ULYSSES: get your ass to Samantha’s house NOW.
ULYSSES: Jack is here. For Maggie. For YOU.
Still reeling from the message, Mathias flew towards the Brown residence as fast as he could. He had put on the Shroud costume the second he had read Ulysses’ message, consequences and his meeting at Dynamis be damned.
Even while flying under an invisibility veil made by Quasar, the Concordians might catch his signal inside the city. He didn’t care. This was a bloody emergency.
How? How was he still alive? The whole chemical plant had been burnt to cinders with him inside! Had that demon spared him? And what the hell were Ulysses and Maggie doing at Samantha’s place? How did Jack know they would—
When he noticed the smoke coming out of the suburbs, Mathias accelerated, his body stressing as it moved faster than safe speeds. By the time he reached Sam’s place, flames ruled the day.
The sight could have been taken straight out of a disaster movie. The garden was ablaze, Brown’s alien plants ashes or embers. Most of the house’s walls had crumbled, as if someone had set off a bomb nearby. Fire had spread to the house’s ground level, spreading to the floors above. Sirens resonated through the district, and Gearsmen would soon come to put out the fire.
The scene brought nightmares to life. A dreadful thought crossed Mathias’ mind, brought to the surface by intuition.
Jack was back, and he had brought that fiery fiend with him.
“Kari,” he spoke through Network with uncharacteristic panic. “Go to Samantha’s place, ready for a fight. This is an emergency.”
“Already on my way. Sam sent me a message.” She paused, as if having information she hesitated to share.
“Your friends are there. We planned a surprise birthday party with your fath—”
Mathias stopped listening when he caught sight of his father beneath debris. “DAD!” Secret identity be damned, Mathias landed next to his father, dropping his invisibility spell.
Victor Martel had seen better days. Laying on his chest, his lower body covered by a broken wall, he had gone pale and into shock, his eyes blank. Even with Mathias’ costume protecting him from the smoke, he could feel the nearby heat.
Not again, please not again… “It’s okay Dad, it’s okay!” Mathias told his father, or perhaps to himself. Channeling all his willpower into his glass, he formed two flying arms out of them, lifting the wall to release his father.
Half of him.
Mathias’ briefly mind stopped working, after it processed the information. The wall’s remnants fell to the side, revealing the ghastly truth.
The lower half of Victor Martel had vanished below the intestines; most of the organs laid bare on the ground, charred husks surrounded by dried blood. The spine had gone black. His life had gone out.
Mathias’ hearing became a long, stringy note; blocking out all sound, blocking out everything. He was there, but he wasn’t there either, his mind overwhelmed. His fingers had gone numb.
No… no… No. He had to be alive.
Network came back with nothing.
It hadn’t worked with the fiery monster either. Perhaps it had an area effect that blocked it.
Yes, that’s right, he thought, his breath becoming faster, his perspiration shorter. His father was just badly wounded.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, I just need the right spell. I can patch you up, Dad, I have Spellcoins.” He opened his account with feverish fear. “Give me a spell that can heal my father, now.”
Activation: Active, Voice, Direct Touch Vector.
The caster purges a target (including themselves if they wish it) of all non-magical toxins, diseases, and poisons affecting them.
“Something stronger!” Green. He checked the Green spells, typing at the Dot Two area.
Insufficient level. Access denied.
“Give me access!”
Insufficient level. Access denied.
Insufficient level. Access deni-
“Fuck your level!” He smashed the button with his fist this time.
Insufficient level. Access denied.
Cursing whoever designed this unfair system, Mathias ordered his glass arm to gently take his father and put him on his back. He didn’t need higher spells. He could cauterize the wounds, patch up the circulatory system with glass.
He was magic.
Or so he thought, until he saw the gaping, bloody hole in his father’s chest. Whatever blast had hit him, it had wiped off Victor’s ribcage, heart and lungs in one go.
His eyes. His father’s blank eyes kept staring straight at the sky, lifeless.
When Mother had vanished, Mathias Martel had raged, and cursed, and cried until his eyes had dried.
This time, he burst out laughing.
A hysterical, joyless laugh. The maniacal laugh you fell into when the world just pulled the worst, sickest joke on you. The kind of laugh of when you took too much at once, and couldn’t process it any other way.
It was an hallucination. A bad dream, sent by the Maleking to torment him. He would just wake up in his bed, and find his father working, and he would forget it all. He just had to close his eyes, and snap them open.
It didn’t take.
As the dark reality settled in his mind, Mathias’ laugh slowly died in his throat, alongside his voice. He just stood there, staring at his father’s corpse, unable to decide what to do next.
It was all a joke. He held a thousand spells in his pocket, and Dad… Dad…
It took a gunshot, coming from the burning mansion’s first floor, to break him out of the soundlessness of his mind.
His body was on autopilot while his mind still focused on his father, Mathias flew towards the window nearest to the gunshot’s origin, the glass entering his field and relaying him in the information.
The Werner family as a whole, Samantha, and Maggie had retreated upstairs, inside a large bedroom, cluttering next to one another for protection. A frightened Perse held a crying Samantha in her arms, while Viviane held Ulysses close to her chest. Maggie wielded a gun, whose barrel let out a little smoke. She tried to look fierce, but her despairing gaze betrayed her true state of mind.
A monster blocked the window exit, while the corridor leading to the room had succumbed to flames. The creature had a humanoid shape and little else of human origin. The incarnation of death shone with a blazing flame almost too bright to look at, a conflagration of various colors mixed into a discordant, disharmonious whole. Two blue stars shone where the eyes should have been, below two fiery horns. The room didn’t catch fire as he walked, the flames licking the bed ready to consume it yet strangely unwilling to spread further.
“You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t even care. ‘Cause I can tell what’s going on.” That was Jack’s voice. Even higher pitched, Mathias recognized it. Yet that underlying, unnatural echo of cackling embers sounded like that dreadful entity he fought at the plant. “It’s hip to be square… catchy tune. And you’re out of ammo, sis. Shall I start with you?”
Jack was no longer Jack. Not that Mathias cared, as he gathered his reserves of glass into the shape of a lens, focusing as much light as he could within it, beyond his limits.
“Sam, should I burn you to death the same way I killed your dear mommy and daddy? Wouldn’t that complete my Brown set, eh? Or perhaps I could kill the Werners first? So many choices.”
Glimpsing Mathias’ form through the window, Jack turned his head to the side, giving Mathias a direct line of fire. By now, his lens had become a miniature star. Not that Jack minded. “Oh, hi Matt. How’s the family?”
With a furious snarl, Mathias unleashed his beam at the murderer.
The ray of light, the strongest he had ever mustered, went through the window, shattering it and causing Samantha to scream in panic. The ray hit Jack in the chest with so much force, it propelled him through multiple walls all the way to outside.
The blow and the structural damage caused the ceiling to fall, but Mathias reacted quicker. Gathering his shards into makeshift-pillars, he used them to stabilize the room. He flew inside, a ghost checking up on the living.
Perse spoke up, her face covered with ashes. She looked at him like she had looked at Jack. Not that he could blame her. He had designed the Shroud costume to create that kind of feeling. “Matt, is that you?”
He tried to reply that yes, he was, yet his voice died in his throat. Ulysses had recognized him, as did Maggie, who looked at him with relief. Yet…
“Matt?” Perse repeated. “Matt, is that you?”
Shroud responded by creating a slide of glass between the broken window and the garden. He stood still like a garden angel, silently inviting them to escape the burning building.
Ulysses was the first to react, grabbing his mother’s hand and pulling her with him, in a strange reversal of roles. Perse stilled looked warily at Shroud, before Maggie took her and Samantha by the shoulder. “Let’s go, girls.”
The sorcerer let them go without a glance. His eyes kept looking at the hole he had made when blasting Jack. A part of him strongly wanted to check up on his friends, to reassure them.
The part currently buried by unyielding rage.
Kari. When had she sneaked up on them? Or he had seen her coming, yet not focused. Even Premium Thoughts couldn’t mitigate emotional damage. “Shroud, Gearsmen will be on their way.”
He heard, but he didn’t listen. Instead, his thought remained focused on Jack, and what he had done. I let him go, Shroud thought, remembering that fateful night. I let him go. “I let him go.”
“I let him go!” he interrupted her, unable to restrain the crushing guilt and brimming hatred in his voice. “I let him go once, but not twice. Get them out of here, to safety.”
“Mathias-san, you’re making a terrible mistake.”
Shroud ignored her, leaving them all behind as he flew towards Jack’s location with murder on his mind.
He just had to follow the flames, and the corpses.
Jack had ended his flight outside of the Brown residence, and didn’t come back. Instead, he had made his way to the nearby street, where passersby had gathered to check up on the event; a mistake that cost many lives.
The street outside looked like it was ravaged by a blazing tornado. Cars were left ablaze, one nearby building had caught fire, and a dozen bloodied corpses littered the ground. The husks of two half-melted Gearsman crowned the brutal display.
Jack pursued stragglers, dragging the burning corpse of his latest victim by the skull with his left hand. “Magnawave!” The fiery monster pointed his free hand at the escapees, unleashing a red wave of energy at them. It hit two unlucky people, a hob and a woman. Both burst into cooked masses of flesh, before exploding into blood and gore.
Whatever ember of humanity Jack may have had before today, he had snuffed it out with blood.
And microwaves, from what Shroud could infer from the attack’s results.
Catching sight of Shroud before he could attack him, Jack pivoted, tightening his grasp on his victim and covering it with red energy. “Crimson Requiem.” He then threw his victim at the Blue Sorcerer like a baseball player scoring a home-run.
Gathering his glass into a flying shield, Shroud intercepted the hit. Good thing he did. The corpse exploded into a blinding blast of red energy upon impact, vaporizing both itself and the shield.
Jack didn’t waste time, lunging for one of the burning cars. With unnatural strength, he casually lifted it over his head. “It’s overwhelming, isn’t it?” he taunted Shroud, as he put himself into position to throw the car at his foe. “My limitless power.”
“Not worth selling your soul to a demon,” Shroud replied with disgust, turning invisible.
“Matt, my boy, I’m death now, but I’m also fire! I can sense your body heat!” Jack looked at the spot where Shroud hid, throwing the car as easily as he did with the corpse. The sorcerer dodged, the car landing on the other side of the street with a loud crash. “And sold? That would imply we are debtor and indebted. Or that we’re two. No, Matt. There is no ‘we.’ Only I. Our souls are one, intertwined. Infernoid, the Maleking calls us.”
Shroud froze at the name, which Jack picked up on. “You rejected his gift. Too bad. You won’t get another chance.”
He didn’t care. Flying towards nearby buildings, letting them enter his Glass Field’s range, Shroud he drew upon all shards he could get. Soon, he surrounded himself with a swirling storm of shrapnel, and rained death upon his enemy.
“Let’s turn up the heat! Heatriser!” Jack had toned down his natural heat while inside the house, out of a sadistic desire to enjoy chasing his victims. Now, he had released his heat in its full glory, melting the shrapnel before it could even reach him along with the tar beneath his feet.
Point for Shroud, Jack didn’t look like he could fly. Unlike Kresnik though, that bastard had range. “Magnawave!” Jack aimed at Shroud, unleashing a blast at where the sorcerer was a second ago. While the master of glass kept flying around, Jack sustained his attack, trying to hit him.
Shroud couldn’t outrun a microwave beam, but he moved faster than Jack’s hand could follow his movements. He didn’t try to shield himself; glass didn’t fully absorb microwave radiation, and would let the attack go right through them.
Mathias just checked his Deathweb account, quickly finding the spell Reinforce and purchasing it at once.
Activation: Active, Direct Touch Vector.
The user permanently reinforces inanimate matter upon touch, increasing its density and resistance to damage.
“Reinforce!” He shouted, an orange glow spreading through his shrapnel and costume. Glass Field spread his spell to all glass within range.
“What’s your Lock, Matt?” Shroud’s eyes squinted upon recognizing the name, but didn’t answer Jack. Not that it mattered to the narcissistic bastard, who Shroud assumed loved to hear the sound of his voice as much as firing at his foe. “When your magic awakens, you receive a unique power no one else has. A purpose, that grows stronger as you nurture it. I don’t think yours is that weird glass magic. Must be something video gamey. Mine is called Crimson Echoes. Wonder what it does?”
A purpose? Network had a higher purpose? “Who taught you that, the Maleking?” Shroud asked, trying to distract Jack. By now, the battle had released so much smoke and flames, it became almost impossible for Shroud, even with his Glass Field, to see across the battlefield.
Jack, instead of answering, kept monologuing.
“When I kill with my magic, it grows stronger. My fires burn brighter, my spells carry more potency. That’s the power that embodies who I am. I live to bring death, and it makes me strong.”
“You killed those bystanders for a power-up?!”
“Wonder how far I can go with slaughtering this city? From a flame, to a sun, to a god. So don’t take it personally when I murder the hell out of you, Matt. You’re just experience points… and I’m leveling up.”
That line disturbed Shroud on a deep, fundamental level.
— Looking at the fiery inferno around him, at the burning trees and the ash beneath his feet, Jack congratulated himself. Nothing could get past his burning field, or so his better half’s memories told him. —
Thankfully, while Network may have failed against the demon that made up half of Jack, he was just human enough to get insight from.
“You talk too much, Jack.” Gathering a large sum of his glass storm into the shape of a dense hammer, Shroud attempted to squash his rival like a bug.
Too confident in his Heatriser defense, Jack didn’t dodge the attack. His melting aura damaged the uttermost layers of the weapon, but backed by Reinforce, most of it survived contact. The blow hit the fiery monster head on, bringing him to his knees. Another blow forced him down on his chest.
While his demonic half had been immaterial and impervious to damage last time Shroud fought him, Jack remained physical enough to hit.
Jack had rushed into the fray as soon as he figured out how his powers worked, without testing their full limits first. While his raw power surpassed Shroud’s, he lacked skill. He never had experience fighting opponents who could strike back, and didn’t prepare for fair combat.
Maybe, in his arrogance, he didn’t even expect one.
“You’re just a cowardly serial killer, Jack. Only attacking defenseless people.” Gathering glass into a five meter long spear, Shroud aimed for the heartless man’s head.
He had wondered if he could have brought himself to kill a sentient being. Had destroying monsters in video games desensitizes him to death, like critics the said? While Jack may have turned into a monster, he remained partly human — the worse half of him.
At that moment, Mathias realized he had it in him to kill a person.
He fired the spear at full speed.
Jack, channeling the flames making up his body, turned his feet into crude rocket launchers, blasting himself out of the attack’s way and landing a dozen feet away.
“Argh,” Shroud cursed as he figured out the trick. Firekin. Jack’s demonic form being made of fire, he could use the spell to alter his physiology and pull off that trick.
“You would fight me to the death, Matt?” The burning man seemed to relish the thought, even as an infuriated Shroud redirected the spear to finish the job. Instead of running or blasting himself out of range, Jack rose back to his feet with iron-clad confidence. “You first then! Accel Heatriser!”
This time, the heat turned so unbearable that even Shroud himself felt it from his previously safe distance. The spear melted like snow under strong daylight, the road’s tar became a melting black sea, and whatever hadn’t caught fire around them spontaneously combusted.
Yet, when Jack struggled a bit to get the melting tar off his feet, Shroud got an idea.
Gathering all his glass, he let his horde descend upon Jack like a rainfall. Like actual raindrops, they turned into liquid before they could even reach the target, falling on him like viscous water. “Didn’t think you were that stupid, Matt,” Jack taunted, as his fiery body got drenched by molten glass.
He realized his error when he struggled to move.
More came, the many tons of silicate that made up the fabric of the modern world. Gallons upon gallons of liquid covered Jack, not fluid enough to wash off him, unable to evaporate even with his astonishing body temperature. Jack drowned inside a blob-like prison he couldn’t escape.
Shroud watched Jack’s struggle, yet kept piling him with every component he could find. The incredible, unsupportable heat began to diminish, the glass prison absorbing most of it.
If Jack could breath, he would die. If he didn’t, then his flames would snuff out and Shroud would bury him alive. If he tried to use his Crimson Requiem spell to blow up his prison, he would damage himself as well. He would just have to wait and—
He was so focused on Jack, he missed the Gearsmen and their leader, stepping out of the smoke and entering his range.
Jack’s heat fell to manageable levels, his Accel Heatriser negated. So was, unfortunately, Shroud’s Glass Field and various spells. Once again losing control of both his flight and mind, the sorcerer barely had the time to glimpse Gearsmen firing red beams at Jack. They pinned him to the ground before he could escape his prison.
A strong grip caught Shroud during the fall, saving his life but restraining him by the neck. Before he could react, another, clawed hand grabbed his helmet, tearing off his visor, filling his lungs with smoke, and revealing his face for the world to see.
“Mathias Martel, Jack Powells,” Kresnik declared, raising his prize above under the watchful eye of a dozen Gearsmen, “By the powers granted to me by the Empire of Concordia, Grandmaster Wyrde, and Lord Smokefang, you are both under arrest.”
A/N: Thanks to my Patrons, Daniel Zogbi and Floodtalon, and to all those who voted for Magik on TopWebFiction (you can add a vote there: http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=magik-online).
Here is the closest picture I could find of Candlemaker Jack.