SummaryAll across Veltrona, magic and its limitless possibilities are quite commonplace. All sorts of names describe those who practice it for a living–wytche, sorcereress, magician, wizard, etc. These names are precious products of the cultures that created them, for perception is itself a key ingredient to magic. Hence, their names are quite important to them. The identity of 'mage' became a sort of catchall identifier without regard to these cultural clues. A human civilization is credited by dragonkind as its originator. Although they were eventually lost to time and virtually forgotten otherwise, the ancient name continues its dutiful service. In its makers' minds, a mage was someone who "made the impossible, possible", chiefly through magical means. A more literal meaning would be along the lines of "weaving mana to create something from nothing". Dragons rather liked the idea, and in a rare case of deigning to do so, adopted the word into their language. From there on out, the idea of a mage spread across the world along with them. It became a companion name along other magical practitioners. Whether it was elevated or derided depended on the people, since not everyone liked dragons. As it had such a universal presence, scholars of varying civilizations used the name as a point of reference. Even if common vernacular did not, it was a useful way of keeping records sensibly in order. For most everyone else, mage became a way of saying someone could "do magic in a capable, serious way". Traditionalists and those prideful of their ancestral names will, nonetheless, insist upon their proper titles. This becomes even more important when religious or other social roles are intertwined with magical ability. A person could qualify as a mage but identify under a completely different idea instead.
The Magical ArtsBroadly speaking, using mana to do magic in a systematic way is typically Magical Arts. The nuance of how these arts form is an important thing to be aware of when dealing with magic. As magic itself is completely informed by knowledge, perspective, etc, inheriting someone's arts inherits their understanding. This can be a good or bad thing. Going down a trodden road is much more secure and reliable, with little fear in a wild accident. However, a person may find their talents limited or full of the flaws of their predecessor. The entirety of magic across the world is a constant battle between these two sides. New generations inheriting older works constantly try to redefine it, shrug off the old problems while keeping its strengths. Not to mention all the cultural feedback that exists around this. Some forms of magic are completely avoided due to stigma, perceived inadequacies, or otherwise. Then the individual notions of people actually doing the work cause further changes. Mages are the proverbial center of the storm of magical arts, constantly pushing boundaries or redefining how things work. By necessity their craft requires inventiveness and a willingness to grasp impossible ideas. At least, until one becomes satisfied with their own ability or hits a roadblock of some kind. In the olden times, mages passed their arts down from mistress to disciple(s). The direct conveyance of their understanding, as well as practical teaching, created strong successors. Writing, though, has ever been a weird problem for them. One could write down how to do magic, but it does not clearly teach the 'internal working'. It is a sort of half-done solution: a student can start with some ideas, but they do a lot more work on their own. Some mages deliberately exploited this by only passing their teachings on through writings. Reinvention of their arts is what allowed innovation to change it down through the generations. Atenkhet would be among those who largely do written and systematic forms of magic. It's usually seen as robbing someone of their own contributions by directly conveying to a student. Without their own room to invent something, they are merely inheritors to a mage's legacy. Some are fine with this, of course, especially the proud and traditional mage families. Iteration is simply more controlled and meticulous for them. Sa-kemet Tribes on the other hand largely follow mistress and disciple arrangements. It's done for similar reasons in many other nomadic cultures: there isn't a lot of space to carry written material. Only the most important things are kept, so the broad 'foundations' are intact. What grows out of the foundations changes with each and every generation. The Path of Cultivation, while arguably a magical art style by another name, implements anything it can. If a cultivator obtains once-in-a-millennia enlightenment, conveying it to future disciples can have radical impacts. Entire schools and sects arise and fall based solely on these world-shaking understandings. On the other hand, when knowledge is lost, cultivators are left to forge paths into the unknown once more.
Hau-Joren's LegacyHau-Joren, wokma mistress and once-Principle Supreme of the Imperium, remains one of history's most arguably important mages. Practically standing atop the world, only bowed beneath the likes of Imperious or Bloodwing, Hau-Joren centralized all the Imperium's magical knowledge. She set to collecting, translating, cataloging, and ascertaining all the magics in the world that could be gathered. For the centuries in which the Imperium existed, her wokma servants stretched far and wide. In the last century of the Imperium's lifetime, Hau-Joren's libraries boasted the most functionally complete ensemble of magical knowledge to be found. Located just outside of the capital, the libraries were closer to a functional micro-city with its amenities and on-grounds permanent staff. The Yovaven Baamdar, roughly "place/shrine of mystery/knowings and insight/comprehension" became a legendary location of magical learning. So too did its works spread across the Imperium's territories, imparting new standards of education upon the world. Many of the oldest surviving magical arts can draw their ancestry back to its influence. When the World Gate exploded and the Great Darkness followed, Yovaven Baamdar was thought lost forever. Hau-Joren, paranoid of protecting her works, had laid formidable magical defenses across the entire library. How much survived is unknown, but sealed and intact pieces of it can be found across Veltrona. These surviving selections still contain the pristine and carefully designed magics of the Imperium. Some are even rumored to contain secret and hidden arts, the private selections of the Imperium's magical elite. All sorts of treasure huntresses are on the look out for them, not to mention archaeologists and magic researchers. Over time, each recovered section's value has somewhat shifted. As in technology, the world's magical aptitude recovered and improved. Much of what could be learned became equivalent, or worse, to independently developed magics. Still, the allure of something secretive or groundbreaking is utterly gripping. No one would pass up the chance to recover a piece of Yovaven Baamdar.
The Evil of Sorcerer King GhownWhen the rise of the Baarham came about after the Great Darkness, a time of great evil and terror followed. King Ghown grew to be one of Veltrona's most capable sorcerers, eclipsing even Hau-Joren's once vaunted name. All he did, with every beat of his heart, was to further the supremacy of the baarham. There was no moral, no ethic, no law or concept worthy of impeding him in the pursuit of this goal. To King Ghown, magic would become the ultimate tool that would secure the baarham forever. His deeds became such that detailing them in their totality is exceedingly difficult to do. Few people can endure the incredible brutality that he worked by, or the systematic devastation he implemented. Mass ritualistic sacrifices, cruel magical experimentation on living or dead subjects, abominable blood-splicing projects like the chimaera, the eradication of entire civilizations, and more are the proud hallmarks he wore. His calculative approach broke entire new frontiers of magical theory, often so terrible that 'evil' is merely a starting point to describe them. After the baarham Dominion vanished suddenly, centuries of brutal warfare follow. Inspired, directly or not, by the vast and cruel ability of the Dominion, war-oriented magics took on horrific new natures. Even those far removed from the power vacuum of the Dominion became affected as new warladies arose every day. Some of the worst atrocities in recorded history happened in those long, bloodstained centuries. The only thing that, arguably, saved civilizations was the immense surge in the Forsaken from the grievously wronged dead. People had to fight them more than each other after a certain point. Long after the wars ended and people retreated to tend their wounds, the likes of jiuweihu, dragons, and the surviving baarham themselves stepped up. They denounced the now-dead Ghown and his ways, destroying or sealing all the Dominion's magics they possibly could. Never before had so many great powers come together to bury a single man's legacy. They did well to record his vile deeds, but ensured no one could profit from them as he once did. For everyone else, many fears about the power of unchecked magic arose. Knowledge is almost ever-green in its potency, and now virtually everyone knew truly horrible ways to apply it. Arguably, the greatest legacy of the Dominion was the visceral and strong backlash against magic it inspired. Cultures all over Veltrona took on more cautionary, careful, or controlled approaches with powerful checks and balances. Those who once scorned magics and its practitioners found themselves validated in doing so, rightly or not. It became a defining point in history where mages, as a whole, had scrutinizing and mistrustful gazes cast upon them. In time, the wounds healed for many. New eras of mages arose, their cultures tempered by the history they'd emerged from. Where immortals or those with long lives exist, though, history is still very much alive. It can be a struggle between those who changed, and those who remember Ghown and what followed.
The bottom floor of what a 'mage' is varies wildly. Some cultures value any capable, regularly usable magical talent. Others demand specific accomplishments or metrics be met, such as mana capacity. It ends up being one lands' mages is another's barely discernible person. No end of squabbling results over these differences, especially from magical persons high in the social ladder. In Aerthen, the social norms surround mages having guilds, associations, and other venues. These groups catalogue a mage's capabilities, denoting specific achievements (such as killing Relentless, repairing equipment, healing people, etc). Various 'chains of responsibility' arise so that if a mage were to break the law, consequences will follow. It is a tenuous system that is ever raged against as the checks and balances change from queendom to queendom. By contrast, Nerzin is rife with magical arts of all kinds. Practitioners are not uncommon; virtually everyone has some form of homekeeping magic or something more serious. Mages only gain notoriety when they command especially great reserves of mana, or powerful magic. A person may be able to conjure a tiny breeze that moves about the leaves, or collects dust. A mage can throw a warrior across a field with a gust of wind. Power is the greater underlying measurement of recognition. Those who live in Etzli Cuauhtla intertwine magical arts and spiritual purposes together. The distinction of a mage arises when one commits to practical arts more than spiritual deeds. Some cultures see it as a betrayal of their duties, while others are torn between the two. The entanglement of spiritual purpose and magical ability are common themes shared in Jerhegn, Immensio, and Sa-kemet. Understanding that not everyone has the same spiritual ideas, mages are an easy common ground to put 'others' inside of. It can carry derogatory connotations as a result.
A reliable, 'objective' measure of a mage is typically their mana capacity. In a basic sense, more internal mana (or command of external sources) means greater capabilities when handling magic. Something like 'efficient mana usage' for magic is much harder to track, and usually a measure of one's skill. Following this simple track, more usable mana is equivalent to a more powerful mage. It doesn't always work that way, but it is a decent place to start from. Better methods of measuring a mage's ability are usually invoking certain kinds of magic, usually complex formulas or heavily mana-demanding ones. Not all of them are practically useful except as a means of test, so they can be good qualifiers. By stressing a person's ability to do these kinds of magics, their actual ability is better discerned. Of course, if someone can do something ridiculous like throwing building-sized boulders with veltron magic, that is also convincing. Advancing along the path of a mage isn't that different from a scholar in a sense. Knowledge, perception, and understanding all fundamentally shape magic; ergo, they impart 'power'. The more of these a mage can learn, comprehend, and practice, the better they will become. However, their bodies also need tempering and training to handle the awesome power they'll be wielding. What exactly needs to be done depends much more on the type of magic and how it's utilized. Some magical styles have virtually no stress on the body, letting even sickly or elderly perform them without trouble. Most, generally, require a healthy if not strong body as a matter of course. There isn't a roof to a mage's future, quite literally it can keep growing to the moment of their death. People are more liable to tire out and seek retirement than they are to hit a stopping point. Other issues can arise as well, such as health, physical aptitude, ego, and various factors that can limit one's growth. These problems are what many mages must overcome to continue on, rather than any arbitrary notions of 'magic has an end' or 'limit'. Natural talent has its place, but personal drive and commitment are much greater concerns.