ADMINISTRATOR: I do not know Mathias.
SHROUD: You do not know?
ADMINISTRATOR: This feature added itself to your account on its own. Our own source code changed to accommodate it. I considered patching it out, but I thought it might end up beneficial.
SHROUD: But you have no hint about what it is?
ADMINISTRATOR: From what you told me, you experienced a Blue flash when you downloaded that artifact. Blue, not Violet. So whatever this feature does, I guarantee it is not time manipulation of any kind. Higher-level Blue abilities deal with the manipulation of information and possibilities on a quantum, metaphysical level.
SHROUD: In short, it could do anything. What about the reality glitch and overwriting your current save part?
ADMINISTRATOR: If the feature interferes with your account in a negative way, I can isolate the foreign code and disable it. Your account history will also help us to figure it out once you activate it. You already have enough abilities which you do know inside and out to prevail; if all fails, the Load feature may serve as a trump card.
SHROUD: Where did that artifact come from in the first place?
ADMINISTRATOR: From the same entities who built the towers, and brought sorcery to the universe; as for what they want, nothing you humans may understand. The Sponsors suspect the artifact had a very specific purpose, which transferred to you as a living interface.
SHROUD: … You humans.
ADMINISTRATOR: I think you already suspect who we are.
SHROUD: I think I understood the who, yes, but neither the why, nor most importantly, the how?
ADMINISTRATOR: All will come in due time when your Guild conquers a Lair.
SHROUD: Fine. What about the accounts?
ADMINISTRATOR: Simply offer to assign it to the person, and I will scan them for compatibility alongside a background check. If positive, I connect the recruit to our system using you as a direct intermediary. I believe with your Lock, you should have an easier time intuiting a good candidate. Good luck.
Shroud ended the communication, slightly unsatisfied. The dates on the Load feature bothered Shroud. 2018 had been the year of the Conquest, and 2026 was when Mom disappeared. Could those events be linked?
Unless he had an occult matrix or whatever on hand, he would have no such luck. Conquer the Lair, he thought. And the truth will come. “The Administrator doesn’t know either,” he told his team, as they made their way into the Overside’s crowded streets. “They said to conquer a Lair first for answers.”
“And here I thought we would be invincible with a save feature,” Maggie said, whistling as she looked at a hobgoblin’s wares, most of them finely crafted weapons. Her affinity for guns was apparent.
The Overside burst with anticipation and the group struggled to make their way through the crowds. A few aliens had stopped them to take photos with Shroud, his appearance on intergalactic TV having done wonders for his popularity.
The group finally reached their destination, a large dome of bluish ice the size of a football stadium, with a thin snow carpet leading to finely crafted gates; two blue-skinned, armored giants protecting the entrance with axes that could cut a building in two. Shroud read the red banner right above the doors.
Zenia’s Chilly Resort
Grand Opening, Mapmakers, and Invitation Only
A Network notification popped up without warning.
Side-Quest: Get Smashed!
Difficulty: Dot One
Sponsor: The Administrator
Your Guild went through a lot of trouble, struggles, and in-fighting, and needs a well-deserved break. So go take some time to amuse yourself and get smashed! Certainly, nothing interesting will happen…
Reward: Network Upgrade (2/3): Path of Synergy set.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“What?” Maggie said.
“I just received a side-quest all but begging me to get drunk with all of you. This is ridiculous!”
“Dork, this is Space Vegas, what’s the point of being rich if you can’t burn your money on stupid things when poor people can’t?”
“Giving back to the community,” Sol scolded her with a serious tone.
“Exactly,” Maggie replied, missing the obvious. “Cycle of life. But that’s pretty unjust. I mean, my Quest is way harder. I’ve got to try twenty-five different firearms.”
“Seriously?” Shroud paused. “So when you were experimenting with those weapons…”
“I was trying to fulfill that stupid side-quest, yes.”
“Nice. Mur must kill one hundred creatures in real combat, and he is nearly there.”
Shroud was sure they had killed way fewer creatures since receiving their accounts. Magik probably counted his prior kill count. “Kari, Sol? Anything that would help us spend time better than getting drunk or shooting people?”
“Still blocked with mine,” Kari replied.
Sol shook his head. “I have to take a fatal blow for someone else to fulfill my side-quest.”
Shroud blinked. “That’s ridiculously specific and dangerous.”
“You may understand why I would prefer to avoid finding a situation where I must fulfill this one.”
Point taken. And Shroud had to admit the quest made sense; a relaxing, team-building activity could work mend the wounds in his group. While they were here for work, he could kill two birds with one stone.
The group approached the entrance, the giants barring the way. They seemed to recognize them. “No helmet,” one spoke with a dry, frosty voice.
Shroud sighed turning his helmet back into flying shards. Sol removed his helm and carried it under his arm, while Maggie removed her mask. “Sorcerers?” the other giant asked, the group nodding. “No Blue sorcery allowed if you play games, or you get expelled. You can keep your weapons.”
Shroud shrugged, leading his group inside.
Unlike the insane extravagance of Mammon’s own palace, this place was relatively tame and human-sized. The entire building had been crafted from solid ice, although strangely, it felt neither too cold nor too warm inside. Icicles provided purple light above, while a white-fur carpet covered the ground. Polished mirrors made the walls supporting the structure, casting everyone’s reflection.
The area housed a casino—mostly tables where Mapmakers played roulette, cards, or stranger games, a skating rink, and a bar of red-colored ice. Unlike the cacophony of Mammon’s casino, this place had a chiller, peaceful atmosphere, with fewer people allowed inside.
Shroud sighted Ace at the bar, alongside the snowflake creature that played darts with Mammon at Mur’s expense. The imp glared at it the second he caught sight of it. “Zenia,” Mur grumbled, as the group reached them.
“Ace,” Shroud saluted Mammon’s assistant, who smiled upon noticing them. She had a charming smile. Pity he was the only one to like her. The rest of the group still distrusted her, after what her employer did.
“Hello there,” she replied. “You look better without your helmet.”
“Thanks. Why did you want to see us?”
“Trouble that may concern you,” she replied. “But Zenia here will tell you more.”
“First of all, I apologize for the treatment you suffered through,” Zenia told Mur, although her voice didn’t sound very sorry at all. “Diplomacy means I must indulge our overlord’s fancies.”
“Mur never forgets,” the imp replied. “Oh no, Mur never does.”
This didn’t bother the snowflake creature at all. “I have no wish to antagonize a group of sorcerers… and you would wisely not seek to trouble me.”
Mur shrugged, dropping the matter. For now. “We know Mammon is fickle,” Shroud replied, which was a diplomatic way to say they blamed him instead of Zenia. “Now tell us.”
“Three days ago, the Gate which you used to transfer from Terra Firma to the Midnight Market was attacked by an unknown assailant,” Zenia explained. “There were no survivors on the Firman side.”
“Since you were the last people to have used it for transportation, I thought I should interrogate you,” Ace said.
“Concordia?” Sol stated the obvious culprit.
“Possible, but we would have expected more collateral damage and seized goods,” Ace replied. “The attacker cleanly killed everyone present and left without stealing anything. The Gate also suffered damage, while Concordia would have preserved it for further use.”
“Attacker,” Shroud pointed out. “Singular.”
“Yes. Although the witness couldn’t provide a clear description, a Mapmaker on the Market side noticed a humanoid dressed all in black step outside the Gate, which promptly attacked everyone present. The witness teleported away at the first sign of danger, which saved her life. Everyone else, the attacker slaughtered.”
Kari visibly tensed at it, which Ace quickly noticed. “You wouldn’t know anything about it?”
“Dressed all in black?” she repeated. “Could you give more details?”
“The witness didn’t see more, but the corpses were found in a state of extreme mutilation, with body parts missing. The attacker’s strikes showed a lethal kind of precision, but why it took limbs with it is unknown. Time is also missing from the cameras’ footage, so it managed to tamper with them.”
“I suspect a Pandorian,” Zenia said.
“Pandorian?” Sol repeated.
“A dangerous kind of spontaneous undead. The Flux signature it left behind is characteristic of those parasites.”
Kari crossed her arms, lost in her thoughts as everyone looked at her,
“I do not know,” she said. “I can’t be sure.”
— “Kari…” the horror said, crawling out of the ruins of the farm. “Kari… it’s me…” —
Kari was so troubled, she didn’t even notice Network peeking in her mind. “What’s your stake in this, Ace?” Shroud said, deflecting everyone’s attention from his teammate.
“I can’t have a monster killing our breadwinners running around. If it was a business cannibalizing another, that’s just another price war. Needless destruction empties Mammon’s coffer for nothing though. So if you find the culprit, call me up three times.”
Shroud raised an eyebrow, which made her laugh. “I may not look like it, but I am a sorceress too,” Ace said without elaborating. “Just say my name and I will assist.”
“Well, this was a colossal waste of Mur’s time,” the imp finally spoke up. “Mur wants to try the bar.”
“Me too,” Maggie said, bored with the conversation. “Do you think they’ve got alcohol in space?”
“They have everything,” Mur replied gleefully.
“I would enjoy a refreshment if the matter is settled,” Sol said. Only Kari seemed too troubled to care.
Shroud sighed. “Sure,” he said, glancing at Ace. “Would you like to join us?”
She gave him an amused smile. Clearly, she had seen through his transparent attempt at subtlety. “Maybe another day after service, handsome.”
It wasn’t a no. Shroud guessed it counted for something.
Ace excused herself and left, Shroud’s eyes trailing her for a moment. While his group moved to the bar, the sorcerer glanced at Zenia. “Do you have a brief moment?” he asked her.
“What do you wish?” The creature asked.
“You’re the leader of the Mapmakers, correct?” The entity didn’t reply, which Shroud took as a yes. “I heard you were somewhat independent of Mammon.”
“We Mapmakers serve all those willing to pay us,” Zenia confirmed. “Although we try to maintain good relations with everyone, I have no problem servicing your group if you want it.”
“I think we could help one another. You see, I have the ability to license my spells for two days, including Violet spells, as you do. I could provide that service to your organization, in exchange for favors.”
“You providing Violet spells as an independent faction will inevitably threaten our monopoly, force us to lower our prices, and reduce our profit margins,” Zenia said after a short moment of consideration. “Which will force us to undercut our competition through hostile takeovers and downsizing.”
For a moment, Shroud wondered if Babel had malfunctioned, as he didn’t understand a word of what she said. When he did though… “You’re politely threatening me with war if we compete with your business.”
“No, I am simply informing you that we will use our considerable assets to eliminate all competitors threatening our market share.”
Yes, she threatened him. “Truthfully, you’re mistaken. I don’t care about this place nor do I want to establish my group here in the long-term. Just to recruit, gain favors, and acquire equipment in preparation for our return to Earth.”
“In that case, a non-competing clause would allow us to coexist. I would rather that you do not disturb the fragile status quo and keep that power to yourself. If you agree not to license Violet spells that would threaten us Mapmakers, I will provide assistance.”
“Agreed. In fact, I believe you may help right now. You are a Violet Sorcerer, right?”
“I am. Violet Dot Three, Blue and White Dot Two.”
Violet. Perfect. “I’m in the position to learn the Call spell, and I wonder about its potential applications to recruit troops. Since you are more experienced, I thought you might provide answers.”
“Summoning Outsiders can be both lucrative and dangerous,” Zenia replied. “Many sorcerers have raised an army by enlisting them from other planes. Concordia has even made forays in establishing outposts on other realities in preparation for annexation.”
Did the dragons’ greed know no bounds? Even the universe itself wouldn’t satisfy them. “What can you tell us about Outsiders?”
“Outsiders follow laws different from those of this universe. Some live in dimensions where concepts such as nature or excess weigh as much as gravity. As such, the main difficulty for you mortals is relating to us and understanding our desires. Outsiders’ descendants, if born on our universe, become more attuned to it, as do those which remain too long on the material plane. We become anchored, so to say.”
“Such as you?” Shroud guessed.
“Indeed. It has been so long since I left the Elemental Plane of Frost, that I feel closer to you mortals than my own kindred.”
Could it be why Network didn’t work on Jack’s fiend half or the Crimson King? Since they mostly existed outside of the material universe? It would explain why he could Network with Jack even after he fused with the demon.
It meant Network may not work on anything he summoned though, at least at first. Bugger. He needed to test that hypothesis first. “Are you familiar with demons?” he asked, eager to find information on the Maleking.
“Demons are easy to summon and bind because they are slaves to mortal passions,” Zenia explained. “Greed, sex, domination… very easy to relate to, even if fiends take it to terrible extremes. Elementals are harder, as at our core we wish to spread our core element. You would better provide something to burn to a fire elemental because they will always have that thought on their mind.”
That remark hit a bit too close to home. “You made this place out of ice to satisfy that urge?”
“Yes. I find it necessary for my psychic wellbeing.”
“Is there a resource on summoning Outsiders?”
“Dis: Worlds of Power, by the cyclops Archmagus Ashmal. Ashmal was a Violet Archmagus of great power, who traveled the planes, raised extradimensional armies, and founded the Machinist religion that still exists today. Dis was his magnum opus, exposing his beliefs, his theory on multiversal structure, and his thoughts on bargaining with Outsiders. A must-read for any Violet Sorcerer, if you can cut through his superstitious ramblings.”
Zenia’s eyes shone with a purple light, a blue crystal of ice manifesting and hovering right before Shroud’s eyes. “This is an holo-crystal containing the full work, one of the few still in circulation today. Simply focus on it, and the crystal will react to your thoughts. Take it as a gift.”
Shroud grabbed the crystal. “Thank you.”
“Stay out of our affairs,” Zenia warned him. “And I shall stay out of yours.”
Accepting that he had just been bribed, Shroud gave her a sharp nod and left to join his team, looking at the crystal as he walked. The crystal shone, projecting holographic texts in an alien language which Babel instantly translated.
“Dis: Worlds of Power.
By Ashmal, Violet Archmagus, First Prophet of the Cosmocrator, and True Servant of the World Machine of Dis.
In the beginning, there was chaos without purpose, aimless worlds floating in a white, blank void. From the chaos, surged a great will, the World Machine of Dis, the hungry soul of the universe itself. The World Machine sought to bring unity to the chaos, to bind the planes as its gears, so its jaws may encompass all of creation. And so Dis created the Cosmocrator, to be the architect of its growth and its messenger. Praise the Cosmocrator, for it rules over all worlds; worship the World Machine, for it will make us one.”
The text continued on, detailing a Pantheistic religion dedicated to the World Machine of Dis and its avatar, the Cosmocrator, who ought to be obeyed, appeased, and worshipped. According to the book, the Cosmocrator and its creations built the Gates to bind all universes together into a harmonious whole.
The World Machine of Dis… Shroud remembered the sentence “connection to Dis established,” when he had downloaded Magik Online. Could there be a grain of truth in this religious rambling?
As he sat on one of the ice chairs that were around the bar, Mur and Maggie had already engaged in a drinking contest while Sol himself politely waited for the bartender to notice him. Only Kari had elected to do her own thing, moving towards the rink. The sorcerer had noticed she retreated inside herself and shunned interactions when worried; breaking her out of her shell would take a lot of effort.
Shroud examined a holographic 3D map provided by the text, representing Ashmal’s vision of the universe: a conglomerate of iridescent spheres and globes, bound together in a tree-like shape.
At the center laid the biggest sphere, an onion made from countless layers: the Material Multiverse. Near its edge, a small black spot grew, the rot in the onion. Pandoria, the Cancelled World. And at the very core of the material multiverse shone a bright light called the Worldsoul.
From that bright star, sprung countless tendrils of light binding all spheres together, both to the Material Multiverse and to each other. On a closer examination, Shroud realized those spheres weren’t as much bound as they were chained, forcefully pulled closer to the center.
Each of those planes had a chapter dedicated to them. Heaven and Hell: on Virtue and Sin. Faerie: The Land of Stories and Tales. The Elemental Planes: the worlds lacking.
Skipping the codex’s part about worlds, Shroud the folder Zenia told him about: on Summoning the Outsiders. Like the worlds they inhabited, each Outsider category had a whole category dedicated to them, including chapters on individuals members.
Angels: bargaining with high standards. Devils in the details and Fiends of all sort. Anathema most foul: Qlippoth and Sephiroth. Primal Spirits and Totems. The Storykind, faerie courts, and willy wishcraft. Elemental chaos…
It would take days to read them all. That codex condensed a lifetime of research and experience. “Crimson King?” he asked, the database giving him an entry in the Storykind chapter.
“The Crimson King is a minor Storykind Noble, inspired by the dreams of envious critics. He appears as a humanoid being clad in tattered robes and wearing a silver mask. Lacking any creativity of its own yet covetous of others’ brilliance, the Crimson King steal souls in a vain hope to create a true masterpiece. Control sounds, knows of all arts and has allies in the Court of the Demon Sultan, whom he plays lullabies to. Easy to bind for a one time task in exchange for the soul of an artist, but he will resist longer servitude due to manic restlessness and vanity.”
“Ugh, work again?” Maggie interrupted Shroud’s reading by sitting next to him and calling the bartender, a burly, green-skinned humanoid. Mur soon joined, his own glass bigger than him. “Same thing you served me for the dork here!”
“Griffin milk with Arcadian wine?” the bartender replied.
“Yep, with a drinking straw!” she said, the bartender offered Shroud a liter of rose liquid encased in a cup of ice. Maggie had brought her own and was barely a third through it. “It’s very fucking strong, I’m warning you.”
“Only the strong survive!” Mur said, climbing up his cup and swimming head-first into the beverage.
“I see that.” Maggie’s breath stank of alcohol and her cheeks had rosied a bit. He took a sip and found it both strangely sweet and supercharged with liquor.
He should better pace himself. He couldn’t handle alcohol for the life of him.
“Nerd, that woman, Ace. She’s working with Mammon.”
“I know, but she helped me rescue you guys. She’s nice.”
“Don’t think that’s your head talking to me right now. You came on to her so hard even I noticed, and you weren’t just looking at her pretty eyes.” So very crass, but so very true. “You’re back on the dating market?”
“Sort of. I’m fooling around.” Shroud didn’t want to try a serious relationship after his recent break-up, but he had to admit he missed the indoors activities. “Besides, I find her strangely charming.”
Also, the practical part of him thought it could be an opportunity to get a mole into Mammon’s organization. Honey trap and all.
“You’re not my type,” Maggie said out of nowhere. “Like really, really not. You’re pretty good looking, but you talk too much. And you were the boyfriend of my best friend, and you the best friend of my ex-boyfriend; which makes it square squick. It would be like settling for leftovers.”
“I understood at ‘you’re not my type,’ thank you. I’m not into you either.”
She glared at him, a fierce and terrible gaze; Shroud guessed he had somehow insulted her fragile ego. “What are you implying there?”
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. “Nothing. What is this about, Maggie?”
“I used to have a waiting list on Earth, but look around,” she complained, “No able-bloodied human male that isn’t seventy years older than me or you! And you find the only good-looking human woman on this forsaken space station!”
“There’s always vampires. I thought girls were crazy about them.” Perse at least wouldn’t shut up about them, and she liked being bitten a bit too much. “Since everything is for sale here, I’m sure you will find the entertainment you seek if you look hard enough.”
“Ain’t one of those necrophiliacs, and I ain’t going to pay for sex, nerd. No fun without the flirting and the conquering first.”
“I can’t help but think you may have some self-esteem issues.”
“You’re entering the ‘don’t fuck with me’ zone here.”
“You said it, not me.”
Maggie sighed. “I hate you, nerd,” she said without really meaning it.
“Besides, if this is really the problem I have a book on strange and mysterious Outsiders. I’m sure I can make an interdimensional booty call out of this.”
“Nerd, that’s a terrible idea, even from you.”
“The summoning or the booty call?”
“When did you grow such a smart mouth?”
Truth to be told, it surprised Shroud himself. After so many ordeals and leading a team, he had grown bolder, more confident.
Yes, his near-emptied cup of liquor had nothing to do with it.
“I think it may be Network,” he said, as Sol joined them, having taken another drink that smelled like lemon. “It’s strange. I’ve never been good at social interactions, and now that I have a power that makes them easy, I’m pushed into a direction I’m not too comfortable with.”
“What do you mean?” Solomon asked.
“Like, I’m trying to make our group efficient because I get a power boost from it. It’s… not natural,” he said, suddenly finding it harder to find his words.
“I have never led a group as strange as ours,” Sol admitted. “So I cannot say.”
“You had a pretty large following in your heydays, or so Dad told me.”
“Yeah, I saw you on TV when I was six,” Maggie said. “I didn’t remember back when we met at the church, but it came back to me.”
Solomon smiled humbly. “I spoke when everyone remained silent, and it inspired others to do the same. Little more.”
He didn’t give himself enough credit. “Why are you letting me take the lead?” Shroud asked. “You’re older and more experienced, you could lead the group and direct it better than I do.”
“I am a supporter at heart, Mathias. I’ve never felt happier than when I help others. The happiness of someone else is my own. And so, I chose early that I would live better as a knight and follower. Of God, first and foremost, because I believe that at heart there is good in all of us if you dig hard enough.”
“Even Mur?” Maggie pointed out with a smirk.
Sol didn’t answer immediately, thinking it over. Mur himself was too busy drowning in his drink to listen. “Maybe even him,” he agreed. “All of this to say, I have found that the best way to teach is to let the young make their own choices and mistakes. If you try to force them, they go in the opposite direction. The duty of elders is not to tell the young what to do, but advise and help them back up when they fall.”
“So you’re going along with my plans because you think I should make my own mistakes.”
“This is the only path to wisdom,” Sol replied, then smiled. “Also, while this sounds selfish, I feel alive again. Do you remember that dreadful week, ten years ago?”
How could any human ever forget? “I didn’t understand everything back then,” Mathias said, having been eight when the dragons conquered the world. “I remember Blackcinders’ speech, though.”
“One day, you will understand that I fulfilled my duty as a dragon to a lesser race. One day you will understand… that it was an act of love.”
“I almost lost all hope then,” the priest admitted. “How could I not? The foundations of my world, of my very faith in God, shaken and overturned. How could one trust God when He didn’t save his faithful from the dragons? I have been asking myself this question: was I mistaken in my faith? Did the Lord even exist?”
Shroud felt compassion for his friend. After dedicating decades of his existence to a faith, only to doubt it… many would have bitten a bullet to escape that contradiction.
“So when you received that gift,” Sol continued. “And then the rest of us after you, I realized this was no coincidence. Maybe the tribulation had finally ended; maybe the Lord didn’t abandon us after all. And Mur… if fiends exist, then surely angels do, too. Whatever path we are on, I can see God’s will at work. Even through Mur.”
And Shroud now had a literal proof Heaven existed, somewhere. Maybe he should dig into it.
“Someone called Mur?” the imp said, climbing out of his emptied glass none the worse for wear.
“Sol was wondering if you came from Hell, and if this means angels exist or some shit,” Maggie said, massaging her temples. She didn’t manage the alcohol all that well.
“Mur comes from a hellhole, but it’s not called Hell,” Mur replied. “Mur doesn’t know what angels are.”
“You must know where you come from, no?” Shroud asked. “You must have a father or mother.”
“Then how were you born?”
“Budding. When an imp grows into a big enough gargoyle, he buds more imps. Then he eats those who can’t run fast enough.”
“Ouch,” Maggie commented, looking at Kari skating on the ice, focused on something none of them could see. “You think Matsumoto is fine? She doesn’t look fine.”
“That’s her way to blow off steam,” Shroud replied.
“I know, but… look, nerd, I’m not the healthiest person around. Like, I’m pretty fucked up in the head, and even I know closing it off just makes it worse.”
“Leave her,” Mur replied. “She’s strong. Mur too was always alone to struggle, and it made him strong. Everyone can only rely on themselves in the end.”
“That’s pretty cynical,” Shroud pointed out.
“If you believe loneliness makes you stronger, which is wrong, why are you part of a group?” Sol asked the hard question.
The imp blinked, glanced down at his tiny feet, then stared back at Sol. “Mur wants to learn to learn.”
The way he said it, it sounded like the sentence someone else told him before. The imp elaborated when the priest’s eyebrows furrowed. “Mur knows being alone made him strong. But he must learn how a group can make Mur strong. Because strength is all that matters.”
“Enough mushy-mushy,” Mur cut off Shroud, “More wine for Mur! And squishie Maggie!”
“Drinking contest?” she asked with a smirk.
Shroud sent one last glance at Kari, before deciding that giving her some time to reflect was the best thing he could do for her right now. As a private person, he thought it wiser to wait until he found her more receptive.
“Bring it,” he told his teammates.
The drink wasn’t that strong, and at worst, he could use the Purge spell. Nothing to be worried about.
Shroud struggled to open his eyes, the dim lighting of the Palace of Shadows making it somewhat easier. He found a few things on the blanket.
The red banner from the casino, which he had savaged with sharp blades.
A basket containing a closed bottle full of some strange black liquid, a red ruby the size of his fist, and a beautiful, purple ice cup.
A glass figurine of himself making a strange, ridiculous pose atop a steam roller.
A plush figurine of Mammon. Horribly savaged.
And Kari, reading a book in his chair, was waiting for him to wake up.
“We didn’t…” he asked tentatively, before realizing he was still in his glass armor.
“No,” she replied with a flat tone. “Shroud-san?”
“What is ‘Za Warudo’?”
“Za Warudo?” he repeated, casting the Purge spell on himself to get rid of the nausea.
“Useless, useless, useless, wry, a road roller for you… you kept calling Sol-san ‘Joseph’ for some reason. You seemed to be relieving an old memory. A violent one.” Apparently, it had bugged her enough to wait for him to wake up, just to ask.
“… Yes, a childhood memory.”
Dio Brando. He quoted Dio Brando the entire evening. He had watched so much anime, it had polluted his entire subconscious.
Maybe Maggie had a point. He was the worst case of nerd-dork hybrid.
“Don’t tell me you were worried?”
Enough to watch him sleep, apparently. “You’re feeling better?” Better than me, he left unsaid. Even with sorcery buffing him he felt sore inside.
She gave him a sharp nod. “Thanks.”
“Not asking questions yesterday. I appreciate you respecting my privacy. I don’t like explaining.”
Or interacting with others too much. “It’s fine. You will tell us when it’s the right time. Same deal as with Mur though.”
“I understand. Still,” she said, closing her book, “I’m not… calibrated. Socially. Not like you.”
Shroud laughed. “You should have seen me before Network. I mean, you know my friendship with the Werners started when I challenged Ulysses to a Divinity battle without warning?”
She replied with a thin smile, brief but true.
Side-Quest: Get Smashed, fulfilled!
Network Upgrade (⅔).
Network has taken the path of Synergize, of teamwork over power.
“You’re never touching alcohol again.”
A/N: This chapter was selected by my guild patrons on Patreon, Dex, Warwick Robertson, BlissForgotten, Johnathan, Marc Claude Louis Durand, Rhodri Thornber, Drekin, Bald Guy Dennis, Floodtalon, Dax, Karolus, Daniel Zogbi. They chose teamwork over power, although there is still one side-quest left before you see the reward.
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