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Elder Luwei was allowed to leave once he’d confirmed that Huashan would forgo any privileges over the Li siblings unless they wished to return to the fold of their own volition. A verbal agreement was reached, observed by a Secretariat, two Magisters, a Magus, and Professor James Ma: should the Huashan Sect renege on Luwei's agreement, the Clan's occupancy in Shanghai would become precarious indeed.

With the matter resolved, Gwen ran to her babulya, embraced her, then reciprocated the affection for her uncle.

"Thanks, Uncle Jun." Her eyes sparkled.

"You take care now." Jun patted her head. "Be more careful next time."

The Li siblings could scarcely believe that an agreement had been reached without further violence. They had anticipated that at the very least, they would lose something precious, like their specialised Magic. Dazed by their circumstances, Kusu mumbled an apology to his grandmother, looking devastated, while Lulan held her brother’s hand with moist eyes gleaming with hope.

Mayuree and Kitty likewise, were recovering from the escalation of Gwen’s precipitous encounter, while Richard had on an expression of barely disguised exaltation.

“It’s not over yet.” Jun pulled Gwen away from his arm, giving her a rap on the forehead.

As the infamous Ash Bringer turned to Choi, the Secretariat froze like a Wildland buck caught in the path of a Disintegrate.

“Secretariat Choi.” Jun inclined his head ever so slightly.

“Captain Song,” the Secretariat intoned respectfully.

“I wish to know more about your dealings with Nephres Zalaam.”

“Am I supposed to know who that is?”

A lingering moment passed between the two as Choi held his face unmoving and intact.

“Shall we speak in private?” Jun offered. “I will only extend this kindness once.”

“I-” Choi's eyes darted to the ashen footprints still lingering on the vermillion carpet. "I don't think that would be necessary."

Jun folded his arms and studied the Secretariat, whose face was like a jade sculpture titled 'impassivity'.

"Staff Sergeant Bui!" Jun called out to one of the guards.

"Sir!"

"Tell Secretariat Choi who you work for."

"MSS Grey Ghost, Designation SG442123! Sir!"

Secretariat Choi's expression remained masterfully unmoving.

"I am relieving you of your post, Bui. Good work, Lieutenant."

"Sir!"

"I am not under the jurisdiction of the MSS or the Internal Security Review Committee," Choi spluttered. "You think I can be cowed by a double-dealing dog?"

Jun cracked his neck.

"Maybe I can, maybe I can't. Are you a gambling man, Choi?"

Choi's eyes darted behind Jun and the others, who were all looking at him with expectation and anticipation.

“I'll say this one more time, Secretariat Choi. Would you like to discuss this privately? Or do you think the MSS are herbivores?” Jun offered nonchalantly, his pupils taking on a hint of dusky ash. “You think I am just here for my niece? You think I have my men combing the depth because of a family matter? You think the Grey Ghosts are toothless? Well, it's the dogs that don't bark that you have to look out for, haven't you heard that before, Choi? When the MSS strikes, it goes for the jugular.”

With every word from Jun, Choi felt as though he was perspiring all the liquid in his body. Certainly, his expensively tailored uniform, layered with fine gossamer as an inner layer, felt far more clammy than he’d ever recalled.

“My office, please.” Choi pointed to the door. He was a gambling man, but he wasn't a fool. There would be concessions, penalties, favours, but he could at least walk away with his position and his life.

“Gladly.” Jun turned to the others. “Don’t wait. This is going to take a while. Mother, it’s getting late, please don’t tire yourself out.”

“Alright, dear. Don’t work too late.” Klavdiya chided her son warmly.

“Gwen, I’ll speak to you later.”

“Yes, Uncle Jun.”

Jun stopped at the door.

"5 CCs per Crawler, and 20 for the Healer, right?"

Gwen's face broke into a wide grin.

"Yessir!"

With Jun gone, the elderly Mages now desired to return to the comfort of their usual abodes. Klavdiya told the students that there would be a car waiting for them below to take them back to the city. Birch offered to escort Gwen’s grandmother back home, but she sweetly declined and thanked him for the gentlemanly offer.

"Why a car? Couldn't you just teleport the two of us back?" Klavdiya enquired of her old acquaintance.

"I wouldn't want to abuse my privilege," Birch dodged the question expertly. "Please, it's the least I could do."

Gwen watched their interaction with amusement and a little trepidation.

Who would win in a duel between Birch and Guo? She mused herself with the hypothetical but knew her grandmother would not allow such a thing to come to pass. Klavdiya had three children with Guo, and a little flattery from an old alumni wasn’t about to test her resolve.

“I’d love to speak to you a little more, Gwen,” her babulya informed her. “Maybe next time though, you can show me some more of those dainty little restaurants you have found on University Boulevard.”

“Of course, babulya!” Gwen farewelled her grandmother, squeezing the diminutive woman tightly.

As they parted, Klavdiya touched Gwen’s cheeks strangely, her amber orbs lingering on Gwen’s face far longer than was necessary, even for a doting old grandmother.

“Is something wrong?” Gwen touched a finger to her cheek. Blood, perhaps, from the slaughter below?

"My dear, if what I think happened, did indeed occur, you should contact Magister Wen immediately. We need data, biometrics, and understanding - not doubt, self-loathing and blame. This is a difficult milestone on the Path of Conflict, Gwen. One on which you cannot afford to wax sentimental. Many eyes are watching, my sweet child. Stay strong and show no weakness."

"I will, Babulya," Gwen promised, thinking of how Petra and her Master would react. As a pair of staunch Spellcraft maniacs, they're probably thrilled to hear her progress. As for herself, staying stoic was sound advice.

“Let me hitch a ride!” Professor Ma, not reading the situation, suddenly butted in. "The two of you have a car separate from the kids, right? Let them mingle, I don't want to be an eyesore."

The look from Magister Birch’s face said it all.

“I’ll Teleport you,” Birch offered.

“Wha? No! That is terribly expensive! What a waste of crystals!”

“It’s settled. The cost is on me,” Birch insisted.

“But you just said...”

Ma’s protest was unheeded as the trio left, with Klavdiya smiling amusedly, waving to Gwen.

The student Mages were finally left alone, awkwardly watched by a dozen guards.

“Do we go now?” Mayuree asked no one in particular.

Gwen looked out the window, then checked her watch, realising that indeed, it was now very late. They had arrived in the afternoon after 1400. She estimates that they had entered B-7 around 1600, and now it was past 2200.

Conditioned by reflex and habit, she knew she should be famished by now.

As for the fact that she felt not a hint of hunger…

Gwen swallowed her rising bile.

She shifted her attention to her companions, counting herself, there were six of them.

Mayuree, Kitty, Lulan, Richard, Kusu and herself.

“Let’s see what car they prepared,” Gwen advised the party amusedly. "One of us might have to fit in the boot."

Leaderless and directionless, the guards allowed the student Mages to pass, after which the levitation platform took the juniors down to the ground floor, where dilapidation and garbage kept company with the darkness. Intermittently, feeble Light spells lit up the corridors, leading outward onto a courtyard murky with mist. The only source of visibility came in the form of a hazy Daylight spell hanging over a PLA people mover.

As the students appeared from the door, the driver greeted them, then popped the side cabin.

“I’ll take the passenger side,” Richard informed them. He was the largest of the lot and so took up the most room.

Gwen, being the tallest of the girls, sat in the front of the cabin, while Kusu, Lulan, Kitty and Mayuree found spots to the side and back.

"I could ride back," Lulan offered, noting the tight squeeze, not to mention Kitty's frosty, unreadable expression. "I got my White-Ghost in the Ring."

"Naw." Gwen patted her shoulder. "Hop in. It's nice and cosy, right?"

“Back to Fudan?” the driver asked.

“Back to Fudan,” Richard informed him.

The door slid-close with a click.

Like an egg, the van shot out of District 109, then rumbled toward the gate.

The barrier went up.
The barrier went down.
The excursion came to an end.

As the van pulled away, Gwen couldn’t help but be drawn to the dark silhouette of D-109 in the distance, growing more vague and faint with every kilometre.

A dark city and an apt metaphor, Gwen reflected upon the fading vision. The poor sods. I hope Uncle Jun makes their lives just a little bit better.

Was the trip a success or a failure? She wondered. For certain, she had gained something in there, but she’d lost something too.

Babulya said to stay strong, Gwen reminded herself.

The van soon traversed the fourth orbital highway, the dark recess of the world around them blossoming into illumination. Light-posts, sedans and lorries, the light of civilisation and the suburbia and beyond that, appeared one after another, filling the visual field, polluted the misty atmosphere with a dazzling display of florid colours.

In the uncertain distance, the splendour of Shanghai's megacity glowed like a mirage, setting the heavy vapours of the mid-night fog aflame.

Feeling overwhelmed, Gwen turned her attention into the cabin, where the Li siblings were now discussing their immediate futures.

“We would have to leave the apartment, of course. The Clan owns it.”

“It's father's private property though,” Lulan retorted. “Before that, it was mothers.”

“Well, it isn’t ours. You think our father would stand up to the Elder, or the Clan Head? He's a glorified accountant,” Kusu said with finality. He eyed his sister contemplatively. “So, you’re feeling fine now? No more… mist?”

“Not for now.” Lulan stretched out her arms, then immediately remembered she was wearing a borrowed shirt, sans intimates. She caught Gwen looking contemplatively and awkwardly lowered her hands to her knees.

Kusu blushed, more so because Gwen seemed enchanted by the sibiling's relationship.

That his sister was a girl was something he knew at the back of his head, but one that he had never thought about. Within the Clan, no one saw Lulan as female, much less a woman. The curious fact that Lulan was now consciously aware of her femininity filled him with conflict.

What if, Kusu wondered. If someone wanted to date Lulan? As a brother and a protector, how could he allow such a horrible, dangerous thing to happen to a poor, innocent bastard who didn't know better?

To distract himself, he shifted his attention to the Void Sorceress, whose frenetic energy and glib tongue were the reason why they now had the freedom to live within the crack between a rock and a hard place. Kusu felt happy for the fact, though the exhilaration paralleled the trepidation.

The life of a Sect member was regimented and orderly. Training to learn one’s skills. Training by carrying out missions. Training by sparring and participating in the internal squabbles of the Clan. The rest of the time, they ate, slept, and occasionally got a glimpse of the world outside of the Sect’s sacred grounds. Select individuals, such as Kusu, Lulan, Pei and others, were sent away to ‘mingle’ with those outside of the Clan, to broaden their horizons. Occasionally, these individuals never came back. Primarily, this was because they died, performing some service to benefit or defend the Clan. Once or twice per generation, the florid world outside proved too much for young Clanners to return to the monotony of monastic training. These 'rogues' no longer wished to dedicate themselves to the single-minded cause of the Clan to perpetuate itself.

Their uncle, Luwei, had been thoroughly beaten. What now followed would be at the digression of those involved. If the Magisters kept the encounter to themselves, the Clan would try to put it behind them. If they boasted and mocked Huashan as a result and made them into a public spectacle, then Lulan and Kusu should expect an Iron Blade in the back very soon. Kusu was under no delusion that he and Lulan would have to be very discreet if they wished to make it to graduation. Lulan was already a second-year, while he was still in his first. They had many li's to go.

What about the Clan's secret techniques? Kusu and Lulan knew nothing about the Heart of Iron other than that they had a catalyst embedded and the incantations necessary to use it. What if someone at Fudan had designs on their talent?

If it came to that, the Magisters who helped them would get involved. Having extended their hand in the matter, the sudden demise of the siblings would directly translate to a loss of face and influence.

It was a precarious balance then.
If Huashan made a move on the siblings, the Magisters would speak out.
If the Magisters speak out, Huashan would have to silence the siblings.
If the siblings were to perish from a third party; both the Magisters involved and Huashan would lose face.

The best possible outcome for all parties, therefore, was to keep quiet and keep an incantation front-loaded.

As for the siblings, all they could do was walk the tightrope and hope there were no sudden gusts.

“Kusu,” Gwen spoked first. “What’s your plan from here on out?”

“Get registered at the Fudan Tower, I suppose.” Kusu had been thinking since they left D-109. “That way, we gain some protection, and enough employment to keep us in Fudan.”

“I’ll be joining the Pudong Tower in the future,” Gwen stated purposefully, looking over at Lulan. “For now, I am registered with Fudan’s provisional Tower Two.”

“We’ll be going there first thing in the morning then,” Kusu smiled wryly. To think that days ago, Gwen and themselves were at each other’s throats. He bowed his head. “Thank you for saving my sister.”

“I couldn’t have done it alone.” Gwen shook her head modestly. “It was Professor Ma and all the others. You're giving me too much credit.”

“But they were there for you,” Kusu pointed out.

“Hardly.” Gwen grinned, forcing Kusu’s heart to up its cadence. “Magister Birch is present for reasons I’d rather not think about. My Uncle was there for Choi. Professor Ma is there because that was his job. I suppose only Babulya was there for me. So, as I said, you’re giving me too much credit.”

“I owe you my life, twice now,” Lulan interjected between Gwen and her brother’s mutual contest of humility. “You can’t deny that.”

“I won’t,” Gwen beamed at her.

“Whatever you need in the future, just let me know,” Lulan stated as a matter of factly. “I’ll do whatever is in my capacity to satisfy.”

“Take care of yourself first,” Gwen advised sagely. “You're not helping me if the both of you end up homeless and drop out.”

"I’ve got… funds saved up, from my previous Tower missions, the Sect took its share, but I’ve got enough,” Lulan replied. “I can sell my bike as well, Kusu and I can take on some small-scale missions in the Orange Zones.”

“Do you have a place to stay at the moment?” Gwen asked.

“No, but we’ll manage, somehow," Lulan stated hastily, not wanting to intrude on Gwen's generosity any further.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to huddle up in a park…” Gwen grimaced. "Have you never rented before? Or visited a real-estate agent? Do you have your documents on you? I.D Cards? You might need at least 200 points of identification to pass muster. How about a bank card?"

The siblings looked at one another. This was a side of Gwen they did not expect.

“We'll be fine,” Lulan muttered softly, herself smiling gently. “I've had some experience dealing with this before. Thanks, Gwen.”

"What about tonight?" Gwen stated. "Or tomorrow, or the day after that. It's not cheap finding something around Fudan, you know. You guys should probably not stray too far from campus."

"We can find a hotel or something," Lulan muttered.

Gwen looked at Lulan. The girl didn't even carry a change of clothes. Was she really ready to face the world?

Then again, Gwen herself had sauntered into Blackheath wearing a minidress. Just reminiscing about the whole ordeal made her wince.

“Look, I can lend you this for a while until you find a place.” Gwen produced a Portable Habitat. “It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the Melbourne Tower. I was going to return it soon, but there’s no rush. It utilises 1 HDM per application, which lasts around 12 hours generally.”

Kusu's brows formed the Chinese figure for 'eight'.

“A Portable Habitat!” his lips parted in surprise. “I’ve only ever seen the Elders carrying such a Magical Device, and even then they have to commandeer it from the requisition Elder.”

“Gwen, this is too much.” Lulan shifted her petite body uncomfortably, adjusting her weight. “We owe you so much already. This is a rare and precious item!”

Well, it’s military requisition I’ve yet to return. Gwen thought guiltily. It wasn’t as though she risked life and limb to acquire it. The only reason she wasn't using it herself was that she needed a registered mailing address for all her I.Ds, and she needed to install a LRC device to speak to Elvia.

“As I said, it doesn’t belong to me. I am lending it to you until I need it back.”

"But..."

"Take it and set up under our building for now," it was Mayuree who interjected. "Trust me, Gwen's right. You don't want to be sleeping somewhere random if people from your Clan might come knocking. You'll be perfectly safe if you stay near campus until the whole thing can blow over."

“We’ll get it back to you as soon as we can,” Kusu prodded his sister, hinting at her to let the matter drop. “Maybe tomorrow, at worst a few days from now. Thank you, and everyone else here as well.”

“Sure.” Gwen passed it over. “Lulu, is your ring large enough?”

Lulan nodded. Lulu? She repeated the moniker to herself.

“Lulu…” Kusu chuckled. “Uncle San used to call her that.”

“Sorry,” Gwen apologised. "I didn't know."

“No, it's fine.” Lulan waved away her apology. “Lulu is fine.”

“Master was trying to find a way to help Lulu,” Kusu revisited the moniker himself. “But a year ago, he was sent away by the Sect to participate in state-sanctioned military service. Every year, the Sects send a few members of the outer circle - lead by a senior member of the inner circle - up north. Because Master volunteered, we didn’t have to go.”

“We received news that he died in April,” Lulan explained, her eyes misty with troubling remembrance. “Six months after the fact.”

“Sounds like you guys have your own circumstances to contend with,” Gwen sighed wistfully for the siblings’ maltreatment. “It must have been hard.”

"Your Clan sounds like a real piece of work..." Richard had been listening in from the front seat. "How many of those they send out come back?"

"About half, maybe less," Kusu confessed dejectedly. Hindsight was Clairvoyance.

"Sounds like a factional rivalry to me," Richard observed. "Back in Prince's, it wasn't strange if people who pissed off the higher-ups got sent on dangerous missions to do some good before they're discarded."

"Uncle San wanted Kusu to participate in the contest for the next Head," Lulan explained. "Of course, I was going to help Kusu."

“Now that I think about it, it probably has something to do with Pei,” Kusu raised a finger conspiratorially. “That’s the Grandmaster’s younger son. He’s even better than Lulan when he was her age. There’s talk that he’s being set up for the position of the inheriting disciple. I guess it all makes sense now. I feel sorry for Uncle San.”

“He was a harsh but fair Master,” Lulan confessed with bittersweet feelings. “Oh!”

Kusu and Gwen both turned to regard the girl.

“Do you have a brother called Percy?!”

“I do.” Gwen thought of Percy and felt a stab of sadness. “Why?”

“He was the one boasting to Pei about you. I think your brother and Pei are both students at Xiangming Metropolitan Selective High School, right?”

“I think so,” Gwen replied.

“Pei told us to challenge you because your brother had told him that you’ve been excommunicated. He even showed Pei some kind of Amulet?” Lulan recounted. “Pei said that if we defeat you, then we can take over all the fame you’ve been gaining. Pei said that this was an opportunity that appears once in a lifetime - a famous prodigy without any backing for us to worry about 'ripe for the plucking'.”

“Oh?” Gwen’s voice lowered an octave.

Now it was her turn to be despondent and quiet. It wasn't as though she didn't have enough on her plate already.

“Sounds like we both have circumstances to contend with,” Lulan replied. "Sorry."

The three student Mages exchanged tired looks.

Together, all three of them sighed.

“I am sorry, Gwen,” A voice came from the back. It was Mayuree. “I know how much you love your brother. He’s still young, just a child. Maybe it was a careless slip of the tongue?”

"Pretty bloody specific for a casual slip, the little shit. He's a snake in the grass. Little fucker." Richard retorted from the front." That Amulet would have come in bloody handy about now, eh?"

A moment passed before Gwen could respond.

“It's alright."

Her voice seemed far away and distant.

"He's just a boy."

The atmosphere in the car took on a new weight. The rest of the journey was travelled in silence.


* * *

The van pulled up at the Fudan apartments, dropping off the student Mages at the circular parking bay of B1. Richard yawned and informed them that it was now the witching hour. Looking up, they could see that the lights of the Penthouse suite and Gwen’s apartment were still lit.

“You can set up in the sky garden if you want,” Mayuree informed the Li siblings. “I’ll speak to management and let them know.”

“Thank you.” Lulan inclined her head, while Kusu bowed.

"We're in your debt," her brother added.

“Let's head up,” Gwen informed the party. “Let’s have breakfast together. I know a few good places around campus and on the Boulevard.”

"How about my place instead?" Mayuree offered. "I'll get Lei to prepare for company."

"Chit-" Kitty jeered.

Mayuree reached over and squeezed her childhood friend's cold hands.

“That would be wonderful,” Gwen answered for the rest of them.

“See you tomorrow, please rest well, Miss Song.” Kusu bowed, making Lulan bow as well. “Allow me to thank you again for your aid tonight.”

The group ascended the levitation platform.

"DING!"

Gwen waved the siblings goodbye at the mid-section, where a sizeable balcony created a sky garden for the public to enjoy the privileged view offered by B1, Goulding Road, Fudan University. The Portable Habitat could not be set up indoors, so the private garden made a perfect temporary location.

The remaining foursome rode the rest of the distance in uncomfortable silence until reaching Gwen’s level.

“Thanks for all the help, Mayuree, you were excellent.” Gwen reached over and hugged her friend.

“You were the one who was instrumental, Gwen.” Mayuree blushed as she returned the affectionate embrace.

“Kitty, thanks for holding out for me. I won’t disappoint you.” Gwen extended a hand.

Kitty rigidly reached out with her dainty white fingers and took Gwen by the palm.

“I hope I don’t come to regret tonight,” she replied cryptically. “I’ll be watching you closely, for Mayuree's sake.”

Gwen nodded solemnly.

'DING!'

The platform opened to reveal level 22.

Richard exited, followed by Gwen waving a short goodbye.

Gwen turned to Richard.

“Richard, G’night.”

“G’night, Gwen.” Richard reached over, and they exchanged a quick embrace. “If you want to talk, or if you need anything, I am just next door, alright? Anytime.”

“No worries, Dick,” Gwen held onto her cousin for a lingering moment. “I am coping.”

‘CLICK!’

The door to Gwen’s apartment opened.

“Gwen! Richard! You’re back!” Petra was in a loose shirt and shorts. From the looks of it, she’d been waiting for them. “I heard from Magister Wen that you used the Regeneration Cube! Are you alright?! What happened?”

Seeing Petra, Gwen felt a sudden release of the compounded tension within her body. It was as though a button had been pressed and now all the pent-up pressure was escaping like gas from a pressure cooker.

“Pats!” Gwen left Richard’s arms and raced to her cousin.

Richard scratched his head, then exhaled with relief.

Knowing his future intentions, he was glad that he would not be the one to offer Gwen the solace she now needed. Knowing that Petra could serve that much-needed role was a weight off his back and a load off his chest.

“Gwen?” Petra allowed her cousin to squeeze her tightly. Petra faced Richard with a questioning look, her icy-blue eyes cold and questioning.

"The inevitable happened," Richard replied cryptically.

"We need to call Magister Wen and inform her right away," Gwen said to Petra, her words muffled by being buried in her shoulder. "I need to know if there are aftereffects."

Petra’s eyes widened for a second, then filled with softness.

“Goodnight, Richard. I'll take care of her.”

“See you tomorrow. Breakfast at Mayurees.”

Petra watched Richard go, then brought Gwen into the apartment. She dimmed the lights, then settled her cousin on the couch, looking pensive and withdrawn.

“I am sorry it happened after all,” Petra spoke softly. "Can I get you some tea."

“Yes please.” Gwen laid herself out on the couch, sinking into the softness of the enveloping leather. “No sugar, please. It's late.”

“Sure.” Petra heated the water with a quick cantrip, raising the tea to the optimum temperature. “Milk?”

“I'll take it black.”

“Alright.”

Petra sauntered over and handed over a ceramic mug.

“So, what’s it like?” She asked after they sipped the first few mouthfuls. Slowly, the scent of chamomile infused the air.

Gwen took a long deep breath, allowing the air to flow from her lungs languishingly.

“I want to say it was terrible. That I was horrified," Gwen began. "But I would be lying."

"The truth, Pats, was that it was pleasurable like you would not believe,” she continued softly. “It felt so intense, I... I couldn’t think of anything else. Not even remorse. It was like I was filling with life. How could anyone get enough of that?”

“I see.” Petra cupped her drink. “Addictive?”

“I don’t know. I am…” Gwen searched for a word but chose to dispense with the euphemism. “Right now, I am feeling full.”

“Who was it that Caliban ate?”

“Nephres Zalaam, a Slaver. Apparently, someone connected to my past in Sydney.”

“Your old Master? Gunther Shultz? Almudj?”

“All of the above.”

“…Derr`mo!”

“I haven’t told you the whole story, have I?”

“Don't.” Petra waved her off. “A girl should have her secrets.”

“Pats…”

“I would have to tell Master, if you told me,” Petra explained. “I don’t mind. Really.”

“Another time then.”

“Another time.”

“Caliban ate her in front of Kitty and Mayuree.”

“Are they trustworthy? I can get Master to have a word…”

“I think so. Mayuree at least. We are bonded by fate, her words, not mine. Kitty should be fine, at least until Mayuree fulfils her vision and has no more use for me.”

“If you say so.”

The two girls sipped their drinks.

“Would you do it again?” Petra inquired carefully. “Out of necessity, I mean.”

“…” Gwen had to force the words from her lips. “I think I would.”

“How're your Sigils? What'd she give you?”

“What I stole from her, you mean,” Gwen groaned bitterly. “She’s a tier 6 healer, so I’d guess Evocation and Transmutation, maybe a little Conjuration, who knows?”

“Master would probably want a full scan,” Petra muttered. “If you wish to rest, I’ll talk to her.”

“No, no,” Gwen stopped her cousin. “It’s fine.”

“You don’t have to…”

“I want to,” Gwen interjected distantly. “I made my bed...”

Petra placed her mug on the coffee table, then arranged herself so that Gwen's head rested across her lap.

Below Petra's soft eyes, Gwen took in the vaguely sweet scent of shampoo and conditioner.

She welcomed the warmth of Petra’s skin against the nape of her neck, feeling the flow of blood through her veins. Very occasionally, there was a slight gurgle from Petra’s abdomen that made her want to giggle.

“Gwen?” Petra asked after they remained in the same position for a quarter of an hour.

“Yeah?” Gwen felt as though she was in a state of zen.

“You need a shower.”

“…” Gwen felt her zen shatter. The Boots of Flying did not unlace easily. That she had remained fully clad had entirely escaped her. For all she knew, there were still spots of Nephres’ blood on her blouse. Despite a cleaning cantrip or two, the offensive presence of D-109's sewers lingered in her hair and had seeped into her shirt.

“I am sorry, Gwen,” Petra was at her limits. “You stink.”

 

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Wutosama

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

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