Skri had other matters to which to attend, so he quickly left the factory with the guards.
Claude remained with Baroness Sonia.
Liboyd was quite open to the whole thing. He didn't treat Claude any different. The war had been raging, after all. There was nothing weird about such things happening between men and women. He was just a little disappointed his daughter hadn't married into a good family, though he knew there wasn't much of a chance Claude would get together with her now. There hadn't been much of a chance before either; she was eight years his senior and a widow.
Perhaps, it would be best if their connection remained private. Liboyd was troubled, however, with what Marcus should call his biological father. If he really was Claude's son, it wouldn't do to have him call Claude father. Everyone would instantly know he was a bastard. He bore the Milowski name, but the bastard stigma did not care for surname.
It wouldn't have mattered if he were but a peasant, but the label would destroy any prospects in noble circles. In the end, Sonia suggested making Claude the boy's godfather. No one would bat an eye at Claude being close to his godson.
Claude was also told why his ex-fling had been destroyed 800 barrels. She had been doing experiments. The breechloader design she had come up with didn't have a decent range, so they decided to increase the charge. Too much would burst the cartridge and jam it in the barrel.
Sonia had tried all kinds of mixtures, but even the most successful ones could only push the barrel's range to 300 metres. A standard Aubass Mark 3 muzzle loader could fire three thousand times without damage. But her barrels lasted only 400 rounds.
Claude saw a familiar rune array in the lab as the woman blabbered on about Marcus having started to make a mess to get her attention because she wasn't playing with him enough. He happened to accidentally mix some powder together and allowed her to make her biggest discovery on ignition powder yet.
With the new ignition powder, the success rate of the firing pin igniting a bullet was raised to 97 percent, which made breechloading possible without having to worry about failed ignitions. That was the problem with flintlocks as they were now; they only fired half the time. Additionally, she also discovered a method to passivise the powder to stabilise it so that it wouldn't ignite from the lightest touch.
Just as she was complaining about the lack of quality barrels, Claude smiled at her.
"You're a magus?"
The woman's face was wax pale immediately. She only froze for a moment before answering him honestly, however. She was a magus, so was her father. But she stressed they weren't evil magi. They were also registered Aueran magi.
She was perhaps afraid Claude would distance himself after discovering they were magi. They didn't have a good reputation in most of Freia, after all. Claude merely nodded. He knew Liboyd couldn't have come up with his innovations otherwise. Given the world's current technological limits, he couldn't have manufactured the parts, nor could he have custom made any firearms on demand.
Claude knew either of the two had to be a magus the moment he heard of their reputations. He'd not suspected they'd both be magi, however.
"Are you both rune magi?" he asked.
Sonia's eyes turned into saucers.
"How can you tell?"
Claude pointed at the array.
"My sister also has one just like it. She uses it for her herbalism studies and calls herself a rune magus."
"I see--" Sonia breathed a sigh of relief. "--I thought you would be afraid of us. I'm relieved. I'm not too sure about whether I can count as a rune magus. My father was taken as a disciple of an old magus because he showed talent. But the old man died two years later. Father married his daughter, my mother.
"Father was just a one-ring magus back then and my mother didn't have any talent. They lived through some harsh days. All my father could do was work; he didn't dare let others discover he was a magus. Two years later, my father went to Askilin to work as a normal factory helper. With a stable income, they settled down and my mother got pregnant. She gave birth to me a year later, but she soon got really ill because of postnatal complications and passed, leaving my father alone with me four years later.
"Father had to work and couldn't care for me, so I was mostly locked up at home alone while he worked the whole day to return at night. It was only when I turned six he managed to save up a sum of money. So, he sent me to the nearby moon shrine for the priestesses to watch over. I lived there for ten years and returned home when I was 16.
"By then, my father had become a rather famous firearms designer and expert. He started his own workshop to custom make firearms. Later, he discovered I had talent for magic too and taught me what he knew. We used the array my grandfather left us to continue fashioning parts for the workshop. We have almost no interaction with other magi..."
It was no surprise, considering how most magi from Siklos considered firearms the weapons of devils and saw it as a huge taboo. People like Liboyd were rare, if they even existed at all. Even though they were magi, they dove deep into designing firearms. They were odd, even among the magi.
"I have to consider whether I should take you to meet my sister. Your design has a couple problems. A firearm's range isn't related to the amount of gunpowder it can ignite, neither is it due to the quality of the barrel itself. I often ask my sister to test out new designs for me, but I ran into a roadblock with the ignition mechanism. My sister also discovered a new kind of gunpowder with ten times the power of black powder, but we can't mass produce it."
"What did you say? Your sister has a gunpowder ten times more powerful than these black pellets? I don't believe it! You have to take me to see it! Let's go immediately!"
Sonia jumped over and tugged on his collar.
"Y-you... Let go first..."
Claude didn't think the lover he hadn't seen for ten years would be a mad researcher. She stopped caring about everything else the moment she heard of a new gunpowder.
He had a hard time getting her to let him go. For the sake of his waist, he had no choice but to promise to take her to Angelina's lab after having lunch, lest she subject him to another round of collar shaking during his afternoon rest time.
During lunch, Liboyd heard about Angelina's lab and also expressed interest in taking a look. After the meal, Claude called for a carriage to take all three of them to Angelina's lab.
It only took two hours to travel there. Unlike the factory, which was located deep in the valley, Angelina's lab was located near the rural hills an hour away from Lake Lanu, mainly because it was desolate and uninhabited. She could cause as much of a havoc as she pleased. Claude bought the surrounding land in the name of developing it into a farmstead and made it part of his sister's personal estate.
Unlike Angelina, Myjack really wanted to make the place a farmstead. He even used the excuse of training Tribe 131's troops there and brought them there to erect a one-metre-tall fence with barbed wire surrounding it there. The whole endeavour took up to a week to complete. He also had them build a row of wooden log houses and the main entrance of the farmstead, completing his little love nest with his wife.
The farmstead would be called Anna Farmstead. As Claude's carriage and guard tent approached the log houses, he saw Myjack ride over with a couple subordinates. Claude poked his head out of the carriage and his jaw dropped. Seeing Myjack dismount hurriedly to salute him, he rebuked, "Why are you here?!"
Myjack should've been supervising the captives who were working on the renovation in Wickhamsburg. Yet, he was currently in the farmstead.
"General, I came here on General Eiblont's orders to take Thundercrash Tribe 131 back to the war theatre to pick replacement members. I reported for duty at General Skri's this morning and he gave all of us three days of break. So, I decided to take them back to the farmstead."
Claude now recalled that Skri mentioned sending out eagle messages three days ago to have Thundercrash's units replace lost men. He missed the memo as he was travelling during that time. He didn't think Eiblont would send out Myjack after receiving the letter.
Since he hadn't returned without orders, Claude didn't really bother with it. Myjack was fussing about with his subordinates on what they should plant in the farmstead next year and how many livestock they would be rearing, so Claude waved them away and left them to their own devices before escorting Liboyd, Sonia and Marcus out of the carriage himself.
By the time he turned around, he saw Myjack clasping his mouth to stifle a gasp. He had recognised Sonia. Back then, he was Claude's orderman, so he knew the baroness as well. As for Marcus, Myjack immediately took note of his similarities with Claude and let his imagination run wild.
"You better keep your mouth shut," Claude warned his brother-in-law, before taking the family to his sister's lab.
Angelina was currently working on a new problem Claude gave her: how to increase the range of the mortar without increasing the number of operators or the weight and and area of the firing device. Currently, the mortars could only fire some 70 metres away, which was still rather dangerous for the soldiers involved. They would be within the firing range of the enemy when they let the mortars off.
He wanted to upgrade them into the stereotypical tube-delivery mortar systems he had seen all too often in films. The accuracy of those weapons left quite a deep impression in him and it didn't fire too far either, only around 300 metres. Yet, it was powerful enough to deal huge damage to the anti-Japanese soldiers. Now that Claude had his mortar rounds, he wanted to create a long-distance, tube-firing mechanism that would essentially make him invincible to his enemies in this era. No matter how tough the defences they hid behind, they wouldn't be able to escape from the destruction that rained down from above.
However, he was no military nut back in his old life, so he didn't know how they were made out of. He drew a simple diagram for his sister that consisted of a metal tube supported by two frames with a square-shaped metallic base plate at the bottom. He remembered them to have some kind of firing pin at the bottom of the contraption. Before the rounds were fired, they were first fitted with a fuse. The round would then be loaded fuse first and downwards into the tube to have the firing pin pierce the round itself. Once the pin was ignited, the grenade part of the round would be flung some 200 metres away.
Claude thought that it wouldn't be too hard to make this new contraption. Since he already had the rounds, he just had to make a tube according to their sizes. The fuse could be made separately or even be added to the rounds during the manufacturing process. The issue was calibrating the fuse to only trigger the explosion once the rounds were around 200 metres away instead of having them explode as they travelled through the air. The only tough part was the ignition mechanism. How would they create a firing pin that could trigger the ignition that would send the round flying out of the tube?
However, Angelina hadn't gotten far in her experiments. What Claude thought should've been simple was hard to achieve for her. Even Myjack thought that his ideas were a little unreliable. For the current sling mechanism for their mortars, even if they failed to fire, one could throw the round away with one's hand to minimise the damage. However, putting the round into a metal tube like Claude asked would make it impossible to throw the round away if it didn't fire after ignition. The tube would explode into shrapnel and pose to be a huge threat for the operators.
That was why Angelina's experiments progressed really slowly, if at all. That was also why he took Liboyd and Sonia to her lab. Perhaps the project would develop faster with the two of them working on it together.
He wasn't sure whether it was because both of them were rune magi or whether Angelina figured out Claude's relationship with Sonia after seeing Marcus, Angelina got along with Sonia swimmingly. She showed Sonia her stabilised nitroglycerin-base gunpowder while the latter showed her the ignition powder she invented.
Angelina was elated after testing the ignition powder. She took out a lot of odd tools from a large box. Sonia asked her what she was about to do with it and she replied that with the ignition powder, the revolver she had been working on could finally be completed.