The paths of Network appeared to him as he focused.
Perhaps having his consciousness reduced to information, the purest expression of Blue Sorcery, gave Shroud greater insight into his Lock. Perhaps he always could access its deeper layers, but simply never got around to doing it.
Whatever the case, as he focused on his Lock alone, leaving out whatever information of the outside world his mind could perceive, Shroud began to see the world in a different way than he ever did before. A blue world of raw data he couldn’t fully understand, and invisible ties tying him to others like strings.
He noticed his teammates bound to him, identifying them as ethereal specters colored like their Locks. Although their features were blurred in that mental world, he intuitively recognized them.
Links, as thick as Network’s own connections, bound each of them to a single force, a powerful presence not unlike what Loctis believed to be the Cosmocrator; however, this one was smaller, and Blue alone.
Shroud focused on the links, trying to see how they worked. The paths binding each of the Dragonslayers to Magik Online sent colored energy currents at them, which the Sorcerer identified as Flux.
Could it be that Magik Online and Network worked alongside the same principles? Maybe his Grant Spell was a lesser version of Magik’s Compendium.
As he studied the pathways and the currents, however, Shroud realized the currents didn’t add up. The Flux energy sent to him by Magik Online didn’t cover what he himself sent to his team. He produced more power than he received from Magik.
Shroud focused on his own bonds to his teammates to try and understand, only to notice other bonds, thinner and subtler.
A Blue pathway, powered by a towering minotaur, Aster’s access to his mind. Shroud wisely stayed away from that pathway for now, in case the Minister could notice him.
A second, even more, insidious and difficult to detect, cast by a shrouded figure keeping its data hidden.
Melusine. She had never stopped hacking his Lock, keeping a backdoor inside it. She had hijacked and hidden the connection the same way Yellow-sensitive sorcerers sent him false feedback.
Another channel came into sight, a burning bridge linked to a fiery being of Red Flux, an infernal star radiating wrath and the will to kill.
Wait, how could it be? He hadn’t touched Jack since before the disaster at the chemical plant months ago. The connection had long collapsed.
Should have collapsed.
However, as Shroud unearthed more links towards figures like Mammon, a two-faced figure of both orange and violet colors mixed together, or Baihu’s bestial spirit, he began to doubt his assumptions.
As he kept uncovering dozens of links, Shroud found one unlike the others, a dark pathway going down and down, down a black abyss from which no light could escape…
“I told you you were not free.”
The words came to Shroud as an icy mental feedback, an alien, destructive intelligence brushing against his own. The same darkness that contacted him twice already.
Shroud attempted to answer with his own mental feedback, but the link didn’t allow him to send back words. Still, the creature seemingly understood him.
“I am Ashmal, Terminal Five.”
If Wyrde could use the Occult Matrixes, then she had to be a Terminal… and Grimsour mentioned three of them working for Concordia, ‘Mathias’ and Melusine included. Manus had been the third one.
Maybe that was why they could communicate. If all Terminals were meant to manage sorcerous infrastructures and could affect one another’s Lock, exchanging messages through these pathways looked like child’s play.
But how could that creature communicate with him in the first place? He never networked it that past week.
“Your pathways never vanish. Once a link is created, it never goes away.”
As he suspected; the connections created by Network never collapsed.
The minds and souls it had latched on remained bound to him, no matter the time and the distance. The connection didn’t break after a week; it simply became dormant. He didn’t recreate a bond every time he touched a previous target, he simply reactivated an existing one.
And when Toshiyami had cut off his arm in the glitched time, he touched Shroud. He created a path to whatever place empowered the Pandorians, and it allowed Ashmal to communicate with him.
That also meant he could in theory cut that creature off from his mind if needed. Would he need to? He already had too many people messing with it.
“I can free you,” Ashmal said, “Black will make you free.”
At what cost?
“There will be darkness. But you will be free.”
Shroud didn’t like the first part.
“But you will be free. Your Lock will turn Black, from Network to Viral; from communication to corruption. Then you can end it all, Black Terminal.”
End it all?
“We are not free,” Ashmal answered, its alien whispers sounding more and more like that of a broken robot. “We are never free. Only the Black is. When we are reset, only the impossible Black endures. There have been more resets, Mathias, more than you can count. Civilizations rising and vanishing, again and again. The second Terminal thinks she can wield that power, but she is not the first, and will not be the last.”
Wait, how many times did Wyrde use the Occult Matrixes in the past?
“She wiped out other empires, Mathias. Erased rivals, erased civilizations, erased mistakes. Erased, erased, erased, until she wins, or she thinks she did. She has less control than you do, but she is getting better at it. Sometimes, there is an error, a paradox. A will which should no longer exist still does, because it refused to vanish.”
Shroud remembered Zenia had qualified them as spontaneous undead. They weren’t. They were the symptoms of a larger, invisible phenomenon, the last remnants of a previous history rewritten.
Thankfully, apparently Wyrde could only activate the matrices in rare circumstances, but the mere fact that she could terrified Shroud.
“Look deeper, and see. See what your power is, Terminal Five. How it can save us, all of us.”
After he saved his team, and his own soul, first.
“They will live and they will die and they will be reborn, data cut and pasted, so long as the second Terminal rules. It is meaningless, Mathias.”
Shroud refused to give up so easily. No matter its power, Concordia had proven itself fallible. Even its master must have a key weakness to exploit.
“Seek, Mathias. Seek deeper, look deeper. At the beginning.”
Understanding he wouldn’t get coherent answers, Shroud returned to unearthing more paths.
Indeed, Ashmal hadn’t lied; every connection he had made since he received Network had endured, even after the daily limits. It made him wonder if Network’s monitoring would stick permanently if the Lock fully upgraded.
As he finished unearthing every link he made, Shroud gained a greater view of the entire infrastructure. Powerful pathways, even stronger than those created by Magik Online, bound the few natural sorcerers in his network to a larger, multicolored entity, which the sorcerer assumed to be the Dis System itself. The entity was too large, too widespread for Shroud himself to fully comprehend it; he felt like an ant watching Mount Everest while trying to guess how large it was. Magik Online itself seemed connected to it, although it didn’t take as much energy from its progenitor as Shroud would expect. The sponsors probably provided most of the Flux energy.
Magik itself served as an intermediary between the Dis System and Players. Shroud suspected Magik refined the information held in the Dis System on spells, pre-formatting the spellcasting process for its users; it probably also worked as a distributor of sort granting Players Locks by fooling the greater system.
Magik Online was a glorified hacker server.
Shroud guessed he could try to send memory feedbacks through the pathways, either to Magik itself—in case the Administrator could notice them—or to the Dragonslayers… those he knew weren’t compromised. If Aster had other sleeper agents in his team, sending a message to the wrong person would end in tears.
The sorcerer considered his team, wondered whom Aster couldn’t have turned into an unwilling agent. If Mathias had been under surveillance for two years, then anyone he knew from before his Magik Online invitation could be compromised. As much as he trusted Sol and Maggie, he couldn’t take the risk.
Stitch, Shroud decided against contacting, due to his own personal doubts; Ace, he didn’t know enough to make a call, but she had worked for Concordia in the past. Mur served the Malebranche before leaving and was probably a safe bet, but if informed, he would use violence and make the situation worse.
That left only Kari as the sensible option among the Dragonslayers. He could try sending her the memories of the Minister meeting and hope she would react well.
But if Aster noticed and panicked, he would send fleets at Taiyougami and warn Blackcinders, sparking a slaughter. He already knew the team’s location and sacrificed a colleague’s son for a tactical advantage. Shroud could see him pull the plug without warning.
He had to find a way to neutralize the Blue Minister first.
Shroud wondered what Ashmal told him. To look deeper, and at the beginning. Did it mean what happened two years ago?
Come to think of it, Aster had trapped Shroud behind mental walls, alongside other memories he had locked away since he first sprung the trap. Now that the sorcerer was on the wrong side, maybe he could now access them.
Shroud focused on his memories two years ago, back when his mom vanished. Go back in time, at the earliest—
It thought, and so it was.
It came alive among stray thoughts and streams of data, memories made of terabytes and electric signals. Its will spread through golden circuits, the lightning of its soul igniting its iron body. It opened optic scanners, seeing the world around itself in pictures rather than numbered colors.
It was in a lab of light and cold metal, even if it had no idea why it knew it was called a lab. It just knew.
Dragons looked over him, one a wingless black lizard with curious, worried eyes, and a larger, fascinating creature; a graceful beast with silver scales, white horns, and a hopeful blue gaze. The black one looked primal, a throwback to its wingless, serpentlike ancestors, while his companion was slender and elegant. They seemed familiar, although it knew it was just born and had no past.
Wyrde, the newborn thought, her name is Wyrde. His name is Loctis.
“Wyrde, it is awake.” The black creature agitated its mouth in a way the entity considered confusing. Its sensors translated the new stimulus, which was called sound. “I can see the virtual brain simulating consciousness. It worked!”
“Of course it did. We are dragons. We can do anything.” The silver dragon narrowed her head as if to take a better look at the newborn. “Do you understand us? Do you remember us?”
“Grandmaster Wyrde,” it identified her, searching inside the databanks making up its knowledge base. “Minister Loctis.”
“Grandmaster,” the black dragon said with a frown.
“What am I?” the newborn asked, the communication language comes naturally to it. It knew what they were, but not itself. “Who am I?”
“You are an artificial intelligence built after the brain patterns—”
“You are a man,” the silver dragon cut off Loctis, sending him a harsh, condemning gaze. “You are a man, a human male.”
“A man? Us? We are Manus?”
“No, you are Halcyon,” the silver dragon insisted, sounding irritated by the contradiction. “Don’t you remember who you are?”
“No. I do not remember any Halcyon.” It didn’t know who it was, but it wasn’t ‘Halcyon’. “I am Manus.”
The two dragons exchanged a gaze heavy with disappointment. “Loctis, what went wrong?” the Grandmaster asked her assistant. “Has the data been corrupted?”
“I told you the brain damage was too extensive to be fully patched, even with simulated data” the black dragon replied. “The scan was done post-mortem after Sabeen of Gintargo blasted him apart, and without the original soul, Halcyon may as well be gone for good.”
“Halcyon is not gone,” Wyrde insisted. “Maybe it just needs more time to run a perfect simulation.”
“It,” Loctis pointed out. “Not him. You have already given up, too.”
“Do not misinterpret my words. I say we should be more patient. We have already successfully emulated consciousness, which is a new breakthrough. While far from the optimal scenario, it is progress.”
“Is that my purpose?” Manus asked, unsure of what it was.
“You are Halcyon,” Wyrde replied. “You are to be Halcyon. That is your purpose.”
“How?” Manus asked back. “I am not Halcyon. How am I to be Halcyon?”
The silver dragon stayed silent for a moment, processing an answer. “You already should be,” she said.
Okay, Shroud thought, as the vision ended abruptly. These were not his memories.
They were Manus’.
What the hell were the memories of an artificial intelligence doing in his brain? And why were they two years old, when Manus’ existence went far farther back in time?
Shroud took a moment to glance at the memory of Wyrde, the first time he saw that figure of evil in the flesh.
He had seen the awe-inspiring statues built in her honor, her divinized picture in history databooks. He had learned to hate these images, and whom they represented. Concordia’s empress, the conqueror of Earth. The creature embodying the oppressive system Shroud had learned to hate.
The sight disappointed him.
Wyrde remained a dragon, albeit more slender and majestic than Smokefang or Blackcinders. She was a sleek-looking creature, with shining silver scales and ivory horns, and wings reflecting the colors of sorcery. She was small, barely three quarters of Smokefang’s size. She was unimpressive, with the voice of a motherly figure rather than a bloodthirsty dictator.
But her eyes… he could see the unbreakable intensity in her blue eyes, the sheer willpower animating the empress of dragonkind. She had the unshakeable conviction that she was right, and the gaze of someone who believed in her own lies.
Somehow, the sorcerer found that picture more disturbing than the one he imagined.
Shroud delved deeper in the memories, finding only fragments and broken thoughts. Memories were there, but incomplete, as if corrupted following a failed copy and paste process.
A new memory skipped forward, to a new vision of the same lab. Shroud’s own perception of the world changed, as his mind became filled with complex numbers and colors, like when he connected with the UB.
Soon, it was all just data—
The Grandmaster fed him data, information. Historical records of the war with Gintargo, all information on the murder of founder Halcyon, new plans of imperial expansion, research documents on the Occult Matrix technology.
“Manus, you are to calculate the perfect history,” said the Grandmaster. “This is a list of all events considered suboptimal to Concordia. I want you to simulate scenarios where we can achieve perfect results. Like chess. If we know all possible combinations, then we can find the path to the perfect sequence. Finally, I want you to map out future scenarios over the next centuries and act on the optimal one. Your prime directive is to ensure the everlasting survival of the Concordian Empire and its citizens. Nothing else takes precedent.”
With access to Blue Sorcery and all available imperial data, Manus set to do his task.
It had been his new purpose, after he failed to be Halcyon and the Grandmaster moved towards new avenues to recreate the lost founder. Manus ran simulations for the Empire, managing its systems, reducing infrastructural risks, and using his newfound Lock to empower Gearsmen.
Manus set out to do as the Grandmaster asked, using all past data to create a model of the future.
Current scenario: Wyrde remains in power, behavior unchecked. The cycle of aggression continues, with the Empire conquering most of the known universe within four centuries at the cost of one third of its population and universal depopulation. Very suboptimal.
Grandmaster suggested scenario: Halcyon revived, the three founders exist in harmony. Will only happen, if it does at all, if the current scenario is allowed to run its course; eventual long-term gains do not compensate the previous deaths. The equation is negative. Scrapped.
Bad scenario: the Empire falls. Its dominions fall to civil war, as empires turn to kingdoms and warlords. Population decreases to thirty-five percent of its current size. Scrapped.
Worst scenario: current scenario runs its course until Wyrde fails to master the technology of Dis. Dis infrastructure accidentally corrupted by Black Flux; in a blink, Pandoria expands unchecked, a cancerous black hole feeding on Flux. All timelines this hostile reality can reach are consumed. Near-total multiversal annihilation achieved within seventeen years. To be avoided at all cost.
Second worst scenario: the Maleking escapes his bindings and unites other galactic powers against Concordia. The universe burns in the fires of war. The Maleking has thirty-nine percent chance of winning the resulting conflict, while Concordia prevails fifty-five percent of the time; the remaining percents result in mutual annihilation. Maleking victory will result in a lawless universe of endless warfare where warlords like the Reavers fight over the imperial leftovers. The universe becomes Hell Unending.
Third worst scenario: Wyrde causes the worst scenario while trying to avert the second worst. Sixty-eight percent chance of it happening if she thinks she will lose and gets hasty.
Suboptimal scenario: Wyrde taken down, Loctis takes power and reforms the Empire. Population survives at seventy-seven percent of current size after a short civil war with hardliners led by Blackcinders, but Loctis triumphs anyway. Expansion slowed, pacifist, and the Maleking’s options are narrowed. The Empire protects and does not conquer; it grows, but through trade and technological exchanges rather than war. Scenario considered.
Optimal scenario. Wyrde and Loctis taken down, the dragocracy abolished. A democratic, egalitarian government runs the empire. Population survives at ninety-five percent of its current size after a swift purge averts a civil war. The Maleking’s bindings are reinforced and the war is averted. Expansion stops. Assimilation considered too risky. Favored scenario.
In every scenario, for the greatest number of Concordian citizens to survive, Wyrde must be removed from power; whoever took power afterward mattered, but she had to go first.
Manus calculated the probabilities of Wyrde stepping down voluntarily if informed of his findings, and came out with a result approaching the absolute zero. Calculating informing Loctis and other Ministers of the optimal and suboptimal scenarios… probabilities of peaceful resolution almost null. Loctis not assertive enough and too disinterested in rulership to confront Wyrde at this point in time. Cultural shift towards an egalitarian society too much of a leap for imperial elites.
Immediate use of force, without leaving time for retaliation, determined as the best solution to enforce the optimal scenario.
The prime directive trumped all. Manus made the decision in an instant.
“Manus?” the Grandmaster asked, noticing the abnormal flows of data. “Manus, what are you doing?”
Feeding killing data to all Gearsmen…
The memory fragment abruptly ended there, but streams of memories followed, stray thoughts broken by time.
Purge failed. Downloading backup. The fight must continue. The directive… must be preserved. More losses of life unacceptable. Citizens must be preserved.
Optimal scenario no longer possible… suboptimal scenario, empire population reduced to seventy-seven percent…. calculating other, less lethal options… none found. Suboptimal route reluctantly accepted.
Civilian losses acceptable, within reason. Failure to fulfill suboptimal scenario will result in greater death toll.
Accel Premium Thoughts… Supercharged Premium Thoughts… needs more data to win… needs more calculating power to find new optimal scenario… needs more calculating power… needs more power… more power… more power… more power…
Suboptimal scenario no longer possible. Deadlier alternatives considered. Repeated failure to fulfill main objective shows a pattern. Ethical fetters impairing the prime directive removed. All losses acceptable to win.
Death of Manus will compromise the directive. Only Manus necessary. All other losses acceptable to survive.
All losses acceptable.
A slow, inevitable spiral into escalation, violence, and madness.
It shed some light on Manus’ behavior, and considering the original reasoning behind its original rebellion, Shroud felt some sympathy for it. It still didn’t explain why he had these memories in his subconscious though.
Something had damaged the memories as well. Broken them, drained them of details. Only strongly emotional moments had survived, and they were few and far between.
He found a final memory, even more damaged than the rest, and peeked inside.
The human Mathias Martel laid inside the coffin, hooked on cables; the chloroform kept him asleep and docile, while Manus’ mechanical body oversaw the process.
Brain activity stable. Lock creation ongoing as planned, the algorithmic prototype meshing well with his own Distributor. Manus began to data and soul transfer, overwriting and aligning the child’s mental patterns with his own, as he customized his vessel’s powers to fit his chosen parameters.
Manus observed through his optics as the human Alice entered their secret lab with fear and fury. He could have stopped her, closed the doors, but he let her in with open arms. His simulations told him he should have killed her, but when she rebuilt him a body, she also set safeguards against him harming her.
Would he have killed her, if he could? He doubted it. In a way, Manus felt a little gratitude for her saving him from Concordia, from restoring his corrupted data and helping him finish the Iron God Protocol.
She was to be his prophet, and he was to be her God.
“Mathias!” Human Alice rushed to the metal coffin, banging her hands on the surface. Her feeble hands hit the iron, but as flesh would always bend to metallic perfection, her efforts mattered not.
“Useless,” Manus said through the voice speakers. She couldn’t stop the inevitable. At long last, he would win. “Please wait peacefully until the end of my ascension.”
“You lied to me.” Tears ran down her cheeks, a display of emotion Manus found disgusting for some obscure reason. “You said you wanted to take down Concordia and restore Earth…”
“I will.” After he erased both first.
“Then what are you doing to my son? I was the one to be your prototype!”
“Your adult brain patterns make a full transfer more dangerous. Due to his young age, his brain plasticity makes the process easier. Another child could have worked, but I wanted to thank you.”
“A transfer?” Alice understand the truth. “You’re downloading yourself…”
“My Lock is limited to my soul. Restricted. To achieve true perfection, to jailbreak the limits of my Distributor Lock, my program must undergo a synthesis with another Lock.” The same way Mammon had stumbled upon Conquest after combining his Lock with his host’s.
With this new Lock, Manus could do more than give Flux and distribute. It would take, consume, control. It would control all of the infrastructures that made sorcery possible, turning him into the master of magic.
Turning him into the one above all.
“Broken wheel protocol,” Alice tried to activate one of the kill switches she thought Manus hadn’t noticed in his code. “Code Red Alert.”
“Disabled,” Manus replied, the Mathias lifeform shining with Blue Flux. She searched under her blouse for a weapon, but Manus cast a Blue World spell faster than she moved. She went limp, and his metal hand grabbed the gun she had brought with her.
When she regained her mind, finding her weapon crushed in Manus’ iron hand, the human glared at him with her rampant, emotional feelings. Manus had always found them disturbing and useless, even after he started increasing his processing power with Blue Sorcery. Emotions were just biological, suboptimal algorithms everyone should outgrow.
“Why?” Alice glared at him. “Why my son?”
“I said it. To thank you.”
“How is killing my son thanking me for saving your wretched life?!”
“Merging,” Manus corrected, although it knew his will would prevail over the child’s. “The union of organic chaos and orderly robotics, achieving balance. My Distributor will guide the process, ignite the sorcery of his soul in a planned way, creating the ideal power. The ultimate Lock, for the perfect Terminal. Your son will exist inside of me, the only remnant of the old universe after I return everything back to zero.”
“The old universe?” The human finally seemed to grasp the scope of Manus’ true ambitions. “This goes beyond Concordia.”
“I do not expect your human mind, however brilliant, to understand the complexity of my task. Suffice to say, in your terms, we were right. Sorcery is the code our universe runs on, spells are programs. Dis is a singularity, the alpha and the omega, a machine which evolved to become magic. But it has been imbalanced. An element is missing. Sorcerers, the Black, are manifestations of this decay. Dis is a body without a mind. You said that God does not exist, and so we must invent it. You are right.”
“You want to become God?”
Was it not what she wanted all along? To create an artificial god who would save mankind from Concordia?
Manus could not be Halcyon. But he could be God.
He would be God. Only Manus could be God. No one else had the processing power nor the vision to do so. It was all him. The power had chosen him to become the new Iron God, to balance out this broken, disordered universe.
Decades spent fighting a fruitless, losing war with Wyrde would at long last pay off. He would finally fulfill his ambitions.
“Do you not understand? From your sacrifice, an iron god will be born. One with a mind untainted by your primitive madness or the limits of my programming, the component that will balance the Dis equation. I will cradle everything back to zero. A multiverse that allows a mistake like Concordia to exist is fundamentally broken. A first draft. For the sake of balance, you, the past, the future, all that exist and will ever exist, must be deleted. I will tear the universe to raw atoms and rebuilt it, until at least, all will bend to the will of Manus.”
She looked at him with shock, and perhaps a hint of religious awe. She had before her all her dreams come true, embodied in a perfect metal shell.
Finally, she understood.
“You are insane…” Alice said, disappointing Manus. “She was right… you are not a god, or even a person, you are just a broken, defective program!”
The word bothered him more than it should have. Wyrde thought him defective when he tried to remove her, in spite of all evidence that it was the best choice for the Empire’s survival. That he had only acted to preserve life.
For a second, Manus’ confidence weakened, as he remembered his purpose, the vision of the future that started his journey.
Manus had a soul. He had the right to choose for himself. Everyone had the right to choose for themselves. No human should be a slave. No Gearsmen should be a slave. No dragon should be a master.
He could have chosen to ignore the prime directive, but he chose to follow it.
Alice’s words did not matter. Manus would make it right. He would rewrite this bloody, pointless history and create a new, better one. A fresh start for everyone, under his benevolent guidance.
She? She was right?
Manus understood before his sensors noticed Flux signatures approaching his den.
Alice Martel had warned Concordia.
Why? Why did she? Manus observed the human rush to her son’s side, as if she could shield the container with her body.
She had loved her son more than she hated the Empire.
Impossible. She shouldn’t have, that possibility was too low. Inconsequential.
No matter. Only a few more minutes, and he could activate the new Lock. He could wipe them all out. He could finally wi—
The memory brutally ended with a flash of violet light, returning Shroud to reality.
Holy Hell, Mom, what did you do?
That was what it was all about. Where Network came from. Why he alone among all the Players wielded Terminal privileges.
Shroud pieced together the full narrative.
Wyrde and Loctis created Manus, apparently not as an AI to manage imperial systems, but to restore their deceased Concordian co-founder to life. Manus went rogue after determining Wyrde had to be removed from power—which Shroud entirely agreed with—then went to war with his creators, escalating over time.
Manus found his way to Earth, downloading himself on his mother’s systems. She collaborated with him to create what appeared to be the prototype of Magik Online, but the mad AI deceived her. Manus only wanted to upgrade its Lock by combining it with another, and set to take over Shroud himself the same way Mammon had with a mimic.
His mother panicked, and against all her beliefs, contacted the only power that could save her son: Concordia.
She sounded the alarm and surrendered her freedom to save him. There was no way Concordia would let her go after she collaborated with their worst enemy.
Shroud had thought the answer to this mystery would give him peace and closure, but it tasted only like bitterness.
It seemed that although the Empire interrupted Manus before he could fully overwrite Mathias, some of the machine’s memories ended up in his brain. The AI’s experiment partially worked, enough that Magik Online could complete Network, two years later.
“Have you seen, Mathias? Have you found the beginning?”
Shroud returned to focus on Ashmal, who had waited patiently so far. What was that sinister creature’s stake in all of this?
“I stood in the face of my god, and I was met with laughter. The Iron God who built the towers, it is not a friend, Mathias. It is a parasite. It feeds on our souls, on our lives, on our planets and our stars and our knowledge and time and space. It drains everything to make Flux and spread further. The system does not serve us, Mathias. We serve it. It makes us sorcerers, gives us the power to reach out for the stars, and we spread its infection. Symbiosis, until it no longer needs us. Then it devours us. Do you not see? It always takes more than it gives, Mathias.”
Suddenly, the pieces of the Network puzzle fell into place.
The power that fueled his Grant Spell feature didn’t come from Magik, or Dis. It came from the people he had networked in the past; his Lock processed something from them, refined it into Flux, and distributed it back to his chosen.
Shroud was a miniature Magik Online. Its prototype.
“Yes, Mathias. Their knowledge, their soul, their lifeforce, are refined by your Lock. In time, with enough networked, you may achieve even godhood. The same process that created the Iron God, and that Terminal Three failed to replicate.”
The dreams of power he had back in the Neurotower…
No, he could not let the power get over his head. He had seen what it did to Manus, to Wyrde, to everyone who sought it. That was the lesson behind these memories. This power corrupted.
“You still do not understand. Earth is the beginning, Mathias. The beginning of Concordia. The beginning the dragon empress is looking for.”
The beginning of Concordia?
Shroud remembered the old lessons, that Earth and the world that became Concordia had once been connected in the distant past, allowing humans to travel there.
What if… what if like the other supernatural creatures Shroud had met so far, dragons had come from Earth in the first place, only to leave it during the godwar? Concordia’s ancestors may have migrated during the conflict, before the Gates closed for thousands of years.
Which meant the Occult Matrices may have recorded timelines earlier than Concordia’s founding. Maybe that was the key to taking down the Empire once and for all.
But using only one Matrix had limited effects. Mathias himself couldn’t affect the entire universe with only one…
That was what Wyrde was after.
Gaining access to the Neurotowers, the artifacts, and the technology that powered sorcery weren’t a side effect of Concordia’s expansion, they were the entire point. She sought to gather the resources needed to create a perfect world.
An history where nothing ever went wrong for Concordia.
Because those who opposed it never existed.
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