William looked at the list of herbs in his hands. There were quite a variety of herbs listed, ranging from cheap herbs to rare and expensive. The list even contained some that were illegal, for good reason, based on what William had learned about them. The only common trait that they shared was their ability to be used for a certain effect, or be made into potions that had the effect he was seeking. William was, however, aware that most of them were only rumored to possess the properties he desired. That is, an increase in the ability to do magic.
He set out organizing the list, removing some items. First, he sorted out the ones that were related to gathering mana. He didn’t need those at this point, since he still couldn’t sense mana anyway. Then he separated the illegal ones out. He didn’t like the thought of any of the side effects that they had, and he knew at least that part of what he’d learned about them was correct. Finally, he ended up with a short list of herbs that could be used in various ways to increase the ability to sense mana. However, William was under the impression that they would likely only work if one had the ability to begin with. An ability William was fairly certain was tied to the soul. That said, for soul magic to work, it had to be able to bridge the gap between the physical world and the soul. Therefore, it was possible that some herbs could affect the soul. Not likely, though.
It took William over a year to gather all of the various things he wanted. He experimented with them as he gathered the right sets of ingredients to make various potions. The results were less than exciting. To Williams, the potions did nothing but give their side effects, though he could resist those well enough. Mostly, they just made him feel vaguely queasy. On students, (volunteers, and only using standard formulas as approved by one of the professors of alchemy), the effects were quite short lived, though it did seem that most of the formulas did, in fact, work.
William tried various new combinations of the various herbs, but all it did was increase the side effects more, to the point that he felt it necessary to use inner energy to remove the toxins he was adding into his body. He wasn’t sure if there would have been any positive effects of these experiments, but he wasn’t going to give them to anyone else, since they seemed rather unhealthy.
At this point, William found it hard to pretend that he wasn’t still really interested in being able to use magic. He even considered the illegal herbs again. Most of them were illegal because of the various side effects, which were often much worse than the benefits. This was to protect student wizards, and even older adults, from getting themselves killed. William was, however, much more confident in his physical abilities and health than most wizards.
Still, he was conscious of the laws. It wouldn’t do to break them, given his position. However, there was still a way. William went on several trips to gather such herbs, outside the borders of any country. He would use them on the spot, as well. This at least somewhat assuaged his guilty conscience. William thought he was probably being pretty stupid, even given his relative safety.
His thoughts were confirmed, when one of the herbs he collected, a black plant with thorns that even emitted a dark mist, almost killed him. William was very certain that it would have certainly killed anyone who did not have an antidote or other help immediately at hand, or the ability to control inner energy. Even as it was, William barely made it back to Ostana. His body was weakened by the poisons, and he’d suffered attacks from some magical beasts. Normally, they would have been fairly easy for him to defeat. He only barely managed to hold on because Chris was still perfectly capable of using magic.
The final result of all his experiments… William was definitely unable to sense mana, no matter what kind of stimulants and methods he used. This basically just confirmed what he already knew, and cost him some of his health and a large amount of time. He couldn’t help it, though, since he was obsessed with magic. Learning how it worked was all well and good, but making it work would be so much better. He couldn’t perform experiments without someone to help him, and someone qualified. Students could help with some things, but he really needed someone who was excellent at controlling magic.
That was obviously not himself. However, he had to admit, the reason he put so much effort into trying that, was because his usual help was gone. His friend, something like a little sister… Lila was gone. She had been gone for years, now, with no sign. William felt like it was his fault. After all, her disappearance had been shortly after he talked to her about the Demon King and soul magic. Perhaps some of the reason he sought out more and more dangerous things was a feeling of guilt at her disappearance.
As time went on, it seemed less and less likely that she would return. William was concerned about her, and not just because she was his friend. She also represented hope for the future of wizards, and William felt if there were more people of her level, the Demon King would not be such a danger. He didn’t know what kinds of consequences her death might have on the future.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to find out. After she had been gone for five years, she returned. She showed up in his laboratory, and handed him a scroll. He almost didn’t recognize her. Her face was scarred, and she was thinner. She looked tired, but she also radiated confidence. William barely had time to ask how she was.
“I’m fine. You need to read that. I need to go… rest, for a while.” William was just left behind, shocked. However, he followed her as she went out, worried that she might wander off again, until he saw her enter her room. Well, at least she would be around for a night. William looked at the scroll. What did it say… and where had she gotten it? William opened it up to look.