Prologue: The Watcher
"Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception."
- Carl Edward Sagan
Red lights blared alongside the emergency sirens. Engineers in leather jackets and goggles frantically ran up and down the corridor as burst of steam shot out from the copper piping embedded in the walls. Coat wearing scientists stood at each of the valves, taking readings from the pressure meters, shouting out orders for the engineers to execute. The smell of rust was drastically enhanced by the spitting steam while the entire corridor further reeked with the stench of sweat from the working men.
A long, shining, silver pony-tailed hair trailed behind her. A sharp, golden eyed view on the front shining brighter than her tanned skin. The femme fatale, with her thigh high boots, short curving blue skirt, tight corset, and a leather jacket one size too small, walked with a wide, confidently swinging gait, not ducking when the steam pipes shot their hot vapour, nor blinking when the men around her shot her their wanting gazes.
"Lady Nora." A scientist ran up to her, brimming with nervous energy. "We weren't expecting you."
Nora Phemtelle, with a steady, monotonous voice, replied, "The Lord Light have requests of this matter to be resolved under his indirect supervision."
The scientists nodded, his ease evaporating, his shoulders tensing as his eyes widened and understood the magnitude of the situation.
Nora asked, "Where is Nadier?"
"The Wanderer? He's out on the Grassplains. We've sent word for him but even then, it will take him at least a day to reach us."
She clicked her tongue. "Walk with me," she ordered, and started forward, the nervous scientist following seven steps later. "What about The Long Arm? I was told they would be returning today."
The scientist struggled to keep up with her long stride and made sure to keep at least an arm's length away from her. "They are being held up by Adelaide Wiltkins at the southern gates," he told her. "They won't be in for another half-day."
Another tongue click. The pair turned another busy corner which led down a short hallway ending with a heavy steel door. "Damn that Demon Eyes," she said. "Always giving us trouble."
She stepped back, and like a servant, the meek scientist crossed forward. He heaved and turned the handwheel in her stead. With a loud clunk, the door swung inwards and opened. The scientist stepped aside and Nora passed him.
The portal lab was a wide, field-sized space, separated into two rooms by a large reinforced glass pane that had lines of copper wire running through the glass. The glass ran the entire 10-meter length and 20-meter height of the wall. Two pairs of scientists and engineers were working a control panel with knobs, levers, pressure gauges and valves. The control panel stretched from one end of the glass to the other but ending just short at an even larger and thicker steel door on the far right.
Nora stepped to the panel and the group stopped their work, turning their attention to her. She asked, "How long has he been in there?"
An engineer took off his goggles in graveness. "Almost a day now. We've sent the first guards in but they were nearly wiped out. Only three survivors." Beyond the glass pane, dozens of bodies were strewn across the next room, most congregated near the door in their futile attempts to escape. "If Lord Akaras isn't stopped soon, the portal will stabilize."
Nora asked, "And that's a bad thing?" At the end of the portal room, a mass of purple seither swirled around a clear, metallic bubble – housing the image of an upside-down swamp – a massive metal ring suspending it. Wires and pipes ran through the construct, sparking off arcs of electricity at sparse given moments. "Is that not what we have been trying to accomplish for the past decade? Stabilize the portal?"
The scientist who followed her in answered, "Yes, but Lord Akaras is forcing the matter. If it is done his way, there will be a feedback of seither that will level all of Everwind."
"Have you tried cutting off the power to the portal room?"
The engineer looked at the controls, as if it had cue cards for him to get through the conversation with her. "We have, but he has switched to grid it internally and is powering it himself. He's using his magic circuits to directly fuel the machine."
Nora set a finger to her chin and contemplated. To the scientist behind her, she ordered, "Get the Second Mage Platoon down here."
"But Lady Nora," the scientist said, "Lord Akaras is the strongest Spellblade in Everwind! The Second Mage Platoon will get slaughtered in there. We need The Lord Light or—"
She closed the gap between them in a blink. Her boots shot up towards his neck as she flexibly bent her body to do so. She notched the scientist's chin below her boot and pushed his head against the wall. With little effort, she angled and lifted the man off his feet as he held onto her for dear life. Despite the sensual pose and the sudden playful tone that gripped her voice, the room was caught up in fear.
"Are you asking The Lord Light to personally come down and clean up your mess?" she asked with a smile. The scientist, held in a grip tighter than her corset, could not even shake his head. She continued, "If the mage platoon can't even handle a dark elf with half his circuits used up, then they deserve to die, just like everyone who questions The Penultima Council." With that, her leg swung down towards the ground like a guillotine, smashing the scientist's head onto the floor.
The man laid there, blood flowing from his head and pooling along his corpse. Nora turned her attention to the nearest engineer who watched her, wide-eyed and shivering. With a tender smile, she asked, "Would you kindly get the Second Mage Platoon for me?"
The engineer nodded and sprinted out the room.
Akaras Spaedruiner watched the spectacle from the safety of his portal room. He shook his head, not in disappointment, but expectant. Nora always had a sadistic streak to her, one that he had detested. His onyx hair short, his skin dark as night, his overcoat black, the dark elf was almost a shadow in the room, his crimson eyes staring out like a demon lurking in the darkness. The long, sharp ears of his species picked up every single word uttered from beyond the glass. He welcomed the challenge of the Second Mage Platoon. They would prove an interesting break from the task at hand. If they could get here in time.
On the wall opposite him, a large, 2-meter high copper battery wheezed, the needle of the pressure gauge on it swinging into red.
Akaras opened his left palm towards it. A glow shone within his coat sleeve. Then, large arcs of electricity shot out from his hand to the battery. The wheezing stopped. The needle on the gauge slowly retreated back to the whites. He then pulled a lever on the wall closest to him, sending another surge of electricity into the machine.
"Almost there," he mumbled. He looked into the whirling mass of energy. Months of planning had led him to that point. Soon, he would have Everwind wiped from the continent of Eltar. "Escraeh Tae Lofs. Long live the dark elves."
From within the portal, he could faintly hear the voice of a man shouting, "Let's end this! Vashmir Commons!"
He turned away from the portal and before him stood a man. A human. Akaras looked on, stunned, having not heard the door opened or even sensed the man's presence. From beyond the glass, Nora and her group also looked on in shock, the appearance of the man a similar surprise to them.
From beneath his coat, Akaras pulled out a long barrelled pistol. The gun had a stock that doubled as a pressurized-steampack and a clip of nails loaded into the barrel. The handle and frame were decorated with bronze depictions of dragons, and the copper barrel shone brightly in the light. Though not as powerful as a black powder firearm, Akaras could supercharge the gun to fire paralysing nails as fast as any bullet.
"Who are you?" the Lord demanded.
The man wore a dark grey cotton coat over a steamed white shirt. His pants were black denim, but in a smooth and expertly tailored stitching he had never seen before. His cave-dark hair seemed to be magically held up, styled messily in a fashion that Akaras would define as a bird's nest. The man seemingly ignored Akaras's question and looked up to see the portal.
An excited glint formed in his eyes as he rushed past Akaras and towards the swirling phenomenon, pointing excitedly. "That's a portal! Man, have you caused us a load of problem on the other side." He turned to Akaras to say more. But seemingly noticing the dark elf for the first time, he instead blurted out, "Woah! You're a drow!"
At the comment, Akaras pulled the trigger. The nail blasted out of the barrel, enveloped and followed by an arching line of electricity. It hit its target.
The nail fell to the floor.
"Woah!" The man danced on the spot as the shock coursed through him, though not as potent as it should have been. "D-don't d-do that!"
But Akaras focused on the nail on the ground. An anti-physical shield only meant one thing. "You're a mage?"
However, he had never seen a shield as powerful as the one the man had. Most shields would collapse when even the slightest charge of magic was placed through them. However, the man's physical shield held strong, only letting the magic pass.
"W-well I-I-I-I don't know about-about–" The man paused, took a breath, and violently shook off the last of the shock. "–that. I am a Hymn though."
"A Hymn," he stated matter-of-factly. They stared at each other quizzically. Then, the man asked, "So... can you put down your gun?"
"What?" Akaras looked on in confused frustration. "Why would you make a beautiful plea? What does that even mean?"
"Ah!" The man snapped his fingers in understanding. "Cultural differences. Sorry."
"Who are you?" Akaras asked, intending to divert the conversation back to his control.
As if digging through his memory, the man slowly announced, "I...am...The Watcher!" he exclaimed his title excitedly. "Yes! That's the name I was told to use. I am The Watcher. I watch stuff." He blinked. "What? That makes no sense."
Akaras just stared at him before announcing, "You're insane."
"No I'm not!" The Watcher replied. "I got myself tested just last year. Eccentric, maybe, but not crazy." He then looked around the room. The gleam in his eyes as he took in the sight was like a child's who had just opened a present. He turned back to Akaras. "So... can you close the portal?"
Akaras punctuated, "No." Whoever this Watcher was, if he wanted to close the portal, he was an enemy.
"Is there anything you can do?" The Watcher threw his hands up, paused, pulled his hair and spun on his feet in a frustrated groan before settling on, "What about not shooting me with that thing again? It really stings."
The dark elf smiled slyly and slowly lowered his gun. "Sure." To his left hand, he sent a powerful charge of electricity. He caught the Watcher staring at his charged hand. His trick was exposed. No matter. Like a gunslinger, he brought his charged hand up towards The Watcher.
But The Watcher was quicker, raising his own hand in a signal to stop. Akaras remembered thinking that a stop signal would affect his electricity as much as a blade of grass would a stampeding army. However, he found himself flying across the field-sized room at the speed of a bullet. Before his brain could even properly register the event, he had skidded off the ceiling and smashed through the top of the 20-meter high reinforced glass, before finally having his body punched and embedded into the metal wall behind it.
Nora Phemtelle took a step back in fear as she watched the most powerful Spellblade in the land get thrown across the room as easily as a dart to a board. No. Easier than even that. It was a feat faster and more powerful than the shot of a bullet. She had not feared anything in over a decade. Now, she stood with teeth clenched, a twitch in a balled fists. Terrified.
A squad of the Second Mage Platoon rushed into the room and Nora halted them with the same hand signal The Watcher had used, but without the violent aftermath.
Shaking, trying to calm her voice and losing her playful tone, she pointed at the anomaly before them and demanded, "Bring that man in. Alive."
Without Akaras to power the battery, the portal machine powered down and the swirl of purple seither dispersed with a puff. The rooms fell silent.
The Watcher, now looking at his own hand in shock, questioned, "What have I done? What's happening to me?"
His questions echoed throughout the chamber.