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Magic… or madness?
It begins as a simple curiosity, and so quickly it becomes an insatiable hunger. You crave more, and there’s always more to be had. You stop working, eating and sleeping, but it ceases to matter. It just rewards you further, empowers you - nourishes some part of you that you never knew existed. Soon, it is the only part of you that exists at all.
It corrupts you, the chaos. You become one with it - a twisted brilliance others are helpless but to behold. Inevitably, it becomes more than what a single vessel can contain; you begin to corrupt these others, their fates sealed from the moment they tasted it.
But every mage knew this before ever casting their first spell. Just as you do now.
Chaotic energy - called gloam - is the primary energy source of Nodd; it is also often referred to colloquially as "magic" or “arcane energy”. Not only a weapon and utility for mages, it illuminates streets at night, powers technology, heats homes, and essentially makes up life in Nodd itself.
Gloam is the only energy force known to alter "spellthreads". Threads are concepts that are woven together to create the perceptual fabric of Nodd's reality.
A "spell", then, is a formula that directs gloam to change one thread to another. The energy is spent in this process, and the gloam degrades. In this form, it is a faintly luminescent teal haze for a short while after the energy has been spent. There is usually so little it can only be seen at night. The substance is then reabsorbed by the city through the Conduit - the immense and enigmatic structure at the top of the Council Spire.
The Conduit rejuvenates spent gloam, but can never produce more than is spent. The Council Spire has been built around this structure, and much of the building is dedicated to its harvesting, as well as redistributing the newly converted fuel. Raw, unspent gloam must be contained in a cartridge or specialized artifact or it will immediately disperse, causing a horrific explosion of random and chaotic changes to the current moment, often of a destructive nature. It has a bright, green glow to it until it is expended.
The more seamlessly the desired change can be integrated into the overall fabric of Nodd - the more believable it is - the easier the spell. The more phenomenal or unbelievable a spell's results, the more difficult it is to cast, and the more gloam it expends - because it must alter more threads in order for the end result to be achieved. Changing a raw steak to a cooked steak, for example, is far more achievable than changing a rock into a cooked steak - but both are possible with the right artifacts, sufficient gloam, and ideally the belief of anyone perceiving the event.
For this reason, mages seek prestige and attention, as any belief in their magic-use helps to manifest their spells. Likewise, mages in combat aim to cause their opponent and opposing audience to falter in their belief, thus making their spells less effective and predictable. Each house and cult has their own trademark approach to this. This also explains the superhero and villain personas taken on by a number of citizens - deeds of any kind only draw more recognition and thus more belief, further empowering the mage. Branding is also effective for this reason, so most mages try to enforce a recognizable aesthetic or symbol to evoke belief in their cause.
An artifact is something that parses a spell or spells in some way. The mind is technically an artifact, as are wands, staves, swords, vehicles, automatic doors, and toasters - anything that uses energy is, in fact, an artifact.
A toaster's only purpose would be to execute a spell that gradually changes the concept of a raw substance to a cooked one, in the confines of the space affected. There is no actual cooking happening in terms of physics, but to the user it would appear - and taste - the very same.
As belief is required in order for a spell to be successful, an artifact is usually designed accordingly. For example, a toaster doesn't absolutely need to be shaped like a toaster, but since it is, its user would then have no qualms with the perception of the bread turning to toast once it's inserted - making the usage of the device easier and more predictable to use, and more efficient. A user who has never seen a toaster operate may not have the same luck; likewise, a toaster with the shape and texture of a trout could still possibly get the job done, but only when powered with enough gloam to account for the reality of a trout producing toast - an absurdity in most contexts.
Gloam is also available in its raw form - usually contained within a cartridge - to be loaded into less disposable weapons or appliances. Homes usually have a gloam tank that is essentially a large cartridge to power spells throughout the building, such as lighting and climate control.
The mind's purpose in terms of gloam manipulation is not well understood. A highly successful mage - one who has been exposed to gloam use for a long time - hardly needs an artifact to direct energy, and some become so chaotic that they essentially become their own energy source as well, expending their own excess gloam. This is the case for all six of the citygods, who are kept locked away in their respective towers.
Many citizens are mages to some degree, and many belong to one of the six houses, or to a cult.
A house or cult teaches a citizen to perform a defined set of spells, rituals, and beliefs. Mages use artifacts - such as staves, weapons, wands, censers, lanterns, etc. - to perform their spells.
Any mage, regardless of affiliation, can be a formidable opponent. Higher ranking mages deserve their prestige and respect - the more experience and belief a mage has, the more powerfully the magic reacts to their using it.
Houses & Cults
Many mages seek the prestige and reliability of an education from one of the six official houses. Each house has two sects which differ in purpose, belief, and aesthetic. Hybrid mages are not unheard of, but mages are not able to enroll in multiple houses simultaneously. Houses tend to be rather patriotic, and quite hostile towards one another - particularly their opposing house.
For those who can't find what they're looking for, or for those who do not wish to be associated with the Council, cults are an option. Cults are unofficial, independent houses. Cults are not usually affiliated with other houses, and some are exclusive, competitive, or even aggressive and gang-like against other houses for status, territory, or media attention.
Nodd's regard for these types of mages varies wildly between individuals and establishments. An education from a cult does not tend to come with the same flavor of prestige and pomp as one from the official houses, but many consider a cult mage every bit as powerful, if not more so.
In addition, some mages prefer to be entirely house- and cult-agnostic. An agnostic mage is one who has chosen to approach magic their own way. Despite the challenges, an agnostic mage has the potential to be more powerful - or at least more unpredictable - than one whose skill set has been molded and perfected by organized education.