Quintessence and Tass

The Tapestry

The Verbena Heasha Morninglade describes Quintessence as “the raw silk from which we weave the Tapestry of reality.” By weaving the threads of Quintessence into different patterns and designs, we create all types of energy, matter and life. Each individual pattern is part of the larger Tapestry, and the patterns interact with, distort, enhance and otherwise affect each other to create the things we see as real.

While no Sleepers, and few mages, can actually perceive these individual patterns, their interaction is easy to see. In simplified terms, we perceive the pattern of a raindrop interacting with the pattern of gravity as rain falling from the sky. Magick, in the form of woven threads of Quintessence, forms the foundation of reality. For all the chemist’s and biologist’s talk of molecular bonding, and the priest’s and wisewoman’s talk of faith, Quintessence itself provides the life energy that infuses the Tapestry. Without that energy, the threads would unravel. For the past millennia, most mages have agreed that the Tapestry contains at least three distinct types of pattern-energy: body, spirit and mind.

Body

The realm of the physical world is the realm of the body. Both Sleepers and Awakened alike readily perceive and share this physical reality. Willworkers term our physical realm and the nearest vestiges of spirit surrounding it as the Tellurian. Most mages believe that the threads of Quintessence which form the realms of spirit combine in simple, easily understood patterns to create the physical Realms. All physical Realms (and there are far more such places than any Sleeper could dream of) are part of the Tellurian, as are the Near Umbral Realms that surround it.

Spirit

Spirit is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of magickal reality. When Quintessence transforms from its most basic, “raw” form into “threads,” it becomes spirit. This level of reality is still far too intangible for Sleepers to understand and experience, at least on a conscious level. Masters term the spirit worlds created by these threads the Umbrae. Since these Umbrae, or Shadows, are the most fundamental level of reality any mortal can see, mages argue that the Umbrae are the truest reality we can reach. The physical world, they say, is merely a simplified reflection of the spirit.

Mind

Cogito, ergo sum
(I think, therefore I am)

- Rene Descartes, Le Discours de la Methode

Mind is perhaps the least understood of these three sections of the Tapestry. Some mages argue that sentience is unquantifiable and incomprehensible, and is perhaps raw Quintessence or at least Tass. Others argue that the development of the mind is a direct reaction to the Tapestry. Since that Tapestry cannot exist without minds and wills to believe in it, the argument goes, there can be no reality without consciousness. Still more argue that since the concept of Quintessence is formulated by the minds of mages, the theory that minds cannot exist without Quintessence is a hopelessly paradoxical, dangerous idea.

The Dreamspeakers point out that this is essentially the magickal version of the chicken and the egg, saying, “What if the very first hen laid the very first egg, and thus the two were one? And what if instead of sitting on the egg to hatch herself, the hen refused, clucking: ‘Impossible! I am I! You are just an egg!’ And what if the egg then refused to hatch, unwilling to release such a silly cluck on the world? Then where would we be?” If Quintessence only exists because our minds believe in it, yet our minds cannot function without Quintessence, how did both come to exist?

The position and importance of mind in the structure of magick is still little understood. It’s entirely possible, by magickal theory, that the mind can conceive of, and thus create, its own building-blocks. This debate continues, particularly among the Masters of the Mind Sphere, who have a passionate stake in the truth. As these Masters are fond of stating, “These matters are ill-understood by most.”

Quintessence

Quintessence is the basic unit, the quark, the Aristotelian “fifth essence,” of magick. All matter, all spirit, all elements of reality are composed of this mysterious substance. This Prime Force is neither physical nor ethereal and cannot truly be divided or contained.

Although Quintessence is the stuff of which reality is made, even mages cannot truly understand it. Most views regard Quintessence as an ever-fluctuating pool from which all creation arises and returns. As a basic “life-force,” it is often gathered by events of great passion and colored by those same emotions. Sharper students realize that this means Awakened Ones are their own best source of Quintessence, with their Avatars providing the internal wellspring. When a new phenomenon comes into being, it draws Quintessence from the pool. When old phenomena fade away, their magickal energy reenters the vast pool. Some Euthanatos and Nephandi theorize that should reality achieve a state of perfect entropy, the false frameworks imposed by humanity will melt away, leaving only the pure glory of raw Quintessence.

Tass

Although we can never truly divide Quintessence, sorcerers refer to materialized portions of Quintessence as Tass. These Prime bits often provide the Awakened with raw power. But how can mages collect and hoard Tass if Quintessence is indivisible? Most learned Adepts can lecture for hours on just such a question. Perhaps the best way to describe Tass is as temporarily frozen shards of Quintessence, floating on that vast sea of Prime like chunks of ice floating on the ocean. Ice is still water, and will some day return to its liquid form, yet while it is ice, a sculptor can wield his chisel to create objects of art, the soldier can create weapons, and the healer can create a compress to soothe a fevered brow. So too do mages use Tass in certain objects.

The bodies of magickal beings, such as werewolves or faeries, retain Tass. Willworkers can also collect Tass from those Nodes which infuse certain physical objects with magickal energy. Unlike Quintessence, Tass is not always a neutral manifestation of Primal Essence; the “flavor” of an object can affect the usefulness of its Tass. Prime elements preserved in the hand of a saint might prove useful for healing, whereas the Tass in a murderer’s hand might actually harm the patient.

For all practical purposes, Tass is finite. Once a mage uses up the Tass in a particular object or place, it is gone. As ice melts back into the ocean, so the Tass returns to Quintessence. Only by recharging an item at a Node or finding more Tass can a mage again use a depleted relic.

Quintessence as a Trait

We scaled the face of reason
To find at least one sign
That would reveal the true dimensions
Of life lest we forget

- Dead Can Dance, “Anywhere Out of the World”

These traits are a study in contrasts. Quintessence represents the Primal Force a mage contains, his affinity with “real” reality, while Paradox represents how much of an aberration to reality the mystick has become. The elements, while not quite opposites, contradict each other. The rules for each are below.

Both Traits are measured on a wheel of 20 spaces; Quintessence points are filled in from the left-hand marker going clockwise from the same point. If the two ratings overlap, Quintessence loses.

Paradox points (also referred to as the “Paradox Pool”) always eliminate Quintessence points if the two meet somewhere on the wheel. If, for example, a mage with 14 Quintessence and 5 Paradox gained three more points of Paradox, the last two Paradox points take the first two Quintessence points’ place. The opposite does not occur; if a mage with 12 Paradox and six Quintessence absorbs three more Quintessence, only two of those new points go on the wheel. The other is lost.

• A mage gains Prime Force through his Avatar Background or by absorbing it from some Talisman, Node or Tass through Prime magicks. The Avatar rating represents the maximum amount of Quintessence he can soak up per turn through any means.
• Quintessence can be spent to reduce the difficulty of a magick roll. For each point spent this way, the mystick lowers his difficulty by -1, to a maximum of -3.
• Channeling this energy from a Node requires Prime 1; getting it from Tass demands Prime 3. A Master of this force can draw Quintessence from anywhere with a vulgar Prime 5 Effect. Each success equals a point of Quintessence absorbed. Though often invisible, this magick causes lights to flicker, rooms to chill or people to weaken suddenly.
• Under most circumstances, Prime Force is invisible. Strong sources may glow slightly when viewed in the Umbra, but for the most part Quintessence can only be seen with Prime magick. When “in motion,” however, it can be sensed by beings who possess Awareness (the difficulty of the roll would run between 6 and 10, depending on the incident).
• Magicks which shunt large amounts of Quintessence around are never coincidental; such Arts twist the fabric of reality itself. Consider “large amounts” to be disturbances involving more than five points in a turn. Really large shifts, involving 10 points or more, or really violent channelings, can actually be seen by the mortal eye as bright ribbons, floods or explosions. These manifestations are always vulgar (An exception is anti-magick; see “Permutations”).