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A note from Wutosama

Voting for the novel :: Voting button  

Edited 05/01/20

Thankfully, Elvia’s had an ensuite in which Gwen could change out of her bedraggled clothes. She liked the ocean as much as any girl growing up within thirty minutes of Cronulla, but the distinct stink of the fish-scented sea was difficult to dismiss.

Elvia had asked Gwen to leave her dirty laundry, but Gwen stowed them in her ring anyway. The soiled attire was kept in stasis anyhow, and the very thought of Elvia or her mother sorting through her intimates was mortifying.

Earlier, the crowd outside had been barking mad for answers. Gwen had none to give but hoped that things worked out so long as she didn't drop a big 'Void' bomb. In all honesty, having access to 'two' Schools of Magic wasn't all that amazing. What was surprising was the age at which she gained access.

For the every-Mage, two Schools of Magic meant effort and tireless practice. Even her Master, Henry Kilroy, had first been a Conjurer, then a Transmuter, and finally an Evoker and so on.

For her Master, it was his ability to tap into all four Prime Elemental Planes that made him truly unique. There was Sufina too, whose life-giving and life-draining talent gifted him the moniker of "Deathless Henry."

Gingerly, she slipped on a fresh set of intimates, then a vintage polka-dot sundress she'd bought near Surya's. An NoM lady, a local dressmaker, had made the dress. She then towelled the water from her hair, using her hand to mould a one-sided fringe. The result was that she looked humble and country, but at least she was comfortable.

Elvia's eyes sparkled when Gwen emerged.

"Tell me everything!" Her friend took her hand and squeezed as though she was wringing juice from an orange.

"I will! I promise!" Gwen replied. "Not now, though, maybe later? There are still guests out there. You have to the carols, don't you?"

Elvia sulked. She loathed any form of attention, benevolent or otherwise. Still, her doting father, not to mention Gwen herself, very much looked forward to Elvia's performance.

The Lindholms weren't religious by any means, but from the limited conversation Gwen had shared with the mother, they were immensely sentimental about Europe. The original Patriarch of the family was a refugee from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and had kept all the White Christmas traditions alive, despite their exile since the sixties.

"Don't worry, Evee. You look a treat!" She couldn't help but smile. Elvia in a white dress, singing Christmas Carols? Could there be anything more perfect than that?

To no one's surprise, the moment Gwen re-emerged, they were surrounded. Gwen responded to all questions with the universal answer that she was not at "liberty" to speak on pain of ex-communication from her mysterious master.

After loudly repeating her prepared response to a dozen guests, the old questions ceased. Now, they were interested in her personal life: was she dating? Who was her mother? What about her House? And so on.

When Gwen again grew flustered, she caught Richard lingering stoically by himself at the buffet table, pondering the philosophy of which canapes he preferred.

"Richard!" She called out.

He raised his glass to her.

She ran up beside him and hooked his elbow.

"This is my cousin Richard, the heir apparent of my House!" she announced. "He will answer all of your questions."

"I will?" Richard looked at Gwen with a raised eyebrow.

"Help me out, Richard," she whispered beside his ear. "I don't know how to deal with these people. I can't even understand what they're talking about."

"Fine." Richard inclined his head, then turned to the multitude.

"You." Richard pointed to a questioner. "You first."

"Does Ms Song have a partner in mind?" The middle-aged asked carefully.

"No, but I sure as hope you're not asking for yourself. Next!"

Gwen's face turned a bright scarlet, wondering if she had made a terrible mistake in asking Richard for help. Maybe she should stop Richard before he said something irreversible.

The crowd murmured excitedly.

"Who is the patriarch of the Huang Clan?" Someone else asked.

"Surya Huang, my grandfather, Senior Enchanter associated with the Tower."

More murmurs engendered.

"The artist?" Someone asked.

"The same."

"He's an Enchanter?" A voice said incredulously. "I thought he just made er— art."

"Does Ms Song's father belong to a House?"

"No. Next!"

"What is her father's pedigree?"

"Abjurer Tier 4. Next!"

The crowd appeared confused. Gwen's father was a nobody? That seemed hardly right. If she were the progenitor of her talent, it would make her less desirable then if she had a family history of curious multi-school Awakenings.

"What does Ms Song look for in a partner?" Some who was more interested in Gwen herself inquired.

"Magus and above. Tier five or go home. Next!"

The crowd jeered.

"Any preference in particular?"

Richard measured Gwen expertly, placing a hand over her head and another floating down her hips like car salesman marvelling over the curves of a Pininfarina model.

"No shorties. You must be this tall to enter. Next!"

Gwen baulked.
Richard was doing TOO WELL of a job, and now she wanted off his wild ride. Yet, the crowd was now jovial, and the atmosphere had lost the seriousness it possessed only a moment ago.

Leaving Richard to his dog and pony show, Gwen slowly backed away and joined Elvia. Thankfully, the guests were soon out of questions after another volley of Richard expertly calling out 'next,' like an auctioneer.

"Sorry Evee," Gwen apologised for derailing the Xmas gathering.

"I think we should blame Erik! He was the one who made this happen."

Gwen agreed but still felt apologetic.

"Miss Song—"

On cue, they were joined by Frederik, Elvia's father, and an unhappy Erik, looking every inch the helpless kitten facing an impending bath.

"Erik, apologise," Frederik commanded.

"I am sorry."

"It's alright, Erik," Gwen replied sweetly. "No worries, eh?"

"Gwen." Elvia's father coughed to draw her attention. "If there's anything the family can do for you, all you have to do is ask."

Gwen felt a little taken back.

"Please, Mr Lindholm, you don't have to."

"I am serious." The man remained solemn. "Please speak kindly of today's incident to your Master. The boy— he's not the best spell in the tome. I was at fault as well. When he asked for my permission, I didn't see any harm in it. That was short-sighted of me. If you need someone to blame, I would gladly shoulder the blame—"

"Mr Lindholm!" Gwen interjected. "Please, it's fine. I promise. No harm will come to Erik or Elvia, or anyone in your family. We're just kids mucking around."

Frederik's expression grew considerably softer than before.

"Thank you."

"It's me who should be apologising," Gwen replied earnestly.

Frederik nodded, Gwen watched the father rufflke his son's hair, then brush a finger across Elvia's cheeks. "Take care of our guest, you two."

The kids watched their father return to their mother with the good news. Elaina too, had been holding her breath.

Gwen's eye met Elvia's own, and she could see the cogs turn inside her best friend's ash-blonde head. Thee girl was misreading the situation.

"Whatever my talents, Evee, it doesn't change anything between us." She held Elvia's hand. "We're friends, AND we're a team! That's not going to change, no matter who my Master may be."

Elvia's lovely blue eyes glowed with anxiety, seeing Gwen as though for the first time. Gwen guessed correctly that the girl was stunned by her father's attitude. If Gwen and Frederik were equals, then what of Elvia? What was her position in all of this?

"But—"

"No! Elvia—Evee! I am just Gwen, you know? Your friend!" Gwen wondered if there was something she could do to make Elvia understand.

Erik looked downcast, likely realising that he may have screwed the pooch this time.

The three thus stood beside one another in an awkward triangle: one didn't know what to say, one didn't hear what the other had said, and the other wanted to leave but couldn't.

Ding-dong-DING!

The doorbell proved a welcome distraction.

"I'll get it." Erik left hurriedly.

"Evee..." Gwen placed a hand on Elvia's shoulder.

The humble healer regarded her friend warily, still indecisive as to how she should approach her friend in light of her new knowledge. When she’d first known Gwen, her friend had been a joke, widely mocked by the lowest Mage with the most meagre of talents. Then, Gwen had become a Lightning Evoker, grew close to the legendary Alesia de Botton, and now she was a Conjurer-Evoker. Moreso, Gwen had likely been apprenticed by a Magister, and now even her father was afraid of Gwen.

If so, could they still be friends? Elvia's felt the weight of Gwen's affection like a ball and chain. Had she not forgone Lilith's precisely to get away from grandeur? She liked Gwen, she loved her, even; but now, Elvia wanted to cry. She had finally found someone kind and gentle, but now she wasn't good enough. Was her middling talent going to be a burden to her friend? Was Gwen going to tire of her when she inevitably left for a tier 1 city?

"Evee? Hello— are you still in there?" Gwen watched Elvia enact the thousand-yard stare. She wondered if she should give Elvia a shock, a little zap from her fingers to jolt her from the stupor. The girl was overthinking things.

"OI! I AM BACK!"

A shrill cry rang out from the upper floor, rolling across the atrium.
Erik stumbled down the stairs with a frightened look.

"I... I think we're under attack!" He stammered.

Following Erik's finger, the girls saw a familiar figure descend. Their eyes spied a pair of dirty leather combat boots still stained with ichor and blood, ending at the knees in military cargos. Above, two bandoleers of potions slung across the broad hips, hooked onto a stained combat suit. Across their intruder's shoulders was strung a hefty looking backpack with an assortment of camping multi-tools.

And finally, somewhere in that mess of gear was a head full of matted hair, framing a heart-shaped face.

"Rambo?" Gwen murmured, aghast the sight. "Is that Yue?"

Elvia was agog and could say nothing.

"Guys!" Yue shrieked from atop the stairs. She unclipped something, and her gear landed with a noise akin to two skeletons making out on a tin-humpy roof. "I've missed you so much! I MADE IT!"

Yue sprang down the stairs two at a time.

An arm that smelled like the jungle wrap around Gwen's neck and brought her closer towards a pair of suffocating bosoms. Elvia received a likewise treatment, being drawn unwillingly into the deathly embrace of survival training.

It wasn't long before the girls' bodies went slack.
Gwen staggered back, gagging and choking.
Elvia turned green.

"Ha-ha." Yue laughed jovially. "Finally you all get to share in my suffering!"

Gwen circulated a mote of mana to calm herself before the canapes found their way back up.

"It's good to see you too, how did you get back? Where's Alesia?"

"Back to the apartment." Yue grinned. "I came straight here, wasn't going miss Xmas. It's Elvia's party, after all."

"I thought you were out of contact?" Elvia forced herself to swallow. "Did you get my invitation, after all?"

"I received it as soon as we hit a Divi-Station," Yue said. "We flew and teleported as much as we could, fighting whatever critters came out along the way. Even so, it took us 8 hours! There was no time to change."

"I can smell that."

"I am so happy you're here!"

The girls gushed.

Gwen snuck a peek at Elvia; her friend had been sufficiently distracted, for now. She realised that, sooner or later, she had to come clean with her friends. Secrets festered when left unscoured.

"How much time do we have until your performance?" Gwen enquired.
Elvia looked at a clock.

"About thirty minutes?"

"Good. Yue, get yourself cleaned up. Evee, can Yue use your bathroom?"

"Sure, I'll get her a change of clothes."

Gwen passed a hand over Yue's gear, stowing the lot in her Storage Ring. Yue whistled.

"Moving up in the world!"

"It's a long story." Gwen studied Elvia, before turning back to Yue. "Later, I'll tell you everything, I promise."

Yue read the awkward atmosphere.

"You guys have a spiff or something?"

"Nothing like that."

Elvia smiled, reticent in her manner.

"I'll be back!" Yue shrugged. "Whatever your problems, point me to the ensuite first."

Gwen changed again. This time out of her Yue-soiled dress and into a pair of white shorts. As for Elvia, it was no surprise she had an endless wardrobe of white dresses. After the costume change, the girl left Gwen and Yue alone to await the night's final festivities.

Behind the sliding door, Yue showered, humming a little tune as she washed off the grime, moaning from the pleasure of hot water and cleansing, moisturising soap.

"So." Yue's voice penetrated the door. "Are you up shit creek without a paddle?"

"Yep, I am stranded in a sea of shit."

“Yikes. But have ya Awakened in the school of Paddles?"

Gwen snorted.

“Sorry, spent a lot of time with soldiers, picked up some bad habits.”

“Nah, the candidness is refreshing.”

“Well, don’t let it grow on ya.” Yue finished showering. “I am trying to control myself around Elvia, wouldn’t want our innocent Evee to pick up a bad habit.”

Yue slid open the door.

“Whoa,” Gwen turned away, blushing fiercely. “Your puppies are out and about.”

Yue shrugged impressively.

“You get used to it in the field,” she replied. “Showers are rare, and leeches the size of snakes live in the rivers. No time for modesty or comfort.”

“What the hell did you do?” Gwen asked with her back turned.

There was the sound of clothing shuffling on hurriedly.

“Yue, are you decent?”

Her answer arrived in the form of a pair of arm wrapping about her waist.

“It’s good to be back in the real world.” There was a dark edge to Yue’s voice.

“Yue?”

“Just a moment,” Yue answered. “Just need to make sure this is real and not a dream.”

Gwen remained still.

“I am real.”

“I know.”

"What some tissues?"

Yue dabbed at her face.

“Okay, I am good. Let’s go see how our daughter is doing, mother.”

“What? I always thought I was the father,” Gwen inquired suspiciously.

“Ha! You wish!” Yue laughed, obnoxious invading Gwen's privacy, making her yelp. “Jesus, you lose weight? Wheres the meat gone?”

“I worked it off.”

“Another long story?” Yue's wandering hands retreated. “Bloody oath, you're all Gwen and bones. Nobody likes that!”

“I’ll work on it— wait, what's that?”

The sound of music came from above.

“We’re going to miss Elvia's performance!”

The girls entered the living room as the carols were about to begin.
A dozen of the children, mostly boys in white shirts and ivory vests, were lined up by the jetty. A Conjurer had created hundreds of floating Dancing Lights, lazily swimming through the air and over children. Like fireflies, the twinkling sparks danced across the water, illuminating the singers.

Elvia stepped forward, resplendent in the white light, glowing faintly with an aura akin to celestials. She gazed upwards toward Gwen and Yue, her luminous blue eyes twinkling with emotion, then began to sing.

Stille Nacht~ Heil'ge Nacht~
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab' im lockigen Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

The sound of angelic voices and soft piano music faded into the darkness of the bay, commemorating the birth of a God-like being that would change the world for the next millennia. And as the song reached its crescendo, the girls stood alone with their thoughts and their stories, awaiting the long night.

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A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref :: 


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Wutosama

Bio: I write on the phone and edit at home. Times are tough!

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