Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 161 - No Place should Murder Sanctuarise

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A note from Wutosama

I spent like an hour reading the comments instead of editing... 

Thanks for the discussion! 

Minor cliff warning


As one sensitive to other’s expressions and emotions, Gwen was the first to notice the fatalism that befell their captive.

Richard held the woman aloft in his water prison, exposing only her head. The rest of her body was tethered by invisible tendrils beyond the ability of a Mage unbolstered by advanced Transmutation.

“Well, let’s have it.” Gwen examined the woman more closely now that they were face to face. She figured that they could start with some simple answers to gauge her level of cooperation. Her cross-examination techniques were solely derived from Ian Flemming novels, but it would have to do for now.

“What’s your name?”

“Nephres Zalaam.” The woman had a cockeyed smile unbefitting of a captive. Her eyes were bright and intelligent, lacking the anxiety Gwen had anticipated.

“Who do you work for, Nephres Zalaam?” Gwen continued, a little taken aback at the candidness of Nephres’ reaction.

As someone who had enjoyed a night in the MSS Hilton, Gwen felt flustered that the woman appeared entirely too relaxed for one now-imprisoned and soon to be handed over to Secretariat Choi. What awaited her was surely torture, maybe even a Mind Mage who would peel her brain like an onion.

Then what? Stasis? Execution? Show trial? For a moment a little voice at the back of Gwen's head asked if this was like aiding and abetting an autocratic regime, but her concern was quickly quelled by her remembrance of Nephres abandoning her companions.

Nephres raised her head and met Gwen’s hazel eyes with her own amber orbs. It was difficult to tell how old the healer was. Her appearance could be measured in her twenties, but the woman could be fifty for all Gwen knew. Even her captive state, the echoes of her Positive Energy affinity was palpable, radiating from the woman like a beacon and setting Caliban on edge. There was a natural desire felt by all to see the woman in a kindly light, an aura that reminded Gwen of Elvia, a spiritual inclination to show her mercy and give her the benefit of the doubt.

Gwen broke eye contact first, afraid that she would be drawn to that halo of positivity and life.

“Come closer if you want the truth,” Nephres murmured in her husky voice. "I'll tell you."

The Party regarded one another.

“You can tell all of us,” Gwen derided the questionable attempt at gaining her empathy. If that's the game the woman wanted to play, she figured a little white lie couldn’t hurt. “We’re not playing games here. If you satisfy us with the validity of your answers, I’ll put in a good word for you when we hand you over. It’ll make a world of difference, trust me.”

Nephres’ citrine irises scanned her audience. Her sensuous lips split from their previous battery, formed into a crescent.

“Alright.” Nephres beamed in an overly familiar manner. “It’s your funeral.”

Gwen looked at Richard, who nodded imperceptibly, indicating that he would not allow her to escape. She then looked to Mayuree.

“We’re clear,” Mayuree replied with a Silent Message. “No Mages within range as far as I can tell.”

“I am all ears.” Gwen folded her arms. Besides her, Ariel leapt onto Gwen’s shoulders in a show of force, menacing Nephres with its dainty little horns.

Not far, Caliban slithered to and fro, patrolling their surrounding as much out of curiosity as following Gwen’s orders. At Gwen’s behest, it also made a guttural that resembled a growling stomach.

“I work for Elizabeth Winsted Sobel.”

As the last syllable sizzled through the air, Gwen felt as though someone had cast a tier 5 Hold Monster on her.

Mayuree’s face remained impassable and uncomprehending.
Kitty’s likewise had no particular expressions whatsoever, the name meant nothing to her.

Richard paused, his usually calm demeanour quietly took on an unpleasant expression, he drew in a breath of cold air.

Gwen's companions watched as her entire complexion, from her brow to her hands, turned from pink, to pale, to ashen, as though Caliban had leeched out every drop of vitality from her body.

Gwen moved her face closer to Nephres.

“You better not be fucking with me,” she spat with such venom and vehemence that Mayuree felt as though she was seeing Gwen for the first time. Her friend was funny and awkward and talented and eccentric, but she was never cruel. “I swear to God, 'Nephres,' if that’s your real name. I am going to do to you things you cannot imagine if you’re lying to me. Your Astral Soul would be begging for mercy for the rest of eternity."

“Touché, I see you know my Mistress,” Nephres continued in her careless way. “She always did wonder what happened to her little-sister of the Void.”

“W-where is she?” The voice that emerged from Gwen's white lips was quaking with emotion.

“I am frankly surprised you’re not taking advantage of your talent. There’s no shame in it, we do what we do to survive. Certainly, my Mistress is living proof-”

“WHERE IS SHE?” Gwen’s eyes had taken on a vividness that would have made Lulan proud. Dark energies circulated as two concentric rings around her iris. Around Gwen, the perception of space seemed to distort for a moment, not a tangible thing, but one that alarmed the souls of the living.

Kitty, Mayuree, Lulan, Richard and the target of Gwen’s intimidation, Nephres, felt an intense awareness of vertigo engender in their bodies. Mayuree, the weakest of them all, suddenly had an urge to vomit as nausea overwhelmed her senses. Kitty stared at Gwen with suspicion and incomprehension, then moved in front of Mayuree, relieving the pressure on the Diviner.

Lulan touched a hand to her chest, surprised by the unexpected fear reflexively engendered in her body. So this was Gwen Song? She wondered. Could Kusu have fought this? Could her brother have survived this?

Richard meanwhile, saw the writing on the wall.
Something was coming to a head. He could feel it in his bones.
'Lea,' he intoned internally. 'Don't do anything without my express command. Do not kill our captive under any circumstances.'

His attention returned to the confrontation at hand, his heart pounding with more agitation and anticipation than even when the Crawlers had them cornered.

Under the party's unfriendly gaze, Nephres’ complexion fluctuated, but as a Positive Energy user, she quickly recovered.

“… do your companions know about the Consumptive aspect of the Void?" she chided Gwen. "According to Mistress, not all Void users are capable of absorption, you know. The two of you are sisters in more ways than you'd think."

“Shut up!”

"Ha! Was that what Henry Kilroy saw in you? Did he enjoy you as he did my Mistress? Did he-"

‘Whack!’

To the surprise of her companions, Richard included, Gwen punched Nephres across the face, tearing open a gash across her lips and cracking the bridge of her nose.

A trail of vermillion escaped from a nostril, drooling from Nephres' chin.

How angry would Gwen have to be to punch another woman?! Richard had some inkling of what Gwen might be feeling, but the bafflement on Kitty and Mayuree's face, Lulan as well, was entirely genuine.

“Did he feed you!? What did he start with? Prisoners?! You’re a fool if you’re not consuming every Mage you lay your hands on, think how quickly you can-”

‘Thwack!’

Another strike, this time right in the kisser. Nephres' mouth was filling with blood from her bitten tongue.

“SHUT UP!”

With every word that came from Nephres’ lips, Gwen felt her blood run a little colder. Elizabeth Sobel! Gwen had not expected to hear that name so soon, and certainly not like this. So this whole ordeal occurred because of her? They were ambushed because Nephres had 'history' with her? Sobel was evidently alive then. If so, she had to tell Gunther!

“Fine, fine, that upset you, I get it." Nephres swallowed the blood in her mouth. "Let's change the subject. You remember Edgar, Gwen? He loved you, you know, even if he didn’t know it himself. The man talked of nothing but you for weeks on end.”

Unpleasant memories surfaced in Gwen’s mind. Memories she’d thought long buried and gone. Her head throbbed, her neck ached, her throat felt parched. Where Edgar had intruded, she could still feel the Mind Mage's presence like a lesion across her subconscious.

“He’s dead!” Gwen hissed through clenched teeth.

“Oh yes, we have no idea who killed him, you know. Some say its the one called the Pink Salt Saivour.”

“…”

“Do you wish to know Edgar’s real name? Do you want satisfaction?”

“…” Gwen’s complexion blanched and burned simultaneously.

“I can see that you do. You have very talkative eyes, Gwen. Did anyone ever tell you that? Edmund, that's Edgar's real name, stupid, I know, loved your eyes so. I do believe he would have kept them as a fetish once he was done with you.”

"..."

"See? I know you very well, Gwen. I know everything about you."

“Who is this woman?” Kitty interjected, turning to Richard and then Gwen. “Do you know her?”

“We don’t,” Richard answered for Gwen. “I've never seen her before.”

Nephres smiled sweetly at Gwen's companions, showing them teeth pink with gore.

“It seems your friends are the ones not in the know," she said sardonically. "Shall I tell them? Shall I be explicit?"

“You're playing a dangerous game!” Gwen raised a quivering hand. The initial anger had gone from her. What she now felt was a stinging paranoia and a rising urge to silence the woman before she could blurt out more of her secrets. Secrets that Gwen didn't even know she had.

“Playing?! I am not playing, Gwen Song! I've won! Guess what I did before you came? I sent off your data to Lord Ravenport! Oh! You don’t know who that is!” Nephres laughed in her face. “It’s alright, you’ll find out soon! He’ll find you, and then you’ll know just now exquisite the retribution can be from a member of the House of Lords!”

“W-what did you do?” Gwen’s voice wavered. Edgar’s father? Lord Ravenport? The House of Lords? What did the British Parliament have to do with this?

“Oh, Magister Ravenport will have a field day with you, my dear. The things that repugnant man will do to a lovely thing like you. He will tear you apart. He will make you wish you were never born. Ha!”

Lulan, Kitty and Mayuree listened to their conversations with equal parts confusion and disquiet. Was this another Clanner enemy of Gwen’s? They knew little of the world outside of Shanghai, but even so, they could guess that this Ravenport was likely going to be a tough customer.

It was Richard who felt his heart leap when the name of Ravenport issued forth from Nephres' lips. As a Praetor for Prince's, he had the opportunity to sign a soul-binding contract to enter Great Britain and enter one of the High Orders of the British Mageocracy. He had declined the offer and withdrawn from the School's upper curriculum, but his instruction had included the recognition of the 793 peerage positions that made up the House of Lords.

House Ravenport is a very old title indeed, dating all the way back to Henry Tudor and the Golden Age of Elizabeth I, Queen of the Twin Rose.

This... was trouble.

Watching Gwen grow increasingly despondent, Mayuree stole a glance at Richard, half expecting him to kill the blabbering woman outright. Instead, Gwen’s faithful defender had a dark and contemplative look about his mien that was unreadable to her.

“Can we shut this woman up and just deliver her to Choi?” Kitty growled. “She’s clearly insane.”

Gwen made no move to secure the woman, nor did Richard act on Gwen’s behalf.

“What in Mao’s name is wrong with you two?” Kitty placed a hand displeasingly on her hip. “Someone caught your tongue?”

Watching the exchange, Lulan affirmed the truth of that age-old Confucian saying, that every family had a heavy volume of analects that was painful to read. Lulan knew that she had her circumstances, but it seemed Gwen also had hers. From the sounds of it, the Void Sorceress's problem went far deeper than clannish assholes and power squabbling relatives.

Seeing that she had their undivided attention, Nephres continued her tirade.

“Oh, hand me over to Choi, sure. That prick will hand me over to the MSS after I tell him everything. You’d love that, wouldn’t you, Gwen Song? I wonder if the MSS knows about the Mistress and her connection to you. The bond you share with us! Shall I tell them how useful you would be in the future? What great hopes my Mistress has for her little sister of the Void?”

Gwen slowly shifted her eyes until she was eye level with Nephres. The darkness of her orbs had become pure pitch.

“OH, YES! GWEN SONG!” Nephres voice took on a new volume and octave. “I’ll tell them everything! About Henry Kilroy! About Edgar! About Sydney! About YOU!”

Gwen raised her right hand.

The trembling ceased.

“No you won’t,” she said quietly, then her voice suddenly took on a hard edge.

“Void Bolt!”

“SLEET!” Kitty, who’d been observing Gwen, caught her bolt cold with a sheet of ice that half covered Nephres, freezing a portion of her water prison.“What the fuck are you doing? Are you killing prisoners now?”

“Kitty…” Mayuree was beginning to realise that perhaps, Nephres words weren't just the inane and insane rant of the captured. From the way Gwen reacted, it seemed there were some deeply buried secrets now being shorn with an unwelcome Day Light spell.

“She’s a psycho! She’s crazy! Mia, get over here! What did I tell you?!” Kitty pushed Mayuree away then stood between Nephres and Gwen. “Back off you fucking hypocrite!”

“Get out of my way, Kitty!” Gwen snarled, her mind blank with broiling black emotions. “This doesn't concern you!”

“Stop!” It was Richard who interjected loudly.

A part of his watery prison that was frozen fell away, the sudden disjunction in circulation dispelled his hold on Nephres, allowing the woman to tumble from Lea's grasp.

"Shit!" Richard growled.

Lulan stood to the side, watching the confrontation unfold, her face a mask of bewilderment. Caught between acting and staying put, she stifled an impulse to aid in the re-capturing of the fugitive Healer. There was no way the Water's Mage's liquid prison could have failed that easily.

Nephres landed on all fours, with a burst of almost supernatural speed, she sprinted for the tunnel entrance.

“Lea! After her! Gwen! Stop her!”

“Kitty! Get out of my way!” Gwen reached out to push Kitty from her path.

“No way, not until you explain what the fuck you think you're doing,” Kitty snarled. “Mayuree can track her down. But I am not letting you kill her. What does she have on you? Dirty secrets? What is this Consume she's talking about? What Prisoners? Who's Elizabeth?!”

“GET OUT OF THE FUCKING WAY!”

“NO!”

“CALIBAN!”

“WOCAO!” Kitty swore. She lifted from the air and turned towards the fleeing figure of Nephres. “Glacial Spike!”

Where Caliban had been slithering toward Nephres’ sprinting form, a precisely aimed spike of explosive ice that would freeze and slow the creature now shrieked through the air to intercept it.

“ONSLAUGHT!” Gwen poured her vitality into Caliban, causing it to Haste.

“Cone of Cold!” Unexpectedly, Kitty had another trump card. Her expertise far beyond the likes of Gwen, whose mastery was wrangling the brute power of Lightning and Void. Kitty’s genius lay in efficiency, speed and versatility. Her attack would ensure that Gwen had to defend by erecting her Shield, cutting her line of sight.

Just as the Glacial Spike reached the transforming serpent, it shattered. From the looks of the spell-blast, her Glacial Spike had struck a body of water, turning into brittle ice which clattered about harmlessly.

“Lea!”

Richard put his hands in the air to indicate a friendly fire. Apparently, the Spike had struck his Undine, who had been invisible and chasing Nephres. Lea quickly discarded the solidified part of her body, then continued her pursuit.

On Gwen’s front, Kitty’s Cone of Cold was met by a gleaming iron blade embedded into the concrete, diverting the blast by parting it into two streams.

“YOU!” Kitty turned to Lulan, her pale blue eyes flashing dangerously.

“Stand down.” Lulan’s speech was wrought with finality. “Or be put down.”

Meanwhile, Caliban had finished its transformation into its spider form and was almost upon Nephres.

“Don't you dare!” Kitty shrieked at Gwen. “DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE!”

“CONSUME!” Gwen spat between her teeth, her eyes swirling with tenebrous purpose. “CALIBAN! DO IT NOW!”

Caliban fell upon Nephres, who futilely put up a Shield of Faith.

Engorged with more vital force than it had never obtained from Gwen in any point of their master-familiar history, Caliban launched itself upon the hapless healer, opening its torso to reveal a secondary mouth under its cephalothorax.

“Mistress!” Nephres let loose one last shriek, then the spidery fiend was upon her.

Tentacles lashed out at Nephres, one blue and one red. The crimson lamprey lip swelled and expanded, swallowing her head whole and cutting her cry short. The other punched into her abdomen, seeking out her liver and then her heart.

To the observers, it seemed as though Caliban simply tore into the woman before bringing her toward its gaping maw. With a delicate crunch, Nephres disappeared, clothes and all, into the void of Caliban’s maw.

Kitty was so shocked that for a moment, she had forgotten her fuming rage.
Mayuree held trembling fingers over her mouth, then vomited into her hand. Richard remained impassive, his face impossible to read. Lulan glanced from Gwen to Caliban, then to Gwen again, her eyes as wide as hen’s eggs.

“Oh…” Gwen opened her mouth to speak, to make an excuse, but no words issued forth from her lips.

She was already in ecstasy.

Richard caught her as she fell backwards, her hazel eye rolling back in their sockets.

“What the fuck? Has the world gone insane?” Kitty felt as though she had been teleported into a strange alternative world. Watching Gwen groan in her cousin's arms, she tried to place the last thirty seconds into a reality she was familiar with.

First, their prisoner started sprouting some kind of nonsense. Then Gwen Song went madcap. They exchanged spells, protecting and attempting to murder the very prisoner they had set out to capture. Then Caliban ATE the fucking prisoner, and now Gwen was squirming in Richard’s arms.

Kitty felt an incredible desire to leave these crazies right there, right now. Gwen Song - Richard Huang - Lulan Li, these three deserved each other.

“Mia! We’re leaving!” Kitty hissed. “Come on! We can’t party with these… I don’t know! Psychopaths? Wackjobs? Fengzi? They’re a liability! They’re insane!”

Lulan’s eyes gleamed dangerously at Kitty.

Kitty averted the Sword Mage's gaze and turned to Mayuree.

Her childhood friend refused to budge. Instead, after cleaning her hands with a quick cantrip, she knelt beside Gwen and produced a healing injector.

“Is Gwen going to be okay?” Mayuree asked softly.

Richard placed a hand on Gwen's forehead, where beads of sweat formed.

Ariel helped by lapping up the perspiration, nudging her cheeks with its little pink paws.

Not far, Caliban slithered back in its serpentine form. After the terrifying deed, it had become well-fed and docile. From the looks of its slim body, there was no likelihood that Nephres still existed anywhere in the multiverse. For all they knew, the healer was now particles of Void drifting in the lightless and lifeless liminal space.

“Get the fuck away!” Kitty floated half a meter away. “Mia! Listen to me!”

“Shaa! Shaa?!” Caliban came upon them, feeling very pleased with itself, a little drunk on the payload of life-matter. "Shaaa?"

“Back off!” Kitty raised a hand in warning.

“Kitty!” Mayuree stood. Her face was no longer sweet. “That’s enough. Calm down.”

“NO! Did you see what the fuck that thing just did?”

“I did,” Mayuree replied stoically.

“Then why-”

“KITTY!” Mayuree snapped, her face reddening. “I am upset now.”

Kitty looked as though someone had slapped her. Her throat bobbed back and forth rapidly, hinting at the torrent of thoughts churning within her overstimulated brain.

“I can't. It’s my duty to protect you,” Kitty replied weakly.

“Protect me then." Mayuree’s tone had a growing edge to it. “If you’re not helping. Stand down.”

Kitty returned to Mayuree’s side, her expression unreadable, the party followed her gaze until it landed on Gwen.

Gwen appeared to be in the thrall of an illusory hallucination, a lucid dream. Her eyes glazed over, her body trembled and sweated profusely, her fingers scratched the floor violently and had to be held by Richard and Mayuree.

“So, what happens now?” it was Lulan who spoke, her voice showing a hint of concern.

"Is Gwen going to be alright?" Mayuree added.

“I don't know.” Richard felt the clamminess of Gwen’s hands and felt his own heart thudding against his chest. He could only bet that Gunther was right, that Gwen would bend but not break. He took a deep breath and held her clenched hand in his own.

“Now," he replied with feigning confidence. "Now we wait.”


* * *

When Gwen was a girl-child, she had experienced many great and beautiful things for the first time.

The strangest was her first taste of durian, which made her puke.

She could also recall her first Royal Easters Show cotton-candy, larger than her head, filling her mouth with sugary happiness.

Her first time on the Ferris Wheel in Melbourne, vertigo turning to awe then joy and wonder.

Her first time at the aquarium in Sydney, watching the penguins being fed.

Her dog, Rin, licking her hand and feet for the first time, then shitting itself in her bedroom, for the first time and last time. She was seized by loathing and love for weeks.

Her first day at school, the fear and the anxiety, the expectations and the relief.

Her first time meeting Yue, her first party at Yue's house, a sleepover. Debbie was there too.

Her first crush, Blackwattle’s blue-eyed school captain. Her first heartbreak; he was gay.

Her first job selling ice-cream at Darling Habour. Her first purchase, a pair Levis bought with her own money.

A girl's life was filled with many firsts, from innocence to experience.

Now she was having another.

The first time she consciously consumed another human being, sans the buffer of the Kirin amulet.

The immediate sensation, if Gwen were to engage her academic mind, was the unfortunate synaesthesia of taste. Insects and reptiles tasted bitter or acrid, while mammals consumed by Caliban had a sweeter palate.

But a human being? A five-foot-eight Healer?

It was as though she was experiencing every bounty from the Horn of Cornucopia at once.

Orgasmic was too gentle of a word, for the sensation was beyond the comprehension of even Shakespearian expression, reaching a level akin to religious rapture. Where she had felt revitalised after being fed by Magus Kumiko’s Wildland summons, now she was rejoicing having touched a higher power, the body of Christ and all that.

Every cell in her body sung of the vital energy that suffused them, the fatigue and wastage that had accumulated as a result of her ceaseless expenditure, disappeared at once, becoming fortified and full of life.

Gwen had to remind herself that Nephres was a tier 6 healer. As far as fortifying foods went, she was a human-sized block of ginseng.

The shuddering satisfaction of supreme pleasure had dilated time itself.

As the euphoria faded and Gwen regained control of her faculties, she attempted to orientate herself. How long was she out? Minutes? Hours? A day?

A few minutes, she realised. It had felt longer.

As the last vestige of chemical joy left her body, she felt the oncoming of guilt like a tenebrous tide of grime swallowing her white body, plastering across her skin like tar. The abyss was lovely, dark and deep, and she had avoided staring for as long as she could.

But all that now came to an end.

She felt Richard holding her arms, though she felt no urge to rise nor wake. Let her rest in the dark. She deserved the break.

Nephres Zalaam. Gwen etched the name into her mind. Was Nephres her first, or was Faceless her first.

With Faceless, it was revenge.
With Nephres, it was self-preservation.

Yes, Gwen heard herself reply.

Gwen tried to speculate, extrapolated from her misadventures in Blackheath. When the inevitable came, she had imagined herself bawling in melodramatic regret, pounding the floors and howling in frustration. Would she marvel at her hands like Macbeth? Would she find the tallest tower like his wife? Or maybe, she could be bloody Richard!

Caper she had this whole erstwhile long, there would be no pause for breath! I want the bastards DEAD!

It wasn’t a perfect analogy, Gwen thought. But it would do.

Even Brutus had limits to his self-aggrandising moralisation.

She protected herself, made a choice, paid the mana and Caliban did the deed. If she allowed Nephres to live, then she would be exposed. The CCP would find out about the truth of the Black Sun, her connection to Amuldj, and her life and freedom would be forfeit. At best, she would be a specimen. At worst, she could be mind-raped and stowed in stasis. Worse still, her siblings-in-craft, her friends and her babulya would get involved, then they would all be in a world of shit.

What was there to regret then?
Her choice was right. Her actions dignified. Her remorse was great, but she would live with it.
She had killed the serpent whilst in its egg.
There would be no more mischief from Nephres.

As the puzzle pieces fell into place. Gwen felt buoyed by a strange calm; she was out to sea, far out to sea and alone, but it wasn't an unpleasant kind of loneliness. The blue yonder was contemplative, white, peaceful; the dark below was bottomless.

Her tenebrous thoughts had become small enough that she could now crush them, swallow them, consume them.

Out of sight, out of mind.
Enough for today.

There remained much more to be done.
Lulan, the Huashan Clan came first.
Had Nephres not said something about a Ravenport?
Other dramas in Fudan would inevitably follow.
Then the IIUC.
Then graduation.
Then she would return to Gunther and Alesia, and the threesome of Henry's Disciples would find Elizabeth Sobel.

Slowly, her long, vibrant lashes fluttering, Gwen opened her eyes.

Her pupils, which had been vivid before, had now taken on a vital hue that was more opal than peridot. Her skin glowed with divine radiance, moist and plump, pale and as tender a child’s. As Gwen lifted herself from Richard’s arms, she noticed something falling from her face, her exposed arms, and her thighs. Dead skin cells, replaced by rejuvenated dermis, fell like dandruff. She could use a shower.

“Everyone,” Gwen spoke, her voice emerging from her lips with crystal clarity, thrilling the ear.

Her Familiars, now in their docile form, rushed in to nuzzle her.
Gwen placed a hand on Ariel and scratched its head, her other hand tickling Caliban’s faceless mien by reaching under its uncertain chin.

“Gwen, how do you feel?" Richard asked.

“I would be lying if I said I felt anything other than great,” Gwen replied. She had intended to sound fatigued and dour, but her body felt such vitality that she wanted to go for a sprint, to leap and bound and maybe even do a few summersaults.

“You okay now?” Mayuree took Gwen’s hand and was feeling it against her cheeks, marvelling at the smoothness of her skin. “You know, you remind me of a Cleric…”

Her friend’s words struck Gwen’s heart like festival dancer striking a tabla, sending shockwaves of lingering disquiet against her meditative state of zen.

“Help me up,” she implored Richard.

Her cousin obliged. Gwen stood, feeling taller, though visually she confirmed herself to have remained the same height.

“Thanks, Mia. I am happy you stayed,” Gwen said earnestly.

“I had full confidence in you.” Mayuree beamed at her.

“I am sorry Kitty, for that sad display.” Gwen turned to their deeply affected mutual companion. “One day, I’ll explain it to you, I promise. For now, I assure you that I won't lose control like that again.”

Kitty turned away from Gwen, her eyes purposefully resting upon Mayuree.

“Lulan…” Gwen turned to the Sword Mage.

“We’re not friends. Don’t mind me.” Lulan put up both her hands. “Our matter is hardly resolved either. Let’s us return to your superior officer with the news of what’s happened. Whatever happens, you saved my life and gave me a chance. If I survive this ordeal, let's talk.”

“You helped us too, in the end,” Gwen reached out a hand. "I wish you well."

Lulan shook Gwen's hand.

“You don’t have Kusu’s daggers. Do you?” Lulan asked, her voice hopeful but measured.

“I don’t,” Gwen apologised. “Sorry for lying.”

Lulan smiled wryly.

“It’s fine,” she replied, the timidity of her tone uncharacteristic of the berserker they knew. The volume of her voice trailing away as she turned from them. “Where I am going, none of that is going to matter anymore.”

As the threesome pondered Lulan’s cryptic message, Richard interjected.

“Shall we?” He pointed upwards.

“Let’s go.” Gwen led the way.

The rest of the party followed, each deep within the recess of their own thoughts, their mind digesting the scene they had just witnessed. Even if they tried to delude themselves that Caliban’s consumption of Nephres was just like another attack, they couldn’t deny that the Gwen who now sauntered in front of them was no longer the Gwen that has descended the cargo lift with them only hours ago.

They felt it in their Astral Souls.

* * *

B11 basement.

B10 basement.

B 9 filtration chambers.

Service lift.

As the carriage of the levitation platform rumbled.

Occasionally, one of them looked toward Gwen, then averted their eyes when Gwen met their own. Only Richard seemed unfazed and indeed, pleased, watching Gwen with such benevolence that one might have mistaken him for a young father.

‘Ding!’

The door opened, revealing one of the PLA guards serving under Choi.

“Oh thank God you’re all back!” His eyes scanned the party, then stopped at Lulan.

“What’s wrong?” Gwen inquired.

“The Major will see you at once!” The private saluted. “They’re all waiting for you! We were going to send out a search party just now!”

“Who’s waiting for us?” Gwen asked quizzically.

The soldier met her eyes, stunned by her electrifying presence.

“E-everyone!” The private stammered. “Directors, Professors, Magisters and Maguses, the whole lot!”

 

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A note from Wutosama

Voting for the novel - voting :: Voting button 

Next - Resolution to the side mission

Note:: minor error - Ravenport is the name I used in  CH . 83 

For some reason I was thinking of Mycroft Holmes


About the author

Wutosama

Bio: I write on the phone and edit at home. Times are tough!

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