The Antimage's Cottage

Far off in the Elysian Plains, where the green hills roll peacefully and small streams babble between them, there is an old millhouse. It has weathered stone walls which warm easily in the sun, and keep out the damp when it rains. Inside, it smells like cut wood and old books. All the furniture in the house is handmade. It sits squat next to a shallow creek, where small shining fish jump out of the water and feast upon the pollinating insects which lazily drift over the adjacent meadow. There is a garden out back, lovingly tended. There are stone steps out front, well-worn.

Inside this house lives a man. He could be anyone’s grandfather, or perhaps a favorite great-uncle. He is just starting to move into old age, and his eyes crinkle kindly around the edges when he smiles, which is often. His beard is snow-white and smartly cut, and his hands are strong and calloused. He owns a fine black cat named Bartholomew. He is quite a talented painter, as well as an excellent craftsman. For all intents and purposes, his existence is idyllic, and he is content. He spends his days tending his garden, reading his books, and painting the fields which surround him. He is perhaps the most powerful antimage in existence, and the eighth-most dangerous man on the continent.

By all logical metrics, the existence of John Barefield Hawkins, Antimage, should be impossible. Antimagic should be impossible. More than impossible, it should be completely absurd. “Magic” is a concept, a natural phenomenon, a field of study. It’s so ephemeral and broadly definable it can’t possibly have an opposite. Saying “antimagic” is like saying “antiphysics” or “antihistory”. Most wizards have resolved to simply pretend that antimagic doesn’t exist, and their lives are better off for it. Even wrapping your head around the concept of Antimagic requires several higher degrees in thaumaturgical theory, a cocktail of exotic personality disorders, and in some cases chemically induced ego death. Trying to actively study it is even worse. Very little is known or understood about it, and every time there appears to be a discernible pattern, something will change in an unexpected way and everything will go to shit. Experts are unsure if this is because the properties of Antimagic are constantly changing, or because studying antimagic too closely causes the fundamental laws of the universe to retroactively shift. Both possibilities are extremely concerning.

The small and politically incestuous field of antimagic study only has one universally agreed upon law, fittingly named Hawkin's Law. Hawkin’s law is as follows: in a bubble surrounding John Hawkins, magic stops working. No one has been able to pin down a more concrete definition of “bubble” or “stops working”, so it will have to do for now.

Hawkin’s Law was discovered by Cygus Vrewix, a wizard whose house shared a wall with John’s. For months, Vrewix was plagued by uncanny bad luck as his experiments would fail simultaneously, dramatically, catastrophically, and completely at random. He watched as the fundamental laws of thaumaturgy seemed to unwrite themselves in front of him, and had torn out half his beard over it before discovering the source. Fearing the worst, Vrewix alerted his fellow wizards, who alerted their fellow wizards, who alerted the heads of the great wizarding schools, who wasted no time promptly flying into a panic.

Worried that John could bring any of the great schools to their knees with his abilities, there was a unanimous agreement to keep him in the dark about his powers completely, and to quarantine him somewhere remote where they could keep an eye on him until he died. A fake story was concocted about an inheritance from a distant uncle, which came with it the deed to an old millhouse. John would be allowed to claim the house, on the condition that he never leave the town it was in. John happily accepted this without question, and moved there within the week. A team of researchers were dispatched to live in secret and study what effects (if any) he had on the town and its people. And as an added measure, a team of assassins with non-magical but still very well-made swords were sent to patrol the town border, with orders to keep john from ever stepping over the county line.

Of course, John is completely ignorant about all this, as is everyone else in the town. That was over thirty years ago, and he has yet to ever try and leave. He’s really quite happy there.

However, in all this, the schools forgot to account for one thing: John may be simple, but he’s not stupid. He knows that people aren’t just suddenly given houses on the condition that they live the perfect pastoral life and never, ever leave. He’s noticed how magical objects seem to break whenever he’s around, and how magical animals avoid him. The school thinks he knows next to nothing about antimagic, but in reality he knows almost everything they do, and a good deal more. One of the things they don’t know is that he can concentrate the effect. Most of the time it’s temporary, but with some effort, he can make it permanent. Another thing is that his power doesn’t just counteract magic, it consumes it. The more magic goes in, the more powerful he gets.

He’s also had a lot of time to think about life, and the universe. Thirty years is a long time to figure things out. And one of the things he’s figured out is that there’s no real clearly-defined barrier between magic and non-magic. Who’s to say that gravity isn’t magic? Who’s to say that the forces which hold atoms together aren’t magic? John definitely thinks they’re magic, on account of the fact that if he concentrates enough, he can make things like time and matter just… stop working.

John knows that there’s nothing keeping him in this house, in this town. He could walk right out anytime he wanted. He could kill anyone who tried to stop him, disintegrate their weapons, dissolve their brains inside their skulls. Send them flying off into space or age them into dust. He could burn a trail straight to the nearest wizarding college and suck up enough power to crush the sun like an egg in his hand. Perhaps he could even have a go at unmaking the entire universe.

But why would he do a thing like that? John likes his life. He likes his house, and he likes his paintings, and he likes his cat. Becoming an omnicidal god just doesn’t seem worth the hassle. Better to just enjoy how beautiful the sunset looks tonight, the creek tinkling behind him, the wind making golden waves on a grassy sea. He pets Bartholomew and makes a mental note to remember this all, so that he may paint it later. There is a fire ready to light in the wood stove inside. There is a hearty cheese and a fresh loaf of bread on the table, a gift from a neighbor. It’s a fine life, he thinks. Why throw it all away to rule the world?

Although, he supposes, it is always nice to have the option.