Advertisement
Remove

A note from Wutosama

Edited 15/02/19

“We can talk in the grot,” Henry intoned kindly before giving Gwen’s hands a reassuring, fatherly pat. “There is much to discuss.”

The remaining members of the conference glanced at the empty desk, grimly reminding the party that they were now missing Mark and Gunther.

Unexpectedly, Henry turned to Debora. Gwen's classmate grew instantly rigid the moment the Magister's attention lingered, gripping Gwen’s arm a little tighter. It was an understandable reaction; for who wouldn’t be stunned by the full attention of Henry Kilroy, Head of the Ten, Master of the Sydney Tower? He was a legend, a rumour, a personage she had only seen in the newspapers, and now he was addressing her directly.

“Debora, was it?”

“Yessir!” Debora answered, she left Gwen's arm and stood ramrod straight, unsure if to bow or salute. “Debora Jones, first… soon to be second-year at Blackwattle Academy, Sir.”

“No need to be so nervous, Debora.” Henry likewise patted her on the shoulder. The Earthen Mage appeared as though Gwen had struck her with another discharge of static.

I know that look well. Gwen observed. Debora was starstruck, as she had been, to be interacting with a Magister, one of the most powerful Mages in the nation.

“You have been party to some rather unsavoury secrets, Debora. Including Gwen’s relationship with me,” Henry began, causing a cold sweat to break out over Gwen’s brow. “As a result, I fear I have no choice but…”

“Master!” Gwen interjected nervously.

They had just seen Mark hauled off like a side of beef. Perhaps her master’s blood was still up, feeling protective and paranoid from all that he had just witnessed?

“I am sorry Sir, but… please, please spare Debora. Mayhap a Geas spell or a compulsion? Or-or a tracking ring? She is innocent. I mean, Opa carelessly brought her! If anything, he should take responsibility!”

Surya appeared wounded, his face a mask of sorrow.

Henry performed a double-take before he began to chuckle. Surya joined him a moment later, their jovial mood upsetting the tension that had overtaken the conversation.

“Gwen… I was going to say that I have no choice… but to trust her in this matter, trust in her judgement, her ability to keep a secret.”

“Ah- Of course, Master. ” Gwen felt instant relief wash over her, flushing a bright red. Beside her, the blood returned to Debora's face.

“Can we trust you? Debora Jones?” Henry’s tone took on a more serious slant.

The question was rhetorical of course. What would a girl, whose father and mother were middle- class Transmuters, do against the request made by the highest power in the land? Refusing was out of the question, as were any glib or uncertain answers. Not abiding by the agreement was likewise suicide. The Tower was the highest authority on matters of the magic, overriding even the Frontier Government, including its Senate. Who could Debora turn to, if she wanted to reveal the truth to the world? She would evaporate, disappear, cease to exist overnight, just like Mark Chandler.

Debora nodded furiously.

“Yessir! You can trust me, Sir!” She added another Sir just in case. One could never have too many Sirs when addressing someone like Henry.

“Very good. You may go with Surya. Rest assured, you and Gwen will see each other soon enough.”

Debora moved away from Gwen reluctantly, taking a position behind her Instructor, Surya.

“I’ll see you back at the ranch, Gwen.” Surya waved at his granddaughter.

“See you later Opa.”

The remaining three watched them depart, their eyes following the bony old man and the tall, athletic girl as they disappeared.

Henry turned to the last remaining member of their erstwhile companionship.

“Agnes, I am sorry you had to experience all of that.”

“I am sorry too, Henry,” Agnes repined. With the incarceration of Mark came the death of their three-decade-long fellowship. Now, she could no longer speak with Surya nor Henry, knowing that by their will and intent, Mark was rotting away in a cell somewhere for the rest of his natural life. “May I go now?”

She framed her question with caution and aversion, indicating her desired distance.

Henry’s expression grew sullen; his sympathy died in his throat.

“You may go, Agnes.”

“Goodbye, old friend.”

The Evoker left.

Only Gwen and Sufina now remained. The dryad flittered about here and there without a care, examine curios that Mark had left behind.

“Shall we?” Henry made an effort to stand. Gwen moved beside him, slipped her arm under her Master's shoulder, aiding his movement. Her Master's arm felt far frailer than her grandfather's. Where Surya was all cord and cable, Henry's was more akin to a dried out branch.

She wasn't sure if he required her help, but the effort seemed to please Sufina. The two of them proceeded arm in arm down the narrow stairs towards the Teleportation chamber in the basement.

They stopped by Alesia’s apartment first. Gwen had been soiled by her misadventure, her dress torn here and there, her nails matted with dried blood. If they teleported into the Tower like that, tongues would be wagging, and lascivious rumours would travel the circumference of Oceania before they reached the levitation lifts.

Henry took a catnap while Gwen quickly showered and changed. Alesia was away with Yue, training her new apprentice in the art of ruin and destruction. Wishing haste, Gwen took the first item on the pile: a merlot spaghetti-strap dress, then slipped into a white cardigan, finally swapping out her tattered Mary-Janes for a pair of pumped sandals. Washing the dust and blood from her hair, she rolled her fringe to one side and was back to her usual regal self.

Once outside, Henry commented that Gwen made good use of Alesia's rather monotonous choice of wardrobe. The two joked teasingly at Alesia's spending of her monthly stipend on perishable items of clothing, despite the existence of flame-attuned uniforms,

The two then returned to the secret chamber below, where the Teleportation Circle flared silver and white, distorting space and distance.

Without Alesia’s presence, the guards were far friendlier. A few of them greeted Gwen and introduced themselves, keenly interested in the tall and lovely girl that seemed to have the Magister’s eye. Prior, she had frequented the Tower to see the Magister during her three months of training. Now, she was considered more or less a standard feature of the Tower Master's itinerary. Though the guards had no clue as to how she associated with the Magister, they could see from the manner of her filial intimacy that the two were close. Was she a relative? Perhaps the daughter of a well-connected acquaintance, or maybe, something of a companion? It didn’t matter to the guards, themselves Apprentices and Mages in training under various Factions. They were polite to her, and she was amicable to them. If she could curry favour for them in exchange for services rendered, it worked for the betterment for all.

The guards made smalltalk with Gwen as the levitation platform thrummed, complementing her with words of admiration. They introduced themselves as Williams and McKinsey, offering Gwen their services with bright, hopeful eyes. Henry nodded at the two young men as he and Gwen alighted the platform.

The grot remained timeless and unchanged. A mossy clearing with dappled sunlight, alternating between the seasons as Sufina’s moods shifted. The moment they reentered the pocket space, Henry's back stood straighter, his head held higher. By the time they had made the walk to the central chamber, he was back to his spritely old self, an ageing professor looking smart in his tweed jacket and cashmere vest.

They found a place under Sufina’s heart tree, where a slight cross-breeze brought summer smells. Sufina wrapped her arms around Gwen, affecting a sound of shivering leaves as the dryad took in her scent.

“You still have the Serpent’s life-force on you,” Sufina noted with great pleasure. “It’s vibrant and rich. I love it. I wonder how long it will last?”

A set of garden furniture grew around them as Sufina played the maid, returning to them with a stack of manna bread, two crystal glasses and a decanter of her famous Golden Mead.

Henry waited until Gwen had settled into the elfin garden chair with its elegant curves and leafy woodwork. Gwen crossed her long legs comfortably, tucking an ankle behind a soft, mossy chair leg. Henry raised a glass, and Gwen met him half-way with a clink. She took a quick sip and felt the revitalising energy of the mead suffuse her weary mind.

They made more small talk, some Spellcraft theory here and there, a few anecdotes about Surya's scandalous sculptures; easing into the weight of their conversation.

“Gwen, how do you feel right now?” Henry finally began, starting with a simple question to test the waters.

It was a loaded question, and Gwen felt the need for measured answers. After all, she had just witnessed a man dragged away to be incarcerated for the entirety of his natural lifespan. The stories of the last few hours had informed Gwen about much of her Master’s quirks and idiosyncrasies. He was a sentimentalist, an idealist and a romantic. As a leader he was a man of the middle path, dreaming of an improbable balance between power and accountability. As a companion, he was trusting and honourable, collected and composed. As a teacher, he was experienced beyond measure, an able teacher who produced two peerless proteges. As an arbitrator, Henry was relentless, capable of putting aside his emotions, even for the woman he loved more than anything in the world. If Henry had a flaw, it would be his preference for patience even in matters of urgency.

So how should she approach their ‘talk’? Her master's silence had gifted her time to ponder her options. According to the sordid chronicle of Elizabeth, Gwen possessed an element that would inevitably invade and corrupt the mind of the user. To Gwen however, the revelation merely pointed to the fact that the war itself might have unhinged Elizabeth. Depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder were common symptoms which plagued the war-weary of her world.

It was shocking to her to know that in this world, where death in the service of survival was commonplace, there was no such thing as psychology clinicians. Here, the treatment of mental health never seemed to have progressed past the apathy of The Great War. There were no Pavlov, Skinner, Jung, and Maslow to explain the inner world to the traumatised survivors of horrors both natural and supernatural. If there were, they'd be sanctioned Mind-Mages, offering no balms for the inflamed mind.

She was out of time.

"Guilty," she replied, ending the silence between them. "I could feel my victim's cries knock against my heart when Caliban's mind rejoined my own. I even felt empathy for Bozza and Farez, the slavers, even though Gunther was trying to teach me the dangers of careless mercy and naivety."

The frankness surprised Henry, but other than a gradual raising of the brow, her master's eyes betrayed nothing.

"I see..." Henry mulled over her words. "How do you feel about Mark? His accusation?"

Another loaded question, Gwen thought.

"Angry, indignant," Gwen stressed her vowels. "I don't wish to offend, Master, but I am not Elizabeth."

"No, you are not."

To her surprise, her Master smirked.

"You told me once, Gwen, that the abuse of Greatness is when remorse is disjointed from power. Do you feel... remorse, Gwen?"

Gwen considered it. She couldn't be the perfect sociopathic combat Mage nor a perfect inquisitorial agent like Gunther. She couldn't even be ruthless, doubtless battering ram like Alesia.

"I do, Master," She confessed, laying it out there with a sense of come what may. "I find no pleasure in harming others. I find scant desire in taking the lives of my enemies."

Henry tapped the table thoughtfully.

"What of your Credo, Gwen? Had you not wanted the power to punish those who would wrong you? To harry the foxes, frighten the wolves, and slaughter the tigers?”

"Perhaps not so much the slaughtering, Master."

Henry chuckled, the girl was more mature than he'd anticipated.

"A pacifist then? A rare bird in these dark and winding woods, Gwen. A dangerous choice."

"The woods are dark and deep, Master, but I have to walk my Path, even if it's a road not taken."

"The road less taken can easily lead you astray, Gwen, perhaps to a precipice... Do you know what lies at the end of that Path?"

"I don't know, Master, but I have to try. To accept that I would be a killer... that's - impossible for me."

Gwen shook her head, her voice trembling. Perhaps she was revealing too much of herself? What if her Master saw her pacifism as a dire weakness? What if he chose to abandon her? Was the loathing of murder a weakness though? Was it not Gandhi who said that there was not a single cause he would kill for, and yet overturned four centuries of colonisation? Was it not Socrates, whose wisdom built the modern Republic, who said that one ought not to do evil, no matter what the suffering? Perhaps that was too excessive; this was not a world where men could negotiate with the forces that threatened them. But surely, against one's fellow man, as a shared condition of survival, there were grounds for men to show mercy and compassion to kin and kind. If anything, her old world had proved that it was possible.

"Do you want to be a pacifist, Gwen? How do you hope to survive without harming your enemies?"

Her Master's voice was becoming sterner. There was an edge of criticism to it now. Gwen's thoughts raced through her memories. She recalled the grand conclusions reached by men who were responsible for splitting the atom, for engineering the end of human civilisation on earth. The context was a little off, but it would have to do.

"I do not wish to be merely a pacifist, Master," Gwen spoke carefully, her voice measured and vibrant. "I am saying that I wish to be a Militant Pacifist. I am willing to fight for my pacifism. For the only way to end violence, is for our enemies to refuse violence themselves."

The oxymoronic logos caught Henry off-guard. He stared at her with an expression of bemusement before the words slowly digested.

"You want to be so powerful... that your enemies quake and shudder at the very thought of war?"

Gwen smiled coyly.

"Is that not how the Mermen and the Saurian conflict ended, Master? Peaceful co-existence for the next three decades?"

Henry suddenly snorted, slapping his knees.

"You're right!"

He laughed, a burst of rip-roaring laughter uncharacteristically stretching his usually stern face.

"The path of Militant Pacifism! Ha! What a strange and twisted mind you have!"

He tapped the table excitedly.

"No killing then?" he questioned.

"No unnecessary killing, Master.”

“What would you call your Path then?”

"It is Humanism, Master, the Path of the Humane."

Henry mulled overt Gwen's rather unusual Credo.

"What if you find yourself again in the same circumstance, Gwen? About to be violated or harmed. Would you again show careless mercy?"

Gwen was ready; she wasn't about to dismiss the hard lesson from Gunther.

"We must be cruel to be kind, Master," she answered with the words of wiser men.

"How wonderfully complex that answer is!” Henry allowed his mind to have the slow luxury of abstracting her logic. "What of Noblesse Oblige? For the NoMs, I mean."

"I cannot begrudge those whose most distant horizons are tomorrow. Not when so many of their problems can be resolved by bread, water, and shelter,” Gwen answered smartly. “They will have their part to play, as do we. If possible, I would like to build a world wheres NoMs are just as important, no different from Mages.”

"I see... A noble goal."

They then spoke of her experiences in the Slums, of the condition of NoMs, what she had seen. Ultimately, the conversation arrived at its predestined topic.

"How you do feel about Caliban then?" her master asked suddenly.

Gwen swallowed a little nervously.

"I am... afraid of it, Master."

Henry nodded sagely.

"I see... I see. Do you mind bringing out your familiars? Ariel first, if you could."

Gwen incanted the spell for Conjuring her familiar. Ariel appeared on the table in its passive form. Henry reached out and ticked the creature's fur, sending out sparks of static.

"EEee! EEee!" Ariel rubbed its snout on his hand. It made a begging motion with its paws, first towards Gwen, then towards Henry.

"Are you afraid of Ariel?" Henry asked, producing an HDM crystal, watching the marten stuffing itself, its cheeks puffed with mana.

"No," Gwen admitted.

"Why?" Henry asked softly.

Gwen considered Henry's question. The obvious answer was that Ariel wasn't a thousand-young horror, but that was sophistry.

"I am... not sure," Gwen mumbled."Perhaps it is because Ariel listens, and I feel in control.”

"Does Caliban not listen?"

Gwen shook her head. Caliban did listen to her, even in the heat of battle it had done so. It was her fault that Caliban had 'leaked' out, she was the weak one, not Caliban.

"Then what's the problem?"

"It's the Void magic, Master... Caliban induces in me an unyielding hunger. I feel it enticing me, demanding that I satiate it, yet the more I fed it, the hungrier I become."

"A question of temptation then," Henry nodded. "A test my wife failed horribly. What are your thoughts then? Would you cease using Void magic entirely?"

The honest answer was self-evident, but Gwen struggled to find the right words.

"Caliban is essential if you wish to embark upon the path you have chosen," Henry added. He could feel Gwen's dismay, taste her hesitation. The girl was too obsessed with the right answers; for all her wisdom, she didn't know that in life, correct answers were scarce indeed.

"Bring out Caliban, Gwen."

"Caliban..."

Gwen winced as the vitality drained from her, drinking the blood from her pink cheeks.

The serpent appeared from the nether space of the void, landing with a thump on the mossy floor. Instantly, the vibrant moss wilted and died, leaving behind a patch of brown and black. It reared its head, scanning the room and sniffing the air.

"Hiss! Hiss!" It uttered, slithering toward Gwen joyously.

Gwen's body stiffened with revulsion. Seemingly sensing her hesitation, Caliban stopped apprehensively, looking wounded by its master's rejection.

"Caliban, over here." Henry produced an HDM Crystal and waved the sparkling stone before it.

The creature wanted to leap toward it immediately but hesitated when no consent came from Gwen.

"It's fine, Gwen."

Caliban slithered onto the table, leaving behind a trail of wilting, desolated wood.

To Gwen's astonishment, Henry placed his hands upon Caliban's smooth exterior. There was a sizzle as his flesh made contact, acrid black smoke rose into the air. Gwen almost called out, but Henry's hard, grey eyes met her own.

"Calm your emotions, control your fear, don’t let your weakness bleed into Caliban.”

Gwen exhaled deeply. The sizzling ceased. Caliban's presence no longer ate into the living wood. Her Master was right, how could he not be? He was a Magister level Conjurer. He was right; the weakness was Gwen's.

"Good."

"Do you fear it still?"

Gwen considered the sleek and dark creature before her; its carapace had split to reveal a lamprey's mouth, now busily slurping at the crystal.

"Less so," Gwen confessed, her heart wincing as Sufina’s positive energy slowly healed Henry's fingers. Caliban looked at Sufina with great interest, flicking its tongue. Sufina winked at the creature.

"There is always a temptation in possessing great power, Gwen. The more potent the source, the more it tempts you to use it. Do you believe Sufina powerful?"

Gwen nodded.

"Do you know how powerful she is?"

Gwen did not.

Henry smiled sagely.

"Allow me a quick demonstration. Sufina, if you please."

The gathering turned to observe their Dryad maid. Ariel cocked its furry snout, Caliban hissed, Gwen swallowed another gulp of mead.

Suddenly, Sufina's face turned cruel. Her smooth skin erupted in thorns and barbs, her body elongating into a nightmarish shambler covered with malevolent vines that writhed and churned, baying for violence.

A terrifying sight. Ariel and Caliban both began to bark and hiss, moving in front of Gwen to defend her against this uncertain foe.

"Force of Nature!" Henry invoked, charging Sufina with a distinct cocktail of primary elements only he possessed.

Suddenly, the Dyrad was everywhere. She expanded massively, almost filling up the entire chamber. Her form was no longer even that of a terrifying hag but something inhuman. She became a shambling behemoth, where she stood, the mist of deep swamps and dark forests cascaded from innumerable fishhook barbs grown from numberless vines. From a tenebrous mass, two glowing eyes stared out, her gaze as pitiless as the blistering sun. To Gwen, the power and pressure she exerted, was insane.

Her face and lips grew as pale as sheets, her feet cold and frozen, her arms arrested to either side.

Ariel cowered and whimpered, suddenly turning over on its belly and tried to play dead.

Caliban shrunk its profile closer to the floor, coiling to strike. Unlike Ariel, it had known no existence before its summoning - it felt no terror, knew no fear. So long as Gwen was alive, it could exist again.

"Sufina, enough."

Sufina shrunk, now once against a shy maiden, albeit brushing off dangerous, razor-sharp thorns from her leafy dress. She gave them a reassuring smile, her sparkling gemstone eyes twinkling.

"Are you afraid of Sufina?"

Gwen nodded, then shook her head.

"A valiant defence, Caliban," Henry complemented the serpent, throwing it another crystal. Ariel rolled over guiltily and begged at Gwen's feet with both paws upon her knees. Gwen patted its fur, feeling its remorse through their Empathic-Link.

Caliban raised its head smugly, rearing its head and wagging its tail. Gwen reached out gingerly; the serpent coiled around her leg, finding purchase on her calves before crawling into her lap. Its cold touch was ticklish, like ice dabbed against one’s skin. It rubbed its cheeks on her hand, the opening around its forehead carapace leaving a snail-trail of grey fluid across her fingers.

"It is a good Path you have chosen, Gwen, but you cannot walk it alone. You will need allies. Ariel and Caliban of course, but also others who would support you. You will need friends, family, advisors and associates. It is not your spells that you need to fear, but the isolation brought by its abuse."

"The Spell of the hand," Gwen pondered aloud. "Against the Spell of the heart... I will try, Master."

For a second Gwen wondered if Henry would interject with 'Do. Or do not. There is no try.' but the old Master merely nodded affirmatively.

"Gwen," her Master's next words took on quiet solemnity. "Please accept my apologies for what happened with Mark..."

Gwen awoke from her inner dialogue with a start.

"Master, you shouldn't have to!" she interjected. Sure, it was poor judgement on Henry's part, but who could have known Mark's madness?

"Oh, but I must." Henry's voice possessed a painful note. "I am afraid I sent you to him with selfish designs."

"Master?"

"You see Gwen - until Mark had told me the truth, I hadn't truly understood why I was so eager to take you on, why I felt such a desire to mound and shape your Path."

"Sir..."

"Let me finish." He waved a hand in front of her. "You see, Mark was right. I did want to repeat the past. A part of me always wondered what would have happened if I had stopped Elizabeth - if I had recognised her weakness, her suffering. I guess when I saw you Awaken to the Void in that chamber, I saw it as my redemption, to resolve a past I hadn't truly understood."

He took a deep breath.

"Can you... forgive an old man for doing such a selfish thing?"

Gwen placed a slender hand on top of Henry's own, feeling his paper-like skin.

"I forgive you, Master..." Gwen said earnestly. She was angry at first of course, beyond indignant, but her anger had been anaesthetised by Marks maniacal face, his spittle-charged gloating, his slump body as Gunther took him away like a leg of lamb. He who hunts monsters should beware - the old aphorism offered a good lesson. “I will not fall to the hunger like Elizabeth. Master, you have my word.”

Henry nodded appreciatively, seemingly having reached another conclusion.

"Would you like to know what Mark meant? What he was accusing you of?"

Gwen felt her throat constrict slightly; she had an inkling as to what Mark suspected. Did she want to know? Gwen did. She would prefer to be armed with knowledge than flee from its burden.

 

Advertisement
A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref :: 


Volume 1 Amazon (US) the book is in all markets as well.
Volume 2 Amazon (US) the book is in all markets as well.
 
V1 Google Play, iBook, Kobo, Nook and Playster Link
V2 Google Play, iBook, Kobo, Nook and Playster Link

Paper back in near future

 


Satiate yourself while you wait with Metaworld-Meta-fics :

 


Click to Join Discord!


JOIN OUR DISCORD SERVER

For theorycrafting, world building, Dede, and meta-brew Roleplaying! 
Thank you Wandysama & Boneless Chicken et al for all the vote pics! 
 

 


VOTE


 


About the author

Wutosama

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

Achievements
Comments(59)
Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In