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A note from Innate_Lymphoid_Cell

I tend to get more free time to write over Christmas and the New Year. I've always wanted to write something magical academy related, and figured I should try and give it a go. Hope you enjoy!

This is a relatively slow-paced story that mostly revolves around a magical academy setting, at least for the time being, with a lot of focus on the school life aspects. Compared to other stories I have written, the stakes are lower (for now), and the MC is less accomplished, so it may not be everyone's cup of tea. 

Applications to higher magical education were invariably nerve-wracking experiences, a fact that I was becoming increasingly aware of.

I glanced at the student seated opposite me, dressed in fine formal robes emblazoned with a heraldic coat of arms I didn’t recognise. It was probably close to the fiftieth time that we had exchanged eye contact in the two hours that we’d been here, but still the corridor was just as deathly silent as it was since the admission interviews had started.

From behind the closed doors just up ahead, I felt the barest pulses of magic streaming past the warded boundaries of the enchanted enclosure. Primaturgy, I recognised after a moment of inspection. It was far more advanced than the scope taught in the curriculum back in school, and once again, the rush of nerves returned ten-fold.

Right. Coming here was a mistake. That I’d even made it past the first screening of applicants was a mistake. I stole another peek at the sole remaining applicant, and seeing that his attention was now focused on the current ongoing interview, I dared to chance the barest of scrying spells.

Level 26
Name: Unknown
Estimated mana capacity: A-
Estimated affinities: Elementalism (A), Primaturgy (B+), Vitalism (B), Ontomancy (C+), Cogniturgy (B).

Accessing such information through the System was a basic cogniturgy spell, one that all mages were expected to learn by the time they graduated from primary magical education. Together, the information provided by it made up the Standard Comprehensive Framework, and it was the most common means of categorising and grading one’s abilities in the arcane.

“You could have just asked, you know.”

I felt a slight rush of embarrassment. Much like staring at a particularly attractive person, though virtually everyone did it, it was generally considered poor manners in polite company to be caught using cogniturgy to peek at another person’s statistics.

At least the boy only seemed amused, rather than outraged. There had been no nobles back in Corden, and in an arcane academy as ancient as the Arcanum, I was half expecting to be challenged to a duel to the death on the spot, never mind that such practices had been antiquated for centuries now.

“Sorry,” I said guiltily. “Nerves must be getting to me.”

“Don’t worry, I get it.” He smiled with reassurance. “But hey, now that you’ve already taken a peek…”

Without warning, I felt a wave of foreign magic wash over me – a variation of the same spell I cast on him, I realised. There had been no attempt at subtlety in his approach, and accordingly, his version would provide a deeper inspection than mine did.

He blinked. “Level 16?” he asked aloud, surprised. “That’s kind of low for the Arcanum, isn’t it?”

I flushed. Once again, I was seriously considering abandoning these application interviews.

“Err – what I meant to say, was…” He backtracked, looking sheepish. He paused for a moment longer, searching for the right words to say. “Hey! At least your ontomancy’s better than mine! And you score pretty good on transmutation, too!”

His variation of the spell extended the basic Standard Comprehensive Framework, incorporating information on the six peripheral standard disciplines as well – Enchantment, Augmentation, Negation, Transmutation, Evocation, and Conjuration. Now that we’d both been caught looking at each other’s statistics, I figured that manners had been banished into the Planes Beyond, and it was safe for me to return the favour.

The information I’d already glimpsed returned once more as I cast the spell, this time joined by an additional line.

Estimated proficiencies: Enchantment (B-), Augmentation (B+), Negation (B), Transmutation (C+), Evocation (A), Conjuration (B-).

Evidently, he was a combat-oriented mage. Evocation and augmentation were powerful disciplines that paired well for one with his talent in elementalism.

He coughed, and returned to his posture of calm elegance that he’d been over the past two hours. “Let’s start over,” he spoke formally. “I’m Rennir Adnet, of House Adnet, elementalist. Nice to meet you.”

Adnet, huh? I didn’t recognise that particular house – not that I knew many noble families. Still, at least that meant his family couldn’t be that involved in the kingdom’s affairs.

“Taelin Korr,” I introduced myself. There was just the slightest of awkward pauses, before I continued. “Uhh – ontomancer?”

“That’s pretty cool!” He grinned. “Me; I’m pretty rubbish at it myself. Always got scolded by my tutors for sleeping when I was supposed to be contemplating the existence of – I don’t know – a rock, or something.” Then, he paused. “No offense.”

Ehh, ontology could be a pretty dry subject at times, I figured. Still, the non-magical aspects of the philosophical pursuit were a necessary foundation for ontomancy. I wouldn’t call myself talented at the art, but considering it was the core tradition with the highest affinity that I had at a B+, it would be my only saving grace at the upcoming interview.

And speaking of interviews

The door opened, and out stepped the previous candidate. Like the Adnet boy, she too was of noble birth, judging by the insignia stitched on her dress. She glanced at the pair of us for an instant, and then with perfect indifference, continued down the corridor without a word.

I half-debated whether or not to take a peek at her Standard Framework statistics as well, but decided against it. Considering what I had felt of her primaturgy earlier, if she had even a fraction of that talent in cogniturgy, she’d be able to notice the workings of my spell even without actively looking out for it.

Instead, I chanced a weaker version of the art. It was basic and barebones, but this had the advantage of being nigh-imperceivable, retrieving only the barest of information.

Level 29

Hells. I resisted the urge to swear. Almost twice my level? Was this the calibre of mages that I was supposed to compete with?

Rennir was grinning at the girl, and was about to say something, but quickly cut himself short, as the door opened once more.

“Rennir Adnet,” a calm and commanding voice intoned from within.

“And that’s my cue,” he whispered, quickly rising to his feet. “Wish me luck!”

Now, as the door slammed shut behind him – a remarkable feat of formless magic from the instructor conducting the interview – I was left alone as the final candidate in an empty corridor. With nothing but my thoughts, doubts, and increasing conviction that I absolutely did not belong in the Arcanum, I took a deep look at my own statistics in all their inadequate glory.

Level 16
Name: Taelin Korr
Mana capacity: B-
Affinities: Elementalism (C+), Primaturgy (B-), Vitalism (C-), Ontomancy (B+), Cogniturgy (B).
Proficiencies: Enchantment (B-), Augmentation (C), Negation (C+), Transmutation (B), Evocation (D), Conjuration (C).

I knew the statistics. The average successful applicant to the Arcanum had an A in at least a single affinity and proficiency. It wasn’t that I was particularly bad – I’d graduated top of my class back in Corden. The Arcanum was simply that much more competitive than a nameless school from an unknown town.

Quintus might be the newest of all the nine current Colleges of the Arcanum, but they wouldn’t be any less strict in their admissions criteria. Hells, there had been rumours spreading around even a backwater town like Corden that there had been an applicant to Heraldia who had an affinity that was past the saturation point of the Standard Framework, and they’d benchmarked them with the Keldeth’s Criteria instead to gauge their present statistics.

The corridor was silent, but my thoughts were anything but. I felt waves of energy that bore traces of elemental flavour coming from within the room, Rennir undoubtedly displaying his talent for his favoured of the five core traditions.

With only my thoughts for company, I waited.

When the door finally opened, Rennir exited with an unreadable look on his face. Judging from what I’d felt outside the room, he had probably aced the interview, but in a place like the Arcanum, there were no guarantees.

“Good luck,” he whispered. “See you in Quintus, hopefully?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. Now that it was finally my turn, my mouth felt strangely dry, and I could feel the nervousness return with a fury.

“Taelin Korr.”

And with that, I ventured into the room that had already tested dozens of my betters.

-x-x-x-

There were three examiners already seated in the room, levitating quills and parchment at the ready. They tried their best to maintain a look of interest, but after having sat through at least eight dozen of hopeful applicants, even the most disciplined of minds would grow bored. A space was cleared out before them, and I knew without prompting that it was where I was expected to stand for the initial demonstration.

“A pleasure to meet you in person, Mister Korr,” the bald mage in the middle spoke, and though his words were kind, there was a no-nonsense air about him. “I am Florian Rhones, an arcanist based mostly in the Institute of Primaturgy. My colleagues here are Priscilla Gale and Pan Zhou-Fa, junior arcanists of the Department of Enchantment and Department of Astromancy respectively.”

He gestured to each of them in turn. They looked younger than Arcanist Rhones did, but I knew that they were each powerful mages to have earned the position of junior arcanist. The woman offered a warm smile and an encouraging nod, while the man looked unflinching at myself, and I half-wondered whether he was using a cogniturgy spell I couldn’t hope to detect to take a detailed dive into my statistics. Considering the gap between us, if he were an accomplished enough cogniturgist, he’d be more than capable of reading my mind without me even knowing.

“We will begin with a series of tasks that tests your expertise with the five core traditions and the various forms of magical expression that would have been taught to you in your years of formal education,” Arcanist Rhones continued saying. “Following that, we will proceed with a more general discussion about your application.”

This was nothing unexpected. I’d already been to several interviews at other universities, and this was much the same as they had been. This, however, was the Arcanum – and I knew that their standards would be at an entirely different level.

Despite my uncertainty, I nodded. “Sure.”

With that, he looked toward the colleague at his right. Priscilla Gale took charge of the first series of tests, and I felt the faintest glimmers of hope. Enchantment was my second best of the six basic forms of arcane manifestation.

Of course, that was all relative. Judging purely by the parameters of the Universal Framework, second best for me was equivalent to second worst for Rennir.

“Whenever you’re ready, please perform a Sending Stone enchantment on this rock.”

Hmm. A cogniturgy-based enchantment. I wasn’t quite as confident in my cogniturgy as I was with ontomancy, but the spell was simple enough.

I stepped toward the demonstration table, keenly aware of the eyes of the three instructors all the while. “Any special parameters?”

“Standard casting, please.”

Holding the desired spellform in my mind, I fed mana into the system, imparting meaning unto the otherwise formless energy. Cogniturgy was a tricky art – unlike Elementalism, that called upon the essences of the Elemental Planes to shape and flavour mana, all of the work here was enforced by one’s own will.

Enunciating my words clearly – the folks back home insisted that the stuffy arcanists in the Arcanum would love that, though few of them even attended any university of the arcane – I brought the spell to life. With my words stirring magic into motion, cogniturgy flowed next into an enchantment matrix, becoming imbued into the stone instants later.

Priscilla waited a moment longer to confirm that my work was finished, before she gestured lazily toward the rock, levitating it toward her. Despite specialising as an enchanter, her cogniturgy had to be equally impressive – as she rotated the rock this way and that, carefully inspecting it all the while, I couldn’t detect any trace of her cogniturgy-based inspection.

Finally, she floated it over to me. I flashed a grateful smile, hoping that I had satisfactorily performed the first task. Next would be Arcanist Rhones, and –

“I’d like you to modify the enchantment for me, please.”

“Pardon?”

“Modify the enchantment,” Priscilla repeated, a serene look on her face. “General multi-recipient broadcast; range of ten metres.”

That… wasn’t quite a configuration in the prescribed texts used in schools, but it seemed doable enough. Those with higher affinity for cogniturgy could simply use their innate gift for the art to impose their will upon flowing magic, but I would need to fine-tune and rewrite the inscribed matrix. Broadcasting a Sending was much more taxing than a specifically directed casting, but the relatively short boundaries requested would help lower the cost of the spell somewhat.

I reached for the stone that she had levitated back to me. It took a moment of consideration, but reworking it was simple enough. A simple tweak here and there… rewrite a segment that previously directed the mana-stream toward a specific recipient…

Again, confirming that I was finished, she levitated the rock over to her. Modifying a pre-existing enchantment was never as good as creating one from scratch, and the lifespan of the enchantment had shortened dramatically. Still, I’d done as she had requested, and –

“Modify it again,” she said. “This time, I want you to make it broadcast to everyone else in this room except Arcanist Rhones.”

Again?

The requested enchantment was going to be tricky to perform, I realised. She hadn’t phrased it as a range limit – to ensure coverage of the entire room would require irregular boundaries. Imparting a block unto the mana stream to avoid one specific recipient was much more challenging than directing a message to a particular person.

What were my options? Again, someone with a higher affinity to cogniturgy would be able to have a higher degree of control over their own mana stream after it was already fed past the enchantment matrix, but I had no such luxury. Rewriting my existing boundary parameters to account for the irregular borders of the room was fine in theory, but with my initial construction having accounted only for the standard variation of the spell, doing so in combination with my other requirement would destabilise the pre-existing spellwork entirely.

My deliberation must have gone on for too long, because Arcanist Rhones cleared his throat.

“I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, Mister Korr,” he said. “And do not fret if you are unable to perform the task to specification. Part of the aims of this assessment is to test the limits of our applicants.”

“Uh…”

“Let’s break the task down, shall we?” Priscilla said. “What makes this modification different from the one you performed previously, and what are its challenges?”

“Well…” I began hesitantly, and at her encouraging nod, I continued. “The two obvious differences are the change in the spell’s boundaries and in the desired recipients.”

“Indeed.”

“Accounting for the irregular borders of the room would require a major remodelling of the pre-existing matrix,” I said. “On its own, this wouldn’t be a problem. But since I’ve already modified the matrix once, and because a simultaneous correction will be necessary to account for excluding Arcanist Rhones from the enchanted Sending, I’m worried that the matrix would overload and destabilise.”

“So it would seem.”

“I think that I could make a new enchantment from scratch,” I said, deeply aware that I was blabbering on, unsure whether the direction my thoughts were taking me was the right one. “Uh – I’m a bit more confident in my ontomancy than my cogniturgy, you see – it’d be easier to account for the room as an entity in itself through ontomancy, and define the boundary that way. I can think of a method to exclude Arcanist Rhones from the spell with an ontomancy-based approach, but…”

“But it would necessitate performing an entirely new enchantment,” Priscilla surmised. “Quite the predicament you find yourself in, Mister Korr.”

“Umm…”

“It would certainly work, and I have no doubt that you would be able to successfully perform it, given your proposed method,” Arcanist Rhones said. “But right now, unfortunately, we are looking to test your talent with cogniturgy and enchantment, as well as your ingenuity.”

But it would work, I wanted to argue. I doubted that the three esteemed mages before me would appreciate such a comment, however, and so I wisely kept my mouth shut.

“I don’t know the exact workings of it myself, but I know that there are methods of bolstering enchantments for specific use in re-enchantment,” I hesitantly said. “Helgan’s Method, I think it’s called?”

“A classic,” Priscilla agreed. “Taught in the latter half of the first year of studies in enchantment.”

She offered no advances on that suggestion, and I had no idea if that earned me any brownie points.

Again, I lapsed into silence. What other options did I have? Was this going to be down purely to my affinity with cogniturgy, or were they looking for something else?

“If you’re stumped, we can move on to the next task,” Arcanist Rhones offered.

I was about to accept and agree, hoping that I would fare better at the transmutation task, but then an idea came to me. It wasn’t conventional by any means, and I couldn’t gauge whether this approach would be any more stable than the one I had previously thought up, but…

“What about if I don’t exclude Arcanist Rhones from the mana stream?” I aired my thoughts aloud. “If I keep that section as it is, just changing the spell’s boundaries shouldn’t be enough to cause the matrix to fall apart.”

“Oh?”

“Instead, I layer a second stream on the existing enchantment, that opposes and cancels out the section of the first directed toward Arcanist Rhones. Some of kind of an… anti-Sending, I guess? A basic counter-spell like that is more Negation than Enchantment, really, but…”

“Destructive interference, hmm?” Pan Zhou-fa spoke for the first time, a brow raised. “An interesting approach.”

Both he and Priscilla weren’t subtle in the slightest as they penned down a few comments on the sheet before them. “It would be less taxing to the matrix, yes,” she concurred. “Would you like to put it to the test?”

Well, it was now or never. For the third time, I held the stone in the palm of my hand, inspecting every contour of the inscribed spell matrix. This wasn’t something routinely taught or performed in school; I had previously mostly utilised Negation to strip away enchantments or to directly counter the spells of other mages, rather than imparting a negation-based enchantment unto an object.

Inhaling deeply, I acted. The matrix shifted before me, pre-existing conduits for cogniturgy twisting and bending. The boundaries of the enchantment changed, and in parallel, the anti-Sending was incorporated into the existing structure –

With a bright flash of light, the matrix could finally bear no more, and the enchantment crumbled away.

I stared at the now mundane piece of rock in my hand. At the examiners’ table, all three of them were now writing at their parchments.

“Don’t worry about it; it happens,” Priscilla said, not even making eye contact. “Florian, do you want to handle the next task?”

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Innate_Lymphoid_Cell

Bio: Real life immunologist-in-training playing make-believe magic in a hypothetical world, when not dosing mice or crying over uninformative results.

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