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A note from Wutosama

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The blurring of days took on a life of its own. During the weekday, the girls worked their craft until their brains throbbed. On the weekend, when the party went their separate ways, Gwen visited the Tower.

She was a regular now, a welcome distraction for the guards, who would snatch a few minutes of polite conversation with her. As a result, her reputation among the staff was excellent, and many enjoyed the company of an uncommonly pretty young lady visiting the Tower Master.

The levitation platform stopped when it reached Henry's chamber.

"See you guys next time." Gwen flashed the guards a sunny grin.

Gwen parted, stepping into the Grot with the effortless grace of a dancer.

"Mate." A guard felt his chest constrict. "I reckon she's into me."

"…" His companion punched his mate in the arm. "Get back to work, stop day-dreaming, and work on your Fire Bolt."

Gwen's lesson of the day was Dimension Door. Her primary objective was mastering spatial transfer.

Her first exercise was to conjure a set of markers in a location Henry designated, marked by cute little shrubs where her body would theoretically manifest. Each "tag" consisted of a glowing crystal, and her job was to translocate four markers, forming a grid around Sufina's shrub.

It had taken Gwen a few weekends to competently envelope the exact location of Sufina's designations with her Conjuration markers. Her progress, her Master had explained was aided by the fact that lightning spells operated on the same concept of spatial targeting.

Next was the invocation of the door itself. Unlike volatile Evocation magic, Conjuration was a delicate operation. Any miscasts or lapse in manifesting the arcane phenomena would distort, then bruise the caster's a physical body coming through the immaterial. At best, she'd be bedridden for days; at worst, she could lose a limb.

The maximum range of the Dimension Door was determined by the caster's Elemental Affinity, a trait that likewise affected casting speed, cost, and stability.

"Could I try a Void Dimension door?" Gwen asked out of curiosity.

"I have no idea." Henry sounded uncomfortable with the idea. "I am not sure how that would work, and I would not venture to experiment with your life on the line. Dimension Door works perfectly fine without elemental mana. Your Lightning merely lubricates the process by manifesting quickly and violently at the point of arrival."

"What do you propose, Master?"

Henry scratched his beard thoughtfully.

"I knew a Salt Mage, like your brother, once," he replied. "His Dimension Door enabled a blast of Salt upon arrival, which acted as both defence and offence. That's what you're learning, and your Void would perhaps work in the same manner. Still, fleeing from certain doom and imminent harm, I would hardly advise on spending vitality and weakening yourself on arrival, not when you have a perfectly suitable element to spare."

Gwen agreed, though she secretly wondered if she should experiment in private one day, especially with Elvia on hand to provide a layer of insurance.

As the days went by, Gwen found herself increasingly proficient in achieving the efficiency and fluency of incantations necessary for combat teleportation. All that was left was to test out the spell under live fire and discover if she could maintain the same efficacy under the shadow of death.

A few weeks later, the girls had finally managed to get Whetu's shield to collapsed before the four-second mark. Though they'd made up for their failures with large breakfasts and big dinners, a light lunch was nonetheless undesirable.

Through the process, Gwen had tested several theories against the lattice shielding, finding that Whetu's unique skill responded exceptionally well to a wide-area barrage. Instead, the girls needed to concentrate on attacking the same area at a controlled cadence.

"Yue, your incantation Blast Bolts takes four seconds, Debbie— your Catapult takes two seconds, I can time my Lighting Bolt to fire in conjunction per three seconds. Likewise, I can get Ariel to guide the Call Storm from the cloud into the same area, which can be followed immediately by my lightning bolt. Elvia, I want you to open up with a Magic Missile, fire one set per five seconds."

"Right!" The girls affirmed.

"Resist element!" Whetu refreshed his buff, looking worried.

"Magic Missile!" From Elvia, a swarm of invisible missiles rocked the surface of the punamu shielding, splintering its surface.

A Catapult followed, smashing into the shield and entering the second layer. Straightaway, the stone began to repair itself but was interrupted when an electric bolt lit the interior like a bulb. A spray of electricity-fuelled darts from a snarling Ariel further guided Gwen's Lightning Bolt into the crack, breaking the Pounamu apart.

"Aarrgh!" Whetu leapt out of the way. "Shield Break! Shield Break!"

The shield splintered, the energy contained from within shattering its outer crust and sending bits of greenstone splintering all over. The girls dived for cover, hiding behind their barriers as a wave of green fragments flew through the air.

"Three and a bit, improving, but you need to work on a tighter formation, consider how well your spells synergise," Gunther advised.

He called for their attention and began to lecture them.

"Gwen's lightning has the least travel time and incredible penetration against unshielded targets, an absolute God-send against monsters, but for Mages, there are many ways to ward against electricity."

"Earth and Water just happen to be two of the most common Mage Shields, and they both dissipate Lightning well. As such, Gwen, you need to focus on timing your spells. If you can get a single spell through a shield, it's all over. Either your enemies will deplete their raw mana shield, or they will be paralysed."

Gunther then turned to Yue.

"On the other hand, Yue, your fire is the most balanced element, good against both Monsters and Mages. The force of the blast, the heat of the flame, the AOE, all of it performs exceptionally well against critters and humans."

"Fire Evocation's weakness, however— is travel time and trajectory. A throwaway shield can easily stop your blasts, or even do something like this— Whetu, perform a back-burn Shield on Yue's next spell."

"Sure tin, boss." Whetu turned to Yue. "Do a Fire Blast. I show you buck-burn technique."

Yue threw a Blast Bolt toward Whetu.

Just as the flame left her fingers, a small semi-circle dome of Pounamu materialised. Yue's bolt caught the shield and erupted, sending out fragments of greenstone all over. Yue herself suffered the blast and fell on her buttocks, shielding her face while her hair singed.

"Shit!" Yue screamed out, her mana shield springing to life and deflecting the fragments. "My hair!"

"That," Gunther affirmed. "Is the back-burn method. Only Abjurers with an extreme affinity and large mana pools can cast a shield so far away from their own astral body. As you can see, it is a hard counter for you Evokers who like to AOE the battlefield carelessly."

Elvia rushed over and dropped a Healing Word. Just as she was about to heal Yue however, a Shield of Pounamu sprung to life around Yue, cutting off Elvia's access to her touch spell.

"Wha?!" Elvia likewise stumbled back, shocked by the sudden appearance of the barrier.

"That is called a counter-shield," Gunther commented. "For the confident Abjurer who believes they can protect their teammates with spells to spare, "offensive" shields exist for battlefield control."

He turned to his youngest sister-in-craft.

"Gwen, what's the counter for such a thing?"

Gwen considered the scene before her, her mind racing through a dozen scenarios.

"Nail the Abjurer?"

"Good!" Gunther applauded. "Only the Abjurer's "individual" shield can be extended in this way, which means if they send their barrier away, they become without protection. Of course, there is only one element here fast enough to catch them before they can retract the shield - Lightning."

Gunther observed their faces.

"Which is why many specialist Abjurers at the Magus level choose to further specialise in Conjuration or Illusion, giving them many more options for defence."

Gwen felt understanding dawn upon her like a god ray piercing through the clouds. So that's why Richard was so keen on becoming a Conjurer-Abjurer.

She considered the possibilities.

As Ol'Dicky partnered with the alluring Lea, the possibilities he could create with Abjuration's suite of defensive skills was numberless. For instance, Undines are virtually immune to physical damage - what if Richard empowered her to use his spells so that he used his shield offensively, while Lea protected him? Such utility! An unstoppable, self-regenerating, sapient spirit of water that could disrupt incantations and dispel magical buffs; attack physically as well as discharge water bolts.

Gwen smacked her lips. If Richard can do that, what of herself? She could shelter herself in a double-layered shield, while externally, Caliban, Ariel, the Faithful Hound, as well as a set of Dark Tentacles, took care of business. Perhaps she should invest in Summon Elementals as well, and once her beasties were out and about, she could also use Lightning Bolt.

Her mana would be drained in under a minute, but she could engender an orgasmic orgy of destruction and mayhem!

Gunther watched as Gwen chuckled to herself.

"Gwen?" Gunther appeared worried when Gwen grin idiotically to herself. "Do you need to rest?"

"I am fine!" She shook herself from her fantasies. "You were saying?"

Gunther shook his head.

"Looks like you're all tired. We'll try again tomorrow— Now. Go and get lunch."

To break the monotony of training, Gwen took the opportunity to pass on some of her insights.

"So, you compress the two sides of the Shielding, then fill the gap with motes of loose mana, like so," Gwen was explaining the non-newtonian shield technique to Yue and Elvia, but her friend could not comprehend the physics aspect.

She was just considering if she should go down to the dorm kitchen and ask for potato starch and a container when Elvia slumped on her shoulder.
Gwen stared.
Evee's petite, pink lips twitched as she mumbled softly, an adorable rosebud against her ivory skin, as fragile as porcelain.

"Aww, Evee got so bored of your theory-craft she fell asleep." Yue giggled, ebullient and mischevious.

Gwen slowly cupped her arms around the petite girl, whose form was limp like a ragdoll's.

"So cute!" Gwen brushed a finger across Elvia's cheek, parting the tiny slivers of invisible, silver-blonde hair. "She smells nice, too."

Yue crawled into Gwen's bed and made herself comfortable.

"Let's sleep like this," Yue suggested mischievously. "I heard that if you hug a positive element Mage at night, it revitalises your skin."

"Really?" Gwen cooed.

"Only one way to find out.' Yue grinned.

The two girls sandwiched their healer in the middle and laid down to sleep on the cramped bed.

"Good night." Yue yawned, then was gone from the world.

"Yue?" Gwen demanded of the empty air. "Seriously?"

Gwen allowed her breathing to slow, welcoming a restful night of sleep.

With the extension of summer came the mornings bright and early.
Gwen left Yue and Elvia to their beauty sleep and jogged out for a brisk morning run. Guiltily, Gwen had wondered if she should have called Debora - but ultimately chose her privacy over having company.

When she had returned from the uphill slope, she became surrounded by gawking students, as though a Gwen shaped displacer beast had found being found in the inner-city.

Students, hundreds of them, gawked at Gwen in her sweat-stained sportswear, engendering a riot of noise and jubilation.

The school term.

THE BLOODY SCHOOL TERM STARTS TODAY!

"Oh, my God!" Having risen so early to jog up Ascension hill— a steep incline high enough to make a runner wish for death. She had run smack bang into the returning students.

"Oh. My. God. It's Gwen Song!" someone called out.

Gwen burned with embarrassment.

"Goodness, she is tall."
"She's the Lightning Mage right?"
"I heard she's training for the Inter-High!"
"Our shitty school is eligible?"
"Someone said she's dating Debora?"
"I heard it was Yue."
"She's two-timing."
"Ice Queen."
"Bitch."
"Whore!"

It was time to go.

"Expeditious Retreat," Gwen muttered under her breath, then tore through the crowd as a blur, leaving behind nought but a few wayward sparks.

The crowd stared.

"Wasn't that a Transmutation spell?" Someone asked the general assembly. "Isn't she an Evoker?"

Despite the false start, training continued, heedless of the academic term.

"Here it comes!" Alesia incanted, her spell forming faster than Gwen could see. "Fire Ball!"

"Dimension Door!"

Gwen teleported behind Alesia just as the blossom of fire erupted on the field.

"Wall of Fire!" Alesia following through; flowing from one spell to another without seemingly any effort nor delay.

"Dimension Door!" Gwen gritted her teeth and teleported again, consecutively casting the spell was a significant drain on her mind. "Spell Fatigue" it was called, overtaxing one's brain caused dizziness and at worst, mana burn.

"Flaming Hands!" Alesia spun without looking, letting loose a gout of flame a dozen meters in length, about three times the average range of a Flaming Hand spell.

"Shield!" Gwen couldn't manage another Dimension Door immediately, so she switched to a defensive barrier.

Against Alesia, her barrier instantly dissolved.

"Dimension Door!" Her mental cooldown was over.

Gwen reappeared some twenty meters away, then hurled her breakfast.

"Looks like three's ya limit, Tiger." Alesia rested a hand on her hip. "Wish I was a Conjurer. Such convenience."

"You have your Djinn form, and you can fly," Gwen pointed out.

"Give it a few years, and you'll be able to fly and teleport," Alesia returned. "You better remember how hard I trained you when that day comes. Tell the Press and the world that without Alesia de Botton, there would be no Gwen Song, Magister of all Magic."

Gwen laughed, feeling her mental stress diffuse. "Alright, I think I am good, shall we go again?"

"Whoa?" Alesia raised a flawless brow. "Already? It's been what, a minute? You sure?"

"Yeah, I am sure." Gwen felt no particular fatigue from the consecutive incantations. "Master did a good job teaching me."

"Hmm…" Alesia thought about it, but she didn't relish the mental strain of thinking too deeply about something that was probably beyond her ken. "If you're confident, then try to dodge this— Flame Strike!"

"Dimension Door!"

Three months may seem like a long time on the calendar, but time had a way of fleeing from one's notice. More than once, Gwen would awake with confidence that it was Monday, only to find that it was Thursday.

Then, as sudden as it was unexpected, the training was done.
The preliminaries for the Inter-High were upon them.

Yet, there was no news of an invitation. Gwen's Team had heard nothing about their enrollment in the Inter-High.

When questioned by her other team members, Gwen instantly suspected Alesia.

"Alesia, I need to ask you something," Gwen Messaged Alesia, her voice full of wary suspicion. "Have you submitted our application to the Inter-High competition board?"

"The what?" Alesia replied, her voice full of puzzlement. "What application? When I participated, I just showed up!"

Gwen's blood suddenly ran cold.

"Alesia... no!"

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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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