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  • Nikky Lee

Designing magic: the story behind THE RARKYN'S FAMILIAR

A magic circle with runesones

When it came to building the magic system of The Rarkyn’s Familiar, the term “everything including the kitchen sink” comes to mind. I didn’t set out to write it that way, rather it came about from my desire to create a world as rich as I could possibly make it.

Inspired by the two magic systems in Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy where one form of magic is revered and the other is criminalised, I decided I wanted two magic systems that opposed one another. One would be heavily structured and systematic and the other a wild, go-by-the-gut innate magic. These two systems became galdar—the series of circles, runes and spells wielded by the Illredian Empire—and rarkyn magic—an innate magic that is a mix of empathy, telepathy and a range of abilities drawn from their ability to connect to the Aether (raw magic) and the Otherworld.

Galdar magic

When I came up with the galdar system, I knew I didn’t want to have just one kind of mancer (AKA wizard/mage). The system, while structured, also needed to be versatile to give its wielders power and status in society. For example, if mancers could only engrave objects with runes, they weren’t likely to be part of the Empire’s armies. Rather, they’d more likely be artisans and inventors. So I came up with three “styles” of galdar: casting, engraving (‘graving), and summoning/warding. Casting would require mancers to shape the runes with their hands to fire off spells; ’graving would allow mancers to draw rune sigils on objects and imbue them with magical force, while summons and wards use rune circles to allow mancers to call up aetherlings from the Otherworld to do their bidding and ward themselves against magical attack.

As for the source of galdar, I wanted a mancer’s power to come from inside each person, with each mancer having a well or pool of Aether energy inside them they could draw upon. Because this well is small, their use of magic must be exceptionally efficient—which is why galdar is so structured. It is a highly focused, highly concentrated power that aims to use as little of the pool as possible.

As for the name “galdar”. It came from the Old Norse galdr which means “spell” or “incantation”.

Rarkyn magic

Unlike galdar magic, which is structured and learned by those who have the ability to tap into their pool of Aether, I wanted rarkyn magic to be alien by comparison. It needed to be unstructured, natural, innate and wild in the sense that it wasn’t always predictable. To make it even more in opposition to galdar, I decided rarkyns would draw on the magic of their surroundings—giving them a potentially huge and limitless source of power. To temper that, I introduced the Fever system that would pull a rarkyn into the Otherworld’s abyss if they drew on too much power. Such a consequence is basically a death sentence and would act as a deterrent to stop a rarkyn from going too far.

In terms of the rarkyn abilities, I wanted them to have one power that was unique to them that no other aetherling had. For that, I settled on their ability to cross in and out of the Otherworld at will. This would set them apart from other aetherlings and would give rarkyn a rap for being exceptionally difficult to trap and control through the use of galdar. As for their empathic/telepathic ability, hugrokar, I arrived at that after thinking about how these creatures would stay together and defend themselves while in the Otherworld. It would act as a sixth sense, in the same way you might hear someone approaching or feel them prod you in the arm, hugrokar would be a magic that a rarkyn couldn’t simply stop using, like a galdar wielder.

The rarkyn’s mismatched irises fixed on her for a long minute and Lyss felt it hesitate, uncertain again. Slowly, it lifted a hand to its head, “Hugrokar,” it said and tapped a claw against its temple. “Is not like galdar. Can’t stop.”

Lyss frowned. “You’re talking about the bond?”

“No hu-gro-kar.” The rarkyn tapped its temple on each syllable. “Mind to mind.”

“Our mental link?”

“Yes.” The rarkyn watched her carefully. “Hugrokar is always. Doesn’t stop.”

The Rarkyn’s Familiar, Chapter 9

As for the rest of the rarkyn abilities, those were developed as the plot required. However, all of them are ultimately based on either the rarkyn’s ability to draw (or suck) magic out of their surroundings or releasing the magic they’ve stored up inside themselves.

Krat magic

In a nutshell, krat magic is all magic that isn’t sanctioned by the Empire. In other words, everything that is not the approved set of galdar runes. This includes foreign magic from Kraw or Hannon, and people who possess other types of magic, such as witches, fortune tellers, clairvoyants and so on. Krats also include galdar wielders who break the Empire’s laws surrounding its usage. The Empire does not permit rune splicing, for example, where a mancer might combine two runes together to create an entirely new rune.

It was then she noticed the odd shapes of the runes scored in the dirt. Invented runes.

She swore under her breath. Gods and ginndir, Hane. The Empire’s laws of galdar use were absolute. Their runes or nothing. No deviation. No foreign magic. She’d told him, Iga had told him. So many times.

The Rarkyn’s Familiar, Chapter 2

Thanks to its association with rule breaking, criminal misuse of power, and ‘bad’ magic, “krat” is a dirty word to the Empire. In the Empire, krats are considered the scum of society. To call someone a krat without cause is an insult. To highlight how little Illredian society think of krats, I decided to incorporate the word into the world’s language as a cuss word.

Krawan magic

We don’t go into a whole lot of detail about Krawan magic in The Rarkyn’s Familiar, and while we get to learn a little more about it in book two, The Rarkyn’s Fall, much of it is still shrouded in mystery. What I can tell you is that Krawan magic shares many similarities with galdar. Like galdar, it uses runes, circles, castings and engravings, but how those tools are put to use is very different. Where galdar mancers engrave runes into objects to create sigils, Krawan mancers engrave runes on their flesh. Where galdar mancers draw and call up precise circles to ward or summon, Krawan mancers are much more… free flowing.

Like rarkyn magic, I designed Krawan magic to be in opposition to galdar magic; something the Empire wouldn’t like and would consider dangerous. For that, I needed Krawan magic to be different enough from galdar to be considered distinct from it.

By now, you should have a feel for why I call the magic of The Rarkyn’s Familiar “kitchen sinky”. I wanted to create a magic system for each culture or civilisation of people, and in doing so ended up creating multiple magic systems, types of magics, magical creatures with various abilities, and a host of other quirks to fit them all into the world in a semi-logical way. In my mind I was not just creating a story, but a world. I wanted it to feel vast and diverse and deep. In hindsight, had I known how stupidly complex this approach would be, I probably would have warned myself against it. But I’m nothing if not stubborn and for the most part that stubbornness has worked out. That said, a few choice words have been uttered at past me for being so ambitious! Despite my cursing, one thing is clear: this world and its magic have been a ridiculously fun playground for me as an author. My hope is you, dear reader, will enjoy it as much as I have.

The Rarkyn's Familiar releases on 19 April 2022! Order your copy here.

The Rarkyn's Familiar banner - available from 19 April 2022.

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