Cloudless skies and low mana turbulence – perfect conditions to attempt a promotion from Tier 4 to Tier 5. I took it to mean that the world itself was blessing mother in her endeavour. Nervous as I was, I took comfort from whatever I could. I was growing positively superstitious.
There weren't many people in attendance, just me, my wives, father and Lieutenant Neera apart from mother herself. Promotion was a deeply private affair and most mages preferred to go through it alone or with their spouses. There was very little anyone could do to interfere once the process started and the outcome was exceedingly binary at the higher Tiers. Either you succeeded and lived or you failed and died.
The reason for this was that failure was accompanied by the implosion of the mindscape. And unlike my case where it shattered outwards as I was trying to grasp the ambient mana, the shards of the mindscape walls would dig into the mind of the mage, killing him or her outright. It is rumoured that the Oni clan – one of the Daimyo clans of the Shogunate has a technique that can help them reinforce the mindscape walls but it's not like we can ask them to help us in our current state of imminent war.
Thus, the litigant usually preferred to go through it alone without the presence of other people to distract them. As to why I was here? Well, I was needed to perform the binding ceremony to strip mother of her bloodline temporarily. And Lieutenant Neera was the one providing the vessel that would hold the Doppelganger.
Really, the Tauros couple were filthy rich. First that high level potion and now a mind crystal shard – their property is quite flabbergasting. If the information Phobos dug out about her is anything to go by, Neera's clan is an established alchemical faction and alchemists, it seems, earn a lot. Her father being a Tier 5 potion-smith must have something to do with it too.
Whatever be the case, with the water natured mind crystal fragment she had lent us, I had a vessel to attach mother's Doppelganger to. The only demand she had placed was a chance to observe mother's promotion as well as for us to return the crystal to her after the process. If we failed, the crystal would most likely be damaged beyond repair. If we succeeded, there was still a chance for the crystal to get destroyed. Only a small probability existed where the crystal would mutate into something special during mother's promotion. Whatever the case, at the very least, she would gain the gratitude of a Tier 5 mage. At the most, she would gain the gratitude of two – along with a unique magical material to experiment upon.
Taking a deep breath to calm myself, I walked over to where mother was meditating cross-legged on a flattened stone. We had travelled deep into the mountains in order to get some privacy and now, looking outwards, I could get a panoramic view of the rugged terrain that stretched all the way to Firang in the distance along with the canyon that led to it from the Forbidden Zone. Dark clouds in the horizon indicated the location of the two volcanoes and their denizens that had been the source of the Calamity. Far in the north lay the territory of the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries. The wolves had set out for their homeland the day before. Now that the threat of the Calamity had reduced greatly on our front, they had to rush back to support their own soldiers who were battling the branch of the ant legion that had gone their way.
Though the relations between us and the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries had improved a lot, it wasn't to the degree that they would sacrifice their benefits to aid us against the following movements of the Shogunate.
Discarding all distracting thoughts, I sat down on another stone across from her and brought out the mind crystal. It gleamed with a sapphire lustre under the light of the noon sun. The time at which the powers of a light mage peaked.
Mother opened her eyes and pointed her finger at the crystal. A stream of light connected them and I could feel her mana flowing into it at a rapid rate. The crystal buzzed as the compound affinity of mother's mana clashed and resonated with it at the same time. This was where I came in.
Opening my senses fully, I attuned myself to the characteristics of both the crystal and the mana, slowly, steadily drawing them closer together – helping them find a common ground. I was bonding them.
It was quite similar to my experience with bonding Phobos' mithril fans with her. Except, in that case, the mithril had no characteristics of its own and her affinity, being unitary, was much simpler to manipulate. Her tier was much lower as well.
But even if the difficulty of the task had increased exponentially, I too was no longer the same Tier 1 Tamer. Now, I could stand up to a Tier 4 under favourable conditions and as a follower of the same path as the ancient Hominum, my Contract magic was much stronger.
With a metaphysical 'click' the two varying frequencies of mana slotted together and fused harmoniously. Letting out the breath I had been holding, I relaxed. Mother continued to pour her mana into the crystal and I noticed a tiny white cat taking shape within its sapphire depths.
Finally, with a blinding brilliance, the Doppelganger coalesced within the crystal and mother stopped her spell. The tiny cat seemed to be a bit confused about its location as it floated about in the crystal, bumping up against its facets. But thankfully, it couldn't seem to work loose. After a while, it simply gave up. Curling up, it went to sleep.
Taking the crystal from me, mother studied it carefully, sensing her connection to the Doppelganger. "Well," she said, "it seems to have done the trick. My connection to it has become exceedingly vague. Even when I hold it in my hand, the most I can feel is a surge in my mana telling me that something related to me is nearby. But that's something I feel when I am near your father as well. So, it must be the contract."
I nodded. This was the same thing she had felt when we had transplanted her Doppelganger in Ceres the last time. At least this step had worked without any accidents.
"It's time for me to take that final step."
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