Looking around, I noticed strange, sand colored obelisks dotting the landscape. There weren't very many of them, and they were small, but they definitely didn't look good. As I waded through the Endless Cult forces that assaulted the Ark, I kept my eye on the obelisks, curious about what they were. I was kept quite busy fending off various fanatics and zealots, all proclaiming Regulos as their true master. It sickens me that some people were so taken in by the death dragon's promises of power and immortality. Could they not see that he cared nothing about our lives, about our precious world. We have but one world, the one we were born unto, and I'll never let Regulos get his evil claws on Telara.
"Oomph!" I exclaimed. One fanatic had managed to send a nasty spell that knocked me backwards and caused me to feel dizzy. I automatically threw out my arm to catch myself as I fell and to my horror, my hand came in contact with a stiffened dead body. I gasped and jerked my fingers up to my chest, staring wide eyed. It's not like I've not seen a dead body before. I'd come from the grimmest of all possible futures after all. But to see one up close, when I wasn't expecting it, and to touch it, was quite alarming! I cautiously turned my head and glanced at the body, feeling my shoulders stoop slightly when I recognized the gold and red colors that denoted a soldier of the Defiant. Yet another brave soul lost in the battle against Regulos. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my fire spell finally consume the cultist, who'd been flailing about after cursing me. I grunted in satisfaction, before forcing my eyes back to the soldier. Perhaps I could bring some article of his back to the Ark for recognition in case he had family. Although from what I've noticed, most of the Defiant seemed to be alone in the world, men and women joined by the common cause of defeating Regulos.
Among the dead soldier's belongings, I found a pack with a small incendiary device that looked similar to something I'd seen saboteurs creating in their labs. A thrown gadget that exploded on impact and caused a lot of damage in a localized area. Glancing around again, I noticed another one of those obelisks nearby. It was shattered into pieces and I realized that this poor sod had been blowing up those strange little towers. I counted the incendiary charges he had left and considered. I could try to finish his mission for him. That seemed like the right thing to do. Determined, I stood up, dragging the pack of incendiaries with me. I made a show of dusting my Defiant issue robes off, giving a last glare to the now-dead cultists. The armor I'd been reborn in may not be the fanciest or have eye catching flare, but it was better then what I'd worn before, apprentices robes, and I wanted to wear them proudly, undamaged.
I readied my arm for another grenade toss when the ground suddenly shook under my feet and I nearly blew myself up in shock. "What in all Telara was that?" I exclaimed in alarm. I glanced behind me, and saw the ground in a wide circle begin to blacken, as if a giant hand of darkness had covered that particular area. Feeling dread seep into my souls, I reluctantly glanced upward. Out of nowhere in the air many feet above my reach, a great rent in the fabric of the universe tore open and a half dozen large tentacles pushed their way into Telara. The tentacles, pulsing with death magic, slammed into the ground all around me, digging deep into Telaran soil. It was just like what happened in the future, when Regulos had come and we'd nearly failed in our mission. Feeling frozen with horror, I watched, expecting the dread dragon himself to make an appearance. After several moments when nothing else happened except this rift spreading its influence across the ground, I shakily pushed a strand of hair off my forehead. Right, of course. Regulos was still an incorporeal spirit locked outside of the Ward that protected Telara in this timeline. This was just one of the planar rifts I'd heard about that frequently afflicted Telara in this time. Between one blink and the next, undead planar creatures seemed to spawn inside the rift, following the magical link between their plane and Telara.
Even the nearby cultists looked uneasy, backing away from the rift. 'See!' I wanted to shout at them. 'See what your master seeks to unleash upon our world!' But I knew it was no use. Even if they'd wanted to, these souls had already been promised to Regulos in life and in death, and couldn't be rescued from their fate. Gripping the cool wood of my staff tighter, I took a determined step toward the dark energy pulsating in the rift. I felt almost like the magic there called to me. My body had been crafted out of pure Sourcestone, which was a product of the rifts when they interacted with the physical nexus of Telara, so it stood to reason that the rifts would resonate with me, but I didn't like this at all. At the same time, it made me less afraid of the rift. I knew that I could fix this. I don't know how I knew, but I just knew that there was a way to close this rift, something that would normally be impossible without eldritch machinery and powerful magics. The very core of my being resonated with the rifts and using that, I could control them. A scary thought all on its own. When I stepped foot inside the blackened ground that distinctly marked where the plane of death intruded onto Telara, I felt the thick malevolence that was the Plane of Death press down on my tiny mortal shell. I had to firmly remind myself that I was an Ascended now. A being reborn to be unstoppable and all powerful. Or so I'd been led to believe.
All the creatures who'd been summoned by the rift, who were milling around inside the blackened area and gnashing their teeth at the living creatures outside that they couldn't reach focused their attention squarely on me the second I entered their "territory".
"Back to where you belong, fiends!" I growled out. The words made me feel more confident more then anything. Thus followed the longest battle of my new life so far. I used every skill and trick I knew to evade and deflect their attacks, dancing around the area and slinging spell after spell at the death creatures. There were a lot of them, but they were slow, and I was a powerful spellcaster. Add to that the unlimited potential that I could tap into, and they didn't stand a chance. A fireball took one fiend in the face, sending him flailing backward, while forked lightning arced from creature to creature, dealing devastating magical damage. I felt a savage glee in their deaths. This is what I'd been made to do. To defend Telara. All the souls housed inside my Sourcestone body veritably sang with the thrill of battle, in perfect synchronization with my own body and mind for once. We destroyed the planar enemy, leaving nothing but the darkened ground and the pulsing tentacles. Soon, the air became eerily still. Alert for any other potential dangers, I was instantly aware when the atmosphere changed, becoming colder. In the center of the rift, a new, terrifying creature formed. I stared, wide eyed, and reflexively stumbled backward, nearly to the edge of the shadetouched ground. This was like those flying creatures I'd seen wheeling through the sky in the future, watching the Defiant's last stronghold like vultures waiting for the animal to weaken sufficiently so they could tear it apart and devour it live.
The creature was large, the size of a horse. It had leathery grey skin, like an entombed corpse, and wicked yellow teeth. The eyes were small and sunken into its head. There was intelligence, self awareness, or emotion in them. It was like a puppet. The claws were easily the size of my longest finger and I choked out a laugh. How in the hells was I supposed to defeat that thing?! I couldn't do this! Who was I kidding? I was just a naïve elf with grandiose visions of saving Telara and making a difference in the world. I realized that I'd been shaking my head the entire time I'd been staring at the dragon-like creature, and immediately stilled myself. And then immediately regretted it as the creature homed in on me like a magical missile. I had the urge to say 'nice critter' in a sing song voice while backing away, but my body felt like it wouldn't obey me. The souls inside were all clamoring in time with my heartbeat and I couldn't think. Pressure built inside my head and I gasped at the pain.
"STOP!" I roared out loud. The creature paused and cocked its head, much like a curious cat. The souls inside all ceased their disruption, but I sensed discord. It was by the far the strangest feeling and notion, that you were essentially, at odds with yourself, except technically it wasn't yourself, but multiple selves....I shook my head as the pain flared again. Something to think about later, not right now.
"We can't win this one." I whispered, half in despair, half in resignation, knowing the other souls, who at times seemed like invisible friends who protected me, kept me safe, and lent me their powers and at other times seemed like an alien affliction that I didn't know to deal with, would hear me. A shiver ran down my spine as a feeling of warm flooded my mind. As if randomly recalled, memories seeped into my mind, pictures that I could see, even with my eyes open, staring at the undead dragon creature in front of me. Images of hot deserts, dusty planes, beautiful grasslands. These images, which I knew were projected through me by the other souls that shared my body, served to calm me. I felt tears wet the corners of my eyes. I missed my home so badly. The other souls, too many to count, all lived in various times and places around Telara, and their idea of home was vastly different from mine, but I could grasp the idea.
Jerking my head up, I glared at the dragon, who pawed the ground and flared its wings. "Bring it on, scaley." I muttered, flexing my legs. The creature roared and charged. At the last second, I erected a barrier woven out of fire magic, which was just as effective as shield of iron. The creature slammed into the barrier, knocking me back a step and stunning itself for a few precious seconds. Hastily I darted away from its razor sharp claws and twisted around to face it sideways, staff tilted at a sharp angle. I muttered the words to the spell and swung my staff and a streak of fire slammed into the drake. The fires licked greedily at its dried skin. The creature didn't seemed phased by the fact that it was on fire, charging straight at me again. I guess being dead had certain benefits, I thought dryly. We led an odd dance around the rift's perimeter. I was careful to stay within the charred black area that was the territory belonging to the plane of death, as the cultists were afraid to step food inside it and be mulched by the dragon. As long as I knew they wouldn't or couldn't get close enough to attack me, I could concentrate fully on the real threat. And the dragon was indeed a challenge. It felt none of the attacks I threw at it. By this point, it was limping, on 3 legs, with torn wings and a slashed open back, still on fire, and sizzling with live electricity, but it still doggedly came on. I was barely able to keep ahead of it, and even though I was able to keep casting my barrier spell, it was becoming more exhausting the longer I held it. I may be Ascended but apparently my magic, though now a nearly bottomless well, was still dependent upon my physical body, which still felt exhaustion, hunger, and pain.
My side ached where the dragon had gotten lucky and torn into my flesh with its claws. I could feel the death magic pulsing in the wound, but I didn't have time to tend to it. If I stopped moving, I was dead, and the creature knew it. Even though its attacks hadn't changed, and its expression was still as dead and lifeless as ever, I could sense its excitement as I grew exhausted. The other souls were lending what support they could, but they were just formless shapeless pockets of potential that I could tap into. How I could do that, or how much I could tap into was still a mystery to me. It's all well and good to be an all powerful being but if you are unfamiliar with most of your potential then your just as useless as the next half trained mage. Finally the tide turned, and not in my favor. I tripped over a large tentacle which I could have sworn wasn't there before, and fell onto my back. Immediately I put all my effort into reinforcing my fire shield, knowing I wouldn't even have time to try getting up before the dragon attacked me. I was right. In seconds, it was bounding at me. I felt the magic surrounding me flex, the strain causing an ache between my eyes.
Holding the staff crosswise in front of me, I desperately searched my mind for something to help. Anything. There seemed to be an interesting divide in my mind between me and the souls that formed my new machine crafted body. In my desperation, I shoved right past that wall that normally I wasn't able to pass. It was like stone. I ripped through it and suddenly I knew spells I'd never even heard of before. The thing about spells though, was that you had to study them, practice them, spend years honing your art, like a scientist with his magitech. I learned these new strange spells in seconds, but I'd never used them. My barrier weakened. The creature, sensing that, renewed its scrabbling, claws digging at thin air inches from my vulnerable body, and I could swear I saw wicked glee enter its eyes. The creature was nearly on top of my prone body and I knew that when my fire shield fell, so would I. I did not want this to my second end. I forced one of the new spells to the forefront of my mind. I analyzed the words of the spell, something called 'Thunder Burst' and hoped it would be enough to at least get the creature off of me. Along with learning about the spell came images of the soul who'd used it. I knew that it was a spell designed to knock enemies back, to deal large amounts of damage using the very air around them. Just as I cast the spell, turning my head and throwing my arm out in front of me, the creature ripped through my magic shields. I felt burning pain in my outflung arm, which then went numb and useless. There was a strange soundless boom, like the sound that follows lightning. But the weight of the dragon was gone. I lay there stunned, and if someone wanted to finish me off, I'd likely not be able to put up much of a defense.
That spell had taken a lot of out of me, but I had felt its power as I'd cast it. And in the act of casting it, I'd made it my own. I knew, intrinsically, that it was something I'd be able to easily recall now. Apparently another perk of being Ascended. I could learn spells as record speed. Panting, I cautiously sat up. My side flared in agony and I looked down and felt suddenly dizzy to see blood staining the ground in a wide pool around my body. My mangled arm lay in my lap and I could see the white of bone among the muscle.
"Wonder why it doesn't hurt much..." I wondered, and my voice cracked. Finally, when no large leathery creature came flying out of the air to tear me apart, I sat up straighter and looked around. To my utter shock, the ground afflicted by the planar energy was now lightening, as if someone was painting over it with matching colors to the rest of the grassy valley. The sun seemed to suddenly spring up out of nowhere and shine down on me in blinding radiance and I only just now noticed that its rays hadn't been able to pierce the area afflicted by the rift. A strange magic related to the planes themselves no doubt. About a dozen feet from my outstretched boots lay the body of the dragon. The fire was still merrily eating away at its form, and almost the entire body was now charred and blackened. I sagged with relief. The tentacles which seemed to rope off this part of Telara and claim it for the plane of death reluctantly loosened their hold on the earth, snapping back up into the vortex that was the center of the rift, way above my head. There was a low popping sound, followed by pressure in my ears and eyes, and the rift disappeared entirely, as if it had never been. I blinked, a little dazed to find myself resting now on sweet green grass. The cultists had all ran away when I'd defeated the dragon, no doubt expecting me to attack them next. If only I was that ambitious. I felt bone weary. There was a light tinkling sound, like a harp played at the wrong sound level, and small glowing orb landed on the grass by my hand. It was beautiful, a vivid pearly color between blue and white. "Sourcestone!" all the souls chorused inside me at once. I knew they were right. I'd never seen raw, unrefined sourcestone before, but I knew this was it. It was brimming with such power and potential. As if in a trance, I reached out and touched the orb with my index finger. There was a strange tingle that shivered its way up my arm, like the feeling you get when a limb falls asleep, and the orb just...sank into my hand. I shook my hand and stared at it in shock. What had just happened? I saw double vision and felt dizzy for a few seconds and wondered if I'd somehow poisoned myself with the sourcestone. Then my body became really warm. My torn side tingled and I looked at it, amazed to see the flesh knitting together right under my eyes. My arm was doing the same. Weariness and exhaustion seemed to just melt off me, and my eyesight became even more sharper then before. Already I was coming up with theories about why the sourcestone interacted with me this way, backed up by the excited fluttering of the other souls.
Apparently my body, being made up of a matrix of sourcestone grafted to souls and activated with technology and magic, was able to absorb and use sourcestone like other people used food. What an amazing feeling. I felt well fed, refreshed, and more alert than I'd felt since coming to the past. I leapt to my feet and laughed at how light and flexible I felt. I tucked away this information for future thought.
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