Good and Evil, Light and Darkby Benedict Jacka
There are two main power blocs in the Alex Verus setting – Light mages and Dark mages – and the first thing to get clear is that Dark does not mean evil and Light does not mean good. This is a very common misconception among newcomers to the magical world, so it’s worth explaining in detail.
Of the two groups, the Light mages are the more organised. They’re generally easier to deal with than Dark mages and they’re usually more approachable, but they’re not necessarily good people, for reasons that should be obvious. Calling yourself a 'Light mage' doesn't make you a servant of light any more than calling yourself a 'good person' makes you a person who's good. Even if they were originally set up as a bastion of goodness to stand against evil (which mage historians have differing opinions on), the Light faction is an organisation, not a status. Old members leave, new members join. Light mages have existed for thousands of years and their society has had time to evolve a very long way.
Rather than thinking of it in terms of good vs evil, a better way to think of Light mages is in terms of order vs chaos. The Council and Light mages as a whole stand for order. They effectively run the magical world – there's no other body with anywhere near the combined power and influence of the Council, meaning that any kind of governmental functions fall to the Council by default. They like things to be organised, predictable, and consistent. The biggest reason that Light mages come into conflict with Dark mages isn’t that Dark mages are evil, it’s that they don’t follow the rules.
Dark mages function quite differently. They don't have a centralised organisation or a Council or any kind of administrative system. In fact, it can be difficult to know whether someone even is a Dark mage – it's not like you can apply for a membership card (and other Dark mages wouldn't respect it if you did). If being a Light mage is like being a citizen of a country, being a Dark mage is more like being a follower of a cause or a religion. What makes you a Dark mage is the way you act and the ideals you believe.
Dark mages follow a philosophy called the True Path, the True Way, or simply the Path or the Way. The True Path holds that someone's reality is defined by their personal power and the only goal that has any long-term value is increasing that power. Traditional morality is seen as an artificial construct: while it can be beneficial in certain situations, it places limitations on the user's ability to pursue power and therefore has to be discarded. If power is a virtue, the corresponding vice is weakness, and Dark mages consider voluntary weakness the one really unforgivable sin. Anyone who turns away from power is giving control of their life to whoever is willing to pursue that power, and by doing so they prove themselves unworthy to wield it.
The last paragraph probably makes Dark mages sound pretty evil, and it’s not at all difficult to find examples who live up to the stereotype – there’s absolutely no shortage of Dark mages who are cruel, brutal, vicious, and even murderous. However, it’s worth remembering that Dark mages don’t believe in evil for its own sake. They believe in power, but what a Dark mage does with that power is up to them – many Dark mages support quite sympathetic causes. Finally, Dark mages have friends and family and loved ones, just the same as everyone else. While trusting a Dark mage is rarely a good idea, automatically assuming the worst will often lead you to the wrong conclusion.