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A note from Wutosama

 

The transfer from the Port Authority to the mainland was hastened by Jun's presence, so much that when the time came to part ways, the party grew despondent at their imminent separation.

A dark limousine lingered just outside the port, waiting to pick up Tao and Mina. To Gwen's surprise, Mina parted from her with a peck on the cheeks, a bold western farewell, before retreating into the palatial vehicle.

Petra likewise had her dorm to return to, leaving Gwen and company when Jun dropped her off at Fudan's internal residence complexes. She hugged Gwen, signifying how close they've come since the Dungeon's events.

Finally left on their own, the trio escaped the glittery glamour of the sparkling city, their Jeep making for the third Orbital Ring under the low thrum of its mana engine.

"So that you know, I sorted out the incident with the Lishui girl." Jun calmly announced when they were on the orbital highway. "No point having such a stain on your public record. Do be careful in the future, though. Scrubbing offences takes more than just CCs; it takes favours."

"I will, and thank you," Gwen muttered demurely. "I am sorry for the trouble, Uncle Jun."

"And you should be," Jun sternly agreed. "The taking of a life, especially a fellow Mage, is no matter to be taken lightly, even if you have full justification. Remember that."

"I shall."

"Good, then there's nothing more to be said. I look forward to your future performance."

With the scalding over, Gwen's spirits fell into reflective silence.

"You too, Richard," Jun continued. "Can you hear me at the back?"

"Yes, Sir. I can."

"Just Jun is fine."

"At least let me call you Senior Jun," Richard insisted.

"Alright, suit yourself." Jun wasn't one for titles. "You're special, Richard. You're Gwen's peer, and you have a good temperament and just the right amount of apathy for taking ethical liberties. That said, I know why you're desperate for CCs, but dial it down and try not to piss off too many people. The nature of CCs is that you accumulate them over time. Any windfall accumulated by your method of highway robbery is just going to bring trouble later."

"I'll be careful, Senior."

"Of course, and think about the years ahead. What would happen when your parents, who lack the talent to take care of themselves, come to Shanghai? What if you make too many enemies and some of them decide to take advantage of the fact that you will be away on extended missions? A Magus need allies as well as CCs, Richard. Don't forget that."

"Thank you for the advice," Richard said seriously. "I realise now that I was too arrogant and careless."

"Good. You are both good students." Jun turned the Jeep into the Song compound. "Here we are. Try to have some food before you sleep. The food on the ferry was hardly nourishing."

"We shall, Senior."

"Thank you, Uncle Jun. I truly appreciate all the things you've done for us."

"Hey, we're family." Jun slowed the car until it came to a complete stop. "I'll see you guys in. I still need to greet the old folks."

"We'll join you." Gwen swung her legs from the Jeep's leather seats. By now, her thoughts were dizzy with fatigue. The last three days had felt more like seven.

Or was it seven after all? How many days had it been? Since leaving Singapore, she had spent two days in the holding cell. Then she had spent a day and a half in the Song Compound. Mina and Tao expended another day or so, plus three more at the Dungeon.

Had Elvia and Yue gotten back to Sydney yet? She wondered, rubbing her tired eyes. Their Journey to Darwin should have been six and a half days. At worst, after another day or two, they should be in Sydney.

"Uncle Jun," Gwen inquired as they made for the courtyard. "Think my friends have gotten back to Sydney yet?"

"Perhaps, assuming they disembarked at Darwin and Magus Shultz supplemented their travel expenses," Jun remarked. "I can ask father to loan you the LE Message Device if you like, though I dare say you have to supplement your own LDMs."

"That would be lovely, thank you," Gwen replied.

Outside, the blue hour was now quickly fading, and the courtyard became illuminated with low consumption Lumen-globes. The inquisitive face of Babulya awaited them in the communal hall, nursing a pot of Oolong that simmered softly over a Glyph of heat. Gwen's grandfather, Guo, was nowhere to be seen.

"Congratulations," she happily declared as they crossed the threshold into the hall. "Petra told me you came first."

"I'd say we came first," Gwen answered modestly. "Everyone helped, even Tao."

"That's a good attitude to have." Klavdiya reached out and took Gwen by the hand. Gwen felt a mote of Positive Mana enter her hand and make its round through her body.

"Quite a bit of damage." Her Babulya's face lost some of its happiness. "Though I am surprised that you manage to reinforce that primal mana of yours. Got lucky?"

"Very lucky." Gwen sat beside her Babulya, though her buttocks just eclipsed the edge of the seat, in case her grandfather burst through and she had to effect a prompt and formal greeting. "Also, we brought you this, Babulya."

Gwen passed a hand over the elevated coffee table and produced Petra's Stasis Cube, within which was a jade-like piece of fruit.

"It'll go sour very quickly," Gwen advised. "Petra and I had already had a piece. We saved this one for you."

"I know, dear, thank you." Her Babulya passed a hand over the cube, taking possession of the prize. "I'll share some of it with your grandfather. At our age, he needs it far more than I."

"I have another." Gwen took out the piece that she purchased from Richard.

"Oh, no, no, save it for yourself, dear. Petra said that it helps you mitigate the Void. That is far more important than adding a few years to our lives! There's plenty of opportunities for that in the future." Her babulya pushed the cube back towards Gwen. "I'll instruct you on how to acquire its benefits without damaging your physical form. Rest assured that Guo and I shall accept your piety and kind intent."

Reluctantly, Gwen withdrew the Vitae Fruit.

Jun, who had stood beside her smiling serenely, raised his hand to catch his mother's attention. "Well, if there's nothing else, I need to go. I'll be back to visit in a week or so, Mother." Jun hugged his mother and promised.

“Take care, Ah-Jun,” Klavdiya intoned.

"I will, Mother. Gwen, Richard."

"Goodbye, Uncle Jun."

"Tell father I just missed him and that there's the matter of the Clan of Xiao which he needs to deal with." Having delivered his goodbye, Jun turned to leave. "Any words for Hai? He's still sweating it out at the barracks."

"Tell Dad I said hi," Gwen replied earnestly.

Gwen and Richard watched Jun go before returning their attention to Babulya.

"I appreciate the opportunity you've given us," Richard began after Gwen had finished speaking to Klavdiya. "Truly, I am grateful."

"You can repay me by keeping an eye out for this little one," Klavdiya gave him a knowing smile. "And the others, if you can spare the time."

"I will do no less," Richard inclined his head. "You can leave it to me."

"Good, we understand each other." Klavdiya's eyes were mirthful. "Speaking of which, if and when your parents get here, I would like you to know that we have spare abodes around the city that I can offer your family until you find a place of your own."

"I would appreciate that, Babulya." Both Richard and Gwen were surprised by the candidness of Klavdiya's generosity. Here was a woman who knew not to beat around the bush. "I will try my best not to take advantage of your kindness, but I thank you for thinking so highly of me."

"Such a sweetheart," Klavdiya cooed. "You could do well to learn a thing or two from Richard, Gwen."

"I'll do my best." Her eyes met Richards. "Where is Grandfather?"

"Training your brother, I'd wager. He thinks of little else these days, and young Percy has much to do to catch up."

"To the curriculum here in Shanghai?" Gwen implored, a little worried that her studies are going to be far behind the norm.

"To you!" Her Babulya laughed.

"I don't think that's ever going to happen," Richard stated bluntly. "Sorry if that was too abrasive."

"Don't say that in front of Guo," Klavdiya warned the straight-shooting Conjurer. "I agree, by the way."

"I am sure Percy can do it, especially with Grandfather's support and the House of Song behind him. He has father's talent." Gwen flushed with embarrassment at Richard's high praise.

"I know you're a sentimentalist, Gwen, but perhaps less wishful thinking?" Richard was relentless. "Think about how this works, realistically. You've gone through how many moments of death and danger so far? How many times have you almost lost it?"

Gwen sighed. There were too many times to count.

"You think Percy, the 'heir', is going to have the freedom to risk himself? Without risk, there is no reward. Why do you we kicked that Dungeon's arse? How is it that we went and slapped down those young masters with their diet of rare ingredients? It's because we take risks, Gwen, and we survived those experiences to grow stronger."

"Richard, enough." Their Babulya placed a hand on Richard's arm. "While you and Gwen are staying here, it is best to keep such sentiments to yourselves. When University begins, you can seek more convenient residency closer to your schools."

"Sorry," Richard's voice grew faint. "Gwen is too nice. It's a flaw."

"Why should that be a flaw?" Klavdiya's voice was full of kindness as she pinched Gwen's cheek. "The Path of Ren should temper the Path of Asura; else self-destruction awaits the headstrong traveller. You too, Richard, should be self-aware of your prejudices."

Listening to Klavdiya's advice, Gwen felt a warmth in her chest that was pleasing. She felt the glad affirmation that in this new life of hers, she had not made the mistake of forsaking the chance to connect with her Babulya.

"Shall we retire then?" Richard inquired. "You've slept on the ship, but it was hardly restful."

"Yes, I would like to take a shower and sleep," Gwen confessed. "Babulya?"

"Greet Guo when you get to the training room," their grandmother reminded them. "If you're hungry, ask the servants to bring you supper."

Guo heard Gwen and Richard enter the training hall from the side entrance and told Percy to maintain his mana circulation.

Percy, as usual, took Guo's word as though it came straight from the Centaur's mouth, doing his best to maintain his concentration.

In a moment, the double doors opened a sliver, and the triumphant Dungeon divers presented themselves for Guo's inspection.

Upon seeing Gwen, Guo furrowed his bushy brows. The girl that emerged from the door felt different somehow to the one that left the estate only three days ago.

Had she become even more powerful? Guo thought uncomfortably to himself. Her growth was unreasonably quick. From Jun's Message earlier, he had heard that Gwen's group had taken first place in the competition.

That was in itself an absurd achievement. Two Frontier neophytes on their first Dungeon dive, coupled with the useless Wang siblings and one Petra Kuznetsov, could defeat all that the local Clans offered? He knew that Richard was already a first-class Conjurer and that Gwen had survived a war, but the news still shocked him to his core.

Klavdiya had said it was terrific news, but for Guo, it meant trouble.

When a member designated for a side-branch, a daughter, was so much more talented and charismatic than the heir, it subverted the family's hearts and a house's servants' loyalty. When achievements inevitably accumulated, the Song's allies may no longer look to the heir for support but throw their allegiance to Gwen, whose favour carried the most clout.

What if Gwen were to marry into a House that far superseded the prestige of the Song? What if she were to return one day with the blood of a Clan far nobler than the Songs, bringing with her a Magisters at her beck and call, and demanded allegiance from her brother? Or worse, what if she were to claim birthright, pointing out the weakness of the incumbent?

Guo felt a prickling numbness on the back of his neck as paranoid scenarios manifested themselves one after another.

Watching his granddaughter flaunt her dancer's figure made him all the more conscious of that very possibility. She was too gifted in that regard, and her uncommon beauty made matters worse. He would only know the true extent of her actions after receiving a full briefing tomorrow, but already the girl had become a killer. Was it the power going to her head? The life of one Lishui sorceress was no matter, but his granddaughter seemed to have to establish for herself a reputation for bloodthirst. In seven days, she had defeated contenders from various Houses and then killed a Mage with impunity.

In life, Guo had a simple winning philosophy that allowed him to succeed in his work: nip the trouble in the bud before it bloomed.

Yet, was it not said that the "tiger does not harm its cubs"?

Guo felt a discouraging sense of disquiet as Gwen bowed deeply, her dark hair falling over her shoulders like a waterfall. Besides the girl, the Conjurer cousin reciprocated the gesture, though Guo could feel the young man's insincerity from even across the room.

The Water Mage made his granddaughter all the more dangerous. It was clear that Richard's loyalty was first to Gwen, then to the man known as Gunther Shultz. Each of them, each bud, must be clipped before they grew poisonous and carnivorous.

A dull ache caught Guo unaware as his head throbbed, and the old Magus winced with a sudden grimace.

"Are you alright, grandfather?" the girl asked him, her face beset with genuine worry.

"Percy! Concentrate!" Guo barked at the shifting form of the boy behind him. "I am fine."

But the boy had already lost his concentration. The exercise would have to resume some other time.

"You must be tired," Guo said to his precious heir. "Good night. Percy, go clean up. We resume tomorrow morning after 0700."

"Yes, Grandfather." Percy bowed and left the room. He didn't stop to speak to his sister, and that made Guo feel better.

"Good night," Guo said again, turned on his heels, and left.

He would soon have to force Klavdiya to participate in something she disagreed with, an act that pained him more than anything in the world.

Anything, apart from disadvantaging the boy.

 



Sunday became a day spent in idyllic recovery.

Gwen woke late in the morning, dressed casually, and met Richard for breakfast.

After her morning meditative exercises, she travelled with Babulya to work, where she received another bout of therapeutic healing to repair the damage caused by her Void usage.

"Your body has taken too much of the vitae fruit for now. Maybe after a few more months, but for now, it is best to keep you well away from the fruit," Gwen's grandmother advised, wary of Gwen's burgeoning ambition.

After that, the afternoon was spent with Richard, walking the Bund's quay and taking in Shanghai's sights. One of the local artists had thought her a celebrity of some kind, for she and Richard made fabulous company along the boulevard, both being exceptionally tall and well-formed, and asked to paint their picture.

Gwen was too embarrassed to be holding a pose for hours, but the artist laughed and told them that he just needed a Lumen-pic.

They returned two hours later, and the artist presented them with the painting, gratis.

She had offered the man an HDM crystal, but the artist refused, saying that he was happy that they allowed him to work on something he truly enjoyed. That was when she realised that the man was an NoM and that he was reeling from the knowledge that two Mages who appeared the scions of noble houses were entertaining his hopes at all.

The painting itself was hasty and impressionist, but it captured her likeness beside Richard as they wandered through the quay. Behind them, the Pudong Tower glinted beside the Huangpu River.

A foreshadowing of the future? Richard joked. Gwen laughed without worry, dreaming of one day crossing the bay. They had been in Shanghai long enough to know that Pudong was where the Mageocracy and the Demi-humans resided. It was a city-in-a-city, where only sanctioned Mages who'd undergone mental conditioning could venture.

The pair did not return that evening for dinner but instead attempted adventurous culinary fare on The Bund.

In the middle of dinner, Jun came through with the Message that her friends should be arriving in Sydney soon and that Gwen should anticipate a call within the next twelve hours.

A taxi took the two home before the 2200 curfew, where they retired to their rooms after checking in with dear old Babulya.

Then Gwenn tucked into bed, where she counted Evees until she could fight off the anxiety of having to wait for their call.

"Gwen! You have a Message!"

Gwen had been wide awake since daybreak, waiting for the call to come. In hindsight, counting Evees mightn't have been the best solution to insomnia.

She leapt out of bed, still wearing yesterday's clothes, and made for the communal hall, where the LR Communication Device awaited in Guo's spare office.

Her desire for privacy was wishful thinking, Gwen acknowledged as she entered the room where a servant had set up the device for her. Would the servant's be watching? She had no idea, but the scene did cement the notion of her moving out and living alone or with Richard.

With a hum, the flickering projection came into focus. A close-up crop of outrageous cleavage promptly accosted Gwen's field of vision.

"Is this thing on?" Yue's voice sounded far too close to the microphone, assuming the device had such a thing. "Hello?"

"Yue!" Gwen shrieked. "Oh my god! I see you! I see, a lot of you!"

"Yue! Get back here!" Elvia's embarrassed voice was as sweet as ever.

"Elvia!"

"Gwen!"

"Yue!"

"Gwen!"

It took a few seconds, but the girls found each other and reconnected without effort.

Gwen's chest puffed with turbulent, child-like glee. These were her friends! FRIENDS! People she never had in her old life.

"I am so happy to see you guys." she choked, her eyes misty with recognition.

"Oh, Gwennie! I am so glad you're alright!" Elvia was no better; she was already leaking like a faulty tap.

"You alright down there? I heard from Gunther and Alesia that you've decided to stay?" Yue's timbre was equal parts disapproval and hurt.

Her friend's accusatory statement weighed upon Gwen's shoulders as a mountainous mass. When they had left the island, they had all promised to stay together through thick and thin— now she was the first to break that promise.

"No, no! We're not upset or anything," Elvia bawled. "It was just so— unexpected!"

"Gwennie, what have you got to say for yourself?" Yue wasn't nearly so kind.

"Let me explain," Gwen spoke slowly, keeping cadence by drawing upon a measured calm. It was all she could do to keep her emotions in check. "So, Wei and the other guy, that's the MSS agents, took me to a holding facility..."

She related her arrival in Shanghai. The Isolation chamber. The matter with Percy. Gunther's advice and babulya's support. She explained her paternal family's situation and the decision to remain as logically as she could.

"Alright, I guess that's acceptable," Yue sulked before rolling on her back and kicking the air with her legs like she was stomping an invisible adversary. "ARRRG! I am going to be so lonely!"

"Lonely?" Gwen said. "But you have Evee!"

It was now Elvia's turn to put on an expression full of guilt.

"What's wrong, Evee?" There was something distinctly heartbreaking about the angelic Healer's sullen demeanour that implored Gwen to teleport across the world and embrace her.

"She's going to Europe," Yue sighed. "Everyone is leaving me. I am just a lonely Evoker, setting fire to this cruel and uncaring world. Let it burn, I say. Let it all burn!"

"Evee? You're going to Europe?" Gwen felt a sinking feeling in her gut. So Evee couldn't avoid her family's pressure after all? Was Elvia going with her family because she was no longer in Australia to keep the three of them together?

"It's my family," Elvia spoke between sobs. "My father accepted a position in Germany. We're going to relocate to Hamburg in a week. They've been waiting for me to return."

"Oh, Evee." Gwen wanted to say that she wanted to be happy for her, but she also acutely realised that unlike her temporary stay in Shanghai, Elvia's European stint was likely permanent.

"With my potential, they're going to try and enrol me at the Nightingale College in England or the School of Asclepius in Greece. That means I'll be away from my family as well. Father says it's for the best because they don't know what's in store for them once they arrive in Hamburg."

"And neither of us can help her!" Yue fumed, her dark eyes glinting dangerously. "Those places are for Clerics only! God know what those religious nutcases would do to Evee."

"Those are incredible Tier 1 schools!" Gwen marvelled.

"You can thank your Brother-in-craft for that," Yue's intonation was ambivalent but generally upset. Gwen, too felt a strange cocktail of ire and gladness, concern and gratitude.

"I am sure it'll be alright, Evee," Gwen reached out to try and comfort the illusory projection. "You'll make new friends in no time!"

Elvia made a horrid grimace made infinitely worse by dribbling snot and streaky tears.

"All those strangers, Gwen, and not knowing anyone there." she held onto Yue's arm with white-knuckled trepidation. "I—I don't know if I can do it. You know what it was like when I came to Blackwattle. If it weren't for you guys.."

Yue sighed and produced a handkerchief, wiping down Elvia's face as she tried to capture for Gwen just how dreaded her new existence would be.

Ah, social anxiety. Gwen mourned for Elvia. Hello, Darkness, my old friend.

Evee's words did make Gwen think of their past. What would Elvia be like if she hadn't befriended Gwen and Yue? For the entire of junior high, she was a loner. The old Gwen barely register the angelic cleric on her mental radar, and Yue would have unquestionably bullied Elvia if forced together, most likely unconsciously, which made things worse still.

But what could she do?

Gwen wracked her brain.

What could she do to help her friend through her trial of isolation? What manner of aid could she deliver from ten thousand kilometres away? She couldn't SKYPE Elvia when the Healer felt down or something, could she?

Wait a minute! Gwen regarded the LR Message prism in front of her. Weren't they Face-Timing right now?

"Yue, is Brother Gunther there?"

"Nope, but I can get Master," Yue answered. "Shall I?"

"Sure, there's something I need to ask."

Yue left the vision of the projection.

Alesia's gorgeous face came into view a minute later. She looked far more hale than when Gwen had last seen her.

"Hey there, Tiger," Alesia hailed her with her usual sultry joviality. "How's my little sister doing?"

"I've got so much to tell you! I did my first Dungeon dive!"

"Already! Impressive, how did it go?"

"We came first!"

Alesia squealed with delight, uplifting the mood significantly. Gwen quickly told of her exploits in record time, covering only the highlight reel.

"So, Alesia," Gwen cut to the chase. "I want to know if it's possible to get Elvia one of these LR Message Projectors, one she can take with her to her new school."

"No!" Elvia interjected. "Gwen, that's too much!"

"It's not available for sale just to anyone, you know." Alesia furrowed her flawless brows. "You going to need HDMs and CCs."

"How much?" Gwen carefully inquired with fingers crossed.

"Assuming I pull a few strings." Alesia puckered her lips alluringly. "About 50 CCs for a set?"

"Done!" Gwen agreed without hesitation. "Can I trade it in at the Shanghai Tower?"

"The Pudong Tower is one you'll need to deal with," Alesia's eyes sparkled. "How come you got so many CCs? You've been there for what, two weeks? A week?"

"You're looking at a woman of 151 Contribution Credits," Gwen boasted, puffing out her chest. "I've got contributions to spare!"

Alesia fell about laughing in stitches, wiping tears from her eyes.

Elvia tried to dissuade Gwen, but she wouldn't have it. 50 CCs to ensure that Elvia could be safe and sound and could report to her anytime? It was worth it!

"Okay, I'll make sure Elvia has a nice dorm wherever she goes to Medical college and that an LRM device is installed for her use." Alesia raised a thumb. "Additionally, I'll match you CC for CC. She'll have the best accommodation there. A private one even, if she wants it."

"Maybe not a private one. It'll isolate Evee from her peers," Gwen advised. "How about improving her foodstuff?"

"Done," Alesia promised. "It'll be like you're pampering her yourself, you Sugar Mama, you!"

Gwen couldn't help but laugh. Yue joined in after she found out what Gwen had done, and even the tearful Elvia couldn't help but sob and laugh at the same time at the absurdity of it all.

"Can I mail some HDMs over to Elvia?" Gwen asked. If she was going to be a sugar mama to Elvia, she might as well play the role well.

"I'll set her up with a Trust, and you can pay me back a few years down the road," Alesia dissuaded Gwen from her short-sighted request. "A few thousand HDMs here and there over a few years, no problems."

"My family isn't poor either, you know!" Elvia protested, her little face red with embarrassment. "I can take care of myself!"

"Evee! You brave little angel!" Alesia hugged Elvia in her stead, pressing the Healer's sweet little face against her cheeks. "Of course you can!"

"There, now we can chat every night if you want," Gwen told Elvia confidently. "Just Facetime— I mean, Message me. It'll be like I am there next to you!"

"Okay!" Elvia made a brave face, which was so adorable as to induce Alesia and Yue into another fit of hugs, passing her back and forth like a rag doll.

"Wow." Gwen reflected with a heavy heart after the rouge-like aftermath made Elvia even more adorable. "To think… to think we're going to be apart for so long."

"Negative." Alesia made a cross with both her arms. "I could come out there to Shanghai tomorrow if I wanted. It's Yue you have to wait for."

"Yue?" Gwen looked at her friend.

"Master says I need to accumulate my CCs for the immigration application," Yue sulked. "She says it'll motivate me."

"When Yue joins you again," Alesia snorted arrogantly. "She'll be a dreadnought of destruction!"

"I am sure she will," Gwen said a silent prayer for all the creatures in the Orange, Purple and Black Zones surrounding Oceania. "What's your projection, Elvia?"

"Three years at minimum," Elvia said miserably. "I need to do at least a year of practicum as well."

"Well, I'll earn enough CCs for you to come to Shanghai if you like," Gwen offered. "Four years is a long time!"

"What, you think CCs grow on trees?" Alesia scoffed. "Even during the last Coral Sea Conflict, with a four-figure kill count, I only earned 6000 odd CCs! I spent a whole lot on my Crimson Caracal, and now I am short on CCs to get another one."

"Can't Gunther lend you some?"

"What, you don't know? It's strictly forbidden to lend or trade CCs except in rare, Tower sanctioned transactions. The process to get one of those to pass muster is downright impossible. Might as well squeeze a camel through a needle's eye," Alesia replied indignantly.

"Wouldn't Yue need a Spirit as well?" Gwen asked out of curiosity.

"Yep," Yue replied miserably. "Oh man, this illusion makes me feel so close to you, Gwen, yet so far away. There's not enough CCs in the world!"

"Could I buy a Spirit?" Gwen continued. What would a Spirit do for her Elemental abilities? What would it do for Caliban or Ariel? "I got an Auction later with something called the House of M."

"Ha, good luck with that." Alesia gazed at Gwen with a penetrating look of mock sympathy.

"Expensive?" Gwen swallowed nervously.

"Fire is one of the more common elements of Evocation, yet still my Caracas cost 1400 CCs," Alesia pointed out. "As for Lightning, only the blackest of Black Zones have an abundance of Lightning Elementals. Whereas for Void— where the hell do we even begin?"

"I see your point." Gwen bit her lip.

"Right, anything else? I'll make sure these two are safe and right as rain. Yue can use my LRM, and I'll make sure Elvia has hers when she arrives at school."

"Great, thanks. I appreciate it, Sis."

"I'll let Gunther know you dropped by."

Gwen once again faced her two best buddies.

"For the future." She put forward her palm so that the Illusory projection could see her hand.

"For our futures!" Yue followed suit.

"For us!" Elvia also joined in, stacking their outstretched arms so that they could all see each other's hands.

A wordless moment lingered as each of the girls etched the scene into the recess of their memory.

Another half an hour of small talk followed, discussing matters of one another's family. Yue informed Gwen that she'd try to get Surya to call Gwen on the LRM Device, as well as broker a meeting so that Richard could speak to his parents. Elvia promised to talk with Gwen as soon as possible, though they would have to wait until a Tower technician installed the LRM Device in her dorm. Furthermore, Gwen would have to undergo screening to ensure that she wouldn't defraud the Tower of sensitive information if she were handed an LRM device. Either way, the process would take weeks, if not months, and by then, it was likely that Gwen would have begun University.

"Goodbye," she said at last as the illusion died, the projection transforming into ghostly motes of white-grey Divination.

Gwen exited her grandfather's warded office, feeling like a girl emerging into a brave new world.

University, Gwen thought to herself. It was probably time she collected some brochures and pamphlets on the matter, maybe hunted down a few copies of students handbooks.

The future may be far away, but she felt as though she was already standing on its doorsteps.

 

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Wutosama

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