I find myself disturbed, sometimes, by things that I write; not necessarily disturbed by the fact that I write them, just kind of... unsettled. I have been working off and on at a little wiki (now private) that contains details about my Demonsword Project stuff, and as part of that, I have been writing about the martial arts of that world, which are broken down into disciplines themed on the elements. It's a little complicated, but basically, every element broken down into two contrasting principles, each of which is a complementary discipline.
Light-element magic is about enchantment, and generally, casting magic on things from afar. Light martial arts, not unrelatedly, is about manipulating people without touching them. And the thing that's upset me is writing about the two complementary disciplines, Source and Shadow.
It's not even that I've written a long treatise on the subject. Here are the two blocks in question:
Source arts in particular are about slightly deflecting attention away from yourself. It is built on a philosophy that people dare not look straight at lights which are too bright, nor at shadows that are too dark; therefore, an Source Artist does his best to become something which their opponents dare not look directly at. There are many different tactics, including the use of tools such as clothing, noisemakers, magical items, sex appeal or sex repulsiveness, self mutilation, or simply choosing to openly espouse or embody a philosophy that is upsettingly pure either in its goodness or badness. Other tactics attack a target more directly, by exploiting known psychological weaknesses to cause doubt, fear, and confusion, while making a strong effort to appear untainted and pure.
Magically speaking, Source is a straightforward art, typically using magic to enhance the martial methods. However, while this is easy in principle, the practice of performing mind magic in combat is significant, and at all levels below complete mastery, a warrior typically reduces the magical aspects of Source arts to very basic manipulations, such as "pushing" feelings of doubt or fear at the enemy at appropriate times. If done incorrectly, it can make it increasingly clear to the opponent that they are being manipulated.
Some disciplines of Source arts also go into depth on using these abilities to bolster the morale of your own side, but this is contentious; most people do not appreciate being manipulated, even for the right reasons, and it can damage a group's or army's morale in the long term. There are also additional consequences, such as causing an unpredictable state if the Source art user is killed while bolstering morale. This use of the Source arts is most common on the continent of Dolette.
Shadow arts in particular are about using something to capture your opponent's attention, and exploiting known loopholes in a human's attention span, sensory range, or ability to focus, taking as a given that their attention is focused in one particular place; the artist attacks "in the shadow of" their own distraction. These arts involve sleight of hand, misdirection, hidden weapons, disguises, specialty clothing, and props selected to be obviously or ostensibly dangerous or interesting, such as explosives, toxic or noxious gas, shining balls, caltrops, and so on. Under some circumstances, the "props" can involve kidnapping and hostages, or the appearance or threat of such. Shadow arts also commonly involve things like poisoned blades so that a single successful strike can end a battle.
Rarely, some disciplines of Shadow arts focus on more common forms of assassination, which do not involve pitched battle: infiltration, seduction, food poisoning, killing in the night, and so on. This is looked down upon by "true Shadow artists," who still consider it to be a martial art first and foremost. Nevertheless, it is a commonly belief that Shadow artists are "assassins" and are willing to use such methods, and it is not entirely uncommon for them to find them doing exactly that.
Magically speaking, Shadow artists attempt to restrict or ensnare the senses of their target, forcing them to focus on fewer things and therefore making them easier to misdirect. Like all mind magic, this is difficult to accomplish while doing other things, and so the effect is typically slight and focused on getting the target to ignore a thing or direction, or be hyper-focused on a thing or direction. If done improperly, it not only fails to distract or confuse the enemy but can also directly give away that which was to be hidden, as well as revealing the means of the caster.
Shadow arts are often associated with agents of the Dark Lord of the continent of Tarmon, and is therefore often associated with that continent in general.
What upsets me is that the philosophy I'm describing really exists, just not... specifically? Source describes people becoming such pure symbols that their flaws are overlooked, and can also describe making an opponent seem like such a despicable thing that their virtues are overlooked. Shadow describes more common misdirection and sleight of hand, just more formalized.
And the "best part" is that when a martial artist masters each of the two disciplines separately, they combine it into a "second tier" martial art, which is the "full element", in this case, Light Martial Arts. Such a happy, optimistic name for a school focused entirely on manipulation, scheming, assassination, underhanded tactics, backstabbing, propaganda, character assassination, and so forth. Except, again, that given the way the magic system works out, that's exactly what the light element is associated with: enchantments, illusions, and things that exist but have no physical reality backing them up.
We like to think in the west that "light" is associated only with good things, but in the Demonsword elemental system, it is only a magical effect cast at range--putting all who can see it under their spell. I think if we had more caution about being manipulated, more of a belief that we needed to be on guard, we might think a little differently about what happens "on stage"--political events, double speak, and so on.
I suppose, to sum it up, it's difficult to put a problem into this world that our own world has no answer to, when it's supposed to be magic fantasy. It's weird... almost creepy.