Interactive fiction in the Old World
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Wizards are basically unsanctioned Magisters that encompass a range of disciplines and philosophies including: Hedge Magick, Druidry, Necromancy (Dhar), Dark Magick and just general non-colour specific Magick use. All of which is highly illegal and will result in being burned alive post haste if caught in the cities during a purge or by a Witch Hunter (or similar ilk). If you are familiar with the 40k setting you'll appreciate the sentiment - its basically the same as unsanctioned psychers. The difference being that not all of the Old Worlder's are backwards pig bangers and just as many 'secret' Orders of Magick exist within 'civilized' society: major cities, certain enclaves, retreats, orders of knights and religious orders of certain sorts etc. that shield, foster and educate Wizards for their own ends. There are just as many Chaos cults full of Wizards and there are a great many more, mostly the 1%, who have managed to survive, blend in and expand their knowledge and abilities with minimal contact with other practitioners. Most of whom will have their own agendas and views on Magick and its applications. These guys (and gals) will probably be possessing Very Superior Intelligence and should probably not be poked with sharp sticks.
Magisters on the other hand are the 'colour' mages and battle mages of the Empire: overt, sanctioned, quasi-acceptable. However, I don't use the silly high fantasy guff from the second edition. They are schools of magic similar to any other academic institution, only they are (barely) 'official'. Conceptually, I see them as akin to the Catholic orders and denominations in medieval Europe sans the wealth or socio-political influence. They spend most of their time trying not to rouse up resentment and tracking down and identifying human children born with aetheric sensitivity that can be indoctrinated; the rest they either try to kill or expose to be killed and they have their own very selective and subjective processes for that. The orders are always, constantly, engaged in a cold war with the religious fanatics of every denomination. Especially Sigmarites who comprise the majority of the 'Witch Hunters' and other anti 'corruption' agents and authorities. There are other organizations with militant wings that seek out and attempt to undermine, trick, betray and generally destroy exposed (or supposed) Magick users everywhere.
Magick is taboo among the common folk outside the big cities. There will usually be a village wise woman ie. your typical 'nanny' Grot etc. Hedge wizards and druids tend to be the most common expressions in illiterate or semi literate outlying rural communities. Often they will be protected by the villagers they serve from prying eyes and interlopers. This however does not make them any less vulnerable. It is not unheard of for entire villages to be put to the stake by the 'authorities' on 'suspicion' of consorting with Ruinous Powers. A default catch all charge applied to anyone the powers that be do not approve of. Additionally, there is every chance of Nanny Grot being a Chaos cultist or pawn of a Ruinous Power wittingly or un-wittingly: Chaos is insidious. In this way you can appreciate that Witch Hunters are not all 'evil' by default. A great majority believe fervently that they do honest work and, statistically speaking, most of the time they probably do contribute to the 'secret war' against Chaos. The most obviously evil/corrupt will be the easiest and most often caught after all. Their methods are ignorant and brutal but there is an element of 'order' in their reasoning.
There is good reason why Magick is viewed with hysteria and ruthlessly suppressed. Untrained, unsanctioned, aetheric lighting rods wandering around is never a good thing. I would say, honestly, the vast majority of un-sanctioned Magick practitioners e.g. Wizards, Druids, Hedges etc. will fall prey to Chaotic agents, to fanatics, or to other Magick users sooner rather than later. Or in some manner be consumed by their 'gifts' long before they become dangerous to anyone.
All of this is strongly influenced by material from Mad Alfred's site: Where Has All The Magic Gone, The Return of Elementalism & Druids and Old Faith. Which can be found here. Also the (proper old school) Warhammer short story The Spells Below by Neil Jones in which we see that it takes almost the entire conclave of Magisters in Altdorf several hours of sustained onslaught to subdue a single exceptionally competent Wizard. This is probably more indicative of the relative weakness of 'colour' magic against a fuller spectrum. No doubt exactly as Teclis intended! Man can't be trusted with 'real' Magick after all.
A note on 'Aetheric Attunement', this is not the same as Aetheric Sensitivity. The former is 'learned' the latter is 'instinctive'. That is what sets most Magisters apart from Wizards. This distinction is why Wizards are especially dangerous and actively suppressed. The reasoning is that Wizards, by virtue of their existence, must be agents of the Ruinous Powers. The fact that they don't realize it is academic.
All of the above, all Magick users, great and small, comprise less than 3% of the population. So don't picture 'Magick' as a common thing. It really isn't, at all! The vast majority of Old World dwellers will never encounter it, never hear of it and have no inkling of the Ruinous Powers. Myths, legends, stories from far off lands etc. is all they'll know. Which is why when they do hear of it, do see it and are affected by it, it is truly significant.
Finally, I think I mentioned this somewhere else already but 'Alchemy' is no great mystery. Everyone practices Alchemy every day to varying degrees. Be it the milk maid brewing a little extra beer for sale at market to any number of extremes such as a desire to transmute matter etc. There are quacks and weirdos doing all manner of 'alchemy' with varying degrees of success. Most of it is herbcraft or what we would call 'chemistry'. Parallel to our own medieval and 'new age' examples of holistic medicine etc. The difference being the raw matter of Chaos doesn't blow across our world subtly infecting, corrupting, mutating and altering everything it touches. Well, unless you happen to live real close to Chernobyl.
I am to nerds what nerds are to normal people.
THE SPELLS BELOW
by Neil Jones
Katarina Kraeber strolled through the streets of Waldenhof. Early morning sunlight slanted in over the close-crowded rooftops; the air was full of the smell of freshly baked bread. Around her, townsfolk were already going about their business, calling out the occasional greeting to one another. Katarina felt relaxed and happy: she was on her way to her lessons in wizardry.
Above her, mounted on a high gable, she saw a gilded weathervane clearly outlined against the blue summer sky. The spells that Anton Freiwald - and her father before him - had taught her came whispering into her mind.
A glance up and down the street showed her that no-one was looking in her direction. Lifting one slim hand, her brown eyes intent on the weathervane, she began to murmur the words of a spell.
Very slowly, the weathervane began to turn, moving counter to the breeze that was stirring the morning air. It completed one full turn, and then began to pick up speed, creaking as it did so.
A plump merchant stopped directly across the street from Katarina. He looked upwards, frowning, then peered suspiciously at Katarina. Her blue tunic, hose and cap clearly marked her out as an apprentice of the Wizard's Guild.
Katarina broke the spell at once and continued on down the street, her easy mood gone, replaced now by a sense of unease. Wizardry was legal in Waldenhof but both Anton and her father had warned her about the need to be circumspect. Ordinary folk feared magic, often with good reason.
As she hurried on through the streets, she sensed that the mood of the townsfolk around her had begun to change, too. Some of them were exchanging words and glances, as if there were something going on that she was not aware of.
She turned the corner into Ostgardstrasse and, looking down it to where it opened onto the expanse of Sigmarplatz, she saw the steel helms of soldiers. A feeling of alarm went through her as sharp and as sudden as a knife-blade.
She pushed her way through the crowd that was beginning to gather and found herself behind two burly soldiers. Beyond them, there were hundreds more already in the square. Sunlight glittered off their weapons and armour. The banner of Waldenhof's Graf, Jurgen von Stolzing, fluttered in the breeze.
The soldiers were drawn up into an arc that went around three sides of the square and stretched into Zoffstrasse on her left and Merzbahn on her right. The row of elegant four-storey mansions directly opposite her was surrounded. And in the centre of that row, its red-lacquered door and shuttered windows gleaming against grey stone, was the residence of Anton Freiwald.
Anton, Katarina thought, remembering. When her father had died in debt and there had been no-one she could turn to, it had been Anton who had come to offer her his help. Recognizing her talent, he had made her his apprentice. And then later, when her respect and gratitude had been joined by other, stronger feelings - of attraction, affection - they had become lovers.
Now Anton was the one in trouble and it was her turn to help him.
Taking a chance that everyone's attention would be focused on the square, Katarina cast a simple garrulity-spell upon the two soldiers immediately in front of her. One promptly leaned towards the other and muttered: "Remember, the Graf said to take him alive. There's a reward in it for us if we do."
"It's secrets they're after," the second man whispered back. "Dark magic secrets. They want to put him to the question. But it's a waste of time. Everyone knows you can't torture anything out of a dark magician."
"What's it matter so long as we get paid?"
The squat bulk of a siege engine came into view, rumbling slowly forward across the cobbles. Following behind it were people that she recognized - all members of the Wizard's Guild. With alarm, she saw that there were dozens of them, wizards of every level, from all of the various colleges. Hastily, Katarina allowed her spell to fade, hoping it had not been detected.
As the wizards gathered together in the square immediately in front of her, a brazier was set up beside the siege engine. Strange odours began to rise from it, spicing the morning air.
The house seemed a hundred miles away but she knew she had to get across Sigmarplatz to it and quickly. Her only chance was to slip past the soldiers and then make a run for it. The thought of it terrified her - but there was no alternative, not if she was going to help Anton. And she would have to do it now, before the Graf began his assault.
She took a slow, deep breath. Then another, searching for calm. She took a step forward - and a hand closed on her arm.
"Now," a cold voice said, "what sort of wizardling have we here?"
Held by an iron-hard grip, she looked up into a dark-bearded face she recognized: Gerhard Lehner, Magister of the Wizards' Guild - and Anton Freiwald's bitterest rival.
Two soldiers moved in to take hold of her arms. They marched her forward and a moment later she was standing before a tall, richly dressed figure: Graf Jurgen von Stolzing himself.
"What's going on?" he demanded, his gaze moving from Lehner to Katarina.
"A little surreptious spell-casting, my lord Graf," replied Lehner. He raised his hand in a deprecatory gesture. "Fortunately, very little indeed."
The Graf stared at Katarina, suspicion gleaming in his pale blue eyes. "Who are you?"
"Allow me to introduce you," said Lehner. He reached out to knock Katarina's blue apprentice's cap to the ground. Her hair shook free. "This is fraulein Katarina Kraeber, apprentice"-he lingered faintly over the word - "to Anton Freiwald."
The Graf inspected her coldly, took in the brown hair, cut neatly at the jawline, the high-cheekboned face, the green eyes. "So," he said. "Another acolyte of Chaos?"
"Quite likely, Graf," replied Lehner.
Chaos. The full extent of the charges against Anton came home to her. No wonder they had come for him with such overwhelming force.
Then her name finally registered with the Graf. "Kraeber?"
"Yes, my lord. Her late father was Joachim Kraeber, of my own guild. Her grandfather - "
"Yes, yes," said the Graf. "I remember the family."
"They gave you loyal service my lord," said Katarina, seizing her chance to speak. "As I - "
"What were you trying to do?" demanded the Graf, his thin face drawn into tight lines. "Tell me, or you'll be made to."
Katarina's eyes went to the mansion, impossibly distant across the square. "My duty. Only that."
"Your duty? As a citizen of Waldenhof - or as a servant of the dark magician, Anton Freiwald?"
"My lord," protested Katarina, "don't believe Magister Lehner. He's jealous of Anton's talent, his spells, his - "
"Spells?" said the Graf sharply. "What do you know of them?"
Immediately, Katarina became guarded; Anton had warned her to say nothing of his research. "Only the ones he has taught me," she answered after a moment. "Those proper to an apprentice."
"I think she knows much more than she's telling us, my lord," put in Lehner. "Best she be put to the question."
"Yes," agreed the Graf. "Alongside her master." He swung around to face the house. "It's time we flushed that Chaos devil out." He gestured to Lehner. "Begin."
Lehner stepped confidently forward until he was standing before the brazier. He lifted both arms into the air, his lips began to move - and then a voice was booming out over the cobbled expanse of the square. A human voice, the voice of Gerhard Lehner, but magically amplified. It echoed across the tiled roofs around them, out across the whole city of Waldenhof. "Anton Freiwald. You are charged with practicing dark magic. Surrender! In the name of Jurgen von Stolzing, Graf of Waldenhof."
An expectant hush fell over the crowd. Moments passed. There was no response from the house. The Graf looked towards the siege engine, and brought his hand down in a decisive gesture. The command to fire rang out across the square. Wood and leather creaked, and then a massive stone was whistling through the air.
The stone arced across the square, towards the house. Abruptly, there was a sound like water being poured onto white-hot coals - and rainbow light exploded around it.
A massed gasp of astonishment went up from everyone in the square, hands were raised against the glare. The light began to dim and the stone became visible once again. It was absolutely still, hanging suspended in mid-air.
For a few seconds longer it remained there. Then it dropped to the ground and shattered against the cobbles. The shield, Katarina thought with sudden hope. The shield of spell-power that Anton had talked of. Somehow he had managed to get it operating in time.
"Gerhard," said the Graf in a hushed voice. "Have we come too late?"
"Perhaps, my lord," replied Lehner in a whisper. He looked shaken. "Or perhaps only just in time."
The grip on Katarina's arms had slackened. The two soldiers who held her had given all their attention to the stone, and were still staring at the shards scattered across the cobbles.
With a sudden effort, Katarina wrenched herself free of them. As she ran forward, hands grabbed at her. She struck out at them, dodged from side to side.
Then she was out onto the open square, running towards the house.
From behind there were shouts to halt. She ignored them. An arrow flew past her on the left. It sparked against the invisible wall across the square and fell to the ground, all its energy spent.
Katarina ran on, calling out the words of a warding-spell, praying that she had remembered it correctly. Then the air around her was bristling with arrows. Her boots thudded on the cobbles. Sigmarplatz had never seemed so vast.
She sensed magic stirring behind her, knew that Lehner and the others were spell-casting at her back. Then rainbow light was shimmering around her. She had reached the safety of the shield.
Her movements slowed; it felt as if she were moving underwater. Safe now, she told herself. Almost home. All you have to do is keep moving. She could feel Anton's magic flowing through her, protecting her.
Then her eyes snapped shut as the light around her brightened to a blinding intensity. It sounded as if a host of daemons were screeching at her. She tried to put her hands to her ears but they moved with dreamlike slowness.
Something had struck the shield. Not a rock this time - something magical, she realized. A spell. Lehner and the rest of the Guild. All those wizards - of every level - acting together. Creating a combined spell of tremendous force, designed to tear the shield apart.
Magical energy surged through her body as the two spells - shield-wall and shield-breaker - clashed. Too much raw magic, coming at her much too quickly. Anton could have weathered it easily, she knew. But despite his coaching, she was still so very inexperienced, barely out of the apprentice stage.
For a moment, she stood there, twitching like a fly freshly caught in a spiderweb, her feet rooted to the ground. Then she remembered Anton's strength-spell, brought his voice into her mind, heard him reciting it to her once again.
She took a single step forward - and stepped fully into the sanctuary of the shield. As she stumbled across the remaining distance, she looked back over her shoulder. Light licked at the shield: gold, blue, crimson, jade. But the shield was holding.
The red-lacquered door opened and two men wearing leather and chain mail darted out: Anton's hired Kislevan guards. As they pulled her roughly inside, she saw the other three Kislevans waiting in the hallway, their braided yellow hair hanging down across their shoulders. They had their weapons drawn. Katarina was surprised that they had all remained loyal.
The door to Anton's study opened and then the wizard was standing in front of her. His dark hair hung loose to his shoulders, framing his broad, surprisingly youthful face. He was wearing an elaborately decorated robe; inscribed upon the chest was his personal symbol, based on the Great Wheel of magic itself. Each of its eight spokes was a different colour, representing the eight colours of the magical flux. The wheel's rim was comprised of bands of the same colours, each in their proper station.
"Katarina," the wizard called out angrily. "What in Taal's name did you think you were doing?"
Still trying to catch her breath, she said, "I came to warn you, Anton. You can't surrender. They mean to torture you."
"I already knew that," he said, but his voice had softened.
A diminutive figure, even smaller than a Halfling, appeared behind Anton, one bony hand clutching at the wizard's robe: Anton's familiar. Despite its physical approximation to humanity, the look of its pale coarse-grained flesh gave it a rough, unfinished appearance. It glared up at Katarina with its red-rimmed eyes, its lips parting in a snarl.
Katarina looked quickly away from the creature, feeling the instinctive revulsion she had never been able to rid herself of.
"Anton," she said. "They think you've turned to Chaos."
"What?" he responded, clearly astonished. "They think that - and still they want to steal my knowledge?"
The captain of the Kislevans called to them. Peering through the shutters, they could see that the Grafs troops had begun to move out across the square, were advancing on the house. Spell-light sheened their weapons.
"Will the shield stop them?" asked Katarina.
"Not for long. Not with the whole of the Guild out there to help them. But it should slow them down."
Katarina shuddered, remembering her own struggle to pass through it.
Anton was looking around at his handful of mercenaries. "Men," he called out, his voice vibrant. "The Graf is sending his soldiers against me. But I can stop them. All I need is a little time to charge my spell to its fullest strength."
"You can stop them?" echoed Katarina in wonder.
"Yes," Anton said levelly, his eyes on the mercenaries. "But I will need time."
"My lord," the Kislevan captain protested, in heavily-accented Reikspiel, "there are hundreds of them."
"When they try to pass through the shield they'll be vulnerable," said Anton.
The man's seamed face was full of doubt. "We'll try, of course, but - "
Anton raised his hands, murmured something Katarina could not catch. The air around his fingertips quivered with the force of his spell. The mercenaries straightened, as if sudden new resolve had come into them. "My lord," the captain said. "We'll hold them." His eyes were shining.
A loyalty-spell, Katarina realized. Anton had placed a loyalty-spell upon his Kislevans and now he had raised its strength to the limit. That Anton had used such a spell disturbed her. It seemed - wrong. But then she recalled the forces arrayed against him and knew that he had simply had no choice.
Anton turned away, went down the hall to an oaken door, and slid a key into the lock. The door opened soundlessly, revealing a stone stairway that spiralled downwards into darkness. It led to the lowest level of the house, the level that held Anton's laboratory.
"Let me come with you," Katarina called out. "Perhaps I can help." In all the time she had known him he had never allowed her - or anyone else - to enter his laboratory.
Anton stared at her, as if he were trying to reach some sort of decision. The familiar gave an impatient tug at his robe, staring balefully at Katarina. "No," the wizard said finally. "It's best you stay here."
When she started to protest, he lifted her hand to his lips, kissed it briefly. "This once, Katarina, obey me."
She touched the back of her other hand to his shaven cheek; the slight roughness - and the sharp male scent of him - felt reassuring. "Of course. Good luck."
A glowing ball of light rose from his hand and preceded him down the stairway. The familiar scuttled after him. The door swung shut behind them and the lock snicked into place.
There was a noise from above, as if one of the shutters in one of the upstairs rooms had opened. Katarina looked up to see a shadow detach itself from a darkened side-door on the landing. It glided soundlessly towards the balustrade, a movement that was so swift and silent that it was as if the shadow was drifting through her mind rather than the house, as if she was dreaming its brief prescence.
Instinctively, she turned to block the door Anton had taken.
The shadow-shape leapt from the balustrade and landed lightly in front of her. It stood there for a moment, regarding her; a tall muscular man-shape, clothed in black, eyes gleaming at her out of a dark mask. And on one sleeve the scorpion symbol of Khaine, god of murder.
An assassin. If Anton Freiwald could not be taken alive then the Graf wanted to be very sure of his death.
On the man's waist Katarina saw an amulet that bore the Guild's insignia. To one with her training, it practically writhed with spell-charge. Already it had brought the assassin this far - through the shield and past Anton's other warding spells. If enough of the wizards had poured enough of their power into it - then perhaps it might be strong enough to take him safely down to the laboratory itself.
"Stand aside," the assassin said. "My contract is for your master's life, not yours."
"You mean Anton Freiwald, the wizard?" Katarina said quickly. "But he's outside. With the guards."
The assassin's eyes shifted to the side for a fraction of a second and, taking her chance, Katarina sprang at him, both hands clenched, aiming low.
The assassin twisted easily aside and, tripping Katarina as she went past him, sent her toppling to the floor. Shaken but unhurt, Katarina got quickly back to her feet but the assassin was gone - and the door to the lower level hung open.
She shouted down into the spiral stairway, but her voice was lost in the gloom. She tried again, calling out as loudly as she could, but again the darkness absorbed her words, like a sponge soaking up drops of water.
There was no torch to light her way and she was afraid. Afraid of the spells that guarded the place, afraid of what was down there. But Anton Freiwald - her protector, her lover - was in danger. She stepped forward.
With her foot poised above the first step, she heard a voice - Anton's. "Back," the voice said sternly. "This level is forbidden to all."
For a moment, she thought he was coming back up the stairs. But then she realized it was merely the taboo-spell speaking in her mind. The first of Anton's barriers. She could feel its magical pressure in her head.
"Anton, I'm trying to help you," she protested. She tried to move her foot. But the muscles in her legs had locked. No matter how hard she tried, they wouldn't move.
Katarina strained again and again to take that first step, to break through the spell, but it was as if the lower half of her body was paralyzed. The harder she tried, the louder the voice in her head became, commanding, threatening, until it was a shout echoing inside her skull. She lifted her hands to her ears, trying to shut it out. It rose in volume, became a thunderous roar, blotting out thought.
Swaying on her feet, eyes tightly closed, she summoned her own image of Anton. The lean, muscular body; the grey eyes, the long silken hair. His lips were on hers, his arms around her. She could feel the warmth of him against her.
The love she felt for him was as bright and sharp in her mind as a knife-blade. It brought her the strength she needed to break through the spell, the strength to disobey him.
The cold chilled through the sole of her boot as she placed it on the first step. The wizard's voice dropped, until it was only a shout once again. Then, a second step, a third. All she could hear now was a shrill whisper.
She continued downwards. As she passed the first turn in the stairs, the voice faded completely.
Below her, the darkness stirred. From out of it, a small questing head appeared, attached to a long serpentine neck. Its teeth were bared and its yellow eyes glowed like tiny amber coals. The head regarded her for a moment. Then it began moving steadily up towards her.
Katarina halted, but did not retreat. The stairs were the only way down to Anton's laboratory. She had to get past this creature. She knew what it was; Anton had talked to her of his defences. It was not a living creature, but a reflection of her own inner fears, given shape - but not substance - by Anton's spell. It could kill her, but only through terror of her own making.
Knowing what it was, she told herself firmly, would be enough. She could pass it. Shutting her eyes, she put her foot onto the next step.
There was a hiss of rage and the scrabbling of claws on stone. An acrid stench drifted up to her nostrils. The sound of laboured breathing was amplified by the narrowness of the stairway.
Down the stairs she went, not stopping, knowing that if she did she was lost, feeling her way, her hands on the cold, clammy stone. At any moment she kept expecting to feel that small mouth on her body. But the creature was only her own fear given form. She held that knowledge in her mind like a talisman as she descended.
The air grew chill. She had lost count of the turns now. Her feet and hands were becoming numb from cold. The stairway seemed to go on forever.
Abruptly, one foot jarred on stone that was well above where the next step should have been. She stepped forward, knowing she had reached the bottom.
There was a scraping sound and something brushed against her leg. Then she felt a sudden sharp pain as teeth closed on her ankle. Her heart seemed to stop and her eyes came open.
A little light seeped down the stairway behind her, enough to dimly illuminate the narrow corridor that led to the single door: the entrance to Anton's laboratory. She saw the mind-monster staring at her. But it was far away at the end of the long corridor, coiled in front of the door. Its outline had lost definition, and the colour had leached out of its yellow eyes. As she watched, it finally faded out altogether, blending back into the darkness it had come from.
Katarina's mouth was dust-dry. Her breathing was coming in short, shallow gasps. That bite had felt so real that her ankle still throbbed. Looking down, she saw something small and pallid moving at her feet; its eyes glittered in the dim light.
The familiar. She kicked at the creature and it scuttled away on hands and feet, finally halting at the far end of the corridor, beyond the door to the laboratory, well out of her reach.
In the gloom it was barely visible, but the faint reflections from its eyes told her that it was staring back at her. Faintly, in the quiet, she could hear its breathing.
Drops of blood smeared her hand as she bent and massaged her ankle. The creature repelled her. Even the thought of its touch filled her with disgust. It was an homunculus, created by Anton in his laboratory to serve as his familiar. Despite its vaguely human form, it was little more intelligent than an animal. It must have attacked her simply because she had descended to this forbidden level. Normally it never left its master's side. Had it been driven outside the laboratory when the assassin attacked?
Moving cautiously, trying to keep one eye on the door and the other on the familiar, Katarina made her way down the corridor.
Additional light seeped out from around the door frame - but the room beyond the thick wooden door seemed silent. All Katarina could hear was her own laboured breathing and an occasional muted sound from the familiar.
The stillness was shattered abruptly: a scream rang out, coming from within the laboratory. Katarina stood there, held rigid by the sound. It was the wizard's voice. And full of such rage and pain.
Images of Anton injured - even dead or dying - filled her mind. For an instant longer, she remained motionless. Then, as the scream ended, she sprang to the door. Anton might be fighting for his life. She had to get inside.
She put one hand on the massive bronze door knob; it was icy cold to the touch. She tried to turn it, first one way and then the other. It would not move. And the knob felt as if it were slightly warmer now, almost the same temperature as her body.
Using both hands this time, she tried again. Still the knob would not turn. Katarina could sense that it was resisting her pressure and its temperature was definitely increasing now: already it was unpleasantly hot. Her palms and fingers were beginning to hurt.
Calling out the words of an open-spell, she exerted all her strength. Still the knob was immovable. The heat rose, the pain in her hands was much greater now, it felt as if the skin were burning. Somehow she forced herself to hold on to the knob, straining to turn it, knowing that the only important thing was to get inside the laboratory, to help Anton.
The pain continued to worsen. But when she looked down at her hands, half expecting to see the skin burnt, and saw to her astonishment that they were unmarked, she knew.
Once again, she brought Anton's image back into her mind and held it there. The pain wasn't real, she told herself. Only the door was real.
Anton's spell held for a moment longer, then the knob gave an almost human groan and slowly, reluctantly, the door swung open.
The room beyond gleamed with light. A ring of skulls was revolving slowly in the centre of the chamber. Each one floated in the air, suspended only by magic, its jaws opening and closing at intervals as if chanting a spell, but no sound emerged. The eye sockets were giving out a soft, bone-white radiance.
Katarina stared at the turning skulls for a moment, both horrified and fascinated. As they slowly swung past her, she found herself counting them: there were five.
Once Anton had spoken to her of the source of his great magic - he had talked of a mechanism, a reservoir - that allowed him to accumulate magical energy, to use whenever he needed. Was this grisly assemblage of skulls Anton's secret? Could this be what powered his spells?
Chaos magic? No, she decided. Not Anton Freiwald. He was of the Rainbow College and was willing to use any and all of the colours of the magical spectrum. But not the undivided black of Chaos.
Then the memory of the scream finally returned to her and she called out, "Anton?"
There was no answer. Neither the wizard nor the assassin was in sight. Nothing moved except the skulls. The whole room was silent. The shifting light from the eye-sockets reflected off the contents of jars and vials that lined the left-hand wall, producing shafts of rainbow light. A faint sulphurous odour hung in the air.
Across the room from her, half hidden behind a curtain, a door stood ajar. Beyond, she could see cold stone. A tunnel, leading out of the chamber, perhaps to the city above. Had Anton taken it, perhaps pursued by the assassin?
She stepped forward and almost immediately she saw a face. It was staring towards her from the opposite side of the room. Again, she called out. She recognized the features now; they were Anton's. But another step closer and she realized it was only a portrait of the wizard hanging on the far wall.
Then, further to her right, half-hidden by shadow, she saw a dark shape sprawled in front of a wall lined with bookshelves. A human shape.
Katarina took a step towards the body. Anton? No, it was a man, but dressed completely in black: The assassin.
His eyes stared up at her through a fine grey mesh that covered his face. The lines were drawn so tightly that they had cut into the skin beneath. The man's hands were clutching at the mesh in what must have been a last desperate attempt to rip it off.
When she heard the noise behind her she whirled around but it was only the familiar. It stood in the doorway for a moment, sniffing the air, its eyes searching. Then it ran forward on its thin legs and disappeared behind the large oaken desk on the other side of the room.
Katarina approached cautiously and peered over the desk at the creature. The familiar was squatting on a body. Anton's body. Katarina knew the face immediately, even though the features were contorted by rage and pain. He was dead; a slim black-hilted dagger was buried in his heart. His robe and the brocaded carpet beneath it were soaked in blood.
But Katarina's grief was buried by disgust for what the familiar was doing. The creature was bent over the body, its thin hands clutching at Anton's tunic, its tiny mouth at the wizard's throat.
Filled with loathing, Katarina reached for something - anything - to throw at it. As her fingers closed on a flask that stood on the wizard's desk, the familiar raised its head, flicked a glance at her, and bared its teeth in a snarl. Its lips were smeared with blood.
She hurled the flask with all her strength, and it struck the familiar on the side of its head. The creature toppled off Anton's body to sprawl, limp and bleeding, beside its master.
Breathing hard, tears streaming down her face, Katarina stared down at Anton then, and waited for her grief to overwhelm her. Nothing mattered any more. He was dead. How could she go on living without him?
The feeling that finally came was a ghost of the grief she had expected. Its lack of intensity astonished her. Anton Freiwald, the man she loved, the man who had meant more than her own life to her, was dead. Why did she only feel - regret?
Shocked, she turned to her memories, in search of something that would inspire some deeper feeling. Trying to remember the gratitude she had felt for him, the respect, the loyalty, the love.
Memories came, but they were blurred, wavering, as if reflected off moving water. Her father's death, the debts she could not pay. And then Anton offering her his protection. Gratitude. She knew she should feel gratitude. And yet...
As she struggled to make everything come clear, something broke in her mind - rainbow light shimmered in the corners of her vision for a second and then was gone.
A spell, she realized. Someone had used a spell on her. Someone? - Anton. He had clamped a magic shackle around her mind.
Her memories came into focus - to be seen from a stark new perspective. Her talent for magic was great, as her father had told her often enough. Anton had seen an opportunity to harness that talent for himself. He had come to her when she was vulnerable and put the shackle in place. All the lessons with him, the magic he had taught her, had been simply so that he might use her more effectively.
Feelings burst up from deep within her and churned through her mind. There was rage and hate and bitterness - and a sense of violation.
She had been his slave. Only that. Love him? How could she ever have believed that she had loved him? What she had felt in his arms had been a forgery. The memory of his hands on her body brought the taste of bile to her mouth.
"All the gods damn you, Anton!" she cried out. Her hands clenched, she stood above Anton Freiwald's body, not touching it - unwilling to - but wanting to strike it, to hurt the wizard as he had hurt her. Tears slid down her cheeks. She almost wanted him to live again so that she could kill him, and this time watch him die. Almost.
Then, a new thought came: Free. She was free. Her mind was her own again, her body hers and hers alone. A feeling of joy went through her, grew until it was almost dizzying in its intensity. Free, she told herself again. And she was going to stay that way.
A glance at the ring of skulls and her new exhilaration faded. It was slowing, its light fading. Anton was dead, and his spells were dying with him. When the skulls stopped completely, the spell-shield above would fail - and Gerhard Lehner would lead the Grafs soldiers down to the laboratory. All she could expect from them was torture and - eventually - death.
Swinging around, she found the tunnel that led away into darkness. The air that wafted out of it was dank and icy cold. It looked very old - perhaps it had been carved by Dwarven engineers in the days of Waldenhof's founding.
Anton had never intended to fight, Katarina knew then, only to escape. This tunnel was his secret escape route. Now it would be hers.
She started towards the tunnel - and then halted. Anton had told her of his grimoire, a listing of all the spells he had mastered, from every branch of the art, and drawing upon all the magic colours. It was somewhere here, Katarina was sure. If she could find it and take it with her, then she could continue her studies and - slowly, patiently - master the spells Anton had never intended to teach her.
The bookshelves that lined the right-hand wall from top to bottom and wall to wall caught her eye. Once she would have been fascinated by the wealth of knowledge the wizard had accumulated here, could have spent hours raptly studying them. Now she thought only of the grimoire. Books tumbled to the floor as she hunted for it. The grimoire was not among them.
The drawers of the desk came open easily. Inside were papers bearing magical signs and script in Anton's precise hand. But again no sign of the grimoire.
The skulls were barely moving now, their light a dim glow. At any moment they would stop completely. Anton had hidden the grimoire too well. Perhaps she should run while she still had the chance.
No. She had suffered too much. It had to be somewhere down here and she would find it. Then her eyes chanced to return to the portrait on the wall and she felt a sudden sharp certainty.
"Come no further!" a voice called out as she took a step towards it.
The voice froze her, her fear returning in a sudden rush. She wanted to turn, to look at the wizard's dead body. But her eyes were still on the portrait. Its thin lips were moving, its dark eyes flashing. "Come no closer, intruder. Or you die."
The words were coming from the portrait. Another spell. But the face was expressionless, the voice flat, as if the effort of animation was now too great for it.
"All the gods damn you, wizard," she said, hating him, and reached for the portrait.
Dust rose from the thick, patterned carpet to sting her face and arms. She screwed her eyes shut and brushed at it furiously. Something drifted down onto her head and shoulders from the ceiling. Her eyes flicked open again. A spider's web. It settled on her and began to tighten. She put both hands up to it to pull it away. Its silken strands had the strength of steel. They tightened further, biting into her flesh. She couldn't breathe!
An image of the assassin's masked face came into her mind, the mesh that had killed him tight around it. Choking, she pulled again at the web, this time in desperation. One of its strands parted, with a sharp twang. Then, one by one, others followed. Katarina sucked in air through her mouth and, a moment later, she ripped the thing from her face and flung it onto the carpet. It writhed there for a time, like some dying grey insect, the dust drifting back down to the ground around it.
Katarina massaged her face and neck for a moment, knowing that if Anton's power had not almost completely drained from his spell, if only a little more of his strength had remained in it, she would be dead now.
Stepping up to the portrait, she took it carefully in both hands. "Beware..." the wizard's voice intoned as she lifted it away from the wall. Behind it was a small round hatch, bearing Anton's rainbow wheel symbol.
"Intruder," the portrait was droning at her. She smashed it against the wall, heard the frame splinter, the canvas rip. She broke off a piece of the frame, letting the rest drop onto the floor, and began trying to prize the hatch open. At the same time, she called out spell-words, commanding it to unseal. When it wouldn't move, she beat at it with the wood, hitting it again and again, as hard as she could, imagining it was Anton she was striking.
Abruptly, the hatch flew open with the same groan of despair that the door to the laboratory had made. Inside, an arm's length away, was a book. It was bound in leather and embossed with the rainbow-wheel: the grimoire.
Transferring the piece of the frame to her left hand, she reached into the vault with her right. Her fingers found the book.
The vault grew teeth along its rim, then closed on her arm with a snap. She screamed. As the vault gnashed at her, her vision blurred and she felt as if she would pass out from the pain. A shard of canvas was whispering from the carpet, "Beware. Come no further."
She beat at the vault with the bar of wood in her hand, then stabbed at it with the splintered end. Finally, when she felt as if she had no more strength left, the vault opened fractionally and, with an agonized cry, she managed to wrench her arm free.
As she stared at the blood, expecting to find her limb half-severed, she saw with surprise that the cuts the teeth had made were only superficial. Then that spell, too, had been almost exhausted.
But, most of all, she was amazed to find that in her hand she held the grimoire of Anton Freiwald.
The book was hers, and so was its knowledge. Nothing would stop her now. Laughing, feeling much as she did when Anton had made her drink too much wine, she clutched the grimoire to her as if she had already mastered its many secrets, had already become a wizard of the highest level.
The canvas fragment on the carpet whispered: "Beware." Again she laughed, but her eyes moved to the ring of skulls.
Stories had been whispered of Anton Freiwald in the taverns and the market-place, stories she had shut her mind to. Now they came back to her. Stories of him moving from city to city across the Old World, through the years. How many cities? How many years? And - darker rumours of a death in each of those places: Anton's death.
The skulls swung around in their stately decaying orbit, their jaws moving in unison, as if they were telling her the answers to her questions in a language she could not understand. The skulls - there were five of them.
As Katarina watched, the ring of skulls began to spin faster and faster, its light brightening. A silken shivering went up and down her spine. Slowly, drawn by a fear that she could not have put a name to, her eyes dropped to Anton's body.
It was still lying in the same position, the knife buried in its chest. But it was shrivelled, fleshless. The skin was intact, but now it was only a parchment-thin covering hanging loosely over the wizard's bones, like the abandoned skin of a snake.
The familiar was gone from beside the body.
At that moment, a pale hand appeared from the other side of the oaken desk and clutched at its edge. It flexed there a moment, trying to secure its grip.
Then, a second hand followed. After a moment, a head came into view, and then the rest of the body was rising on the other side of the desk, swaying unsteadily. It was the familiar - Katarina knew it by the chalky complexion of the skin, the coarse features of the face - but its body was now man-size.
Its flesh was moving - rippling and twitching, as if still trying to settle itself into its new shape. The mouth opened but no sound came out. The grey eyes glistened, not quite focused.
As she stared at it, the face began to change, moulding itself into a new image. The lips thinned, the cheekbones came into prominence, eyebrows bristled into view.
Katarina took a step backwards, towards the tunnel, and her booted foot brushed against the husk of Anton's body. Bones scraped together, but she did not look down.
The creature's eyes were shifting, searching for the source of the noise. They slid past her, then swung back to focus on her.
"Katarina," the half-formed thing said, in a slow, slurred whisper. "What are you doing here?" The eyes regarded her with vague surprise at first. Then, as they moved to the book in her hand, understanding came into them, understanding and a cold anger. "So."
The creature reached out with one pale hand. "My grimoire. Give it to me."
Staring into those grey eyes, Katarina found herself starting to obey out of sheer force of habit. Then the hate for the wizard that she had discovered inside herself returned with almost sickening force. She shook her head. "No, Morr damn you."
The creature's jaw slid down in surprise. "My slave-spell. You've broken it!" The protean features shifted; the expression was unrecognizable. Then, an almost affectionate malevolence came into its eyes: they were wholly Anton's now. "But it will only take me a moment to replace it."
The creature gestured at her. A nimbus of rainbow light left its fingertips and drifted through the air towards her. Her eyes followed it, hypnotized, unable to pull away. The light blossomed as it neared her, its colours opening out like the petals of some iridescent flower: gold, jade, blue, grey, amethyst, crimson, amber, white. The eight colours of magic.
They splashed onto her eyeballs, soaked softly through them and into her mind. They shimmered and sparkled there, and then began to crystallize into a familiar pattern: an eight-spoked wheel.
"No!" She remembered it now, had lived with it inside her head. "Not again!"
Her reaction was instinctive. As the wheel began to spin within her, to grip her mind in its familiar embrace, she visualized her hands clenched inside her own mind, and hit out at it with all her strength.
The colours pulsed.
Sigmar give me strength, she thought, and struck again. This time a crack appeared. Another blow. More cracks. She hit the wheel again and again, until there was a webwork of fractures patterning the rainbow form. She smashed at it a final time, imagining the hammer of Sigmar in her hands. The wheel shattered into a thousand pieces.
"Katarina!" the creature said in surprise. "My little Katarina. But so strong now. It's hard to believe. To break my slave-spell a second time." The voice dropped. "That's dangerous."
It stumbled forward, its movements still not fully coordinated. Before she could draw back, it reached out with surprising speed and grasped her right wrist.
The contact sent a wave of disgust through her body; its skin was clammy, the smell that came off it not quite human. She tried to wrench her arm free, but the grip was too strong.
With its free hand it reached out for the spell-book. Half-turning, she flung the book behind her. The creature made a barely articulate cry of rage, and struck her in the face. Then, wrapping its free arm around her, it used its strength and weight to force her to the ground. As she went down onto the carpet, she felt her head bump against the wizard's skin-draped skeleton.
The man-thing put its rubbery lips to her ear. "Pain, Katarina," it commanded. "Pain." The words sank into her mind as if they had been arrows. Her nerves were suddenly alight. Every part of her body had been put to the torch. She screamed.
"A sample, Katarina, of what I could teach you if only we had a little time to ourselves again." The voice in her ear was a hoarse murmur, unmistakably Anton's. "All the magic you could ever wish to learn about."
In desperation, the pain threatening to wipe out all rational thought, her eyes rolled upwards, towards the city above.
"No," the creature whispered as it shifted on top of her. "There's no help there. My Kislevans will fight on until they die."
It reached for something behind her, tugged at it, grunting with the effort, until it came free, then brought it forward so that she could see it. It was the skull from Anton's body.
The creature's head came back into her field of vision; its eyes were glossy. "Death." It shuddered. Then, slowly, its features contorted into a caricature of a smile. "The Graf and those Guild bumpkins thought that it would stop me. Instead, it has given me one more component to add to my ring of power."
The skull rose from the creature's hand, beginning to glow as it did so, and floated across the room towards the ghostly chandelier of skulls, its jaw already moving in the same soundless chant.
Through the agony that was burning its way through her body she heard the creature continue. "With six skulls I can charge it to a new level of strength, an order of magnitude greater than was possible before."
Surely, Katarina thought in desperation, this new addition would disturb the delicate balance of the structure. If it would only distract Anton, for as much as a second, then she might have a chance.
The skull joined the ring, the others shifting smoothly to make a place for it. At once the glow from the eye-sockets sharpened, and the jaws began to move with even greater vigour.
"Not Chaos, Katarina," the creature whispered. "That is a snare - the fool's road to destruction. No, my path is slower, spread across many lifetimes. My magic is merely a little darker-hued than most." It leaned closer again, whispered confidentially into her ear. "The skulls will come with me, of course. To a new city, a new life. I wish I could take you too, Katarina. But - your talent makes that too dangerous. No, I'll have to kill you. But quickly. I promise you that. First, though - my grimoire."
The creature reached out for the book. As its attention left her, the pain diminished fractionally. Her right hand was trapped, still held in the creature's grasp. With her left, she fumbled for something - anything - to strike at it with.
Her fingers found the body behind her head and felt along the soft fabric of the wizard's robe; the outline of the skeleton stood out plainly beneath it. Then they touched something sharp-edged: the assassin's blade.
Her hand reached for the hilt. Too far. She stretched her arm as much as she could. Still could not grasp it.
As the creature's pale hand closed on the book, Katarina closed her eyes, murmured the words of a fetch-spell. The knife slid free with a scrape of steel against bone, rose into the air, spun slowly around. Then drifted towards her extended hand.
The creature had the grimoire now, was grunting in satisfaction.
Katarina's hand closed around the hilt. She brought the knife up above the man-thing on top of her and, jerking her right hand free with a sudden effort, clasped the knife in both hands.
As the creature swivelled its head back towards her, she brought the blade down with all her strength, driving it into the creature's back.
"No," the man-thing called out, furious, as the blade pierced it. Its eyes glittered, brimming with anger but empty of pain, as if the half-formed body still lacked the capacity to feel any. It swung the grimoire at her like a club, and its empty hand came around to fend off the knife. The lips moved again, chanting the pain-spell.
Katarina shut her mind to the pain. It was not real, she would not allow herself to feel it. Nothing was real to her but her rage and her hate. Those feelings - and the knife she held in her hand.
Katarina wrenched it free, raised it, brought it down again, sensing it sink into the body above her. Then another time, and another, repeating the cycle over and over, ignoring the pain burning at the edges of her personal universe, the hands clutching at her arms.
"No." Suddenly there was fear in the voice. And Katarina knew why: This time there was no homunculus prepared and waiting to take up the wizard's life. This time there would be no resurrection.
"Die, gods damn you! Die!" Again and again she struck, until she had lost count of the number of times she had driven the blade into the creature's body, until her hands were sticky with its blood. Its arms thrashed feebly; the mouth opened and closed,but no further sound came out.
Finally, long after the creature had stopped moving, Katarina pushed its body off her and got to her feet. The ring of skulls was slowing once again, its light dwindling. Breathing hard, her tunic ripped, and streaked with blood and dust, she stared down at the body on the floor.
It was quite dead. And this death, she thought with grim satisfaction, was the wizard's final one.
With the grimoire in one hand and the dagger in the other, Katarina Kraeber went into the tunnel that led upwards to freedom.
I am to nerds what nerds are to normal people.
Just read your notes on my character sheet again - all fine - but please could you clarify 'Aethyric Sensitivity' by me again - so when I am sucked screaming in to the fetid pits of chaos I(or at least my OOC)understands why?
I made this up, because I wanted you to be potent (but clueless) and far more likely to explode at random. At least until such a time as you get some schooling (of any sort, good bad or ugly) or move in to another career etc. I made all this sorcery stuff up based on early Warhammer, when it was a bit more Forgotten Realms like. That said, in fairness, it is a long established convention: the idea of natural born wizards vs book learned ones. And how dangerous they are etc. Just wanted to bring it over to this setting.
On reflection, I kinda hoisted this on you. Not all Hedge Wizards are natural born Sorcerers obviously (I really need to start using Sorcerer because its confusing calling them Wizards isn't it). You can just be a rogue magick user like all the others if you want. It won't make it any more likely that you will not be burned alive, but it will make it less likely to happen accidentally or soon. Given Betta's age, she's well past the point of return when it comes to the Magisters anyway. The fact she has made it to 29, actually, would suggest she has either been repressing her talents for some time or hasn't been in the big stink very long. Up to you ..
I have understood this talent as;
+20% on my channelling test;
+20% on a magic sense test;
Yes, exactly it. Betta has a natural (think Jedi), instinctive sensitivity to the Winds. She might not conceptualize it as remotely like that of course. She might see colours, auras, experience smells, visual/auditory hallucinations or other bizarre supernatural phenomenon. She can fairly effortlessly channel and probably enjoys it, feels a thrill pinching and containing the energies. Depending on how you see her personality of course. As a 'Wizard' she has never had formal training, only the advice of her grandmother. Who herself only had the advice of whoever tutored her etc. I like to think of it as people who develop a way of doing something by subconsciously picking up on the under-current; feelings, inflection, momentum, seeing the symmetry in things. Like an autistic child and arguably, also, it is very Zen in it's own somewhat perilous fashion. To formalize, rote learn, moralise, objectify, constrain, transcribe and/or give abstract concepts primacy as a way to rationalize something that 'just is', well, is just utterly incomprehensible to Sorcerers. They can of course, adapt to this and some do, but they will never be 'limited' by it and its what makes them so dangerous. Few that are indoctrinated in to the Colour Colleges survive the process unless they are caught very, very young.
'+ 1d10 TZC' - Am I then rolling 3d10 every time I try to cast (ie - 1 for cast, 1 hedge magic + 1 extra for 'Aethyric Sensitivity')? Or is it just 2d10 with the extra hedge magic die being the same as the AS die?
I may be mistaken, but if you have 1 MP you get 1d10 for casting rolls and then you add +1, +2 for ingredients/channeling to that roll. You don't add extra dice. Hedge Magic does not give you an additional d10 as far as I can tell. Hedge is just petty magic without the formal term. Are you using the WFRP2e rules or MadAffred's stuff?
So for Betta, right now, with 1 MP you would add 1d10 even though you only have 1 MP. The extra comes from your innate ability/sensitivity as a Sorcerer. I determined you are subject to Tzeentch's Curse, even though in rules terms, you aren't because you aren't using Arcane Magick. That's because your sensitivity, your instinctive understanding of magick, means you are already operating on that level (just not in that fashion). Even without the awareness of it. Again, this is what is so dangerous about Sorcerers. You're freaks, arguably Chaos tainted/corrupted by implication of simply existing. At least that's the official line. The greatest human Sorceror that ever lived would probably be Nagash. If you've read about his early contact with magick and how he managed to overcome thousand year old dark elves in a matter of weeks from first contact suggests he must have been a latent Sorceror.
'+ 20% Detected Using Magic' - Is this that anyone looking/ sensing for magic use gains a +20% perception test against me - do you need to have magic sense to perceive magic use or can anyone have ago?
Nope anyone can. It is situational though. Common folk don't know what the hell magick is anymore; for most pulling rabits out of hats is Darkness Personified if the Church of Sigmar tells them so. It seems likely, then, that they're only likely to respond with extra aggression if they perceive Betta as a witch or shape shifting changeling daemon ravager in their midst. Unless of course, they're yokels or grew up around a village wise man or woman who healed the sick and made tooth aches go away. Most of which would have been alchemical relief, but some would know it was always a little more than that. That doesn't mean they aren't going to be pathologically opposed to it, or religious fanatics etc. Even if their own family has the Wyrd in the gene pool.
I'd say for gameplay purposes, be circumspect and sparing in your application - but in character terms, you probably won't very successfully hide what you are in such a densely populated area for very long. It isn't a vocation for you, its literally what you are. A cold-blooded character, bent on survival at all costs, like some kind of TV serial killer, would probably determine that anyone who'd seen too much would have to go. Down a hole. Fast. I leave it up to you how to handle, or mishandle, this going forward. :-)
Magick users, or any with Sensitivity or Attunement, will know instantly that you are a practitioner. It might, however, take them a moment or two to realize that you aren't practicing the way they've been taught. Which, taken in isolation, is nothing exceptional: there are orders within orders within orders. Overt, covert, subvert. The one universal thing is that all Magisters know about Sorcerers, Wizards, Witches, Shamans (w/e word you care to apply) and all but the most arrogant know they are not all slobbering agents of Chaos. The thing is, anyone can learn Arcane or Divine or Dark magick. Literally anyone. Its even easier if they hear the whisperings and receive the blessings of Dark Masters. Otherwise, its just study and application.
The world is full of rogue magick users of every kind. Just because the Empire says magick is only for Colour Magisters, doesn't mean a thing in The Border Princes, Tilea, Estalia, Bretonnia, Arabay etc. Teclis never visited them! Each culture will have its own conventions. Necromancy for example, being familiar with the history of Nagash, you'll know that predates Colour magick, which was itself designed by Teclis purely as a way to contain and limit human magick use. The individual Winds are not inherently evil, per se, no more so than the divine magick of Morr or Manann etc. Its just that humans are too short lived, too corruptible and too egocentric - in the purview of the Elves - to be trusted with them. He's probably right! Anyway: its just not allowed. Or taught. Because Teclis said so and anyone who disagrees with Teclis, disagrees with the Word of Sigmar's Successors. And anyone who disagrees with the Word of Sigmar (even the ones His Holy Church dream up) is, by and large, burned alive.
Another thing to bear in mind is that the Colleges of Magic were only founded by Teclis approximately 200 years ago after the Second Great Chaos Incursion (which really should be on the timeline derp!). So there exists within the Old World a dual and complex culture of hysteria and confusion about magick. On the one hand there is the Imperial Authority that says one thing, even though blatantly revisionist, and backs that up with ruthless brutality, and on the other there are the collective memories of a thousand or more years of traditional magick use within the lands of the Empire. The New Way is not novel or fresh, being five or more generations at least since it was implemented, but its still fighting to impose its ideaology on the commons. This is mostly being achieved by religious subversion and promoting hysterical and often irrational terrors and intolerance as piety. Especially in the vast rural provinces. If you can imagine the hold the Catholic Church had on people's imaginations for two thousand years - and they didn't even have real Chaos horrors to point to as evidence of their 'infallible truth'. In short: Magick is taboo now, is ruthlessly suppressed and ritualized and contained. But it wasn't always thus!
Here's an excerpt from MadAlfred's spin on it:
By the time of Emperor Boris Goldgatherer, the lack of quality (patrician) individuals seeking to enter the religious ranks in the Empire forced the cults to actively recruit from among the offspring of the less affluent classes. The Empire’s religious leaders knew of the Emperor’s lust for money and suggested that he could seize their considerable wealth for his own coffers by simply denouncing sorcery as heresy. Those accused would then need to forfeit their assets to the Imperial state in order to prove their “innocence,” while any found guilty were executed. Many wizards were slaughtered or fled the country in the resulting oppression. A small number went underground to form secret societies so they could continue their arcane studies. These brave souls were able to avoid discovery long enough for the Black Plague to sweep away the Emperor and the hypocritical High Priests of the powerful religious cults.
It was not until the Age of Wars that some of the Wizards were able to come out of hiding in the Empire and find their services valued once again.
In other parts of the Old World, wizardry was also put to the test. The collapse of order in Estalia and Tilea following the Black Plague in the early 12th century and the Arabian crusade in 16th century created harsh conditions for most wizards. The influence of the unforgiving cult of Solkan (centred in Remas) and the existence of extreme Verenan cults in Estalia were not quite as devastating as the later events in the Empire.
An incident in 20th century Middenheim triggered the eight years long Wizard’s War (from 1983 to 1991 I.C). Fear of the growing number of necromancers and daemonologists erupted into the violent suppression of sorcery that made the deprivation of Emperor Boris pale in comparison. Large numbers of wizards were hunted down and slaughtered like rabid animals on nothing more than a suspicion that they were practicing dark magic. Those who escaped the carnage took on new identities and careers in faraway places much like their predecessors in the 12th century. This time, the Witch Hunters were even more relentless, heeding the call to arms by the leaders of the cults of Mórr, Sigmar, and Ulric.
Much of the lore of wizardry was forever lost as a result of the war against wizards. Some wizards buried their grimoires and enchanted items in secret places in the vain hope of recovering these again in the near future. In addition, the cult of Verena undertook the dangerous task of recovering all it could of the wizard’s books and scrolls in order to place these in its secret libraries before the other cults of the Empire could burn them. Official Imperial history was largely re-written to expunge all references to sorcery and its role in serving the Empire in its glorious past.
When Magnus called forth the power of the Empire to fight against the Chaos incursion of 2302 I.C., the surviving wizardry orders did not step forward, unlike the naive and self-taught Hedge wizards who did. Many of the secret societies of wizards fought the Chaos enemies in a ferocious and unrelenting secret war. Having learned from history, these wizards had no intent to fight in the open and expose themselves to further suppression.
After the war, Emperor Magnus requested the services of Teclis to train Colour Magic to the most talented Hedgewizards in the land. Many of the hidden wizards realised that the Elven Mage had the power to expose them in his search for worthy apprentices. They fled to the safety of Tilea and remote parts of the Empire until the Elf had his students. In small numbers, wizards slowly returned to the Empire in the years after Teclis opened the Colour Colleges in Altdorf, satisfied that his attention was occupied by his new charges and desire to return to Ulthuan.
Unlike the situation in the Empire, wizards are able to work openly in the southern Old World as well as Marienburg. There are laws that restrict the actual use of magic in many urban areas, but licenses are easily obtained and there is little fear of widespread efforts to crush them out of existence.
The only important thing to bear in mind is that Betta is a rarity in that she was born with her third eye open. Nobody has ever had to teach her how to channel the Winds. She just can: she doesn't see only Amber, or Red etc. Apart from being a rogue magick practitioner, as above, she's also a natural born Sorcerer. That's the Aethyric Sensitivity bit I've added in. Maybe one of her ancestors was a refugee, a hideout, from the purges. Maybe she's just the latest in a long line in her family with the Sorcerous gift.
Anyway: Only someone else like her would likely spot that distinction and as far as the authorities are concerned, if you aren't a card carrying Magister or protected by an organization with clout, you're an agent of the Ruinous Powers regardless of how much of a rarity and you will be hunted down and destroyed.
Also re: your concerns about exploding. You don't have to use all your MP d10's when trying to cast. You will always have to roll the additional dice forced upon you by Sensitivity (so that's minimum 2), but if you gain additional MP in the future, you can always choose not to roll any number of those additional dice when trying to cast. Don't forget you have 3 fate points and can always buy more.
Magick is a maligned but imho very fun way to play this game: you decide how you manage the risk. How critical is it to cast at that moment? Are you using magick where brute force could be applied instead? How much will you invest in making it succeed etc. I'm going to speculate that a lot of Wizards will have either acolytes or henchmen aplenty to compensate for their shortcomings in this area.
BTW: Since I am just mind farting this guff, please anyone, feel free to suggest its dumb/bad or w/e. I'm totally open to re-thinking it. :-) Especially if it can be made more fun!
I am to nerds what nerds are to normal people.