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Prince and I would like to thank you for the support you've shown us all this time. We hope that by progressing in this direction, we will be able to supply you with quality and timely releases.

On the 34th day of the 5th month, thunderous roars resounded at the Professor Balbo's research facility near the Bladedge Mountains. The roars of the cannons continually echoed throughout the valley.

Wearing shocked expressions on their faces, Lorist, the dust-covered Grandmaster Sid, Professor Balbo, Grandmaster Fellin, as well as old Julian, whose status had been elevated to that of a grandmaster's, Howard, and ten other guards who had just emerged from the trenches, approached the cannon that was located about 20 meters away carefully.

Lorist realized that he had underestimated the production standards of this alternate world. About ten days earlier, he had just visited Julian with Grandmaster Sid to check out the cannon barrel designed based on his drawings. He found that Julian had fashioned 12 of the barrels for him in less than a month. Grandmaster Sid said that fashioning those barrels was actually one of the crudest tasks available to their craft. It amounted to nothing more than practice exercises. The truly hard part of smithing lay with the use of stainless steel.

Lorist laughed bitterly at the statement. The stainless steel Sid referred to was produced through the hammering of materials nonstop using the water-powered machines. Without a proper heat-resistant furnace, there was no way that those water-powered machines could be used to make those cannon barrels.

In his past life, Lorist had been the manager of a small workshop. He wasn't trained in metallurgy, nor did he know anything about cannons. However, one of his workshop's products was a miniature bronze cannon roughly the size of a palm which he used as a glamorous paperweight in his office. The miniature cannon wasn't cast in a mold but made on a lathe instead.

Back then, Lorist was quite intrigued by the cannon model in his office. He wondered why old bronze cannons didn't use steel as their material instead. After looking up an article on an online encyclopedia, he realized the ingenuity of the ancients. Their reasoning behind the use of bronze for cannons was simple and ingenious: durability and low cost. Naturally, Lorist couldn't recall the specific figures. The only impression left behind in his mind was that at a time when industrial standards were still not set, using bronze was the ideal choice.

Fortunately, given the realism of the cannon model, which had been made to scale, it was rather easy for Lorist to replicate the design. He could even recall the various relative measurements of the little plaything.

With the designs Lorist provided him, Old Julian had fashioned a total of twelve bronze cannons just like that.

Upon closer inspection, however, five of the cannons had been eliminated from testing. The surface of the barrel's inside was uneven. Lorist had some workers sand down the remaining seven and prepared proper mounts for them before having some of Professor Balbo's gunpowder brought over from the valley.

That day marked the first firing test. Their target was a cliff roughly 400 meters away. An instant after the guns fired, smoke billowed from the cliffside and rocks, shaken loose from the shockwave in the ground, disappeared into the plumes of smoke.

"Good Lord Singwa... Aren't... aren't these basically magic-crystal cannons?" mused Professor Balbo, shocked as he observed the devastation.

"Magic-crystal cannons?" asked Lorist.

It was the first time he heard of something like that.

"Milord, I've read some records that were made during the time of the magic civilization. In them were mentions of the sky fleets left behind by ancient gnomes that were discovered by the magi. The magi re-engineered and improved on a long-range weapon fueled by magic crystals, hence its name. A single shot was enough to demolish a whole mountain. It's said that the strongest magic-crystal cannons could even strike down the stars. When the war with the gods began, the cannons were transported to the realm of the gods and were initially able to triumph over them. They killed one god after another. However, given the slow reload speed and the limited reaction of the cannons, the magic-crystal cannon troops were wiped out by gods' armies in the end," explained Professor Balbo.

"Oh, is that so? Well, our cannons aren't comparable to those that use magic crystals. The cannons we have rely purely on the explosive force of the gunpowder to propel their projectiles outward. There's no way they can rival those mythical weapons," said Lorist as he thought about how much more impressive those cannons must have been.

"Milord, cannons number one to three have normal temperatures, they are just a little warm to the touch. Their positions haven't changed either. Cannons number five to six are much hotter. Number 6 has the highest temperature and it's shifted roughly 12 centimeters. A small crack has also appeared on cannon number seven and it's much hotter. Even the cannon mount has slanted to the left," reported the guard.

He recorded his observations on a piece of beastskin. Old Julian's face was slightly flushed with embarrassment. The first test fire had revealed many flaws in the cannons he had fashioned.

Lorist said with a smile, "Grandmaster Julian, this is not your fault. We are testing the amount of gunpowder we require. Cannon number seven used almost double the gunpowder of number one. The fact that it only got a crack without blowing up entirely is already a testament to the quality of your work."

Lorist instructed his guards to clean up the cannons and continue the tests. This time, they tested the cannons one by one to find the optimal amount of gunpowder and record the distance and strength of the shots, as well as the time it took the cannons to cool off and their durability when used continuously. They also attempted to find the most number of times a cannon could be used.

After a few more tests, Lorist brought the few grandmasters back to the resting hall and let the guards continue with their tests.

The roar of cannon fire didn't disrupt their conversation whatsoever. Lorist paid attention to the others in the hall. Professor Balbo seemed to have something on his mind, whilst Julian seemed quite excited. He had no idea that something of his making would be so powerful, so his excitement was understandable. Sid, on the other hand, looked quite shocked and jumpy. Perhaps, he thought the cannons to be his new toy with which he could have lots of fun researching. Grandmaster Fellin, in contrast to the previous two, had a pale look on his face.

"What's wrong, Grandmaster Fellin?" asked Lorist concerned.

Fellin replied in a disheartened tone, "Milord, with the existence of cannons, ballistae will no longer be relevant anymore... Be it range or power, cannons far surpass ballistae. The cannons will only improve as time goes on, whereas the development of ballistae is already nearing its apex. I believe that a grandmaster arbalest like me will no longer be needed and cannons replace ballistae entirely... I will no longer be able to contribute to the house..."

<i>Oh, so that's why...</i> realized Lorist.

Lorist patted his shoulder lightly.

"Things aren't that simple, Grandmaster Fellin. Ballistae and catapults are cold arms while cannons are firearms. They are fundamentally different weapons. You're a grandmaster in cold weapons and it is my belief that the ballistae you manufacture are at the apex of ballista technology. There are none who can surpass you. However, when it comes to cannons, everyone here is a beginner. All of us are starting at the same level with the same knowledge. In future research on explosives, we will still require your craftsmanship to make delicate parts. Don't worry, the house is proud to have a grandmaster like you in our service."

<i>Cold arms? Fire arms? Explosives?</i>

With his interest piqued, the grandmaster asked, "Milord, why do you categorize them as such? And what are explosives? Do they refer to the cannons?"

Lorist explained, "Weapons like the steel ballistae and catapults mainly rely on the elasticity of metal plates to launch projectiles. As the mechanism works based on the weapon's construction itself, I categorized them as cold arms.

"On the other hand, we have cannons which use the energy derived from the explosion caused by gunpowder to propel its projectile outward. This bronze cannon directs the energy from the explosion into the projectile within the barrel to shoot it out. The cannon itself doesn't have any firing capability of its own. That's why I consider weapons that use gunpowder explosive weapons, which is a subcategory of firearms. Naturally, that is just a rough grouping I've personally decided to use."

Lorist gestured for them to sit down at the table and said, "I'm sure that all of you have gotten a close look at these cannons firing. However, there is still much testing to be done. I would like to set up a research panel on explosives comprised of those present. First, complete the testing and manufacturing standards of these cannons. Make sure each cannon fires in a predictable and reliable manner. For example, you can install some sights on the cannons to aid with aiming and so on. Make sure to finish this as soon as possible.

"The current situation the house is in is rather dire. Fortunately for us, the Chikdor Merchant Guild changed their minds about taking Silowas because of the war. For now, focus on developing these cannons. As for Grandmaster Julian, arrange for a batch of these cannons to be manufactured. I am going to install them on my warships. Only then can we ensure that the dominion and the seas of our house won't be infringed upon by others."

Lorist clapped his hands to signal Howard to enter. He came into the room with a small box which held a dwarven firearm.

"This is the renowned gun made by the dwarves. It functions more or less the same as our cannons. It also uses gunpowder to propel its projectile, a lead bullet in this case. According to Professor Balbo, the gunpowder the dwarves make is not going to improve anytime soon. The professor's current formula is far better than the dwarves' and also costs quite a lot less to make, much to his credit."

After giving the professor some lip service, he instructed Howard to hang up a few diagrams on the wall and continued.

"These are two gun designs I drew based on the dwarves' gun. This one is a long-barreled rifle and this one a revolving handgun, we'll call it a revolver. I have also detailed the parts and their measurements. However, the measurements are only based on my estimation and may require some testing and fine-tuning."

The two guns Lorist designed were hammer-action flintlocks, but their hammers were not as ridiculous as the one made by the dwarves, namely, it didn't have a winged-dragon on it. The dwarven guns used a winding mechanism which would jam 3 to 4 out of 10 times. The flintlock design Lorist used was based on using flint and metal to strike on the projectile to make it fire. He wasn't sure whether the grandmasters could make them, however.

The main problem that could arise from the production of the revolver was that of the cartridges, the barrel, and the percussion cap's production. While he was confident that his smiths could make the cartridges and barrel with a little more effort, the percussion cap wasn't going to be that easy. So, he left the problem for Professor Balbo to solve.

Professor Balbo was put in charge of researching percussion caps and scattershot ammo for the cannons while he was at it. Grandmasters Sid and Julian would work together to find the ideal material to be used for the construction of the guns as well as think up ways to improve the cannons when they were not focusing on their main task. As for Grandmaster Fellin, whose craftsmanship was top-notch, he was placed in charge of making the individual parts for the guns.

Having finished assigning his tasks, Lorist left the valley in a relaxed mood.

On the 2nd day of the 6th month, Lorist returned to Firmrock castle. Supervisor Spiel hurriedly brought over two large stacks of documents which Lorist had to be informed of or sign. Lorist had no choice but to start taking care of the piled-up paperwork, despite his hefty sighs.

After knocking on the door, Howard entered and said, "Milord, these are some documents we received from Silowas, as well as Knight Lundmorde's first correspondence ever since he moved to Morante. Within is a report on the state of the conflict between as well as the second highness's conquests in the Redlis kingdom."

Energized, Lorist said, "Let me take a look."

Lundmorde had left for Morante in the beginning of the 4th month with his three wives to open a herbalist clinic which treated women and children. His clinic would double as an information gathering center at Morante for the house. It seemed that he had gotten used to life there pretty quickly, given that his report was sent within his first two months there.

In the letter, he described briefly his journey. After the description was an update on the conflict between the two nations: yet another stalemate had begun. This time around, it was between the forces of the seven neighboring nations, who numbered around 100 thousand and were stationed at Feyers, and the 150-thousand-strong Union forces. The Morante Daily reported that the war might not end until Teribo VII's treasury was exhausted.

As for Second Highness Auguslo, he had encountered a huge problem at the Redlis kingdom. The nobles of Anderwoff weren't the least bit intimidated by his 100 thousand soldiers. He was forced to deploy for an attack. He marched on the province only to be fended off by the nobles who used the terrain to their advantage. The second highness had lost one battle after another. Eventually, the two divisions that had surrendered to the second highness revolted. In the end, only 40 thousand soldiers of the second highness' original 100 thousand survived. It was even said that the second highness vomited blood in rage.

Lorist snickered as he read the report. The longer the two wars dragged on, the better it would be for House Norton. He wouldn't mind if they kept on going for another 8 or 10 years.

Putting Lundmorde's letter aside, Lorist began reading one of the letters from Silowas. The letter of more than ten pages had been penned by Charade. He reported everything that happened down to the minutest detail.

The first shipment of fur had already been delivered to the Peterson Merchant Guild. Five hundred thousand of the gold Fordes had been sent to the dominion. The rest was used to pay off the 500 thousand kilograms of food from the guild for use during the development of the island.

Other than that, Charade and the guild had come to an agreement. He provided the samples for the 17 different sets of glamorous armor that were on sale and a catalog to the guild so that they could collect orders for them when they got back to Morante. Naturally, the guild requested a ten percent commission on the sales they made and he had agreed. He stressed that it was a win-win for both parties. The added incentive would only encourage the merchant guild to collect as many orders as possible, while House Norton could hide behind their backs and not become anybody's targets.

The next report was about the foraging for resources at Silowas. Grandmaster Sid's eldest son Delokua had brought a group of people to the volcanic areas of Silowas to survey the land. In the two short months they had been conducting their survey, they already had good results to report. They had discovered seven different mineable resources on the island thus far. Iron and silver deposits were especially prevalent. They also believed that they would discover more resources as their survey progressed. Charade added that he had decided he would use the laborers to extract the resources when the development was complete.

Finally, Charade made a few minor complaints and told Lorist about his father who was making his way to the Northlands at the moment. Charade's father was going to buy a house and start a shop at the new port city and Charade hoped that Lorist would look out for him.

Lorist penned his reply immediately. He asked Charade to pack up and prepared to return. Coincidentally, Lorist was going to head to the shipyard at Bullhorn Bay to check on the construction of their new sail-powered warship and arrange for cannon-operation training for the sailors.

Lorist was busy for the rest of the 6th month.

One day at the end of the 6th month, Howard barged in and exclaimed, "Milord, milord, it's horrible! Silowas had been attacked!"