“You don’t choose the gift,” Madame Phara says, laughing. “The gift chooses you. And there’s no giving it back once it’s given.”

Phara lives in a small apartment in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. She shares the three-room efficiency with her husband Stanley, who didn’t do much other than snore on the couch during our visit. “He works the night shift,” explains Phara, “and I make him a powerful sleeping draught for the day so he can catch up.”

Though a sleeping potion powerful enough to knock out your husband for 12 hours may seem like a dream to many spouses, Madame Phara insists that her magical powers can be as much of a gift as a curse. “It’s impossible for me to use the microwave,” she says. “If it’s plugged in and I accidentally cook up a little magic, it’ll blow the breaker.” The microwave sits in a corner, greasy but unplugged; Stanley uses it only when Phara is away. She bashfully admits that it’s the 17th one they’ve had since getting married in 1983.

In the kitchen, the matriarch of magic goes through a litany of things her magic makes difficult or impossible, pointing each out in turn. “I can’t cook with vinegar,” she says. “Stanley has to do it for me. I’ll turn it to wine, even right through the bottle.” She has turned to using vinegar-flavored potato chips instead to satisfy her cravings for the sour and pungent.

Clearing her throat, she adds: “I hope you don’t mind a slice of raspberry pie. Normally I’d choose something without so many seeds, but…” She looks at a blackberry bush that has sprouted from the garbage can and overtaken half of the kitchen. Berries the size of golf balls dangle from its thorny boughs. “You understand, that’s just how it is,” Madame Phara laughs, by way of apology.

How does it feel when her magic interferes so much with her daily life? “You get used to it,” Madame Phara says. “Some things you get nonmagical folks like Stanley to help with, but other times–like when I accidentally raised poor Mr. Washington as a zombie–I just have to sort it out myself.”

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Magicists have long since concluded that a very particular type of hex, the hexus malificus, was responsible for most curses. This curse, widely known as the Common Hex, Merlin’s Hex, or less politically correctly as the Gypsy Hex, afflicts millions every year but is easily treated by commercially available and safe counter-curses and counter-hexes.

However, newly discovered documents from notable hex researcher Jumbicus the Magnificent indicate that many occurances of what are presumes to be the Common Hex may actually be a much rarer and more serious curse, which may also occur alongside and worsen the Common Hex. Named the Swiss Curse after the first cases were catalogued near Chur in Grisons, it may explain why some otherwise normal Common Hexes last for years with debilitating results.

If a Common Hex curse is actually the Swiss Curse, or is inflicted alongside it by natural magic or by design, it may explain why normal counter-curses are sometimes ineffective as well.

The American Magical Association has declined to comment, but many fringe elements have declared this new research a victory and validation.

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By the reckoning of the old Imperial Calendar instituted by the Crimson Empire before it splintered and was annihilated by the Dominion of the New Order, the Creator fell in Its great battle with Muolih, the Spreading Darkness, in the year -10,782. That calendar was later replaced by the Epoch of the Creator reckoning (EC) for most of the former Imperial provinces, to comemorate the great religious awakening that came with the founding of the Sepulcher of the Creator.

Tales and histories, as well as surviving artifacts like the Purposeful Blade of Pexate, indicate that in the old days the forces of magic were much more powerful than they later became. Magicians, cantrips, magical artifacts…they are all well-attested for hundreds if not thousands of years. But no one can deny that magicks are rare and valuable in the latter days, and a careful study of history seems to show a gradual weakening, a slow petering out, of magic across the world since the great struggle between the Creator and Muolih.

This lost Age of Magic or Age of Wonders is held to have come to a close with the founding of the Sepulcher, which began to keep exhaustive records on magic and magic-users. While artifacts–like the aforementioned Purposeful Blade–where made after that point, no one has been able to deny that magic has slowly been disappearing from the world.

Many theories have been proposed for this. Chief among them is that the Creator was the font of all magicks and Its death resulted in the power slowly draining from the world as It dreamed in the process of ultimate Reconstitution. When the Creator rises again, renewed and dreaming no longer, the theory states, magic will be restored to the world. Another theory, popular in some circles of the Sepulcher, holds that magic sprang from Muolih, the Spreading Darkness, and that its disappearance is a good thing.

More prosaic suggestions have been put forth. Magic-bearing ores deep in the earth being depleted by heavy use are a popular one, as is the notion that sapients consume magic in the ambient environment and the population explosion since antiquity has left little to work with. Finally, some deniers insist that magic never existed in the first place outside of myth and that all the artifacts exhibiting magickal properties have rational explanations.

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“I won’t do it,” Gibbons cried. “You can’t make me.”

“Make you do what?” laughed Spinelli.

“Make me your guinea pig in all these magical insect demonstrations!” Gibbons replied, her voice shrilly passionate. “I’ve been mauled by a toothless ghast, mind-controlled into eating an Iowa’s worth of corn…orders or no orders, I’m not doing it!”

“Relax,” said Spinelli. “The Fighting Unicorns aren’t about coercion. Would it make you feel better if I was the next demonstration subject and you got to release the insect on me?”

Gibbons nodded eagerly, a fiendish gleam in her eyes, and Spinelli obligingly handed over a small case and a cue card before standing in the middle of the proving ground.

“This is a species of Auchenorrhyncha, best known for…producing loud noises in summer,” read Gibbons from the card. She opened the container and a repulsive insect resembling a giant housefly with oversized (and bright green) wings buzzed out. It made a beeline for Spinelli, who held out his arm for it to land on.

“Go on,” Spinelli said.

“The creature’s natural song…has evolved into a strong magical defense mechanism that uses sound to cause nausea at a distance,” Gibbons continued. “The sound becomes more potent at greater range, with a zone of safety extending about one meter…to…all…sides.” She looked up. “Oh no.”

As if on cue, the insect on Spinelli’s arm buzzed loudly. Spinelli himself felt nothing, but Gibbons, standing some distance away, was immediately and violently nauseous, and turned to hurl a mixture of various kinds of corn all over the waiting cadets.”

“And that, ladies and gentlemen,” Spinelli said with a grin, “is why we call this particular specimen a Sick Ada.”

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“He was born in Prague. Everybody knows that city was built on a powerful confluence of ley lines, but it’s not just the usual contact high people get.”

“You’re sure about that?”

“It’s a level of magical skill that has only grown with age and experience, and he hasn’t been in Prague for almost 15 years.”

“What has he done?”

“A Tosca ritual, a Nebbercracker rite, three Class VIII incendiary effects, and an expulsion sphere.”

“Not bad for a year’s work.”

“A year? No, no. He did all that in a week. That’s why the boys have taken to calling him the Spell Czech.”

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“Now this critter,” Spinelli said, “is a much, much nastier than a Mana Cricket. It’s perhaps the most dangerous magical insect from the order Orthoptera.”

“Are…are you sure about this?” said Gibbons. “I still have bruises from that defanged ghast after the Mana Crickets…”

“You’ll be fine, soldier,” said Spinelli dismissively. “Say hello to our newest guest.”

He pulled a lid of magic-proof glass off of a nearby tray, revealing a grasshopper that was electric purple with terribly long antennae, at least twice as long as its body. The creature took flight and landed atop Gibbons’ head to her intense displeasure.

“Get it off, get it off, get it off!” she shrieked.

“Wait for it, kids,” said Spinelli. “If you’re going to encounter these in the field, you have to know what they’re capable of.”

Moments later, Gibbons ceased her thrashing and her eyes glazed over, pupils dilated. “Corn,” she said in a monotone. “I must find corn. Barley. Oats. Alfalfa. But mostly corn. Cooorrrnnn.” She began walking unsteadily toward the windows, through which the mess hall was visible with its heaping helpings of corn both creamed and cobbed. She walked directly into the glass, bumping against it and leaving a forehead print. Undeterred, she bumped against it again, and again, still moaning about corn with a purple grasshopper on her coif.

“Wow,” said a recruit. “What did it do to her?”

“That’s the External Locust of Control,” said Spinelli proudly. “It takes over your brain and makes you its puppet to seek food, mostly corn.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Nonsense,” replied Spinelli. “If you think that’s bad, you should see the Internal Locust of Control.”

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My fellow Minosians, no one can deny that the Magick-Industrial Revolution has made our fair city a more technologically advanced and wealthy place to live. Life has never been easier with sorcery now available to all from the haughtiest hierophants at the Temple of Clohl to the most miserable congregants gnawing on day-old holocaustberry pies at a Savage Pie Hole franchise. Nevertheless, I must call upon our fair city to turn a keener eye to the effect that the rampant and unrestrained use of magicks has had on our environment.

But the soot caused by the Incantation of EverFire can only be removed with crushed Essence of Diamondroot, which is rare and expensive. Smog and soot from cantrips like Coldburn, Major/Minor Heat Liquid, and Illuminate Self chokes our skies and our streets with purple eggplant soup fog. Familiars from the Dimension of Magick have been turned loose and now breed feral and wild, displacing our native fauna–and we all know about the choking swarms of Hellweed that follow upon the improper disposal of material components imported from the Dimension of Infernis.

Those of us who are of like minds in confronting these challenges have formed Minosians Against Magickal Abuse (MAMA). We meet once a fortnight at the original Savage Pie Hole location in the Ragpicker’s Quarter. Look for our broadside, and ask yourself whether or not a Minosia in which you can see the sky even on a day when the winds are not right is something worth striving for.

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