Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 239 - Flight of the Bumble Bee

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Gwen could hardly believe the first round of the Selection had come and gone like a sunshower. The announcement for the twenty-two candidates was posted by Saturday on the bulletin board just outside Guanghua Towers. Atop the list, perhaps at the Dean’s behest, was her name, below which Richard and Lulan’s names were buried.

While perusing the list, she also located the others.

Kitty Liang was among those chosen, as expected.
Lu Fung, Dai’s cousin, was also among that number.
Her senior, Tei Bai, was there as well, together with a few other well-known names from the Duelling Club.

As for the rest, she couldn’t put faces to the too-similar syllables. Just the last name Li appeared no less than four times on the list.

“Oh, thank the Chairman.” Lulan saluted in the general direction of the Crystal Tomb. “I see Senior Huang is up there as well, haha.”

“Good work, Lulu.” Gwen hugged her companion from behind. Lacking Mayuree’s presence, she was running out of things to snuggle. For all of Ariel’s wonders, human contact was nourishment for the soul. When the Lulan in her arms failed to respond; she followed the girl's eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Jinwei Li…” Richard followed Lulan's gaze as well. “Is that someone you know?”

“I think so.” Lulan exhaled, shivering a little. “I think that’s one of my seniors from the Clan.”

“So what?” She squeezed her cheeks. “Once we get some new magic happening, you’ll kick his ass.”

“I’ll work harder!” Lulan replied earnestly.

“If you’re anxious, we'll call in some outside help,” Gwen plagiarised Walken’s advice. “Let’s put in a CC request for a high-impact solid-projectile spell. Failing that, we can put in a request to learn that spell you told me. Currency makes the world go round, after all."

"Crystals can convince even ghosts to mill the rice." Richard borrowed an old Confucian observation.

“The Heart-piercing Sword.” Lulan nodded. “It’s a tier 6 spell that’s only taught to the inner-sect students.”

“I still can’t believe that’s the extent of your Sect’s spell-tiers.” Gwen grimaced. When Richard asked Kusu to produce a Spell-list, they were both surprised to find that the Huashan Sect had never converted the full extent of their ‘Sword-Path’ invocations to the Imperial Metric System.

“We’re an ancient Sect, but we’re poor,” Lulan lamented. “Huashan isn’t rich in resources or Magical Beasts, and all of our practitioners utilise the Iron-Heart Technique, so outsiders can’t use our spells.”

A Sect that has fallen behind in the economy of Spellcraft, Gwen mused privately. Their predicament was akin to a country still stuck bartering wood while the rest of the world had moved onto Petrol-bucks.

“Let’s get to it then.” She took Lulan by the arm. “I can pony up the CCs if you’re short. The earlier we get help, the sooner you'll be smashing faces.”

“I’ll be alright.” Lulan tore her eyes away from her cousin's name. “I haven’t spent a single CC in two years…”

"Ooo! There it goes!"

The sound of an excited squeal rang across the generous space of the Instructor-only training hall.

"The form is sustaining nicely." Walken tracked the floating ring as it sliced through the air soundlessly.

Ah~, the joy of creation, Gwen patted herself on the back.
Arguably, the dopamine hit from reaching a Spellcraft milestone was akin to succeeding in a business project, only-

"I say, it's coming back toward us," Walken remarked drily, clearing his throat.

Considering the limited range of the training hall, Gwen had designated the spell to curve as to avoid hitting the walls. Unfortunately, the disk of destruction appeared to be on a parabolic path back to its designer.

"Shit!" Gwen stood in front of Walken. "Caliban!"

"Shaa!"

Caliban leapt into the air as though the subject of a Crufts cosmic horror commercial and snapped at the dark band.

A section of the Chakram disappeared into the creature's maw, the rest of her disk, having lost its angular momentum, hurtled toward Gwen and her Instructor with murderous glee.

"Shield!"

A frontal Lightning Shield in a semi-sphere was just enough to catch the wildly spinning, half-eaten disk.

Holy shit! Gwen felt her back soak with cold sweat. She was sure she had seen something similar in the past where some self-tracking projectile ended up maiming its owner. The sense of déjà vu just now was intense!

"Perhaps a termination invocation should be built in," Walken announced drily. "We wouldn't want any surprises like that in the field."

Much like Lulan’s, Gwen’s Signature Spell had hit a snag.

Void Matter wasn’t like Lightning.
Despite the inexplicable rationale behind conjuring thundering plasma, Gwen's knowledge of electricity made her spells more or less a matter of common sense. For instance, in the case of her first-ever Lightning spell, Blast Bolt, all she had to do was designate two points, the resultant lightning then flowed between the two spatial tears into the Material world, saturating an area with Lichtenberg figures.

But for Void, she could only make a face and keep trying.
In a physical sense, Void-matter was akin to magnetised Ferrofluid in its viscosity. When left alone and kept sizzling on a plane of pure mana, Void-matter formed hydrophobic droplets of all-consuming anti-matter, hungrily skittering about, trying to find the slightest incline to escape.

When an invocation spell-shaped the fluid, it took on the elicited form. Lightning Grasp, for example, evoked a dangerous splutter of crackling dark lightning, while a dark gash of consuming energy formed the basis of Void Bolt. As for the thrice-damned Cloud Kill, her Void-matter manifested a fine-mist particle field. The latter, Gwen noted, was especially dangerous, corroding anything and everything, rapidly consuming her vitality on useless things like the air, soil, plants, and so on. Only in hyper-dense concentrations of biomass should she even consider activating the spell, not that she would wish such a grotesque agony upon anyone.

As for the optimal employment of the Void element, Sobel had the right idea: Void was an element almost tailormade for Conjured Creatures.

Nonetheless, she needed a Void-specific attack spell and Gwen was confident a 'Chakram' should work.

Lucy Lawless’ flawless multi-kills aside, there were perfect historical examples of Chakrams been used as early as the Delhi Sultanate. If her memory of the BBC Documentary served, records stated that these rings ‘cut through all’ and had a range of sixty to a hundred meters.

As for her current progress, functionality was prevented by the fact that when she ceased supplying mana to the spell, the ‘ring’ fell into a liquid state. At a range of just over twenty-meters, she would splash her target rather than cut it.

That's why to prevent structural collapse, she increased the rotational momentum and added a persistent ‘cache’ of mana to be used while the projectile remained in flight.

“So it’s a Frisbee,” she told herself. Or more accurately, an Aerobie. She recalled playing with one when she was a kid. On the packaging of Percy’s one time Boxing Day toy, it had boasted of holding the Guinness World Record for the longest throw of an object without velocity-aiding features, measuring at 400 or so meters. Unfortunately, she did not read the instruction’s small print - 'Aerobie does not float’.

Two throws at the beach and that was the end of Helena’s $19.99. Suffice it to say, Percy was heartbroken, and her mother had grown insufferable.

Maybe that's why the thing came back to her?

“You’ll have to keep experimenting with the incantation order.” Walken arranged and re-arranged her spell-stack into new variations while she checked her notes. “Give that a go.”

“I don't get why it doesn't do as its told,” Gwen grumbled. “Check this out, Lightning Chakram!”

A ring of blue-white plasma launched into the distance made a loop around her target, then fizzled as it returned to her.

“Cake-walk.”

“With your tier 6 Affinity and Ariel helping you spell-shape, why wouldn't it work?”

Gwen petted her pseudo-Kirin.

Ariel purred, its whole body vibrating.

“You could have finished by now,” Walken remarked sardonically. “If you were to 'upgrade' Caliban.”

“Ah, but you forget.” Gwen gave her Instructor the stink eye. “I am a masochist.”

“Of course, my apologies.” Her Instructor amused himself at her expense. “Let me know how those combinations go.”

“Will do.” Gwen packed her indexes, manuals, primers, notebooks, data slates, assorted tea and biscuits. “See you tomorrow, Eric.”

“Hey Marong, does Mia have an ER Message Device in Yangon?”

Feeling strangely unsettled one morning, Gwen decided to shoot the Smoke Mage a Message before he returned to the old country.

“You’re joking, right?” The Message came back during breakfast. “All Divination Messages are routed through a Tower. We don’t have a Tower in Yangon - or Myăma for that matter. The closest Tower is in the Chengdu Frontier in China, over two thousand kilometres away.”

Gwen slapped her forehead.

“In that case, is there any way to contact her?”

“Send me a Message, I’ll relay it over, and when she sends you a Message, I’ll route it through Chengdu when I or someone from the trade consortium is there. We do have a brisk jade and gemstone trade with China, so expect a week’s turn-around.”

"Okay, will do, thanks Marong."

After Magus Young's Evocation lecture, she did precisely that.

“Mia, it’s me, Gwen. I hope you’re doing well in Yangon. How’s the old country, your home sweet home? Too bad you can’t send me pictures of the place, I’d love to meet your extended family one day. Before you ask, yes, Marong and I spoke about it, and I don't mind at all. In other news, I’ve been selected for the IIUC! It was a breeze. Richard and Lulu have been chosen as well. I am sure you know already that Kitty’s on the list as well, though she’s been avoiding me. Ariel and Cali are doing well, as is everyone else. If you run into trouble or if people bother you, let me know! Maybe I can do something, ask for a few favours, that sort of thing. Marong says you’ll be back in May. Don't forget the 25th! It'll be our second one! Can’t wait to see you again - Gwen.”

“Got it. It’s cute,” Marong's Message fired back. “I’ll leave in two days. Hopefully, she'll make it to your party.”

“Make sure she does!” Gwen warned the brother. "Or I am holding you responsible!"

Marong failed to reply, but she was confident Mia wouldn’t miss the birthday party, not when Dai wanted to make the spectacle equivalent to the first inauguration of the Gwen administration.

After a pleasant weekend spent with family, a new week began. Now deep into the academic term, practicals took precedence over theory.

Conjuration’s twin-modules: 'Advanced Translocation of Objects and Localised Effects' and 'Conjuration of Elemental Effects, Duration and Interactions' came to an end, with the remaining three weeks dedicated to tutorial workshops. With her Affinity and her VMI, Birch's benchmarks were passed without incident.

Conversely, Evocation required several degrees of additional effort. As the weaker of Gwen's two Schools of Magic, her finesses was, as Magus Young put it: 40% Ariel and only 60% herself.

“You’re too generalised,” Young observed critically, puckering her lips in thought. “I know you’re capable, Gwen, but you’re hardly going to match a Master Evoker at this rate. The weakness will show in the future when higher-tier magic becomes available to you. Your lack of specialisation will impact the efficacy of your support mandalas, especially when drawing multi-layer strategic-class invocations.”

Gwen felt a stab to her pride.

The Magister was right. Even with Walken chalking up incantation combinations and helping her with calculations, her limited knowledge hamstrung her progress.

“If you’re keen to make Signature Spells, take Deconstruction of Spell Theory for your second semester, then Critical Appraisal of Spell-Structure when you return from the IIUC next year,” Young recommended wholeheartedly. “For a future Tower Master, the ability to deconstruct and re-construct magic is expected. DST3040 re-hashes existing theory and breaks down the processes involved in the evolution of the Imperial Metric System. As for CAS4010, it’s taught by Magister Julian Fennen on loan from the Imperial College of London. He’s only in Fudan until his research concludes, so I’d hurry.”

Listening attentively, she took the headful of advice with humility, realising just how far she had to go. Thankfully, Magus Young’s critiques aside, she had achieved nothing but sterling results in her practicals.

Meanwhile, her bestiary course with Instructor Chen had been usurped by Walken. With Aella the winged serpent leading the way, Ariel’s ability as a Kirin-shaped all-weather, carrier-capable, multirole combatant transitioned from dog-paddling to dogfighting.

A little disconcertingly, perhaps because of their mutual Draconic-nature, or maybe because they both hailed from Australia, Ariel had grown attached to the rainbow-hued Couatl.

“Play-sparring is the best training.” Walken’s philosophy was unexpectedly lax. “To mature a Familiar like yours and mine, we need to constantly give them new experiences, fresh encounters, opportunities for them to think cognitively and develop their Ego.”

“Caliban can recognise NoMs now, I think,” Gwen informed her trainer. “It knows the meat-bun lady at Five-Mile Dumplings and the guy who sells Teatime Bubble Tea. Normally, it only recognises Mages.”

“It’s the mana signature,” Walken explained patiently. “Lacking eyes, I suspect your little monster has a sense-ability akin to the Death Worm, who can identify prey through the tremor of their footfalls. Do you feel Ariel has grown?”

“Eeee! Eee!” Ariel affirmed Walken's suggestion.

“Ariel, say Mama!”

“Eee! EE?!”

"Child! Child!" Aella was merciless in its superiority.

Ariel sulked.

“It could do with more Draconic-cores, I’d imagine." Walken studied the Kirin as it struggled to enunciate the simple words. "It took Aella about two decades to be able to form thoughts complex enough to communicate. Linguistics, unlike Empathic Link, is a hugely complex trait. It requires abstract reasoning found only in sapient creatures. With your Consume ability and that Conjure Familiar Henry constructed for you, I’d dare say…”

“Come on, Eric,” Gwen intervened. “Broken Vid-caster much?”

"I try." Walken shrugged.

“Anyway.” Gwen turned back to her creatures. “Cali seems to do okay with the dogs though, despite its simple-mindedness.”

“The pack-instinct comes from Morden’s Hounds,” Walken flatly denied any possibility of Caliban’s imminent ascension. “Caliban is top-dog, that’s all. Were you to lack a creature such as Caliban; the Bloodhound would fill in as the Alpha. Morden was a master since before the Victorians.”

“Too bad he’s long gone.”

“You’d think.” Walken smiled. “He has descendants still living in Scotland. They have their home at Inverness - an infamous bunch, in fact, notable for their dislike of the Britannic Mageocracy.”

“Truly? That's amazing.” Gwen felt seriously impressed by the longevity of Morden’s bloodline.

“I wonder what they think about a teenage girl-Mage selling improved variations of Morden’s spells.” Walken chuckled. “The House of Morden isn’t what it used to be, but in Scotland, their word carries weight.”

“Gunther took care of it.” Gwen grinned back at her Instructor, wondering if he was trying to frighten her. “I am just an incidental benefactor of my Master’s Estate.”

After her retort, Walken chose the wisdom of silence.

As for her lesser courses, Translocation and Utility Divination both progressed swimmingly. Thanks to peripheral improvements and some tricks of the trade, Gwen could now Dimension Door up to a maximum range of three hundred odd meters, pending her familiarity with the terrain. In total, she could DD up to six times in quick succession before she expelled her lunch. Additionally, if she were to apportion her DDs into twin-sets with three-second intervals for recuperation, she could manage ten consecutive casts.

If the time came again for a dine-and-dash like that time with uncle Jun, she was confident in her escape.

“That’s impressive.” Birch had applauded. “Even at the higher end of tier 7, I can manage five kilometres on a good day. Your accuracy, however, will improve with experience, or in your case, with the growth of your Divination. If you ever train up Ariel's scouting capabilities, you could increase your range yet again.”

Speaking of Divination, her practice with Arcane Sight, a spell that allowed her to detect invisible creatures and see through low-tier Illusions, was going well. As for her primary goal, the much-anticipated Link Sight, a few months of dedicated labour remained.

Finally, for her Gen-Ed subjects, her tutorials had gone relatively well. Feedback from Professor Ma was that her peers enjoyed her teaching style as well as her unique workshop questions. If all goes well and she successfully aided Ma in grading the two-hundred-odd papers by the end of Semester break, she would receive two perfect High-Distinctions.

What remained then was Spell-Shaping and Magister Michio Lee’s far too optimistic anticipation that a girl without a Higher Magical Aptitude Certificate was going to impress him with an original Void spell.

“Sorry, Sir- KITTY!” Gwen apologised to Wing Commander Dienhart before intercepting Mayuree’s bodyguard mid-air.

“Hey!” Gwen levelled off against the girl while they sped through the illusory obstacle course. “Congrats on passing the interview.”

“Don’t talk to me.” Kitty’s rejection came fast and hard, her voice sharp and full of icicles. The Dual-Element Mage suddenly banked, performed a corkscrew before threading through a loop.

Gritting her teeth, Gwen supplied more mana to the body-reinforcement spell taught by their Instructor to reduce the effect of sudden acceleration and deceleration. Focusing her mind, she followed Kitty’s manoeuvre, barely making it through the target ring.

“What’s wrong?” Gwen was faster on the straights because she could afford to burn her reserves. “You weren’t like this when Mia was around.”

“Will you shove off already?!” Kitty snapped, suddenly accelerating upward toward the next target.

Gwen overshot her trajectory and had to loop around to point herself in the right direction.

When flying, movements towards the zenith consumed the most mana, while dives were the most economical. Interestingly, it was breaking and banking that exerted the most significant burden on one’s mana pool, not to mention one's physical body.

“Come on, don’t be like that!” She persisted, leaving behind a dense trail of inefficiently spent Lightning mana.

On the sideline, Wing Commander Dienhart was enjoying the show. Kitty was a natural dogfighter. The girl’s petite frame in addition to her Ice and Air element gave her the nimbleness of a pixie. Gwen, on the other hand, reminded Dienhart of a wyvern, a powerhouse flyer that executed every manoeuvre, accomplished every turn with pure athleticism. Still, considering the girl could only fly in linear trajectories when she arrived, he was satisfied as a teacher.

But after twenty laps of the sparrow versus wyvern aerial tag, even the Wing Commander grew annoyed.

Kitty landed, pale and puffing from the excessive expenditure.

Gwen performed a summersault overhead when she failed to check in time, landing far enough that she had to walk the rest of the way.

“Have you heard from Mayuree?” Gwen inquired earnestly, not the least puffed out.

“Sure.” Kitty looked up, her pale eyes the colour of blue-tinged glacier. As the mana drained from her body, however, her irises took on a pecan hue. “Mia's doing well.”

“That's good to hear. How’re things back in the old country?”

“Cosy.”

"No Tyrant troubles?"

"None at all," Kitty replied, her face hidden by her shoulder-length hair.

“When do you think she’s coming back? I’ve got a party on the 25th of May; you’re invited as well. I hope Marong gave Mia the Message."

In the next moment, Kitty’s expression grew catty and hostile.

“I need to train.” The girl turned from Gwen. “We’re not friends, Miss Song. Please don’t talk to me unless it's life or death.”

Before Gwen could retort, the girl ran off, aided by body-enhancement magic.

A none too pleased Wing Commander Dienhart reached her side, sympathetic but otherwise offended.

“I shouldn’t butt in,” the veteran growled. “But don’t bring that kind of drama to my lessons. In the field, I’d have both of you disciplined. Mark my words, you'll be up to your knees in latrine duty.”

“Sorry, Commander,” Gwen apologised. “I don’t know what’s happening either.”

“Well, whatever it is, you better at least reach Kitty’s lowest lap record.”

“Yessir!” Gwen snapped to attention. In the next second, feeling frustrated and irritable, she took off in a blast of silvery Lightning, threading through the gaps in the obstacle course with the bumbling grace of a honeyed-up bumblebee.

 

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Wutosama

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

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