The entire Curtis shook.

Thirty-four generators went into full power, lifting the industrial ring and Hecate’s central core into the sky. The secretly installed thrusters tuned into high-gear, jettisoning the upthrust to lift a landmass, while internal mechanisms two-years in the making coordinated like clockwork to safely separate the landmass. Like a lumbering behemoth, the circular pieces of earth, held together by steel, runes, and enchantment, took flight in billowing wind and dust.

Etaceh’s voice was heard loud and clear.

“To the citizens of Hecate, in my first act as an Prime Intelligentsia, I gifted to you the land I’d used to reach the height of my life. Using the power of miracles you have given, I’ll lift the city of Hecate as a new floating fortress to pacify this continent. My architects will help you transform this city into your image. Hecate will be the first of the flying city — my fleet of floating gardens. Behold the power of Prime Intelligentsia! This is your power!”

Under the power of an emotional tuning lamp, the roar from Hecate was deafening.

“LONG LIVE THE EMPRESS!”

Inside the throne room, damaged from Betty’s brief struggle, Etaceh glowed with power. Crystallized faith power, flowing in from the entire capital like iron to magnet, surrounded her. She put away her microphone to gloat.

“Love it, Elizabeth?” She gestured to the window, which was transforming from landscape into the wide open blue. “I spent two years turning this city into an invincible flying fortress. It’s quite exhausting work.” She lazily stretched. “I’m surprised I actually pulled it off right under your nose.”

Betty, glued to the rumbling floor, glanced up. It was only now, after everything that happened in the last hour, that Betty completely and unreservedly believed her sister. Etaceh wasn’t just inhumane. She was, in all senses, invincible. Her dad wasn’t crazy. He was five-dimension ahead in the way humanity couldn’t perceive. Yulong Empire? Not a problem. Having the massive superpower from the Southern Continent infiltrated Curtis was a small price to pay to keep this monster at bay.

She had no idea what she faced, and no solution to winning.

How did her sister not fall over in a mental breakdown? What made Xia believe they had a chance?

“Oh, and here is Hunter,” Etaceh turned to another image. “He’s trying to get up here.” Etaceh grabbed popcorn from the back of her throne. “Must give credit to Carolina,” the Lord grabbed a handful of treats and ate it. “Her secret cache of emergency popcorn is awesome.” Etaceh looked at popcorn wistfully. “I almost feel bad she has to die.”

Hunter’s best effort was a complete and utter failure. 

The thin path separated the five-man hit-squad from the palace of Curtis and Empress of Intelligentsia, but it might well be a mile given the amount of turrets and war golems lining the path. Worst, during the lift-off, the ground by the side of the road fell away, leaving them on a walkway to the sky.

Neptis knew the game was over when an Ether powered railgun neatly capped the gigantic snake she summoned. Her favorite flying snake, Sirco, was hit by the side and injured after taking down one of the angel-golem. The squad was sandwiched between two groups of killing-machines. Wind and sky waited outside the narrow walkway. Meanwhile, the turrets were mercilessly picking them by the side.

They were surrounded and outnumbered. Neptis glanced at her wounded friend and made a decision.

“Hunter, boss,” Neptis ducked from stray fires and looked into Hunter’s eyes. “I’m leaving.”

Hunter carved a knight-golem in two and yelled at her in a rage. “Neptis, that is insubordination!” He yelled at the Green mage. “You dare desert your post!”

“Desert my post?” Neptis tried to drag sense into Hunter. “You led us into this ambush. Sorry, Hunter, I’m done.”

Neptis used her Magic to support Sirco’s injuries. They jumped from the path, risking their lives in the fall. But before Neptis could successfully escape on the flying serpent, a pegasus-golem flew in and tackled her into a lethal.

She vanished as her friend, Sirco, attempted to catch her. Their fate was unknown.

Meanwhile, Carle, the child-mage and Curtis’s local prodigy, fended the army of knights golem with a massive quantity of Bolt. However, it wasn’t enough. For each golem fell into clattering pieces on the ground, three more took its place.

The exhausted Carle paused and attempted to wipe out the opposition with a massive duo Magic combo. Then it happened. A well aimed Ether powered laser blasted a hole in his chest. It was a perfect shot from an automaton centaur. The child fell to the ground in a pool of blood. His lifeless eyes were wide open.

Robert watched his friends go down and fought harder. He leaped up, cutting two angelic golems down, and ran his sword inside the third. The young man noticed an attack from the corner of his vision, and he leaped into shield Hunter, showing his back to an enemy as they drowned under the flood of numbers.

Hunter turned to see Robert get impaled by a harpoon, dragged from the hanging walkway into an empty sky and torn apart by a horde of flying golems like corpses being picked clean by piranhas.

After seeing Robert go down, Carolina decided it was time to retreat. She deployed her secret zombie-wyvern, swung herself on top of the animal and deployed every zombie she could in a bid to escape.

Hunter, realizing Carolina's intention, yelled in outrage, “What are you doing? Come back!”

“With three down and no back-up?” Carolina dove on her flying steed, fighting the automatons tooth and nail in her escape. Her voice echoed loud enough for Hunter to hear. “I’m not going to die for the obsession of you geriatric old fart.”

With that, Carolina Westerna-No-Longer made her exit, swooping away as her wyvern got hit by stray fire and crash-landed in the hill of god-know-where.

Hunter wanted to scream as his adopted tool abandoned the house for self-preservation. The momentary distraction allowed an anti-aircraft turret to properly aim and land a devastating hit on his left arm, reducing it into mince meat. Hunter didn’t even have time to register at his bloody amputation when a fist from a humongous, fleshly deployed war golem rocked him in the face. The unbalanced and injured Hunter fell off the flying city into the ground below like a broken straw man.

That was the final gasp of Curtis’ once prestigious Military Police.

Betty witnessed every picture in the holographic projection and refused to give in.

“You might be a god, Etaceh,” Betty said. “But you won’t break me that easily.”

Betty might be running out of stamina and stripped of her trick, but her spirit didn’t break. A great fire still burns bright in her eyes.

“Yes, you wouldn’t break,” Etaceh admitted. “Your ego is too huge for that. You are dying to go out gloriously against a god.” The Empress giggled at her own pun. “Which is why I think it is time to break down that self-esteem. This will be quite a long speech. Betty, your sister might be a slave to her color, but you’re worst. At least Xiahana embraced where White Mana was taking her, meanwhile you’re ignorant.”

“What?” Betty refused to believe flaw of the average mage applied to her. “I know how to handle the mental effect from my Mana.”

Etaceh was more tired than anything as she imparted the final lesson to her rebelling student. “Fine,” she shrugged chillingly. “Let's talk about the curious combination of Red, Black and Blue — the color of bruises.” The lord chewed on more popcorn before the psychological pounding. “A Tricolor which mixes Blue’s psychopathy, Red’s impulsiveness, and Black’s ambition. These three mix ‌into the flagship banner for a magnificent bastard — a villain. Betty, dear, do you seriously believe you have any damn heroic quality with those Mana fueling you.”

Betty was in denial, “Are you serious? I’m spending my night as a hero for the weak.”

“True,” Etaceh shrugged. “Because you subsist on their adoration and praise. You drink it like an addict — an emotional narcissist with a streak of genius or a survivalist with sentimentality.” Etaceh then began her confession. “I already know you will refuse to be my pet. You have too much indignation, ambition and raw desire for self-independence to be anyone's pawn.

“You, in a monument of arrogance, believe you understood your weakness. The perfect princess of the mass, hiding away your Black Magic, parading the best Red and Blue. You fret about Black influence, but dear, Black is amoral, not evil. Instead, your weakness is Red — an overwhelming thirst for love and ability to love others. The fear of losing that love is your sole motivation. You don't come here to restore Curtis or to gain power. You come here because I take people you care about away, and your soul demands payback.

“It’s a beautiful motivation, but another color you are proud of, Blue, made it into a poison. Blue made you strategic to satiate this love of yours, and its psychopathic nature couldn’t be more transparent. The Black you are so afraid simply dumps a few more points into the selfishness, but Blue blinds you to the emotional damage your action caused in the name of ‘greater good’. It allows you to rationalize your rotten nature to feed Red’s emotional need.

“Your action reflects this. You tossed your father to defend Curtis? You’re simply afraid that his’ suicide’ will affect your reputation. Your absence when your sister was being politically punished? Everyone knows you can help her, but you were too afraid she would steal the spotlight, so you let nature take its course as a result. The Dark Witch gig? You don’t have a single community spirit in you. You just subconsciously realize exploiting the discontent against the nobility will get you more points from the mass as a media sensation. Everything you do is selfish and emotional, hidden beneath ample self-denial and rationalization. You’re a horrible human, Elizabeth. At least, I accept what I am, but you never did.”

Betty listened to the entire speech. Her heart was beating rapidly. She tried to shut out Etaceh’s words.

“You’re wrong!” Betty said in an incredibly weak comeback.

“Then a proof is in order,” Etaceh stood from the throne and clicked her fingers. The golden motes of light around her faded, and the atmosphere dimmed. The Lord of Mechanical Magic spread her arms for the final performance. “I deactivated all my defensive artifacts, Elizabeth,” Etaceh smiled sweetly as she walked closer. “Instead, I’m switching on a holographic recorder. This is a golden opportunity to kill me. The price is simple. The recording of Elizabeth La Louve’s attempt murder of the Prime Empress of Intelligentsia will be projected over the city, ruining your once pristine reputation. Your resurrection will be puzzling, but my emotion manipulator can smooth that over. It’s a good price, don’t you agree. Your saintly image for the greatest chance to kill me. I give you a minute, Elizabeth.”

Betty knew this was a bluff, but she couldn’t move. Etaceh stood, open to an attack at point-blank, but it was she who was sweating. Her legs were trembling. She was afraid, feeling raw terror of the lifetime creeping down her spine.

“Come on, Elizabeth,” Etaceh crept closer. She was so close, Betty could feel her breath. “I’m here. You wouldn’t miss this close, right.”

Betty ordered her Mana to fire. She commanded her disobedient body to attack, but there was no response but a rapid beating of her heart. Her concentration was in disarray. Fear of the unknown was overwhelming. Her throat was parched with a single dread.

Elizabeth La Louve was frozen with fear at the thought of being sneered at. The very possibility of transforming into a hated villain petrified her. She couldn’t bear to see the children’s adoration turned into disgust. Her suitors’ scornful faces hit harder than anything Etaceh threw at her.

“It is two minutes,” Etaceh said. “But I am generous. I’ll give you another.”

Betty couldn’t move. The longer the time dragged on, the more the vision built. She couldn’t take this.

Elizabeth, the Dark Witch, fell to her knee in tears. It was clear she couldn’t do it. A simple loss of reputation and mere possibility of being scorned robbed her willpower. Even in the face of losing her life, Betty couldn’t let go of the need to be loved.

“So, it appears I’m spot on,” Etaceh smiled sweetly at her rebellious kitten. “Now, do you want to be my puppet, yet? I will give you all the love you want.”

Betty looked up, tempted to say yes, but she couldn’t. It wasn’t anger, but jealousy and spite toward the woman who took away nearly everything that mattered to her.

“Go to hell,” Betty took out the crimson vial Xia gave her, clutching it, and remembering her sister’s word in what would surely be her final moment.

“To be honest, I don’t think I can die,” Etaceh sighed, giving up on making more pitches. “Very well, have it your way, Elizabeth.”

Betty closed her eyes and shattered the vial as the Rank 6 Red Magic swallowed in a gulf of lightning.

The crimson lightning fate, revealing nothing but a charred spot where she was.

Betty opened her eyes again in the cave of White.