More stuff dredged up from that one setting I worked on that one time.
The Order of the Magi do not worship the Spirit Realm, but they revere its inhabitants and their secrets and stand in opposition to the Shadow Realm and thus to the Miracose Order. United by the might of the Empire, since its decline the two have been in constant (though low-grade) war. They are shamans, alchemists, and witches, and particularly the latter has made them enemies of the Celestial Order, the most prominent religion of the land. Although the magi enjoy official protection in the Empire due to an ancient treaty, they are often persecuted anyway outside of their enclaves. Magi enclaves vary in size, but are usually the size of an entire county, as the magi need a large population to hold up their end of their ancient treaty with the Empire, which is the creation of magical weapons. Magi have mastered the art of imbuing spirits into magical metals mined from the Spirit Realm as well as into silver from the Material Worlds, and are thus masters of enchanted armor and weapons, along with all manner of other magic items. This knowledge is not only sacred to the Magi Order, it is what keeps their treaty with the Empire alive and what prevents them from being targeted by crusades of the Celestial Order. As such, it is a carefully guarded secret.
The head of the Order is the Grandmaster of Magic, advised by a council of grandmasters of a specific school of magic. These are:
-The Grandmaster of Alchemy, who keeps the secrets of alchemy, precisely inscribed ether circuits that can rewrite all manner of esper. The greatest secret of this school is the Sorcerer’s Glyph, which allows for perfect health up to and including immortality, the creation of life from nothing but ambient esper (i.e. the homunculus), and the transmutation of one metal into another through ether manipulation.
-The Grandmaster of Metals, who keeps the secrets of working with metals from the Spirit Realm: Thaum, star iron, mithril, orichalcum, and vorpal.
-The Grandmaster of Spirits, who keeps the secrets of the Spirit Realm, how to contact spirits, summon them, bind them to enchant items, and do so without making enemies of them or their lords.
-The Grandmaster of Runes, who keeps the secrets of the hidden names of elementals and the primordial scripts they’re written in, and is a liaison to the primordial realms for the Order of the Magi.
-The Grandmaster of Planes, who keeps the secrets of planar travel and whose job is to explore strange new locales in search of new magical secrets (a mission that is closely aligned with the Empire’s Master Cartographer), most of these strange new locales being amongst the planes.
-The Grandmaster of Concoctions, who keeps the secrets of potions and elixirs and the herbs that make them up.
-The Grandmaster of Bonding, who keeps the secrets of bonding limbs of magical metal to the flesh of a living being to create new appendages or replace missing ones. Often the new parts have enchantments, granting strange and wondrous abilities to whoever they’re attached to. The best kept secret of this school are the dark rituals whereby an enchanted thaum nail is hammered into the spine of a victim, causing their body to fall under the control of the spirit enchanting the nail. The shuffling, possessed body can then be put to work however the enchanter wishes. The spirit feels none of the body’s pain, although the helpless victim will.
-The Grandmaster of Golems, who keeps the secrets of creating entirely new bodies of magical metal, ready to house a spirit minion.
With these eight masters plus the Grandmaster of Magic the Magi Council numbers nine members, a sacred number to the Order. Beneath the Council are the archmages. Any member of the council may present any magi (of any rank, although an unofficial requirement is that they be a full mage) to the Council to be confirmed as archmage. The Council must agree unanimously to confirm the archmage, and usually the grandmasters will rubberstamp the decision without looking too carefully at the candidate, since he is a master of magic they do not specialize in. Often if they don’t rubberstamp a candidate, it’s for political reasons. Typically an archmage rules over a county enclave of the Order, but some of them hold important positions like being the ambassador to an elemental kingdom for the Grandmaster of Runes, being the captain of astral ship for the Grandmaster of Planes, or being a forgemaster for the Grandmaster of Golems.
Being that they are hated by many other organs of Imperial government, the Magi maintain a powerful private military that answers directly to the various grandmasters. Chief among these are the aeon phalanxes which answer to the Grandmaster of Golems. An aeon phalanx is a unit consisting of just a handful of mages directing approximately one thousand golem soldiers, living statues equipped and enchanted for war. At the center of each aeon phalanx is the aeon itself, a golem of immense power. Each aeon is unique in appearance and ability, but all of them hold such incredible power that they strain to contain themselves within their physical forms. Some of them can appear stable when at rest, and may even appear particularly stiff as they dedicate great effort to retaining control, but in battle their movements become erratic. Limbs will separate off from the main body, held loosely in place by the screaming, pulsing magic of the aeon’s possessing spirit, floating several inches or even several feet away the torso (or a proportionately further distance for those aeons which are larger, and they can be up to fifty feet tall). Other aeons are constantly in this chaotic flux, a swirling cloud of alchemically enchanted components with no consistent configuration or anatomy.
Aeon phalanxes are powerful but very rare, as spirits powerful enough to qualify and willing (even if due to coercion or blackmail) to ally themselves with the Magi long term are extremely uncommon. Much more common (though still rare compared to the standard levies of the archmages who command enclave counties) are the Grandmaster of Bonding’s icarid phalanxes, made up entirely of soldiers who’ve had enchanted appendages attached to them. Most of these are warriors who sought out the Magi in order to have limbs or sensory organs restored, swearing their lives to the service of the Order in exchange for replacement. Some of the others are failed mages who wished to wash away the shame of that failure by sacrificing chunks of their body and soul to be reborn as an elite warrior of a prestigious phalanx.
The Grandmaster of Planes commands astral phalanxes, which are actually just the crews of astral ships sent out to find new magical secrets. Some of these ships and their crews can be very large, hundreds strong, and thus comparable in size to an aeon or icarid phalanx. What they are not is at all standardized, which is both an advantage and a drawback.
Other grandmasters do not command armies directly, but they are far from helpless. The Grandmaster of Runes has powerful allies willing to donate military units to repay favors. The Grandmasters of Metals and Spirits are instrumental to both aeon phalanxes and icarid phalanxes even though they do not directly command either. The Grandmasters of Concoctions and Alchemy provides medical support to icarid, astral, and salt phalanxes, and the Grandmaster of Alchemy’s homunculi and chimerae also serve as auxiliary units to phalanxes of all sorts, especially astral and salt phalanxes, though a military unit comprised entirely of such creatures would be about as easy to lead as a military unit made entirely of lions. You can train them to maul people, but they won’t hold a formation.
Finally, the enclave archmages have a small detachment of professional soldiers which, depending on the size of the enclave, can sometimes be large enough to stand as a phalanx on its own. This is a salt phalanx, so-called because humans can safely imbibe salt in small quantities, something which would liquefy the innards of any spirit-possessed being who attempted it.
Beneath the archmages are full-fledged mages of the Order. Every enclave should, in theory, have at least one mage of every school (including the archmage), although in practice small enclaves which encompass only a single monastery or castle often have only mages necessary to carrying out their function (usually a magic item forge with mages of only metals and spirits and usually a single mage each from one or two other schools as an attempt at honoring the tradition). These small enclaves are rare in any case, as the Order of Magi tends to be paranoid and likes to be either very well hidden or else command enough land and resources to be able to plausibly repel invaders (i.e. a full county). In order to gain the rank of mage, an aspirant must complete a masterpiece, proving their total command of the secrets of their chosen art. This masterpiece must be evaluated by at least three mages of the appropriate school, and they must decide unanimously that sufficient expertise has been demonstrated to bestow the rank of mage.
Below mages are adepts. An adept is skilled enough that they can generally be left to their own devices to further their studies, reading books and conducting experiments and only occasionally petitioning more experienced mages for help. Adepts often carry out the bulk of technical work at a forge, whether an isolated forge monastery or in a larger enclave. This gives the adept an opportunity to refine their skills, and adepts also have the numbers to churn out standard quality enchanted weapons to equip entire legions.
Beneath adepts are the apprentices. Apprentices generally require one-on-one instruction from mages or adepts to make progress. They lack the foundational knowledge needed to learn efficiently from self-directed study. They are usually a net drain on an enclave’s resources, although obviously training the next generation is important for the long term survival of the enclave. Apprentices do most of the simplest possible grunt work, often sweeping up or fetching things for adepts and mages rather than directly participating in the work, both because they’re on the bottom rung and because it’s the only thing they can do reliably.
Beneath even the apprentices are the thralls. Thralls have had enchanted nails hammered into their brain stem, allowing the spirit possessing the nail to take control of their body without feeling anything. The lack of feeling makes thralls clumsy, and the very basic spirit imbued into the nail (of the same sort as would normally be used to enchant a basic sword or shield or similar by an adept) cannot handle complex instruction. Thralls have about the intelligence of a dog. Most commonly they are used as menial labor, especially heavy labor as in silver mines which is unsuitable for apprentices. Packmules and doormen are also common uses.
Some thralls have more advanced spirits bound to their nails and are used as assistants in the forge, or sent along with complex magical devices in addition to a mage to serve as replacements for an adept, in order to maintain and operate them as part of an imperial legion or an allied knightly order or similar. These more advanced spirits, in addition to being rare things to track down and bind in the first place, are still more clumsy and less adaptable than proper adepts. Nails containing such spirits are hoarded in case of labor shortages during a sparse generation of adepts, in order to maintain the output of magical weaponry that keeps the Magi in the Empire’s good graces. Recovering such nails when the thralls are slain is a high priority.
Other thrall nails have spirits which are nearly braindead, but which have extremely good memory and are just smart enough to follow a mage around and turn its attention to where it’s instructed, and subsequently answer (in an extremely literal fashion) questions about what it heard and saw.