Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 308 - Et Victoria ad Defectum

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“Izette, left tunnel!”

“CLEAR!”

As one, Pretoria reversed course.

With Izette’s Mind Link active, the party's flight resembled that of Dusk-wing Cormorants flocking as one, keeping the distance between each team member uniform and one another’s field of vision uninterrupted.

CRASH!

Ahead, rampaging through the intermittent darkness cast by the flickering lights, was the infamous Bone Golem, a monstrous being crafted by the Grafter Sung Min-Seo. Constructed like a centaur, its upper body was multi-limbed, each possessing articulated digits wielding necrotic magic.

Bouncing from wall to wall, the creature came, throwing motes of consumptive fire at the contestants while simultaneously flinging globs of necrotic contagion.

“Diamond Barrier!” Schalk intoned, his semi-transparent eyes darting from one surface to the next, mentally mapping out anchor points for his partition-making Conjuration.

Abruptly, where the Bone Golem placed the weight of its many-legs, a diamond barrier burst from the concrete. The monster countered with supernatural agility, evading the scintillating shards, rebounding from the floor to the rightmost wall.

A second barrier erupted, snagging a front hoof. A third quickly followed, knee-capping its forelimbs, sending the six-meter bone-train to derail against Shimenzi's immovable interior.

“Conjoin Crystal!” Schalk invoked one of a dozen secondary effects attending to his base invocation.

Instantly, the crystalline partitions proliferated. Schalk's first creation caught the Golem’s hindquarter, the second its thorax, and the third encased its upright torso. With a bone-aching creak, the Golem stopped in its tracks, stunned by the sudden loss of momentum. When it recovered a second later, its dozen limbs raking the smooth concrete, it became wholly immobilised.

"Uiteindelik!" Lencho spat. "I can't believe we kited that thing for two levels!"

Besides the Lightning Evoker-Transmuter, Jean-Paul's fingers mapped out arcane gestures.

“Umzokwe,” the Conjurer called upon his hidden Familiar to furnish him with the vitality necessary for his magic. “Consumptive Orb!”

In between the trapped Bone Golem’s ribcage, a pinpoint of Void manifested, growing to the size of a grapefruit. Where it touched the monster’s sculpted innards, a fissure of rapidly reproducing cracks engendered, its stowed mana consumed by the swirling micro-nebula. Fed on the magical energies contained within the Negatively-aligned construct, the sphere grew to the size of a melon before its unstable core went catastrophic.

The claustrophobic passageway suddenly filled with the thrilling shriek of sucking air. The contestant's ears popped, parallelled with a soundless burst of Void matter, peppering the Golem's insides.

“That resistance is something else.” Schalk knitted his brow when the hole-riddled Bone Golem reared its horse-skull once more, its undying essence appearing as twin points of purple fire lighting up its sockets. “Lencho, Heila, your turn.”

“With pleasure.” Lencho rose a little into the air. “Ball Lightning!”

Heila, meanwhile, held her blessed rosaries and prayed. Weaving strands of Faith into her benevolent healing magic, she directed her targeted restoration toward the Bone Golem’s chest and shoulders, where the damage was most significant.

“O Lord, Great Redeemer,
crownest us with kindness and tender mercies.
We petition Thee,
that Thou hast heard our prayer,
— HEAL!”

A burst of gentle light accompanied Lencho’s hysterical electric discharge. The lightning devastated whatever elemental resistances had been built into the Golem, after which Heila's magic permeated its profane body, unravelling the repose brought by Necromancy.

“That's enough!” Schalk stopped Jean-Paul before he could utter another spell. “Save your strength, Mister Bekker, this one has fought its last.”

On cue, the Bone Golem crumbled.

SNAP!

The bottom half of the Golem broke from the rest. Like a prehensile lizard’s tail possessed of a mind of its own, it fled into the distance, skittering on half-a-dozen limbs.

“Pufft! Hahaha…” Lencho snorted. “Lekker werk, Kaptein.”

Schalk made a face.

What more could he say? He wasn’t used to fighting the Undead. South African had problems with NoMs in the cities, Grootslang in the mountains, Inkanyamba in the rivers, Kongamato in the skies, but it didn’t— Goddank— have an overt infestation of Undead.

“Group up.”

Pretoria's captain re-organised the team's marching order.

“Izetta, offer our Grafter parley. If she returns your Message, try to pinpoint where she’s hiding.”

“Goed.” Their Diviner concentrated, a soft halo of Divination soon suffused the blonde caster, evidence of her high-tier proficiency.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party meditated.

“… The Necromancer says we’ll pay for her Golem and that your bones will be the centrepiece of her new work.”

Schalk's lips grew cruel. “Damned fanatics.”

“No prisoners then?” Lencho shrugged. “Jean-Paul, got the room for dessert?”

“Umzokwe is quite bottomless.” Jean-Paul smiled sheepishly. Before the mission, Lencho had been all spikes and bristles, making Jean-Paul uncomfortable. Now that he had proven himself, the quick-loving Lightning Mage professed himself his “broer”, making the Void Mage doubly embarrassed.

“Ag! Let’s go!” Lencho slapped Jean-Paul on the back. “I want to see your wurm werk! It’s still keen, ja?”

"Ja." What more could he say? Jean-Paul sighed.

The party retraced its footsteps, returning to the shaft that led down to B-III. Earlier, they had kited not one, but TWO Bone Golems. One was the specimen they had just annihilated, and the other was a humanoid variant akin to a Skeleton Knight, a creature specialising in CQB.

Schalk’s Party did not possess a CQB Mage like Fudan, but they did have Umzokwe. When the bone-blade wielding necrotic maniac had filleted the great leech, Jean-Paul’s creature retaliated by smothering the Golem with corrosive, Void-tinged blood. Thus immobilised, the party wore out its resistance with consecutive blasts of lightning and Positive Energy.

“Where is the Grafter now?”

“Close to the Mandala Core.” Izette manipulated the Arcane Eye she had conveniently left behind.

“Minions?”

“Zombies and Ghouls, a few hundred at most. Two Abominations. One hulk. One Golem tail.”

“Good. Status report?”

“Half-full,” Lencho declared.
“I am good,” Jean-Paul returned sheepishly.
“We’re both fine,” Izette spoke for her utilitarian partner.

“Alchemical limits?”
“Two potions under.”
"We're at one each," the girls replied.
“I am… fine,” Jean-Paul muttered in a low voice. “But Umzokwe could use a refill.”

“That's easy, I see at least four targets in B-III,” Izette confirmed, her blue eyes looking straight through her team members at some distant vision. “We'll be neutralising them as a top priority. The herd loses focus once the casters perish.”

“Good.” Schalk digested the information filtering through Izette’s Mind Link. “We’ll take Formation B. Lencho, you take the General-tier constructs, I’ll push us through with Breaching Wall. Jean-Paul, you’re on Acolytes. Heila, can we count on you for a wide-area Psalm to fatigue the minions?”

The healer made the sign of the Lord.

“Very good.” Schalk stepped into the shaft. “Izette, take us in!"

“Fill us with your cleansing love, O Lord—

berate your wayward flock.
Do not cast away these lost lambs,
let not the gaze of your Holy Spirit stray…”

Heila's soul-soothing voice pealed across the tunnels of Shimenzi's basement, permeating the enclosed chambers before the party even emerged.

GLORIA Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto…” Her sweet benediction grew in fervour and intensity as the party neared their destination, filling every syllable with divine power. “…Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum… Amen!”

The polluted air visibly hummed, thrumming with radiance.

At the shaft’s base, the frenzied Zombies ceased their groans, their movement growing languished as the psalter's verses soothed their soulless, animated anguish.

“Impundulu!” Lencho’s youthful howl broke the serenity of the moment. Before the spell had even engendered, a rip-roaring fulmination shook the interior of the Mandala Core's chamber. “TEMPEST RUSH!”

At once, the immediate entry to B-III lit with circlets of hysterical electricity. As Lencho passed, the rings scatter-shotted into the Zombie Horde, intermittently conjoining lines of arching lightning, sending vivid lashes of pure plasma into Pretoria’s foes.

“ERAARRRRGH!” Expelled a room-shaking roar from a four-meter Stitched Horror, a bloated Abomination sutured from the remains of a hundred corpses. With ground-shaking stomps, the monster battered away the allies in its path, charging toward Pretoria.

“Breaching Wall!” Schalk scattered their closest foes with an explosive Shatter from his Diamond Barrier, launching half-a-dozen groaning bodies flying into the air. As the Abomination picked up speed, he gestured at the Abomination.

KRINK!

A sound of shattering glass accompanied the proliferation of Chalk’s diamond-tough manifestations. A lance-like wedge emerged, thrusting forward so that it caught the horror in the gut, directly impaling the beast before breaking off in its brittle midst.

“Wooaaarrrgh—“ The creature stumbled. With a three-meter menhir caught in its innards, its cumbersome form struggled to maintain the momentum without toppling over.

“Chain Lightning!” Lencho utilised the gargantuan creature as an anchor point so that his thunderbolts could tether the twin hulks approaching from behind.

Seeing their creature taking a beating, the Acolytes desperately wove their magic.

“Empower Undead!”
“Frenzy!”
From a safe distance, the Acolytes threw down their creature buffs, knowing full well that if Sung's monsters perished, so would they.

“Heads DOWN!” Schalk communed through their Link Mind. “Take cover!"

Pretoria's captain gathered the latent mana embedded in all of his crystalline constructs. It was a valuable second-stage effect made possible by his mid-tier Enchantment. The process involved injecting his crystal with double-charged mana, then releasing the stowed pressure in one go, overloading the instability with a jolt from his Astral Body.

“Woerrrgh?” As the crystal in its gut rapidly expanded, the Abomination staggered from the spikes erupting from his skull,

Krink—BAM!

Schalk warded his team against the shower of skin, blood and bone. As with most monsters, the insides of creatures lacked the same toughness as their exteriors, more so for constructed monstrosities like the Stitched Horror.

The resultant discharge of diamond fragments covered almost a quarter of the room, opening an eye in the roving storm of swarming Undead.

“Ar-Aaarrrgh! Help—!” followed the cry of a distracted Acolyte. In the earth-splitting aftermath of the crystalline detonation, no one saw the invisible leech slithering unseen among the Undead. With a slurp, Jean-Paul's Familiar had distended its three-pronged lip, then swallowed its victim— wand, robe, boots and all.

“Black Arrow!” the closest two Necromancers responded with spells capable of withering the stoutest foe.

Thunk—Thunk!

The great white leech burped.
It now wore a peevish expression of pure hunger.

With the Black Arrows still humming half-stuck inside its body, Umzokwe returned the favour with a SPLURK, flinging two globs of Void-tinged saliva straight back at its assailants.

Reflexively, the Acolytes erected their barriers of bone. Unfortunately for the pair, someone had been lying in wait.

“Usurp!” came a foretelling invocation from Pretoria's Void Mage.
A ball of swirling darkness about the size of a tennis ball, materialised between the two Acolytes, crackling with unstable energy.

The closest rib-shield abruptly crumpled.

“No—!” The first Acolyte took a glob of spit to the teeth, instantly melting half his face. The second held onto his diminishing barrier by immediately pumping his vitality into the bone structure.

“Consumptive Orb!” Jean-Paul released the stolen mana from the Acolytes. Usually, Usurp wasn’t particularly effective against the standard array of Primary Elementalists common to Spellcraft. Luckily, in a place where every foe freely wielded Negative Energy, Mevrou Bekker’s theoretical magic worked wonders.

Soundlessly, the collated sphere of purloined power erupted, a vivid contrast to the raw force of Schalk’s mineral blast. The radius of the lightless, combusting ball was barely two meters, but it was enough to splatter Jean-Paul’s unsuspecting foe.

The Acolyte fell, alive but incapacitated by the two dozen trypophobic orifices now oozing on his back, his limbs and a part of his skull. Umzokwe slithered close, not one to waste food.

Pretoria’s staggered assault continued unabated, each wave of Lightning, Void, Mineral or Positive Energy bisected the next, leaving neither the Zombies Horde nor the surviving Acolytes room for breath.

“Deus det nobis suam pacem—“

When finally the spell-rotation again reached Heila, she wove the Faith from her relic into the True Silver she now held in one hand. It would be her last spell, beyond that, she was obliged to retain her reserves for contingency healing.

“— Cloud Kill!”

The rod glowed golden, as did Pretoria’s surroundings.

“Garrroaw!”
“Murrrragh!”
“Kaaarrrgh!”

The Undead melted away as though fresh-fallen snow under the noontime sun. The combination of transmuted True Silver with the distinct metaphysical attributes of reality-warping Faith was palpable. Like a cleansing wave, the tidal flood of Positive Energy unanchored the Undead from the material world, dissipating the compelled obedience possessing their shambling forms.

“TEMPEST RUSH!”
“Breaching Shield!”
“Void Burst!”

Not even the Hulks were immune when submerged in the warm glow of Heila’s blessing.

Inch by Inch, grid by grid, over charred bodies and crystalised corpses, Pretoria approached the Mandala Core. It was a contest, one to see if their mana held out, or if enough Undead remained to overwhelm them.

“Grrrngh?”
"Murrrgh...?"

Unseen but palpable, the atmosphere shifted.

The Zombies who had been so focused on their unceasing advancement grew suddenly lax and disorientated, as though the will driving their actions had been sapped.

“Something’s happened upstairs,” Izette remarked, scanning their surroundings with Detect Magic. “Remember I said there was an oppressive eye watching us? It’s gone!”

“Perhaps our competitors are successful in their suite,” Schalk said, eyeing their objective. He didn't mind his competitor's success. A confused Horde was a boon. What it also meant was that at the base of the cubic Mandala Core, the haggard Korean woman cloaked in olive-green was now without protection.

“Should we question her?” Lencho asked of his Captain, flexing his fingers.

“No need.” Schalk’s expression was unreadable. “Jean-Paul?”

The Void Mage’s answer arrived in the form of Umzokwe, now twice the girth as it slithered toward the Grafter.

“Tower Bastards!” the woman known as Sung Min-Seo screeched, her voice piercing their ears. Around her waist was wrapped her Bone Golem, now acting as her armour. “I won’t be meeting the eminent one alone! Dimension Door—”

“Dispel—“
“USURP!” Jean-Paul proved the faster caster. Unlike the studied nuance of Dispel Magic, Usurp was a brutal tug-of-war of wills.

A mote of spell-siphoning Void engendered beside the suicidal Grafter, stealing just enough of her vitality and mana to disrupt her spell’s successful formation.

In awe, disdain and indignity, Sung Min-Seo glared at her assailants. As the feedback of Negative Energy exceeded her conduit's warded state, her eyes bled, her skin ruptured, and her bones rapidly grew into splintered spikes. It was too late to recant her final spell— her Bone Golem trembled.

BA-BAM!

The Golem exploded, showering the entrance to the Mandala Core with blood and bone.

Schalk winced as his barrier grew polluted with a stirfry of entrails.
What was left of Umzokwe was barely a stump. More aptly, what remained was a quarter of a quivering creature, happily wiggling beside blasted, pockmarked concrete.

“Corpse Explosion...” Jean-Paul winced as the feedback from Umzokwe rolled over his pallid body, setting his teeth to chatter. “It's true what they say. To be a Necromancer, one needs first to be cruel to oneself.”

“Wel gedaan!" Schalk walked over the Necromancer’s blasted corpse, plodding over shredded flesh as he materialised his Evard’s Many Layered Toolbox. Finally, the Mandala Core was open to Pretoria's unique expertise. “Lencho, Jean-Paul, set up a perimeter. I am not sure what Auckland or Fudan has done, but we’re going to be the ones to finish the first leg of the competition.”

Colonel Qin Qíao oversaw the cleanup.

By mid-morning, the battle was over.
The living had triumphed over the dead.

Anton Yermolov had been reduced to cinders by Auckland.

Sung Min-Seo painted the ceiling.

And presumably, Diego Valentino had been existentially erased from the world— or so the shaken sorceress from Fudan had declared.

Qíao tapped his data slate.

That their home team had run into the most powerful of the three Necromancers trapped in Shimenzi, and that the Soul Flayer was at the tier of a high-tier Magus wasn’t something Qíao would have like to see.

But— a pyrrhic triumph, especially one without death, was laudable.

“How’s our sorceress doing now?”

“Resting in her Portable Habitat.” The commander's aid gulped. "She said... Miss Song said she needed a hot shower."

Colonel Qin Qíao frowned. With such attachments to creature comforts, it was little wonder the team suffered against such a foe. The exact details of the girl’s encounter had yet to be made clear, but Qíao suspected inexperience, a lack of conviction, and egocentric grandstanding had all played a part. He had seen it happen too often to these next-generation Mages reared on Western Spellcraft and fed on bottomless pits of crystals. The perfumed youth of today, in the Colonel's humble opinion, was nothing like the young men and women who survived Mao’s Purge, then the Beast Tide, then the Undead Front.

“Send over some supplies.” Qíao withheld the desire for discipline. These weren’t his students, and whatever their fault, they DID swallow the bitter pill in the PLA's stead. “How are our men?”

“Six-dead, ten maimed, Sir! One Golem needs extensive repairs.” The Lieutenant snapped to attention now that the conversation had steered back to military business. “Sir... We lost Major Hong, Sir.”

Qíao's fingers flexed and unflexed. “Cao… his son just turned six. This is why you never boast about your kids before a mission.”

“Sir?”

“Recover their bodies and raise a flag in their honour.”

“Yessir.”

Colonel Qíao swept his eyes over the control room at B-III.

“…And get our Enchanters to go over the Mandala again. Change the Key Glyph. Pretoria might resent London, but they're still a part of the Mageocracy.”

By mid-morning, a portable Divination Tower had been set up.
Now that the lesser Undead were cleansed from the interior by rotating Purge teams, the Enchanters could redirect the Mandala’s energies into the filter systems, re-igniting decade-old mana engines that worked to exchange the foetid liquid below with that of freshwater from the Elemental Plane.

It was over the churning whitewater that Gwen sat alone atop the steep rise overlooking the brown gorge. Thanks to their efforts, the renewed earth would once again grow hospitable to life.

Her mind was gravid with words, ones she’d mulled over for hours, first in the shower, then on the couch, then again when she woke, sick with unease. She had prepared them for Eunae and Mayuree, though more so for Eunae— the girl she had promised, then failed, to protect.

Ding!

As assured, the portable Divination Tower had been made available for her convenience.

“Gwen,” Walken’s voice came through like a thorn of ice.

“Eric...” The pit of her stomach dropped. She hadn't expected Walken to call in the girls' stead.

“First things first.” Ger Instructor’s voice was ice. “Mayuree is safe and sound. She says she’ll be back to normal in a week or so. She's looking forward to reuniting with you in Dalian.”

“Oh, thank God—“

“Eunae Lee, not so much.”

Gwen's relief evaporated. “Is she…?”

“Oh, she’s alive,” Walken intoned emotionlessly. “But she won’t be of use— no, it's not her health.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“She says she can’t cast spells. Can’t contact her Deer Spirit.”

“What? How?” An ailment came to her mind. PTSD.

“It’s not entirely your fault.” Walken’s voice took on a hint of sympathy. “A Proctor had been paid off by the Lee family to keep an eye on Eunae. When she returned to Dalian jittering with madness, the man must have blabbed. Not long after the healers transferred your Cleric from Triage to the Ward, she received a Long-Range Message from her extended family…”

“Oh…”

“I think we can both imagine the conversation…”

“They told her to quit? Shit.”

“Just the opposite.” Walken’s annoyance was palpable. “The attending physician informed me that the Lees told Eunae to push on and that her life, for what it is worth, isn’t nearly as important as the family’s reputation. They would rather have Eunae die as a martyr than 'quit' as a shameful failure.”

“Bastards!”

“To be expected, I suppose. The Chaebol are a prideful lot. You can talk to Eunae later. For now, she’s saying that she’s been wounded by the Soul Flayer and that she can’t conjure her Spirit. Personally, I think its an illness of the mind, her Astral Body is likely refusing to manifest due to her subconscious reluctance.” As her instructor continued to speak, his tone took on a steely edge. “Whatever, what's done is done— NOW, let’s talk about your performance.”

Gwen fought the urge to hang up. Shame, pride, and regret made a curious cocktail in her aching abdomen.

“Alright.” She hugged her knees against her bosoms. “Eric, I know I screwed up.”

“I am not faulting anything you did under duress.” Walken's objection surprised her. “I saw the raw footage. Under the circumstances, you performed under par but fair. My real concern is that you’ve got a PROBLEM ignoring my advice. Recall what we discussed! ALWAYS put yourself first, then others! Let me ask you something— why didn’t you choose the Ground Floor?”

"The Ground Floor?" Gwen grew confused. "Yue said—“

“THERE! Who cares what 'YUE' has to say?!” Walken’s retort cracked like a whip. “During the planning stage, after your forced entry, FUDAN should have picked the GROUND FLOOR! YOU had the closest connection to the PLA! Colonel Qíao served with your Uncle! YOU possess an overlarge mana pool and ultra-wide AoEs! Maelstrom! Cloud Kill! Ariel and Barbanginy! YOU have Caliban for the Acolytes! Do you realise how easily YOU could have minimised risk and maximised Fudan's CC output?”

“Eric—“ Gwen felt as though caught in a storm.

“Why didn’t you act to maximise outcome?! Why did you not act in your team’s BEST interests? You gave away a clear advantage! YOU risked Mayuree AND Eunae! For what? What did you gain? This is a God-damned contest on the international stage! Auckland and Pretoria are NOT your chums! That you’re not blasting each other in the back is already the greatest courtesy!”

Gwen bit her lip so hard she could taste iron. Walken was wrong. If she didn’t take the upper level, then Yue would have fought the Soul Flayer. Could Auckland have survived like she did? Could Pretoria? How dare Walken demand that she should live while Yue could die for all he cared! The bastard hadn’t changed at all! It was the case with her Master all over again!

“Gwen, listen well. I don’t fault what's happened in the war theatre. There was little anyone could have done there,” Walken's critique continued. “But by GOD, Gwen, ofttimes, you’re so devious that I am in awe. Then again, sometimes I wonder if you’re spell-touched in the head! What the hell were you thinking, girl? We’ve gone over this in the Bestiary— Don’t fight enemies you can’t defeat without Faith Magic! You’re an Omni-Mage, a fledging at that, you are not all-powerful! That Richard as well, always enabling your appetites, I'd like to have a word with him!”

“I had Gogo with me, so I’d thought…”

“A lot of good that did, eh? Where's Golos now?”

“Home? I hope—”

“Fudan will likely lose this round.”

A Wyvern caught Gwen's tongue.

Walken’s analysis struck her pride like a physical blow. “That's right. Your deference to your friend, your meekness when desiring approval from others, has lost Fudan the chance to advance.”

“But Tei and the others—“

“—would have barely made it past Burma without you.”

“Oh, come off it, Eric, that’s not true.”

Walken scoffed. “Replace you with Auckland’s Captain, or Pretoria’s Captain, or even the Captains from Tokyo or Jiaotong, and your team would have perished in Amazonia. If everyone but Richard and Tei became Tide fodder, I would not be surprised.”

Gwen nibbled her lips again. Walken's pontification was backed by cold rationality.

“Now that you've taken us here... let me be perfectly frank. In the B-Teams, neither Fudan nor Auckland can come close to Pretoria. Even if Tei is equivalent to Alizea, their Ooze Mage, Pretoria also possesses Ella, a defender many times Anita's superior. As for Rene or Jiro— Mariete Zietsman, Pretoria's tier 6 Lightning Mage with a Behir Sprite is incomparably their better. Even with Petra helping Tei, the overall gap in Spellcraft knowledge remains astounding.”

Her chest grew sore.

What her instructor had counted on was for Fudan's A-Team to work another "Gwen" miracle.

Of course, that dream now flew out the window.

So they would lose because she wasn’t selfish enough? Because she wasn’t willing to stomp on her fellow contestants’ faces?

“I sense your elucidation. Let me impart another lesson. When you acquire a Flight of your own, or a township, or dare I say it, a Tower, will you still put your feelings first? Or will you think of what is best for your men, your people, your Faction?"

"Your problem, Gwen, is prioritisation.”

Walken allowed the moment to sink in.

“And now you face a dilemma.” Her instructor's tone softened. “I want you to think very carefully. Will you risk Richard and Lulan on blind forays into Shenyang’s dungeon-like alleyways, its skyscrapers and its sewers, WITHOUT a Diviner? Without means to ward away disease, debilitation and life-drain? Are you ruthless enough, wanton enough, to do that?"

"No," Gwen confessed.

“And THAT is why Fudan will lose this round.” Walken’s prediction repressed her bleeding heart. “Because you wanted to play nice. Because you listened to a friend, rather than rebuking a competitor. Because in the aftermath, you’re incapable of risking your friends' lives to gamble for victory. Because of that, your team’s career, their individual ambitions— ends here..." 

"... And so... are you sorry now? Do you understand?"

Braced against her knees, Gwen realised her legs were covered with goosebumps. Was she sorry? She was. Walken's advice was pure platinum. Fudan's path away from victory had already been set the moment she ignorantly failed to pursue the natural advantages they possessed. In hindsight, hadn't Yue laid out why she chose the Ground Floor? Hadn't Schalk explained why he was suited to the Basement? It had felt so natural to heed their opinions that she had neglected her own team.

Likewise, now that her head had cooled; even if Auckland had taken the upper floors, would Yue have failed? If Pretoria was coerced to fight Diego, would they be helplessly encircled by Wraiths?

“I am sorry, Eric,” her prideful retort emerged as a morose apology. Her voice choked, finding no excuses to hide behind. “I disappointed you.”

“For what it's worth, I accept your apology.” Her Instructor likewise grew reserved. “But I don’t think Eunae will. And it’s not to me that you should be apologising, but your teammates who you let down.”

“Alright, Eric. I get it.”

Walken cleared his throat. There was a pause, as though her instructor had been waiting for this moment all along.

“But all's not lost."

"Eric?"

"Gwen... For the IIUC. Shall we go out with a bang?”

 

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Chapter Ref :: victory and failure

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Wutosama

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

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