Joshua Olsen’s Cantrips & Catastrophies
A Magic: the Gathering Fan Fiction short story
Hours later, within the Mage’s rhino-like head, something internal sparked, returning Kellot to consciousness. His first thought was, “Something is not right.” It floated there in the liquid depths of his head for a second before a more persistent one came along, scattering it. “No, more than that. Something is wrong. Very wrong.”
Kellot let out a long, slow breath, his bone-deep tiredness persuading him not to get up or open his eyes just yet. His first action was instead to probe his mouth with his tongue. It felt dry and cracked, as though he hadn’t drunk in days. A small part of Kellot’s awakening mind knew this was strange but the rest of him had yet to catch up. With incredible slowness Kellot pushed himself up into an almost sitting position, eyes still closed. His Sighted-Caste sigils clinked as he began to move in his heavy armour, and at the slight clinking metal his skull thumped, pain pulsing in near-tangible, repeating waves through the confines of his head. He grimaced; it was like the beat of a war drum.
Groaning at the unpleasant sensations Kellot nevertheless tried to stand, but exhaustion and his throbbing head overcame him and the best he could manage was a hunched sitting position. Despite Bant’s bright sunlight beating down on his head and heating his armour, Kellot felt cold all over as though in the shade on a winter’s day, and his whole body was wracked with a prolonged shiver. It reminded Kellot of the after-effects of the now hazy evening in which he had first experimented with intoxicating beverages, imbibing far more than his constitution had been able to stand. But this was worse than a dozen morning-afters at once.
Kellot opened his eyes and sunlight blazed in, bright, too bright! Like looking at the sun itself. He snapped his eyes shut, embracing the darkness. Eventually he cracked his eyes open to slits and slowly adjusted to the light, though even several minutes later he was still forced to squint against the glare. Surely it hadn’t been so bright before? Rendered short-sighted by the oppressive brightness that was the world, he instead focused on his hands. They ached and trembled and his veins stuck out like they were trying to escape from his body. Kellot put his hands to his head, blocking out the far too-bright light of the sun for a moment.
The last thing Kellot could recall with any clarity was the absolute strain as he and the vampire pushed themselves to the limit in a contest of effort. Then, just as it seemed that neither could prevail over the other there was a flash, a boom, and then blackness. And then he was here. But where was here?
Kellot slowly lowered his hands from his head, squinting against the light. He was sitting in the centre of some kind of shallow, blackened crater; the land around him scorched clean by the magic into something resembling polished glass. The vampire was nowhere to be seen, in fact the whole area, which had previously been a battlefield of hundreds of combatants of all shapes and sizes, was now completely empty. Only Kellot and his troubled thoughts remained.
Slowly Kellot stood, wincing at each clank of his armour. He was the only living creature he could see, smell or hear for at least a kilometre. He had triumphed against the vampire and wiped out its un-dead army, so why did he feel as though his body was in the grip of some hateful disease?
“Why do I feel so strange? So…wrong?” he muttered to himself.
For several moments Kellot concentrated intensely, trying to think through the pulsing pain in his head. It was though a fist was squeezing his brain. At last he came to a conclusion.
“It must be some residual curse from the necromancer’s death. Probably some of his stored Black Mana escaped his body at the moment of death, and it’s manifesting itself in an unpredictable way upon me, as I was the closest Mage to him upon his demise. Wild, unformed magic, this should be easy to heal.”
Kellot concentrated, working to pull healing White Mana to himself. It was somewhat harder than normal, as though he was trying to draw it through something semi-solid. It was probably just the exhaustion making things hard. When he had enough of it, Kellot gently dispersed the mana throughout his body, telling it to flush the impurities from within him by way of his spell. Seconds later he sighed in relief as his symptoms receded. His skin felt the touch of the sun again, his body ceased to ache, his energy returned, and the pounding in his head receded, all thanks from the motes of pure White Mana as they centred on and consumed the cursed magic within Kellot’s body.
Kellot launched into a few basic stretching drills to loosen up his muscles, feeling fine once more, and smiled at another triumph of the forces of good over evil; though the fight had been incredibly hard won. Now all he had to do was return to the Ivory Tower for his next assignment in defence of Bant.
His smile faltered when he felt his healing bolts of Mana change direction and home in on…his soul? Kellot blinked his dark blue eyes in confusion. That wasn’t right, he was healthy again. The spell should be complete and the mana should have dissipated. Kellot nervously flicked his tiny ears as he tried to understand. There must be something that his body was registering as a problem, and so the mana, acting of its own accord, was targeting it. Taking a deep breath Kellot used a standard medic’s spell to focus his mind inward, using magic to look through his own body for the problem.
Yes, there was something there, something which shouldn’t be there – an abomination. Through his magical senses he could feel it – a mass of dark corruption had latched onto his healthy soul and nestled there like a cancer. With rising panic Kellot could feel his healing spells bombarding the evil like a meteor shower, but they were not purging it, it was purging them. One by one the blobs of healing magic were consumed by the corruption, even as they threw themselves at it without reserve. In a mixture of fear and anger Kellot heaped more healing magic on it, forcing his power out in a greater effort than was safe. The corruption absorbed his attack as though hungry for more. Only when blood began to stream from his nose and left eye did he stop, but in the end the corruption was still there, and if anything it was bigger than before.
“My dear Kellot, I don’t think that is going to work,” said a voice that seemed to come from nowhere. Kellot tensed as he looked around to confront it. The voice was well spoken but devoid of compassion. Worse, it was familiar.
Kellot turned and there was the necromancer – skull-helmet, wooden staff and all. He appeared just as Kellot had last seen him. Healthy-looking and smiling a grim little smile, his fangs jutting out slightly.
“I think you’ll find that you’re wasting your time with that healing magic,” the vampire continued conversationally.
“How…. How did you survive? I had destroyed you!”
The necromancer chuckled. “Destroyed me? You were close, but not successful. You are powerful, I’ll grant you that, but I deal in the infliction and reversal of death itself! I was prepared for you and your kind long before you even left your little ivory tower to try to stop me.”
“Silence fiend! You shall not harm another!”
Without preamble Kellot threw a lance of solid light at his foe, the same spell that he thought had claimed the life of the necromancer at the climax of their contest. But the lance of White Mana passed through the necromancer as though he was made of mist. The necromancer’s only reaction to the lethal attack and the fact it had simply gone through him was a disappointed sigh, and he simply made an open hand and then scrunched it, as through crumpling paper.
Instantly Kellot gave a pained scream as unholy pain erupted in his chest, right where the corruption was. He fell to his knees, gasping in agony. He could feel it as the corruption gripped his soul with a necrotic touch, searing it like acid. The sensation was not far off someone squeezing all his vital organs at once. The vampire casually walked over, his hand still held out in the crushing gesture, and knelt down next to Kellot.
“You really haven’t figured it out yet my little crusader, have you?” His hand relaxed its grip slightly, and Kellot felt the searing pain ease off at the same time.
Though each word cost him, Kellot was able to choke out, “What…. have you…. done….to me?”
Beneath his skull-helmet, the necromancer’s coal-black eyes flickered in amusement.
“Now you’re starting to ask the right questions.” The vampire stood back up, pacing slowly back and forth in front of the prostrate Kellot, speaking as though he was a teacher delivering a lecture to a dull schoolboy.
“Though many unenlightened people would disagree, magic is all about power: the power to control the magic and make it do whatever is necessary to attain your desires – whatever they may be. It’s all about raw power, and who can control it best. When two mages battle, the victor is not the one who is righteous, or who has more magic, the victor is the one who has to the skill to control the magic. Now you and your Order may be utterly convinced that the quaint, little, self-righteous causes you champion mean you will always prevail, but I am more practical. Sure, I have much skill, and I know how to use it, but like all animals know, there is always another link in the food chain. I knew that one day I would face a mage who had similar or even greater power then me. So I plotted, and prepared.”
Throughout his speech he continued to periodically clench his hand, and each time Kellot would give a fresh cry of agony, his body wracked with spasms as the corruption burned his soul. Each time the necromancer would grin a little bit, before continuing.
“But I’m being a little long-winded, aren’t I? You want to know what has happened to you. As you’ve noticed, there is a little bit of darkness attached to your soul. It’s more than simple darkness; it’s actually a fully-living parasite, made up almost entirely of solid Black Mana.” The necromancer leaned in to Kellot’s ear, and whispered the next words with undisguised glee. “The parasite…… is me!”
Kellot couldn’t help it, he gasped. That couldn’t be. Surely the vampire scum was lying. He had to be…
The necromancer was nodding, enjoying the reaction he was getting.
“Yes, that’s right. You saw what happened to our magic’s when they were forced together. The reaction was…. volatile. Unstable. The resulting backlash enveloped us both. When that happened, it did something to you. I’m not even entirely sure what, I’m speculating here. Most importantly is that it destroyed me, in body at least. But you Kellot, you persisted. The trauma, or the influx of magic, or maybe both, has unlocked something in you. I can sense it; a burning nexus has ignited within you. You are a hundred times what you were, no longer one of millions, but one in a million. Your spark has ignited, you’re now a Planeswalker.”
Kellot had heard rumours and tales of so-called Planeswalkers. They were the most powerful of mages, with powers that approached that of Gods. No one knew how they came to be, but they were individuals of awe and mystery, and incredible power. A Planeswalker could devastate an entire army, bind to their will creatures of mythic stature and travel to entirely different realities.
The vampire nodded at Kellot’s understanding. “Yes, you have undergone ascension of the rarest sort while in that maelstrom. But you were also saturated with raw untamed magic, and it made you open, vulnerable, less protected. My soul was still intact inside the maelstrom thanks to some enchantments I had placed on myself for such an eventuality, but a soul needs a body to live in, as I’m sure you know.”
The vampire licked his lips, savouring the moment. “And so while you were weak, I invaded you as a germ invades a body, merging with your soul, joining with you in every way. We are now two souls, two consciousnesses, in one body – your body. Now we share your incredible power.”
In horror Kellot felt the blood drain from his face, and suddenly the ebbing pain didn’t matter anymore. He leapt to his feet, and swung a gauntleted hand at the necromancer’s face, which also passed through as though swiping at air. Again the vampire chuckled, amused at Kellot’s desperate fear.
“I’m not really standing before you Kellot, I’m in there now.” He pointed at Kellot’s chest, where Kellot knew his soul, and the parasite clinging to it, lay. “My soul has bonded with your body; I’m inseparable from you now. This,” he said, gesturing at himself “is just a mental projection of me, created so that we can communicate without your overworked little brain cracking under the strain. If anyone were to walk by right now they would see Mage Kellot of the Sighted-Caste conversing with the empty air. And best of all, when I am in control of your mortal shell and the glorious potential within you now, when I use it like a puppeteer uses a puppet, no one will ever guess it was anyone but you.”
Horror and shock battered at Kellot’s mind, but he found the will to be defiant. “I will not do as you command! Be gone from my body you godless wretch; you will have no use from me no matter what you do! I am an instrument of law, of justice, of honour, and I will not be…….”
Kellot’s body went completely rigid. His mouth seized up mid-sentence. His tongue may as well have been carved from stone.
The grin slid off the vampire’s face. Whatever mirth and joviality he had possessed up until now fled him like a scared dog. “You just don’t get it, do you?”
The vampire talked instead, spitting out the words with contempt.
“You seem to be confused as to the nature of our interaction. This is not a bard’s tale, a clichéd heroic battle between good and evil.” Kellot’s right arm rose stiffly, not of his own violation, and pointed to the ground, in direct imitation of the necromancer’s projection.
“This is not a contest of wills!” Kellot’s hand danced easily through a series of complicated gestures he didn’t know, as his mind screamed at his body to stop.
“This is NOT a negotiation!” Dark sorcery flowed through Kellot’s body; magic that was not his own but that filled him as though it was.
“This is you, doing what I want, because I…AM…IN…CONTROL!!” roared the necromancer’s projection, and Kellot could feel the parasite in his chest pulse with energy.
In a breach of the very laws of magic, Kellot’s body forced out Mana that was not his in a wave of sickly black, and before his horrified eyes the glassy ground cracked and split open. Seconds later a group of corpses hauled themselves out of the ground. They were identical to some of Kellot’s comrades, the reanimated zombies groaning with listless hunger.
“Like the resemblance to your former comrades-in-arms? I did it just for you. So easy now that I have your incredible Planeswalker powers at my beck and call. You know, looking at them now, don’t they look hungry?” The necromancer’s projection and Kellot twisted their hand once more and instantly the newly-risen zombies began to devour each other in a display of cannibalism, ripping each other apart. The vampire laughed pitilessly at the look revulsion and dread on his host’s face as the un-dead desecrated each other’s bodies. Then the necromancer felt an instinctual wave of holy magic being drawn through Kellot’s body. Something was coming.
“NO! ENOUGH!!!!” roared Kellot, and in a blink the energy had fanned out, shattering the reanimation spell on the zombies like a hammer blow severing an old chain and returning the zombies to lifeless bodies once more.
Both Kellot and the necromancer’s projection were panting heavily. The two looked at each other for a moment, knowing that one of them would try something. Kellot could feel the necromancer trying to marshal more Black Mana through him like the swelling of the tide, but with all his willpower Kellot concentrated on the most pure and innocent thoughts he could picture: a smiling child, a busy hospital ward healing the sick, the tower of his Order, and the foul energy was unable to build up, diffused by Kellot’s virtuous thoughts. After half a dozen attempts nothing had happened, and the necromancer gave up, the parasite growing still once more.
The projection straitened, leaning on its hand-topped staff. It smoothed out its cloak, trying to make light of the fact it had been beaten. “Well well. It appears you have a stronger will than I gave you credit for. Looks like you maintained control, denied me my little joy-ride, this time. ”
Kellot looked at his double with hatred and growled in a low voice. “You will never use me as a tool for your wickedness, vampire. Never.”
The vampire’s lip curled. “Don’t be so sure. You may be in the control now. But there are times when your mind is weaker or less vigilant. When you’re asleep, or stressed, or exhausted, or anytime when you’re not fully focused on keeping me locked away… then I’ll come out to play. You can’t resist me forever Kellot, that’s a fact. Sooner or later…”
“Be silent. I am no longer Mage Kellot of the Sighted-Caste. That Rhox is gone. For the dishonour of failing Bant, I shall be known as Kellot no longer. It’s Kalorn now.”
“Kalorn? I like it. A fitting name for us,” responded the vampire.
“I said shut up. There is no us, we’re not happy partners, fiend. I swear to you now, I will find a way to get you out of me. I’ll scour all of existence if I have to, and when I do, I will destroy you utterly. No evidence of your existence will remain when I am finished.”
The necromancer nodded, uncowed by the threat. “You will try. Just as I will try to use your body and your magic to carry out whatever foul acts I want. That’s just how it will be.”
Kalorn shut his eyes to block out the vampire’s projection. He knew he could never return to Bant again. His simple life of happiness and fulfilment was over. He was an abomination now, an outcast. Angels would try to cut him down on sight; armies would seek to put him to the torch for having ever held the parasite within him. If the vampire wasn’t lying, and Kalorn did not think he was, then he was a danger to all around him if ever he let down his guard. No, he could never return to Bant. Better the Order of the Binding Fist think he had perished in the battle. He opened his eyes and looked at the fiend bound to him. He could feel the paradoxical mix of pure White and corrupting Black Mana swirling within him, just waiting to be let forth and shaped. It would take some getting used to.
“Ready to go, Kalorn? A long and twisting path is before us. I humbly suggest we litter it with bodies. But then I suppose that will take care of itself,” said the vampire.
“Don’t talk to me. There will be a reckoning, vampire. This isn’t over,” warned Kalorn.
With that, Kalorn turned his back on his mental figment, plodding slowly out of the crater in which he had gathered near god-like status, in which he had both figuratively died and then been born again.
For a moment the vampire watched the Rhox walk away, before letting out an evil chuckle to himself. “Fool. Already I’ve made some progress into influencing your mind. Your “new” name…. it was mine first. But you don’t need to know that…yet”. Content for now to keep this victory to himself the vampire strode gracefully after the Rhox, catching up in a few seconds. No sound was made between the two as the host and the parasite, the clean and the corrupt, set out into the unknown before them. There was nothing but a light breeze and a handful of lifeless bodies to bear witness to their passing.