The Return of Light/Dark

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The Return of Light/Dark

Post by DUEL Specter » Sun Apr 14, 2019 10:51 pm

The Tip of the (Crystalline) Iceburg

After the Archmage Tournament -- 4/14/2019

“We’ll be there in five minutes.”

”Nothing’s on fire or exploding or imploding or…?”

The goblin steam transport rumbled over tracks unused since the days of Ragnarok loomed over the Isle. The half-ghost of a girl sighed into her phone and shook her head.

“No, nothing seems to be amiss… it just sounded like really loud thunder for a solid sixty seconds… rattled everything off the walls of the office and then it just stopped.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t the volcano? It gets rumbly sometimes…”

“I’m positive. The volcano is quiet, all of the towers were quiet. It came from off the coast… to the northwest… it was a bit like…”

“No...hnnnngh, we held off Ragnarok, they said it wouldn’t ever be an issue again.”

The tram rumbled to a stop as promised but five minutes later. The tracks ended where the isle met the expansive seemingly endless sea beyond, broken where they once connected the main island to Ragnarok Isle far to the northwest.

“We’re here... huh…”

”What is it?”

“Give me a second…”

”You’re my eyes, Pris… what are you seeing?”

“It’s… it’s not… like Ragnarok. But… there’s like, crystal… poking up…”

”Crystal? What kind of crystal?

“I can’t tell from here. It’s not a lot or anything, just a big rock of it, you know?”

”How’s it feel?”

“Mmh… neither good nor bad. It’s just… there.”

”I don’t like that… Go ahead and head back for the night, I’ll be out tomorrow afternoon and we can check it out together.”

“Sounds good, boss lady. Don’t have to tell me twice.”
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Re: The Return of Light/Dark

Post by Claire Gallows » Mon Apr 15, 2019 9:54 am

A Mountain Out of a Molehill?

The Next Morning -- 4/15/2019

Though Claire Gallows had her pick of locales for breakfast, including but not limited to The Sassy Owl, Hangman Distillery’s taproom, the cafe at Caelum Training Center, or even the delectably homemade selections offered by Cordellia, the Gallows’ live in cook, she found herself sitting on the patio of a French styled bistro set on a narrow side street off of the main thoroughfare in the Old Market. Wrought iron chairs topped with plush cushions were separated by a frosted glass crowned table. For a Monday morning, the breakfast hour was a slow one and but a single pair occupied the outdoor patio.

“After we’re done, do you wanna head up to the gym?” Claire was in the middle of saying when her phone began humming its way across the glass. She reached out to grab it, keeping it from skittering off the edge of the table. Across from her, dark features framed by deep pink hair peered back, quietly inquisitive as the older woman examined the incoming message. “Actually… hold that thought.”

Often when Claire received picture messages they were of a bearded cowboy with a goofy grin or one of their gaggle of chubby cheeked children. Alas, not this time. Instead, a tall crystalline tower loomed out of the placid waters of Twilight Isle, reaching high for the sky in a jagged semi-opaque spire. With it, Priscilla had added a message;

Houston… we have a problem.
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Re: The Return of Light/Dark

Post by Claire Gallows » Mon Apr 15, 2019 10:11 am

Exploration

Claire exhaled a long suffering sigh and glanced over her shoulder to the bistro’s door. When she looked back at Royal, she did so with a grimace of a smile.

“Up for an adventure? I need to go address this before it gets out of hand.”

The young woman lit up, nodding vigorously as Claire signaled their server who took his dear sweet time in moseying on over with their bill. It was then that she remembered just why she usually stuck to her own eateries. Good help was hard to come by.

A short time later, the bill was squared away and Claire and Royal were loaded up in the former’s Jeep en route to Dragon’s Gate. There it was just a matter of a quick hop through a portal and soon they stepped out onto the sands of Twilight Isle. A worried half-ghost of a girl met them, flanked on either side by troubled looking goblins who intermittently turned away to converse behind her back in a guttural dialect.

“It’s getting bigger…” Priscilla said with a frown.

“That’s what she said?” Royal offered out, almost hesitantly considering the air of concern lingering around them. The corner of Claire’s mouth twitched as she fought back a smile, gently nudging the girl with her elbow.

“Game face, Royal. Game face.” Low tones, amused rather than admonishing.

“Oh, right.” Royal’s expression flattened, her brows knitting as she tried her very best to look serious. The look didn’t suit her.

“Let’s head out there and see what we can figure out. For the time being, let’s close the portal just until we can discern what might be going on. If needed, send missives to the Keepers just so they know they can still come and go and that there’s no need to worry.”

“Yet.” Specter amended. “But I’ll take care of it.”

With plans underway and Specter busy on a semi-transparent tablet in her barely opaque grasp, their contingent set off for the Isle’s northwest quadrant, trekking through the forest past goblin settlements and a handful of sparse abodes built by other occupants of the island’s woods. In the shadow of the mountains, the goblins led them to the abandoned train station that had been built specifically to service Ragnarok Island upon its appearance four years ago.

Almost to the day, in fact.

It was a fact that troubled Claire immensely. Ragnarok had nearly been Twilight Isle’s undoing and in the course of the great cataclysm, many had suffered… some (mostly goblins) had even died. Several had been trapped on the Isle, closed off when they shut it away to prevent anything from spilling over from the pocket realm into Rhydin proper. As she mulled the implications of the ominous rumblings and appearing tower, the rickety train pulled the group closer and closer to the shore, the Isle’s end as it were.

They saw it long before they ever reached the end of the line, a towering monolith that stretched up, up, up toward the sparse wisps of cloud cover on high. Made of jagged crystal, it seemed to have no definitive rhyme or reason to how it had expanded save for “Up”. The base must have been close to fifty feet wide and if Claire had to guess, probably sixty percent of that higher upwards, tapering off to an uneven point some sixty feet up.

Beside her, Royal loosed a low whistle, clicking her tongue against the back of her teeth. It succinctly summed up Claire’s thoughts too. She slid the young woman a furtive look, marveling at just how much she reminded her of Terry. Her thoughts were cut short by the jerky stop of the train shy of the end of the tracks, broken and submerged by the sea as they were. The Isle’s caretakers unloaded, bearing with them some rudimentary tools and a few arcane sensors to see just what this behemoth was.

Was it Ragnarok returned?

Gods, Claire hoped not.

“So, uh,” Royal piped up, shifting her weight from foot to foot, “How do we get out there?”

As if on cue, the seas shifted, displaced by a rising crystalline block, polished smooth in stark contrast to the rough edges of the tower rising out of the water roughly two hundred yards out. Claire narrowed her eyes but gestured vaguely to it for the two women with her. “I guess like this… Watch your step, I’ll lead. If things go sideways, get back to the shore any way you can. Got it?”

Nodded affirmations and a salute of fingers from a dark brow answered her direction and soon they took their first cautious steps out onto the crystal bridge. A steady rise in grade led them from the shore to the perilous outcropping of crystal that formed a portion of its base. It glittered like amethyst, reflecting the twilight sky rather than exuding any sort of color of its own. One might have assumed it was clear otherwise but a closer examination indicated it was made of equal parts light and dark, a continuous war to see which could tip the balance.

For now? Equilibrium.

A carved staircase led them from the bridge’s end up a winding path flanked by imposing crystal stalagmites and ultimately ending at…

“A door?” Priscilla pondered from behind Claire as their course slowed. They didn’t dare approach, not yet at least. The goblins had left them at the bridge, so it was three versus the tower, and once they stood in its shadow, those odds did feel particularly favorable.

“If I didn’t know better, it looks like any of the other towers, you know?” Claire furrowed her brow, one hand set to the curve of her hip. A twitch of a finger away sat a holstered handgun and in the other direction from her belt hung an aetherial spectrometer. Much as her concern wanted her hand to move for the former, she instead unhooked the latter from its blue carabiner and offered it out to Priscilla. “Let’s get some readings on this thing and clear out. We can analyze the data elsewhere.”

Read also: Somewhere safer.

Priscilla nodded, dutifully taking the gauge before cautiously setting off on a wide perimeter around the tower, periodically pausing to take a new reading. It left Claire and Royal at the tower’s base, necks craned as they looked up at the highrising point.

“It doesn’t feel bad… just ominous. Like the breath before the shifting of the wind.” Mostly musing to herself, Claire looked aside at Royal with a sheepish look that fast turned into a frown. Royal stood no longer at her sorta mother’s side but rather, with a quick look, Claire found her nearing the arched door of the tower itself. Upon dark crystal, a pair of sigils had been etched, interlocked in a well meshed interplay that left a glimmering impression in the otherwise smooth surface.

Royal tilted her head and reached up, her fingers brushing the sigil.

“Royal, don’t touch that!”
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Re: The Return of Light/Dark

Post by Claire Gallows » Mon Apr 15, 2019 10:26 am

The Balance

Ten feet back, a burst of white light blinded Claire, her hands coming up to shield her eyes against the glare. A startled cry cut through the air and before her eyes even adjusted, Claire lurched forward toward Royal and the door. Squinting into the light, she grabbed blindly for the girl, her fingers closing on Royal’s shirt to try and jerk her back away from the door. She pulled, but Royal seemed rooted to the place and as the light began to fade, Claire learned the dreadful reason why.

“What was that?” Priscilla came floating around the tower’s edge, rushing to where Claire took with her hands on the younger woman, the latter of which stood unresponsive, hand still lifted and set against the door. Creeping crystal had wrapped itself around her hand and wrist, inching up her forearm and leaving lines of black and white beneath her skin. Her dark eyes had glazed over, reflecting the door’s sigil… or maybe the sigil had marked itself upon the woman’s eyes. Claire wasn’t sure but it wasn’t the first time she had witnessed such a phenomenon.

“Pris, help me! Please!” Claire cried out, frustrated that for all of her strength, she couldn’t seem to pull the younger woman away from the door. She tugged hard enough that her fingers were sure to leave marks on Royal’s bronzed skin, leaving Claire worried that she might hurt the woman if she tried to pull her much harder. Priscilla neared, wide eyed but drawn to action by her coordinating counterpart’s plea. Together they pulled, pulled, and pulled some more until Claire felt Royal’s shoulder straining against the tension. “Stop… stop… fuck... what do we do?”

Their question was soon answered as Royal let out an ear shattering scream, the white light blinding them once more. Unlike before, it didn’t linger, and with a flash and a crash of shattering crystal, the light was gone and Royal was falling, collapsing to the ground in a heap. Claire tried to catch her before the entirety of her weight hit the ground and together the two sank. Royal’s arm still bore the evidence of the tower’s bindings, uneven hunks of crystal wrapping her flesh almost up to her elbow and leaving only minimal swaths of skin bare and visible.

“Royal, darlin’, open your eyes. C’mon… Royal… Royal!” Claire shook the girl vigorously, her panic rising when she gave no discernible response. Priscilla carefully reached out, her fingers hovering beneath the younger girl’s nose for a few moments before withdrawing.

“She’s still breathing… Claire, we need to get her away from this place.” Priscilla said gently, bending down in a bid to get Claire to her feet so they could lift the unresponsive Royal.

“Right… you’re right…” Claire nodded, fumbling her way to her feet without letting go of the unconscious girl. Cradle carrying her, she held the limp woman against her and gave Priscilla a single nod. “Let’s go… quickly.”

Behind them, the door’s sigil held a lingering glow, pulsing and fading in slow succession, almost as if it were breathing. Claire glanced back, frowned, and swiftly followed after Priscilla as they made their retreat, rushing across the smooth crystal bridge and back to the train on the other side.

“Take us back to the portal… Pris… close it off behind us when we leave.”
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Re: The Return of Light/Dark

Post by Claire Gallows » Mon Apr 15, 2019 6:28 pm

The Unbalanced

Late Monday -- Underwood Manor -- New Haven -- 4/15/2019

“How’s she doing?” From the doorway, Priscilla looked in as Claire maintained her bedside vigil for her not-daughter.

“Stable, I guess… They’ve been periodically chipping away some of the crystal that attached itself to her arm but if they do too much her vitals spike and they get worried it’ll cause more trauma…” Claire said quietly, looking from the unconscious girl to the half ghost on the threshold.

“I see… has she woken up at all?” Priscilla asked, floating in to join the pair. Claire shook her head. Priscilla frowned and offered out the tablet she held. Once Claire took it, Priscilla explained its contents. “We found no discernible threat in the aether surrounding the tower. The tower itself seems to be comprised of ninety-eight percent crystal, one percent light aspected aether, and one percent dark aspected aether.”

“So… what’s this mean for us?” Claire looked up at her hovering assistant coordinator.

“I mean… as far as I can tell… nothing. The light and the dark seem to be… balanced but pushing against one another. Other than that, it’s neither good nor bad.” It had been a day of dead ends, Priscilla’s research offering no real explanation for just where the tower had come from and why it was there. Claire sighed and pushed the tablet back into Priscilla’s hands.

“If the dark tips over, does that make it bad?” She asked, rubbing her eye with the heel of her hand.

“I… I don’t think so. Dark isn’t innately bad, it’s merely the absence of light. So...no?” Pris shrugged, scooting to the side when a pair of white coats entered the room. Claire gave the woman a nod and scooted away from Royal’s bedside to watch at they took her vitals and examined her crystallized arm. Low conference between them saw them flanking either side of her hand, settling in on rolling stools with small chisels and even smaller hammers.

“It seems like some of the crystal has regenerated… but it comes from the point nearest the point of contact… so we’re going to try and excise some of the crystal around her fingers and hand to see if that prevents regrowth.” One explained. Already ghastly pale, Priscilla somehow became even whiter. Claire simply nodded her approval and folded her arms across her chest.

They worked in silence, chipping away at flakes and slivers in slow progress. The hope was that gradual removal would prevent lasting trauma and every time her heart rate spiked, they had to stop and wait for it to return to normal before proceeding. As she had all day, Claire watched their every move, taking it all in, all the while blaming herself for whatever fate awaited Royal on the other side of this.

“I should have known better than to bring her along.” Claire said quietly. Priscilla had taken the seat next to her some time ago, settling in to watch the doctors work as well. The women exchanged a look when Priscilla gently patted Claire’s arm.

“There was no way to know it would go this way.” Pris said, leaving her hand there for a few moments before withdrawing.

Their quiet conversation was soon interrupted by one of the doctor’s humming an inquisitive note.

“She’s got something in her hand.” He said, carefully chiseling away more of the crystal. A few centimeters thick, the rounded edge of something vaguely rectangular looking was held fast in Royal’s curled fingers.

“What is it?” Claire asked, leaning forward in her seat as she tried to peer around working hands. It was no use, she couldn’t see any better than they could. Still she perched at the edge of her seat, waiting for them to uncover it all.

“It’s…” Chisel, chisel, chip. “Hmm. It’s…”

What is it?!” Pris echoed.

“It is…” More chiseling, more flaking crystal, and finally a crack like breaking glass. “...A deck of cards.”

“What? Cards?” Claire asked, confused. Before they could answer, Royal’s monitors went wild, chirping and beeping as the girl’s heart rate skyrocketed and blood pressure plummeted. No answer came, the doctors soon too busy tending to something more vital (pun intended). While they did, Claire took the opportunity to carefully free the deck from Royal’s grasp. Less playing card and more like tarot cards, they were tucked into a neat stack, the back of the last card bearing the same sigil that had been etched on the tower’s door. Upon closer examination, it appeared to be an interlocking sun and moon, wound together so intricately it was hard to see where one ended and the other began. Claire’s thumb traced over it.

“Light…” Claire said.

“And Dark.” Priscilla murmured.

“Pris… you know those keys I kept locked in the office safe?”

“Y-yeah… um… about those…”

“What?”

“They… uh… they sorta went missing during the Ragnarok calamity.”

“...I think I know where the tower came from…”
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Re: The Return of Light/Dark

Post by Claire Gallows » Tue Apr 16, 2019 2:57 pm

Fate

Early Tuesday -- Underwood Manor -- New Haven -- 4/16/2019

“Let’s go over it again… just to make sure I’ve got it this time.” Priscilla said, her voice low despite the fact there was a wall separating them from where Royal rested peacefully in the next room over. In her grasp she held a tablet full of notes and pictures, her fingers constantly moving against the screen to keep up with everything that Claire had just gone over.

“She said it wasn’t light or dark, but rather both. Only some of what she said made any sense, but the doctors said that can be normal as she wakes up.” Claire chewed at her bottom lip and scanned the setup of cards before them. The deck that Royal had been holding was split into three piles, divided out by category. Moon sigil cards to the left, sun sigil cards to the right. In the center, a thin stack bearing the intertwined symbol that had been on the door. Claire tapped a finger against the middle stack. “These are the random draw cards… she said that while people could choose whether to side with light or dark… that some may not be able to make the decision for themselves and thus must leave it up to fate.”

“And by fate, you mean a random draw?” Pris perked a brow, peering down at the cards. Claire shook her head.

“No… because watch… draw the top card.” Claire gestured, pulling her hand away. Hesitantly, Priscilla reached out for the Fate stack and plucked the topmost card free of its brethren. Claire nodded. “Turn it over. What did you get?”

“The Sun. Light... Okay and?” Priscilla showed the card’s face to the woman sitting across from her and set it down on the table.

“Now draw the next one. Or heck, draw a random one out of the middle.”

Pris did exactly that, turning each one over as she drew it to reveal that every single one bore the Sun emblem of the Light alignment. The ghostly girl frowned, restacking the cards and leaning back in her seat. “Maybe they’re missorted.”

“See, that’s what I thought at first too… but watch.” It was Claire’s turn to draw, leaning forward in tandem with Priscilla’s withdraw to take the top three cards and one out of the middle of the deck just in case. All four were flipped at the same time, spread in her grasp to reveal the Moon emblem of the Dark alignment on every one. “Every single one is the same for me.”

“Claire… I’m not sure I like this…”

“I’m not sure we have a choice… the last time we tried to ignore something like this, it nearly cost us the Isle and everything on it… the towers, the rings, the goblins… everything. I don’t think we can afford to ignore it.” Claire offered her counterpart a grim smile but Priscilla didn’t meet it. Instead she was fixated on a point over Claire’s shoulder. “Pris?”

Priscilla raised a hand, one finger extended, eyes wide as she pointed. Claire jerked a look over her shoulder and nearly fell out of her seat. Hovering but a few inches away was a ball of energy, pitched so dark that it looked nearly blue in the artificial light of the office. No bigger than a baseball at its center of mass, it simply bobbed there benevolently. Claire reached for it, feeling the arcane crackle tickle her fingertips. It let her pass her hand through it, dispersing and coalescing once more when she drew back.

“Huh… that’s a new development.” Claire mused.

“It’s something…” Priscilla agreed, brow furrowed as she made more notes. Claire shuffled the cards back into the deck and as she did, the little orb of darkness disappeared with a quiet pop!

“Regardless… we aren’t doing any good by sitting on this and waiting. I think we need to commission everyone else to get in on this too… so maybe we can address this… tower and it’s little balance issue.” Claire sighed and shook her head, gathering the cards together one stack at a time.

“Alright, so where do we go from here?” Priscilla asked.

“All of the readings are clear on the tower itself, there’s no danger being presented to the Isle. So… I say we open it back up, let the public know all is well… and see who wants to join us while we figure this out.”
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