She was floating, enveloped in darkness, as if she were suspended in a warm, liquid-filled womb. Everything seemed peaceful. But that peace was abruptly wrenched away. A great clanging ripped through her consciousness, ringing in her ears. She became disoriented, flailing her arms and legs. They banged into some kind of metal. She was trapped! In a panic she pounded her fists against the walls of her prison. She could hear the gurgling of liquid, then her feet settled on the floor of the tank. The liquid drained out of the small chamber, which unsealed at the top, pierced by a harsh light. She squinted and covered her face with her forearm. She staggered out of the tank, coughing and sputtering. An attendant rushed to her side.
"What worked?" she asked, trying to keep the gorge down. The room seemed to be spinning.
"Sylver's formula! You are Ascended!"
"What?" she gaped at the woman. The Guardians, curse those zealots, had beings among them referred to as Ascended.
"You have been brought back to life in the Resurrection Forge."
She looked back in the direction the technician pointed. "Back to life," she murmured. Her stomach, no longer placable, heaved; and she retched. But of course, there was nothing to throw up, so she simply gagged and convulsed. The tech, accustomed to her reaction, simply supported her body.
"Come. We must get you to Sylver," the tech wrapped her in a robe and urged her into motion. "You'll be fine."
The goggled Kelari greeted them on the mezzanine. "Delightful! You seem fit. How do you feel?"
"Sick," was her one-word response. She stared down at the Forge as another technician greeted a newly Ascended Defiant.
The Kelari was apologetic. "Yes, well . . . it is a temporary side effect of the Ascension process. Rest assured it will fade. I would love to run some tests, but I am afraid we've run out of time. We must get you to the Failsafe, quickly!" Then, turning to the woman beside her, "Calia, see her to the antechamber."
Sylver motioned her on. The technician led her out of the laboratory and to the right. She caught a quick look around the room as they departed and saw several lab workers fiddling with strange devices, and some Guardians behind a force field who were apparently prisoners of Sylver.
"Don't you worry about them," the tech responded, glancing over her shoulder. We need to get you through the Failsafe."
They went through another chamber, Calia talking the whole way. A few scattered workers cheered as they passed.
"You may have some memory loss. This is normal, apparently a result of being detached from this plane for so long. It is part of the disorientation you feel, and will pass with time. Your soul has been returned to a body made primarily of sourcestone, with a bone from your own body as an anchor for your soul. Your name is Larrea Sahra. You were an Unseen agent of Meridian, covert operations. I do not know more, other than that you perished during the sack of Meridian by Cyril Kalmar--" she spat the name "--and his army of Ascended Guardians."
Calia stopped at an opening in the wall. "I must return to the lab. Go through here and the antechamber. Once outside the Life Factory, you will see Dacia Ultan. She will give you further instructions." She paused, gripping Larrea's arm. We're counting on you, Larrea."
Without further ceremony, the technician turned and walked toward the lab. Larrea watched her briefly, then turned to continue on her way. Some attendants presented her with clothing more appropriate for battle. Workers in the antechamber murmured assurances and encouragement as she walked toward the force field at the main exit from the Life Factory. Larrea steeled herself and walked through.
Outside a cacophony of battle assaulted her senses: screams of terror, flashes of light, the clash of swords, the acrid smoke of spent explosives. She spotted a tall Bahmi amazon barking orders to the perimeter defenders, Dacia Ultan. The huntress noticed her and beckoned her forward.
"Ah, another success. Sylver is getting better. I just hope it's not too late." The Bahmi gestured toward the barricades. The town has been overrun by undead; you'll have to fight your way through. Don't worry about us, we can defend the vault."
Ultan gave her two long knives. Larrea hefted them, discovering that she instinctively knew how to wield them; her muscles swinging them with an easy grace.
"Good," said the huntress. "I thought you had the look of a Blade Dancer. Now go!"
"Greetings, Ascended. I am afraid your journey is not over. There are agents of the Endless Court between here and Lastlight. They are harvesting vital sourcestone--" the Bahmi showed her a glowing blue nugget of crystal "--which we need to power the Failsafe and our defenses. Please take this crate and work your way way through them, take as much sourcestone as you can between here and Lastlight. Asha and the others are organizing for transport from there."
Larrea took this all in with a slightly bewildered nod, grabbed the half-full crate and headed out.
She arrived at the town called Lastlight, with the crate a little heavier than before and her knives weeping with cultist blood. Another worker greeted her and relieved her of her burden, sending her on to meet with Asha Catari, who led the evacuation effort. The woman's skin was laced with slightly glowing blue markings, the same hue as the sourcestone.
"Another Ascended." the warlock said. "We just got the Failsafe working again, despite interference the remaining Guardians and the Endless Cult. Move on across the bridge to Tempest Station. Tahleed will provide you with the best armor we can muster before you head up the hill. If you are successful, this nightmare timeline will cease to exist."
Larrea made her way across the bridge. Despite Catari's reassurances the area seemed chaotic, on her left she could see Defiants clashing with the Guardian zealots, and on her right, another contingent somehow held off a mob of undead spirits.
At Tempest Station, a lanky Eth was directing some workers in the assembly of some monstrous contructs, with weapons at the ends of their arms instead of hands. Seeing her, he turned and said, "Welcome to Tempest Station, Ascended. We must get you on your way, but first, you need to talk the Faceless Man across the plaza." He pointed to a man wearing a horned mask.
"Thank you," Larrea said and walked across the cobblestone. Before she was quite there, the Faceless man called to her.
"Sahra! It is good to see your face again. I knew you were strong-willed. But we shall have to see how strong. Ascension is more than just enhanced power. You can also harness the souls of others, use their abilities to further your purposes. We have captured a corrupted Guardian, Shyla Starhearth. The witch has been harvesting souls for the Devourer, I want you to take one from her."
Larrea looked at the Faceless Man, nonplussed. He handed her a device.
"She is being held by some soldiers in another plaza across the village. Use this to capture her a soul we can craft into an appropriate tool."
Larrea took the device and headed off in the direction of the corrupted Guardian, dispatching a few undead that got in her way. It was soon apparent where the Guardian was, she could see the her screaming and cursing and fighting against her captors. As Larrea approached, Shyla seemed to sag in resignation.
"Why do you people torment me so?" she whined dejectedly. Larrea approached carefully distrusting the former High Priestess. Sure enough, just as she came close enough to use the device. Starhearth exploded out of her torpor, throwing off the magical shackles of the Defiant guards and lunging at Larrea. Larrea danced to the side, dodging the attack and the fight was on. The High Elf cast quick spells at the newly Ascended rogue who deftly countered with her enchanted blades, getting a few cuts of her own.
"Now what?" She asked.
"Now we see whether you are truly Ascended. You must subdue the soul, bend it to your will." The faceless man gestured toward a nearby machine. "Place it into the soul rebinder."
Larrea complied. The machine started humming with the soul inside. Soon an apparition emerged and attacked Larrea. She blocked and parried, for the first time feeling the exertion of the contest. The souls cried out and redoubled its efforts, as she fought to contain it. Her blades while not exactly striking solid flesh, seemed to be weakening the soul. It resistance subsided and it seemed to capitulate. The apparition faded, and Larrea felt infused with even greater power. She became aware of the Faceless Man observing her from outside the device.
Larrea ran across the plaza, where Tahleed waited.
"Ah, Larrea. I trust you are ready? Good. Our scouts have reported that more cultists block the way. But our battle construct will clear a path for you. Simply follow it up the hill to the barricades of Rubicon. Stavel should have the Failsafe working."
"Deliver these to Sylver in the past. If they can successfully create Ascended then, this future will hopefully not come to pass." The woman's eye filled with tears.
"I will," said Larrea, putting the records in her pack. She placed a hand on the woman's shoulder, not knowing what to say to her grief and fear. Giving her shoulder a squeeze, Larrea broke off and headed up the hill.
Reaching the top, she spotted Stavel Rosso at the controls of an elaborate machine. He shouted to her over the noise of the device.
"I'm bringing the Failsafe back online now! It should return you to the moment the device was created!"
Just then there was a thunderclap and the sky above the Failsafe opened up, a gaping tentacled hole forming in the air. The figure of a woman appeared by the machine.
"Did you think you'd escape to the past? No one can escape from Regulos!"
More creatures came through the rift. The woman ordered them to destroy the machine.
Stavel cried to Larrea, "Stop them!"
Larrea sprang forward to intercept the creatures, disabling or killing each in rapid succession. The Death woman became enraged.
"I see that I shall have to deal with you myself!"
The woman started casting a spell, but Larrea attacked, blades flashing. The woman laughed as she backhanded the blade dancer, sending her to the ground.
"Fool! I am one of the original Ascended, not a weak Defiant imitation!"
She prepared to cast another spell, one Larrea knew would finish her. But an arcane blast hit her in the chest knocking her back and disrupting her spell.
"Not so fast, Alsbeth!" shouted Asha Catari, sword still blazing with afterglow of her attack on the Betrayer. A group of Defiants followed her.
"Stavel! Get that Failsafe working" Asha bellowed. She and the guards moved to finish off Alsbeth. Larrea joined them.
"You should have joined me when you had the chance, Asha," Regulos admonished, his voice whispering, yet booming at the same time.
"NEVER!" the warlock responded, Defiant to the last. "Larrea, get through the portal I will hold him off."