Dethane

Kaboom!

You mark my words.  We're going to blow a hole in this market.  No... literally.  We're going to the marketplace tomorrow and we're gonna blow that place sky high.
Barn Khotprahn, Quitan resistance fighter, 3579 AoG
D
ethane is an explosive gas that occurs naturally in numerous muddwood regions.  Casterways have made numerous attempts to harvest the gas for energy and warfare, but it is notoriously unstable.  Its unpredictable and volatile nature has relegated it to cautionary tales of accidental deaths and tragic blasts that have backfired against those who dreamed of harnessing its power.
 
Pronunciation
Speakers of the Komon tongue across Excilior pronounce "dethane" as DETH-ain - except for residents of Islemanoton.  For some reason, they insist on pronouncing it as DEE-thain.  No one quite understands why Islemanoton residents insist on pronouncing it this way.  And quite frankly, the rest of the world thinks that they just sound silly.  Nevertheless, Islemanoton residents continue to pronounce it as DEE-thain, no matter how ridiculous it makes them sound.

Properties

Material Characteristics

R
efined dethane is typically kept in sealed, opaque vessels. So there are usually no "characteristics" of the material to observe. If the gas can be observed, there is a significant chance that this may be the last thing the poor soul ever observes. Those who refine dethane, or those lucky enough to detect it and survive the experience, report that the gas has a faint glow and it ranges from yellow to deep orange, depending upon the region from which it was harvested. Dethane is heavier than most gases. So if it has escaped its container, and if it hasn't yet erupted in cataclysm (a very big "if"), it will often be seen "pooling" in lower-lying areas. Its phosphorescent glow gives it a distinct-and-eerie quality, and it otherwise resembles a heavy mist or fog.

Physical & Chemical Properties

U
nstable explosiveness is dethane's hallmark property. Not only is the gas massively lethal, but it requires no source of ignition to release its deadly force. Any open flame will absolutely detonate a dethane store. But it can also be set off by static electricity (a concept that is only weakly understood amongst modern casterways), impact, or simple jostling of its container. The maximum explosive force contained in a given volume of dethane has never been scientifically measured. Differences in source materials and refinement processes (and thus, differences in the resulting impurities that rob the raw gas of its power) can yield "refined' vapors that vary significantly in finished strength.
When the blast occurred, my first instinct was to search for Toridor. And indeed, my heart swelled with hope when I first spotted his longboots strewn amongst the destruction. But then I realized that they still contained his feet.
Narcis Bartan, Kwongian lieutenant, 3818 AoG
Explosive Force
Dethane is most commonly packaged, stored, and transported in vessels that are roughly a half liter in volume. If the process was completely botched, it's entirely possible that said vessel will have little or no explosive power. But on average, most expect a half liter volume can at least blow an entire human to pieces. At the far extreme, some accounts claim that the same volume of the purest dethane is powerful enough to disintegrate a full-grown parrican - but no rational cognoscenti gives credence to such accounts.

Geology & Geography

D
ethane is refined from muddwood gas. But that does not mean it's found in all muddwoods or that all muddwood gases ultimately yield dethane. There are significant variations in dethane stores available from one muddwood to another. The two greatest sources are the vast muddwoods of Golia in southeastern Islegantuan and those of Igne, Nilaslia, and Torholmaa on the eastern side of the Sontsu Peninsula. There have been significant dethane refineries established in the jungles of northern Isleprimoton, the Hinterlands, and northern Ucarania, but these equatorial climes are not considered nearly as productive as those in the south.

Origin & Source

M
osses are commonly seen as the source of dethane gas, but cognoscenti are fairly certain that it could be extracted from nearly any organic substance rotting in the bog. Mosses are most often harvested because they are easier to compress and process to extract any latent gas. But there's nothing about any specific moss that makes it more likely to yield dethane than, say, rotting bark or even decaying animal matter.

Life & Expiration

I
t's generally accepted that there is no such thing as a "safe" or "stable" supply of dethane. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that some dethane stockpiles may actually become slightly more stable and more tolerant to random jostling after they've been allowed to sit quietly on a shelf for a period of years. This contention is rather difficult to prove because most dethane supplies that have been stored for this long have eventually been (accidentally) detonated by other means before anyone could try to academically test the stability of the aging gas. But some believe that when dethane is allowed to "settle", over a period of a decade or more, it becomes easier to transport, with a lower risk of blowing up the courier. Even if this is true, it's not known if this results from the gas truly becoming less explosive, or if some of the contents have slowly evaporated from the container over time, thus yielding a diluted explosive that is relatively more "stable".

History & Usage

History

S
ince its discovery in Golia in 942 AoE, dethane has experienced repeated "boom and bust" cycles. The process goes something like this: Someone swears that they have uncovered a new way to safely refine/transport/deploy the explosive. The people who stand to benefit from such a development (e.g., rulers, commanders, military suppliers) work themselves into a lather, typically by pouring massive investments into the new methodology. Once deployment begins, a disheartening number of accidental deaths occur, but they're dismissed as unfortunate side effects of the new transitionary period. More time, effort, and investment is poured in. At some point, after the din of deadly mishaps reaches an embarrassing level, the plug is finally pulled and the nascent dethane industry (and all its surrounding profiteers) disintegrates back into a "bust" cycle. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
Please inform your generals that the next one who prances in here recommending dethane as a putative military advantage will be promptly beheaded.
Kaia Porvehl, Queen of Enepia, 1199 AoE
Turning Points
Although dethane is usually more of a side note to history, there are times when its development (and misuse) has altered fates. Golia was initially founded under the speculative haze of the first dethane "gold rush". This also inspired investment in the first formal iteration of the Gotten Road, which is a critical Islegantuan artery to this day. Dethane refinement was also one of the key points of contention within the cognoscenti that eventually spawned the rebel Agnoscio offshoot. Numerous battles have been tragically turned based on misguided dethane use. And key historical figures have met their fate in dethane explosions orchestrated by terrorists or assassins.

Everyday use

A
t most points in history, dethane has been, at best, a solution in search of a problem. Most of the people searching for that problem have had military goals in mind. Dethane was the first high explosive discovered on Excilior. For the most part, it is the only real explosive known to man. Casterways have no access to gunpowder. They certainly don't have the technology to create more advanced (or practical) explosives. In the millennia since dethane's discovery, there have been a handful of other highly-combustible substances found. In ideal conditions, these substances can best be described as something that "burns really really fast". But no one has uncovered or synthesized any other element that comes to close to the explosive force that can be released with dethane. The immediate idea that comes to mind with dethane is to use it against one's enemies. And this has been tried - time, and time, and time again. But the common theme of dethane is that, on average, its use tends to cause more harm to those wielding it than to those it is wielded against. From a military perspective, dethane creates logistical nightmares related to storage, transportation, and deployment, that are nearly impossible to overcome.
 
Stockpiles
To the extent that dethane can be thought of as "ammunition", most ammunition sits idle for months or years at a time. But dethane is infamous for causing seemingly-random explosions even when its keepers were certain that it was safely and serenely stored away. Any sensible military mind responsible for management of an armory has no desire to see dethane supplies on the inventory. And given the laborious process of refining dethane, it's highly impractical to believe that it can be manufactured on a purely as-needed basis during times of war. So if it can't be reasonably stockpiled, most commanders want nothing to do with it.
 
Shipping
Even if storage can be safely accomplished (doubtful), it must still be transported to the conflict when hostilities eventually emerge. Armies are mobile. Troops march. Battlefields shift. And all the weapons (and munitions) associated with those conflicts must move along with the soldiers. But dethane is devilishly fragile and it's an extreme challenge to get it to the warfront without killing those who are doing the transporting.
Some deride the practical benefits of dethane. But I can confirm that a soldier's dismembered hand, launched toward the enemy in a blinding flash, can make for a terrifying and painful projectile.
Kecilio Norinhay, Ngian lieutenant, 2182 AoR
Launching
Assuming that the dethane containers actually arrive intact at the scene of the battle, there is still the question of how to deploy the explosive against the enemy. The gas is most commonly encased in contiguous spherical containers, roughly considered to be "hand-sized". This essentially means they are genades and it's feasible to simply lob them at the enemy. But military annals are replete with stories of harried soldiers who have dropped the fragile containers, blowing up themselves and anyone in their immediate vicinity. In other mishaps, disoriented troops have accidentally thrown them at their own colleagues - and some soldiers simply don't have good aim. Catapults and other mechanical devices have been devised to launch the containers at enemy lines, with some success, but all the usual caveats about aim and care-of-handling apply to this approach as well.
 
Ambushes
This is not to say that dethane has never been used successfully in military engagements. The most practical applications occur when the troops are fighting from a fixed location (meaning that transportation hazards can be managed and minimized) and they can safely launch their projectiles from a place of advantage (e.g., when they can rain them down upon a trapped enemy, from some position that provides tactical leverage).
 
Mining
Wansians and Namgongians have made some attempts to deploy dethane for mining purposes in the Hammerhorn Mountains. Such efforts are never pursued for long. Casterways have found no way to reliably shape or direct a dethane charge. So every explosive force is a 360-degree free-for-all that can cause massive problems in the claustrophobic confines of a mine. And using an explosive to excavate a mine is counterproductive if the miners can't ensure that the explosive will only detonate at the end of the mineshaft.
 
Terrorism
If there is any "practical' use for dethane, it probably comes at the hands of those operating outside military norms - rebels, saboteurs, and... terrorists. Dethane is a more pragmatic solution when the substance can be used very near to, and very soon after, it was refined. Small bands of fighters - or "lone wolves" - needn't pass the fragile containers through a host of untrained hands. Nor are they typically concerned about such formalities as "collateral damage". If they aim to take down a tower, and they accidentally blow up the building next to the tower, that may be just as good. If they take down the tower and its adjacent building, that may be even better. If they manage to kill a handful of innocents/civilians in the vicinity, that may be of no concern to them. For many small, paramilitary organizations, they may not even be too concerned if their agent manages to blow himself up while trying to complete the mission.

Refinement

T
here is nothing that would be recognized today as dethane until it reaches the end of a detailed refinement process. Casterways have been at least marginally aware, since their earliest history, that many muddwood products have peculiar combustion properties. Even something as simple as a log, having been buried in a muddwood bog for who-knows-how-long, will burn far longer than a comparable log harvested from "drier" forests on higher ground. Of particular interest to early settlers was the odd nature of many muddwood mosses.
Every day I see them. Loading their meager carts to the breaking point - with moss. Fetid, rotting, stinking, bog moss.
Pahl Ahnold, Quillian Sylvan Guard, 3890 AoG
Moss
Mosses from non-muddwood regions will either burn in a flash (when dry) or not burn at all (when waterlogged). But muddwood mosses will often burn every bit as long and as steady as a comparable volume of wood. Early scholars studied this phenomenon with great interest, and in 942 AoE, the Galmonian cognoscenti Tomin Bourna learned how to refine the first experimental batch of dethane. His notes indicate that he was hoping to discover a revolutionary, long-term, and stable fuel that would aid in eastern casterway expansion. He was quite shocked (and somewhat thrilled) to find that he hadn't found anything that could be reliably burnt - but he had discovered Excilior's first true explosive. While others soon followed his example hoping to improve and industrialize the process, he himself would only live for two more years. In 944 AoE, he died when his entire laboratory exploded in a dethane mishap.
 
Harvesting
The process has undergone many improvements (and more than a few setbacks) since his untimely death. But certain aspects remain the same to this day. Carts are loaded with bog mosses from the muddwood. (Harvesters typically need training to know exactly which mosses to harvest. Many mosses, in many specific locations, are nearly useless for this process.) The moss is placed in a special press, entirely encompassed with a fitted bladder designed to capture all vapors. The bladder is then injected with "detector" chemicals. These chemicals glow with a faint yellow if the vapor contains an acceptable concentration of dethane. Otherwise, the bladder is emptied and the process is abandoned.
 
Binding
Assuming that sufficient levels of dethane are detected, various reactants are passed through the bladder. Most of these are solid materials chosen for their ability to "bind" undesirable gases - although this binding process can also create its own vapors which must be vented off. This can usually be accomplished by simple weight, because the resulting dethane gas is typically heavier than almost all of the "adulterant" gases that the chemist is trying to remove. This binding process also entails heating the entire volume of air in the bladder. Without heat, most of these natural bindings never take place. But the presence of any kind of heat also adds extreme danger to the whole ritual.
 
Product
As successive rounds of bindings occur, more and more of the "excess" gas is removed and the bladder continues to shrink. At several junctions, the contents of larger bladders must be transferred into smaller bladders - with each transfer also requiring great care to avoid detonation. If everything goes as planned, a load of five metric tons of high-quality muddwood moss will yield a single vial of highly-explosive dethane gas measuring about a half liter. The entire process usually takes about three days.

Hazards

D
ethane is infamous for turning even the most professional laboratories into smoldering cinder pits. The finished product alone is highly unstable, and even when the chemist has successfully managed to acquire the desired dethane in its (mostly) pure state, there is always a great risk that the resulting gas will blow sky high before it can be removed from the premises and shipped to its presumed marketplace. But the refinement process is notoriously touchy. No sane person wants to see a dethane container anywhere near an open heat source. But obtaining the precious gas in the first place requires repeatedly heating it - to tightly-controlled temperatures - so that unwanted gases (which rob dethane of its explosive capabilities) can be stripped from the final product. Unfortunately, most casterway laboratory techniques offer only vague temperature controls. And depending upon soil makeup, the process also has the possibility of producing other combustible compounds in the process.
I have met a great many dethane refiners in my day. I have yet to meet an elderly dethane refiner.
Kris Judin, Taisinian Unknown, 1907 AoE
Variability
Complicating matters, all muddwood gases cannot be refined down to dethane in the same way. A predictable refinement process that worked beautifully (and relatively safely) in Golia might end in fiery disaster if attempted on muddwood gases from Torholmaa. And the process needed to perfectly refine Torholmaan dethane last year may no longer be valid this year, because numerous factors of weather, climate, and shifting plant/animal habitats change the chemical composition of muddwood waters (and their underlying bogs) from one year to the next.
 
Asphyxiation
The final challenge faced by refiners is maintaining their own health and equilibrium throughout the process. Dethane is not an intoxicant (although some of the byproducts produced in the manufacturing process, in some regions, can be intoxicating). However, the refinement procedures are explicitly chemical and catalytic in nature. An abundance of smoke, fumes, and stray gaseous adulterants has been known to incapacitate manufacturers on many occasions. In the best-case scenario, they are simply knocked out and they wake up, some hours later, with a headache and a half-finished (and botched) procedure still gurgling on their laboratory table. In a worse scenario, the batch itself remains "stable" but the chemist dies of asphyxiation, because many fumes associated with dethane refinement are absolutely toxic in their own right. In the absolute worst scenario, the chemist's escalating fugue state finally causes a collapse in laboratory safety. The entire lab explodes in an angry fury. And any adjacent structures are in danger of succumbing to the flames.

Enviromental Impact

T
here is no single acknowledged process for dethane refinement. As its found naturally, it is only mildly combustible due to the presence of numerous impurities that rob the gas of its explosive force. To derive pure dethane (or at least, as "pure" as casterway technology can currently manage), the vapor must be passed through several binding agents that have the effect of leaving only the dangerous dethane to be captured by itself. Throughout history, cognoscenti, Agnoscio, and other various groups of rogue/amatuer chemists have experimented with a plethora of agents that can capture the undesirable gases and leave only the dethane behind. But nearly all of these agents bear a common trait - after repeated use in the refining process, the agents themselves become toxic. The binding agents can be (and typically are) discarded as common trash, but that refuse then presents a long-term public health risk to anyone in the immediate vicinity of the klyster or covert laboratory from which they orginated.
 
Ghost Towns
Epicenters of known dethane refinement have eventually forced the evacuation of entire urban areas. In some cases, authorities had no choice but to make the evacuations permanent, leading to a litany of dethane ghost towns strung across regions with significant manufacturing operations. It took some societies many decades to realize why so many of their citizens were dying, often at early ages, and of grotesque diseases. When coupled with the ever-present danger that dethane labs will simply burst into massive fireballs and kill many innocent neighbors, many countries rightfully decided that any potential dethane manufacturing simply wasn't worth the risk - no matter what the going rate may have been.

Distribution

Trade & Market

A
s one of the most dangerous and illicit substances on the planet, there is no "official" market for dethane and no public means by which to purchase it. Of course, this does not mean that it cannot be purchased by those with enough money to pay and little fear of legal repercussions. In the east, the Scarlet Bottonfly Company is widely acknowledged as the top supplier of refined dethane. Like so many of their commercial endeavors, the Company's influence over dethane sales in Inqoan regions is nearly monopolistic. Their frequent opponent, the Reaper Syndicate, is also thought to dabble in occasional dethane sales. But their role in the dethane market is believed to lag far behind that of the Company, because the Reapers rarely have the funds, equipment, or facilities to accomplish refinement by their own means. So as a practical matter, the dethane sales that do manage to flow through Reaper coffers are generated from their role as middlemen.
I'm not sure what you're getting at by asking me about dethane. That stuff's illegal. And dangerous. And of no concern to you. Now go back to your backwater hamlet and don't come asking around these parts again.
Heera Inania, Phonaecian Scarlet, 2918 AoR
The Unknown
Across Isleprimoton, dethane manufacture and distribution is even more covert. There is no doubt that dethane can be purchased on the continent, but it definitely requires stronger underworld connections. The presumed starting point for those connections would be the Unknown. Although it's doubtful that the Unknown ever participates directly in the manufacture and distribution of the explosive, their unofficial standing as "The Keepers of All Knowledge That Should Not Be Known" puts them in prime position to facilitate such trades. If anyone in Isleprimoton's back alleys knows where to find the continent's shadow network of rogue refiners and illicit traders, it would be the Unknown.
 
Agnoscio
While most criminal operations would prefer to refine and sell dethane (if they had the wherewithal to do so), there is one group that is known to manufacture, but has no interest in the retail side of the market - the Agnoscio. The renegade order of former- and would-be cognoscenti are known to still dabble in dethane refinement. Ostensibly, this activity is not geared toward illicit sales, but rather, toward the continual advancement of forbidden knowledge in banned experiments. But even if they are not refining dethane expressly for the goal of commercial profit, they're not above enriching their coffers when their stockpile of dethane exceeds that which is needed for "scientific" research. When these circumstances occur, it's generally believed that they partner with established criminal syndicates to bleed off excess supply.

Storage

F
or those bold (foolish?) enough to pursue dethane refinement, even when they manage to successfully extract the product, storage is a constant worry. Glass containers are usually in short supply - but even if they are readily available, they're considered a poor choice because a shattered container can easily detonate the gas within it. And if there are other containers in the vicinity, it will trigger a chain reaction. Glass containers can also be susceptible to static electricity and that phenomenon can trigger an explosion even when there is almost no activity around the bottles whatsoever. Porous materials will, over time, allow the gas to leak out and create a grave risk of explosion from the ambient air around the containers. Rubberized vessels work well, but casterway rubber is typically of low quality (i.e., it has a tendency to dry out and form cracks over time) and it's a relatively rare commodity.
 
Warehousing
Despite these concerns, supplies of dethane can be quietly warehoused for some time. It's usually done in a cool, dark place - caves and cellars work well. The larger conundrum arises when trying to transport the substance to the site of its presumed use - without blowing the transporter(s) to bits. The unstable nature of the resulting product means that containers can ignite from the most modest of collisions. This means any "shipment" of dethane usually entails gingerly encasing every single vessel in its own copious layer of padding and protection. The intention is to keep its container from bumping into anything else in even the slightest way.

Law & Regulation

C
ognoscenti have explicitly banned anyone in their profession from any attempt to harvest or refine the gas. Any of their ilk caught in such activities risks harsh discipline. Any caught attempting such activities in a klyster will almost certainly be permanently banished, for such foolhardy behavior puts the entire facility at risk. Most nations do not have formal laws against dethane production because the vast majority of "regular" citizens wouldn't have any of the knowledge/equipment needed to complete the process - and for those who do, few of them who tread that path will live long enough to receive any punishment.

Pronunciation DETH-ain
Type
Biomaterial
Odor
Peppermint
Color
Yellow / deep orange
Common State
(Muddwood) gas
Related Professions

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