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Humans

"Human" is a blanket term for all sapient people made of physical matter (as opposed to mana, like spirits) in Empyria. All humans share a roughly similar bipedal body plan with two arms and a large head, but otherwise vary wildly in appearance and anatomy.

three humanoid figures, labeled Valefar, Furtur, & Ronwe
Some example human phenotypes, labeled with their respective cities of origin. Image description

Magic

In addition to their intelligence and culture, humans are also notable for a unique system of organs and glands spread throughout their brain and torso, not present in any other known animal. How these organs function is still poorly understood. However, since people who are missing these organs due to genetic disorders or surgery have reduced or no capacity for magic, we know that they are what makes spellcasting possible.

People with functioning magic organs can sense mana, store it within their bodies, and manipulate the stored mana. All three of these abilities improve with age and study; for example, an average 12-year-old child can just barely produce a small flame, while an adult civilian can boil water and a trained mage can cast hugely destructive fireball spells.

The experience of using magic is a strange mental effort that is difficult to describe. Drawing a magic circle with mana is more similar to imagining the circle into existence than literally drawing it line by line, so practiced mages can draw complex circles in a matter of seconds.

Origins

Reliable accounts of pre-Cataclysm Society are rare, but it is generally accepted that 1000 years ago, humans used to be a single species. The Cataclysm spread a dense field of mana across the entire planet, which interacted unpredictably with humans' ability to absorb mana; existing humans remained unaffected, but newborn humans' appearances were warped and reshaped by the composition of the background mana field where they were born. Children born in one town might have scales and a snout, while those born in another town might have a tail, and so forth. This continues to this day, so while most humans can still interbreed, the appearance of their offspring is more determined by location than individual genetics.

What humans used to look like has been lost to time. Some art from the Telos civilization that lived before the Cataclysm has survived to this day, but the Telosians favoured an abstract and ambiguous style, so they don't do much to clear matters up. There are some minor factions in the Church of Aether that believe themselves to be true humans, untouched by the taint of the mana field unlike all the other heathens claiming the human name, but when you've got wolfmen and people with horns claiming the same thing it's hard to take them seriously.

Cursed Humans

The background mana field in much of Empyria is so overwhelmingly strong that it mutates newborns in terrifying and usually lethal ways. Despite the wildly varying appearance of natural humans, cursed children are still instantly identifiable by their patchwork appearance; it is as if entire chunks of their flesh were replaced by random monster parts. These children are referred to as cursed, and very rarely survive infancy as their internal organ systems often don't line up.

The few cursed children who survive to adulthood may develop strange supernatural powers. Although natural humans vary somewhat in physical ability, their abilities are determined by their physical anatomy; for example, no human can fly even if they have wings, because their mass and body shape make it impossible. However, a cursed human with wings might be able to fly magically, and a cursed human with a monster mouth might be able to chew through and metabolize steel, and so forth.

In most places, cursed children are seen as a bad omen - a reminder that despite their technological advances, humans are still helpless before the inscrutable whims of magic. There is even a widespread belief that you or your future children can "catch" a curse by getting too close to one, though there is no evidence to support this.