World-Building - Magic and Trauma

Last week, I wrote a short story called I Will Hurt You Only Once. This is a story about Gichyòbi telling his young daughter about the rite of passage into adulthood such as Rutejìmo's in Sand and Blood. Both of these are about how trauma affects magic in the world of Fedran.

This story is the result of pondering the nature of adulthood in Fedran including a small clip from Flight of the Scions:

She fought more tears. Shaking her head, she gazed into Ruben's glowing eyes. “It isn't fair. I spent my entire childhood praying for the day I would manifest a talent. I remember almost drowning myself in the river because most people find their magic in times of stress. Then,” she tensed at the memory, “I found out I can never use magic. So, what happens? Your sand-damned girlfriend ends up finding wind magic. She has a strong talent, at least.” She gave a bitter snort, “And with my luck, she'll be a mage and have all wind magic.”

Flight of the Scions 21

Since Flight of the Scions is my inception novel in this world and drives the initial master plot, the idea of manifest power in moments of high stress has been in from the very beginning of the world.

One could say some of this came from White Wolf's Exalted which I played and ran for a number of years as part of a multi-generational game. In that game, humans have a moment where they shine (or fall) before they gain their ultimate powers.

I loved that moment of exaltation. I actually drew it out as part of my first campaign, the first arc was the players falling into their powers and eventually manifesting in the middle of battle. There was one player who wanted it to happen at the first sign of conflict but I wanted it to be a moment of gravity, something more than a fist fight.

The idea of manifesting power during puberty (effectively) also was to reduce the amount of children with magic. I did this because children have very poor self-control and morals. Frankly, I would suspect a kid with pyromancer abilities would probably set everything on fire with every tantrum and argument. So, no children with magic except under special conditions (such as the ending of Sand and Bone).

Mostly, it was because I don't want to write about magical tantrums.

So, where did the idea that trauma had any relationship to the degree of magic someone gained when they finally manifested? Well, I stumbled into that when I was trying to figure out why Rutejìmo's was so difficult and a question from a beta reader that asked why he didn't know what was going to happen.

That lead into this part in Sand and Blood:

“You've always been a lousy liar, Rutejìmo. Don't worry, they are real. I can just see them better now.”

“W-What are they?”

“I think I know.” Pidòhu smiled. “But I'm not worthy to name it.”

Sand and Blood 17

One of the threads in this novel was that Pidòhu knew they were going on a rite of passage and that knowledge meant he had to have a far more difficult time to touch his own magic. For Pidòhu to find his spirit, he had to suffer more to get to the point where it was possible.

Those two stories set me down the path that trauma was needed to manifest power. It wasn't until later that I realized it was tied into the survival mechanisms that I had already established as part of the clan warrior's sterility.

There was a price for her powers though, a curse that Rutejìmo couldn’t even comprehend living with. She was sterile, like all warriors, and she would never marry. The remainder of her life would focus on the clan as a whole, to protect and guide, to be a comforting shoulder, a stern teacher, and the hand of punishment. She would never retire either. It was only a matter of when she died in battle, not if.

Sand and Ash 3

Those two things lead me down the path of why characters near the coast have considerably weaker powers. While Rutejìmo has speed magic and anti-magic while Lily in Second-Hand Dresses could color fabric. The difference was their lives. Lily grew up in a life of comfort, Rutejìmo did not. Same with Pahim in Flight of the Scions:

Kanéko watched as he separated the dirt from around a seed. With a grin, Pahim closed his hands. A moment later, green leaves peeked out of his palm. A dandelion pushed up between two fingers and blossomed in a few seconds. He held out his hand. “For you.”

Flight of the Scions 7

With those stories and novels, the idea that trauma and a difficult life became a measure of power. With this, I could finally (retroactively) explain why the Shimusògo where so terrible to Rutejìmo, not only treating him like shit but also keeping him “young and stupid”. It was all to maximize the trauma during the rite of passage to ensure he (and the other teenagers) get as much magic as possible.

The Shimusògo were always written as a relatively isolated rural clan. They had their ways because they worked but they were not even remotely “nice” because they had to look at their clan's survival instead of comfort.

Later, I would contrast that with the relatively more comfortable life of the Kosòbyo and also the observations Tsubàyo made in Let His Memory Go:

“Those sun-addled assholes of the Shimusògo.” He spat out the name of the clan that he was born into. It was Rutejìmo’s clan now just as Tsubàyo was now a member of the Pabinkúe clan. Well, it would be Rutejìmo’s again if he managed to survive a year.

“Trauma does increase the power.”

“Trauma also leaves children to die in the middle of the desert. It inflicted me with nightmares for the last ten years and I still can’t get my heart away from it. Every damn day, I worry I’m going to turn into those assholes and hurt my daughter with their horse shit attitudes and obsession with destroying lives.” His voice grew sharper with every word.

Let His Memory Go 1

This concept of embracing trauma and comfort weakening magic ends up being one of the major hallmarks of phase two which is the first world war of Fedran.

After the events of Desert Child, Kanéko's fourth book, a number of clans will be fleeing the desert and running into the coastal areas. However, the clan warriors will still have their full array of powers against people who's civilization had weaken their powers into less aggressive purposes.

The resulting imbalance will be the initial flames of war because history has told us what to expect when one side with superior weapons invades another.