The Mage

What would he do with it?

That was the question, wasn’t it?

It had taken him ages to pore over the dusty tomes in the Great Library, but he had finally stumbled upon it.

The books spoke of a time before sorcery, before Will-sapping magic was available to everyone – at least to some extent.

They spoke of tiny particles that made up everything. Different substances had different kinds making them up, and they combined in different ways to create different things.

He was skeptical at first – the old ones had certainly believed in these particles, but did they still exist?

The old ones had warped reality, allowing us to change existence with our very thoughts. Had they warped the nature of reality as well?

But he didn’t give up.

He was a mage, after all. Chosen as much for his sharpness as for his affinity for the talent, he was no ordinary person.

He stuck to his task long after anyone sane would have given up. But finally, his search bore fruit.

It all began with a simple combination spell. A flash of Will burned hot in his veins, and he felt faint for a moment before the adrenaline kicked in. It was a simple enough procedure, designed to provide the caster extra energy after casting a spell.

And it wasn’t even necessary. There was no result. Nothing at all, as far as he could see.

But then why that flash of Will?

He went back to the dusty tomes. Days and days passed, and there were times when he felt his head would split.

But he didn’t give up.

He was a mage, after all.

Until finally, he understood. Something had manifested due to his combination spell, but that something was much too small to be seen or felt.

He tried again and again. For months he kept at it.

He poured all his Will into it.

He was one of the strongest, and he was unknowingly practising.

Until one day, he managed to do it. The flash of Will. The moment of faintness. The adrenaline kicking in.

He thought he had failed again until he looked down at his hands.

They were wet.

With concrete proof of success and countless possibilities before him, he ventured out into the world.

He gathered money and power, but always, he was learning more and more.

He built a circle – twelve people who he started teaching. Many did not survive and fell by the wayside, sapped and drained of Will. But he maintained the circle of twelve, and slowly started teaching them the basics.

Until one day, the emperor struck.

Shaken by the mage’s ever-increasing power, he ordered his chancellor to turn one of the circle. He knew he could not openly march upon the mage, for the mage’s power was formidable.

And one of the twelve was bought. Money, land, and a title was promised.

But the mage toiled on, struggling to unravel all the mysteries of the universe.

Until one day, the traitor smuggled poison into his mentor’s drink. But the drink did not reach its intended victim – instead, it killed another of the circle.

The mage was enraged, and he followed the poison’s trail to the traitor using far more mundane magical means.

He tore the traitor apart from the inside out, gifting him a prolonged and unmerciful death. But before the traitor died, he spilled all the secrets of the Emperor, hoping for mercy.

That day, no mercy was shown.

The remaining members of the circle watched as their mentor killed one of their own. They watched as he withdrew into a shell of his own making. They watched, and they feared.

But fear slowly turned to anger, and anger into self-righteous rage.

One day, they confronted the mage in their combined power, battering him back with waves of Will-shaped weapons. And while the mage could disintegrate them, he had no direct control over Will itself. For Will was of man, an ugly imposition on the nature of reality.

And when he realized he could not win, he wept. He wept as Will-cast attacks broke his body. He wept as Will-shaped weapons bled him dry.

He wept as he died.

And as he died, his mind started doing the unthinkable, the one thing he had sworn never to do. He had only a smidgen of Will remaining, but it was enough.

One particle was all it would take. One particle…

It was not an easy task, but he did it.

He was a mage, after all.

That night, the Empire fell. That night, the Great Library was torn asunder.

That night, the circle was crushed into actual dust, blowing past the remains of the once mighty Empire it could have ruled.

That night, a good man died.

The Urge

Who am I?

A question I asked myself often enough when growing up.

Do you normal people think of such things?

I am not normal.

The fact that I’m answering a question I asked myself should give you a clue or two. A clue or two… is that alliteration? Or rhyme?

Anyway, why am I abnormal?

It’s all because of the urge.

They all told me that it would end up hurting someone. But it’s an intrinsic part of me, so I guess it that means I would be the one hurting someone.

They blabbered on about masters and servants but, truthfully, I wasn’t even listening. Why would it be a bad master? How would it even be my master?

Why would it be a bad master? How would it even be my master?

Right now, the very notion is laughable. But back then, it made sense. Perfect, terrifying sense. I knew that I was an abomination. I knew the madness that resided in my soul.

And sense wasn’t enough to hold me back.

It started small. Very small, with matchsticks and magnifying lenses. And that was normal. Every kid plays with it. Everyone is fascinated by the bewitching dance of destruction that fire portends.

But for me, it went further than mere fascination. It went deeper than a passing fancy.

Each time, I went a little further. First with pages out of a notebook. Then with old clothes and rags. Once an old car in the woods.

That was a bad time. It caused a forest fire that raged for half a day. Maybe not much in the grand scheme of forest fires, but still… how many animals died? Did any person perish in the fire I called up?

To this day, I don’t know. I ran. Ran and ran until I knew not where I was.

But then, everything changed.

The call came.

It came as a tingling sensation in my veins. A half-formed thought roaring through my body. A nascent power awakening.

You may laugh if you want to.

I would too, if I heard a stranger saying this. But I’m merely telling you what happened.

What was I saying?

Oh yes… pyromancy.

What happens when a myth materializes within you? What happens when the manifestation of that myth aligns with your deepest, darkest, desires?

What happens when a pyromaniac discovers pyromancy?

I happen.

This is my secret. No longer do I have to fear a flame. No longer do I have to hope for the best every time the urge calls. No longer do I have to worry about my loved ones.

It started small. Very small, with sparks bending to my will. And that was abnormal, very abnormal. Nobody can control that raging force of destruction. Nobody should be able to.

Each time, I went a little further. First with embers in my room. Then with fist-sized flames in the woods. Once I roamed an entire day with a ball of flame suspended in my pocket.

My power could be used for greatness. There would be countless applications. Not to mention that my very existence would imply the existence of others.

Others like me.

They could generate infinite amounts of electricity using our power. They would find dozens of medical applications.

But they would push us. Scientists and militaries alike are never satisfied with boundaries.

They would help me break my constraints. They would push me to near-infinite power.

They would turn me into a weapon of mass destruction.

And that I cannot condone. That alone, I fear.

But till then, till they find me, I live simply.

No heroics. No supervillains. No deaths of loved ones.

For I am selfish.

But even more than that, I am happy.

I am content.

 

Rebirth

He walked through the streets of the burning city, mind numb, body sagging.

If anyone had seen him, they’d have wondered how and why this once-revered defender of the city had fallen so far.

But he did not wonder. He did not think. He did not care.

For him, it was catharsis.

And under the excitement and exultation, a small part of him knew he wouldn’t survive this.

Was this madness? This bleak, desolate maze his mind wandered in, was it insanity?

It was just a dream. He would wake up any moment now and find himself with her. His baby. How he loved her.

But no. Even the bleakness was better than that.

He couldn’t bear the pain that ravaged him, worse than any of the physical injuries he had suffered. He couldn’t think of her, not now, not never.

He was old. And now he was broken as well.

He tossed his head back and laughed.

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A loud laugh broke the silence that had settled over the burning city like a shroud over a corpse. An apt analogy, he thought, since the city was more dead than alive.

Those residents who hadn’t died in the initial waves of destruction had fled the hero’s wrath. All that remained were those too weak, helpless, or hopeless to run.

And then there were people like him. Those too mad to escape. He was mad, wasn’t he? That’s what they had told him in Hell. He hadn’t believed it at first, but they couldn’t all have been lying to him. Or could they?

The continuing laughter snapped him out of his reverie as it changed. It almost sounded like sobs. But beneath the sadness, the anguish, there was another note. What was it?

Oh.

Hilarity.

Was there another madman around? Maybe he ought to talk to him. Madman to madman. That would be fun.

He rose and walked towards the laughter.

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A figure approached him. No fear, no anger, no judgement, nothing in his gait or face. He couldn’t see the stranger’s face.

The stranger peered down at him.

“Why do you laugh?”

He considered the question. His daughter was dead. His wife would have been better off dead. His beloved city in flames. And yet he laughed?

Was he insane?

“Because I’m mad.”

The stranger looked at him for a long five seconds. He idly wondered whether he should disintegrate the stranger. Why not?

As he began to form the thought that would accomplish the deed, the stranger did something entirely unexpected.

He broke into laughter. Low, pensive, chilling laughter.

But underneath the pensiveness, below the chill, he heard something else. What was it?

Oh.

Hilarity.

Finally, someone who understood. Finally, a friend. His old friends were de- no that hurt too much as well. Better to be mad than to experience such anguish. Was he mad?

He joined the stranger in his laughter.