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The amount of mana that a person will have throughout their entire life is determined at birth. Mana is the life energy that can be used by a person to produce spells. Certain spells require a high concentration of mana that exceeds the individual's amount, and would need to attain mana from alternate sources. This would force witches to cooperate to perform these high level spells, which come with its own difficulties. Extracting mana from others is a long and difficult process, as well as illegal. This energy becomes attuned to a person as they get older, making it almost impossible to steal it from them, even if constrained. There is however a simple solution to this.

Morgan Le Fay heads a powerful clan that has organized a crime syndicate. This crime family supplies mana to less scrupulous businesses and individuals through a scheme that involves a simplified process. Sperm and egg cells are "acquired" from various murdered mages and witches throughout the world. The fetuses are grown within artificial human constructs called Androids, which operate as artificial wombs. At this stage, mana is less attached to an individual, allowing for easy extraction. These biological androids incubate the human until its third trimester, at which point it terminates the fetus and harvest the life energy. The remains are disposed of through tubes while the extracted mana is stored within the android. When an order is placed, the mana is bottled into specially designed containers and sold on the black market.

This family has spread these baby farms internationally, with franchises in other parts of the world run by associate members of the syndicate. Each farm has the capacity to produce thousands of fetuses a year to be harvested for their energy and then sold, raking in millions of dollars. However, there is a curious problem having to do with quality that they have yet to solve. The average mage contains a mana level between 30 and 60. Combining the cells of mages with average power produces a child with around the same amount. Say one has a mana level of 30 and another has a level of 50, the resulting offspring will be somewhere in the middle. When combining the sex cells of high power mages ranging in the hundreds, the resulting offspring doesn't inherit that power boost. Instead, it is regulated to the average range.

One would naturally think that combining the cells of powerful mages would produce just as powerful offspring. Why would this not be the case?

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  • $\begingroup$ Is every single human a mage, or is it a subset of them? $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Jan 18 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ Puberty can occur early but not that early. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Jan 19 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ Homunculi. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jan 19 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Starfish Prime. I do know. I just like the word. $\endgroup$ – Incognito Jan 19 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ How do high-level mages exist in the first place if it's not heritable? That will probably answer your own question. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Jan 19 at 16:10
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Mages are somatic mutants.

https://www.pathwayz.org/Tree/Plain/GAMETIC+VS.+SOMATIC+MUTATIONS tulip

The yellow coloured part of this tulip petal is the result of a somatic mutation. Only a part of the organism is affected as not all the cells have inherited the mutation. This mutation most likely occurred during the flower's development in a single cell that grew and divided to form the now yellow part of the flower.

Mages have regular sperm and eggs, like any other human. Mages become mages because a somatic mutation occurs in one of their cells after the mage is conceived - possibly as an embryo but possibly later in life and maybe even after the mage is born. The mutant cell has a tremendous duplication and reduplication of the genes that confer mana level and thus the mage has a lot of mana.

The mutant cells which confer lots of mana can affect the mage in other ways. Having a population of such cells in certain organs (for example, heart, or brain) is not compatible with life and these mutant embryos miscarry. Some mages are developmentally near normal while others bear the stigma of this population of mutant cells, like the tulip in this picture or the white mark on Captain Ahab.

Like any other cell in the body, gametes might be descended from the somatic mutant cell and so then the mutation would be heritable. But in this case, the offspring would have the mutation in every cell and in some cells this mutation is not compatible with life. These mages would have reduced fertility as half of their haploid gametes would not be able to give rise to a baby.

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It could be caused by the lack of natural birth, if magic comes at least in part from a symbiotic micro-organism living in the human body.

We all carry micro-organisms with us, and most of them are either harmless or beneficial. Specifically, bacteria in our gut help digest fiber and synthesise vitamin B and K, among other things. They can be found in other parts of the body as well, and some large organisms are actually dependant on them. Legumes (plants like peas, chickpeas and alfalfa) need bacteria to get nitrogen from the dirt. And famously, it was widely believed that the Komodo Dragon had a mouth full of septic bacteria which it used to poison prey. Though that hypothesis was largely overturned in 2013, the fact that this was believed by the scientific community for decades makes it a suitable candidate for alternate reality justifications.

Now, these bacteria are different organisms, and unlike organelles (which were originally separate but over time moved into the cells themselves and are thus replicated when the cell undergoes mitosis), they cannot be passed from mother to child through your garden variety sperm-and-egg fertilisation. That's a thing your artificial babies also lack.

Many microbes and bacteria are picked up by the newborn when it drinks milk, eats, breathes, etcetera, for they also occur in the environment, but at least some of these micro-organisms, beneficial ones even, are posed to be located in the uterus or vagina itself, with that being where an infant is supposed to get them. A study showed that babies born with Cesarean section were missing crucial bacteria even at nine months of age - specifically Bacteroids, which play a role in the immune system and help fight inflammation.

So, a possible solution to your problem: there's a micro-organism that can live in human bodies and it makes regular mages much more powerful. Perhaps it produces extra mana, or boosts the organ that does. This microbe or bacteria is not found in the open air or regular food, and definitely not in a sterile lab environment, so lab babies won't have them and will get regular magic levels from their innate abilities. Regular babies get them from the mother through vaginal birth. This means that babies born of super-mages through C-section would have the same issue, which could be how your criminal syndicate gets a lead on why their plan isn't working as well as it should.

Another implication would be that it is the mother who passes on the magic-boosting micro-organism, and not the father. Though you could alleviate that, if you wanted, by stating that the organism also lives on the skin and a father caressing the babe would also pass it on. That in turn would make loveless dads not pass on their super-magic if they never even hugged their child.

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Why do two intelligent (or athletic, attractive, musically talented...) parents sometimes have not-so-intelligent children? Or vice versa, of course. Magic, like all those other attributes, is controlled by a host of genetic (and perhaps environmental) factors, so you never know exactly what you're going to get.

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The context you've provided shows that the offspring of powerful mages don't show that power - when raised in these manna farms. If that is the case, then it may simply be your manna farms are missing something that allows manna potential to blossom, that your crime syndicate is missing - so they get some potential, but not all the potential a child my have had elsewhere, basically the equivalent of stunted growth from hunger or neglect.

So, what are they missing? It could be as simple as missing interaction with their parent's manna, which brushes up against theirs during gestation (potentially both parents, if they are interacting with the child). This could allow the child's manna to grow strong or reach a higher potential, or the child might absorb some of their parent's manna to increase their own or increase it faster than they can manage on their own, just as they absorb nutrition or immunities from their parents while growing. Maybe an artifical-womb-child could reach a higher potential, but it would take longer, or maybe the lack of parental manna stunts their growth like lack of parental nutrition would.

They could be missing some subtle hormonal interactions, or complex biofeedback, that can occur with natural pregnancies but do not happen with the artificial wombs. And that doesn't have to be obvious, as long as they are doing a decent-enough-job it would look like the child is growing well - and they are growing well, just not optimally. It may be that the interaction is something higher level mages might do, that others (the ones the wombs were developed with) do not, it may be something living pregnancies personalized to each child while the artificial wombs are too much the same, or not flexible enough to get the right level of fine detail.

Or, it might be something simpler, that the manna farm folk are overlooking. Lack of touch, or affection, might be linked to failure to thrive (it was noted to be fatal in orphanages, at least). Granted the, uh, harvesting being done before birth makes this a bit less intuitive, but a child in the womb may have some interaction with their environment through the mother - possibly including music or other noises being heard, light levels, movement, having their exertions (like kicking out) returned or reacted to with returned touch and pressure, maybe some other kinds of sensory feedback or biofeedback that has a more stimulating or nurturing or safe environment could be an important factor even before birth - I know they get critical right around the time of birth (one reason pregnancies are not longer for more development and overlong ones can harm a child). Lack of these these things might, like skin hunger, lead to a baby that is less active and less engaged, that then lags behind in growth or health or otherwise does not live up to its genetic potential. Also, it seems like the kinda thing folk who think of things like manna farms might overlook.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interaction with higher base parental mana was what I originally thought of as well +1 $\endgroup$ – IT Alex Jan 27 at 21:09
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Magic, like majority of humans trades, is 70% of practice and 30% natural propensities. I cannot say i'm good magician, but i was athlete swimmer, and i know that children of gifted athletes are usually not so successful. So, i'll try to elaborate more using psychological traits that both makes good athlete and magician.

If you have natural magic propensity, you received from your parents with Archmage like skills, it does not make you Archmage, for this reasons:

  1. when your peers learned proper hand waves and mana gathering breathing techniques, you ditched it, because you have natural propensity, even if you breath wrongly and wave hands in a clumsy manner, you still got mana. For basic spells its ok, but for harder ones, its more training, than natural gifts.

  2. your peers knew there were no magicians among their families, and even if your peers become middle level magicians, or even junior level magicians, they will be respected, and if you fail to become arch mage, your will insult your parents. So, you fear mistakes more than peers from your magic classes. It makes you over focused, more likely to negate and conceal your mistakes rather than fixing them.

  3. Archmage parents can easily make other mages overestimate magic properties of their children. Because all humans are susceptible to sin of pride. So, archmage children will have more words and fame, and less their own skill. Also, its easier for them to steal other mages research, and say, that fruits of it are their own.

Shortly, child of ordinary parents is much more eager to become good mage, than child of archmages. Just because its psychology.

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Mendelian genetics. If two parents are heterozygous for any given trait and there are no other factors at play 25% of all their offspring will not exhibit the desired trait in question. This is often a huge problem for animal or plant breeders, where you may be trying to breed for a specific trait and 25% or more of your crop is useless for your needs. This is what people often mean by a trait "skipping" a generation. It can be even worse if the homozygous dominant trait is lethal, meaning that one-third of your surviving offspring lack the trait (this is the case in manx cats, for example).

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magic ability is only partially genetic. Other factors also have an affect, perhaps the position of the moon or moons, the moon phase, position of planets, a planet transiting the sun, being conceived during an eclipse, the mother or father ingesting certain foods, the presence of telepathic or emphatic creatures during gestation, or the boon or curse of the gods.

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