E101: Introduction to Energies — How to Not Blow Yourself Up
Section 1: Tools and Traditions
Item 1: The Robe
You might have noticed that you are wearing robes in this class. You might also have noticed that robes are mandated both in your written agreements with the Silent Circle and in your shiny new Imperial papers that you should all have received upon your acceptance into the Citadel. While it seems like a dull way to start off this course–especially given the lovely, exciting title I have selected for it–a discussion of the robe we all are required to wear is the perfect entry-point to many of the topics I will be rehashing continually throughout this semester.
As you all should realize, this is an essential safety course–a course you are required to pass before you can be permitted to handle magics of a higher order than your basic defensive wards. Every student who intends to enter the Energies, Wards or Scrying streams must take this course, pass this course–nay, excel in this course–in order to become a viable apprentice in his or her chosen art.
This is not to say that Mentalists, Artificers and Summoners will not benefit from this knowledge. Anyone who wants to learn to protect themselves, to ‘read’ an opponent’s spellcasting without having to read their mind, to be alert to the flux and shift of ambient energy that presages disaster or attack, will find those tools within this course. More than that, they will learn how to use those tools and how to deny them to others.
I start with the robe because it is the most important defense that we, as mages, have against each other and against the outside world. You might say, ‘But Archmagus, these robes identify us as mages and therefore make us prime targets for anyone who dislikes us or has been ordered to attack us’. Yes, this is true. Wearing a robe makes it very likely that people will try to kill you–if they are not, instead, so terrified by the reputation of magi that they simply fall over and piss themselves. It means that we are likely to be shot in the back, poisoned, ambushed, lynched… Need I go on? You all know the dangers of our craft.
The robe is a signifier for our enemies, yes, just as is the cloak, the insignia, all the accoutrements. But it is also our armor. Your novice robes not so much, but as you gain skill and rank, you will learn to weave power into your own garments, how to alter them to your advantage, how to make them stronger than any suit of steel.
Also, note that I and most senior magi, including all of the faculty, wear two robes: inner and outer. Protection and practicality–especially when you’re in a cold kingdom–but I’ll get back to that in a while.
First, a brief overview of arcane channeling. As you can see from this diagram, we are filled with systems of veins and nerves that run throughout our bodies, transfering blood and energy to every digit and follicle and patch of skin that requires them. This baseline energy is generated through digestion, and is enough to power the average single individual–or in cases of pregnancy or parasites, the main individual and its offshoots–through the daily routine, with bursts of exceptional strength or speed available on a limited basis.
While it is technically possible to draw from oneself for the practice of magic, one has to remember the limited amount of energy within the active body. A portion of that energy is dedicated directly to keeping your heart beating, your brain thinking, your eyes blinking. The rest takes care of ‘less-essential’ functions like digestion, excretion, those lovely things you’re already making faces about me discussing, but let me tell you–this is a cautionary tale. Pulling too much energy from yourself is like freezing to death. Nonessential functions shut down because you have robbed them of the energy required to perform them. Essential functions go into hyperactivity because they believe you are dying. Any stress you feel is magnified, though you lose all sense of pain, of impact. Paranoia sets in, your thoughts race, you lash out wildly…
If you’re lucky, a mentalist will slap you in the mind until you release your physical energy-core. You will be shaky, then collapse into a dead sleep; you will wake still exhausted, starving, hung-over as if from a week-long bender. You will have shed weight like your flesh had melted–not only fat but muscle, essential tissue it will take years to regain. And if you’re not lucky, you will burn like a greasy candle until the last breath of energy has been exhaled from your tattered lungs.
This is why, though I will teach you how to draw from yourself, I caution you to use this knowledge only as a method with which to monitor and regulate your personal energy-core. It is essential to know what counts as ‘normal’ for you, because while we try to dissuade you from tapping your personal energy, our entire art revolves around augmenting that energy with external power-sources–and those sources can easily overwhelm and destroy your personal core if you do not know how to protect it.
At every point in your body that these veins and nerves approach the surface, energy can jump in or out. There are a few select focal points that we use for high-order energy channeling, but at the moment it is enough to understand that any inch of flesh on your body is an inch that ambient energy can invade, or your personal energy can leak out.
What the robe does, then, is impose an initial zone of restriction that shelters the wearer’s energy-core from ambient invasion, and keeps personal energy from leaking out. This is also why we wear warded boots, which you should also have by now. Yes, they’re not just to make sure you don’t fall off the walkways–though most of them do have a magnetic enchantment to take care of that too.
When you are properly robed and booted, therefore, you will be covered from knuckles to toes to throat. Most of you have hair, which serves as its own obfuscating layers. Those of you who are bald, I will speak of obfuscating tattoos and head-paint at a later date. All we truly require in the handling of energy is bare fingers and seeing eyes, thus masks and hoods are also popular. Some magi have done away with the need for bare fingers through the use of conducting gloves, as you see on my hands, and I will also explain these later.
So. The robe restricts the vectors through which you can draw ambient energy from the world, and also those from which your personal energies can escape. We focus on fingers and eyes because they are the two senses we use most, as humans, to interact with the world. Vision and tactile manipulation. I understand that other faculty members will expand on the use of other senses as combat and technical tools, but I am a sight-and-manipulation mage myself, and most of us start off as such. Is anyone blind here today? Ah? Well, I apologize. I will try to describe my motions when they are of import.
This first session is simply theory, though, no practice, so no need to worry yet.
Now, you might ask ‘why are you talking about obfuscation, Archmagus?’ Because yes, we use robes to protect us from ourselves, but we also use them to obscure our actions and energy-manipulation from others.
Imagine fighting naked. You can see every superficial muscle and vein on the body, see what is tense and what is relaxed, ‘read’ the action the individual is planning to take–if you know what to look for. Spellcasting is no different. Some of you are more sensitive to arcane emanations than others; some have likely been seeing auras since childhood, or spirits, or catching wisps of thought. However, all of you will be trained to see the patterns of energy, both ambient and personal, within yourselves and each other and the world around you.
Arcane combat while in plainclothes would be the equivalent of fighting naked. Your opponents can see the stir of energy within you and along your superficial networks, see the flavor of it, the strength of it, divine the intent. They can watch your fingers, your arm movements, your stance when you weave your spells, and can therefore prepare their counters.
What the robe does for you is obfuscate your energy networks and your motions. Whether you wear a fully-closed, side-slit or front-slit robe, the cloth still masks your stance, your posture. The bell-shaped sleeves conceal your precision arm-movements; the knuckle-length allows you to tuck your hands in, or flick your fingers inward to conceal a small twist in the spell. Hoods and masks hide your focus and your mood, two non-arcane but important indicators of your intent.
This is why, when I and your other teachers instruct you initially, we will do so with our sleeves bound up to the elbow, like so. As will you, so that we can observe your form. Yes, this is what those little cords are for, they’re not just decorations. It is important to have proper energy-handling form, especially if you are intending to follow the Energies stream; in the course of our careers, we evokers will have to unravel spells as fine as spiderwebs, but also regain control of enchantments that thrash around like needletooth eels or bear down on us with the subjective strength of ogres. There are methods of gaining leverage against energy-sources, of coaxing and twisting and redirecting them. It must never be a direct battle. But we will get into that; suffice to say that the robe helps in these deflections.
As a bit of background and also as a warning, I would like to take a moment now to discuss wraiths and their ‘garments’. Wraiths are our progenitors in the arcane arts. They brought the practice of ambient-energy manipulation to our attention–even taught a few of the first magi–but their ways can not be ours, because their composition is not ours. We are creatures of flesh; they are stellar exiles, and most can be made of as little flesh as they like.
Energies and Wards streams will learn more about wraithkind and how to survive a conflict with them later, but in discussing their ‘garments’ and the use they put them to, I need to impress upon you again that they are not human. You are never to try to mimic their methods.
Not that it’s really possible.
You see, unless they are the earthbound types you find in the north and west–which don’t really use magic–the ‘garments’ you see on a wraith are actually outgrowths of their ‘skin’. They are as alive as the wraith is, which is to say not actually alive in the way we understand it, but motile and responsive and often prehensile. Many wraiths use their garments and their hair as extra spellcasting fingers, or energy-gathering conduits, or assault-vectors. Basically they are always fighting naked, but due to their unique physiology they have no fear of ambient invasion or core compromise; their existences are based on their control and consumption of raw energy. Trying to read a wraith’s spellcasting without having been trained personally by a wraith or spending a long, long time observing them is an exercise in futility, and in fact it is best to turn off one’s arcane sight when fighting them, or else be blinded by the sheer unfettered radiance of their being.
Honestly, my best advice in dealing with an aggressive wraith-mage is to run far, far away.
Now where was I? Hmm…
Ah. Cultural issues.
As I mentioned earlier, you have all signed an agreement with the Circle that you will wear your robes when you serve in an arcane capacity or are travelling between kingdoms. Serving in an arcane capacity means at any time while you are a member of the Silent Circle and are not in your personal lodgings or other private non-Circle function–a bathhouse, et cetera. You don’t have to wear your robe in the bath or while you’re visiting friends for a dinner party, though personally I recommend wearing it at all times for safety.
You do have to wear it when you are anywhere you might be requested to provide papers to an Imperial servant as a matter of course. This means in the market, on the street, entering or exiting a city, attending any public function, et cetera, et cetera. Yes, I realize that it is restrictive. Get used to a closet full of robes: fancy robes, working robes, lounging robes, that sort of thing. In addition, while you are in public, you are to wear one of the insignias of the Circle, whether belt-buckle or cloak-clasp or cloak itself, rings, necklaces, it doesn’t matter as long as the insignia is prominently displayed.
If you cease to be a member of the Circle, whether you are thrown out or simply resign, you will no longer be allowed to wear the insignia but must continue to wear your robes to identify yourself as a practitioner of the art. If you do not, there are…. Well, let me just say that there are stiff penalties.
Again, you can wear whatever you like in your own home. Most retired magi or practitioners of less-aggressive streams than Energies seem to wear a suit of plainclothes and throw an open robe over it when they need to go out in public, and that is perfectly fine.
As you should know, there are three restricted colors for robes: Imperial Crimson, Imperial Gold and Imperial Sapphire. Shades too close to those three colors will get you in deep shit, so don’t toy with them. Only mages assigned to the three Imperial Armies are allowed to wear Imperial colors, so I reiterate, don’t be idiots. The Imperial Army magi are well-trained and will kick your sorry neophyte asses. Other than that, dye and pattern yourselves as you will.
I have a few diagrams up here of our neighbors’ robe variants. Note the Padrastan style here that you will see sported by Psycher Archmagus Qisvar and a few of the elder Padrastans who are still with us. And this is the tapestry style favored by the Gejarans–bulky material, a bit awkward but very ornate, very easy to hide embroidery and enchantments in the garments, not to mention amulets and foci. This one is an example of serpent-mage style, though I need to stress that there are many types of serpent-mage and many substyles, some preferring actual enchanted armor and some working in little more than veils. Note, regardless, how thoroughly the body is covered in material, even if that material seems to be little more than gauze.
On the subject of being nearly naked, there are tattoos and body-paint that serve roughly similar purposes. Tattoos, being permanent, are more generally used to scribe permanent energy-channels on the skin; they are most often used by magi who prefer physical altercations backed by close-quarters arcane-burst attacks. They sacrifice variety and utility for easily-drawn power with very little chance of burn or backlash, becoming basically a vector for ambient energy to turn directly into evocation. I do not recommend this to any of you unless you very much enjoy wrestling and don’t ever want to have to think again.
Body-paint can direct, disperse or mask the flow of energy, depending on its components and application. Some of this can be gleaned from the color, since paints draw their pigment from the components used, but a general study of serpent and ogre runes can be advantageous for the rest. I believe that is in the curriculum for the Stationary Wards course, but if there is much interest from you not in the Wards stream, I can add a quick overview later in this course.
A few last notes for this session about what we will be getting up to in the weeks ahead. I mentioned focal points briefly, yes? Yes. These are points on the body where energy tends to either collect at stronger concentrations or be channeled and wielded more effectively. In this course we will be starting with personal core study and strengthening, then progress to ambient external channeling, and from there to external-internal focal pooling, which means that we will be learning to draw ambient energy from the world, over the surface of the skin and then into the body through the focal points, which are stronger than the rest of the bodily network and easier to isolate and manipulate. I will try to teach you all of the focal points, but our progress depends on you as a class–your ability to listen, to study and to practice regularly and consistently. And not experiment.
Not yet. There will be time for experimentation once we have learned how to not explode.
One last question. How many of you are left-handed? Raise your hands.
Hm. Not so many this time. Ambidextrous? Anyone out there particularly good with both?
Three? Well, that should be sufficient.
Handedness, you see, can change the strength of certain focal points, change quite a lot about someone’s aura and energy-handling techniques. I am left-handed, myself, but having learned from right-handers and having taught endless successions of right-handed students, don’t worry, I shall not lead you astray. Nor the lefties, we just might need some office-hours. You ambidex, I will be calling upon you for example-work up here eventually. Being able to use both hands with equal facility is a great advantage, but you need to learn additional safeguards to keep from accidentally drawing too much power.
Yes, I know, no such thing as ‘too much power’. Tell that to the burn-outs.
Any questions at this time? No? Well then, your readings for tonight are on the board–no groaning! Did you think you were here to party? And I expect you all to practice with your robes, the sleeve-ties and any obfuscations you’d like to dream up. We’ll talk about them and the boots and the rest of the accoutrements again once you’re more familiar with them. Now dismissed–yes, it’s early, why are you complaining?–and I will see you next time.