Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 326 - The Enemy of my Enemy

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Gwen smacked her lips, realising that this time, it wasn't her cartographic skills that failed her, but the difference between British and Australia seasons. In Australia, where the coldest temperature was five degrees Celcius, the seasons were recurrent. In England, every three months meant a whole new landscape.

From the looks of it, she was near Cotswold, meaning the tiny township she could see in the distance must be Gloucester, and the river running out of the city must be the Severn. Past Gloucester, all the fairness of the gentle country disappeared. Instead, woods both tall and depthless, combined with rolling hills and jutting mounds, stretched from horizon to the sea. It was little wonder the air was so dense with mana.

"Alright, so if I fly straight..."

She checked the compass built into her armour, then mapped her trajectory against the silhouette of a mountain in the distance. At worst, she would hit the ocean, if so, there was only one mountain to the north-east.

"Alright! Let's roll!"

Thunder rumbled across the cloudless sky, its passage marked by a streak of vibrant cobalt.

 

 

Two hours later, Gwen rechecked the map.

She finally understood why the English like to say "to make a mountain out of a molehill". Thankfully, she was in the right place, or at least, the right molehill— except the Red Peak wasn't a peak, and it wasn't red either.

First of all, seeing as it was winter, the whole bloody thing was white, and where the rocks were without snow, the stones were igneous and dark.

Secondly, she was now an uninvited spectator to the jolly grand melee carrying on below, full of howls, explosions, shouts and shrieking spells.

On one side were the green-skins— a whole lot of them. More Gobs than she had ever seen, all of which were wearing these adorable little red hats, but carrying giant bows, axes, and other medieval armaments. In and among the multitude, she could see Rock Trolls built like brick shit-houses, also wearing Santa hats.

From the east, or west, or whatever, she had no idea, stood lines of Dwarves in stocky Golem Armour, backed by a pair of towering, insectile Iron Golems.

The Dwarven infantry stood about the height of a man and just as wide. Squarish and stout, their armour consisted of sloped and geometric plates that interlocked, giving an art-deco aesthetic. Each battlesuit had a "hump" where a miniature mana-engine roared, articulating the whirling mechanism hidden within. For armaments, the Golem-plated soldiers sported a Spellhammer of runic crystal on one arm, while in the other, Gwen swore she saw a chainsaw.

The full-sized Golem units were smaller than the "Dusties" used by the PLA, about two storeys tall. These looked like sloped boxes mounted on four legs, with two protruding artillery hammer-wands mounted up top, two to the side, and two more limbs donning melee implements. Etched from the cockpit to its digger-clawed toes in runic scripts, white-hot jets of unburnt mana spewed from the rear exhaust channels, polluting the snow.

Presently, pressured by the swarm, the Dwarves were performing an orderly retreat.

"Fuck me, Peter Jackson, eat your heart out," Gwen muttered to herself. The beast tide of green-skinned creatures outnumbered the Dwarves by a degree of ten to one, but the Dwarves held their line steady with sweeping gouts of fire and lightning from their heavy infantry, aided by artillery from the crawling Golems.

Ding! An uninvited Message blossomed beside her ear. When flying, it was always wise to keep one's channels open.

"Oi, Lass! what unit yer from?" a gruff voice called out. "Yer support from London? The Forge Master said yer wouldn't kom."

The speaker was speaking in Dwarven, meaning Gwen had only her Master's Ioun Stone to translate a language that may as well be two drunk Scotts throat-singing.

"L-London Tower? Belay that," Gwen replied, thinking of a viable reason she should wander into a mass melee other than she got lost. "I am a… tourist."

"A WOT?"

"I am sight-seeing," Gwen said politely. "My apologies, I am looking for Merthyr Tydfil."

"Well, if ya looking for the home of boot-licking, crystal-steal knaves, then ya came to the wrong spot, lass. Ya know were ter go?— ONE MOMENT—"

The sound of explosions in the Message was concurrently met with the leading Golem letting rip its side-mounted Spellhammers, setting off what appeared to be two jets of thigh-thick Scorching Ray.

"I wish I did." Gwen silently whistled when at least one Rock Troll knelt over. "So, can you point me in the right direction?"

"Look fer the lake two klicks south-south-east, ya should find a Troll mound, then go five klicks south til ya hit the Taf Fawr, the town's at the widest part," the operator replied. "Go on, get. This place ain't safe for a lone lass."

"I have no idea what you just—"

A splatter of corrosive meat smashed up against the speaker's Golem unit. Not far, with an earth-shattering howl, a once-dormant Rock Troll, its form bulging with infused power, covered the distance in a dozen strides, batting away the infantry like a man swatting gnats.

"— WOT in the Deep King's name?! ARRRGHK—!"

With a clang, the veritable engine of meat and muscle ran head-first into the towering Golem, tearing at the plates that protected the cockpit. Caught by surprise, the quickly-recovering Dwarves around the Golem stabbed lances of enchanted fire into the Troll, though the war-mad creature took no heed of its dire injuries.

A second Golem turned its turret toward the first and doused its companion in arcane-fire. The Rock Troll howled, sheets of skin melting off its back. Its limbs, however, persisted in tearing her guide's Golem apart.

"Jesus." Gwen winced. "Are you alright? Need a hand?"

"DOES IT LUK LIKE AIM ALRIGHT? YA COG WITH A TOOTH LOOSE?! FURK! The bugger's breeched me cabin! Rockhammer! Get this green arse off me Golem! "

Gwen's fingers itched.
Are Dwarves our allies? She tried her best to recollected Lady Grey's words. The answer was, "The best allies— until the mines run dry."

Not wanting to see the friendly Dwarves turned into a feast for Trolls, Gwen frantically dialled her new boss. Until she could dangle a foot into the local geopolitical pond, she had to be careful. Knowing the precarious balance of power, who knew what could happen if she tipped it the wrong way?

Ding! Ding!

"Gwen!" The Marchioness of Ely was surprised to hear back from her protégé so soon. "What's the matter? Did you find the girl?"

"Ma'am!" Gwen wasted no time in explaining the situation below. "I am somewhere near Merthyr Tydfil. There's a battle near Red Peak, and the Trolls and Goblins are pushing the Dwarves back. The Trolls have a Hag, meaning the Dwarves are in deep shit. Permission to help?"

"I see. And why would you want to help Dwarves?"

Gwen blinked. What sort of question was that? "The enemy of my enemy is my friend?"

"Good. You may do what you think is right," her Mistress advised. "In the future, there's no need to verify such trivial decisions. What matters is the consequence, not the intent. You had argued that we shouldn't restrict your freedom. Now's your chance to make a mark, make good use of that liberty you so desired."

Gwen circulated her Essence. "I understand. Thank you, Ma'am."

"Take your time, dear." The Marchioness sounded amused. "Fair warning though, if you accidentally Consume an important Dwarf, Dickie's office will hear no end of it."

Right, Gwen ended the call. To help, or not to help; that was the question.

By now, the second Golem had successfully eviscerated the Rock Troll using a mechanised drill. Even lacking its innards, the Troll's body continued its assault, persisting until it lost strength. Gwen's eyes followed the line of green blood trailing across the snow. With her Essence-infused pupils scanning the battlelines, she just managed to spot the bone-clad headdress of a Troll Hag.

"Shrakloomar ulaguth!" The Hag bellowed, shrouding the surviving horde with red mist. The dead and dying Redcaps exhausted their struggling at once, while the still-living creatures erupted into jubilant shouts. Where the temporary death of the Rock Troll had doused their fervour, now the swarm appeared doubly motivated, crashing across the linen snow like a green tide.

Tink! Tink! Tink!

Gwen's mana barrier deflected half-a-dozen arrows.

More so than alarmed, Gwen felt impressed. She was almost two hundred meters in the air, meaning these Red-hatted archers were as good as stumpy-legged centaurs. If she were lower-tier Mage, she would probably take an arrow to the gut.

Opposite, the Dwarven battle line shrunk, concentrating their firepower. Slowly but surely, they backed away toward a series of steam-billowing structures. The entrance to their city? Gwen wondered, or perhaps, something like heat-vents?

"Ariel!" Gwen summoned her Kirin, concurrently applying an Invisible Familiar.

In a manner of seconds, her mind browsed through a dozen scenarios.

After exchanging her Draconic Essence for Almudj juice, lesser Void Magic barely scratched her conduits. That said, the more Void Mana she processed, the more Essence was consumed. It meant that, if she wanted to burn the proverbial candle from both ends; she had to balance Void and Barbanginy.

Tink! Tink!

More arrows clattered against her shield, turning a few pin-points opaque.

Mentally, Gwen weighed the boons and banes, then made a decision. With this many mobs, vitality shouldn't be a problem. If she wanted to help the Dwarves, she might as well do a good job. The Trollic horde, in her humble opinion, wasn't too generous a meal. If they had been in the Amazon, facing warrens of the big, burly bastards in an enclosed forest full of monsters, it was a different story. Here, with two kilometres of open-air Dimension Door and no Lich to counter her spell, she felt no pressure at all.

Her mind now made up. Gwen tapped her Message Device, pinning the Dwarf that had called her earlier.

"Lass!" There was a sound of pressurised steam hissing in the background, likely a whistling canister of coolant. "Wot are yer still doing here? Get!"

"Let me re-introduce myself," Gwen said calmly. "My name is Gwen Song, Class VI War Mage. I would like to offer my aid via an AoE as well as my Familiars. Is that acceptable."

"Yer a Conjurer?"

"I am an Omni-Mage." Gwen decided she may as well start building her brand. "They call me the Swa—"

FUCK, Gwen swore. That was close. Such was the danger of alliteration.

"— the DEVOURER of Shenyang."

"Don't nu about that," the gruff voice said. "But if yer wanting to do something, I'll not stop yer. Just save yer hide when the time comes. We can't spare the carcasses to go saving yer hinny."

"Good." Gwen drew a deep breath. "Trust me. I'll be done before you can finish a casket of ale."

 

 

Hanmoul Bronzeborn, son of Dwomrul, son of Handrek Bronzeborn, was a warrior caste Hammer Guard of the Iron Legion. His father, and his father's fathers, had all died glorious deaths— one fighting the Murk-dwellers of the Deep Dark, and the other defending the Red Citadel from the Scarred King of Red Peak. The first of four brothers and two sisters, he was the head of his House and a renowned member of the Rotory Guild.

His present mission was a Purge of the lands surrounding the Red Citadel to prevent the build-up of green-skins that would seek to infiltrate the workshop district from above. The task was thankless, as Dwarves fought poorly in the open, but someone had to lead the young ones. For this, Hanmoul begrudged the Deepdowners, the Clan's keepers of artifice. How could their elders be so greedy for the wealth of the lidless world, while concurrently loathing everything above the earth's crust? To Hanmoul, the hypocrisy was astounding.

Nonetheless, his routine patrol had begun without incident, with a troop of twelve Ironclads and two Rockcrushers MK VIs, they went about their business blasting Gobs and nailing Redcaps.

When they reached Greyrock Bluff, however, the green buggers poured out of the warrens like the stench from a ruptured septic tank.

Without delay, Hanmoul's hands danced across the runic keys, setting the Rockcrusher to maximum output. The quad-turbo mana-engine roared, its vibrations sending shockwaves through his seat. Kicking with both legs, he pivoted the converted mining engine at the waist; above the Spellhammers grew hot.

BLAM!
BLAM!

The control cabin shook. Two gouts of superheated plasma, sticky and unstable, arced through the air and into the crowd of Redcaps. Hanmoul's first victims were incinerated at once, then—

BO-BOOM!

The globules erupted, splattering the surrounding space with conjured phosphor, igniting a dozen Redcaps, including a Long Tooth Hob.

Besides Hanmoul, his partner likewise lit up the enemy's backline.

"Contact in THREE… TWO… ONE… Dragon Breath!"

From all twelve Ironclads, torrents of fire transformed their perimeter into a landscape of hell.

"Hold the line! The Redcaps can't get through your armour. Leave the Trolls to us, and keep the Long Toothes pinned!" Hanmoul commanded his troops. "Rockhammer, up the pace! Look for a caster!"

"Commandrumm, I see their priest! He's out of range!"

"Furk!" Hanmoul swore. A Priest meant that what they encountered wasn't a patrol, but a war party. What it also meant was that anytime now, the Priest would conjure its Brutaliser guard.

On cue, the snow exploded, revealing a Rock Troll. This one wasn't a Brutaliser, though it was stout enough to wear the moniker.

"Covering fire!" Hanmoul pulled at his beard. "Pull Back! Rockhammer, keep it from closing on us!"

"Hanmoul!" Broroth's Message bloomed beside his ear. "There's a human Mage watching us from six o'clock. I can't tell if she's friendly or hostile. What if she's one of those Rogue Mages?"

"Dirrk! Just our luck. Must have kicked the wrong pickaxe in the morning," Hanmoul growled. Tapping into the war engine's diagnostics, he zoomed into the image of the human Mage. To his surprise, it was a Human female adolescent. She did, however, wear combat armour, and from the looks of the materials, it looked expensive. "Let me check… she's on an open channel..."

Ding!

"Oi there, Lass, what unit yer from?" he called out, doing his best to control his temper. "Yer support from London Tower? The Forge Master said yer wouldn't come…"

 

 

"I will now begin." The sorceress was now out of his optical range.

"Begin wot?" Hanmoul checked his diagnostics, wondering if the Human was also a Diviner.

His runic readings flashed green, then orange, then red, then purple.

The Hammer Guard tapped the screen, checked that his instruments still functioned, then drew in a breath of coolant-choked air. The lass, her energy reading was off the charts! A War Mage? A pure platinum, Human War Mage? What are the likes of her doing here, floating over the Red Citadel? Shouldn't she be at a Front somewhere, fighting to claim resources?

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

A warning icon flashed overhead. Hanmoul re-calibrated his instruments, then marvelled at the volumetric scale of the sorceress' manifestation.

Crack!

Fulminating thunder rolled across the clear sky. As advertised by Hanmoul's instruments, a portal into the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Lightning opened directly over the head of the green-skinned swarm. Beside his head-up display, the diagnostic engine identified the spell as "Maelstrom— Lightning".

As the numbers compiled, Hanmoul's eyeballs almost punched his visors. The bleeding thing was two kilometres wide! A strategic spell? Where was the Mandala or the setup? Where was—

CRACK! BOOM—BOOM—BOOM—

A line of living lightning cut the Gob swarm in half. When his spectacles adjusted to the retina-searing assault, Hanmoul performed a double-take. The electricity was viridescent! Never in all his years of trading with the humans at Merthyr Tydfil had he seen such a meta-magic. Just what in the Sju Forfran's name did the Humans steal from the blasted long-ears this time?

Before Hanmoul could wrap his head around the blazing phenomenon, an array of warning Glyphs exploded across his HUD.

"SHAA—SHAA! SHAA!"

"Hanmoul! There's a monster descending from the sky! It's bloody huge, and it isn't in our bestiary!"

"Wot de FURK is that? A Drake?" Hanmoul zoomed in on the outline of an enormous bird-slug, a full twenty meters from wing-tip to wing-tip.

"Why does it have hands? Why does it have HANDS FOR FEET?!" Understandably, Rockhammer was screaming.

"Hold yer FIRE!" Hanmoul recalled the girl's warning that she would bring forth a Familiar.

Meanwhile, the Maelstrom descended. Near its epicentre, a stream of swirling, screeching, howling Gobs and Redcaps soared from the Prime Elemental directly into the Eye of Lightning at the centre of the storm.

After a concurrent series of hoots, the Troll horde retracted their battleline, the surviving Hobs, too strong to be caught in the static-charged tornado, formed a perimetre around the Hag. Dishearteningly, Hanmoul saw the Brutaliser still standing beside the caster. Until it fell, there was no touching the Troll's priest, but without the Hag's death, there was no stopping its minions.

Not far from Hanmoul, the pseudo-Brutaliser he had torn apart was rapidly regenerating, ignoring his troop's generous application of Fire and Magma. Given time, the Trollic Flesh Golem would be as good as new.

The Hag raised both hands, then pointed at the approaching bird, laying down a black-blooded curse. The Hobs raised their bows, their accuracy now guided by a supernatural charm.

Hanmoul recognised the affliction as The Curse of Arrow Attraction. He sighed. The girl was overconfident. The black arrows of the Long Tooth Hobs were deadly to all unarmoured creatures.

"SHAA! SHAA!"

Hanmoul shuddered. The bird was the most horrific thing he had ever seen. It had a long neck, but no face. Its feathers were so dark as to consume the light of day. The worst of it was that beneath its feathered body, distended a pair of white hands with six long and slender, feminine-looking fingers.

"Master Hanmoul—"

"HOLD FIRE!" Hanmoul gave the command. Hammer Guards weren't berserkers. They did not risk their lives for atonement. He would not send in his men without knowing that the bird was friendly.

"— There are more monsters incoming."

Hanmoul checked his map. His partner was right. According to the diagnostic engine, there were at least eight creatures rapidly approaching from the east. From the signature though, these were not Trolls. If so, from where did they come? Thin air?

A few seconds later, the blimps on his map came into view.

War dogs? Hanmoul thought. No, the creatures were too large to be dogs. They were more like horses. Yet, the "Dogs" did not appear terrestrial, for they possessed a faceless, eyeless, bullet-shaped head that took up half of their bulk. The rest of the sleek-bodied creatures were all muscle and sinew, sporting long, spindly legs encased in a slick, oily exoskeleton.

Morden's Hound Pack— his engine submitted its diagnostic results. "Element: Void".

Mole Shit of the Deep! Hanmoul staggered. He had never seen a Hound Pack like that!

From behind the Troll band, the pack dashed toward their targets, moving without sound. From above, the big bird circled, screeching and howling and giving the Trolls the finger with its many... fingers.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Another spell signature.

"Wot the bollocks?!" Hanmoul tapped his screen. Was there a whole platoon of Mages hiding somewhere? Was the girl a scout? The reading was off the charts! Did the Human possess the mana pool of a Golem with a Core in her gut?

CRACK—

"Chain Lightning"— the diagnostic engine returned, registering an energy signature well above the spells' recorded threshold. Among the crowd of huddled green-skins, an arc of electricity struck the Brutaliser.

—ZAP! SPAK! CRACK!

After the brute, the bolt struck the Hag, then five other minions before arcing back toward the Brutaliser. Not far from the circle of lightning, a creature shimmered in and out of optical range.

Simultaneously, the big bird, now riddled with arrows but not giving two shits, descended with an earth-splitting "Shaa!".

While the Trolls remained paralysed, the bird-slug opened its maw, its neck peeling back like the exotic human fruit known as banana, then enveloped the Brutaliser head-first. Simultaneously, one of its hands seized the Troll Priest, each delicate digit folding against the Hag's body, then squeezed.

"MAY THE DEEP ANCESTORS PROTECT US!" His partner, Rockhammer, was howling into his Divi-link. If his infantrymen had an open channel, they would also be screaming. "What tier is that thing? At what pressure index are its fingers running?"

Between the big bird's fingers, the Hag oozed. Though Hanmoul was too far to hear the cracking of bone and the rending of flesh, his optics showed the Shaman's eyes shooting of her sockets, while between the big bird's fingers, bits of stuff dribbled over the snow. Hanmoul gagged. The bird-slug with hand-feet was wringing the Hag like a piece of cloth to prevent it from regeneration. No matter how tenacious the Hag's life force may be, to recover from that state— Hanmoul winced. Sometimes, death was infinitely preferable.

Beside the Hag, the Brutaliser stumbled away, headless and for some reason, no longer regenerating. It walked a dozen steps before its pulsing stump erupted into a dark-green fountain, then laid still.

And now, the dog-horse things closed in, ripping through the still-paralysed Hobs, taking the creatures in their human-sized jaws, swallowing some whole, tearing others apart.

"By the Sju Dorfran…" Rockhammer's voice quivered, calling on the Seven Ancestors. "Hanmoul, what have we summoned? What calamity could do a thing such as this? Maybe she's a Dragon pretending to be human?"

Every Dwarf knew that humans were as greedy as Dragons.
Every aid required payment in gold, in minerals, or gems.
Now that Hanmoul had inadvertently enlisted the aid of so mighty a Mage, what would happen to the Council's coffers?
If the girl came calling, what would the Deepdowners think?



When the last Hob died, Gwen licked her lips and realised she might have overperformed her initial objectives.

It had been months since she had felt the thrill of combat, and in her haste to test the extent of Amuldj's Blessing, she had gotten a little overexcited. For now, since the Dwarves were safe and they had her moniker, it was best to be on her way.

Finishing up, she called Ariel and Caliban to her side, applying another layer of Invisible Familiar. Caliban was beyond happy to be out and about, and she was delighted to see it fly with Ariel as a companion.

Though she now slinked away from the field of battle like a thieving cat, she felt giddy with satisfaction. Losing her Draconic-Essence had undermined her confidence, but now, her Void abilities had grown to replace what was taken.

She was, after all, a Void Mage and not a Dragon-Mage like Ayxin. Without a willing Dragon to impart its racial knowledge, she had limited utility for Draconic-Essence beyond punching Necromancers in the face, kicking Da-Pengs in the face, and belting young masters in the face. That and make NoMs shit their pants.

"In hindsight, it is for the best..." Gwen muttered to herself as she headed for the human township. Sometime later, Caliban's vitality trickled back into her body, forcing her to land so as to walk off her shivers and to orientate her bearing. She was happy to find that the pleasure was no longer so intense. After the Soul Flayer, her tolerance had grown.

"Evee—" She punched the air as her body grew warm. "I am coming! No more delay!"



Elvia moaned, her face flushed, sweating through her bedsheets.

Outside, a thunderstorm rocked the valley basin. Such was the nature of weather in Southern Wales, as unpredictable as a drunk Troll. Beside the healer's gurney, her Knight and the Magister responsible for the security of Merthyr Tydfil argued.

"Mathias, you are a Knight— and as such, I won't judge." Beside Mathias, the Tower's ombudsman, Major Hanford, sucked on a pipe. "But as the officer overseeing the defensive operations in Merthyr Tydfil, I cannot commend your recklessness."

"That's because you fail to understand Elvia's selflessness." Mathias stroked his healer's long, blonde hair. "We saved, what? A hundred men today? I alone took down two Rock Trolls, mind you, and a few hundred Redcaps. Who can say the same?"

"That may well be." Hanford's tone remained cold and unconvinced. "We needed her here with the others, working triage. Also, if you lose Miss Lindholm, I'll have to answer to Lady Astor. Then what would happen to the town's Contribution Credits?"

"Many of those men and women, Mages and NoMs, would not have made it to triage, Magister." Mathias' voice rose an octave. "Dare you demand that I abandon my duty?"

"YOUR—" Hanford controlled his temper. "Duty? To tax your healer so much she concurrently suffers both spell AND mana exhaustion? Are you daft?"

"I merely did as she wished."

"She's a Frontier Refugee! You're an overtrained Knight! Show some wisdom, man! Guide her if she's an idiot!"

"I cannot refuse her selflessness, not in the slightest." Mathias shook his head. "Now, if you're done, let us discuss tomorrow's operations. With Elvia recuperating, I can—"

Ding!

"Yes, Lauren?" Hanford's Message blossomed beside his ear. "What? A War Mage? Here? Did London send her?"

The Magister's eyes moved from Elvia to Mathias, to the door. "For Miss Lindholm?"

"What's this?" Mathias cocked his head. "Why would someone from the Tower come for Elvia? Is it a friend of Emily's? Tell her Elvia is doing fine, and that we'll be back—"

The Magister motioned for Mathias to shut it.

"Tell her to wait— What do you mean she's coming in? She flew here— she has a Mithril-Class Licence? Which Unit is she from?"

The Tower's base of operations at Merthyr Tydfil was, in fact, a commandeered inn. As the operation in the Dwarven Frontier rarely lasted over a month, investment of additional resources had been deemed unnecessary.

"You can't go in there—" Hanford's aid stopped at the threshold. A flash of lightning lit the room quicksilver before its delayed fulmination rattled the windows.

The hinges creaked. The double doors to the inn's common room, now the command room and the officer's quarters, swung open, siphoning the warm air.

Into the room, the sorceress' aura poured over the men like treacle. The girl was dangerous; the Mages implicitly understood that as fact. At the same time, they felt confused by the paradoxical sensation of both elation and vertigo emitted by the girl.

A Druid? Mathias glanced at Hanford. The Magister had no idea, particularly in light of the girl's battledress.

"My secretary is right. You can't be here. Miss—?"

The self-deploying rain cloak retracted.

Click. Click. Click. The girl approached— her enchanted attire drying at once.

The sorceress' heels, Mathias noted, were stiletto daggers. Her irises were multi-coloured and brimming with depthless desire. From her shapely calves to her elegant shoulders, she was clad in cloth plating, a style of armour favoured in the east. Draped on her back, was a handsome blue mantle.

Suddenly, Mathias' lips felt dry.
He recognised her peerless face.
More importantly, there was no mistaking the "Maotai" printed across the sorceress's thighs.

"Song." The girl arrived at Elvia' bedside. "Gwen Song."

"From the IIUC?" Hanford discerned the competition logo plastered on her chest plate. His daughter religiously followed the competitions. Fudan was her favourite until they dropped out. "Miss, why are you here?"

Mathias' gut tingled. He wasn't a Diviner, but the Knight sensed an awful thing was about to happen. The girl stood beside the gurney, seemingly transfixed by the vision of Elvia's semi-conscious body on the levitating stretcher.

"I was sight-seeing." The tone of the Devourer of Shenyang's voice sucked the life from the room. "What's wrong with Evee? Why is she like this?"

"Trolls," Mathias blurted.

Hanford gave him a strange look.

The Knight could not believe the words were coming out of his mouth. He couldn't recall the last time he had almost lied. Such cowardice was dangerous for a Knight, anathema to the Faith magic they practised. Nonetheless, something told him he had better pay Gwen the lip service, or forever hold his peace.

"Yes." Mathias forced his mouth to move. "Those blasted Trolls did this."

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