Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 377 - Gwen Song Observation Diary Part II

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A note from Wutosama

 

 

Sunday 1st of May 2005
London CBD
The METRO's internal files indicate that over 250,000 copies in print have left the press. By my crow's calculation, 200,000 copies of the Metro have inundated the tube and rail system.

Monday 2nd of May 2005
London CBD
The second edition of the METRO is now in distribution. The Count of Monte Cristo is currently at Chapter Eight. The comics attached to the NoM section depicting milord and other members of the nobility are proving popular. The free paper is now endemic in central London. My murders have observed the homeless using the METRO as blankets. MD-6221.62.139.

Thursday 5th of May 2005
Cambridge, Peterhouse.
The subject has convened with Gracie Hillbrook, Magister Brown and Wen to re-attempt Sympathetic Life-Link. Submissions by Magister Brown indicate the success of the rudimentary Essence Sorcery. See RP.550.31.2

Monday 9th of May 2005
London CBD
The third edition of the METRO is now in distribution. Circulation has reached 300,000. The murders observed NoMs from Wembley to Stratford to Dulwich speaking of little else but the METRO's contents, particularly the novel. The free paper's rivals are beginning to take note. The Herald Sun appears particularly hostile to the METRO's success.

Tuesday 10th of May 2005
London, Westminster
Milord. A dubious report has arrived from the South China Sea, which I included for your consideration. In recent months, two supertankers carrying trade goods from North America have been raided by Mermen pirates. Survivors from the ships' crew reported that the Mermen were lead by a High Priest of immense power worshipping a being of the deep with the moniker "The Pale Priestess". The Captain reports that the raiders' leader was reportedly wielding a Faith Relic consisting of SPAM cans. This entry has been submitted as the word "The Devourer of Shenyang" has appeared once and "Gwen Song" sixteen times in the interview transcript. See file FP.3190.312.21.1 for additional details.

Once Ravenport finished the final report on Gwen Song, he pinched the ridge between his eyes.

The witching hour was nigh, and Mycroft grew weary of the dangers of over-imagination caused by a sleep-deprived mind. Different to the Lords-in-name-only, London's Lord Marshall possessed actual duties beyond his function as a chief courtier, one with hours so long, he oft wondered if the lack of long-lived Ravenports was less because of Affinity and more so exhaustion.

As for the point of interest raised by Morrigan— Ravenport tapped into his mental filing system, searching for a relevant entry. It was an exercise he often employed when faced with potential threats to the Empire, for a man in his position had to possess a healthy dose of paranoia and suspicion, even for the smallest detail.

One by one, he had Morrigan summon said details and the associated segments.

SPAM,
Mermen Priest,
Pale Priestess,
The Yellow Sea,
Monsters of the Deep,
Biplipodoofu and Blightreef,
Missing supertankers,
and the golden trade-triangle between China, South Korean, and Japan.

And somewhere in that mess, Gwen Song had her fingers in the pie.
Other than the girl's love of SPAM, he couldn't see any links. The creatures from the Deep were innumerable and unpredictable, too alien to garner human sympathy.

Were the Mermen readying for another invasion?
And this Pale Priestess— what could it be? There had been many such beings in history, though only one that's contemporary. In the past, he had more than once heard the moniker circulate in conjunction with Kilroy's pale-skinned, red-lipped Void wife. And after Sydney, all knew the woman was a known associate of the Mermen Kingdoms.

"Morrigan, bring me everything on the South China Sea from the last month. Everything recent on Spectre as well."

Morrigan sunk into the shadows.
When she returned, the secretary Sprite materialised the data with the aid of Mage Hands, setting those with the highest relevance indices to hover. Mycroft scanned the files one by one, willing his mind to dive into the abyssal depth of cross-analysis.

"I hypothesise that Sobel is evangelising Mermen in the Yellow Sea," he said to the Sprite.

"The likelihood is great if we take precedence into account," Morrigan agreed. "Sydney serves as a significant example."

"Send a Message to Secretary-General Miao. Call it a favour," Ravenport gave the order. "If the Mermen do invade their coast, they can't say we didn't warn them. Tell them to keep a close eye on their coastal batteries as well. Let Sydney be a stern lesson."

Morrigan's eyes grew briefly dark. "It's done."

The Duke of Norfolk rose from his seat. "Well then, goodnight, Morrigan."

"Goodnight, my Duke."

The double doors clicked shut, returning the suite to the shadows.

Monday 16th of May 2005
London CBD
The fourth edition of the METRO is now in distribution. The subject has warned her staff about intrusive crows, not that it matters. The NoMs are well aware that when a crow knocks on their window or door, its best to let it in— especially when they scratch out "Oi, Tower Business" on the window.

Wednesday 18th of May 2005
Cambridge, Emmanuel College.
Memo DD-3221.32.129. The observer would like to note that the subject has scant observable examples of human friendship. As per your command, a compiled list of the subject's most frequent contacts, sans family, employees, and instructors, appears as follows:
Ollie Edwards — Less than a friend or a mate, the subject appears to treat her Praelector as a personal secretary.
Gracie Hillbrook — the subject feels sympathy for the Void Illusionist.
Jean-Paul Bekker — the subject has been using him to ward away unwanted interests.
Elvia Lindholm — Miss Lindholm remains an intimate companion, though the pair rarely convene due to their positions.
The closest companion to the subject remains Dede. It is strongly recommended that the duck be recruited into the murder.

Saturday 21st of May 2005
London, Heathrow
Customs have intercepted a package for the subject, sent from Yangon. From exterior spectrometric readings, the item appears to be densely enchanted with Divination. Customs has passed the package onward without tampering with the Glyph Seal. CR.2240.938.21.6

Sunday 22nd of May 2005
London, Isle of Dogs
The subject is touring the underground construction taking place beneath the isle of dogs. The overland extension Tramline and the refurbishment of the wharf at Millwall are progressing without incident. The municipality of Millwall and Cubitt has reported a population increase to 11,239 registered residents. The average land price of the county has increased by 146% since January.

Monday 23rd of May 2005
London, Westminster
The fifth edition of the METRO is now in distribution. Memo DD-3221.32.129. The observer would like to note that Dominic Lorenzo was visited by Magus Sebastian Cribbage, Editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun. From internal files extracted from our sources in the Herald, their backers appear to feel threatened. The unannounced visitation from Cribbage and his subsequent, dissatisfaction indicate future complications to come.

Wednesday, 25th of May 2005
Cambridge, Peterhouse
The subject is now nineteen years of age. Richard Huang, Petra Kuznetsova, Jean-Paul Bekker, Gracie Hillbrook have prepared a surprise celebration for the subject at Peterhouse's Old Court. Some of the subject's Housemates and Tutors elected to participate as well. A cake prepared for the subject was devoured by Dede prior to the reveal. The Dragon Ruxin has gifted an unusual present (See RP.2240.938.21.6). I've obtained a similar object with the closest attribute. Please note that the subject's article has a Jadeite Pixiu Core.

Omni-Directional Orb
A crystal orb bestowed with highly advanced navigation magic, usually used in seafaring. The Orb is capable of guiding the user toward their desired direction regardless of obfuscation both magical and mundane. It may be used in conjunction with Find Person, Locate Object, and Dowsing. The accuracy of this item varies based on its materials.
Tier 9 "Jadeite Pixiu Core", Black Zone, Tibetan China.
Crafter - Unknown.
Estimated worth, 12,000 HDM Crystals

Pixiu? Ravenport masticated the word with his mind. "Morrigan, can you clarify?"

Morrigan's pupils grew dark.

"The white jade Pixiu is a Draconic chimeric Draconoid found in Chinese-ruled Tibet, an auspicious creature tied to wealth and prosperity, said to harness the Essence of "Fortune". From the Analects of the Mountains and the Sea, the Pixiu was the well-behaved scion of the heavenly Asiatic Metallic Dragons. A gifted but spoiled child, it joined forces with monsters for whom it felt sympathy and rose against the Jade Emperor during the Great Sealing. To spare the Pixiu's life, the Yinglong transformed the prideful creature into an animal without a rectum, constraining the creature's diet to gold, silver, gems and crystals so that it may never consume human flesh again."

"… it has no rectum?" Ravenport raised a brow. Never in his ancestor's wildest dreams would they have imagined that one day, a descendent would be demanding if Oriental Dragon-Lions possessed assholes.

"I believe." Morrigan scanned the records for lions sans shit sheaths. "This particular chimaeric Draconid is a higher-order elemental who consumes Crystals and do not need defecation due to their extraordinary absorption rates."

"Right."

He knew from reports that the girl had a fatal, "directionally challenged" weakness. Logically speaking, this palm-sized item would resolve that problem. However, that such a thing arrived from a Thunder Dragon made Ravenport think.

The Asiatic Dragons were inferior to the Western Chromatic Dragon's physical prowess, but they did possess feats of Divination their western counterparts could not match. Was there a more profound implication to such a useless, albeit unique item?

Ravenport chose to wait and see.

Thursday 26th of May 2005
London, Westminster
The subject has spent 370 CCs out of 1780 CCs to purchase the following spell.

Bilby's Blade Barrier
Evocation-Conjuration
Casting Time: 401 Major 328 Minor
Range: Close
Components: Verbal, Somatic
Duration: Channelled
The caster creates a wall of whirling, razor-sharp blades of force. The baseline spell creates a barrier up to thirty meters long and half-a-metre wide, two-meters high in a line or as a ring. As with a Wall of Force, only a Greater Dispel, Spell Disjunction, or Disintegrate may impact the spell's manifestation so long as the caster is alive. When an enemy enters into the space of Blade Barrier, it immediately begins to take damage and becomes ensnared. Bilby's improved Morden's Blade Barrier allows for complex manifestations utilising meta-magic spellshaping, including Elemental Shift. Likewise, a comprehensive range of expressions is available to the caster, including as a horizontal plane, a dome, a wedge, or as a piece-meal manifestation of singular blades in predetermined patterns. For Elemental variations, see appendix 1B. Note: The mana consumption of this spell's channelled effect is exceptionally intensive.

Ravenport couldn't help but imagine what the staple offensive spell could do in the hands of a Void Sorceress. A combination of both Void and Force Magic was already lethal against grounded enemies. With Bilby's variation, a skilled caster could even anchor the spell in mid-air, using it as a means to trap flying enemies like Rocs and Drakes.

"Morrigan, are there any ongoing conflicts suitable for our sorceress to gain practical experience?" Ravenport asked of his Sprite.

"The Fomorians will be entering their active season in August," the Spirit replied. "Six Flights have been committed to the Purge, including two Mechanised Units and their support auxiliaries."

"Hmm... Giants." Ravenport took a sip of his piping Earl Grey. A keen blade needed whetting from both stone and flesh, and a Combat Mage was no different. "Make a Memo. We'll consider it. No point letting a War Mage get rusty."

Not to mention Tryfan had wanted to deepen their ties to the girl. Ravenport mulled in silence. Three months wasn't much time in the eyes of the Elves, but by now Vulmari and Eldrin are wondering where their sorceress had gone. The girl had been given express consent to visit Trawsfynydd; only Gwen grew so wrapped up in her media hype, she must have forgotten about the Hvítálfar.

To make the High Elves feel impatience! Ravenport smiled in the privacy of his secluded abode. The girl had good points after all.


Monday 30th of May 2005
London CBD
The sixth instalment of the METRO has entered London's transportation network. Circulation of the paper has reached 340,000 to 360,000. In busier stations like Waterloo, Victoria, Liverpool and Bridge, the subject has placed a dozen NoMs throughout every entry and exit, equipped with Dwarf-forged pulley carts, each a quasi-magical storage device with a capacity of ten-thousand or more copies of the METRO. My crows have reported several incidences of robbery. The incident has caused a stir in Scotland Yard as Master Yossari on the Isle of Dogs registered herself as the complainant. A record of the arrest can be MPS.2331.424.33.1.

Monday 6th of June 2005
London CBD
The METRO's seventh edition has included a piece on the recovery of the stolen Dwarven Storage "Pulley". The METRO has commended the Metropolitan Police London for its service. The Chief Superintendent has publically assured our allies from the Red Citadel that their business will not be impeded by "The rare scoundrel". Dominic Lorenzo penned the praise piece. My crows indicate the attacks on the NoMs were orchestrated by associates of the Herald Sun. The METRO has chosen not to pursue.

Saturday, 11th of June 2005
London, Westminster.
The Dwarves under the subject's command are nearing completion of the tube substation underneath the Isle of Dogs previously commended by your lordship. Together with the overland rail system, Millwall Docks is now the lastest location in London accessible by ferry, tube and overground trams. The locales' unique accessibility has not gone unnoticed. The owners of Canary Wharf, the Barlow Consortium, has expressed concern and lodged complaints against the development of Millwall and Cubitt Town. See RP.560.32.5


Sunday 19th of June 2005
London, Westminster.

Of all the nobility in London, scant individuals stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Lord Marshall of the Empire.

There were those like the Exeters, who were his contemporaries, but whose excess choler and extreme views made them poor politicians. Then there were ones like Lucy Astor, who had money and weight but lacked the history to curry favour with the older families. Some he admired, like the Rothwells, who stuck to their obligation of keeping their noble noses out of politics and instead focus on improving the Mageocracy. Others, like Lady Maxine Loftus, were both his childhood companion and a friend.

And it was by her behest that they now gathered here in the mud-strewn hills of Mudchute Farm, awkwardly engaged in an alfresco function.

The purpose of the gathering, one in which notable names were invited, was to celebrate the completion of the first stage of the Isle of Dog's redevelopment project. Under the auspice of fast-tracked council approvals and Lady Grey calling in favours: the Millwall Ferry, Millwall Tube Station, and Millwall overland Tram Exchange were now in service.

Since mid-day, flocks of cocktail dresses and tuxedos enchanted to resist crinkle and stain had meandered from one transport interchange to another, smiling rigidly at the Lumen-recorders from the Telegraph, the Herald Sun, the Guardian and now the METRO.

At the overland, Magister Eric Walken of the Isle of Dogs Redevelopment committee gave a stump speech about bringing employment and opportunities for the local population, with particular attention given to how many NoM families would soon find gainful employment in the construction projects slated to flood the peninsular.

At the newly constructed tube station, under the curved facade of trigonometric Dwarf-cut glass in the art-deco style, Lady Loftus spoke proudly about offering the Mages of London a second business centre with unparalleled access. There, she unveiled the next expansion project of the Millwall-Canary interchange— an ISTC junction connected to the Tower's network, allowing relatively cheap teleporting into and out of the Isle of Dogs. The announcement was met with a shower of flashing strobes, followed by public transit to the finale at Mudchute Farm.

Before the girl's investments, the farm served as Maxine Loftus' kennel.

Now, a not-insignificant amount of landscaping had gone into the enormous English garden that sprawled over its locale, joined on the right by Maxine's character-mansion and on the left by a Union Jack themed three-storey pavilion.

Here and there, London's elite exchanged gossip and clinked glasses, their eyes lingering over the distant lights that hid the Isle of Dogs' newest economics zone.

As a guest, Ravenport attired himself in unassuming grey. Prior to his attendance, he had Seville triple-check the guest list to ensure no undue complications awaited him. It was a necessary caution, as he had pushed back many requests seeking to stifle the Isle of Dog's progress as a kindness to Maxine. Moreover, politically speaking, he had stepped on a few toes in the process, considering that the Labour Party and the Middle Faction were the ones pushing for development. In opposition, the Tories and the Militants had opposed it as a matter of principle.

That was why presently, the Duke of Norfolk stood with his "Allies" on the matter of the Isle of Dogs. Each to each, he and his companions exchanged notes to fathom the depth of Gwen Song's ability to bring about a six-month metamorphosis to a region that had remained unchanged since the Victorian Era.

"... And on top of all that, she wants to link the underground to North Greenwich, up to Westham and loop through Stratford..." Lady Rothwell sipped on her flute of overpriced French bubbly wine.

"And add a route to the Docklands Light Rail," Lady Grey explained patiently. "From Canary to Mudchute, to Island Garden and finally to Greenwich."

"How is 'she' paying for all of this?" Lady Astor marvelled.

"The Dwarves have saved us a lot of crystals." Maxine Loftus smiled secretively. "We're only providing the raw materials and the liquid HDMs. In six months, the Dwarven Masters will come to retrieve their Fabricators. After that, most of them will be returning to their Citadel."

"Still, a Wharf, a Printing Press, three DLR stations and a new underground complex for the tube?" The new voice belonged to Emilia Callaghan, Chief Whip of the United Kingdoms Labour Party. "Is she secretly a Dragon? The cost of all this must be a whole hoard's worth, especially if Waterloo Station's refurbishment contract has anything to say."

Ravenport hid his secret smile, though not too well.

"Milord Mycroft, do you know something we don't?" The Chief Whip was onto him in a split-second. "Do the Greys have anything to do with this?"

Ravenport shrugged; it was fun watching his opponents puzzle over Gwen for once.

"She submitted the Isle of Dog's audit report months ago." Lady Grey held back a smile. "Fret not, Minister Callaghan, our bookkeeping should satisfy the Interior Department's deepest scrutiny."

"Indeed, both Lady Grey and I have placed much faith on this project," the wily Lady Astor spoke, her American accent drawing eyes a usual. "And the IoD Restoration Corporation is majority-owned by members belonging to the Mageocracy."

The women's candidness suggested to Ravenport that something was afoot. For a while now, Gwen's investments had remained so secretive that Morrigan had to tap into the Municipal land-records filed by Magister Walken.

With casual ease, he slipped away from the group, allowing the women to talk among themselves. He disliked Labour's newest whip. She was a lass with an unshakable bias, believing that no project ever occurred without the Tories lining their pockets with the public purse.

Naturally, she was right— but such costs were merely a fact of business.

All around the garden and the pavilion, the guests spread themselves thin between the open bar, displaced by its train of servants swaying with floating rounds of colourful alcohol. After a thirsty afternoon loitering from photo-op to photo-op, careless laughter gradually turned to casual innuendo. It was to be expected— for all of the attendees knew one another from a thousand past soirées.

Not wanting to be accosted, the Duke of Norfolk invoked subtle motes of Dust to blend into the background, enacting a reputation for being an excellent listener.

Across the garden, the four-string orchestra Lady Grey had requested from the Conservatory took up their instruments, playing a key higher now to make the conversation easier. Ravenport retired beside a pillar, cloaked in Glamour, watching the groups ebb and flow, filling with new arrivals, dissolving when their conversation dried up.

After a scan around the newly-grown garden, his eyes left the chittering cliques to land near the rose circle, where flashes of Lumen-strobes proclaimed the sorceress of the hour.

The pale-complexioned girl stood with a group of Dwarves in formal tunics, wearing a risquè, one-of-a-kind Elven apparel with a corset in royal-blue, trailing a shimmering train of spectral daffodils petals.

Also with the group were her Familiars: a Kirin about the size of a Great Dane wearing a bowtie; a snake as large as a Burmese Python, also wearing a bowtie, and a duck— likewise wearing a bowtie.

So that's Dede. Ravenport recognised the beast at once from Morrigan's incessant reports. He couldn't help but notice that indeed, the duck was monstrously large, with its head height as tall as the Kirin. If the damned thing reached its peak, it may start giving Royal Griffins a run for their crystals.

Among the crowd, the girl moved confidently, heedless of the Elven fabric barely covering her very alluring shoulders, amusing Ravenport whenever the men stiffened and the women upturned their noses. Her confidence surprised him once more, for she meandered here and there among the noble, the rich and the powerful, alternatively sliding between groups with the ease of fruity liqueur sliding down parched throats.

When finally the girl retreated to a corner to rest her tongue, Ravenport saw a mouse-faced scoundrel break away from a circle close to the Militants.

Sebastian Cribbage was the man's name; an infamous wordsmith and the Herald Sun's alpha attack dog strongly tied to the Militant Faction.

The two met in shadow, where the Daylight Globes began to fade.

Invoking a higher tier spell, Ravenport edged closer.

"… Dominic's loyalties are misplaced, as are yours, Magus Song." Though the two spoke in "private", Ravenport could see the Militants with their ears to the wind, while on Gwen's side, her two cousins stood distractedly. "A Newspaper isn't all it seems, you understand. There are certain positions one must take, stakeholders one must respect. We had offered you an olive branch, not out of weakness but respect; if you continued on your path of self-delusion…"

In Ravenport's eyes, Cribbage was, as his name suggested, a low-life polymorphed cabbage. More than once, the Duke had wondered if his Barlow Consortium backers would dare file a suit against his position if a pair of crows happened to peck out the cabbage's eyes. To his knowledge, it was Cribbage who pushed the story about Gwen "bastard Ravenport" Song. No one worthy believed the tale, of course, but his children had complained, and he had lost face. Nonetheless, it was refreshing to see Cribbage's slithering villainy levelled against someone else.

How would the girl react? Ravenport wondered. Overhead, he could sense Morrigan's crows watching with equal interest.

The girl stared at Cribbage, her face still pleasant. With every syllable leaving Cribbage's lips, however, her expression grew gradually cold, bleeding the effervescence from her nubile body.

When Cribbage finally finished, the Lightning Evoker had become the Void Conjurer. Against his expectations, the girl did not act out. Rather, the girl's lips grew cruel like that of a predatory feline.

"...Therefore, Miss Song, I would not seek to upset anyone else."

"Oh dear, Mister Cribbage, I simply didn't know the Herald Sun held sovereignty over our citizens' right to know." With poignant sarcasm, the girl studied the Herald Sun's Editor-in-chief. "Rest assured, I'll shut down my paper first thing tomorrow."

Cribbage frowned, clearly unused to resistive, sarcastic young women. "I am warning you, lass. We've been diplomatic for Lady Grey's sake. If you dare challenge us, don't blame me for the headlines tomorrow. We know of your sinful relationship with the Knight-Initiate from the Order of the Bath. We've also obtained records that you Consumed prisoners while in Shanghai to fuel your magic. You're a mad, deviant stray, Magus Song, and that's all there is to it. No amount of free newspapers is going to keep the truth from the people of London!"

Ravenport suppressed a sudden thrill. Cribbage told the truth— but like his newspaper, it was a half-truth.

So long as Gwen played her part as the suppressant keeping the Mageocracy's enemies on their heels, those in power could turn a blind eye, be it trade, transaction or propagation with Dragons, Dwarves or Elves. To his knowledge, the Mageocracy was no stranger to turning the other cheek when the benefits outweighed the costs. In that sense, Cribbage did well in flinging mud to see what stuck.

Conversely, for Elvia Lindholm, accusations of moral deviancy at a sufficient volume could prove fatal for an untitled supplicant, for even within Battle Abbey's hallowed halls, politics thrived.

How would the girl react? Ravenport wished he had a bucket of the exploded corn that the lower-classes loved so much.

Once more, Gwen Song's reaction proved a delightful surprise.

The girl sighed, appearing demure and disappointed.

"If you're willing to go that far, Mister Cribbage." She gave the look of a disapproving governess. "Then are you prepared to pay the price?"

Cribbage's complexion grew two shades darker. "Miss Song, do you believe my warning to be a joke?"

"Sir, you're asking me to shut down a business worth hundreds of thousands of HDMs," Gwen said. "Are you not serious?"

"You—"

"Then let's get serious." Gwen's tone changed at once. She struck out her naked shoulders, took a deep breath so that for a moment, Cribbage's eyes drifted downward, then—

SLAP!

The slap didn't have much force in it, but it was loud.
The strike came so suddenly that Mycroft almost jumped. When next he looked at Cribbage, he near burst a snort because the Editor-in-chief looked as though his world had just exploded.

"How dare you, Mister Cribbage!" Gwen's voice pierced through Mudchute via her Clarion Call. "For shame!"

Like flies to carrion, the guests flocked to the drama.
Subtly, Ravenport slipped into the crowd.

Cribbage shook off the slap with surprising candour. There was no rage, no outburst, just a cold, calculating coolness.

Opposite, the girl was a picture of pity, instantly turning the young stags among the party to her cause. From their stance and eagerness, Ravenport could see that several were near-ready to duel Cribbage to the death.

"You don't think we know your whorish tricks?" Cribbage sneered, checking his cheek for blood from Gwen's rings. "You don't think my crew is recording? The Herald Sun is a paper of integrity and truth, Miss Song, unlike your NoM-cheering, cantankerous METRO! The truth will be known!"

Ravenport nodded with satisfaction. Now there's the thick-skinned Cribbage he knew. It was with good reason the man still retained both eyeballs.

Now the rest of the crowd was looking to chew the proverbial exploded corn.

"Oh, that wasn't for your benefit, Mister Cribbage." The girl huffed, flicking away a strand of impertinent hair. "I just felt like slapping some sense into a fool. Tricks? Falsehoods? We don't need that here on the Isle of Dogs. What makes you think YOU can threaten ME, Mister Cribbage?"

"Threaten?" Ravenport could see that Cribbage was now aware that many of London's upper class were watching. "You're very good at misconstruing other's words, Miss Song. How is a friendly reminder now a threat? I am thinking of tomorrow's headline— 'Man-Eating Void Sorceress menaces the Herald', 'A Bully and a Bitch', What do you make of that?"

"I think— 'Infamous Editor Propositions Young Sorceress' would be a nice one," the girl replied with both hands on her hips. "Driven by arrogance, entitlement and appetite, Editor-in-Chief of the Herald Sun demands intimate favour from Gwen Song lest he publishes untoward articles ruining her vestal reputation."

"You think anyone would believe that?"

"Wouldn't you know better?" Gwen laughed. "Is your written truth better certified than mine? I have Marchioness of Ely, Duchess Rothwell, and Lady Astor of Cliveden to vouch for me, and…"

Slapped by yet another bout of the girl's impertinence, Cribbage's patience had burnt its last wick.

"Keep that up, Miss Song, and 'Fatal Fire at West Ferry Press" may just adorn every headline in London," Cribbage whispered harshly. "You think a printing press doesn't have accidents? There are always problems with the machines. It would be a shame if—"

The man's next words caught in his throat.

There was a visible ripple of mana, then the Void Sorceress' pupils transformed into twin-points of depthless darkness. From the girl's torso, Ravenport could sense twin, concentric circles of Illusory mana permeate the space around her.

Desolation Aura! Ravenport recognised the spell. So the girl succeeded in another Signature spell. How did Morrigan not know this?

"Before you froth and bite." Gwen raised her voice so that all present could hear. "Let me tell you something worthy of publishing— the names of the major stakeholders of the Isle of Dogs Reconstruction Project, of which the METRO press belongs to."

"First and foremost, there's my House Mistress, Lady Maxine Loftus."

Lady Loftus smiled in her usual serene manner.

"Then there's our angel investors, Lady Astor and Lady Rothwell."

The two ladies gave elegant nods.

"There is also milord Ruxin, Master of Nagaland, Kachin and Manipur, True Dragon and scion to the Yinglong," Gwen continued. "And over there are our friends from Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth, who have a twenty per cent take in the press and its proceeds. The Shard also owes a stake in the press, such as the patent to our printing presses and its associated systems. We only own the ink."

It took Mycroft only a few seconds to process the girl's words, after which he had to suppress the urge to clap. He had seen the report months earlier and had been puzzled by her generosity. Now he knew, for though the patent for the press was given freely to the Mageocracy, the design had to use ink made by the Alchemist! If Gwen's press sold the ink, then the patent was itself a lure to consolidate buyers! She had a monopoly!

"And this is only the beginning." The smiling Void Sorceress patted the stunned Chief Editor on the shoulder as she passed, then opened her arms as if to envelop the crowd, her dark pupils returning to their usual clarity. "All are welcome to invest in suites, apartments, offices and condos on the Isle of Dogs. And the earlier you buy, the more profitable your venture shall be. By October, we will release Phase I's allotment, and you may purchase suites off-the-plan at an unmissable, competitive rate in the second heart of London."

Stricken by the depth of the girl's greed, Ravenport felt his thumbs prickle. The IoD group was gathering funds by selling off-the-plan! What a dastardly filthy idea. With Lady Grey, Astor and Rothwell's skin in the game, there was no way the scheme could be a scam. If so, then the early crow gets the latest chapter of the Count of Montecristo!

Gwen turned to Cribbage once more.

"You see? I do not need tricks." Gwen gave the shivering man a look of unadulterated wickedness. "Let us make something very, very clear, Mister Cribbage. You sell your paper, and I'll sell mine. You can put any old pile of horse shit into your paper, and I'll put the truth, or its nearest, verifiable facsimile. I don't need threats to evolve past your outdated business model, and I certainly don't need you or your backer's permission to operate. Come at me again with anything less than complete courtesy, and a raging Thunder Wyvern or a berserk Construction Golem will be the least of your worries, capeesh?"

Somewhere, a Dwarven Alchemist burst into rip-roaring laughter.

As for Ravenport, the final, non-sensical Italian was too much for the Duke of Norfolk, and he had to turn his head to hide his delight even as Cribbage stuttered and mumbled.

His mirth aside, however, what worried him was that despite everything, extrinsic details had slipped through the cracks. He knew almost too much about the METRO, the printing press and their beef with the Herald Sun. He even knew what volume two of the Count of Monte Cristo entailed well ahead of the public.

But he had heard nothing of note about the ink, and little else in regards to the property development on the Isle of Dogs.

Maybe, Ravenport looked around the garden; strangely, both of Gwen's Familiars, as well as the duck, were missing.
What if Morrigan's hunch was right? He wondered.
What if, indeed, the duck was a way of breaking through to the girl's inner circle?

4th July 2005
London, Westminster.
From the subject's internal filing, the circulation of the METRO is currently distributing between 450,000 to 500,000 copies per week.

 

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A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref ::   


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About the author

Wutosama

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

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