The Hollow Stump
rating: +8+x

On your way back from the Buried Arena you decide to take a shortcut through an alleyway. The brick-and-mortar buildings above blot out what little light remains this late, and so you flick open your lighter. The tiny ball of red flame leaps out, bouncing along over your shoulder. With it's warm glow you notice a gap in the building next to you, a shallow depression in the wall just deep enough to shelter an old stump. You've nearly passed it when your eye catches the glint of silver, and you turn to investigate.

With a subtle hand motion you enlarge the flame. Carved into the bricks of the arch above the stump are silver-painted runes in the Traelic tongue; a language common to most nature spirits. The only word you recognize is 'exchange'. You search in your deep pockets, and place the first thing you grab on the stump. You wait for a few minutes, but waiting alone in a dark alleyway is never a smart idea, especially on a Core Island. You reach to take your item back, but find nothing there. You shrug and head home, idly pondering what exchange you may have started.

That night, your dreams are strange.

The Escape

"She went this way! Past the statues!" A stampede of footsteps rumbled by as Lurina huddled in the tiny alcove between a large statue's legs. Once the noise had gone, she poked her head out, looking side to side down the wide, thick carpeted hall. Her legs buckled as she straightened out, still trembling with anxiety. While she waited for her tremors to subside, she peered up at the statue sheltering her. Ironically enough, it was a massive stone warrior, spear clenched in a tight fist, face lined with hatred. Lurina sighed. After all that the warriors had done to her, this tiny opportunity felt like… far too little, far too late.

She gathered up her gray skirts and hood, and carefully, quietly, crept down the hall. She had never been this far down inside the stronghold. Torches lined the walls, light bouncing across oily paintings of old men in flowing robes she'd never seen. Even down this far, there was the occasional full set of polychromatic armor, making her heart stop each time she saw one from around a corner. So far she had been lucky that these were long-abandoned. Would they call an actual Withstander after her eventually, if she kept going further? Her shoulders shook at the thought.

Her shoes clattered on stone now, the carpet having run out some time ago. The hallways were more cramped, the lights less frequent, and tiny rooms intersected the main hall now and then, crates packed to the ceiling above lining the walls and filling spaces between round stone columns. Everything was covered in a fine layer of dust. No one had come down here in a long, long time. Lurina's heart pounded. Stopping between the stacks of crates, she lifted the lid of one. Her face twisted in disgust, and she dropped the planks with a snap.

She cursed herself, silently. Too loud. She hurried from the room, back into the hall. She had no idea which doors might bring her freedom, and so she picked at random, creeping around the corner to peek inside. Never did she see living people, though dusty coffins did fill one room and a yellowed skeleton lay against the corner of another.

The hall finally ended in a larger version of those small rooms, with only a few dirty beds encircling a table stained with melted wax. Only a single lantern illuminated the chamber, hanging over an open doorway leading to dark stairs. They twisted downward, out of sight. Lurina reached up and unhooked the lantern, taking care not to spill the liquid light that sloshed inside it. It was the dullest lantern of this kind she'd ever seen, and she hoped the spell wouldn't fail on her descent.

With each step down, the lantern's glow grew less. She ran her fingers along the rough stone walls as she descended. After so many years, her chance had come, and she'd fled from her tormentors with wild desperation. It was a miracle she'd avoided them so many times within the stone fortress, though she hadn't heard anything of them in some time, now that she had plunged so deep into the bowels of this complex. At last, she reached the bottom of the spiral and pulled open the sagging wooden door that appeared before her.

Within lay a room larger than those she had yet encountered, with a massive depression in the center, like a huge bowl. A smooth wall, roughly waist height, encircled it, lined with writing she couldn't make out in the dim light. Her lantern flickered and went out. Her pulse raced. She could just barely make out the walls of the room and began taking careful steps.

"Greetings, child."

The silence was shattered, and Lurina fell back, crashing into the doorframe. The lantern clattered across the floor, cracked and leaking a viscous, gray fluid. She shook, arms covering her forehead. There was nowhere to go but back up. She crawled back towards the stairs, and the voice spoke again.

"I cannot harm you, child. I am still." Lurina froze. "Though why I would want to, I cannot comprehend." The voice, which she now realized was coming from the far end of the room, continued. "What brings one of such old magic so deep within our walls?" Approaching the room's center, she now saw the suit of armor, kneeling before the low wall on the other side of the bowl. Both palms rested on the wall, no, were part of the wall.

His metal body was covered, too, in the writing that flowed across the barrier. And, as the distance between them closed, she saw that color swirled around the elegant script, like a painted breeze. His helmet, frozen looking out over the bowl, spoke more quietly now. "Regardless of why you are here, I must tell you of what remains here. It is my duty, the reason for my stillness." She knelt next to him and looked over the pool. For she now saw, the depression was filled with a liquid so dark, and so still, that from afar it looked empty and dry.

"This is the Eye of Nadir. In times long past, before so many creatures began appearing on these fractured shores, the Eye was already ancient. Our discovery of it led to the construction of this very labyrinth, though it has been so long I doubt many of those above still remember." His voice was hollow, solemn. "The Eye connects world to world. Over countless expeditions, we have concluded that there is no way to return once one steps through, and so I was set here to guard and guide those curious enough to wander so deep. My name is Ravon Trevanant, the Night Watcher, and I am yours to serve, my Lady." His tone was more gentle and kind than any Lurina had yet encountered, here. She nearly smiled. "Though, not much good can I do, stuck in place like this." He laughed, chuckling quietly among the shadows that piled around them. Lurina stood, hood obscuring her face as she stepped onto the low wall. The armor said nothing, though she felt his watchful gaze from beside her.

She stood, balancing on the thin wall. Still, the armor was silent. She wondered for a moment how long it had been since the last time he'd talked to anyone. Perhaps he simply didn't know what to say. And then, gathering her courage, she leaped into the bowl. Her heart pounded in her chest. She fell, and all the light faded until she could see nothing at all. Her last vision was the old, cracked helmet of Ravon, looking sadly down upon her.

Somewhere in Last Light is an island, surrounded by deep and dark clouds so thick that only warships can safely penetrate. On its surface are many garrisons, towers, and fortresses that hold countless warriors, soldiers, and scholars. To many, it is known as Daingneach, the Stronghold Island. To others, it is simply the Walled. From it, many incredible deeds are carried out, and many secrets are kept hidden within. It is a place of justice, of darkness, and most of all, of power.

And many hundreds of miles below it, nestled among outcroppings of bedrock and spires of dense obsidian, is the Miracle City of Glainne. Inverted towers of translucent crystal hang from the underside of the mighty island, many thousands of them coalescing into a chandelier of civilization that clings to the underside of an unknowing enemy. Mighty bridges arch from tower to tower, made of sparkling glass and materials too drenched in spellcraft to decipher. In this city, the old magic runs deeply through every wall and facet. It is a place of wonderment, of healing, and of loneliness, for those who find the City of Glass do not leave it.

But somewhere lost in the labyrinth of glimmering lights and flowing mana, a small figure awakes on a stretch of translucent stone. She looks around in awe, and tries to pull her hood down in excitement, but it catches on something. She freezes, her hand going to her forehead.

For just a moment, her smile outshines the city itself.

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