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Crystals and Cats

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My dear Thomas,

I'm so glad to hear your work is getting on well. Well, save for Tom the Second's misadventures in your lab. You'd think the cat would show a bit more gratitude for the fact that you saved him from a life of scavenging for scraps in the alley, but I suppose cats aren't much known for gratitude. And as you said, a shattered alembic is hardly the worst thing that could have happened.

As for my own work, I have some truly excellent news. I so wanted to write to you earlier about how our project is going, but Magus Elarre can be so paranoid—she absolutely forbade me to say one thing about how the crystal project was going until she'd made her presentation to the Mages' Council, for fear that someone might intercept the mail, somehow figure out her techniques from whatever scant details they could harvest from my letter, and then manage to perfect her crystal growth technique before we did, stealing her much-desired glory right from under her nose.

I suppose I can't blame her entirely; as a so-called low-mage, she's had a difficult time gaining respect among her peers, by her own account, and this is her big break. (Whatever she may lack in raw magical power, I must say she makes up for in raw talent in other areas.)

And it really is big. I must say, I'm beyond proud to have been a part of it—even if, I must admit, Mgs. Elarre provided pretty much all of the brains. I couldn't understand half of what she did with the layout of the magic circle around our setup, although I'm far more fluent in Ancient Draconic and Yrthrune after working with her. (Both of which she somehow managed to weave together harmoniously in the circle's borders, despite their marked differences in structure; the woman is a thaumalinguistic genius.) I can't help but feel that I was mostly just here to provide the magical brawn and an extra two hands in the lab. Even so, I like to think I was an integral part of the process; if no one had been around to remind the dear Mgs. to eat on occasion, one fears she might have collapsed before we perfected the growth process.

Ah, I haven't even come around to the main point yet, have I? I hope you can forgive my longwindedness. (You always have been such a forgiving soul).

Here it is: We have done it. We have finally perfected our technique to grow perfectly uniform magic-storage crystals en masse.

We have tested them extensively, and have found that each and every single crystal in our latest few batches holds, as far as we can tell, the exact same amount of magical energy. (Well, we do get a few bad ones in a batch, on occasion, but those are fairly easy to pick out by sight once you've had some practice.) Moreover, they are of that ideal structure, so rarely found in nature and (before now!) so hard for humans to replicate, that vents magic when overloaded, rather than exploding.

Each crystal is about the size of my pinky nail, and can only hold a small amount of magic; we've been limited in size due to the expense of base materials and the expense it would take to build a larger grid setup to grow larger crystals in—not to mention that I've been the one primarily feeding the magic circle; I have a decent well of power, but keeping so many dear little baby crystals fed can be a bit taxing over time.

The crystals we have now would be barely enough to power anything of use; given all the space taken up by the runework that would be needed to bond each crystal to a device, it's simply not possible to attach enough of them to anything that the average person can easily hold or wear. They do seem to work decently as lighting, but they're not all that much better than candleflame, and candles generally burn for longer and for less expense. We'll need to scale up if we want this method to have real practical applications outside of the lab—outside of, perhaps, serving as a way to measure out magic. But I think our funding problems are about to disappear. If we can replicate our successes on a larger scale... I think the Mgs. will have all the fame and fortune she's been craving. And perhaps I shall share in my own modest portion, although I dare to hope that I may have some future success in which I am more than a lab assistant; lab assistants tend not to get their names listed in the history books.

An amusing fact: I have come to the discovery that I am able to fill up around 59 of the little crystals when I'm reasonably well-rested. There's a little variance here and there, but that's unavoidable; it's always been cursedly difficult to measure a single individual's magic capacity, as it always seems to vary depending on any number of factors. Still, the variance is never more than, say, give or take a quarter-crystal; 59 seems to be the magic number for me. (It is a source of mild agony to me that it is not a nice round number; would that the Divine Dyad had granted me just a tiny bit more capacity!)

It's always been a bit tricky to measure magic—we can measure what it can do, but that's not the same thing as measuring raw magic capacity. It's sort of interesting to have a better idea of where I am on the scale.

I'm of the opinion that we should come up with a proper unit of measurement for magical power; I've suggested to the Mgs. that we dub one small crystal's worth of magic a Julian (or perhaps a Jule, even.) She gave me this dreadfully dry look before sighing and telling me to check on the aurorium levels in the growth solution. (I of course also suggested that she could name one of the larger units after herself, once we have the facility to create larger crystals, which only resulted in her telling me to double-check on our stock of reagents when I was done with the aurorium. Still, she didn't say no, so I have some hope that I may have some small claim to fame through this!)

But by far the application I'm most excited about is how magical devices are going to become much more practical for more people once this technique becomes widespread. Once the power inside a crystal runs out, instead of being stuck with an empty crystal and a useless-until-recharged device tailored specifically to that crystal in which no other crystal will fit, a non-mage could theoretically simply pop the empty one out and put a full crystal in. And with uniform crystals, one might be able to carry multiple devices capable of using the same size crystal, but runespelled for different effects—one crystal could serve to empower multiple devices at the user's discretion. A non-mage will still need to have a mage top off their set of crystals once they're all out, but still, it's better than what we have now.

As I mentioned before, the little ones don't hold much, but if we can scale things up, the possibilities will grow, as well. We shall, I hope, be able to put more magic in the hands of the masses.

Even leaving that aside—once we ramp up production, there will be far more quality crystals on the market without that nasty tendency to explode if the mage puts just a bit too much magical power into them—quality crystals for the common person. (I suggested to the Mgs. that we use that as our motto when we go into business, but she just sighed and told me to walk over to the synthesist's across the street and request an additional order of sapirite powder.)

We're coming up on Saint Floria's Day, which will make a full year since you left for Gredaine; surely you can tear yourself away from your experiments to come up and visit me. I'd love to show you around the laboratory, and we can head out to the Green Gryphon for a few pints, just like old times. At least if you consider “last year” to be “old times,” which I am becoming more inclined to do.

Truly, Tom. You've always been far too studious. Don't make me come down on the next boat and make you actually take some time off, for once.

Give all my best to Tom the Second. Tell him I haven't forgotten him—or that little gift of his I found the day after you both sailed downriver.

Your devoted friend,



Dear Julian,

You have my sincere congratulations! You know I had my doubts about your passing up that geomagus position at the Lingwich facility, but it seems you were completely in the right, after all. Somehow, you've always had that knack of knowing which way the cards were about to turn. (Literally, as well as figuratively; did you ever have to buy your own drinks when our group of friends bet pints over card games at the end of the week? You have Saint Kesara's own luck, I swear.)

But it would be remiss of me to dismiss your good fortune as the result of mere luck. I know you've worked hard for this, and I must say, I'm also curious to see what will come of this new breakthrough.

I believe you are right in your belief that the greater proliferation of these crystals will be of help to those who, like myself, were born without the Gift of inborn magic, who must find our magic secondhand. (Although I do believe that more mages ought to engage in greater study of the synthesist's Great Archetypes and the particular qualities of the reagents we use; far too many dismiss the synthesist's craft as a matter for the “empties” seeking to emulate “true” mages. It is to your credit that you were never among that sort.)

I do feel some concern, however, at the thought that in finding a way to accurately measure magic, you have created a way to accurately compare one mage to another.

Of course, it has never been a secret that some mages wield more power than others—one mage can lift a boulder, while another can merely shift a handful of pebbles. But in that case, the latter mage might be able to light multiple fires at once where the first can merely call forth a bit of smoke, because mages channel their magic so differently.

But because it is the mage that differs, rather than the magic... it has been harder to find a way to quantify raw magical potential, until now.

There has always been a hierarchy among mages; your Magus Elarre has found herself on the receiving end of those who underestimate her for her relative lack of magical power.

Your number is 59. Mine, of course, is 0. Presumably, the Magus Elarre is somewhere between the two of us.

Will all mages be assigned such numbers in the days to come? One does wonder.

Even so, I do believe your discovery will do much good, and I certainly do not wish to imply otherwise, or to cast too much of a pall over what is rightfully a joyous occasion.

As requested, I have passed on your kind words to Tom the Second. You will be unsurprised to learn that he gave no response save to begin grooming himself. But one does not expect to wring blood from a stone, nor obsequious shows of gratitude from a cat. (Although I would not call him ungrateful; he merely expresses himself differently than a human or a dog might.)

He has only gotten more rotund since my last letter. Despite my best efforts, he has managed to charm all of the other boarders into providing him with countless scraps. But despite my roommate's best efforts at bribing Tom II with choice tidbits from his own plate, I am still the only person upon whose lap Tom the Second deigns to sit. (That is how he shows his gratitude, I believe.)

But I suppose I should not use up all my ink informing you of my cat's latest exploits.

Regarding my own work: the tail of the Silver Cat has at last disappeared over the horizon, so I am finished with my set of readings. I am not displeased to see that particular cat disappear; I will admit that these last few months in the lab have not been terribly thrilling. But that is how it is when one is starting out in synthesis; one must pay one's dues by carrying out the less-thrilling work at another's behest, rather than pursuing one's own chosen trains of inquiry. Still, I knew what I was getting into: performing the same set of procedures over and over, making the same recordings over and over, to help accrue evidence that the position of the Silver Cat constellation in the sky overhead induces some influence over the results.

The results were mostly as expected—I did get an unexpectedly high conversion rate of northstone and steraxis to kellirum when the Cat was at her zenith overhead, and some of my colleagues in other locations have reported similar results when the Cat appeared to be directly above their workspaces. The running theory is that this is due to the influence of the Hunter aspect of the Silver Cat; kellirum is rather corrosive, after all, “devouring” certain other substances.

But that was about as much excitement as I got, save for the occasional broken bit of equipment. Only one of those incidents was cat-related, of course; as I mentioned in my last letter, Tom II was only around on that day because I wished to keep an eye on him, as he'd been acting as if he'd been ill. The rest were entirely my own fault, alas. But let us not dwell too long on such matters.

You will be pleased to hear that this letter will arrive not too long before I do. I shall indeed be able to spare a few weeks to visit you up in old Laiston; it will be good to stop by our old haunts. But you won't be able to get me to bet against you in cards, my friend; I know better than that.

But I promise I shall still buy a round or two.

Best wishes,

Thomas (and Tom the Second)