La Réunion is, as far as our Divination allows us to know, the last bastion of humanity since the Beast Tides in 1970, apparently caused by the awakening of an ancient black sea dragon from its slumber. The dragon's anger caused Magical Beasts and Humanoid Magical Creatures (better known as Demi-Humans) to begin an attack that has, according to our Diviner's estimates, submerged every other Human settlement. The object of this Tome is to educate those who were not yet born about the events that allowed La Réunion to survive the Beast Tides, where no other seems to have.
Extract from “History of the Last Men”, by Tanaka Inagi, First Librarian of La Réunion
An alarm was ringing on a bedside table. Under the nearby covers, a dark-haired teenage boy groaned and flung an arm out to halt the accursed noise. After some indeterminate flailing, he successfully failed to shut it off. It was Awakening day, and he had to hurry. Saint-Denis's school was in sight of his bedroom's window, and he could already see the playground fill up with his classmates. Today, himself and 30 of his fellows would submit themselves to the process. He dressed, lost in thoughts, then put on his glasses, looked once more at his room, not wanting his clean freak of a father to "clean up" his bedroom again. He took a pair of bananas from the dining room, shot one last look in the mirror to ensure his unruly dark blond hairs were not too unkempt, then left.
Aside from his Awakening, he was worried about the fact that at least one of the children in the courtyard would soon live in his home. As there were relatively few children on La Réunion, who was inhabited by about 6000 persons, the three dozen he would soon join were the totality of the children of his age class living on the island. It was deemed a waste of resources to make schools for children above 14 years of age in all three human settlements, and thus, children coming from Le Port and Saint-Louis would be escorted through the Wildlands at the end of their 4th year before the Baccalauréat to attend the Awakening, bound with their new classmates during the dry, "cold" (no less than 25°C on the coast) winter holidays, all while living in their homes. Of course, the Council paid for their food and lodging, and, when possible, escorted them back to their families during the holidays, but the experience was said to be troubling for some, and he hoped he would have a cordial relationship with his "roommate".
The boy joined the crowd in the playground, not two minutes later, slowly walking and finishing his second banana. He saluted some of the children, found a free bench, and began rereading his “History of the Last Men”. The book was well-worn from numerous readings. It explained how a population of ten thousand Frenchmen had found itself stranded on the island of La Réunion, 30 years before. Alas, a call from the dean, amplified by a simple spell, signaled the end of his reading, not a minute after he'd opened the book.
After what was -in his opinion- an abnormally long speech, the Awakening began. And already, an excited cry came from a proctor.
"We have a high-affinity kid here! Ice Tier 3, Evocation Tier 2! Congratulations, Julia!"
Damien stared as Julia came down the stand and returned to the crowd, mainly because Julia was an old friend of his, and her family ate with him and his father at least one Sunday per month. She loved history as much as he did, and he was delighted to hear that she had the makings of a combat mage, who would be able to defend her family and the NoM population once her education was over. He knew her as a solid, dependable friend and would be happy to lay his own life in her hands if the mermen or the Beasts from the Wildland ever made it come to that.
As for himself, he didn't expect the Awakening to have any effect. His father was a Squib, a NoM born in a mage family, and his mother had been part of the militia battalion that had failed to take Saint-Louis back from the mermen and their tamed beasts in 1988, when he was still little more than a baby. His only consolation had been to know that the assault's survivors had led the following one, in 1995, and that that one succeeded, allowing the retaking of the fort and the reclaiming of the Spellbooks contained within.
"Damien, your turn!", came the proctor's voice. The boy advanced toward the stand supporting the Awakening Stones, choosing Julia's for good luck, then touched it.
He noticed the stone was still cold from Julia's own Awakening. Then, the Proctor activated it. The world exploded in sparks of white, red, black and green. He felt his hands burning from the Stone's heat, and he saw steam rising from his eyes. He remembered his numerous hours in class, being tutored on the way Awakening was meant to occur. He willed the sparks to congregate into a single, white-hot, golden Sigil.
He allowed his eyes to close only then, feeling something wet falling on his feet and hearing cracking sounds. There was a call for help. And then, nothing.
When Damien awoke for the second time of the day, he didn't flail, the pain in his hands preventing him from doing so. Doctor Ferrand was nearby, fussing over some flasks.The boy asked, "How bad is it?"
The doctor, a jovial man well-known for his habit to make fun of his medical skills, had begun officiating as Saint-Denis's second doctor only two years ago, after a long apprenticeship under the old doctor Mirand. He was considered one of the most important men of the island, one of its fourteen medical doctors with a full apprenticeship under their belts. The lack of Mages capable of healing meant that he or his colleagues had saved most of the Combat Mages at least once from death, although he had needed to petition for help from Humanity's allies on the island more than once to obtain that result.
He knelt to look Damien in the eyes, then smiled. "You were lucky. Your eyes didn't get burned. As for your hands, I'd suggest resting them for a good week if you can help it. The burns are minor, but the pain added to the Awakening was a little too much for your brain, so you shut down for fifteen minutes. I'll ask for your cognitive assessment to be postponed."
The cognitive assessment was the second threshold that would normally be passed on Awakening day. Once the necessary knowledge consisting of the School of Element which served to determine in which way the youth's magic would manifest was collected, this second assessment could be tailored to them. The young man or woman would pass it even if their Awakening had failed. They would be subjected to a series of tests to assess their reflexes, ability for critical and analytical thinking, long and short-term memory, and physical fitness, amongst other factors. Those results would be factored in with their lifetime results as students and their rivate interests to formulate several possible career paths that would allow them to live their lives to the fullest while benefiting what was left of Humanity.
NoMs would normally choose to become skilled workers of some kind, but they would still be expected to show up regularly to the barracks for exercise, as every able-bodied inhabitant of la Réunion was expected to be able to defend themself and their family, at least against the very lowest Tier of Magical Beasts, should the mages fail to contain them. Some even chose to become a permanent member of the Militia, who regularly helped Mages in fights against low-level threats.
As for Mages, they would only be limited by their talents and the resources assigned to them by the Council. High or Low-Density Mana crystals were always in short supply, even with the new mine opening at Saint-Louis. While they were not vital for training per se, Damien had been taught that they were the only thing enabling smooth progress. As such, the Council had to make choices, even amongst the relatively low number of Mages.
"Thirteen successful Awakenings this year. Not a record, but a good harvest."
Thirteen out of thirty-six. This was good news, without a doubt. But...
"Anyone as good as Julia ?"
The doctor smiled, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "The young Louis from Le Port. Tier 1 Abjurer, but Tier 3 Earth. And you. Tier 2 Enchantment. Element... Undetermined, but there are two of those."
"I am not. I've had your father notified, but he already knew from the dean. You'll need the cog chamber to know more, and as you know..."
Damien shook his head. "I'm not a mage. My father isn't, and neither was my mother. The odds of a mage being birthed from two NoMs…"
The doctor cut him off, frowning now, "Are higher on La Réunion than anywhere else, even if there are humans left somewhere else. You know this. How do you think we got from 200 mages at the Covenant's signature to 500 today? I know that you didn't expect to Awaken, boy, but you did. Now, here's a tip for you. Make good use of the holidays. Read the Primer on Enchantment, and go find Old Roland. You're the only newly awakened Enchanter for two years in a row, and he's bored in the manufactorium. He'll be happy to have a new youngster to bother, and you want to talk with him if you hope to use your School correctly. He’s no Combat Mage, but Enchanters don’t have to...”
A knock at the door interrupted them.
“Do come in.” the doctor reponded.
Damien saw his father, slightly red in the face and short of breath, enter the room. He had an enormous smile on his face. He was a medium-sized man if a bit pudgy. Like his son, he sported blue eyes and dark blond hair. However, if Damien usually had a calm and withdrawn presence, his father was an attention-magnet. His whole body-language, from his nervous looks at any timepiece in the room to his irritating habit of scratching at his nose, told that he was a perpetually nervous man.
“Congratulations, son. Enchantment is a fine School to Awaken to… I might have more trouble than usual to give you a Supplementary Crystal Assignment, but with your level of Affinity it won’t be too hard. The school of Enchantment is a crystal-sink, and we need good Enchanters to keep our infrastructure working.”
Seeing that the father and son needed privacy, Dr. Ferrand left discreetly.
“I still can’t believe I’m a mage.” Damien was feeling lost, now that the news was sinking in. “I’m not even sure I want to be one. I’ve been preparing for the post of Librarian for as long as I remember.”
Étienne de Carné’s smile dropped. “I’ll be honest, son. As La Réunion’s Intendant, if you’d awakened as a mediocre or a failed mage, like an Earth Illusionist or an Air abjurer, I would’ve been able to tell the Council that you’re useless on the field, a potential waste of crystals to train and more useful as Librarian than as a subpar battlefield operator. I may even have been able to do it had you been an Evoker with abysmal spatial awareness. But you’re an Enchanter with two unknown Elements. The island’s people need you.”
And so, Damien’s dream was shattered. He was now condemned to study what some of his peers had called the most boring School of magic, and hope that his Elements would allow him to make a discovery of some kind to benefit his people. Either that, or become and stay a 'mandala upkeep engineer' for his whole life, or, at best, a pre-combat Buffer. That would at least allow him to save some lives...