How far from death is the average human being? How much “hurt” is too much? Mute science cannot answer that question with any precision. Magi can. We are sensitive to an energy that we call Essence. Essence is the energy that turns a dead thing into a living thing; it can be measured quite precisely. If a creature’s Essence is depleted, it is dead. This is as true for viruses as for cats as for mutes as for Magi. Two things change the Magi’s relationship with Death.
The first is reincarnation of memory. Most living beings have souls that reincarnate. Some do seem to pass from this world permanently — some Soul spells allow Magi to watch the passing, and they see a few souls travel out beyond an etheric horizon and vanish. But most seem to orbit, to gather fresh Essence and then re-attach to the physical world. It may take 5 years or 200, but most come back. When they return, however, their minds retain nothing of the previous existence. Karmic balances and a few personality traits are all that carry over. Magi remember. Given enough power, we are in theory capable of recalling every past life we have ever lived. No one has that much power, of course, but the data is there, written into our souls in a way apparently unique from other creatures. That gives us continuity and allows us to play the Long Game: that on-going effort to control or redefine or transcend Reality and to see whose philosophy ultimately wins.
The second is reconstitution, also known as coalescence. There is a set of spells that may create a link between one of the Sacred Sites and a Magi’s soul. And when a Magi hits just-right-at-zero Essence, their body dissolves into energy and is whisked away to be reconstituted at that Sacred Sites.
Reconstitution used to be quite rare. The spells to set it up were quite jealously guarded and the places that could support such spells were isolated. But something happened during the Long Sleep of the last 200 years. Several Magi awoke and found copies of those critical inscriptions tucked into their Magi chests, with no explanation of how or why. And the Sacred Sites have proliferated. Oh, not the BIG Sacred Sites — those that are potent enough to support creating new inscriptions remain incredibly rare. But suddenly we find a host of small ones, just enough to support a small cabal reincarnating every now and again. The Keepers refer to this phenomena as “spontaneous coalescence.” The Keepers are very concerned about this change as it makes it much harder to temporarily remove a rogue element from the world.
So Magi of the modern era can survive near-death strikes much more readily, which is good, because something else changed while we slept. In olden days, Magi did not worry much about physical harm. The Codex protections would deflect most arrows or spears. If something did get through, it was not a problem. Physical damage from a thrown rock, or a knife, or an arrow, can deplete Essence, but by channeling Will, Magi frequently can limit such losses and, relative to mutes, can heal even critical wounds with fair speed. But a howitzer, or bomb or a car wreck delivers much more damage at a much higher rate, beyond what a Codex can deflect without more active spells and beyond what we can manage by Will alone. The world has grown more dangerous while we slept.
If you do not have a reconstitution site prepared, loss of Essence will kill you. You are serially immortal, not continually immortal. And reconstitution is as much art as science — sometimes a reconstituted Magi will still have some bits missing. And a fast enough rate of damage can drive you into reincarnation faster than dissolution can save you. Do not play with Death.
Can a Magi die so thoroughly that they cease to reincarnate? Maybe. We know some souls of non-Magi do not reincarnate — they sail out over the etheric horizon in a straight line, heading toward some goal only they can see. We think it has happened to Magi a few times. It is very hard to tell the difference between someone who is never coming back and someone who is simply on a long orbit with a few thousand years between incarnations. Certainly there are a few who were in the Tower of Ba’bel on the day it fell who have not been heard from since. But maybe they have come back but prefer not to remember that time? We cannot tell. What we do know is this: Magi do kill other Magi somewhat regularly, driving them into their next incarnation and resetting their memories, but every Magi who has tried to commit Final Murder has met a gruesome and painful end themselves, as if the universe itself struck back at them. There is the legend of Cain and his brother, for example. Although that tale is so old as to be myth, the description of Cain’s punishment matches what has been described for the other attempts. Murderous Magi may have succeeded in their goal, but they pay an excruciating karmic price even for the attempt. The universe wants us to play the Long Game. It doesn’t seem to like it when we try to cheat by wiping an opponent from the board, but you are welcome to try.