The Fire Within

Abantey Date: 7/13/367 AL*

-J. Albers

Ash’s eyes flew open.

Something was wrong.

He had been ensconced within his dimly lit chambers, in a meditative trance processing the latest reports from his agents. The Spirit of the Tower – the spirit that dwelled within his body – had whispered a silent alarm into his mind: / Tower 20 / Many Hostiles / One Hundred Plus / More Incoming /

With a dark whirl of his cloak, Ash strode from his chambers to the Hall of Mirrors – the nerve center of the Tower. A cavernous room, every surface was covered in shadowy glass that did not reflect the room’s contents, but rather reflected many other things… moving landscapes of cities around the world, complex diagrams, streams of luminous runes and symbols.

Iraya, the Tower’s Logistics Officer, was already there. She peered with concern at one particular mirror. Ash focused his attention on her.

Report.

Over five hundred hybrids around Tower 20, sir. Appeared out of Amethyst. Didn’t see them coming. Must have been folded. Zone containment holding, for now.

Ash closed his eyes, leaving his body behind. He was now seeing as if he stood atop Tower 20 along the wall of the Tabur Hybrid Zone.

In the fading glow of the setting sun, flashes of light crackled around him. Below he could make out a sea of hybrids, large and small, some humanoid and some monstrous. The seething mass was clawing, biting, and flinging bolts of Amethyst-tinged energy against the wall. The Spirit intoned, emotionlessly: / They’re organized / Given purpose / The wall will not hold forever /

Ash opened his eyes back in the Hall of Mirrors. To Iraya: Prepare countermeasures. He then reached out with his mind to the other inhabitants of the Tower:

We are under attack. To your stations.

He could sense as each of his agents, almost in unison, wordlessly dropped what they were doing, arose from their beds, and hurried to gear up and grab their weapons. Ember’s mind reached out to him: I’ll deploy them, you focus on what must be done.

Iraya: Countermeasures ready, sir.

Ash: Very well, enga-

Suddenly, a lurching, twisting, rush of Amethyst energy engulfed him and everything around him. The mirrors in the hall flickered; sparks rained from the ceiling. The Spirit squirmed in agony.

Report.

Iraya, steadying herself against one of the mirrors, was clutching her head: Not sure sir, a quarter of our system is not responding. Including countermeasures. Attempting to discern source.

Ash paused, the Spirit – stolen from that old tinkerer, bent to my will – gave his magic strength that no mortal mage could hope to match. In seconds, Ash could reduce this entire hybrid force to fluttering wisps of Amethyst smoke. But what if it is a trap?… To draw me out as before? I will not be captured again. I will not lose Ember again.

In his mind, Ash ran through his long list of enemies. Os’Plajet? Too obvious. Os’Feesha? Lacks her personal touch. The Matriarch? Never hybrids. The Overfiend? Banished once again… only a few days ago.

Ash stopped himself. Ember had been listening to his thoughts. As Warden of the Hybrid Zone, he had a mandate to ensure the hybrids within remained contained. If this mysterious hybrid army broke through the wall, the countless number of hybrids imprisoned within would be released and overrun everything and everyone for hundreds of miles.

To Ember: Deploy our forces to corral all of the hybrids toward Tower 20. Hit and run tactics. Once they are all in one place, I will deal with them.

Ember: Consider it done, my love.

Ash: Be careful.

Seconds became minutes. Minutes became hours. The battle raged upon the plains at the edge of the Zone. With increasing frequency,  the rushing waves of Amethyst energy would return. The mirrors would turn to black. Sparks would fly. Iraya would collapse. The Spirit would thrash within him.

The Zone itself shook and rumbled. It was clear that these waves were not local to the Tower. They spread across the breadth of Amethyst.

Time was running out.

Ash’s face hardened. Nothing he nor Iraya did could fend off the effects of these chaotic, otherworldly gale winds.

Reluctantly, Ash reached out his mind to those whose sight stretched across Abantey… those who had plumbed the depths of Amethyst before Ash was even born. As arrogant and imperious as Lore’s disciples may be, now was not the time for his personal differences with them.

They responded haltingly, in discordant voices:

/Jane…// friends…/ Solomon… ///many thousands… coordinated attack/… enemy response… battle in Amethyst/… unprecedented surge…/ catastrophic… release imminent…/

Each thought seemed to be a monumental struggle for these Rogue spirits.

Ash only had the barest of moments to ponder the message; for at that very moment… something gave way.

What had been waves of Amethyst energy was now a torrential force – uncaring and unstoppable.

The Spirit within him writhed in pain, as it’s strength was ejected as untested power and raw heat. Ash gazed upon his hands: the skin was bubbling and cracking from the heat… like Vikranti’s in Os’Plajet’s arms…

… release…

Ash looked skyward as the Spirit burned and shrieked within his body. His grey eyes opened and beams of fiery plasma erupted forth, filling the Hall of Mirrors with blinding light.

With a wail, all of the mirrors shattered into thousands of shards – instantly melting under the heat to become a million little globules of molten metal.

The whirling conflagration consumed him entirely. His flesh became dust. His bones turned to cinders.

If only I could see Ember’s face… one… last… time…

If only I had more time…

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