Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 354 - A Little Web as This

Advertisement
Remove

A note from Wutosama

Voting for the novel :: Voting button

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

A Metaverse Dungeon - Foodie's Enigma

Around the world's imagined corners, the troubles of the Mageocracy toiled on and on. From the Isle of Man to Kandahar to the Great Australian Blight, folk wrestled with predicaments large and small, be it an intricate Mandala sealing a too-short skirt, or a strategic one poaching Mermen in the Baltic Sea.

Ten thousand kilometres from where Humans fought the Manx and Dwarves fought the Murk, lay the mystical mount of Huangshan. There, Ryxi, the unrecognised oldest scion of the Yinglong, wise beyond human comprehension, mulled over the final verse of the Huiwen, a twenty-nine by twenty-nine character rhyming verse that could be read forward or backwards, horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

For almost two centuries, Ryxi could not find the time to compose his palindrome masterpiece. Golos daily attempted to rob or mate with the goats, carps, and various offerings Ryxi cultivated for their Father's abode. Whether or not the Yinglong subsumed said offering was no business of his, but as Lotus Peak's majordomo, he refused to shirk from his divine duty.

In the year since the Calamity came to Huangshan, much had changed in his changeless home. Ayxin, the oppressive brother-now-sister, Father's favourite, had gone down into the lower realms to nest. Ruxin, who had been away for several decades, recently came to announce that he had found a peak in a place called Nagaland and would not be returning. For good measure, their 'eldest' had also taken Golos with him, which was guzen to Ryxi's ear holes.

Thank Father's feathers! Ryxi rejoiced. From being pummelled by an iron-willed Ayxin, a pea-brained Golos and an overbearing Ruxin, he was free. With Father dreaming in the Unformed Land, he could do as he pleased.

Sharing his serene sentiment, a pearl of limewater fell from a waxy pine-needle. On impulse, Ryxi's dragon-whisker maobi danced across the silkscreen, flowing like water, moving of its own accord.

Opposite his pavilion, a peak ten-millennia in the making stood solitary as his Father's austere self. On his serpent-tongue, he savoured the scent of midnight frost melting into morning dew, dripping as the pines bowed, a chorus of scholars paying homage to the White Serpent ancestor.

"Ten thousand clouds, ten thousand streams,
Here I lie, an idle Snake,
Roaming green peaks by day,
Coiled by cliffs, slumbering peacefully
From juniper to juniper, springs to autumns,
Free of heat and disturbance, my genteel mind.
Sweetness in solitude, needing nothing,
Silent as the autumn river's—"

SCHWING!— THUNK!

A murderous shard of glimmering iron, spinning at such velocity that it ignited the air, passed between one rising crag and another. Mid-flight, the mana enveloping the projectile forced it to curve around the arc of a vibrating pine before striking a granite rock face.

"SHATTERING SWORD!"

On impact, a shard of metal almost as tall as Ryxi's human form erupted into a thousand fragments of spiralling alloy, stripping the cliff of every inch of plant life.

With a slow and agonising rumble, the granite began to split, no longer capable of bearing its top-heavy trees. In front of Ryxi's very eyes, the object of his versification crumbled then crashed down below, setting off flocks of startled avians.

With a snap, the bamboo brush in Ryxi's hands snapped in half.

"… Lulan!" Ryxi called out. Just when he thought he as finally alone! Why was it so hard for a snake to find peace? "Lulan! Why are you still here?"

"Shifu! You called?"

With a resounding "Clang!" of clashing iron, the dashing figure of a sword-woman leapt from the Shan-Shui landscape onto the pavilion, as vibrant as a brushstroke. Where she landed, the jade tile fractured, sending tremors of despair through Ryxi's otherwise slow-beating heart.

"Shifu!" Lulan bowed. "I am rushing the practice you set before I return to Shanghai. As I'll be absent for a few weeks, I've added the missed training to my existing schedule. I'll master the Third Form soon! I promise!"

Ryxi recalled that indeed, it was he who had given her a grandiose speech about adhering to his training even if she died. It had only been a month, but already the human girl was showing progress. The Sword Art of Huashan was one of the Five Schools during the Song Dynasty for excellent reasons. What made Ryxi nervous was that, while the style's original creators emphasised on the philosophy of "tapping reeds like Dragonfly, strike like plum blossoms"— this Lulan wielded the gentlemen's sword like a butcher's cleaver, especially now that her internal techniques, corrupted by forgetful time, was repaired by Ryxi at the behest of Ayxin and Ruxin. To her credit, though Ryxi could trap the limber Kenshi in a Mist Maze for all of eternity, he would not want to fight the girl head-on.

"There's no need!" The White Jade Serpent of Lotus Peak wept over his paint-speckled silk from the mid-Ming period. He could magic the blemishes away, of course, but as its creator, he couldn't unsee the imperfections. "Won't you be late for Ruxin's quest?"

"No, Shifu! I shall use the Flying Sword technique you taught!" Lulan willed a hovering slab of sword-shaped iron into being. "I can make it to Shanghai in three hours if I use Body Reinforcement."

Ryxi winced. Just the thought of Lulan slinging through the air, leaving contrails of disturbed mist made his scales ache. He was a serpent of delicacy and ethereal grace, as were the Sword Arts he taught. If so, how did he manage to train up a female Golos?

"Then go." Ryxi sent out a gust to send Lulan drifting into the peak. "I'll disable the Mist Maze. Don't return until your earthly duties are done!"

"What can I bring you from the human world, Shifu?" Lulan shouted as she drifted down the mount. "More paintings?"

Ryxi paused. There was something he wanted.

"Lumen Crystals!" he called out. "Moving pictures! Bring me all the moving pictures!"

Ruì Li, advisory to Director Marong of the House of M, personal assistant to "he who must not be named" and General Manager of Gwen Song's estates in Shanghai, could scarcely believe she stood now as an equal to Professor James Ma.

Her folk were a family of farmers labouring in the Canton Frontier until her father got a position as a machine operator. The income from that fortuitous position was enough to put Rui and her brothers through the municipal high school, an endeavour in which Ruì excelled, receiving a scholarship to attend Canton University. At the NoM college, Ruì once again proved herself a prodigy, ultimately landing herself in Fudan, with a bright future as an accountant at a Mage-owned firm in the bright and shiny southern capital.

At Fudan, she met Professor Ma, her mentor.
Who introduced her to Gwen Song, her boss.
Gwen then introduced her to Director Marong, a merchant-prince from Burma.
Then, while touring working the House of M, Marong brought Ruì before her backer's backer.

Before the age of fourteen, Ruì could not recall speaking to a Magus. Now, she trafficked with a deity.

Lord Ruxin, as Marong had called the giant with stag-horns and white hair, was Miss Song's celestial investor. Ruì recalled bowing so deep her forehead almost touched her shoes. What else could she do? She doubted crawling on all fours would make the Land God like her anymore. As Gwen had said— for an NoM, being useful was more endearing than being slick.

After she explained her relation to Gwen, Lord Ruxin asked for the present state of Gwen's holdings, now his equity.

With the sagacity of one reading her palm-lines, Ruì had launched into a torrent of numbers and statistics, projections of expenses and anticipated revenue, threats, weaknesses and stakes.

"A hundred and forty-six thousand, sixty-seven-four-fifty HDMs, Sire!" Ruì had called out with her clarion voice.

"Annually?"

"Last quarter, Sire!" The Land God ranked higher than a king, and so Rui took a title often used by actors on period, Lumen-screen dramas.

"I like this one," the stag-horned giant had mused. "That all?"

"No, Sire!"

"No?"

"That amount is Quarterly, for the Tonglv Canal, and the fund itself. Milady's investments additionally include land from Phase 2, both residential and commercial investments. At her discretion, I've made investments on her behalf in the local service industry. Our secondary portfolio recorded an earning of sixteen-thousand-five-hundred HDMs last quarter."

"Marong?"

"Yes, Sire?"

"Keep this mortal safe."

"I shall, my Lord." Marong stood quietly to one side.

"… we've also made tertiary investments…" Ruì recalled continuing like a stuck lumen-recorder. Bathed in that august presence, she couldn't stop for fear of peeing herself. "Eleven per cent of all stage one equity has been diversified into stocks of companies servicing Tonglv. Since the full operation began in April, the tertiary portfolio has seen an increase of seven-hundred-and-ten per cent…"

When finally she was forced to take a breath, the Land God appeared well-pleased.

"Tis a rare day a mortal could please me so," the voice boomed from the jade dais. "I shall reward you. For now, you may go."

"But Sire." Ruì realised that at some point, so much adrenaline had flooded her spine it had ceased to flop. "That was for Tonglv, Sir. I haven't told you of Milady's Centurion holdings…"

Twenty minutes later, the Land God's laughter filled the palace. "Good! Good—"

"B-but, Sire." Ruì was on fire. If she died right now, her parents would be proud knowing it was the result of spontaneous combustion while facing down a Mythic being. "There's still Milady Gwen's branding payouts— and I've yet to cover the Jade trade…"

The Land God's presence had flooded the chamber— then Ruì knew no more.

"Ruì— hey, Ruì! Focus."

Ruì shook herself from the intensity of her recollection.

"Any idea why we're being summoned before the Tonglv triumvirate?" James Ma stood with his arms crossed, flanked by two assistants, both Government-assigned bodyguards. Since becoming the head of the auditing tribunal, the former professor had entered the Party's Secretariat department with a provisional rank of Inspector General. "Lulan? Do you know?"

Behind Ruì, there stood a now-famous Mage Ruì could call a friend. Lulan Li of Huashan, a compatriot of her Missus Boss' and a student of the Land God's lesser minion.

"I've been told to protect Miss Ruì." After a few months of absence, Lulan's face had lost some of its puppy fat. The Sword Mage, Ruì felt, appeared like the keen edge of a blade. "From Shifu's telepathic conversations, I think it has to do with Gwen."

"Ah—" James Ma nodded. "So its come at last."

"What has?" Lulan cocked her head. "Gwen's out of reach. What can they do to her here?"

"It's not Gwen they're after, but her assets here in Shanghai." Secretariat-Inspector Ma pursed his thin lips. "I guess that resolves one mystery. I guess it is in the nature of Clanners to step on their toes. Unlike us scholar-bureaucratic families, the Clans are well-set in certain compulsions."

"I don't understand." Lulan appeared as confused as ever. The mana in her pupils smouldered like tempering iron. "Are we under attack?"

She made a one-handed chopping motion.

Ruì grew instantly nervous. "Please calm yourself, Miss Lulan. Miss Song is very wise. Also, we're in the Fung's building right now."

"Gwen is 'Magus Song' now, from what I've learned. Ruì is right though. You shouldn't bare your fangs just yet." Ma regarded her puzzlingly. "I can foresee how this might go, but I don't understand why you're both here. They could have sent for the audit report you and I have provided."

"I am Miss Song's legal proxy for some of her investments," Ruì explained. In truth, she couldn't fathom why she'd been sent either. Her orders from Director Marong had been to simply answer the Tonglv Triumvirate's questions to the best of her abilities and with complete honesty. According to Marong, things would somehow work out, and that Lulan was merely there to keep her safe. As for what purpose she served, Ruì knew her place.

In a Mages' game of 'Go', NoMs were less than spell-fodder.

Dai Fung had always thought that the line of Fung would end because of his screw up, such as a hot-headed exchange with a Secretary's scion, and not with his father's lofty ambitions.

Beside him, the Tonglv triumvirate lounged in the glass-walled boardroom atop the Fung corporate building.

Internally, Dai's guts were performing pirouettes.

For months now, he had attempted to persuade his father, the Governor-Secretary of Nantong, to relent on recovering Gwen's share of the Tonglv project. An iron-clad agreement from Pudong Tower aside, he had gotten a glimpse of what lurked behind the Void sorceress' bottomless portfolio while working for the currency-witch and knew Gwen's backers consisted of more than a humble Party-Secretary Yeye and a Hospital Director Nainai.

"You look nervous, xiao-Fung." Tu Guangshao of the Shanghai Economics board toked on an ivory length of "Double Happiness", filling his lungs with flavourful mana.

Dai did his best to smile.

"Your boy's still got feelings for the traitorous harlot?" Magister Quin Chen, the Party official overseeing the Tonglv project, had grown fat since the end of phase one. With profits from the projects rolling into the Party's coffers, he had been paving his way upward, hoping that one day, he too would sit upon the Central Committees. "She was something, eh? Those legs— the very best of east meets west. Haha, to be young..."

Dai briefly envisioned punching the man's teeth in.

"Dai, control yourself!" Usually, his father's voice sounded to Dai like a whip. Presently, Dai could hardly hear the noise coming from the head of the table. "— Good. They're here."

With a sucking sound, the massive, double-door entry to the executive boardroom unsealed itself.

Two doormen held the panes while their guests, Secretary James Ma, overseer of the Tonglv Audit Committee, and Ruì, Gwen's personal-accountant, entered the room on clicking heels. Behind the NoM, Dai caught the familiar face of Lulan Li, the Sword Mage from Huashan, famous in all of China thanks to the IIUC broadcasts. Were it not for the fact that she had disappeared of late, her darling face would be plastered all over Tonglv's billboards.

Across the floor, Ruì stood demure as a mouse.

Though the NoM's parents were peasants, Dai had since learned not to demean the girl's talents. What she had, he sorely lacked. It was a stern lesson he took to heart, for though Gwen was now absent, their old crew, Effi and Terence, now worked for Dai. Additionally, he now had a whole contingent of NoM accountants working under him, reporting to him the undercurrents flowing beneath the Fung's auspicious exterior.

That was also why Dai knew the Fungs were in dire straits.

As Gwen had long anticipated and Ma had warned— it was in the very nature of the Clans to eat the grass around their hutch to fatten themselves. Were it not for the absurd volume of HDMs filtering into the company; the Clan's coffers would have long been hollowed out.

Or, a more disturbing insight interrupted his thought. Were it not for Gwen and the mass of crystals flooding into the Fung's coffers— their Clan would have remained the mud-Emperors of Nantong and not have leapt onto that precarious platform called Party politics.

It was a calamity in the making— the higher one's rise, alas, the harder the impact, and in Dai's opinion, the Fungs of Nantong had soared far too close to the Central Committee's five-point celestial star.

Opposite from Dai, he could see Ruì was terrified, which was a natural response. Beside her, James Ma's demeanour was one of amusement.

What did Fudan's ex-professor know? Dai desired more than anything to find out.

From the hands of servants, precious tea from Fur-Peak greeted the guests and hosts. One for each, but none for Ruì. Dai's lips twitched. With a stern glare, he commanded another cup to be made available.

"Please help yourselves," his father began, ignoring Dai's actions. The Patriarch did not appear bothered by the fact that James Ma seemed unfazed. "Since we are all here, I will waste no time. For some time now, we have entertained the architect of our Tonglv Project, Magus Song. As the granddaughter of Committee Chair Guo Song, she was someone we have placed great faith in bringing continued prosperity to the State and the Party."

James Ma said nothing.
Ruì stared at the table, avoiding the Patriarch's eyes.

"However," Shen Fung continued. "It is without a doubt that Gwen Song is no longer that young lady of the House of Song we so admired. You've all seen the broadcast of her receiving her title from the IIUC. Gwen Song! Of Cambridge! A travesty of loyalty and piety! She has forgotten her roots! You've all seen her bearing her crimson mantle, smiling as she held the hands of her British hound masters."

James Ma nodded.
Ruì studied the woodgrain.

"Allow me." Tu took over. "Tonglv— is a critical infrastructural component for Shanghai and the Party. As a representative of the Economic Activities Committee, I cannot— will not— allow a foreigner partial ownership of the Canal. I have already communicated this reality with our Regional Development office, and have a secured Secretary Jiang's compliance. We have additionally obtained confirmation from London that Gwen Song is in league with the capitalist-imperialist Ravenport. Thereby, for the good of Tonglv, for the people of Nantong and the motherland itself, I declare that the triumvirate will rescind the contract given to Miss Song, and withdraw the single percentage stake of the Canal's Class-A shares."

Their opponents remained silent.
Dai quaked.
It was happening!
Why wasn't Ma up in arms? He desperately looked to his father, only to be met with a dead-eyed command to remain silent.

"Of course, we are not without guilt," Magister Chen added his piece. "We too, must take responsibility for misplacing our trust. The Tonglv Committee will repay Miss Song for her losses, based on the price at which she originally acquired the shares."

Ruì suddenly looked up. "Lords and Sirs. The original shares are worth less than a thousandth of what Tonglv is currently trading."

Shen Fung furrowed his brows. "You are not here for input, Miss Ruì. You are here to execute the order we have delivered. James, what say you?"

"A fair deduction." James Ma inclined his chin.

Dai held his breath.
Something was coming.
He could feel it in his Astral Body.
It was only natural that Ma was unimpressed. Gwen had said that she had planned for this eventuality. He had even forewarned his father, but who in Shen's lair of nepotistic favours had bothered to dig deep enough to uncover what favours Gwen had trafficked? Dai had looked into it himself and turned up nothing— not a mote! Something— someone— at Pudong, had obfuscated Gwen's financial activities. Was it James Ma? Or someone higher?

"Sirs." Ruì humbly bowed her head. "I can't process your command to rescind Miss Song's shares. That is not within my given privileges."

A round of snorting sneers answered the NoM woman. To Dai's growing anxiety, Ruì no longer appeared so intimidated.

"All you have to do." Tu's patience for NoMs was non-existent. "Is take these contracts…"

The man slid over a thick stack of papers.

"... And inform Miss Song she needs to sign them."

"I can't do that—"

"Miss LI!" Magister Chen raised his voice. "You forget your place! Do you know who we are? What we stand for? You are not the Devourer of Shenyang!"

Lulan moved to stand beside Ruì. The Sword Mage was like a sheathed blade, waiting to be drawn.

Dai heard his father laugh under his breath. Shen Fung did that whenever he grew annoyed or angry. The idea that an NoM woman, an accountant at that, was telling them she would not execute their order was magnitudes beyond what he and the two fat men beside him could stomach.

"Ma, control your underling." Tu turned to the professor.

"She's not one of mine." Ma shrugged. "Besides, she's right. There's nothing Miss Ruì can do for you."

"Then you do it," Tu growled. "You're on the committee. You can bring us her asset report and execute the transfer once she signs."

"I can't do that either." Ma shook his head.

"Why not?" Chen's tone grew dangerous. Since Chen was an inner-Party official, Dai guessed, the professor-turned vice-secretary was less wary of Ma like the others. Moreso, Chen had always been jealous of Ma, a squib, who had received more power from the Central committee than he. "You can't shield her, Ma. It'll be the death of you. I'll have you and that accountant there charged with treasonous activities."

"Hahahaha…" Ma began to laugh. Dai baulked. It was a rare day that a squib mocked Mages. Such carelessness was suicide. Ma had even left his bodyguards in the lobby.

"Have you gone mad?" Dai watched his father stand to point an accusatory finger. "Ma, what did the girl give you?"

"It's complicated." James Ma shook his head. "Ruì, care to clarify?"

"Miss Song no longer owns any of the assets you wish to reclaim," Ruì explained slowly and meticulously, as if to children. "I can't process the rescind order even if the legalities allowed for such a thing. What doesn't belong to Magus Song cannot be returned."

Following Ruì's words, a vast silence descended.

Dai closed his eyes, then slowly reopened them.
Everything remained in its place— this was not a bad dream.
He knew Gwen would not have let things lie as they were.

"Your mistress must have made out like a mountain bandit." It was Shen Fung, Dai's father, who first broke the silence. Having received the warning from Dai, he knew well enough that Gwen had cards left in play. "No matter, let the records show what revenue she has absconded withal. We will recover every HDM, mark my words."

"… I am afraid that's not possible." This time, it was James Ma who spoke. "I oversaw that transfer a month or so back. The young lady received a sum of exactly ZERO HDMs. No Shares, no warrants, no dividends. Nothing."

"Bullshit!" Tu slapped the table so hard the mahogany trembled. "I would have known!"

"I passed it upward." Ma's lips curled with pleasure. "Maybe the transaction was authorised, maybe not, I am just an auditor. My only role was to ascertain Magus Song's total assets at the moment of transfer."

At Ma's deflection, the trio's attention returned to Ruì.

"Magus Song now owns no assets in Tonglv, or in Shanghai itself..."

Dai inhaled as the air grew suddenly thick. As for what came next, there were three very angry, surprised, and frustrated Magus-tier casters in the room:

Shen Fung.
Tu Guangshao
And Chen Quin.
The four bodyguards from the Fung Clan as well had at least one School of Magic at the fourth tier, in addition to their Clan's secret arts.

The mana pressure exerted by the sheer hostility of the Mages was enough to compress the air around the poor NoM accountant like a wall. Very quickly, Ruì's face filled with blood. Without an Astral Body of their own, NoMs could easily asphyxiate from the aura exuded by an upper-tier Mage.

"Who now owns the sorceress' shares?" Shen Fung demanded.

"Show me those files," Tu demanded the ring on Ruì's finger. "We'll get to the bottom of this. If your western whore of a mistress thinks she can jilt the Tonglv Economics Committee, she's in for a very long and unpleasant surprise, and so are you."

Dai desired to act, but it was Lulan Li who stepped forward in his place.

CLANG!

With a single swing of her arm, a massive blade wider and taller than her body materialised from thin air. The blade-metal sliced the space between the triumvirate and the panting NoM and squib, instantly severing the pressure. At the same time, the single block of whetted alloy split clean through the century-old conference table's arm-thick lumber, then cleaved deeply into the reinforced concrete.

Dai's heart leapt to his throat.
Sword Energy? Sword Ki? Ken-ki?
What ancient power was this? The building itself was protected against higher-tier destructive magic and built on a ley-node! Abjuration, Transmutation and even Fengshui reinforced it! To slice into the concrete like butter— what man could erect a Shield to withstand a strike like that?

His father was making a terrible mistake! Things were spiralling out of control!

"… INSOLENCE!" Shen Fung raised a hand to command the guards. As one, the Clan's elite members drew their wands.

Tu's frustration was also at his limits. With a snarl, the hypocritical patriot Earthen Mage called upon a dozen rods of iron projectiles empowered by British magic, enabled by an American-made wand.

Chen, ever the scholar, took two steps back and inexpertly worked on his cowardly Illusion.

Every hair stood on Dai's body.
Gwen would never send someone like Lulan to die a dog's death. His father might not believe it, but when Dai had chummed with Tao and Mina, the siblings had revealed that Gwen's IIUC excursions had netted her patrons, allies, and debtors from all over the world. He wasn't sure if any of them could pressure the CCP, rival the Party in power, but Gwen was the girl who liberated Shenyang, fought a Lich! No matter his father's confidence, or Tu's bribes, or Chen's delusions of Party grandeur— it was entirely possible Gwen had the eye of someone in the politburo. What if that was why she saw his admiration only as a distraction? There was someone else, maybe, a Party Secretary, or a European prince, who could be her amorous sponsor!

"Father— NO!" Dai knew it was now or never. He had to gamble everything. If Dai failed, he would be excommunicated by Shen, removed from the line of succession, chased out of Nantong. But if he succeeded and his guess was right—

Then the Nantong Fungs might still exist tomorrow!

Bodily, Dai leapt in front of Lulan and Ruì. "Patriarch! You're making a terrible mistake!"

"Dai!" His father growled like a Water Ghost. "Get out of the Mao-damned way, you ingrate—"

DING!

A blooming Message spell exploded beside Shen's, Tu's, and Quin's ear, visible to all. For those in the know, they perceived it to be a missive from the Party directorial office, delivered through the elevated channels occupied by the Confidential Communications Committee.

Dai watched as Shen Fung looked at his son, at his partners, then lowered his hand.

DING!

The spell tolled on, demanding public redress.

His father touched a finger to his wrist. "Wei, send it through."

Without ceremony, the Message resounded through the room. The voice that broadcasted itself was strange to all but the three who oversaw Tonglv.

"Mister Fung. I humbly ask you and your men to stand down when my men arrive. Should there be a confrontation, I have given full authority to my proxy to deal with you as they see fit…"

Dai did not know the voice, but from the way his Father's face turned instantly ashen, he could guess to whom it belonged. 

Secretary-General Miao Yang-Bò!
He who oversaw the Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection! The unseen-hand, holding the leashes! The watcher who watches the watchers. Who else could bypass his father's web of alliances? Who else couldn't care less for Tu and Chen's cocoon of favours?

"… take a seat. Do not fret. Your deliverance will soon arrive."

Magister Chen found an executive chair and sunk into the luxurious leather. He clutched his chest with one hand, while the other supported his torso so he could remain upright.

Tu too had turned the colour of ash as he mopped the sweat pouring from his head with the palm of his hand, adding to the stains on his rapidly yellowing collar.

Dai met his father's eyes.
An adage his father often sprouted in Dai's youth came to mind. "Do no evil in the bright day. Fear no evil in the night."

The CCDI had appropriated the same ancient aphorism as its eight-worded motto. "Curb desire at day, fear no knocking at dark."

Sure, Gwen was fleecing the Tonglv project hundreds of thousands of HDMs a year, but she did so legally. Could the Fung Clan say the same? Could Tu? Or Chen? How bottomless was their greed, that they could not stomach losing even one-hundredth of the money Tonglv made?

And now it was all too late.

Like a man exhaling for the last time, the double doors opened once more.

Shen, Tu and Chen all rose to greet the inspector sent by the CCDI.

When they saw the familiar face, the blood drained from their bodies once more. Chen grew so weak that he even sank to the floor and had to be helped by a guard.

"U-uncle Jun!" Dai blurted out when he met the man's eyes. "You're here? But…"

But of course.
Tao and Mina had mentioned in passing that Miao Yang-Bò spoke to Gwen during an incident involving her Father's wedding in Hangzhou. Behind Jun were other members of the CCDI, staff with absolute loyalty to the Party apparatus, bound by Geas and indoctrinated from childhood.

Before Dai could bow and scrap, another figure entered the room.

A woman.
No, Dai reminded himself. A goddess.
If Gwen was beautiful, then this vision of loveliness was the single most alluring being he had ever beheld in all his years. It wasn't so much her hair, her vivid eyes, the flawlessness of her skin, or the stature of her svelte figure— it was that her presence grew beyond what humanity could engender. She was otherworldly: that was all Dai could fathom as her aura filled the room.

"Shishu." Lulan bowed from the waist.

Master-Uncle? Dai's jaws clenched reflexively. It took a second for his mental faculties to process the archaic title, and when they did, he understood that he was in the presence of a being whose bloodline hailed from a time when the Fung still fished with sticks and stones.

"Lord Ayxin." Shen Fung held out his hands in a bygone, dynastic act of supplication. "The Nantong Fungs welcome the scion of the Yinglong to our humble abode."

"Greetings to Lord Ayxin." Tu quaked.

"Greetings to Lord Ayxin." Chen did his best to retain what dignity he had left.

The guards fell to one knee. Ruì was already on both knees, though the girl knelt to one side, in the manner of a vassal.

Dai's face violently filled with blood.
Like observing the end of a contentious game of Go, the final checker-piece fell into place.
Secretary-General Miao.
Jun Song.
Princess Ayxin.
Lulan Li's Master-Uncle.
Ruì— awed but unsurprised.
James Ma's great gloat.
Gwen's absent assets.

Mao's balls! Dai felt as though his mana channels were about to erupt. He lacked a mouth but was full of desire to scream and howl.

GWEN SOLD THEM OUT TO A DRAGON.

That's why Secretary-General Miao was involved!
A Dragon! The Huangshan princess! That she owned a portion of Tonglv meant that a mythic now held a mutual interest in China's infrastructure! The old dogs in the Party were paying tithes in all but name to the master of southern China's rice bowl! Since the inception of the CCP, the Party had struggled to create meaningful dialogue, and now, thanks to Jun— or Gwen— and Ayxin, they had it! Praise the Three Gorges!

Across the room, Dai could see that his father must have reached the same conclusion. For a moment, their eyes met, and Dai saw in the usually imperturbable mien of his esteemed father, such despair and self-loathing that his heart instantly ruptured.

"Vataka!" Ayxin gave the command. "What gall you must possess to threaten one of my brother's employees? AND one of our disciples? I could flay your souls and not quail a mote of our family's anger!"

Dai allowed his body to fold.
The triumvirate who had not knelt crashed to the floor, not so much that they could not resist Ayxin's Dragon-tongue, but that they dared not. With the CCDI even now securing the building and Jun, the uncle of the very girl whose shares they attempted to usurp watching like a hawk, they knew there was nowhere to run, that a teenager had outplayed them all.

"How dangerous is human greed, to desire more than you deserve," Jun remarked. To Dai, the war hero appeared younger than in the posters he recalled. "Ruì, Lulu, why are you kneeling? Professor, please get up. Ayxin?"

The Dragon-fear relented.
Ma and his men retrieved themselves with Jun's aid. Jun took a stroll around the cleaved table, whistled, patted Lulan on the head, then reached Dai.

Dai looked up.
"Get up, Mister Fung."
With great unwillingness, Dai stood.

"Don't fret." Jun's hand on his shoulder possessed the weight of mountains. "Gwen told me about you. And we've also seen how you've followed her advice in governing Tonglv— curbing nepotism, fully-auditing accounts. Well done, xiao-Fung."

Dai choked. "My… my father."

"Will live, thanks to you." Jun's amiable mien may as well be the risen sun, melting the winter ice. "Those other two, however, will be taking a trip to Nagaland. As for Patriarch Fung. We'll be mining his memories, delicately, so that he will recover in time. That said, a dozen years in Stasis goes without question. An example must be made."

"Nagaland?" Dai mumbled over his words. "Father? Stasis? Why?"

"Bribery of Party officials— fermenting dissent, conspiring to form a party-within-the-Party. Disturbing the peace. Profiteering from Party infrastructure. Misuse of public funds. Tax Evasion." Jun sighed. "Gwen left the Fung's something amazing. Was it not enough? I don't know whether to praise or scold her for the flood of Penal Mages now serving in Shenyang. Tonglv might seem like an ascension to most, but to me, all I see is an enormous rat-trap."

Behind the two, the Dragon goddess muttered something in a language Dai could not understand.

Tu's whimpering ceased at once— not because the man had grown a spine, but because he had become entirely rigid.

It was Stasis— an upper-tier multi-school magic Dai had only heard rumours of existing. A spell that held one's body frozen in time, or managed a visual facsimile, while horrifyingly, left one's mind free to think and wonder. In Tianlanqiao, the spell required two mandalas, powered by a ley-line connected to a multi-storey structure.

"Mao, please, I have a family. I have grandchildren…" Chen whimpered as Ayxin approached. "Please, princess, have mercy, think of your children. Have compassion—"

"Vataka!"

THWACK! Chen slammed himself wetly against the floor so hard that when he once again lifted his face, it bled from every orifice.

Without expression, the Dragon-Princess performed the same rite.

"You two are a reparation gift." Ayxin's face was without expression. "Don't worry; your family will be going with you. Every one of them that has benefited from the hoard you stole from my brother, will answer in his Jade Court."

Dai dared not glance at his father's shivering form. Instead, he addressed Jun once more.

"How… could the Party just surrender its citizen like this? They misappropriated funds. They didn't hurt anyone."

Jun cut him off before he could finish. "HDMs? Is that all? These are men who have fed on the flesh of their fellow citizens, young Lord of the Fung Clan. As of now, almost a million of our people are reliant on the canal for their daily rice. From the meanest peddler to Ma's senior auditors, the seasonal labourer to our Committee Chair. Your father— Tu and Chen, though they have not maimed anyone personally, they've done untold harm to tens of thousands. Because they wanted more power, Crystals meant for investments bled out from Tonglv. Hundreds of thousands of workers, maybe more, were underpaid or not paid at all. How do you think those luckless workers in the Districts survived the winter? How about their starving wives and daughters? Because of their unnatural ambition, goals went unmet in phase two, land sold for cheap to their friends and families. But what about the jobs those sales were engendering? The workers whose wages were paid for by the project profits? What of Tonglv's municipality, who never received the land tax? Who could keep the Districts running on hot air? Fresh food, clean water, books for the children, Awaken Crystals! Are these not lives in themselves? No, they may not have killed anyone— but fractions of a hundred-thousand-lives were lost."

Dai nodded.
Could he have stopped his father?
Tonglv was the infinite rice cooker Gwen had filled for the Clan of Fung.
It was a golden goose that laid Mithril eggs, conjured from thin air— but for the Clans, one goose wasn't enough. What Jun said wasn't arcane. The Grey Ghost's mantra from Mao's Red Book was a lesson all knew but few heeded.

"Dai!" Shen Fung's final words rang across the boardroom as Jun's men politely bound his wrists. "Son, save the Clan!"

Looking at the queerly familiar silhouette of Ayxin, Dai felt such regret that he had fallen for that vision of loveliness at the House of M. If he had controlled himself then— if he had walked away—
He was the one who had invited Gwen into the Fung's midst.
And sure, Tonglv had elevated the Fung Clan to lofty heights of late.
But what goes up, must come down.

And now, the Fung Clan may never rise again.

Evening.
The Nantong-Shanghai Expressway.

Against Jun, Ayxin lounged on the Drake-skin leather of the palatial German automobile the government had provided for her outings.

She was in a delicate mood, one she seldom showed to her companion, feeling a discontent that only rose to the fore whenever Jun or someone discussed the matter of Gwen Song.

Her lover still held enormous sentiments for his niece— fatherly feelings, as familial as his filial respect for Klavdiya. Yet, they caused Ayxin untold upset. Consciously, she attributed her burgeoning emotions to her gradual humanisation. To understand Jun, his family, and to provide for a family of her own, she had allowed herself a gradual increase in mortal sensations.

Jun, for example, had a preference for excessively spiced food— a habit he professed to be weaning from thanks to her revitalisation of his Ash-tainted senses. As for Ayxin herself, she had no preferences other than for what Jun preferred. The mortal foodstuff in the lower realms had the Essence value of dust compared to the creatures fed by her Father's occupancy. To that end, she had made demands to Ryxi to supply their meals.

"Ayxin…" Jun turned his head to kiss her forehead. In his eyes, she could see her visage reflected, a sight that well pleased her. "Do you think Gwen planned for all of this? If she did— Mao help us, that girl is inhuman."

"No," Ayxin refuted all credit to Jun's slithering, green-eyed niece. "Ruxin is the one mastering the claim."

"Oh thank Mao," Jun exhaled, laughing nervously. "Of course, that makes more sense."

Ayxin turned away, suddenly disquieted.
Had the Calamity planned for any of this?
Surely her eldest was the master behind the puppet?
If not—
Ayxin observed the goosebumps rising on her bare thighs.
Jun was looking as well, though likely for entirely different reasons.
A curious thing, Ayxin wetted her lips; unlike her Draconic-form, her human body possessed a mind of its own.

Advertisement
A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref :: With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio.


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
V2 Google Play, iBook, Kobo, Nook and Playster Link

Paper back in near future


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


Metaworld Audiobook : 
AGROSQ Audio 


Discord is now level 3 and has Mods!
JOIN OUR DISCORD SERVER

For theorycrafting, world building, DD, and meta-brew Roleplaying! 


Voting for the novel :: Voting button

Next few CHs will likewise feature vignettes while Gwen trains and Evee heals. 


About the author

Wutosama

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

Achievements
Comments(154)
Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In