It took almost as much time to make my way back to Lastlight as it did to get to the machine. I paused to rescue as many of those poor trapped souls as I could find, as I had sworn to do. I could no more leave a soul to eternal torment than I could force Regulos to surrender. As I ran back into the shelled town, a sentry stared at me, wide-eyed and exclaimed, "Great Sun, an Ascended!" I couldn't help but grin and roll my eyes in exasperation. Really now?
Rahn Chuluun, the older Bahmi, was relieved and happy that I had managed to save so many of his people's souls. He said it was a great burden off his shoulders to not have that constant horror to think about. I can imagine how frustrating it was for him, not being able to go out and free them himself. But even I, an Ascended, had a difficult time in that sinkhole. It would have been dangerous and I'd hate to have even one death on my conscious. "I am glad they are released," he responded, "and I am gladder still that we have their strength and wisdom on our side again. You have done well, Anakesti the Ascended. I know it is hard to be away from one's family. I lost my daughter Uriel and can never forgive myself for not doing more to save her. Unfortunately, she was so headstrong and wild." He shook his head sadly, than gazed at me intently. "You should craft a sefir to mark this day, the day you save us all." Again he looked hopeful, no doubt thinking that if I went back in time and "reset" everything that he'd have more time with his daughter. I sensed more to that story than just a slain loved one and made a note to look those two up when, or if, I was able to successfully make it back to the time I was needed in.
"A fine idea master Rahn. When I go back in time to change things, I would very much like to speak to you again, and to tell you something, if you don't mind?" The older man gave me a curious look. Before he could respond I continued, "May your ancestors, and your daughter's spirit, watch over you." I smiled kindly at the older Bahmi before hurrying away.
My errand for Rahn Chuluun completed, I strode over to Asha Catari to tell her about the temporal flux. Before I could say anything, the petite Eth woman was already shaking her head, expression grim. I frowned, worried. What was wrong now?
"I have it from my sources at the Failsafe that the power routing was successful, but it's still not enough!" Her voice was filled with despair and sharp frustration. I could sympathize. It seemed that we were so close, and yet there were so many obstacles. Apparently getting to this Failsafe was more complicate than I first anticipated. Although I was still relieved that I wouldn't need to face Regulos at any point.
"What can we do? Is there another source of energy we can tap to help power the device? We need to make sure it's at maximum efficiency, right? That gives us the best potential chance of a successful time jump." I spoke the words, than blinked. It was rather strange, knowing and yet not knowing this information about magitech. I just wished this innate knowledge of mine was more forthcoming when I really needed it.
"Yes, we need more energy," Asha said, nodding. "Unfortunately, our only resonance capacitor that isn't completely destroyed has been taken by deranged Guardian fanatics in the valley behind us. You must cut through the Guardian forces to bring our generator online and reroute energy to the time machine. It won't be easy. Since the fall of their Ascended to the surprise attack by the dragons, they have ever hounded us, blaming us for the destruction of the world" Asha clenched her fist, eyes narrowed in righteous hate as she mentioned the "Guardians". Huh, wonder who they were. I've never heard mention of a Guardian faction while studying in the deserts and I'd always listen to any story a merchant or traveler would offer. And yet, I didn't want to ask and seem clueless. I'm sure there's a soul I share a link with that has the answer to that.
But back to the main problem. First, the end of the world and fighting off masses of undead and crazed cultists, all with the threat of the most evil being ever known to Telara swooping down and swallowing us whole. Now there are more then dragon fanatics out there? They really knew how to throw their Ascended into a challenge, didn't these Defiant.
The Guardians proved to be a bit more of a challenge than a bunch of undead. They were desperate, without hope, leadership or organization. They were also probably as mad as Akylios was rumored to be. They fought tooth and nail and I admit it was only due to my newly acquired Ascended skills that I was able to hold my own against them. Casting all the Mage offensive spells I knew at the lunatics, I was able to inch my way through their chaotic ranks to the resonance capacitor. Although I would have a few cuts and bruises, I would live to see another day...that is, if the world didn't end before that. Already, the sky was darker than before and the streams of odd colored missiles were falling from the sky closer and more frequently. It looked indeed like doomsday was upon us and I kept glancing up reflexively, expecting to see the face of Regulos looming down at me from some lofty position, mocking my progress toward the Failsafe.
I wasn't even surprised when the hologram flickered into existence as I approached the resonance capacitor; which was a giant machine with four glass canisters surrounding it and some sort of modified lightning rod at the top. It was connected to a small raised disk to the left and had many odd parts attached to it.
"Greetings, Ascended!" The hologram predictably said in its metallic voice. "If you are here to access the resonance capacitor, just use those controls in front of me." The hologram pointed vaguely downward and I followed its tiny gaze until I saw a small panel affixed to the side of the machine, below the little dais that the hologram was standing on. I nodded.
"Sure, I'll try my best." I replied softly, even though I knew the hologram couldn't hear me and was only a simple recording. I glanced back up again.
"Have a nice day!" With that parting shot the hologram winked out. Using the knowledge gained from the souls inhabiting my engineered body, I pressed a sequence of buttons quickly on the panel, hoping that my not-memories were valid for this type of machine. The beings that made up my sourcestone matrix were silent, as they usually were unless I was distressed or in danger. They seemed to stay mostly dormant. I wonder why that was? Not that I minded, as my mind was crowded enough as it was with all the things I knew and experienced, as well as the new things that kept being thrown at me. I didn't need a constant stream of information from other people's lives as well. A bit callous perhaps, but I'd always approved of being practical and dealing with the most pressing problem first. And I'd say the end of the world was a pretty pressing problem.
After each button had been pressed, it lit up, glowing a frosty blue. Sure enough, when I pushed the last of the appropriate buttons the machine whirred to life. Suddenly the machine shook, making an odd sound. Hesitantly, I stepped back. I had no desire to get blown up because I happened to stand too close. For a second I imagined having a conversation with Asha Catari where I apologized for breaking the last hope for Telara and felt both amused and coldly terrified. The machine continued to act up, shaking and clanking. That's really odd, I highly doubt it's supposed to act like that. I narrowed my eyes, studying it from a few feet away, although I didn't think I was far enough away in the event of it exploding. The machine gave one final shudder and then stalled, components coming to a whirring halt.
"What?! Great, now what do I do!" I threw my hands in the air, feeling a bit like I might cry. All that I'd been through in the past few hours...had it really only been a few hours?-it all came rushing back to me and I had such a strong urge to just close my eyes with the ridiculous hope that I'd magically find that this was all just a nightmare and I'd wake up in my bed back in Atia, with my duties to the city the most I worried about. Resisting the uncharacteristic urge to laugh hysterically, I tapped my foot and glared at the capacitor, as if willing it to start back up again. What was wrong with it? Sure, with memories of the machine, I could figure out how to start it, but I'm not an engineer or Ethian scientist by any means and I doubt I had the time for that. I tilted my head. Although...maybe I had the soul of one inside me? I dismissed the thought. Despite these souls living inside my new, sourcestone constructed body, they weren't me. My soul was apparently in control and I couldn't just switch it off and access someone else's just like I couldn't suddenly morph into someone else. It just wasn't done. Or if it was, it just wasn't done by me. Besides, I was afraid to admit that I didn't want those souls within me to take over my mind and I wanted to keep them from my own conscious mind, a seemingly difficult task, considering we all lived within each other.
I moved slowly around the machine, studying it, looking for some kind of obvious hint as to its failure.
"You are a fool to stand in the way of Regulos!" What the six planes? I couldn't help an exclamation of surprise and whirled around...and stared, mouth open in shock as, with no warning, a tall armor clad warrior charged right at me, leaping off the raised platform I'd seen earlier beside the capacitor. Where'd he come from?
"Couldn't we just talk about this like sensible folk?" I blurted, hastily drawing my staff and spacing my feet apart. I could have sworn there was no one nearby when I'd started up the machine, so where'd he come from? The machine itself? Perhaps a magical cloaking device? Or maybe he flickered
? No, that was a mage talent and he definitely looked like a warrior. A large, raging warrior. Caught off guard, I was nearly impaled on the warrior's sword when he charged me. At the last second, I was able to erect my icy vortex, absorbing the blow and preventing him from landing a direct hit. The warrior's expression, as well as his face, was hidden behind a full face mask of some kind of twisted dark plate. That same dark plate covered his entire body, encasing him in one impenetrable suit of armor. Shaking his head as he impacted with my magical barrier, the warrior, or knight, or whatever he was, roared, a bone chilling sound. I nearly gasped again. I wasn't used to being attacked physically, obviously. Most of the enemies I'd faced here hadn't had the intelligence to mount a proper strike against me. Immediately, I backed up, desperate to put some space between my own form and his raging self. My icy vortex wouldn't last long. Indeed, I could feel it was weakening even as I thought that. Thinking quickly, I cast out a powerful neural prod spell. I blinked, a bit surprised at the potency of the magic. My mastery over air magic seems to be growing exponentially it seems. I couldn't wait to discuss things with another Mage of my order as soon as things settled down some. If they ever would. Who knows, maybe this is my life now? Constantly fighting bad guys and saving the world. I gave a low chuckle even as I dodged another lunge.
The flame bolt that I cast immediately afterward momentarily weakened the warrior and chipped away at his defenses even as he continued his attempts at cleaving in me two. So far I was quick enough to avoid any damage and had managed to keep him at a respectable distance. Not very promising. I called up more magic, heaving a fireball at my assailant, along with another neural prod. The fireball seemed to stun him and do the most damage so I took advantage of that, casting more his way. He seemed to shrug my other spells off like droplets of water. Perhaps the armor protected him?
"The Guardians play right into Regulos's hands, the fools!" The man's voice was low and gravelly, and full of a dark eagerness that I liked not at all. It reminded me too much of a fanatical cultist I'd had the misfortune of coming across once, on one of my supply trips on the Isle. "I will not let you interfere! Prepare to end your second life." The voice was slightly muffled by his helmet. He was obviously beyond sensible communication. Which was fine by me; I had no problem communicating with my magic. I cast an electrocute spell to slow him down and stepped back more. I really didn't want to meet the business end of that sword. I followed up my electrocute with a renewed flame bolt spell, just for effect and was rather darkly satisfied by the unknown warrior's grunt of pain. The sword-wielding maniac staggered back as my spells burned into him. I grinned as I cast my next spell, reveling in the way the magic coursed through me and flew out from my fingers in strong pulses. Since becoming Ascended, I could push my magical limits like never before, and felt no magic drain or fatigue from using them. No dizziness, mana-sickness, anything. The potential was staggering. The warrior, though severely wounded, refused to give up, shaking himself and trying to fight through my magic. His breathing was ragged and he was swaying, but nevertheless, he lifted his sword and charged me again. Not expecting him to still be standing after my magical assault, I barely rolled out of the way in time, thrusting my staff up to ward off the wickedly sharp blade. It was by pure luck that he didn't skewer me than, although I did catch a plated fist upside the head.
Pain exploded along my jaw and for one horrifying moment I thought he'd broken it. Dazed and now more than a little unsure, I rolled onto my back and scooted backwards, hastily lifting my staff and focusing inward. Murmuring the words to the spell, I felt a breath of healing magic wash over me, soothing the ache and removing most of the hurt. I could still feel the dull throb of the wound, the blood pounding in my ears, but even though I wasn't that confident in my skills as a healer I still knew I'd done a good enough job at healing the worst of the injury. I was also pleased to note that the slice along my arm had finally stopped bleeding and indeed seemed to be mostly mended. The warrior rested on his sword, panting. To my sight, the flame spell was still eating away at him. Good. I repressed the urge to rub my jaw, instead bringing my gloved hand out in front of me, fingers splayed for another casting. This time I cast a spear of flame. Fire magic wasn't my forte and it wasn't as strong as my air magic, but the idea of cooking him in his own armor made me feel a thrill of vindication, I admit. It takes a lot to truly upset me, but the vicious nature of this...man, was drawing my darker nature to the fore. The flame spear arrowed straight into the man, going right through the armor. He bellowed and clawed at his chest.
My head still hurt, pounding in time with my pulse. It was making it a challenge to concentrate.
"Regulos gives power and mastery over the dead to anyone who joins him. You should join his ranks and gain immense power!" The Warrior's voice now held a hint of pleading. He knew he was beat. I felt a renewed sense of determination and rightness.
"Never. I'd never align myself with something so completely anathema to existence! Die, you crazy traitor!" Not the most stirring of responses, but it got my point across. I slowly stood, throwing bolts of fire at him as I gained my feet. My arm was sore and my head ached. I was quickly losing my patience with this fight. Patience was always something my teachers despaired of teaching me. He was a hard one to kill, unlike the rest of the rabble I'd faced off against here. The black-clad warrior kept coming at me, relentlessly, even though the spells were obviously weakening him. Finally, he fell, within a few yards of me. I held my breath, staring. He'd been tough. Trying to will my heartbeat back to normal, I sent another life based spell at him, just in case. When used with intent, life magic can be a very potent offensive magic. Thankfully, the body was unresponsive. I wasn't actually going to bend down and check if he was dead, though.
Ugh, my head. I slowly staggered backward feeling a bit shaky and leaned against the capacitor, feeling the cool metal bite into my back. I was too tired to move however. I was still feeling a bit woozy. The moment I put my weight against the machine and heaved a sigh of relief, it promptly turned on. I gasped and jerked upright, turning to give the machine a malicious glare. Figures. I suppressed the urge to give it a swift kick. Or better yet, a taste of my magic. Well, at least my mission is complete, finally. Wearily, I picked up my staff and slung it across my back. When I straightened back up again, I braced myself, expecting to see dots of blackness in my vision from the change in balance, which usually happens with head wounds, but to my surprise, I felt no pain. In fact, when I concentrated I couldn't feel any soreness in my head anymore, or along my arm. Incredible! I inspected my arm closely, but found nothing but flawless chocolate skin. There was no evidence that there had even been a wound there, nothing but a few flakes of dried blood. I blinked a few times. Just incredible. My heart swelled with pride and renewed spirit. To be chosen for such an incredible gift, I felt honored. I hope my family can see me now. I hope my strength makes my ancestors proud.
I guess I'd better head back to Lastlight and report my success. I gave the resonance capacitor one last resentful look before trudging off in the direction of Asha's command, thoughtfully inspecting my arm. There was much to learn here about magitech.