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A note from Innate_Lymphoid_Cell

Thanks for reading this. This is my first attempt at writing a magical academy-type story, and I've been quite enjoying myself. It's all very low stakes for now, though, and the MC doesn't have much agency or outstanding characteristics that set him apart from the rest, and I'm aware that it's not everyone's cup of tea.

To be honest, this evolved out of a D&D homebrew setting I was playing around with, which probably explains why the 'NPCs' are more flavourful than the actual narrative character, and why the MC sounds like he can die at any time to a lucky crit from a random goblin at the moment... oops?

“This is?”

“This is,” Clarence Rhogard agreed.

“It is known.”

“It is known,” he echoed.

“Am I?”

“You are.”

“And therefore, so are you,” I said. “Hence, we are.”

“We are.”

Claire peeked over the top of the book she was reading a few tables down the common study room. “Cult gathering?”

“It is not.”

“It is not,” I concurred.

“Right. Cult gathering, then. Don’t mind me.”

At her table, Rennir Adnet snorted. “Ah, the joys of ontomancy. You don’t know how glad I am to leave those days behind.”

Seated with them were yet two more of my fellow students. Yang-Tuo was a vitalist while Lorraine Tinstock was a primaturgist. A troop of little semi-corporeal rats was flitting about their table, fetching books and snacks, a classical feat of primaturgy when paired with conjuration. Corrina’s Library Rats had been developed centuries ago in the Arcanum itself, and to this day, still faithfully served primaturgists far too lazy to perform their own errands.

“Look at you,” Claire said, sighing as she rapped her brother on the shoulder. “One day without me, and there you go joining a cult. And shame on you too, Taelin, for corrupting dear Clarence so. One of these days, I might catch him drawing heptagons to summon demons from the depths of the Abyss.”

“I already told you, you can’t draw regular heptagons with just a compass and straightedge.” What did it say about me, that I genuinely felt mildly annoyed by her statement? “And it’s not a cult.”

“It isn’t?”

“It isn’t.”

“It isn’t,” I echoed Clarence’s words.

There was a momentary pause, before Claire slammed her palm on her desk. “Alright, that’s it! From now on, I’m banning the words be, is, am, are, or any similar form of the verb! No ontomancy talk, and that’s final!”

Silence held.

“You know, a contraction still counts,” I pointed out.

Planes,” she cursed. “Now I’m being dragged into this madness.”

“‘Am’, ‘being’,” I quoted back to her, then turned to Clarence. “You know, Professor Fallrun might just have a point. I am really starting to pay attention to all these words.”

“You just wait until cogniturgy classes take us to memory modification,” Claire muttered, glaring at both of us. “I’ll remove all possible conjugations of ‘to be’ from both your minds, consequences be damned.”

“That’s fine. Professor Fallrun insists that cogito, ergo sum doesn’t matter to ontomancers. We are, because we are.”

“We are,” Clarence agreed. “Are you, dear sister?”

Abyss take the both of you,” she growled, and turned to face Lorraine, who was looking amused at the ongoing exchange. “Mind if I have some snacks?”

“Go ahead,” she said, and a helpful little spectral rat scurried over to Claire’s side.

Quintus had many different study rooms available within its grounds. I’d been fully content with staying in my room to carry out my readings and engage with my daily spell practices, but Rennir had insisted that the first day in the Arcanum was not the time to sequester myself away in my room. He’d dragged along Lorraine and Yang-Tuo, and we’d chanced across the Rhogard twins along the way, leading to our current study situation.

“Where’s Alondra, anyway?” I asked. “Don’t you guys hang out together?”

“She’s from an earl’s family, we’re from a baron’s, we don’t get to ‘hang out’ unless invited, or if a viscount acts as intermediary,” Claire responded idly, her eyes fixed on the pages of her book. “Noble family stuff, am I right?”

“She’s kind of intimidating,” Rennir admitted. “Crazy good at primaturgy, though. Whole family is. She could’ve probably made it into a college higher up the rankings.”

“Rankings?”

“Torsham’s Table,” Clarence answered. “A list of the Arcanum’s colleges ranked in order of performance of final year students in their sixth-year exams and demonstrations, weighed against number of students enrolled.”

“All colleges are equal, but some are more equal than others. New students start off pretty similar on average as the other colleges, but because other colleges are wealthier, more influential, and have access to hordes of junior arcanists eager to climb up the ladder quickly, the gap between us and the people starting at the same time in other colleges widens with every passing year,” Claire said, nodding to herself. “Quintus is right bang on the bottom of the table for the last five years, by the way. There was one year we climbed to a freak result to fourth place, and that was Quintus’ best showing ever.”

“Oh.”

Well, at least now it made sense just how it was I made it to Quintus, though my abilities were still far below the average.

“Probably why the earldom trio are being such bitter stuck-up snobs,” Claire continued. “They came to Quintus by the pool, apparently.”

“The… what now?”

“Applicants’ pool. Metaphorical, of course. Rejected applicants from each college after the interview stages get put into a giant common pool, and other colleges get to pull them from the pool as incoming students.”

The Arcanum was weird. Still…

“And this ‘earldom trio’ is…”

“Ingressa Westrun, Halrun Dalemount, and Selwyn Rastelin, each belonging to the noble and esteemed peerage of an earldom.”

“Ah.” She was obviously not fond of them in the slightest. Was there some bad blood between them? “So Quintus wasn’t their first choice, then?”

“Hah, them?” She scoffed. “No way. Westrun was going for Heraldia, and Dalemount and Rastelin applied for Farsage.”

One of the two boys in the trio was a Level 31, I remembered seeing yesterday when we’d been rounded up in the paddock, the highest level among us, and almost twice my current level.

Speaking of levels…

“Uh – bit of a change in topic of the conversation –“

“Go ahead,” Claire said, waving her hand. “Less we talk about the trio, the better.”

“Is there any proper way to increase affinities faster than simply casting spells over and over until I drain fully of mana and have to recover?”

Suddenly, they paused – my fellow two commoners along with them – and stared at me.

“Is that what you’ve been doing?”

I blinked, surprised at Rennir’s incredulous tone of voice. “Yes…?”

Planes,” Yang-Tuo swore. “How long have you been doing that for?”

How long? It had been when I first seriously considered applications to higher education, so… “About… four years now, give or take a few?”

“Four years?” Rennir asked. “That makes you, what, fourteen? You’ve been draining yourself dry of mana every day since then?”

“Well, not every day, but –“

“Planes, adolescence’s the most important time for growth in magical affinities!”

There was a sudden hushed silence.

“Uh, what?”

“How did you not know that?” Claire questioned, equally disbelieving. “Aren’t you some kind of arcana nerd?”

“The books I came across in the library said it was the best exercise,” I defended myself. “And my teachers did too!”

“Yeah, it works, technically, and yeah, eighty years or so ago, maybe that was what people did,” Claire said, shrugging. “Prevailing line of thought now is M-U-T-T. Mana Under Tension Theory.”

“Keep your mana under an active load, but don’t actively engage in releasing a spell,” Rennir helpfully explained. “Kind of weird and counterintuitive, but I swear it works. Feed mana into a spell, but don’t actually cast it, and just leave it hanging there for some time. Hurts like hell when you first start out.”

“Theory is that doing so somehow helps increase your ability to enforce your will over structured mana already in motion, and in so doing enforce a greater degree of unconscious and automatic control independent of the actual spell matrix,” Clarence said, phrasing it in terms of arcana theory. “Affinity, in other words.”

“… and you say that everyone knows this?” I asked, and turned to Yang-Tuo and Lorraine. “Even you two?”

“Yeah?” she answered. “Hey, Yang, did your school make you do that little M-U-T-T song and dance to get you to try and keep the exercises up too?”

He snickered. “Oh, yeah. Fun times.”

“How old are these books in your library back home, anyway?”

Come to think of it… I did have to dig for some time to even find them…

If I hadn’t come to realise the stark differences between the northern and southern territories of the Kingdom before, I was keenly feeling its effects first-hand right now.

“Doesn’t that make you an actual idiot savant, though?” Claire asked, looking at the others for agreement. “Before M-U-T-T became an accepted thing, the average Standard Framework level of Arcanum students was almost a full five levels lower.”

And considering that I was Level 16 now…

“Hey! You’d be right bang on the average; maybe juuust a bit lower!”

I sighed. “Am I going to be too late now?”

“The nutjobs who came up with M-U-T-T say that the benefits diminish by the age of twenty – don’t ask me why – but it can’t do any harm to start right now,” Rennir said. “Go on! Give it a go!”

I was planning to. First, however, I had a more pressing question to ask.

“Does everyone actually call it M-U-T-T?”

“Eh? What else would we call it?” he asked. “Don’t you call what you were doing M-O-M?”

“…dare I even ask what that stands for?”

“Mana Overload Method,” Claire cheerfully said. “It’s still a useful exercise, especially post-M-U-T-T, but only when done in moderation. Now go on! M-U-T-T awaits!”

One thing for sure was this – I was never going to acknowledge this method by the name they referred to it as.

As the two fields I was most comfortable with, transmutation and ontomancy would be the first of my exercises with the technique. I searched for a suitable transmutation – the chairs and table of the study room were enchanted for sturdiness and comfort, and transmuting them would require lengthy workarounds.

The glass of water that I had with me, then. Glass, and water. I had to know them, to understand them, to know them just as keenly as I knew myself. Deeper, even. For now, they still were – but soon, that would change.

I drafted a matrix in my mind, one that accounted for their existences, and the desired form that they would take. Glass was but sand, and sand was but stone. So it was, and with my ontomancy, I would make it so.

It was a routine act of transmutation. I always performed it on a regular basis, transmuting and reverting it dozens of times, until at last I drained dry of mana.

This time, however, I let it hang there. Mana flowed into the matrix. Formless mana was granted a flavour – that of ontomancy – and it yearned to make it past the matrix of transmutation, to emerge outward, to not be contained within the depths of my soul –

I held it there. It was the opposite of what I always performed. A spell stirred into motion couldn’t be stopped, unless halted by an opposite force. Such was the nature of the discipline of negation. Now, however, in the moment that formless mana gained its newest nature, but before it was stirred into motion by the spell matrix, I clamped down hard upon it, preventing it from moving.

It was – Abyss, it hurt. I grew used to the feeling of tiredness that came with being drained nearly dry of mana close to every night, but this was an entirely different kind of discomfort. It was as though my nerves were on fire, every bit of me screaming to let the spell loose, and –

My mana moved, taking advantage of a momentary lapse of weakness, and it was too late for me to stop it. The cup twisted, its topology changing, all while glass turned to grains of sand that held together without breaking apart or crumbling. They coalesced together, curling and bending, hardening into stone.

My usual transmutation took hold. The cup turned into a stone sculpture of the Twin Spires of Folkath, a landmark close to my hometown of Corden, and the water in the glass streamed along the waterfall that flowed down the Spires.

It had felt different, that was for certain. A different kind of exhaustion than simple loss of mana.

“Huh, neat,” Claire said, leaning over, poking and prodding at the end product of my transmutation. Rennir was doing likewise, inspecting it like it was a bizarre trinket. “You’re supposed to try and withdraw the mana back without letting it go, but a good try nonetheless.”

I could get used to this.

“Alright, now that you’ve had your first go at it, it’s time for you to learn the M-U-T-T song and dance for yourself, and –“

No.”

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About the author

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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