On Mayuree's advice, they chose to stay rather than leave, betting that the Hyatt offered far more protection than an oyster-shell restaurant somewhere. The group loitered in the lobby until they were met with Mayuree's brother, Marong, exiting the theatre. To their surprise, the offending sibling's parting gesture was a greeting and a farewell, to which Gwen's party failed to reciprocate.
When the convoy of dark sedans departed, the group breathed a collective sigh of relief. Gwen then turned to her companions and explained her newfound rapport with Mayuree.
Richard cared little, informing Gwen he’d be alright with whatever decision she made.
Mina politely withheld her tongue. Possessing the belief that one said it best; when one said nothing at all.
Tao loudly proclaimed he would treat Mayuree as one of the ‘crew’ should Gwen desire, even allowing her to participate in his projects.
Kitty, Mayuree’s faithful companion, rejected any desire to join a ‘crew’ in which Tao Wang took part, but conceded that Gwen and Mayuree necessarily benefited from each other’s company. Her guards had no opinion either way, remaining as silent and invisible, leaving Gwen to wonder if they would have been of any use had the encounter with Marong escalated.
Then the jig was up; the caper finished; Mina's driver arrived at the lobby to pick them up.
Gwen gave Mayuree a friendly hug and promised her that they would see each other again in Fudan, and they were away.
* * *
“You sure you know what you’re doing?” Mina questioned Gwen as their sedan pulled onto the orbital highway. Her cousin remained irresolute about Gwen's decision, preferring that she had left Mayuree well alone.
When Gwen stated the undeniable benefits of having someone so intimately connected to the House of M on their behalf, Mina conceded the benefits of being favoured by one of Shanghai's more reputable Auction Houses. After all, one could hardly repudiate gaining access to a network of Mages willing to trade rare ingredients for non-CC based currency and vice-versa.
“Well, be careful. That brother of hers looks like trouble from his slicked hair to his Oxfords,” Mina warned Gwen, wagging a finger. She then pouted her lips attractively and whistled. "Who'd thought, huh? Little Mayuree, connected to the mysterious house of M. Did she say third-in-line? She was quiet as anything back in school. She was socially illiterate then, and she continues to be now. Red Stars, if I wanted to be your friend, Gwen, we'd be arm-in-arm by the second hour."
"Mia's an alright sort, isn't she?" Gwen chuckled. "Now that brother of hers, he looks like a character."
“I too, am interested in this Marong,” Richard spoke beside them. “Were it not for Magus Yuu and the circumstances of the hotel, I would have loved to meet him in person.”
"You'll get us all arrested, if your 'meeting' is what I think it is," Mina quipped. "Never pick a fight in a place that has more staff than guests."
"Sometimes, a meeting is just a meeting," Richard stated with ambivalence.
“Thanks, Richard,” Gwen replied warmly. “We were fine. Marong didn’t even lay a hand on us. I think the brother was just curious as to why his sister was so interested in me.”
"You said he insisted that you stay," Mina pointed out. "That sounds plenty dangerous to me."
"Only if you say it like that," Gwen pointed out. "I mean, if some Mage suddenly had you tied around his or her fingers, I'd be worried too."
“So what happened between you and Mayuree? Surely you did more than just kiss and makeup,” Richard pursued Gwen's line of logic. “Personally, I am no less curious than Marong.”
“I’ll tell you what I can.” Gwen relented after a moment of contemplation. With considerations for privacy and disclosure, she carefully illustrated Mayuree’s panicked self-diagnosis to her companions.
“See? That’s why I never do fortunes!” Mina pointed out triumphantly. "They're nothing but trouble!"
“So I see.” Richard nodded. “Now that one mystery is settled. What of Ariel? What did our penultimate winner attain?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Gwen had no intention of testing out her familiar in the car. She couldn't, at any rate; Ariel appeared dormant. “Also, does anyone know what an Eland is? ”
“It’s a huge goat,” Tao surprised them all with the factoid. “Huge mofo with twisted horns and stripes.”
“A goat…” Gwen tried imagining the delightful marten becoming a gangly buck. How does one share a pillow with an antelope-sized Ariel? Frolic with it upon her lap? What if the horns snagged her clothes? Maybe she could ride it? Gwen tried to imagine herself riding a lightning-wreathed billy goat into battle; the illustrated fantasy was rather more 'Heavy Metal' than she'd hoped.
“What’s it doing now?” Mina asked, likewise inquisitive as to what Ariel, the culprit of their predicament, had gained from the ordeal.
“Asleep.” Gwen checked her Pocket Dimension. Beside the softly purring Ariel, Caliban remained dormant, deprived of stimuli, mana and vitality. "Indigestion, perhaps?"
“Richard, you’re the Conjurer supreme here.” Gwen looked up to meet her cousin's bemused eyes. “What do you think would happen?”
Richard's self-satisfied expression told Gwen, 'you came to the right guy.'
“Well, academically, when a lesser Elemental consumes greater Elemental’s core, it takes on some of its power and characteristic. Although the phenomenon is a rare one, Explorators had reported hundreds of sightings over the past decade.”
“As for Ariel.” Richard tapped his knees. “I can only speak from experience.”
“Go on.” Gwen was all ears.
“Before I found Lea, or, I should say, Lea found me. My Familiar was a Monotreme Platypus.”
Gwen riotously snorted while Mina looked on with incomprehension. The vision of Richard standing as cool as a cucumber, looking as stoic as a glacier while accompanied by a waddling platypus was too much for her overtired imagination to handle. Mayhap the creature even held its head and suffered from a constant headache.
“What in Mao's Army is a platypus?” the healer asked.
“Lea, if you please,” Richard requested his Undine familiar.
A transparent model of a bird-billed-beaver quickly formed, possessing the head of a duck, the body of a seal, webbed feet, scales on its lower back, and a waddling paddle for a tail. It was as though the Creator had taken all the spare parts of animals he had left over and then said 'fuck it; it's 11:59 on a Saturday night'.
“Is that a Dobhar-chú?!” Mina beamed. “An Australian Dobhar-chú? Those are incredibly powerful!”
“It’s a water elemental in the semblance of local fauna,” Richard corrected her expertly. “A native creature of the estuaries and rivers of NSW. A noble member of the local legends.”
“Hahaha.” Gwen was beside herself with tears. “I- I can't believe your spirit animal is a platypus!”
It suited Richard perfectly, Gwen thought. She could never make heads nor tail of her cousin, his incredible competence, his cold and hot demeanour, his abrasive social behaviour and stoic charm; the uniqueness of a platypus was an apt metaphor.
“… Anyway,” Richard continued, ignoring Gwen. “I managed to win the core of a lesser sea dragon in a bet - that’s a seahorse, by the way, a pseudo-dragon at best, and then my Platypus became like this-”
The model changed until they saw a strange chimaera creature covered from head to tail in scales. It had the look of an aquatic pseudo-dragon, a form of water fey, but possessed of duck's bill and the paddle-like tail.
“OH, Gods!” Gwen was breathless; she fanned herself with her fingers. “Ach! My stomach! A pseudo platypus! Oh, Richard, you should have stuck to the original form!”
“I think it looks very handsome.” Mina glared at her cousin with critical disapproval of her sudden hysterics.
Gwen tried to check her offensive merriment, but another glance at the duckbilled-dragon-beaver sent her into a second fit of belly-aching laughter. The more she wanted to halt herself, the less she managed to restrain the chortling giggles escaping her belly.
The watery construct faded to be replaced by Lea’s scandalous torso, wet and shimmering with beaded water as her upper body materialised. Her gemstone eyes regarded Gwen with curiosity, wondering why she was so beside herself with relentless joviality.
"Gwen?" Lea asked quizzically. "Are you in pain?"
“Sorry, sorry!” Gwen finally managed to pull her wits together. She had no idea why she had allowed herself to go so thoroughly. When the eye-watering joviality finally departed her body, she felt as though she had purged something from inside her. Perhaps her sense of the ridiculous was trying to find a balance, it had, after all, been a very long day. She extended a hand toward the water sprite. “Here, a reward for that lovely blast from the past.”
Gwen congealed a mote of Almudj’s mana on her fingers; with a squeal of pleasure, Lea eagerly took it in her mouth with a delightful moan.
Mina's lip fell half open with wordless scandal.
Tao's eyes opened so wide they glowed.
Richard found a renewed fascination for the city's skyline.
Gwen retrieved her finger, realising only now what Tao and Mina might think of her nonchalant practice. It was something she had done for Sufina and Lea many times, usually presented in privacy; in her mind, it was more akin to giving a salmon-treat to her cats.
It was time to pivot the topic. Perhaps, Gwen thought tactically. The platypus-drake needed to make another guest appearance.
* * *
Klavdiya was waiting for them when they arrived.
“How were the exams?”
“I think we both went well, Babulya.” Gwen ran in to embrace her babulya.
Once her party settled in, Gwen regaled what had transpired, what she wrote, what went wrong with Caliban and what she told the interviewers, hiding nothing from her family. She furthermore added the encounter with Mayuree, her decision to befriend the Diviner, and her confrontation with the brother.
Encouragingly, babulya told her to pay the brother no mind. The House of M, she stated, was a merchant family tied to an old Clan. A tiger they may be, they would not dare to pull the whiskers of the dragon known as the PLA.
Klavdiya’s gesture of confidence made Gwen feel immensely comforted. At least she could rest easy knowing that she wouldn't be spirited away to face some arrogant young Master.
Richard repeated his side of the tale, though without nearly as much detail nor flair.
“Mao above, that’s terrible!” Mina sucked in a breath of cold air when Richard outlined his ‘Centaur’ strategy. “Richard! That’s vile!”
“Stone cold!” Tao was as impressed as he was disgusted, so much that he had to repeat his overly fond expression. “Stone cold! My man!”
Gwen measured her cousin's strategy against her own. She was reminded of a certain string of retaliation following the 1972 Munich Olympics. Or perhaps the Russian operations during the Nord-Ost siege.
Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The unspoken mores of this world.
Richard was truly a man born in the right time, at the right place.
“I can guess how well that’s going over with Liwen and Gillian,” their babulya mused. “James probably swallowed his tongue when you proposed the hoof-collection.”
“Alas, it’s out of my hands now.” Richard's nonchalant gesture matched his expression.
“At any rate, well done,” babulya commended the both of them. “I am confident that the both of you will pass muster magnificently.”
“Thanks, babulya. What do you think we should do for the intervening month?” Gwen requested. For now, at least, all her labours seem at an end. What laid in store until the mid-semester started? Should they ready themselves too for a non-scholarship enrolment? Was there some way they could pay back her grandmother for her tireless efforts? "Is there anything you'd like our help with? Something Richard and I can do for you?"
“Now now, you just rest.” Babulya patted her shoulder assuringly. “As for doing something, I do have someone I'd like you to meet tomorrow. Someone who will need your help, and be of immense help to you.”
Gwen wanted to ask who, but her babulya insisted they proceed straight to bed.
“Where’s Percy?” Gwen changed the subject. Her brother had not come out to greet her.
“Percy is asleep already, his training is taking its toll,” Klavdiya informed her. “He’s fine though, don’t you worry. Guo will let nothing but good things happen to his boy.”
His boy, Gwen allowed the word to roll over her tongue. She wondered what her mother would think about that. And speaking Helena, Gwen reminded herself, a visit should probably be in the works once the Fudan ordeal settles. Though she wanted as little to do with the woman as possible, Helena was still her mother. At the very least, it would ease Gwen's mind knowing that her mother was living a life of material comfort; if nothing else.
In the midst of her thoughts, Tao and Mina bid them goodnight.
Before she left, Mina left the additional 3000 HDMs with Gwen.
“You’ll likely need it,” Mina tapped the triple-stack of 1000 HDM cards left in her cousin’s hand. “Don’t worry, if there’s one thing the Wangs aren't short on, its crystals. Don’t expect us to be nearly as liberal with CCs though. Let me know if you have trouble finding a place to stay. Dad owns a few places not too far from Fudan.”
Gwen hugged her cousins as they left, with Tao promising he'd show Gwen his latest project soon.
"Go to sleep!" Their grandmother henpecked Gwen and Richard. "Why are you still up! It's almost eleven!"
Gwen washed up and slipped into bed, wondering what tomorrow would bring. She had a dream about a scholarship and pondered the propensity of its probability as a prophetic vision.
* * *
The next morning, Gwen woke with a start when someone pressed a finger against her temple.
“For shame! Gwen,” her babulya remarked critically. “You should be training from 7 AM! Meditating! Not sleeping until 10!”
“I feel so tired,” Gwen murmured, feeling exhausted even after almost ten hours of sleep. She figured that the consumption performed by Caliban’s unbidden new form was likely the culprit.
It was a weariness that no sleep could replenish. Only higher concentrations of Almudj’s mana could so that. The more of those little green motes of primordial mana she flushed into her Astral Body, the more readily her vitality seemed to return over time. She would have to find an Alchemist to work her remaining two Fructum Vitaes, but that would be a future endeavour. Assuming Mayuree was genuine about her offer, she could probably afford a few more favours.
“Up! Up!” babulya peeled back Gwen’s blankets, expelling the cosy air. “You’ll be late! Richard's already gone on his errand.”
“Aiee!" Gwen clutched her small clothes against her shivering white figure, yelping at the sudden chill. She stumbled from her bed and found a pair of shorts and a tee shirt left by the bedside. A discovered scrunchie helped her tie her frizzled hair into a ponytail. "What are we late for, babulya?”
“Your tutor. Seeing as you’re woefully underprepared for University level theory, I’ve asked someone to help you out,” babulya informed her. “There is a cost to your private tuition though; she wants to see your Void Magic.”
Gwen furrowed her brows. She trusted her babulya implicitly, but was it wise to flaunt her magic so openly? Put it on such public display?
“I know what you’re worried about,” Klavdiya comforted her. “Worry not; it’s someone we both know. It'll be a pleasant surprise.”
“Okay.” Gwen left the bedroom to wash her face. “What should I wear?”
“Whatever you like, dear,” Klavdiya replied. “It’s at the university. Be fashionable like the other kids, but don't show too much skin! You'll catch a cold!”
“Alright!” Gwen studied herself in the mirror as she brushed and rinsed. Her complexion had lost its supernatural lustre. The tender, moisturised paleness prized by her Asian counterparts now took on a sickly pallor. It was evident that she had been far too liberal with Caliban, as well as her Void capabilities. If the future allowed, Gwen promised herself; she would have to experiment with long-term abstinence of her Void powers to see if Almudj’s life-force could repair her tattered vitality.
But for now, there was the query of her bodily presentation.
Late-April in Shanghai meant the city suffered from high humidity and intermittent heat-waves, made worse by the pollution of magical smog that trapped the heat under a thick blanket of mana particles.
Gwen had seen how people dressed in Fudan. It was a cosmopolitan university with a middle to upper-class population of young men and women, which made it a mecca for adventurous and experimental fashion.
The male students preferred mute coloured jackets in maroon, white, or olive worn over loud shirts with flared collars. For pants, ankle-length chinos and skinny-jeans were ubiquitous; the Chinese had slim builds that disfavoured the heavy cotton or straight denim so popular in Australia.
The girls were far more grandiloquent and varied in their attires, with everything from flared, tapered, loose, tight, mid-riff blouses to shirts, tees and tops; matched with skirts of all lengths, though the preference in spring was for high-waisted shorts and miniskirts above the knee.
A dozen combinations flashed across Gwen’s mind as she pondered the disposition she’d desired to project. Smart but casual? Academic chic? Oxford prep or the college girl-next-door? When she was sixteen in her old world, her attire of choice had been short everything, singlet tops, cut-off shorts, the sort of attire that had made her father nervous to let her out of the house. Those were the days of innocence, and Gwen knew better now than to draw that kind of attention.
She dug through her wardrobe and found a loose hanging antique-white collared blouse, enclosed with a black ribbon-tie, then unfolded a knee-length, high-waisted skirt in blueberry with double-buttons to match, pairing the nondescript outfit with the wedge sandals she’d bought with Mina.
It was clean, fresh, and breezy enough for the warm spring, while also mute enough to not draw the eye from a distance. Babulya nodded with approval as Gwen slipped into her chosen attire, wrapping the fabric comfortably against her slim figure.
“Ah, if only I were younger!” Klavdiya mused tenderly.
“Oh, Babulya! You’ve plenty of youth in you yet! I’ll be more than happy to dress you if you like!” Gwen gushed, hugging her grandmother tightly. “We can go shopping, just the two of us. It’ll be fun!”
“Of course, when we’re both free,” her babulya replied with a mirthful smile. “You know, I can’t remember the last time I was in a clothing mall. They must be gigantic by now.”
“More than you know,” Gwen teased. “The shop assistants would think you’re my mother!”
Babulya laughed. No woman wouldn't want to be seen younger, not to mention Klavdiya had the natural blessing of being a healer. Gwen was serious though, if her babulya dressed the part and discarded her love of militant olive or the old styled mandarin suits, she would surely look not a day over forty, likely matching her birth mother in appearing the same age! Gosh, Gwen couldn’t help but draw a few inferences. Given Elvia’s age, she would likely still look fifteen by the time Gwen and Yue were well into their twenties! It would initially be a curse, of course, but the angelic healer would be laughing well into her fifties while Gwen herself became sans perkiness, sans moisture, and took on the likeness of a prune plum.
“Alright, enough wasting of time. We need to go.” Klavdiya urged Gwen. “Go get a bite to eat. We leave in thirty minutes, no more delays.”
Breakfast in the Song household was long over. Gwen went to the kitchen and seized several buns that were left over from the morning, washed down with a glass of milk warmed by a helpful NoM attendant.
She then swung by the main house to see if Percy was in, but the boy was gone along with Guo. Feeling miffed that she’d missed her brother yet again, Gwen found her grandmother waiting outside by the gate and announced herself ready to depart.
"Where's Richard gone?" Gwen asked as the car moved out from the Song compound.
"I've sent him to see a few old contacts, get him acquainted," Klavdiya replied. "Worry not, that boy's far more capable of taking care of himself than you!"
Gwen could hardly deny her grandmother's jocular jab. She took the injurious indignity to her pride in stride, turning instead to strap on her Message device, which she'd promised Richard she'd wear at all times should they be parted.
The PLA chauffeur took them along the familiar route to Fudan, across the second orbital highway and onto the third, before reaching the campus grounds. The car turned into the shaded avenues of the university, eventually parking in front of a salmon-on-white building with an architectural facade taken straight from the 1930s. At its entrance, two mock-Roman pillars held up six floors of brick and mortar, with two wings splitting north and south.
Gwen stepped from the vehicle and moved to aid her grandmother, who took her hand and lifted herself from the soft cushions.
“Where are we?”
“Henglong Research Building,” her grandmother informed Gwen. “Come.”
Gwen followed her grandmother until they reached the interior.
“No levitation platforms?” Gwen looked around the dated interior.
“It’s an old structure,” babulya chucked. “Over here, I remember it well. I used to study here, on the top floor.”
They proceeded down the north wing until a set of side stairwells took them to the sixth floor. For a woman of advanced age, her grandmother was surprisingly sprite, which Gwen attributed again to her affinity with Positive Energy. It was a hell of a boon to have the healing energies of life invariably circulate through one’s mana channels, nourishing one’s flesh and bones. Gwen couldn't help but wondered if the opposite applied; if her Void channels aged her body more rapidly, or if Negative Energy Mages were short-lived. Likely not, Gwen reminded herself. Elizabeth Sobel was almost sixty, and she didn’t look a day past her twenties. That horrid woman must have engaged in some dark and nefarious ritual of stolen youth.
They proceeded until they reached the end of the corridor.
“We’re here!” Her babulya knocked on a set of paint-peeled double doors.
The voice that greeted them was music to Gwen’s ears.
“Petra!” Gwen embraced her cousin.
The girls parted after an informal cheek-to-cheek, with Gwen stepping back to examine her talented, older relative.
Petra looked effortlessly stunning, her naturally voluminous lashes framing her sky-blue eyes in a way that made them the most striking features on her already chiselled face. And yet, despite winning nature’s genetic lottery, Petra wore a set of baggy lab-overalls, what looked to be rubber-slippers, and had her hair loosely coiled in a bun hidden underneath the transparent film of a hair net that made it seem as though she had cling-wrapped the top of her head.
“Don't you look nice!” Petra spun and twirled Gwen over, taking in her ensemble. “Very nice!”
“Thanks, Pats,” Gwen allowed Petra the pleasure. Perhaps stimulated by Gwen's carefully chosen attire, Petra quickly changed the subject and invited them in, undoing her cap as they entered, allowing her voluminous hair to cascade like an auburn waterfall.
“Is Marie in?” Klavdiya stepped through the threshold and took a gander around the corner, where a lab choked full of magical experiments rested in organised chaos. "She should be expecting us."
“Master got delayed at a meeting, she’ll be back in a few hours,” Petra replied. “Come in! Come in! I’ve cleared a space.”
The three found themselves in a private area of the laboratory safely segregated from the main working area.
“So,” babulya turned to Gwen. “Meet your new tutor.”
Gwen felt both brows arch with delight, her lips half-parting with surprise.
“That's right,” Petra laughed at Gwen's stunned expression. “I am your tutor from Tartarus.”
“More like I am your student from the seven circles.” Gwen shook her cousin’s hand. “Thank, Pats. I know you're awful busy.”
“It’s nothing. I wanted to do it. I wouldn’t trust anyone else,” Petra cooed at her. “Master wanted to speak to you as well, but we can start first; I want a full rundown of your curriculum and what you have completed at your Frontier school.”
“You two have fun, dears.” Seeing that the girls had settled in, babulya retreated from the room. “Seeing as Marie is busy, I am going to see some familiar faces and catch up with some old friends. I'll hopefully swing by later. Message me if she's back before dinner.”
“Thank you, babulya.” Gwen thanked her grandmother earnestly. “I’ll be sure to absorb everything Petra teaches like a sponge!”
“I am counting on it.” Petra materialised textbooks, pencils, and a set of data-slates across the table. She even had a tea warmer and a set of cups. “Lets’ begin.”
* * *
An hour later, Petra had a throbbing headache.
“How are you even casting tier 4 spells?” Petra chewed her pencil, indenting the wood with punctuated teeth-marks. “You don’t even know Gainsburrow’s four-tier algorithm for hextogramic formation!”
“My Master taught me through the Cognisance Chamber,” Gwen confessed nostalgically. “I followed his instruction directly.”
“Your Master…” Petra felt her academic mind broil with longing and commiseration. “Magister Henry Kaine Foster Kilroy.”
“The very one.” Gwen felt her chest constrict every time she thought about Henry. Henry and Sufina, who for a year had treated her like their closest family: dispensing advice, resource, compassion, and comfort with absolute liberty.
But now her Captain lies cold and dead in the Grot, his Dryad companion the guardian of his mausoleum, growing more alien with every passing anniversary.
“You realise Magister Kilroy is one of the founders of the original Tower system in the 70s, no?” Petra tapped her pen against the slate. “He’s not an active member, but Good God, Gwen! A founding member of the Towers! A legend! Deathless Henry! Oh, to think I could have met the man in the flesh.”
“How I wish you could,” Gwen swallowed the taste of iron filling her mouth, feeling her throat constrict involuntarily.
“Sorry.” Petra reached over the desk and touched Gwen’s hand.
“I am okay.” Gwen pressed the welling emotions back down the rabbit hole of her memory. “I know who murdered him. Me, Gunther and Alesia, we all know. We’ll be getting our satisfaction one day. Until then, it'll be something that drives me. It’s my strength.”
When Petra pursued the matter, Gwen told her roughly what had transpired.
“To think Elizabeth Sobel was alive,” Petra marvelled at the account with a click of her tongue. “What a mess. I am sorry you had to experience all of that. Do you need a minute?”
Gwen shook her head.
"No, I am alright."
"It's okay if..."
"I am fine, Pats. Thanks."
“Okay, back to your Spellcraft.” Petra took up the slate again. “I'll be honest with you. It’s horrible. Your theory is all over the place. What they’re teaching you in the Frontier is half full of shit, and half conjecture. Your curriculum was lagging behind by a decade!”
“Which is why, I am assuming, your Master taught you himself through the Cognisance Chamber. His algorithms are perfect, simplified, in fact. Your Dimension Door manifests at half the time it takes for the text-book version! Your initial Summon Familiar virtually costs no mana! Your Evocation spells are probably your weakest link, to be honest, they’re all over the place. Some of the core ones, like Lightning Bolt, are using Signature incantations, I assume you got those from Alesia de Botton. Your regular spells, like Magic Missile, are all outdated, while spells like Lightning Whip or Lighting Blast hardly synergise with your existing repertoire of Spellcraft theory.”
“You and I are going to have a busy month ahead of us. I shall speak to your advisor when you eventually get one. I recommend we work towards Conjuration as your Major, Evocation as support while working on specific spells from Transmutation and Divination. As for your Minor, I suggest holding off on that until you specialise in the Second Year.”
“What about Abjuration?”
“You’ll choke if you try to eat too many dumplings at once,” Petra advised. “Work on your Shields, but the branch powers of Abjuration, like Dispel, Remove Enchantment, Wards and Protections are a whole world unto themselves. How many lifetimes do you want to dedicate to this, anyway? I have a spell that takes away the need to sleep, but you’ll be in hysterics within the week.”
“Well, Pats, I am in your capable hands…”
“At my mercy, you mean," Petra chuckled. "I am going to have to drill you like a conscripted farmer just joining the Long March."
Gwen sipped her tea miserably. She had no idea her Spellcraft theory was a tale told by Frontier nincompoops, full of sound and fury, signifying misdirection. The loss of her Master was a far more significant loss than she had first anticipated.
"So," Petra continued. "Conjuration 1001, Bestiary and Care of Familiars FAM102, plus Supplementary Conjuration as your mainstay. Evocation 1001 and Advanced Spell-shaping ASP101 as support - that makes Five. Individual spells I’ll sort out something with babulya, which means you have one more course of your choice, and two General courses.”
“I was thinking Economics and Management, for you know… reasons.” Gwen couldn’t explain that she was probably more knowledgeable than her tutors, albeit what she lacked was context.
“What about your final Spellcraft course?”
“Are there anymore Conjuration courses I could take?” Gwen enquired. “I need to get a hold of Caliban before its leash becomes too short for either of us.”
Petra shook her head.
“That’s a miscalculation on your part, I am afraid.” Petra shook her head. “This isn’t a time-sink issue. You can’t just ‘power up’ a School of Magic. One becomes more proficient over time, becoming aware of the complexities of the Sigil, stacking exponentially into more powerful invocations and incantations. By the time you exceed Tier 6, you would need a knowledge of mandalas and glyphs to assist non-localised castings. That is a second-year course, extending well into post-grad. You think the motto in the Exam Hall is for display? ‘There exist no shortcuts on the winding path of Spellcraft; there is no shore when sailing upon the seas of Arcane knowledge.’”
“How can I raise my Conjuration to tier 5 as soon as possible?”Gwen asked. “It’s urgent. I can’t temper Caliban if I can’t trust my ability to set its boundaries.”
“According to Babulya, you’re sitting on 4.05 on the inference scale, so I’ll be candid.”
“Assuming you’re the top 0.1% of individuals gifted for Conjuration, it’ll take you a year.”
“A year!” Gwen spluttered. “But I went from 1 to 4 in twelve months!”
“...And now you’re at a bottleneck!” Petra indicated with an expansive wave of her hands. “You need more than just knowledge of spells to weave more complex incantations. You need to understand Planar Theory, Elemental-energy Theorems; you need to study the Void and brush up on your Quasi-Elemental Lightning affinity. There is no way we are going to finish by a months time. We’ll be seeing each other plenty, at least for the entirety of your first year. Both me and my Master are going to take turns getting you up-to-date with Advanced Spellcraft.”
“Oh.” Gwen felt as though she was staring into an abyss. “I guess there's much to learn.”
“Chin up!” Petra patted her hand. “I’ll make a Mage out of you yet!”