The transfer from the Port Authority to the mainland was hastened by Jun's presence, so much that when the time came to part ways, the party became despondent with separation anxiety.
A dark limousine lingered just outside the port, waiting to pick up Tao and Mina. To Gwen’s surprise, Mina kissed her on the cheeks, a bold western farewell, before retreating into the haven of the elongated vehicle.
Petra likewise had her dorm to return to, leaving Gwen and company when Jun dropped her off at Fudan’s private apartment complexes. She too gave Gwen a peck on the cheeks, extolling the virtues of attending Fudan.
Finally left on their own, the trio escaped the glittery glamour of the sparkling city, their Jeep making for the third Orbital Ring under the low thrum of its V8 mana engine.
“I sorted out the incident with the Lishui girl.” Jun calmly announced when they were on the orbital highway. “I didn't want you to have it on record, at least, your public record. Do be careful in the future though. Scrubbing data takes more than just CCs; it takes favours.”
“I will, and thank you,” Gwen muttered demurely. “I am sorry for the trouble, Uncle Jun.”
“And you should be,” Jun sternly agreed. “The taking of a life, especially a fellow Mage, is no matter to be taken lightly, even if you have full justification. Remember that.”
“Good, then there’s nothing more to be said. I look forward to your future performance.”
The stoic scalding over, Gwen's spirits fell to that of reflective silence.
“You too, Richard,” Jun continued. “Can you hear me at the back?”
“Yes, Sir. I can.”
“Just Jun is fine.”
“At least let me call you Senior Jun,” Richard insisted.
“Alright, suit yourself.” Jun wasn’t one for titles. He disliked the implication and the implied duty. Richard was someone Jun would like to see as a prospective peer. He felt that the young man had a good temperament and just the right amount of apathy for taking ethical liberties. “I know why you’re desperate for CCs, but dial it down and try not to piss off too many people. The nature of CCs is that you accumulate them over time. Any windfall accumulated by your method of highway robbery is just going to bring trouble later.”
“I’ll be careful, Senior.”
“You need to be more than that. Think about the years ahead. What would happen when your parents, who lack the talent to take care of themselves, come to Shanghai? What if you make too many enemies and some of them decide to take advantage of the fact that you are going to be away on extended missions? You need allies as well as CCs, Richard. Don’t forget that.”
“Thank you for the advice,” Richard said seriously. “I realise now that I was too arrogant and careless.”
“Good. You are both good students.” Jun turned the Jeep into the Song compound. “Here we are, try to have some food before you sleep. The food on the ferry was hardly nourishing.”
“We shall, Senior.”
“Thank you, Uncle Jun, I truly appreciate all the things you’ve done for us.”
“Hey, we’re family.” Jun slowed the car until it came to a full stop. "I'll see you guys in. I still need to greet the old folks.”
“We'll join you.” Gwen swung her long legs from the Jeep’s leather seats. By now, her concentration was groggy with fatigue. The last three days had felt more like seven.
Seven days. A week, Gwen’s brain chimed when she tried to orientate the chronology of her body clock. How many days had it been? She had left Singapore and spent almost two days in the holding cell. Then she spent a day and a half in the Song Compound. Mina and Tao expended another day or so, then three more at the Dungeon.
Had Elvia and Yue gotten back to Sydney yet? Their Journey to Darwin should have been six and a half days. If they kept travelling freight all the way to Sydney though, it would be another day or two before they arrived.
“Uncle Jun,” Gwen inquired as they made for the courtyard. “Think my friends have gotten back to Sydney yet?”
“Perhaps, assuming they disembarked at Darwin and Magus Shultz supplemented their travel expenses,” Jun remarked offhandedly. “I can ask father to loan you the LR-Comm Projector if you like, though I dare say you have to supplement your own LDMs.”
“That would be lovely, thank you,” Gwen replied.
The blue hour was now quickly fading, and the courtyard became illuminated with low consumption Lumen-globes. The inquisitive face of babulya awaited them in the communal hall, nursing a pot of Oolong that simmered softly over a glyph of heat. Gwen’s grandfather, Guo, was nowhere to be seen.
“Congratulations,” she happily declared as they crossed the threshold into the hall. “Petra told me you came first.”
“I'd say 'We' came first,” Gwen answered modestly. “Everyone helped, even Tao.”
“That's a good attitude to have.” Klavdiya reached out and took Gwen by the hand. Gwen felt a mote of Positive Mana enter her hand and make its round through her body.
“Quite a bit of damage.” Her babulya’s face lost some of its lustre. “Though I am surprised that you manage to reinforce that serpent mana of yours. Got lucky?”
“Very lucky.” Gwen sat beside her babulya, though her buttocks just eclipsed the edge of the seat in case Guo burst through and she had to effect a prompt and formal greeting. “Also, we brought you this, Babulya.”
Gwen passed a hand over the elevated coffee table and produced Petra’s Stasis Cube, within which was a jade-like piece of fruit flesh.
“It’ll go sour very quickly,” Gwen advised. “Petra and I had already had a piece. We saved this one for you.”
“I know dear, thank you.” Her babulya passed a hand over the Cube, taking possession of the prize. “I’ll share some of it with your grandfather. At our age, he needs it far more than I.”
“I have another.” Gwen took out the piece that she purchased from Richard.
“Oh, no, no, save it for yourself, dear. Petra said that it helps you mitigate the Void. That is far more important than adding a few years to our lives! There’s plenty of opportunities for that in the future.” Her babulya pushed the cube back towards Gwen. “I’ll instruct you on how to acquire its benefits without damaging your physical form. Rest assured I accept your good graces and kind intent.”
Reluctantly, Gwen withdrew the Vitae Fruit.
Jun bemusedly observed the proceeding beside him.
“Well, if there’s nothing else, I need to go. I’ll be back to visit in a week or so, Mother.” Jun hugged his mother and promised.
“Take care, Ah-Jun,” Klavdiya intoned.
“I will, Mother. Gwen, Richard.”
“Goodbye, Uncle Jun.”
“Tell father I just missed him and that there's the matter of the Clan of Xiao which he needs to deal with.” Having delivered his message, Jun turned to leave. His barracks had a curfew, and although Jun wasn’t subject to it, the Captain preferred to set a good example for his fellow soldiers. "Any words for Hai? He's still sweating it out at the barracks."
"Tell him I said hi," Gwen replied earnestly.
Gwen and Richard watched Jun go before returning their attention to babulya.
“I appreciate the opportunity you’ve given us,” Richard began after Gwen had finished speaking to Klavdiya. “Truly, I am grateful.”
“You can repay me by keeping an eye out for this little one,” Klavdiya gave him a knowing smile. “And the others, if you can spare the time.”
“I will do no less,” Richard inclined his head. “You can leave it to me.”
“Good, we understand each other.” Klavdiya’s eyes were mirthful. “Speaking of which, if and when your parents get here, I would like you to know that we have several properties around the city that I can offer your family until you find a place of your own.”
“I would appreciate that, babulya.” Richard was surprised by the candidness of Klavdiya’s generosity. Here was a woman who knew not to beat around the bush. “I will try my best not to take advantage of your kindness, but I thank you for thinking so highly of me.”
“Such a sweetheart,” Klavdiya cooed. “You could do well to learn a thing or two from Richard, Gwen.”
“I’ll do my best, babulya.” Gwen’s eyes met Richards. “Where is Grandfather?”
“Training your brother, I’d wager. He thinks of little else these days, and young Percy has much to do to catch up.”
“To the curriculum here in Shanghai?” Gwen implored, a little worried that her studies are going to be far behind the norm.
“To you!” babulya laughed.
“I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” Richard stated bluntly. “Sorry if that was too abrasive.”
“Don’t say it in front of Guo,” Klavdiya warned the straight-shooting Conjurer. “I agree with your assertion, by the way.”
“I am sure Percy can do it, especially with Grandfather’s support and the House of Song behind him. He has father’s talent.” Gwen flushed with embarrassment at Richard’s harsh interjection.
“I know you’re a sentimentalist, Gwen, but perhaps less wishful thinking?” Richard was relentless. “Think about how this works, realistically. You’ve gone through how many moments of death and danger so far? How many times have you almost lost it?”
“…” Gwen sighed. There were too many times to count.
“You think Percy, the ‘heir’, is going to have the freedom to risk himself? Without risk, there is no reward. Why do you think we just ripped all kinds of hell out there in the Dungeon? Why is it that we can stand spell for a spell against those little masters with their diet of rare ingredients? It’s because we take risks, Gwen, and we survived those experiences to grow stronger.”
“Richard, enough.” Their babulya placed a hand on Richard’s arm. “While you and Gwen are staying here, it is best to keep such sentiments to yourselves. When University begins, you can seek more a convenient residency closer to your schools.”
“Sorry,” Richard’s voice became softer. “Gwen is too nice.”
“Why should that be a flaw?” Klavdiya’s voice was full of kindness as she pinched Gwen’s cheek. “The path of Asura should be tempered by the Path of Ren; else self-destruction awaits the headstrong traveller. You too, Richard, should beware your prejudices.”
Listening to Klavdiya's advice, Gwen felt a warmth in her chest that was pleasing. She felt the glad affirmation that in this new life of hers, she had not made the mistake of forsaking the chance to connect with her babulya.
“Shall we retire then?” Richard inquired. “You’ve slept on the ship, but it was hardly restful.”
“Yes, I would like to take a shower and sleep,” Gwen implored her babulya, who allowed them to leave.
“Greet Guo when you get to the training room,” babulya reminded them. "If you're hungry, ask the servants to bring you supper!"
“Yes, babulya,” they both replied.
* * *
Guo heard Gwen and Richard enter the training hall from the side entrance and told Percy to maintain his mana circulation.
Percy, as usual, took Guo's word as if it came straight from the horse’s mouth, doing his best to maintain his concentration.
The double doors opened a sliver, and the triumphant Dungeon divers presented themselves for his inspection.
Upon seeing Gwen, Guo furrowed his bushy brows. The girl that emerged from the door felt different somehow to the one that left the estate only three days ago.
Had she become even more powerful? Guo thought uncomfortably to himself. Her growth was unreasonably quick. He had heard from Jun’s Message spell earlier that Gwen’s group had taken first place in the competition.
That was in itself an absurd achievement. Two Neophytes on their first Dungeon dive, coupled with the useless Wang siblings and one Petra Kuznetsov, could defeat the best the local houses could offer? He knew that Richard was already a first-class Conjurer and that Gwen had survived a war, but the news still shocked him to his core.
Klavdiya had said it was terrific news, but for Guo; it meant trouble.
When a member designated for the side-branch, a daughter, was so much more talented and charismatic than the heir, it subverted the hearts of the family and the loyalty of the house’s servants. In time, when achievements accumulated, the Song's allies may no longer look to the heir for support, but find allegiance in Gwen, whose favour carried the most clout.
What if Gwen were to marry into a House that far superseded the prestige of the Song? What if she were to return one day with the blood of a Clan far more nobler than the Songs, bringing with her a dozen Magisters at her beck and call, and demanded allegiance from her brother? Or worse, what if she were to claim birthright, pointing out the weakness of the incumbent?
Guo felt a prickling numbness on the back of his neck as paranoid scenarios manifested themselves one after another.
Watching his granddaughter flaunt her dancer’s figure in her western dress made him all the more apprehensive. She was too gifted in that regard, and her uncommon beauty made matters worse. He would only know the true extent of her actions after receiving a full briefing tomorrow, but already the girl had become a killer. Was the Void subverting her mind, or was it the power going to her head? The life of one Lishui sorceress was no matter, but his granddaughter seemed to be quickly establishing herself a bloodthirsty reputation. In seven days, she had defeated contenders from various Houses and then killed a Mage with impunity. She either sought out trouble, or trouble found her like a harpy that's tasted human flesh. Either way, the girl was trouble.
Guo had a simple winning philosophy which allowed him to succeed in his work: nip the trouble in the bud before it bloomed.
But wasn't it said that the Tiger does not harm its cubs?
Guo felt a discouraging sense of disquiet as Gwen bowed deeply, her dark hair falling over her shoulders like a waterfall. Besides the girl, the Conjurer reciprocated the gesture without the evident respect that Gwen genuflected.
The Water Mage was a danger as well. It was clear that his loyalty was first to his granddaughter, then to the man known as Gunther Shultz. More wildflowers. More buds to be clipped before they grew poisonous and carnivorous.
A dull ache caught Guo unaware as his head throbbed, and the old Magus winced with a sudden grimace.
“Are you alright, grandfather?” the girl asked him, her face beset with genuine worry.
“Percy! Concentrate!” Guo barked at the shifting form of the boy behind him. “I am fine.”
But the boy had already lost his concentration. The exercise would have to resume some other time.
“You must be tired,” Guo heard his voice speak to the girl. “Good night. Percy, go clean up. We resume tomorrow morning after 0700.”
“Yes, grandfather.” Percy bowed and left the room. He didn’t stop to speak to his sister, and that made Guo feel better.
“Good night,” Guo said again, turned on his heels, and left.
He would soon have to force Klavdiya to participate in something she disagreed with, an act that pained him more than anything else in the world.
Anything else that is, apart from disadvantaging his only heir.
* * *
Sunday became a day spent in idyllic recovery.
Gwen woke late in the morning, dressed in a carmine one-piece easy-dress, and met Richard for breakfast.
After a round of meditative exercises, she travelled with babulya to work, where she received another bout of restorative healing to repair the damage caused by her Void usage.
“Your body has taken too much of the vitae fruit for now,” babulya had informed her. “Maybe after a few more months, but for now, it is best to keep you well away from the fruit.”
The afternoon was spent with Richard, walking the quay of The Bund and taking in Shanghai’s sights. One of the local artists had thought that she was a celebrity of some kind, for her and Richard made an extraordinary pair along the boulevard, both being exceptionally tall and well-formed, and asked to paint their picture.
Gwen was too embarrassed to be holding a pose for hours, but the artist laughed and told them that he just needed a Lumen-recording.
They returned two hours later, and the artist presented them with the painting, gratis.
She had offered the man an HDM crystal, but the artist refused, saying that he was happy that they gave him the opportunity to work on something that he enjoyed. That was when she realised that the man was a NoM and that he was reeling from the knowledge that two Mages who appeared the scions of noble houses were entertaining his ambitions at all.
The image itself was hasty and impressionist, but it captured her likeness beside Richard as they wandered through the Quay. Behind them, the Pudong Tower glinted beside the Huangpu River.
A foreshadowing of the future? Richard joked. Beside him Gwen laughed without worry, dreaming of one day venturing across the bay. They had been in Shanghai long enough to know that Pudong was a place where the Demi-humans resided. Only sanctioned Mages who’d undergone mental conditioning or selective members of the Pudong Tower were able to dwell within the ‘Concession Zone’ of the city within a city.
They did not return that evening for dinner but instead attempted for an adventurous culinary fare on The Bund.
Jun came through with the Message that her friends should be arriving in Sydney soon, and that Gwen should anticipate a call within the next twelve hours.
A taxi took the two home before the 2200 curfew, where they retired to their rooms after checking in with the grandparents.
Then Gwenn tucked into bed, where she counted Evees until she could fight off the anxiety of having to wait for their call.
* * *
“Gwen! You have a call!”
Gwen had been wide awake since daybreak, waiting for the call to come. In hindsight, counting Evees mightn't have been the best solution to insomnia. Nonetheless, the news filled her mind's eye with the fluffy vision of Elvia and the bombastic Yue, furious as they received the news that Gwen would not be returning to Sydney. That had been the reason for her nerve wrecking distress.
She leapt out of bed, having changed last night, and made for the communal hall, where the LR Communication Device awaited in Guo's spare office.
The desire for privacy was likely wishful thinking, Gwen acknowledged as she entered the room where a servant had set up the device for her. By the same measure, Gwen had offered to pay for the costs of activating the device, but Klavdiya wouldn’t have it.
With a hum, the flickering projection came into focus. A close crop of outrageous cleavage promptly accosted Gwen's field of vision.
“Is this thing on?” Yue’s voice sounded far too close to the microphone, assuming the device had such a thing. “Hello?”
“Yue!” Gwen shrieked. “Oh my god! I see you! I see, a lot of you!”
“Yue! Get back here!” Elvia’s embarrassed voice was as sweet as ever.
It took a few seconds, but the girls seemed to have found the niche settled into a medium shot of their upper bodies, with a little of their head cropped by the receptor's limited field of view.
Gwen felt her chest swell with turbulent emotions of child-like glee.
“I am so happy to see you guys.” Gwen choked, feeling her welling emotions making her eyes misty with remembrance.
“Oh, Gwennie! I am so glad you’re alright!” Elvia was no better; she was already leaking like a faulty tap.
“You alright down there? I heard from Gunther and Alesia that you’ve decided to stay?” Yue's timbre was equal parts disappointment and hurt.
Her friend's accusatory statement weighed upon Gwen's shoulders with a mountainous mass. When they had left the island, they had all promised to try and stay together, and now she was the first to break that promise.
“No! We’re not upset or anything,” Elvia bawled. “It was just so… sniff… so… choke… unexpected!”
“Well, what have you got to say for yourself?” Yue wasn’t nearly so kind.
“Let me explain,” Gwen spoke slowly, keeping cadence by drawing upon a measured calm. It was all she could do to keep her emotions in check. “So, Wei and the other guy, that's the MSS agents, took me to a holding facility...”
Gwen related her arrival in Shanghai. The Isolation chamber. The matter with Percy. Gunther’s advice and babulya’s support. She explained the situation of her paternal family, and the decision to remain as logically as she could.
“Alright, I guess that’s acceptable,” Yue sulked, before rolling on her back and kicking the air with her legs. “ARRRG! I am going to be so lonely!”
It was now Elvia’s turn to put on an expression full of guilt.
“What’s wrong, Evee?” There was something distinctly heartbreaking about the angelic healer’s sullen demeanour that implored Gwen to teleport across the world and embrace her.
“She’s going to Europe,” Yue sighed. “Everyone is leaving me. I am just a lonely Evoker, all alone in this cruel world.”
“Evee? You're going to Europe?” Gwen felt a sinking feeling in her heart. So it was happening? Was Elvia going with her family because Gwen was no longer in Australia to keep the three of them together?
“It’s my family,” Elvia spoke between sobs. “My father accepted a position in Germany. We’re going to relocate to Hamburg in a week. They’ve been waiting for me to return.”
“Oh… Evee.” Gwen wanted to say that she wanted to be happy for her, but she also acutely realised that unlike her temporary stay in Shanghai, Elvia's European stint was likely permanent.
“They’re going to try and enrol me at the at the Nightingale College in England, or the School of Asclepius in Greece. That means I’ll be away from my family as well. Father says it's for the best because they don’t know what’s in store for them once they arrive in Hamburg.”
“And neither of us can help her!” Yue fumed, her dark eyes glinting dangerously. “Those places are for Clerics only! Bah!”
“Those are incredible Tier 1 schools!” Gwen marvelled.
“You can thank your brother-in-craft for that,” Yue’s intonation had mixed, complicated feelings. Gwen too felt a strange cocktail of ire and gladness, concern and gratitude.
“I am sure it’ll be alright, Evee,” Gwen reached out to try and comfort the illusory projection. “You’ll make new friends in no time!”
Elvia’s face formed a horrid grimace made infinitely worse by dribbling snot and streaky tears.
“All those strangers, Gwen, and not knowing anyone there.” she held onto Yue’s arm with white-knuckled apprehension. “I-I don’t know if I can do it. You know what it was like when I came to Blackwattle. If it weren’t for you guys..”
Yue sighed and produced a handkerchief, wiping down Elvia’s face as she tried to capture for Gwen just how dreaded her new existence would be.
Ah, social anxiety. Gwen mourned for Elvia. Hello, Darkness my old friend...
Her words did make Gwen think though. What would Elvia be like if she hadn’t befriended Gwen and Yue? For the entire of junior high, she was a loner. The old Gwen barely register the little angelic cleric on her radar, and Yue would have unquestionably bullied Elvia if they were forced together, most likely unconsciously, which made it worse still.
But what could she do?
Gwen wracked her brain.
What could she do to help her friend through her trial of isolation? What manner of aid could she render from a ten thousand miles away? She couldn’t SKYPE Elvia when she felt down or something, could she?
SKYPE? Gwen felt tickled by a minute epiphany. Weren't they Face-Timing right now?
“Yue, is brother Gunther there?”
“Nope, but I can get Master,” Yue answered. “Shall I?”
“Sure, there’s something I need to ask.”
Yue left the vision of the projection.
Alesia’s gorgeous face came into view a minute later. She looked far more hale than when Gwen had last seen her.
“Hey there, Tiger,” Alesia hailed Gwen with her usual sultry joviality. “How’s my little sister doing?”
“I’ve got so much to tell you! I did my first Dungeon dive!”
“Already! Impressive, how did it go?”
“We came first!”
Alesia squealed with delight, lightening the mood significantly. Gwen quickly told of her exploits in record time, covering only the highlight reel.
“So, Alesia,” Gwen cut to the chase. “I want to know if it's possible to get Elvia one of these LR Communication Projectors, one she can take with her to her new school.”
“No!” Elvia interjected. “Gwen, that’s too much!”
“It’s not available for sale just to anyone, you know.” Alesia furrowed her flawless brows. “You going to need HDMs and CCs.”
“How much?” Gwen carefully inquired with fingers crossed.
“Assuming I pull a few strings.” Alesia puckered her lips alluringly. “About 50 CCs for a set?”
“Done!” Gwen agreed without hesitation. “Can I trade it in at the Shanghai Tower?”
“The Pudong Tower is one you’ll need to deal with,” Alesia’s eyes sparkled. “How come you got so much CC? You’ve been there for what, two weeks? A week?”
“You’re looking at a woman of 151 CCs,” Gwen boasted, puffing out her chest. “I've got Contributions to spare!”
Alesia fell about laughing in stitches, wiping tears from her eyes.
Elvia tried to dissuade Gwen, but she wouldn’t have it. 50 CCs to ensure that Elvia could be safe and sound and could report to her anytime? It was worth it!
“Okay, I’ll make sure Elvia has a nice dorm wherever she goes to Med school, and that an LRM device is installed for her perusal.” Alesia raised a thumb. “I’ll match you CC for CC. She’ll have the best accommodation there. A private one even, if she wants it.”
“Maybe not a private one, it’ll isolate her,” Gwen advised. “How about improving her foodstuff?”
“Done,” Alesia promised. “It’ll be like you’re pampering her yourself, you Sugar Mama, you!”
Gwen couldn’t help but laugh as well. Yue joined in after she found out what Gwen had done, and even the tearful Elvia couldn’t help but sob and laugh at the same time at the absurdity of it all.
“Can I mail some HDMs over to Elvia?” Gwen asked. If she was going to be a sugar mama to Elvia, she might as well go the full monty.
“I’ll set her up with a Trust, and you can pay me back a few years down the road,” Alesia dissuaded Gwen from her short-sighted request. “A few thousand HDMs here and there over a few years, no problems.”
“My family isn’t poor either, you know!” Elvia protested, her little face red with embarrassment. “I can take care of myself!”
“Evee! You brave girl!” Alesia hugged Elvia in her stead, pressing her sweet little face against her ample bosoms. “Of course you can!”
“There, now we can chat every night if you want,” Gwen told Elvia confidently. “Just Face- er… LRM me. It’ll be like I am there next to you!”
“Okay!” Elvia made a brave face, which was so adorable as to induce Alesia and Yue into another fit of hugs, passing her back and forth like a rag doll.
“Wow.” Gwen reflected after Elvia finished wiping her face, where the rouge like aftermath made her seem even more adorable. “To think… to think we’re going to be apart for so long.”
“Negative.” Alesia made a cross with both her arms. “I could come out there to Shanghai tomorrow if I wanted. It’s Yue you have to wait for.”
“Yue?” Gwen looked at her friend.
“Master says I need to accumulate my own 1000 CCs for the immigration application,” Yue sulked. “She says it’ll motivate me.”
“When Yue joins you again,” Alesia snorted arrogantly. “She’ll be a dreadnought of destruction!”
“I am sure she will,” Gwen said a silent prayer for all the creatures in the Orange, Purple and Black Zones surrounding Oceania. “What’s your projection, Elvia?”
“Four years at minimum,” Elvia said miserably. “I need to do at least a year of practicum as well.”
“Well, I’ll earn enough CCs for you to come to Shanghai if you like,” Gwen offered. "Four years is a long time!"
“What, you think CCs grow on trees?” Alesia scoffed. “Even during the last Coral Sea Conflict, with a four-digit kill count, I only earned 6000 odd CCs! I spent a whole lot on my Crimson Caracal, and now I am short on CCs to get another one.”
“Can’t Gunther lend you some?”
“What, you don’t know? It's strictly forbidden to lend or trade CCs except with Tower sanctioned transactions. The process to get one of those to pass muster is downright impossible. Might as well squeeze a camel through a needle's eye,” Alesia replied indignantly.
“Wouldn’t Yue need a spirit as well?” Gwen asked out of curiosity.
“Yep,” Yue replied miserably. “I feel so close to you, Gwen, yet so far away. There's not enough CCs in the world!”
“Could I buy a spirit?” Gwen continued. What would a spirit do for her Elements? What would it do for Caliban or Ariel? "I got an Auction later with something called the House of M."
“Ha, good luck with that.” Alesia gazed at Gwen with a penetrating look of mock-sympathy.
“Expensive?” Gwen swallowed nervously.
“Fire is one of the more common elements of Evocation, yet still my Caracas cost 1400 CCs,” Alesia pointed out. “As for Lightning, only the blackest of Black Zones have an abundance of Lightning Elementals. Whereas for Void - where the hell do we even begin?”
“I see your point.” Gwen bit her lip.
“Right, anything else? I’ll make sure these two are safe and right as rain. Yue can use my LRM, and I’ll make sure Elvia has hers when she arrives at school.”
“Great, thanks. I appreciate it, Sis.”
“I’ll let Gunther know you dropped by.”
Gwen once again faced her two best buddies.
“For the future.” She put forward her palm so that the Illusory projection could see her hand.
“For our futures!” Yue followed suit.
"For us!" Elvia also joined in, stacking their limbs so that they could all see each other's hands.
A wordless moment lingered in the air as each of the girls etched the scene into the recess of their memory.
Another half an hour of small talk followed, discussing matters of one another’s family. Yue informed Gwen that she’d try to get Surya to call Gwen on the LRM Device, as well as broker a meeting so that Richard could speak to his parents. Elvia promised to talk with Gwen as soon as she was able, though they would have to wait until a Tower Technician installed the LRM Devices. Furthermore, Gwen would have to undergo screening to ensure that she wasn’t going to defraud the Tower of sensitive information if she were handed an LRM device. Either way, the process would take weeks, if not months, and by then, it was likely that Gwen would have begun University.
“Goodbye,” she said at last as the illusion died, the projection transforming into ghostly motes of white-grey mana.
Gwen exited her grandfather’s warded office, feeling like she’d emerged into a brave new world.
University, Gwen thought to herself. It was probably time she collected some brochures and pamphlets on the matter, maybe hunted down a few copies of the student handbooks.
The future may be far away, but she felt as though she was already standing on its doorsteps.