Accompanied by Shyemul alone, Souma headed to a small detached building built in a corner of the feudal lord’s residence. It was a sturdy building with a foundation of heavy stones, and thick mud walls. It had such a firm structure that one could believe that important treasures were kept in there, but it wasn’t a storehouse or anything like that. That’s because what had been carried in there were things such as base metals, which no one would label as being of any value, sand and soil of unclear origin, and mysterious powders and liquids.
Because of that, this detached building garnered all kinds of speculations right after its construction finished. Even in the hearsay records of that famous philosopher Senes, the following passage was left behind:
“According to the whispers by the wind, there’s a small, detached building in the palace of Divine Son of Destruction Soma Kisaki. It’s a place of secrecy. It’s said only Great Sage Solon was allowed to enter that place. And the Divine Son of Destruction and the Great Sage frequently secluded themselves in there, doing something secret. It was rumored that they were carrying out nasty banquets of black magic, rites of worshiping Genobanda, or sacrificial rituals in honor of Aura, the Goddess of Death and Destruction. It’s said that it was so repulsive that it made even that beastman girl, who adored the Divine Son of Destruction, back off in disgust.
As if backing those rumors, some people heard roaring sounds similar to thunderbolts from that detached house. Other people smelled an preposterously offensive stench from there. And yet other people saw flashes of light leak out through the small windows, cutting through the darkness of night. Because of that, the people started to be frightened out of anxiety and dread that something evil might take place each time the Divine Son of Destruction and the Great Sage secluded themselves in the building.
However, there wasn’t a single person who really knew as to what those two were actually doing in there.”
And, as if to confirm those ominous rumors, an abnormal sight extended around that detached building. As of yet it was still the beginning of spring, held back by the remains of winter’s coldness. Even though it was a period where the vegetation would finally start to slowly bud, tall weeds were thickly overgrowing only around the detached building, standing isolated in the backyard, for some odd reason.
After Souma knocked several times against the thick, wooden door of the detached building, he opened it lightly, and yelled through the gap, “Mr. Solon, are you in here? I’m coming in!”
However, there was no reply. Reluctantly Souma decided to step inside. As soon as he did, Shyemul covered her nose with a hand, frowning. As always, the offensive stench dominating the building’s interior seemed to be harsh on her who possessed a delicate sense of smell. Even Souma felt how the interior of his nose was assailed by a stinging impetus.
The inside, which was illuminated by the sunlight shining through a small dormer window, had certainly aspects that made it unavoidable for it to be rumored as the site of heretic rituals. What was lined up orderly on the shelves along the walls were specimens of minerals and creatures. Tall bookshelves were packed densely with unusual books that would likely throw any unaffiliated researcher into a frenzy upon sight. And containers made out of glass and metal as well as apparatuses with strange shapes crowded the huge table set up in the middle of the room.
If a person of the modern era had seen those apparatuses, they might have described them as beakers, flasks, tweezers, etc. This building, which would be dubbed as a site of shady black magic rituals by future generations, was in truth a facility for chemical experiments.
When Solon mixed Trona stones and slaked lime together out of curiosity a good while ago, it resulted in him synthesizing sodium hydroxide by accident. The soap, which was created by using that sodium hydroxide, was nowadays one of the precious export goods for the sake of obtaining foreign currency. It had turned into something that even Souma wouldn’t want to miss to better his living environment.
Souma had this chemistry laboratory built as a facility to allow Solon to carry out chemical experiments as he wanted, based on the idea that it might lead to the discovery of new, profitable substances, just like back then.
“Mr. Solon, are you in?”
Thereupon, the old man with his characteristic white mustache, similar to that of a mountain hermit, and his long, white eyebrows suddenly popped out.
“Oooh! It’s you, boy? You came just at the right moment!”
“Please stop already calling me boy, Mr. Solon.” Souma protested, but it didn’t look like his objection registered with Solon who was all smiles with joy.
Solon grabbed Souma’s hand, and pulled him towards the laboratory table.
“You ready? Then take a close look.” As soon as Solon said so, he started his experiment.
First he heated a liquid within a flask with a lamp while putting pieces of metal into the flask. In response, countless bubbles appeared on the metal pieces. Those bubbles gathered in a small pipe through a downward replacement of the water. When plenty of gas had accumulated in the pipe, Solon took it out of the water sealing the pipe’s opening with his thumb, and brought it close to the lamp’s flame that had been heating the fluid. At the same time as Solon removed his thumb, there was a plopping sound similar to when pulling out the cork of a champagne bottle.
Souma tilted his head to the side in confusion due to Solon looking as if asking him, “How about that?”
“Isn’t that a simple reaction of metal and sulfuric acid?”
What Solon had done just now was an experiment that would create hydrogen after making metal and sulfuric acid react with each other like Souma had shown Solon before. Souma was confused as he didn’t grasp the intention behind showing him the same thing he had previously taught Solon.
Solon puffed up in pride towards Souma, “Fu fu fu, this one is similar to sulfuric acid, but it’s not sulfuric acid. Right now it’s still at the stage of testing, but it’s an acid counterfeiting sulfuric acid.”
Souma was astonished. Speaking of acids existing in this world, which was still undeveloped in the field of science, there only existed vinegar, if you excluded the sulfuric acid discovered on the Maha Genobandera. However, going by the reaction just now, it seemed to be such a strong acid that it couldn’t be put on the same level with vinegar.
Once Souma asked where he had obtained something like that, Solon proudly answered, “Lo and behold! This is a gas produced by pouring salt into sulfuric acid and dissolving it in water.”
Souma knew that Solon had experimented using various metals, wondering whether there would be a different reaction depending on the metal used. However, he was simply amazed by Solon’s idea and leverage to not only use metals, but even salt in his experiments.
“I named this hydrochloric acid as it’s an acid created from salt.”
Souma doubted his ears. Hydrochloric acid was something he had created several times during his chemistry experiments at school. But as expected, even Souma had no way to know whether this acid was truly the same hydrochloric acid as it was defined in modern Japan, or whether Solon’s name merely matched by coincidence.
However, that was hydrochloric acid without a doubt. If you made sodium chloride ― salt with concentrated sulfuric acid, react, it would create a gas called hydrogen chloride. Hydrogen chloride melts extremely easily in water, and the solution of both displays a strong acidity, and is commonly called hydrochloric acid.
Souma, who didn’t know anything about that, scrutinized the bottle with the hydrochloric acid. As might be expected, Souma didn’t possess the knowledge how to make use of that acid. However, he knew at least that it had been an indispensable component in various chemical experiments. He thought that they might discover some kind of profitable use for it as long as they continued advancing the research.
Apart from gradually continuing to ponder about this, there was something that bothered him much more right now.
“By the way, did you do something to the garden around here?”
Even Souma was curious about the abnormal growth of the weeds around this research facility. Once he asked that, Solon, who had been smiling in good humor until then, started to cough violently. And not just that. His eyes were darting around restlessly.
Souma and Shyemul gazed at Solon while narrowing their eyes. In response, Solon resolved himself, and confessed, “I think it’s the bone meal I tossed away after dissolving it in heated sulfuric acid…probably.”
“Probably, you say… To begin with, why did you dissolve something like bones?” Souma asked dumbfounded.
Souma allowed Solon to freely experiment here in the hope that he might produce something useful. Even so, he still wondered about the point of dissolving bones in sulfuric acid.
“Look, when I asked you about the utility of sulfuric acid, you told me that it dissolved bones, didn’t you?”
Souma remembered, saying, “Ooh, right.” It was a while ago, back when Solon inquired about the use of sulfuric acid. It was impossible for Souma, who was no more than a simple senior high school student, to know about the purpose of sulfuric acid. The answer, which he somehow managed to give after racking his brain, was that bones were dissolved by using sulfuric acid in a mystery novel’s murder case. Solon had obviously experimented to check whether that was truly possible.
“Did you throw out something else?”
Due to Souma still looking doubtful at him, Solon raised both hands up to the height of his shoulders, surrendering.
“I swear upon the gods of heaven and earth, that’s all. Really, it’s the truth.”
It doesn’t look like he’s lying. Souma judged, but in that case it generated yet another question. I wonder why the weeds have grown in such an abundance after simply scattering bones dissolved in sulfuric acid?
Having pondered this far, Souma suddenly remembered. When his grandfather, who had been plowing his small field, said that he would go buy fertilizer, Souma went with him. Among the array of fertilizers lined up such as poultry manure and compost, there was one name he couldn’t connect with fertilizer at all – calcium sulfate. Once he asked his grandfather about it, he was told that sulfur and calcium also worked as fertilizers.
“Come to think of it, Shyemul, you guys were troubled about the disposal of the cows’ bones, weren’t you?”
Shyemul showed a certain level of indignation upon Souma’s question.
“No kidding. The humans of the city don’t understand the concept of gratitude towards the cows they ate at all. It’s deplorable.”
Thanks to cow raising having spread at a good pace, the meat consumption had increased not only in the pioneer villages, but Bolnis as well. However, at the same time it produced a great amount of bones after the meat had been dismantled, which caused troubles as to how to dispose of them.
The pioneer villages, which had no issues with places to dump the bones, were still fine, but heaps of cow bones were unlawfully dumped along the streets in Bolnis, turning it also into an environmental issue due to the stench and nasty view. Souma didn’t just discard the bones but put them as effectively to use as possible by creating materials for the zoan’ handicraft, and scattering bone meal on the fields as fertilizer, but those options were already oversaturated as well. Especially bone meal existed in overwhelmingly bigger amounts than what could be used up by scattering on the fields, and apparently pressured the storehouses with its excess stock.
Souma thought that they might as well melt all of it and scatter it with things standing like this. The solution of melted bones would likely have more efficiency than bone meal which required time to decompose.
Since there’s also volcanoes among the mountains surrounding the Solbiant Plains, I think there might be plenty of sulfur in the soil. Besides, lime should have also been scattered in a decent amount during the reclamation. Even if we were to add calcium sulfate to those, it might not make much of a difference. Still, I think it will be fine as long as we manage to get rid of some of the bone meal said to clutter the storehouses.
Considering it like that, Souma later on consulted with Michena, and he recorded in a corner of his might that he should also build a facility to dispose of the bones. However, at this moment Souma fell for a single, big misunderstanding. Certainly, calcium being the main ingredient of bones wasn’t wrong. However, if one were to be very precise, bones didn’t consist of simple calcium, but calcium phosphate.
During the archeological excavations carried out in the Solbiant Plains in recent years, historic ruins deemed to be the legendary “Ritual Site of Soma” were finally uncovered. This ritual site is considered to be the place where the Divine Son of Destruction Soma Kisaki prayed for good harvests through evil, black magic in the past. It’s said that the corpses of animals and people were buried there every day after dubious rituals were held at night.
Just as that legend stated, huge amounts of bones were found in the remains of Soma’s ritual site. However, different from the legend, no human bones were found among the bones buried there. Most of the bones belonged to cows that were kept as cattle back in Soma’s era.
Moreover, what was discovered at the same time was a big number of jars deemed to have stored liquids. As a result of analyzing the residue, it became clear that those jars contained sulfuric acid that had been produced through compounding the sulfur carried in from the mountain called Maha Genobandera during the ancient era.
The famous agriculturist Lapan, who participated in the archeological excavation, said the following about this:
“This can be called a research result worthy to be admired. It shows that everything that had been excavated was a result of lime superphosphate produced by processing bone meal with sulfuric acid, and not through some black magic rituals performed by the Divine Son of Destruction Soma Kisaki as told in the legend. Moreover, during the excavation the other day, superphosphate was discovered within a jar that had been miraculously excavated in its sealed state without having been broken.
As you all know, the three big nutrients that cannot be missing for the growth of plants are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The growth of plants will be suppressed through lack of nutrients. In other words, even if there’s an abundance of other nutrients, a plant won’t be able to grow if even one of those three nutrients is missing. And the nutrient missing the most in the ancient farming methods was phosphorus.
For the sake of providing crops with phosphorus, the ancient people used bone meal as fertilizer. However, calcium phosphate, the main ingredient of bones, is difficult to dissolve in water, and even if it’s scattered on the fields as bone meal, plants need time to absorb it as a nutrient. However, if you process calcium phosphate with sulfuric acid, it turns into monocalcium phosphate which easily dissolves in water. Because of this, plants become able to quickly absorb phosphorus as a nutrient.
I think it’s no mistake to call this a chemical fertilizer at this point!
What is even more surprising is that a chemical fertilizer existed in the past of a thousand and several hundred years ago, a time when people had just started to put compost to use. Furthermore, the fact that it had been produced in great quantities in a large-scaled facility like this.
Until now it had been one of the big mysteries how the areas under the rule of the Divine Son of Destruction stuck out so drastically in the harvested amount of crops compared to other regions. Many historians have believed that the Divine Son of Destruction falsified the recorded numbers to show off the superiority of the areas under his control.
However, the discovery of superphosphate supports the possibility that those numbers actually reflect the truth. The recent archeological excavation has truly overthrown the established theories about the ancient agricultural history so far ― no, you might as well say that they were destroyed through this breakthrough!”
~ Extract of a news story by an UNS News Correspondent ~
“So, what do you want from me?”
Solon, who didn’t want his own mischief being dug up any further, changed the topic somewhat forcefully. Souma noticed his aim, but because he had come here for an important consultation to begin with, he went along with Solon.
“As a matter of fact, it looks like Holmea is going to try subjugating us…”
Souma explained about the notification that had reached him through Yoash, and the current state while mixing in his own speculations. While giving affirmative signs every now and then, Solon listened to Souma’s story to the end, and then gave a single, deep nod.
“I see. The rough outline was clear. ――So, what do you want to discuss with me?”
“I’d like to do something about the fire burning beneath our butts right now.”
With only that much, Solon immediately understood Souma’s concern, and agreed with him. However, Shyemul, who had been left out of the loop, vented her discontent.
“Say, Soma. What’s that fire under our butts you keep talking about?”
Faster than Souma could answer her, Solon revealed an evil smile, and said with a tone belittling her for not knowing at least this much despite being acknowledged as Souma’s first retainer, “Hohohoho! Beast girl, you don’t get it?”
Solon had the bad habit of teasing Shyemul in such a manner, while being fully aware that she hated him. Sure enough, Shyemul ground her teeth in mortification. In response, Solon put on a mean smile, and said, “There’s a power that would be situated behind our butts when we were to face Holmea. ――Namely, Jeboa.”
As if to prove that Solon’s guess was correct, Souma nodded as well. Even Shyemul knew of Jeboa, which was located further south west than Bolnis. It was a country prospering through the ocean trade that made use of the Benes Bay.
“The beating down of the wheat prices, which started five years ago when the boy gained control over this city, has been continuing to this very day. That means it’s the very definition of a fire that keeps smoldering even if it doesn’t flare up.”
Shyemul posed a question at Solon’s explanation.
“However, I’ve heard that the folks of Jeboa won’t attack other countries?”
In these last five years, Shyemul had also learned about the surrounding countries. According to her education, the merchant guild, which held the real power in Jeboa, protected the freedom of trade as the highest good, and didn’t possess any ambitions to invade other countries.
“I think so as well. ――But, you can’t definitely exclude the possibility that they won’t intervene in some kind of way.”
What Souma feared wasn’t a direct military intervention, but an indirect intervention through the huge riches of the merchant guild. If they were to dispatch hired mercenaries as fake volunteer soldiers, assisted Holmea financially, or obstructed their side’s import of military goods, it might very likely develop into a much more troublesome situation than a direct intervention, if things were to head in a bad direction.
It wasn’t as though Souma hadn’t done anything about Jeboa during those five years. He had explored possibilities to improve relations through Yoash. However, it was a fact that results weren’t in reach at present. Souma added at the end that he had Yoash do his best for their cause.
“It’s a bad idea to place too much trust in that guy.” Solon warned Souma who defended Yoash. “That guy has been a Jeboan merchant from the very start. Even if he personally supports you, boy, he’ll pick Jeboa over you, when push comes to shove.”
Judging from Solon’s point of view, Yoash was full of frivolous speech and conduct, but at his base he was a Jebon merchant loving freedom and trade. For Yoash, Souma was no more than an important trade partner.
“Having said that, it’s not like that Yoash chap has deliberately delayed the improvement of our relations with Jeboa. The problem lies in Jeboa’s system.”
Despite crowning a king, the king himself had no substantial authority in Jeboa. The merchant guild was actually running the country, and the wealthy merchants called Committee of Ten were operating the guild. The merchant guild was managed through an assembly of the committee, but that was the issue Solon pointed out.
“There’s no one among the Committee of Ten holding the highest authority, they’re running a majority vote system of ten wealthy merchants with equal ranks. This system has a good reputation for determining the guild’s policies through discussion without allowing the power to converge on one person, but at the same time it has also the flaw of hurting their ability to make prompt decisions as they end up wasting time with pointless discussions.”
The ten wealthy merchants weren’t a monolith by any standards. They would tend to unify under threats from outside, but generally it was only natural to say that the members of the Committee of Ten were also scheming against each other. Even at the time when they voted for the currently ongoing wheat price war against Souma’s group, it was the same. It’s said that two of the members objected even to the retaliatory measures against Souma’s group back then when they were still labeled as nothing more than a group of slaves and zoan who had staged a rebellion.
Completely different to five years ago when Souma’s group took over Bolnis, Souma had now become one of the powers of established reputation. Moreover, it was doubtless that it would be beneficial for Jeboa, which flourished through trade, to deepen its friendship with Souma who produced many kinds of goods using his knowledge from modern Japan.
However, even though a part of the merchants were thinking like that, each of the committee members followed their own agenda. Solon conjectured that they might not readily arrive at a decision as a guild.
“Still, the Committee of Ten is an unexpectedly clever organization. Whenever someone tries to stand out, the others sabotage them by cooperating. Precisely because of that, big political disturbances don’t occur in Jeboa, allowing for it to even be called a stable government.”
For the country called Jeboa it might be a good thing, but for Souma it was a big problem right now.
“However, because we’re actually going to face off against Holmea soon, I’d like to get rid of the troubles in our back as fast as possible.”
Bolnis had grown rapidly in these last five years, but it was still undeniable that they were at a disadvantage if they were to take on the whole country of Holmea in battle. Not to mention, that it’d be out of the question to fight while minding Jeboa in the back. It was also for the sake of fighting against Holmea with all their power that Souma wanted to tie a nonaggression pact if possible, or if that was impossible, obtain a firm promise of nonintervention in the battle from the merchant guild.
While stroking his long, white mustache, Solon pondered about the best course of action.
“Jeboa, which is stable for better or worse, is something like a huge rock. If we plan to move it, we have no other choice but to pulverize it by delivering a powerful blow. Besides, if we do it skillfully, we might be able to obtain water to extinguish the smoldering fire…” After letting a mumbled monologue slip out of his mouth for a while, Solon suddenly clapped his hands together. “Alright! Soma, invade Jeboa in person.”