Mind crystals are the ultimate form of mindscapes. As a mage advances through the Tiers, the mana in their mindscape grows denser as the volume of the mindscape itself remains unchanged. Upon advancing to Tier 5, the mindscape undergoes a metamorphosis, transitioning from the metaphysical to the real plane.
The mindscape solidifies, transforming into a crystalline material with extremely high elasticity. Replacing the cerebrospinal fluid both in form and function, the Mind crystal forms surrounding the mage's brain. It acts as a shock-absorber as well as performing its function as a mana storage element.
More information about mindscapes and the process of their crystallization can be found in Richard Feynman's authoritative treatise on the subject: 'Mind, Mana and Mindscapes'. For the purpose of this book, it will suffice to remember that Mind crystals react to thoughts and emotions, especially those of the contracted partner of the mage.
It is this synchronization upon which long distance communication networks are based.
- Communication Systems Engineering; Lee Kun-hee, Chairman of Tri-Star Telecommunications.
When Ceres withdrew the necklace with a Mind crystal fragment enclosed within its locket, my mind went blank from the shock. Extravagant didn't even begin to describe this granting from the Duchess. If this was supposed to be Ceres' dowry, I should just sell myself into servitude to the Duchess and be done with it. There was no way I could afford a return gift of commensurate value.
To put things into perspective, a naturally occurring crystal, say a Terran crystal was formed from solidified earth mana that had accumulated over the span of several years at specific locations that were natural loci for mana condensation.
A single Terran crystal the size of the Mind crystal embedded in the locket was sufficient to convert their surrounding rocks into Earth stones on a regular basis. These stones were excellent building materials and were in extremely high demand for the construction of highways, city walls and the forts of nobility. Other than their sturdiness, they also provided security and privacy since their inherent earth mana prevented shadow mages from simply Shadow Walking through walls built using them.
Considering the ongoing preparations for war, the price of the Terran crystal would inflate even further, finally amounting to the yearly salary of a Marquis.
The Mind crystal could hold mana amounting to five equivalently sized elemental crystals. Not only that, the mana didn't have to come from crystals but could be manually inserted by anyone with an elemental affinity similar to the late owner of the crystal. Thus, a Mind crystal was like a rechargeable Elemental crystal.
But, that was the least of its functionalities. No one would be silly enough to treat one of these precious crystals as a seedbed for a mine.
Their real use was as a spare mindscape for their owner, effectively increasing their mana reserves, as well as in the role of communication devices.
As a spare mindscape, they not only bolstered their user's mana capacity, since the spells one could use were basically determined by the toughness of one's mindscape walls and their ability to withstand the mana backlash that went hand in hand with spell-casting, they could also allow their user to cast spells beyond their Tier without mana backlash.
Theoretically, as a Mind crystal was at its core a Tier 5 mindscape, any user of a crystal should be able to cast Tier 5 spells. Practically though, the inability to control such vast amounts of mana meant that the user of a crystal would only be able to cast spells one Tier higher than their current capability.
Yet, despite such stellar qualities, the Mind crystals truly came into their own in the field of telecommunication.
When one advanced to Tier 5, their contract marking merged with their mindscape into an inalienable whole, connecting the two mindscapes of the spouses.
At the cost of the mana stored within their Mind crystals, in a historic experiment, two Tier 5 companions were able to communicate their thoughts and even feelings ignoring the separation of the entire Regiis Empire that lay between them.
All Tier 5 mages were bound by law to contribute their Mind crystals to the Empire upon their passing, so that the crystals could be consecrated in a monument-cum-communication station built in their name. Thus, they would serve the Empire even in death by adding a part of themselves to the Empire's growing communication network and they would be forever remembered for their contribution.
Ceres grew very quiet as she held the locket, her eyes tracing the ornate filigree work on the piece of jewellery. Finally, she spoke in a quiet voice, "This is Grandma's heirloom."
Gently cradling the locket in both of her hands, she held it to her chest as she continued her tale. "Back in the days, the Shogunate wasn't as belligerent. Nurarihyon ruled with an iron fist and they were a self-closed society. Their lands were fertile and their forests full of game. When crops grew scarce due to droughts, the seas that surrounded them provided succour and sustenance.
"Neither did they engage in foreign trade, nor did they allow the culture of their surrounding nations to seep in. Thorough isolationists, the government under Nurarihyon called the exchange of cultures 'cultural invasion' and closed their borders, cutting off their society from the rest of the world.
"It was in such a time that Grandma met Grandpa. From Mother's description, their encounter was a case of battlefield romance. Having been issued similar orders to patrol the sea-routes to keep the pirates off their merchant ships, the both of them had met when their ships were simultaneously attacked by the largest pirate company on the Bay of Kings: The Viking Raiders.
"Grandma lost her first husband that day as did Grandpa his first wife. Brought together by shared pain and the lone surviving Hominum of their crew, they were married upon the sea in the process of their escape.
"That was how a Kitsune from the Shogunate came to live in Regiis. That was how Mother was born."
Opening her mouth, she made to speak, but stopped midway, wincing slightly, clutching the locket tighter to her chest as if in pain. Concerned, I reached out to support her by her shoulder but she recovered swiftly and shot me a reassuring smile before continuing her tale.
Though I found it odd, as she continued her narration, I found myself engrossed in her tale and the incident slipped my mind.
"Grandma's family, one of the six Daimyo households, disowned her for marrying a 'gaijin', a foreigner. One of the greatest taboos of that time period. Thus, Regiis gained a Tier 3 mage and Grandpa a bride in exchange for our clan being ruthlessly extorted by the Kitsune Daimyo."
Her voice cracked, jolting me out of my immersion in her story. Realizing that she was unused to such long bouts of conversation, I was just about to stand up to fetch her a glass of water when Phobos handed her one in my stead. She took the seat opposite to us as Deimos sat by her side.
Sometime during Ceres' narration, the two of them had returned from their errand of washing dishes and been a silent audience. In my engrossed state, I had failed to notice them. That and as a part of their training, Phobos kept a constant level of Shadow Stealth on herself while Deimos silenced her footsteps with her control of wind to practice finer manipulation of the air currents.
Wetting her throat, Ceres set the glass down and continued.
"Grandma always felt guilty about the losses sustained by the clan due to her and to make it up, she took the hardest of missions and the most dangerous of assignments, single-handedly raising our clan from the level of Earls to Marquises by the time she reached Tier 5.
"Dissatisfied, she trained Mother to take her place while foraying out into the Forbidden Lands in search of some precious material which had been rumoured to have emerged there. She sought a turning point to promote to the Realm of Demigod.
"Grandpa tried dissuasion and when that failed, he accompanied her into the Forbidden Lands. The two of them went in and after six months, only he returned. He had only a single breath left in him when he entered the border outpost. Yet, even in death, he refused to part with the cloth wrapped package in his bosom."
She turned the locket within her fingers her lips curving up in a sad smile. "It was the shattered remains of Grandma's Mind crystal."
She sighed and slipped the necklace on, letting the locket disappear into her cleavage. She looked up with eyes bright with unshed tears. "This crystal fragment in this locket is one of the few fragments that were too small to serve as effective communication devices and thus, were relegated to use as false-mindscapes."
Clutching the locket through her clothes, she spoke in a voice laden with emotion, "It is one of the few things extremely dear to Mother. I-I have never seen her p-part from it." In the end, her voice cracked and two lines of tears wet her cheeks. She looked down as her shoulders shook with silent sobs. "I-I miss her."
Deimos' eyes were red too as she got up and hugged Ceres to her chest, where she began to cry in earnest. I watched the both of them from where I had stood up to resign space for Deimos by Ceres' side.
A few drops of tears escaped Deimos' eyes before she rubbed them fiercely with the back of her arm, rocking the sobbing girl in her bosom, she rubbed her back while staring off into space with reddened eyes.
My heart clenched. Deimos had been reminded of her late parents.
Sometimes, with how cheery she acted, I forgot that she was an orphan.
Sometimes, I forgot that her scars ran deep.
Another chapter... this one slightly exposition heavy.
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