About two years ago, I wrote a short story, when I was asked why anyone would actually like vancian magic for DnD, to explain how it worked from an IC perspective, the way I saw it. Then it was lost somewhere on my old computer. Now, the discussion came up again, and I decided to try and rewrite it. Warning: my english is far from perfect, and I think my style might be quite lacking from time to time, as is my vocabulary. But I'll try.
Torrak trembled with excitement. For the first time the Arch-Inquisitor Skeldrad had taken the young priest with him on a quest. To eliminate a sorcerer who lived in a nearby tower.
Of course, the order had nearly eliminated all vile magicians in the War of Steel and Fire, many centuries ago. But some always survived. Like this man. He smiled as he glanced at the hooded figure on the horse before him, holding the lantern with the holy fire in it's hand. The Sorcerer would be cleansed today.
The journey had been difficult, of course. If the Sorcerer had lived in inhabited territory, the order would have exterminated the threat years ago. The snow, the mountains, the storms: no danger could stop the righteous on their path. Or the dozen soldiers who followed them. Priests of the order were no fools.
At least the dark shadow of the tower rose before them, piercing the dark sky of this moonless night. The holy scriptures were very definite on this: a moonless night was crucial when killing a Sorcerer.
They didn't even try to sneak up on the tower. Instead, the soldiers took the portable battering ram and smashed down the oaken doors of the tower. The blows of the ram echoed through the night, but no sound greeted them from inside the tower.
"The Sorcerer is afraid of facing us.", said Skeldrad. The arch-inquisitor was smiling. "Nevertheless, an inquisitor is never unprepared. Let us begin the incantations of truth and purity."
When the soldiers had taken down the ancient door, the two inquisitors had already finished the incantations. They knew, no magic could touch them, when they entered the silent tower.
The Sorcerer was not hiding. Nor did he seem particularily affraid. He stood there, in the main hall, dressed not in robes of arcane might, but in simple, linen clothes, trousers and shirt, not unlike those worn by any peasant. His grey beard was cut short, his head completely bald, his hands empty. In fact,he could almost be mistaken for a normal, old man. Almost. His eyes gave him away quite clearly: in the light of the arch-inquisitors lantern, they were grey as the ice outside, and just as cold.
"Inquisitor. You have come to kill me. No further words are necessary."
He made the tiniest step backward. Something clicked beneath his foot and the floor under the inquisitors and their soldiers retracted lightning-quick, revealing only blackness. With a wet splash, Skeldrad and his soldiers vanished in the darkness below.
Not Torrak, though. He had lunged forward and managed to grab the ledge of the pit, now holding on to it with his fingers.
"You are quicker than you look, youngling.", said the sorcerer, leaning forward.
"Do not taunt me, Sorcerer!", replied the young priest, his voice filled with hatred.
"Sorcerer?", said the old man with a grim smile. "Interesting. I imagine that quite a few wizards would have killed you just for calling them by that name. Of course, you don't even know why."
He leaned forward and grabbed Torrak by the wrist.
"Because Wizards despise Sorcerers. They inherited their magic in their blood, passed down from dragons, fiends and fey. They play around with the forces in their blood, without understanding them.
Your little order didn't even have to kill them. They managed that quite nicely themselves. Magic always claims those who use it foolishly."
He pulled Torrak upwards, over the edge of the pit.
"Do not try anything stupid. It would help neither of us. I would not kill you, of course. Killing is a waste of resources I can still use. And resources? Well, that is what magic is all about.
Your order fears us Wizards. That fear is, of course, justified. But you don't fear us for the correct reasons. You think that what you should fear is the power of Magic. And anyone should fear that power."
Now, Torrak could grab the cobblestones and pull himself over the edge. He was lying on the floor, gasping.
"But it's not the power you should fear. As Sorcerers so nicely demostrated, the power is open to almost everyone. What you should fear is the will of the wizard. The will to bind magic. The will to shape it into spells that bend the laws of this feeble reality. Bend it to the will of the mage. And the will to resist the call of magic.
Magic is everywhere. In every object, every creature, every element of reality. And that is were it's greatest danger lies: it is infinite. Many a sorcerer transformed himself into ab ugly stain in the landscape because he couldn't stop. To them, magic came as easily as breathing. They waved their hands and it happened.
A wizard, however, understands magic. We don't just wave our hands and let the magic flow. No. We imprison it. We force a tiny droplet of the infinite sea of magic into our minds. We take the raw force of creation and mold it, forge it, sculpt it. We give it the form of a spell.
We wizards use books, and wands, and rings. We study our spells every morning. Not because we don't remember them. Every word and every gesture of every spell I ever cast is forever burnt into my mind. No. Because even the mind of the wizard can not contain magic. It contains spells. Every morning I take this force, hack it into tiny pieces and shove them into my brains.
Of course, magic does not like it. In every waking moment, I can feel it. The spells are trapped inside me, and they want to be released. They howl and scream and cry and try to break my sanity so they can be released, rejoin the primal force that spawned them. And when I cast them, I feel the cosmos rejoice, I feel how the strained fabric of reality relaxes just a little bit.
Casting magic is not difficult. A sorcerer can do it. Not casting it is the difficult part. Not calling and binding more of it than you can handle. Not casting spells at every opportunity. Do you know why I live in an old tower, high on a mountain instead of a castle, surrounded by summoned servants? Do you know why I didn't just reduce you and your pitiful colleagues to ash when I saw you? I could do all these things. It would not even be hard.
But the amount of spells I can cast is limited. A wizard runs out of magic fast... so fast. A spell is only used when no other option is available. I built this tower with my own hands. I imprisoned the inquisitor with my bare hands. Because I could do it without magic.
And still... I can not stop. Once you have tasted magic, you will bind it. Every day. And you will need more of it. It's a curse more than a blessing. You spend your live in ancient crypts and dusty libraries, reading scrolls that fall to dust if you breathe on them. And it still is not enough. You make endless plans to assassinate other wizards, to take their magic from them. You forge pacts with fiends and fairies, only for the ability to bind more magic. And still, your will and sanity is the only thing that holds everything together."
Suddenly the Wizard stopped his tirade and turned around to Torrak who had just stood up.
"Do you know why I tell you all this? Perhaps because I like to hear myself talking? Because I'm mad and like to gloat before I kill you? No. I'm as sane as any man in the world, and perhaps more so.
I tell you because you need to know. I am old and I will die. But Wizardry must live on. Because someday your order will vanish. And then people will remember the ancient forces of magic. They will try to cast spells. But without wizards they will not know how to do it. When to stop, how much to call. And that is why one like me has to survive. Take this."
He took a small book out of his shirt. It did not look extraordinary, about a hundred pages, bound in old, cracked brown leather.
"This is your spellbook. It is bound to you and only you can use it. You will not be able to get rid of it in any way. Because soon, you will not even want to. Magic will claim you, because I want it to. And you will survive, like I did. Now go. If we see each other again, one of us will die. Because we will both be wizards, hungry for the others magic."
He shoved the young priest out of the door, into the snow and walked back inside. Torrak was alone out in the cold. He knew he should destroy the book. Burn it in the holy fire. But surely, a glance inside would not hurt...