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If at first you don't succeed, start over.
"Good morning, brother! Morning, morning, MORNING!"
Kirielle
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Mother of Learning is a complete (as of February 10th, 2020) fantasy/mystery Web Serial Novel by nobody103 (Domagoj Kurmaic). It begins with fifteen-year-old Zorian Kazinski, a studious, solitary (read: antisocial) young man, waking on the morning he is to catch the train to his third year of training at Cyoria's Royal Academy of Magical Arts. A man with no idea that in a month's time, he would find himself embroiled in circumstances far beyond the capacity of any fifteen-year-old mage-in-training to deal with ... and then find himself once again waking on the morning he is to catch the train to begin his third year at Cyoria.

As the month continues to repeat itself over and over, though, Zorian must grow far beyond his humble roots if he's to have any chance of surviving and escaping from the endless loop. And even with the ability to reset time, he's not always safe from the dangers around him...

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Also published on Royal Road here.


This work contains examples of:

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     A - D 
  • Absence of Evidence: In the second arc, Zorian is paranoid about Red Robe, who cannot be traced with magic and seems to have stopped aiding the invaders. He is afraid of what he might be up to and of doing anything that might attract his attention. He had, in fact, left the time loop.
  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: Many cities choose to seal off parts of the Dungeon (an underground maze of caves and tunnels) to serve as sewers — which is why said sewers are so labyrinthine and oversized. Word Of God is that the Dungeon spans the entire planet; no one knows how such a honeycomb holds up under its own weight.
  • Acceptable Target: Several In-Universe.
    • Zorian decides that he's okay with whatever happens to the cultists of the World Dragon. That includes everything from burglary and robbery to Mind Rape and assassination, if it serves his goals. He doesn't quite go as far as torturing dozens of them to death while bonded to them, in order to unlock his soul perception, but otherwise, pretty much anything goes.
    • Zach feels similarly about using the time loop to make one-sided deals with Quatach-Ichl, where the lich's gains are ephemeral while theirs are lasting.
      Zach: I feel a dark spark of joy at the very thought of such a scenario. If there is anyone that I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty doing that to, it's him.
  • Actually a Doombot:
    • The aranea and a group of mercenaries ambush Red Robe, aiming to incapacitate him, but accidentally kill him instead - except that the simulacrum just turns to smoke and vanishes, after which the real Red Robe (or maybe even another copy) ambushes them in turn.
    • Zorian uses a literal remote controlled magic robot as a body double to disguise his true movements within Iasku Mansion. The villain eventually works it out, but is already cornered by then.
    • Near the end of the story, Zorian's simulacra are regularly clashing with Red Robe's simulacra, although Zorian's are tougher and usually win. The real Red Robe is out of the country at the time.
  • Adventure-Friendly World: Between humans expanding into the monster-haunted wilderness, the worldwide Dungeon full of peril and wealth, the countries preparing for the next round of war and buisnesses using dirty tricks to compete, there are lots of options for skilled mages. Zorian gets invited to engage in corporate espionage while hunting monsters.
  • Amnesiac Hero: Zach. When Zorian meets him, he can't remember how the loop started or what it's about, though he has a feeling that he should defeat the invasion of Cyoria. Zorian attributes the holes in his memory to Quatach-Ichl's soul magic attack. They're actually much older, from when Red Robe betrayed him and partially wiped his memory to stop him from interfering and let him die in the final loop collapse.
  • Affably Evil:
    • When Zorian invades his home, Sudomir Kandrei (a necromancer, mayor of a city, and the person responsible for the deaths of various soul mages around the area) greets him casually, even cordially, as if talking to an old friend.
    • Quatach-Ichl can be quite polite and reasonable for someone plotting mass murder.
    • QI's Affably Evil nature takes a sudden turn when it turns into a race between him and the protagonists to see who can stab the other in the back first. Amusingly, the protagonists are usually the ones who betray him, and they even point out his honorable nature as a way to get him on their side.
  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: When Zorian hears Raynie asking how he'd react if he had been older than his Child Prodigy brother Daimen, and had been initially favoured but then replaced, he's pretty sure it's not really just a hypothetical, and he's right.
  • Anti-Magic:
    • The train to Cyoria is warded to make mana shaping harder. A skilled mage can overcome it, but it keeps rowdy students and casual vandals from getting out of control.
    • There are manacles that entirely suppress the captive's ability to shape mana, for keeping mages prisoner. However, they don't stop entirely innate abilities like those possessed by shifters...
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Nearly everything in the story runs off of mana. Spells? Fueled by mana. Monsters? Can absorb ambient mana to power their unusual abilities. Trains? Crystallised mana is cleaner than coal.
  • The Archmage: While Archmage has a specific meaning in-universe (roughly speaking, a Master of All who has reached a high level of skill in multiple schools of magic) and several characters have the skills, Quatach-Ichl is the person all other mages are measured against.
  • Arranged Marriage: Kirielle's husband has already been chosen six years in advance.
  • As You Know: Zorian easily gets tired of review lessons or teachers spelling out basic magic theory — even before they start being literal repeats.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Magic is totally capable of making objects fly, but the mana cost scales up so quickly that magical aircraft are largely an impractical novelty, requiring expensive construction materials, consuming exorbitant amounts of magical fuel, and being restricted to paths with high ambient mana. For intercontinental travel, people generally prefer teleportation (if they're in a hurry) or sailing ships (if they aren't).
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Awan-Temti Khumbastir invaded Koth, wanting fame and glory and his name to never be forgotten. His campaign was a failure and he died in the jungle, making him a popular cautionary tale against arrogance and glory-seeking.
  • Berserk Button: Zorian is startled by the strength of the aranea matriarch's reaction when he merely mentions a human empath. The matriarch is not happy about the usual human attitudes to empathy and mind magic, especially how they limit what can be done with it.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses:
    • Extra eyes, a sense of vibration, a sense of taste through touch... Zorian has to learn to cope with aranean thoughts in order to be able to read the Matriarch's planted memories.
    • He deliberately commissions potions to grant him the sensory abilities of a Grey Hunter spider, allowing him to stomp on the ground and sense everything in their surroundings through the resulting vibrations. By that point, he has enough practice with alien senses that he's able to use them fairly effectively. It turns out that adjusting easily to unusual sensory input is part of being Open.
  • Blood Knight: He's not obsessive about it, but Zach loves the thrill of combat. His reaction to the appearance of an immense eight-headed hydra, after fighting through a hundred chameleon drakes, is, "Looks like I might have some actual fun here after all!"
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Taiven is a just-graduated Magic Knight looking to get apprenticed as an explorer and shameless in her ability to railroad through anything in her way.
    Taiven [barging into the room]: Roach! You're just the man I... wait, am I interrupting something?
    Zorian: Yes?
    Taiven: Never mind, it will only take a minute. [shoving a newspaper into his face] Did you see this?
  • Bonus Content: The story began as a world building project, and the author posts more background information on his blog from time to time, explaining the history of the nations, the different fields of magic, the intelligent species humanity has encountered, and a variety of other topics.
  • Boring, but Practical: The humble "magic missile" spell is certainly eclipsed in raw power and spectacle by many other types of combat magic; Zach has long since moved on from it, preferring fireballs, ethereal shark jaws, and blades imbued with energy that will melt the innards of any target they hit. But magic missile is relatively easy to learn, and if well cast, is powerful enough to take out an unshielded human or many types of wild monsters, with a short casting time and minimal mana cost. By adjusting the shape of the missile, it's even possible to produce different effects; it can be a bludgeon, it can punch holes, it can follow a moving target, it can even just produce an audible shriek as it flies through the air (if the caster needs to draw attention). And like any spell, the more it's practised, the faster and more efficient it is to cast, until ultimately a perfect cast will have no energy leakage and will thus be invisible — or, alternatively, someone at that level can cast an imperfect version in a hurry with a single gesture. Naturally, having low mana reserves, but lots of time for practice, Zorian becomes an expert in this spell.
  • Brought Down to Normal: When his soul is damaged, preventing him from using any magic for several months while it heals, Zorian finds the whole thing a thoroughly miserable experience. He can't teleport, he can't craft magical items, he can't even repel vermin. By that point, he's essentially an archmage, but without his magic, he's reduced to being a mundane teenager.
  • Busman's Holiday: Zorian and Zach decide to take a short break after learning that Red Robe has already left the time loop and locked the gate behind him. That restart is promptly filled with Xvim and Alanic coordinating with each other and making a string of demands, fruitlessly trying to track down Veyers Boranova, Taiven stepping up Zorian's combat training, including martial arts practices that leave him regularly bruised, and then Xvim presenting him with the ethical quandary of whether to use his mind magic more aggressively to steal magical secrets that might help escape the loop world.
    Zorian: Worst vacation ever.
  • Butterfly of Doom: Zigzagged. Zorian's actions don't always have an effect proportional to the effort expended. Big changes sometimes do almost nothing, small changes often spread and have knock-on effects.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Among Zorian's classmates is Benisek, a boy whose primary occupation at school is the pursuit of girls.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: There are innumerable details in the early chapters whose importance only comes to light many, many chapters later.
    • In chapter 2, he makes a very passing reference to the absence of Veyers Boranova, who was expelled. Veyers turns out to be a crucial link to the identity of the third time traveler, but is never mentioned again until chapter 56.
    • Also in chapter 2, Taiven invites him to pad out her team's numbers on a find-and-retrieve job in the local Dungeon. The spiders that she would encounter eventually become crucial allies, after chapter 17. Then, much later, the ward breaker device that she was hired to retrieve turns out to be crucial in accessing the secret research chamber within the aranean base, which is essential in developing Zorian's ability to properly coordinate with his simulacra for the endgame.
    • His first time going to Cyoria, Zorian helps a girl to pull her bicycle out of a creek. Nearly 40 chapters later, when Kirielle befriends the girl, she becomes an important lead in tracing the activities of the Dragon Cult.
    • In Chapter 51, when Zorian goes to inform the Church about Sudomir's soul-sinking well, he enters into discussion with a priest about the importance of souls. The priest mentions that the divines could use a soul to create an identical copy of a person, indistinguishable from the original in every way. In Chapter 54, Zorian discovers that this is the exact mechanism of the time loop. By creating a fake world for the loop, the angels have populated it with exact copies of every single person that exists in the real world. Meaning, apart from Zach, who's the true Controller of the loop, every character seen so far is a clone.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Knowing that he'll likely be less powerful than those he'll have to fight, Zorian plans much of his fighting style around tricks, traps, and bombs.
  • Corrupted Contingency: Liches tend to have protections intended to pull their souls back to their phylacteries if threatened.Which is how Kael's banishment coin is able to work; it couldn't have kicked Quatach-Ichl out by itself, but his contingencies triggered. Zorian defeats Quatach-Ichl in the final battle in a similar way, although that is a downplayed example, as it did involve a genuinely dangerous attack.
  • Covers Always Lie: The original eBook cover shows Zorian, holding a weapon, staring down an ominous Giant Spider who looks like the Big Bad. In actuality the aranea are, most of the time, some of his most reliable allies.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • Zorian may be invisible, but he still uses a scarf to hide his face. He also purchases a gun to supplement his combat magic.
    • When he investigates the Ibasan base, he doesn't expect to find hordes of undead — so he "only" has five dispeller grenades as part of a standard loadout. When he tries it again, his explosives are being magically blocked, so he tries a succession of different types of grenades until he finally succeeds with a purely alchemical bomb containing no spells.
      Sudomir: Just how many expendables did you bring with you?
  • Cry into Chest: Taiven breaks down sobbing on Zorian's shoulder when his superior skills make her doubt her own ability and the value of her years of hard work. Zorian tells her about the loop, the source of his strength, because he doesn't have the heart to leave her feeling that way.
  • Cynical Mentor: Professor Xvim has impossibly high standards he expects Zorian to live up to immediately, and whenever Zorian reaches one, Xvim just expects even more next restart. Everyone hates him. It's later revealed that he spends one month putting all his new apprentices through hell to break down what he sees as arrogance and see where they most desperately need instruction. Zorian couldn't possibly get to the 'real' tutelage inside the Time Loop without revealing himself. Even when he relaxes somewhat, he's still a ridiculously difficult teacher. As expected of an Archmage who specialises in defensive applications of unstructured magic.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique:
    • Drawing on ambient mana directly without assimilating it into one's personal mana is prohibited, and for good reason; ambient mana is toxic when used, poisoning both the body and mind. Substantial use will cause sickness, prolonged use causes insanity, and even magical items have to be made resilient enough for the amount of mana they'll channel so that they don't burn out. Nonetheless, if a mage is running out of mana in a critical situation, it may be better to get sick for a week than die on the spot.
    • Alanic knows multiple methods of teaching personal soul awareness, one of which is both the fastest and most effective, giving a level of awareness that the slower methods would just never achieve. The trouble is, it involves temporarily dying and then finding your way back to your body. Make a mistake, or linger outside your body too long, and you'll stay dead. Also, that brief absence of the soul is enough to let your life force run out of control, rendering your body seriously ill. Naturally, with the time loop ensuring that Death Is a Slap on the Wrist, and resetting any bodily harm each month, Zorian jumps at the chance.
  • Deader than Dead: With the possible exception of a few males, the aranea all die immediately upon the start of every loop. According to Red Robe, it’s because he didn't just kill their bodies but their souls as well. In reality, Red Robe simply ejected the spiders from the loop, meaning that after the final iteration they wake up just like the rest.
  • Deadly Dodging: Xvim uses dimensional gates to redirect a spell from Quatach-Ichl into another invader. Zorian wonders for a moment why he didn't just return it to sender, then realises that that probably wouldn't have worked anyway, and he achieved more by taking out another enemy.
  • Deadly Gas: The traps in Iasku Mansion include flooding a corridor with "breath-stealer gas". Too bad that golems are unaffected.
  • Deadly Gaze: Eye Beasts can kill with a look. Just another reason to not get too cocky against an unknown enemy.note 
    "Oh come on!" Zorian groaned, burying his face in his hands. "That’s it!? It just looked at me and I died? What kind of absurd ability is that!?"
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Due to the nature of the time loop Zorian finds himself in, the only consequence of death is the loss of a bit of time. Of course, later time eventually becomes much more valuable...
  • Death of Personality: One of Zorian’s true fears, given that there’s not much else that can harm him inside the time loop.
  • Defense Mechanism Superpower: The Controller marker automatically detects the death of the Controller, or mind/soul tampering, and resets the loop to protect the Controller. Or, at least, Zach's marker does those things, while Zorian's broken version does not. Eventually Zorian learns to manually interact with his marker, through extensive soul awareness training, giving him the ability to reset the loop at will without suicide.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Some traditionalists in Zorian's neck of the woods believe it's a waste of time to educate female children. But until she tells him, he doesn't know his parents thought that way about Kirielle. He promises to teach her, no matter what.It turns out to be a little more complicated as Zorian later learns that the reason his mother doesn't want Kirielle to learn magic is because there's a specific stigma against the daughters of witches. Zorian's mother dealt with that stigma and doesn't want her daughter to, as well.
    • Quatach-Ichl is also a victim of this. While he's a Noble Demon who adheres to a code of honor and never betrays people unless they betray him first, he's also a thousand years old, meaning that his moral system is extremely dated and generally far more brutal than most people would consider acceptable in the present day.
  • Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: It's actually quite difficult to enchant bullets, since they're small, usually made of magically inert materials, and can't be accessed once they're in the gun. Arrows are easier. However, with extensive effort, Zorian does manage to pack a bullet with a magical fluid that turns organic material to crystal, in order to take down the grey hunter.
  • Dig Attack: One of Zorian's early deaths is to a giant brown worm that can travel through dirt like water, allowing it to hide underground and ambush its prey. And the invaders have more than one. But they get a lot less threatening once Zorian's empathy develops enough to sense the locations of their minds and see them coming.
  • Dimensional Cutter: One of Zach's many (many, many) combat spells is a projectile that explodes into a cluster of spatial distortions. The first time Zorian sees it in use, it shreds a building "like an apple thrown into an industrial blender machine."
  • Disintegrator Ray: Quatach-Ichl's signature spell is a red ray shot from his finger, disintegrating whatever it hits. More than once, a flash of jagged red light is the last thing Zorian sees before time resets.
  • Drinking Contest: Despite having much less experience, Zorian can drink Zach under the table, with a simple trick he learned from Haslush. Namely, covertly transmuting alcohol into sugar.
  • Dungeon Crawling: One common source of employment for mages and students of magic is exploring The Dungeon (also known as the Underworld or the Labyrinth), an enormous underground maze of caves and tunnels. Appropriately, the deeper one travels, the stronger the magic and the more dangerous the inhabitants.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Kazinskis.
    • The parents seem more or less united by their shared ambitions, although Cikan is seen openly disparaging her husband in front of her children, and his reaction to Zorian being sick is to scoff at Zorian's weakness. The only time Zorian ever seems to draw his approval is when Zorian is extremely ill from soul damage, but still wants to return to school — not exactly a glowing recommendation.
    • Daimen is the "golden child" who nonetheless has alienated all three of his siblings, and their parents are now unhappy with his fiancee and are traveling to another continent to talk him out of it.
    • Fortov is charismatic but unmotivated, failing in his studies and falling out of favor with their parents as a result. In the many years Zorian spends repeating the month, he never checks how Fortov copes during the invasion, and his experience is that Fortov only approaches him when trying to get something.
    • Zorian is now being activated as the spare heir after Fortov's failures, but wants nothing to do with his parents or their business. He doesn't approach Daimen until it's clear that escaping the loop will require Daimen's help, and doesn't want to touch Fortov with a pole.
    • Kirielle is the Annoying Younger Sibling and yet also the only family member Zorian claims to like. She's a little more understanding of Fortov's faults than Zorian is, but still doesn't like him, and Daimen is almost a stranger to her. As for their parents, she's trying to get out of an arranged marriage and into magic school, firmly against her mother's wishes, and can't even reveal her interest in drawing.

     E - N 
  • Eaten Alive: Everything in the Dungeon near Knyazov Dveri wants to kill and eat you, but the ordering of those two is flexible.
    The rock mites, for instance, wanted to paralyze you and lay their eggs into your still-living body so their larvae could eat you alive from the inside out.
  • The Empath: Entertainingly, Zorian, considering that he is probably the most misanthropic character in the setting.
  • Enemy Mine: The aranea have thrived beneath Cyoria, not by being the strongest species around (they aren't), but by being willing to cooperate with humans and provide them with useful intelligence to wipe out mutual enemies.
  • Enlightened Self-Interest: The aranea matriarch's plans to integrate with human society are based on human selfishness and the benefits the aranea can bring.
    Spear of Resolve: Nobody wants to kill the goose that laid golden eggs. No offense to your kind, but I trust your greed more than I trust your compassion.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Quatach-Ichl may be leading an invasion intended to kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people, but he has a clear foreign policy aim in doing so; he doesn't approve of Red Robe's plans for mass slaughter and chaos.
  • Every Man Has His Price:
    • With no need to save wealth beyond the end of the time loop and the knowledge of where large amounts of extremely valuable crystallized mana deposits are, Zach and Zorian (and anyone else they let in on the secret of the time loop) are free to offer people whatever it takes to get their cooperation, even if it means paying much more - in wealth, information, or any other resource - than the help would normally be worth.
    • They even manage to do this during the Final Battle. Zorian gets Oganj the dragon mage to abandon his allies and leave by making him a better offer than Red Robe did - two of the five divine artifacts that make up the key to the Sovereign Gate.
    • Zorian is a little surprised to find himself on the other end of this, when Gurey persuades him to help with some corporate espionage, in exchange for Gurey's information about analysing and defeating wards, and an associated spellbook.
  • Evil Is Easy:
    • Souls can be used as mana batteries, since they generate mana ex nihilo. Of course, that means enslaving someone and denying them even the opportunity to go to an afterlife, but hey, it's cheaper than crystallised mana and doesn't run out!
    • There are multiple potions for acquiring soul perception, and all have ingredients that are difficult and dangerous to come by. Or, alternatively, you can get soul perception by ritualistically torturing a dozen people to death, while temporarily soul-bonded to them so that you experience their deaths.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: This is Zorian's description of the first-year "Operation of Magic Items" class, when reviewing the curriculum with Kael. First and second years are about learning to access one's magic, with few actual spells being learned, and pouring mana into items to activate them is part of that.
  • Feather Flechettes: "Iron beak" birds have metal feathers, which they can throw with considerable accuracy. Combined with flight and their tendency to work in flocks, the result is essentially a Rain of Arrows. Fortunately they're not very resilient compared to the other invading monsters like trolls and wolves.
  • Finagle's Law: Zorian is Genre Savvy enough to exploit this law when searching for a MacGuffin, checking the most dangerous location first. Naturally, he's correct.
    Zorian: I don’t know where the ring is, but I’m operating under the idea that our luck is horrible and thus our target is obviously in the most dangerous part of the ziggurat.
  • Foreign Ruling Class: The Altazia nations used to be like this, being formed by refugees from the fallen Ikosian Empire conquering the native Khusky. There's no mention of racial tensions in the current setting, but Ikosian is the language of the educated, while the peasants tend to speak a local Khusky language as their everyday tongue.
  • For Want of a Nail: Zorian is able to explore this in detail during the many loops.
    • He and Kael easily obtain a pass to visit the local Dungeon, but in the next restart, when he goes to Ilsa alone, she refuses to authorise it. Apparently Kael seems more self-sufficient and capable.
    • Without intervention, Sudomir's assassins kill Alanic in his sleep. However, if Zorian instead rescues Alanic's friend Lukav, then they rush to an immediate frontal attack, fearing that Alanic will be forewarned.
    • All Zorian's known patterns are disrupted by the ripples from the aranea being persistently killed. Even Taiven's sewer run has been upstaged by other opportunities.
  • Giant Spider: The aranea are a somewhat downplayed example; Zorian's narration describes them as being the size of his chest. But no matter, there are still giant tree spiders, giant trapdoor spiders, and the grey hunters left.
  • Godzilla Threshold: The gods actually prepared contingencies in the core of the world to deal with disasters like the release of a primordial. However, "deal with" in this case means scorched earth to remove the threat. According to the angels, humanity would probably not be entirely wiped out in the conflagration, but there's no guarantees. Thus, preventing the primordial's release is of prime importance.
  • Good Morning, Crono: Zorian's loop always begins with his little sister jumping on top of him and shouting "Good morning!" repeatedly.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: Although, unusually, the central character of the loop is not the protagonist, but Zach Noveda, one of Zorian's classmates.
  • Grumpy Bear: Zorian can't be having with all the cheerful, boisterous people around him trying to involve him in parties and other excessively social situations — that's for his brothers and sister.
  • Haunted House: Iasku Mansion doesn't look particularly spooky, but it's swarming with undead, and the soul of Sudomir's late wife is bound into the warding scheme, allowing the whole building's wards to be aware of Zorian and respond intelligently to his invasion.
  • Healing Factor: Survivability is a major priority for Red Robe's body in the real world, so he makes sure high-speed regeneration is included.
  • Hero of Another Story: All over the place, from the princess of a shifter tribe dealing with her culture's sexism and xenophobia, to a Morlock who lost his wife in a plague and wants to become a great healer, an undead-hunting priest with a dark past, a former thief going straight for her daughter's sake, an adventuring archeologist . . .
  • Hive Mind:
    • Completely applicable to Cranium Rats, who need to form a sufficiently large gestalt to even have substantial intelligence. Isolated rats just act like regular rats.
    • Partially applicable to the Aranea, who are individuals, but are constantly in telepathic contact with each other, so ideas spread quickly.
    • Hydras have eight heads that closely coordinate their activities, to the point where it's as if they have just one mind.
    • By studying the above examples, Zorian achieves a similar unity with his simulacra, at least when they're coordinating on parts of the same task.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Early in the story, Zorian seems to have the solution to the time loop, by breaking the invasion of Cyoria — but this turns out to be a Red Herring. Except that it later turns out, in the original plan the angels had for Zach, this would have broken the loop by informing Zach of how to leave.
    • Much later, Chapter 89, "Victory". All five key pieces are collected by the loopers, but it turns out that the resultant deal is cataclysmic — and then Silverlake snatches freedom away anyway.
  • I Have This Friend: Played for Laughs when Zorian asks about the legality of owning a giant, magically-enhanced hydra in Eldemar, "for a friend." Not that he ever had any intention of going through any legal channels, of course.
  • I'm Having Soul Pains: Soul magic attacks have very unpleasant effects, including excruciating pain, nausea, and in some cases ongoing weakness.
  • Immune to Mind Control: Golems and lesser undead are essentially magical robots, without true minds, so there's nothing for a telepath to connect to. Higher undead like vampires and liches are fair game, although they tend to be, powerful, skilled, and paranoid about their safety, so attacking their minds is risky.
  • Immunity Disability: Zach's marker protects him from mind magic and soul magic, by resetting the loop if he's subjected to them. Unfortunately, this feature can't be disabled, and it's rather easy to trigger, so he can't temporarily die in order to undergo accelerated soul awareness training, or unlock the ability to perceive other souls, or acquire a familiar.
  • Indy Escape: Subverted; the ancient palace of the Ikosian emperor used to have rolling boulder traps, but they've decayed into uselessness.
  • Invisibility:
    • Invisibility spells are illegal without special permits, but Zorian considers them to be "one of the ur-examples of what a proper mage can do," so he still wants one. Tinami Aope teaches him one in exchange for his help, although it requires intense concentration to maintain, so he can't do much else without breaking the illusion.
    • The aranea achieve a similar effect by using their mind magic to edit themselves out of people's senses in real time. It's potent, but only works on unshielded (or inadequately shielded) minds.
  • Kill It with Fire: Zorian's solution for dealing with the Yellow Cavern Guardians' frog monster is to trick it into swallowing a crate of explosives.
  • Laughing Mad: Sudomir is a bit unhinged after giving himself an unstable hybrid shifter form, and keeps breaking out into laughter — but trying to stop himself — when Zorian confronts him.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: Especially with all the exposition dumps and side characters.
  • Leave Me Alone!: At least initially, Zorian tends to be dismissive of people trying to help him out, like Byrn on the train.
  • Lightning Bruiser: The grey hunter spider has a well deserved reputation as a mage killer. It is blindingly fast, tough enough to shrug off small firearms, highly magic resistant, strong enough to break bones, has absurdly good physical and magical senses, and dexterity that would put a ninja to shame. When Zach and Zorian fight it, they keep getting bitten, legs broken, etc, and even after many repeated attempts, they still can't trap it or put it down without using so much force that they destroy the egg sac that Silverlake wants.
  • Literal Disarming: Even after practising until a spell is reflexive, mages still need at least a small gesture to cast it, so cutting off arms is an effective way to neutralise Sudomir.
    Alanic: I can't believe my past selves thought you weren't brutal enough.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Repetitio est mater studiorumrepetition is the mother of learning.
  • Living Lie-Detector: The details of the Iljatir bloodline magic are secret, but it's known to be related to divination. And then Zorian notices that Neolu seems very confident that she can tell whether or not people are being honest with her...
    Neolu: Woman's intuition.
  • Mage-Hunting Monster: The grey hunter is a Giant Spider specifically adapted for hunting magical prey (which includes the majority of really dangerous beasts). It has a highly refined ability to sense and perceive magic around it, its body is highly magic-resistant, and its venom is not directly fatal, but disrupts the victim's ability to shape mana. Zorian tries using a magical floating eyeball to study one in its lair, and it responds by instantly shredding the spell and rocketing out of the cave to hunt for him. As soon as he starts casting a teleport spell to get away, it zeroes in on his location and comes straight at him.
  • Magi Babble: The story was originally created to illustrate the author's world building and magic system. It shows.
  • Magically-Binding Contract: A sufficiently powerful mage can construct a magical contract that binds someone's soul.
    • The angels used a divine artifact to make a contract with Zach, obligating him to stop the release of Panaxeth without telling anyone else about the time loop. In exchange, he was marked as the Controller and given a divine blessing that doubled his personal mana reserves without lessening his ability to shape them. However, if Panaxeth escapes, or if at the end of the month he's aware of anyone else knowing about the time loop, he dies.
    • Panaxeth makes a deal with Red Robe, incarnating him in the real world in an enhanced body, but obligating him to release Panaxeth from prison. If that doesn't happen by the end of the month, Red Robe dies — possibly even warping his soul, too. Silverlake takes the same deal.
  • Magic Knight: Taiven is a combat mage who has been training in nonmagical combat since she was a little kid.
  • The Magic Versus Technology War: The Splinter War was so named for the knock-on effect the first mass deployment of artillery and rifles had on the country. The highly trained, magical elite couldn't quite prevail against large numbers of poorly trained, massed rifle troops. When the houses who were the most prominent battlemages, and thus took the heaviest losses, were also the politicians, the effect was further fragmentation of the country. To be fair, magic tends to do quite well against technology, with archmages sweeping aside entire platoons quite easily; it's just that before the war, mages thought guns were just cute little toys and no real threat. They were disabused of this notion quite thoroughly.
  • Magikarp Power:
    • Shaping exercises are shaping up to be this. With enough practice, a mage can cast despite disruption wards, bypass wards that are triggered by structured spells, and can create mind shields to rival those used by actual psychics, all without speaking or gesturing.
    • Xvim later tells Zorian that for a true arch-mage, there are exercises even more foundational than shaping, focused on developing better awareness of mana. They don't give quick results, but an increased ability to sense and manipulate mana gradually improves every spell.
  • The Magocracy: The old Alliance of Eldemar was definitely ruled by the leading mage families; the situation post-Splinter War seems to be less straightforward. As revealed in chapter 49, after The Splinter Wars and The Weeping, the loss of life, and thus skilled mages, suffered by all of the noble houses led to a huge upswing in the number of first-generation mages unaffiliated with any noble house needed to fill suddenly vacated economic positions. This furthered the decline of the noble houses, as unaffiliated mages are far more likely to side with the crown or the mage guild than any of the houses in a political conflict. This gives both the royals and the mage guild more influence within Eldemar than they have had at any other point in their history.
  • Mana: The source of everyone’s magical power.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Zorian’s mother.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Daimen and Orissa do actually like each other, but he wouldn't be marrying her if she weren't a wealthy heiress, and she wouldn't marry him if he weren't a hereditary empath. His parents object to the marriage because her wealth and influence are all in Koth, nowhere near their home, and Orissa actually thinks their concerns are reasonable, though she intends to persuade them to change their minds.
  • Meddling Parents: Zorian's mother is a close-minded, status-obsessed social climber who tried to groom him into a worthy successor for their merchant family. It didn't take. Later on, it's revealed that the reason why they are traveling all the way across the world to meet Daimen is because he intends to marry a princess in Koth, which very much goes against the parents' plans of having a local, influential in-law.
  • Melting-Pot Nomenclature: We have Zorian Kazinski, Zach Noveda, Xvim Chao, Akoja Stroze, Tinami Aope and many, many more. We also have places named Cyoria and Knyazov Dveri (Knyaz' Doors) in one country and not too far from each other. Justified, as the country was founded by refugees/conquerors from another continent.
  • Mind Control: Mind magic allows for so many different kinds of control that there is a classification system (targeting the mind vs targeting the body and senses, forceful vs subtle), but all of them range from slightly illegal to very illegal, so students are usually only taught the theory of how to fight against them, and sometimes trained in building up resistance.
  • Mind over Matter: Zorian is in the process of learning to do this without spells.
  • Mundane Solution:
    • Lukav transforms himself into an Immune to Bullets magical bull, his enemies respond by casting two types of complex spell, and Zorian... Just stabs one with a knife.
    • Zach knows hundreds of combat spells, but he actually likes to fight by telekinetically tearing up large chunks of the ground and throwing them. Dirt and concrete can't be dispelled like magic can, so the only real defence is to dodge — which is often easier said than done.
  • Mundane Utility:
    • Mixed in with the dramatic battle or creative magic are spells that do such useful things as "keep off the rain" and "make a floating platform which can be used to carry things," and even "transmute alcohol in drinks into sugar." Zorian also spends his spare time putting his extensive knowledge of spell formulae and golemancy in use to create toys for his little sister.
    • Among Zorian's tricks is picking mechanical locks by sensing and moving the tumblers with his mana - just like a shaping exercise.
    • Being a skilled psychic also allows nifty things like photographic memory, storing entire books as mental packets, and in extreme cases, mental modification of the self: Multi-threaded processing, calculation, sense-changes, time dilation, adding compulsions or damping extreme behaviours.
    • Zorian's early experiments in magical item crafting take the form of puzzles and toys to keep his little sister out of his hair. When he later studies golem making, he's able to provide her with animated dolls.
  • Mysterious Informant: Regularly invoked by Zorian to feed information to authority figures about The Conspiracy, without drawing attention to himself. At the start of the story, he sends anonymous letters; by the end, after a decade of constant magical training, he can create disguised clones that dissolve after handing over information directly.
  • Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: Aranea names sound like this when translated into human speech, such as the matriarch, "Spear of Resolve Striking Straight at the Heart of the Matter", or Zorian's tutor, "Enthusiastic Seeker of Novelty". Their real names are telepathically communicated bundles of images and impressions.
  • Necromancer: Since necromancers have knowledge about soul magic, they are one of the primary dangers to someone inside a temporal loop.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: By allowing one wrong person to retain his memory for six loops, Zach immensely complicated his initial task.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Several victories are only made achievable by the actions of villains themselves;
    • In chapter 26, Zorian banishing Quatach-Ichl is only possible because the lich considers him enough of a non-threat to catch the enchanted coin Zorian throws at him and his anti-soul-magic wards are so sensitive that they trigger even for such a weak attack.
    • Red Robe was more-than-capable of defeating Zach and Zorian after the events of chapter 26 but chose to flee the timeloop immediately instead of confronting them, which is the only reason those two had the chance to become capable of beating him in the end.
  • The Nicknamer: Taiven calls Zorian "Roach", and her two partners in Dungeon Crawling "Grunt" and "Mumble".

     O - Z 
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: When Zorian compliments Haslush on being more competent than Zorian first gave him credit for, Haslush responds that he cultivates that persona on purpose to help people relax — and that he knows Zorian is trying to butter him up for something.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse:
    • Zorian is blindsided and utterly helpless when the aranea matriarch pays him a visit. He's then presented with some annoyingly logical and reasonable suggestions why he should accept help from a colony of giant telepathic spiders.
    • After the time loop, Zorian has no hesitation in using the same tactics back against her, giving her a choice between cooperating with him, or letting a rival gain the benefits of his help (which would likely result in her eventual death).
  • Old Retainer: Defied by Tesen; one of the first things he did was dismiss the Noveda family servants as an "unnecessary expense".
  • Older Is Better: Explicitly subverted. As Zorian learns upon request, lost magic was usually lost either because it relies on nowadays unavailable or unethical requirements or was simply impractical.
  • One-Man Army: Quatach-Ichl is a threat on a whole different level from everyone else involved in the invasion. His surpassing mastery of high-level offensive, defensive, and mobility magic, combined with his tremendous personal mana reserves and extremely durable skeletal body, allows him to slaughter even elite and prepared battlegroups head-on, as he teleports around bombarding them with instant-death and area attacks, while dodging, blocking or ignoring return fire. Even when Zach and Zorian are prepared to fight an army, their first priority is to ensure Quatach-Ichl doesn't hear about it and intervene.
  • Only in It for the Money: Zorian succeeds in bribing a dragon mage to leave the final battle alone, by offering him a better payoff. Red Robe is furious about it, but helpless to stop Oganj from just flying away.
  • "Open!" Says Me: Zach defeats both the locks and traps on a scroll case by magically shattering it into hundreds of pieces. Zorian is a little taken aback, but figures that if it works, it works.
  • Our Liches Are Different: The variety that comes with phylacteries.
  • Playing Sick: Zorian is skilled enough with alchemy that he intends to make himself actually sick through a deliberate potion "mistake", to get out of the school dance.
  • Photographic Memory:
    • The aranea can make "memory packets" that cause a memory to be stored flawlessly and permanently. They can even transfer packets to other minds. Which is how the matriarch piggybacks on the time loop, having Zorian carry selected memories between restarts and deliver them to her.
    • When he starts hitting the limits of what he can remember from one restart to the next, Zorian seeks out a spell that lets him store the blueprint of an object in his mind. He can't actually read a notebook blueprint while it's in his head, but he can use it to flawlessly recreate the notebook, including the writing in it, from raw materials.
  • Playing with Fire:
    • Alanic is skilled in various types of magic, but a firm specialist in fire, to the point where he can control exactly what his spells will burn even after casting them. It synergizes well with his secondary focus, fighting the undead.
    • Veyers Boranova has inherited a natural affinity for fire magic, able to use it without structured spells, with just a thought — even if he doesn't really want to.
  • Power Incontinence:
    • Zorian's empathetic powers used to cause him headaches whenever he was stuck in crowds of people.
    • Exploited by Zorian to defeat the Grey Hunter spider, which dodges or shrugs off most spells, but whose super-senses don't cope well with a magical flash-bang.
    • Veyers Boranova struggles not to lose control of his native affinity for fire, with limited success.
  • Psychic Block Defense: The book explores Mind Arts quite a lot.
  • Psychic Link: Users of Mind Arts (e.g. the Aranea, Zorian, etc) can establish one.
  • Psychic Radar: Zorian gets the perk after receiving some training in Mind Arts.
  • Psychic Static:
    • Most mages, and many civilians, have some amount of training to carefully discipline their surface thoughts, making it harder to read anything without a more invasive and noticeable scan.
    • Zorian tries using this against the aranea Matriarch only to find out that it’s already too late.
  • Rational Fic: There are almost no blunders on the protagonists’ part that can be called out on. To elaborate, the character doesn't do anything stupid based on the information they are provided with, rather than never make a mistake.
  • Removed Achilles' Heel: The Troll Healing Factor can usually be overcome with fire, but many of the invaders' war trolls are magically warded against it.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: He has legitimate reasons beyond revenge, but after Nochka is kidnapped, Zorian drops most of his other activities to aggressively attack as many cultists as he can, multiple assaults a day, for the rest of the month, seeking information.
  • Sand Worm: The invading forces have several specimens. The Sulrothum have a divinely enhanced and controlled one beneath their home, which they use for defense.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Going backwards in time is widely known to be completely and utterly impossible — so in Chapter 16, when Taiven asks Zorian how Zach, a third-year student like Zorian, managed to slay a dragon, he goes ahead and tells her, knowing she won't believe him. Unfortunately — or, rather, fortunately — his sister and his roommate do.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The primordials were imprisoned in pocket dimensions by the gods, thousands of years ago, because killing them was too hard, too expensive, had too many side effects, or was otherwise not practical (the records are too fragmentary to be sure). Technically they don't actually hate humanity, any more than a human who steps on an ant necessarily hates that ant, but that would make their release no less devastating.
  • Secret Test:
    • Ilsa Zileti gives him one before he even gets to the Academy.
    • The second meeting between Zorian and Detective Haslush Ikzeteri turns out to be one of these: Haslush combined a disguise and a compulsion spell to make Zorian think he was in the wrong place. He explains afterwards that part of his motive was emphasizing the importance of perceptiveness for divination.
    • Xvim Chao likes to put his students through a month of hell to test their dedication and work ethic.
  • Seeing Through Another's Eyes: In one instance, Zorian through the Matriarch’s.
  • Seen It All: Over the course of the loops, Zorian goes from thinking "a freaking Aegis" to wondering why a mage used such a basic spell as an Aegis variant to protect his superweapon.
  • Shoe Phone: Upon returning to the real world, Zorian makes a miniature golem doll for his little sister, with enough animation magic to make it respond realistically. Her reaction is to paint a face on it and add hair and a dress. What she doesn't know is that the doll is a bodyguard, packed with weapons and defensive wards.
  • Skipping School: Once he's learned everything that the first month of classes has to teach him, Zorian starts regularly skipping classes in favour of self-study. The fact that he demonstrably knows all the material and only needs to keep it up for a month helps him get away with it.
  • Soul Fragment: Zorian gets drawn into the timeloop as a side effect of having a fragment of Zach's soul merge with his own.
  • Spit Take: Batak the priest is happy to have any visitors to the temple, but when Zorian asks him whether he knows anything about primordials, he chokes on his tea and spends several seconds coughing.
  • Supernatural Fear Inducer: Lukav's bull transformation has a magical fear effect in its roar. Zorian has enough mental resistance training to ignore it, but untrained soldiers fare worse.
  • Super Toughness: This was the main aim of Sudomir's troll/dragon hybrid abomination shifter form. It does make him quite physically resilient, but less stable.
  • Supernatural Sensitivity: Mages are able to sense mana, and training to develop that ability.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: When Zorian asks about Alanic's ability to selectively burn his target, Alanic assumes that Lukav must have informed him about that, and Zorian doesn't feel like explaining that it was actually a previous iteration of Alanic himself.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: After the trauma of Nochka's kidnapping, Kirielle is very upset, but falls asleep quickly after having some of Imaya's "homemade calming tea". Zorian thinks it's suspiciously fast, actually, and suspects the tea was lightly drugged.
    He should have asked for a cup of that himself, in all likelihood.
  • Teleport Interdiction:
    • Wards to prevent teleportation, and ways to bypass those wards, feature repeatedly, to the point of almost becoming a Lensman Arms Race. One of Zorian's lessons with Xvim specifically focuses on it, with Zorian repeatedly attempting to ward an area against teleportation while Xvim dispels or bypasses his efforts.
    • The ambient mana of the Dungeon works like static that makes teleporting much more difficult; not impossible for a skilled mage, but range is sharply reduced.
  • They Killed Kenny Again: Many characters are killed, only to be reborn when the month inevitably resets.
  • Training from Hell:
    • The entire time loop serves as this for both Zach and Zorian. It involves both of them to gain skills and abilities to survive against hordes of monsters and enemies. Justified as the true purpose of the time loop was to train the Branded One in a simulation of reality.
    • Zorian's mentorship by Xvim is a horrible grind, but effective in refining his skills. Notably, it's not dangerous or even especially painful, but month after month after month of trying to sense marbles being thrown at him is its own special kind of torture.
      Taiven: Shouldn't I at least aim a couple at your forehead? I bet you'd be a lot more motivated to get it right that way.
      Zorian: If you do that, I'm going to track you down to your room and suffocate you in your sleep.
    • Mind Like Fire's mental combat training means seven days a week of splitting headaches, from constructing a mental "shell" and then having it smashed, punctured, and crushed, over and over again, for months. Zorian only sticks with it because it produces results.
      [I’ll give you five minutes before we go for round two,] she said.
      "I take back everything nice I’ve ever thought about you," Zorian told her. "You’re pure evil."
      [My other students agree with you. There is a reason why I was named Mind Like Fire, you see,] she said. [Four more minutes left.]
  • Transferable Memory: Aranea are capable of transferring their memories to others and even storing them in someone else’s mind for future retrieval.
  • Try Not to Die: Being casual about death is actually reasonable in this case, but still, Zorian isn't impressed when Alanic's pre-battle advice is, "Try not to get yourself killed, I guess."
    Zorian: Thank you, Alanic, you really know how to make a motivational speech.
  • The Unchosen One: Zach Noveda quite probably thinks he's the main character, the Chosen One who will save the country single-handedly through his own power. Zorian, whom the story actually follows, isn't so sure this will work, concentrating instead on building his meagre skills and investigating the root cause of the loop. It turns out that Zach was indeed chosen to fix everything singlehandedly, but since he got himself stuck, he needs Zorian to help him out.
  • The Un-Favourite: Zorian's lack of personal charm and disinterest in the family business are heartily disapproved of by his parents.
  • Vestigial Empire: Some politicians insist that The Alliance of Eldemar still exists ... it's just shrunk.
  • Weak, but Skilled:
    • Zorian's mana reserves are much smaller than those of combat mages like Taiven and Zach, but as the loop continues he picks up enough finesse and trickery to hold his own against a lot of very dangerous opponents.
    • During a conversation about mana reserves in Chapter 22, Taiven tells Zorian that this trope is a general rule: mages with larger mana reserves simply can't hone their shaping skills to the degree that weaker mages can.
    • Tinami demonstrates how proper application of force can let her punch above her weight, when fighting against magic-resistant war trolls that would have shrugged off anything her classmates could do and crushed them into paste. Rather than attacking them physically, she casts pain spells that leave them screaming in agony and thoroughly incapacitated. It even works — albeit less effectively — on a giant brown worm that shrugs off physical attacks.
    • Subverted when it comes to learning pocket dimension creation, which is so mana-intensive that despite Zorian's excellent shaping skills, he learns slowly because he just can't practise enough.
  • Wham Episode:
    • Chapter 26. The third time traveler reveals himself just before he figures out that Zorian's looping, kills the aranea permanently, and Zorian only avoids a similar or worse fate by mind-wrestling him to a standstill, shooting him with a gun, jumping down an extremely long vertical shaft with a monster at the bottom and blowing himself up midway down. End of Arc 1
    • Chapter 53. Zorian and Zach reconcile their differences and finally meet the secretive Ghost Serpent who tells them that the time loop is not a one-time event and can occur every 400 years, and tells them they are experiencing a training simulation where none of them are real.
    • Chapter 54. Zorian concludes from their talk with Ghost Snake that only a single time traveller can leave the virtual reality with their powers intact, finally decodes the matriarch's memory packet with Kael and Zach's help and finds out about the facility where the exit from the loop is located. The two eventually infiltrate said facility only to find out from the Guardian of the Threshold that Red Robe has already left. End of Arc 2
  • Wham Line:
    • Chapter 26: "When I killed them in the last restart, I didn't just kill their bodies. No matter how many times the time loop repeats itself, the aranea will always start the time loop dead, their bodies present but their souls forever gone. Soul magic is so fascinating, isn't it?"
    • Chapter 54: "I'm sorry, but the gate is barred."
    • Chapter 80:
      Master mage. Incredibly proficient in soul magic. Xlotic in origin. Someone they were targeting. Very old... older than he looks? Fake appearance? Obscure name... possibly an archaic one? Old enough to go out of fashion?
      Fuck...
      Quatach-Ichl?
    • Chapter 89: "It doesn't matter anymore," Panaxeth said. "Someone else has already taken my offer."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Discussed in Chapter 22 with regard to the aranea living in Cyoria; "Grunt" (Oran) mentions humanity's tendency to assume that intelligent non-humans are hostile, but the matriarch argues that there are counterexamples, and says she hopes to expand them in order to secure a place for her web in Cyorian society.
  • When the Planets Align: The whole time-loop occurs every 400 years, based on a rare planetary alignment.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Referenced when Zorian shoots Red Robe rather than using a spell.
  • Wizarding School: Much of the early action takes place within the Cyorian Academy of Magic.
  • You Can Turn Back: Kael accompanies Zorian on his first visit to the aranea, though Zorian tries to assure him that he doesn't have to. Kael doesn't like that they've been reading his mind, though, and isn't going to miss the chance to give them a talking-to.
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