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Slowly, the numbing effect on his emotions lessened, then vanished entirely. At first, he felt rage. A cold, controlled kind of rage, smoldering embers of fury, at Jack, at those Imperial lackeys messing with his mind.

Then came the sobs, as the crushing reality dawned on him.

Dad was dead.

Dead, and never to come back. Blown up to kingdom come. His family was gone, destroyed.

It hit him even harder than Mom’s, because it was all his fault. He could have killed Jack before he became an even bigger monster than he used to be. If he had been willing to risk himself that night, his father might have survived. His inaction had killed his dad as much as Jack.

Mathias tried to convince himself it would have happened anyway, or that he should blame it all on bad luck. Yet no matter how he sugarcoated it, he couldn’t deny the truth. Both directly and indirectly, the horrid events happened because of him. Because he didn’t consider the consequences. Because he chose half-measures.

Ulysses was right all along.

He thought of what he could have done as if he could change the past that way. If he had killed Jack if he had better checked up on his friends, if he had chosen better spells or if he had fulfilled more quests. So many ifs.

No, he thought, no. He couldn’t let himself think this way. What happened, happened. He couldn’t change the past, not even with magic. All he could do, was to make sure those events never happened again. No half-measures.

Jack was still alive, and Shroud would have his head. Not Concordia. Him.

And Mom… Mom was alive too, in some Imperial cell.

It gave him hope and purpose. Jack may have taken half his family, Concordia stole the other half and tried its best to kill his remaining friends. He would not join them, ever.

Shroud would take them down.

He had to get out of here, escape the vat. Concordia had identified him as a sorcerer and sent forces after Kari and Sol. Any hope of a normal life had died with his father, and he had no home to return to.

He would have to flee Evermarsh, escape to the distant stars, and continue the fight.

Win, or die trying. That was all he could do now.

The Gearsmen standing watch reminded him it wouldn’t be easy. Their terrible eyes looked at him like hawks. Could they read the emotions on his face? Could they understand the disgust they inspired in him?

With a thought, Shroud opened his Magik account. The sedatives may impair his thinking, they didn’t affect his ability to control his account.

He checked the Network feeds, unperturbed by his captivity. Which meant less than forty-eight hours had passed.

Perse and Ulysses were with their mother, receiving medical treatment at a hospital. Shroud let go a sigh of relief at the sight.

Samantha’s feed had turned black, meaning she was unconscious.

Kari, Mur, and Sol were at the church, all of them equipped for battle. They exchanged words with Booz and…

Wait, was that Maggie at the edge of Kari’s vision?

Maggie’s own feed confirmed her presence. What was she doing there?

Unfortunately, he couldn’t open communication without warning the Gearsmen in front of him.

Not for long.

Shroud checked his spells, especially the activation condition. Premium Thoughts only needed activation from his menu, while Berserk and Glass Field, he could activate with a thought. In theory, he didn’t need to vocalize the spells to activate them.

Kresnik may have disabled his magic, but he could reactivate his spells without a word.

Activating Premium Thoughts first, a blue glow briefly filling his vision, Shroud noticed the Gearsman straightening up. They could sense his magic activate; and they may react badly to the next.

Without light to draw on with Quasar nor glass, he only had one spell that could help him escape, and it wouldn’t suffice on its own.

His only hope was to upgrade it.

He had created Glass Field when attempting to use two spells in a way they were not intended for; to have Intuimotion expand his Dirt Call sensory range. If he could enhance his magic, he could perhaps escape. If it failed, the Gearsmen would crush him. His next gamble would spell either his freedom or death.

At this point, he could settle with either.

“BERSERK!” Shroud snarled in defiance. A green glow filled his sight, coloring the world. His muscles surged with strength and adrenaline, his vision turning green.

The Organotech Heart unleashed another blue, pacifying wave at him. This time, though, the Berserk-induced fury allowed him to shrug it off. So the machine upped the game.

The Organotech heart unleashed a pulse of electricity within his pod, shocking his body with enough voltage to knock out a man. Yet, so pumped he was with adrenaline and magic, he shrugged off the intense pain. With superhuman agility and frothing fury, he tore out the medical apparatus holding him, white blood filling the vat.

This time, one of the Gearsmen moved to stop him, piercing the Organotech Heart with its hand to grapple him. To Shroud, it seemed to happen in slow motion, as green and blue colors swirled at the edge of his vision. Berserk filled his mind with a primal desire to kill, yet Premium Thoughts allowed him to keep a sliver of sanity and tactical planning.

Swimming out of the blow’s way, Shroud grabbed the forearm and used the momentum to propel himself through the membrane with a primal snarl.

His feet landed on the Gearsman’s torso, while his hands moved to the monster’s single eye. His fingers tore into the orbit, ripping the eyeball and spraying him with blood.

It was as if the floodgates of his mind had opened, unleashing all the pent-up anger and hatred he had accumulated. Years of humiliation and resentment, sharpened into a single desire to destroy.

Pain filled his left side, as the other Gearsman tossed him off its fellow with a backhand. Shroud heard a crack in his ribs, as he landed on a cold, steel floor; he was back up on his feet in no time. He felt the agonizing pain in his chest, but with the adrenaline filling his veins, it bothered him no more than a mosquito’s sting.

Even naked and unharmed, Shroud didn’t fear the Gearsmen.

Activating Quasar with a thought, Shroud looked for random photons, tiny bits of light in the darkness. He found a few red sparks as the Gearsmen lunged at him, the blinded one swinging an arm to squash him into submission.

Now, time for the ultimate gamble.

“Reinforce,” Shroud tried to cast on the isolated photons, Quasar relaying his magic and—

CRACK!

A blinding flash of brightness erupted from Shroud’s body, bathing the room in overwhelming brilliance. Although it halted the Gearsmen for an instant, it didn’t bother the sorcerer.

In fact, the light felt empowering.

New Hack created!

Lightbringer

Dot: 2
Components: Quasar + Reinforce
Activation: Passive, Thought.

You can generate solid, magical light from your body. These magical constructs quickly degrade into natural light after being separated from your body. As a side effect, you can see through non-magical bright light and deep darkness both.

Neat.

“Let’s try it, shall we?” Shroud raised his two hands at the Gearsmen, willing light into them. “Forgive me for indulging a childhood passion…”

Two sharp blades of pure, solid light, manifested from his fingertips.

“Swords of Revealing Light!”

With his word, the two projectiles flew at the Gearsmen at lightspeed, impaling both through the chest and staying there. Both machines collapsed, as his blades collapsed into harmless photons.

A screeching air siren resonated, as Shroud cracked his neck. Four other Gearsmen, that stood watch farther in the shadows, gathered at his location to intercept him; they built up beams and fired without warning.

Acting faster, Shroud created a shield of light in the path, which weathered the attack. The machines moved to surround him though, intent on blindsiding him.

If Hacks were made by combining spells that shouldn’t work together, perhaps he had another card in hand. And nothing to lose. “Blue World!” Shroud shouted, his voice echoing with Blue magic; yet with the same breath, he cast another, “Berserk!”

Blue and Green swirled together, carried by his soundwaves. If Blue World affected the mind of outsiders, while Berserk affected the caster, could the first carry the second’s effect?

A familiar sound and a dark green wave of energy answered his question.

CRACK!

New Hack created!

Mad World

Dot: 2
Components: Blue World + Berserk
Activation: Active, Voice Vector.

Sends every living being within earshot of the spell spiraling into a frothing, killing frenzy. The victims no longer distinguish friend from foe, and remain in this state until exhausted or successfully killing another living being.

The Gearsmen went crazy.

Two of the machines visibly short-circuited, collapsing to the ground while holding their chest. The third turned on its incapacitated compatriots, smashing one bare-handed with an all too human murderous rage. The last one promptly turned its beams to the ceiling, firing at random.

Their organic components made them vulnerable to it: Blue World targeted the mind, the brain. It didn’t work on beings that lacked a nervous system, like the fire monster Jack had fused with.

Mad World targeted the mind and the flesh.

And they weren’t alone.

Explosions resonated through the entire complex, the sirens glitching out into strident sound. The ground shook and lights flickered at random. Since the Gearsmen were linked to a UB techno-organic intelligence, the madness had spread to it, like a sickness.

Watching the machines turn on each other, Shroud gathered his thoughts. He could warn Sol and the others while bolting to the exit—

No.

Not escape.

No letting the bastards get away, ever again.

He had a Quest to fulfill, and a dragon to slay.


Party Stats

Spell of the Day

Alchemic Grasp

Affinity: Orange
Dot: 1
Price: 3-5
Activation: Passive, App Switch.

The user gains intuitive understanding of the chemical composition of matter within sight (organic or inorganic), down to its most basic components.
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Void Herald

Bio: I'm a European warlock living in the distant realm known as France, spending half my time writing and the other half managing magical websites. I post Magik Online on my main website and RR both on Wednesday, and Vainqueur the Dragon twice to thrice weekly.

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