— 0,1,2,0… endless numbers and geometrical shapes, making up the structure of reality. Rectangles and triangles made shapes that existed yet did not exist. Infinite possibilities quantified into alternate, shifting states… —
Shroud had to pull back before his head exploded, massaging his temples to lessen the headache.
The Universal Brain pulsated before him, hooked to a piece of strange, organic machinery. The device itself looked straight out of a science-fiction movie: a gigantic, greenish brain roughly fifty meters squared, the UB’s flesh incorporated mechanical components such as steel coils, blue microprocessors, and small pylons cackling with electricity. The organic supercomputer radiated with a blue glow, reminding Shroud that the same sorcery powered them both.
In fact, the more he peeked into the machine, the more he grew convinced Concordia had attempted to replicate Blue Sorcery through technology.
“So?” Wormson asked, before casting a Green spell on his fellow researcher. As a glow more potent than even his own Heal spell surrounded him, the Blue Sorcerer felt the pain vanish. “What do you see?”
“Numbers,” Shroud replied. “The UB perceives everything in terms of tertiary numbers and values. Zero, one, two, quantum trits. I have a headache grasping the math behind it even with Premium Thoughts and Babel on.”
Network allowed him to connect with the UB; Babel, to translate the language; and Premium Thoughts, to not have his brain fry from information overload. The perfect mind-reading combination.
Even then, it had taken him a full day to even grasp what he saw.
Shroud sat on a table next to potions and various alchemical instruments. Wormson’s workshop, taking up a whole wing of the Palace of Shadows, was the lair of an anarchic, confused mind. Endless shelves full of liquid potions met sparse, hastily written notes, half-finished books, and vivariums under the faint light of ghostly candles.
Shroud had no idea how many creatures Wormson kept in his study, but it could probably fill a zoo. Most he kept trapped but functional, while bigger specimens, like winged whales and bipedal ants, he kept in amber.
The UB just warranted a little more effort. Wormson had hooked it up to a lung-like, disgusting organic apparatus, keeping it fed and docile. Some kind of organic feedback loop, or so Shroud understood.
“Do you think you can crack the code?” the abominable vermin hive asked Shroud. “From what I gathered from my own experiments, UBs recognize one another through specific Identify Friend-Foe signal protocols.”
“I think they use specific geometric sequences, like… you know Escher?”
“No, what is it?”
“A human artist known for making impossibly angled paintings. UBs use those pictures to process and exchange information; now that I understand how they communicate, I could in theory craft a fake request through my Lock. Like a fake rescue call.”
“And I could create an organic interface that could complete the deception and recover the answer. Brilliant. It will think it’s contacting help while we worm our way inside.” Wormson laughed at his own, poor joke. The Blue Sorcerer wondered if Alan Turing had to suffer a colleague like that.
Fortunately, Wormson hid a brilliant mind beneath his poor sense of humor. The two discussed the in and outs of such a solution for the UB problem at length, before settling on a potential signal formula.
The living hive grabbed complex concepts in record time, absorbing information like a sponge. Shroud had never met someone whom he could sense the raw intelligence from before; and as far as he knew, the worm-hive didn’t use Blue Spells to boost it.
Shroud himself wondered the potential results of using magic long-term. He had never spent a day without Premium Thoughts unless suffering from a Counterspell, and Kari kept Peak on all the time. Considering their young age, would it affect their development? “Wormson, may I ask you a question?”
“Certainly, my bluish friend.”
“Does magic have long-term effects on living beings?”
“Of course it does. Counting the species who owe their existence to Green Sorcerers would take forever. All undead can thank a Yellow Sorcerer at one point for their unlife.”
“I meant on the sorcerer themself.”
“I see what mean. The more you channel a specific color of Flux, the more your body tunes itself to it. Dragons are the most visible case, their sensitivity to Flux tuning their metabolism to their environment as they mature. And the escalation syndrome exists.”
Shroud raised an eyebrow. “Escalation?”
“A small percentage of Sorcerers go off the deep end. Very, very deep. They let their power affect their judgment, become unstable, and lose contact with reality.”
“Wouldn’t that just be the natural result of gaining too much power too early?” Shroud replied. “Temptation and all.”
“Certainly individual strength of characters plays a role, but sorcerers of a similar color almost always go mad in the same exact way. It is not as simple as nature versus nurture. It is both at once. I have a theory on the cause, but it goes against the orthodoxy. I believe sorcery has a will of its own.”
Noticing that his colleague listened with rapt attention, Wormson adopted a professional tone. “Most researchers believe an ancient civilization built the Neurotowers, the Gates, and other artifacts to harness sorcery, bringing it into our universe. What if we thought about it the wrong way? That sorcery itself built those towers and those machines to manifest in the world? What if it chooses people who share its purpose and will spread it instead of assigning the gift at random?”
Shroud could grasp the concept, yet he found it difficult to believe. “Then what does it wants?”
“What do they want? Blue wants knowledge and control; Green wants to spread and improve life; Yellow wants to dissolve the boundaries between concepts and reality; Orange wants more, to own, to protect itself; Red wants to shine, to explode, to burn; Violet wants to explore the past, decide the future, and explore the unknown; and White wants to take the shape of, or support the other colors.”
The Blue Sorcerer wondered if this was how Magik Online assigned affinities to users; selecting it according to the user’s mindset. The more Shroud understood himself, the more he realized that the desire to learn what happened to his mother and to gain enough power never to feel weak again, played a large role in his motivation. Sol lived to help others. Mur wanted to stave off his insecurities by hoarding money, power, and weapons like a magpie. And Maggie wanted to fight, to explode, and scream in a healthier way than her brother.
Kari… he couldn’t wrap his head around her. Dissolve the boundary between concepts and reality? That would explain the many rumors of necromancers among Yellow Sorcerers, dissolving the border between life and death.
Maybe that was the key to the two remaining members of his Guild? Someone who wanted to improve life, and someone with a unique relationship to space and time? “How do Blue Sorcerers escalate?” he asked.
“They start to think they should have all the knowledge and all the power, and then they start to believe in themselves a bit too much. Then they proclaim themselves gods.” Wormson paused. “Do you think you are a god, my ungodly friend?”
The young man smiled. “Not yet. I do have another question though. What did you mean by ‘channel Flux?’”
The sorcerer observed Shroud with a heavy silence, as if looking for a joke that didn’t exist. “To cast a spell, you need to channel Flux that your Lock has filtered inside your body’s arcane reserve,” the creature explained, a bit confused, “Flux which you shape into a specific spell with training. Don’t you feel it inside of you? That well of power, that second breath flowing through your blood?”
Not really. He felt his spells active, but nothing more profound. “No, I just cast spells intuitively,” he said, omitting the cause, “I direct them, but I don’t feel any connection to a reserve of some kind.”
“I suppose this may be because you are self-taught, but this is very strange,” Wormson said, “That glass manipulation of yours must be a high ranked Orange spell, which is the opposite of your core Blue. It should be taxing on your reserves and force you to recharge by passively absorbing ambient Flux. You should feel it, physically, psychically.”
Shroud didn’t. In fact, he never felt better than when spellcasting.
But come to think of it, he never needed to think about conservation of resources or tiredness about using those spells. Was it because his Lock outsourced part of the process to Magik, or the website provided him additional reserves to draw upon?
“I see that you progressed quicker than I expected.” Manah stepped out of a shadowy corner without warning, creeping out Shroud. In spite of his enhanced senses, she could sneak up on him without difficulty. “Excellent.”
“If the solution works, I could extract and decode the UB’s files within a few days,” Wormson said, bowing to the queen. Shroud hastily imitated him; his experience with Mammon had taught him to step lightly around the Market’s power shakers.
“You have twenty-four hours,” Manah replied, her tone brooking no argument. “Mathias, you performed well. However, it has also come to my ears that you caught Mammon’s attention.”
“Unfortunately.” His Network sense told him Mammon would be a much nastier employer than Dynamis ever was. He hoped this wouldn’t jeopardize their alliance—
Shroud blinked. She was happy?
“Your current position opens an opportunity we will not let go to waste,” the sorceress said, before brushing off his questions. “I still need to see how your team performs as a whole before involving you in my larger plans. In the meantime though, I will reward your service.”
She snapped her fingers, a masked, shadowy jester stepping out of the darkness, offering a small data key on a silver platter to Shroud.
“This keys grants access to an account which I credited with a sum equivalent to five million imperial credits, to share between each of you. I sent your men a key each.”
Five million credits? It took a specialized AI nearly ten days to gather that sum, and she handed it over like pocket money?
“I sent my servants to fetch equipment which you and your teammates asked for. You can find your own purchase in your quarters.”
Shroud nodded in thankfulness. He had asked her to purchase electronic components and materials so that he may create a new, improved glass armor than the makeshift one he had worn since fleeing Earth. “I am most thankful.”
“I have a mission for your team,” Manah cut through the pleasantries. “If you succeed, I will accept you as part of my organization.”
Which implied access to other rebel cells, funds, and who knew what more. “I’m listening.”
“My spies inform me Concordia’s Institute has built a secret military research facility in the Sphere of Oceanis. The planet is a pleasure sphere covered by an endless sea, used for tourism and vacations.”
“The presence of an Institute branch there implies something’s off.”
“Yes. My spies suspect Concordia to run experiments on the ocean floor, although they could not learn what kind. I want you to meet my agents on Oceanis, investigate the base, salvage anything of value, and destroy it if possible.”
“Oceanis is an imperial world,” Shroud pointed out. “Would we not be quickly recognized?
“I trust that you will carry this mission with discretion,” Manah said with confidence. “You have a few days to prepare until I arrange for your safe transportation to Oceanis. Ace also asked to meet you; my servants will send you the coordinates of the rendez-vous point.”
Before Shroud could even ask questions, the Shadow Queen melded back into the unnatural darkness, vanishing from sight. That woman didn’t waste time.
“How does she do that?” Shroud wondered out loud.
“Advanced Yellow Sorcery, my fellow meatbag,” Wormson replied, “Yellow rules everything conceptual, shadows included. Turning oneself into shadows and back and forth is no easy feat though; I know a cheerful Yellow of peerless might, and even he never tried it.”
Shroud worried more about the fact she could eavesdrop on them anytime without him noticing.
Leaving Wormson to his research, the Magik Player took a step through the Palace of Shadows looking for his team. The more he walked through the shadowy walls, the more Shroud grew convinced the palace itself could react to his will; rearranging pathways to lead him to the destination he wanted to go to.
The dark corridor eventually led him to a large hall which the group had turned into a makeshift training area. Sol and Kari spared furiously with steel swords, while Maggie was busy shooting at bullseyes with Mur sitting on her shoulder like a child.
Thanks to the queen, the whole group had changed clothes. Sol and Kari had left behind their armor and costume for casual clothes, while Maggie had suited up. She now wore lightweight bulletproof body armor, similar to those Homeland Security used before the Concordian Conquest. She had added a black hoodie over a hockey mask to complete the set.
All in all, your average Jason Voorhees cosplay.
She had also purchased two more guns, which she wielded while keeping her old one on an ankle holster. Shroud noticed a suitcase near her, which included a sniper rifle, an Uzi, and various firearms; alongside more advanced weapons including the Flux Rifles Booz had kept trying to sell him, and stranger, organic pistols.
Shroud took a moment to observe the group undetected. Maggie practiced her aim with both hands, using her Bullseye and Stockmight spells to achieve what should have been a movie-only maneuver. Even the added weight of Mur should have made firing difficult. For now, though, the girl hadn’t missed a shot.
The fact Maggie let Mur sit on her shoulders also brought a smile on his face. The imp had grown bigger, from the size a toddler to the size of a dog; perhaps in a few years, he could regain his original size.
Sol, thanks to the Peak spell, had grown far faster than when they had started fighting together. He fought with enough vigor to push back Kari, a girl six times younger and empowered by multiple spells. Now that his body could keep up with his skill, Sol proved a fearsome swordsman, pushing his opponent back with ease.
While the whole group had a long way to go to become a cohesive unit, the skills were there. “You should wear a cape,” the Guild Moderator told Maggie, upon walking in.
“Mur told her too, she didn’t listen,” the imp complained.
“Capes reduce mobility, and I don’t need my Bullseye to know that,” Maggie replied, launching her guns in the air and letting both land gracefully in their belt holsters. Show-off. “You’re a fucking asshole, nerd.”
Shroud raised an eyebrow beneath his helmet. “What for?”
“That’s three times!” she complained, raising her fingers. “Three times you saved me!”
“We are a team,” Shroud pointed out. “I do not count.”
“I do! Now I have to save your lame ass thrice to get even!” Sol and Kari stopped their practice session, so loud did Maggie shout.
“Considering the mess with Mammon, that shouldn’t be hard,” Shroud replied. “The Shadow Queen seemed happy that I got a job from him, though. I think she has plans for him.”
“Stupid, it’s not Mammon she wants, it’s one of his guests,” Mur replied. “Grimsour will be at the tournament.”
Grimsour? The Orange Minister? “How do you know that?”
“Because Mammon boasted about his guests on holo-TV!” Mur shrugged off. “Lord Revel, Grimsour, Firesinger Fen, Graff…” Shroud sensed a little bitterness at the last name.
“I thought Concordia condemned the Epoch?” Sol spoke, joining the discussion with Kari.
“They do, but the Midnight Market and Concordia share trade agreements,” Shroud remembered. “Multiple interstellar powers probably send representatives during the tournament to craft alliances, Concordia included.”
“If you organize the games, we can set a trap,” Kari spoke, her voice as low as a whisper.
“We could assassinate him,” Mur suggested with cruel glee.
“Assassinate him?” Sol crossed his arms. “Forgive me if I find discussing the planned murder of a living being disturbing. Even one of Concordia’s leaders.”
“Chicken,” the imp taunted him back.
“Or capture him, if we can,” Shroud said without really meaning it. From what he had heard, the Ministers wielded strong magic. Restraining a high-ranking sorcerer might prove to be a logistical nightmare. “That would deal a powerful blow to Concordia.”
“Mur votes for the quick and easy solution.”
“Seconded!” Maggie said, before fist bumping Mur. Those two got along as well as Sol and Shroud himself.
Shroud pondered the case under every angle. Considering the people present, security would be high, and Mammon limited his own involvement to the games rather than the rest of the event. Perhaps Manah had other cards in hand? “The Shadow Queen wants us to do a job for her soon,” he told them. “If we succeed, she will bring us into her larger plans.”
“The Shadow Queen is an ally,” Kari said. “But she is not one of us.”
Yes. The Shadow Queen knew nothing of Magik Online and they would keep it that way. He would also rather avoid relying too much on a mysterious sorceress they knew next to nothing about. “Grimsour is a long term target,” Shroud replied. “We have shorter-term problems.”
“You were recorded playing with Mammon on intergalactic television,” Kari guessed. “And we have a bounty on our heads.”
“Yes. Which means every would-be killer can track us.”
“Not just them,” Kari said. “Concordia too.”
“Bah, the Market is a neutral zone,” Mur replied. “If the scalies send troops for us, Mammon will take it as an act of war.”
Fortunately, the Guild Moderator doubted Concordia would consider killing the group worth sparking an interstellar conflict. He hoped. “And the hunters?” Shroud asked the imp, the one most familiar with the locals. “Will Mammon employing me deter them?”
“Most will be too afraid of Mammon to try, at least on Market grounds,” Mur said. “The few who won’t are either crazy or fearless.”
Meaning only the most dangerous would come after them. Great. “I relish the challenge,” Maggie said, whistling and tightening a fist. “Let them come.”
“This cannot go on,” Solomon replied. “We cannot depend on someone else’s favor, especially a monster as fickle as Mammon or even the Shadow Queen. Neither will we survive in the long run if we let others keep picking our fights.”
“Sol is right,” Shroud replied. “We need to build our own power base, loyal to our guild rather than an outsider. Soldiers, spies, and support. We need to recruit. I still have—”
He stopped himself, before pointing at his ears. The others seemed to catch on. No mention of Magik Online while in the palace. “We need two more to round us out.”
“We need a lair of our own,” Kari pointed out. They had all seen the feature unlocked for the Guild since Shroud had reached level two.
“A base belonging to us would be a step in the right direction,” Sol agreed. “But we need to be very careful with our new recruits. This place… clearly welcomes the worst excesses.”
“Mur comes from this place, old man,” the imp replied.
“We have money,” Kari said, remaining on track. “We could look for mercenaries.”
“Mur doesn’t give away his share.”
“Yeah, we all jumped on that train without expecting funds, we need to recruit people with more attitude,” Maggie said, whether out of greed or common sense.
— Maggie couldn’t believe the queen’s words. “One million each?” She had never made more than fifty grand! And she was in Space Vegas… —
Greed it was. “I cannot believe it!” Shroud had never seen Sol so indignant. “This is the freedom of Earth we are talking about, and you are fretting over money?!”
“Give away your coins, old man, but Mur keeps what he earned!”
“Okay, enough!” Shroud had to raise his voice to end their argument. “This is leading us nowhere.”
“Mathias, how do you wish to create a credible fighting force with their attitude?” Solomon complained.
… Even with Network, the Dragonslayers had a long, long way to go. He could see the fragility of his group, the volatility of emotions, and the conflicting personalities.
Mur was too rough, too selfish, too insecure; and while Sol may be stable and reliable, his strong beliefs meant he adopted a judgmental stance where a softer approach could have worked. Left to themselves, they would come to blows.
Maggie remained a maverick, confrontational, and liable to worsen the situation. While Kari… Kari was the most stable, but she kept her feelings bottled up. If she acted, it would be too little too late.
If tensions continued, either it would lead to infighting, or worse, the group losing heart and disbanding.
Shroud needed to balance out his group. Add a pragmatist who could soften the edge of Mur and Sol by finding common ground, add some calmness and Ulysses-like laid-backness to the volatile lot. He also needed someone lively like Perse, who could help Kari get out of her shell and inject some levity into the team, lessening the pressure.
Maggie had a point, they could rely on soldiers only in it for the money for fear of being outbid. Even Mur had joined mostly to grow stronger, which only Magik Online could offer.
They needed to play on their core strengths. “We have more than money. We have a cause, and we have magic.” Shroud lit up his fist with Lightbringer for added effect. “I can license my spells as I did with you, Mur. Network would also allow me to detect infiltrators.”
Mur shrugged. “Why not make them?”
Shroud frowned. “Make what?”
“Minions. That’s what sorcerers do. Where do you think all those golems come from, Mammon’s teats?”
“I don’t think he has one,” Maggie replied. “Can’t be sure, didn’t get a good look at him.”
Shroud considered Mur’s point. Building minions from scratch, instead of recruiting outsiders? He remembered the Dot Two spell Call and checked his Compendium for similar spells.
Activation: Active, Direct Touch Vector.
The user can craft a cat-sized automaton from any raw, inorganic material. The homunculus takes a shape similar to its maker, and shares a telepathic link with the caster. The homunculus must feed on its maker’s Flux to remain functional and will collapse if not regularly recharged. The user can create as many homunculi as they can sustain.
Activation: Active, Voice Vector
The user imbues corpses within earshot of the spell with the spark of unlife. The ‘risen’ lack souls or minds, but understand the caster’s orders and will try to carry them out to the best of their ability until destroyed. If the caster has a soul to fill the corpse with, such as a soul gem, they may create stronger, free-willed undead such as vampires or ghouls.
Homunculus clearly wouldn’t create long-lasting minions, although the telepathic link could allow him to create spies. Arise could create zombies and stronger minions if they somehow found souls to use, although the process sent a shiver down his spine.
As for Call… Shroud’s memory of the Brown fiasco made him wary of summoning monsters. “Kari and I have three spells that could do the deed,” he admitted, remaining evasive in case they were heard. “Homunculus, to create temporary familiars, Arise, which can raise the dead, and Call, which can summon monsters from other planes. Beastmaster can also control animals, but not sentient ones.”
“Nerd, not gonna lie,” Maggie said. “Summoning some big monster from Hell or whatever? Really brings back bad memories. And no way it can’t go wrong, right? Right?”
Shroud remembered that fateful, fiery night all too well. Brown had called a horror they could not put down, and everyone suffered for it. “We need to do safety research first before we can consider that option.”
Maggie didn’t look happy he even considered it.
He had still nine Spellcoins on his account, enough to invest in Call or Beastmaster, but not in Arise or Homunculus. Only Kari, who had hoarded Spellcoins, could purchase those. For now, they would need to look for outside recruits first. And turn his team into a cohesive fighting force. Which one should he focus on first?
“Let’s try to look for our two remaining members first,” Shroud said, remembering Wormson’s words, focusing on Mur. “Would you know someone who could join our cause, or in exchange for me licencing them spells?”
“Your cause is worth nothing,” the imp said, making the rest of the group furrow their brows. “Mur knows someone who may be interested by the spells though. A fleshcrafter. The one who built Mur’s old metal tail.”
“What’s a fleshcrafter, a butcher?” Maggie asked.
“A doctor who does not heal, but enhance. Stitch, we call him. You will understand why when you see him.”
Green wants to spread and perfect life… “Is he reliable?” Shroud asked for more information. “What is he like?”
“Strange. Mur thinks it will be faster to show you.”
It wasn’t like they had anything better to—
Shroud recoiled as a strange sound echoed in his brain, blue words flashing before his eyes.
Modded feature installation finished!
The modded feature?
Wait, the absorbed artifact? The stuff that took forever to set up? At last! The sorcerer could have sworn it had taken months. He hoped that it would be worth the wait.
Save and Load Feature now available.
By connecting to a functional occult matrix, you can load a previous timeline save. This will permanently incorporate the deleted event into the root timeline.
Warning: while Terminals, including you, will survive the load, this will overwrite the current save and cause reality glitches until the timeline stabilizes.
You have four saves in storage.
Matrix Folder: Earth, Post-Godwar, North America; record starts 2018
– Blackcinders Asteroid: Cheyenne Mountain (2018)
– Ultimatum Rejected: Human Annihilation Event (2018)
– War in Heaven: Uriel’s Fall (2018)
– Iron God Protocol Successful (2026)
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