Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 42 - The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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A note from Wutosama

Edited 28/01/19

 

'Ban, 'Ban, Ca-Caliban
 Has a new master. Her name is Gwen!'

Caliban had yet to develop a fully formed sentence, so it wasn't entirely sure why it was singing that particular song. It had learned it from Master's memory when it was named. There was a rhythmic quality to it that Caliban enjoyed, though the words held no particular meaning in its elemental distilled mind.

It also didn't know why it was freed from its Master's pocket dimension.

Every other time its Master had set it free, it had been shackled to her will, unable to do as it pleased. This time, she had been so generous with her life-force that it had materialised, fully untethered.

When Caliban had landed wetly behind some creature, it knew instinctively that the being had hostile designs upon its Master. It also knew that if its
Master perished, Caliban would also cease to be. As a thing born of the Void, it rather liked manifesting in the Material Plane. There was light, sound, and the company of others full of delicious vitality. Even its annoying brother that Master constantly conjured was better company than the cold dark slumber of eternity.

It hovered over the ape, wondering what it should do. Curiosity was a new emotion that it had only learned recently, though Caliban immediately put it to good use. Was the creature tasty? How much of Caliban’s belly could it fill? Did it possess fortifying mana?

To Caliban's surprise, the creature turned from trying to touch its Master and instead looked at Caliban. Its eyes shorn wetly, deliciously. The beast opened its mouth, and Caliban shot one of its barbed tongues into it, piercing its throat. The thing then started screaming, a blood-curdling scream. Caliban had no blood though, only hateful ichor, so it screamed with it. They were singing! It was like a chorus. Not so different from Master’s song.

'Ban, 'Ban, Ca-Caliban!'

The creature then tried to grab Caliban, but its fingers were weak, sliding off the slimy film that covered Caliban's exoskeleton, consumed by its Void energies. Caliban then expanded its lamprey's maw and took within its mouth the head of his assailant.

There was a crunch, a sound of grinding bone.

Yuck! Caliban did not like this thing at all. There was no yum in it. It barely gave Caliban any vitality. Simultaneously, Caliban could feel that its master was desperately in need of more life-force. Master was generous this time and had given Caliban too much.

"Shaa!"

Caliban puffed out its carapaced chest, its joints flexing proudly. It would provide its Master with the life she needed. After all, hadn't Master taken Caliban from the dark and given it a material form? Caliban wasn't useless like the rat-snake. It would be her favourite; then she could bring Caliban into the Material world every day.

With renewed determination and direction, Caliban slithered from the chamber, boring a hole through the iron door in an instant. There were others like the man-creature in the other rooms. It could taste their mana, delicious motes of elements in blue and red and green and yellow. Delicious mana, good for Caliban, good for Master!

Gwen's slithering nightmare pushed through the oxidised metal sheeting with the ease of an eel in silt.

There was another man-creature in there. No, not a man. A woman! A Mage like Master! It could smell the delicious mana seeping from her body. She was looking at him with her mouth wide apart, making a sound which greatly pleased Caliban. The female’s voices had a higher pitch, and Caliban liked the manner in which the screams vibrated its carapace. It moved towards her, miming her open mouth, its maw echoing her high pitched scream, then began its second meal.

Food! Good for Caliban! Food for Gwen!

Henry Kilroy, Master of the Ten, Lord of Oceania's Towers, jolted from mead-mulled sleep to full wakefulness the moment Gwen's ring disconnected from her finger.

"Sufina!" he commanded.

The dryad materialised beside him. They were in the Dryad's Grot, a place where the passage of time was as ponderous as the march of an oaken forest.

"Master, what's wrong?" Sufina said worryingly.

"It's Gwen; she's no longer in possession of her Contingency Ring. What the hell is Mark doing? He told me he’d be taking care of her!"

Sufina's face grew worried.

"Was it unwise to send Gwen to Master Chandler after all? There is history between the two of you, after all, and not all of was is pleasant."

'History,' the word hammered at Henry's chest. History, yes, but also two decades of working together, surviving together, saving one another countless number of times. If that wasn't enough history to trust a man, what was?

“Not now..." Henry raised a hand weakly. "I know you are not fond of 'Mac'-"

"I am fond of Gwen," Sufina complained defiantly.

"Can we leave the Grot?"

Sufina shook her head, sending out a flurry of autumn leaves.

"No, you're not strong enough.”

Henry sighed.

“Where’s Gunther?"

"He should be at the Militia committee meeting today."

Henry invoked Gunther's Message glyph. His Apprentice answered his Master's call immediately.

"Gunther, someone has taken Gwen. I am sending you her last location."

"Yes, Lord Magister," Gunther returned, using Henry’s officious moniker in public.

"I fear you will be teleporting in blind. It's in Blackheath."

“Not a problem Sir. How would you like this resolved?"

Henry felt his teeth clench. Had Mark betrayed him? Was Gwen in danger? There were too many unknowns. His first instinct was to annihilate whatever had laid hands on his student, but he knew better than to deviate from the middle path, it was his Credo after all, what his Faction held sacred. Power and accountability, temptation and temperance, it was a precarious balance. Thinking of Gwen, Henry took a deep breath, trying to stifle the violent emotions welling in his chest.

"As you will," Henry said at last. Gunther would do what was right. He always did.

"Sir." Gunther's iron voice came from the Gylph. "I have Paul is with me; it will take some time to set up the long-range teleportation circle."

"Make haste, and keep her safe, Gunther."

"I will. Gunther out."

The glyph faded.

Henry willed another Message Glyph to flare into activity.

"Henry..." the distinctive voice of Mark Chandler came from the other side.

"Mark... you better have some answers for me..."

Bozza smelled the blood before they even heard the screams. Violence, particular ultraviolence, possessed a distinct, metallic tang which filled the air. It was different from the scent of an animal abattoir. There was a texture to it, a kind of congealed resonance that shook the very soul of the observer, triggering a conditioned response ingrained within the marrows of the mind, etched into the bone from a time when men were fodder for the beasts.

Bozza turned to look at the Enforcer. He was shaking - shaking! Together, they had taken down scores of Mages; enslaved hundreds more! But never once had Bozza seen the Enforcer show any reaction other than pleasure in his work.

"Wha... what's wrong?”

“There's... something down there... the mana, its full of hunger. I can't tell what it is. Never felt anything like it before."

They looked at the stairs leading down to the basement.

"Aarrrrrrgh!- Shaaaa!"

Suddenly, another shriek. Not the first and certainly not the last, the only difference was it sounded closer, more distinct. But hadn't been a single cry, but two! The first scream was a shriek, raw and primordial, thick with fear and terror. This second filled with insanity and hysteria, a mocking, inhuman scream that went on and on and on without ceasing. It was like - a duet? What being could utter such a sound?

Booza and the Enforcer regarded one another. We should flee - that was their first thought. But then they had another moment to gather their wits. Was that an option? They could escape with the merchandise. That was acceptable, even commendable, but run away with nothing? To confess when placed under the geas of True Word that they bolted without knowing why? That was suicide.

"I am afraid..." the Enforcer swallowed. "That I am not much use in a straight up fight so... ladies first?"

Bozza's wounded organs tie into a painful knot. Her companion was right; she had to go first. As a water Transmuter, taking damage was her job.

"Body of Water!"
"Crest Shield!"
"Enhanced Constitution!"

Bozza buffed herself against the physical and the elemental. Whatever was down there, it would have to chew through a persistent, self-regenerating barrier, her Body of Water, and her body. Even if the Lightning sorceress was awake, she could still fend her off for a few moments, enough for the Enforcer to do his worst.

Gingerly, the two arrived at the basement. The stench of blood was thicker here, almost physically assailing the senses. The hair on their heads stood ramrod straight, if their follicles had a voice, they would be screaming.

The place was pitch black.
Something had taken the emitter globes.

"Faery Light!"

The Enforcer waved a hand. Four glowing candles flew into the dark chamber.

There was a sound of liquid dripping and seeping somewhere.

One of the lights floated toward the door closest to the stairs.

There was a round hole where a grate would be. An utterly smooth orifice that looked as though it was cleanly cut. A thick, viscous slime that was grey and semi-transparent lingered at the point of entry.

Bozza produced a set of keys, the mental jangling loudly in the silence.

There had been a tier 2 Earth Evoker in the chamber.

Now there was a mess of flesh that vaguely resembled a man.

Bozza looked away. She wasn't cut out to deal with this. Bozza was a slaver and a trader; her job was to feed the Blue to her merchandise, then watch them descend into insensibility. She wasn't a butcher, but that the scene in front of her only be described as butchery.

The Enforcer did not look away. He had seen this before, in the war. He had been in the Brisbane Line, a tide of saurian creatures poured from the rainforest, overrunning their position in a matter of hours. He watched a beast, a grotesquely muscular, vaguely humanoid goanna - a big red Lizardman, tear a fellow soldier in half. The snapping of ligaments, the rendering of muscles, the blood wrung out like a wet rag - this scene was terrible, but he’d seen worse.

"The brain. The heart. The liver..." The Enforcer said quietly, taking note of what was missing. The observation made Bozza shiver uncontrollably. "Whatever had been here, was after the mana organs."

Humans didn't have Creature Cores, though it was long theorised that certain parts of the body held the secret to man's ability to channelling astral forces.

The duo steeled their spine, persisting down the corridor. It was the same in every room. Headless bodies with fleshy holes bored through their torsos. Finally, they reached the main room, the prep room.

A mountainous carcass blocked their entry. It was headless.

"Fuck`n oath... Pieto..." Bozza choked. "He'd been with me for four years... poor sod..."

The lights drifted within. They saw the Lightning girl. She was bound and gagged, the leather tying her into a position that made spellcasting impossible. Her face was deadly pale, sunken in fact, looking as though she was on the verge of wasting away.

"Why's this one alright?" Bozza asked suspiciously.

The Enforcer moved into the room and tested the straps, lifting Gwen a little before letting her fall with a thump.

"She's still out cold. Straps are perfect." He observed. "She's very weak though. What the hell happened."

"If not her, where the fuck did that thing come from then?"

The Enforcer exhaled.

"Who knows," he replied. "Although we both know that if we lose this merchandise, we're both dead Mage walk-"

"Aeeerrrrgh! NO! AEEeeee-"

There was a scream, suddenly cut short.

It came from above.

"Fuck, its gone upstairs!" Bozza cursed, running for the stairs.

The Enforcer took another look at Gwen. Suddenly and unexpectedly, he slapped her across the face. The girl remained unmoving, wholly unconscious. Her bloodless dermis began to welt with a five-fingered print.

The Enforcer looked at Bozza moving up the stairs, then quickly followed.

"You did WHAT!" Henry was screaming into to glyph now. His chest rose and fell painfully. Sufina had to lay a hand against her Master's back, transfusing a steady stream of her life-force.

"You did say to send her into the lion's den," Mark's voice replied calmly. "If she couldn't make it through even that, maybe she wasn't cut out to be your hopes and dreams."

"You know very well what I meant, Mark! Y-you! How could you?"

"It was the choice you made for us back in the day no? Why the hypocrisy?"

"How is that the same? We were at war! At WAR Mark!"

"Then where is Lizzy now? Where’s my sister Jane?” Mark's voice also rose. "If you're going to be such a mollycoddler, then why the tests? Just keep her fed in your Tower! Give her a scholarship! Marry her off to your peerless Apprentice! Who dares challenge the ageless Magister Kilroy and his wunderkind Paladin?"

"Mark... Mark you..."

Henry could hardly breathe for all the red he was seeing. Sufina gave him another jolt to ease his heaving chest.

"Fine, you wanted to talk? We'll talk. I am coming for you, and I am bringing Surya. Go get Agnes; we're going to put this demon behind us once and for all."

"I eagerly await your austere presence," Mark remarked dryly, then the light of his glyph died.

"Gunther... I am relying on you..." Henry said to no one in particular.

Old demons, the Magister breathed out, a hand moving to his chest. The sins of yesterday, coming home to roost.

"It's a demon! Run for your lives!”

Fifty-odd kilometres away from Sydney Tower, absolute anarchy and chaos had erupted in the abode of the local flesh trader. A creature had emerged out of nowhere, and it was now staring down Nikau, tasting him with its flailing tentacles.

They said that before one’s imminent death, life flashed before one's eyes. But all Nikau could recall was the memorable events of today. At first, it had been a day like any other. Runners looked for newly minted Mages in the area they were assigned to, speaking to families with children, offering them food, money, and crystals, if that was what they desired. The NoMs here were poor, docile and compliant, which made his job easier. Occasionally, a runner came back with the news that a family refused to give up their kin. That wasn't too unusual either, and Bozza merely had to send him or Pieto out with a stern message and the problem was solved. If a NoM family had a rare awakening, Bozza was generous with compensation. An extra mouth to feed becoming a windfall of wealth for years to come was always welcomed. It was charity, now that Nikau thought about it; they were doing good for the local community. How many families had they saved that way? How many younger siblings, NoMs, survived, thanks to the sacrifice of a single would-be Mage?

Then the day got complicated. A girl came into the shop, dressed to the nines. She was more lovely than anything Nikau had ever seen. God knows Pieto was smitten, the guy's eyes were falling out of their sockets. A runner, Tonna, had brought the girl. Like everyone else, Nikau had assumed she was a buyer, or an agent representing someone they couldn't refuse. She wasn't, as it turned out, but Nikau wasn't here to think. They had watched the boss chat the girl up, all friendly. Nikau especially liked the girl's attire. It was expensive looking, of course, but elegant. Her white legs emerged from the navy dress like a dream. Nikau liked that, he liked beautiful looking girls. They were a rare treat. Sometimes he wondered if he could ever meet a girl like that. Not one of the merchandise, no. A real girl, someone tall and slim, with a heart-shaped face and long dark hair. He could take her out on dates when Bozza was kind and gave him days off. They could take the train to the city, see the harbour. He had heard it was beautiful out there, that you could see the Shield Wall shimmering at night against the waters like long white fingers. At midnight, the girl would place her head upon his broad chest, and he could smell her hair, which would be like flowers. She would cross her white legs over his lap and peck him shyly on the cheek. That was the dream.

Nikau had always felt that he was different from the people here. He wasn't like Pieto, who wanted his girls kicking and screaming. He wasn't like Bozza either, who saw the kid Mages as meat and merchandise. He felt more akin to the Enforcer. They had spoken once, and the cowled Mage had told him always to remember that he was doing a job. Nikau liked that. Yep, Nikau was a contractor doing a job. He was working hard so that one day, he would have a girl of his own, and they could see the harbour.

The bloody, chomping maw came closer to his face.

Well, sugar! Nikau thought sadly to himself. A girl hadn't ever kissed him.

Caliban was extremely pleased with itself.

It felt happier than any eldritch horror ever spawned from the Plane of whimpering death and eternal darkness. Having finished its allotment of flesh downstairs, it found a service pipe and made its way upstairs. There were scant Mages up here, but the lack of quality was made up by quantity!

Unlike the ones below, these were lively! Its prey scattered this way and that, causing Caliban to exert real effort to catch them! With each being it devoured, Caliban sent a jolt of vitality into its Master. He could even feel her stirring now, sensing her Astral Body filling with the stuff of life itself! She would be boundlessly pleased when she'd seen what it had done for her.

Then, just when it had thought all the best morsels were gone. It found another. As it slithered closer though, it realised that the figure looked familiar. It knew this Mage! Master was speaking to it earlier, trying to help it! It couldn't possibly eat this female. Caliban wasn't a scholarly creature, but it had its smarts!

It retreated, and in the adjacent room found another creature, a Mage! This one had fought its Master earlier, delicious! Caliban prey began to scream, even though it was damaged and weak. Oh well, Caliban allowed its hunger to take over, now was not the time to be picky.

Gwen woke in the shivering dark, stirred to consciousness by a sudden sense of vitality that filled her body. She tried to move, but a strap tied together her arms and legs. There was an immediate sense of panic, but her mind cooled when she acknowledged, gladly, that unlike Stacey, she remained fully clothed. Her surroundings were dark, pitch black. There was the sound of something dripping into the drain below. Slowly, she took account of her surroundings. She was on a metal table, and the iron had warmed up to her body, meaning she had been here for some time.

Internally, there was a sense of emptiness, but also a strange fullness. The paradoxical sensation made Gwen turn inward, instantly realising with horror that Caliban was gone. Ariel was still in her pocket dimension, but Caliban's was empty. She frantically tried to establish a telepathic link, but it was weak and untethered. She would have to see Caliban directly to command it and reestablish her Empathic Link.

Gwen tried to move again, but the leather around her hands and ankles pulled against her throat. Calm - Calm yourself, don't panic, Gwen repeated the word like a mantra, your sister-in-craft, Alesia, had trained you to escape from confinements.

Very carefully, she willed her void energy to materialise upon her hands via the conduit of her Conjuration Sigil. She forced the motes to move down to her arm painfully, feeling the leather bindings came loose like rotten rags. Then, quietly and carefully, she tore at the binding on her feet and neck, shredding them like paper.

Interestingly, though she had expected fatigue from the Void, she strangely felt no discomfort. After checking her clothes, she moved from the steel table, landing wetly in a puddle of what smelled like old iron.

Blood. It was blood. Gwen knew because she had smelt it when Edgar's limbs came off.

"Flare."

A bright glow suffused the room. Gwen looked down.

If she had prepared, she probably would have weathered it better.

Instead, she vomited over Pieto's headless body.

Jesus. Her heart sink. She wished she didn't know what had happened here, but she did. There could only be one reason Pieto would be missing a head.

She rushed from the room. There was the sound of chaotic commotion coming from above. Gwen clacked through the concrete, tapping the floor loudly, trying her best not to peek. There were holes in all the doors of the other cells.

The pit of her stomach dropped.

"Nikau! Fuck, it got Nikau!"

Bozza felt as though she was going insane.

They had finally caught the creature redhanded coming out of the secondary preparation room on the first floor. The Enforcer had guessed that it was after Mages, and there were two Mages on the first floor, the Initiate and the Cantwell girl. When they blasted open the door, the thing was chewing on poor Nikau's head.

It was hideous, more terrifying than anything Bozza had seen in textbooks. It was snake-like with a bulbous, purple head from which several tentacles protruded, each ringed with sharp white teeth.

"Water bolt!"

"Magic Missile!"

Both Bozza and the Enforcer had fired off projectiles against the thing, sending it reeling. It had shrieked in pain, then fled for the atrium. They followed it, triggering a game of cat and mouse.

They had finally cornered it in the ruins of the atrium when it's carapace further expanded, doubling it in size, now becoming a pulsating mass of writhing purple flesh, a worm fully the height of a grown man. It shot barbed tentacles toward them, but with enough water pressure, Bozza could manage to keep both herself and the Enforcer Shielded.

"Caliban! Stop!" To their surprise, the Lightning girl emerged from the basement corridor. She was dishevelled, but otherwise looked perfectly healthy, nothing like what they had seen in the basement prior. "Caliban! Heel!"

Instantly, the creature shrunk. then sat happily wagging its tail.

"You fucking bitch! That thing WAS yours!" Bozza's entire world grew red with rage. That devious little whore! Pieto! Nikau! Her base! All her work! Her Life! She gathered all her remaining mana for an alpha strike.

"No!" The Enforcer had kept his cool. He body-slammed Bozza, disrupting her spell. If the girl was indeed the summoner of that thing, he could hardly imagine the boon that awaited them. If their Master got their hands on her, he would no longer be an Enforcer, and Bozza would no longer be an Associate. They would be well within the Inner Circle!

"Phantasmal Killer!"

This time, the Enforcer pumped more than half of his remaining mana into the illusory attack. From what he had seen, the girl had issues, significant issues. She had been very susceptible to his last spell. With only half an hour between now and then, his new Illusion should be even more effective.

He watched as the spell hit. The girl's body suddenly grew rigid; her horrific ophidian instantly de-materialised.

It was hers! His heart pounded. Holy shit! A dual-Element, dual-School Magus at her age? With those looks? He was going places now. Fuck this base; he was going to be a member of the Lord's retinue after this.

As the spell took hold, the girl collapsed onto the floor once more.

Bozza recovered from her fall, but her flash of anger quickly turned to clarity and gratitude. She was a smart woman. They worked well together.

"Fuck me, that was close," she apologised. "Thanks."

The Enforcer's heart almost burst in that final moment, but now everything was alright.

"This place is gone," he observed. "Let's get the girl and move out now..."

"Alright, we..."

'WHOMP!'

Suddenly, something caught the air. There was a flash of radiance, a sudden tear in space and time in the middle of the Atrium. The two watched with open mouths as a Teleportation Array manifested itself instantly upon the debris-strewn floor.

A Demigod materialised in the middle of the array, filling the room with radiance, dispelling all shadow.

The deified being's cold blue eyes scanned his demesne, master of all he surveyed. He saw his sister-in-craft collapsed by the corridor to the basement: her dress torn, her bare legs soiled, her hair a mess.

His brows furrowed. The temperature in the room flared.

Bozza and the Enforcer's hearts stopped.

"Which one of you is responsible for this?" A calm voice spoke as would the Sun God Apollo. "Prostrate yourselves and surrender, or die."

 

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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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