Saturday, May 26, 2012

Whatever are Runes?

Runes in the World of Nightwick are not like the runic alphabets of our world.  While they possess a superficial resemblance, being angular letters often found on stones or weapons of great power, they are not nearly as regularized or coherent as those found on Earth.  Indeed, what makes the Runes of the World of Nightwick special is that they are meaningless to any other than the one who carved them.

With the exception of alchemy,* all the magical arts practiced by mankind require runes.  The incantations used by magic users to let the demons and spirits lesser men call "spells" into their brains are written exclusively in runes, as are the scrolls that are used to instantaneously invoke these same spirits.  Even the magical circles used in summoning creatures or warding off evils require runes.  In each case, the runes can only be understood by the scribe who understands them as though they were written in the common tongue.

Those few smiths who are able to imbue mundane items with magical properties have noted that runes seem to appear on these items without being carved by human hands.  It is said that when a sword, or indeed any item of power, becomes magical it names itself.  Several legends exist of weapons that glow with a strange, fairy light after being thrust into the gullet of some horrid monster.  Thereafter the sword forever bore strange letters on its blade.

The spell Read Magic is able to decipher runes for the caster, making them appear to the caster as they would for the one who wrote them.  This is often useful in the identification of magical items, since many are legendary enough that their most basic abilities are well known; however, these items may also have secret powers that have been obscured by the mists of legendry.  There exist sages who know the truth about such items and can reveal powers that Read Magic may not, assuming such powers exist.

Not all runes are visible to the naked eye.  Skilled magicians are able to obscure their magical writing, making spell books appear blank and weapons appear crude and dull.  Especially devious wizards have been known to make their Runes appear as mundane, obscuring their true topic.  At the same time, magical weapons and armor who gained sentience and power through mighty deeds rather than wizardry sometimes hide their runes as well.  Such weapons are usually diabolic in nature, but this is not universally true.

Pagans say that it was one of the Old Gods that first gifted the ability to understand runes to men.  Which Old God is responsible depends on the speaker, and some scholars have concluded that different Old Gods revealed the same art to different peoples at different times.  The Church of Law teaches that all of the runes contained in the mind of a single human are but a single letter in the Alphabet of Law.  The Alphabet of Law is said to be an ur-language that is only dimly reflected in the divine and diabolic languages of Enochian and Crowleyan.  No human could ever hope to fully understand a language that even angels have forgotten.

*And even the art of alchemy occasionally requires the use of runes, and it is not unheard of for alchemist to label their tinctures and toxins with runes in order to obscure their function for any would-be thieves.  This is only done by the most absent minded or amateur of alchemists.  One of the first things a proper alchemist learns is how to do is recognize potions based on color and aroma alone lest he swallow something untoward.  For such experts, labels - even runic ones - are needless.

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