Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 65 - A Favour for a Favour

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Edited 17/01/20

"Oi! You mob! Hang off!"

Just as Gwen considered the merits of restraining Yue as to avoid a diplomatic incident, she was interrupted by a croak that silenced the murmuring crowd.

The group opened a path. From between the crowd, an indigenous woman with the bearing of a fertility goddess emerged. She was twice the width of the girthiest of the men, with dense breasts that hung low against a portly stomach, naked but for a modesty shawl. Yet, there wasn't a feeling of corpulence that one perceived when perceiving a woman with three chins. Instead, there was an indescribable vitality to the woman. Most imposingly, the woman's body was vivid with ochre markings and white lines.

The woman, Gwen figured, was Tommy's Spirit Walker, the tribe's Dreamer— Old Goolagong.

"Ma'am." Gwen placed a hand on Yue's shoulder. "Allow me to apologise. I hadn't realised the trouble our intrusion would bring."

"Pay them no mind, puk komans of the migloo tribe." Thankfully, Goolagong was well-versed in English.

"They're young, bored and restless, there is little to do here but hunt and forage, meaning the mob often become greedy for excitement."

Old Goolagong turned to her people.

"Go home! No more embarrassment for our guests!"

Muttering, the tribesmen dispersed.

"Allow me to introduce myself." Gwen made a courteous bow, the sort a junior Mage would use to greet a Master. "I am Gwen Song, a student of Evocation. Here is Yue, likewise an Evoker; and Debora, a transmuter, and finally, this is Elvia, our healer."

"Five for a mob, isn't it?" the old man asked, looking around. "Not to mention Tommy is no Migloo magician."

"Ah, we're here to broaden our horizons; not to quest."

The Spirit Walker glared Jura, who looked guilty. "Honest mistake! We have trouble with migloo magicians on mish before. That is why you get eye."

Old Goolagong came closer, from her markings, the girls could smell wildflowers and loam.

"They say you wanted to speak to me. If you are not on a mish, what can old Goolagong do for you?"

"Well." Gwen summoned her courage. She couldn't speak about her relationship with the Almudj, but the Geas did not prevent her from asking about the Mythic from an entirely different angle. "I was very much interested in the history of the region, especially regarding the Rainbow Serpent."

Out of the girls, Elvia was the most articulate. She quickly explained what they saw that day of the Field Trip, about the rampage of the Rainbow Serpent in the Royal National.

"I see, I see." The woman chuckled.

Her gaze swept over the students, stopping at Debora. The Transmuter seemed to take note and hid behind the others. Toward Yue or Elvia, Goolagong possessed little interest, reserving the bulk of her attention for Gwen.

"You know Almudj?" Goolagong said. "I sense that the Dreaming is strong in you."

Gwen's blood grew instantly cold. Goolagong had better not accidentally triggered her Geas! Feeling her skin crawl, Gwen grinned awkwardly, then shook her head unconvincingly.

"Only from stories, Ma'am," Elvia replied for Gwen, unsure why her talkative friend suddenly clammed up.

"No matter. We talk in the shade." Goolagong motioned for the girls to move toward her humpy.

"I'd be glad to," Gwen replied.

The party followed, all except one.

"I'll stay here," Debora replied, her face a barely hiding her displeasure. "I am not feeling well."

"Are you alright, Deb? Was it something we ate? Motion sickness?" Elvia inquired puzzlingly. Gwen was also puzzled. Along the way, Debora had been the most fortified of them all. "Maybe— heatstroke? I'll stay with Debby."

"Alright." Gwen nodded at Elvia. "Debs, are you sure you're fine?"

"I am good." Debora shot Goolagong an unfriendly glare. "I just need to lie down a bit. You go ahead. I'll be fine with Evee here."

Gwen looked at Yue, who shrugged. Yue wasn't close enough to Debora to give a toss. Of greater interest to Yue was the bulbous woman with a gut full of exotic stories.

"Okay. We'll be back soon," Gwen replied gently, giving Debora a quick hug. "Take care."

 

 

Old Goolagong sat under the canopy of a humpy that barely reached her sitting height, appearing as though a female, earthen Budai.

"Please forgive the mob for their suspicions." Goolagong inclined her head. "They do not mean harm, only desiring that you leave us alone."

"It's my fault for not announcing our arrival," Gwen said. "Please, if there's any way we can do to amend our intrusion, please say so."

Goolagong's mouth opened to reveal rows of yellowing teeth.

"Let's hear why you are here first. Jura tells me you and Tommy came to see me direct. You want to know about the Mother Serpent, Almudj?"

Gwen framed her questions very carefully. "Yes, specifically, if there are any stories of the Serpent being able to communicate with people. Like through dreams and such."

"Oh?" Goolagong's eyes made two half-moons. "Why would a migloo girl want to know about the Mother of the Unformed Land? Especially a magician with her European magic?"

"Academic reasons," Gwen lied, pondering the sensitivity of her embedded Geas.

"What do you know so far?" Goolagong asked instead. "How do you know Almudj?"

Gwen grunted. Now she felt the oppressive grip of the Geas distinctly weighing upon her mind, pulling at her heart.

"Yue, I need you to hit me with a Flaming Hand, just a small one."

Yue looked at Gwen with an expression of incomprehension.

"Trust me. I know what I am doing. I need to show the elder something."

"Gwen, are you barking mad?" Yue's expression suggested she was questioning her sanity.

"Yue, please," Gwen affirmed her request.

"Alright, I hope you got a health pot ready." Yue raised a hand. "Flaming Hand!"

A burst of flame erupted from Yue's hands, enveloping Gwen like the tongue of a malicious salamander.

But just as the flame reached its target and began to scorch Gwen's clothes, a shimmer enveloped Gwen's body, manifesting a few millimetres above her skin. The flames washed over their intended target, but there was no yelp of pain, only a stink of carbon monoxide.

"Your sleeve is on fire," Yue observed drily.

Gwen quickly patted out the yellow flame. Her arm was unscathed, but her blouse was ruined.

A Message spell boomed next to Gwen's ear.

"Are you alright? What was that!" It was Elvia, communicating directly across the camp via line-of-sight.

"We're fine Evee, just testing out something." Gwen terminated the spell after reassuring her friend.

"Did you see?" Gwen asked.

"I saw," Goolagong said.

"What did she see? What did I see?" Yue asked puzzlingly. "That was Resist Elements, right? What's so strange about that?"

Then Yue's mind seemed to have caught up with her eyes.

"Wait, did you even chant an incantation?" Yue looked over her friend. "But that's impossible. Are you an Abjurer, as well? Gwen— what's happening exactly?"

Gwen turned her head, pulling back her hair to form a ponytail. Both Yue and Goolagong gazed at a shimmering scale now embedded at the base of her neck.

"A Magic Item? What does it do? Absorb Elements? Why fire specifically?" Yue yelped. "Did you Opa make it for you? Bloody hell, if I had an Enchanter as a grandfather..."

Old Goolagong, however, had turned ashen, her dark face grey as the blood drained from her face.

"You have met… Almudj?"

Gwen said nothing.

"Now I see why you wish to Dream. You wish to speak to Almudj. That is fine, migloo magician Gwen."

"I do."

"That is fine. But first, I would ask a task of you. If you do this for us, then I will share with you the Dreaming, and from your dream, you may speak with Almudj."

Gwen nodded.

"A Quest!" Yue instantly perked up. "I love Quest. What does it entail?"

"A monster hunt," Old Goolagong intoned carefully. "I fear it is a dark beast that…"

"We'll take it!" Yue's grinned from ear to ear. "Just point us in the right direction!"

Old Goolagong looked at Gwen, making sure she consented, likely confused the migloo was so eager to help. Gwen knew, of course, that Yue's intentions were as pure as they come. She wanted to fight, and that was that.

"A darkling beast," Old Goolagong continued. "We are troubled by Wanka, the greater Spider who lives upon the salt-lake, whose barks echo through the night, and whose children come to hunt us when we are weary and alone."

"Hold up." Yue's complexion paled. "Did you say Giant Spider Wanker?"

Gwen felt the same. A Spider. She wasn't good with spiders, but Yue was on a whole other level. There was a time when they were at Yue's house, and upon seeing a common Huntsmen on her roof, Yue had launched her mug toward it, showing the two of them with tea and ceramics. The huntsmen had then escaped unharmed, disappearing into the roof. Yue had been so afraid that she insisted on her father driving her to Gwen's apartment to spend the night.

"Wanka, a barking spider that…"

"It barks?!" Yue's voice took on a heightened pitch. "Like woof! Woof?"'

"More like this…" Goolagong made a horrific sound akin to an angry wombat dry-humping a bush turkey.

Yue swooned.

"Yue gonna be okay?" Gwen held her friend upright.

"Sure." Yue steadied herself, her voice trembling. "What's a spider or two? Just burn it all down."

"So." Gwen turned back to Goolagong. "A favour for a favour?"

"For Almudj, yes." Goolagong's met Gwen's own. "I, too, am interested in this connection you have. A migloo girl and Almudj - how strange, What could it mean?"

"I can't offer something else instead?" Gwen turned to Yue, who was already staring into the middle distance. "Crystals currency?"

"Do you see another magician around here?" Old Goolagong laughed. "You want an old lady to go and fight a giant barking spider? Do you think I could outrun its sixteen legs?"

"S-Sixteen!" Yue'a eyes glazed over.

"No no, we'll manage," Gwen said. She was confident that in a Green Zone, even a giant spider wouldn't be so excessively powerful as to be beyond tier 5. More so, she was optimistic this Wanka creature was no match for Caliban and Ariel.

"When do you want this done?"

"We can begin the ceremony tonight if you return. The salt lake is only two hours away by horse."

Gwen nodded. She begged for more details on the arachnid, but the old Spirit Walker had not seen it herself either. Her people knew only its whereabouts and some lore. From what Gwen could gather, it should be a giant wolf-spider.

"We need a guide for the salt lake."

"Tommy should know the way." Old Goolagong pointed to the young Jackaroo brushing down the horses.

The girls retreated to an isolated area of the camp. Debora professed to be feeling better, while Gwen informed them of her progress, giving each the choice of accompanying her.

Elvia agreed before Gwen even finished.
Unsurprisingly, Debora wasn't thrilled.

"It's not right," she said. "We shouldn't be helping these people."

"What's wrong?" Gwen asked, her voice more curious than critical.

"They're not a part of our society. These savages rejected our ways decades ago. They need to live with the consequences."

"A bit harsh?" Gwen was genuinely surprised. Was Debora a racist? That was certainly unexpected. Then again, Gwen thought back to their youth. Debora did consistently make fun of Yue's English when they were in junior high. She also called Yue a boat-person when anti-refugee sentiments were trending. As a typical "Aussie", Debora lived on the South Coast, and the folk there were very particular about "their" beaches, churches, and suburbs.

"Not to mention." Debora bit her lower lip. "I heard they practice Necromancy."

Elvia's eyes expanded to reveal the full extent of her brilliant blue iris.

"That's Spirit Magic." Gwen had done her homework with her Master. "It's not raising the dead or anything, more like ancestral worship, storing memories in vessels, magic circles, animalism, that kind of thing."

Debora's expression told Gwen that she didn't believe a word.

"Debs." Gwen felt guilty for saying so, but she wasn't about to entertain the prejudices of Debora's misconstructions. "You can remain here if you want."

"No," she said quickly. "I'll come with, you guys need a Tank, right? We're a team now."

Yue and Elvia didn't disagree. It was Gwen who had announced that they were a team now, and it would have to be Gwen who rejected the ambivalent Debora.

"Agreed." Gwen reached out and gave Debora a reassuring pat on the knees, relaxing her jaws. "Think of it as a monster hunt, nothing more."

"Well, shall we get going then?" Yue asked impatiently. She was keen to see the spider roasted and done. Just knowing that a barking spider was near was giving her the creeps.

Gwen materialised the girl's bandoleers, organising two healing potions and two mana potions, as well as a single vial of antidote per sorceress. Yue went and fetched Tommy, who was relieved that finally, he could ride out of camp and be away from the 'mob' incessantly mobbing him for details on the girls.

 

 

As they travelled, the girls pooled notes on the nature of arachnid-based magical creatures. Gwen surprised the girls with her knowledge, explaining that it was implausible that a Barking Spider, even one with a name like Wanka, could be a web-dweller.

"It's either an ambush predator, like the tarantula or the trap-door," Gwen said expertly, drawing upon her otherworldly knowledge. "OR, in the worst-case scenario, a jumping spider. They are SWIFT. My suggestion is that once it emerges, concentrate on limiting its movements."

Debora announced that her Spirit possessed tremor sense, which she could achieve by channelling a minor stone shape in a radius of a few meters around them.

As for Gwen, she could discreetly cast Detect Magic and Detect Traps somewhere along the way.

The party arrived at the edge of the salt lake some two hours later.
As the girls focused on buffing, Gwen refreshed her BB cream and took the opportunity to summon Ariel. Once her companions were distracted by the showman marten, she activated her detection spells.

With mana-charged eyes, Gwen then scanned the blazing white horizon, seeing nothing of note as yet.

"Let's leave the horses with Tommy."

"No problems, Missus, I take care of the hoses."

As it was the dry seasons, the entire lake was encrusted with salt, forming a smooth white plain of desolation where nothing lived. Gwen was now even more convinced that the Barking Spider was a voracious hunter. If it lived in a place without prey, then the spider must be an active hunter. No wonder it fed on the indigenous tribesmen.

It took another half an hour of wandering through the salt flats for Yue to discovered a barely perceptible trail.

"It's going this way," Yue announced. "Medium-sized prey, probably a Roo. Looks fresh. The salt here gets moved about pretty quickly."

The party followed the trail. Except for Debora, whose body was doubly fortified by earth and Transmutation buffs, the girls were feeling the moisture loss that occurred thanks to salt and sun.

"Halt." Gwen raised a hand as the girls drank from their canteens. She had felt her Divination tingle, and so scanned their surroundings. Not far, she sensed a trace of mana unique to Magical Creatures.

"Can monsters use magic?" Gwen inquired. She wasn't too confident if monsters used spells or merely manifested phenomenon directly.

"They can," Elvia chimed in. "Some monsters have innate magic."

Gwen felt another tingling in the air. She channelled more magic into her eyes, feeling the strain impressed upon her eyeballs. There were motes of Transmutation here and there, as well as motes of indistinct elemental mana.

"Elemental Air!" Gwen hollered suddenly. "That's why it's fine living on the salt flat! It's an Air Element spider!"

Voo—VOOMPT!

As if answering her call, a sudden eruption of silk exploded all around them.

A massive web, previously buried underneath the girls, tore through the cracked surface of the salt flat and enclosed them like a parcel.

"Minor Stone Shape!" Debora struck the earth, instantly summoning a massive dome of sand around the girls, creating an overhead barrier.

Yue formed a circular gesture with both her hands.

"Wall of Fire!"

A ring of fire torched the space around the girls. Where the enclosing web touched its membranes onto the flames, it instantly ignited, leaving behind ash and foul-smelling gloop.

'Thump!'
A foreleg shaped like a scythe punched through the sand barrier, stopping only a few centimetres before Gwen's face.

"JESUS CHRIST!" Gwen screamed. "How strong is this thing?"

A whirlwind of salt began to envelop the girls, smothering the Wall of Fire with salt crystals. Before Debora could react, the limb withdrew from the wall.

Gwen tasted the magic in the air; the motes were thick with Transmutation.

"I think its Hasted!" she warned the others. "Everyone, crowd around Evee in a triangle formation. Yue, shrink the ring of fire! Debs, I need you on your tremor sense! Focus on defence! Elvia, Bless and Aid! Give me a jolt of healing in ten seconds!"

The girls moved into position as the whirlwind of salt obscured all vision.

"Ariel, fire at will. Caliban, get underground!" Gwen commanded. She felt her vitality drain as her Void fiend shrouded itself with secreted mucus and wiggled underground, coiling its body like a spring.

A few seconds later, Elvia's jolt of vitality flooded her conduits.

"Are we waiting for it to strike?" Debora shouted over the roar of the salt-storm.

"Yeah!" Gwen shouted back. "Its too fast, if we don't alpha strike it, its probably going to flee."

"I'll play bait! I am sure I can handle a hit or two."

"Wait and see," Gwen advised.

"What about me?" Yue asked. "This wanker is too fast!"

"Wanka," Gwen corrected her friend. "Use Scorching Rays on its legs. Try to target as many as you can! Warding Bolt! Call Lightning!"

Her persistent spells targeted indiscriminately, but hopefully, they could be triggered quickly enough to slow down the Barking Spider.

Outside the sand barrier, the salt storm was beginning to subside. The girls knew that if the creature were to strike, it would have to be very soon. The question was, from where would it come?

"GGGNNARK!"

There was a roar - a crude, inhuman bark - an indescribable howl of guttural rage uttered by an arachnid, using its chitin to vibrate the air.

"Here it comes!" Debora announced the tremor from a distance. "Four O'clock!"

There was an explosion of sand some fifteen meters out, then a giant white mass, too fast for the eye to follow, descended upon the Blackwattle party.

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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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