01.12 – The Artifact

Cian awoke in complete darkness, disoriented. His entire body ached and his thoughts were sluggish. He was wrapped in something and felt something fuzzy against his arm. Trying to move was agony. Mentally checking his status, he saw that he only had 10 health left. He tried to use mend, but it was slow going – like wading through thick mud. Managing to heal himself a bit, he passed out again.

He had nightmares of Pa’Ran invading earth. Vast armies of human soldiers with blank faces marched through cities, cutting down civilians. Their ships filled the skies, laying waste to the meager air forces of Earth. The Pa’Ran chased him through alleys, over fields, and through bunkers. Nowhere was safe, and they mercilessly killed him again and again in dream after dream. In one strange dream, Cian was a janitor at the hospital again – but he was cleaning halls full of the dead under the yoke of Pa’Ran masters. Between delirious dreams and bits of wakefulness, Cian managed to heal himself again.

When he awoke again he was sweating. His body still ached, but his mind was a bit clearer. He was in his underwear, covered in a blanket with bandages wrapped around his chest and limbs. He realized he was in their tent, and the fuzzy thing was a body next to his.

Vanna! Pushing off the blankets, he checked her. She was alive! She lay next to him wearing thin shorts, her chest and neck wrapped in bandages. She was burning up with fever. Who had bandaged them up? Looking around, he spotted his clothes and Vanna’s robes off to the side – bloodied and ragged. He spotted their canteens, full of clean water. His throat parched, he sipped the water. He sprinkled a bit on Vanna’s lips, but she was out. Checking their bags, he found one more clean bandage and wet it.

As he was placing the wet cloth over Vanna’s forehead, Cian realized that he no longer thought of her as only an NPC.

She was his friend, the only friend he had right now. He was starting to wonder if he had died in real life, and was just some remnant of thought stuck in the game. He had been in this game for over a week, and still he had not been logged out or contacted by anyone from the real world. With those comforting thoughts in mind, Cian checked his notifications, skipping most of the basic combat ones and focusing on what was affecting him.

Defeated 4 Pa’Ran Soldiers. Gain 2000 experience.

Warning: Willpower negative. Loss of consciousness imminent.

Loss of consciousness resisted.

Trait gained: Iron Will.

Defeated Pa’Ran Boundless. Gain 10000 experience.

Level up! + 1 Wit.

Channeling Mend into Vanna. Cost 75 (Empowered +100%, Influencing external body +50%) Vanna Healed for 62. Vanna stabilized.

Ability learned! Empower Psi.

Empower Psi – Force extra Willpower into a mental ability. +100% cost, +50% effect.

Warning: Willpower negative more than 10%. Immediate loss of consciousness.

Effect Gained: Overexerted Will

Name: Cian Kemp
Class: Boundless
Strength: 12.5(25)
Endurance: 12.5(25)
Presence: 42
Health: 92/125
Willpower: 106/106
Agility: 12.5(25)
Wit: 43
Will: 10.6(53)
Stamina: 125/125
Level: 8
Total Experience: 44125/45000
Traits: Iron Will
Ongoing Effects: Overexerted Will,

Combat Reflexes: 12.3%
Mental Projection (C): 27.4%
Mind over Body (C): 31.3%
Psi Defense (C): 24.2%
Psionics (C): 27.4%
Basic Energy Equipment: 6.1%
Knife Fighting: 4.7%
Marksmanship: 3.2%
Small Arms: 5.6%
Polearm Fighting: 7.8%
Tracking 5.2%
Unarmed Combat: 3.9%

Iron Will – You have developed a strength of Will that few possess. You can push yourself through trials beyond what others could hope to endure. Increased resistance to mind control. May use abilities and remain conscious even below 0 Willpower.

Overexerted Will – By reaching your limit and pushing past it, you have overexerted your will. Until you have recovered, your Will functions at 20% of its total.

Dehydrated – You are dehydrated. Until you have recovered, Strength, Agility, Endurance, and Stamina Regeneration functions at 50% of normal.

No wonder Cian felt so bad. He sipped a bit more water, and focused on Vanna.

She was pale and still running a high fever. The flesh around the wound on her neck and chest was an angry red color and the wounds oozed.

He didn’t know how they had got back in their tent, but he knew that she wouldn’t survive much longer. He used his Mend ability on her twice more, pushing the infection out and using 75 Willpower. He used the wet bandage to clean up the seeping wounds.

The color started to return to her skin, and within a few minutes her temperature had come down. Her wounds had mostly closed and the infection seemed to have all drained out. He used the last clean bandage they had and wrapped her chest again.

Confident that she would recover, Cian got out a ration and spent a few minutes nibbling on it and sipping water. Cian thought to check the tent’s stealth generator and found that it was out of power. Their extra cell was already slotted in it, and another empty one lay beside it. He looked around more, found the pistol, and took the cell from it. It had enough juice for another twelve hours. Taking the two empty cells and their two backpacks, he placed them outside the tent to charge.

Looking around outside, he saw the dead Pa’Ran boundless a few feet away, covered in sand. Someone had moved the tent to him, not the other way around. But who? Had Vanna somehow managed to go and retrieve the tent and put them both inside it? He glanced around but saw no one else nearby, so he went back in and used the last Mend on himself before laying down and going back sleep.

Hours later, Cian woke up again. It was starting to get dark, and he was cold. Vanna was still out, but looked far better than she had. He pulled the covers back over her and used mend on her once more, then sprinkled some water on her dry lips.

Sputtering, she seemed to come to a bit and swallowed.

Cian spent the next few minutes slowly feeding Vanna water, with her swallowing and muttering. She was still delirious, but was rapidly improving. Cian swapped out the power cells again and set up the chargers to charge the canteens. He decided to look around a bit before the light faded completely.

After digging around a bit, Cian managed to find his spear. It had been left on and was completely drained. He stuck it in the dead Pa’Ran and watched it start to recharge. He didn’t think he would ever get used to blood sucking weapons. Remembering the device he had seen the large Pa’Ran wearing before, he tried to pry its helmet open. He was pretty sure he was tugging on the seam, but it wouldn’t budge.

He went to where he remembered seeing his knife fly to and dug around in the sand a bit more, nicking his finger but finding his knife. It was badly corroded from whatever goo had come out of the Pa’Ran.

Using it as a lever, Cian pried the creature’s helmet open with a wet schlock. Something like phlegm splattered out of the helmet. White, lidless, compound eyes sat motionless. The smell was almost overpowering. Silver shone through the goo. It was still wearing it.

Cian pried the device off the Pa’Ran’s head. It was filthy, covered in slime and muck. Suppressing his urge to vomit, Cian used sand to clean the nasty off of it.

He examined the thing more closely. It was some kind of open face headgear made of a silver metal, with openings made to fit snugly around the ears and a back that went down the curve of the back of the head. It looked like it was designed to fit a large human – the Pa’Ran just had the thing jammed onto its head and stuck to it with goop. The metallic mesh in the joints between the plates had a bit of stretch to it, and it looked like it would probably fit snugly on Cian’s head. It was completely smooth inside and out, and had a matte finish. He looked to see if his interface would give him any details about it.

Artifact – An ancient artifact of high archaeological value. Value: 100,000,000 credits. Immediately return to any Dromon Peacekeeper banking facility for conversion to credits.

Shocked, Cian almost dropped it. This thing was worth over a million bucks! Ten times what the other one was worth. Most starships weren’t worth that much. A fully outfitted warship was worth less than that. A million dollar prize item? What did this thing even do? Was it a stronger version of the other one? It must at least be related to it.

Now that he thought about it, he had been using his powers without the other artifact – and it had been easier than when he had used them with the artifact. Did a few levels make that much difference, or was something else going on?

Resisting the urge to just slip the thing on and find out, Cian decided it best to wait until he could better identify it. Or at least until he was recovered. This thing went on his head, and if it did the same thing as the other one did it could very well kill him.

He had another thought – how many of these things got left on Pa’Ran bodies because nobody cracked their armor open? Did the powerful Boundless he killed back in Valcim have one, in addition to the hand artifact? Cian went back and started to peel and crack the rest of the armor off the thing. It was dark by the time he was done, and all he accomplished was making a mess – nothing else was under the armor. He did find the used shield generator stuck in a pouch in the armor, but it was burned out – apparently not a reusable item.

He used sand to scrape the goop from his hands and went back into the tent, his recharged spear and the priceless artifact in hand. Going from the fresh night air into the tent was a shock – the tent stank. He sniffed – he stank too. Bad, like dead alien and infection and the worst BO. But he was far too tired to care right now, so he tucked the artifact in his bag and got back under the blankets. He used Mend on himself again and was sleeping within a few minutes.

It was approaching noon when Cian woke again to movement. Vanna was awake! “Hey! How are you feeling?” he asked.

She threw the blanket off, grunting, and said “Ugh. Hot. Thirsty.”

Cian passed her a canteen, saying “Take it slow. We’re both dehydrated. By the way, did you move the tent here?”

She grabbed the canteen and took a few gulps, then said “Thanks. Yeah. I woke up and you were out cold on top of me, bleeding all over me. We were both cut up pretty bad, but you were worse off than I was. Was night, getting cold. Went and got the tent and stuffed you in it. Went and got some clean water. Cleaned our wounds. Wrapped some bandages around the both of us. You’re heavy as hell, by the way. How long I been out?”

Cian laughed, saying “Can’t believe you were able to do all that. When I woke up you were near dead from infection. Been at least two days, I can remember about 36 hours.”

Vanna checked her wounds, “Infection? How? You find some kind of healing tech from the Pa’Ran? This cut on my chest was way worse. Only two days ago?” she asked.

“Well, I healed you. Found out I can do it for others too.” Cian replied.

Vanna looked incredulous, saying “Wow. Wait, is that how I survived? Last thing I remembered before waking up the first time, I felt that bug crush my windpipe and slice open my chest. Woke up with you draped over me in even worse shape than me, but I was breathing again. You did that?”

“Uh, yeah. You saved me too by getting the tent.” Cian replied sheepishly.

Vanna smiled, saying “Ha. If you had healed yourself instead of me you woulda been fine. Well, you saved my behind yet again. Thanks! Now, uh. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you smell like the arse end of a Kel rat. How about we go wash off?”

Cian laughed, agreeing with her assessment.

Cian used mend on himself once and Vanna twice more, closing up the last of her wounds and refreshing himself. He didn’t have any more open wounds, but it seemed to be helping with his body’s recovery from dehydration.

“Nice, thanks. Don’t think I got a scratch left on me now. You’re nice to have around.” Vanna smirked.

“Well, I figured if I healed you, you might wash and mend my clothes for me.” Cian joked.

Vanna playfully swatted him on the side of the head, shaking her head as they gathered up the tent and everything and headed toward the oasis.

“There may still be one Pa’Ran alive, that one I had controlled.” said Cian.

“Yeah, I never saw it again. We should check the ship first.” replied Vanna.

Cian nodded.

As they approached the ship, everything looked quiet. They dropped their equipment and tattered clothes near the water and headed toward the ship to look around, wearing mostly bandages. Vanna had her pistol and Cian his new Pa’Ran spear.

A pile of Pa’Ran bodies was thrown off to the side of the entry. On the top was the one they were looking for, its neck crushed.

“Well, that answers that.” said Cian.

“It does? Did the big one choke his own soldier?” asked Vanna.

“Yeah. Pissed him off when he realized I had control, guess he squeezed a bit hard.” answered Cian.

Remembering the artifact, Cian said “Oh, let’s check and see if those overseers have anything. I found something valuable on the leader.”

“Valuable?” Vanna asked.

“Yeah, it’s in my bag by the water. I’ll show you later” Cian replied, mentally cursing himself for leaving such a valuable item unattended.

Cian pried open all of the overseers’ helmets. He found nothing but stink inside.

Vanna made a disgusted face and went in the ship after he opened the first one.

When he finished, he went in behind her.

She was coming out of the galley area, looking nauseous.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Ugh, no. They got people strung up in there. Been eating us. Their dried meat, at least half of it must be people.” she replied.

Cian frowned. “Yeah. I saw that when I was controlling the soldier. Disgusting stuff.” Cian said.

Together they searched the rest of the ship. They found an armory full of the spears that the Pa’Ran used, but not much else. The ship seemed to be rapidly deteriorating now that the Pa’Ran were gone, with goo from the organic parts corroding and eating into the few metallic components remaining. The bridge of the ship seemed to be controlled through some kind of chemical interface. Most of the ship was organic in nature, and neither of them could figure out how to use any of the technology. Giving up, they went back to the water. Cian showed Vanna the artifact.

She recognized it from her time with her parents’ trading ship, saying “Wow! I’m pretty sure that’s a Weaveborn artifact, or a really good counterfeit. My parents traded in minor ones on occasion. That metal is an extremely strong alloy, and the tech of whatever that thing does is actually built into it. They’re practically indestructible. Lot of people will pay a fortune for those. Be careful who you show it to, especially around here. The Kitani Syndicate has operatives that will happily kill for even the most simple Weaveborn tech.”

Cian was surprised she knew so much. “Hold up. Weaveborn? Kitani Syndicate?” asked Cian.

“The Weaveborn were the first species to reach the stars. The Weaveborn Dominion spanned all of known space. They’re the ones that settled all the worlds that we live on, the ones that discovered the Great Weave that connects the habitable worlds. Some say they even created the Weave, and that they left on the threads that we can’t follow. The ones that leave the galaxy. I don’t know much more about ‘em, but I know their tech is incredible. Most of the biggest breakthroughs in tech have come from researching their artifacts.” Vanna said.

She continued after thinking for a few seconds, “The Kitani Syndicate are an extremely dangerous shadow government. Most people would call me a conspiracy theorist for even sayin’ this, but they are the ruling force behind several of the large empires – including the Dromon Peacekeepers. My pa insists that he has seen their operatives. He said that they use the spawn rooms, like you humans do. That the rooms existed, hidden away, even before the humans started appearing, and that only the Kitani Syndicate operatives used ‘em then. They hunt Weaveborn tech like its their holy mission, killing anyone who gets in the way.”

Cian thought over this new information. He had heard about some precursor civilization in discussions about the game’s lore, but a Weaveborn Dominion hadn’t ever come up. The Weave was the game’s FTL travel system, some kind of thread that connected all the game’s worlds but didn’t let you go to unexplored space. He had never heard of any Kitani Syndicate or shadow government. Was the Kitani Syndicate the one who would buy the artifact for 100,000,000 credits?

“So, any idea what this thing does?” asked Cian.

“Beats me. Something amazing, probably.” answered Vanna.

“Is it dangerous?” asked Cian.

“Possibly? Never heard of a Weaveborn artifact hurting its user, but I haven’t really heard of too many of them period. A lot of them are simply really advanced personal items. My pa traded for a Weaveborn tooth tool, sold it to a wealthy businessman for double what he paid for it. Just stuck it in your mouth and presto, clean, white, flawless teeth. It even repaired cavities. Real convenient.” answered Vanna.

“I had another one before. It shocked my arm pretty bad, but it let me use my powers better.” said Cian.

“Not sure about the shock, but that makes sense. Those powers are based on Weaveborn tech, pretty sure that’s where the Pa’Ran learned them. Not sure how you ended up with ‘em” said Vanna.

“Yeah, I’m… not really sure either.” Cian said. He decided he would try the thing out as soon as he recovered his attributes – it had to be something useful for the Pa’Ran to have been using it.

“What ya gonna do with it?” asked Vanna.

“I don’t know. I want to see what it does first. If I do end up selling it you can have half.” answered Cian.

“Really? You’d really give me half? Things gotta be worth a fortune.” said Vanna, surprised.

“Yeah, we found it together right? But if it does something really useful I might want to keep it.” said Cian.

“Well, I hope it’s a head shaver then, so we can sell it!” said Vanna, smiling.

“Head shaver?” Cian said, looking at the thing and feeling his hair, “I hope not.”

They washed their clothes, the blankets, the cloth parts of their bags, and the tent in the oasis. Once everything was clean, they laid it out to dry on some large rocks in the center of the oasis area. Satisfied that they had washed the worst of the stink out of their gear, they bathed. Cian stayed on one side of the U shaped body of water, giving Vanna some privacy on the opposite end.

When Cian was done, he found Vanna in her shorts stitching up their clothes. She was using a thorn and some fiber from a plant similar to an Agave growing nearby, deftly stitching up all the holes. It didn’t look the greatest, but when she was done it was functional.

“You know, I was kidding about you sewing up my clothes. Thanks.” Cian said.

Vanna laughed, saying “I know. But it needed doin’ and you’re welcome.”

Cian looked at his repaired pants, the stitches looked strong. “Where did you learn to do this?” asked Cian.

“Oh, back when I was a galactic spy. Seamstress was my cover.” answered Vanna flatly.

“Fine, don’t tell me.” Cian replied.

Vanna giggled and kept working.

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