Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 380 - Like Salmon to the Stream

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A note from Wutosama

 

 


Gwen's Mary-Janes clacked against the tiled interior of the Song compound, leaving behind the palatial MSS saloon with its Divination-warded windows.

Almost three years ago, when she walked through the redwood door frame for the first time, she hadn't recognised a single soul residing within its quartered courtyard. This time, she arrived with the bearing of a returning prodigal scholar-bureaucrat newly lauded by the Emperor, missing only the scarlet shower of firecrackers.

"Gwen, welcome back!"
"Granddaughter, welcome home."
"Gwennie! We've missed you!"
"Yo! Yo! Yo! Gwenabitch back in da house!"
"Sis Gwen—!"

"Welcome home, sis…"

Each of the familiar faces and voices staked an unmistakable feeling of gratitude deep into her crystal-wrapt heart, striking at the foundation of her being.

Gwen felt an unseen tension unwound like a ball of yarn.
This life, she had made the right choices.

Percy's smile fought to reach his eyes, then deserted him altogether once his sister grew distracted by their grandmother.

In any other elite family at the tier of the Songs, a young man with his accomplishments would have been hailed as a once-a-century prodigy. Nonetheless, he felt like a support prop for his sister's prima donna mid-air pirouette.

What infuriated Percy bitterly wasn't the usual story of sibling rivalry that plagued households like theirs but the complete acceptance the Songs demonstrated.

"Don't worry, Percy." His Babulya had set him aside every so often when news of Gwen filtered through the Party's information Shield Wall. "Your sister's path can't be walked by anyone else."

"Always making trouble, never a quiet moment!" Guo's dismissal continued unabated, often accompanied by a self-satisfied smile. "Ignore her, Percy. Gwen's not someone you need to concern yourself with."

"Focus on yourself, Percy— Gwen's on a different plane." Jun too had laughed off Gwen's overseas accomplishments as fact. "What else can I say when Ayxin's brother is her business partner?"

"Forget your sister." In Suzhou, even the apathetic Hai had assured him with a wink as young Sui bounced on his lap. "It's best not to be concerned at all. Much more relaxing that way, hahaha…"

Finally, Percy turned to Mei, only to cough up clotted blood when his girlfriend had given him a hypercritical glare.

"The way I like Sister Gwen is different from how I like you. Why are you so obsessed with Sister Gwen anyway? You're not bothered by Aunt Ayxin, are you?"

Percy bit his lip; the Kirin Amulet nestled between his collarbones grew warm as his emotions churned.

Dismissal.
Apathy.
Nonchalance.
These were the reactions that stoked the balefire smouldering inside his chest.

Was he not trying hard enough? Percy ground his teeth in frustration. Could he try any harder? Xiangming High School was already the pyramid's peak when it came to burgeoning young sorcerers in China. Its ranking within the Municipality of Shanghai was the product of unbridled meritocracy, a congregation of top talent filtered through tests and trials. Almost two years on, within his cohort, Percy Song stood near the top as a member of the school's Discipline Committee. Likewise, in the Municipal Militia, he held the position of a Cadet Officer with the rank of Junior Lieutenant.

Outside of school, thanks to Uncle Jun's recommendation and his grandfather calling in favours, he and Mei had also participated in every significant Purge action after the reclaiming of Shenyang.

His magical accomplishments as well were nothing short of miracles:
Tier four Abjuration.
Tier four Evocation, encroaching on five.
Tier three Transmutation.
He had a registered spell list of over thirty invocations.
And he possessed the prodigious ability to replicate all relevant magic taught to him by his instructors with a success rate unmatched by others of his age from the same school.
AND he possessed charisma, a good face, a national hero for an uncle, as well as a grandfather who retired from a public security Committee Chair, only to fall into an actual inner-Party Committee Chair.

But the reaction anyone ever enacted whenever Percy became known, be it a military camp, a function, or a gathering of Guo's inner-Party officials— was a knowing nod followed by the everpresent, backhanded comment, "So that's Gwen Song's brother…"

His frustration was also engendered by the fact that his sister's accomplishments had long abandoned the realm of Spellcraft, while he could only push forward by punishing his health. Salt was a gentler Negative Element compared to Void or Ash, but it was a Negative Element nonetheless. The Amulet kept the Negative Energy drain down to a trickle, but even a trickle could wear away fertility and vitality if abused. To combat the diminishment of his body, Percy ate Wildland food until he was sick even though he knew that there was one satiation his Astral Soul desired.

Vitality and Essence.

But without a Tower Master's backing that Gwen received, he had few opportunities to utilise Drain Life— of late, only one on the Northern Front, another during a Purge in Hangzhou's Lake District, where he enjoyed enough privacy to bolster Transmutation and Abjuration. On these adventures, Mei had followed him everywhere— serving both as his alibi as well as a gatekeeper to the constant temptation that threatened to spill.

Thankfully, in a recent expedition to the Yellow Sea, he had the luck of picking up a tier of Illusion from a Rogue Mage, a useful skill for an uncertain future.

With Gwen gone for ten months, his concern for her had diminished somewhat, becoming preoccupied with what opportunities he could garner by taking on Quests.

Now, with the prodigal princess returned, he felt paralysed by her radiant presence.

"Gwen, welcome back!"
"Granddaughter, welcome home."
"Gwennie! We've missed you!"
"Yo! Yo! Yo! Gwenabitch in da house!"
"Sis Gwen—!"
His girlfriend and party member, Mei, ran to embrace his sister while the rest of the family filled the compound with laughter.

The genuineness of the felicitous atmosphere felt like Cloud Kill stabbing at his lungs. For the banquet, other than Jun and Ayxin, Hai and his new family, the whole Song Clan had gathered for his sister's return.

When had he last heard the family laugh like this?

"Welcome home, sis…" Percy forced himself to think of simpler times when he and Gwen lived under one roof in Forestville, surviving off sambal eggs on toast. Back then, it seemed a strong wind could blow his paper-thin sister away from the apartment balcony. Now, her brilliance could bake raw terracotta into bricks.

"Percy…" His sister's face opened like a white flower in bloom, the joy on her face so striking as to make his chest contract with self-loathing guilt. Hugging Mei and then setting his girlfriend aside, she gifted him her full attention.

"Oh, my..." Gwen's measured eyes were twin smiling half-moons. "You've grown! My little Percy is finally a little man…"

 

Guo agreed wholeheartedly with Gwen.

Not so much that Percy was a "little man", but that his grandson had indeed matured into a hardworking young man rarely seen in Shanghai's privileged circles. To Guo, Percy was so studious that sometimes, he wondered how in Mao's name an ingrate like Hai managed to seed a son so talented and humble with a partner whose only talent was her looks.

When his friends at the Bureau insisted that it was Guo's superior genes that must have been inherited, the Committee Chair modestly declined— instead referring to his peerless wife, Gwen's dear Babulya. Knowing their colleague's ego, those old dogs at the Committee had jeered his humblebragging, demanding that he thank his ancestors neither Gwen nor Percy had inherited his bulldog exterior. Stone-faced, Guo had threatened to audit their expense accounts while his peers toasted.

Nonetheless, whatever the opinion of the other Committee Chairs in the Secretariat group, his grandson remained a rare child.

Of Guo's compatriots, few of their grand or great-grandchildren amounted to anything. Some, such as the public scorned power progeny, only understood coercion and intimidation through their father's influences. Others, such as the Fu-er-dai, were akin to the trumpeting, tongue-twisting Tao, spoilt by freedom and privilege.

Such occurrences were an insult to the older generation. In their minds, when the country still fought incursions from the Undead, Centaurs on the Steppes and caste-driven Elemental-sycophants across the Himalaya range, what kind of man-child aspired to make music?

And not even propaganda music, but western music!
And not even classical western music! But Hip-Hop?!
Where was "Hip" "Hop" when he and Klavdiya death marched from Harbin to Tianjin? The same Juche-damned Undead that laid waste to the north were still roaming the earth, and the heir of Wang enterprises wanted to waste his life rhyming non-sensically about hoods? Preposterous.

With some measure of self-caution, Guo forced himself to calm. Of the Song's youngest generation, there was Mina, Tao, Percy, Gwen and now Sui.

Mina was an able socialite, polite, meticulous and helpful to her father. As a healer, she could take either route as a businesswoman or follow in Klavdiya's footsteps.

Tao was dead to him.

Sui was still too young to be judged, though he doubted the Liu Clan would allow their 'heir' to be anything but upstanding.

Percy was a boon he had duly received from the ancestors.

But his granddaughter continued to bewilder Guo.
In their way, he and the girl had made their peace. Yet, he felt a wariness when dealing with her that did not extend to other members of the family, not even his Demi-daughter-in-law, who possessed a mind that could move mountains but the guile of an infant.

In recent months, he and Secretary-General Miao had kept their confidential Message Devices open to their counterpart in London. The news that had filtered through to Guo via the CCDI's international channels had made him immeasurably proud but also hesitant as to whether an Elemental had pierced the veil and usurped Gwen's Astral Body.

According to London, post-Tonglv, his granddaughter had busied herself with real estate on the Isle of Dogs, aided by indentured Dwarves who had contributed Runsmiths, Engineseers, Alchemists and even their precious Fabricator Engines, all to serve the whim of a teenage girl.

Demi-humans?! Guo wanted to vent his bewilderment. What in Tao's "ill-rhyming" business was his granddaughter doing with Demi-humans from the deep floors? Was this what she meant by having lived in the "land down under"?

Then the girl started a printing press.
He recalled Miao had given him strange looks.
Shouldn't Gwen be in a preparatory course for Cambridge? What was the correlation between printers and bridging-courses?
But then, of course, news arrived that she started a Newspaper and not only that, its circulation was eating established publishers alive because it was free and wholly crafted to cater to NoMs.

"… is the girl spreading the Teachings of the Red Book?" Miao had announced with reverence. "By Mao, what a precious child!"

But when they received copies of the paper, Miao and Guo's brows grew full of wrinkles.
Baking recipes?
Celebrity news?
Latest Magitech for NoMs?
Paid Classifieds?
A trading post?
Investment tips for the Non-Magical citizen?
The Count of Monte Cristo?

Without a doubt, Capitalism had gnawed away the girl's good senses.
Over the next few editions, Guo also bore witnesses to numerous lumen-pictures of Gwen wearing semi-living diaphanous leaves that did away with her dignity, burning his eyes with fiery shame even as Miao coughed and tried not to laugh.

"I have three grandsons, one her age— " The Secret-General spoke to the ceiling. "The oldest is older by a decade, though that might not be a bad thing. My youngest is graduating from Tsinghua this year and has been tapped to enter the CCDI as a junior cadet, training from the ground up."

Guo recalled staring at his counterpart, his mind numb with possibilities.
It was one thing to be the relative of a Dragon-princess who had chosen his son out of the blue— and a whole other thing to join hands with the director of the CCDI. While any other Committee Chair would drool at the opportunity, Guo knew well there was no such thing as a free lunch. Eventually, when Miao lost power— every macaque taking shelter in the grand trunk that was the Middle Faction would fall into the Yellow River and drown in the wake of Clan Miao's passing.

Politely, Guo declined the suggestion.

After the newspaper, the girl's press released a book in support of justice for NoMs.

Not economic justice, Guo noted with displeasure.
Just "justice" in the sense that NoMs deserved it as much as a man dying of thirst deserved a drink of water. The context made no sense to him, nor did the uppity attitude of the Arbitrator father. He much preferred the French novel about the secret treasure of Napoleon and its cautionary tale about a man consumed by his desire for revenge.

Then after that, Miao passed a memo that Gwen had made an eye-watering amount of crystals in the short span she had resided in London. The total volume wasn't near as much money as she had generated through Tonglv, but the implication was different. In Tonglv, his granddaughter's crystals were bundled with stakeholders far beyond her lonesome power to move. Though she could freely spend her proceeds, moving the wealth elsewhere was something the Party would dissuade with extreme prejudice. In the "Free" West, however, she could exploit the masses as she pleased.

As for the amount, the volume of Crystals she dispensed to Ruxin was around two million.

Guo had to write out the numbers in Elementally derived Middle Eastern numerals to make sure there were six zeros behind the "2", after which he stared at the paper. Had the Songs ever possessed that many Crystals in the course of their millennium-old history? He asked himself. Their ancestral home in Hubei might be worth that much, but who in their right minds would sell the land of their forebears? Only the rootless capitalists!

"Nainai! Ye-ye!" Gwen bowed from the waist. The girl was wearing the dress her grandmother had gifted her upon their first meeting— a gesture that made Klavidya tremble with emotion.

But for a Chairman of the Confidential Communications Committee who had sent two of his best men to keep his granddaughter well-segregated from the masses, he understood his feelings a little too well.

Between him and his wife, Guo would leave the loving to Klavdyia.
As for himself, Guo wholly embraced the anxiety, fear and weariness that came with guiding Gwen. With Ayxin at least, he understood that she was an actual daughter-in-law who happened to be a Dragon. With Gwen, however, he couldn't shake the idea that perhaps, she was a Dragon masquerading as a Human granddaughter.

Once she polished every dish on the banquet table, Gwen chewed the fat with her cousins and her baby brother. For her present trip, she had only a night and day in Shanghai, and then she would teleport to Singapore, where Gunther and Alesia would await her arrival.

Each to each, Gwen regarded her present company. Of her family in China, it went without saying that her bond with Babulya was most precious. Klavdiya's care was without condition, and though grandmother and daughter had shared no similar interests beyond each other's lives, the exchange between them felt the most genuine.

Closely behind was Percy, bound by two lifetimes of affection. Listening to Percy's unassuming digression of his endless commendations and accolades, she could see the pleasure on Guo's face and the genuine happiness her grandmother felt for her husband and their heir.

Beside Percy, Tao yawned.
Gwen chuckled. "The Big Peach" occupied a particular spot in her bosom. It wasn't that they had anything in common other than lineage, but that The Big P's unbridled passion and his devil-may-care attitude toward what other's thought tickled her pragmatic heart in strange ways. Her cousin had talent— she knew this; how else could a rapper perform a multi-instrumental Illusion solo alone? What his elders did not understand was that Tao was a man born in the wrong place and in the wrong time. She was confident, however, that given time, she could make good on the promise of touring the USA with Tao in tow. Though she knew nothing of recording crystals in the states, just from the rudimentary music industry in the UK, Australia and China, she could see that consumer entertainment was a Wildland Black zone.

"Are you and the 'boys' doing well?" she caught the colour of her grandfather's face changing as Tao told his tale of trying to bring hip-hop to Shanghai's masses without success, lamenting that Gwen was "making bank" while he wallowed in mud.

"Me and da bois are doing good," Tao assured her nonetheless, throwing a few arcane gestures her way. "Big Dog collects your pictures, for the lonely times…"

Tao wiggled his brows.

Mina covered Tao's face with a napkin.

Gwen laughed out loud, undeterred by Tao's dubious charms. "As an infamous someone, how's my 'cred' on the homefront, Peaches?"

"Higher than a Roc, dawg!" Tao declared. "Even mah motherfucker's impressed. He says yo development of the Isle of Dawgs is naffink short of a miracle. The old bastard's got a lot to learn from you."

"Ah-Wang says it's too bad he didn't have the foresight to work with you more closely while you're still in Shanghai," Tao's mother joked half-seriously, so desensitised by Tao's indecency she no longer noticed it. "Can you help Tao, Gwen? Our Peaches rarely listens to anyone, not even Ah-Wang, but he seems to listen to you."

"Mr Wang's far too kind." Gwen pushed away from Tao's father's excessive endorsement. "And I'll do my best with Peaches."

"No need to be humble," Mina said. "We should all thank you, my father included."

"How so?" Gwen raised a brow. "I am not even in China."

Her cousin glanced at their grandfather. Seeing as Guo did no object, she leaned closer conspiratorially and began to explain to her the Song and Wang's present fortunes.

"After you sold Tao's talent to father, he's decided not to force him." Her cousin's eyes were gleaming. "Which leaves me..."

To Gwen's delight, Mina explained that since Tao had decided to embrace music, she was now the heir apparent. While usually, women did not inherit the family business, that cultural prejudice had been made moot by Gwen's showing at the Isle of "Dawgs", as Tao puts it. Further on, Mina remarked that Gwen's rising social capital and their grandfather's "friendship" with Secretary-General Miao also served to bolster her influence over Wang Enterprises, and this wasn't even taking into account Ayxin's relationship with Jun. Indeed, three years ago, Guo was slated to retire from his role. Now, their grandfather sat above his old superior, not far under Miao himself.

All-in-all, the Song family had reached a new height of influence and power in an epoch characterised by China's burgeoning globalist ambitions, now accelerated by the rapid retreat of the Cult of Juche from Manchuria.

"Aren't you the one to thank for all of this?" Mina asked.

"Bloody hell—" There was a barely audible groan. When Gwen looked up, she saw Percy rolling his eyes.

"Tell us about the Doofs!" Tao cut in just as the atmosphere grew strangely anxious. "Does their music have rolling rocks in it?"

Gwen burst out laughing at the Translation Stone's rare misnomer. Her Master's Ioun Stone was so great she had utterly forgotten that they were conversing in different languages.

With some added spice, she told the story of her drunk-singing the Dwarves into submission with a rendition of Misty Mountain.

With the youngsters talking away, plates of dumplings made by Klavdiya arrived. Between mouthfuls of minced Wildland boar cut with garlic and chives, Gwen answered questions about her adventures in London, especially her work with Dwarves and her meeting with the Elves— two Demi-human races absent from the long homogenous "Central Country".

Naturally, Peaches grew enthralled by the topic of ageless Hvítálfar women, while Gwen promised Mina she would gift her one of the Elven dresses.

"I hope your venture in London isn't another Tonglv," her grandfather spoke after observing the children's chatter. "The Fungs deserved what they got— but to have a Dynastic Clan plucked like a boiled pheasant…"

"I heard that Professor Ma's classes are using your drafts as case studies," Gwen's Babulya changed the topic of conversation to divert her grandfather's incoming rant about Capitalist evils. "The new students are publishing papers to try and analyse the economic impact of your actions. Your old Professor's on the up-and-up, he and his NoMs are now an established branch of the CCDI's Internal Revenue Audit Committee."

"That's good because Tonglv is in phase three now." Gwen pictured the endless array of enterprises drooling over land and licence sales. Phase III was the redevelopment of Nantong into a city of manufacturers. If successful, she even had plans to build her future Divination Towers there. "It's out of my hands, though. I've signed it all away."

"I know, dear." Her Babulya sighed.

"Yoooo! That's what my Dad's most impressed with," Tao said. "To let go like that, at the right time, with the right poise, my motherfucker says you've got balls. Dragon Balls."

Gwen almost dropped her dumpling.

"Are you doing things by the book in London?" Guo asked suspiciously.

"I've paid all my taxes if that's what you mean." Gwen gave her grandfather an ambiguous smile. "Everything is double audited, internally and externally. There's a great deal of philanthropic work under the IoDRP as well, mostly headed by Evee— do you remember Elvia Lindholm?"

Guo rested his chopsticks. "Is what I've heard about your friend true?"

"That she's joined the Order of the Bath?" Gwen tested the water. Her grandfather wasn't referring to her thinking of dating Elvia, was he? If so, then either Petra or Richard was a lot less reliable than she had imagined.

Guo raised a brow. "The Ying..."

"—Ah." Gwen wiggled her brows in turn. "Yeah. That's true. You can put it in the bank."

"What's the world coming to?" Guo shook his head. "Chinese Dragons are now possessing Gweilo Vessels?"

"Maybe the Yinglong is a Yin-long?" Tao guessed at the topic of their conversation, using the Chinese homophone of "heeding" interchangeably with "lascivious" to infer to the sexual infamy of Dragons.

Guo, who'd been moodily chewing a dumpling, suddenly choked and began to cough.

"Tao!" Her Babulya was shocked. "If Aunty were here, she'd make you beat yourself black and blue."

Gwen grimaced, trying not to imagine the "Big P's" furious self-flagellation. "Babulya, how's Uncle Jun, anyway. It's a shame I've missed him this time."

"They're training in Huangshan," her Babulya advised with a wink. "Ayxin's getting impatient, so they're going to try where the Yinglong's Essence is strongest."

Gwen immediately dismissed her Babulya's candid vision of Uncle Jun and Ayxin trying to conceive even as a peculiar analogy invaded her head.

Ayxin and Jun, swimming back to the holy mount to breed, climbing the jade peaks to fertilise eggs?

What were they, Salmon?

"Ah, well." Gwen shrugged. She had no time to fly to Huangshan. Besides, it would be beyond rude to pass over her father's head and not say hi or stop to see Sui, her new baby brother, so leaving the meeting for next time would be best.

"How's Lulu doing?" she asked Mina; not flying to the mount also meant missing her Sword Mage.

"I am glad you asked. Are you free after dinner?" Mina asked in turn.

"Sure." Gwen had until the next morning to Teleport to Singapore. "What's up?"

"Lulu and Kusu are both at the House of M, waiting for you."

"Why didn't you say so?!" Gwen chided her cousin, who glanced at Guo.

"Go!" her grandfather growled. "None of you are children anymore. Do what you want. Just don't cause trouble."

"Trouble?" Gwen snorted dismissively, hooking her outstretched arms around Percy and Peaches' necks. "Do we look like the type to cause trouble?"

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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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