Chapter 58: DLC: The First Sponsor

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Mars, god of war, father of Rome, clenched his fists against the marble ground. He had pleaded his cause with great skill, enough to make even the queen hesitate, only for the king to deny him. “Uncle, why?”

The grim king of Olympus sat firm on his throne of white stone, his posture unbending iron. Great and terrible, the death god Pluto dwarfed Mars in power and size, his body covered in thick, rusted mismatched armor. Each part belonged to a long-gone civilization, with a knight’s face-covering helmet, Roman armor, and gauntlets from the East and the West.

A testament of a single, timeless truth.

Death always wins in the end.

“You are brave, my nephew. Once you were foolish iron, bristle, untempered. Overseeing the fate of Rome has made you wiser. You have grown into true steel.” As the cavernous, howling words echoed through the room, Pluto hit the marble ground with his two-ended red trident, wreathed it in the fires of the underworld. “You remain, however, war made flesh. I see what you wish for.”

“Uncle, I do not understand. Invaders occupy our former land, and mortals suffer. Our retreat was meant to prevent such a terrible event, and it happened anyway. We do not have any reason to remain hidden anymore.”

“We have peace to fight for. Perhaps not the best of peace, but peace nonetheless. I still remember the time we gods walked the Earth… and how the men chafed under our misrule.”

“Less than under the dragons.”

“You would have me foster a Godwar greater than the first. One that would be costly for everyone involved. I do not understand what you aim to achieve through claiming the Neurotowers, but I see the final outcome. I am, after all, the Lord of the Dead.”

“The outcome will come sooner than you believe, Uncle.” His thoughts turned to that fateful day when he returned to the world of men and crossed blades with the enemy…

The blades fell from the skies, an arrow rain of swords, spears, and axes. The mighty war god seized his own gladius and shield, deflecting or blocking the projectiles. The survivors of the dragons’ platoon retreated to avoid the attack, abandoning their dead comrades. Mars had been thorough with stamping them out, but their commander presented a challenge beyond anything he ever faced before.

The wounded, half-destroyed husk languished behind him, its legs blown off, its metal arms broken. A cold, heartless machine, a modern Icarus who grasped for godhood, yet burned as it reached for the sun; but in doing so, may have unlocked the key to salvation.

Mars did his best protecting it from their foe, but this trapped him a defensive position.

“I recognize you.” the icy cold commander said, observing them from a safe distance. Her cold dead eyes contrasted neatly with her ethereal beauty; in them, Mars recognized a kindred spirit. “You are one of the Twelve Olympians. I thought your kind gone.”

“So did I think yours,” Mars replied. “I will not let you claim it as you did Earth.”

“To the victors the spoils.” A flaming sword materialized between her hands in a purple flash. “Where are the others?”

“You will never know.”

The Violet Minister of Concordia threatened to smile. “The Grandmaster conquers all.” She charged. “Even the gods.”

Mars would be a fool not to take her up on her threat. “Once you stood with Father and Neptune against the forces of the great machines,” the war god told his uncle. “I remember how you were back then. Strong, unyielding, unstoppable. And yet when the dragons came, you just watched and ordered us to do the same.”

“I fought with my brothers, yes,” Pluto replied, his tone harsher than before. “And I lost them both. I will not lose more family.”

Pluto’s queen Prosperina, sitting at his side as an equal, was a lanky woman with skin white as chalk and long hair black as night. Her black dress seemed to mesh with the ground and the shadows. Her white eyes stared at Mars with a hint of sympathy. She was the beautiful kind of death, the warm and welcoming end of one’s journey. “We understand your concern for the mortals, my cousin. I too wept for the indignities they suffered.”

You should have done more than weep, my queen, Mars thought, although he did not voice his scolding aloud. “Yet you stand by Uncle, even knowing we are next.”

“You cannot prove this. The dragons have more immediate concerns, and greater enemies, than us.”

“You believe them wise enough not to pick a fight.” Mars shook his head. “I believe their Grandmaster mad enough to.”

“Perhaps,” Pluto agreed. “But our judgment remains the same. Should you provide me proof the dragons plan to destroy us next, I will defend Olympus… but my hand will not be the one that ignites a war. And neither will yours.”

Mars clenched his fists, his teeth grit beneath his helmet. “So. Nothing?”

Something akin to exasperation filled the deity’s voice. “I will not prevent you nor Vulcan from building your ‘Magik System.’ Neither will I support its construction, nor marshall Olympus’ forces on Earth. I will not budge on this, my nephew.”

Mars stormed from the throne room in an angry hiss, floating down the great, eternal Mount Olympus, falling through the copper clouds and the warm winds.

Once, this eternal mountain had stood in the land known as Greece, only to be hidden in another plane after the Godwar. Even after it was dragged with Earth to this dark corner of the multiverse when the towers rose again, it had remained hidden from the dragons.

But for how long?

He descended farther and farther, until Vulcan’s mechanical forge entered his sight, a realm of brass and fire. Mars found his brother atop a round metal platform, attending to an anvil of molten steel. From it, one could see the vague shape of their prototype, hidden beneath a thick cloud of smoke and fumes until the day of its activation.

His brother kept hammering down endless circuits with his hammer. His focus remained unperturbed, even as his brother stepped right next to him. The god had long replaced his skin with gold plates, his eyes with glass, his very flesh with gears and molten brass for blood. Some of the gods even said his soul itself was gone, replaced with the technology he so loved. Small, mechanized automatons attended to his needs, the children the sterile god never had.

“So?” the metal god asked, his voice a clicking noise.

“He didn’t listen, like always.” Mars crossed his arms. “A shame. Does he not see the disaster ahead?”

“Lord Pluto is cautious and cunning.” As Vulcan finished a piece of circuitry, an automaton hurriedly took it away, while another presented its master with a gear in need of a finishing touch. “War is bad for wealth. By fostering conflict among others while remaining unbloodied, one grows strong.”

“Or complacent.” Even if Pluto allowed their scheme, his forbidding of direct interference infuriated the war god. “We are still missing at least three donors.”

“I would say three and a half, brother. That color is a poisoned gift.”

“This is the best deal we will get for now.” The godlike donor may have granted them access to his color, but Mars knew all too well he would prove an equally dangerous enemy once their interests no longer aligned. “Can you finish the machine without the others?”

The metal god shook his head. “The Administrator was categorical. The balance of colors must be respected for the system to work.”

This worried Mars a great deal. While he had sent requests to the other pantheons, explaining his intention, most had refused or still hadn’t answered. Only the selfless Krishna-Vishnu had unambiguously agreed to serve as a donor until he could convince his pantheon to follow, while one of Heaven’s Archangel had cooperated since day one.

Meanwhile, with the exception of his co-conspirator Vulcan, almost every member of his own family had turned him down… with one exception, who hadn’t answered yet.

“There is still one card to play,” Mars said.

Vulcan nodded. “I already called her.”

“You expected me to come back empty-handed, brother?” Mars sighed. “When?”

Vulcan let out what passed for a chuckle, as Mars sensed a powerful presence descend on the platform. The war god couldn’t help but try to stand as firm and strong as he could.

The woman that settled on the platform seemed barely out of youth, yet also mature and on the verge of adulthood. Her chestnut hair, arranged in an elaborate hair dress, reached down her ankles; while her lustrous amber eyes could charm the fiercest of warriors. Her tasteful, crimson sleeveless robes smelled of sweet perfumes, while expensive jewelry adorned her soft skin—in particular, her necklace, crafted by Vulcan himself, enhanced her beauty to inhuman effect. An intricate diadem stood on her forehead, a remnant of her former crown.

Juno, Hera, Peacock Queen, the Queen that Was. Jupiter’s widow, and Mars’ own mother.

“I heard your call, my sons.” While she spoke, Vulcan kept working, leaving his brother to the convincing—his own relationship with their mother had never been warm.

Mars nodded, trying to appeal to her vanity. “You are always a joy to see, Mother.”

Juno’s sly smile didn’t hide the shrewdness beneath. “I sense that my sight is not the reason behind this meeting. You want me to sacrifice my remaining powers to fuel your machine.”

Which, as former queen of Olympus, she could provide. “Will you?”

“I cannot go against Pluto’s decree for my love of you only.” A lie. Mars knew she had flaunted his decrees behind his back more than once. “I need more.”

Mars loved his mother, but he knew her to be vengeful, unrelenting, and bitter. Her will matched that of Father Jupiter, and she would not budge from her position. “I am listening, Mother.”

“First, while I have read your proposal, it has a bit too vague.” The goddess moved to the edge of the platform, her eyes trying to pierce through the distant fumes and smoke. “Tell me more about this machine of yours.”

Mars put his hands behind his back, joining her at the edge of the platform. “One year ago, while the dragons’ secured their rule, an event on the mortal world caught my attention. A battle, the latest in an unending war. I couldn’t suppress my curiosity.”

“Flaunting the rules, have you?” Juno smiled, even though she walked the human world too.

“Before the conquest of Earth, the dragon queen created a machine in the shape of a long lost friend. A machine that could think, and reason. They came to blows, and while the dragons won the conflict, the machine’s spirit endured as a constant thorn in their side. After a battle that almost cost it its last life, the machine—Manus, as the dragons called it—made its way to Earth to hide and recover. It was it who brought Concordia to Earth… or should I say, the reverse.”

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the Queen that Was guessed.

“No,” Mars replied. “Not when this enemy intended to undo reality itself. But with a mortal’s help, Manus had unraveled the secrets of sorcery, secrets that could fuel a weapon against Concordia.”

“That machine you are building?”

“Yes and no. This engine is as much Vulcan’s masterwork as anyone else.” Mars coughed, a bit bothered by the interruption. “Manus had the right idea, but transforming his idea into a functional weapon took time, as well as planning the strategy to put it to use.”

“What can this weapon do?” Juno tried to hide her interest, but Mars knew he had sold her on the plot. “Split the world open?”

“Manus thought about using it to rewrite history in its image, and almost succeeded, but with Vulcan’s help, I repurposed it towards another application.” Mars delivered the killing blow. “It can create Heroes. Grant sorcery to anyone, on a global scale.”

Juno frowned in disbelief. “Impossible. Sorcery is an innate gift.”

“It is the truth,” Vulcan spoke to defend his work.

“It can if sufficiently powered,” Mars continued. “We need access to potent sources of each color of magic, to fuel our engine. So much power is needed, nothing short of us gods will power it. Gods willing to sacrifice their remaining powers to process it into Flux.”

“Sponsors.” Juno smiled.

“Once this is done, we can empower the mortals to fight the dragons, as we blessed the heroes of old.”

Juno considered his words. “And since we would only empower mortals, we would not technically violate Pluto’s decree, nor risk ourselves. Very cunning, my son.”

“Thank you. So, will you join us?”

Juno avoided answering, “What happened to this Manus?”

“It died,” Mars replied, a half-truth. He couldn’t reveal his ace in the hole yet. “Vulcan used its pieces as part of our engine.”

“I see one flaw in your plan,” Juno pointed out, cunning. “The reason why so many gods refused to support your project.”

Mars smiled behind his helmet.

“Our power is finite, my son,” Juno said. “If I sacrifice my lifeforce to turn it into this ‘Flux’ power, the way the machines turned my husband into a living battery, never will I regain it. Empowering heroes will leave me forever diminished. Should the dragons ever find us weakened, they will destroy us.”

“They will find us,” Mars corrected her. “But sorcery trumps our native magic in all categories, enough that it displaces it like an invasive species. It gave the dragons enough power to conquer galaxies. Unless we empower mankind and stand with them, Concordia will subsume us too. We must adapt, or we die.”

The queen kept nodding to herself, schemes forming in her mind. “My brother’s cowardly rule must end, and my niece is unfit to rule Olympus by his side. I must regain my rightful place as queen.”

Mars heard Apollo say Juno tried to convince Pluto to cast his wife aside for her—proving that her ambition overwhelmed her dedication to marriage— only to be firmly denied. Juno had held a grudge against her brother ever since. “You wish me to find Father and return him to power?”

Juno sneered. “No. Never again will I suffer his humiliations, if he still lives. No, my son. I will fight for my own claim, and you shall support it, alongside Vulcan.”

“You once tried to overthrow Father before the great war, alongside Neptune and Minerva. Yet when you had to choose which of you would rule, none could agree, and Father regained power.” The whole affair had greatly amused the war god, who had watched from the sidelines. “Neptune might be gone, but what will prevent another such bickering among the twelve?”

“I have ruled the longest, and I am the oldest among the claimants.”

“We are a scheming, bickering lot. No. Your claim will remain contested and even our support will not tip the balance. I do see, however, another solution.”

Juno crossed her arms. “What mischief have you imagined, my son?”

“First, I wish to ask you a question. Once in power, what will you do?”

“I will marshall the armies of Olympus, bring an end to those invaders, and ensure the gods are worshiped once more. Our interests align in that.”

Only partly. Mars had no desire to see the selfish gods of Olympus rule over mankind again; he would rather have them choose their own future. He doubted his mother would see the light of his argument… unless he prepared the groundwork.

“What solution do you propose, my son?”

“I can provide you a Hero of your own. A champion that will uphold your claim before the Twelve, drag Pluto off his throne, and show that fate favors your rule. One that will eclipse even Father’s spawn.”

When getting past her disgusted sneer, Mars could see his mother hesitate. Upstaging her husband’s legacy gnawed at her. In fact, she had tried more than once.

“I had a champion once. Jason.” The queen’s voice brimmed with fury. “He disappointed me, broke his vows. I will not suffer another weakling of heart. And none can match Hercules’ strength.”

“Oh, far from my mind. You deserve better than a brute wearing a lion’s pelt. The champion I have in mind is made of a different steel, sharper. What he lacks in might, he makes up in cunning. He will have my skill, Minerva’s wisdom, and Vulcan’s mind; the gods will fear him more than Pluto, yet find him more charming than Venus and sing his praise like Apollo. His will shall surpass Diana’s, his tongue will cut better than Mercury’s, and Vesta will waver in her duties before him. Proserpina herself will never sway him from you, and Fortuna shall bless his every step. Your champion will honor you where Father did not, because he owes all of his powers to you. You will and unmake them with a snap of your finger.”

Mars knew his mother well. She had destroyed Troy over wounded vanity; the idea of a devoted warrior that would defeat all in her name appealed to her. “And where would you find such a champion?”

Mars smiled beneath his helmet. “My, mother, I already found many candidates.”

Of course, he oversold it a bit, but among the hundreds of brave mortals he had selected, one would certainly fit the bill.

The domain of Set stood strong among the dusty, barren desert; a pyramid of blooded stone and sharp bricks, greater than anything man could ever build. The harsh sun of Ra made the place shine bright crimson, large iron doors closed. Yet what bothered Mars most was the silence. No winds blew; no insect crawled under the sand. Set’s realm was as menacing and unforgiving as its owner.

Mars on the path to meet Set.

The Roman god waited for the iron doors to open, his arms crossed. It was a power play, a ploy to put him on edge, to remind him he was but a guest in search of help. Set may have accepted his nephew as the new pharaoh, but he never lost his kingly demeanor.

Finally, after a long, agonizing silence, the doors opened slowly, and a powerful, ominous figure walked through. The funerary goddess Nephthys, walked through, regal and somber. Her gray, dusty skin contrasted neatly with her white, funerary veil. “My husband will receive you,” she spoke with a soft, motherly tone.

Mars followed his host’s wife into the pyramid, the doors closing behind them with a strong, dramatic sound. “Your husband is a show-off,” the war god told Nephthys as they traveled through the dark, shadowy corridors.

A thin smile spread across the goddess’ lips. “You should have seen our home during the last cycle. We removed the impaled corpses in front of the doors. I disliked the scent.” Unlike the cold and regal Proserpina, she had a dark sense of humor.

Mars sensed eyes staring at them from the darkness, the shades of thieves, tomb robbers, warriors and outcasts who worshiped Set in life. They now crawled inside his realm, ambushing unwelcome visitors as they had in life to steal their riches.

Their walk ended in a large stone hall, deep inside the pyramid; green torches dimly lit the place, revealing murals depicting the murder of Osiris by his brother Set, and the latter’s conflict with his nephew Horus for the throne of Egypt. Yet the scene that overshadowed them all depicted Set proudly standing before Ra as his invincible protector.

At the end of the hall, on a lonely throne of gold beneath a long sharp spear, Set sat on a vouched position. The ever-changing death god had taken a new shape with the modern age, dressing in a crimson business suit and tie, with shades of black. His human face was hidden beneath a red desert fox mask, whose ears and eyes shifted as if made of flesh.

No, Mars thought, as the deity’s bloody, rimmed eyes set on him. Set wore no mask.

“Welcome, Ares.” Set’s voice brimmed with patronizing confidence. The deity had been old when Mars was young, and he delighted in reminding him of it.

“You know I could have fought my way past those doors instead of waiting?” Mars spoke, as Nephthys stood silent and demure next to her husband. Unlike Prosperpina, she didn’t stand as an equal to her partner; Set had never forgiven her past offense and entertained other concubines.

“It would have been entertaining. Will you try to beat me into submission too? You will fail, but I haven’t fought a true god in a long, long time.” Set’s tone was eager, willing.

“I have found it inefficient to making long term allies; especially in times of war.”

“Truly you have grown more circumspect with the centuries.” Set joined his fingers, like a businessman discussing a lucrative deal. Mars knew him to be as sly as the animal whose face he wore. “Anubis and I pleaded your case to my fellows, and the proposal won them over. Even Horus, and we haven’t agreed on anything since his birth.”

“The Pharaoh will join us?” That was great news. Too great.

“Horus wishes to return Egypt to its previous glory, to free the mortals from unjust suffering, and to restore the cycle of life and rebirth the Neurotowers corrupted. I told him that if your plan was successful, then that would be easy to achieve. More difficult to fulfill, was his last condition.”

Mars frowned. “What is the catch?”

“The pharaoh wants to see your ‘Magik System’ in action before fully committing to your design. Anubis, that selfless protector of the dead, volunteered to serve as our donor for an initial test; only if it succeeds, will the rest of us join.”

Mars had expected something similar. He needed eight donors whose energy could be processed into the colors of sorcery for an initial test; afterward, he hoped that with the proof of its success, more deities would commit to the system. “They support the entire plan? Even the final stage?”

“Even this all-or-nothing gambit of yours.”

“This is more than I expected. Does the Pharaoh understand the risks? We will have to confront Concordia, and our chances of victory are low.”

“They will find where the Neurotowers siphon most of their Flux from one day. We are simply forcing fate’s hand earlier than expected.” Set pointed at the spear above his throne. “In fact, I relish the opportunity.”

So did Mars.

Time to recruit the Red.

As he waited in the great hall of the Kami, attended by minor deities, Mars felt confident. The warlike gods of the Shinto, the Land of the Middle, and the Seas shared his relentless, warrior mentality.

The god’s eyes shifted to the features of the room, to the walls and windows, each of them shifting discreetly. Unlike Brahman’s soul singularity, where all lives were one, here, everything had a singular existence. All items, all pieces of that world, had a will of their own.

The great doors of the hall opened, and Mars walked through.

The throne room of the Kami humbled the god by its unseen magnificence. Six pillars of precious stones, from marble to more esoteric matter, supported a highly decorated painted roof representing the ancient night sky. The painting shifted on their own, the stars dancing with the moon and the sun.

On the side, great banners and tapestries of samurai battle, fishermen conquering the sea, and great diplomats crafting heavenly mandates, adorned the walls. Armored figures, empty armor animated by the undying spirit of their dead wearers, stood watch in straight lines, forming a corridor towards the throne.

The empress ruled from an ornate, magnificent throne of jade atop an onyx dais. A great golden mirror stood atop it, so the goddess could admire herself anytime she came to sit.

Amaterasu herself was a different kind of queen than Juno. Sitting on the throne, dressed in simple yet elegant white and red robes, her long black hair falling down a sun-shaped gold crown, she embodied supreme yet humble rulership. Every element of her attire was calculated to enhance her aura of power and wisdom.

Unlike Juno’s need to flaunt her beauty, Amaterasu hides her face behind a white, shapeless mask where the blinding light of her eyes shone through two holes. Amaterasu reserved the sight of her true figure to a select few, either family or trusted friends. Mars himself didn’t count among those.

The Sun Empress didn’t need to flaunt her power and beauty. One just had to look around, at her bright, vibrant brilliance, to feel them.

“Great Amaterasu-sama,” the war god bowed deeply before the empress, as per protocol. While he rivaled her in power and had no master, he knew those gods believed strongly in proper procedure. He couldn’t jeopardize his goals for childish pride. “I am honored to bath in your divine light.”

The queen’s sun eyes looked down on her guest. “Mars-san. Have you brought tribute to my house?”

Mars nodded; as any guest before an emperor, he brought a gift. “I bring you information. I have located your brother’s whereabouts.” The queen stayed calm and composed, but Mars noticed slight tension racing through her polished fingers. “He incarnated as a mortal, a young woman.”


“Kyushu. Her mortal uncle has led her astray on a path of blood and madness.”

The queen’s silence was ten times more foreboding than Pluto’s grim gaze. “I see. Is she aware of her heritage?”

“Not yet. Do you wish me to bring her to you?”

“Do not presume from me, Mars-san.” The tone was strong and firm. “Watch her. I will decide what to do with her in my own time. You may grant her access to your machine if you so see fit.”

“My pleasure.” Mars waited for the empress to address his silent request; breaching the subject on his own might offend her.

The queen’s next words delighted him. “I have agreed to your proposal. The Kami and their allies will pledge their armies to your great alliance when you call for war.”

Mars couldn’t suppress a large, victorious smirk on his face. After Juno and Set’s conditional assistance, an unambiguous yes was a welcome change. “I am deeply grateful for your trust, great Sun Queen.”

Amaterasu remained solemn on her throne. “I must tell you, Greek,” she said. “That my Zodiac informed me other Asian deities and warriors decided to take a direct approach at helping mortals.”

“I expected as much.” Immortals had been active recently in the Asian region, supporting rebel activity in China. That was one of the factors encouraging him to accelerate his schedule.

He hoped they wouldn’t jeopardize his grand finale, though.

“You are dismissed,” Amaterasu said. “Inform me when you wish to start. I shall grant you my power to fuel your machine.”

Mars bowed even deeper and excused himself.

So far so good. He had all of his beta donors.

Mars gazed at the great machine from Vulcan’s forge.

Vulcan’s magnum opus was a marvel of engineering, a massive tower whose one-hundred meters size was only matched by its width. Giant floating brass rings circled the device, sustained by ethereal Flux energy. Six pillars of light, each of a different color—Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet—breathed power and life around the tower, their rays bending and joining above the tower.

The tower’s alloy had no earthly comparison, a black metal extracted from the dark depths of the Machine World; bright lines pulsated on its surface, while a white glow emanated from its top, joining the other six lights.

A tower to bind them all. And the donor joined them with a rain of feathers.

“Greetings, Olympians,” the Archangel Uriel said, as he descended on the platform, a winged being of pure, blissful light. “The Lord smiles on us today.”

“Greetings, and indeed, this is the day we have been waiting for for so long,” Mars declared, rather enthusiastic. “Thank you for providing the White.”

“I wish we could offer more,” the Archangel replied. “We intended to take a more direct hand in the defense of Earth, but our nemesis, long thought banished, has returned. Until the Adversary has made its move, we will wait for Armaggeddon to begin.”

Mars glanced at the alien sky, both the bright stars and the dread darkness in between. “Who is like the beast, and who can wage war against it?”

Uriel’s wings shifted. “He is already at work on Earth, corrupting souls in preparation for his return. For the sake of mankind, no, for all life everywhere, we cannot fail.”

“We won’t,” Mars promised, both to the angel and to himself.

Vulcan nodded to himself, observing his machine with immense pride. “When the Magik System will go online, the Administrator will send invitations to our chosen candidates and assign them our first requests. Their powers will be limited though until the machinery can refine itself and work out the bugs. They need to attune themselves better to the system before calling upon dangerous powers. Otherwise, we are ready.”

“Almost,” Mars said.

Uriel bristled. “Do we truly need that color?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Vulcan replied, but it didn’t convince the archangel.

“Black is a foul color among foul. It does not mesh and cooperate, it devours and consumes. If you want to see what Black is, just look at the black hole consuming Antarctica. Black spreads entropy by its very nature; it might cause glitches in your system, or worse. There is no place for Black.”

“You are mistaken,” Vulcan replied. “Black is color eight. The color of Paradox, of the impossible, of freedom; by its very nature, it breaks the rules. Even those of sorcery itself. We will not make Hacks possible without it.”

“The Administrator showed us the world Concordia will lead to; and even you, Archangel, who fought the worst of fiends, stepped back in dread. You understand that every sacrifice is worth preventing that outcome.”

“Mayhaps, but how do you intend to convince it?” Uriel stressed the last word. “This creature is not like us. It has no desire for wealth, for power, for justice; no rational motive, no hope for a better future. It feels neither love nor fear; in fact, it does not feel. It cannot be bribed, talked to, or cowed into obedience. To entropy, the universe is a zero-sum game that ends in annihilation. All its actions are geared toward hastening that outcome.”

“I already convinced it,” Mars replied, before turning to his brother. “Open the portal.”

“Madness.” Uriel cursed, as Vulcan pulled some levers. “This will end in tears.”

I know, Mars thought, as the gate opened. I know.

That time was different. The gate’s light twisted black and sucked out the room’s heat. It was no two-way path between friendly realms, but a one-way journey to doom.

Only the darkness of Pandoria awaited beyond that portal.

“Ashmal, First of the Pandorians, Archmage of the Black. Listen to my call. I am Mars, and I come in peace.”

Mars called into the abyss, and the abyss looked back.

A black, sinister eye peeked through the portal, a whirlpool of cold, unrelenting nihilism. A circle of white surrounded the dark abyss, the frontier between the living world and oblivion; the remnant of destroyed, deleted worlds at the edge of a grasping maw.

This entity was beyond strength; beyond death. Mars gazed at the end of all things, the darkness when all lights vanish, the last face one could ever see. The eye radiated dread and despair, and for the third time in his immemorial existence, the god of war felt fear. Even Uriel’s light dimmed at the sight.

Mars immediately faltered in his choice. This being could end his immortal life; he wished nothing more than to do so. One wrong word, one mistake, and the god would die in silence. Nothing would remain.

He had gone too far to stop now.

“I have come to ask for your promised support. We are building a weapon stronger than anything; one that requires all colors. Only Black is missing.”

The eye watched, soulless and unblinking. Even Vulcan, who had long removed the ability for fear from himself, tensed.

The eye’s white edge radiated with a corrupted, grayish light; the pulse went through the god and filled him with unease and disgust. Mars instantly summoned his weapons on impulse, but the void didn’t vaporize him.

A black, sinister circle of light materialized around the great machine, a ring of cold, terrible energy. It did not join the other colors; instead, it surrounded them, staying a stranger afar, an ever-threatening presence.

The unfeeling eye glanced one last time at the war god, and the portal collapsed into itself, closing the path.

“It did not ask for a price,” Vulcan whispered.

Uriel crushed his delusions. “You mislead yourself. Using Black at all is the price, and everyone will pay for it tenfold.”

If only the angel was more than half right.

Mars had promised this ancient darkness something for its support, the first time he peeked into the void beyond the Black Tower, and saw the truth it held.

“Grant me a Terminal, and set us free.”

Would it be worth it? Even Mars started to doubt himself, as he observed the black, hollow ring circling the tower. They had made a deal with the devil today; but he would gladly offer his soul if it allowed Earth to be free, truly free.

“We will keep Black Spells unavailable at first, to activate only should Magik itself or Earth’s safety be threatened,” Mars said. “Or on very specific cases. Last resort.”

“Wise choice.” Vulcan tweaked the machine one last time. “The machine is ready to wake up. We only need users. Heroes.”

“Players,” Uriel said.

Mars put his arms behind his back, summoning scrying portals around him.

They already had their first candidates.

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I would like to send a personal thanks to the very first true sponsors of mine on Patreon, Alex Pruitt, Saul Kurzman, Dex, Warwick Robertson, BlissForgotten, Johnathan, Marc Claude Louis Durand, Rhodri Thornber, Drekin, Bald Guy Dennis, Floodtalon, Dax, Karolus, and Daniel Zogbi. 

Otherwise, I’ve published the other, shorter story I talked about earlier, “Vainqueur the Dragon,” on Royal Road and on its own website under construction here. Besides an advance chapter, it doesn’t much content yet but will always stay one chapter ahead of RR.

The password for the forbidden area on the main website is hidden somewhere in the chapter, if you transform a word into a number. Happy hunting.