My Night with the Last of the Black Mages
edward j rathke
He was sad, but he had a right to be. Saw him first standing in the shadow of Alexandria’s sword. Strange to think how Alexander was gone though the city kept on living, even after decimation. We built it back. Not me personally, but I watched how everyone still living came together to remake what was stolen, all that we had lost.
That’s where I first saw him.
The war may have ended but not in the hearts of Alexandrians. Even without the Mist and the way the continent opened up, the way peace found its way finally into our world, he was still a symbol of our annihilation. His flopping mage hat, his long blue coat, and that strange abysslike opacity to his skin. Everyone kept their distance and I think that’s why he wasn’t using his magic to help dig through the rubble or build. I’d never seen a mage do anything by hand, but there he was, his frail body working tirelessly to help the city he watched fall apart. He could’ve been sitting with his friend, the Queen, but he was down here in the mud and wreckage with the rest of us. He didn’t say much of anything. He would work long after everyone left for the pubs and by the time work began he had been working for hours.
That’s just the kind of person he was. And that’s why I approached him in the Morning Star Bar when he showed up.
I spent a lot of time there, truth be told. Most people did. In fact, it was one of the first places rebuilt. You know there are those who think the agrarian revolution began because we wanted to make alcohol? I can’t speak to the truth of that, but I know that wine, spirits, and ale bind us together as a civilisation. We drank a lot before the Queen returned because, I mean, it was the end of the world, yeah? We saw the gods fighting and some of them killed. When the sky opens up raining down Death, you don’t just sit around and live your life like it’ll last forever. No, we lived like every moment was the last, and we drank and fucked, screaming and fighting just hoping to keep the sky above us.
And although life was safe, the adrenaline of the apocalypse was still in us, or maybe just that the world had changed so much so fast caused us to keep living recklessly.
At any rate, when he walked in you could hear how the room silenced, how fear ran through us, running electric over our bodies. He walked to the back corner of the Morning Star alone and drank black ale in the shadows. Maybe I was just drunk enough to not give a shit what others thought or how dangerous this might have been.
I sat down across from him, my drink sloshing onto the table.
Hello, I’m Vivi, he said. His voice was higher than I expected and it sounded like he smiled. Impossible to tell, staring into the blackness of his face.
Everyone calls me Knife.
He nodded, I had a friend who went by Dagger. Here, let me get you a drink.
Vivi caught the waitress as she walked by and I order a pint of pale. I thanked Vivi, my words probably slurring out my mouth.
He sipped at his beer and said, I love this place.
He nodded, I know what people think, but it’s okay. I do love this place. I always have, and I hope I can see it returned to glory before I leave this world.
My beer arrived; the lukewarm liquid filled my stomach.
Would you like something to eat, too?
I probably should.
He laughed, a high ringing tone, I’ll get us something when she comes by next.
What’s it feel like doing magic?
He blinked and heat ran through me.
I’m sorry, I said, I didn’t, I mean, it’s not my business.
He raised a hand and giggled, No, not that. It’s just, no one’s ever asked me about magic. I know what everyone thinks and the way they look at me. To most, magic is a sign of destruction. They’re right to think that. I saw what the black mages did to the world. I fought many of them. I know what I am to everyone who looks upon me. I’m anathema, a harbinger. I’m Death incarnate. Probably millions of Alexandrians only see the Deaths of their friends and families when they see me walking by. So it’s okay.
He gulped down half of his beer, But magic. Well, it—how to describe it? It’s like something extra in the air. You know how you smell and see and hear the world? Well, magic is a shimmering glaze spread over aspects of reality, but it also doesn’t really exist anywhere. When I do magic, it’s a pulling and weaving that happens.
I must’ve been staring blankly because he just kept talking.
So, okay. You see reality as a single layer, but it’s really several. Imagine a sandwich. We all see the top layer of bread, and that’s reality as we know and experience it. Magic exists in the layers beneath. The meat, the tomatoes, the lettuce, the bottom piece of bread: that’s where magic exists. But it’s more complex than that. It’s more like a thousand threads winding and twisting beneath the surface. To perform magic, I reach down into those other layers of reality and tug on the threads. By pulling them into this reality, I’m able to make fire or ice or lightning or water or anything else. Summoners, like the Queen, can call forth the gods who live there, which is what you saw when Alexandria was destroyed. White mages and blue mages reach down into the same layers. It’s my curse that I only see the threads of destruction, and so I rarely perform magic these days. It’s not just because how afraid everyone is. It’s because there’s no place for black magic in this world of peace.
You’re amazing, I said and wished I hadn’t.
The waitress arrived and Vivi ordered us sausage, bread, and cheese. While he ordered, I sidled next to him.
Maybe it was because he was so kind and gentle and innocent. Maybe it’s because I was drinking too much and hadn’t eaten anything all day. Maybe it was because he smelt like cinder and smoke, like danger, like destruction. Or maybe it was just because I was horny and lonely and the world still felt like the apocalypse, but I wanted him.
I want you.
He choked and scooted from me, Um, what? No, it’s—we can’t.
I want to feel that blackness inside me. I want you to fill me with magic. I want to taste the Death you carry within you.
His eyes narrowed and he got out of the booth, Miss Knife, what you ask is impossible and I won’t speak to you about this anymore.
He spun to leave and I grabbed his sleeve, Please, Master Vivi, just stay and talk.
Staring at his back, tears filling my eyes that I couldn’t explain, his body quaked as if seething with that unknowable energy coursing through him. Please, just talk to me, I said.
Sitting down across from me, his eyes still thin but luminous, his voice flat, I enjoy talking but there will never be any love of that kind between us. Though I live, I’m not a man.
They say that you’re—sorry.
Dolls. I know. I’ve heard them. I’ve seen the thousands of black mages who are only dolls. Very few of us escaped the fugue of our design, and only I remain.
You seem lonely, I reached and touched his gloved hand.
He closed his eyes but didn’t take his hand away, I’ve lost a great deal and I have so little time. My friends are all so busy or gone. Zidane. I see him smiling at me still. I saw him die, but I don’t believe it. Not really. He and Kuja were so intertwined—but you don’t know who I’m talking about. I am lonely, I guess. It’s hard not to be. I’m the last of my kind, and we existed so briefly. Humans fear me, for good reason, but I live and I try to live well. When I rejoin the memories of the world, I hope to bring my brothers new sights and sounds. Mostly I hope to heal the world. I want to reverse the evil done by my kind and in our name. I want to spread happiness. I want to be warm light shining over the faces of everyone I’ve ever known or will ever see.
The food arrived and we didn’t say much after that. I don’t really remember how the food tasted though I ate almost all of it. I don’t think he actually needs to eat, and I don’t think he had to pay. We sat together for probably an hour and the more I stared at him, the hornier I got. He emanated this immense sadness crashing into me like waves. I thought it might have been magic, his power just accidentally spilling forth from his body. That beautiful blackness covering his body—the more I stared the more I realised it wasn’t his skin. No, it was like this veneer over whatever lay beneath. I was seeing only the smoke of the maelstrom but none of the flames.
He left and hugged me. I held him a long time, feeling his tiny powerful body surging into me, tasting the cinder and smoke.
He remained in Alexandria for a few months and we saw each other occasionally but we never talked again. Just greetings and goodbyes. He kept working, kept trying to help, but a quivering fear followed him, like the shadow he cast was filled with the Deaths of all we once knew.
I hope he found happiness before he stopped.