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A note from Wutosama

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Edited 11/01/20

 


"You and Debora toured the Outback?!" Elvia's eyes marvelled at the word.

To the city folk, the Outback Frontier was a world of horses and Aurochs and Roos. That, and Drop Bears— Monstrosities hidden among the branches, waiting for the wayward feller wandering below, only to descend upon them with their rock-hard arse.

"Aye," Gwen answered with a seductive grin. "The Outback! A place of yore, a sunburnt country full of sweeping planes, rugged mountain ranges, droughts and flooding rains; with stark white ring-bark forests, all tragic as the moon, and sapphire-misted mountains and the hot gold hush of noon!"

Elvia's eyes glazed over with a look of dreamy romanticism.

"There, we battled a brutal Land Shark, hungry for the flesh of man! Debora and I, two young maidens thrown into the fight, were ambushed by a dread-beast in the dead of night!"

"Whoa..."

"But what horrid hap for the Shark! For the cunning Debs doth made pillars of stone for us to escape our woe! Frustrated, the Shark cometh, jaws-a-snapping and saliva-a-flinging. Hark! I called upon a thunderous hammer to smite our foe with lightning! Alas! It's diamond scales repelled the bolt!"

"Oh, no!" Elvia gasped. "Then what?"

"Fear not, for even as the beast's ire shifted to I; the faithful Debora leapt unto the creatures' flank, beating upon it as...er... drum!"

"Huh—?"

"Look, don't expect me to last more than a few verses, I am no Skandi Battle Skald." Gwen shrugged. "The main thing is, we defeated the beast, and Deb was lucky enough to pick up an intermediate earth spirit with the power of sand."

"No shit?" Yue exploded. "A Spirit?!"

"Yep, a medium-tier Sand Spirit."

Yue appeared thunderstruck. The girl had risked her life wading through Murkloc guts, and all she got was PTSD. Debora went adventuring in the wilderness with her best friend and just casually picks up a mid-tier Elemental?

"She worked hard for it." Gwen coughed. "She's a good ally."

Yue's eyes narrowed.

"What's her affinity now??"

"Tier… five?"

"Fuck." Yue snorted twin streams of air from her nostrils. She looked Gwen up and down, making her skin crawl. "We should go hunting sometime."

"Sure. There's always more Roos roaming the region."

"We better," Yue sighed. "Alright, let's snooze."

"You're sleeping here?" Gwen muttered between pursed lips, her eyes glazing over.

"You're not?" Yue shot her a look.

Gwen looked at the two girls. Yue's voluptuous figure enveloped Elvia's, though the smaller girl paid her companion no mind. As for her self, she felt strangely self-conscious. For some reason, she thought of Debora's blushing face.

"Come on, you sleeping or not?" Yue patted the place beside her.
Gwen felt her resolve put to the test. Sleeping next to Yue should be fine. If she slept next to Elvia, she might awaken something terrible.

Driving all thoughts from her mind, Gwen quietly removed herself from the foot of the bed, sliding herself into the silky sheets.

"Right," she replied woodenly. "Let's sleep."

She closed her eyes and tried to stay still, one leg hanging over the edge.

Before she could get comfortable, two soft pillows pressed against her arm. Soon, a thigh followed. Before she could protest, there was a sound of snoring.

Gwen pushed on her best friend, but the girl was already sleeping like a log, dead to the world.

"You girls have fun last night? What'd you do? Board games?"

Frederik was having a good chuckle at the girl's expenses when Gwen emerged with eyes that were puffy and bloodshot. In Elvia's bedroom, the others were still counting sheep, entangled within piles of linen.

"Good morning Mr Lindholm," Gwen greeted the Patriarch and his wife. "Good morning Mrs Lindholm."

"Call me, Fred," the Patriarch answered jovially.

"Likewise," Elaina replied, "Just Elly is fine."

"That's aright." Gwen raised both hands and refused politely. "I wouldn't want to make Elvia uncomfortable."

"Suit yourself." Frederik tipped his coffee cup toward the maid, who was readying breakfast for the girls. "Beatrice, can you make Miss Song a coffee as well, please."

"Yes, sir," the maid worked the machine.

In the morning night, Gwen studied Elvia's parents. Elaina appeared should be thirty, but she seemed only a little older than her friend. Unfortunately, Gwen noted sadly, if Elaina was any indication, it was unlikely that the angelic Elvia would become any more 'womanly'.

"Oh yes, your cousin left us this." Frederik handed over a card.
"I think it's an invite."

Gwen took the card and opened it. There was a family portrait of Richard, Aunt Tali, and Uncle Huang on the inside, with Happy NY written in English and Chinese.

Gwen, come to the NY family meet up this year. I know that previous years Kwan had been a dick and didn't invite you, but this year Surya is coming. Something big is happening. Your mother's coming as well. You should be here.

— Richard.'

Gwen snapped the card shut. She should probably give Opa a buzz.
Yue and Elvia seemed like they would take a while yet.

"Excuse me. I need to send a Message," Gwen apologised, walking barefoot onto the bay view terrace. She took in the vista before her, feeling the salty breeze of the sea brine upon her skin. The coolness helped to diffuse the sudden heat she felt the moment her mother's name was mentioned.

Helena Huang.

Gwen felt nauseated each time she tried to access either of her memories regarding her mother. The old Gwen's fragmented recollection had been full of disparaging moments of anxiety, both purposeful and neglectful. From the time alter-Gwen was ten and failed to show any promise in Spellcraft, Helena had obsessed with Gwen's external appearance. In terms of recollection, all she possessed were a vague montage of crash diets, verbal abuse, as well as toxic criticism of the girl in front of others.

As for Gwen herself, she hated her reflexive desire to please Helena. Each time she thought of her "Mother", something of the old Gwen reared its ugly head.

Facing the sea, she willed herself inwards. If she was to confront her mother, then the last thing she wanted was for some horrid memory to paralyse her at a critical junction. She wasn't sure about her alter-self, but she-herself rarely allowed wounds to fester.

When she had meditated on her memories before, it had felt like a torch dropped down a deep well. At the bottom of that well sat old water, festering with scummy memories.

She recalled that in her old life, she had told Helena to fuck herself the day before she moved out into a shared-room provided by the Government and her part-time work. After that, it took only four years of waitressing at trendy bars to finish university, by which time Helena had all but faded from her life. When she later queried her father, Morye had told her that Helena had left Australia with her new husband for China.

But the Gwen of this world could not have expected government assistance nor a safe bed provided by Welfare. She was only useful to society as a Mage. If Gwen's family had simply abandoned her— Gwen shuddered; she had seen enough at Blackheath to know she wouldn't last a week.

That was why her old ego no choice but to buy into her mother's words. Alter-Gwen must have thought herself lucky to have a mother who was so maternal and caring, and that she was the one who was too fat, too skinny, too whatever.

"WHOA—"

A chilling shock jolted Gwen from her internal revelry.

"Whoops," Yue apologised, retracting a cold bottle of water. "Didn't think you were that out of it. Good morning!"

"Morning," Gwen answered with a wane smile, one hand touching the spot where the cold bottle had left a moist indent.

"Elvia should be up soon."

"Nice, did you get a good sleep?"

"Oh yeah, nice and snug. Man, I've got to invest in those one thousand thread-count sheets. It was like I was sleeping in a cocoon."

"Yeah, it's nice like that."

Half-an-hour later, Elvia joined them.

"Hey, you."

"Morning," Evee yawned, making a cherubic expression that energised the sleep-deprived Gwen.

Gwen showed her friends her invitation.

"Want some support?" Yue smashed a fist into the palm of her hand. There was no way to know that underneath that expression of sweetness was a battle maniac who now had a four-digit kill counter.

"Nah." Gwen shook her head. "I'd have to face the music sooner or later, I'd prefer sooner."

Yue shook her Message Device.

"You know where we'll be."

Elvia likewise concurred, offering herself to be Gwen's support.

"Thanks, guys," Gwen confessed her gladness. "Let me make a call."

Away from the girls, she Messaged Surya.

"Opa."

"Gwen, my girl! How's the party?"

"It was delightful."

"What's the matter?"

Gwen wasn't exactly sure how to approach the matter, so she mentioned Richard's note.

"Ah, heard about, it did ya?" Surya said. "Richard's a good bloke, eh? Who'd have thought? Well, you should thank your Master. I spoke to your Master, and he wants your family distractions resolved."

"You're not going to tell them about my talents, are you?" Gwen's chest tingled.

"Not entirely, no. That's the problem, you see? Kwan's a real piece of work, even if he's my son. Heaven knows what stupid ploys he's tied up for you. I have to go and make it clear that you're a line they cannot cross, on pain of ex-communication."

"Do you think I should come, Opa?"

"You don't have to. I know you and Helena—" Surya suddenly paused, as if something had struck his mind mid-sentence. "You don't fault me for that, do you, Gwen? I was so upset with Morye back then. I didn't know what Helena was doing."

"It's alright, Opa." How could she be angry at Surya? In her old world, she didn't even see her Opa more than a dozen times before he passed. In this world, she was beyond glad that someone like Surya even existed.

There was the sound of relief and a chuckle.

"Well, you can come if you like. You might see something amazing."

"What is it, Opa?"

"Hehe, you'll see." Her Opa chuckled to himself. "I'll see you on the 31st. Remember to dress formally for the occasion. Impress everyone! Are you coming back to the estate for the next few days?"

"I should be."

"Good, I have something to give you."

Gwen blinked. Her heart quickened; that something had to be Almudj's Scale! At long last, after all this time, it was ready!

"Okay, Opa. I'll be over later. Can I bring some friends?"

 

"Of course! Anyone who is a friend of yours is welcome in 'our' estate."

"Thanks, Opa, you're the best!"

"I know, dear. I know."

The glow of the Divination ceased.

She wanted to return to the estate right now. What could Opa have created from the scale of the serpent? It was an exciting prospect, but not nearly as overwhelming as inviting her friends to "her" place for once.

"Guys! Gather around. Listen, I've just got approval. You guys haven't been to my Opa's estate yet, right? Out in the Valley?"

"Nope." Yue drank her orange juice.

Elvia shook her head. She took her milk syrupy-sweet.

"Do you want to come and hang out for the next few days? We can hunt some Roos, check out the towns, go for a ride on horses through the outback— hot gold hush of noon and all that."

"Horses!?" Elvia's ultramarine eyes lit up.

"Oh yes, I have one called Beatrice, a spotted mare," Gwen explained the deal with her mare, and how Surya had kept it at his estate for Gwen's perusal.

"Roos?" Yue's spirit was on ablaze. "Big, three-metre bastards that try to melee you?"

"Thousands of them," Gwen assured her.

"Let me ask dad."

"I need to make a call."

Her friends returned a moment later. Frederik was more than happy for Elvia to spend more time with Gwen. After all, one could never build enough early social capital with a future Magister-in-waiting.

Yue's doting mother didn't like the impromptu holiday but knew she couldn't stop his headstrong daughter even if he tried.

"Alright, when do we leave?" Yue asked. Gwen still had all her gear. She was good to go.

"I need to pack! Give me an hour! No, thirty-minutes!"

The journey back down to Polkobin involved travelling back into the city before catching a train again out toward the tablelands. The three girls chitter-chatted the whole while, drawing curious glances from other passengers in the train.

From the station, it was Tess who picked them up in the rumbling old sedan.

"Opa!" Gwen ran to Surya and embraced him.

Yue and Elvia marvelled at the country estate and its spaciousness,

"Gwen, my girl!" Surya was more than happy to have the shampoo scent of his granddaughter's hair fill his nostrils. "— and welcome, I am Surya, Gwen's grandfather."

"Thank you for having us, Master Huang." Elvia bowed gracefully, a lock of blonde hair falling over one eye. Surya nodded approvingly, recognising the healer from Gwen's stories.

"Hello! Thanks for inviting us, Master Huang," Yue greeted Surya casually. She performed an awkward bow, her spaghetti-string tanktop testing its limits, flashing Surya a wide grin full of white teeth.

Gwen's grandfather's eyes almost fell out of their sockets. Gwen had told him about the Asian girl who was Alesia's student, but to his eyes, the girl was larger than life.

"Gwen—" Surya whispered to Gwen. "Your friend is beyond impressive."

"Oh yes," Gwen nodded. "She's tier 4 affinity fire. She's seen real combat a well."

"That is impressive, indeed." Surya couldn't peel his eyes away.

"Gwen." Yue coughed, turning away from the ogling grandfather. "That's not what he meant."

"Opa!" Gwen kicked Surya in the shins.

"Arrghk— come and see me in the Workshop."

Surya fled.

Gwen led her friends to the guest rooms, assured Elvia and Yue of her Opa's good intentions, then promised that she would soon return.

In the west wing, her Opa was seated in his usual place. This time, he had a small silver box out in front of him, placed on top of a pedestal.

"Is it ready?" Gwen asked; her heart at her throat.

"It's ready," Surya affirmed.

"May I?" Gwen inquired carefully.

Surya nodded.

Gwen gingerly retrieved the box and opened it. She was greeted with the spectacle of a chromatic scale the size of her thumbnail. On cue, the scale rose into the air and began to orbit her head, shimmering with the petrol-sheen of a pigeon's neck.

"An Ioun Stone?!" Gwen was shocked. She had thought her grandfather would have made her a brooch or another ring, but an Ioun Stone!

By nature, such items were accessory iconically associated with powerful Mages. Pending the materials used to make the stone, a sorceress buffed herself with many effects, from improved protection to higher damage output, to hasted casting. Rarer stones even provided the ability to comprehend and understand arcane languages!

Gwen's eyes followed the scintillating scale.

"So what does it do, Opa?"

Surya rubbed his chin.

"Are you aware of how imbued enchantments work, Gwen?"

Gwen scanned her mind for any residual knowledge that the old Gwen might have left, finding nothing. She had never received formal training in Enchantment and didn't know any details beyond basic high-school theory crafting.

"Well, you should know that even with the best of materials, it is only possible to imbue a few effects onto an item. The scale you brought me had the unique ability to tap into the natural elements, or what we call the Primary elements - Fire, Water, Air, an Earth, do you understand?"

Gwen nodded. Surya continued.

"What do you think you need most right now?"

"Positive Energy?" Gwen said hopefully.

Surya made a face.

"I am afraid that's out of my league. What I mean is, what is your weakest talent?"

"Defence?" Gwen asked. She knew her counter-spells was non-existent. Even her non-newtonian plagiarism of Gunther's barrier took an incredible amount of concentration to maintain and manifest.

"Indeed, in the face of the Inter-High competition to come, I consulted with Henry, and we decided that you should gain an item of defence and protection first and foremost."

"Oh?" Gwen sounded almost disappointed. She had been expecting something that further augmented her offence.

"You can't afford to lose any of the battles Gwen, and you can be sure that those kids would be targeting the team's main caster. How are you going to do damage if you're a glass cannon?"

Gwen had to admit there was merit in what Surya was saying.

"After much deliberation, I have imbued the scale with the passive effect of absorbing Primary elemental damage."

Surya snapped his fingers, and a mote of fire flew towards Gwen, sizzling through the air and striking her skin. Gwen yelped and pulled back her hand, expecting a sharp pain. Instead, she felt only a warmness as the channelled flame faded into her skin. The scale shimmered, thrumming with resonance, humming gently.

"The scale significantly diminishes the effects of low-affinity elemental effects," Surya explained. "Give me your hand."

Gwen extended her hand doubtfully. Surya took from the wall bracket an assortment of implements.

He pointed the first one at her hand, channelling mana into the device. There was a crackling sound of snapping stone as a jagged shard materialised and shot towards Gwen's palm.
Gwen felt the impact bite into her hand.

"Ouch!" She pulled her hand and flinched.

"It doesn't stop physical effects." Surya pulled out another wand, this one with a core that was blue as sapphires.

"However, watch this."

Surya channelled and shot a shard of ice toward Gwen's palm. Gwen felt the ice stab into her flesh with a pin-prick, but there was no feeling of frigidity upon her skin.

"Strange, no?" Surya laughed. "I am not sure how it works either. I guess now we know why Alesia's flames failed to peel a single scale from the rainbow serpent."

Gwen asked Surya to try out a few more elements from his attuned inscriptors, ponding the scale's effects as she went. As a novice, Gwen could deduce that the "Scale" absorbed heat and cold. While kinetic devices were unaffected, it dampened entropic, thermodynamic damage.

Gwen gave the matter some thought.

Self-defence was not her forte. According to Alesia, dodging spells with high-mobility became non-optional once damage ramped up the tiers. Of the Schools of Magic under her belt, it was only Evocation and Conjuration that she excelled, for a jack of all trades would not benefit her team, especially as she had painted herself as an offensive expert.

From now, she had three months until the start of the competition. Of all her alternative talents, it was Flight from the School of Transmutation that made the most significant contribution to her tactical options.

But then again, Abjuration offered Resistance and Wards...
And Divination allowed detection and prevention...

Across from Gwen, Surya watched Gwen's eyes glaze over.
It was like his cute cucu perempuan had suddenly seized up.
Did he break her? He wondered. Was the scale too impressive? It did absorb elemental damage, after all, that's about as unique as a mid-tier item could be.

Slowly, his eyes gazed downwards at her long white legs poking out beneath her dress. He selected a Wand of Ice from the table and pointed it towards the brass stool, a sudden feeling of mischief filling his old heart.

What was life for an Enchanter without his amusements?

 

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A note from Wutosama

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Wutosama

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

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