Magic Users of Pre-Ikosian Altazia

Before the Cataclysm and the resulting large-scale migration of Ikosian mages to Altazia, the continent was a complex landscape of warring tribes and isolated city states. Well, the human parts of it, anyway. Altazian humans were far less populous and widespread back then, with many areas off-limits to human settlement. The forests and swamps were larger and darker, the territories of yetis and trolls more extensive and entrenched, and the various native spirits often claimed the choicest bits of land for themselves.

Regardless, although this human civilization was in many ways primitive and did not have the magical sophistication of the Ikosians that conquered them, they had developed several magical traditions of their own. Most of these were not anything special to the Ikosians, who had by this point already absorbed magical traditions of many other tribal groups. However, three traditions would prove to be exceptionally novel and influential, changing Ikosian magical tradition forever after. Specifically, the magical traditions of the shifters, the witches and the morlocks. For now, we will consider the witches and the morlocks in more detail.

Witches:

Altazian magical traditions, just like traditions of many other peoples, were heavily connected to their native religions. Only the priesthood was allowed to wield magic openly, and anyone dabbling in magic was condemned as foolish and a danger to society. This idea was not without merit, since such amateurs often made pacts with less-than-friendly spirits to gain their magic, but people often found themselves in need of a mage outside the existing power structure. Priests were only human, after all, and had their grudges and vendettas just as everyone else. Plus, sometimes one needed the sort of help that the local priest just wouldn’t be willing to provide.

Fortunately for such people, there was an alternative. Since most Altazian cultures were very patriarchal, women generally couldn’t become community priests. However, it was inevitable that some would come into possession of magic, either through simple accident of birth or through a mage father who decided to teach them what he knew for one reason or another. Such women were effectively outside the traditional power structure, since they couldn’t be recruited into the priesthood and trying to get rid of them was often unwise. Nobody wanted to make an enemy out of a mage whose powers they could barely understand, and this was doubly true in places like pre-Ikosian Altazia were magical education was rare and one couldn’t simply call the local mage guild for help if they angered the wrong person. Thus, so long as such ‘witches’ didn’t make too much of a nuisance of themselves, they were allowed to live their lives on the edges of their communities and offer their magical services to those who sought them out.

Of course, such a position was a rather precarious one. Many people who came to visit a witch did so because they needed access to shady or illegal magic, and those that didn’t were often desperate and had trouble paying for their services. Enforcing payment was a problem, since witches had considerable issues taking matters to community judicial systems. The priesthood was rarely entirely happy with the arrangement and did their best to work against them in any way they could. Unsurprisingly, this caused witches to acquire very unpleasant reputations. They found it hard to marry, weren’t welcome in polite company and were the first to be suspected when a supernatural crime occurred anywhere near them.

Shunned, yet armed with potent magic and prideful about that fact, witches began to tackle their problems by turning to each other for help. They befriended other witches around them, sharing their magical insights, caring for one another when sick or otherwise disabled and coming to each other’s defense when threatened by outsiders. In time these gatherings were formalized into what are today known as ‘covens’, and developed their own customs and traditions. These covens often ignored tribal lines, as witches came to think of themselves as witches first and members of their community second. They grew insular and secretive, with an attitude towards normal society that was often antagonistic or even outright predatory.

Of course, the covens only worsened the reputation of witches among normal society… but they also made people leery of targeting them. The covens policed their own members, punishing the worst of the excesses, but any attack on one of their members was met with immediate retaliation by the rest of the coven.

Witches dabbled in all sorts of magics, but they were most infamous for their potion making skills. This appears to be a consequence of their highly antagonistic relationship with the local priesthood, which forced them to figure out an alternative source of magical healing. Thus, witches took the rudimentary herbal remedies that were present in virtually every culture in existence and slowly refined them into downright supernatural cures. The initial versions of the potions were quite underwhelming compared to divine healing, and thus of little interest to outside mages, but they were relatively cheap and thus often used by the poorer segments of society. Eventually, witches developed these rudimentary cures and healing potions into ever more powerful versions and then started branching out into non-medical applications such as mind-affecting drugs (such as the infamous love potions), transformation potions and poisons.

In addition to their increasingly refined potion skills, witches were known to be skilled in soul magic – though not soul magic as most modern Altazians would understand it. Witches rarely went for actual animation of corpses, instead using soul magic for enforcing deals with outsiders through magical geas, forging familiar links and deciphering people’s true attitudes by studying their soul auras.

This common usage of soul magic, and the corresponding proliferation of soul perception, had great influence on the witches and their beliefs. Many a witch has obtained soul perception and then had a child, allowing them to observe the process by which souls are created in developing children. In short, the soul of a child seems to ‘bud off’ from the soul of the mother. At some point (quite a while before the actual birth of the child) this soul bud separates from the mother and becomes the property of the baby alone. Although children clearly do inherit things from the father, to anyone observing the process with soul perception, the soul itself seems to originate from the mother alone.

The Ikosians (and most other groups) believe this only means some parts of the process are invisible to humans, even with soul perception. They cite the fact that children can inherit magical abilities from their father as their chief proof that there is more going on beneath the surface. Witches, on the other hand, placed tremendous importance on the fact that a child’s soul seemingly comes from the mother alone. They believed only female children could truly continue their bloodlines. A person’s ‘soul lineage’ originated solely from their female ancestors, and sons are basically spiritual dead ends.

According to ancient Altazians, many witches had a habit of quietly killing off their male offspring because of this belief. It is hard to know how much of that is true, but it does appear some covens had a habit of doing that – especially during hard times when the witch had trouble supporting all of her children. Most witches had a more nuanced philosophy, however, and found plenty of uses for male children – they were often married off to witches from other covens to forge links and cement alliances, or just raised as loyal helpers and workers for the coven.

After the Silence of the Gods, witches rose considerably in prominence. Without divine healing, their potions became the primary source of magical healing and medical care on the continent, which put them in a position of considerable power. Although the breakdown of social order and traditional power balance that followed in the wake of the Silence claimed the lives of many witches, many more had profited immensely in the aftermath. Thus, in many regards, the century between the Silence of the Gods and the coming of the Cataclysm is considered something of a golden age of the witch covens.

Yet, it was precisely this golden age that created the fractures in the covens that Ikosians would exploit when they came to Altazia. Suddenly finding themselves in this new position of increased demand, many covens struggled to maintain direction and discipline. The leadership of the covens had always been very tradition-bound and based heavily on age. They disdained outside ideas and young witches with more ambition than experience. That had been fine in the past, when young witches needed the support of their covens and had nowhere else to go, but as the world around them started to change more in their favor, they found themselves less willing to tolerate the restrictions their elders placed on them.

When the Ikosians started flooding into the continent, they almost immediately started tempting these young, ambitious witches into their service. Having lost their source of divine healing just like everyone else, they appreciated the alternative that their healing potions represented immensely. Unlike the natives, Ikosian mages had no problems with legitimizing these ‘female mages’, giving them positions of authority, marrying them and even granting them the status of nobility in some cases. Though these ‘defectors’ tended to be young and only possessed the very basics of witch potion making and magic… it was enough. Ikosians took those basics and gradually developed them into what is today known as alchemy, eventually far outstripping the witches in terms of sophistication.

As Ikosians finished their conquests and started re-organizing their territories, they began to crack down on unlicensed mages. This included the witches, of course. Many skirmishes and wars were fought, with witches finding themselves on the losing side more often than not. Faced with a choice between fighting a losing battle or assimilating into Ikosian mage communities while they still could, many covens ended up disbanding or fracturing.

The Ikosians stopped hounding the witches once they had destroyed the bulk of the covens, believing that the remnants would quietly fade away in time. In this they miscalculated somewhat, since some covens survived the witch wars and exist even today. However, these covens have been irrevocably changed by the conflicts, and are vastly different from how they were in the past. Modern witches make considerable use of the Ikosian spellcasting system in their daily lives, and often even take inspiration from alchemy to improve their traditional cauldron-based potion making. They still exist on the margins of society, however, due to lingering prejudices among the populace and their own unwillingness to toe the line in regards to magical regulations. Their insistence on having their daughters inherit their surnames and insistence that the child inherits the soul exclusively from the mother do not help, either, as they are things that clash heavily with the prevalent cultural norms across most of Altazia.

Overall, the legacy of the witches is felt keenly across Altazia. Modern society would be almost unrecognizable without the existence of alchemy, and many of the powerful mage families and even Noble Houses draw their roots from ancient witch lineages.

Morlocks:

Although there are many varieties of humans in the world, few were as distinctive as the culture of subterranean humans that once built underground kingdoms beneath Altazia. The morlocks.

The most noticeable things about the morlocks are their white hair and their vivid blue eyes. Ancient records often describe morlock eyes as literally shining in the dark, but modern morlocks do not exhibit such traits – it is likely these were just cases of magical intimidation on the part of the morlocks in question. They do not have any innate supernatural abilities, but most of them see very well in low-light conditions and have excellent hearing. They also do not appear to suffer any health issues from spending prolonged periods of time in total darkness. Contrary to rumors, the sun does not burn them or hurt their eyes – at least not if they’ve grown up on the surface like most modern morlocks.

As one can figure out from the description, morlocks are a breed of humanity specifically adapted for underground existence. At some unknown point in the past, the ancestors of the morlocks colonized the surface layers of Altazia’s Dungeon, battling the creatures living there for living space and occasionally raiding the surface for things they could not acquire in their underground homes. What exactly compelled their ancestors into making that choice is unknown, and the morlocks’ myths are inconsistent and fractured about that point.

Regardless, the morlocks were surprisingly successful in their underground habitat. At their height, just before the Silence of the Gods, they had the highest level of technology and magical sophistication on the continent. They were extremely feared and hated by the other human groups, however, for they had the habit of raiding them for slaves and tribute. Worse, many of the slaves had ghastly fates waiting for them, for the morlocks excelled in blood magic and used it often… and had religious appreciation for cannibalism. They believed that through eating the flesh of their enemies they could steal their powers and that through eating the flesh of their ancestors they could preserve their wisdom.

It is likely that this widespread use of blood magic and belief in the benefits of cannibalism are linked closely together. After all, one could gain another’s powers through blood magic – and indeed, many of the high ranking morlocks were armed with at least one power they had stolen from someone through the use of such – so it’s not so farfetched to believe one could go even further by taking more than just blood…

The Silence of the Gods hit morlock society very hard. Although most known for their blood magic, the truth is that morlock society depended most heavily on divinely-granted powers, just like most human societies. Without the support of their gods, the morlocks found themselves struggling, and started raiding the surface humans more heavily for slaves and sacrifices. Thus, when the Ikosians came to Altazia, one of the first targets the locals pointed out to them was the morlock underground kingdoms.

The Ikosians didn’t have the numbers or the will to wage an underground war on the scale that would be necessary to thoroughly crush the morlocks. But they didn’t have to. Simply by virtue of stopping their surface raids and destroying their most prominent centers of power, they broke the backs of morlock kingdoms and left them vulnerable to assaults by underground creatures. In the end, the surviving morlocks were forced to abandon their underground holdings and journey to the surface in several waves, where they were forced to surrender to the Ikosian authorities and beg for mercy.

The terms they were offered tended to be harsh. The Ikosians found the morlock beliefs and practices odious and blasphemous, and the natives under them hated them to the core and advocated to have them exterminated outright. Thankfully for them, as much as Ikosian authorities expressed disgust at the very idea of their blood magic, plenty of powerful mages found the idea… intriguing.

In the end, the Ikosians decided to give morlocks a chance. As the various morlock groups streamed out of the Dungeon, they were presented with the same or similar deal – they would be forced to convert en masse to the Ikosian faith and scattered throughout the land to speed up assimilation, but they would be allowed to live. Some of the morlock groups were not willing to suffer this wholesale destruction of their culture and returned to the Dungeon, where they descended into the fathomless depths in search of something. They were never heard from again, and are surely dead now.

Though the Ikosians had hoped to quickly assimilate the morlocks by breaking them up and suppressing their culture, the reality proved to be not that simple. Altazian natives wanted nothing to do with the morlocks, and the morlocks themselves often found themselves turning to crime, alcoholism and the like. Today, they still tend to exist on the periphery of society and suffer heavy discrimination.

Their blood magic is also alive and well. Partially because many of the morlocks still retain some of their ancient magical traditions, and partially because many of the Ikosian mages secretly compiled many of their techniques and kept passing them around, and so blood magic refuses to die out.

And, though it is not said in polite company, it is well known that many of the modern Houses and magical bloodlines would not exist without the blood magic acquired from the morlocks…

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Disciplines of Magic

Magic is a thousand-faced beast, capable of producing a seemingly infinite number of different effects, and often the same effect can be produced through several different spellcasting methods. What follows is a basic overview of the types of magic that exist in the Ikosian magical tradition.

Projection: Spells that produce light, sound, heat, physical force, electricity and other forms of energy. A staple of the modern mage due to their extreme utility and ease of use. Mastery of projection is also necessary for advancement in many of the other magical disciplines, since production and manipulation of energies is the foundation which many other spells are based on.

Quite a few mages specialize in this type of magic, and even more have a solid grasp in it despite specializing elsewhere, which makes it easier to find qualified instructors and spellbooks but also makes it harder to earn money in the field.

Negation: Spells that dispel, disrupt or negate other spells. A must-have discipline for every mage, in part because authorities of most nations force mages to attain a certain level of skill in this field if they want to get certified. Mages with absolutely no negation skills cannot terminate their own spells if something goes wrong, cannot ensure proper safety if they try to teach someone magic and in general represent a headache that most authorities would rather not worry about.

With the explosion of mages in modern times, the demand for people capable of dealing with hostile magic and accidents also increased dramatically, which makes negation a relatively popular field of specialization.

Animation: Spells that infuse a portion of the caster’s mind into the target, allowing effects with a measure of autonomy and independence from the caster. Illusions, animated objects, conjured creatures and imperfect copies of the caster all draw heavily from this discipline. Animation spells rely on the caster’s skill and knowledge, and thus cannot perform actions that the caster is not capable of performing. Any time a spell acts on its own towards some goal (such as a magic missile homing in on a target), an element of this is almost certainly used. Animation is typically used on inanimate objects that have no will of their own, but can be used on living beings if the caster is powerful enough or the target doesn’t resist.

Animation is another magical field with many specialists, since it allows people to effectively conjure helpers and improve their productivity in various ways. That said, animation relies heavily on the caster’s base skills to be effective, so most animators also possess one or more mundane skills they work on side-by-side with their animation expertise.

Conjuration: Spells that create ectoplasmic constructs for some purpose. Spells that launch force projectiles, force fields, creation of tangible illusions, instant walls and floating discs are all examples of conjuration. How durable and realistic-looking the ectoplasmic constructs look depends on the skill of the caster. Conjured items and creatures aren’t real and will evaporate into nothing upon destruction, dissolving into a smoke-like form before gradually fading away. Severed parts will likewise evaporate once separated from the core of the conjuration. No one is quite sure what ectoplasm is, and its exact properties are being studied to this very day.

Conjuration is heavily used in combat magic, mostly due to its ability to easily shield against many forms of magic. As a general rule, an ectoplasmic barrier will stop every spell that would be stopped by a brick wall… which is most of them. Force projectiles will also affect targets like a real projectile would have, which is useful when the target is immune to more exotic forms of damage but can still be put down by a brick to the face. Real or ectoplasmic.

That said, conjuration has its peaceful uses. Historically, it has been often used during trickier constructions, allowing people to transport and handle massive stone blocks and other unwieldy things, and even today this is often the case. Fancy cranes are expensive; a conjured hand only costs mana.

Wards: Spells that envelop the entire area and enforce a particular effect on everything inside this domain. Usually protective in nature, hence the name, but some wards react rather violently when the right conditions are triggered. Alarm spells, magic inhibitor zones and spells that resist specific spells, types of magic, environmental extremes and other threats are an example of warding magic. Wards tend to have very long casting times, making them of limited use in combat situations if they had not been applied on the target beforehand. Additionally, different wards interfere with one another, making it tricky to stack multiple ones upon the same target. Most professional warders measure their skill in terms of how many different wards they can stack together and how smoothly they work together – a task that gets drastically more difficult as one adds each additional ward into the project.

Warding is both easy and hard. If one is only interested in casting temporary wards, the field is not too difficult. A fair amount of experimentation and experience is required to figure out how to make multiple wards work together smoothly, but this is nothing unmanageable. Many mages specialize in the field in such a manner, erecting temporary warding zones when employed to do so.

However, while this is a perfectly respectable way to make a living, it is not the most profitable one. The real money lies in the construction of permanent wards, and this requires considerable expertise in spell formula. Since spell formulas are notoriously difficult, this raises the difficulty of the job immensely. Though many professional warders dream of eventually transitioning into the field of permanent wards, very few actually have what it takes to pull it off. This makes this sort of warder extremely well paid, and often reluctant to help others enter the same field and lower the prices.

Divination: Spells that gather and organize information based on the caster’s query. Scrying, magical sight, mapping spells, tracking spells, forensic magic and magic designed to analyze things all fall under this discipline. Divinations require some kind of link to the target of the divination, either a physical object or some of the caster’s memories. They are range-limited – a caster cannot cast a divination on a target that is miles away from them, and the spells that seek a non-specific target will only scan a certain area around the caster before giving up. Divinations that aim to predict the future or reconstruct the past are only guesses based on the clues the spell was presented with, and tend to be unreliable – future prediction more so than past reconstruction.

Divination spells are extremely useful in many facets of life and not terribly difficult to cast. Moreover, divination is not a very mana intensive field, putting a greater emphasis on good shaping skills than the size of one’s mana reserves. Most divination spells are rather cheap for their level. This makes divinations a popular choice amongst those with below-average or average mana reserves. However, divination spells are somewhat unique in that being able to cast a divination spell is no guarantee that it will be useful to you. Interpreting information received from a divination spell can be fiendishly difficult, and can often result in a string of gibberish and a raging headache. Additionally, divination suffers from the so-called ‘garbage in, garbage out’ syndrome – if you feed improper information into your divination spell, or start with an ill-considered reference point, you will get a result that is incorrect or misleading.

None of this stops people from pursuing the field, of course, but it does mean that divination requires an uncommon amount of dedication and discipline from a mage. As such, most diviners are narrowly specialized in divination, neglecting other fields of magic to focus on their chosen discipline. Only the most talented of diviners, or very old ones who are already hitting the point of diminishing returns in their studies, can afford to invest some of their energies into other fields.

Alteration: Spells that restructure existing matter into other configurations. Terrain shaping spells, effects that let the caster warp materials into different shapes and fabrication magic all fall under this discipline. Changes are permanent and cannot be dispelled. Alteration can only shuffle atoms and molecules around, it cannot transmute them into different elements. The ability of the mage to use this type of magic is severely limited by the user’s knowledge of chemistry and material science (and engineering/architecture if sufficiently complex projects are attempted) so advanced transformations remain out of reach for most mages.

Alteration magic is similar to divination, in that it requires an uncommon degree of focus if one plans to specialize in it. This is due to the great deal of scientific and engineering knowledge that one must possess to use the ability effectively. As such, alteration specialists tend to be narrowly specialized in the field and eschew spreading themselves thin by studying other fields of magic in parallel to their primary one.

Dimensionalism: Spells that manipulate space and time. Teleportation, summoning, temporal dilation, phasing, dimensional gates and pocket dimensions all fall under this discipline. Dimensionalism is a notoriously difficult field of magic to practice. The spells require both great quantity of mana, excellent shaping skills and a great deal of complex theoretical knowledge to pull off.

Due to the high difficulty of the field, as well as the incredible potential for abuse many of its spells have, dimensionalism is not taught to beginning mages. Only by practicing other forms of magic may one eventually grow to a point where they can begin to tackle this field. Even then, access to dimensionalism is often restricted along political lines. All of this makes dimensionalism a fairly rare type of magic amongst mages and it’s vanishingly rare for someone to specialize in it – by the time a mage gains access to dimensionalism, they typically already have their primary specialty and are reluctant to change it. Most dimensionalists are mere dabblers.

Transformation Magic: Spells that transform the target into something else, in whole or in part. Shapeshifting and many augmentation spells belong in this discipline. Transformation magic works by applying the so called ‘transformation shell’ over the target’s soul, temporarily altering their form. Thus, it requires both the target and the source of the transformation shell to have a soul in order for it to work.

Transformation magic, although not terribly difficult, can have severe consequences if not done correctly. Additionally, a mage that transformed into a non-humanoid form will find it difficult to cast spells, which is a pretty big drawback no matter how impressive the other form is. As such, transformation is not taught to beginning students in most schools and most mages shy away from it. Thus, it is a rather rare form of magic – few mages dabble in it and specializing in it is not common. Most transformation specialists combine their expertise with alchemy, selling transformation potions to mages that need them for some purpose but don’t want to mess with a potentially dangerous field like that.

Mind Magic: Spells that target the mind. Focuses around manipulating people’s thoughts, emotions, memories, senses and perceptions. Mental illusions, compulsions, memory alteration, mental communication, emotion spells and various other mind-affecting spells fall under this discipline.

Mind magic is not terribly difficult to cast and, like divinations, it puts far greater emphasis on shaping skills than mana reserves. Mind magic is very mana efficient. However, except for the spells that target the minds of animals, mind magic is heavily restricted and has a very poor reputation among mages and civilians alike. Thus, mind magic specialists are very rare.

Soul Magic: Spells that affect the soul. This includes binding them (used to contain unruly spirits or animate the dead), modifying them, enforcing effects on them (curses and geas), connecting them to other souls, and even damaging them in various ways (souls are indestructible and cannot be truly destroyed, but they can be damaged and twisted in various ways). Often simply called necromancy, though technically necromancy refers only to the creation of undead.

Soul magic is impossible to practice without obtaining soul sight, which is an extremely difficult and dangerous process for most people. It is also very, very illegal. Thus, only priests and criminals specialize in it, and it is rare to see mages capable of performing it.

Blood Magic: Magic that deals with the manipulation of a person’s life force, usually using the target’s blood as a proxy. Ritual sacrifice, powering spells through one’s own health, improved enhancement rituals and bloodline theft are all accomplished through blood magic.

Life force is a very potent form of mana, useful for a lot of things. Unlike spending mana, however, spending one’s life force is a pretty big deal – life force recovers extremely slowly and the body will not easily relinquish it to the caster. It must be coaxed or forced into allowing it, and no matter the method used it will result in lasting weakening and sickness that will persist for days or even weeks. Vertigo, exhaustion, lethargy and phantom pains are all typical consequences of life force depletion. Additionally, while losing a little life force from time to time will not permanently affect a person, dipping into one’s life force too deeply or too often will inflict permanent consequences… and it’s hard to know where exactly the limit lies.

All of this means that blood mages dislike using their own life force as a rule, and instead focus on stealing it from others. And this stolen life force is usually used for demon summoning. Because of that, blood magic is very, very illegal – easily on par with soul magic, if not worse. Most countries deliberately suppress information about blood magic, other than warning people that it’s bad and they should never use it. Despite that, the field refuses to die out.

Multi-Disciplinary Fields:

Illusionism: A multi-disciplinary magical discipline that deals with creation of highly realistic magical constructs, in order to deceive, distract or entertain the target. Most illusions are intangible ghosts made out of light and sound, but skilled illusionists can weave additional energies into the image in order to fool various exotic senses or employ conjuration in order to make their illusions tangible. Some illusions also employ mental compulsions to better fool the target, but the very presence of mind magic can alert certain mages that something is wrong, so illusions that use mind magic are not strictly better than those don’t. Some illusions are entirely mental in nature, and do not exist outside the target’s mind, but they are classified as illusions rather than mind magic due to requiring similar illusion-crafting skills to cast. Disbelieving an illusion, contrary to popular belief, does absolutely nothing – the image is real, just not what it appears to be. Most illusions are very delicate, however, and are easy to dispel with magic (and sometimes simple physical force).

Illusionism was once a very popular field of magic, with many practitioners and specialists. This was because mages were rarer in the past, and non-mages had a very fuzzy conception of what magic was and what its limits were. Thus, illusions were a lot more threatening and mysterious than they are today – even an obvious intangible phantom could potentially turn the tide of battle or cow a superstitious peasant into submission. These days, this is no longer true. Obvious illusions will be recognized as such, and even fairly realistic ones will often cause suspicions since people are more familiar with magic. This, along with the fact that illusionism isn’t at all easy to practice, has caused the number of illusionists to greatly decline. The field is unlikely to actually die out, and some illusionists have found great success in applying their skills to entertainment projects, but many mages with fondness for the field lament the current state of the discipline.

Medical Magic: Another multi-disciplinary field, one that deals with diagnosing illnesses via divination and then using a form of alteration to heal wounds, cure diseases and otherwise help the patient. Medical magic requires a great deal of knowledge about human anatomy and various biological processes in order to be effective. It is a very young magical discipline, having been founded only after the gods fell silent and stopped granting their priests healing spells, and even so it took many years for the field to gather sufficient reputation to be taken seriously and attract world-class experts to its banner. Recently it received a huge boost when the Weeping swept across Altazia, which caused many wealthy organizations and individuals to invest heavily into it. Even today, medical magic is used to supplement the more traditional alchemical treatments rather than as a cure for everything.

Medical magic is considered to be hands-down the hardest field of magic to pursue. It requires a massive amount of theoretical knowledge and impeccable shaping skills, its relative youth makes it hard to find qualified teachers and training in it requires living targets. It is almost unheard of for medical mages to practice any form of magic except ones that could somehow support their chosen specialization. It is a common opinion among people that medical magic requires absolutely everything from the practitioner.

That said, medical mages are extremely well paid, so there is never any shortage of candidates clamoring to become one.

Combat Magic: Probably the most well-known and popular field of study that draws upon multiple magical disciplines is combat magic. Conjuring defensive force fields, throwing around fireballs, telekinetically hurling objects at opponents and disintegrating obstacles are all examples of combat magic. Although virtually all magic has some sort of possible combat application, the term ‘combat magic’ normally refers to spells that focus on fast casting time, overcoming the opponent’s defences and which require little preparation to be made effective. Some disciplines are more conductive to this than others: projection, negation, animation and conjuration are the easiest fields to apply to these spellcasting principles, followed by alteration and dimensionalism.

Combat magic is deceptively simple. On one hand, most combat spells have rather modest shaping requirements and can be learned quite quickly by a dedicated mage. On the other hand, the very traits that make these spells so potent in combat inevitably come at the cost of mana efficiency and safety features. Combat magic places extreme demands on the mage’s mana reserves and getting it wrong is more likely to hurt the caster. This, along with the inherently lethal nature of fighting for a living, means that combat magic is considered quite hard to master. Many mages know how to cast a combat spell or two for use in emergencies, but they would not dare call themselves combat mages.

Despite this, combat magic is very common everywhere, and popular as a specialty. Even people who are not very suited for it often direct their energies into the field. Battle has always been the most glorious of occupations to many, and many more don’t get to choose whether they want to fight or not. Most states also enthusiastically encourage people to focus on this discipline, as there is always demand for more battlemages somewhere.

Artifice-Related Fields:

Spell Formula: Used in the creation of permanent wards and magical items, spell formulas anchor spells into a carefully-crafted diagram to make them persist indefinitely. The anchor must be able to withstand the mana being channelled through it and it should not disrupt the spell boundary as much as possible, which may necessitate the use of exotic materials in anchor construction. Spell formula require high knowledge of mathematics and magic theory to use well, though simply copying existing schematics is relatively easy if one is already available.

Spell formula are notoriously difficult. Even copying an existing spell formula can be challenging, requiring high manual dexterity, a lot of patience and an ability to cast and anchor all of the spells necessary to create the final product. Additionally, if a mage wants to modify the diagram even slightly, they need a lot of theoretical knowledge and mathematical expertise to pull it off. As such, spell formula experts tend to be very rare and well paid. A lot of people dabble in it, however, since high demand for spell formula experts makes their services too expensive for many.

Alchemy: One of the few magical disciplines that does not require any sort of shaping skills to use, alchemy is basically magical chemistry – gather the proper ingredients and follow the recipe in order to get a magical product. Medical elixirs and salves, temporary augmentation potions, powerful poisons, mind-affecting brews, exotic alloys and extra-durable construction materials are just some of the examples of what alchemy is capable of.

Alchemy is not a very difficult field to dabble in, but it is very expensive to seriously pursue. The materials for alchemy are not cheap, and neither is equipment. Additionally, alchemy is tightly regulated in most places, as well as already controlled by established alchemical workshops that usually have special access to valuable alchemical ingredients and knowledge of secret methods that make their products cheaper and/or better than any newcomer can possibly be. Thus, mages who decide to specialize in alchemy either come from families already involved with alchemical trade or are exceptionally wealthy and thus able to finance an attempt to break into the field.

Tetra & Abnazia

The current political situation in the Altazian continent is clearly unsustainable. The Splinter Wars have fractured the previous states that made up the Old Alliance, creating a complicated landscape of tiny statelets and moderately-sized powers, but this is less of a stable equilibrium and more of a compromise that nobody is really happy with. Right now, the three main contenders for the new ruler of the continent – Eldemar, Sulamnon and Falkrinea – are lying low, but a new war is quietly brewing beneath the surface. The Big Three, as they are known, are constantly probing their rivals for any sign of weakness, making alliances with minor players and spying on each other for any scrap of information as to what they’re doing on their end.

Many of the current Splinter States are not strong enough to survive on their own in the long term and are well aware of this. For them, the main concerns while going into the future is whether they’ll be able to choose the ‘right’ side in the upcoming conflict and under what terms they will be absorbed by the victor. Others, though, have higher aspirations. Some, especially the states far away from the Big Three, hope to attain high degrees of autonomy by default – it is hard to govern distant places without a high degree of delegation, even with magic. Some of them hope to make themselves such a tough nut to crack that major powers would rather negotiate with them than war, whether by pursuing some kind of unique national advantage or by forging alliances with their fellow minor states.

There are two Splinter States that aim straight to the top, aiming to compete with the Big Three for the leadership role in a future Altazian super-state. These are Tetra and Abnazia, two relatively large and prosperous states in the western part of the continent.

Though powerful, neither Tetra not Abnazia are really states on the level of the Big Three. This, coupled with the considerable distance between them and the heartland of the continent, causes the Big Three to be dismissive of these two ‘pretenders’. The state that ends up controlling Altazia’s Central Valley, with its vast population and industry, holds an insurmountable advantage over some so-called ‘power’ out there on the periphery of the continent.

Tetra and Abnazia are well aware of all this, of course, it’s just that they don’t think any of the Big Three will be able to triumph over the other two any time soon. It’s all well and good to say that the continent will be united eventually, but if that ‘eventually’ turns out to be several decades of grueling warfare, that gives rising powers like them a fair amount of time to work with. Moreover, while the Big Three are busy fighting for the Central Valley, they can hardly stop Tetra and Abnazia from securing their local region by swallowing up any vulnerable nearby states.

The Kingdom of Tetra is a trading nation, heavily involved in the trade with Miasina and Hsan. They have a very large and capable navy, but their military is of dubious strength. It looks good on paper, but it is a product of recent militarization, making it somewhat disorganized and untested in the actual field of battle. They have an extremely firm grasp on the trade routes going through the Shivan Archipelago and the Xlotic coast, having achieved virtual monopoly in certain markets, and they are constantly pushing for more. There is considerable conflict between the crown faction, which wants the kingdom to keep pursuing its current path of vying for supremacy in Altazia, and the merchant faction, which is pushing towards a less belligerent stance that would see the state focus exclusively trade concerns and avoid entangling themselves in Altazian politics. Their main rival is Falkrinea, which is similarly trade focused and also possesses a powerful fleet.

The Kingdom of Abnazia does not have any particular strength, but also no obvious weakness either. They are somewhat like Eldemar in this regard, but with better diplomacy. Abnazia wishes to expand westward, towards the frontier states located beyond the Winter Mountains. These lands are poorly developed and sparsely populated, having been colonized only recently, but any country that could unite all this land under its rule would have quite a bit of power on its fingertips. Quantity has a quality all of its own, after all. In any case, although Abnazia claims these lands rightfully belong to them (a lot of the colonists came from Abnazia originally, due to its closeness and strategic position), nobody else is willing to tolerate naked aggression on their part. Thus, they are quietly building up their forces and laying down the groundwork for the eventual occupation by subverting various interest groups in the targeted frontier states. The current consensus is that Abnazia is being too ambitious, trying to swallow more than they can chew, but if their plan succeeds and they stabilize the vast western frontier under their rule, they could potentially become a genuine contender for leadership of the continent.

(You can find the location of Tetra and Abnazia on a map I posted way back.)

Brief Absence

I am just notifying you, my dear readers, that I will be going on a 5-day trip soon and won’t be able to answer your questions.

So if you post a comment and receive no answer, you now know why. Feel free to leave comments anyway, though – I’ll read through them and answer when I get back.

Basics of Magic – Spellcasting

The mysterious substance of mana is the foundation of magic. Magic is initiated and sustained through mana. Its lack or abundance sharply delineates what is and is not possible for a given mage to accomplish. It is not entirely wrong to say that having enough mana to produce the desired effect is the single most important thing when it comes to magic – the prerequisite that must be met before the mage can even begin their work.

And yet, having a sufficient quantity of mana is only half of the battle. Mana does very little on its own, after all. Something needs to take control of the mana and direct it towards a coherent goal. This directing, this shaping of mana is what people call spellcasting.

And being capable of spellcasting is what truly makes mages so formidable.

Prerequisite Skills:

Before a person can even think of performing magic, they must master a few minor but absolutely necessary skills. Specifically, they need to learn how to sense their own mana, quickly and reliably draw upon their personal mana reserves, consciously direct their mana along specific ways, visualize the desired result with a high degree of detail and clarity and exercise discipline over their thoughts to maintain concentration during spellcasting.

Although none of these skills are terribly difficult on their own, developing all five into a seamless and reliable whole has proven to be rather difficult. The process takes 2-4 years for an average mage and requires considerable work ethic and introspection. Instructors can provide guidance, but everyone’s thoughts and mana are somewhat different – it is up to aspiring mages themselves to figure out what works for them personally and what doesn’t. Some people just can’t do that while others lack the discipline to apply themselves to the problem with sufficient intensity. Numerous mage aspirants have been stopped from achieving their dreams at this very first step in the process.

In truth, the situation here has improved considerably in modern times. The increasing number of mages and the accumulation of magical knowledge available to the public have led to a specialized profession of magic instructors and vastly better training methods than what had existed in the past. Consequently, the success rate of passing this first major hurdle has gone way up than it was in the past. Historically, mages were fairly uncommon and magical training was done mostly through apprenticeships. Very few of these ‘master mages’ actually knew how to teach – they knew what worked for them and simply taught that to any student that came their way. If that was a poor fit for the student, well… tough luck. Go find another teacher willing to take you in. And that was assuming that the mage in question honestly tried their best when teaching someone. For many mages, the primary motivation for accepting apprentices was to have some extra hands to fob off all the boring chores and unpleasant work onto.

Of course, most modern magic instructors and teaching institutions actually demand far more than mastering just these five elementary skills from their students. Anyone who seriously intends to be a mage in one of the Altazian Splinter States, for instance, will also have to memorize a great number of different chants and gestures, develop an ability to draw upon ambient mana to replenish their personal mana reserves, learn the relevant laws governing the use of magic and a whole host of other things. But strictly speaking, one can do magic without satisfying these extra requirements. It’s just usually illegal to do so.

Unstructured Magic:

The oldest and simplest form of magic is unstructured magic. Anyone with prerequisite basic spellcasting skills is capable of performing it to some extent. All they have to do is visualize the effect they’re trying to produce and then direct mana at the problem until they get what they want. They may not succeed the first time, or the second time, or the tenth time, but they are bound to succeed eventually. They just need to keep at it long enough.

Unstructured magic works because souls can, to some extent, figure out how to perform feats of magic on their own. If given aid in directing mana outside the body and presented with a clear picture of the desired goal, the soul will slowly chip away at the problem in question, getting closer and closer to a solution with each attempt. Since this is a very blind and crude process, however, it can take quite a while before it converges on a viable solution. If the desired magical effect is complex or mana intensive, the training could take years, decades, or even so long that no person would live to see the results within their natural lifetime. Such long training times can be made more manageable by breaking down complex effects into multiple simpler steps and by studying similar magic, but the fact remains – unstructured magic is generally very time-consuming to train.

Some effects are easy to accomplish with unstructured magic. Mana is very much inclined to produce light, heat and kinetic force. In fact, it often does so against the caster’s wishes – most spellcasting is not flawless, and wasted mana naturally manifests itself in the form such energies. If the caster has a healthy amount of control over the mana involved in the spell, this means unwanted glows, rapid increase in the temperature of surrounding area and chaotic waves of kinetic force (often perceived as strange wind by spectators). If not, a failed spell could easily blow up in the caster’s face or burn their hands off. Thus, unstructured magic that deals with said energies is quite easy. Turning objects into sources of illumination, igniting paper and levitating things are all examples of elementary tricks that virtually every mage is capable of.

(As an aside: Because of its obvious inclination towards light and heat, magic has historically been heavily associated with fire in many different cultures. Ikosians, for instance, considered magic to be fashioned from the fire of the primordial world dragon from which the world was created.)

Unstructured magic is extremely flexible. The caster can use it at will, with no forewarning or preparation, and can adjust the details of what they’re doing from moment to moment, adjusting to changing circumstances far more agilely than a structured spell ever could. Not only is this a great boon in situations where speed and adaptability is crucial, it also means that many structured magic defenses – especially simpler, low-level ones – have trouble effectively countering unstructured magic. They are made for blocking rigid spell constructs that attack a target in very specific ways and have trouble dealing with magic that can be adjusted on the fly to attack their weak points or slip past their blind spots.

All this said, unstructured magic is something that virtually nobody trains exclusively in. Every mage has some amount of ability in it, but this is purely because a certain level of unstructured magic expertise is vital as a foundation for another system of spellcasting. One that gives results much faster than unstructured magic and also gives the mage a much more versatile set of magic skills to boot.

Structured Magic:

Unstructured magic can, in theory, do anything. It is unbounded and freeform. However, it is that very freedom that that is in some ways the problem. With no limiters in place, the soul loses itself in the vast space of different possibilities and takes an impractically long time to reach a viable solution for problems presented to it. What if there was a way for mages to direct the flow of mana in a more precise, forceful manner? What if one could tell the soul, not just what to do, but explain to it exactly how it should go about doing it?

Structured magic – also known as bounded magic and the divine limiter system – is a method of doing just that. By performing a series of words and gestures, the caster can invoke a rigid mana construct that directs mana in very specific ways. These rigid mana constructs are called spells in casual parlance, and also invocations… for Ikosians believe that structured magic had been handed to mankind by the gods themselves in ancient history.

Handed by the gods or not, spells are not black boxes that nobody understands. Rather, each spell is essentially constructed out of lego-like ‘blocks’ (spell elements) that can be assembled into all sorts of ways to produce desired effects. Humans cannot create new types of spell elements, but existing ones can be combined in novel ways easily enough. Spell crafters are constantly inventing new spells through this process and it doesn’t seem like the potential of the system as a whole is anywhere close to being fully tapped.

In order to cast a structured spell, the caster must communicate the structure of the spell in question to their soul. This is usually done by reciting a chant and performing a series of hand gestures. Specific words and gestures invoke specific spell elements, essentially explaining to the soul of the caster how it should go about constructing the spell boundary. The reason both chanting and gestures is typically used is to cut down on spellcasting time – by ‘speaking’ two things at once, the casting time is essentially halved. ‘Silent spells’ that only used gestures and ‘still spells’ that only use chants both exist, and naturally take far longer than regular spells to cast.

Although spell elements are bound to certain words and gestures (henceforth: proxies), the proxies do not possess power of their own. If a spell proxy is used in normal social interaction, by a person ignorant of its significance, it will invoke nothing except its mundane meaning. Even knowing that a word or gesture is a proxy is not enough. They must know exactly what the proxy stands for in order to use it.

Spell elements are not exclusively tied to one specific proxy. Modern mages typically use the Old Ikosian language and conventions in their spellcasting, but it is entirely possible to bind a spell element to another proxy. Doing this requires cooperation of a mage already capable of invoking spell elements, but this isn’t an especially stringent requirement. This is especially important for non-human species like aranea, who are incapable of mimicking human speech and hand movements, but even some human cultures find the default Ikosian magic vocabulary too alien for their liking. As such, spell elements are bound to new words and gestures all the time. It should be noted, however, that there are many spell elements and that the translation of the entire Ikosian spellcasting language into another functional spellcasting language is a major undertaking that can easily take decades of hard work to accomplish. On top of that, this makes it more difficult to use the bulk of existing magical literature, and is thus often more trouble than it’s worth.

Invoking a spell element successfully is obvious. Thus, if a mage performs a proxy incorrectly and fails to invoke a spell element, they will immediately know it. However, they can still ruin the spell without realizing it by missing some of the proxies, adding ones that shouldn’t be there or performing proxies in incorrect order.

In any case, although a spell boundary defines how the mana should be used to produce an effect, that doesn’t mean that performing the spell will result in a successful magical effect the first time its cast. The spell boundary simply narrows down the possibility space to something small enough that the soul can figure it out relatively quickly.

Still, even if the learning process is not instant, it is blazingly fast when compared to alternatives. Spells that would take decades of training if done through unstructured magic can be learned in a week, and things that would require a week of tireless repetition can be mastered in five minutes of practice.

There are trade-offs involved, of course. Although a spell boundary massively shortens the time necessary to learn a piece of magic, the rigidness of the mana construct limits the ability of the caster to adjust the effect of the spell beyond what is programmed into the spell boundary. Generally, the caster defines how the spell will behave when he casts the spells – after that, the magic mostly does its own thing and the caster has very limited ability to change its behavior beyond just dismissing it entirely and casting a brand new spell.

This inflexibility can be ameliorated by having a mage invest some of their time into unstructured magic related to often-used spells. Doing this allows the caster to use more loosely defined spell boundaries in their spells, which gives them more freedom in adjusting their effects to suit their needs at the moment. This practice is widely used among modern mages, and is the main reason why modern structured spells are so flexible compared to their ancient counterparts. Previously, a combat mage had to learn 15 individual variations of a fireball spell if they wanted to have a high degree of control over the blast radius, fire intensity and other variables. The modern version of the fireball spell can do everything those 15 variations did, provided one has sufficiently high shaping skills to actually cast the spell.

In addition to being inflexible, structured spells also require a rather lengthy casting procedure. This is both inconvenient and dangerous. Especially in battle but sometimes even outside of it – the longer the casting procedure, the more chances for something to do wrong or for the caster to be interrupted halfway through. And while unstructured magic can usually be dismissed or adjusted if something goes wrong, structured magic essentially offloads a lot of the mana shaping and safety control to the spell boundary… if it is damaged or improperly made, the caster could easily end up dead.

It is possible to shorten the casting time of structured spells. The first method is through spell formulas, which are outside the scope of this article. The second method is by casting a spell so often that it becomes reflexive. That is, the soul gets so proficient at shaping the mana into that specific spell that the mage in question can start gradually dropping proxies from the casting procedure one by one. Eventually, the spell can be executed with a single word or gesture… or even with a mere thought.

The problem is that it takes years for a spell to reach that level. Developing reflexive magic is not that much faster than developing unstructured magic.

Yetis, Trolls & Cranium Rats

The world holds many sapient species. Even on the three human-dominated continents, numerous rival species exist. This article gives a brief description of three of them: yetis, trolls and cranium rats.

Yeti:

Yetis are large, furred humanoids, about 2.5 meters tall on average, that live in the forests and mountains of Altazia, Hsan and Miasina. The fur is commonly a shade of brown, though some of the tribes are black or white instead. They are clearly some sort of ape, albeit one that is every bit as smart as humans. Despite having greater physical strength and intelligence that compares favorably to those of a human, conflicts between humans and yetis have nearly always gone badly for the yetis in the past, and they have been driven deep into their forests and mountain homes by human encroachment. This is largely because yetis seem incapable of organizing themselves into social units larger than tribes of about 200 individuals – different tribes do not trade between each other, or even interact much with one another, instead fighting each other and vying for territory with one another just as fiercely as they do against humans. The situation has only gone worse as time went by, as humans have advanced both magically and technologically, while most yetis still exist as a stone-age culture. Some yeti tribes do have impressive magic, but the impact of this is limited, as these tribes do not trade their insights with other yeti tribes.

There are also persistent rumors of hidden cities in the deep wilderness, populated by yetis that are far more technologically and magically advanced than their common brethren. These rumors remain just that for now, but they occur with sufficient regularity that most scholars think there may be something to them.

Trolls:

Making sweeping statements about trolls as a whole is somewhat tricky, as the species is very diverse. There are many troll subspecies scattered throughout the entire world, surviving in all manner of environments, and most regions have their own regional variety. The reasons for this dizzying variety of different trolls in the world is unclear, but it is clear that the species as a whole is far more prone to mutation than most other creatures.

That said, all trolls have some things in common. They are all very tall humanoids (ranging from 1.8 to 3 meters in size, depending on the subspecies and individual) with sharp teeth, clawed digits, and lean, muscular bodies. Trolls never seem to get fat, no matter how much they gorge themselves on food, and most experts agree their metabolisms are probably set up in such a way as to disallow it. Coloration spans all the colors of the rainbow – green, blue, red, purple, pink, even metallic silver trolls have been spotted in the wild. Most species have very prominent noses, as well as a keen sense of smell. Finally, every troll species possesses the signature regeneration ability that gives them their feared and coveted powers of self-healing. So long as their tissue is not chemically altered (such as being burned by fire or dissolved in acid), they can regenerate wounds with startling quickness, to the point where they can reattach severed limbs by pressing them against the appropriate stump and holding it there for half a minute or so.

Although their regeneration is their most famous ability, a troll’s body is very remarkable in general. Most poisons are ineffective against trolls, and they appear to be immune to all but the most magical of illnesses. Additionally, they have an iron stomach that can digest just about anything and derive nutrients from it… although they greatly prefer meat when they can get it, and behave like carnivores most of the time. Finally, all trolls are supernaturally strong and tough, even accounting for their great physical size.

Although trolls are sapient, all known subspecies are quite dim. Stories of them being outwitted by small children exist in nearly all cultures. Most are also high solitary, only tolerating others of their kind during mating. Even the most social of troll subspecies only exist in small family units that never number more than 15 or so individuals – the alpha pair of such groups will not tolerate additions to the group that aren’t their own children, so any of their progeny that wants a family of their own must leave the group.

Trolls have no compunction about eating sapient prey, and regularly feed on humans in areas where their territories meet. As such, humans mercilessly hunt trolls back, usually with the intent of turning their blood and flesh into powerful healing potions. Sometimes, trolls are captured and enslaved instead. Trolls make awful laborers, however, being too dim to understand complicated instruction and prone to violent tantrums if left unattended for even a second – instead, these trolls slaves are usually used as slave soldiers, by giving them armor and melee weapons and sending in front of the real army to soak up blows. These ‘war trolls’ are generally viewed very dimly by most people, especially if used anywhere near populated areas – war trolls have even less concern for civilians than regular soldiers. The practice of employing war trolls has been banned throughout most of Altazia, but is still employed by some anyway. Ulquaan Ibasa is notable for their extensive use of troll slaves in their armies.

Trolls are all shockingly primitive for a sapient species – they employ virtually no technology in their daily lives, and they are not known to employ any form of magic other than their innate abilities. They sometimes appropriate human tools for their own use, but these tend not to last long – few tools take a troll’s strength into account when it comes to their tolerances, and trolls are not known for their restraint.

Cranium Rats:

Cranium rats are hive mind organisms consisting of a swarm of normal-sized rats, which have a somewhat unique appearance – the top of their heads appear to have been sawed off, exposing the brain to open air. In reality, the brains are not nearly as exposed as they appear – there is a tough transparent film covering the brain matter, stopping dirt and such from entering the brain easily.

All individual cranium rats are telepathically connected into a single shared consciousness. The more rats there are in a swarm, the more intelligent the shared hive mind becomes. There is a limit, however, and a swarm that gets too big will eventually splinter into two or more smaller swarms, each with their own hive mind. It is rumored that bigger swarms are frighteningly intelligent, far outstripping the thinking power of a single human being, but this is hard to confirm – cranium rat hive minds are very alien in their thinking, and find humans just as bizarre, making communication difficult. Regardless, the average swarm is clearly comparable to a human in intelligence.

Cranium rat swarms are powerful mind mages, and can easily survive the loss of as much as half of their component rats. This, coupled with their ability to spread their rats over large areas, makes eradicating them difficult. Fortunately, cranium rats don’t have any special animosity towards humanity – though not exactly friendly, the swarms are content to live and let live most of the time. The swarms also largely view each other largely as competition, so it’s rare to see two or more swarms cooperating on a single goal.

Aranea and cranium rats covet similar territories, and both specialize in mind magic. This has led to frequent clashes between the two species, which have been steadily going worse for the cranium rats as time goes by. This is partially because araneas have gotten proficient in structured magic as well as their innate psychic powers, but also because the aranea have been far more adept into recruiting human mages to help them against the cranium rats. As a consequence, some swarms have actually begun to share information between each other and coordinate their anti-aranean activities.

It’s not quite a society yet, but it might be a beginning of one.