Magic is all around you. Most of you don't see it and will never see it, not without some very expensive and large scientific apparatus. It doesn't mean it doesn't exist of course, just that most people aren't equipped for it. We call it magic. I guess a scientist would call it something else.
'Equipped' you ask? Well, your average human only uses about one tenth of their brain, those who can use magic use the other nine tenths as well, which is a pretty good analogy, though not the entire truth as I was to find out later.
You might as well ask the usual, why aren't people who use magic in charge of things? Well mostly it's because they can't be arsed, though there are a few who desire it, I'll come to those later in this narrative. The other is numbers, mundane humans outnumber the magical humans by a factor of almost a hundred thousand to one, we're powerful, but not that powerful and humanity could take us down if they so desired ... assuming they knew we were there of course.
Most major monotheistic religions also have problems with what they consider to be 'magic', so we tend to hide. Admittedly we hide in plain sight, but we still hide. By the way, I'm not using mundane in a pejorative sense, simply as a way to describe those who can't use magic as we call it, to differentiate from those who can.
Do the mundane governments know about us? Well, the politicians and rulers don't, but pretty much every administration has a department or office which monitors magical users and beings; plus makes sure a few rules are kept.
Rules? The main one is 'do not use magic on ordinary people'. The second being 'do not interfere', meaning we have to grit our teeth and weep at times at the occasional horrific episodes in human history and development. There are exceptions to both rules of course, but in general we tend to stick to them or face certain consequences that I'll mention later. There are lots of others, summoning demons/angels, raising the dead, creating gold from lead (basic economics), stuff like that, but all mostly affecting the mundane world, not the magical one.
No, it's not like Harry Potter; there are no schools of magic for one thing; nor do we use wands. The powers we use are controlled by the mind and released in various ways by the way we think, not by sticks of wood with esoteric cores. Fully qualified Mages are expected to take on the occasional apprentice when they detect an untrained magic user. This is often more difficult than it sounds as one of the first things an untrained magic user will do is kill themselves, inadvertently. The evidence is all around you, tales of people just appearing in front of traffic, self-immolation and even weird heart attacks. We even suspect the occasional case of sudden infant death syndrome might cover a few cases, but we're not sure. The gift usually, though not always by any means, manifests itself at puberty. As if kids don't have enough problems. Spotting one is easy enough, they give off a kind of glow that magic users can sense with our third eye or inner eye. We try to get to them quickly before they either try to use magic in a way that will get them killed or attract something which will kill them.
It's not like the film Constantine either. Yes, there are angels and demons, (probably) a heaven and hell, though they aren't saying and will, like as not, kill you if you're stupid enough to get in the way of their eternal war, but there are also Faerie, dwarves, gnomes, goblins and all the other denizens of the old fairy tales, which if you check back were not written for children at all, but as warnings. You don't want to get on their bad side either, though with Faere, Sidhe or as some people mistakenly call them Elves, it's impossible not to. Tolkienesque they aren't. But they are spiteful, angry and bitter. They are former Lords (and Ladies) of creation with a massive inferiority complex against the various Mage Councils who won't let them play with humanity any more.
The one on my Earth is known as the Council of the Wise. They're the government of the majority of the human magic users on our Earth, such as it is. They are very powerful and secretive; they keep knowledge of the existence of magic from the mundane world and come down hard on anyone or anything trying to change this state of affairs. I work for them as an enforcer, or rather my boss does and I work for her. Other Earths have their own Mage councils, but I'll get to some of those later.
Magic? Well that's tricky. There are various kinds, and various sub-groups too, with a lot of overlapping disciplines. The words we use are only descriptive, sometimes interchangeable too. Transfiguration is magic that works on living objects; internal is on yourself; external on others, people or animals. Though you cannot easily affect what they really are; unlike spells used upon yourself. Sure you can turn people into (very large) toads, but they're still people and another Mage would know this. We do have a large team of Mages now working in the bio-medical wings of several universities, pharmaceutical companies and military research on DNA and genetics, in an effort to aid us in transformation spells. But it's complex stuff, even the changes necessary to turn someone from blonde to brunette requires an in depth knowledge that is daunting and that's the simple stuff. For instance you can transform an old person into a young looking one, but they'll still be old and die at the same time. Resetting a body clock to eternal youth is incredibly hard when you have to do it to anyone other than yourself as the number of factors involved are immense. The only reason it works on us, individually, is because our bodies do a lot of the work automatically. For anyone else, hell, it's complex (in most cases). It's also part of necromancy, as a dead body is just a changed state of living. Though bringing the dead back to life is simply gruesome, the brain breaks down after a certain amount of time and the result is ... unpleasant.
Transmutation works on inanimate objects; the classic earth, water, wind and fire if you wish. Alchemy, or potions, form a part of this and also includes elements of transfiguration.
Thaumaturgy, invokes supernatural powers, whilst its opposite twin Theurgy, invokes divine intervention and both are pretty much the purview of the established religions. Either way, you need to be a believer or follower of some god or other or the forces involved will kill you (and possibly eat your soul).
Mentalism involves control of various kinds by the mind; it includes telepathy, tele-empathy, telekinesis and precognition of a sort, more to do with calculation of odds than actually seeing the future.
Another one of our rules is 'don't mess with the time-stream' (it bites back) as the higher powers will get involved and repair the damage as well as removing you from existence.
Yes, we use charms. They're just a way to access magical energy for instant use. They're just layers of symbols that our minds can access to tap reserves. Yes, we have spell books, though a spell isn't quite what you might think it is, merely a way for words, sounds or symbols to unlock the potential of the mind, to open doors within as it were. Same with scents and potions (it's to do with the subtle tones within, not what's in them). They're just a means of focussing the mind, the better you are, the less you need them.
In essence, magic is just quantum manipulation of sub-atomic particles by mind control. The only real limits being those which we impose on ourselves by training or ignorance. It works very much on believing you can do something and then using your mind to do it; if you have the training to control the forces and energies involved. Of course, we often do what would be described as very complex things, but we don't necessarily see it like that. In the same way, you don't need to understand how the brain interprets scents; you just use your nose and know something smells of violets.
I suppose in the end it comes down to belief. If you can imagine it, believe you can do it, then you can. The only limits being what we put upon ourselves and the control we have of the power involved.
Me? My name is John, I was born in 1901 in England and I still have another 21 years to go as a journeyman Mage. That's the other good thing about magic. Get enough control and you effectively can live forever, though you are by no means immortal, there are powers and principalities out there who can kill the strongest Mage with a glance, and are best avoided. Fortunately their interests seldom cross ours, which is just as well for humanity in general.
My Boss? Well, she's Mage Morgana, and at the time of my emergence she was the head of the Department for Investigative Studies, and was the liaison for the Council of the Wise to the UK administration, as well as the European continental administrations when they weren't at war or changing from one state to another. She and the other members investigated any and all incidences of suspected magic use and abuse which fell afoul of the Norwich Accords of 1701 signed by William of Orange and his wife Mary, the reigning monarchs at the time, after the damage done to the kingdom as well as the colonies by a rogue Mage acting in his then role of Matthew Hopkins, aka the Witchfinder General. Pretty much every country has something similar to the accords, including those where Mages do not abide, even the likes of North Korea has a small office which is supposed to monitor our activities, though as far as I'm aware there are no Mages in North Korea.
I became her apprentice in 1915 after my latent talent became emergent and manifested itself in a pique of anger. I was lucky, my friends and I had been playing in the woods, the usual teen stuff of fighting the Hun just before we'd have to find real work, enlist or in my case continue my studies with an eye to extra schooling and university. My parents were upper middle class, typical of their type at the time, loyal to King and Empire and I had a fairly large family who lived in reasonable comfort. I was lucky because my talent manifested itself on a thorn bush which had trapped my jumper and left me unable to break free easily. In my frustration I turned and used my mind rather than my physical strength to make the bush splinter into fragments. Had it been another human I would probably have died from the powers I'd invoked overloading my body due to lack of control as the human tenacity for staying alive is quite strong to an immature Mage talent. It's also why female Mages make up a majority of the magical community, despite more latent male than latent female Mages becoming emergent, as a lot of males will attempt to use their minds to do violence and kill themselves in the process. Females simply scream in frustration and don't. As it was I frightened myself quite badly as my entire body seemed to be on fire and I found it difficult to breathe. My journey home turned into a nightmare too. The woods were suddenly full of all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures that definitely hadn't been there before and it was fairly obvious that now I could see them, they could also see me. In the end I raced home filled with dread and foreboding and terrified I was losing my mind, only to find a visitor sitting in the parlour next to a motionless mother and father.
"Hello, John." the Lady said. "We need to talk."
I kept looking at my mother and father, who simply sat motionless, a slight smile on their lips.
"They can't hear or see us at the moment," the Lady said. "Now sit and listen."
I sat, or was made to sit and listened as my future was spelled out to me, literally in this case.
"You're special, John," she said. "You've developed a latent talent today which few people can manage or control. It's become what we call emergent. It brings benefits and dangers and you need to come with me to train in its use."
"Talent?" I squawked.
"Magic," she said. "You can use magic."
"I can?" I replied.
Her eyes rose in a why me gesture.
"Obviously," she replied at last. "It shows all over you and you made enough 'noise' when you tried it."
I looked confused until she produced a small mirror out of thin air and showed me my face which was glowing with an inner light.
"First thing you'll need to learn is how to hide that," she stated. "There are ... people and things out there who can see that and will hate you for it and who will try to kill you for it. I can protect you and train you, but there is a price."
"Price?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied solemnly. "You'll have to leave here, never to return, otherwise your family could be used to use you or destroy you."
"Why?" I asked confused.
"There's a war going on," she finally replied. "Not the one against the Kaiser, though it's intertwined with it; but a magical war of those who want to control humanity against those who want to simply live our lives amongst them. It's been waged over the last 1400 years or so, possibly longer and shows no signs of ending yet. My side wishes nothing more than to be left to live our lives alongside humanity in peace in the hope that one day humanity will blossom fully into magical talents. The other side want to enslave humanity and live as Gods amongst them. If you won't join them, they will kill you."
"But suppose they find my family anyway?" I swallowed, feeling very fearful.
"Unless they get very lucky, they won't," she replied. "There are none in England that I know of at the moment, they are few in number and mostly in Russia, Germany and Austria, trying to worm their way into influence in those lands. It's also why from today you'll never use your surname, at least until the ties that bind have become remote."
"Is it worth it?" I finally asked.
"Oh yes," she said with a smile. "Oh yes."
"Can I say goodbye?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "But they won't remember."
"I will though," I replied.
It was incredibly hard. Mother and father were confused, but the papers the Lady had from the Home Office Ministry quieted their fears somewhat. Same with my brothers and sisters, all they were told was my country needed me.
What happened next is confusing if you've never done it or seen it done, but the Lady simply willed me out of their lives as a memory only of a child's cot death, along with memories of family photos, documents and not just those in the house, my grandparents too, along with aunts, uncles and cousins, school friends, neighbours. Anyone who knew me remembered, if they ever did, that the me in the photos was simply a distant cousin and she did it within seconds through my own thoughts and those around me, each mind's memories linking to another and sought out by the Lady, even the limited paperwork of that time was adjusted to suit. There may have been a few missed links, but not many and nothing important.
We then walked out through the front door of the house into somewhere else.
"Please sit, John," the Lady said. "My name is Morgana, you may call me Mage Morgana and I'll be your master until you complete your apprenticeship in magic."
"How long?" I replied. There was a very long pause and a stern look before I added, "Mage Morgana."
"20 years," she said matter-of-factly. "Followed by another 100 years as a journeyman in which you'll work to pay off your debt of training and build up power and an income to allow you true independence."
"120 years!" I gasped. "I won't live that long!"
"Yes, you will," she smiled. "That's one of the benefits."
I find it hard to recall the first twenty years; I spent a lot of it at what I thought was a small country Manse, training. It was mostly defensive spells and incantations, learning when to run and when to simply vanish. At the time I wasn't even sure which country the Manse was in, or even which world, though I soon realised it was our Earth. I did learn that magic operates below the sub-molecular level in the realms of quantum physics, though at the time certain of the concepts were only dimly understood. Even now we're pretty sure that there's a lot more going on that we simply just don't understand. I also learned a lot about cause and effect, as well as the laws of conservation of energy. Magic follows certain rules too; it requires energy which is either tapped from within or from our surroundings. The more powerful the spell, the more energy it takes. But the energy levels at the sub-molecular boundaries are immense. Tapping them requires training and practice. Get it wrong and you tend to fly apart in a haze of fiery atoms. Mage Morgana was a good and patient teacher and what trouble I did get into she was able to repair the damage easily. That's not to say she nurse-maided me or was particularly gentle, part of the learning process was learning the consequences of a mistake, either an error in thought or a miscalculation in focus. She kept me from killing myself and repaired me at the end of the day or week depending on how badly I was hurt. You soon learn to be damned careful if there's any chance of pain, or a great deal of pain if you get it badly wrong. Not that she was my only teacher by any means. She had her work and was often away for quite some time. At these times I was taught by various other Mages or journeymen whom I grew to know quite well, though few were from Morgana's place of work.
Morgana never spoke about her past either. I knew she was a lot older than she looked, though I was far too polite to ask. Nor did I learn too much about the history of the Mage war, save only that a small cabal led by a rogue Mage calling himself 'Elymas' was determined to rule humanity with a rod of iron. There were other leaders too, in the cabal, one currently called Gilles de Rais who took over from Djadjamahnk whom the Council captured and executed just before I became emergent and another calling himself Merlin. I guessed these weren't their real names but aliases to prevent other Mages from tracing their roots. I did know that I wanted to join the fight and it seemed that I had an aptitude for it.
After my 'apprenticeship' I settled into a post at the Department for Investigative Studies. Don't bother trying to find it on a list of government departments though; it's strictly need to know and not part of the British political establishment as it operates under a Royal Charter. I spent that time mostly getting to know a few fellow Mages and the very few ordinary people who were seconded to the Department for a strictly limited period and reading through reams of reports on the activities of magic users in the UK and abroad. Though most were not connected to the Department and tended to live transient lives. Staying in an area too long, the fact that you didn't age would be noticed. Most just followed their studies in various magical disciplines and a lot tended to be in academia or scientists, simply moving to a new job with a change in appearance every so often.
Soon enough though I knew I'd be allowed to accompany my boss on a 'real' mission.