There is surprisingly little known about the substance known as Ether. It is used by Wizards, Mages and Sorcerers every day across New Terra, in every spell; from a simple Conflagration, to Weather Manipulation. Countless experiments have been conducted on the substance, to try and find what exactly it is. It has been instigated, agitated, isolated and investigated, but to no avail. It's not physical matter - so it contains no cellular life, insofar as we can tell. It does not operate according to the rules of physics, at least not by the ones we abide by. Whats more, is that it is a foreign contaminent to the physical realm. Science simply cannot explain all there is to know about Ether. But we think we do know some things.
So what do we know?
Ether is foreign to the Material Plane
Ether leaks into the physical universe via cracks in the space time continuum. These cracks, known as Ethereal Rifts, Chasms, Lapses, Clefts, Fissures or Faults, are direct one-way-passages to the Ethereal plane; that is to say they let immaterial things such as Ether in and out, while stopping material objects from passing through.
Ether is old
It's unknown whether using Ether destroys it in the process, or whether it is indestructible. Regardless, Ether has been on New Terra at least since the arrival of reHumanity. It is believed that Old Terran Humans once sensed that such a substance might exist, but threw away such a theory as a superstitious belief in favor of a more scientific explanation. Still, there is mention of it in Tor Chronicles, and it has been found in the writings of unearthed Manuscripts dating back to the Archaic Age.
Ether, in it's natural state, is Colorless, Tasteless, Odorless and in most other ways physically imperceptible
Ether doesn't "look" or "feel" like anything. It, like many things that come out of the Ethereal Plane, is invisble to the five major senses humans possess. However, the rift from whence Ether emerges is visible to those with a keen eye. Ethereal Rifts distort Space-Time, and thus distort the passage of light. Small rifts cause slight light distortions, much like heat seems to cause waves over hot pavement. As a rift gets bigger, the light distortion becomes more pronounced; looking through a massive Ethereal rift (the largest being about five feet high, and three feet wide) is like peering through the lens of a highly warped eye-piece.
Ether is neither a liquid, nor a gas, nor a solid, nor a plasma
Ether does is not a material object, is not comprised of physical matter and does not interact regularly with corporeal objects, therefore it cannot be classified as either a solid, liquid, gas, or plasma.
Ether has corruptative properties
Perhaps the source of the most debate about Ether is the ability of it to make material objects behave in a manner unaccording with physical law. For reasons unknown, Ether changes objects in ways that don't usually make sense. In an area directly surrounding a small Ethereal rift, abnormalities such as floating land masses, melting rocks, and talking trees may occur. If one stays for too long in the prescence of an Ethereal rift he slowly goes insane, eventually losing his mind, and later on much more. For too much exposure of any animate thing to Ether has a chance to create an Abberation. Furthermore, the abnormalities eventually fade back into normality once the Ether leaves, (ie. Land will sink back to the ground, rocks will stop melting, trees will usually stop chatting with passerbys, and so on,) with the exceptions of Abberations, which continue to produce tainted, mutant offspring.
Ether is Excitable
In it's natural state it is indistinguishable, save for the corruption it creates in it's wake. However with the right sounds, gestures and emotion, it becomes visible, fragrant and audible. Describing such a sensory experience is hard to detail, save to say that there is nothing like it. The best description one can offer is that it vaguely resembles a prismatic trail of milky, liquid smoke. Ether in this state is constantly in flux, but it is believed that it's sensory properties are linked to the type of stimuli that is "exciting" it.
Ether is Necessary for Magick
Not to be confused with "Magic" (that is to say, sleight of hand, optical illusions, "Street Magic.") Ether is at the core of our understanding of the Arcane. Ethereal stimulation and manipulation is the reason we are able to call down fire storms, form protective barriers around cities, and even call the dead back to this world. While we do not understand Ether, we do understand how to cast a spell; it requires verbal, somatic, and emotional parts, each of which plays a different part in evoking a response from the Ether. If a mage wanted to cast a contained Conflagration - an easy, but largely useless spell, he would have to first utter the words of power, in this case 'ahk narok ebi tur' , followed by a specific hand gesture - an outstretched arm, palm facing out with middle and ring fingers tucked down, and then bring to bear all emotions having to do with fire; perhaps the fire he feels for a loved one, or how his hatred burns for a bitter rival. Depending on the execution of these three things, the effect of the spell may vary greatly.
The verbal component determines the scope of the spell as well as to grab the attention of the Ether. "Ahk" means "small" in Arcanic, "narok" means "ignite" and "ebi tur" usually means "over there," without being too disctinct. The verbal component might be in the form of a song, as a melodious or rhythmic tone seems to better grab the attention of surrounding Ether. Arcanic, as it has been coined, is a language comprised of several thousand words, small enough to fit into one tome. These words can be grouped together an nearly an infinite number of ways to channel Ether into an equally staggering number of unique spells, large and small. Arcanic is not truly a language though. No one, including the Wizards of the Circle, speak it outside of "Spell Stringing." It is not condusive to every day speech (for example, there is no verb "to be" and there are no tenses; ie. everything is timeless, and infinite, or so that is how it is understood.)
The somatic component determines the stability of the spell. These range from simple hand motions to full body dances. The more fluid the motion, the more stable the spell. An instable spell has not only sealed the fate of many Wizards and Sorcerers, but it has, on occassion, turned entire Nexi and surrounding areas into a charred wasteland, just due to unneccesary or involuntary quavering at the wrists or arms. Using the proper somatics with the right verbal ques is of the utmost importance,and doing them correctly might be the difference between casting a spell, and spontaneously combusting into a moist cloud of red mist.
Finally, the emotional component. This is regarded as the most important of the three components - it is Emotion Ether seems to react most readily to; some say that talented Sorcerers cast spells on raw emotion alone. Emotion determines the potency of a spell. A wizard may use all the right words, and perform all the right gestures, but his contained Conflagration may ultimately fizzle out with lack of emotion.
Ether might be "alive"
Anyone around enough Ether knows that it is hardly placid. Though most of the time we can't detect it, it moves in very particular patterns, is attracted to particular people and lingers around particular places. It understands Arcanic. Some wizards swear that they "hear" the Ether talking back to them as they cast spells (though this might just be a sign of psychosis.) Still, with what little we know about the stuff, we cannot discount the chance of some sort of sentience, or at least life. There have been theories that Ether is nothing less than the blood of the Divine. All manners of oddities emerge from the Ether, so as ridiculous as it may sound, it is a viable theory.
Even these thing we can't say we know for sure. It is all purely speculative. Only one thing ,and one thing alone, is certain; Ether has made it's way into the Physical world. We know not why or how, but it has become inextricably linked with the Material Plane. We cannot be certain how long it has been here, or if our ancestors experienced it the way we do. Part of the fascination lies within it's inherent unsolvable mystery. And perhaps that's how some of the universe should be; inexplicable.
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CodexSchools of Magic ( Systems ) Mystical - Defining
These are mystic traditions and their attendant sources.