228 Embracing the End
The last few steps to the terminal were the hardest of Saigo's life. By that point, his hands had almost completely eroded, and he could barely walk because his feet had been nearly been reduced to bones as well. The damage was affecting his ability to circulate Diverting Tides, and this in turn allowed the cellular disentanglement to progress even faster. Without his ability to redirect the energy properly, he could already feel his face becoming numb as his ears and nose turned to dust, and most of his skin on his body had already disintegrated, leaving the underlying flesh completely exposed to the energy storm's raw power.
The pain caused by the invading damage was a sharp, penetrating pain that shot through his body all the way to his brain, causing every nerve to feel like it was in a constant state of freezing and burning. It was pure torture, enough to nearly overwhelm him, but he managed to keep himself from blacking out by focusing on the thought of what would happen should he fail, the thought of his family and friends. They were all counting on him!
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Then, with one last bit of effort, a single moment of intense pain that seemed to last forever, Saigo was finally able to reach out and place the remaining part of his hand on the terminal. He was now inside the eye of the storm, and the raging current of energy that had been shredding his body apart was calmer here and the pain was lessened, but he had no time to waste. The Eve on his arm had long ago been reduced to scrap by the superactive energy currents he had passed through, but the trace of power that Praesidio had left inside was still there, waiting for this moment.
As soon as his hand touched the terminal, Praesidio's energy flowed out of the ruined Eve and into the terminal, causing the metal surface to liquefy as the terminal activated. As soon as he saw the runes formed by the liquid metal, Saigo felt relief flood through him, then he instantly collapsed on the floor as his control of Diverting Tides finally gave in and his strength deserted him. His mission was now complete, and just in time as well. There had been barely five seconds left on the timer when he had reached the terminal, and by the grace of the goddess that protected Zoey, he prayed that she had made it through on her side without mishap.
The pain that had been tormenting his nerves had by now turned into an oddly comforting numbness that was spreading slowly through his mind as he lay there, and Saigo knew he had mere moments before his body turned to dust. Saigo felt a strange, floating sensation overcome his senses as his vision darkened and he slowly slipped into death's embrace. He was ready. He had no regrets, and he could finally rest after the long journey he had traveled.
He had seen many things, met many people, but the last month of his life had introduced him to wonders he had never known and people that were amazing in the best kind of way. Though he would be leaving his clan and comrades behind, he would see them again one day when they reached the end of their journeys and joined him in the great beyond. All roads had to come to an end somewhere, and Saigo had finally reached the end of his.
Across the city in the other control room, Zoey had stubbornly and painfully forced her way step after step through the energy storm and reached the terminal with ten seconds remaining on the timer. As soon as she touched the terminal, Praesidio's energy flowed out of her body and activated the system, the copper metal liquefying and rapidly beginning to cycle through different runes as Praesidio took control. Zoey remained standing there with her teeth clenched against the pain as she continuously channeled an immense amount of energy through her Mittra Regen Rune array to stave off the deadly effects of the energy surrounding her. She watched motionlessly as the timer continued to tick down until finally with four seconds left, Praesidio spoke inside her mind.
"Both terminals have been successfully activated. Beginning shutdown of all factories in three, two, one... Factory shutdown in progress. Disabling deconstruction bay containment fields."
Seeing that everything was working smoothly, Zoey knew that Saigo had made it to the terminal on his side in time. She understood from the dull ache in her chest that she could not save him, and carrying this burden, she turned and headed back the way she came through the hurricane of energy that lashed out furiously against her. The way back was just as painful for Zoey as it was the first time, and she was aware that she was pushing her limits dangerously by channeling this much magical power for so long. An ordinary person would have been unable to even handle this amount of sheer power, but thanks to her unique physiology Zoey could do the impossible, although it came at a cost.
The extended period of time she was channeling the raw energy from her Arbiter's Mark through her body was taking its toll, and she could feel the magic vessels in her body protesting in pain, adding to the torment being inflicted on her skin by the vicious energy storm around her. Zoey knew she could not afford to let up even for an instant, as that would prove fatal, so she pushed on through the pain, getting closer to the exit with each step.
Finally, after what seemed like ages to her, she reached the door and opened it with trembling hands. Not daring to stop her Mittra Regen array just yet, she squeezed through the door, and using her body forced it closed behind her with a bang. She managed to take two staggering steps away from the door before she vaguely heard Praesidio informing her that she was in the clear before she blacked out and fell forwards onto the floor.
However, she never actually hit the floor. Instead, her unconscious body landed on the soft, fur-covered back of a particular feline known as Viridi. The hybrid creature gently supported her friend as she carried her further away from the orange light still glowing from behind the door. Once she was far enough away, Viridi stopped and used her own Mittra Regen array to heal her friend, quickly repairing any lingering effects caused by her overuse of magic power. She could sense the fatigue in Zoey's body, and unfortunately it was not a fatigue that healing energy could fix. It was a mental fatigue that stemmed from the intense physical and mental challenge that Zoey had faced while inside the chamber, and Viridi knew she would be out cold for a while as she recovered.
While she rested, Viridi would keep her safe and carry her back to the others. With their mission complete, it was time to return.