Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 296 - Prelude to Premonition

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Magister Roslyn-Marie Wen meandered about her laboratory in a daze.
Only an hour ago, she had been studying the data from the Void Sorceress’ engagement with the Undead. Midway, the Dean had invited himself in, and now she felt paralysed by an uncharacteristic surge of jubilation hammering against her chest.

“I have informed Eric.” Dean Luo watched his prized researcher pace like a clockwork construct. “He should be joining us very soon.”

Wen paused, frowned, then returned to the Diagnostics Engine to print the biometric script. The cognitive labour, she hoped, would calm her nerves, not to mention clarify her hypothesis.

The knock sounded just once before Walken entered in a huff.

“What’s wrong? Is she in trouble again?” The British Magister opened with a rhetorical question.

“Good, we’re all here. Ellen, do we have unwanted company?” Luo asked of his Familiar. In her incorporeal form, Ellen responded by whispering into his ear.

“We can use my lab’s Pocket Dimension,” Wen pointed to the inscribed portal.

A pocket-space was a standard attachment to most experimental laboratories. Such a workspace was excellent for volatile experiments. When a spell goes awry, the researcher could instantly expel themselves back into the Material while shunting the melting mess into the Astral Plane.

"It’s a little disordered inside," Wen warned as she entered.

“Mao!” Luo baulked when he had to sidestep a Spellcube. “You’ve got quite the collection, Magister.”

“It's a hobby.” Wen shrugged. “The rarer spells are so hard to come by.”

Inside was a chamber the size of a tennis court, beyond which Astral grey-space met an infinite horizon. Here and there, stack upon stacks of stowed magic formed waist-high walls.

“A veritable treasure trove!” the Dean remarked, carefully picking up a cube to examine its content. "You've managed to stabilise the formula?"

"The bonding wards rapidly decay outside the Astral Plane," Wen replied, her thin lips curling to form a smile. "I am leaving the project to Petra for now. As you know, there are more pressing discoveries."

Walken’s attention fell upon a particular corner. “This is…”

“My contingency collection.” Wen pointed to the thirty-thick stack of crystalline cubes. “The glowing ones are her viridian Essence; the dark ones are her Void Mana.”

“What for?” Walken guessed the answer as soon as the words left his mouth.

“Why, for when she dies.” Wen raised hers in response. “I am not the one pushing her into danger, you know. Prodigies perish every day, but the search for knowledge must go on.”

The Dean coughed.

“Jiang, show him the letter.”

“What’s this?” Walken recognised the broken seal even with its top half missing. “From Oxbridge?”

“Cambridge, to be exact.” The Dean smacked his lips. “What do you make of this, Eric?”

Walken retrieved the sheet, then activated the embedded glyph, embossed by an ermine fur "cross" linking four golden lions, the university's coat of arms.

“Dean Jiang,” the Message began to read itself in the voice of the Vice-Chancellor, a bureaucrat above Walken's paygrade. “It is my supreme pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you regarding one of your most accomplished acolytes - Miss Gwen Song. Since witnessing her performance at the last IIUC, many of our senior House Masters and Matrons have expressed interest in the girl as an exchange candidate…”

Walken paused the Message. As an old boy, he knew exactly how difficult it was to be admitted to Oxbridge, much less receive an invitation. To his knowledge, a demand such as this was enough to make waves in the intra-politics of the colleges. “And it bears a seal from his Grace, the Duke of Edinburgh...”

"Oh, it's real." Dean Luo's expression was unreadable. “I spoke to Magister Butterfield via simulcast this morning. He has assured me that their commitment should be considered immovable."

“Immovable!” Walken swallowed. “For Gwen?”

“That’s right.”

Walken returned to the Message, as he read the lines, the Vice-Chancellor’s imposing voice continued to play.

“...I understand that Miss Song may be considered an important asset for your university, and mayhap your nation possesses designs upon her many-talented person. Rest assured that we fully respect your ambitions and that Cambridge will offer the candidate's weight in mithril in reparation. For our ‘exchange’, I am willing to gift Magister Marie-Roslyn Wen a placement as a King’s Scholar. Post-peer-review, all Void-related research she thereby publishes shall bear the seal of the Arcanum Press. Furthermore, should she successfully defend her thesis against the academic board, Cambridge shall itself vouch for her Meisterhood. At any period during her stay, she is free to return to Shanghai…”

Walken stared at Wen. Incredibly, the mineral-woman reddened.

“… On a more personal note, I would like to communicate a few points of interest to yourself and our old alumni—Magister Walken, who I understand is the girl's caretaker. Our oldest and most prestigious houses had initiated the sponsorship for Miss Song's invitation, including Peterhouse. The personages involved hold significant weight in the academic and the public sphere. Please understand that I am neither making a threat nor being obtuse when I say that even as the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, denying these august individuals would lead to no end of trouble…”

“Who made the offer?” Walken regarded the Dean.

“He didn’t say. I guess some big-wigs, wouldn’t you know?”

Walken chewed his lips as his eyes returned to the letter. If the request came from Peterhouse, could it be her ladyship? As for the others, were they academics curious to dissect Gwen's unique physiology, or did they simply want to keep an eye on the second Sobel? If anything, Gwen's mimicry of the Void egg came vividly to mind.

“… Finally,” the Message continued to play as Walken finished off the last few paragraphs. “… I am in contact with Miss Song’s guardian, Lord von Shultz. The young Master of Sydney is pleased that we can offer Miss Song a position in our ancient establishment. Such was the university's generosity that two of our finest Magisters should soon be taking residence in Sydney Tower as thanks to Magister von Shultz’s boundless wisdom. Presently, the same offer has been extended to the PLA's Secretary-General, who may soon be in contact, pending your decision... I look forward to your reply. Yours with the utmost sincerity, Butterfield V-C.”

"Well?" Luo regarded Walken.

“Is…” Walken’s brows stitched. “No one going to ask for Gwen’s opinion? Does she even know about this?”

Wen and the Dean appeared taken aback by the comment.

“Why would anyone turn down Cambridge?” Wen spluttered in disbelief. “She wanted a Tower, did she not? How else is she hoping to get one? Attaining the title of an Oxbridge Magister halves her labour.”

“That's true. Gwen could graduate right into middle-management, perhaps oversee a fief on the Mageocracy's behalf,” the Dean appended his Mineral Magister. “Eric, do you mean Gwen would say no?”

“The girl's a sentimentalist,” Walken stated the obvious. “Her family is here in Shanghai.”

“Then I shall take Petra with me,” Wen retorted with arrogance. “I have an allowance for an assistant.”

“What about—“ Walken jogged his bloated brain for names. “Richard? Lulan? Her grandmother and that Uncle of hers?”

“The Ashbringer?”

“Yes!” Walken was incredulous at the cluelessness of his colleagues. Surely it wasn’t just him who understood the girl? He never professed to be an authority in Gwenology, but his colleagues appeared novitiates. “She possesses an unhealthy attachment to the man. Even if he's free to travel, there is no bleeding way the PLA is letting him and his Dragon Princess out of the country.”

Wen and the Dean regarded one another.

“Eric, whose side are you on?” Wen's eyes narrowed. Her stone-cold expression was declaring that she wasn't about to let anything come between her and the Meisterhood.

“Eric,” the Dean growled. “Do you have any idea what Wen's Meisterhood can do for us? She would be the first Chinese Meister since Yu-Lin Chan! Furthermore, she wouldn't be a Meister bought with favours from the Americans, but one recognised by Cambridge! Fudan would exceed Jiantong and reach the status of Peking University overnight!”

Walken ground his teeth.

“I haven’t informed the Secretary-General Miao yet, but I know this— one complaint from this Butterfield that we’ve turned down free advisors from Cambridge, and we’ll all be rotting inside Tianlanqiao within the week,” The Dean explained with great wariness. “I think you're pessimistic. Who says she doesn't want to go? Gunther should contact her soon. I mean, how about yourself? Don’t you want to return to Cambridge, to London?”

The Lightning Magister held his tongue, his awareness of his Affinity's mental corruption far too acute for an obtuse response.
If Gwen were to go to Cambridge, where would that leave him? Compared to those monsters at the peak of Spellcraft, Magister Eric Walken was just an understudy. Once he lost Gwen, what would he do? There was no homecoming in Sydney, and Walken could hardly return to his wife or his family in London either. He would once again become an aimless vagabond.

“Earlier, I processed her biometrics,” Wen changed the subject when Walken chose the right to remain silent. “I think she'll do just fine in Oxbridge.”

Having seen the script, Jiang Luo patted his old friend on the shoulder. “Woe betide the man who hopes to corral the girl, Eric. Don't be a fool. You're a Lightning Mage, not a lightning rod.”

His mind in turmoil, Walken read the lines one by one.

“Evocation 5.31 — 5.51.”
“Conjuration 5.80 — 6.01”
“Transmutation 3.75 — 3.85.”
“Abjuration 2.54 — 2.67.”
“Divination 1.67 — 1.72.”
“Illusion 2.45 — 2.48.”
“Enchantment 1.30 — 1.46.”

The incremental increases in Gwen's Schools of Magic had been somewhat expected, considering that the girl had been training and fighting ceaselessly. Seeing her Conjuration reach the sixth tier especially filled his heart with jubilation, for the girl had accomplished in one of her seven Schools what others took decades to attain. That she leapt into the next tier also suggested a rarer talent - the lack of a bottleneck. For the next tier, however, the girl would be kneecapped by her inadequate knowledge. Still, the milestone was cause for celebration.

He turned to the next scroll.

“VMI 302 — 330.”

Walken blinked, then reread the numbers.

“That’s right.” Wen smirked. “She can increase her VMI from consuming Demi-human casters. It’s not as pronounced as Human Mages, mind you, but it’s there.”

“Trolls can hardly be considered Demi-human magic-users,” the Dean proposed dreamily. “Imagine if she could get her hands on a High Elf Elementalist. Their mana reserves are legendary.”

“You're getting rather ahead of yourself,” Walken warned the Dean. “Pudong will have your head, even as a joke.”

“You jump at shadows,” Wen snorted. “Keep reading.”

Walken ignored the Mineral Mage, then read on.

“Lightning 6.67 (6.89) — 7.01 (7.44), the latter is if we include her Kirin.”
“Void 4.51 — 4.72.”

“She can absorb the Undead to increase her Void Affinity?”

“Not from our samples,” Wen shook her head. “Maybe it was the Soul Eater? Or something in that Beast Tide? Or perhaps the Hags. We’ll need formalised testing under controlled conditions. I anticipate better opportunities in England. Someone in Eastern Europe could probably conjure a Soul Eater for the girl to try her luck. Did you notice her Lightning has pushed past 7?”

“She was already a handful,” Walken grimaced. “A teenager and a dragon... a rebellious teenage dragon, my God.”

“Her pride shall work in our favour,” Wen remarked with cold logic. “Pardon me, Dean, but who would grace Fudan when one can be a graduate from Oxbridge? The same goes for you, Magister. Why would anyone care for Eric Walken when one could apprentice under Meister Darwin or Sanger or Beckett? Imagine being an alumna to Meister Oppenheimer of King's College! She’s already an Omni-Mage, Eric. Give it five, six decades, and she may very well attain the title of Sorceress Supreme! The Übermensch the Grey and Militant Factions dreamt of creating!”

The researcher’s pale crystal eyes glowed with sickly fervour, as though she’d just found the God of a new Cult she’d been following.

Walken felt a queasy unease. Wen’s unfeeling mockery hurt because she was right. What was Walken to Gwen? If he hadn’t intervened, she would be interning under Kilroy, a man who could exchange favours from London’s Meisters at a moment’s notice.

“Well, Eric.” The Dean’s gaze bore into his soul. “Are you with us?”

“... What do you think, Sis?” Gwen sat beside Yue and Petra. When Gunther rang, the girls had offered to leave the apartment, but seeing as her brother-in-craft didn't object, Gwen had begged them to stay.

“Never been to England except with Master.” Alesia scowled, her exquisite face scrunched with annoyance. “It's filled with lecherous old bastards.”

“She means lecturous,” Gunther intervened before his sister-in-craft could get the wrong impression. “Alesia gutted the King's Arms. Master had to bail her out.”

“Those House pricks duelled ME!” Alesia huffed. “If you can’t wrestle the Ogre, don’t grope its testes.”

“Well said!” Yue slapped her thighs.

Gwen almost spat out the juice she was nursing.

“OKAY, OKAY,” Gunther prevented his prudish sister-in-craft from further mental degradation. “Presently, nothing’s confirmed as of yet. I'm just letting you know that an offer has been made. For sure you're bound to get other proposals soon, but this is your best bet. To my knowledge, Vice-Chancellor Butterfield is acting on behalf of Lady Grey. To you, that's the Marchioness of Ely, Justine Maxwell Loftus. She and Master go way back, and I can personally vouch for her ability to keep you from... undesired attention. If you do decide to go, you’ll be in reliable hands. Most importantly, so long as the Marchioness requests it, every summer and winter break, you’ll be free to go where ever you please. That includes Shanghai and Sydney.”

“Pats, what do you think?”

“If what Gunther says is correct,” Petra’s face positively glowed. “I may be able to leave with Master and study under her in Oxbridge. I could even find a sponsor to further Spellcube research and author my own paper if and when she chooses to return to China.”

“Yue?” Gwen turned to her oldest friend.

“Why are you asking a spell-fodder what she thinks of Cambridge?” Yue laughed. “I am a high school graduate and a grunt. What the hell do I know about prestigious universities?”

“What about Richard?” Gwen grasped at straws. Her chest felt full of water. The notion of prematurely leaving Shanghai was a shocking proposition. There was no reason to reject Gunther’s good news, but it was all so sudden, all too soon. The direction she had finally garnered was once again spinning like a broken compass.

“I can petition Marchioness Loftus on Richard's behalf,” Gunther intoned gravely. “But then, you would owe her a great deal. When you get to her tier of power and influence, favours and promises may as well be Geas.”

“Richard is legitimately talented,” Gwen defended her cousin. “He could have gone to England himself, don't you know?”

“As a Praetor— not a student,” Gunther reminded her. “Not to mention he’d be under London Imperials, serving the Four Houses as a faithful guard dog.”

Gwen scowled, feeling that her pride for Richard's accomplishments had been trampled.

“Why not speak with Richard, tell him there’s an opportunity for both of you to attend Cambridge? Remember, you mustn't mention Lady Grey,” Gunther advised. “The poor boy's deeply indebted to you as it is. Have his parents arrived in Shanghai?”

“Not yet.”

“In case he asks, they won’t be going to London,” Gunther spoke with brevity. “Not even with CCs.”

“It’s not like that, Dick’s just repaying them,” Gwen explained that Richard felt he owed his parents. “He’ll be happy in Oxbridge, I’d imagine.”

“No doubt, studying in London was his dream, after all.”

Gwen sighed, leaning against Yue so that the petite soldier became a comfortable human pillow.

There was her family in Shanghai, as well as the friends she had made.
But she also wanted to see Elvia, who she could now cuddle a year and a half in advance. Academically, her study of Spellcraft would see a significant boost if she could receive tutelage from the progenitors of the knowledge she was studying. The author of her first-ever Spellcraft primer, Deekin A. Allenberg, was a Cambridge graduate himself and currently lectured there.

But then there were her investments here in Shanghai. Would Nantong allow her to leave the country? Certainly not with a one per cent stake in Tonglv. She would have to be bought out at a loss— her loss. As for the House of M, Mayuree and Marong could keep her interests satisfied, but the loss of Tonglv would mark a notable setback.

On the other hand, assuming Gunther's Lady Grey was a reliable sheila, Gwen'd be a free bird. As a globetrotter, far more business interests would open to her. With her stock of HDMs, using ISTC stations across the continents was no object. In her old world, the early 00s was a period of rapid innovation that had set the technological trends for the next decade. Knowing this, she would be remiss to not take full advantage of the fact.

But her heart remained sore.
Babulya.
Percy.
Tao and Mina.
Tonglv.
Ruì and Professor Ma.
Lulu and Kusu.
How would their lives be altered if she were to bugger off to London?
What would happen to her family's current prosperity? Would the PLA let her leave? How would she know they'd be safe? What if she were to act against the PLA's interests in the future? Indeed, a significant conflict of interest was inescapable.

“How long do I have to decide?”

“Take your time,” Gunther implored. “A month would be my guess.”

“Until the IIUC ends? Or when we lose.”

"At most, until London's winter solstice," Gunther explained. "You would require remedial studies before commencing any courses at Cambridge. Even if you arrive in February, you will miss Lent. Assuming six months of catch up, Easter is out as well. At best, you’re looking at Michaelmas.”

“I know some of those words.” Gwen’s head throbbed.

“October. You won’t be able to start second-year until October. But…”

“But?”

“You can see Elvia anytime,” Gunther roared with laughter. “No, that's a cheap shot. The choice is yours, little sister. You have to understand that it was YOUR performance in Burma and then in Amazonia that has brought this opportunity. I don’t know if you could have done better under Master if he were still here, but I do know you’ve worked hard. This outcome is what we desired from the very beginning.”

“Well said,” Alesia joined in. “Good work, Gwennie. Master would have been proud.”

Gwen perked up, the clot in her chest unclogging as she imagined a happy Henry giving his well-wishes. “Thanks, guys. How could I have achieved this without the two of you, my siblings?”

“Bah, modesty isn’t you,” Alesia snorted. “Sorceresses like you and I, we have reason to be proud. Right, Yue?”

“Fuck yeah!”

“Don’t listen to them,” Gunther forced Alesia out of view. “Take your time. If you must accept an offer, accept this one.”

"BYE, GWEN! Yue, show em hell!"

The Message ended.

Gwen repositioned herself beside Yue, then studied her cousin. Petra’s Husky-blue orbs glowed. If eyes could speak, they'd be screaming, “Screw going home to Moscow, we're going to Oxbridge!”

She puckered her lips.

She would have to consult Richard, and Babulya, Tao and Mina and her Uncle Jun. Ayxin would probably call her unfilial, mocking her for leaving her family to fend for themselves. Unlike the dragon-princess, they were just mortals; her family and allies didn't have a pact where they banded together to shit on anyone who dared provoke them—

She blinked.

“Holy shit,” Gwen punched the air with a snap. “RUXIN!”

Yue jumped, wondering if a Dragon had just gotten into her friend.

“What about Ruxin?” Petra wondered why Gwen was suddenly screaming the Thunder Dragon’s name.

“Ruxin is the elder Prince of Huangshan, and Tonglv is only two-hundred kilo-meters away from its border,” Gwen tittered like a greedy Goblin, her cunning eyes sending shivers up Petra's spine. "Pats, you know what. I am about to have my cake, and eat it.”

“Marong, did you feel that?” Ruxin laid down the reports Marong had brought to the Jade Palace. The numbers at the bottom had grown since his favourite servant had begun manipulating the Jade Market. Under the throne room, Ruxin's cache of element-specific crystals was also piling up rapidly.

“I felt nothing, my lord,” Marong gulped.

“It felt as though…” Ruxin tasted the air. “That’s strange. The weather's changing. How could it, when I gave no such command? Perhaps it's Golos? What’s he doing?”

“Sporting with his new mate, the bird-woman.” Marong touched his forehead to the cold ground, afraid that his lord was displeased. “I fear they made quite the mess in the eastern hall. The female, Phelara, she’s roosting.”

“Oh, do get up,” Ruxin commanded. “As my niece would say, don’t be so formal. Good service seldom comes from fear, and formality gets tiresome.”

“Of course, my lord,” Marong stood to one side, where Tika, who he now recognised as the old Naga of the mount, stood to attention.

“So, not Golos then. How strange.” Ruxin watched the hair rise on his humanoid arm. “Marong, look at this. Do your human follicles sometimes have a mind of their own?”

“Ah.” Marong stopped himself from bowing. “That, my lord, is what we call premonition.”

 

 

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A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref :: 

Bonus ::  Gwen's Outfits 
Glossary and Magic System :: Glossary 
Discord Server is UP  

ALSO THE WIKI! https://metaworld-chronicles.fandom.com/wiki/Metaworld_Chronicles_Wiki

Voting for the novel :: Voting button  
   
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Google Play, iBook, Kobo, Nook and Playster Link
Please leave a review or just copy / paste your RR reviews! 

Pressed Publish by accident... okay well its 99% done.
Now, business for the day -

The artist San-Wan-Sen  // https://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=16811335
Is going to do some test-work for me. The anime style is not 100% up my alley, but his atmospheric work / girl / monsters are excellent, and I can trust him to carry out a commisison to spec. 

Here's a sample image. // I'll be asking for a grittier style of course, but we'll see. 

As a tester image of what could be 'scenes from the novel' collection (for future ebooks, if it works out) 
We're going to do a "TEST" scene and then I'll post it here with a POLL for your voting pleasure. 

That said - do you have guys have scene suggestions? 
No massive character spreads - but something with Gwen + Monster + Atmosphere (Maybe 1 other character, tops) 


About the author

Wutosama

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

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