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My story is set in the late 90s USA, revolving around a secret society of mythical humanoids. Almost every species humanity has ever thought was real is real, or at least used to be before going extinct. Due to their eternal youth, they are collectively referred to as immortals.

A central aspect of the magic system in my setting is that nearly all things magical are tied to organic life. Nearly every living creature produces magical energy in some form, regardless of whether or not it's a form they can actually use. Magic that influences things outside of a living creature has a very short half-life and must usually be continuously supplied energy by the user of the magical ability.

Initially there was an exception to this rule, however, called a soul gem. Whenever an immortal dies, they leave behind a bead-sized magical gem that possesses their race's magic in a usable form. This is a crucial centerpiece in enchanting objects, potion making, etc. Initially they were conceived as an outright exception to the rule, a seemingly-infinite engine of magic that could sustain a magical effect indefinitely in an inanimate object. However, since I didn't like how utterly out-of-place this characteristic was in my magic system, this has changed.

The way soul gems are currently envisioned, they're described as essentially crystallized MANA (the magical equivalent of DNA). They aren't a source of magical energy in and of themselves. However, like light through warped or colored glass, magical energy that passes through them can be changed in form and effect, which is why they can be used to make weapons or clothing express the gem's racial powers, or why rings inset with soul gems can grant certain forms of that race's abilities to other magical creatures... but crucially, only when they are supplied with magical energy by the being who is touching them.

This works well for those purposes, but there was another thing that soul gems were supposed to do that I'm having trouble rationalizing under the new explanation of what they are: their role in potion-making.

Potions are a real thing, and to explain why -- despite potion brewing not requiring the brewer themself to be a magically-active being -- the magical properties of the ingredients haven't been observed by the scientific community, soul gems are crucial in the process. You take magical ingredients, namely the specific parts of plants and organs of animals that contain magical energy (newts only have magic in their eyes, for example), and you cook the magical ingredients and dip a soul gem into them when they're heated, the specific soul gem influencing the potion's effects. That still works under the "like light through glass" analogy. The magic comes from elsewhere, the gem simply changes its form.

The issue is that under room temperature, another thing soul gems are supposed to do is keep potion ingredients magically fresh despite the plants and animals the ingredients came from obviously no longer being alive. The idea is you "pickle" the ingredients in a liquid solution, and then drop a soul gem, any soul gem, into that liquid solution, and as long as the gem is touching the solution the ingredients are in, they will keep their magical energy. The same applies to finished potions, they need to have a soul gem kept in the bottle and kept in contact with the liquid to keep the effect alive until they're ready to be used. But now that soul gems don't actually generate any magical energy of their own, I have difficulty imagining how I could justify this.

Why would a gem that warps and shapes magical energy, rather than generating it, do anything to keep the magical energy in potion ingredients fresh longer?

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    $\begingroup$ Magic? What makes you think that this question is specific and answerable? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 24 '21 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ There's enough description of the magic system for the answerers to work out whether or not an answer fits the existing magic system thematically, and be moderately confident the questioner would agree. $\endgroup$
    – user7868
    Sep 24 '21 at 3:24

11 Answers 11

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Bacteria

A soul gem is such an efficient channeler of magic that the bacteria living on the surface is enough living matter to power a small effect such as keeping the potion fresh.

It's only a very tiny amount of magic, but keeping things fresh doesn't require much and a soul gem gets a lot of bang (relatively speaking) from a small amount of power. With any other artefact, any other effect the outcome would be too miniscule to be measurable

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  • $\begingroup$ My answer is similar but the focus is different. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Sep 27 '21 at 17:55
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Because it came from an immortal.

The Law of Similarity -- like produces like -- means its origin prolongs things when the effect is properly invoked.

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  • $\begingroup$ Simple but profound, is this answer genius? $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 27 '21 at 15:50
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When in water, they act as a mirror instead of a glass

How this soul gems work is described as a colored glass. An explanation for this effect can be that soul gems, when in water and under room temperature, work not as a glass, but as a mirror, "bouncing" the magic back into the ingredients or the potion.

Why would the ingredients lose its magic powers to begin with? We can only assume that magic steadily leaves the ingredients somehow. The soul gem then "bounces" the magic back to the ingredient.

As a bonus, just as you have soul gems as "colored glasses", you can have soul gems as "colored mirrors", bouncing back only some of the magic powers the ingredients have. So, the ingredients would still lose their powers, just not all of them, and which powers they lose and which they keep depends on which soul gem it is.

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Potions are Alive

...despite the plants and animals the ingredients came from obviously no longer being alive.

I would not be so quick to jump to conclusions where magic is involved.

Soul gems come from immortal beings, and the one power that all immortals have in common is immortality. So, if you have a tub full of water and and sit in it with a soul gem, then your own latten magic would be just enough to slow your aging, and maybe even cure some minor aches and pains when refracted through the soul gem, kind of like a magical Epson salt bath.

As for cooking potions, well potions are what happen when you take the most magical elements of an animal and separate and distill them down into their most potent forms. Heating also accelerates the release of this magic; so, once a potion is cooking it is putting out hundreds of times as much magic as a normal person, and when this intense magical energy hits a soul gem, it is enough to bring the cells in your concoction back to life. So, yes, obviously grinding up and boiling newt eyes kills them a littles, but that does not mean they have to stay dead. So, the thing in your bottle is less of a brew and more of a tiny little slime monster made from the genetic tissues of many different plants and animals that you have artificially given life to.

Once it is alive, it generates a persistent magical field of its own that refracts through the gem keeping it alive despite its obvious lack of essential organs... and most importantly, never ever let a potion escape with that soul gem, or you may find yourself in the sewers having to hunt down a giant slime beast in the near future.

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The Soul Gem Kills Contaminants by Absorbing Their Magical Energy (Life Force).

To use a soul gem you must feed it magical power from a living being. This can be fatal if the person using the gem feeds it too much of their life force.

For the same reason the gems have antiseptic properties since they are always absorbing a small amount of magical energy from their surroundings. This is converted into a light to make the gem unnaturally lustrous.

This small amount of absorption is enough to kill any bacteria or yeasts attempting to grow in your potion. These simple organisms lack the willpower to prevent all their energy being sucked out. Similar to how salt preserves food by sucking the moisture from potential contaminants.

This means soul gems can also be used to preserve non-magical foods. In practice this is never done, since it's much easier to prepare a potion of Purify Food and Drink and pop a soul gem in there -- then use the potion to purify a large amount of food before eating -- rather than preserving the food directly.

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Soul gems might store large remnants of the magic generated by an immortal while they are alive. This could be independent of the energy-amplifying/shaping powers, or it might be that the magic is self-amplifying, and passing through a strong pool of magic guides the magic into a stronger or purer form (like a stronger magnet magnetizing a weaker one). The soul gem would then preserve the potion for a long time, but not indefinitely, expending the magic of the gem. Alternatively, the soul gem's stabilising properties (which let it sustain its own magic) might spread out over magically-charged substances like the potion.

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Its like an immune system but in magic form.

Magic is just another layer of energy in the world, it would make sense that some creatures might have evolved to make use of it in some way (your racial magic would be an advanced form of that). That means that magical parasites might exist to feed off the magic of other entities. These parasites could be almost entirely magic themselves and not be noticed much by the "regular" population. These parasites could be considered a magical force by some: spells will diminish over time as the parasites feed on the energy. Which is why magical objects are created to preserve a spell for longer.

A more powerful entity or magic race would develop an immune system to ward off such parasites. Just like our immune system keeps our biological bodies "fresh" so would the magical immune system keep their magic "fresh" inside their body and any magical objects and potions they bring with them.

Upon the creation of a soul stone a portion of this immune system still exists as an inherent part of the racial magic. This allows it to keep potions and other magic objects from deteriorating.

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The soul gem slowly decays

The soul gem normally shapes the magic. Yet when dropped in a potion, it'll decay very, very slowly. So slowly it seems to do nothing. The soul gem isn't just a magical focusing glass however. It has latent magic locked inside, which is released upon decay. As you say, it's crystallised MANA.

It's a bit like making liqueur. Grab some alcoholic drink, put some fruit in it and let it stay. Despite some fruit seemingly unaltered in the liquid, their taste is spread throughout. The same is true for the gems. They are seemingly unaltered, yet add their magic to the solution. This decay can be so slow that the gem still seems unaltered after an eternity.

But magic needs to be focused through a gem or something similar to have an effect. The potion itself helps here. It is made of magical organs. Much like the gems of immortals, these act like a focusing glass for magic. If you mix some magical organs and plant matter together, it should be able to act much the same as a gem. This is because both are dead organic things.

So the ingredients are grabbed and mixed. A gem focuses the magic from the ingredients, making the ingredients a liquid focus of magic itself. Then the gem slowly decays, adding it's own magic to the now liquid focus of magic.

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Locking in magic into a liquid gem

Each of the ingredients is magic. The similarities are very big between the ingredients and the gems, because both are dead organic matter with magic inside them. However, the ingredients of the potion lose the magic. Adding the gem makes it crystallise much like the gem itself, making it a liquid crystallised mana form. Thus you lock the magic in that crystalline form, making it stable.

After creation the gem is there purely as a catalyst. The crystalline liquid needs to stay in contact with it, or it'll decay quickly. During it's decay the magic is released, which is exactly what you want the potion to do when you ingest it.

As the gem is a catalyst, it can stay pristine and unchanged. The liquid will stay stable until it's removed from contact with the gem. The moment it's not, the liquid starts working as intended.

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Leeching the Immortal’s Essence

Potions age, like a fine wine, because the solution leeches out a trace amount of the Immortal’s immortal essence, consequently acting as an immortally-powered preservative.

The soul gem is of an immortal. Surely natural decay holds little power over an immortalized solution?

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Interesting! Here's what I was able to come up with:

  • The Soul Gem Is Fueling a Freeze-Time Enchantment

The mana in the soul gem itself can keep the enchantment running for a long time, since it's such a potent concentration of magical energy. These time spells are one of the only magics that can actually deplete a soul gem, using it not as a sort of filter for the magic passing through it, but an energy source to facilitate the alteration of time in relation to the ingredient.

  • It’s Not Keeping the Ingredients Fresh, It’s Keeping Them Contained.

Think less storage solution and more lead-lined magic box. These magic-infused potion ingredients are super volatile! The soul gem keeps them from becoming unstable and, like, exploding or something. Last thing you want to come home to is a new, accidental homunculus eating all your pizza rolls because your Eye of Newt wasn't properly contained.

  • That’s Why They’re Potion Ingredients; They Feed Off Natural Magic to Survive.

You can't just put anything in a potion. These ingredients are inherently magical, and they need a stable intake of magic to feed off or they decay. The soul gem filters magic from the natural world and environment around it into a form that can sustain the ingredient. Letting them sit around near a soul gem is a lot more convenient than carrying all your ingredients around all the time and letting them feed off you. Exhausting in many ways.

  • Ingredients Gotta Eat

Most typical potion ingredients are parts of plants, animals, or other living things. And most living things have a bad habit of dying when chopped into pieces and removed from their food source. Instead of relying on photosynthesis or something else, the mana in the soul gem is used as a direct food source for the very cells of the ingredient. As for nonliving ingredients, such as metals or crystals, the soul gem reinforces the atomic bonds that hold it together, via magic.

Hope these help!!! I really like the unique way you define your soul gems. This seems like a really interesting setting! Hope to see more questions about it! [:

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