The Magistocrats

Chapter Six


Excerpt from A Tyro's Guide To Spellcasting by Dolores Lombardi


Imagine you had to write a set of instructions on how to build a table.

Now imagine you had to write instructions on how to build a horse or a cranefly or a snarling ocelot.

Such instructions exist. Folded to infinitesimal dimensions, a copy contained within each iota of the creature's being. Of old, these were termed 'genes'.

Tables have no need of genes. Their means of reproduction lies within us. The instructions and desire to transform wood into furniture exists within our heads. It is transmitted person-to-person as the volume of furniture grows.

The same is true of teacups, garden sheds, whirligigs and warships.

We call these instructions 'memes' and they transmit and reproduce information in much the same manner as genes. Indeed, as constructs of the mental plane, they are able to do so much faster and more effectively than any such construct of the material plane.

Now imagine a cube, rendered in two dimensions. This must, of course, become a square. And a sphere in two dimensions is a circle, and so on.

I mention these matters only due to the definite analogy they provide.

If a meme is a higher form of a gene, a more complex and efficient vector of information, then what is higher than a meme? What multi-phase harmonics might encapsulate the highest forms of information? Information that has volition of its own, composed of pure spirit?

§

Here is the logogram 'Essess', a common component of many transformation and conjuration spells.

Or, at least, here is a two-dimensional representation of the Essess' twelve-dimensional form.

Stare at it. Let your mind run over its sibilant form and try to apprehend the totality of which this is but a cross-section.

Held within your brain and appropriately released, this logogram has the power to remake the world.

Be careful not to fluff the operation, however. To encompass the Essess incorrectly is to inflict maddening tinnitus on oneself for a period of up to twelve hours.

An Unwelcome Visitor

Several days passed before anything of note occurred and Rudolf tried unsuccessfully not to brood. Thoughts of the future were desperately evaded, though he felt the weight of it hanging over his head like the blade of a guillotine.

His half-finished poem was thrust away; the white moth which had inspired it was crushed.

Day after day he glowered out through the bars of the cell at the city of New Jakarta as the city baked in the sun. The path of light and shadows across the city was his only means of measuring time. On some days, he watched the sun’s reflected progress across the glass towers of the old district before it later revealed the golds and oranges of the slums against a purple dusk. On other days, the monsoon rains fell, spreading a numinous haze across the city skyline. Mostly, it was unbearably hot.

It was in the cool breezes of the night that Rudolf's thoughts tormented him with unanswerable questions.

Why had Sassani argued for his life? What could the viceroy possibly require of him?

Perhaps it was revenge Sassani wanted, pure and simple. But what kind of revenge would be worse than seeing Rudolf sent to the work camps? He shivered at that thought and pulled the blankets closer about him. But a glimmer of relief always came after a while. Sassani could inflict no worse punishment than the gulag; he had escaped the worst.

What else then?

Perhaps the viceroy genuinely liked Rudolf or even admired his daring and wished to mentor him? But no, that was absurd- he was too old to serve as anyone's protégé.

Finally, his thoughts always came to the same depressing conclusion. The emperor was right. Sassani only wanted to use him as a catamite.

But Sassani had seemed almost taken aback by the suggestion. Mere prudishness aroused by the emperor’s lack of delicacy? Or something more? And surely Sassani could pick up a rent boy on any street corner if his tastes ran in that direction.

So – once again – why had the viceroy argued for his life?

Thus Rudolf’s thoughts whirled night after night until he threw off his blankets at first light to once again track the sun's progress across the horizon.

The only change in his conditions was a minor improvement in the quality of the food. Gruel served twice daily had been swapped for three decent meals. The jail guard had also begun addressing him as ‘sir’ rather than merely grunting. The significance of this could only be guessed at, since the guard remained as tight-lipped as ever. Still, it appeared to Rudolf that he was now regarded as a magistocrat and a ward of the viceroy rather than a criminal at this juncture. This was cold comfort however.

Finally, on the morning of the seventh day, he was jolted from his spot at the window by a sharp rap on the door.

“A gentleman has come to pay compliments if you’re in a social mood, sir.” The guard spoke sardonically through the vent.

Blinking in surprise, Rudolf croaked an assent. After a brief rustling of keys, the door swung open and Rudolf was surprised to see Tristen Von Bek peering into the gloomy cell.

Seeing Rudolf, the Lord Preceptor handed a few coins over to the guard.

“About thirty minutes I think, Sergeant.”

The guard doffed his cap and the door swung closed behind Von Bek, whose gaze swept the room before settling on the beam which ran across the ceiling. He nodded to himself and stepped forwards without looking at his former pupil.

“Good morning to you, Headmaster.” Rudolf began drily. “Please come in. I hope you won’t take offence at the poor quality of my hospitality.”

“Not at all, Valentine.” Von Bek replied absently. “Do you have anywhere for us to sit down? No? Luckily I am always prepared for such eventualities.”

The archmage essayed a few logograms and a pair of chintz armchairs winked into existence in the center of the cell. He settled himself into one and gestured for Rudolf to take the other.

“I expect you would like something to drink. Tea or coffee?”

Presently, the two sat wordlessly sipping coffee. Rudolf tried vainly to mask his discomfort behind bland observations of the weather. Finally, he spoke with brittle politeness:

“Of course it's very kind of you to think of me, Headmaster. But I must ask: was there something in particular you wanted?”

Von Bek peered at him over the rim of his mug.

“I make a point to monitor the progress of all my former students, Valentine.” He said. “And though I hadn’t heard your name mentioned in polite circles for some years, it came as something of a shock to learn of your court trial. Naturally, I was concerned. Tell me- how did things come to such a pass?”

Here we bloody go then, Rudolf thought sullenly.

“No mystery there.” He shrugged. “The years since my graduation have offered few chances for honest advancement. Instead, I've been forced to live by my wits, and as a result, I occasionally find my interests at odds with the law.”

Von Bek shook his head.

“I see you're as flippant as ever.” He replied with a thin smile. “I recall your time at the Akademia well: always insolent, always keen to take shortcuts. But still- you passed your exams and became a magistocrat. You vowed to keep the Blue Principles. Were things really so bad as to lead you to- this?”

Rudolf scowled.

“Your privileged position at the Akademia has blinded you to the plight of today's youth, Headmaster. A Novice Second Class may be regarded as a lord by the peasantry, but to his superiors, he is little more than pond scum. Perhaps things were different back when you were a lad, eh? These days the government is a bloated bureaucracy, and the only means of advancement is through nepotism and politics. Three long years I spent as a clerk at the Colonial Office before being drafted into the legions, and never once was I considered for promotion!” He shook his head, looked sharply at the headmaster. “I ask you, Von Bek- what's the point of studying the ciphers of the universe if only to serve as an office clerk? Answer me that, eh?”

The headmaster raised his eyebrows.

“To serve as a functionary in the greatest empire the world has ever known; to serve as an instrument of magical administration.” He corrected before letting out a sigh. “But yes- perhaps there is some truth to what you say. Corruption was bound to set in at some point. You're not without talent, Rudolf. But you've really no-one but yourself to blame for lack of advancement. Simply waiting for your talents to be recognised gets you nowhere- effort is everything, Valentine!”

Rudolf ground his teeth.

“Don't talk to me about bloody 'effort'!” He retorted. “This isn't a little petty corruption we're talking about here- the whole game is rigged and you know it! The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And meanwhile, you sit in your cushy office at the Akademia turning out fresh novices to swell the ranks year after year! More coal for the fire! Well, life on the coalface is not sweet! A man can't make a decent living under such circumstances. Is it any wonder I turned to crime?”

“Your failures have made you bitter then. I'm sorry you feel that way.”

Rudolf sat back. He stared out the window, his eyes hard and unseeing.

“Failure, Headmaster?” He said quietly after a moment. “Hardly. I've succeeded in attracting the Lord Viceroy's attentions- impressed him enough to warrant a job offer. Things are looking up. Once I've proven my worth to Sassani, doors will surely open elsewhere.”

“A job offer?” The archmage gave a hollow laugh. He eyed Rudolf carefully over the rim of his cup for a second. “Tell me Rudolf, what do you know of Ghulam Sassani?”

“Just the important details.” Rudolf sniffed. “Comes from some minor backwater in Inner Persia and rose to his current position through talent alone. An inspiration for those of us not lucky enough to have everything in life handed to them on a plate!”

“And what do you think High Archmage Sassani could want with you?”

“Possibly he percieves a young man of talent whom he wishes to help towards advancement.” Rudolf sniffed, to Von Bek’s obvious amusement.

“Fine then!” He turned on the headmaster with a scowl. “He wants to debauch me. Is that what you wanted to hear? Well, so what? There are worse things. Even as a catamite to the Viceroy of Indochina, I would wield power and influence.”

Von Bek frowned. “How do you mean?”

“Sassani's already infatuated.” Rudolf grinned savagely. “I'll have him running in circles soon enough. I'll take him for everything he's worth.”

Von Bek’s eyebrows rose. Unseen by Rudolf, his hand crept into the pocket of his robes.

“Really, Valentine? You mean to tell me you're going to defraud one of the most powerful magistocrats in the empire? You couldn’t even falsify your evidence correctly.”

Rudolf rose from his chair, his face a mask of cold rage.

“You understand nothing, Von Bek. Nothing! I’m going to grab this opportunity and shake it down for all it’s worth. And then I’m going to laugh in your face. Now. Since you have nothing of substance to impart – as usual, I might add – I'll ask you to show yourself out.”

Von Bek stared at Rudolf for a few moments. He shook his head sadly.

“You really will say anything won't you, Rudolf?” He said quietly. “And the sheer hell of it is that you believe everything you say. No, I’m afraid you leave me no choice. This has gone far enough.”

Rudolf licked his lips, suddenly wary.

“What-?”

Von Bek barreled from his seat. He caught Rudolf above the waist and they crashed together to the floor. Rudolf cried out, aimed a blow at the archmage. Then he fell back, a curse dying on his breath. His limbs had turned to jelly. He lay immobilised on the floor, a small disc pressing down on his chest.

Von Bek rose panting to his feet.

He brushed himself off, lifted his robes to reveal a length of rope coiled about his midriff.

“I'd rather hoped this wouldn't be necessary, Valentine.” He panted, fingers working to unfurl the rope. “However, it would be extremely unwise to allow Ghulam Sassani to place a magistocrat under Geas. Especially one such as yourself.”

Rudolf could do nothing but loll thickly upon the floor. He became aware of a maddening itch in his left nostril and felt his eyes begin to water.

Von Bek worked a noose into one end of the rope then carefully threw it over the wooden beam which spanned the room. He knelt, placed the noose gently around Rudolf’s neck then stepped back to survey his former pupil, his face taut and haggard.

“Never once did I imagine I would have to do something this, Rudolf. Believe me when I say I don't want to do it! But I feel responsible for how you have turned out, you see. Perhaps if I had tried harder to reach you – perhaps if I'd made more of an effort to provide the guidance you obviously needed – but no. I failed you, Rudolf. You and many others like you. Forgive me for what I am about to do- but the empire must be protected.”

Rudolf heard the zizzing of the rope as it moved across the beam. The noose became taut, cutting off his windpipe as he was painfully hoisted from the ground. The archmage’s grunting voice drifted to him as he screamed and raved in his mind.

“This was the only way, of course. I would have given you the gift of a quick death if it were in my power to do so. But I can’t take the risk. So I left you this rope and the chairs, and I let you make your own decision...”

He was suffocating. Bars of colour stabbed across his fading vision. Pain had receded, to be replaced by an awful rushing that threatened to drown out everything. In his mind, his limbs jerked and thrashed. But in reality they hung limply by his sides. His eyes bulged from his skull, diaphragm twitching as it vainly sought to draw air.

“Ah Valentine,” Von Bek sighed as he watched Rudolf suffocate, his eyes large and moist. “At least you will never know the pain of burglary.”

Christopher Moiser