The Physics of Our World

A Compilation of Essays by Zandor the Meticulous, Master Sorcerer of the Order of Sublime Perfection, Labyrinth of High Sorcery

Greetings to you, Lady Niressia, and my thanks for your continued patronage over these many years. At your request, I have gathered the insight of my most insightful colleagues, distilling the murky brew of their knowledge into a fine liqueur bearing the most crucial truths without the sometimes baffling trappings of academia. It is my sincere hope that your young daughter will continue her scholarly pursuits, and uphold the reputation of your House of Varosi as erudite scholars as well as practical merchants. I have authored the first section myself; the later ones I have assembled from my fellow thaumaturgists and theurgists.

On the Principle of Balance

The world exists as a dynamic equilibrium between Order and Chaos. If all were pure Chaos, the world would dissolve into randomness, to all the same effect as having nothing there in the first place. If the world were pure Order, the universe would be nothing but a single perfect crystalline monobloc, never moving, never changing. Life itself exists in the middle ground between the two extremes, for life is chaotic, yet organizes itself given any opportunity.

This world is heavily tipped toward Chaos in its current state. We are fortunate at this time that a high-flying dirigible can see Sheflek in the distance before losing sight of Élas; vast expanses of the world are little more than roiling chaos, uninhabitable, not contributing at all to the flowering of life and civilization. I can scarcely imagine a world that leans equally far in the other direction— perhaps a massive desert of rock, with oases scattered few and far between, seldom coming into contact due to their great distances of separation?

In terms near and dear to your family, profit comes from bringing the world into greater balance. Are we not better off in a thousand ways with our cities tied together by bonds of trade than our ancestors who warred upon each other, uniting the city-states of Élas in brief and bloody empires? At this time, and for the foreseeable future, Order will be the means to a better world for us all.

On the Properties of Chaos

Limnis the Unexpected, High Catalyst of the Kaleidoscopic Mandala Fellowship, Labyrinth of High Sorcery

To the average person on this planet, Chaos is a powerful and fearsome phenomenon. It transforms all that it touches; an iron-willed person may survive immersion in Chaos with little damage, but most would be warped beyond recognition or completely dissolved.

Truly, Chaos is much more friendly than its reputation suggests. The two most common things that come out of Chaos are the air we breathe and the water vapor that forms into the clouds that send us life-giving rain. Clouds of poisonous gases coming out of Chaos are much more rare than the Chaos storms that occur when a large chunk of Chaos briefly loses its attraction to gravity and floats onto land. When Chaos creates or transforms life, it is generally of the same order as that with which we are familiar; if Chaos were truly random, many more people would die as their skin shifted into an inorganic material or flown off as a gas. Instead, it brings them a true diversity of appearance, as they develop horns or fur or an extra limb or sensory organ.

Up close, Chaos appears to be an iridescent mist, always in motion. As it churns, it may radiate light or darkness, emit noises, rise and fall as its bouyancy changes... and, upon occasion, creates a living thing with sufficient willpower to escape its birthplace. Chaos by night is an inspiring sight: while it dimly reflects the sky, it is shot through with colored glows and flashes. It is a splendid focus for meditation.

While each different island has its own rules governing all workings there, travel between islands is fraught with peril due to the sudden changes one may encounter. Divination and analysis magics are nearly useless between islands, for the results change every few minutes. Competent warriors are necessary to defend against the occasional flying beasts that arise from Chaos or travel over it from nearby islands, for magic is more vulnerable than most things to the variations of Chaos; by presenting many and varied challenges, chaos improves even those it does not touch directly.

On the Invariant Elements

Nestrith Merovan, Architect-Logistician of the College of Elementalists, Labyrinth of High Sorcery

The four elements familiar to us as basic principles of physics are but chaotic reflections of the Invariant Elements that are emblematic of Order. Without the Invariant Elements, life as we know it would be unable to exist: our Great Islands and Seas would be dissolved in Chaos, and our merchant fleets of dirigibles would never exist. The nature of the True Elements shows the kindness of the gods in creating the world for us, for they are our shield against the terror of uncontrolled Chaos.

The Invariant Element of greatest importance to us is terra ultima, called Truestone. It is a milky crystalline substance of amazing density that can only be manipulated by wizards channeling the power of Order through elemental magics. It is fully immune to the transformative properties of Chaos, and exhibits a curious buoyancy: an orb of Truestone the size of my fist weighs as much as a score of comparable spheres of lead, but will bob on the surface of Chaos like an inflated bladder upon a choppy sea.

Truestone is what enables our Great Islands to float upon the Great Sea of Chaos that is our world. It is quite fortunate that it is difficult to work the substance, for if enough were removed, our Great Island might leak Chaos like an ordinary boat leaks water, and all our great civilization would be dissolved.

Our own Sea of Jiyara is largely composed of ordinary water, but without aqua ultima, called Truesea, it would not exist. Truesea has its own unique properties: when mixed with ordinary water, it distributes itself to the surface; when placed in contact with more of itself, it tends to agglomerate. (A classic laboratory experiment is to make two puddles of Truesea, then run your finger from one to the other, creating a connecting trail of aqua ultima, and watching the puddles amalgamate by flowing toward the middle.) Unlike ordinary water, it cannot be boiled or frozen. Truesea withstands chaos, much as Truestone does. Truestone will, in fact, float upon Truesea as long as it is not immersed in the stuff: much of the floor of the Sea of Jiyara is attached to the rest of Élas, but toward the border of Chaos there are a few sunken Great Islands— though they are small enough they scarcely deserve the name— while others that have escaped immersion in aqua ultima drift slowly around the water. The stationary islands are the results of volcanic action, which I shall discuss below.

The barrier of aqua ultima separating our Sea of Jiyara from the Great Sea of Chaos is perhaps two miles thick, and it is here that we can observe other curious properties of Truesea. Currents travelling into the Truesea tend to be diverted to the side; only a very powerful storm can blow a vessel into the Great Sea of Chaos.

Nebula ultima, the Truecloud, is another marvel. Like Truesea, it forms into a barrier against Chaos. Unlike ordinary clouds, it does not disperse, nor does it ever condense into rain. Its buoyancy is affected by its temperature: when the weather is cold enough to freeze water in minutes, Truecloud will descend to the surface of the Great Sea of Chaos; if raised to the temperature of a desert at noon in midsummer, it will rise many miles high. It is this principle that allows us to maintain our merchant fleet of dirigibles at far less expense than the enchanting and crewing of airships, which require a crew of some mystical training as well as much work by the wizards who manufacture them. The coalescing nature of Truecloud allows it to be contained by light cloth, unlike most gases, making airship construction much easier than it would be if we used the lifting properties of fiery humors.

Ignis ultima, Truefire, is a substance of much speculation, due to difficulty in isolating it. Theory holds that Truefire is the power behind volcanoes: it sits at the bottom of an island and transforms Chaos into lava, which pumps upward and erupts, causing an island to grow. Since this alone would not be effective, it is believed that Truefire creates other True Elements as well, creating Truestone from Chaos and reinforcing the bottom of the island to match the growth of the lava on top, causing the Truestone to grow in some way previously unobserved. It is also believed that some of the vapor thrown out of volcanoes is Truecloud and some of the liquid from the geysers are Truesea; thus, Truefire would be the source of all the other Invariant Elements and the seed from which habitable land can spring.

Unfortuantely, research under the perilous conditions attending Truefire is difficult at best, and the masters of the magics of Order are hard to convince to take such risks in the name of pure research. The best way to study such matters would be from beneath the surface of the Great Sea of Chaos, but no one has determined a practical means of surviving in such an environment. Digging down to the depths of an island might also be possible for making observations, but even the finest dwarven miners in consultation with the greatest elementalists consider this the work of lifetimes.

On the Varying Principles of Life on the Great Islands

Demoth, Wilderwalkers’ Guild, Labyrinth of High Sorcery

Life as we know it on Élas consists of intermingling of the four physical elements with the animating principle. Much of our medicine is based upon the balance of the four humors, choler (yellow bile), blood, phlegm, and melancholy (black bile), corresponding respectively to fire, air, water, and earth. Advanced analysis with elemental magics shows that our bodies are composed of mixtures of the four elements... at least, when we stand upon Élas. Travellers to Sheflek find that no such analysis operates there, and some of the advanced treatments based on the humors from Élas are ineffective or even dangerous on Sheflek. It seems that the very basis of life itself can change from place to place, and that material properties can vary... but life itself seems to adapt very well indeed. (There are exceptions, of course— gemstones have a life of their own on Élas, but are not detectably animate on Sheflek.)

It is postulated that the animating principle is another of the Invariant Elements, for while other materials may change subtly as you travel over Chaos and set foot on different islands, living beings remain the same. I have seen mithril lose its moonlight luster, and a sword of black eog shatter like so much brittle steel, in distant Great Islands where magic itself was difficult to work.

In my experience, the effectiveness of chirurgy seems to be constant throught the different islands. Stitching up a cut, keeping someone in shock warm, using a poultice honey or a particular distillate of bread mold on an infection— these seem not to vary in efficacy. The energy-flow treatments from Sheflek and our local work with herbs of mystic virtue will vary from island to island: the Sheflek energy work seems to function quite well on Élas, but is much less helpful in realms where magic itself is hard to perform.

The Three Levels of Reality

Nizaran, Temple of Shakli, Labyrinth of High Sorcery

The level of reality of which we have the most experience is called the physical plane, and is frequently mislabeled as the “real world.” The physical plane is characterized by its ease of navigation— barring intervention by illusions or chaos, matter itself is quite stable and the three dimensions are a reliable means of navigation.

The next most familiar level of reality is the spirit plane, also referred to as the ethereal plane, the astral plane, and the dream world. It is very close to our own world, like the flip side of a coin; many portions of the spirit plane correspond to locations on the physical plane, and this where the spirits of nature, genii loci, live. Thaumaturgists use energies from this level of reality, some of which are manifestations of transcendent powers— ecos and necros are manifestations at this level of Nature and Unnature, and Chaos, Order, and the Elements are all so prevalent in this world that they are within the reach of thaumaturgy. The realms where transcendent powers enter the spirit plane are called the Gatelands. Thaumaturgical necromancers can only disturb the dead through the Gatelands that lead to the domain of Unlife.

The most distant from us is the transcendent plane, the abode of gods and demons, often referred to as the Afterworld or the Underworld. (“Demon” is usually used to refer to denizens of the transcendent plane that are susceptible to conjuration magicks; technically, “angels,” messengers of the gods, are demons as well. Those who divide the cosmos between the benevolent and the maleficent refer to helpful demons as “eudemons” and harmful ones as “cacodemons”, but such divisions are a dangerous intellectual crutch.) Confusingly, some people refer to the spirit plane or the transcendent plane as the Otherworld. The transcendent plane is very large— it seems to have room for a multitude of infinite spaces. Different parts of the transcendent plane have different symbolic associations, and many have territories staked out by deities. Theurgists tap the powers of the transcendent plane, calling upon the powers of Nature or Unnature, Chaos, Order, or the Elements.

Devout followers of a particular deity usually find their spirit moving directly into that deity’s realm; others find themselves attracted to areas related to symbols appropriate to their character. Those who do not enter a well-defended realm may be prey to the natives, who can range far in search of prey. Those who survive in the wilds of the transcendent plane without being added to a demon’s hoard of undying souls to tap for sustenance become powerful enough to qualify as demons in their own right.

Deities themselves are of a different order of being from demons. Only deities can channel power to a theurgist, only divine beings can appear in more than one place at a single time, and only divine beings can share a living body to become an avatar. (Demons can possess a person, or hide within their spirit, but they cannot achieve the unique fusion that makes a person an avatar.)

Advanced researchers have found that the “three levels” model of reality is not perfect. Some schools of thought subdivide the various planes into different levels. Physical experience has shown that some highly magical areas can develop pockets of other realities— called shallowings or reality pockets. These are apparently physical realms that exist somewhat closer to the spirit world than usual. A shallowing can coexist with ordinary reality, and a grassy hilltop may contain a hidden palace or temple hidden with in a shallowing. Entering and existing shallowings varies in difficulty with a number of factors, many of which are peculiar to the shallowing (particular astrological conditions such as the time of day or phase of the moon or season of the year) and others seem more universal (being lost and confused in a fog makes it easy to wander into one, while being alert and aware and able to see a long way makes it difficult). Shallowings are often a great deal easier to enter than to leave.

The Realm of Unlife and the Necromantic Force

Garvin, Arch-Lich of the Shadow Brotherhood, Labyrinth of High Sorcery

Necromancy is one of the most misunderstood branches of magic, even by many of its own practitioners. Reanimation of the dead carries a glamourous thrill, with legions of mindless servitors ready to do your bidding. Any sensible magician should pay careful attention to the price asked for such power.

All necromantic power is based on Unlife, or Unnature: a principle that works opposite to the world of Nature with which you are familiar. Theurgists can wield power from the world of Unlife directly; thaumaturgists such as myself derive their energy by working against the local natural order. Properly used, such forces are no more destructive than the average person who must eat to live; improperly used, they can be most dangerous.

The standard undead servitors, zombies and skeletons, are spirits conjured to animate dead bodies. No spirit does anything without an eye toward its personal gain, and the crude intelligences that animate skeletons and zombies are no exception. If the body belongs to someone whose spirit is in a relatively accessible realm, the animating spirit can feed off the one in that realm. If the former resident of the body had an appropriate relationship with the right manner of deity, their afterlife will be inviolate against such crude beings, and the animating spirit must be fed in order for it to remain bound and obedient. Said feeding usually requires life force of some sort; junior necromancers who raise bodies from the wrong graveyard may find that the spirits will obey him briefly, then suddenly run amok, seeking to devour any living beings they find. Sentient beings, of course, offer far more sustenance for these spirits than, for example, herd animals.

Torturing souls in the afterlife is also a dangerous option. Adversity is a great challenge, and it can provoke growth in all manner of beings. Animate too many bodies this way, and you’re bound to discover that a former resident has been inspired to claw his way up in the Underworld to full demonic status, and can then follow the transplanar link back to the spirit that has been feeding off them; they usually start by destroying the spirit, then proceed to run amok, fulfilling dark bargains made in order to gain vengeance as they search for the animator who dared to bind them.

Finally, overuse of necromancy can simply thin the barriers between the world of Unlife and our own, permitting access to dangerous beings that wish to feed on the life force in this world to augment their own unlife.

Distrust any necromancer who claims to have cheap and easy solutions to economic problems. Necromancy is properly the tool of the academician, consulting with the sages of bygone years and preserving wisdom by extending the life of the mind for centuries past the death of the body. Zombies and skeletons are a less intelligent, more reliable alternative to ordinary servants, but they are not less expensive; the costs are simply different.