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The Magi Arena, Part 1: An Improbable Commission

Sadonis sipped his drink, trying to be a gracious guest while trying to taste whether the drink was poisoned.

The Arena

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Across the table, another man sat, fingers in a steeple, staring into empty space. “Tell me, Sadonis… have you ever given any thought to how inscriptions are made?”

Sadonis set down his drink. It probably wasn’t poisoned. No point in risking it though by continuing to be polite. “A strange question, sir. I have personally created many. You must know this. Of course I know how its done.”

The man sighed. “No, what you know is the process by which inscriptions are made. It’s the difference between knowing all about sex and nothing about sperm, egg, and embryos.” The man continued to stare into empty space, but his face contorted with scorn. “You are a master engineer. I need a master scientist.”

“Ah. Yes. Sir. I Should go then?”

“No.”

They sat in silence then. Sadonis sat uncomfortably in his seat. In his recent years, he had served the Ordo, served the Sons of Gabriel, served all of Magi society, really. He was used to taking orders, to being called upon at all hours. But he was not used to fear. The Sons of Gabriel had at their fingertips every incantation under the sun and a few beyond that, but they were still just Magi. They had to prepare their spells and follow Codex limits like any other Magi, despite their power and Avak’Shar. This man (maybe?) across from him was not so mundane.

The man gestured with one of his hands. An after image trailed his arm, as if three or four arms had all moved, each starting a moment before the other, each with a slightly different gesture, until they all faded into each other at the end of the arm movement. Watching this man move was like watching the frames of a time lapse video stacked up on each other. Possibility blossomed around this man. According to the rumors, the man constantly existed in multiple of his own timelines and only manifested the one most interesting, most advantageous.

As a response to the man’s gesture, Sadonis’ glass vanished. The man said: “It wasn’t poisoned.”

“Sir? I… would never suggest…”

“In another conversation, you expressed this concern. I have foreseen this conversation in many revisions. It almost always ends badly between us, which is to say, it ends badly for you.”

Sadonis carefully put his hands on the table in full view, deliberately away from the pocket that held his Codex. “I would never think of attacking you. That would be insane.”

“Yes, it would be. But you aren’t altogether sane, are you? Parts of you are missing.”

Sadonis swallowed. No one was supposed to know about that. How did this man…?

“You told me. In another version of this conversation, you rant about it. Loudly. Proclaim it proudly. You are proud of your weakness.”

“My… weakness?”

“You let them cut out the dark heart of your soul because you could not control yourself. You let them spiritually geld you because you were too weak to contain your own anger.”

“That’s not true.”

“Statements like that are why this conversation usually ends badly. I cannot stand the falsehood, and in most timelines, I cannot resist the urge to restore those parts to yourself. Your anger boils over, you attack me, and I end up turning you into a goldfish that I keep in a bowl. You make quite a pretty goldfish. But, look, I’m restraining myself today. Isn’t that marvelous?”

“Marvelous? Truly. I am… grateful, truly, that I am not a goldfish.”

“Bah. You’ve never been a goldfish. You might enjoy it. Where is your sense of adventure? Did they cut that out, too?”

Sadonis stood up. “This interview is over. Whatever the position is, I don’t want it.”

“Ah, so you do have some fire left. Sit.” The word left no room for disobedience. Even though it was spoken in English, Sadonis felt it hit him with the force of an incantation. He sat.

“What…?”

“You’re not very good at finishing sentences are you? Yes. That was a spell. In English. Do you know how that is possible?”

Sadonis tried to contain his trembling. “I must confess, I know little of your kind. Perhaps your body has been made a conduit like some of Caine’s experiments. Something must be giving you an impressive command of Will, its not like we see Mutes running around commanding the universe on whim.”

The man laughed a cold laugh. “Not these Mutes. You see, that was an inscription from another timeline. A timeline in which the Sehimu Thinara word for ‘sit’ was exactly ‘sit’. A timeline in which the universe was created by an English-speaking god instead of one who spoke the garbled song-speech that you all use today, and those Mutes spoke an entirely different dialect. There is only one real me, but all the imaginary mes whisper across the infinities of possibility. And sometimes I am able to make sense of their whispers, as when I created that incantation. I am hiring you to make manifest another whisper I’ve heard.”

Sadonis twisted in his seat and tried, and failed, to stand. “I said I was declining the job.”

“Too bad. You’re not the one I hoped to find, but I’ve sifted all the Magi and you alone have a chance of making this work. And I want it to work, so work you I shall. You’re used to serving.”

Othaun!” Sadonis roared. And the “sit” spell broke. Sadonis lunged across the table ready to attack the Eternal with his bear hands. But he stopped himself. Instead, he put his hands flat on the desk. He glared at his opponent. “I am done, serving.”

The Eternal laughed. “Ah. Perfect. You have, I assume, an Inexorable Dispel in you sock or perhaps under your shirt. In none of the timelines have I strip-searched you to find it. And there’s the anger I sought to evoke. And the anger you controlled. You see… they didn’t cut it out of you; they just made it hard to access. And when you access it, it doesn’t have to take over. Thank you… your reaction is one of the lowest probability events I have ever managed to manifest. Not flashy, but very improbable. Quite enjoyable.”

Sadonis panted and spoke through gritted teeth. “What. Do you. Want?”

“Want? I want novelty. I want originality. Growth. Change. The world of Magi is bound in leather and sealed in libraries so old they long ago ceased to be architecture and became geology! I want the master of the rules to change the game! I want you to understand what an incantation is, not just how it is made, at such a fundamental level that you can make new inscriptions on new media. Not paper. Not stone. Not anything that can be touched. I want you, Keymaster, Keeper of the Arcanum, and Shadowscribe, to do the unthinkable. I want you to digitize The Library.”

The Eternal turned away (in several variations) from Sadonis’ surprised face and picked out a USB key from his backpack that hung on his chair. “Here. This contains all the notes I was able to make. I believe you can create a digital arena for spell casters. Oh, the TechnoWeavers are hot on the trail of virtual nodes, but they’ll use those virtual nodes to create power to write more paper inscriptions. Novel, but hardly a breakthrough. You, however, have a gift: a talent for making the unlikely into the actual. And so it is you that I turn.” He set the USB key in front of Sadonis. “And now, I really must be going. I still have 2 items to go to complete my seven impossible things before breakfast.” The Eternal stood, took his backpack from the back of the chair, and walked to the door, leaving Sadonis still leaning over the table. At the door, the Eternal paused, “Don’t let me down, Sadonis. Remember you are immortal, as am I. If you fail in this life, I will put you back to work in the next. And the next. And each time I will micromanage you a little bit more. That is my punishment if you fail. But also remember that my rewards for success are equally… improbable.” And then he was gone.

Sadonis stood unmoving for a time, then picked up the key. A digital arena for spellcasting? Images of remote dimensions tethered digitally to our own were already turning in his mind. “Well,” he said to the empty room. “He may be a bastard, but I do suspect it’s better than being a goldfish.”

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