Perse planted the parasol in the sand, like a conqueror planted a flag. “Here!”
“Nice spot,” Mathias commented, carrying a bag and towels; Maggie, Kari, and Samantha joined him in putting their belongings next to Perse’s. The warm wind brushed against his face, while the sea shined a azure hue in the bright daylight.
“Finally!” Ulysses shouted in freedom, happy to throw his load on the sand at last. Before his sister could complain about his carelessness, he removed his shirt, leaving him only in boxer like swimming trunks. Soon afterward, he bolted towards the ocean like an arrow. “First to the sea!”
“Oh no you don’t!” Mathias laughed, leaving his beach items aside and removing his own shirt.
“Matt, wait—” Perse complained, although he had already jumped after Ulysses. Running in the sand like a madman, he caught up to his friend, went past him, leaped over a kid’s sandcastle, and finally took a dive in the sea.
It feels so good, Mathias thought, as he dived underneath the perfectly warm water, letting go of the tension and stress he had accumulated over the past month. After a full half a minute underwater, he emerged from the waves like a dolphin, before letting himself float on his limbs which were spread out like a starfish.
“Hey, Darth Matt, since when did you started getting halfway in shape?” Ulysses swam next to him, sore about the loss. He usually bested his best friend at any physical contest. “I’m starting to see muscles.”
“Did seeing my shirtless body make you gay for me?” Mathias taunted him.
“Meh, six out of ten. Didn’t think you harbored those thoughts for me, though. You’re making me all sweaty inside.”
“Isn’t sweat outside the body?”
“Don’t look down on my uniqueness.” Ulysses turned to look at the beach. “Here comes the eye candy.”
Mathias raised his head to look at the three girls, and he had to admit he enjoyed the sight. Samantha was dashing in a white one-piece, which gave her the look like an swimmer from the Concordian Olympics; while Perse had elected for a red bikini to complement her hair, revealing a lot more and flaunting her body. Maggie’s black wetsuit, while not as revealing as the two others’ attire, didn’t hide her muscular, toned up curves. Only Kari had elected to remain with their stuff, reading a book.
The sight made the blood rush to Mathias’ head, enough for him to put back his head against the waves and hide it.
“That’s for leaving us to set up the camp, gentlemen.” Perse splashed at the boys with a bemused expression, as she joined them in the water. “Surprise attack!”
“You’re an immature, childish creature,” Ulysses replied with his usual monotony. Samantha smiled at his misfortune, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I am so disappointed, you should feel ashamed of yourself.”
Perse just splashed at his face again, Ulysses putting his hand on his chest as if wounded deeply. What a drama queen.
“Hey, Matt,” Samantha said, swimming right next to him. “Have you been exercising?”
“I’ve been jogging.” The training sessions in the swamps had done wonders for his physical shape.
“Nice. Very nice.” The way she looked at him reminded him of a merchant appraising an interesting ware. “Just the right body-type.”
“I prefer muscular guys,” Maggie replied, sending a glare to Ulysses as if to silently complain. “The strong, silent type.”
“Maybe one day you can beat Ulysses into shape.”
Maggie replied with a not-so-elegant grunt before diving beneath the waves, leaving the group to their devices. “You’re different, Matt,” Samantha commented, “You’re… more confident? Beforehand you looked too shy to speak to people outside Perse and her brother.”
And here they were, having a beach trip together. “My personal life improved recently, so it helped.”
Samantha’s smile vanished from her face. “Good for you,” she said, her previous warmth gone.
Mathias cursed himself for his insensitivity. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she replied with the tone that implied otherwise. Her eyes shifted to Perse and Ulysses, who had had become engaged in a ferocious, epic water battle. “I’m holding up.”
“Okay,” he said. “If I can do anything…”
“Thank you.” She let out a sigh, forcing a smile onto her face. “Dad made a slew of bad decisions, and chose unwise friends. I like to believe I improved on that front.”
Even after death, she wouldn’t escape her father’s shadow. “What comes next?” he asked her. As she wasn’t yet eighteen and thus an adult in the empire’s eyes, Samantha might end up under state custody.
“The Yellow Ministry offered me to become a cultural liaison official in Rome, so—”
Without warning, two hands seized Mathias by the feet and dragged him underwater. He almost cast a spell on reflex, blowing his cover, only to find himself facing Perse underwater. He could see her struggling not to laugh.
This meant war!
Mathias responded by grabbing her by the waist, dragging her deeper underwater. His surprised girlfriend responded by tickling him, causing him to lose his breath. He immediately rose back to the surface, catching his breath.
“I won,” Perse laughed, as her head emerged from the waves.
“For now,” Mathias replied.
“I will take you on whenever you want.” Perse put her arms around his shoulders. Samantha observed the scene with a blank, undecipherable stare. “Want to join Maggie farther down? I heard they reintroduced coral in the bay.”
“Just admit you want to drown me,” Mathias teased her.
“Wouldn’t that be romantic?”
“Are you two…” Samantha trailed off, seemingly torn between joy and disappointment.
“Since last week,” Perse chirped. “Mathias is still a bit on the fence, though.”
“I just said we should take it slow,” he countered. While Perse had been very enthusiastic, Mathias’ own troubled situation made him doubtful of the whole ‘dating his best friend’ plan.
Not that the game designer wouldn’t give it an honest try.
As Ulysses challenged Perse for a rematch, with Maggie and Sam joining them as back-up, Mathias left them to swim back to the shore, joining Kari.
His fellow sorcerer kept her focus entirely on her book, Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. “You aren’t going to swim?” Mathias asked her as he sat on his towel to watch the sea.
“I don’t like water,” she admitted. “It gives me bad dreams.”
— The storm raged over the Pacific, the waves crashing against the reefs. The ocean called her; the thunder beckoned. A primal force sang for her, invited her to dive beneath the waves. Yet she knew that if she did, she would never return to shore. —
“Sorry,” Mathias apologized with complete sincerity. “It’s like stopping myself from breathing. A moment of inattention is enough.”
“You must learn self-mastery,” Kari replied as she closed her book. “I have a new Side Quest.”
“Need help? What is it about?”
“I will need to leave Evermarsh for it,” she replied without giving him more information.
Before the young man could push farther, a new message appeared on his Orpheon account. Albeit somewhat reluctantly since they were on vacation, Mathias took a look.
Side Quest: One for All
Difficulty: Dot Three
A good team leader puts his men first, for his strength is that of the group. One rises only by lifting others up. Help Yoshikage fulfill her side quest.
Rewards: Network Upgrade (1/3).
So the Quest was linked to someone else’s own goals? Interesting. The one out of three part raised his interest though. It seemed the threshold for power-ups increased with time.
And that Dot Three rating? Even the deadly artifact mission had been of lower difficulty. “Where do you need to go? I can go with you.”
“Later,” Kari said, rising to her feet and walking along the shore. Mathias watched her go, unable to do anything but wonder about the mysteries surrounding her.
“You sure know how to talk to girls, stud,” Ulysses commented, joining his friend under the umbrella. From his grouchy look, he must have lost the water battle. “First my sis and trophy wife-in-training, now the Japanese girl… you’re getting awfully buddy buddy with a lot of girls. While as a man I would advise to do the irresponsible thing, as a brother I must warn you not to make the stupid choice, Stupid.”
“You’re overly mean to Samantha, Ulysses. She just lost her dad.”
“What, the trophy wife? Girl’s got a long way ahead to improve, and what happened with her dad didn’t change shit. It’s not about you, you know? It’s about appearances. About showing off boys like a hunting trophy, like she did with Jack.”
“And what about Maggie?” Mathias nudged him. “You’re still seeing her.”
“Not for long. The more I stay with her, the less I like her. She’s not right in the head. And I’m not right in the head, so that makes it double wrong. Besides, she’s starting to get a bit too obsessed with you, it will not end well.”
Mathias laughed. “Does she?”
“Not you, you.” Ulysses stared at him dead in the eyes. “The you you’re hiding from us.”
It took Mathias all his willpower to keep a blank face, holding Ulysses’ gaze. “I don’t understand.”
“Matt, I’m your best friend, the Vader to your Palpatine. You don’t have to hide your evil secrets from me.”
“I still don’t understand,” Mathias held on to his lie.
“Do you want me to spell it out? I know you were at the chemical plant that night, Matt, and that you took part in whatever clusterfuck happened.”
Mathias kept staring at him, his mind furiously racing to find a counter-argument. Eventually, however, he knew Ulysses would catch his lie as easily as before. “Did Maggie tell you?”
“No. I guessed on my own.”
“How? I remembered you vanished from the party soon before, and that you had been acting strangely for days before. I’m sent into custody along with Maggie, and when we get out she keeps asking me questions on you when she could barely remember your name before. I put it all together and it clicked.”
Mathias let the information sink in his mind. “Why didn’t you confront me beforehand?”
“Because I thought you would confess, because we’re friends. Because you could trust me.”
The cutting tone wounded Mathias deeply. “I have been forbidden to reveal details,” the sorcerer replied. “The fact you guessed makes it a very gray area.”
“Forbidden by who?”
Ulysses narrowed his eyes in suspicion. The more he heard, the less he liked it. “You’re into some deep shady shit, aren’t you, Matt?”
“Do you really want to know?” His best friend nodded deeply. Mathias glanced around, the others too far away to listen. “I’m magic.”
“Gandalf magic or creepy Lovecraft magic?”
“More like Magic: the Gathering magic. There are rules behind it that I figure out over time. I can’t tell you more on the pain of death.” Him guessing who he was already put them both in jeopardy.
“Shady deal with the devil magic, then. Wonderful. And the chemical plant fiasco?”
“Brown Sr. tried to summon a demon of some kind by sacrificing Maggie. I saved her life.”
“And the reason you didn’t tell the authorities…?”
“Because I’m planning to overthrow them.”
Ulysses shook his head. “Why?”
“Why didn’t I tell you? I was forbidden, I told you— ”
“No. Why? Why the hell? How could you ever possibly think becoming a criminal mastermind was a good idea?”
“When Mom died,” Mathias replied icily “I thought of all people you would understand. You know me better than anyone.”
“Apparently not. And that’s not an excuse. Dad left us for who knows where too, but I learned to live with it and make the best out of my life. You should do the same.”
“Moscow. Washington. London. Beijing. The Mecca. All of Russia and the whole Middle East!” Eyes turned at them as his tone kept rising. “How many other countries did they wipe off the map?! How many people do they arrest and kill every day? We can’t let them convince us this is normal, Ulysses. Someone has to do something.”
“That’s what you want to be remembered as? A terrorist—”
“A freedom fighter,” he cut his friend off.
“A terrorist fighting for a lost cause? You think people will rise up, inspired by your example?” Ulysses shook his head. “They won’t, Matt.”
“They can’t.” He pointed a finger at the skies, at the pale red moon in the azure sky. “Mankind has lost. We lost.”
“Not until we give up.”
“The world gave up, Matt. People don’t want to risk their life or spend their existence on the run. They want safety and peace of mind. They want the free home, the universal healthcare, and the cheap holo-tv programs. What do you think will happen if you take that turn? I will tell you what will happen.
“They’re going to take you down, Matt. Hard. And if they can’t catch you, then they will escalate the fight. Instead of trying to arrest you, they will try to shoot you. Then they will shoot anyone who gets in the way. It’s a vicious cycle, and it has to stop somewhere.”
“It will stop somewhere,” Shroud replied. “When either Concordia or I are gone.”
“Do what you want with your life, buddy,” Ulysses replied with surprising coldness, looking at his sister, “But don’t involve Perse in this. What do you think they will do to her when they learn what you are? Offer her coffee? Or your dad for the matter?”
Mathias clenched his fists. “They’ll never know.” His tone was weak; deep down, even he didn’t believe it.
“If I could guess, they will. Deep down, you know I’m right. If you were a lone wolf hiding in the swamps, if you didn’t have anyone, then I could understand. Not endorse this, no, but I could understand. But you aren’t alone. That’s the trick, Matt. You hide in plain sight, among school kids, among friends and family. That’s what I’m angry about. You turned us into your shields, and one day someone is going to take a bullet for you.”
Matt was at loss of words as Ulysses kept going. Never before had he seen his friend so angry, so disappointed, and brimming with fury.
“How do you think my sister will feel when you’re going to get caught, or worse?” Ulysses paused. “How do you think I will feel when they catch you? When I turn on the news, and see your bullet-ridden corpse on the front page?”
“Unless you get to me first,” Mathias tried to joke, defuse the situation. His words sounded awkward, forced, and unconvincing.
“Maybe I should, you selfish prick.” His best friend gave him a glare that was both saddening and judgmental. “I think you want to die, deep down. Something broke inside of you when your mom vanished, and it never healed.”
“Don’t try to psychoanalyzing me, Ulysses. You’re stepping on dangerous ground here.”
“Why would you throw away your life, and that of others, unless you don’t respect life in the first place?”
Mathias almost blurted out a retort, but the comeback died in his throat.
“Matt, do you even value what you have? My sister likes you, you’ve got a loving father, you’ve got a bright life, and you’re smart enough to create life from raw data. You’ve got all that talent, that magic ticket, and you’re…” Ulysses struggled to find his words, his voice dying in his throat before bursting out. “You’re throwing it away! You’ll die and drag everyone else down with you first!”
The sorcerer faltered at the rant, and the tears at the edge of Ulysses’ eyes. The sight shook him more than Kresnik’s counterspell ever could. “Ulysses—”
“Shut up. I’m not in the mood to hear you rationalize your behavior.” Ulysses wiped the tears off his eyes. “Just shut up.”
He did. They spent the next minutes in uncomfortable silence, just watching the sea.
“What happened with Ulysses?” Perse asked, putting her head against his shoulder. It felt so odd, her being so close to his skin. “I can sense a five degree loss whenever I’m between you two.”
“We argued.” The others had left to get ice creams, or find a nice spot to eat a snack. Only Kari remained nearby, looking at the sea like a woman possessed.
“About me? About us?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“About us.” She pouted. “I told him not to interfere; that traitor.”
“He worries we won’t work out,” Mathias gave a half-truth.
“Don’t we? A little trust wouldn’t kill him.”
Mathias hesitated about his following words, before deciding to remain slightly evasive. “If I told you I was a dangerous person, how would you react?” He noticed Kari tensing up at the words. Girl had sharp ears.
“I would say it’s a turn-off. A huge turn-off.” She raised an eyebrow. “Are you a dangerous person, Matt?”
“Just hypothetically,” he said, although she didn’t buy it. “If I was involved in dangerous activities that may one day backfire?”
“I see what you mean.”
“It’s about your artificial intelligence forays, right?” Thankfully, she had misunderstood the subject. “That’s the big project you’ve been pursuing for a while, right? The one you wouldn’t tell me about?”
“Yes, sort of.” He did cross a line with Scrooge.exe. “How did you guess?”
“I heard Mom complain about the characters’ behavior in the game. It was filled with bugs, according to her, but I knew better. You’ve always been a programming wiz, so I figured it out; you experimented. Laid the groundwork for a greater project. After all the time you spoke of completing your mother’s research, it made sense.”
“I succeeded.” Perse tightened her hold on him, whether out of tension or excitement he couldn’t say. “I can show you at my place, if you want. Concordia might jail me one day for it, though.”
“And blame everyone who knew about it, but didn’t speak.”
“So, um… Turn-off?”
She hesitated. “Matt, I… I don’t want to be that girl. The kind that tells you how to run your life. But I don’t want to be known as Doctor Doom’s ex-girlfriend either.”
“Or you’re the Mary Jane to my Spider-Man. You’ve got the hair.”
“Sorry, tiger, building an illegal artificial intelligence for science? With your issues about the government? No way you’re not turning supervillain by the time you hit eighteen. You even got the tragic backstory halfway right.”
Mathias grumbled, “Alright.”
“But that’s okay,” Perse tried to reassure him. “You’re going to be an amazing bad guy! The smart, smooth, calculating kind! The cool kind the audience secretly roots for!”
How reassuring. “I’m trying to make a difference, not conquer the world.”
Perse shrugged her shoulders. “If you want to achieve the former, you have to go through the later, no? That’s what supervillains are all about. Look at Grandmaster Wyrde. Conquering the universe with an army of dragons and robots so she can enforce her vision of peace. Quite grandiose, interstellar brutal dictatorship aside.”
Thankfully, no Gearsman could hear them. Her rebellious side only made Matt like her more. “I don’t want to become like that insane reptile, ever.”
“Matt, think about it. If what Barth teaches us is halfway right, Concordia started out as three nobodies with a dream. How is it that she got as far as she did?”
“Power, resources, endless armies?”
“That came after. No, Matt, they succeeded because A: they never backed down, no matter the odds, and B: they were ready to do anything to achieve their ultimate goal. How many times did Lex Luthor or Doctor Doom conquer the world in comics, before the plot favored the heroes? In the real world, where the universe isn’t on the side of the angels, the supervillains won. Period.”
“I’m not sure I like that train of thought. That’s a slippery slope.”
Perse sighed. “Matt, if you really want something, you have to put all your efforts into it. No half-measures. When I decided to start music I poured myself into it. When I decided to get you, and my best bud you had a crush on started liking you, did I back down? Nope, Matt.”
That was what Mathias liked the most about her. Even if she made a show of it, she poured all her energies into whatever she did.
“So yeah,” Perse said, “If you want to start a relationship, or a new project… give it your all. I’ll never blame you for it. In fact, I will cheer you on. Because Matt, with all that talent and drive of yours? If you really give your all, you will succeed.”
“Even if you don’t like the project in question?”
“If I really don’t like it, I will leave. But I will never blame you.”
Mathias meditated on her words. “No half-measures.”
“No half-measures,” she said, grinning like a cat. “You remember that business idea I had, after we graduate?”
“The nightclub in Neo York?”
“The Hades Club. Nightlife’s hottest place.” She extended her hands, as if writing the name on imaginary paper. “I like to make other people happy. Especially if they pay attention to me. With a crowd watching me, Perse can do anything.”
“I could design some light shows,” Mathias replied. He had enough experience with holograms to.
“And Sam could take care of the day to day management. I’m awful with numbers, and with her Institute candidacy unanswered, she seemed open to the idea. Maggie would give a wild side to the venture.”
“I’m not sure I can join you, though,” Mathias admitted.
“Why so?” she frowned.
“I got a new job opportunity.” If Magik counted as a job. “The requests always differ, so I’m not certain I could settle for the time being.”
Before Perse could push for more information, Samantha and the rest of his friends returned from their errand with ice creams. “I got chocolate and cranberry for you, Perse,” Sam said, sitting next to Matt with Maggie. Ulysses himself sat as far from Matt as humanly possible. “Citrus for Matt.”
“Thanks,” Perse chirped upon grabbing her ice cream.
“I’ve got a new idea for the Evermarsh Skulls,” Samantha kept going. “I think we should record a holo-disc.”
“A holo-disc?” Perse bolted back up, surprising Mathias by the suddenness. “How?”
“The Yellow Ministry offered me a job as a cultural liaison,” Samantha explained. “They want to sponsor new Firman groups as part of their new cultural policy.”
Maggie snorted. “Don’t sugarcoat it, Sam. They want us to make propaganda. Pretty sure they’re going to put mind control lines in the lyrics.”
“Can’t say until we have the contract in front of us, but perhaps it’s best that I show you,” Samantha said, before looking inside her bag, bringing out a golden holo-disc. “They sent me this.”
Mathias rose back up and examined the disc. It was unusually high quality, made of the purest gold and various expensive materials. Whoever designed it had expensive tastes. The Yellow Dragon Skull, the symbol of the Yellow Ministry, stood at the center.
“Come on, open it.” Without waiting Samantha to do so, Perse clicked on the ministry’s symbol.
A hologram sprung from the machine, materializing as a dragon head. The creature’s figure was lean, elegant, and streamlined, nothing like Smokefang’s rugged and intimidating appearance. The dragon had golden scales, with the texture and glitter of the ore itself; his reptilian green eyes radiated not hostility, but happiness and charm. Had Mathias not hated his kind on a deep, personal level, he might have found the beast beautiful to look at.
He did recognize the creature however, as did the others. Perse herself couldn’t suppress a sound of surprise upon sight.
“Greetings, citizens!” The dragon’s voice radiated warmth and cheerfulness, like a joyful friend on the phone. He spoke in Concordian common. “I am the Golden Prince, the Yellow Minister of Concordia.”
One of the seven most powerful people in the Concordia empire, alongside the other five ministers and the Grandmaster herself. This reptile oversaw all cultural activities across the thousand worlds enslaved to the Empire, from concerts to architecture. He alone decreed what art should be authorized, and which ones should be banned.
“I listened to your Firman holo music shows and I found it delightful. Strong variety, powerful rhythms, life in the music. And the lights, the lights! Marvelous! I haven’t been so giddy since the opening of the Vampire Bloodshow last year! Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Firman never cease to surprise me with their ingenuity.”
The dragon’s giddiness seemed almost contagious. “But enough flattery. I really want to promote local art through the Empire, and it’s time for your sphere to shine. Send all the promising musical bands you find, so we can have them promote off-world.”
“Holy shit!” Maggie cursed. “You think…?”
“Off-world…” Perse put two hands on her face. “No way…”
“Can you imagine?” Samantha grinned from ear to ear. “We could perform on another planet!”
“I truly wish to thank you citizens for your making our culture so vibrant,” the Golden Prince said, as the transmission reached its end. “Keep the joy up!” The holo-disc ended afterward, the golden head vanishing into light particles.
“Is it genuine?” Ulysses asked, doubtful. The Golden Prince didn’t fit his conception of a dragon overlord. Truth to be told, neither did it fit Mathias’.
“It’s certified,” Samantha replied, brushing off his worries. “We have to seize the chance. Now that…” She caught herself, a brief look of sadness flashing behind her smiling facade. “Now that we have an opening for our band.”
Now that she had nothing else left, Mathias thought, sympathizing with her.
“We need a light engineer for a holo-disc,” Maggie caught on, her eyes set on Mathias with a ‘brook no disobedience’ glare. “And he sounded more impressed by the light shows than the songs.”
Mathias ignored her, his eyes instead meeting Kari’s. The same thoughts had crossed both of their minds. Later, he thought, focusing back on the conversation. “I need to think— ”
“Matt, if you say you need to think about it, I’ll beat the fucking hell out of you!” Perse entered her no compromise mode, the death glare she sent him enough to spoil milk. A gun on his head would have felt safer. “This is a lifetime opportunity! Don’t even think about quitting!”
“Mathias, I know this is a big favor we ask of you,” Samantha said, far more diplomatically than her friend. “But this is the break our group has been wishing for since day one. It would also open you a lot of doors for privileged jobs in the Empire.”
I don’t want to work for Concordia, Mathias thought. Especially not for their propaganda department.
Then again, Samantha wasn’t wrong. If the Evermarsh Skulls lucked out and were selected, it would grant Shroud new opportunities to infiltrate the dragons’ power structure.
No half-measure. “This once,” he said, the girls’ faces beaming at his words. “Just once.”
Perse let go a shout, hugging him. “I love you so much!”
“Thank you, Matt,” Samantha nodded at him, truly grateful. “I will remember your kindness.” Maggie just grunted, unimpressed.
“We need costumes,” Perse said, letting go of Mathias, “And practice! So much practice, we can’t screw it up, we can’t screw it up!” She fidgeted, full of excitement and energy.
While the Evermarsh Skulls discussed how to deal with their presentation, Kari looked at Mathias. Both rose to their feet, and walked away to talk. Ulysses watched them with a bland, unreadable look on his face.
“Trap?” she asked Mathias, once out of earshot.
“No.” If they wanted his head they could have it without putting on an elaborate deception. A night arrest and they solved the matter. It sounded genuine. “I didn’t get any Quest to get along with it though.”
“I do not like it.”
Neither did he, but it could open the path to Concordia. His thoughts shifted to another matter. “Kari, do you have parents?”
“I had one,” she replied. Her tone implied she wouldn’t tell him more.
“A boyfriend, then?”
“No. Boys are distractions. Why these questions, Mathias-san?”
“I just wonder about all the people that will suffer if I get caught. If I’m being selfish endangering them. I wondered if you had asked yourself the same question.”
“You could have asked directly.” She asked him the same question she did the first time they talked about alliance. “Why do you fight?”
“Revenge,” he admitted. “And, in a way, justice. I don’t want any other kid losing their family like I did.”
“You Americans have a saying. The only thing needed for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.”
He meditated on the words. “You imply my inaction will lead to greater suffering?”
“Concordia will never stop. They will burn more cities, ravage more worlds. Unity, order, those are words. Beneath the skin, it is greed. Grasping, bottomless greed. Dragons make hoards. That is their nature. People, gold, worlds… nothing satisfies them. Many will suffer because of our actions, true. Many more will die because you failed to act in the face of great evil, Mathias-san.”
Mathias nodded back, breathing hard and slow.
No. He couldn’t allow himself to doubt yet.