Thankfully, what Instructor Chen meant was that they would ‘soon’ have to bear the burden of living with their familiars. The students could choose to refuse, of course, but that would imply taking a significant hit to their Academic Record.
Once the roller coaster of emotions wounded to a halt, the student came to see the rationality of such a seemingly unreasonable request. Gwen, who had owned two cats and a deceased dog, had always seen her Familiars as more than just tools, they were her companions. If Caliban or Ariel could be smarter, she'd dare say they were her friends. For the vast majority of Conjurers, however, a Familiar was a tool, a thing, a resource. What Chen was asking was the equivalent of taking a large mallet with one to work, to class, to lunch, and to bed.
But, as Instructor Chen explained; power and control were often inversely related. When acquiring Familiars and Spirits, chance was rarely generous. When Lady Fortuna dribbled her lucky olive oil, one then had the problem that a Familiar became too intelligent, willful, or dominant; what one needed then, was rapport.
For Familiars were ultimately constructs of Magic given animus and will by the Conjurer. They were tirelessly loyal but highly subject to the repressed emotions of the caster. Exhibit A was Luyi, a Forest Sprite doe considered mid-tier and possessing high levels of intelligence. It's owner, Eunae, was, unfortunately, a nursery flower, feeding all her terrors into the hapless Luyi so that even if the Familiar wanted to protect its mistress, it couldn't disobey its instinct.
“To wield your Familiar with absolute trust, all you need is a decade of common experiences, eat together, sleep together under the stars, bath together in the blood of your enemies...”
“But, as we're no longer in the 70s and you're all scions of your precious Houses and Clans, we can't throw you into the trenches just yet. The academic board doesn't want to risk your precious lives. Your mummies and daddies would have our skins if you were to have a limb gnawed off by a Ghast. You’re the special spark that keeps your Clan’s inbred bloodline boiling. As that is the case, there’s no way but to have you accompany your familiars in public.”
Ouch, Gwen winced at Chen's depreciative insults. She had to admit; Instructor Chen did not mince words; the man gave no two shits about the Young Masters and Mistresses of the city.
“THIS - is what you will need. For the duration of the course, it will be on LOAN to you.”
Instructor Chen introduced the students to what he called a Sustenance Bangle, a magical device which when worn around one’s wrist, allowed one to keep Familiars out and about in docile form. The moment a Familiar become aggressive or hostile, the bangle's circuit-break triggers and the Familiar is banished. To pass the course, Instructor Chen articulated in his rough speech; the students must keep their Familiars out and about for at least seven days.
“Why seven days?” Lu Fung asked carefully, nursing his stomach. Gwen couldn't help but be impressed by the man's ability to pack away his ingrown arrogance so quickly. Like Dai, the young man knew when to kneel and when to butt heads; it was perhaps the secret of the Clan's success.
“Because you’re all tit-sucking man-children,” Instructor Chen informed them gravely, shaking his head. “During the Siege of Tianjin in 91’, we Conjurers had to keep fighting for three weeks. If you can’t keep a leash on your Familiars for even seven days, you can forget about sending them into the battle line alongside other Mages. What would happen if your precious Spirit berserks or causes friendly-fire during a siege? Forget about being a Creature Conjurer. Go and work on your Spatial Magic or learn to Summon spell-fodder. Be a Box-Conjurer and work on your Teleportation. You’ll be wasting the lives of your Spirit Familiars, your comrades, and yourselves.”
When the lesson was finally over, Gwen asked if it was necessary for her, who did not possess a Spirit, to undergo the same training.
“Your control of your familiars is abysmal.” Chen shook his head critically at her. “For you to pass my course, there are two requirements. One, control your damn familiars. They don’t move a muscle without your express consent. Two, get your familiars to work together; otherwise, you’re just wasting your talent. You, who possess two elements! Do you understand that? Dean Luo has especially asked me to make sure that you don’t turn out like those inbred failures, don't waste the man's goodwill.”
“Yessir!” Gwen half bowed, half curtsied to affirm the Instructor’s intentions. She promised to do whatever was needed to gain total control over her familiars.
“I’ll be honest with you.” Chen shrugged. “Never seen a Void beast before, don’t even know if it's intelligent. Caliban acts like it is, but you never know. Just be careful, alright? Keep a tight leash on the thing when you get issued your bangles.”
Gwen solemnly promised that she would ensure Ariel and Caliban act in good faith.
Instructor Chen turned to the rest of the group.
"No more complaints? Very well then. Your extra-curriculums begins next week. In the meanwhile, we're going to go through some Master-Familiar bonding routines. Each of you, take a room."
* * *
When they’d finally escaped from the Daishan Stadium, it felt as though a day and night had passed and the students were now emerging into the mid-morning of Wednesday. Bloody hell, Gwen blinked and tried to orientate herself. It already felt like Friday.
Nonetheless, the reality of the day ahead was that she still had Advanced Spell Shaping in the afternoon.
Feeling fatigued by the events of the morning, Gwen called Mayuree to see if she was available for a Luncheon. Her eager friend informed her that she could be, and met Gwen half an hour later, huff and puffing, at University Boulevard.
She arrived with a third wheel, Gwen mused; or was it that she was the third wheel?
“Hi Kitty.” Gwen waved at the dual-elemental Mage in possession of Ice and Air. Since finding out that Kitty Liang was the other winner of the LCSS full scholarship, Gwen had 'checked her out'. After all, it was more than likely that this girl who was in possession of not only talent but also the skills, was going to be her rival for the IIUC placement. Of course, there are going to be second and third years competing for the positions as well, but Gwen had to cross her bridges one at a time.
“Gwen." Kitty inclined her chin. Perhaps because of her affinity with two elements known to produce aloof personalities, Kitty felt somewhat ethereal to Gwen, like she existed on another Plane entirely. It was only in speaking to Mayuree that the girl put on expressions like a young woman. When Kitty dealt with others, it felt as though they were talking to a doll. Her voice as well, was quiet and wispy, giving the listener the strange sensation that they were instead listening to the wind whistle through the willows.
The three found a trendy faux-Victorian joint for Afternoon Tea.
Mayuree took a sandwich.
Gwen took a plate of sandwiches.
Kitty watched the other two eat while her petite fours thawed.
“You need to eat, Hon.” Gwen regarded the girl worriedly. She had arms and legs like sticks; sometimes, it felt as though Kitty's had the constitution of air. She could probably blow her away with a loud sneeze.
“I ate earlier. I just wanted to spend some time with Mia,” Kitty replied airily. “You go on ahead.”
The two were perfect for each other. Gwen couldn’t help but acknowledge. It was curious how socially challenged they were, for all their Magical abilities. Then again, Gwen reminded herself, most of the 'House' raised youths she'd met seemed to possess personalities that in her old world, would attract adjectives like 'sociopathic' and 'megalomaniac'.
Gwen polished off three tiers, scones and all.
As a result of Caliban’s high level of satiation, Gwen no longer felt the dizzying yearning for nourishment. But so long as she exercised her Void abilities, her body craved food and energy. Although the pleasure of delicious deserts could not compete with the existential satisfaction of Caliban’s Consume, they blunted the edge of her hunger.
What if she used Consume upon a slab of slow-cooked brisket? Gwen pondered the enticing hypothesis. After all, Caliban was capable, to a degree, of tasting its meals. What if it was possible to season the Magic Creatures she consumed? She could conjure up some sweet garlic soy, or a shower of syrup-
No no no! Gwen warned herself. Those who hunt monsters should beware! That way lies darkness.
While their third-wheel daydreamed in a food coma, Kitty and Mayuree discussed classes and instructors. Kitty had a room at the apartment, but she seldom slept over.
“There are only six people in my class,” Mayuree said happily. “I guess there are not that many high-affinity Diviners even in Fudan.”
“Mao helps us if everyone starts predicting the future,” Kitty replied softly. “I am in the opposite position. Even in Transmutation 2021, there’s over a hundred of us.”
2021! Gwen bit her lip. That’s a second-year course. Both Kitty and Richard were way ahead of her in their Majoring School of Magic. She had neglected her Spellcraft for too long, spent too much time fiddling with too many Schools, and now she was comparatively behind in all of them.
Gwen listened to the girl' banter for another half an hour or so, nursing her Earl Grey and resting her mind. When the last dollop of cream was gone, she 'shouted' her mob the luncheon, then left for her Advanced Spellshaping.
* * *
Advanced Spellshaping took place in the upper campus not far from the Henglong building.
There were about a hundred students who attended the mostly theoretical lecture. Their Instructor was a Magister called Michio Lee, a Singaporean expat who specialised in advanced Spellcraft algorithms. He was young for his position and popular with the girls in the lecture who admired his talent and intelligence. When Gwen eavesdropped on the girls sitting up front, she heard that Lee was from a family similar to Mayuree’s House. He was the fourth son of a significant Frontier trade Consortium based in the fabled Fortress City and the heir apparent for his unmatched talent.
The first half of the lecture was mainly introductory fanfare. Lee spoke about the possibility of using personal intuition and understanding of Spellcraft to create unique Signature Spells. He outlined the immutable triangle of Spell-Lore: the trifactor between Elemental Mana, Soul Sigils, and the Physical Body as the Triumvirate controlling the Arcane arts.
Spells and Incantations, stated the Magister, were age-old formulas that the predecessors of Spellcraft had left their descendants. He pointed to the potential of looking not forward, but backwards at pagan magic, ancient magic, druidic magic, and even Demi-human magic to find forgotten laws of causation and effect that humanity’s predecessors had used to shape the elemental forces, offering a brief history lesson.
But in the second-half, Lee shifted his tone.
“Often, we overthink what lies ahead, failing to see that so much of what we thought and sought as new knowledge - are instead forgotten by history, hidden by conflict, stolen and hoarded by Clans, Sects, and the Religions.”
Lee's accusation did not seem to align with at least a dozen of the cohort’s view of the world; Gwen even saw a few students filing out of the lecture as the Instructor grew more radicalised.
“Think of China's Undead Incursions every Winter in the North East,” Lee intoned sagaciously. “We fear the Undead, we loathe the undead, but we are reminded annually, of a wilfully neglected blindside.”
The lecture grew silent.
“That WE are the architects of Necromantic Magic! You and I, humans, are the ones who first raised the dead! In Egypt, it was the Cult of Anubis who first began to reign supreme under their God-King Pharaohs! Narmer! Khufu! Khafre! Each was peerless in their Necromantic craft. In our nation of the Central Kingdom, the Great Emperor of Qin, Ying Zheng was the Ruler of all under heaven; his tomb remains the greatest mausoleum known to humanity - the burial palace of a Necromantic God who sought to rule forever!”
"The ancient teachers of Magecraft,” continued Lee. “Promised impossibilities and performed miracles, shackled dragons and tethered demons. The modern masters transmuted life; formalised the rules of Magic, and created the chimaera that we call Spellcraft. Humans have penetrated into the recesses of the Wildlands and hunted the Demi-human in her most secret hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the mana circulates, and the nature of the Planes we exist upon. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the Primary Elements of Creation, mimic creation, and mock the invisible world with its own shadows of Positive and Negative Energy!”
Excited murmurs began to filter through the lecture hall.
“But I digress.” Lee laughed, ignoring his students' disquiet. “Necromancy is forbidden. The point that I wish you all to understand is that Spells are not arcane constructs confined in textbooks, there only to be aped. All magic is a result of experimentation and hypothesis. Do not be afraid to test your limits, break the rules. In this world, you and I are all discoverers. Those ancient Mages could find the tipping point of light and death through their curious enquiry of the world around them, so it should be no trouble for you too, to find new and novel ways to wield your magic for the benefit of humankind.”
The auditorium offered scattered applause as Magister Lee finished up his lecture and retrieved the projection crystal he had been using to show the students historical anecdotes of magical experimentation and discovery.
Gwen felt well instructed by the two-hour session, so much that she was still thinking about it when she finally arrived at the apartment, opening the door to find Petra watching the news.
“Hey.” Gwen walked over to the couch.
Petra was bundled up in towels, waiting for her hair to dry.
“How was your day?” Petra asked, stretching out her toes.
“Oh~ Pats.” Gwen made a long face before leaning heavily into the armrest. “Where to begin?”
* * *
Gwen underwent Supplementary Conjuration with Magus Kumiko in a class of about twenty students, practising the basics repeatedly to train for efficiency, consistency and proficiency. She then had a follow-up session with Petra, who aided her in consolidating the knowledge she had picked up throughout the week.
“... there! Done! I'll be at the lab tonight so don't wait for me.” Petra surprised Gwen with her absentee notice.
“Sure you don’t want to grab a bite?” Gwen asked. It was almost 6 PM.
“Got data to collate and reports to write.” Petra lifted herself from the bench. “I have an errand for Master as well. I’ll be home late.”
“I can bring you food,” Gwen offered.
“No, no. Go rest. Big day of classes tomorrow as well.”
“Which I know you love. Professor Ma is presiding. Go on; I’ll be fine.”
Gwen bid her cousin good night, then retreated from the lab.
She may be a part of Wen's cosy little study group, but Gwen knew her place. She was in no way a part of Wen's Laboratory. There were some things she could attend, and then there were things far beyond her level of clearance. It didn't take a Meister to know that the Magister wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine; Gwen had no idea what the scholar was doing with two Cubes full of Void Matter and Druidic Essence each fortnight, and chose not to ask. All she could do was have faith that her allies were wise enough to not slaughter the golden goose for the malformed eggs in her oviduct.
She chose instead to contend with a more mundane problem. Dinner!
She didn’t want to eat out by herself. Her comeliness drew as much unwanted attention as her appetite. Either was a hassle, but when combined, she became a spectacle. There was a seafood buffet on University Boulevard, and the one time she ate there, she had inadvertently recreated Homer's scene in the 'The Frying Dutchman' episode.
There was nothing but instant ramen at home. Neither of the girls was remotely good at housework, and as such, the fridge had nothing but a few pieces of ageing fruit, water, some juice and a slab of mouldy bread. God, Gwen reminded herself, she had better throw that thing away before it becomes her third Familiar.
There was also the matter of cleaning the place, but Mayuree said she would lend them the 'aunty' for a few hours.
Gwen gnawed her lips and considered her options.
She raised her Message band and punched in a glyph.
“Hey Mia, it's me, Gwen.”
“Yeah, listen, er… Have you had dinner yet?”
“No no, I am just downstairs.”
“Can I? That’s wonderful!”
“Okay, I’ll be up in twenty!”
Perfect! She thought to herself. Free dinner. Just her and Mia in the privacy of their own homes. At worst, there would be a stone-faced Kitty presiding, but Gwen rather liked Kitty; competitor or no, she admired all forms of competence.
* * *
The pixie girl wasn't home, but Marong was.
The man didn't technically even live at the apartment, Gwen furrowed her brows. Why was he so damn omnipresent?
“Magister Lee said that, did he?” Marong drew a serpent in the air with this smoke and watched it swim through space in front of his eyes.
Gwen watched the serpent arch its back until it looked like a rainbow stretched across two smokey landscapes. Across the table, she sipped her cranberry juice. Was Marong trying to hint at something, or was his 'display' merely a coincidence? The Rainbow Serpent incident during the Black Sun event was common knowledge by now, but only her Sister and Brother-in-craft knew of Gwen's involvement.
They were having a traditional western style dinner: meat and three vegs consisting of heirloom mushrooms, asparagus, mash and a choice cut of cattlemen's rib-eye.
Marong ate a small portion of his oversized steak, then contemplatively watched Gwen deliver piece after piece of bloody flesh to her lips. When Gwen began to glance over at his plate, the Smoke Mage told the maid to hew away the mostly uneaten portion and serve it to their famished guest.
Marong then felt a mild revulsion as Gwen furthermore polished off Mayuree's serving.
It wasn’t so much that the girl ate what seemed like the lion's share of an Auroch, but the fact that she happily ate leftovers. Gwen wasn't living in splendorous wealth, but a Mage in her position should afford some dignity. She could have asked the maid for another serving or requested more food. Was it politeness? That would be ironic. Was it Gwen's Frontier upbringing? Was eating leftovers a country, folksy thing? Marong could undoubtedly imagine peasants taking on the practice.
At any rate, he made small talk to displace the awkwardness.
“Michio Lee is famous for being an oddball, but he means well,” Marong responded to Gwen’s curious enquiry as to Lee’s statement about dredging for the ‘hidden knowledge’ the Clans and Sects had kept from the rest of the Spellcraft community.
“What are they hiding though? Signature Spells? Never-before-seen Arcana? Forbidden magic?”
Marong watched Gwen's eyes searching the kitchen imploringly.
Good Mao! Marong snorted, setting free two streams of cigarette smoke. She was looking for dessert! His eyes fell a bit lower toward Gwen’s tapered waist, then up toward Gwen’s exposed collarbones. The Void sorceress' jawline was impeccable, her neck as elegantly faultless as a swan's. The girl’s metabolism must be as rare as her Void talent.
“Who knows?” Marong shrugged. “As a member of one of those 'Clans' your Instructor despises so much, I can inform you that we have secrets, big ones, but nothing to the degree of Unique Schools of Magic.”
“Do they exist though?”
“Of course they 'exist'." Marong chuckled cooly. "Let me give you an example. I had a Senior in Tsinghua, years ago, who could cast a form of body enhancement that allowed him to leap several meters from standing, walk on walls, and balance on tree branches as thin as your fingers. Think about what you would need to achieve the same thing. Spider Climb, Jump, Adhere and Enhance Dexterity, and that’s assuming you could parkour. You know what parkour is?”
“He’s a Jianshi, or Wushi, depending on your dialect. He refused to participate in the IIUC, but if he had, Tsinghua would not have lost.”
A Wushi? Like in Crouching Tiger? Gwen tried to imagine a Mage scaling walls while swinging a sword, finding the vision as ridiculous as it was enticing. When a Monster like Elizabeth Sobel could drain the life out of a city with ten million souls, what use were Romantic notions of close combat? It was the difference between a special forces unit and a WMD. Swordsmen had their applications, of course, as assassins perhaps, but wouldn’t the other side also have an equal and oppositional force to defend their VIPs? In her old world, with the advent of Drone Strikes and deep sea ballistic missile delivery systems, there was little need for personal heroics in time of war. A Jianshi made good storytelling, of course, not to mention fantastic propaganda, but they were hardly conducive to the outcome of a significant regional conflict. Mao certainly did not take China from the Dynastic Clans by swinging his sword arm; it was through a Cult of Personality and his autocratic control of the state to engage in Total War.
“Lee also went on about Necromancy,” Gwen continued.
“That’s a topic best left well alone outside of academia,” Marong warned his inquisitive guest. “Pretty much everything north-west of Xian is gone to the dead. It’s a controversial topic among the upper echelons.”
“His opinion is hardly original. Don't you think people thought of that already? That only the Undead could fight the Undead? That we should be developing Necromancy ourselves?”
“Why can’t we turn back the tide with our current forces? The News said we're holding steady and slowly progressing westward.”
Marong chuckled. He liked it when the girl finally acted her age and said things befitting of her level of knowledge. The girl must have gotten her insights from watching propaganda Vid-casts. "We," she had said, what a ridiculous notion.
“Because they’re the Undead!” Marong laughed, taking a toke on his cigarette and allowing the smoke to add to the constructed scenery, which now resembled the Great Wall. “This is not a war the PLA can win without opening itself to bigger problems down the road from the American and the British Mageocracy. Can we win? Probably. What's left after 'we' win? Not much. We'd lose most of our Mages, especially the middle rank."
"Think about it; we got a few million NoM soldiers and about six thousand Mages up at the Northern Front. The Public Information Bureau says there’s around 12 million Undead or so, not including their Magic Casters. Now, where do you think the 12 million bodies come from?”
“From tombs? Graves?”
Marong shook his head and gave Gwen a look with his darkly lined eyes that said ‘oh you sweet summer child.’
“From us!” Marong chortled suddenly. “There wasn’t even that many people in all of China when the Qin mausolea dug into the earth! The number of undead sealed to serve the old Emperor would number no more than ten thousand, maybe twenty thousand! Now there’s 10 - 12 million! Even with a dozen tombs, there's no more than a few hundred thousand. And Lichs? Draugs? Spectres? Wraiths? Death Knights? Hundreds at best. Now they number in the tens of thousands."
Marong snorted sardonically.
"It’s us. Don’t you see? The more living there are, the more become fodder for the undead. The only way to stop the undead is to cease..."
Marong left the rest unspoken. He allowed two jet streams of smoke to play about his nostrils. Twin serpents of smoke swam through the air. The Great Wall collapsed into nothing.
“It's best to think of it as a natural disaster. We’re trying to stop a rockslide, a tsunami, a lava flow, from the North West,” the Smoke Mage advised. “To be honest, it’s best not to dwell. The threat is contained; that’s all the PLA is willing to do.”
Gwen wanted to ask more about this ‘threat’, but Marong seemed disinclined to discuss the matter further. To Gwen, the whole Undead problem and people’s attitudes toward it had a touch of irony. If she was to draw an analogy close to home - it was like Australia’s Royal Commission into the Catholic Church’s paedophilic sins of the Fathers - all thunder and no rain.
“Do we have to participate in this defence?” Gwen changed topics toward something closer to home.
“Mao, I hope not.” Mayuree, who had been listening to their conversation intently, made a grimace.
“It’s a good career boost for the PLA and the CCP track if you're a free Mage. For the Clans, there’s not much merit in dying for the government that took down the Dynastic golden age. As for participation, Tower Mages are exempt from conscription, if that’s what you mean.”
“There’s conscription?” Gwen’s voice lowered an octave.
“For the NoMs, of course,” Marong’s voice droned on. “Gaps need filling, no? Humanity is trying to stop a flood, after all. There’s a lot of bodies lying around, which is both the solution and the problem.”
Marong motioned to the distant horizon where in the gloom, they could see NoM habitat-blocks rising toward the heavens like swords stabbing into the sky.
Gwen thought of the supersized apartment blocks with their underground facilities, mini hive-cities, all of them, where the NoMs made their living. Conscription? She should've known. If the country needed to supply the frontlines with fresh bodies, then she could no longer see those NoM structures as a socialist government doing the best for its non-magical citizens.
Instead, the hive-cities were glorified pits and pens for the production of a vital supply. Gwen imagined a scene in which a family received a letter in the mail, within which was a lottery-selected barcode. Was it too late to volunteer and receive a bonus? The hapless victims would wonder. The one solace they had was that the rest of them were safe until the next reaping. The air around her grew suffocating; she felt cheated of breath. Jesus, she thought, Shirley Jackson would have a field day.
The milky-white skin over her bare legs became suddenly covered with shivering bumps, resembling plucked gooseflesh.
“Gwen?” Mayuree regarded her friend’s pallid complexion with her amber eyes, searching Gwen’s face for an answer. Was it indigestion? She wouldn't be surprised.
Gods! Gwen thought to herself, feeling her innards churn with acidic reflux. Those poor bloody NoMs can’t catch a break!
* * *
Thursday held the one class that Gwen herself and Mayuree attended together - Transmutation Utility.
There were several such courses - Abjuration Utility, Transmutation Utility, Divination Utility, and so on. The idea was that there were essential spells from each school which a Mage’s party should never be without; circumstances rarely provided the opportunity to form perfect parties.
As such, Mages could learn to use low tier spells from other Sigils. These were simplified versions of the spells available from each School, adapted for general use at the cost of potency and efficiency.
Transmutation Utility covered the majority of the translocation spells necessary for general Adventuring, Combat, and Dungeoneering.
Jump - a stable spell Gwen already knew.
Feather Fall - a life-saving staple.
Levitation - for scouting and moving up and down ledges and platforms.
Lesser Fly - A poor Mage's variation of the Transmutation staple, a glorified Levitation.
Enhance Ability - Essential for survival, split into Constitution, Dexterity, and Strength
Lock and Knock - useful for a variety of situations.
Expeditious Retreat - For fleeing as quickly as possible, serving as a cheap Haste. It was a combination enhancement that also heightened agility and awareness.
Spider Climb - for vertically inclined spaces.
Dark Vision - For seeing in dark places.
Aqua Lung - For aquatic mishaps.
Almost all of the students participating in the course were non-Transmutation students, but not so for Gwen. Tier 1 Spells were therefore easily mastered. Tier 2 Spells such as Lock and Knock, Levitation and so forth, took longer.
Her primary reason for taking the class was Lesser Fly / Flight, arguably the most useful spell for a Junior Mage. At tier 3 though, it would likely use up the rest of the semester, some fourteen weeks, until she could gain rudimentary mastery of it.
“Without these movement Spells, you are nothing but a stationary turret ripe for destruction,” the instructor, a Magus named Canto Luo, a nephew of the Dean, told his students earnestly. “You will be a liability. Do not venture into a dungeon without ensuring that your party possesses every possible means of mobility. Remember - Dead Mages don’t contribute to damage.”
Mayuree had no talent in Transmutation, but her natural intelligence and good breeding ensured that she could arguably follow the instructor’s incantations without delay nor confusion.
Gwen meanwhile, could feel her long-neglected Transmutation Sigil pulse with eager luminosity as she alternated between Lock and Knock, abusing her abnormally large mana pool.
“Good work, Gwen,” Magus Luo nodded approvingly at her progress.
The students split into a dozen stations, with the class spending their training time moving from station to station, attempting various spells while under the careful, watchful eye of Instructor Luo.
After just one afternoon, Gwen had basic control over the staple tier 1 spells.
When she arrived at the apartment building, she felt overcome with mischief and so carefully and meticulous cast Expeditious Retreat, as well as Enhance Strength. She then ran all the way up to level 22 and burst through the Firedoor into her apartment after casting a Knock, marvelling at the ease of her transit.
How's that for a routine! She wondered what her old PT would think of that near-superhuman feat. Step-machine my ass! Gwen stood smugly in the living room, drenched with sweat but visibly pleased with herself.
Then her Transmutation wore off.
“Ouch…” She felt the first cramp coming on. “Oh no…”
Gwen collapsed onto the couch, her face ashen as her body took stock of the muscular fatigue forced onto her tender flesh; paying it back to her in full with compounded interest. Her legs locked up entirely as she tried to stretch them out, sending her into fits of racking pain.
Tears of regret gushed from her eyes. Gwen sobbed helplessly into the micro-fibre fabric of the couch and laid unmoving like a corpse between the coffee table and the cushions.
Play stupid games. Win stupid prizes.
Petra! Come home soon! She prayed to the Gods above. Please, let there be a Lesser Restoration in your Cube collection!