Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 29 - Sweet Hearts and Sweet Meats

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A note from Wutosama

Edited 17/01/19


Alesia battered away excess motes of silvery Conjuration.

The two of them were back in the Teleportation Chamber, their bodies safely deposited via magical translocation.

The brightly lit vista outside indicated that it was just past noon.

Noon? Gwen baulked. They had left in the morning! Had it taken only half a day for all that to transpire? She felt as though they had spent much longer in the Grot.

“It’s the next day.” Alesia noted Gwen’s confusion. She surveyed the walls for a timepiece. “Friday to be exact.”

“How were we gone for that long?” Gwen was incredulous.

“Time functions strangely if you keep going in and out of pocket dimensions," Alesia explained. "Sometimes, its the dimension itself, sometimes, it's your body that’s confused. The only things you can trust are timepieces attuned to the planar rotations.”

Gwen surveyed Alesia' apartment, her eyes wandered across the panes, landing at a device on the coffee table.

“Alesia, may I use your Message Device?”

“Yue and Elvia?”

“Yue and Elvia,” Gwen concurred.

“Tell them I took you into the Municipal Police Bureau and we had to record statements and vouch for your innocence. It got late, so you slept over. Also, don't forget about your Geas.”

“Thanks, Alesia, I won't.”

Gwen plodded toward the soft cushions of the armchair by the window. Her Message rang a few times; then a hurried voice picked up.

“Hello? Who's this? You better not be selling something.”

Classic Yue. Gwen felt better already.

“It’s me, Gwen.”

“Oh! Gwennie! How are you doing? Where are you? When are you coming back? Who you with? Is it a boy? What did you eat for dinner?”

Gwen endured Yue's barrage until she was out of breath.

“I am with Instructor Alesia,” Gwen explained, then delivered the white lie she and Alesia had concocted. Though it was for her friends' own good, she nonetheless felt an acidic tingle in her gut.

“What’s Alesia’s apartment like?” Yue's interest in Alesia was insatiable.

“Oh, it’s beautiful! There's a view overlooking the harbour; I can see almost all of Bradfield Park. She’s got the penthouse suite…”

“How’s Elvia doing?”

“She right here.” Yue giggled. “She’s been fighting me for the phone!”

“You devil! Put her on!” Gwen reprimanded her companion.

“Gwennie! I Missed you so much already! Yue is a meanie!”

Evee's voice soothed her nerves like a choir of angels. Gwen wasn't sure why she felt so attached to Elvia. All she knew was that whenever she held the healer in her arms, she felt at peace. Was it a maternal thing? She wondered, either way, the golden girl had Gwen's oxytocins in a tizzy whenever she was around.

“Hey Evee, hows the dorm? Anything changed after all that fiasco?”

“Much quieter. We're still in mourning," the healer summarised. "We’re going to have a ceremony next week to commemorate the Instructors. Are you going to be back by then?”

“I sure hope so,” Gwen replied. She sighed deeply - poor Mr Boone and the others, dying for no discernable reason.

For a while, the girls continued to speak at length about life’s philosophical nothings, filling up the time.

'Thump!'

Gwen watched in wonder as a semi-transparent Mage Hand opened the fridge, retrieved a stubby from the interior, then floated itself across kitchen island to rest in Alesia's hand. Gwen had been on the phone for so long that Alesia had taken a shower and gotten changed.

Alesia slugged the tall-neck.

"Fresh. Smooth. Real. It's all here. A beer so good, it's bad.” Her sister-in-craft winked at Gwen, kicking up her robes to reveal a bit of leg.

“Pufft!” Still holding the Message Device, Gwen broke into a burst of snorting laughter.

“Gwen?” Elvia’s voice asked quizzically. “Hello, what's happening?”

Alesia was already beside herself, spilling a bit of beer here and there.

“I’ll talk to you later, Evee, I should be back tomorrow night.”

“Alright, Gwennie! Laters!”

Gwen replaced the Message Device.

“Help yourself.” Alesia motioned to the fridge before realising a problem with her generosity. “Belay that order soldier. You’re not old enough!”

It was strange how often she’d forgotten that Gwen was half her age. Sometimes, when watching the girl train, Alesia felt a queer acknowledgement that Gwen was much older, someone more akin to a contemporary, someone her equal.

“I would like a drink though,” Gwen enquired politely. "May I?"

See? That’s just it! Who the hell says that? Alesia's scalp tingled. She had never known herself to casually say things like, ‘may I.’ When she was a teenage girl, she was all bluster and fury. Even now, social niceties were a chore.

Alesia summoned another beer.

Gwen popped the top.

"Cheers, Alesia. Thanks for everything."

The two knocked glasses, then Alesia watched with wonder as Gwen slugged the stout in one long pull.

Gwen took the liberty of Alesia's generosity to dig up a snack from her fridge, a seamless unit built into her modern kitchen. What greeted Gwen, however, were row upon rows of beer, stacked in their paper packaging. Besides the beer, were another two to three stacks of what looked to be instant curry. On the door were jugs of questionable milk and slabs of chocolate. Maybe there's fruit? Gwen pondered as her eyes continued to scan, hoping against hope. At the fridge's extremity, she discovered a dying pear, forlorn and forgotten from neglect. Below, the freezer section fared no better, possessing only frozen dinners.

Gwen slowly closed the door, then looked toward her athletically inclined sister-in-craft.

Fire Mages, she realised, possessed incredible metabolism.

After a hot cuppa, Gwen retired to the guest bathroom and took a shower, borrowing from Alesia’s wardrobe. She was lucky that they wore similar sizes, though Alesia's proportion was far more generous than her younger counterpart.

Once the water was running, Gwen took advantage of the shower zen to recollect her thoughts. She was now an apprentice-in-secret to a powerful Magister, possessing the potential to be a young Magus. What Gwen needed was training, experience, and time. Her Master had told her that to advance her Spellcraft; she needed to venture into the green zone for battle-practice. It was impossible for an Acolyte to mature inside a greenhouse, not even if she got to see him fortnightly for tuition.

Other than her training, she had another pressing problem - she was poor, and she couldn't count on monetary support from either of her parents. Even if Gwen sold all of her mother’s old gifts, those Miu Miu dresses, shoes, the branded handbags and her shiny bric-a-brac, what about her long-term expenses?

Spellcraft training involved invariable expenses. Raw LDMs, or HDMs if she could afford it, provided supplementary mana for extended practice sessions. Live-combat in the Wildlands, Questing, and Dungeoneering likewise required Magic Items to reduce the risk of permanent injury. Potions, utility items, translocation devices, protective items, portable shelters, the list goes on.

She had hoped, a little spoilt and immaturely, that the Magister would gift her a ring with the look of a benevolent but doting father. Unfortunately, Henry simply smiled and said that she should learn to fend for herself, as Alesia and Gunther had done in their youth.

After a far too long shower, Gwen emerged to find Alesia asleep on the couch. She fetched a blanket and placed it gingerly over her companion's chest. From delivering Gwen from her Uncle’s party to saving her from the cave to rescuing her yet again from indefinite detention, it was hard to believe that they had been acquainted only a few months ago.

Gwen threw on her borrowed clothes, sliding into a loosely hanging shirt and a pair of cut-off shorts Alesia had outgrown. Just as she dried out her hair, a 'thump!' came from the mezzanine, followed by a distinctly penetrating voice.

“Hello? Alesia? Gwen? Are you decent? Can I come in?”

Alesia woke with a start from the couch, towels falling aside to expose herself, rubbing her eyes and groggily swearing.

“Oh shit, Gunther's here, how long was I out?”

Gwen rushed over to make modest Alesia’s robe.

“About an hour,” she replied.

“I need to get changed.” Alesia forced herself up and unsteadily made for the bedroom.

“Hello…?” Gunther's voice came from below.

Gwen closed the bedroom door.

“Alesia’s getting changed,” she said it loud enough so that both of them could hear.

“Alright, I am coming in,” Gunther replied, and a hidden panel in the corridor opened to reveal the teleportation room. He met Gwen as she came down the stairs, barefooted and flustered by Alesia's carelessness.

“Gwen.” Gunther nodded, his face lighting up radiantly.

“Hi, Gunther.” Gwen felt a little intimidated, her teenage hormones thrashing against her better judgement. Gunther walked past her, the scent of cologne just tingling her nose, and made for the kitchen.

“Hungry?” he asked, moving his hand over the empty counter, materialising an assortment of meat and vegetables. "Dinner will be ready soon."

Jesus Christ, he cooks too. Gwen felt a disquietening attraction beginning to engender. She watched in salivating wonder as Gunther Shultz rolled up his sleeve to reveal finely haired arms taut like steel cables. The Magus roamed here and there, familiar with every compartment, even hidden cupboards where appliances and other utensils had been stowed.

“So, you probably should have heard, I am your big brother-in craft,” Gunther intoned in that radio host voice of his. “Gunther von Shultz. I am pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise, Gwen Song. Please call me Gwen.”

The two shook, Gunther's mitt-like hand swallowing Gwen's pale stalks.

“Gunther, are umm… a Lord?” Gwen had to ask out of curiosity. To her limited knowledge, 'von' was a nobiliary particle indicating an aristocratic patrilineality.

“It’s just a title, think nothing of it. Everyone else in the male line either left or died, so I was stuck with it.” Gunther was a little embarrassed just how thrilled Gwen appeared.

“Where's your family come from, Gunther?”

“Oh, the family is everywhere now, but we had our estates in old Bavaria, near Breitenegg. The original demesne was converted into a freehold by my father, who tried to get away from all the politics by renouncing, the title fell to me when I was studying under Master Kilroy.”

“I know some of those words,” Gwen confessed.

Gunther's laughter was hearty and full of good cheer.

"How about yourself?"

"Refugees, I suppose." Gwen lowered her eyes. "My father's a Eurasian refugee from China; my maternal family were Dutch-Indonesian colonials."

"I am sorry to hear they had to flee their homes," Gunther offered his sympathies. "As Paladin, I feel shameful that the Demi-human threat remains significant even now."

The two continued to exchange personal details, with Gwen telling Gunther about some of the happenings in her family, and how Alesia had saved her from potentially tearing that handsy young man limb from limb.

“She did good,” Gunther agreed. “Allie's like a sister to me. I’ve known her since she was your age, fourteen? Thirteen? Those were troubled times!”

“Do tell! What was she like?” Gwen perked up, itching to hear some prequel adventures of Alesia, Scarlet Sorceress.

As he spoke, Gunther’s hands were a blur, cutting, slicing, dressing and moving across the various ingredients like a magician. The Wild Land pheasant became a basted wonder in the oven, dribbling juices over heirloom vegetables. A collection of lamb ribs turned into caramelised lollypops. Rich, fragrant soup simmered in the pressure cooker, and it appeared creme brûlée was for dessert. The whole process, the precision of it, was akin to an artisanal cooking show.

“Well, here’s a story that’s highly relevant,” Gunther spoke as he sauteed, turning the memory over in his mind.

“Do you know why those Guards in Tower were so antagonistic and disrespectful to Alesia? She’s a Magus after all, and a very famous one at that.”

“I was wondering about that.”

“Indeed,” Gunther continued, his hands moving pots and stirring sauces. “So this was about, oh, five or so years ago? Alesia and her team were out on recon up the North Coast when they ran into some rogue traders who were selling all manners of stuff to the folks who live out in the Wildlands. Of course, selling stuff to Rogue Mages and Demi-humans outside the city is a problematic grey area, so Alesia had the lot of them rounded up, customers included.”

“They offered her bribes, she refused, then went through their inventory. What she found was pretty disturbing. You ever heard of organ trading?”

“… Seriously?” Gwen had, of course, heard about these things in her old world, though such atrocities were often removed from the reality of her first world nation.

“It's not too uncommon, I suppose. Anyway, rogue traders collect particular organs from humans who are deceased, the brain, the heart, the liver. These are considered delicacies for some of the more predatory Demi-human tribes out there, Merman, Merfolk, Riven-folk, Lizardmen, and so on.”

“They EAT people?” Gwen's stomach knotted, unaware of the hypocrisy of her hyperbolic reaction. She had been eating Wildland things for half a year now, and a good steak-n-kidney pie was the love of her life. Her favourite food, SPAM, was itself constituted of mystery Wildland meat.

“Well of course. Every living thing has to eat. It just so happens that some of the things they eat happen to be people. It’s wild out there, Gwen, the law of nature and all that. It's not as though the Demi-humans don't eat one another. A band of Hobs isn't going to say no to a village of Lizardmen."

"I see." Gwen gagged.

“Anyway, back to the Organ Traders. We call the Demi-humans monsters, but they're pretty smart at the end of the day: Hobs, Lizardmen, Mermen, its entirely possible for them to speak human, or teach us how to speak their language. WIth communication, comes trade. Mostly, they're after our artifice. You see, the Demi-humans don't have a unified currency for trading. We do. Within the Tower, the Grey Faction is the one who does most of the trading with the Demi-humans, going as far as to operate the Grey-Market. At any rate, the less civilised tribes dig up babbles, mana Cores, precious metals, bits and pieces of larger creatures, and trade it for food and crystals with these rogue traders.”

“Which brings us to the topic of food." Gunther tossed some salad into a bowl and gave the spinner a whirl, draining the water. “Though they are elementals, advanced Demi-humans are physiologically similar to humans, with the same craving for flesh. And as it happens, we're the only race that produces Crystal Currency and food on an industrial scale.”

“If that's the case, can't we pressure them with trade sanctions?”

“We tried that already.” Gunther grimaced. Gwen noted that the man was handling all the boiling pots and sizzling pan with his bare hands. “The lower beings who are happy to eat chicken and pork, are too dumb to trade with, they have nothing we want, and they don't understand treaties. The higher monsters like the Lamassu, the Evil-Eyes, or Demihumans like the Sylvan races; tend to think we’re inferior, dog-like creatures.”

“They think 'we' are the fauna?!" Gwen baulked, thinking of how the Europeans had treated the Indigenous folk of Australia.

“It's only fair." Gunther salted the roast some more. "Think about it; we kill these creatures for their mana stones - they kill us for our heart, brain and liver, all those parts of your body necessary for the generation and control of mana.”

“And... that's what Alesia found?”

Gwen was glad that Gunther was currently making the soup, and not carving up a roast or something.

“Indeed. So you can imagine what was going through Allie's head when she saw boxes of the stuff marked with price tags. She’s somewhat tempestuous, as you know.

“I can imagine…” Gwen gulped.

“So after frying most of the traders, she started questioning them, and that’s when she found out the traders were working for a Magister at the Tower, and that the cadavers were an exchange program under the Grey Market.”

Gwen connected the dots.
Alesia.
The Tower.
Magister Walken.
The Grey Faction, the Grey Market.

“Magister… Walken?”

“Well done,” Gunther appraised her understanding, his pearly teeth glinting. “What do you think she did?”

The answer to Gunther's question took no stretch of the imagination.

“I would say that Alesia teleported to the Tower and started shouting that he was a traitor,” Gwen hazarded a guess.

Gunther chuckled.

“Oh if only that were all she did! Master Kilroy would still be in possession of his Ioun Stone collection!”

"What did she do?"

“Allie went straight to the Magister’s office to confront him. When he denied everything to her face, she set his office on fire, burnt down his entire library. You should have seen the uproar, a Magus, burning down the office of one of the Ten Magisters of the Tower! Guards were trying to restrain her, though she insisted it was all an accident.”

“Oh my God!” Gwen's lips formed a perfect O.

“When the whole fiasco finally died down, Master Henry had to punish Alesia. She was stripped of her military rank, dishonourably discharged, which was why that guard kept calling her Major. Afterwards, Master Henry gave Walken a whole collection of Ioun Stones, five thousand HDMs for a full set of twelve."

“Because of this, the Grey Faction loathes her. Pretty much anyone who's anyone had a mate injured during the incident. In fact, to this day, she has yet to apologise to Walken.”

“That’s… that’s amazing…” Gwen took a sip of water. Even Gunther's second-hand story was enough to get her blood boiling.

“He was and is still guilty!” A cry of anger came from the second floor.

Alesia emerged.
Gwen's jaw hit the floor.

Her sister-in-craft was wearing make-up, actual makeup, smokey eyes and ruby lips and elongated lashes, the full Bristle-back Hog. She furthermore wore a scarlet cocktail dress that revealed her back, teasing the contours of her white thighs.

Oh my God. Gwen gasped. She’s into him. She is TOTALLY into him.

But what had Gunther said earlier? She was sure she had heard it.

“She’s like a sister to me…”

Gwen glanced at Alesia, then at Gunther, who was kept cooking with an unaffected expression, happily complementing Alesia on her beauty with the tone of someone speaking to their neighbour about the dog.

Ugh, Gwen's heart dropped, Alesia. You poor, poor girl.

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About the author

Wutosama

Bio: I write on the phone and edit at home. Times are tough!

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