Magic is an important element in fantasy…one of its defining elements, really, regardless of the sub-genre you’re working in. It may take on different flavors or forms; it may be subtle in some settings and over-the-top and world-changing in others; it may be green or purple or quiet or loud, but in some form or another, fantasy almost always has magic.
Sometimes magic takes on something of a living and mutable form, like in C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy; sometimes it’s something that’s merely acknowledged, or else it has faded from prominent use, such as with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series; and sometimes it shapes the very way the world works both physically and politically, such as in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels.
How an author employs magic in his or her setting determines the tone and scope of their fiction. While I’ve written before on how magic works in the Blood Skies novels, today I’ll take the opportunity to talk a bit about how magic works in my upcoming epic fantasy City of Scars.
(For some background information on the novel, check out my recent blog post.)
Magic on the world of Malzaria is prevalent and very dangerous, and its source is called The Veil: an intangible, non-physical energy capable of producing tremendous effects if one is properly trained.
The variety of effects The Veil can produce is near limitless, and largely depends on the skill and strength of the individual mage. The Veil can be used to create blasts of fire or conjure blades from thin-air; it can heal the sick or reduce the effects of aging; it can allow instantaneous transport across great distances or compel the minds of others.
Naturally, using this power comes at a price. The Veil is not an infinite energy source, and as it’s depleted the very blood of the world runs thin. The Veil is required for the existence of life: without it, babies can’t be born, plants can’t grow, and water won’t fall from the sky.
The problem is that no one knows how much of The Veil is left. Even the most learned sages and scholars don’t know how long The Veil will last, so in most places the use of magic has been banned. In the Empire of Jlantria, for example, only Veilwardens of the Three Houses are permitted to use The Veil, and they (supposedly) do so only under the Empress’s close supervision.
But even with restrictions in place, magic is still widely used, both legally and illegally. Renegade mages practice magic with little regard for the effects it will someday have on the world…in truth, even those sanctioned to use magic aren’t much better. The fact that no one can tell how much of the energy is left makes it difficult for the eventual consequences of using it up to seem real, especially when so much magic was yielded in the decade-long Rift War. Even those supposedly sworn to protect The Veil’s existence often practice magic irresponsibly.
There are two types of traditional mages on Malzaria: Veilwardens and Bloodspeakers.
Veilwardens are trained in the use of The Veil through years of intensive schooling and study. Tremendous effort and concentration are required to produce even moderate effects from The Veil, so only those sufficiently strong of mind and body prove capable of enduring the physical and psychological demands of practicing magic on a regular basis. The name “Veilwarden” derives from the notion that these mages are taught to only make use of magic when it is absolutely necessary, usually in defense of the Empires or The Veil itself.
Veilwardens are trained by their forebears in small universities controlled by the two Empires (Jlantria and Den’nar). In both regions the Veilwardens report to the ruling monarchs, and only a handful exist at a time (though Jlantrian Veilwardens easily outnumber those in Den’nar).
Renegade Veilwardens are outlaws, traitors to the Empires who either received training before fleeing service or who learned baser methods of magic from criminal tutors or freelance academies.
When a Veilwarden uses magic it is referred to as “Touching the Veil”, for they draw the energy needed to create their arcane effects directly from The Veil itself.
Feared outlaws, Bloodspeakers are born not with the ability to Touch the Veil, but with part of the Veil inside of them. This means a Bloodspeaker does not draw on The Veil like a Veilwarden does; rather, their very birth weakens the foundation of The Veil, as a finite amount of that greater energy source is shunted away and stored in this new mage’s blood.
Bloodspeakers generally can’t produce as dramatic effects as Veilwardens can, and they are limited to charms, mind tricks, illusions and simple combat conjurations. Bloodspeakers are usually easy to identify by a blackish tint to the their tongues, which becomes even more apparent when they use their magic, or “Breathe the Veil”. Bloodspeakers neither need nor generally receive any formal training. In the Empire of Jlantria, being a Bloodspeaker is enough to make one an outcast; in some people’s eyes being born a Bloodspeaker is blasphemy and treason, and therefore punishable by death.
Because they are limited to the reserve of energy they are born with, every time a Bloodspeaker uses magic they are literally drawing on their own life force. Eventually, when that energy is gone, they die. In spite of this shortcoming, many Bloodspeakers enjoy reasonably short lives as outlaws and revolutionaries.
A second, lesser known form of magic is Shadowmancy, which draws upon death energies like most mages draw on the life energy of The Veil. Little is known of Shadowmancers, save that their numbers are growing, and that their existence is an even larger threat to the world than that presented by Bloodspeakers.
Steve wishes he was an all-powerful sorcerer. That would be awesome.
For more on the Blood Skies novels or the upcoming Skullborn Trilogy check out his site, bloodskies.com.
(Images used above are borrowed from the internet.)