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Within a tower on the outskirts of Nimbria City, there lived a Mage.

Just a few years past, this mage had been lauded as one of the saviours of the Kingdom of Nimbria, alongside his brave companions who had ventured into the tomb of the (albeit greatly-weakened) Demi-Lich Renashan to rescue the souls of the nobility who had been enslaved within his soul jars. Since then, however, the mage had put his adventuring days behind him, instead establishing the Nimbrian Academy of Essence Studies for budding mages.

Unfortunately for him, his institute never quite saw any success. He couldn’t blame them – people tended to apply for the more reputable institutes run by one of the three Archmages in Resham that dealt with affairs far larger than the scale of a single minor Kingdom, rather than a relatively unknown young Arcanist. By all metrics, he was a far, far inferior mage to those near-godly beings, even if he was already heads and shoulders above the vast majority of mages.

The lack of students or assistants didn’t bother him. While his companions had gone on to further their adventuring careers, Sylar Wershin had instead devoted his days to studying the magical artifacts that they had discovered in the Lich’s sanctum, relics of a bygone era. Occasionally, his former companions would pay him a visit whenever they were in the vicinity of Nimbria, bringing with them new arcane trinkets for his study.

It was why the twenty-three-year-old mage was currently mulling over the many sheets of parchment strewn across his table, studying the messy script written by his own hand, that bore lines and lines of text that had been crossed out, circled, and rewritten over and over again. Arrows and labels littered the page, lacking any semblance of order whatsoever. At the very bottom of the page, a single number was written in thick, bold ink, circled and underlined numerous times, with hard enough of an indentation to scratch the wooden table beneath.

70%
75%
77%
80%
84%
88%

90%, the final number in a long list stared back at him. Essence Expenditure: 49 Fn Form, 167 Fn Fate, 14 Fn Earth, 8 Fn Fire, 12 Fn Water, 4 Fn Wind. Soulburn 729 Pn.

He sighed. Far better than the 50% it had originally been, but there was still a 10% risk of failure.

His gaze returned to the artifact that occupied the only portion of the table that escaped unscathed from the frenzy of calculations, drawings of matrices, labelling of Essence shells and subshells, and theoretical modelling of spell stability. It had already been over a month of study, and its function continued to elude him. All that he could discern of the small orb-like device was that it had existed since the time of the ancient Rostaran Civilisation, and possessed potent amounts of two of the seven Transcendental Essences.

It had resisted every attempt from him to Identify its function, which was saying something, considering that Sylar was fully capable of casting a 6th Level Identify. Divination was a school of magic he took great pride in, with Fate and Form being the Transcendental Essences he could hold the greatest amounts of within his soul. After blowing two hundred gold pieces worth of reagents on an unsuccessful spell, he simply couldn’t allow the artifact’s function to remain undiscovered.

And so, he had shut himself in his tower over the last month, drawing matrix upon matrix of spell-circles, all in an attempt to finally tease out just what the damned artifact was.

Looking at what he had created, though, he privately wondered if his time might have been better spent on other pursuits.

Spells grew increasingly complicated with each successive level. The basic unit of a spell was Essence, the foundation of magic that took residence in a mage’s soul, to be fashioned into spells. There were the Four Primal Essences, the two Cores, and the Seven Transcendental Essences.

Essence had to be paired together and placed into distinct subshells, which gave rise to the first layer of combinatorial diversity. That alone wasn’t too difficult to sort out – there were only so many valid pairwise combinations that could be created. From there, however, things could quickly become unfathomably incomprehensible, because each subsequent layer had twice the number of subshells of its predecessor.

His theorised spell of discovery was of the Sixth Level, meaning that its matrix held 127 pairs of Essence, but he wasn't too bothered. He had cast spells of equivalent complexity before. At his current Essence Capacity, he could more than easily pull off a spell at this level, and handle the subsequent Soulburn that would be generated by the spell.

No, creating the spell from scratch had been the most difficult part of the entire process, a daunting task that took the better part of a month. It was why most mages followed the saner (and smarter) course of action, and relied on those wiser than themselves to devise and inscribe the workings of a spell, that they could then plagiarise wholesale. Thankfully, though, through dogged tenacity and intuiting a functional spell matrix based off other Divination spells, alongside what he had learned of Substantiology over the past five years, he had finally found a stable spell-form that should theoretically take hold.

90%. Was that a risk he could take?

“Ah, who am I kidding?” Sylar stood up from his seat, stretching muscles that had become sore from the past several hours of checking and re-checking his work. No matter how much longer he deliberated, he knew he wouldn’t make more progress from there. “Let’s just get this over with.”

He swept the pieces of parchment aside, placing them by another corner of his study. Replacing them on the table were the required reagents for the spell; crystals and vials of shifting substances that he knew to be the Transcendental Essences of Form and Fate that did not pervade the entirety of the material world as the Primal Essences did.

Form Essence and Fate Essence gave the spell its fundamental structure, supported by Earth Essence, Fire Essence, Water Essence, and Wind Essence for stability. The 254 Ferins of Essence were arranged into 127 pairs, placed into each of 127 subshells at specific positions that almost eroded his mind trying to comprehend and compile together onto parchment. With some effort, he envisioned the required arrangement, feeling the Essence shifting within his soul.

And with that, the matrix was formed, Essence pairs sliding into position. With a push born of both mind and soul, the spell-form activated, previously inert Essences flaring to life. Primal energies contained within every single unit of Essence were released as one, conferring a paradoxical stability and annihilation between pairs. The sea of his soul churned and raged, spent Ferins of Essence turning into Pyrans of Soulburn, the figurative heat that gripped the souls of all mages after casting any spell.

Through it all, though, the spell worked.

In his mind’s eye, he could see a vague image of the artifact’s function – at only Sixth Level, the spell was too imprecise to give an exact answer the way that an Archmage specialising in Divination magics could. The figures morphed and shifted, wispy vapours coalescing then dissipating rapidly, and Sylar’s mind struggled to process it all while fighting back the urge to retch from the Soulburn quickly building up.

There was a large door… no, a gateway? And then… Space Essence, more than Sylar had ever seen in his life; a dark void, an endless sea, upon which an immense ship that bore no sails traversed in an emptiness devoid of the Primal Essences –

A painting. No, a tapestry. People. An old civilisation, pottery descending from the Lost Ages. Rostaran make? They walked through the doorway, each clutching a sphere in their hands.

A dozen worlds. Dozens of dozens of worlds. The Elemental Planes. The Transcendental Realms Beyond. The domains of Demigods from second-hand descriptions of legends past. Planes beyond any that Sylar recognised. A single bridge, and then hundreds of bridges branching from the end of that bridge. Cowled figures walked across it, each of them holding a perfect replica of the artifact Sylar was studying.

The images passed too quickly for him to keep track of. Eldritch beasts. Spells of power unlike any he had seen before. Relics and artifacts he could scarcely recognise. Transcendental Essences spanning the entirety of worlds, freely available for the taking, as though the ubiquitous Primal Essences.

Around him, space itself was warping, the orb glowing white-hot. The table rattled and shook. With an alarmed shout, Sylar reached out to the orb before it could fall off, as the remaining power of the spell continued manifesting itself at a frenzied rate –

Then, with a resounding boom that shook the innermost reaches of his soul, the spell reached its completion. In that same instant, body, mind, and soul strained and buckled, an unpleasant lurching sensation that marked all teleportation magics seizing hold of Sylar.

Silence.

Moments later, within the tower on the outskirts of Nimbria City, all that was left was the fluttering of papers displaced by the rush of air filling the gap where mage and artifact had been.

-o-o-o-

“Ugh…”

Sylar Wershin, more commonly known in the Kingdom of Nimbria by his Mage Name of Sylar Spellsight, collapsed on the ground below, after what felt like both an eternity and a mere instant of his body plummeting through a vast emptiness. Teleportation magic. Not exactly the most common branch of Conjuration, given how difficult Space Essence was to procure, but he’d sparingly used a couple Blinks here and there in the past during his time as an adventurer, and Flash Step had bailed him out of numerous tricky spots.

He grimaced, weakened more in soul than body. Soulburn was a bitch. Anyone who could perform basic arithmetic knew that a Sixth Level spell gave 729 Pyrans of Soulburn, which was just short of half his current maximum. The calculations were simple: a Zeroth Level spell generated 1 Pyran of Soulburn, and for every unit increase in spell level, the amount of Soulburn would increase threefold.

He shook off his remaining disorientation, his ears still ringing from the thunderclap that had been the artifact’s unexpected activation. Technically speaking, his spell had worked, except accidentally activating the artifact hadn’t been something he’d foreseen. In all his prior experience with artifacts, that had never before happened with the more common Identify spell.

First things first – he needed to figure out just where in Lady Magic’s name he’d been transported to. Artifacts that teleported their users were uncommon, but nothing he hadn’t encountered before. This was not his first time being deposited into the middle of a forest, but he couldn’t glean much more information about his further surroundings save that it was a forest. With plenty of trees. Jolly, that.

Strange, though. There was something odd about how this place looked, but he couldn’t quite put a handle on it.

He shrugged it off for now. He was about to reach for the sphere, the typical course of action for reversing the effects of similar artifacts, when he encountered his first problem.

The sphere, unfortunately, had shattered. To his Divination-enhanced eyes, motes of Space Essence that had previously been contained within were rapidly diffusing away from the shards of obsidian-stained glass.

He cursed under his breath. Getting back would be more troublesome than he’d thought. He glanced around, trying to look for any distinguishing features that might tell him more about his geographical location.

Abruptly, he paused, stunned, as what had been nagging at his thoughts finally clicked.

What in the –

The lasting effects of Divination magics over a prolonged period of time allowed mages to see Essence for what it was. Ever since his rookie days as a mage, the Four Primal Essences that were Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind Essences had been his constant companions, present throughout the entirety of Resham. Four Primals of the Material, Two Cores of the Soul, and Seven Transcendentals of the Beyond, the saying known to all fledgling mages went.

Here, though, what had been an immutable rule was being thoroughly refuted all at once. Alongside the Primal Essences, he could see the Transcendental Essences of Shadow, Fate, Form, Space, Spirit, Life, and Death freely drifting through the Aether, joining their elemental kin. They were ubiquitous; omnipresent.

It made no sense. The Transcendentals were so prized because of their rarity, most of them being found as crystals in areas where the connections between the Material Plane to the Realms Beyond were the strongest. As an adept that had been dabbling in Divination over the past five years of researching artifacts, he knew painfully well how damned expensive it was purchasing shipments of Fate Essence.

Wherever the artifact had sent him, though, had plenty of them around, with the two Transendentals of Life and Death present in lower quantities. Sure, they were nowhere near as concentrated as condensed crystals were, but given enough time to infuse his soul with the Essence, he could even gather the 167 Ferins of Fate Essence that had been used to fashion the spell to interrogate the artifact’s function within a few hours. For free.

Come to think of it, hadn’t he seen a vague flash of that during the rapid sequence of fleeting images that had come with his spell? There had been so much of the Transcendental Essences there, that even Archmages would drool at the thought of having access to them for spells that Sylar knew he couldn’t even begin to comprehend.

Then there had been the other visions he had briefly glimpsed…

“A teleportation device…?” He frowned, thinking back. No one quite knew what happened to the Rostaran Civilisation during the last days of the Lost Ages. From his observations thus far, it seemed highly unlikely that he even remained within Resham. Taken together…

Had the Rostarans been capable of interplanar travel? Were there other such spheres in existence?

If so, it was huge news, and a finding that would raise new questions about just what had happened to the ancient civilisation. With the exception of the Labyrinth of Eyes, the home of Death Essence and the place to which all mortals eventually had to return, the only known means of traversing the Astral Sea that divided the Planes was using the natural gateways between Planes, where the Sources of Essences bled into Resham. Naturally, all who stepped through never once made it back. There were records of ancient spells of resurrection that were said to recall those lost to the Labyrinth of Eyes, but those have long since faded into legend.

Archmages far wiser than himself had done the calculations – such travel across so wide a distance would require a spell of the Fourteenth Level, and beyond the fact that no living Archmage had Essence Capacity anywhere close to the required 65534 Ferins for the casting, the associated Soulburn of 4782969 Pyrans would instantly overwhelm the mage’s soul. For comparison’s sake, he could presently hold just slightly more than 1600 Pyrans before reaching his limit.

Of course, while it would be exciting if it were true, it also meant that he was hopelessly lost at present, considering that the 729 Pyrans of Soulburn slowly being shed off in the aftermath of his spell was already starting to take its toll on him. It would take another hour or so before all the accumulated Soulburn would dissipate once more into their Planes of origin, to be converted back to Essence.

Right, then. Though he had left his adventuring days behind five years ago, he trusted his instincts. For now, his top priorities were to return to fighting shape, and then to see if there was any intelligent life out and about. For that, he would need some time to infuse his soul with ambient Essence, and to allow the Soulburn he had accumulated to be removed.

He gave another cautionary inspection of his immediate surroundings. He dared chance a little Detect Creature cast at Level One, the minor expenditure of Wind and Spirit Essence and associated Soulburn paling in comparison to his previous spell. As far as he could tell, he was the only sentient creature within fifty metres, his maximum range for such a low-level casting.

Unless, of course, they were veiling their presences with stronger Warding magics, in which case he was screwed, crippled in the spellcasting department as he currently was.

Still, he should be relatively safe. Cautiously, he drew upon a faint trickle of Shadow Essence from around him – no sense letting naturally-occurring Transcendentals of whatever world this was go to waste – fuelling an Obscure cantrip with two Ferins of the Essence. The Illusion spell hid him from mundane sight so long as he remained still, which would hopefully give him enough time to shave off some of his excess Soulburn until he could find a more lasting solution to hide while waiting out for the rest to dissipate.

A Hiding Hole should do nicely, once he could afford to cast a Fourth Level spell. The required Space and Wind Essences weren’t going to be too much of a bother, unlike the situation back in Resham. From there, he should be free from danger to allow his Essence stocks to replenish and to clear all his excess Soulburn over just short of an hour.

Despite himself, he was feeling excited. Most mages tended to steer their development towards elemental spells based off the freely-available Primal Essences. Sylar, however, was always interested in spells of more esoteric natures, as his chosen name, Spellsight, would attest. He’d always been limited by access to the Transcendentals, but now…

…well, to put it simply, he wondered whether or not he’d even want to return to Resham. Even if there wasn’t another soul around in whatever world the Rostaran artifact had sent him to, being able to indulge himself in a guilty pleasure like this might just be worth all the trouble involved.

Heck, he was even beginning to – dare he say it? – feel a little excited about his future prospects. Given enough time to grow his Essence Capacity and Soulburn cache, with this much of the Transcendentals up freely for the taking, he envisioned that he might just have some interesting days ahead…

-o-o-o-

[An excerpt from Mage Logbook #1, Sylar Wershin, aged 9]

The Essences

Four Primal Essences: Fire, Wind, Earth, Water. Naturally occurring within the Aether, and exists superimposed onto the material world. Originates from the Elemental Planes.

Two Core Essences: Order and Chaos. Naturally generated by the soul, each individual may only have one particular type. Modifies other Essences as an Essence pair by changing the elemental structure of a manifested spell.

Seven Transcendental Essences (and their associated primary branches of magic): Shadow (Illusion), Fate (Divination), Form (Transmutation), Space (Conjuration), Spirit (Enchantment), Life (Restoration), Death (Necromancy). Highly prized for casting of esoteric spells, and modifying spell flavour of higher-level spells. ****NECROMANCY FORBIDDEN IN NIMBRIA!!!****

The Fundamental Table of Spell Arithmetic

Spell Level

Essence Pairs (subshells)

Required Essence (Ferins, Fn)

Soulburn (Pyrans, Pn)

0

1

2

1

1

1 + 2 = 3

6

3

2

3 + 4 = 7

14

9

3

7 + 8 = 15

30

27

4

15 + 16 = 31

62

81

5

31 + 32 = 63

126

243

6

63 + 64 = 127

254

729

7

127 + 128 = 255

510

2187

8

255 + 256 = 511

1022

6561

9

511 + 512 = 1023

2046

19683

10

1023 + 1024 = 2047

4094

59049

11

2047 + 2048 = 4095

8190

177147

12*

4095 + 4096 = 8191

16382

531441

13*

8191 + 8192 = 16383

32766

1594323

14*

16383 + 16384 = 32767

65534

4782969

15*

32767 + 32768 = 65535

131070

14348907

16*

65535 + 65536 = 131071

262142

43046721

n

2n+1-1

2n+2-2 (i.e. Essence pairs x 2)

3n

 

*theoretical values only; highest known casted spell in recent history is of 11th Level. Legends of 15th Level spells in the Lost Ages, but Master Rynwald doesn’t believe they are true. Note the higher base value of the index for Soulburn compared to Essence cost.

[Transcriber’s notes: The table continues on, reaching levels of absurdity that leaves even Gods quaking in their shoes.]

Notes from today

- No known maximum spell level, as mages are instead limited by Soulburn and Essence Capacity. Ginshaw’s Observation states that Essence sets the limit at early stages of training, but because most mages grow both Essence Capacity and maximum Soulburn at similar rates, the tripling of acquired Soulburn per incremental spell level means that Soulburn makes most high-level spells unviable for casting. Senior mages often find that they have the required Ferins of Essence to cast a high-level spell, but cannot cast them because they cannot tolerate the Soulburn.

- The vast majority of combinations of Essence Pairs placed in subshells are incoherent, and results in magical backlash where Soulburn is generated without any spell manifestation. Spell theory helps with devising new spells from scratch, but existing knowledge is insufficient to confidently create new spells by the time of Eighth Level spells because of underlying complexity. Most spells are either discovered by accident or rediscovered from records dating back to the Lost Ages.

- Because Essence Pairs are organised into subshells, spells with the same Essence combination but different subshell arrangement can have vastly different effects. (e.g. Flare Burst and Fire Wave are both First Level spells consisting of four Ferins of Fire Essence and two Ferins of Wind Essence, but are paired differently and have pairs placed in different arrangements.

- After a certain point, most mages choose to specialise in using spells of a Transcendental Essence of their choice, in addition to the primal Essences. I asked Master Rynwald why, but he says the only reason why that is so is because buying the Transcendentals is too expensive for early stages of training.

- Master Rynwald says spells up to Third Level are so easy to him, he can cast them faster than the Soulburn builds up!

Classification of Mages in Resham

Neophyte: Capable of casting Zeroth Level spells.

Acolyte: Capable of casting Second Level spells.

Magus: Capable of casting Fourth Level spells.

Arcanist: Capable of casting Sixth Level spells.

Spellsong: Capable of casting Eighth Level spells.

Archmage: Capable of casting Ninth Level spells

Arch-archmage: Capable of casting Tenth Level spells.

Arch-arch-archmage: Capable of casting Twelfth Level spells.

Arch-arch-arch-archmage: …

[Transcriber’s notes: The list stretches on until the end of the page, much to Master Rynwald’s annoyance.]

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