Aldrich and Valera stood at the edge of the table, peering at Medula and Fler'Gan's work. The journal was propped open to its first page, moved remotely using magical force conjured by the worktable. Above it was a mystically created silhouette of blue that looked to be an exact replica.
"Check the stability of the simulacrum," said Medula as she held her hands to either side of the silhouette, feeding it magical energy through mana tendrils that extended from her fingers.
"Stability is perfect," said Fler'Gan. "The simulacrum should be as close to the original construct as possible. I dare to say that even specialists in the Order would struggle to match such efficient and accurate work.
Creating simulacra of tomes, with all their intricately detailed individual pages and the countless letterings upon them, is no easy task indeed."
Aldrich understood the process now. A simulacrum was a copy of an item that showed it in different stats. You could use it to showcase an item's original state, before it underwent any changes, or you could use it to show an item's potential future.
"The Order held many talented scholars, yes," said Medula. "But none had the most precious treasure that those of us who delve into the pursuit of knowledge crave.
"Indeed," said Fler'Gan reflectively, no doubt remembering his own quest for immortality. One that ended in nothing but madness.
"You agreed to do this with far less pushback than I thought," said Aldrich.
"Not entirely of my own volition," said Medula. "In the Necropolis bound to you, the only one that sees through your eyes is the Death Lord, the one with greatest connection to this realm as its creator and, subsequently connection to you.
She sensed your arrival, that you needed my assistance, and requested before meditation that I help you with this. She stated further that it was important, so here I am, handing out my talent for free."
"Not for free," Aldrich reminded Medula. "You've got a fresh body awaiting you."
"If the stock is as good as the sample you sent here before, then and only then shall I be satisfied," said Medula. "Though, tracing the structure of this tome and beholding the machine-work of its case was greatly interesting in its own right."
'You might be a little disappointed,' was what Aldrich thought, but he kept that to himself. Supermind was one of a kind. A body like his was not going to show up, even in Blackwater.
Best not to spoil the academic curiosity that had lit up in Medula for now.
"So, is there anything amiss?" said Valera.
"At a cursory glance, no," said Fler'Gan. He used his psychic power to flip the journal's pages, and the copy that Medula created mirrored the movement. Fler'Gan compared the pages between both, trying to spot differences.
He did this with every page, and he did it at a rapid-fire pace that almost seemed like he was just rifling through the journals with no regard for the text at all.
That was how fast Fler'Gan's brain worked, it seemed.
"Cursory?" said Aldrich. "I want you to be sure."
"My simulacrum is accurate, but not completely so. Compare the texts. The writing in the simulacrum is slightly distended compared to that on the original pages." Medula nodded towards the journals, and Aldrich recognized with a very close look that she was right. "However, the difference is miniscule."
"All the pages are replicas, as far as the text itself is concerned," said Fler'Gan.
"Half filled with nonsensical raving, too," said Medula. "Who wrote this drivel?"
"A great hero," said Aldrich, and the solemnity in his tone made it clear that he would not tolerate Medula putting Vanguard, the writer of the journal, down anymore.
"Hm. To see you revere another. This being must have been quite something," said Medula.
"That is something I can finally agree with you upon," said Valera.
"Indeed," agreed Fler'Gan.
"Idealistic heroism isn't the path I choose to walk, but I do respect those that choose to bear its hardships. And the man who wrote this journal walked that path with its struggles farther than anyone else did," said Aldrich. He nodded, preparing to finish here and take the journal back.
Emrys had not cheated Aldrich in any way. Nothing was different about the journal. Appraisal from Medula would have caught even the slightest of changes in the journal.
But Aldrich could not shrug the nagging sensation that he was missing something. Yet, was there even a way to get any more information?
He threw out a suggestion, more spitballing to cover all his potential bases than anything else. "Can you set the simulacrum to the future?"
"Hm? Is that necessary?" said Medula.
"Just being careful."
"How far ahead? Too far and this tome, with its degraded condition, will be nothing more than shreds and pulp."
"Enough that you see any difference with the original that matters."
"Fine." Medula gently moved her fingers, manipulating threads of magical energy so that they recreated simulacra of the tome over and over again, each successive recreation aging the journal more and more.
Fler'Gan rapidly looked through each simulacra for differences, and if he found none, he gestured to Medula to move on to the next.
After ten minutes, the journal had gone through five simulacra and now looked thoroughly battered and torn apart.
"It seems the humans will not take care of this tome. The tome of their hero," said Valera.
"Not necessarily true," said Medula. "The simulacra I show are temporal projections based on the tome's base condition. That is, I cannot factor in outside influence that attempts to preserve it.
Essentially, you are seeing it decay as if it had been left to fed for itself against time in a 'stable' condition that approximates the air and space of this study. I cannot replicate any other environment.
The next simulacrum broke apart into countless little pieces, the journal breaking apart into a falling cloud of shredded paper that began to disintegrate.
"It appears that this tome is set to destroy itself in one hundred years," said Medula. "Even if the humans preserve it, it is destined for destruction."
"Interesting." Aldrich put a hand to his chin. "Do you know the cause for this self-destruction?"
"No." Medula shook her head. "I have studied the composition of this tome already. It is nothing out of the ordinary. Ink and paper. Nothing suggests it should destroy itself in such sudden fashion.
Though I do confess, if it has been tampered with the new realm's powers, I will not know what to look for.
But I see no differences to concern yourself over. You, Mind Eater, are more familiar with the new realm. What is your opinion?"
"I concur," said Fler'Gan. "Though…" He trailed off. His three red eyes narrowed in sheer focus, gazing at the cloud of torn paper like there was some meaning to them.
"Though?" asked Aldrich.
"No, no, it is nothing," said Fler'Gan. "Like you, O Elder, I thought there was more to this, trickery inherent in the humans, perhaps. But I cannot let my bias infiltrate my rational judgment, and in that regard, I perceive no fault."
"I'll take two expert opinions over my far-flung concerns. Let's close the page, literally, on this matter," said Aldrich. He did not inherently suspect Emrys of trickery, especially since Supermind trusted him.
But it was still good to keep an eye out.
"Put the journal back in the case." Fler'Gan nodded and telekinetically moved the journal off from the stone table, the tendrils of mana tethering it tearing off with soundless snaps.
"Now, to get to the main reason why I came here," said Aldrich.
"Main?" said Medula, sighing. "You have more?"
"Nothing that won't benefit you," said Aldrich. "As agreed upon, you'll cast [Outworld Imprisonment] on a designated area in the new realm, isolating the space in a pocket dimension. One where you can freely move about as its 'neutral' space conjured by you.
There, you'll pick out the host of your choice."
"Yes. Where are you going with this?"
"Do you know about the Dragon Song?"
Medula raised her glasses, alert. "Of course. A once blessed horn said to be imbued with the power to call dragons to its user's aid. Though it is now cursed such that it maddens dragons, drawing them to the user.
Such is the severity of the curse that the maddened dragons will even cross entire dimensional barriers to pursue the horn-blower.
As I recall, a fragment of that horn lies in your fourth trial quest."
Aldrich faintly smiled. "Tell me, would that work in your prison realm?"