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Generated: Dec 11, 2021 11:31 PM
Post last updated: Dec 11, 2021 11:31 PM
Now what?
Julian rescues Naima from Paris
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The apartment is smaller than he remembers. 

That's the first thing Julian thinks, inanely, lying on the living room carpet while baba cries and mama tries to patch up a nasty-looking abdominal wound. He wonders when it happened; he certainly wasn't paying attention. Before graduation, he'd worried he wouldn't be able to focus with nothing between him and that solid mass of maleficaria, and he was right to worry, it's really nothing like the obstacle course at all – but he hadn't counted on the gates. The second he saw them, rising up over the horde, it was like he couldn't see anything else, and all he could do was cast, cast, cast – and at this point he's pretty sure he could cast a time spear in his sleep. 

The second thing he thinks is that Naima must be out by now.

He'd been at the front of the formation, and she was at the back – they'd offered, for the obvious reason, and it made sense anyway since Malak and Julia needed to stay in the center to keep up the spell that made their team the least interesting thing in the hall. That means she can't be more than 15 seconds behind him.

"...need a phone."

And, oh, Choi-fung has hers out, that's convenient, he's just going to grab that now, but the cut in his side seems to have other ideas, and in the end baba ends up holding the screen to his face so he can start to find out who's still alive. 

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It takes about three minutes for the email from Naima to appear. The first one is cc'd to him and half a dozen other people, including Julia and Malak and Annisa.

hey guys i'm alive

- naima


And that's it.

About sixty seconds later a second one appears, this one not cc'd to anybody.

Some guy from Paris is here already. I probably have an hour but I don't know if this contact info will work after that. If you don't hear from me then that's where I am, I'm not deliberately ignoring you or anything.

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An hour? It's not like he didn't know the man in Paris who arranged for Naima's slot was deranged, but seriously, what the hell. Whatever. They're both alive. Deranged elderly Frenchmen aren't the scariest thing they've had to face. 

To the rest of his friends (a slightly longer list). 

I'm alive. Will send you my own phone number as soon as I have one. 

And to Naima. 

I love you too. If they don't let me write I'll cause a diplomatic incident. 

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There are eleven minutes between that and the next email, according to the timestamps.

Love you. Very cool how we're both alive. Will figure something out.

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They'll figure something out. So that's that. 

The rest of his contact list has about a 50% response rate, which he's decided in advance he's going to process in two weeks when being alive feels a bit more normal. In the meantime, he can watch bad TV and eat alarming quantities of seafood stew and ask his parents how Ching-hsia died (early mana spurt, crawler, nothing anyone could have done). He's too wired to sleep until his mother gives him something and then he's out for nearly 15 hours. 

The next morning (Hong Kong time) he calls Julia to talk logistics. 

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There's a bunch of background noise. "Hell -o?" says Julia's voice, unmistakeable including, these last years, in its slight edge; she doesn't recognize the number.

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"It's me. Is this a bad time?" 

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"Now's fine! I'm at a spa, so I might be vague, I promise it's not that I forgot who you are the minute I graduated."

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A spa? Wow, Julia is brave. The Scholomance might be a horrifying death trap, but he knows it, down to every last blind corner to avoid and which tables in the shop need a little extra care before it's safe to sit down. And now he's supposed to just go outside? In a city he hasn't even cased? Not yet, no fucking thank you. 

"Lucky you! I got a little bit stabbed towards the end and my mom is giving me dirty looks every time I try to get out of bed." Which is even technically true. It doesn't matter at all, now, but he still want to sound like a coward.  "Anyway. I want to get things set up with New York as soon as possible since it's not going to be straightforward. Is there someone in the enclave I'm supposed to call? Or do you think I should fly out to talk it over in person?" 

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"Tell your mom she's in good company, Magnus has, like, a scratch on his arm and med's refusing to discharge him. I don't have a scratch and they made faces about letting me go. 'your iron levels are low' - uh huh, and you know what's good for that? Sunbathing." Muffled - "hey, Annaka, who's the HR person -"

There's further background noise, and then Julia again, chipper. 

"You want to call Teresa, and she'll probably have you fly out, if you can travel - you don't need to, like, pack all your stuff, or anything, most people take a gap year or three - do you have a pen or something to take down Teresa's number -"

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"I think I'll be able to fly by next week. Seeing a real healer in New York wouldn't be the worst idea, actually, I was being a little facetious about the stabbing, I think I saw some intestines. And I can do one better than a pen, I've got a real bona fide cellular telephone, dad picked it up last night. Isn't it amazing how thin they are now?" 

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"I think iPhones here have actually, somehow, managed to get larger rather than smaller! Maybe Hong Kong's doing better. Okay, Teresa's 212-365-5540, she should know to expect you."

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"Cool. Have – fun? Have whatever emotional experience you're supposed to have at a spa." 

It's probably way after working hours in New York, but whatever, this is why they presumably pay Teresa the big bucks. He'll give her a call. 

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"Broder Financial Instruments, New York office, how can I help you?" says a perfect receptionist voice, picking up on the first ring.

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Of course they'd have some mundie front organization. Fuck. Is the receptionist in on it? What is he supposed to say

"This is Julian Chan, calling for Teresa." Seems safe enough. 

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" - oh, hello, Julian, this is Teresa. It's good to hear from you. Congratulations on graduating!"

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Yeah, thanks, not being eaten alive feels pretty great! Hopefully this level of chipper dissimulation is an HR thing and not a New York thing or the rest of his life is going to be completely exhausting. 

...and that's not something to dwell on right now because he's about to make the biggest ask of his life. Courage, sticking point, etc. etc. etc. He just needs to sound confident. It shouldn't be hard. Teresa's not a maw mouth and he stared down one of those just yesterday.

"I don't know how much Julia told you, but my situation is a little unusual. I'm asking New York to take my younger siblings. There are three. I know this isn't something you normally offer, but in my case I think you're going to want to make an exception. I'm thinking of flying out next week to talk things over." 

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"Julia mentioned that that was a priority for you. I think it's a great idea for you to fly over and talk with us, it's definitely complicated and we'd want to make sure it's a good idea for everyone involved. And of course our gates are open to you whenever you'd like - would you like us to book you a flight?"

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Irritating HR-speak, yes, but not an overt fuck you! Julian is optimistic. "That'd be great, thanks." Nice of them not to make him admit he doesn't have the slightest idea how to book one for himself. "I'm still recuperating, so sometime next week would be ideal." 

His parents are probably going to be upset he's flying out so quickly, but, hey. They'll live. 

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"Sure thing. Do you have mundane identification you prefer to travel under, or would you like us to mail you some?"

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"Oh, I'd have to ask my parents, just a second –" he covers the phone. "Hey, baba! Do I have a legal identity? – cool, thanks." 

Back to Teresa – "Okay, I have a birth certificate but not a valid passport. Probably easier for you to send me something and work that out later." 

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"All right. What name would you like it under?"

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"This would be an American passport, right? My own name is fine. There have to be a million Julian Chans."  

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"All right. Will anyone be traveling with you? Parents, siblings, guards..."

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"Oh, god, do you think I'll need them?"

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"No. But some recent graduates prefer not to travel alone out of habit, or if you want to bring your siblings along, I don't have down with me how old they are..."

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"Eleven, eight, and six." Ching-hsia would have been fifteen. "I think it makes more sense to stay here with my parents for now. We can figure out how to get them to New York once they've decided. Ah. What's best for everyone involved." Okay, there's one thing he does want, and it's crazy, but this is New York, so – "Is there any way to arrange for me to board before everyone else? I know it's very rare to find mals on planes but I think I'll want to. You know. Check."  

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"I'll see what we can do. Date of birth for your identification? It doesn't have to be accurate but you will need to remember it."

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"March 19th, 2006." 

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"And mailing address for the identification?"

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He can give her one. 

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"Great. In about fifteen minutes I'll forward you an email with your flight confirmation for next Tuesday, July 9. The last thing we'll need from you is a picture of your face, with a neutral expression and a white background, for the ID; if you don't have a camera, you can look online for a person who looks close enough. If you send that to me by the end of the day tomorrow, your US passport and US citizenship documentation will arrive on Saturday; in a separate letter we will send a credit card connected to your enclave credit account. The credit limit is eight thousand US dollars or 62000 Hong Kong dollars per month; if you need to spend more than that, you can request an exemption by calling or emailing."

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Okay, cool, Julian has no idea how much money that is in terms of ability to purchase goods and or services. Probably a lot? It's New York. But the only amount of real world money he's had to think about lately is the value of Naima's indenture. It's hard to find up-to-date information on the value of the euro inside the Scholomance, but they'd done their best. It came out to somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred million dollars. 

He lets himself wallow for exactly ten seconds before thanking Teresa. They have time. They'll figure something out. 

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His U.S. passport arrives in the mail three days later, as does his credit card. The credit card is in a general welcome package, which also contains blueprints of the enclave, a glossy magazine with pictures of all his new enclavemates, a list of mundane restaurants that do delivery to the enclave, and a page of phone numbers to call in emergencies. Someone has scribbled Welcome, Julian! across the front cover but it's otherwise clearly mass-produced. 

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You really have to hand it to New York – their production value is excellent. There's no way they have enough people joining the enclave every year for these to be efficient, so it must just be for the look of the thing. Do they update the magazine every – yep, there's last year's valedictorian, and her smile only looks a little bit forced. He shoves the rest of the welcome materials to the bottom of his suitcase and starts poring over the blueprints, trying to reconstruct the map in his head, exercising his senses for how it conforms to the existing magical terrain, where the wards must be placed, how the mana flows, where it can expand. He's going to be so fucking good at his job. 

His parents insist on a big family meal the night before he leaves, and it's only a little bit more award than he was expecting. Baba still won't shut up about financial products and mama still thinks he's going to eat shark fin soup and the kids don't even check under the table before they sit down even though it can't hurt to get into the habit early. They're definitely less fixated on their own impending death than he was, which is probably healthy, but does mean they don't have a whole lot in common. Choi-fung has an excuse – her affinity is apparently near term divination, which is fantastic, he'd be overconfident too – but he wishes their parents would do more to set her straight. He's disappointed, but not surprised. Mama and baba are good, normal, loving parents who want their children to be prepared but can't be drill sergeants 24/7.

That's exactly why they should never have had kids in the first place, of course. Indie kids with normal parents, to a first approximation, die. Ka-fai is almost nine, which is as old as he was when he realized that if he wanted to live he'd have to figure things out for himself, but he seems more interested in convincing mama that JRPGs count as language immersion. Julian isn't sure if he's letting the last four years seep backwards in his memory or if he was just a weirdly intense kid. Probably both. 

After a while, he tunes out of the conversation and starts going back over the blueprints in his mind. He knows he loves his siblings. He remembers their first words and helping them learn to write and how little Man-yuk, aged one and a half, cried for two whole days when he told her he was going away to school. He has the leverage to save their lives and he hasn't for a moment considered not using it. But he's not sure he likes them. Ka-fair is back on the subject of video games, and he has this dizzying flash-forward to his little brother at fourteen, having spent half his life in New York, as a smiling alien in glossy print. 

The flight is easier than he expected. He brings a tripwire. Mama gives him something to help him sleep, and he keeps dreaming he's back in the Scholomance except it's also New York but everyone is speaking French and the mals look like anime characters, and by the time he wakes up the plane is landing. 

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There's a man outside Arrivals at JFK, holding a sign that says "Julian Chan", dressed in a very sharp suit. Someone looking closer will notice that his shoes are oddly bulky for dress shoes, probably because they're a dress-shoe veneer over something you can fight in, but otherwise he fits in fine. 

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Julian is wearing his dad's old clothes because obviously nothing he owns is fit to wear in public and he hasn't felt up to going shopping! 

"Hey, I'm Julian," he says, like a cool collected human adult who didn't just almost have a breakdown in customs because he couldn't figure out how the passport reader kiosk thing worked. 

 

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"Hey, Julian! Have you been to New York before?"

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"No, this is my first time." First time outside Hong Kong, actually, except for the time his parents took him to Singapore when he was really little, and not counting the Scholomance, which obviously nobody does. 

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"It's about an hour in a car - quicker by subway, but I've never met a kid just out of school who didn't hate the subway, so we sent a car. Can I get you anything before we leave?"

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Julian has no idea if he'd prefer the subway or a car. Julian has never been in a car. He is having lots of new experiences today! 

"I'm fine, thanks."  

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The car is black and glossy and mildly sickening to be in. There's another person in a suit driving it. The man who picked Julian up opens the door for him and then waits several minutes in case Julian wants to check anything.

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Oh, that's very thoughtful of him, Julian does want to check everything. Up to and including lying down on the asphalt to examine the underside, which he refuses to feel embarrassed about. He's not paranoid, he's just cautious and has subclinical PTSD, and that probably describes half the enclave. 

Eventually they can get going. Turns out: cars are bad. "Hey, uh – I don't suppose you have anything for nausea?" 

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They do have something for nausea! Little white pill.

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How nice. 

Julian's take on New York is that he was led to believe it was a city, until they get to Manhattan, which at least looks like a real place where people live. 

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They enter an underground parking garage in the financial district, and the car winds down three levels past a sign that says 'no entry' and then past a dingy garage door that opens for them. There are three identical cars parked there, and four adults standing attentive with their backs to an elevator on the back wall.

 

"Hey!" the man who fetched Julian says to them, getting out of the car. "This is Julian Chan, valedictorian of the class of 2024 and our newest member! Julian, gate security. They should know your face, but if they ask you for ID these first couple weeks, don't give them a hard time, we ask them to err on the side of ensuring no one wanders in who shouldn't."

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"It's good to meet all of you." He wonders if they have magic illusion-proof contacts or something, that would be cool. "I assume I'll have to meet all the guards at some point?" 

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"Yes, but there's no rush as long as you're generally leaving out the same gate you came in; the shifts are day and night, switching at 2am and 2pm, so unless you're expecting to straddle one you can just introduce yourself on the way out."

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"And are the gates on the blueprints the only ones we're allowed to go in and out of?" 

It's pretty obvious from the blueprints that there have to be more, otherwise the lower level loops around itself in a way that makes no earthly sense. He checked on a map and he's pretty sure there's one in the west 90s but beyond that it's hard to be sure. 

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They look mildly startled. "- uh, there are some emergency exits, and some maintenance ones, but the blueprints reflect, uh, what's public," the man says.

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Ohhhhh. "You don't have to worry, nobody blabbed. My affinity is enclaves." 

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"Oh. ....Well, that's a useful one. At least out here."

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"I certainly hope so."

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"None of the buttons do anything," the man says gruffly as they enter the elevator. "Or, well, they all take you either up or down to mundane places. You want to ignore them all and just wait, and then someone on a camera will - ah, there we go." They go up.

 

The doors open out on a small park, surrounded on all four sides with buildings about ten stories high. There are tall trees shading a playground where some young kids are playing; there are picnic benches. The fake sun filters convincingly down through the treetops; there are cloud formations in the sky above.

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It's both incredibly impressive and somehow underwhelming. He knows exactly how hard it is to build something like this into the void, but it still seems off that the greatest and most powerful society of wizards in the world looks like a nice suburb. 

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"So, tell us about this boy," says Julia's mother. 

 

"Oh my god, Mom," says Julia, mostly on reflex. And then more seriously - "he wants to get his siblings in. He's got an enclaves affinity and he figures someone will take him up on it - and he's right, someone will - the Scholomance keeps giving him its blueprints and we're really fucking lucky that Shanghai offended him at some point -"

"We don't usually do that," says Julia's father. 

"You don't say. You can do it or lose him. Probably not to Shanghai, but maybe; I bet if he cools off about them enough to get in a room with whatshisname the artificing genius he'll be seduced within the hour."

"It's hard on the kids, adding a new one to their cohort -"

"They're, like, little kids, we're not talking about a thirteen year old. And it's not that - all that unit cohesion stuff is slightly overrated, honestly? You can't teach a bunch of children what it's going to be like and once it is like that they catch on real fast. Plus they're probably smart, cause, you know, genetics. I think we should do it. You know, the saying about how America is going to beat the Chinese cause our Chinese are smarter than their Chinese."

"It's a little impolitic," says her father. 

"What's that, is it a kind of mal?"

Annaka is beaming at her and Annaka's approval feels a little bizarre, she's not sure how she got it and she's not sure she wants it. 

"Enough politics," says Julia's mother, "tell us about him as a person! How'd you meet? What's he like?"

"...he's the valedictorian. That's really - I'm not sure you can be the valedictorian and also have another personality trait on top of that. I met him, uh, freshman year actually, he helped me appease my rug by writing Buddhist sutras on my wall. He's got a girlfriend, she got herself into Paris."

Julia's mother looks very disappointed that Julian has a girlfriend.

"Mom, I couldn't date someone named Julian, it'd be awful. No one would ever be able to talk about either of us separately."

"Girlfriend got herself into Paris and they're...planning to do long distance?" says Julia's father. 


"It's not that long distance, right? Train to London and then walk right through the tunnel. Maybe they'll break up, I dunno."

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They have a room set aside for Julian. It's a hotel room, approximately -- a nice hotel room, but that's all. It has a main room with a queen bed and a desk and then a spacious fancy bathroom with a hot tub and a fancy shower. It has no other furnishings, probably because kids just out of the Scholomance don't appreciate it. A sticky note on the desk informs him that the wifi password is 'passionate artisans eat deviled eggs'.

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This is more space than Julian has ever had to himself in his entire natural life. He checks the perimeter, because, fine, maybe he's a little paranoid, and draws a bath, and lets his parents know he's alive and in New York, and checks his email just like he does every day to see if there's anything from Naima. There isn't, of course. 

He was just unconscious for almost fifteen hours, but he figures another ten can't hurt. 

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In the morning he has an email. 

Hey! Welcome to our home sweet slightly larger box in the Void. My parents want to have you over for dinner! This is not the negotiation about the kids, that'll be later and everyone will wear suits for it so you know they're being serious. 

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It's good to hear from Julia. They're – well, he's not sure if they'll be friends, on the outside, but whatever else happens they are allies and he very much needs an ally right now. 

I'm looking forward to it! The dinner. Not the negotiation about the kids which I expect to be incredibly stressful. Do you know where I can get a suit? Right now I barely own clothes. 

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Oh no! We should go shopping.

 

Nice places will fit you for a suit on the spot and then tailor it, we can get same-day if we make faces at them

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When Julian was very small and still watched non-educational television, he remembers seeing this documentary about endangered wild horses in Mongolia. There was this one bit where a horse fell ill with some kind of endangered horse disease and had to be nursed back to health by horse scientists, and the thing that always stuck with him was the moment where they were finally able to let it return to the steppe. The poor animal took a few shaky steps and then something in its overloaded horse brain connected and it took off and ran, full of the wild exultant joy of being being back where it belongs, doing exactly what it was meant to do. 

When he tries to picture Julia shopping, that horse is the first thing that springs to mind.  

Sounds good! I'm free whenever; if I have a schedule nobody's told me yet. 

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There's a knock on his door about five minutes later. 

 

 

Julia was well-dressed in school and sometimes illusioned her clothes colors. This is...different. She's wearing a flowy silk purple top with a light wool jacket with oversized ivory buttons, and she's wearing jean-leggings and knee-high boots with fur poking out of the top and she's holding it all together with a rope belt with a shiny bronze buckle. She has a designer handbag and a necklace with unpolished emeralds and a watch with a see-through cover where you can see all the machinery, whirring and ticking. 

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Julian is still wearing his dad's clothes from yesterday, because he fell asleep in them. They consist of a sensible oxford shirt and slacks. 

"That was fast."

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"You're not quite five rooms away anymore but you're not far. Though you shouldn't let them stick you in this room permanently, the ones that aren't awkwardly on a corner have balconies and it's a good exposure-therapy to the existence of the outdoors, a balcony. I think we should go get you fitted for your suit now so they have more time to tailor it. Are you ready to go?"

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Well until about thirty seconds ago Julian thought he was reasonably well calibrated as to what the people were wearing in the year 2024. Then again, Julia is Julia, and if he maps whatever is happening here onto her usual level of over-the-topness for the Scholomance – yeah, okay, he's probably fine. 

"As I'll ever be." 

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"Great. Did HR give you a relocation payment?" She trots over to the elevator, opens the door next to it, and casually jumps - down to the ground level, which is apparently warded to make for gentle landings when people do this.

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aaaaaah he's going to follow her aaaaaaah okay that was fine. 

"No. Maybe? I did get an enclave credit card." 

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"Cool, then let's swing by HR first and arrange that, because I don't want to be trying to keep track of the monthly limit while we're getting you an entire wardrobe." Trot trot trot knock knock - "hey!"

     "Good morning, Julia!"

"Can you get Julian his relocation payment now? We're going shopping!"

      "Sure," Teresa says after just the slightest hesitation. "Is he, uh, definitely staying, then? My understanding was that there was some matters still to be worked out -"

"Has the stock market crashed horribly and the country suffered an economic depression without precedent."

       "- no."

"Oh good, then we don't need to worry about the possibility we'll accidentally give someone relocation money who then leaves the enclave, which last I checked people are allowed to leave if they feel like it and it doesn't affect their allowance."

       "I can put it through. It's fifty thousand dollars," she adds to Julian. "There's a process to ask for more if that's inadequate but that usually only comes up if someone's transporting a home alchemy lab or a home shop."

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Julian still has no idea how money works! This is probably the kind of thing he should figure out before he goes shopping. 

"I'm sure that's more than enough, I don't have anything I need to transport." 

And then, to Julia – "So, uh, how much does clothing cost?"

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"Depends wildly, you can get clothing at a thrift shop for, like, five dollars, but bespoke suits start in the thousands and you do actually want a bespoke suit, you don't want to look like a high school student who borrowed his dads' for prom. We're going to go to a nice men's tailor and it'll probably be, like, ten, twenty thousand, for a couple suits and shirts and pants and shoes and undershirts and ties...the other thing you should have is your power-sharer hooked in, Teresa can you do that or do we have to go downstairs -"

        "He'll have to get a temporary one, and also complete the training on it."

Sigh. "The training's all super obvious stuff. Don't lose it, don't be a kid in a candy store about it, if you do lose it tell HR right away, like, literally know a comms spell you can do in your sleep or have them on speed dial or both."

        Teresa hands Julian a training packet that is, indeed, pretty much to this effect. You should generally aspire to put into the power-sharer 20% more than you take out, to cover the mana usage of the guards who are protecting you at the gates; if you're doing that, there won't be any scrutiny of your usage. If you're not doing that, you might have to account for your usage. Work-related and defensive usage are obviously fine, limited usage for assuaging civilian suspicion is fine, large personal workings need to be paid for. Do not use New York mana to commit serious crimes, obviously you shouldn't commit serious crimes in general but if you do it with your New York power sharer then when it gets audited and you are discovered to be routinely using mind-control to sleep with women at bars or whatever you will be widely known not just as a rapist but as a really, really stupid one.  

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Julian is neither stupid nor criminally inclined so he doesn't expect that to be too onerous! Having mana again feels great, he hasn't even thought about exerting effort since graduation so he's totally dry. 

....his plan was to take whatever number Julia came out with and divide by two. So he definitely shouldn't let her go over ten thousand? It seems vaguely wrong to spend more than one's monthly income on clothes, but, hey, she's the expert. And it's not like he'll be limited to his stipend for very long. 

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Julia consults her phone and declares they're leaving the enclave through the exit in the garage that Julian came in through, "it's closest to the place I've picked. - oh, hey! Orion!"

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"Hi Julia!" Orion does not look traumatized. He looks kind of like he just got back from a long vacation and already misses room service. He has his incredibly anime sword-whip thing but he is wearing a nicer outfit now. He would not look out of place on an action movie poster.

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Orion is not going to remember Julian's face. "This is Julian," Julia says to the guy Orion is paired with, "he's the valedictorian and our spot offer this year."

      "Nice to meet you," the guy says. 

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"Hi Julian!" Orion adds on. He remembered Julian existed, and what his name was since it's almost exactly like Julia's, but yeah this could easily have been some totally other Asian boy. Or, like, an Eskimo, Orion doesn't think he can distinguish Asians and Eskimos. Thank you Julia.

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"We're going to go shopping! Bye!"

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"Have fun!"

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Julian has never, actually, purchased his own clothing. He expects that Julia will take him to a department store. He knows what a department store is because he was assigned Emile Zola's novel Au Bonheur des Dames for a French literature class, though admittedly he skimmed it since it didn't have any good spells. Department stores involve salespeople and counters and displays and lots of things on racks and all the employees are having complicated romantic drama. 

This place is not a department store. It's a big, sunny room on the fifth floor of an unprepossessing building downtown. There are huge, teetering rolls of fabric, and sewing machines, and a little man with a mustache and an English accent. No finished garments in sight. Julian tries to pay attention to the words coming out of mustache man's mouth, but it's hard, since his furniture has an unconscionable amount of dark concealed places and the whole thing is stressing him out. 

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Julia picked the suits place by tracking down the best dressed man in the enclave and asking him where he got his outfits but as soon as she steps into the place it's evident that 1) the place is extremely classy and was picked correctly but 2) almost everything here is too old for Julian. They don't want him to look like he's forty five. He's a prodigy and that's half of what they're going for, even if he's not a child anymore and that's the other half. The clothes have good fundamentals, though, so she wanders around the room using them as prompts to articulate what she's looking for and what they're going to have to fix. They want a tailored suit and a bespoke suit and formal shoes and casual shoes and some casual jeans and some casual short-sleeved and casual long-sleeved shirts, and at least one nice dress outfit that's not a suit, and a knee-length overcoat, maybe floor-length.

 

Julia loves being around people who are masters of their craft. Especially if their craft is fashion but other forms of art are all right too. Julian looks like he has no idea what he's doing here and the tailor evidently thinks that he's her boyfriend who she's trying to dress up for hanging out in her crowd, which - isn't all that wrong, really, though she doesn't see Julian like that even aside from the name collision and the girlfriend.

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Julian has no idea what the tailor might or might not be thinking because he's too busy paying attention to something behind a pile of tweed that looks like it might possibly have skittered. 

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Skittering things aren't going to go after fully-grown wizards with New York power sharers, in front of a mundie, while they're clothes shopping. 

 

Julia decides to pick up a couple of things for herself, as a treat, and ends up specifying a coat and a suit jacket that neither makes her look elderly nor makes her look like a lesbian, the kind of suit jacket you could wear with a suit but you could also wear over a tight dress and go out to a bar in. 

It comes to about twenty six thousand dollars in total for Julian's things.

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Fuck, what's the polite way to say that this is all very nice but I need about ten thousand dollars less of it.

"...This is all very nice, but I need about ten thousand dollars less of it." 

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Julia wants to explain to him that mundie money is basically Monopoly money, you can't trade it for anything that really matters, but she can't say that right here in the middle of the mundie shop with the helpful mundie tailor right there. "Do you want me to cover eight thousand of it? I'll cover eight thousand of it," she says, which hopefully conveys the same thing.

 

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They should really have had this conversation in Mandarin or Gāndhārī or something. 

"Thank you, I appreciate it." Also he wants very much to go home now and a debate with Julia on the value of a complete wardrobe can take several hours. He has some personal experience. 

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She tells the tailor to hold her own stuff until the first of August. He nods knowingly. And then they can go ahead and pay for things. "Mission accomplished! Do you want to go out for lunch, or order it in?"

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"In."

Starting tomorrow, Julian is going to do exposure therapy for the concept of being outside, and it's going to involve way less standing PERFECTLY STILL being fitted for clothing while things SKITTER at the edge of his field of vision. 

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It's really overwhelming! It feels like being in the graduation hall all the time in terms of how many things might be trying to kill you but you can't kill them back, but that's fine because they aren't, actually, trying to kill you. Julia just doesn't mind it, somehow; it's overwhelming the way she imagines sex, which she has not had, would be overwhelming. 

 

They head back to the enclave.

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Then Julian can be a little bit more sane. He does appreciate seeing a master at work, and Julia is a master. Imagine having graduated last week and knowing what kinds of shirt collars are fashionable but serious for men under thirty! And he's glad that he's going to go into his meeting looking like a serious person, not a supplicant. 

"Sorry I was panicking so much back there. I really do appreciate you taking me." 

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"You shouldn't be ashamed of having trauma! We went through a traumatizing experience!"

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"I'm not ashamed! I just don't want to look like a basket case in front of New York while they're still deciding whether or not I'm worth it. Which now that I'm saying it sound insane, half of us are going to be basket cases – but it's not like I got here by being in the bottom half of the class, you know?" 

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"You can just, like, take a Xanax for the meeting. Though, like, I don't think it's going to be that bad? They're not idiots, they don't expect that if they make really good faces at you you're going to go "oh, I guess I will let my siblings die after all". They're just gonna want to make sure that, if they let you have it, you're going to actually do all that cool magical research and be an asset to the enclave and not burn out and spend all your time high watching Mandelbrot fractal videos and telling people you're a week away from an epiphany."

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"Does that happen often?"

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"Sometimes? I think mostly not to valedictorians but - trauma is bad for people! It can disrupt your motivational system!"

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Well, Julian has wanted the exact same thing since he was ten years old, which is to live to adulthood and get his family sorted and spend the rest of his life being the best in the world at building places for wizard children to be safe in. And step one was the hard part. 

"I think my motivational system is pretty robust. Everyone keeps telling me I should take a gap year, but I'm really not sure I want to. I want to do in-affinity magic! I've been looking forward to it for eight years already!" 

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"See? So you'll be fine." She turns off a large street and trots confidently down an alley. A homeless man shouts 'nice tits'; she beams at him. 

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He's not sure if Julia is okay – like, extremely, preternaturally, okay – or if she's just much better at repressing things. Who knows; maybe her whole family is like that. Dinner is going to be interesting. 

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When they get back to the building Julia shows him her door - it's a couple floors above his and a couple hallways down - and then waves goodbye. "I expect you want to collapse and be worried about things or something."

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Awww, she knows him so well. 

"You got it. See you in a few hours!" 

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"See you then!"

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And in a few hours, Julian is back at the Sanderson apartment, wearing pants that fit and a sweater made out of some kind of sheep so fancy it probably deigns to be sheared exclusively by crowned heads of Europe. 

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Julia is in a deep green shoulderless cocktail dress with an enormous bow on the back, and has a terrier yapping eagerly at her heels. "The guest of honor!" she says cheerily when she gets the door. "Did you ever meet Annaka, she was a senior our freshman year..."

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"Hello, Julian!"

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"I don't think I did – it's good to meet you. And Trisket!" Julian has heard a lot about Trisket. Somewhat less about Annaka. 

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"He hasn't forgotten me! I was worried he would forget me."

       "We showed him your picture every day," says Julia's mother, rounding the corner from the kitchen. 

"You - oh my god, Mom. Did you also wear a hair shirt like a medieval monk. - this is my mom, Lucy, class of '71." 

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First challenge of the evening! If Julia introduced her mother as Lucy, that probably means she wants to be called Lucy, but Julian is Chinese enough that the idea of calling an unrelated adult by their given name makes him want to light himself on fire. 

"It's lovely to meet you – thanks for inviting me into your home."

He can just get through the rest of the evening without directly referring to Julia's parents! This is fine. He's got this. 

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"It's lovely to meet you too!" she says cheerfully. "Thank you for getting our Julie home safely. Dinner's from La Grenouille, it should be ready in about ten minutes, both of you are so thin -"

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"Mom if you were planning to badger me into gaining weight you should've told me that before I replaced my entire wardrobe! I would have ignored you, but still!"

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"There's a new study that came out, that found the metabolically optimal body size for mana generation doesn't vary all that much person to person and it's, well, not 'could be a model' -"

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"Do you know what I literally never have to think about again, the metabolically optimal body size for mana generation."

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"Oh no, I have terrible news to break you about where New York's mana comes from."

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"Oh I know that! It comes from Orion and we're all very appreciative.

- we, uh, didn't build mana at school."

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This isn't news to Julian but it is news to her family, all of whom look appalled. 

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To be fair, that was also Julian's first reaction. But you can't argue with the results, which are that Julia is alive, and the rest of her cohort is alive, and he's sitting here at an apartment in New York about to eat something he can neither recognize or pronounce but which certainly smells delicious. 

To Annaka – "Is the study on adults or adolescents? Obviously it's more useful to know about teenagers, but harder to get good data –" 

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"Yeah, they just did it on twenty-somethings. Hoping for applicability for kids, I'm sure, but it's really only one step up from doing it in mice. I know there's a group in India that's pitched a study where they take a bunch of slotless indies, keep 'em in an enclave, measure all kinds of things while they grow up, but while no one can really argue it's unethical no one wants to touch it with a ten foot pole. - the use case for all this is changing the nutrient balance in the food, right."

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Slotless indies have a better chance inside an enclave than out of one. Still not great, but maybe almost as good as they would have had in the Scholomance. And it's a very enclaver way of thinking to let the marginal child die so as to avoid the appearance of guilt, but there are things one doesn't discuss in mixed company. 

"I'm not sure it makes sense to worry about optimizing body mass when getting students enough calories isn't a fully solved problem. And I'm not sure how they'd plan to normalize weight retention in growing teenagers – there's probably something alchemical for it, but I think it's actually pretty hard for the school to generate alchemical products autonomously – it could be interesting, but it doesn't sound like a high priority intervention." 

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"So the idea is that kids will eat more if you get the balance right, that our weight-regulation systems are slightly thrown off and that's why it's so hard to get enough calories into them. I don't know that I buy it but I don't totally disbelieve it, I observe that Julia's year had Orion going ahead of the rest of New York in the food line and she's still a stick."

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"Oh, okay, that makes more sense – is there a reason they couldn't just test the formula on mundie kids? It's not magical in itself, and wizard kids probably don't have weird metabolisms."  

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       "Why didn't you build mana at school?" Lucy is saying to Julia, appalled. "That's - so dangerous - we taught you better -"

"We all made it out," Julia says. "We even got Rebecca out. Orion's just better at generating mana, it was worth it just to have everyone else study and make sure he got enough food."

        "The kids in Teddy's year are going to have terrible habits -"

"We didn't tell them they didn't need to build mana."

         "But they learn by example!"

"I don't think they're idiots, they know how much comes in and how much goes out each month, they'll figure it out."

          

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"That's not a bad idea," Annaka says to Julian. "Wizard kids move a lot more but you could figure out an approximately equivalent number of hours a day of sports. - Dad, can we take over, like, a regular high school cafeteria - or I guess it'd have to be a boarding school -"

 

"They smuggle food in," a man's voice calls from the other room. He walks in a second later. "We did try it, a couple of decades ago, and it turns out high school kids eating only cafeteria food and supplies from, quote, a 'weird ass vending machine' hate it and the most enterprising one walks a couple miles every week to the nearest gas station to bring back thirty pounds of candy."

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Of course they tried it.

"So the other half of this is keeping mals out of the food and I think that might be easier to address – the whole warding system is inefficient right now, since it was optimized for just 1600 kids and it doesn't increase its mana intake linearly on the other 4800. I was looking at the notes from the 1950 expansion team and it looks like they assumed it would be able to and didn't prioritize it, and I think what happened then is that the rest of us never got fully integrated into the school's self-concept. It's smart, it knows we're there, but it gets confused, right – so, on the one hand, it's legitimately stretched thin, but it's also spending proportionately more than it sources and fixing that would at least make a dent. And I think I could – add new ward anchors in a few key places and update some of the language – actually, instead of having all the excess mana from the food enchantment system flow downwards into the lower-level wards, you could just have it circulate in the cafeteria's local warding system, that's more efficient anyway – " 

Oh no. He's lecturing. These people are New York, he doesn't need to tell them what their own expansion team said. They know this stuff. 

"....Uh. I'm Julian Chan. Thank you for having me over." 

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Julia's dad is smiling warmly at him. "Our pleasure. Is that what you want to work on, then? We're probably fifteen, twenty years out from the next round of revisions but in many ways that's the perfect time to dive in."

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"Yes! That's why I wanted to join New York. I gloss my affinity as enclaves but I think it's really more like very large-scale extradimensional workings – and by sophomore year it was pretty obvious that the school was trying to give me the world's most complete education in Scholomance construction. I'm really looking forward to it."  

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"Well, we're delighted to have you. I don't work on the wards side myself but I know that figuring out how to get more protection out of the magic we have is something they spend a lot of time worrying over. Can I get you anything to drink? The restaurant sent recommended wine pairings, or Julia's been -"

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"He wants a Hong Kong milk coffee, transfigured not real at this hour so the caffeine doesn't keep him up." She gets some water out of the tap and makes him one with a verse of Italian.

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And even though he's just spent a week in real Hong Kong drinking the stuff by the bucket, she's right, he does. 

"Julia would always make drinks for us after our gym runs." And he really hopes she won't mention that he burst into tears after the first time because he'd really thought he was going to die without ever tasting real yuenyeung again. 

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"Making that horrible affinity work for herself after all," says her mother proudly. 

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"Hey, when I was thirteen you told me it was a great affinity and anyone who said otherwise was a bully."

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"The Scholomance - wants improvements?" Annaka says curiously to Julian. "Is it, uh, going to attempt self-modification -"

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"I'm not sure if I have any special insight, but – I don't think so? If I had to guess, I'd say it's unsatisfied because it can't do the job it was built for. It doesn't have a lot of room to self-modify on its own. The best tools that it has to work with are us."  

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"Well, we will see what we can do," Julia's father says tiredly. "I'm Tim, by the way - I don't know if Julia said -"

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"Dad, no one talks about their families at school, it's lame. Also if you do everyone else is like "I have fourteen dead siblings" and then you feel like the world's biggest jerk."

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"The average indie family size is eight!" Julia's father says. 

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"Damn, I should've said that the last time someone was like 'I have fourteen dead siblings'."

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"My girlfriend's mother was making good progress towards thirty." 

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Julia's father shakes his head tiredly. "An active debate we keep having, Julian, is whether, given the capacity to expand the school, it'd be better to add a fifth year and some adult support roles or to throw in more kids. We're probably not going to be able to stretch the life support far enough to do both."

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That's easy. Let in more kids. 

...except, with a fifth year, some of the indies might be able to build up enough mana to have a shot at the graduation hall. The indies who aren't getting in right now are the least prepared, the least resourced, and overall the least likely to make it out. If there was a second Scholomance – but, no, he already made his decision about working for Shanghai, and even if he changed his mind there's no guarantee they'd ever build one.  

"They're different technical challenges," he says instead. "I think adding another level to the school would be harder than trying to scale its existing capacity? But I don't know what constraints you're working under." 

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"Oh, adding another level will be a nightmare, and it's also wildly unpopular because - it doesn't improve Julia's odds, right? The longer she's away the more the chance some random thing goes wrong and that's the only way we lose her is some random thing going wrong. But there's not a lot of point packing the place to the gills with steadily less prepared indies - or maybe there is, who knows, different models output different things. There are a lot of constraints and I probably shouldn't get into them all at the dinner table."

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"think we should offer a three-year pre-Scholomance training school for all the horribly unprepared indies."

 

 

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"Is that the plan that requires a moon base."

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"That's the one, thank you Julia."

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"Are you two also on the expansion team?" 

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"am working on an anthropology degree at USC. It's just - hard not to talk shop, right, every kid has a wishlist a mile long except the ones who've given up on wishing for stuff."

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"I'm going to fix the food. We're going to have nine different food lines around the cafeteria, Chinese and Mexican and American and Italian and Thai and Korean and Indian and one that rotates, and a coffee shop that makes decent coffee and is open all hours and takes vending machine tokens. - to be clear this is completely unaffordable and everyone's like 'sorry Julia we can't fit that into our plans' but I haven't had very long to wear them down yet."

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"My crazy pipe dream is a movie theater. It's – okay, I can't even come up with a justification for it, it's not even like I would have had time to go. But sometimes it's fun to want things that aren't, you know, the difference between life and death." 

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"No, I completely agree. Especially if they're considering giving indies the option of staying five years - you have to be able to just live for a little while! And there's so many kids who have breakdowns and give up when I bet if they could've just spent the weekend watching movies they'd have turned it around. Naima's right that depression and burnout aren't good for your productivity. That one's not even outlandishly expensive, you can do it in the mal studies auditorium."

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"It's still a ton of mana you could instead spend on wards."

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"And it's all a ton of money we could instead spend on, I don't know, malaria! I want the school to have a movie theatre."

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Julian decided a long time ago that if he starts thinking about his moral responsibilities to mundanes he's going to have some kind of nervous breakdown. 

"I did some back-of-the-envelope math and it's not even stupidly expensive – and it comes out to about two more dead kids per year in expectation. Maybe you should have the New York artificers work on those little portable pocket projectors." 

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"Huh, that might really be worth it," Julia's father says. "I bet it helps kids with languages, too."

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"Just think about it! We could have had movie nights! That weren't Legally Blonde!" 

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"Would you have actually watched the movie, if it hadn't been Legally Blonde?"

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"I mean, obviously not, I think I had about ten free minutes last year. But I could have studied while existing in the same room as a movie that wasn't Legally Blonde!" 

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"Are you going to want, uh, some time off?"

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"I'm not sure. Everyone keeps telling me I should. But it's been so long since I wasn't working like that, I think it might be better for me to taper off instead of going cold turkey. Besides –" he can't imagine sleeping for a year no matter how much he'd like to because Naima is basically a slave in Paris and the idea of letting her work off the indenture alone makes him sick to stomach. "There are some things I need to take care of that'll be easier if I have a job." 

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"You can work, like, normal hours. Like sixty, seventy a week. Everyone'll be very impressed with your diligence and that still leaves like eighty hours you aren't working in."

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"Maybe there's a way for me to start out working part-time. There's still so much I have to learn about enclave construction before I really get going." Julian does not, in his heart of hearts, believe this. But there are adults who've been working on this stuff for twice as long as he's been alive and probably they have a thing or two to teach him. 

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"Well, it's up to you," Julia's mother says, "but I promise they won't run off and do it without you if you take some time off. Or part-time. Shall we eat?"

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"Yes, let's!" 

 

For an appetizer, La Grenoille has sent chilled terrine of fois gras with pear chutney, lobster medallions with avocado, grapefruit, and vegetable vermicelli, artichoke heart carpaccio and smoked salmon blini with caviar. Julia eats without making a face for the first time Julian has ever seen her.

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It's all very good, except for the combination of lobster and grapefruit (kinda weird) and the foie gras (great). 

"This is incredible – how does delivery to the enclave work? Do they think it's a residential address?" 

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"They think it's a business. There's a service entrance for deliveries and then enclave staff do the last-block delivery, or you can go pick it up yourself if you order something at an odd hour."

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"Wow. Just how many staff does this place have?" 

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"There are about a hundred researchers, about a hundred people on education, and about - four hundred support staff. Not all of them members of the enclave; many of the researchers are here part-time for collaborations, and about half of the support staff are independent. The pay's good."

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"We have nearly full-sized replicas of the shop and library, and full-size of the lab, and run weekend workshops for independent kids; staff gets their pick of them. And a lot of them are on long contract to be enclavers eventually."

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They want so badly to be good people. 

And Julian can't say he blames them. It's not like he turned down his chance at a New York slot.  He can tell himself it's because of the kids (which is true), and because the best thing he can do with his affinity is work on the Scholomance expansion team (which is at least highly probable) – but it's certainly convenient how it requires him to live in a nice cushy enclave and do cutting-edge magical research with the greatest sorcerers in the world. 

"My dad used to work for Hong Kong enclave. Mundane wealth management. The really strange thing is that I think he actually likes it, he cares about things like spreadsheets and exchange-traded funds." 

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"Huh! You know, mundane wealth management is what funds the enclave. They pay tens of millions of dollars a year for the fastest cable connection under the Atlantic so they can get news from London a little faster than the competitors."

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"That's – really? It's a shame you can't put one through to Tokyo or Shanghai." Hong Kong might actually go for it, on the mundane end it's the third biggest stock exchange in Asia and the enclave leadership is always looking for ways to assert their independence from the Shanghaiers. And he could go home on weekends. 

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"There've been conversations. It takes a lot of trust, of course, on both sides, but when you can pull it off.... what we have with London is that one of the exits to the London enclave is anchored on New York, not anywhere on Earth at all. The ultimate protection against getting destroyed in the Blitz."

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Wow. He'd always assumed the trans-Atlantic portal had physical anchors at both ends. Maybe there really is something for him to learn here. 

"I'd love to know how they did that." 

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"If you're getting any diagrams out of the library you have to wait until after dinner," says Julia, who is feeding lobster to Trisket. "Household rule. No enclave diagrams at the dinner table."

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"No diagrams. Cross my heart. It'll be easier now that I'm not having them foisted upon me with absolutely no provocation." 

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Over sautéed frog legs provencale and grilled hanger steak and sole dijon hollandaise, Julia's dad will explain how the trans-Atlantic portal works!

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This time last week Julian was eating reconstituted nutrient paste while going over the plan for the 700th time. It doesn't feel totally real. 

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Julia has four glasses of wine, after which it starts to feel very real, because if she'd ever felt like this in the Scholomance she'd have been dying. 

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Julian has one glass after which he cuts himself off in a slight panic because if he ever felt like this in the Scholomance he'd have been dying. 

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Drunk Julia is even bubblier than normal Julia. She entertains her parents with very scrubbed anecdotes about school and at the end of the evening when Julia is leaving she gives him a very long hug and a kiss on the cheek. "We should invite Naima too next time!" she says after she does this, so her mom won't get confused.

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" - hmmmm? She's - okay, right? She texted that she survived!"

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"She's okay, but – I guess she wouldn't have told you about her contract with Paris." 

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"No, she mentioned she was in Paris! It's not far, it's, like, a three hour train? Mom, how long does it take to get to Paris?"

 

       "The train's a little less than three hours but you'll want to allow three and a half, the enclave entrance isn't very near the train station."

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"I mean – she's not an enclave member, it's an indenture. She signed the contract before she ever got the Scholomance. I don't know a lot about the exact terms – she didn't – but I'm not sure if she's even allowed to leave the enclave. ....That's the other reason I want to start working right away." 

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"They can't not let her leave, that's, like, kind of kidnapping? Is that legal in France? They can, like, sue her, if she's doing work on the side for other people -" Julia looks at Annaka, who would know more about this.

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"I get the sense Paris enclave's present leadership is courting some kind of eventual reckoning," Annaka says neutrally.

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"She should sue in the European pan-enclave arbitration committee," says Julia's father. "I'm not sure how it'd shake out but it's embarrassing for them for it to go to commission at all, I'm sure they'd make some strategic concessions..."

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"That's a thing? How do you do that? Does she need a lawyer? Are there wizard-lawyers? Could we start putting together a case if I can't actually get in touch with her? I have to assume they're monitoring her communications – "  

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"If she can't be communicated with you can absolutely put a case together about that! And of course there are wizard-lawyers, there are people making twenty year, thirty year commitments like your friends' for an enclave seat or a Scholomance slot or a spell trade, they've got to have lawyers. I can ask Marc for a referral to someone who handles European pan-enclave, it's not my area -"

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"We should sue everyone," says Julia passionately, flopping on a couch.

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"Thank you. I would really appreciate a referral. And –" ugh – "I can promise that I won't make this New York's problem."

He would love nothing more than to make this New York's problem. If he thought he could get away with it, he'd ask New York pay off the debt on the spot – but he knows exactly how much he can trade on skills he hasn't yet proven he has. So –  "I know I'm already asking the enclave to take on an unusually high share of my personal obligations." 

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"It is a big ask," Julia's father says. "There's a reason we don't generally offer it. But it makes sense to me that you'd hold out for somewhere that will, and given that, we'll just have to figure out if there's a way to make it a good idea."

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It's a good idea for you because in about ten years, I'll be able to do things nobody else even dreams about. The problem is convincing them of that right now. 

"I understand. I do hope I'll be able to make things work with New York." 

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"I hope so too! Honestly I'm optimistic. But I'd be doing you a disservice if I said it's all squared away, it's not. We're hoping we can figure it out, and that's where we're at."

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They're going to put him through some kind of test, and you don't get to be valedictorian if you don't test well. He's not too worried. 

"I appreciate your transparency. And thanks, again, for having me over." 

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"Our pleasure."

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"Give 'em hell!" yells Julia from where she is flopped on the sofa. 

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You know, of all the enclave kids he could have dragged through the graduation gates, he's glad it was her. 

"I will."   

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They set up the discussion about family membership for two days later, in a conference room on the fake-roof. It's very classy; the illusory sky holds up well, up here, and there's a New York skyline in the distance in all directions, as if they're really atop a mid-sized building in the middle of the city. Though without the street noise. 

 

Everyone is, as Julia promised, wearing suits so he knows they're serious.

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Julian is wearing a suit too, thank you Julia. He makes the mental motion of taking a deep breath without giving any external indication of being ruffled, which is something he's practiced a lot over the past four years. He's never been good at negotiating. There's a reason that was Naima's job, and everything he knows he's learned from watching her. First lesson: don't let them think they have all the leverage. 

"Thank you all for agreeing to meet with me. I think you should know, before we start, that this isn't something I'm willing to compromise on." 

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New York's current Dominus is Fred Mandel; he's coming up on a hundred but really doesn't look it. His grandchildren have graduated. "We wouldn't expect you to," he says. "Of course your top priority is the safety of your family. And in the same spirit - one of the commitments we make to our members - including to you, if you become one - is that we will not compromise our children's safety for outside politics. If we believe that adding in additional students will put their cohort in greater danger - well, you can't pay us enough to do that. So one conversation we need to have is who they are, what they've learned so far, and whether there's a way to do this safely. If there is, then we can discuss why it serves New York to make a massive exception in this case."

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"Alice is eleven. Her affinity is very near term divination – on the order of hours to minutes, the shorter the time the more accurate the results. Andrew is eight and Margaret is six; we don't know their affinities yet. All of them are native speakers of English and Cantonese and fluent in Mandarin, all of them are spell-competent or approaching spell-competence in at least one other language. All of them are academically advanced for their age. They are physically healthy, reasonably diligent, and have no signs of emotional or mental instability. All of them currently attend mundane school, although Alice is probably going to have to leave in a few months; Alice and Andrew are both studying for the Scholomance entrance exams as well. Their curriculum is naturally more focused on the Chinese spell tradition but I imagine quite a bit of it is transferable. All of them have age-appropriate experience in a well-stocked alchemy lab. I was raised in similar conditions and there's no reason to believe that my academic preparation was inadequate."  

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"We'll need to interview them."

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"Of course. Andrew and Margaret should be able to travel safely – would you able to arrange protection for Alice?"

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"Yes. Will your parents want to come as well? I assume they'd want to move here, if we're able to work something out."

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"Yes. Certainly to the city, even if they can't live in the enclave." 

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"We have people living in the enclave who aren't members. I would recommend it, if their children's training is happening here."

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"I'm sure they would appreciate that very much." 

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"So one reason we don't usually make arrangements like this is worries the kids can't keep up. The other is that our commitment is made, and set in stone, up front, and that puts us in an awkward position if you decide you actually want to devote your life to mosaic tiling. You can't put a price on this, and so we can't sue you for it. And we won't boot the kids, once they're in -- which makes us very reluctant to rush that. In general people get family slots for past services rendered, not future ones."

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"I understand. I'm willing to sign any kind of binding contract you can come up with that I'll stay in New York, that I'll keep working on the Scholomance expansion team, that I'll do enclave expansions  – wherever you think I would be most valuable." Signing away his right to choose his own projects would be a blow, but thankfully his affinity is narrow enough that he's likely to be most valuable doing exactly the kind of work he'd like to be doing. "Or I could expand the enclave myself before you let them in. I think with six months of preparation I could achieve a 30% increase in size. I'm prepared to for you to evaluate me to verify that I can do this." 

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Some glances are exchanged. Some murmurs are exchanged.

 

 

"Let's arrange to bring the kids over now," the Dominus says. "And I don't want to wait, with an eleven year old, to get her into classes and introduced to her peers, so let's say that she's in if we think that she can keep up. And for the younger ones - once you've achieved a 30% expansion, however long that takes you, and the only contract binding over future actions would be that the intellectual property produced while you work here is the collective property of the enclave. There'd be lots of details to hammer out, of course, but as an outline."

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They're going to go for it – which means he's in a position of strength. Don't let up. 

"The intellectual property clause – is that standard for all New York wizards?"

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"For work on the Scholomance and similar projects, yes. The details vary for alchemists who want to brew things in their basement."

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One day, Julian is going to make his own enclaves. But that day is far in the future – fifteen or twenty years, after the Scholomance expansion is done – and by then nobody will doubt his value to New York. 

"We can discuss the details when I've done the expansion." 

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He raises his eyebrows. "Thirty percent. Good luck, young man."

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He doesn't need it.

"Thank you. I'm looking forward to it." 

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That night, he writes a letter. 

"Dearest Naima,

I did it. They'll take the kids. If we're going to be technical about it, they're going to take Alice right now and the others if I can successfully expand the enclave, but we both know that won't be a problem. The negotiation was much easier than I expected; all I did was take a few deep breaths and pretend that I was you. It's all very strange right now, but I think in a few years when I've gotten fat and complacent I could really come to like it here. There are some truly brilliant researchers on the expansion project. I won't say they want to do right by all of wizardkind, but that's because they're not willing to give up one scrap of the advantage they've clawed together for their own kids – which I can at least respect." 

He picks up the pen. Thinks about writing, it might not be such a bad thing to have kids of our own here one day. Thinks better of it. 

"Julia took me shopping the other day and now I've got a closet full of bespoke suits. I won't tell you how much I spent – I don't want to add to your burdens. I wish I could take you to meet the tailor, though, I think you'd like him. I've never known a human being (besides you!) to have so many opinions about how to stitch a cuff. I had dinner with her family – Julia's, not the tailor's – and it was fascinating to see. Before you ask: no, they're not all like that. But I can see how they're related, especially her sister. Can you imagine she's a mundane college student? If I ever have to turn in another homework assignment I think I'll drop dead on the spot. Also, Triscuit is real and I got to pet him. 

Her father thinks you might have legal options we weren't previously aware of. I'm trying to find a lawyer who specializes in pan-European enclave law. I'll be busy with the expansion for the next six months, but after that we can seriously try to bring a case. I love you. I miss you. I'm still trying. 

Yours ever, 

Julian." 

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He does get a letter back, a couple days later.

Dear Julian,

That's great! I won't say 'incredible' because, after all, they do need you more than you need them, and I'm sure someone at New York is competent enough to notice it. But it's good that the kids are getting in as soon as possible, and will be as prepared as possible. It sounds like you're having a good time there, which I suppose is a good sign about the rest of your life.

Paris is... fine. Nothing horrible has happened. I arrived here the morning after graduation, got shown around a bit, and went over the contract. This time I was actually able to read it. Not sure whether my French has gotten better, or if I've just run into scarier things in the last four years. Back of the envelope math gives wildly different timelines depending on what I think people might pay for stuff from me, and it's not exactly easy to research what the real numbers might be. Paris enclave doesn't have internet, and I can think of about fifty ways for relying on Parisian intermediaries to go terribly. I did ask for some plants to grow for potion materials, and they said I could have them on credit, with the cost added to what I owe. They should pay for themselves unless something goes terribly wrong. Other than that I've been working on setting up another table lathe, like the one I had at school, since obviously I don't have access to enclave mana storage, and I'm going to have to make my own. I guess there are plenty of other things I could complain about, if I wanted to, but I imagine they'll sound sort of petty written out, even written to you.

I hope it goes well with the kids. 

Yours,

Naima

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Julian is having so much fun. 

Enclave design is a tedious process. You have to map all the magical terrain for miles around and painstakingly alter all the relevant spells to suit local conditions and sit through endless meetings with the architects and the maintenance crews and the guy who does the illusory weather because some aspect or other of your design interferes with some key process or other even though they all swore up and down it was really final this time. He loves all of it. He can see exactly what he wants to build, in his head, and turning it into structure and line and verse is the most intuitive thing in the world. He had no idea that magic could be this effortless; it's like he's spent years swimming through molasses and only just now broken through into pure, clear water. He's even starting to enjoy the awful sessions where he presents his plans to the enclave council, because he can tell they're having trouble following some of it and he does like being the cleverest person in the room. 

He writes to Naima every week. She responds – less frequently, and less effusively. He's not sure if she's busy, or genuinely less interested in him than he is in her, now that they're not trapped together in an awful death school. Sometimes he wonders if the powers that be in Paris are holding her letters back – but since that's the explanation that flatters his ego most, he tries not to put too much stock by it. If she wants space, she can have all the space she needs. 

He's ready in a little under six months. These things are usually done in stages, but he thinks he'll get better results with a 36-hour long continuous casting. He's not worried about it, he's stayed awake for longer in school and New York has better drugs. It's happening tomorrow, and he's never been more excited in his life. 

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Julia has been spending the intervening time bar-hopping and shopping. She has plans to go to a tropical resort but it involves a lot of logistics and hasn't happened yet. Once she flirted with a cute guy on Tinder but then when she went home with him he tried to push her up against a wall and she kneed him in the gut and barely restrained herself from gouging his eyes out. This was, she freely concedes, entirely on her, you have to tell people about your trauma if you want them to accommodate it. But she's not interested in the kind of interactions you can have that start with explaining your tragic backstory.

 

She's okay. She says 'tragic backstory' but no one she liked is even dead. She looks for Naima on Instagram to add but when that doesn't work she figures Julian will tell her when the legal stuff is all sorted.

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Julian hasn't taken a real weekend since November because if he stops working for too long his stomach tightens and he feels like he's going to die, but other than that he's doing great! 

There's nothing like singing a new space out of the void. It's better than his first breath of fresh air after graduation, better than seeing the sun, better than real food, and almost certainly better than sex (not that he has any personal experience to speak of). The spell goes off perfectly, of course. He knew it would. He can feel the mana flooding over him and through him and into the blueprint he's spent so long constructing in his mind. After a while, he drops the reviser and starts filling in the details manually with improvised snatches of Cantonese. When it's over, he collapses, and even though he's practically dead on his feet he doesn't even feel tired.   

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New York has interviewed the kids. They will still push pretty hard about IP, especially on Scholomance-related projects, but other than that there's not really a lot to argue about. The enclave gets a boardwalk, winding over two small parks all the way over to the London entrance, fragrant and beautiful and full of growing alchemical herbs. 

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Julian mainly cares about retaining the right to do whatever he wants with his own spells. If that's restricted to non-Scholomance-related work, he'll live. 

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They can agree to that.

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Oh good. Now that that's out of the way, he can ask Mr. Sanderson about finding that pan-European enclave lawyer. 

(Julian hasn't been without a project to work on in – as long as he can remember, actually). 

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Mr. Sanderson doesn't know anyone who works on the pan-European enclave arbitration project but he knows a bunch of lawyers who know people and eventually Julian can be set up with someone who charges a stunning hourly rate and wants a copy of Naima's contract first thing so they can see what they're dealing with.

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Well, Julian can write to Naima asking for a copy of her contract, but he's not optimistic. 

He didn't, actually, ask to be paid for the enclave expansion so right now his budget is the standard $8000 a month. Is he going to need to get a salary? He has no idea how to go about getting a salary. 

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"That should cover, like, some hours of lawyer? I think even the fanciest lawyers only charge like a thousand dollars an hour. And I can pitch in too, obviously. If you want a salary I think you go talk with HR about formally getting hired as a researcher, which will not be hard."

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"I think this is going to take more than eight hours a month of lawyer, so, yeah, I should talk to HR. Uh, do you know what researchers usually get paid? It's not that I think they're going to lowball me, but when I imagine myself taking an offer without negotiating I have this mental image of Naima flying across the Atlantic ocean to chew me out – " 

If only. 

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"No idea but you can just ask the other researchers 'hey, what salary did you start at?' and then ask for double that because you're twice as good as them."

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So Julian will go talk to the researchers on the expansion team! 

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Most of them joined older than 'straight out of high school'. They know, by now, Julian's reasons for not taking a few years off, traveling the world, but it's what they did, and came to salary negotiations with slightly more of an appreciation for what mundane money can buy, which is less than you'd like. If Julian wants his whole salary denominated in mundane money they ought to be willing to give him a couple million dollars a year. Most people instead ask for things you can't buy with mundane money at all.

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Julian has been outside enough to know that that's a) a stunning amount of money, which b) will let him pay off Naima's bond somewhere in the next 50 to 100 years. So he should be asking for things that aren't money. Great. He wants the people he loves to be safe and free and living, which is exactly what everyone wants and nobody can buy for any amount of money at all. 

He hates not knowing what to ask for. In fact, he hates not knowing in full generality, because there's  part of his brain that will never let go of the conviction that the moment he doesn't have the answer is when another kid slips ahead of him and he falls out of the rankings and dies. So he says he'd like to start working part time for now, paid in cash, while he thinks about what he wants to be doing next. What he wants to be doing next is fixing all of his problems with the sheer power of being smarter and better than anyone else, but wishes aren't horses and anyway someone needs to start saving up for Choi-fung's Scholomance equipment. 

He books an appointment with that lawyer. 

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The lawyer wants to see the contract. Where are they on that.

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"I've asked about it – a few times – but she's never mentioned it in any of her letters. Actually, I don't think any of the letters where I've brought it up have gotten a response at all."  

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" - all right, well, that's a cause of action, withholding documents relevant to an ongoing legal case, if you're very confident it's Paris withholding them - or withholding your correspondence about them - and not your friend doing it. The next step would be to write up a formal letter notifying them that those documents are requested for an ongoing legal case."

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"I'm confident it's not her. Who would I send this letter to? I do know who has her indenture, his name is Louis August Grive." 

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"To him and to her, then. And if we don't hear back from either of those we can escalate. Paris doesn't use internet, but there's a way to send letters and get confirmation of receipt."

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It's not that hard to wire an enclave for internet and Julian is sorely tempted to fly to Paris and just fucking fix it for them so he can just talk to his girlfriend. Assholes. He sends the letters. 

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He gets back two letters! One of them has a cover letter that was probably written or at least heavily vetted by another lawyer, and then the contract itself, which looks like the product of many, many more hours of work by lawyers. The other one is from Naima, and confirms that she got the request and that she was told that the Paris would send the contract.

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Well, he can bring that to his own lawyer and see if there's any hope. 

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"Well, to be straight with you, it doesn't look great. If you want to burn a lot of money on making them burn a lot of money, we can certainly try."

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It's fine. This just puts him back where he was to begin with. 

"Do you think I'd be better off just paying the debt?"

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"- if you want her out? Yes. If you want, you know, to shame them into giving her weekends off and a better communications channel, I think we can achieve that in court eventually."

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Somehow he can't imagine Naima taking weekends off. 

"So let's say I've decided to raise the money – I assume the fastest way to do that is selling enclave expansions? Is there a standard contract for that? Do I have to get it approved by the enclave council? How much of a cut does New York take?" 

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"Good questions all. I can refer you to someone."

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Right. They're lawyers, which means they get to be helpful strictly in 15-minute increments. Julian can't imagine living like that voluntarily; it'd be just like being back in school. 

"Thanks. I'd appreciate it."