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“Do have any idea of the disarray you’ve thrown my life into?” Chloe asked.

Outside of her hazmat suit, she had plain, blockish features and light clothes for the Moroccan heat. She was sitting with Jason at a teahouse in Marrakech.

“Oh, I’m well aware of how magical revelations in the middle of a crisis can throw you off. Whether you sink or swim teaches you a lot about yourself.”

“Well, thank you,” Chloe said. “While I may have felt like I was going insane for a while, I can’t begin to express our gratitude for what you’ve done. For me, obviously, but the outbreak went from potentially years to months.”

“I’m just a man who happened to have a useful gift,” Jason said. “It’s the people who don’t have my advantages yet throw everything into helping others that truly warrant praise. The ones working day in and day out, putting themselves at risk. You and your colleagues can’t just magic away sickness. Not to mention that there are others like me, working on less self-aggrandising and more long-term efforts.”

"I was surprised that you found me here," she said. "I intended to go find you in Australia, once I’d been home.”

“I just happened to be in Marrakech and sensed your presence.”

"You sensed my presence? One person in a whole city?"


Ability: [Midnight Eyes] (Dark)

  • Special ability (perception).
  • Base cost: None.
  • Cooldown: None.
  • Current rank: Silver 0 (00%).
  • Effect (iron): See through darkness.
  • Effect (bronze): Sense magic.
  • Effect (silver): Enhanced aura senses.
  • Ability [Midnight Eyes] (Dark) cannot advance further until all attributes have reached silver rank.

Perception powers were always the first to rank up and Jason’s ongoing aura control practise had caused his perception power to even further outpace his other abilities. The effect of a silver-rank perception power enhancing his aura senses was far more impactful than he realised. Combined with the raw strength of his soul and his semi-spiritual nature both enhancing those senses already, the effect was a level of sensory overload that left him almost debilitated for the better part of a week.

The attribute that governed perception was spirit, and while Jason’s was in the upper echelons of bronze, it wasn’t enough for him to handle the explosion of sensory input when his power crossed the threshold into silver. Fortunately, it took place as he meditated in a random patch of African wilderness, far from prying eyes and ill intentions.

It was like going from black and white to colour as he realised that the aura senses he already had were crude and oblivious. He could now sense the auras of everything around him. He had thought that only living things with souls had auras, with some magic-based exceptions, but the trees, grass, even the wind had echoes of aura.

It wasn’t the true auras he was already aware of but some kind of intrinsic nature related to the interplay of physical reality and the astral that lay hidden beyond it. He suspected that his own nature gave him some unique insight that perhaps others might not share.

His familiars had stood guard as he spent days acclimatising to his new senses. After so long working on aura control, he found his senses to be powerful enough that he now required sensory control. The advancement of his perception ability did more than enhance sensitivity. He now had much more control of how all his senses operated. This only added to the disorientation as he grew used it.

While he needed to be more conscious of his senses, as he got used to the changes he realised just how much of a difference it would be. His hearing could filter out sounds and focus on distant noises. His vision could adjust to see or ignore different light spectrums. His smell and taste could block out specific sensations, which was critically useful given his new sensitivity.

The most overwhelming aspect of his new aura sense was the sheer range. His unique advantages and the raw soul power he possessed allowed his senses to spread over a huge distance. If he had been in a city instead of the empty wilderness, he would have half-expected a brain aneurysm.

After the initial onslaught of sensation, he spent hour after hour, day after day in meditation as he brought his senses under control. The initial experience was like being in a kaleidoscope at a heavy metal concert held in a compost silo. Over the course of a week, he learned to draw back and filter the raw sensations and started to explore the potential of his newly enhanced senses.

Auras, he discovered, were far more sophisticated and nuanced than he previously realised. He had become satisfied with his aura control after months of practise, only to realise that he was only beginning to master control. His new awareness revealed how far he had yet to go.

In the week he spent in the wilderness, working on his sensory control, he had dropped off the radar of those tracking his activities. He stopped poaching proto-spaces and appearing at humanitarian aid stations. He decided it was for the best, at least regarding the outbreak.

The outbreak was being brought under control to the point that his contributions would no longer be worth the attention they brought, especially as there was an increasing movement on the internet connecting his various activities. Despite not using his cloak, the connection was being made between his camp visits and the Starlight Angel persona that had dominated the Australian media nine months earlier.

Jason refocused on developing his abilities, starting with his new sensory power. He made quiet appearances in larger and larger population centres, learning to balance the sensitivity so he wouldn’t get overwhelmed. He worked his way up to Marrakech and was getting ready to meet people when he recognised Chloe’s aura and decided to say hello.

“No one is sure what to make of you,” Chloe said. “None of the testing we’ve done in the wake of your activities makes any kind of sense. If we tried writing papers on it, they would never pass peer review. On myself, included. It’s like the cancer was never there. I keep waiting to wake up and realise that it really is impossible and I was dreaming the whole thing.”

“I was semi-convinced it was all me going insane until my friend died and brought me down to Earth,” Jason said. “You’ll actually meet her soon; she’s on her way here now.”

“Didn’t you just say she died?”

“Yeah, but she got better. Eventually. I come back much quicker every time I die.”

“What?”

Jason had pulsed his aura like a beacon as he sensed the plane arrive carrying Farrah and the others, along with sending enough bodies that Shade could take the form of a car large enough to carry them comfortably.

As they arrived outside the teahouse, Jason assessed their auras. Farrah was still in the early stages of silver rank, although her progression would largely stall until they found their way back to her homeworld. Erika and Ian were both midway through iron, having taken cores regularly in the time he’d been away. Emi’s aura was still normal rank but he could sense some lingering magic attached to it.

Emi had frequently talked with Uncle Jason via Shade. She was especially excited about her ritual magic lessons with Farrah, which had taken the sting out of not being old enough for essences. She had recently moved onto some very basic practical elements, the residual effect of which Jason realised he was sensing.

Prior to his aura senses being enhanced, that wouldn't have been possible. He was even able to recognise that elements of her aura were still in flux. He suspected that once they stabilised, she would be ready for essences. He would need to examine her aura further to get a sense of how long that would be. He knew a simple ritual that could check, but he wanted to ask Farrah if high-rankers could just tell through their aura senses.

Farrah and Erika’s family came in and spotted them, Jason and Chloe getting up to greet them. Emi lunged forward to trap Jason in a hug. As he wrapped his arms around his niece, he gave the others a bright smile.

“Dr Baudrillard, let me introduce you to my family,” Jason said in French. “This is my sister, Erika, her husband, Ian and their daughter, um…”

Jason took on an absent-minded expression, then his face lit up with recollection.

“…Ellie,” he said. “This is my niece Ellie.”

“Bête comme ses pieds,” Emi said to him.

“What do you mean, dumb as my feet?” Jason asked.

“It’s a French insult,” Chloe said after snorting a laugh.

Jason turned to Ian.

“Sorry, I didn’t ask,” he said. “How’s your French, Ian?”

“It’s fine, isn’t it dear?” Erika said in French.

“Er… oui,” Ian said.

“I’m fine with English,” Chloe said, using the language by way of demonstration. She had only a slight accent.

“This is actually our daughter Emi," Erika correctly introduced. Emi was glaring at her uncle but had to lean back to do so, unwilling to relinquish her grip on him.

“And this is Farrah,” Jason said, “who is my friend from an alternate reality.”

“What?” Chloe asked.

“You know, Jason,” Farrah said, “I think I’m coming around on not letting you introduce people to magic. You just love throwing the wildest stuff at them and watching them get confused.”

“You should probably leave it to the professionals and just satisfy yourself watching reaction videos online,” Emi said.

“Hey,” Jason said, mock-hurt. “Oh, and family, this is Dr Chloe Baudrillard, of Doctors Without Borders.”

“Lovely to meet you,” Erika said, shaking her hand, then moving over to hug Jason over the top of her daughter.

“You know, Jason,” Farrah said, “the Network doesn’t like you just arbitrarily offering magic to people.”

“Tell them that I don’t like that they occasionally try to kill and/or kidnap me,” Jason said.

“She told them to stick it up their–”

“Emi!” Erika scolded.

“They’re happy you told them at all,” Farrah said. “I think Anna sees you as a puppy resistant to toilet training.”

They settled in and arranged for drinks, Emi boxing Jason against the wall like she was afraid he’d run off. They had remained in contact via Shade, But it wasn’t the same as meeting up in person. Since Farrah had been heading to Greece to investigate a grid failure, she had brought along her new apprentice, knowing that Jason was only a hop across the Mediterranean. Since Emi's parents were not going to just let their daughter traipse off to Europe, they decided to make a family reunion of it, after which they would return to Australia together.

Jason was eager to discuss the grid failures with Farrah, who had largely shut him out of the investigation to let him focus on getting his head right. In the wake of her captivity, he had supported her as much as he could as she slowly opened up. She recognised that what he needed was space to settle himself.

He could have made an issue of inserting himself into the problems with the grid but he knew she was doing what was best for him. He trusted her to call on him if he was actually needed.

Chloe departed, having her own travel plans. Before they parted ways, Jason reassured her that there were secrets and wonders waiting for her in Australia.

“She seems nice,” Erika said.

“She’s been sick,” Farrah said. “Did you heal her of something?”

Farrah’s senses were also enhanced enough to notice the lingering turbulence in Chloe’s aura.

“She had cancer,” Jason explained. “She decided to use what time she had to help people, which is why I wanted to help her.”

“She’s been vetted by the Network, now,” Farrah said. “They didn’t turn up any problems.”

"Gladys is actually excited to work with her," Ian said. He himself had been working with Gladys at the clinic following Jason's departure.

"Let's forget about all that for now," Jason said. "I've planned a family trip to the Ouzoud Waterfall. No monsters, no Network. Just some quality family time. I've seen some beautiful things while I've been out and about, and it'll be nice to see some more together."

***

Alone in a sleeping cabin on the Network’s private plane, Jason contemplated the journey now coming to an end. He had two goals starting out, the first of which was coming to terms with the feeling of being caught between two worlds. His need to reconcile the person he had become in the other world with who he needed to be in his original one was his main impetus for starting the journey.

Moving across Asia, through the Middle East and into Africa, it was fighting the outbreak where he finally felt things coming together. Bringing magic from one world to another in a way that wasn’t about violence and death was exactly what he needed. It took him back to his early days in the other world, using his powers to heal people.

As his adventuring duties grew more pressing and the church of the Healer started living up to their responsibilities, that early motivation had fallen to the wayside. Now he had come back to that place, reclaiming some of the innocence he had drowned in blood. Not all the changes he went through in the other world were good ones.

It would take time and pressure to know if he’d really found the balance he sought when his journey started. For the moment he felt that he had, which was enough to be going on with. That left the secondary goal of advancing his abilities.

In the other world, whenever things got too much he would head out into the delta, clearing every adventure board he could find of monsters. It allowed him to channel all his negative feelings, venting them in a way that was at least a little productive. Those were the times he pushed himself the hardest, always rushing to the next monster.

This journey had not been exactly the same, but the ability to chase down proto-spaces instead of monster notices had the same side-benefit of grinding out the advancement of his abilities.

He had been back in his own world for nine months and bronze-rank for a year. Contrary to his expectations, his homeworld had not stalled out his advancement. The magically-saturated proto-spaces had even more monsters than the astral space in which he had reached bronze-rank. The problem was that, unlike the astral space, they weren’t disastrously escalating in power to match his growing strength. Few bronze-rank monsters posed a threat to his current skills and abilities.


Jason Asano

  • Race: Outworlder.
  • Current rank: bronze
  • Progression to silver rank: 72.5%

Attributes

  • [Power] (Blood): [Bronze 7].
  • [Speed] (Dark): [Bronze 8].
  • [Spirit] (Doom): [Bronze 7].
  • [Recovery] (Sin): [Bronze 7].

Racial Abilities (Outworlder)

  • [Party Interface].
  • [Defiant].
  • [Spirit Vault].
  • [Tactical Map].
  • [Nirvanic Transfiguration].
  • [Dark Rider].

Essences (4/4)

Dark [Speed] (5/5)

  • [Midnight Eyes] (special ability): [Silver 0] 00%.
  • [Cloak of Night] (special ability): [Bronze 8] 97%.
  • [Path of Shadows] (special ability): [Bronze 8] 42%.
  • [Hand of the Reaper] (special ability): [Bronze 8] 76%.
  • [Shadow of the Reaper] (familiar): [Bronze 9] 04%.

Blood [Power] (5/5)

  • [Blood Harvest] (spell): [Bronze 7] 68%.
  • [Leech Bite] (special attack): [Bronze 8] 86%.
  • [Feast of Blood] (spell): [Bronze 7] 37%.
  • [Sanguine Horror] (familiar): [Bronze 7] 98%.
  • [Haemorrhage] (spell): [Bronze 8] 84%.

Sin [Recovery] (5/5)

  • [Punish] (special attack): [Bronze 8] 84%.
  • [Feast of Absolution] (spell): [Bronze 7] 66%.
  • [Sin Eater] (special ability): [Bronze 7] 79%.
  • [Hegemony] (aura): [Bronze 8] 24%.
  • [Castigate] (spell): [Bronze 8] 83%.

Doom [Spirit] (5/5)

  • [Inexorable Doom] (spell): [Bronze 8] 89%.
  • [Punition] (spell): [Bronze 8] 50%.
  • [Blade of Doom] (spell): [Bronze 8] 66%.
  • [Verdict] (spell): [Bronze 7] 11%.
  • [Avatar of Doom] (familiar): [Bronze 7] 91%.

Jason had spent about a year and a quarter going from iron to bronze, which was a completely normal timeframe. The standard progression from bronze to silver was three years, although that was a highly flexible number. The two most impactful factors were opportunity and dedication. Monster surges could shave months off that time and Jason had experienced a private monster surge that had lasted for months. If it had come at the end of his progression through bronze instead of the beginning, he probably could have broken some kind of speed record. He wondered if Farrah knew what the record was.

The latter stages of a rank were much harder to push through than the early ones. If he kept up the pace he had taken up during his journey then he could probably close out bronze-rank in half a year. A year and a half for the entire rank was already a breakneck pace to reach silver, which he would be extremely happy with.

His concern was the warning they had received from Dawn. He needed to solve an issue that, ironically, would give him exactly what he needed. If the magical density of the proto-spaces escalated he would have the monsters he needed to halve his time to silver.

The repercussions, however, were not worth it. It would take time before the Network was ready to handle more powerful monsters and failing to shutdown proto-spaces would only accelerate the problem. He was concerned enough with the grid blackouts, and now that his time away was over, it was time to involve himself. As if in answer to his ruminations, there was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” Jason said, having sensed Farrah on the other side, and she stepped inside.

“Alright,’ Jason said. “Time to catch me up.”

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Shirtaloon (Travis Deverell)

  • Australia

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