My map is giving me headaches, so once again I’m subbing in something else – magic.
Fantasy stories can be successes without any magic involved – stories are about people after all, not the things they can do (or at least, they should be!). Out of the hundreds if not thousands of books I’ve read though, I truly can’t remember reading any fantasy novel in which there wasn’t at least a bit of magic, even if it was only in the background, or only used by a minor character. You know why?
Magic is a way of making things fun!
Sure, you can make a great story about the hero marshalling his troops for a great battle against evil, but how much more scary do those evil hordes of beastmen become when a handful of apocalyptically powerful villains can use magical gateways to march them straight into your castle? (Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time series)
When almost everyone in the world is just a normal person and the Assembly of Magicians have the ability and, frequently, the inclination to incinerate people at the first sign of disobedience, don’t they become a dark, terrifying force which must be confronted in an unorthodox way? (Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts, The Empire Trilogy)
I had briefly considered not including magic in my story – there was no necessity for it in the plot line – but quickly came to the conclusion that I wanted it there. I also wanted some magical creatures, though not the Tolkein-esque elves, dwarves, orcs and goblins which have become ubiquitous in fantasy. Dragons, much as I love the idea of them, are also out for this world. Instead, I’m edging more towards the lesser known Fae beings. Those Folk not quite of this world who hold powers of illusion, bewitchment and shape-changing. The Bargeist who appears as an old man but takes the shape of a bear if slighted or attacked. The Bogie feeding on fear by taking on the appearance of the viewer’s worst nightmare (though the name has to change!). The main culture draws heavily on India as an influence, so I’ll be weaving these in with the beings of Hindu epics: the flesh-eating Rakshasa, forest-dwelling Vanara, the nymph-like Apsara and so on.
These all have magic of their own, abilities and limitations, but it’s not in a form accessible to humans. For that, we have the elementals.
The world of Amari overlaps another reality, a realm of spiritual energy with intelligent entities of its own. Some of the Fae creatures mentioned before will be in this category. When a violent natural event occurs, such as a storm, fire, earthquake, landslide, blizzard, volcanic eruption etc., this energy leaks through and elementals are formed. These don’t have much will, intelligence or life force of their own, and most will fade and die after a period of minutes to hours. Humans on the other hand can live for many decades, so have some to spare. If a human is present and allows the elemental to share a portion of their life force and reside in them, the two can form a relationship with benefits and drawbacks. On the elemental side, it gets to live for longer and experience life vicariously through its human, but no longer really controls its actions, being virtually subsumed into the personality on the host. The human gains the ability to use the powers of the elemental hosted to a certain degree, but the extra drain on their life force means that their health and strength suffers and they usually have a shorter lifespan. The greater the event which formed the elemental, the more force the wielder can exert, but equally the greater toll on their health and the more energy they must expend to use their power. Humans may also host more than one elemental if they are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to do so, and though this may bring much more power, most humans will be unable to sustain more than three or four before becoming too weak for normal activities.
Naturally, big flashy battles can result!
I haven’t worked out the mechanics of hosting yet. I want it to be possible for anyone to host an elemental rather than have it restricted to rare, special individuals, instead leaving it to the rarity of a human being both present to take one on and knowing how to do so. Practically, certain types of mind may find it easier to accept this relationship
Of course, in a world of wars and diseases, power for years is not necessarily an unattractive deal. A farmer, for instance, might find that an elemental saps his strength too much to make a living, but a soldier may well reason that without the power he may not see the traded years anyway. Someone who has the power to call up winds or can control local water currents will be in high demand by ship captains, and those with power to manipulate earth could be very valuable in construction jobs, able to level land and form trenches much faster than teams of normal men.
As with any power, people will be drawn to it for good and bad reasons, but the rarity of it should prevent it from dominating the world in too many ways. A powerful elemental user may be in high demand by armies, but will be as susceptible to anyone else to a knife in the night. Also, culture will certainly play a part. Some cultures will see these bonds as natural and encourage them, while others may view elementals as demons trying to latch onto a human soul and steal it. Obviously in these lands there won’t be many people choosing to host elementals, or at least not openly using magic. Bearing in mind the cost, not all of those who get the opportunity to use elemental magic will take it.
But for the people who do…
They get to be awesome.