The three carriages of furniture were finally delivered a week later. The Sioris were most curious when they saw the commotion at Claude's villa, and came over for a peek.
"Why did you buy this furniture? Is that thick table going to be a dining table?" SIori asked.
"I'm setting up a study. I need space for my books. Winter's on us as well, and I would prefer not to have to walk to the manor every time I want to read. As for the table, it's for maps and large drawings. A small desk wouldn't fit them."
The couple watched the work for a couple minutes then left, probably chiding Claude quietly for being a choosy beggar. The furniture had to cost at least five thales. It was two months' salary! The couple earned less than three thales between the two of them by comparison. Siori got one thale and five riyas, while Lancy got a thale and two riyas.
As far as Maria was concerned, the old couple were living out their retirement and even used the land there for their chicken coop and private farming. She wouldn't have kept them on if not for their decades of loyal service and their children's continued service to the family under her brother.
Claude hadn't been sitting around idly, waiting for the furniture, he'd spent most of the afternoons in the town market, sourcing all the things he needed to set up his minute laboratory. He got everything under the veil of restocking the manor's laboratory so he didn't raise any eyebrows, but everything ended up in his villa. His shopping adventure wasn't cheap, however, and he felt broke by the time he was done, though he still had nine shaliuns.
Half the reason he went to the market every day, however, wasn't for his purchases -- he could finish those in half a week if he'd wanted, not the whole week as it ended up taking -- it was to listen out for any talk of his murder, but he heard nothing. Even Eriksson, who supposedly knew all the dirty little secrets there were to know about all the businesses around the docks, knew nothing. Edmigar had vanished from town without leaving a trace or anyone noticing.
Claude, Welikro, and Eriksson had also gone to Hurian's store once in the week to buy malt candy for his little brother, Bloweyk. Claude had watched the man with a falcon's gaze, but the fat man had shown no sign of recognising him.
The secret room had been hidden again, though Claude noticed three trashy magic items scattered randomly between the shelves. The shopkeep had promoted them the best he could and had managed to hook Eriksson on one. Unfortunately he had been too greedy with his prices, so the three had left without taking any.
The workers moved the furniture into the room and arranged as he wanted. They also installed the curtains. Claude checked the work, tipped them three sunars each, and sent them on their way.
Claude wiped the furniture down lovingly when everyone was gone then turned his attention to his reagent materials. He laid everything out on the table and organised everything by type, use, condition, etc. Once everything was done, he stood back and sighed, satisfied, at his work. Everything was finally ready for the array.
Night in the wood was dead quiet. It was about eight right now. The town was still quite merry, but the wood was deserted save for a few crickets. Even the old couple was already asleep. They were early sleepers. Fuels for lighting the night was ineffective, so there was little that could be done after dark, and long, hardworking days made for early bedtimes, anyway.
Claude stood against the railing around the arbour, gazing out towards the chicken coop. He had meditated after taking a short rest. Life in the wood was much better than life in the red-bricked mansion. Nobody here interrupted his studies or meditations.
He circled his roof one more time, checking that no one was in the vicinity, then went inside. He checked each room in his house on his way down, making sure the windows were shut, the curtains drawn, and the doors shut, before settling in in his study. He shut and locked the door, then drew the curtains shut over the windows, tying their sides to the walls with the special laces sewn into their sides, sew them to one another as well, then with the room pitch black and no light leaking in, he cast Luminous Pearl.
The room was suddenly bathed in daylight again, and Claude smiled. The smile lasted only a moment before his face returned to a resting expression of utter concentration. He took out his backpack and got out his now-organised materials.
He placed the magistone tablets on the table -- they formed a rough hexagon -- and got to work engraving the runes. The entire array was composed of six independent runes, which Claude engraved first, connected into a single array, which Claude did after he was finished with all six.
Though there was much to do, Claude didn't have to use his own hands, which made things much easier and more pleasant. Landes mentioned in his diary that using Magus' Hands during the setting up of an alchemical formation array was far more efficient than using one's own, not to mention being more accurate and requiring less effort.
The first step was drawing the runes and channels on the tablets. The channels, as their name suggested, were there to guide the flow of mana around the array. They were quite literal channels as well, deep furrows gouged into the tablets and painted with the blood of a specific magic beast. Magus blood was a possible, if less desirable and effective, alternative.
Fortunately, not much blood was needed, but it had to undergo treatment before use. According to Landes, magus blood couldn't compare to a magic beast's blood. The mana in magus blood was infused artificially, while the mana in a magic beast's blood was there naturally. As a result, magus blood was far less effective as a channel, and didn't provide as stable a flow, nor could it handle as much mana for the same channel size, making arrays painted using it, inferior.
Claude stood beside the table and glared at the hexagram engraved and painted into the tablets. Behind him, on the shelf, the box of whiteroot powder automatically opened. A silver scoop flew through the air towards it and returned to the table a moment later and poured its contents into a small glass tube. A bottle of distilled water floating nearby popped open and added its contents to the tube. A glass rod slipped into the tube and stirred the contents into a gentle swoop.
The tube, the liquid inside still swirling around, floated onto the table. Claude's own hand reached out and took a small silver blade. He slit a small wound into his finger and let a drop of blood fall into the tube. The moment the drop hit the water, the glass rod stirred again. The solution pinked rapidly, and Claude dabbed a bit of healing ointment onto his finger.
Magus' Hands was cast once more alongside Fine Control. One of Claude's manifestations turned into an invisible brush and started painting the carved channels. Claude had little confidence the process would succeed if he drew it with a physical brush using his own hands, it would take way too long, but Magus' Hands was another story. Most importantly, Magus' Hands drew perfectly, there was no wavering, no lopsidedness, not even a change in the line's thickness. It drew much like the automated machine of old earth.
It took Claude half and hour to fill the hexagon with lines and shapes.
The carving process that had preceded the painting had taken a fair amount longer. While his manifestations were just as unwavering as they were later with the painting, the tablets were incredibly stubborn. They gave in the end, and the channels had sunk into the stone with deceptive ease.
The next step now came around. Claude brought over a bottle of skystar dust and filled in the channels, then infused the entire system with mana. Dark blue smoke wafted up from the dust as it melted and bubbled in a thick slime and fogged the entire room in just a couple of seconds. Claude held his breath and pushed his mana into the array until the last dust bubbled away. The mist cleared unnaturally quickly the moment he stopped his flow of mana, though a waft of it remained, hovering just above the tablets. It continued its hover, slowly turning light blue, then transparent.
When Claude trained his gaze on the tablets again, the seams between them had vanished, and they'd merged into a single sheet of stone. The paint in the channels had also turned from pale pink to navy.
The engravings' primary function was to act as a container, holding the forces and mana involved in whatever was being done on the formation in one place. Thus both preventing it from dissipating, but, most importantly, protecting the magus from the vast amounts of energy and the powerful forces involved in the various experiments.
As the array sat currently, however, the channels and runes were nothing more than pretty engravings. The array was dead until it had been given fuel in the form of fire crystals. Installing them was a simple affair, however. They simply had to be slipped into the holes already carved for them. One went in each corner of the array. The holes weren't painted the same way as the channels, however; instead of finishing them off with skystar dust, the holes were finished with crimsonblood dew.
According to Landes, the ideal media for mana in arrays were crimson dragon blood and black dragon blood. They contained the essence of sunfire and hellfire, which was capable of increasing heat of fire crystals to the highest levels possible.
Crimson dragons and black dragons had already been extinct for more than a millennium even before the war, so magi simply had to settle for the blood of lesser fire beasts. But, as more and more fire beast species went extinct, even those lesser bloods vanished. Now, barring the rarest of occasions, arrays were made using crimsonblood dew.
Claude once again infused his mana into the array, focusing this time on the holes, and watched the crimsonblood dew whiteroot powder mixture bubble away.
Finally, it was complete. The array had been successfully set up. He stumbled to the nearest chair and collapsed into it, breathing heavily. His mana was almost entirely depleted, and his eyelids heavy. Beneath them, however, his eyes sparkled like they were on fire.
Claude sat there for several minutes, then trudged back up the two flights of stairs to the arbour and meditated for several hours to restore himself before returning to his study. He admired the array for several minutes, before he yawned. He couldn't go to sleep however, not before he'd tested the array out at least once, so he decided to make just a simple recipe with it, a simple crystal container.
He began by channelling mana into the fire crystals and linking all six together. The crystals glowed and soon Claude could feel the heat radiating from them. He cast Magus' Hands, picked up a chunk of unprocessed crystal ore, and put it in the array.
The ore melted immediately, and the array pushed the molten rock out of it, leaving only pure crystal behind, which also quickly melted into a blob much the shape of egg-yellow, only transparent. Claude cast Fine Control, turning one of his manifestations into a spatula like thing, and split the blob into thirds. The blobs had the consistency of wet clay, and he moulded each into three small bottles.
He withdrew his mana from the array, and watched the bottles cool.