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A note from Wutosama

Edited 18/01/19

Gunther plated their dinner.

Soup: French Onion, cut with crisped Gruyere, croutons.
Entree: Bone-in Wildland Lamb lollypops in coarse mint conserve.
Salad: Mixed Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes in sweetened apple vinaigrette.
Main: Whole Roasted Wind Pheasant, red wine reduction in own jus.
Dessert: Creme Brûlée

Gwen reached out with a trembling fork, resisting the ingrained desire to take a picture. Each dish was more flavoursome than the next, bringing her taste buds to climax.

She took a sip of the wine.
Paired Wine! Simply orgasmic.

“Magister Walken was fuming.” Gunther swallowed before speaking, smiling serenely at Alesia every time she fluttered her lashes. “Of course, I reminded him that had he taken you in, Master would have returned the favour by having him waste away for a week in Sufina's grot.”

“These Factional conflicts are getting out of hand,” Alesia sighed. “So much infighting, nothing ever gets done.”

Gwen watched as Alesia sidled closer to Gunther. The man remained perfectly stoic and unmoved by her bold intentions.

“Gunther, can you tell me about these Factions?” Gwen interrupted the two. The awkward atmosphere was beginning to become unbearable.

“What do you what to know?” Gunther asked.

“Everything?” Gwen confessed candidly. “I've never even been to a Tower until yesterday.”

“Seriously?” Gunther glanced at Alesia, who nodded solemnly. His Master, the ever-critical Henry Kilroy, asked a girl to be his Apprentice within hours of meeting her for the first time? Even with Alesia vouching for the girl, it seemed excessive. “The old man must have taken a liking to you.”

“More than you know, Gunther, Gwen clarified the Ordo Arcanum Credo in one line. Did Master tell you?”

“Noblesse Oblige, the binding of our superior advantage to larger generosity... the abuse of Greatness is when remorse is disjointed from power.” Gunther inspected Gwen with renewed interest. "I can certainly see why you've impressed Master."

“Yep,” Alesia gestured rather rudely with her fork. “I am afraid you’re no longer the favourite, Gunther.”

“I am happy for Gwen if that's the case,” Gunther replied, his face betraying nothing. “But surely, Allie, you were always his favourite.”

“Not that it matters now.” Alesia grinned cheekily. “Gwen's the pet favourite now.”

Gunther grinned, reminding Gwen of the men on Van Heusen posters.

“Anyway, to answer your earlier question,” he continued to Gwen. “There are three main factions. Our Master upholds the Middle-Path faction, prioritising the preservation of human cities, including the NoMs, and maintaining diplomatic relations with Demi-human Races. Of the Ten Magisters of Oceania, four count themselves among our number.”

“The second faction is the Purist Faction, also known as the Militant Faction. Their three Magisters hold ranks within the Frontier Militia. They believe that we should engage in a continuous purge of Magical Creatures and Demihumans, expanding human influence into the Wildlands.”

“Is that even possible?” Gwen blurted incredulously. After all, she had seen first hand what her Mythic 'kin' was capable of doing. What would be the cost of subjugating such a creature?

“With the Tower's support, it's possible." Gwen wanted to ask what that meant, but the man had moved on. “The last faction are the ones who believe that the answer lies in joining those outside the city; that we shouldn't be living in isolated enclaves. There are three Magisters in this faction too. Magister Walken is one of them.”

“Nasty little man,” Alesia snidely remarked. “With nasty little connections to the Wildland Demihumans.”

“Now, now, Allie,” Gunther motioned disarmingly. “You know as well as I do that the Grey Market materials provided by those Magisters make up for half of all the Magic items in the Tower.”

Gwen perked up.

“Alesia! What if someone from the Tower crafted Edgar's Teleportation Ring? Does the Tower have records of who made what?”

Gunther shook his head.

“Records are confidentially maintained by Enchanters. Anyone worth their salt in espionage would not leave a trail as large as that. A Contingency Ring with Long Range Teleport costs anywhere between five-thousand to fifty-thousand HDMs! Moreover, there are no Enchanters capable of using the Asscher inscription technique outside of Europe.”

“Oh.” Gwen sipped her water sadly. So much for that avenue of enquiry.

At the dinner's conclusion, Gunther brought out the creme brûlée.

Alesia continued to entice her senior, though the Paladin of Sydney Tower kept his demeanour as cool as a cucumber.

“Anyway,” Gunther reached into his pocket, brought out a small ring box, then pushed it toward the middle of the table.

“…” Alesia's eyes grew wide.

“This is …”

The Scarlet Sorceress swallowed, her throat bobbing back and forth.

“… for Gwen,” Gunther coughed.

“...” Alesia clicked her tongue.

“What is it?” Though curiosity was gnawing on her like a cat, Gwen refrained from touching the box.

“Master Henry believes it may be best if Alesia or I could come to your aid in the event of life-threatening danger. Knowing your connection to that Mythic, it's best we have insurance."

“Oh?”

Gunther opened the box to reveal an intricate piece of magical jewellery, a silver band with an obsidian stone.

"A Teleportation Beacon," Gunther explained. "If you’re in trouble, activate it with a command sigil, and it’ll send out an SOS to the three of us. We can then use Teleport or Teleportation Circle to come to you.”

The two of them watched as Gwen obediently equipped the ring, the small silver band shifting to conform to the circumference of her left ring finger.

“Say.” Gwen felt that she should confirm her suspicion. “Does this ring provide a live update on my whereabouts?”

“That it does,” Gunther intoned casually. “That's the point. Alesia and I both have one.”

They raised their hands, dispelling their ring's inbuilt glamour. Sure enough, Gunther and Alesia also possessed subtle silver-bands. Alesia sported an impressive ruby, while Gunther owned a bright, square-cut diamond.

What rock! Gwen marvelled. That bloody thing's rocking four to five carats.

“Don’t take it off. Ever.” Gunther's tone inferred his advice was less a suggestion and more so a command.

“Of course,” Gwen smiled back, putting on some of that disarming teenage charms the youthful possessed in abundance.

“So, what’s going to happen from here on out?” Gwen asked. After the accumulated events of the Serpent, the Void element, and the Second Awakening, was it even possible for her to go back to school? What about her mandatory military service?

“You go back to school,” Gunther surprised her by guessing her train of thought. “Master believes that your body needs time to grow into the possession of two Schools of Magic, not to mention your Void Element. After you graduate high school, we'll arrange something for your military service. You'll be under my direct supervision. There, you should be relatively safe.”

“Relatively?” Gwen noted Gunther's conditional participle.

“Safe from the Factions, the Houses, Clans and Sects, that sort of thing,” Gunther leaned back, feeling nostalgic. “But not Monsters, the Wildlands, or folks wanting to duel you. No pain, no gain, right?”

"I guess so."

“Don't fret, Gwennie. I went through the same thing, although I was a bit younger than you…” Alesia affirmed Gunther’s nostalgia. “I did some of my best work back then. It was such a carefree period of my life. Questing all day, Purge Missions every week. No Factions to bother me.”

“That’s a mild way to put it,” Gunther laughed, his good humour returning. “Try to imagine it, Gwen. A thirteen-year-old Alesia, only this tall, throwing fireballs this way and that on the Brisbane Line, fighting eight-foot tall crab.”

“Thirteen!” Gwen almost choked on her creme brûlée. Alesia was a child soldier?! What kind of a fucked up experience did the two of you endure?

“Well, I was only Twenty, myself,” Gunther humbly boasted, his stoicism a little loosened by the decanter of Shiraz they had imbibed. “We’re both offensive casters, you see, and we were right in the thick of the Coral Sea War. Man, those damn Mermen, thousands, hundreds of thousands of the bastards; a never-ending tide of stinking fish.”

“Yeah, we ate a lot of seafood,” Alesia chortled. “The war put me off shellfish for years.”

“You'll never look at seafood the same way after a crawfish Mermen tries to take off your arm with a pincer that could chew through steel plates!”

“I remember this time that Gunther got dragged under by an octopus Mermen. To escape, he cooked it from inside out. It took three days to get the ink off him, ha!”

Gwen listened to the two of them swap old war stories and knew that no matter how amicable her siblings-in-craft were to her, there was an intimacy that she could never attain. Though she was the new favourite kitten, there was a place in their Master's cabal for his faithful hounds that she could never occupy.

But Gwen was glad at least, that she was going back to school. There was almost a year left with Yue and Elvia, and she was going to enjoy every minute of it. Yue said she was going to join the military track, but with Alesia’s help and the Magister’s influence, perhaps they could stay together! Elvia would be off on her own, though they could still see one another during breaks.

“Gwen?” Alesia called for her.

“I am sorry, I was daydreaming…” Gwen apologised, her face flushed even though she had only a sip of the wine.

“It’s alright; you must be exhausted.” Gunther pulled back his chair and found himself an apron embossed with yellow duckies. “I’ll clean up, go to bed. You can go back to the dorm tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Gunther. You too, Alesia.” Gwen smiled at them warmly before removing herself and tucking the chair back. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“I am leaving soon,” Gunther replied. “Though I’ll see you around.”

“Good night, you two.” Gwen performed a cute little curtsy.

“Good night, little sister.” Gunther flashed her a smile with pearly teeth.

Oof! Her heart throbbed. Talk about an au-naturale lady killer.

The siblings-in-craft waited until Gwen was in her room on the second floor before they retired to the bay windows overlooking the harbour. It was now late, well past the witching hour. Upon the surface of the bay, slivers of refracted light from the Barrier Shield, flitters about within the churning of dark waters like silvery fish. From the bay's interior, Sydney extended into the water’s edge, fingers of multi-coloured light, stabbing toward a tenebrous horizon.

“What do you think of Gwen?” Alesia inquired of her brother-in-craft. Sometimes, he was the man of her dreams. Other times, he was the big brother she trusted and loved. Then there were times when he felt like a stranger, a stoic Paladin of the Tower, a title made flesh.

“She's strangely mature for her age,” Gunther articulated in that deep, resonating voice of his.

Alesia found herself leaning against Gunther, her head resting upon his shoulders as they sat on the couch overlooking the bay. One of his hands moved to touch her arm, his fingertips softly caressing the skin until he reached her hair, twirling strands around his digits before letting the ringlets fall. For all his charismatic bluster, Gunther was a prude. Public displays of affection in front of a stranger like Gwen was beyond him.

“I fear Master has dropped a difficult task on my plate. What do we know of her? Is she truly as innocent as she appears to be? She's no child, I am afraid.”

“Well, she's rather tall, well developed, got legs for days,” Alesia replied playfully. She could not deny that Gwen's strange mix of heritage gave her a sense of exotic allure: the girl's eyes, her shapely limbs - no wonder Gwen's uncle thought to pawn her off to the highest bidder.

Gunther gave Alesia a friendly pat on the thigh.

“Don’t be an idiot. I am not interested in little girls.” His mirthful tone then took a severe turn. “I take it you agree with Master then? The both of you are confident that she’s going to be an asset?”

“She’s going to be a great Sister and a good Apprentice,” Alesia's voice rose an octave. “You can't think of her in terms of assets and deficits, Gunther, she’s still a person before anything else. I've taught her for three months now. She's a good girl.”

“Alright, alright, I am sorry,” Gunther made amends by kissing her on the forehead. “I am just looking out for Master. You know his health is not well. It’s a lot of effort raising a new Apprentice.”

“That’s why we’re filling in for him, right?”

Gunther grunted, exhaling deeply.

"I suppose you're right."

The duo remained entwined, comfortable in their familiarity. Alesia could feel Gunther’s body underneath her, at ease and relaxed. They were cuddling, or at least she thought they were. His arms were wrapped around her waspish waist, and her skin was warm against his cheeks. Maybe one day, Gunther will reciprocate her feelings, but his work, his duty, his loyalty to Master - all of it prevented him from pursuing a personal life.

Upstairs, Gwen was asleep, exhausted by close to forty hours of continuous wakefulness, kept alert only by Sufina’s ambrosia. If she could see Alesia and Gunther on that couch though, she would have immediately recognised their body language.

It was a case of two dogs playing on a hearth-rug. The younger worrying, whining, snarling, snapping, giving a pinch, now and then, at the old dog’s ear; the other lying somnolent, blinking at the fire, raising a paw before turning to lick the first. Gunther and Alesia, they were littermates, entwined into a familial embrace, one’s head under the chin of another, falling asleep, numbed by the intimacy of one another's presence.

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A note from Wutosama

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Wutosama

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