Metaworld Chronicles



Chapter 400 - More Money, More Problems


A note from Wutosama


"Our Drakaina has returned to her cavern." Eric Walken's smarmy grin made Gwen briefly think of the man she had initially encountered in Sydney. These days though, her Executive Officer's smugness was a part of his confidence and charm.

Besides them, the always handsome Dominic Lorenzo chortled, nursing his Maotai.

This late at the "Bunker", most of the employees had left, leaving Gwen with her two most trusted lieutenants to traffic in her study of London's intrigues. With the loan on their Fabricator unit and its crew now extended for at least two more years, Gwen grew once more confident of Phase III's profitability.

As for the request she had prior left with Walken, evidence gathering and sly testimonials from assured NoMs took time, especially if the IoDRP desired to excavate a slippery Sarlacc pit of litigation for their opponents.

That said, the Militants' thieving vermin claws had dug more than skin deep into her fundraising project, breaking the skin and tapping into her golden veins. As a famed financier who usually did the marrow-sucking herself, she felt personally assaulted.

"They've accumulated properties worth 247,231 HDMs?" Gwen's teeth felt like she had tried to bite Golos, especially after reading the interim report. "You know, regimes have fallen for far less."

"I am worried less about money and more about open opposition to the Exeters," Walken said. "A quarter of the METRO's annual turnover should cover our losses. That or since the Dwarves are staying with us, we can expect to cut construction costs by one-third."

"The total tally involves seventy-eight parties with various leases and holdings," Lorenzo explained. "There ARE legitimate sales mixed in with the bad faith trades. Block 21-C to 27-D had leaseholds belonging to a lesser aristocrat. 44E and 11C, respectively, are owned by family members of the House of Lords. It's the smaller, single-block leaseholds that are most under threat. The ones that have been here for generations."

Gwen scanned the map behind Walken. "That's a huge lot. Enough for a shopping mall or six multi-storey apartment-hotels. Is it those Barlow fellers again?"

"Yes," Walken said. "Or the Barlow Trade Consortium, if we go by the Grey Market."

Gwen furrowed her brows. "I assume that's the same schmucks who own Canary Wharf upstream? The ones refusing to dough out the METRO at their outdated trade hub? The same one who expelled our NoM paper-handlers?"

"The very same." Walken tapped the table. "They're an old nemesis— particularly if we assume they started paying attention to you from the incident at Lady Astors. Whether intentionally or otherwise, you've stiletto-heeled their toes more than once."

"Enlighten me." Gwen crossed her legs.

"They're in the property business, the newspaper business, the train and tram business, the transport business, the print business..."

"... Fair enough," Gwen concurred. "So, we're mortal enemies. But Le Guevel never mentioned a Barlow Group in her lectures."

Lorenzo was ready for her enquiry. "The executors of the 'The Barlow Consortium' is a collective formed by London's militant-inclined industrialists. Magus Le Guevel didn't mention them because their officers are not aristocracy; some aren't even Mages. They service their betters, who provide them with backing and muscle. The Duke of Exeter and his ilk act as a figurehead, among others. As for their origin— Gwen, are you familiar with Henry of Monmouth?"

A year ago, Gwen would have known nothing. Thanks to Le Guevel and Lady Grey, her tier of royal trivia was now on par, with supplementary rumours, insights, analysis and evaluations to boot.

"The 'Argent' King," Gwen repeated from Holinshed's Chronicles of English Propaganda. "England's Gloria, the 15th-century predecessor of Gloriana, He of all Humours, Hal the Omni-Mage, Fifth of his Name, King of France and England, Wales and Scotland."

"Just Henry V will do." Lorenzo gave her a thumbs up. "Do you like titles? O MVP of the IIUC, Devourer of Shenyang, CEO of the IoDRP, She who Rides the Beast of Many Heads, the Woman who is the Great city, which reigns over the Kings of the Earth..."

Walken burst out in laughter, after which Gwen got the joke. "Oi! You're bruising for a cruising, mate!"

Lorenzo didn't dodge her punch. Luckily, Gwen was no longer possessed of her Draconic strength; else, he would have made a Lorenzo-shaped exit through the rune-reinforced concrete.

"If there's one thing that links the Militants, it's the Lancastrian line," Lorenzo continued, controlling his mirth. "As you should know, Her Majesty hails from the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha bloodline, a fact that has irked the purists since the Hanovers took the Crown during the beginning of the 18th century, ending with Eternal Victoriana."

"Ah yes, the three surviving Royal families." Gwen nodded. "I've heard of this. But what does this have to do with the Barlows?"

"The Lancastrians are historically the purist branch of true 'English' Monarchs, at least in their eyes. They hail from the Plantagenet's mystically potent blood. They claim all heirs hitherto from Monmouth to Elizabeth, the formative period of England's pacification of the Demi-humans Wildlands. For the Barlow Consortium, membership is exclusive to those with blood-ties. To us commoners, the very idea is absurd, but the Lancastrians possess both the sorcery and means to take advantage of the Mageocracy's long recovery. Their encroaching on the Isle is one such example."

"Ah—" Gwen understood the underlying politics between the nobles' faction-within-factions immediately. "Do they have anyone worth their salt in a fight?"

"At least a dozen," Lorenzo warned her. "You know your Exeters, and they are closely tied to Scotland's Tower of the Magi as well."

"Your talent gives them all the more reason to hate your guts." Walken laughed. "Henry of Monmouth was an Omni-Mage, so the Lancastrians boast. One would imagine they've been breeding like Lady Grey's bloodhounds to try and reproduce the right combination passed on by their progenitor. Imagine the existential chaos in their Cabal's upper ranks when you showed up wielding every School of Magic, Lightning and Void and the ability to rally Dwarves and whisper Elves."

"... you forget investing with Dragons," Gwen added.

Walken and Lorenzo shot her disgusted looks, deriding her smug Lightning Affinity.

She shrugged. "So what's their stake? Sounds to me like they want in on the developer's buffet?"

"Who wouldn't?" Walken walked over to the map behind Lorenzo. "See here— Canary Wharf, C21, D34, F23, G22... they've acquired ownership over these portions."

"Minor Image!" Gwen helpfully tossed up a few Illusions to overlay the map, aiding Lorenzo's fingers.

"… Well done," Lorenzo praised her. "Yes, the red parts. While we're here, these portions, including Mudchute and the lower portion of Cubitt Town, belong to Lady Grey as freeholds, while the IoDRP owns these."

Gwen added the shades of blue. Cobalt freeholds meant the title-owner possessed the land. It differed from the teal leaseholds, where the tenant owned an apartment or a serviced unit, but not the land.

"Thanks to Lady Grey's good governance, these are all her leaseholds." Lorenzo pointed to the gaps. "But here and there, D12, D17, E12, B12-21 are leaseholds owned by independents, among others."

Gwen added purple and green.

The resultant quilt-work of ownership made their foe's plans self-evident. "Ah— so that's what our industrious little rats are after..."

She could see that if the Barlow Group had taken Millharbour and South Quay. With these properties, they could add secondary overland rail and ferry stations to rival the IoDRP and occupy one-third of the waterfront space to become a commercial centre within her commercial district. In another world, this would be the free market doing its thing. In this world, she alone was responsible for terraforming upended river dredgings into HDMs. Thereby, every percentile of return from now and into the future belonged to herself and her investors, more so if she wanted to attract more than one local-lizard to serve on her Board of Directors.

That final detail was pivotal for Legion.

How dare they steal from a Dragon's maw? Gwen fumed. Did the Barlow Group not know that pilfering profit was no less than slaying one's lover? They might as well try to murder Evee!

"I think I understand your position." Walken read her like a young adult light-RPG fiction. "We will figure out how to best prevent their next phase from taking place."

Gwen shook her head.
Fuck prevention. You can stop a thief for a day, but how do you mitigate the risk forever? There was bound to be ways to screw over the IoDRP if their foes kept trying.

What she coveted was their thieving hand on a silver platter.

Gwen pondered the map, her mind furiously brewing up the economic equivalent of Void-induced ultraviolence. When her brain brushed over the miniature-scale models of their phase III apartments, malicious and maleficient thoughts of malpractice materialised.

"What were our phase II construction stage outgoings? How about III?"

"On paper? Mid Six-hundred thousand HDMs," Walken said. "But that's with support from the Great London Metropolitan Office. Phase III's gamble is our own, early estimates, even with the Fabricators in place, is close to two million."

"Any debts on our balance sheets?"

"None. Lady Astor, Lady Grey, Duchess Rothwell, and the Duke of Norfolk have all chosen to reinvest their dividends."

Gwen rolled her eyes. Dickie was making money off her sweat and blood, and he still wanted her to tour the Elves? The man had better give her the show of a lifetime when the time came to fleece the Lancastrian nobles.

"Just for the afflicted area, what's our projected five-year return?"

"Including rentals, taking into account inflation and land speculation, about nine to twelve million HDMs," Walken replied with relish. "Enough to keep a fully-staffed Siege Tower fighting for a month. You're not thinking of sponsoring the Shard for an invasion, are you?"

Gwen's eyes grew cold. "If the Barlow Group takes that shoreline and builds cheap apartments, they're going to undercut our prices. Conversely, if they built high, our leases will see stiff competition. All that is going to hit our bottom line, hard. That means we might have to delay phase IV."

Phase IV being "Legion", a bottomless Crystal pit, but one she knew would bring tangible change to the life of Humans and Demi-humans everywhere.
And goodwill.
And endless, boundless profit.
Unlike Gunther, if she was to have a Tower, she had no desire to be short-changed by politics, funding, and lack of talent. All of her Tower's future obstacles would be solved by bashing HDMs at problems until they begged for mercy.

In this world, she would be Carlos Slim, Mukesh Ambani and or Masayoshi Son. None began in telecommunication, but their golden billions would have been unachievable without investing in an industry with explosive growth. But for her gamble to succeed, she had to have secondary industries feeding her primary monopoly, a stratagem well proven by companies like Samsung, Viacom and Intel.

For primary infrastructure, the rules of investment were inversed.
More capital.
Greater scale.
Less risk. For "the masses" mitigated the potential of catastrophic collapse. The more coverage, the more customers, the more clients, the more assured the company's capital base. And likewise, the more likely the government had to step in.

As for the IoDRP's landholdings— she didn't expect to become a real estate Baron. "Land" was always a tricky investment. There were too many competitors, and someone was bound to be willing to bet their life while she wasn't.

And like she discussed with Mia, Marong and Ruxin, "Legion" needed obscene volumes of HDMs, enough to pay for research and development, land acquisition, hardware and software, storefronts, multiple headquarters on par with Frontier Towers sans offensive capabilities, and thousands of staff in every region they conquered.

Or at the very least, she needed enough collateral to borrow that much money from mutually-interested parties, such as the Shard, or the Crown, or the city of "insert metropolis here", or the Mageocracy.

And the Barlow Group was standing in her way.
Which meant it was standing in the way of history.

"I recall you said the Militants are short on funds," Gwen said. "Is that still true?"

"With the Niger Delta and the Steppes as they are," Walken answered. "I doubt they are shipping back anything worthwhile."

Upon hearing such familiar places, Gwen told Walken of Maxwell's suggestion that she furthered her studies through practicals and fieldwork, further fortifying her credibility.

"Magister Brown's not wrong." Her executive officer rubbed his chin. "We know you're an Omni-Mage, but I doubt anyone's expecting you to be the variant whose academic depth could bring about advances like Superstructural Mandalas. You're on good terms with Jean-Paul as well— I don't see why Meister Bekker would refuse to tutor you together with her pet. If anything, I can see her being very keen on it."

Angie's father wiggled his brows. "The boy's not a looker, but..."

"I don't think Jean-Paul and I are going to be like that," Gwen cautioned her Magister. "He's even given up on Gracie, now that she's not going to expire anytime soon."

"Why so controlling if you're not keen?" Walken gave her a strange look. "What does it matter to you what they do?"

"Did we forget Sobel?" Gwen huffed. "Why she went mad?"

Walken said nothing else and instead drank his tea. "So, the Lancastrians. Shall I take care of them while you gallop around the world, saving the Mageocracy from one financial disaster after another?"

"That's my curse," Gwen returned to their original topic. "So how are the Lancastrians sourcing their funds? State banks, private entities? Stealing from the treasury?"

"All of the above. The Royal Reserve holds a certain volume that it issues as military bonds. The Bank of England under the Crown is generous to its frontline aristocracy. And many of the Lancastrians sit on the board of old companies. Their liquidity comes from the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Conglomerate, who also acts as the central currency exchequer for the Frontiers."

She pondered the new information.

"Assuming we catch them red-handed and Dickie puts his weight behind us," she said. "How many contracts can be voided?"

"About forty thousand. Enough to hurt."

A negligible volume that wasn't enough to even bruise.
Gwen returned her eyes to the multi-coloured map.

"How about…" she paused. "I don't know about the legality here, but the Barlow Group borrowing money means they have to return interest. This month, the Royal Reserve is at 4.72%, correct?"

"That's right."

"Naturally, they're not going to need to borrow to buy properties from the NoMs but to demolish, rebuild and furnish these waterfront properties. They'll need at least as much HDMs as us, if not more."

"Certainly, since they lack both Fabricators and Dwarven engineers. Even if they tap into the Royal Engineers, that's still Human-made equipment. Their Mages and Golems will eventually get the job done, but they won't be as swift or efficient as our construction team. At best, it's a seven-year project for them."

Gwen rested her eyes while crunching the numbers. When she opened her eyes again, her compatriots shivered at the inner light of greed glimmering within her amber-green orbs.

"Right. Here's what we'll do." She turned to Lorenzo. "Keep gathering evidence. Leak a headline now and then between the next phase of our plan. As long as you've got the facts straight, snitch like a mad bitch. They're sure to come knocking, then keep evidence of their coercion of the METRO as well. If they cross the line, get the Dwarves to hold the fort. I'd love to see what Her Majesty and her Shard has to say if greedy merchants try to destabilise a major infrastructural project that'll bring back the glory days of the Mageocracy's trade channels. If they even bruise one of our Demi-human allies, then we've profited."


She turned to Walken. "Eric, find out as much as you can of the Barlow folks' financial situation. Most importantly, who they borrowed from and how much."

"Alright, and?"

Gwen grinned. "I'll speak to Lady Grey and Lady Astor. After phase III, we'll play it safe and keep a high volume of liquid capital, at least around a million HDMs of float. I can draw from my Dragon bank if the IoDRP reserves fall short."

"Why delay?" Walken furrowed his browns. "Don't you want to race the Barlow group? If we can sell our units before their's complete…"

"Hee hee hee." Gwen's teeth glinted in the dusky light of Walken's ornate office. "They're building with borrowed funds, meaning there's an obligation to reimburse HSBC after a specified period. If they're unable to, there's not only the usual usury but compounded additional interest for breach of contract. Correct?"

"One may assume so. Business is business."

"Good. Then what if the Barlow Group purchases the land, demolishes the homes and the workshops, invest north of a million HDMs into their new project, only to be exposed that they robbed the poor and tried to destabilise the Mageocracy?"

Both Lorenzo and Walken opened their mouths.

"I don't think that'll stop them," Lorenzo replied with an eye on reality.

"Who said I want to stop them?" Gwen snorted. "I want to DELAY the construction. The folk they ripped off deserve justice!"

"Justice?" Walken did not believe a single word passing between her pouty lips. "Of course. I almost forgot your primary motivation."

"Who am I to argue with the METRO that will print the same developing story week after week and with evidence? Not only that, I want you to look into their other business dealings. Ask the Cabal if you have to; God knows they owe us one."

Lorenzo's breath grew heavy.

"I want you to put down headlines like 'Barlow Bankrupt yet another Victim' and accuse their vertical corporations of the same double-dealing. Delay their construction schedule for six months, a year, as long as you're able."

"That's going to drive the Lancastrians up the wall for sure." Walken touched a hand to his heart. "Good God, Gwen, you're a piece of work."

"We're not even in the first circle of hell!" Gwen gave Walken a look that said she was disappointed by his lack of vicious ambition.

The two men fell silent once more as cold sweat drenched their backs.

"Once there's enough fear and instability and delay," she continued with complete confidence. "I want you to approach HSBC and whoever holds Barlow's trading identities."

Walken's eyes grew glassy. "Jesus…"

"Jesus might not save them," Gwen said. "But I will. When their investors start to sweat, I want you to buy their bad debts at a discount. Push the price down as far as you can. If they're desperate, I think half-price for insolvent loans that are unlikely ever to see returns would satisfy their lenders. If the Barlow Consortium panics beforehand and their members pull out— we might be able to buy-in at one-tenth the cost."

".. and then?" Lorenzo was slower than Walken to comprehend her economic buccaneering.

"… and then we litigate to put down the Barlow Group like Atticus Magic Missiling a rabid Corpse Hound." She carelessly let loose an allusion to her novel. "After which we'll drink up all their holdings in the Isle of Dogs, or depending on their corporate structure, force them to declare bankruptcy. If they're smart, they'll trade their controlling shares— not that their shares will be worth anything by then. Once we have enough to subvert the Board of Directors, we'll strip them for parts, dissolve the unprofitable divisions and vortex up the rest. I don't mind shares in the Sun Herald. Do you?"

Walken pursed his lips in thought. "If you get to that point, they're bound to come for blood. Will you be ready?"

"I am the Devourer of Shenyang. I brought the Dyar Morkk to Dickie. He's going to be my shield, or I tell Hildy and Ebs they should think twice about the reliability of their allies. Tell you what, we'll extend an olive branch to HSBC or whomever when the time comes as well. That'll put the stake in their coffin."

"Fair enough." Lorenzo scratched his stubble-strewn chin; the man's eyes scanned their crystal-mad witch from her bouncing hair to her dainty little heels.

"… just like that?" he said after a moment, still in shock. "This is the Barlow Group! The money bag for the Militants! A Lancastrian Consortium!"

"Yeah. Just like that," Gwen said without hesitation. "When you mess with the Devourer, you get the Caliban up your snoot."

Walken winced. Somewhere, a Wyvern clenched his cheeks. "Isn't all this a bit too…easy?"

"Why should it be hard?" Gwen retorted. "We spent time and money and capital to develop the Isle of Dogs. Then we reinvested our profit. Thanks to our Dwarven engineers, we're as stable as a Pyramidal Necropolis. They're borrowing money to steal from our citizens, to snatch the meat from our jaws! Why shouldn't we bite back? When they have no foundation to fall back on, why shouldn't they fall like a troop of Gobs trying to block a Rock Smasher?"

"Alright, alright." Walken backed away defensively. "Lorenzo, never anger our Void Drakaina."

Lorenzo disguised his discomfort with empty laughter.

"One more thing." Gwen figured she might as well save some time.


"You said the Exeters and the Barlow folk are invested in this Elemental Fire Sea Sultanate Northen Steppe Centaur ordeal, right?"

"The Militant Faction is." Both men drew back a cold breath of suddenly chilling air, though Walken understood her immediately. "Gwen, you're not thinking..."

"Of course I am." Gwen skulled her glass with one swig, then exhaled fragrantly in the direction of their faces. "Haven't you heard the adage? Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned; nor hell a fury like profits pilfered…"

A note from Wutosama


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About the author


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

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