To understand the history of Alphai, one must first understand the fundamental particle of magical energy: the Thaum. Thaums are tiny particles that exist and interact in all things—matter, air, energy, all of these contain thaums. You can’t see them. You can’t feel them, but they’re there. Thaums are ‘carrier’ particles. That is, they can carry a charge and pass that charge on to something else, be it some matter, or a form of energy, or another thaum itself.
Thaums carry a certin type of charge—a magical charge. When a mage casts a spell, he charges the thaums around him energy dictated from his spell’s tried and tested formulae. A sorcerer charges thaums by the force of his will, and the power of the gods are transmitted through thaums. The magic travels from thaum to thaum, until it reaches it’s destination, and then releases the energy contained within.
A simple example of this is the common Magic Missile spell. A mage recalls the theorems, matricies, and formulae to re-shape the thaum in his mind’s eye to produce a bolt of kinetic energy. As he does so, the thaums around a focal point (usually an outstretched finger or wand) take on these properties. Other well-known formulae are used to aim the bolt at a target, and to release the force when it reaches the target. All this information is ‘programmed’ into the thaums, and this ‘program’ is transmitted from thaum to thaum as is flies towards it’s target. Once it arrives, it releases the force against it’s target, and the energy dissipates. A mage learns the manipulation of thaums through careful study and experimentation. A sorcerer almost instinctually know how to change thaums, and the gods, the creators of thaums themselves, can change charges at will and allow their followers to use these charges.
That is how magic works, under the best of circumstances.
However, five hundred years ago, something started to happen to thaums. They became unstable. Charges would change and mutate with no rhyme or reason. One might place a Magic Missile charge into a group of thaums only to have it result in a harmless Colour Spray when it reached it’s target. Magic, once unwavering and orderly in it’s behaviour, became chaotic and unpredictable… and dangerous. The highest thaumaturgists of the day dubbed this phenomenon The Surge