Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 214 - Monkey in the Middle

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Four Ball-Lightnings erupted in the midst of the screeching swarm, expanding until they compassed the entirety of the chamber’s passageway.

“SCREEIII!”
“YIP! YIP! EEEIII!”
“SCRIIIII!”

Insane, baboon-like howls pervaded the cavern, rebounding across every nook and cranny.

Even under the robust influence of Heroism, Gwen's bones shivered. She could see why the expedition was considered so dangerous. The psychological pressure exerted by the Monkeys became amplified in the cramped, confined space and could even unnerve hardened Battle Mages.

In retribution, Gwen sent a swell of Almudj's Essence into Ariel, suppressing the simian horde's howling with a burst of Dragon-fear. Much to her dismay, the frenzied Water Ghosts surged past their fallen comrades undaunted, suds dribbling from diseased gums.

“The Monkeys have a battle-buff active!” Lulan placed herself as the groups’ spearhead, her lithe figure silhouetted against the frothing bodies bull-rushing the party.

“Wall of Water!”

Since arriving in Shanghai, Richard had been tinkering with both Conjuration and his Abjuration. In particular, lacking the freedom to disburse CCs, he instead improved synergy.

“Warding Tendrils!”

Gwen's Conjurer-Abjurer companion had the tier 4 water barrier pre-loaded, and now he added a tier 2 snare, empowered and maximised by Lea's innate affinity.

As the first of their assailants broke through the Wall of Water, the creatures' passage became impeded by viscous tendrils snapping at the creature's arms and legs, dragging the Monkeys backwards.

“Lightning Bolt!” Gwen incanted, then concurrently, she fired off a second volley through the empowered Ariel, careful as to avoid collapsing the overhead cavern.

“Barbanginy!”

The surging horde finally wavered, initially on behalf of the Dragon-Fear flooding through the chamber like an invisible tsunami, then doubly so when two viridescent bolts, thicker than Lulan’s waist, impossibly bent around the Sword Mage’s body to strike into the midst of their assailants.

“Good JOB!” Lulan hollered, feeling every hair rise on her iron-clad dermis, alive with static. “SWEEP!”

With a gesture, an enormous hunk of gleaming iron carved through the howling horde of Water Ghosts, splitting two of the weakened creatures in half before sending a third fatally into the wall.

“DIE! DIE! DIE!” Lulan leapt into the fray, a whirling dervish of bladed death, all caution diminished by the pulsing Heroism filling her body with fiery adrenaline. “SWEEP! PIERCE! HA!”

“LULU! CONTROL YOURSELF!” Kusu hollered from the rear. He and Petra had no problems keeping four Monkeys at bay while Percy peppered them with Salt Shards.

But Lulan couldn't care less about Kusu's warning. Buffed by Heroism, Aid, Bless, and her innate assortment of secretive enhancements, she felt invulnerable, knowing no fear as she acrobatically dashed, flipped, Misty-Stepped and twisted through the air, dismembering enemies left and right.

“Worry not, champ. I’ve got her covered,” Richard assured Lulan's paranoid brother.

Two more Monkeys broke through the wall, heedless of the horde's losses. Immediately, Gwen’s Deerhounds engaged the creatures.

“Damn that’s useful.” Richard focused instead on forcing the creatures toward Lulan. That had been their usual tactic before Gwen joined. Lulan acted the meat grinder, while Richard used his battlefield control to throw her tasty morsels to be sliced and diced.

“!”

Gwen’s Divination pinged.

“Richard! 11 O’Clock!”

“LEA!”

Richard had been waiting for the Priest to act. He couldn’t sense the incoming jet of super-pressurised water, but Lea could.

“Shield STACK!”

Not one but two Shields opened up in quick succession, Richard initiated the first layer, then Lea the second.

A jet-blast of brackish water hammered the foremost Shield, shattering its liquid membrane. Lea’s thick and fast-flowing underlayer then caught the remaining draft, diverting it downward, sending the stream back into the Elemental Plane of Water.

Taking advantage of the Water Abjurer's industrious defence, three more Water Ghost managed to flank the party. One attempted to sneak attack Lulan as she contended with two snarling specimens still stuck in Richard’s tendriled Wall of Water.

“Void Bolt!”

Gwen’s lethal bolt caught the ambushing Monkey in its lower torso. Unlike higher-order beings, lowly Demi-humans such as the Water Ghosts lacked the magical resistance of genuinely powerful Magical Creatures. Her Void matter consumed itself as it struck, shearing off the creature’s lower body, leaving a pair of dangling limbs to hover comically before clattering wetly onto the granite.

“Richard! The Priest is making his move!” Lea warned.

“Gwen!”

Richard’s Wall of Water exploded, overpowered by the superior control of the Demi-human caster. The trapped Monkeys, half a dozen of them, scattered toward the party, some rebounding from the ceiling, others leaping forward, thrown by the momentum of the blast.

Gwen's dogs moved to engage.

"Dagger Wall!"

Kusu blocked off either side of the party's flank with a swarm of magical implements, swimming through the air like shoals of silvery fish.

"Petra!" Kusu called for support.

Petra had things well in hand.

"Sword WALL!"

The four Water Ghosts attempting to waylay the party's rearguard had counted themselves lucky when Kusu's daggers moved elsewhere, only to be caught once again in a wall of whirling crystalline shards. Curiously, the incantation originally belonged to Kusu. Petra had been experimenting with Cubing the Clanner's spells, as she had always done when new styles of Magic became available. Unfortunately, her Spellcubes were sporadic at best when working with magic outside the Imperial System. After weeks of trial and error, only Kusu's Dagger Wall managed to fit into one of her crystalline cubes.

With both Mages' spells active and the hounds in melee, the party's rear had been secured; their flanks likewise warded for the moment.

Gwen knew the opening would last only a few brief seconds.

"CALIBAN!"

She felt weightless as the vitality stowed in her body fed into her Familiar.

Caliban burst from the ground directly behind Lulan, sailed overhead, then began its polymorphic transformation into an avatar of the dark goat who must not be named.

Behind Gwen's Familiar, Caliban's companions continued their bombardment.

“SWEEP!”

Lulan flung an enormous hunk of polished iron into the Monkey's midst, before she Misty Stepped into the aether, appearing behind Richard a split-second later.

“Lightning Bolt!”

A line of Lightning cleared the path ahead.

Caliban's serpent-form bloated, needle-like legs sprouted, a nova of tenebrous energy expanded from Caliban’s body. Fresh obsidian carapace snapped into place; spiralled horns grew like thorny saplings. As Caliban lowered its head for the charge, ebony Void matter flowed beneath the semi-opaque armour like inky blood.

Without a sound, Caliban plunged into the wall of cascading water, skewering three of the hooting Ghosts with its horns.

Gwen desperately circulated Almudj’s Essence, attempting to reclaim her pound of lost flesh. She had enough remaining to sustain herself, though the magnitude of Caliban's toll inferred that a draconic-stag was best fueled with draconic-tier essence.

“LEA! DO IT NOW!” Richard commanded his familiar. The Water Mage had been waiting for this very moment.

Lea materialised in her Undine form, drawing greedily from Richard's reserves.

The risen crest of brackish swamp-water which had acted as the Water Priest’s shelter and vehicle parted with a violence that surprised both Caliban and its target. In the next split-second, every mote of free-flowing liquid returned to the Elemental Plane of Water.

Richard staggered to one knee, having to catch his breath as his mana pool tanked. Lea's Undine abilities remained far beyond his ability to sustain. A mana potion injector appeared in his off-hand, violently stabbing downwards.

Comparatively, there was no respite for their enemy. The now exposed Water Priest was a corpulent sight, a fat, bloated Water Ghost covered from head to toe with shells, river-weed, and algae, wearing a necklace of blue-green orbs of unknowable origin. Completely caught off guard, its rotten maw opened wide, issuing forth oily spittle.

“NOW!” Gwen commanded. She had no idea how much an actual activation of Caliban’s new ability would cost. “ONSLAUGHT!”

Caliban carried through the momentum of its charge, cleaving into the Water Priest with the same gusto it had shown the foot soldiers.

“SCREEEEEIII!” The Priest shrieked. The orb necklace at its chest gleamed. The air grew heavy with moisture. Beads of limewater began to form all over Caliban's smooth carapace.

“SHAAAA!” Caliban made a muffled shriek halfway between a neigh and a scream. Its tentacle-horns shot their payload, penetrating the Water Priest a dozen times over. There was a moment of tension, then the Priest's body lost all vigour.

With a wet smack, Caliban tossed its quarry and its precious victims against a wall. It reared, then stabbed downward with its stiletto forelegs, ramming into the creature’s chest with such force that the Priest transformed into a butterfly collector's specimen.

“SHAAAA!”

Caliban's horn-tendrils hatched into bloodworms voraciously ferreting for flesh, bloating the Priest' chest cavity and swelling its stomach. Revoltingly, the massive Water Ghost become suddenly pregnant.

“Petra! Get Percy closer!” Richard urged Petra to salvage their loot.

Gwen hung onto consciousness via a thread of Almudj’s Essence. Caliban’s new onslaught wasn’t something as simple as a hasted melee assault, such as in its spider form, it was a simultaneous shape-shift involving sixteen lamprey-tipped tendrils.

“GET CLOSE TO IT?!” Percy baulked. “THAT THING?!”

The remaining Monkeys appeared stunned by the sudden death of their worshipful leader, their frenzied enhancement diminishing at once. Sensing an opportunity, Lulan Misty-stepped toward the four which had harassed their rear, hewing away while her brother provided cover, corralling the beasts into pens consisting of swirling daggers.

Gwen's dogs made short work of the survivors.

Caliban meanwhile, acknowledged its master’s desire. With a kick of its powerful hind limbs, it withdrew its stiletto hooves. Caliban then trotted back toward the party, wearing the dying Water Priest like a trophy-crown.

Percy’s legs were chow mien by now, partly because of the ragdoll Priest, and partly due to the dozen or so writhing lamprey's mouths popping in and out of the Priest's carcass like a game of blast-a-mole.

The amulet hungrily drank in the extract provided by the simian Priest’s passing.

Looming above Percy's ashen face, Caliban hollowed out the body of the grotesque Water Ghost, crunching through blood, bone, sinew and viscera with equal ease. Furthermore, as if performing a rite of the Old Ones, Gwen’s familiar swung its head to and fro, sending out sprays of blood like incense smoke from a censer.

Then it began to coo.

"SHAAA! SHAAaaAAA! SHAAA!"

The remaining Water Ghosts routed.

“Oh NO, you don’t!” Richard had recovered enough mana to reactivate his tendrils, pulling the Water Ghosts back toward the party.

Half-covered in gore and half blinded by blood splatters, Lulan burst through Richard’s Shield and set to work. Kusu joined from a distance, ensuring that the beasts could not take advantage of her carelessness.

A hot flush of vitality injected into Gwen's body.

“Oh shit.” She turned toward Petra. “Help me!”

Understanding Gwen's laconic plea, Petra caught Gwen in her arms just as her sister-in-battle began to convulse, shaking with the infused vigour.

“I am okay,” Gwen spat between clenched teeth. “Hold me up... OEGH!”

She almost bit her tongue.
All she could now was ride the lightning and wait for it to pass.
The Water Priest had been potent indeed. Though its essence was low-born and contemptible, the sensation registered at least a 5 on her Nephres Index.

To Gwen’s supreme embarrassment, her cousin held Gwen in her arms as she dug her face into Petra’s shoulder, hiding her scarlet mien.

Luckily, Caliban had an MBA in providing distractions.

Having finished its meal, it deposited a Water-Priest skin-suit, largely intact, at the feet of an aghast Kusu, a doubly impressed Richard, and a pant-shitting Percy.

“Strewth!” Richard cursed. Then unable to find the words, he swore again. “Fuck'n oath.”

“Wocao…” Kusu fought back his breakfast. “Lulu… don't look!”

Lulan returned, sweaty perspiration mingling with Monkey blood from head to toe, plastering the sheer fabric of her dress to her iron-enamel skin. She panted heavily, her chest rising and falling as the adrenaline drained from her body. Her slicked hair oozed a viscous, wine-like fluid that could only be congealed core.

Behind her, they could see Gwen's dogs tearing the rest to pieces.

“THAT…” Lulan cooed, marvelling at the new 'rug'. “...WAS AMAZING.”

 

 

Not knowing if the Water Priest was the ‘Master’ of the Lair or if something greater lurked in the depth of the Dungeon, Richard counselled the party to rest. There was a toll to Heroism, the least of which was aching bones and knotted muscles.

“Are we heading back up?” Gwen inquired.

Richard shook his head.

“We rest here.”

In the interim, the party took account of the Sword Mage's gory harvest.

"Eureka!" Richard loudly applauded the discovery.

A Spirit-Core!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the core of the Water Priest, a sizable fortune at tier 6, but rather the strange necklace it wore. After a quick Identify, Petra informed the group that the necklace was crafted entirely from the Cores of its kin.

The group stared at the necklace, aghast. What could lead the Demi-humans to self-cannibalising one another for Cores?

“The power is concentrated here.” Petra’s finger indicated to the central orb.

They had no idea if an item crafted by Demi-human could be disassembled and sold, but it was sure to be worth a pretty penny, especially if Mayuree and the House of M were involved.

"We made a lot of commotion, are you sure its safe here?" Gwen wasn't convinced they were now safe.

“The stragglers won’t dare.” Richard pointed to the pile of decaying corpses. Gwen's cousin had been fiddling with some contraption the whole time Lulan looted. “I made a no trespassing warning.”

The party's attention turned toward a dark shape situated atop the pile of bodies discarded by Lulan.

"Dancing Lights!"

Feeble, watery lights danced around the small hill of mutilated corpses.

“What?!!” Gwen spluttered.

Both horrified and fascinated, the group silently scrutinised the eerie visage of a stuffed scarecrow made from the discarded skin of the Water Priest. It had been hung on a crude iron cross, its loop-sided face ghastly and grinning.

"I made the cross." Lulan raised her hand, expecting praise.

Percy let loose a gut full of ejecta once again.

“I’d say we’re pretty safe here,” Richard reiterated. “I am exercising the Water Ghost's tribal customs. When the families go to war, the winner often takes the losers from the opposing tribe, then dresses them as totems to mark territorial boundaries.”

"When in Rome, huh?" Gwen chided her grinning cousin. "Is this place safe? The cavern I mean."

“Of course. We're in a natural cathedral; it's all ancient limestone.” Richard pointed a finger upwards. “Lulan can Stone Shape a ledge; we’ll make a cavity like so… then we’ll pop your Portable Habitat. We can rest up for a few hours to restore our mana.”

The party collectively regarded the scarecrow once again.

While they understood the logic of the boundary totem, they couldn’t bring themselves to swallow the fact that Richard had crafted such a thing without so much as a grimace.

“Are we in agreement?" Richard remained in high spirits. "We can vote as well, any takers?"

Standing beside Gwen, Petra whispered in Gwen's ear.

“Perhaps Richard should take a break,” her cousin advised. "He's like a factory spring about to snap."

“He IS a little strung, I agree.” Gwen watched her cousin go about his business. Richard was a little ruthless, and his idea of ethics was skewered, but he had always done her right. Hopefully, once he'd made good on his promise to his parents, he could unwind. “I wouldn't worry about it too much, Pats. Dick's a top bloke. His heart’s in the right place.”

Petra looked away.

"I hope you're right."

 

Petra watched her cousin tussle with her Familiars, an unexpected epiphany slowly blossoming within her mind like a rare flower.

For a while now, Petra and her Master had attempted to pinpoint the physiological and psychological trait of the Void Element. Their initial hypothesis was that a supernatural hunger was the root of the Void’s Mage’s affinity, a sort of insatiable desire to fulfil a perpetual sense of emptiness. Magister Wen had even pointed out, rationally so, that Gwen possessed an unusual appetite for affirmation and acceptance, bending herself backwards for recognition.

Jokingly, Petra had once asserted that an undeniable streak of masochism shrouded Gwen’s philosophy.

Take the incident of when they had first worked together in Hengsha Island. Some stupid yokel had attempted to harm Richard, resulting in Gwen taking off her head. The girl then beat herself - that was when Petra had felt sympathetic enough for her cousin to open up to Gwen and share something of herself.

After that, there was the incident with babulya’s husband, Gwen’s grandfather. No matter how much Guo browbeat Gwen, she came back begging for more.

And her brother as well, the snide little worm had stabbed Gwen in the back how many times? And yet, his sister wore his disloyalty like a badge! Happy for it! Mirthful that she hadn’t cut him off like a gangrene limb!

Yebena mat’! Petra felt her thoughts snagging something just out of sight, reeling it closer with every thought.

When they took Gwen to Tianlanqiao, Gwen could have killed the old man and gotten the hell out, but no! She had to subject herself to ten minutes of agonising, eye-watering carnage before she let herself go.

Then her father! Petra reminded herself of the loathsome Hai Song. Gwen had inexplicably returned to her selfish moo-DAK of a father and subjected herself to a level of humiliation Petra could scarcely imagine. Wearing that scandalous dress, fighting for the Songs, putting herself in danger over and over, all for what?

And she was doing it now as well! Feeling sympathy for the female simians and their young, didn’t she know that these Demi-humans ate people?! Only when they saw the poor sods made into salted flanks did Gwen fly off the rails. It was as though the girl delighted in agony...

"!"

Puzzle pieces clicked into place.

Could it be? Petra wondered. Was it that simple?

SELF-HARM!

That's the trait afflicting Void Affinity!

Gwen suffered debilitating energy-drains whenever she used her abilities, offset only by her unnatural luck in acquiring a divine essence! When the girl had fallen into her arms earlier, convulsing and quivering, Petra had considered the answer there and then.

Suffering and PLEASURE!

It was all starting to make a sick sort of sense!

NO wonder Void Mages killed themselves more often than not.

The Void! The fucking VOID’s physiological and psychological phenomenon, she’d figured it out! It wasn’t hunger! It wasn’t gluttony either!

It was self-harm!
It was self-taught Masochism!

Her husky-blue eyes glowed with recognition as she observed Gwen, who had been roused from her Familiar-playtime to regard Petra strangely.

"Pats?"

Filled with sympathy, Petra reached downward and hugged Gwen about the shoulders, even as another disturbing thought rose to meet her conscience.

How does one ethically go about ratifying her findings, knowing Gwen was a glutton for punishment?

 

 

Gwen couldn’t help but feel that Petra had engendered a significant misunderstanding.

When she said that Richard was an alright bloke, she wasn’t defending her cousin’s lack of compassion or empathy, but rather pointing out the factual reality that Richard had never done anything to endanger herself or the party, and that they should forgive his sometimes off-putting idiosyncrasy.

"Pats?"

Unexpectedly, Petra reached over and embraced her warmly.

Aww, how nice. Gwen hugged her back. Petra continued to warm up to her nicely, and that made Gwen happy. Looking around her Habitat, she saw that everyone else was taking a breather.

Lulan was taking a shower; Gwen discerned that she could use one as well.

Richard remained his usual spotless self, probably thanks to Lea, while Kusu meticulously cleaned his implements, a ritual the Sword Mage carried out after every battle.

“You alright, Percy?” Gwen caught her brother staring at the grey expanse outside.

“Yeah.” Percy watched her for a second before his brain kicked back in. “I guess I never realised your battles were so… intense...”

You think that's intense?! You should try fighting a Thunder Wyvern, Gwen chuckled internally, smiling a secret smile.

“Blood and guts aside, are you enjoying yourself?”

Percy touched a hand to his amulet.

“I suppose I am.” He beamed back at his sister. “I am learning a lot. Thanks, Sis. I appreciate what you guys are doing for me.”

“Hey, you’re helping us as well. Just wait till we get back with the loot! I wonder how much that Spirit will sell.”

“Assuming someone can still use it.”

“Of course.” Gwen poured herself a cup of tea, offering one to Percy.

The siblings nursed their cups as each member of the party went about their business.

 

 

“Eee! EE!”

“!”

A sharp stab at the base of her skull tore Gwen from the calming Zen of her astral meditation. Ariel was lividly gesticulating in front of her face, huffing and puffing madly. She could feel its anger gnawing at their empathic link.

“Shaaa!”

Caliban, seeing Ariel’s agitation, grew excited as well.

“What happened?” Petra opened her eyes. The girls were meditating together in the master bedroom.

“Trouble?” Lulan stretched, making spirit fingers.

Gwen herself was incredulous at the news relayed by Ariel.

“Someone destroyed one of my Deerhounds!” she spluttered in disbelief.

“A Water Ghost?”

“No!” Gwen spat. “A MAGE!”

 

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A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref :: A children's game

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

Voting for the novel :: Voting button  

 

 

 

 

MERRY XMAS! Hope you guys had a BIG DINNER 

(Almost at 1 million words) 

 


About the author

Wutosama

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

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