What is darkness? People ran through the streets of Gate’s Rest, panic in their steps as they checked the crystal streetlamps. Even the most novice of mages could feel the mana flooding the air, thicker than they had ever recorded. Cracking sounds could be heard as one of the magical spheres shattered, overloaded with the abundant energy.
What is despair? As lights went out, one by one, the mana in the air only rose higher. With every crack came a whimper. With every shatter, the shadows crept closer. Those more sensitive thought that they saw visions within the darkness. Forms swaying back and forth. At times, they thought that they even saw clawed fingers moving along as shadows over the ground.
They were right.
It wasn’t even an hour after night fell when a scream rang through Gate’s Rest. A man had been plucked from his home, his window blown open. Even as mages arrive and cast a spell to light the area, they saw the halfling man being dragged through the air by a ghastly form.
Some among them managed to identify the source of their new plight, but knowledge often became a burden. There was a theory of magic among the colleges of Fyor. Mana shapes all things, guided by the thoughts of man. The heavier the mana, and the heavier those thoughts, the more easily it can affect a change.
The scholars called this effect a mana siphon. It was hard to prove one way or the other, as the most drastic change that had ever occurred could similarly be attributed to a racial characteristic. Long ago, in the war against the cave elves, they fought to their last breath when they refused to grant the residents of Fyor passage.
But then… they rose again. Some believed that these elves simply had an inborn magic that allowed them to become undead upon their death, as they held no god in their hearts, and thus should not have been bound by the cycle of life and rebirth. However, others believed it to be another sign of the mana siphons.
Other situations were far more minor. Taxes raised in an area to support further expansion, and dark clouds began to gather, followed by a prolonged night. There was only one solid piece of evidence that scholars always relied on when trying to prove the existence of the siphons, and it was the very thing that gave them their name. Whenever such an event occurred, the mana in the surrounding area would always experience a steep decline.
One such mage lifted his head, feeling the magic in the air. He couldn’t truly tell if the mana had declined or not. No, it was still far too dense for him to say that it had reached the normal levels. But… how do you tell people that a creature has been born, fueled by the fear of the dark? That it can snatch you from your homes, but the only way to stop more from appearing is to abandon that fear?
The mortal mind was not such an easy thing to convince. No, what they needed was a light to pierce the darkness, a true beacon of hope. But where could they find such a thing now?
As the mage pondered over his thoughts, he heard movement behind him. His eyes widened in alarm, and he turned on his heels, words of magic ready to leave his lips. He expected to see one of those creatures coming for him, next. But instead… he saw a light. From the Resting Gate, a light opened up, and a figure walked through.
It was no extraordinary figure. Nothing that would turn any heads. Just an elderly man. However, as soon as he had come through, the gate snapped shut. The mage wasn’t even sure that anyone else had caught the change.
Without hesitating, he ran towards the gate, hoping beyond reason that it had reactivated. Yet, upon his arrival, he found it still a solid wall of unmoving stone. Even as another light opened up next to him, and he tried to reach his hand through the hole, he found it blocked. The elderly man smiled as he looked back, not at the mage but at the woman that had walked through just a few moments behind him.
The two were simply an old couple. No doubt they were unaware of the nightmare that had just befallen the floor. But at that moment, he noticed something else.
It was rare to find an elder who did not have their health bar perpetually hanging over their heads. Whether it was an ailing joint or a weary mind, there was almost always some kind of ‘damage’ on a man or woman past their prime, even if it was only minor. Yet above the heads of these two, there was no such thing.
A brief flicker of a memory flashed into his vision, and he knew that he saw the woman’s health bar over her head before she passed through the gate. Which meant that she had either received some sudden healing within this darkness, or…
His face paled as the alternative occurred to him, and he hastily attempted to open his personal status. He tried to open his party window, his guild information, even to create a quest. Yet, none of these benefits that had been gathered through generations of work could be accessed. If not for his prior casting of a light spell, he might have even assumed that everyone in the floor had been stripped of their levels.
But no, if such a thing had happened, then there would be far less to worry about. They’d have all already died simply due to the pressure of the gravity. So no, he let out a breath of relief as he convinced himself that hope wasn’t entirely lost yet.
Those living at Gate’s Rise would have it worse, probably. People could come in through the Resting Gate, showing that the entrance to the floor was still open, even if they couldn’t leave. Yet, there was almost nobody living in the twentieth floor. It was a nest of vile bugs that few dared to enter. There was simply no reason anyone would be entering through the Rising Gate.
What was darkness? What was despair? Within the Great Blue, these words would become known. People would know them in the very depths of their soul.
“Shadow monsters?” I muttered in confusion, looking at one of the creatures that had been spawned from the mana. So far, there seemed to be five of them, so I didn’t consider them as too much of a threat to the overall safety of the city.
Their bodies seemed to be made of a blackened mist, coalescing into clawed hands and a dark skull. Those five creatures had emerged just as the crystal lights began to break, and always stayed just at the edge of the light. If you think about it, there was a good chance that light was a critical weakness for them. Maybe to the extent of being one of the few things that could kill them.
Of course, it’ll take time for them to figure that out. I muttered inwardly, seeing how another shadow lurked near the gate. I’d say at least a few days before they’re able to put aside their panic, as long as more of those creatures don’t spawn.
In truth, I had forgotten about the fact that the gates could still offer one-way traffic into the layer where the spire had been destroyed. So supplies and manpower could still be sent in… However, there was no way for them to communicate with the lower floors to tell them what supplies were needed. The quest system was disabled… which had me curious as well…
Glancing through the map, I found what I was looking through soon enough. In order to figure this out, I had temporarily paused the world. Inside of a warrior's pouch, there were bundles of quest scrolls. They hadn’t shattered when the spire broke, meaning that the goods within them were still safe. However, as I focused on them, I found that they were inactive.
Sighing, I gave a small nod to myself. I knew that it was possible to use magic to break the barrier between floors, having done so myself just recently. However, the cost of such a magic was higher than what a normal mage would be able to sustain. Maybe if three or four got together, they could channel all of their mana into a spell to send someone one floor up or down. But to do so would require them to first realize that such a thing was possible, or at the very least suspect it as such.
No, they wouldn’t be establishing a true contact with the lower floors. Not unless they used the goddesses, which I had already warned Aurivy about. While the priests might plead for her to send word to the lower floors, it was extremely disrespectful for a mortal to ask a goddess to be little more than a messenger.
I shook my head, and did something that I hadn’t done for quite a while. Opening up the civilization menu for the Great Blue, I spent fifty points to set their focus on developing a self-sufficient government within their floor. With this, they should easily be able to get things set up, especially with Irena’s help and the Council unable to properly interfere.
With a smile, I chose to set the world to fast forward. Not by a large margin, just ten years to start. That would give me plenty of time to look over what had changed after I took a peak at Lorek.
Life had changed in the last two hundred years, since the Dawn of Stars. It was simply inevitable. At the same time, it was hard to say whether the culture had truly advanced, or if it had taken a step backwards. Depending on who you asked, the two might be the same thing.
Within the Isle of Dawn, the dwarves began to form clans. These clans were led by, or at the very least guided by those who had received an inheritance. Sometimes, simply having learned from one who received an inheritance was enough for a dwarf to form their clan. These clans became focused, concentrating on the path that had been laid out to them.
For the Forge clan, their focus was naturally on the Blacksmith’s Star. Their leader was not Shanir, the dwarf who had first received that legacy, but one of the many people that he had taught. Gradually, they began to discard the knowledge that they had built up over generations of study.
They cast aside their knowledge of how to fold steel through conventional means, in favor of harnessing the power of the stars to aid in their work. After all, a sword forged through the power of the stars could easily cleave through one made by folding steel. Of course, there were some who tried to combine the techniques, but to do so was far more difficult as it required them to split their focus.
As the years passed, these dwarves became more and more focused on their own clans. They created schools to guide the clanless dwarves, welcoming them in with open arms. Each clan taught their own unique path, whether it was the path of water, fire, or even the path of a king.
Every now and then, there would be another expedition sent out to the greater mainland, the ancient home. Almost everyone shared the same thoughts when it came to this. ‘If there was one city, why couldn’t there be more?’
It didn’t take them long to find an answer. Not the answer that they were hoping for, mind you, but an answer nonetheless. On the mainland, there lived powerful creatures, far beyond the strength of even those who had formed their stars. Their bodies moved unnaturally fast whether they were large or small, their claws and teeth tearing people apart with ease. Only rarely did someone make it back to tell the tale. And when they did, it only made people truly aware of how terrifying the world was.
As such, eventually, the dwarves of the Isle of Dawn isolated themselves from the outside world. The inheritances they had received hinted at a stage beyond the first star. A way to shape it and grow to new heights. This is where the clans began to set themselves apart from one another.
For those clans who were led or guided by one who had directly received an inheritance, they had a much clearer path of study, a better understanding of how to advance. On the other hand, those like the Forge clan that relied on second-hand knowledge started to fall behind, their teachings not covering the information about how to advance beyond the current stage. They had only been left with the vaguest of hints.
By the end of the two hundred years, there were three clans that stood above all others. These were the three clans that had ‘masters’ in them. In order to be called a master, one had to break through the limits.
Each master had nurtured their stars, letting them absorb the energy of the world within the understanding of their inheritance. They had even begun to form additional stars as well. This was as far as the inheritances described, and thus as far as they believed their power could rise for now. Yes, each of the masters were one of the original dwarves that had received a direct inheritance.
The three clans that rose to power in this way were the Ocean clan, the Spearhead clan, and the Lightning clan. As the clans were gathered based on their disciplines as opposed to families, they… were not the most creative with their names. However, with the three masters leading them, they soon became a ruling power within the Isle of Dawn… even if they didn’t wish to do so.
These three old masters had managed to prolong their lives by advancing their own powers, but they could still feel age taking its toll on each of them. In order to ensure the survival of their clans, they once more turned their sights to the mainland, in the hopes of acquiring more aid from this lost civilization.