Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 316 - After the Banquet Ends

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"Trust me, Marong and Mia will take care of everything."

Of all the employees at her office, Gwen considered Ruì her head girl. Having invested so much of herself in Tonglv, Ruì was also the most distraught when the office received notice that their boss was leaving for London and that the Shanghai office would be shut down.

"It's been a pleasure, Ma'am." Ruì fought back the choking sobs even as she packed.

"Ruì, don't be so dramatic." Gwen wrapped an arm around the NoM girl's shoulders. "Look at how happy everyone else is!"

Effi and Terence returned awkward grins.

Gwen smiled back.

After she had returned from Yangon, Gwen had set into motion a domino of events that would culminate in Dai's prediction of her ousting. Of course, when the hammer drops, she should be in London, and her greedy business partners would find themselves staring down the dagger-toothed maw of a Demi-God.

"I don't want the severance." Ruì's courage was commendable. "Miss, can't I keep working for you in another capacity?"

"YOU ARE!" Gwen squeezed her assistant's arms. In a way, she understood why her PA was so upset. From Ruì's humble origins as an NoM Economics graduate, she had tasted the sweet nectar of authority. It meant that now, the prospect of a regular desk job could no longer satisfy. Borrowing Gwen's terror, Ruì commanded Ken without reserve, and Dai had listened to her requests without complaint. For her to return to a workplace where she dared not stare a Mage in the eye would be the equivalent of caging an Elven Druid in a concrete cell.

"Worry not! You'll be working for Marong, and Marong's a business partner of sorts! The House of M's balance sheets might be short a zero or two compared to Tonglv, but it's getting there. Rest assured, I shall need your capabilities in a few years, not to mention you have to pass on your experience to others."

"… I obey." Her assistant relented, though Ruì's agony remained barely disguised.

Gwen exhaled, feeling a little vexed, but mostly delighted by Ruì's tears. Competence was an endangered bird, but when combined with loyalty, it was rarer than a Colossal Dodo.

In the event of the Shanghai office's dismissal, she had arranged new positions for each of her workers. Effi and Terence were given middle management positions in Professor Ma's audit team as well as a generous severance package. Ken, whose resume included corporate espionage, received a cheap thank you card. Dai was accounted for by Ruxin and Marong, meaning his privileges should remain unassailed in the event his attack of conscience exposed itself.

And for Ruì, Marong had arranged for the girl a managerial position overseeing the Centurion accounts, working on accruing HDMs for Project Legion. If anything she looked forward to the day Ruì talked shop with a five-hundred-year-old Thunder Dragon. If her NoM secretary knew the truth, Gwen chuckled. How would she react?

"Ruì— Ruì?"

The girl looked up from studying the carpet.

Gwen gave the girl a final hug. Once the doors of the office were shut, they would no longer be employer and employee, but friends, at least for the foreseeable future. "Chin up! The best is yet to come!"

"Please come back soon!" Ruì stiffened in her arms. "Until then, I'll work hard!"

Marie Roslyn Wen, future Meister and current Magister— scrutinised the butt-ends of her research papers, each taking up a sizable chunk of her desk space.

Her first paper, "Investigation of Void to Vitality Conversion", had been abandoned due to the inherently unstable nature of Gwen's fluctuating health. She had initially paired the study with research into Druidic Essence, but outside forces had put a halt to that entirely.

Her next proposal, "Affinity Scales for Void Magic: A Systematic Comparison", had mustered enough data saturation for a modest publication like the Asian Pacific Journal of Spell Craft, but was far from the longitudinal data pool required for recognition from Harvard or Cambridge.

Conversely, "Void versus Matter Interactions, a Material Data Compilation", was far more comprehensive. Thanks to a wealth of citations and support from the PLA, her third endeavour had been published in the "Sino Journal of Spellcraft", seeing wide circulation both in Asia and overseas.

Her crème de la crème, the article with the most extensive interest from overseas Towers and Universities, was "Void and the impact of Consumption on the Caster: A Case Study". It was an ambitious paper that linked Sobel to Gwen, using Gwen's abilities as a yardstick to define the "morphic impact" of Essence Consumption, culminating in Gwen's attainment of Omni-magic.

The article was followed by a sixteen-month investigation entitled, "A Longitudinal Study of the Extended Use of Void Magic". Unfortunately, Wen had only one test subject. Fortunately, most Void related studies only had two or three samples anyway, not to mention their samples rarely survived the "longitudinal" aspect of the study.

Now gazing at the work she had produced over the past year and a half, even Wen had to admit she felt proud. Carrying out groundbreaking studies was an opportunity that came once in a lifetime, and in Gwen, she had unearthed a treasure trove.

And in a few months, assuming she successfully defended her research and provided citations to satisfy Cambridge's review board, she would ascend. For this, she had Klavdiya to thank, and Wen promised herself that both her friend and her granddaughter would be mentioned in her acceptance speech.

Meister Roslyn Marie Wen!
China's first Meister in a decade!
Wen shuddered at the audacity of such a thought.

To join that august group of researchers at the forefront of Spellcraft!

Ding! Her Message Device chimed.

"Master," Petra's voice jolted Wen from her lucid daydream. "Gwen's scripts are ready."

"I'll be out in a moment," Wen answered, sweeping a hand over her notes so that they deposited neatly in her Storage Ring.

Outside, seated in her laboratory at Henglong, was the freshly attired subject of her studies. Beside Gwen stood Petra, her Apprentice, as well as the unwelcome vision of Magister Eric Walken.

"Let's take a look." Wen took possession of the data slate from Petra's hands. Quickly, she scanned the numbers. As before, the statistics filled her with apprehension. A year ago, she would have screamed. Now, she just felt numb. "How very impressive."

"I should think Vice-Chancellor Butterfield would be plenty satisfied," Walken agreed. "Whether it's Gwen's thick skull, skin or her talents, the girl is without equal."

"Oi!" the girl slapped her mentor on the back, sending the Magister stumbling, disregarding the disguised compliment. "Excuse you, Eric."

"Gwen— if your Spellcraft knowledge was as absurd as your Omni-talent, you'd be receiving a Meisterhood," Eric Walken replied jovially, not missing the chance to flash a mocking glance toward Wen herself.

"Hmmph!" Wen snorted, dismissing Walken's snark as common jealousy. "Let's see…"

“Evocation 5.51 to 5.62”
“Conjuration 6.01 to 6.23”
“Transmutation 3.85 to 4.07”
“Abjuration 2.67 to 3.01”
“Divination 1.72 to 1.78”
“Illusion 2.48 to 2.56”
“Enchantment 1.46 to 2.11”

“7.01 (7.44) to 7.12 (7.57) for Lightning.”
“4.72 to 5.23 (5.33) for Void.”

"Great progress indeed," Wen read out the Affinity readings even as her eyes scanned the biometrics. "And a VMI of 345. It does look like your Conjuration has struck diminishing returns. The principle craft of a Soul Mage is Conjuration, you should know. Still, there are increases across the board. Did you have your fill of Mages in Shenyang?"

"If you mean Necromancers, then yes," the Englishman interjected before the girl could answer. "No different to an Orc Shaman or Troll Priest. In fact, I would venture to say that thanks to Gwen, a greater good has been attained. Won't you agree?"

"Sure." Wen chose not to pursue the matter. Once she left Shanghai, Gwen would no longer be her subject, and as such, her relationship with the girl was soon at an end. Through one another, they had each gotten what they wanted. The girl received her recognition and her placement in Cambridge, and she, her title. In so far as mutual benefits go, the exchange had been holistic and satisfactory.

"… Anyway, it would appear your Shoggoth Planar Ally provides very little vitality, feedback, or Essence," Wen translated the biometric data. "If I were you, I would focus more on Caliban's Consume. That is a talent which I am increasingly lead to believe is unique, existing so far only through yourself and Sobel."

"I see." The girl's knitted brows frowned unhappily.

"If you could somehow uncover more of your Master's research, it may help your cause." Wen helpfully dispensed a spot of advice. "I do recall he had a Dryad, yes? And something of a laboratory called the 'Grot'. Surely the man kept notes, journals, Spell Tomes. It's a pocket dimension, after all. Mages, on the whole, enjoy squirrelling away the things precious to them."

"Wen has a point," the weasel-faced Walken agreed. "Gwen, when you were in Sufina's Grot, did she mention anything about Henry's library? I've seen thousands of Tomes in his possession. In my memory, Kilroy was quite the collector. I borrowed from him on more than one occasion, and he never seemed to lack a publication, no matter how rare or obscure."

"I— I don't know." The girl shook her head. "When Master died, we were in and out in a hurry. Even when I studied with him, I never saw such tomes. Master always had the right book on hand every time we conducted lessons."

"Can you return to this 'Grot'?"

"Not easily." The girl bit her lower lip. "I also don't know if Sufina still remembers us. You know what happens when a Familiar is freed for too long."

"They go feral," Petra joined the conversation. Wen could see that her apprentice had been edging to beg a question of her own. "Speaking of which, is that a Spirit reading on Caliban?"

"A smidgen." Wen checked the in-depth diagnostic data. "Gwen, were you able to spell-shape your Void Element?"

Gwen shook her head again. "I am afraid not."

"Still a ways to go then." Petra gave her two cents. "That or the nature of Elemental Void makes IFF infeasible."

"I hope not." The girl raised a brow, glad for the change in topic.

"Petra has a point," Walken joined in. "I don't ever recall Sobel possessing IFF either. In the Tower, some of her creatures ate one another."

"But Caliban can identify friends," Gwen raised a point. "It knows when NOT to eat."

"A cause for investigation then." Wen tapped the slate impatiently. "Do you know if it can transform into its last victim? By all accounts, you almost died, and the Necromancer was formidable indeed. Going by our previous experience…"

The girl closed her eyes, then opened them again.

"No," she returned. "The best Cali can manage is Big Bird."

"The Da-peng?"

"Yes."

"A shame." Petra sighed. "Cali could really use a humanoid form."

"Gods, that's a terrifying thought." Gwen grimaced.

"I don't even know where to begin." Petra laughed.

Wen handed her slate back to her Apprentice, Klavidya's grand-niece. In their five years together, Petra had gained much from her tutelage. It was a shame that once the girl's research was completed, she too would leave.

But such was the way.

In Wen's world, some were there to be used, and some made use of others. In this way, things finished cleanly. Why should there be sentimentalities and complications of the heart when the academic mind could be well provisioned?

An excess of emotion was precisely the reason Klavdiya's granddaughter would not graduate a perfect Omni-Mage.

Thinking of the mewling girl, Wen could only snort at the girl's bleeding heart, her initial reluctance to Consume Choi. Deep down, she wanted to query the girl regarding her shifting moral goal post. What was it like? She wanted to say, how will you justify consuming a quarter of Shenyang, including its thousands of NoM serfs? That the girl continued to maintain her mask of Magely virtue was both ridiculous and grotesque. And that Eric Walken continued to groom the girl's facade only added to the absurdity. Hypocrites! She wanted to point her finger at their righteous noses. How dare you judge my research, you walking, talking contradictions!

But as always, her mineral-minded patience prevailed.

"Gwen." Wen made her case as clear as crystal. "As we shall no longer be seeing one another again in the capacity of mentor and instructor— nor subject and researcher, I hope our relationship will remain amicable."

Their eyes met. Hers were glassy, the girl's glimmering with a power that was difficult to discern.

"Of course, Magister Wen." The girl extended a hand. The vulnerability she had shown prior instantly evaporated. "Good luck with your Meistership. Please continue to look after Petra. She is very important to me, and I would be distraught if her studies were neglected."

The two shook. The girl's grasp was firm and wholly immovable.

"Till we meet again." Wen quickly withdrew her hand.

"See you in London..." The girl's reply was curt and professional. "... and good luck."

Without warning, Wen felt as though a Wraith had stalked across her grave.


"It's settled then? I shall be going first?"

Walken squirmed, decisively uncomfortable beneath a wall of magically induced, unnaturally blooming roses.

The source of his embarrassment was many: the girl opposite, the pollen, the gawkers inside the shop, and the paparazzo camping outside. When he and Gwen had entered, Walken had hoped that their observers were merely drawn by the sight of a beautiful young woman in a tapered pea-jacket. But then someone recognised Gwen from the Vid-casts, and now they were Magical Creatures caught in an exhibition.

"... Unless you want to come with me to Sydney?" the girl teased, stabbing at a strawberry cheesecake with a wooden fork.

"I shan't try my luck." Walken straightened his spine. Failing to find comfort, he focused on sipping his Earl Grey. "Your sister-in-craft may have gotten over her immediate contempt, but who knows? It's one thing to part ways without her itching for a Fireball, and quite another to invite me to dinner at her home."

"I suppose you're right." Gwen sipped her latte, crossed her long legs, then smacked her lips. "But didn't you say there was 'domestic strife' in London? Where are you going to stay?"

"I'll rent a room in Cambridgeshire. Vice-Chancellor Butterfield has requested for a meeting." Walken held his porcelain one-handed, appearing natural and poised, befitting of an Englishmen whose youth was shaped by Eton's wand-wielding parsons. "I'll request a meeting with Lady Grey as well, see what we can do to ready your induction by Michaelmas. There's the matter of your stay as well. Cambridge does have dorms for students, but I doubt you would wish to share a room with a stranger."

"I wouldn't mind if its Evee." Gwen raised her latte in a mock-toast. "Sweet, innocent Evee, at long last."

"The Nightingale College is in London proper, south of Wandsworth Commons, and all of its healers are well sheltered from the likes of you." Walken let rip a snort. "No, you cannot stay at their dorms. Cambridgeshire is an hour as the crow flies and just over two hours by public transit. You can visit on the weekends— assuming you can fish up a Flight licence."

"Nooo! I refuse to be away from Elvia when she's so close!" the girl whined, crushing her shortcake. "Eric, I command you to make it so!"

"And anger the Nightingale School?" Walken drew back. "I mean, I won't stop you, but you're on your own."

"Fine." The girl leaned back in her seat. "And back on topic. What are you planning to do about your family? Audrey and Beatrix and Angie?"

"They'll find out about my return sooner or later." Walken cringed. He had not hidden from Gwen the fact that he hadn't parted from his family in gentle terms. "I'll have to break the news tenderly."

"With gifts, of course." Gwen's eyes sparkled. "I can't materialise Spirits, but in terms of gemstones and jadeite, I could source something convincingly sincere. You can't just work some fresh scones, marmalade, that sort of thing? It worked wonders on me."

"That's because you are both a Void-fiend and a piglet."

"Humour, Eric? That's unbecoming of you."

"Well, maybe with the girls." Walken inhaled, then exhaled slowly. "Audrey isn't an easy woman to please. There's also the fact that her family's peerage is higher than mine, so things have gotten complicated."

"It's not like you cheated on her." Gwen snorted. "Career man goes off and does career things. You can always write it off as doing it for the girls' futures. People have been forgiven on shittier excuses. Trust me, just look at my daddy dearest. The prick's a flaming bastard living a perfectly happy life, consequence-free."

"Please don't compare me to your father." The Magister made a face. "Look, I'll do my best."

"You usually do." Gwen motioned for the bill. "Is that it? Fair travels then?"

"Let's hope so." Walken stood, happy to be out of sight of the ogling pedestrians. He collected his coat from the chair, then slipped into the cashmere jacket. "Until London."

"Until London." Gwen slipped on her jacket as well, though her attire was evidently not designed for warmth. "And Eric?"

"Yes, dear?"

"Good luck with the girls."

"Thanks." Walken readied himself for the Shanghai winter, soon to be London snow. An old man, he lacked Gwen's enviable constitution to withstand the cold. "I don't envy the weather in London, not at all."

"TO US!" Gwen raised her tankard.

"To Gwen!"
"Gānbēi!"
"Cheers!"
"To London!"
"To richbitch Gwen!" Peaches prematurely slammed a round of Maotai, warping his already misaligned vernacular coherency.

Glasses clinked for the dozenth time.

Around the hotpot sat Yue, Whetu, Richard, Petra, Mina, Mayuree, Marong, Tao, Kusu and Lulan, each pouring one out for their Gwen-touched futures. Initially, Gwen had invited her IIUC teammates as well, but each of them had left Shanghai or were occupied with their respective Clans and families. Filling in for their vacancy were Percy and Mei. A request that her brother had declined at first until his "Mei mei-mei" insisted.

And among the round table of Mages, each capable of levelling hamlets of varying sizes, sat the harmless Ruì, wholly lost and too terrified to speak. After only a single thimble of mana-rich Maotai, she laid against Richard, warm and satisfied.

"I can't believe it's been a month!" Lulan sat cosily beside Gwen. "I knew you were leaving, but this is too soon."

"Lulu, I am not leaving for good." Gwen allowed the girl to mimic Ruì. The magically fermented red sorghum was a potent concoction indeed, not to mention she had enhanced the bottle with a tendril from the Ginseng Spirit. The precious elixir had been a farewell gift of sorts, ensuring that all of her close friends and cousins would remain hale and vital. "I'll be back now and then. Once you've made a name for yourself, you can visit London as well."

"I don't know if I can meet everyone's expectations," Lulan whispered by her ear. "Gwennie, I am just a swordswoman, I fight monsters and people. That's all I know."

"You're more than that, Lulu." She refilled Lulan's glass. "Besides, Kusu will look after you. Won't you, Kusu? Failing that, Marong and Ruxin will back you up. There's Ryxi as well, he's the one who is going to be teaching you."

"I don't understand why the Lord of Nagaland would want to help me." Lulan's eyes had gone misty, though Gwen suspected it was from the alcohol. Of the girls, Petra was a silent drunk, Yue was the loudmouth, Mayuree was the sleeper, and Lulan was the apologetic worrier. "Me? A mortal? Going to Huangshan? Am I living a fairy tale? Would a hundred years pass before I descend the mount? They say a year on the mount is a decade in the mortal world! What if I miss you?"

"Ryxi better not take a bloody century to train you." Gwen caressed the girl's hair. "Else you're going to be our older sister, hahaha…"

"I too would prefer if she remained my younger sister." Kusu coughed. Unlike Lulan, he was taking his time with the Maotai.

"OUR little sister." Gwen held Lulan against her bosom, staring down the sweltering Kusu. With her other hand, she picked a generous portion of sliced Auroch and deposited the lot into the bubbling chilli soup. "You'll like working for Marong, Kusu. In the future, Lulan is going to need you."

"That's all the more reason for me to be cautious." Kusu's words were wiser than his twenty-odd years. "What could someone like you need from someone like me?"

Gwen snorted. "For one, I need Lulu, and you guys come as a package, am I right?"

"I wouldn't presume to dictate Lulan's life." Kusu eyed his sister's clingy form. "I just want what is best for her."

"Good. Because what's good for Lulu, will be good for you." Gwen smirked. "And while I don't presume to know what is best for her, what I can do is provide her with a rare opportunity to unlock her potential. If Ruxin can send her to Huangshan to learn the old arts, then she'll be all the more valuable to the PLA— and me. With my Uncle Jun and Ayxin looking after her as well, what more is there to fear? As long as Lulan doesn't get drunk on arrogance and start bitch-slapping the Secretaries' scions, she'll be right as rain. You hear that, Lulu?"

Lulan straightened herself. With her delicate profile still brimming with emotion, the Sword Mage retrieved the cooked meat from the boiling oil, mixed in the spices, then deposited the savoury, chilli-covered treat in Gwen's bowl.

"I don't know if we're ever going to repay you." Kusu regarded the girls.

"Lulu can repay me with her, you know..." A smile touched Gwen's lips. With one hand, she gripped Lulan's waist possessively.

Kusu paled, suddenly perspiring.

"...Friendship." Gwen finished with a chortling snort. "Kusu, you have to let her go eventually. She's her own woman. If she does get involved with a nice young man and wants to settle down in China, that's fine with me. As far as I am concerned, Lulu's a mate, and she owes me nothing."

"A mate? She's too young." Kusu chewed his lip. "Please don't joke about that."

"I want to adventure and quest with Gwen!" Lulan shouted a little too loudly. "And Richard and Mia as well! We'll hunt the Demi-humans and the Undead, forever!"

Gwen broke into a hearty laugh, savouring the compliment. "How good it is to be young!"

The table joined in the laughter.

"Spoken like an old aunty!" Yue's acute observation jolted Gwen from her revelry. "You know you're the second youngest, right? You sound like a crone."

"It's true, I was born with an old soul," Gwen confessed.

"Well, Aunt Song, have you packed yet?" Her oldest friend retrieved a few pieces of daikon from the boiling broth, popping the steaming vegetable into her mouth. "Our ISTC is booked for Tuesday afternoon. Master is making Gunther cook."

"There's not much to pack." Gwen flashed her Storage Ring. "Can you believe that I've been here for almost two years, and the only things I've acquired are for my wardrobe?"

"That and a reputation." Yue raised her glass. "And crystals. Mountains of crystals. FRIENDS! TO THE DEVOURER OF SHENYANG!"

"To the DEVOURER!"
"Gānbēi!"
"Cheers!"
"To Sydney!"
"To she who swallows!" Tao wiggled his brows as Gwen drank, his face red with excitement. In phonetic Chinese, the wordplay was far less explicit, though the impact on the table was no less impressive. "The SWALLOWER of Cities!"

"—C—Cough!"
"O Gods, I can't breathe."
"The chilli's in my nose!"
"Percy! You're turning purple!"

"ERRGH—" Gwen hacked and coughed, her face turning unwholesomely red as the Maotai shot up her nose. "Bloody hell— PEACHES— If that goddamned moniker spreads, I am going to feed you to Caliban!"

 

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NEXT CH will be in 2020. 
HAPPY NEW YEAR! I WISH EVERYONE A PROSPEROUS 2020! 
May your days be full of Evees, Ariels and the occasional Caliban! 

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About the author

Wutosama

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

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