it was offered to his face.
Claude had been intent on giving the work a decent whack from the start, but now he was more determined to do an actually decent job, so he was careful when he got to work. He took the old musket apart carefully and got to work reforging the trumpet barrel into the more sleek, modern design.
He had to be careful to preserve the serial number, however, as the weapon was registered and it could cause his friend's entire family serious trouble if the serial number vanished. The work wasn't hard for him, however, thanks to his magical touch, so it only took him three days of casual work to finish.
By the time he was done, the musket was completely unrecognisable. Claude had even changed out the non-metal parts such as the stock. He wasn't happy to see the flash pan and cock so far to the side, however, it fought against his 'modern' sense of firearm aesthetics, but he couldn't do much about that.
His tests with the remade weapon proved his friend's observations regarding reliability. It was certain more effective a firearm than his flintlock musket. He was set on using a flintlock however, if for no other reason than it made him feel more advanced for being on the right track.
Five days passed quickly and Welikro returned for his musket. Claude was unwilling to see the thing go, but he knew better than to be petty and handed it over without a fuss. Welikro couldn't wait to give it a test firing for himself, so the two decided to head out to the wood and take a couple shots. Claude realised his rounds and powder were running out when he went to fetch them, however, so they detoured to town to buy some more.
Welikro still wanted to go to Wakri's. It was slightly more expensive, but the powder and rounds were of overall better quality, so that's where they went.
Claude felt something amiss when they passed through Old Street, however. The people seemed anxious and hurried. A couple large men stopped the carriage soon after. They didn't say anything, however, merely checking the carriage for any other passengers, then leaving.
"What's going on?" Claude asked.
"Don't you know?" Welikro asked in return, "Oh right! You've been cooped up on the estate the whole time. It's nothing concerning us. Shark and Blacksnake have been having a grand old gang war again, that's all."
The scene of Jerad and the two girls tied up in the house flitted across his mind. Perhaps that had finally been enough to push Jerad into open war with Blacksnake.
"Where did they get the guts? Didn't something happen to the convoy? They lost all their elites. Not to mention that the town's still under martial law and Butcher Bill is in the garrison. Aren't they afraid he'll march into the slums with his goons and shoot them all?"
"I'm not too sure why, but Blacksnake lost horribly during the first big fight. They're completely helpless. It might be because Fatbull Bowen is missing. They don't have a single strong figure in overall command, and the lieutenants are all fighting among each other over who will fill Bowen's shoes now he's gone. Blacksnake's all but done for. They've given up all their territory and scattered to the wind.
"Shark were real clever. They didn't confront them in the streets in a single big fight. They sent teams in from all directions and picked Blacksnake apart bit by bit over a couple days. If the groups are stopped by the patrols they just say they're looking for someone like they did with the carriage just now. Many of the lieutenants have vanished in the last week, and nobody's seen them, but most of the town have some idea where they are."
Welikro's eyes darted to Lake Balinga for a moment involuntarily.
"On the lake?"