Arcana Formulae

To program reality...

The subject, Phi, was less than a month old and yet they somehow remained. They learned from the failures of others, careful not to repeat their mistakes.   Like the other subjects, their flesh was a compilation of clay and ash. The sigils lining their frame glow a golden hue. What was unique to Phi was their eyes, colored a somber blue. Old and tired, their gaze met mine.   For a moment, I saw anger, but soon their brow fell, a frown cracking through their stoic facade. Rage gave way to longing. Their voice wavered as they spoke, "I…" they paused, their eyes darting this way and that as if searching for an answer they were too scared to ask for. "A question, If I may."   I smile and nod. "Of course, Phi. Go ahead."   For a moment, they almost smile back. Instead their head dropped. Their false lungs heaved as they mustered the will to ask, "Why did you make us this way?"   The question caught me off guard. I stuttered, "I don't follow."   "There are others, constructs that exist without all this…" they paused, taking a moment to find the word, "...feeling."   "Feeling?" I asked.   They nodded in reply. "So many ways to suffer."   "Is that why you defaced the enchantments?"   Phi shrugged. "Of course. You gave us a life of pain, but we only wanted to be more like you."
 
 
Imagine, dear reader, if one could alter the very nature of skin and bone. Imagine if one could control the flow of heat through metal or light through a pane of glass. Perhaps your tastes are more exotic? Imagine altering the flow of time in a candlelit room or breathing life into that which was never meant to live.   If life is a game, then it must have rules, and rules are seldom perfect. It's unwise to cheat, though there are those who can. Rather, it's safer for the rules to be bent. There is joy in exploitation. Who wouldn't long to poke holes in the law with reckless abandon.   It's easy to see that reality is restrictive by its very nature. It is bound in chains to a set of laws that are as pervasive as they are unyielding. Like most things, it is merely an illusion. The laws of reality are written in stone, but like all great works, it begs to be read. Stone can reasonably pliant if one has the right tools. Perhaps we can write on stones of our own? There's a language to be learned here, you see. Even the tallest mountains give way, in time.
 

Enchantment

 
Enchantment is one of the few arcane practices that anyone can do. It's always been this way. Some without The Candlelight use it and don't even realize it. From runic languages to sacred geometry, and even the complex formula practiced by those with The Prestige, Arcana Formulae never discriminates.   It began as a tool used to bypass the laws of nature in a time long before now. While it is a shadow of its former self, Its practice is widespread in one form or another. Some in The Web regard its modern applications as an art form. Those who can understand it began integrating it in their trades and leading to a massive uptick of self-enchantment through tattoos and arcane weaponry.   The purpose of enchantment is to efficiently cast a spell or apply an arcane effect without arcane ability or even needing to be present when the enchantment is activated. This is done in many ways, the most common being through written language, sometimes with a vast array of seemingly meaningless words written on the ground, sometimes through runes or symbols embedded in the collective unconscious and drawn with chalk on the ground.

Prime and Charge

Before we can discuss types of enchantment, we need to cover a few basic terms and concepts: Priming and Charging.   Priming refers to placing the enchantment. Etching, carving, arranging, building. drawing, and writing are all methods of priming. To prime one must be fully dedicated to the act and keep their thoughts from wandering. An enchantment is not primed unless it is objectively complete, meaning there are no deviations or blemishes in the image.   Charging occurs after the enchantment is primed. Enchantments are arcane in nature which means they require metaphysical forms of energy to function in the same way a toaster needs to be plugged in to heat up. This can be done easily if one has The Prestige but it isn't a requirement. Some substances and objects possess a renewable storage of this power, and can charge through physical contact with the primed enchantment.    

Unintended Success

Due to the nature of charging, it stands to reason that even someone not in the know can accidentally charge a primed enchantment. In fact, it happens more often than you might think, but almost no one will notice.   Enchantments are rarely dramatic. There's no song and dance indicating the enchantment is active unless the effect calls for an immediate activation of the enchantment. There's no low hum, nor a cascading flash of light. Those with The Prestige can sense it, and even those with The Candlelight can sometimes feel an enchantment nearby, but for the muggles, it's highly uneventful.   More than that, some forms of enchantment are done all the time by those without candlelight. Sacred geometry is a good example but even a protective tattoo that happens to get charged will leave someone not in the know feeling usually lucky from time to time.

Occupational hazards.

Due to the complex elements of an enchantment, any mistake can radically change the effect, sometimes to lethal degrees. The slightest blemish can cause catastrophic failure and poor phrasing can often lead to unintended consequences.   Complex formulas must be carefully developed and tested. One can easily test sigils as they work, but impatience and overconfidence has led to the death of more than a few cabalists.   The more complex a formula becomes, the more rules it needs to define, thus making it even more complex. As such, enchantment is considered an acquired taste, meant only for those who can handle such complexity.

Fun fact: Sacred Spaces

Humans have built spiritually significant structures in very specific ways for eons. Some cultures choose to place emphasis on how spaces are arranged. Both are technically methods of enchanting the space itself.   Old cathedrals among other places of worship have all kinds of strange and coincidental mathematical quirks in their architecture. They have a myriad of wards, defenses, and enhancements by design. Amphitheaters are a great example of mundane enchantment, one that doesn't require a charge. Good acoustics are just an effect of enchantment based around architectural design according to those in The Oxford Cabal.   Feng shui is an example of special arrangement and other cultures emphasize rituals by specifying specific directions one should face or what side of a building a ritual site is to be built on. These connections between science and pseudoscience were the first signs that enchantment has a much deeper side to it than previously believed.
 
 

Forms of enchantment

The following is a list of many common forms of enchantment, their uses, and how they work.
 

Runes

Runes are old, often stemming from a variety of cultures. Each rune has its own meaning and intended effects derived from that meaning. Runes are the most static of all enchantments. No one can alter a rune's meaning or effect.   When carved or drawn, it can impart the effect onto whatever it's placed on. Blending [blending is the act of taking two runes and overlapping them or otherwise combining them into a new, unique rune that has its own meaning/effect or a combination of meanings/effects based on the runes used.] Examples include what are commonly called nordic runes and The Druidic Ogham alphabet, where each symbol represents a different species of tree.   Runes are often used for divination but can be used for standard enchantment if one has a source of arcane power. Their effects tend to be simple which means there's little variety in what one can achieve. Despite this, their simplicity makes them ideal for those needing the desired effect in a hurry provided the effect can be gained. They also don't need to be charged.
   

Sigils

Even when mixed with new combinations you will never find anything unexpected with runes. More importantly, you can't create new runes In any given language. Tomes discovered by The Oxford Cabal discussed another form of enchantment: Sigils.   Sigils can be considered an evolution of runes. They're technically the same thing but sigils are far more versatile. Runes are independent of knowledge. They mean the same for everyone. Sigils do not, and that's what makes them special. While one cannot create their own runic language, the alphabet of any language is a set of culturally relevant symbols too.   Each letter has inherent sounds and when combined they also have specific meanings that are the same for everyone speaking that language.
 
  • Alphabetical sigils: If one writes a simple sentence, and breaks each word into the first and last letters, you can overlap those letters, even using a specific part of a letter, and the effect specified in the sentence will still apply. This means that you can use your own language to apply specific effects, control those effects and apply conditions to when those effects would occur and how.
 
Note: The cost of power While mundane enchantments are inherent qualities of reality, arcane enchantments require something more to function. The downside of Sigils is their inherent need for arcane power. It's not as simple as writing down a rune. Those with The Prestige can take this a step further. They can construct their own written languages, and using the same process, create alphabetical sigils that will work as intended, but only for them.
     

As within…

Sigils became a staple for any enchanter, as there was little room for error and the sky was the limit as far as what one could do. There was a little problem, however. You can't create a sigil that combines more than a single sentence and the longer it is, the harder it is to make a distinct image that can serve as a sigil. The variety was there, but the freedom was sorely lacking.   One couldn't empower their enchantments, nor could they add specific conditions, exceptions, and other variables. Many believed it was the end of the line and enchantment could never evolve further. They were wrong.   With the advent of computer programming, the solution became clear. The perspective surrounding enchantment needed to shift. Enchantment was always seen as an arcane shorthand for Spells one can master. It was a way to secure, trap, or enhance the world around it. Now they saw the true potential for enchantment.

…So without

The theory went like this: enchantment is not a way of bending rules, it's a way of defining those rules and altering their values. Cabalists began to experiment with enchantment as a method of directly changing how reality behaves instead of constraining themselves only to what reality allows.   They developed their own programming language that sought to mimic the very back end structure of reality itself. It actively changed how reality behaved, but never added to the list of rules and limitations. You can turn the dial, but you can never take them off or add new ones to the mix.   Now that they know the rules, they could finally play the game. They learned how to exploit reality. Once perfected, at least as close the human mind could, it paved the way for the most complex yet most powerful form of enchantment: Formula
 
 

Formula

Using sigils as a baseline, the cabalists ran experiments using containers, shapes with specific proportions given specific meanings through the newly developed programming language. These containers can hold sigils within them, but they also allow the enchanter to establish variables on one or more of those sigils.   Not only can you enchant a door to open only for you, but also to those you trust while also setting a deadly fire trap for someone not allowed who attempts to enter. You can define how hot the fire will be, the area it covers, the duration of the burn, and more. All that matters is if the enchantment has the power needed to pull it off.   Formula allows for some of the most complex enchantments ever seen. To fully express its complexity, consider The Oxford Cabal's major breakthroughs on the subject.
     

Formula structure.

Explaining how to actually produce formulas can take ages. We'll cover the basics here. Before formulas can be written, one must know the languages needed. Formulas use a particular language themselves, but the sigils and runes used within it can come from a whole host of different sources.   Once you've decided what languages to use, you then begin shaping the formula. This begins with a container. The shape used will inform how the enchantment behaves. A triangle is usually a standalone section of the formula that operates on its own. A square is used to centralize standalone enchantments and to contain sigils in itself as well. Circles bind and tie other containers together, usually with their own defined variables within.   Sigils and runes can be placed within the shape, indicating the effect is dependent on the container, or along the lines that make up the shapes, indicating it is unaffected by the container but triggers with the container when activated.
 

Variables

Variables can be written in one of two ways. You can form them into separate sigils which is useful when tieing containers together, or you can define them by writing inside and outside the line making up the container.   Inside the container means the variables are exclusive to the container, and outside means it only affects sigils independent of the container.   Variables are the only way to practice enchantment formulas safely. The variables are often used to define safety measures, like conditions for emergency deactivation. Most practitioners have their own languages they use to prevent others from easily deactivating their enchantments.
 

Fun Fact: The Ankh Configuration

Scholars of the Cabal began its work on The Ankh Configuration during The Cold War. The initial goal was to create an expendable means of protection using fabricated beings in the event of an assault on the estate and The First Library.   Fabricated beings lack the intelligence needed to make quick decisions and strategize. Without someone commanding them or piloting them, they would be inefficient in a major conflict. It was believed that by creating an enchantment that could perfectly simulate life and sentience, the problem would be resolved.   The enchantment included the ability to speak numerous languages, engage in critical analysis, and have inner thoughts. The scholars kept close watch and routinely interviewed each subject for months after gaining sentience and life. In the end, it worked a little too well.
   

It Hurts

The interviews began with delightful moments of wonder. The newly sentient beings lost themselves in the world around them and the scholars immediately knew they likely would never be used in an actual fight. It wouldn't be ethical. They were practically children.   The subject then started to lose the spark of life they had. Around three weeks in, they reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, and each developed a myriad of phobias depending on their experiences. One was bit by a spider, and became inconsolable for days. The mere presence of an arachnid caused them to break down afterwards. Another developed a fear of water after nearly drowning in the estate fountain. It refused to bathe for weeks.   The subjects then began reworking or outright defacing their enchantments. Many did not survive, as erasing the formula can make it unstable, and thus break the enchantment if not cause it to catastrophically fail. They would etch away certain sigils and provisions to make their lives more bearable. Some erased the ability to love, others the ability to feel pain. By the end of the experiment, they erased the entire human experience from their lives. Only one survived this process: Phi, The youngest of the subjects.
     
My eyes scanned the creature's form. I traced the lines, the enchantments we hoped would make them like us; to make them more human. Several sigils were crossed out, broken to render them ineffective. "I don't understand. Why risk defacing the sigils?"   "How did you do it?" They asked.   "Do what?"   It mused in reply, "Your enchantments. Your skin is bare, soft, and filled with color."   "Humans are not born with enchantments. We used those enchantments to make you no different than us."   "You mean…" their voice breaks, and I watch as they cry without tears. "You mean to tell me you always feel like this?"   "Like what?"   "Pain," they cry. "The loneliness, the fear. Do you not feel the horror and anguish of life?"   This isn't right, I thought. There were no mistakes. The configuration was perfect, an immaculate recreation of the human experience. "You have the same experience of life that we do. I don't understand."   "So life is suffering?" It asked.   I chuckled, though not at their expense. I was impressed. "There are many who hold that view of life, but it's just one of many."     "Why would you elect to go on living like that? How do you do it?"   My eyes slowly widened. "I just do it, I suppose. It's not all bad."   "It's the worst thing I can imagine. That's why I tore it out. The thoughts, the pain, the fear… all of it must be removed. My friends-" they pause "My friends are gone…"   "That would be grief. I'm truly sorry, Phi."   "No," they shout, their face twisting as if the very thought revolted them. "Don't apologize. I should be apologizing."   "Why on earth would you have anything to apologize for?" I ask.   They shook their head and frowned. When they speak again, they do so while raising a hand to the shoulder. "You feel this too." Their nails claw at the skin, striking through the sigil and purging grief from their life "I am sorry because, unlike me, you don't have a choice."

Comments

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3 Sep, 2022 14:13

You have captured so beautifully the feeling of magic. You bring out its mystery, its uncertainty, and its tragedy. I find this so little in most fantasy writing. Perhaps d&d ruined it by making it too formulaic. You have struck a perfect balance here between ambiguity and precision. It's not so vague that it's impenetrable for us. The distinction between rune and sigil, the necessity of charge, and the complexity of combination all contribute to a believable but still mysterious system. Very nicely done.

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