Arcanum: Arcane Magic in Saelmaria
The world of Aeva is full of magical things. The ebb and flow of magical energies gives life to wonders beyond imagination and empowers spells that can create things out of a person’s wildest dreams. The people of Aeva refer to magic as Arcanum. In many ways, Arcanum is part of the lifeblood of Aeva. Without it, certain creatures and races like gnomes and elves would simply cease to exist. The dragons of Aeva, tied as closely as any creature could be to the world’s magic would disappear forever. Unfortunately, there are many people in Niveria who feel that none of these things would be altogether a bad thing.
Saelmarians see the world as threatened by the use of Arcanum, if not by Arcanum itself. The old stories tell that magic caused the Chaos Flood by breaching the barrier between planes, and the evil creatures that surged forth onto Aeva freely used Arcanum against the people of Saelmaria for decades. After the armies of the Holy Triad put down the forces of evil, Church clerics could not escape the conclusion that Arcanum posed a threat to the world. Even after the Divine Barrier was erected to limit access to the other planes, there were (and still are) many who felt that as long as there are people who can bend arcane magic to their own will, the world will never be safe from another Chaos Flood.
On other continents, Arcanum is as much a part of life as any other mystical power. The study and use of Arcanum is not considered dangerous unless a person uses it for ill purposes. In fact, there are stories of great cities founded entirely upon the use of Arcanum, capable of loosing their earthly bonds and floating high above the world in times of great danger. Of course, in Saelmaria, these places are spoken of in hushed, fearful tones. Such things could spell doom for the world, if they truly existed.
In Saelmaria, the study and practice of arcane lore is strictly forbidden. Fearing the rise of a powerful spellcaster who could rip a hole in the barrier between worlds, the Holy Triad chose to seek out and eliminate the great wizards of Saelmaria. Unable to escape to other planes, many wizards either left for other parts of Aeva. Those who would not or could not leave Saelmaria were eventually captured. The Holy Triad subjected these wizards to terrible fates—ranging from everlasting imprisonment to utter annihilation. All the great works of magical knowledge were gathered up and destroyed, the light of great bonfires filling the night sky. The Triad’s Crusaders were efficient. Wizardry was almost completely stamped out 800 years ago. Unfortunately, the problem of Arcanum use was not completely solved.
The only shapers of Arcanum left in the Holy Saelmarian Empire are sorcerers. Sorcerers are the true inheritors of Arcanum—those hapless individuals cursed with the “natural” ability to use Arcanum from birth. No one has been able to determine why a child is born with an innate ability to use magic, but the Church long ago decided that such children could eventually pose a threat to the world. They discovered a process, called crystalbonding, by which a sorcerer’s soul could be placed in a crystal. Controlling the crystal meant controlling the sorcerer’s spellcasting ability.
Thus, the Spell-slave was created. Most Spell-slaves spend their whole lives with the agony of knowing that ultimately the safety of their very souls depends upon their obedience and upon the good graces of whatever clergyman or noble holds their crystal. Many go through their entire lives without casting a single spell, and some might consider those few the lucky ones. For those who are allowed (or forced) to use their abilities too often can gain enough power to be considered a threat. When that happens
There are still a few un-bonded sorcerers and free wizards living in Saelmaria, however. These Arcanists usually work in the most secretive places they can find, desperately hoping to live out their lives undiscovered by the Holy Emperor’s Crusaders. Unable to openly investigate their magical theories, these practitioners of Arcanum rarely rise to the great power of their ancestors. Their colleagues in far away lands might be able to help them, but travel to those places is guarded by the Crusaders. The magic that allows a wizard to cross great distances with a single incantation is beyond the abilities of most Saelmarian Arcanists. The great sum of knowledge stored by the wizards and sorcerers of old has long been lost to the ravages of the cleansing by the Holy Triad. If such books do still exist, they are held in close guard by the Church and will never see the light of day, again.
In all, the practice of arcane magic in Saelmaria is dangerous business. Only the most foolish or desperate will have anything to do with these perpetually-hunted students of a most dangerous art. In the Saelmarian Empire, arcane magic is subject to rules that people elsewhere do not have to follow. The Empire alone created the class of Spell-slaves, and by doing so it defined the Spell-slave’s opposite, the Freecaster.
Crystalbonding has been an accepted part of Saelmarian life for over seven centuries. Revealed to the clerics of Khemed, crystalbonding enables a Holy Triad cleric to imprison a sorcerer’s soul in a specially prepared crystal. Once completed, the bearer of that crystal has the power to control a sorcerer’s spellcasting, either by denying him the ability to access Arcanum or even by forcing a sorcerer to cast a specific spell.
The process of crystalbonding begins with the creation of the soulcrystal. This task is accomplished by a Holy Triad cleric with the Craft Soulcrystal feat. Once the crystal has been crafted, the cleric usually a cleric of Tavril, will prepare it to receive the divine power of the crystalbond spell. The details of the Crystalbond spell are included in the Spells section.
Once a sorcerer has been crystalbonded, much of his very being is literally in the hands of the one who controls his crystal. The soulcrystal becomes the focus for any future spellcasting attempts. In order to cast a spell on his own, the Spell-slave must have the soulcrystal in his possession. If the Spell-slave’s owner wishes to allow or force a Spell-slave to cast a spell, he must hold the crystal, instead. In those cases, the spell will manifest from the crystal, instead of from the sorcerer. A Spell-slave’s owner must receive special training in the use of soulcrystals. This training is represented by the Use Soulcrystal skill (see the Skills section). Although the incidents are very rare, it is possible for a Spell-slave to receive this training in order to use the soulcrystal of another Spell-slave.
Most Spell-slaves were crystalbonded at a very early age. The Church has appointed a special group of Crusaders who travel the roads of the Empire and make annual stops at every village. The Crusaders use combinations of divine magic and psionics to test each child born within the last year for signs of arcane magical ability. Children who are found to be potential sorcerers are taken from the village to the nearest enclave of the Holy Triad, where the specially-trained Tavrilian clerics will enact the crystalbonding ritual. Obviously, this practice is not a popular one, but the teachings of the Church ensure that every villager in the Empire understands the danger posed by rogue sorcerers who evade crystalbonding. As such, pressure from other villagers helps to ensure that overprotective parents do not attempt to hide their magically gifted children.
Those parents who discover that their children are somehow “special” do have one chance to save their offspring from a life of slavery. There are organizations who believe that sorcerers pose no greater threat to the world than any other force of nature. They work against the Empire by attempting to keep young sorcerers from the hands of the Crusaders before they are bonded to a soulcrystal. If a young sorcerer’s parents can get him into the hands of one of these organizations before the annual testing, the child may be raised as a Freecaster capable of using his powers without restriction. Of course, while his parents have saved him from a life of slavery, they have also consigned him to the life of an outlaw. A Freecaster who is discovered and captured may be subjected to crystalbonding, but will more likely be considered too great a threat. Such threats to the safety of the Empire must be eliminated.
Spell-slaves are now fairly common in Saelmarian society. The Church employs the majority of these unfortunate men, women, and children as grounds keepers or to perform other menial tasks in cathedrals and parishes throughout the Empire. By keeping them close to houses of worship, the Church ensures that these spell-slaves can be constantly reminded that their magical abilities are an affliction to be renounced. They are told that their abilities are not gifts, but serious threats to their salvation and only the mercy of the Church has saved them from eternal damnation as potential destroyers of the world.
In seeming contradiction to those teachings, the Church will occasionally turn over control of some Spell-slaves to particularly well trusted officials, both religious and secular. The Church leadership explains their actions in two ways. First, places of worship do not have limitless resources to care for their bound charges. Even the labor they provide is often insufficient to pay for their room and board. If the Church were to attempt to “care for” every Spell-slave in the Empire, the Church would soon find itself running out of resources.
Secondly, the Church argues that it is sometimes necessary to use Arcanum against Arcanum. Only those with a full understanding of the forces of arcane magic can know the best ways to fight those who would use it against the kingdoms of the Empire. These rare Spell-slaves are encouraged to develop an understanding of Arcanum and learn to use it to cast spells in much the same way that a Freecaster does. These Spell-slaves serve the kings of the Empire as advisors on the arcane arts or as battle mages, fighting alongside the clerics of Tavril.
So, to defray costs and put the dangerous power of Arcanum to use for the good of the Empire, the Church must send some of its Spell-slaves into the service of the Empire’s nobility. In theory, those nobles are carefully selected to ensure that the slaves and their abilities will not be abused. Additionally, the Spell-slaves themselves are chosen for this service because the Triad clerics feel that they can be trusted to use their magic only in the service of the Empire. Of course, not all things work according to theory.
While there are many bonded sorcerers who serve their masters well and are treated fairly in return for many years, Spell-slaves who are not constantly watched by Holy Triad clerics tend to fall into two groups—the pitiful or the rebellious. The pitiful are sent to serve nobles who earned the privilege with their money and power rather than by proving themselves personally worthy. These cruel masters are most often the ones who use their Spell-slaves as magical items, draining them of spell after agonizing spell until they fall unconscious and are dragged back to dirty cells to await their keepers’ next demands. Occasionally, these nobles will fail to keep their abuse of power hidden from the Church and the Triad will have to intervene. Unfortunately, this typically results in destruction of both the noble and his Spell-slaves, for fear that the slaves have become too powerful from casting too many spells and gaining too much knowledge about the craft.
The rebellious are those slaves who never truly believed the teachings of the Church, but managed to convince their keepers that they did. These few either work toward their own agendas—usually revolving around escape—or for other organizations bent on helping others to escape or to evade capture.
A Spell-slave who does escape capture will not stay free for long unless he manages to recover his soulcrystal. By casting certain divine spells on the crystal, authorities can locate, immobilize and even retrieve a wayward slave. Additionally, destroying a soulcrystal without first freeing the sorcerer’s soul consigns the spellcaster to eternal oblivion. If the Church’s clerics even have the ability to free a Spell-slave’s soul, they are not admitting it. Regardless, the threat of total annihilation is one that very few Spell-slaves are willing to take lightly.