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-----Stories from Sydney----

Frontier cities. For all the word city implies, far from the tier one magical megacities and the myriad protections provided by them, it is a different world. Magical might rules everywhere, but on the frontier it is even less challenged. Law enforcement is a secondary concern compared to the suppression of the monsters constantly testing the cities defenses, and even when the law is enforced, it is only enforced on those without the power or backing to ignore it.

The vast tracts of land protected by the shielding stations are only protected imperfectly, and despite the relatively low threat the few monsters that are able to find their way through the barriers pose to even a novice mage, the NoM population is defenceless against them. How many die before a mage shows up to end the slaughter is up to luck.

And NoM’s wouldn't be Noms if they were lucky.




---A Cup of Coffee---

*Gwen’s visit to a certain coffee shop, from the other side*

“Hi Gregor!” Fiona heard the girl call out as she entered the shop. The girl seemed to be familiar with Fiona’s father, but Fiona had never seen her before in her life and judging by the expression on her father’s face, neither had he.

And she wasn’t the kind of person you would forget either. Dressed in a pink minidress and a white camisole, either of which Fiona was sure cost more than her entire wardrobe- including the wardrobe itself- combined, the girl’s ivory white legs stretching out from underneath to what could only be described as a luxurious length… Well, when coupled with her excellent proportions and a face that inherited the best qualities from what looked like both an Asian and European background, she looked like a goddess among mere mortals.

And perhaps she was! Fiona brought the girl her coffee and snuck a peak at the girl who she suspected might be a mage. They didn’t often get mages in, especially not ones that looked like her, but they did occasionally. And if she was a diviner it would explain how she knew Gregor and seemed so familiar with him and the store despite neither of them meeting her before.

Surreptitiously watching the girl, and trying not to be jealous of her incredible legs, Fiona caught the small grimace the girl made as she took a sip of the coffee. It brought its own bit of depression as Fiona considered the sad truth of her father’s predicament. The magitech that they used was old and barely functioned on the LDM’s they got to run it. Gregor would love to get a new one, but magitech was expensive. It all had to be imported, and magitech coffee machines were only of decent quality if they came from the States or Europe- and not even all of Europe at that.

They needed better coffee to make more money to make better coffee, but they struggled just making ends meet and in the meantime the old magitech just got older. Life could be as bitter as the coffee they served sometimes.

Fiona shoved her dark thoughts away as new customers came in, and went to greet them. It didn’t take long to figure out the two rowdy men were bad news, after being a waitress for so long, she could just look at them and see it.

“What’s your name, sweetie?”

Fiona didn’t answer, just handed them their menus and tried to keep a smile on her face. Unfortunately, they didn’t take the hint, and instead read her name off of her name tag.

“Fiona is it?”

That is what it says on the tag, or can’t you read well? Fiona thought but didn’t say as her smile became a bit cramped.

“Are you still going to school, Fiona?”

For what? There is no point, no job a NoM like me can get that matters.

“Come sit with us, Fiona.”

Finally, she was able to flee back to the kitchen where she shared a glance with her father. They both knew one of the men, an almost regular- if a rude and unwelcome one- he was a mage, and there was not much they could do about a situation like this.

Fiona knew her father hated it, hated that he was helpless to protect himself or her, even helpless to protect his own store!

When she went back to the table again, things spiraled down hill quickly.

“Sir! Hands off!”

An arm around her waist, pulling her down on to one of the men’s laps, and the sudden loss of balance caused the cup to split open and spill over the man. Her father came to her defence, grabbing the bat from behind the counter, but the man only grinned.

“As I thought. Jordie, they’re both NoM’s.”

Fiona was shoved in a chair, collapsing to the floor, and as she looked up she saw the mage lift a finger and her father was surrounded by water!

“What… What do you want?” She cried from the floor, too terrified to get up. “You can’t use magic ag- against us! That’s against the law! I’ll message the police!”

An empty threat she knew, there was no way they would let her leave and it would not be surprising if the police did not even bother to show up. Tears welled up in Fiona’s eyes, if she had been a mage things would have been different! If only she had not failed that test, not that she was ever expected to pass it, but if only…

Despite everything, Fiona knew that she was one of the luckier NoM’s in Sydney. For all the problems associated with it, her father was able to own and operate his own business. They made enough, just barely, that they didn’t live in a slum like most of the others. They lived in a neighborhood that housed a few mages, which meant the police actually looked out for the area and the crime that was rampant in the slums barely touched them.

But at the end of the day, they were just dirt on the underside of the mage’s boots. This wouldn’t end with Fiona just having to sit and pretend to flirt with these two. Not any more. If they were lucky, the men would just demand money- but Fiona knew better than that, if a NoM had been lucky, they wouldn’t have been a NoM in the first place.

She would have to grit her teeth and give them whatever they wanted, and she knew what they wanted. Almost even worse than what was coming was the knowledge that her dad would be drinking and silently crying as he berated himself for failing to protect her for months after today. There was nothing he could do, and that he would even try despite the magic against him was proof of how much he loved his daughter, and she knew that and loved him for it.

Fiona’s thoughts were interrupted by the beautiful girl in the pink minidress getting up to leave. Fiona couldn’t blame her, despite the height those legs gave her, she was clearly just a young woman- maybe not even sixteen years old yet, and although Fiona thought she was a Diviner, the girl might not be a mage at all. A young maybe mage girl against two adult mages? Better that she get out of here and hopefully call the police. Maybe they will come. Maybe they will even come in time to save her.

However, the two men noticed the girl, and in particular noticed her looks. Fiona could only despair at that point, there was nothing to do but wait for it all to be over. They moved to block her exit, but the glare from the girl and the tone that promised violence as she told them to move allowed her to escape the coffee shop.

As Fiona got to her feet, she saw the one called Jordie go after the girl, and then heard the girl say, “Mage Hand!” And a flash of lightning coursed through the man, causing him to flop about and fall to the ground.

Fiona stood in stunned silence as the beautiful girl got a hold of two men’s identification cards, and warned them not to bother Fiona, or her father, again- or she would send men to rough them up!

The beautiful girl was a Quasi-Elementalist! The lightning element was rare, rare enough that even a NoM like Fiona knew that it was rare! Elements like that generally meant old and powerful families, the kind that could actually make good on the promise to send people to rough up anyone who gave them trouble!

The men scrambled away, and the beautiful mage turned to leave. Fiona gathered her courage and called out, “Excuse me… Lady Mage…”

The girl turned to her, a stunning goddess carved of ivory dressed in pink and white.

“Thank you.” Fiona bowed deeply, doing her best to convey her heartfelt thanks for the mage’s assistance.

“It was nothing, adieu!”

Fiona would always remember the day she was visited by a goddess, despite everything, it seems that even NoMs could be lucky sometimes.

***

Unfortunately, Fiona thought to herself, as she hid behind the bar from the mermen stalking through the building, she did not have that luck today.

A webbed hand darted down from the countertop and grabbed her by the hair, dragging her as she kicked and screamed out of her family’s coffee shop. There was a net, made of a fleshy, pink, organic material, that held other captives- including her father, who had bravely taken his bat and tried to buy her time.

But the back door had collapsed, a shell had hurtled through the air and smashed the back entry. Even worse, it had cracked open and begun to disgorge slightly stunned mermen. With nowhere, to run, Fiona tried to hide- but she was found, and would join the other captives in the net as she was dragged there by what looked like the unholy spawn of a hobgoblin and a clam. A bipedal monster with a strong shell that rebuffed her fists as she struggled, its gurgling laugh mocking her as the webbed hands with its horrid blue-grey flesh mottled with green, tightened its grip on her hair.

As she had just about given up hope again, a blur of pink passed by her, and the merman let go of her hair. She pushed it away and found it no longer gave any resistance, she scrambled back and then turned to see spears of pink salt blast through the mermen and slice open the net.

“It would be a shame to let a flower such as you go in such a horrible way.” She turned her head to the voice and found a man in ornate armor, made entirely from pink salt, offering her a hand.

“Th- Thank you,” she stammered as she took it and the man gently pulled Fiona to her feet. She could just barely see the eyes of her rescuer through the vizor, just enough that she thought he might be smiling at her.

The gauntleted hand reached up and traced her face, ending at her chin and tilting her head up so that she was looking into his eyes.

“I never could let a beautiful woman meet a bad end,” the man said as their eyes locked for a second and Fiona felt her heart beating faster. The man seemed like a god of war carved from pink stone. “But unfortunately, as much as I wish I could, now is not the time to learn more about you.”

Fiona never did get the pink armoured man’s name and while she had many a private fantasy about the man, later realised it was probably for the best they did not meet again. However, the one thing she could not shake from her mind was the feeling that the girl in the pink dress and man in the pink armour were somehow connected. A goddess that saved her one day, and a god who saved her another.



====

---Black Cat---

Intrinsically, it makes sense that one should need to work to eat. A roof over your head and food on your table- or the table itself for that matter- don’t appear from nowhere, someone had to work to make those things happen and it only is logical that one should be able to provide remuneration for what they receive.

The only problem was that Rachel was a NoM, and there were no jobs for a NoM girl with nothing but a pretty face and a desire to put the hovel and slum she lived in to her back. Well, it was entirely true that there were no jobs, but she’d get back to that thought.

She’d put her back to the entirety of Australia if she could, but she didn’t think it would matter much where she went. There was nothing that Rachel could do with her own two hands that a mage couldn’t do better and faster, and for that matter even if there was a job out there she had no real way to get to it. Public transportation from the slums was spotty, and frankly the pay for NoMs was low enough that paying for that transportation almost made the job itself pointless.

Which brought her back to the thought she had been pushing away, the only thing she had that magic couldn’t reproduce- not at least without more magic than even the vast majority of mages could ever afford- was a pretty face and a decent body.

Rachel was sitting in the back room, waiting for her shift to start. Dreading it, really. This place didn’t really have a name, as it was not precisely legal, but with some of the police mages as customers that did not really matter. Despite being a nameless enterprise, the boss had a fair share of upscale clientele. Not that you would guess it from how the building looked.

It had been a house at some point, well part of it had been. The rest of it had been a collection of huts and hovels that had the walls knocked out between them and the house to create a series of rooms and crannies. It was a miracle the place was still standing, and Rachel fervently prayed that one day she would come here and find the whole thing collapsed. Preferably on top of the fat ass they called “Boss.”

If she was honest, it hadn’t been too bad until the blue dealers had moved into the neighborhood. When your life was a shitty train of Johns using and discarding you, the lure of an escape was too strong for a lot of her coworkers to resist. Rachel had resisted, and was glad of it. Blue ruined you, and when it got bad enough you couldn’t even care for yourself and worse, you couldn’t protest when the Boss paired you up with a real sicko.

And blue attracted that type too. Some months ago, Rachel was still able to get jobs dancing for wealthier mages. Even after the Boss took a cut, there was often more than enough left over for her to feed herself and help out her family, which included a chronically sick brother. That was hardly worth mentioning though, there were no healers in the slums so everyone was related to someone who was sick in one way or another.

Those gigs hadn't been picnics either, having some magical water creature licking vodka off her tits had been downright terrifying and the less said about what some mages would do to a woman they thought was beneath them, the better.

Suddenly, the door opened and her friend, Isabelle rushed in. She was a good friend, even if Rachel was often jealous that Isabelle got better tips because she had bigger breasts, but that was just how the world worked. Still, the excitement in her friends face pulled Rachel out of her depressed reverie.

“Is something going on?” Rachel asked the obvious, if only because Isabelle would wait until she did. Her friend was a bit odd at times.

“You’ll like this Ray,” Isabelle said with a smile. “The blue dealers down the street? They are gone! Wiped out!”

“Your kidding?” Rachel laughed, genuinely happy. “They had a mage or two there, right? I wonder who took them out.”

“No idea, but apparently a really rich looking pretty girl walked in earlier and some of the guys nearby heard explosions like thunder after that! But get this, I heard the whole thing was to rescue one of the girls inside!”

They all knew about what went on inside the building. It was hard not to notice if you lived by the place that women, often out of their minds on blue, went in and nothing but boxes came out. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was inside either, but raising your voice wouldn’t earn you any favors- only a shallow grave.

“They get someone they shouldn’t have?” Rachel thought that was probably the case, though you would think someone worth enough to recuse would have the sense to not need it.

“That's just it!” Isabelle bent over to whisper in Rachel’s ear, “it was just some working girl like us. I heard the establishment she worked for, that Black Cat place, hired mages to rescue her!”

That had stuck with her throughout her shift, and after a night of being used and abused Rachel decided that she didn’t really have anything all that much to lose. If she had to sell herself to survive, she might as well work for someone who gave a shit about her.

She and Isabelle, as well as quite a few other “flowers of the night” made inquiries into working for Black Cat, which eventually led to an expansion into the Black Cat Brothels. True, it was not what most people would call a good job. But you have to eat to live, and you have to work to eat.

And if your work has to involve you laying on your back, at the very least it’s nice not be treated, used, and discarded like a dirty rag.



====

---A Collection of Rumors, Sydney---

*Rather than a short story, these are even smaller moments in time. Brief interactions, short jokes, odd happenings- all from the frontier city of Sydney and collected here.*

[a conversation between tower guards]

“Why is it that Kilroy always gets the pretty ones? I feel like I can hardly get a girl to glance at me, and that man is a withered prune on death’s door!”

“Maybe it is because you are a lowly tier five fire evoker and he is a magister, a famous one at that? Anyway, it is not like they want to be around him for his looks, if all it took was fluttering my eyebrows to get training from a magister I’d do it to!”

“They actually seem to like the guy though, hell, Alessia will light your hair on fire if you so much as sound critical of him! And that new girl, Mrs. Song, you can tell she doesn’t like it either!”

“What can we do about it? We are part of Walken’s faction and those two aren’t. If you want a chance why are you even bringing politics up?”

“I was thinking maybe I could switch factions…”

“What!?”

“I mean, those legs…”

“Holy shit man, Song’s a minor! Keep it in your pants and start using your head! Do you think Walken is a nice enough man to just let you get away with leaving? And for something as stupid as hitting on a kid at that?”

“She looks older!”

“You’ve seen her ID you pedo, why the hell am I friends with you again?”

“Because we’ve been stuck working this shift together for ten years straight.”

“God damn I need a vacation.”

[the modern art museum]

“And here we have a piece from a local artist, a transmuter and enchanter magus by the name of Surya Huang.” The guide introduced the piece to the crowd, the metal appeared to be vaguely humanoid. The way it was stretched and contorted seemed to be almost… Sensual… Despite the obvious quality of the piece, many were unsure about whether or not they liked it or not. It certainly was not the kind of thing you would put in an entryway or dining room.

But all of those thoughts were too soon as the guide brought them to the next piece from the same artist.

“Inspired by the conjured familiar of his granddaughter,” the guide spoke energetically as he gestured to the statue. “This piece is titled, The Solid Power of Caliban, and is considered by Magus Huang to be his greatest work.”

Again, the quality of the piece was obvious, but for some reason merely looking at the statue made people feel like they were witnessing something obscene. But rather than make them turn away, it brought faint stirrings to the surface of the viewer. As it would later be described by an art critic, and to the agreement of all who heard the opinion, “Uncomfortably arousing in a pleasant, but ultimately confusing, way.”



[boys being boys]

Gathered at Surya’s estate, now turned into a refugee camp after the mermen invasion, the Huangs were forced into close proximity. A recipe for disaster at any other time, the crisis in front of them kept problems from cropping up for now.

Unfortunately for Richard, the adults seemed to think the kids- a group in which they included everyone under the age of eighteen- should keep each other company. Aside from his more distant relations, this mostly meant Percy.

Though, despite his description of ‘unfortunate,’ Richard was in a much more jovial mood today than usual.

“Percy, Percy, Percy,” Richard shook his head in mock disappointment. “Even in situations like these, there are some things a man has to make sure he has taken care of- and kept away from prying eyes. Imagine if it had been your sister to have found these and not me?”

The objects in question were a series of small crystals, a sort of bastardised version of an Ioun stone that served a far less useful purpose than its illustrious cousin. Well, less useful in the eyes of those except the now bright red Percy Song. Not that Richard was judging, he had his own hidden away. But he was smart enough to keep them hidden away.

“Especially with contents like those,” Richard chuckled. “You’d be lucky if Gwen left enough of you for us to sweep up and put in an urn!”

The faux-Ioun stones could store images and were, in fact, mass produced by certain groups and sold from some less reputable vendors throughout the world. Richard sent a bit of his mana into one and an image, if a slightly fuzzy one, of a rather well endowed woman engaged in a certain solo activity appeared.

The image alone was not the problem, well, not bereft of context anyway. Gwen was not, Richard was fairly sure, naive enough to think her brother didn’t have these kind of interests. And as long as she didn’t have to deal with it, she probably wouldn’t care… Except…

“So I am just going to ask,” Richard said in conversational tone. “Why do all of these girls look like Gwen’s friend Yue?”

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About the author

vladerag

Bio: Hello! I am Vladerag the author of several stories here on Royal Road! I hope you are enjoying whatever you are reading, and I hope you check out some of my stories!

You can find them here! https://royalroadl.com/profile/76129/fictions

And if you are interested in supporting me, you can do so here as well! https://www.patreon.com/vladerag

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