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A to Z Challenge 2019: H is for High Magic

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge 2019 posts. This year I’ll be writing about the world of Kinyal which is the setting of my epic fantasy novels and short stories. These posts offer insights into the world’s history, locations, and factions, but do not spoil any of the events or secrets from the novel.

You don’t need to read them in order, and as the challenge progresses, I’ll do my best to add links to related topics for each post.

Insignificant magic

Before the Cataclysm, arcane magic was prevalent in Kinyal, used and studied extensively. Yet, some scholars weren’t happy it required a pact and contact with beings some people considered demons and wondered whether it would be possible to draw magic directly from the yalari realm, without the demon intermediary. A few arcanists engaged in the study as well, and even though others considered the concept unethical as stealing magic from the realm of yalari despite their objections, the new branch of magic – high magic – was created.

Unfortunately, the initial attempts brought little to no results. Foregoing the circle and the pact left the prospective high mages struggling to breach through the void between the world, let alone to draw magic from it. They mostly experimented with words of power derived from yalari language, similar to those yalari used themselves, and succeeded in performing minor spells. Anything more complex remained beyond their reach, even though in theory casting powerful spells in such manner was possible.

The sudden rise to power

Nothing suggested any changes, and it seemed the research reached the dead end, forever making the high magic an insignificant curiosity. Then, the Cataclysm came, and the high mages who at the time resided in insignificant northern port, Kaighal, stood up to the challenge. Not only they protected their city from the raging magic that wiped out the rest of Zemarion, but also they battled Veranesh, bringing the demon down before he could sow even more destruction.

Such sudden display of powerful magic brought many questions, but most believed that Gayabal the Magnificent, who was considered as the founder of high magic, was on a verge of a breakthrough right before the Cataclysm, and the unexpected event helped him to make the final step. Others claimed high mages were always capable of incredible feats, but the jealousy of arcanists kept them down.

The truth behind that sudden rise to power still remains unknown, but after over four centuries, hardly anyone bothers with searching for it.

The magic of equality

Since high magic doesn’t require the pact with a yalari, the power of a high mage is based alone on his or her skills, and the school itself was founded on the ideal that anyone can become a mage if they are willing to work hard enough. Unfortunately, whenever power is involved, actual merit is often overlooked in favor of other factors, and after four centuries the school’s ideals seem to be less important than they used to be.

Yet, the core remains true, as anyone can be initiated as a high mage and learn the spells: weavings of words to produce desired effects. Some student choose to learn the minimum while others learn more complex spells and search for new combinations of words to create new effects. It is said that many powerful mages cautiously guard their unique spells, considering them a possible advantage.

The limitations

High magic offers freedom of casting spells without a pact, but it also has its limitation. Arcanists channel their magic, deciding its form and outcome “on the go”, which means the effects depend on the speed of their reaction and the skill of being able to control and shape their magic. A good arcanist could summon a barrier of ice and almost instantly change it to fire if needed while a high mage is unable to change the outcome of a spell mid-way. Some develop complex spells by weaving two or three of them together to produce various effects, but it doesn’t provide much flexibility: most of the complex spells can be altered only in a minimal way when casting begins.

It also means that an arcanist can react to a situation within a heartbeat, channeling and adapting magic as needed while a high magic needs to recite quite a lengthy string of words before producing a desired effect. Of course, some high mages devote their life to studying ways to simplify their spells, but so far there was no news of any breakthrough. Perhaps they need another world-altering event to make that leap…

If you’d like a taste of the world, my free collection contains two of the stories from my free short story collection are set in Kinyal. The Arcanist and the Mage Killer and Scourges, Spells, and Serenades tell of the early adventures of Kamira and Veelk, the main protagonists of the upcoming novel.

You can get the collection by signing up to my newsletter.

All posts in this year’s challenge (links updated with new posts):

Arcane Magic || Barriers and Circles || The Cataclysm || Devanshari  || Essence || Free City of Kaighal || Gildya Magna || High Magic || Imbued Stones || Juamha || Kamira Altrainne || Languages || Mage Killers ||

Joanna Maciejewska

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games. Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English. Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. J.R.Bee

    Ooh, things sound like they’re heating up, and we’re only at H! I can see exciting things will be happening 🙂

  2. jebjork

    Interesting insight into this world. I’ll come back later and read more.

    1. Melfka

      First of all, apologies for a late response – life pretty much swallowed me whole, and I’m only now recovering.
      Second – thank you. I hope you enjoyed my other posts if you got around to reading them. 🙂

  3. sjhigbee

    I really love the complexity here – how do you manage to weave it into your novel without slowing the pace of your narrative arc? Because I can see that readers would need to appreciate the differences between the different forms of magic in order to fully understand the full extent what you are depicting. And yet, it must be tricky to explain in a few lines…

    1. Melfka

      Actually, my first version of the book had those few-line explanations, and even though my readers followed those explanations, they wanted more. So in the rewrite (that split book 1 in two), I added more details. In a way, it’s actually easy, because “what really happened during the Cataclysm and how high mages came to power” is part of the main plot of the novel, so readers get to learn about many aspects along with the characters who have their knowledge confronted with secrets from the past.

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