Turbulent thoughts tormented Gwen through the night.
Why was she here? What happened to the teenage Gwen of this world? In fact, now that she thought about it, what about her thirty-year-old body? Would her secretary, Becky, find her boss in a state of decomposition? Would the Sun Herald report on her mysterious demise with the headline, 'Woollahra Woman Mysteriously Dead: Face eaten by her two Cats! Pictures Inside!'?
Hovering above and watching herself below, her body began to writhe on the bed, softly whimpering as if taken by a night terror. Within her mind, her twin animus folded upon themselves like origami. Collapsing, collating and condensing until her consciousness became obscure and ambiguous.
The scene of her Awakening once again flashed upon her inward eye. Little squiggly Sigils crawled across her vision, manifestations from a feverish brain. In anger, she reached out and grasped at the illusive glyphs, tearing from the celestial nebulas handfuls of stardust.
Once again, there were two of her: one crackling with energy, the other glowering with obsidian malevolence, consuming one another like dissolving twin-stars. Whenever a sliver of shadow broke from the confines of her body, a stab of lightning banished it below the surface. Where the light had filled her to the point of bursting, the shadow consumed it for fuel.
Her existential struggle continued until it assumed the shape of a lithe female silhouette, an obsidian glass sculpture. Slowly, her consciousness settled back into her body, forever anchored to its host upon the Material Plane.
Gwen felt as though she had witnessed the tapestry of the universe, an interplay of Eros and Thanatos. From one came two, from two came three, then from three, came the COSMOS.
Gwen awoke in the late morning, exhausted by insomnia. Every bone in her body felt sundered as she lay in bed, paralysed within a pool of salty perspiration.
Jesus. Gwen pressed her swollen eyes. Had she been crying? Her lips were parched, and her tongue was on fire; she needed a drink desperately.
Painfully, like lifting a dumbbell, she moved an arm across her chest. With a grunt of wilful imposition, Gwen threw herself from the bed in a moment of dizzying weakness. She struck the carpet below, taking deep lungfuls of air, each gasp sending electric shocks through her torso.
Was this the price of training foolishly and unwisely? Gwen tried to recall her actions from last night. Was it was impossible to overcome talent with effort?
Leaning against her nightstand, Gwen stood; her trembling legs may as well be wet spaghetti.
She checked her clock.
“Aw shit,” she cursed.
She was going to be late for her mother; a direr prospect than trying to move her battered body.
Forcing herself into the shower, Gwen leaned against the cold tile and let the warm water run over her. The steam soothed her bruised tendons and eased the dryness in her throat.
When was the last time she cried?
Gwen herself did not recall having such moments of emotional vulnerability, at least not since her old world family had gone their own way.
But her youthful body was only fifteen, a vulnerable, hormonal flesh and blood biochemical construct undergoing puberty. She felt the dissonance between her helpless psyche and her temperamental physique distinctly, making her simultaneously young and old.
Gwen turned off the tap.
Now, she must meet her other-mother.
Within a particular section of her wardrobe was kept all the presents gifted to her by her mother. By Helena's decree, whenever they met, Gwen should publically display her appreciation for her mother’s “tender loving care”.
A dizzying array of dresses presented themselves.
With a sharp eye, she picked out a blue Miu Miu one-piece pleated skirt with rounded French collars and a pair of Mary Janes which the old Gwen kept polished to a dazzling shine. From another draw, Gwen unfolded a velvet package and retrieved a leather handbag she couldn't possibly afford.
The selection suited her skinny, adolescent body well. After brushing down her defiant hair and touching up her brows and lashes, she flew down six flights of stairs to the tune of clicking heels.
As she staggered out the door, Gwen observed that her alter ego disliked the feeling of having her legs bared to the world, fearing that her long and shapely limbs drew unwanted attention. Presently, however, she cared little for such immature self-consciousness. A woman's beauty was her own; she could damn well do as she pleased.
The station was only a few minutes away from her habitat-block.
The Forestville to City-Circle was far more crowded than Gwen expected, and by the time the 'all stop to Central' pulled past Redfern, it was jam-packed. Lulled by the beat of the train's wheels against the tracks, she thought of her mother and how she would broach the subject of her lack-lustre, uncompetitive Awakening, hopefully not giving herself away in the process.
In this world or the other, her relationship with her mother was tumultuous at best. Gwen knew from experience that behind the facade of their cordial monthly meetings and trendy, expensive dinners was the expectation that she would not fail her mother’s Great Expectations.
A reflexive moan issuing forth from her lips took Gwen by surprise. She quickly turned her body against the crowd of impatient passengers to hide her flushing face. The mere thought of Helena's frigid face made her want to suck in her gut.
Get a grip girl! Gwen commanded her unruly teenage body. Was she ever this emotionally unstable?
Her meditative introspection was rudely interrupted by a tactile invasion creeping up her thighs, sending goosebumps up the entirety of her torso. There was suddenly the horrid, slimy sensation of a foreign appendage pressing against her buttocks.
Her immediate reaction was to freeze up like a deer caught in the path of a Fireball, her body turning rigid as paralytic shock overwhelmed all awareness.
Gwen! GET A GRIP!
Through sheer force of will, her all-consuming rage restored some of her mobility. This assault on her person was an outrage! She was being invaded and violated. She required the immediate expulsion of her offender from the world of the living!
Slowly, she turned her face, bringing the full force of her heterochromatic hazel eyes to bear.
An odour of ozone filled the air.
Unbidden, the tension drained from her body. Gwen felt the snap of something unleashed, a violent flash of mana igniting the conduits of her body, accompanied by the dizzying sensation of mana drain. A Tyrian-purple shunt of electricity ran along the metallic door of the carriage, crawling across its surface as a fissure of lightning. Above, Lumen-bulbs grew several magnitudes brighter before bursting in a shower of sparks, sending its diffused mana all over the cabin.
An alarm screamed through the carriage as the public display panel began to screech.
“Spells are forbidden on public transports.”
“Violation of the Transport Safety Act is a federal offence.”
“Remain calm as officers will momentarily be onsite.”
“Remain still. Scrying spells are in effect,” a chirpy female voice informed the passengers.
A circumference of space cleared around Gwen. Murmurs of disbelief passed between passengers.
It was evident who the miscreant had been. A young man with a terrified mien and Einstein-hair sat on his bottom, a wet patch on his pants where a single pulse of electricity had made him instantly incontinent.
“Spare me please,” the offender moaned. “I didn't mean it, it… it was an accident.”
“Holy crap did you see that?”
“A Quasi-elemental Mage!”
“What an unlucky bastard…”
“That's like assaulting a Magical Beast in public…” someone joked.
“God, I wish I awakened as a Quasi-elementalist.” A passenger sighed.
“I hope there's not going to be a delay,” a more pragmatic voice joined the first.
Below her, the young man whimpered.
“I didn't know! I didn't…” her assailant grovelled.
A feeling of disgust aside, Gwen was just as shocked as her offender.
What the hell was that!?
Gwen tried to recall the last ten seconds.
The man's filthy paw and touched her buttocks, then sparks were flying every which way. Gwen quickly searched within herself and felt an absence of mana. She had invoked something, no doubt about that, but how had she done it?!
The far side of the carriage slid open, and a path was made by the crowd to admit the attending officers. Their uniforms revealed them to be RailCorp Mages, both conductor and guard.
“Alright, clear out,” commanded the lead officer in his navy uniform. “Who cast the lightning spell?”
When they saw that the crowd had made a circle around Gwen, their attitude became incredulous.
“G’day.” One of them tipped his hat. “Can someone tell me what happened here?”
A dozen voices spoke at once, with the two officers taking note of the consensus.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” One of them questioned the offender, having already framed the occurrence within his mind.
“It… it was an accident…” the young man maintained.
“NoM.” The senior the Officers pinched the bridge of his nose. “You better be sure of what you’re saying, because of two reasons. One, you just assaulted a Mage, and Two…”
He turned to Gwen.
“Miss, we are going to need your student I.D.”
“Yessir,” Gwen replied demurely and produced her I.D from her handbag.
“… and TWO, you assault a minor.”
The man’s face was ashen and dripping.
“… which means, for either infringement, we’re authorised to use Mind-Magic on you.” The officer smirked smugly, “So, NoM, what'll it be?”
“I tried to touch her inappropriately…” Her offender confessed, yielding like a bag of soaked ramen.
“Now then.” The Officers noted each other's acknowledgement before turning to Gwen politely.
“Your I.D please young lady… You’re not in too much trouble, but it is still a crime to use a spell on the public transit system.”
Gwen recognised in the Officer's halting tone that there was wiggle room in the man's edict. In addition to the trouble that would come with being charged with a public offence, having a record would impress her academic record poorly.
While pondering her next course of action, Gwen felt a breeze pass between her legs. Her alter ego would have burst into tears, but Gwen was no shrinking violet. Men, particularly men in positions of power, responded very well to vulnerability.
“I am sorry.” Gwen made herself smaller, leaning a little against the pane of the door so that it accentuated her long white legs. She looked up at the officers with downcast eyes moist with distress.
“I didn't know that someone would grab me by the… the…tooshie…” She opted for a more juvenile lexicon. She was just fifteen, after all. “I was so scared… I lost control; I am not very good at spells… I had Awoken yesterday…”
The Officers' faces grew full of empathy and compassion.
This poor girl!
Such a sweet little thing! To give her a record would surely ruin her life - all because of this scum sucking NoM! Some human garbage no better than fodder for the Goblins!
“We’ll just take a record, Miss.” The senior of the two seemed to have made up his mind. “There will be no charges. Anyone can see that it was a genuine accident.”
When Gwen put her hand on her chest and felt her heart flutter, she was no longer acting. The mind was competent, but the body was inadequate.
“Thank you,” she replied sweetly, her face glowing with happiness.
Aww, the crowd cooed. The assembly within the carriage nodded in satisfaction. Justice had transpired. This incident would make a pleasant luncheon conversation, accompanied by smashed avocados.
When the train pulled up to Central, the officers took down Gwen's details.
Gwen bid them a G'day before realising with renewed dread that she was now indubitably late for her mother's appointment. Exiting Central, she began to sprint. Clicking, clacking and turning heads wherever she went. Gwen soon arrived at Sheraton by the Park, where undoubtedly her mother was on the verge of burning down the hotel.
"Ma'am?" A footman gazed over's Gwen's panting form appreciatively.
Gwen straightened her hair with her hands and followed the footman into the cafe. She didn't have to look far for her mother. Helena Huang always occupied the most conspicuous space.
Helena sat at the bar with a too tight dress that hugged her curvaceous body ridiculously. Her mother was tall and voluptuous but had a way of carrying her sumptuous flesh sensually as some women can. Even indoors she wore the classic brown Gucci shades that covered her face, framed by a mass of cascading black ringlets. Her scissored legs revealed toned, tanned thighs still supple and tight, her bosoms pressed to create an intrusive cleavage that drew furtive glances from men and women across the room.
“I am sorry I am late!” Gwen declared with a distinctively sweet voice that escaped her lips reflexively.
Helena swivelled in a manner that made it seemed as though there was a camera somewhere.
Her mother took off her sunglasses with a swish of her voluminous hair to reveal dark eyeliners and too-thick lashes framing a vivid pair of eyes.
“My lovely Guinevere,” her mother intoned in that sickly-rich voice of hers, full of promise for exciting things. Gwen’s real name was the same, but her mother would have liked it be something with more, ‘culture,’ as she put it.
Crossing the floor, the sensuous woman embraced her lithe daughter, forming an enviable arch of femininity. A blooming teenage, a loving mother, a backdrop of flowers and desserts at the high tea room of the Hyde Park Sheraton - that was Helena's perfect world.
Despite being an hour late, the Maitre d’ micromanaged a free table for the two, at which point mother and daughter settled down to cakes, cups, and ices.
Watching her mother leaving a perfect lip print on the china gave Gwen heartburn. The high tea was a rare treat, though right now, even Royal Earl Grey turned her stomach. After struggling to deliver a strawberry shortcake to her lips and failing to swallow the tarty dessert, Gwen opted to just come out with the truth.
“So…” she coughed politely behind a serviette, “I got tested for aptitude yesterday, and I am an Evoker.”
Her mother’s hazel eyes were two balls of amber-green ice.
“That’s wonderful dear,” her mother spoke in a manner filled with indifference. They said that the worst form of neglect wasn't aversion, but the cessation of care. "And?"
“Just… Evoker.” Gwen willed herself to look, but her body dared not meet her mother’s eyes. Helena's irises were even more striking than Gwen's, a rarified green with concentric yellow rings which delivered the terrifying impression of a tigress eyeballing its prey.
“I … see.” Her mother smiled, but it was a smile with teeth.
They drank the tea in silence.
Gwen wondered what went through her other mother's head. She knew that her maternal Clan was very wealthy in Sydney. Helena's brother and his wife were mediocre Mages, but opportunistic real estate brokers. Their son, Richard, attended The Prince’s College, the premier private magical institution in Sydney as a Water Conjurer. Gwen's widowed grandfather was once a famed Enchanter, though now dangerously senile.
Helena must have hoped against hope that Gwen would give her something to brag about to her brother, but that daydream had now died a dog’s death.
“Mother, I was groped by a guy on the train,” Gwen said suddenly, the words blurting out of her mouth as though possessing a mind of their own. “I managed a spell discharge…”
“It's getting late,” her mother interjected suddenly.
“Gwen. It is rather late.” Helena repeated herself, her tone frosty with rime.
When Gwen regained control of her body and attempted to salvage some dignity, her mother's expression soured. Did Helena think she was lying to diffuse her anger? Trying to score pity marks? Not even her original mother had been this bad!
You selfish bitch! She wanted to shout.
Her body responded by cramping up.
“Next time?” Gwen heard herself bleat, her guts pantomiming a pretzel.
Jesus, I am a grown woman… Her face flushed red with frustration and distress. What had Helena done to this poor girl? The Pavlovian response from her teenage body was beyond Gwen's mastery.
“I’ll call.” Her mother replied, her eyes already in another place. "Goodbye."
Gwen made it as far as Hyde Park before she felt the impulse to tear off her expensive dress and gift her Chanel bag to the nearest hobo. She wanted to cry; God knows she could use a good scream and howl. The soft fabrics of her expensive attire irritated her skin. She stood under the iconic cypresses that lined the World War I memorial and tried to recollect herself as logic and psychosis jostled for control.
The struggle proved futile.
Her whole body shook uncontrollably; she wanted to vomit.
Something unspeakable bubbled forth from the dark recess of her tenebrous psyche.
Up came the high tea, together with a resonating eruption of mana from her Astral Form. A feeling of self-loathing overwhelmed her as an inexplicable hunger course through her body. A shunt of dark energy, visible only at the edge of vision, encompassed her immediate surroundings. The lush lawn beneath her feet began to tear and disintegrate as abrasions lashed the trunk of the giant cypress, gouging grooves across the blond flesh.
The effect seemed to last only a second, but her vitality was drained beyond measure. Her world began to spin as she slumped against the cypress, collapsing in a heap against its withered roots.
Gwen sat with a start, her body aflame with aching joints and tender flesh. She shivered in her sweat-soaked mini-dress.
Did I lose conscious in the middle of the city, in a public space?! Gwen marvelled at her inopportune epilepsy. She’s damn lucky she didn't get assaulted or worse!
Instinctively, she felt for her bag, the absurdly expensive, near one of a kind handbag from her mother.
Naturally, it had found a better, more astute owner.
Now she felt like crying, and not on behalf of her alter-ego either. This despair was her own, trying to come to terms with the succession of fucked up events that seem to pile on without end. First, she Awakened to become trash. Then, she gets molested on the train. Now she falls unconscious and gets robbed. Maybe she'll get groped on the way back too, completing the fucking quad-factor.
Gwen felt that if she cried right here, right now, there would be no shame; she deserved a little emotional bloodletting, grown woman or otherwise.
Not to mention she was indeed bleeding.
Her Message Device, her 'phone' was gone as well, as was her cash.
Thankfully, she still had an ID, a currency card, and a train ticket in her skirt-pocket.
Gwen stared blankly at the battered tree in front of her, some asshole had vandalised the park. Nothing was sacred in this world.
She looked about her dazedly.
It was only her second day and already she could do with an overdose of Celexa and Buspar washed down with a double shot of Don Julio.
Her dress was soiled, her shoes dusty and the leather scuffed. Her exposed thighs were covered in goosebumps, unprepared to face the cooling dusk. Her wounded knee stun.
She just wanted to go home. She had her ticket, that was good enough, for now.
She stumbled to her feet, her hands brushing down her dress. It would need to be dry cleaned. More money, more costs she couldn't afford.
Like the blood, her mood consisted of a rusty, oozy melancholy.
I guess this is how people get suicidal, Gwen thought to herself, watching the trains pull in. What a fucking day.
She stopped by the police box in Central and made a report. She left the Officers her father’s Message Glyph, then stumbled her way toward the platform for South Sydney.
On the train, she hugged herself tightly against the pane of the double doors, the very picture of pity. With her blemished dress and a freshly scabbed knee, she must have thoroughly kindled the imagination of her fellow travellers.
By the time Forestville rolled around, she had politely explained to several Samaritans that she was alright and was now going home. At Redfern, she had threatened to call the Railcorp guards when a salacious salary man assumed she was homeless and wanted to know her nightly rate.
When she finally opened the door to her apartment in what felt like a return trip to Mordor, sans Eagles, she was faced down by the surprised expression of her father.
“I got a call from the police…” he began, but Morye's face wasn't one of worry. It instead carried a look of guilt, like a child who'd been caught red-handed. She was being rude, Gwen knew, but she was too mentally and physically drained to deal with her father right now. She pushed past Morye and made for the kitchen, where the family kept the medicine box.
“Hey! Go to your room...”
Gwen looked toward her father.
A woman called out from the kitchen.
“Morye, is everything alright?” It was a voice she had never heard before. Gwen was very good with voices.
Fuck! Gwen heard herself scream internally. FUCK!
She was moving out next week, but this fucking guy.
This selfish piece of shit!
Would it kill her Dad to wait five fucking days before fucking a woman in the living room? Where the fuck was Percy? Why isn't he saying anything?
Unwashed and no longer giving a shit, Gwen stumbled into her room while her father commanded her angrily to stay. Slamming the door, she locked it behind her.
What new fucking wonders would tomorrow bring? Gwen thought to herself bitterly. Her body struck the bed, and her mind became full of darkness.