'I wanted to give this a try since I gained the ability to change shape at will.' Solus explained.
'It's amazing! What can you do in that form?'
'The same as always. Store things and use the magic that you know by consuming your mana. If you allow me to do it, obviously.'
'Then what's the point? Last time we checked, our mind link was around 10 meters (10.1 yards). Sure, I could plant and use you like a bug, but then I would need to somehow retrieve you without raising suspicions. How far can you move on your own?'
'We are about to find out!' Solus started moving fast, first on the floor then up the wall, until she reached the ceiling. Then she moved on the opposite side of the room, putting 5 meters (5.4 yards) between them.
'So far so good. I feel like I can move even further.'
Lith opened the door of his room, checking with Life Vision to be sure that there was no one hidden in some corner or behind a secret passage that he was unaware of.
Then he let Solus get further away from him. She kept humming the entire time, making it possible for Lith to determine how the strength of their mind link changed with distance.
At ten meters (11 yards), it was perfectly clear, like she was still on his finger. After twenty meters (22 yards) it became muffled, he could still share her senses and communicate with her, but it required focus. At thirty meters (33 yards), her thoughts were barely a whisper.
'I don't feel so good, I'm afraid that this is my limit. If I get any further, I won't be able to receive your mana anymore and I will begin to consume my life force in order to move. My reserves are not as depleted as when you first found me, but the idea of being all alone, bleeding energy with every step frightens me quite a bit.'
Lith could understand her fear. She had already come very close to death once, and in order to survive, Solus had to pay a terrible price.
'If mana is the problem, let's see if I can do something about it.' Lith created a string of mana with spirit magic, and used it to connect to Solus.
Suddenly everything was clear again, he could even feel her little body perform a joyful dance. Solus was able to proceed swiftly until the distance between them was fifty meters (54.7 yards), the new limit of spirit magic's range.
Sending her mana over a further distance required increasing focus and energy consumption on Lith's side. It was like casting and keeping several spells active at the same time.
For Solus to reach the servant quarters, Lith required such concentration that he became blind and deaf to whatever was happening around him, going into a meditative trance.
'This is completely unacceptable! I need to babysit the Count and his kids at all times. What would happen if we got attacked while I play the sleeping beauty? Not to mention how can I possibly explain my 'narcolepsy��� to the Count without either losing his trust or revealing Solus's existence?'
Lith tried to open his eyes, to listen with his own ears instead of using Solus's senses. It didn't come easy, it was like pushing a car uphill, the slightest mistake and he would be back to square one. After numerous failures, Lith snapped.
'Damn! If finesse doesn't work, let's go brute force!'
Lith forcefully awoke, his room was as he had left it, the door still barred from the inside since Solus had gone beyond his line of sight. He could hear and see again, but the burden on his mind and body was unchanged.
He could feel his mana being drained, his mind was slower than usual. It was like trying to do mental calculations with a commercial jingle stuck in your head. The mind link was still there, but it was blocked.
'Seems that at this range I can either use my senses or hers, not both. It's not great, but still an improvement. At least I won't have to fall asleep at the weirdest times.'
Closing his eyes again, Lith asked Solus to come back. When she returned, they started planning their next moves.
In the following days, Lith would stay with the three nobles at all times, barricading themselves in the Count's private quarters and surrounded by guards.
That way from the outside it would look like Lith's arrival had changed nothing, but appearances couldn't be more different from the truth.
Lith would make them drink only water he conjured, and before letting them eat even a single bite of any food, he would use magic to search for poisons and detoxify them.
He would also use Vinire Rad Tu, the light magic diagnostic spell, to cover up his use of Invigoration, his body strengthening/imaging breathing technique, to check their bodies for slow release poisons they could have ingested before his arrival or any relevant anomalies.
The poison was mostly in the food, covered by spices and sauces. The only anomaly he could find was Keyla's acne.
'Poor girl! This stuff doesn't just cover her face, it also covers her back and shoulders. I guess for her debut in society she will have to pick a dress that leaves a lot to the imagination.'
While Lith was seemingly holed up, he was actually checking on his suspects, one by one. To avoid useless energy expenditure, he would establish his mind link with Solus before attaching her to a plate, tray, or under a servant's collar.
She would then travel to the kitchens in search of her target, and only then would she send a small burst of energy to signal Lith to start feeding her again. She would then follow the suspect during the day, hoping to catch them red-handed.
Usually she would get nothing out of it, but just the gossip was worth the trip.
"Sigh, since the Countess left, so many bad things have happened." Said a maid in her late twenties.
"Yeah, first someone tried to poison the Count, and then he kicked out a lot of our friends! I get that he is scared, but that was unfair." Said a valet that was barely eighteen years old.
"Shut up, idiot! Thank the gods we still have our jobs and references. This isn't a good time for slackers and whiners." Rebuked a chubby maid in her forties.
"Personally, I have always considered her Ladyship nuttier than a fruitcake." Chimed in Poltus, the butler and head of the staff. He was the one who had welcomed Lith at his arrival.
"She was always nagging to the poor Count and asking for money. Yet this time, I think she may have a motive that, it pains me to admit, is almost justifiable." He said dramatically, looking over his shoulder like someone that knows too much.
"What do you mean? What do you know?" Soon Poltus was hard-pressed to reveal his juiciest discovery.
"Isn't it obvious? I mean who in his right mind would stand up for those two worthless scum? They are nothing but human-faced monsters, not even the Countess would dirty her hands with that trash!
"I'm so happy they are finally gone. My daughter is getting lovelier by the day, you know. During the last year, I have spent every day in dread, hiding her from that walking d*ck of Lorant."
"Who cares about your daughter, old fogey, spill the beans!" Said the chubby maid.
A small crowd of servants had gathered up around him, and even if there was no one else around, he whispered like he was about to reveal a forbidden secret.
"I think that the kid that just arrived is the Count's fifth son!" All the servants present gasped in astonishment.
"Think about it. Pitch black hair, very tall for his age, obsessed with magic. They are clearly made from the same mold! Otherwise why would the Count personally paint him and put his picture in the Painting Hall, among his family members?
"Why would he send the family tailor to make him his clothes and ask the kid to join him in his time of need? A family must stick together!"
Soon the whole room erupted with shouts and chatter.
"That's why the Countess was so angry!" "It explains everything!"
"Do you think he could be the next in the line of succession? Poor Jadon."
While everyone's imagination was going wild, Solus was really happy that she was a magical construct at the moment.
She was laughing so hard that she could barely keep her form. If she had been inside a human body, she would be rolling on the floor, hugging her belly and gasping for air.
The servants' gathering was going to last a long time. Luckily her mark wasn't that interested in gossip and started to move toward the servant's quarters.
Solus promptly detached from the apron she was hiding under and followed her quietly until she was able to latch onto her shoe.
The maid was one of Lith's prime suspects, a member of the personnel that had access to all the family's meals. Also, she had a physical and magical strength above the average. Not much, but it was all that they had.
All the other previous suspects had been nothing but a bust. Sure, someone would steal silverware, another had an affair with another staff member, but that wasn't what Solus was looking for.
The young girl opened her room with a key and then walked in. All the staff's bedrooms were identical, eight meters (8.8 yards) long and six meters (6.6 yards) large.
There would be one bed next to the wall on the opposite side of the door, and two more beds alongside the side walls. The only source of light outside of oil lamps, was a single large window. Each bed had a wooden chest where the servants could store their belongings.
As soon as she was alone, the maid started grumbling out loud.
"Those idiots! All they think about is gossip. They make everything related to nobles' relationships out to be some sordid affair. Who cares who f*cks who? I can't wait for this mess to be over. Since the staff was halved, I don't get to slack off anymore.
"The Count has lessened our workload, sure, but with half the house to clean, now Pontus has double the time to check on our performance. If I get any more demerits, that old bastard will take money out of my salary! Gods, I'm so tired."
She closed off the curtains and then changed into her nightgown before going to sleep. Solus could only inwardly sigh.
'Guess this is just another bust. She really doesn't seem to be a cold-blooded killer. She is really cute, though, especially without all those baggy clothes on. I wonder if hers is the body type Lith likes, or if he will indulge in these images.'
'Guess not. Based on his memories, it's too soon for his body to have those urges, and his mind couldn't care less. Even when I told him I got into the women's quarters he didn't check my memories even once, he only listened to my report.'
Solus used the Hush spell to prevent any noise from waking up the sleeping maid, adding a touch of dark magic to turn the room pitch black.
She then proceeded to open the chest. Using a mix of spirit magic and her body shifting abilities, picking the lock was easy as pie.
While rummaging through the maid's personal belongings, Solus wondered about her life.
'It always feels so odd to be away from Lith. I'm so used to constantly hearing his thoughts, worries, and memories that all this silence in my head feels really lonely. Even when he sleeps, his mind always keeps me company.
'After all these years, I still haven't figured out what he is to me. A companion? A host? A master, or rather my mother? He gave me a second life, after all, and my first happy memory begins with him.
'The only reminiscences I have before meeting him are filled with the fear of dying or losing myself.'
The search had given no results. There was nothing outside casual clothes, shoes, family mementos, and harmless letters the maid exchanged with her loved ones.
'Sigh, according to Earth's detective stories, the culprit should have with them a detailed letter from the instigator, money, a signet, a flask of poison or whatnot.'
Already being in the room, Solus decided to also check the remaining beds and wooden chests, starting from the one on the left side of the room. It turned out to be even blander than the previous.
'Two down, one more to go.'
Solus opened the last lock, going through the clothes, the letters, and the trinkets contained in the last chest. She turned an old pair of shoes upside down when a hidden treasure fell into her hands.
'Well, well, well. What do we have here?'
Solus has got her first solo chapter!
Btw, I'm tired and under the weather, I may need to take a break.