Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 77

It sometimes felt like time was crawling at a snail's pace. Other times, however, it was hard to keep up. People occasionally, suddenly found themselves wondering, 'huh? How did so many days pass? I still haven't managed to do this or that...'

Time was definitely moving too fast for Claude at this time. The two months during which he recovered from his leg injury made each day felt like a year. Anyone whose left leg was encased in a cast would feel the same. Inconvenience in daily life was a given. Claude couldn't bear the slight stench his body started to develop from not being able to take baths. It didn't help that summer had come, which caused him to sweat often. All he could do was use a large, wet linen cloth to wipe himself down every single day.

He went to the apothecary four more times after his first visit. Initially, he went three every three days, before it became once a week. During every visit, he wouldn't be able to avoid having his blood let out by the old herbalist. Only after the last visit did his pain finally end. The old man said that there was no longer any remnant blood and he would be able to move as usual after another month of rest. However, he would still have to take care of his newly recovered leg and try his best not to put any pressure on it and remain seated whenever possible.

So, Claude obediently stayed within his attic with his books throughout his recovery period. Even during the 10th day of the 9th month, which was the harvest festival of the great earth goddess, he stayed in his attic and watched the parade in the streets without joining the festivities himself.

Claude wasn't the only one who cooped up in his house to recover. There was a change in the three of his friends. Welikro changed the least, in that he had become even quieter than before. However, he turned into a fishing maniac and would always bring a fishing pole and wooden bucket to the side of the lake alone instead of asking the others to go along with him.

Eriksson was busy repairing his fishing boat and he didn't ask his friends to help out. He did all the work alone, from buying boards of similar thickness to those on his boat, drying them on the jetty, removing the broken parts of the boat and replacing them under Pegg's guidance. After a month or so of repairs, the ship could finally sail again. But now, Eriksson no longer called his friends along with him to travel around and instead frequently took hour-long voyages around Lake Balinga.

The one who changed the most was undoubtedly Borkal. He was probably weighed down by the humiliation and shock of the auction of the crocodile carcass. He split the four crowns he got from Sir Fux with the rest of them and paid for the repairs of Eriksson's boat alone, all three thales. He also paid for Claude's two thales in medical fees.

Borkal had spent all his share of the sale. Even though the others said that they would bear the burden of the sale equally, he insistently rejected their offer. Borkal said that only this way would he feel better about himself. It was his mistake that caused them to lose out on even more profit and only by spending his share of one crown would he be able to forgive himself for that. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to bring himself to face the rest of his friends.

The others had initially wanted give the one thale plus from the sale they got from the fish and the birds to Borkal to make up for it, but he insisted it be added to their own little public fund. Though Borkal believed his performance with the auction was a horrible one, he still wanted to keep things fair as the treasurer among them. Since they had already agreed beforehand for the sub sale to be added to their shared fund, that was what he would do.

Claude wondered why his friends had lost the urge to hang out since he started staying home. Apart from school time, the three didn't get together. Before this, the three were always clamoring to find something fun to do on Sunday. Now, however, they did things on their own. Even during the three-day break over the harvest festival, no one went anywhere, they just followed the parade around town.

Welikro spoke to Claude privately to answer his questions. He believed Eriksson was terrified by the fight with the crocodile. It had shown him how vulnerable he really was, and he was too afraid to do anything now.

The two were quick to talk big in front of others, but secretly both he and Borkal were now scared shitless of getting into a similar situation. The snake episode didn't affect them because they didn't actually experience it, but they'd been in the middle of the whole crocodile business. They'd all come to the conclusion that only Claude could handle those kinds of situations, and with him out of commision, no one wanted to risk finding themselves facing something similar or even half as bad as the crocodile.

Claude laughed at the time, but he was secretly thankful that the two had been forced into a more reasonable view of the themselves and the world. They were right in as far as he was the only one that had proven he could handle those kinds of encounters, and he was completely out of the picture for the time being. He went to school, then went home and either slept or read the diaries. He'd gone through the two so many times now he could recite them word for word.

They'd answered many of his questions, though not all. One of his big questions had been why Landes had become a 'first-rank rune magus' instead of a 'one-ring' one. He'd certainly made the transition at some point as his cookbook diary said he was a four-ring rune magus.

The second diary answered that question for him. It turned out that 'ranks' were something akin to a half-step into the corresponding ring count. In the case of first-rank rune magi, they could control the mana within their bodies, but had yet to learn or master any spells. To become a one-ring rune magus, the first-ranker had to be able to lay down formations within his void space and engrave his hexagram, which allowed him to cast spells.

The hexagram had seven spaces: the six triangles and the central hexagon. Each of the space could be engraved with a rune formation, and all seven were needed to cast spells. Once all seven had been engraved, the magus had to learn several spells. Once they could pass a test that required they successfully cast the spells they'd learned, they officially became a one-ring rune magus.

The seven formations weren't equal in power or status. The main formation in the hexagon was the central pillar on which the other six were carved and was called the master. The other six were known as the slaves. Together the seven formations formed the core of the magus' power. Each spell had a corresponding formation that had to be carved in his rune space. A magus could learn more than the seven spells his seven formations in his hexagram allowed. He could carve formations anywhere in his void space, but those seven were the core of his repertoire and often remained his most familiar and frequently used. This was mainly because only the runes carved into his hexagram were permanent. All other runes quickly faded, which meant they had to be carved every time the corresponding spell was to be cast. It wasn't very difficult to become proficient in this, but it meant that those spells were always slower to cast, overall weaker in their output, and cost a lot more mana.

Landes had spent much of his early years researching the hexagram and the formations carved into them. He found that magic consumption wasn't just a matter of the scope of the spell's effect, but was also strongly influenced by where its corresponding rune was carved. If the average one-ring rune magus had a hundred units of magic power, then a standard spell for one-ring magi cast from a formation carved in the central hexagon cost about one or two units. That same spell cast from a formation carved into one of the six triangles cost three to six units. If that same spell was cast from a temporary formation carved into the bare void space, however, it's cost went up significantly, averaging around thirteen units, though they varied between seven and twenty units depending on the spell in question.

There was an additional difference between permanent-formation based spells and temporary-formation based spells. Spells cast from formations within the hexagram need only be called with a one or two syllable incantation, and masters could even do so without saying anything at all, calling it forward with just a thought. Those same spells cast from formations outside the hexagram, however, required longer incantations and a series of hand gestures, both of which became longer and more complex as the spells got larger or stronger.

Since the latter of these spells required gestures and longer incantations, they were significantly more prone to failure as well. If the caster missed or malformed a single gesture, or missed or mispronounced a single syllable, at any point during the casting, the entire spell would fail.

To matters even more complicated, while temporary formations, by their nature, could be switched out as often as you wanted, since they faded rather rapidly, the permanent formations were just that, permanent. Once carved, they were set for life. There was no changing them later on. So choosing those initial seven spells was one of the biggest choices a magus could make. And those seven had to be the most basic spells -- tier-zero spells. Spell formations required by higher-tier spells didn't fit in the hexagram of a first-ranker.

The task was somewhat simpler for the magi of Landes' generation than for those that a thousand or more years earlier. The selection of valid spells they could choose from rapidly declined as the centuries past. Certain of even the simplest spells required materials to cast, and as magic materials became rare, or were used up entirely, those spells became completely useless and were abandoned. By Landes' time, the only spells left in the catalogue were those that could be cast using only the mana stored in the body.

That concept wasn't all that foreign to Claude. In the beginning of the automobile industry, 'good' cars were faster or stronger, they didn't care about fuel consumption. But as fuel started drying up, a 'good' care became one that could be fast or strong while using much less fuel. Only the most luxurious, rich-boy play-things could afford to continue being inefficient.

The same principle had been applied to magic as well. As resources became rarer, the emphasis switched from powerful, costly spells, to a balance of power and efficiency, to eventually versatile spells that could be cast without external material at all. This process eliminated entire disciplines in magic, eventually leaving only combat and runes.

Rune magi used runes to focus the movement of ambient magic to supplement the magus' own mana, to direct the magus' mana to achieve more complex results that would otherwise require materials, or to make the most efficient use of the materials that were still available. Battlemagi honed their spells and their own abilities to make the best use of their own mana in combat, with the larger goal of maintaining control over Faslan despite the dwindling power of the spells at their command.

Only the white sterling nobles still made wide-scale use of material intensive spells, though in the final years before their fall even they had become quite frugal.

The seven tier-zero spells Landes picked all had something to do with alchemy. He was quite satisfied with his choice as well, though he had one regret. Tawari had advised him to reserve at least one of his six triangles for a combat spell. He'd listened to him, but had never needed to use the spell in the end, and over the years he'd discovered several dozen other alchemy related spells he used regularly he could have put in there instead.

Tawari's advice was bad only in retrospect, however. His logic had been sound. The world wasn't safe anymore, and it was becoming worse with every passing year. Rune magus or not, he had to be able to protect himself. It would have been prudent even without the ever-dwindling power of magi and their control over the common masses. The power struggles between magi and their bitter feuds and rivalries alone were justification enough to keep something on hand. Even if he never actually used the spell, just letting others know that he had a permanent combat rune would be enough to scare of most of the people he had to worry about. Those that could afford to ignore that knowledge were the kinds of people he couldn't face even if he had only combat spells anyway.

Claude also noticed a tone of gratefulness for Tawari's advice in Landes' writing even as he said he regretted taking it. Having a permanent formation for a combat spell was infinitely better than memorising it for normal use through a temporary formation. He, as a rune magus, would never be allowed to learn more powerful combat spells than those made available for the choice of initial seven, and using one of those spells through a temporary formation was a waste of mana. They were completely worthless unless their corresponding formations were permanent.

Tawari was also right about the deterrent properties of having one of those spells. He'd been seen practicing it once and after that nearly nine-tenths of all the people that made trouble for him regularly suddenly stopped.

It was only normal, Claude thought, rookies were always bullied by seniors. Most of Landes' seniors, however, were rune magi and didn't have any combat spells. So they were completely outclassed by him and would stand no chance in a fight. He had a great big sword, and all his prospective opponents had were their fists. They might just be able to overpower him if they ganged up on him, but more than a few of them would still suffer for it, and no one wanted to take the chance of being one of them.

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