Metaworld Chronicles



Chapter 429 - Wheeling and Dealing


A note from Wutosama

Shout Out of the Week! 

The world of Luminos stands ready. Will Alphonse and Maki become the heroes Luminos deserves, or two more corpses at the base of the Glint Spear?



"Petra! Put the leaf down! No—don't infuse it with mana!" Walken's warning reverberated across the boardroom before Gwen's sorcery-obsessed cousin tapped into the illicit herb. "That bloody thing is said to be an extension of Tryfan's will! It doesn't like strangers."
Doesn't like strangers? Where have I heard that before? Gwen cocked her chin at her Executive, feeling second-hand embarrassment that her Master's contemporary would say something so ignorant. Then again, unlike herself, Walken did not repeatedly rub shoulders with Hvítálfar from the arboreal pocket planes. Instead, her peers remained firmly planted in the "secular" world of mortal Magisterial concerns, like taxes, assets, corporate hierarchy, and an endless, cyclical acquisition of wealth and power.
"It's perfectly safe," Gwen assured her cousin. "As I said, it's mine until the original owners say otherwise."
"Gwen." Walken's worrywart expression reminded her of their fight in Fudan. "You're sure? A Hvítálfar keepsake is no trivial matter!"
"It's fine," she repeated herself. "Even Strun's folks have pawed it many times. Sometimes I even leave it with Stian, their Elder. Sanari seemed cool with it."
Petra returned the Ilias Leaf to the table, licking her lips like she'd gone a week without Maotai.
"Sanari as in your immortal Druid Hierophant?" Walken's voice rose an octave.
"I don't know about immortal," Gwen felt an unexplainable queasiness as Walken spoke the word. She became reminded of Golos, his toothy maw split from chin to chin, telling her that these "mortals" wouldn't understand the likes of them. According to the Mythic scion, the tyranny of time touched "us" not in the same way, meaning Gwen should be wiser in choosing her battles, such as that mortal foes perished with time and that only a Dragon's hoard was eternal. "But yes, that Sanari."
Walken sighed as if suddenly exhausted. He looked around the room, then approached a cabinet, opening the double doors to reveal rows of amber liquid in crystalline bottles.
"Anyone else needs a drink?"
"I'll have one," Petra was never one to turn down booze.
"Me three," Richard glanced at the jade treasure on the table. "This is news to us, Gwen. You mentioned that Tryfan gave you one of their tokens of trust. But I assume this is something special."
"It's amazing enough you are rubbing shoulders with Elves," Petra added. "But to receive something like this—is a little excessive."
"Forgive my ignorance." Gwen received a clinking glass of Scottish blue label from Walken. "This was given to me without ceremony, not unlike Master dropping off a Ring of Storage. Can anyone elucidate for me why you're all so shocked?"
Indeed, not even the Inquisitor from the Order of the Bath had reacted with such hyperbole as her companions were now putting on display. Compared to the disregard of her daily use of it in Shalkar, the cognitive dissonance made her feel like she was missing the punchline to a joke.
"Well, I only know from hearsay," Richard replied first. "My folks at King's thinks that the Elves elect members of the Mageocracy to serve as their ambassadors, a role that offers access to their vaults of knowledge, the 'original' Elemental sorcery that served as the inspiration for the IMS system. No one knows how to become one of the Chosen, only that a token of membership is a magical leaf from the Tree of Tryfan."
"Which is itself a rare and hidden piece of knowledge," Walken was calmer now, that or his face had grown numb from the alarm. "As for the Hvítálfar, what can I say? I have to wonder just how much of what you've told us is illicit knowledge beholden to Tryfan and the Tower. Didn't anyone tell you not to speak of such secrets so openly?"
"Er… no?" Gwen gulped. Indeed, there had been neither a request nor a Geas to constrain her spread of the knowledge itself. Likewise, it wasn't as though she wanted to disseminate Tryfan's secrets like some conspiracy—she merely wanted to impose upon her officers the importance of retaining Shalkar and the goodwill of the Elves so that they would allow the leaf to be studied.
"Professed ignorance isn't a valid cause for acquittance," Walken warned her. "Speak no more of Tryfan in public. Didn't Henry teach you this?"
Gwen shook her head.
"To my knowledge, he was historically connected to Tryfan, correct?"
Gwen nodded.
"And yet he didn't speak a word to you or the Council of Ten in Oceania. You didn't even know about Trees, Dragons and the Hvítálfar while in Sydney."
"... I guess you have a point." Gwen grew silent, choosing to refrain from blurting out she had told Ollie everything, as well as Jean-Paul, which meant Meister Bekker likely knew. Her House Mistress as well had received a full debriefing over cupcakes and Darjeeling. Was the "Leaf" her knowledge to dough out? Or was Walken correct, and she had presumed too much? "I promise I won't be giving lectures on the topic in Oxbridge."
"I hope you're right." Walken touched a palm to his face, scratched his forehead, then drank the glass in one gulp. "Maybe we're just rubes from Australia. Else, you've just pulled us into something we're all going to regret sooner or later."
The Accord. Gwen wondered if Walken had an idea, but to speak of it may dig her in further.
Walken put down his cup. "Let's move on. What do you hope to achieve with this Ilias Leaf?"
"Okay." Gwen picked up the leaf with one hand. "Did you know that this operates not on mana, but Essence Sympathy? It uses the Axis Mundi of the World Trees' innate Essence to allow instantaneous communication—"
"Before you continue," Walken groaned. "Are you confirming for us that Tryfan's Great Tree is a World Tree? The very ones from Planar Theory taught by Addison Andrews, first Chair of Cosmology? Are we mortals supposed to know this?"
Gwen pursed her lips. There was that word again. Mortals.
If Ruxin were here, the concurring Thunder Dragon would inform her that, of course, "Mortals" were mindful of "keeping up with the Joneses". Walken especially was in no small part motivated by his need to prove to his wife that she would not be a crone before their family reclaimed its deserved influence and prestige.
"Look." Gwen opened both hands in exasperation like a splayed bird. How was she to know which juicy bits of knowledge were subject to sorcerous info-sec? Was Sanari supposed to lean over, all conspiratorial-like, and asked her not to speak the magic words? "How can I explain the necessity of privileging Shalkar without the proper context? Should I ask you to trust me?"
"Do we not?" Walken looked to Richard, Petra and the smiling Dominic. "Isn't that why we're all here?"
"I don't mind knowing," Richard said. "Nor do I mind the alternative. Eric is right. We trust you to make the best judgement for all of us. If you believe Shalkar is a necessity to please the immortals at Tryfan, then it must be true."
"I, for one, want to know," Petra said without pause. "But the choice is yours. I trust you to know best."
Gwen felt a sudden strain on her shoulders, like a dozen pairs of hands pressing down at once. "That's a lot of responsibility."
Dominic snorted with infectious delight. "Isn't that what a Tower Master is? A walking avatar of responsibility? When you make a judgement, Gwen, folk will prosper or perish, live and die by your wisdom. Yet how many of those carrying out your will would know your reasons? Would you want them to know? Even in the METRO, our Editors don't question why certain stories run over others. Beyond their journalist integrity, any organisation must abide by a hierarchy of knowledge. If all of us here knew the exactness of Tryfan's ploys, could we act with one mind? We're not a Stygian Swarm-Mind! Is our Devourer of Shenyang so naive to believe that deep down, we don't have individual interests and needs at heart?"
Gwen watched her companions, once more feeling a fuzzy warmth in her chest engender from their kindness. To someone who had received her pot of gold in a corporate setting, the professed notion of loyalty dawned as strangely incongruous. Wasn't a corporation a joint-venture of mutual profiteering? What kind of company had such selfless employees with such zeal—such faith?
"Fine." Gwen raised both hands in surrender to the gaze of her peers. "No more explanations. I'll make the call."
She paused to consider the pieces on the board and the resources she had on hand.
"Shalkar has to commence as soon as possible," she spoke after a minute. "I've promised Strun and his people, as well as the Golden Pavilion, that they would have no want of winter fodder. Tryfan is likewise expecting a significant infrastructural injection from 'the Humans' after their gift of the quasi-magical Wildland produce from the World Tree—and I don't think it's wise to disappoint them. Added to this is a certain promise I had made to the Order of the Bath to soothe the region by bringing profitable philanthropy as sustainable development. For these reasons, we must ensure that there are no delays in transforming Shalkar— as people's lives and a grander narrative of Planar stability lies in the balance. To surmise, we please the Hvítálfar, make money hand over fist, profit-share with the locals, and build infrastructure while unifying the locals against the Elementals. It's a one Magic Missile many birds situation."
The others accepted her judgement as promised.
"Now for the Barlow Group." Gwen again took a minute to piece together the puzzle in her mind. "Eric has said that the Militants' levy will soon break as their failures in the Niger Delta flood over. Assuming we aid their collapse by release the news of their larceny in fleecing the NoMs, as well as help their victims seek redress, it should be mid-June before their finances begin to crumble. To this end, I shall go and speak with the Duke of Norfolk and ask for this favour of mine."
She took a deep breath.
"Concurrently, this means that come June—our coffers would lack the sufficient liquidity left to compete in Barlow's sell-off. The volume of capital remaining would be barely enough to initiate the construction of Millennium Wharf. In that time, our competitors would attempt to cannibalise Barlow or even attempt to continue what Barlow had created as a stumbling block for us. It means that our primary goal for the IoDRP must shift from attack to defence—that we must purchase, at whatever the price, the specific properties preventing us from signing off on the Pinnacle."
"I'll take care of it personally," Walken promised, glancing at Richard, who gave the man a look of understanding. Besides the Magister, her other companions murmured their agreement.
"But that's a scenario we could avoid," Gwen continued. "We are short on liquidity. For a non-Mageocracy project, I can't ask for a loan from Mayuree. The conditions of our IoDRP as set by the City of London forbade us from overt foreign direct investment. One alternative is to sell our shares to interested parties like Lady Astor, but not if she also has to draw her funds from overseas, such as from her American allies. Likewise, it would be nice if Peterhouse could invest, but I don't think a commercial office suite will pass muster as educational enrichment for the college."
"Who else has the volume of liquidity we require?" Walken considered her analysis. "We're talking several million in initial deposits. That or enough clout to defy the conditions set by the city."
"I was thinking someone from the Grey Faction." Gwen tapped the table. "Since I have to go and see Lord Ravenport, why not offer him a slice of the action as well? Bring him over to our side of the Thames? Eric, didn't you say that the Ravenport Estate bought shares in the IoDRP?"
"You would invite an old ghoul into your bedroom?" Richard's lips curled in protest. "What would the Sun Herald say about your sugar daddy? Will you feed the beast that mocks your flesh?"
Gwen chided her cousin for his choice of words with a stare full of razors while beside them, Lorenzo broke into an uncontrollable cough, likely expelling the scene from his head.
"His Estate was involved, not the Duke personally, and I'd wager it was done as a favour to show support for your House Mistress, Maxine," Walken hypothesised with a tone of doubt. "But you're right. Of all the prominent Grey Faction members in London, House Ravenport alone should have scant problems withdrawing funds from the Norfolk Trust. To invest in the betterment of London is part and parcel of why the fund exists, and we're a household name in that regard. Also, what's the bet his office already knows how profitable our venture has become?"
"Right—and we get to rope in a vested ally against the Militants," Gwen said. "If he has so much to gain, maybe I wouldn't need to expend my favour after all. Shall I visit Westminster now? Strike while the Dwarven ingot is hot?"
"I don't think you should visit him in the Office of the Earl Marshall to exchange favours." Walken gave her a pondering look. "There's such a thing as decorum— and the Queen's Cabal."
"Fine. Should I waylay Mycroft on his walks? He's famous for his Victoria Garden strolls, isn't he? The Sun said he's quite approachable. I could be like 'Whoa, Dickie, fancy seeing you here, got a minute to make a million Roo-bucks?'"
Dominic almost doubled over. "Gwen, the Sun published that to irk him. Lord Ravenport hates nothing more than to be interrupted during his walk."
"How about asking your House Mistress to invite the Duke over for tea?" Richard suggested, masking a smirk.
"Great idea, Dick." Gwen gave the man a thumbs up. "Okay, that's solved then. We'll reallocate the funds of the IoDRP for Shalkar effectively immediately and leave just enough float to keep our pre-planned projects commissioned. Meanwhile, I'll try and sniff out our new investor."
"We should ready an article for when you succeed," Lorenzo was full of conviction. "You and Lord Ravenport, eh? We'll need to print extra-thick editions. Think he'll be amicable for a lumen-shot on the front page?"
"Not willingly, no." Gwen glanced at the papers on the table, then grinned half-jokingly, sticking out her hip with a hand on her waist. "But I suppose there's no news like bad news to spread the good word. Guess I'll dress up?"
"We commend your sacrifice, O Priestess of Pale Flesh," Richard intervened before Walken could deliver a more fatherly, conservative advice. "You owe it to the people of London. And for the girls making a living on Page Three."
"Their obsession with your appearance is a weapon you should use abuse more often," Petra affirmed her banter with complete seriousness. "If you can get your opponents flustered or distracted, there's no better way to negotiate."
"I don't think Lord Ravenport is going to fall for something that shallow." Walken extricated himself from going with the flow just in time. "But I digress. You're not Angie, and you're old enough to decide for yourself."
"I'll send out the request now." Gwen made a move to leave, but then Walken deft intercepted her exit. "Yes, Eric?"
"Excuse me, but you're not going anywhere yet. It has been three months, Magus Song." Walken expression twisted with sadism. "You have no idea the amount of paperwork we have had to put on hold in your absence, so now that you're here, don't expect to leave until it's audited, signed and delivered!"
The reply from Mycroft Ravenport, Duke of Norfolk, came in the form of an invitation held in the beak of an oversized Tower Raven.
"CAW—!" What may or may not be the entity called "Mori" that had befriended Dede dropped off the letter a week later while Gwen and Gracie made their rounds with Magister Brown.
Gracie's progress had been admirable, and after a few days, Strun no longer instantly drew a host of Freshmen seeking to hear the stories of Shalkar first-hand. The rat and her duck, as well, had hit it off without a hitch, forming the unusual silhouette of sorceress, duck and rat strolling on the lawn of Emmanuels, connected by an intangible, mystical bond only she could comprehend.
"The crest of the Ravenport family." Gracie recognised the embossed Coat of Arms of demi-Lion in gules and tri-point argent resting on Gwen's palm. "You have business with the Duke?"
"Literally." Gwen studied the elaborate heraldry, wondering what hers should look like if she received a peerage—maybe she should have a foreground of Kirin in Azure, with Cali in sable, over a shield of obsidian and lightning, with a dog-headed crown for the isle.
"To the Esteemed Magus Gwen Song of Peterhouse," The invitation's cover was floridly inscribed in gold ink.
She broke the seal with a push of her thumb and was surprised when the wax melted away at her touch. The invitation inside, however, made her think twice.
"To the lauded Magus Gwen Song
We cordially invite you to our house to discuss proposals pertaining to the Isle of Dogs. The family has heard much about your exploits, and we are greatly looking forward to meeting you in person. If you may accommodate afternoon tea tomorrow, we shall be expecting your presence.
Yours sincerely.
C. Ravenport.
"C?" Gwen looked to Gracie. "Who is C? Mycroft's wife?"
"Charlene, from Lucy Cavendish," Gracie answered at once. "She's now Lord Ravenport's youngest after his son passed away."
Edgar!—or Edmund, or whatever he called himself. Gwen frowned almost on reflex. The bastard.
"Remind me, how many kids does he have?"
"Lord Ravenport's oldest child is Quinn, from King's College." Gracie appeared to know the famous family well enough to rattle off the names without pause. "Oh, don't look at me like that. I've never spoken to them, but Quinn was famous for participating in Cambridge's winning IIUC team during his third year, and Charlene recently graduated Summa cumme Laude from Cavendish. Her speech on the greater inclusion of NoMs in upper-tier sorcerous education caused quite a stir within the faculties. Many are questioning whether her view represented Lord Ravenport's stance or if she's striking a different tune to bolster her career."
"Quinn, Lucy—" Gwen had no desire even to say the last name.
"Quinn, Charlene and Edmund," Gracie said the E-word. "Word goes that Edmund died after he went out on a rebellious streak on his own, even had associations with certain unmentionables. As a result, there wasn't much ceremony over the young man's passing. That said, he wasn't nearly as talented as his siblings. I think he went to King's, but I've never heard anyone speak of him."
The idea that Edmund, villain extraordinary, could have a life of his own had never occurred to Gwen, and now she suddenly felt strangely depressed.
But then again, it wasn't as though she murdered Edmund or that he had not deserved his fate.
Banishing the unhappy thought, she pocketed the invitation.
"Decorum indicates a prompt declaration of your attendance," Gracie reminded her. "The invitation is Enchanted. Merely speak your reply and set it loose."
Gwen whistled, her mind alive with fantastic visions from Pottermore.
"I'll be there tomorrow," she informed the bird.
"CAW!" The raven took to the skies with a caw and a flutter.
"I guess it's too much to buzz my Message device," Gwen watched the bird become a speck upon the blue-grey horizon.
"Of course." Gracie rolled her eyes. "You're a business leader and a Magus, and this is the household of the Lord Marshall, Gwen. You're not meeting for coffee after exercising your Familiars at the arena! They're receiving you at the Chelsea Estate as well, imply it's a private affair. How exciting, Gwen! Afternoon tea at the Ravenport's!"
Gwen nodded, then withdrew her Message Device and punched it to summon Dominic Lorenzo. "Dom, I'll be going tomorrow at noon—yeah—yep—sure. Do you know where that is? It's at the Chelsea compound belonging to House Ravenport. Yes? Well, I don't, so we'll go together maybe?"
She hung up.
Gracie looked scandalised. "Gwen! That was a private invitation! For tea!"
"Right, where were we?" Gwen ignored the warning, then pivoted Gracie to their prior conversation. "Let's keep testing Brown's plans to muster forth a Familiar. Cali's a cutie now, but my god, those early days were pretty sketchy when it came to vitality usage, and lord knows what you're going to summon without my Master personally drawing his Familiar spell."
Ken Peterson, Son of Peter Peterson of Unit 11, District 2, Bugsby's Way, Greenwich, stood in the thrumming carriage of the London Underground, not daring to breathe or achoo.
In one hand, he held a bundle of the latest METRO, which he was responsible for distributing.
Over yonder, standing tall in a tartan grey pencil skirt and a loose-fitting blouse, was the very sorceress currently gracing the front page of the paper in his hand.
The sorceress looked the same as in the Lumen-pics—but the real-life version made his knees knock. Ken had worked the Underground in various capacities of late and had seen his share of Magisters, Lords and Ladies, but never had he seen any human being so—in his limited vocabulary, unreal.
The "Pale Priestess", Ken recalled the title the Rat-folks had given the Saviour of Shalkar. Was indeed pale—especially the eye-drawing part of her—as pale as the rumours that she wasn't entirely alive.
Bathed in the yellow, tungsten-etched Day Light globes of the subway's interior, the "Priestess" was simultaneously the most alluring vision of femininity he had ever beheld, while also exerting such an aura of devastation that even he, an NoM, recognised her monstrous nature as The Devourer of Shenyang.
There were other passengers as well, all sitting well away from the standing sorceress, even going so far as to cram up against one end of the carriage, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, unwilling to avert their gaze while simultaneously terrified that she would stare back.
Why was the Mistress of the Isle of Dogs catching the subway? Ken wondered, fighting to keep his innards from turning into scrambled eggs. Another voice in his mind reminded him that the sorceress had done much for the NoMs of London and that his fellow paper sellers from Mudchute had assured him that the "Missus Boss" was approachable—but dared he risk her appetite?
He wanted to look away, but his eyeballs refused to leave the imposing visage. He felt a forbidden attraction, an unbidden desire to fall to his knees and mutter a prayer of sorts. Of course, that would take him below the sorceress' hemline—an exciting prospect for maybe a few seconds before her Devourer-ship would summon a horned, demonic rat to vivisect him on the carriage floor.
"Hello." A voice spoke to him. It took Ken several seconds to realise it was the boss of his bosses' bosses that now addressed the label on his shirt. "Ken, can I ask you a few questions?"
The folk standing close to Ken took a few steps back.
Ken gulped. Even if he were to die, he wished he could have told the story to his mates at the Greenwich Publican in person.
"S-sure," he couldn't help but stammer an agreement, for the girl came closer, and the clicking of her heels sounded a thousand times more intimidating than his landlord's wife tapping at his door with a wand, asking for the month's rent.
"How long have you worked today?"
"I was out since six, yer Devourer-ship."
The sorceress' expression grew strangely rigid. "When do you conclude work?"
"After the afternoon rush, at six PM, yer Devourer-ship."
"How much are you getting paid?"
Ken squinted. Money was a sensitive issue. Dare he lie? He did not. "One LDM per hour, same as the others, yer Devourer-ship. It's good money for us folk who joined the press early."
"Please, just Gwen—" The sorceress confirmed his worst fears by making a contemplative face. "When do you get paid?"
"Where do you live?"
"With family?"
"Yes, yer Gwen-ship. I got me ma and pa, me missus, and a little feller."
"Is your wage enough to live on?"
"Me old woman also works at the Print Works, cleaning and such," Ken added, hoping to the Nazarene this was not a tax audit. If so, he certainly had not seen a tax script in his life and would have to flee at the first opportunity. His neighbours had said they send tax criminals overseas to penal colonies like Australia, where the flesh-eating Roos are three meters tall. "So yes, we've enough to live on."
"Is junior attending school?"
"Yes, Greenwich Public."
The sorceress seemed pleased. "Do you like working for METRO?"
Ken seriously considered his answer. "I wouldn't work for any other, Miss, on account of the food."
"The food?"
"The soup kitchen gives the early-risers packed lunch," Ken indicated to his assigned Dwarven-made storage capsule, a simple device operated by an HDM that stowed several hundred copies. "Better than me mum's Sunday roasts, I tell yer. Especially when they make the buttery chooks, greases yer gullet, it does. Where am I going to find another job that offers free chow?"
"Ah yes, the butter chicken." The sorceress nodded in appreciation. "Have you run into any trouble on deliveries? How was it resolved?"
Ken confessed that he often ran into problems, growing more comfortable now that he wasn't turned into a newt and swallowed. "Them schoolboys from the Grammars are the worst. They try and fiddle with the box even when I tell them not to—and they say nasty things about yer Devourer-ship. Also, I want to thank yer that we're not selling the papers but giving them away. Else I reckon we be robbed daily. Er—and thank yer for putting in a word with the Biters, Miss."
"Ah, the Arbiters give yer a hand?"
"They're nice ter us paper pushers," Ken concurred. "Since yer paper writes nice things about them, unlike the Sun and the Tele."
"That's good to hear. Where are you going now?"
Ken looked at the sorceress strangely. "Nowhere, yer Devourer-ship. Here is my carriage. I pass out papers, like this—"
He gave out a paper to a Mage beside him. Smiling nervously, the Mage took it with a nod and an audible thank you. Realising that the politeness was because of the sorceress' presence and that she wasn't about to add him to her Swarm of Teeth, he quickly gave out the entire bundle under his arm, with each of his recipients loudly declaring their appreciation for his hard labour.
"It's not usually this easy." Ken grinned at the girl. "Thank yer, yer Devourer-ship."
The Pale Priestess smiled. "Alright, can we have a picture together?"
"Ah—" Ken's mind blanked out.
The sorceress sidled up beside him, making his hair stand on end as her blouse brushed the rude fabric of his shirt with the stitched words METRO lined across the chest and back. A small, warm hand reached his rough, calloused palm and slid into the space between his thumb and index finger, sending a jolt of vivifying electricity to course through his body. A man materialised from the crowd with a camera, then took a flash-recording of the two of them standing side by side.
By the time his mind returned to the Prime Material, the sorceress was gone, and the carriage was full of new faces.
"Mate, you're giving out the METRO or not?" a voice asked him.
Ken blinked, worked his body as a golem-automation, then returned to ponder a quintessential thought—would any of his mates at the Publican even begin to believe him?
That—and how many LDMs he could fleece from the buggers, providing that he and the bosses' bosses' boss would appear on the new week's edition of the METRO, sharing a handshake, just like the big-wigs in uptown.
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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