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“Sorry. A slip of the tongue,” Magister Wen apologised for her faux pas. In any other circumstance, referring to a deceased Master by their famed alias would be well received but alas; Gwen's Master was unique. The Magister calmed her nerves, realising that she had been carried away by the prospect of studying a dual-element Void Mage in the flesh.

“Uwa~!” a strange exclamation issued from Mai, who had not known anything about Gwen other than that she could tap into the Void. “Dual-element! Oppositional too! Wh- what is that green mana? Triple-element?”

“Just some Druidic essence, dear.” Wen seemed to enjoy herself immensely. “Don’t be too shocked just yet. We’ll be here all day otherwise.”

“Incredible!” Mai inspected Gwen’s figure as though probing a high spec piece of machinery. The Magus' eyes firmly affixed onto the refracted figure of Gwen's Astral Body. “Beyond incredible, this is impossible.”

“Magus Kumiko!” Magister Wen snapped at the Conjurer.

“Forgive me!” Mai bowed politely and retreated behind Magister Wen, demurely assuming her place.

“Mai, proceed.”

“Onibi!”

A vivid surge of ochre mana manifested around the Conjurer.

A glowing bushel of ghostly flame floated before Gwen's instructors, casting a ring of yellow-orange illumination around the trio.

Gwen felt life-energy cascading from the summoned spirit like a fount opened into the Positive Elemental Plane.

A Positive Conjurer! And from the looks of it, a Summoner specialist. Gwen had to catch her hand from reaching out to touch the hovering flame. Here was a spirit from that exalted plane of Positive Energy, an existence rare beyond means.

“Is… that a Lantern Sprite?”

“Not a spirit, unfortunately,” Mai caught Gwen’s expression of disbelief. “Onibi is a form of spirit-lantern from my homeland. When I manifested my familiar, it was all I could think of so…”

“Sorry,” Gwen apologised for her hasty misjudgement.

"That’s alright.” Mai motioned for the lantern to float behind Gwen. “Healing Aura!”

In Gwen's astral reflection, she could see a stream of Positive energy issuing from her body, becoming tethered to the Lantern.

“A countermeasure,” Magister Wen noted dutifully beside them. “I would be lying if I said our experimentation wouldn't tax you.”

“The cost of knowledge.” Gwen turned to her seniors brightly. “I'll pay it gladly.”

“That’s the spirit!” Wen chortled approvingly. “Now, let’s start with the basics. Give me a repertoire of your spells, starting with Lightning.”

"Yes, Ma'am!" Gwen replied, finding it too strange to call the Magister Ms Wen in the presence of others.

Gwen redoubled her attention, closed her eyes, and began to incant, invoking the cosmic changes which allowed for the manifestation of sorcerous phenomena.

She took a deep breath.

“Guiding Bolt!”
"Flash Bang!"
“Lightning Blast!”
“Lightning Gasp!”
“Taser!”
“Lightning Bolt!”
“Blade!”
“Warding Bolt!”
“Call Lightning!”

Once she was hitting the fourth-tier spells, the mental and physical exertion began to manifest. Gwen could feel the strain of continuous casting starting to take its toll. It wasn’t so much that she was running out of Mana, her pool was almost double or triple the average Mage, but that the incantations and calculations induced immense mental stress without allowing for a sizeable cooldown of her cognitive faculties.

Gritting her teeth and wishing to show Magister Wen her conviction, Gwen redoubled her efforts.

“Lightning Tentacles!”
“Morden’s Faithful Hound!”
“Dimension Door!”

Gwen appeared a few meters away in a flash of conflagrating lightning. Staggering a little, she turned to face her audience. Her milk-white skin glowed under the refractory illumination of the Cognisance Chamber. So much Lightning-mana had flooded her body that her eyes sparkled with two concentric rings of electricity, with an occasional discharge arching from her hair onto the floor. Gwen allowed herself a moment of recuperation, then looked up to see what her mentors thought of her performance.

Petra, Mai and Magister Wen regarded one another with astonished faces.

“Did we just witness Morden’s Faithful Hound?” Mai’s voice shook. “There's’ Evocation, Conjuration and Transmutation all at once! How’s that possible? Also, why is her Dimension Door offensive? How did she trigger a Lightning Nova on exit? Her incantations! The mana channels! They’re nothing like the stock spells!”

She had to take a breath.

“A fascinating observation indeed.” Magister Wen was furiously running her fingers through her data slate. “Petra, did you know of this?”

“I knew-” Petra observed her Master’s eyes. “That is, I spoke to Gwen over the last few days, and noted that several of her key spells were hand-taught by her Master, not learned through textbooks.”

“They're all signature spells!” Mai looked as though she could burst into song. “Those Conjuration incantations are all signature spells! I can’t believe it!”

“Especially Morden’s Hound… Did you know the Tower no longer has a version that allows for elemental shifting?” Wen slid a finger across the slate violently. “These were taught to you personally, Gwen?”

“By Master Kilroy, yes.” Gwen dispelled her persistent effect Conjurations to conserve mana.

“Mao...” Magister Wen breathed out forlornly, shaking her head. “We lost a great man when Master Kilroy passed. All that knowledge…”

“Ki-e-ru-i?” Mai intoned besides them. “Magister Kilroy? D-Henry Kilroy? Master of Ordo Arcana?!”

“The the same, he passed in March, in Sydney. You recall, right? We watched the Vid-cast on the news.”

“Uwa~,” Mai turned at Gwen and realised what Magister Wen was apologising for earlier. “Sorry, Gwen. I was inconsiderate!”

“It’s alright…” Gwen stifled the shuddering in her chest. Who’d have thought? She knew her Master was a great man, but to think he was a man of this calibre.

She was beginning to realise just how much clout a founder of the Tower system represented. His junior disciple, a Fire Magus, called the Scarlet Sorceress, was famed and feared across Oceania as the penultimate Hunter-Killer, capable of going toe to toe with Magisters twice her age, possessing the power to rival strategic-class manifestations. His other student, Gunther Shultz, the Morning Star, could singlehandedly one-shot a Leviathan, a millennia-old Creature the size of an aircraft carrier, and was considered a peerless duelist.

The reality of the company she had kept was filtering through the familiarity she had shared. She had been so intimate with the duo that she had failed to acknowledge just how rare and incredible her siblings-in-craft were.

“Alright, now for your familiar.”

“Ariel!”

A blast of lightning struck the floor.

Ariel materialised and struck a pose.

“EEeee! Eee!”

The little marten appeared more girthy than before, now reaching the height of Gwen’s thighs. Its dark eyes glimmered intelligently. Intently, Gwen scanned Ariel for any changes after it had consumed the Eland Core.

“Eeee! EEE!”

Ariel proudly showed off two cute little horns that now protruded like spiralled triangles from its head. Thank God! Gwen praised the higher power above. If Ariel had become a giant goat, that would be terrible.

“Your familiar is beyond adorable!” Magus Kumiko gushed, clearly possessing a weakness for cute things. Disregarding her position, she dropped to one knee. “Hey there, Ariel! How's it going cutie?”

“Eee! Ee!” Ariel looked to Gwen for permission.
Gwen gave her consent.

Ariel then leapt toward Mai and rolled over onto its belly, flashing its soft fur. When Mai stroked the creature, it caused arcs of electricity to spark away from the marten spectacularly.

“What a wonderful Familiar.” Mai had none of the haughty demeanour expected of a Magus. In fact, to Gwen, her voice sounded full of green-eyed envy.

Well, Gwen had to admit. Ariel had that effect on people, especially women.

“Very well. Let’s see the Void element. Mai, get ready. Just as we discussed,” Magister Wen commanded.

“Yes, Magister.”

Gwen returned to the centre of the room.

“I am beginning.”

She aimed for the other far side, where walls of force were in place to absorb the impact of her spells.

“Void Bolt!”

“Warding Bolt!”

“Call Void Lightning!”

Gwen had only used her Void element for the Call Lightning once when they ambushed the Elder Gila. The sustained channel from the self-guided bolts consumed both mana and vitality, making the spell ineffective except for extreme measures when damage output had to be maximised.

In her present condition, two spells at tiers 3 was her limit.

With a second bolt from the Void Lightning, Gwen felt her vitality begin to wane. Without a cache of the Druidic essence, pushing for additional Void spells became a hazardous affair.

“Are you able to continue?” Magister Wen spoke from behind Gwen. “Magus Kumiko has you in safe hands, I assure you.”

Gwen nodded and redoubled her focus.

“Dark Tentacles!”

A burst of writhing Void-matter caught in the air and erupted as thought a blossom of obsidian sea anemones. With a manifestation of such force and volume, a wave of nauseating vertigo washed over the chamber.

“Mao!” Magister Wen stepped around the manifestation, examining it with great interest. “Fascinating! The manner in which the Void coils around the original incantation, the prehensile nature of the tentacles. It’s almost like a living thing!”

A few of the tentacles, perhaps sensing Wen’s presence, reached for her body.

Gwen tried to stifle the tentacles' furore. Naturally, the flailing limbs ignored her. Dark Tentacles was a spell, not a summon, the appendages were capable of differentiating between friend or foe, but it didn’t mean they did so intelligently. Teasing the manifested phenomena the way Magister Wen had done was a sure-fire method to confuse the limited IFF abilities of the spell.

Magister Wen manifested a frontal Shield and allowed one of the tentacles to touch the mineral barrier. Gwen felt a trigger in her mind informing her that the spell had found a target, and watched as one of the tendrils dug into Wen’s barrier hungrily.

“Incredible penetrative power,” Wen jotted down more notes as the tentacle whittled down her shielding. “Excellent against hard shields.”

"Shield!"

With a new invocation, the crystalline shell of Magister Wen's Mineral Shield switched to that of a transparent mana barrier. This time, the tentacles thrashed against the invisible forcefield without penetrating its exterior.

“How curious,” Wen took note. "Ironically, a low-density shield can halt the corrosively Void-matter."

Behind Gwen, a steady stream of positive energy fed gently into her body. She could see the conduits at work, smothered by the blazing glare from her own Astral Body. She had seen the same phenomenon manifested when Sufina was in Magus Kumiko’s place, channelling a steady stream of her life-force into Gwen as she trained, repeating spell after spell. Sufina’s mana was far more nourishing, akin to Almudj’s essence, but also gentler and more motherly, tempered by her Master’s knowledge of his pupil’s physical condition.

“Keep the spell up, Gwen,” the Magister commanded.

Gwen felt her vitality trickling away.

Her instructor came close and studied the reflection of Gwen's Astral Body underfoot. There was an astonishing exchange happening below. The colourless positive energy, glowing with a pale luminance, entered her Astral projection, becoming fuel as Gwen’s Void energy manifested. Within the metaphysical sculpture, the ink-like movement of the Void-matter could be seen, collating around each of the motes of tenebrous matter within her form before moving through her torso, exiting through her palms and manifesting some distance away as a blossom of grasping tendrils.

“So the Void can directly convert healing energy into life-matter for the host body?” Wen studied the phenomenon. “Gwen, try activating your Druidic essence.”

Gwen spared as much concentration as she could to command the emerald motes to move. She could almost feel the embedded motes reacting to her force of will, but even gritting her teeth and grunting with exertion, they would not manifest.

“I can’t,” Gwen huffed after an exhaustive attempt. “They’re not activating.”

“Hmm, how about something Lightning?” Petra asked curiously. “As counter-elements, they should disrupt one another, but what if you could somehow counter the effect of the Void-drain with the Positive aspect of Lightning?”

“Maybe it's worth a try.” Gwen closed her eyes and tapped into the Quasi-Elemental Gate of Lightning.

Magister Wen looked as though she was about to say something, but stopped herself.

A torrent of pale-blue mana surged throughout Gwen’s Astral form.

“Arrrrgh!” Gwen felt her head turn white as though stricken with a sudden blow to her head. She involuntarily staggered backwards and held a hand to her temple. A burst of brilliant energy flared from her torso, together with an ink burst of void-matter that appeared and disappeared within a barely perceptible split-second. The force of the sudden expulsion caused her to fall onto her buttocks, stunned by the volatility of the elemental cocktail.

The Dark Tentacle dissipated.

“EEee!!”

Ariel ran to her and began to lick her hand frantically.

“Oh my God! Gwen, are you alright?” Both Petra and Wen knelt beside the stunned sorceress as she cleared her head and orientated herself. It was Petra who was cursing herself for making such a stupid suggestion. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Bychit! How are you feeling?”

“Forgive me, that was my mistake,” Magister Wen apologised stiffly. “Tis the curse of the academic, I should have stopped you.”

The Magister produced from her ring a Spell Cube several grades higher than Petra’s.

“Greater Restoration!”

Gwen felt her mind clear and her flesh mend. She looked dazedly at Petra and her two instructors, her eyes lingering a little too long on Wen. Gwen had caught her little fidget when she was about to test out combining Lightning and Void. The Magister must have known, Gwen acknowledged a little sulkily, hiding her displeasure behind a mien of amiability. Curiosity killed the cat indeed; only she was the cat trapped in the vice. Wen might have her survival in her best interests, but she wasn’t about to hold Gwen between her hands like a fragile blossom. Little incidents such as these would be the ‘price’ of Wen’s knowledge. She had to be realistic, Gwen told herself. Gwen balanced her disappointment with the input of Magister Wen’s expertise and her generous loan of the Cognisance Chamber; her rational discourse informed her that for intents and purposes, the danger was worth the risk.

“Let’s take a break, shall we?” Magister Wen suggested.

“I can continue.” Gwen pushed herself off the floor. There was no time to beat about the bush. “Let’s continue. We need to summon Caliban next, right?”

The three women nodded.

“I am not sure how well I can control it.”

“You’re in safe hands, we're perfectly secure,” Magister Wen assured her. “So is your familiar. At worst, nothing a Force Cage or a Stasis can’t resolve.”

Petra nodded confidently at Gwen, affirming her Magister’s confidence.

“Here goes…”

Gwen closed her eyes and called out for Caliban.

With a jolt of malevolent mana, Caliban rouse to consciousness from the tenebrous embrace of the pocket dimension's dark womb. It had not expected a call from its Master so soon, and the opportunity to once again taste the delicious air of the Material Plain filled its lamprey’s maws with delight.

An oppressive air stifled the Cognisance Chamber, dimming even the enchantments that kept the sensory illusions projected.

Gwen’s Astral projection turned as dark as ink, as black as pitch, then Caliban issued forth. The gathered Mages watched as the void-matter drained from her Astral Form, taking with it the meagre glow of the Druidic Essence that was only now beginning to recover. A tear in the space above them formed, then like a monstrous obsidian placenta, a toad-thing slid from the gap between Planes and landed with a wet plop between them.

Gwen's complexion turned the colour of sheets before the stream of gentle healing returned her vitality.

“Oh, Mao.”

“Goddess above!”

Two sharp intakes of breath punctuated the chamber. While both Magus and Magister had been told accounts of the Void-toad, seeing the damnable creature meters away in the flesh still possessed the full impact of gazing upon an abominable thing possessing unending hunger. The feeling Caliban's presence gave them was akin to staring into an abyss, only now the proverbial void was sniffing the air and turning its faceless mien towards them.

“Caliban! Heel!” Gwen commanded, forcing her voice from her lips as the supply of Positive Energy intensified. Fuzzily, she felt the invigorating energy gently restoring her spent vitality. The expertise far exceeded that of Mina or Elvia's rough healing; such was the difference between a Magus and an acolyte.

“Shaa…Shaaaa.” Caliban’s hulking form stalked here and there.

Ariel playfully ran up the trunk of its massive, triangular torso and rested on the faceless head, dancing a jig. Caliban groped for its long-term nemesis and sent the playful marten skittering away.

“Caliban! Stay!” Gwen willed her creature to tarry.

Caliban turned to regard its master, and Gwen could feel the blind sense of its skin opening and closing its scent pores as it took in her scent.

"Please?"

With the sound of something slithering from a gash or an open wound, it opened its lamprey’s mouth, ejecting twin lengths of tentacle-tongues from its maw. One was blue, and the other was red.

“Steady… steady…” Gwen reached out and touched one of the tentacles, guiding it away from her with her hand before petting Caliban's faceless head. Caliban drooled to excess, and Gwen was in no mood for more laundry.

“Shaaa… Shaaa…” Caliban turned to her, then focus its senses upon the vibrant source of positive energy behind her.

“No. That's a friend.” Gwen informed her toad-minion. “Not for eating.”

“Shaa! Hiss! SHAA!” Caliban protested. Onibi was a delicious ball of Life-matter, any Void-fiend can see that. "Shaaa?!"

“If you’re not going to be a gentleman, I am putting you back!” Gwen warned it, scalding it with everything she had. She pictured dispelling the creature and felt Caliban hesitate. Then like a devious cat, it tried to move past her for a better look. Just a look, it empathically told her. Nothing else.

“SHAAA!” Caliban moved toward her, batting her aside, though gently, with its two tentacles that were the girth and size of her arm.
Gwen pushed back.

“I said no!” She gripped one of the tentacles and used it to reign Caliban’s face away from Onibi. “Heel!”

"Shaa!" Caliban made a token struggle; neither willing to forfeit its meal nor ignoring Gwen completely.

Beside the Master and creature, Petra, Magister Wen and Magus Kumiko watched the spectacle with their lips hanging limply.

“That’s…” Mai felt herself swallowing several times in rapid succession. “Is that a Death Gila?”

“It’s a Void-beast in the morphic form of a Red-cum-Blue Gila,” Petra pointed out helpfully. “Gwen’s creature seems to be able to tap into her Transmutation talent at the point of its summon. So far, I’ve seen it as a snake, a spider, and this thing. Maybe it can turn into more forms; I don’t know.”

“Blessed Yamatai.” Magus Kumiko eyed her Onibi nervously. “Onibi is going to be okay, right? That thing looks… hungry.”

The two women turned to Wen.

The Magister was shaking. Shaking! She was quivering with enthusiasm.

“A Void Beast! A living, walking, hungering Void beast! Petra, do you know what this means? We shall be the first to document the habitation and physiology of a shapeless, formless thing in the flesh! The first in a generation! Accreditations for the Meistership, fallen from the sky! Oh, Mao, I owe Klavdiya favours I cannot possibly repay. A Paper on the Void beast. Another upon the properties of Void Magic! Another and another. We’ll be publishing for years!”

“I am sure Gwen will be happy to help out, Master.” Petra had never seen her Master in such a state, feeling an unusual and rare pang of possessiveness. Her Master had not even had such an expression when Petra succeeded in creating her first Spell-Cube at age sixteen.

“Of course, I am getting ahead of myself,” Magister Wen recovered herself and laughed dryly, but her voice croaked with emotions simmering to a boil. “Oh, Petra. We have to take care of your cousin. Absolute care. She is far more precious than you know.”

“I know.” Petra turned to her cousin and watched the lithe girl bopping the menacing toad on the snout, trying to reason with it as though it was a dog.

“Mai, have you readied the summons I asked for?”

Magus Kumiko turned to the Magister nervously.

“We’re really feeding that thing?”

“Aren't you curious?” Wen’s eyes were two glowing orbs of scintillating emeralds. “We’re the first Mages to witness in detail the workings of the Void since that girl’s Master, Henry Kilroy, aided in forming the Tower system with the help of his wife.”

“…” Magus Kumiko checked her Storage Ring. “I am ready.”

“Gwen!” Magister Wen called out. “Are you ready to feed Caliban something?”

Gwen meanwhile, had just managed to turn Caliban away from the Onibi. It was now salivating globs of grey-goo saliva large enough to form a sizeable puddle on the floor.

“Please proceed!” Gwen answered the observing Mages. “Also, Caliban might get a little excited. Please take care of me! Try not to hurt it!”

“Will do!” Petra promised, answering for her Master.

“Detect Magic!”
“True Seeing!”
“Arcane Eye!”

Magister Wen was aglow with an array of borrowed Divination magic. She was pen poised and slate steady, readying herself to become the first to bear witness to the inner workings of a Void Mage first hand. What new surprises will the genius acolyte bring?

Magus Kumiko stepped forward.

With a wave of her hand, she released several glyph-stones that shot from her ring toward the ground ten or so meters from Gwen. The stones landed erect, forming an octagramic pattern that extended around each invocation until a silvery mandala became visible.

“Summon Magical Beast!”

A jolt of silvery conjuration mana could be seen linking Magus Kumiko and her mandala, signalling to fellow observers that she was channelling an immense volume of mana into the mandala. Unlike Conjuration spells, Summon spells tore creatures from the Planes into the Material world, whether willing or not. Before casting such a complicated spell, extensive research was necessary. Hosts, even swarms of willing magical-creatures could be contracted if they were intelligent. But if the need was dire, unintelligent creatures could be effectively abducted at random by summoners if they had set up corresponding mandalas in the Wildlands. What Magus Kumiko now affected was such a spell, executed mercilessly to drag unsuspecting creatures kicking and screaming by their creature cores through space and time.

A silvery flash of mana splashed across the Cognisance Chamber.

When the mandala burned out, there was a stunned creature about the size of a large dog sniffing about its suddenly changed surroundings with great interest. The creature resembled a tremendous hound of some sort, with bat ears and small, red beady eyes that glowed like motes of cinder. Its mouth drooled generously, while a protruding line of distended spines ran the length of its back to end in a tail that resembled a whip.

“A Blink Dog!” Mai frowned. These were not dangerous, but they were apt at fleeing.

“Dimension Anchor!”

Beside her, Wen was far faster than Mai. A stable of Abjuration and one of a hundred spells Wen kept on her person at all times, the Magister immediately disabled the phasing ability of the fabled Blink Dog, sealing its fate as Caliban’s snack.

Caliban turned to Gwen with its faceless head.
Gwen nodded.

“SHAAAAAA!” Caliban turned to the dog and charged.

“GRRR! ROAR!” The Blink Dog charged Caliban in turn.

At the moment of their meeting, the dog turned aside and took out a chunk of Caliban’s soft, rubbery flesh.

Gwen winced.

Caliban turned its ponderous body toward the dog and lashed out with its limbs.

The dog must have tried to use its Blink ability, for it was caught fully unaware when it did not Blink but was instead swiped by two claws the length and girth of full-sized harvest-scythes, impaling it through the left lumbar.

The creature coughed up a lungful of blood as Caliban lifted it from the air and moved it toward its maw.

“Yip! Yip! Hu hu hu hu… Nnnn… Nn…” The dog’s sounds grew weaker as Caliban’s twin tongue wrapped around the creature and crushed its ribs.

“C-CONSUME!” Gwen caught herself before the opportunity wasted itself.

Again her Astral Body turned darker than black, forming a visible line of void-matter fed into Caliban as the creature bulged and engorged with mana. With a shake of its massive shoulder, Caliban reared back and opened its lamprey’s mouth, widening until all musculature and bone seemed to distend to accommodate its abyssal maw.

There was a sound of suction; then the yipping dog was gone.

“Oh,” Gwen felt a sudden, unexpected surge of vitality. “What-“

It struck her.

A wave of indescribable pleasure, a feeling of satiation she could barely begin to comprehend, filled her mind and wiped away all other thought. It wasn’t so much that the orgasmic euphoria had overwhelmed all her senses; it was that she had not expected nearly so strong a sense of feedback. It felt as though that for a split second, all the vitality that had made the dog a living, breathing magical creature had passed through her body, that for a moment, she was in possession of a life far more robust than her own.

She had never felt like this before, not even once. Not when she trained with her Master, not when Caliban fed on the NoMs and the Mages, not when it assailed the Elder Gila. Was it because of Caliban’s new ability? Was that the root of this euphoric exaltation of satiation? Or was it because of her missing appendage, her pound of flesh that she had traded away for dismantling her shackles?

For several seconds that seemed caught in time, Gwen forgot to breathe.

“NO!” a voice resounded beside her. “Gwen! Stop your Familiar!”

 

 

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A note from Wutosama

next 2 CH done more or less, doing edits for consistency 


About the author

Wutosama

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

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