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Dearest Mom, Dad, and Kay,

Sorry for the delay from the previous letter. It’s been two days since I began studies in the Arcanum, and its reputation definitely isn’t unearned. I’ve had my first day of classes – ontomancy and transmutation – and the Arcanists here are nothing like the tutors we have back home.

Did you know that one of them actually created a pocket dimension that encompassed an entire lecture hall? Another transmuted all our seats into a multi-tiered series of concentric circles, before changing that into a spiralling double helix, and then back to its normal configuration without displacing so much as a single speck of dust. Just thinking of how precisely he had to map out the changes in topology and account for differences in the polyhedral characteristic… it’s simply amazing. I wish you could all be there to see it. You’d definitely love it here, Kaylene.

The northern cities are also different from Corden. The lower nobles are actually more grounded with the commonfolk than I thought they would be. I haven’t yet met anyone coming from a peerage any higher than an earl, but so far they all seem like a reasonably nice bunch.

I’ve made some… well, I’m not sure if we’re really friends, but at least reasonably decent acquaintances, I guess. They’re northern folk, so far – I haven’t yet met any southerners in Quintus. Still, they’re nice people, though a few of them can get on my nerves sometimes. Don’t worry, I’m getting along with them just fine.

I’ll hope to write to you again soon-ish. I considered a long-distance Sending to communicate back home, but I can’t cast it myself, and it costs too much to hire a cogniturgist to help me with it. I’ll deliver this by the usual post network; hopefully the cogniturgist that enchanted the carriage hasn’t messed up with his spellwork, and it doesn’t mistake Corden the town for Cordin the village again this time…

Well, if it gets delivered – and hopefully it does – I’ll try and write again within two weeks. Don’t worry about sending an allowance over; Quintus apparently is rich enough to cover basic accommodation and meal costs at no charge.

Well. Till next time, then. Hoping to see you soon? There’s technically a term break in ten weeks, but it’ll only last for a week. The journey south might take a bit too long to head down and visit.

OH. I almost forgot. Kaylene, you need to start doing this exercise the northerners call M-U-T-T. I’ll enclose the details in a separate attachment along with this letter.

Best,

Taelin

-x-x-x-

The second day of classes at the Arcanum, and it was finally time to begin what I came here for.

Arcana, arcana; glorious arcana!

There were, apparently, only two people in Quintus taking Part IA Major Arcana. Arietta Marrow was a vitalist who was also taking minors in augmentation, enchantment, and conjuration.

So it was that Claire informed me, anyway – while I’d continued on studying for most of the night, she’d gotten bored and left at some point, only to later come back about an hour and a half later claiming proudly that she’d found ‘one of my fellow kind’ and that ‘I wasn’t alone anymore’. I had no idea how she came across this information, but I wouldn’t be surprised if by this point, she already knew everything about the lives of all our peers, without even using cogniturgy to harvest such information.

I didn’t see a point in waiting for this mysterious Arietta to head off to the Department of Arcana together. I didn’t have the time to go around exploring the Institute of Ontomancy the day before, and now that arcana was my morning lecture, I had all the time in the world to see what sort of madness and beauty lurked in the Department.

Arcana was the philosophy of magic, but it was also the art of magic. The questions it sought to address were the origins of magic, its ontologies and purposes, and how all magic could be unified into a coherent and elegant model. It had many different subdisciplines – systematics in itself being an applied subdiscipline of numeromancy – and each of them was associated with a single division in the Department.

And, Planes be damned, it was bewildering.

The Division of Phonesis – the group that sought to understand how the active and passive presences of sounds affected the workings of magic – had murals of all sorts of musical instruments on display. There were motifs that I recognised, ones that pertained to the harmonic intervals and the constructive and destructive interference of magic, and then there were many more that I couldn’t even begin to make any sense of.

Likewise, Kinesis and Physis – the branches of arcana that dealt with the somatic and material components that altered the effects of spells – each had their own Divisions with their own unique designs. Then there was numeromancy, that was further split into Theoretical and Applied Divisions. Various exhibits of arcane curiosities were displayed, and I had to force back a gasp when I found myself face to face with an original sample of orichalcum ore dating back to over four hundred years prior, the first time that exotic materials had ever successfully been retrieved from far-off places across the Astral Sea that divided systems of the Material Plane.

There were things I wanted done here, once I settled myself into the routine in the Arcanum. Beyond just looking deeper into Systematics, there were other branches of Arcana that I wanted to know more about. Already, having just learned that I had been inefficiently honing my magical affinities over the past several years, I was planning a long trip to the library to see if the Arcanum’s esteemed Professors of Arcana had any thoughts of their own regarding such training, that wouldn’t be found in an old, mouldy tome gathering dust in Corden.

By the time I had my fill of admiring the Department’s various sections, and finally decided to begin making my way to the lecture hall, I made it in with several minutes until the lecture was due to begin. Other students were already in attendance, and I now fully understood what Florian Rhones had mentioned during my admissions interview – Major Arcana was definitely much less popular than its competing courses.

Compared to the several hundred students that attended the transmutation and ontomancy lectures, there were only a few dozen first years reading Major Arcana. Most were, well…

I didn’t want to throw stereotypes, particularly since I was one such person taking the course – but they were peculiar, would be the polite term. There were certainly more students sitting by themselves, although there were several groups of students loudly laughing and chatting away. Several turned their heads as I entered the room, the noise of the door opening likely having caught their attention, but they quickly returned to their own devices soon enough. For the most part, it seemed that the people here were perfectly content with having some nice morning rest and relaxation, and awaiting what would surely be an eye-opening lecture.

Yes, these were my people. Kindred spirits, unlike the people back home. These were the souls who would understand the fascination we all held toward numeromancy, and who would seek to unravel the veil that masked the mysteries of magic.

These were the people who would understand that regular heptagons couldn’t be constructed with compass and straightedge, and I knew of a particular few individuals who could stand to learn from their examples.

I chose a seat for myself, somewhere close to the back few rows. It didn’t take too long for our lecturer to show up, and unlike her colleagues in the other Departments, she didn’t choose to begin her first lecture with a dramatic display of the potency of her magic.

She stepped from the entrance of the lecture hall that fed directly to the stage and podium, and blinked, looking surprised as she made it past the doors and came face to face with several dozen students peering down at her.

Then, she smiled brightly, and waved her ink-stained fingers toward us.

“Hey!” she called out. “First year Major Arcana? Come on down to the front rows! We’ve got plenty of free seats; we’re expecting only fifty-two of you today!” She inhaled deeply and sighed with contentment. “Fifty-two! We’ve got a bumper crop of students this year!”

Slowly, I made my way down the steps, joining others who were shuffling toward the front rows. The lecture hall was far larger than was necessary, but considering how popular Minor Arcana was as an option of study, it would probably be packed with students in other lectures.

“Try and fit yourselves into the first three rows!”

A second round of shuffling ensued, as we jostled and bunched up, filling up the empty gaps that had been deliberately left between groups of students. When at last we were seated and ready, the first Arcana lecture began in earnest.

“So! Part IA Major Arcana!” She began with enthusiasm. “For several of you, rigorous study into the discipline of arcana may be an entirely new experience, but fret not; fret not! You’ll be spending plenty of time with us here in the Department, and in this first year of studies, what we will be covering is a broad overview of the various branches of arcana. But before that…”

She looked around the room, her eyes moving predatorily. Suddenly, she stopped, and pointed. “You!”

The student she singled out stood up, evidently confused.

“What’s your favourite part about arcana?”

“Uh – I don’t know, maybe Kinesis…?”

Her eyes narrowed, as she studied him intently, but then nodded. “Yes, yes; I can see that… you do strike me as one who could easily belong among the Spell-Dancers of the Kthal’ak Plains…” she muttered. “Your name and College?”

“Vellum Randier, ma’am. From Newhold.”

“I see. Well, thank you, Vellum,” she said, and then turned to her next victim. “And you! Your turn!”

“Spellcrafting, Arcanist Vesper.”

So that’s her name, I thought to myself. Was she a particularly famous individual? I didn’t know – but if she thought it to be odd that the noble student she’d called out recognised her, she didn’t give any visible reaction.

“Ah, of course. A classic. Well, you’ve definitely made the right choice signing up for this course,” she said. “Name and college?”

“Davinor Mulbright, attending the Lyceum.”

She nodded, and turned away. “Next one! Another volunteer, please!”

She waited for a moment. “No one?” She clicked her tongue in mock disapproval. “Well, I suppose I’ll pick on my students from Musehearth, then. Sidian Hallflower, you’re up!”

Musehearth. One of the nine Colleges in the Arcanum. Was she one of the supervisors there, or possibly even their Director of Studies?

“I want to expand on my family’s tradition with Bardic magic.”

“Ah, yes, the Hallflowers were historically one of the primary driving influences for the development of the field of Phonesis. One of the oldest enduring bloodlines from the day, and it’s glad to see that the tradition lives on,” she said. “Let’s see… how about… you!”

“Restaria Corwind, from Starhaven,” the girl answered. A noble, I noticed from the coat of arms on display. “To be honest, I was going to take evocation instead, but my Director of Studies advised that arcana would be more appropriate for major study if I wished to proceed on to take Astromancy for specialised study in later years.”

“Ah, an aspiring astromancer!” She nodded with approval. “Yes, I do believe you’ll soon find that you’ve made the right decision. When working with aether fields half the Astral Sea away, a firm grounding in numeromancy and an understanding of magic at its very core is of far greater importance than learning the many different ways to shoot a blast of arcane power!” She paused, then leaned in conspiratorially. “Don’t tell the folks over in the Department of Evocation that, of course.”

She twirled, and proceeded down the other end of the room, heading toward my direction. “Let’s see… maybe one or two more? You, today’s your lucky day!”

The unfortunate student made to reply. “I’m Damien Farghast, from Lumeris, and uh… I was actually hoping to take Arcana this year, and switch to Warding when it opens up next year…”

She smiled serenely. “And you certainly wouldn’t be the first! Yes, the discipline of Warding is a very integrative one, and the skills and mindsets you learn in this year of Major Arcana will definitely serve you well.” She paused, and tilted her head curiously. “Farghast, you said? You wouldn’t happen to know someone by the name of Kesten Farghast?”

“My brother,” came the sheepish reply.

“Ah! Brilliant, brilliant student,” she praised. “Such a shame that he went on to Planar Studies, rather than continuing his focus on Arcana. Still, he seems to be doing rather good for himself these days! Two successful expeditions to the Far Planes, or so I hear?”

He nodded, slightly embarrassed.

“Well, I do hope to get to know you just as I did your brother when we begin supervisions in the Department after the first set of lectures,” she said. “But for now, hmm… you!”

And, of course, it just had to be me.

“I’m Taelin Korr, from Quintus,” I introduced myself nervously. “I guess I’ve always been interested in going deeper into numeromancy.”

“Ah, yes! The oldest branch of arcana – and perhaps, some will argue – the purest!” She beamed. “Any part of the field in particular?”

“Well… I quite like Sacred Geometry, and I guess… maybe Systematics?”

She raised a brow. “A curious combination,” she said. “One is widely considered the ancestor of numeromancy as a whole - perhaps even all of arcana - and the other is possibly the most recent to be recognised as a branch of applied numeromancy in its own right.”

She fixed her gaze on me for a moment longer, inspecting me carefully, before she turned away to address the class.

“We have heard from six of your fellow students, and as we have found, they all have very different reasons for attending this class! And that is precisely what we will be covering in this first year of study! What we will endeavour to do is give you a broad overview of the discipline as a whole, while imparting the skills and techniques necessary for a thorough analysis if you choose to go deeper into the subject. Even if you do not, I have no doubt that you will greatly benefit from considering how other disciplines fundamentally relate to arcana at their very core, and will grant you unique insights into these various disciplines that your peers may not fully be able to appreciate.”

Arcanist Vesper returned to the front of the lecture hall, and began to conjure a series of images to serve as lecture aids.

“Rather than going deep into the theory for the first lesson, today, what I want to do instead is to paint a picture of how arcana has evolved over time. From the wisdom of the ancients, to our observations of how Outworlders from the Far Planes utilise magic in their own unique ways, in the next hour and a half, let us take a journey through time and space, and see for ourselves just how little we have yet discovered of the truest depths of magic.”

She paused meaningfully.

“Without further ado, let us begin.”

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A note from Innate_Lymphoid_Cell

Hope you've been enjoying this so far. Again, this is much slower paced than most of my other stories, and the MC less accomplished, so hopefully that doesn't throw you off too much.


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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