Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 78 - A Rose and its Thorns

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Julia was supremely confident she could defeat a Lightning Mage no matter how skilled or talented they were. There were just too much of a difference in their elemental compatibilities.

First of all, a Lightning Mage had little to no protection against her Magma attacks, for Magma were the perfect combination of all-consuming heat betrothed with the force and power of the earth. Her basic catapults pulverised even an Earthen Abjurer's shielding. Combined with Transmutation, she could Jump, she could Blink, she could throw small meteors of devastating destruction. During Rosebay's Field Trip, Julia single-handedly took down a two hundred green-skinned Goblinoids. She even wrestled an Ogre and had beaten it into the ground.

If so, how the hell did she lose?

Her defence was impeccable! Her instructor had attuned her Magma-Skin Transmutation so that it warded against electrical attacks. Additionally, she had prepared Resist Lightning, Absorb Lightning, and an assortment of effects designed negate Gwen Song's abilities.

Julia tried to think, attempting to recall the last ten seconds.

Her opponent had first-strike— that had been assured. After all, Gwen was a Lightning Mage, possessing the fastest acting element next to Radiance, while Julia was as slow as Ooze. So long as Julia endured Gwen's first spell, however, it was over - for Julia knew that it was nigh-impossible for the mana expenditure of an offensive caster to match the efficacy of a defender. Either through defeat by becoming OOM, or by submission, Julia was sure that the Lightning Mage would fail her challenge.

If so, why was she the one lying on the ground?

Julia propped herself up on her right arm, looking around the duelling field for an answer. Her chest hurt. Her whole body hurt. She was thunderstruck, but how had Gwen Song penetrated her defence?

Around the arena, the Rosebay cohort was full of bewilderment, disbelief, and confusion, all mashed into a single moment of dismay. Julia looked up, feeling anger and resentment rising in her throat. Did Gwen Song cheat? Was she an illusionist?

An illusion?
Julia's brow broke out in cold sweat. Was she trapped in an Illusory Phantasm?

Julia concentrated her mana, feeling the lingering Magma on her skin boil and crackle, turning red and liquid.

"Julia!" The one and only Magister Irene Ferris, Master of her Master, called out. "Stand down!"

She didn't want to, but the voice was like an iron whip against her mind. The Magma Skin fell from her body and sizzled the turf. The transmuted landscape faded, returning to the grey-dark concrete of the unglamoured training field.

"Ma'am." Julia croaked. She was in disbelief. She wanted to tell the Magus that Gwen Song had cheated somehow.

"This is no illusion," Irene said kindly. "You were simply outmatched."

Julia shuddered. Bested?! Outmatched?!

She turned to look at Magus Stone, who was frantically waving at Julia, commanding her to return.
What else could she do?
The Magister had spoken.
She lost.

 

Irene Ferris didn't much like the man next to her. Deathless Henry, they called him— Henry Kilroy, the Master of the Ten. She didn't like that moniker one bit. No man was a master of Irene Ferris, especially not an old relic from bygone wars.

There were other reasons why Irene didn't like Henry, but those were more pragmatic. As a Diviner, her auguries had often told of impending opportunities and wayward risks that the Tower faced. Sometimes, Henry heeded her words; other times, he ignored them. The man seemed to operate on a level that the other nine couldn't question, and she didn't like that one bit either.

Was it because Henry Kilroy was a part of the Great Generation? The folks that initiated the Tower system, aiding the Great Reclamation? Sure, the once August Kilroy had lowered himself to govern a Tier 2 Tower, but it didn't mean that he should be above the Rule of Law, right? As the Tower's Oracle and Diviner, surely she had more say in the matter of defence.

Yet, the old man persisted in his "Middle Path" of isolation.

Develop the human cities, suppress the Demi-humanoids. Lockdown all inter-species trading and control the level of contact between the races.

How could Sydney progress if its ruler enforced stagnation?

Herself, Walken, and Lin, they were all like-minded in their belief that Mages and Men were quickly drifting apart, that the NoM would inevitably bury the Mage in an avalanche of incompetence. She was inclined to believe that Mages, so steeped in mana and magic, had more in common with the magical demi-humanoid races.

In that case, why not open up trade with the Mermen? Get to know about their culture and language? Why not do as the Europeans do, and create envoys to and from sapient races like the fabled Elves and the Dwarves? Who's to say that Orcs and Hobs were only useful for their Creature Cores?

Ferris knew the dangers of opening Human cities and its civilisation to the malevolent races but also knew that they had much to learn from the ancient elementals. The Elder Races, such as the so-called High-Elves or their cousins, the Dark-Elves, all possessed Spellcraft surpassing humanity's own. Even the Dwarves, so isolated in their unseen, underground cities, had contributed the art of Golem making.

But Kilroy would have none of that. Over his dead body, he'd say.

So imagine Ferris' surprise when her protege told her that Kilroy's dog, Alesia de Botton, had come with a proposal—

— one by the name of Gwen Song.

Ferris had known about Gwen Song since de Botton had brought the girl to the Tower to see Kilroy. During the fated encounter with Walken's guards, Ferris had watched from her chamber until Gunther Shultz had arrived to diffuse the heat.

She hadn't kept much stock in the girl until Gwen began to show up on the regular three months ago. Then both Walken and herself decided to keep an eye on the girl. Irene could Scry the girl if she wanted, of course, but Kilroy would know, and that would trigger a level of insubordination Irene was ill-prepared to face. As far as she could tell, Gwen was Henry's new pet project. The man had done the same with Gunther Shultz, long rumoured to be his apprentice, and then again in the late-80s with the unlikely firebrand Alesia de Botton. Now, he was working on a third. She knew that Gwen was a Lightning Mage, and she had heard from secretive sources that she might be a talented, prematurely awakened Magus as well. That was impressive, of course, but not good enough for Irene to contest Deathless Henry. Why was Henry so keen on the girl? That was the question to which she wanted answers.

Now she knew.

She really should have risked that Scry.

When it'd happened, Ferris had thought herself caught in a glamour— an impossible affair, as a master of the School like herself was virtually immune to illusionary effects. Yet Ferris nonetheless just witnessed something she'd only heard about in the old war stories.

A flash of darkness that consumed all light. An eruption of sickening mana that gave all who bore witness to its monstrous birth a feeling of sickening vertigo.

She felt the distinct distortion of space itself, a lurch of the stomach, a split second of terror that came from the bone.

A blast of Lightning followed.

Then it was over.

 

Gwen knew she was well and truly in the pits the moment she ran a focused Detect Magic over Julia. They had a bad elemental match-up. Even with an alpha strike from all her conjuration spells and evocation spells, it was likely that Julia could survive. As a Magma Mage, Julia's heat resistance reduced Lightning's impact, and her earthen body dissipated its paralytic effects, nullifying the best components of Gwen's spells.

When she stood upon that field, Gwen could further feel the resonating effects of the girl's Transmutation magic, far more powerful and practised than Debora's. There was something else there as well, hidden inside the girl's mana signature.

If she had to take a guess, then Gwen's Divining bones would venture that it was Abjuration. Only a school that directly countered her Evocation could give her such a hair-raising, ominous sense of foreboding.

Richard was right. Rosebay had sent out their Praetorian, supreme in the confidence that they had countered her every move. She had no choice but to use her Void abilities; her only recourse was to minimise exposure while achieving maximum effect.

"Commence!"

There was no more time to think.

Now, she must act.

"Molten Armour!" Julia incanted, and her skin began to boil with flowing motes of fire and earthen mana, forming into a hardened carapace. If given the few seconds it took for the spell to mature, Gwen knew her opponent would be unstoppable.

"Dimension Door!"

To the surprise of all, Gwen vanished from where she stood.
She re-appeared in the next second, violently barging into the unsuspecting Julia, a semi-circle splash of dense darkness flickering for a fraction of a second.

Her opponent couldn't see nor sense Gwen teleporting within a few centimetres of her. It was an absurd move, insane even. The temperature that surrounded Julia was almost several hundred degrees! It was enough to set Gwen's uniform aflame.

Yet none of that happened. The girl who suddenly appeared in Julia's vicinity flickered, then Julia went tumbling into the dirt.


Gwen felt her offensive Dimension Door connect, with her Void mana instantly eating into the Magma Mage's still-forming Molten Armour.

She immediately felt her vitals drop like a stone, but kept up at attack for a fraction more, feeling it crunch through the Magma and touch on the raw mana below. As Julia tumbled, falling onto her back foot, the central plating of the Molten Armour scattered; the spell overloading and dispelling, causing unformed sheets of smoking stone to fall from her body.

Gwen then thrust both hands toward Julia's; one upon her shoulder, while the other struck Julia's solar plexus, forcing the air from her lungs.

Gwen's inner metronome counted seconds until her mind was ready for its next incantation.

"Lightning Bolt!"

Before Julia even landed, Gwen materialised a bolt of electrical plasma from her lower hand and shot it toward Julia's chest, feeling the satisfying shunt of the energy conducting violently through the Magma Mage's body. Julia's Earthen constitution absorbed much of Gwen's spell, but enough of it had passed through Julia's torso to paralyse her opponent.

When Julia finally landed, it was with a limpid thump.

The crowd was stilling waiting for something to happen when the fight was already over.

"What happened?" Someone asked.
"Where's the Molten Armour?"
"Why's Julia on the ground?"
"Why's the Lightning Mage standing over Julia?"

Their voices soon turned frantic, anxious, filled with questions and emotions to which no one had no answers.

Gwen turned to examine Kilroy and Ferris. Master Henry had a grin that was beyond entertained; his old face screwed up into a mask of untamed mirth. Ferris herself had made an 'O' with her lips so round she could fit a quail egg.

The murmuring of the crowd below grew in intensity, then suddenly Julia sat, bolting upright from her horizontal position.

By then, she had already lost consciousness for a good five to six seconds.

Gwen turned, then bowed.

 

Julia dejectedly returned to her corner of the field, still staggering with disbelief. How did she lose? She didn't even get her armour up! Surely if she could get her armour up, then she had a chance. Somehow, Gwen Song had used some sorcery to penetrate her impenetrable armour, but why did Master Ferris say nothing.

"Mistress Stone," Julia protested.

"Shush!" Magus Stone shot her a stern warning with her eyes of cold steel. She was taking a private Message from Magister Ferris and had no time to deal with her student's unexpected failure.

"… I suspect this Gwen Song may be tapping into the element of the Void or at least something like it." Ferris warned her protege. "It's an element that is said to be hugely prohibitive due to its cost in life force, which would explain why they have a healer of such low tier with them. In the group combat, take out the healer first, or alpha-strike the Void Mage. Do not let Gwen near Julia! Give Julia time to use her best spell, and you have this in the bag."

"Understood, Master," Stoned replied silently.

"Make no mistake. I want this girl, Mildred. I absolutely must have her, do you understand?"

"Ma'am!" Mildred Stone replied with absolute certainty.

On the opposing field, Gwen returned to her teammates. She had kept up an illusion of good health upon receiving her victory.

Her companions had clapped and applauded, but their ruckus was alone in the eerie silence of four hundred pairs of disapproving eyes. If Gwen had defeated Julia in mortal combat, then sure, they could applaud the challengers, but what had occurred had been too absurd.

"Gwen!" Elvia rushed over to Gwen and clasped both her hands, channelling across a steady stream of vital mana to keep up Gwen's health.

Gwen had only her Master's Dimension Door to thank, that and a half-manifested Void Shield. It was a gamble in more ways than one, for if Gwen had lost control of the spell, or if she had overestimated the power of the armour, then her Void-blast may as well have cut through Julia and severely injured the girl. If she had failed to penetrate Julia's defence, then the match may already be lost.

What seemed to outside observers like a simple manoeuvre, therefore, was the culmination of Conjuration, Evocation, Void and Lightning.

Gwen felt elated. With the success of her gamble. She had exposed very little of her capabilities; yet, her enemy was defeated but alive and well. It was win-win for all accounts.

The cost of using two consecutive Void spells, however, was dire in itself. The Dimension Door was a tier 4 spell, far more demanding than the tier 1 bolts that Gwen usually used. The Shield had likewise taken a toll on her body. When she had touched Julia in the final moments, the lingering heat from the Molten Armour further made a mess of her hand.

Breathing heavily, Gwen received the healing energy from Elvia and felt the vitality restored to her body. A minute later, she no longer felt dizzy, drained, and overcome by a sudden sense of vertigo. Her hand, likewise, was restored to its full function.

"Nice one, Gwen!"

"Sweet ass, sister!" Whetu applauded her. "That was fully sick ay!"

"My God!" Alesia embraced Gwen, enveloping her in her arms, crushing her violently, picking her up and performing a celebratory jig. "You are going to be famous! What the hell was that? Who taught you to use Dimension Door as an offensive spell? It's not on your lesson roster yet."

Gwen glanced over at Henry, twirling his beard expertly and gloating over a furious Magister Ferris.

"I had a chat with Richard, my cousin from Prince's. He told me that against a bad match-up, I should burn my trump card and end it so quickly that I have nothing to give away. If it doesn't work, I'd likely lose anyway, so no losses there."

"What irresponsible advice!" Alesia snapped. "Only for competitions, Gwen! Never do this in the Wildland! It's suicide!"

"Yes, Ma'am," Gwen replied earnestly.

"Oh! My little sister!" Alesia embraced Gwen again. "Good work!"

A loud tap came from the direction of the podium, drawing their attention. It was Magus Stone.

"Congratulations to Gwen Song, Blackwattle Academy, for taking the first duel."

She continued.

"Now, we move onto our 3v3. Members of the team, please make your way to the stage."

Gwen looked over at her friends, who nodded confidently.
Yue, Debora, and Whetu moved to the stage.

From the Rosebay's stage, out came Julia yet again, followed by the Ice Conjurer and the Earthen Abjurer.

"Stage 2, Team Challenge. Three versus Three. From Blackwattle: Yue Bai, Debora Jones, Whetu T. Taranga! From Rosebay: Julia F. Muller, Helen Carter, Beatrice A. Dawson!"

"Initialise Terrain!"

The field shifted and transformed into an urbanscape with short, stunted walls and obstacles in the centre, preventing line of sight.

Yue cursed under her breath. This was the very worst for her fire spells.
The girls opposite bowed, then took up their positions.

"No Gwen Song?" Irene Ferris questions her compatriot.

"No." Henry Kilroy smiled. "Is that a problem?"

Ferris tsked.
There was no use crying over spilt milk.
Below, Magus Stone gave the signal.

"Commence!"

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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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