"Excuse me sir?" I asked politely, dipping my head in the customary Kelari greeting. The man looked up from an ancient manuscript and blinked in surprise.
"Ah, Ascended! Karazhan was it? What can I do for you my dear?" He blinked owlishly at me and my lips couldn't help spreading upward into a geniuine grin. Although thankfully I noticed that the strange euphoria was finally beginning to wear off. "I have some questions about...well...about something strange that happened to me earlier." I admitted, resisting the urge to fidget. I tightened my grip the smooth wood of my staff. I took the next few minutes explaining my encounter with the death rift that had suddenly sprang up literally under my feet, and what had happened when I'd touched the raw sourcestone chunk. The man was gawking at me when I finished. A strong breeze lifted the tangles of black hair off my neck and cooled my overly warm skin. It was very hot and humid here by the ocean.
"I see...." Da Vidmore said carefully, now studying me like I was a particularly fascinating piece of magitech. Hells, maybe I was. "Let's conduct some tests shall we? I don't know what affects your unique status has on the Planes, but it must be something eh?" He hurried off toward the entrance to the ancient Eth building that housed the resurrection forges in the future, gesturing for me to follow. I hesitated. A large part of me was desperate to have some answers, but I was also nervous. I didn't want proof that I was even further then normal than I thought. Bad enough that I was apparently some immortal soul cobbled together by machine parts and sourcestone. I took a breath and took off after the shorter scientist. Well, I've always believed that knowledge was power, so best get on with it.
Inside, Da Vidmore was standing by a strange looking device attached to some tubes. Sanora nodded to me as I walked in, curious eyes taking in what Da Vidmore was up to. Feeling self conscious, I went over and stood on the raised platform in the center of the room where he instructed me. "Now, this shouldn't hurt a thing my dear, but just in case, I've inserted some shadow cores into the matrix. This should help augment your Ascended nature, protecting you against any negative side effects." He pushed some strange controls on the device and they began to glow. A humming noise suddenly thrummed through the air and I shifted slightly, beginning to regret this. I opened my mouth to object when suddenly an arc of lightning shot out of a rod above my head and seemed to crackle down all around me, but not touch me. The air felt electrified, the hairs on my arm standing on end. It felt like the time I'd sparred with my teacher back at the Spirit temples in Atia and she'd hit me with a lightning bolt spell. Except there was no pain. In fact, the feeling euphoria from earlier seemed to be coming back. Suddenly it was over and I blinked, seeing sunspots before my eyes. Off to the side, Da Vidmore was staring at me in open mouthed wonder. On the other side of me, the two women scientists were also staring. I rubbed my arms uncomfortably.
"Amazing!" Vidmore exclaimed, hopping up on the platform and circling me. "The Planar Reactor gave shocking results! It seems your Ascended Aura is more unique and special than we had ever suspected! You seem to have control over the Planes themselves! With this ability, you can do all sorts of things. You can destabilize planar tears, ripping them into full fledged rifts yourself and forcing the creatures to come to you, rather then you having to seek them out. You have the ability to seal these rifts as well and easily hold off the planar creatures that pour out of them! With this power, you can protect our Telara, Karazhan. You truly are our best hope." He stared at me expectantly, but my mind was blank. Wow. That's all I could think of. Even the other souls inside were quiet and still for once, just as stunned as I was. Control over the Planes? The ability to create Rifts? That didn't seem like something fantastic to me. That was the kind of power that could be used for either good or evil...and I didn't want that kind of responsibility. I stared at the ground, unseeing, as my mind remembered all the things I'd seen and done in my home city. Why was I given this ability? Why had I been chosen for this task? There had to be a reason. I clenched my hands. I would find the answers to that, but also, I would do what I could to live up to the expectations leveled at me. I'd always yearned to make a difference in the world. Well here it was. The chance to save the world had literally fallen on my shoulders and those of the other Ascended.
"Thank you sir, that helped." I said softly, finally. Da Vidmore nodded, eying me curiously. I slowly stepped off the platform, feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. All earlier elation seemed to have faded. At least I knew the effects of the raw planar sourcestone wasn't permanent then. I stepped outside, squinting at the sun. Da Vidmore exited behind me, still giving me a curious look, and I sighed. A commotion to the right caught my eye and I strode over to where a tall woman with long blonde hair was having an urgent conversation with a man beside her in strange clothing.
If we allow the portals to the Death Plane to stay open, the bomani will eventually overtake us! We need to do something!" The man, looking stern, was gesturing to another, younger man standing to the side and holding a strange device. This younger one was obviously a scientist. At the mention of portals and the death plane, I ambled over. With my newfound knowledge, maybe I could help.
The first portal, I'd learned, was to the north, by a place called Regent's Cove. The first time I encountered one of the "bomani" that Fairna Optica mentioned, I was so shocked that it took me a moment to react to its attack. The creature was some kind of horrible mutation of hound and humanoid. It was covered in dark fur, walked on two legs, carried a crude spear and wore armor, but it had a dog face, claws on short blunted fingertips, and instead of feet, it had paws. It was like a creature straight out of nightmares. Maybe I shouldn't have been as shocked. Maybe I should have expected such strange things after my experiences thus far, but for some reason, the bomani really threw me for a loop. Of course I'm sure I'd see stranger creatures on my adventures, this was truthfully the first semi sentient being I'd come across that wasn't wholly Telaran in nature. Just looking at it, I knew it some otherworldly being. It gave a sharp bark as it lunged at me and I barely avoided the lunge. Truthfully, the creature looked threatening, but it obviously hadn't had any experience or training in combat and within moments it was a smoldering pile of carrion on the ground. Shoots of electricity sparked at the tip of my staff and I flexed my hand to rid myself of the tingly feeling I got from casting storm magics.
After that, I didn't hesitate in cutting the doglike monsters down. The portal that they were coming from was easy to spot, after the explanation I'd gotten from the Warden. It was a strange rip of foreign matter up against the base of a rocky outcropping. If I looked really hard, I could even see a landscape in the center of the tear. A landscape like no other, alien, deadly, evil. I shuddered, finding it hard to pull my eyes from the scene within the tear. I needed to focus. Taking a deep breath, I approached the rip in reality. The closer I got, the more I could feel the otherness of the portal. The wrongness of it. This portal was full of dark energy. I really hoped this suppression device worked. I placed the small metal device on the ground as near the tear as I could get. Even with my so called immunity to the rifts, I could feel the madness of the plane plucking at my mind, whispering grand promises in my ear. Thankfully I had the souls inside me to steady my resolve. I clicked off the little catch on the device and hastily backed up, not knowing what to expect. I crouched next to the body of a bomani I'd dispatched earlier, wrinkling my nose at the smell, but keeping my focus on the portal. Nothing happened for several seconds and I half stood, thinking maybe I didn't put the device close enough. Then an invisible wind kicked up, creating a vortex with the device at its center. The wind became incredibly strong, then died down, just as suddenly as it had sprung up, In its wake, the portal was gone. Just the device sitting there innocently. I pumped my fist in the air triumphantly, feeling a grin play on my face. "Yes!" I exclaimed out loud, then scurried forward to fetch the device. One portal down, one to go.
The second portal was just as successful as the first, although the wind was a bit less strong this time around. I figured that the device only contained so much power and closing the two portals had pretty much been its limit. But it didn't matter, because it had worked! And I'd also managed to kill quite a few of those dog people too. The Optica should be pleased.
"Very good, Ascended. With the portals disabled, the Endless Court won't be as effective against us and we may finally be able to break their siege on the Ark." She looked so relieved and weary at the same time that I almost reached out to comfort her, but I didn't know anyone here enough to be sure it would be appreciated, so I just bowed low instead.
"Yes, that's all well and good, but the bomani leader is still around!" The Warden beside her said, not looking that impressed at my success. I frowned at him. What was his problem? The Optica frowned at him. "We will defeat him just like we defeated all the other enemies that had been throw at us." Fairna said, chin rising in challenge at the man. The two eyed each other like strange cats and I shifted, feeling confused. They seemed to be acting like reluctant allies, or people who only barely tolerated each other. I thought we were Defiant, in this together? I said as much out loud, and the Warden snorted, looking down his nose at me.
"Hardly. Us Wardens are not part of the Defiant. I've been sent here by March Warden Denegar to liaison with you people in defense of Freemarch. And to keep an eye...on things." I couldn't help but tilt my head in confusion. March Wardens? I had just assumed that Warden was another rank among the Defiants. I guess not. They must be...what? The local militia in this land then? So the Defiant didn't always live here? What were we then? An occupying force? That didn't sit well with me. Were we taking over Freemarch for our own uses? Its that what the Defiant were doing here? At my look, the Warden waved his hand, his features softening slightly.
"I don't mea to sound ungrateful of course. It's just that, we're a traditional people here in Freemarch. In our time of need, we expected the gods of the Vigil to save us. Thankfully the Defiant have stepped in when we needed aid the most, and in return we've granted them safe haven here. They've even built themselves a city, over to the east. It's just that your methods, while effective, were not what we were expecting." He scowled at Optica Fairna, who just shrugged in response. "Your March Warden agreed to our terms, its a moot point now. We are allies for the unforeseeable future, best accept it." The two again eyed each other and I nearly rolled my eyes. Okay I get the gist of it now. The Defiant came when Freemarch needed help. We saved their butts and in return asked that Freemarch be the base of operations. The Wardens obviously weren't too comfortable with the Defiants' means of defense. Well, we can't please everyone. A warm feeling settled inside me at my use of 'we'. I'd definitely accepted myself as being a Defiant, that's for sure. That reminded me of what the Warden had first said.
"Wait, you mentioned something about the bomani leader?" Fairna Oaks nodded. She pointed off to the north, by Regent's Cove. "Up there, the bomani alpha usually wanders. The bomani are a strange race. They seem to only loosely follow a sense of military order. Their alpha, the leader of the pack, keeps them in line with brute strength rather then loyalty and rules. We've tried sending troops to kill the alpha, but he seems to be well protected by some kind of magical barrier. Obviously, someone has a vested interest in keeping us pinned down here at the Ark." She scowled at the distant location. With my sharp eyesight, I could see where the land jutted out over the water. A tiny little shack stood at the very tip of the land spear. I just knew the alpha was inside.
"I think I can get to him and kill him." I said, still staring at the tiny shack. I had to do something after all. These men and women were trapped here, pinned down and exhausted from fighting off the Endless Court. I had the ability to help, so I would. Optica Fairna gave me a hard look, as if assessing my ability to live up to my claim. I tolerated her scrutiny, lifting one eyebrow. Earlier I'd noticed the strange dark tattoos inked onto my face in an elaborate array. I still wasn't sure what to think about that, but since they were not something I could just remove, I had to live with it. Besides, it made me look fierce, confident, and beautiful in a savage kind of way. I actually rather liked my new Bahmi body. Finally the Optica nodded. "Very well Ascended. Luck be with you." She inclined her head at me in grateful acceptance and I smiled politely. I held my staff out, briefly touching it to my forehead in salute, before turning and heading for Regent's Cove, to kill myself an alpha dogman. How strange my life is that I find this a perfectly normal way to spend my afternoon. When your job is to prevent the world from ending, I suppose it would be just that.
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