Metaworld Chronicles

by

Wutosama

Chapter 385 - Like Dew in the Rain

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A note from Wutosama

 

Watching Sufina's waspish waist sway this way and that, Gwen wondered if she should have chomped down hard on that wiggling worm that was "The Accord". Perhaps then, she would be better equipped to comprehend this outbreak of Vessels, World Trees, and cheeky Serpents.

Unfortunately, her present circumstance left only herself and her siblings to tackle Sufina's mythic-tier cuckoldry.

Luckily, her nine months of accelerated tutelage had plenty to say about Dryadic reproduction, a topic she had reluctantly researched thanks to Hai sowing his wild oats. Through her self-study, Gwen had learned that from a "Human" perspective, Dryads and Nymphs made ambivalent foes. Some Groves savoured their men, releasing bow-legged survivors to spread the love by word-of-mouth. Others remained voracious for food and seed until inevitably attaining heat-death by Spellfire.

Equally disturbing was Attenborough's New England Bestiary remarking that Nymph Groves remained popular destinations despite capricious chance-encounters. This was because Dryads that predated on mammalian males possessed morphic means to hyper-stimulate reproductive behaviour. In the aftermath, successful fertilisation of the pseudo-womb produced seedings for the communal Grove, whose future Dryads, when matured, would then retain their father's morphic specialities. Specimens mated with Wood Elves, for instance, had longer life spans and higher affinity for Druidic sorcery. Likewise, those coupled with Mages developed particular affinities or resistances, becoming capable of thriving even in hostile landscapes. On the Eurasian Steppes, especially-bred "Tree-Kin" of Green-skin war hosts became living battering rams thanks to Ogrish seed-fathers.

As for Sufina and Almudj, Gwen could only guess at the strange fruit that may yet germinate.

When the Bloom in White had informed Gwen that "There is always a Tree", Gwen had taken the Elf to mean botany. For someone with an informed understanding of ecosystems, it made perfect sense that terrestrial life began within arboreal biomasses, within which naturally-evolving food pyramids engendered civilisations that inevitably inspired the worship of "World Trees".

For instance, even a careless browse of Peterhouses' library would reveal volumes wedged between Ice Giants and Frost Wyrms detailing the World Tree Yggdrasil. Two aisles across, leather-bound books told of Tenochtitlanians immolating human hearts to access the Axis Mundi: conduit-portals that linked the Prime, Positive, and the Negative via metaphysical tree trunks. In the reserve section for theology students, she would encounter Trees of Good, Evil, Life and Knowledge, each marking man's earliest genesis. And within those trees, more often than not, she would find dodgy serpents offering seedy figs to bewildered young ladies.

Trees, Serpents and Women.
Though Gwen herself was not religious, both her lives had instilled a distinct perception that serpents were not nice. Far from being beautiful or wise, they were wicked, vile, insidious things up to no good: always scheming to swallow the world.

Comparatively, when Gwen turned to Demi-human charters, the academic purview of serpents grew kinder. In the story of the Nagī's Enlightenment, Mayuree's people told of Mucalinda, the King Snake of the Bodhi Tree who used its flesh and blood to defend Buddha until he attained transcendence. Likewise, in the untamed parts of the East Indies, priestesses burned incense to invoke Serpent-Sprites such as Adishesha the Wish Fulfiller and Kadru, the Mother of Thousands. Further north, the Elemental Sea was said to house a skyward tree harbouring an Elder Salamander whose summoner was an abyssal witch-queen.

In codified lore, therefore— trees, serpents and women made a ménage à trois as old as time, one in which Gwen suspected she now had a part.

"Sufi, can you clarify?" Gwen indicated to Sufina's parroting of Tryfan's Serpent-Tree-Priestess tripartite. "Why do you need Almudj, exactly?"

"I am confused as well." Alesia raised both hands. "Is that not Gwen's Conduit?"

"What do you need, exactly?" Gunther swung his laser-like insight pointed toward the jugular of the matter.

"Yes, let's start with that." Gwen gestured to the tendril-wrapped serpent Scale.

"You are correct that this is indeed a Conduit belonging to the Elder One." Sufina motioned toward the shimmering object held hovering inside its veiny chrysalis. "As for what I am doing with it— the Scale is presently tethered to your Master's body, thereby preventing my animus from reverting to a primal state."

Alesia's eyes grew large. When she spoke, her digits trembled. "Our Master's body still lives?"

"Don't be absurd!" Gunther refuted Alesia's observation. "Not even Deathless Henry can survive the single most powerful Void Mage on Earth blighting his Astral Soul—"

"His heart," Sufina interrupted their eldest. "I have kept Henry's physical remains… preserved through the heart."

Gwen abruptly recalled the story their Master had told after Blackheath. "If I remember correctly. Master said his wife voided a whole heap of his organs, didn't she? You had to regrow the missing parts. Is that what you mean, Sufi?"

"Correct," Sufina approved of their youngest' sterling memory. "Most of Henry's heart and his left lung, in fact, and the tissues and bones that had been damaged as well. All of it, I had replaced using my sap and sinew. In the three decades since, my roots had enmeshed every organ in Henry's body to prevent his flesh from failing. That was why your Master drank copious volumes of Golden Mead, you see. The mortal portion of his being lacked the means to keep my grafts satiated."

"You were keeping our Master alive through flesh-stitching?" Gunther drank in a breath of cold air. "That's borderline Necromancy."

"Considering it stopped your Master from dying, shouldn't it be Biomancy?" Sufina's lips curled mockingly. "You have to understand Sobel took those vital organs from his Astral as well as his physical body. There was no way to heal or regenerate what had been consumed. What Henry managed while dying was nothing short of a miracle and a testament to your Master's prowess."

"A prowess that we are slowly uncovering, it seems," Gunther replied sardonically. "Still, nursing a soulless body blighted by a Void Mage isn't a feat attainable through brute-force vital injections. Is that why you need Gwen's Serpent?"

"Its Essence was essential." Sufina did not deny that she needed Almudj's help, nor did she confess to receiving its aid. "Through the Rainbow Serpent's regenerative prowess, I was able to rejoin the voided Astral conduits Sobel had disrupted to prevent me from reviving Henry. By then, the essential part of your Master was long gone, but the lesser part of his being needn't perish. So long as his corporeal conduits continue to exist, the Familiar that accompanied Magister Kilroy through a century of service would not fade either."

Gunther appeared to withhold his opinion. "Alesia? Gwen? What are your feelings on this?"

"If you ask me," Alesia confessed. "I am happy to know our Master remains deathless, in a way."

"Gwen?" Gunther grew grim.

"I would like to know how my 'Scale' factors and continues to factor into this ordeal." Gwen could see that her siblings stood divided on the part of Sufina playing house with a lukewarm cadaver. "As for Master's remains, I want to give Sufi the benefit of the doubt. I mean, we owe Master our love and respect, but Sufi's been with Henry through thick and thin for longer than we have been alive. That and she'll lose the part of herself that we've come to love and admire if we take Master away. Ergo, all things considered, and my Scale notwithstanding, I am willing to bear the anguish of Master's remains... remaining."

"Well said." Alesia pumped a fist.

Gunther's tautly-clenched jaw muscles took several seconds to relax. "I see. Very well, I'll concede the point."

"It's not as though you three could have taken Henry from me." Sufina gave them a disapproving look. "I am beyond the reproach of children."

"Right." Gwen made a motion of moving the old matter aside. "Now, about my Conduit. Any chance I could have it back?"

"Not without losing Henry."

"As I suspected. Alright, I am all ears."

"Unfortunately, the Essence I received wasn't enough to sustain Henry indefinitely." Sufina caressed the trunk of her Heart Tree. "I had to improvise by tapping the source directly."

Upon hearing the Dryad's confession, Gwen felt another horrifying puzzle piece click into place. "Holy fuck, Sufi, you used Essence Tap on Almudj?"

"Henry's variation is called Spirit Tap." Sufina appeared stunned by her accusation. "How do you know that spell?"

"I played removalist at the holiday home in Tryfan earlier this year. The Elves then voided the lot."

"That blooming arch-bitch untethered my home from Tryfan?" Sufina's smouldering amber pupils glowed with a dangerous light. "And Eldrin allowed this?"

"I never met Eldrin..." Gwen said. "Do you know Sanari?"

"A junior Hierophant of no consequence." Sufina sighed. "Who would have thought that even Elves suffered from a shortage of sentimentality. So much for never forgetting a friendship."

"They said something about not wanting to keep the abode of a dead man alive in a living tree." Gwen tried her best to imagine Sufina giving the Bloom in White a tongue-lashing, desiring very much to be a Cali on the wall if that should happen. "Solana was very courteous. She even showed me her Heart Tree. Speaking of which, I must say, Sufi, on the way in, I sensed a significant overlap between that Grot and this one. Is that intentional?"

"Compared to Tryfan, Henry's Grot is centuries away from reaching the scale attained by the Elves," Sufina denied the similarities. "Unless your Patron lends us its life-force."

"From Almudj?" Gwen's eyes moved from the coiled roots around her Scale to their grinning Mistress of Thorns. "How? Are you not drinking from the fount already?"

"If you've learnt Essence Tap, then you should also know that usurping Essence from Mythics amounts to little more than parasitism," Sufina continued to drop bombs without so much a bat of her lush lashes. "Besides, even an Oliphant would grow annoyed at a persistent gnat. The Svartálfar never meant for Soul Tap to be subtle."

With some reluctance, Gwen recalled that to utilise Sympathetic Life-Link with Gracie, she had to "Tap" Gracie's Astral Body. During their first attempt, she accidently went beyond 'just a tap', resulting in a soulful cry of existential agony from her partner— after which Gwen had to drip-feed Gracie an Essence-laced bottle of Maotai to bring her back from gibbering incoherency. Now she could see that Gracie's suffering ratified both of Sufina's claims— that of the viability of Essence Tap, and that of the regenerative properties of Al's Essence. "So, you want to create a channel between my 'Conduit' and the Grot?"

"That and intercede on my and Almudj's behalf," Sufina stated blankly. "I can't imagine the Serpent is too pleased with me nibbling at its beard."

Gwen grew momentarily confused. Wasn't it usually a serpent that nibbled on tree roots and not the other way around? She gestured at the tendrils. "And those roots are what you're using to tap Almudj's sap?"

"Yes. All for the sake of your Master."

Henry's youngest Apprentice glanced at her "Master", then fell into a contemplative mood, filling the ambiguous space of the Grot with her silence.

Sufina and Almudj?
What would emerge from that?
On the topic of her Patron, Gwen had uncovered only the obscurest volumes.

Within these rare notes, researchers spoke of an Elder being that was male, female, hermaphroditic, androgynous and bisexual. Likewise, ambiguous records saw of Almudj as the bringer of life and death, drought and rain, sun and thunderstorms. Without Almudj, no rain would fall anywhere on Earth. Without Almudj, women's bellies would not grow ripe with fruit, and the monthly blood would not come.

In a rarer manuscript, she had found a Pintupi folktale that spoke of one incarnation who had grown attracted to the scent of a trio of sisters, each a skilled singer of Dreamtime magic. At night, as a bearded black snake, Almudj then visited each of the sisters in turn, swelling their bellies with seed. When the women awoke to some surprise, they decided to carry the Serpent's children to term. These youth were then born with full mastery over the land's sacred rites and languages, raising a rocky formation in honour of their mothers.

Disparate to the picture Sufina painted, however, the lore surrounding Terra Australis did not lack in Serpents, but rarely mentioned Trees. If so, would Almudj be amicable to receiving a Dryad? Though Sufi was flora, she was also fauna and a veritable fount of fertility.

The foremost thought on her mind, however, were the possibilities brought to term by the union of snake and tree. In hindsight, what she had seen in Tryfan had hinted at a utopian end-game. To this end, Sufina, in usurping her Scale and illicitly pilfering from Almudj, had opened a window of possibilities previously deemed mythical.

"Sufi—" she spoke at last. "IF I beg Almudj to forgive you and even lend you its Essence— what will I get out of it? What's my cut of the action?"

"Gwen!" Alesia appeared aghast. "This isn't—"

"Allie, Gwen's right." Gunther took his partner by the hand before she could further protest. "We respect Sufi— but not to the point of selflessness. If Gwen has to risk angering her Patron or leave her Conduit with Sufina, she would be giving up enormous potentials— one that will limit her development as a Void Mage and as a Vessel. Such a sacrifice must be balanced with equal gain, for our Master did not raise fools who thought only with their hearts. Besides, we have already compromised in gifting Sufi Master's remains. Her additional requests must be paid in full."

"Think of it like this, Allie— We're all living in a practical world, and I am a practical girl," Gwen said musically. "And a Mythic is a girl's best friend. Sufi, May I see my Scale?"

The Dryad ran a hand over the coiled roots, causing the fibres to soften, distending the tendrils arresting the Scale until its shimmering self laid between the three Apprentice and their Master's slumped body. Gwen could see that at the very bottom of the palm-sized Conduit, a pulsing umbilical vine held the sacred thing aloft.

"Good, I can still feel Almudj." Gwen hovered a hand over her Conduit, caressing the thing with her will. In response, the vivid Scale shimmered and flared, refracting the light like the petrol-sheen on a pigeon's neck. "Right, let's hear your offer."

"Gwennie!"

Gunther silenced his wife by arresting her fingers and gently kissing them.

Sufina studied their youngest until Gwen grew uncomfortable, then began to speak.

"I'll give you a safe zone."

"A safe zone?"

"Yes. Over the last century, Henry and I had uncovered much of the Hvítálfar's secrets— replicating, for instance— self-sustained pocket-Planes such as this Grot. Earlier, you said you met the Bloom in White, meaning you should know that Solana, Tryfan and Tyfanevius together maintain Snowdonia's sovereignty. Within this tripartite, Tryfan exists as the Core of Snowdonia, a great spiral of roots where all the ley-lines accumulate. By soaking up all ambient mana, it tethers the tumultuous Elemental forces around it in place— acting as a dimensional anchor."

Gwen internalised the new diction, soaking in the Dryad's knowledge.

"Equal to Solana, Tyfanevius is the Guardian, not quite as old as Tryfan, but older than Human civilisation. For aeons, the Green Wyrm has watered the tree with its Essence, while protecting its home from the aberrant things that crawl in the fissures where the spheres conjoin, hungry for entry into the Prime Material."

"And then there are the Elves, sycophants of the World Trees before your kind had learned tools, much less Spellcraft. According to their elders, their ancestors were indigenous to another Plane but were lured by the fruits of the World Tree into becoming the Hvítálfar and Svartálfar. Solana, the one they call the Eternal Bloom in White, is one of the few surviving Hvítálfar carrying the blood of their Planar ancestors, whose bonds to Tryfan and Tyfanevius are bound by Accords older than any other living being on Earth."

Gwen's eyes grew gradually glazed as the implication of Sufina's tale dawned.

"So you're saying..." Her mind felt afflicted by a strange fever as the nibbles of knowledge she had gathered on the Elves, the Accord, the World Trees and the Serpents fell into their rightful places. To her present understanding, what their other-mother inferred was that the Prime Material possessed inherent fissures where bisecting Planes of existence bled over— hence the Gobs and Hobs and whatnot that kept popping up— and that here and there in their world were giant trees evolved to feed on energy leaks, thereby nixing planar instabilities by sucking up mana that, if left unchecked, would tear the fabric of space and invite non-terrestrial invaders.

"Holy shit." Gwen grew dizzy with the euphoria of understanding. "I think I get what you're offering."

"You do?" Sufina cocked her head. "Then what knowledge have you gleaned, little one?"

"You're offering me an opportunity to downgrade a Zone's danger rating! Right? The area around a World Tree is safe from undesirables because in Tryfan's shadow, even if an Elemental pierces the veil, the World Tree would starve them of mana so that their extinction becomes natural and inevitable. That's why Snowdonia is always peaceful and never sees outbreaks within its borders, correct? That's why they freak when invasive flora like the Triffids pop up."

"Yes," Sufina concurred, her yellow orbs growing soft and inviting, forcing Gwen's heart to skip a beat. "If ancient Almudj would be our Tyfanevius— then I invite you, daughter, to be as Solana to my Tryfan."

Besides Gwen, Gunther's mouth grew equally wide. "Gwen, this is an incredible opportunity, one for which I can only feel envy."

"Don't our Towers already do that?" Alesia demanded.

"For what the Tree of Tryfan can maintain, you would need a superstructural Tower," Gunther said.

"Whoa!" Gwen fought to keep her excitement in check. "Sufi. Let me confirm again. You're saying that you'll sedate a region for me, ala-Tryfan— in exchange for my guiding Almudj to you? That and make sure it isn't going to eat you?"

"Only if the Elder One joins us." Dryad inclined her sculpted chin, her face the perfect creation of a master doll-maker. "I can't do this myself, just as I can't maintain Henry alone."

"So many birds with one Fireball!" Alesia clapped. "Gwennie, say yes!"

"Indeed, allow me to applaud your new opportunity," Gunther cut in. "BUT as your Guardian and brother-in-craft, I should advise a visit to the Tree of Tryfan to notify Lady Solana before you venture any further with Sufina. The two of you may appear to be in the know, but a little knowledge…"

"… can be a dangerous thing," Gwen agreed. "I take it I am missing some key details?"

"You are." Gunther nodded. "I am not a member of the Accord, so I can't say how the Hvítálfar would react if you decided to germinate a World Tree between yourself, Sufina and Almudj. As an parallel, I would not allow someone I can't control to erect a Tower in Australia even at no cost to Sydney."

"Bah, they can react all they like." Sufina smiled prettily. "What are the knife-eared tree ants going to do? Send Tyfanevius against us? Your Patron will crush that wiggling Wyrm like a pillbug."

"You say that." Gunther halted the Dryad from further tempting their red-eared, inexperienced sibling. "But Gwen has both friends and family in the Prime Material. The Hvítálfar of Tryfan may keep to themselves, but their reach through the Accord has permeated the Mageocracy and the Commonwealth for centuries. Unless you wish for Gwen never to leave the Grot or set up her tree somewhere in China, where there are no Elves..."

Sufina shrugged. "Is that not agreeable?"

Gwen's back grew clammy when she realised that, true to Gunther's words, the Dryad had indeed laid the groundworks to alienate her from her present world.

"No, Sufi. I don't think I'll be too thrilled if I had to hang here with only Al, you and Master's corpse for company. But on that note, I will make a decision here and now," she replied to the Dryad. "I'll bequeath you the Scale for the moment, Sufi, so that you may maintain yourself. As for asking Almudj to intercede on your behalf— I am not in a position to make an educated verdict, and so I shall delay that decision until after graduation, or at least until I can draft a comprehensive Five-Year Plan and have it peer-reviewed…"

"A sound decision." Her brother-in-craft gave her a curt nod before addressing their Familiar-mother. "With all due respect, Sufi, your gift is too precious to expend carelessly, and there are far too many variables in its expenditure. For all we know, it might open up an inter-species global conflict."

"Or maybe the two of you are making a Troll Warren out of a Gob Hill." Alesia bit her lips. "Sufi wants to preserve both our Master and herself. It doesn't need to be complicated if you don't make it more complicated. It seems to me that Tower and power are the only ideas bouncing around in your heads. No wonder you two forgave Walken so easily. You're the same breed of animal."

"And our Master was the best among us." Gunther's patience for his wife made Gwen blush for feeling agitated. "You're right— but Gwen's life is at stake, and it's her future that's up in the balance. Will you challenging her choice, Allie?"

Despondently, Alesia shook her head.

"Sorry, Allie." Gwen then returned to Sufina before Alesia could change her mind. "Sufi, is that agreeable to you? I'll need two more years before I can make an informed decision."

Sufina glided across the sheave-strew floor until she stood behind their Master. Gazing at the three Apprentices, the Dryad gingerly dipped her chin.

Gwen chose to interpret the ambivalent gesture as an agreement.

"Alright, then." She forced herself to smile. "How about Master's Grimoires, Sufi? Any idea where Master hid his stash?"

Sufina kissed Henry's head.

The trio of Apprentices each delivered their most polite but sceptical expression.

"Well…" Sufina leaned in until her bosoms pressed against the back of their dead Master's hair. With an elongated finger, she tapped the space between her globular bosoms, roughly where a woman might have her heart. "In here, I suppose."

Gunther's brows furrowed.
Gwen hoped Sufina did not infer that Dryads' had breasts for brains.

"That's right." Sufina rested a hand on her hip. "Our baby bird better commit to a decision soon. Because when her Essence runs dry, I'll be forgetting far more than just your Master's life. All those spells he wrote for Sobel, all that knowledge he pilfered from Morden's Enclave and the Elven Accord— all that... Necromancy... would disappear from my Astral Soul, like—"

Sufina paused in her search for a figurative expression. All Familiars struggled with the abstract— it was a hallmark of Elemental beings whose very existence were metaphors made manifest.

"… like tears in the rain?" Gwen put forward a plagarised movie line.

"Yes." Sufina placed her cheek beside Henry's, whose restful mien resembled a reposed Hypnos. "Or like the morning dew."

 

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Chapter Ref ::   Bladerunner


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This chapter was very difficult to edit.

Wrote out all the rationales

then hid them back into the prose 

5k - 4k - 3.6k - back to 4k. 

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Wutosama

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

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