My consciousness emerges from its meditative state, and I open my eyes. Crossed legged, I sit on the centre of a luxurious, sizeable bed. Cast by the gentle flickering of candlelight, shadows dance upon the four walls.
After I had warped away from my enemies clutches, I was aware that I could have ended up anywhere. Such is the nature of warping. What I couldn't have predicted is that I'd arrive at, what seems to be, the first floor of a well-furnished tomb.
Exhausted, I didn't take the time to explore my location. I went through the first door I came across, which fortuitously, took me into a bedchamber. On the brink of collapse, I disregarded all caution and began to meditate. As my body is currently free of corruption, it stands to reason that I've been here for at least ten hours. As for where "here" is, it's not a leap to presume I've somehow made my way into a Heritage.
As the thought of my potential gains subjugates my attention, all apprehension caused by my current predicament melts away, and my lips tug into a smile. Since the earliest records of Tension Mastery began, Tension Masters, when faced with the end of their lifespans, would create sites, inside and outside of the Towers, for the purpose of passing on their knowledge and power to those who survive them.
These sites came to be known as Heritages.
The annals of history are replete with example after example of relatively unknown Tension Masters rising to prominence due to their discovery of a Heritage. The potential gains a Heritage represent are immeasurable. As for the question of how it is that I've stumbled across such an opportunity? What concern is that of mine? My only concern is the question of what this place will expect from me.
No matter the Heritage, it will always fall within one of three categories, righteous, honourable, and depraved.
A righteous Heritage will allow an inheritor to plunder all that it has without challenge. Honourable Heritages, on the other hand, require the inheritor to pass a test or a series of tests before permitting itself to be looted. A depraved Heritage demands the sacrifice of innocents, in one form or another, before any gains can be had.
Using both my arms, I lift myself from beneath and move to the side of the bed. I uncross my legs and touch my feet to the carpeted floor.
It's unlikely this Heritage is depraved. In such sites, it's rare for its creator to offer a place of comfort to their inheritors. The tomb is too grand for it to be righteous, which leaves honourable.
Walking to the end of the room, I twist the doorknob, open the door, and exit the bedchamber.
Reacting to my presence, torches encircling the main hall ignite, illuminating with their orange glow my surroundings. Displayed on each wall, portraits of heroic deeds hang. At the far end of the vast, subterranean space is a black marble staircase leading to a titan, metal door.
Crisp taps echo through the hall as I walk towards the staircase. I climb the steps and stand before the door. Engraved in the metal are runes and markings unknown to me. I place my hand on the door, illuminating the runes with a sharp blue light. The single solid slab divides in the middle and retracts. With a final clank, the door is entirely consumed into the two sides of its frame.
I move forward into a tunnel. As I walk, the torches lining both sides of the stone walls burst into flames, shining light on my path. Without thought, I step deeper and deeper into the passageway. The further I walk, the further it seems I have left to walk. Perpetually, the tunnel stretches. Bending, twisting, and curving, each time I believe I've reached the exit, it carries on further. Biting the inside of my lip, I continue my trek. I progress onwards with no progress made. No sign that I'm nearing the exit, no sign that I've moved forward at all. Endlessly I have walked, and endlessly I walk. A chill spouts in my chest; as I continue to navigate the spiralling passageway, the chill spreads.
Taking my sword from my side, I carve a pattern into the wall and continue onwards. Through the bends, twists, and curves of the tunnel, the chill I have been nurturing within surges through me as I arrive once more at the wall I had marked.
I'm going in circles, but that's not possible. If I were truly circling this tunnel, I would have arrived back at the entrance, but that's not possible either…
What game is being played?
How do I win?
I lower myself to the stone ground and sit. I cross my legs. Eyes closed, I focus my mind on the ambient Tension around me. Circulating energy through my body, I enhance my perceptions. My awareness expands beyond that of mortal senses. The stagnant air shifts from imperceptible to scouring on my skin; my every inhalation invites a world of different scents into my nostrils. Filtered through attuned ears, the silence of the tunnel breaks, replaced by soft hums.
I Focus my awareness; I probe my surroundings. I send my mind to the ceiling above, down the floor below, and along the walls.
It baffles me at first, but I feel it.
An absence of presence, a gap within the walls. A place where the music of creation is missing; where there ought to be sound and scent... there is nothing.
So that's the trick.
Standing, I walk towards the impossible wall. I reach out my hand to touch its surface. Unimpeded, my hand passes through. Without resistance, I pull my limb from the wall, lift it to eye level and examine my hand for damage.
No burning, no stinging, no unusual sensation at all, It's just as if I had passed my hand through nothing but air. Despite my eye's persuasion that a solid wall inhabits the space before me, I step through the wall, walking into a desolate square room.
Contrary to the grandeur that I have come to expect, the room stands bereft of any of the majesty embodied by what I've seen of this tomb thus far. Boasting nothing but a plain wooden door at the far end of the room and an equally unimpressive round table in the centre, the space exudes a humility rarely found in the hearts of those powerful enough to leave a Heritage. Atop the unassuming table, a wooden chalice rests. Stood next to the cup, a small, glass vial halfway filled with a bronze-like liquid.
Walking to the centre of the room, I take the vial in my hands. As if excited by my inspection, the metallic liquid within begins to squirm. Seemingly alive, it creeps up the sides of the glass. Unable to penetrate the cork sealing the top, It slithers down the vial, pressing itself upon the glass, probing for any cracks through which it could escape.
A memory potion...
I unseal the bottle. Exposed to the air, the liquid evaporates into a golden mist. With a sharp inhalation, I draw the vapour through my nostrils and into my lungs. A strange warmth spreads through my back and chest. Creeping its way upwards, pulsating heat spirals through my upper body; it moves to my face before the strange sensation permeates my skull and seeps into my brain.
A scream like a banshee's wail pierces my mind. Though the sound has no external source, primal instincts force my hands to my ears. Falling to my knees, I close my eyes and grit my teeth. Head tucked into my chest. I bear the excruciating agony stabbing at my sanity. Slowly, the noise retreats. Growing fainter and fainter, it recedes into nothing.
'So you are to inherit my power? I cannot claim to be impressed.' I release my ears and shakily lift myself to my feet. I turn away from the table to see a woman stood before me. With her broad shoulders and bulging muscles, only her womanly chest and the delicate features of her face betray her feminine identity.
'Inheritor, from which Clan do you hail?' Shifting her eyes up and down, the broad-shouldered woman scrutinises my appearance. As if dissatisfied by her conclusions, she sharply snorts.
Ignoring the woman, I walk towards the door.
'Where are you going? We are yet to conclude our business.' Halting my steps, I turn to face the source of my irritation.
'We have no business to conduct, so we have no business to conclude.' Visibly angered by my words, the muscular woman stomps her foot onto the ground. Despite her hefty appearance, not a sound emanates from where the flat of her boot impacts with the stone floor.
'How dare you show me disrespect? Do you know who I am?'
'I don't care who you are because what you are is dead. I hoped you had stored something of value within the memory potion; imagine my disappointment.'
'How dare you!'
'You said that already. Now, if you'd excuse me, I'm going to go search the rest of this tomb for something useful.' As I turn to leave, my progress is blocked by the woman warping directly in front of me.
'You're a lout of a person. I mean, truly disgraceful. The thought that you are to be my inheritor grieves me more than you could possibly know, but in my present form, I'm literally incapable of leaving your side before I have told you all that I need to say. You can either wait a moment and listen, or we can spend the rest of your life together. The choice is yours.'
The dichotomy is false. There are at least seven ways to purge oneself of a memory phantom, and only three of them results in grievous brain trauma…
'What do you have to say?' Invigorated by her perceived victory, the muscular woman puffs out her chest, straightens her back, and grins.
'It seems even one such as you is capable of being reasonable. I ask you again, young boy, from which Clan do you hail?' Staring the phantom in the eye, I tug my lips into a half-smile.
'I'm nameless.' Eyes flash wide; mouth hangs open. At my words, the woman's face becomes the very portrait of misery and surprise.
'How… How can this be? What justice is there for my life's work to fall into the hands of one so unworthy?'
That's funny coming from a willing serf of the Clan system. What justice exists in a regime created to suppress all ambition? What worth is there in reigning supreme over the ordinary and uninspired?
It doesn't matter.
Worth is determined by power, not birth. Justice is the will of the strong over the weak. Whoever she may have been in her life, right now she is but a fading memory of her former self. She is weak. She has no right to complain about justice or anything else for that matter.
'It should not even be possible for you to be here. This Heritage can only be entered by body-Tension Masters. Is it possible that I made a mistake?'
'There's no mistake.'
'You? You are a body-Tension Master?' Exacerbating the wideness of her eyes and the parting of her lips, I nod my head. 'But you are nameless.'
I walk past the woman and head towards the door.
'Wait!' She yells out. 'I am far from happy with this situation, but it is the situation we find ourselves in. My name is Rosa Umbridge. In my life, I was an awakened Tension Master of the Celestial Umbridge Clan. Regardless of my feelings on the matter, the fact is that you are my inheritor.'
Once again, I turn to face Rosa. 'What is it exactly that I'm to inherit?' A smile brightens her face, exhuming the deeply buried femininity of her features. For the first time since meeting, she appears to be genuinely excited.
'You are to inherit my greatest technique...
'Tension bone conversion.'