Spring ended with November; then summer came on with its stifling heat.
Fair-skinned and petite, Elvia wilted like a rare white flower.
Gwen likewise melted in a most un-ladylike manner, legs akimbo, a spaghetti-string singlet loosely hung over one shoulder, its sheer cotton stuck to her stomach like wet rice paper.
She must have died, and this is hell, Gwen moped. What kind of magical world lacked air conditioning? She hadn't experienced an Aussie summer without air-conditioning since she left home at sixteen. Even the youth hostel had air-con.
Beside the sweltering Gwen, Yue was as cool as a cucumber; her affinity for Fire meant she naturally regulated heat in her body. Gwen's bodacious companion wore a comfortable singlet that barely hung on for dear life.
“How come.” Yue looked at her friend. “How come we both bought small, and your one fits?”
“Humblebrag?” Gwen moaned, too tired to return a volley.
“Funbags,” Elvia added an acute observation.
“What have you being teaching her?” Gwen wailed. “My innocent Evee is despoiled!”
“They grow up so fast.” Yue sobbed. “Just the other day she was making eyes at a boy.”
“I was not!” Elvia protested.
“No no!” Gwen wailed, "Evee is mine! For now and forever!"
The girls fell about in laughter, making the room hotter.
A cough came from the doorway; the door opened just a peep.
"I er... knocked, but you all appeared to be pre-occupied," mumbled a voice from the hallway.
Gwen grabbed the closest linen, though her modesty proved was a futile effort; she was too tall for the meagre fabric. Besides her, Elvia dived for her bed, throwing a silken shaw over her cut-off shorts.
"Oh yeah..." Yue seemed to recall something. "I invited a cooling glyph."
The door opened. A young man about the girls' age entered nervously.
"I am not er... interrupting anything am I?" asked the young man apprehensively.
"Thank the Magus you are here." Yue bounced up to greet the young man.
Their guest averted his eyes. On his right, Gwen was looking defensive and hostile, to his left, Elvia hissed like a cat. Trapped, their intruder found great interest in the old art-deco lighting fixtures.
"Ladies..." Yue placed her hands together. "This is Jun, a wonderful young man whom I have recruited to our cause." She nodded at Jun, who was still reeling at the girl's attire.
"Jun, do the thing."
The girls turned to look at Jun, who was now the colour of beetroot.
"Excuse me," Jun muttered, making the circular Sigil of the school of Abjuration.
A sound of crinkling filled the air, then the temperature plummeted. A thin sheet of ice seemed to form in the air around Jun, before finally coalescing into a semi-dome ball of frost that radiated cold.
Yue flourish with a bow, twirling her off-hand floridly.
"Ta da~ "
The heat in the room dissipated and a cool breeze began to circulate. Gwen felt as though she was in one of those improbable air conditioning commercials where hot and bothered women became emancipated by Mitsubishi split-air systems.
Yue patted the cushion of the two-seat couch in a come-hither manner.
Hawkishly, the trio watched as Jun sat on the edge of the couch, scratching his nose nervously.
"This is Jun Murrow." Yue paused for dramatic effect. "Abjurer, affinity 2, Ice."
Elvia's blue eyes peeked out from behind her pillow. Gwen straightened her singlet before shaking Jun's hand.
"Elvia," Elvia called out from afar.
“So, as you know,” Yue broke the ice. “We have our Field Trip soon. I figured we should pick the good fruit before they’re gone, that sort of thing.”
She motioned to Jun.
“I asked around for the best Abjurer in our curriculum, and now we have him. Applause, ladies!”
The girls golf-clapped.
“Ahem, thank you. It's good to be here.”
Jun’s eyes scanned the room, falling toward his enviable audience.
“As Yue stated… I am a Quasi-Elemental Mage like you Gwen,” Jun began. “We Ice Mages tap into the space between the Air and Water elements.”
“Few elements are as stable as Ice,” Jun continued with a hint of pride. “Especially with Abjuration, we can create Shields and walls that are both transparent and hardy.”
“Whereas Lightning…” Jun's stated with admiration. “Lighting is the most volatile, but a real showstopper. Perfect for Evocation.”
“Does us sharing the Air element do anything?” Gwen enquired. "Synergy, for example."
“Unfortunately no,” Jun replied with a wave of his hand. “At least, not that I know of. Lightning doesn't interact well with anything. A water Mage and I could synergise something impregnable, but I doubt Fire, Air, or Water could do anything for you. In fact, I am fairly sure Earthen Mages counter Lightning.”
I bet water could conduct Lightning, Gwen mused. Some of the potential energy may be lost, but it should be feasible.
Watching Jun and Gwen converse, Yue nudged Elvia. Gwen turned to see Yue wiggling her brows at her. Rolling her eyes, she threw a towel at her overimaginative friend.
“Sorry, they're just kids," Gwen apologised. "Look, Jun, I think its pretty obvious that we're all inexperienced. It's going to be our first time. Can you lend us a hand?"
"..." Yue's expressive brows once again came to life.
Elvia's face glowed a hot-pink.
Admirably, Gwen's inopportune expressions flew over Jun's head.
"What do you want to know?"
"What's our role in an Adventuring Party?" Gwen inquired. "I mean, how does it work? We've never Adventured before."
"Okay." Jun took a moment to begin. "Essentially, a perfect Party has FIVE members, each with unique roles. The Scout is typically an Air Mage with Transmutation or Divination. The Tank is an Abjurer, typically Earth attuned. The Damage Dealers are usually Conjurers, Evokers, or Transmuters. And Utility is taken up by Diviners, an Enchanters, or an Illusionists. In the best case scenario, the Utility is a Healer who can Buff, Heal and Dispel."
“How would the setup work with us four?”
“Good question." Jun scratched his nose again. "I believe we have excellent synergy.”
“Fire Evokers have widespread damage over a huge area. Lightning Evokers have instant pin-point damage. Both are extremely accomplished between tier 1 and 3, with the firepower of say, multiple Air or Earthen Acolytes.”
“I am pretty confident myself as a Tank, and with my affinity, I could stand in for two basic level Abjurers at the very least. As an Abjurer, I can instantly create hard Shields mid-air, good for blocking both physical and elemental attacks. If we have access to a water source, I can even manage Shield walls."
"For our team, I'd say the game-changer is Elvia. With a healer, we can ramp up our hunting speed immensely, even if we are a little reckless. Having a Cleric makes the 'survival' aspect of the Field Trip rather trivial."
Ah~, Gwen nodded affirmatively. Elvia, of course. Theirs would be the only team with a Healer in the entire school. How could they lose a survival competition if they could negate the inconvenience of inevitable injury?
"That's all fine and dandy, but Yue did advise you that we're just a few months into our training, right?” Gwen confessed dubiously. "I doubt we can chain more than a dozen spells at the moment. Not to mention that Elvia isn't yet certified - are you Evee?"
"I need to pass the medical tier 1 examination first.” Elvia shook her head.
“There's still two months until the Field Trip,” Jun proclaimed confidently. “Not a problem with your affinity and resources.”
"What can you tell us about the Field Trip itself, Jun?" Gwen continued.
"Well, it takes place near the Royal National Park, deep down the coastal area. The area south of it was never really reclaimed, just kind of 'cleansed' a few times- it's now infested with low-level creepers."
"Horned-Rabbits and angry Wombats?" Gwen thought about her Magical Creatures classes with its absurdly thick Monster manual.
"A little more advanced than that I hope!" Jun jovially quipped, "We're talking more the garden variety of sentient magical beings, like Goblins."
"Goblins..." Gwen still couldn't believe there were Goblins in this world. The critters were not the green-skins of yore though, but humanoid creatures gifted animation by the magical residue of the Wildlands. The Bestiary stated that when enough elemental essence coalescence in an area, it attracted spirits sensitive to that element and gave them material form.
Within the bestiary, Goblins referred explicitly to the malignant little creatures that formed where Earth and Fire elements were particularly strong. Lesser Goblins, or Snotlings, were little more than mindless animals that scavenged for food, while an adult Goblin could take down a grown man with its claws and teeth, ultimately becoming a Hob, a human-sized, flesh-eating creature of immense cunning.
"Have you ever seen a Goblin before?" Gwen asked.
“Seen 'em and killed dozens." Jun's eyes clouded over with remembrance, "It was when we got to one of the outposts down near Wollongong. The little buggers had overrun a mining camp, and were busy trying to get to the workers in their Construction-Golems."
"Well, the workers were there to dig up crystals. Unfortunately, they struck a warren. When the golems came through, they broke into the tribe's main chamber, and the Gobs came flooding out like hornets."
"When my Party finally got there, the critters had already murdered a few of the workers. The rest locked themselves up in their construction golems, waiting for rescue. If you want to know what they look like, the ones we saw were different. They had these little horns they used for head-butting and carried these nasty obsidian clubs, They could even walk on walls, like spiders."
"That's disgusting..." Elvia gasped.
The trio sat around the Abjurer, hugging their knees to their chests, hanging onto every word.
"So..." Gwen wanted to hear the important parts. "How did you... kill them?"
"We had a fire Evoker with us, but the Gobs were resistant to fire, so our Air Mage and I had to double duty. He used Gust spells to slam them onto the walls, and I froze them in place with Creeping Frost and my Shields. The Water Transmuter ended up performing most of the defence because the Goblins had a tough time getting their small bodies through the Water Barrier."
Gwen leaned in closer, a dozen questions dancing on the tip of her tongue.
“… so finally, we popped the warren, and there were hundreds of the little buggers running around trying to get through the Shield. The fire Mage ended up throwing half a dozen Fire Balls at the cavern until it collapsed on the whole chamber, sealing the shaft.”
Gwen considered the information she had just received and knew that there was something she had to ask, something she had never done.
"How does it feel to kill something." She inquired carefully.
Jun visibly struggled to describe the strange, sickening feeling of taking life. Should he explain the sounds the Goblins made as the ice crawled up their spine? The crunch as their scaly-skin broke? The screaming and the yelping as they burned? The yellow ichor that oozed from their orifices?
"It will be hard at first," Jun replied finally. "The 'being' you're attacking had been alive, and now it's dead. I could describe the ichor and the smell, but it's something you have to experience yourself."
"The animals are not so bad..." Jun paused. “But Demi-humanoid Magical Creatures will test you. Some of them get pretty lifelike. The biggest thing I saw was a Hob, watching it get cut down by a barrage of Magic Missiles was no different to seeing a man die.”
Jun's voice trailed off. Only the sound of soft breathing and perspiration transpired through the dorm room.
With a pop, Jun's ball of frost collapsed. The room once again felt stifling.
“I hope we can work well together,” Jun announced seriously.
“Yeah,” Gwen agreed. “Thanks for the heads up.”
“Thank you,” added Elvia, her complexion paler for the wisdom.
“Well, there's still the summer break, then a couple of weeks until your exams." Jun pushed up his spectacles and grinned at the girls. "I haven't agreed to anything other than I'll wait. You need to show me that my trust is well-founded."
"Alright," Yue announced excitedly. "I am pumped! We're gonna rock that test!"
Yue leaned in aggressively.
"Jun, you're not going to join another team, right?” Yue watched as Jun's eyes pivoted to and fro. The crude manner of Yue's strategic presentation made Gwen vomit a little in her mouth. "Promise?"
"Of.. of course." Jun stammered. Gwen wondered if his glasses would fog up, but then again, an ice Mage naturally had a lowered body temperature.
Jun escaped before Yue could push him to make another promise.
Yue had an extroverted, forceful personality; Jun was passive and humble.
Fire and ice, Gwen mused, was there a correlation there?
Gwen consulted a mental Astral-chart to recall what her oppositional element was and find it to be Dust. The Quasi-elemental Plane of Dust, consisting of nothing but death and the erosion of time and space. What kind of Mage would that be? Who could even awaken to such a thing? Gwen shuddered, imagining a grey old man with a constant air of apathy, dandruff falling like fallout about his head.
When the door finally closed, Yue turned to her companions.
"That was embarrassing," Yue confessed.
So you do feel embarrassment. Gwen patted her friend on the head.
"Would you expect anything less?" Yue raised a mischievous brow, assuming a hands-on-hip power pose, expecting praise for her negotiators.
"Arrr I am so jealous!" Elvia blurted. "What are you eating! "
"Well, there is a secret..." Yue sauntered closer to the unsuspecting Elvia before hugging her tightly.
"Hot! Hot! Hot! It's TOO HOT Yue!" Elvia moaned. "How can your body temp be so high? I am dying!"
"Feels alright to me." Yue giggled mischievously.
Gwen felt the ambient temperature soar. The air-conditioned hour they shared with Jun felt so far away.
"You sure that your family can't just install air or water-based conditioning Glyphs here?"
"Nup." Elvia moped sadly, feeling sweat pouring from her ivory skin after Yue's heated assault. "Rawson said that the building is Warded. We're not allowed to install foreign Enchantments."
"Gar~ Get away from me woman!" Gwen yelped as Yue snuck towards her, hoping to spread some more misery.
In the end, it was too hot even to move. Gwen sat on the wooden desk, sweating into the grain. Elvia laid on her bed like a corpse.
"I touched a dead body the other day." Elvia declared suddenly.
Both Yue and Gwen froze.
"At the clinic!" Elvia corrected herself just in case the girls thought she was responsible for the cadaver. "A worker was attacked. He succumbed to his injuries. My uncle got me to sit in on the autopsy."
The other two girls listened quietly, the subject efficiently chilling the room.
"I watched Uncle go through the... organs, and he took them out and showed them to me one by one. There was so much it, the heart, the lungs, the liver..."
"The man had been alive only hours before, but now he was dead and being taken apart for studies. I wanted to vomit, but Uncle said that I had to see this sooner or later because no matter how good a Mage can be, there will come a day..."
The song of cicadas filled the humid air.
"I want to be the one to heal you if that ever happens." Elvia intoned solemnly, "I'll never let either of you die!"
Gwen's throat became swollen as her eyes welled with moisture; her heart throbbed with maternal love and boundless affection.
"... and we'll protect you too, always," Yue solemnly declared.
"Aye," Gwen concurred, her hazel eyes full of conviction.
There was nothing else to be said. The girls smiled as one, happy in their naive promise.