Never question the motives of a desperate man, or the desperation of a motivated man, for that matter. If he was clearheaded enough to tell you, then he wouldnt be desperate, and if he was stupid enough to tell you, then he probably wasnt motivated enough.
SkyLink was the trans-regional monorail system for the main continent on Escillian. The shuttles were all propelled magnetically along the bone-white rails that were magically suspended above most major roads and inter-region highways. Like many of the things built by the elves, the shuttles had a very organic look to them, and it occurred to Duncan that they may have been the flying things that he had seen in his vision.
Hand placed casually over the butt of the Dreamblade, Duncan leaned his head against the light blue crystal window of the shuttle. Their luxury cabin was the size of a small bedroom, providing more than enough room for the two travelers to spread out. Tapping away furiously at her handheld computer, Kyrie bit her lower lip and gazed coldly at the device.
Can you find anything? Duncan asked her, opening his eyes briefly and raising a brow.
Yeah, Kyrie said. Its just hard because the information Im looking for is kind of classified. This White Tower is pretty serious at keeping people out of their electronic information databases.
Are you hacking the computers of the most dangerous group of elves in the Confederacy? he asked with amusement.
Duncan McKlane, with a computer in my hand, Im the most dangerous elf in the Confederacy, she said.
Pardon the error, he said. The second most dangerous group of elves in the Confederacy.
Then yes, she said, continuing to tap away. Because they apparently dont want people to find out who this guy is. Most of their personal files are pretty highly guarded, but I figured that thered at least be some publicized news regarding a geneticist of the level were talking about here.
Not if hes operating solely for the White Tower, Duncan said. Let me guess: youve found information on someone who was looking to be an extremely promising scientist until mention of him dropped completely off the face of the net, right?
No, Kyrie said. Not in the last five hundred years, anyway. I took the neural scan records of your vision and extracted the portrait of the elf that youre looking for. He matches up visually with this one scientist that was receiving a lot of accolades about eight hundred years ago, minus a few wrinkles, but again, nothing of note for the last five centuries.
Did he die and was it possible I was seeing the past? Duncan asked. Kyries fingers flailed away for a moment before she looked up and shook her head.
No information about his death is available.
Then hes been with them from the beginning Duncan mused.
Eight hundred years ago, Duncan said. Thats when the Order was founded. I bet hes been with them from the beginning.
Sounds like a good theory, Kyrie agreed.
Does our mystery man have a name? Duncan asked.
Ranagorn, she said. Ranagorn Illivian. Duncan recognized the name.
Ive heard of him, he said. I think Ive read several of his books, actually.
Hes an ethereal physicist, Kyrie said. He was heavily involved of developing the latest incarnation of the Sub-Ether Drives that the Dominion uses today. No mention of genetics in his accolades, though.
Eight hundred years is a long while, Kyrie. In a part of my life when I wasnt hunting Lavoids, I wrote over forty dissertations in well under that amount of time.
So he picked up genetics?
Genetics, but with a background in ethereal physics Duncan mused. I can see why if there was someone who could undo these limiters, it would be him.
Ethereal physics isnt taught much in the Dominion, outside of the Imperial Magic Academy on Nova, Kyrie said. It was the elves that pioneered the science, which might explain why you wouldnt be able to get the gene therapy done anywhere out of the Confederacy.
Well, maybe it cant even be done within the Confederacy, Duncan admitted. Well only know after we get to the Tower.
Duncan and Kyrie took the SkyLink out of Escillith and as far into the province of Saphery as it went. They were let out at a stop in a smaller town named Ryven, about four hundred miles from Escillith. If Kyrie was right, it was the westernmost town in the region, and the farthest to the White Tower that any form of public transport would take them.
According to elven lore, anyone seeking the White Tower would have to make the forty day walk into the western plains. Even then, only those worthy to reach the Tower would be allowed to past the magical barriers that were woven through the plains. Duncan was not elven, and he did not have the patience for a forty day walk or the time to be judged by magical barriers. Setting out from Ryven, Duncan and Kyrie took magical flight across the open expanse of grasslands that stood between them and the Tower.
They flew for several hours, Kyrie refusing to allow Duncan to provide any magical energy to speed her up to the pace he wanted to go.
Ill get there slower than you if you want to speed up, she told him as they streaked across the plain, moving about twenty feet above the ground. The grass stretched as far as a human eye could see, remarkably green and pure, all appearing to be cut to the same length by some unknown magical force. According to their maps, the Aurithia Ocean was further off to the west, as they now flew north towards the mountains of Halithath. Those mountains would be the backdrop to the White Tower.
Youre a horrible, stubborn woman, he told her. You dont even know if youd make it past the magical barriers without me.
Duncan, if you were in my shoes, would you let me speed you up? she asked with a grin. And besides, dont sell me so short; Im not so incompetent as to be unable to sort through a few barriers.
I dont sell you short at all, he told her. Its just that Ive been sensing those things for the last fifteen minutes and theyre no joke. Whoever said that the unworthy cant pass through may have been right.
Your powers are still strong enough to sense that far off? she asked.
Yeah, he said. Theyre still sort of there. Ive got no Chaos, he admitted. And therefore no Black Wings, but most of my other powers still seem to be functioning fine. My Order intake is pretty much were it was before, as is my sense of the Lifestream. Well see if that holds out in combat situations, though. I havent exactly had to push myself much these last few days. When moving to a more extreme level of usage, the lack of my Jurai Apparatuses might hurt. The only way to find out is to try it and see.
So why dont you race me? Kyrie said with a smile. I mean, you cant increase your wind flow without the Black Wings. Maybe I can keep up with you going full speed, anyway.
Are you challenging me, Kyrial? he asked, almost smiling himself. She never really liked being called by her full name and he knew this.
Dont run and hide, Dr. McKlane, she said, throwing out the name he preferred not to be called as well. She turned to look at him, gave him a sly wink, then took off like a rocket, showing off a magical index Duncan had never seen her reach before.
Impertinent elf, Duncan said, furrowing his brow and flexing his own ethereal muscles. With a bright flash, he reinforced the wind barrier around his body and blasted forward at speeds upwards of eight hundred miles an hour. Kyrie had taken off faster than he thought, however, and was surprised when he didnt catch her after a few moments.
Ahead in the distance, he could see the spike of the White Tower growing in the distance, a solitary needle piercing into the clouds. Wavering around it danced the ethereal barriers that he knew would be there. Flashing against that magical background was the trail that Kyrie was leaving, still ahead of him by a good distance. It was when Kyrie slammed headfirst into the foremost magical barrier that that her flare died away and the faint image of the elfs body falling to the ground gained his attention.
Kyrie hadnt even known what hit her. In an attempt to race Duncan, she had poured nearly every Tenser of energy she could muster into flying forward, forgetting that she needed to be scanning for the impending barriers. The first one just happened to be placed much farther away from the Tower than she had anticipated.
The barrier was one that stayed in the astral plane, and her physical body could have quite easily passed through it, save for the fact that most living species in the Multiverse dont have the ability to separate their physical form from their astral one. As a result, Kyries spirit went splat against the wall while her body was about to splat against the ground. Milliseconds before she hit that ground, though, a great swoop of energy caught her and sat her down while her head had a chance to rechart her bodys coordinates in the space-time continuum. A moment later, Duncan zipped down from the sky sat down next to the shaken up elf in the cool green grass.
You get the number on that ship? Kyrie asked, rubbing her head, but knowing it wasnt doing anything to heal her sore astral form.
I was going to tell you that the first barrier was coming up, but you seemed to intent on racing, Duncan said, mustering a smile. And when you get in one of your competitive moods, I know theres not much point in trying to stop you.
I didnt think itd be coming up so soon, she admitted.
You had no energy available to look for it, Duncan said. How could you have known?
Just a hunch? she suggested, continuing to rub her head. Duncan nodded, standing up and holding out a hand to the barrier. He analyzed it for a moment, looking back to Kyrie and briefly laughing.
Its designed to deflect objects moving faster than a meter per second, he said. That is, if you just wanted to walk through it, it wouldnt have stopped you.
Then I guess that means we can pass barrier number one, she said. Duncan nodded, slowly moving forward to test his theory and finding no resistance as a thin layer of energy washed over him, tickling his astral form like a light breeze.
Yeah, thats all there is, he said. Can you move?
Ill be fine, Kyrie said, finally rising to her feet. Just let me know where you see the next barrier. Duncan nodded, gazing off into the distance towards the faint white spike rising into the sky. As he did, he noted that the image of the Tower seemed to move, altering its position on the horizon by as much as fifteen degrees from one moment to the next.
Theres a lot of image shielding going on, he said. Well be coming up on a kind of ethereal maze in a few hundred more feet. Whats interesting is that I dont think the Tower is as far away as it looks. That shield that we just passed through it was more or a defensive shield than anything else. It wouldnt make sense to have it this far back, though.
Tricky. So were actually closer that it looks.
And if they dont know were here yet, they will soon.
What are you going to do? Kyrie asked him with a serious gaze.
Bypass security, he said, stretching his arms out to the sides and beginning to concentrate. As he did, a great white light streaked down from the sky, centering around him. Small ethereal tracings began to be visible on the grass at his feet and his body began to take on a white glow. It would take an incredible amount of energy to tear into the fabric of these barriers, but at the very least, it would speed up their trip.
Duncan began chanting, moving his hands out in front of his body, then spreading them wide again as if opening a door. Order bowed to his will as the pillar of light that surrounded him stretched forward several hundred feet and split into two separate planes that began to move apart. Sure enough, the two planes of light created a kind of tunnel that stretched about five hundred feet and revealed a startlingly close view of the White Tower.
It was incredible. As Duncan had read, the Tower seemed to be constructed out of a single obelisk of white stone, reaching so far up that if it wasnt a particularly clear day, someone at the base wouldnt be able to see the top. It sloped up at a twenty degree angle around the base, tapering off after ten stories and streaking straight up to the sky. Towards the top, it culminated in a giant spike that was invisible above the days clouds. He could see that the great and elegant magical energies used in its construction were still there, supporting the giant structure.
It may have taken us years to maneuver through those shields if we moved the conventional way, Kyrie said in awe, recognizing now the power of the barriers that Duncan was suppressing.
The spell wont last long, Duncan said. Please, lets hurry.
They moved forward, taking off to the air and moving forward at a much more casual speed than before, flying about as fast as a normal human would run. Before they had moved thirty yards, though, they were thrown off guard as twenty streaks of white shot towards them from the Tower. In an instant, Duncan had jumped on top of Kyrie and pulled her down to the ground, unsheathing the Dreamblade and assuming a fighting stance as twenty elves in white cloaks surrounded them and drew their weapons.
Lower your weapon, Duncan McKlane, one of the eldar said as they slowly encircled him. We would like to avoid any confrontation if possible.
They know you? Kyrie asked him, climbing up from the ground.
Apparently, Duncan said, his eyes darting left and right as he summed up his potential competition. Cant say Ive met their acquaintance, though.
Does the White Tower always greet guests with such hostility? Duncan asked the collective group.
When they dismantle our protective barriers, then yes, the same elf responded. And especially when they exude so much magical energy simply on their approach, wed be foolish to not meet the potential threat as well, a potential threat.
Im not here for a fight, Duncan said. Im looking for someone, is all.
Then present the name and perhaps we shall present you to your intended query.
Ranagorn Illivian, Duncan said, lowering his weapon. The elves exchanged glances and looked to their leader for a signal. When he gave them a curt nod, they also stood down.
Weve been watching you since you arrived, the lead elf said. My name is Hallas. If you be peaceful, we will take you to Ranagorn.
Show the way, Swordmaster Hallas, Duncan said, and the elves led him and Kyrie into the Tower.
Words do not come easily when describing the innards of the White Tower, save that it was the most truly beautiful work of art either Duncan or Kyrie had seen since arriving on Escillian. Every facet of the structure was so intricately conceived that it was clear that this tower may have taken about as long to design as it had taken to build. The main halls on the ground level were easily six stories high with vaulted white ceilings. Light poured in through windows that, while spanning the entire height of the wall, werent even visible from the outside of the structure. What architectural trickery was afoot was unknown, but it was very clear that magic was tied into the very existence of this building.
When walking through the first door and passing by a security scan into the main entryway, there was little reason not to be awe-stuck. It was a chamber that seemed to be laced with gold, as runic etchings were traced into nearly every surface. The floor made one feel lighter in step and the lighting made one see more clearly. Two large pools of water flanked the passage towards the central hallway where crystal encrusted chandeliers hung from the apex of the ceiling. And, as if he had known Duncan was coming the entire time, Cyrius Nightblade walked passed those pools with the same determined stride that he always had.
This is him, Cyrius, Hallas said, escorting the two newcomers up to the High Swordmaster. Or at least, the man who fit your description.
My description? Duncan asked as he approached the gray haired warrior. Speaking in a calm tone that revealed tremendous confidence, Cyrius addressed them.
A tall man with blue hair, wielding high level magic and traveling with an elf from, by the looks of her ears, somewhere in the Dominion, Cyrius said as he reached the duo. Yes, Hallas, he looks to meet that description quite well. His eyes scanned Duncan thoroughly, as if looking for something he had lost or maybe hadnt seen in awhile.
My name is Cyrius, the Swordmaster said, extending his hand. And it would seem that youve already met Hallas.
Duncan, the planeswalker said simply, shaking Cyriuss hand. But it sounds like you already knew that.
I have my sources, Cyrius said. He turned to Kyrie. Ms. Rydia, its good to see you again.
Kyrie, the elf corrected. Kyrie will do fine. If theres anything I hate more than Kyrial, its Ms. Rydia.
Kyrie it is, then, Cyrius said with a smile. Well, then, Duncan and Kyrie, welcome to the White Tower. Im sure youre tired, and I know you have business to attend to, so why dont we go somewhere to sit down and discuss the matters at hand?
Should I be afraid that is seems you already know what Im going to ask? Duncan questioned warily. Ill admit: normally Im the one explaining to people whats going to happen in the near future.
Like I said, Duncan, Cyrius said. Welcome to the White Tower. Youll find that many things are interesting and new here.
Im ready to discuss. Youre not going to ask for our weapons, though? Duncan asked. Cyrius gave him a puzzled look.
Why? You said yourself that youre just here to talk to someone, and I dont sense and intention of violence coming from your Lifestream emanations, he said. Then with a slight smile, No matter how hard youre trying to shield them. Duncan was taken slightly aback. This Cyrius could read him right through his shields? Surly he would have to be on his guard.
Lead the way, then, Duncan said with a nod, unable to help but rest his hand on the pommel of his sword. This was a feeling he didnt like: in a matter of moments, the High Swordmaster had completely disarmed him of most of the psychological edge he had. He felt suddenly young, again, training at the Beginning of Time with Lucent. If Cyrius could cut away his edge in the way that only Lucent could, then there was way more too him then met the eye. Duncan McKlane reduced to a child again? No, this was not something that Duncan liked at all.
Cyrius dismissed Hallas before leading Duncan and Kyrie through the main hall of the Tower. Recessed into the wall on the east side of the hall was a set of teleporters through which people were appearing and disappearing through at surprisingly rapid rate. The individual teleporters were nothing more than circular bases that glowed with a dull blue aura, maybe five feet in diameter. This particular block of teleporters housed eight of the devices, and Duncan reckoned transport through the entire tower was dealt with through these teleporter banks.
Walked up to the third one in, Cyrius taped a small button on the teleporter base with his foot, effectively calling for an open channel. In a few moments, a light on the wall behind the teleporter changed from red to green, cuing the High Swordmaster to lead the others onto the platform and speak the words Lounge Fifty Eight. Within a second, a familiar feeling washed over Duncan and the trio was transported to a new location.
The room was surprisingly non-elven in appearance. In fact, Duncan and Kyrie immediately recognized it as the VIP Lounge from the Union embassy on Nova. Of course that didnt make any sense, but the room was seemingly a complete duplicate: from the mahogany paneled walls and the black leather couches, right down to the mirror behind the bar with the word Harrisons etched into the glass. Even the smell was the same, Duncan noted.
We didnt leave the Tower, did we? Kyrie asked, stepping off of the teleporter and on to the hardwood floor.
Of course not, Cyrius said. I just thought this might be a more comfortable setting for you.
I havent been to Nova in years, Duncan said, following Kyrie into the room and looking around. But from what I remember, this is exactly what Harrisons looked like. Why did you go about duplicating it?
I personally didnt, Cyrius said. I didnt design the place; I just work here. Its much more human than the rest of the Tower, though.
Neither of us is human, Kyrie said.
Hmm Cyrius mused. An interesting point. I have to ask, though. Isnt the newfound humanity of Dr. McKla-...err....Duncan, the reason youve come to the Tower? Duncan raised an eyebrow.
You cut right to the chase, eh? Duncan asked, walking over to the nearest couch and taking a seat. Thats fine. I like that kind of mentality. Before we start, though, I have a question of my own. How is it that you know so much about me? I dont believe Ive so much as seen you before, yet you seem to know a good deal about both me and my companion. On top of that, it seems you know why Im here and, quite frankly, that bothers me.
Duncan, you cant be naïve enough to think that your name is unheard of for those of us in the know, Cyrius said, sitting down across from the planeswalker. And while some of my knowledge is just conjecture, I know four things. First of all, as of a month ago, you were perhaps the most powerful planeswalker in the galaxy. Second, our initial scans of your being indicate that your Jurai Apparatuses are not absorbing any Chaos energy: the otherwise telltale sign of a planeswalker. Third, your partner here was recently been noted hacking into our database on geneticists and limiters. Finally, you come here seeking Ranagorn Illivian, the premier geneticist in the Confederacy, and only one in the galaxy that has done extensive research in the field of genetic limiters. Im led to conclude that youve somehow lost your ability to absorb Chaos and are seeking Ranagorn in order to alleviate your problem. After taking a moment for this to settle in, Kyrie let out a long whistle.
Wow, the elf said, turning slightly red as Cyrius commented on the apparent sloppiness of her most recent hack. Thats quite the process of deduction.
Agreed, Duncan admitted, placing his hand against his chin. Impressive, indeed. So tell me, Cyrius, since you seem to be so far ahead of me, can you tell me if I will find the help I need here?
I think you already know the answer, Cyrius said, sitting back in his chair. Duncan nodded his head. Closing his eyes, he spoke softly.
Youll help me, but in exchange for my services, he said, the future becoming clear to his Sight for the first time in weeks.
Ah, good, so the prescience Ive heard of hasnt been affected, Cyrius said with a grin. Then: The fact of the matter is, Duncan, that youve stumbled upon us at the perfect time. It just so happens that we could use a warrior of your ability on our side right now, and it also just so happens that Ranagorn has been making progress with his procedure for removing genetic limiters.
You mean he cant actually do it yet? Kyrie asked. Duncan held up a hand, silencing his companion.
Let him talk, Duncan said.
No, Kyrie, he cant, Cyrius said. Its been his project for the last few years or so, but its proven to be a lot more difficult to remove limiters than apply them. The genetic code will readily assimilate limiters that are properly prepared, but removing them is a far more difficult task, assuming, of course, that you dont want to risk the rest of your genetic code to be disassembled in the process.
No, Duncan said. I certainly dont want that.
I think youll find my proposal appealing, though, Cyrius said, sitting up again.
You want me to help you fight the Dominion, Duncan said, again, his Sight coming in useful.
Yes, thats the idea, Cyrius, said, nodding. Duncan considered this for a moment, his brow furrowing.
How long have known Ive been on-world? Duncan asked.
Weve known since your ship was cleared for landing, Cyrius said. Our information network throughout the galaxy is pretty substantial; you can bet we know just about everything of worth that happens on this planet.
And the arrival of the great Lavoid Hunter Duncan McKlane is deemed of worth, I guess, Kyrie said. She looked to Duncan. It does kinda make sense, dont you think? Duncan slowly nodded.
Im tempted to give you the why should I help you bit, simply because this feels like a situation in which Im being cornered. Given the Dominions recent actions against me, however, I cant say Id reject the chance for some payback. I do acknowledge the fact, however, that you are using my particular situation to your advantage.
Then just look at as you using our particular situation with the Dominion as a bargaining chip for our services, Cyrius said. In reality, Duncan, were helping each other out, and we both serve to gain. Duncan gave him a curious look.
Youre very good at this, arent you? Duncan asked. Political games and what not, that is.
Ive been at it for awhile, Cyrius admitted. Then, standing up and extending his hand. Do we have an agreement? Duncan turned to Kyrie.
What do you think, Kyrial? Kyrie also gave it some thought, but quickly came to a conclusion.
I think you get your powers back and we get to help screw over the Dominion, she said. And neither of us has ever shied away from that in the past. If anything, this just allows us to forget about the Lavoids for awhile and concentrate on dealing with our other mutual enemy. Duncan slowly nodded.
Okay, Mr. Nightblade, Duncan said, rising and grasping Cyriuss hand. You have yourself a deal.
Please, Cyrius said. If you want to use my last name, call me Night. I always liked that nickname better than Cyrius, anyway.
Okay, Night. Duncan said. Perhaps this will be the beginning of a mutually beneficial friendship.
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