Sunday, May 05, 2013

[Karazhan's Story] 1.4: Tempest Station

     "It's done." I said simply to Asha Catari upon returning to her in Lastlight. The general was quite pleased with my effectiveness and gave me further instruction on how to reach the Failsafe. Knowing that time was of the essence, especially since I'd now effectively powered up this Failsafe device, I nodded at her, wondering if this was the last I'd see of this brave woman.
      "Farewell Ascended, all our hopes go with you." Asha called, than seemed to think of something. "Wait! The raw power and potential you display as a new Ascended is impressive, but to survive the journey to the past, and to aid in reclaiming that past, you will be required to push yourself to limits you don't even know you have yet. You need a master in your art to aid you in the necessary techniques to using your skills and spells effectively. I know you have precious time to reach the Failsafe before Regulos turns his eye upon us-I know more than anyone in fact-I think this is important. Once you have arrived in Tempest Station, find Mistress Ashear; a Mage like yourself. She will be able to help you in channeling the elemental power to their greatest effect!"

     "My thanks Lady Catari, may the Spirits protect you." I responded softly, making sure to meet her eyes so she knew of my sincerity. She gave me a bit of a puzzled look. I was glad also of her advice about finding a Mage trainer. I was heartened to hear that there was one in this desolate place.
     Asha's parting words stayed with me as I quickly I moved across the old wooden plank bridge that led me to Tempest Station, mulling over the Failsafe and what would come after. Where would I end up? When would I end up? Would I see any of these people there, or even recognize them? What were my plans once I was there? I knew that I wanted to find out what had become of the Isles and maybe make a trip back there. Maybe my family was even still alive, depending on the timeline. No doubt the Defiant would wish me to continue to aid them in their fight against the cultists and other threats. And I would help in any way I was able. I did not want this future to be the future I had to look forward to. I would defend Telara with my last breath if need be. Which led my thoughts on a tangent about immortality and how it would affect me.

     Before I knew it, I'd crossed the bridge and had discovered Tempest Station. The first thing I noticed was that there was a lot more activity here than in the previous outposts I'd come across. The people seemed more determined, more on edge. And yet, they were also calmer. Everyone seemed to have a job to do and had no problem doing it. Tempest Station was a small camp set up against the back of what looked like another ruined village. Magitech creations littered the area like cast off toys-albeit deadly toys-and sourcestone glittered everywhere one looked. In the center of the camp stood a large technological device that I didn't even recognize. It had three arcs of machinery that met in a dome overtop of a sourcestone canister. A Bahmi man pacing by the machine caught my eye just as he opened his mouth.

     "Regulos! I am Rodan Ismos, slayer of Rhamm Dragonbane and I do not fear you!" He paced around the machine with a relentless air, as if eager to get his hands on the Destroyer himself. Uneasily I glanced upward, waiting for Regulos to answer this taunt, but of course Regulos wasn't here. If he was, I'm sure his answering this man's challenge would be the least of our worries. "Enough waiting!" the Bahmi called Rodan Ismos yelled again, suddenly. "If we must die, let the battle be now!" Obviously he didn't take well to waiting. Of course, I could imagine how it would be, sitting in this tiny camp with nothing but your sourcestone-generated constructs and your fellow man to protect you if Regulos and his forces did indeed storm this remaining bastion of Telara. They would all be crushed. The waiting and the knowing of this would be a great weight on anyone's mind. I forcefully pushed that train of thought aside. I didn't want fear and anxiety to color my actions when I needed to focus. I had a mission to accomplish.

     Another male Bahmi inspected a giant warrior construct, muttering to himself and yelling at his assistants by turn. Shockingly, I could hear him clearly despite being across the camp, if I focused on him specifically. "What's taking so long? I need another construct ready to move NOW!" came his curt, gruff voice, full of authority. I found it interesting that there were so many of the Plane-touched race here. From what I remember, the Bahmi didn't much like getting involved in wars and such. Of course, the end of the world cause us to do what we normally would find disagreeable. At least I would fit in among this faction, as I wouldn't be the only so called Bahmi who was interested in the technology and magitech that the Defiant had to offer us. The man's next sentence had me smiling slightly, "It's the end of the world you know, we don't have all day, move it!" I shook my head and continued looking around, not exactly sure of where I needed to go. There were several paths out of the outpost, and I could see that a lot of activity seemed focused on the northern edge, toward the volcano. Of course. I didn't feel comfortable just brazenly barreling ahead into who knows what kind of dangers, but I didn't know enough about what was going on either way.
      Here in Tempest Station, there was so much activity and tension that it was hard to concentrate. Over to my left, a couple of red and gold tents were picketed. Two raised platforms stood beside it hooked up to long curved arms of metal that had sourcestone embedded in them. Large crystal spheres were attached to the front of the platforms. I wonder what those are for? A tall, liquid filled canister stood empty next to the platforms, presumably waiting to be filled. For some reason that empty canister made me shiver. It seemed eerie. Magitech was an exciting and intriguing notion and the wonder of discovery and study had always drawn me, but I've always wondered at what point do we stop. At what point does it turn darker?
     Assuming that the red and gold tents meant authority at the station, I set off for them across the clearing. Despite the energy and focus in the camp, there were those who still spotted me. They stopped and nodded or saluted me as I walked by, before immediately turning back to what they were focused on. Here, everyone seemed to know about the successful engineering of Ascended, but were just too worried about the end of the world to pause in awe. I approved of this more. I don't like fawning attention, especially when I haven't even earned it yet.
      I stopped in front of the red and gold tents, glancing among those arrayed around it. Asha Catari had said seek out Mistress Ashear to help realize my potential as a Mage. I wasn't arrogant enough to believe that I could continue to use my low ranked spells against the foes found here in this new world. Being Ascended meant that I had potential for so much more. I could feel it inside me, the ability to learn many more new and powerful spells and while a small part of me was frightened by the limitless power I seemed to now have, the largest part of me leapt with excitement at testing out what my limits in magic now were. The souls I housed within were also eager to experiment with this, especially the Ethian soul that I'd come to think fondly of. I've always been rather fond of the Eth and their determination. I'd never had the need to leave the Isle to visit such beautiful cities like Fortune's Shore and Charmed Eboni, but it would be wonderful to see. I sent this thought inward, aimed at the Ethian soul and received a sharp sense of loss and sadness in return. Before I could consider that better, an older woman swathed in dark red and brown robes beckoned to me with her staff. Relieved that I wouldn't have to go around asking random people what to do, I walked beneath the tent.

     "Hello dear, you looked a bit overwhelmed. Welcome to Tempest Station. Are you an Ascended?" Before I could respond, she was nodding and speaking again, "I can see that you are. Your aura is much different than everyone else's here. More refined and strong. I can also see that you are a fellow Mage such as myself." I blinked and gave her another, longer look. Sure enough, now that I knew to look, I could see the air of old magic she held around her that signified another of the magecraft.

     "Mistress Ashear?" I asked hesitantly. The woman smiled pleasantly and nodded. A long elaborate headdress that trailed down her back bobbed with her nod. "Asha Catari in Lastlight suggested I should seek you out to help me expand on my potential as a Mage. She strongly implied that you were one of the most powerful Mage's left here." At finding myself fidgeting with my cuirass, I stopped my fingers and gave my attention to the woman more fully, scolding myself for acting like a novice. Just because this woman knew more of the craft than I, did not mean I had to act like a silly girl just learning magic for the first time.

     Mistress Ashear smiled at me, showing wrinkles at the corners of her mouth. "Of course dear, I knew Asha well. She has great power, but it comes at a price for her, I'm afraid." She shook her head. "As for you girl? Let's see what we can do to teach you. I'm afraid time is precious and far too short for proper lessons in expanding your knowledge, but I can show you how to unlock certain spells that you might not have used before. The potential for all magic is locked inside each of us, you just need to know how to coax it forth."

     A loud, derisive snort had both of us glancing to the side. Standing by the platform was a tall man dressed head to toe in exotic armor I'd not seen before. Even his head was covered completely by a strange, horned mask. He glanced at us dismissively and folded his arms. I looked back at Mistress Ashear, who was giving the masked man an exasperated look. She rolled her eyes dramatically for my benefit and focused back on me. "What the stubborn creature over there is trying to say is that we'd better hurry it up, he has orders to give you about your journey to the Failsafe." My eyebrows went up in understanding. At least I'll know what to expect. A bit intimidating, I admit. Especially that mask. I glanced at the man again out of the corner of my eye but the Mage cleared her throat and I brought my eyes back to her to see her grinning. She made a show of rolling up her sleeves and planting her staff in front of her, readying herself for helping me. I liked her already.

     I spent the next indeterminate amount of time learning new ways to harness my magic and discovering new spells. For that short time, I forgot about the stress of my mission, about the loss of my home and city (which surely must have been destroyed with the rest of Telara), the end of the world, and the heavy presence of the Death Plane all around us. I focused completely on the magic and the knowledge I gained from Mistress Ashear. It felt so wonderful to share my gift with someone else again, to speak about magical theory, the elements, and other magecraft-related subjects. All too soon, Mistress Ashear was bidding me good luck and farewell, having filled my head and heart with so much potential that I was actually eager to go out and face the minions of Regulos so that I may test out my new knowledge. I embraced the old mage and thanked her before turning my attention to the masked man who had been waiting impatiently for me to finish my impromptu lesson in magic.

     The "Faceless Man" as he was apparently known, spoke like one long used to being in charge. I didn't really like the way he addressed me, but I held silent as he explained the latest news on the Failsafe and the efforts at holding Regulos's forces at bay.

     "Before you head for the Failsafe, there are a few tasks I'd like for you to complete that would greatly aid your success." His voice was low and gravelly and seemed to suit him. I nodded; what else was I supposed to do? I hardly think he'd take no for an answer and I had no desire to get on anyone's bad side here. After all, I'd apparently had the choice of joining the Defiant taken from me upon waking in this new body.
     "Shyla Starhearth, a Priestess of the Vigil, has betrayed the Guardians." Contempt filled his voice as he spoke, no doubt unimpressed with these 'Guardians.' "Corrupted by the empty promises of Regulos, she now serves her dark master as a harvester of souls. Though fallen, her soul is still filled with great power-power which we can use to make more Ascended." I felt my attention caught there. More Ascended. Images of many of us Ascended, united against the common enemy, filled my mind and my heart with light. I may not be able to get my family back, but I could forge a new family with fellow Ascended, united by our common goals and uniqueness. The Faceless Man was still speaking, "Our guards have managed to contain her for now, but you must use the Soul Reclamation Device to extract her soul. We can use her essence to craft a new soul. Be wary though, she will need to be subdued or dead for the extraction to work." I sucked in a breath. It was all well and good to approve of the art of creating Ascended, but the methods to achieve those goals? Those were another matter. The idea of sucking someone's soul out of their body seemed a little too extreme. The Faceless Man, oblivious to my crisis of faith, thrust a small empty canister into my hands, dismissing me. I glanced down at the innocent-looking device, warring with myself over this task. In the end I sighed and went along with it. Though I did not approve or like the situation, I knew too little about the circumstances in this dark future to start going against the Defiant now. They were my people now and I had to conform to their views. Besides, I can't even begin to imagine what designs had led to their dark choices and willingness to sacrifice life for the sake of victory.

     I learned that the dead town nearby was Castrum Hiberna, a name I wasn't familiar with. The Defiant centurions apparently had this Starhearth cornered on the far side of the ruined town, in a hollow by the mountains. Unfortunately, the town wasn't as empty as it first looked. Indeed, it was crawling with undead minions of Regulos. I had to quite literally fight my way through the eerily silent streets to reach my destination, the only sounds being the undead creatures I cut down and the sizzling of my magic in the air. I took care not to gaze into the shells of the houses and buildings after the first such glimpse. Red, limpid eyes had gleamed back at me with sinister intent and I could almost feel the weight of death bearing into my mind. By the time I'd reached the shallow impression where Shyla Starhearth had been contained, my nerves were frayed and I was mentally exhausted from shielding myself from the evil whispers of Regulos's pawns. I'd also been dismayed to note many dead men and women littering the streets of Castrum Hiberna, each one clad in the red and gold of the Defiant colors.

     As I approached the area, I swiftly assessed the situation. Four Defiant guards were spaced around the area, each facing inward, tensed to attack at any moment. Several of them held out round silver disks that glowed blue. Beams of blue energy struck a tall, slim elf at the center. Shyla Starhearth had been beautiful once. I could still see it in her. She was pale with long shining hair. She was dressed in pink and gold, although the color was faded and muted. She didn't look at all concerned to be cornered, instead giving the guards a secretive, pleased smirk. The look made me uneasy. I opened my mouth to say something-I know not what-when several things suddenly happened at once. The guards, noticing my arrival, relaxed their battle stances. Shyla Starhearth also glanced over at me. Her smile grew wider and more triumphant. An evil glint appeared in her eyes and she looked like she'd been expecting my arrival. Instead of looking worried, she nonchalantly cast her hand out in front of her in a wave and whispered a few soft words in a strange dialect that brought to mind images of dead, silent graves, causing me to shiver with dread. Instantly, all four guards dropped dead, two being flung backwards across the clearing to smash into stone outcroppings. I sucked in a breath. The Faceless Man had said she was contained! Although I was seriously dreading the act of murdering an evil woman to harness her dark soul, I wasn't quite ready to take her on in a battle! Dark magic pulsed within her, lending her strength.

     Shyla laughed shrilly, the sound raising the hairs on my neck, and gazed around at the dead guards. "Your flimsy technology will not save you from the power of Regulos," she said calmly, in an offhand manner. I suddenly felt heated, full of fury at the needless slaughter of those good men. They were only following orders. They had no idea of the real power this monstrous woman possessed and were not prepared for her magical assault. Immediately I dived into the magical core of my being, feeling the air sparkle with magic around me. The souls woven into the matrix of my body leapt eagerly to help. Drawing my staff in one swift motion, I spun it in front of me and when the staff reached the full revolution let loose a bolt of lightning at the elf woman. She neatly negated my magical attack with a wave of her hand and sidestepped over a dead guard. We traded magical blows back and forth, each seeking to end the other. I refused to give in to her death magic, scouring her with my storm-based abilities. Having trained as a Stormcaller, I had a natural affinity for the elements, especially those of air and water, and to a lesser extent, fire. I employed them all to the fullest against Shyla. The more I cast my spells the more confident and stronger I felt and was able to employ the magic to stunning affect against Shyla. Soon I could see the toll my magical assault was taking on her death-touched body. She may have succumbed to the promises of Regulos, but her body was not meant to hold such dark and deadly magic and she grew tired while I grew stronger. Her spells were potent indeed and I felt the sting of death magic on my arms and face, but refused to back down. White hot needles lanced into my mind, but I continued to drive her back, hitting her with lightning, bolts of fire, and neural prods. I even employed the spells that Mistress Ashear taught me how to call, casting thunderbolts and cloudbursts and icicle blasts.

     Finally, Shyla fell to her knees with a groan of pain and I continued to bombard her with magical attacks. "Why fight your fate?" She whispered, half with wonder and half with despair. I moved closer cautiously to hear. "Look around you, this world is already doomed. Regulos is eternal!" I shook my head sadly at the dying elf. "Nothing is eternal," I answered, vindication coloring my words. "I would never give in to a creature so completely opposite the things I believe in and fight for. I would protect this world with my last breath, as would any true Telaran!" Before her violet eyes closed for good, Shyla seemed to give me a look of approval. Despite the fact that she had been a Vigil worshipper before being corrupted by Regulos, I felt myself feeling sorrow and loss for her death. I had a feeling she was a magnificent paragon of good before she had fallen. And now she was just another casualty of the war Regulos brought to our world. Gently, I rolled her lifeless body over and positioned the sourcestone container over her heart. I wasn't sure exactly how to work the machine, or what to do, but thankfully it sorted itself out. The minute I moved the container over her body, it began to hum in my hands and heat up. A black and silver mist streamed from Shyla's body and seemed to be drawn into the container. Soon, the container was filled with an oily black and silver cloud. I stood up, feeling the ache of the battle, and made my way back through the dead town to Tempest Station, feeling old and weary beyond my young life.

     "Ah, you were successful, excellent." The Faceless Man's words didn't make me feel any better about the situation and I stayed silent as he inspected the contained soul. "You can certainly feel the taint of Regulos on this soul. Lucky for us, I believe you have harvested in time to cleanse it." I just nodded silently. At least once cleansed, the soul could return to what it once was before Regulos had lain claim to it. One less spirit in the grips of his corrupted evil. Feeling scrutiny, I tilted my head and eyed the masked man back, lifting an eyebrow in question. Why was he looking at me like that. Even with the full helmet, I could feel the weight of his measuring gaze.

      The approval in the Faceless Man's voice warmed me with satisfaction. And I was glad to have removed the taint of Regulos from that poor soul. One more spirit that Regulos doesn't have control over. After speaking briefly in low tones with the man I'd heard earlier complaining about needing constructs NOW, the Faceless Man turned to me and said "The Wraith Battle Constructs are ready to be employed to take you to the Failsafe, we just need a few more moments to augment the fallen souls." It spoke a lot to how used to this scene I was becoming that I didn't even react to the idea of binding souls to dead metal. At least my body was organic, meshed with sourcestone and molded to properly house a soul. But I was relieved I would have a companion, machine or otherwise, to accompany me the rest of the way. From the Faceless Man's words, I gather that my task is almost complete. I wasn't sure what to feel about that. I was relieved that the mission was almost over. I could use the Failsafe device and that would be it. I wasn't sure what came after, but it would no longer be my problem right? I would deliver my message to those in charge and than I could...I wasn't sure what I would do. Further my skill in magecraft, for sure. I'd really like to continue my studies on research and Telaran history, and I can see that going hand in hand with my new abilities and immortality. I suddenly had all the time in the world to fulfill my dreams, which seems selfish, but I would also still be part of the Defiant and who knows what the timeline will be like when I exit the Failsafe on the other side. For all I know, going back in time will only change events for the worse. The enigma that was the time-space continuum always confused me during my studies. I moved idly about the camp while I waited for the magitech engineer, a dark skinned Eth named Raj Tahleed, to finish augmenting the battle constructs. The longer I waited, the high my dread built, until I was sure I was tasting acid in my mouth. What if I couldn't do this? What if Regulos came? What if I was lost to time, stuck somewhere in between? After all, has anyone tested this machine to see if it works or not? I was about to start asking this questions of the Faceless Man when Raj Tahleed clapped his hands.

      I followed Raj as he walked over to one of the massive battle constructs, attached to wires and metal spokes. He instructed his assistants and everyone gathered around to watch him work. Inserting the soul fragments in certain spots with deft movements, he worked with Engineer Mossam in making the battle construct ready. A sense of urgency and fear filtered through the crowd who watched, as each Defiant there knew this was their last and only chance to free the world from the yoke of Regulos's control.

     Raj turned to me and smiled a smile full of sadness and hope and determination. "The Wraith Battle Construct is ready for action. Those minions of Regulos won't know what hit 'em. We need to get you through the cultist lines between here and Rubicon, where the Failsafe is located, and this construct should do the trick. Careful though, there are dozens of cultists between us and the Rubicon. Farewell, Ascended and may your gods protect you." The crowd murmured variations of the last sentence. The Wraith Construct gave a jerk and the crowd moved back as it clumsily climbed off the platform. The construct was immense, towering over even the tallest Bahmi here. It halted and made a series of whirs and beeps.

     "I have studied the Planes my entire life, you know, and I have never expected to see our world converge so completely with a Plane. It has been an interesting, if tragic time to live in." Raj spoke quietly. I pursed my lips grimly but did not respond. What was there to say? The construct suddenly lumbered forward.
     "Self-assessment complete. All systems in working order. Let's bash some heads!" The metallic voice that emitted from the construct seemed eager to enter battle. The Battle Construct headed for the path that led up through Castrum Hiberna and I swiftly followed. At the top of the steps before leaving Tempest Station behind for good, I paused and turned, gazing at that small camp. These people. Defiant to the last. They all gazed back at me with varying expressions and I attempted to burn the faces into my memory. I would never forget you, I vowed, and I would avenge you if I got the opportunity. I would never let Regulos win. I clenched my strange new hand into a fist. An impatient rumble behind me reminded me of my duty and with one last sad look, I turned, leaving everyone behind to an unknown fate as I followed in the wake of destruction the construct created as it plowed through the minions of Regulos on its way up the mountain to the Rubicon. The construct proved to be a good protector, attacking any creature and cultist in sight. I recalled that these crazed fanatics called themselves the Endless Court and had joined Regulos willingly for a taste of his deadly power, and had no qualms whatsoever about their messy deaths at the hands of the construct.

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