"What do you mean with 'true magic'?" Lith said.
"At this point is still too early to tell. Off course if you are too curious you can look at my mind right now, but I don't know how helpful could it be."
Lith merged his mind with Solus, discovering she wasn't exaggerating at all. Her mind was full of 'ifs' and 'buts', constantly examining facts, revisiting memories, making one speculation after the other before dismissing them.
"What can I do to help you?"
"I need two things. First, all the books about the history of magic you can find. Second, we need to get out of here and do some experiments. I'll explain everything later."
Lith went to Nana, asking her for help.
"Sure, I have a magic history book. But is not such an interesting topic, so I only purchased one covering the last couple hundred years. Is that enough for you?"
Lith shook his head.
"Can you please contact Count Lark and ask him if I can borrow some more from him?"
"You sure are an oddball. First you beg me to teach you magic…"
"I never begged. It's you who offered to teach me and I accepted."
Nana pretended to not have heard anything and continued.
"… and now that you get an opportunity to practice real magic, you want to bury yourself in history books?"
"After pondering about what you told me and what Magus Lochra wrote, I understood that I need to understand the past to comprehend the present and plan for the future." Lith improvised, digging up an old family motto.
"Makes sense, sort of." Nana conceded. "I'll contact Lark via the communication amulet and see what I can do."
"The Count has one too?" Lith asked in surprise.
"It's not some sort of secret or anything. Nobles, merchants, soldiers, no matter your background, as long as you can afford the price, you can get yourself one."
Lith thanked Nana before returning to the study room. The book was very detailed, recording both historical turning points and lore.
Lith didn't know what they were looking for exactly, so he read carefully, skimming only the parts about conflicts between countries or Magic Associations. Instead he focused on studying the life of influential mages, archmages and Magi.
After spending a few hours researching the past, he had already found a recurring pattern in the rise of the Magi. Some were recognized as geniuses at an early age.
But most of them had started being considered mediocre at best, never achieving noteworthy results until at some point their talent simply skyrocketed.
It usually happened between the thirty and the forty years of age, well past their supposed prime, when the magical community had pretty much forgot about them.
Of course, the author had no idea of what happened to cause such a turnaround, so he just presented the theories most popular at the time. Too bad that those paragraphs resembled more a work of fiction than history reports.
According to some rumors, Magus Elista had married in secret the god of magic, while others claimed that she had found a mystical amulet from a lost civilization that was able to grant her unlimited mana.
The same had allegedly happened to Magus Morgania and Frejik. An obscure start, followed by a sudden rise in power and glory, with no plausible explanation outside fairy tales and divine encounters.
"Could this be what Solus was looking for? Maybe what changed them wasn't some insane stroke of luck, but the discovery of the 'true magic' Solus mentioned before."
Lith was about to close the book, having ran out of Magi, when Solus stopped him.
"Turn the page, please." Lith had no idea why, but did as instructed. By quickly reading through the page, he noticed it was about some disorders in a faraway place, during which several low ranked mages had died.
Solus had him flipping every page until the book ended.
It was already lunchtime, so Lith started walking back home.
"Did you find anything important?"
"Yes, I think so. I just need us to perform some experiments to put my theory to test. If I am right, once you experience the difference between fake and true magic, you'll be able to understand my reasoning.
I hope that once you do, you can help me fill the holes I am unable to explain."
Lith's mind and heart were in turmoil, the road seemed to stretch endlessly in front of him. Even when he sat around the table together with his family, he was unable to hide his unpleasant feelings.
"Dammit! Dammit all this cr*p! First my real origin, then spirit magic, fusion magic and now this? How many secrets do I have to keep to protect myself from this world, to protect my family from me?
Couldn't I just find a magical hammer or something, granting me godlike powers? Or maybe just be handpicked by an ancient magician, to become the champion of order just by speaking one frigging word? Why does everything have to be so complicated?
I really love my family, except for Trion, but I can't be honest with them. At this rate, I will never have friends, a lover, anything. I will be forced to spend my life alone with my secrets."
"No. Not alone." Solus's voice resounded in his mind, full of kindness and affection. The tower core around Lith's neck pulsed, releasing gentle waves of mana that enveloped his body like a warm embrace.
Lith's mood lightened a bit, allowing him to have a pleasant meal and conversation with his family, telling each other the respective day's work.
After doing the dishes, he was finally able to leave home and go to the Trawn woods. Lith had his own special glade, deep in the woods. A place spacious enough to train his magical skills without endangering trees or wildlife, away from prying eyes.
Lith and Solus double checked their surroundings for intruders or magical beasts. Finding none, Lith could finally take out his grimoire from the pocket dimension and start memorizing the simplest tier one spell he had found in Nana's book.
"We don't need something powerful or complex for our experiments. Only something to compare with your own spells. The faster you master it, the sooner we'll have our answers." Solus explained.
The spell was Piercing Ice, a watered-down version of the Ice Spears spell that Lith used against huge opponents like the Ry or the boars. Its magic word was "Joruna Lituh", with accents on the u for Joruna and the i for Lituh.
The hand signs required to start with the indexes' fingertips touching themselves, before pulling them away, drawing in the air a 7 with the right index while the left one had to execute mirrored movements at the same time.
After that, the left hand had to stop, while the right index had to rotate, drawing a full circle before pointing at the target.
The expected result was conjuring and shooting a giant ice shard against an enemy.
"Holy sh*t! And this is a simple one. So much effort for so little return."
At his first try, Lith managed to conjure some kind of giant fork that travelled forward for a couple of meters (2.2 yards) before crashing on the ground.
"You did not aspirate the h." Solus remarked.
Then it came a boomerang that almost chopped his head off.
"It's Lìtuh, not Litùh!"
After a series of non-life threatening failures, Lith had to admit he wasn't able to learn both the pronunciation of the magic word and the hand signs at the same time. So, he had to sit down and recite the spell until he got it right.
After that, he had to face head on his poor hand-eye coordination.
"That's not a seven, more like a one. Do the second line steeper!"
"You are supposed to draw a circle, not an egg!"
"Will you stop your left hand during the last movement, please? Otherwise we'll never see the end of it."
Failure after failure, Solus kept nagging in Lith's mind, correcting the many mistakes he did during each try.
"If you are so good, why don't you do it yourself?" Lith rebutted, bursting with frustration.
"Sorry, I do not have a body. Not to mention I cannot perform any spell unless a) you first know how to do it and b) you give me the permission for it."
It was a long afternoon for Lith, full of cursing, sweating and casting, not necessarily in that order, before he finally managed to get Piercing Ice right.
He kept repeating the spell until it became a second nature to him.
"I can't believe I had to work so hard for the simplest spell. I have barely an hour before the sunset. Hey, Solus is it enough time, or do we wrap things up for today and go back home?"
"Is more than enough. Tell me, how does it feel using magic that way?"
"To be honest, it does not feel at all. I'm so focused on all that cr*p that I can barely breath."
Solus mentally nodded.
"Perfect. Now cast your Ice Spears spell, shooting only one spear."
Lith was so tired to need to actually use the magic word.
"Jorun!" With a flick of the wrist, Lith conjured a slender, sharp ice javelin that struck the nearest tree faster and harder that the Piercing Ice.
"Now focus, how did you do it?"
Lith couldn't understand all those apparently stupid questions, but he trusted Solus enough to know she wasn't just trying to piss him off.
"Like usual. First, I mentally visualized the effect of my spell, things like the shape of the spear, the trajectory, etcetera.
Then I used my mana core to generate enough mana to support my spell, taking in account the size of the spear I wanted to conjure and how strong I wanted it to strike.
Finally, I projected my mana on the outside, mixing it with the world energy to have access to the water element and voilà! Order up."
"Okay, now use Piercing Ice, again. This time do it slowly, try to feel how your mana flows according to the spell."
Lith needed a few tries before succeeding in the task Solus had assigned him, the result was astonishing.
"What the heck? As soon as I start with the hand signs, a portion of my mana leaves my body. And there is more. The magic word determines how my mana interacts with the world energy, in this case the water element, while also giving the spell its shape and size."
Lith could tell that if Solus had a face, now she would have had a smug grin from ear to ear.
"You are almost at the finishing line. Do Piercing Ice again, but try making the ice shard bigger."
"I can't." Lith was flabbergasted. "If I try adding more mana the spell becomes unstable and dissipates."
Solus asked him to try generating a second ice shard, then to make the single shard faster and finally to alter its trajectory right after it materialized. Lith's answer was always the same.
"I can't. The whole spell is set in stone. Once I learned the proper signs and pronunciation, I became nothing more than a mana source and a targeting system. My mana core and imagination play no part in this type of spell casting."
Lith suddenly reached enlightment.
"And that's why you consider it fake magic!"
"Calling it fake magic is a little extreme, but for simplicity's sake let's call it that."
Lith could sense Solus brimming with pride.
"Now I can finally share my theory with you. First of all, I'd like you to think back about all the steps necessary for you to use true magic."
Solus paused for a moment, giving Lith time enough to think.
"What's your point?"
"My point is that what you so casually dismiss as 'usual', is actually a really complex feat, much harder than fake magic."
"Hmmm. Sorry, I still can't follow you."
Solus mind-snorted in frustration.
"True magic isn't as simple as you make it out to be. It requires to be aware of your own mana core and to be able to generate the right amount of mana for each and any spell. Too much mana and it would backfire on you, too little and it would not succeed.
It also requires to be able to project your mana outwards, reaching out to the world energy by yourself. I doubt even Nana would be able to do that."
Lith found that last part hard to believe.
"When you put it that way, sure, is not an easy feat. But is what everyone does with chore magic. What's the difference between true and chore magic? Why no one else uses it?"
"The difference is in the amount of mana required. Chore magic needs little mana, so you can use it even without activating your mana core, while true magic may require great amounts of mana, according to what are you trying to accomplish."
Seeing as Lith was struggling, Solus started to use a monotone, lecturing tone.
"Chore magic is the very foundation for magic, it teaches you everything you need except how to activate the mana core. Fake magic is like a crutch, a foolproof 'magic for dummies' spellcasting method.
You only need to learn a few words and gestures and it does everything by itself, as long as you have enough mana. My hypothesis is that chore and fake magic are taught in this order as a training course towards true magic.
But only few, like the Magi, understand that fake magic is not about finger movements and spelling words, is about perceiving the mana flow and learning how to control it.
Your breathing exercises are a crutch as well, but a good one, since they helped you accessing the mana core, making you aware of the mana flow. Fake magic, instead, is a bad one, since it makes its users too reliant on its power.
Most fake magic users are so obsessed by details like hand signs and pronunciation, that live their whole lives without noticing what lies beyond. Fake mages, especially those with great talent, become so complacent being able to do what no one else can, that they never stop for a moment to ask themselves why. Is kind of ironic."
Lith was astonished. Everything made perfect sense.
"But if you had all this figured out, why didn't you tell me? What are those holes in your theory you mentioned earlier?"
Solus was embarrassed, but replied nonetheless.
"Because I can't answer some key points of my own theory. If I am right, why is fake magic the only one available for everyone? Why true mages kill whoever tries spreading it to the whole world?"
Solus merged their minds, showing to Lith all the things she had noticed reading the history book. How so many theorists and rising mages had all died in accidents or mysterious circumstances, often right after announcing to the magical community a ground-breaking discovery.
Others, instead, would be dismissed as frauds, before going mad and disappear.
Lith could only laugh his heart out.
"Oh, my. Solus, you are so smart and yet so naïve in the ways of mankind. The answer is really simple. Do you know why back on Earth we had traffic jams? Because everyone could get a car.
Would you really let any madman, any naïve fool gets his hands on this kind of power? Fake magic is a mean to control the masses, it's not the final test like you think.
After one discovers true magic, the final test is proving to be smart enough to silently join the club and reap the benefits. And if you don't like the club rules, the only way out is death."