The chemistry of energist magic

When I was in high school, I loathed chemistry.

This had nothing to do with the instructor.  In fact, Mrs. H, as she was widely known around the school, was totally awesome.  She was a lady of the pearls, pastels, and penciled in eyebrows variety, which, in conjunction with her giddy zeal for deadly liquids and torches, was some kind of beautiful weird.

She let us all make stuffed animal moles for extra credit points, the mole being a chemical measurement of some sort (*shrug*) that lends itself to cute adaptations.  She had a giant mole that bore the entire periodic table of elements on his side.  After my time in this class, she had the whole damn quidditch playing cast of Harry Potter, because I was going to get that “A” one way or another.

And I certainly wasn’t going to get it through actual lab reports and exams.

There was something about chemistry that just defied my understanding.  I could follow a lab experiment to the letter, only to have it dangerously fail.  Despite my fascination with polynomials, I could not balance a chemical equation to save my life.  And it did not matter how many times I went in for extra help, I was lucky to make a “C” on an exam.

So imagine my initial dismay when I realized that in order to explain energist magic, manipulative of energy, matter, and life-force as it is, I was going to have to go back to basic chemistry.  It was like watching my failed experiment go down the sink drain to shouts of “for the love of God, don’t mix that with water!”

And then imagine my maniacal joy when, this time around, some of the basic concepts not only made sense, but solved like fifty different problems I was working on.  Radioactive angels singing.

Mrs. H, if you ever stumble across this post, you should know that this one time, this one lovely time, chemistry did not make me cry.

An example of what I learned and applied:

Let’s go with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  It really floated my boat.

I do not claim to have expertise or even full accuracy when it comes to explaining this Law.  It was not my intention to develop a sound and complex understanding of how the damn thing works, but rather to absorb enough simplified information to muster up a pseudo-scientific backdrop for the functioning of magic.

That said, as far as I can tell, the Second Law goes something like this…

  1. Not all energy is created equal–there are high-quality energies and low-quality energies.
  2. Useful work (as the product of force and distance) requires that energy flows from high to low quality.  And, of course, high-quality energy is far less abundant than low-quality energy.  The use of high-quality energy also results in a bunch of low-quality energy.  So, for instance, propulsion results in like 10% your car moving forward and 90% heat, friction, and pollution.  This is why humans are always scrambling to find more fossil fuels, but we’re never running short on smog.
  3. Humans cannot recycle high-quality energy.  That shit is finite.  Like oil.

What about energists?  Do they obey this Law? In part…

Part #1

The way I imagine it, energists are symbiotic with magic.  Magic lives in their bodies, and energists have a genetic predisposition that allows them to take advantage of this coexistance.  On the whole, this makes their lives wicked cool, but magic also places some limitations on energist use.

Namely, magic makes energists keenly aware that not all energy is created equal.  The magic that each energist carries develops an affinity toward a particular alchemical element–air, fire, earth, water–and then requires that the host energist find that element, and that element only, in order to retrieve the energy necessary to enact magic.

So, an energist of air can’t just walk up to a mountain and absorb a bunch of energy from it.  Or, if they can, that earth energy will not work nearly as well as energy drawn from wind or whatnot.  It would take an exorbitant amount of earth energy to make an air casting (spell) work.  And the casting would not hold very well once it was accomplished.

I set this limitation on energist ability to make sure that their magical lives weren’t perfect.  Perfect is boring.  Even Mary Poppins wasn’t actually perfect.

Part #2

Energists also understand that useful work requires a move from high- to low-energy.  This is why they spend a lot of time monitoring what kinds of energy they hold in their systems.  They can sense the difference between high and low, as well as the difference between kinetic and potential.  And they ration out their casting based on their energy deposits.

The cool part is, with very few exceptions, they can draw the low-quality outputs of their castings back into their bodies.  And if they stumble across low-quality outputs in nature, they can suck those up, as well, as long as they are element specific.  Earth energists can suck up the heat ejected by the process of leaf decomposition on a forest floor, for instance.  Water energists can suck up low-quality steam energy from a tea kettle.  Etc.

Part #3

But the really badass thing energists do is recycle high-quality energy and up-cycle low-quality energy.


Magic, the symbiont, has its own metabolism.  And this metabolism takes low-quality energy and turns it into high-quality energy.  Advanced energists, then, can create such complex castings that the low-energy outputs of their product are immediately sucked back in to the casting in a sort of perpetual motion set up.  If they don’t want the casting to continue replicating itself ad nauseum, then they can also suck the low-energy back into their bodies where magic will once again up-cycle it.

Since energists only get so much new element energy to work with each year, it’s super important that they learn this process of up-cycling ASAP.


These processes of recycling and up-cycling involve a lot of checks and balances, which I won’t get into here.  Suffice it to say that energists are hell bent on conservation and socially responsible magic use, but not so much that they don’t require an infrastructure that monitors quotas, recycling, energy absorption, and the like.

Also, even the most conservationist, socially responsible, law-abiding of energists need to go batshit with magic once in a while, because, come on, magic.  This is what their annual Games allow them to do–show off a little, and shake up the stratification in society.

Fun little throwback moment: The first time I wrote about the Games, back in high school, I called them the Games of Nymra. They involved a lot of gymnastics because I was obsessed with Power Rangers, the 1996 Olympics, and Scott Hamilton doing backflips on ice.  Now that youtube is a thing, and I can watch Kerri Strugg land that vault whenever I want, the Games involve fewer gymnastics.  Hah.

Historian, novelist, musician, and imagination professional.

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