Alchemy Is Magic
Alchemy is often portrayed as magical or fantastical in some way. In fictionland, you can use alchemy to produce powerful potions, create weapons, or even turn an object into something else completely. This is a case of Science Marches On. Alchemy, after all, used to be an acceptable means of study. However, alchemy always had something occult-like to it, as evidenced by goals such as the panacea (cure-all) and the "Elixir of Life" (which grants immortality). For more notes on this, visit the Useful Notes page on Alchemy. This is a subtrope of Functional Magic. When alchemy is present, you can also expect to find variants of Equivalent Exchange.
This trope appears in the following works:
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Anime and Manga
- Many of the bindings and invocations concerning Alucard in Hellsing are alchemical ("The Bird of Hermes Is My Name, Eating My Wings To Make Me Tame" is from the Ripley Scroll) in origin; however, it tends to focus on the "magic" and symbolic part and less the chemistry.
- The 1711 immortals of Baccano! were originally alchemists. At one point, a couple of them are seen reciting from the Emerald Tablet. They used alchemy to summon a demon to achieve the Elixir of Life.
- Fate/Zero, and by extension Fate/stay night, reveals that the Einzbern family specializes in alchemy, which is how they were able to produce homonculi and the Holy Grail's body itself.
- Busou Renkin is somewhat loosely based on alchemy; the title translates to "Arms Alchemy," but the transmutation of lead into gold and the Philosopher's Stone are explicitly mentioned as having failed.
- Although the Philosopher's Stone failed, immortality is still possible. all you have to do is use your own DNA as the basis for a homunculus and bond it with yourself. You have to eat humans now, but you won't age and have a Healing Factor.
- Furthurmore, the titular Busou Renkin themselves are a product of alchemy, and are pretty magical themselves. In addition to being able to be formed from kakugane (going from a disk the size of a CD to the user's Weapon of Choice, no matter how big) and being able to at least slow down the Healing Factor of Homunculi, each Renkin also has special properties that cannot be replicated by modern science.
- Fullmetal Alchemist. In this universe, turning rocks into gold is a simple (albeit illegal, due to the risk of shattering the economy from inflation) alchemic procedure, but the Philosopher's Stone, and immortality along with it, is still being sought. Interestingly, they use the scientific elements, the ones listed in our real-world periodic table, rather than the four classical elements of earth, water, wind, and fire.
- There are three traditional methods of conducting alchemy, as well as a fourth method developed recently:
- The alchemy of Amestris uses the movement of the tectonic plates and geothermal energy.
- The alkahestry of Xing uses ley lines originating from mountains.
- The alchemy of Xerxes, an ancient city from before the founding of Amestris and Xing, was the precursor to Amestrian alchemy and Xingese alkahestry. Its power source is never fully explained, but given that Hoenheim was the one who taught Xing alkahestry, it is most likely related to that.
- The most recently invented method of alchemy was that of Ishval, described as a combination of Amestrian and Xingese alchemy.
- It bears saying, though, that the Fullmetal Alchemist brand of alchemy is entirely different in methodology than real-life, especially Western, alchemy. In Fullmetal Alchemist, the transmutations worked on the principle of exchanging equal values of energy and matter in order to power the rituals. In real life, many alchemists believed that primal matter would eventually progress to gold, the most pure form of of matter. The goal of alchemical experiments, then, was to artificially speed up this process.
- Hiromu Arakawa (the author) has shown her work. Fullmetal Alchemist includes various alchemical symbols: the cross and snake on Edward's cloak, armor-Alphonse's left shoulder, and Izumi's left collarbone is actually called a flamel (named after the famous real world alchemist Nicholas Flamel); the Ouroboros tattoo the homunculi have, in alchemy, represents the snake eating itself - the perfect being; the Fiery Salamander on Roy Mustang's gloves; as stated above, the Philosopher's Stone was also the goal of many alchemists. Hell, even Hohenheim's name was based on the famous alchemist Paracelsus.
- There are three traditional methods of conducting alchemy, as well as a fourth method developed recently:
- Mahou Sensei Negima! has some references to alchemy—at the end of Volume 21, Ken Akamatsu shows his work with a quite detailed depiction of the history of alchemy and its relationship with the 1,000,000 drachma 'ixir'.
- Defied in Spice and Wolf: when Lawrence goes to a district for a town's alchemist, his guide tells him they just do experiments with acids and metal. This ends up holding true even after we find out they have a god in human form like Holo living there.
- A Certain Magical Index has Aureolus Izzard, one of Touma's early foes. Stiyl's explanations of alchemy mention many real-world alchemical pursuits, but the anime only shows one alchemical spell used: Izzard manages to set up Ars Magna, which causes anything he thinks to become reality, effectively making him a Reality Warper within its field of effect.
- The Light Novel shows a bit more (which was cut from the anime due to not really adding anything to the story): Izzard created a homunculus double of himself which used the spell Limen Magna, which uses a needle and chain to instantly transform anything it touches into molten gold.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, the feats that Daitokuji-sensei (called Dr. Lyman Banner in the dub) performed as his villainous alter-ego Amnael certainly seemed like magic. He created a homunculus duplicate of himself (much like a close) to replace his dying body, and after defeating both Asuka and Manjyome in Shadow Duels, he was able to hold them captive in an extra-dimensional prison inside the the Emerald Tablet he carried (a book with the Eye of Wdjat on it). His true goal was to obtain immortality, as he was dying from some curse. Interesting enough, the cards his deck used referenced terms used in historic alchemy, using monsters called "Alchemy Beasts" (which were based off common base metals and animals used in alchemy to transmute and refine gold), and Spell Cards named after the four most vital steps of magnum opus, the path towards the creation of the Philosopher's Stone.
- During Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol, the Negative Man merged with his (female) therapist and became Rebis, the alchemical marriage of man and female. It then found immortality in a tree on the moon. This is Grant Morrison we're talking about, people.
- Old Maggoty in Elfquest has a talent for potions and brews and is apparently the World of Two Moons inventor of wine.
- Used but eventually subverted in Hack Slash. The Big Bad is a thousands-of-years-old villain with dark alchemical abilities, but in the end his Zombie Apocalypse-creating potion turns out to have an antidote created by a modern chemist.
- In Star Wars, there exists Sith Alchemy, a school of The Dark Side that combines the Force teachings of the Dark Jedi with ancient Sith Sorcery. It involves transmutation of weapons and creatures, as well as necromancy and (as mastered by Darth Plagueis) the ability to create life. It is considered by the Jedi to be the ultimate perversion of The Force.
- Big Trouble in Little China. Egg Shen mentioned Taoist alchemy. This may be what he used to create the potion he had everyone drink to improve their abilities before the fight with David Lo Pan's forces.
- In Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, the practice of alchemy is a major plot thread. Daniel considers it hogwash, Isaac studies it intensely and considers it just as valid as science, and a good many nobles dabble in it just because it's the cool thing to do. Enoch the Red is a famous alchemist with a scientific bent, and then Enoch whips out some Elixir Vitae and brings Daniel and Isaac Back from the Dead.
- There are alchemists in the Belgariad, although Belgarath, the world's eldest sorcerer, is rather dismissive of it: "If you want gold so bad, why don't you dig it up?" Senji, an alchemist who discovered sorcery by accident (making him immortal), actually discovered how to turn lead to gold, but the process costs more than the resultant gold... and is quite dangerous.
Stunned alchemist: (recovering from an explosion) Too much sulfur. That's it. I put in too much sulfur...
- Implied in Shaman of the Undead, where it's mentioned as one of the divisions of magic. It takes a backseat to plot's demon-hunting adventures, though.
- Albeit not too popular, alchemy is also practiced on the Disc. Most of the time, though, Ankh-Morpork's alchemists merely blow up their guild house instead of achieving anything.
- They have achieved all kinds of things when they've managed to put their goal of making gold aside for a few moments, such as film suitable for movie cameras. Cheery Littlebottom, the City Watch forensics officer is a trained alchemist, but left the guild. Through the roof. Like others before them, the Disc alchemists have discovered you can turn lead into gold, but only at the expense of a lot more gold than you're going to end up with. They also tend to believe that pretty much anything contains the secret to eternal life: "An alchemist would cut his own head off if he thought it would help him live longer".
- However, Discworld alchemists are always very clear that alchemy is not magic, and they definitely aren't intruding on Unseen University's field of study.
- The Gentleman Bastard series has alchemy as a low-magic practice that's seen like a science, setting it as a contrast to the more flashy high magic of the Bondsmagi of Karthain. Alchemical stoves that use water as a fuel source are commonplace, as are alchemical blends of fruit, liquor, and animals (such as a hawk with scorpion stingers for talons and an accompanying venom sac).
- Harry Potter
- In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the title stone belongs to Nicholas Flamel and has been used by him and his wife to keep them alive these many centuries. Neither of them appear in the book, but they are friends of Dumbledore. At the end of the book, they are mentioned as putting their affairs in order now that the stone is no more.
- Potions are also frequently used in the series.
- Strangely, alchemy is a magical discipline in the HP world, represented across several media (you can even study it at Hogwarts in the final years, according to Pottermore) but how exactly it relates to Potions and Transfiguration is not discussed.
- The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel: Starring Nicholas Flamel himself. In that world, some alchemists have indeed found immortality; Flamel and the Comte De Saint Germain among them. Flamel himself has found the way to create the Stone and the Elixir, though it requires a special formula from a certain magical book. The formula is in fact different every month the book reveals it; trying to use the same formula again is dangerous. The book itself contains many other secrets, some which are far too dangerous, should they fall into the hands of the Dark Elders, for Flamel to let the book out of his sight.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has its own Alchemists' Guild (sometimes called the pyromancers), who claimed a magical pedigree back in the day but are basically viewed as charlatans and doddering old men in contemporary Westeros. They are feared and respected for one thing, however — they know how to make wildfire (or "alchemist's piss," as it's more colloquially known), which is basically what happens when napalm and Greek fire have an unholy spawning. It's also hinted that they might not be lying about the magical pedigree; one alchemist says to Tyrion that it's become much easier to produce wildfire for some reason, that reason, unbeknownst to him, likely being the reemergence of dragons.
- The Pendragon Legend features the dark riders as major antagonists who seek to complete the great work through black magic. That's not the focus of the novel however, but rather, the young scientist researching their history, and the history of the Pendragon family as well as their connection to the Rosicrucian order and the Freemasons.
- Harry uses alchemy occasionally in The Dresden Files, usually when his regular magic isn't enough (which happens rarer and rarer as the series progresses). Making a potion involves six ingredients; a base, and something to stand in for each of the five senses. Then he performs a spell which makes the mess a potion.
- In The Wise Man's Fear, this is lampshaded when discussing a fireproofing ointment. When the protagonist Kvothe (who works mostly with chemistry and the unusually scientific magic of the setting expresses his doubts as to what alchemy can do (specifically, that nothing becomes flammable when mixed with water), his alchemist friend Simmon responds by throwing some water into the substance, which promptly explodes, leaving the usually know-it-all Kvothe to admit: "I know nothing about alchemy".
- In Sacre Bleu the Colorman uses the title pigment to extend his life for millennia.
- In Tom Holt's Flying Dutch, the alchemist Montalban developed the immortality potion that blighted the lives of Vanderdecker and his crew, and also routinely turns lead into gold—a technique he actually taught Vanderdecker to help make up for the immortality/horrible stench thing.
- The Red Lion is about this.
- This plays a major role in the later books of Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series. Because Healing Magic Is the Hardest in the setting, the Overlord of Plenimar engages a powerful alchemist to to do some truly messed up Blood Magic in the hopes of obtaining a cure for his ailing son.
- Alchemy is the most common form of magic in the universe of Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora due to sorcery being monopolized by a single guild of very expensive sorcerers.
- The Man Who Made Gold, a novel written by Hilaire Belloc and illustrated by his friend G. K. Chesterton, depicts a round of panic and deceit after a young professor learns how to transmute metals from his dying, drug-addicted pupil. Notably Belloc uses atomic theory as a Phlebotinum du Jour: the transmutation is presented as a matter of knocking three electrons off the lead atom.
- In The Secret of Platform 13, the protagonists convince Raymond to come with them to the Island when Cornelius turns base metal into gold, promising him as much as he wants. He neglect to mention that, since any wizard worth his salt can do the same trick, on the Island gold is basically worthless.
Live Action TV
- 1960's Batman series. Cassandra Spellcraft was an alchemist who created magical substances to use in her criminal pursuits.
- Some settings of Magic: The Gathering sometimes include alchemy as a school of magic, such as with Lorwyn and Shadowmoor kithkin and the Innistrad skaaberen.
- The tabletop RPG Pathfinder features alchemists as a base class. The flavor text tends to treat them as a combination of Mad Scientist, Mad Bomber, and Professor Guinea Pig and, indeed, most of their class features involve making magical bombs, using poisons, permanently modifying their own bodies to add things like extra limbs or tentacles, and drinking Psycho Serum. At 20th level, the class culminates in the alchemist making a "grand discovery," among which are the secrets of eternal youth (making alchemists one of only two classes able to become The Ageless without becoming undead — and the other one requires being a specific race) or the process by which one makes the Philosopher's Stone (which transforms large amounts of iron and lead into silver and gold and can be used to restore the dead to life).
- Promethean: The Created takes a whole lot from alchemy, turning the story of Frankenstein's Monster into an attempt to bring a person back from the dead that created a half-finished human powered by the fire of the universe. Prometheans have humors based on the classical elements, pursue Refinements based on the seven metals (as well as cobalt and bronze), and can create Athanors to further refine the fire that powers them.
- Second Sight gives us alchemy as a prospective science for thaumaturgists (read: humans who know magic but haven't Awakened). It comes in external and internal flavors and is primarily useful for extending one's lifespan.
- Mage: The Awakening also makes use of alchemy as a sub-branch of Awakened magic. Any mage with a good knowledge of Matter can roll a spell into a salve/ointment for later use, and it's possible to perfect any one of the seven planetary metals.
- Shadowrun. Alchemy is a branch of magic. In early editions it was a specific type of Enchanting used to refine raw materials into alchemical radicals (which have uses in creating other magic items).
- Dungeons & Dragons. In early editions alchemy was used to create magical potions and other one-use items. Permanent magic items were made by wizards and priests using different techniques.
- The 3.5 version of the D&D rules made the Craft (Alchemy) skill exclusive to spell-casting classes. Some of the substances created with this Craft skill are plausible products of mundane chemistry, but others are definitely fantastical in nature.
- Some settings, such as Eberron or Ravenloft, greatly expand on what alchemy is capable of, both in realistic and occult/supernatural forms.
- Averted in the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The Alchemist theme does not have the Arcane power source.
- There's an alchemist PC class in the Talislanta game, and several nations in that setting hold the secrets of specific magical formulas of that craft.
- The standard use of alchemy in Talisman is to turn objects into gold by casting an alchemy spell, using the alchemist follower, or visiting the alchemist in the City board space. The Alchemist player character expands on this with the ability to turn gold into potions, which can then be used to heal, gain fate tokens, or draw spell cards. (While nothing prevents the Alchemist PC from casting the alchemy spell and using the alchemist follower all while visiting the alchemist in the City, there is no added benefit for doing so outside of player amusement.)
- In The Dark Eye this is true in a way, while one does not necessary need to possess magical abilities to create a potion, having access to them allows the creation of more powerful varieties of regular potions and enables the alchemist to create certain potions one needs to cast a spell on.
- Baron Alexander in Amnesia: The Dark Descent practices an extremely disturbing form of alchemy, subjecting people to horrible tortures to extract mystical vitae from their bodies, to extend his life and fuel a process to open a portal between the worlds.
- The entire Atelier franchise, which includes Atelier Iris and the Mana Khemia spin-offs.
- In Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland, both Mimi and Marc suggest that alchemy is like magic, but Totori insists that it isn't.
- An actual magician later appears in Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk and points out that alchemists are mere copycats, or otherwise similar in some ways, but it's not actual magic.
- One of the later buildings available for purchase in Cookie Clicker are alchemy labs, where you can transmute all those Worthless Yellow Rocks into more cookies!
- Dwarf Fortress has an Alchemy skill that was originally used for producing soap. There's now unintentional alchemy - turning everything from platinum to adamantine into iron goblets - but that is what we call a "bug".
- In The Elder Scrolls (which was based on the developers' own homebrew D&D setting) alchemy is portrayed as a sort of scientific magic; when you Item Craft potions you're distilling the ingredients (using a pestle and mortar, retort, etc), however you appear to be extracting the "magic" from them rather than more mundane chemical compounds (some of the in universe literature even uses this to justify the Health Food trope; chewing certain foods releases their basic properties, but not as well as properly mixing them would).
- Golden Sun, where Alchemy is the force responsible for people possessing Elemental Powers, and which the world requires in order to not wither away into nothing.
- In the Soul Series, Ivy Valentine practices alchemy, and this shows up in some of her most powerful moves (like her Critical Finish in IV) in ways that resemble outright sorcery, conjuring up fiery portals to incinerate her enemies.
- Haunting Ground gives us alchemists in search of Azoth which should grant them immortality. Golems and homunculus also exist around the castle.
- In Melty Blood, Sion is a "mental" alchemist. While she does comment on how traditional alchemy is derived from seeking higher and higher levels of the physical (lead into gold, the body into the body eternal), her branch of alchemy seeks higher and higher brain capacity.
- Odin Sphere uses it for potion brewing, with effects ranging from healing draughts to napalm.
- Secret of Evermore builds on standard RPG-magic by requiring certain ingredients before the player can cast certain spells. Ingredients are obtained through purchase, finding as treasure, or examining certain areas of the world map (sidekick dog points these out frequently). The required ingredients usually make sense for the spell, such as Brimstone and Ash for a Fire spell, or Limestone and Wax for a Crushing spell. Others make less sense, such as Oil and Water for a Healing spell.
- Shadow Of Destiny's plot involves quite a bit of Alchemy in it. More specifically, the use of the Philosopher's Stone in the creation of the Elixir of Youth and a Homunculus.
- Alchemy in Three the Hard Way works like a special branch of magic. Alchemical products are referred as "spells", and it functions just like standard offensive spells when used in battle.
- Team Fortress 2 gives us the material known as Australium, which has similar effects. At first glance, it looks like an average gold bar (and indeed is speculated to be the material the Golden Wrench is made out of, which turns people to gold), but prolonged exposure to it instead gradually turns the wielder Australian, eventually growing a mustache, finding a taste for beer, growing gradually more muscular, and growing geographically-shaped chest hair.
- It's a bit more complex than that. Aside from making people more like stereotypical Australians, it simultaneously boosted their intelligence to Gadgeteer Genius levels, leading to Australia (home to the largest deposit of Australium, directly beneath their feet) becoming some sort of Crystal Spires and Togas/Raygun Gothic/Steampunk land of technological wonders in the 1800s alone. Its state in the 1960s, when the game actually takes place, is unknown, but the country was responsible for most of the anachronistic aspects of the TF2 universe like the Engineer's buildings. In fact, the BLU Engineeer's grandfather used some of the metal to build two life-extension machines (possibly three, but the location of the third remains a mystery or at least it did until recently) bringing the whole thing full circle to immortality.
- Alchemy is also a profession in World of Warcraft, although its primary use is in producing drugs — I mean, restorative and buff potions. At higher levels you can transmute gems into more valuable gems and metals into more valuable metals — including, yes, iron into gold. Most of these transmutations may only be performed daily, and, yes, they demand an (also alchemist-made) Philosopher's Stone to perform.
- Considering the limited applications, iron is generally more valuable than gold anyway. And if sold to an NPC, a bar of gold is only worth 10 silver coins.
- Xenosaga references the four stages of the Magnum Opus with the characters Nigredo, Albedo, Citrine (Citrinitas), and Rubedo.
- In the Wizardry series of games, Alchemy is one of four schools of magic along Wizardry, Divinity and Psionics.
- In Zork Nemesis, you encounter the disembodied spirits of four alchemists. They ask for your help to defeat their killer, Nemesis, who also murdered Alexandria, the daughter of one of the alchemists. The alchemists killed Alexandria. She had been conceived and raised to be the key to eternal life. Nemesis was her boyfriend, who stopped the alchemists in the middle of the ritual. He kept their souls alive and tortured them to find out how to resurrect Alexandria.
- Alchemy in Might and Magic can be used to create a variety of magical potions (including giving specific permanent magical enchantments to nonmagical items of high enough quality). This, presumably, is why the Might Hero for the Tower faction in Heroes III was the Alchemist.
- In Kamidori Alchemy Meister, "alchemy" seems to be a catch-all term for local technology. Most of the known results qualify as magical items.
- Final Fantasy V: The Chemist job class can learn the "Mix" ability that gives spell-like abilities to combinations of certain components.
- Final Fantasy X: Rikku can use various natural components stolen from fiends to cast equivalent spells (e.g. using an Antarctic Wind is the equivalent of Blizzara), and her Mix overdrive is an even bigger example. Basically, Component + Component = Big Spell (effects vary depending on the Components).
- Ragnarok Online has Alchemists who can create health and mana potions, make themselves a homunculus, plants in a bottle, and throw Molotov cocktails or acid (or both) at people. Ever more when upgraded to Geneticist.
- In the Wild Arms series, alchemy is a powerful and little-understood branch of Magitek, used to create magical nanomachines, and, using them, "living metal" creations such as golems, Artificial Humans, and the eponymous ARMs. Its distinction from mere "industrial sorcery" is never made clear, but seems to relate to creating self-sustaining systems.
- In Etrian Odyssey, Alchemists are the game's Black Mages.
- In The Longest Journey, the abilities of alchemists in Arcadia are magical in nature, but are of lower class than that of mages. However, mages are born while any human can become an alchemist through learning. The alchemist April meets and combats in the game, Roper Klacks, threatens Marcuria by rerouting the winds, thus preventing ships from coming and going. The army sent to stop him was wiped out by one of his spells. He lives in an Ominous Floating Castle anchored with a huge chain. April manages to defeat him with a math contest (she cheats by using a calculator which, for some reason, still works in Arcadia). When the angry alchemist tries to attack April with a spell, he is sucked into the calculator. In the sequel, April meets Klacks ten years later. He explains that he was trapped in the calculator for several years until he managed to escape by first learning advanced calculus. He had an epiphany and decided to change his ways, becoming a salesman of magical items, especially after the Azadi Empire outlaws all magic.
- In The Sims 3 Supernatural, the Alchemy skill is basically a potion-making skill, used to brew elixirs from plants, gem powders and other such things. Also, there exists a Philosopher's Stone which can be used to transmute small items into gold bars.
- Avencast: Rise of the Mage has alchemy classes at the Wizarding School as well as a fetch quest to compose an alchemical potion.
- Warcraft IIIs Goblin Alchemist is something of a misnomer: yes, he is a goblin who makes alchemical potions... riding around on an ogre, on of his potions being a combat drug. His other spells are a Hollywood Acid bomb, an area healing spell, and insta-killing an enemy by turning it into a gold statue of itself, getting you money for it.
- Gunnerkrigg Court is heavy on the alchemical symbolism - the symbols for antimony, bismuth, and lead, among others, make appearances.
- One villain from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, The Alchemist, specifically uses crafted potions, ungents, and powders to create effects in his career as a criminal.
- The game Sburb that appears in Homestuck has... punch-card based alchemy. Granted, it's an immersive video game in a world where computer programming can affect the real world, and it doesn't really involve either gold or lead - but the way this works is, each object is assigned a 48-bit code and doing bitwise operations on these codes (and using the weird machines to manufacture the result) will create an object that has the characteristics of both original codes. Of course, it costs "build grist" and other types of "grist" to make these things, too, and some objects have codes only readable by a special machine and some code combinations produce inappropriate objects, but it has been put to use for making better weapons for the kids.
- Trinton Chronicles has some references to alchemy by Dan, an in-training alchemist who helps run an Alchemy shop.
- A Running Gag in Nullmetal Alchemist is between Ed and Al fighting over whether they do alchemy or magic. Ed refers to himself as a magician whereas Al explains (in detail) why they do alchemy, Ed dismisses his arguments as "bollocks". It makes sense later when Ed's mother's dying words was telling him that referring to it as alchemy makes him sound pretenious, so ever since then he's called it magic.
- We Are Our Avatars: Marcia Shyneet is an alchemist and some of her potions have magical effects. In fact, She invented a potion that shrinks people after seeing Alice Lidell shrink during a fight. Also, her world places Alchemists under the Spellcaster caste.