- Spellbind Prison; Electon, Concordian Systems, January 3rd
“Fire and flames.”
They occupied his dreams, the one place where he could still think for himself. Flames which burned stronger than the brightest star, a fire that consumed flesh and stone and steel alike. The heart of a furnace turning souls to ashes, power incarnate with ionized breathe. He imagined himself as the fire itself, consuming Earth, Concordia, all life everywhere; harnessing their souls and life to increase his heat, until he had consumed everything, leaving only a quiet, silent world. A dead universe where he alone would shine in the dark; where he would have peace at last.
Candlemaker Jack wanted to become a star dearly. That was his one, sincerest wish. A simple desire; to become power absolute, with none to infringe on his freedom to do as he pleased.
“You answered the same during our last session,” the voice coming from the camera above him reproached. He had never seen the Blue Sorcerer behind it—he only knew its codename, ‘Friend,’ and its role. For all Jack knew, it could be more than one person, switching places while hiding behind a digitized voice.
“Can’t change who I am,” Jack replied, with gleeful pride, sitting in a corner with his back against the metal wall of the cell. He disdained the one furniture granted to him, a bed, since he never slept. “You don’t doubt or fear when you’re self-aware.”
“And who are you? Nothing?”
“Nothing.” The voice sounded vaguely amused, smug. It reminded Jack of Matt’s, arrogant and judgmental. Blues were all the same, proud to the bone. “A beast trapped in a cage.”
But a beast still, Jack thought, glared at the tiny mousehole keeping him trapped. A room of metal walls without privacy, which drained his Flux; of the raw universal energies which he needed to become fire itself. It all sent it to the Neurotower, which they then harnessed back.
The infernoid felt like he was asphyxiating in those frail, weak human bones of his. Every second spent in this old skin was torture. He had torn away his humanity like a snake with his skin, allowing his true self to emerge… only for the Concordian to send him back into his old husk.
He had only two doors out. The forcefield keeping his room separated from a corridor full of them, and watched over by Gearsmen and the occasional armored soldier; and a reinforced glass window towards the desolate, lightning-stricken wasteland outside. An endless, electric storm covered the planet of Electon, and wiped out all life on it eons ago.
So the Concordians decided to make it a prison, for the one kind of creature that they feared and loved in equal measure: sorcerers.
“Candlemaker Jack,” Jack snarled. He had burned his father, and had he had more luck, he would have done the same to his sister. Family tied him down, kept him away from achieving freedom. Only by cutting all ties, by becoming alone, could absolute power be gained. So his benefactor spoke.
“Jack Powells,” the voice insisted. “You have been transferred here for months, yet you show no progress in rehabilitating. Your denial of the standard curing procedures is ashaming.”
“You mean you couldn’t brainwash me into one of your dogs?” Jack laughed, glancing through the forcefield to look at the cell in front of his; a monstrous, crab-like beast had been held there long before he did, its mind too alien for Concordian to rewire.
That was what this wing of the prison was for: the desperate, dangerous cases. The monsters who couldn’t be brainwashed nor reformed. The horrors, the mad, and the misfits. Monsters that the scalies could only use as living power batteries, and not even that safely.
“Anyone can be made into a good citizen with enough time, Jack.”
That was what their Aster said. Where did that lead him?
Ah, yes, getting smoked by Matt.
“I don’t want to be a citizen of anything,” Jack replied. “If it were for me, there wouldn’t be any society to be a citizen of. Everyone is better off alone on their own.”
“You follow the Maleking,” the voice replied. “You can still feel loyalty to a higher authority. Why the fiend, and not our Grandmaster?”
“I think you’re mistaking sharing goals with loyalty.”
“Yet where did that led you? To defeat at the hands of a rebel, and a cell.”
The sorcerer bristled at the mention of his defeat, which may have been the objective. They loved to needle him about it, to try to direct his wrath toward their enemies.
But he had an answer, which annoyed them just as much.
“It led me to God.”
“You mentioned this in your previous interviews. That you had a divine revelation when you awakened as a sorcerer. Do you mean the Monotheistic God followed by your firman religions? Tell me, Jack.”
Jack snickered. They couldn’t understand. They couldn’t accept the cruel truth of this world, which he glimpsed when the fiend ignited the fire of his soul. “No. The Iron God above this one. The one true God, the One Above All. He isn’t the merciful kind priests preached to me, oh no. He’s the apex predator of the universe. We’re all food and toys to him.”
“Sounded like a guy when he spoke to me.”
“Do you identify the divine as masculine? Is that what you cannot recognize the Grandmaster as a worthy authority figure?”
“You think this is what it is all about?” Jack laughed. “Don’t care. I don’t care. God sounded like a guy when he spoke to me, nothing else.”
“What did this ‘God’ say to you?”
“He told me my purpose, no, the purpose of everyone. To be toys or food. Only the special few can become more.”
“Like you?” the voice sounded amused.
“Like me,” Jack replied. “I can become like him. That’s what my Lock is for. Ascension.”
“You’re all fuel for the fire, you know, ‘Friend’?” Jack taunted the official. “Your souls, your memories, your everything. They’re just fuel for the fire of my soul, so I can ignite it and become a star. The core of a new universe.”
“Jack, Red Sorcerers which escalate often try to associate themselves with elemental forces; perhaps subconsciously, they want to transcend their flesh to become the living energy they serve as a conduit for. Your delusions about this ‘God’ are nothing but the influence of your sorcery on your mind. That your psychosis remains ingrained in your mind after we removed your powers tells more about your insufficiencies as a person than anything else.”
“Joke’s on you,” Jack replied. “You’re in a prison just as much as I am, but you can’t see the walls. Death is no release, pal. Even if you escape Dis, you will never escape Dis. There’s only one way out.”
“The same way you defeat your fear,” Jack replied. “You become fear itself. Can’t beat them, join them. That’s my purpose. To become fear. To become God.”
“So, in this raving psychosis of yours, ‘God’ offered you to make you his equal?”
“Sort of,” Jack replied. “I’ve got to kill the other heirs first. Especially his favorite. It’s all part of the game, see which one is worthy.”
“The other heirs?”
“There can only be one,” Jack replied with bloodlust. “There will only be one.”
It would be him. Even if he had to slaughter his way across the cosmos to get Matt and the others, extinguishing one life at a time, in the end, he would be alone. Alone, without his sister, without his father, without these scalies, humans, these others forcing him to bend to their expectations, because he would have burned everything where to fit in.
Alone, in a quiet, ashen world.
“My sweet Jack.”
Candlemaker Jack made no outward sign he had heard the dark voice of his benefactor, as the shadow of the lamb appeared at the edge of his vision. He had invited Hell in his soul, and not even Concordia could keep it out.
“It is time.”
He would fulfill his role, and pay back his last debt.
Jack remembered as he got back on his feet. How he ended up there; how Matt beat him. How the Maleking encouraged him to do as he wished and take a shot at his rival for the throne, yet planned for his failure still.
The Maleking didn’t stake everything on one outcome. He was too smart for that. His plans were small-scaled, but every outcome benefitted him in some way.
Like getting an infernoid in a prison populated by monsters hostile to Concordia.
Jack closed his eyes, focusing on the well of power connecting him to the great infrastructure of Dis. To his Lock, Crimson Echoes, the furnace of the iron world; the great star which pulled souls and lives in its orbit, so it makes fuel out of them.
That was the truth of the Locks. Each were gears in the great machine, redundant systems and pawns of the system. They each served a purpose, from drawing in the knowledge of consumed souls to creating life whose death would fulfill the One Above All’s hunger.
They had stolen the fuel of his soul, but the system’s hold on him ran deeper. Much deeper. His soul was one with something bigger than himself, granted a mission, and privileges.
He could ‘see’ the currents of energy which flowed through Dis, the Flux harnessed by Neurotowers and then distributed back. Through his Lock, Jack’s sight expanded, until he observed the tower linked to his wing of the prison.
He sent a demand for a shutdown, and the One Above All agreed.
In one instant, the flux-draining machinery keeping him human failed, their main generator closing its circuits to Concordia. The alarm rang, and he heard Gearsmen rushing towards his wing.
Jack opened his eyes at them, now on fire.
His flesh ignited, and he set the world ablaze.
- Grand Canyon, Worldshaker excavation, Terra Firma, January 15th.
Nothing beat the smell of burnt flesh in the morning.
So Jack thought, as he strode through the battlefield like a living hurricane, devastating everything in his path. His flames melted Gearsmen and plants before they could hit him; they couldn’t consume the Arcadian Reavers fighting at his side, much to his chagrin.
He could tell when his spells killed. Every time his magic claimed a life, he felt a rush of newfound energy surge through his bones, their flux harnessed by his lock and transferred to him. Each death increased his power, strengthened his Lock, perfected the furnace of his soul, got him closer to casting off this mortal shell and grow into something bigger. He had grown addicted to this feeling of getting stronger.
He wondered if the other candidates felt the same when they became closer to godhood. He knew the Grandmaster was White, the others Blue, and the fallen Black; nothing like the vibrant and fiery Red. Knowing the Blue, they probably got their high from listening to their own voice.
Soon, maybe he would kill enough to get the power to ignite the atmosphere; to turn this whole mudball into an ashball just by existing. The thought of all these souls rushing through his Lock at once filled him with cruel glee.
Jack moved towards the open mine, exploiting the rampant chaos to make a rush at it. The Malebranche and the rebels kept the Concordians busy, blissfully unaware of what Jack intended to do.
Well, not all of them.
Three Orange Sorcerers in power armor intercepted him, manipulating the stone beneath him to form a prison. They intended to trap him below tons of dirt, the same way Matt defeated him last time.
But he had grown stronger since.
The Red Spell activated, turning his flames green, his touch into a blight upon the land. His body emitted supernatural, radioactive energies in a bright green flash, vaporizing both the prison and the sorcerers trying to keep him in. The blast, empowered by his Lock, pierced through their armor, searing the flesh from their bones.
Jack could have vaporized the whole canyon like Hiroshima, and nothing would have pleased him more, but he might have woken up his target before he could take it over.
He hadn’t yet mastered his sorcery either. His Lock provided him power, and intuitive knowledge of energy itself, but the fiend still had to get the hang of each new trick.
Having broken through the defensive line, Jack came into sight of the open mine, blasting apart one of the drilling machines in its way. Alone for a few precious seconds, he stood at the edge of the stone pit and stared into the abyss.
Deep below, he could see the tip of an immense arm of black metal, bigger and better than the giant Gearsman which shot down his ship. A weapon meant to destroy worlds, waiting for the oncoming Armageddon.
There it was.
The iron shell to house his immortal soul, once he had burnt off the husk he wore. The cocoon from which he would enter as a larva, to emerge as an iron god, with gears drenched in the blood of billions.
His Lock could interface with it, the same way Matt could. That was why his competitor had rushed to this place; Jack was sure of it. Whether consciously or not, he had heard the call of his Lock bring him there, so he could take the next step towards ascension.
Jack had felt Network’s hold over some of his victims, Matt watching through their eyes. His sorcery was the opposite of the fiend’s Lock in many ways: a seed which grew by fostering and directing life, rather than extinguishing it. Power born of creating connections, rather than severing them. They were bound to be enemies.
He wouldn’t let Martel win again. Ever.
The bullet hit him in the skull from behind, making him shamble. He almost fell into the pit but caught himself before he did.
“That was a warning shot,” her voice came up from behind, “Don’t you dare move.”
“Sis,” Jack replied, not bothering to turn around. “A bullet in the head isn’t a warning shot.”
“Next one will hurt.”
“Do we have to hurt one another?” Jack taunted her. “We’re brother and sister after all.”
“Wasn’t it the whole point of setting up that meeting.”
“Touché.” There were dozens of Worldshakers slumbering on Earth, but he had chosen this place the second the Maleking informed him the two people he hated most were near. “I still don’t get why you didn’t shoot to kill. Didn’t take you for a sentimental girl.”
“I ain’t. I want answers.”
Jack turned his head, looking at his sister sideways. She carried two guns and wore some kind of stupid Halloween costume, hiding behind a skull mask. Or maybe that was her real face, just as her brother’s human visage had been nothing but a veneer for the blazing inferno beneath.
“Don’t move.” Lil’ Maggie threatened him with her weapons as if they could do anything. She may have become a sorcerer, of his color no less, but she wasn’t one of the chosen. She didn’t matter. “Don’t you dare fucking move.”
How could she survive so close to him? Must have been that Green Adaptator Spell. He had heard it allowed the caster to protect themselves from nefarious environments, heat and passive radiations included.
She wouldn’t survive an offensive spell of his, but she had aroused his curiosity. “Answers on what?”
“Why?” Maggie asked, “Why the fuck, Jack? Why have you been after me since the day I was fucking born?!”
“You exist,” Jack taunted her. “Isn’t it enough, sis?”
“Nope, or else you wouldn’t be so fixated on offing me,” she replied. “There’s something deeper. I want to know why before I blow your brains out.”
“Big talk for a crybaby who lived too long.”
“Answer the question, asshole.”
Jack knew he should kill her and be done with it… but she was right. All the feelings he had bottled up for years came at the forefront and exploded.
“I did it because I hate you.”
The sheer venom in Jack’s voice made her wince.
“Do you know how tiring it is to lie to yourself and everyone all the time? To force yourself to smile, because that’s what is expected of you? To go through daily motions like some puppet, because deep down, there’s nothing?”
He remembered these long, tiring years of emptiness, sleepwalking through life.
“All my life, I’ve known nothing of joy,” Jack ranted, his flames turning blue while answering his emotions. “I kept smiling while screaming inside. My whole life, people kept me prisoner. Dad made me his heir and the tool of his friend’s little cult; I dated Sam because it was expected. I did nothing of my own free-will because society wouldn’t accept me for who I truly was.”
“A monster?” She spat it out with disgust. “You’re angry at society for not letting you be a monster?”
“You say that because it was easy for you to fit in,” Jack replied with the same tone, “Looking you… being so happy with Sam, and Perse… not looking happy, being… it was torture. It all came to you so easily, these ‘connections.’ They disgusted me… yet I also envied them, somewhat. I wanted them. I did everything I could to get them, online or in person. It never worked. It never clicked. I was born without.”
His sister’s hold on her guns wavered a bit. Fear? No. Pity? Did she pity him? The thought infuriated him.
“But then, when the flames of my better half purified me, I realized I didn’t need others to be happy,” Jack replied, raising his hand and looking at the flames within. “The secret of happiness is accepting for you are, and living for yourself. This… this face?”
He pointed at his fiery visage. “This is the real me. Not Jack Powells, not the police chief’s son, not the Malebranche’s henchman nor Miss Perfect’s boyfriend. That’s me. I don’t need anyone else’s approval to be happy. I don’t need anyone. I don’t want to be human anymore. I’m finally free.”
A stray spell hit the pit behind him, causing some rubble to fall on the Worldshaker.
“Every moment during which you breathe devalues me… prevents me from being free of my past, of this cursed life of torment I left behind,” the fiend said, finally deciding to cut through the chitchat. “So just fall over and DIE!”
He blasted her with a sea of blue flames, waiting for the screams.
They never came.
“That was your reason?”
Much to Jack’s surprise, she walked out of the fire, unharmed. His flames licked her body without harming her at all, and she aimed both her guns at his face.
“You’re such a disappointment, Jack.”
Two bullets hit his skull right in the forehead.
This time, it hurt.
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