The Meaning Of Life

1.

Nighttime settled in slowly. At least, it seemed to settle slowly. Too slowly. But then, I am not a day person. I don’t think any wizard is.

Especially not in the current socioeconomic climate where we wear targets on our backs. Ever since the rise of the religious right, we have become the hunted. We dare not venture into the daylight. Night is now our domain.

And I waited for the night. My time. I am Thoreau Banning. Sorcerer Supreme. Magnificent Mage.

Want to be wowed? I am your man. Want a simple love spell? I am still your man. I can do whatever your heart desires, except hurt people. Or give you immortality. You want those things, go to a Black Mage.

All magic has a price, though. Black magic requires your soul. White magic merely requires fidelity. Sort of like anything else that is of a faith or spiritual nature. Funny how that works.

As soon as night fell, I was out on the streets. Not that the police or anyone else could see me. Of course not. I traveled in style! As a wraith among men. A whispered spell and I was out of sight, out of mind.

I was on my way to the meeting of the local Wizards 203 to pledge another year of membership and to blow off about what new spells I had learned. Oh, yes, wizardry is a lifelong learning event. You can never know it all. Most maybe, but never all.

As I walked, I noticed a happy little fellow following me. I found this odd because he would turn every time I turned, stopped when I stopped, and turned away to act as if he wasn’t doing what he was doing. And it was beginning to annoy me. By all rights, he shouldn’t have been able to see me, let alone follow me. Thus, I made up my mind. I was going to slip into an alley and lure him into following me.

So, the first alley I came to, I slipped into. Like clockwork, he did the same. Now, he could not turn away. He was not on the street. I had him where I wanted him.

I whirled around and grabbed him by his collar. “Why are you following me?” I asked.

“Why are you following me?” He parroted.

Oh, great. Someone had set a doppelganger loose on me. But why? What had I done? Who had I pissed off? I couldn’t come up with any answer.

“Is this some sort of nasty practical joke?” I asked.

“Is this some sort of nasty practical joke?” He aped.

I allowed my powers grow and search him out for a signature. Every wizard, every witch, every warlock, and every voodoo priest has their own signature that is imprinted into each of their constructs. Which is what a doppelganger is.

Sadly, doppelgangers do not necessarily look like the person they are sent to plague. Those kinds are sent specifically to mess up spells, wreak havoc, incriminate innocent wizards and/or humans in crimes being perpetrated by a rival, or to simply cause a rival to go insane. NO, most doppelgangers are sent to attach themselves to and follow their intended victims, and most are harmless, except in cases like mine where they could possibly give me away and get me caught before I could reach the relative safety of the union hall.

Ah, there it was. The signature I had sought. But wait! Why couldn’t I recognize it?

It was ancient. Far more ancient than those I was familiar with. I am relatively young at a mere three hundred years old, so I know few of the elders. I have not yet met them, and so I have not had the privilege of learning their signatures.

2.

Let me tell you a little about wizardry. First, you are not born a wizard. Not even as an adept. You develop into an adept. You are born a human. A spiritually sensitive human, but human nonetheless.

The signs of being an adept becomes apparent very slowly, over time. At the age of one, it is usually apparent that the child can see…well, what others cannot. Their eyes follow the movements of things no one else can see. At two, they begin gibbering languages that no one else can understand.

At four, they tend to develop what adults term “imaginary” friends. But the friend id not really imaginary. They are just beyond the average human’s visual range. Sort of like the soul, but more like ghosts and monsters.

Beyond that, it is a gradual manifestation of energy sensitivity. Followed by telepathic awareness. Empathy. A deep interest in things arcane. Followed by the sudden manifestation of the actual raw powers themselves.

Talk about something that scares the crap out of an adult. There isn’t anything like the sudden thrust of invisible hands that send them careening into walls when they anger their teen. Or being literally tossed, hard, into the ceiling. Or flames shooting from rooms.

Most parents, by this time, have called for the exorcist claiming demon possession. But there is only one cure for this, and it isn’t the exorcist. It is being sent to another wizard for training. Still, parents will be parents.

I had wonderful parents, though. My mother was a witch and pops was a wizard. No horrors growing up here. Mom and pops knew exactly what to look for and when I was old enough, they apprenticed me themselves.

Life growing up was fun. Very memorable. Definitely a learning experience. My awkward attempts at temper tantrums were thwarted by counter spells. Or by my own actions turned against me by a wily father. My trickery was equally thwarted by a savvy mother.

I could never lie. They could always tell, even when I used the “fibber’s spell” to make myself look innocent and truthful. But, despite this, I had a charmed life compared to those who had non-magical parents. They often had to be rescued from psychiatric hospitals, prisons, or at the last minute from public hangings or executions of other sorts.

I learned, early, that one had to remain home in the daylight and only leave at night. Many who had no magic in their families learned this rule the hard way. Ordinary humans tend to hate anything that is different. No one can be different. Or think different. Or believe different.

To ordinary humans, those of us who “practice witchery” are evil. Satanic. Demon lovers. Their gods’ worst enemy. I term it gods because they really do not believe in a single one anymore. No, they worship physical wealth, material objects, outward appearances, or power and prestige–not God or Allah. And definitely not Christ or any other singular god, prophet, or Holy man. And still, they have the gall to call us pagans.

I say all this because it is true. They wage war for the sheer profit of it, but make up cover stories like “war on terror” or “free the Holy Land” when it is nothing more than a race to obtain and control something that was never theirs and was never Holy. Promised at one time, maybe, but never Holy. Nothing is Holy. Nothing is sacred. Bones and body parts should be buried and long forgotten.

Anyway, back to wizardry. Wizards, once taught the ground rules, are taught the basic spells from musty tomes that are millennia old. If you are lucky enough, they are the same tomes your parents used. If not, you have to learn from a fellow wizard’s books. Some of the first things you learn are how to conjure.

Conjuring a doppelganger is easy. just think of who you want to plague, and presto! Then you send them out to plague your rival or rivals. Or simply to play a nasty practical joke. Which was what my current predicament was beginning to feel like.

3.

There I stood, holding my doppelganger by the shirt trying my damnedest to get answers. I was not ready for what happened next. As I stood there, trying to get answers, the silly thing began to dissolve!

“Beware!!!” It muttered urgently as it turned to dust.

“Who would want to warn me of anything?” I muttered, awestruck.

Voices approaching caused me to step back into the shadow and do my disappearing act once more. Couldn’t risk being seen. Even at night. Not even by less scrupulous wizards. Never know who is working as a paid snitch anymore.

I remained in the shadows as the voices drew closer. “We’ve got to do this quick and without any warning,” one was saying.

“But why all the secrecy,” another interrupted, “if nobody will know who did it?”

A third laughed evilly. “Because you never know who is listening, or where they are.”

I recognized the third voice. Charlie Whitlock. The most vile and corrupt of the Wizards union. He had been the only wizard to be investigated for ethics violation by all three wizards and magic councils. And twice, he had been stripped of his powers…though I never understood how a wizard could be stripped of his natural abilities. Suddenly, I remembered the wizard’s memory gizmo in my pocket and rubbed it to start it recording the memory of this occurrence.

“I want to cause so much trouble,” Charlie continued, “That the councils are forced to disband and the wizards’ union elects me its leader for life.”

“But how you gonna do that, Boss?” came a fourth voice.

“Templeton,” Charlie replied, “I am going to start by sending out doppelgangers to reveal the most powerful in the world. And then, I will unleash the pucks from their prison to cause misery and grief among those worthless humans. Just enough to make them come to me to take over their leadership as well. When things seem that they can’t get any worse, I will unleash trolls and all sorts of creatures so that it seems as if the wizards are declaring war.”

He went on to outline a catastrophic war where he would personally wipe out all the wizards of renown. What I did not understand was that you cannot kill a wizard with any human weapon. Not even cutting off their heads would kill them. Only magic can kill a wizard. But to use magic would betray Charlie as a wizard as well. And even Templeton, named-I only guess-after the rat in the children’s’ classic Charlotte’s Web, could not understand this. NO matter how Charlie explained this, it still made no sense. It was as if he wanted to get caught, not take over.

I slowly inched my way out of the alley as I listened. Once out, I ran on to the meeting…after I turned off the memory gizmo. I approached the bench of the president and set my gizmo on the desk in front of him. He looked up at me.

“What is this?” He demanded.

“I caught every word of a plot to start a war between wizard and humans,” I stated, matter-of-factly, “it’s all there, your lordship.”

Laughter filled the room. Apparently, they thought I was being funny. But only until the gizmo was turned on and they heard the whole plan, along with the ethereal specters of the three conspirators seemingly ignoring me. The president looked at me.

“And what were you doing in that alley at that specific point in time?” He demanded.

“I had a doppelganger following me,” I replied, “and had to get rid of it before I was betrayed to any human out for the evening.”

“And who would send a doppelganger to haunt you?” Atticus Brood said with a snide tone.

“I really don’t know, Atticus,” I replied truthfully, “Whoever they were, they are far older than I and wanted me to receive a message.”

“Oh Really?” Atticus was still being the eternal ass.

“Atticus,” I turned to him, “Nobody cares about your assumptions and insinuations. Go back to conjuring your wet dreams and leave me be.”

At that moment, a dark figure appeared from the back and walked toward us. “Let me introduce myself, Thoreau,” he began, “I am Ramus Letreux. I am the one who sent the doppelganger. I intended you to be in that alley at that very instant. Forgive me for playing God, but I needed a second. I knew that Atticus was too much of a showoff and loud mouth to trust, and the rest would be too tempted to try to take on the trio and prevent the whole thing before there was any proof.

“You see, I knew your father, I knew him to be a good man, though a little incompetent in his teaching of you. Your mom loved him too much to insist on a professional tutor for you.”

“How do you know me?” I was flabbergasted. “I have never even heard of you!”

“No,” he agreed, “no, I suppose not. I wouldn’t suppose that your mother or father would ever mention me. I was not a close colleague. But I did observe all from a distance. I also know you to be both a good man and honest. Even if these fools do not think so.”

“Hold it!” The president insisted. “What is the story on this so-called plot?”

“Oh,” Ramus smiled, “This is no so-called anything, Mr. Clavus. It is a bonafide plot. And it is three of the most evil wizards in all history scheming. My archenemy is at the helm.” he turned and looked at me. “And, no, it isn’t Charlie. He is a mere puppet.”

“But what can I do about it?” Clavus inquired. “I am merely president over the union.”

“Apparently,” my benefactor smiled, “you couldn’t do anything without consulting the union manual.” He picked up my memory gizmo. “Come, Thoreau. Perhaps the Council will listen.”

4.

In a flash, I was off…and not of my own freewill. Ramus had hijacked me for the night and I couldn’t do anything about it. So, in true passive tradition, I decided to simply allow him to do as he wished without causing him any trouble. I didn’t want to end up landing on my head.

We appeared, next at the Council of Magic.

“What is the meaning of this?” Councilman Richtus demanded.

“Council members,” Ramus began, “Thoreau and I have uncovered a plot.”

Richtus raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Indeed,” Ramus mused, “have any of you heard of Thrutus Avarati?”

A gasp ran through the council. I took that to mean that they had. And what they had heard was not good. I waited for an explanation.

“You dare utter that name here?” Richtus demanded.

“Oh, please,” Ramus sighed, disappointed at the demand, “It isn’t like his name has any special powers. Evil wizards are a dime a dozen. Avarati is just one of fifty more noted.”

“OK,” the lead councilman acquiesced, “What of him?”

“He is gathering a small group of lesser wizards,” My benefactor replied, “Lesser evil wizards, that is, to try and overthrow the councils and take over the union.”

“Your proof?” Richtus was now interested.

Upon this, Ramus produced two memory gizmos. One was mine, the other was his. He turned his on first. the image flickered then became intense enough for me to see.

“This was a message I received a few days ago.” He turned back to the image, which began to run. By the time it was done, there was no doubt about the complexity and scope of the plot. Or even who was involved.

“Who sent you this?” Councilman Cudera asked.

“Siampus Crin,” Ramus replied, “He may be a black wizard, but even this is too evil for his tastes. His betrayal could mean his life, though. So If you are to search for him, hope you find him alive.”

“And what is on the second cube?” Richtus demanded.

“Glad you asked.” Ramus grinned. “I set Thoreau, here, up. I sent him into an alley I knew three of the conspirators were going to enter.”

“How did you know the three were going to be there?” Richtus pressed. “And exactly how did you send Thoreau into the alley?”

“Why, Richtus!” My benefactor exclaimed mockingly, “I am hurt! How could any on the Council of Magic not know that I have second-sight? I see the future, Ric. I saw them enter the alley long before they actually did.

“As for how I lured poor Thoreau into that self-same alley, I merely pawned a doppelganger off onto him with a simple hissed warning of ‘beware’. And I really am sorry for involving him, but I needed this proof.” He turned on my gizmo.

After my recording had ended, a murmur went through the council. They muttered amongst themselves for what felt like hours. Then, Richtus turned back to us.

“Permission granted to seek higher council,” He granted, “Be careful. We know not who to trust now. Perhaps there might be a traitor amongst those we used to call allies.”

5.

For once in my life, I found myself in the middle of a conspiracy. For some reason, Richtus and the Council of Magic seemed to think there could be enemies within one of the higher councils. It was at this precise moment, I began wondering about the true meaning of life. so far, in my own life, I had ceased to be unimportant merely because I witnessed a meeting of rogues.

For some reason, I felt as if I very well might have a target now drawn on my back. With a mounting list of enemies, what I really needed now was a healthy supply of friends. All I knew at that moment was that the man I was now bound to through the commonality of the burden of proof was the only one I could call friend. I had only been tolerated in the union, which all wizards and witches are supposed to be members of, because I am not as adept as the rest of my peers.

I believe that they claim that I am awkward. Clumsy. Bumbling. Incompetent.

I was not, and am not, a good wizard. Pops was killed by Zufra the Magnificent, a charlatan of a wizard who could not cure a simple case of athlete’s foot. Mumsy died shortly after of a broken heart. Unlike regular humans, wizards mate for life. And rarely mate outside the realm of magic.

Anyway, whatever happened next, I knew I would soon learn the meaning of life. Ramus would be sure to show me. Or die trying. I only hoped we both lived through it.

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