I’ve been working on a setting for several years, which is coming together as serialized fiction (first issue hits June 1st). Here’s a flash fiction I wrote to help me figure out how magic works in the paranormal setting of The Ashwick Chronicles.
The Nature of Magic
“Master, how does magic work?”
The master considered for a long moment before speaking. “Casting magic is like creating art from chaos. It is the reason we work with sand gardens. They are similar in concept.”
The student didn’t hide his confusion. The master knew he would have to explain further.
“The first step in spellcraft is the casting of a hex, which we have been working on. Hexes are a pinprick of chaos in reality, which we call ‘creation’. And how does creation work? How do you create something?”
“By bringing order to chaos, like we do in the sand garden?”
“That’s right. Chaos cannot exist for long, else it will destroy itself and everything it comes into contact with; understanding that will make it easier to explain the reasoning behind our enmity with some of the other arcane orders. So a hex creates a single point of chaos, and your job as a sorcerer is to bring order to that chaos.”
“Is that why our spells backlash, because there is no established order?”
It was still early, and the student had not yet begun his chores. The master cast his gaze out over the unkempt sand garden. “If you do not bring order to chaos, creation will do it for you. Order cannot abide chaos, so creation will bring order to your hex, but you may not like the result.”
The student lowered his gaze. “You mean how I turned my sword into a flower.”
The master chuckled. “Creation doesn’t care what form chaos takes, only that it takes a form; it cares that order is restored. Skill in sorcery is not the ability to cast a bigger, more powerful hex; that’s part of it; it is the ability to impart your will on the outcome, to convince creation that your order is the right one.”
“But how do you convince order to follow your will?”
“It’s difficult,” the master looked compassionately at his student. He understood his struggle. Magic is a hard thing to master. “You have to shape your hex, give it a form; and I don’t just mean a physical form, there are many kinds of forms, but it must have rules, you see.”
“You have to know the rules of reality? That’s impossible,” the student threw his hands up in frustration, slapping them down on the wooden fence that outlined the sand garden.
The master knew the student was having a hard time. His final exam was pending, and it would determine if he could continue to practice magic at the academy next year, and he was falling behind. “It’s not impossible. In fact, there are those who find it quite easy.”
“So I’m just a failure then?”
“That is not what I said. Those who are best at bringing order to chaos don’t know any hexes at all; or, at least, most of them don’t.”
The student looked perplexed.
“Arbiters, my dear boy. They are experts at convincing creation to accept changes, but instead of hexes, they work with contracts, agreements.”
“Lawyers are better at manipulating reality than sorcerers?” The student was incredulous now.
The master chuckled. “More like judges. Arbiters see the chaos in the agreement, the reasons that it won’t work, and they bring it to an orderly resolution. They know what kind of order creation is looking for, and what it won’t accept. It’s not an exact science, as creation wants different things at different times, and in different places — have you ever wondered why a shadow spell won’t work in daylight — and arbiters know these things. They know what the agreement needs for creation to accept it, and once those requirements are met they cast a spell to impart the will of the parties involved on creation.”
The student looked like he was beginning to understand. “So an arbiter convinces creation to accept a contract the same way we convince it to accept our hexes?”
“Not to accept a hex, that would be like asking order to accept chaos,” the master corrected. “Arbiters convince creation to accept the terms of a contract the arbiter has already determined creation is likely to accept. After we cast a hex, we must give it a form that we know creation will accept.”
“And how do we know what creation will accept?”
The master pointed at the unkempt sand garden. “Practice. Hours and hours of practice.”