The world in which Tremontane exists is crisscrossed by ley lines, what they call lines of power, that are the connection between the physical world and the spiritual (either the realm of the gods or ungoverned heaven, depending on one’s religious beliefs). The places where they cross form a “bump” of magical energy called source that can be sensed and tapped into by people with the right inborn talent. These lines are not distributed evenly throughout the world, and Tremontane has more of them than the neighboring countries, with a correspondingly high number of sources and accessible magical energy. This high level of background magic allows for the Tremontanan family and marriage bonds, which are a literal and sometimes tangible connection between individuals.
Tremontanans have been aware of the existence of the lines of power since Kraathen of Ehuren founded the country in what was later called Year 1 of the Binding, using the lines of power to create those family and marriage bonds. However, it was not until many centuries later that people discovered the sources created by the lines of power and learned to tap into them using one of two kinds of innate abilities.
The first kind, known originally as dowsing, allows someone to perceive source and draw on it, though dowsers lack the ability to do anything with the magic thus tapped into. The second kind, referred to as inherent magic, lets its possessors passively absorb magical energy from source and use it to alter the environment, manipulate objects, and so forth, effectively becoming their own sources.
Inherent magic always manifests during adolescence as a single talent—examples include seeing through solid matter, telekinesis, or the ability to heal others—but with training it may be used in other, more powerful ways. Inherent magic is stronger the closer it is to a source, but as it does not include the ability to directly sense and manipulate source, dowsers ended up trading their talent to those with inherent magic, mapping out regions where they would be most powerful. Only in rare cases is a person born with both types of magic.
The inherently magical exist everywhere in the region, in numbers proportional to the amount of source present in the area. Tremontane, with its rich background magic and many lines of power, produced a correspondingly great number of people who could use that magic. Over the years, as those with inherent magic grew in power and influence, a new social class arose. Calling themselves Ascendants, they shaped Tremontanan society to their desires.
Initially these men and women believed their role to be to better their country, but as time passed, and more of them gained positions of power, most Ascendants could not resist using their magical abilities to benefit themselves. They grew to perceive themselves as superior to non-magical people and behaved accordingly, occasionally using their magic to manipulate and control others. Children who manifested talents were taken, usually with their parents’ good will, to schools where they were taught to use magic as well as indoctrinated in the tenets of the Ascendants.
Ordinary citizens were caught between hoping their children might ascend to this better life, because the families of such children gained a measure of the child’s new social standing, and resenting their underclass status and the high-handedness of Ascendants. Even so, because most Ascendants continued to use their abilities to defend and support Tremontane, the balance of power remained secure and the average citizen was disinclined to revolt.
This situation changed during the Valant dynasty, when the structure of Tremontane’s government was altered to give Ascendants more political power. Under the Valants, no Ascendant was allowed to become King or Queen; instead, the monarch was supported by a Ascendant relative with the title Eminence who acted almost as a co-ruler, the King handling the mundane aspects of government and the Eminence responsible for managing all things magical in the kingdom. The Eminences learned to expand their field of responsibility over the years, as well as frequently manipulating weak Kings or Queens, and eventually Ascendants held most of the public offices and exercised great influence on policy and law.
By the reign of Edmund Valant, beginning in Year 691 of the Binding, civil unrest and resentment of Ascendants were growing, and fear and distrust of them had spread enough to spark violence against those suspected of developing inherent magic. This caused a backlash by the Ascendants, increasing the tension within the country.
As this situation was developing, other countries were trying to overcome the limitations of their relative scarcity of lines of power and resulting lack of magic. Most of these countries had few or no Ascendants, as the presence of magical energy was necessary for them to manifest, but as the dowser population was not dependent on the amount of source, there were many people who could experiment with manipulating source. They discovered that a dowser could imbue certain metals with source, allowing those metals to transfer their magical energy to objects that could perform the same magical talents as an Ascendant, but without the necessity of being surrounded by lines of power. A trade in manufacturing these Devices, as they were called, sprang up in Eskandel; dowsers, now called Devisers, gained influence and notoriety as people realized that magic could be accessible to all.
This new trade began spilling over into Tremontane’s southern regions (bordering on Eskandel) and influenced more rebellion against the Valants, who again responded by cracking down on the rebellious. Ultimately the Valants were overthrown by Willow North, who spent her reign destroying the power of the Ascendants while trying to curb the public’s desire to see all such men and women dead. Inherent magic became a byword for evil and those who demonstrated such talents might be killed by mobs, despite laws passed to protect them (which were often not enforced at local levels).
Those with inherent magic hid their talents if they were able, and as the centuries passed, and the memory of the Valants and the Ascendants faded, people became less fearful of the possibilities of inherent magic. Those who had the power to heal others helped in lessening this prejudice. By Zara North’s time, a little over two centuries after Willow’s rule, inherent magic appears so rarely (that is, is hidden so completely; genetics is still what it is) that most people think of it as nothing more than a story to frighten children—though when it does appear, people are still quick to panic and attack.