The Art of Sigil Magic
The Art of Sigil Magic was introduced to Locastus by the first wave of Old Blood immigrants in the year 79, and would later become a keystone of the City´s dawning industrialization.
The Old Blood tribes original, traditional use for Sigil Magic was simple, crude wards and spells - small effluent symbols to keep evil spirits away, to keep food fresh, to draw game to a hunter, to heal wounds and to purify water.
It quickly became apparent to the Magi and Thaumatologists of Locastus that the bedraggled fugitives carried with them knowledge that could potentially become very powerful indeed, if applied correctly.
Over the years, the crude power mandalas of the Old Blood warlocks was adopted by the scientific society of Locastus, and developed into a precise and well-defined Art.
Power Sigils are, simply put, puissantly invested patterns whose shape and dimensions interfere with the intangible energy flow of the Universe, forming swirls and vortices in the Ether that can be channeled to create physical effects.
To work properly, a Power Sigil (or Power Glyph, as it is sometimes called) has to be placed and inscribed with uttermost precision and care. Patterns are extensively researched to deduct their Ether-interferometric potential, although the discovery of new Power Glyphs are, as often as not, a matter of trial and error.
The more common, moderately powerful Sigils can be affixed onto the recieving object with a reuseable Sigil "stamp", sold by the powerful Guild of Sigil Scribers. More complex (or unique) Sigils must still be drawn by hand, a time-consuming, complex and expensive task.
Once a Power Glyph is finished and activated, it starts to glow with a faint, ethereal light. The glow is an indicator that a Sigil is functioning properly, and also a good measurement of the power invested in it - the greater its effluence, the stronger it glows. If a Sigil is damaged or otherwnise interfered with, it may just go dark and cease to function, but may also annihilate itself in a burst of twisted ethereal energy, creating random physical effects such as a rain of sparks, a puff of smoke, a bolt of lightning or, in extreme cases, an explosion.
While some Power Sigils have a direct physical effect (such as increasing tensile strength in a machine´s drive shaft, giving a cannon greater muzzle velocity, making a knife´s edge stay sharp or increasing a steam-engine´s boiler output), some are of a more subtle aspect (such as making an object inconspicious to a causal viewer, making a letter unreadable for anyone but its intended recipient or granting a public statue an awe-inspiring aura).
Power Sigil Usage in Locastus, City of Mirrors
Locastus´s industrial development was long inhibited by the poor quality of its raw materials - The metals mined in the Thunderhead range has low tensile strength and poor material stress resistance. Likewise, the brown coal from the Knuckle Hills was low-grade (which made quality forging and smelting expensive and difficult), and the nearby quarries yielded weak, crumbly granite, prone to erosion and hard to shape.
Power Sigils turned out to be the component needed to negate these unfortunate disadvantages, and to turn Locastus into a industralized society.
The Art of Sigil Magic is in use throughout the Locastrian society. Its uses are seemingly endless - It powers the Deaders, the City´s untiring workers, it is inscribed on public proclamations to ensure the information is passed on, it keeps the meat cold and fresh in the slaughter-houses and it warms the tenements during the cold months. The masonry blocks of the larger buildings are usually individually carved with small Sigils to ensure structural integrity and to withstand erosion.
The many steam-engines and machines of the City have their moving parts stamped with Glyphs that grant tensile strength and torque-resistance, as well as reducing wear and tear. Steam-boilers bear Sigils that enhance the power output and squeezes every last calorie out of the fuel, and their pipes are stamped with other symbols that enhance pressure resistance.
The alchemical factories have Power Sigils etched into the tubes and alembics of their distilleries and synthesis assemblies, nudging and coaxing the random reactions therein into compounds of a complexity otherwise unattainable. Foundries and smelters use Sigil-engraved crucibles to raffine ore into metals of unparallelled purity and quality.
Locastrian traders and merchants use the Art to keep their foodstuffs fresh, their grain and cloth protected against vermin or damp and their crates secure during transport. Cobblers, tailors, carpenters, glass-blowers and book-binders incorporate Glyphs in the design of their products to increase durability and to protect against water, fire or damage, among other things.
Power Sigils also have a wide usage among the clerks and officials of the government and the large trade consortiums. Their communiqués are routinely stamped with Sigils that make the messages impossible to decipher by anyone but the intended reciever, and protect their safes, vaults and strong-boxes from unauthorized access.
As with all successful civillian technologies, the Power Sigils has also found their way into the Locastrian armed forces. Rifles and cannons are stamped with Glyphs that increase muzzle velocity, enhance accuracy and prevent malfunction. The monstrous Steam-Tanks, the pride of the Locastrian Army, would be impossible without the use of Sigil Magic.
There are several sub-categories of the Art, most notably among them the art of the Skin Mages, Sigil Scribers specializing in tattooing Glyphs on people´s hides, in order to promote healing, increase speed, strength, intellectual faculties or, in the case of some more shadowy individuals, prevent being seen, heard or felt.
Like all natural resources, the Aether is exhaustible, and too many Sigils concentrated in a small area will leech off all available energy, creating a dead zone. This is referred to as a "jam". Within the jam, Sigils and other magic will cease to function or fail catastrophically, and can be felt as a spiritual uneasiness by anyone passing through it.
If left unnoticed, the dead zone will burn itself onto and disrupt the delicate fabric of the Aether, which causes a scar around which the flow of aetheric energy will divert. The result is a permanent magic-free area that will take a long time to heal. The Guild of Sigil Scribers try to monitor Sigil density in any given area, and break up any jam before it has the chance of permanently scarring the Aether. Even so, Locastus is full of little pockets of dead Aether, places where no magic will work. There is extensive research delving into the possibilities to restore a scarred area, but has so far been unsuccessful.
The basic conduit nature of a Sigil not only allows Aetheric energy to flow into the Material world, but also causes the opposite to take place - psychic energy from the Materium trickling through and causing pollution to the pristine energy of the Aether. This effect is barely noticeable except in areas where Sigils are very densely concentrated, where it causes weird and chaotic sensations in people attuned to the Aether.
There have been reports of strange occurrences in places with a high build-up of Material pollution, things like physical manifestations of humanity´s darkest emotions and spectral sendings of terrifying aspect. People have been driven mad or catatonic from an encounter with these manifestations which, so far, are rare, but also seems to be getting more and more common over time. The Guild of Sigil Scribers is slowly becoming worried about what might happen if the current trend continues, and is now beginning to investigate its causes.
When I decided that my setting for Locastus was going to be incorporating elements of classical fantasy as well as steam-punk, I ran into the problem of why would a society develop both in the arcane, as well in the technological field. Magic, especially in the High Fantasy settings, is the answer to any problem the environment can present you with, so why even bother to divert resources into a completely different (and less effective) way of doing the same thing?
My answer is a compromise: I made magic too weak(and unpredictable) to be the solution of all human problems. Reversely, to provide a good answer to why not technology is the only branch of development, I made magic and technology co-dependent by slightly altering the natural laws. In the world of Locastus chemistry and physics conspire against the inhabitants by making the metals too poor and the thermodynamics too weak to (by itself) provide a good basis for industrialization. The only way to make things like steam-engines and so on feasible is to use magic and technology together. And so I came up with the Power Sigils…