Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 162 - Mightier than the Sword

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A note from Wutosama

Double CH - terrible CH to cut in 2 so ... here is all of 6400 words


Gwen’s party stepped into the oppressive atmosphere of the conference room, watched by guards and strangers alike. She bowed at the door, raised her head, then scanned the room as she proceeded to the centre.

At the head of the long table was Secretariat Choi, his face smiling that fox-like grin he habitually wore.

Her eyes strayed to the left.
Then widened to their utmost limits.

“B-babulya?!” Gwen blurted out.

She could scarcely believe it. Why was her grandmother here?

“Gwen, dearest." Her babulya’s face broke into a smile. “I am glad to see you’re safe. When Magister Birch came to me, I had feared a more unfavourable outcome.”

Gwen had to resist the urge to break ranks and rush toward her grandmother. After what she'd just been through, a heart-warming pick-me-up was sorely desired.

Besides Klavdiya was another familiar face.

“Magister Birch!” Gwen blinked. What was her Conjuration professor doing here?

Magister Birch sat beside her grandmother, looking dandy as usual in his vest and three-piece suit, with his long limbs and angular face assuming a severe and serious demeanour.

Next to Birch was Professor Ma, who scanned the party until his eyes fell unpleasantly on Lulan.

To Choi’s right was an older man in his mid-forties wearing a mandarine jacket in blue silk. Standing beside the man was another familiar face - Kusu Li, which left little doubt that the unusually dressed man was a Huashan Elder.

The party proceeded until the members stood in a row before the austere company seated on the opposite side of the conference table.

Director Song.
Magister Birch.
Secretariat Choi.
The Huashan Elder, likely a Magus or Magister.
And Professor Ma, whose expression was unreadable.

They bowed again.

“Good, everyone is here.” Choi put his hands together under his chin. “Luwei, you have the floor.”

The man named Luwei seemed taken aback that the entire party was only looking a little worse for wear. Apart from specks of blood over their clothes and boots, the students appeared otherwise unharmed. What’s more intriguing was that Lulan looked as though she’d emerged refreshed from a day-spa, though her clothes were worse for wear.

“Perhaps, we should listen to what these young Mages have to say first?” Luwei glanced at Kusu, who looked equally flustered and confused at Lulan's presentation.

“Very well.” Choi motioned a hand toward the party. “This is not an interrogation, so say what you will. So long as its believable.”

Magister Birch and Gwen’s grandmother both turned to look at Choi, who chuckled.

Luwei passed the Secretariat an annoyed look.

“Lulan, you first,” the Elder instructed his unruly adherent.

Lulan looked visibly nervous as she stepped up in front of her audience.

With a motion that made Gwen flinch, she dropped to her knees on the vermillion carpet, lowering her head.

“Sirs!" Lulan implored the panel. "I disobeyed Elder Li’s orders directly and attempted to seek out Gwen Song, who I believed at the time, was hiding my brother's, Kusu's implements. Despite my uncle's and my brother's advice and warning, I chose to take action of my own accord. I allowed my rash anger to overcome my better judgement. For this, I am deeply apologetic. In my thoughtlessness, I have destroyed valuable infrastructure, endangered and harmed the citizens of this city. These actions and the decision is entirely my own, and possess no relations to either Kusu, or Elder Li, nor the Huashan Sect.”

The others nodded. It was an excellent appeal for leniency and a favourable show of loyalty for Lulan's brother and the Huashan Sect. On the right of the Magisters though, both Kusu and Luwei could scarcely believe the faculty of their eyes and ears.

This was Lulan?!

Shouldn’t she be stepping out of line, screaming at the top of her voice, refusing to admit fault, and blaming it on Gwen? Shouldn’t she be red-faced, eyes glazed, letting loose burst of Earthen mana? Who the hell was this model student? What happened to the firebrand? Was Lulan under an Enchantment or a Mind Control spell of some kind? Did someone skin-change Lulan?

“Well, that was easier than I thought,” Secretary Choi chuckled. “That settles it then, shall I announce the sentence?”

“A little hasty, don't you think?” it was Klavdiya who spoke. “Earlier, Secretariat, you informed us that three levels of filtrations systems were disrupted and one completely destroyed. I would like to hear more details before such a severe punishment is passed onto one so young. Gwen my dear, can you volunteer?”

Secretariat Choi's eyes moved between the Director and her granddaughter, trying to gauge their game. Whatever it may be though, he had no clue. It wasn't possible that they were in contact, and Gwen Song had evidently been surprised to see her kin, had she not?

“As you wish, Director. Please elaborate, Miss Song. Miss Li, you may be at ease.”

Gwen had been building a narrative in her head since they’d left B12. The moment Richard had announced their return, she'd known that to get past this particular episode, she would have to spin like Fox and Friends on an Election Year.

As for Lulan, if one begged the question of whether or not Gwen felt anything toward the Sword Mage, she would have to say ambivalence. Her displeasure for the girl had derived from self-preservation, but now that their conflict had been resolved, her ambient feeling of enmity had trickled down into sympathy. When Lulan further made her grossly overstated confession, that sympathy furthermore turned into empathy.

Lulan wasn't right in the head because of her magic, wasn't it? The magic belonged to the clan, right? Now that their human battering ram had accidentally pounded its way into the wrong castle, they wanted to throw her under a bus?

That was precisely the sort of thing that Gwen could not stomach. In her old world, even in the Big Three, the corporate culture was that any fuck up, no matter how minor, could be resolved by defenestrating the juniors.

Gwen herself was no stranger to bouts of dark passion - her mother in the old world had an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and Gwen herself experienced periods of unexplainable depression that came and went like a stormcloud. Likewise, as they ascended the rickety lift, Gwen had spoken to Lulan, whose lucidity and fatalism was both sad and aggravating. The fact that prior to Lulan’s near-death experience, her manifestations had been rusted iron, and now they were gleaming steel, was indication enough that the girl had scored an unexpected new lease on life.

Putting her albatross aside - Gwen desired to emerge from this ordeal with a win-win scenario. As it stood, the problem was that should Lulan perish, the Huashan Sect would still consider Gwen an enemy and she would lose Lulan as a potential ally.

Since the Sword Mage had amply demonstrated her usefulness, the desired outcome would be to preserve the girl and placate the Clan. At the very least, retain the girl and anger the Clan. If someone had something worthwhile to gain from this whole sordid, chaotic ordeal, it might as well be her.

Then there was the fact that she had spent a Tier 7 Regeneration Cube made by Magister Wen and Magister Dao. It was with absolute certainty that she would not be getting a replacement for that particular boon anytime soon. Having sunk that cost into Lulan, Gwen figured she had full right to expect some investment returns.

Pushing her wayward thoughts aside and burying them a little deeper, Gwen readied herself. Depression, self-loathing, anxiety-attack or otherwise, the show must go on.

“Of course. Magister Song. Secretariat Choi. Magus Li. Magister Birch. Professor Ma. I will endeavour for the truth.”

Gwen glanced at Mayuree before she continued, who nodded imperceptibly.

She met her babulya’s eyes, swept her gaze over the rest of her audience, then began.

“Good Magisters, honoured Elders. Madams and Sirs. Lend me your ears for a moment and allow me to relate."

"We arrived, as per Boss Yi’s instruction and Magister Choi’s advice, on Basement level 7. There, pertaining to Professor Ma’s coursework, we interacted with the locals and partook in some sightseeing activities, mingling with the locals in a friendly manner.”

Choi's smile became more rigid than he had intended.
The Song girl sure had a way with words.
Nothing that had happened so far was her party’s fault, every angle was as a result of some else’s decision making.

“When we reached the filtration section, Mayuree, our Diviner, informed the party that there were Mages following us. We further ascertained our present condition and revealed that these were not simply curious parties but indeed, Slavers. Furthermore, we logically ascertained that since Boss Yi has promised us that his men would not intervene with our operation, the culprits must be a rogue-party not under the control of the PLA nor the militia of D-109.”

Gwen quickly scanned her audience.
They were not in disagreement.
When their orbs met for a split-second, Choi's eyes twitched.
Gwen lowered her cadence and began to place more emphasis on her vowels.

“At this point, we were presented with the dilemma of whether to wantonly seek the death of our potential enemies, who, by Mayuree’s Clairvoyance, had announced their intention to harm us - or to proceed with a slight detour. Therefore, thinking of the lively scene of the B7-Markets, our party resolved to complete Secretary Choi's quest without further bloodshed.”

“Thinking of Professor Ma’s guidance for the last six weeks," Gwen nodded at Professor Ma. "And his request that we think of the NoMs and the citizens of this place as our fellow human beings, each capable of pain, joy, love and the pursuit of happiness, we decided to elect the more difficult path.”

Professor Ma inclined his head sagely, pleased with Gwen’s name drop.

“Our party found our way to the lower section of B7, where via an Arcane Eye, we ascertained that there were indeed no less than four groups seeking to ambush us, should we engage the Carrion Crawler. Furthermore, the size and scale of the Crawler indicated that it was purposely bred for combat, not reagents and ingredients. They were malicious, vicious, foul and disgusting creatures, my esteemed Sirs and Madam, terrible to behold and more so to engage in close combat. Therefore, we chose to complete our task remotely via my Familiars.”

“And your familiars could destroy this beast by themselves?” Secretariat Choi enquired.

“Yes, Sir.” Gwen gave no more details. “Just ONE familiar. I have the means.”

Choi raised a brow.
Gwen continued before Secretariat Choi could interrupt.

“Having then deployed my Familiars, our would be assailants were unfortunately alerted. By the skin of our teeth, my Familiar delivered its payload in the chamber that housed the target. Unfortunately, this was when Lulan intruded into the scene. I am not in a position to state why she was present, but she did not interfere in any way with the operation at this point in time.”

Magus Li glanced at Lulan, who remained on her knees. His brown eyes fell on Gwen, then his brows knitted in growing suspicion.

“Once the Crawler was destroyed, we had planned to evacuate to our preplanned route, expecting to extract via the levitation platform to inform Secretariat Choi of the presence of the rogue Slavers in his tightly controlled District.”

Secretariat Choi looked as though he was about to protest, but Gwen pushed on, raising her tempo and octave.

“The ceiling was then Stone Shaped by Lulan, whereupon she descended, demanding why she was attacked. There was significant confusion, as you can imagine, due to the unforeseen circumstances of the friendly-fire incident. Had we known beforehand of her presence, we could have informed her of our danger-close operation.”

“It was incidental then.” Gwen brushed off the incident euphemistically. “That Lulan’s confrontation delayed us significantly, and we became surrounded. My party became trapped in one section of the tunnel, while she was stuck outside with the Slavers. A chaotic melee ensued, after which we emerged as the victor. Lulan scored most of the kills, and we managed to escape largely unscathed.”

“When our party finally regrouped with Lulan, she informed us that the Rogue Slaver's leader, a healer, had escaped. Taking advantage of Mayuree’s Divination, and being very mindful that Secretariat Choi had promised us another 20 CCs for additional duties which he had NOT specified, we gave hot pursuit until we cornered the woman - an individual called Nephres Zalaam - at B-12.”

“The woman struggled free as we were trying to discern her identity and intent. I am sorry, Secretary Choi, I know we had overstepped our boundary, but you did put CC to your mouth, and Richard and I are starving for CCs. As a result, I allowed the heat of the moment to overwhelm me, and I erased the woman with the power of the Void. All I can offer is ocular evidence that we did encounter and destroy your enemy for you.”

“We then checked the area for lo- EVIDENCE. After which, we arrived and were informed of your august presences, Magisters and Elders.”

The group looked at Gwen, each with slightly dazed expressions. What the hell did they just hear? Why was it so thrilling to hear? Was she a bard from the Nordic college of Skalds?

Choi’s face was scarlet.
Babulya expressed support and courage.
Birch had no expression at all.
Luwei had one that was dark and contemplative.
Kusu’s expression said it all - bewilderment and surprise - his eyes quickly darting between Gwen and Lulan.

Lulan herself faced the floor, her eyes staring into the carpet.

Choi opened his mouth to speak but realised there was nothing else to be said. Gwen’s story appeared to have covered all the angles: according to Gwen, everything the student Mages did, they did for Choi.

“Which leaves us with the matter of Lulan Li,” he said after a moment’s hesitation, putting Gwen's spell-proof narrative aside. “Unauthorised intrusion into the Lost Districts is punishable by stasis imprisonment up to ten years, pending on sentencing. Besides, she has caused extensive damage to the District, resulting in the death of no less than eight citizens, and up to thirty with grievous injuries.”

“What do you say to these charges, Lulan?” Choi demanded.

“Guilty,” Lulan answered quietly.

“Lulan!” Kusu stepped forward, but a calloused hand barred his approach. It was Luwei, his Uncle and Master.

“What did I tell you Lulan?” Luwei spat, finding his stride after Gwen took the words from their mouths. “I gave you explicit instruction to stay put. I told you exactly that if you take action on your own - if you bother Miss Song again - I would excommunicate you from the Clan. Well, I suppose that’s what you wanted. The moment you left your brother’s apartment to seek out Miss Song, you were no longer a member of the Huashan Sect. We are not responsible for any action you perform. I hope you are at peace with the decision you have made.”

Lulan slowly moved her face upward until she met her uncle’s stoic mien. She could see the cogs turning in her uncle’s eyes. With the clarity of her mind came the clarity of understanding; all those put-downs, those punishments, the slaps across the face, the public humiliation, the gaslighting. Her circumstance, now that her uncle's intent to be rid of her was self-evident, had exposed itself like a reef of exposed iron. Fourth- Uncle Luwei belonged to the faction of Pei, the youngest son of the Clan’s Head. Pei was a rare prodigy possessing both intelligence and martial might. Lulan and Kusu’s old Master, the third son, would have desired his own disciple, Kusu, to play a more critical role in the Clan’s affairs. Lulan knew that she’d always been a thorn at the side of the elders, particularly the Clan Head's, because her raw power had always excelled the boys, even if she wasn’t entirely lucid or stable while wielding it. In a fair duel, she could floor any one of them. This meant that so long as she supported Kusu, she could potentially demolish the authority and most importantly, the ‘face’ of any of Kusu’s competitors.

Simply put, she was an existential threat to Pei, a ticking Glyph of Warding.

Lulan thought of the incident when the innocuous Pei had convinced them to challenge Gwen Song to build Kusu’s reputation in Fudan. The boy was still in high school, but he possessed a far better head than either herself or Kusu.

Was she to be the sacrificial lamb then? Was an offering of her head what it took to keep Kusu safe? Without her, there would be no threat to Pei, and Kusu could live on in the safety of mediocrity, eventually becoming an Elder, taking a wife, becoming yet another branch family of the Sect?

"Do you concede?"

“…”

To Lulan’s surprise, her lips refused to move. With the red mist gone, she was beginning to realise just how much she had missed out on the colourful world outside of that blinding haze. Everything seemed so exciting and vibrant, new and refreshing. Even Gwen Song’s confrontation with the Ice Mage filled her with curiosity and wonder, filling her with a desire to know. What happened when Gwen Song consumed that Mage? Who was this Nephres Zalaam? What was this Elizabeth Sobel? What secret world did Gwen Song come from?

An endless array of questions assailed her mind.

How could she die now? How could she leave Kusu alone to suffer a life under Pei? How could she allow this smiling villain to get away?

“Very well, I will take that as a confession.” Choi appeared to be playing the same fiddle as Luwei.

“Lulan Li, Disciple of San Li, I officially excommunict-”

“Don’t! Uncle! No!” Kusu interjected.

Luwei ignored Kusu, his face flushed with anticipation.

“… communicate you from the annals of the Huashan Sect. You will henceforth return to Huashan the arts bestowed upon you by the ancestors. I - Luwei Li - Elder of Huashan, will carry out this sentence by the will of the Clan-Head.”

With the sentence delivered, Luwei Li swung his arm toward where Lulan knelt.

A thin blade, barely visible, appeared from a slit between two planes and moved toward her chest, aiming for a space below her heart.

‘CLANG!!!’

The blade struck a thick slab of iron which caught Luwei's attack mid-air. Upon closer inspection, where the metal had kissed metal, it was evident that the whisper-thin blade had chipped itself on Lulan's materialised length of gleaming iron.

Luwei winced, then his eyes widened.

“You! What?!”

As if disbelieving his eyes, he blinked then blinked again.

“The Iron Sword!” Luwei sucked in a breath of cold air. “How can you manifest the Iron Sword?! That’s impossible! You're a woman!”

“Lulan?” Kusu was incredulous as well. “You’re healed? How?”

“Miss Li owes me a tier 7 Regenerate.” To their surprise, Gwen stepped in between Luwei and Lulan. “I would very much appreciate it if the Clan of Huashan does not come between creditor and debtor. I can’t collect my dues from Lulan if you maim or kill her.”

“This wouldn’t be the one Magister Wen, Petra and myself acquired for you, would it?” Klavdiya intervened. “If so, that was a personal favour from Magister Dao.”

Choi’s beady eyes shifted between the parties, unsure of what to make of Klavdiya's words.

“That may be so,” he announced, “What do you intend to do with her, Gwen Song?”

Gwen turned to Lulan, her face hidden from the adults.

“Don’t you think you should repay me, Lulan?” She blinked at the Sword Mage, hoping she was bright enough to read her charade.

Lulan’s eyes glanced upward for a microsecond, then her head fell lower.

“Yes, I cannot repay such an auspicious gift, but by duty and honour as a member of the Clans, I cannot leave such a debt unpaid. Uncle! Please allow me the chance to repay Gwen Song!”

"You're not a member of the Clans any longer!"

"Is this how the Clans repay their benefactors? For shame!" Gwen snapped back at the Elder. "Elder Luwei, do you think tier 7 spells grow on trees?!"

Luwei’s eyes shone dangerously.

“A tier 7… Regeneration?” he mouthed, tasting the words on his tongue. “From Magister Dao and Wen... and Song?”

The man was turning a shade of red more akin to pork liver.

“No! I cannot allow it!” The words issued from his lips were accompanied by spittle. “If you think the Sect is going to suffer an excommunicated possessor of the Iron Sword to live…”

“Uncle!” Kusu interjected, now standing between his Uncle and Lulan as well. “You told me tacitly that you’d spare her life! That taking the catalyst wouldn’t harm her other than preventing her use of the Huashan techniques!”

“Foolish child! Get out of the way! She has the proper form of the Iron Sword now! You want to be excommunicated too?”

“Please, Uncle! Show us some compassion! We're your nephew and niece!” Kusu stood in front of his sister, besides Gwen. “You’ll have to kill me too then! Take my Heart of Iron too!”

“Hahaha!” Choi suddenly burst into laughter behind the three of them. “This is why I love you Clanners. Never a dull moment. Assuming she lives, make sure you leave Lulan behind. She still has sentencing waiting for her.”

“But, Sir!” It was Gwen who butted in yet again. “I believe that these NoMs and Mages who assaulted Lulan were likely in alliance with the Slavers.”

“Oh?” Choi raised a critical brow. “What proof do you have?”

“We also killed a dozen of them just a few minutes ago,” Gwen stated. “That is proof by parallel.”

“You expect me to believe that, do you? What makes you think the ones Lulan killed were Slavers?”

“Are you suggesting that the ones we killed are not Slavers, Sir?” Gwen stepped up her questioning.

Choi furrowed his brows.
Usually, he would shout the students down, but he couldn’t help but be reminded that Klavdiya Song, Director of the Second PLA Hospital, was watching as well as another Magister from Fudan. The two of them may not have a military position, but they had connections to places far higher than his own.

“I suggest no such thing.” Choi’s voice gained an edge of defensiveness. “What obtuse reasoning is this?”

“I have no proof that those NoMs are Slavers.” Gwen stepped forward once more. “For all I know, they were fishermen.”

“What?” Choi was genuinely flustered by Gwen's pivots.

“They had fishing nets, Sir.”

The audacity of this girl, was she challenging his intelligence?

“What are you talking about, girl?” Choi’s voice took on a keen edge.

“I am saying, Sir,” Gwen continued with a cadence that allowed Choi no room for breath. “That within your city, the citizens are Slavers, and the Slavers are the citizens. They do what they must to eke out a living. The ones who attacked us are citizens, but they are also Slavers. The Slavers who attacked Lulan are citizens, but it doesn’t make them any less capable of being Slavers. Asking for proof is asking for the impossible Sir. This is why the excursion takes place in the Lost Districts, is it not? What difference does it make if one or two parties of Fudan students must defend themselves against the malicious elements of an unruly District? Where are our seniors? Are they in the building still? Have they encountered any difficulties? Are their hands dyed in the blood of your innocent citizens?”

"They are progressing with their quest," Professor Ma informed them. "I loathe to admit it, but the girl has a point, Choi. You and I both know how this works. Why are you drawing barrier sigils in the air now of all times?"

“…” Choi stared at Gwen, ignoring Professor Ma.

“…” Luwei had his eyes firmly affixed upon Lulan.

“Lulan defended herself while lost in the District!" Gwen countered tartly. "These Mages she killed, UNSANCTIONED. These NoMs that perished, UNREGISTERED. From the state of this District that I have seen, Secretariat Choi, harping on about the lives of your beloved citizens is a rather precious proposal when the reality is so different from the words issuing from your mouth.”

Again, Gwen cut in just as Choi was about to speak.

“Professor Ma! In your lecture, you stated that the Lost Districts are outside of the laws that govern Shanghai and that many of the laws exist in grey-zones of ambiguity differing from District to District, is that not true?”

“Yes, I suppose…” Ma affirmed Gwen’s verbatim reproduction of his own words.

“Then Secretariat Choi has no legal authority over Lulan. Only law-enforcement outside of the District is able to pass sentences pertaining to the judgement of citizens who are not under the jurisdiction of the Lost Districts, am I correct?”

“You are.” Ma noted the constipated expressions on Choi and Luwei’s face and felt a mild exhilaration. “Indeed you are! Section XXII, article 4 of the District charter states that officers of the state overseeing a District only have the power of execution and imprisonment over citizens of the District, not anyone who is a citizen of the City! Mao! Can you imagine the chaos if carte blanche power is given to a mid-tier official to act as they please over anyone! Chaos! There would be absolute chaos!”

“There you have it - Sir!” Gwen gushed sweetly at Choi. “If you wish Lulan to be prosecuted, I am afraid you will have to engage a third-party officer from the Extra-Judicial Division of the Magistrate’s Office to oversee the trial. They will have to engage in a thorough investigation of whether or not these citizens were Slavers or if they were innocents, though I contest that I believe my party and Lulan innocent. I am sure you would welcome an investigation, no? After all, for us who possess clean consciences, a trivial inquest from the MSS touches us not, am I right?”

Gwen's words cut across Choi's mind like a scalpel. It was as though an aneurysm was coming on.

“I rest my case, Sir," the girl ended with a flourish.

Choi felt such anger at the impudence of the girl that for a moment he imagined blasting her with a Flame Strike. Instead, he shifted his attention to her friends. If one of them could prove her false...

“Is Gwen Song’s summation of your actions in B7 correct? Has she omitted any important information you would like to add? If you were to aid in my proper administration of this matter, I would offer you 10 CCs for any ocular, eyewitness testimonial.”

He turned to the eager looking Richard.

“Mr Huang?”

Richard grinned.

“Make it a hundred, Sir?”

“…” Choi's face froze.

“Then I suppose not, Sir.” Richard chuckled.

Gwen shot her cousin some shade, which Richard returned with a broad grin.

“Miss… Mayuree?” Choi continued hopefully.

“I have nothing to add, Sir.”

“Miss Liang?”

Kitty turned her head toward Gwen. The temperate dropped a degree or so. then Mayuree coughed.

“I didn’t see anything,” Kitty said coldly.

“There you have it, Sir.” Gwen felt a cold sheen of sweat covering her back.

Choi grunted, looked as though he wanted to continue, then sat back down.

Beside him, Luwei once again turned his attention to Lulan.

“Gwen Song, move aside. I need to retrieve the Heart of Iron.”

Gwen moved instead in front of Lulan until she blocked her from Luwei entirely.

“I am afraid I can’t let you do that, Sir.”

“Move aside!” Luwei felt an agitation in his chest that he hadn’t felt in years. This girl! This insolent girl! How dare she! Did she think the Huashan Clan was a bunch of pushovers like the siblings?!

“Will you listen to reason?”

“I SAID MOVE IT! You insolent fool!”

Gwen scoffed at the man.
With her grandmother and Magister Birch here, she could afford to gamble.

“You are gravely mistaken, Sir. I am not a member of your Sect, and you are not a Magister. You have no authority to tell me to do anything I do not wish to. Do not mistake yourself my superior. This is not Huashan, 'ELDERLY' Sir, this is Shanghai.”

“Pufft!” It was Magister Birch who almost spat out his drinking water. Gwen’s babulya was smiling as well. The fact that the Sects had always thought themselves above the city Mages was a concept they had found laughable. What Gwen had stated was something that Magister Michio Lee, a legitimate Magister and the no.1 vocal dissident against the Clan in Fudan, hung on his lips without end. Gwen had just repeated one of his infamous diatribes back to Luwei.

Elder Li looked as though he was about to erupt. With Magister Birch and Gwen’s grandmother sitting behind him though, he dared not.

He turned to Kusu.

“Kusu, retrieve the Heart of Iron from Lulan.”

The blood drained from Lulan’s face.

Kusu was likewise pale and wobbling. His hands trembled.

Gwen turned to Kusu.

“Is this the Clan that you defend, Kusu? Is this the honour that you hold in your hand like a precious baby bird? A family that despises your sister? Did you know why your sister was so sick? It was because she was given defective magic, Kusu! All those years she suffered and yet year after year, your Sect did nothing! Are you even her brother, Kusu?! Do you know what Lulan was doing? She came after me, in the deep dark of the District, demanding your daggers! Her hair was burnt! Her skin was singed! She was barely conscious! You know what she said to me?!”

Lulan quivered.
Kusu's whole body shook.

“She said - GIVE ME MY BROTHER’S DAGGERS!”

“KUSU! Is your heart gone to the dogs?! Is your honour fed to brutish beasts?! Are you a man?! Lulan! Get up!”

Gwen took Lulan by the hand and pulled her up.
She poked her finger at Lulan’s left breast, just below the soft mound of her bosom.

“This is the unkindest cut of all, Kusu! Are you a man or are you an animal? SPEAK UP!”

Lulan placed a hand to her breast, feeling a tenderness. In her passion, Gwen had poked with rather too much enthusiasm.

“I..”

“Do you want to be exiled as well, Kusu?!” Li shouted behind the wavering Sword Mage. “Are you and your biao-zi sister ferrets of the same den!?”

Kusu froze, then turned to his uncle.

“Kusu! You better-”

Wocaoni-ma...” Kusu muttered.

The whole room became as though someone had covered it with an AOE Silence.

“Kusu, say that again...” Elder Li pointed a shaking finger at Kusu.

“Wocaoni-MA!” Kusu spat out between his teeth. “WOCAO! Fuck you and you Huashan! Make me attack my own sister! Rip her heart out? GO FUCK YOURSELF!”

“How DARE YOU!” Luwei was so angry, he felt as though he’d ascended into a new plain of existence. “You… the both of you… how dare… cao… ni… ni…ni…”

The Mage in his fifties looked as though he was about to foam at the mouth.

“D-Do you know what you are doing?” Elder Li spluttered.

“FUCK YOU!” Kusu spat back, giving Li the finger.

“YOU DARE?!"

For a moment. Luwei Li realised he must have blanked out, because the next moment, he found himself swinging at the student Mages.

‘Schwing!’

The sound of metal cleaving air vibrated like a struck chime.

A barely visible blade moved through the air toward the students.

“Barrier!”

“Thrust!”

“Shield!”

Kusu manifested the two dozen or so daggers he had that remained in a futile attempt to block the incoming swing. His uncle was a senior Sword Mage, his blade honed and sharpened until it was so thin as to be almost invisible. Its cutting power and penetrative potential likewise, wasn’t something that he could hope to withstand.

Lulan meanwhile, had taken her deceased Master’s instruction to heart. The best defence was an offence. Luwei wanted to kill Kusu? Fine, if the vain bastard was willing to trade his life for that of a disciple, then she would call his bluff.

Gwen meanwhile, acted more so out of instinct than anything else. With her Abjuration Sigil blazing into effect, her Shield ballooned instantly, knocking both Kusu and Lulan to the ground. Shields, by their very nature, tethered to a Mage’s instinct for life, was the fastest manifesting spell of any Magical phenomenon.

So it was that Kusu fell forward, Lulan fell backwards, and Gwen became the unintended target of Luwei’s sudden assault.

‘Keeekkeeeekeeee!’

The screeching blade bit into Gwen’s non-newtonian Shield and made instant progress. As bits of her crystalline mana sprayed into the air, the observers could visibly see its cutting-edge vibrate with an ear-splitting frequency.

A sonic blade?! Gwen’s chest constricted. The blade was cutting through her Shield like a butter knife through a soft block of margarine.

She began the incantation for a Dimension Door.

“Jun!” the shrill cry of Gwen’s grandmother's alarmed voice rang through the air.

From the entrance came the sound of rapid footsteps, a triple-staccato thumping that thrilled the ear.

“Disintegrate!”

A thin white ray shot forth as the Invisibility wore off, revealing the form of a man looking in his late thirties. As the spell manifested, the carpet beneath his feet instantly turned into white ash, that swirled and drifted with the circulation of mana across his body.

Where the white beam had struck the vibrating blade, Elder Li's implement ceased to exist at once, becoming ashen dust. Within the blink of an eye, the transformation of matter into free flying particles consumed the blade of the sword, bit into the pommel, then struck the hand that held it.

Elder Li threw his weapon as though he was scatting hot ashes, but even so, two of his fingers were gone. His face turned the same shade as that of his once proud implement, and all the passion drained from his face at once. As the negative drain infused Li, he sensed his anger, his emotion, everything about the present circumstance that had brought him to violence faded at once.

Almost epiphanically, he looked around him as though awakening from a dream. Why did he care so much? He wondered. Why bother with a girl who would die from her own foolishness anyway. He should return to the Clan and meditate on his Dao. Why did he feel so tired, he wondered.

Luwei looked at the mocking faces of those around him and felt too tired even to summon shame.

“Insolence!” Jun lowered his finger, wagging it like the barrel of a smoking gun. “Who gave you the nerve to harm my niece? Does the Sect of Huashan wish to be excommunicated from Shanghai?”

Gwen was only now recovering from the unintended attempt on her life, but her mind caught up in an instant.

“This man is deranged, uncle! He just attacked me out of the blue!”

“No doubt.” Jun’s eyes were two glowing white-hot orbs. “I saw.”

“I saw it too.” Klavdiya had a hand over her heart. “My heart nearly leapt from my throat! Gwen, dear, are you alright?”

She gave Birch a kick in the ankles.

Magister Birch looked up at the ceiling for just a moment, then stepped forward.

“I too bore witness to this assault,” he said flatly.

“Count me in.” Professor Ma felt as though he was having the time of his life. To think a fucking Clanner would have a day like this! Ha! Gwen Song was a doll! “I may not be a Mage, but as an attaché to the Shanghai Inner Regional Magistrate Advisory Board, I can attest that Gwen Song was assaulted without provocation!”

Luwei looked at them disinterestedly.
Whatever, he thought. Purposeless words.

“I… I apologise for my indiscretion…” he replied unceremoniously. He regarded the two charred stumps on his hand, optimistic that they could be fixed one way or another. It was rather fortuitous that he was right-handed, for he wore his Storage Ring on his left.

“Are you alright, Gwen?” Jun approached, leaving behind dark footprints on the carpet that made Choi wince.

Gwen looked up at Jun with a pained expression, her eyes twinkling wickedly.

“I am alright…” Gwen intoned painfully, she turned to Luwei. “I feel so traumatised though… nothing short of a concession or compensation may shake this debilitating experience from my heart…”

Luwei felt that this was a bad sign, but he just couldn't summon the energy to retort.

"Gwen, that's enough." Gwen's grandmother approached Luwei. "Allow me to apologise, Elder Li. My son is overzealous. Restoration!"

Verdant and fecund eneriges infused Elder Li.

Elder Li shook himself awake from the negative energy induced stupor and stared at Jun in horror. The Ash Bringer! Wocao! The Ash Bringer! How terrifying!

It felt... it felt as though he had lost all desire for life, for beauty, for ambition!

"Give me your hand." Gwen's grandmother commanded the Clan Elder.

Luwei obliged like a child.

"Lesser Regeneration!"

An intense, bone-rending itch travelled from his hand to his heart, then to his head. Luwei gritted his teeth as two fingers, white and pale, sprouted from the charred stumps.

When the spell completed, he looked at the collection of Mages now standing in front of him.

Director Song of the Second Army PLA Hospital, equivalent to the rank of a Magister.
Her Son, the Ash Bringer, Captain Song, a war hero.
Magister Birch, long-serving Professor in Fudan, well connected with thousands of Alumni.
James Ma, a NoM, but likewise influential and well connected.
And Gwen Song - which meant Magister Wen - which indicated Magister Luo, Dean of Fudan.

Thinking of that these Magisters could bring to bear against the Clan, Luwei shuddered.
He felt fear.

“What… what do you want?” he mumbled softly.

Gwen looked at Lulan, whose mouth was wide enough to fit a quail’s egg, then regarded Kusu, who’s face had frozen into a mask of self-loathing the moment the ‘I’ll fuck your mother’ left his mouth.

“Mr Li,” she spoke with a voice that was sickly sweet. “We're going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.”

 

 

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Voting for the novel - voting :: Voting button 

Hmm its time to make another Char Summary thing soon, I think. 


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Wutosama

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

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