Friday Lore Post: Black Ash Powder

The main way that Constantine Hammerhead was able to dominate Dolovin and Kyainese seas unopposed in DN 1991, and to rise to that in such a rapid way, was because he had a weapon that nobody else did. A catapult that, instead of using pulleys, counterweights or springs, uses an explosive powder that, when ignited, expands at such a pace and to such a degree as to propel forward a metal projectile out of a metal tube. He called this weapon a steel dragon, though it was actually made from cast iron.

Hammerhead’s ship was equipped with twenty steel dragons, and most of the larger (and more loyal) ships in his fleet were outfitted with several of them as well. They were produced on a small Bevian island known for its metal work, which the pirates took over and essentially enslaved. After his fleet was destroyed on the 32nd of Arin 1991, about thirty steel dragons were recovered from the wreckage of his ships and taken to be studied by the Dolovin navy for adaptation into their own arsenals. But the Dolovin navy was missing a crucial ingredient. They could not figure out how to make the powder the pirates called black ash.

Constantine Hammerhead did not invent the steel dragon or the black ash powder. These were both given to him by the same benefactor who animated his corpse and gave him and his second the powers they used to quickly take over a ship. This benefactor, a necromancer named Johnathon who at the time made his home on a small island with some of his family, allowed Hammerhead to think that he’d simply found the powder and the weapons, but they were a gift in service of a plan.

Hammerhead was the only one in the fleet who knew the secret of the powder. It is known, as far as he knew, to only one other person, and that is his artisan, a woman on yet another island who he trusted to create the powder for him in large quantities and supply his fleet. He gave her the recipe and warned her that if anyone else ever gained access to the powder, it would be fed to her. She continued making the powder long after Hammerhead’s defeat, unaware that her only customer was unable to buy.

The Dolovin navy’s theory was that Hammerhead got the method for creating the powder from Aergyre, given that it is a wide-reaching empire, most of which is not known to Menechit. It is known through rumour that there exists an explosive powder in the far reaches of the empire, but little about it is known. This is not where Hammerhead got the powder—the powder made in western Aergyre is an extremely rudimentary substance that at this point is used for bombs, but is considered too unstable to be harnessed for any other reason (and is rarely used in wide-scale military operation due to its tendency to explode unannounced). In reality, much as the secret of black ash powder is not known on Menechit, it is also not known in Aergyre, nor in Enjon nor in the eastern nations. The powder was invented two hundred years ago in a nation called Tundj, on the at the time undiscovered continent of Djyekkan to the south of Kyaine.

Nothing was known about Djyekkan on Menechit or Aergyre; maps simply showed nothing there but a few small islands that are noted to be hard to access and harder to leave alive due to strong currents and proximity to the dangerous Storm Seas, and there is considered to be nothing there worth risking the danger over. In reality, those few small islands are a large continent home to two nations, Tundj and Hvyyk. For much the same reasons that Kyainese and Imperial navies hadn’t managed (or bothered) to explore the region, denizens of both nations have been uninterested in leaving and unable to do so anyway, and therefore have kept to themselves and remained undiscovered by the rest of the world for most of recorded history.

But during portal practice one day, Johnathon accidentally found himself in a jungle in Tundj near a city called Pungja, where he eventually would up. Johnathon spent six months in Pungja that he refuses to tell anyone about, but came back with some new spells, a tattoo and several piercings, and among other things the recipe for black ash, which he started making at home, as it was made from reasonably common materials. He then gave it to his pirates as part of a pet project that his parents don’t approve of.

In Tundj and Hvyyk, black ash is used widely in military action. The two nations are currently at peace, mostly because the last war between them was very costly. Weapons using black ash have almost completely replaced swords and shields on Djyekkan, and its non-military uses are being explored now that they aren’t trying to kill one another with it. In addition to steel dragons, Djyekkanar militaries also use iron wasps, smaller versions of the same weapon that can be carried and used by one individual. These are a relatively new weapon replacing sunspears, a lance with black ash power in a compartment, which would explode if used properly. Also in use, but fortunately not widely, are ash pits, explosives that are buried and which explode when stepped on. The border between Hvyyk and Tundj features many of these.

Scholars in Hvyyk are looking into using black ash to propel ships and horse-drawn carriages, and researchers in Tundj are trying to find a way to use the combustion of black powder to bring heat to buildings in the colder southern climates of the nation. Neither of these sets of experiments has resulted in much but explosions yet, but all are confident that this is the technology of the future.

Considering a rudimentary form of the powder also exists in Aergyre, and now that the Dolovin navy has it as well, it seems to be only a matter of time before black ash spreads globally and becomes the weapon of a new era for everyone, transforming the face of war—and society more broadly—irrevocably.

Assuming they can all figure out how to make it only explode when they want it to.

From “The Definitive Atlas of the World, Vol. 5: Histories and Mysteries,” by Pascal Tiberius Naoton Quimbell Haeverine anNatalie, published in White Cape in DN 1997, with thanks from the author to Johnathon of the Orange Witch Clan for his editorial assistance.

8 thoughts on “Friday Lore Post: Black Ash Powder

  1. So apparently the laws of physics and chemistry work as we understand them in our world, at least when they aren’t being bent, warped, or otherwise abused by magic. Thus there is no fundamental conflict between science/technology and magic as there is in certain other fantasy settings. This suggests they can be used together. Which has interesting implications for future technological development.

    Far future fic w/ magitech y/n?


    1. Yes, all the laws of reality that we know and love are in full effect in the story world! There’s just also a second set of laws that govern magic, which sometimes allow it to temporarily suspend the first set of laws. But yes, there is no fundamental conflict between science and magic and indeed in some ways they are the same thing, though non-arcane sciences do exist also. The possibility of them existing together is most definitely there. 🙂

      I would be totally down for a far future fic with magitech, that’s definitely a possibility! Assuming, of course, that someone doesn’t erase magic from existence in the next few years. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

    1. He did not! John first went there only a few years ago, whereas Pax’s visit was when he was little, so over ten years by now. It is something that the two of them could bond over, though!


      1. Other than Pax and John, who both accidentally travelled via portal (Pax was six! What the hell?) are there other in universe visitors to Djyekkan that we have met? Also, is the visit Pax made chronicled anywhere other than his character profile?


        1. The only other in-universe visitors to Djyekkan that we’ve met are a few of the gods, who would have been there before it was sequestered, and a few of the time travellers, who I’d argue don’t technically count. Currently Pax’s visit isn’t detailed anywhere (he does briefly mention it in a conversation with John in chapter 80, but that’s it. Maybe someday we’ll get to see what Smol Pax was up to when he was there! 😀

          Thanks for asking!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s