The somewhat presumptuously named Mages Guild of Marsten chose to meet in the back room of a place called the Blind Spirit. The prevailing joke was that the spirits served were strong enough - and cheap enough - they might well blind you. This had never actually happened, so far as anyone knew. Except for Sarrus, during his younger years, but that had been because he'd tried casting a spell while blind drunk in the figurative sense. The resulting backlash from an incorrect incantation had rendered it literal but, luckily, not permanent.
Sarrus was, at the moment, the semi-official head of the Mage's Guild. The organization (such as it was) hadn't stood on ceremony in so long that nobody really remembered - or particularly cared - what the rules were regarding leadership. But Sarrus did a decent job, and nobody else really wanted it, so they let him carry on. He watched as his fellow mages wandered into the room, drinks in hand. They looked, he thought, like some sort of half-assed secret society. The kind that donned not so subtle robes and cloaks and got together to drink and devise clever and convoluted plans, only to end up doing more drinking than plotting; and most of them ended up not remembering half the night anyway.
Unfortunately, it was a fairly apt description. Most of the time these meetings ended up with them all grumbling about days gone by, and why those coming up couldn't be more like the ones back behind them. Sarrus shook his head and took a fortifying drink from his own mug. He knew why, of course. Magic just wasn't as relevant as it used to be. Technology was taking over. To do magic you had to spend a long time learning the craft. It was a real endeavor. Technology? Once somebody built it for you, it was there, always.
The Gods weren't payed much attention either, and it was hard to say which had started to wane first. Both the Gods and magic were inexorably linked. Back in those days they reminisced about many priests had also been mages, and it was commonly said a mage's power sprang from their patron god. Slowly but surely something had gone wrong... worship of the Gods fell away, and the number of people able or willing to use magic did the same.
The last of the Mages Guild settled into their chair, and Sarrus did a headcount. It was more depressing than it had been last time. With Old Moby in the hands of the Gods their number was down to eight. No, that wasn't right... he did another count, noting faces as well as bodies. Lucan was here, so were Dasker and Ganner. Volker had shown up, though he remained aloof at a table of his own. Elias, still alive by some miracle in his old age, had managed to come. Gilead sat next to him, keeping a concerned eye on his elderly companion. There was Sarrus himself, of course, which left...
Ah, of course. "Good evening everyone," he said in a somber, gravely voice. "Thank you for coming," he added sincerely, "It's good to see you all again." There was a chorus of agreement. "Before we get started, does anyone know where Olian is?"
"Probably still working on that project for the Watch," Lucan spoke up as he settled in. The assembled mages grumbled under their collective breath at the mention of it. Olian's contract with the Watch was somewhat envied, mostly because it made him one of the better known mages in the city. Nothing like being associated with the glamor and reputation of the Watch to boost one's reputation. And it was usually said that he'd gotten the job simply because his own mentor had held the contract originally. Not that anybody said it very loudly. Or when Olian was within earshot.
"What project?" Dasker wanted to know. He peered at Lucan over his mug, eyebrows raised in curiosity.
"They've got him looking into something strange," Lucan told them. "He wanted Old Moby's books on magical symbology a few nights ago. Called me up on my crystal in the middle of the night, but wouldn't give me any details. Just that someone in the city was into something peculiar, and he had to find out what they were up to."
"I've heard," Ganner spoke up, "that those murders have some sort of arcane symbols attached to them." He shifted his weight in the chair. "Prince Konrad's had me on retainer, you recall? I was up at his estate and heard a couple of the Watch guardsmen talking. Apparently they copy everything down and then clean it all up, so nobody knows. I've been curious about it, but never got around to asking. I bet that's what he's doing." He illustrated his point with a wag of the finger.
"That's why he didn't tell Lucan anything," Dasker said. "Didn't want us having a look and taking it to the Watch if we found out before he did. Could hurt his reputation."
"I would never," Lucan countered. Dasker shrugged.
"It's not like we couldn't just order him to hand it over," a smooth voice quipped from the back of the room. Everybody paused to look at the back of the room, wher they found Volker leaning his chair back on two legs. "What?" He asked, taking a quick glance behind himself. He, like Olian, worked odd jobs as a freelance mage. Unlike Olian, or any of the other mages in the guild, he'd taken the idea of magic as a business quite seriously. This idea had led him to develop contacts with other businesses in and around Marsten, providing them with magical services they might find useful. Magical candles, for example, which were crystals affixed to rods and enchanted to produce light. No fire danger, no messy wax, and they lasted far longer than normal candles. Until the enchantment wore off, anyway, at which point Volker earned another pocket full of money. It wasn't much on it's own, but that combined with a half dozen other small services allowed him to make a decent living for himself.
"Order him to hand it over?" Lucan scoffed at Volker's suggestion.
"Sure," Volker replied. "Why not? We're a guild, aren't we? The Mages Guild, aye? I had a look at the original charter a little while ago. We've got - and this is signed by the original princes, you know - we've got authority over all magical practitioners and affairs within the city. So." He held up a hand, palm up, as if inviting them to finish the suggestion themselves.
"Elias?" Sarrus asked. He gave a questioning look at the oldest mage present. The man's eyes were narrowed to slits thanks to his bad vision, but his hearing was just fine. As was his mind. Elias had long been known for his perfect memory, and as he aged there had never been any sign of that changing.
Slowly, almost ponderously, Elias drew in a breath. "I recall," he said in an airy voice, "Yes. Volker is correct. Though why we would want to..." he stopped, slowly drawing in another breath, "... is beyond me."
"You can't just order a mage to do something," Ganner objected. "Especially not to hand over research he doesn't want to!"
"Enough," Sarrus cut into the argument before it got any further. "Nobody's ordering anybody to do anything." He waved a hand, dismissing the issue. "And that's not why we're here, anyway." He stood from his chair and looked them over. "You've all heard about this fair Her Ladyship is putting together. The one that's brought all those damn technologists to town." There were somber nods all around the room, and Sarrus sighed. "It's just another sign of the times, my friends. Magic, and those who practice it, are increasingly irrelevant."
"Nonsense," Dasker objected, "Magic is part of the very fabric of the world."
Sarrus held up a placating hand. "Yes. It is. But that won't stop people from ignoring it. What we need is a way to keep up. A way to work ourselves, and magic, into this new world. Before it passes us by." He fixed his gaze on Volker as he continued. "Selling utility spells and basic enchantments will only get us so far. Eventually, they'll find a way to replace those with some technological bauble as well."
"It's true," Gilead agreed somberly. "I've heard them say it on the streets. It's a goal of theirs... everything magic can do, they say they'll find a way to do the same with technology. If not now, then in years, or decades. But they'll do it. And I believe they will."
Volker shifted uncomfortably in his seat, but didn't say anything. "So the question," Sarrus asked, "Is what do we do about it?"