In the car, Alesia de Botton informed Alan Ma that her goal at Fudan was to meet with Gwen Song. The familiar name gave Alan a start, for he had been hearing about the girl from his uncle for months now.
"A walking lump of vanity and pride, a dragon in a woman's body, possessing a crystal-hoard to match," James Ma had wryly intoned. "You'll like her."
To Alan, at least on the lumen-caster, the girl of eighteen appeared perfectly prim and proper. Other than that one scandal where her Familiars went wild, she answered questions, kissed and made up with the reporters who had hounded her, and even spent time promoting her teammates, like the rogue from Huashan and their Captain from the funeral home.
"Is this not widely known?" de Botton remarked as she weaved through the traffic. "She's my sister-in-craft."
"Really?" Alan performed a double-take as the roadster accelerated.
"We all mentored under Master Kilroy while in Sydney," his VIP explained, her tone suddenly upset. "I suppose it'll be common knowledge once her IIUC finishes…"
Alan made a mental note to inform the PLA Tower as soon as possible.
"… and to think that for someone for whom master sacrificed so much, she turned tail so readily. Gwen was such a quiet girl when I found her being auctioned in her uncle's house. She was a nobody back then, did you know? Just tier 3, not bad for Frontier stock, but more or less just a pretty face. After I introduced her to master, she started to blossom, learning all sorts of magic…"
To Alan's alarm, Alesia's one-sided monologue grew in intensity, pouring forth with a vehemence that made him nervous.
"… it's ridiculous how everyone thinks that the prick has paid for his crimes. I mean our Master died because we couldn't access the Tower and turn it against Sobel..."
"Miss de Botton, we've arrived."
"...And speaking of Master's wife, bloody hell, when the day comes when the three of us hunt that bitch down…"
To the Magus' dismay, his driver gunned the vehicle around the perimetre of Fudan's university district, taking in the sights while continuing her tirade.
"There are students and NoMs here!" Alan indicated to the twin towers of Fudan jutting from the sea of skyscrapers, then to the pedestrians. "Please slow down."
Alesia spun the wheel. Alan felt as though he'd banked mid-flight during an aerial exercise. Horns tooted, NoMs screamed, other drivers howled abuse as they skidded across the tarmac to stop in a loading zone.
"We can't park here…" Alan pointed to the sign.
Thump! The door slammed.
Alesia exited the clinking vehicle, catching a hundred pairs of eyes as she rose to her full height. With a careless gesture, the woman discarded the shawl hiding her hair into the backseat, then with her voluminous curls falling about her shoulders, she strode toward the Handan campus.
"Where are you going?" Alan unbuckled.
The Scarlet Sorceress's figure shimmered, then she was gone.
"CAO!" Alan swore. Invisibility! He immediately replaced his glasses with a pair enchanted with Detect Foe. "Ta-made!"
He despaired. Whatever Alesia was using, it was higher than his tier 4 detection. The redhead was trouble; he just knew it! How the hell was he going to find her without causing a scene? Also, did the woman even know where she was going?
Thankfully, he had marked her earlier with a Detect Ally, if he could—
His Divination came up empty.
Alan's forehead quickly grew icky with perspiration. A foreign agent did not just go rogue on his watch!
Tapping his comm-device, Alan considered dialling the Tower.
No. The Magus told himself. He had no interest in career suicide. Not even the reputation of the Ma family was enough to stave off a monumental fuck-up like losing a Cat-4 VIP in the middle of a crowded university district.
De Botton couldn't have gotten far. He hoped. If he walked around, maybe he would spot her again, and he could then plead with her to follow at least the basic guidelines of a visiting dignitary, such as no activation of ilicit magic within the city's limits.
Please, please, please! He prayed to his ancestors for guidance. Don't start a magical battle in the middle of Shanghai!
Alesia answered Walken's welcome with a Fireball.
It was wholly unintentional, for she had planned to speak to the bastard, but when the cunt's castor-oil voice came through the corridor, her lips and her hands moved on their own.
Instantly, the empowered Fireball enveloped the small apartment.
Without a Spirit, her spell's range and damage were difficult to control, but Alesia felt confident that she had grown since Sydney's fall. At first, when she became well again to practice the craft, she had found herself crippled by the death of her Crimson Caracal, a near-sentient partner which had accompanied her since the Coral Sea Conflict. According to Gunther, it was because she had lost a portion of her Astral Body to the Djinn.
While she recovered, attuning herself to a life without her caracal, healing her crippled Astral Body with Elven elixirs from the Swiss Alps, she found that her connection to the Elemental Plane of Fire had expanded. Gunther suspected it had to do with the fleeing Djinn leaving a portion of its Essence in her Astral Body and suggested she should see a medical Magister, but Alesia's preference was for privacy.
And so, the Scarlet Sorceress marked the unexpected boon as just one of those things that happened in life, like food poisoning, or curry tacos.
Unfortunately for Walken, her control was still in development.
The orange fire filled the corridor, then blew out the bathroom, the kitchenette and the front door. In the next moment, a backwash of flaming paper filled the living room, indicating that Walken had activated a protective barrier.
"Alesia!" came the man's panicked voice. "Don't! We're in a tier 1 city!"
"Ha!" Alesia laughed. She had come with a plan!
She hadn't just come to Shanghai as a waif with a cudgel and a grudge. Just as Walken had his Grey Faction, she knew people who loathed Walken in the Middle Faction. Even without Gunther's explicit instruction, certain Magisters in Pudong were happy to see the recently resurgent Walken taken down a rung.
If maiming Walken was an option, she would have welcomed it, but it wasn't something she could realistically carry out without ramifications for Gunther's working relationship with the Greys. Instead, her plan was for both herself and Walken to be kicked out of Shanghai, saving Gwen from future harassment. After scorching Walken a medium-rare and concluding with their arrest, she would enjoy a brief diplomatic immunity, one that was enough to pound some sense into her sister-in-craft while Walken took the next cargo freighter to the Congo.
"Combust! Combust! Fireball!"
She kept her assault fast, low-tier and straightforward. Too much power and she couldn't control the damage, too low and they wouldn't attract the necessary attention.
A burst of lightning discharge indicated that Walken had teleported outside.
Alesia followed suit. This time, she had ensured that her clothes were all element-weaved. In Shanghai, she had no desire to be arrested sans her intimates.
Walken was making a run for it, rapidly deploying Dimension Door to move from rooftop to rooftop, making for the older sectors of the university district, where clumped clusters of concrete buildings still stood, awaiting demolition.
She harassed her target even as he hopped through time and space.
Sonnova bitch! She cursed. The prick refused to join spells or trade attacks, merely fleeing for it like a grey rat down a sewer. Alesia growled. Either way, she was determined that by the day's end, Walken would be homeless.
The woman's Fireball was no longer crimson, but it was all too familiar.
Alesia de Botton! Eric Walken groaned. De Botton was a rabid honey badger when it came to her tenacity, and there was no way he could see himself prying open her jaws.
To achieve that, he needed his student.
In all honesty, he had not anticipated that his protégée would so soon become his spell-shield. That Gwen may one day untangle the mess he found himself in had always been a part of his design, though having his old nemesis charging through an actual ISTC went beyond even his expectations.
It must have been the broadcasted IIUC ceremony, he realised, though he had no idea how De Botton watched CCVC-1.
Should he have stayed hidden? Walken wondered if once again, his student's pride had catalysed his own. After Burma, he had wanted to stand beside her and show the Grey Faction that they were right to welcome him back into the fold.
At the same time, he WAS proud of the girl. Why wouldn't he? She used his magic, ignored his advice, then accidentally liberated a country. That's an accomplishment for which he could surely take credit. Even now, he was going to gift her with his improved variant of Planar Ally.
But how could he convince de Botton of his "best" intentions?
A wave of scorching heat washed over his back, dispersed by his Wind Wall. In his mind, he could feel Aella demanding to be released. Were he to match de Botton seriously, Walken was confident in his victory so long as they could enter a sturdy and enclosed space, a condition easily fulfilled in a city of concrete.
But after that?
Did de Botton think he was an idiot to fight her in public?
"Gwen!" Not wanting to end the encounter with de Botton in a coma and a livid Gwen voiding their partnership, he activated his Message device.
"Eric!" came the reply. "Your apartment's on fire!"
"I am heading for the training hall at Yi-fu No.2!" Walken Dimensioned Doored once more. "We can't let her damage any of the buildings."
A whirlpool of fire engendered where Walken had just landed, sending the pedestrians fleeing unharmed in all directions. Beside him, the trees burst into flames.
"Alesia! NO!" came Gwen's voice behind him, made audible by Clarion Call. "Calm down! Don't fight!"
"I'll meet you inside!" Walken switched channels on his comm-device. "Jiang! De Botton's after me!"
"Is that why my western entrance is on fire?" came the reply from Luo. "Who initiated?"
"She did! I am now headed to Yifu No.2 with Gwen, can you tie up the media and the police until I need them? Get Pudong to send someone!"
"Cao! I'll call the Tower!" The Message dropped.
Another Fireball erupted, this time taking out a bench and a trashcan, immolating the jade-green lawn as it singed his hair and beard.
Walken Dimension Doored once more so that he was right beside the training hall, then slipped inside to await the arrival of both his executioner and his saviour.
Watching Gwen effortlessly abuse their Master's Signature Dimension Door made Alesia feel both proud and very much annoyed.
"Alesia! NO!" the girl called out, then appeared a few meters away in a flash of blue-white lightning.
In the distance, there was already the sound of sirens.
"You're looking well." Alesia rested a hand on her hips. "Chumming with Walken, eh?"
"Oh, for God's sake Allie, not here, and not now!" Alesia's little sister pleaded with her, squirming with a desperation that tickled Alesia's vengeful spirit. "You're as rash as fire!"
"And Walken is as false as air!" Alesia snapped. "That man killed our Master!"
"He did not!" the girl screeched back, her face glowing scarlet. "He was tricked! Just like you and me! Did you forget? It was us who brought Debora into the Tower, remember? WE DID IT!"
"HOW DARE YOU!" Alesia's complexion matched the hue of raw liver. Why in God's name was her sister-in-craft defending Walken? What the fuck did Walken feed her, or had she misjudged her little sister? Did Gwen whore herself to Walken for only a few measly high-tier spells?
"I am going inside," came a churlish retort from her sister-in-craft as she propped an ID against the security panel. "You can stay here, or you can blow us up!"
"You little…" Alesia snapped. "You think you're all grown up, and now you—"
The girl was gone.
"FUCK!" Alesia forced her shoulder against the glass.
The sound of the fire brigade, and what she presumed were Tower Mages, were coming closer now. They had ten, fifteen minutes at best, and in that time, she was determined to teach the little hussy a lesson in humility.
"YOU THERE!" She snapped at an attendant cowering behind the counter. "Open the door at once! Either way, I am coming in!"
Gwen stomped her way down the passageway, followed by a raging female Ifrit in the form of Alesia de Botton.
Good, she told herself. As she had guessed, resetting Alesia's mental pace wasn't impossible. Her once-instructor, now-sister was as straight as a Flaming Arrow as they come. What pissed her off though, now that she thought about it, was the fact that there was no fucking way Gunther did not have any idea that Alesia was about to pay her a surprise visit, and that her senior lacked the gonads to send out a warning. The way Alesia behaved, it was as though she had caught her red-handed with gore, like when Henry found his wife in that Hungarian catacomb.
Once inside, the trio formed into an awkward triumvirate.
"Ling. Barriers up, please." Gwen sent the command to the administration desk.
A thrum of magic ensured the trio of their temporary privacy.
"Sis." Gwen put on a happy face. "Welcome to Shanghai!"
"Don't call me that!" Alesia growled, her blue eyes sparkling motes of fire. "Not until you clear up this bullshit."
"Too easy." Gwen played it cool. "Eric Walken is indebted to me. I blackmailed him into teaching me magic."
"What?" Alesia looked to Walken, clearly not expecting something so sensibly plausible.
"Ah—" Walken caught on without missing a beat. "Gwen, that's confidential!"
"I trust Allie." Gwen moved closer to Alesia, placing herself between her instructors. "She probably thought you were manipulating me, isn't that right, Alesia? It's the opposite, I assure you. Walken is under my watchful eye."
"Are you lying to me?" Alesia narrowed her eyes. "Are you patronising me?"
"Wouldn't dream of it." Gwen lowered her arms. "Come on, Alesia, think about it. I've got dirt on him, and he's teaching me so that he's not homeless. It's a win-win for me."
"I saw you hug him."
"Ah—" Gwen attempted to laugh the matter off as inconsequential. "What's in a hug?"
"He was all chummy!"
"We were on vid-cast." Gwen felt dirty as the words left her lips. Was it all for the show? Her feelings were ambivalent. She'd felt genuinely happy and grateful that some credit went to Walken, who had given her just the right amount of advice to deal with the cluster-fuck in Kachin. "It's all for show."
"Magus de Bottom." Walken approached.
"You got it." Walken backed away.
"Alesia." Gwen came closer with her arms open, having a second go at diplomacy. "I am so happy that you're here. You have no idea how much I've missed you and Gunther."
"No! No! NO!" Alesia muttered darkly. "This won't do."
"Why not?" Gwen made a face. "It was a misunderstanding. Walken's an employee whose job is to get me through the IIUC. Gunther knows this. He told me—"
"Gunther knew this?" Alesia's temper abruptly peaked.
FUCK! Gwen inwardly keened.
"I called Gunther as soon as I found out the Dean dug up Walken as an instructor. You should know that I got very emotional. When he came into my class, I was this close to Consuming him."
"This is true," Walken called out. "On my Astral Soul, your hellcat tried to scratch out my eyes."
Walken shut up.
"So, Gunther knew?" Alesia demanded.
"Er… I asked him for permission."
"So he told you to chum with this fucker?" Alesia's hair was rising; she looked like she could eat liars like air.
"Allie!" Gwen dialled up her big green puppy-eyes. "Please don't be so mad, Allie. I am so happy you're here. There's so much I want to tell you and show you."
"MAD? I AM FUCKING STOKED" Alesia exploded once again. "THAT GUY KILLED OUR MASTER!"
"Er—" Walken raised a hand. "Correction…"
"ALESIA!" Gwen pulled back her sister's attention. "I am an Omni-Mage now- all thanks to Walken. How about that, huh? Master would be super proud."
"What the fuck is an Omni-Mage?" Alesia spat.
"Wow," a snort escaped from Walken.
"You're a dead man!" Alesia began. "Gwen, I swear to Gunther, if you don't kick his ass right this second—"
"ALLIE!" Gwen snapped back. The air froze as Dragonfear permeated the space between them, silencing Alesia.
Her sister-in-craft glared at Gwen, then retaliated with an intensity of her own, one generated from the numberless atrocities she had committed in the name of humanity.
"You've got some nerve—"
"DUEL ME!" Gwen could think of little else to relieve Alesia of her pent-up frustration. "I want to show you what I managed to fleece from Walken. Come on. Me and you, sister on sister. Let me prove to you that our Master would have been proud."
"Duel me?" Her lips curled cruelly. "Little Gwen, you want to duel me?"
"YES!" Gwen motioned for Walken to fuck off. "Me and you, mano a mano, first to yield. Oxford style."
"Oh?" Alesia seemed to have forgotten all about Walken. Her blue irises began to turn purple. "You're serious."
"Dead serious." Her own eyes glimmered with blue lightning. "If I win, forget about Walken. We'll go for cocktails and lobsters afterwards."
"And if I win?"
"I'll kick Walken out."
"NOT NOW, ERIC!" Gwen shouted back. "Go tell the fuzz we're busy here."
The two women watched as Walken exited the hall.
"You're going to regret helping that snake." Alesia's expression was a tempest raining fire.
"I'll be the judge of that. Allie, do you have a Spirit right now?" Gwen took a step back. "Surely Gunther has got you a new one?"
"You'll find out." Alesia kicked away her stilettos. Pulling her hair back, she made a bun. "I am not fucking around, Gwennie. Are you?"
"I'll go easy on you," Gwen smirked, likewise knotting her hair. "Caliban! Ariel!"
Caliban slithered into being, discarding its Invisibility.
"SHAAA!" It wagged its lamprey-tentacles at Alesia.
"EEee!" Ariel made itself known, wagging its fishtail.
"You better beware," Gwen informed her sister-in-craft. "I going to show you how much I've grown."
Alesia cracked her neck, then her fingers.
Their eyes met.
Gwen cursed as her split-second spell failed to catch the dashing Alesia, grazing her sister-in-craft but failing to stun her. Caliban simultaneously charged, transforming into its spider form while Ariel took to the air to act as her spy-station and living turret.
"Combust!" The next spell came from Alesia, a split-second Evocation which Gwen had never seen.
Her double-bolt was caught half-way when without warning, a mote of ember from Alesia's earlier Cinder cantrip expanded into a roaring Fireball, catching her entirely off-guard.
"Oof!" An intense heat licked her torso and her chest, sending her flying backwards. Were it not for her sturdy constitution and overwhelming VMI, the feedback from her twin Lightning Bolt would have thrown her onto the floor.
"SHAAA!" Caliban closed in, its claws locked for capturing one of its favourite humans. According to its master, merely pinning her would suffice.
"Stun Blast!" Came the next spell from Alesia, invoked one-handed. When the shockwave engendered, the blast sent Caliban skittering backwards, while Alesia propelled forward toward Gwen.
SHIT! Gwen landed on her shoulder, then rolled into a dive just like how Alesia had taught her so long ago. "Dimension Door!"
"Blink! Flame Whip!"
Somehow, Alesia could predict where she was going to land. Appearing simultaneously, her former instructor caught Gwen by the ankle with her whip, seriously lacerated her white running shoes, then pulled Gwen with terrific force into the air.
Meanwhile, Gwen's lightning washed over her sister-in-craft, setting off a wave of defiant sparks as her Transmutation-enhanced body absorbed her tier 6 Lightning.
Passive magic? Her mind raced. Alesia could buff herself with silent incantations? As expected of the Scarlet Sorceress, she had grown far more powerful since Blackwattle.
Gwen slammed bodily into the Force Barrier, feeling her innards turn inside out. Madly circulating her Essence, she quickly spun, clearing her head with a restorative jolt, then kicked hard at the ground so that she pulled at Alesia' whip.
"Woa!" Alesia lost her footing. Even with her Transmutation Enhancements, Gwen's draconic-strength was stronger.
Twin bolts struck where Alesia stood, warping the barrier below. Alesia appeared to be stunned, but just as Gwen used the reprieve to stand, Alesia's red dress burst into orange flames, transforming her into a being of fire.
Djinn-form? Gwen blinked. Alesia looked just like Jun with his Ashen Avatar activated. Either way, it meant the difficulty had escalated.
"I thought you were going all out?" Alesia lifted into the air; her near-perfect proportions made impossibly sensual now that her eyes were burning coals and her hair was a river of firefly embers. "Nice Affinity, by the way. I took some damage. Why aren't you using your Void Magic?"
"Well." Gwen licked her parched lips. "You'll have to make me! CALIBAN! ARIEL!"
"Maelstrom!" Alesia drew a circle in the air.
HOLY FUCK! Gwen sucked in a breath of super-heated air: at-will tier 6 Evocation?!
"Elemental Sphere!" Gwen retaliated with an AOE of her own. Behind Alesia, she commanded Caliban to no longer hold back. With a grotesque sound of bone and meandering flesh, it transformed into the stag and activated its sixteen prehensile tentacles.
Above, Ariel grew full-fluffed.
A portal opened into the Elemental Plane of Fire. A sudden vortex descended, pulling Gwen and both of her Familiars into the swirling flames.
"SHAA!" Caliban's tentacles whipped around the stationary Alesia, capturing her flaming body. A great sizzling of grey slime polluted the air as the netherworld fiend used the Maelstrom's owner as an anchor, sliding its appendages around her limbs and torso.
Gwen's Elemental Sphere erupted, though from what she could see, some of its power appeared to have been deadened by the overwhelming volume of Elemental Fire that now filled the vicinity of the training platform. Indeed, it was becoming difficult to breathe, and what air that remained had now heated up to such a degree that she could feel her clothes fraying.
Crack! The second stage of Elemental sphere erupted, enveloping Alesia.
"Void Skin!" Gwen cooled herself before she felt faint from heatstroke.
"Bilby's Hand!" came another higher-tier spell from her opponent.
"Shield!" Gwen fell on the defensive. Instantly, the semi-dome turned opaque from the impact, though thanks to her absurd VMI, it held.
"Use your killing spell!" a command came from Alesia. "Don't be a sissy!"
"Morden's Hound!" Gwen cursed the fact that there was no fucking way she was going to use Chakram Seekers on her newly recovered sister-in-craft. Without IFF from Caliban, she wasn't about to risk wiping out yet another portion of Alesia's Astral Body.
Alesia continued to pound her shield, but Gwen had plenty of mana left to not only sustain but regenerate the damaged portion.
Her hounds emerged.
"SHAAA!" Caliban asked for permission to gore Alesia. Gwen denied her creature's bloodthirsty demand.
"Cali! Keep her tied up!"
"Flame Nova!" Alesia's response was to unleash a ring of cutting, expanding fire from her torso, slicing apart Caliban's restraints.
"SHAAA!" A viscous grey ichor sprayed into the air, evaporating as it touched Alesia's flaming form.
Alesia's flaming form absorbed the blue-white lightning.
Gwen commanded her dogs to attack. If they too failed, then she had only one recourse.
"Blade Barrier!" Alesia completed another tier 6 AoE in less time it took Gwen to manifest a supplementary tier 5 Ball Lightning.
A thick ring of spinning, flaming blades came into being, filling the space of the training hall. Once, twice, a hundred times, her dogs were whipped up by a massive meat-grinder of fire and steel, whimpering and howling as the merciless object bit into their lightning-charged hide.
The small explosion happened a few inches from Gwen's body, pressing the air from her lungs. Though a part of her exercise gear blew off, her skin was neither scorched nor blackened.
In a way, both casters were holding back.
Her spell burst over Alesia.
She wanted to win, and Ariel would make it so.
"Blink!" Alesia had anticipated her killing spell, appearing just above the stationary Familiar, she grabbed Ariel by the horns.
Before the green energy ball could emerge, a beam from Alesia's hand, near-invisible in its extreme heat, removed Ariel's horns with the precision of a veterinarian surgery.
Gwen sputtered as Barbanginy's extreme energy clogged her conduits. To secure victory, she had fed a double-dose of Essence-infused Elemental Sphere into Ariel, and now that energy sloshed back into her Astral Body.
She fucked up! Gwen realised. Alesia's casting speed for tier 6 spells was faster than her tier 5 Evocations, so she should have gone with a basic Lightning Bolt. Six seconds might seem a split-second to those watching a duel, but to someone like her sister-in-craft, it was enough to kick her to the curb and gutter-stomp her face.
"EEEE!" Ariel sprung into a blind panic, assaulting Gwen's empathic link. Where the hell did its horns go? Not only that, it had lost most of its mane where the horns had been. It was now bald!
As for Ariel's master, Essence-infused mana now flooded her Astral Body.
"Caliban!" Gwen called out desperately for Caliban to assume its Naga form, surprised by just how hard she was willing to fight for Walken. "DO IT!"
"SHAAA!" came a cry from Caliban even as it struggled against the Maelstrom.
At that moment, Gwen's eyes rolled to the back of her head, and she felt for the first time in a long time, the exquisite agony of an old fashioned mana burn.
"STOP!" Came a cry from the speaker system. "Operator! Purge the room!"
A second thrum filled the chamber, though the magic-deadening wasn't for Gwen nor Caliban. With her mind in chaos, Caliban de-materialised, returning to its pocket dimension, joining a traumatised, hornless, hairless Ariel.
The fire on Alesia's body dimmed until it was barely a whisper of orange licking the air. Simultaneously, her wide-range AoE ceased.
"HRRUK!" Gwen expelled Walken's scones, toast and jam all over the floor. She looked up at Alesia with runny eyes and wounded pride. "NO! I can still fight!"
"I know you can, tiger." Alesia sighed, her fury drained by the sight of her sister's suffering. "You win."
"Owww!" Gwen flopped over, then writhed on the floor. "My head…"
"You've proven your point." Alesia intoned sagely, dispelling her Flame Avatar. "You handicapped yourself while I almost gave everything I had. Still, I saw your skills on the vid-cast, you should have..."
Gwen began to pound the floor. "GHNNNGH!"
"Tiger?" Alesia realised Gwen wasn't listening at all.
"Blurrrgh!" Gwen vomited yet again, this time her ejecta was mostly tea and stomach acid. She wondered if her brain would leak out of her ears, or if her mana conduits would erupt. Heedlessly, she rolled across her own sick, splashing about the floor groaning and moaning like a dying fish. In her Pocket Dimensions, Caliban howled, while Ariel whimpered. Unbidden, she began to convulse even as her face took on the texture and hue of raw pastry.
Beside the epileptic Gwen, her sister-in-craft grew suddenly nervous.
The doors to the chamber clanged open. In came Dean Luo, Walken, Magus Ma and a troop of Military Mages from both the PLA and the Pudong Tower.
"Gwen!" the Dean ran to his trophy Mage with a face full of genuine worry. "Mao! What have you done to her?"
"It's just… a duel…" a croaking voice came from the girl. "My sister's teaching me…"
Walken likewise knelt beside Gwen, looking as though he wanted to help the girl. However, the Magister stopped short of picking his student up from the floor. With a critical glare, he turned his disapproving eyes up toward his ward's sister-in-craft.
"Ma says that's her shijie." A PLA Military Mage shivered.
"Brutal… too brutal." Another shook his head. "Gweilos are heartless, eh?"
"They only care about winning."
"Do you mind?" Walken indicated to the girl on the floor, his lips thin and hypercritical. "Do I have your permission to take her to the infirmary?"
By now, Alesia's face was flashing red and white.
"I'll do it!" The sorceress picked up her sister-in-craft. Gwen fell into her sister's soft body as she grew increasingly senseless. The last thing she heard was Alesia conversing with the others.
"Miss de Botton." Alan bowed his head, then indicated to the Military Mages. "Magister Walken and Dean Luo have chosen not to press charges, but we need you on the record…"
"I understand." Alesia's worry for her sister-in-craft overshadowed her desire to drag Walken down with her. "I'll meet you outside the infirmary. Can someone lead me there?"
The crowd parted.
The Scarlet Sorceress departed with her sibling-in-craft.
When the door clicked, the Dean turned to his Grey Faction colleague with an amused expression.
"I got some of the paparazzi to surround the front. I think it's going to make a nice headline," he remarked. "Why were you winking at her? The girl's going to be bed-ridden for days."
Walken exhaled, then appeared both embarrassed and anxious. He glanced at the expelled scones on the floor, then wrinkled his nose.
"I thought she was faking it…"