I dreamed of the night we changed the world. Victoria, Hector, Conner the Red, and I, standing on a grassy hill against a blood red sky, holding our totem weapons, muttering a ritual, as the Black Wizard Averic leveled his sword at us. That sword had been meant to serve as a tool for the casting of the greatest spells, but it had taken a life in anger, and was irreparably twisted into a tool for destruction. Averic meant to use it to summon something into our world. In his arrogance, he thought that he could control the horror of Thaum, lord of The Silent, an order of being whose very existence in our world would have damaged it across all levels of its existence, and use It to make himself a God.
We had gone to apprehend him before he could go through with his scheme, but we were too late. The veil between worlds had been torn, and the oppressive silence emanating from it nearly drove us all mad until Victoria started to sing, filling the emptiness, at least temporarily. As a White, her voice was pure and strong and angelic, the better to sing her White songs.
The tear was three stories tall and a football field's length across, quite small in the grand scheme of things, and Thaum could only "touch" the world as it were, not enter it completely. We still have no idea how much damage he caused to time-space, seeing as It's four dimensional nature makes it so that much of the damage has always been there. Conner thinks that Thaum's influence may well have driven Averic to do what he did in the first place, but it's not for me to ponder Red magic and all its implications.
The four of us conferred, and quickly decided that the only course of action, to prevent the world from being blanketed in a silence like screaming from now until the end of time and indeed it's beginning, was to cast the Hunger on Averic.
I was awoken by the sound of singing outside. I got up and peeked out from the blinds. There was that girl again, sitting on the hood of her van with a guitar. In my few public appearances (not nearly as few as I'd like), she had always been there in the background, holding a sign with some ridiculous slogan or a plea for me to teach her magic, singing some song or other. The girl was recognizable by her height, hipster clothing, red hair, and big grey eyes. Such things all stand out when the majority of those appearances are press conferences. Even in the public speeches (oh dear Lord take me to my reward before I have to do another one of those), with protesters and supporters and news crews and the general public, she'd always be at the front, waving her signs and singing her song. Not a bad looking stalker admittedly, but a stalker is a stalker. And now she'd found my house.
I went out to confront her, changing into my full regalia as I did so. Black Chinese shirt, black cloak, broad rimmed hat, my staff in one hand and my white knife in the other. The knife was long and heavy, and wickedly curved. It was not the totem weapon I had used to cast the Hunger, but a proper weapon, forged entirely with magic, that could cleave steel like butter. I didn't want to hurt hipster girl, just scare her, but I wanted to scare her bad.
I stood on my porch and glowered at her. She put down her guitar and looked back at me, fear in her eyes. Then she went "squee!" and jumped down, ran up to me and gave me a forceful hug. I remember the last time I pulled out the ironcleaver, the guy I was menacing wet himself. Must be losing my touch. "I'm going to give you three seconds before I turn you into something unnatural," I said, and hipster girl reluctantly let go of me, though there was still an expression of unbridled joy on her face.
"Oh my God, I can't believe I'm right here talking to you!"
"You are trespassing on my property."
"It's like a dream come true!"
"You know nothing of dreams. Now be gone."
"Your aura is so beautiful…."
"Get off my lawn."
She was no longer paying attention to what I had been saying (if she ever had been, that is), and was looking at the space directly above my head, looking all starry eyed. "I want to join your coven," she said, dreamily.
I smacked my forehead. "I don't think you understand what is actually going on here. If you don't leave immediately, I am going to call the police. If you ever come back, I will do very awful, magical things to you. The way your face just lit up, I think you may have misinterpreted that as an innuendo, but it isn't, it's a legitimate threat. I'm legitimately threatening. I'm a Wizard of the Black, I graduated with top honors at the Scholomance, I am the former ambassador of the magical world to the UN, I've helped to save the world on at least four occasions, I can do things the likes of which have not been seen on this planet since the time when gods walked the Earth," As I spoke, my clothing began to crackle with electricity, rippling in a wind that was not there. My left eye's ruddy brown became a brilliant red, like a glowing coal; the other had not done so since it went blind fighting Averic. In my hand, ironcleaver burned like a star. Slowly, hipster girl lifted into the air, pulled by unseen strings back toward her old van, her expression now one of terror. "I am the Wizard Gaius Julian, and I am commanding you to leave."
I set her down just in front of her van and opened the door for her as a gentleman should, never leaving the porch. Hipster girl burst into tears. Now that's just not fair. She was stalking me and trespassing on my property, and now I felt like the bad guy.
I went inside and quickly whipped up two cups of coffee. I brought one to hipster girl and waited for her to calm down. When she had regained her composure, she said, "This coffee is delicious. Did you make it with magic?"
"Oh," she said, looking a little disappointed. "Can you teach me magic?"
I told her a few things about how the world works now. The information was all in a fifty page pamphlet released in every language given to every household simultaneously on the first Monday of the second month after the fall of the Masquerade, entitled "How to cope with existence of *Magic*!" However, most normal people I found myself talking to had not read the stupid thing. "If you had the talent for magic, you would have manifested it by the age of thirteen, at which point you would have been invited to the North American Scholomance and trained."
"But I can read auras…." She said, her voice cracking a little. Ah, I thought she had just been talking some of the New Age nonsense that had become so popular since the fall of the masquerade, but it seemed she might actually possess some power. "Did you give me this power?" And she lost me.
She explained that she had only started seeing them after seeing me for the first time, and that I must have had something to do with it. She had in fact contacted the Scholomance, but they told her she wasn't strong enough, and too old to boot. Hipster girl had figured that I must be special somehow, and if I trained her, she might be able to do something more. I sighed. "Look, if you'd read the pamphlet, you'd know this. Most humans do actually possess some magic. If this weren't true, the idea of magic wouldn't have been so ubiquitous during the Masquerade. A handful of people manage to manifest a tiny bit of telekinesis or some other power, a few others are just unusually good at things. Only about one in six thousand actually have enough power to control their abilities to the extent I just did. The reason you started seeing auras after seeing me is that being in contact with someone as powerful as I am jump-started your latent abilities, but there's nothing all that special about me and I can't make you into a proper mage. To be fair, the people at the Scholomance should have been more helpful and explained some of these things themselves. Since you seem to like magic so much, just be glad you aren't an un-sorcerer."
She looked at me like I'd just said the sky was violet with silver polka dots and asked me what an un-sorcerer was. Once again, I slapped my forehead. "Are you even aware there was a pamphlet? When I said that most people had some magical power, I implied that a very few had none at all. These people can't even see it when a magician turns them blue or some such. Though they actually possess some degree of immunity against magic, for some strange reason. Bah."
Hipster girl was no longer on the verge of tears and was listening quite attentively. It's nice to have people listening instead of arguing with you or trying to burn you or some nonsense. "So you're basically saying that this aura thing is all I'll ever be able to do."
I was about to say yes, but I stopped and asked to feel her forehead instead. She agreed. I touched it, closed my eyes, and concentrated. This was technically White magic, so I wasn't very good at it. Any mage can do any form of magic, but everyone has a branch that they absolutely excel at to the exclusion of others. Except the Reds, who always have their own and plus a few. Lucky bastards. Anyways, I was trying to feel her magical potential. She had a bit more than I thought she would have for a simple aura-reader. If she'd had a thread more of power, she'd be at the Scholomance right now, getting up to shenanigans with her dorm mates and learning the finer points of why Reds are pretentious bastards. It made me angry really. The instructors were always complaining about how fewer and fewer students were being found each year, dilution of the bloodlines, etc., ad nauseum. But if not for their oh-so-strict standards, they'd have an almost perfectly good Mage of the Green right here. Who knows how many others like her had been passed over?
"Tell you what, uh—"
"My name's Holly," she said. Thank God I stopped myself from saying "hipster girl" out loud.
"Right, Holly. You actually do have a lot of potential. I know you said the Scholomance rejected you, but to honest you only just don't make the cut. You could do a lot with proper training. How'd you like to be my apprentice?" Holly dropped her coffee cup and threw her arms around my neck, planting a wet kiss on my cheek. "Hey! Cut it out, I'm a married man!" My wife was a half-elf with senses keen enough to smell that kiss even after a month's worth of scouring.
Holly stepped back, from me, wide eyed, raising her hands to her mouth. It seemed she'd been harboring some thoughts about me and I'd just burst her bubble—
"You had a dream…about silence like screaming?" From the look in her eyes, I could almost say she'd been there. Her Green powers were strong enough to sense a person's dreams with a touch. She'd be a fine Medium, I thought.
I sighed. "Come inside. There's a story that needs telling."
I made some more coffee. Holly declined, but I can't get enough of the stuff. The story of how the Masquerade had been broken was much watered down for the non-magical population. They'd been told that there had been some infighting among the magery of North America, which was true, and that many elements of our culture had been exposed to the people during the fighting, which was also true, and that the result was that the new regime saw fit to simply reveal everything rather than try to cover it up, which was somewhat true. The truth was, the rebellious group had just been Averic and about ten others, and the fact they were rebelling wasn't so much a problem as was the fact that they were trying to summon the Lord of Silence. And the new regime didn't so much decide to reveal anything so much as it simply allowed things to be revealed. They didn't have the manpower to try to erase everyone's memories. And it wouldn't have done much good anyway, because the Masquerade hadn't just been a policy of secrecy. The Masquerade had been a spell. And the general public must never be made aware of the fact.
Averic leveled his sword, a Roman spatha. He'd always bragged about the thing, and how ancient it was, though he'd assured us it had never drawn blood. Clearly, he'd been lying, judging by the spiky black aura around the weapon, writhing like thorns or tentacles. "You've come to watch me change the world? Good. It took you long enough to come around, but I knew you would. Come, we need to widen the bore, he can't come through yet," he was shouting, raving, but we could barely hear him over the quiet bleeding out of that wound he'd carved. And there were no words left now. Well, Hector cursed his name, with words I mean, not magic. But there was work to be done, and there was no time for one of his legendary tirades.
Averic seemed to realize it too, that we had chosen the world over his friendship, that it had never really been a choice, and the tendrils launched themselves at us like lightning bolts as we began the ritual. Victoria cast a shield, somehow singing in counterpoint with herself to maintain both it and her part of the Hunger. It takes four mages, two Black and two White to cast it effectively. We had me and Victoria, and Conner the Red's secondary branch was White, but Hector was Violet of all things. Still, everyone else was either busy dealing with Averic's cronies, or dead. Victoria and Conner held aloft their rods, singing together, a warm golden glow bathing the two, reflecting off their hair, his silver and hers gold. I made the ritual passes with my dagger of knapped obsidian. I'd made it myself, so I knew it was clean. Hector sat cross-legged, holding his chalice, which slowly filled with liquid indigo light. His hair changed back to its natural color, and his body became skinnier. Above us, a formless grey mass began to grow. The Hunger would kill Averic, destroying his body and banishing his spirit to the deepest layer of death, then seek out and devour all traces of his magic. It would consume his sword, the portal, his familiars, the magic detecting brooch he'd given Victoria in our second year at the Scholomance, the living doll he'd been working on for my first born, due this September, and the patch he'd made for the Masquerade.
The Masquerade was an ancient spell that essentially served to protect our world, the magical world, from the normal world, and vice versa. It dampened normal people's sensitivity to magic, put doubt into their minds about the nature of whatever strange things they may have seen, going so far as to erase their memory outright. The Masquerade made other people angry whenever someone slipped through its web and saw something legitimately supernatural, making them dismiss those people as attention hungry lunatics. What's more, it also prevented mages from performing magic where people might see except under duress. It was everywhere, penetrating to the core of the planet and stretching to the edge of space. But it required centennial maintenance, and Averic, who had always been oh-so-good at crafting things, had been selected the first week out of the Scholomance to help repair it. His part had been small, but it was essential. The Hunger would eat his little thread of magic and make the whole Masquerade collapse.
The ritual neared completion as the sky turned black. The tear was bulging out ward, as if something far too big was straining to squeeze through. Averic's once handsome face was twisted into a hideous scowl livid and insane. Likely he was raving about our betrayal of him; he'd always had a flair for the melodramatic. We couldn't hear him though. I could only just barely hear Victoria and Conner singing, like when you accidentally turn the radio so low that you wonder whether you're actually hearing anything or if you just know the song by heart. I could barely see from the red filling my vision as my cursed blood poisoned me with magic. Someday my eyes would stay red. Someday, they would go completely blind. Someday, I would go mad and start eating children. Then, whoever was in charge at time would come and put me down like a rabid dog. But today, it was Averic who needed to be put down.
I didn't see Averic gather up all of the thorny tendrils, mold them into shape, infuse them with all of his power, and launch one final attack. Conner tells me that it took the form of a dragon with eyes like glowing coals. He'd always had a flair for the melodramatic. That attack shattered our shield and pierced Victoria's heart. She'd been a wonderful friend along the years, and all of us had been a little in love with her, but there would be time to mourn later. The Hunger was almost complete; we could finish it with just three.
And then Hector dropped his chalice and ran up to Averic screaming inaudibly, turning his arm into a monstrous claw in a burst of blue light. Averic ran him through like it was nothing.
Trying to maintain the Hunger with just two was nearly impossible, but we held. Still, it would take too long to complete, and we were defenseless now. I could barely even hear my own thoughts anymore. Silence was penetrating my body and soul, soon I'd be running on instinct, and then I'd be nothing. Everything to the right of me disappeared as pain like nothing else stabbed through my eye. I could feel the blood streaming down my face, but more importantly, that little knot of sensation at the back of my head where I drew my magic seemed to burst, like a dam that couldn't hold back the river anymore. Power like I couldn't have imagined until now filled my being. I had ascended at the best possible moment. I was no longer a mere magician, I was a Wizard. I finished the Hunger, and hurled it at Averic.
"And then his body crumbled to ash and the portal closed." I downed my third cup of coffee. "After all the devastation Averic caused, I was one of the most powerful mages on the continent, right after Conner, and the Reds have always been in charge on North America, so he became Governor of the Scholomance, and he appointed me ambassador. He said I had that kind of face that people can trust. Some of my other friends got to work on the stupid pamphlet that it seems I'm the only person who read it. How old are you?" I asked suddenly, looking at Holly. She couldn't have been more than sixteen.
"Seventeen," she said, proudly. It's still not much over.
"So you probably don't remember very well, but you must know that the two years after were bad times." She nodded, looking glum.
By the time I'd ported into the White House to state my business, half dead from exhaustion and blood loss, with some brand-spanking new Wizardly regalia and a swanky red leather eye patch, magic was well underway to revealing itself to the world at large. Without the Masquerade people could finally see everything they'd been missing, and the ancient geas keeping the Others out of human settlements were severely weakened. Confused trolls wandered into cities and attacked people, gargoyles woke up during mass, a family of Sasquatches was killed by a mob, and a mating-pair of Mothmen was nesting on the White House lawn when I arrived. My spectacular arrival was watched by a pair of disinterested secret servicemen while everyone stared at the bizzarro mating ritual going on outside, and the President just casually declared a state of emergency. Part of the New York subway system collapsed into Undertown, the biggest settlement of Elves in the New World, not five feet from where my wife's parents made their home.
After the initial confusion, there was chaos. Mostly other people did the work with Conner orchestrating, but I was the public face of the "magical government" and became something of a celebrity, at least in that everyone was aware of my existence. There were groups claiming I was the antichrist, groups claiming I was the Messiah, groups claiming I was an alien, groups claiming that I'd been secretly running the government for years, groups claiming that Conner was secretly running the show and I was just a pawn, not helped by the fact that he was constantly running around to God knows where doing who knows what, and no one could ever get in contact with him unless he wanted them to, and all manner of other nonsense. Anyways, we were able to get everything under control with minimal damage by the time the pamphlets were distributed. There were some threats of a civil war looming just everywhere, until it became quite clear that most people actually have magical potential. Then people started lobbying for mages to go to schools and teach everyone, and that's still being debated twelve years later.
Of course, thanks to Conner and the skills of the Gentry, the fairy monarchs, the transformation was handled very well here in the western hemisphere. But elsewhere, things were different. For centuries, millennia for the fairies, we'd had been taught that the Masquerade was more for our protection than the normal folk's. They outnumbered us so by much, they had un-sorcerers, and most importantly for the fairies, they had iron, which burned them like cold fire. But no one really considered what we could do to them. The elves took back the United Kingdom in a "preliminary strike" forcing the Royal Family into Canada. Some crazy Dutch Red no one had ever heard of is still in the process of conquering Europe. Most of Northern Africa has rallied behind the Greek gods, awake again after thousands of years, for turning the Sahara into a fertile garden. China is fighting a bitter war against a particularly virulent strain of vampirism.
But those were problems for other people to handle. For now my only concerns were my wife, my daughters, and now my apprentice. A thought occurred. "You know Holly, maybe we should have sent some teachers out into the normal schools. The world is a lot bigger and a lot more dangerous now, and everyone is going to need every little advantage they can get."
Holly looked puzzled. "You said that everything was okay around here."
I laughed. "What the Hell do I know?"