“Good God, put her down,” Petra, who was the team’s acting medic, ordered the poor girl to be carefully positioned.
Gwen unwrapped the bedsheets she had used to bundle the girl.
"Gwen, give me your Decanter of Everlasting Water."
Petra washed away the blood from the girl's body.
“Heal Moderate Wounds!”
Lihong's bruised and mangled flesh mended.
“Those fucking animals.” Gwen gritted her teeth. She had to undress the girl before they could heal Lihong; her ire boiled with every bloody strip of torn cloth peeled from Lihong's skin.
Percy, Kusu and Richard had been sent away for the moment, so it was just the three girls tending to the battered adolescent. “To think I had felt sorry for the old bastard.”
“They’re known for this sort of thing.” Lulan spat, watching Gwen as she wiped away the blood from Lihong's lower body. “I want to exterminate every single one!”
“Shut up, both of you,” Petra snapped. “Lulan, go get the other body, we need to hand it over to the Fungs."
When Lulan returned, Lihong had been tidied up.
“She’s still in shock.” Gwen recognised the aimless stare. “Lihong, can you hear me? My name is Gwen Song. We’re here to rescue you. You’re safe now. We've defeated ALL of the Water Ghosts.”
With agonising slowness, Lihong turned her face. Her bruises had faded, though the girl's eyes remained vacant.
Gwen groaned inwardly. The girl was delicate and beautiful, possessing a natural innocence. She would have had a wonderful life ahead of her, and now this happened. From the girl's aura, Gwen guessed her to be an Ice Mage, likely a Transmuter, with a smidgen of something else.
“Lulan.” Petra gazed into Lulan’s face. "Look at me."
“YES?” Lulan swallowed. Why was Petra staring at her?
“Can you keep a secret?”
“Sure I can.”
Lulan puzzlingly observed Petra turning the girl's vacant gaze toward her own.
A dull aura of Enchantment circulated through Petra’s husky-blue eyes, turning her pupils golden. Lulan opened her mouth in amazement.
A Mind Mage! The Sword Mage gulped. Since when was Petra a Mind Mage? Wasn’t Gwen’s cousin a Mineral Mage researching Spell Cubes?
"I need to go deeper," Petra informed the others.
She bore into the girl’s vapid pupils, channelling the Charm Person glamour.
“Lihong, calm yourself, you are in good company.”
As if a cord had been pulled, Lihong’s body reanimated. Tears began to well in her eyes, flowing freely down either side of her face as a moan haunting to behold bled from her lips.
“Ah… oh… ah…” Lihong choked on the sound of her voice.
“It’s okay.” Gwen embraced the poor girl. “It’s fine now. You’re safe. I killed them. We killed them. They’re all dead.”
Lihong clutched Gwen’s torso, then began to wail.
“CAO!” Lulan spat. “I want to obliterate another hundred of those bastards right now!”
Petra motioned for Lulan to shut up.
“Lihong,” the Mind Mage spoke softly, her husky voice low and commanding as she escalated her control to the tier 3 Suggestion, simultaneously activating a Read Emotion. “Who assaulted you?”
Lihong’s face left Gwen’s tear-soaked shoulder, taking on an expression of heart-rending sadness as an irresistible compulsion compelled her to speak.
By Lihong's second syllable, Gwen’s mind was white with static.
Lulan stared, her pink lips agape enough to encompass a hen’s egg.
Petra acknowledged the confession wistfully.
“As I suspected.” She lamented before turning to Gwen. “Her injuries are not consistent with an attack by any of the Ghosts, not to mention Water Ghosts are an entirely different kind of creature to the single-sexed mountain Jūefu. They're not known for violating human women, as they prefer their own. I doubt a tribe on the verge of starvation would have copulation on its list of priorities."
“But…” Gwen took Lihong’s cold hands in her own. The girl's fingers were icicles.
Petra’s eyes retained their golden glow.
“Lihong, tell us what happened.”
“I couldn’t see him in the dark,” Lihong confessed. “The water was filthy, and we haven’t had food for days. I was growing delirious.”
“You didn’t bring food in your Storage Rings?” Gwen asked.
“The Water Ghosts took our Rings… We resisted, but one of them gnawed off Qilu’s fingers. They made us take out all our rations, but we only brought three day's worth. They caught us by surprise, Master Xie escaped by himself, leaving us to our fate, but they caught him anyway.”
“You weren’t brought to the prison at the same time?”
“No.” Lihong shook her head. “The four of us were caught the first time. The Monkeys took Qilu after his wounds festered. Then they took Weng and Jiao, one after another. That’s when Master Xie joined me in prison.”
“I am sorry.” Gwen warmed the girl’s hands by circulating a mote of her Almudj’s essence through her fingers. It was too bad she couldn't share the Essence with other humans. “But your companions have died.”
“They ate them?” Lihong looked up, her eyes brimming with suppressed emotion from Petra's Enchantment.
“Master Xie was right then, even in the end.” Lihong sobbed. “He said they'd eat them, and that they'd eat us too."
"Tell us about Yuan Xie," Petra's iron voice demanded. "Why did he attack you? How did he die?"
Lihong appeared to battle Petra's Suggestion. It took a moment for her expression to relax.
"Master Xie was in love with me," the girl stated. "When they threw him in there with me, he apologised for running away to call for reinforcements. He told me that he was going to be back as soon a Message had gotten to Nantong. I forgave him then. I was so scared. I didn't know what else to say. Qilu and Weng and Jiao were all gone."
"Then what happened?"
Gwen held the girl tighter in her arms, cupping her maternally, feeling endless empathy welling in her chest.
"Magus Xie kept a Dancing Light on, but the Monkey-men made him dispel his magic. We sat in the darkness, listening to my stomach growl. I was so thirsty. We didn't dare drink the filthy water. I grew more and more delirious. We were sure that no help was coming. We're not supposed to be here. We didn't tell anyone because we were Quest Poaching. It's stupid, I know, but I just wanted to see what it's like to do a Quest. The training at home was always so boring - Master Xie said this was a good opportunity, so close to home as well..."
"Focus," Petra guided the girl's thoughts. "What did Xie do?"
"I lost track of time in the darkness. Hungry and thirsty, I tried to sleep. Xie woke me up and said there's something he wanted to tell me. That was when he confessed to me that he had always been in love with me, ever since I was a child, and that he wanted to be with me. Since we were both going to die, Xie said he would make an honest woman out of me. He said the Monkeys would have their way with me anyway, then eat me after. If that's how it's going to be, it may as well be him, who had devoted a decade of his life to me-”
“Honest woman!” Gwen fumed. The bastard. The paedophile bastard.
“I was groggy by then, but I knew he was wrong. I promised him I would never speak of this again if he would leave me alone.”
“And then what happened?" Petra pushed for confirmation.
Lihong's voice was quivering now, her words coming more rapidly. Her eyes stared into the middle-distance as she recounted Xie's final moments.
“I blacked out. When I woke up, Xie was on top of me. He was undressing me and…”
“OKAY.” Gwen arrested Petra’s interrogation. “I think we can guess the rest. I take it you attacked him in the dark when his pan- when his defences were down?”
The girl nodded.
"Petra, that's enough," Gwen begged her companion.
Under the dim light, Petra's golden pupils sent shivers down Gwen's spine.
“Lihong, rest now.” Petra invoked a Forgetful Slumber. The spell would remove the last hour of Lihong's memories, after which a tier 6 Recall Memory was needed to expose their interrogation. “Things will be better when you wake up. Your loved ones are looking out for you.”
“I understand.” The girl tucked into Gwen's bosoms, then promptly fell asleep.
The three girls regarded each other with heavy hearts.
“You alright?” Petra enquired of their overthinking, oversensitive, overtly sentimental cousin.
Gwen cradled the girl in her arms, feeling the tremors running through Lihong's body as she slumbered.
“I am too exhausted to think,” she confessed. “In fact. I don’t want to think about it.”
“Okay.” Petra glanced at Lulan, who had nothing to add. “Let's meet up with the Fungs. Gwen, pass me something loose and comfortable for Lihong.”
Petra studied her cousin as she dressed Lihong in slacks, then bundled the girl with towels. Gwen seemed lost as she carried Lihong to the entrance of the chamber. Petra then turned to Lulan.
"I saw nothing," Lulan affirmed her commitment to Petra's privacy. Then anxiously, she leaned in closer. "I don't understand, why did her bodyguard assault her? Isn't she like a daughter?"
The dull gold of Enchantment faded from Petra's eyes. As the familiar magic drained from her body, Petra couldn't help but recall the first lesson taught by Master Popov:
"Never trust anyone, my little devotchka; who knows what wickedness lurks beneath the amiable mien of smiling men? Don't trust anyone, not even me..."
Yuhua ran from her party to encompass her kinswoman.
“You found her! Thank Mao!”
“Where is Magus Xie?” Magus Wang enquired. “Is he safe?”
Gwen's party remained ominously reserved.
“I need a moment of your time,” Gwen artfully asserted. “Miss Yuhua may join us as well, but what I am about to tell you is a sensitive matter.”
Wang read the seriousness in their faces.
“Bian, Fan, Xiao-Mao, look after Miss Lihong. Give her food, water, whatever she wants. Yuhua, come with me.”
“Huh? Why? What’s wrong?” Their grave expressions made Yuhua's heart skip a beat. “Wocao! Magus Xie died, didn’t he?”
“When Father hears of this…” Yuhua wiped an angry tear from the edge of her eyes. “The entire line of Xie will pay!”
It was absurd to Gwen that one man’s crime could lead to the punishment of his whole family, but she wasn’t in a position to judge, especially after her blunder with the Chieftain. The Demi-human had demonstrated every aspect of humanity she would come to expect, and yet, she had butchered the old King like a dog.
She had promised him a quick, clean death - instead, she exercised the excruciating torture of having one's existence erased from the Material Plane, having one's soul - assuming Demi-humans had souls - obliterated.
Lihong’s mental condition appeared to have regressed after Petra’s compulsion faded. Once the fortification provided by Petra's Mind Magic wore off, the girl turned inward, becoming both dumb and deaf. According to Petra, if the Clan was willing, a Rewrite Memory of the last few days was enough to ensure the girl went on with her life oblivious to the truth. The origin of such magic, however, would be scarce indeed.
After handing over Xie's corpse and Lihong's bloody dress, they were ready to depart.
“Miss Song, as Miss Lihong is unable to validate your findings, is it at all possible to invite you and your party to enjoy the hospitality of the Clan of Fung for a few days?” Magus Wang bowed respectfully, ensuring that there were no misunderstandings. “I am certain Master Dai would be more than happy to make your acquaintance once more.”
“I need to get back to training in Fudan,” Gwen began.
“Of course, once the matter is resolved; we would very much like to reward your party for your part in recovering Miss Lihong. She is a favourite of the Patriarch’s, you see. Despite this tragedy, the young Miss would continue to be cherished and protected like a delicate pearl. As for her saviours, there would be ample reward in the form of CCs, HDMs and whatever treasures our Clan could offer.”
“A few days in Nantong sounds like just the ticket,” Richard interrupted his bashful cousin before she accepted altruism as a currency. “Don’t you think so, Gwen?”
Gwen quickly glanced at the rest of her party.
Petra was eager to return to Shanghai.
Lulan and Kusu were desperate for resources.
Percy shrugged, leaving the decision to her.
“I guess we can take up your hospitality for a short while. Pats, are you alright with that?”
“I'll head back myself.” Petra wasn’t one to mince words or suffer in politeness. “Don't worry about me."
“We are happy to deliver Miss Kuznetsova to the Shanghai ISTC Interchange,” Magus Fung offered. “If so, would she consider staying for a banquet?”
“That is agreeable.” Petra ruminated on her schedule; even if she left now, she wouldn’t be home until tomorrow.
“Excellent, that’s settled then.” Magus Wang visibly relaxed. “Let us return to the city.”
A small fleet of dark sedans met Gwen’s party on the halfway built highway some half-an-hour trek from the Water Monkeys’ lair.
“Japanese imports?” Gwen noted the familiar sight of the three diamonds-in-a-triangle she had seen earlier on the golems. Not even in Shanghai were imported vehicles all that common. The new District of Nantong was surprisingly wealthy.
“We’re a trading port.” Magus Wang convened with Gwen, Percy and Petra. Lulan, Kusu and Richard took up a separate vehicle. “The Japanese supply much of our Magi-tech in exchange for foodstuff, agricultural goods, and raw materials.”
"How interesting," Gwen noted, happy for the mental distraction. According to her research, the geographic trade dynamic of the tier 1 cities differed from her old world. Rather than transatlantic trade, the exchange of freight was restricted to geographic neighbours.
The Asian-Pacific nations formed an inner circle of commodity exchange via shipping lanes.
The Commonwealth possessed separate supply lines around the world, connecting its old colonies.
The U.S principally traded with its northern neighbour, Canada, as well as sporadically with an antagonistic Mesoamerica and warily with the Incan Empire in Cuzco.
As Gwen conversed with Wang about Nantong's canal, she realised there was a great opportunity here. The land around Nantong was as cheap as chips for the time being. With the city's development, there was bound to be new habitat blocks for NoMs, apartments and hotels for Mages, warehouses, factories - everything necessary to a thriving trade hub.
Once the topic of trade was exhausted, Wang turned to their Clan.
“The character for our House is the Xia Dynasty pictogram for ‘Harvest,’” the Magus explained. “It represents that which is abundant, lush, bountiful - an auspicious name indeed. Fung was the capital of the Scholar-King Zhou Feng, from which the nation took its name, today we know it as Suzhou.”
“It's an auspicious name," Gwen agreed.
“For five years now, our Clan has been working closely with the leadership in Shanghai, prepping the region for the opening of Tonglv Canal. Without major calamity, the region should complete its infrastructural upgrade within the decade, with the Fung Group leading the way."
“Once completed, the lion’s share of shipping from Singapore, Japan, Korea and Northern China will be routed through Nantong, correct?”
“Indeed, you are very astute, Miss Song.” Magus Wang patronised his young opponent, playing off her inexperience.
“How many TEUs will you be expecting?”
TEUs were shipping units, each denoting a twenty-foot container.
“About 12 Million units,” Magus Wang stated proudly, expecting Gwen to respond with open-eyed wonder.
Instead, he watched as the girl knitted her brows.
Did she not understand the majesty of such an astounding statistic? The Fung Magus questioned Gwen's economic naivety. It wasn't uncommon for the Guan-er-dai to know only how to spend crystals.
But it wasn't understanding that Gwen lacked, she was aghast that Shanghai’s Port Authority would only process 12 million units. Averaging 2 tonnes per twenty-foot container, it meant the volume of freight moving through Shanghai barely exceeded one-third of her old world.
“Will Nantong be operating its own cranes, golems and berths?”
Wang affirmed her enquiry with a nod.
“How will you be charging for administration, storage, maintenance? What economic model will the port be using? How are you tying manifest and admin costs to freight flow-rates? How competitive are your fees, per tonnage?”
“I am sorry...” Wang faltered, assaulted by Gwen's torrent of jargon. “The port operates at a loss. We're hoping the canal's income would change that.”
“…” Gwen blinked at the ageing Magus. “The port doesn’t turn a profit?”
“Ha.” Magus Wang smiled at Gwen kindly. “The Nantong-Shanghai anchorage is a state enterprise. We’re merely its custodians.”
“But Singapore turns a profit, surely.” Gwen reminded herself of the bustling scene she had seen when travelling there. “I was there! I am certain the city thrives on its deep-water anchorage. Economically, Singapore is on par with tier 1 cities like Shanghai.”
“A different governance with different circumstances, perhaps,” Wang answered evasively, unable to provide for Gwen a convincing explanation. “I am sure Singapore has its secrets.”
“I see,” Gwen agreed. She had to turn away because her lips were quivering.
HOLY SHIT, she couldn't help but feel herself on the verge of asphyxiation. The bloody CCP was running the port like a WWII operation. Cargo goes in - freight goes out. Ships paid for repairs and customs, and a small portion of the money went to maintenance and admin.
They had no idea! They had no FUCKING IDEA how the finance of a 21st-century harbour operated! In her old world, Singapore increased its GDP per capita from half of Malaysia's to that of six-times its neighbour, thanks to its world-class freight-hub.
Screw digging at Nantong's infrastructure! Not when she could tap the vein itself. Her business instinct was on fire. But to whom could she speak?
Gwen took a moment to calm her nerves. The serendipitous opportunity was an excellent distraction from the genocide they had just carried out. She expertly boxed up the nasty feelings haunting her insides and instead, looked outside at the canal - the object of her ascension.
The countryside had been stripped bare in anticipation of the massive canal and its parallel highways. Bottomless pits, the foundation of soon to be mega-Districts like the ones in Shanghai, would quickly engulf the terraformed landscape.
From the passager's seat, Wang inspected the rearview mirror, wondering why the girl was so interested in the banalities of a trading port when something like the IIUC or the prestige of the House of Fung was of so much more import and interest, not noticing that Gwen was squirming with anticipation.
“One last question,” Gwen implored from the rear. “Who’s in charge of the Port and the Canal? Who can speak for the Port Authority?”
“A triumvirate." The Magus knew the answer to this one. “Our Patriarch, Shen Fung, will be abdicating his role as the Police Commissioner of Shanghai to become Governor-Secretary of Nantong. He will be joined by Vice-Chairman Tu Guangshao of the Shanghai Economic Exchange, and Magister Chen Quin, formerly a President of Jianqiao University.”
“I see.” Gwen memorised the names. “Thank you, Magus.”
“We’ll be arriving soon. Please make yourself comfortable.”
Their motorcade took another half an hour to reach the city centre, delving into one construction zone after another, strewn with NoM labourers milling about like ants, aided by Civil-Construction Mages here and there.
At the western junction of the new city, Gwen noted an enormous Shielding Station, half constructed, reaching for the sky.
“A new design,” Wang stated proudly. “Did you hear about what happened in Sydney? All the Frontiers worth their crystals are switching to the newer modulation as a result.”
“I am from Sydney.” Gwen’s voice drifted from the back. “Richard and my brother as well. We are survivors of the Mermen invasion.”
“Ah, my condolences.” Magus Wang scolded himself for his inattention. “I hope your loved ones are safe.”
When Gwen didn’t answer, Wang furthermore slapped himself internally.
Percy meanwhile, watched his sister mumbling to herself, he caught a few words such as tariffs and freight deposits, but otherwise noted she was drowning in a chamber of her own thoughts.
The Fung compound, much to their surprise, was a skyscraper.
A construct of glass and concrete, styled with modern decor, the 'Harvest' Group building rose thirty storeys into the air, marking it as one of the tallest in the new commercial district.
“I am speechless,” Gwen greeted Yuhua and the small contingent of men and women who came out from the lobby to greet them. “Not an estate or a compound, but a high-rise?”
“We have to get with the times.” The Fung heiress laughed, threading her arm through Gwen’s elbow in an overtly friendly gesture, a complete one-eighty from their first meeting. The Fungs were VERY good at that, Gwen noted. They could change their position in a heartbeat, whether it was Dai, Lu, or Yuhua. “Did Wang gave you a pre-tour?”
“He did an excellent job.” Gwen beamed at Wang, who acknowledged Gwen’s praise sheepishly. “How’s Lihong fairing?”
“Same as before.” Yuhua bit her lower lip. “We’ll go see the Patriarch first. Wang, can you take us up? Tell Lihong's father to come as well. Also, not a word to anyone else.”
Wang left to make the arrangements while Gwen’s party, accompanied by Yuhua and the ashen Lihong, entered the building.
Once inside the spacious lift, they ascended until the 29th floor, where the door opened directly into a loft. Two guards in dark suits asked them to halt, greeting Yuhua with a cordial ‘Miss’. After a quick diagnostic of Gwen, the guards' mannerisms furthermore assumed an air of esteem.
Wang reappeared a minute later, directing the group from the lobby into the adjoining antechamber, then into a spacious office overlooking the city.
“Lihong!” A man with delicate, almost-feminine features rushed toward his daughter. “Mao! What’s happened to you?!”
Gwen parried a stab of sympathy.
Now was not the time; if she wasted this meeting with Shen Fung, she might not receive another, not unless she dated Dai or something shallow like that.
“Uncle…” Observing Gwen's silence, Yuhua wasn’t sure how to broach the matter either.
Thankfully, the presence of Lihong’s father seemed to have flipped a switch in the girl. With an utterance of secret agony, Liong fell into her father’s arms in a fit of flooding tears and torrential wailing.
“What’s wrong? Did someone bully you? Tell father! I’ll make sure they wish they were never born!”
Gwen’s party collectively winced.
If only retribution could fix what had been wrought.
“Jeishin, take Lihong to see Magus Ong.” Gwen's attention turned toward a second man standing behind the overlarge executive's table.
“Doctor Ong? Why? What’s wrong with Lihong?”
“Go.” the baritone voice possessed an air of command. “Take your daughter and go. Tell Ong to report back as soon as possible.”
Gwen’s attention shifted toward an unassuming middle-aged man wearing a coarse mandarin jacket. What is it with these power-types wearing humbling peasant garbs?! Gwen wondered. The Secretary-General also wore the same ill-fitting, cotton attire. Was it a power-status thing? Once a Mage reached a particular stratum in the CCP, one let go of the material things in life and assumed the guise of a peasant-leader, like Buddha having attained enlightenment?
“Wang, close the door. Is Xie’s family been watched?”
“Yessir, they’re in suite 2234. I don’t believe the family knows, Patriarch.”
“Hmmph.” Shen turned to regard Gwen and her team. The apex politician in Shanghai's newest District was an unassuming middle-aged scholar. He studied her group, his eyes scanning her party until finally resting on Gwen's face. "You're Guo Song's granddaughter?"
"Sir!" Gwen bowed.
“If someone told me that someone with Guo's mug could have a granddaughter like you, I'd strike them for lying."
"I'll take that as a compliment, Sir." Gwen smiled sweetly.
"Xie's Family, Sir?" Wang gently implored his Master.
Shen's gaze remained focused on Gwen.
"I believe there is a western saying from the European Sect of the Jesuits which suits our purpose well - ‘The Sins of the Father’, are you familiar with it? Gwen?”
Her party glanced at one another; Petra indicated that she knew.
“Yessir.” It was Gwen who stepped forward. “I believe it’s from Exodus in the Old Testament, stating that their Old Deity is a jealous God, desiring to visit the iniquity of fathers onto his children to the third and the fourth generation.”
The Patriarch of the Fungs paced a little closer to Gwen.
“A scholar of esoteric theocracy! And at your age!” The Patriarch carried a formidable bearing. “But then again, you ARE the infamous Worm Handler of Fudan.”
It took all of Gwen’s fortitude to keep her face in check.
“A nickname circulated in jest, Sir. Just Gwen, please.”
“Dai has been whispering in my ear about your accomplishments since you met him in April,” Shen stated ominously. “Do you know my son, Dai?”
“He owes me a favour.” Gwen took another half-step forward, circulating a mote of Almudj’s Essence through her body to fortify her bearing. A windbreaker worn over a skin-suit was hardly an imposing presence, and right now, a good impression from Shen possessed immense value to Gwen.
“A favour he may not ever repay.” The Patriarch chuckled. “A foolish child playing at guan-xi, I hope you are not offended, Gwen.”
“The favour of the son, Sir. May very well be a favour from the father.”
Shen paused, then burst into laughter.
“VERY GOOD!” Shen guffawed uproariously. "You've got me there, young lady."
A Message spell bloomed beside the man’s ear.
"Excuse me-" Shen walked to the panoramic windows overlooking the city.
As the Message silently played, the Patriarch's face grew increasingly dark until Gwen could feel the room’s temperate dropping, enough to make Percy, the weakest of them, tremble.
Gwen, her party, Wang and Yuhua patiently waited for the Patriarch to finish.
“Magus Ong tells me that Lihong is indeed… sullied.” Shen had to close his eyes for a moment to recompose himself. “Tell me, Gwen the theologian. Should I punish Xie’s unknowing sibling? His father and mother, who even now reside below us? What do the Western texts dictate?”
“The Sins of the Father…” Gwen craned her neck so that she stood taller.
“Should be visited with extreme prejudice, should it not? Even upon his ten-year-old brother, a total innocent?”
“No, Sir.” Gwen’s retort surprised them all, considering her earlier quip. “It’s a misunderstanding. The correct passage later found in Deuteronomy states that: ‘Lo, Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin. That’s how it is, I am afraid.”
“You advocate mercy?” The Patriarch’s voice possessed a dangerous edge.
“Gwen…” Richard coughed politely. “A father must have his revenge.”
Gwen brushed off her cousin.
“Nonetheless, Xie’s parents are innocent of their son’s crime, so are his brother and sister,” Gwen spoke out loud for all to hear. “I do not mean to assert that you or Lihong do not deserve retribution, Patriarch. The wisdom of the biblical texts are often themselves contradictory, and the selection of the passage is less so a commandment, more so a choice. Magister Shen, if you believe the lesson of Exodus more compelling than that of Deuteronomy, then you are well within your right. BUT in the end..."
Gwen stabbed a thumb into her bosom.
"...it is WE who make the choices.”
“What would you do? Miss Song?”
“I would make the culprit pay ten-thousand times over. I would flay his Astral Soul,” Gwen declared.
“But the man is dead.”
“Then I shall inform his family of his crimes, tell them the source of their misery, then exile them from my sight.”
“You would not kill them?”
Gwen’s hazel eyes sparkled with unnatural intelligence.
“Where’s the satisfaction in that?” she demanded. “I would be no better than a butcher. This way, his family lives, knowing that their bastard has doomed them for generations. Cursing his name every day of their wretched lives.”
Silence reigned as the Patriarch Shen ruminated Gwen’s proposal.
Percy shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, uneasy in the presence of one so powerful and so evidently in the grasp of violent emotions seeking an outlet. Yuhua stared at Gwen with her mouth half open. Even as Shen’s darling daughter, she had never spoken with such eloquent confidence in her Father's presence, much less advising the Patriarch on the matter of retribution when one of his favourite nieces had been defiled by a man sent to protect her.
Finally, Shen appeared to have reached a decision.
“Yuhua.” The Patriarch exhaled deeply. “Send Magus Xie's apprentice, his parents, and his siblings to the Front. I want them gone by tonight. Inform Colonel Zheng. If they fail to present themselves on the Xi-An Front within the week, put out a desertion bounty, double the reward. From this moment forth, the House of Xie is expelled from Nantong!”
“Yes, Father!” Yuhua left immediately to execute her father's will.
Shen moved behind his oversized table, finally taking a seat.
“So.” The Patriarch appeared to have brushed the chip from his shoulder. “What manner of a reward do you desire? CCs? HDMs? Land? Perhaps, knowing your ambition, people? Would ten-thousand NoMs migrating to a demesne of your preference suffice? Perhaps a Mage of your own, sworn to your service?”
An excited murmur broke out between Gwen’s companions.
“Nothing of the sort,” Gwen interjected.
Richard and company fell deathly silent.
Gwen quickly gave her companions a reassuring nod.
“What I want, Sir…” Gwen appeared more imposing than even when she emerged holding Lihong. “Is a FAVOUR."