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The end of magic

"Mana is non-renewable!" the beggar shouts at passers-by, who carefully avert their attention.

"Sir, you look like a master of the mysteries!" the beggar shouts as he spots me. Guiltily, I try to avert my gaze, but it's too late.

"I was once like you, a scholar of the infinite, but then I found out!" the beggar smells worse up close.

"Uh, what did you find out?" I ask, mostly for cover as I begin to hurry past.

"The second law of thaumodynamics: mana seeks homogeneity!" the beggar raved, his eyes looking at-and-past me.

I stop. That actually sounds like sense. On an impulse I try to cast a weak CLARITY on him, but it doesn't seem to take. I'm pretty bad at mind magic, though, and a bit more conversation might have the same effect.

"Well, of course some mana is dissipated with each working, but mana always gets concentrated again, by the pull of the ley lines and the cycle of the tides," I lecture, thinking back to Metaphysics 101.

"But not for billions of years!" he shouts.

Now we're getting somewhere. "But we've used mana since the time of the Matriarchs, and we haven't 'run out' yet."

"Half a dozen generations ... the ice age!" he yells, still not quite looking at me.

"I'm not sure there really was an 'ice age', and since the Matriarchs clearly exaggerated all their powers, changing the entire planet's temperature just to be more human-friendly ... it seems like a typical tall tale," I explain. How many old coots have you heard say 'back in my day, we'd magic back the rain so we wouldn't get wet' or some other unbelievable story?

"The stones! Stones show glaciers plowed this very valley not a hundred years ago! And I RESAW it!" he shouts. His only volume setting seems to be 'shout'.

"But RESAW only lets you look back a week or so," I counter. I'm really bad at hindsight, which works by reconstructing the diffracted echoes of events as they expand 'like ripples in a pond'. Going back an entire week is considered incredibly hard even if you've got an enormous amount of mana to burn.

"The old, like me, we remember the ley lines ... overflowing with the blinding power of exploded stars, not this feeble echo-glow you children ... call magic! And I FORESEE magic's end." This last he whimpers, which makes sense. Current practice strongly recommends against attempts to FORESEE, because what you foresee affects your actions, but your actions affect what you foresee. This feedback generally results in madness, blowing the fuse that connects your mind with reality, since it's the way to reach a stable outcome.

"What did you FORESEE?" I ask. This is typically the only question that it's useful to ask a sufferer.

"Mana needs to be imported from farther and farther away. Living gets harder. Eventually even food needs to be imported, then there's not enough, then the City collapses. Our children's children ... the surviving few ... start the long task of manually reworking the life-helix of plants and animals to provide for them. After aeons they discover how to work metals without alchemy, copper, bronze, then steel. They learn to move around, fly through the air, and manipulate atoms. But it is not until they cross the black void to a new planet that they relearn magic!"

I cast FLEETFOOT and zip away, shaking my head. What a nutter.

Comments

Haha. Looks like someone mind was blown by entropy. You should have told him black holes are actually secret government experiments to collect stray "mana" :P. I have played this kind of game with my "progressive" peers responding with ridiculous comments with even more ridiculous remarks.
I like doing "figure out the wild premise" speculative short fiction, but I suspect I often veer too far into total unintelligibility.

This story is set about 12,000 years ago, just after the Earth's climate took a radical leap out of the long ice age that had preceeded it. My premise here is this worldwide temperature spike was intentionally caused by people, after the first discovery of magic by "the Matriarchs", the original coven of witches. These first magic users were unbelievably powerful because the ley lines had accumulated mana for billions of years without anybody using it, but this initial supply was nearly depeleted after just a few generations of magic users wasting it to satisfy every daily need. A civilization-ending crash arrives just a few dozen years after this story is set, resulting in the slow slog of agriculture and industrialization in the magic-free world we currently live in. The twist at the end? Mars has huge reserves of untapped mana, and we won't find out until the seventh son of a seventh son is born there!

I'm playing with the "seemingly-crazy beggar is absolutely sane" trope here. The peak oil folks, and IPCC's increasingly hyperbolic warnings about climate change, provide an ironic backdrop.

September 2013

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