Oh, I didn’t really choose my name. I know many young magi do, as their first act of independence. They stand with their new robe and hold up their shiny sigil before the Tribunal and say “I am called Maximus Magnus!” and we laugh, or politely sigh and then after a few years they discover a vocation and choose a better name. My name was given to me by my master, and my own foolishness.
There was a shriek, and cold that reached through my eyes, and my master struck me, hard, from the side, and sent me sprawling into his laboratory equipment. I was, if only for a moment, free of myself, looking down at the scene of wreckage. A small boy, with the beginning of the gangliness of adolescence, lying in a pool of silver liquid that smelled of blood and straw. I could see the glazed look on my face. I could see the thing in the corner, gloating and chattering in its circle.
I had been incautious: my foot had crossed the barrier of chalk and salt. Given the profound effect this tiny moment of carelessness was to have on my life, it used to annoy me that I could not explain it better. I was a child and did not take seriously my master’s injunctions to caution? I had know her. I suppose that was it.
She had been a maid in our service, killed in one of those accidents so common in castle kitchens. She had been kind to the scrawny boy with the terrifying master. A bread roll here and a slice of cheese there. She was not my friend, but she was nice to me, in the petty ways available to her.
Snobbery also, I assume. I knew that ghosts are kept in the world by unfinished business that burns within them, holding back Death itself. The stronger their passions, the brighter they burn. They are stronger, but wilder, and less a person that an instrument of final obsession. I was a little boy, proud to be swept into the magical aristocracy. I didn’t believe that a simple maid could have business so important as to generate a powerful spectre. I thought that kings and saints and wizards were what really mattered. I didn’t understand that, for her, whatever her business was, it was the most important thing in all the world. The thing to cling to life for. The thing that made trying to steal my body obvious, and possible.
My master did not allow it. Toxophilius made the briefest gesture and his power rose, as always, in dark tangles of force. She was thrown from the world, her business never to be completed. Her scream as she vanished made it seem to me that she understood this. As she dwindled I saw again through my own eyes, and felt the pain where the shards of a retort had cut through the sleeve of my white robe.
I used to touch those tiny white scars, whenever I felt nervous. I recall doing it all the time, so much so that one of the other apprentices used to tap her arm to greet me from a distance. Yes, Achlys.
My master was not, initially, alarmed. After he discovered that the incident had seriously harmed my Gift, his disappointment was quickly hidden. His other apprentices had continued the great necromatic tradition of the House. Now he, the wise Toxophilus, would produce an apprentice who was not a necromancer. His colleagues would be shocked and amazed, and not know that, shamefully, I was unable to command the dead.
In that moment of attempted possession, I had the most intimate instant of my life. There are other intimacies, certainly, in which magicians indulge, but for me, there was never another moment like that one, in which the edges of my mind, and those of another, we so closely combined. I found it then, and I find the mere idea of it now, profoundly unsettling. I had nothing but my pride at the time, and this threat to my selfhood felt very like oblivion, like being assassinated or eaten. I do not want someone to know me that completely ever again.
The Arts of the Mind have always disgusted me. I was incapable of commanding the dead after my accident, but even the living are, by my choice, beyond my power. I have never learned the spells to command them. The idea that I might stretch out my mind and brush it upon another’s, to make them do my will, is nauseating. Other Houses suggest ours is so committed to self-control because we are militant, but they do not understand the Art of the Mind. It is the ability to control the minds of others that forces discipline on us. It is a corrupting magic, a vice, that cannot be indulged whimsically.
When a person is utterly under your control, as is so often the simplest way in the Art, then what sort of monster might you become? Not merely the crass sexual conquests dreamt of by peasant boys with their fairground bottles of red clay and fennel. Not merely the ability to force victims to forget your crimes, of whatever type. A master of the Art of the Mind can read the innermost etchings on the heart. How worse a nakedness this is than that of the revived corpse, or the bewitched maiden. I have felt the joy of the thing which was pouring into my eyes. I have seen the joy on the faces of my brothers and their children. I cannot abide it, and so have never learned its words.
So that is perhaps is where I started. My sigil changed. My master changed my name, now that I could not follow the tradition of our foremothers and rule the shades. He called me Mirarius, which might mean “the impossible thing”, and was an excellent name for an illusionist. It might instead mean “the one who sees his reflection”, and I think that was his real intent. I liked my new name, and kept it after my graduation to magus. They didn’t start calling me “Magister” until decades later, until after the War.