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“Of course, Patriarch. I’d love to attend.” Gwen tore herself from her note laden table. Her workspace was starting to resemble Petra's in more ways than one.

Herself, Dai and Ken had been invited to attend the Tonglv Canal's first major milestone.

Just the thought of it quickened her blood.

A single transmuted wall, a hundred meters deep and a quarter-kilometre wide, stood between the waterway and the South China Sea.

After the ribbon-cutting, a steady stream of water would gush into the channel, connecting it to the Yangtze River, after which a torrent of HDMs would swell with the tide, overflowing Nantong's coffers.

Grains, vegetables, stone, steel, lumber, and livestock from the Su-Hang tableland would enjoy an unimpeded passage to the South China Sea, bypassing the inundated Port of Shanghai, finally relieving Shanghai's inundated waterways.

She quickly fired Richard and the others a Message, only to recall that they were already on the way to Nantong. As principle contributors to the eradication of Demi-human infestations in the region, Richard’s party had a place of honour among the adventurers and mercenaries, away from the big-wigs. Instead, her replacement companions would be Ruì, Effi and Terence, all of whom had been invited by Dai.

Thus attired in the porcelain blue attire her grandmother had gifted her, she stepped into the limousine with Dai and the others, cautioning her NoM companions about the displacement sickness that came with long-distance Teleportation.

“Senior Bai, Gwen's on the Vid-cast!”

Bai halted his sparring match when one of the Fudan DC members came running into the gymnasium, waving his arms like a madman.

“Our Flower of Fudan is on CCVC-1!” he hollered. "Someone change the Divi-stream!"

CCVC-1 was the official channel for state broadcasts. It ran a 24-hour news service, looping the latest incursions, attacks, victories and conquests made by the CCP.

“I am turning it up!” Someone else fired off a glyph at the overhanging Vid-caster.

In the next moment, all eyes gathered on the projection, searching for the familiar silhouette of their leggy mascot.

(Music Plays)

(The CCVC-1 LOGO zooms out to reveal a reporter standing atop the canal, below which hundreds of thousands of officials and local elites thronged shoulder to shoulder.)

Zhuli Wei
… therefore, the Tonglv Committee has chosen today, the 22nd of April, as the auspicious day to ‘break earth’ and inaugurate the canal. Though initially a troubled project attracting criticism from the Central Bureau for its wastefulness, recent administrative changes have brought new life to the Tonglv Project, now designated one of the most successful government infrastructural projects in a decade, receiving not just attention from the District’s Office, but from Central as well - Lu Joan reports.

(The picture cuts to another reporter wearing a formal cocktail dress.)

Joan Lu
Thank you, Zhuli, as you can see behind me, the Big Three responsible for the completion of the Canal’s main transit artery are now making their way onto the stage for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Leading them is Secretary Shen Fung of the Nantong Fung Clan, a loyal and local member of the Party who has laboured since two decades ago to integrate the Nantong Frontier into Greater Shanghai Metropolitan Region.

(The reporter approaches Shen Fung)

Good afternoon, Secretary Fung, how do you feel about your achievement?

Shen Fung
To say that I feel proud would be an understatement. This project is my child. To ensure its success, I have scoured every resource from Nantong. I want to say I deserve the credit, but that is not true. The real honour goes to the people and the Party! Personally, I would like to thank our decision makers from Central for supporting my vision and the dreams of Nantong's workers. Likewise, I am grateful to our craftsmen, both NoMs and Mages, who have laboured day and night for the better part of six years to ensure that today, our earth-breaking ceremony is not a dream, but a reality. The prosperity of Tonglv is the prosperity of the people!

Joan Lu
Well said, Secretary Fung.

(Shen Fung leaves to join a group of local power brokers - but not before he directs Joan's attention to a group of young people, at the head of which is his son, Dai Fung.)

Next, we have a leader who is familiar to many of us - the recently promoted Chairman Tu Guangshao of the Shanghai Economic Exchange. Chairman Tu of the Greater Regional Economics Committee has been instrumental in reforming the financial operations of the Tonglv project.

Chairman, how do you feel about this day?”

Guangshao Tu
Joan, good to see you again.

(Tu bows toward the audience)

To our viewers at home, Tonglv is a sea-change, not only for Nantong but for China itself. Though I cannot reveal too much, this project and its administrative practices will go down in history as the beginning of China’s economic rebirth. Soon, we will return to being the 'middle-nation' of the human world. In the decades to come, all of us, and all of you, whether in the Districts, in Xian, Beijing or Shanghai or the Frontiers, will feel the positive impact of our nation's economic growth. I am truly happy to have served Mao's teachings and the People's Republic!

Joan Lu
Thank you for your service. Chairman Tu.

Guangshao Tu
Chen Quin! Stop dawdling! Get over here!

Joan Lu
Next, we have Magister Chen Quin, formerly of Jianqiao University. Within the triumvirate, Magister Chen represents the Overseer Committee. Thanks to his efforts, corruption and nepotism have had nowhere to hide. Magister, what do you foresee for the future of Tonglv Canal?

Quin Chen
A good question. Tonglv will, in the next five years, overtake Shanghai's Port Authority in the volume of goods exported from the Su-Hang region. Like comrade Tu ha stated, our international port shall be the most progressive ventures the Party has ever embarked. For the people of Nantong, this region will become a new industrial centre for processing, packing and shipping. Naturally, this means that we - the Overseer Committee from Central, will be keeping a close eye on matters!

Joan Lu
Excellent, Magister Chen. Can you introduce us to some of your proteges?

(The Lumen-Recorder dutifully pans toward the group of young men and women the Big Three had been conversing with.)

Quin Chen
Of course, young people are the future of our nation. James! Bring Dai, Ken and Gwen over.

(One of the men, an older gentleman, hesitates. Though placed on the spot, he follows through with Chen’s demands.)

Joan Lu
You’re Professor James Ma from Fudan University!

James Ma
I am pleased and honoured to be here.

Joan Lu
Has the famous rivalry between Fudan and Jianqiao ceased? Are you and Magister Chen working together? What are your thoughts on the Canal?

James Ma
… No, and yes. I am afraid the Canal's importance supersedes any academic rivalry. This project is a boon for both Mages and NoMs. The number of jobs it will bring will completely transform this region; it would not be unrealistic to say that millions of people, our non-magical workers especially, will now be employed in one capacity or another-

(Ma continues to speak about the boons of the Canal for the local NoM population. Joan can barely get a word in.)

Quin Chen
Perhaps it's best to hear it straight from the source. Young Dai, the son of Secretary Fung, has been instrumental in Tonglv’s progress. He has brought in innumerable investors with that silvery tongue of his.

(The Lumen-recorder quickly moves toward the group of young people. A few of them look entirely at ease, while a few others appear mortified. The shot pauses on Dai, then subtly zoomed out as to capture a breathtakingly beautiful young woman beside the Fung heir.)

Joan Lu
Mister Fung, can you tell us more about your involvement in all of this.

(Dai glances at the girl beside him, then begins to speak. Curiously, the beauty remains stoic.)

Dai Fung
Chairman Tu and Magister Chen are too kind. To say that I am instrumental in any of this would be a joke. If anything, we should thank the people, the Secretaries who have worked tirelessly to make this possible, not to mention the Party itself. Just being here fills me with a feeling of ardour and worship for the New China my generation will inherit. As for the details of the operation, Miss Song here is the one you should be interviewing.

(Finally receiving a cue, the Mage operating the Lumen-Recorder zooms into the girl’s face. The girl’s eyes widen slightly, then she swallows. Her lips part, but no words emerge. Though the shot is flawlessly aesthetic, she appears speechless.)

Joan Lu
Miss Song?

Dai Fung
Gwen Song.

Joan Lu
Miss Gwen Song, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I am Joan Lu, Central-Chinese Vid-Cast One.

Gwen Song

Dai Fung
Please don't mind her, Gwen is feeling shy because of the Lumen-recorders. Mark my words though, you will be seeing and hearing plenty more of her from now on. This young lady is a staple member of Fudan’s IIUC team. This year, they’re going international!

(The Lumen-recorder performs a one over of the girl, scanning her from her wind-tossed hair to her gleaming Mary-Janes.)

Dai Fung
Earlier, my father and the others have been discussing how we should be cutting the ribbon, though I think we have just the omen. Gwen, can we borrow your Kirin?

Joan Lu
A Kirin!

Dai Fung
Indeed! Gwen is famous around Fudan and has caused quite a stir when she returned from Huangshan with a blessing that surprised us all. Her Uncle, you should know, is the Hero of the Northern Front, the Ash Bringer!

Joan Lu
A Kirin AND the niece of a national hero! Miss Song, we shall be keeping a close eye on your progress from now on!

(The girl flashes a gentle smile before turning to her companion.)

Gwen Song
I am doing what now?

Dai Fung
You said it was fine.

Gwen Song
I never sai- You never said I was going to be on T- on Vid-cast!

(The Lumen-Recorder quickly pans away, returning to the stage where the ceremony is about to begin.)

“There’s Ariel!”

“Oooh! Lord Kirin!”

On the gigantic Vid-Caster, Bai and the members of Fudan’s Duelling Club giddily watched as Ariel, resplendent and fully fluffed, shot a streak of cobalt-lightning toward a giant ribbon tying together the final floodgates of Tonglv Canal’s seawall.

Slowly, still held aloft by currents of air, the two-storey ribbons fell apart to the sound of thunderous applause filling the valley.

Below the noble visage of Gwen's Kirin, an enormous, strategic-class Transmutation glyph blazed, ejecting two rods of ferro-concrete each the size of a small skyscraper, returning their mass back into the Elemental Plane of Earth.

There was a sound of rumbling, then a sudden ratcheting of pressure and moisture. A taste of salt filled the air as all sound save the thundering chunder of the ocean was drowned out.

Twin plumes of white water shot into the newly completed Tonglv Canal, a million-million litres of blue-green sea rushed into the basin, painting the grey-concrete black. Vapour from the crashing waterfall filled the atmosphere, kept away from the VIP personnel standing upon the ceremonial platform, drenching the observing crowd further away.

A roaring cheer echoed across the churning valley.

For those soaked to the bone, the wetness was a benediction. The people of Nantong had awaited this baptism for far too long. To them, the wet wasn’t just so much brine; what Tonglv signified was the floodgates of progress; its spillage the water of life.

After about a minute of silent awe, one of the Fudan DC members turned to the others.

“How about our princess, huh?”

“I love the way she stared into the Vid-Caster not knowing what to do.”

“Haha, our Worm-Handler can’t handle Lumen-recorders.”

“Maybe that’s her weakness. I’ll bring one next time we duel.”

“Hahaha…”

Gwen slipped out of her dress, then still wearing her bra and panties, freefell into her bed.

Her brain attempted for the N-th time to catch up with the events of the day, yet still somehow failed to process the chaos that followed.

First, Dai had asked her if using Ariel to perform an auspicious, ‘good luck’ ceremony to bring fair tidings and good optics was a good idea. Then suddenly, while she was daydreaming about her Chakram and still weighing the pros and cons of Ariel's public appearance, the reporter started firing off questions.

Her immediate reaction was to explode with a combo-chain of pointless Communist clichés, but thankfully her brain was working fast enough to seize her glib tongue and shove it back down her throat.

Platitudes?

New China?
The Party?
The Will of the Workers?
Praise Chairman Mao?

Holy shit! Are these guys still stuck in the Cultural Revolution? 'There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Chairman Mao?'

More importantly, was she willing to paint herself in their colour?

It was too dangerous!

Looking like a deer caught in the path of a Disintegrate was far better than having the Pudong Tower and the Britannic Mageocracy doubt her integrity in the future. If she were to start ass-kissing the CCP and pass out little-red books on national television, she might as well start demanding a position in the Inner Party now.

But while she looked on dumbly, Dai ran his mouth to 'save' her.

After that, they had walked onto the ceremony stage, where ten-thousand lumen-globes attached to recorders blitzed her until she was blind. Moreover, Patriarch Fung, Chairman Tu and Magister Chen dragged her onstage again for red carpet shots.

But that wasn’t the end of it, Dai and herself were requested by what she could only assume to be the propaganda corps to stand beside the churning levy with an adrift Ariel for more lumen-pics. When she attempted to dilute the attention by including Ruì and her other co-workers, her NoM companions fled the scene.

Even after all was over and done, there remained the after-party back at the Fung building.

There, as a result of her exposure, her status as an uncooperative guest had suddenly transformed into that of an unbidden co-host. Thus accosted on all sides by hungry-looking men, her hyper-vigilance against potential molesters had stretched her stress-levels to a breaking point. It was almost midnight when she finally goaded Dai into sending her back, exhausted and haggard, stumbling home to fall into a dreamless slumber.

“There she is!”

“Shaa! Shaa!”

“Mao! WHAT IS THAT?!”

At Fudan’s Guoding St entrance, a dog-pack had found their prey.

A dozen lumen-globes fired their payload at the surprised maiden wearing her Friday casuals, a youthful combo combining a denim mini-skirt and a quarter-length blouse.

When the paparazzi gang had burst from the street corner and accosted her, Fudan's infamous Worm Handler reflexively erected a Shield. Caliban meanwhile, leapt in-between its Master and the men with large, pipe-like recording instruments, letting loose a threatening growl.

Unfazed and hardened by years of reporting for the Front, a veteran paparazzo strafed to one side to catch a close-up side-profile of his next paycheck.

"SHAAA!"

A second later, he found himself on the floor, staring straight up at the sky with a Mongolian Death Worm sitting on his chest.

“Arrrrgh!” the man screamed while Caliban drooled all over his face, tentacles flailing this way and that.

“Cali, back!” the girl called out in a blind panic, un-summoning her fiend.

A dozen cameras shifted between her panicked expression and the man on the floor, who by now had taken up his best impression of a critically injured international soccer player grazed on the shoulder by a damp feather.

Confused by the exhibition but seizing the opportunity, the pack's quarry ran for the gate, only to find that at least half of the men had anticipated her intent. From the speed of their movements, she gauged these were Mages and that there was no escaping them.

Ten thousand llamas raced through her mindscape as she sought for a way to escape her predicament. It was all very confusing to her, whose only experience with the media was a paid interview on the Sunday Telegraph promoting 'Women in Finance'. Why Magical Reporters? She cursed the tabloid press. Was the country so at ease that they could spare mystic personnel for the back pages?!

She couldn’t Dimension Door into the university, and she couldn’t fly, which left her with one option.

“Jump!”

Pulling on her skirt, she ran for the wall then leapt over the barrier, careful as to avoid the wards. As a student, she should be safe, though the reporters would have to enter through the gate and there, the campus guards would prevent their entry.

When she landed, it was in a pile of filthy, wet leaves the gardener had piled up against the wall.

Incidentally, she was wearing a white blouse.

The girl sighed, closed her eyes for a moment to control her raging Essence, then materialised her laundry Cube. Using the device while attired ensured that her clothes never entirely dried out and that she would have to endure a horrid clamminess for several hours.

'Pa! Pa! Pa!' Lumen bulbs flashed.

She looked up.

The fucking reporters had Levitate.

 

Auspicious Kirin seals the deal in Tonglv

25th July 2004
The Shanghai Times

A surprise appearance by a Kirin at the Tonglv Opening Ceremony shocked spectators and wowed officials on Thursday, marking the opening date with an auspicious and fortuitous conclusion.

The soon to be operating Tonglv Canal will begin with a daily load of forty to sixty ships, reaching 1,500,000 Tons of cargo traversed per twenty-four hours while at capacity. At present, initial estimates show that the canal will generate 33,200,000 HDMs in its first two years as Tonglv's stage 1 construction reaches its conclusion.

The canal's stage 2, involving the expansion of the Nantong Industrial Region, will see another, 3,320 km² of infrastructural development with an estimated extension cost of 9,730,000 HDMs over three years. Once completed, the Nantong-Tonglv region will form the largest industrial-economic bloke outside of Shanghai itself, second only to the Guangdong peninsula. By 2008, the Central Economics Committee has estimated the total economic benefit generated by the project to exceed 1.2 billion HDMs.

"By the end of 2004, the number of jobs for magical personnel will exceed, 20,000. By the completion of stage 2, we fully expect 50,000 full-time jobs to materialise for the Canal's non-magical workers, with an additional 120,000 certification-required auxiliary positions anticipated, as well as countless seasonal positions for labourers, up to half a million," Professor James Ma from Fudan University has stated.

More on Page 4.

 

Guan-er-dai goes Berserk:
IIUC Contestant Assaults photographer in brazen attack

26th April 2004
Cai Lin : Daily Shanghai

New socialite darling Gwen Song: niece to the Hero of the Northern Front, Jun Song, allegedly attacked a newspaper reporter shortly after arriving at Fudan University’s Gouding Road entrance, according to eye-witness reports.

Miss Song, a second-year student at Fudan University, is the infamous Void Mage Shanghai's second-oldest tertiary institution has been rearing for the IUCC face off against their academic rivals both local and overseas. Famous for her prodigious parallel cultivation of five Schools of Magic and her dual-element of Void and Lightning, the attention-seeking sorceress was seen attending the Tonglv Canal opening ceremony in the company of Dai Fung and was revealed to be personally acquainted with the Tonglv Big Three.

Jeffery Liu, a news reporter of 32 years of age, stated that he approached Miss Song with other reporters to take lumen-pics of her.

“I took a few… and as I walked to the side, giving her plenty of space, her Familiar charged me, ripped my shirt, then tripped me,” he said after the alleged incident.

"As her monster did this, I fell over. I fell to the ground," Liu stated. “I bruised my spine. The monster could have killed me at any time. I was fighting for my life.”

"At no stage did I touch her or speak with her."

Miss Song has offered no comments for the incident, but her Familiar was quoted declaring “Shaaa! Shaaa!” Which according to other students interviewed by Daily Shanghai, inferred that it was ready to kill.

Jeffrey Liu has spoken with Shanghai Municipal police about the incident later Friday but said he would not make a formal complaint about the matter.

“Are you kidding me? If I snitched on the granddaughter of Secretary Song, ten heads wouldn’t be enough to chop!”

“Miss Song may be beautiful, influential and talented, but she represents the very symptom of what's wrong with our society,” an anonymous source was quoted as saying. “She thinks she’s better than us; she thinks she's untouchable.”

Fudan University's admissions office has declined to comment.

‘Smack!’

Dean Luo whacked his prized student across the head with a rolled-up piece of newspaper. On the cover was two images of Gwen, her white legs akimbo, first standing over an agonised reporter with Caliban over his chest, then with her fleeing the scene in a compromising position. On page four there was another picture of her looking peevish while wearing a wet blouse.

“Seriously?” the Dean wanted to break something. Maybe taking the chair and throwing it out the window would make him feel better. “After all we did - after everything I've done! Why did this happen? Do you hate me, Miss Song? Is this payback for Walken?”

“It’s not my intention!” Gwen spluttered. “They caught me by surprise! I never intended to harm the man!”

“I know that!” Luo growled. “They know that! BUT THE WORLD DOESN’T KNOW THAT!”

“Can I sue them or something? For defamation? I've got crystals. A lot of crystals...”

“It's a LITTLE LATE for that, Miss Song! What did your grandfather say?”

“To leave it alone…” Gwen sulked.

Guo had been blissfully unaware at work, happy over the fact that his granddaughter was on the Vid-cast for such an important Party ceremony when the cleaner, Zao, walked in with the tabloids clutched under one arm. Guo had made a habit of always speaking to the workers, and that was when he saw a deeply disconcerting sight on the front page of a news rag famous for its yellow journalism.

The resultant fallout had been spectacular, but the Chairman of the Confidential Communications Committee fought down his hypertension, knowing better than to pick at an open sore.

The tabloids were an arm of the state's Censorship Bureau. Usually, it was harmless entertainment. When needed - it became a scalpel for slashing defacing dissidents.

Towering over an indignant Gwen, the likewise informed Dean rested his face between his meaty palms.

“You’re grounded.”

“What?” Gwen performed a double-take. G-grounded? What was she, a ten-year-old?

“They’re not going to let this go, so you’re grounded. Until this thing blows over, you’re going to stay here, in Fudan. I’ll tell the maids to clear out one of the international guest houses for you. Petra can come and stay as well if you feel you'll be lonely. I honestly believe she would prefer living a spit's distance from Heilong Laboratory. Until the comp, focus on your studies and finish up your spell list. I’ve got far too much riding on your IIUC right now. I can’t afford to have you running around Consuming reporters.”

“I didn’t hurt him!” Gwen screeched. “O come on, how’s that fair? I need to work!”

The Dean remained adamant.

Now committed, he approached the girl pleadingly and for a moment, wondered if taking a knee would make his case more convincing.

"Gwen," he solicited her empathy. “Until the IIUC starts, for both of our sakes, I need you to be picture perfect and your reputation unsullied. For your work, I’ll get Birch to go set up a short-range Teleportation Circle at Guoding Road. So can you please, PLEASE stay out of trouble? Is it so hard to stay focused on your training for four months?”

Gwen grew red as a beet, swallowing the ‘You’re not my Dad!’ sentiment simmering at her throat.

She owed the Dean this much at least.

"Okay." She relented, "I still have my birthday though. It's going to be big, or so Dai tells me. Everyone is going to be there, including the Big Three..."

The Dean looked as though he was passing a kidney stone.

"How about..." Gwen felt she should probably give the Dean a hug. "... I give you an invitation?"

 

 

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