On Bloodmagic

So for several months, I’ve had an idea for a story that I’d like to tell that has been taking shape within my head. At first, I was going to make this story and world the setting for a role-playing game, but as it has matured I’ve decided that it would be very difficult to explore the world that I want to present, and to convey the themes that I want to convey, in the context of role-playing. So I’ve decided instead that I’m going to try to write it down.

This story is going to be a significant endeavor for me (much more significant than anything I’ve ever written before), and it may never see the light of day, though I am hopeful that it will. I’ve already made the mistake once of a) not planning out a long story ahead of time, and b) live-blogging the results of that not-planned story, so I won’t be doing that again. However, I do want feedback on this story as I write it, so periodically I’m going to be posting notes, backstory, worldbuilding ideas, and other bits of information about the story that I’d like to tell on this blog. This post will be the first such post, wherein I describe some of the ways that magic will impact the tale I tell.

Before we dive in, I’d like to provide some general background and disclaimers on the story. The tale I tell is operating under the working title of “The War of the Five Gods,” though I’m not very happy with this title and will almost certainly change it before it’s finished. It is a fantasy story, set in a world which has been ravaged and destroyed by beings far more powerful than humanity—beings who perhaps don’t even know or care that humanity exists, much in the way that we don’t know or much care about the world of an insect. The world that the characters inhabit can change in unpredictable ways in an instant: mountains can erupt from the ground overnight. Wind and ocean patterns change unpredictably. Even the day/night cycle is not always constant.

In spite of this, my goal is to tell a hopeful tale, a tale of characters and beings who strive for good and who soldier on in spite of their inhospitable and cruel surroundings. I don’t know if I can succeed at such a task, but that is my hope. I also have a few other goals and themes that I’d like to evoke in the telling of this story, but I will keep those close to my vest for the time being :)

Much of my influence for this tale comes from Brandon Sanderson, who is one of my favorite authors. I suspect if you’ve read anything he’s written, you will see a number of commonalities between my work and his. However, I hope to also distinguish myself from him, and have been working on a number of ways to do this so I don’t just feel like a copycat. As does much of Sanderson’s writings (and as you probably could have guessed from the working title), the War of the Five Gods will deal heavily with religious themes. These themes are influenced somewhat by my own faith journey, though such influence may not be very recognizable once all is said and done.

In terms of progress, I have at this exact instant in time written one chapter for the War of the Five Gods. This chapter clocks in at just about 6,500 words, and thus I have completed an estimated 1.6% of the total story. I have also written the “extra” document which follows in this post, describing the mechanism of a power called bloodmagic. I have much of the early phases of the story mapped out in my head or on paper, and I know roughly where the story will end, though the ending is still in a great deal of flux, as you might expect. My aim is to have a complete first draft of the story finished by the end of 2015; however, having never done something like this before, that may be an overly ambitious goal. We shall see.

It’s important to remember that anything that appears on this blog with regards to the War of the Five Gods is not finalized and may change significantly before the final version of the story is complete.

In any case, that’s enough background information for you right now! I hope that you enjoy the ride as much as I think I will enjoy making it! Without further rambling, here is a document entitled “On Bloodmagic”, which is an excerpt from the established and respected Wipyrque scholar, Hinom Dinir:

…as is well known, there are three necessary components to a successful bloodoath: the bond, the command, and the focus. What is not known by any except Verenus herself is the medium which brings these elements together and gives them power. There are of course many speculations about the substance of such a medium, but it has proven difficult to devise any experiment that would verify or reject such hypotheses. For now I leave such questioning behind and turn my attention to what we can infer about the bloodoaths and their constituent pieces.

The bond is the most important aspect of any bloodoath. No bloodoath may be spoken in the absence of a bond with the blood upon which the oath is performed. All creatures are of course born bonded to their own blood, and may command it at will; however, it is normally impossible to bond with the blood of other living beings. The one exception to this rule is if a person has been granted the gift of bonding, attained by eating of the heart of one of Verenus’s faithful servants, the holy dunaests. That is why these creatures are prized so greatly by the Wipyrque people.

Not all blood is bonded to a creature; the quintessential example of this phenomenon is the blood that falls during a bloodrain. It is uncertain what brings about the bloodrains, nor where their precious liquid comes from, but in years past it has been the most prevalent source of unbonded blood available. In recent years, the bloodrains have fallen less often, and the massive Wipyrque reservoirs have diminished as of late, much to the concern of my colleagues and I. However, a lesser-known source of unbonded blood is that preserved from a creature which has passed on; eventually, such blood becomes unbonded after some months.

The term “unbonded” here is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, because a person still requires the gift of bonding in order to use unbonded blood in a bloodoath. The key point here is that before a bloodoath can be cast, the affected blood must be bonded by the bloodmagus, regardless of the state it was in before the oath.

It is a common misconception among people unfamiliar with bloodmagic to assume that blood can only bond with one creature at a time. Not so! In fact, it is known that if a living creature severs the bond with its own blood, the creature will die. Thus, if a bloodoath’s power is to affect any creature aside from one’s self without killing said creature, it must be possible for blood to have multiple bonds. However, care must be taken, as blood that is bonded to too many masters will revert to an unbonded state, killing the creature which depends on that blood for life. A general instruction is that no more than three beings (including the blood’s owner, if present) bond with blood at any given time.

Establishing a bond with another creature’s blood is a trivial matter, once the gift of bonding has been granted: all it requires is the ingestion of a small amount (usually no more than a drop) of blood from the target.

Once a bond has been established with the object of a bloodoath, the next element of the oath comes into play: the command. The bloodoath’s command simply instructs the bonded blood how to behave. A novice bloodmagus often finds it easiest to give a command verbally, while envisioning in his head the manner in which the command shall be enacted. This is not strictly necessary, however. The command can be written, as well. Indeed, many powerful oaths are constructed by writing them using the blood of the oath’s target. The command can also simply be thought, though this creates a much more difficult oath to speak (embarrassingly, we still use the terminology “to speak an oath” when the oath is not spoken). Even an experienced bloodmagus will refrain from non-vocalization when speaking an oath unless an unusual situation requires it.

As to the types of commands that can be given, there are few limits, though more complex commands require a stronger force of will, and often much creativity. Nevertheless, blood is a marvelous liquid, and can be instructed in many ways. The closer the command towards blood’s natural functions, the easier a bloodoath is to speak (and often less costly).

Of course, blood brings life and healing, and as has already been established, the severance of the bond with a creature can bring about death. Blood always seeks for the heart which created it and sent it forth into the world, no matter the distance which separates it from its maker. Thus, a vial of a blood can be an powerful guide, if one is seeking to find the creature from whence it came. However, due to the most unusual properties of blood, a skilled bloodmagus can call forth all kinds of unusual effects from that crimson fluid.

In its natural state, blood is a liquid. It flows and pools as does water, but under certain circumstances, it can be induced to clot and become solid. If proper care is taken in the formation and construction of the command, this solid state is extremely strong, and can support the weight of a full-grown man. A halfway state can also be induced, an amorphous and flexible, yet coherent, rope or sheet of blood which bends and folds but does not break. It was also discovered some years ago that under certain conditions, blood becomes phosphorescent and will emit light. Its glow is moderate, slightly brighter than a small torch or lantern. The Wipyrque do not often take advantage of this property, however, as it is somewhat wasteful and unnecessary given the prevalence of other natural and artificial lights on the Nalad cliffs.

A final word should be said about bloodgolems. In addition to the transmission of life, blood can be coerced into an approximation of life itself, creating a creature that can see and hear and obey commands and think for itself in a limited capacity. The creation of such a being is extremely difficult, and requires an extremely large focus, so such is not often done except by the most skilled of bloodmagi in exceptionally dire need. In addition, a bloodgolem is quite vulnerable and unstable; it would appear that the oaths needed to create a bloodgolem decay somewhat more rapidly than other types of oaths, perhaps because the blood is being compelled to act in a way that is extremely unlike its natural state. It is said that Verenus herself was able to sustain large numbers of bloodgolems for much longer periods of time than we are able to do today, and she used them as servants and assassins. Some scholars believe that the legendary blood-angels were in fact extremely large bloodgolems that had been imbued with other bloodoaths to grant them superhuman strength and power. Of course, no such creatures have ever been created by a bloodmagus in our history.

The final element with which a bloodoath is forged is the focus. The focus can be thought of as the cost or payment which is required to give an oath its power. On the surface, the oath’s focus is the easiest component to understand—if bloodmagic uses blood to accomplish the designs of the bloodmagus, there must be blood upon which to operate. However, understanding the requirements for an oath’s focus—where a focus comes from, when it can be reclaimed or when it is lost for good, and other similar matters—is decidedly non-trivial. Matters are made worse by the fact that if a proper focus is not present for a bloodoath, the focus is instantiated using the speaker’s own blood. Many inexperienced bloodmagi have lost their lives when speaking an oath without a proper focus, as all of the blood flowing in their veins is instantly consumed!

The best rule of thumb to remember is that the more powerful or beneficial the effect of a desired oath, the larger a focus is required—and the more likely that such a focus will be consumed upon the speaking of the oath. Healing oaths always require an external focus, which is always consumed; the size of the focus depends on the amount of healing required. Similarly, slaying oaths require an external focus which is likewise consumed. Typically a the focus of a slaying oath is quite large, perhaps double or triple the volume of an equivalent healing oath.

Often, but not always, manipulating the form of blood does not require an external focus. For example, causing blood to clot and solidify to create scaffolding can be done simply by focusing on the blood that shall change its form. In many cases, the blood constituting the focus for such oaths can be reclaimed, though often with some loss, particularly if the oath causes the focus to clot.

The exception to the above rule are the aforementioned bloodgolems, which require a large external focus, which is consumed in the speaking of the oath. Most scholars believe that the act of giving blood autonomy and understanding is so foreign to its nature that a significant expenditure of blood is required to warp the golem into being.

The above are general guidelines, of course, with exceptions too numerous to list here. Scholars have spent lifetimes trying to understand the nature of foci, and still there is much that cannot be explained. Suffice it to say that experienced bloodmagi will never speak an unfamiliar oath without a significant surplus of blood on hand to serve as a focus, in the event that it is required.

Lastly, we shall say a brief word about linkage, as it relates to the above discussion. A key part of forming a bloodoath requires a bloodmagus to link the focus to the desired outcome; a bloodmagus can link any source of blood to which he is bonded. Such a link does not seem dependent on space or time. Hence, a bloodmagus that has been bonded to the Wipyrque reservoirs is a fearsome being indeed, able to draw upon the full power of his people, even though he is a year’s journey from his homeland. However, such a bloodmagus would be wise to not exhaust the power behind him without great need, as such an act would incur a large blood-debt that must be repaid.

Unbonded blood, such as from a bloodrain, can be linked to an oath as a focus as long as it is within sight of a bloodmagus. Herein lies an unusual and often confusing paradox: a creature must be bonded to blood before the blood can become a target of a bloodoath. However, unbonded blood can be used as the focus of a bloodoath with impunity…

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