How matrices and Neurotowers did Wyrde need to pull it off? How long did they have before she could pull it off?
“Months. Less. More.”
And Earth would be at the center of it all. The point where it all began. The original world of the Maleking, of Concordia. The first link of the chain of Matrices that would kickstart a grand reboot, bigger than anything Shroud himself could pull off.
Okay, okay. Okay. Think Shroud. Think about how to stop that. It’s just universal annihilation, no big deal, it happens all the time. Think.
“You can end this, Mathias. End this cycle, end the Maleking, end Concordia. End. End. End. This is the only choice that matters.”
The worst scenario Manus had foreseen… Black Flux spreading to the infrastructures that powered sorcery. Shroud guessed this was what caused the black hole in Antarctica. Except Ashmal wanted the same to happen on a universal scale.
To turn everyone into Pandorians. To turn all colors pitch black.
“Only Black can free us, Mathias. Whoever wins, the suffering will continue.”
That creature was deliberately showing him the bleakest picture possible, glossing over the good and leaving only the bad. It had given up on everything, on life, on the world, and it wanted Shroud to give up too.
“I was like you once. But that was a thousand years ago. Nothing changed. This is not despair, Mathias. This is compassion. You too will see. You will suffer, and you will see.”
Well, fuck nihilism.
Maybe Shroud was stubborn. Maybe he was a fool. But he wouldn’t just lay down and throw the towel. Ashmal had let the Black master him, the same way Manus and Wyrde let their power go to their heads.
Think, Shroud. If Wyrde has access to matrices, why hasn’t she successfully erased the Maleking yet? The answer was obvious.
Saves were lost after use, and if used in isolation, caused disasters like what happened at the Midnight Market. Maybe she could activate a few, in a chain of controlled destruction sort of way, but anything more would jeopardize her perfect, carefully planned future. Wyrde wanted a perfect sequence because she wouldn’t have a second shot at it.
Why were these damn matrices created in the first place?
Shut up. Why did he even need Shroud instead of doing it himself, if it was a Terminal?
“My access is limited, like the ghost of the Third. We are broken, fallen. You are not. Your access is greater, greater even than the Second and the Fourth.”
Yeah, right. Melusine still managed to hack his Lock.
“No. You only think you are. The Second deceived you. You are the Administrator. She only has as much power as you give her.”
Shroud pretty sure he wasn’t, but so far, the creature hadn’t lied, so he took it into account.
Pressed for time, he sent his memories, his thoughts, and findings through his link to Magik Online, hoping, praying, that the Administrator would receive it, see the cataclysm ahead, or send reinforcements.
After examining the old memories and piecing events together, Shroud had come to believe the Administrator had been built from the remains of Manus. But as Ashmal said, it was broken, limited. As a broken soul put back together, it could only do so much.
And Shroud guessed Ashmal wouldn’t help carry the message.
“Only the Black can make you free.”
No. Shroud could only rely on himself for this. He peeked back through his eyes and ears, finding the parasite discussing with the Dragonslayers on a tiny island, surrounded by endless seas.
The group was already in Oceanis. He didn’t have much time.
Shroud turned to the backdoor Aster had set in his mind, and to Melusine. That one could interfere with him anytime, so he would avoid her first. But no matter how he saw it, he had to take care of Aster first.
The Blue Minister had created a direct, powerful link to his victim’s mind, to his soul, the same way Shroud had created pathways with his Lock; in a way, his Maze wasn’t so different from Network. And Shroud’s Lock was all about manipulating connections.
Which meant that Shroud could strike back through the link. He could hijack the connection, get inside Aster’s mind, and then poison it from within. If he struck fast and subtly enough, he could put the Blue Minister out of commission and destroy the hold he had over Shroud’s mind.
That was risky. Aster would strike back if he noticed anything, the same way Yellow Sorcerers fought Shroud off. He would be fighting an expert of his own sorcery on its home field.
Shroud took a look at the connections to the Dragonslayers and decided they were worth every risk.
He had to be careful. But he had to do it.
Still, in case he failed, Shroud sent his memories and finding to Kari through their connection, hoping his most sensible ally would make sense out of them without acting rashly. He hated not knowing what would happen next, his lack of control.
Be good, Kari. Be good.
Shroud turned to Aster’s connection to his mind, sensing the Blue Minister didn’t pay it much attention yet. Secure in its effectiveness and with other responsibilities, he had stopped monitoring it directly after the end of the meeting.
Here goes nothing.
Shroud mentally focused on the link, his mind slipping through like an invisible killer crawling through an air vent, a program turning a backdoor into a two-way path.
Ashmal had called his Lock a virus. It occurred to Shroud that Manus had designed his Lock with that in mind; a virus that could hack into the greater infrastructures that powered sorcery, to subvert them. To subvert people.
Like a virus, Shroud was subtle, insidious, careful not to be seen. Soon he indeed managed to slip inside Aster’s subconscious.
Aster’s mind manifested to Shroud as the Minister’s mindscape, a desolate, sinister, empty space devoid of life nor emotion; but this time, Shroud had delved deeper, finding the mindscape filled with screens, databanks, and blue firewalls.
As they couldn’t stop Maze from affecting Shroud’s mind, neither did they stop Shroud’s Network. The sorcerer slipped through them as if they weren’t here, progressing through the mindscape as a shadowy, blue ghost of himself.
Aster, the conscious part of his mind, manifested as a bluish minotaur, observing dozens of screens at once, much like Shroud himself oversaw his network of allies. The Blue Minister hadn’t noticed the intrusion yet, and Shroud was careful not to make waves.
The Player found himself in the same situation as in his own body, an unwelcome passenger observing a blissfully unaware driver. Except, of course, Aster hadn’t walled his brain off the way he had safeguarded the parasite. He liked his brain too much to fragment it.
Shroud began to spread through Aster’s mind, finding it ‘large’ so to say. The Minister had pushed the boundaries of his sorcery, especially Accel Premium Thoughts, to the point his brain had become a sort of supercomputer, containing masses of data comparable to Concordia’s own UBs. Countless files about Concordian operations, a perfect replica of every imperial intelligence records, including hundreds of thousands of profiles, were gathered in an ordered mental library.
And hundreds, maybe thousands of Maze connections. Most of them dormant, others very much active.
Much to Shroud’s anger, as he scanned these connections, he received enough feedback to identify four of them: Samantha, and the whole Werner family. All of these connections dormant and inactive so far, but present…
And when he noticed the remains of a broken connection, whose remains reminded Shroud very much of his own father, it took him every ounce of willpower not to lash out.
It made sense that Aster subverted his close friends and family to keep a better eye on them, but the fact that he had planned to put Shroud’s loved ones, all of them innocents in the conflict, through that vicious mental violation disgusted him.
He didn’t find any connection to a mind like his mom’s through, nor any of the Dragonslayers. But Shroud couldn’t rule out Aster had turned other Players into moles.
After some spying, Shroud noticed Aster’s emotional centers, especially empathy and values, were very underdeveloped though. The bullman had modified his own brain, sacrificing his emotions, his fetters, for processing power and factual data. He was more of a soulless machine with its own judgment than a person.
In short, there was a gaping hole where the heart should have been. And voids could be filled.
In theory, Shroud could use the pathway to copy his own emotionally-charged memories in that void, his own rampant hatred of Concordia, the souvenirs of past tragedies; he could transfer his own values to Aster’s moral center, subverting him the same way he tried to subvert Mathias.
Because, if you had all of Shroud’s memories, all his values, all his pains, and sorrow… then you were Shroud.
It would be karma, and it would turn Aster into an invaluable boon to their war effort.
Now, that tactic deeply bothered the Player. He knew he was fighting fire with fire, brainwashing with brainwashing. He told himself this would be a one-time thing, that the situation was dire enough to justify crossing that line, even if it left a sour taste in his mouth.
The only other option was calling upon Ashmal and making a deal with the devil. Shroud was screwed either way, trapped in a no-win situation with lives on the line.
It’s for mom, he told himself. For mom and the others.
That would be the quickest way, the easy way. The road to Concordia.
Maybe the situation was extreme enough to justify it now, but a compromise would lead to another. It would become easier to convince himself he had no other option in the future, make abusing his sorcery more appealing. It would become easier to justify terrible choices to himself.
He had seen how that insidious slippery slope had corrupted Manus, twisted Concordia. And it frightened Shroud, who wasn’t arrogant enough to believe he could avoid falling into the same insidious trap.
No. Shroud wouldn’t resort to this, not unless he had exhausted every other option.
So, the sorcerer turned away from Aster’s emotional centers, focusing instead on subverting the body’s motor functions; first as a passive observer, then hopefully, gain control over them. Within minutes, Shroud had enough clout in Aster’s own brain to start seeing through the Minister’s eyes.
The Blue Minister’s body was hooked up to machinery in an underground, integrated to a secret base on a distant gas giant’s moon. The muscles had started to atrophy from lack of use, the Minister letting his flesh waste away while his mind wandered through the Empire’s technological infrastructures. He wasn’t a ghost in the machine yet, but he was on his way there.
As he gained more control, Shroud gained more access to these systems, starting with the base. it was a silent bunker without much life inside, only manned by drones, gearsmen, and the rare Mazed agents of Aster. Aster had holed himself within, careful not to let anyone see him in the flesh. In his drive to isolate himself inside a secure fortress, Aster had made unlikely anyone else could rescue him. Shroud gained access to the base’s coordinates, in case he could inform the Administrator.
He didn’t find any hint of a self-destruct system or something that could turn the base against Aster. The Minister had been careful to avoid any opportunity for sabotage.
Shroud then turned to the other files, trying to find anything else he could exploit, such as reports on Players on Earth. To his anger, he found most of them encrypted, protected behind codes even in the most secure parts of Aster’s mind. He should have expected a psychic sorcerer from encrypting parts of his own mind, just in case.
Still, maybe there was information of less immediate value to Aster. Information about people, instead of grand tactical movements.
Like Alice Martel.
He found it, a secret file less defended than the others. Shroud peeked inside, devouring the information within, finally finding where she had been for all these years…
… No way.
No way. It couldn’t… lies… He couldn’t believe… she couldn’t have… it wasn’t…
If it was true, then all he did… all Mathias did…
All for nothing…
A booming, alarm sound resonated in the mindscape, and Aster struck Shroud with a surge of Blue Flux.
The psychic attack felt like a sharp blade cutting off a part of his brain, wiping out almost every memory Shroud had of his time at the game company Dynamis. His coworkers became shadows, the games he worked on black spots.
He remembered Perse and Ulysses, but the name of their mother vanished, alongside her face, her voice, leaving only a black hole behind; the memories of their meeting and following interactions became locked behind a wall. In fact, he could barely remember his friends had a mother at all.
The attack had been indiscriminate, subpar—a cheap shot to throw Shroud off balance. But it had worked.
A trap. The file had been booby-trapped.
“Wrong meat. You have guts, Mathias, I will give you that.” The sheer coldness emanating from the psychic contact disturbed Shroud almost as much as Ashmal’s alien whispers; Aster’s mental avatar turned towards Shroud, the entire mindscape radiating with an atmosphere of hostility. The Blue Minister was pissed at the intrusion. “I did not expect such brazen infiltration of my mind, but this is as far as you go.”
Shroud attempted to retaliate by sending memories through the Network pathway, to damage Aster’s mindscape and memories; but Blue firewalls sprung from nowhere, isolating the attack and shielding the Minister’s important memories.
Unlike Mindshield, Network couldn’t pierce these mental defenses.
Using Maze on his own mind, Aster shielded his moral center first—expecting Shroud to use the same amoral strategy which he himself favored. The Minister’s overconfidence had been the main reason the Player had gotten that far, and it showed.
“Starseer can see all possible futures, meat. Nothing you do can surprise me.”
Not that far in time, or else Aster would have seen him coming in the first place. He could see minutes in the future at best.
Aster attempted to send signals through his Maze connections—probably to warn Melusine or other agents. Using his power over connections, Shroud interrupted the message, preventing the information from leaving Aster’s mind, but this only gave the Blue Minister more opportunities to use Maze again. The Minister forced Shroud to divide his attention on multiple fronts.
This time, the assault wiped out his fat—
Shroud blinked. What was the name of the husband of his mother? He knew he must have had one… No time to ponder it or Aster would destroy his mind piece by piece, eventually destroying the parts which kept him in the fight. Shroud needed more processing power, more mental energy…
“Useless.” This time, Aster stopped using the kids’ gloves and unleashed his full power at Shroud, overflooding his sight with data and blue light. A veil covered the Mindscape, distorting it into an illusory world.
Shroud was back in his apartment in Evermarsh, the walls painted red with the flesh and organs of what he suspected was his dead father—he couldn’t completely remember, whose remains lay on the sofa. Sol had hanged himself behind the windows, nails piercing his eyes, a centipede crawling out of his mouth.
Shroud couldn’t help but mentally struggle against the sight, and the brief surprise allowed Aster to send a mental message, probably to Melusine. Shit.
While Aster assaulted Shroud with these nightmarish sights, another psychic attack wiped out whole years of the human’s childhood, including anything between kindergarten and the Conquest. Shroud attempted to flee back through the pathway, but Aster caught him, held him, and kept ravaging him.
The Minister went farther with the emotional damage, showing him pictures of Ulysses hacking his own leg with a saw, of Perse’s flesh melting, revealing gray bones below.
“Please stop…” Shroud begged as Aster cut memories while pursuing this nightmarish mental violation. “Please… this is torture…”
“I will leave nothing this time,” Aster replied. He didn’t enjoy it, he didn’t dislike it. He did this to his victim with the same emotional weight as reading a newspaper. “Why could you not become a good citizen, Martel? This is your fault. You are brought this upon yourself. There is no point in this.”
Yes… if the file hadn’t lied… then it meant nothing…
But it was a trap, it could be false…
“It was all true, meat,” Aster beat him relentlessly, assaulting his mind with horrifying visions of worms eating Kari’s eyes and centipedes crawling out of her mouth. “There is no escape for you. Only betrayal against the glorious purpose she meant you to serve. Sleep now… and behave.”
While speaking, the Minister attempted to reassert control over his Maze’s connection to Shroud’s own mind, but the Player intercepted the mental messages before they could pass. The Minister brutally responded by showing him direct footage of the annihilation of New York during the Conquest, of humans shot to death by Gearsmen, of half-burnt corpses lying on the ground after an orbital bombardment.
Perfect reaction time, processing power that could rival a supercomputer… Aster’s strength was unmatched on the mental plane, stopping all of Shroud’s attempts to protect his sanity from the psychic assault, fighting on all fronts at once. Shroud had to distract Aster, to find a weak point. He tried the moral angle, to target whatever remained of the Minister’s conscience. “You genocidal bastard… how many people will you erase with a reboot?”
“You learned of State Zero,” Aster caught on, but his surprise didn’t halt his assault. In fact, he responded by erasing all of Shroud’s memories of whatever Player occupied the Orange spot on his team. “If only you could understand, meat, that this is for the best for you and your kind. You will prosper more in the new history.”
“I have seen Manus’ calculations,” Shroud replied, trying to withdraw, to run. “You will lose more people than you will gain! Where is the logic in that?”
“Quality trumps quantity,” Aster brushed him off. “The meat may die, but the Empire will last forever.”
He sounded like he believed it too. People were just numbers to Aster, who paid them no mind; he had disconnected so much from the world, he didn’t value life at all. Even his own citizens could die for all he cared, so long as his vision of a perfect Concordia triumphed.
No, morality wouldn’t work. Aster’s conscience was so underdeveloped it might as well be nonexistent.
The newest, nightmarish sight, that of his own dismembered mother, disturbed Shroud enough to bring him to his knees.
“Why are you fighting, Mathias?” Sol’s corpse talked to him, as did Kari’s. Except they were Aster’s words. “Why are you fighting?”
“Why did you kill me?” Smokefang’s beheaded head asked him, still smelling of… of… he couldn’t remember the word. “It won nothing.”
“Everything that you did, everything that you are, was part of my design,” Aster’s mental avatar grabbed his own by the throat, lifting him for all the ghosts of his friends and victims to see, “Your memories, your sense of self, they are all mine. They are illusions I crafted. The pain will go away, meat, but only if you submit.”
“Just give up,” countless voices sung at him, “Give up!”
At this point, Shroud had become little more than a husk hollowed from within. He could barely remember his experience at the midnight market, the time before darkness hidden behind blue, mental walls. His past was made of shadows, just like Manah’s palace.
A few more seconds and his sense of self would be gone. He wouldn’t have enough emotions left to want to fight anymore. It would be over.
It would be… it would be easier to just let it go, to sleep as Aster asked… he was alone, alone and powerless…
He wasn’t alone. He never was.
Shroud drew upon Network, upon the pathways he had created, the friends he had made. They had memories of him, just as he had memories of them. He could fill what Aster destroyed with what they had.
“What is this—” Aster stumbled back, as an overwhelming flood of memories invaded his mindscape, causing his nightmarish illusions to collapse.
Shroud pieced himself back together, the same way the Doppelgangers’ memories had brought him back from the brink. He remembered, and he was whole again. With the support of the pathways increasing his mental power, he managed to recover some ground, recovering as fast as Aster wiped out his memories.
He could draw into the people he connected with, from Perse and Ulysses to Magik, to the Dragonslayers. They were his strength, in all the ways that mattered. Shroud tapped in the connections, the speed of his thoughts increasing like a computer drawing into additional servers. He sensed Ashmal among them, lurking at the edge of the network, ready to pump him with Black Flux should Shroud ask for it.
He had the Blue Minister locked in a stalemate, the mental weight of hundreds of people matching Aster’s psychic strength. He couldn’t beat Aster, but he avoided being beaten.
But this wouldn’t last until Melusine shut off Network. He had to find a way, a chink in Aster’s armor.
Aster was a coward, deep down. A paranoid psychopath deeply resentful of emotions, of friendships, of emotional bonds; a spymaster looking for traitors in every corner, striking from afar and sacrificing others while he remained safe, away from the frontlines. Rather than mix with people, he had retreated inside a secret bunker on a faraway world.
When pushed in a corner, he would hide, isolate himself. To mend his wounds, recover, plan. The Maleking had said Hell was disconnection and loneliness. Aster thought isolation was strength, but it made him weak and alone. He disdained flesh and the real world, holding the mind sacrosanct.
That pristine perfectly ordered mind, the Minister cared about it over everything else. It was his fortress, his retreat, the one place where he felt safe. His anger at Shroud’s intrusion in this sanctuary proved it.
He had to make the battle emotional, make Aster lose his coolheadedness.
Shroud attempted to smash mental representations of the files, to try and destroy them, but mental firewalls created by Maze stopped him.
No way around it, then. He had to use the one power too dark and chaotic for Aster to foresee.
He drew upon his pathway to Ashmal, to Pandoria. He called upon Black Flux.
“If you do not master Black, Black will master you.”
But he didn’t let it take him over, or spread to his core essence, the same way he allowed his friends’ memories to reshape him. Instead, he directly spilled the blackness into Aster’s mindscape, like an oil tanker polluting the sea and its shores.
The effect was instantaneous and just as nightmarish as Aster’s cruel attempts at psychological warfare. A corrosive oil, the same that had leaked from Toshiyami’s corpse in the Midnight Market, spread around Shroud, eating through Maze’s mental protections.
“Meat, what have you done?!” Aster immediately attempted to isolate that growing corruption, before it could spread through his mindscape.
But at this point, his mind acting faster than Aster’s due to the extra power, Shroud focused back on the pathways. He drew not brainpower, but memories and signals, so many he felt his own mental strength strain under the transfer.
The Network signals downloaded into Aster’s mindscape like a torrent of chaos and confusion. Instead of an organized mental takeover, this attack was loud, chaotic, confusing. Pictures of Perse and Mathias kissing, of Kari and her uncle, of Mur’s alien world, began to displace Aster’s ordered mental library. A horde of emotionally-charged moments, slowing down Aster’s pristine, logical brain. Much like Yellow Sorcerers had fought him off in the past, Shroud overloaded his nemesis.
The sheer influx of information, too much for Aster’s mind to handle—too much for any mind to handle—slowed him down, allowing Black’s corruption to take hold. The blackness spread to Aster’s memories, to his files, and even started to reach his Maze’s connections to his agents.
“Too many signals…” Aster began to panic, “Must route… too much… too much…”
How many minds were needed to brain lag a Blue Sorcerer on Accel Premium Thoughts?
As it turned out, a lot.
If Aster could truly perceive multiple possible futures, seeing himself overloaded with information in more than one possibility, then it must have hurt even more. No nervous system, no matter how juiced on Blue Sorcery, could fully manage that; especially one who couldn’t handle emotions in the first place, and who was quickly corroded by Black Flux.
That was true what they said. Your network is your net worth.
At this point, the Black infestation threatened to corrupt all of Aster’s mind, and perhaps even his Lock. A fate worse than anything. “My Lock… cannot let…” Within seconds, Aster’s mental avatar hide himself behind a hermetic blue sphere.
As Shroud expected, when pushed, the Minister isolated himself from the world.
Mind firewalls. Aster had used Maze on his own brain to protect himself, briefly retreating behind them until he could sort out the signals and regain enough mental strength to fight off the black infection. It wouldn’t last long, but he must have disconnected from his future sight to reduce the information overload and avoid a total mental collapse.
Which left Aster blinded, for a brief moment.
Ever the opportunist, Shroud focused on taking over Aster’s motor functions. Aster had disdained them, protecting his mind and precious Lock first and foremost. His lack of respect for the physical world, even his own flesh, would be his undoing.
Shroud figured out a solution.
With some searching, Shroud quickly found a secret communication channel towards three Concordian fleets waiting in outer space; an armada of black ships ready to teleport and attack a target at any moment the Minister wished it.
You love turning allies against one another, killing from afar while you remain safe, Aster? Shroud thought while he used Aster’s body to open the communication channel, facing three dragon commanders on space bridges.
Time to have a taste of your own medicine.
“Teleport at once and open fire at these coordinates,” Shroud ordered through Aster’s mouth, giving them the location of the Minister’s sanctuary, “Destroy the base utterly.”
“Minister, this is a secure facility—”
“That is a direct order, and an imperial security emergency,” Shroud answered with Aster’s cold tone. “Behave.”
The commanders, too spooked, obeyed at once.
In a second, the base’s systems turned red in alarm, showing Shroud pictures of ships teleporting right above their head in a flash of violet light. In the base, a voice began to shout warning through loudspeakers. “Warning: unauthorized fleets detected. Orbital lasers aimed at the present location. Activating automated defenses—”
“Override!” Shroud replied through Aster’s mouth. “Drop all protections.”
“Warning: automated defenses overridden. Estimations: five minutes before fatal impact.”
His brief respite didn’t last long, however. Aster sorted out the information overload with Maze, moved to isolate the blackness behind mental walls, and probably reactivated his future sight.
The second he did, he dropped everything to try taking back control of his motor functions.
He could see his death coming.
Shroud held strong, even as Aster tried to maze him off. “Four minutes before impact. Warning: impact will result in ninety-three percent structural damage. Emergency teleportation-”
“Emergency teleportation overridden. Three minutes before—”
Then, like a devil coming to take away all of Shroud’s hopes, a blue avatar of Melusine appeared in the mindscape.
She froze at the sight of the darkness spreading around her, her eyes moving from Aster frantically trying to regain control, and Shroud firmly defending himself.
“Shut down Martel’s Lock, so I can call off the orbital bombardment,” Aster ordered, his tone sounding as if he expected her to obey at once. “Immediately.”
But surprisingly, she did none of this. She observed the battle, watched the Black spreading and looked at Shroud’s mental avatar without a word.
With no other option, and struggling against a part of him who hoped that file’s content was total bullshit, Shroud spoke to her directly.
“Mom,” he begged, “Do not do this. Please.”
Melusine said nothing, but he could sense her waver. Was the file true?
Aster, who could see far enough in the future to see what could come next, shook with shock and fury. He attempted to Maze her at once.
But she was faster. Without warning, all mental firewalls created by Aster’s Lock collapsed at once, and the Minister’s attack failed. She had hacked Aster’s Lock, the same way she did with Network; leaving Shroud’s connection open for him to exploit, but removing the Minister’s ability to fight back and use sorcery.
“Traitor!” For perhaps the first time ever, Aster felt pure, undiluted anger at this brazen betrayal. Without his main defense, the Black quickly spread through the entire mindscape, turning it from a pristine void into an oily sea. “I spared you!”
Melusine answered with two short words, “Goodbye Aster.” Then she vanished out of the mindscape, leaving her former boss to die.
In the real world, the monitors sent out another warning, “Two minutes before impact.”
At this point, Shroud knew he had won, although he didn’t give Aster any opening. It should have felt like a triumph, but the scene had filled him with bitterness and a sense of futility.
“Martel meat, open your eyes!” Aster called him out, after a final, fruitless attempt to regain control of his body. But without his sorcery, he was nothing. “Who else but we are more worthy to guide the world? Who wants peace more than us?”
“Everyone else,” Shroud replied, as he could see the ships’ cannons lit up on monitors, “Hey, Aster? How many humans does it take to cause an orbital bombardment?”
“One minute before—”
“She did this to you, meat!” Having fatally underestimated emotional bonds, he was scraping the bottom of the barrel. “You are betraying the side you were meant to serve!”
The ships fired crimson beams of death upon the secret base, the rain of destruction that Concordia once unleashed on Earth. The Blue Minister attempted one last-ditch effort to save his own life, to use the connection to Shroud’s own mind to download himself within the same way Manus once tried. But with the Black having almost entirely consumed him and Melusine interfered with his Lock, the Player blocked him easily.
In the end, the future was written.
Finding no possible fate where he lived, the Minister did the logical thing.
He gave up. “It doesn’t matter, Martel,” the Blue Minister said, and he believed it. “The work will go on.”
Aster’s mindscape collapsed into nothingness with a flash of bright light, and Shroud’s world faded away.
Voting for Magik: Voting button
Pretty much one of the hardest chapters I wrote. Representing a purely mental/psychic battle over control of someone’s body is… hard.
Guess who are the best of the best at mental support? My patrons on Patreon of course! A great many thanks to Enaz the Great, Evan Cloud, Alex Pruitt, Saul Kurzman, Dex, Warwick Robertson, BlissForgotten, Johnathan, Marc Claude Louis Durand, Drekin, Bald Guy Dennis, Floodtalon, Dax, Karolus, and Daniel Zogbi.