The new year brought Borkal's return.
The four were now united again, but they still had nowhere to go. Winter was in full swing and everything was frozen in, roads, lakes, forests, fields, everything.
The second month eventually blew around, and with it the great thaw. What was ice the month before, was now mud, and everyone was still just as trapped. School started the fifteenth of that month. The four, all now 17, started their third year in middle school, their final year.
They would be adults in the eyes of the crown starting the day they graduated that autumn, and Claude would lose the privileges he'd enjoyed as his father's charge, he would truly be just another peasant.
The kids' parents finalised their plans that third month, and Captain Altroni prepared to set off for Nubissia for his survey.
Claude crossed his first great hurdle on the road of magic in the fifth month. He finally became a first-rank rune magus. After much consideration, he settled on following the steps left behind by Landes and becoming a one-ring rune magus. Landes hadn't used all his basic spell slots for alchemical spells. There was one combat spell and a mental spell, which were still rather suitable.
The 27th of the 5th of the Sacred Light Calendar was Restoration Day. It fell on a Wednesday, so the kids got a midweek break. The four boys took to the lake for some fishing, but came back all but empty-handed.
Captain Altroni returned on the 3rd of the 6th, but Shark of Red Sea was in a bad way and would need months of repair before she could take to the sea again.
Morssen held a banquet for his friend and secret business colleague's return, at which everyone ended up drunk again. A verbal brawl broke out late that night, however, and everyone left on rather sour terms.
Claude heard everything from his attic. The captain had indeed found a new safe route to Nubissia, and the plan demanded they report the news to the king and await their reward. He also brought other news, however. His route passed through the Alliance's territory, as the five nations allied against Aueras had come to be known. It was safe only with a substantial escort.
Nubissia had recently started producing greater volumes of the basic necessities any large population needed. Trade in these commodities had thus become far less profitable than it had been. It was not enough to pay for the escort any trip along the new route would need. That said, large trade fleets might still make a good profit since they could pool resources to get a smaller escort fleet per-ship than a smaller fleet would need.
That was the crux of the problem. Reporting it now would gain them nothing but credit. If they risked the route on their own, in secret, however, they could make a lot of money, if they survived the trip.
They eventually decided to put off telling anyone for a year. They would use that time to test the waters, quite literally, and see what profit they could make, then inform the crown.
Claude didn't think about it much. It was his father's business, not his, so he had no business butting in. Even if his father wanted to be rewarded for discovering the new route, it wouldn't be that easy. The kingdom would first have to send its own fleet to survey the route and that would take at least two or three years. Even if he became an honorary noble and Claude could get dignitarian status automatically, it would still take at least three years, and Claude would already be serving in the military.
He was more concerned about when he could become a one-ring rune magus. Engraving rune formations in his hexagram was no easy task. Landes described the whole process in great detail and noted the important points, but Claude had already failed a number of times.
Most of the time, he used up all his mental power, making his face pale and giving him a worn expression. His mother even thought he had caught an illness and wanted him to go to the apothecary. Fortunately, the old man said he wasn't sick, only ill-rested.
He snuck over and sneakily told Claude to fap a little less -- doing it too much was bad for his health and proper development. He told Claude getting used to the act might cause him to discharge earlier than he wanted when it came to the real thing and advised him to abstain and only do it when his jewels started aching. He should do it no more than two or three times a week though.
Claude's fist twitched furiously and he nearly punched the old man. Luckily, he restrained himself enough to only glare at the bastard; it was better for his pallor to be mistaken as the result of over-enthusiastic beating of the stick than some taboo magical activities. The former led only to ridicule, the latter to execution.
At least the old man had the propriety to bullshit about feeding him properly rather than telling his mother what he'd told him. He did, however, just have to go and tell her to feed him some 'manhood-boosting' supplements.
On the way back, Claude resolved to put aside some time to study herbs, at least until he could make some basic concoctions. It was a good way to make some money, or he could sell it cheap and undercut the bastard's business.
That was the only hiccup he encountered. A few months later he finished engraving his final formation and became a one-ring rune magus.
Captain Altroni set off for Nubissia again with several other ships on the 25th of the 8th.
Half the town were on the piers, cheering him goodbye, though only a couple of people knew to where he was sailing. Most outsiders believed the voyage was doomed to fail since they were carrying common goods no possible destination would buy at the kinds of prices necessary for the captain to make a profit.
Claude didn't attend. He was wholly focused on familiarising himself with the seven spells he now had at his disposal. One of his more pleasant discoveries was that Magus' Hands had far more uses than just in experiments. The only shortfall was its range; its appendages could only reach out five metres beyond his body. He had also yet to master the multi-tasking necessary to operate more than two hands, so when he operated Magus' Hands, besides being able to manifest just two manifestations, he lost the use of his physical hands.
If Landes was correct, and it had been spot on thus far, that would change when he gained his second ring. Landes' second master spell was Mind Division. Its name was rather self-explanatory. Initial mastery would let Claude split his mind in two, allowing him to control both his two manifestations and his normal hands.
Claude spent most of his free time practicing with Magus' Hands. He lay on his back and used his manifestation to manipulate various objects in his room. The room wasn't that big, so he could reach every nook and cranny of it.
He particularly appreciated that he didn't have to bend down to tie his shoelaces anymore, or sweep the frequently dusty floor, pack away his stuff under his bed, or get up to get the glass of water from his desk or put it back after taking a sip. He had not yet mastered dressing and undressing, however. The manifestations vanished the moment he consciously moved any part of his body.
Claude was quite self-satisfied that he'd discovered a use for the spell not noted in the diaries. Then again, he supposed Landes would have thought of this use if he wasn't as reverently dedicated to his study of magic. Magic, to Landes, was too venerable to use for such menial tasks, so the thought would never even occur to him.
He also spent some time practicing with Eye of Appraisal and found another use for that spell as well. He once used the spell to focus in on a small gap between the roof beams of his room, and saw a bug crawling around on the lip, which he very quickly squashed with a manifestation.
Eye of Appraisal, much like Magus' Hands, only worked on objects within five metres of him. And, at least for the time being, it could only focus his vision to magnify something he focused on. It didn't actually give him information about the object like he hoped based on his experience with similar skills in games and webnovels. Damnit, webnovels were useless!
Fine Control was a great supplement to Magus' Hands. He used it to turn one of his manifestations into a magic ramrod, which made reloading his gun quite a bit faster. It would make his life much cheaper in the future since he wouldn't have to buy anymore tools.
He had yet to do anything with Decomposition and Reconstruction, however, since he had no alchemical materials on which to try them. He'd tried a thing or two, but nothing had happened. He'd spent half an hour staring at two pencils like a fool trying to fuse them, only to discover the only things he'd fused were his saliva and his shirt.
Magic Missile and Mental Shock had yet to be tested. They would make too big a commotion to try in a populated area, so they had to wait until he could get out of town for a while.