The Magic of Isfalinis

As I mentioned in the last article, the development of my Etyni and their involvement in creation merged hand-in-hand with the development of the magical system of Isfalinis. In my endeavor to make my world as realistic as possible except for where I made specific choices otherwise, it was very important to me that the magical rules be just that… laws as solid and irrefutable as the laws of nature. In other words, magic is a science rather than an art. This doesn’t, of course, prohibit its use in ‘artistic’ ways. The creation of steel relates to melting points and the interaction of iron and carbon atoms. This is science. But steel can be used to make swords, armor, horseshoes, ships, skyscrapers, and so on, with each of these incorporating artistry. This is art from science. The Magic of Isfalinis behaves in the same way.

Along the lines of magic as science, I wanted to avoid it slipping in any way into religion. There are religions in Isfalinis as was discussed two weeks ago, but there are not magical clerics or anything of that sort. This means there is no divination. Prophecy exists, but it is outside the laws of magic. It cannot be achieved via sorcery. It also means there is no summoning… of the dead, of the undead, of demons, of anything at all. Magic in Isfalinis is the manipulation of what is, not the creation of something from nothing. Finally, it means no ‘possession.’ I am a firm believer in the importance of free-will. Each and every one of us has the ability to choose our every action. We may not always make the best or wisest choice, but we make them. We may be influenced by aspects of our nature (shorter temper, higher pain tolerance, lower inhibition, vulnerability to various addictive behaviors, etc.) and we may be influenced by our environment (our society, our region, our belief structure, our family, our friends, the climate, how much alcohol we’ve consumed, etc.) Ultimately, though, we decide. I have never cared for magic systems that remove free-will. For example, while I am an ardent fan of Robert Jordan’s epic “Wheel of Time” series, I was always troubled by the ability of thirteen Myrddraal and thirteen Black Ajah to “turn” another Aes Sedai into a servant of the Dark One. That cannot happen in Isfalinis. Certainly, individuals may be swayed that way through the temptations of wealth or power or vengeance. Likewise, they may be coerced for fear for a loved one or their own life or they may be tricked into doing something evil. But in each of these circumstances they could choose the opposite: poverty, weakness, humiliation, death, and so on.

So what is the science of Isfalinis’ magic system and how did it come about?

From the very beginning of the design process, sorcery in Isfalinis was verbal. The world was created by His Highest Above and the Etyni using “Words of Creation.” After the creation period, the presence and potency of such power diminished dramatically, leaving what scholars term a “Residue of Creation” that is used in the contemporary period of “Tears from Iron.” Items can be enchanted, though that takes a great deal of concentration and work with a high propensity for flaws. These items, however, don’t harness spells to be cast later. Instead, they make items more of what they already are. For example, a sword that never dulls. Some sorcerers may use staffs or wands or hand gestures, but these have no particular powers in and of themselves. There are no staffs that launch fireballs. Instead, such implements are aids to concentration. Sorcerers who come to rely upon tools like these may find their focus and powers increase, but they would be similarly crippled should they have to function without them.

Also from the very beginning I wanted sorcery to be accessible to all people in Isfalinis. They just have to know the right words to say in the proper order, they have to understand what those words mean, and they have to concentrate upon them. With practice, individuals become more skilled and powerful. Most people don’t know any of the words, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to learn. It has bothered me in other stories that magic behaved so differently than anything else. Certainly, we all can’t become Olympic sprinters, completing the 100 yard dash in a handful of seconds, but, barring injury, we can all run. Sorcery in Isfalinis works the same way. Everyone can use it, but some have more innate ability than others. This ability goes both ways, however. Those with the greatest potential (realized or not) as a sorcerer also have the greatest vulnerability to magic. A small percentage of the population can effectively use no magic at all, but these individuals are likewise invulnerable to the castings of others.

The specific nature of sorcery evolved heavily in the first decade or so of development before becoming almost completely solidified by about 2009 with only a few minor adjustments since then. The reason for this, I think, is that my earliest stories were what you might call magic-lite. Not having much sorcery, I didn’t focus on its development as much until later.

Next week, I’ll continue this discussion by looking at what might commonly be called the various ‘schools’ of magic. Or, as I term them, affinities.