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A note from Wutosama

Edited 7/02/20

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Like most classic Edwardian designs, the cathedral's soaring frontage began with twin columns of stained glass split across two towers. Its adjacent buildings came later, built along rectangular walkways with an elegantly arched gallery that ran the length of the back quadrangle. Together, the system of buildings formed a kind of abstract cross-section, linking the cathedral, the old covenant, and the newer quarters for student and staff. And in between the shadow of Rosebay's high walls and impressive pillars, ran the cloister.

To access its pious serenity, one must first venture through the property's side corridors before coming into the quad, an elegant garden adorned with a central water-feature of chubby cherubs at play.

Henry Kilroy, Master of Sydney Tower, quietly pushed through the entry and allowed himself into the sanctified space.

He had never been a religious man. The horrors of the Brisbane Line and the Coral Sea had made sure of that - but it didn't mean he couldn't feel the pietistic peace that resonated in places of worship such as these.

He walked along the arcade but didn't venture into the centre, where the garden stood, satisfied that at this moment, in this place, there was peace enough for an old scarecrow.

The tranquillity allowed his beaten body a sense of restfulness. He no longer felt so fatigued by the many burdens strapped onto his war-wary back, gaining a little understanding of why some Mages could stomach the tedium of becoming a monastic scholar.

As he made the rounds through the gallery, he noted a door that was ajar, from within which a warm light permeated.

Though it wasn't in his character to be a stickybeak, Henry felt curiously drawn. Mayhap it was the mood of the place. Or perhaps, it was the triumph of his apprentice; Henry Kilroy felt such invigoration in years.

Shuffling quietly, he moved into place as to avoid disturbing whoever was in prayer. In front of him was a shine, a small one converted from what must have been a storeroom.

Within, he saw the petite figure of a nun, a young one from the looks of it, kneeling before a Sacred-Heart altar.

A sense of déjà vu engendered, as delicate as gossemer.

There was something familiar about it the scene— a chamber lit by low candles, dozens of them, encompassing an intimate space that was flicking with haunting shadows. The altar itself was nothing unusual, a few candelabras with dribbling wax, a container of incense smoking quietly, beside a statue of Mother Mary maternally offering the benediction. There was a sense of nostalgia, too, one that brought on an acute heartache.

Softly, Henry tapped the double-doors, wincing as the hinges groaned.

"You came," a strangely familiar voice addressed his disturbance. It was the nun. "I had waited an eternity."

"Do I know you?" Henry inquired, the timbre of his voice quivered with unbidden disbelief.

"Has it been that long?" came a reply both melodious and sultry. "It breaks my heart to hear that you have forgotten your dearest after only three decades."

The nun stood slowly, the loose habit falling about her small, petite figure. It hid the woman's figure well, but Henry could recognise the silhouette anywhere, underneath anything. He knew that body all too intimately.

Henry wordlessly watched the unveiling of the spectacle before him. It was impossible, of course, that this might be happening. He'd seen the woman die, after all. Mark, who had hated her more than anything, had verified that there were no traces of her left.

There was no returning from the Void. Mark hard verified it.

But then again, the neophyte Necromancer had also stated that he was wrong. Mark had told him that Elizabeth didn't respond to the summoning of the dead.

The nun slowly turned her face; Henry's breath quickened.
First came the blue eyes, so blue they were the sky and the ocean, baby-blue, like lapis laid within sapphires, blue enough to make him ache. Then, that unforgettable face, the small button nose, the delicate English features, the elegant cheekbones, the well-framed chin, the curvature of her jaws. Her red lips, like a dash of vermillion, fresh as blood, bright as ruby against a complexion of pearl.

"Impossible, how?" Henry mouthed, his mind reeling with shock.

"Hello, Henry. Did you miss me?" the nun asked winningly, her lips blossoming as she spoke. There was a winsome quality to it all that stunned him. "Don't recognise your beloved anymore?"

"Elizabeth..."

Elizabeth ran her hand over her habit. To Henry's surprise, it fell away into nothing, as though the cotton was only a wisp rather than a piece of cloth. She was now resplendent in a white chiffon tulip-dress, just as he remembered her, the last morning he'd kissed her goodbye as she ventured into the Hungarian town.

Henry swallowed as her voluminous dark hair fell about her head and shoulders, framing her lovely, heart-shaped face.

"How can you..?"

"Be alive?"

"Be still so young..."

Elizabeth giggled; her laughter tinkled like a nightingale's trill.

"Do you remember the vineyard, Henry? It was nice, wasn't it?"

"The vineyard…yes, it was nice," Henry choked, his voice trembling.

"It was our private paradise."

"Paradise... yes."

"Do you recall? What do you remember?"

What does he remember? Henry tried to think, but his mind felt as though smothered with wool. All thoughts of Gwen, of Sufina, of Irene, of Rosebay, fell away, replaced by faraway bedroom.

There was Elizabeth, asleep, buried in a tangled mass of soft pillows and white sheets. Her complexion was bloodless, her aristocratic veins blue against her flawless skin. She slept carelessly, a wayward sheet scandalously covering her body, her petite breasts forming the slightest of mounds. Henry savoured the moment, for here in one bed lay his whole-wide world.

Henry smiled. Lizzie was right; those were the happiest days of his life. What was his life now? Endless days of dealing with the petty politicking of the Tower; training an Apprentice that may one day usurp him— dealing with ingrates who disobeyed his orders and had the intelligence of a mallet. Moulding another Void Mage to show the world he was right? What an absurd idea.

He thought instead of the past, of those days after the war in Hungary. He could sense it now, he could feel it! He smelled her sweet scent upon his collar.

And there she was! Elizabeth— twirling in a white chiffon tulip dress that reached her knees. He felt overwhelmed with joy; his heart seized with happiness.

Unbidden, Elizabeth now languished on their bed, stretching as the white sheets slid from her torso. The bay windows were ajar, and the careless wind lifted the curtains playfully. He blushed as his wife laughed, moving to close the drapes, her riotous tittering behind him as she pulled him back to bed.

In the next moment, Elizabeth greedily stabbed at a Presszókávé and Flódni. Henry smiled when his wife's small red mouth caked with crumbling bits of sweetness. Lizzie closed her eyes and savoured the taste. She looked like an angel.

Visions upon visions assailed Henry. He was drunk on the nostalgia, intoxicated with illusory happiness.

Henry felt blissful at last. Happy enough that he could let go of the crisis of the moment. Glad enough, that he hardly noticed the dark things slithering from the Quasi-Elemental Plane of the Void, birthing onto the floor wetly. As one, the creatures' lamprey's mouth opened and closed, revealing barbed-teeth and curious, pink tongues.

The lamprey things coiled along Henry's body, attaching themselves here and there. To his arms and legs, to his neck, to his torso.

With a nod from their mistress, they began to feed.

"Gwen! Do you know where Master has gone?" Alesia was shouting, her voice ringing with fury and alarm.

"Sufina said to meet him in the cloister behind the Cathedral." Gwen couldn't make head nor tails of the chaos. The Dryad was fine one moment— then screaming and shrivelling the next.

"Stay here! I'll check it out!"

Before Gwen could say another word, Alesia uttered the incantation for Flight and launched herself into the air, making a bee-line for the quadrangle.

"Be careful!" Gwen shouted at her sister-in-craft.

She turned her attention back towards Sufina, whose child-like form was even now visibly becoming weaker, her bark-like skin crusty with old age, what little leaves that remained rapidly fell from the vines that made up her hair. Gwen knelt beside the dryad and placed her hands upon the woodland-being, wondering if she could somehow transfer the vital energy of the scale which she loved so dearly.

A dozen possibilities flitted across her mind.
She didn't know much about Dryads, but she wasn't about to do nothing.

"Elvia! I need positive channels now! Jody, you too, please! Any other healers?! Please! We need your help!"

Elvia didn't question Gwen's command. She immediately dropped to one knee and began pumping Sufina full of vital energy. Jody looked at Julia, who nodded, and likewise began to channel a flood of positive mana into the Dryad.

Immediately, the healers knew that something was awry.

"Arrrgh!" Elvia fell backwards, but her hand was still firmly attached to Sufina. "Gwen! Something's got me! It's draining us! I can't release the conduit!"

"Julia!" Jody screamed, "I can't let go!"

Both Gwen and Julia cursed and reached out to embrace their friend, physically pulling them away from the frozen and unmoving form of Sufina by tugging in opposite directions.

The girls parted from the Dryad; their bodies fell, akimbo with flailing limbs.

"Something is draining her vitality," Jody stuttered, weak with exhaustion.

"It's true." Elvia's complexion was a laundered sheet. "It feels like when you're using my positive channelling to fuel your spells, but far hungrier and malicious."

Gwen gazed in the direction of the cathedral. She had to find Henry somehow. Sufina wasn't completely withered yet, and that meant her Master was alive. She just had to stop whatever was draining her Master, and by that extension, Sufina. What was Alesia doing anyhow? She wondered. Had she found Master yet?

She looked towards Magister Ferris, who still seemed paralysed by it all. The Magister appeared to be caught in a continuous vision, her mind not entirely in the present. She was now staring towards the ocean, towards the Shield Wall.

Gwen followed her gaze, feeling a knot tighten in her gut.

She too was suddenly overcome with an ominous surge premonition.

"Magister—" she began.

BOOM—CRACK!

An explosion in the distance drowned her appeal.

There was a shimmer at the edge of the horizon, akin to the flash one saw when a bolt of lightning lit up the outback sky in silvered silhouettes.
Then an all-enveloping explosion rocked Sydney Harbour, sending out a rippling shockwave of white churning water.

BOOM—BOOM—BOOM—

Another and another, and another explosion rang out, a dozen in all.
The gathered host of school girls stared at the horizon, unable to comprehend what was happening to their peaceful world. The senior Mages all knew though, especially those of them that had survived the Coral Sea conflict. They'd seen it once before and had hoped never to see it again.

The Shield Barrier had collapsed.
Here and now, Sydney was a sitting duck.

Gunther Shultz stopped mid-sentence during his dressing-down of the Tower's new Acolytes. The Mages before him regarded their instructor quizzically, wondering why their austere preceptor had paused. They were all elites, graduates from the top-tier universities, ranging from Senior Mages skilled in their craft to young Magus coming into their power. By becoming members of the Tower, they gained access to the Tower's resource and knowledge, as well as the potential to be apprenticed under one of the Magisters.

"Whoa—"

An abrupt shudder shook the antechamber, sending a few of the acolytes skittering across the atrium floor.

Gunther furrowed his luxuriant brows, his instincts informing him that a catastrophe had just occurred.

DING! DING! DING—

Then a dozen Message spells struck him at once, blasting coloured Glyphs visible only to himself. He picked one from his assistant, an intelligent and humorous Diviner who showed great promise.

"Sir!" Ensign Carey's honeyed voice came across the message spell in a panic, completely lacking her usual fineness and control. "We just received an urgent Message from Station Forty-One at Watson Bay! Just now, an engineer reported an attack by an unknown party who sabotaged the Shielding Stone."

"What's the condition there now?" Gunther demanded with a measured voice brimming with suppressed emotion.

Damaging a Shielding Station was a capital offence. What "Human" in their right mind would sabotage a vital infrastructure that shielded the city? Sydney wasn't the Ivory Coast or the Silk Road. Neither was Australia at war with their neighbours.

"It's chaos, Sir! The explosion has caused a chain reaction along with the Watson-North head enclosure! We are registering a total failure of over a dozen stations!"

"Get your division to link up with the Frontier Military. I need all the available operational data in the next thirty minutes. Sound the coastal alarms on the entire Eastern seaboard. All Combat Mages tier 3 and over are to report to battle stations. Start evacuations immediately for the affected areas, tell the councils to start moving their NoMs to shelters—and find me the Mage who called in, I need more information."

"Yes, Sir!"

Gunther willed another Glyph to flare into activation; it was from the intelligence division's Oracle station.

"Sir! I am getting pings from all over the Tasman Sea! The Mermen are mounting a major incursion! I am counting a dozen Krakens— there's even a Leviathan!"

Gunther cursed under his breath, wondering how the hell his world went to shit in a heartbeat.

The acolytes in front of him were each receiving their Messages and showing evident panic. A complete collapse of the Shield Barrier had not occurred for at least two decades, but the stories remained.

Ding! "Sir!"

It was Carey, his assistant.

"I've found the Mage who was overseeing Station Forty-One, he has requested to speak with you, shall I patch him through?"

"Do it."

There was the sound of a third voice joining the conversation.

"This is Gunther Shultz, Paladin. Who am I speaking with?"

The voice that came through was smooth and controlled, not at all panicked and worried as Gunther would have expected.

"So you're Gunther Shultz huh?"

"I am, who am I speaking with?"

"Morye Song, Regular Joe Abjurer, second class Engineer, Watson Bay. I got a request for you, Mr Shultz."

Moyre Song? Gunther felt some distant memory at the back of his mind pinging. Why was the name so familiar? Where had he heard it before?

"I will grant you what I can, Mr Song, but first, you must let me know what the condition is over there, where are these assailants, or might I say, terrorists?"

"Terrorists, huh? Close enough, I suppose. The Shielding Stone is busted, so I am afraid there's not much I can do about that. As for the baddies, well, they're dead."

Gunther felt as though this Moyre Song was tooling with his intelligence, was the man a traitor who was trying to provide them with false information? That didn't make sense either. Presently, the Shield Barrier had fallen, the station was lost, what point was there in exposing himself?

"How do you mean, Mr Song? You need to be more specific, can you tell me what happened exactly?"

"Sure, but you need to grant me my request first." The man must feel confident that Gunther would comply.

"Fine, what do you want?"

"I need you to find the location of my two children, Percy Song and Gwen Song."

Carey interjected.

"Don't be absurd, Mr Song! You can't expect Lord Gunther to bother with finding your children in a crisis like this! We have Mermen trying to breach the mainland for God's sake!"

"Ensign Carey. Do shut up." Gunther said. "Did you say… Gwen Song?"

"Formerly of Forestville, she's currently attending Blackwattle Bay High School. If you can get your Divination boys to give me a location, I'll be more than happy to provide you with the low-down of what's happening here."

"How dare you—"

"Ensign—"

Carey stopped speaking at once.

"Go and check up on my orders. I need a sit-rep in the next few minutes. Also, go pull up a location on Percy Song, he's been filed already under Gwen Song's dossier, he should have his school's tracker with him."

"Yes, Sir!"

Gunther turned his attention to Gwen's erstwhile father. Erstwhile, because he'd believed Gwen had cut off all contact with her old man.

"Gwen Song is currently in Rosebay," Gunther informed the man. "She is there with Magister Henry Kilroy, undergoing a test. As for your son, give me the information first, as our Diviners would require some time."

"Fine," the voice that came through sounded relieved.

"I assure you, Gwen is perfectly safe with the Lord Magister. Now, please inform me of the events that lead to the collapse of the Shield Barrier."

"The assailants are mid-tier Mages, pretty well trained. I suspect they're someone's private army, feels like the kind that the Houses keep as their reserve militia. They had an insider or had the right glyph to access the door, who knows, but they got in unchallenged. They came in spells blazing, killing every Mage they met until they got to the main chamber. Now, they must have had some kind of magical device, because they managed to breach the Warding Glyphs in about ten minutes flat. I suppose that's what's causing the reaction too because a whole daisy-chain of resonating power just fed down the line."

"Where are they now?"

"They're dead," the voice said flatly.

"How?" Gunther demanded.

"Collective suicide," Moyre suggested cryptically. "Look, the point is, they had an inside man, someone had given them the codes for the Glyphs shielding the Stone, and now we're all in deep shit. I am going to find my kids because there is nothing else I can do here, the city's toast and you should be calling in the Towers from Melbourne and whatnot. So, where is my son?"

"Carey?"

"They've located a match for the boy. He is—"

The spell died. It was blaring a moment ago, and then it was gone.

"Carey? Mr Song?"

Gunther incanted his Message spell again. Nothing. His brows furrowed. What in the world could disrupt a Message spell? Unless—

From the looks of his acolytes, their calls had likewise cut off.

The Paladin of Sydney felt a chill forming deep in his gut, running its way up through his spine with an unease he hadn't felt since the Coral Sea conflict.

"NOW ENTERING QUARANTINE MODE."

A female voice, synthetic in intonation, echoed through the Tower's internal communications systems.
"What?!"
"Quarantine?"
"Against what?"
"Lord Gunther?"
"What was happening?"

"What the fuck is going on?" Gunther let himself go.

It was one surprise after another. Even Gunther felt the dire need to express his mounting frustration and anger. Quarantine mode? That was only possible when Magical Creatures or foreign Mages breached the Tower. Even if the Mermen were on a Leviathan, it would take two to three hours before they were even remotely close enough to enter the city.

Gunther issued a command toward the Tower's autonomous Spirit systems, demanding that it explain the reason for its quarantine mode.

"Lord Shultz, your command privileges have been revoked. Prepare to be ejected from the Tower in sixty seconds."

"Shit!" Gunther could no longer maintain his cool in the face of mounting absurdity. "Does anyone have a working Message device?"

The Acolytes shook their heads.

How were his privileges revoked? He was the fucking Paladin of the Tower! It's guardian! Only its Master could revoke the access. The only manner in which the Right of Command could be usurped would be if—

It can't be! He told himself. That was impossible!
His Master was Deathless Henry for a reason!

He tried to Message his teacher, but the Divi-Towers were down entirely.
He tried to Message Alesia. Nothing.
He tried to Message Gwen, and likewise, there was no sign that his Message spell had manifested at all.

Someone had activated one of the Tower's most potent mechanisms - a Scry Jammer capable of nullifying Divination effects— and by that measure, all communication spells.

Once active, the jamming retarded the part of Sydney's communication infrastructure. The problem was, the powerful warding shouldn't affect allies like Gunther, who had the right glyphs to nullify its effects.

That his Message jammed could only mean one thing.
It meant that Gunther was no longer an 'ally' of the Tower.

The faux daylight lighting of the tower suddenly died. A red haze took over the Mage's surroundings, cast by maliciously glowing mana-cores that were now a dull, hostile red.

"NON ASSOCIATES OF THE TOWER WILL BE EJECTED IN 3…"

Gunther swore.

"Everyone! Shield up! Everything you have!"

"2… "

"DO IT NOW! Don't question me if you want to live!"

"1…"

"USE FLIGHT! Feather Fall!"

There was a flash of silvery Conjuration Mana.

Gunther and a few hundred others found themselves outside the Tower, in mid-air, and falling.

A host of scattered 'Feather Fall!" and "Fight!" resounded through the air.
There were a few brief screams, then Gunther saw too late that at least a dozen or more young Mages, guards and clerks, had fallen from the great height, ending up on the cityscape below as bloody and broken stains.
The Tower loomed before them, floating in mid-air, half a kilometre from the ground.

The Tower was a floating fortress. That was the reason it was deemed so unassailable, so impenetrable. In its magnificence, his Master's abode was a brutalist fortress, resembling three bisecting rectangles stacked atop a floating island platform.

Having been ejected from it by force, Gunther and the other Mages were pushed away from the central structure by the repulsion field.

"Lord Gunther!" someone called.
"What do we do?"
"What the hell just happened?"
"I head there are Mermen incoming?"
"What about the shield wall?"
"Fuck, I can't believe Timothy just fucking died!"
"Sir! We need orders!"

The descending Mage all called out to Gunther, but what could one man do without Message spells? They all believed that the infallible Lord Shultz had the answers, but Gunther knew he was just as confused and surprised as they. He wasn't a God, despite what the rumours suggested.

He regarded those who were flying and falling around him. Suddenly, an epiphany came to him.

These Mages— they were all from the Middle-Path and the Militant Factions! Where were the Greys?


Magister Irene Ferris was the first to recover her senses. Immediately, she began commanding the Rosebay girls to take shelter in the cathedral. The old building was a bastion that had once served as a sanctuary. In theory, it should weather whatever was coming their way far better than if they stayed in the open. If need be, Irene could also teleport them away somewhere safe, such as the Tower itself, which was impervious to invasion.

"Leave the Dryad, Go inside!" Ferris commanded Gwen and the girls, but the Blackwattle team refused to heed the Magister's command, choosing instead to stay with Sufina. When she commanded them again, and it was clear that Gwen was not leaving the field, the Diviner turned to orchestrate the evacuation instead.

"Shit! My Message spell doesn't work!" someone muttered beside them. "Magister, all long-range communications are down!"

Ferris tested her magic.

"You're right, only line-of-sight communication still works. Someone's started the jammer."

She glanced skyward, but couldn't see the Tower anywhere in sight. Where they infiltrated by foreign Mages? That was an absurd and impossible notion. She had to get back to the Tower as soon as possible, but she didn't want to abandon the children here. They were her life's work! The future of Rosebay, of Oceania! She had a responsibility to their parents, who had entrusted her with their lives.

"Forget it! Get the kids to safety! Go through the Catacombs! Get to the Teleportation Chambers. Four to a group!"

At once, the gathered Prefects and Mages mobilised, organising the young ones into orderly files that marched towards the cathedral and the shelter of it's thick, enchanted walls.

"Gwen." She turned to Gwen seriously. "I don't know what's happened to Henry because the Tower is preventing me from using my Divination spells. That said— once the kids are safe, I am going to teleport myself and my staff into the Tower. Whatever happens, we need to take back control of the Tower and shut off that Message jammer. Are you coming with us? We could use your help. Your Void abilities are essential for taking down physical barriers."

Gwen looked at Sufina, still fading fast, and nodded.

"Meet me down in the teleportation room. It uses the same system your group used to arrive but located underground. Just follow my staff's directions."

"I need to find Alesia," Gwen mouthed, her eyes still lingering on the Dryad. "Sufi's suffering."

"Gwen, we need to go…" Yue said worriedly. The girl didn't want to leave Sufina either, but the situation was too dire for bravado.

Elvia was silent, still unable to comprehend what she was seeing, especially after the physical trauma of being drained by Sufina earlier.

Whetu was looking at the open sea with a grim face, reliving some distant memory which Gwen needn't guess, given Auckland's history.

Debora appeared to have made up her mind. The girl pulled at Gwen's arm to try and make her budge. Looking at Debora's pleading eyes, however, Gwen felt suddenly struck by a recollection from the Outback.

She reached behind her neck and plucked at her Almudj's scale, willing it to remove itself.

"What are you doing?" Debora cried out sharply, stepping back with a look full of disbelief. "You're using THAT? Now of all times?"

Gwen ignored her and instead cupped the now diminutive Sufina in her arms, parting the withered vines extending from the back of her neck.

Please let this work! Gwen prayed to whoever ruled over this world of magic and monsters, then placed the scale on the back of Sufina's neck.

"Almudj, please help us!"

 

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Wutosama

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

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