Sixday morning, Sery sat in what was becoming ‘her’ study room, reading and munching on a sliced apple Maurio had given her. Veltyen had gone out on a job, but it was close by and he would return to Eterna by dinnertime.
Rather than something related to her own Source magic, the topic of the book was mana crystal production.
Chapter 20: Mana Crystals in Society
The discovery of mana crystals in the last century has completely revolutionized modern society. Every household in the Seven Kingdoms has at least a basic heating unit that can be used for cooking, bathing, laundry, and heating the home; wealthier households and businesses rely entirely on magelights for illumination, obviating the need for fire hazards such as candles and firewood stoves. Time-preservation boxes allow foods and delicate goods to be shipped around the globe in a pristine state, expanding trade to a formerly unimaginable level. Elite armies are equipped with healing crystals that can stop bleeding and preserve life until real medical help can be found.
Perhaps the largest but least obvious result of mana crystal technology is the effective doubling of magic power easily accessible to society. With 90% of the population ranked less than 1-star, and the majority of 1-star mages choosing an unmagical profession, magic was formerly restricted to large, single-occasion projects paid for by the rich and powerful.
With the barest amount of training, even the weakest of magic powers can be directed towards the charging of a mana crystal. Any but a rare true null can keep his household crystals powered enough for everyday use by discharging his
stores multiple times a day. This otherwise negligible amount of mana particles is built up inside the crystal, tapping the previously wasted resource of ‘non-mage’ magic power.
Magic has become commonplace for all, no longer the purview of the rare few born with significant power. As craft-mages explore and push the limits of the complexity of spells that mana crystals can store, the future is an unknown and exciting world of possibilities.
Someone knocked. Sery looked up, startled and apprehensive. She had not sensed Foria approaching, so she had assumed someone just wanted to use one of the other study rooms. Wondering what someone else would want with her, she hesitated before answering the door.
“Hi!” Marielle and Tasielle stood smiling in the doorway. Their mage robes were the latest fashion, the same cut as the one Sery wore. One twin wore blue today, the other one dusky orange, though Sery had not yet found the trick to distinguishing them.
“Foria said you were here,” said the twin in blue. “We’re going to go shopping and sight-seeing in town today, and thought you’d like to come.”
“Would you like to come?” the twin in orange invited. “It will be more fun with you along.”
Sery blinked in surprise. Any kind of leisure activity was foreign to her. Still, it would not do to reject the twins’ friendly gesture. “Yes, thank you,” she answered.
“Come on, then!” said the first twin, cheerfully leading the way downstairs.
In the atrium, Foria asked, “Do you have spending money?”
Sery nodded, blushing slightly as she remembered Veltyen gently overcoming her resistance to accepting any money from him.
Foria raised an eyebrow, but said nothing beyond, “Have fun, girls!”
“Bye, Foria,” said the twins. Sery waved goodbye and followed them onto the streets of Eterna.
“Is there anything in particular you’d like to do today, Sery?” said the orange-robed twin.
Sery shook her head. “I haven’t been around town much.”
“We’ll show you our favourite spots, then,” promised the blue-robed twin.
Sery nodded, trying to guess which twin was which. It was really quite frustrating; in addition to their identical looks, they had very similar personalities and speaking styles. They made an effort to wear different colours from each other on a day-to-day basis, but the fashions were the same and they often shared clothing. Foria did not have any trouble telling them apart, but Sery thought that the web-mage knew
Well, she had been seeing the twins on a regular basis for a month now, and was still no closer to figuring it out. She might as well ask for help. Hesitantly, she admitted, “Sorry, but I still can’t tell you two apart.”
The twins laughed. Sery smiled in response.
“I’m Marielle, and that’s Tasielle,” said the one in blue. “Even our parents get us mixed up sometimes, so don’t worry about it. There’s nothing obvious to tell us apart.”
“We were thinking of getting necklaces with our names on them,” Tasielle offered, “but people said that we’d play pranks by swapping them and they wouldn’t believe the tags.”
“Oh wait, there is one difference,” said Marielle, raising her left forearm. Tasielle copied the action, and their belled sleeves fell back enough to reveal the energy-blue guild marks on the backs of their wrists. The twins had them in the same location, but at right angles to each other. Marielle’s mark was upright when her forearm was upright, while Tasielle’s was oriented the way a watch face would be if strapped to that wrist.
“Foria made us get different guild marks,” Marielle explained. “Something about ‘distinguishing features’ for guild registration.”
Sery noticed a small difference between the twins’ marks and those she had already seen, an apostrophe-like marking at one corner. “What’s that?” she asked, pointing at the extra line.
“That is the apprentice mark,” said Tasielle. “These marks will automatically fade when we turn eighteen, at which point we can join Eterna as full members, go independent, or join another guild.” Seeing Sery’s worried look, she added, “It’s just a formality for us. We decided to stay with Eterna a long time ago.”
“Yeah, Eterna’s the best,” said Marielle.
Sery nodded her agreement, though she guessed that the twins’ reasons for liking the guild were different from hers.
By now, they were past the land belonging to the guild hall and were reaching the shopping district. There were no real poor areas in town, but this section definitely catered to the wealthy. The shop windows displayed goods such as gold and silver jewelry, custom clothing, and mana crystal technology. A few blocks down, Sery spotted the art gallery where Veltyen had taken her to find her treasured painting.
“This way,” said Marielle, heading into one of the jewelry stores, its window display showing intricate pieces in silver and gold.
“Welcome, ladies,” greeted the shop assistant, a woman only a few years older than Sery.
“Hi, Lara,” the twins chorused in unison, their amused expressions making it clear that they were regulars here, visiting enough to have an inside joke with the proprietress.
“This is Sery,” Tasielle introduced. “She just joined Eterna a month ago.”
Lara curtsied to Sery. “Welcome to MagiGold Eterna, my lady. I hope you find our establishment suited to your tastes. Please let me know if there is any particular piece you are looking for.”
Startled by the formal greeting, Sery did not know what to say. She was no ‘lady’, but there did not seem to be a good way of correcting Lara’s misunderstanding. She just nodded, and was pulled away to look at the store displays before she could speak.
Tasielle admired a particularly delicate pendant necklace. Hair-thin strands of gold were crafted into a teardrop-shaped cage that housed a single lustrous pearl. “It’s so wonderfully made,” she sighed.
“Would you like to try it on?” Lara asked, opening the glass display case. As Tasielle fastened the clasp, the shopkeeper described the necklace. “The chain and cage are purified gold hardened by magic to maintain its shape. The pearl is from a mana oyster farm on the southern coast, of the highest lustre.”
Tasielle admired her reflection for a moment before taking off the necklace. “Here, you try it,” she said, holding the chain out to Sery.
A searing flash of pain shot through every nerve in her body even as it paralyzed her and prevented her from screaming.
“N-no thank you,” Sery stuttered, backing away and trying to control her breathing.
“How about this bracelet?” offered Marielle, bringing a silver bangle over.
She couldn’t escape. He yanked the chain and she fell, scraping her hands and knees on the unforgiving stone of the mage’s tower.
Sery’s panic threatened to take over. Desperately searching for something not associated with pain, she blurted, “I like earrings.”
“Earrings? Mama and Papa won’t let us get our ears pierced,” Marielle said with envy.
“Let’s pick out a pair for Sery,” said Tasielle. The twins put down their findings and conferred over a display of gemstone studs.
Sery slowly gathered her composure, taking in shaky breaths. She was glad that the twins had not seemed to notice her erratic behaviour. She looked around the room. The store, full of necklaces and bracelets, did not look threatening to her. Apparently, it was the idea of putting them on that scared her.
Lara returned from the back room, where she had disappeared at the mention of earrings. “This just came in last night. I think it would suit the lady Sery quite well.” She opened a small, velvet box and Sery peered inside.
Sery’s first impression was that of feathers. Only the silver gleam of the material and a slight coolness to touch told her that the earrings were in fact made of metal. Delicate, fuzzy lines extended from a central point to create a soft pom-pom, the effect cute and elegant at the same time.
Entranced, Sery picked up an earring by the thicker chain that suspended the puffball. The feathery protrusions swayed and danced at the slightest draft of air.
The twins gathered around to admire the piece of art. “Ooh, who made that?” asked Marielle.
“This is the work of one of our newly-accredited masters, Jonathan Winder. He is unmatched in the sheer delicacy and precision of his magic control. We expect to see many more creations from him in the coming years.”
“Try them on,” urged Tasielle. “They’ll look so nice on you.”
Sery obliged, fastening the simple clutches without trouble. She looked at herself in the mirror and smiled; the pom-poms danced and swung, reminding her of dandelion seeds on a windy day. They were not just beautiful, they were
Tasielle gathered Sery’s hair and twisted it into a neat knot to better display the earrings. “So cute!” she exclaimed. “You should definitely get them. Did you bring enough money? I know we didn’t tell you in advance that we’d be going to a jewelry store.”
Sery peeked at the price tag tucked discreetly in the corner of the box. At 200 Os, the earrings were one of the cheapest items in the store, probably due to the miniscule amount of precious material in the wispy design. “I have enough,” she said quietly, biting her lip in indecision. The money was really Veltyen’s, and she should probably not spend it on something frivolous.
“What are you waiting for?” asked Marielle. “They suit you perfectly.”
Sery argued silently with herself. She knew that if Veltyen were present, he would insist that she buy the earrings. On the other hand, it was precisely because he was not here that she should take the opportunity to be responsible. Plus, she already had the pretty blue ones Evodie had gifted her with when they had gone to the symphony. But these ones were just so cheerful…
Sery’s thoughts whirled in inconclusive circles until Tasielle announced, “We’ll buy them as a welcome gift for Sery.” She pulled out a tiny, fashionable purse.
“What? No,” Sery protested. “I can pay.”
Marielle nodded enthusiastically at her twin’s suggestion and pulled out her own purse. “I’ll pay half.” She laughed and added, “One earring from each of us.”
Sery’s soft protests were ignored as Marielle and Tasielle each pulled out a 100-Os bill and gave it to Lara, who accepted the payment so smoothly that the money seemed to disappear upon reaching her hands. The shop assistant removed the price tag from the empty earring case and slid the box into a bag marked with the MagiGold logo. Handing it to Sery, she said, “Please enjoy, and welcome to Eterna. We hope to see you again.”
“Thank you, Lara,” said Tasielle. To Sery, she said, “Let’s go. You can wear those home.” She and Marielle towed Sery out of the store, on to other shopping adventures.
“…and then they wouldn’t let me buy anything for them other than a few snacks on the way,” Sery finished, sounding like she did not know whether to be vexed or pleased.
Veltyen chuckled. “Well, I like them,” he said, reaching out to flick one of the earrings in question. It really felt as soft as feathers; he marvelled at the precision of the magic required to create such a thing out of sterling silver. His own magic tended in the opposite direction: he could reach out to stabilize a four-storey building against an earthquake, but he could not break materials down to pieces much smaller than a coin.
“If you didn’t want the twins to buy them for you, you should have just bought them yourself,” Foria asserted from her seat on Sery’s other side. “I know Veltyen must have given you more than enough for a trinket like this.”
Veltyen nodded. Judging the cost of mage-made jewelry was sometimes tricky, as the value of the materials and the amount of magic used were both important factors, but he did not think the earrings would have cost more than 500 Os.
Sery ducked her head, the earrings dancing merrily at the motion. “I know…”
“Speaking of money,” said Asher from across the dining table, “here you go.” He pulled a money-sized envelope from an inside pocket and slid it over to Sery.
Sery picked it up with a questioning look.
“It’s your cut from my latest job,” Asher elaborated.
Sery pulled out the envelope’s contents, and Veltyen did not immediately recognize the gray-and-silver bills. He read the denomination in the corner—
” Foria hissed. “Are you completely out of your mind!? Not even most jewelry stores accept those! Why are you carrying that kind of money? Why didn’t you just have me transfer funds from your bank account?”
“This is how I was paid,” said Asher defensively. “Besides, Sery doesn’t have a bank account; I checked.”
Foria’s ire was momentarily checked. Turning to Sery, she said, “It’s true. Sery, I can’t open an account for you until you turn eighteen, so until then, I can keep track of your earnings within the guild books, or—”
“Put it in Veltyen’s account,” said Sery.
Foria nodded her agreement, then turned back to Asher. “As for you, what do you think you’re doing, strolling around with forty thousand Os in your front pocket? Do you think you’re a combat mage, able to fight off every would-be thief in the province? Why, I bet you were carrying even more…”
Veltyen looked down at Sery’s nudge. She had returned the money to the envelope and was now holding it out to him.
“Want me to keep it in my safe for the time being?” he guessed. “I’ll change it for smaller bills when I have the time.”
Sery nodded her agreement and returned to her dinner.
Veltyen was a little surprised at her nonchalance in the face of such a sum. He thought that even Marielle and Tasielle Ellei et Rei would blink at the sight of 10000-Os bills. Not for the first time, he wondered what was going on behind her wide blue eyes. Shaking his head – he would probably never know – he settled back to enjoy his excellent meal and Foria’s wittily biting censure of Asher’s carelessness.