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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: 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