Sunday, February 24, 2013

[Karazhan's Story] 1.2: The Town of Lastlight

    The town of Lastlight wasn't really much of a town. It looked more like the last hope for refugees wanting to escape the madness and destruction of Regulos and his Endless Court. I was beginning to loathe these creatures and cultists. I've never felt hatred and vengeance toward anyone or anything to any level before, but I think I'll make an exception here. I paused on the well worn path leading down the hill toward Lastlight, glancing around me. Standing here, at the crest of the hill, one could appreciate the scope and magnitude of the evil choking Telara. I'd been raised to respect the land and the other denizens of the world, to live quietly and thoughtfully and strive my utmost to make my family proud of me. Wanton death and destruction just for the sake of it was rather sickening and I found myself actually looking forward to putting an end to Regulos's destructive plans.

     Ahead, past the meager defense that is Lastlight, far off in the distance, I could see black clouds and even blacker skies. Where the sky meets land, a giant explosion of black rock and red lava warred with each other. A volcano. If I squinted my eyes just so, I could even make out a more vibrant red path that led down the side of the volcano. A molten lava trail, no doubt. Everywhere one looked, signs of the planet's death were visible. Far distant winged beasts soared on the air, a sight that raised the hairs on my arms.

     A sharp yearning to be back at among the dusty libraries of home, attending to my duties and performing new spells as I trained to become a mage suddenly washed over me. An image came to my mind, unbidden, of a quite, sun dappled ledge overlooking a valley. I could imagine I could even smell the distinctive dry scent that clung to the desert canyons. Despite my wariness with these souls I seem to have absorbed, I was grateful for the shared memory I'd just had, even though I was pretty sure it was from the soul of a Bahmi. The meaning was still clear. Hoisting my staff onto my back, I plodded down the dusty path toward Lastlight.

     The closer I became to the outskirts of the little village, the more I realized that it was in just as much trouble as Koke's hold, or the Life Factory. Savage cultists were harrying the sentries, trying to get into the town. Thankfully, the defenses seemed more solid here, and the defenders were quite capable of dealing with the threat. But you could sense from the atmosphere that everyone knew it was only a matter of time. The same taste of death and despair hung thickly in the air here. A couple sentries stood straighter and made as if to block my path, but one look at me had them both going pale. Instead, they allowed me passage, watching me with widened, hope-starved eyes.

     The denizens of Lastlight were a myriad variety of many races and cultures. A large, dark skinned Bahmi stood, discussing strategy with a red robed Ethian, while a beautiful Kelari in ceremonial dress lounged, coldly eyeing all who passed. I stared at her a few moment's longer then necessary. She looks familiar. A dark skinned, dark eyed man swathed from head to toe in white desert garb paced around a magitech contraption in the center of the little village, while a woman with strange swirling tattoos along her arm and leg made animated gestures to one of the sentries. The strange woman had short-cut auburn hair and carried an exotic looking wickedly sharp sword. At her back stood two more guards, both alert and watchful. Seeing as she was the only one who appeared to warrant guards, I assumed she had to be Asha Catari, the woman I was supposed to meet up with to discuss my plans with the Failsafe. Hopefully she could help enlighten me more on what was going on here, as so far I've only been able to make guesses and suppositions. I preferred facts and proof.

     "Ah, welcome to Lastlight, Ascended." Even as I approached her, Asha had turned and noticed me. She gave me a genuine smile, lighting her face up. It made her look younger than she no doubt was. I gave her a polite inclination of the head, pleased to meet someone who spoke warmly and with sincerity. I was quite used to the fact that everyone knew me on sight, but it was still a bit distracting to be singled out for Ascended before I'd even opened my mouth.

     "And you must be general Asha Catari, of the Defiant." I responded smoothly, coming to a stop a few feet to the left of the woman. The sentry she had been talking to saluted and curtly walked off. Asha nodded, pleased that I'd recognized her.

     Off to my far right, I caught the tail end of a conversation that made me feel uncomfortable. "Lastlight is all we have left. I hope Sylver's plans are a success." I couldn't see the speaker, but I could feel the emotion in the words, and it was like a blow to me. The scholarly, inexperienced side of me cringed while the tough new Ascended part of me wanted to go out and smite some bad guys. I bit my lip, turning back to regard Asha.

     "Times have been a bit tough here. It is good to finally meet you in person," Asha waved a hand at me. "Karazhan, was it? I believe that is what Sylver's report said your name was. Unless you would prefer a different name?" She waited a beat, and I shrugged and shook my head. I didn't feel much like the young Kelari girl who had earned the name Karazhan anymore and I definitely didn't even look like her anymore, but it was a familiar name to me and the last remnant I had of my past life.
     Asha nodded again. "I have heard tales on the wind of your great power. Sylver finally engineered a masterpiece when he made you." As she spoke that last sentence, her eyes tightened, as if in pain. I was curious. Was there more like me? Perhaps...earlier trials? I know that when conducting experiments and tests, there's always the initial failures and false starts. I wonder what happened to the others of my kind, the ones that came before me. I dared not ask however. Some things are better left unknown.
     "Yes, well, I only do what duty requires. I owe my new life and existence to Sylver Valis and the Defiant. I would do anything in my power to make it up to him. And I would never let such an evil creature take my home." My voice came out sharper than I intended, but I didn't mind. I meant it. Only just now, as I said it, I realized it really was true. I would die for the newly created Defiant. What I had been before my rebirth was washed away now. I was a different person. All that I am now is because of Sylver and this new order and I was quite ready to attach myself to the Defiant as my new family and community. I had been taught to embrace the changes that time brought and to make do with circumstances beyond my control and this seemed the perfect example of that.

     "It is time you know exactly what is in store for you here, Karazhan." Asha's words brought my focus back to her and I stood straighter. Finally, some real answers! I nodded eagerly. "There is nothing we can do for Telara here, as much as it pains me to say this. Nothing lies beyond these canyon walls but oblivion. Nothing. The only hope we have left is to send as many Ascended back in time, before this disaster, so that this, all of this, never happens." I didn't even blink, riveted, trying to absorb this information. "Fortunately, Orphiel built a Failsafe. It has the capacity to send you back to the moment in time that it was installed. As far as we can tell, that appears to be twenty years ago. Unfortunately, you will need to travel into areas held by the Endless Court and undead-filthy minions of Regulos-to activate all of its components and make it ready for you."

     Okay. Regulos has literally destroyed Telara. Nothing beyond this canyon? I reflexively glanced around, spotting the distant volcano. For there to be was shocking. No Atia. No Ember Isle No more vast, mysterious jungles. No more dreams of visiting the farthest shores. No more curious desire to dance in the sun at some of the hidden pools I found. I admit, I was a bit shell shocked. Only the presence of the other souls inside me, a now-familiar weight upon my own soul, kept me from feeling ill with shock. I felt a soothing blanket cover my thoughts and took a deep breath, sending a prayer to the Spirits for clarity of thought. Distantly, I wondered who this Orphiel was, but it seemed insignificant among the greater situation.

     "I..I understand." It took quite an effort to keep my voice to its usual, measured tones. I paused thoughtfully. "You say I need to activate the components before I can access this Failsafe device? Where are the components? I'd better get started immediately. Who knows when Regulos will get around to squashing us." I meant it as a joke, but Asha's grim expression wiped any hint of levity from my own face.

     "You first need to activate the temporal flux in the sinkhole to begin the process of powering up the Failsafe. Unfortunately, at the time that the Failsafe and all its components were installed, this dire threat wasn't so widespread. The sinkhole is now crawling with undead. I would send men down with you, but truthfully, I cannot spare even one and truth be told, from the explanations I've gotten from Sylver's letter, it seems you won't need them anyway. I'm sorry and wish you the best of luck." She looked genuinely distressed and I offered a lopsided smile.

     "It's fine. I'm Ascended, remember? I should be able to handle a few undead cronies. If I can't, how would I ever be able to tackle Regulos?" Although, I realize now that they never intended for me to battle Regulos in some titanic and dramatic last battle. Thank the Spirits. I just had to go back in time and...what? Warn everyone? Find a way to divert this path? I'd have to make sure I kept on my toes in the past. I'd have to get as much information on the cults, and the Blood Storm gods as I could. I couldn't let them succeed.

     But first, I needed to outfit myself in some proper mage gear. Obviously those scientists meant well, but this shimmery armor they created for me, while effective for helping conduct my spells, wasn't exactly the best armor for all out combat. I needed to find a sturdy pair of gloves, a heavy pair of boots, and a few other things. I should also acquire nourishment and a few water skins. Just because my body can't be killed in combat didn't mean I still couldn't starve to death apparently; I was feeling just the tiniest bit hungry. Or at least, I hope I couldn't be killed. I was quite terrified of what would happen of my soul were severed from this engineered body.

     A large husk of a building had the feel of an Inn to it so I walked inside, hoping I could find some supplies within. Sure enough, there were plenty of refugees and displaced citizens huddling in the dim interior. I thought it would take a few minutes for my eyes to adjust, but it was like being outside. The lighting didn't change inside the building, even though I'm sure it should have, considering how dark and dreary it was inside. A small fire burned in the hearth, hardly giving off enough light to see the people crowded around the tables and broken bar, and yet, I could see normally. Another perk of being Ascended, no doubt. I made a mental note to conduct some experiments with my abilities when I had the time, and grinned to myself.

     Conversation seemed to stop as I entered and all heads swiveled to eye the newcomer. Used to the stares and silent awe since my recent resurrection, I ignored them and strode up to the harried looking woman behind the bar. A large cauldron beside the fireplace gave off tantalizing smells and I gestured to it.

     "May I?" I asked after offering her a respectful bow. The woman gave me a wide-eyed, awed glance and nodded.

     After I'd eaten, I found a nice old gentleman who called himself Welk the Bearded. A merchant by trade, he happened to carry quite a few odds and ends that I traded some coin I'd gotten off the cultists for, including a second pack since my first one was becoming filled a little too quickly. Thankfully, my strength and stamina had increased, making it no problem to tote around as much gear as I was. I also purchased some water and some preserved fruit. Who knows when I'd next get a meal.

     I rearranged my bags and discarded things I really didn't need to have with me, making sure everything was economical and sensible for the next leg of my mission. And that's when I came across the sourcestone chunks and remembered the elf woman...Vexa her name was? I remembered her mentioning something about how valuable sourcestone was to the Defiant's defenses. Perhaps I can give it someone here who will know what to do with it. I fished out the sourcestone I'd harvested on the field and considered it. After making some inquiries of one of the sentries standing just outside the Inn, I found the perfect candidate to pawn my sourcestone cache off on. A man named Kain Sunsworn seemed to have quite the extensive knowledge base on sourcestone and its properties and had designed quite a few of the Defiant's defensive machines. Perfect.

     "Excuse me, where might I find Kain Sunsworn?" I asked the nearest random citizen I could snag, keeping my voice soft and polite as I'd been taught. The young woman, clothed in rags, paused and glanced around distractedly. She than pointed out the man dressed in the white desert garb I'd seen pacing earlier. I nodded my thanks and walked over to him.

     "Hello, Kain Sunsworn? I was told--" I was interrupted as he turned swiftly to me and began mumbling. "I'm Sorry?" I asked hesitantly, still holding out the sourcestone.

     "Every time I see those hulking phantasms, I'm haunted by the memory of everyone we have lost in this death and misery. They have taken over everything. The blight on this land is so strong. But it reminds me of what we fight for, even when all seems hopeless. Oh beautiful Enqyeke." He turned to me and his expression was lost and haunted. I shifted uneasily. I don't deal with emotion well. I'd learned to keep my emotions in check, as they affected my spells. And yet I've seen so much emotion since my resurrection. So much pain and misery and hurt. It was becoming harder to stay above it all.

    "Pardon me, I apologize for my outburst." Kain waved a white clad arm. I shrugged, not sure what to say to that. "You said you had something for me?" He continued, a spark of curiosity forming in his eyes. Being Eth, he was shorter than me, and had to glance up to meet my eyes. Idly I wondered what color they were now.

     I nodded and held out the sourcestone again. "I was told this would benefit the war effort." Kain took the proffered sourcestone gems and studied them, breaking into a smile.

     "Excellent! We are going to need this sourcestone to power the generator and possibly even the Failsafe device. I'm glad it is out of Regulos's hands and into ours." He walked away, continuing to mutter, leaving me standing there. What an odd man. I shook my head.

     All tasks completed and feeling ready, I turned and faced toward where this sinkhole was supposed to be. It was a sharp drop off in land, into a deep impression, where I could make out the shadow of a cave entrance. That must be where the temporal flux is. I only had to get across that sinkhole and find a way to activate the temporal flux. I couldn't prevent the shiver of anxiety that washed over me as I stared.
   When a stiff breeze teased hair across my eyes I realized that I had different colored hair as well. It was thick and coarse, and deep black, a color quite different than my blue-silver of before. I dug in my pack and took out a leather cord, quickly and expertly twisting my new hair into a tight tail at the back of my head. Thoughtfully I considered the changes in me, wondering if it was something I approved of or not. Not that I had a choice though. I am who I am now. There's no going back...well, not back to my old life anyway. I was apparently going back in time though.

A large male Bahmi caught my attention as I prepared to head into the Sinkhole and I wandered over curiously. "Yes?" I asked.
     "I am Rahn Chuluun of the Red Sun Tribe. I am all that is left of my tribe now, and there are few Bahmi left at this, the end of all things. My own daughter, may the ancestors watch over her, was slain." He choked on that last sentence and I felt my heart clench in response. Family was everything these people. He was alone now, like myself. He cleared his throat, as if to rid himself of the sadness of the memory, and continued, "as you know, we Bahmi tell our stories and connect to our ancestors through our sefir tattoos." Actually, I didn't know that, but it seemed like an interesting tidbit that I stored away in my mind for later. I wonder if I have these tattoos on my engineered body.
        Rahn continued, "They remind us of who we are and of the great strength that comes from our ancient brethren. During the chaos that was the attack on Telara, after Meridian fell, many of my people were slaughtered. I am afraid that their souls, their very essence, is now trapped in Regulos's control. He keeps our people trapped, their souls tethered to this world by corrupted magitech devices created by the Defiant."

     I gasped, horrified. Bahmi, trapped? Their souls tethered to some device to eternally serve the Destroyer? I shook my head. No soul should endure that kind of pain, no matter their origins. "We must free them!" I demanded sharply. Rahn Chuluun smiled sadly at me.

     "Yes. I would ask this of you Ascended. You are the mightiest of us now, and we rely on you to go back in time and make sure this future does not come about. Alas, it is too late for the ones who have already died here. Their souls can never be recovered except by the magic of the Ascension process. They must be freed to rest eternally along the Soulstream. Please, free our brethren from this enslavement!" I grasped his clenched fist and looked him in the eye, giving a determined jerk of the chin.

     "I will rescue every single tormented soul that I can find out there, I swear it on the souls of my ancestors." I said solemnly. To swear on one's own ancestors was a serious oath to the Bahmi, I knew. Satisfied, Rahn bid me farewell and I relaxed slightly. Keeping up appearances was exhausting. Perhaps I should just tell him. But that would just require even more explaining.

      "May the ancestors forever guide your steps, child, no matter your journey." His words warmed my heart and lifted my own spirit. I took a deep breath.

     And off I ventured, heading down the steep, rocky incline that led to the "sinkhole". My new sourcestone engineered body was quite agile, more so than I was used to, and took to the climb with ease. I quickly reached the bottom of the impression and glanced around warily. There was the cave that I needed to enter to switch on the temporal flux. Brilliant of them to leave important devices unprotected in enemy territory. The priestesses and leaders of Atia would never have done something so foolish with such an important element. But than again, I did seem to have arrived late to this party so maybe there's more to it than the obvious. The sinkhole happened to be crawling with giant ghostly undead types carrying-well more like dragging-large heavy transparent chains. Those must be those hulking phantasms that the man Kain had been ranting about in Lastlight. I shuddered. They didn't look very friendly.
      The chains, despite being transparent, did the same amount of damage that any real chains would do. I found that out the hard way. I tried to sneak by one of the phantasms and a chain lashed out of seeming nowhere, almost snapping my wrist in half, which is saying something. I have discovered that I have a heavy bone structure. I couldn't help the small yelp of pain that escaped my lips as I was yanked backwards, almost off my feet. And that would have been the end of my savior days if not for having quick reflexes. The moment I felt the chain tug my wrist back, I concentrated, casting an absorption shield around myself to protect against damage. It didn't completely ward off the effects of the chain, but it did blunt the pain somewhat. When the second chain flashed, it bounced off the shield, doing me no harm and I stumbled back, trying to keep out of range. I needed to unwrap that chain from my wrist. I could feel the metal biting into my flesh, the links so cold that they burned. Using my bound wrist, I swung around so I was facing the creature sideways and threw a flame bolt at it. The burning magical flame struck between the eyes, causing the large, gray phantasm to roar with pain and anger. At least I could wound it.

     To my magic-trained sight, the Phantasm seemed to be eaten alive from the inside by the magical fire I'd cast. At least my fire-based spells had quite the effect on undead creatures. Thank the ancestors for that, since there were quite a few undead monsters around these parts. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be slowing the creature down any.

     Thinking quickly, with my heart beating fast and frantic, I searched my mind for another effective spell. Being in mortal danger is not something I've grown accustomed to yet, I mused to myself. I murmured the key phrases to my favorite air spell, forked lightning. The familiar static energy crawled over my skin and slithered outward, charging the air with energy. I flung my hand out, palm facing the phantasm, fingers splayed. The lightning left me in a surge of vibrant lights. The manifestation sank into the phantasm just as it reared back its arm to lash the chain at me again. This time, the phantasm stumbled forward. I backed up uncertainly and realized that the blasted chain was still around my wrist. While the undead was occupied trying to fight off the effects of the lightning, I quickly dug my fingers under the burning cold chain and tried unhooking it from my wrist. It was harder done than said. The chain seemed to be wanting to greedily suck my life out and I shivered thinking that.

     Finally I was able to unwrap the foul chain and I flung it from me with disgust, immediately backing up. I didn't want to move too far away because I didn't want to draw the attention of any more of those horrid hulking phantasms, but I did want distance between this one and me in case my lightning spell wasn't enough. Thankfully, after a few moments, the phantasm succumbed to my deadly spell and collapsed onto its front. I gave a sharp nod at the corpse, rubbing my raw wrist. Already, the pain was receding as my Ascended cells repaired themselves, but I could feel phantom pain still-no pun intended. I chuckled to myself.

     I had been carefully making my way across the open sinkhole in front of the cave, avoiding those undead minions, when I came across a strange mechanical device set into the ground. It was a small metal disc with a revolving band on the top. At first I thought it must be some kind of land mine or bomb, but when I looked closer I could see a shimmery white ball floating within the band and gasped at my sudden realization. Here was one of those corrupted devices that Rahn Chuluun said kept the spirits of the Bahmi people captive. I glared darkly at it. To do something so dark and twisted to innocent people. Evil and dark magic indeed. That is why magitech needs to be watched and carefully administered, so that the ability and the weaponry does not fall into the wrong hands. Now I needed to see about freeing this poor tormented soul.

     I crouched down, glancing around cautiously. Now would be the perfect time for one of those phantasms to ambush me. The other souls I housed assured me they would stay alert for any incoming threat, so I focused on the device. It was definitely to my benefit to share this body with several different souls, at least it was when they weren't fighting me for control of said body. I shook my head and concentrated on the device. It looked simple enough, but deadly effective, capable of keeping a soul trapped for many years, drawing strength and knowledge from the soul unwillingly. After a few silent moments of studying the device, I noticed a small latch and a depressed section on the side. Flipping the latch and clicking the depression in the other direction turned out to the proper sequence and the revolving band quickly snapped to one side. The shining ball of light immediately soared out of the device and hovered in the air in front of me. It bobbed back and forth a few times, before dissolving into a shadowy form in the shape of a young Bahmi girl. The girl glanced down at herself, than at me, looking delighted.

     "Thank you for releasing me! May the strength of my ancestors aid you in your quest!" The Bahmi soul than slowly faded out of existence, no doubt on her way to the Soulstream. My heart soared with happiness and pride. I had finally done something that I thought was truly effective.
     I bent to similarly free a second trapped soul not far from the first, and thus narrowly missed being decapitated by another one of those hulking phantasms. I left the corrupted device where it was for the moment, instead instantly rolling to the side and coming up to face the creature, staff across my chest. It flicked one ghostly arm and the chains went flying in my direction. My wrist still ached from the last encounter with those accursed chains and I couldn't help an instinctive flinch at seeing the chains coming toward me. But I held my ground; bracing my feet, and setting my staff at an intercepting angle. The chains wrapped around my staff rather harmlessly and I yanked on it to make sure they held.

     The phantasm was furious and confused, tugging on the chains and being too far gone to realize that they were wrapped around my staff. I transferred my staff to my off hand and thrust out my casting hand, pelting the undead minion with wave after wave of fire and air magic. I could feel its essence weakening and finished it off with a well placed fireball. I bent down to inspect the gruesome creature, wrinkling my nose in disgust. Moving forward, I found myself in front of the cave that housed the flux.

      The cave was fairly well lit thankfully. I'd hate to run into one of those buggers and their chains alone in the dark. Speak of the devil, one of the fetid undead things popped out of a side passage moments after I'd walked by. I had been cautiously making my way toward the back of the natural-lit cavern, where I could make out a large magitech device of some sort.

     After I'd ended the creature's existence (I was getting quicker on the draw, if I do say so myself), I was again surprised when a haggard looking woman darted from the shadows behind it, face grubby and darkened with bruises. She was dragging a chipped and dull pickaxe and looked, in my opinion, quite mad.

     "Hey, thanks! I thought I was done for!" She exclaimed to me before dashing out of the cave.

     "Just doing my duty." I called after her, though truthfully, I had no idea she'd even been there. I blinked a couple of times as the woman disappeared from sight, vaguely concerned. I hope she didn't run afoul of those things outside. There was nothing I could do in any case. I had my mission.

     Facing forward again, I stumbled along the uneven ground, nerves on end as I strained for any sense of danger. It was lit, was the cave, but dark shadows seemed to swallow the crevices and recesses of the cavern and I had no idea what might else be lurking here.

     At the back of the cave was the device I'd spied earlier. To be honest, I didn't really know what I was looking for, but the device was the only technological machine in the cavern. I could sense it. It was a large machine, standing nearly to the high cavern ceiling. Cylinders and containers ringed a central rod. At the base were several pods containing blue-white stones. Sourcestone chunks, I'm sure.

     As I crouched before the machine, studying it's complex exterior and keeping an eye out for more phantasms, a miniature hologram suddenly flickered into existence, appearing on a small pedestal attached to the machine. It was so abrupt that I almost died of fright. Stifling a shriek, eyes wide in shock, I glanced around before glaring at the tiny hologram of a Kelari.

     "Greetings Ascended. Are you here to reactive the sourcestone generator and temporal flux?" The hologram, what looked strangely enough to be a replica of Sylver Valis, had a distant, metallic voice, like a recorder. I waved my hand in front of it, wondering if it was indeed a recorded message. No reaction to my hand. It must be keyed to sense a body kneeling in front of it? Or perhaps I'd stepped on a pressure pad. The hologram seemed to be regarding me.

     "Uh, sure, I'm here to start the temporal flux, please." I said with a reflexive bow of the head, feeling foolish talking to a recorded message and glancing around nervously. Hopefully my voice was low enough that I didn't garner any more unwanted attention from my friends the phantasms.

     "Wonderful," the hologram responded in that strange smooth tone. "Simply use the device at my feet and the rest should be a snap. Have a nice day!" With that last comment, the hologram winked out, leaving me blinking as the cavern seemed to suddenly become darker. I hadn't realized that the hologram had made it brighter. I waited a beat, but nothing else happened. And than I felt offended. By the unholy planes! Have a nice day? What kind of nonsense was that? I was expecting instructions, hints, some step by step guidance. An instant start button. Something! I stared at the machine, feeling frustrated. The spirits we made pacts with usually helped us gain whatever we needed and set up all the glorious things we required within Atia, so while I had read quite a bit on the application of magitech, I hadn't had much opportunity to learn about it hands on and how it worked. Looking at the machine now, I saw nothing but a mess of metal parts, magical parts, and tubes and wires. It was nothing like those defense consoles that I knew instantly how to activate.

     "Riiiight...." I muttered irritably, than whispered a curse. The more I stared at the magitech device, the more confusing and foreign it looked. I closed my eyes and tried to recall anything useful that Asha Catari might have said to me back in Lastlight.

     It took several moments, but I eventually became aware of something strange. There was...a presence in my mind, not unlike the feeling of being touched at the nape of the neck, or feeling fingers run lightly down your arm. At the same time, it felt like I was being hailed from a distance. I focused my mind inward, similar to the meditation techniques I'd been taught by the healers. In my mind's eye, a young Eth woman appeared. I could see her clearly, despite knowing that it was all in my head. The scholars back home would love to get ahold of me, I thought with amusement.

     Even though I knew this was one of those foreign souls implanted in my mind, I didn't feel alarmed or threatened like before. I felt...peaceful. Right. Like this was another part of me. Like we shared something so intimate and deep that there was no words for it. The woman smiled at me and her thoughts, memories, emotions, touched mine. With sudden clarity I knew how to turn on the flux. The woman's thoughts and knowledge became like mine and our souls twined together even closer than before. Not only did she know how to activate the temporal flux, but she had such extensive knowledge of history, culture and a different array of magical castings that I've never even tried before. I am definitely going to have to investigate the potential here when I'm finished saving the world, I thought.

     Looking at the machine now, my new knowledge let me know that some parts could use an upgrade. Some places had sourcestone leaks. Aha, there was the switch to power up the device. Seizing upon that last bit of information, I eagerly leaned forward. Focusing on that one thing allowed me to not be overwhelmed and dragged along on the current of knowledge streaming into my consciousness from that other soul.

     When I hit the last button on the panel, all the lights suddenly glowed blue and the machine emitted a whirring motorized noise. Rings of sourcestone material began spinning and long siphon tubes that snaked off into the darkness began filling up with the ghostly blue sourcestone energy. I reached into the recess of my mind where I knew those other beings resided to thank the familiar stranger. I received the sensation of a warm smile in return. Well, I suppose it's on now?

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