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Adept Baptiste of the Gnostics (#1177)

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Chapter 1: Into the desert

Date palms hung heavily over both sides of the rocky crevice, creating a curtain of darkness that hid the interior. The dark split the dunes that guarded the southern shore of Atlanta’s Pool, where a thin stream of crystal clear water trickled over a jumble of smoothed pebbles. Adept Baptiste of the Gnostics knew that this spring welled up from the nearby underground river that ran under the desert sands all the way from Zaros Oasis.

Baptiste had thought about activating the portal at the oasis itself – it was much closer to the Valley of the Void Disciple than the portal here at the Pool – but rumours abounded of unrest in the Sands between the tribes of the desert and the people of Zaros. For the tales to have reached as far as the Bastion, there must be some merit to them. According to his information, the skirmishes were so far restricted to the south and had not extended towards Great Owl Obelisk.

The Obelisk overlooked the crossroads between Yellow Wizard Haven, the Battlemage Mountains, and the Valley of the Void Disciple. The latter was Baptiste’s destination, and the Obelisk would be a vital stop for him to replenish supplies and find out the latest news from the region. The Coalition of Owls was ever a reliable source of information.

Baron Samedi flitted past him and skimmed over the shallow water at the edge of the pool, snatching at the water with his claws and coming away with a small silver fish. Portal travelling always gave the bat a healthy appetite, and the great distance between here and Dream Master Lake was especially draining. Baptiste’s stomach growled, reminding him that he too would need to regain his energy. He reached into his pack – the afterglow of the Rune of Neptune in his palm lighting up the interior – pulled out a sizeable portion of smoked meat, and tore off a strip with his teeth.

As he chewed, he thought back to the events at the Bastion that had led him to finally return south. When he had heard what happened to his mentor, Baptiste had immediately sought out the Purple Arcanist who had witnessed the Archmagus’s disappearance. The debate still raged in the Council Hall over what the Bastion’s involvement should be, but it seemed as though many felt that Soran had brought his fate upon himself for dabbling in dreams. Though they would never say it outright, Baptiste knew that there were some on the Council that both feared and despised the old magic.

Baptiste was one of a growing number of young Adepts at the Bastion who felt that the Council’s rabid modernist views were, paradoxically, outdated. The elders had held their positions on the Council for centuries, and for centuries Blue Wizard Bastion had held itself apart as a pillar of technological virtue, striving blindly for advancement whilst scorning the old magic. Baptiste was far more pragmatic: a blend of technology and magic gave a wizard such a diverse array of approaches.

Though the Council studiously chose to ignore it, there was much power in the arcane, even if there were mutterings about a strange malady inflicted on the Purples by the Psychic Leap. Magus Basil had seemed sane enough during their discussions, which had lasted well into the early hours of the morning – although he did have a strange habit of rubbing his snail’s slime onto his skin. Everybody said Purples were eccentric, though, and who was Baptiste to judge? He knew that many in the Bastion viewed his own Gnostic beliefs and the almost telepathic bond formed between him and Baron Samedi as skirting the boundaries of decency. The hypocrisy of this was not lost on Baptiste. He scoffed to himself as he thought of the pomposity needed to name a familiar after oneself, as the Council head had done. There were even whispers that Scryer Apollo himself was a cosmic arcanist, though he fervently denied any ties to the old magic. And then there was the scandal surrounding his daughter and her quest to purge the Runiverse…

Basil wiped sweat from his brow; his mind was wandering in the heat. He had grown unaccustomed to desert weather during his long years up north. He touched a panel on his tech coat, and it flared, opening cooling vents along his sides that channelled a steady flow of refreshing air through the sleeves of his undershirt.

In the end, Magus Basil had been most gracious in accepting his help and agreeing not to tell the Council. Baptiste felt as though he had made a powerful ally that day. “Adept Baptiste of the Gnostics, an Astral Arcanist can never doubt the intentions of someone who owns a stellar staff,” the ancient wizard had told him. “You may think that you made the decision to bear this staff, but it is they who choose their masters. It saw something in you, my boy, to grant you a link to the Astral Plane.”

“Your astral connection lays all your motives bare to me,” the old man had continued. “The stardust in this staff is nourishment for dreams… and dreams are my domain. All dreams, I am afraid, barring the one that really mattered.”

Baptiste had listened with growing determination to the story of how the Dream Whisperer had been captured by the Voidlord. Baptiste was sure his mentor had thought to stop Voidoth once and for all, claiming the glory of the cyborg’s capture for himself, in the hope of earning the seat on the Blue Council that had so long eluded him. He knew that the Archmagus was still bitter at being passed over during the last raising, almost a hundred years ago. It was a desperate attempt; Baptiste had never managed to convince the Archmagus to accept that the Council would never welcome a Dream Whisperer or any other proclaimed Arcanist into their midst – not while it was still controlled by the Blue Wizards’ most fanatical technologists. This was one reason why Magus Ozohr, the esteemed professor at the Bastion’s Academy, also remained shunned by the Council.

Baptiste shaded his eyes under the harsh desert sun as he set off from Atlanta’s Pool. Once the astral vision transmitted by his stellar staff had confirmed that Archmagus Soran was being held captive in the Valley of the Void Disciple, there had been no question that it would fall on Baptiste to bring him back, even as the Council still haggled and debated over the best course of action.

After all, who in the Bastion knew that accursed valley as well as he?

Chapter 2: In the thrall of the Shadow

The trip across the desert had been long and arduous, but mercifully Baptiste had managed to steer clear of the marauding bandits who roved the sands taking advantage of the lawless conditions. He did not want to have to use his magic – it would draw unwanted attention from the Void disciples.

Baptiste had encountered a few travellers along his path who had brought news that the battles around the Oasis were intensifying, but the main trade route to the Obelisk had still been well-traversed by magic-makers. Baptiste had kept to himself though, not wanting even the hint of a rumour to get back to the Valley before he arrived.

He traced a rune across the sleeve of his tech coat and the material shimmered, tiny overlapping plates twisting and reshaping themselves until they mirrored their surroundings. He threw the hood up over his head once more to complete the illusion, rendering himself just another shadow in the darkness. Baron Samedi, hidden within the large interior pocket of the coat, poked his head out momentarily to send a beam of sonar down the rough-hewn stone tunnel that burrowed deep into the mountainside. Sensors in Baptiste’s coat relayed the encoded information to a moulded earpiece – the coast was clear.

The tech coat’s camouflage imagery, while advanced, was not enough to disguise his presence in direct sunlight, but he had nevertheless been able to pass through the Valley of the Void Disciple without attracting too much untoward attention. It was several years since he had managed to extricate himself from the thrall of the Necromancers, and the guard patrols that combed the Valley had held no familiar faces. Still, he had kept his hood pulled low over his face and his eyes to the ground.

It had come as a shock to him how many magic-makers still flocked to the Valley, seduced by the call of the Quantum Shadow, willing to hand their allegiance over to the Lord of the Void. It was only the clandestine teachings of the Gnostics that had finally broken the spell Voidoth held over him. He thanked his magic stars every day for the chance encounter that had set him on his path to redemption. And now it had come full circle – the young Adept was back in the Valley where once he had served as a disciple to the Void, yet it was he, this time, who played the role of saviour. He owed everything to the Archmagus and now was his chance to return the favour.

It had not taken him long to uncover the information he needed to locate his mentor’s whereabouts: Baron Samedi’s skills of persuasion had, as usual, been quick to loosen tight lips. Few could withstand the bat’s hypnotic sonar.

The trail had led to the Voidlord’s dungeons, deep beneath the northern mountains that brushed up against the dark underbelly of the Quantum Shadow. Despite being so long away from its grip, Baptiste could feel the tantalising pull of the Shadow strengthening more and more the deeper he descended into the mountain’s interior. The oppressive atmosphere pressed against him as he slipped past each guard post unnoticed. It urged him to return to the Shadow, pleading with him to open himself to the Void, promising him that his betrayal was forgiven. He shuddered. It took all his Gnostic training and the influence of the stellar staff to keep his mind focused on the task at hand. He would not abandon Archmagus Soran to the Void, even if it cost him his life.

The chamber he sought was close now: he could sense the use of Shadow magic nearby. Another short burst of sonar from Baron Samedi outlined the frame of a door up ahead in the darkness. Not knowing what he might discover on the other side, Baptiste steeled himself for action as he crept up to the entrance. But just as he raised his staff to blast open the door, he froze. The handle turned and flickering candlelight and the sound of laughter flooded the tunnel as the door swung inwards.

Out stepped Archmagus Soran, dressed in robes of the finest silk, laughing at something the tall man-crow next to him was saying. Baptiste’s old scars burned with the memory of pain. He knew Necromancer Crackerjack well – the Lord of the Void’s First Disciple could be most inventive with his torture techniques.

The pair walked straight by him, seemingly unaware of his presence. He held his breath for what seemed like an eternity, until sounds of the Necromancer and the Archmagus’s laughter had faded into nothingness. He gasped, and sank to the floor as his legs gave way beneath him. He had never thought that seeing Crackerjack again would have such an effect on him.

He cursed himself for his stupidity – he suddenly realised how foolhardy he had been. He had strolled into the enemy’s lair, so confident in himself, without even the most basic plan for how to deal with any situation other than finding the Archmagus alone. Of course they would never let such a valuable convert out of their sight…

Baptiste paused. But he had thought of a plan, hadn’t he? He had rehearsed all manner of scenarios on his trek through the desert and yet, as soon as he entered these subterranean tunnels, his mind had simply ignored it all.

As he made his way cautiously back out of the warren of tunnels, his mind slowly began to clear, and he realised it must be the influence of the Quantum Shadow growing stronger the deeper he quested into the mountain. He would need to figure out a plan that kept him away from the Shadow’s pull. Baptiste gripped the stellar staff, his knuckles white. The Necromancer had already turned Soran to the Void, that much was clear. This rescue was going to be extremely challenging.

Story Arc Index:

Prologue: Wizard #777

Part 1: Wizard #4298

Part 2: Wizard #292

Part 3: Wizard #2261

Part 4: Wizard #3911

Part 5: Wizard #1177

Part 6: Wizard #2876

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