When it comes to casting spells, there must always be a system. Whether it’s Vancian Magic, Cast from Hit Points, or Cast from Calories, there must be some kind of give and take between the magic and the one wielding it. In the world of The Star-Runner Chronicles, all living beings have reserves of magical power within themselves. This magic flows through them at all times and can be channeled in order to cast spells. How much magical power an individual actually has depends on four factors: race, heredity, strength of will, and I.Q. How strong a mage they ultimately become, however, depends solely on how hard they train and study.
The Four Factors
In terms of race, fae and fae-beasts possess the greatest levels of innate magical power. This is because they are naturally closer to the currents of magic which ebb and flow through the physical world. Many fae and fae-beast races even have a special connection to certain elemental magics. For instance, merfolk are intimately connected to water magic and pixies are intimately connected to herb (or plant) magic. When it comes to the demon and elemental races, however, each tribe possesses its own special link to a particular element. But, even among individuals of the same race, there are variances in magical power due to the effects of the other three factors.
Heredity is often pointed to as the second most important factor in how much magical power one has. This is because, more often than not, if two people have around the same level of innate magical power, their children will also hover somewhere within that same power range. However, every once in a while, someone with immense magical power for their race is born of a family with relatively little magical power or someone with relatively little magical power is born into a family of powerful mages. Therefore, heredity alone is not always an accurate predictor of an individual’s magical power. In fact, one of the greatest mages in history—Zallia Ashford—was born into a family of sheep farmers who could barely pass the old “light this candle for me” test! Of course, even before her magical talent was discovered, Zallia Ashford was well known for her strong will.
Yes, strength of will is a big factor in how much magical power a person is born with. After all, how can a person summon tornados of fire or transmogrify princes into frogs without having a strong enough will to be able to command that elemental power? Magic, for that reason, is most heavily concentrated in, willful, determined, “I’m not quitting until I’m dead” sorts of souls. This is also probably the reason why people often see powerful mages as some of the most obstinate, disobedient, and just plain difficult individuals in the entire world. But a will strong enough to command the forces of magic is worth nothing without the intelligence to know how to use it.
A person’s I.Q. can be affected by both nature and nurture. One’s innate intellect and intellectual potential are the components of I.Q. which affect one’s inborn magical power the most, however. A naturally sharp and inquisitive mind forms the necessary neural and spiritual pathways for the channeling and casting of magic more easily, as well as creates pathways which carry more magical power more efficiently. So, the smarter a person is, the more magical power they are able to store up within them and the less likely they are to waste energy trying to channel magic through pathways with far too many twists, turns, bottlenecks, and dead ends.
A River Runs Through You
However much magical power resides within an individual, whether they train in the magical arts or not, that magic flows through their body through a network of pathways similar to a river system. In those who have never trained in any form of magic, these pathways normally form a closed circuit akin to the bloodstream. However, in those who have learned magic, these pathways begin to develop outlets to facilitate casting.
The most common places for these rivers to end are the palms of the hands, the finger tips, and the Ajna (Brow), Vishuddha (Throat), Anahata (Heart), and Manipura (Stomach) chakra points. Those with little training or power often have difficulty getting the flow going, however. The first task is often just opening up those outlets, which involves hours of meditation exercises to reconfigure those neural and spiritual pathways from a closed circuit to an open-ended river system.
After that, come the channeling exercises which are meant to familiarize the student with the flow of magic within their own bodies and teach them to control that flow. The most famous of these exercises is the “light this candle” test. In this very common test of magical ability and potential, the student is told to channel their magical energy out from their body to the candle’s unlit wick and focus on lighting a small flame. If the student is unable to produce a stable flame or successfully light the candle at all, it is usually because they either require more training or have little magical power to begin with. If the student produces too large or powerful a flame, that means that they are either using too much magic at once or are very powerful. When a student is able to produce a consistent flame of the correct intensity, this is a sign that they have finally begun to learn how to properly control the flow of magic within themselves.
It’s a Long Hard Road, But I’m Gonna Get There
Of course, many beginning mages still have quite a ways to go in terms of refining their magical pathways and properly channeling their power, even after passing the candle test. Novices often still have several unnecessary twists, turns, dead ends, and bottlenecks in their neural and spiritual pathways which cause them to have to use more magic than necessary even to light a simple candle. It takes many years of training and practice to fully optimize these pathways for maximum efficiency and minimum waste.
One sign that one’s pathways are not at optimum efficiency is that casting spells takes more out of one than it should. For instance, if a mage has an above average level of magical ability, but casting a simple fireball spell leaves them winded, then it is a sign that their pathways are in need of heavy refinement. Of course, inexperience is not the only thing that can reduce casting efficiency. Sometimes, mages will use amulets, bracelets, rings or other talismans which constrict their magic pathways for training purposes. Other times, a spell or magical object which has some drastic effect on a person’s body—such as a powerful amulet of glamor or a transmogrification spell—will slow or redirect their magical flow until it is removed.
Deliberately reducing the efficiency of one’s magical flow is mainly done to increase a mage’s power output capabilities. It’s the same concept as a fighter or athlete wearing weighted clothes in order to increase their physical strength and stamina—once a mage can cast spells comfortably at their normal capacity again with the restraint on, those same spells will be even more powerful once the restraint is removed. This technique is used most often by mages who specialize in offensive and defensive magics, because being able to cast a bigger quake spell or produce a more durable shield in battle is often the difference between life and death.
The Limits of Power
But, a mage must also be careful not to use too much magic at once. To overexert oneself while using magic is just as dangerous as overexerting oneself physically. This is because using magic is just as demanding as running, lifting weights, or any other physical activity…only the actual strain is on one’s brain and soul and not one’s physical body. A mage who uses up too much magic at once will generally pass out before they can exhaust themselves fully, but in cases of extreme lack of control, intervention by a more experienced magic user may be required to prevent a fatality.
Magic also burns energy in much the same way as physical activity. This is why, even if a mage isn’t particularly athletic or physically active, it is rare to run into one who is more than five or ten pounds overweight (unless he or she hasn’t practiced or cast many spells for a few years, like an athlete who hasn’t exercised since retirement). Because channeling magic and casting spells requires the same sort of energy as physical activity, it is not uncommon for a mage to eat a large meal before entering into a situation where they will be using magic extensively, eating more than usual after such a situation, or taking a long nap in order to replenish their powers.
Some spells also put limits on how much power a mage has at their disposal while they are in effect. These spells require at least a certain amount of magic in reserve in order to maintain them and will dissipate if the caster’s power reserves drop below that threshold. For instance, Prison Vine, an herb elemental spell which traps the target in a cage of live vines, requires the caster to keep at least twenty percent of their power in reserve in order to hold it. So, if the caster is in a battle where their most effective attack spells all take at least six percent of their total magic capacity to cast, has trapped an enemy with Prison Vine, and they have only twenty-five percent of their power left, they must either A) release the trapped enemy in order to keep attacking, or B) cease attacking to keep the enemy locked up.
Formucasting: The Other White Meat
Of course, casting directly from one’s own natural magic reserves is a difficult skill to master, and to be able to cast spells of any consequence (especially for combat purposes) generally takes at least two to three years of training and study to accomplish. But, there is one casting method which is ideal for those with little magical power or who are too impatient or lazy to study for years and years just to master basic elemental spells. This method is referred to as formucasting.
Formucasting demands far less from the caster’s magic reserves than normal spell casting. Instead of drawing power solely from those reserves, formucasting draws power from one’s inner magic reserves as well as mixtures of components, or formulas, which contain actual or symbolic attributes of the spell being cast. For instance, if a mage were to use formucasting to cast a fireball spell, they would require a formula containing such things as dried chili peppers, a firedrake’s scale, wood ash, and sulfur. The elemental attributes of these components would be brought out by and mixed with the caster’s natural magical power, producing the fireball spell.
Of course, there are many drawbacks to formucasting. First and foremost is that the components themselves generally cost money. A few dried chili peppers or some wood ash would be relatively cheap and easy to come by, but firedrake’s scales can cost upwards of three krowns (or three U.S. Dollars) a pop and can be absolutely impossible to find for sale in some regions. Another way to acquire firedrake scales would either be to slay one yourself or wait until molting season, slip into the drake’s lair, and steal the shed scales while it sleeps…but both feats require an enormous amount of skill to accomplish without…well, dying. The more powerful the spell, the more exotic, expensive, and difficult to acquire the components are.
The second drawback of formucasting is that in order to cast a spell multiple times, one needs multiple individual doses of the same formula. This is because once a formula is used to cast a spell, the components are completely spent and turn into useless dust. Because of this, the mage must think far in advance before venturing out to battle or on a dangerous mission and plan out which spells will be the most useful and how many times they will need to be cast, then prepare the appropriate number of doses of each formula. This method can backfire horribly if, for instance, one goes into an ice cave, expecting all of the monsters within to be sensitive to fire magic, only to run into a snowburn—a species of monsters which can suck the heat out of anything…and especially loves to eat fire. A normal mage would be able to switch gears from fire magic to the snowburn’s true weakness, electricity, in an instant…but a mage using formucasting who did not anticipate the complication would be totally screwed.
The final drawback of formucasting is that formulas and spell components must be carried and stored. Carrying capacity can be worked around by purchasing a bag with a deepening or infinite pocket enchantment, but proper storage of components can be tricky, especially when on the move. Some components lose potency if allowed to become too hot or too cold, others must be kept in airtight containers lest they spoil, and yet others have immutable expiration dates and will begin to putrefy or lose potency after that time. Many a mage has believed that their components were still good, only to open a bottle of crow’s bile and immediately begin throwing up at the intense stench of the expired ingredient. A very inconvenient spell casting method indeed.
Well, that does it for this week! Join us next week for the second part of our exploration of magic, in which we’ll discuss elemental alignments, elemental spells, and the three major spell types! Until then, check out The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner and the sequel, Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire on Amazon.com (print and ebook editions available). Also, you can check out my Twitter page @DanielleVFreman, learn a bit about me at a glance on my Pintrest page, or just plain archive binge right here on this site. And, of course, if you like this blog or my books, or know someone who would, don’t be shy about sharing the links with your friends!