Regarding Canno: Cannoan Magic

(Author’s note, 5/1/2021: Though years old, most of this article still holds true! The reader must remember, though, that it reflects the most commonly-held Cannoan opinions of the arts arcane as of the year 1295 V.R. Merely to write about a real thing does not make every word written of it true. Even the wisest mage can be led astray by preconceptions, nor is the most commonly-held opinion at all the same as the wisest.

And, I may or may not have altered a few key details the same day I left this note…
Addendum, 5/2/2021: I lied, or at any rate, I shouldn’t have written the first note before I actually finished my revisions. It’s actually somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 words of all-new material, with lots of tweaks here and there to boot. I can’t say for sure because I didn’t keep an exact word count of the lore I excised.)

(Cw: classism, death, gore)

All sapient beings on Canno, and many items sapience once touched, have some bond with magic. Pure-form magic  courses through its own plane of existence. It overlaps realms mortal, ghostly, and divine when they call to it strongly enough. This energy does nothing by itself, yet when seized by a strong will and a learned mind it works wonders. Even though most cannot consciously channel magic and manipulate its current the way mages can, all living beings touch it in some small way simply by living.

Once it enters a body, magic responds just as the cells do. It warps in subtle ways to the wishes and whims of the mind and spirit. Some arcane scholars claim that, in rare circumstances, strong-willed individuals learn to perform a little magic without ever sensing it at work. They write that if two people were exactly the same, the one who focused more on what they wanted while working towards it would see better results.

No hard evidence exists for this hypothesis. Many of the most famous Cannoan mages regarded it as an understandable but childish fantasy. It’s lovely to imagine that anyone might have some magic in them, true. Reality remains reality, and is never so kind. The legendary archmage Morsibrand dismissed the entire hypothesis as “a well-meaning balm but disastrous, a false lure for the mundane into trials they cannot surpass.”

Morsibrand’s writings are, of course, the best source of knowledge about magic during the Age of Splendors. Almost thirteen hundred years since his death, the brightest minds in arcana can only imagine the secrets he knew. Secrets he was forced to consign to the ages, along with all the other arcane writings he and his followers destroyed. Most agree they made the best choice they could under poor circumstances.

To cast out the surviving lore of the arts magic was, sadly, the only sure way to prevent their abuse in the chaotic age Morsibrand knew would come following the Loar War. To this day his “A Poor Attempt at the Arcane” stands as the very best instruction for fledgling and adept mages alike. To impugn his authority on any arcane theorem would go beyond the pale.

Magic exists everywhere on Canno, but not to the same degree. At one point, it was likely loosely concentrated around large villages or other “densely” lived-in places. In this so-called “pooling” era, even the most powerful casters would’ve been no better than apprentices in later times. There must have been long stretches in early Cannoan history when whole civilizations lived without ever seeing true mages, magic, or the spirits and demons often summoned by them.

But when magic users first arose en masse, they threw the entire balance into mayhem. Magic users or mages are the broadest possible category of spellcaster. This title encompasses all who bear the ability to sense magic and deliberately channel its flow where its own plane of reality touches the surrounding area. This second power has great implications for magic’s ebb, flow and pooling across Van’s domain.

When a mage first arrives in an untapped area, it has no current. In these dead zones a mage has no power beyond what they bring with them in enchanted robes or other items. Many a tale concerns an arrogant mage tricked away from the current’s touch and shortly brought low.

However, if the dead zone lies close enough to another source of magic, the mage’s presence may create a “pool:” a localized and very limited source of magic. A powerful mage might drain this pool with a single full-strength spell. If they leave it won’t replenish at all, and depending on the surroundings its return may take a few days or even a few weeks. A pool given this grace period to recover comes back much stronger than it was before. Once deepened this way, it takes years bereft of sapient life to die entirely.

The same laws that allow these humble pools to multiply mean that centers of spellcasting develop current so mighty that draining it is effectively impossible. The current grows whenever used without regard for whether it’s drained or not. Unlike their aquatic namesakes, magic’s currents do not actually displace anything. There’s no clear limit to the amount of magic any or all of Canno can channel, except the number of sapient beings in any one area and how quickly its mages use it.

Some spellwrights claim that since magic responds more readily the more current an area possesses, there must sooner or later come an age of overflow. An age when the great arcane centers have such staggering amounts of current that even those deemed non-mages in the present era can tap it. They prophesy this as an age of ruin heralded by all the small disasters that come from the untutored tapping the power arcane.

The broader arcane community remains undecided on this idea. While it does seem a logical argument, there’s just no evidence for its truth. If such an overflow were possible, they say, then it should’ve manifested at least a few small signs. Signs at arcane centers that survived the Loar War, like the Arkanisches Universität Helenenburg in Stoßdär, or the Gestul Missagt in Enclave Chiir of the northern Grast.

Occasionally, a colossal investment of spellpower by enough mages creates a nexus. This self-sustaining current persists for ages after sapient beings leave it. The Kedrul Basin stands as a favorite example among scholars, a holdover from the Loar War still echoing with the battle-might of ancient mages facing the Gaunt Ones. The magic at a nexus behaves in far different ways from the ordered current around centers of arcane study.

Loose or “raw” magic intensifies all the realities it touches. Magic disproportionately affects the high and low areas of a thing’s essence, and this causes constant oddities. A good helm in a zone of intense magical anomalies may survive where a masterwork with a single flaw would break, simply because the good helm’s quality is consistent all the way through. Bad gear inevitably behaves in all kinds of terrible ways.

Mutations beneficial, benign and malignant are all far more common in areas of disorganized magic. As for the spirit world, it becomes fearfully easy for all kinds of entities to reach the mortal plane.

In a nexus such as the Kedrul Basin, the sheer density of current has odd effects on time and space. A mage visiting the Basin can often achieve the results they wish simply by speaking of them. Asking for a guide may cause them to find that some local hunter has chased his prey miles off course. If the mage lacks for easier ways to enlist his aid, they may find that he did this to afford medicine for his sick children.

The mage, having the wealth that comes with spells for sale, will easily buy both medicine and the hunter’s loyalty. So it goes. For non-mages the effects are random and just as often disastrous as helpful. Seams in garments long-since stitched shut will burst open at the slightest tugs of an arm, injuries forgotten for years will flare and break and fester.

Any people who live in a magically-charged area long enough begin producing mages after a long enough time.  Because magic accrues naturally even to non-sensitive populations it’s only a matter of a few hundred years before any place at all starts to have mages. This means, in effect, that regulating the number of mages is impossible. Even a global government would have neither the resources nor the oversight needed to control more than a fraction of Canno’s casters.

Of course, many rulers are foolish enough, paranoid enough, or just plain spiteful enough to try anyway. In particular, the Schwarzhafener kingdom of Lobürg and several of the Torkan Free States have a ban on any magic users practicing without state sanction. The island duchy of Tsibli forbids any mages from visiting at all, a ban which only the poor and middle classes actually observe.

While far less stringent, all nation-states have some rules as to what mages may and may not do. In general, casting any spell on or at another individual without explaining its effects and receiving consent is illegal. Visual spells of aesthetics are acceptable and appreciated as much as any art if done right, but spells which undermine or interfere with the senses of passersby are punishable according to their strength.

Mages may cast any spells they wish on themselves and their property. In most countries they do this with the understanding that they will be held accountable for any collateral effects and they can’t be sure of getting help in the event of experiments gone wrong. Mages who wish to cast spells in public must give ample warning of their intentions, and are expected to stop immediately if a majority of people ask it.

As of 1295 V.R., deliberate abuse of magic to injure, kill or otherwise assault others is handled by local mage’s guilds and court sorcerers–ideally, mages of surpassing skill and willpower who serve raining monarchs as secondary, arcane- focused heads of state. If a rogue mage proves too potent to kneel before these authorities, a new answer has arisen: the peerless arcane force of Inquisitors from the Sleepless Vigil.

Having invited them within their borders, local governments are expected to offer all requested aid to Inquisitors. Wise leaders prepare their people to give a little extra leeway when a case concerns the safety of the realm.

Necromancy, though long held in suspicion by the more learned scholars of Ceslon and Anseth, was common across Canno in the ungoverned centuries just after the Loar War. Yet the public have finally awakened to its dangers in the past century. Now it is broadly condemned. In the nations of the Black Havens, such as Stoßdär, even its weakest branches merit a death sentence. Only the Grast and Tresar enshrine necromancy on a broad scale.

Nor is this condemnation without cause! Someone who knows how to animate a body without a soul, or give a new soul to an old body, understands the separation between the two enough to strip a living soul of its mortal coil. This fell art is called soulbinding. It receives the harshest forms of execution.

And why should it not? Soulbinding allows a necromancer to cheat innocent people of the afterlife. A necromancer vicious and inventive enough may all too easily imprison a murdered innocent forever. Indeed, the undead Queen Binusi, called the Scourge of the Shards, was rumored by her captured attendants to have bound many of her enemies’ souls inside their own severed heads, encased them in lead, and cast them to the bottom of the ocean.

After her initial landing in the continental archipelago of the Shards, she expanded the practice to any foe living, spirit, or undead foolish enough to stand against her face-to-face. From then on she bound their souls within grotesquely-engraved clay vases. She shaped each by her art to a random recipe of sediments, so that even other pieces of the slain’s body could not be used to locate their prison.

Most have never yet been recovered.

Spells themselves are separated first into two main trees, Manipulation and Manifestation. Manipulation means the use of magic to affect objects, entities and energies already present. Even the most powerful mages prefer to rely upon it. No matter how great one’s knowledge of chemistry or thermodynamics, it will always be easier to siphon just enough current to alter the existing elements in the air to form a sleep-inducing gas, or condense the benign warmth of a summer day spread across a courtyard into a steel-melting sphere.

Manifestation is by far the more difficult, both by complexity and its raw drain on the body. It means drawing enough pure current to introduce completely new energy or matter to Canno. Save as a vulgar display of power, there’s no known reason why a mage would ever use pure manifestation: the drain on the body is determined by the amount of current passing through it, not the scope of the spell.

The same mage who could only create a fire five feet across with pure manifestation could create one a thousand or more feet across by manipulating the heat already present. Some scholarship from the Age of Splendors suggests that there may have been an obscure benefit to relying on manifestation, but if so, it wasn’t of benefit enough to be remembered during the Loar War. Most contemporary mages consider that reason enough to let it die.

Enchantments are a rare middle ground in which the best require a careful balance between manipulating existing matter while fomenting the changes manifested in it by the current.

The most-recognized styles of mage are these:

Enchanters: Enchanters function as a distinct subclass of mages in spite of the fact that they may use the methods of any of the other classes. Because the enchanter needs their spells to take effect without continual reinforcement, they must understand material science (and, if enchanting living beings, natural science) so as to weave their spells into the medium itself.

Enchanters who can work with living, sapient people live on shaky ground. Though their skills are prized, they and their peers know full well that it’s just a short journey from weaving spells into a weak living muscle to strengthen it, to weaving spells into dead muscle to animate it as though it were living. Many of the same dissecting experiments essential to becoming a skilled flesh-enchanter could all too easily lend themselves to necromancy.

Gesticulators: These expressive casters use a mix of hand gesture and thought to guide their spells. The Gesticulator’s gestures can either enhance or counter the nature of the spell, allowing unmatched control over its power and area(s) of effect. Gesticulators are still somewhat at risk of triggering a misfire or losing control of a spell due to muscle spasms or simple mistakes under adrenaline. Those who plan to use their spells in battle or under duress always condition a “cancel” motion which helps safely defuse backfiring or botched spells.

Hedgemages: A hedgemage is an amateur, talented or otherwise, with no formal training in the art of magic. Their methods may fall under any known school or even outside of them. While rare, some can be genuinely powerful.

Despite romantic folklore to the contrary, there are no erratic spikes of power, no “wild magic” or chancy upsides to being a hedgemage. Because hedgemages live isolated from the strong current of spellcasting centers, because they rarely understand the simplest arcane theories, and because they have no access whatsoever to the science essential to turning those theories into thaumaturgical practice, they are weaker and less capable than professional mages in every way.

High Magic: An obscure school practiced solely by the Inquisitors of the Vigil and rumored to be the invention of the mysterious Grand Inquisitor themselves. It offers power, reliability, and speed of use surpassing any of the other schools. Both the Vigil and arcane scholars insist that it isn’t will-casting. The one hundred percent death rate among would-be will-casting pioneers renders these claims as manifest fact.

There are rumors here and there of a drunken or seduced Inquisitor letting slip that they learned the secrets from this shrine, or communing with that wild spirit, but no searcher has ever found the truth. Some, their friends and families whisper, have gone missing in the search.

Invokers: An invoker relies on the essence of something in order to conjure it, casting magic by associations. To grow fast, she thinks of whizzing arrows or falling rain. To grow quiet, she thinks of birds of prey on the wing, and so on.

This form of magic is remarkably powerful if used correctly. A talented invoker gauges what associations will grant the best results for the spell she needs. A bad one falls back on clichés, or aims for sheer power only to lose all control. Invocation is limited by the caster’s knowledge and ability to hold multiple associations in mind at once. It also tends to be measurably slower; even elite invokers trained for combat still need a few fractions of a second to weave together the right notions for a spell. Their grasp of timing and skill with simpler stop-gap spells determines whether they survive long enough to unleash the unparalleled variety of powers they can command.

Spellwrights: A spellwright, rather than mastering one particular school of magic, experiments in and comes to understand all of them. Spellwrights are never the most powerful mages, but a master spellwright will always be able to devise a workable spell to deal with a problem under any caster’s field. They’re invaluable as scholars of magic, helping to point the more specialized schools in new and exciting (or explosive) directions.

Incanters: These linguistic mages rely (as expected) on incantations to cast their spells, but after this uniform answers are hard to come by. Some schools have their spells coded down to the letter, so that each letter invokes its own power. Others focus more on the sound of the words and the feeling they create.

Regardless, a given school’s incantations are its most sacred secrets, muttered under the breath rather than shouted aloud. Through some as yet undiscovered arcane principle, the more of a school’s members who use a given spell, the more that incantation becomes inherently powerful. Thus, the older and larger a school, the more powerful its words.

Because each school focuses on its own words and the reasoning behind them instead of the broader arcane principles shared–however uneasily–by other styles of mage, and because a school can neither cast spells for which incantations do not exist nor cast anything without some risk of their incantations being overheard and passed around, Incanters tapered off during the Age of Splendors.

Their numbers surged during the Loar War, which favored their easily-learned style over the long-term supremacy offered by other schools, but have declined sharply in the millennium since. Only the Tresar maintain a country-wide, organized Incantation system.

Will-casting: Will-casting is the riskiest form of magic. Many scholars daydream about it and scribe idle-minded essays about how it would surely be the most potent as well. Rather than relying on associations or incantations or elaborate sets of hand-gestures to guide their magic, hypothetical Will-casters would learn to guide their magic with nothing more than direct will. This form of magic would bypass associations entirely. The spell would express itself in as weak or powerful a form as the Will-caster wishes.

The downside is that it takes perfect truly concentration to cast spells in this manner. Inexperienced Will-casters would often be injured, and not infrequently killed outright. The slightest shift of mind or focus, even the hint of a wrong emotion, could cause catastrophic backlashes. The very obtuseness of all viable casting styles is a response to this. Gesticulation, Incantation, Invocation: in some way all sublimate the conscious decisions of spellcasting as subconscious implications to trained cues like gestures, symbolism, or words.

All work on this same principle precisely because they prevent the mage from thinking about the spell itself directly, and thus, thinking directly about how terrifyingly easy it is for magic to go wrong.

Will-casting exists. It’s the natural state of all mages. It’s simply so over-responsive as to be impossible to use safely.

A spell to concentrate heat–the most basic exercise in thermodynamic magic!–might lead to a singed finger. This would lead to fear of a burning hand. Fear of the burning hand would twist the spell to make it real. Fear of the burning hand would summon fear of full-body immolation. In the final flame-wreathed agonies, a panicking mind would add the terror of being unable to douse the flames.

Far too many promising initiates, experimenting alone against the wisdom of their masters, have burned to death by this exact sequence–all too often, having written in their journals the night before “All is ready. Tomorrow I shall do it. I shall be the first to master will-casting!” As of 1295 V.R., no professional body of casters is known to use or teach will-casting.

The most general rule in Cannoan magic, barring invocations, is that it operates under the principles of thaumaturgy. A mage must grasp the implications of a spell in order to cast it. They must know at least to some extent what it is they’re “asking” for and how best to “ask” for it.

A mage must know how lightning works to cast a lightning bolt–not simply its processes, but a reasonable portion of the hard numbers that define these processes: temperature, voltage, amperage, and more. The firmer the knowledge, the deadlier the bolt. Nor are the numbers alone enough! The mage must experiment, witness lightning both natural and artificial, and ideally create test scenarios replicating the exact way they hope to use the bolt until they are as at home in its memory as any recollection of childhood, home, and hearth.

This combination of theory and practice forms what academic magic refers to as a caster’s field: a science studied with the deliberate intention to cast magic through understanding it.

The list goes on. Understanding the workings of a given species’ body is crucial to healing or harming it, just as knowing what steel is and why it rusts is crucial for preserving or ruining it. A mage who wishes to summon a spell within a substance, such as one who wishes to cause a fissure in the ground, must understand both mechanics with regard to kinetic energy and geology. A mage who would move stone like water will most likely spend decades quantifying every minute trait of every strata. It’s a deceptively simple principle: more effort in the library, more power in the current.

Untutored flailing isn’t even an option for many, many reasons:

Mages learn early on to wield magic as soon as they pull it from the current. Though the power feels heady, sharpens senses and strengthens the body, it hideously accelerates cancers and other hereditary diseases, as well as any illnesses otherwise easily fought-off. This should serve as a warning to the wise about how devastating the consequences can be when an incompetent or understudied mage attempts a spell beyond their grasp.

At best, such irresponsibility will cause weak spells or fizzles. At worst, it causes incidents like Jarin’s Folly, a paradoxical arcane debacle in which a freezing firestorm caused frostbite as a real fire would third-degree burns, killing or horridly wounding half the court of Tsibli. This disaster provoked Tsibli’s attempted mage-ban.

Jarin was a special case. Most mages of any power who open themselves to the current, whether by trying too hard to force current into a non-viable spell, through loss of control by sheer exhaustion, or in rare cases by deliberate effort, immolate themselves in an instant spectacular explosion.

These blasts all manifest the same way, larger and hotter in direct proportion to the obliterated mage’s power: briefly outshining the sun. Burning cloth, foliage, and flesh in the immediate surround to vapor. Casting forth superheated air and gas as a sky-splitting shockwave that levels the proudest trees and sunders fortress walls like kindling. Afflicting the scorched land for hundreds or thousands of meters with an evil and as-yet unquantified pestilence that poisons all people it touches to rot while they’re still alive.

By unanimous agreement, no Cannoan army will accept a military mage who has not consigned their soul to divine punishment if they deliberately weaponize this blast on the battlefield. The nightmare vision of a world scorched by constant false-dawns as mages trained solely for maximum power draw embrace the current to break armies–it is as chilling as the tales of the Loar War.

Fortunately, mages have as much cause as anyone to thwart that future. While rogue mages acting as the leaders of peasant rebellions and insurgent movements may threaten to open themselves to the current, only one in a thousand would ever actually dare it. The retribution meted out on the survivors of their cause would surely be too appalling to record.

Mages are as notoriously stingy about their casting repertoire as sword-masters are of their schools’ techniques, and with similarly excellent reason. Due to the incredible effort and risk needed to learn magic at all, and the sheer amount of lore needed to master a single class of effects, only the most genius mages will ever have more than three or four classes of spell to choose from.

Anyone who knows everything a mage can do is free to select guaranteed killing strikes from spells they cannot counter. A mage who has studied thermodynamics and chemistry is a potent weapon against massed soldiers, but easy prey for a rival battle-mage whose metallurgy and mechanics expertise let them hurl great steel spikes to pierce wards and flesh alike.

Of course, that same rival would be powerless to defend themselves against a cloud of invisible poison gas. The all-ward, a mage’s only guaranteed defense, is incredibly inefficient, draining, and easy to pierce through with a focused attack. It cannot be kept up for very long against all the energies in the heat of battle. It need only drop for a moment to allow a fatal strike by enemy spell-power.

To a mage, knowledge in every form and on every level is power in the most literal way conceivable. Thus many arcane duels, even between good friends, come from the foolish urge to pry about another mage’s spells.

Hypocritically, many mages advertise by crafting “spellbooks” full of their best tricks. In fairness, they constrain these to flamboyant descriptions rather than the actual means of casting them.

The primary limit on a mage’s power after casting style is physical health. This has little to do with conditioning, and some scholars argue none–that the psychological import some mages attach to their physique is the real reason for the difference they measure. Neither side seems likely to win the debate soon.

All mages agree that channeling magic is deeply draining for the body. Caster’s Fatigue, which begins as lessened sensory acuity, difficulty thinking, and a mild headache with piercing undertones, worsens quickly and will be fatal if taken too far. Even if they cast every spell perfectly, Initiates often incapacitate themselves through simple overwork.

This is particularly insidious for warrior-mages because Caster’s Fatigue functions on a separate level from ordinary overtraining fatigue. The “Unholy Triumvirate” includes these two combined with sleep deprivation from the survival response they provoke. Many warrior-mages end their careers with heart failure or stroke.

Over time, however, a mage’s body becomes more attuned to their particular brand of magic. Their spells become more effective and more efficient, which further augments their endurance.

Most Cannoan magic traditions rank their mages with some variant of the same system, believed to have originated in Naibora long before the Age of Splendors began. The exact criteria for earning each rank vary from one tradition to the next. Some place higher priority on raw power. Some prefer adaptiveness and spellcasting nuance. Still others emphasize what the mage has actually achieved under duress in the field rather than the performance they show in controlled tests. Regardless how one earns them, the ranks remain the same:

Novice: the lowest rank in arcane study, and arguably not a rank at all! Anyone accepted for arcane training at a particular institution becomes a novice at the instant of acceptance. It’s extraordinarily rare to find a novice who can actually cast spells.

Initiate: these fledgling mages have passed the bare minimum testing and can reliably cast spells in at least one of their primary caster’s fields. Their endurance is only enough to cast a few spells at maximum power, though, and that power looks quite miserable in comparison to more experienced mages.

Apprentice: apprentices have shown real skill and promise in their primary caster’s fields. Though still weak by the standards of seasoned adult mages, an apprentice battlemage can massacre fifty or a hundred unwarded soldiers with a few spells, move enough raw materials by pure arcane force to assemble a house, cure a whole village of illness, and so on. Of course, they’ll be too exhausted to move for the next week!

Specialist: specialists have passed whatever final exams their arcane tradition expects. They’re fully qualified to pursue their caster’s fields by themselves without further guidance. Specialist-rank battle mages form the backbone of most armies, specialist-rank healers staff arcane hospitals, specialist arcane engineers handle civic enchantments–the list goes on as far as there are sciences to anchor a caster’s field in.

Specialists can usually spend upward of an hour in continuous spellcasting, or a few minutes at maximum power when under duress, and will recover from anything short of total exhaustion with just one or two days of uninterrupted rest. Many mages will study their whole lives without rising higher than this rank.

Adept: Truly formidable mages earn the rank of adept, and those who do wield power which seems like a thing of spirits or demons rather than flesh-and-blood mortals. In many ways, the jump from Specialist to Adept means more than the journey from Adept to Master, for it’s inventiveness and a certain undefinable something that make an Adept. Mastery requires only that an Adept increase the scope of these unique virtues.

Adepts uncover their own arcane principles through a mix of ingenuity and old-fashioned effort, consistently reach insights that specialists simply can’t find the knack for, and are the ones who most often push the sciences and arts magic forward.

A specialist might clear a swath of forest for new construction by using kinetic spells to cleave through each trunk, then tear up the roots. An imposing display of power, but exhausting and time-consuming as well. An adept would take wood-core samples from each tree species to understand their composition, then use that knowledge to transmute them all into sawdust with a single spell. Then, having preserved the core samples, they could summon out the grains of the best hardwoods and form them into new planks on the spot!

Greater emphasis on elegance should never lead someone to underestimate the raw power of an adept. Sometimes a simple explosion truly is the best answer, and while a specialist might create a blast to level a dozen meters, an adept can sweep a hundred to waste. Adepts can spend an entire day in moderate spellcasting without becoming exhauste, and may manage upwards of ten minutes in non-stop full-power spellcasting before burning out. Their spells are less likely to backfire from exhaustion, and they almost never open themselves to the current by accident.

There are accusations at many arcane institutions that many specialists who meet the above metrics ten times over are ignored in favor of “adepts” who clearly do not, but to lend these rumors any weight would be to insult the integrity of the most learned scholars in their fields.

Master: Only the mightiest, most creative, and most tenacious mages attain the accolade of master in any tradition. Such is the prestige of the post that most arcane institutions prefer to err on the side of denying the rank to mages who have arguably earned it rather than diminish the weight it carries.

Master mages have a knowledge of both science and the arcane that borders on divine understanding. The powers they wield can reshape landscapes, level cities, and slaughter armies–or at any rate, they could if a master’s coming were not such a storied event as to marshal a small army of lesser mages to counterbalance them.

Each master has access to spellcraft straight out of myth. They temper this with a mature understanding of what such spells truly mean. Most mages with enough knowledge of anatomy know how to make themselves ageless. Few have ever chosen to do so, however, for they know too well that the joys which made their lives worth living will fade sooner rather than later, twisting immortality into a curse.

Of course, even those few masters who do choose this path rarely live more than an extra century: there are always rival mages looking to prove themselves, national powers seeking to sway masters or remove them from the balance. It does no good to outfight a multitude of enemies only to slip up and perish at the end.

While often invoked as an honorific, “archmage” does not exist as an official title at any mage’s institution.

The oldest and most powerful mages must be exceptionally careful not to go through the motions of their spellcasting when they don’t mean to cast spells, even if they aren’t trying to touch the current. Their attunement tends to cause “microspells”: sudden bursts of accidental magic. In rare cases, masters have killed people because they grew angry enough to cast a microspell as powerful as a lesser mage’s deliberate attack.

A mage always feels another mage through the current, as well as active enchantments and the ripples of spells being cast. They may feel the strength of any one spell, but no more than this. No mage can ever sense the strength of another, any more than one swordfighter sees their enemy’s skill by looking at their sword in the scabbard. The Spellwrights’ Salute at the mercenary haven called the Rank and Defile keeps a bustling library’s worth of parchments flying back and forth. For profit, prestige, and simple curiosity, they’re always analyzing battle-reports and enchantments, mage-duels and teaching sessions in desperate efforts to name the strongest of Canno’s mages.

But of course, they can only analyze those who come to their attention.

Though the Vigil show their power by their victories against even the grimmest necromancers, there’s next to no detail for any of it. Most of their triumphs come in the dead of night, with a sudden murderous flare and dour death-rites.

It would seem reasonable to think that more mages would fear the black-robed Inquisitors. Yet as troublesome as their high magic may be, Inquisitors prove themselves as arcane scholars whenever they hold forth. They can match thesis papers as easily as spells, and some believe their knowledge of science in certain areas has begun to rival that of the Age of Splendors itself.

In short, Inquisitors are academic mages anchored in traditional Cannoan thaumaturgy. They are not alien or eldritch. Peerless, yes, but by some means which other mages can one day hope to emulate. They still rely on the same study as the lowliest initiate in the Gestul Missagt.

What, then, of those they hunt? What of those like the wilderness witches who use the evil arts of spirit magic, and arts wickeder still whose names have been purged from history? What of those demonologists who seek to commune with demons unbound by the sight of the gods, what of the occultist, what of the seer, what of the necromancer?

These, most arcane scholars agree, are the people all righteous mages should fear. For the powers they wield are not at all like orderly, scientific spellcraft. They cannot be governed by a single method or mode of gathering evidence. These are powers that infringe on the unknown workings of divine magic. Powers mortals were not meant to wield.

Thankfully, the Inquisitors of the Vigil have proven more than equal to the task of exterminating them.

(More from Canno)

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