Advertisement
Remove

A note from Wutosama

 

When they exited the conference chamber, the banquet table was cleared and gone.

Mina lounged uncomfortably on a mahogany settee, a white length of leg swinging to and fro, trying to get comfortable on the wooden chair, one hand fidgeting with a newfangled Message device hanging from her wrist in the guise of an accessorised bangle.

Tao was listening to music, the tinnitus droning of thumping treble and bass spewing out from a set of over-large headphones.

More examples of consumer-grade magical devices? Gwen paid particular attention to these quasi-magical devices. So far in this world, she had not seen any meaningful representation of scientific knowledge, what with spell-Glyphs ensuring that such inventions were made redundant.

The lack of science also meant NoMs were bereft of the sorcerous marvels the Mages created, resigned to the margins of labour and living. In her eyes, even if the non-magical portion of society lived meaningful lives of safety in Shanghai, it was because of policy and politics rather than any individual contribution. How could they matter? Gwen mulled in silence— when a single Magi was existentially more salient than 10 million NoMs? How did this world's status quo maintain its stability when the threat of annihilation compelled the many to put their life and limb in the hands of the rare few?

Additionally, Gwen felt mystified by the power dynamic of the various forces here in Shanghai. How influential was the People's Liberation Army? How all-powerful was the Politburo? What is the place of the globalised Towers in a closed country like China? What is Shanghai's relation to its satellite Frontiers like Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia? What about its relationships with Seoul, Tokyo, or superpower blocs like the USA or the Commonwealth?

There was so much to learn that she felt dizzy.

First, she had to find a way to graduate— for someone with two Degrees and an MBA in her old world; it was amazing to Gwen that she would be missing a High School Certificate! But now that she had arrived in Shanghai— would her babulya oblige in sending her to a magical institution?

Knowledge is power in more way than one in this world, and she "must" come to understand both sorcery and society to avoid becoming swallowed up by forces more powerful than she could know.

"Yo yo yo!"

Tao interrupted her thoughts by ambling toward her. His progress was careful and measured, for the low-riding jeans impeded the freedom of movement. "So, how was the grill, gurl? Yeye roast you like a whole lamb?"

"Sure, but I am still in one piece, Peaches." Gwen wasn't sure if it was an intended inflexion of the word 'Tao' in Mandarin that changed the translation but felt that the fruit moniker suited Tao well. "From the looks of it, I am going to be in your hands for the next few days."

"So you chilling with us?"

"Yep."

"Nice, me and Sis show ya places, dawg."

Mina audibly sighed.

"Mina! Don't be rude!" Jun, who'd been watching their interaction, raised his voice. Unexpectedly, Mina shut off her device the moment Jun showed his ire.

"Yes, Uncle Jun? How can I help?" she simpered.

Jun patted the girl on the head, not unlike how Gwen would pat her cats a lifetime ago. The look he gave her was a mixture of doting affection and helpless criticism. It was far different from how Kwan had dealt with her— as property, or her father, to whom she was a bother.

"I want you and Tao to take Gwen around the city for a few days— take her everywhere, show her some of the interesting sights. Make sure she gets a feel for Shanghai's main districts, not to mention meet some of your contemporaries."

"I'll do my best, Uncle." Mina's eyes floated over to Gwen, where the passion in her eyes instantly died. "But Gwen has so much to see..."

Mina tilted her head and gave Gwen a knowing smirk.

Gwen winced. Yes— she was the country cousin who had never seen the city before, the High school dropout! In a tier 1 city, Gwen Song was a hillbilly visiting Beverly Hills.

"Mina, don't be like that," Jun humoured her cousin. "Gwen will teach you things about living in the real world that you can't even begin to imagine. She had been through a hell of a lot more than you and Tao. She was in Sydney, you know— when the city fell. Gwen's killed for Merman than you've had sushi dinners."

The news prompted Mina to turn to Gwen with an expressive "Oh" on her peachy lips.

"You fought Mermen? Out there, on the Frontier?" Mina reexamined her in a new light. "That means you have incredible stories, right?"

Gwen sensed an unwelcoming premonition as Mina's eyes formed into twin crescent half-moons of anticipation. "Yes."

What was Mina seeing inside her pretty head? Gwen wondered. Did Shanghai Barbie think Gwen rode Kangaroos into battle, unleashed Drop Bears at command, and waded knee-deep through Mermen's guts while flinging spells from both hands?

"Well, I suppose some time away from medical school would do me good." Mina materialised her slate and checked through whatever projection it showed. Gwen's eyes focused on the device, which appeared inactive. Perhaps it was an Illusion aimed directly at the user? That would solve the matter of privacy in one fell swoop. How did such a device function? "Yep, I think I can do it."

"Alright, alright, ALRIGHT!" Tao punched the air excitedly. "Gwen Cuz, I am going to show you the best time of yo life! We gonna hang with my crew; slug some Cris; flash the bling and cause havoc on Huaihai Rd, bitch!"

"Thanks, Peaches." Gwen decided to punish the outrageous young man by embracing him. "I am happy to have found family."

Tao received her embrace rigidly, a little intimidated by Gwen's overfamiliarity. It was then that Gwen remembered public displays of affection were rare in Asian cultures.

Mina snickered.

"Okay then. I'll leave you to it." Jun nodded affirmatively. "I am heading back to the base. I'll be here to pick you up Thursday morning at 0900. It's a long ride from the ferry terminal to the island. You don't want to piss off the Adjudicator of Hengsha this year. It's going to be Magister Paris from the Putong Tower."

Mina sweetly affirmed her uncle's command. Tao's expression was languished, intimating he did not possess pleasant memories of 'Hengsha' Island.

The three cousins watched Jun disappear behind the landscaped fountain just outside the front gate.

"Alright, cousin, let's get moving." Mina motioned outside with her thumb. "Let's go 'show you Shanghai'."

Gwen indicated to the inner chamber. "Shouldn't we say goodbye to the grandparents?"

"Nope, too much bother." Mina checked her watch. It was precisely 1400. "Mother's taking care of them. I want to take you somewhere interesting."

Mina disappeared.

"Yeye's such a hater!" Tao shook his head sagely, following his younger sister. "He hates the playa, AND he hates the game."


"Mina, you can drive?"

"What, you don't? You guys have cars out on the Frontier, right?"

"We usually make do with the Roos. We leash them up and ride across the Outback. The pioneers generally got about a dozen kilometres before they had to stop and fisty-cuff them," Gwen replied 'earnestly'.

"Oh?" Mina considered the vision of rat-like megafauna fighting a man in hand-to-hand combat. "Wow, Australia's a crazy place."

Mina's wheels turned out to be a gleaming cabriolet with four concentric rings for a logo. Gwen wasn't so much as impressed by the car as the fact that there was, well, "Audi" in this world. For a moment, she had to remind herself that since fashion icons like Miu Miu and Prada exist as quasi-magical item makers, why shouldn't the other brands also have parallel twins?

Mina, however, had taken Gwen's moment of contemplation to indicate that she had never seen such an expensive vehicle before. Patting Gwen on the shoulder, she told her hillbilly cousin to get in.

Tao sat behind the two girls, stretched out, legs apart, hat covering half his face.

Gwen sat demurely, her dress folded between her thighs. Mina started the engine with an invocation, after which the car pulled away from the parking compound of their grandparent's gated community.

A safe distance away, Mina floored it.

The Third Orbital Highway soon gave way to the Second, in front of which the looming superstructure of Shanghai CBD rose like a mountain as they turned into the First Orbital Ring Road.

The tallest architecture in the city was a ziggurat-like hollowed-out pyramid that took up a quarter of the skyline, perched over Shanghai obtrusively like a cubist sculpture.

"That's the PLA's Tower," Mina said helpfully, doing the duty that she'd promised Jun. "Hideous, isn't it. It's more bunker and shelter than Tower. They say that the superstructural bunker beneath it can hold almost two million people in an emergency."

"Does Shanghai have any Shielding Stations?" Gwen inquired. The air was hot and stifling from the excess mana pollution, but it wasn't the muggy heat she'd felt in Singapore.

"Nope, we've no need. Shanghai sits on the main ley-line of the Asian-Pacific, and we're surrounded by the Frontier cities, as well as protected by the PLA."

"The city has never been attacked?"

"Not by Monsters, if that's what you're asking," Mina replied. "It's fallen a couple of times to people, though, like the Japanese. These days, none of the Demi-human races dares touch us because we have two Magi sitting atop the Towers. One for the PLA, and one for the Shanghai Tower."

"A Magi!" Gwen marvelled.

"Two," Mina corrected. "Grand Marshall Sun from the Politburo, and Lord Magi Huo of the Shanghai Tower."

"So, their presence ensures the city's safety?"

Mina gave Gwen a wilting expression of growing impatience.

"Either one will ensure that the Mermen and the Mountain Demis don't dare screw with the city, that is, unless they want their settlements reduced to rubble. The Magi are here to keep each other in check. The Communist Party doesn't trust the Westerners, and the Westerners don't trust the communist party. Lord Sun acts in the interest of the Politburo, and Lord Huo represents the Mages of the Mageocracy, rather than all the people, NoMs included."

From the sounds of it, Gwen thought to herself. She needed to seek out this "Mageocracy" Tower. Maybe they were linked to Gunther's people and could give her some leverage if push came to shove. It would come at a cost, of course, but she preferred paying the devil she knew.

Their convertible slowed as the glaring sun of the open-air turned into one of geometric shadow.

"I've heard lots about Pudong," Gwen said. "What can you tell me about it?"

"Pudong?" Mina said.

Pudong was a significant financial district for Shanghai in her old world, having the tallest buildings and the most expensive restaurants.

"It's a special economics zone partitioned from Shanghai proper, carved out by the Yellow River. Most of the foreigners from the International and French Concessions live there now, as well as representatives from the Demi-races."

"Whoa!" Gwen's voice raised an octave. Her body's previous owner had been conditioned and brainwashed to fear and loathe them. "Can… can we see them?"

"Ha! Not likely. You need special permission to enter Pudong. You also need to receive orientation training before extra-human contact is allowed. Maybe Gramps can sponsor you for a licence? Who knows?"

"Okay." Gwen turned to marvel at the city and its superstructure. It seemed that the ziggurat structure wasn't as dense as it appeared. Instead, it was a honeycomb lattice of hollowed-out domes towering over the commercial districts below.

Still, to think there were OTHER RACES of beings in this city! Gwen couldn't wait until she met a walking, talking Demi-human in real life. An intelligent Mermen, perhaps, a human-sized birdman? Would there be Elves? She was a staunch Tolkien fan. It would be delightful to see the real deal in the flesh, assuming the Elves here were romanticised supermodels and not the little gremlin that tinkered toys.

Their convertible turned into a building constructed wholly of curved glass and fibrous strands of steel cabling. Mina coasted to a stop, where a handsome attendant addressed them.

"Valet, Ma'am?"

"Yes."

Mina ushered her crew out of her car. Tao appeared to have fallen asleep and had to be slapped awake.

"Peaches, move your ass off my car."

"What? Yeah. Where are we?"

"K-27," Mina replied.

"Again? We were just here this morning." Tao frowned.

"I know. I want to introduce Gwen to some of my friends."

"Yeah, well, is Frederic Lin still here?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know that?"

Tao glanced around cautiously as if this 'Fred' Lin would leap out and ambush him.

Gwen swung her legs out from the passenger side and stood behind the arguing pair, half a head taller than either of her cousins. There were more attendants inside, all NoMs, well dressed and courteous, who opened door after door for them. There was even a well-groomed attendant in the levitator.

The glass platform ascended as silent as a whisper, opening onto an open floor with a sea-side view of Shanghai proper. Gwen couldn't help but noticed that, unlike her old world, the river here was still bean-green and blue, not possessing any of the ochre-yellow algae-bloom that haunted Shanghai in the spring and summer months.

Ding!

They entered a cafe, though it was now near-empty as lunch had come and gone. Here and there were groups of lingering socialites, dressed in handsome jackets and cocktail dresses, engaged in quiet conversation as the afternoon sun filtered softly through the transmuted glass panes.

"Mina!" someone called out from a corner table. A group of girls and a few young men sat around a circular chaise overlooking the skyline, an assortment of drinks and desserts splayed across the table. "You're back? We didn't think you'd return!"

"Hi, girls!" Mina tittered forward, her mobility restricted by her heels.

"Oh, your brother is here too," the girl's voice seemed significantly less enthused. "Hi, Peaches."

"Sup, Vivian." Tao threw her a gang sign.

Vivian returned his greeting with a 'faux' gang sign, emphasising her middle finger. The rest of the girls burst into laughter.

"Stupid bitch," Tao muttered loudly.

"Oi, watch your mouth!" A young man pointed an accusatory finger toward Tao. "You didn't have enough from Fredrick earlier?"

Mina pinched the bridge of her nose.

"Tao… go sit down, over there. Please."

Tao muttered something more discretely and moved on.

Gwen watched "Peaches" go with mixed feelings. On the one hand, her cousin was a bit of an idiot, but on the other, that public whipping was entirely unnecessary. Whatever the case, Tao's dejection gave Gwen a general idea of Mina's friends and the dynamic of their relationships.

"So, who is this?" The young man turned his attention to Gwen; his eyes measured her from head to toe with a familiarity that she had come to know from growing up around her uncle Kwan and his friends.

"Gwen, these are my friends and their friends. From the left, Vivian, Fei, Tzusu, Amy, Gabrielle, John— and this is Dai."

"Pleased to meet you," Gwen greeted them with a pleasant smile.

"Everyone, this is Gwen, my cousin from Australia. Before you ask, yes, her eyes are natural. Yes, her hair is real. No, she did not get any transmutations done. She is au naturel. Happy?"

"Whoa ho! A free-range beauty!" Dai exclaimed, grinning widely.

"A cow from a Frontier farmhouse, you mean?" one of the girls interjected cattily.

Infectious chittering spread from the table as Mina commanded one of the girls to move over so that she could get a seat. The assumption seemed to have been that one of the young men, Dai, would likewise squeeze out a space for Gwen on the semi-circle chaise.

However, 'Dai', the very one who had snapped at Tao, made no motion to move. The young man was tall of stature, with a face that was handsome enough. There was an uncommon arrogance to his eyes and a slight hook to his overlarge nose, which gave his face an unkind countenance.

He patted his lap.

"I've got the best seat in the house for you." he grinned at Gwen expectantly.

The rest of the table giggled.

Mina looked to Gwen, frowning.

Gwen looked over at Mina, confused as to what Mina expected.

When Mina said nothing, Gwen furrowed her brows with resignation. What did she expect, though? These little twirps look fresh out of Senior High and had the attitude to match. She had to wonder if the tier 1 cities conditioned these progenies of power to act as such or if these kid-adults genuinely thought that this was a proper way to treat a stranger you'd met for the first time. What if she was somebody significant, trying to be incognito? What part of her looked cheap enough to bully?

To her audiences' surprise, Gwen turned to Tao.

"Peaches, bring me a chair."

Unexpectedly, Tao obediently retrieved for Gwen a high-backed, Victoriana dining chair.

Gwen dramatically spun on her heels before taking a seat, looking regal in her cobalt dress. She lifted her chin slightly and gave the gathering the knowing smirk of an adult looking down on unruly children.

Her poise, her squared shoulders, her ease of presence; every inch of her physique told these young men and women that she was superior to mewling children.

While her audience baulked, she felt suddenly struck by a serendipitous fancy. In her Greater Cognisance Chamber lessons, she had seen how her mana coursed through her body. Her Master had taught her how to enhance her body's particular functions by collecting mana in her conduits.

Facing Mina's foolish "Mates", Gwen allowed a sliver of the void to trickle into her mana channels, feeling the insidious hunger fill her senses. Her eyes, which had been two clarifying hazel orbs, swiftly turned dark and dangerous, her iris dilating until it took on the quality of a vortex that held her viewers captive in its reflection.

Those who met her eyes instantly felt diminished by the experience as if they'd lost something forever.

In a split-second, the atmosphere shifted, Gwen was the queen in the room, and they were her subjects. She may not profess to be the Nemean lion, but those gazing upon her countenance felt distinctly like gazelles.

Gwen said nothing, and so they said nothing.

The Void mana subtly drained from Gwen's body. She had kept every mote within, not letting a single one escape the confines of her Astral Form. A quick inspection of her condition revealed the confirmation of her present situation. A little Void-channelling was okay for her Almudj-blessed body, at least enough to wrangle lower-tier spells.

Opposite, Dai seemed lost for words. The young man rigidly sat and stared, his mouth half-open.

One of the girls, Amy, gave him a pinch on the thighs.

He mercilessly slapped her hand in annoyance.

Gwen wondered if that display was enough to get some payback for Tao— until her cousin demonstrated why Mina was so often at her wit's end.

"Ha! Sup Bitches! Cat got your tongue?" Tao taunted them. "Mah cousin is the shit; ya'll toads try'n ta get a piece of the swan! Ha!"

The carefully orchestrated atmosphere shattered like cheap crystal dashed against concrete.

Dai stood. “I am, Dai Fung, of the Nantong Clan of Fung. Your name, Miss…?"

"Song," Gwen replied. "Gwen Song."

Dai glanced at Mina before continuing.

"Miss Song, may I have the pleasure of inviting you to an exclusive affair this evening? A simple bit of blood sport among friends, to test our abilities midst fine food and finer drinks."

"The Bout is on tonight?!" Mina interjected, her voice a little peeved. "Why didn't you tell me?"

The gathering shifted their gaze toward Tao.

"I'll own that shit, man; you bitches got nothing on my crew and me!" Tao taunted them.

"You could have just told me in confidence," Mina complained cattily. "It's not as though he and I are conjoined at the hip. I thought we knew each other better than that, Dai."

"Well, here's your invitation." Dai produced an envelope and passed it over the table toward Mina. "So, Gwen, will you be gracing us with your presence?"

"What is this 'Bout' about?" Gwen asked cautiously.

"It's an informal tournament for Mages," Vivian butted in rather rudely, wrapping a suggestive arm around Dai's elbows. "You can challenge opponents, bet crystals or Magic Items, or even bet yourself."

"Bet yourself?" Gwen raised an eyebrow.

"For favours." Vivian eyed Gwen suggestively.

"Favours?" Gwen's expression darkened. A place where one peddled oneself, in this day and age? This "Bout" was getting seedier by the minute.

Mina coughed.

"A 'favour' from your family, which you will try to deliver if you are the debtor…" she carefully explained, meeting her eyes with a smirk. "Of course, I doubt you're in a position to offer that, so I suppose you could sell yourself if that's how Frontier Mages' roll'?"

"Right, so when's this Bout?" Gwen pivoted from the misunderstanding. The whole setup seemed enterprising if what they said was true. A gathering of spoilt princes and princesses mock-fighting for money and items? It seemed an excellent opportunity, at least on paper, for her to see what the tier 1 city's Mages can do.

"Tonight, M on the Bund, 9 PM, you game?" Dai grinned at Gwen. "I'll make sure you and Mina get the VIP treatment."

"I want Peaches to come." Gwen pointed at Tao. She wanted people she could count on, and right now, Tao was the only person here that didn't feel as though they'd sell her in a heartbeat.

"Fuck yeah! Peaches in the house!"

"..." Gwen instantly regretted her choice of cousins.

Dai looked over at Tao with the expression of having stepped in dog shit. He was just about to say something when his face suddenly turned cruel.

"Peaches, are you going to bout tonight? Or will you hide in the corner like you always do, put on Invisibility, then flick your bean?" he said suddenly.

Both Gwen and Mina grimaced. They did not need that mental image at all.

"Hey, bitch!" Tao punched the air, ducking and weaving like those American CQC Mages. "Watch me! I'll pound your ass!"

Gwen and Mina sighed; they didn't need that image either.

Dai produced a crystalline card and waved it in front of them.

"One Hundred HDMs," Dai announced to the table. "You come to the Bout; you fight one round, win or draw, it's yours— lose, you payout."

"You're on!" Tao threw out what must have been half a dozen gang signs in quick succession. "Prepare yo self!"

Dai turned back to Gwen.

"Well?"

Gwen looked to Mina, who looked dubiously at Tao, who looked expectantly at Gwen with the pleading eyes of a pleading pup. Was he saying no, or was he answering yes? Tao seriously needed to work on his ambiguous body language.

"I'll be there," Gwen affirmed Dai's invitation.

"Wonderful!" Dai slid his arm from between Vivian's bosoms.

"Dai?" Vivian turned to Dai, alarmed by his lack of interest.

"See you all there tonight." Dai ignored her and moved for the lift, snapping his fingers at a waiter. "Put the bill on my tab."

"Yes, Sir. Mr Fung, Sir." The waiter bowed from the waist.

With Dai gone, the gathering evaporated. A few scattered conversations caught here and there, but nothing of substance or interest passed between the remaining members. The girls tried their best to ignore Gwen, while the men remained cordial and politely distant. Mina studied her "friends" but resolved to stay with Tao and Gwen.

"I am bored. Let's go, Gwen, Peaches. Let's go pick out an outfit for tonight."

"What's wrong with what I am wearing now?"

"Please," Vivian scoffed, not failing to embrace the opportunity to deliver a sarcastic jab. "You look like a waitress at a hostess bar."

"Touché." Gwen's eyes moved over Vivian's frilly, revealing smock. More than once, she had to remind herself these were just idiotic university students.

Vivian appeared so taken aback by Gwen's supreme confidence that she allowed her mana to flare. Alarmingly, Gwen spotted motes of water congealing on the glass countertop beside them.

"Vivi!" Mina snapped. "What do you think you're doing!"

The rest of the party said nothing as Vivian controlled herself. "Just you wait."

"Let's go."

Mina slipped an arm between Gwen's waist and elbow and began to drag her from the room. Tao followed closely with both hands in his pockets, looking far more pleased than when he'd first arrived.

"What the hell was that?" Mina demanded once they were in the lift.

"What was what?"

"That wacky eye shit, Gwen! You caught those bitches mid-air! Pow! Pow!"

"What he said."

"That was…" Gwen ran a few mental algorithms through her head. "Killing intent."

"Killing intent!" Tao marvelled. "Shit, are you a stone-cold killer?"

"I am indeed a cold and ruthless eater of men," Gwen affirmed with a straight face. She had thus far taken the lives of two slavers, inadvertently killed a dozen Mages, and actively murdered one woman-thing."

"Well, SHIT, that's wicked!"

"You've killed people?" Mina asked quietly.

"Yes." Gwen smiled wistfully. "It's the Frontier, after all. The Wild Down Under."

"Anything else?"

"A few hundred Mermen, a hundred-odd Magical Beasts…"

"Stone cold! Stone cold!" Tao chanted beside her, giddy with excitement.

Mina fell silent until the lift dinged. They were on the atrium floor, where a shopping mecca extended from the lobby as far as the eye could see.

"I am sorry for that stupid encounter," her cousin said suddenly. "Let me buy you something— as an apology."

Gwen wanted to say that it was alright, that it was fun, but the promise of a gift sewed her mouth shut. Why look a gift horse in the mouth? She had no idea how much things cost in tier 1 cities, now was a good time for some market research.

"Sure, I didn't mind," she added quickly. "I do need something expensive to wear."

Mina smiled, relieved that Gwen offered her a way out.

"Alright, dear cousin." Mina took her by the hand. "This place we're going? It's going to blow your mind!"

 

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(69)
Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In