Richard stood up, "Your mind is far beyond this place. I'll have someone pick you up in a few days, come back to Bluewater; I have a new lab there with an amazing hostess. Alright, I'll be leaving."
"Richard!" Perrin called him from behind.
"Hmm?" Richard turned around, watching the youth who was actually younger than himself yet also older than even his deceased father.
"Umm… I've lived in this city for a few years now, and have gotten to know quite a few good people. They're living happily here, can you… can you make sure they stay happy?"
Richard walked back, placing a finger on Perrin's chest, "That depends on you. It's a noble cause, but if you want me to listen your voice needs to be loud enough to hear. The more you achieve in life, the more you can get a good life for these people. That hourglass doesn't come cheap either, you'll have to work for the next ones."
"I'll try my best."
"I look forward to it," Richard turned around and walked away.
"I'll… try…" the old man continued to mutter, his eyes filled with fanaticism as he stared at the books on the table.
Back in Bluewater, a cloned brain descended from the sky right next to the newly built laboratory building. Immersed in her runecrafting, Rosie didn't even notice as Richard walked in and surveyed her work. She had no make-up on, and her robes were plain as day, but just the blue silk ribbon tying her hair up in a ponytail was enough to accentuate her beauty.
Even more noticeable was the absolute stability of her hand; seven different pieces of hide were laid out in front of her, each containing a separate magic array. Her job right now was to combine these fragments into a single whole, a process that required not time but precision. It was the most difficult of tasks for an unskilled runemaster.
When she was finally done, she poured a tiny bit of mana into the rune to test it out. Smiling at the result, she moved to put it into a sealing case. It was only at this point that she realised someone was right behind her, letting out a soft "Eep!" as she turned around.
Richard walked over and patted her head, taking the rune from her hands and looking at it carefully, "Hmm… Good job, but… why are you doing this? This is simple enough to give to the people down below."
Rosie shook her head, "The connecting arrays are the most fundamental part of the process. I don't trust anyone down there to the extent that I'll share these secrets; they might spread the design."
Richard chuckled, "There are always methods to ensure loyalty, like enslavement scrolls. You should focus your energy on new designs and personal growth, not this. Don't forget the entire point of this project, they're supposed to be able to do everything on their own.
Richard put the rune down, "I found you a helper, he'll be coming over in a few days. He should be able to help you come up with any designs you want. Now, help me get the old lab ready, here's the list."
Rosie's eyes immediately lit up, "Which rune is it? Can I see?"
"Mana Armament, the grade 4 upgrade. It'll be very difficult."
Her face started to glow as she rushed away immediately, "I'll get everything ready!"
The grade 4 Mana Armament required more than 150 materials, but Rosie got them all up within the hour. Richard changed out of his form-fitting battle robes into something looser and more comfortable as well, knowing that this rune was even more difficult than Lifesbane. Even with his best efforts, it wouldn't be a surprise if he failed seven or eight times.
As he picked up his legendary pen and sat down to work, however, his hand suddenly stopped in mid-air as he started thinking about the rune's design. The grade 3 Mana Armament would give its user the equivalent of a level 14 warrior's energy, while each higher grade increased that power by two levels. A rune that could give a legendary mage the power of a saint warrior was truly amazing and worthy of being grade 5, but sadly Lawrence hadn't filled in all the gaps.
The key issue with this rune was the transformation of mana into internal energy. Richard had always felt like this was the most troubled part of the design, so much so that it was almost entirely missing in the grade 5 blueprint. His mind suddenly flashed to the image of Lawrence, a thin old man who even in his prime was physically weaker than he was now.
It was at that point that lightning struck in his mind.
"THAT'S IT!" he screamed, scaring Rosie who was standing nearby. Before she could even ask what was going on he pulled a piece of moonscar paper from his desk and started drawing a design on it, taking the initiative to speak up, "I'm making some changes to the design, you can do whatever you want."
After that, he stopped paying attention to her and completely immersed himself in the world of runes.
A grade 4 rune was extremely complicated, with even the smallest of changes requiring great effort. The blank piece of paper was filled up in only a few minutes before Richard shook his head, throwing it away. Papers quickly piled up on the desk before being swept away, but Rosie remained nearby to organise the papers he was throwing to the ground.
Even if this wasn't a new design, these draft papers showed the core mechanics of designing a grade 4 rune. Rosie tried to keep up at first, but before she could even get through the first few pages an entire stack had been swept away. Acutely feeling the gap that still existed between the two of them, she went mute and just continued to help as she could.
The sky outside went dark, but neither of the two had touched the meal they had been delivered. Rosie went out for a few minutes when the moon crested the sky, but she only brought in some essentials so she could stay for a while.
It was almost dawn by the time Richard uttered a single word, "Drink."
"Water?" she asked.
Rosie brought a bottle of mellow wine, pouring a cup and placing it in Richard's hand. He didn't even look as he gulped it all down, turning back to work. Having given up on the idea of trying to understand what he was doing, she just quietly watched as he immersed himself in the design process. At some point, just that had grown quite enjoyable.
Bottles emptied out one after the other, and it was dark once more and bright yet after. Both Richard and Rosie lost all semblance of time. When he finished the last complicated curve and sighed with relief, one could almost see the energy dissipating from his body as he fell back into his chair, just staring at the new design in front of me.
Rosie didn't move towards the design, instead heating up a wet towel and starting to wipe him down. Richard closed his eyes and grunted in pleasure, spitting out a breath that reeked of alcohol as he enjoyed her ministrations.
It took a few minutes for him to open his eyes once more, asking softly, "Not interested in the design?"
Rosie smiled softly, "Your work is still too good for me, I can't understand it."
"Huh?" Richard looked at her strangely, "This isn't like you."
"It's been so many years, of course I'd have changed a bit."
Richard was stunned, finally recalling just how many years had passed since he last interacted properly with this woman. More than half a decade had passed since he won her in a duel, and the only impression she had left on him was her intellect and diligence. He'd almost forgotten that this was the same princess that had rejected countless young talents and noble sons before.
Now that he looked over her once more, recalling every movement of hers since she had arrived, her natural grace had melded perfectly with her serious aura. "Of course!" he praised her, "You're more beautiful than ever!"
Rosie smiled, "Then don't let me go."
"Never," Richard said with a chuckle, pulling her over to the table and pointing at the completed design, "Grade 4, but it can give level 18 energy to the user."
"A saint's power?" Rosie exclaimed in surprise. She didn't understand how to craft one yet, but she knew the rune's utility, "Isn't that supposed to be grade 5?"
Richard smiled proudly, "Only grade 4 now, and no increased capacity requirements either! Don't you want to know how I did it?"
She looked him in the eye and sneered, "Come on, you little peacock. You just can't wait to show off, can you?"
Richard was immediately left quiet.