Inside Idasia: The Magic of Lecura

Magic, as they say, is often the difference between a wild sci-fi adventure, and a fantasy one.

The world of Lecura, in true fantasy form, has its share of the magical, though it’s somewhat different from what you might call “traditional” fare. Of course that’s something of a misnomer, as nearly all the great fantasies have their own unique marks on the magical realm, their own guiding principles and laws that truly lend that awe-striking element to the show (as seen on io9’s fantastic chart).

So what I mean to say is that for The Hollow March and its sequels, magic is not a “normal” affair. For the people and the world of these books, it is not commonplace or widespread knowledge. It is rare, it is scorned, it is terribly self-destructive, and it is bound by one of the most concrete principles of our own world’s precious science.

It is, however, an art learned (in most instances)–not an inherited trait. So let’s learn, shall we?

To begin, the magic of Lecura is based upon the concept of transfer, much as we often credit to alchemy today. Powerful as the stuff may be, matter can neither be created nor destroyed therein—merely manipulated, merely affected.

Take Usuri’s interaction with the overly-affectionate soldier in the opening chapter of The Hollow March. Therein, she puts her lips to the man and twists dark magic upon his very innards.

How?

Well first of all, she had a connection to the man. Skin met skin. Saliva met saliva. From there, it was merely a matter of manipulating that bond. He was the catalyst, and she took the man’s saliva—the very water of him—and simply edited its state, freezing it solid and killing him utterly.

Warning: not party friendly.

See, that whole water into wine thing? Much safer. Also tastier. (Image: Fire campfire by Titus Tscharntke)

In the same vein, I could hurl dirt to the wind and set its bits ablaze. I could take the same dirt in hand, rub its weight upon my skin, and let it color me dark as the mud beneath my feet. In theory, I could even pull a Jesus, and step upon the waves.

So long as I have a connection, I can work change upon it.

But could I kill outright? Could I touch a man and order him to death? The disturbing fact to consider is that yes, yes I could—but to kill outright is somewhat different from mere manipulation. It is a force of will—the forcing of things into their antithetical position: to render being unto death. All the ingredients are there, of course, but it is not so simple a manipulation as others. You cannot take without giving, and as this is rather distinctly a taking, it requires an equal trade to see it done.

Yes, I could kill a man, true, but I would have to sacrifice myself in the process. A life for a death.

See what I meant about alchemy?

That’s why the round-abouts are so important. Take the dirt I set afire. I could cast it on a man and he would die, writhing in flame, without any sacrifice of my own required. Why, you ask? Because it was the fire that killed him. Not me. I did not will him unto death. I set the dirt aflame and the flames burned him down.

Big or small, though, the change requires some fuel for the flame. Though all magic drains the body, the most potent of these works drains the soul as well. As I posited before—to kill a man outright, with touch and breath, would take the same sacrifice of the self. Yet to spark a flame on dirt would also take sacrifice—though at a much lesser extent. A spark for a spark as it were—a few moments’ pain, or a week’s. It all depends upon the size of the action worked.

Once upon a time, the magical of the world would track precisely how many years of their own lives they had shaved off their own lives using themselves as catalyst and ingredient.

Terrifying, and more than a little masochistic, to be sure.

emo/scene

Okay, okay, so sorcerers can probably get a little emo at times. ("emo/scene", Image by Wikipedia)

What makes the art truly terrifying, however, is that one can work it from afar. So long as I possess a piece of a person, or a place, I can work my will upon it, though we could be miles apart.

Perhaps the best way to lend the concept visual in the mind’s eyes would be to compare it to the overly simple western (mis-)interpretation of Voodoo, dolls and all. Say I held a doll. Say I wished to hurt a man with the doll, a hundred miles from my door. Well, the doll in and of itself bears no connection to the man, even if it is a rather fetching likeness. It lacks a ground. Now suppose I had a clutch of the man’s hair. Then, I have a ground, but no focus—unless I wish to ruffle the man’s hair.

In joining the doll and the hair, however, focus meets ground, and the doll becomes a focus for the man. Say I lit the doll aflame then, and focused my will upon that distant soul. He would light up like a Christmas tree.

Yet this process is, of course, also more taxing. As we lack the whole, physical connection, greater bits of the self are often sacrificed to lend weight to the bond, lest it prove too tenuous. Though all magic drains the body, the most potent of these works drains the soul as well.

Once upon a time, the magical of the world would track precisely how many years of their own lives they had shaved off their own lives using themselves as catalyst and ingredient.

This is also why, above all else, caution is key for any sorcerer.

And it’s a trickier lesson to learn than you might think—since most the teachers have long since gone to their good earth.

Inside Idasia: Politics, Part 1

English: Castle at Tamariz Beach in Estoril, P...

Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

At the center of any good nation is the drama, grandeur, and chaos we call politics. It transcends governmental boundaries. Many of us today have experienced the nonsense and bureaucratic nightmare of what we call democracy in action, but the intricacies of the political shadows have stretched long over monarchies, empires, and theocracies as well, hounding us since the moment first laid down roots and declared: this is how we shall live.

Politics, as central to the human experience, is also key, I believe, to any developed world. So many plot hooks, twists and turns, and dramatic pirouettes of story can come when politics factors into the scene. It sets up new hurdles for adventures, roadblocks for characters, and enemies of the sort that might not be all evil—in fact, they might even think their opposition to what the reader sees as “good” is in turn “good” for what they hope to achieve.

Intricacy. It’s always good to have layers.

Such is the case with the nation of Idasia, in my own little novel world.

Today, we’re talking the empire itself, as well as some of the larger players and wheels of the scene—I’ll discuss more of the greater structure in later posts…

English: Henry (V) the Elder of Brunswick, Cou...

Oil painting by Johann Christian Ludwig Tunica. Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

Idasia, lying at the core of the continent Marindis, is often referred to as the Heartland Empire. While its presence tends to be overshadowed in the modern era by the threat of the continental Zuti empire to the southwest, it remains (and continues to grow as) a political and territorial powerhouse, constantly roving its neighbors’ borders. In certain circles, it is believed to be the “Third Empire,” which is to say, the third incarnation of Vata’Marindis, which the continent’s histories point to as the flower of human culture, if real. Though the royal family that could once trace its lineage back as far has since met with unfortunate ends (those pesky civil wars), the nation continues to cultivate that image.

But what makes Idasia truly unique in terms of politics is the nature of its imperial status. Though the Emperor wields utter political power over the state-at-large, the barest shreds of a republic can be seen lurking in the shadows of his death. Seven men, in a hereditary grant, are given the sole authority to choose the emperor. Known as the Altengarde, or the electors’ council, these men have the right to deny the passing Emperor’s own choice in a successor…though tradition does tend to dictate the title stay within the hereditary royal family.

It does, however, leave the door open for evading some truly nasty individuals…or at least the ones that don’t know how to play the game right and proper.

Custom dictates the Altengarde consists of the Dukes of Dexet, Wassein, and Sorbia, as well as the Count Palatines of Usteroy, Berundy, Fritensia, and Varstein—all imperial provinces in their own right. While the Dukes are essentially second only to the royal family itself in power, years ago the rank of Count Palatine was established in the noble hierarchy to give the royal family a greater ability to balance out that power. The palatines, as such, are answerable solely to the crown, and theoretically act in their interest, whereas all other nobles answer to imperial, as well as Ducal decree depending on where their particular realms lie.

The council itself was established to “thin the blood,” as it were, and evade the uncertainty that comes with traditional passage of power to the eldest son. The hope has always been that they would pick the best man for the job.

Sometimes it’s even true.

Inside Idasia: Religion, Part 1

Welcome, one and all, to the first edition of “Inside Idasia,” a new feature here on the Waking Den that I hope will shed some light into the dark places of The Hollow March. The opening topic, as the title would imply, is religion—something I don’t think we see quite enough of in the fantasy realm.

Religion is one of those critical forces in the Empire of Idasia and the continent of Marindis at large. It is one of the great polarizers, as well as one of the great equalizers (in theory, at least). While historically the unifying brotherhood of the continent has been the Church of Visaj, recent decades have seen a schism within the faith. While some point the finger to the Zuti heathens that have crossed the sea and entrenched themselves in the former Kingdom of Narana, most see the reverend Farre and his followers as to blame. While originally believed to be an issue of “the littlefolk,” it has begun to cause dissent among the lords, and even the royal family has not been immune to its chaos.

So we begin with a breakdown of the two major faiths in Idasia:

  • The Visaj:
    The traditional power on the continent. With its church based within the Principalities of Ravonno, to the south of Idasia, its whims have long been seen as mandate by pauper and prince alike. Their faith centers around the idea of “the Circles,” reincarnation, and breaking free of the mortal. At the core of this lies their god, known by many names but called most prominently Assal. Belief holds that those who traverse the circles of existence and break free will eventually become as one with Assal, and pass beyond the mortal coil. Their faith is laid out in a text known as the Vorges, written by the prophet Ademius (who would, in fact, later take the name Visaj) and his men centuries ago.The Church is led by a patriarch, though men and women alike are welcome within, and both are welcome as priests. Neither are allowed to marry. Owing to its key place within society, noble families are expected to offer up their second son or daughter’s life (if they are so blessed) to devotion within the Church. Peasants are not so bound. The Church itself can be broken into two internal categories at the moment (its various “sects” aside): the Orthodox, and the Humanists. The Orthodox are traditionalists, adhering strictly to the old tenants of the Faith. Humanists are more in line with the Farrens, in truth, straddling that heretical line while seeking to reform the Church from within. They believe a focus solely on achieving the final resurrection disconnects one from reality, and that, in truth, one must be concerned with the earthly realm to better themselves—a focus on the present, rather than the later.

    Much of Idasia’s old nobility remain firm Visaji, and greatly resent the spreading Farren faith. Until the last 15 years, Emperor Matthias of Idasia was long-heralded as the Church’s Defender of the Faith.

  • The Farrens:
    Revolutionaries. Reformers. Heretics. Visionaries. The term changes depending on who one asks, but the facts are simple: the Farrens are the result of a church too long corrupted by time’s corrosive march. It grew out of the Humanist movement within the Church, causing some of the ill-will felt toward those would-be reformers. Founded by Asanti theologian Rev. Farre in his homeland to the west, his religion originally seemed nothing more than a cult—and one easily quashed. After being driven from Asantil, however, Farre’s words began to take especial root among the littlefolk throughout the continent, but most prominently in the heartlands of Idasia.Since then, the Farrens have become so heavily entrenched among the people that only the Visaj Church still feels they can honestly be rooted out. Their cause received a massive boost with the conversion of the royal family of Banur, in the east, and several lords within the Idasian Empire. Their greatest claim has come, however, with the passage of a would-be “Freedom of Religion” decree within the Empire, following the Emperor’s marriage of a Farren bride. Though this has caused a great straining of relations between Idasia and the Visaj Church, and a number of the Emperor’s nobles (and family, for that matter), it has garnered the Emperor great respect among the people.

    Farrens seek to end the suffering caused by a focus on the later rather than the present. They seek to engrain their religion at a more base, human level, rather than on the lofty, often vague “circles” the Visaj church preaches to.

Yes, you heard me, "circles."

Over time, concerns have grown that the tensions between the two groups will eventually spark some sort of religious war, especially now that the Visaj have pursued the extreme measure of crafting an inquisition. While many nobles dismiss the capabilities of “peasant rabble,” others are less certain. With an issue that splits even the royal family, one thing is certain—things can only get worse before they get better.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first little peek inside the world of The Hollow March, and return for more such information prods in the weeks to come. This is hardly the end of religion either—while this deals with the two main faiths in Idasia, it doesn’t even touch the Zuti faiths, nor those of the Kuric northmen, and that’s a fact I intend to remedy in the future.