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Emma Ironheart: Birdfood
 
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The crew and passengers of The Ironheart were almost certainly going to die. The airship’s hull was being picked apart by a flock of diamond-beaked and metal-hungry parrots. Emma Ironheart, the captain and inventor of the craft, did her best to calm her passengers. “We are absolutely not going to die,” she said, then climbed through the hatch above her and slammed it shut.

Emma had built her airship for exploration, not for passengers. Today, however, The Ironheart was full of passengers, specifically, a group of rich explorers who’d become shipwrecked in the Severed Sea.

The whole experience of rescuing them was frustrating, because after landing her airship, it took a whole day for them to get their stuff on the ship. After boarding the Ironheart, all they did was complain about their lodging and safety, as though being saved from a desolate island with no food and water wasn’t good enough.

As Emma headed toward the bridge, things were looking bad. Smoke was billowing out of the engine rooms and into the hallway. She needed to get rid of these birds, and she needed to do it fast.

As Emma entered the bridge of the Ironheart, one of her Steelfoot Sailors –automatons that assisted her with simple maintenance and navigation tasks– clomped over to her and stood there, silently waiting for orders.

“What?” she asked the voiceless automaton.

There was a far off –boom!– and the whole ship rattled. It triggered a small red light to start flashing on the bot’s reflective copper chest.

“Oh really?” Emma said, feigning surprise. “There’s an emergency?”

The automaton nodded its head.

Emma grabbed the bot by the shoulders, turned it around, and kicked it in its non-existent copper ass. “Steer the ship toward land, dummy.” The bot clomped away, red-light still flashing. Good help was hard to design.

Emma walked into her ready-room and closed the door. It was a small and dangerously cluttered space with a brass desk at its center, a room made even smaller by the crates of unfinished inventions and scrap parts stacked around the perimeter.

She grabbed a box labeled “Important” and dumped its contents onto her desk. A void pistol, blueprints, and a few valuables tumbled out. Emma spread the pile across her desk. Not finding what she was looking for, she lifted a second crate labeled “Unimportant” and dumped out its contents: tax documents, cease-and-desist orders, fines, bills, death threats, and love letters. She slammed her fists on the desk. “Well, isn’t today a masterpiece of frustration?” she muttered. “Who moved my stuff?”

The automatons in the other room continued to do their work, but all swiveled their heads in Emma’s direction as though they were capable of caring. It was something Emma had programmed them to do because it’s frustrating to scream about things and have no one even pretend to listen.

As Emma frantically flipped over crates, there was a loud knock at the door.

“What?” she yelled. When no one entered, she continued, “That means come in!”

The door opened with a creak and Toby Pop, her first officer, stepped through. “Uh, captain–”

“Did you move my climby things?”

“Your what?” Toby asked.

“They look like giant monster claws,” she said, gesturing with her hands.

“Nobody is allowed in here, but you and the Steelfoot and they don’t move stuff if you don’t ask them to,” he said. When she didn’t respond, he took a quick look around the room and asked, “Did you check your closet?”

“Good idea,” Emma ran to her closet and grabbed the handle, but before opening it remembered, “I have private things in here. Get out.”

“Captain, the birds are–”

“Toby.”

He nodded. “Yes, Captain,” and stepped out.

Emma slowly and carefully opened the door. Two steam rifles, a small box of void grenades, and an umbrella stand full of swords tumbled to the floor. Emma used her boot to shove everything aside and then stepped into the closet, and – awesome – found the thing. Once she’d strapped the contraption on, she called for Toby.

The first officer rentered and made it about two steps before he froze with a cartoonish look of horror on his face, as grenades and loaded weapons rolled around on the floor. The look grew more ridiculous when Emma stepped out of the closet wearing a pair of monstrous mechanical claws fitted over the backs of her hands and feet. “I found them,” she said.

“Uh...What exactly am I looking at?”

Emma slashed at the air. “My climby things,” she said, smiling because they looked awesome and they were awesome.

“Okay,” he muttered, clearly not comprehending the awesomeness of her invention. He shook his head and restarted, “Captain, the birds have pecked their way into the ship. They’re flying around on the inside.”

“What in the five hells are they after?”

There was a clank on the window, then the dink-dink-dink of a colorful bird chipping away at her ship and her future.

“I am going to destroy those parrots,” Emma mumbled, squeezing a mechanical claw into a fist.

“How are the passengers?” Toby asked.

“They’re fine,” she said, and waved off the question. “Where are the birds?”

“They seem to be congregating by the bow of the Ironheart,” Toby said, pointing toward the front of the ship, but Emma had become distracted trying to pick the void pistol up off her desk. The claw covered the topside of her hand and had huge talons that curved over each finger, making it difficult for her to pick things up that were flat against a surface. “At this point in our journey, the cargo holds are nearly empty,” she said.

“Uh...captain?” Toby looked concerned. “Maybe try–”

“I got this, Toby.” Emma glared at him for a long moment.

“Yes, captain,” he said, sighing resignedly at her stubbornness.

Emma slid the gun toward the edge of the table using the side of one hand, hoping to drop it into her other hand once it fell. As the gun neared the edge, the ship hit a bump of turbulence, and the pistol landed on the floor and a blast of void energy nearly vaporized Toby’s head.

He screamed.

The captain and her first officer stared blankly at one another. Seeing that Toby hadn’t been hit, Emma pointed at the gun, and said, “Hand that to me.”

While Toby stood there frozen, another bird landed on the window. Now there were overlapping dink, dink, dinks.

Her first officer didn’t turn to look, he just stood there in shock, probably considering his life choices up to this point. “Toby,” Emma shouted. “Snap out of it. You’re still alive. Not even hurt. Pick up the gun.”

He took a timid step forward, picked the weapon up, and trembling, placed it into Emma's hand.

“Thanks,” Emma said. “Make sure the Steelfoot steer this thing toward land and then meet me in the cargo hold. I’m going outside to deal with these birds.”

Toby looked out the panoramic windows of the ready-room. There was frost building up around the frame from the freezing temperature of their altitude. The sky and sea went on forever, and clouds floated passed as The Ironheart rocketed toward New Vigil. A beautiful scene interrupted by the horror of fluttering parrot saboteurs, black streaks of poisonous smoke, and lethal bits of shrapnel from the engines. He looked back at Emma, “I’m sorry,” Toby said. “Did you say you were going outside?”

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* * *

Emma’s magnetized and sharpened claws worked when it came to scaling the hull of a massive airship rocketing through the sky at high speeds, but they were useless when it came to dealing with the cold. Her teeth chattered, and her muscles tightened up. All she could think about was how murdered these stupid birds were about to be and how glad she was that the ship was descending into warmer air.

Emma was headed toward the bow when one of the giant parrots flew over, gently perched on her claw and began dink-dink-dinking away. The bird stared at her with its dead black eyes as it chewed the metal.

“No!” Emma waved her arm up and down to shake the bird off. It squawked and landed a few meters away. She couldn’t hear the dink-dink-dink because of the wind, but she could imagine it, and it pissed her off, so she pointed the pistol at the bird and screamed “Stop eating my ship,” then pulled the trigger. Black and purple void energy vaporized the bird, and a second later, Emma was choking on its scorched red feathers.

Emma reached the bow of the ship. From her position, through the window, she could look into the room where her passengers were and they could see her too, dangling upside down from beneath the upper floors of the Ironheart like some sort mechanized airship pirate with awesome looking claws. Emma waved at them and kept moving. The faster she could get them back to New Vigil, the less time she’d have to spend with them.

From here, she could see that Toby was right: the parrots were flocking outside the cargo bay. There were so many of them that it looked like the ship had giant feathers of its own. There wasn’t an inch of space for the rest of the flock to land. They flew around the airship chomping at important stuff while they waited for an opening.

There must have been something in the cargo bay that they wanted, but Emma had no idea what it could be. As the ship was nearly home, their rations were low, but even if the ship had been brimming with food, these little monsters eat metal. The only metal in storage was rusted scrap, which –in Emma’s opinion– seemed less appetizing than the expensive steel alloy that the rest of the ship was composed of, but then, what in the five hells did Emma know about birds?

Either way–

Emma fired a few rounds into the parrots, blasting away until she’d punched a hole into the swarm. More parrots flew up to fill in the gaps. “Five hells,” she said. “Get off my ship!” Then teeth chattering, fingers frozen, and cheeks burning red from the wind, she climbed toward the nearest window, smashed it, and tumbled inside. Emma stole a brief moment to catch her breath and embrace the warmth, then she stripped off the climbing gear and began hauling ass toward the cargo bay, feathers trailing in the air behind her.

* * *

Toby was waiting there when Emma ran through the door. The wall was riddled with holes where several of the parrots had chipped their way in. Hundreds of them were crawling through like big colorful feathery maggots. Their overlapping pecking sounds filled the large space with unsettling noise.

“Toby,” she said, yelling over the racket.

“You told me to come here!” he shouted back.

She couldn’t hear him, but nodded anyway, “Right! How’re we looking?”

“We’re going to crash!”

“What?” She shrugged, still not hearing him.

“We’re going to crash!” He pointed to the ground, then used both hands to make an exploding gesture in the air.

“Oh...Right...Great!” Emma’s attention had turned away from her first officer and back to the parrots. The ones inside the cargo bay were all pecking away at a single stack of unfamiliar crates. When she inspected them, she found that they were all vaguely labeled as “supplies.”

“They really want whatever’s in there,” he said, then thought for a second. “Since when do we label our supplies as supplies?”

Emma snorted at this, then swatted at the birds. They flew off, landing on a nearby container with the same designation. All these crates had locks on them. Locks that she’d never seen before.

Toby pulled a handy set of lockpicking tools out from his pocket, while Emma pulled out her void pistol and pointed it at the lock.

“Wait, I can–”

The lock exploded and the container popped open. Emma looked at Toby, who’d leapt behind a crate labeled chicken. She giggled, then put on a serious face when she saw what was hidden inside the one in front of her – a glimmering pile of raw ore.

It was a substance called Dream Steel, a rare metal only found in the Valley of the Ancients charged with energy from the Dreamscape. It was unique, expensive, and not supposed to be on her ship. Somehow, those idiot passengers had smuggled it on board.

“Damnit.”

* * *

Toby and Emma moved quickly toward the bridge. The walk was slightly uphill now that the Ironheart had tilted toward the bow. Steelfoot Sailors clomped up and down the narrow hallways, carrying supplies to do what repairs they could.

“Are we over land yet?” Emma asked.

“Any minute,” Toby said. “But we’re still going to crash. The birds hacked apart our landing gears.”

Emma shrugged. “Once we’re over land, dump the crates,” she said. “All of them.”

Toby coughed on the smoke that filled the corridors. “Yes, Ma’am,” he choked out.

A door creaked open along the side of the hall and out clomped two Steelfoot Sailors. One, entirely on fire, and another, spraying the first down with a tank of water. Emma stepped out of the way, like this was an everyday occurrence, and watched as Toby screamed, “Five hells” and leapt toward the wall.

Emma scowled at him; she was in a hurry, and she didn’t have time to slow down. “Toby, are we having a problem here?” she asked.

“What?” He coughed again.

“I can’t have my first officer knocked off his toes every time there’s an engine failure or some on-fire Steelfoot walking by.”

Toby’s eyes darted back and forth in confusion. “The engine failed?” He coughed into his hand.

“Yeah,” she said. “Relax about it.”

He nodded, then coughed again.

“Good,” she said, and the two started walking again. “Here’s what I need from you. Grab my special backpack from the glass case in my ready-room, while I–” she paused trying to figure out how not to sound stupid, then realized it was impossible, and went on, “While I get my other...special backpack...from my workshop.”

“Special backpack?”

“Yes,” she said, then muttered. “I really have to start thinking of names for these things. It’s the goopy one.”

“Sure,” he said. “So...um...what’s the plan?”

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* * *

Emma was carefully climbed down the ladder into the passenger room. Getting through the hatch was a bit of a puzzle. Two leather straps connected a massive copper tank to her back. Attached to it was a long hose with a thick copper nozzle at the end. It dangled below her swinging back and forth as she moved down from one rung to the next.

With each step the she could more clearly hear the assault off insults, stupid questions, and cries of despair being hurled in her direction.

Of the litany of problems going on in the Ironheart, Emma was least excited to deal with this one – of the things Emma claimed to be, a people person was not one of them.

Emma stopped just before reaching the floor. Out the window, she could see the cargo bay doors opening. Her plan was to dump the Dream Steel on land and then tell them it was dumped in the ocean. If they survived the inevitable crash, then she’d send her automatons to retrieve it once these nut-bolts weren’t around. To make this happen, Emma would need to make sure the attention stayed on her and not the cargo bay which they could see through the window.

“Hey, nut-bolts,” Emma yelled. “Shut up.” She hopped off the ladder. “Just everybody, shut up.”

Remarkably, it worked - they shut up while also looking all kinds of offended.

Emma used the moment and marched up to the fanciest looking person of the bunch and jabbed her finger right in his chest, “What in the five hells were you thinking loading up my ship with Dream Steel?”

The guy stepped back and dramatically placed a hand on his chest. “We did no such thing,” he said. “How dare you?” He took a brief but noticeable look at one of the other nobles, which caused a chain reaction of looks between the whole bunch of them. While Emma was sure that they meant it all to be subtle, on a crashing ship, all hopped up on fear and adrenaline the looks were as subtle as a punch in the face.

“Listen, that Dream Steel that you smuggled onto my ship turns out to be really expensive bird food. That’s why they’re ripping my ship to pieces,” she said.

“Now, listen,” One of the others interrupted. “We are nobles of…” the woman went on-and-on, but Emma had stopped listening because behind them, in the distance, crates of Dream Steel were being shoved out of the cargo bay into the open air by a pair of automatons.

The ship shook as it hit turbulence, bits of metal flying by the panoramic window. A few passengers turned, but Emma snapped her fingers to keep their attention. “I dumped your Dream Steel into the ocean,” she said.

The passengers were instantly silent as they all simultaneously recognized the fortune they’d just lost. Then, all at once, they began shouting – obscenities, excuses, and death threats.

Toby was now standing at the edge of the cargo bay, with the emergency backpack on, having a bit of a freak out. He was pacing back and forth, stopping periodically to look over the side.

C'mon, Emma thought. Jump.

He closed his eyes and hopped out of the cargo bay. Toby tumbled through the sky –falling-falling-falling– but then, with the jerk of his wrist, the chute opened.

Amidst the screaming and yelling of her current environment, she took a deep calming breath. Remarkably, the parachute had worked.

There was a Boom. “Uh-oh,” muttered Emma. Then the ship began to tilt dramatically and everyone started screaming.

Emma reached for a cord dangling from her jacket sleeve and pulled it. A grappling hook with a long wire shot from her wrist and spun tight around a metal pipe. She clipped the line to her belt and began to dangle from the wall-that-was-quickly-becoming-a-ceiling.

The passengers tumbled backward, falling into one another as the ship turned.

Emma reached back, gripped the hose attached to her backpack and pointed it at the passengers –who annoyingly started screaming before she even pulled the lever– “If you want to live, stop moving. It’s totally gross, but it will protect you,” she said.

Emma twisted the nozzle on the hose. A thick orange liquid burst from the tip, and within seconds the passengers were covered from foot to neck in a quick-hardening foam. They screamed like she was burning them alive, which pissed her off because she had made this batch herself, and it wasn’t nearly as burny as the last batch. “Oh, stop it,” Emma said as she finished hosing them down. When the tank was empty, she detached the cord and fell straight into the foam with the rest of them.

The Ironheart smashed into the coastline, in a blaze of fire and metal.

* * *

By nightfall, the passengers had been chipped out of their foamy prison and escorted from the coast to the nearest city, by helpful villagers who’d witnessed the crash. Emma commanded her remaining Steelfoot Sailors to collect and organize scraps of metal from the Ironheart while she waited for the return of the first officer.

When Toby arrived, he was limping, still wearing her backpack, which had a bunch of severed cords dangling from it.

“Toby,” she said, running to him. “You made it.”

He nodded.

“How was it?” She asked. “What was it like? Was it awesome?”

He said nothing, just kind of stood there.

“It was. I knew it would be.” She grabbed his shoulders and shook him with excitement. “You’re the first person to ever parachute out of an airship.” She hugged him. “You lucky nut-bolt!”

“Uh-huh,” he said, before collapsing into a sitting position.

“And the metal, is it safe?” she asked.

He nodded.

“Yes!” She laughed a victorious laugh. “We’re rich, Toby. Those idiots just bought us a new ship.” Her eyes widened with excitement and Emma began gesturing with her hands. “The Indomitable Ironheart. It’s going to be huge. It’s going to fly higher. It’s going to fly faster.” Then she grabbed Toby by the shoulders again, “and you’re going to teach me to jump from it.”

Toby collapsed.

 
How did we find ourselves in the Severed Sea?

The path to the Severed Seas starts with Adayu, a god that becomes so powerful that he can’t make sense of reality. When you can blink and change the nature of the universe, it becomes hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. In Realms Unraveled, Adayu collapses the five realms of the ancient gods into one, creating chaos and destroying the world of Vigil as we knew it.

Realms Unraveled Adayu

He loses his mind, and the Champions of Vigil are sent to stop him before all of reality is unmade.

They succeed, but Adayu’s madness weakened the barriers between dimensions, granting access to long-forgotten realms. In addition, Vigil is in ruins, and civilization has to be rebuilt.

It takes time, but a New Vigil rises.

One day, a powerful young sorceress named Nextris uses her magic to open a portal between realms allowing conscious beings to enter the Dreamscape. She’s the first non-Dreamer to step foot in this forbidden realm of Dreams. She is also the first to die there. Up until this point, no conscious being had ever died in this place, and the ripples of a dead soul entering the realm of dreams warps the Dreamscape forever.

Back in New Vigil, the gate Nextris created remains open and more people enter the realm, seeking to exploit its power. Eventually, the factions from New Vigil bring war to the Dreamscape. With war comes more death – tens of thousands of souls that threaten the Dreamscape itself.

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By the time Pasythea, the protector of the Dreamscape, sacrifices herself to close the portal and banish mortals from her realm, the damage is done. Though the war for the Dreamscape had ended, the infection continued to spread.

The Dreamscape festered while life in New Vigil went on, oblivious to the mounting danger.

The Severed Sea separates New Vigil from the Valley of the Ancients – a place called Aloysa.

A group of foolhardy explorers discovers Aloysa and a hidden long-sealed portal to the Dreamscape, which they promptly open up. Corrupt energies from the Dreamscape burst into the world and began manifesting dreams and nightmares all over New Vigil.

This is where the Delirium/Deliverance story begins. Side note: It also marks the beginning of Emma Ironheart’s story. We’ll learn more about her in some upcoming lore.

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In Delirium, the nightmare energy of the corrupted Dreamscape warps New Vigil, even changing the very form and faction of some of New Vigil’s most iconic heroes. The corruption and chaos can only be stopped by re-entering the Dreamscape and re-awakening the lost protector of the realm.

At the end of Deliverance, Pasythea is reborn and returns to protect the Dreamscape. She pulls what energy she can back into that realm and seals it again–hopefully, for good.

Sealing the gate, however, does not get rid of all the energy. Now, things on this side of the gate have been fundamentally changed. The world is irradiated with Dreamscape energy. The closer you get to the Dreamscape gate –in the Valley of the Ancients– the more warped things become.

Ascension: Skulls and Sails takes place in The Severed Sea after the Dream energy has infected it. Its islands have become much dangerous and wondrous. There are new resources, peoples, creatures, and magic. There is also rumor of a terrifying and ancient Kraken who was awoken by the Dream magic.

In Skulls and Sails, we’re seeing a massive wave of explorers from each faction journeying into this new place. They’re racing to grab up what treasures they can for themselves and to amass power for their own factions, lest they be outmatched by others.

That’s where Skulls and Sails starts: with the arrival of the first wave of explorers from each faction, braving the Severed Seas in search of treasure and adventure.

Will you heed the call to explore the Severed Seas?

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Shards of Infinity: Crystal Dawn

Once again, Ko Syn Wu found himself in the endless desert. In this realm, a jagged crystalline sun never rose and never fell. It just hung there, leaking out a horizon of pink and violet light; a celestial ornament pinning the featureless land to the starless sky.

“Come out keeper,” Ko Syn Wu said. “Each night you summon me, and each night I wander until you appear. Might we just eliminate the wandering? Show yourself.” He stood quietly for a few moments, but when there was no response, he began his journey, a huff of disappointment in sync with his first step.

The dry earth crunched beneath his boots, each step echoing for miles, the only sound in this empty land. He had walked some immeasurable distance when the cloaked figure appeared. A crystal skeleton shrouded in shimmering golden robes hovered above Ko Syn Wu; death’s enduring grin smiling down at him.

“Hello again,” Ko Syn Wu said. He knew next to nothing about the entity or it’s realm. The creature had appeared in his dreams when he had first picked up the Master Shard, his spear: The World Piercer. Each night the entity forced upon him visions of apocalyptic futures, promised him weapons of devastating power, and even offered to wipe away the mistakes of his past, all the while never revealing its true purpose. The nightly manipulations had become tiresome.

"The time has come to make a choice," the entity hissed, golden robes billowing in a non-existent wind.

Ko Syn Wu looked around expectedly, “What? No glimpse of the future? No need to show me the deaths of my people, yet again? To what do I owe this mercy?”

“Make a choice,” the entity repeated, biting off each word.

“This is futile. No matter what I choose, it seems my people are fated to die.” He paused for a moment, considering his next words, “I don’t need another weapon. I need a tool. One that will make my people whole again. Offer me this, and you will have my allegiance if that is what you’re after.”

“Time is limited,” The entity hissed. “The other Shard Masters have grown strong. One has already made their choice, the others will follow.”

Ko Syn Wu gave a growl of frustration. “Let them,” he clenched his fist. “It is not my concern. My only concern is—“.

"You are a fool, Ko Syn Wu.” The entity was suddenly face-to-face with him. “It was indecision that led your people into Oblivion, and it will be your indecision that sends them back.” A bony hand gripped his throat. “Make a choice. Make it soon.”

Ko Syn Wu choked out words, “I choose... to save... my people.”

The skeleton’s eye sockets flared with violet energy, and the creature hurled him out of his realm.

Ko Syn Wu woke with a jolt, weightless and floating in the sensory deprivation tank where he slept. Monitors wired to him detected consciousness, and the chamber split open from the center. He and the liquid were dumped out onto a circular draining platform.

Ko Syn Wu collapsed onto his knees, dripping with the thick emerald fluid, and he reached forward to grip handles that were built into the platform. He breathed deeply; inhaled the acrid smell of heated iron and melted plastic. Of saline solution and human waste. Of rapid evolution and slow decay. Small nozzles rose all around him and hissed as they washed the gel from his body.

An array of sensors spun above him, whirring as they went. Red beams of light scanned his body, searching for subdermal energy trails; interdimensional rifts manifesting under his skin. The veins of his left arm began to swell, red blood thickening into a black ichor. Ko Syn Wu bellowed out a scream, the first of the morning, as the vein split open in a spray of violet flame.

Pumps in the wall shifted up and down, mixing liquid biometal with pulverized fragments of lesser shards. 3-D printers and skeletal mechanized arms worked in tandem, fabricating and attaching plates of armor over the blazing violet wounds.

Ko Syn Wu shouted out in short bursts, a rhythm of violent sounds to help him block out the pain. This was the morning ritual that each Wraethe was cursed to endure, a fate for which Ko Syn Wu felt wholly responsible.

As the final plates were pressed into his skin, smooth metal hooks lifted him to his feet, and the last component of Ko Syn Wu’s transformation rose from the floor: The World Piercer. He lurched forward, still weak from the process, and gripped the relic. The crystal blade flared to life and Ko Syn Wu along with it.

He stood on the platform, gathering himself and looking over today's placement of the armor: one-hundred sixty-three plates. Two more than yesterday and four more than a week ago, quantifiable evidence of his worsening condition. As he considered his fate, the door to the chamber slid open with a hiss.

A young Wraethe burst into the room, only a few black plates on his arms and neck, and he stumbled over the door frame. “Ko Syn Wu,” he called out. “Someone is coming through. There’s someone-”

“Then today is a good day.” Ko Syn Wu gently placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder, calming him. “Let us welcome them back to existence.”

“Yes, sir.”

The boy led Ko Syn Wu through black reflective halls of the facility. “The engineers say that the rift’s density is… ” he paused, looking for the right word but couldn’t find it. “It’s denser.” The boy looked down at his feet, disappointed.

Ko Syn Wu patted the boy’s shoulder. “Thank you for telling me, we’ll see how we can help.”

Since Ko Syn Wu’s return to the material plane, they had discovered how to use the minor shards to work like a magnet into the anti-plane, using them to predict when and where a Wraethe would be reborn into this world. For years, Ko Syn Wu and his band of returned souls, searched out new Wraethes, nomads wandering the changing world. In time they were able to draw the energy to a single point - this facility: The Refuge.

The birthing room was active by the time they got there, it’s transparent energy wall up, to keep the violent energies of the rift from destroying the rest of the facility. Inside were two engineers, clad in their own patchwork armor, standing on either end of a cushioned table, and holding short spears. A holographic screen hovered just above the table displaying complex algorithms, maps, and charts with jagged lines that were growing more severe with the passing seconds. They kept their eyes fixed on the space above the table and waited.

Ko Syn Wu and the boy stood outside and watched in silence, the boy looking over periodically to check his leader’s reaction.

A flash of violet lighting streaked through the chamber. One of the engineers leaped back, startled. Another flash and space cracked open high above the table. A black viscus whirlpool swirled in the air reflecting the light of the chamber, colorful like gasoline on the surface of the water.

“Don’t move from that position,” one engineer shouted to the other, “they’re coming through.”

The swirling black liquid of the portal distended downward, creating the silhouette of a humanoid figure, then it burst open. A woman slid through, naked and screaming. The reborn Wraethe crashed onto the table below, missed the cushioned center, and rolled off to the ground.

The engineer closest to the woman, tossed his spear to the side and grabbed under her arms, dragging her away as she screamed; as they all had screamed.

He did his best to comfort her, but she kept her eyes focused on the darkness. A thick tendril of black liquid pushed through the rift, extending itself toward the reborn Wraethe.

The other engineer stepped between the woman and the tendril, spear tip held firmly in front of him, and stabbed it. The weapon flashed with violet energy. The tendril lapped at him like some giant demonic tongue, and the engineer stepped to the left and right, jabbing methodically, pushing it back into the portal.

“Look out,” the boy warned, but the engineer was caught by surprise as another tendril extended from the darkness and tightened around his neck; a featureless snake to choke the life out of him. The Wraethe struggled, but it was no use, the darkness lifted him off his feet and whipped him into the wall and ceiling, then tossed him away. The other’s watched as the engineer’s head hit the corner of the table and his body slumped to the floor.

“It’s going to take her,” Ko Syn Wu muttered. Instinctively, he reached forward to stop the horror within but was halted by the protective wall of energy. He turned to the boy, “Open the door.” The timid Wraethe hesitated; transfixed by the chaos within. “Now!” Ko Syn Wu roared. The boy snapped out of it and ran to the entrance panel.

Inside the chamber, the remaining engineer dove for his spear, but the tendril darted toward him, thinning and hardening as it went, and plunged into his chest. The woman screamed as the darkness withdrew from the engineer’s body and whipped around toward her. Scrambling away, she backed herself against the wall. The tendril crawled across the floor, slid around her ankles, and tightened.

“The wall is down,” the boy shouted.

The barrier flickered away, and Ko Syn Wu stepped through fast. The tendril pulled hard, lifting her off the ground; she was being dragged back up into nothingness. He managed to catch the woman’s arm just before she was hip deep in the portal. Her breaths were sharp and short.

“You are not going back to that place,” he said and thrust The World Piercer into the rift. The black liquid darted away from the Shard, flashing with bright light, and the darkness began to waver. With one arm Ko Syn Wu pressed the spear deep into the portal, with the other he heaved on the woman’s wrist and ripping her from the grip of Oblivion.

The rift would not be denied, it seemed to writhe with anger and launched a flurry of black tentacles at Ko Syn Wu. He drew his spear back for another thrust, but a tendril lashed at him first. Back he went, crashing into the table. The tendril swung around, this time he ducked under it, turned and caught it with his hand. Energy crackled out from where the two came into contact; a burst of violet sparks lit up the room.

Ko Syn Wu loosened his grip on the World Piercer, letting the spear slide through his palm until he was holding the blade like a knife. The tendril writhed as he severed it from the portal, but Oblivion was relentless. As one tendril melted away into a black ooze, two more slithered around his arm and wrist and shook the World Piercer loose. It twisted through the air, clattered across the floor, toward the woman.

He glanced over, her arm already extended, reaching out for the spear.

“Don’t—” Ko Syn Wu shouted but was cut off as another tendril slid around his neck, lifting him off the ground.

The moment she gripped the spear, the shard flared with violet light and so too, did the woman’s eyes. In an instant, she was on her feet and humming with power. Lightning arched out from the shard to lick her flesh, transforming the sweat that rolled down her body into liquid fire.

She vaulted toward the portal, bellowing out an inhuman roar, thrusting The World Piercer forward. Ko Syn Wu could feel the shard’s heat as it passed within a hairs-breadth of his face. She drove the shard into the rift, and the portal started to collapse.

The tendrils released Ko Syn Wu. He fell to his knees, gasping for air. “Let go of the shard,” he choked.

With both hands on the weapon, the woman shook the blade back and forth, tearing into the portal, aggravating the wound, until the darkness swirled away into nothing.

“You have to put it down,” Ko Syn Wu said, extending an open palm to the woman.

She spun toward him and roared, her face twisted up with rage.

He stood slowly, and took a careful step toward her, “The power is a lie. Do not give in to it.”

She pressed the shard against his chest, and spoke, “You are a fool, Ko Syn Wu.” The voice was deep and familiar, and not her own. “Make your choice,” it said, prodding him with the shard. “And make it soon.”

He stared at the woman. Shocked at first, then thoughtful. “You,” Ko Syn Wu said, “You’re in the Shard,” he muttered.

The entity ignored him, just as it always had, and continued. “Or I will find another who will,” the woman’s lips turned upwards in a skeletal grin. “This one is nearly as powerful as you.”

Ko Syn Wu’s face stiffened; a cold mask of anger.

“She feels eager to accept my—”

Ko Syn Wu would hear no more, he pushed the spear aside, shard scraping across his armor with a piercing shriek. He pressed forward, and with a grunt, he shouldered the woman into the wall. As he pulled The World Piercer from her hands, and the power leaped back into the weapon from her body.

For a moment, she just stood there, leaning against the wall, weak and wobbling from the ordeal. Then, barely conscious, she collapsed.

Ko Syn Wu caught her as she fell, and the two stared at each other for a long moment, perhaps appreciating the eerie silence. Her irises still burned violet, even after she’d lost the shard. His gaze drifted down her body, and suddenly, the softness on his face melted away. Thin black trails were already beginning to form along her ribs, crawling beneath her skin. “The reaction is starting,” he shouted to the boy. “Get an engineer.”

The young Wraethe nodded and ran off.

Ko Syn Wu laid the woman out on the table. “I’m going to help you, do you understand?” She nodded and reached for Ko Syn Wu’s hand, squeezing it hard. “It’s going to be alright,” he said. “You're body has changed. It’s reacting to this world.”

The press of a button on the floating holographic screen and a sensor array went to work, scanning her body, as the black trails stretched down her stomach.

“Do you remember your name?”

“Rue,” she muttered. “I am Rue Bo Vai.”

“Rue Bo Vai,” he repeated. “Welcome back.”

A faint smile lingered on her face. Then black trails along her ribs split open, and violet flame licked up from under her flesh. The smile constricted into a look of agony, and her eyes began to dart from side to side.

“Scream, cry, take deep breaths. Find something to focus on. Find your ritual,” Ko Syn Wu said. “Because this is going to hurt.”

Shards of Infinity is going digital!

PHILADELPHIA, PA - November 30th, 2018 - Stone Blade Entertainment, in collaboration with Temple Gates Games, is bringing the hit deckbuilding game, Shards of Infinity, to iOS, Android, and Steam!

Designed by Justin Gary and Gary Arant, Shards of Infinity combines an unprecedented level of strategy and customization. Stone Blade Entertainment is well  known for their depth of strategy and innovation, and Shards of Infinity is their hit follow-up to the award winning deckbuilding game, Ascension. Shards of Infinity introduces the innovative Mastery mechanic, giving players multiple paths to victory in a quick, cutthroat game that always leaves players wanting to play “just one more game.”

Temple Gates Games has a long history of success working with board game publishers. They specialize in digitizing card games including Ascension, making it the first deckbuilding game to take place in virtual reality. Their amazing attention to detail and background in digital gaming make them the ideal partner to develop Shards of Infinity for a digital audience.

The digital version of Shards of Infinity will release in Spring 2019 for $7.99 across all platforms. Players will enjoy local pass-and-play, asynchronous multiplayer, and can take on challenging AI opponents! Temple Gates Games is known for including world-class AI which uses neural network technology to create formidable opponents.  As the AI trains it will grow stronger to keep up with advanced Shards of Infinity players.

Gamers wanting to learn more about the progress of the Shards of Infinity digital game are encouraged to sign up for Stone Blade Entertainment newsletter.

For more information, please contact pr@stoneblade.com.

For more information online, please visit stoneblade.com and TempleGatesGames.com.

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Ascension Online: Valley of The Ancients

This week we have awesome news for Ascension Online fans… Valley of the Ancients is live on the Ascension iOSAndroid, and through Steam.

This set marks the twelfth full Ascension expansion to be added to the app.

Working on a game for this long, always forces us to ask the question:  “How do we create something new and exciting, but that is still simple enough to learn and feels like Ascension?” In other words, how do you create something new and yet familiar?

For Valley of the Ancients, I got to work with the set lead designer Ben Lundquist. This was Ben’s first lead design of an Ascension set, so it was great to see his influence and take on this question. Ben comes from a Professional Magic: the Gathering player background and you can see that influence in his design philosophy. The key focus in Valley of the Ancients was creating a high level of interaction between the players, and to do that, he came up with one of our more ambitious new mechanics: Temples.

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In Ascension: Valley of the Ancients, acquiring and controlling Temples is one of the most important parts of the game. Temples begin uncontrolled near the center row and never go into a player’s deck. Once acquired, a Temple goes into play immediately and behaves much like a Construct, with one important exception: 

Your opponent can steal it.

To make the Temples tug-of-war feel balanced, we needed to find a clear, familiar method to ensure players had fun with this new mechanic. This paved the way for a new resource in the game: Keystones.

Keystones are…ahem…the keys to acquiring a Temple. There are many ways to gain Keystones: from Monsters to Constructs to Heroes. When you gain a Life or Death Keystone on your turn, you also gain access to the corresponding Temple. In other words, if a Temple is located in its designated space near the Center Row, you acquire it. However, if your opponent has a Temple, you steal it!

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If you control the Temple of Life and the Temple of Death, then you can use Keystones to acquire the Temple of Immortality, which is the most powerful temple and a key resource to fight over through the course of play.

In addition to a dramatic new mechanic like Temples, Valley of the Ancients also introduces more subtle mechanics like Serenity for Enlightened and Echo for Void. We loved these mechanics so much that we still include them in our more recent tabletop expansions like Ascension: Deliverance. Having keyword mechanics to define each faction helps provide more structure to the game, meaning sets like Valley of the Ancients help us refine our designs for the sets that follow after.  

We hope you love this new addition to the digital world of Ascension as much as we do and can’t wait to hear your thoughts and battle a bunch of you on the app!

Ascension: Oak of Souls

Anything that can be done with magic, will be done. This was a common philosophy for the educated sorcerers of Vigil. Yet, under threats of exile, imprisonment, and even death some realms of magic were outlawed. Doors were closed. Walls were erected. Fortifications were made.

At the top of the list was a realm called the Dreamscape, a place of fantasies and nightmares, a place only accessed by the unconscious mind.

It was in a small village on the outskirts of the Enlightened cities that a curious and powerful sorceress tore open the first portal to the Dreamscape and stepped through -- a fully conscious being in an entirely unconscious realm.

This wondrous place captivated the young sorceress. She discovered beautiful creatures and ones so alien and terrifying that to look upon them would send the mortal mind spiraling into madness. Impossible landscapes that spiraled and bent with each step, mountains of glass, oceans of light, living cities of flesh and bone. But more than all of this, it was this place that was the source of all magic on Vigil.

The sorceress returned many times, bringing along allies to assist in her exploration of the Dreamscape.

The deeper into the subconscious the sorceress and her companions adventured, the more monstrous the creatures became: unfathomable entities spawned from fear, insecurity and madness.

One such monster, a Dreadmare, took the shape of a fiery black horse stitched together from the nightmares of some long gone civilization. The monster breathed out a wave of fire and shadow that consumed her, and there, in the Dreamscape, she died.

Until this moment, to die in a dream was nothing. A cold sweat, an abrupt awakening, and the mind returned to the body.

True death, for the first time, had come to the Dreamscape and there was no mechanic here for what happened to the soul - no pathway to the afterlife.

The sorceress was the first conscious creature to die in the Dreamscape.

And in that instant, a spiritual singularity occurred.

The sorceress’s companions watched as the their employer’s soul escaped her body. They watched as it slowly compressed, shrinking and hardening until it had become a tiny crystal seed.

They could not touch it. They could not move it. They could not destroy it.. As far as they knew, it was the only unchangeable thing in the Dreamscape.

For years, the seed remained frozen there; a mystery to the Dreamscape explorers who followed in the sorceress's footsteps.

Hundreds of years later, when Vigil’s war came to the Dreamscape, so did death, but this time on a massive scale - and the seed finally began to change.

With the first deaths, the seed sprouted a tiny glass stalk, tendril-like roots, and a few leaves that crackled with energy.

As troops flowed through and the war grew, so too did the sapling, growing into a great tree of crystal and lighting, it’s thick roots, planted deeply in unconscious space, pulsated with light.

Scholars have named it the Oak of Souls. The spirits of those who die conscious deaths in the dream realm gravitate towards it until they are absorbed into the tree.

Those who’ve peered into glass trunk and branches have seen the souls of the dead within, trapped and deteriorating, as the Oak of Souls feeds on them. The spirits pound at the glass with spectral hands and scream in agony, as moment-by-moment they shrink away into oblivion.

Ascension: Deliverance Preview

Hi everyone,

This is Gary Arant bringing you a complete look into the mechanics of the next Ascension set, Deliverance! Last time I wrote to you all, it was to show off Delirium, which released just a few months ago. Delirium took us back to the Dreamscape - using Insight, acquiring Dreamborn cards, participating in Fate Auctions, and using powerful Recur effects.

The reason I suggest you read about Delirium is because for the first time since Darkness Unleashed (our 6th expansion that released back in 2013), we have carried mechanics and story across two sets. That’s right! Deliverance takes place in the Dreamscape and both its story and game mechanics pair directly with the previous expansion, Delirium.

Now let’s get into the details!

In Deliverance, players will still gain Insight primarily through Dreamborn cards. Players will then be presented with many new ways to spend their Insight throughout the game. The first we will talk about is Pasythea:

 
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This powerful Hero starts every game of Deliverance in her own spot above the center row. The first player to pay her insight cost gets to acquire Pasythea and gains her powers for the rest of the game. While sixteen Insight might seem like a steep price, there are ways in the center deck to augment the price.

Each of Pasythea’s four weapons are Constructs that you can acquire if they show up in the center row. Pasythea’s Insight cost is reduced by four Insight for every one of her weapons you have in front of you, making it possible to Acquire Pasythea for free if you are lucky enough to get all for.

Pasythea creates an interesting race within every game of Deliverance. Will you save up to sixteen to try to be the person who gets to acquire her, risking that someone might beat you to it? Or will you just use your Insight on other things, like…

 
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Dreambind Monsters are probably my favorite new mechanic. When you defeat a Monster with Dreambind, you gain its Reward just like any other Monster in Ascension. However, you also have the option to pay the amount of Insight listed in the Monster text. If you do, you acquire that Monster to your discard pile. Whenever you draw and play that Monster from that point on, you gain its Reward.

We typically reserve a lot of the more punishing effects in Ascension to Monster effects, which means that players don’t usually gain consistent access to things like discard effects and Construct destruction. Dreambind Monsters flip this norm on its head and are a lot of fun to get your hands on.

The next mechanic we will talk about is a new twist on an old favorite mechanic: Transform.

 
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There are cards in each of the factions that you can use Insight to permanently transform into a more powerful card. The Constructs shown above are Mechana’s spin on Transform, which wants you to control as many Mechana Constructs as possible. Transform is a very satisfying mechanic that tells a fun story (blueprints turning into real airship parts for example), and that happens to pair incredibly well with Insight. Previous iterations of Transform did not have any way for players to slowly and assuredly build towards transforming their cards, which was sometimes frustrating. By saving up Insight to transform cards, players can craft a specific plan around these cards.

And last but not least, Phantasm.

 
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Cards with Phantasm have a special ability that is on while the card is in the center row. During their turn, players may pay a Phantasm cost of a card in the center row. If they do, they play the card and then banish it. This allows players to turn their Insight into extra resources during their turn. There is also a lot of fun counter-play that Phantasm presents players, by giving them access to deny a card that one of their opponents might desperately want, without having to clog your own deck with a card that doesn’t synergize well with your strategy.

 
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Wow! That is a lot for you all to do with your Insight. We wanted to conclude our time with Insight and in the Dreamscape with a bang, so we made sure to load the set up with a lot of new space to explore. So much, that we felt that we needed to give players access to even more Insight than usual.

In Deliverance, players start the game with an 11th starting card, the Dreamseeker. This starting card does a great job of making sure that everyone can get enough Insight to access all these new and exciting cards.

It has been a blast getting to lead design Deliverance (as well as Delirium) and I hope you all enjoy these expansions individually, paired together and paired with Dreamscape. It is our current plan to continue forward with each year of Ascension expansion having two large sets that are designed to be played together. Let us know what you think about that!

Until next time, happy Dreaming!

-Gary Arant

Shards of Infinity: Score Tracker

For those of you who want a big score tracker that you can call up on your phone, Computer or tablet check this out:

One-hundred years ago, The Infinity Engine was shattered. Its reality-bending shards have destroyed most of the world. You and a few others know how to wield the power of the shards. The one who unites them all will become a living god. It’s up to you to gather forces, defeat your adversaries, and rebuild The Infinity Engine. Will you survive?

From the creators of the award-winning Ascension deck-building game, Shards of Infinity combines an unprecedented level of strategy and customization into one small box. Win by either mastering the power of the Infinity Shard or by destroying all who oppose you.

  • Build your armies by recruiting allies and champions from four unique factions.

  • Launch surprise attacks on your foes by instantly deploying mercenaries.

  • Unlock limitless power by mastering the Shards of Infinity!

Ascension: Emri, The Unclean

Emri sharpened her swords for the third time today. The scrape, scrape, scrape of stone across the blade was pointless as they were composed of metal so rare that it had no name. They wouldn't get any sharper, and they would never dull. The strokes were ritual, a habit instilled in Emri from millennia ago before she was The Soulslayer, The Unmaker, and most recently: The Demonsbane. It was something to do while she and her sister were stuck in the mountains waiting out a storm that seemed to go on forever.

A few weeks ago, Emri was relaxing in the Void Capital, Nihila, meditating, bathing, drinking, and training. Then some Timestream Seer started ranting about a vision she'd had. The Void Council looked into it and found evidence that a particularly powerful individual was mucking up reality. Now Emri was on top of a mountain, in the middle of a blizzard, looking for some mad god, who was taking his damn time to show up, and -Five Hells- she hated the cold.

The two were camped by a cave high up in the Banshee Mountains, a range of narrow black stone spires, with deep lightning shaped cracks in the sides. In the winter, when they filled with snow, the cracks looked like scraggly white hair. The harsh winds that blew through the range created a never-ending howl, which gave the mountains their name. Today, however, the cry of the mountains was joined by three other sounds: Thoom! Thud! Rumble!

Emri's sister, Zinta, the famous Spike Vixen of the south, drew her spikes from a pair of black gauntlets, that were both portals to the Void. Zinta would reach into the void with her fingertips, slide out daggers of hardened energy, and hurl them from the brink of the cliff.

Thoom! The glowing violet darts rocketed across the chasm. Thud! The spike split the stone of the distant spire. Rumble! The mountain shook, and a wave of snow crashed down. Four avalanches and counting, that was the game. Just something to pass the time.

"I hate these mountains," Emri said.

The snow was now flying horizontally across the sky as the blizzard worsened. The wind screamed, a high-pitched and unending howl. Frost clung to the edges of Emri's helmet, and the frozen air began to sting. "Sister," Emri called out, "Get inside, we've got another night here before the storm clears."

Thoom! Thud! Rumble!

"Let's go," Emri shouted, leaving her sister to follow. Emri had chosen this cliff because it had a large cave where they could camp. The flames of the small fire she'd made inside the cave were dwindling. Emri crouched beside the fire and threw on another piece of semi-dried wood. A weak crackle and a few more flames sprung up. A cold wind blew through the cave, sending a chill down her back.

Zinta stepped into the cave and took a seat beside Emri. She wiggled her fingers close to the flames.

Emri held out her blades and rolled them over in her hands. Flickering light reflected off the rare metal. She took a pursed her lips considering the weapons.

"Something on your mind?"

"Yeah," Emri said. "Why do you think they call these "Emri's Sting?"

"Who knows why they do anything?"

"It just seems underwhelming," Emri said. "A sting suggests that they're an annoyance. The last demon I stung with one of them had his guts pulled out right in front of his weeping mother."

Zinta smiled and nodded, lost in the memory for a moment, then she shrugged, "I don't know. Why do you care?"

"Just thinking about all the names they'd given us over the years."

Zinta stood. "They like names," she drew three glowing spikes from her gauntlet, tossed them up one after another and began to juggle. "They're only human."

"I like 'em too." Emri said, "Well, some of them. They're a reminder of what we've done over the-"

The mountain shook and bits of rock fell from the ceiling. Zinta dropped her spikes and steadied herself, hands out wide.

A look of frustration on Emri's face, as the rumbling continued, and she turned her eyes to Zinta. "I told you not to play avalanche," Emri growled. Then a wave of white powder crashed down over the mouth of the cave. Snow billowed toward the sisters, nearly snuffing out the flames, and the grey sky disappeared as the entrance filled with snow, trapping them inside. The trembling slowed, then stopped.

Emri stuck her blade into the stone, "Now we're going to be digging ourselves out of here all night!"

Zinta threw up her hands, "Calm down, sister? At least we can get some sleep without having to hear the howling of those winds."

"I don't like being slowed down."

"Slowed down?" Zinta said. "We don't even know who we're after. This whole task feels like wasted time. It's been four days and the only dangerous creature I've seen in these mountains is you," she snorted. "I feel like the Council sent us here to get us out of their hair for a while. They don't like having you around, you're too powerful, it makes them nervous."

Emri shook her head.

"What?" Zinta asked.

"Nothing."

Zinta stepped close to Emri, getting right in her face. "What aren't you telling me? Do you know who we're after?"

Emri slid her swords into their sheaths, stepped around her sister and sat by the fire.

"Huh! You do know," Zinta gasped. "Why haven't you told me? Is it the Lifebound?"

"No." Emri huffed, "You think I'd freeze my ass off for some tree-hugging little Vineweaver?"

"Who is it?"

"A monk."

Zinta's eyes narrowed. "Which monk?"

"Just a monk."

"Which. Monk?" Zinta bit off each word.

Emri poked the fire with a stick, "Adayu," she said.

Zinta's face went pale. "As in the god, Adayu?"

Emri nodded.

For a moment, Zinta just stood there wrapping her mind around what she'd just heard. Then she pulled three spikes from her bracers, "I'm done," she said. "I'm going home." She hurled a spike at the pile of snow covering the entrance. The spike ripped open a fist-sized hole, continuing out into the mountain range beyond. She turned to Emri shaking a spike like a finger at her, "You're a madwoman, and you lied to me."

"This is why I didn't tell you."

Zinta launched another spike, made another hole. Once again, the mountain rumbled.

"Five hells!" Zinta hissed, she turned to Emri. "I don't think you're grasping the reality of this situation."

Emri folded her arms, "Of course I am."

"No, you're not. There is literally no reality to this situation. Why did you say yes to this?"

"We've never killed a god before."

The cave rumbled again. Rocks fell, Emri nearly toppled over, catching herself on the wall. A moment later it was over.

Zinta locked eyes with her sister, "I like living, Emri. I don't want to be ripped apart or blinked out of existence or transmuted into something else, or any of the other infinite horrible things Adayu could do to us."

"Think of it, sister," Emri said. "We've wounded them, crippled them even, but we've never killed one. I figure it can be done and that's actually worth the name."

"We don't even know if he can die."

"Everything dies. Plus, if the Council read the Seer's prophecy right, then he's losing his mind. Sounds like the perfect time to spill some god blood." Emri said, clenching her fist. Emri closed the space between them. "Sister, when they write our names in history they will know us as Emri and Zinta, The Godkillers!"

Then something hit the wall behind them, and the stone wall cracked. It began to distend in their direction, the cracks widened and white smoke began to billow out from the splintering wall. The stone glowed red like coals in a forge. The heat appeared in spots at first, but then it began to spread until the cave was illuminated in an orange-yellow glow.

"Something's hitting it from the other side!" Zinta shouted, and the two stepped back.

There was another crash against the wall, and chunks of smoldering rock crumbled away. The two watched as something long, metallic pierced the wall, then retracted.

"What is it?" Zinta asked, but Emri didn't respond, she kept her eyes focused on the wall, and snapped her facemask shut.

The blade pierced the wall again. It pressed all the way through, twice the length of a human arm, curved like a scimitar and red hot. The thing shook from right to left, ripping open a massive hole in the side of the cave. Dust and smoke filled the room, as red-hot crumbling wall rolled toward them.

"Adayu." Zinta's words echoed through the cave. "Was that a sword?"

A loud roar and a beast pushed its way through the gap, dust, and smoke swirling around the hulking creature.

"No," Emri said, "It was a horn."

Zinta stepped close enough to see the beast. It looked like a bronze statue in the light from the glowing coals scattered around the cave. The monster's flesh was covered in plate upon plate of bronze colored metal. It was like some terrible wizard had stitched together army's worth of shields. The monster stomped its feet and the cave shook. It swung its huge, featureless head back and forth. Zinta couldn't see a mouth or nose, not a single eye was visible. The burrower just stood there waving its red hot horn at the two of them. Orange magma dripped from some somewhere beneath the layers metal like drool.

Emri drew her swords and channeled the Void. Dark energy flowed through her veins as she allowed her consciousness to fall into oblivion. The void dripped like sweat from her pores. A purple-black liquid light flowed in lines down her flesh. It coalesced along her arms, legs and abdomen, coating her body in a viscous armor. She leaped forward, toward the monster, and with each step, the armor rippled.

The burrower dipped his head, the edge of its horn came dangerously close, and Emri twisted to one side at the last minute and slashed down across its armored head. Sparks flew as Emri's blade found nothing to bite into. The cave filled with the screech of metal on metal.

The monster twisted its whole body in one quick turn, batting Emri with the side of its horn, launching her into the wall. Her swords clattered across the floor. The viscous armor sizzled from the heat of the horn. This beast might be big, but it wasn't slow.

Emri looked up, saw her sister climbing the wall behind the monster. The void was cloaking her like a shadow, and she whipped her spikes down at the beast. They harmlessly danced across its metal body.

The beast snarled, raising its head to face Zinta clinging to the wall above it. Then it unhinged a jaw, hidden under armored plates and coughed up vomit of boiling magma.

Zinta dropped to the ground, rolled out of the way, the beast turned with her.

Emri was back on her feet, and behind the borrower. There were a few spots where the beast looked soft, places where its metal hide grew out from the flesh beneath.

Emri snatched up her blades and leaped through the air, a boost of void energy gave her incredible speed, she came down stabbing her swords, right between the plates. The monster roared, and magma sprayed all along the wall.

"Got you!" Emri cackled, beating the blade down with her fist, like a spike into the ground. The burrower screamed, twisting about, and coughing up more magma. The cave was heating up, snow melting, turning to hot steam.

"Hold on sister!"

The beast was kicking like a bull, shaking Emri's frame like a rag doll. Its heavy stomps sounded like thunder and Emri held on tight as the monster tried to crush her against the wall, slamming its side into the stone over and over again.

Zinta circled the burrower looking for a way to help her sister, but the bucking monster moved too fast and too erratically for an attack. She didn't want to risk hitting Emri with one of her spikes.

Emri tried pulling her body onto the burrower's back but the beast kicked, nearly throwing her off. "Help me..." the beast bucked "...kill this thing..." bucked again "...now!"

Zinta threw up her hands in frustration, "How?"

"I'm going to open this wound..." It bucked again, "You're going to stick your arm inside."

Zinta moved back and forth with the monster as it bucked and turned. She drew a few spikes and tossed them at the monster's feet, tripping it up. The monster stumbled forward.

Emri laughed, and drove the twin sword into the wound. She wrenched it open and black blood poured out of the wound, thick as oil and hot as hell. Its armor began to crumble exposing a large gory target. "Now," she said, and leaned back, giving her sister room.

Zinta launched herself forward, violet energy bled from her gauntlets, coating her fist and arm. She closed her eyes at the last minute and drove her hand deep into the wound. The burrower howled and bucked. Zinta was stuck in the thing, being rattled back and forth, void energy the only thing keeping her from breaking part.

"Spikes," Emri roared. "Spikes!"

The back of the monster exploded, purple spikes of energy flew in every direction, along with shrapnel of bone and metal and meat.

The burrower's screaming shifted turned into a gurgle, the beast's collapsed armor scraping against the stone floor.

Emri wheezed, felt the Void quiver under her skin.

Zinta had been knocked into a nearby wall, a plate of the monster's armor had shielded her from most of the gore, except for her dripping arm she wasn't in bad shape.

Emri, on the other hand, was laid out on a pile of steaming gore. She sat up, shoved a pile of monstrous guts to the side. It slopped to the ground. Emri lifted herself up and black ichor dripped down from her to the ground.

Zinta let out a burst of laughter, then quickly silenced herself.

"What," Emri grunted.

"We better find Adayu soon. Otherwise-"

"Otherwise, what?" Emri whipped a long trail of gore from her arm, turned and raised a brow to her sister.

"Oh, you know." Zinta paused, "Your next name will be Emri, the Unclean!"

Emri whipped gore at her sister. Zinta deftly stepped out of the way and continued to laugh.

"I hate these mountains," Emri mumbled, then she sat down and pulled out her whetstone.


Shards of Infinity: A New Order

Ages ago, there existed an order of monks, and for a time, they were devoted to peace and tranquillity.

That was, until a foreign monk, from the lands beyond the mountains, arrived at the temple. She brought to The Order knowledge of an unexplored spiritual plane. It was not the astral plane, nor was it the realm of the dead, for the monks knew these places well.

Instead, she showed them a plane of information, a spiritual web where all of humanity’s knowledge could be accessed; a fledgling plane, a by-product of the Datasphere.

While the rest of the world could access digital information via computers. The Monks of The Order learned to manifest themselves inside this new environment as techno-spiritual avatars.

As monks devoted themselves to this new realm, their daily search for inner peace and tranquillity was abandoned for a ravenous consumption of information. As they pushed themselves past the threshold of human knowledge, into realms unknown. This new path shattered the mind, ruined the body, and broke the spirit. To survive this journey the human body and the human mind would need to be improved.

The Order began to modify themselves for the journey. Many of the monks installed circuits and processors to decode and sort new and complex information.They rewired their nervous systems to optimize physical energy use so they could last for months without food, water, or sleep. They implanted ports to connect with computers to store information in electro-spiritual clouds. Physical purity was lost to electronic corruption.

It was this insatiable search for knowledge, that led them to The Infinity Engine: a swirling mass of cosmic energies around which our reality spun. The engine was limitless power incarnate. From it emanated everything and nothing. It was the beginning and the end of all knowledge and it was this discovery that led to the Catastrophe.

The sky cracked open and a crystalline rain of reality-bending shards pierced the planet’s crust. The precursor cities collapsed, one after another, as a thousand forms of apocalypse ground civilization to dust.

The survivors of the catastrophe were scattered and broken. The world was full of new and terrifying creatures, changed by the shards that now littered the world. It seemed that everything they once knew had been replaced with some nightmarish version of itself. For years, the survivors had to fend for themselves, gathering into tribes and fighting over what resources they could still trust.

The Order survived and continued their relentless hunt for knowledge. But their eyes were now set on the shards. They believed that if they could master the shards, they could one day rebuild and control the Infinity Engine. Controlling the shards meant experimentation.

The Order began sending monks out to capture men, women, and children from the ruins of the precursor cities. The local tribes fought back, but they were no match for a monastic order of organized, trained, technologically enhanced warrior monks. It wasn’t long before they fell under the Order’s shadow.

Time passed. The monks discovered that the shards reacted strongly to certain people. Adults who came into prolonged contact with the shards would quickly lose their minds, die from exposure, or, in the worst cases, mutate into biologically impossible creatures. Children, however, were a different matter.

A child’s mind is more open to possibilities and less constrained by their perceptions of reality, and so the shards affected them less. Children survived longer- weeks, even months. Many developed new abilities or could access knowledge far beyond what the monks understood, but in the end, the power destroyed them. It seemed that humans were incapable of surviving the shard’s energies.

Tetra: a name that will never be forgotten.

She was a sacrifice from a local Undergrowth tribe. This tribe believed the monks to be unearthly creatures and brought children as sacrifices in return for blessings. The monks shared knowledge of farming and engineering with the people as a reward for continued worship. Anything for more test subjects. Anything for knowledge.

Tetra screamed out as the monks pressed shards into her flesh. The crystals began to vibrate, working their way under her skin. When the ritual was complete, Tetra felt alive in a way she had never known.

The eldest monks taught her their monastic traditions. Tetra simply observed and repeated, learning the ways of The Order in little time. It seemed that Tetra could integrate new ideas and movements into her body with little effort. As her skills grew, the light of the shards shone brighter, but her emotion seemed to drain.

Without a single implant or upgrade, it took her only a few years to master what had taken, even the most gifted of monks, a lifetime. Tetra delved into forbidden realms of thought and eventually discovered, for herself, the truth behind the shattered Infinity Engine.

Repeatedly, she told the elders that they had only scratched the surface of what the Shards of Infinity offered – and now, she needed to be upgraded.

Fearing a second catastrophe, they denied her the components necessary to achieve her goal. Tetra tried to bargain with the elders, offering them access to abilities and knowledge she’d gained from the engine. She made incredible claims: strength, speed, even immortality. Once again, the monks denied her, but word of her claims spread through The Order like a plague.

Day by day, the younger monks rallied behind her, and in secret, she trained her new disciples. It was becoming more and more obvious the power she had within The Order, and the Elders decided that if Tetra could not be controlled, then she must be destroyed.

Tetra and her new disciples fled the temple. The Elders sent their warriors to hunt them down, scouring the land for the heretical monks.

With their newfound powers, Tetra kept them moving. They collected shards, delved into the information plane, and discovered the secrets of the post-catastrophe world.

Nine years later, Tetra returned to the Temple. Tetra had molded her disciples into flawless warriors: cold, disciplined, and merciless. The monks marched into the temple and unleashed unfathomable violence upon their predecessors, carving through the ancient monks in a matter of moments.

Thus, Tetra claimed The Order for herself, and once again, set upon her quest to rebuild and control the Infinity Engine.

Shards of Infinity: Rizen

Decima was the last of her kind.

Cruelly referred to as “Cogs” by their city dwelling superiors above, Decima and her people kept the cities functioning, a slave class of mechanics, engineers, builders, and technicians.

When rumors of the cataclysm seeped into their realm her people rejoiced: Freedom and an end to a Millenia in chains was worth any price.

The shards that rained down from the sky pierced steel, concrete, and stone. They split the precursor cities and broke through into the realm below. Decima looked up, holding her family, and watched as the world cracked open and The Great Collapse began.

Decima woke, buried beneath a mile of rubble. She tried to move but found her legs were numb. She reached for her family, her panicked hands searching in the dark for life. She found sticky wet cloth and steel protruding from their flesh.

Decima reeled back and felt a shock of pain, from something lodged in her back. She reached for it and slid her fingers along the smooth surface of a crystal. It had severed her spine and pinned her to the stone wall. Paralyzed and alone, she wept quietly in the dark and waited to die.

But even death, it seemed, she could not find her in that dark place.

Time passed, and Decima could feel the crystal changing. Ripples of pain ran through her body, waking her up from periodic dips into unconsciousness. The shard grew, it crept up her spine, pressing itself between vertebrae. She cried out until her throat was sore, but only the dead heard her pleas.

Days, months, maybe years later, Decima opened her eyes. Suddenly, everything was visible to her: the stones, the rafters, the columns — the bodies.

Her husband, her child, both decayed beside her. Instinctively, she jerked back and the rubble shifted. A jolt of pain down both her legs. She managed, somehow, to pull them out from under the rubble. She pressed her hands against the wall and pushed. The debris shook, her fingers dug into the stone, and she dragged herself free. The shard glowed, illuminating the tomb that imprisoned her…

“Escape,” Decima thought, and in an instant,  her mind

Her path was clear; it was like a template layered over her thoughts. She knew which pieces of debris to move, which steps to take. There had been a change, a new strength, not just physically, but mentally. The shard gave her a path to the surface.

So, Decima climbed, shifting stone and steel, hammering through debris with her bare hands. She dug her way out of the would-be grave.

The surface glittered with colorful fragments of crystal. The precursor city she lived beneath was now a vine and grass-covered mound. How long had she been down there? Decima wept at the beauty of this new world and, for the first time, she collapsed into the grass and fell asleep in the sunlight.

The shard spoke to her again: its power was waning. Healing her body, giving her the strength to climb to the world above, had taken a toll. If she wanted to survive, she needed to rebuild herself. It could show her how.

Decima collected tools and materials from the ruins of the precursor cities. With the shard’s guidance, she began her first modifications: drilling into bone, weaving wire through muscle, sewing circuits under skin – with this new body made of flesh and steel, Decima could find others, survivors like her.

It would not be easy. The world was full of new challenges: strange fortresses of reflective glass that hummed with black energy, a New-Wild of full of monstrous creatures, and a mysterious order of monks that seemed to follow her from the shadows. Each question she had, the shard answered with a modification.

It took time, but she found others like her, more Cogs, who’d escaped the dust and debris of the other cities.She gathered them into several tribes and passed on her knowledge of circuits and steel and rebuild them stronger so that they too could survive in the harsh new world.

Decima and her allies fought with the creatures of the earth, the monks, the Wraethe. Growing stronger with each day. Together they carved a new home into the world, built new cities, more advanced than any the world had seen before. Even lifted those cities into the sky, they’d never be imprisoned again.

These people of flesh and steel were human once, but now they are more. Designed by their own hands, to supplant Homo sapiens, they are Homo Deus.

Decima is the first of her kind.

Ascension: Shattered

Zora Tonné woke up screaming. She thrashed around, tangled in blankets. It felt like someone had split her head with an ax, mind broken open, visions pouring out into the room: sadistic giants, wailing spirits, and blood-hungry demons. She’d been slipping into the timestream for years, but over the past few months, what were once exhausting visions, had become destructive episodes.

Muscles twitched, and tendons strained as Zora began to convulse. She reached out for the bed frame. The uneven legs pounded into the floorboards. “Enough,” she moaned and dug her nails deep into the wood.

“Enough. That’s enough!” The whole room was shaking. The window rattled, and she watched with one open eye as the latch that held it from swinging open loosened. “No,” Zora shouted, but the window slid free, and she closed eyes tight, waiting for the sound of broken glass.

But the sound never came, and in an instant, the vision was over. Just the sharp creak of a rusty hinge and Zora’s own heavy breaths.

For a while, Zora laid there in bed, throat dried out and nauseous from dehydration. She stared at the window and breathed a sigh of relief that she wouldn’t have to replace it again. Hopefully, not tonight, at least.

Thirsty, she reached out toward a small table where a water jug sat; finely decorated and out of place in her little home. A gift from her son, the great war hero. The black clay jug was inlaid with gold and depicted the four factions of Vigil underneath a rain of crystals; fragments of a long forgotten god’s prison.

The day the shards came down was the day Zora had her first vision: she watched her son dragged to his death on Azerax’s Hook, killed for a handful of those awful black shards. Ever the skeptic, she failed to warn him, and the jug remained a harsh reminder of the reality of her divinations.

Zora put the spout to her lips and drank in huge gulps, water trickling down her cheek. Stopped to breathe, and swallowed again. The thirst was gone, but her head still ached. She placed the jug on the floor, closed her eyes and pressed her hands to her temples, a futile attempt to squeeze the pain out.

A sudden flash of light and she fell forward, hit the ground hard, and tumbled into the wall. The window swung open, she reached up, almost instinctively, and caught it before it smashed against the frame.

The jug was tipped over, water pooling up by the rim, and dripping down between floorboards. Zora stared into the pooling water. Bubbles started to form in the liquid, and a moment later it was boiling, evaporating into steam, filling the room.

Visions appeared all around her in the mist, this time much more clearly than before. Not a blurred hallucination or a murky scene in a puddle of water, this was something more precise, more vivid. She felt as though she was somewhere else, not seeing the future, but experiencing the present from a timeless place.

A dark-skinned monk in a red robe hovered in the center of a barren marble room. Golden ribbons of cloth spiraled around him like the rings of a planet. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be meditating.

“Who are you?” Zora asked.

“I am…” the monk whispered. “I am…” He paused, and He furrowed his brow. Contemplating the question, not quite able to find the answer.

“Why am I here?”

“I brought you-” He stopped, the room fell silent. The monk twisted his head, cracked the bones in his neck, and started again: “I wanted-”

His eyes burst open. White fire burned from underneath his eyelids. “ I…am.” The monk bit off the words.

Zora screamed, turned to run, but behind here there was only empty space. Nowhere to run.

There was a crack of thunder, and the monk’s head began to split open along the crown of his skull, blinding white light beamed out. He pressed his hand on the crack as if to hold in the energy.

The monk was repeating his words, “I-am-I-am-I-am-I-am-,” mumbling like a madman. All the energies of the universe spiraled around him, and Zora could feel an unfathomable power reaching out. The monk was something more, not a man, but a god.

“No more,” she cried.

In an instant, they were face to face. He was gripping Zora’s shoulders. She could feel the fire from his eyes, burning her skin. “You must…,” he hissed.

“Let me go, it burns, let me go.” She was sobbing now, trying to rip his hands off her shoulders, but they were heavy as the mountains.

“You must…get help.” Void energy, thick as blood, poured out of his mouth, dripped onto the ground.

“Please,” she begged. “Let me go.”

A thousand voices filled the room, “We will all die!” A chorus of madness. “You will see.”

Visions appeared all around her: clockwork forests billowing smoke, liquid energy from the void pulsing through human veins, organic metals growing from the ground and cultivated by mechanized druids. The realms unraveling and then blending together, technologies merging, Vigil turned upside down and shaken like some mad alchemists brew.

The monk lifted her off the ground, “I will unmake us all,” he hissed. Then hurled her into her room. Zora skidded across the floor, hit her head hard on the corner of the bed. The last thing she saw before she passed out was the moon’s shining light through the unbroken window.

Zora woke up to the sound of rain. She dragged herself to her feet and looked out into the distance, droplets of rain rattled against the window. The world had a new glow to it, the forest outside her home seemed distorted, the birds slightly misshapen. A result of hitting her head or was the world truly different?

She inhaled deeply, and in the back of her head: a voice. Her lips parted, and she said a word. A name. His name.

“Adayu.”

And the window shattered.

George Rockwelllore