Flintlocks & Fireballs
The discovery of magic
As the exploration of the hostile North began, individuals discovered that ruins like the ones found near Praxia were more common, and often in better condition. It wasn’t long before Selfheim’s university sponsored an expedition to the North. What Professors Thay, Ferny and Estarr found there changed the world.
The professors took some time to puzzle out the hieroglyphs they found, but they returned with the secret of the Praxites’ magical art, which centres around Etherite crystal.
Thay, Ferny and Estarr returned, loaded down with spellgems, and each lost no time in surrounding themselves with a clique of like-minded people. Each had their own theory of how magic worked, loaded with their own personal philosophy. And for a time, the only way to learn magic was to join one of their inner circles as an Order Mage and comprehend magic as coloured by their own dogma. Even today, most magical tuition comes side by side with the philosophies of Thay, Ferny or Estarr.
The Three are still alive, and are mostly embroiled in bitter academic power-struggles. Though they each carry a large number of spellgems as a manner of course, none of them have publically performed magic in some time; it’s probably safe to assume that they are about the most influential magi in the world.
But these days, a number of enterprising individuals are trying to forge their own path to magical power, and learn the same lessons as the Three taught themselves. These are known as Hedge Mages.
What the Orders will tell you
The Three Orders are as much philosophical institutions as they are arcane ones. The Three hold that without an understanding of what magic is, one cannot master it; and their explanations of magic as a phenomenon are inextricably tied to their philosophies.
Anna Ferny, and Fernal Absolutism: Anna is the fire-and-brimstone proponent of Fernal Absolutism — or ‘Infernal Absolutism’, as its critics call it. This teaches that the way of the world — the natural order, and the only true morality — is the domination of the weak by the strong; the strong in this case being defined officially as ‘those willing to do what is necessary to achieve their goals’ and in practice as ‘Anna Ferny’.
Those who follow Ferny’s interpretation of magic see Etherite as a lynchpin, a key component that holds reality together. By imposing their will on Etherite, they are thus able to impose their will, which is strong, on reality, which is weak.
Herman Thay, and Thay Solipsism: Thay argues that reality does not exist outside of our perceptions, and that our consensus understanding of how the world works is all that maintains it. A particular conclusion of this is that if you weren’t caught doing something, then it didn’t happen. Thay models Etherite crystals as impartial observers of reality, and argues that by influencing them ourselves, we are able to overload the consensus model of reality and reshape it to our will.
Simon Estarr, and Estarr Purists: Estarr’s philosophy began based on the staunchly religious interpretation that the power of Etherite-carving comes from the development of the Divine within oneself: that as a person kindled the Divine Spark, so too did their ability to perform miracles by carving spellgems.
Where his philosophy deviated from Incarnationist dogma was the idea that anybody, not just the Emperor, could achieve this — and by careful study of moral philosophy and reason elevate the Divine Spark in themselves to an unlimited degree, transforming themselves into a hyperrealist, a living demigod: that, effectively, the Emperor was no greater a ‘god’ than anybody else. By the time this heresy became widely-known, Estarr already had amassed significant political power within the University, and simply having him arrested was impossible. Besides, his official position had been carefully modulated. It was only in his private tutorials that Estarr’s tendency to self-apotheosis was so open.
What Hedge Magi will tell you
What a Hedge Mage will tell you depends on the Hedge Mage. Each has their own interpretation of magic and of why it works, which they have built themselves. This is far greater tied in with the mage’s personal psyche than is the case for an Order Mage: an Order Mage can understand a philosophy as a means of explaining the world without buying into it; a Hedge Mage lives and breathes her understanding of magic with religious fervour. Three examples of what a Hedge Mage might believe about magic are given below.
Laszlo Kynes is a Hedge Mage who believes Etherite to be the consolidated souls of the Praxites. He believes that by carving Etherite into the right shape he is able to commune with the Praxites’ souls and channel their knowledge and will, and hopes one day to understand what fate they have in store for him. Until then, he tries to surround himself with the trappings of the Praxites, as much as he can determine what they are from copies of Praxite hieroglyphs.
Nehrun Claris is a Hedge Mage who sees Etherite as a material which carries traces of the Divine; she carves it to shape it to her soul, so that she can better work alongside it, and works hard to cultivate the Divine inside herself, in the hope of creating an Etherite crystal of prodigious power from it upon her death.
Klaus der Veer theorises that Etherite is merely an incredibly pure material, capable of amplifying a user’s thoughts like a drum amplifies sound. He carves Etherite to better reflect his personality, in order to maximise the resonance, and is currently experimenting to determine what determines peoples’ ability to use another mage’s crystals.
What is for sure
Each mage has a specific set of patterns that work for him only, like a magical fingerprint, and deciding what you have to carve is a very personal affair; that said, it does sometimes seem to be possible to use another mage’s gems if your personalities are very similar, or if you’re a blood relative. (Some families of mages have passed down libraries of gems from father to son in this way for some time.) This is also very strongly coloured by your own personal understanding of how magic works and what it is, which is why the Three Orders managed to keep such a stranglehold on arcane power for so long.
The three Orders all began as secret societies within a university, and so came with the trappings thereof: flouncy hooded robes, secret symbols, silly hats, and so on. A number of order magi still pay homage to this; a number of others denounce them as pointy-hatted idiots in dresses, and go about their business wearing simple, ordinary clothes. Hedge mages tend to stick exclusively to simple clothes, unless they believe (and surprisingly many do) that wearing pure white robes and staying a virgin is a vital part of the magical process.
Transporting spellgems is a problem. While they’re not as fragile as the eggs they resemble, they can be chipped, so many mages — at least, those who want to make their power obvious — build them into staves or bracelets to protect them. More sub rosa types wear them in necklaces or belts under their clothing.