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A Male Shaped by Four Females

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Beatrix von Wetgen, having dressed for the day in her increasingly worn school robes, sighed. There were many things to like about Morvidus College – where else could nature lovers such as she was find solace and friends? – but one thing that she definitely did not like about it was the fact that the exam in revision magic was only three days before the final end of the school year – and the last exam that first year students would have to sit through. Non-Morvidus students could goof off a bit during such exams, she figured, but conscientious Morvidus students such as she was had to put in much effort during the exam – otherwise, their marks and their standing within the college would suffer.

So, rather than visiting Professor Pachait to see whether he could give her guidance about an upper year project, planning a hike for the fine Kaliri day, or even trying to sleep until just before the bell summoned students to their exam, Beatrix had decided to do some studying before breakfast. She went down to the common room, brandished her wand, and began writing some phemes. A good thing about revision, she thought, is that it is so easy to practice upon your own body.

She was just thinking about whether to try to change her hair length or her nose shape – and debating whether she should let worry that that Vettor Conta might ambush her and turn her hair wet shape her decision – when she heard footsteps passing behind her, along with muttering.

Wand at the ready, she whirled around, only to see, to her considerable embarrassment and joy, Ross Moon. Embarrassment because she knew from her own adventures with her fellow Morvidus student that he had no desire to harm her, and joy because he, through his fine writings about natural philosophy with her, had established a very firm friendship that she knew that others must be spreading rumours about. “Ross? What are you doing? Planning to read about Selamor? If you are, I cannot help you – I must study.”

Ross smiled faintly at her invocation of their on-going joke, then grew sombre. “I wish that I could read about Selamor, especially with your help. But I am counting paces from here to the Library of the Mantle of Stars.”

Beatrix groaned. Knowing what she did about Ross’s senior student, she had an idea why he was doing this. “Let me guess – Bad Eliana wants to meet Good Eliana, but cannot be bothered to do it unless she knows how many paces she must walk?”

“If only it were that simple. I have been told that diplomacy will be very important for my last task from her tomorrow – even Bad Eliana’s friends take pity upon me – so I must, after the exam, spend the rest of the day in the Library of the Mantle of Stars reading about diplomatic matters. Maybe I will not have to engage in diplomacy after all of this, but I at least want to be prepared. But by knowing the paces, I can keep my mood up when I return from the Library of the Mantle of Stars to bed tonight.”

Beatrix slowly reached forth an arm and patted Ross upon the shoulder. “Never let it be said that you are not gaining a wide variety of experience from your extra-curricular activities. Not only did you defeat a witch coven, but now you must negotiate with a witch.”

Ross laughed. “If only I were so lucky. But Bad Eliana, mage or witch, does not negotiate with me. She speaks and I do!”

Ross walked off, muttering what Beatrix presumed were numbers. Before Beatrix settled upon the revision spell that she would cast upon herself – making her nose one eighth of one inch longer – she found time to think that, given all of the other issues that Ross was facing, it was perhaps for the better that he thought her to be merely a hunter’s daughter.
Pelia was standing outside the Revision classroom, trying to analyze the traces of magic that she had seen while walking to this place, and hoping that no-one would think her foolish for trying, based upon what she heard from within the classroom, to decide what revision the other students were using. So many people would dismiss such thoughts as childish imagination, she thought. But I am more than a child.

“Um, miss?”

The slow, morose voice of Walking Talking Sneezing Bear pulled her out of her reverie, and she grunted. When one wanted to be recognized as an accomplished mage who was more skilled than the best of the first-year students struggling their ways through phemes that she understood as if born with such knowledge, talking to a stuffed toy bear was not the best way to be seen in such a way. Still, he was her friend, of sorts, and had her best interests in his – heart? mind? assemblage of stuffing and magic? – whatever it was.

“Yes, Walker?” It was at least somewhat more dignified – as well as briefer – to call the bear Walker. Humans had names such as Walker. Humans also could create as well as destroy Walking Talking Sneezing Bears, so why not change their names? It was even easier than turning apples into gold for her.

“Miss?” Walking Talking Sneezing Bear’s voice seemed slightly louder. Was she really so eager to avoid talking to him in public that she was trying his patience? Pelia supposed that she was. It was so amazing to be within the Academagia, and she really did not want to play into any child’s roles. Still, he was impatient, so why not speak to him? She flashed the signal that she was listening.

“Why are you here, miss? The students are writing exams, so the professor who helped us is supervising the students. We would be better working at our laboratory or trying to meet an alchemist.”

“I want to see what the Academagia is like, Walker. I’ve been here so rarely.”

“And even more rarely with –”

A tolling bell’s indication that classes were over for the period cut Walking Talking Sneezing Bear off – and spared her from having to interrupt his revealing embarrassing things about her. But then the classroom door opened and students began walking out in their variety of college robes. When Pelia saw Ross Moon, her heart faltered. Had her tutoring not been sufficient to help him be the top student in the class? He did not look like he was feeling the happiness that Pelia vaguely imagined would be associated with being the best student in the class, although he appeared to be trying to accept sympathy from a smiling brunette young woman with braids. Pelia wondered whether all of his female friends had brunette braids. Still, she had better things to do than try to cheer up Ross or ask about his other brunette braided companion. She and Walking Talking Sneezing Bear moved against the line of exiting students until they were at the classroom’s doorway, at which point she saw Professor Aventyrare, seated at her desk.

Then, with a smile that she would not have made if she had not felt it – thanks to Walking Talking Sneezing Bear, Pelia knew that tact and politeness were not her strong points – Pelia said, “Professor, I enjoyed being present while the exam was happening. Will it be useful?”

“It’s always good to know something about changes before they happen,” Professor Aventyrare replied. “Attending school and writing exams will be a major change for you – even without…”

Her voice trailed off, and Pelia decided that she was not in the mood for doubt or hesitation. Professor Aventyrare was, though, so she had to push ahead.

“Well, by going here, I will be fulfilling my dream,” she said.

“Really?” Professor Aventyrare’s eyes fill with tears.

“Maybe, maybe not. But I want to learn more about alchemy, and this is the best place outside my laboratory to do so, seeing that I speak no Merilien.”
Lisle Aventyrare was not surprised to see a student walking across campus late at night. She still remembered, with a mixture of deep fondness and profound embarrassment, some of the antics that she had engaged in as a student while celebrating the last exam of the school year. Perhaps it was this very experience, as well as her unwillingness to hide her past as a boisterous student with the same thoroughness that other professors had, that had resulted in her being assigned to patrol the campus tonight. Regardless of her past or why she had been sent here, however, she would punish the student if the student deserved it.

With a shout, Lisle approached the student, bracing against the possibility that she might have to pursue the student. The student, however, did not run, but merely gave a listless wave of a hand in greeting. As she drew closer, Lisle recognized the student as Ross Moon and relaxed. Moon was often absent from classes, but he was not known to be a troublemaker, to carry dangerous substances, or to be cursed. Furthermore, he seemed to be one of those too rare students whose voluntary absence from class was driven by a genuine mastery of the material. Certainly, his performance during the exam in her class had reflected skill rather than laziness – although she would have to be careful in ensuring that Pelia’s help to him had been fully honest.

“Are you planning to be inside before curfew, Moon? Even though classes are over, you must follow curfew rules for at least a couple more days, however painful they may be for you.”

Moon gave a strange shudder, and Aventyrare thought that he must have had some bad experience when breaking curfew. Still, better to have students who chose to obey curfew than to have students who broke curfew and caused trouble for many people – including themselves.

“O, no, professor, I would not dare to break curfew,” Moon said in a hoarse whisper. “I am heading in before curfew after a long time studying.”

“What were you studying this time?” Lisle was genuinely curious. She knew that Moon was eager to study material not taught in classes, and it was of such broad variety. In addition to his having taken tutoring in revision from her and Pelia, he had received tutoring in advanced zoology, had volunteered for hours at an animal hospital as part of a successful effort to learn about natural philosophy, had taught himself to be a skilled archer, and was reputed to be skilled in astrology, history, and incantation. And if Lisle’s memories of student life were still accurate, Moon almost certainly had at least one non-school related hobby.

“Diplomacy, professor.”

“Are you thinking of going into Hedi College?” Lisle tried to keep disappointed curiosity out of her voice. Moon’s skill with revision would be missed from Morvidus College, and given his rumored academic successes, she had to hope that he was always so lacking in rhetorical skill.

“No. I am preparing for my senior student’s last task. But may I ask you something?”

“If your request is reasonable,” Lisle said, cautiously. She knew that some students were rather too willing to overlook her role as their professor, and knew that seniors’ tasks for fresh students could be very difficult.

“Was it right of me to stop taking your extra tutoring? I could have pushed myself harder.”

Lisle decided that her laid-back teaching style was best for situations such as this one. “Moon, if you were any other student, I would say that there is always room for improvement. But you already work so hard in other courses and are so skilled in revision that I would not be surprised if you were found to have gotten top marks in the exam this morning – unless you cheated. Since you only live once, there are better things that you could do than try to get even higher marks this year. Aren’t you often studying at another school while studying here – Esteban Contu’s?”

“Yes…true,” Moon’s voice was slow, although whether with tiredness or deep thought Lisle could not tell. “But so many students surprise with what they can do. I mean, some guy from Aranaz College whom I barely know anything about seemed almost as good as I was – if I had not studied under both you and Pelia, he probably would have been better than I was.”

“Knowing you, I doubt that your performance in revision magic will change compared to Tabin Furenzti’s,” Lisle replied. “You seem to be too dedicated a student and a student mage. But time changes. Shouldn’t you be inside if you want to beat curfew?”

“Right, professor.”

As Moon ran away from her, Lisle thought from his gait that he was consumed by great fear or worry. She would have to make sure that he had not cheated on his revision exam. But such an investigation would have to wait – and could easily wait – until after she had finished her patrol.
When Ross Moon walked into the Morvidus College common room, he was still trembling with fear. Professor Aventyrare’s comments about his studying at another school had made him think – made him worry – that she somehow knew about the full depths of his out of school studying…

As he was trying to focus his mind – and feeling glad that his thoughts about the professor’s knowledge had been wrong – he was greeted by a brightly beaming Beatrix.

“Surely failing Bad Eliana cannot be as bad as our nickname for her suggests,” she said.

Ross jerked, saw that she was sitting in a chair with an open notebook and pen, and walked over to her.

“Beatrix? What are you doing here in this otherwise empty common room? Surely there are better things that you could be doing this evening.”

“Ah, Ross, your words to me this morning made me realize that a student’s work is never done. Plus, I have too much nervous energy after the exam to go on a hike. So I thought that I would look over my report about the Imperial Reserve’s animal populations.”

Ross wondered whether Beatrix was telling the whole truth, or whether she had chosen to stay writing that evening as a gesture of solidarity towards him. Regardless, he decided not to ask her and seem cynical. So instead he pulled up a chair beside Beatrix and said, “Would you like some help with your report? I was helping you in your research…and I have my own experiences in the Imperial Reserve that would be very relevant for your report.”

“By all means,” Beatrix replied. “One of the keys to being a good natural philosopher or explorer is being willing to listen to and take into consideration what other people say.”

“I don’t know, Beatrix,” Ross said. “What if the other person’s claims are not reliable? I mean, you wouldn’t trust Vettor to say accurate things about which girl loves him, would you?”

“True enough,” Beatrix laughed, “But I would trust Vettor’s assessment of water magic. Determining in which ways other people may be trusted is often what separates the great explorer or natural philosopher from the victim of scams or the mere gatherer of others’ tales. But since I trust you and you have shown yourself to me and many others to be competent, I will listen to your words. What are they? Nothing, I hope, about dragons’ returning?” And here Beatrix nervously laughed.

Ross flinched, and said to Beatrix in truth, “Well, not dragons precisely, but strange magical beasts, some reptilian.”

He then told Beatrix about his being sent to help the Duke of Broken Pines with his opinicus breeding and the Duke’s fight with wyvern cultists. He also told her about his efforts to help Professor Pachait in his meeting with werewolves and their fight against the Laughing Wolves. Finally, he told her about Wrynt and Regent Storey’s efforts to study him. He was worried that in telling Beatrix about Wrynt, he was too clumsy in avoiding telling her about his use of Gates magic, but Beatrix, who listened in fascinated delight to all of his words and kept copious notes about them even as other students trickled into the common room before and after curfew, instead asked him a question that he had not thought at all about with regard to Wrynt.

“So this Wrynt…is a giant magical lizard – an aldrovondus. Do you think that he, like dragons, is evil? Even dragons may pretend to be good, I suppose.”

Ross was forced to admit with many stammers that he had never thought of such a possibility for Wrynt. Beatrix said that it was good that he had her to give him such suggestions. And he sincerely agreed. Then she yawned.

“Ross, I’ve been up early today, completed my final exam of the school year today, and did some very interesting discussion with you about fauna and non-humans in the Imperial Reserve. Having made many changes already and many notes based upon your words, I think that I had a very productive day – thanks in part to you. But now I must go to bed. Farewell.”

When Beatrix went to her bedroom, Ross went to his bedroom. He knew that he had packing that he should be doing for the trip home – although he knew that the trip home for him would not be as long as it would be for Beatrix – but he felt so drained on multiple levels that he just got changed and fell into bed with a sob. Despite what Professor Aventyrare had said, people did not live once – they travelled through multiple lives in multiple worlds. And he had not thought Wrynt’s similarity to dragons to be alarming because when one works with and studies Gates magic at the Schohanwicht School, one soon realizes that life comes in many strange forms – as do evil and good. If he could just tell a peer outside the Schohanwicht School about Aminþia Que’la’s philosophy and magic – may her salvation not be needed yet! – and how it had helped him to better understand his life, others’ lives, and life itself, he would be much happier. But realistically, the only person whom he could tell would be Beatrix, and that would be useless at best. Beatrix might not try to kill him for his use of Gates magic – that a hunter’s daughter could love preserving rather than killing rare animals was evidence that she could resist her natal environment for the better – but what use could a mere hunter’s daughter from Wetgen be against the Minetan or Imperial authorities or the Second Circle, powerful organizations that sought to kill all who practised Gates Magic? With these thoughts in his mind, Ross only slowly fell into a sleep that was troubled by nightmares in which Beatrix and he were sources of terror to his dreaming mind.