I stopped and stared down at the fainted woman, feeling a new kind of fear arrow into me. How did she know I was Ascended? She had elf like features, but she looked more delicate, like a doll or a pixie. And she felt different to my magical senses. I blinked a few times, but when no one else around reacted to her rather dramatic fit, I shrugged and moved on. I had more important matters to attend to. The minute I entered the stone chamber, I knew I'd been here before. In my mind's eye, I imagined this room full of magitech constructs, with red robed scientists analyzing data and bidding me good luck. It can't be...but this is the Life Factory, the same place I'd been reborn in, the place I'd left behind in the future when I entered the Failsafe and came here, to the past. I rubbed my temple as I felt a headache coming on. This all gets rather confusing.
Two powerful looking women were tinkering with some kind of machinery to the right and I squinted my eyes in the dim lighting to watch what they were doing. They muttered to each other as they experimented. I cleared my throat so I wouldn't startle them. One of the women stiffened and turned around suddenly. Her face slowly morphed from irritated impatience to excited awe.
"Sanora," she loudly whispered, never taking her eyes off me. "Sanora, it's...an Ascended! It can't be!" The woman, dressed in red and gold armor, scampered up to me and stared. She looked like she'd seen a ghost. Her companion, a pale skinned, pale haired elf, didn't even glance up, too busy muttering over the machine that she didn't appear satisfied with. With a muttered curse, she stomped her foot and turned around.
"What are you talking about Jillian? You know we haven't even begun..." she trailed off as she caught sight of me standing there. I felt this was a good time to introduce myself, so I stepped forward, clearing my too dry throat. I needed a drink as soon as I was done here.
"Hello uh....Sanora Rellwyn? My name is Anakesti Ta'lanta. I have been sent from the future by Sylver Valis and Asha Catari with a warning. 'The cults will release the Dragons. The Ward will fall. And Regulos will descend on Telara, bringing us face to face with our annihilation. If we do not stop these chain of events, everything we have worked for; everything we have died for, will have been in vain. The Ascended must forge a new future for Telara.'" I repeated what I'd been told to say by Asha, shivering at the dire portents in the words. Both women paled and stepped back a step, looking horrified.
"...What?? Regulos? The Ward will fall? It was weakened severely already when Aedraxis unleashed the Shade. What if it's too late!" Sanora rubbed her forehead in distress.
"Sanora. Sanora! Calm down. This Ascended, Anakesti, she's here to make sure that doesn't happen! Now that we know what is coming, we can prepare and change the outcome!" Jillian hugged her friend. Sanora took a deep breath and raised her eyes to meet mine. The steel I'd come to associate with members of the Defiants shone in her green eyes. I nodded at her.
"Yes, you're right Jillian! We will prevail. I can hardly believe you're here, Ascended! We are so glad! We are so very much in need of assistance here at the Ark! The Guardians have been attacking us relentlessly, hoping to stop us from well...creating you! Now with Ascended on our side, neither the Guardians nor Regulos himself will stop the Defiants." The other woman, Jillian, broke into a wide grin and gave a little cheer, throwing her fist into the air. I smiled in return, unable to stay unaffected by their sudden relief and happiness.
"I've just come through your Failsafe from the future. This is all a bit...overwhelming actually. I hardly know anything of what's going on here, or what to do, but I would like to help the Defiant succeed here so that Regulos does not destroy the world." I said quietly after the two women had calmed down some. They both nodded eagerly, still looking awestruck. "There were...others? Like me?" I asked after a few moments, tentatively. The idea of there being more of us machine born Ascended. It was like suddenly finding family that you didn't know you had. Obviously they wouldn't be true family, but maybe I could finally have others who experienced the same things I did, who felt the same way, others who I could relate to. That would go a long way toward accepting myself. Sanora glanced at Jillian. She tapped her nails on a component of the magitech she'd been working on, then nodded, somewhat hesitantly.
"Yes, there were others. Many in fact. We've been trying to create our own Ascension ever since we heard that the Guardians had fulfilled the Vigil's prophecy. Siding with the Guardians is out of the question, especially after Port Scion, so we needed our own defense against the planes. We found this place not long ago. We call it the Ark of the Ascended. We're sure that it's an ancient Ethian site for one of their powerful constructions. We haven't found much yet, but we've found chambers full of strange technology. Master Orphiel says that there are journals about Ethian technology being able to resurrect lost souls. We just need to figure out how to make them into Ascended. So far, we have succeeded in resurrecting our fellow Defiant, but the quantity of materials required to resurrect a soul after it's been sent to the Soulstream is staggering! Not to mention the power, and they have been just ordinary, un Ascended mortals." Her face fell with frustration and she clenched her hand into a fist. "There's something we're missing, some key spark we need to create the kind of power levels that rival the Guardians' precious Ascended."
I suddenly remembered the papers the woman had thrust into my hands before I'd gone through the Failsafe. She'd said something about having the secrets of Ascension recorded. Fishing the stained letter out of my pockets, I wordlessly handed it over to Sanora. She searched my face with her eyes, as if looking for answers, but I kept my expression neutral as I held out the scroll like a peace offering. And maybe it was? I needed some way to get involved with the Defiants here. I didn't want to be isolated and alone. Finally Sanora reached up and accepted the slightly crumpled scroll from my dark hands. She stared at it as if it was something sacred. Well, it was from the future. Or a potential future. If I avert the coming events will that make it an obsolete future? Would I cease to exist since the future I'd been born into closed, opening a new future? Ugh, there I go again, analyzing a situation I knew too little about to accurately guess at. Until I had a chance to do some research and studying, best to just stick with what I knew for sure.
I gazed around the chambers avidly as I waited for Sanora to read the letter. I had already read it myself, since I'd wanted to know what potential information I'd be carrying with me to the past. It was some kind of formula, labeled "Ascension". Which of course, meant that I carried the information that had led to my creation. An unsettling thought. The formula was written with an Ethian accent, and had so many foreign words and diagrams that it was mostly gibberish to me, although I had spent several minutes guessing and trying to figure the basic part out. All I knew was that my body was made out of pure sourcestone, refined and tempered with vast amounts of spells and magitech, held in incubators and tubes until it was ready, in which case they formed a semi organic body, from the basic structure of skeleton upward.
Apparently they need something as a base to work with though, for the sourcestone to graft onto, so they had found pieces of skeleton and other organic material from the many bodies harvested from the war and had built upon that. Sourcestone was such a powerful element that it had hardly needed any prompting once it had been given the blueprints on what to design and it had built the perfect body.
Half magitech and half organic, a creature that had the potential to rival the gods in power, but was also vulnerable to attack and other maladies of the sentient races. I could die. My soul would just forever remained tethered to my body's sourcestone matrix. Instead of going to the Soulstream, I would just....well I'm not really sure on that point. Would I just magically end up back alive again? Was it a lengthily process or would it be instant? Or was it something I'd need help with? Maybe I'd need someone to perform a resurrection spell on me? Resurrection spells were very difficult and required a lot of magic to perform. Which is why none but the strongest of healers cast that spell, and only on someone of importance. It was hard to wrest a soul from the Soulstream. I'd never dared perform that feat myself. I really, really hoped that I never found out what happens after an Ascended dies for myself. An experience I'd love to avoid.
As Sanora and her companion whispered over the scroll and reverently read and reread it, I watched a red robed scientist who was studying and prying at the far wall. It was obvious there was another chamber beyond that point, as the walls were different. It looked more like a cave in or a blockage rather than a continuation of the wall. It took me but a few scant seconds to guess that this was the doorway that led further into the Life Factory. Specifically, it led to the incubation chambers, where those strange raised discs had brought me to life. Where Sylver had stood on the balcony overhead and overseen the creation of an incredibly powerful, immortal being who had found herself in that situation without any warning or consent.
"There's a message for you here, Ascended." Sanora's reverent words, barely loud enough to be heard, jerked me back to the here and now. I took a deep breath, feeling inexplicably like I wanted to wail and cry. Mustn't yet your fellow allies see you break down when you're their so called answer to everything. Squaring my shoulders, I turned back to the two women. Sanora gave me a knowing look and nodded down at the scroll. She held out a sliver of glowing sourcestone. I frowned. I had assumed that the message was for whoever I delivered the scroll to. Sanora nodded at my hesitant look. "Yes, it's for you. It's from Sylver...Sylver from the future." Her eyes kept going back to the crystal as if she couldn't believe it. Imagine living it, I thought dryly to myself as I accepted the tiny messaging crystal.
"Over there, you can view hologram messages at the Imagistancer. It's how we communicate with the other Ethian sites." Other Ethian sites? I wondered curiously, but I was too eager to hear the message to ask about it. Glancing over to where Sanora pointed, I noticed a strange circle of metal embedded in the far wall. I don't remember that being there in the future. I wonder what had happened to it. Seeing a slot in the center for inserting message crystals, I walked over and activated the machine. A tiny, holographic image of Sylver Valis flickered into existence in front of me. It looked off into the far distance, at about knee height, and I knelt down to watch. This Sylver Valis looked worn and stressed, and I felt a strangle prickling feeling in my chest. I wanted to change the future of Telara, if only to make sure that my people didn't have to look like that. I had thought I was done with my task once I'd delivered my warning of what the future held, but it looks like I'd been appointed the task of champion of the Defiants. Not a role I'd have seen myself playing, but there it is. And I don't intend to shirk my duties.
"If you're watching this, then you've survived the trip to the past. Your survival means there is hope for the future. You have the power to change our fate-to stop the Guardians' destruction of our society and our magitech discoveries. And when the time comes, you will defeat even Regulos himself. The path ahead will be difficult and full of danger. But you can and you will succeed. All our hopes go with you, Ascended One."
As Sylver Valis sketched an elaborate bow before winking out, I drew a sharp, shaky breath, the first one since he'd started speaking. My eyes were a little wide, but I didn't care. By the Spirits! So many emotions ran through me. Feeling incredibly conscious of all the curious scientists in the room, I stiffly rose to my feet and kept my back turned as I removed the message crystal from the Imagistancer and placed it in my belt pouch with shaky hands. Carefully not thinking anything, I walked back over to Sanora, who looked up from the scroll with delight.
"These formulas....unbelievable! This is just as Master Orphiel theorized. It's even written exactly as he writes it." She looked so eagerly curious at that. I didn't know much about this Orphiel. He must be important, but I hadn't come across anyone by that name while I was in the future, so I shrugged. "This work...it's so advanced!" Continued Sanora. "This proves what we've suspected since unearthing this factory! Ascended powers can be granted by and to those outside of the Vigil's influence!" She trailed off and peered at me in shrewd awe.
"I had a hard time believing it, when you waltzed in here and claimed you were the results of our life's work, but....I see it now! Great sun, you really are a Defiant Ascended!" I nodded. Of course, that was what I'd said after all. As if I'd lie about everything that had happened in the future. I felt interest stir in me.
"Unearthed here at the Ark?" I asked, tilting my head to study the room again. Sanora nodded. She gestured vaguely with one hand while holding the scroll gently with the other.
"This facility was built by the ancient Ethians, who forgot more about magic than you or I will ever learn in a lifetime. Orphiel spent years excavating this edifice, and even longer studying its mysteries. He always seemed to know so much about the Eth magitech...and he was right. What we discovered may save Telara." She was gazing at me now. I shuffled my feet. There was that name Orphiel again. I'm guessing a famous scientist of some kind. Apparently the one who discovered the means to create me. So he discovered it, and Sylver applied it to a real life scenario. Cold scientific data. Which resulted in myself. An experiment. Uneasily, I listened as Sanora gave a brief history of the Ark of the Ascended.
Suddenly, weariness hit me full force, and I nearly slumped. I was so exhausted, both mentally and physically, from all that I'd experienced since my rebirth. It came to me that I'd yet to even sleep since this all began. Sanora seemed to catch on and gave me a gentle smile.
"We thank you, Ascended, for delivering your message, and we welcome you to Freemarch and the ranks of the Defiant. You're more than welcome to stay and rest here at the Ark. There's tents and blankets outside where the workers and legionnaires are stationed. Get something to eat and just rest for a spell." She smiled at me, some of her reverence fading when she realized I was an actual real person just like herself. I gave her a grateful look, while Jillian looked on with pride. I left the two women as they eagerly went back to analyzing the blueprints and notes I'd given them. Stifling a jaw cracking yawn, I left the Ark chambers and ventured outside. I was shocked to see that the sun was slowly sinking into the west. I'd spent nearly half the day in there! Where'd the time go? The inner comment drew a chuckle from me. Here I am, a time traveler from the future, wondering at how fast time moved. Shaking my head at my own musings, I stumbled over to where a large bonfire crackled. A couple of men dressed in casual civilian clothing were hunched nearby, hands outstretched toward the heat. They nodded at me as I walked up. Since I was wearing the colors of the Defiants they just assumed I was another Defiant soldier, although my uniform was a bit eclectic and unusual compared to the defenders here. No doubt a reflection of the future Defiants' armor.
"Would you mind?" I asked softly, nodding to a large cauldron of some kind of soup that sat to the side of the fire. The most wonderful smell was wafting out of it. One of the men shrugged and handed me an earthenware bowl and utensils. I hastily scooped myself some food and ate it quickly despite how hot it was. I was starving. It also helped slake my thirst, but the same man threw me a canteen of sweet cold water that I gulped as well.
"Thank you." I murmured gratefully when I'd finished. I yawned again, blinking sleepily. The events of the past day seemed like they'd happened a millennia ago. Was it a day? Maybe two? I couldn't actually tell since time was hard to gauge in the future. My muscles felt sore and stiff as I stretched out on the ground, just as happy to be sleeping here next to the heat of the open fire as in a soft bed in a furnished room or something. I was so tired.
As I drifted off I heard the two men discussing me in relation to the rumors of a soldier from the future arriving to save them all from the rifts and the Guardians.