You carefully remove the little black book from the shelf and gaze upon the front cover, bound in a still golden cloth with the title - Arcane Compendium, First Edition, scrawled in a curious handwritten font of standard Aquilan. The cover is otherwise unadorned apart from a small, unfamiliar rune in the center. You remove the golden binding and, rather quickly flipping past the scratched-out appendix, turn to the very first page, blowing the comically thick layer of dust off the pulp furnish to get a good luck at the text.
Doubtless, the more - shall we say - impatient student of the forgotten arts shall simply keep flipping and proceed straight to the first treatise on Tutelarmancy without wasting their time reading this needless preamble. However, owing to the precedents wisely set forth by our predecessors in the Reclamation Society of Novam rem publicam Aquilan, we thought it prudent to give introduction as well as warning to the uninitiated.
We are scholars, historians, and believers who have sworn to elucidate that which was kept under tight lock from the greater world for so many years, and in publishing this short collection of summaries and descriptions of the various religions and practices comprising the so-named "Old Ways" we hope to put at least begin to put an end to the old era of intolerance and oppression and usher in a new one of understanding. The great suppression of the Old Ways is one which started with irreconcilable violence and was maintained in kind, but we will not bore you, dear reader, with the gruesome details. Know only that it is the duty of the Republic not to safeguard a return to "normalcy" but to break down the old barriers which made such gruesome acts possible in the first place. To forsake this foremost principle would be to foresake our democracy.
Our names are not important, but the truth of our story is. Pray listen, but understand that any "truth" may be hidden for a mulitude of reasons; perhaps it is too dangerous to be revealed so as to irrevocably shake up the status quo by inspiring indignance among the masses; perhaps it is something which is so dark and ugly that to learn it would be tantamont to the destruction of the self. The curse of knowledge is not a magical concept. It is a fact.
Continue on, then, understanding that the Old Ways is simply a descriptor of that which is neither inherently benign nor malevolent, but something which is only truly understood by those who acknowledge that all power is built upon sacrifice. That which eternity giveth - eternity may taketh away. Such is the true curse of students such as we.
What are the Old Ways?
The earliest known application by Aquilans of the umbrella term of the "Old Ways" was the pursuit of miracles by way of worship of so-called "patrons." Simply put, our ancestors from the pre-Khaganate era derived their incredible powers through devotion to spirits, gods, or any matter of other primordial beings. This was achieved through a number of means, including but certainly not limited to: Ritual sacrifice, prayer, offerings, and elaborate dance routines. We now understand this practice (the worship of patrons - not dancing) as Tutelarmancy, though it may be referred to coloquially simply as patronage.
Tutelarmancy is a powerful art with somewhat limited scope and scale; though no doubt capable of great feats, its greatest limitation is that it is essentially the indebting of the self to beings with their own unknowable agendas, a practice which obviously carries with it some risk. Exhaustive study tells us that the root of tutelarmancy is essentially the "sharing" of quintessence with conceivably a very large pool of practitioners. What precisely does this mean in practice?
To be bestowed with blessings and supernatural powers from a spirit entails that said spirit has "loaned" a supplicant with a portion, however small, of its own quintessence, thus granting great gifts but at the cost of their own essential force, thereby weakening the spirit in question. This is why such fanciful tales as gods spontaneously raising entire armies of mortal followers imbued with magical powers are, shall we say, far-fetched; certainly not unfounded, as quantities of quintessence are understood to vary from celestial to celestial as their progential* blood is diluted over the generations, but nonetheless far-fetched.
- Note to editor - consult dictionary for the adjective form of "progenitor"
Thus we see the age-old and continuously debunked superstition that celestials somehow become more powerful by garnering more followers finally utterly repudiated. Why should, after all, a lion care for the opinion of a flea? Still, it would indisputably behoove a god to cultivate a small but loyal following of magically-imbued followers, as we have seen.
If we are to sum up, then, tutelarmancy, or patronage, is an ancient art which is wide in potential utility, not inherently dangerous to use for the practitioner, and easily mastered, but ultimately limited by the whims of greater powers who may use the allure of power to entangle mortals in quite disagreeable arrangements.
Addendum on Quintessence
The concept of quintessence must be heavily stressed upon in any serious write-up on magic in Aquila. As may be implied by its fitting name, quintessence is, for lack of a better term, the fundamental element in the universe as we understand it. From where precisely it derives cannot technically be stated for certain, but we can reasonably assume that it is a natural byproduct of the immense force exerted in the initial creation of the universe.
Plainly, it is the "juice"of the cosmic entity we call Moros; the juice with which the creator hand-sculpted his children - the gods - and his world, the Aether, which was eventually destroyed and fractured into the worlds sprawled upon the universe as we know them. Quintessence, then, is the linear plane which (quite precariously, as has been demonstrated) both comprises and strings together every planet, being, and element. As far as we can ascertain, it cannot be directly observed, but we attribute the faint magenta glow of the End dimension (the shattered fragments of the Aether which never properly formed into worlds) to the purest form of quintessence in abundance. It should be noted that there is considerable speculation of late that a derivative form of quintessence - aptly named "dark" or "phantom" energy - also exists, and is the source of the corruption which plagues the Nether and has been, throughout history, harnessed into doomsday weapons such as the Slip Device; this theory is completely unfounded and essentially superstition, but it does bring us closer to a deeper understanding of quintessence as simply another element, fundamental though it may be, which may be twisted and utilized in certain creative applications like any other.
Speculation being neither here nor there, and having solved the age-old questions of "what is it?" and "how is it?" we must now examine the question of what precisely quintessence means to us as students of the Old Ways.* Simply put, everything; consider that it is the inertia which literally holds the universe together, and is the source of everything which cannot be understood by conventional science. In many ways, scholars of "magic" are scientists like any other.**
It was long believed that those who possessed the talent to harness and manipulate quintessence and create magic who were not celestials themselves were part of a "special" race uniquely sensitive to its energy fields. This theory, unfortunately, may be quite linearly traced back to the dark and regretable era of race science during the Xolumir Khaganate which posited that users of magic were part of an unclean bloodline, warranting "cleaning." This dangerous and plainly untrue "theory" is still widely believed to this day despite numerous examples to the contrary and may yet take many generations to completely root out. On the flip side of this unfortunate coin, some believe that there exists a special subset of Aquilans who comprise "the Attuned," who are themselves descendants of ancient gods. This is essentially a positive rebranding of the same theory; while there are some examples of celestials mating with mortals and producing "demigods," this can hardly be stated to encompass literally everyone who has ever harnessed quintessence for magical purposes. Mathematically, the theory can quite easily be disproven.
So who can harness quintessence, apart from the gods themselves? Whom are among those capable of becoming mages with the potential to bend and shape reality to their liking? The answer is simple: Everyone. There is no empirical method by which to objectively measure levels of quintessence within a potential, much less their ability to harness it, be they mortal or otherwise. Thus we have no reason to believe that any one individual is more gifted in the Old Ways than the next. Is it reasonable to believe some are quicker to learn and perhaps even comprised of a larger portion of the proverbial stardust which is quintessential energy than the average Aquilan? Perhaps. But the fact remains that magic, as we understand it, is less something that one may be born with, and more a skill which may be learned and mastered like most any other.
- It should be noted that, technically, the question of "why is it?" still remains, but the answer to that question is better left to the Nova Aquilan Philosophical Committee (they have a committee for everything now!)
- Doubtless, this will incur protestations from the Nova Aquilan Natural Philosophical and Scientific Committee. Please forward any complaints to the office of General Pluton in New New Detroit.
On Black Magic - or the Dark Arts
Further essays in this compendium will touch on the more "neutral" magicks or disciplines such as natural theurgy, enchanting, alchemy, or, detabably, astrology, though, as something of a seasoned scholar on the subject, I thought it prudent to touch upon a widely misunderstood school of the Old Ways which is most easily, though perhaps not entirely scientifically, described as black magic. In certain eras, black magic, or the dark arts, were both simply used as catch-all pejoratives of the Old Ways, but this would be a gross misinterpretation of their true nature. All magic is essentially limitless in theory and extracts a heavy toll upon the user, but none to such an immediately obvious scale as black magic.
Black magic, the dark arts, voodoo, daemon-worship, necromancy, bad juju, leftism - all terms which refer to essentially the same fundamental practices. The fact that there exists a dark magic which is clearly different in nature to more benign sects is probably the groundwork for the popular theory of "dark energy" as a counterpart to pure quintessence; while that theory is most likely hokum*, it cannot be ignored that not all magic is created equally. What is likely is that all magicks derive from the same quintessential energy field, but what we call black magic exists as a sort of perversion of that existential plane.
Those who dare to corrupt quintessence for their own means rather than exist in harmony with it or simply observe its effects are those capable of the most powerful and thus most dangeorus magicks. Rather than seek power through sacrifice to celestial forces, the black mage seizes power in their own right, extracting from them the extremely heavy toll of both using quintessence and garnering it themselves. True, other followers of the Old Ways aside from "white mages" (a population of spellbinders whom, frankly, we cannot actually verify the existence of) and the likes of the theurgists can be argued as deriving power from the Enlightenment of the Self as well, but consider this: Theurgists make pacts with the natural world; astrologists are powerless without the Stars; alchemists rarely work outside the confines of their chemical compounds, powerful though they may be. Only the one who seeks power through domination, rather than submission, over quintessence is truly their own master.
What do the dark arts yield? The usage of black magic itself is a corruption of all that is natural. One who masters the oldest and darkest juju controls the elements of the earth as if they were slaves to be commanded, and further still may even cite the deepest mojo to invoke destructive curses or summon such primal forces as the Wither.** One should stress that the black mage, though a benefactor of wholly destructive rather than creative forces, is not by any means simply an avatar of evil; on the contrary, some of the greatest heroes throughout Aquilan history routinely dabbled in the dark arts so as to use overwhelming might through which to excise truly malevolent actors.
Either way, more so than any other religion, black magic weighs a heavy burden upon any practitioner's heart, mind, and hand. It is often said that for every miracle cast by a mage, an equal toll is taken upon the mage themselves; this isn't entirely true outside of extreme cases, but serves as a decent adage for those who cite the darkest juju; over years of immersion in black magic, a mortal's body will eventually begin to break down - largely due to the great physical exhaustion wrought by its use in battle in the short term, but by the withering away of the soul itself over long periods of prolonged use. Limbs may lose function over time, the hair and skin will whiten, sight could be lost, and even one's mind may become demented if they are especially careless in their invokations. This is equally true for both mortals and otherwise - the One-Eyed Daemon Makrozoia did not become so-named due simply to recklessness in battle.
- Refer to the Addendum on Quintessence to observe the debunking of the Dark Energy Theory by way of facts and logic firsthand
- It should be noted that, owing to this example, black magic is not necessarily incompatible with tutelarmancy. Pacts may sometimes be made with spirits, but almost always for mutual benefit.
On the Fundamentals - Heart, Mind, and Hand
With some exceptions, all of the various schools of magick generally rely upon the same three basic tenets. Mastery of these tenets with respect to the realm of study in question results in the mastery of said realm. In other words, it is impossible to “master” evocation, but the most accomplished of evokers in history have attuned their Hearts, Minds, and Hands to their study in order to perfect their craft.
The Heart refers to an individual’s willingness to devote all of their passions to their chosen practice. It would be exceedingly difficult for a legendary swordsman to also become an adept summoner, as they have already devoted so much of their mortal existence towards perfecting the art of the blade. While careful study and natural “talent” are all well and good, when it comes to the magickal arts, everything is downstream from a fundamental devotion to one’s field of study. This is why examples of “all-rounder” wizards in history are sparse to none; a reputable enchanter suddenly deciding to delve into the art of astrology would risk losing all of their progress in enchanting to their point, as their “passion” for their work has been jeopardized (though there are certainly notable overlaps in the schools of magick).
The Mind refers to one’s ability to focus. A prospective mage can have all the passion in the world but still amount to nothing as they have failed to realize how many years of study and meditation it would take to master their field of choosing. One should purge any notions of “talent” from their thoughts immediately. Talent, if such a thing exists, is by definition something that one either has or does not have; you cannot control it, so why bother obsessing over it? Thus, any student of the Old Ways must be willing to throw themselves into their studies in every aspect; become scholars of their school’s history, memorize its ritual practices, etc.
Finally, the Hand denotes actual physical implementation of the lessons learned from the triumph of the Heart and Mind. While “learning by doing” is all well and good, simply attempting to throw yourself into an exceedingly difficult craft without doing any of the actual work beforehand can only result in dismal failure, or worse still, experiencing meager success by chance and thus developing poor habits which will cripple one’s practice in the future. The Hand must always be the last of the three tenets learned in most spheres of magick.
So, you want to cast a spell. You have tossed aside the mundane fields of astrology and elemental or innate magicks and instead seek to bend the rules of the universe to your will. Provided you have grasped the Heart and Mind of your sphere of magick, the next step is to implement the Hand by learning a spell. Let us assume that you are an aspiring pyromancer and seek to summon flames at will to power a great furnace or keep wild beasts at bay.
Your first task is to understand that every spell cast is a transaction. You have chosen to exert your will over the universe, and the universe will demand something back; even if you devise clever methods to harness quintessence unabated for a period of time, an equal exchange must eventually take place; magick is the manipulation of matter, and thus abides by the basic principle of being unable to truly create or destroy, only alter. Examples of ways to prepare a spell include:
Making offerings or pacts with various celestial deities so that they yield some of their quintessence to you. This is basic Tutelarmancy or patronage, and exhibits relatively little physical toll on the user, generally speaking. However, in the case of less benevolent spirits or if you intend to summon a fireball to raze a tower, some extreme form of ritual sacrifice, such as a blood offering at a shrine of your patron, may be required.
Alchemy. While a dignified practice on its own, in the context of spellbinding, alchemy refers to the practice of expending a given resource and transferring its fundamental essence to you; with the proper equipment, a novice pyromancer could amass a great quantity of pure Netherite (or several forests worth of charcoal), break it down to pure quintessence with careful alchemical practice, and use the yielded fire aspect to store the “memory” of a stream of flames within themselves to be expended when they please. This practice, while resource-intensive, is relatively safe, so long as the mage is diligent in their formulae and does not attempt to absorb more quintessence than their bodies can handle, thus putting their mortal souls in danger of being ripped apart at a molecular level.
Dark magic. See above sections for further case study, but for the purposes of practical application, the dark arts encompass a variety of practices used for spellbinding. A black mage seeks to use magick without enacting an equal exchange with the universe. They may employ methods such as spirit trapping (a form of necromancy in which the souls of the departed may become trapped between the mortal plane and the Beyond, and then bound to the spirit of a mage to bolster their power), using corrupted Tutelarmancy to trick deities into making unfavorable pacts, or even stealing the life force of others - a practice sometimes called vampirism.
Any combination of the above methods may be used. Many, many other practices exist, but generally Tutelarmancy, Alchemy, and the Dark Arts are the most common.
You’ve accrued the necessary quintessence, and now you must learn the spell. You are attempting to cast a fireball at will. While you may be able to do this once or twice through sheer force of will after amassing a sufficient pool of energy, if you wish to “master” a spell, you will need to ingrain it within your soul through spiritual memory. Sometimes a sufficiently powerful deity will be able to do this for you; perhaps you have pleased Sarnath, the Daemon-Baron of Wildfires after years of devotion, and he has granted you the ability to conjure a Blaze, provided you have enough fire-aspected energy stored (and perhaps he has taken care of this for you as well through Tutelarmancy!). If you wish to learn a spell through your own force of will, you will most likely need to use a spell tome. Conquering a spell by taking the contents of a grimoire into your spirit is sometimes called “true name” magick, as it involves the difficult and taxing process of learning how to invoke the desired effect by discovering the incantation needed to summon it into the mortal plane. The vast majority of these incantations are written in Shibboleth, the language of the Soth Hafh’drn or the Void Priests. It is a language from the Before Time which only a handful of individuals in any generation have a natural affinity for; more than a mere dialect, the words of power which comprise this ancient tongue carry within them incomprehensible effects on the universe, and thus attempting to memorize an incantation in Shibboleth takes an extreme mental toll. After an incantation is learned by intensively studying the contents of the required tome, it need not be spoken aloud; you may now “cast” the spell through one of the conduits below.
After years of study, you have, through a variety of practices, amassed enough fire aspect, and memorized an appropriate passage in the language of the divines to conjure a fireball. You have a choice of “conduit” through which to actually finally cast the spell: Staves are a safe option, and especially powerful ones may be able to store the memory of up to a dozen spells at once, though they require periodic “recharging” through one of the previous mentioned quintessential transaction methods. You can attempt to use your bare hands, but this can be a very physically demanding practice depending on the spell and often takes too long to be practical in combat - though it’s a sound option for some more utilitarian applications of magick. You might employ magical artifacts specifically designed to harness the desired spell; this is similar to using enchanted weapons, with the difference being that the magick within a Sharpness enchanted sword is being used as a means to make the weapon more powerful, while a magical artifact serves as a conduit for the magic itself, and is thus potentially much more versatile in use (fitting, as most anyone can use an enchanted weapon while magical artifacts require at least some practice first). Finally, some tomes were specifically made not only to teach a spell, but also use it; extremely powerful or dangerous spells such as storm-calling or necromancy might require sufficient preparation in the form of a highly specific ritual requiring the tome to be read aloud in specific conditions. For example, a black mage attempting to trap a lost soul may need to lure the spirit in question to a carefully drawn sigil of power and then recite a complicated chant in Shibboleth in order to complete the ritual.