E101: Introduction to Energies — How to Not Blow Yourself Up
Section 1: Tools and Traditions
Tradition 2: The Internal Energy Cycle
For today’s practicum, I will be introducing you to the Internal Energy Cycle. Since you have all passed your first examination on the External Cycle, I am hoping to not have to send anyone to the infirmary today, but that possibility can never be ruled out.
As I explained in the previous lecture, the Internal Cycle is for when you intend to store or place your signature on energies. More to our purpose, though, is the fact that energies handled internally are not visible to your enemy, whereas energies handled externally are. Your robes are not merely protection but also concealment, both for the amount of energy you are channeling and, in some cases, for the specifics of the spell you are weaving.
There are two kinds of Internal Cycles. One is your natural bodily energy flow, which encompasses your circulatory and nervous systems. As you can see in this diagram, the human body is incredibly complex in the amount of veins, arteries, nerves and muscles—
Yes, it is drawn without the skin on.
Please try not to be so squeamish. You’re training for combat magic.
Where was I? Ah, the veins, the muscles, all those interesting parts. The human body is complex in its natural energy flow! Your entire body needs that constant flow of blood, of air, of signals, in order to remain functioning. Any assault on the body, whether physical or arcane or I suppose mental, can shock it and disrupt one or more of these crucial systems, which can lead to death even in the absence of an actual wound. You should all be aware that people struck by lightning often die or are permanently changed; this comes from the disruption to those natural systems.
The other kind of Internal Cycle is artificial, and the one I will be teaching you today. For safety reasons, your artificial cycle must never be synchronized with your natural cycle; you can not channel the energy through your veins or your nerves lest you give it a straight rode to your heart and brain. You are handling lightning every time you internalize energy, and believe me, you do not want to invite a lightning strike into your brain.
Though it does have some therapeutic uses.
Your artificial internal cycle—which I’ll just call your internal cycle from now on, since I’ll be identifying your natural one whenever it needs to be discussed—is something that will eventually be individual to each of you. We all have our energy signatures, the ‘flavor’ that we add to any energy that we internalize, and part of that comes from how exactly you handle it. Directly? Discretely? In complicated loops and whorls so that you can pack as much power into your frail mortal flesh as possible?
Don’t try that yet.
Suffice to say that your boldness or caution in handling your power flavors it as much as the rest of your personality. Anyone who inspects the residue of your workings can distinguish these things about you if they have been trained for it, but anyone looking at you while you’re spellcasting will be blind to the details as long as you’re wearing your robe.
Since this class is not exactly suited for individual work, we are going to start with a standard exercise for establishing an internal cycle. Yes, I know that I just said yours will be individual, but I did not mean right now. Your personal cycle is something that you will develop and refine for as long as you continue to mature as mages, and you may eventually develop several cycles to use for different purposes. I can not lay out a roadmap for you to follow in becoming yourselves, but I can guide you on the first few steps toward being a responsible energies-handler.
Recall that I forced you to focus on running a current over your robe last time, entirely externally but for its start and end-points at your fingertips. This is because any internal contact, whether on skin or down to bone, counts as the internal cycle and has the same effects. The only difference is degree.
Today we will be going skin-deep.
Your skin is your largest sensory organ. It is both internal and external, though the internal part is a bit squishier, and it is absolutely full of nerves. Incautious energy-handlers can permanently damage their sense of touch by running a bad cycle through the skin, so we will try to avoid that today.
The intent of a skin-deep cycle is to channel energy through the first few layers of living tissue neatly and undamagingly, both to circulate it through a large area and to avoid contact with the viscera. Avoiding contact with nerve endings is of course impossible, but with speed and delicacy there should be no pain, only a persistent tingling.
The reason for avoiding any synchronization between artificial and natural internal cycles is that you do not want to fling your nerve endings at your enemy. Or your blood. I think I mentioned that before. Energy that you put into an artificial cycle is not the same as your personal core, which keeps you alive. If you should synchronize your artificial and natural cycles, then you will be meshing the energy you gather from the outside world with your personal core, endangering that core both by heedlessly tapping it for spells and also for permitting alien energy to touch it. We wield alien energy at all times, but we should never allow it to mesh with who and what we are, lest we be swept away.
That and if you internalize a backsurge and spill it into your natural cycle, you’re likely to stop your heart or boil your brain in its juices. Not a good idea. The only danger of backsurging into an artificial cycle is getting that cycle burned into your flesh—which sounds horrible but believe me, it’s not as bad as cauterizing your entire circulatory system.
Those stories you hear about people crying fire as they melt from the inside? Natural cycle backsurge.
Oh, don’t look at me with those horrified faces. I’m not trying to dissuade you from your studies. You just need to understand the gravity of this undertaking, and the deep importance of it to your lives from now on. If you do not know how to properly internalize energy, you will kill yourself. I know I say it a lot in this class, but pay attention or die.
Now, the practicum.
Into your iron circles, ladies and gentlemen. Sleeves tied up, please.
In the olden days, students were required to do this practicum stripped to the waist, so that the teacher could properly observe the way the energy was being channeled. Unfortunately we live in a more prudish age, and with a mixed class I am not permitted to tell you to take your clothes off. Nor am I permitted to do so to give you a visual example.
However, I am certainly not going to stop you if you chose to set your robes aside for this practicum. Ladies, only if you are decently attired beneath. We must not create too many distractions.
I will wait while you do as you must.
Is everyone back in their circle yet? No? What did you do, sew yourself into that robe?
Now I know I said that neck jewelry was permissible as long as it was not a choker, but I see a few of you with medallions right now, Light talismans and the like. Please take them off for the moment. As we are doing a skin-deep exercise, there is a chance that the power will spread too far and spark off of any jewelry in the torso and arm-area, and I do not want to have to deal with burns.
Oh, also, everyone remove your boots. Or slippers or whatnot. No obstructions today.
All right, it appears that we are finally ready.
We will start with the Simple Internal Conduit.
Hold your hands out before you. Envision the energy gathering at the fingertips of your weak hand, as we practiced in the last session. Gather it until the five points are visibly glowing.
Now, this next part is something our young lady from last time apparently already attempted! My dear, I do hope you pay close attention, since I dislike the smell of burnt hair.
Concentrating on the energy, draw it back inside the tips of your fingers, just beneath the nails. It will hurt at first, but concentrate on refining each point into a thin needle—a single tiny prick at each fingertip that fades as the energy flows up into your hand, through the skin rather than the bone or tendon, like you are gathering five fine threads along the back of your hand. Feel the tingle of each as it meshes into the others at your wrist.
It is now a narrow cord, and it trails along the back of your forearm, still tingling but not singeing, not burning, until it reaches your elbow. It curves there to run along the outside of your upper arm and surmount your shoulder, where it stretches now in a slight arc across your shoulder-blades to the other arm. Down it traverses toward your dominant hand, pausing again at the wrist to split into the five finer filaments, which then slide under your nails to pierce out with slight pain at the tips of your fingers.
You should feel a faint thrumming energy, as if someone had stretched a pipe along the span of your arms and then fed water through it. The pain in your fingers is normal; I mention it to help you understand that it is to be expected, because the fingers are both exquisitely sensitive and also where the power breaches your physical body. The only way to avoid that pain is to focus your channeling elsewhere, and I will tell you that it is not so easy to spellcast through your elbow.
Move the energy back and forth through the channel, going from hand to hand. Note how the longer you hold it, the more the tingling seems to spread outward from the boundaries of the cycle. This is also normal, and something you will learn to restrict with practice. Energy naturally wishes to infuse the vessel that holds it, and it is only your will that keeps it from dissipating through you, for good or ill.
Very good, it seems no one has injured themselves yet.
We move on to the Simple Internal Ground, also known as why you’re not wearing your boots. Cease drawing energy, if you were still doing so. Then, keeping your mind on the entire cycle, try to focus your attention on the center of it, right in the middle of your back. Draw that point down and toward your dominant side so that it is no longer centered on your spine, and very, very carefully create a new channel at its tip. You are not adding a new thread but cutting a new path for a stream, and you must do it gently so as not to cause the energy to rush the new point.
Remember, gravity does not matter to energy—at least not this level of gravity. Up is the same as down to it, and it will not gather in a low point simply because of that feature. It gathers because of your perception, your will, and your will is to moderate its flow.
Good. Slowly extend that channel diagonally to your hip, then down the outside of your leg, down the side of your foot, into the ground. Once you feel the energy leaching away into the floor, carefully ease the rest of it down from one hand at a time, dominant first, through the channel into the ground.
Very good. Feeling tired but calm? That is the usual effect of grounding internal energy. If you ever feel differently while not in a situation that would obviously cause it—which is to say, if you find yourself feeling afraid right now, or sick, or euphoric—you need to avoid further grounding. You may be bleeding your core energy.
Does anyone feel uncomfortable, sick? Strange? No?
Attentive class. I’m pleased.
We will now try the Internal Single-Loop Conduit. Its only difference from the Simple Internal Conduit is that instead of merely going from one hand to the other, it adds a loop across the back. However, this requires the use of another layer of flesh to keep the cycle whole.
As before, draw the energy to your weaker hand and stretch it up your arm and across your shoulders. At the dominant shoulder, though, let it slide off the side and down your flank to your hip, like when you were crafting your ground.
Do not ground it, though. Once it reaches your hip, run the line just below the small of your back, along the curve there to your other hip. From there, you must run it diagonally toward your dominant shoulder again. Make sure not to cross your spine at the same place as before.
As you approach the dominant shoulder, push yourself deeper into the flesh. There will be a stronger tingle. Think of the current as the needle again, and stitch it through the flesh of your shoulder, below the initial line. Pierce through the front of your shoulder and continue down your dominant arm as before.
This will seem awkward, lopsided, inelegant. I already see some of you attempting to round the loop instead of triangulate it. Keep it lopsided! The lopsided nature of it and the deeper layer both serve to separate it from your natural cycle and to keep all points of this artificial cycle separate from each other. Also, it keeps you from running two lines across your spine at the same point, which would be incredibly bad.
When you are better at this and making your own cycles, you can refine it. Make it more aesthetically pleasing, if you must. But understand that this method, this point-to-point energy channeling, is the most easily visualized technique and thus the most secure. You can plan blisteringly elaborate, beautiful cycles, but if you can not fully visualize them–if you can not carve them perfectly with your will from the moment of inception to the moment of discharge—then they will fail you. Multiple crisscrossing lines is a recipe for failure. Never, ever, ever try to draw the six-pointed star of the elements with your internal cycle.
So many students try that, and they all get burned.
This is something you need to understand right now. We are not Artificers, painstakingly making sure that everything is lined up and properly connected. We are not Warders, whose work equally hinges on harmony and interconnectedness. We are not Scryers, who must slice the veil of dimensions with perfect precision.
Energy-handling is, at its heart, an improvisational art. It is the art of shaping the unruly and the chaotic into something controllable, all the while understanding that while we may indeed be in control, we have not tamed the power and never will. It is always waiting to turn in our hands, requiring constant vigilance, constant adjustment of our cycles. A rigid design, though beautiful, can not be bent on the fly to accommodate such power; its only hope is to incorporate vents and grounds to release excess energy, or cut-offs to stop bleeds, thereby increasing in complexity and difficulty at every moment.
An Energies mage can not be rigid, can not be boundlessly complex. He or she must instead be flexible, insightful–simple in thought, reductive in practice. No single cycle will work for every encounter, and though I said you will all eventually carve your own cycle, I meant that you will find your personal style, whether it be point-to-point or limb spirals, layer mesh or controlled diffusion.
For now, though, you will learn the basics as I teach them. You will practice relentlessly, not for the actual shape of the cycle but for the feel of its flow, the sense of control, the awareness of when things are right and when they are wrong. Energy-handling is alien to all of us at the beginning, but as you grow used to it, as you become truly confident, you will begin to stray from the shape I gave you and find your own way.
I caution you not to seek the shape that feels easiest or most comfortable, though. Those bring you too close to your natural cycle. Seek the shapes that make you feel most in command, the ones that challenge and empower you. This art relies on some level of stress and discomfort to drive it forward; it should always be a relief to release the energy and return to a proper human baseline, even as your baseline changes over time.
Always strive, always advance. Always push slightly beyond your grasp, for only with exertion does a skill grow. But as I said: slightly.
Now slow the circulation of energy. Pull that point on your dominant hip downward, to the ground. Gently ease the full cycle down into the earth, lowering your arms once you are done.
Good. Feel the weariness after holding the energy so long? I recommend it as a pre-bedtime ritual. You will never have insomnia again.