A note from Wutosama

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Though her nerves remained a wreck from the affirmation of Kitty's demise, Gwen knew there was a time for self-loathing, and a time to put on a happy face. In her old corporate world, an ambitious woman must always keep up outward appearances, and so by the time she and Petra had arrived at the auditorium's backstage, Gwen had meticulously prepared a flawless face to meet the press.

"Gwen! How've you been?" Anita was the first to break ranks when she saw Petra, her whole face lighting up like a lumen-globe. "Ah- Miss Kuznetsova! It's an honour. Your work with crystal spell-storage is astounding!"

"Mao! Miss Kutznetsova?" Jiro appeared a split-second later. "Hi, Jiro Peng, I've been a fan of yours since my first-year!"

With constrained politeness, Petra made small talk with her admirers while her captain accosted Gwen for an update.

"Lulu and Dick are finishing up at T2. They'll be with us soon," Gwen assured her leader. "How's it looking out there?"

"A few hundred reporters, with CCVC 1 front and centre, flanked by the foreign press, followed by the regional broadcasters, then the independent press. There are likely Tower Magisters in the VIP, not to mention Party officials from Central."

"Woo-" Gwen whistled. "Tough gig."

"Ha!" Tei smirked. "They're here for Fudan in name only. I dare say they're here to witness Yangon's liberator."

"Not tonight they're not." She indicated her teammates. "Lulan fought the Naga too, Eunae kicked ass in the duel, you fended off two teams of Mages from the back of a convoy, Richard diverted streams to save La War..."

"Alright, alright..." Tei sighed appreciatively. "I get it."

Having heard Gwen rattling off their names, the others joined the conversation.

"I am so nervous, I can't breathe." Eunae paced back and forth. "What do you think they're going to ask? I saw some Korean journalists earlier!"

"Probably about how good it felt to thrash your family." Gwen patted her Cleric on the head. "As for nerves, we're all tense. Right? Tei?"

"I don't know." Her captain grinned. "I am not the one who has to describe how I fought off a mythic Naga."

"I didn't though," Gwen pointed out. "The dragon took it down."

"Tell that the propaganda corps." Her Captain shook his head. "We have thirty minutes until the national broadcast finishes, do you need to meditate? You look tired."

"I'll be fine." Gwen gingerly sipped her bottled-water through a straw as to preserve her perfectly pencilled lipstick. Sliding one foot over the other, she shook out her stiffening calves, causing Jiro to drop his jaws and Rene to punch him in the arm, eliciting a round of collective laughter.

"Tei..." Gwen packed her ambivalence in a box and moved onto more commercial matters. "...has anyone ever taught you about the power of branding?"

Lulan, Kusu and Richard arrived half an hour later, whereupon attendants ushered them into the dressing room before stripping then dressing the duo in black. Having affirmed Gwen's sentiment for Kitty, the team collectively wore sable, with the girls in assorted attires and the boys in dark pants and blazers. Additionally, Tei had brought armbands for all of them to signify that they were in mourning. Standing in a line, Fudan's team resembled a trendy troop of fascist fashionistas ready to model funeral couture.

Yet, despite the dour attire, the atmosphere remained jovial. From the rear, Jiro and Rene jested and joked with a jittery Anita. Lulan and Eunae studied patterns on the floor, terrified by eyeballs that would soon pin them to the wall. In front of her, Tei stood rigid as a statue, while Richard appeared lost in thought, staring in the middle distance.

In truth, it was only she and Mayuree who felt genuine grief for the passing of Kitty, while the other's sadness manifested as appeasement, enduring the inconvenience of mourning out of respect for their feelings.

Gwen sighed silently, weighing the sincerity of her malaise, questioning if her upset was genuine.

The music in the hall ceased.

"NOW!" the voice of Dean Luo could be heard. "Please welcome our contestants for the 2004 IIUC, Team Fudan!"

"Gwen." Tei made himself taller, though he remained half-a-head shorter than his heeled Vice Captain. "Focus."

"I am right behind you," Richard made his presence known.

"I know." The Void-sorceress fixed the envious length of her swan-white neck. "The show must go on."

A barrage of lumen-cores burst into brilliant action, bombarding the students as they entered Guanghua Auditorium, a place usually reserved for esteemed lecturers from foreign universities and state dignitaries.

When the curtains to the side-stage parted, thunderous applause filled the generous space of the vaulted hall, welcoming the heroic victors of Fudan's first victorious assembly in more than a decade.

First was the captain, Tei Bai, with his gaunt face and prim posture, every inch the Captain of the team, radiating an aura of reliability as he performed a militant face-forward, then bowed from the waist.

Next came the Vice Captain, triggering a fusillade of blasting-bulbs as she placed one white stalk before the other, crow-black from her hair to the hips and again where the lens kissed her clacking heels.

After which was the tallest of the men, cousin to the Void Sorceress, a Eurasian Water Mage confident as a prize-winning hound, grinning like a wolf.

Then came a trio of demure girls unnerved by the attention, walking in such proximity that their Dean intervened to distance them so that the reporters could have their individual body-shots.

Behind the stalking trio was Rene with her grey blouse and dark jacket, cutting a curt figure as she strode across the stage, commanding as she grinned for the adoring crowd.

Anita followed, leather-jacketed, wearing a black singlet and midnight-grey combat pants, steel-toed and dressed for war as she thudded across the hardwood floor, waving happily.

The final member was Jiro, pearly teeth flashing, gleaming and radiant, trailed by motes of fire that brightly hinted at his blazing nerves.

Nine were the members of Fudan that stood in front of their assigned seats, leaving the final seat empty.

"All rise!" the Dean commanded, and all who had the conscience to show respect for the dead rose from their chairs.

"We shall begin…" the Dean met Gwen's eyes with a subtle nod, surprising her with his understanding and empathy. "… with a minute of silence."

"Gunther! COME ON!" Alesia coiled her legs so that she was curled like a comfortable cat on the oversized couch. "It's starting!"

"Just a sec." Gunther passed his hand over the array of petite-fours and freshly-cut fruits, then dried his hand on the kitchen towel. At Alesia's behest, he had grudgingly cleared his timetable, dislodging his endless schedule of meetings, inspections and reports.

On the far wall, the enormous lumen-caster Alesia had installed especially for the occasion was bustling with life, rapidly scrolling through a montage of logos representing the many competing universities in the on-going International Inter-University Competition. During the preliminary rounds, the broadcasts were regional, and so it was with great effort and an exorbitant cost in HDMs that Alesia had managed to route the Chinese program through their contacts in Singapore, through to Darwin, through to Brisbane and then to Sydney.

A feat made possible only because Gunther had hastened the construction of the supercell Divination Engine atop Sydney's repaired Tower.

In the seventeen months since Gwen had left for Singapore and then was shanghaied to Shanghai, Sydney had made leaps and bounds in recovering from the Mermen invasion. When the Leviathan's senseless carcass had smashed its way into Sydney harbour and wedged itself at Darling Point, it had left a wealth of resources for the recovering city. Though Gunther's strategic-class invocation had guillotined the creature, its body remained very much vital, sustained by a macro-system of brain-like organs and Cores that existed throughout its island-sized body, forming a living Dungeon of sorts.

For three more months, the Brisbane Tower and the Melbourne Tower had remained at Sydney, oversupplying the city's cache of construction Golems and utility Mages. Together, the three Towers cleared debris, exterminated surviving Mermen and enabled the city's reconstruction.

Two months in, Gunther, aided by Tower Master Fei Lin of Brisbane and Guldric Uther of Melbourne, managed to retrieve the head of the Leviathan from the depth of the harbour, reclaiming an enormous Creature Core fit for a Tower.

As Sydney's Tower Core had been left intact thanks to Gwen's timely intervention, Gunther consequently traded the Core back to the Mageocracy for CCs. The windfall of Contribution Credits was then exchanged for strategic commodities and experienced staff, furthermore expediting the city's recovery.

Another month onward, loaded with loot from the Leviathan's divided remains, Sydney's sister Towers returned to their coastal homes, with the Tower Masters bidding their new colleague goodbye. It was at this junction that Gunther received the honorary title of Magister from the Mageocracy, who then urged him to complete the Rite, an inconvenience which Gunther had bypassed while serving his Master, Henry Kilroy.

And so, after a grudging concession, the newly minted Magister Gunther von Shultz returned to his work with renewed zeal. All throughout the city, new high-rises rose like mushrooms after autumn showers. Outside Sydney's metropolis, refugees awaited resettlement. Within the urbanscape, Gunther's Arbiters were inundated with claims of lost property from ex-residents looking to not only return to their life in the city but with hopes of profiteering. Worse still, dictated by the ugliness of human nature, waves of crime, unrest, riots and even small pockets of illicit claims of sovereignty inundated Sydney's security forces, unnecessarily complicating the restoration.

More than once, Gunther had to deliver the verdict of his office in a personal capacity, either through himself or through Alesia.

As for the long-term aftermath of the Mermen's incursion, raids up and down the coast continued throughout the next twelve months, sending Alesia and her apprentice almost perpetually away from home, working Sydney's new militia to the bone. Concurrently, hostage trading with the South Pacific factions of Mermen had been carried out by the Grey Faction, though more often than not, the mental state of men and women who returned to Humanity's fold were beyond the help of restorative magic.

But despite everything, real progress had been made. The coastal Shielding Station had been reconfigured and a new system of checks and balances implemented. The Tower itself saw a swift six-month renovation and restoration before spending the next six months floating between North Head and Watson Bay, cowing any and all ambitious demi-human tribes. Once the Leviathan was dismantled, the newly formed channel it had created furthermore allowed for the construction of a deepwater port, doubling the city's capacity for cargo carriers. New train tracks and tramways were built. Parts of old Sydney, districts like Blackheath and Root Hill which had long been in decline, were re-zoned for better housing capacity and utility access. Citizenship grants were likewise sent out to attract skilled migrants, while rural regions were re-connected through an expansion of inland Shielding Forts.

As a little side project, Gunther had allocated additional funds to Blackwattle High School, Gwen's old haunt, making it a Selective Academy. It soon received a new campus dedicated to the teaching of Magic, doubling its training capacity. Principal Bartlett, perhaps in a twist of ill humour, had named the new oval "Gwen's Field" in commemoration of the fact that Blackwattle had expanded in part to Gwen's serendipitous efforts.

In turn with the city's restoration, Oceana's Factional disputes had settled in Gunther's favour. Irene Ferris, now an ally, presided over what remained of the Grey Market. The Militant Faction was likewise satisfied with harvesting the Leviathan and exterminating the surviving Mermen, leaving Gunther's Middle Faction in control of Sydney.

"Ooo, look at that!" Alesia puffed out her chest. "Our little girl's gotten fatter! Ha! I knew it! The food in Shanghai must be something else."

Gunther took up a spot just on the edge of the cashmere couch, unused to entirely relaxing his body, then reproduced the fruits and cakes he had prepared.

"She's looking hale," Gunther affirmed his fiancée's observation while fondling a pear. In his memory, Gwen had been a bony lass of sorts, appearing perpetually underfed until their last encounter, where she had received a vital jolt from that ancient and unknowable existence.

The Gwen that now appeared on the lumen screen together with Chinese characters introducing her was bright-eyed and confident, with an air of arrogance and haughtiness she previously lacked. When Gunther had first seen the girl, she had appeared a puppy ready to please. When he had rescued her at Blackheath, Gwen had been half-mad with terror. At Rosebay, she had arrived like an avenging goddess. Now, she was merely in her element.

When the lumen-recorder trained onto Richard, Gunther recalled the duty he had left Gwen's cousin before sending him to Shanghai. The young man possessed a particular focus which, properly directed, was enough for Gunther to promise a Tower position in the event of his return.

"I don't give a shit who these others are!" Alesia grumbled at the wall. "Want more Gwen! Why are they wearing all black?"

As with most Chinese programs, the producers emphasised a by-the-numbers approach, beginning with introducing the contestants, Fudan's history, a short interview with the Dean of Fudan, then moving onto their opponents, Seoul University, Kyoto University, and finally Jiantong University. What followed was a short special on Burma, with details of the Frontier's geopolitics that Gunther knew, were now woefully outdated.

"Bloody hell, it has been an hour, and we've seen Gwen for twenty seconds!" Alesia complained, munching on a sausage roll.

"Patience." Gunther stole a bite, brushing Alesia's lips free of crumbs. "I have it on good authority that we will be seeing her plenty."

And they did, for even Chinese propaganda knew a good thing when they saw it.

Gwen's first moment of spotlight came in Yangon, in a building called the Secretariat, where she challenged Seoul U's three best casters from the Lee family to a duel. What spiced up the scene was the spliced footage of a Seoul contestant abusing Fudan's healer, a Korean girl, followed by Gwen's verbal, then physical reprisal.

"FUCK YEAH, GWENNIE!" Alesia hooted when Gwen slapped the young man so hard that even Gunther winced.

"She's absurdly strong, did you notice?" Gunther recalled the reports he'd been receiving from Fudan. "That was some force."

"Brilliant, bloody brilliant! Good work, Gwennie!" Alesia waved at the lumen-caster as though their sister-in-craft was in direct communication. "Did you see that, Gunther?"

Gunther humoured his lover with an affirmative.

The next scene to involve their intrepid sister-in-craft was her halting her flight northward to save a village that had been swallowed by a landslide, followed by a close up of the emotional faces of her teammates and the grateful villagers kowtowing to the student Mages.

They left out the critical footage! Gunther amused himself with the uproar Gwen had caused in the Grey Faction, who planned to question her regarding the method she had used to revive the dead woman. If Gunther had to guess, it probably had less to do with what she did, then what Essence she had channelled from the Rainbow Serpent.

"FUCKING SEOUL! Blackguards! Scum of the earth!" Alesia almost threw her glass toward the caster when Gwen caught the Seoul member plotting to flood their village. When her Caliban wounded the young man, forcing him to use a short-ranged Teleportation Ring, Alesia broke into gleeful, sadistic snickers of "Gotcha, arsehole!"

Gunther had to admit, the girl was doing very well. Sending her to Shanghai had turned out to be a far better ordeal than he'd hoped.

"OI, YOU FUCKERS!" Alesia soon splattered the wall with a half-bitten orange when Seoul's magma giant almost took out Gwen's team. When a Cloud Kill choked their sister-in-craft, forcing her to remain within melee range of the conjured Elemental, Alesia had half-a-mind to pay Seoul U a visit through the Teleportation Circle they had in the apartment's hidden room.

"Calm down." Gunther pulled her close as to save the fruit platter. "She's got this."

When a Thunder Wyvern appeared from nowhere to demolish Seoul U, Alesia burst into uncontrollable glee, pinching and punching Gunther so hard that he had to push her out of arm's reach.

After which, more and more, their sister-in-craft shined, first with her diplomacy, then her command of accounting, then her exposure of the corruption in the mines, then her impeccable management of the NoMs, indeed, there appeared to be nothing the girl could not do.

At Indaw, Fudan's party was ambushed, and again Gwen showcased her Lightning and Void Magic, taking down a tier 8 Naga with the help of her friends, consuming the creature with Caliban.

Unfortunately, that was when the footage ended. What followed was a sequence featuring the IIUC's chief proctor, a Magister who Gunther recognised as Lutz von Schlabrendorff, appearing to explain events that lead to Yangon's independence. He apologised for the lack of records on Gwen's battle with an entity called the Tyrant, citing classified and privileged information, then narrated the girl's titanic struggle with the beast, which resulted ultimately in a regime change that led to the re-entry of the Mageocracy into Burma.

Finally, the scene changed to an auditorium, where after yet more speeches, a Chinese General thanked Fudan for their contribution.

For this and Fudan's other achievements, the university received a total Contribution Credit rating of 3310 CCs, a new record for the Asian competition. Due to the immeasurable nature of Fudan's contribution to Burma's recovery, the team had also been granted a seeded position representing Asia in the international portion of the competition.

Fudan's Captain, a Clanner called Tei Bai, then gave a speech, citing his love of the Party, his gratefulness to his family, and his gratitude to Fudan. When it came to Gwen's turn, the green-eyed beauty thanked her friends, her family, her university, the Tower, the House of M, then added a little something that made Gunther smile.

"Everyone in Australia, if you're watching, I am only here today because of your support! I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart!"

"Oh, Gunther, I am so happy!" Alesia was half-laughing, half weeping. "Gwen's all grown up!"

"Yue's not doing half-bad herself," Gunther reminded her. "She's going to be jealous if you keep talking about Gwen like that."

"No way!" Alesia denied her favouritism vehemently. "Yue's our baby!"

Gunther almost choked on a date.

In recent months, Yue had been busy working toward her immutable reunion with Gwen. Alesia had placed such hope in the girl that when Gunther had located an appropriate Flame Spirit through a spendthrift session of throwing CCs at the Mageocracy's Tower network, his sometimes sister, sometimes queen gifted the Spirit to her apprentice.

It was an astounding gesture, though certainly Yue needed a boost if she wanted to stand beside her friend in the future. His wife's apprentice was talented in the pursuit of the Path, but there were human limits to diligence.

"…. oh yes, I am very proud of her." A familiar voice suddenly drifted through the air, followed by a zoomed close up of a weaselly face covering half the lumen-projection, a visage that Gunther had previously banished from Sydney.

On stage, Gwen approached Fudan's Dean, then bowed and kissed the old man on the cheek. She then turned to her instructor, a man both Gunther and Alesia knew, delivering a bow and hug to the sound of palms clamouring for more.

When the duo finally parted and the close-up panned away, Gunther felt his entire back drenched in cold sweat.

Feeling a catastrophic, Mythic-grade danger engender beside him, Gunther stole a glance at his fiancée.

Alesia's blue eyes were the size of hen's eggs.

Scheiße! Gunther swore internally. He had been so busy, and his time with Alesia had been so scarce that he had entirely forgotten to ease her into the knowledge of Gwen's tutor.

"Did I just see that?" Alesia mouthed at the lumen projector. Then suddenly, the Fire Magus exploded. "WHAT THE FUCK? WHY IS THAT FUCKER IN SHANGHAI?"

For Gunther, the wide blue yonder outside suddenly beckoned. He needed no teleportation circles to move about the city. As Tower Master, he alone had a unilateral right of movement throughout Sydney's domain.

Alesia's tightly-wound figure began to shake, her whole body shivered with rage as she stomped about the room, biting one thumb and glancing about wildly for something to kill.

Scheiße! Scheiße! Scheiße! Gunther's heart sank. When Alesia was like this, there was no stopping her.

"I need to go to Shanghai," she muttered under her breath. "Gunther, get me authorisation. I am going to end that piece of shit once and for all. He's using her! After he got Master, he's sinking his fucking teeth into Gwen! I don't give a shit what the Tower announced. Letting Walken live was a mistake."

"Alesia." Gunther swallowed.

"What?" the Fire Mage snapped, shedding embers from her hair. "Don't tell me you had something to do with this?"

"Ah…" the Tower Master of Sydney, Slayer of Leviathans, a Mage without peer in Oceania quailed under the accusatory glare of his wife-to-be. "Not exactly."

"Whose idea was it?" Alesia demanded. "Not yours?"

I have to tell the truth! Gunther felt his righteous mind instilling the Credo that Kilroy had drilled into him.

"It was Gwen's." Gunther felt physical pain as the white lie left his lips. He promised to repay Gwen tenfold when the opportunity came, though for now, he could think only of his selfish survival of Alesia's wrath. "She needed a higher tier Lightning Creature Mage to instruct her, and Walken had volunteered. After a good talking to, she managed to convince me."

"Oh…" Alesia's eyes moistened. "She went to Walken? After what that CUNT did to our Master? After Sydney? AND YOU AGREED?"

"Don't put it like that…" Gunther spluttered. "It's an exchange of services, no more."

"He hugged her, you bastard!" To Gunther's surprise, Alesia began to sob. "He was touching her. I am not blind, Gunther! I know what I saw!"

"Gwen's a friendly gal!" Gunther explained. "She's handsy..."


"Actually…" Gunther wanted to say that, having lost his position, power, and influence and wasted half-a-century of his life, Walken had paid for his transgression. However, a single glare from Alesia was enough to snap Gunther's lips tighter than an Ironshell Mimic's lid.

The two stood in silence, a rock quietly biding its time beside a raging fire tornado.

Alesia choked back a sob.

Sensing a lull in her violent anger, Gunther reached out with a hand to wipe a tear from Alesia's well-loved eyes.

"I am going to Shanghai," she said, batting away his hand. "I need to talk to Gwen, face to face. I am going to put some sense into her."

"I don't think that's a good idea." Gunther returned. "She's going to go to the international portion of the competition soon. You'll likely miss her."

"I don't care, I am not letting Walken near her, not for another minute more." Alesia wiped her eyes. When she looked up, her orbs were full of fire and defiance. "Are we on the same page, Gunther?"

Gunther gave her a wilted expression of resignation.

"Don't look at me like that!" Alesia growled. "I hate it when you do that! You know it!"

Gunther studied the ceiling.

"God damn it, Gunther! Look at me when I am talking to you!"

Gunther's shoulders drooped.

"Get me authorisation to travel."

"Yes, dear."

"I am teleporting the whole way."

"Yes, dear."

"Don't tell Gwen!"

"Yes, dear."

"Today! Tomorrow! As soon as possible!"

"Absolutely." He nodded, whispering a prayer for their youngest sister-in-craft. "It'll take a week at the earliest..."

"Tell Yue I'll be gone." Alesia levitated towards her wardrobe on the second level.

"Are we going to finish watching this?" Gunther struck a thumb at the lumen-caster, realising his future labours were likely to be worse. "I should get back to work."

"THEN FUCK OFF!" his answer came in the form of his jacket, indicating that for the foreseeable future, he would not be hugging his hot water bottle body to sleep. "Go fuck your Tower, you traitor!"


A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref ::  Like an Alesia scorned.
Bonus ::  Gwen's Outfits 
Glossary and Magic System :: Glossary 

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Forgot the outfit last time. 

Holidays coming up soon, THANK GOD. 
Planning for next big outing! Doing much researcho! 

Also, Wandysama did some new super cute art -
They are available on the store now.

About the author


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

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