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A note from Wutosama

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It was 8 PM before Magus Maymaruya left the apartment with a ring chocked full of loose notes and a data-slate pregnant with the future of the House of M’s Centurion Customer Service Division.

“Oof- I'm going to sleep.” Mayuree yawned. “I can’t believe the two of you went at it for six hours!”

“Well, when you’ve got the working bug, time just flies!” Gwen chuckled. She was still flushed with vigour, the complexion of her face pink with excitement. Her eyes were swollen, her lips were cracked, and her throat was parched, but watching Maymaruya falling over himself had been orgasmic. How long had it been since she had a ‘sit’ with a client? For the better half of the day, it had felt as though she was back in the old world.

“How do you even know this stuff?” her friend queried.

The 'stuff' had given Mayuree a headache.

Silver, Gold, Jadeite, Mithril and Centurion-Orichalcum membership.
Annual Fees.
Minimum Spending.
Cash flow Period.
Privileged Point-Exchange programs.
Personal Assistants.
Reserved Travel at ISTC Stations.
Priority reservation of rare ingredients.

Words stranger than eldritch Magic kept pouring from Gwen's lips.

"The more they spend with the House of M, the more selective the reward. Trust me when I say that it's not the value of the service or the money they save that will distinguish the House of M's branding. It's the fact that you care. To you, the client is a valued family member. To make their life infinitesimally easier is the existential creed of the Centurion Executive Service."

Maymaurya had nodded like an acolyte at his first meeting with a Magister.

“Why do I know? My family grew up poor,” Gwen confessed, hugging Mayuree close to her chest conspiratorially. “You see, I promised myself once when I was young…”

She stretched out her right arm in a grand gesture toward the magnificent view of Fudan below.

“As God is my witness - I'll never be hungry again!”

“Aww.” Mayuree slipped from Gwen’s overstimulated intimacy. Gwen's draconically-imbued embrace possessed a crushing, suffocating grip. “Poor you. Well, I am glad Maymaruya liked your ideas.”

“I am up for salary negotiations anytime.” Gwen grinned.

“Ha!” Mayuree chuckled. “What makes you so confident it’ll work.”

“Oh, you’ll see.” Gwen left her companion lounging on the sofa. “Alright, I better head down as well. It’s going to take a few months, but keep me updated on the Cores! And the CCS Division proposal! Likewise, I’ll let you know if I need a currency-advance.”

Mayuree laughed heartily.

“Say, where’s Kitty? Or Marong?” Gwen looked around, begging the question that had been on the tip of her tongue.

“Brother’s still got problems back home - well, in Yangon, since now you know. We’ve got constant problems with border disputes, poachers, and the occasional Rogue Mage out in the Orange Zone. Kitty's away questing; she’ll be back in a few weeks.”

“I see, here’s hoping they’re both safe, eh? I better go. Petra’s feeling lonely, I’ll bet.”

“Good night Gwen.”

“Ciao!”

Gwen reappeared a few seconds later.

“Mia, can you give me a doggy bag of the leftovers?”

 

 

By 4 AM, Gwen still couldn’t sleep.

Wide awake from the excitement of having her new items made and having her proposal heard, she slinked into the living room to call Elvia.

“BEEEEEP-Bo-kEEEE…”

Elvia's Dorm Matron answered the LR Communication Device. After a quick exchange, the kind woman relayed the Message.

Five minutes later, Elvia appeared standing before Gwen in a nightdress.

“OH MY GOD!” Gwen gushed, her eyes bulging. “LACED VICTORIAN NIGHTIE!”

Gwen was of course, on Silent, but still, she managed to kick up a fuss. Quickly, she calmed herself. Earlier, she had told Petra all about her arrangement with the Magus, repeating herself until her cousin escaped into her bedroom to sleep off the Gwenism induced headache.

Elvia twirled.

“Hi, Gwen! Do you like it? It's from Bluebirds!”

“Ernngh~ I love it! So lacey!”

“Hahaha, so, what’s happening?”

“Oh, TONS of things. Things you cannot begin to imagine. Do we have privacy?”

“Yep, but let me switch to Silent.” Elvia returned a few seconds later.

Her angelic little Evee had grown her hair out, falling about her slim shoulders like a golden waterfall. Elvia must have made good progress in her Biomancy, Gwen remarked. Her erstwhile companion appeared younger, despite being nine months older. Whatever they were feeding the girl, the Nightingale School had done Elvia right.

“Wow, I haven’t talked to you in a month! How’re your funds? I've recently acquired a windfall."

“Me too! I worked tons!” Elvia pouted. “Five days a week, and I am volunteering as well.”

“That’s wonderful! How’s work at Ormond Street?”

“It’s going well.” Elvia’s voice took on an ambivalent hollowness. It was something she did whenever she either tried to mask her discomfort with a white-lie or tried to avoid a particular topic of conversation.

“Evee.” Gwen leaned in. “You can tell me. If you do, I’ll show you Ariel’s super adorable new form.”

Elvia stared at Gwen critically.

Gwen shirked back, wounded. Had Elvia grown up!? Was she immune to Ariel’s charms?

“Okay…” Elvia moped.

Gwen mentally punched the air.

As it turned out, Elvia had been bullied.

Gwen’s mood grew increasingly more dangerous as her friend’s account continued. The basic gist of it was that Elvia was interning at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children when they received a young Mage from a prominent family who had been severely burned, suffering both internal and external injuries. Elvia’s mentor, Lady Astor, was assigned to the case, and things had initially gone as well as expected. A day later, Elvia had the night shift. She attended to the young man, struck up a conversation, and even convinced him to take a sponge bath to discard the peeling, old skin that had fallen off after the treatment.

HOWEVER, Elvia’s popularity at GOS, especially pertaining to Lady Astor's intimate interest, had also brought ire and envy. A few of the younger nurses and even one of the ward's physicians accused Elvia of inappropriate behaviour with Lord Allen of Liverpool, attempting to ‘social climb’. Lady Astor was alerted when Elvia's accusers cornered the blonde healer in the staff’s break room, at which point Elvia had become hysterical.

The no-nonsense Director stood her ground and informed Elvia’s accusers that they had five seconds to confess the truth and retain their jobs with a pay cut - or hold their peace. One of the nurses cracked, while the others held their ground.

“Elvia, will you subject yourself to a Truth Geas?”

Of course, there was no need for such a ruse. Lady Astor's word was law, not to mention one of the nurses had snitched on her co-conspirators as soon as Elvia agreed. Her accusers were caught out, and even the young Lord Allen put in his two cents. The nurses lost their positions, and the young physician disappeared from GOS. After that, Elvia had thought her troubles over, but not so. Three weeks later, she ‘screwed up’ the medication for another patient. When she adamantly refused to confess that she had made a mistake, Lady Astor again stood up for Elvia. At the Lady’s behest, yet another investigation took place. She called in the hospital’s Master of Medicine, who testified in Elvia’s favour. This revelation then led the staff to suspect malicious action or even assassination, even though the ‘victim’ was a young girl from a regular Mage household. In the end, Scotland Yard arrived. Their swift deployment of Forensic Diviners revealed that one of the staff had ‘accidentally’ taken Elvia’s cart and had been too afraid to fess up once Lady Astor was involved.

Another public firing later, the junior staff had a new name for Elvia - The Trouble Maker.

Of course, it wasn’t Elvia’s fault. Though grievous mistakes rarely happened at GOS Children’s Hospital, the culture was to let bygones be bygones. Conversely, Lady Astor had torn a scabby gauze from a bloody wound, revealing to the world that even the best support staff at the best medical institution were only human in their pettiness.

“I’ll come over there and fucken rip em a new one!” Gwen shouted at the Projection Crystal. “How do I get to London? Caliban’s got a brand new form and it sure as fuck can do with some Christmas baubles! Ever since that wyvern, it's got a real hankering for assholes, let me tell ya...”

Gwen’s vitriolic passion made Elvia reel with fright.

“No! Stay in Shanghai!” The petite blonde girl shook her head and waved her hands. “I’ve got it sorted; it’s no big deal!”

“You can’t take this shit lying down!” Gwen fumed, the amber of her eyes glowing with Draconic-presence. “I am calling Alesia! She’ll send that guy, what’s his name again? Dominic Lorenzo? He’ll take care of it!”

“But it’s taken care of,” Elvia pleaded with her. “I don’t want more trouble, please, Gwen?”

Gwen growled, her frustration low and rumbling.
A continent away, Elvia visibly shivered.

“Show me Ariel!” Elvia attempted to change the subject. “Kiki! Look! It’s aunty Gwen!”

“Sister Gwen!” Gwen snapped.

“Sister Gwen,” Elvia corrected herself. For whatever reason, Gwen always felt much older.

“Kiii? Kii-kiii!” A bauble-head appeared.

Gwen felt her ire drain away.

Kiki had grown since she’d last seen it.
Where the creature was a little weed-like seedling a few months ago, it was now evidently humanoid, with well-formed limbs and a bulbous head like a large chestnut. Its hair, like Sufina’s, was a tangle of trellises filled with little white flowers.

“WOW,” Gwen spluttered. “Put it closer! Ariel!”

She likewise presented her pseudo-Kirin.

“OH MY GOD!” Elvia gasped. “Ariel’s got horns!”

The two girls gushed over their mutual Show and Tell.
Caliban made the rounds as well, but there was no way Gwen could show Elvia its Stag-form.

"Kikiki!" Kiki put a little dance routine.

Unlike Gwen’s Conjured Familiars, Elvia’s Spirit existed not as a part of a complex spell, but as a part of an agreement between Dryad and Mage. Even empowered, Kiki merely looked a little larger, growing from a bauble-headed doll to that of a somewhat better proportioned Barbie. In so far as Dryads went, Kiki had a long way before it could even begin to mimic Sufina’s grandeur. Gwen’s Familiars, however, had their full complement of forms: from docile marten-plushy to its pseudo-Kirin guise, to its full-fledged draconic-chimaera likeness.

"Wow!" Elvia marvelled. "That may not even be Ariel’s final form!"

After the exchange, Gwen told her own story: her father, Hangzhou, Uncle Jun, and Percy, omitting only what was necessary; bound by the No.1 and No.2 rules of the Per-secrecy club.

“I am so sorry.” Elvia fought back her tears of sympathy. “Mr Song is a terrible man.”

“I feel sorry for their new kid.” Gwen sighed. “But making up with Percy was pretty good.”

“I spoke to Yue last week!” Feeling self-conscious, Elvia changed the subject again. “She’s up in Queensland at the moment.”

“Covered in fish-guts and lizard spawn, I’ll bet.” Gwen chuckled.

“Yeah, she and Paul and Taj and Jonas. BIlly is there too; you remember Billy?”

Gwen recalled the stuttering Diviner. It was cute that he was the youngest of the original group, fresh out of university and already assigned to Alesia. That had to be a nightmare.

“They got a whole party going!”

“I know, right? Alesia is staying and helping Gunther with his work in Sydney now, so Yue’s inherited her old Adventuring party. She says she’s getting a promotion at the end of the year as well.”

“Oh?”

“She’s going to be Warrant Officer Class 2.”

“We’ll have to salute her the next time we see her then.” Gwen made a mock salute with her hand, which was returned by Elvia. Seeing their Masters performing the salute, Kiki and Ariel did the same; Caliban had no arms and so could only wistfully watch.

By now it was almost 6 AM. Gwen was finally feeling the desire to sleep.

She technically had nothing planned for the day, though there was arguably a lot on her plate. There were new Hound spells she had to learn, inscriptions to copy and incantations to practice. Then there was the matter of her end of semester marks which had been given out in her absence.

“Alright, Evee, it was lovely talking to you.”

“Likewise, Gwennie. We’ll catch up later. What are your plans for Christmas and New Years?”

“Honestly?” Gwen bit her lips. “I have no idea. Maybe something with the family? I don’t know if they celebrate Xmas here in China. As for New Years, maybe a dinner or something.”

“Okay! For Xmas, I’ll be volunteering with Emily, our Student Council President, and Sylvie, my roommate, at the refugee shelters. Lady Astor has invited me to a ball on New Years, Emily and Sylvie are going as well, so don't worry. Emily will be attended to by her Knight; it's all perfectly safe.”

“That’s alright.” Gwen gave Elvia a phantom hug. “We’ll talk beforehand anyway. I want to see Lumen-pics! Don’t pick your dress without showing me first!”

“Hahaha, alright.”

After a few more XXes and OOes, Elvia hung up.

Gwen closed her eyes to rest for a moment.

 

 

And woke up with Petra standing over her.

“Oh God, you gave me a fright!” Gwen spluttered. Petra’s husky-blue orbs had a predatory quality, particularly when she was upset or unhappy.

“I know you can’t catch the Flu.” Her cousin tsked disapprovingly. “But that doesn’t mean you sit out here comatose with your buttocks in the cold.”

“I had insomnia,” Gwen confessed, tucking her legs under said buttocks. “So I talked to Elvia for a bit.”

“Go back to bed,” Petra advised. “When did you sleep? I heard commotions at like 5 AM.”

“Sorry,” Gwen apologised.

“Off you go then.” Petra pulled her from the couch.

Heeding her cousin’s advice, Gwen went back to bed.

 

‘Ding!’

‘DING!’

‘Ding!’

‘DING!’

Gwen shot awake.

She pawed the bedsheets for her Device.

“Yes? Gwen here?”

"EEE!"

In her haste, she had kicked Ariel.

"Shit! Sorry," Gwen murmured.

"SHAAA!"

"Arrgh! You drooled on me! Sleep in your own bed!"

“Gwen!” A stranger’s voice came across the Message. “It's me, the Dean. Can you see me in my office this afternoon?”

“Yesssser.” Gwen attempted to make herself as alert as possible, but her sleep-deprived tongue refused to cooperate.

“Young lady - it’s 11 AM.”

“Yer ser!”

The Dean sighed.

“… Your appointment is at 1300. I know you’re young - but have some discretion. Remember, always use protection, and go see the Medical Mages if you have to.”

“Sir?”

The Message clicked shut.

FUUUUU~ Gwen kicked herself.

After five minutes of self-loathing, she forcibly circulated her Draconic-essence until the desire to go back to bed was kept at bay.

“Alright! I am up!” Gwen slapped her cheeks.

She struggled out of her beckoning silk sheets, throwing on a blue silk buttonless-blouse from Hangzhou and a four-button high-waisted pencil skirt. She brushed out her hair, cleaned up her face, then stepped back into the Hermès.

Along the way, she picked up two Taiwanese crepes from a local vendor for brunch, as well as a taro milk tea. At ten to one, Gwen arrived at the Dean’s Office, once again marvelling at the intricate beauty of the Zibinyuan, the sole colonial building in Fudan’s old Handan campus to have escaped the Purge unscathed.

“Ellen?”

Dean Luo Jiang’s ‘secretary’ met her at the door. The Air Sprite wore a business getup, or more accurately, she was garbed by Luo’s Illusion in a bell-skirt and a frilly avocado blouse. The garb wasn’t very creative, but it suited the pale-faced Spirit. From afar, Ellen perfectly resembled a regular human female. Curiously, Gwen wondered if Luo had a specific spell for attiring his Spirit Familiar.

“Gwen! Come in!” The Dean's voice summoned her.

Gwen noticed Ellen hadn’t greeted her.
The Sprite was keeping her distance, looking wary and apprehensive.

Given more time, Gwen would have tempted Ellen with a mote of her emerald essence, though now she had to wait before ensnaring the Dean’s Familiar.

Inside the office, the Dean sat at his table, inundated by paperwork as usual.

“Sit! Sit!” a voice called out from behind the pile. “No wait, I’ll come out.”

The friendly face of the middle-aged Dean appeared from behind the table.

His eyes swept over her new attire.

“Hmm.” The Dean’s expression took on a contemplative mood. “Lovely shoes.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Gwen curtseyed. "I can dress Ellen for you if you like."

“... I spoke to the Secretary-General this morning." Luo cut to the chase, coughing to hide his awkwardness. “As well as Magister Wen.”

Gwen stiffened, her remaining fatigue dispelled by a sudden surge of adrenaline. After a dignified recovery, she gave the Dean a bright and dazzling smile, flashing the man with her pearly whites.

“Draconic-essence, huh?” The Dean walked a circuit about her person. “Ellen- the door.”

The door shut of its own accord.

“A demonstration, if you could? My room is heavily warded.”

“Of course, Sir.”

Gwen understood that this was a chance to appeal to the Dean directly. If she could receive a personal commendation from the man, her position in the IICU team was well-assured. Compared to what she stood to gain, the indignity of putting on an Ariel and Caliban show was of little importance.

"Ariel!"

First came Ariel’s many forms.

"Caliban!"

Then it was Caliban's turn.

The Dean was suitably impressed and commended her on her supernatural growth. Ellen as well was supremely delighted with Ariel’s Kirin form. Gwen supposed that it was because of their mutual affinity for Air, which induced a certain sense of kinship. As for Caliban, the Sprite kept her distance.

“Caliban’s got a new form-factor, Sir,” Gwen explained. “It’ll cost a significant volume of vitality, however. Additionally, Caliban's new combat form may prove to be extremely taxing on the er… psyche.”

“You've piqued my curiosity, good girl!" Luo chuckled. "Are you suitably provisioned to demonstrate the creature’s prowess? Shall I call for Magus Kumiko?”

“I should be, Sir. Though I would propose we push Caliban’s feeding schedule from Saturday to later today or maybe tomorrow.”

“Of course.” The Dean straightened his vest. “Let’s see it.”

“Please step back, Sir.”

The Dean took half a step back.

“Caliban!” Gwen commanded her Familiar. “Stag form!”

A torrent of obsidian mana pumped into Caliban even as her creature tapped into its internal stores. Gwen's face paled, her veins filling with ice as Caliban took the bare-necessity of vitality required to trigger the transformation.

"SHAAAAA!"

Caliban's serpentine torso extended, its carapace ripped and torn. Pink and purple tendrils joined the sound of snapping bone and mangling flesh as Caliban polymorphed into its three-meter, X-rated visage.

“Mao’s GHOST!” Dean Luo stumbled back, taken by the aura of vertigo and the inexplicable existential terror emanating from Gwen's Familiar.

“Master! Watch out!” Ellen teleported right beside her Master and took up a defensive stance. Looking at her discarded pile of clothes, it would seem that only parts of her attire were illusory. Now in its elemental-form, Ellen reminded Gwen of Lea, a humanoid female silhouette filled with just enough condensed mana to manifest a physical body. “Gwen! What is this thing?!”

“It’s Caliban,” Gwen pointed out.

“It’s a roving mass of hunger!” Ellen pushed Luo backwards. “It desires only to consume!”

“Yes,” Gwen nodded confidently. To her, that was indeed Caliban. “Void’s got a bit of Air in it, right? Caliban’s a good sort, think of it as Ariel, but hungrier.”

“Abomination!” Ellen frowned, forming a wall of shimmering air between Caliban and her Master. “This thing should not be!”

“You got that right.” Gwen admired her sweet old Caliban. It was a bloody terror alright. In its Stag-form, Cali was an absolute unit.

“Ellen, it’s perfectly safe.” Dean Luo patted his Familiar’s shoulders.

“Luo, this thing has taken the form of our Kin into itself!”

“Ellen, stand down.” Luo’s voice was a gentle lull. “Gwen is in control - are you in control, Gwen?”

“Caliban, sit!” Gwen ran through her routine.

They were lucky that the Dean’s office was one of those generous Victorian studies and not, alas, Fudan’s modernised glass and concrete cubicles. Caliban carelessly swung its faceless mien to and fro, dangerously swinging its sixteen-pointers. Its needle-point front legs dug into the floor, cracking the herringbone inlay. Then, as promised, it sat.

“Shaaa!” The smooth facial carapace emitted a muffled cry more akin to a strangled babe than any sound that should exist in the material realm.

“Hand!”

Caliban raised a meter-long length of limb-cum-lance.

Gwen took the ‘hoof’ by the ankle, where the girth was just right for her hand to envelop. The chitin was smooth obsidian, seamless and polished, as though machined into existence by some old, tenebrous power with an eye for minimalism.

“Excellent, Miss Song.” Dean Lou dismissed his Familiar, commanding her to stand down. “Have you tested Caliban in combat?”

“Not yet, Sir.”

“I see. I would do so at the first opportunity.” The Dean took a step forward, then placed his hand against Caliban’s face. Gwen took in a nervous breath, hoping that unlike Carp-liban, Stag-liban didn’t secrete Void-ooze.

“Sir…” Gwen began.

“I would have thought the carapace oily, or at least wet,” the Dean replied, his voice filled with profound wonder and genuine interest. “It's dry! A little cold to the touch, but quite pleasant. I am touched, young lady. Quite touched!”

“Yessir. Cali's a cutie, Sir.” Gwen breathed out.

Ellen moved closer, her ethereal form flickering in and out of vision. The Sprite likewise reached out with her arm.

Caliban turned to regard the Air Sprite.

Gwen felt a surge of excitement and interest passing through her empathic link.

Oh shit! Gwen suppressed Caliban’s curiosity, but it was too late.

As Ellen placed one hand on Caliban’s faceless head, one of its sixteen horns lost its rigid form and attempted to give Ellen a lick with its pink, barbed tentacle tongue, tipped with a lamprey’s maw.

Ellen froze as an arm-thick rosy tentacle slapped her wetly across the forehead.

Dean Lou froze, evidently stricken by the torrent of emotions ravaging his Empathic Link.

Ellen’s lips parted.

“AEEEEEEEEeeeeeeEAAAA!"

A Sonic Blast issued forth from a Master Conjurer’s mid-tier Spirit enveloped the Dean’s chamber.

 

 

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A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref :: Nothing much 

Bonus ::  Gwen's Outfits
Character Summaries :: Character Summary
Glossary and Magic System :: Glossary

Voting for the novel :: Voting button 

 

 

NEW BOOK COVER! 

(Hi-Res version coming, I'll be changing banners, etc. Finally copyrighted art is mine!" 

Commissioned from Laovaan 
Art Journal Deviantart
https://www.patreon.com/laovaan/posts

Also Editing has began - Ch 1 - 4 Done 

 


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Wutosama

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

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