A path was made through the Utopian students for Sebastian. His silver helmet folded away, uncovering a displeased look leveled at one person in particular.
The halls of the museum were tightly packed surrounding the help desk. It’d been made a station for the students in contact with Orbital. There the tacticians, ethicists, and seers resided, informing battle strategy.
A girl sat in the swivel chair, behind the desk. She interacted with hologram displays and spoke endlessly over her earpiece. A red-haired student was leaning in, flirting with her. Sebastian brushed him out of the way with one hand and slammed his palms down, grabbing her attention.
“I’m in command of this operation. This is disgraceful,” he rumbled. “There’s a complete lack of organization, and on top of that, we’ve ceased receiving status updates on enemy positions. You’re failing, Miss!”
“I’m trying.” She looked frantically over her information. “Masters in Orbital and on the battlefield are quitting. I’m not receiving updates either. It’s chaos. I’m doing my best. Also, I don’t remember being told that you had command?”
“I’m assuming command, Miss.” He leaned further over the desk. “It doesn’t matter. What matters, is that we’re all huddled together in one location and blind. It’s a disaster in wait. We need intel so I can issue orders.”
“It’s Megan, and there’s a command structure, Master Elwood.”
“Clearly, there isn’t.” He straightened. “I need you to-”
“Okeydokey,” came a voice behind him.
There was movement in his periphery. A quick slash too rapid to react.
“Goddammit!” He shouted.
Sebastian sat quickly up and put a hand to his head. A sensation of pain subsided into lost memory. He sat in a dim room with one door and no windows. He knew this room. He wore a grey jumpsuit, his suit gone. Removing his head from hands, he gazed at the blue tattoos dancing over his dark skin. Countless runes with faint light behind them.
“What happened?” Sebastian asked.
The voice most familiar to him replied. “You were assassinated.”
“No. That’s not what I mean.”
“Oh.” He’d actually managed to catch the intelligence off guard. He had a knack for it. “An emergency situation developed. It was decided that the War Games would continue, but many of the Professors have been needed for a Council.”
“And I was not needed?”
“I’m afraid your skills would only offer collateral damage.”
Sebastian scowled. “I want a priority teleport. Get me to that meeting.”
A light engulfed him.
Teleports were hard on one so grounded as Sebastian. To be forcefully cut and pasted in a different place, it took him a moment to get his bearings.
He sat on his legs, hands on his knees in a ghostly corridor. The long passage held only him, and without his suit, he felt bare. He was rarely vulnerable enough to feel that, the paranoia which came with being alone.
He groaned at the thought. He’d been alone for a long time.
Sebastian followed his insight and came to a set of doors. Pulling them back he heard argument which quickly silenced. It was midnight on the real Earth. Only moonlight and the glow of holograms illuminated the meeting room. Eight or so stone-faced experts encircled a wide table which projected up an image.
The image was of a man. Rendered in full color the hologram displayed him pale and grim. His hair white and eyes black, he carried a Sickle, cloaked in haggard dark apparel. He looked like he was from another age.
“Sebastian Magus joins the council,” Aku announced.
He descended to the bottom of the court, past rows of empty seats to take his place at the table. Some faces he recognized were Wulff and Porter. Others were Professors and one ethicist. They exchanged short nods.
There were countless Magus on the hundreds of Utopian Liberated worlds and in the hellscape. Yet only a handful was invited. Not me, but I’m here anyway.
More people were arriving, but they relegated themselves to the outskirts. There was no space for them at the table.
“Apologies. Fill me in,” Sebastian said.
“Ouroboros is an untiered hostile entity. We believe he is a personification. Mister Porter, as the expert, was about to give his assessment.”
Porter, the man in the disheveled blue suit, leaned in. There was a moment of silence as he thought. “This is an abstract being,” he decided. “The idea of him precedes the reality. We have video of him slicing through metal and surviving incredible heat untouched. My theory, however, is that his attributes are not a constant.” The other Magus whispered in discussion. “I believe he may change situationally, given that his nature is transcendent. Consider that he’s a concept adapted to our binary reality, and you may begin to understand the amorphous nature. When facing against natural things, such as androids or humans-”
“Humans are supernatural,” a white-bearded man interjected.
“No,” Porter flatly responded. “Not naturally. Magic, it’s a breakdown of causal reality into conceptual metaphysics. We don’t fully understand it, really. We only know it relates directly to the wherefore of this.” He gestured broadly.
“Let’s not digress, gentlemen,” Wulff warned.
Porter grimaced. “Not natural,” he repeated, squinting at the bearded man. “Which reinforces my gut feeling. Ouroboros is a weapon.”
“As in created?” The Ethicist asked. “To attack us?”
“You know, I’d honestly love to ask him,” Porter said.
“Part of the reason I’m here,” the Ethicist added. She was undoubtedly a councilwoman. “It’s to oversee your involvement.”
“I’m not sure I agree with your assessment.” Wulff crossed his arms. “But the question remains, I’d think we’d all agree, what of our response? Our technology is impotent against him, that makes him a significant threat.”
“Aku is the pinnacle of our science and philosophy,” another Magus said. “Yet is rendered impotent against what this thing represents? Who decides this?” It was rhetorical, Sebastian decided. “I think we could overpower him.”
“Unlikely.” Sebastian looked to Porter.
“Yes,” he agreed. “This thing is inexorable. Like death. The cyclical kind, the highest form. I sense that. We really don’t want to engage in a large-scale conflict. And believe me, it’d be large-scale.” Porter passed the look down to the ethicist. “I could do it.”
The other Magus scoffed.
Wulff gave his say. “A binding.”
Porter shrugged. “Sure. I can direct and drones can scribe the runes. It’ll be a mass ritual. We’ll need all the numbers we can muster. And even though there is a multitude of us, there’s just no possible way it will be enough. Not forever.”
Wulff dismissed him. “In practice, it will succeed.”
“That’s what is best, then?” the ethicist asked.
“Yes,” Porter replied. He grimaced in consideration, then abruptly left. One could only assume for something important. Sebastian was suspicious.
All around the table people gave assent or held their piece. Sebastian didn’t speak. They all broke away from the table. More had to be gathered, all the Masters summoned. He decided not to see how things went. Needed to suit back up. He wanted to be back where he felt at ease. Watching.
He left them behind to find his way up into the night.
Porter marched onto the deck of the ship, which was lit by the light of wide levitating screens. The windows which looked straight down on the charred planet confused his sense of gravity.
Vertigo. That was the word.
Standing at every point around the room were Master Magus of the Guild. Recognized sorcerers of every caliber. The primarily transhumanist Technicists were there as well. He passed one, a full cyborg, on his way to the front.
Screens played the live footage that their ship was capturing. The Ouroboros from top-down rushing through mining machinery on the surface. Literally tearing through them like paper, only raising his weapon for the occasional android. He didn’t break or hesitate. He was singlehandedly dismantling the mining planet.
He stopped suddenly, walking out into the open. He turned to stare up into the night sky. He saw them as clearly as they saw him. His gaze fell heavy on the Magus. It could be felt.
Aku read and projected his voice as his lips moved. “Face judgment.”
Porter was ready.
Aku began the countdown. “Five seconds to drop. Five, four, three, two…”
One. The floor dropped out from under them. Space and the atmosphere blurring past as they were shunted to the surface. They resolidified, hitting the ground. Many were forced to their knees by the impact, but Porter stood.
Surrounding the Ouroboros were easily a hundred Magus. Each armored and powerful. Many wielding weapons. All were at a distance from him, though. A distance which he could easily close.
Ouroboros spoke and his voice was close as a whisper. “No.” He stepped forward and Porter raised a hand. His eyes widened, his advancement halted. “You will not commit this sin.” He sized up the forces facing him. He locked eyes with Porter. “You, the Man,” he called. “They know not with what they meddle. Neither you. Your lack of understanding is matched dangerously with your power. This. I have seen this before. You can only harshen my wrath, children. I lament this.”
There was a pause. They both knew each other. Knew what would happen next.
Ouroboros bolted. Porter instantly gave the order.
The circle fell with a flash as the rune was etched. Ouroboros crashed against the binding’s edge and the entire world rose and fell. Mountains in the distance were razed, the earth buckled. Porter hit his knees, his hands steadying the ground as they touched.
Others raised their arms around the freshly lasered symbol, forming a reinforcing ring. There was a terrible shaking. The turning of the world brought the sun over the horizon. It burned away at the air around them. Two Magus broke off, their places being filled out, to block the light. This planet was too close to the sun. Their field of air was hemorrhaging to fight the heat. The wind was rising.
“In the name of perfection, of mankind, and of me, we bind you,” Porter said to the ashen man, not two feet away. He pushed on the unseen wall. Spiderweb fractures crawled out from his feet, threatening to break the symbol. “Seal him!”
“No!” Ouroboros slid back as the circle shrunk. The Magus approached to close the seal. Everyone strained against the strength of one, people clambering over each other to keep pressure from every angle as the crowd grew tighter.
Silence fell. The Magus took a step back, dispersing. Porter nearly collapsed.
The rune had sealed, locking inward to bind the Ouroboros in a halo of light which shot up into the sky. Porter stood shakily to work his way out of the pack. To take a step back. With space, he could crane his head to see the white pillar disappearing into space. He could watch as the pillar narrowed and flickered out, collapsing into a single point of light within the circle.
A man came and clapped a hand on Porter’s shoulder. Through his helmet, Wulff said, “We need to clear out. Aku has work to do.”
Have to keep reinforcing the binding.
“Yeah.” Porter waited for a while longer as others teleported out. He knew this wasn’t over. But it was over for now.
Drained. His strength was spent. For the first time, he’d felt a limit. Everything seemed a little darker, because of it. It made him doubt.
Fuck that. Fuck uncertainty.
Porter had faith.
He left to go bide his time. This wasn’t over.