All sapient beings on Canno, and many items sapience once touched, have some link to magic. In its pure form, magic is an energy which does nothing yet has the potential to work wonders. Even though most cannot consciously direct magic or manipulate its Current the way mages can, all living beings direct it in some small way simply by living.
Within a body, magic functions just as the cells do. It responds in subtle ways to the wishes and whims of the mind and spirit, and in rare circumstances strong-willed individuals learn to perform a little magic without ever sensing it at work. Even if two people were exactly the same, the one who focused more on what she wanted while working towards it would see better results.
This extra mystic oomph is the primary reason that humans on Canno can do things that humans on Earth find impossible.
Magic exists everywhere on Canno, but not to the same degree. At one point, it was likely loosely concentrated around villages or other “densely” lived-in places. In this so-called “pooling” era, even the most powerful casters would’ve been no better than Apprentices in later times. But when magic users first arose en masse, they threw the entire system out of sync.
Magic users or mages are the broadest possible category of spellcaster, encompassing all people who have the ability to sense magic and deliberately drain energy from the surrounding area. This second power is the reason for magic’s ebb, flow and pooling across Van’s domain.
When a mage first arrives in an untapped area, it has no Current. In these dead zones a mage has no power beyond what they bring with them in enchanted robes or other items; many a tale concerns an arrogant mage tricked away from her power and shortly brought low.
However, if the dead zone lies close enough to another source of magic, the mage’s presence may create a “pool,” a localized but very limited source of magic. A powerful mage will drain this pool in no time whatsoever. If they leave it won’t replenish at all, and depending on the surroundings its return may take a few days or even a few weeks. But when it does, it comes back much stronger than it was before. Once created, a pool takes years bereft of sapient life to die entirely.
Over time, centers of spellcasting develop Current so mighty that draining it is effectively impossible, and the Current grows whenever used without regard for whether it’s drained or not. Unlike their aquatic namesakes, magic’s Currents do not actually displace anything. There’s no hypothetical limit to the amount of magic any or all of Canno can channel, except the number of sapient beings in any one area and how quickly its mages use it.
Occasionally, a colossal investment of spellpower by enough mages creates a Nexus. This self-sustaining Current persists for ages after sapient beings leave it. Early in the Age of Gravada, the best example of this is the Kedrul Basin, a holdover from the Loar War still echoing with the battle-might of ancient mages facing the Gaunt Ones.
Loose or “raw” magic intensifies. Magic disproportionately affects the high and low areas of a thing’s essence, and this causes constant oddities. A good helm in a zone of intense magical anomalies may survive where a masterwork with a single flaw would break, simply because the good helm’s quality is consistent all the way through. Bad gear is guaranteed to behave in all kinds of terrible ways.
Mutations beneficial, benign and malignant are all far more common in areas of disorganized magic. As for the spirit world, it becomes very easy for all kinds of things to reach the mortal plane. Mages learn early on to wield magic as soon as they pull it from the Current. Though the power feels heady, sharpens senses and strengthens the body, it hideously accelerates cancers and other hereditary diseases, as well as any illnesses otherwise easily fought-off.
In a Nexus such as the Kedrul Basin, the sheer density of Current has odd effects on time and space. In the Basin a mage can often achieve the results they wish simply by speaking of them; asking for a guide causes them to find that some local hunter has chased his prey miles off course, and that he did this to afford medicine for his sick children.
The mage, having the wealth that comes with spells for sale, will easily buy both medicine and the hunter’s loyalty. So it goes. Seams in garments long-since stitched shut will burst open at the slightest tugs of an arm, injuries forgotten for years will flare and break and fester.
Any people who live in a magically-charged area long enough begin producing mages after a long enough time, and because magic accrues naturally even to non-sensitive populations it’s only a matter of a few hundred years before any place at all starts to have mages. This means, in effect, that regulating the number of mages is impossible. Even a global government would have neither the resources nor the oversight needed to control more than a fraction of Canno’s casters.
Of course, many rulers are foolish enough, paranoid enough, or just plain spiteful enough to try anyway. In particular, the Schwarzhafener kingdom of Lobürg and several of the Torkan Free States have a ban on any magic users practicing without state sanction. The island duchy of Tsibli forbids any mages from visiting at all, a ban which only the poor and middle classes actually observe.
While far less stringent, all nation-states have some rules as to what mages may and may not do. In general, casting any spell on or at another individual without explaining its effects and receiving consent is illegal. Visual spells of aesthetics are acceptable and appreciated as much as any art if done right, but spells which undermine or interfere with the sense of passersby are punishable according to their strength.
Mages may cast any spells they wish on themselves and their property, with the understanding that they will be held accountable for any collateral effects and they can’t be sure of getting help in the event of experiments gone wrong. Mages who wish to cast spells in public must give ample warning of their intentions, and are expected to stop immediately if a majority of people ask it.
As of the beginning of the Age of Gravada, deliberate abuse of magic to injure, kill or otherwise assault others is handled by the Vigil’s Inquisitors or one of several similarly trusted and trained groups of magehunters. Local governments are expected to offer all requested aid to Inquisitors, and wise leaders prepare their people to give a little extra leeway when a case concerns the safety of the realm. Necromancy is almost universally condemned, with even its weakest branches meriting a death sentence. Only the Ton and Tresar allow necromancy, and the former cautiously.
Someone who knows how to animate a body without a soul, or give a new soul to an old body, understands the separation between the two enough to strip a living soul of its mortal coil. This is called soulbinding, and receives the harshest forms of execution. Soulbinding allows a necromancer to cheat innocent people of the afterlife, potentially imprisoning them forever. Indeed, the Lich Queen Binusi, called the Scourge of the Shards, bound many of her political enemies’ souls inside their own severed heads, encased them in led, and cast them to the bottom of the ocean. Most were never recovered.
Spells themselves are separated first into two main trees, Manipulation and Manifestation. Manipulation means the use of magic to affect objects, entities and energies already present. Manifestation is by far the more difficult, both by complexity and draining. It means using magic to create something which wasn’t there before. Some spells are all one or the other; enchantments are usually a careful balance of the two.
The primary styles of mage are these:
Arcanists: An arcanist, rather than mastering one particular school of magic, experiments in and comes to understand all of them. Arcanists are never the most powerful mages, but a master Arcanist can cast just about any spell conceivable. They’re invaluable as scholars of magic, helping to point the more specialized schools in new and exciting (or explosive) directions.
Enchanters: Enchanters function as a distinct subclass of mages in spite of the fact that they may use the methods of any of the other classes. Because the enchanter needs their spells to take effect without continual reinforcement, they must understand material science (and, if enchanting living beings, natural science) so as to weave their spells into the medium itself.
Hedgemages: A hedgemage is an amateur, talented or otherwise, with no formal training in the art of magic. Their methods may fall under any known school or even outside of them. While rare, some of them can be genuinely powerful.
Despite romantic folklore to the contrary, there are no erratic spikes of power, no “wild magic” or chancy perks to being a hedgemage. Both because hedgemages live isolated from the strong Current of spellcasting centers, and because they rarely understand the simplest arcane theories, they are weaker and less capable than professional mages in every way.
Invokers: An invoker relies on the essence of something in order to conjure it, casting magic by associations. To grow fast, she thinks of whizzing arrows or falling rain. To grow quiet, she thinks of birds of prey on the wing, and so on.
This form of magic is remarkably powerful if used correctly; a talented invoker gauges what associations will grant the best results for the spell she needs. A bad one falls back on clichés, or aims for sheer power to the point of being unable to control it. Invocation is limited by the caster’s knowledge and ability to hold multiple associations in mind at once.
Warlocks: These expressive casters use a mix of hand gesture and thought to guide their spells. The Warlock’s gestures can either enhance or counter the nature of the spell, allowing unmatched control over its power and area(s) of effect. Warlocks are still somewhat at risk, though unlike Will-casting most Warlocks learn a “cancel” motion which helps safely diffuse backfiring or botched spells.
Wizards and Witches, AKA Incanters: These rely (as expected) on incantations to cast their spells, but after this uniform answers are hard to come by. Some schools have their spells coded down to the letter, so that each letter invokes its own power. Others focus more on the sound of the words and the feeling they create.
Regardless, a given school’s incantations are its most sacred secrets, muttered under the breath rather than shouted aloud. The more of a school’s members who use a given spell, the more that incantation becomes inherently powerful. Thus, the older and larger a school, the more powerful its words will be.
Because each school focuses on its own words and the reasoning behind them instead of the broader arcane principles shared–however uneasily–by other styles of mage, and because a school can neither cast spells for which incantations do not exist nor cast anything without some risk of their incantations being overheard and passed around, Incanters tapered off during the Age of Splendors.
Their numbers surged during the Loar War, which favored their easily-learned style over the long-term supremacy offered by other schools, but have declined sharply in the millennium since. Only the Tresar maintain a country-wide, organized Incantation system.
Will-casting: Will-casting is among the most powerful and riskiest forms of magic. Rather than relying on associations or incantations or elaborate sets of hand-gestures to guide their magic, Will-casters learn to guide their magic with nothing more than direct will. This form of magic bypasses associations entirely; the spell expresses itself in as weak or powerful a form as the Will-caster wishes.
The downside is that it takes perfect truly concentration to cast spells in this manner. Inexperienced Will-casters are often injured, and not infrequently killed outright.
The slightest shift of mind or focus, even the hint of a wrong emotion, can cause catastrophic backlashes.
Even a simple candle-lighting may lead to a singed finger, which leads to fear of a burning hand, the burning hand summoning fear of full-body immolation. In the final flame-wreathed agonies, a panicking mind adds the terror of being unable to douse the flames.
Far too many promising initiates, experimenting alone against the will of their masters, have burned to death by this exact sequence. At the opening of the Age of Gravada, no professional body of casters is known to use or teach will-casting.
High Magic: An obscure school practiced solely by the Inquisitors of the Vigil. It offers power, reliability, and speed of use surpassing any of the other schools. Both the Vigil and arcane scholars insist that it isn’t will-casting, and the death rate among will-casting pioneers lends weight to the claims.
There are rumors here and there of a drunken or seduced Inquisitor letting slip that they learned the secrets from this shrine, or communing with that wild spirit, but no searcher has ever found the truth.
The most general rule in Cannoan magic, barring invocations, is that a mage must grasp the implications of a spell in order to cast it. They must know at least to some extent what it is they’re “asking” for and how best to “ask” for it. Knowing how lightning works, for example, isn’t necessary to cast a lightning bolt but makes it far more deadly. Understanding the workings of a given species’ body is crucial to healing or harming it, just as knowing what steel is and why it rusts is crucial for preserving or ruining it.
At best, ignoring these things will cause weak spells or fizzles. At worst, it causes incidents like Jarin’s Folly, a paradoxical arcane debacle in which a freezing firestorm caused frostbite as a real fire would third-degree burns, killing or horridly wounding half the court of Tsibli. This incident, of course, was the reason for Tsibli’s sttempted mage-ban.
While only some have the mage-genes caused by family history in arcane-heavy areas, all sapient minds wield small amounts subconsciously. This is what the sage Evard the Wizened, Grand Inquisitor Pelari Tur’s mentor, referred to as The Principle of Imbuement. “Ordinary” Cannoans constantly channel some magic into things without realizing they’re doing it.
Swordfighters strengthen their blades by hoping for them to be stronger, apothecaries get more potent potions with a little love, and priests are just a bit more miraculous.
This can backfire easily, however. Magic acts on thought, not necessarily desire. Hope functions as “asking” for a positive influence. Fear, then, does the opposite. The smith who fears his sword will crack when he cools it, finds that it more often does. The mage who fears fizzles is doomed to fizzles, if not a full backlash.
Mages are as notoriously stingy about their casting repertoire as sword-masters are of their schools’ techniques, and with the same excellent reason. Anyone who knows everything a mage does is free to select guaranteed killing strikes from spells they cannot counter. Many arcane duels, even between fairly good friends, come from the foolish urge to pry about another mage’s spells.
Hypocritically, many mages advertise by crafting “spellbooks” full of their best tricks (flamboyant descriptions, that is, not the actual means of casting them).
The primary limit on a mage’s power after casting style is physical conditioning. Channeling magic is deeply draining for the body, and Caster’s Fatigue can be fatal if taken too far. Even if they cast every spell perfectly, Initiates often incapacitate themselves through simple overwork.
This is particularly insidious for warrior-mages because Caster’s Fatigue functions on a separate level from ordinary overtraining fatigue. The “Unholy Triumvirate” includes these two combined with sleep deprivation from the survival response they provoke, and many warrior-mages end their careers with heart failure or stroke.
Over time, however, a mage’s body becomes more attuned to their particular brand of magic. Their spells become more effective and more efficient, which further augments their endurance. The most powerful mages must be exceptionally careful of their thoughts, as their attunement tends to cause “microspells”: sudden bursts of accidental magic. In rare cases, masters have killed people because they grew angry enough to cast a microspell as powerful as a lesser mage’s deliberate attack.
A mage always feels another mage through the current, and the ripples of spells in the casting. They may feel the strength of any one spell, but no more than this. No mage can ever sense the strength of another, any more than one swordsman sees his enemy’s skill by looking at his sword in the scabbard. The Arcanists’ Archive keeps a bustling library’s worth of parchments flying back and forth, analyzing battle-reports and enchantments, mage-duels and teaching sessions in desperate efforts to name the strongest of Canno’s mages.
But of course, they can only analyze those who come to their attention.
Though the Vigil show their power by their victories against even the grimmest necromancers, there’s next to no detail for any of it. Most of their triumphs come in the dead of night, with a sudden murderous flare and dour death-rites.
Some whisper of the dark inevitability: that one day mages will be common enough to rule. Against this their only fortress are the Vigil, and their sheltering hand may yet become the oppressor’s fist. The Inquisitors, again, are the strongest mages of all.