The Magic of Isfalinis Part II: Affinities

Last week, I began the discussion of magic in the world of Isfalinis by going over its basic concepts. Magic is based on spoken words. It is a science and not an art. Thus it follows strict rules and is accessible to anyone who knows the words to say. But much like any other ability in our own world, there are those who are innately better at it. Whatever this raw ability may be, it means little without knowledge and practice. This week, I’m going to continue this discussion by looking closer at the details of sorcery.

Fairly early on, I resolved on eight different sorcerous ‘affinities.’ These included the four classic elements of earth, fire, water, and air that were the purview of the Etyni sibling-pairs per the article from two weeks ago. In addition to these, I had four other affinities that might be called celestial or, perhaps, metaphysical. I termed them luminants: life, light, shadow, and darkness/death with the latter of these being considered ‘evil.’ I envisioned these eight aspects as being like the spokes of a wheel with the elementals and luminants intermixed. This means that some are more similar (such as fire and light) while others stand opposite each other (like fire and water). Envision the four elementals to be spokes to the wheel that span it in the shape of an ‘x’ while the four luminants cross over them like a ‘+’. Beginning at the top and working clockwise, they are: Darkness/Death, Earth, Shadow, Water, Life, Wind, Light, and Fire.

If you look at this list and its arrangement, you may see some challenging comparisons. The traditional juxtapositions of fire and water, wind and earth are familiar and work easily. It also makes sense that life and death are opposites, but what about darkness? Isn’t darkness the opposite of light, with shadow lying somewhere in-between? I might have “solved” this by changing shadow to darkness, thus making it light vs. darkness and life vs. death. Yet when I envisioned darkness for the magic of Isfalinis, I imagined something more metaphysical than literal. Even so, I grappled with the terminology and the potential confusion it could cause.

Additionally, I had my Etyni and their relationship with magic to contend with. As I established two weeks ago, eight of the Etyni (including Cydion before his fall) personified the four classic elements with one member of each pair embodying its physical nature and the other its mental nature. To the remaining three Etyni I ascribed more general qualities: Isi personified mental traits in general while Zaris personified the physical. Oltos, the Lord of Balance, naturally represented all of the aspects of the world and sorcery in balance. But who champions the luminant affinities? I wasn’t about to throw my cosmology into chaos by introducing eight more Etyni. For a time, I considered allocating Life and Darkness/Death to Cydion (as was discussed already, he has been called the Lord of Life and Death). If that assignment was made, then it made sense to give Light and Shadow to Niella, the shaper of the sun and matron of the shapers of the moon and stars. But this would have meant that Cydion and Niella not only share ‘fire’, but also are tied to four additional affinities for a total of five. That hardly seems fair given six other Etyni share the remaining three affinities! While it matched one form of logic, it ran in the face of another.

The solution was that each of the Etyni affect two ‘affinities’. Their primary elemental along with one of the adjoining luminants. Eight affinities for eight Etyni. And why not just give each Etyni one affinity? This solution might seem obvious, but only if you look at magic alone. There is a significant difference between the elementals and the luminants. Fire, earth, water, and air are all tangible things comprised of atoms that can be touched and felt. Can you feel light or shadow? Sure, we may associate them with warmth and cold, but that’s because they are paired with the presence or absence of heat. Fire causes light. Other objects get in the way of that light (and heat) and cause shadow (and cold). Now consider life and death. In Isfalinis, the Etyni didn’t create life. Life came exclusively from His Highest Above. It was for the Etyni (or more specifically, the Cyrleni) to give physical shape to the life His Highest Above created. The true ‘spark’ that causes something to be alive is beyond them. In the interests of brevity, I’ll save further complexities of the Etyni and their relationships to the affinities for another time. The point, for purposes of this article, is that I had found a way for eight Etyni to account for eight affinities with Oltos, Zaris, and Isi accounting for a broader balancing affect.

I’ve already mentioned that all sentient peoples have varying levels of proficiency with sorcery. In the same way, each individual has a greater predilection to one affinity. Hence the name. They are strongest in their own affinity and gradually grow weaker as they move around the spokes of the wheel to the far side. For example, Ninanna of “Tears from Iron” has an affinity with water, meaning she is incapable of manipulating fire. But she has some skill with shadow and life which lie adjacent to water. Likewise, the sorceress Medreuneth is adept at earth but unable to manipulate wind.

Around the time I solved the problem of the Etyni and the affinities, I also made an effort to make sorcery more elegant. I have one of my writing friends to thank for this. His observation was that the classic fire, water, wind, and earth are boring and overdone… bordering on cliché. Make them more interesting! And that’s exactly what I did (or at least tried to do). I thought about how the elemental affinities represented aspects of the world which was brought to ‘life’ by the fires in its heart. Using that life-theme, I renamed the elemental affinities as if they were aspects of a living thing. Thus fire became the “Heart of Isfalinis”, earth became the “Flesh”, water the “Blood”, and wind the “Breath.” Continuing that as a celestial theme, I renamed the luminants such that light became the “Beacon of the Heavens”, shadow became the “Veil”, and life became the “Spark.” The last to change was Darkness/Death which I wholly reworked. It now became the “Void of the Heavens.”

I defined Void as true absolute emptiness. Not just physical darkness, which can easily be wrapped into shadow. It also isn’t simply ‘death’, though death did come from the Void. Something that dies ceases to have life, but it still is. Our bodies decompose, becoming part of the earth (flesh) again. The ‘Void’ is the nothingness that all creation came from. Before the Age of Creation, there was nothing at all, then His Highest Above created something. He pulled existence from the Void. To turn back to the discussion a couple paragraphs back, only His Highest Above has the capacity to create life and only he has the ability to create something from nothing. The magic of Isfalinis cannot do this. That being said, ‘Void’ magic can reverse the process. Sort of. It is the sorcery of uncreating. Because of this, ‘Void’ sorcery is considered anathema by most peoples of the world.

I plan to provide more information in the future on the nuances of sorcery in the world of Isfalinis. This includes a deeper study of the eight affinities, how they work and struggle against each other to comprise a balanced whole, and the role of the Void of the Heavens in its essentially contrary position to the other seven affinities and creation itself. I believe the format for this will be as a treatise written by Lady Erpitha, a friend and compatriot of the Sorceress Medreuneth of the Kayrstaran Empire.

Next week we’ll move from the metaphysical to the physical as we chart the lands and seas of Isfalinis.