Magic in the World of Atria

Most of my fantasy writings are set in one fantasy world: the World of Atria. Atria happens to be the country in which my earliest (1978) creations (characters, stories) resided. In my not-published Tower books, it as the Atosian Empire from 2300 years ago.

Magic in that world is repeatable, observable and consistent; therefore it is analyzable and open to scientific understanding. Also, it is consistent with standard forms of science like physics, chemistry, thermodynamics, etc. It does, however, require generalizations and extensions to what we think of as conventional laws of science. Magic consists of a number of fields and forces that link to everything, including abstract thoughts and emotions. Consequently, unlike in some universes, it never runs out, never vanishes and has no moral good-bad connotation.

Humans, and most forms of life, are hybrid creatures having both a biochemical body (like us) and a magical body. Some living creatures have only a weak magical structure while others have very little, or no, biochemical component. Consequently, while there can be magical medicine, there also are magical diseases. Most witches, wizards, mages, warlocks, etc (henceforward: witches) are humans that have a magical side that can directly perceive and manipulate magical fields. There have been others who cannot perceive but can manipulate magic in some ways, so they tend to have unconscious abilities. The “Shadow”, Allison Davies and Mary Allbright are among those; so are half the characters in Thinking Outside the Tower. Some can gain such abilities through events, diseases, companions, etc, such as Arni in Dragon Awakening. Many cultures learn, often by observation or trial-and-error, to take advantage of the patterns in the magical fields that occur in nature. Others use “spirits” from the world around them, or of the dead, to create magical effects. (None of those appear in the Tower books.  See, for example A Greater Vision and other stories still in development. Yet others seem to be gifted with abilities by virtue of their religious devotions. (Yes, that can include humanists, agnostics and atheists).

Usually, about one in a thousand humans has the potential to be a witch. After the Day of Fire, that number dropped to about one in two-thousand, at least in the area around the “Tower of the Ancients”. The magical “genetic” markers had been vanishing from the population because of the persecution. However, the genetic “rules” are much more complex than for, say, eye-colour, (and aren’t DNA) so it is very difficult to eliminate the magical inheritance from a population. No one understands this, but mutations and recessive components mean that children can be a witches even if there has never been a witch among their ancestors.

When cooking, a chef is much faster than a novice following a recipe. Likewise, in the cultures before the Day of Fire, most witches learned to cast memorized “spells”, but could also cast spells from books, albeit slowly. Unlike in some systems, there was no need to “re-memorize” a spell. So long as the witch had energy left, spells could be re-cast. However, running out of energy was much like running out of conventional stamina, only worse. It usually has unfortunate consequences potentially including fatigue, nausea, weakness, unconsciousness, blindness, …

While witches in the local Empire’s governments were taught a particular set of spells, many other spells were ignored or were lost during and after the Day of Fire. Moreover, because of personal limitations, no witch can cast all spells. There are literally tens, and possibly hundreds, of thousands of spells, many of which have duplicate effects.  Only by trying can a witch discover whether she or he can cast any particular spell. Some witches can only cast spells of one type or more: water, fire, plants, mental, energy, transformations, etc.

Moreover, there is also great variety in the power that a witch can put into a spell, and even in the energy reserves a witch may have. Everyone (almost) has magical reserves, whether or not they can access them. Just like in “mundane” phenomena, more powerful effects will swamp weak ones, yet a well placed tool can defeat even massive castle walls.  However, using magic has consequences. If someone casts a spell to freeze water while a fish is in that water, that fish will likely die. Magically unfreezing the water won’t restore the fish. Trying to fly during a wind-storm using a spell that has a maximum speed of 15 miles/hour is a very bad idea. That witch is likely to be thrown around by the wind. Trying to save yourself from an unexpected fall by casting a flight spell is also problematic. Few witches can cast a spell in less than 5 seconds, and even that isn’t common. That means they need 400 ft of fall just to cast the spell. Then they need to decelerate, so easily need another 40 ft if they intend on living through the experience (and that assumes the spell can be controlled when travelling 109 miles/hour). Similarly, medical magic is just as dangerous as medical drugs and modern surgery. A bad combination or botched application will likely injure or even kill the patient. Creating a magical rainstorm could cause a drought somewhere else. Magic is not a replacement for knowing what you are doing.

Witches have intrinsic magical senses, but they do need energy to maintain those, so most witches will turn them off (shut their eyes, so to speak) when they aren’t needed. Moreover, many witches also have spells that enhance those senses.

There is one a source of confusion that needs to be addressed: invisibility comes in many forms. Some magic makes a person (or thing) invisible to normal light. Some spells will make a person invisible to magical senses. Yet other spells can mask a person from telepathic magic. There are very few spells that do more than one of those. Consequently magical invisibility is not invisibility caused by magic, but invisibility to magic.

Moreover being invisible to light often blinds the person involved, and few forms of invisibility are very effective if the person is moving. (BTW, there have been spells that make a person invisible to the whole electromagnetic spectrum, but those spells tended to be lethal to the target, since chemical bonds depend on electromagnetic fields. Unless other magic is used to prevent it, the target disintegrated.)

There is among us, and even among some of the inhabitants of Atria, much confusion about seeing through things.  Consider light.  Anyone who has eyes that see light (most humans) can see through glass walls.  None of us can see through a stone wall.  However, if magic allows light to pass through that stone wall, then everyone can see through it, just like a glass wall. Some (not all) magical fields pass through stone.  Therefore almost all witches can see through stone.  However, they don’t see light through stone.  Most importantly, the colours that normal humans see are properties of light, not magic.  Therefore, you can’t ever see the green-ness of grass through a wall that is opaque to light.  That is not to say that magic can’t create an illusion that an object is transparent, but that is different and has consequences different from actually being transparent.  For one thing, many illusions aren’t perfect.  For another, that means there must be some sort of detector (magical) on the other side of the apparently transparent object.

Superman (if there aver were one in that universe) can’t see a woman’s pink underwear.  If he used powers to see through her dress, then he’d see through her underwear, and probably even through her.  And if he did have a power that saw through a synthetic fabric dress to see her cotton underwear, they wouldn’t be pink, because pinkness is a property of light, and not a property of whatever emitted radiation (x-rays, gamma rays, infrared, magic) that he is seeing.   On the other hand he might infer a colour from what he is seeing, or call them pink because of the limitations of his humanoid brain and/or light-centric language.   But he could just as easily “see” a different colour (green, brown, yellow, blue, or even black) from what they actually were when seen with light.

Now, magic isn’t actually a single characteristic. Even “normal” magic uses multiple fields and senses. However, what is called elemental magic by some (others call it Deep Magic, God’s Magic, structural magic or key-magic) is an even deeper level of magic. Most witches can’t even perceive that, and even those that can usually can’t manipulate it. Without a symbiotic relationship with another magical entity, no mere mortal has ever had any but the most trivial abilities with it.

At the deepest levels, elemental magic has the power to fundamentally change the reality of the universe (or at least a local part of it). Very little of this is well understood by humans, although cutting-edge research in the years before the Day of Fire was beginning to create theories about some of this. Practical scientific study of elemental magic was difficult since at the time there were no living elementalists known to the global civilization.

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