"Do you mean you can actually feel my touch?"
Solus froze for a second, the sudden realization was overwhelming her.
"I can! By my maker, I can feel it. I'm not just a piece of rock!"
She started to move all around the room passing through the walls, the ceiling and the furniture of the rooms, even going outside before returning back to Lith.
"That's odd. I don't feel anything by touching something inside the tower nor external objects, it seems to work only with you."
"Perhaps it's because this new form of yours is still too weak. Remember that we share a body and mind link that makes our interaction unique."
The wisp moved in front of Lith, touching his forehead.
"You are right." She said.
"It's a bit faint, but according to your memories this should be the sensation of skins touching. I can also sense your warmth. What about you?"
It took Lith a while to realize that albeit small, the wisp emitted a faint warmth.
"Same. Solus, can you please lower yourself a bit?"
She had just moved at his chest's height when Lith embraced the wisp with his arms.
"How do you feel now?"
"Like it's the happiest day of my life." Her voice was wavering and even if she didn't have tears to cry for once Solus didn't care about it. No matter how small, she would treasure those sensations as long as she could.
They remained like that for several minutes. It was the first time for Lith to experience happiness from the contact with someone that wasn't a member of his family. It felt odd but natural at the same time.
He could also perceive all the strain weighing on her mind being relieved bit by bit.
"You wouldn't be in hot waters with your friends if you were so thoughtful with them too. When one hits rock bottom, even the smallest gesture makes a world of difference."
Despite her words being true, Solus had ruined the moment for Lith but she realized it too late.
Lith let her go and proceeded downstairs towards the Forgemastering lab. Her comment had brought him back to reality, reminding Lith how little time they had at hand.
"Our biggest issue with Forgemastering is that it's a complex and profound discipline. Once I understand how a fake spell works, I can turn it to true magic and improve it as far as I can imagine it.
The same doesn't apply to Forgemastering. So far I only managed to obtain with true magic the same effects as items enchanted with fake magic already have. We must find a way to take our Forgemastering to the next level, otherwise the specialization will be useless.
If I can't achieve an edge over fake mages by forging my own equipment, I can as well as drop this discipline, buy what I need and invest my time in fields where true magic actually makes a difference."
Lith and Solus revised together several papers he had copied from the academy's library about failed attempts to break past Forgemastering's limitations. They had less than ten days, so they had to pick the most promising ones and hope that true magic would succeed.
"As Isaac Newton said: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants. I may not be a genius but I can still use their work as a ladder to get past this hurdle."
After much discussing they selected two methods that were both simple and brilliant at the same time, allowing even a novice like Lith to understand them easily.
The first one was the Heisen's principle. It stated that a Forgemaster's work affected matter, so the harder the material to enchant the more difficult the process became. Heisen suggested that enchanting an item during the last steps of its forging would make the effect stronger despite consuming the same amount of mana.
"It makes sense." Solus pondered.
"We have seen how enchanting an item requires creating a pseudo core and carving with magic the runic pathways necessary to keep the core stable and prevent its stored energy from leaking.
By working on something close to its melting point, it should offer less resistance to the magic flow."
"Yeah, that's what Heisen said and attempted multiple times before giving up." Lith pointed out.
"According to these papers, his experiments managed to produce a small number of enhanced items, but he never understood why all the others would blow up in his face. After losing his arms for the fifth time, Heisen declared the process a failure.
Do we have a safe room? I like my arms as they are."
The wisp representing Solus' consciousness flickered a few times while the tower trembled lightly.
"Now we do." A new door appeared in the forgemastering lab.
To no waste precious materials, once again Lith decided to use small rocks of different size and composition as test samples. First he had to find the temperature where the sample would show the first signs of rounding due to melting.
Then he would stop heating the rock and proceed to enchant it while Solus would keep the magic circle active and filled with mana. Thanks to his new mana sensibility, Lith could see the mana pathways form more easily and bigger than usual.
The enchanting process was a success, but when he checked the final result with Invigoration, he discovered it to actually be a failure.
"Damn! The high temperature made things easier but more unstable. Both the pathways and the pseudo core are deformed by the changes that happened during the cooling period." Lith sighed.
"Maybe it's actually a success. Let me try."
Solus threw the enchanted stone in the safe room, making the door disappear before activating it with her mana imprint.
The following boom made the walls tremble.
"Or not." Lith said with a stern look.
"No wonder Heisen gave up on this method and no one is researching it anymore. Well, we still have to try many possible variants of this experiment, maybe one will succeed or at least give us some inspiration."
Meanwhile at the Ernas Mansion Phloria was outraged.
"I knew it!" She was reading again Lith's background check.
"On both his brothers' heads, that's rich. One of them got disowned while the other left the family as soon as he could. It's more likely for me to marry a goblin than for Lith to love his brothers. How shameless can one be, Lucky?"
Lucky woofed and wagged his tail, hoping it was play time already. She threw it a ball while marching double time towards the tailors' quarters.
- "It's not entirely his fault, though. How could I be so stupid to pick up the call while still half asleep? This is so humiliating! Enough with skirts and nightgowns, I need something with pants even for sleeping.
Usually mom would have a seizure hearing such a request, but recently she seems meeker. Guess it's better to strike the iron while it's hot"– She thought.
Phloria was indeed right. Jirni Ernas in any other circumstances would have prohibited the tailors from following her daughter's order. The manor's staff was well informed about Jirni's standards about education and how easy it was to get dismissed without a reference in case someone angered her.
Orion's threat still echoed in her mind though, leaving Jirni at a stalemate. Her husband was a man of his word, so when she heard him talk about divorce she had almost choked on the food.
Their marriage was an arranged one, to join together two of the families most loyal to the Crown allowing both of them to increase their status in the nobility.
Her maiden's heart had quickly fallen for the young knight, at first for his broad chest and his arms as thick as her head that could literally sweep her off her feet. Later for his golden heart and sunny disposition.
They were still deeply in love with each other; hence she was unable to understand why her children couldn't trust her to find a suitable partner like Jirni's parents did for her. Jirni was too scared at the thought of losing her husband to squabble over small stuff, giving Phloria what she wanted.
"I don't know what's wrong with kids these days." She complained to Rose, her lady in waiting.
"Making such a fuss about an insignificant matter like murder, blowing it out of proportions. I killed my first man at six years of age, mastered the art of torture by twelve and yet I grew up as a refined, delicate lady. Right, Rose?"
"Of course, your Ladyship." Rose swallowed a lump of saliva. She knew all too well how her mistress could butcher a whole family without ruining her appetite for dinner. There were many words she could use to describe her, but delicate wasn't among them.
After five days, Lith's experiments had yet to bear any fruit. To avoid deformations in the pseudo core or in the mana pathways, he had tried to quickly cool down the samples as soon as the enchanting process was over.
The final product would be much better than normal, but also extremely volatile, almost killing Lith in the resulting explosion.
Then he had tried working with higher temperatures, discovering that the sample would reject his magic wasting all his time and effort. At lower temperatures he would simply obtain standard quality items.
Even working on the materials that Zekell provided him, the results were always the same. The quality of the sample was irrelevant for the Forgemastering process, at least at Lith's level of comprehension.
- "Dammit, Heisen's principle is an utter fiasco." He thought
"Using true magic to keep the enchanting process until the sample cools down only resulted in a handful of dust. No matter its quality, inanimate matter doesn't seem able to withstand so much magical energy for a longer period."
"At least it didn't blow up like all the other experiments." Solus sighed. –
They hadn't much time left and were still at square one.
Thanks to Warp Steps, Lith could now come and go from his house without losing his tail first. Despite the constant use of Invigoration, both him and Solus were running on fumes.
Forgemastering required massive amounts of mana even for normal enchantments, Lith would have never been able to keep experimenting for so long without Solus' help.
They both needed proper rest.
Lith was really surprised finding a stranger waiting for him in his own home.
"Welcome home, dear." His mother Elina dusted off his chest and shoulders from the remains of his latest failures, since he usually was too tired to notice them.
"This man says he is Orion Ernas, the father of your schoolmates." Orion gave him a polite bow, his face expressed concern.
"He says he needs your help."