Magic in the Empire.
The Nature of Magic
Some say that magic is inherently Chaotic. Others say that although magic stems from Chaos it is acted upon by Concordance and is a thing in itself. Whichever way you look at it, magic is a fundamental part of the world of Conclave, but the ways in which it is used vary greatly from place to place.
Another uncertainty with magic is whether the ability to use it is inherent in all people but to different degrees, or whether it is present in some and not others. Certainly some people are more sensitive to the "otherworld", but whether they represent the upper end of a continuum of sensitivity, or whether they are specially gifted is unknown and opinion differs depending on culture.
"Folk magic", as it is termed, is practiced, often unknowingly, by magically aware but untrained people, usually peasantry, and tends to be couched in superstition. Individuals more sensitive to magic than others can pick up on magical and spiritual events, becoming mediums or spiritual healers for example. The degree of sensitivity can vary from simply getting an eerie feeling in a haunted house up to actually seeing and speaking to spirits. Most sensitives can detect magical effects but do not have the training to create any themselves.
This is not always the case, however. Magical effects can be "imprinted" on objects, albeit usually unwittingly. Most objects maintain an imprint of their owners for a while. The longer the ownership and the stronger the attachment the deeper the imprint. A borrowed hammer will have little imprint of the person who last used it, but a treasured family heirloom may have a succession of strong imprints. If an item is believed to have certain magical properties, perhaps a lucky charm or amulet to ward off disease, then very rarely the imprinting process can enchant the item to actually have this effect, even if it was completely mundane before. Folk magicians take advantage of this effect to create items by simply claiming that an item holds magical powers. Even if no imprinting occurs, most of the time the recipient of a supposedly magical item knows no different.
Contiguous with the material world is the realm of spirits, populated by a multitude of entities from the powerful to the weak, from benevolent to malicious. Once again the exact nature of the spirit realm is unknown, and opinions on its workings vary from culture to culture. Most, however, envisage a hierarchy of some sort. Each spirit has a role to play in the workings of the world. The greater the role, the more power the spirit has, and the more minions it has. Very powerful spirits are little different from gods, and some observers would say that the categorisation depends upon the local culture.
Practitioners of spirit magic, shamans, can be found in the cultures surrounding the Empire, including the Tlaxu, Thells and Denra-Lyr. There are spirit magicians within the Empire itself, too, although they normally practise some other form of magic as well. Most shamans use the abilities of folk magic in addition to their knowledge of spirits.
A shaman's power comes from knowing the names, strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes of different types of spirits. He or she can use this knowledge to call or dismiss spirits, and compel them to perform tasks for him or her. A spirit can accomplish many things, depending upon its role in the spirit world. A household spirit, for example, could clean and tidy a house, or find lost things. It could not create a storm. The greater the effect the more powerful the spirit, and the more powerful the spirit the less likely it is to acquiesce to the demands of a mortal. Calling upon earth spirits to till one's field is one thing, but calling upon them to destroy a castle with an earthquake is quite another.
Sometimes called Ritual Magic or Resonant Magic. In highly Concordant areas like the Empire, magic has become "crystallised" into a strongly structured form. Construct magic uses patterns of movement, sound, colour, scent and so on in the form of ordered and complex magical rituals in order to create a resonance with the magical "lattice" and thus produce a magical effect. Since magic is an inherent part of Conclave, this practise in a way is akin to physics. The patterns are of such complexity that they are nearly impossible to stumble upon by accident, so this form of magic tends to be a taught one, passed on from one magician to the next.
The form of Construct magic most common in the Empire and provinces is the Path of Water and Mountains. It is based upon the teachings of the sage Teshnuvar and involves concepts such as the geomancy and numerology. There is a rival variant, the Way of Six Energies practised in Ut'Bharma that is more internal in nature but just as structured.
Magicians in Society
The Empire made it a legal requirement for all magicians within its borders to be registered with a central Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, and most lands touched by the Empire have adopted this system in some form. Upon arrival in a town or city, a magician must announce his presence to the local ruling Magister and so a record of the movements of all registered magicians across the country is kept. Registered magicians are expected to answer when called upon to use their powers to help the local government at any time they may be needed (usually in the case of supernatural disturbances). Otherwise they tend to rent out their services to private contractors, which is allowed by the government as long as their actions don't jeopardise peace or national security. Such registered magicians are known as Jiunsami.
Not all magicians are so socially dutiful, however. These Tabusami, unregistered magicians, are considered a threat to society. Some merely value personal freedom over government regulation and would not, as individuals, consider using their powers for harm. Others prey upon the innocent, bullying non-magical folk into doing what the magician chooses.
The most notorious tabusami are the Paper Lantern Gangs. The name comes from a custom of hanging paper lanterns outside a house to keep away evil spirits. Paper Lantern Gangs are magical protection rackets who threaten to summon up evil spirits unless paid (hence the name - paying them keeps evil spirits away). The gangs are not linked in any way except for their general modus operandi. Often they are not magicians at all, but merely taking advantage of superstitions.