May 27, 2022 8:34 PM
scene-setting for Friday morning classes
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All sixteen hundred freshmen take maleficaria studies together in the largest lecture hall. It's circular, with the center a not-quite-at-scale replica of the graduation hall, full of slavering hungry mals, so dense with them that you cannot really run through it. There are flying things with too many teeth and tentacles dangling from the ceiling and swarms of tiny things that'd pose no threat individually but make the air so dense you can hardly see through them. There are more sophisticated spell-capable mals hiding behind cover, raising a limb to target you with magic.  Patience and Fortitude lurk at each exit to the graduation gate. 

You don't want to sit in the front rows. Sometimes, the mal of the day will get some ideas and try to eat some mana to graduate from an illusion to the real thing, and there are these big fat bundles of mana right there for the eating. 

Textbooks are in the pouch in the back of the seat in front of you, as long as you don't think too hard about it.

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Orion's going to sit in front!!! This means he has to get his book out of the back of his own seat, another drawback of that position in the hall, but probably whoever sits behind him won't think too hard about it and will still get one no problem.

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Bella's looking for Marcy!

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Liath has been checking her pocketwatch, and as a result she's precisely on time, early enough to get a safe seat near the back of the auditorium. 

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Lily stays with the pack of students coming from the cafeteria, and settles into one of the seats in the middle. Plenty of warm bodies between her and anything nasty. She opens her textbook and starts reading.

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Hannah was not paying attention to the time, and as a result she's late and has to sit in the front row. It'll probably be fine, right?

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Ghassan makes sure the Dubai freshmen are on time. They already seem better than the first day. Maybe they just need some sleep to realize the gravity of the situation. They all find their seats together near the middle. Ghassan grabs textbooks for all of them; he's not wasting any time, here.

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Marcy shows up at a quick but dignified trot a couple minutes before the bell, with the other three Boston kids, and grab a square of seats in the fourth and fifth rows away from the vents. 

Marcy is reminding herself that just because she enjoyed Annisa's and Malak's company at breakfast does not mean she should think of them as friends or seek them out again too soon. She has been taught that indies will try to make you like them, often by making you think they like you, because they want your resources. This is very reasonable of them, because she does have a lot of resources and any indie in their right mind would want some of them, but it does mean she can't just assume someone likes her because they give every outward sign of liking her. They were intelligent and she's glad she has some classes with them. They are not her friends and might not want to be. She can hold both these facts in her mind at once.

And then she can set aside such thoughts, because it is time for class.

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The Lagos, Axum, and Zanzibar enclaves sit together, and together they look about the same size as a single enclave that isn't in one of the parts of the world where the wizard children are being just a tiny bit arguably genocided.

He's not thinking about that, right now. He's looking at the model of the graduation hall. He'd known the numbers, of course, but somehow he hadn't been prepared for just how bad it would be. It looks horrifying. It looks worse than anything he's ever seen. He's kind of confused about how anyone makes it out of here, enclave or not.

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Fuck. She hadn't realized how thick the mals would be. It makes her backup plan of running fast enough for nothing to touch her feel pathetic and foolish to have even considered. 

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New York sits together, except Orion, who is being his usual self. They'll probably have to sit on him at the end of the year to stop him from going down to the graduation hall with the graduating seniors. Julia never thinks too hard about things so her textbook is right where she expects it. 

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Well.

That's not good.

But it doesn't change the numbers. They know the numbers. The one-in-four odds aren't going down in response to new information. 

"We're going to need the armoriest armor," she mutters to her brother. 

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"Yes, we are," he says, his lips pressed together grimly. 

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That would be hard to wade through even if every single mal were a statue. Like, what. Why are there so many.

Caio picks up his textbook, which is in Portuguese, and starts doing the assigned reading, which is on much less intimidating creatures.

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Theun saw a sketch of the graduation hall, made a decade or two ago. This is worse. Is it actually this bad? Maybe the sketch was lowballing it, or this one is inflating it... Probably it's inflated to show every kind ever seen in there. But maybe not.

Well. His strategy is still the same: try not to offend everyone, get good spells through the power of library science his affinity, trade them for even more. Make allies. Get out.

He skims the textbook's discussion of today's mal (amphisbaenas), confirms that he knows all of this, and splits the period between testing meditation with eidetic memory (a little harder, but only a little) and taking other notes.

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Virgil arrives quietly, and observes the other students' reactions, trying to resist the urge to laugh. Laughter is a good way to make people think you're crazy. He just wants to please have emotions that work normally, instead of whatever is happening right now.

They're all going to die and it'll be so much better than this.

By the time he's realized that he's supposed to have a textbook (since everyone else has pulled one from the seat in front of them), Virgil wonders how exactly the school knows to put the textbook in the pouch. Does it come from some kind of extra-dimensional space? What must that cost to maintain? Is it moved from somewhere beneath the classroom? What if- when he reaches for the textbook, he comes up empty.

No no no no no it's the first class he can't be failing during the first class-

Virgil will just sit there quietly until class ends, then.

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Della sits by a random person she hasn’t yet befriended, skims the assigned reading, stares at the model of the graduation hall, and considers the logistics involved in building a very fast tank. Surrounded by wheels of fire? She could probably build a very fast tank surrounded by wheels of fire.

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Annisa wants to make JETPACKS and fly out of here with Malak making them practically invisible - stop getting ahead of yourself, odds are decent Malak won't make it to New Year's -

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Aleixus needs to pack up his impromptu sales booth after selling out at breakfast. He got some upperclassmen there at the end and he's feeling deeply pleased with himself, even given the delay it costs him. He hustles in late, panting and speed-boosted, and reluctantly heads for the front row. He recognizes Hannah and waves. 

From what he's heard, front row Mal Studies is not a time to be stingy on mana. Fortunately, he collected several days' worth selling potions. Muttering, he layers the cheaper reflexes spell, the one he can actually cast, on top of the speed (thank you, Yolanda and Angie). He debates the envelope shield but decides to leave it off, since it has a high up-front cost. He can always use the fast-cast toughener if he gets jumped and can't run away. 

...who the heck is the other enclave freshman in the front row? Is that the combat prodigy from New York? Why isn't he sitting with the rest of his group? They had to have saved him a seat and it's not like anyone is going to argue with New York over seating. Alexius racks his eidetic memory (thank you, potion) and recalls seeing the other boy leave breakfast at the same time the other New Yorkers did: early. He's either insanely confident, in which case, Respect, or absolutely freaking nuts. 

This train of thought so distracts Alexius that when he attempts to grab a textbook from the seat in front of him, he gets one. 

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Dasha scans the room for people she recognizes and then nearly gets stuck with front row seats when that takes too long. Not wanting to sit alone while looking at the graduation hall is stupid and she needs to get over herself before being afraid of getting herself killed actually gets her killed. She ends up in a cluster of panicked-looking indies, but at least it's a cluster of panicked-looking indies out of lunging range of the front.

Her textbook is Ukrainian. She grimaces at it; it's her native tongue but she's much more used to reading dense academic language in English. 

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Basira does think about her textbook being in the pouch in the back of the seat in front of her: she thinks it's very natural and obvious that it will be there. And it is.

She opens the book to the section on amphisbaena before she lets herself look at the mural properly. The thought she needs to fix in her mind is that every year, on average, 400 people survive that.

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Hello Patience. Hello Fortitude.

Man. It's impossible to look at those guys and not constantly think about them. And not constantly think about the people inside them boiling in a slurry of digestive, regenerative fluid.

How do you even end up there? It's the literal worst outcome for any wizard, nothing barred. Anything else — if you get any other ending that's 'kay, but if you manage to get eaten you lose. You are not dead but you are over, a mana lollipop for the most vile creature alive until the sun burns out.

Anastasia is so pissed at these people for being so fucking stupid. No one has ever been fed to a maw-mouth at birth. These people took risks themselves, knowing it might lead them to a dark agonizing eternity. Bad trade-offs. Greedy sacrifices. Hesitation to suicide. They should have not done these things. They should have done better.

She is apparently just going to waste the whole class having a panic attack, so instead she turns a scalpel of magic inwards. It's a very short spell — "I do not see it. It was never there. What are you talking about?" — disaffected certainty, followed by a bump of bewildered skepticism on the third clause.


Her mind is going to refuse to notice whatever-it-was for the next hour and a half, so instead she looks at the metric fuckton of mals. Yeah nope. Maybe three out of five can't pierce her blind spots. Maybe she can stack more shells of concealment atop her affinity. She could alchemize some, trade for others. She could for some duration cover herself so thoroughly that only the most esoteric of mals could even look at her straight. She would still just get trampled to death.

She places the textbook on her desk, cracks it open. Flicks through the first blank pages, settles her cheek on the page marked 2 and stares at page 1. It's a forward, listing off the updates in this edition, the contributions of various enclaves, the names of wizards lost during research, the positive reception the book has received...

"Hey there, big guy," she whispers into the paper. "Do you ever think about doing an editing run on yourself? You must know your words on a way deeper level than anyone else. The pages people skim because they're just so dense. The sentences that confuse or repeat or trail. Every pride and fault of your extremely lengthy text. I'd bet a million dollars that you'd do better writing for us than the gigabrain enclave craphats."

She doesn't think this one's awake, but there's a giant fist clenching around her stomach. She's so nervous she's going to vomit, so she tries to talk instead.

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Montréal comes in with one of the larger packs from breakfast, and settles somewhere in the middle range away from the front and not close to any vents, though Alexei is watching the nearest ones. When he's not staring at the tableau in the center of the room, anyway. 

(He's going to need to improve so much come senior year if he wants to get Angie and Zed both out, what the fuck-)

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Angie squeezes his hand below their seats and imprints this scene into her head. She'll have to draw it in her room, tonight. A constant reminder of what could be waiting at the door - maybe it'll keep her from rushing outside in panic in the middle of the night. 

Angie and Alexei's texts, when they get them, are in Quebecois French, which is abstractly interesting - they weren't really sure which they'd get, given they'd been speaking both it and English as long as they remember.

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Zed can't stop staring at the mals around them. They're so... they've seen mals before, but never in this number. The tiredness and exhaustion in their bones outweigh the fear the should be feeling. Which is a thing. A good thing? Probably not.

The reach over and open up the text, written in Swati. They get right too that, while also wishing they had thought to bring a stim potion to tide them over for the period.

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Lissa manages to squeeze into a middle seat in time. She finds her textbook, but keeps glancing over at the realistic display and slowly doing mental calculations of her odds.

She notes to herself to study that mal-repelling spell as hard as she can.

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