Chapter 18 – Reflection
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Announcement
Sorry about the delay. I hope it being a longer chapter helps. However I'm getting close to the 50k mark (minus announcement text) and when I do I'm probably dropping to a weekly schedule. I was honestly going to just abandon this work at first and cry in a corner at my failure, but I found a niche with some of you, and honestly? It gave me a warm glow inside when I needed it. Thank you so much.

[Emmett]

Sunday was uneventful and dreary. I had spent at least the first three waking hours in bed, staring into the ceiling in disbelief.

Friday Night was...

The Slither Of A Tongue That Wasn't Mine
Nails Piercing My Wrists

...awful.

Saturday Afternoon was alright, but then Ansel made that batshit insane quip about me being some sort of woman-imitator. I was appalled, shocked, and astonished, but I trusted him at the time.

"When you're feeling better... give that spell another go."

So I had tried, and I had figured that I'd just prove Ansel wrong by trying it the wrong way and failing.

What happened instead was I almost condemned the building in one go. All because-

Azure Light, Ghostly Wind
Her Hand Caressing That Hideous Barb

... That. Because That.

I didn't know which was worse, that I was a walking nuke, or that Ansel's horseshit idea of pulling the Æther from myself rather than the air worked. And if Ansel was able to come to that conclusion, and even a dreamer like Jessica who had no Magick commented on it...

Had... Had Patrick known? Had Patrick known before I did?! Was that why he had insisted on calling me "Emmy"?!

And Jacqueline. Jacqueline must have known, but hid it. She was my teacher, and she did want me to grow to be a strong Magus. Did she deliberately hide this from me and try to teach me the correct way for men to cast? Could I cast the right way? I'd like to: I didn't want to appropriate what was Grace's away from her. If there was a way, I would find it, I had sworn to myself.

Instead of spending the day doing homework like I was planning to do, I had instead spent most of Sunday at the General Library. Well, actually from 1PM to 4PM as they closed early on Sundays and weren't open on Endays, but I had spent the time there.

The Librarian had asked what I was after.

I had replied that I was looking for anything on how to teach a child Magick.

He had asked what I was really after, and I had answered, "I'm looking for any literature on transcasting." I had lied about it being for a Theory of Magick paper.

He had not called me out, but instead given me a scarlet red envelope, with a dark, sanguine seal. "Ser Lienne asked me to give you this when you came asking about that topic. She said to tell you to break the seal during a Squad meeting when you're ready to risk your life, and that she'd know when you did."

I had asked how long ago she'd written this.

"I received this on Wednesday." So literally my first day of classes. "If you want any real books on it, you will need to visit the Library of Water, which you can't as a remedial. Even if you somehow survive the program, it's only open to Students of Water and their guests."

He had walked me through the shelves and pulled out a few small picture books about spellcasting. Apparently these were for if Magus society vanished completely, and an adolescent or child Magus were to discover the Libraries somehow in that barren future. I had read them over, taken a few notes, and been sent home at 3:55.

I had spent the remainder of that night running loops around the games field in the Eastern Outer Ring (Apparently the Northern Outer Ring was reserved for official use only) to distract myself from everything, to no avail. Before turning in for the night, I had tried casting the glowy-light spell a few times and found myself blocked by my thoughts, mostly of Jessica.

I had turned in and cried myself to sleep.

It was now high noon on Enday, Eighth of Ninth, and I had gathered my books and supplies. On my way to lunch, I smiled at the notion that I would have the least problem with the Refrain despite my increased knowledge of Magick.

Ansel walked past me on my way out, and gave me a wave. "Hey Em!" he said cheerfully.

I nodded, and gave an empty wave.

He went on with his day. I was glad. I didn't want to deal with him right now. I had this meeting to worry about, then all the homework I procrastinated on, for all my classes. I still didn't know how I was supposed to react to that experiment he had me do, and I didn't want to bother him with my own insecurities.

Luckily I had something to occupy my attention for the Squad Meeting. Unfortunately, it was that Samael never actually informed me where it was.

I had a hunch though, and made my way to the First Floor of the Student Centre. I killed two birds with one stone by patrolling up and down the meeting rooms, both for exercise and to make myself easily visible to anyone looking for me.

"We're in Room 5," said Grace from behind me. I turned around and followed her, crossing the plaza of study tables to our destination.

I sat at the rectangular table, on the opposite corner from Grace. Samael was already present, writing on some papers, probably doing homework.

I had some homework, so I started doing the same.

"This a study hall?" asked Grace, pulling out her books as well.

"It can be," said Samael, "We are students. We should not let our victory get to our heads: remember our failure to repair the mine structure."

"Fair enough," she said, and the three of us had started in on our homework.

Later on, Patrick finally arrived and took his seat next to Samael. "Alright Sam, you brought us all in here. What's up?"

Should I bring up the scarlet letter? Now? Or later? What are we even doing here?

"Well, Feylance requires us to do a retrospective meeting on our mission, and look over some upcoming assignments to see if we're up to tackling them. So first the retro: what did we do well?"

"If I may," Grace started, "we demonstrated excellent teamwork. You and I were on-point for the evacuation of the personnel, Patrick and I executed on a clever if hasty plan, and Emmett got me out of there when I went over my limit."

"I concur," Samael said, "And I was surprised that Emmett was able to contribute despite his lack of ability. Anything anyone else would like to add?"

"We were in and out in a day," Patrick said, "That counts for something!"

"Indeed it does." Our Squad Leader smiled. "Anything you'd like to add, Emmett?"

I shook my head.

"Okay-"

"Oh wait I do." I watched Samael stop talking. When he nodded, I continued, "I like how we waited until after everyone was safe before we tried blasting the tunnel with fire."

"Yeah no shit," Patrick chimed, "We're not gonna burn innocents!"

"You think it's obvious Patrick, but it really isn't." Grace focused her eyes on him. "What Squad Leader said about humility and not letting our victory fill our heads is real. People can die if we're arrogant, even in a non-combat mission. I feel, that's why Feylance hand-picked that as our first: to remind us of the mortality we all share, Dreamer and Magus alike."

I hummed in agreement, and noticed that everyone else had as well.

Samael scrawled a few more notes. "Alright, that concludes what we did well; now let's talk about failures."

Patrick seized the initiative. "We didn't actually beat the optional objective; we tried, and we failed."

"The objective was optional," Grace replied, "and I imagine our client was very touched that we tried. If I may address a proper failure, Emmett needs to take some lessons in conduct around women."

"Well," Samael said, "Some training in professionalism is in order; one usually doesn't enter into relations with the client. It creates a conflict of interest."

"I-"

"Don't try to defend yourself, Emmy; Jacqueline was doing us all a favor keeping an eye on you back in Charade Gin."

"I wasn't going to," I said bluntly.

"Let Emmett speak," said Samael, "If we push him out, we'd be one short of acceptable squad size, and it is much easier to secure loyalty from those we treat as adults."

I let out a drawn-out sigh. I noticed the thinly-veiled insults, but without standing to defend with, I had to let it pass. "A professional etiquette class would be useful for me. I was recently informed by a friend, for example-"

"Oh he would, just... not money."
"Em, she was flirting."

I pushed on, "that Jessica wasn't serious when she said I'd have to pay a price for our stay at the Dying Canary."

"Oh grow up," Grace spat, "No self-respecting woman would ever charge sex as a price of admission; any civilized man would-"

"Emmy isn't," Patrick interrupted.

Grace glared at him.

"I was taught manners by our mentor, Jacqueline. She knew I was going to come here someday. Emmy? He wasn't going to need those. He was going to stay as her errand boy and farm for the village. He just chose to run the fuck away from home because CVAC invited him to the entrance exam. He's completely in the wrong even by being here."

"Enough, Patrick," Samael commanded.

"Jacqueline..." Grace tasted the name for a second before looking at me. "Emmett, may I speak with you privately after this meeting?"

I shrugged. "I shouldn't, considering how thoroughly you seem to despise me, but I want to keep our Squad from killing each other, so I will."

"Thank you," Grace and Samael said in unison, with Samael adding on, "Do you have any contributions?"

"I failed to meaningfully contribute to the primary objective in any way," I replied, "I need to figure out my Magick. I also failed to suggest that Patrick and Grace review their plan for the optional objective before Patrick went and started it."

Samael shook his head. "You did more than expected. Patrick started in too quickly, and didn't inform anyone of his plan. Patrick, I ask you to please coordinate in the future. However, I commend your instinct; and Grace, your cooperation; and Emmett, your conscientiousness in carrying Grace out of danger."

"Thank you," we all said. It was nice to receive some level of appreciation.

Samael pulled some additional papers out of a folder. "Alright, I received some dire news and browsed the mission boards for some additional tasks we can, and picked out some ones we can't because of our current status."

Patrick sighed. "Alright, bad news first."

I nodded in agreement.

"Very well." Samael cleared his throat. "Etsies have been gaining traction here and in neighboring provinces. Apparently Ser Ten overheard them saying Aegis is gathering recruits all the way in Zelten Plar."

"Oh FUCK That!" Patrick swore, "We're taking the fight to them and torching their arses!"

"We are nowhere near ready!" Grace shouted, "We're first-years!"

"I'm a second-year," Samael corrected, "But her point stands. The Emissaries-"

Oh: Emissaries of Total Salvation, ETS, Etsies.

"-are a quasi-military organization, with a lot of members having been trained by ex-Seminary and Eldest Crusaders. it is utterly foolish to think we stand a chance as we are now. If Aegis is all the way in Zelten Plar, he's probably thinking to take Indis Rey, then cascade. Indis Rey to Crah Singard to Capi Talis to Im Ti to New Bezoun, hang a west through Iner Sept and Kerdin Khal right into Can Vahs. We're sitting ducks if we don't train now, and that means combat missions."

"But we're Service-Coded!" Grace protested, "And Emmett can't fight!"

"Correct," Samael said, "We need to become Combat-Coded. Normally I'd just ditch Emmett and replace him, but our conditions say we can't do that, so I propose a two-pronged approach. We need to accept as many missions as our class-load allows to gain reputation, and we need Emmett to get over his Magick block. Given you're all firsties, you need to keep up your classwork, so we will probably only have Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to do missions. Remember no casting on Respite, so Endays are our meeting days."

"Sounds good to me," I said, "What missions do you have picked out for us?" I had thought about whether to open the Red Envelope yet, but if I was going to receive training, it could wait.

"May I?" Grace asked, taking the papers and looking over them. "Hm, search out a missing wedding ring deep in a cave network; that could work. There's also helping build more houses in Golden Pal- let's avoid that one."

Everyone nodded. I got some looks when they saw me agree. "You won't believe me if I say why."

"Right," Grace said, "moving on. Huh, apparently someone way out in Kerdin Khal wants help finishing out a Spell Circle. Probably lucrative but very book-heavy. Would give us reasons to bring library books with us, and Emmett can even help! And finally, someone in Red Flare's looking for some Magickal performers to give a light show with fire and Æther."

"That sounds fun," Patrick said, "I could get a lot of mileage out of that; we all could."

"Yes," Samael said, "Though I'm more inclined to go for Option 1." He gently takes the paper back. "First, it's not in Golden Palette or Red Flare, which, let's be honest, Red Flare is the entertainment capitol of Can Vahs. No, this cave mission seems to be in Stormingcalm. Which is... unusual: that's where a lot of our alumni and staff live. They shouldn't need a mere Service Squad. This may be an opportunity to get additional pointers from professionals. And if we don't get that one, we should go for the Circle assistance."

I nodded. "Sounds like a plan."

"We should put in for Red Flare just in case," Patrick said.

"Agreed," Grace said, "But no Golden Palette."

I nodded. "No Golden Palette."

"No Golden Palette." Samael put the folders away. "I think that concludes official business. Libraries are closed today, but Emmett?"

"Yeah?"

Samael turned to me, "Whenever you're not in class or on mission, I want you practicing as many different ways as you can think of to try to get an actual spell developed. Use any and every resource you can: beginner guides, advanced guides, men's guides, women's guides, practice with a friend, asking for a teacher's office hours, I don't care. As soon as you can cast literally anything, we can build a training regimen to make you not completely useless."

"Sounds..." I shivered a moment, but nodded. If Aegis was making moves again...

I thought back to the raid on Charade Gin.

I had betrayed Jacqueline by running away.

I had to atone.

I tightened my fist and nodded. "I'll try my best. This is uphill for me too, and I doubt a lot of people will want to associate with me after they heard the rumors about me and Jessica."

Patrick smirked, and Grace tilted her head just a little downward.

"Well, I think that concludes our meeting." Samael gathered up his papers. "I'll put in the requests with Feylance, and would you like to study together afterward? I can try to lease the room for another hour. In the meantime, Emmett and Grace should take the time for their talk."

"I don't mind." I didn't; studying was studying, and I had homework to do.

"I'll run and get my things." Patrick stood up and jogged out of the room.

Grace looked to me. "Let's stay here for now and hold the room while Samael handles the paperwork."

Samael stood up and turned to the exit. "Good meeting everyone. Let's get to work."

When he left, he closed the door, and Grace changed seats to the one across from me.

"You wanted to talk to me?" I asked, in honest confusion. Grace had made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with me.

"I want to apologize."

Wait. "What?"

"I accused you of lying about having a feminine mentor. You were telling the truth. I treated you with more hostility than your actions warranted. I am sorry."

"Um..." I blinked. Where was this coming from?

"I did complain to a few friends about your behavior, and if you noticed people avoiding you, that's also probably my fault. Charade Gin was in ruins, right?"

"Yes," I said, "My years as an adolescent were spent repairing the village with what few survived after Aegis's raid."

"So you wouldn't have known, because you were never intended to leave." Grace took a slow breath. "Alright. I'm still upset with you, but I'm not furious anymore. However, I do owe you a favor, so you may ask, as long as it is appropriate and something I can reasonably do."

"Can I ask for some information and a small favor?"

Grace shrugged. "I don't see why not, but if I don't know the information, researching it counts as your favor."

"Sounds fair." I gave my arms a stretch, then continued. "Do not research this, but I'd like to know if you have any advice for pushing negative memories out of your thoughts, especially ones that make you shake and stop everything."

"You've suffered a trauma."

I tilted my head. "How did-"

"Emotionally impactful moments leave recurring marks, but if the mark hinders you, it was bad emotions. May I ask?"

"Um... sure."

"When was the event you kept recalling?"

I opened my mouth to speak, but the air caught in my throat.

"Recent enough or severe enough that you still can't express it directly, then. You don't have to push yourself."

I shook my head. "I want to say it, but... something won't let me."

"I've treated you horribly; this is honestly expected." Grace clasped her hands together. "Let's move on to the favor, if you don't mind. I'd rather not stay in debt to you, and I can write you a list of topics to research after for meditation, free of charge."

I nodded, and took a moment to think. I wanted the favor to be something helpful, but not something frivolous. Not too much, but... not something obviously bad.

Did I have a favor I could ask her that would benefit her as well?

I looked to my hand. I remembered Ansel saying something about biofeedback, and tracking where my Æther came from.

He said I transcast, that I sourced my energy from within, not without.

Grace was a full and proper woman. She should be able to help with this. Maybe.

Plus, it would help me on my goal, assuming I could clear the hurdle that was thinking about Jessica.

I took a deep breath in.

"Alright," I breathed out, "Could I ask you to take a look at my Magick under Æthervision?"

"That's... an interesting request," Grace said, "May I ask why?"

I nodded. "I want to see if you notice anything strange. I had a friend look at it and I get the feeling I'm casting it wrong."

I specifically did not say who the friend was or that he thought I was a transcaster.

"Hm." Grace's mouth curled into a gentle smile. "Alright. I'll do it. What am I looking for?"

I smiled. "Thank you. You're looking for anything weird in how the Æther is handled, so anything you can find that suggests I'm messing up the flow. So how it's being sourced, how it's being shaped, how it's being expelled, and anything your professional judgment deems valuable to look at."

Grace nodded. "Very well. Thank you, for expending your favor early." She closed her eyes, breathed, and opened them with the azure glow. "You may begin."

I nodded. I held my hand out, took a slow breath in-

Azure Light
Spell Circle
Jessica-

No. Begone, thoughts. This was a critical moment. This was the moment I was going to get powerful advice from a particularly talented Magus, and start figuring out how to cast Magick correctly, and not make a mockery of the feminine style.

I was going to do this.

I thought back to the confident energy we had at Iron My Right, when my torchlight spell was actually helpful.

I breathed out, curled my fingers, and coated my hand in azure glow.

Grace fiercely gazed upon it. The beauty of it moved me: she gave off this aura of relentless calculation. I knew the moment she discovered what I did wrong, I would finally start my journey to becoming a proper Magus.

I saw her eyes widen.

"Oh my heavens and havens..."

"What is it?" My smile grew. I was finally about to connect the dots.

"You... you transcast."

My smile contorted into a frown. "Yes, I figured out that much."

Grace slammed her hand on the table. "Then what was this about?"

"How do I stop fucking it up and start casting corre-"

"Emmett Sinclair."  I froze at my full name. "You need to listen to me right now. You transcast. Your Magick is as a woman's. Like mine. You cannot, and will never, cast in the masculine style. If you were a Two-Spirit like Ser Linn you could, but if you were, you'd not have been flailing useless for five years despite formal training."

"So... pulling Æther out of the air..."

"Is impossible for you," Grace finished my sentence, "Not difficult, not 'unheard-of,' actually not fucking possible. I- I understand why you compared your Magick to mine now. I didn't know. I'm sorry."

"I didn't either." I stared into the light. "It wasn't until you yelled at me that I even knew women cast differently at all, and it was Saturday when-"

My eyes widened in shock.

Samael opened the door.

Saturday. Not Yesterday. Today was Enday.

Fuck Fuck Fuck

"Emmett Kill The Spell!" Samael screamed.

"Oh Fuck It's Enday!" Grace leapt back in horror.

I felt every hair on my body stand. The ghostly wind returned. The glowing light blazed into a lance of energy and bored into the ceiling above.

An alien howl warbled through the building, and the floor shook beneath me.

I snatched my fist closed to pull the Æther back, and the spell dissipated.

It was too late. There was a hole in the ceiling, and I heard a wall smash down in front of me, behind the wall my eyes were pointed at, but not reading.

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