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A note from Wutosama

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“WOCAO!”
“What in Mao’s name…”
“Eee!!”
“Gwen!”
"SHAA! SHAA!"
“LUYI! Come back!”

“GWEN! Stop that at once!”

Caliban expanded to twice its usual size, bloating with Void-matter as it answered its master’s submerged psyche. Likewise, Ariel assumed its oppressive draconic-mien, fluffed with rage and vengeance, crackling with viridescent shunts of tyrannical lightning.

Behind the livid dual-elementalist, the Spirits belonging to her peers descended into fight or flight mode, straining against their Master’s mental leashes, desperate to flee from the Dragon-fear.

There was Wanli, Lu Fung’s Thunderhawk, and Luyi, the deer-Sprite belonging to Eunae Lee, the Korean exchange student, as well as half a dozen others who had joined Chen’s Advanced Bestiary Course, snarling, growling, scratching and biting maddeningly.

The reason for their peer's sudden hysteria was their second instructor. After re-introducing himself, Instructor Chen had invited in a Master Magister with ‘two decades’ of experience in raising a Spirit-Familiar to join them.

Though the Magister proved a perfect, well-dressed stranger to the rest of the class, Gwen recognised his unforgettable face at once.

For the first few seconds, the revelation had stunned her into silence, too startled to command her motor-synapses. But not so her Familiars. Sensing their Master's descent into the abyss, they drank from the fathomless hostility she had buried since the Sydney Incident.

“ERIC WALKEN, YOU BASTARD!”

Her voice reverberated across the empty training hall like a thunderclap, forcing those standing close to her to cup their ears.

“Gwen Song.” The old Magister made no move to defend himself. “Fancy meeting you here, how fickle karma must be.”

“You know Magister Walken?” Chen was incredulous. “But…”

But why are you looking as though you're ready to Consume him, was the question on Chen’s lips. When Luo had introduced Walken, Chen had expected a jovial, almost serendipitous meeting between the two Australians. Gwen was a talented student, and Walken was an Ex-member of the Oceania ruling council. Though he did not know why Walken left his post, that the Dean had wrangled a tier 7 Conjurer-supreme away from the Commonwealth Mageocracy was a miraculous feat in itself.

“What... are you doing here?” Gwen's tone dripped with murder.

Intellectually, she knew there wasn't a snowball’s chance in the Elemental Plane of Fire that she could maim or defeat the Magister in public, especially not in the university. Nonetheless, her subconsciousness persisted in its wilful, meteoric desire for satisfaction.

Each time she reminded herself of the time, the place and her company, her Familiars loosened guttural bouts of shrieks and hisses, informing the others exactly how she felt about Walken. Her new-found honesty was as distressing as it was irksome. The ability to bear and grin life's cruel injustices with poker-faced masochism had been her calling card, but her Master’s face, pale and loitering, quashed her feeble efforts. Beside her ear, a waspish buzz intensified until the memory of yesteryear howled with the tenacity of ten-thousand Furies baying for blood. She didn’t even hear her Master’s last words! Not even a proper goodbye!

And the source of her agony could be linked to one man.
Eric - FUCKING - Walken.
The erstwhile leader of Oceania’s Grey Faction.
The man who had put Sydney Tower into a Lockdown; invited the Mermen right into the city’s midst, preventing her Master from accessing the Grot, activating the Tower's defences, and eradicating his cunt of a wife!

If Sobel had been the murderer of Henry, then Walken was her foolish, unknowing accomplice. Though the Magister had escaped prosecution, he had not fled from disgrace. Thanks to Gunther and the Middle-Faction’s influence in the Mageocracy, Walken had been thrown from a position of power, never again to be included among the shakers and movers of the Commonwealth.

And now, the man was in front of her; his soul ripe for the reaping, his face blanched and resolute, ready to meet his maker.

“Gwen, what the hell do you think you’re doing!?” Lu Fung was the first to recover, snapping at his family's money-tree. Wanli rose into the air, ready for action. "Don't make trouble for the Clan! We still need you!"

"What's gotten into you?" Eunha hugged her doe. She had known Gwen for half a year now, and she had never seen her 'senior' completely lose her faculties.

“Lu, shut up and stand down! The rest of you, back off!” Chen howled the other students into silence. “Gwen, what’s your problem with Magister Walken?”

Walken waited for her answer, his expression that of a man having found a mildly-interesting butterfly.

“This man.” Gwen forced the words from between clenched teeth. “Is the reason I lost my Master and my home.”

The curious students suddenly wished they hadn’t heard her answer. Getting involved in someone else's blood-grudge was always a recipe for disaster, especially when that somebody could duel Wonsoo Liu under the arena.

“Gwen.” Chen placed himself between the Magister and his student. “Put away your Familiars.”

“I've been trying.” Gwen willed her Familiars to back off, but both Ariel and Caliban fought her tooth and nail. The saying went that the mind was willing, but the flesh was weak, though in her case, the brain was deceiving itself, and her body was entirely too honest.

Both of her Familiars owed their existence to Henry's signature Conjure Familiar. The Lord of Oceania had been one of the first human beings they had seen and interacted with upon their entry into the Material Plane. He had been the first to feed Caliban and Ariel, the first to accept Caliban not as a monster, but a companion, even before their Master herself. Though Gwen had no idea if her creatures were intellectually capable of processing Walken’s cock-up in Sydney, they translated her loathing perfectly and without reserve, their minds too simple to blunt the raw hostility pounding their elemental animus.

“Huonu!”

Chen’s Salamander came roaring into the Material realm, becoming a sizable wall between Gwen’s Familiars and Magister Walken. It was the first time Gwen had seen Huonu in its entirety. Stretching almost four meters from head to tip, the humanoid Fire-sprite had vaguely humanoid facial features, a pair of well-muscled arms spluttering magma, and a powerful, barrel-thick serpentine tail.

The stench of sulphur and cinder made the air impossible to breathe, forcing her to back away.

“Gwen, pack your beasts away, NOW, or I pack them for you.”

Cowed by Huonu, Gwen was able to retract both of her Familiars.

Chen waited until he was sure the dual-element sorceress had regained her faculties before he retrieved his Magma Spirit.

“Class is cancelled today!” he barked at the students. “Dismissed!”

Usually, the haughty Conjurers would be full of high-sentence before they dispersed, but after a display like that, none of Fudan's best and brightest Conjurers had any desire to linger.

“Gwen.” Lu paused at the door.

Clan Fung's latent fortune-finder looked to her fellow Spirit-Conjurer.

“Clan Fung will give you its full support.”

Hugging her arms to prevent a wayward misfire, Gwen returned Lu's offer of support with a subtle nod.

“Gwen, stay here and keep your Familiars contained.” Chen then turned to Walken and bowed. “My deepest apologies on behalf of the administration, Sir. I had no idea there would be history such as this between a student and yourself. We have not done our due diligence.”

“It’s quite alright, Sir Chen.” Walken waved his hand. “The full extent of my shame and the reason for our shameful circumstance is known only to the highest echelons of the Commonwealth. By that same measure, I find no fault in Gwen’s anger. In her place, I would have done the same, perhaps worse. As for her outburst, it may be best to speak with Dean Luo in person.”

“I see,” Chen thanked the Magister. “We’ll await the Dean.”

Forcing herself to breathe, Gwen glanced at Walken's despicable mien.

“Of course, there is no rush.” Walken’s smile reminded Gwen of the very first time they had ever met in the Tower. Despite what he had done, the bastard dared to appear self-assured and faultless. To Gwen, the satisfaction gained from punching that face would have been therapeutic.

The reality, however, was that she was in enough trouble as it was.
Since her troubles with Bai, the Dean had warned her several times to keep her composure. By that same measure, she vaguely recalled that the Dean had stated he was on the lookout for potential Instructors to help her out.

Bloody oath, she mentally face-palmed. Fuck!

Even if Luo had found a Ravenport, she would have felt less inclined to murder the man. She couldn't give a shit who Luo dug up, but please don't let it be Eric-fucken-Walken!

 

 

“This is your new Instructor, Gwen, to help you temper your unique disposition.” Dean Luo pointed his finger at the villainous, smiling Walken.

Bastard! Bloody, heartless villain! Remorseless, treacherous, soulless, kinless ass-hat! Her mind continued to riot, heedless of the Dean's soft-spoken words. What an ass she was to stand and stare like a whipped bitch! She should be tearing him apart with her teeth!

“No way in hell,” Gwen refuted the Dean’s offer with absolute certainty. “He should be so lucky if a wayward you-know-what doesn’t strike him in the face.”

Magister Walken remained perfectly calm, as though their conversation was about groceries. That he looked good and had his shit together incensed Gwen even more. Though fallen from grace, Walken was the sort that groomed impeccably. His greying hair was slicked back, leaving a wayward strand hanging over his right eye. His face as well retained a certain youthfulness unbecoming of a treacherous scamp. To Gwen, the old schemer reminded her of an anthropomorphic Scar to Henry’s Mufasa.

The Dean's patience had a shorter fuse than she anticipated. Had the man been expecting, and indeed, dreading their present circumstance?

“Gwen, be reasonable.”

“This man… is responsible for the death of my Master!”

“Unofficial Master…” Walken coughed gently.

“You..!”

“Gwen!”

“Sir!”

“Not another word!”

Her blood boiled, as did her Almudj’s Essence.
Her mind grew white with wrath.
She couldn't think.

FUCK IT!

A spell came to her lips.

"Force Cage!"

The Dean was on her before she could utter a single spell.

Though the barriers were invisible, Gwen was sure she had been confined by unseen-partitions because the surrounding air grew suddenly stale. Gingerly, she moved a foot forward, sensing the extremities of her 'dunce' prison. Force Cage was a Monster-hunting spell. It blocked simple teleportation like Blink but allowed Mage-specific translocations such as Dimension Door.

"Cool your head!" Luo raised a finger, then another. "You're on two-strikes."

Fuck! She backed away from the wall. Stay calm, she told herself, repeating the words like a mantra. Evee. Evee. EVEE!

“I can see why the Dean is so worried,” Walken continued. “Henry never did train you properly, did he? Your Master was rearing you up in a green-house, taking his time, hoping you could fill the hole a certain Elizabeth Sobel had left.”

Gwen’s complexion grew as red as pippins. Were she not behind a Force Cage, she was sure a strengthened right-hook would have disconnected Walken’s jaw from his face right about now.

“Tier 6 Lightning… a rare talent. Not to mention Dragon Essence from a Thundering sub-species. How interesting.” Walken returned to the Dean. “You know, Luo, when I first saw her, she was barely scratching tier 3 and 4 in her spells, and her affinity for Lightning was 3 at best. I suppose in the end, despite everything, my suspicions regarding Sobel was right.”

By now, Gwen had held her breath so long it felt as though she would pass out. If her Instructors had paid closer attention, they would have seen her aristocratic veins throbbing with a life of their own.

“Eric, do you have to tease her so?” Luo furrowed his brows. “I read your report to the High Council. Your case for clemency would have been stillborn were it not for the data coming out of Wen’s testimony.”

“What about Magister Wen?” Gwen looked to Dean Luo, a vague but horrifying realisation engendering in her mind. "What testimony?"

Luo sighed.

“Gwen, if you want to know how this came about, I’ll need you to keep calm.”

“I am calm.”

The two men glanced at one another.

“Ellen, keep an eye on her. Gwen, don't you dare hurt yourself.”

The Air Sprite nodded, drifting a few meters, acting the part of bodyguard and ditsy secretary. Gwen had no doubt Ellen could vacuum-pack the Force Cube, knocking her out. Of course, she could D-D the fuck out of here, but that would also spell the end of her University career. It's a test, the rational part of her mind informed her, stay calm and think of Evees.

The frustration of her dilemma was exquisite.
This time, the distress in her rapidly swelling eyes was genuine.

“Shall I?” Walken offered.

“Sure, why not?” Luo found his way back to the alcohol cabinet. He needed a fucking drink. A worried educator and administrator spent personal favours, pulled weight, called in debts and burnt goodwill to get a Mao-blessed trainer for his protege, and she repaid him by spitting in his face. If the girl had been his daughter, he wouldn’t have minded giving her a good spanking or have her kneel over bamboo grates for a night to set her priorities straight. Was Walken responsible for the girl's Master's demise? Only by chance and association. For a child who knew so little of Walken and Kilroy's history, Gwen's hyperbolic reaction was for Luo, equal-parts sympathy and frustration.

“Gwen, you want a seat?” Ellen asked.

“I’ll stand.” Her green eyes followed Walken around the room.

Walken patrolled Luo's Force Cage, taunting her, mocking her intemperance, inspecting the reason why he’d once again found gainful employment.

“First, let me apologise for what happened in Sydney. Events were obfuscated, and politics had clouded my better judgement.”

Gwen swallowed her next words: they involved Dimensions, Doors, and AoEs- but the Dean was watching.

“As for our story, you should be aware of it. After the battle, I was arrested - by your 'unofficial' brother-in-craft. After that, I became the target of a non-too-friendly interrogation by the Magisters present: Lin, Uther, Ferris, and of course Magus Shultz. They put me under a great deal of Enchantment, you must understand, and to be perfectly honest with you, I am not sure what I told them either - only that by the end of a week-long inquest, I was transferred over to Hague, to the International Mageocracy Tribunal there, presided over by the three Factions.”

“Then, weeks later, I discovered that it was you who saved me from Stasis-”

“What are you…” Gwen protested.

“- your discovery of Sobel’s method of entry into the Tower.” Walken raised a finger. “If you recall?”

SHIT! NO! She recalled Gunther’s casual mention that ‘you may have saved Walken's life,’ when they had convened in her brother-in-craft's office in Sydney.

“Indeed, my emerald-eyed Lady Luck. I owe you one. Thank you for saving me from the disgrace of being nailed with a betrayal I did not commit.”

“…” A Displacer Beast caught Gwen's tongue. She felt sick, but what could she say? She should have just stayed quiet. Loose lips sink ships; apparently, they also save your worst enemies from being put into Stasis.

“Then, at my official trial months later, you ratified my theory once again, quite serendipitously, I must add, with your contributions to Fudan.”

“Wha?”

“That would be Wen’s submission of your Void Element’s Consumption properties to the Pudong Tower.” Dean Luo reminded Gwen. "We did tell you the papers were shared with both Pudong and the CCP."

“Oh, yes. Imagine my shock when 'Initial findings on the Void Mage Gwen Song' was able to vindicate my motivation for turning against Henry, having suspected that he was trying to create yet another Sobel. To draw an analogy, your Master was the originator of the first Flesh Golem, 'Lizzy' von Frankenstein, so I’d thought him eager to create a second. Thinking that perhaps, with you being so young, he could keep you under this thumb.”

The Magister waited to see how Gwen would react. When the girl remained stunned, immobile and silent, he smirked.

“Very good. Your improved temperament astounds me. At any rate, when details emerged of your ability to consume Mages to usurp their affinity, the Grey Faction managed to reduce a castigating exile into a more amicable parting from the upper echelons. You see, though I had acted in bad faith, my motives were not wrong. The world certainly did not desire another Elizabeth Sobel, and had we left Henry to his devices, who knew what old Deathless would have knocked up, hmm?”

“I-I… saved you?” Gwen’s hands clenched and unclenched. The mention of her Master’s old moniker, so ironically called Deathless Henry, was too much. Her lips moved as though possessed. “Because of me… you’re walking free?”

“Yes,” Walken bowed. “Thank you, Gwen, for the unbidden generosity.”

“Oh…” Gwen tried to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Touching a hand to her face, she felt an unusual patch of wetness. Was she bleeding? No, it wasn't another nosebleed - it was worse. “O… I… Oh God… shit… you bastard…”

She began to cry.
A grown woman, wailing away her frustrations.
A daughter with a father slain, showing weakness in front of her dire enemy and her heartless Dean.
Was this her punishment?
Was that it?
This sad and sadistic state of affairs, had Jiang Luo planned it?

If only her Master had been here, Henry with his wisdom would have made things alright. He would have taught her how to manage her affinities. He would have tempered her spells, blunted her jagged edges, polished her confetti-collection of spells she’d picked up by chance, charity and choice. Henry, a father she never had, a Master she’d thought she’d share the better part of her life with: a mentor, a friend, a confident - a captain.

Gone! Thanks to this man.
And somehow, she saved his ass.
Not only that, she was forbidden from kicking his ass.
Irony, frustration, bewilderment, self-loathing, grief and melancholy, the weight of her confused emotions broke over her mental-levee.

Across the room, her two educators regarded one another. Luo exhaled. Tears were good. Tears were proof of the girl's humanity, of her malleability, of the fact that she wasn't yet a sociopathic drake.

Then came the sound of the girl's choking sobs, and the men's scalps grew numb. Here was a girl, seventeen or so, bullied by two old men into a river of tears. She moaned, hacked, snuffled and choked.

Luo dispelled his Cage.

“Ellen, can you..?”

Ellen shook her head. She had adored the girl once, but her familiar Caliban was a Spirit-eater. As far as Ellen was concerned, the girl was a usurper, and the Air Sprite had no desire to be any closer to the girl.

With a solemn awkwardness, the two men waited while Gwen wailed and dribbled, leaking liquid emotion over the Dean’s plush, pale-pink Persian carpet.

As for Gwen, the expulsion had been cathartic.
After the unbidden purge of pent up emotions, her mind returned to its usual self; cold as ice and sharp as a tack.

“You owe me,” she stated rather rudely the moment her face regained a semblance of control. Now that her fever had passed, she had to reassess the situation logically, rationally, advantageously.

“As I said.” Walken nodded. “I owe you my freedom.”

“So what can you teach me?” Gwen forced the words between her lips. “How can I control... this?”

“Meditation, attunement, practice, knowledge,” Walken stated each word, pronouncing every syllable. “And of course, the improvement of your mind and your Familiar.”

“I can do that myself,” Gwen snarled.

“You can't.” Walken grinned. “You'll only dig yourself deeper.”

“He’s right,” the Dean interjected. “Ordinarily, such esoteric knowledge is carried on between Master and Apprentice, passed down between generations. A mercenary Instructor at the tier you require does not exist.”

“How do my peers deal with their affinity problems?” Gwen pointed out the Dean's logical fallacy.

The Dean scoffed.

“Gwen.” Luo regarded his protègè critically. “You’re naturally affinity 6, and you’re running a juvenile draconic-Spirit that may very well gift you with another 2 to 3 magnitudes once it matures. How many Mage do you think will ever possess that level of affinity?”

“Which is why Luo found me.” Walken made sure there was enough space in the Dean’s office before raising a hand toward the sky. “Couatl!”

A flash of brilliant Conjuration later, a Winged Serpent fully three-meters tall filled the chamber from the ceiling to the carpet. Its wings were a splay of rainbow-hues, multi-coloured and resplendent. A draconic head opened its maw to reveal a row of backwards-facing teeth, from an equestrian skull, its sky-blue pupils regarded Gwen.

“A Winged Serpent!” Gwen gasped, sensing a strange kinship with the creature. “A dragon?”

“A Lightning-type pseudo-dragon, yes.” Walken studied her response carefully. “Aella the Couatl. My partner and companion. Not too dissimilar from your Ariel.”

The serpent lowered itself until it could coil around Gwen’s waist. It sniffed her, tasting her skin with its forked tongue.

“Aella elemental-shifts Air to Lightning,” the Magister explained. “During the showdown in Sydney, it was Sobel's first victim during our battle. I hadn’t known then how Lightning countered her Void. As a result of my lack of knowledge, our battle was over before it even began.”

Gwen touched a finger to the rainbow-hued feathers. For some reason, the anger she felt for Walken subsided. Did the Familiar possess a calming-aura? No, it was something else, something akin to a strange endearment. Its feathers reminded her of Almudj’s rainbow-hued scales.

She pushed Aella's inquisitive snout from her face.

“Your Familiar won’t make this any easier.” Gwen lied. She did feel better. Cute pets were most definitely her soft spot.

“Regardless, I am engaged by Dean Luo for the duration of the IIUC,” Walken announced. “I was the Adjudicator for the Oceania region between 1997 and 1999 and I will be looking after your team whether you like it or not. If you wish to fight me every step of the way, that is also acceptable to me.”

“…”

Gwen glared at the man impotently. How long would it take for her to gain enough competence to stuff him down Caliban’s maw? For a normal Mage, the answer was likely never. She could catch up, but she could never surpass a Magister four decades ahead of her. But for herself, wasn’t rapid empowerment just a matter of convenience and ethics? Why she could visit Tianlanqiao tomorrow with Wen!

"..."

Shivering, she snuffed the thought before it could germinate.

“Gwen, I offer an oliver branch to you." Walken's voice was deep and smooth, resembling a talk-back radio-host. "I believe we got off on the wrong foot, as so to speak.”

What appeared to be an Ioun Stone drifted through the air.
Gwen recognised the mana signature instantly.

“This is… from my Master!”

“From Henry to me, of course, from a very long time ago. May it help you find some solace.”

Gwen regarded Walken suspiciously but took the Ioun Stone anyway. From the looks of it, it was an old 'recorder', from a time before Divination Towers grew prevalent, a type of Ioun Stone that imparted essential messages, spells, and documents.

“A memento, worthless to me,” Walken added, his thin lips pressing to form a red line before continuing. “I have your Master’s rarer collection, after all. All twelve of them.”

Walken's humblebrag struck her like a bolt from the blue.

Her Master’s Ioun Stones!

Her almond eyes widened until they were the size of an Emerald Rhomboid, a rare variant of Ioun Stones capable of neutralising poison and other chemicals effects on the body.

She had never wanted to possess something so badly in her life.

“BUT - I am afraid our audience is at an end,” Walken suddenly broke off their mutual gaze. “The Dean and I desire a private audience.”

"Wait... hey! Stop that!"

Aella the Couatl pushed against her with its snout until she exited the office, at which point Ellen boomed shut the double doors, leaving her with an arm full of feathered snake.

“Show!” Aella nudged her. “Show! Show!”

Walken's Familiar can talk?! Gwen brushed a feather from her hair. A fucking talking winged snake.

‘Show?’

It wanted to see Ariel, Gwen realised. The Couatl cared not about the gripe between herself and its Master, nor the politics involved between the Factions. It wanted what it wanted, as honest as any spirit Familiar could be.

“Fine,” Gwen agreed, her hand gripping the Ioun Stone. There was no point taking out her feelings on someone else’s good-natured ophidian-retriever. "I'll show you."

 

 

“So, what do you think?”

“There's a lot of work to be done.”

“But also potential." The Dean’s admitted his protègè was a handful.

“If you say so.”

“Well, can you do something about her predicament?”

“Isn’t that why I am here?”

“Now that you’ve seen her I mean.”

Taking a minute to mull over his answer, Walken walked over to the cabinet and poured himself a glass of bourbon.

“Oh-ho, how’d you get the American stuff.”

“The usual channels - well?”

“I am afraid it's not so simple.”

“That’s a no, then?”

“Yes, and no,” Walken answered cryptically. “The girl has problems beyond her pride. She was unhealthily attached to Kilroy, you understand. The ol'Deathless died both ironically and very suddenly, I am afraid. Left her an orphan; all that power, all that potential, untempered, raw, undirected.”

“And you’re a part of the reason why.”

“Yes.” Walken took a sip. “We're strangely entangled, don't you think?”

“I doubt she'd think so." Luo chuckled. "That girl's out for blood.”

“Absolutely.” Walken nodded. “Amongst other things, it's strange how if it weren’t for that girl, things would be very different right now. I’d be dead, for one. Or in Stasis.”

“So?”

“As I am responsible, I’ll sub Kilroy in his stead.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I'll be... a facsimile if you will. Something to cling on.”

“And how do you propose to resolve her affinity problems? You've got six months.”

“Trial and error,” Walken explained. “I’ll teach her everything I kno- OH! GOD DAMN, WHAT THE DEVIL?!”

“Walken!” Luo closed in. “Are you alright?”

“The girl just fed my Familiar her Dragon-essence!” Walken spat. He had splashed the bourbon all over his vest. “Is she daft?! Why is she giving out Essence treats? Does she think she's Henry's Dryad?”

Luo laughed.

“She did that with Ellen as well. Careful she doesn't steal your Spirit from under you! She's a charmer, that one. A born negotiator.”

“All the more perfect for an induction into the Grey Faction.” Walken regained his sensibilities once he adjusted his mana wavelength to negate the new stimulus. “Judging from the actions she's taken to establish herself, she's far better suited to our Credo than that of the Middle Path.”

 

 

Gwen returned home late, shared a takeout dinner with Petra, then retired to her bed.

From her Storage Ring, she cupped the Ioun Stone with her Master’s mana-signature between her hands.

“!”

She attempted to activate its glyph. These were simple devices, and Walken had left it untethered and unlocked.

Slowly, the egg-sized quartz rose into the air.

A Message began to play.

First, the air around the polished surface shimmered, then an image formed from thin air, pitting Gwen face to face with Henry Kilroy.

“Eric,” the recording started.

Gwen had to cup her mouth to stop herself from screaming. She gazed into the face of her Master, its ghostly form flickering, while the stone delivered its payload.

“Old friend, I am sending you this private Message to apologise for the actions taken by my protégé, Alesia de Botton. She's both young and talented, making her prone to the usual trappings of Fire Mages. As you know, it takes years to temper that arrogance and presumptuousness of theirs. I know you’re still recovering from your injuries, so I’ve sent over some of Sufina’s Mead along with the Ioun Stones I promised, I hope you’ll take care of them better than I did, not trading them away when one of your students berserk, haha...”

“... On a serious note, allow me to thank you for holding back against Alesia. She’s got a lot of room to grow, and I know you could have ended her life if you wished. That you held back in deference to me, enduring her insults out of respect for our working relationship, makes me glad. As for what Alesia had uncovered, I hope that it was a misunderstanding and that in the audit to follow, we can account for the source of those ‘goods’ the Grey Market is using to acquire Creature Cores...”

“Old friend, I know we’ve grown apart since you joined the Grey Faction, but I want you to know that I’ve never forgotten those days we served together during the Coral Sea War. You were as good a Lieutenant one could have asked for during those desperate times. I don’t begrudge your social climbing, nor do I fault you for suspecting Elizabeth. I think, in the end, we would have gone the Path we did anyway, with or without your interference. Lastly, let me ask after your wife, Audrey, and your girls Beatrix and Angie. I hope they are doing well. If you need some Golden Mead or a Vitae-fruit for Angie, don’t hesitate to ask. Having mana-asthma at her age is no easy feat, especially for a child...”

“Thanks, Eric. I expect to hear from you soon. Hopefully, your wounds won’t leave a scar. Your friend. Henry Kilroy.”

After the last syllable dissolving into air, Gwen buried her face in her pillow.
She activated the stone again, allowing the message to repeat.

“Eric… your know how Fire Mages are…"
"Going after Elizabeth…"
"Your friend...”

After the third playthrough, she gave up trying to stifle the moisture escaping her eyes and resigned herself to a tear-soaked pillow as she drifted off to sleep, dreaming of yesteryears when life seemed so much simpler.

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Chapter Ref :: Ted Hughes - Red

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Wutosama

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

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