Most people noticed when Anthousa Mona entered a room. Heels clicking, staff tapping on the marble floor, she strode into Sylver’s workshop, but neither the inventor nor his assistant Stavel paid her any mind. Stavel hunkered atop the gleaming machine they were working on, going at the rivets with a planar tuner, while Sylver had slid entirely under the chassis. Anthousa smacked the butt of her staff on the floor.
Stavel, at least, looked up, then jumped down. “High Priestess. How may I serve you?”
“You may not. I must speak to your… to Sylver,” she said as if his name left a nasty taste.
“Of course.” Stavel kicked Sylver’s outstretched leg gently. The inventor started, smacking his head against the underside of the machine with a loud klang.
He slid out and sat up, rubbing his bruised forehead, ignoring Anthousa entirely to talk to Stavel. “I think it’s ready. Proceeding with test run.”
“Wait, Sylver—” Stavel called, but the inventor was already at the controls, fingers pattering on the keys like raindrops in a storm. The machine whirred to life, six planar pressure gauges filling with the color of their element. Stavel had no choice but to run to his station.
Sylver looked over his shoulder. “Yes, priestess?” Then he turned back to Stavel. “All levels stable for elemental bonding. Death levels lagging.”
“Stabilizing,” Stavel said. Then he muttered, “Don’t forget her holiness,” too low for her holiness to hear.
Anthousa rubbed the bridge of her perfect nose. “The general staff is convening shortly. And spirits know why, but that includes you.” She turned on her heel, and was halfway to the door before she realized no one was following. Sure enough, Sylver was still hunched over his meters. "Oh, do come along you spiritless nalthema.”
Stavel’s eyes flicked from Sylver to Anthousa, concerned for the first, blazing at the second. Save for a quick twitch in his brow, Sylver did not react to the slur. “I’m busy,” he finally said through his teeth. “Tell Asha I agree with whatever.” Then he waved the priestess away. “Water reading optimum levels. Fire. Earth.”
The High Priestess of the Kelari pointed her staff at Sylver. That same gesture had doomed riftspawn and Guardians alike. “You ignore the general’s summons for this idiotic contraption? Just yesterday you were moping at her heels like a spurned puppy.”
“This Attunement Chamber will allow the Ascended to bond with energy from the planes. It could win us the war. But it doesn’t work by moaning and waggling your fingers, so you wouldn’t understand.”
“Tell me, Valis,” Anthousa said, “why does your research so often involve bonding to external elements. Is it because you cannot form a bond with the spirits that love our kind?”
Noticing something in the dozens of dials, Sylver began hammering at the controls. “So inventors are motivated by crushing insecurity. But then why doesn’t Orphiel devote his life to finding a cure for collars?”
Stavel suppressed a laugh by coughing and calling out, “Fire feedback spiking. Compensating.”
“Compensate for Earth as well!” said Sylver.
“One single spirit bond,” Anthousa mused, “and you could predict this malfunction. Poor, poor lonely nalthema.”
“And yet this nalthema perfected the Ascension process. Will perfect. In the future. If we fail. Whatever! Not now, Anthousa!”
The machine began to rattle and scream, all the meters flashing their colors angrily.
“Sylver, she’s done for! Abort!” Stavel vaulted over his console, hiding behind a well-scorched blast shield a bare moment before the Attunement Chamber exploded. Shards of jagged metal flew on jets of elemental flame.
“Idiot,” Anthousa said, walking toward the door with a smile on her flawless face. “The Ascended are already one with the elements. They don’t need your machine.”
“Sylver! Gods and spirits,” said Stavel, beating his way through the rainbow smoke, “Gods and spirits, please be alright.”
The haze parted and there against the wall sat Sylver, his jerkin scorched and his hair standing on end. Blue soot covered his face, making him look like a tiny, starved Bahmi. “Already imbued with the elements… already imbued…” he said to himself dreamily.
Stavel threw his arms around the inventor, all but sobbing with relief. “You’re alright! Thank the spirits!”
“Don’t thank them,” Sylver patted his assistant’s back, then pointed to the burnt-out sourcestone disc smoking on his belt. “Thank my personal disruption field. That works, at least. Imbued with the elements… Ascended…”
“Oh, don’t listen to her,” Stavel said as he sat down beside his master, rubbing his shoulder as pneumagic vents sucked the smoke into the ceiling. “What would someone who dresses like that know about anything?”
“The same thing we know!” Sylver flipped his goggles down and the lenses blinked to life, casting multicolored light across the floor as they scanned the wreckage. He grabbed Stavel’s face and laughed his high-pitched mad-scholar’s laugh. “Asha’s meeting can wait. We have work to do!”
Sylver Valis stood at his podium, wearing new robes of purple and green. The sun beat down on Epoch Plaza, gleaming off the chrome of the rebuilt machine that stood on the steps behind him. The inventor’s hair was still a wild mess, and he had forgotten to flip up his goggles, but if anything, that added to the affect. Stavel stood at the controls of the steadily-humming console. Every now and then, he cast Sylver an admiring smile.
“… A wise Kelari reminded me recently that the Ascended are already bonded to the elements,” Sylver said. “With new bodies crafted from sourcestone at this nexus of the planes, Defiant Ascended are literally overflowing with elemental magic. In early… er… prototypes, I had tried to add power needlessly. All one needs do is harmonize existing power with the music of the planes. Defiant, I give you the Attunement Chamber, built to unlock the true potential of the Ascended!”
Standing in ovation with the rest of the crowd, Asha Catari looked askance at her friend Anthousa Mona. “A very wise Kelari, to recognize such hidden potential,” she said.
The Attunement Chamber opened, and out stepped the volunteer. From the audience, the High Priestess clapped as loudly as anyone to see what Sylver had made.