A corpse tower.
That was the best way Shroud could describe the Black Neurotower. Unlike the intimidating, yet colorful structure in the Midnight Market, this nightmarish location seemed straight out of a horror movie. The structure seemed made of accumulated bones and corpses made of black metal, screaming faces of dragons, humans, and serpents frozen in time. The walls leaked a thick oil mixing with the ice, while a ring of energy surrounded the summit, spilling darkness across the skies.
A Malebranche frigate, which Shroud assumed to be Mammon’s, had landed near the tower and started rusting. The spaceship seemed to have landed eons ago, consumed by distilled entropy.
Warning: Yoshikage’s account signal is weakening.
“Mathias-san…” Kari asked.
Shroud sighed, putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder and feeling the jolt of Network through his body.
Yoshikage Account Stabilized
He had to do this with every member for the past hour.
The more they approached the Black Tower, the more it caused Magik Online to bug; to the point that they could no longer contact Mars or the Administrator anymore. Shroud reapplying Network by touching his allies stabilized their access to their powers, but only temporarily.
Shroud wondered if Mammon suffered from the same technical difficulties, deep within this stronghold of destruction.
According to the hundreds of bloody corpses littering the snowy ground, apparently not.
The Malebranche’s troops—Shroud assumed they were, since they involved mostly fiends, raiders, and other creatures he had sighted at the Midnight Market—had been decimated, their killer leaving their savaged remains around the tower’s perimeter as a macabre monument. Reavers whose chest had been punched through, gargoyles turned to gold and then shattered… if anything, the one responsible had been thorough.
“Disgusting.” Sol shook his head.
“Has the Midnight King massacred his own staff?” Stitch wondered as he examined the remains with Kari; while this may have been Pandorians, most of the corpses had their flesh dissolved, or parts of their body turned to gold before death.
“Their souls…” Kari studied the remains of a fiend. “Their souls were defiled.”
“The Deathgem spell?” Shroud suggesting, guessing what the Midnight King was preparing.
“Possibly,” she replied with a frown.
“Mur says his greed got the better of him again,” the imp suggested.
“No.” Shroud shook his head. “They’re means to an end. Fuel for his spell.”
“The target is Mammon,” Shroud reminded the team, although they were all familiar with the bastard chest. “We know he is a dual Orange/Violet, high Dot Four. His favorite fighting style, from what I gathered from my Conquest game against him, is a mix of using orange spells to increase his strength, and time spells to disrupt the opposition. He is very straightforward, albeit less than Jack.”
“He crushed us last time, trapping us in frozen time,” Sol pointed out. “While he benefited from surprise, we have no hope of victory if we cannot counter his Violet spells.”
“Everyone who can buy Timesense,” Shroud agreed, buying it himself at once. “That should allow us to detect his subtler spells.”
“Sir, knowledge does not guarantee protection,” Stitch pointed out. “As far as I know, only your Recursion spell could potentially counter Mammon’s abilities. The rest of us… are powerless if he manages to make physical contact.”
“He didn’t need to touch us last time,” Maggie pointed out, “Just looked at us, and we froze.”
Shroud frowned, as did Stitch. “The description of the spells indicate physical contact is necessary for Violet sorcery such as Clockstop or Timeloop.”
“He could have found a way around it,” Sol said, turning to Shroud. “You are the one most familiar with his abilities. Could he have found a way around this limit?”
Shroud had a hypothesis, although a farfetched one. In the Conquest game, Mammon had created homunculi and golems, remote control creatures both tiny and big. If he could somehow empower them with spells, such as Encode, then perhaps he could stealthily target others if he made them small enough. That, or…
“We must assume he uses a different vector to transmit the spell, maybe through bugs or similar creatures,” Shroud replied. “Stitch has Intuimotion, so he could warn us if this is the case. Otherwise, we have to strike him hard before he notices our presence.”
“Mur buying strong spells,” the imp said, the rest of the team nodding.
Shroud himself cashed in his Spellcoin reserve and his free Dot Three Spell. Outside of Metalmesh, he mostly focused on Black, hoping proximity to the Neurotower would give these spells an edge.
Activation: Passive, App Switch.
The user corrodes the timeline around them, damaging the very fabric of reality. Precognitive abilities of any kind glitch out around the caster, as possibilities are distorted; time-space abilities (except Black spells) have a greater chance to work erratically on the user. Supernatural bindings, such as Contracts or Curses, also fail to affect the caster or are instantly dispelled if previously applied, as the future drowns in darkness and free-will triumphs.
Activation: Active, Limb Vector.
The caster project a black flux cube inside their hand, which can then be tossed at a target; the cube quickly expands to swallow its surroundings, and then erases anything caught within from existence.
Shroud had no idea what the description meant by ‘erratically,’ but anything disturbing Mammon’s immensely dangerous abilities was welcome. A glance at his allies’ stats told him they had brought offensive abilities; Mur, in particular, had copypasted most of Mammon’s spell list, buying Timeloop, Dissolve, and similar abilities.
He thought he could overcome his fear by becoming like it.
Shroud glanced at the Neurotower, finding an unwelcoming, pitch-black hole within.
Like moths to a flame…
The bowels of the tower looked as nightmarish as the outside. Cramped corridors leaking oil, pipes-like veins pulsating with twisted life, a heavy, poisonous air smelling of rust and toxins…
Shroud and his team had entered a machine’s animated corpse.
Even his attempts to establish contact with the structure through Network resulted in anomalies.
The mental contact came back as a terrible, distorted sound in his own mind, like a scrambled radio signal.
Fortunately, they didn’t have to look far to find the Midnight King.
The corridor they used eventually lead the team to a crossroads of them, a hub of pulsating metal flesh surrounding a shining, crimson egg-like structure meshing with the ceiling above. Mammon was busy watching that strange device, his back turned.
Shroud didn’t even give the word. He sent his glass shards to skewer that chest, and Maggie shot him almost as quickly.
The projectiles hit the chest in the back, but his skin melted off into ice splinters.
A trick golem.
“Missed!” The Midnight King’s voice echoed both through the golem and the corridors.
The real one wasn’t far away. Shroud discreetly informing the group to disperse and find the real Mammon with hand signs; the Blue Sorcerer would keep the puppet busy. Sol and Mur moved in one direction, Maggie and Stitch in another, while Kari remained with him
“You again?” the animated puppet said, as it turned around to face Shroud and Kari. “You cockroaches, always meddling with my affairs!”
“Depends,” Shroud replied. “If you’re attempting what I think, then yes, I will have to stop you.”
“Prevent me from casting my Chronobreak again? Laughable.”
… Again. Did he remember? How?
“You knew,” Mammon hissed angrily. “I cast this spell once, in another world. And you remember it. I have seen them inside these bubbles, the worlds which you canceled. The world where I killed my entire species… and the one where you replaced me. Do they know?”
The golem’s eyes narrowed in cruel glee.
“That you killed them twice?”
Shroud glared back at this golem. He did inform his friends of his ability, but being reminded of this whole debacle left a sour taste in his mood. Kari remained still, refusing to show emotion to the enemy.
The sorcerer glanced at Network, peeking through the eyes of his allies as they explored the corridors, having yet to find Mammon.
No need to deny it. “I’ve seen your spell’s fallouts,” Shroud confirmed. “Hence why I can confirm you will fail. All you will do is make this continent a darker place and nothing else. True time-travel is impossible, even for Violet Sorcerers.”
“Not impossible,” Mammon replied. “Paradoxal. Violet cannot allow true time-travel because of the paradoxes involved. But Black… Black doesn’t care about that. That is why time-travel attempts always result in Black. Chronobreak failed the first time because I attempted it as a Violet. But this time, if I cast it as Black… I will go back. Back to the past.”
“And what, kill Wyrde in the cradle?”
“No. Save my master. Save his Dark Majesty from the prison he spent the last four hundred years trapped in. Make the universe Hell, long before Concordia even existed. To oblivion with the dragons, and those who worship them!”
Not that Shroud would have ever allowed him to cast that spell, but the idea of the Maleking free chilled him to the bone. If Manus’ scenario was anywhere but close to the truth… “All you will do is destroy the universe, and your master with it.”
Mammon replied with a laugh. “You would not understand,” the creature replied. “Mammon may not like it, but he was once but a mere mimic with power. Nobody believed in him, least of all himself… until I descended into the tower’s depths and found my other half trapped there! When I broke the seal, and the Spirit of Conquest embraced me… my King spoke to me. Guided me.”
Shroud ignored the monologue, glancing at his allies. Sol had located the source of the voice echo, a tiny, icelike replica of Mammon; a distraction.
“My King had but one wish. That I seize this blue planet and paint it red! That I bring about a universe ruled by strength and chaos!”
“We won’t let you take our home,” Kari spoke up with determination.
“It is our world as much as you, human. We fiends were banished, sealed into the depth of space when the Old Machines came from the skies, but we walked this land long before your puny kind. Earth is our home.”
“Why did you kill your own men?” Shroud asked.
“I owned them, tiny one. They are all mine. Your life is mine. But this world… it belongs to my master. You will all die for him.” Mammon’s golem ignored the sorcerers, turning to the sphere above. “Not enough gems, I need more souls to fuel my Chronobreak. More Flux. More than my entire stockpile. More than they could provide. More than you can! Always more!”
Shroud glanced up at the egg in the ceiling, glimpsing at shapes moving beyond its surface.
This egg contained people. The shadowy forms of Pandorians moving in a wasteland under a crimson sun; humans and dragons living side by side in a city of spires and metal. The more Shroud observed, the more the visions became clearer, showing him twisted mirrors of an Evermarsh consumed by toxic miasma, a copy of the Midnight Market consumed by Mammon’s mad spell, and worlds which could have been, yet never did.
This egg was one of the doors to Pandoria, and a glimpse of its true nature.
Possible universes which Maxwell had erased or destroyed, and yet refused to die. Their survivors hung on as Pandorians, with the leftover data coalescing in a dark realm full of hate and bitterness.
A cancerous reality made of leftovers, full of bitter souls…
More than enough to fuel his spell.
“Mammon is no longer in the tower,” Shroud guessed, speaking up through Network. “He’s just delaying us.”
“Guilty,” the Midnight King’s golem raised his hands. “Guilty, guilty, guilty!”
Her body clad in a golden shroud and moving faster than he ever saw her, Kari cut down the replica in half, the golem melting into snow.
Shroud moved towards the egg, touching its warm, lifelike surface. A mere push and he would fall through the membrane and into the stillborn worlds it contained.
How long until Mammon gathered enough souls to cast his Chronobreak? Could he collapse one of these stillborn realities and harvest its remains? Could one even survive Pandoria?
… Could they even use Magik Online inside?
“Come.” Ashmal’s dark voice echoed in his mind. “Come and see the truth.”
No way around it then.
“The door to Pandoria is open, and Mammon walked through,” Shroud told the group. “We will have to intercept him there… or die trying.”
Voting for Magik: Voting button
Hi there, dear readers,
First, thanks for following Magik Online for so long. You have been few to make it to Volume III, and I am very grateful for your support.
It’s been no spoiler that I have been experiencing a burnout on this story, especially since the negative reception of the Aster arc. Truth to be told, the reason I even kept with the current Wednesday schedule was because of the people who subscribed for this story on Patreon. I felt I couldn’t let them down and so powered through.
However, there are a few things that I can no longer ignore.
- First, I feel story quality has suffered, and still suffers.
- Second, many of the old Magik patrons unsubscribed the last few months (and have been largely supplanted by Vainqueur ones since) and the readership, already small, is down. This reduced the pressure I was on to keep that schedule.
- And finally, there is the red dragon in the room.
I now regularly receive offers mattering to my other serial, ‘Vainqueur the Dragon’, and between the number of patrons coming only for that story and surprisingly good Kindle sales, the adventures of the best dragon in the world have become a part-time job. A job I would like to focus on, which includes producing more chapters for it.
Full disclosure there: I think it says something when ‘Vainqueur the Dragon’ on average sells more in a day on Kindle, than ‘Spells for Sale’ did since June; and new Magik chapters bring in twenty times less views than Vainqueur’s nowadays.
I am not dropping nor cancelling Magik; especially since the story is in its last volume, and I wish to close the door on that universe for good. But updates will become more random and happen when I feel inspired rather than every Wednesday or so. Probably once a month or so.
In short, Magik will become a hobby rather than a weekly serial.
Since I will no longer keep a consistent schedule for Magik Online and that weeks may go on between two updates, Magik Online will no longer be supported by patreon either (so no more advance chapters or similar benefits).
Once again, I want to say thank you for the support you showed me, and while it may take a while longer, Magik will have its ending in time.
Thanks to my patrons on Patreon: Cooper lesniak, Foe, DtjHeutii, Big I, alex godbeer, Kyle Reese, Njordt, Tommy Littlefield, Brody, CptJimmy, Cory Allison, RandomGift, Nathan Bailey, Psy, Henry Salmi, Daniel Alberg, Njordt, Michael Böhm, Zach, Justin Mathews, mt222, Corgi McStumperson, alaxai, Svarog, Linkneo5, Zachary Venne, Ariel reyz, Peter Christensen-Calvin, K. William Klaassen, Lapha_Denec, antab, Sean Basa, Luminant, Murphy, James Teeple, BRUNO ASTUR, Dom Ceremonia, Max Collins, Zorathis, RoruRedTailedDolphin, Thaco4, Mike Dixon, Mikkel Kolding Christensen, Matthew, Sands, K, BlackFire13th, Cade, Kyoma,Jamie McKay, Bartosz Borkowski, Samuel Lim, Kevin Ramos, Sharrod Brathwaite, Deane L. Uptegrove, Jeremy Humphrey, Letmeinillread, Charles handgis, Christian Pettersen, Bob Xander, cale lechmere, damien, Elvis Malkic, Nelson Crockett, Jeb, J, Maxwell Margetts, Colby, Vodairo, Arvid Hedebark, Jeb, Bob Johnson, Sebin Paul, Tyrell Facey, Calvin Miner, Anthony, Audrick CK, Andrew Kahn, DenverDrew, 白酒鬼, Aubrey Craye, Oskar Nordström, Lucas Oparowski, Trevor Sales, Calvin Miner, Tycho Green, Rory, John Settler, CptJimmy, Bob Smith, DemonKingBaka, PbookR, Guy Smith, Joseph Caywood III, Glader, John Carroll, Revive3pls, mohammedd, Logan, Nanooki12, Colin Ford, Alianok, David Madden, Markus Pawlak, Zool, Clarence Odunsi, Manu, Quentin, Andrew Parsadayan, Daniel Nemtok, Moonspike, Igor Mikulik, C. Wilbs, RepossessedSoul, Kevin, Dhalmeida, Parker Groseclose, Mackoy, zed, Daniel Mackie, James Walsh, Athra, Chris M, Seadrake, Jim of Trades, Koen Hertenberg, Enaz the Great, Alex Pruitt, Saul Kurzman, Warwick Robertson, Johnathan, Rhodri Thornber, Marc Claude Louis Durand, Drekin, Bald Guy Dennis, Dax, and Daniel Zogbi.