Within the seaside caves of the Water Clan, several dwarves sat inside a large hall. The walls seemed to be sculpted to form a wide, gentle dome around them, with two rows of seating that each formed a full circle. However, only the lower circle was full, occupied by the ‘elders’ of the clan. Those who had begun to merge their star with worldly energies.
“We have the advantage here.” One dwarf, a robust man with the first wrinkles of age on his face, spoke up to the assembly. “Neither the Spearhead or Lightning clan are as proficient at crossing the Divide as us. We have to take advantage of this opportunity while we still can! There’s no telling how much we’ll lose out otherwise.”
A moment later, a woman’s voice emerged from a dwarven figure, her face covered by a blue veil. “I do not disagree with you, Abin. However, there is more at stake than just being the first to receive a new inheritance. The other clans are eyeing us, begging for aid. If we are to set off alone, they may target our home in retribution. Clan Master cannot be in both places at once.”
“While I respect your wisdom, Jana, I must ask of you. What do you intend for us to do, then?” He called back, doing his best to restrain the irritation that was creeping across his face. “Are we to give up the initiative to the other clans just like that?”
The others within the assembly had mostly tuned the two of them out, as this pair would often bicker during meetings. They held no true ill will towards one another, but simply had contrasting personalities, making them regularly clash when it came to how they should handle matters. However, their two opinions did represent the key issues.
Within the water, there were indeed several beasts which could slaughter those within the First Star realm. Even those who had moved into the ‘Worldly Sun’ realm were not entirely safe. The only exception was the Water clan. Their knowledge of how to traverse the water without stirring the beasts within allowed them to freely move back and forth across the ocean.
This was a gift that the other clans naturally coveted. Especially when you considered that the combat strength of the Water clan was inherently weaker than the other two great clans. They could only exert their true power at sea, whereas the other two clans had no such limitations.
Given all of this, why wouldn’t they wish to garner a new inheritance for themselves, to cover their weakness? But to do so would only leave them open for attack. There was no way to tell if they would even have a clan to return to by the time they had explored the mainland.
“Enough.” A gentle voice rolled down over the assembly from the second floor. Only one person had earned the right to be seated above everyone else, and it made their discussions instantly quiet down.
On the second level, an elderly dwarf with a tired face leaned back in his stone chair. His eyes were closed, looking almost serene, before his brows knit together. “We cannot get out of my leaving this time. Yet, we cannot leave our people unprotected. Inform the clan, I will be opening the path for us.”
“In three days time, we will leave the Isle of Dawn.” His voice spoke down, his tone calm yet his words severe. They would be abandoning their home, in order to assure their safety. “Those who have clanless family have three days to bring them into the clan. When that time is over, we shall find a new home on the shores where the ancients lived.”
“Clan Master!” Abin rose to his feet, the previous irritation on his face replaced with a deep concern. “Are we really going to abandon our home?”
Several people instinctively turned their heads towards Jana, expecting her to speak out against Abin. However, she remained quiet. It seemed that she was also troubled by this decision.
“It would be a fool’s act to remain behind while the others voyage ahead. Yet, at the same time, we cannot leave our people undefended. Our clan is not a series of caves, but the people in it. Our future is not stone, but flesh. If those old friends of mine have designs on these caves, then they can have them. By the time they catch up to us, we shall long be gone.”
Every word seemed to echo around the chamber, gradually calming the minds of the dwarves below. Only when he was done did Jana rise and speak. “As you will it, Clan Master. Everyone, pass along the messages. News of this must not escape our clan, lest they act early.”
The dwarves nodded their heads, moving out of the assembly hall to pass the message along to the other clansmen. For three days, the clan seemed to go on a recruitment drive, everyone believing that they were preparing for another grand voyage. However, this drive was a bit strange. Their focus was on the family members of those who were already in the clan.
Those within the clan began packing their belongings. Anything that they could not bear to part with would be brought along, and what would remain would simply be discarded. And on the third day, the caves emptied. Five thousand dwarves of the Water clan stood along the shore, hidden by a dense fog that rolled in under the guidance of the elders.
Among these five thousand, more than half of them were in the First Star realm. They stood in front of those who had not managed to cultivate yet, while in front of them were a mere thirty-two individuals. Thirty-one had managed to reach the level of an Elder, while the final one to stand even in front of them was naturally the Clan Master.
Durak brought his hands together, channeling the starlight within himself. “Be ready. The path will open soon.” He muttered, his voice reaching the ears of every gathered dwarf. One by one, motes of starlight seemed to escape his body. They came together in front of him, forming nine spheres, representing his nine internal stars.
These nine stars gathered, eight of them forming an outer circle while the ninth rested in the center. Under the watchful eyes of everyone present, thin rays of light began to stretch out between the outer stars, connecting them one by one. Once the stars had fully formed the circle, they then reached down to the central star.
Durak watched all of this happening, waiting for the moment when all stars were connected. Then, he took a half step forward, letting out a low shout as his palm thrust out at the central star. Receiving the impact, that star shot off towards the horizon, taking with it eight beams of light.
A moment later, the stars seemed to change, their white lights turning blue, and shifting into a swirling vortex of water. On the other side, the dwarves could see another shore, the ancient buildings of the mainland clearly visible.
This was Durak’s pinnacle technique, which he had cultivated over the many long years of his life. He had named it the Ocean’s Path, as it would let him theoretically cross any ocean. “Go now!” He called out, snapping the dwarves out of their trances.
One by one, they began to rush forward, jumping into the portal and making room on the other side for their fellows to follow. The first to enter were the elders, making it their job to ensure that the surroundings were safe for everyone to follow.
Only when everyone else was through did Durak begin to relax, walking towards the portal himself. He could feel a powerful ki flying towards them, and knew that one of his ‘old friends’ was coming. Yet, by the time that lightning bolt fell from the sky, scattering the fog and sand, there was nothing left to find. Only a feeling of power that seemed to linger on the air.
This should mark a new age for the dwarves. I thought inwardly as I watched their migration. With this, one of the main dwarven clans had chosen to take up residence on the mainland, so it was only a matter of time until the others began to do the same. It would just take them longer in order to move over.
This was also my first look at the Constellation stage of the dwarves in action. Originally, I had thought it to simply act like ki paths within the body. Now, however… it seemed that you had to form the constellations outside of yourself to do certain techniques? I’d need to go back and study the laws a bit more later if I wanted to ever descend in this world.
Shaking my head, I looked back towards Fyor, curious to see how things had played out over the years. Given the time that had passed, Irena should already have her incarnation, though she wouldn’t be old enough to have really helped make any actual changes yet.
What I saw was… rather surprising. The Council, as far as I could tell, was not sending any relief aid towards the nineteenth floor. Either something had happened during this ten years, or they had simply decided to cut their losses after noticing that they couldn’t get anything out of it. Once I looked through the recent history, I learned that it was closer to the latter.
At first, the Council had attempted to send aid, even sending another of their own to figure out what was going on. They didn’t know why nobody within the Great Blue was contacting them, and so they sent in someone to check. However, they similarly lost contact with this person immediately, them not making any of their scheduled reports.
Rather than risking sending anyone else in, the Council declared the nineteenth floor a ‘dead zone’, forbidding any travel there. This decision was… not a popular one, as it also cut off the twentieth floor. With the nineteenth’s gates inactive, it appeared that priests were unable to open up portals to skip it.
As such, this one order made it so that the strength of Fyor would now become stagnant. While the other worlds developed people with levels in the three, or even four hundreds, their own level limit would never increase. Naturally, this caused some unrest, with two factions rising up in response.
The first group were those who chose to leave Fyor, seeking to go somewhere that they could properly grow. Then there was the second group, who became desperate to eke out any strength they could within their explored floors. This faction gained the support of the Council, which began to fund missions of exploration to any of the explored floors.
Naturally, there was an ulterior motive behind this decision. If the Great Blue had so many hidden resources, then wouldn’t the other floors hold similar treasures? However, nobody complained about this line of thought, given that they were similarly hoping for a way to increase the strength of themselves and their world through this exploration.
Within the nineteenth floor itself, things were… a bit different. The shades that had once tormented them had long since been slain, their weakness to light easily being discovered once people allowed their heads to cool. For a time, there was indeed chaos. Storms rolled over the land as people fought for the right to rise to power.
In each of the cities, the fighting was intense, many believing themselves to be the only ones truly capable of leading all others. This was a natural thought to them, as they had spent their entire lives growing stronger, making them forget that everyone else had gone through similar experiences.
In this chaos, naturally the Council representatives attempted to lay their claim to power as well, calling it their right not by power, but by experience. With only two such representatives in the entire floor, things… did not go so well for them.
It took nearly six months for a chain of command to form, with the leaders ultimately being the mages. There were a number of reasons for this, even beyond their combat potential. Only the mages could ensure the safe birth and nurturing of children by creating the enchantments to lessen the effects of gravity on infants and pregnant women. Only the mages could identify the mana siphons. And, of course, with the density of the mana in the air, only the mages held absolute power during this time.
Like this, the Circle of Mages was born, a new council specifically to govern the nineteenth floor of Fyor. Their goal was not to find a way to resolve the eternal night that the Great Blue was suffering, but to give everyone a path of survival within it.