The following information is not common knowledge amongst the humans of Europe, who for the most part consider the skraylings’ magic to reside in their alchemical devices alone. If word of the practices described below were to get out, it would increase antipathy towards the skraylings and most likely lead to their expulsion, if not their deaths.
“Magic” is a misnomer in any case, implying spells and rituals and all the paraphernalia of human witchcraft. Rather, the skraylings have developed mental and spiritual abilities that contradict modern scientific understanding. They did this thousands of years ago through meditating whilst imbibing qoheetsakhan smoke and by developing their lucid dreaming abilities; the resultant experiences seem to have altered the entire species’ spiritual evolution, such that they have a natural aptitude for such powers whilst humans do not.
Core to skrayling powers are the dreamlands, a parallel dimension or psychic plane that can only be accessed by trained minds. It is relatively featureless, consisting of a twilit landscape of rolling grassy hills and still waters, and has no sun or moon; the sky is a greyish smear of light and dark, like a time-lapse photograph taken over aeons.
With only a little practice, a skrayling can step from his own dreams into this wider landscape. From there he can enter the dreaming minds of others (both skrayling and human) and learn to read and influence their thoughts. The dreams of others can be manipulated and their memories read, thus altering their waking behaviour. Abuse of this power is frowned upon, however; its main purpose is to allow heart-mates to share consciousness.
The dreamlands are not without their perils. Creatures known as hrrith or devourers live there, born of countless millennia of nightmares. Their exact appearance is unknown, since they enhance their fearsomeness by avoiding being seen directly, but most accounts describe them as four-legged beasts, black as deepest night, with enormous teeth and claws.
The other aim of dreamwalking is to develop one’s spirit to such a degree that one can reincarnate into a new body. There are moral implications to this that many humans (and even some skraylings) find objectionable: the migrating soul effectively replaces that of the host and takes over its mind, although it does so gradually. The reincarnated soul must remain more-or-less dormant for the first few years until its host’s brain is mature enough to cope with the flood of memories, and even then it takes until adolescence for the two to merge completely.
This ability requires more mental focus than dreamwalking, and only a minority of skraylings develop the discipline required to do it. Those that can are revered as spiritual leaders and teachers, since they carry the memories of multiple lifetimes. Reincarnation is a dangerous practice, too, since the hrrith are attracted to migrating souls and will attempt to devour them before they can find a physical haven.
To reduce the risk, a skrayling wishing to attempt reincarnation will seek out an amayi or soul-mate. The amayi will try to protect the disembodied soul and guide it to a new body, then find the host and help him or her with the process of psychic integration. Many amayi’a become lovers during the periods when they are both adults, but these physical relationships necessarily ebb and flow with their respective ages; like humans, the skraylings consider sexual relationships between adults and children to be unhealthy and exploitative.
It is also possible for a skrayling to reincarnate into a human host, but this is strictly forbidden by skrayling law. Such creatures are known in English as “guisers” and in Vinlandic as senzadh (lit: “stranger-born), and will be hunted down and destroyed if possible. However the skraylings do not have enough influence in Europe to do this, and so renegades wishing to explore this practice see the newly discovered lands of the east as a safe haven.
The reasons for forbidding the practice of reincarnating as humans are unclear, but it is widely believed that the human mind is incompatible with the skrayling soul and that madness often ensues (like a body rejecting a transplant).
A rare but powerful ability related to dreamwalking is the “dream tunnel”, a kind of wormhole through the dreamlands that allows physical translocation of objects and people from one place to another. This power requires two dreamwalkers, one at each end of the tunnel: one is a passive participant and acts only as the anchor point, whilst the other creates the tunnel. Either participant can travel to the other’s physical location, at which point the tunnel closes.
As in fairy lore, iron plays a significant role in skrayling “magic”. This appears to be related to its electromagnetic properties rather than superstition or the historical changeover from bronze to iron.
The main property of iron is that when in close contact with the flesh, either encircling the neck or a limb or in contact with the bloodstream, it cuts the wearer off from the dreamlands. A skrayling (or guiser) wearing iron cannot dreamwalk, and if he dies in this state he will be unable to reincarnate.
A necklace of iron beads (preferably meteoric iron, but more usually haematite) may be worn to protect oneself from unwelcome dreamwalkers. This is known as a spirit-guard. More rarely, a spirit-guard may take the form of an earring (for a pierced ear); though much smaller than a necklace, its intimate contact with the wearer’s flesh provides adequate protection.
It is possible that other ferro-magnetic minerals have related effects, but since they are much harder to obtain than iron, they have been little studied.