Metaworld Chronicles



Chapter 352 - The Best is Yet to Come


A note from Wutosama

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Also, shoutout to A Foodie's Enigma! A story of desserts, love, dungeons, and the metaverse!  

A Metaverse Dungeon - Foodie's Enigma

"The Devourer of Man."

For some reason, Gwen's first thought was of Tao wiggling his brows.

There was an unfortunate implication, lost in translation, whenever the Chinese spoke of the "Devourer" of Shenyang. The English inference was that of a "devouring, all-consuming force" akin to darkness at dusk. Unfortunately, the Chinese, with their cuisine-centric culture, understood "devour" to mean "swallow", as one might gluttonously consume a feast.

"The Devourer of Man" therefore, was a title as aversive to Gwen as an Undead infestation. If the moniker did get out, her Babulya would need to Calm Emotion her Yeye each time a Party cadre winkingly praised their granddaughter.

"You write that Dom, and I'll leave you half-consumed by Caliban," Gwen addressed Dominic's suggestion for the "title" of his article. "And why the bloodlust? What's with you English and colonial conquests?"

"Say that to the Mec Vannin." Dominic's voice took on a solemn timbre. "You want to know a speciality of the Isle? Apart from the usual perils, it's the birthplace of the Manx Cat, a feline beast with no tail— instead, twin tentacles extend from its shoulder-blades, each armed with sucker-tipped mouths crowded with fangs."

"Suckers lined with teeth? Please—please tell me there are natively-occurring VOID-afflicted monsters on the Isle." Gwen almost yelped. For how long had she waited for monsters of her particular Affinity to appear?

"I wouldn't bet on it," Dominic curbed her enthusiasm. "Rarity aside, these are not your average monsters, Gwen. The Manx Cats are ambush-hunters, used by the Manx to serve as battle-beasts. For your friend, the principal danger to her would be these monstrosities. They're capable of warping space and travelling through barriers, blurring their presence to blend in with their surroundings, and attack from afar to drag their prey into the trees."

"You've sold me. I want one." Gwen flexed her fingers. Below her, Caliban shivered in anticipation. Finally! A worthy upgrade for her worm! A compact battle form, not to mention potential Affinity for her Void Magic. "How rare are these monsters?"

"Very, the original was a legend. The others exist only among the Mec Vannin."

"With 'Mec Vannin' being our opposition?"

"A moniker for the elf-touched Wildkin, it means the 'Sons of Man' in their bastardised language, separates them from the Wood Elves."

"How curious... what do they want?"

"To put it succinctly, they want the Mageocracy to get out. That's impossible of course, the Manx's long-dead King gifted the land to the Crown in 1392. The Elves have a claim, but..."

"Tell me about the Elves." Gwen considered the manner of the Manx, their cats, and their patrons. In regards to the Elves, she had yet to meet one in the flesh. "These would be the Träälvor?"

"Not exactly. The indigenous Elves of Man aren't the Nordic Träälvor, but the local variety— an ancient race, but not to be confused with the Silvan-Träälvor, to which the name implies. On the Isle, they mark their home in Glen Auldyn, the forest-home of the Wyld King Maleagant. They're older than England, certainly, but hail from a less developed ethnography."

Gwen furrowed her brows. In her mind, Wood Elves were folk like Elrond of Rivendell of fantasy fame. For years now, she had been looking forward to meeting an alter-world Arwen, though from what Dominic was saying, these were more akin to indigenous folk.

"To confirm, their woodland Spires are not empowered by the sun and alternatively fed by the moonlight, appearing like Eco-lodges in a dream?" Gwen enquired. "Nor are they fair, tall, blonde or brunette, have a thing for "Rings" and speak like folk perpetually foretelling a prophecy?"

Dominic laughed.

"What an imagination! No, no. The one's I've seen are proper Wildkin, all bark-skin attire, with hair and skin the hue of olives. As for their city, maybe in the privacy of their grove? The Woodland Guardians that the militia encounters, those travelling with the Manx, are a nightmare mixture of Druidic sorcery and shapeshifting horror. Remember those Manx Cats?"


"The reason I doubt the Manx Cats' Void-Affinity, is because, despite their natural scarcity, they're a constant damned presence in the war. Why do you think that's the case?"

"Ah." Gwen was seeing the whole picture now. She had spared an Owl Bear yesteryear and quickly joined the dots herself. If these were shifters then, it meant Caliban could not usurp her desired form. Additionally, she had no desire to slide down that particular slippery slope. "Druidic Shapeshifting?"

"Indeed." Dominic applauded her quick-wittedness. "And therein lies the danger. Your friend may not be in danger while in combat, or while guarded by a Flight of Mages, but that's not how these Druids fight. Do you know what asymmetrical warfare is, Gwen?"

"I have an idea."

"That's how they've kept being a thorn: guerrilla tactics. Be it, Strangler-vine ambushes, night raids, Manx Cat assassins or harassment of civilian miners; it never ends. We can't abandon the Isle either. Avalon serves as an important Divination waypoint. The Teleportation Circle there enables reliable transit to Ireland, a pivotal Frontier too close to home to leave neglected."

"And the Manx are allowed to exist?" Gwen asked an uncomfortable question.

"There is debate as to whether the Crown should simply Purge the Isle of Man and be done with it. The cost has proven unattractive, as inevitably, the Elves will offer the Manx shelter from wide-area Purge bombardments."

Gwen nodded to herself. As a girl-child, she had seen the collapse of the Twin Towers live on television, followed by a decade-long War on Terror that bankrupted a superpower.

"… so the Isle of Man's like a tough bit of gristle; too savoury to toss, too stringy to chew." Dominic helpfully eased her "teenage" erudition.

"I see." Gwen's contemplation, however, wasn't for herself. "Thanks, Dom, I'd love to know more about Manx and Camelot, but I fear I have more enquiries to make. Do you mind if we catch up later?"

"Actually," Dominic said. "We shall meet very soon."

"You will?"

"Didn't you hear? The Americans have come out on top in the IIUC. The Oxbridge team has lost its leader and vice leader."

"Oh? I haven't been keeping up with the IIUC," Gwen confessed. Since returning from London, Gwen had been non-stop updating her "basics". At the same time, she took time to settle into the Fellow's Abode in Peterhouse's domicile, collecting furniture and decorating her studio to her liking. "What was the challenge?"

"A shared quest, the re-opening of an open-pit crystal mine the Grey Faction had been negotiating with the Gigantes of Castile Y Leon," Dominic explained. "Oxbridge attempted diplomacy, as did the Americans. In the end, the Rey of the Giants chose the Bostonites. An inter-Clan scuffle ensued, and Oxbridge emerged worse for wear. The Home Office is none too happy at the moment, having lost its staging post in Salamanca as a result. I can only assume the Americans are laughing since Exxon is a major sponsor for the East Coast IIUC contestants and the ones who will be taking over."

Gwen tried to imagine how the Mages might have struggled against the Gigantes, an Earthen race noted by the Bestiary to possess unparalleled physical strength, high magic resistance, and calculating intelligence. Combined with arcanistry of their own, military tactics, and an Elemental Ethos of racial superiority, she could envision why her team from China would have had little chance when push came to shove. Merely the fact that the Gigantes bred Manticores the same way Lady Grey bred her hounds meant that a regular Mage Flight might just be enough to fight the family dog.

"… so you'll be having your ceremony in Cambridge, after all," Dominic advised. "Assuming everything is wrapped by the weekend, you'll be receiving your title with a full ceremony here in London. Of course, I'd like an exclusive."

"Even after we lost?" Gwen cocked her head, her eyes scanning the pond for her wayward duck. Presently, her rainbow-hued companion floated by the edge, eyeing the hens.

"All the more reason to put more ceremony into your MVP title," Dominic said. "Oxbridge's pride demands it."

Gwen agreed. "Thanks, Dom."

"Anytime," the reporter returned happily. "Oh, and Gwen?"

"Yes, Dom?"

"If you want, I can keep an eye on your companion while in Douglas. I know the Commander there well enough to beg for an extra guard if need be."

"That would be lovely. Thanks again."

As soon as the light of the first Glyph died, Gwen dialled for Richard. She understood what she "ought" to do, but more than that, Gwen needed an affirming voice to fight the gnawing guilt in her chest telling her to go to Douglas.

"Dick, you there?"

"I am. Are you still taking the piss?" Richard's greeting betrayed nothing.

"Nope, I am good. Sorry, Dick, I wasn't thinking straight."

"So long as you're thinking, that's alright with me. So how may this humble one offer aid?"

"Richard, I already apologised," Gwen reprimanded her cousin. "Dick, I need to pick your brain for a minute. Can you explain to me why I shouldn't make time for an excursion to the Isle of Man?"

"Colour me intrigued. Who, where, and what are you up to?"

"Just now, Evee was slated for the Isle of Man's volunteer relief-force, and I do not believe it has much to do with her latent potential," Gwen cut to the chase. "I think someone saw what happened in Merthyr Tydfil, and has decided they can play silly buggers with my friends. Maybe its Evee today, maybe you or Petra tomorrow."

Her cousin-cum-advisor's reply was not immediate. There was a thoughtful pause, then another that was longer.

"I don't know the answer to that. BUT— are you hoping to achieve what you managed in the Red Peak, only on the Isle?" Richard asked. "It is amazing what you did, Gwen. To say that you'll replicate the success, however, is irresponsible. From what you've told me, there was plenty of serendipity involved. For starters, what do you even know about the political insurrection there?"

Gwen briefly explained Dominic's information.

"That's not 'danger'— That's life," Richard's reply came without hesitation. "Speaking as someone who went to school with Elvia's brother and knew of her before you did, this is a perfect opportunity for Evee. That girl's always been indecisive and— pardon me— incapable of independent action. You and Yue coddled her in high school. Even in London, Elvia had allies galore. It may not seem it, but from what I've seen, she had more supporters the moment she stepped into Nightingale than you had after a year in Shanghai. I've been thinking about your situation with Elvia, and I say leaving Elvia benefits you both."


"IF Elvia is as talented as you describe, gifted with twin-spirits, then her labour is endless by nature. She's a Cleric, Gwen. It's her prerogative to provide care for those in need. Right now, that need is in the Isle of Man. Tomorrow, it could be the foothills of Fuentes Carrionas or the Elemental Sea raging north of Istanbul. Will you leave London to protect her then? Elvia has a personal Knight of St George, and besides, she has a Contingency Ring— your Contingency Ring. In the time it takes for Mathias to perish, Elvia can teleport away unharmed. Besides, doesn't she possess Sen-sen? What on earth is going to battle an enraged draconic Ginseng the caster herself can't control? Also, will Peterhouse let you go without a Contingency Ring of your own?"

Gwen touched the bare flesh on her ring finger.

"Let me remind you. Did Master Kilroy accompany you to Blackheath? Did Gunther accompany you to Singapore? Did any of us in China insist we leave our responsibilities to chaperone you in Shanghai? Besides Uncle Jun, of course, he's awesome."

She was beginning to regret recruiting Richard.

"You know I am right. You are a Magus now. You have duties, as do I, as does Elvia, your friend. You cannot— ought not— think like Helena. Your duty, the one you chose to accept when you came to Peterhouse, is paramount. What Lady Grey has gifted you is what folks like me can only dream of— How can you repay your benefactor and your tutors through frivolous misadventure? Have you bedded her even?"

"Richard, that's enough." Gwen did not enjoy being guilt-tripped, less so when the words rang true. Like dripping water, each rationale Richard provided wore away the stubborn stone wedged against her heart.

"Well? Are we in agreement?"

Gwen dug deep for something profound to say, only to find her well of retorts completely dry.

"That's fine. I'll wait." Richard's Glyph changed hues, placing the call on idle.

Seated on the bench, Gwen straightened her dress, relaxed her shoulders, then leaned back so that her neck hung over the wooden backrest. Above, the English sky was its usual hue of slate and stone; this far from the Mageocracy's centre, the infamous London smog was barely perceptible.

Richard's affirmation was well-placed.
It would be utterly irresponsible to run off a second time just because Elvia was being menaced by sedan-sized, tailless, shapeshifted feline assassins with tentacles.


In the pond, her rainbow duck "quacked". She noticed that except for the abnormal specimen in their midst, most of the other ducks swam in pairs.

Unwearied by the cold and warmed by the unnatural summer, amiable avian lovers paddled through the pond in companionable streams, leaving trails like open sextants. Some sat near the rushes, plucking at the reeds for nesting material. Others paddled among the stones, frolicking among the brimming water. Within this unnatural Eden, there was nought but serenity.

"QUACK!" Her drake joined the fray; it's bulk cutting the rushes like a frigate. In fear, the smaller ducks fled from the rainbow monstrosity. The drake gave chase, ploughing through the water. All around the pond, the rest of the hens suddenly took flight, mounting on clamouring wings, forming a great bell-beat of feathers as concentric ripples below echoed the great ring of panicked birds above.

"QUACK!" The mandarin duck waddled back dejectedly, staring at Gwen confusedly.

"... fuck me." Gwen exhaled with exasperation.

"… You sound upset," Richard interjected. "Evee?"

"No, no— that was for a duck."

"… I know you like to pick up strays." Richard's tone grew bemused. "But why a duck?"

"That is a VERY good question." Gwen's eyes grew misty. "It was cute, I guess, and friendly, and I had the Essence to spare."

"You're a clear and present danger to anything adorable," Richard remarked. "Is one victim not enough to satiate your cuddle-lust?"

"Very funny, Dick."

"So, have you reconsidered?"

"Yes," Gwen answered. "I am staying in London. I don't have time to shepherd Elvia."

"Good." Gwen could imagine Richard's sarcastic golf-claps. "Did you reconsider my offer from our luncheon?"

"I did. Welcome aboard, I suppose. We'll head to Millwall together on Sunday, after my lesson. I'll introduce you to Wally."

"Great," Richard's reply was curt and quick. "I've picked up a quest for clearing out the Slimes beneath the town. Did you post that?"

"No way." Gwen's stern lips broke into a smile. "You're the one who took up Wally's quest?"

"I thought as much." Richard laughed. "I'll introduce you to a few new mates from King's who will be tagging along. Got a nice place for lunch?"

"I do. Indian."

"Sounds colonial. See you then?"

"See you, Dick." Gwen bit her lower lip. "Thanks for the pep-talk."

"Anytime, Duck," Richard replied. "Stay off the drakes!"

Gwen disconnected the call, then tapped in the Glyph for Elvia.


"Evee…" She took a deep breath.

"Quack!" the duck wailed, demanding a return to innocence.

"… okay, thanks, Gwennie. I'll keep safe."

"See ya— Quack!"

Elvia watched the light within the Device die.

Steering Gwen was arguably the most dubious, and also disturbing thing she had done in all her eighteen years of life. Her mind was such a jumble of emotions that she wished she could Calm Emotion herself, even knowing that the histrionic-killing Clerical staple possessed marginal effect on the caster. Even now, knowing she had succeeded, her elevated heartrate was making her pant.

On the call, Gwen had very carefully informed her that she was in no danger— so long as Mathias looked out for Druids who could transform into cats sans tails, plus tentacles.

Was she disappointed that her companion did not insist on accompanying her? Elvia asked herself after a self-medicating dose of becalmed emotions. Her heart said that she was— her magically-placid mind told her it didn't matter.

Contrary to what she told Gwen, she welcomed the unexpected re-deployment. The more folk like Magus Fitzgerald she could pull from the brink, the merrier and more eager her desire to be in Douglas. It was for Gwen, her friend and companion and partner, that she had put on the pretension. More than anything, more than herself, she feared that her deployment was targeted at the Devourer of Shenyang to lure her friend into the mire of war. What Gwen had done for her in Dwarfland made her inconsolably happy, but it invariably left a weakness to be exploited.

If her assignment had been kept from Gwen, Elvia knew her friend well enough to know that Gwen would teleport in, Caliban and all, at the first unexpected news of her endangerment. Now, her partner had made her bed and knew to lie in it. What was surprising for Elvia was that her friend had seen the light of day so articulately, accepting her absence without contest.

Was it Lady Grey? Elvia considered who would offer Gwen such sterling advice. Or perhaps Ollie, her overzealous Praelector suffering from stress-pattern baldness? That poor man needed a dose of Sen-sen's best before he lost all of his hair.

Sighing, Elvia felt a strange tug of jealousy. Why was Gwennie still molesting that damned duck? Could her friend not live for one day without something cute to abuse?


Training Range.

"Curve it!" Magister Kareena Patil's command whipped at Gwen's behind. "Bend it to your will!"

"ARRRRGH!" Gwen flubbed her Void Bolt, a spell she could incant near-silently, but apparently not with applications of meta-magic applied. It was amazing, she conceded, how Yue managed Alesia's Transmutation-Evocation specialisation. Her friend was someone with real talent, not stolen ability.

"That was utterly pedestrian." Magister Patil remained unimpressed. "You know you can do better than that."

Gwen wanted to retort, but first, she had to fight down the feedback loop from the Void mana flooding back into her conduits. When she finally suppressed her breakfast, she reexamined the long list of invocations.

There were hundreds in all, and via matrix-sequences, they created custom formulae that impacted a spells' range, AoE, shape, size, element, trajectory, channel and triggers. What Magister Patil wanted to squeeze from Gwen like blood from a rock was the ability to use Spellcraft not as pre-packaged incantation-chains, but as a fluid language.

"When altering the inflexion, consider the previous predicate and how it modifies the core quantifiers. The second clause of Chomsky's Elemental Cipher indicates a pause— not an enjambment. It's a tongue-tap, after which the original incantation must finish within eight Glyph-notes."

Gwen loosened her tongue by making a lion-face, and then a lemon-face. Her jaws ached, but that was hardly the present problem.

The issue, Gwen came to acknowledge, was that she might not be equipped to exercise the complexity of the magical "programming language"— certainly not on the fly. If anything, rendering invocations were akin to the complex mathematics of her old world, something between the admixture of real and imaginary numbers, fractals in reality, with arcane wrinkles manifesting like a self-perpetuating Mandelbrot set.

If she had been a real novice, she would have told herself that practice made perfect. But as one whose mind betrayed the limber youth of her body, she understood that in the distance loomed an inevitable cerebral bottleneck.

What Magister Patil demanded was new tricks— but Gwen knew herself to be an old bitch not so quickly re-trained.

As a magic-caster, she likened herself to a performance-pianist— fashionable and pretty and mechanically capable of producing the most celebrated works by the greatest composers. With confidence, she could stride on stage with a long slit dress to bathe in the light of ten-thousand watts. There would be applause and tears, and enough roses to fill the pit— but as for talent, she fell far short of Chopin or Liszt.

Simply put, she was a spell-hack— one gifted with the hardware to enact the formulae, but abjectly poor when it came to freestyle; a master of the copy-paste, an Omnimage of common arcane application.

If she was struggling with derivatives and differentiations here in the third tier, she could only imagine the horror of quantum physics past the seventh tier.

Her present struggle also allowed her to relearn why her scholarly cousin, Petra, had neither time or effort to spare on matters like love, quality of life, or even Crystals. The pursuit of knowledge and expertise her instructor anticipated was a life-long endeavour. There were no shortcuts, no bypass, no convenient detours, not for one without the natural talent.

"Void Bolt!"

This time, she curved the Bolt, though the spell's range halved.

Gwen groaned.
Beside her, Magister Kareena Patil's expression had grown cold enough to quench Dwarven darksteel.

"Try again, Omni-Mage."

Gwen had half-a-mind to re-align her instructor's world view.
The holistic pursuit of sorcerous prowess was nice in itself, but Gwen never saw the sorcerous path as the "only" way. The more she thought about it, the more she appreciated why Henry, her Master, never bothered with the explicit teaching of the secrets behind the arcanistry.

What her Master preferred to emphasise was the ambiguous, big-umbrella, utopian vision endorsed by the Middle Factions.

To Deathless Henry, Magic was a tool, a path to power, a badge of proficiency, a hammer to strike down nails. Rather than arcane resources, she and her Master preferred "Human" resource.

Few business leaders in her world, wielding the power of nations and operating budgets higher than the expenditure of some developed countries, possessed the necessary knowledge of operative semantics. Instead, industry-leading CEOs were more often creatures of charisma, leadership, guile, ruthlessness— prophets of profit.

To create a society where herself, Evee, Yue, Richard, squibs like James Ma and NoMs like Ruì could contribute their unique expertise to humanity, sorcerous supremacy was not the answer.

She knew that her Babulya had said that she would walk the Path of Violent Conflict. Her Master had advocated the Middle Path. What if both could be traversed by the Golden Way, a currency-paved road of glittering HDMs?

"To a lesser Acolyte, I would say repeat after me." Magister Patil tapped the runic scripts. "But that is not why we are here. Try again. No more aping, Gwen— let the 'craft' flow through your conduits."

"Yes, Ma'am." Gwen refocused her mind to conduct the business at hand.

For now, she would do her best.
Later, she would do far better.


A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref :: 

Volume 1 Amazon (US) the book is in all markets as well.
Volume 2 Amazon (US) the book is in all markets as well.
V1 Google Play, iBook, Kobo, Nook and Playster Link
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Metaworld-Meta-fics :

Strictly CaliAn islander's Meta-journeyStrategic MagicThe Strange Life of an Elf From Sydney
"Strictly Caliban" From the always catty @Wandysama
And "An Islander's Meta-Journey" from young gun @Bartimeus
The Mysteries of Fudan, and Other Rumors From the Metaworld
Strategic Magic by kjoatmon
Farewells - The Strange Life of a Quarter-Elf From Sydney

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

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