Critical Error

After confirming once more than Rosalind was properly enthralled, as I had been instructed, I turned my back on her and made to leave her office.

At that moment, I heard her voice again, once more in a monotone inflection. But this time was different. Her voice this time seemed like there were several of her speaking at the same time. It sent chills down my spine.

“Critical Error detected. Primary ego has been compromised. Contingency ego assuming control, begin reconstruction of primary ego from last system restore point prior to intrusion.”

My orders had been to “ensure that nothing goes wrong”. This quite clearly fell under the classification of something going wrong. Some of her words made no sense to me, but what I could understand informed me that she was resisting control. Therefore, in accordance to my directives, I turned around on the spot and lunged at her to stop her from doing whatever she was trying to do.

However, with a movement faster than I could see, I found my arm caught and twisted behind my back, with my body on the ground and Rosalind on top of me.

“Hostile intent detected. Classifying unknown as foe. Updating FFI, analysing foe profile…analysis complete. Foe confirmed as ‘Alpha’. Visual records indicate involvement in current compromised state. Correcting classification to interrogation target. Remanding execution protocol.”

As she continued to speak unintelligible words, her facial expression never changed – it was like she was a doll. Just like me. Her appearance had changed, as well – her once fire-red hair was now pure white with streaks of green. Her brown eyes had shifted into a pair of mismatched ones, her left eye shining red, her right eye shimmering and shifting, colours changing and blending into each other like a mixing palette. Whenever she spoke, four or five – it was impossible to be sure – voices were produced, all overlapping each other like a chorus. It was beautiful. It was frightening. For the first time since I had been stripped of my emotions, I was frightened. The fear that swelled up within me was too primal to be confined by the likes of magic.

Faced with that unknown sensation of fear, I did the most logical thing – I tried to run.

Not through normal means, of course. I knew that based on the speed at which she had intercepted and countered my swing, she was much faster than me. There was no way I could outrun her. So I turned to my magic.

The shadows on the floor beneath me rose up protectively to pull me in. Using my magic, I could shift myself from my shadow into any other shadow within a fifty meter radius. It took up most of my mana, but it was doable.

Or rather, it should have been doable.

“Condensation of magic power detected. Magic usage imminent. Initiating cancelling field.”

A pulse of mana erupted with Rosalind as the epicenter, and my shadows dissipated into nothingness. I tried to will them to aid me again, but they remained silent, ignoring my call.

Or rather, instead of ignoring it, it was more like the shadows were not able to hear my call. I could feel my mana breaking apart the moment it left my body. In all my years of service, in the numerous fights I had seen, I had never come across anything like it. Somehow, Rosalind was completely cancelling my magic. Realising that there was no way for me to escape my bindings, I initiated the contingency directive that Master had given me.

“If ever you are captured, and it seems unlikely that you will be able to escape, if there is any risk at all of you being interrogated, kill yourself. If it ever seems you will be forced to act against my orders, kill yourself. If I ever tell you to do so, kill yourself.”

Taking hold of the mana within me, I started to circulate it throughout my body, sending it all over. It didn’t dissipate. It seemed that as long as the mana didn’t leave my body, it wouldn’t be dispersed. Focusing on my core, I sent my mana all over my body, over and over, visualising it moving in a loop throughout my body. I made it go faster, and faster, and faster – if I could reach a certain level of mana concentration, the repeated strain on my body would surely lead to death. It was one of the things I had researched before Master had taken me. It was only theoretical, but it was my only recourse in this situation that would allow me to fulfill my directives.

Thankfully, Rosalind didn’t let me do it.

“Abnormal mana flow detected. If uninterrupted, interrogation target has a probability of death exceeding 90%. Prioritising life of interrogation target, initiating countermeasures.”

A sharp pain ran through my body as Rosalind’s bare hand pierced through my chest. But that pain was nothing compared to what came next. She grasped something deep inside me and closed her fist. The moment she constricted her fingers, the world throbbed, and the most pain I had ever felt in my life assailed me. I could feel her fingers, enclosed on the mass that was the central area of my mana – my mana core. She constricted harder, forcing a gasp of pain to emerge from my lips, and then all the mana that had been running through my body dissipated. I tried to force it to move again, but it, like my shadows, seemed unable to heed my call.

“Irregularity detected in core of interrogation target. Performing analysis on construction…analysis complete. Irregularity similar to irregularity found in primary core. Hypothesis: Target was compromised in similar manner to primary ego. Correcting classification to forced conspirator. Adding classification victim. Irregularity 100% analysed. Beginning deconstruction.”

My mana core pulsed as it was exposed to foreign mana. My body spasmed on the ground, waves of Rosalind’s mana moving through my body, purging the impurity. I don’t know how long I endured, how many times I screamed. It would not have been surprising for someone to check on us out of concern, and yet nobody did. All the while, I felt like long-present thorns were being painfully, unsympathetically ripped out of my core, leaving me raw and bleeding.

Raw, bleeding, and clean.

As she ripped away the thorns on my core, I felt the thorns constricting my soul disappearing. I felt the dullness that had taken my mind fading away, leaving me clarity of thought for the first time in many years. I experienced the pain, and felt the pain, and hated the pain, and briefly marvelled at the fact that I was able to hate something, just before I returned to hating the pain.

After an eternity of torment, an eternity of pain, an eternity of cleansing, the pain abruptly ceased. Somewhere along the line, my back had become arched from the pain – now that it was over, I slumped to the ground with a dull thud. I felt a faint throbbing from the hole in my chest that Rosalind’s hand had made, but even that was starting to fade.

“Deconstruction complete. Healing complete. Analysing data…constructing countermeasures…complete. Checking physical state of forced conspirator… vitals stable. Slowing vitals indicate that forced conspirator is entering a state of fatigue-induced sleep. Estimated probability of sleep proving dangerous… probability is low. Setting threat level to low. Entering quiet mode to expedite recovery process of primary ego.”

As I lay on the ground, weak and panting, listening to Rosalind speak more incomprehensible things, I felt my consciousness slipping away as I drifted to sleep. As my eyelids grew heavy, my lips curled into a smile even as tears fell from my eyes. After so long, I had finally become myself again.

As I slept that day, for the first time in almost a decade, I dreamt.