Monday, April 21, 2014

[Karazhan's Story] 2.12: This Fair City

     The sun was just cresting over the mountains that backed the grand city of Meridian as I reached the fork in the highway that led to the city, a commotion behind a large pile of boulders caught my attention. I paused, frowning as I gazed that direction. It really wasn't my business, whatever was going on, but at the same time, if someone was in trouble...a strangled cry for help solidified my determination and I sprinted around the large rocks, tugging off my packs and unslinging my staff as I ran. I wasn't sure what I'd find, but I wanted to be prepared just in case.

     I skidded to a stop, taking in the scene. An outlandishly colored man in fine blue and gold armor was attacking a small handful of Kelari. Two of the dark skinned elves were already motionless on the ground, and the rest were huddled behind what had to be their guard or leader, who looked like he was barely able to keep the attacker at bay. As I watched, the armored man neatly sidestepped a cautious sword strike and violently knocked the weapon out of the guard's hands. The Kelari behind him whimpered in fear and shrank back even more. Before anything else could happen, I quickly called upon my magics and quickly put a barrier between the attacker and the Kelari. Frostkeeper's Ward isn't technically an appropriate spell for this situation, but it was the first thing that popped into my head and I had to do something quickly. The man quickly backed away from the group and eyed my warily. Keeping one eye on him, I beckoned the refugees to get back. They murmured grateful praises and pleas as they all scrambled away from the threat, and hot anger coursed through me, bright and blinding. It was one thing when we were at war and to defend oneself or home, but to slay innocent women and children? Civilians? I don't think so!
     With an expert flick of a wrist, I sent a spear of ice hurtling toward the man. To my surprise, he seemed to sense the magical attack and managed to dodge the deadly projectile. I frowned. Magical attacks were hard to avoid. Obviously whoever this soldier is, he was well trained. Come to think of it, he didn't look anything like the usual sycophantic minion of Regulos; clean shaven, clear eyed, and alive.

     "Who are you and what do you want?" I demanded, conjuring up flames to surround my staff. The man warily circled around to my left and I turned to keep him in my sight, while keeping away of where the refugees were huddled. At my question, he said something under his breath I couldn't catch, and bright golden light bathed his sword. I scowled. Fine, if that's the way it is. But than the man glared at me with such disgust and loathing, and spat out, "Defiant scum, you violate everything natural in Telara." I was so taken aback by his vicious words that I only barely reacted in time to avoid his lunge. His long sword whistled through the air and just barely missed slicing my arm off by a hair's breadth. He lashed out, a kick sending me sprawling to the side and I felt hot embarrassment flush my neck as I realized that these Kelari were watching one of the Ascended heroes get their bum handed to them by some fanatical foot soldier. I used my staff to climb hastily to my feet and his sword clanged off the shaft of it. I quickly removed one hand to avoid getting sliced, and pushed outward with the other, shoving him away from me to buy more time.

     I was so used to the dead, mindless and incompetent minions of the Endless Court that this man was actually a real danger. To prove that, he swung at me again, and I had to admire his bravery and determination, even as I cursed it. Most would have run when they found they were up against an Ascended alone. I cautiously extended my attuned senses, trying to get a feel for the man's aura. If he was another Ascended, I really was in trouble. I blew a sigh of relief when I felt nothing but the mortal coil that kept the man on this plane. And then I finally recognized the insignia emblazoned across his tabard. A fisted gauntlet in silver with a beautiful star pattern on it. A Guardian! In our territory. A single Guardian here, so close to Meridian, meant a spy. Who even knew if he was the only one. Now I knew for sure I couldn't let him leave alive. Who knows what information he'd gathered on the city before attacking the band of Kelari. The man seemed to know when I finally recognized who I was up against and he smiled with no humor. A trained Guardian spy and assassin he might be, but I was an Ascended, augmented by sourcestone technology and he stood no chance against me as long as I kept my wits about me.

     I twisted my hand into the air and shouted out a spell key, and it seemed the sky darkened above us. Large chunks of ice hurtled down upon the man, dazing him and knocking him back. He shouted a curse as one smashed into his sword arm, knocking the weapon uselessly the ground. With the other hand, he drew a second blade and grimly pressed the attack. I sidestepped and stumbled, cursing the unfamiliar terrain and his single-mindedness. I hated direct physical attack. Not least because I could avoid thinking about the deaths I caused if I was a distance away from my target. Of course, being in range of an angry man with a sword was another downside, I thought in dismay as his sword sliced through the fine fabrics along my arm, leaving a shallow graze before I could pull back in time. I wet my lips and whispered another spell, feeling a headache come on from mana use. A bolt of lightning suddenly sizzled out of the air and struck the man dead center. He roared and charged at me, but fell several paces from my new position, a blackened husk. The sky seemed to clear as the spellcasting faded and I wiped perspiration off my forehead. Uneasily, I gazed down at the dead body and felt somewhat sick. I would much prefer to be attacking mindless cultists than a sane, Telaran citizen who's only fault was that he considered me an abomination and a heretic. Suddenly I was engulfed from behind and I quickly jerked around, spell on my lips, before I realized it was a young Kelari child, who had run up to hug me in thanks. Her dusk colored cheeks were dirty and streaked with tears but her eyes were shining with awe and admiration. Somehow, this made me feel even more uncomfortable.

     "Thank you! Thank you so much, stranger!" The guard/leader exclaimed, coming up and steering the girl away from me and back to her mother. I smiled wanly at him, and gestured to the body without looking. "What happened? How did this man come to attack you?" The leader looked downcast, and glanced at the two fallen Kelari. Already, several of the women had knelt by the bodies and were performing the Kelari rites of death as they helped the souls into the afterlife. "He just came out of nowhere, really! We didn't even have time to send for help or defend ourselves. Either he was laying in wait for us, or we ventured too close to his hiding spot. I can tell he's a spy, that's for sure." The man angrily kicked the body. I nodded absently and sighed. I'd better inspect him for any information just in case. I knelt down and the Kelari leader watched me curiously as I carefully riffled through the Guardian's pockets and pouches, being very careful not to actually touch the body. I didn't like the reminder that I could easily deal out such devastating death. In a hidden side pouch I retrieved a tiny, tightly rolled up scroll with the Guardian crest on it, as well as another crest I didn't recognize. I frowned somberly as I stood up, debating whether I should open the scroll and see what it held, or if I should just hand it to Lady Catari unopened when I saw her, since it no doubt pertained to official Defiant business and I haven't as yet considered myself an official part of their faction. But than again, if it was just nothing more than a list of flowers he was studying...I would feel distinctly foolish.

     Mind made up, I gently lifted the wax seal off the scroll and unrolled it. The Kelari leader pressed close eagerly and I gave him a look, walking a few steps away. He was hardly someone I'd let see such potentially sensitive information. The writing on the scroll was incredibly tiny and barely legible, the light scrawl of letters filling most of the parchment. It took me longer than I'd care to admit to decipher even if he was using the common Telaran language, since the writing was so horrible and my memory of the written word foggier than I was expecting. Which in itself was rather alarming. Was my slow comprehension due to death or was it some side effect of becoming this augmented magitech being? Was so much combat and defense and soul knowledge shoved into my brain that I would  begin to forget even basic things? I gripped the parchment tightly as an icy jolt of fear shivered down my spine, and I resolved that I would definitely spend some time in Meridian's famous library reintroducing myself to the many ancient languages and written word of Telara. I refuse to let go of my sense of self, of who I am, and my skill at research and study was something I'd always been proud of. I shook my head to focus back on the scroll and forced myself to understand what had been written. It was so frustrating, knowing I should be able to quickly read this, but not being able to. Maybe it was a symptom of having so many souls with all of their memories and knowledge locked inside. My mind was trying to comprehend so many different and outlandish cultures from the different beings that made up the soul matrix of my engineered body that my mind couldn't unravel one specific piece. That made me feel slightly better.

     "So? What's it say!" Demanded the Kelari, hovering just out of reach, curiosity brimming in his eyes. I rolled my own eyes. "Obviously it's highly classified information that should be kept to a limited number of individuals. But he was indeed a spy sent here to investigate us. I will give this to Lady Catari immediately." The man gaped at me at the mention of Asha Catari, looked dazed, as if his favorite celebrity had just walked into the room. "You know the General? Just who are you anyway?" His eyes slid down to the blackened husk of the Guardian spy and his face morphed through various expressions, the most telling of which was nervous fear. I felt a stab in the region of the my heart at that. I would never in a thousand years wish for anyone to fear me, and it made me feel very alone and saddened that a Kelari, a member of my own former people, would feel that way. I pursed my lips, keeping my face blank of the brief hurt I'd felt, and shrugged with affected casualness.

     "I'm one of the hand chosen Ascended created by Sylver. My name is Karazhan. I'm just glad I got here in time to help." I offered the words quietly, with respectful neutrality in an effort to assuage the man's sudden cautiousness toward me, and he nodded, still eyeing me sidelong. I sighed. Rather then call him out on it, I turned and headed back toward the highway, retrieving my packs and belongings that I'd dropped in my haste to help. It seems that no matter what I did, the barrier of being different, of being thought of as above even your average soldier, kept anyone from wanting to associate with me. Sharp loneliness twanged inside suddenly as I tied my pouches to my belt and slid my staff back into its harness. It's all well and good to have such power at one's fingertips. To know that you could rival the gods if you so desired, that if given time to gain experience and knowledge you might even be a challenge for the Blood Storm, but if you are forever alone in the world, what was the point? Then I snorted in dry amusement. Mayhap I needed a dog.

     "Thank you again...Karazhan." The Kelari leader offered hesitantly from the side and I turned to see all the refugees huddled together, watching me with wide, liquid-bright eyes. I tipped my head silently at them and headed for the city, trying to shake the melancholy thoughts that seemed to blanket my mind.

      I passed a signpost with indications on what each fork in the road traveled to and was mildly intrigued to realize that the highway leading to Meridian was called Way of Past Kings. I briefly wondered where that name might have come from before continuing on my way toward the city. The closer I got to the city, the more excited I was getting, and I felt almost like a child at Fae Yule. I could practically feel the emanations of ancient knowledge and magic rolling off the city wall in waves. In fact, I was so distracted by the imposing sight of the outer city walls that I literally didn't even see the two guards that stepped into my path and stumbled right into an upright, crossed spear that blocked my way forward. I blinked, and then smiled apologetically at the two men, who frowned at me. They didn't look overly alarmed or suspicious of my presence, and I was grateful that I was quite obviously wearing the Defiant colors, and carrying a Defiant issued battle stave.

     "Greetings traveler. What is your business in Meridian?" The soldier on the left inquired, politely but sharply. I gave a low, courteous bow and cleared my throat, lamenting yet again the loss of my soft, melodious elven voice. It was hard to accept the fact that I now had a gruff voice rough enough to rival that of a smoker of Creeperbrush root.

    "Hello. My name is Karazhan. I'm here with important information for La--General Catari. I am an Ascended created by Sylver. I'm also here to enjoy the sights of Meridian." I added the last part with an admiring grin as my eyes tracked back up to the impressive walls around the city. I noted the rather long stretch of flagstones and steps that led up to a landing, which then met with even more steps that disappeared from my view. I couldn't wait to actually get into the city. To be surrounded by everyday Telarans instead of soldiers, military, death, and cultists. It would be quite the welcome change. A jangle of positive emotions soared through me and I knew the other souls were in agreement. I wonder if eventually, our souls would merge into one and we'd become one individual. It was a rather alarming thought, because I didn't want to lose my individuality and sense of self, but I also felt almost as if I was missing something, each time I felt the edges of each separate soul identity that lined the soul matrix. I noticed the guards were giving me strange looks and shook my head ruefully. "Sorry, it's been a long day, and I ran across some worrying information just recently." I glanced back the way I came, and noticed that the band of Kelari refugees were slowly making their way up the highway behind me. The two legionnaires asked me a few more detailed questions to ensure I was who I claimed to be, before they were satisfied. They uncrossed their spears and watched me as I walked past.

     I glanced left and right as I finally came to a stop at the first step that led into the city itself. An interesting building had been set up to the far left, in the shade of a few large sycamore trees, and I was relieved to recognize the aura of Ascendency coming from within. I wonder if that's where the Ascended "hung out" for drinks and conversation when relaxing. It was awful tempting to head for the building instead of going up the stairs. My desire for companionship must be stronger than I thought. After my errands had been completed, I vowed to myself to come back and visit the place, which appeared to be a makeshift tavern of some sort. Perhaps erected specifically for the Ascended even, although it was rather disappointing that it was so obviously outside the city, as if the city folk wanted to distance themselves from their strange new and powerful allies, or weren't sure what to do with them. I wondered if Ascended metabolism and unique status even allowed us to become inebriated, and smirked as I imagined myself attempting that. I climbed up the multitude of steps to the first landing, distracting myself from the long climb by counting the steps. The stone was ancient and a coolness seemed to seep into my sandaled feet. It wasn't unpleasant; in fact, quite the opposite as with the sun shining directly overhead, I was beginning to feel quite warm in all this heavy fabric and armor. I couldn't wait to find some fine mage robes that were light and airy but with the same protections of armor. And I could always spell them for added enchantments and protection.

     I stopped on the landing and wiped sweat off my dark brow, taking out a waterskin and having a hefty sip. A handful of Kelari stood at the edge of the landing, talking animatedly amongst themselves. A large glowing ball of pure energy hovered at one's elbow, and I could feel the power of the being coming off it in waves and lapping at my Kelari mind. A wave of homesickness shot over me and I felt tears prick my lashes. It may not have been the most amazing of experiences, but I missed the temple in Atia where I lived. I missed being among my own kind. I even missed my own tiny little spirit that I had bonded with at a young age. Nyrtotle had been a welcoming companion on late nights as I read my way through the temple library. I tarried a moment longer and gazed longingly at the group of Kelari, but I didn't want them becoming annoyed at me for eavesdropping so eventually with a heavy sigh I continued up the last bout of steps. These were longer and steeper, and I was definitely feeling overwarm when I finally reached the top. Immediately I sought out some shade and hovered by the second wall that seemed to divide the inner workings of the city from the military aspect of it. As I cooled down, I watched as, in a large open field nearby, a group of young aspiring warriors strove to copy the moves being performed by their teacher. Several training dummies had been set up along the edge of the field, and a few archers decked out in impressive leathers were firing arrows into the targets. From this distance I couldn't tell if they were Ascended or not, and I didn't have the energy to find out magically, so I stood and watched passively. Presently I noticed the ground was shaking in a regular, gentle rhythm and glanced around. No one else seemed to be taking much notice of this, and I tried to not look so obviously concerned as I sought out the source of the thumping. A large construct lumbered into view from the inner city, followed closely by a woman in a long robe. She had on a pair of goggles similar to what I remember Sylver wearing, and carried a scroll in one hand in which she made vigorous notes, every once in a while glancing up to keep an eye on the construct. I watched them proceed past with interest.

     The city was bustling with activity, like a kicked beehive, and there were men and women dashing to and fro constantly, weaving amongst the many carts, animals, and processions of soldiers that seemed to be a constant. I could practically feel the weight of the history that Meridian had witnessed, and I hoped they had a large section on recent historical events so I could finally catch up on everything since my death and resurrection. Every once in a while I caught the tail aura of a powerful Ascended and would notice a flashy horse or other saddled beast prance by, the Ascended seated straight and majestic on its back. I was quite impressed by the diversity represented in Meridian. There were Eth, Bahmi, Kelari, even a few Dwarves and Mathosians, all mingling amongst each other with little or no outward reaction of distrust. The only stir was when an Ascended rode or walked through, and it was hardly worth noting. Meridian was quite inured to the idea of Ascended by now. This was definitely a city I could find my place in. I even spent a whimsical moment imagining myself settling into the residential area, going to the market, and plying my gifts to those in need. Which got me thinking of what my gifts actually would be, and I knew that I'd love to be able to help others as well as keep practicing my magics and Ascended powers. Definitely a healer than, although I was already thinking up ways of modifying it and augmenting it with my weather magic so I wouldn't lose the ability to defend myself if the need arose. And I'm quite sure it would, and often. Right, time to find Asha Catari and let her know of the serious happenings in the Scarred Mire, as well as my recent brush with the Guardians. This new interaction with that fanatical faction of Telara hadn't given me any more of a better opinion of them. They were just as fanatical and zealous as they had been in the future, which was rather disappointing, because I was hoping Telara would be better united and prepared to face the Blood Storm threat this second time. You'd think that we would have learned something from history during the Blood Storm Wars.
     After asking a passing centurion where Asha Catari's command center was (and having to explain to the suspicious woman why I wanted to know), I set off for one of the arched openings that sporadically interrupted the second walled edifice located past the plaza.

     "First time in Meridian, huh?" The voice, off to my right, caused me to swing around with an embarrassed expression. A man was sitting idly in the shade by a large planar porticulum. I moved closer so we weren't in the way of city traffic and chuckled.

    "I'm that obvious?" I asked ruefully. The man grinned and shrugged. He was a dark skinned Eth with fine wrinkles around his eyes and mouth and grey speckled in his hair.

     "Only to those who are paying attention, don't worry kid." I rolled my eyes at being called 'kid', but grinned back. "But hey, don't let the judgment of others get in the way of your enjoying the sights. Meridian sure is an amazing marvel and you should definitely explore around and become more familiar with her. You're entitled to, after your heroic efforts for Telara." I squinted my eyes with hesitant wariness at that last bit, wondering suddenly how he would know I was an Ascended. He waved a casual hand at my intense scrutiny. "Relax kid. You don't need to be so suspicious. After observing the Ascended in the city, I'm pretty confident I can spot one on sight now. Sorry if that freaked you out a bit though. But go, explore what the city has to offer. And hey, if you're feeling really brave, go say hello to Sylver Valis. He loves meeting the Ascended. But I will warn you, he's been known to blow up his lab on occasion." I snickered, imagining Sylver Valis deep in his natural element, excited over the smallest new invention like a child on Fae Yule.

     "Thank you sir, I shall do that." I waved at him as I wandered back into the stream of the crowd moving toward the command center, and was happy to be in out of the hot sun when I entered the cool stone archway that led downward. The command center smelled slightly of old stone and mildew, which would be expected I suppose, and the din of voices drew me around a few turns and twists until I entered a large, open room with multiple levels. A railing encircled a deeper, inner room below, and stairs led up to a hallway that encircled the room. It was lit with sourcestone lamps and constructs to the point that it hardly seemed dimmer than outside. I spotted Asha Catari immediately, as her unusual garb and the tall, strange looking beast looming over her seemed to draw the eye. As I drew closer, I slowed my step when I recognized the others standing around her as well from my time in the disastrous future timeline. Rhan Chuluun was eyeing Anthousa Mona with a jaundiced eye, while she just looked irritated. The monstrous being standing a few feet behind Lady Catari gave me a hard look before it seemed to dismiss me as no threat and went back to watching her with a strangely fond expression. How...odd.

     "Oh look, another Ascended!" Asha exclaimed with genuine pleasure when I was abreast of the group. I gave a low sweeping bow to her, and a formal nod to Rhan and Anthousa. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to look upon Anthousa Mona and have her not recognize me as even a Kelari, let alone as Karazhan Anthanos.

     "Greetings, lady." I said formally. I felt that the familiarity I'd had with her in the future wouldn't be as obvious here, as the end of the world tended to make one forget such silly things as rank and name and nobility. "I come with news from Freemarch. Specifically, the outpost in the Scarred Mire. Also, I had a worrying run in with a Guardian spy on my way to the city." As Asha's expression grew increasingly grave, I relayed all that I had seen and heard since leaving the Kelari Refuge what seems like weeks ago.

     When I finally finished my report, Asha cupped her elbow with one hand and tapped her lips, a worried frown between her large almond eyes. ""You say you took care of this scout then? Good. It worries me that others may have been able to return to Sanctum with information but at least this one in particular hasn't made it. And I must admit that while unsettling, the news about Jakub isn't new to me. I've been receiving quite a few distressing reports mentioning similar findings from other Ascended and soldiers. I fear we will need all the able bodies we can get to fight off Alsbeth and her new pet."
     She took a breath and than looked me over, with a more appraising look. "I think it's important that you familiarize yourself with our headquarters. Unfortunately, I'm much too busy myself to escort you, as much as I'd love to pick your brain over the events in that future timeline, but you are a resourceful sort and should have no trouble finding your way around Meridian. Settle yourself into the city, maybe even see if you'd care to make it a permanent residence? It would certainly be beneficial to have as many Ascended as we can living within the city walls to help bolster its defenses should the need arise." I nodded thoughtfully. I'd already planned on touring the city, and was excited to see what kind of research was being conducted by Sylver and his colleagues, and the idea of having an apartment in the city definitely appealed to me. It was better than feeling like a drifter that just moved from place to place, which is how I'd been thinking of myself of late.

     So off I ventured to check out the sights of Meridian. To my surprise, I bumped into the lord and lady of Todrin Estate, and had the unfortunate task of explaining to them that their beloved home had been turned into a cultist nest while they were away at the capital. Lord Olangden was so angered he swore he was going to march out there this instant and put an end to them, which wouldn't have been a smart idea. Thankfully his wife pointed that out so I didn't have to. I than spent a few minutes listening to them reminisce about their time at their sprawling estate, which then segued into a story about how they met.

     "My lady and I fell in love when we both were after the same volume of History's Greatest Wars in Meridian's fantastic library. We are both extensively schooled in military strategy you know. We advice General Catari on day to day military enquiries." I nodded along with Lord Olangden, even though he'd already mentioned this earlier.

     "Well if you will excuse me, I must go find myself some proper robes and perhaps something hot to eat." I finally said, just to get away from the chatty couple, although I realized I actually was quite hungry after I said it. "Thank you for the information, and I hope to see you again under better circumstances." I finished, and after waving goodbye, went in search of some tasty treats. There was a whole row of merchants and outdoor market stands along the wall in the shade to my delight and I lost track of time as I perused them all.

    "Oh yes thank you, this cloak looks lovely!" I exclaimed when one merchant held out a cloak of fine damask silk for me to look over. I felt along the edge and was happy to realize that the thread had been spelled for protection and endurance. "This is perfect, how much?"

     "For you Ascended, the small price of 20 platinum." The merchant responded easily, and my eyes almost popped out of my head. 20 platinum??? What did she think, that I was rich simply because I was an "Ascended hero". I managed to haggle the price down, as well as trade a few of the precious baubles I'd squirreled away from my journey so far, and came away feeling satisfied, the weight of the beautifully edged cloak a comfortable presence at my back. At other stands I tasted a roast fowl kebob that was so delicious, I was tempted to purchase more, before wisdom prevailed and I realized I had to keep a tight leash on my coin if I still wanted to purchase myself some lodgings here. I had no idea what the sale price was on apartments in the city, but I was hoping that my title would earn me some favor, despite the fact that I felt uncomfortable using it as a bargaining chip.

    After visiting a real estate agent, I came away feeling almost guilty, because I had actually been given a plot of land outside of Meridian! Something to call my very own. I was over the moon excited when handed the keys, and eager to check it out, but first I went to visit Sylver Valis and his trusty assistant Stavel in the College of Planar Studies.

     "Sylver!" I cried with genuine happiness when I entered his personal "lab" of sorts in the Planar Studies building. He started and a strange whirring noise began. I noticed Stavel off to one side and waved at him as well. Stavel turned, gave me a blank look, and then an exasperated look when he turned back to Sylver, just in time for the nalthema elf to grab me by the arm and drag my surprised self behind a crate of mechanical parts. "Wha--?" I began, before a loud bang shook the room and a cloud of red smoke wafted over me. I blinked. "Uh...was that m fault?" I offered sheepishly as we all three stood up and Sylver cheerfully dusted himself off. He cocked his head at me, and I couldn't help but grin at seeing his ridiculous goggles again and his garishly colored outlandish outfit. He certainly hadn't changed since I'd first met him in the future. Sylver contemplated me a moment silently.

     "I'm sorry lovely lady, but have we met? You seem familiar, but I'm not sure where..." he trailed off and turned to Stavel for support. The Ethian man shrugged. I slapped my forehead. "Right, I forgot! You wouldn't know me because it hasn't happened yet. Although it won't ever happen now, hopefully...I hope it doesn't anyway....I think I averted it...." I muttered as I tried to work out the confusing mess that was time travel and alternate timelines. Stavel just looked more confused, but Sylver flipped his goggles up and peered closely into my eyes. "Great sun, you're one of those Ascended I created when the world was ending, aren't you? What a beautiful specimen, fine structure, the matrix looks solid." He danced around me, sudden energy visible in his movements, while I stood still and endured his attention. It was so similar to how he behaved in the alternate timeline that I wasn't even bothered. Stavel rolled his eyes with a huff, muttered something about exploding experiments, and walked back to the giant contraption that had exploded. I spared a moment of guilty concern about the machine, and really hoped that I hadn't accidentally damaged it when I'd startled Sylver, but he didn't seem overly worried. Of course I remember that things blowing up was a common occurrence to him after all.
     "You, my dear, are a fantastic marvel of science and magic and sourcestone! Of course, so are all of the other Ascended machineborn I've supposedly created." His shoulders slumped slightly. "Alas, I just wish I had actually done it, instead of a future me. I feel like I'm being praised for someone else's work. Which is silly of course, but...oh you know what I mean!" I nodded slowly, because I actually did know what he meant. "I am working on a new way of augmenting an already existing Ascended, to further their...well your....powers and have you rival the gods themselves! I need to do something to prove myself in this timeline, after all. Can't have my alternate self showing me up!" He danced away, laughing almost crazily, and I wondered idly how often he got away from his workshop, because he could obviously do with some down time. It was obvious that the miraculous success of crafted Ascended that his alternate self performed was bothering him more than he wanted to admit, and it made me sad that he felt he needed to further prove himself. In a way, he felt almost like a father figure to me, since perversely, he was my creator, and I couldn't help but feel a familial concern. Which, when I thought about it too deeply, was incredibly creepy.

    "So, how are you enjoying our fair city, eh?" Sylver shot at me as he continued to tinker with the magitech device in the center of the room. I sidled up behind him and watched with interest as he played with sourcestone levels, gears, and panels, occasionally eliciting angry beeps and whirs from the machine.

     "It's quite the lovely city actually! So very different from home, that's for sure. Loud and busy. I'm very interested in the innovations the Defiants have added to it, like the laser guns, the construct guards, and the mechanical drones in the training fields! I haven't had much exposure to magitech and technomancy, but it definitely looks fun and exciting." Stavel gave me a long look, as if thinking 'oh great, another nutjob scholar/scientist', and I grinned impishly at him. He wrinkled his nose before Sylver's demand for a calculus wrench drew his attention back.

     "Well, if it's science and technomancy you've an interest in, you've definitely come to the right part of town." Sylver mumbled as he worked. He gestured vaguely upward, toward the upper level of the room, where the walls were lined with interesting scrolls and dozens of different, glowing gadgets. Men and women bustled to and fro, reading scrolls, checking sourcestone levels, and discussing probability figures for rifts and planes. "There are plenty of scientists and scholars who would love an assistant, if you're sincere, and I can point you to a few guilds that focus on the scientific aspects of sourcestone. Fighting back against the cultists and the dragons doesn't have to be all about the physical smash and kill that others enjoy." He straightened up, wiped glowing oily gloves on a dirty rag, and squinted at a pressure gauge set into the artifact.

     "Wow, thank you, that's exactly what I wanted to hear!" I exclaimed, feeling excitement bubble up. Already I was thinking of how I would apply to one of those guilds, and what I could bring to their order, as well as what I would like to gain from them. "I've finished most of what I meant to accomplish in Meridian actually, and was heading over to view my new lodgings before I went back to worrying what that dratted Alsbeth was up to. Lady Catari requested that I offer my aid to the Defiant legionnaires on the front lines against the Endless Court. Cursed abominations, they seem to always spring up like cockroaches whenever there's a flux in the Ward. I had heard it was all but broken this time, though. Something to do with these Guardians." I trailed off as Sylver was staring fondly off into space for several moments. "Are you okay?" I asked.

     He blinked back to himself and turned to me with a gleam. "Oh yes. You've been to see the beautiful Asha, then?" He added, and it sounded more like a statement than a question, but I nodded. His look grew even more sappy, if possible. "She is an amazing woman, no? So full of life and courage. She survived a direct brush with Regulos you know? Even came away from it with some pretty impressive powers over death magic." The awe in his voice was so thick I almost replied with something sarcastic, but I knew it wasn't a fair thing to make fun of an infatuation. We can't help who we fall in love with, although I've heard enough about Asha Catari to know she'd have no interest in Sylver. Her heart belonged to someone else. It was all very tragic actually. Stavel gave his mentor a pained look, then glanced at me, and I nodded. We both understood not to crush his hopes too harshly. It wasn't up to me to stomp on his dreams.

     "Well, you've certainly given me some promising advice, Sylver, and I appreciate it." I said finally. "I'm definitely going to see about making a name for myself here. I am proud to be chosen as a Defiant Ascended and woe our enemies who think to take Telara from us." I said, rather dramatically, but it seemed to do the trick, lightening Sylver's mood. he beamed at me with fatherly pride, and patted my hand.
     "Child, I've no doubt you will be a force to be reckoned with, and even Regulos will tremble when the time comes to face the destroyer himself."

     Back outside in the sunlight, I squinted and considered what else I'd like to accomplish while in the city. Oh yes, the library! How could I have forgotten? I quickly made my way to the central Foyer building, where I'd been told the library was, eager to get a peek at all that knowledge written on scrolls and tomes and parchments. I'd definitely missed the joy of a good book on a chilly evening. Inside, the building was lit with eldritch light, and many red robed scholars and acolytes scurried about the place, each with a determined air. I took a deep breath and could smell the scent of old pages. It felt like coming home, and a pang of loss hit me again. I wonder if I'd ever get over the loss of my home, my old life, and then I wondered whether that would be a good thing or not anyway. Shouldn't one remember their roots?

     "Ooooh, wow!" Was the first thing out of my mouth when I stepped inside the foyer of the main capital building. It was quite the sight. The ceiling soared high above my head, and even squinting, I couldn't make out how many floors and balconies I could see high up there. The walls were lined with row upon row of books. Many robed individuals strode around the spacious area with determined airs. A woman in a beautiful flowery dress was discussing something intently with a man and a woman holding hands, who couldn't seem to avoid giving each other sappy looks every two seconds, while a hard-looking Kelari man with scars all down his arms stood to one side and discussed a large map laid out on a table with two other Kelari. Both wore tabards and insignias in red and gold but bore marks I didn't recognize. Perhaps members of a certain guild here in the city? The smell of old parchment and sourcestone was sharp and I took deep breaths, feeling giddy. How absolutely amazing! I could literally spend hours in here reading these books! Just to prove my point, I scurried over to the wall and began reading titles: A History of the Eth, The Day the Rifts Came, Exodus, A Prison for a Dragon. Even just those few titles I read made me itch to sit down and read them all. Knowledge is power, in a mage's world, and I felt that especially applied to a mage who had been resurrected and dropped into what amounted to an unknown world with an unknown future. Hells, I didn't even have a firm grasp of past events! I went in search of a librarian or a scholar to ask about borrowing books from the library, and was delighted to find that I could indeed take books from the library as long as I returned them in a reasonable time and didn't damage them. I signed my name off on a few of the books that hinted at events of the past twenty years and ensconced myself at a sourcestone-lit table in a corner, content to sit and indulge myself in one of my favorite pastimes.

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