Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 116 - A Tale of Two Towers

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A note from Wutosama

 

The following day, Jun arrived in a military specced truck.

"Good luck! See you in a week." Babulya kissed Gwen on the forehead as her uncle parked. Gwen couldn't help but notice that she gave Richard one too, bringing big smiles to her cousin's face.

Jun hopped from the driver's seat and commanded the side cabin to open with a command.

After giving Gwen an affirming nod, he turned to Richard.

"So, you're the Prince's Praetor that came with Percy, huh?"

The two men shook. Gwen couldn't help but notice the veins on Jun's hand pulsed as they clasped hands, with Richard grinning somewhat fiercely.

"Not a Praetor anymore, sir, that's long behind me now." An understanding passed between the two men of competence.

"I look forward to your performance. I have read your history, and I have the utmost confidence in your abilities," Jun assured his in-law.

"It would be my honour, Sir. I will keep Gwen safe."

"Good man!" Jun struck her cousin on the back with a resounding slap.

Gwen was still trying to place how Richard seemed to insinuate himself with such ease into every other circumstance when the familiar face of Mina disembarked.

"Gwen!" Mina waved a small white hand at her daintily. That was another aspect to which Gwen had to get accustomed. In China, even family did not hug. There was a strict hierarchy between the young and the old, measured in respect and intonation, manifesting physically through personal space. To let another individual into that lauded intimacy would imply a profound connection such as lovers or comrades.

To validate her hypothesis, Gwen had carefully observed that no matter how much Guo was pleased and enamoured with Percy, her grandfather did not embrace nor initiate tactile intimacy with his grandchild. Likewise, Guo seemed perfectly happy with Percy reacting to every command as though it came from a superior officer, responding with formality and respect.

Mina's eyes fell upon Richard.

"Ooo." Mina pursed her petal-like lips. "You must be Richard."

"Richard Huang, at your service." Richard presented himself in the manner taught at Prince's, bowing with a flourish.

"I am Mina Wang," her cousin offered coyly. "Hi."

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance," Richard replied, taking her hand and brushing her fingers with a mock kiss. "I hope we can work well together."

"I am sure we will," Mina tittered, taking on a pleased expression. "We should hang out sometime. I want you to meet my friends."

"But of course." Richard's wolfish grin made Gwen wince.

"Mina?" Gwen nudged her cousin.

"Hmm? Oh yes!" Mina stole another look at Richard before addressing Gwen.

"Ah yes, before I forget, your IDs." Jun opened his hands and materialised two stacks of identification cards.

"Thank you for going the extra mile to get these for us." Gwen thoughtfully retrieved the banded stack and examined the cards each by each:

Her Passport was a blue book embossed with the crest of the Commonwealth Mageocracy.

"An Australian Passport?" Gwen turned her eyes toward Jun wonderingly, confused that she didn't have a little red book embossed with the Forbidden City.

"A Commonwealth Passport with a PR Visa, at Lord Shultz's request," Jun replied. "That was a part of the agreement."

Gwen nodded and inspected the contents. The first page was an embossed, enchanted crest with the Commonwealth's heraldry imprinted with an emu and a kangaroo. The second page contained her likeness etched onto an Illusion Glyph, which could be activated and projected. The page also held her biometrics, such as her eyes, hair and ethnicity. The rest of the twenty-page book was blank but for one, where a large Glyph took up the whole sheet. It was a glowing, golden crest of the Forbidden City topped by a constellation of five Red Stars.

Her academic ID was just that, a plain white, nondescript card about the thickness of a fingernail. A headshot adorned the left corner. All the entries were blank except for a section that indicated she graduated from Blackwattle Bay High School, Sydney.

Her Public Practice of Magic Licence was more interesting, as it listed her skills and talents, as well as her associated Tower. Gwen couldn't help but notice that the sigil on the bottom right was the silhouette of Pudong Tower with the shape of three spheres stacked atop one another, forming the likeness of the Oriental Pearl Television Tower in her old world.

"Yes, you're a member of Pudong." Jun noticed Gwen's lingering gaze. "Another condition, as it were, of the 'exchange program'."

Gwen nodded and examined her registered powers.

Gwen Song
Public Practice of Magic ID:: 9840598 001
Evocation (3), Conjuration (4), Divination (1), Transmutation (1), Abjuration (1)
Quasi-Elemental :: Lightning :: Void
Class Permit (B)

"That's… Everything," Gwen muttered, feeling her gut churn. She turned her eyes toward Jun questioningly.

"There's nothing to fear. You're registered with the Putong Tower now." Jun gave her a confidence-boosting smile. "You should be known at the highest level— since Gunther personally asked for the favour. If someone wanted to spirit you away, they have to deal with the Tower. If need be, the matter may even escalate to Lord Huo himself."

"What's the 'B' for?" Gwen turned her attention back toward her ID, wondering how reliable it was that the Tower would come to her aid in the event of some nefarious force having designs on her talents.

"Tower Access," Jun answered her patiently. "B gets you access to basic spells and items, which you can trade for with Contribution Credits. You don't have a mentor right now, right? As long as you have Crystal and CCs, you can get access to tutors, Cognisance Chambers, and spellbooks."

Spellbooks! Gwen's felt a tingle of excitement. She desperately needed to expand her spellcraft options.

"That's good to know." Gwen stored her licence in her Ring and examined her last ID.

Multi-Pass Adventuring Permit
Gwen Song
LOI:: China, Shanghai
PPM: 9840598 001
Ethnicity: Australian (Eurasian)
Eyes: Hazel - Green
Skin: Caucasian
Hair: Black (Warm)
Height: 180CM
Access Rank: E
Quest Attainment: N/A

"Quests can be from either Tower," Jun helpfully explained. "Though I would try to stick to a single Tower to avoid future complications. That said, you're a student, so I wouldn't expect you to do much questing."

"Thanks, Uncle Jun. I'll let you know if I have any other questions." Gwen bowed her head and stowed her last ID, watching Richard do the same.

"Peaches, move it!" A sonorous female voice muttered from the truck's interior. "Get!"

The command was answered by the sound of Tao grumbling about wanting to sleep. A few silent seconds passed; then came the sound of a lever clicking into place, followed by an insane, guttural shriek.

"ARRRRRRGGGGH! Eeeeaaa! Bitch, you caught mah hand! FU—"

Klavdiya sighed.

Jun shook his head.

They haven't left yet, and Gwen's party was already one member down.

The next moment, a stunning young woman of breathtaking allure emerged from the vehicle, moving past Mina to embrace Klavdiya.

"Grandmother!"

The girl appeared older than both Gwen and Mina. Effortlessly, she leaned in and kissed Klavdiya soundly on both cheeks.

Even Gwen's cousin Richard held his breath for a second to take in the splendiferous vision that had emerged so unexpectedly amid Tao's porcine wailing.

"Mina, if you could?" Klavdiya commanded her granddaughter with her eyes.

Mina sighed and retreated into the interior, where Tao continued to whimper and complain.

"It's just bruised!" she growled at her brother. "Give me your hand."

Meanwhile, the culprit of Peach's agony addressed both Gwen and Richard.

“Hello, I am Petra Kuznetsov.” Petra inclined her head. "I am your Enchanter."

Her cousin twice-removed stood an inch taller than Gwen, attired in a collared blouse, skirt and white runners. She had auburn hair that fell about her face in ringlets, framing her cheekbones. Her face had the likeness of Kalvdiya's look, but where her grandmother appeared timid and benevolent, Petra's aura was vivacious and passionate. Below her Husky-blue eyes, her lips hinted at an aggressive sensuality. Her brows were similarly thick and defined, adding to the imposing superiority she projected.

Was her cousin beautiful? Gwen wouldn't doubt it. But Petra had the kind of beauty that one discovered by observing bushfires; in swirling tornadoes of orange flame ravaging ten thousand acres of prime woodland. It was the kind of attraction that filled a girl with wonder, like watching howling tundras cracking under a rolling storm. Gwen knew how vainly she felt for her looks, but in front of Petra, she felt unquestionably diminished.

"I am Gwen Song, Hai Song's daughter." She extended a hand to shake, wincing as Petra took her white fingers firmly.

"Richard Huang, pleased to make your acquaintance. I hope we can work well together." Richard also suffered Petra's death grip.

"Very good," Petra intoned impassively, neither friendly nor cold, with a voice more akin to the affirming of having received goods from a delivery. "I would like to know more about you two as well. Shall we speak in the truck? Captain Song should be finishing his errand in less than sixty seconds."

"Don't mind her aloofness." Mina's voice came from the interior opposite. "She grew up in the military. It turns them into squares."

Petra said nothing. She turned from Gwen and Richard and ducked back into the van.

"Move," she commanded Peaches.

Tao shrunk from Petra as though extolled by a Displace Beast, adhering to the cabin's far side as Petra passed.

Gwen exchange a glance with Richard.

Could things be worse? Gwen said with her eyes.
Ever the pessimist, Richard gave her a thumbs up.

"It takes an hour to get to the docks, so get acquainted," Jun informed the hold and its cargo of cousins.

Mina opted to sit up front with Jun, while Tao, Gwen, Richard and Petra sat behind.

Gwen tried to break the ice, but Tao wasn't in the mood to speak to Petra. When the crew finally articulated their abilities, the conversation grew surprisingly formal, with Petra presiding over the minutes.

"My highest rank when serving under the Moscow Tower was Officer Cadet," Petra explained. "That said, I have lived in Shanghai for two years now, working with Fudan University on research and development programs."

"Have you graduated?" Gwen asked. Petra didn't seem that much older than herself.

"I was fortunate enough to be an accelerated student," Petra announced proudly. "I am eighteen if you are wondering. The same age as Tao."

"First or second year?" Gwen resigned herself to be Petra's academic inferior.

"I am on my second year at Fudan," Petra advised them. "Though I am currently enrolled in post-graduate research as well."

"That's incredible," Gwen said, realising that Petra was way ahead of a curve she and Richard had yet to enter. As Richard had served as Praetor instead of his military service, he was almost nineteen now, two years behind the average university student. If and when they graduated, Gwen would be twenty or twenty-one, and Richard would be nearing twenty-three.

"There are others," Petra said simply. "I am not that impressive, in comparison."

"So, are you a Mind Mage?" Richard asked interestedly. He could hardly imagine anyone would refuse if Petra said something like 'look into my eyes.'

"Richard!" Gwen nudged him. If Petra were a Mind-Mage, according to Guo, her talents would be part and parcel of a highly classified identity.

"No," Petra replied stoically. "I am an Inscriber, under the branch of Enchantment and Fabrication."

"That's incredible!" Richard slapped his thighs. "Your Enchantment is already at tier 5? Have you taken a minor School of Magic? Say, Conjuration?"

"You how Inscription Glyphs work?" Petra raised a brow at Richard.

"Our grandfather is a Master Enchanter." Richard pointed helpfully at Gwen.

Petra turned to look at Gwen.

"Yes, but he's in Sydney," Gwen confessed a little too eagerly, not wanting to get Petra's hopes up. "He's a frontier Enchanter though, a trinket maker."

"Impressive nonetheless, to achieve that level of expertise." Petra's expression softened. "What do you know about Magitech, Gwen?"

"Not an awful lot..." Gwen grimaced.

She was a bumpkin, but even so, Gwen had discerned from their everyday conveniences that there existed a branch of Enchantment which combined Demi and Human Spellcraft to create Magitech, this world's version of electronic circuitry. The archaic cars that they drove in Sydney were a product of early Magitech, while advanced variations afforded more complex operations, culminating in the construction of war machines like Golems. Now that she was in Shanghai, she could see that even in Sydney, the presence of Magitech was ubiquitous, seen in lifts, data slates, Message devices, even the Towers.

Assuming that Magitech was the same as engineering in her old world, Petra, she figured, would be someone involved in electrical engineering, or perhaps mechatronics.

"What kind of Magitech do you specialise in?" Richard was curious as to how a researcher was helpful in combat.

Petra allowed a slight smirk to touch her lips.

"The deadly kind."

"No way! You're a Runesmith?" Her cousin intoned incredulously. "Or perhaps an Artificer?"

"The former." Petra snapped her fingers, materialising a crystalline cube. "I can manifest these small, expandable devices that store a spell of my maximum tier minus-one. There's a hard limit on conjuration volume and manifestation duration, but the cubes make for a flexible offering."

Gwen could hardly close her mouth. Petra's sorcery was unlike anything she had seen in all her years.

"For example." Petra allowed another cube to 'load' onto her hand. "This one is from my Master's friend."

The transparent cube looked etched with Glyphs on all sides. Within the cubic frame, a volatile swirl of Elemental Fire raged.

"It's a Scorching Ray," Petra explained. "Single target spells are the best. AOEs are harder to manage because I can't spellshape magic that isn't mine, only manifest them."

She produced another Spell Cube tinged with blue and glowing with Glyphs that Gwen recognised as Conjuration.

"A Call Lightning, but cast by an Ice Para-Elementalist Mage," she continued. "Spells with seeker functions are excellent as well. Though there's is a limit to how many can be released at once without mana bu-"

The truck rocked as Jun powered over a speed hump.

The cube fell from Petra's hands.

Gwen instinctively reached out and snatched it before it struck the floor. The Spell Cube felt unexpectedly warm, and there was the additional feeling of pulsing mana within, not unlike a heart.

"Close one!" Gwen breathed out, turning to face her peers with evident relief. "Wouldn't want that going off in here!"

Both Richard and Petra regarded her with dismay.

"It's perfectly safe," Petra explained, taking the cube from her hands. "It only activates on my command."

Her cousin then regarded Gwen with a look of suspicion. "Which school did you say you graduated from?"

Gwen felt her face flush. Who could blame her? She technically didn't even graduate from high school.

"Well!" Richard intervened, diverting Petra's obtuse question, positive that Gwen's Magical Licence would soon speak for itself. "If you must know, I am from Prince's..."



Like many things in the city, the Shanghai ferry docks were constructed with a ridiculous traffic volume in mind. While Sydney's Ferry pier in Circular Quay had eight berths, the Shanghai Metropolitan Port was twenty-four segments built into an artificial grotto of moulded steel and reinforced glass in a U configuration.

Gwen and her party of youngsters made their way through the building's vaulted arches, marvelling at the architectural possibilities made manifest by the application of high-level Transmutation and Enchantment.

Besides Gwen, Petra played with a cube of dark, malignant energy; her mood greatly improved since the crew embarked on Jun's truck.

Gwen watched the cube of Void matter bounce up and down in Petra's hands. It was just a Void Bolt, but her cousin seemed enamoured with the exotic element.

Earlier, when they had finally got to the business of exchanging spell lists, Petra had seized Gwen's wrists with such a wrenching strength that Gwen almost yelped.

"You're a Void Caster?" Petra's voice quivered, her fingers like steel fasteners wrapped around her delicate wrists. "Do it now, make a spell. Here!"

She then materialised one of her Spell Cubes and insisted for Gwen cast something into it.

Tao was finally paying attention as well, his eyes widening a little at hearing Petra's provocation. Simultaneously, in the passenger seat, Mina fell silent and listened rather than banter with Jun.

Despite the questionable wisdom of manifesting a Void Spell in a moving vehicle, Petra's fervent glare had frightened Gwen into submission.

"If you're sure." Gwen had then cast her spell, unable to refute Petra's Husky-blue eyes.

A feeling of sickening vertigo overwhelmed all in the vehicle when Gwen manifested the consumptive mana, nearly causing Jun to swerve the truck onto the dividing wall.

"By Mao!" he cursed loudly. "What the hell are you girls doing back there!"

Once she had the spell, Petra etched out multiple, multilayered Mandalas in thin air, imposing them upon the mineral surface of her crystalline spell-storage device.

Gwen was no stranger to Enchantment, but her grandfather had used quasi-magical tools to keep his Mandala's precise geometry. Meanwhile, Petra seemed to work entirely freehand, manifesting through the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Mineral, an amalgamation of Positive Energy and Earth. Moreover, from what Gwen could discern, the specific "Crystal" Petra accessed was high-density quartz.

After the fact, Petra had ignored both Gwen and Richard for the rest of the ride, secluding herself at the back with the cube in hand, muttering quietly and smiling secretively every so often.

Tao had stared in awe at the cube in Petra's fingers, his eyes flitting between Gwen and Petra. Mina likewise remained silent, her thoughts and expressions unknowable by those in the back.

Her uncle Jun had offered no commentary, shock or surprise, and so the group journeyed on.

On the pier, the ferry itself was a domed glass construct that resembled a tortoise. It sat low in the water, less than half a meter above the cloudy, silt-churned surface of the Huangpu River, rising from its lowest deck to a total height of four tiers. Atop the ferry, where a chimney stack would sit on an alter-world vessel, there instead sat a Barrier Crystal Array. The ferry's size looked equipped to carry up to close to a thousand people, with each deck possessing its little kiosk for food and drinks. The exterior barriers were glass, giving the passengers a two-seventy degree view of the harbour, blocked only by the engine room near the aft.

"Yo! Boys!"

Tao threw a few gang signs into the air, one answered by two familiar faces— Little Dog and Mack Daddy.

Tao wore an Adidas jersey and pants with three vertical stripes running down one's arms and trouser legs, ending at the matching runners.

"Gwen!"

It was she whom they greeted first, bowing their heads slightly. After Gwen returned the gesture, the rest of the group introduced themselves. Tao's boys did not disappoint. They also outfitted themselves in matching Adidas— but in different colours.

Holy shit, Gwen realised. If Tao had five friends, and they each wore a different coloured set of Adidas in green, red, yellow, blue, and black, they could resemble those early 90s kids shows with colour matched Rangers. Hell, they could even be called the Rapping Rangers.

"Ma'am." Mack Daddy and Little-Dog bowed toward Petra, who nodded before turning back to study the cube.

When Richard introduced himself, both boys grew wary, asking him questions about how well he knew Gwen. Richard read their jealousy like a book and knew that there was only one way to nip this unpleasantness in the bud.

"We slept together," Richard informed them, failing to mention they were in different rooms. "Last night, Gwen surprised me, and we both became drenched."

Mack Daddy appeared stunned by the revelation.
Little-Dog made an expression as though he was about to cry.
Mina looked at Gwen, at Richard, then shivered.

Gwen punched Richard in the arm; this time, she didn't pull back.

"Don't listen to this guy!" Gwen interceded before the boy's imaginations ran wild. "He's just trying to jerk you off."

"Well done, Gwen." Richard patted her back. "Well done."

"... I like your outfit," Mack-Daddy remarked on Gwen's outback adventuring outfit.

Gwen kicked out her knee-high riding boots and tipped her broad-brimmed Akubra hat. "You like it? I got it when I was still in Sydney."

"It suits you well." Mack-Daddy's face grew beetroot red.

Mina folded her arms. Compared to the positively "Country" Gwen, she wore a Sunday dress with a modest neckline and hem. To Gwen's confusion, the girl even wore Roman sandals.

"You look lovely as always, Miss Mina," Little Dog appraised Mina's choice of attire for adventuring.

"Why, thank you, Bao. For noticing that I exist," Mina replied sulkily, glancing at Gwen and Petra. Mack Daddy quickly added his compliment, though Mina was already too offended to care.

Besides Gwen, Petra, who dressed for practicality, rolled her eyes.

As the day wore on, more and more participants arrived, young Mages like themselves, each with their guardians in tow. Gwen saw Vivian appearing and disappear into the crowd, as well as a few faces she recognised from the Bout.

After half an hour or so, Gwen comprehended that though most of the people here were strangers to her, she was not a stranger to them. Every once so often, someone somewhere would point towards her or meet her gaze and nod.

Before she could ask Mina who these people were, a blaring horn announced that the hour was upon them.

In a dozen rows, the adolescents filed into the ferry like school children escorted by their teachers on an adventure island day trip.

Jun had purchased tickets for the top deck, and so they found themselves enjoying a splendid view of the Bund, across from which was Pudong.

Gwen studied the Mageocracy's Tower in Shanghai, her ultimate and eventual destination, upon which a Magi sat on the throne, Lord of his domain.

On the opposite side, the PLA Tower loomed in its ziggurat-like immensity, its pyramidal magnificence presiding over Shanghai's CBD, a gleaming beacon of sandstone, glass and steel.

A Tale of Two Towers? Gwen mused to herself. Would her future be the "Best" of times? Or would it entail the "Worst" of times? That, only time would tell.

The ferry blared twice, then set out. Past the docks, the Huangpu River opened onto the sea, where four hours later, they would arrive on the island of Hengsha.

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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.
 
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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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