Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 287 - A Tale of two Horrors

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Gwen told Golos to remain in a holding pattern until he was needed once more. A brute without magical finesse, her Wyvern was little more than a resistant meat shield when indoors, one with at most three shots of Lightning Breath.

"I'll be around," Golos grunted, flashing a Storage Ring where the head of the 'Desecrator Hag' now rested as a souvenir, then took to the sky.

"The dogs don't give near as much as Caliban," Gwen observed the colour of her hands, watching the pallid flesh turn pink as her vitality returned. The Brutaliser was an enormous store of life, likely force-fed by the Hag to serve as a sort of Necromancy-battery.

"Take more time if you need it." Tei performed a quick Taoist rite so that the bodies of the two-dozen odd Troll warriors could no longer be raised from the dead. With a Necromancer only a kilometre away, Fudan's captain left no uncertainties uncovered.

"Nah, I am good, let's head up." Gwen warmed her fingers. "Lulu, how about you? You're looking worse for wear."

Lulan's injury was healed, but she had no patience for the slow restoration of her tattered suit. With a conjured blade, she had cut away the ungainly, damaged portions of her armour, ensuring that somewhere, an Enchanter wept. The result was that the Sword Mage appeared eclectic, covered from ankle to chin, but also exposed where her left shoulder, right thigh, and abdomen was concerned.

"Kusu is going to freak." Gwen tidied up Lulan's ponytail, then asked Petra to take a picture. "Lulu, you're going to be an idol."

"Why?" Lulan paid no heed to her exposure.

"More is less; less is more." Gwen studied her companion's innocent face.

"I'm keen for more! It feels so good to use my new skills." Lulan slapped her thigh, affecting an affectionate Clang!

"Don't forget your promise to your folks back home." Gwen pointed upward, reminding Lulan of the ever-present Eye of Providence. "Know what. Now's a good time. Want to do it here?"

"Ah." Lulan flushed. The Sword Mage then rigidly turned to face an imaginary lumen-recorder. "Comrades! I AM LULAN LI! I hail from the Sect of Huashan! If you wish to learn our skills, please put in an application for our Outer Sect! We welcome all magically-inclined citizens! Bring your Hukou when applying!"

Lulan Li, now "Outer Sect" elder, made a ninety-degree bow.

"Tei?"

"I'll pass." Her captain sweated just watching Lulan pitch her sale. Her lines were cringe-worthy that death might be preferable for the proud Tomb Guardian of Clan Tei.

"Suit yourself." Gwen likewise faced Lulan's invisible camera. In the background, she made sure that the pile of Trolls, her hounds, and Ariel all remained in view.

"Dear viewers, if you like to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to sponsor one of our team members, you may contact the House of M, or our representative, Ruì Lee, at our Fudan office. Limited ad-spots for product placements will be auctioned after the first round in early October. Have confidence that we will bring your company or your Clan to the world stage..."

"EE EE!" Ariel struck a pose, capturing a picture-perfect Kodak moment.

Tei thanked the Great Leader when the team finally moved on.

From the sounds and the flashes of light still raging on the western slope, they guessed that Inti's party was fighting an uphill battle.

As for Gwen's party, all that was left was to find the entrance into the catacombs, then find out if South American Fongshui favoured pupils from Fudan.

Hardin Smith never realised that he could sweat so much while wearing climate-cooled Magitech armour.

In the past two hours, his tentacle goggles ran diagnostics across the proceedings, recording all objects of interest for Dark Water's clients. His left eye was set to Scry over the Shanghai party, while his right eye was set for Cuzco.

In the last few hours, he had witnessed Chinese Clanner Magic, mysterious spell cubes, eighteen Morden's hounds and two Cloud Kills decimating close to a hundred Trolls. When confronted by a Hag, a fucking Wyvern showed up out of the blue and transformed the Troll-witch into roadkill.

Then, as Cuzco's diagnostic data displayed on his Divi-device, Hardin once more denounced the duplicitous Amaru.

The female Shaman known as Kusi had been noted on his data set as an "Indigenous User of Necromancy," a term usually denoting those whose religious rites involved draining mana and life from the dying. What Amaru had not relayed was that the girl raised the fucking dead.

"KREEEEEEE!" On the eastern slope, a banshee's wail resounded, creeping under Hardin's multi-layered armour to cover his arm with goosebumps.

In Hardin's mechanised eyes, the competition had become a who's who of horrors. His right lens triple-zoomed, focusing on the walking aberration now laying waste to the Trolls.

The undead fiend had doubtlessly once been a Harpy and a rare variant at that. The most salient aspect of the corpse was its wings, two enormous fans in vivid scarlet, attached to elongated arms. Where the Harpies usual sported feminine, female bodies, this thing was a husk of its former self, with sunken eyes and a smashed nose. Where it once must have been luxuriously dressed in multi-coloured feathers, it was now near-naked, its pallid goose skin turning Hardin's stomach.

Already, a dozen Trolls, warriors and labourers alike, had fallen prey to its aural assault. As for those who managed to close the distance, the skinny, feathery corpse proved immensely powerful, capable of cutting a warrior in twain with a single swing of its scything feathers.

"ULOAR!" A Troll grew in stature, receiving the benediction of a nearby shaman. Its javelins struck the Undead Harpy, though the effect was negligible.

"RADIANT STRIKE!" Inti finished his tier 5 Evocation staple within a second.

Where the Shaman took shelter, the fort's interior glowed like a furnace, spewing forth a vivid, orange light.

The Troll Warrior charged, knowing its buff wouldn't last.

"KREEE!"

The undead bird-woman met the warrior halfway, launching itself so that even as the Troll struck its sides in an attempt to crush its spine, the Harpy latched onto its body.

"Guluo!" the Troll panicked, pulling at the fiend attached to its arm. Opening its jaws, it bit the Harpy, gnawing at the creature's neck with jagged, ivory tusks. "GARRRK!"

Hardin watched as the thing's vitality readings tanked. As with its forerunners, the Troll grew suddenly feeble as its eyes turned glassy.

Beep! Beep! A warning flashed on Hardin's spectrometer.

"Jesus Christ, what kind of freaks are they letting in these days," Hardin swore. "A fucking Soul Eater?!"

A Soul Eater was a tier 6 undead which, when fed the Essence of the living, could rapidly grow in power, well-exceeding the higher tiers. In nations where the Undead Fronts plagued human cities; Blood Lords, Soul Eaters, Corpse Collectors and Death Knights made the "most loathed" monster list. Unlike regular Undead, these creatures possessed unpredictable powers and voracious temperaments. An unlucky party hunting a Soul Eater, for example, could find themselves potentially overwhelmed, becoming its nourishment and adding to the danger tier.

A novice Necromancer controlling a Soul Eater was walking a fine line between power and self-destruction.

Not far from the dying Troll, a half-cooked Shaman crawled from an abandoned granary; its skin burned clean off.

The Necromancer known as Kusi raised a shrunken head, this one made from a Troll's corpse, and drained the charred corpse of its remaining life.

"KiiiYEEE!" the Soul Eater wailed at its caster, trapped in a permanent state of unceasing agony.

Another one of Cuzco's Mages, a lycanthropic Transmuter with the Spirit of an Andes Puma, blocked the Eater's trajectory to its master. This one Hardin recognised as Musi, sister to the Necromancer.

Behind her kin, Kusi raised a second shrunken relic, a human head glowing with a sickly, purple radiance. With incantations Hardin couldn't lip-read, she compelled obedience from her monster.

The Harpy corpse shuddered, tearing at the feathers on its body even though there was none left to pluck. Its red wings bled, wet with a sheen of weeping gore as it faced the temple. With its back hunched, the once majestic mistress of the air trudged forward, an earth-bound raptor.

Hardin chewed his lips in contemplation, scanning the temple for dangers that could waylay the prince. So far, after the Hag Fudan had bested, he had seen no sight nor hide of the Chieftain, nor the Arch Hag.

Hardin considered his options.

His HUD showed that it was 1635. A counter he had set for the Blood Moon noted that the phenomenon wouldn't reach its zenith until midnight. From the looks of the parties' progress, neither would enter the inner sanctum before tomorrow morning.

Until then, perhaps he could add a little trouble to the mix for Cuzco to enjoy.

Kusi's Soul Magic, from what he could see, was a bastardised Necromantic manifestation. In Eastern Europe, The Black Priests could raise vast armies in a matter of hours. Had Kusi possessed an ounce of a true Corpse Mage's skills, she would now be neck-deep in Giant Skeletons or at least protected by a troop of Troll-Ghasts. Unlike traditional Mages, Necromancers thrived on death and destruction, growing stronger as the corpses piled up. It was one of the main reasons cities taken by the Undead rarely held survivors. Necromancers were without peer in protracted siege-scrums.

Hardin likewise knew that Undead creations were bound to a Necromancer's Astral Soul. There was no need for things like relics to command one's pawns, for Undead servants were loyal to a fault. From what he could see, Kusi's magic was entirely based on indigenous lore. If he could destroy her implements, then, what would happen to the necromantic energies therein? More importantly, what would happen to her well-fed Soul Eater?

Hardin couldn't help but let a smile touch his lips.

If Inti could perish by Kusi's fuck up, thereby engendering a civil war between Amazonia and Cuzco, he would surely become Operator of the Year.

"Gwen, we're here." Petra checked their map. "This is it."

Behind the two girls, a semi-circle of hounds stood guard, wary of Trolls emerging from secret alcoves or hidden entrances. According to the map, the party had arrived at the main temple. Unfortunately, its once splendid facade had been torn down, repurposed by the Trolls or destroyed by the team's earlier AoE.

"Pats, any ideas?" Gwen patted the stone door, its murals long erased by wind, sun, Trolls and creeper plants.

Her cousin checked the wards. "Hmm... I think the source is dead."

"Dead?" Gwen cocked her head.

"The power's gone, scrapped off, dispelled. The door's just a slab of stone now."

"Shit," Gwen grumbled.

A closed door with ruined magic meant that whatever was hidden behind it was likely looted.

"Allow me." Lulan cracked her knuckles. "SHAPE STONE!"

The massive slab warped, the stone shifted, forming a strange, vertical gash the likeness of parting curtains.

"Someone's used this entrance already," Tei observed. "Not surprising. I guess. The wards used by the Incan people are neither Dwarven or Elven. Human Enchantment rarely outlasts two decades. It has to do with our relatively short lives. Since there's a coven here, they likely corroded the foundations. I think we were too optimistic with the whole untouched treasure concept."

Within, the room consisted of a pitch dark interior, unmoved even by the light from the unconventional entrance.

Tei motioned for Gwen's hounds.

Gwen nodded. "Buck! You're up!"

Her Void Hounds slinked in.

"Gawrrr!" Buck made a sound akin to a throaty cough.

"The coast is clear." Gwen received the paw-up from Ariel.

"Alright." Tei turned to his team members. "Buff up! Marching Order: Void Alpha, Lulu, me, Gwen, Petra, Rene, Lightning Alpha."

"You boys stay here and guard the entrance," Gwen informed her hound pack. "It's too tight for pack tactics. They can join us later, or I can D-D them in."

The inside proved tighter than her dogs could arguably discern, for when Gwen and company did finally enter, the passageway was barely five foot tall.

"Interesting." Petra pointed to the stacked and slotted stonework. "I think I know how this works. The stones perfectly fit but aren't mortared, meaning manipulation will collapse the structure. Meanwhile, its too short and narrow for Trolls to fight properly, while still large enough to invite them inside so that the small stature of the Inca can utilise spears or long-range spells. For Trolls at least, the entry can serve as a death trap."

The party sent down a flood of Dancing Lights. The entrance's interior was spartan and utilitarian, forming a passage that led forward and downward, coiling to the right.

"Buck" led the way, prowling effortlessly, sniffing for signs of life. Gwen and Petra became hypothetical Trolls, having to bend their bodies until they were shuffling like apes.

PUTHOK!

A stone spear emerged from the wall, piercing Buck.

"Aroooough?" Buck snorted, then continued.

"An articulated mechanism?" Gwen inspected the passage wall.

"Careful," Tei stopped their amateur Enchanter from putting her face to the Glyph.

"A Conjuration glyph set to proximity." Petra erased the magic with a glowing hand. "It's crude and common in ruins like this."

"Next thing you know, there'll be a giant boulder, and we'll all run for it!" Gwen joked.

"I will cut this boulder in half," Lulan asserted confidently. "Unless it is a boulder of darkened steel or Adamantium, in which case, we can sell it for money."

"You can probably fit the rock into your Storage Ring," Rene joked. "Boulder traps are so primitive."

"Lulu," Petra derailed the train of thoughts. "Adamantium isn't naturally occurring. It's an alloy made by the Dwarves. Unless there's a Dwarven city down here, it's going to worthless boulders."

"Okay, forget I said anything," Gwen sulked. Indiana Jones in this world would have to contend with the Mines of Moria.

The party continued. A dozen traps put Buck through every form of torture; wall spikes, crushing mallets, a pitfall, and a pile of dead vermin that, when alive, would have made Gwen void the Dungeon. After what must have been several hundred metres, the party sensed a slight breeze that stirred the stale air.

"Gawrrr!" Buck interrupted their conversation.

"Contact!" Gwen translated in place of Ariel. Her Familiar lacked punch as a dog-sized ferret, while its Kirin form was too big for teamwork in the tunnel.

"Link Sight," Gwen whispered. "Buck, go!"

The hound flattened its body, then sped forward as a black blur with stiletto legs skittering against the smooth stone. With eyes attuned to Caliban-vision, Gwen immersed herself, hoping the exit wasn't too far. Different to her Familiars, Link Sight had limited range when used on creatures she conjured temporarily.

The tunnel ended abruptly, opening into the catacombs.

The ceiling was now a cavern of at least three or more storeys, roofed with conic stalactites. The hound's immediate surroundings were equally spacious, enough to fit a dozen Trolls from shoulder to shoulder.

And speaking of Trolls, her Vitality-VR quickly spotted the hunting party hiding in the shallow pools of dark water. In her Void fiend's life-sensing vision, the Trolls appeared as incandescent figures of light.

"ULOAR!"

Buck was a terrible actor. When it began to salivate uncontrollably, the Trolls knew their stone-form disguises had failed.

As one, the warriors leapt from cover to abuse Gwen's dog.

Up in the tunnel, Gwen grew instantly upset.

"If Buck dies, the new deerhound won't have the same memories," she explained. "I am going to help, but we shouldn't put all our eggs in one basket, volunteers?"

"I'll go." Lulan raised her hand.

"Be careful not to destroy the cavern," Tei reminded her. "No environmental AoEs. No sonic spells. Rene, get ready to reinforce the cavern if it starts to collapse. Petra, you help as well."

"Got it," the girls replied.

"Join me in five seconds!" Gwen commanded Ariel to get ready. "Dimension Door!"

When Gwen materialised with the newly released Ariel, Buck had already been beaten out of shape. As a Void beast, it had no sensation for pain, and unlike her lightning hounds, its usual tactic involved consuming enemies so that its foes died while it regenerated.

This time, the six or so Troll warriors and their Shaman had the dog well-pinned. After a well-aimed blow disabled its legs, the rest of the warriors pummeled Buck like a side of black mochi.

"Ushhuth glogagioz lugser!" The Shaman was the first to notice the dog's owner.

The warning came too late, for Gwen had finished her invocation. "Chain Lightning!"

"EEE!" Ariel acted as the power recycler.

The dark cavern grew momentarily brighter than mid-day. From Troll to Troll, an arm-thick cord of raw plasma traversed, overpowering the creatures' resistance to fry their nerves, causing an eruption of flesh where latent energies escaped from yielding bodies.

Gwen was once again impressed. Walken's signature spell was made for occasions such as this. Her only regret was that after a mere two revolutions, the spell grounded itself.

"Elemental Sphere!" But Gwen's incantations were quick. A second blast rang out, enveloping the paralysed Trolls, then striking them again with a nova flash.

"HEEEEYAH!" Lulan Misty Stepped in, a green blaze of swirling blades, slicing and dicing as she charged the Shaman.

"Ashtazag duway!" the Troll caster cried out in panic, throwing up a fistful of bones to erect a barrier.

Lulan crashed through the bone wall and pinned the Troll so that it appeared as though a giant bug specimen. With two broad strokes of "Sweep!", she severed its limbs, then its head, leaving a twitching torso to remain impaled on her hilt-less slab.

"Eat up." Gwen channelled a bit of her vitality so that her Void hound recovered. All of the Trolls were alive. Usually, it meant trouble. For Fudan, it implied Buck could restore what the bastards had taken.

Buck's body unmangled itself, then went about the business of replenishing it and Gwen's vitality.

"Good work." Tei descended with Rene and Petra.

Rene reinforced the cavern regardless, using her Magma to form hardened pillars, conjoining the roof and the floor.

"Where do you think this place leads?"

"Hopefully, the storage area." Tei likewise had no idea. "I was wondering how the Inca could build such enormous underground structures. Having tunnels that lead to a natural cavern makes far more sense."

"I read that the Incan gods dwell in Hanan Pacha, a small pocket dimension adjacent to the Material Realm," Gwen annotated from her guide, ignoring her tingling innards as Buck feasted. "According to lore, the inter-dimensional gate between Hanan Pacha and our world can be found in lakes and caverns."

"You think this is one of them?" Tei remarked as more Dancing Lights dispelled the dark. "Look, I see a Quipu, it's rotted, but you can make out the remains. Can anyone read it?"

Unfortunately, not even Gwen's Translation Stone could translate the strange knot-language called Quipu.

"Still, seems like we're in the right place." Petra made notes. "Shall we?"

"Gwwwargh!" Buck barked, finishing off a Troll.
"Woof!" Astro agreed.
"EE ee!" Ariel joined in.
"Gulelus—" a Troll's last words were cut off.

"Alright," Tei again commanded the party. "Marching orders."

"How are you feeling?" Petra noted flushing cheeks.

"Like Lulu said..." Gwen brimmed with excessive, bright-eyed energy. "I can do this all day!"

"Let us rest and recuperate." Inti wrung a fistful of sweat from his brow.

Unlike Fudan, what had awaited the Cuzco party after Kusi's Soul Slave opened the Gate of the Sun was an ambush involving a Hag and at least a dozen Troll Warriors, backed by two Shamans and a Brutaliser.

Inti immediately exhausted the collated faith his relic stowed, stunning the war band with an all-enveloping blast of Radiance. While the Trolls writhed and howled, Kusi and Musi set to work on the Hag, attempting to destroy the Trolls' support caster before it could turn the tide of battle.

The Hag, unexpectedly, had provisioned for Inti's magic. Its Brutaliser guard acted as a meat-shield, preventing it from being blinded. With one hand, it instantly raised a shower of black blood to fall on Inti's party, while the other wrung vitality from her guardian to restore her warriors. Against the decay, Mallqu intervened, performing a cleansing rite to abjure the black blood melting Tupaq's earthen shield.

A chaotic melee ensued. Musi transformed into a wildcat, slashing up Trolls as she harassed the Hag, darting in and out of range of the Brutaliser's teeth-studded club. Kusi, meanwhile, commanded both her Blood Harpy slave and a newly risen Troll warrior to keep the rioting horde at bay.

From the temple's interior, the combat spilt into the open, then back into the chamber, then out again when the Hag opened up with the magic of decay.

When finally the Hag unleashed its Curse, Inti made his move, filling the air with such an aura of radiant awe that all who bore witness to his glamour paid no heed to the black magic of the Trollic witch.

With Tupaq defending and the undead pets whittling down the warriors, Musi eventually took down the Hag, severing her head to prevent spell-casting, rending its body with her flesh-eating daggers.

The battle felt forever, though Inti knew their labour couldn't have lasted more than half-an-hour.

When Kusi siphoned the last Troll, the prince had exhausted his magic, the same with his party. It was only the Soul Slaves that became stronger, feasting on the Essences of the fallen.

"This will do nicely." Musi toyed with the head of the Hag, passing the trophy to Kusi. "A magic-user slave could be very helpful. With enough Essence, I can activate the Curse of Ch'aska."

Inti gave his consent, too tired to argue. "Don't get carried away. In two hours, I need to perform the dusk ritual, and come the next morning; I'll need an hour for the Rite of the Sun."

Musi mocked her future consort with a demeaning smirk, attracting unpleasant glares from Tupaq.

"Enough of your cheek. Set your slaves to guard us," Tupaq commanded the girls. "Do not forget that without Cuzco, your tribe would have perished; if not to the Trolls, then the Spaniards."

"You're noisier than a llama's ass," Musi snarled, hissing like a cat.

"Sister, peace," Kusi checked her sibling. "Sir Tupaq is correct."

"Nevermind that," Inti interrupted his crew. "Fudan must be laughing at us right now. Remember, the proctors are watching all of our actions. Do not embarrass us. Cuzco, the Shuar, all who hail from the four Suyus are our family."

Inti watched Kusi's face as the girl turned away. In the event of their union, the Soul Priest would be his officious concubine, but it was Musi who would have to carry his child. Despite the ancient wisdom of the Shuar's craft, the side-effects of Negative Energy remained immutable. To that end, he understood the girls' antagonism. As a man, he had no desire to win the girls, but as a King, it was his duty.

Without interest, Mallqu found an empty spot, then laid herself down to sleep.

"If only all of the Antis could be as wise and cultured as the Jivaroan," Tupaq mumbled.

The girls said nothing. Manipulating her shrunken relics, Kusi set the guards, then retreated to a corner to meditate on the day ahead.

Condor's Rise.
A swimming sun slowly plunged into the jagged horizon.
Inside the stone fort, the Proctors had been arguing unceasingly about the match.

From Fudan's Wyvern one-hitting the Hag to Inti's all-searing AoE, the proctors fell into a buzz of passions. Cuzco's match was one that took place between two low-ranked universities, but the destructive power demonstrated by both teams had reached at least the semi-finals. It was a great boon, for grand spectacles made for good lumen-casts, which translated into additional influence for the IIUC.

"Don't you think our Void Sorceress and our Indigenous Necromancer are similar?" a Proctor was proposing a hypothesis.

"Nothing of the sort." Auberon snorted. "For one, Gwen is far easier on the eyes—"

"Sir!" Lucy intervened. "Magister Sakmann warned you about this…"

"You're mistaken." Auberon sipped his Earl Grey. An Englishman might be up to his neck in competitive sorceresses wielding sinister magic, but tea time was sacred. "Take a biscuit, Miss Pritchard. I am speaking in relative terms, but it is undeniable that our colonial sorceress makes for a good show, hmm?"

"I'll drink to that," another proctor agreed. "Her... display is sure to please."

A few of the women rolled their eyes.

"It's true, Lucy."

"Sir..."

"I am serious. Gwen's Void Beasts, Wyvern, Kirin, and that phallus she calls Caliban, they're impressive. And most importantly, they're exotic, or alien, or downright terrifying. Compared to a bleeding Soul Eater, which one would you rather see on vid-cast?"

"Miss Song, I suppose."

"That's right, Lucy." Auberon was in a lecturing mood. "Do you know why she enjoys such popularity despite her creature's aberrant exterior?"

"Is it because of Miss Song's beauty?"

"That too, but not my point, Miss Pritchard. Shame on you! It's because the Void critters are utterly foreign, you see? Out of this world. Completely obscene. We don't mind them after an initial fright, because they're exotic tools."

"Sir?"

"BUT the Undead, Good Lord!" Auberon replaced his cup with a clink. "You ever killed a man, Miss Pritchard."

"I can't say I haven't. I was in the service when the Suez incident happened."

"Yes, very good." Auberon smiled sympathetically. "Terrible affair, that one. My condolences. You recall how when someone's newly dead and the bundles of stuff come out, where even though you're behind the Abjurers, there's still a desire to be sick?"

Lucy paled.

"It's the same reason we are naturally averse to Necromancy," Auberon said. "It is human empathy that makes us sick- you see? We don't like to look death in the face. Why in God's name would we want to look at Undeath in the face? All are equal when the reaper comes calling. That's why Miss Kusi makes for terrible Vid-casts, you see. People don't want to acknowledge the possibility that death isn't the final frontier, that their spirit may never rest. Do you see?"

"I see, Sir."

"Kenneth, you were saying the girls were similar?"

"I was, Lord Lucas," the proctor called Kenneth replied. "Both are trying to prove that their magic is beneficial rather than something that should be caged. Now I see that they are different."

"Indeed." Auberon slathered a scone for the shivering Lucy. "Keeping malignant forces under control is never as easy as it looks. Either of our sorceresses—"

"SIR!" A proctor pulled a vid-cast across to the central display. "Something's happened to Inti's party! I think their Soul Eater has been untethered from the Necromancer's relic!"

"Speak of the devil…" Auberon commanded another proctor to keep an eye on the diagnostics. "Who is it? Fudan? Are they responsible?"

"No sir, Fudan is still fighting." A proctor pointed to yet another monitor. "I think we may have an intruder."

"Oh, truly?" Auberon reviewed the footage. On the real-time projection, Cuzco's party was beating a swift retreat from their undead pets. The Troll straight away fled into the temple's depth, while the Harpy appeared dead-set on murdering its master. "Politics?"

"Looks like it, sir." Another proctor brought up the mana-spirometer, while a second machine furiously spat out a script that recorded Divination readings surrounding the contestants. "There! A spike! Looks like Illusion and Transmutation, my Lord."

"Record everything." Auberon turned his attention back to the screen. "You know, when this happens in England, at least Brussels gets passed a note. How droll."

"SIR!" another proctor spoke up. "There's something else."

"What is it now?"

"I am recording massive energy readings in the Questing region. They read like shielding signals."

Auberon fell silent.

"Lord Lucas?"

"Yes, Miss Ashley?" Auberon peeled the crispy bits from his scone.

"Just received word from Cuzco Tower - there's going to be a Blood Moon tonight."

The proctors collectively inhaled a breath of humid, Amazonian air.

"Politics it is then." Auberon exhaled, smiling to assure his team. "Carry on."

"We're doing nothing, Sir?"

"We'll teleport out when we need to," Auberon considered the man's inquiry. "Beast Tides are no joke, you know."

"The contestants…"

"One side's on the receiving end, and the other can fly out on a Wyvern. I wouldn't worry." The Chief proctor was the very model of professionalism. "Keep calm and carry on, lads and lasses. My order stands, oh, and Miss Lucy?"

"Sir?"

"A fresh brew, if you please. The good tea. We'll be in for a long night."

 

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Wutosama

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

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