A note from Wutosama

Happy Australia Day

December descended upon the pearl of Asia, accompanied by the coming of first-snow.

From the East China Sea, Shanghai resembled a giant snow-globe. Thanks to the city's Super-Massive Resonance Barrier, downy flakes of ice crystal became trapped within the dome, swirling and drifting, carried by invisible currents.

Yet, despite the growing frigidity, the figure of a girl, lithe and picturesque, jogged through Fudan's Gouding Road, heedless of the cold, steaming gently in her thermo-tights and runners. She was by now a well-known sight, for beside the girl was a menacing Mongolian Death Worm, while above her, invisible, floated a Kirin-marten.

Though she began her exercise in the dark, Gwen could see just as well whether at dawn or dusk, another boon gifted by the Essence exercise Ayxin had taught her.

As for the Dragon-kin, the woman had dominated Gwen's mind over the last week, especially when she grew hyper-conscious of the fact that her 'training-crutch', a Dragon-Scale regulating her Essence, belonged to the Dragon-Mage herself, plucked from her neck.

Along the way, Caliban wagged at an aunty who had risen early, preparing the charcoal for making grilled buns. In return, it received a stick of fried dough.

Gwen bowed her head, keeping her pace. The fact remained that she could neither contact uncle Jun nor Ayxin, nor did she have time to pursue the matter.

In the interceding weeks, Gwen had finally picked up a tuned version of Ice Storm, learned free of charge courtesy of Magus Young, her Evocation Lecturer, at the behest Dean Luo. At the same time, she began practising with Wall of Lightning, a spell well provisioned by the depth of her mana pool. Unfortunately, a Wall of Void, with its proportional expenditure of vitality and mana to length, height and length, proved itself to be a precarious and highly conditional contingency.

Additionally, she took flying lessons with a guest Instructor at Fudan, recommended by Jun. The Magus, Eric Dienhart, was said to be an Aerial Ace, retiring only when the psychological burden of the Front began to impact his mind.

When Gwen arrived at the lower campus training grounds, she was surprised to see Kitty, Mayuree’s guard from the Kunlun Clan, waiting for her.

“You’re the new student?!” Kitty’s expression couldn’t have been colder.

“Hi, Kitty!” Gwen cheerfully waved at her. “Haven’t seen you around for almost three months!”

“I’ve been training.” Kitty’s complexion was as white as snow, a testament to her growing affinity in Ice and Air. Gwen noticed that as she spoke, the girl drifted back and forth, as though a strong breeze might blow her away. “We should duel sometime.”

“Oh certainly.” Gwen grinned, wondering if Kitty had any idea about Caliban or Ariel, or her recent growth spurt. “Looking forward to it.”

Kitty escorted Gwen to their Instructor, a gruff old military type.
Like Instructor Chen, Gwen’s Creature Mage mentor, Wing Commander Dienhart was the type to put up a front of good cheer.

“You two know each other?” The man appeared surprised by Gwen's acquaintance with Kitty. “Here I’d thought Kit's a lone wolf.”

“We’re not friends.” Kitty was desperate to clear the confusion.

“We’re battle-buddies,” Gwen reminded Kitty that they had Quested together. "We're neighbours, even."

Kitty hissed.

“Never forsake your battle-buddy,” Dienhart chided Kitty for her immaturity. “Alright, let’s begin with some basic exercises. Gwen, show me everything you got.”

Gwen could scarcely believe her eyes and ears when the LRM Device pinged at dinner, revealing the caller to be Yue.

“OH MY GOD! YUE!” She squealed into the holographic Illusion, negligent of Richard and Petra's annoyance as they tried to finish their take out.

Yue's projection materialised head first, with Gwen holding her breath until her companion’s robust bosom joined the fray, authenticating her friend's identity.



The two girls studied each other with a frightening intensity.

Almost a year on since rescuing Yue from Sufina’s Grot, the Fire Mage appeared older and wiser, having acquired a tan and cut her hair shoulder-short. Interestingly, Gwen noted Yue wore a white-blue singlet in the shade of the Royal Australian Air Force, paired with matching cargos in camo.

“I’ve missed you so much!” Gwen gushed, finally catching her breath. “I’ve called Alesia a dozen time, but you were always away.”

“I know.” Yue’s voice was huskier than Gwen remembered, more mature. “Lots of Lizardmen drama on the Brisbane Line, so Alesia’s boys took me up north. It was supposed to be three weeks, but it ended up being a tour! Haha.”

Gwen's gaze drifted to the rank-Glyph Yue hung on a string between her bosoms.

“Yue! You got promoted! Evee was right!”

“That’s Cadet Warrant Officer Yue to you!” Her friend chuckled, snapping a crisp salute.

Gwen snapped back with one of her own.

“That’s a terrible salute!” Yue mocked Gwen's feeble attempt. “Whatchu been doing?"

“Oh~ projects. This and that. Trying to make ends meet, hee hee."

“Hmm, so I've heard. But, first things first, when are you coming back?”


In all honesty, Yue's question caught Gwen flat-footed. With everything going on from Uncle Jun to Mayuree to the Fungs, she hadn't felt homesick in some time.

“...not for a long while,” Gwen replied with a measured voice, assuring Yue that she was indeed coming back when the time was ripe. “I’ve got the IIUC coming up, then three more semesters of University, and that’s assuming I pass my Magus exams. Did you know I am the subject of a dozen research papers?”

Yue snorted with laughter.

“You’re a student and a specimen? So you're engaged in self-study?”

“Well, you know what they say - 'If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.'"

"Umm... Gwen?"

Before Gwen could continue, Petra politely interrupted.

“I am going to bed,” her cousin informed them. She disliked skulking in the corner while Gwen conversed on the LRM Device.

“Woa, there's your hottie cousin again!” Yue wolf-whistled, waving to Petra.

Richard took the cue to walk into the LRM Device's field of view.

"Yes? You called."

"ARRRGH! Richard ya old dog!" Yue laughed out loud.

"Yue, good to see you. Doing well?"

“Better, I am doing good!" Yue replied. "Joining us?"

Richard shook his head.

"Naw, I am off to Nantong first thing in the morning. Don't talk too late. Petra and Gwen need their sleep as well."

"Nite, Richard."

"See ya."

"See you in a week or two." The man left.

With Richard gone, Gwen and Petra stood shoulder to shoulder.

“Are you the one dissecting Gwen?” Yue followed up with an inquiry of surprising abrasiveness. "What's she like on the operating table?"

Petra and Gwen exchanged glances. Gwen recalled that she had indeed bitched to Alesia about Wen, Petra's Master. The Scarlet Sorceress must have Chinese-whispered her displeasure, and now Yue was taking it out on Petra. Like Alesia, Yue was the type whose heart and mouth were interconnected, bypassing the brain.

“Yue!” Gwen Shielded Petra from view. She gave her cousin an apologetic wave. Petra declined, shaking her head, then left for her room. "Yue! That was very rude; Petra's been nothing but kind to me."

“Hey, a girl’s got a right to be curious."

The conversation stalled.

"So, you got a boyfriend yet?” Sensing Gwen's displeasure, Yue banked and barrel-rolled onto a safer topic.

“No, do you?”

“Nope. Nothing to fuck out there but seven-foot lizards. Did you know their dick’s got two knobs? It's like a Y-shape.”

Gwen gagged, trying to dispel Yue's vivid vision of reptilian phallus.

“That’s a crock!” Gwen shot back. For some unknown reason, she was reminded Ayxin, who could change gender at will. Egh, Uncle Jun better watch his ass. “First of all, you’re out there with hundreds of Mages, all beautiful human beings, amongst whom I am sure there are at least a dozen have an active interest in shacking up with a well-endowed sorceress with many talents. Second of all, how do you know you won't like lizard dick? Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”

“Puhahahaha!" Yue was beside herself.

“…” Gwen herself was surprised by how quickly she slid back into immaturity. Such was the terrifying power of Yue's foul-mouthed charisma that all the tension she had collated over the last few weeks dissolved at once. “Lizard-amour aside, tell me about the Saurian-Front. Give me some highlights,” she implored.

“You want stories of lizard dick? We wrangled some giant mother-fuckers, I’ll tell you that.”

“God.” Gwen stifled another round of laughter. “Be serious! So, how was it?”

“Well.” Yue tilted her head. “Let me tell you about this village we hit up in mid-November…”

Yue's descriptions lacked flare, but its simplicity was no less haunting than a well-told epic.

With Alesia in recuperation, the Scarlet Sorceress' Apprentice roved up and down the coast with Alesia’s old unit, kicking ass, completing Quests, and taking names. From week to week, she Purged new mining regions, defended coastal townships and hunted down particularly nasty magical creatures threatening the banana and mango plantations. The climax was when Yue dove into the canopied jungle in pursuit of a Saurian Priest that had sacrificed a sugar cane processing station's two-hundred strong staff.

“Oh yeah, check this out.” Yue pulled up her singlet.

“Woooa!” Gwen instinctively averted her eyes. The illusory projection was very much three-dimensional. When she gathered the courage to look again, her eyes meandered past the udder madness of Yue’s shameless bravado and instead focused on a strange discolouration marring Yue's upper body.

Upon closer inspection, Gwen realised she was looking at a patch of Yue's body that was pale and supple, sharply juxtaposed against the rest of her tanned and peeling dermis. If the effect had been reversed, Gwen would have thought Yue was suffering from a driver’s tan, but Yue's exhibition indicated the opposite.

“Impressive as ever, are you showing off?” Gwen fought back a sinking suspicion, disarming her paranoia with humour. “I am not taking off my top, by the way.”

“Looks weird, right?” Yue chortled. She pointed at her right arm and breast. “How about that, huh, new arm and a new boob."

Gwen's next words choked before she could speak.

“Yep, lost the old pair.” Yue thankfully replaced her shirt, her tone inferring that she had suffered a stomach upset. “Let me tell ya; those lizards don’t fuck around. Got nabbed by one of their Champions in the canopy, jumped me from a tree. CHOMP! Cut through Taj's Shield, just like that. Had a bite-force like a fucking foundry-press. Fuck, it hurt like hell. Thankfully, Jonas had a Regeneration scroll on em. Still, had to stay back at the Brisbane Tower for rehab, took two weeks.”

“Jesus, Yue…”

Yue flexed her arm.

“Pretty interesting, yeah? Anyway, thought I’d let you know, always keep a Regeneration Scroll handy.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, thanks, Yue.”

“Anyway, I am sending you a souvenir. You should get it in a month or so.”

“Oh? What is it?”

“You’ll see. Call me when you get it,” Yue grinned, showing her teeth.

Gwen felt immediately suspicious.

“Alright, gotta go. Look forward to the package!”

Not one for sentimental goodbyes, Yue cut the Message link with a finality that Gwen could never manage herself. Not yet ready, Gwen found herself suddenly alone in the darkness of her living room, overlooking the vista of Fudan below, her mind's eye still thinking of Yue's creamy left lumbar juxtaposed against the rest of her tanned body.

She wondered at that moment, what life would have been like had she not gone with Guo’s men to Shanghai. Yue's adventures were like a parallel journey, the road not taken. Had she fought tooth and nail to return home, it would probably be herself, Yue and Richard, roving the east coast, building up their military credentials.

Gwen imagined a life without Petra, or Babulya, or uncle Jun or Tao and Mina and even Mayuree, Lulan and Kusu.

In hindsight, how could that be enough?

Split between paperwork and Spellcraft, mid-December came on in a wintery haze. Each morning, come wind, rain or snow, Gwen persisted in her early morning jog, her Draconic-constitution trivialising the extremity of weather.

Unlike her work, December saw the gradual shutdown of the university and its surrounding industry. With a diminished roster of staff and students, many of the eateries, cafes, and street stalls reduced their staff and opening hours.

Gwen’s office, in contrary to the local trend, had gotten busier. She picked up two more NoM staff members from James Ma, a young man called Terence Li, and a mousy quiet mathematician by the name of Effi Chen. Now at a full allotment of five employees plus Gwen, her work could be offloaded to subordinates. For day to day operations, Ruì remained in command, overseeing Dai and Ken, who managed dealings with their fellow Mages. As for paperwork, the lion’s share of accounting first went through Effi and Terence, then to Ruì, and finally to Gwen.

At Gwen’s behest, all of her NoM employees had access to simple, crystal operated Magitech such as Message Devices, Translation Ioun Stones, as well as other conveniences of life.

Dai meanwhile, had taken to his Centurion privileges like a fish to water. He roved the Bund day and night with his band of Guan-er-dai and Fu-er-dai friends, doing luncheons and throwing lavish banquets, sweet-talking them into buying the canal’s Stage 1 expansions, and for those who had missed out, a chance to invest in Stage 2.

The House of M, meanwhile, had quickly begun to grasp the quirks of a Centurion customer’s desires, acknowledging that men like Dai cared less about crystals and more about face. Simple occurrences such as a maître d` knowing one by name, a restaurant offering a free bottle of expensive wine as a gift, or segregating one from the mundane customers via exclusive seating, made all the difference. Naturally, every interaction began and ended with Dai presenting his Centurion membership.

When Gwen read the House of M’s reports on Dai’s spending and activities, she was pleased to find that a significant buzz had engendered among the upper-class gentry of Shanghai. When finally, in a conversation with Tao, the wannabe rapper mentioned that his father had enquired about the Centurion card, Gwen knew she was onto a good thing.

By late December, Gwen knew she needed a break to stretch out her brain.

Training indoors in a private sanctum and scribbling reports in an office was beginning to grate on her patience. If nothing else, her joints were growing mouldy.

She contacted Richard, who had by now returned to Nantong with Kusu and Lulan, then joined them for a week in the Yengchen coastal District, clearing out a particularly aggressive infestation of Mer-Gobs. She had invited Percy, but her brother was occupied by MSS Instructors fortifying his Abjuration and Evocation.

According to her grandfather, Percy’s new Abjuration talent was exceptional, potentially even exceeding Gwen’s acquired skills. He suspected that the boy had a natural talent for that particular School of Spellcraft and that their accidental trigger had brought out the boy's latent abilities.

At any rate, regardless of whether his talents were acquired or natural, Gwen was happy that Percy was filling the shoes of expectation the family had laid out for him. As for herself, her mastery over her hound spells was progressing nicely, not to mention she had finally purchased a Signature Spell previously deemed too dangerous to use without a Spirit - one with a hefty overhead of 80 CCs.

Robinson’s All-Purpose Cloud Kill
Conjuration (5)
Casting Time: 56 Major, 25 Minor Incantation
Range: Medium, LoS, AoE
Components: Somatic, Verbal, Component
Duration: Instant, Persistent.

Since its initial inception during World War I, Meister Fritz Harber's original AoE has undergone significant revisions. The original invocation, utilising a catalyst of silver-salt activated with Positive Energy, generated a rapidly expanding 'cloud' with the means to disable low to mid-tier Undead. The spell’s current incarnation is the brainchild of British Meister Robert Robinson, whose work on the physiology of Demi-humans and Magical Creatures culminated in the spell's Signature variant. Without a catalyst, Cloud Kill generates an area of Elementally volatile discharge. When employing Earthen catalysts, the spell’s effervescent effects can be altered to produce light, corrosion, poison, or used to repel Undead.
This spell has a Class 2 Restriction and requires registration with a Tower.

To test the effectiveness of Gwen's new acquisition, Richard, Lulan and Kusu, together with Gwen's deer-hounds, corralled some hundred odd slavering Mer-Gobs into a ditch Lulan had dug out with Shape Stone. Gwen then took the thirty second needed to conjure the massive tier 5 Area of Effect Conjuration, unleashing her new spell upon her gibbering test subjects.

Her first attempt discharged a cloud of electricity that succeeded in paralysing enemies stuck within its field of effect.

“How wonderful,” Gwen remarked. She was all for non-lethal alternatives.

After which, she began experimenting with catalyst-driven variants.

In all honesty, the curious sorceress wasn’t sure what she had expected: the spell was called 'Cloud Kill', it created a cloud of elemental discharge. Why should she be surprised when the addition of a chunk of Volcanic rock-salt modified her static-charged Conjuration to emit a 'cloud' of horrid green gas that 'killed'?

In all likelihood, it was because of the screeching. Unlike the usual mob of Gobs and Goblins, Mer-Gobs were semi-aquatic, breathing through their skin. When the gas descended upon the Mer-Gobs, melting their gills, it drove them into a self-destructive frenzy.

“Wocao!” Kusu shied away from the foul-smelling odour. For some reason, he was reminded of indoor pools; only the noxious fume was a thousand times more concentrated. “Can Ariel control that?”

Gwen shook her head. The advertising on the spell was misleading. She could control the static-cloud, but the will of the wind drove the gas. No wonder the damned thing required Tower registration and couldn’t be used within the city.

“Well, go on, try the other ones.” Richard was brimming with interest, urging her to prepare all the variants.

"I don't think I want to."

"Oh, come on." Richard nudged her. "You can't just leave the Gobs to choke like that."

"I want to see as well!" Lulan raised her hand. The spell was anything but fascinating to a sorceress long used to cleaving through flesh and bone.

Gwen gazed at the Goblin-filled pit. As usual, Richard's logic was sound; the Mer-Gobs had to die. Any longer and the buggers would suffer needlessly - that or tunnel through the pit’s bottom.

Convincing herself that it was for Spellcraft, she produced the other minerals they had procured from the Magic Ingredient shop on Gouding Road, then activated them one by one as quickly as she could, stopping only to record their effects.

A bar of Cinnabar produced a paralysing and suffocating silvery gas.

A block of Pyrite turned the cloud into a mustard-like acid.

"I think we should stop." Gwen had goosebumps riding her skin from her shins to her neck. "I'll finish them off with a Barbanginy Sphere."

"There's one more ingredient," Richard pointed out. "Come on. You need to know how the spell works. Don't just waste the CCs."

Her final catalyst was a lump of salt-like Apatite. Once injected into the spell, the resultant 'cloud' spontaneously ignited in the air into white-hot incandescence, raining molten motes of phosphor onto its Mer-Gob victims.

“Jesus, this Robinson must REALLY despise Magical Creatures,” Gwen observed the atrocity below, her jaws grim with second-hand memories from her old world. There was a finality about her other Evocation spells, whether Void Bolt to Ball Lightning, that bespoke of purpose. Robinson's Cloud Kill, in Gwen's eyes, was a spell designed to deliver suffering. “This fucking spell, it shouldn’t exist.”

"It's a blunt instrument." Richard patted her on the back. “The next time we have to crawl into a Mer-Gob Den only as wide as your shoulders, you’ll think otherwise. I might pick up the spell myself.”

“Richard!” she snapped, pointing at the scene below. “You can’t think this is an acceptable act, even in war. It's too dangerous!”

“Don’t be such a hypocrite!” Richard pushed back, catching her flatfooted, being accustomed to her cousin grinning and shrugging off her 'Gwenisms'. When she persisted in glaring at him, he gave her a quick flick on the forehead, to which she responded by punching him solidly in the arm. “Hey! Don't get pissy at me. The spell of the hand! Remember?! It wasn't my Master who said that!”

The retort struck her conscience like a physical blow.
'It's the spell of the heart that murders, not the spell of the hand,' her Master's wisdom rang in her head like it was yesterday. But hypocrite or otherwise, her heart refused to accept the scene below. There was a steepness to the murderous efficacy offered by Cloud Kill that only a student of human history understood in its totality.

She lowered her head.

Richard, Lulan, and Kusu stood to one side, measuring their soft-hearted, stubborn-willed leader with their eyes. In the pit below, the last Mer-gob thrashed and died, leaving nothing but the stink of sizzling fish to permeate the foetid air.

It took Lulan all but thirty-seconds to fill the mass-grave.

“Let’s go.” Gwen motioned for her party to move.

“Gonna need another pit,” Richard reminded her. “We got ten more kilometres to cover, and you haven’t finished investigating your spell yet.”

“Then we'll do it the usual way!” Gwen snarled. Hadn't she done enough? She tried out all the damn minerals!

“Yes.” Richard studied Lulan as he cleaned up, then turned to Gwen with an awkward grin. “But we haven’t seen the Void variant…”

After a break like that, Gwen decided she needed a break.

"Alright, everyone! Let's get ready for a big Christmas bash! Ham, sparkling wine, merriment and gifts for all!"

Her workers, regrettably, first froze, then regarded her with confusion, concern, and accusatory glances full of discomfort. From their expressions, she may as well have told them they were having a unicorn-themed lingerie party.

“I never figured you for a follower of King of the Jews.” Dai took great interest in the unexpected revelation, though Gwen could sense the apprehension in the man’s voice. “Does my father know about your allegiance? Not that I mind...”

Taken aback, Gwen looked to Ken for a second opinion, completely flabbergasted by the resistance she was receiving against an innocuous Xmas Party.

“Maybe it’s not my place to say this.” Ken coughed, averting her gaze. “But there's going to be of trouble if you openly worship the Magi of Nazareth.”

Her NoM workers were likewise intimidated.

“OKAY, HOLD IT!” Gwen commanded her workshop elves to cease their fantastic imaginations at once. “Minor Image!”

She conjured a glowing Christian Cross.

“What does this mean to you.”

“That’s the Christian Symbol for the Almighty.” Dai glanced at Ken. Beside his godless comrade, Ken Duan visibly shivered. “Come on, Gwen, you're not seriously going to hold a ritual in the office, are you? Can't you keep this sort of thing at home? Look, you're scaring Ruì.”

The NoMs backed away.

Gwen stopped herself from tearing a clump of hair out. She conjured, with great effort, a jolly fat man in red and white.

“Does this mean anything to you?” she enquired hopefully.

The men and women under her care shook their heads in unison. What in Mao's name had brainwashed their boss? First, she wants to hold a ritual to honour the mortal birth of a Western God, and now she's showing them an image of a jolly Gweilo in red? Why did the man have a sack? What’s with the beard? Was he, perhaps, a high-priest serving the Christian God? The man certainly looked fat enough to be a high priest. The crimson on his clothes, could it perhaps, symbolise the blood sacrifice made by Christ as he sought to overthrow the old Theocracy? The fivesome collectively shivered; they had heard through snippets of propaganda, that Orthodox Christians consumed the body of their Lord and drank his blood. Was that why the high priest was so fat?

“Er… I have to go.” Ken reached the door. “Permission to return after New Years.”

“NO!” Gwen’s Dragon-fear froze her audience where they stood. More than anything she realised she had to clear up this misunderstanding. “I am not a disciple of the Christian God! Christmas is a...”

She replayed a flashback of last year's Christmas spent at Elvia’s mansion.
They had prayed, said grace, ate and drank, then Elvia had sung Silent Night, and they released candles.

But there was no Santa.
Holy shit, Gwen baulked at the memory. There was no Santa. Thanks to Elvia's divine presence, she hadn't even noticed there were no reindeers, no baubles, and no Christmas tree! Her family had indeed had been celebrating the birth of Christ.

Her workers’ questioning eyes bored into her, demanding answers, wondering if they should report their employer to the MSS for unsanctioned worship of a foreign religion.

Gwen knew she had to do something to offset their concerns.

“As I was saying, Christmas is not a religious holiday in Australia. In Australia, we call it BOXING DAY.”

The workers regarded one another. Boxing day? What did pugilism have anything to do with it?

“Ah, I see why you’re wondering why we celebrate Boxing instead of Christmas in Australia.”

Her audience nodded.

“You know we have Kangaroos, right?”

Though none of her audience had seen a Kangaroo, they had a general idea of the deadly marsupial's prowess. The bestiary stated that the omnivorous mega-fauna could grow up to four meters in length, rove hundreds of kilometres across red-sanded deserts in search of food and water, and had a kick that could snap a man in half. Infamously, they also liked to box one another for dominance.

“See.” Gwen was pulling it out of her arse now, keeping her face as straight as can be. “To mimic the noble Kangaroo, we have a day of Duels. Hence, Boxing day…”

Ken raised his hand.

“Ma’am.” The man trembled. “I went to England for exchange. Boxing day is the non-religious holiday after Christmas originally for the common folk. The Box refers to the act of gift giving, typically in wrapped boxes…”

An awkward silence descended upon the open office, as thick as the December snow. Gwen wondered if she could open a portal into the Quasi-Elemental Plane of the Void and crawl into oblivion.

There was now only one way to prove her innocence.

“Thank you, Ken.” She cranked her dragon-fear until the Essence was hammering at her eyeballs. “There is to be no worship of anything! No one is taking a break! We’re staying open until the 30th!”


A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref :: Sort of like Halycon Days 

Bonus ::  Gwen's Outfits  
Glossary and Magic System :: Glossary 

Voting for the novel :: Voting button  

About the author


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

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