12 Jun 2016

Nostalgia

Hello readers!

My previous post regarding my experience with my new(ish) smartphone proved ironic; the morning after the phone refused to charge. I don’t know why: there is no obvious water damage (the phone is waterproof in up to 1.5m of water), or any other clear explanation. There is also some odd screen behaviour.

Hopefully I will get these issues fixed under warranty.

This unfortunate issue aside, this post is concerned with something rather different. I have been feeling nostalgic as of late—for no other than my first novel, the Necromancer.

You could blame it on the fact that I have completed my AS retakes and, two days ago, my A2 philosophy exam. The latter went very well, I thought, and the former I think were fine also. But with four more exams to go, perhaps the lull has set my mind onto other things.

No matter. I have decided to make use of my nostalgia, and write a few musings on the worldbuilding of the Necromancer. If you’ve read it (or are simply curious) do take a look: I elaborate on a fair few things that didn’t get mentioned in the book.

Power

One of the things that struck me about the Necromancer’s magic system—and indeed magic-systems in general—is the vast differences in power between different mages doing different things.

Consider the example of a healer mage. Your typical Arachadian healer mage, working in a typical Arachadian clinic (for the wealthy) would encounter a number of minor elements in a typical working day.

Treating all these minor elements would not tire a healer mage much. They would still be quite alert at the end of work.

But consider a healer mage working in a battlefield hospital. Having to treat broken bones, severe bleeding, internal damage and other nasty injuries would be exponentially more difficult—the same mage would be exhausted after perhaps an hour or two.

And now suppose that they had to treat a patient hanging for dear life—multiple organ failure, infection by deadly disease, wounds caused by magic, etc. Treating a single such case could take as little as half an hour; but it would be the most difficult half-hour in the healer’s career, requiring intense concentration and a great deal of magical power.

Half an hour of that would be worse than two hours of treating broken bones.

Battle magic is even worse for this. The grand displays of magical fireworks that the Neshvetal, the eponymous necromancer, engages in exhaust even this (vastly superior) power within minutes. Whereas trivial spells, such as a rain shield, can be maintained for hours even by relatively weak apprentice mages.

Speaking of weakness, there are also vast differences in the individual power of mages. In the Necromancer, Neshvetal and his apprentice Leira are confronted by Linaera’s party (of which there are seven mages, counting Stella the healer and the apprentices Linaera and Sasha).

Neshvetal wipes the floor with Linaera and co. A great mage and an apprentice are simply not in the same league, even when the former is significantly outnumbered.

There are differences in skill as well. Neshvetal has had longer to perfect his skills than most people get to live. He is able to wield magic with a skill and ease that would seem instinctive, even trivial, although magic is a discipline that takes years of practice to attain proficiency.

Speaking of which...

The Life of a Mage

Linaera is an apprentice at a mage school. But the Necromancer does not actually go into a huge amount of depth into her life growing up.

The life of pretty much any mage is going to be cushy, but it is also frequently difficult and frustrating.

In the case of the former, the obvious element is wealth. Mages come from wealthy backgrounds; from parents able to afford the substantial tuition fees. Mages themselves are well-paid, whether they work in the military, in hospitals or private clinics, and even as enchanters. Skilled enchantry can fetch a handsome price, while all enchanters are given a stipend from the Arachadian state (enchantry being a valuable but oft-neglected magical discipline).

Even the rare mages that don’t come from privileged backgrounds—such as Mark—are still given free food and comfortable lodgings while studying (and of course can benefit from handsome renumeration after their studies).

Despite the privileged nature of magery, mages themselves are egalitarian among themselves. A Silver Mage—that is, a battle mage showing enough skill, experience and mental fortitude to earn the honour—earn little more than an ordinary battle mage. They value themselves in pride and skill.

Even the Great Mage is not paid like a lord. He is given the lodgings assigned to the Great Mage, which has been the same for some two hundred years. It is oppulent enough; but the Great Mage does not own it. It is passed down when he dies.

The Great Mage has maids taking care of domestic tasks, and can request just about anything magical regardless of price. But his personal salary is comparatively modest: a typical battle mage might earn forty or so gold pieces a year, while the Great Mage receives a hundred. This difference seems large, but it is much less than the comparable difference in power, and certainly less than, say, the CEO of Apple compared to a programmer working at Apple.

To put this into perspective, a farm labourer in a good year would make about ten gold pieces (though some make less).

But the life of a mage can also be frustrating. Young mages are admitted to the academies at around age twelve. To enter, they are tested for magical power (the most important test), and then are taught some magical exercises in order to prove that they can control their power (also important). On top of that they need to show good literacy, basic numeracy, and some knowledge of history and the sciences.

In the first year they learn no practical magic. Indeed much of the study has nothing to do with magic, being instead concerned with science: topics such as biology, anatomy, and physics are taught. This is interspersed with the basics of magical theory—the source of magical power, along with the various workings and limitations of basic spellcraft.

In the second year they are taught elementary magic, though only very basic things are meant to be learned. There is more magical theory, which is based on not only the magic learned in Year 1—but also on physics and biology, for these are important as well. And not for general knowledge.

A healer, obviously, needs to have in-depth knowledge of human biology. But any mage needs to understand the basic principles of physics: for ultimately, magic is subordinate to it. Young mages need to understand that their power is very much like an internal reservoir of energy: it is quite fixed, and easily used up. It takes time to refill.

Very low magical energy will leave a mage exhausted, or even put them into a coma.

Exactly why is not precisely known. Healers, however, have long believed that magic is an inherent part of a mage’s physiology.

Anyway, the point is that all this theory and no practice leaves many mages unsatisifed and bored. They hear (and see!) the amazing magic performed by the magery—as if it were child’s play—and wonder why they cannot do the same.

It is not until Year 3—when most mages are 14—that magic is properly taught. Why? A simple case of the power and danger associated with magic, and the typical maturity of a twelve year-old.

How Dangerous is Magic?

Those of you who have read of how Neshvetal raised an army of the dead, or of Nateldorth’s terrifying fireballs, would think such a question pointless. Of course magic is powerful and dangerous!

Nevertheless, there are again significant differences in what kinds of magic are dangerous. Necromancy is a particularly potent and frightening sort of magic, for it can raise powerful undead beings(revenants) in large numbers. The creation of undead also empowers the caster; this is why Neshvetal—already a very powerful mage—became nearly unstoppable.

But the magic of Nateldorth or Neshvetal isn’t really the norm. A lot of magic is harmless: illusions of butterflies, healing, rain spells and telepathy are obvious examples.

That said, battle magic is universally dangerous. Even a moderately skilled and able mage can cast fireballs. These may not burn through walls—as the Great Mage’s do—but are still easily capable of inflecting lethal burns on a human.

For this reason, magic is a highly regulated profession in Arachadia. Ever since its inception about 400 years before Linaera’s time, the High Academy of Magic, in Dresh, has had a monopoly on the teaching of magic, the accreditation of mages, and the disbarrement of mages.

Of course this monopoly isn’t perfect—any mage can find an able pupil and teach them. However, controlling the teaching of magic is very much in the interest of the Arachadian nobility. The occasional rogue mage (a very dangerous proposition) is enough to convince the magery to feel the same way.

Why Does Arachadia Have Soldiers?

Reading all this, you may be wondering why Arachadia bothers training and equipping soldiers—after all, can mages not simply obliterate them in a firestorm?

The reality, of course, is more complicated. While a battle mage can easily kill a squadron of soldiers, an army is a much more difficult proposition. Mages tire quickly. A few fireballs might end the lives of multiple soldiers, but the mage would be pretty spent after that.

And mages are few. The Centre (as it is formally known) that Linaera studies at has only about a hundred pupils. Even the Academy in Dresh has less than a thousand.

All in all, the records show that there are 7200 apprentice mages in Arachadia, and about 20,000 accredited mages. This is not nearly as much as the 150,000 soldiers enlisted in the army.

It also means that there can only be so many mages in so many places at one time. Plus, many mages are healers and enchanters rather than battle mages.

The Land of Arachadia: Some History

Some readers may also be wondering as to the history of the world Linaera inhabits. For how long have humans been in it? How old is Arachadia, as a sovereign nation?

The answer? Comparatively recently. Arachadia’s royal family dates back to around 500 years ago, although there were human settlements long before then. But not that long: a detailed examination of human habitation would find that the timeline only goes back some millenia.

The lands of Sacharia, to the south, have a somewhat longer history. There are earlier settlements there, and their sultans have seen multiple dynasties lasting the better part of a millenium.

But still: there’s no escaping the fact that humans are only a very recent addition to Arachadia’s history. Even the elves have not been around much longer. Arachadian scholars hypothesise that Arachadians may have originated from lands beyond the central plains.

Nobody knows where from. The islands of Ohn have been populated more recently than the central plains, which would suggest that Arachadians did not sail from the eastern ocean.

The north is barren and hostile; a handful of accounts from a few determined traveller-mages speak only of mountains, and then ice. An endless expanse of ice.

The west is covered in forest, and populated by shape-shifting tribes. Whether humans migrated from there in some long-ago era is entirely plausible, but no one has had much chance to dig there—the shifters don’t allow many visitors.

The southern desert is considered the best candidate. The Sacharians do speak of an expanse of water in the far-flung south of their desert, but this involves travelling for months across dry desert. Some scholars say this makes mass-migration from there impossible, but other scholars—experts in archaeology and the study of the elements—believe that the desert wasn’t as dry in those distant millenia.

There is no mystery about one thing, however. The dragons were there before us.

The Dragons

The dragons are all but extinct in Linaera’s time: there are only a handful of adults left. They live in self-enforced exile in the mountains of the far-north.

But some four hundred years ago, conflict ensued between humans and dragons. The dragons—thousands then—were proud and keen to assert their dominance over increasingly advanced human civilisation. They wanted tributes in livestock and gold, and even the attentions of the healer-mages.

The humans of Arachadia initially accepted this, but soon resented the dragons’ greed and often senseless cruelty against people.

Three hundred and fifty years ago, war began. With the formation of the Academy, humans proved successful in driving the reptiles out of Arachadia and into the north. Magic was a key reason. Dragons could kill many with their fire, flew at high speed over long distances, and had the strength of an elephant, the bite of a T-rex and the claws to go with it.

But magic proved too strong an advantage.

Nevertheless, the war was bloody and didn’t really end for about two centuries. Dragons still performed raids on Arachadia, flying from the high peaks where no Arachadian army could follow. Indeed the war was only put to an end when the dragons attempted a particularly daring raid: flying over a thousand miles, they headed for Dresh.

They then turned and headed for Duvalos—then, as now, a major city. Thinking the Arachadians would panic and throw all their resources at protecting Dresh, they thought Duvalos would be easy pickings.

What they didn’t count on was that the mages had built teleportation gates between all the major cities, so that they could be where they were most needed. They were also able to track the dragon’s presence across the land. The reptiles never stood a chance.

An Aside: Money

Some reads have wanted to know more about the money system. Below is an explanation of the currency, from highest to lowest denomination.

  • Medalion. Gold medalions are issued as payment to merchants fortunate enough to sell to the Arachadian royal family. A gold medalion is worth six gold coins.
  • Gold coin. Normally the highest denomination of currency, gold coins are very valuable. The Great Mage only earns about a hundred a year; even the queen manages with only 2000 or so a year. Peasants make do with ten a year. A gold coin is worth twelve silver coins.
  • Silver coin These are actually much more common gold coins and many people in Arachadia are paid by the silver. That’s even an expression—paid by the silver, as in a not particularly well renumerated. A silver is worth twenty-four copper coins.
  • Copper coin is the coin you will most likely see in Arachadia. They are worth a modest but non-trivial amount of money. One thing to note is that they don’t like this:

Penny coin

But rather like this:

Danish Krone

  • 1/3 Copper. Used for paying for small items like a loaf of bread.

As you can see, Arachadian money is all denominated by factors of 3. However, it is quite confusing. As you go up the scale, each individual coin is worth progressively less in comparison: a silver is worth 24 coppers, but a gold only 12 silvers. But this trend doesn’t hold if you include the 1/3 coppers.

Closing Thoughts

Well; this has been a long post. Looking back I realised just how many things I never addressed in the book—partly out of inexperience, but also because narrative always takes precedence over worldbuilding.

If you found this interesting, why not read the book?

With that, I must leave you. Wish me luck for my exams, as well as for the long road of work I will have revising and writing the Ark.

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