Encyclopaedia Arcana #6: Dark Mages

Dark mages are the counterpart to Light mages.  At various points the two factions have fought against each other, most recently in the Gate Rune War of the twentieth century, but at present Light and Dark mages share an uneasy peace.

Dark mages don’t have a centralised organisation as Light mages do.  There’s no Dark Council and there’s no Dark administration.  In fact, it can be difficult to know whether someone even is a Dark mage – it’s not like you can apply for a membership card (and other Dark mages wouldn’t pay attention if you did).  If being a Light mage is like being a citizen of a country, being a Dark mage is more like being a follower of a cause or a religion.  What makes you a Dark mage is the way you act and the ideals you believe.

Dark Is Not Evil . . . Maybe

Dark mages follow a philosophy called the True Path, the True Way, or simply the Path or the Way.  The True Path holds that someone’s reality is defined by their personal power and the only goal that has any long-term value is increasing that power.  Traditional morality is seen as an artificial construct:  while it can be beneficial in certain situations, it places limitations on the user’s ability to pursue power and therefore has to be discarded.

If power is a virtue, the corresponding vice is weakness.  Dark mages consider voluntary weakness to be the one really unforgivable sin.  Anyone who turns away from power is giving control of their life to whoever is willing to pursue that power, and by doing so they prove themselves unworthy to wield it.

What that means in plain English is that if a Dark mage wants something from you they’ll take it, and if you can’t stop them it’s your fault.  You aren’t owed anything and you don’t deserve anything.  If you don’t like it, learn to take care of yourself.

Dark Society

Dark ‘society’ is a bit of a misnomer.  Dark mages don’t like each other, don’t help each other, and don’t trust each other.  For this reason Dark mages are notoriously bad at getting along.  The more Dark mages there are in a group, the faster they’ll fall out unless they have some immediate reason to stay together.

The unit of Dark society is the household or cabal.  A household is made up of one Dark mage plus his apprentices, servants, slaves, and other hangers-on.  A cabal is a group of Dark mages who have decided to band together in a pack – their numbers vary but 2 to 5 is the most common size, as once the group gets much larger than that internal divisions start appearing.  Larger groups aren’t unknown but typically require a strong leader to keep them in line.

That said, Dark mages aren’t hermits and they do socialise.  It’s common for Dark mages to hold gatherings, competitions, and parties where they can meet each other, watch their apprentices compete, and share information under a temporary truce.  However, these events are much smaller than the grand balls sponsored by the Light Council.  A typical Dark mage knows far fewer of his colleagues than a Light mage does.

Strength and Weakness

The previous few paragraphs probably makes it sound as though Dark mages really aren’t much of a threat to Light mages.  If they can’t work together, what’s the problem?

The short answer is that Dark mages are dangerous because they don’t work together.  Most Light mages aren’t battle-mages – there are vast numbers of Light mages who’ve never seen real combat.  But every single Dark mage who graduates from apprentice status knows how to fight and how to defend themselves.  They have to, or they don’t survive.  Dark mages aren’t invincible but they’re tough, nasty, and above all experienced, and one for one Dark mages are probably the most dangerous men and women in the world.

Most Light apprentices and younger Light mages are afraid of Dark mages and avoid them whenever they can.  Even the ones who aren’t scared usually keep their distance, believing (correctly) that the more closely involved they get with Dark mages the more danger they’ll be in.  All the same, there are a fair number of Light mages who associate with the Dark.  Sometimes it’s from necessity – Keepers and the other enforcement branches of the Council have to deal with outsiders as part of their job – but just as often it’s for personal profit.  The lifestyles of Dark mages often bring them into contact with hidden secrets or unusual techniques and bits of knowledge, and they’re sometimes willing to share them.  Such help can be valuable to a Light mage, but it’s never free and the price is always high.  Many unwary Light mages who entangle themselves too closely in Dark politics end up incurring debts they can’t repay, losing friends and possessions, and in some cases vanishing without trace.

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