E101: Introduction to Energies — How to Not Blow Yourself Up
Section 1: Tools and Traditions
Transition: Beginners’ Energy Theory
Since we’ve discussed all the basic gear in our previous sessions, it’s finally time to discuss energy theory. As in, what you will be studying and practicing throughout the next years or decades of your arcane career. I won’t go into the acts of magic themselves today — we’ll save those for next week’s practicum classes — but instead I’ll outline our general understanding of how Energies, and thus magic itself, works.
I must explain that there are several types of energies. It is important to be able to differentiate between them and to identify your own personal…flavor of magic, so to not mix yourself with energies that will jar or harm you. We all have our own natural attunements and affiliations, and I will go over some of those later in today’s lesson, if we have time.
The first type of energy, and the one you should be handling for most of your arcane tasks, is ambient energy. I know I’ve already mentioned a bit about this type and your own personal energy already, but as I’m going more in depth with it today, please continue to take notes. Ambient energy is, as its name implies, the free-floating energy that surrounds us at all times. Some people say that it is a product of light, specifically sunlight, or that it is some sort of heat emanation, or a byproduct of life in general. Others believe it is a kind of interstitial fabric that fills all empty spaces in order to give the universe its shape, which is ridiculous.
Speculation aside, though, the fact is that ambient energy exists all around us, at different amounts in different places. It is not infinite, nor does it replenish itself easily, so that if you find yourself on the battlefield after an extended clash, you may discover that it is difficult to draw any energy from your surroundings — nigh impossible. It is this effect that caused the great devastation and desertification of Aervach at the end of the Great War of Empires. So much ambient and elemental energy was dragged from the area that it ceased to be capable of supporting life, and became a blasted wasteland.
It is for this reason that the practices of battle-magic are banned. Energies was once a subset of that study, and now that it has replaced it, we are naturally under close scrutiny lest we be so foolish as to repeat the mistakes of the battle-mages who went before. This is why Energy Theory became an important course of study, and why I will be beating its lessons into your heads regularly throughout this class.
As you might gather from that swatch of history, deserts are not good places to gather ambient energy. While there is some, drawing upon it is often so difficult that it exhausts your personal energy in the effort, leaving you worse off than before. Mages trained in the Aervach desert are some of the strongest in the world because of this stern resistance to their practice; they build up a kind of arcane muscle that can withstand the backdraw of the desert and still gather enough power to cast spells, thus when they leave that awful energy-sink and come to verdant land, they are like ogres among toddlers. Never duel an Aervacheen mage.
We in Valent, unfortunately, are constantly swaddled in ambient energy. It is not that this spot is particularly verdant or energetic, but just that the sheer number of people, of mages, of magic-use happening around us causes a constant spillover of unflavored energy that we can reach out and access at will. This is why all sanctums and laboratories and places of power are constructed to be circular, with the iron ring around the edges. This is to keep out the constant swirls of ambient energy so they do not disrupt the workings within.
This will make learning the basics easy for you, of course. There is always the energy right there to be touched and spun. However, it will not permit you to build up the arcane muscle that will allow you to be active in the more magic-hostile regions of the world. This is why we have the journeyman program. You are all apprentices now, but some day–should you pass your practical tests–you will be ejected from the Valent womb to wander and strengthen your skills. Apprenticeship is about learning the core practices of your chosen art so that you can refrain from injuring yourself or others once we set you loose upon the world.
It used to be that apprentices served under a single mage who taught them his or her particular techniques, then unleashed them whenever they thought it was appropriate. Unfortunately this caused a rather…erratic level of quality among journeyman mages, which is one of the reasons the Silent Circle came into being at all. Codifying methods and disseminating them to all students, and holding those students up to a consistent standard of practice, has allowed us to dispense with many of the old practices that held back or ultimately harmed their practitioners, as well as given us solid stepping stones toward a strong and modern body of magic.
But I digress.
Ambient energy…all around us…not tied to any particular objects and only generally to the verdancy or decrepitude of places…. Check.
Ambient energy will always be the first type to come to your hand because it is the most loose type, just like if you dig in the sand, the larger dry grains come more easily than the damp silt. But like the sand and silt, ambient energy will run from your fingers easily, while other types of energy tend to cling.
The second type of energy with which we concern ourselves is elemental. There are six elements in our understanding of the world: metal, earth, wood, water, air and fire. These, not coincidentally, are also the six states of matter: malleable, solid, cellular, liquid, gaseous and plasma. Two other non-elements — Light and Dark — are sometimes used in discussions of elemental energy theory, but I will refer to them as ‘impulse’ and ‘entropy’ so as not to mix mythology with our magic.
Many of us, though not all, have what we can consider an elemental ‘attunement’. This is to say that the energy from a specific element resonates with us better than the others. Usually this comes with an opposition element, such as water to fire or metal to wood, which the Evoker will be unusually bad at handling. If you are an Evoker student who is oppositional toward fire, you might want to consider another course of study, because fire and plasma-flinging is a large part of the Evokers’ offensive repertoire.
Not the entirety of it, of course, and if you’re determined to stick it out, I’m sure we can manage something. I’m just saying that if you’re on the fence about your course of study and are oppositional to fire, your talents might serve you better in another discipline.
Some of you might already know that you are attuned to an element. For instance, wood-attuned individuals are usually incredible gardeners even without training, and metal-attuned individuals tend to gravitate toward Artificing or other smith-related crafts. Many earth-attuned mages come from mountainous areas, and of course water-attuned individuals tend to come from coastlines or riverlands. However, any attunement can come from anywhere — it is bound to your personality, your individual energy flow, more than to your place of birth or tribal bloodline.
Yes, I said tribal. Even though we’ve progressed to cities and civilization, the old tribes still live within us. Our bloodlines can have an effect on our magic, but they are not usually a factor in elemental attunement.
Now, elemental energy can not be drawn automatically unless you have a very close attunement to that element. This is because it is not free-floating, like ambient energy; it is directly tied up in the element’s state, and is actually part of the power the element needs to remain in that state. All things in the universe tend toward entropy, toward dissolution, and it takes a constant impulse to keep them strong enough to maintain their structure. Thus all elemental energy-manipulation is actually a process of destroying that element by stripping it of the stuff it needs to keep itself whole.
It is said that using ambient energy prevents the refreshing impulse, but it does so over a wide area and thus has little permanent effect unless many mages are drawing from the same area at the same time. On the other hand, since elemental energy directly deconstructs your target element, it must be used much more sparingly and with greater awareness and concentration, lest you damage your source and garner the ire of local spirits.
Because it’s not just the physical element you damage. Earth, wood, metal, all the others — they are alive. Some of them are even aware, with a consciousness and an essence of their own, as you can see from the elementals the Summoners bind and control. When you recklessly draw energy from their parent material, you can rile any nearby elementals, which will then interfere with your workings. I shouldn’t have to tell you how disastrous that can be.
This makes having an elemental attunement, either naturally or through focus and study, so important to someone who intends to utilize that energy. The more smoothly and non-disruptively you can draw energy, the less likely it is that you will be attacked, and some elementals might even assist you because you have shown respect for them. This is most common among the fluid, gaseous and plasma types, as their essence is less static. They’re more capable of filling in the energy-gaps you’ve created, and thus less angered by your drawing of their power.
The issue with elemental energy-handling, beyond those I’ve already mentioned, is that the energy comes ‘flavored’ by that element. Earth tastes like earth, et cetera. This flavor is not integral to the energy, but is an imprint or residue upon it — as all energy is the same at its most basic level, only woven into different patterns to create different things. Still, if the flavor conflicts with the spell you are trying to cast, such as using fire energy to manipulate water, you run a great risk of botching your working because of that clash. Just as you would not like to find dirt in your sandwich, so magic does not like having to splice two conflicting energies together.
We deal with this problem by energy-circulating and cleansing techniques which I will be teaching you later in the course. They provide much of the backbone of energy handling, since beside being used to strip flavor from an element, they can also keep you from being poisoned by an enemy’s vindictive strike or overwhelmed by a signature on stolen energy, or just generally protect you from overloading yourself by keeping the energy circulating externally rather than gathering it inside you.
Of course, using earth energy to strike with earth magic is far more effective than using unflavored energy. It all depends on how you want to use the energy you gather.
The third type, which I have mentioned here and there, is your internal energy, including your personal core. Mentalists use only internal energy for their magic and have no need to draw from an external source; most of their course of study is learning how to refine their techniques to use the absolute minimum power required, so that they do not exhaust themselves into a stupor with every little thing.
Energies students, however, can not rely on internal energy to power spells. No, not just can not. Must not. If you try to use your internal energy to blast an enemy, you are as likely to kill yourself as you are to kill him. Just as elemental energy is bound up in elements to keep them alive, so is your internal energy inside you to keep you alive. Flinging it around at your foes is as effective as slitting your wrist and dousing them in your blood. It might unnerve them or make them queasy, but that’s because they know you’re dying and any decent human being doesn’t want to see that.
Of course, I’m not saying you should never touch your personal core. We will be practicing with internal energy once you have all proven to me that you can master ambient and elemental techniques, and on the battlefield sometimes a last-ditch effort is what stands between winning and losing, living and dying. But your internal energy should never be used as a blunt weapon, only as a needle, and you must use as little of it as necessary. We all naturally accumulate different amounts of energy, but we naturally consume different amounts as well, just to keep breathing and blinking and thinking, and so none of you should look at your classmates and think ‘I have more internal energy than him, therefore I can cast more internal-energy spells than him!’ That way lies death.
I, personally, have expanded my internal energy capacity greatly over the decades that I have studied magic, but since I am constantly maintaining wards and monitor-spells and a thousand other minor workings, I need that large amount of storage just to make sure that if I have to intervene in a fight, or interrupt a student’s cascade failure to keep them from backlashing, or replace some wards that have broken due to strain or misuse, that I can still get home at night without having to call a golem to tuck me into bed. We are all depleting our personal energy stores constantly, and refilling them both by absorbing ambient energy and by acts of daily maintenance: eating, sleep, et cetera. Never think that some day you will transcend the shackles of your flesh, that you will find a way to wield your very essence like some sort of ridiculous spiked mace. We are all made of glass, and we will break if we mishandle ourselves.
All right, now that I’ve lectured sufficiently, we’ll do a minor element-attunement test. I have kits here for everyone, so take one and pass the rest back. In each are six slots with an example of the element: a rock for earth, a small ingot for metal, a piece of living wood — don’t scrape the moss off it, that’s how it stays alive, a water sphere, an air sphere and a fire sphere. Take the item that appeals to you most into your main hand and hold it there for a while. Try to feel the energy within it. Study it, familiarize yourself with how it flows if it’s a sphere element. I know it is harder to sense those due to the glass, but do your best.
After you’ve handled your first choice, return it to its slot and take a moment to focus on yourself. See if you can detect any sort of resonance within you because of that contact. I’ve cleansed all the materials, so you shouldn’t have actual ‘flavor’ energy from them, not to mention that you should not be drawing energy from them at all but only handling them. However, if you have an elemental attunement, that part of your personal energy should bring itself to the fore after a recent contact.
Keep focusing on yourself until that sense of resonance fades. If it does not fade, raise your hand and I will come see what’s going on.
If it does fade, continue the process with each other element, from what appeals to you second-best to what least interests you. Do write down your picks, by the way, and whether or not any of them resonate with you. I will need that information as we delve deeper into the course material.
When you are done with all six, replace them all in the kit and return it up here, along with your list. This can take a while, so I’ll call this the end of our formal session so that you can get on with your business once you’re done.
Remember, do not try to draw from them. Just feel. Sometimes simply being in tune with your environment is more valuable than affecting it.