Merados Goldwind eyed the small pale skinned Asura with a calculating gaze. In the background muffled conversations droned, punctured by the tinkling of glassware. The Asura for his part ignored the large human and focused on shuffling a deck of cards in his tiny, but surprisingly dexterous hands. As he shuffled the deck he drew no small amount of attention from the other parishioners. Asura were not unheard of in Ascalon, but few if any Ascaloneans had actually seen one. Most news of the arrogant race came from stories told by Dwarven traders.
In person, Merados decided, the Asura were somewhat less impressive than the stories had led him to believe. The Apothecary, as this one call himself, was no taller than a six year old child, with an oblong head, floppy ears, gigantic yellow eyes and short limbs. He looked more like a child’s toy brought to life than the brilliant scientist he claimed to be.
The Apothecary paused and wiped a small hand across his brow. “Is it always so hot here?” he asked as he began to deal the cards into five piles.
Merados shrugged before leaning across the table to collect his cards as they were dealt. “Since the searing it tends to be rather warm.”
“Living in caves would serve your kind better than living out of tents,” The Apothecary gestured to the pub’s canvas walls.
“We don’t see in the dark as well as your kind Apothecary, nor do we fit as well into holes.” Merados replied as he inspected his cards.
The Apothecary smirked, “Well nobody’s perfect.”
With a snort Merados laid his cards face down on the table and met the Apothecary’s gaze, “I hear you’re an expert in traveling through the mists.”
The Apothecary’s smile showed rows of tiny pointed teeth and his ears perked up sticking straight out. “As much as anyone with meat for a brain can understand the complexities of traversing the super-quadradimensional construct that is the mists,” he replied.
“Super-quadradimensional?” Merados asked rubbing thoughtfully at his pale proto-mustache.
The Apothecary shrugged, “I doubt someone of your few years could understand the nature of trans-dimensional systems.”
“Try me,” Merados replied, “I’m assuming that quadradimensional relates to the natural state of three-space that we exist in.”
“Three-space?” The Asura chuckled, “you humans come up with the oddest terms, but yes put simply quadradimensional relates to the four traversable dimensions in the material realm; vertical, parallel, perpendicular and when. Super-quadradimensional relates the fact that there are more than four dimensions which can be traversed in the mists.”
“Wait,” Merados interrupted, “When is a dimension? You’re suggesting that time is nonlinear?”
The Apothecary paused his brow knit, “for the purposes of this discussion assume that time tends towards linearity. There are localized examples of time acting nonlinearly, but those situations are almost always induced by an external force. What I mean by time being a dimension is that it can theoretically be traversed in any direction, though it would be highly dangerous to do so. Mortals such as ourselves are sadly relegated to traveling the dimension of time in a single direction. The limited nature of our ability to move through four dimensions compounds the difficulty of traveling through the mists.”
While the Asura was speaking the tent’s front flap opened letting in an uncomfortably warm breeze. The wind was howling and thick clouds of dust could be seen swirling beyond the door. A short pale man in orange and black robes entered. He paused to hold the flap open for a horrific amalgam of bone and flesh that was following him. Few of the patrons paid the bone horror any mind. Since the Searing most citizens of Ascalon kept themselves well armed at all times, grimly vigilant against Charr attacks. A necromancer’s minion simply represented another body between them and a Charr’s arrow. Merados waved at the necromancer who replied with a nod and followed his minion to the table.
When he arrived the necromancer pulled a chair out and stood behind it while his minion seated itself. This close to the minion The Apothecary could smell lilac perfume and he noted skittering green runes carved into the minion’s exposed bones. The Apothecary blinked in surprise, before turning a quizzical look at Merados.
“Apothecary, meet Shongaqu Staimoto,” Merados gestured to the necromancer, “Shongaqu, The Apothecary.”
The minion extended a mangled appendage towards The Apothecary who accepted the odd handshake with a mixture of disgust and growing curiosity. “It’s Kaylah’s and my pleasure to meet you,” Shongaqu said. “I’m getting some ale for the wife and myself, would you like any?”
“I’ll take a hunter’s ale, aged if possible.” Merados replied.
“Whatever he’s having is fine for me as well,” The Apothecary said, absently gesturing at Merados as he inspected the green runes coating the bone horror’s clawed fingers. He pulled the arm closer prodding at the green runes with a long cylindrical device he had pulled from inside his jacket.
As Shongaqu walked towards the bar the minion pulled it appendage back slowly, but with enough force to drag The Apothecary, who was still enraptured by the runes, from his seat. For an awkward moment The Apothecary was dragged across the table knocking his piles of card in every direction. The buckles on his clothing rasping as they dug into the wood. The Apothecary let go halfway across the table and very calmly stood and bushed himself off before gathering up the displaced card. He returned to his seat and began reshuffling the deck.
“He’s rather insane isn’t he?” The Apothecary said, eyeing the minion unhappily.
Merados shrugged, “Seven years ago his wife and newborn daughter were murdered in front of him. Craziness is apparently his coping mechanism. ”
The Apothecary turned to regard Shongaqu with a thoughtful frown before shaking his head and turning back to Merados.
“You know, it isn’t healthy to let him wander around with a physical target for his delusions.” The Apothecary commented as he began dealing the cards a second time.
Merados grunted noncommittally as he gathered up his new set of cards. “Vrabin takes care of the crazy. I’m just here for the free drinks and the chance to solve problems with the liberal application of fire.”
The Apothecary shook his head before setting the deck of cards in the center of the table and picking up his hand.
“Now where was I?” he mused pulling thoughtfully at his right ear while looking over his cards. Apparently satisfied with his hand The Apothecary tossed four silver pieces onto the table.
“The inability of mortals to travel purposely through time and how that affects our ability to move through the mists.” Medaros offered helpfully. The young man countered The Apothecary’s bet with six silvers and trading in three of his cards for two new ones.
“Ah, yes,” The Apothecary nodded, “As I was saying, our inability to move with true freedom through the quadradimensional construct of Tyria greatly limits our options when attempting to traverse the mists. To gain any traction in the mists would require the precise application of magic on a scale greater than most beings of our crude matter could possibly channel without incinerating ourselves.”
The Apothecary paused before matching Merados’ bet and discarding a card, “I suppose the forgotten could channel the requisite energy, but they’ve never been all that helpful with my experiments.”
“The forgotten?” Merados asked.
The Apothecary replied with a dismissive wave and continued, “Since mortals cannot move through the mists directly we have to cheat. The most primitive method is tunneling through them. A skilled mage can exploit the creative nature of the mists and induce a manifestation of a wayfarer’s construct. A wayfarer’s construct is an indentation of a quadradimensional construct into the mists created by attuning two or more physical locations to the same mist-region. Most often the mist regions were related to some form of elemental plane. Air was especially popular if I recall correctly. These minor constructs while relatively simple to manifest only reduce distance traveled by a half to a third. Additionally wayfarer’s constructs are exceptionally vulnerable to intrusions by demonic entities making them extremely dangerous.
The Asuran colleges banned creation of wayfarer’s constructs a few centuries ago after a rash of demonic invasions in Quorra Sum. All the existing constructs were locked and the keys destroyed or placed under guard in the high college vaults. Faced with a transportation crisis the Auran Travel Minister redirected efforts towards developing a harmonic trans-conveyance system. The system was unreliable and required a great deal more power to induce a stable connection, but significantly reduced the probability of demonic incursions. That system was the main method of travel until-“
Medados held up a hand interrupting the Asura as Shongaqu returned from the bar carrying a pitcher of ale and three mugs. The pair had played several rounds of the card game, but the pile of coins in front of every player remained roughly equal. The Apothecary sighed in relief noting that Shongaqu had only enough mugs for the living at the table. Shongaqu apparently determined to defy logic placed the first mug in front of the minion and patted it on the back. The Apothecary accepted his drink with a grimace. The pitcher was for Merados. As Shongaqu was sitting down the minion made a swipe at its mug knocking it onto its lap. Shognaqu sighed and shook his head.
“It’s all right dear,” the necromancer said gently, “we can share mine.”
The minion’s arm swept out again this time aiming for Shongaqu’s mug. Before the mug could be sent flying someone reached out from behind Shongaqu and lifted it clear of the minion’s flailing appendage.
“What have I told you about bringing toys to the table Shongaqu?” Vrabin Alarick asked as he set the mug back on the table.
Shongaqu’s reply was a blank stare. Vrabin shook his head then reached out and tapped the minion. A spark of purple energy passed into the minion and a moment later it dissolved into black ash.
Another Asura appeared from behind Vrabin and she nodded appreciatively at Vrabin’s magic, “an elegant weave Mr. Alraick.”
Vrabin smiled, “Thank you Hexxa.”
With the minion dispelled Shongaqu’s expression shifted from slack jawed mad man to frowning intellectual so quickly that The Apothecary was worried his features might suffer whiplash.
Looking down at the pile of ash and ale Shongaqu scratched idly at his beard, “I suppose I was having another episode?”
“You could say that,” Merados replied as he set down the now empty pitcher.
Shongaqu frowned at the pile of ash, “You know how long it takes me to make one of those Vrabin. Did you really have to destroy it?”
“As long as you keep having delusions that your minions are your wife I’ll keep dispelling them,” Vrabin replied.
Shongaqu rose with a resigned sigh and motioned for Vrabin to take his seat, “I’ll go get something to clean up this mess and a chair for Hexxa.”
Vrabin leaned against the back of Shongaqu’s vacated chair. “So what did I miss?” he asked eyeing the cards.
“I was enlightening Mr. Goldwind about the various methods of facilitating travel through the mists. I also have discovered that he is a fairly component poly-shift player.” The Apothecary replied before taking a sip of ale.
“Buyin’s four silver,” Merados offered.
Hexxa clambered up on The Apothecary’s chair for a better view of the game. Vrabin dug four coins out of his vest pocket and tossed them onto the table as he sat down.
“What rules?” He asked as he collected his cards.
“Deldrimore,” The Apothecary answered with a rueful shake of his head, “it seems to be one only rule set you humans know for this game.”
Vrabin looked over his cards for a moment before asking if stones were good cards.
Merados rolled his eyes, “You taught me how to play Vrabin, don’t try and hustle everyone you meet.”
Vrabin laughed as he tossed a few more coins into the pot, “I’ll keep that in mind Merados.”
Merados grimaced before turning back to The Apothecary, “If you could elaborate on what harmonic trans-conveyance was. You glossed over it very briefly.”
The Apothecary nodded, “The key element to HaTCon-“
Merados snickered at the name inciting a cross glare from The Apothecary who continued “-is that echoes or harmonic constructs, H-Cons, of certain places and events naturally occur in the mists. By finding an H-Con of your origin and linking it to the H-Con of your destination you create a bridge across naturally occurring locations. The advantage of this is that H-Cons are inherently less interesting to demonic entities and therefore safer.
The primary disadvantage is H-Con rollover which causes the timeline of the H-con to reset. Since H-Cons are linked to events as well as locations, they can last anywhere from a few minutes to several years. Once the event runs its course the H-Con resets to its origin. While the H-Con is resetting itself any gates connected to that H-Con are disabled and then need to be recalibrated. As HaTCon technology improved it became possible to exploit several H-Cons at once significantly reducing down time. “
“So what sorts of events induce an echo?” Vrabin asked.
“Imagine each event is like a stone tossed into a still pond.” Hexxa replied. Some stones are bigger than others and their ripples are more prominent. Only major events such as battles or the birth of a great king or the death of a god will induce ripples of enough significance to be generally attuned to by gate crafters. Simultaneously a gate crafter could attune their portal to an event of personal significance though it is considered the height of narcissism to do so.”
“Which is why,” The Apothecary snickered, “about ninety percent of all Asura H-Cons relate to personal events.”
Hexxa giggled, “With advancements in technology most H-Cons remain open for the entertainment value. My personal favorite is the birth and exultation of Poggle Lurtt.”
The Apothecary let out a barking laugh before noticing that the humans were quite lost. “We’ll have to share that story with you some other time. Do you have any questions about H-Cons?’
“How many H-Cons are there for any given moment?” Merados asked.
“It varies,” Hexxa replied before producing a purple gem from her jacket and placing it on the table. When it had settled it produced a purple mid air display. Hexxa tapped at the magitech display bringing up a series of symbols that made as much sense to Merados as Grawl cave paintings.
Hexxa peered at the screen occasionally tapping at it, “For this moment there are-“
“A hundred and thirty seven” Shongaqu said as he set a stool and towel down in front of Vrabin. “Don’t look at me like that Vrabin,” he said looking behind Vrabin.
“I’m over here Shongaqu,” Vrabin said looking over at the short man with an arched eyebrow.
“Of course you are,” Shongaqu replied patting Vrabin on the shoulder.
Without another word Shongaqu returned to the bar leaving Vrabin to set up the stool for Hexxa. Vrabin tossed his hand intot he center of the table and began cleaning up the mess of ash and ale. While Vrabin worked Hexxa took a seat and resumed her calculations. Noticing it was taking his companion a few moments to calculate the number of harmonics The Apothecary glanced over at her display. “Remember to account for offset,” He suggested.
“I know Appo,” She replied with a snort, “I am fully capable of the math. Why don’t you continute telling our friends about mist travel?”
The Apothecary shrugged at Vrabin and Merados, “Eventually it was discovered that attuning two gates to a point-region of the mists allowed the gates to cut out interstitial constructs. This reduced travel time to almost zero and was nearly immune to demonic interests. The main difficulty is powering the gates. This was solved with the discovery of a massive latent energy field, over which we build our central transfer chamber.”
Vrabin, satisfied with his job cleaning took a seat, “You’ve referred to demonic entities several times,” He said, “What exactly-“
“A hundred and thirty seven,” Hexxa exclaimed just as Shongaqu returned bearing a mug of ale for Hexxa, a glass of whiskey for Vrabin and another pitcher for Merados.
“What?” The Apothecary asked.
“Shongaqu was right,” Hexxa replied,” There are a hundred and thirty seven harmonic constructs for this timeframe.
The Apothecary looked at Shongaqu with an expression of wide eyed excitement that he failed miserably to hide behind thoughtful frowning appraisal. “How did you do it?” He asked.
“Do what?” Shongaqu replied after taking a swig of his ale.
“How did you know how many H-Cons there were?” The Apothecary said.
Shongaqu pursed his lips and scratched his head. “It’s almost always one hundred and twenty, so I estimated the additional based on significant attenuation every fifteen harmonics,” He stated as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, before turning to look at Merados.
“Yes it’s relevant,” Shongaqu said crossly. Vrabin arched an eyebrow in surprise and Merados shrugged as his finished off his pitcher of ale.
The Apothecary stared at Hexxa’s display pulling both of his ears down and forward over his cheeks. “This bears further investigation I do believe.” He said to Hexxa who nodded in agreement.
Vrabin was about to repeat his question about demonic entities when the main flap of the tent burst open to admit a guardsman. The shout of “Charr raid” had barely left his lips before the tent erupted in a flurry of activity. Weapons were drawn; parents scooped up children and with organization born from grim practice the Ascaloneans began leaving the tent to face or flee the coming raiders. Vrabin was one of the first out the door al but leaping over the table with murder in his eyes. Shongaqu followed after staring sadly into his still nearly full mug.
The Apothecary looked at the upper corner of Hexxa’s display and bit back a curse, “I thought I told you to tell me when we had an hour remaining.”
“I didn’t know there was going to be a battle,” Hexxa snapped back.
“It’s an H-Con with Human and Charr what other kinds are there in this period?” The Apothecary cried as he quickly scooped up his cards and hopped off of the stool.
“You’re saying this is a harmonic construct?” Merados asked, alarmed.
“Of course and in twenty three minutes it will be resetting itself.” The Apothecary replied before extending his hand to Hexxa, “We need to go now!”
With Hexxa in tow The Apothecary rushed from the tent leaving the H-Con Merados to ponder his existence. Outside the battle had already been met. The city was a microcosm of chaos full of shouting, ringing steel and the bright lights of offensive and defensive magic exploding in all directions. The Apothecary dodged the swipe of a Charr’s sword by running between his legs. Hexxa tugged at his hand pulling back from accidentally running into a group of human soldiers desperately guarding a group of crying children.
Rounding a tent they found themselves facing a warband of Charr stuffing children into sacks. Before The Apothecary could stop her Hexxa pulled a scepter from her belt and pointed it at the biggest Charr. A moment later the Charr’s fur erupted in a cascade of purple sparks. The Apothecary snagged Hexxa’s arm and dragged her away. “It’s a blasted H-Con nothing you do here matters,” He shouted.
“I don’t like seeing children put in sacks,” Hexxa snapped back.
“And I don’t like being crushed by the tidal forces of the mists as they reset the H-Con or being torn abort by angry memories,” He countered as he threw a knife from his belt into the eye of a charging Charr warrior. Hexxa grabbed his hand and pulled him into the space between two tents. Emerging from the canvas alley they found themselves beyond the battle. The Apothecary blew a sigh of relief and the pair jogged to the top of a nearby hill.
“Time?” he gasped.
“Ten minutes,” she replied.
The Apothecary nodded and unhooked a green cylinder from his belt. He pointed it at a nearby rock and pressed one of the cylinder’s many buttons. A moment later an Asura sized door slid open in the side of the rock. Hexxa rushed through it immediately disappearing into the camouflaged mist-ship. The Apothecary took a step towards the ship then paused and rubbed the back of his neck. Glancing back towards Ascalon City he saw a human woman in a plain white dress walking barefoot across the rocky hillside towards him. Her long blond hair hung still despite the wind and she wore an almost Asuran expression of haughty intelligence.
The Apothecary crossed his arms as she approached, “We don’t give rides to hitchhikers, takes too long to get the ectoplasm out of the upholstery.”
The woman stopped walking and smiled. “I’m not here for a ride,” She said her voice echoed out of her mouth as if emerging from a long stone tunnel.
The Apothecary shuddered, “I don’t deal with the dead either, those who do often find themselves up past their ears in the blood of the living.”
The spirit’s smile grew stretching beyond the natural limits of a human face. She held out a hand and beckoned the Apothecary to approach her. Tugging at an ear The Apothecary crossed the distance between himself and the spirit with a sigh. When he stood immediately before her the spirit removed an obsidian necklace and held it out for the Asura. The necklace’s chain was a braid of think black hair and the pendant was of a leafless tree encircled by a six legged serpent that was eating the trees roots. The Apothecary recognized the iconography immediately and felt his mouth go dry.
“I’m flattered, but none of my outfits go with it.” The Asura said wryly.
The spirits laugher sounded like a death rasp, “It’s for my husband, little kshhk sshk.” The last words were static in The Apothecary’s ears and his heart skipped a beat, she knew his Name.
“You mean widower,” The Apothecary quipped hoping that the spirit didn’t notice how much she had shaken him. “Who’s the lucky man?”
The spirit didn’t reply but glanced back towards Ascalon city as the wind picked up to a howling gale. The Apothecary followed her gaze to the center of the fighting where Shongaqu was desperately trying to beat a Charr’s skull in with his staff. As if sensing their stares the necromancer looked up and blew a kiss to the spirit who touched her cheek in reply.
“Chaos and poor planning,” The Apothecary cursed as he held out a hand. “I’ll take it to him, but not today.”
“In your own time, kssshk hissshkkk,” the spirit replied before dropping the necklace into The Apothecary’s hand.
As he tucked the necklace away inside his vest The Apothecary turned back his mist-ship. Hexxa stood in the doorway waving wildly at him shouting something he couldn’t’ hear over the wind. He began to jog towards her, when he got close enough he heard her shouting a countdown. She was at twenty. The Apothecary ran.
Hexxa disappeared inside moments before The Apothecary flung himself through the door. The door hissed shut behind him leaving him lying on his back on the cold metal of the cockpit floor. Hexxa was seated at one of the cockpit’s two chairs her hands flying across the control panel. Most of the displays were flashing between red and purple text, a generally bad sign.
“Full dimensional dispersion in three seconds,” Hexxa shouted as she paused to strap herself in.
The Apothecary barely had time to cringe as the mist-ship bucked beneath him sending him vaulting into the air. He spun in midflight, or perhaps the ship did. The floor of the ship righted itself and The Apothecary came crashing back down on his face. For the next several minutes the ship bucked and rumbled as Hexxa worked to navigate out of the collapsing and reforming pockets of reality. An eternity later The Apothecary pushed himself unsteadily to his feet and dabbed gingerly at the corner of his mouth. His hand came away with only a few drops blood and the Apothecary put it out of his mind.
The Apothecary hobbled across the short distance to the cockpit’s two chairs and looked at the ship’s main screen. They were away, loose in the mists. He breathed a sigh of relief and settled into his chair before calling up a diagnostic screen. Most of the systems were intact, but in need of recalibration. He started automatic calibrations on several of the systems then turned to Hexxa, “It looks like the outer transitory gimbals need to be calibrated. Be a dear and take care of that?”
She glared at him, but turned and left the cockpit. The Apothecary watched her disappear down the ships central corridor before the door slid shut. Spinning around to face the main screen The Apothecary fished the amulet out of his coat and let it dangle from his fingers. A spirit who knew his name, a mad man that was consciously aware of his position in the mists and an amulet bearing the sigil of one of the six royal families of the outer underworld. A grim smile crept across his face and he tugged at his right ear with his free hand. “Chaos and poor planning,” he muttered as he entered coordinates for the forty eighth Tyrian locus. “Chaos and poor planning”.