The Arcanists

Author: Azandar al-Cybiades
Released In:

Originally published 05/24/2023, see the original here. This Loremasters Archive was not accompanied by a book.

Azandar al-Cybiades shares his knowledge concerning the Arcanists and their connection to the mysterious realm of Apocrypha in a new Loremaster’s Archive.

Salutations, sagacious sojourner. And welcome to a distillation of all things arcanist. I have the distinct pleasure of being your scholar-in-residence for this discussion. I have been eagerly anticipating my opportunity to clarify a few things about this most esoteric of mystical pursuits.

But I forget myself: I am Azandar al-Cybiades. Theoretician of fated potential, enigmatum accumulator, and arcanist of the highest order. It was with great pleasure I responded in the affirmative to the University of Gwilym’s invitation. A chance to answer submitted questions for a wider academic audience, how delightful!

Despite, or indeed perhaps because of, their previous refusal to publish my papers, I’m very much looking forward to the chance to speak on the arcanist branch of philosophical and magical scholarship. Let’s sally forth then, readers. There’s much ground to cover and I don’t wish to overstay my welcome. Onward and upward!

Greetings Azandar al-Cybiades,

How does one become an arcanist?

—Lunetta Gleamblossom

There are as many answers to that question as there are arcanists in the world, friend Gleamblossom. A tome travels (somehow) from Apocrypha to Nirn and eventually finds a mortal soul that fits perfectly with its unique infralux resonance. The contents of the tome, circumstances of discovery, and mesh between the mortal and the book are wholly specific to that experience.

The output of that interaction (the arcanist) is also a specific exemplar of the phenomenon. Some arcanists, like myself, view the contents of our tomes with academic detachment. Others see it as a new framework within which to live their lives. Yet others become as thirsty for knowledge as Hermaeus Mora himself, or they shut themselves away in isolated scholarship for the rest of their (usually chaotic) existences.

I hesitate to recount the “discovery tales” of other arcanists I’ve spoken with, but I’m happy enough to relate my own. I was in a very dour place in my life, emotionally and economically. I was in a second-hand bookstore in Sentinel, seeking out an old edition of a cookbook I’d grown fond of. I recall it quite clearly, I was running my hand along a row of spines when my book quite literally bit me. Nipped the end of my finger and drew a spot of blood. My annoyance turned to extraordinary surprise when I beheld the contents within. And the long and storied career of Azandar al-Cybiades, realm traveler and arcanist, began.

What caused so many arcanists to show themselves right now?

—Fonarik the Wood Orc

As always with magic, good Fonarik, perception is reality. The truth of the matter is that arcanists are not a new phenomenon. In truth, I have been studying my tome and the stacks of Apocrypha for several decades now. I believe the prominence we’ve garnered of late—the very reason I was asked to engage in this discussion—stems from a sort of statistical tipping point. Despite the inherent secrecy with which we do our work, there are far more arcanists plying their trade now than ever before. The sheer weight of numbers has drawn attention to our magickal framework, you see.

I also want to note I would be a poor scholar indeed if I didn’t frame the term “arcanist” as a badge we have self-pinned to our proverbial chests. In a previous University discussion panel, I found the response from the Guild Mage Dhulef along these lines quite insightful, when discussing the “wardens.” Magic is magic at the end of the day. The lines we draw around it are mortal constructs, nothing more or less.

Now, as to why there are more arcanists now than ever before? If I had to guess, perhaps some kind of shift in the aetheric fabric of the Aurbis? The Planemeld has been a time for us all, and it will leave each and every one of us with stories to last a lifetime—provided we survive. Perhaps something about this event, or something like it, has changed the relationship between Nirn and the Daedric Realms. And this change, in turn, has prompted more tomes to find their way to mortal hands.


I heard Arcanists make use of "Runes" in their spellcasting. Do these Runes have any relation to other runes we know about, such as the Runic language of Runestones?

—Benessa Gibby, Enchanter of The Company

Ah. I suspected an astute observer might ask something about this. Let’s compare and contrast. In the enchantment discipline, an ancient and honored trade going back to the First Era, runes are pathways to power. While new runic developments happen fairly regularly, there is a linguistical common tongue amongst enchanters that allow them to imbue items with mystical properties. Runes have specific, measurable meanings and allow for a repetition of output as well as intent. It is a discipline I myself have some skill at, and one which requires precision and artistry in equal measure.

Somewhat embarrassingly, the “runes” arcanists fling about are nothing more than logographic symbols for subconscious metamagical constructs. Arcanist runes mean nothing beyond their internal significance to the arcanist in question.

While study has shown that the language of arcanist runes is universal, they do not represent the same concepts across individual arcanists. I could draw you a symbol that in my spellwork means “power,” for example. And you, as another arcanist, might tell me that same symbol means “fire.” These sigils are unique to arcanist magecraft, as far as I know, but like the one-to-one relationship between mortal and tome, so too are the uses of these sigils specific to the arcanist.

As a scholar I desperately wish this were not so. It feels as if Mora himself is laughing at me each and every time I consider it.

I have noticed that Arcanist spells appear to be very physically complex, producing intricate sigils and glyphs. I am unclear on the mental processes involved with spellcasting; why do some spells require incantations and sigils and intense ritual, and others simply a wave of the hand—and where upon this spectrum do Arcanist techniques lie, with their tomes and luminous, hovering sigils?

—Blessings of Morwha Upon You, Artun at-Itamen, Alik'r Nomad

An excellent question from Artun, descendant of Itamen! Casting a spell is the act of channeling magicka from within your personal reserves, through your mind and will, into the world. I quite like the appellation “willworker,” actually. It’s a direct way to describe my profession. My brother is a person who farms, therefore he introduces himself as a farmer. I am a person who works via my will. Therefore, a willworker.

The act of changing reality itself with the strength of your personality is exhausting. Every novice mage quickly discovers this upon attempting even the most basic of incantations. The personal reserve of magicka novice mages possess is quite small, and it takes some time for this reserve to recover. As a weathered old hand at this hand-waving nonsense, my reserve is exceptional. But not infinite!

And so, just like even the most junior of mages, I make use of techniques to ground my mind and thinking. To connect with the magic quickly and efficiently. In particular I find that “magic words” are an excellent way to get the magicka flowing. I greatly enjoy coming up with new ones, and find that simple and repeated magics benefit greatly from this technique.

As for why arcanists in particular are prone to hand-waving and logograms, I suspect that has to do with the origin of our power. Apocrypha, if you’ve never been, is a place where undercurrents of power flow quite freely. Arcanist magic is no more or less “powerful” from a subjective point of view, but as magicka flows through my mind, it does so with a vim and vigor I’m not sure other spellcasters regularly experience.

The result is that all extra potentiality needs to be directly *somewhere.* And thus do the logograms, shadowy visions of the Endless Library, and superfluous tentacles enter the world when all we wished to do was heat some water for a nice cup of tea.

Tidings Azandar,

I am curious.… What would happen if one were to come across an Arcanist’s tome? Could its power be invoked by a stray collector?

—Magister Gwenaelle Mathis of the Mages Guild.

Thankfully, no. As I just discussed, the symbology in every tome is unique to the mind (and soul?) of the individual arcanist. If you were to pick up my tome, it would be an incomprehensible book of gibberish. No more dangerous or mystically enlightening than a Wayrest romance novel. Similarly, I can learn nothing from the tome of another arcanist. I and some other studious arcanists have tried, but there is no way to impart knowledge of another tome’s symbology and retain it for any length of time. A disaster for academic rigor, I know.

We’ve seen that Daedric Artefacts can corrupt people into being puppets or turn them into Daedric creatures. What about the magic Arcanists use?

—Gaius Sulla of the Thirteenth Legion

An excellent question, Gaius. My answer is: it depends. (A pattern in arcanist discussions, as you’ve no doubt begun to see.) I believe the unique comingling of mortal and tome to be a specific expression across a number of axes, both literal and metamagical.

I myself, and a number of others I’ve met, see arcanist magic as a means to an end. A tool we use to achieve other goals or defend ourselves in the pursuit of specific outcomes. In general, I believe this detached framework allows for a distancing between my mind and the siren song of Apocrypha itself. After all, that is the one immutable truth I can tell you about being an arcanist: the font of my power bubbles within Hermaeus Mora’s realm.

Others, with a different outlook on the tome and the power it offers, walk markedly different paths. Some number feel the need to pledge themselves body and soul to the Inevitable Knower, in payment for the power they’ve been given. I felt no such need to do so, I should note, and if the One-Who-Knows comes calling for compensation, he’s going to have a fight on his hands. Err, tentacles.

Yet others find themselves drawn to defending Apocrypha itself, feel the need to retreat far from civilization, or even fling themselves headlong into the far depths of the Aurbis in search of esoterica undiscovered by mortal minds.

My viewpoint is that the power of an arcanist is what you make of it. And Daedric corruption, regrettably, is a potential end state for the pursuit of many types of power. I know of at least one very noble warrior who branded herself a “templar” who now serves as a cult leader for Molag Bal, of all creatures. Power corrupts, as they say, and I suggest vigilance, diligence, and competence to combat that corruption.

Myself and my fellow kwama herders here in Deshaan have been debating for a few weeks on a most dire subject. How does one pronounce "Arcanist"? We have nearly come to blows debating this, so I pray that you can help.

—Golar Arano

While normally I’d be loathe to be drawn into pronunciation pugilism, I feel as though this is really a very simple question to answer. I say the word like “arr-can-ist” for no other reason than because saying the word like “arr-cane-ist” feels unwieldy when speaking out loud.

All the Arcanists I have met thus far have, in some form or another, been affiliated with Hermaeus Mora or the realm of Apocrypha. Are there Arcanists out there who draw power from another realm or Daedric Prince, or is "Arcanist" exclusively referring to those who deal with Hermaeus Mora?

—Mistress Milore Telvanni

Ah, finally a question I can answer somewhat concisely. And an excellent one at that, Mistress.

No. As I said above, I have but one fixed point I can use to determine who is and is not an arcanist: we all draw our power from Apocrypha through a bonded tome. So by definition (as far as one such as this is valuable), a mortal who drew their power from another plane would not be an arcanist. Stylistically (and magic is nothing if not style as well as substance), I believe the apocryphal tome we utilize in our craft heavily flavors this magic. Even before I found the tome, I had many “magical” experiences reading a book and feeling the spark of inspiration. To almost preposterously oversimplify my lived experience, arcanist magic is like that. Only moreso.

Greetings, Azandar al-Cybiades,

While my specialty lies in unearthing the secrets of the past, as a member of the Mages Guild, knowledge of all kinds intrigues me. For arcanists such as yourself, where would you say your talents lie amongst the schools of magic created by the mages of Shad Astula and perpetuated by our esteemed Gabrielle Benele?

Thank you for your time,

—Floritte Vinielle, Archaeologist and Curator of the Wayrest Archaeological Museum

The lady herself, who of course organizes these discussion seminars, is a keen mind and a brilliant flame within the dour mediocrity of the Mages Guild. As you no doubt are as well, Floritte! [Editor’s Note: Flattery in a public forum will get you nowhere, old man.]

Gabrielle’s treatise on magical categorization, “Proposal: Schools of Magic,” is a text well worth reading. Her supporting documentation is fascinating, and my own (admittedly brief) time at Shad Astula reinforces her claim that this classification system does lend itself to novice mages understanding the “types of magic” at a faster rate than in the traditional Mages Guild curriculum.

To your question: I would say the majority of spellworks I’ve observed as an arcanist, and by other arcanists, fall primarily into the schools of Mysticism and Conjuration. If you’ve studied with an arcanist for any length of time, you’ve no doubt seen how adept we are at crafting shields, tentacles, weapons, and other aetheric constructs. A sympathetic alignment exists between our heavily prevalent logographic expressions and the ability to shape magicka into a physical form, I believe.

I myself am largely self-taught in the basics of magic, having spent quite a great deal of my childhood with my nose in a book. This many years after the discovery of my tome, the hard and fast delineations the Shad Astula disciplines imply seem somewhat arbitrary to this old scholar. But not every mage has the aptitude to extemporize mystical formulae off the top of their head, eh?

Azandar al-Cybiades,

In a time when our world has been torn asunder by one Daedric Prince after another, permit me to ask this pertinent question of you, kind sir. Why should the people of Nirn tolerate your kind and not simply destroy you? While many sorcerers traffic with Daedra, few are so overt about their dealings that they show off in such a way, wearing robes of many eyes and covering battlegrounds with their putrid ink.

—Rosaria Draconis

Ah delightful! I find your forthrightness quite bracing! First and foremost, good Rosaria, I would challenge you to try. Quite honestly I’ve been almost-murdered enough times that I wonder if anyone will ever get around to doing it properly.

Disregarding your tone and striking at the meat of your question: you have nothing to fear from an arcanist. Arcanist magic, as I said above, is a tool. It can be used for good or ill in equal measure. Its source is potentially challenging, I understand that. And with all the tentacles? Quite frankly sometimes even I think it’s all a bit much. Performative, you know. But as someone who grew up desperately fearing that the distant horizon around Kozanset was to be the length and breadth of my reality, I strongly believe we should make the best of each and every tool available to us. No matter how it sometimes writhes or sprouts additional eyeballs.

This is all based on the supposition that magic itself is not the source of your ire. If that is the case, I would invite you, again, to readily attempt my destruction. I do not think you will find the experience as entertaining as you might like. I may be an old man, but I’m still feisty.

As a knight myself, I am intrigued by whispers about these so-called "rune knights." What can you tell me about them? Are they Arcanists that happen to be knights, do they follow any codes or belong to any specific knightly order, how does one become one, and how do they compare to knightly traditions present on Tamriel?

—Sir Greensly of the Knights of Saint Eleidon

I have looked at length into the history of arcanist spellcasting, and I fear even I can offer you only a scant few pointers for your own research. You have the right of it, Sir Greensly. The “Rune Knights of the Purgatory Disquisition” appear to have been a very small and very secretive knightly order sometime very early in the Second Era. Founded by an esoteric and enigmatic patron, this order rode forth from Apocrypha to battle across Nirn—or so my research indicates. Perhaps this patron was a Daedra? Or a powerful and less martial arcanist who took on a noble lord's mantle?

Their time from founding to disbanding was not overly long, as far as I can tell, but no doubt you’ve heard of them for the same reason I have. They perfected several warding techniques using arcanist magics that survive, in some cases completely unchanged, to the modern day. Tales of these impressive warriors riding into battle untouched by hundreds of arrows are almost certainly spurious. But then again, perhaps not.

And with that, I think I shall close out this dialogue. I have research to do, planes to explore, and experiments to conduct. It has been a singular honor to speak to arcanist magic in this august framework. And I encourage each and every one of you to reach out via messenger if you have further questions. I am, as I hope is self-evident by now, always happy to talk.

Go carefully, go thoughtfully, and always consider your ultimate goal. Until next time, friends. Onward and upward!

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