Flows of essence
The intersection of other planes with our own, or "pollution" with alien energies, is still described as a source of power in GemStone IV and DragonRealms. While the flows of essence were not unique to Shadow World, they were stronger there than any other known location. These bands of radiation were physical flows somewhat analogous to jet streams, moving through the air and below ground, as well as between the planet and its moons. It was possible for powerful essence users to ride the flows, such as the Lords of Orhan (Modern: Liabo) and the great dragons, or possibly skyships (Modern: airships) in the hands of a skilled pilot. Flow riding was a high level spell that was never implemented.
The Essaence was the raw power of the Flows, which when tapped was called Arcane power. In the I.C.E. Age world system, Arcane was an amalgam of the three realms of power, much as "hybrid" spell-casters combine two realms. While Arcane was the primal form of power that was the original form of magic, greater than the sum of its parts, the Essaence is in some sense naturally decomposed into three realms. These were originally classified as "Essence, Channeling, and Mentalism" in terms of causal mechanism, but were later changed to "Elemental, Spiritual, and Mentalism" which reflect their typical spheres of effect. Very few were able to wield Arcane power, mostly Lords of Essaence or dragons.
While the gods would undoubtedly be able to cast Arcane magic, deities were actually self-aware Essaence nodes with limited personalities. They were able to will effects into reality directly, similar to what we now call Flow magic, and were virtually immune to magic themselves. Ultimately it would not matter, for example, if a Lord of Essaence was higher level than the avatar of a deity. It would be very difficult to kill a god without the aid of another god.
The essence is best thought of as the background radiation that surrounds and permeates all things. Essence wielders would directly change patterns in the Essence to "dictate the flow of events, and the course of life itself." These temporary pattern alterations allow them "to redefine the reality around them, molding elements and wielding very real power." The imbalance would work itself out, but the effect of the spell would remain. The essence was especially prone to balancing itself with elemental effects, with Mages (Wizards) being specialists in elemental evocation magic. Since the "extension of one's life essence" is used to alter patterns outside the body's "immediate sphere", unliving material and especially metals could inhibit attempts to manipulate patterns and thus prevent magical effects. However, the Essence realm was not tapping "the raw Essaence" of the Flows, which was the realm of Arcane power. Essence was arguably the closest to Arcane.
Channeled power would come directly from a source such as a deity, being "channeled" through the caster who acts only as a conduit. These would be projections of effects using the sphere of emanation of a deity, the aura projected by some immensely powerful being rather than tapping the essence itself. In other words, it is the source of the power that is manipulating the patterns of essence, with the mediator having some magnitude as a conduit. Consequently, channeling was not spell-casting as such, but rather invoking spell-like effects through themselves. Without access to the deity, or the background essence, a channeling user was impotent. These spells were often spiritual in nature, later re-named the Spiritual sphere.
When the spell-caster manipulates only their own aura, rather than "extending" themselves to manipulate their environment, they are in some sense channeling their own essence. In other words, mentalists were miniature imitations of the gods, manipulating their own essence as though it were their sphere of emanation. Where essence and channeling users could be deprived of the substance needed to work, the same would never really be true for mentalists. However, their limited scale as corporeal beings meant that their powers were largely limited to manipulating their own bodies or immediate surroundings, often in the form of mental effects and so called "Mentalism." Sorcery was often notable for its mental effects, in spite of not being "mentalist", because it was manipulating the essence of the target.
The Essence was prone to currents called the Flows of Essence. These flows would have numerous unusual effects when interacting with the physical environment. Since the essence originated in another universe, it would interact in predictable but exotic ways with the forces of our own existence, which itself was founded on a more banal kind of essence. These were mostly stable configurations that would not have magical effects, but occasionally there would be imbalances or backlashes with exotic consequences. Celestial alignments were especially likely to cause problems by pulling upon and crossing flows between those bodies and the planet.
The flows of essence were rivers in a special kind of radiation field. Strictly speaking, a "flow" of essence would be any fluctuation in the essence field, whether in space or time of any scale. However, there were large scale currents, largely in a steady state. They would twist in three dimensions, found both high in the air, as well as deep underground. These existed across a range of powers, with stronger flows being formidable forces on the environment, blocking weather patterns as if they were a mountain range. Jet streams often followed along Essence Flows. The Navigator home isle had a powerful artifact that tracked the flows across the world by representing them on an enormous sphere.
Greater and lesser flows were fairly stable over long periods of time. They would converge on essence nodes of corresponding scales of power. Their convoluted path was partly the result of interacting in some complicated way with the magnetosphere, which made compasses useless for most people in the Shadow World history. It was not known which was the more dominant force, as they mutually drove each other allowing exposure to various kinds of radiation. The magnetic field was always in flux, making pole flips much more frequent. The extent to which this is still true for Elanthia is not clear.
Kuor (Modern: Koar) was known to be able to control the lesser the flows, with some limited influence upon the greater flows, which has a lot to do with why he was originally supposed to be able to control the weather. The flows were partially replaced with the term "mana pools" in reference to nodes, which became a distinct concept related to infusing background energy for enchantment. Wizards are able to SENSE both earthnodes and mana pools in post-I.C.E. GemStone. In DragonRealms they are called "mana streams", behaving in much the same way. Sorcery was also theorized there in essentially same way as Arcane power, providing an explanation for the nature of necromancy as a form of sorcerous magic.
The Essence had a tendency to form foci, called "earthnodes", that were either temporary or permanent. These were convergence points for the flows of essence, so magic that involved transport guided somehow by the flows would tend to drop out at them. These existed on multiple scales of power, depending on how strong the flows were that fed into them. More powerful flows tended to be stable, and so more powerful nodes were less likely to be temporary or transient. In contrast, there would be short-lived minor nodes formed by fluctuating minor flows, even artificial ones by pulling upon them in a local area.
(1) Major Nodes
There were half a dozen "Key Foci" in Shadow World. The most famous was the site of the Navigator home isle, which consisted of three curling "arms" of power whirling out from it. These warded off lesser flows, as well as Flow storms. However, if a flow storm were to anchor on a major foci, it would probably end up engulfing the whole planet. These would not last forever, but it would nevertheless be rare and devastating.
(2) Greater Nodes
Supposedly "hundreds" of greater nodes exist. These were often rooted to a specific location or tied to a large object (e.g. great crystal sphere, a large tree, etc.), and many had been marked with monuments or buildings intended to exploit their power. Greater foci were more likely to exhibit disturbances that gave away their status as concentrations of essence. These symptoms included several common varieties: (1) Faint shimmering, akin to heat distortion. (2) Tingling sensation, like static electricity. (3) Scent of ozone. (4) High pitched whine, or almost sub-audible thrumming. (5) Feeling a shiver, unusual coldness.
These effects still exist for special locations, especially in the older parts of the Kelfour's Landing (Modern: Wehnimer's Landing) region. (However, some of these are no longer actually nodes, they just have the symptoms of it.) They often happen as disturbances in flow storms, or when the fabric of reality is badly warped. Whenever a god has a concentration of their own power as a "holy site", especially the focus of their sphere of emanation, these effects are especially likely to happen. Meyno's Shrine was a greater focus, for example, before she was released from it. This is unrelated to the concept of "supernodes" which maximize experience absorption.
(3) Lesser Nodes
Lesser foci tend to be virtually invisible, unless a skilled essence user were to detect their presence. There were "thousands" of these, most of our earthnodes are lesser foci. Most magic users will not know they are on a node unless they happen to notice they are drawing more power when the flows pulse than they would usually. Experience absorption in GemStone is more rapid when upon a node.
List of Symptomatic Places
- Ye Oddity Workshop
- Darkstone Castle
- Ice Shrine (The Graveyard)
- Bin Salatin's Workshop
- Monolith (Path of Enlightenment)
- The Monastery (Misty Chamber)
- Melgorehn's Reach (strange shearing noise at peak, artificial clouding)
- Meyno's Shrine
- Bonespear Tower
- Castle Anwyn
- Wind Tunnels (Luukos Gullet, Teras Isle)
- Sorcerer Guild Voids
- Familiar Gates
- Abandoned Workshop (Smuggling Tunnels, Abandoned Inn)
- Ur-Daemon Obelisk (Wehnimer's Landing Museum, veil iron; no longer present)
- Ur-Daemon Cage (Teras Isle, Glaes Caverns; veil iron walls)
- Melgorehn's Reach (shimmering, popping, humming, unnatural cold in underground Nexus)
- Bone Island (the mountain possessed by Kyr'orvrad)
Essence barriers are walls of two kinds that prevent things from moving through them. These are usually invisible. "Physical" barriers manifest themselves as some "unseen force" preventing motion, which exist both naturally and artificially as wardings. Familiar examples include the archway inside Hearthstone Manor and the Path of Enlightenment in the Voln monastery. Wall of Force (140) is a barrier surrounding the target, as presumably would be Elemental Barrier (430). In principle, any such barrier can be overpowered, with sufficient force. More subtle are "mental" barriers, which misdirect those who encounter them. The forest leading up to The Graveyard is the most familiar example.
When the flows of essence become wild, typically as a backlash of some excessive power, they will often manifest in weather disturbances. Minor backlashes might take the form of clouds shooting out a beam of energy, whereas a severe disruption will result in a Flow storm. These hurricanes of magical power usually discharge elemental effects, though often are unique or strange, with severe winds and seismic disturbances under certain conditions. Waves of rippling energy and blasts of heat are common, as well as symptoms of greater essence focii. They might tear open random voids into nothingness, or form portals to other planes of existence.
Flow storms can be extremely dangerous to anyone attuned to the Essence. They tend to dissipate over weeks or months, though they can become permanent if they anchor on a source of power. Storms might be triggered by celestial alignments or too much power being drawn from the flows in a given area. Portals are often too dangerous to close due to their backlash risks. While there were enormous flow storms in space, these were deflected from the planet by the Eyes of Utha. The post-I.C.E. analog of this was the Eye of the Drake from the Vvrael incident, which was destroyed in 5098 Modern Era.
The Elemental Confluence
Many of these concepts were reintroduced for the modern Elanthian world system by the "The Confluence" event in 5115 Modern Era. The Elemental Confluence was an intersection of elemental planes moving toward Elanthia, similar to the much smaller nexus behavior which allow elementals to arrive in our world, except on a much larger scale. The Aelotoi who convinced the city-states of Elanith to support his solution, Alusius, believed it was the ultimate source of all elemental power on our plane of existence. When the Confluence was approaching the world from space, it was causing planet-wide essence storms with most of their original symptoms. There were numerous invasions as powerful elementals breached into our plane of existence, with Alusius choosing Solhaven for his ritual because it was so vulnerable from prior "valencial stresses." Whether the "Eye of the Drake" would have prevented it was never stated.
Among the phrases explicitly used were "flows of essence", "elemental flows", and the concept of an "elemental mana field." The idea of elemental energy originating in a more pure state in other planes of existence was reaffirmed. The Confluence was inextricably anchored to the world, partially merging with it on a fundamental level. It ripped open rifts across the continent, including unhealing points of elemental instability. The ATTUNE SENSE (verb) worked by those attuned to elemental power being able to sense for unusual fluctuations in the flows of elemental mana. There were also special rowan compasses that were handed out, whose scripting implied that compasses are difficult to use.
The Confluence had previously grazed the Aelotian homeworld of Bre'Naere, which was why the obsessed Alusius sought to bring it close enough that he could enter it. While the world was saved from total annihilation by plunging into the interdimensional rift, as would have happened in the Vvrael incident, Elanthia now exists on the threshold of a very large rift leading to all of the prime elemental planes. In itself this revives the old Shadow World concept of magic and the flows of essence originating in the world's partial overlap with such an interdimensional nexus. The biggest difference is that this is specifically "elemental" energy, as opposed to the I.C.E. Age cataclysm that stranded the Lords of Orhan (Modern: Liabo).
Behind the Scenes
The flows of essence and background essence are still mentioned in numerous ways in GemStone IV. Often through vestigial messaging from old spells. Some examples that make use of the "flows" follow below:
Planar Shift (740) works by sensing the "flow pattern" in a given location to record it runes. These "threads" of magic are followed when stepping through a rift, with the sorcerer guided along to the target location. In theory this is consistent with the "physics" of the flows of essence. Greater and lesser flows are stable and would uniquely configure sub-regions of the continent. While minor flows were supposed to be transient, they may be stable enough to give specificity. The spell is able to give cross-realms transport, circumventing the natural essence barriers, which are typically strong flows of essence within mountain ranges and so on.
Elemental Detection (405) detects whether objects are suitable for imbedding by whether or not the flows of essence are drawn to it. When the items are unsuitable, the essence forms a chaotic pattern around it, reflecting the transient eddies in the background radiation. It is not possible to make any sense of the patterns. The spell will also tell you what spells are active around a target, even though in principle this should be obvious just by looking at them.
Elemental Wave (410) (originally called "Essence Wave (405)") was based on the idea of "pulsing" the Essence in the surrounding area, forming a transient essence barrier that knocked everything down. The ability to overpower the wave is heavily level dependent. The more powerful version that came later, Major Elemental Wave (435), discharges elemental effects as critical damages.
Mana Focus (418) attempts to "gather" the (minor) flows of essence in the area to form an artificial node. The less powerful the caster is in terms of level, the more likely they are to be subjected to a backlash. When this is attempted in an actual node it is tantamount to playing with more powerful flows, which will end badly for the caster who attempts it. Most spell-casters cannot expect to be as talented at manipulating the flows as Kuor (Modern: Koar).
Energy Maelstrom (710) was originally called "Essence Maelstrom", and was implicitly based on the idea of flow storms. The sorcerer swirls "dark energy" around themselves, becoming the anchor of an unnatural tempest. While the "flows of essence" phrase is not used, it works by making the surrounding minor flows go wild. It is only possible to have one unfocused maelstrom in a location for this reason. These instabilities discharge as elemental effects. The focused form of the spell presumably inverts the vortex, so that the disturbances are inwardly focused, allowing multiple instances simultaneously. The storm can only be ended prematurely by destroying the focus of power anchoring it, which means using dispel magic on the vortex or killing the caster.
Implosion (720) implicitly makes use of the flows of essence concept. When adventurers are vaporized by falling through a void, they are transported to the nearest town center node. Falling from a very great height in a gorey mess, it makes use of the fact that the flows travel high up in the air. The "flows of essence" are explicitly mentioned when Elemental Dispel (417) is used to seal an open void, and the backlash risk is implicitly why it is not possible to open two voids in the same location. The Void Blade of Terate also uses a "flow of essence" to seal the voids it tears open.
Loul the Enchanter was said to have formed the mountain now called Melgorehn's Reach to "reach" the strong essence flow located several thousand feet up into the air. When you look at the Essaence Flow map for the continent of Jaiman, there is a greater flow passing through the part of the map where Melgorehn's Reach was located. The story classifies it as a "major essence flow", with the optimal "bleeding through" properties within the flow occurring with a conjunction of Orhan (Modern: Liabo) and Tlilok (Modern: Tilaok), which only happens once every four thousand years. Loul used a powerful artifact to warp time in order to make this happen every several minutes. The extreme concentration of power involved caused problems after the mountain returned to our existence in post-I.C.E. Age storylines. There is still another artifact visible in the ancient monolith in the perpetual clouding near the summit of the Reach, an orb of krodera and pure veil iron, which is shielded from being approached by what is essentially an essence barrier of mist. This is part of a no longer functioning teleportation system based out of the Sheruvian Monastery.
River of Life
The River of Life (Modern: "Enchanted River") was the flows of essence between Shadow World and Orhan (Modern: Liabo) in the I.C.E. Age history. While flows of essence between the world and moon were defined in 1989, this "River of Life" was not equated with it until much later Shadow World books, so it was not established yet during the I.C.E. Age of GemStone III. In the archaic form of the Lorminstra (I.C.E.: Eissa) religion, souls were swept along this current to the Spring of Youth, which is symbolized by the soul cleansing pool at the Voln Monastery. The enchanted waters were a gift from the death goddess. Souls would be cleansed before passing through the Gates of Oblivion, or were utterly destroyed in the Staff of Doom if they were irredeemably corrupt. The Order of Vult (Modern: Voln) neglects to mention the second possible fate when teaching their members on the Path to Enlightenment. (The soul cleansing is only established in GemStone messaging, not Shadow World source books, where the meaning of Vult "cleansing" souls is left ambiguous.) In the first Griffin Sword War Lorminstra had a Lake of Tears formed from each tear she shed over a soul that had chosen the dark path, and this was later changed to be in the Drake's Shrine on Mount Aenatumgana. These are magical waters situated next to the throne of Koar, which wash away the "impurities of the world", and serve as the entryway to the Eye of the Drake into The Rift.
The Elemental Confluence was an enormous nexus of the elemental planes which was on a collision course with Elanthia in 5115 Modern Era. When Alusius betrayed those who were aiding him by anchoring the Confluence to Elanthia, it ripped open points of elemental instability across the world. It was possible to access the Confluence through these rifts using special soulstones after filling them with the trapped essence of elementals. While the mana storm concept was very explicitly revived by this event, the phrase "flow of essence" itself was used in the messaging for having insufficient level to traverse the gateway. The ATTUNE SENSE (verb) uses the phrase "elemental flows."