Dying of the Light
Persecuted during the Bloom, driven mad by the Dark and worshipped during the Twilight mages have a strange existence, bearing the burden of both safeguarding civilization and the guilt of often destroying it. There are many legends that attribute the very existence of cycles and the Dark to the folly of mages. Some claim that Tharak the Darkbringer is a demon summoned by mages or a giant moon made of stolen souls that slips from some baleful dimension. As if bearing the blame for the doom of man wasn’t enough, often mages bring forth destruction firsthand. Many go mad during the Crying and bring death and damnation down on their adoptive communities.
And yet mages are necessary, for without them mankind would likely not survive the Dark and Twilight and definitely wouldn’t manage to rebuild civilization within a couple of generations after.
The Life of a Mage
‘Magic is in the blood’ is what many arcanists say. And indeed it seems that whatever trait makes one adept at magic is passed through from parents to children, sometimes skipping a generation. Magic adept children are easy to spot for the practiced mage. They are often a bit off, loners, perhaps they don’t seem entirely right in the head or seem to know things beforehand. In isolated communities they rarely come to manifest their powers, unless put under undue stress or particularly determined. Even in cities where concentrations of Starmetal and people resonate with and empower the gift mages rarely discover their ability. Only those discovered by other, trained mages can hope to gain any power during Bloom periods.
Getting discovered doesn’t guarantee training. Many itinerant mages are afraid to reveal their identity as superstitious people often don’t hesitate to kill them in cold blood. Others are just shysters, taking ‘apprentices’ and selling them into slavery to mage farms to become ‘pet mages’ or, for the lucky ones trading them to an academy or a more scrupulous master. The lucky ones get to experience mage training at the hands of a master, something gruelling and less glamorous than it sounds. Each master has his own training method, invented or passed down from his master before. It often involves punishment, mental and physical and years of practice for often minimal results. Hedge or wild mages, who rely on pure talent and no training often have more spectacular results but poor stamina and mental fortitude.
While magic is weak, almost a parlour trick during the Bloom it becomes an important but deadly tool for survival during the Twilight and especially Dark. It starts with the Crying, when all the mages in the world cry blood tears all at once. This is but an indicator of the powerful forces tearing their bodies from the inside. About 25 % of mages, especially young unskilled and untrained ones don’t survive a Crying. Another significant chunk fall unconscious for days, oft another death sentence. Of the survivors a small number go ravenously, uncontrollably insane and murder everything in their path.
For although the Crying kills it also turns modest wizards into magic juggernauts. For days brave wizards battle the cold and dark things that come with the Dark to save a spark of civilization. With the Twilight their powers slowly start to fade away but it takes many, many years, decades for magic to rebalance itself and many a duel between mages scorches the land before that.