49 – Obscuria
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49 - Obscuria

True to Melina’s word, the party made good time. On the way to Obscuria, they encountered some beasts, nothing more than normal wildlife that had been touched and warped by mana and rendered feral. To anyone below Tier 1, such beasts were true monsters, dangers that were more often than not fatal. They were the scourge that roamed the wilderness, even the more tamed wilderness that made up most of Nocturnia of the Winds. Any animal could turn into one such beast if touched by mana for enough time, and farmers had to check their cattle daily to ensure such contamination was nipped in the bud. Too many frightening stories had been told to children about farmers who had been negligent in their checks, only to find their family gutted in the night by their own—no longer docile—stock.

It was also the reason why there were no small settlements about. Most farmers lived inside walled cities, where they could sleep easily and worry about their animals in the morning. Better to wake up to a slaughtered coop or raided barn, than not wake up at all. It was also the reason why cities such as Obscuria existed. They had to, if only to house the several hundred farmers who lived in the area and needed protection, even though the Guild might not be willing to offer them any. Once again, the logic was that it was better to be surrounded by humanity—vile and cruel it might become in places far away from the arms of the law—than mad beasts who only sought to kill and consume.

To Ishrin’s party, such bests were nothing. Not even a nuisance. It was to be expected, since even he—the weakest of the bunch, sitting at the low end of Tier 3—could simply end their lives with a casual blow or bored backhand strike. True, his body was much stronger than his Tier would suggest, thanks to the sacrifice of his summon, but it was still easy. At the same time, being reminded of his superior strength bore with it ill feelings, the emptiness of a missing companion heavy on his mind in times such as these.

After he slew the frenzied dogs, he was so worked up that he ripped the cores out of their—now no longer reinforced—bodies with Telekinesis alone, the small spherical Tier 1 crystals emerging in a shower of gore and crunching sounds. Another swipe of his hand and the carcasses were swallowed by the ground, a magical spell having opened and the closed a small chasm faster than a human eye could react. An offhand comment relieved some of the tension, with Lisette wondering out loud if Ishrin ever happened to run out of mana, what with his decadent use of spells where simple hand labor would have sufficed. This sparked a little talk, for it seemed that none of the people present had ever truly seen Ishrin suffer from low mana sickness, or stress, and the man in question refused to present them with actual data about his mana pool.

They were informed, however, that there were ways to increase one’s capacity and regeneration to levels similar to his, and he offered to teach them some techniques when they had some free time. They all came back to meditation and mana manipulation exercises, for the most part.

“The trick,” he said even though he had claimed not to be teaching them the actual techniques yet, “is to increase the core’s passive absorption of natural mana to the extreme. Faster, and from a larger range. Deeper also works, but it’s harder to do.”

“What does deeper entail, though?” Lisette asked.

“Well, all I will say about it is this: why try to gather the water in the air, where there’s a whole ocean you are floating upon?”

Then he said no more, but what little had been said was enough. The girls were left pondering about how in the world one could tap into the Dirac Sea for mana regeneration, and Ishrin was left with a satisfied smirk at seeing their mental struggle to understand. Then, they switched to other exercises, such as mana compression and core expansion, as well as some more esoteric stuff. He decided that it was perhaps time to introduce them to the more advanced nuances of mana, such as its relationship with living beings, plant and animal life as well as bacteria and fungi. Then, he planned to explain how the planets and the stars themselves could sometimes ignite the spark of a core within them and begin to cultivate, and think. The crown jewel of the explanation would be the soul, the thing that set apart sentient from non-sentient life, and the secret to structured spellcasting and true magic.

But he had time for none of that, and so the lesson was postponed. The forest around them became thick with foliage, dark and dangerous, requiring them to keep alert and silent for the most part. Idly, he wondered how a city had come to be so close to a dangerous forest that had even Tier 6 adventures on alert.


Some people say that places like Obscuria, places built upon the ruins of ancient cities, lost cities, have no right to exist. That they usurped the past, and that their presence was a mockery of disrespect and ignorance. Worse still, in the case of Obscuria, was its fame as the city of sin and perdition at the far fringes of a kingdom that never felt—to the people living in it—like a tangible presence. As it stood, it was true, and the kingdom was more like an imaginary construct with no real power this far from the capital, allowing for all sorts of wicked things to happen in places like Obscuria. With no guild presence, and no army, Obscuria was the perfect place for merchants of all kinds, especially the not-so-legal kind to meet and sell their wares to customers coming from all parts of Nocturnia of the Winds.

Deep below the city, and all around it, and in some cases making up the very walls of the houses of its denizens, the past whispered secrets long lost and long forgotten. There were rumors that the city had arrived here from another place altogether, transplanted to the real world from some sort of fairy tale. Or from an astral realm, as Ishrin had almost seen happen with the mountain. These realms were attached to all places in the universe, but they were more common where human magic was more present, its structure and similarity to the primeval forces of the universe like a magnet to the bubbles of severed space-time. Whether Obscuria had been one of these places, nobody knew.

The forest loomed right outside the old gates of stone, encroaching ever closer with each passing year while nobody ever bothered to stop its advance. It was not worth it, to work for the good of the city, for there was no profit to be made by fighting against the wild plants, especially since they seemed to have a mind of their own, these days. Too dangerous, and thus the ancient gateway that led into the city was overgrown with green vines and violet flowers, plunged in a cloud of semi-toxic pollen that smelled like sweet honey but assailed the mind of whoever stopped for too long inside it.

As the party of three emerged from the mist that shrouded the city from view, after having walked inside the treacherous segment of forest that hosted the almost hidden road that led to Obscuria, they found themselves thrown into another world. Outside, the overgrown ruins were yellowing and crumbling, corroded by the rain and the sun, surrounded by tall trees and always immersed in a dark mist. A cliff edge also towered over the crumbling walls, plunging a whole section of them in eternal darkness, leaving a small corridor between the natural stone of the mountain and the decaying stone of the wall, where echoes and whistles of the wind created illusions of dangerous creatures and hidden perils.

The entrance to Obscuria was surrounded by the yellow crowns of birch trees, lit by the setting sun. The mist from the forest mingled and mixed with the sweet scent of the flowered vines that dangled from the archways, and that swallowed the old observation posts whole. Inside, through the empty windows that were barely visible form the ground, shadows of animals or perhaps people, or monsters, moved about, always barely out of clear sight.

Ishrin barely gave them a quick look, before moving on.

Inside the city was another world: the light from a million burning torches blazed and lit the narrow streets of many different materials, coloring them orange and red. Many buildings were tall and crowded, made of many materials among which wood and stone reigned supreme, repaired with mismatching materials and many architectural styles all at once. Strewn on the road, crowding it even more, were bazaar tents and expository rows of tables with their dangling drapes and embroidered tapestries, fruits and spices, burning incense that produced smoke that rose to the sky and lingered in a perpetual cloud of grey and white that, like a fog, hid the tops of the buildings from view. Only the light of some oil lamps cut through the smoke, little points of light far above that told the newcomers that the buildings were tall, and full.

The noise was all encompassing, and like the smells and the smoke assailed the senses and numbed them. In this city the crowd was like a fluid that snaked through its narrow streets and lost itself among them, ever changing, ever alive.

Ishrin’s party strolled in the middle of the busy road, commanding the people to part before him with their powerful presence. He was at the lead. Behind him trailed Melina first, and Lisette last, closing the rear. Behind them the gap in the crowd stitched itself back together like a wound sealing itself shut, as if nothing had ever happened. The people looked up at Ishrin, who seemed to tower unnaturally over them as he walked, then looked away and to the ground. Even though they did not know of the spell he was using to make his presence larger, if he even was using one at all, all of them seemed used to recognizing powerful people stroll through these streets, and none were disturbed for more than a few seconds before returning to their tasks. The merchants yelled at the crowd; a few people responded.

“I do not like this place.” Lisette said in a low voice.

“Me neither.” Melina said. “Have you seen how none of the merchants have tried to sell us stuff?”

“I have.”

“Do you think that they sense our power, and avoid us because of it?”

“Yes. They are all very aware.” She said. “That is why I don’t like this. Something is wrong.”

Ishrin looked around, scanning the crowd and the buildings. The smoke that hid the top of the buildings from view was no obstacle for him, the same ritual that had granted him Telekinesis also allowed him to clearly see everyone around him by sensing their energies, even inside the houses. He spotted some movement at the second floor of one of the buildings, two men who were looking out the window suddenly running inside as soon as he made eye contact with them.

“Girls, be ready. It’s showtime.”