Swansong

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Swansong

Postby Kappa » Fri Jul 20, 2018 6:56 am

Swansong is a world with two kinds of magic.

Ordinary magic, the kind everyone has and knows about, is small and straightforward and limited. Everyone has the same amount of it, and can use it in the same ways, provided they learn how. It's short-range and has a sharply constrained area of effect: you can use it on things within approximate arm's reach, maybe somewhat farther if you're really good, and the volume of space you can affect at a time is a roughly-spherical blob about one cubic inch in size. Ordinary magic can light a candle or heal a papercut; but if you want to do anything really impressive with it, you have to put in either a lot of time or a lot of teamwork, and enchant an artifact.

Artifacts can be enchanted piecemeal - they have to be; you can't do enough magic at once to complete one. Artifact design is fiendishly complicated, and enchantment is a lengthy and tedious and painstaking process, but artifacts can do incredible things if you figure out how to make them. The most famous magical artifacts in the world are the fountains of youth and healing in the capital of the fallen empire of Ansaith, which took multiple generations of artificers to complete in their original form.

So what's the other form of magic, you ask, and is it any more convenient than this one?

The other form of magic is the magic of pain. It's possible for anyone to use it, but most people don't discover it because most people don't try to do the picking-up-power mental motion from ordinary magic at significant amounts of physical pain being experienced in their vicinity. And it's very difficult to handle, so most people who do try that end up losing control of the power and setting themselves on fire within a couple seconds, after which the sensible thing to do is definitely never try that again.

Less-sensible people who put in the work to pick up the skill - and have the luck and/or resources to avoid dying of all the fire they set themselves on in the course of figuring it out - can learn how to handle pain magic without dropping it. Once you've got that part down, you can figure out how to shape it into forms that do things more useful than explode. And then the real fun begins.

Pain magic is much more powerful than ordinary magic. Ordinary magic has a pretty hard upper limit; pain magic can't be picked up in quantities less than about a hundred times the maximum amount of ordinary magic it's possible to use at a time. You can casually do things with pain magic that an ordinary magic user would need years of artifact design and decades of manufacture to accomplish.

Its volatility is a serious drawback, though. Ordinary magic does artifact enchantment very neatly and tidily. Pain magic is incapable of holding still that long; you can form it into mostly-stable configurations, but it's hard to figure out how to even begin to do that, and even once you've got the idea, you'll find that your artifacts start to go haywire after a few months and have to be dismantled. Most historical users of pain magic haven't even gotten that far, though, and only ever figured out how to use the magic to create immediate effects, which means all their magic was accomplished while actively torturing someone.

The first person who figured out how to store pain power, and subsequently how to stabilize artifacts so they'd last as long as a few years without going crazy, was an Ansati lady named Halieve Narafaer. She taught her best friend, Serik Tanaikon, who also happened to be the Imperial prince, and then convinced him to attempt to usurp his father. There followed a very short, very nasty war, which killed the Emperor, turned the capital into a cursed wasteland of magic weapons gone awry, and left Serik alone with his four-year-old daughter, bereft of friends and family and the empire he'd tried to steal, regretting his choices immensely.

After a bit of soul-searching, he decided to abandon the pursuit of political power since he didn't even really want it anyway and the first attempt to get it had been such a massive disaster, and focus on magical power since he quite liked having that and the process of acquiring it was much more fun. He designed himself an indefinitely-stable power storage and amplification mechanism that would stay functional and non-explosive for as long as he kept regularly feeding it, and built in immortality for himself in his daughter so that they'd last as long as his power source did, and then he retired to the top of the nearest mountain to play with magic and ignore everything else, emerging only when he needed to kidnap new torture victims to feed his power source.

The concept of a spell hadn't really been invented by then; essentially what he'd done was enchant the entire mountain, and himself and his daughter, collectively into an artifact with the described properties. He figured out the concept of stable magic without a physical anchor after a while longer, but because of the stability issue, he built most of his spells on top of the spell/artifact tied to the mountain, so that they could piggyback on its stability hack.

One of the earliest such spells was the one that kept his torture victims alive and well no matter what horrific things he did to them. This was obviously very important; it would've been hugely inconvenient for him to have to traipse down the mountain to kidnap a new batch every week. Unfortunately, it had an unforeseen flaw, which was that it put a little too much pressure on the subject's mind and after half a century or so it would start to slowly destroy them over the course of the next few decades, ending when there was no longer enough left to in any sense qualify as a person.

Spell design in pain magic is very difficult, and casting is no walk in the park either, and dismantling an existing spell requires unraveling and reconfiguring all that power - and the more power you're holding, the harder it is to hang onto and the bigger the explosion if you drop it. So he was kind of stuck with the mind-destroying version of his victim-preservation spell, and the best he could do to patch it was find a way to slow the process down. This is how he ended up adding in an extra piece that turns the subject into a swan during daylight hours, which for inscrutable magic reasons changes how the spell affects them; the countdown to mental destruction is halted for as long as they're not in human form.

... yep, it was secretly Swan Lake all along.

Serik's daughter, being a good person who doesn't like when people are hurt, is understandably not thrilled with his torture hobby. But they're kind of stuck with it, even if he wanted to stop, which he mostly doesn't; at this point, if they let the power storage spell blow up, it would wipe the entire mountain off the map and take several nearby cities with it. So the best she can do is try to figure out improvements like "fix the swan spell so it doesn't kill them and he doesn't have to keep kidnapping new ones" and, hopefully, eventually, "fix the stability of the power storage and immortality spell so it doesn't need infusions of fresh power every few weeks", at which point she's hopeful that her father will at least substantially reduce the amount of torture in his weekly routine.

And now they're just sort of hanging around being the most awkward and introverted family imaginable, and the mountain has been nicknamed the Howling Mountain because of the ominous screaming for so long that everyone has forgotten what it was originally called, and in the modern kingdom of Nathureme it's a known risk of going to fancy parties in the capital that the Lord of the Howling Mountain might show up unexpectedly and kidnap you. It only happens once every few years or so on average, though, so fancy parties still happen and people still go to them.
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