"I have set up a schedule for you." Master Kilroy's tired voice echoed through the Message spell beside Gwen's ear. "Alesia will bring it to you later today."
Gwen had not expected to hear from her Master so soon and therefore was utterly surprised when a Message bloomed beside her ear at 6 AM, pulling her from the embrace of slumber.
She surveyed the dorm room, seeing that Yue and Elvia slept unperturbed, Gwen realised her Master had been thoughtful enough to send her a Private Message Spell. Clearing her head, she returned a 'Thank you', then quietly dressed, slipping into her school uniform.
Training schedules and classes.
Hopefully, life was back to normal.
Normalcy survived until morning assembly, where Principal Bartlett introduced their new Instructors.
Alesia was, unsurprisingly, staying on until the end of the year, filling in for those who had unfortunately departed. If nothing else, Gwen knew that Alesia also wanted to keep an eye on Yue, whose moniker - in Alesia's eyes - was already Apprentice number one.
After Alesia, the new instructors were introduced.
The first was a nondescript woman.
The next an ex-teacher brought out of retirement.
And then Gunther introduced himself.
The Radiant Mage came on like a Demi-God gracing the mortal realm. Instantly, his presence filled the auditorium, making the place shrink by the grace of his very existence.
Someone squealed, then all hell broke loose.
Gwen rolled her eyes, wondering if Gunther's charisma was a side effect of his Radiant element.
Her Astrology Primer stated that prolonged use of particular elements altered one's physicality and mentality. Yue was hot-headed, her body resistant to cold and heat. Jun was cool-headed, his body resistant to cold. Debora had a toned figure with minimal fat; her once fair complexion now honeyed-caramel. Elvia channelled Positive Energy, so surely that was why she as an angel. Alesia had a personality that was fire personified, and Master Henry had a face like a tree stump, although that could be his age.
Gwen wondered how her own physiology would be affected and what her physiological changes would be. Maybe she'll grow two red dots on her face and start shouting 'Pika!' Or perhaps, Gwen thought more frightfully; she could become an anorexic shadow, forever hungry.
"Oh my..." Yue wiped away a stubborn trail of drool beside her small pink mouth. "I never knew what my type was, but..."
They watched as Gunther introduced his alias. A returned Vet, just entering the education industry; please take care of me, and so on. He announced that he was, like Alesia, a Magus by trade, an Evoker - Abjurer, with a talent for the Quasi-elemental Plane of Radiance, between Fire and the Positive Plane.
"Wow... that's rare, like one in a million rare," Elvia remarked. "Why are we getting Instructors that could hold the position of head teachers in private schools?"
Yue shrugged, "Maybe Bartlett is well connected? All the old guys are military, most of them served during that the Great Coral War. Some of them are surely big wigs up in the chain by now."
Then, to their surprise, Alesia stomped onto the stage and took Gunther by the arm.
"He is my husband," she announced.
The crowd had gone completely silent.
Then an uproar exploded across the hall, both boys and girls wailing in frustration and disappointment.
Behind the teachers, Gwen saw Principal Bartlett facepalm.
"Yes... Instructor Alesia is correct; she is my wife!"
Gunther recovered in an instant. Taking Alesia by the waist, he raised their hands together triumphantly. They look like the President and the First Lady on a rally, Gwen chortled. She would never want to be in a situation where she and Gunther had to contest a platform. Sharing the limelight with that man was the dictionary-definition of been upstaged.
For some indiscernible reason, people began to clap. Spreading until the sound filled the auditorium.
When the fiasco was finally over, Gwen returned to class.
Theories continued to be taught, experiments and demonstrations performed. New teachers and old students were acquainted. Gunther instructed one of Gwen's classes, Elementalism 202, takin to the role like a fish to water; the kids eating up every word as though it were gospel delivered straight from the horse's mouth.
Gwen met with Alesia after classes ended. She had sent her a Silent Message, excusing Gwen from Yue and Elvia's company.
"Here's your schedule, little sister." Alesia handed over a small notebook once they met on the rooftop "Your resources will be allocated by Magus Bartlett. Have a look and see if you have any questions."
Gwen took the notebook and flipped it open. It was blank.
"Oh yeah, here's the glyph for dispelling the ward." Alesia stuck out her tongue playfully before teaching Gwen the incantation.
Gwen invoked the glyph, watching as the words materialised. There was a message from Master Henry encouraging her to work hard and be wary of her Void element, asking her to prioritise her Lightning. The next few pages had references for books her Master had recommended, Primers and Theories that pertained to Conjuration and such. When Gwen finally got to the schedule itself, she was surprised to find that her weekend training was not in fact with Alesia, but at a familiar address.
"Master knows my Grandfather?" Gwen asked incredulously.
"Master Surya made several of Master's items, you know," Alesia stated. "If you had told us that you were his granddaughter, you probably could have been spared from a full-strength Geas."
"Are they well-acquainted?"
"Don't know," Alesia confessed. "War buddies probably. Not many military Mages survived those early days in the 70s. Those who did were the ones who worked together."
Gwen flipped through the book until she caught a queer section where two weeks were outlined in purple with the simple moniker 'Field Work - Black Cat'.
"Any ideas what this is?"
"Oh, that." Alesia smiled nostalgically. "Master has another old war buddy, Marc, who runs a sort of mercenary Questing company. He solves client's problems that the government doesn't want to deal with, or have no resources allocated. Both me and Gunther worked for Black Cat when we were training. It was excellent for work experience, met lots of interesting people."
"There goes my school holidays..." Gwen sulked, though she understood the necessity of perfecting her craft. No amount of practice in sheltered rooms and warded fields could beat that one weekend they had spent killing actual monsters in the Green Zone. Presumably, this 'Black Cat' also offered a similar fare.
"There are two weeks left for yourself if you manage to finish the quests," Alesia continued. "Gunther finished all of his in four days."
"Woa, somehow I don't find that surprising."
"It's an opportunity for you to make some money as well." Alesia laughed. "I recall Gunther made close to two hundred HDMs."
At the sound of clinking crystals, Gwen's heart soared.
"How about you?"
"I finished all the subjugation requests," Alesia answered carefully.
"... then nothing."
"Of course..." Gwen felt no desire to pursue Alesia's trauma. Indeed, sending Alesia on diplomatic missions would likely result in burning buildings and charred corpses.
She continued to flip through the notebook. It was hand-written, meticulous drafted, every day there were activities and objectives. She flipped through the dates until she struck November, where she spotted the names of Yue and Elvia.
Alesia took a gander herself.
"Looks like training for a Team Competition."
"What for?" Gwen asked; although an answer came to mind,
"Looks like 3v3 format to me, but two Evokers? You wouldn't have a tank unless..."
Alesia eyes flashed.
"Looks like my little sis is going to have a debut as a Conjurer - Evoker!"
Gwen flipped through the notebook, all the way until she reached mid-2003.
"Inter-High Tournament," she read out loud, "3v3 or 5v5 champions, or MVP, is the minimum I expect from someone of your talent. We are expecting good things from you, Gwen."
"We?" Gwen reread the line.
"Maybe Sufina's included?" Alesia suggested.
"Is entering the Inter-high comp feasible for someone like me?" Gwen inquired earnestly. Her knowledge of Spellcraft was average at best, and she had yet to exercise a single phenomenon in Conjuration. "Who participates in these things?"
Alesia pointed at herself.
"I swept through singles and 3v3 about fifteen years ago..."
The singular pronoun caught Gwen's attention. She guessed that if Alesia could envelop the other team in a massive AoE, it was technically possible. With an affinity for Fire at Alesia's tier, her spells were twice as powerful while costing half the mana.
Alesia pointed down toward the courtyard, where they could see Gunther’s new fan-club trailing behind the Radiant Mage.
"...and that guy was an All-Star during his time, he swept the singles, 3v3, 5v5, the MPV, the works."
Gwen found no surprises in that revelation.
"What's Gunther's School of Magic?" Gwen asked.
"He's an Evoker with a blend of Conjuration-Illusion," Alesia answered. "His usual Spell List consist of Signature Spells he and Master composed for his Radiant talent."
"That sounds complicated," Gwen muttered, unable to imagine the process involved, much in the same way a senior science student struggled to discern the mechanics of the Large Hadron Collider.
"You don't ever want to see Gunther angry," Alesia spoke without a hint of mirth. "I don't know how he does it, but he can conjure beams of light as thin as your fingers, but powerful enough to melt through a Mineral Abjurer's Shields."
"He can shoot lasers?!" Gwen gasped. But that conjecture didn't make sense either, even with gigawatts of energy, Laser-cutting required time and heat to slice an object.
"What are lasers?" Alesia tipped her head at the foreign word.
"Beams of light?"
Alesia shook her head. She pursed her lips, then tried to explain the Astro-phenomenon.
"Just as your Quasi-Elemental Plane of the Void consists of Void matter, the absence of light, Radiance is the heart of stars - it's the combination of Positive Energy and Fire. Our Astrologist says that our sun is a gate into the heart of the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Radiance, neat, huh?"
"That is pretty neat.” Gwen looked down into the courtyard. A Mage who shoots the heat of the sun as laser beams? That doesn't seem like a mortal ability. How potent were Gunther's 'light' spells? Did they have travel time to the target? How does an opponent ward against something like that?
"What's he like in combat?"
Alesia tilted her head, taking on an air of nostalgia.
"Gunther doesn't fight much these days, he's more of an administrator, or a deterrent against trouble, ha! There was this one time a few years ago though, Master asked us to subjugate a particularly nasty group of Trolls - big ugly Earth Elementals with regeneration. During the fight, one of them caught me mid-air and knocked the wind out of me. He grabbed me by the ankles and was about twist off my foot..."
She caught Gwen with her mouth open.
"Don't worry! They grow back. Master's got access to Regeneration. Anyway, just as I was gritting my teeth, there was a sizzling sound, and when I looked up, the Troll's face was gone. Like, it was just gone, where the troll's face had been, there was a smoking hole. A perfect cylindrical hole. I didn't even hear Gunther invoke his Radiant Blast! I couldn't even see a beam!"
Gwen closed her mouth.
"So that's how powerful Gunther was two years ago. His Radiant Blast was able to penetrate clean through a Tier 6 troll's face. One-hit K.O."
"..." Gwen could scarcely even imagine it. Her lightning blast must be a feather duster in comparison. "Does someone as powerful as Gunther have a fail-safe or something..."
"Like how?" Alesia blinked, her brow furrowing.
"Like, what if his powers are out of control or he gets mind controlled like I almost was."
"Then we better run!" Alesia laughed, her naivety and good nature incapable of registering Gwen's paranoia. "Although, it would be easier for me to summon a Meteor Shower than for a Mind Mage to penetrate Gunther's Ego."
Her brother-in-craft was Apollo reborn, Gwen thought enviously.
She wondered how Gunther would fare against the Serpent. Would he be the one to put the Snake down had it reached the city? Were there others like him? Demi-Gods, walking amongst men, playing politics for shits and giggles. What must it feel like for him to walk shoulder to shoulder with NoMs, knowing that a million of them wasn't worth a hair on his head?
Gwen shuddered. She should be glad Gunther seemed like a top bloke.
"So... when do I start the schedule?"
"Technically it starts today, but do ease into it."
"How closely should I follow it?"
"To the letter I imagine, you'll be seeing Master every fortnight. He'll be testing you."
Gwen felt the notebook in her hands. She had the distinct impression that this was not the schedule of one benefactor, but two, a Magister and an overzealous Opa. If she followed this religiously, she would be left with an hour of her own time per day. Her Saturdays and Sundays were both gone. Her school holiday plans with Elvia and Yue were up in smokes. Her extended summer holidays would be a seven-day training camp.
And yet, despite it all, Gwen observed a masochistic giddiness. If her sages would buckle fortune on her back, then she must have the patience to bear the burden of love and expectation. For someone long used to neglect, a little fatherly faith was enough to have her drunk with happiness.
Gwen's schedule began in earnest the next day.
6 AM: Rise, Wash, and Breakfast.
7 AM: Morning jog around the suburb, 6 kilometres of steep inclines and descents.
8 AM: Prepare for School
9.30AM: Class begins after Assembly.
12 NOON: Classes
1 PM: Lunch
3.30PM: School ends, extracurricular training begins, Mana Management Foundations
5 PM: Elemental Theory and Practicum
6.30PM: Supper at the Dorm
7.30PM: Combat Practice with Alesia and or Gunther.
9.30PM: Return to Dorm, wash and ready for Bed
10.30PM: Can't sleep because Elvia and Yue had endless Questions
11.30PM: Finally asleep because Gwen couldn't keep her eyes open long enough.
12 Midnight: Sweet, sweet oblivion.
Gwen woke with a start, thinking that it was Monday or Tuesday, only to realise that it was Thursday or Friday. Her days and nights blended into one, her sense of time acknowledged each dreadful morning, facing the hill climb from Jubilee to Glebe Point to Wentworth Park.
There were few pleasant surprises along the way, however. On one brisk morning jog, she met with a recovered Debora powering up and down the hills as though she were on flat ground. Jogging in tandem, they enjoyed a shared moment of the runner's high, thereafter taking to synchronise their schedules to share the morning routine. Debora told Gwen that she was working on her strengthening spells, trying to attain the next tier of Bronze Skin for better defence and Bronze Flesh for elemental resistance.
Meanwhile, Yue had taken up training with Alesia. The Scarlet Sorceress finally hinted to Yue of the possibility of an Apprenticeship. A few weeks into the schedule, Yue then joined Gwen for Elemental Theorem and Mana Foundations. Later, she discovered that whenever Gunther trained with her, Alesia trained with Yue. The parallel made her glad and happy, putting her anxiety over Yue's future at ease.
After the mid-year, the girls had to say goodbye to Jun and Henley, who was now going to enrol and begin their military service. To the boys’ surprise, Alesia pulled a few strings, and they both managed to get into the Divisions most suited to their talents. Jun entered an Officer's training school with a commendation for Valor during the Serpent incident. Henley entered the Intelligence Division, where he received the opportunity to focus on his Divination. Gwen received a half-day recess for the boy's sending away party, and the friends promised to see one another outside of school as young adults.
By late July, she had mastered elementary Conjuration and was fast approaching her first milestone: a special ceremony for all Conjurers. It was to take place at her Grandfather's estate, where both Opa and Master had spared no expense creating a complex and expensive Summoning Circle. According to a cheeky Yue, this was the moment in which all fledgeling Conjurer lost their proverbial virginity. Gwen was to receive her first summon, their first companion, a being whose existence was tied to their own - a Familiar for life.