Mathias’ eyes almost opened.
Almost, because they felt heavy, along with his whole body. His limbs refused to move, numb and sore. He could feel his breath go in and out of his lung, oxygen pumped through his mouth. His skin felt soft, immersed in warm, heavy water.
His world subsumed by darkness, Glass Field was inactive, Mathias struggled to raise his eyelids. Liquid brushed against his naked eyes, yet the water didn’t feel irritating; in fact, the contact eased the soreness in his vision. Slowly, struggling against the heaviness, Mathias managed to see again.
At first, he thought he was in a pool, trapped beneath verdant, green waters. As his vision acclimated to the lack of strong light, he began to distinguish his surroundings, rolling his eyes. His body seemed to be naked, kept vertically anchored by restraints on his ankles. A black tendril descended from above unto his face and nose, providing him with oxygen, made equally from organic matter and steel components.
A transparent barrier kept him separated from the outside world. Mathias could scarcely distinguish anything beyond that frontier. He saw multiple humanoid shapes standing guard before him, some motionless, some walking in and out. He attempted to swim closer to the barrier and failed, his own flesh unresponsive.
Trapped in his body, his mind fully functional… what an infuriating experience.
Gathering his thoughts, Mathias attempted to make sense of the situation, to remember what happened. Fire… he remembered fire and battling Jack. His father was there, Perse too, and beyond that, he only remembered a flash. His own mind worked slower, his emotions numbed.
“Candlemaker… Famine… Horseman…”
Words echoed through the pool, barely audible words. Mathias attempted to make sense out of them, and in spite of the barrier and the water, he believed he could listen in. His body’s reawakening sabotaged his attempts, though; he couldn’t focus on moving and seeing and hearing all at once. Too many stimuli.
So he closed his eyes, focusing on his ears. His eyelids felt again heavy, his body growing despondent.
“—Spree killer with spells. Red Dot Three, but not experienced. Raw power without skill. No natural growth, never trained.” The voice, confident and laconic, sounded somewhat familiar. “Fond of Firekin, Magnawave, and Crimson Requiem. Fourteen victims accounted for, half as many wounded. Minister Aster asked for his extradition to Electon for reeducation.”
While Mathias couldn’t make sense out of those words, he started recognizing the speaker. The wolf. Kresnik, that’s his name. Although he had only heard a few words from him, he had left a strong impression on Mathias.
“What about the boy?” There was another voice, stronger and raspy. Smokefang.
“Stable,” Kresnik replied. “Medics pumped him with enough sedatives to knock out a troll. His allies might try to recover him, though.”
“The girl.” Smokefang’s voice turned venomous. “Where is she?”
As Mathias’ mind began to slowly function again, the last comment bothered him.
The girl? Kari?
“Kari Matsumoto remains unaccounted for.” Kresnik’s words confirmed Shroud’s fears. “I dispatched an expedition force to the church she and Martel were seen at lately. The priest is a closet deviant and the prime suspect for the Knight Armor pilot; the area has also been magically protected against scrying.”
“Burn it to the ground,” Smokefang decided, sending a chill down Shroud’s spine. “I will not tolerate a nest of insurgents in my territory.”
“We have no proof yet, Lord Smokefang.”
“Burn it to the ground.” The dragon stressed every word. “You will go out into the field yourself to ensure the operation’s success. With what is at stake, better safe than sorry. I want every accomplice, or potential accomplice, of those terrorists dead.”
“You think the boy is the Shroud?” A third voice, familiar and masculine, jolted Mathias’ brain like a electroshock.
“I unmasked him in front of Gearsmen eyewitnesses, which our UB recorded. That alone is incriminating.” Kresnik’s voice grew closer. Mathias imagined him inspecting the tank’s surface. “That distinct glow, that foul shade of Blue, I only saw it once, after the artifact incident. Same as with the smell.”
“A Blue Sorcerer, then?” The third voice spoke again; it sounded familiar, but Mathias couldn’t put a finger on it. “The Shroud’s light and glass manipulation would imply a Red or an Orange, or a White prodigy like our beloved Grandmaster. Terra Firma shouldn’t have produced sorcerers of his age, either.”
“He reeks of machinery. Of pollution. He is an anomaly for the Institute to study.”
“That is for Mother to decide,” Smokefang replied. “What else have you got, Captain? I cannot afford the slightest doubt on his identity.”
They know, Mathias thought. Strangely, either because of the liquid or the sorry state of his body, he felt no emotional undercurrent beneath his panic. He could only listen, motionless, as Kresnik presented his case to his superior.
“His teacher reported an increase in mental faculties in the past few weeks, corroborated by his manager’s reports. A telltale sign of Blue Sorcerers practicing their first spells. Witnesses also saw him leave a public party the night of the chemical plant incident, providing a time window where his whereabouts are unaccounted for. He has no alibi for the artifact attack either. He fits the right build and his body language on the school camera footage fit those of Shroud. That’s him.”
Mathias’ fingers twitched. This was bad, really bad.
“Then I will plaster his face on the news, as the terrorist he is,” Smokefang said. “Both of them. That of the girl as well, and every suspect. Playtime is over.”
“This may be a little premature in the boy’s case,” the third voice said. “My mandate has yet to be fulfilled, and it comes from Minister Aster himself.”
Smokefang didn’t say a word for a few seconds. “You have an hour to make your case, Maxwell.”
“Thank you, Lord Smokefang.”
Mathias’ breath slowed down, as metallic steps echoed nearby. Two silhouettes stood right next to the vat, one belonging to Kresnik, another smaller. The young man sensed an invisible force make its way inside his brain, like a small needle penetrating his skull. The sensation was intrusive, uncomfortable.
“His Blue Flux potency is through the roof,” Maxwell commented, with a hint of amazement in his voice. “Even more than Minister Aster’s. He must possess a fierce Lock. Fascinating.”
“You do not seem so surprised,” Kresnik pointed out.
“I have been expecting this moment for the last two years, Captain.” The voice paused for a split second. “How long have you been listening, Mathias?”
Mathias remained motionless, faking sleep.
Maxwell saw right through him. “Clever boy, we can read your life signals. It’s okay. You’re safe. Come on, open your eyes.”
With no way out, and the invisible force still inside his brain, Mathias obeyed the soft command. This time, he managed to open his eyelids with more ease.
It took him a full minute for his eyes to adapt to the outside, yet this time he could perceive the world around him with better accuracy, greater clarity.
The barrier between him and the outside wasn’t some kind of glass tank. No. It was an organic membrane, transparent save for thin pulsating, metallic veins running through them. The membrane grew and tightened at a regular rhythm, like the beating heart of a mighty beast.
Beyond that ghastly frontier, Kresnik stood right next to a smaller, human figure, whom Mathias identified. Anton Maxwell, Dynamis’ CEO, a member of the Loctis Institute, and his employer.
A towering man with fiery red hair and piercing blue eyes, Anton wore a classy Hugo Boss black and red suit, gloves, and the latest technological device around his arm. Sporting a short beard that made him look like a lion, he had a strong, fearsome aura. While two heads smaller than Kresnik, Anton radiated more power and charisma than the werewolf.
Mathias had been a great fan of him; he still was. A legendary game designer, a pillar of the entertainment industry, and a CEO of Steve Jobs’ caliber, Anton Maxwell embodied success in these troubled times. Yet seeing him stand shoulder to shoulder with an enforcer of Concordia disturbed Mathias to the core.
Two Gearsmen stood watch behind the duo, their glass eyes replaced with organic ones, a horrible mix of a real eye and steel pieces. The results made the machines look even more disturbing and off-putting than before. Concordia had upgraded their tech in record time to cover up the weakness he had managed to exploit.
Beyond this, however, Mathias couldn’t see much. He noticed a few screens and equipment pieces, figuring out he was inside a lab of some sort. It took him a few minutes to notice the towering dragon in the background, its single eye vibrant with malice.
“Mathias.” Anton bowed respectfully before the membrane. “Anton Maxwell of Dynamis. I apologize for the circumstances. I desired to meet you at my local headquarters, but you missed your appointment.”
Mathias opened his mouth, trying to speak in spite of the tendril pumping air through his lungs. Surprisingly, it wasn’t half as difficult as he expected. “Where… where am I?”
“A secure wing in our Arc-City,” Anton Maxwell replied, although Kresnik didn’t look happy that he shared the information. “You are inside an Organotech Heart, the Institute’s most recent breakthrough in medical techniques. You are safe within it.”
Safe, and helpless. Mathias moved his eyes around, seeing his skin pure and pristine. How long had he been out? Days? “Where is my father?” he asked, his tone raspy through the tendril. “Samantha? Perse? Are they okay.”
“Samantha Brown is undergoing medical treatment as we speak. Her life is not in danger, and she should recover physically. Mentally speaking, she will need counseling. I do not know about this Perse.” Anton glanced at Kresnik, who remained as silent as stone.
“And Dad?” Kresnik and Anton’s silence on the matter frightened him.
Kresnik’s saddened look brought back memories, of the ghastly sight of his father lying in his own blood… “No…” Mathias started shaking, his fingers twitching. “No. You’re joking. You’ve got to be joking.”
“I’m sorry, Mathias.” Anton Maxwell sounded sincere. “Your father died long before the Gearsmen found him. You have my deepest condolences.”
“The one responsible has been arrested, and justice will be done,” Kresnik spoke as if it should make Mathias feel better.
No. No… no… “You’re lying. You’re lying!”
“No!” His shout echoed through the water and interrupted Maxwell, taking even Kresnik aback. Mathias’ muscles flared to life, his fist hitting the membrane with full force. “Let me out… let me out!” He grabbed the tendril holding his mouth with fury, trying to climb it up, damn the consequences. “LET ME OUT!”
“Pacify him,” Smokefang ordered, sounding almost bemused by the scene.
A bright blue glow shone through the cocoon, and Mathias’ rage vanished in an instant, replaced with unnerving serenity and calm. His fingers slipped away from the tendril, his panicked, primal reaction extinguished like fire drowned in water.
It… Mathias just couldn’t muster anger anymore. Not wouldn’t. Couldn’t. Everything felt fine. His father was dead and that was it. No emotional reaction anymore. It happened.
Anton Maxwell put its hand on the membrane, in a reassuring way. The fingers’ proximity felt strangely comforting for a reason Mathias couldn’t translate into words. “Concordia protects, Mathias. I know this sounds like little comfort in your situation, but you are not alone. We will take care of you now.”
Yes. Mathias was safe here, his mind sound and clear. Docile.
“While I administer Dynamis, I serve Concordia in other ways, Mathias.” Maxwell kept talking, brushing his father’s death aside. “One of them is to approach talents that may join our Institute. The other is studying sorcerers. Since when did you start casting spells?”
Mathias should have felt panic, defensive, yet he felt a simple urge to answer truthfully. “One month.”
“How did it manifest?”
Even if he intellectually wanted to resist, to lie, Mathias felt he owed the sub-minister an explanation. All he could muster as a defense were half-truths. “One day I touched a friend of mine, Ulysses, and I could understand his feelings. It came like a flash. Every time I touch someone, I get a handle on how they think.”
Maxwell nodded as if the information fit his existing preconceptions. “Did you figure out you were using magic at the time?”
“I didn’t believe it at first, but I figured it out. Concordians can use magic, so I thought, perhaps, I can too.” It felt so good to empty his chest, to ease his burden.
No, no, Mathias, it’s not good. It shouldn’t feel good. They brainwashed you, you’ve got to resist!
Maxwell sounded so trustworthy, though. Mathias believed he could tell him everything, all his darkest secrets, and the man would understand. Like Sol. “Any other side effects that you noticed?”
“I became smarter. I could remember words, conversations, and information with perfect clarity. I could learn faster.”
The CEO joined its fingers, meditating on his words, perhaps trying to poke a hole somewhere. His silent judgment weighted heavily on Mathias as if he had crossed a line. “Why did you not inform the authorities of your gift, as a citizen should?”
Because I was asked not to, he almost blurted out; It took all his willpower for Mathias to even deflect that question. “I didn’t think it was a such a big deal.”
“A lie,” Kresnik said.
Maxwell appraised Mathias like a parent having caught a naughty child. “Your citizenship evaluation and psych report are worrying, Mathias. An audit of your school showed that you hacked into their systems, and your employer reported similar infractions. Your father was cataloged as a private deviant, and your mother…”
An ember of fury surged within Mathias’ mind, only for unnatural serenity to sweep it aside. Maxwell noticed, though, tilting his head. “Was an open one. Together those elements paint a negative portrait. Then, there is the matter of your abilities, and what you used them for.”
“Where is my artifact?” Smokefang, who had watched the scene in silence, interrupted it. “Where did you hide it?”
“Within me,” Mathias blurted out, unable to hold his tongue. “I absorbed it.”
Smokefang let out a frustrated growl, while Maxwell simply crossed his arms, thoughtful. “Mathias, you are a Blue Sorcerer,” he told his former employee. “Blue Sorcerers are magicians whose power revolves around manipulating information, including thoughts, signals, knowledge, and consciousness. The strongest of them can rewrite the laws our universe relies on, or enslave people to their will. By their very nature, they can subvert institutions for selfish desires. Most unregistered ones are sent to our prison in the sphere Electon, where they never come out.”
“And you have raised your hand against my kind,” Smokefang added, like a wounded predator still reeling from a lost fight.
“That too,” Maxwell said. “Do you understand what it means for you?”
“You’re going to send me to Electon.” His hands clenched on their own.
“Not necessarily. You crossed a few lines, yes, but the Grandmaster hates wasting young talent. Concordia is nothing if not forgiving of its wards.”
Mathias’ head perked up, relieved. One element caught his attention. “Wards?”
“With the death of your last living relative, you are now a ward of Concordia, beholden to the Empire and entitled to its protection. The Grandmaster is, forgive the expression, your father and mother now.”
No one could replace his father and mother. Once more, flames of leftover anger rose to the surface, fiercer than before, only for the cocoon’s machinery to squash them.
“You are a curious case, Mathias,” Anton said. “The first Firman sorcerer on records. Data shows that sorcerers only appear in a population after long exposure to a Flux-heavy environment, so we did not expect magicians among Firman until another decade.”
“You said you expected this for years,” Mathias blurted out against his will.
Kresnik hummed the air. “He listened.”
“That is sensitive information that I cannot fully disclose yet, Mathias. Long story short, your mother was tricked into assisting a bitter enemy of Concordia, leading to a terrible incident that almost spiraled into a global disaster. We suspected that the circumstances at hand would lead you to awaken as a sorcerer, although not as soon as you did. Perhaps the Grandmaster will see fit to tell you after your training.”
Mother, assisting an enemy of Concordia? That was why she had been arrested?
“Mathias, the Empire’s strength is only as great as those of its citizens. Dark forces, from the farthest corners of unexplored space to our most fortified cities, threaten the safety of our people. One of their pawns murdered your father.”
Mathias froze at the words.
“You can prevent what happened to him. You can make sure innocents live in peace and harmony. By becoming Concordia’s shield and sword, as a registered sorcerer.”
His words sounded so sincere, so convincing. Yes, certainly, serving the Empire was the best way to feel free of doubts, and fears, and — what the hell! How could he even consider it?
“I originally came to offer you membership at our Institute, so you could put your intellect to our country’s service. I still offer you that, and more. As a sorcerer, you will receive privileges and training in the use of your magical abilities. You will have to report to weekly counseling with a sanctioned officer, alongside yearly in-depth examinations, and serve Concordia in any way the Ministers see fit. The alternative being minimum security in Electon. A terrible fate.”
Yes, terrible. This deal sounded as good as he could get, a chance to rise up, to start over, maybe his friends could follow him as well? Then he could forget the pain and focus on the future.
No, no, this isn’t… this wasn’t him. He shouldn’t give up the inward struggle. Those bastards had infected him with foreign thoughts. Those feelings didn’t belong to him—
“You will also be allowed to see your mother again.”
Mathias’ train of thought stopped as if hitting a wall.
“Why so surprised?” Anton smiled. “I told you your mother was tricked by an enemy of the state, as you may have been, too. Concordia spared her life.”
Impossible… “My mother, alive?”
“Yes. I cannot tell you more until you accept our offer but—”
“You have no right to make any deal, human.”
Smokefang, his very steps causing the ground to shake, approached Mathias’ prison, his immense eye filling most of the prisoner’s sight.
“He will be sent to my mother, Red Minister Blackcinders, as soon as a teleportation transport route can be established. I already sent the order.”
“My orders come from Lord Aster himself,” Maxwell replied. Mathias had to admit, he admired the man for standing up to the draconic behemoth.
“I hold mine from the Red Minister, and I am the lord of this land,” Smokefang replied, his tone harsher and impatient. “Problem solved.”
Maxwell didn’t look convinced. “I will see what I can do for you, Mathias,” he whispered against the membrane, his voice reassuring yet firm. “Take the time to ponder my proposal. Concordia needs you as much as you need it, Mathias.”
Smokefang snorted with contempt. “Captain Kresnik, escort our guest to the exit.”
Mathias watched Maxwell leave with Kresnik in tow, the sound of a metal door opening and closing behind them.
Smokefang’s eye remained set on Mathias, oozing with bitterness. “How can an upstart mammal like you wield magic, while I do not?”
Mathias had no answer to this.
“All members of my brood manifested the gift, except me. All dragons cast spells. It is in our blood, our birthright. That is why Mother…” Smokefang stopped himself, before unleashing a barrage of questions. “Who gave you that power? The Maleking? The Seeker of Life? Whom?”
Magik, the name died in his throat before he could utter it. Mathias was growing better at it. “I am magic,” he replied, half because nothing else came to mind, half in defiance.
Smokefang remained silent, although wrath smoldered beneath the calm surface. “Your fellow monkeys will not succeed in saving you. No one will. Your accomplices might come, I will kill them. Magic or not, you are primitives. And I,” he said, extending his wings, “am a dragon.”
Finally, Smokefang took flight, vanishing in the shadows.
|Level||1 (Novice)||Grant Spell||Unlocked|
Spell of the Day
Activation: Active, Voice, Direct Touch Vector.
Traps the soul of a recently deceased living being (one minute after death) in the shape of a small gem.