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A note from Wutosama

Bonus ::  Gwen's Outfits 

Pics all have attached quotes. I'll put em in as I edit and write. 


Gwen laid out her timetable with Petra’s help, then took a deep breath. She had colour coded her classes and labelled her lab work in fluorescent green, blue, yellow and red. The periods that she had left were her own, and the scant spaces looked meagre indeed.

One… two… three…

Gwen grimaced.

Three hours to herself between 8 AM and 8 PM, inclusive of evening classes, between Monday to Friday.

Her reprieve was that she had half a Saturday and most of her Sunday. The condition was, of course, that Magister Wen didn’t suddenly feel compelled to perform additional tests or came into possession of a sudden breakthrough.

Luckily, with a data bank already collated, Magister Wen's interest shifted toward longitudinal studies. Gwen was now required to report biometric measurements every odd week, and provide the Magister with a supply of Void and Druidic mana every even week.

As for her classes themselves, Gwen was surprised to find herself alone. She had not expected to attend class with Petra, of course, that much would be wishful thinking, but as it turns out, she did not share many common courses with Richard nor Mayuree either.

When her cousin returned from his Advisory board meeting, the university had deemed the gifted Conjurer proficient enough to attend second-year courses for Conjuration, which meant he no longer shared the same level of coursework as Gwen. It was a great boon, meaning Richard could begin specialising in six months time. Likewise, Richard’s minor was Abjuration, implying that four of his six Spellcraft courses were uninvolved with Gwen’s selections. As for the remaining two classes, Richard opted to Quest for Credit. It was a testament to the young man’s excellence that the opportunity to engage in sanctioned Quests allowed him the privilege to receive both instruction and reward, striking two birds with one stone. His acceleration meant that Richard only shared her General Courses, Management and Politics, which did not have mandatory attendance and only required students to pass written exams and a series of Viva-voce.

Mayuree, likewise, had no choice but to follow the advice of her Professor, a scholarly Magister associated with the House of M. Though she had supposedly changed from Peking to Fudan, there was no way that her family would allow her to waste away her university hours. Her primary focus remained Astral Theory, Divination, Divination Utility, and Supplementary Divination. She could join Gwen in Transmutation Utility, and likewise, the General Education courses.

As it was Monday, her first classes were Conjuration and Evocation, both taking up a three-hour block, both located on the upper campus.

The instructor for Conjuration CJR1001 was unsurprising. It was Magister Louis Birch, the resident Master Conjurer. There were about sixty or so students in the first year lecture, and it was only then that Gwen realised the rarity of Conjurers.

When she attended Accounting 1001A in old world Sydney, there were 1200 students in the first year. Gwen had at first thought she had wandered into some orientation class for the entire student cohort! Conversely, there were only sixty-odd students in her Fudan first-year class. Assuming Conjuration went from 1001 to 3001, it meant that the whole Conjuration student body had at best 180 students and at worst 100.

Was 180 a significant number? Gwen had no idea. What was the attrition rate? That was the question on everyone’s mind when they were on the Frontier. There was never a lack of Mages - what they lacked was Mages who could grow into Maguses and Magisters. With the average Mage rarely attaining skills above tier 6, and even rarer when more Schools of Magic came into play. The Frontier was effectively a system of elimination. Those who survived won the resources and investment necessary to take them into the next tier, where the contest began anew.

Was she a survivor then? Gwen mused. She had survived a lot. She wasn’t sure how her personal experience measured up against the others, but Gwen felt the confidence that came with having survived the fall of a city.

As a wane smile broke over her face, Gwen felt distinctly the sensation of being watched. She warily glanced around her, wondering who might be prying, but she didn’t have to look far.

There were a group of young men to her right, who were stealing glances at her.

There were a few girls up front, who kept glancing back at her.

There were people to her left and right, whose eyes shifted toward her every once a while.

Gwen felt as though she was in a reverse-panopticon.

Was it the dress? Gwen wondered. Did she dress too frivolously?

Or did word get out that she was a Void Mage?

“Gwen Song!” The voice of Magister Birch called out across the auditorium.

“Sir!”

Gwen stood, all six-feet and then some. It had been a hot and humid day, and Gwen had gotten comfortable enough to feel at home on the campus' shaded avenues. As a languished morning person, she had casually chosen, without much thought, a loosely fitting floral sundress from Singapore with spaghetti string straps that just reached her knee, matched with a pair of straw wedge-sandals.

“Gwen Song, come to the front, you’re distracting the other students,” Magister Birch commanded.

“Yes, Sir.” Gwen did her best to ignore the eyes burning holes in her sundress and descended until she reached the last aisle before the podium. It wasn’t so much that she hadn’t been gawked at before, but that reprimands were usually in response to something she had done, not something that was done 'to' her. She had thought about rebuffing the lecturer - but thought better of it when she considered that Birch might be acquainted with her babulya.

Magister Birch continued the lecture.

“Conjuration is considered the least diverse School of Magic, but don’t let that fool you, for it is also one of the most versatile. Your tertiary study is nothing like your high school Spellcraft. You will be undergoing the general course under me, and then you will have to choose Specialisations in the second and third year. Whether you want to be a Creature Mage, a Summoner, a Translocation Specialist, a Logistics Support Officer or remain generalised, that’s up to you.”

Birch’s voice was sonorous and resounding, his gestures broad and expansive. Even with Gwen now seated at the front; the flesh of her exposed back enjoyed by all parties, it took him only a few minutes to persuade her audience that Gwen hardly existed. For that at least, Gwen was glad and relieved. She had no desire to deal with a lecturer who wanted beef with her and would introduce her to the class as 'Well, well, well, if it isn't Mr Harry Potter... the chosen one.' Speaking of which, the man did have a rather Alan Rickman look about him; if Birch could only make the hair darker and greasier, it would be perfect.

Magister Birch continued while Gwen daydreamed.

"... or one could be a Translocation Mage. Observe.”

There was a flash of silvery Conjuration mana. Magister Birch rapped the inattentive Gwen on the head.

Another flash of Conjuration silver followed.

The entire lecture turned about face to catch the Lecturer now almost fifty meters away, appearing at the furthest row of the enormous auditorium, slapping another student on the head. This one had fallen asleep.

“You too will be able to walk this path, if you are keen, diligent and hard working. You ALL have the talent.”

Another near-instantaneous Dimension Door and Magister Birch was again at the dais.

"You are already the best, are you not? Do not sully your entry scores. Welcome to Fudan, ladies and gentlemen. I expect nothing but the very best from you."

The auditorium applauded.

Louis Birch motioned for silence.

“Now, let’s comb over the basics. I will randomly ask some of you to supply some basic information on the semantics of Conjuration…”

Now afraid of further embarrassment, Gwen listened attentively to the responses provided by each of the selected students as Birch jotted down each point on a horizontal slat: a Transmutation - Illusion empowered board that projected what Birch transcribed onto the back wall. This world might not have IT and Electronics as Gwen knew it, but it had found magical ways to replicate the same phenomena.

“… the creatures are then transported through the Astral Plane into the material.”

A student two rows above Gwen struggled to complete an answer demanded by Birch.

The Lecturer shook his head and told the student to sit down. His finger then lowered from the middle of the amphitheatre until it rested on the lower row. Of course, there was only one person seated there.

“Gwen?”

She was the only person the Lecture knew by name, Gwen reflected annoyedly. Whether that was a boon or cause for concern later, she couldn't tell.

Gwen stood, recalling the theory that Petra had taught her and Magister Wen had explained in detail. They even had practical demonstrations using her familiars.

She took a deep breath and soothed her nerves.
Public speaking? That was like breathing to her.

“Familiars are essentially elementals, Sir. They do not exist except as a part of the Mage’s anima, or subconscious psyche, spell-locked into a persistent phenomenon and nourished by the Mage’s practice of magic. When conjuring such a creature, the spell directly interfaces with the Mage’s most compatible sigil - in this case, Conjuration, and then materialises in the Material World. For higher-order Familiars who possess their own Spirit, and by that nature, sapience, the morphic form locks onto the creature’s anima. These are the only creatures that can exist independently from the Conjurer. Furthermore, when the Conjurer dies, these creatures continue to exist on the Material Plane, so long as they can sustain their Astral Presence…”

“Enough. Very good.” Magister Birch was unexpectedly impressed by the clarity of the Frontier’s girl’s answer. He had half expected her to be dumbfounded; Gwen was a Song after all. Maybe she took after her grandmother?

Gwen sat to the sound of mumbling from behind.

“Continuing, onto the matter of the summoning of objects…” Magister Birch continued.

* * *

“Mao! It's Gwen! Gwen! Over here!”

When Gwen walked into the Evocation lecture two hours later, two young men and a woman waved their arms to get her attention. She recognised them from the Conjuration lecture, and so approached the trio with an amiable expression of congeniality.

“Olá.” Gwen hailed with one hand. “You guys are from the Conjuration lecture.”

The trio introduced themselves.

“Lily Li,” the girl announced. She was shortest of the bunch, measuring just over five feet. South-East China, Gwen noticed, was not conducive to producing tall women.

“Jon Wong”

“Pu Un”

The Conjurers exchanged handshakes.

"I love your dress.” Lily sat next to Gwen, her eyes scanning Gwen like a biometric instrument. “Mao, you're a tall one!”

“Thanks, I am not that tall,” Gwen replied modestly.

“So, Gwen, you’re an Evoker too? What tier?” The man unfortunate enough to have a homonym of ‘Poo’ for a name enquired politely. Thankfully, in Mandarin, the plosive Pu was an entirely generic syllable.

“Three, barely.” Gwen couldn’t help but notice that the boy’s eyes were aglow with friendliness. Well, it was only natural, Gwen chortled internally. It wasn’t like she was much better when she first entered university; compared to high school, there were an endless array of young bachelors ready to buy her a drink at the slightest invitation, imagined or otherwise.

“Conjuration is technically my minor School; Evocation is my main,” Pu pointed out smugly. “I am just past t-4 at the moment; tier 5 is probably going to take a while.

“I am tier 3 in both,” Lily stated boastfully, then added a little zest to her brag. “My father is the Chief Arbitrator of the Jiading District.”

“Wow,” Gwen cooed, having no idea where Jiading was. For all she knew, it could be a rural village of ten thousand NoMs.

Lily seemed pleased with Gwen’s response; her demeanour was becoming friendlier by the minute.

“How about yourself?” Gwen asked the remaining young Mage.

“I am not a Conjurer,” Jon replied softly, blushing slightly and looking the bookish type. He had to clear a misunderstanding. “I am tier 4 in Evocation though. I am studying to be a Materials Engineer. My other School is Transmutation. I... I wasn't in the earlier class with you.”

“Material Engineer sounds amazing.” Gwen gave him a confident smile, which made the boy more flustered than ever. "There's a great future in it for sure."

“We went to the same high school together,” Lily informed Gwen. The self-proclaimed leader of the group then leaned back to place her arms around her two chums. “We’re No 9.”

When she received no response from Gwen, one of the boys helpfully added ‘No 9 Hong Qiao International School’.

“Ah, of course.” Gwen politely smiled, as if she understood the gravity of the announcement. “From the same school, and all of you have gained proficiency in two Sigils? That’s amazing.”

“Heh, it's Hong Qiao's speciality,” Pu scratched his head. “What element-“

The sound of a set of massive doors opening suddenly and loudly interrupted their conversation.

Abruptly, the student's conversations were at an end; their Lecturer had presented herself.

The instructor for Evocation was a British woman in her late-thirties whose appearance hinted at a military background. From the poise of her walking gait and the way her presence dominated the auditorium, she gave the air and bearing of a high ranking officer. Gwen had seen many high-ranking Military Mages on the Frontier, and this woman had a similar presence.

Her hypothesis was proven when the Instructor spoke.

“Acolytes, Mages, future Magus and Magisters. I am your instructor, Captain Carol Young. You may call me Captain Young, or Magus Young.”

The sorceress’s formal attire, a starched blue blouse that wrapped around her well-toned torso, rasped as she walked. Her high-waisted pencil skirt tapered tightly around her hips, showing off powerful, athletic legs made feminine by tall black heels. To Gwen, Young gave off the feeling of an unsheathed blade. Here was a Mage, she could sense, who had more than just Magical Beasts' and Demi-humans' blood on her hands.

Magus Young's voice boomed across the auditorium.

“Evocation. The signature school of Spellcraft. From the most primitive days of humanity, it had served to protect us from the wilderness, the Wildlands, the Demi-humans and the Magical Beasts. Evocation is the Magic Missile that defeats the darkness. It is the basis by which our cities survive, the beginning and end of our defensive lines. It is the School of Spellcraft that rests at the throat of the enemy, ready to blow their brains outwards.”

The students waited for a magical display, but none seemed forthcoming.

“My fellow Evokers - welcome to Evocation 1001.”

Polite applause greeted the Magus’ greeting.

“My Element is Earth. I am a Transmuter-Evoker, a senior Battle Mage.”

Then gently, as if emphasising the gravity of her next words, Magus Young rose into the air a few inches.

“If you are studying Evocation to supplement your other schools, good for you. If you are studying Evocation as your major school of Magic, or as a Specialist, I implore you also to undertake Transmutation, at least Utility Transmutation UTT2003 taught by Magus Luo. A Battle Mage without mobility is a liability. Remember that.”

Magus Young patrolled the lecture stage.

“For our program. We will begin by rehashing the basics, followed by an extensive program on AOE and the merits of Danger Close, how to avoid Friendly Fire, then short and long-range assault Doctrines. There will also be Spirit-demonstrations from your Seniors in the latter half of the term, and finally, we will have practical exams every four weeks for the twelve-week term. During this time, you are expected to put between 5 to 10 hours of practice into the range. If you fail the program, you are prohibited from Evocation level 2 subjects and further specialisations. Any questions?”

There were questions of course. There were far more Evokers than Conjurers. The class was almost two hundred strong by Gwen’s count, with an even spread of women to men, and even two dozen foreigners.

A particularly cheeky young man asked if the instructor was married. The ageing woman had a sophisticated charm that must have made mommas' boys rock hard.

“Was. My husband was eaten alive by a Twin-Headed Senai Wyvern during the Defence of the Suez Canal in 93’. My son perished in the same year in the Sinai, different incident. Any other questions?”

There was none.
Only respectful silence.
The reality of the world outside the T1 cities was something that awaited all of them. University was just one more layer of protection against the unknowns of the Wildlands.

The lecture proceeded without interruption.

* * *

With the first class of Evocation over, her new acquaintances invited Gwen to dinner. She declined, however, as her late afternoon schedule split between Petra’s tuition and practice, not to mention Caliban’s feeding time.

“Before we go, what element are you? We were interrupted earlier,” Lily asked, then volunteered herself. “I am Fire.”

“Void and Lightning," Gwen answered briskly, keeping her tone as nonchalant as possible.

“How nice!” Lily gushed.
“Oh.” Pu's face paled.
“…” Jon swallowed his next words nervously.
Lily' lip formed a silent 'o' as well.

“See you guys next week in Conjuration!”

Gwen quickly made her escape, materialising a shawl and wrapping it around her shoulders. Spring persisted, but the chilling wind as the sun fell hinted at wetter days to come.

Her new companion’s eyes lingered on the lithe figure walking away from them, regarding one another in disbelief.


* * *

“Tired?”

Petra tapped on her slate as Gwen’s attention wandered for the second time. Her pupil was usually far more focused, but all things considered, Gwen did sustain six hours of lecture with only an hour of break in between.

“Dog-tired,” Gwen replied, borrowing a phrase from Yue. “I think I dozed off when you started on the Astral compression algorithms.”

“Take a break.” Petra pointed at Gwen's mug of tea. “Heat!”

A simple cantrip was enough to reheat the liquid until it gently steamed.

Gwen took a sip and pulled her legs in under her.

“Our lecturer, Magus Young, said that her husband died defending the Suez Canal,” Gwen noted from memory. She’d been daydreaming about the Magus’ words since the lesson had ended. They hinted at a Frontier that was different yet again from Sydney.

The Suez Canal was a famous enough piece of old world history that even Gwen knew it off by heart. It was built by the Suez Canal Company in 1869, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. Widely perceived as a miraculous feat of engineering, the canal offered vessels a reduction of over 7000 kilometres in connecting the North Atlantic and northern Indian Oceans. It had been and continues to be, a critical piece of trade infrastructure joining the Middle East to Africa. It did not take a stretch of the imagination for Gwen to acknowledge how vital the Canal must be in a world lacking mass air transit. The transportation of goods via teleportation was unviable; meaning the bulk of freight was land and seafaring.

“Magus Young? The Evocation Professor?”

“Yeah, do you know anything about that?”

“The Canal or the professor?”

“Either.”

"I know of it; if that's what you mean."

Petra gathered her thoughts, took a few sips, then shared her knowledge.

“The Canal has always been a great point of contention between two ancient nations. You got Israel on one side and the Egyptians on the other. Both have lineage and Spellcraft far more ancient than ours, and they've been at war since God knows how long."

"Magister Young, your instructor’s husband, was a part of the British Mageocracy Peace Keeping force sent by the U.N Council to ensure that the two sides could tear each other apart without tearing the Canal apart. The Israelites are Golem specialists, while the Egyptians relied on, I suppose, their sanctioned form of Necromancy. During 93’, the Israelites accused the Egyptians of crossing into the Sinai; then they crossed over into Egypt themselves in response. As a result, all hell broke loose for a year or two down there. Then the Demi-humans, involving a Sect of the Cult of Ammit, a coven of Medusas, as well as local Legions of Jackal-men all somehow got involved. Battle lines collapsed, and the Sinai became a free for all for about six months. When the dust settled, both sides retreated and the UN PKF left in tatters. After scouring the desert, the Israeli forces returned to Magus Young what was left of Magister Young's body to prevent certain parties taking advantage. The body parts of a Magister was good material, and The Cult of Set has a reputation."

"As for the rest, her son died a few months later against an Undead incursion in the incident called the Siege of Ismailia in 94’. I think Young gave up on the Mageocracy after that. She travelled around for a while, ultimately ending up here as an instructor. I remember Master saying that she knew Dean Luo, maybe they were colleagues in the past?”

“Good God.” Gwen nursed her tongue against the hot tea. “The poor woman.”

“It’s a common enough story.” Petra rested her cup. “Maybe one day, you or I...”

“Knock on wood.” Gwen rapped the oaken table, interrupting the morbid Petra. "Say no more."

Petra reached across and brushed a loose lock of hair from Gwen's forehead.

The two shared a knowing smile as their eyes met.

“Had enough of a break? Let's continue,” Petra urged her distracted pupil. “We’ve still got to cover 17.2 - 3 from Goulding's Core Primer. Three more chapters and it's all over.”

“Okay.” Gwen slapped her cheeks with both hands, forcing herself to drop Magus Young’s nonchalance from her mind. “Let’s continue.”

 

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Wutosama

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

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