"I itend to auction most of the artifacts in a few month's time", Kane said. "I expect the scroll will be among the most expensive items. The starting price will be at least fifty million Despollars, and I expect to get much more than that. You or your representatives are, of course, free to attend the auction and try to purchase any of the artifacts there. I'll be sure to send an invitation to the Union of Necrotic Sciences after the date for the auction has been set."
The whale bone box and its contents were relatively uninteresting - the crumbs of dead Living Metal were no different from the samples already in Ata's possession. The box itself was very beautiful, though: well-preserved and skillfully carved. It would probably be among the more expensive items in Kane's auction, should Ata not take it.
The Arctic Wastes
"Would you rather have them uncontrolled by anyone, Greater Necromancer?" Anolianth asked. "The Whispering Void phenomenon has existed for thousands of years, but because of its unpredictable and seemingly random nature, no one has managed to capture or properly understand it. Before the Necrotechnomancers' Union, I dedicated decades of my unlife to studying the Void. After forty years I gave up in furstration. In the end, my only finding of any notability was that the Void can usually be warded off by forcibly stabilizing the reality around it... Or perhaps I should say, around them - we don't even know whether each observed instance of the Whispering Void is a manifestation of the same entity or if there are multiple Voids. Is a Whispering Void alive? How does a Void reproduce and/or sustain itself? None of this we know, but if Initiate Bansity's condition will allow us an opportunity to finally uncover the Void's secrets, we'd be fools not to take advantage of it. Of course---" There was a cruel flash in Anolianth's burning eyes "---I wouldn't hold my hopes up. Most likely nothing will come out of it, and the initiate will end up suffering some horrible fate that technically fulfills the conditions of his wish."
"It's no secret that the reality in Despoticania is slightly... broken", Master Raynil said. Unlike Anolianth, the other cyberlich Master was using only surface level telepathy, perhaps in an attempt to calm down the frightened initiates. "The local Hume values are 0.77 points lower than the global average, even more here in the north. I believe that all the suffering, hate and death in the history of this land is at least partially to blame: the hardships and despair of the first settlers, the unseen death of the Lookitthat culture, the Starfall Impact, the war between the humans and the eldians... even the Church of Transcendental Hatred with its ritualized contempt for all existence. And since the launching of the Heaven Simulation, more and more people have essentially rejected reality in favor of solipsistic, virtual godhood. All this has contributed to making reality here more unstable and malleable - more wounded - than almost anywhere else in the world. This has the advantage of making certain areas of Despoticania ideal for studying supernatural phenomena, but the downside is that sometimes those very same supernatural phenomena will notice us. Attempting to control them is a lofty and dangerous goal, but perhaps immortals like us need the proverbial unclimbable mountains in order to have long-term projects that help us stay sane... Even undoing the effects of one particularly elusive supernatural phenomenon would be a good start. I'm not prepared to write off Initiate Bansity as a loss. Not yet."
"T-thank you, Master. I think", Kilander said quietly. His face was like a blank mask, but his mind was a maelstrom of thoughts and emotions ranging from suicidal to hopeful.
"Hold on. Someone's coming", Anolianth said and turned to face northeast. In the distance, something large, metallic and wolf-shaped was making its way through the snow with incredible force, followed by five other travellers. "It's Master Fawthali and the Hunters. Let's wait for them."
It took the Hunters only a couple of minutes to reach the first group. Fawthali stopped to shake off snow from its head and muzzle. Spellwrights Cosgatt, Tharstan and Thoke, Oathman Robayday and Death Knight Enu were all carrying numerous trophies taken from slain Snow Runners. Fawthali was the first to speak, using its soft, calm, feminine voice. "We've been in communication with Towen. We heard about your incident with the Whispering Void... I'm glad to see that you are all still in one piece, but I feel like I'm partially responsible. We should have accompanied you on the return trip instead of letting you brave the tundra with three mortal initiates slowing you dow. Together, we might have been able to banish the Void before anything serious happened."
"The Union will take great interest in the auction, you may meet a master other than myself. Thank you for the consideration." Ata paused, withdrawing all familiars but one. The one remaining was the one investigating the incense residue, it made a full scan of the artifact so that the relic could be duplicated for later use. "Jeeves, is there anything you'd recommend I investigate? I'm afraid my visit is coming to an end, my presence is required elsewhere." The familiar floated over to Ata, ready to investigate whatever Jeeves recommended.
Ata looked at the whale bone box, his gaze indicated that he wanted to take it, but he held himself back. The desire to take it was mostly off the principle of preventing the study fo the material it held, but he needed to keep his two remaining slots open incase there was anything else in his final moments here. He made the appropriate arrangements with the vactrain, side there wasn't a way to go directly to Towen, he'd improvise a bit. He arranged passage to Granny's Island, and checked on his faithful biomechanical submarine. Ata located it, puttering around in the fjords to the south of Granny's Island, apparently it was having some fun terrorizing the seals, fish, and cetaceans that lived in the area. The lich sent a directive to the submarine, since it was effectively an partially autonomous familiar, it really didn't have a choice as an extension of Ata's soul. It would meet him at the Island, and then they'd travel back to Towen. Though Ata had every intention of returning and continuing his search.
The Arctic Wastes
"I'd rather see the Void destroyed, Anolianth." Lin stated flatly. "Not only would a controlled Void be the most dangerous weapon ever devised, I strongly suspect that it would have a corrupting influence. Something like the Void may be controllable only in a superficial sense as well. The illusion of control pair with the world's most mischievous entity is not something I would like to see happen. You should also consider that a Union controlled Void is not something the Despoticanian government will take lightly." Raynil's words were of more comfort to the very paranoid Greater Necromancer, she had seen things she had no intentions of sharing with the Cyberliches. "Interesting thought, Master Raynil, I do hope it proves to be correct." She said in reference to the unclimbable mountain statement. "Areas in Veradax experience similar effects do to 'wounded reality', though I will admit that that the worst cases are due to the activities of Eldian Mages. The Great Rift that Master Sereno and his team are monitoring with the aid of Dr. Samon and the Eldian researchers is one example. Though I'm afraid the one with the most fear associated with it is the ruins of Xvergas Temple, one of the ancient monuments to the old religion and Master Ata's former base of operations before the Union of Necrotic Sciences was formed. The Temple is, for the lack of a better term, haunted. Non-Baryonic creatures can be seen roaming the premises, as well as their more normal counterparts from other planes, though the supernatural activity seems to be confined to the temple, like most phenomenon it is location dependent in Veradax.
Enu returned to the group, he saw that they had accomplished their goal, despite setbacks. "Master Ata is returning to deal with the situation?" he asked Lin. "Yes, he will be back by the end of the day." the Necromancer responded. Master Wuro shifted her attention to Fawthali. "Do not blame yourself. I am convinced the Whispering Void possesses some form of intelligence, it would not have struck if we were a single group. Besides we'd have been taking initiates into combat, or stayed as a small group nearby, the Void would've struck then."
"I'm afraid you've seen all items directly related to Blacklight Eldian magical, religious or esoteric practices that can be found in Mr. Kane's collection", Jeeves replied. "In some ways it is a miracle that even this many have survived through all these millennia, let alone ended up in one place, but Mr. Kane was very dedicated in his search for anything that might help him achieve immortality." The cyborg butler moved to another row of display cases filled with more ordinary items, ranging from utensils and cutlery to household items and decorations. "If you're interested, we still have a number of mundane artifacts that give fascinating insights to this lost culture. For example, some reliefs and painted vases we have here all but prove that at least some of the surviving Blacklight Eldians lived peacefully with the humans, sometimes - apparently voluntarily - even starting families with their new overlords. And while the victorious humans forced their religion on the remaining eldians, eldian influences in the dominant human religions could still be seen as late as the First Crusader Period - after that, of course, the Church of Transcendental Hatred systematically eradicated every religion with even hints of deity worship... And finally, even if you've already visited Blacklight itself, there are many smaller ruins of the Blacklight culture all around the southwestern coast. You might want to visit them when you have the time, if only for the cultural experience."
The Arctic Wastes
"Perhaps you're right", Master Anolianth admitted. "Although I'm not so sure the Despoticanian government would react to anything we do short of a full scale insurrection in an attempt to establish a magocracy... We've been monitoring the situation in Despoticania Prime for years, and there are things in motion there - strange, terrifying things. Something is slowly growing beneath the city, something we don't fully understand but can sense nonetheless. It's extending its influence further every day, spreading like a cancerous growth the size of a mountain... It's interfering with most forms of long-range telepathy, and some of our familiars have disappeared while trying to investigate it. But we know that almost all communications supposedly coming from our 'government' originate from this entity or are somehow routed through it, repeated like automated messages to give the illusion of a functional leadership. I doubt the entity would react to even a Whispering Void under our control, but maybe it is better to be safe than sorry..." They travelled on for a while in silence, before Anolianth added, seemingly to itself, "Ha ha, now that I think about it, it'd be almost funny to see how a Whispering Void would react to it... Too bad that would probably mean the end of the world, one way or another. But you can't deny it would be interesting..."
"Don't mind it", Master Raynil said. "Master Anolianth has always had a twisted sense of humor, but ultimately it is a very responsible and sensible mage. The title of 'Master' is not given easily by the Union..."
Anolianth made an exaggerated disgusted noise. "Says someone who once dominated the minds of an entire village and made the villargers believe in a fake god in an attempt to see if sufficient amount of sheer belief could..."
"That was over three centuries ago", Raynil said nonchalantly. "We were all different persons then. And we've all committed our fair share of atrocities. The important thing is what we choose to do now with all our power and knowledge." Anolianth seemed to agree, or at least it didn't say anything else. Raynil continued to talk with the Veradacians. The cyberlich seemed very interested when Lin described the Veradacian anomalies. "Most fascinating. I'd certainly like to see the Great Rift some day. It would be fascinating to observe a permanent puncture through reality up close. But for now, let's deal with the more immediate concerns."
The rest of the journey was mercifully uneventful. An hour or so later they reached Towen's perimeter, protected by numerous warding spells and rune-covered pillars rising from the snow, ready to cast debilitating or destructive spells at intruders. When they reached the mountainous monastery, Fawthali and the Hunters bade the rest of the group farewell and retreated to the Lodge with their trophies. "We enjoyed hunting with you, Death Knight Enu", Fawthali said before leaving. "You should join us again on our next trip. And of course, we'd be honored to one day visit Veradax to hunt by your side."
"Kilander and the Forge Knights will come with me", Master Raynil said when they were inside. "The initiate will be quarantined in an artificial pocket plane at one of our phase-shifted underground workshops. There is no more secure location in Towen. After that, I will attempt to contact the Archmagister." The cyberlich turned to the Veradacians. "When Master Ata returns to Towen, I'd like to have a meeting with all of you to discuss how we're going to proceed next. For now, I suggest you deliver the familiars to the holding pens and get some rest. Your encounter with the Whispering Void can't have been an easy one."
"I'll keep that in mind Jeeves." Ata remarked. The Whale Bone Box and the tablet set that was with the fabric disappeared. "Unfortunately I can stay no longer, I have a train to catch. Be careful with your new body Mr Kane, it may attract some unwanted attention. Good luck with your endeavors, until we meet again." With those final words, Master Ata disappeared in the same manner as the five artifacts. He appeared outside the door to Kane's Mansion, and made his way to the Vactrain station, where he would wait for the train to Granny's Island, and would take it when it came.
"I'm afraid the Veradacian Government knows more about the thing under Despoticanian Prime than the Union does. Whatever they have, they refuse to share it. It is certainly concerning to hear about such an entity though." Lin remarked, referring to Anolianth's comment. She spoke to Raynil next, delegating the operation to one of her subroutines so she could pay attention to the surroundings. "Master Sereno would certainly love to have a visitor, we've received reports that the Director has been a bit problematic for his and Dr. Samon's teams, perhaps a new perspective can straighten him out."
When they reached Towen, Lin began rigging the dolphin up for transport inside. Enu spoke to Fawthali. "I would most certainly enjoy another hunt, I will keep your request in mind as well. I'm certain the Archlich will have no issue with it." The Dolphin was levitating in it's wrappings. The snow bear was banished, it's crystal drawn back to Lin.
Once inside, Lin dispensed Orders to the Initiates. "Madyra and Myrdem, return to your quarters, meditate on the events that transpired today. We will work on familiar creation after the Situation with Kilander is resolved." she paused, looking over to the initiate. "One way or another." Lin used a basic spell to levitate the caged fox and bird, creating a ring of animals around the necromancer as she took them to the pens.
Dulruni was waiting for Lin when she returned to their quarters. "Where is Master Ata?" Dulruni inquired. Lin took a few moments to respond. "He's informed me he's on a Vactrain at the moment." Dulruni nodded, laying against the wall. "I fear what may happen to the initiate." he said offhandedly. "As do I. Now, let me rest." Lin responded plainly as she took up a meditative posture.
As always, the vac-train arrived and departed exactly on time. Travel time between Lookitthat and Granny's Island was approximately eight minutes, so the ancient lich Master had little time to rest (not that he really needed to). The vac-train tube's walls were made of polarized nanomaterial that turned transparent when the train had reached its top speed - six times the speed of sound - after 58.5 seconds of acceleration. It was nearly impossible to observe the rapidly shifting landscapes outside the tube, but to the northeast Ata could see rugged mountains and to the southwest endless boreal forests. There were no major population centers between Lookitthat and Granny's Island; with the exception of the far south, most of the Despoticanian population was concentrated in walled cities that expanded vertically both upwards and downwards. However, every now and then the train zipped by immense megastructures and towers (scientific stations and military installations, according to Datasphere, which had suspiciously little information on the subject) that stood in the impenetrable forest like artificial mountains.
The ride was over almost as soon as it had started, and as the vac-train began its deceleration, the tunnel's walls turned opaque, once again hiding the outside world from view.
Meanwhile in Starfall...
The Cathedral of Primal Hatred was a structure that had been variously described as "impressive", "ugly", "unnerving" and "pain embodied". There was something inherently hateful and angry in its black metal spires - some of them taller than small mountains - that tapered into sharp points, almost as if attempting to stab the heaven itself. Almost daily, bitter winds blowing from the east hit the spires, producing an eerie sound that resembled infinitely prolonged howling full of rage and defiance. The heart of the Church of Transcendental Hatred had been built into the inner western side of the ancient impact crater where most of the city of Starfall lay in, overlooking its buildings and the distant sea behind them. It was by far the largest landmark in the city, visible even from the other side of the crater, always looming over the people as they went about their daily lives - always reminding them that Starfall was the location where the Church had been born almost seven thousand years ago when the great prophet Marukh the Monkey-Truth had received his visions and learned the True Nature of the gods. Despite the disastrous failure of the Church's recent Crusade of Hatred against the distant Eldian nation of Veradax and its loss of favor with The Despot, Starfall was still firmly under its control, with over two thirds of the population sworn Haters. And while the Church had not held any official power over the city in centuries, everyone here knew better than to openly speak out against it or oppose its goals.
With a knock, Confessor Arkimerodan entered the High Priest's extravagant office in the tallest spire. Ezekyle Norkevendacious, the Most Hateful One, the Foremost Enemy of All Things Divine and Godly, stood by a large window behind his crescent-shaped desk, silently watching the city below. Even with the High Priest's back turned to her, the Confessor could feel the touch of his mind: Norkevendacious was among the most powerful psychics alive, and his ability to amplify the negative emotions of his followers into a hateful yet ecstatic frenzy was legendary. During their brief mental contact, the Confessor could feel that the High Priest was in a relatively good mood today. She sincerely hoped that her news would not make him less so.
"I take it you have something to report on the movements of the Intruder?" Norkevendacious asked without turning from the window. He was a mountain of red and black robes and dark graphene armor, but only a complete fool could have mistaken him as obese. Years ago, Arkimerodan had witnessed Norkevendacious' duel with the previous High Priest, and she knew that under the robes and armor his mechanical legs supported a massive body of synthetic muscle tissue and military grade implants which alone made him a one-man army. Combined with his psychic powers and inhuman willpower, the duel had been a very short one indeed.
"I have, your profane perfection", Arkimerodan replied. "He has finally left Eder Kane's mansion and taken a vac-train to Granny's Island. We think he's going to return to Towen. We didn't see him carrying any artifacts. Maybe Mr. Kane refused his offer, whatever it was. That man is as stubborn as a mule."
"Oh, he definitely got the artifacts he wanted", Norkevendacious said. "He spent way too long in the mansion to have left empty-handed. If Kane had refused his offer, he would have left much earlier."
"But where did he hide the artifacts, your profane perfection?"
Arkimerodan immediately regretted her insolent questioning of the High Priest's words. She could feel his psychic touch again in her mind, and this time there was a hint of anger. Thankfully, he didn't deem it necessary to reprimand her further. "He is a centuries-old lich almost as powerful as me. He has his tricks." Arkimerodan waited. After a couple of minutes of silence, Norkevendacious continued, "We can't touch him as long as he is with the Necrotechnomancers. But he will leave the monastery eventually. I know his kind, they always keep poking their noses in places they'd be wise to leave well alone. Sooner or later, his curiosity will drive him from Towen, and we need to be ready when that happens. Keep monitoring the situation."
"And what are we going to do when he leaves, your profane perfection?"
The High Priest finally turned from the window, and the expression on his face made Arkimerodan take a couple of steps back. "Then, Confessor", he said, "we will show him why old gods are best left buried and forgotten."
That night in the dormitory wing, Madyra knocked on Myrdem's door.
"I couldn't sleep", he said through the door. "Can I come in?"
It took her a few moments to reply. "Sure."
She was sitting on her bed, wrapped in a blanket and staring at the smooth stone wall with a nondescript expression on her face. She was without her usual goth makeup, but in the dim lighting of the room her face looked just as pale and the dark circles under her eyes suggested that she had been crying. Everyone in Towen - even the initiates - had their own room. The initiates lived in the same area as the apprentices, although they were on the opposite ends of the long corridor along which the rooms were situated. Despoticanians generally valued their privacy, and the cyberlich Masters further believed that private rooms made it easier for young mages to concentrate on their studies.
Madyra stood awkwardly next to Myrdem's bookshelf (presently filled mostly with things other than books, and even the few books on the shelf were fiction rather than study materials), trying to think of something meaningful to say. Eventually, he managed to murmur, "That was quite an excursion, right? At least... at least we managed to catch our first familiars."
"Madyra - do you think they're going to kill Kilander?"
"I... I don't know. I hope not."
"Do they even know for sure it was him who made the wish? He says he wished that the Whispering Void would 'leave him alone', but wasn't that something we all wished? Why would it interpret his thoughts as a wish and not someone else's? What if it was you - or one of the Veradacians? What if it was my dolphin?"
Madyra seemed taken aback by her words. There hadn't been any hints of his usual bravado or confidence since the encounter with the Void, and for a moment he looked like a scared young boy who wanted to go back home to his mother. "B-but... of course it was Kilander!" he said defensively. "He's been quarantined by the cyberliches, and none of us has disappeared yet, or been killed or whatever the Void is supposed to do to those who make a wish. How could it be anyone but Kilander?"
"Forget what I said", Myrdem said. "I just hope they don't kill him. He doesn't deserve it."
"You heard what Lin and Master Raynil said. They're going to talk with the Archmagister, and Master Ata is coming back too. That guy is pretty creepy, but I can tell he knows a lot about magic. We're in the care of one of the most prestigious magical institutions in the world, surrounded by beings with incredible powers and centuries' worth of knowledge in arcane matters. I'm sure they'll think of something that doesn't involve killing. I know they'll do!"
"I wish I could believe that, Madyra", Myrdem said.
Ata knew that governments had a certain fondness for "Scientific stations", though in this case they probably weren't lying, just not telling the public what science was done there. Military outposts would be sensible, Despoticania is overrun by mutants and Granny's Island is an immensely important site. The loss of the train line would not be acceptable.
Eight minutes was sufficient for the lich to review the small sample of data he had on the artifacts he had recovered, there wasn't much to go over, yet. Instead he would have to occupy his time with other activities. As a first order of business, he had to send a message to Rongoteus.
I have finished my dealings with Mr. Kane, I shall be returning to Towen to more thoroughly inspect the artifacts I have managed to liberate from Kane's collection. I was able to recover a stone flask containing non-baryonic matter in some form of stasis, a piece of cloth from an old ceremonial robe with the accompanying tablets, a carved box containing living metal fragments, a digital copy of a scroll from an organization calling themselves the Deep Covenant - which I believe contains an exceedingly complex spell - , and an intact memory helmet. I have also stumbled across a very peculiar chemical compound that will need to be studied further. At the earliest connivence I would like to work with you to study these artifacts and cross reference recovered data with Union Archives. Unfortunately this may occur later rather than sooner as I have been informed about the situation regarding Initiate Banisty.
Second order of business was merely a mess of speculation. There was much to wonder about, many conclusions to dismiss, but one thing to worry about. Ata knew the Church of Transcendental Hatred was watching him, he'd have to be a fool to not suspect as such. He was their enemy embodied, a powerful eldian lich hailing from the nation that had beat them back despite all their zeal and hate. And here he was, digging about ruins and the mansions of eccentric mummies, looking for information he knew the Church had(and probably hated). They'd send a more blatant team after him if he started getting too close to what he was looking for, it was only a matter of time. The lich knew he was relatively safe as long as he was in public, the Church couldn't risk another PR disaster, especially so soon after the last. If they were to come after him, it'd have to be at an isolated location. Dragonspire came to mind, vast expanses of wilderness inhabited by a bunch of scholars at a small site. Although there was a possibility, if he ventured into Starfall, he'd be risking an incursion. The seat of the Church's power was certainly a location where they could do as they please and throw their weight around a bit to cover everything up, it would have to be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
The vactrain came to a stop, forcing Ata to depart and head towards a more secluded area of the waterfront, but it didn't stop him from thinking.
He'd have to prepare himself for a confrontation before he departed for the next leg of his expedition. Gear up with some extra somatic mass, a few of his more aggressive enchanted objects, add in some new enchantments, and remove the charms that inhibited his abilities with reality based magics. A painful, but necessary measure those charms were. Luckily, this particular set of rules offered a plethora of loopholes and situations were they could be violated. The Archlich may not look on it well, but it was not he who imposed it, and he had refined the safety mechanisms since the last accident. Ata hoped he could finally lift the Union-wide ban on the use of these magics outside of controlled settings, he felt trained masters in the art of reality manipulation were no longer liable to cause accidents. While lab work was fulfilling, he didn't appreciate it when all of his skill was confined to a lab because a bunch of the Masters had overreacted to one tear in reality. The accidental formation of the Great Rift was not considered a beneficial thing to the nation, but it wasn't the fault of abuses of power or experimentation, it didn't warrant a blanket ban on an entire school of magic. The wound that was there in the first place was centuries old, he had no way to anticipate that trying to mend it would destabilize the entire area. It wasn't his idea to bring forth a giant god-slaying beast, yet they treated it like it was still the dark ages where raising zombie armies and acting on even the slightest bit of curiosity were the norm. But that was in the past, and he could use his magics for his next expedition.
The Lich hadn't been paying much attention to the city other than what he needed to navigate, so he found himself by the ocean once more. Preforming the opposite stunt he had pulled in Blacklight, he simply marched into the ocean to meet his submarine. It was waiting for him at the instructed location, it appeared to have been there for some amount of time as the local fauna had taken an interest to it. The lich boarded without much trouble. The ship came alive when his foot hit the deck of the cabin. It felt like stepping inside of one's own conscious to the lich, especially considering what it was. He didn't bother to pull out the artifacts and stow them, he had places to be and would need them later anyway. Sitting at the captain's chair, he directed the sub to move out of the port, slowly though as he didn't want to draw unwanted attention from the military. So far, this was just a local animal, and he wanted it to stay that way. If forced to surface, there wasn't anything that they could arrest him for, the sub didn't carry any espionage equipment and the only sensors it had were standard for any deep sea sub. Possibly trespassing in Despoticanian waters, but there was reason enough for him to wish to go unnoticed by the general public. The lich entered in a course for Towen and started picking up speed and diving as he left the port behind.
A rather familiar figure walked the halls of Towen, heading for the guest quarters. Master Ata had returned and was on his way to meet with the other two eldian masters.
"Master Ata," Lin said as the dark figure entered, breaking her meditation to speak with him. "You're late."
"I didn't want to worry the military too much." he responded simply. "I trust that Kilander has been quarantined?"
"Indeed, the familiars have been placed in the holding area and the other initiates have been sent to their quarters for the night, though I sense that they will not receive a restful night."
Dulruni piped up from the corner. "The strength of your connection to the living world is mildly concerning, Lin, you'd make a grade A stalker."
Lin shifted her gaze to the battle master. "You'd have to be blind to not sense their emotional states, Dulruni. Even the non-arcane could spot it."
"What exactly happened, your message lacked details that may be important." Ata inquired, ignoring Dulruni.
Lin informed the scientist of what had happened, a crystal clear portrayal of the events.
"Interesting, we may consider pulling the events from the memories of Myrdem and Madyra as well, could give us further insight on what needs to be done tomorrow." Ata remarked. "It's still early in the night, it wouldn't be an unreasonable request."
"No, the initiates need to rest, your can preform your investigation tomorrow." Lin returned to meditation, she was done talking for the time being.
Ata simply activated the Datasphere to check the Union Archives for anything on the Black Sun or the Deep Covenant.
Master Rongoteus' reply to Ata was relatively short:
Understood. I look forward to delving into the mystery of the Black Sun entity with you. First, however, we must ensure the safety of Towen by solving the matter with Initiate Kilander Bansity. Master Raynil and I are already looking into it, but your expertise would be most welcome. I will contact you again when we know more.
After Ata's return to the Necrotechnomancer monastery and his reunion with his countrymen, he received no further communications from any of the cyberlich masters. His searches into the Union Archives yielded some results, but not nearly as much as he had hoped: among all the exabytes of data - stored in the ethereal memory of the amalgamated spirits of the Archives' haunted drives - there were relatively few references to "Deep Covenant", and only marginally more to "Black Sun". Both terms occurred in the same document only four times.
The first and by far the most promising hit was a 8,842-page research paper written by Master Concelhaut in 1919. Concelhaut's 80-year study of ancient religious orders mentioned "Deep Covenant" as one of the many Black Sun-centered sub-cults that had existed in the Kingdom of Blacklight. Apparently, priests of the cult had been tasked with "interpreting the divine", but since they had been explicitly forbidden from making any physical records of their secrets, the cult's name, preserved in a few second and third-hand sources, was practically the only surviving evidence of its existence. The second hit was Master Rongoteus' 5,354-page research paper from 1921, describing ways to rediscover or reproduce some of the lost magical arts practiced by the Blacklight Eldians. Both the Black Sun and the Deep Covenant were mentioned in chapters where Rongoteus detailed its attempts to recreate the mysterious "Unlight" mentioned in some eldian texts. The third hit, from the same year, was Master Anolianth's harshly-worded five-page review of Rongoteus' aforementioned research paper, followed by its 12,126-page refutation of some of Rongoteus' core assumptions. The fourth and final hit was a 31,877-page summary of a public telepathic debate between Master Rongoteus and Master Anolianth on the same subject. A footnote mentioned that the debate had ended in an (inconclusive) mage duel between the two Masters, after which they had refused to speak to each other for fifteen years.
Suddenly, Ata's immersion into the Archives was interrupted. Something not-quite-visible - yet very much present, at least to those with a well-developed sixth sense - manifested in the visitors' quarters. The apparition was similiar to the one that had greeted the Veradacian liches upon their arrival in Towen. "I am mind-shard MESSENGER-49,490 of the distributed Towen genius loci", it said telepathically. "Be advised that Towen is now under level 1 dimensional intrusion alert. Some services and functions may be unavailable. Master Raynil requests your presence in the phase-shifted animancy laboratory N-46 on the fourteenth sub-level of the monastery. Please use the nearest Network chamber to reach the fourteenth sub-level. Under no circumstances approach the initiates' dormitory wing or attempt to contact its occupants through telepathy. Thank you." With that, the mind-shard disappeared, leaving an oppressive silence.
Ata was somewhat intrigued by what he saw, he'd definitely have to visit Master Concelhaut - if it still existed. It also confirmed his suspicion that the Deep Covenant was closely related to the Black Sun and added more information to his findings. It certainly helped explain the existence of the memory helmet he had recovered, and helped dispel the notion Mr. Kane brought up that it was for some twisted entertainment purpose. He could only wonder what Master Concelhaut would think of the artifacts he had found, primarily the memory device and scroll. Perhaps the master would be of aid in deciphering the lengthy text that was likely a spell of some form. He'd have to ask Master Raynil as to the whereabouts of Master Concelhaut, the experience could be most enlightening. But alas, that would have to wait until the situation with Initiate Banisty was resolved.
Master Ata was briefly brought back to the days were he was considerably more apathetic to the consequences of experimenting with reality. Where he would dispose of failed experiments and test subjects by banishing them to a different dimension. He had been using the same barren wasteland dimension as a waste receptacle latter in his experiments, he probably single handedly populated the entire damn thing with anomalies. Now he was faced with the after effects of an entity that took wishes as excuses to freely distort reality and shape it in whatever manner it sought fit. Recklessness that almost feel on maliciousness or some sort of joke. The Void was a vile creature, and so was his past self. He had already killed one.
The Messenger interrupted his thoughts, the alert was not unexpected, but it was interesting that the effects had manifested so quickly - assuming the cause was Kilander's Void Curse. Though the comment on the dormitory wing was rather worrying, it possibly suggested that the other two initiates had been affected in some manner, which could mean that Masters Lin and Dulruni could've been affected. Ata left for Animancy lab N-46 with all due haste, arriving shortly after the mind-shard had contacted him. "What is the issue, Master Raynil? Your messenger system alerted me to the dimensional breech." he stated upon entering. He had only faint ideas of what to expect, Whispering Voids would make great politicians with how much freedom of action they found through technicalities. Most noticably - to Master Raynil at least - Ata was fiddling with one of a set of cufflinks that hadn't been visible before. They were made of some sort of bronze colored metal and now that they were unobstructed, they were clearly heavily enchanted and very powerful, though their effect seemed to be wholly negative. Master Ata's inhibitor charms, he clearly had have the mind to remove them.
"We may be in trouble", Master Raynil said bluntly when Ata entered. "Master Rongoteus is already fairly certain that we've made a big mistake, but I'd still like to hear your input before jumping into conclusions. Archmagister Menelag stands ready to shift the entire monastery out of reality if Rongoteus turns out to be correct."
Animancy Lab N-46 was a large circular room that normally housed advanced technological and arcane devices. It was mostly empty now, save for two dozen exceptionally large and heavily-armed Forge Knights and a spherical region of distorted spacetime - a stabilized dimensional portal about half a meter in diameter - at the center of the room. Master Rongoteus was nowhere to be seen, and Master Raynil seemed to be actively maintaining the portal. "Master Rongoteus is currently in an artificial pocket dimension we created for Initiate Bansity", Raynil explained. "As our foremost animancy expert, it is performing deep-level spiritual scans on him in order to locate and isolate the Void Curse. You should enter and speak with it. Do as it asks. If you get the same results - as you likely will - we have to act very quickly."
Raynil cast a spell that made the portal expand to roughly three meters, enough to allow Ata through the mouth of infinite curvature and into...
...a surreal, kaleidoscopic scene, infinitely repeated in every direction: Ata could see himself from every possible angle, almost but not quite close enough to tap himself on the back. Or on the feet or arm or side - there were identical iterations of Ata below, above, behind, before and beside him, and more beyond those, vanishing into infinity. And not just Ata, but two other entities as well, a few meters in front of him: Master Rongoteus stood next to Kilander, who was floating, unconscious, inside a glowing sphere of energy. A faintly shimmering floor made of hard light was the only other "object" in the entire dimension, and also the only thing that gave any sense of direction and made it possible to navigate in the maddening scene. The pocket dimension was truly small, and where it ended, it warped back into itself. Gravity was about half of that of Terra.
"Welcome, Master Ata", Rongoteus said without turning from Kilander. The Cyberlich Master had extended its fractal manipulator arms, and some of them went straight through Kilander - yet there were no signs of damage to his skin or clothes, almost as if Rongoteus' manipulators were completely immaterial. "Whatever you do, don't try to interact with your copies. That might cause a time paradox." The telepathic voice carried a hint of weary amusement, although it was unclear if Rongoteus was joking or not. "I've carried out a grand total of 825 deep-level spiritual scans on Initiate Bansity's soul. I've also thoroughly reviewed his memories on the encounter with the Whispering Void for 107 times. At this point, I think there can be only one conclusion, but Master Raynil insisted that you perform similar scans in case either I or it missed something important. Please, go ahead. Initiate Bansity will not feel a thing, and I've already... opened his mind and soul as much as is possible without causing permanent damage. Tell me what you can detect, Master Ata."
Master Ata, was a seasoned dimension traveller, but he had never quite gotten used to pocket dimensions. Some were like impossibly complex mirror houses, others were governed by probability and only quantum physics seemed to work correctly. Copies were not to be interacted with, he knew this even before Rongoteus informed him. "Your conclusion is sound, you deliberate needlessly, my friend." came Ata's telepathic voice as several familiars appeared. The Archmanipulator set to work, accessing his arcane talents and raw computing power to preform the necessary scans. He preformed 8 different deep-level soul scans, and reviewed the Initiate's memories of the incident 4 times. He was done in a handful of seconds and retracted the familiars to wherever they were stored when not in use.
Ata's form shifted, seemed to momentarily take on a more natural and human appearance. Facial features were visible, and his hands momentarily shifted to having six digits before the "normal" appearance was restored. "Isolate all members of the Void Incident immediately, we do not hold the accursed here." Ata borderline ordered. His fears were confirmed, it wasn't this easy. If he had been back sooner he could've checked and prevented this. "Master Lin might have been affected as well, she was using herself as a psychic sink and could've been included in whatever wish was made." Ata pointed out. He was going to quarantine Dulruni as well, not that he thought he was responsible. Dulruni might not be the brightest, but he's a soldier and knows how to follow instructions. The whole of that thing's intellect was focused solely for the purpose of combat, nothing else. Not to mention his reaction to the Void was not one which one makes requests. Ata suspected Myrdem most of all, Madyra also presented a high probability, but his reaction as described by Lin complicated things. It wouldn't matter, he'd dissect both of their minds shortly.
"Already done", Master Rongoteus replied. "A group of spellwrights led by Master Divayth has been discreetly setting up warding and containment spells around the dormitory since before your arrival. When we seriously started to suspect that we had the wrong person after my first surface-level scans failed to detect anything, Master Anolianth prepared a group of Forge Knights equipped with Kharnabar reality anchors. We'll dispatch them to retrieve the Initiates immediately. We'd appreciate it if you took care of your own companions in the meantime." Rongoteus looked sadly at Kilander. "As for Initiate Bansity... I believe that in his current condition, this pocket dimension is the safest possible place for him. Let's return to our own plane of existence and let Master Raynil know that our fears were true."
Rongoteus must have been in telepathic contact with Raynil, because the portal that connected the pocket universe to Towen - and which had shrunken back into a tiny region of untraversable, distorted spacetime after Ata's passage - immediately expanded large enough to allow the two Masters back to Animancy Lab N-46.
"There's one more precaution we must take, Master Ata", Raynil said while letting the portal shrink in their wake until it was too small to be physically seen. Eventually, it became subatomic in size - any smaller, and it would have collapsed, isolating Kilander from the rest of the universe for all eternity. Satisfied, Master Raynil let one of its orbiting familiar-cubes leave the swarm to form a Living Metal shell around the tiny portal. Ata could sense that the familiar was now maintaining the portal, keeping it from collapsing. Raynil turned its eyeless face to the Eldian Master and continued, "I'm sorry that your people got tangled into this mess, but we can't take the risk that anything spawned by the Whispering Void might escape Towen. We'll have to shift the entire monastery out of reality until this matter has been solved once and for all... Go ahead, Archmagister."
There was a shift in reality, so quick and subtle that even Ata had trouble registering it. The animancy lab was already phase shifted in a way that essentially isolated it from the rest of Towen, but when Ata and the Despoticanian cyberliches exited the circular room, the change that had taken place became more apparent. Ata could no longer establish connection to Datasphere, and outside the monastery he could sense... nothing. Absolutely, utterly nothing - not even spacetime. Towen wasn't even in another dimension - rather, it had become the only thing in existence, an independent microcosm completely isolated from the rest of the multiverse. Nothing could leave Towen now, not without first defeating or dominating the incredibly powerful presence that was actively holding it here.
And that presence was somehow familiar... Ata and his companions had sensed it before, when they had first arrived in Towen. It felt more concrete now - more aware.
A new telepathic voice spoke. It was extremely strong, and felt like it was coming from everywhere at once. "I CAN MAINTAIN THIS REALITY SHIFT FOR A MAXIMUM OF 38 HOURS. AFTER THAT, WE MUST RETURN TO OUR DIMENSION OF ORIGIN, OR TO SOME OTHER DIMENSION WITH CONDITIONS COMPATIBLE WITH THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE. WORK QUICKLY."
"Understood, Archmagister", Raynil replied. Addressing Ata, it explained, "Archmagister Menelag is part of the Towen genius loci. Unlike the rest of us, it has no physical body, unless you count Towen itself. It is an incredibly old, powerful and wise entity, far above our everyday concerns. It spends most of its time mentally exploring and creating other dimensions, using Towen as a giant psychic amplifier. Calling it back home was far from easy, but now that it is here and willing to help us, I'm fairly confident that we can defeat the Void Curse."
"We'll go get the initiates", Master Rongoteus said. "You should get Greater Necromancer Wuro and Battlemaster Dulruni. Please escort them back here. Master Anolianth and a group of Forge Knights equipped with reality anchors will meet you outside the visitors' quarters."
"If anything gets out of hand, Master Raynil, I may be able to banish the void spawned creatures. Though, I hope it doesn't come to that." Ata turned to leave, but said one more thing. "Isolate Initiate Inggalla first." he stated. "I believe she is the accursed." he then left for the visitors quarters, the timetables were sensitive and they would likely need help with the initiates very soon. To cut down on travel time, Ata teleported the remaining distance after using the 'elevator' a concussive blast forced away anything in the area he had teleported to before he appeared, merely a safety measure. The Master tore open the door and burst into the room, Lin had clearly felt the shift as she was alert when Ata came charging in. "You all are going to animancy lab N-46, do not ask questions, there's no time to explain." Lin already had some hint of what was going on, though she didn't ask for clarification. Anolianth and the Forge Knights weren't given time to do anything other than exist with the reality anchors. The small group left the room, Ata herding them up to running speed.
When they returned to the Lab, Ata instructed Dulruni and Lin to go inside and wait, not to come out unless told to do so. Enu would stay with Ata, he wouldn't be much good as backup in a situation like this, but he was another combat ready body, and they could need more of those soon. "Archmagister, what is the situation at the Initiate's Dormitory?" he inquired. Situational awareness was important in times like these.
"Heeeey...?!" a very surprised Master Anolianth exclaimed when Ata, Lin, Dulruni and Enu ran past it and the Forge Knights without so much as a word. Anolianth and its constructs followed the Veradacians but narrowly missed their Network platform and had to wait for the next one.
In the Animancy Laboratory N-46 the Archmagister reacted to Ata and his companions' arrival immediately. "NOT GOOD", it answered his query. "THE DORMITORY WING HAS BEEN FORCIBLY CUT OFF FROM THE DISTRIBUTED TOWEN GENIUS LOCI, BUT I SENSE A SINGLE VERY POWERFUL MANIFESTATION OF UNKNOWN NATURE IN THE AREA. ALSO, MASTERS RAYNIL AND RONGOTEUS HAVE ENCOUNTERED EXTREMELY HOSTILE ENTITIES ON THEIR WAY THERE. THEY ARE CURRENTLY LEADING A GROUP OF LESSER MAGES AGAINST THE INCURSION. YOUR ASSISTANCE WOULD BE MOST WELCOME."
The Archmagister's message also carried a mindstate - a full-spectrum experience transmitted like the telepathic equivalent of a digital attachment file. Ata could see, feel and hear one of Towen's many dark corridors, intermittently lighted up by destructive spells. Several Towen mages - most of them mid-level apprentices and Oathmen - were holding back a tide of... things. The creatures were like balls of pulsating flesh with varying numbers of clawed limbs jutting from their bodies at odd angles. They had no features to speak of, only huge maws full of sharp, needle-like teeth. They attacked in their thousands with no thought of defense, and no matter how many the mages killed, more poured in from the far end of the corridor like a living tide of teeth and animalistic aggression. With the message came also knowledge of the corridor's exact location.
At that moment Master Anolianth and its Forge Knights barged into the lab. An almost tangible anger radiated from the floating cyberlich. "You're not much of a team player, are you, Ata?" it growled in a needlessly strong and intrusive telepathic voice that came just shy of being a psychic attack. Then, without waiting for answer, it sent four Forge Knights carrying reality anchors to stand near Lin and Dulruni. "I got the Archmagister's message too. I don't know what kind of creatures those were, but I won't let them desecrate Towen with their filthy presence. I suggest we get there immediately and show them that invading this monastery was a bad idea... And you can be absolutely sure", it added, its eyes turning a very aggressive shade of red, "that I totally intend to beat you when it comes to body count, Ata!"
It was worse than he expected. Ata immediately took up his aggressive form, the form of the ancient monster Typhon. Humanoid upper body with skeletal wings and a mess of snakes below the waist. He floated there as Master Anolianth berated him. He had known there was not much time to waste, through Anoilianth's spiel, Ata was summoning his familiars. Within moments he had three concentric rings of familiars, nearly all of which were defensive or supportive in nature. He was already preparing a slew of spells, using his familiars heavily. "There was no time to waste Anolianth, we can argue over procedure after we beat this plague back." The lich then got an idea. He had an exact location, and Anolianth had used the word immediately. But it wasn't a good idea, Towen was protected from that sort of thing.
Ata lead the group to the location provided by the Archmagister, arriving in short order. Instead of throwing a destruction spell like the Oathmen, Ata had already decided to exercise his talent in reality based summoning magic. With a bit of time to prepare, he brought two beings into this reality that looked like they didn't belong. Their color could only be described as 'dark', and their forms were very strange. Each seemed to be a near perfect sphere about half a meter in diameter, with short spikes no more than twenty five centimeters covering the entirety of their bodies. They seemed to have total control over the spikes as they extended to about a meter in length when acting to support the creatures and they were used to deadly effect as weapons, with the creatures lashing out with numerous spikes at a time. They moved very rapidly and seemed to be proficient at not being hit by friendly fire, probably because these creatures were fairly intelligent with limited psychic abilities.
"You'll be up against some stiff competition, Anolianth." Ata remarked, preparing another spell, a form of the lightning spell that Anolianth had been hit with earlier. "The Jicvil are murderous beasts, been so long, I almost forgot how good it feels to use them." he paused. "They almost thought I forgot about them." he added as an after though. He had always considered his summons to be more of all trained companions than servants, as it was what they were to him before his formal training and he found that the attitude was more conducive to using the more intelligent creatures. Enu had thrown up hard light barriers on either side of the hallway, making a narrower bottleneck for destruction spells to be concentrated.
Ata had another idea. "How airtight can we make the dormitory? Or any part of it for that matter?" he asked Master Raynil, he was trying to formulate strategies that could end this early. These abominations might not be effected by decompression, but the person who had summoned them was not.
"A clever idea, but sadly impossible to implement under these circumstances", Master Raynil replied, having guessed what Ata was planning. "The initiates and apprentices are generally not considered a major threat to the monastery, and while there are warding spells in place around the Dormitory, completely draining the area of atmosphere would require additional preparations - which we almost certainly won't be able to complete at this time. We've lost control of the Dormitory to whatever has manifested there. All of our scrying spells in the area have been dispelled, so we don't really know anything about the entity, except that it's very powerful. Teleporting into the area is likewise impossible, even from the same floor. I fear that our only option is to fight through these creatures."
While the oathmen and the apprentices attacked from afar with simple combat spells and had already killed dozens of the creatures, it was clear that Master Raynil and Master Rongoteus had been doing most of the damage. They had kept the horde from reaching the younger mages, whose main job seemed to be killing the few lucky ones that got past the two Masters. The cyberliches had taken the fight directly to the abominations, showing just why they were counted among the most powerful mages in Despoticania. Master Rongoteus was moving through the horde like the Grim Reaper itself, flashing in and out of existence, never giving the creatures enough time to react to its presence. It had transformed its six manipulator arms into deadly combat tentacles that swished through the blobbish creatures with incredible speed, cutting through their flesh like it was nothing but air. Each time Rongoteus killed one of the creatures, it absorbed some of its life force, which was gathered in the cyberlich's hands. Periodically, when Rongoteus had gathered enough life force, it was released as a deadly blast of pure spirit energy that vaporized dozens of creatures in an instant. Meanwhile, Master Raynil had formed a spherical shield around itself and simply floated in the middle of the corridor. Many of the creatures that got past Rongoteus instinctively threw themselves against the barrier and were electrocuted to death. Several of Raynil's familiar-cubes floated around it, emitting intense heat that burned nearby abominations to a crisp in seconds. The cyberlich itself was conjuring short-lived spacetime rifts in the middle of the attacking horde, letting them swallow the creatures or slice them into pieces.
And yet, despite all the abominations the Towen mages had already killed, the creatures had been slowly advancing. Heedless of their losses, they climbed over their own dead and pushed past the two Masters one lucky creature at a time, forcing the younger mages farther in the corridor on the defensive. The arrival of Ata, Enu, Anolianth and the Forge Knights was a most welcome turn of events, tipping the balance of power in favor of the defenders. The Jicvil slaughtered the beasts like no tomorrow, and Ata's lightning spells vaporized many more.
A collective realization seemed to reverberate through the horde as it became aware of the reinforcements. The creatures shifted their attention from the Oathmen and Apprentices to the newcomers. They focused their attack on Enu, recognizing his barriers as a great hindrance to their assault. But getting past Ata and his familiars and the Jicvil was easier said than done.
"Letting your summons fight your battles is cheating!" Master Anolianth complained. "But no matter, I'm still going to beat you!" The giant horned skull floated above the carnage and opened its fanged mouth. There was a short buildup of energy inside the cyberlich, and the next moment a searing beam of pure destruction illuminated the corridor, burning through the horde all the way to the far end of the corridor. While Anolianth was preparing its next spell, its familiar-cubes morphed into fists of Living Metal and started smashing the creatures into a bloody pulp. The six Forge Knights that had accompanied their creator marched to the front line and opened fire with their miniguns, shredding dozens of attackers with bullets encased in arcane energy.
And yet more abominations kept attacking the mages. Thousands had fallen already, their shredded, mangled, burned, crushed and electrocuted corpses piling on the floor like some macabre carpet. Ever so slowly, the mages were forcing their way forward against the seemingly endless tide, advancing one meter at a time. The battle lasted for almost twenty minutes without pause as more and more of the creatures poured into the corridor, almost gleefully sacrificing themselves in a hopeless attack against the mages.
And then - finally - it was over.
By the time the last of the abominations was skewered by a Jicvil's spike, well over ten thousand had been killed by the mages. The corridor was so full of gore and viscera that it was impossible to see the floor. The robes of the apprentices and the oathmen were red and slick with steaming pink blood. The smell was horrible. Some of the apprentices were vomiting and quite a few had fainted from exhaustion or shock.
"No casualties yet, thanks to your arrival", Master Raynil said to Ata. "However, three of the apprentices and one oathman have suffered serious injuries. We can heal them, but no matter what we do, they won't be able to fight in a while. Definitely not today."
One of Master Rongoteus' familiars emerged from its Living Metal body with a faint plop. The cube had transformed into a spherical cage that encased one of the creatures. The abomination was dead but otherwise intact, save for a few small incisions. "I performed an autopsy on this little fellow", Rongoteus said. "Whatever these things are, they can't be naturally-evolved lifeforms. They have no digestive system, and while relatively simple, the composition of their central nervous system suggests that they are part of a hive mind of some sort. A very aggressive hive mind."
"Interesting. And worrying", Master Raynil said. "The entity that summoned these creatures is either desperate or has almost endless reserves... Or maybe it is completely insane. What do you think, Master Ata?"
"Shame, I'll figure something out that we can use." Ata responded to Raynil during the battle. At Anolinth's comment Ata had strong words as well. "Says the talking laser cannon!" He fried a few more of the beasts for good measure. Ata used the mass of tentacles below his waist as weapons whenever they got too close, lashing out with hyper-sharp blades not unlike his summons.
After the battle, Ata surveyed the carnage, before directing his Jicvil to start clearing the pile of bodies that was blocking the hall. Enu's hard light barriers shattered into nothingness, their usefulness expired. "We'll have to dedicate more of our manpower to get the wounded to medical." Ata indicated, meanwhile they Jicvil were making a waste pile out of the gore as well as one separate pile with the most intact bodies. Ata had a train of thought going that was more typical of a military commander when the topic of the nature of the anomaly was brought up.
He relayed his opinions in the arcane equivalent of a datavise for the sake of speed. "Depends on the nature of the entity, Master Raynil." he stated. "These monsters are clearly disposable drones, made for swarm tactics while using minimal resources per unit. We could be dealing with a biological factory or a more intelligent monster with arcane abilities. We already know such creatures exist." one of the Jicvil waved the skewered body of one of the monster as if to draw attention to itself, Ata ignored it and it went back to work. "I think from tactical analysis we can assume the creature is somewhat intelligent, it was zealously employing a massed assault strategy while it was forcing two masters into a fighting retreat, but ceased after it became apparent that it wasn't working. I believe it is summoning or creating more elite units to throw at us, I suggest we change up our tactics to blunt it's blade as much as possible. It could very easily be desperate, especially if it is and arcane entity, it would be able to sense a massive threat to its existence and is moving in accordance to its survival instinct - if it has one." He paused. "I have other suggestions, Master Raynil, regarding the current tactical situation. I recommend we contact the Archmagister and have it contact two highly skilled animancers. One will preform the necessary scans on Masters Wuro and Dulruni so we can be sure they are not afflicted with the void curse and free them to fight. The other will go to the familiar holding pens and get Initiate Inggala's Arrowhead Dolphin, and Initiate Matrassyl's Arctic Fox. Scrying spells may not be able to penetrate the dormitory, but we may be able to get information through the selected familiars. I am aware that Initiate Inggala had a particularly strong connection with her chosen animal. I also recommend that we send a detachment of Apprentices, Oathmen, and Aprrentice Naymou to secure supplies. Arcane generators, batteries, potions, anything that could be used to replenish our mana reserves in addition to combatively applicable items. Forge knights and radio repeaters - or something like them - will be necessary to maintain contact with the Archmagister and relay information. If possible, the Living Metal lake should be locked down and other entrances to the dormitory guarded, any entrance, no matter how small, must be guarded, we are dealing with an unknown foe and can't afford to take risks."
By now the Jicvil had picked most of the 'intact' bodies from the gore and made a healthy pile out of them, Ata directed them to continue clearing the gore and not to add to the 'intact' pile. The Archmanipulator summoned one of his inventions, what appeared to be a ball of copper wire not unlike a ball of yarn, it was about that size as well. He tossed it into the 'intact' pile and let it do what it was designed to do. With its runes activated, it started to unfurl, forming countless spindly appendages that probed their surroundings for a suitable building material. They quickly located the monster flesh and began to pull it together and bind it. It was a very disturbing sight to watch the golem build itself, the pile of blood, flesh, and bone gained humanoid form and then started finalizing its design. The end result was a large, macabre scarecrow. It's patchwork skin was forested by teeth and bone shards, forming protective spikes. The feet and hands of the golem held large talons, it's head holding a twisted smile of needle-teeth. Despite is irregular and bulbous form, it looked quite strong, and seemed to have the ability to launch projectiles as the Jicvil were piling up teeth for it to use. It just absorbed the teeth periodically, using them in various fashions. Ata looked at his creations work, "Worked perfectly" he thought. The golem was not dissimilar to Lin's snow bear in the basic mechanics, it was held together and powered by its own mana source - provided by a compact artificial crystal and the runes on the 'copper' - and it was controlled directly by Ata's will. "This should help with our manpower issue for the time being."
"A gore golem? I must admit I am impressed", Master Anolianth said when it saw Ata's grisly creation. It floated around the golem, inspecting it closely. "I'll look forward to seeing it in combat."
Master Raynil ordered some of the magically weaker apprentices - who wouldn't be of much use in a battle anyway - and one Forge Knight to take the wounded to the nearest healing facility. Towen had two major medical facilities, equipped to treat both arcane and mundane ailments and injuries. Most rooms reserved for summoning and combat magic exercises also came with well-stocked medical cabinets, but the four injured mages all had deep bite wounds, claw marks and broken bones that would require proper care. Before the injured were sent away, Master Rongoteus cast some basic healing spells to stop the bleeding and to speed up the recovery. It would still be a good while before any of the injured could fight, however - they had done their part to stop the ongoing crisis, but for now, those still standing would have to go on without them.
Next, another group was sent to retrieve potions, arcane batteries and other potentially useful equipment from a nearby storage. "If we continue along this corridor and take a turn to the left, we'll come by an armory full of weapons and armor enchanted by our advanced apprentices as part of their training", Rongoteus said. "These items might be of some use in the battles ahead, but if Master Ata is right, we'll need something with a bit more punch." The cyberlich master beckoned to Enu and the oldest of the oathmen, who was a pale, raven-haired woman of indeterminate age. Although she was still mortal, she was in early stages of conversion into a cyberlich: her eyes and right arm were made of Living Metal and she had a large blue crystal implanted in the middle of her forehead. Tiny black runes were tattooed around the crystal, and two heavily combat-oriented familiar-cubes were orbiting her head. "Death Knight Enu and Oathman Ireyon", Master Rongoteus said. "I have a special task for you two. Go to my laboratory on the sixth above-ground floor. I will place a temporary identification spell on you that will give you access. At the back of the laboratory, there is a large black chest - you can't miss it. Bring it to me. It contains some of the more powerful artifacts and weapons I've created or acquired..." - "Or stolen", Master Anolianth interjected bitterly - "...over the years. We'll rendezvous at the Great Hall on the second floor. Use the nearest Network chamber to move around."
"I HAVE SENT WIZARD KOSSIL TO ANIMANCY LAB N-46 TO SCAN GREATER NECROMANCER LIN AND BATTLEMASTER DULRUNI", Archmagister Menelag's telepathic voice informed the mages. "IF LIN TURNS OUT TO BE FREE OF THE WHISPERING VOID'S CURSE, SHE SHOULD BE THE ONE TO HEAD TO THE HOLDING PENS. SHE HAS ALREADY ESTABLISHED PARTIAL MENTAL CONTACT WITH BOTH THE INITIATES AND THEIR FAMILIARS. THE INITIATES ALSO TRUST HER; MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE IN TOWEN, SHE HAS THE GREATEST CHANCE TO MAKE USE OF THE PSYCHIC LINK BETWEEN THE ANIMALS AND THE INITIATES."
"What's the situation in the rest of the monastery?" Master Raynil inquired.
"THE DORMITORY WING REMAINS DARK. THERE ARE TWO MAIN ENTRANCES TO THE AREA; YOU ARE APPROACHING THE FIRST ONE, WHILE THE SECOND IS GUARDED BY MASTER DIVAYTH AND ITS APPRENTICES. THEY TOO CAME UNDER ATTACK BY CREATURES SIMILAR TO THE ONES YOU ENCOUNTERED. THANKS TO THE TWO DOZEN HEAVILY-ARMED FORGE KNIGHTS YOU SENT AHEAD TO THE DORMITORY, DIVAYTH'S GROUP MANAGED TO HOLD THEIR GROUND - ALTHOUGH THEY LOST AN APPRENTICE DURING THE BATTLE. MASTER CONCELHAUT AND WIZARD ILANDAR, ALONG WITH THEIR APPRENTICES, ARE ON THEIR WAY TO GUARD THE SMALLER ENTRANCES TO THE DORMITORY. THEY HAVE ALSO SENT SOME OF THEIR CONSTRUCTS TO SCOUT THE AFFECTED AREA, ALTHOUGH IT WILL BE SOME TIME BEFORE THEY RETURN WITH THEIR FINDINGS. I HAVE ACTIVATED ALL OF OUR FORGE KNIGHTS AND DISPATCHED THEM TO SECURE STRATEGIC LOCATIONS LIKE NETWORK CHAMBERS, MAJOR INTERSECTIONS, ARMORIES AND STORAGE AREAS. I'VE ALSO CUT OFF THE LIVING METAL LAKE FROM THE NETWORK."
"How many Forge Knights did we have again, Master Anolianth?" Raynil asked the giant floating skull.
"Four hundred and eighty", Anolianth replied. "Fifty-two more if you count the second-rate early models we've kept in storage."
"If combined with the combat and summoning spells of our mages, that should be enough to defend the monastery... It has to be enough. We should get moving. For all we know, the entity that has taken over the Dormitory could be summoning or birthing the next batch of monstrosities even as we speak. Master Ata is probably right - the things we've encountered thus far are nothing but drones or scouts... the weakest, most expendable things our opponent can throw at us."
Raynil had barely managed to finish before the Archmagister contacted them again. "I'VE DETECTED A SPIKE OF ARCANE ENERGY SOMEWHERE IN THE DORMITORY. THE SPIKE IS CONSISTENT WITH A HIGH-LEVEL SUMMONING SPELL. PREPARE FOR THE NEXT WAVE."
Master Rongoteus turned to Enu and Ireyon. "We'll try to intercept the second wave before it reaches the Great Hall. Go now, and hurry!"
A cloaked figure surrounded by a dozen familiar-cubes entered Animancy Lab N-46. It was carrying a long, intricately carved wooden staff in a hand made of Living Metal, and while it apparently had legs under the cloak, it seemed to be floating rather than walking. It approached Lin and Dulruni, who were still standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by Forge Knights carrying Kharnabar Reality Anchors. "I am Wizard Kossil", it said in a quiet, genderless voice. "I am one of the best animancers in Towen, second only to Master Rongoteus. I've been sent by the Archmagister to perform a deep-level spiritual scan on you to see if you've been affected by the Void Curse. You first, Greater Necromancer. Now, open your mind..." Kossil gently touched Lin's forehead with the tip of its staff and began the scan.
Enu bowed to Master Rongoteus, a sign of respect in Veradacian Culture. "Consider the task done Master Rongoteus." He said in his typical calm tone. When sent off by the master, he immediately turned and ran, Master Ata had supplied him with the location of Rongoteus's Laboratory. His movement could hardly be described as natural. His movements were more avian in nature, a sign of heavy and severely invasive physiological modification. He had been one of Dulruni's Apprentices, and had access to many union developed combat mods that other apprentices may not have been privy to. This modification was a direct result of the Young Death Knight's deliberation on the exact method by which he would achieve his transformation. The Union of Necrotic Sciences did not have any one way to abandon the mortal shell. Some like Masters Ata and Sereno chose to construct their own forms using their expertise. Others inhabited more mundane constructs or more heavily arcane ones created by others. Some chose to exist as spirits, similar to the Wraiths that guarded the vast monastery. Though it was becoming clear that the Necrotechnomancer's Union indeed used multiple ways as well.
"I hope whatever you have in that chest is powerful, Master Rongoteus, I left most of mine in my laboratory." Ata said with a hint of hope. "I have a few crazy ideas if we get hit by another horde, but I'd rather like to avoid them." He made an offhanded comment, mostly to himself as it was barely 'audible' "I see that Master Concelhaut does still exist, I'll have to speak with him if we survive this battle. He then spoke to the Archmagister next "If you have air vents, or plumbing, seal them off too, it's only a matter of time before our opponent turns of ducts and pipes and how to exploit them.
At the mention of the second wave, Ata and his squad of sideshow horrors made off towards the Great Hall. The two Jicvil seemed to have no sense of up or down, they had swapped their standard "Rolling" style of movement for a slightly different one. by extending their spikes to form a vertical ring of spikes around themselves, they transformed into mono wheels that navigated corners by bouncing off the walls and ceilings. The Gore Golem was a runaway train by comparison, barreling down the hall with reckless abandon. Ata followed closely behind - presumably - with the Cyberliches. His movement was also fairly strange, he had taken the form of a squid - appearing to be a six foot version of the species Todarodes pacificus - and was quite literally flying after his summons. The Lich master appeared to have both extensive knowledge of, and an interest in ocean life, particularly cephalopods. Either that or he found the forms of cephalopods to be the least visually disturbing when paired with the malleable nature of his body.
"I was wondering when you would be sent, Wizard Kossil." Lin remarked, raising her head from her meditative posture. "Let us proceed quickly, time is not something the others have in excess." She submitted totally to Kossil's investigation. After the rigorous scans needed to detect the effects of the Void, Kossil turned up nothing, Lin had not contracted the Void Curse. She was clear to leave. After it was done, she spoke to Dulruni. "You must submit to the scans if you wish to leave this room. The others need help in the coming battle, and they could use your help." She urged, playing to Dulruni's hatred of confinement. The Battlemaster was impatiently making adjustments to his combat gear then reseting them. He calmed down enough for the scan to be successful at Lin's insistence. He also turned up clean, after all, his reaction had been more akin to a Hater than a wish seeker.