Teachings of the Arcane: Responsibility
Copyright Ryan Span ©2001
Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion
...First, of all things, a mage must learn to take responsibility for
...For without this responsibility, chaos will reign and the
Arcane will founder...
- Book of the Arcane, First Segment, Second
"Look around you," my old mentor, Thanien
Stormbound, said softly. His beard flowed and danced in the breeze. "What do you
"I see grass..." I said, shielding
my eyes from the sun. "And hills. And some
He shook his head and seemed
disappointed. "No, my young friend," he whispered. "It is
"But... They're right there!" I
argued as the bright light of the noon sun beat down on us. "The grass, the
"That is what your narrow
mind perceives," he said, his piercing gaze seeing right through me. I
closed my eyes in shame...and a little fear. "It is not what you see, young
apprentice. Let me reveal some to you. Some of what is beyond you, yet can so
easily be in your sight."
He passed a
hand over my eyes, and as I opened them again I immediately fell to my knees and
closed them again. My head spun with the incredible sensation, and a throbbing
headache surfaced. I saw more than my mind could process. That single image-an
image of vibrant life, of encroaching death, of incredible, unconquerable
verdancy and storms of ultimate destruction-burnt its way into my mind. (Even
now, when I close my eyes, I can still see it. If you wish to challenge
your imagination, attempt to picture this: seeing millennia - eons - of life,
death, nature and chaos, all packed up into a single image of the world. Picture
yourself as the focal point of every experience and every scrap of wisdom and
knowledge in existence; all in one great explosion. If you were able to do that,
then I applaud you...) I saw millennia of flowers grow and bloom, children
frolicking in the sun, warm rain splashing on leaves which created the most wondrous
of melodies... But the death and the chaos were terrible and dark. The flowers
withered and died, the children aged and wasted away, and the rain's song turned
to a dirge. I fell to the ground
"And that's just the beginning,
my boy." He reached out to me and helped me up. I looked up at him as he stroked
his great white beard. My heart was aflame; this experience was so vast, so
incredible, that I wanted more. Yet ever after I feared the dark side of
"Master... What does it all mean?" I asked, looking into his eyes that seemed alight with the fire of
"You will find out in time," he said as he put a hand on my shoulder. "Magic is something that takes a
lifetime to learn, and years beyond count to master."
"But... But... I want the
power now!" I said in my brashness and idiocy. "I don't want to have to
wait for ages!"
"You know not what you
speak of, foolish one," he whispered, seeming almost amused. "One cannot have
power without heeding the lessons of the
I sighed. "Very well, master..."
I had no intention of letting this set me back. I was going to get that power
with or without his help!
"Go now, return
to your home," he spoke quietly, planting his staff into the moist grass. "Remember
the new perception you have gleaned today, apprentice. It will serve you in the
"Yes master," I replied, then
turned and went to the village. As usual, all the other children were playing in
the town square, but I had no stomach for games that day. Going straight into my
room, I sat down on my bed and brooded. Some time later, I came to my decision. I was going to sneak
out at night and take the power for myself!
After my parents tucked me into bed, and were themselves asleep, I
soundlessly snuck out of the house and made my way over the hills to Thanien's
tower. The stars and moons were bright above, lighting my way. I used my key to
open the massive tower door, then closed it as quietly as possible. I began my
stealthy approach to the basement door.
"What are you
hiding here then, master...?" I whispered to myself as I inched down the stairway
and made my way into a candle-lit room. There were a great many alchemical tools
I didn't comprehend, and a bookcase stacked with tomes next to a reading stand.
Taking the one that looked the most ancient, I put it on the stand and flipped
it open. Reading the passages by the sparse candlelight, I could only make out a
few words here and there, my knowledge of the language limited. Then, suddenly,
the basement door slammed shut behind me. I wheeled about and found Thanien
"Master!" I squeaked in
surprise. "What are you doing
"That is a question I should ask
you, apprentice," he said angrily. "Sneaking into my tower at night and going into the
basement, which I told you to stay out
"I'm sorry master, but..." I
replied, hanging my head in shame.
"I just didn't want to wait for
so long..." I whispered. "All I wanted was to have some real
"Ahhh... So it is power you
want?" he whispered, and smiled a smile that was anything but friendly,
comforting or understanding. He let out a low chuckle, and suddenly I felt very
afraid. "Take this power then!"
clamped his bony hand onto my forehead, and tiny bolts of lightning swirled and
cracked, piercing into my skull, but there was no pain. I felt my mind flooding
with incredible knowledge, power, and understanding of the universe. Everything
suddenly made sense. I could do anything I wanted! Now, I could stay up late and
skip classes without anyone telling me off about it! Yes, the mind of a child
works in mysterious ways...
Loudly. Exalted. Power beyond imagination was mine!
"Thank you, master!" I shouted, and
giggled gleefully as I levitated up the
"Oh, do not thank me, young one,"
he said, his voice most grave. "I have not given you anything worthy of
I shrugged and whizzed off out
of the tower, over the fields, faster than the fastest hunting cat, and laughing
every second. I shot fire and lightning at nearby trees, and they burned. I felt
like the center of the universe, and nothing was beyond my grasp. Flying like a
bird, I made my way back to the village when I realized it was already morning.
Mother was inside, preparing mutton for dinner, while father was sitting at the
stream fishing. I idly wandered into the town square where the village children
were playing. Their parents were all either working inside or busy somewhere
else, so I wouldn't have to explain anything to them.
"Hey!" I greeted my best friend,
Reyum. "What're you doing?"
"Hi!" he said
to me, then jumped and caught a ball someone threw at him. "Come on, join us,
we're playing catch!"
"Sorry. I can't," I whispered conspiratorially, shaking my head. "Got other things to do. I've got magic now, you
know." I grinned at him. The kids formed a circle around me and
"Magic, huh?" they said. "Show
us then, so we know you're not
"Fine. Look at this!" I shouted
and did a triple somersault backwards, then flew back and launched a lightning
bolt right into the middle of the circle of children. They all shrieked in fear
and awe, and questioned me all about my new powers the moment I landed. I didn't
tell them where I got them or who gave them to me, but I answered all their
questions. Until one of them asked that what should never have been
"Hey, why don't you show us the
best you can do?" Reyum asked excitedly. "You know, the deepest, most powerful
of what you can do. I wanna see
"Umm..." I hesitated, still unsure
of my abilities, and of the consequences. "I don't think I
"Awwww, come on! Show us!" he
said, and started chanting. Soon, every one of them was chanting "Show us! Show
us!" endlessly until finally I gave in. I sighed deeply, and dove within my mind
to the deepest part of the knowledge and wisdom and power, and found it. I held
it in my hands, till suddenly it leapt from them. I couldn't control it. My body
immolated with fiery power, and suddenly the whole town square boiled into
molten rock. I could see charred bodies floating in an updraft of blazing magma.
An updraft I, in all my foolishness, had created. A horrid bubbling sound and a
dozen endless screams echoed through the square. All of the children...my
My spell ended
and the town square returned to normal, though the stench of charred flesh hung
about. The fire around me slowly died out, and the children's parents came
storming out of their homes to investigate the noise. I quickly turned myself
invisible to avoid their wrath. I was the only one that lived, so they would
blame me. And rightly so...
As I slipped
away, I could hear their sobbing, their cries of mourning, of pain... I ran all
the way to Thanien's tower, stumbling as my eyes were bleary with tears,
completely horrified by what I'd done. I finally stumbled into the tower and
fell on the floor rug, crying. After what seemed like an eternity, Thanien knelt
by my side and put his hand on the back of my head, which was still buried in
the rug. Slowly the knowledge, the power, the understanding was drawn from my
mind... And I was glad to see it
"Let this be a lesson to you, young apprentice," he lectured softly, but there was compassion in his voice now.
"Power must be tempered with wisdom. Your own wisdom, which you must learn over
I finally understood. I
killed my friends. If I returned to town, the people would hang me. I had no
place else to go, nor any desire to
"I will learn, master..." I
whispered, slowly getting up onto my
"Good," he whispered, stroking my
hair in a way that made me drowsy somehow. Just before I drifted off into
nightmare-filled sleep, I could barely hear him whisper, "Rest now, my young
apprentice. Power, wisdom and knowledge can wait 'till tomorrow..."
For the next few years, I worked, and
studied, and worked even more. I had nightmares for long after what happened in
the town square. Thanien hid me, and told me he told the parents I was dead
also. Yet one morning, exactly seven years after the tragedy, I felt something
nagging at my mind. Something bothered
All day long I couldn't stop thinking
about what was puzzling me, and then finally it hit me. Why had Thanien
granted me such power if he knew what would come of it? I stormed down into
the basement, interrupting some unimportant experiment my master was
"What brings you here, boy?"
Thanien asked, not hiding his annoyance. "Can't you see I'm
"Yes master, but I need to talk to you," I replied. "Why did you let me kill
"What are you talking
"Why did you give me the power
when you knew I would do something horrible with it?" I asked in
Thanien smiled. "So, you've
finally realized that, have you? I thought you would've sooner. But no
"Tell me, master!" I cried. "I
have to know!"
He waved me to a chair.
"Sit down," he said softly. "I will tell you the
"We mages are a protective lot.
You see, children with potential for magic are quite often abandoned or exiled
before they reach their fourth year. I found you in a small basket flowing down
the forest stream. You know that stream, don't
"Of course. Reyum and I used to go
swimming there all the time," I
"Well, you need to know that
your family, your friends, your village... Everything you know except for the
land... None of it was real."
I asked, abashed. "What do you mean?"
"You heard me. It was an
illusion. All mages are raised that way, and subjected to a great tragedy.
Otherwise their minds are too quick to turn to
"That's outrageous!" I cried. "You
lied to me!"
"It was for your own good,
boy. The price of turning to evil is nothing compared to a childhood existing in
"You're saying this is all
compassionate somehow?" I asked, and studied Thanien. He looked so much older
now than seven years ago.
"Yes," he said,
letting out a deep sigh. " Believe me, it certainly
"I will think on this..." I said and
looked down in thought. Then I lifted my head to face him, and added in a
slightly contemptuous tone,
"Do, my young apprentice, but remember, don't be a fool." He breathed deeply and I started to make my way up
the winding staircase. Then, just as I was closing the door, I could hear him
add, "It is almost time for your next lesson."