The city shook. Not an earthquake, but the air itself; static, hot, and electric all at once. Every living being for a hundred miles raised their heads and lifted their eyes, turning to find the source. At first there was nothing. No sign of anything at all. The rolling countryside of emerald hills gave way to a peaceful walled city spanning a wide, swift moving river. It was a pleasant place to live. A beautiful place to live. But it would be the last time anyone would call it so again.
Unrelenting, the trembling continued, driving people from their homes to search the horizon, the sky, the streets for a sign. In the countryside they saw nothing—would see nothing—but in the great city of Ichor they would see it all.
At the center of town stood the royal palace: an elegant fortress of stone and glass, spires and turrets, straddling the deafening river exploding into a powerful waterfall below. The palace was flanked on either side by the Scholar’s Guild and the Magician’s Guild. The two Guild towers were nearly identical, so tall they rose well above everything else, above the tallest castle spire, so thin and spear-like it seemed as if they might topple in a strong wind.
It was from the leftmost tower—the Magician’s Gold Tower— as it was called, named for the golden eagle perched atop the peak, the trouble began. The tremors grew stronger with every passing second, until the entire building vibrated, and for the first time in history onlookers believed it might fall. Those living in the tower’s shadow screamed, running for cover as stones shifted overhead, threatening to plummet. And then, just as suddenly as it began, the quake ceased.
Concerned shouts quieted, replaced by uneasy chatter as the people of Ichor held their breath and fixed their eyes, waiting and watching anxiously.
What was that? They asked their neighbours gathered in the street.
Where did it come from?
Was it the Magicians?
Was it the Scholars?
No one knew.
Several long minutes passed. And just when the townsfolk were about return home, it began…
It appeared like a blotch of ink at the topmost window of the Gold Tower—a dark, wispy smudge moving like strange smoke, seemingly unaffected by the wind. But it wasn’t smoke. It didn’t act like smoke. It didn’t curl or tendril… it just…expanded. Slowly. Like molasses across a level surface.
At first the townsfolk believed it was fire and called for buckets of water. But when the volunteers arrived to save the Guild from burning, several royal guards blocked their path and drove them back, telling them to go home, lock the doors, and stay inside.
Over the course of the day the chaos spread. Guards, soldiers, Magicians, and Scholars gathered in the street surrounding the Gold Tower. They argued about what to do as the black smudge stretched across the tower, devouring tones of natural stone in russet, bronze, onyx, and charcoal. The shadow took the tower’s color and left behind a poor imitation of the once magnificent structure. Even the proud golden eagle lost its gilded hue. But if the townsfolk thought it would stop at the Gold Tower, they were wrong.
The shadow swelled, bleeding across the bricks and mortar of the city, seeping into cracks and crevasses and rolling across surfaces until the entire city was a dark blemish on the empire: a single point void of color. Not even the people were safe. The otherwise harmless shadow leached into their skin like a parasite, draining pigment over the course of days, until there was nothing left but a grey, lifeless, pallor.
No matter what the Magicians tried they couldn’t stop the shadow or reverse it. No spell, no chant, no sacrifice could satisfy it. The Scholars fared no better. No book, formula, no calculation could control it. And the shadow spread on…beyond the city borders and into the countryside where it crept along the grass and rolled along the hills, swallowing greens and yellows and reds and every shade in-between, leaving a stormy swatch of grey in its wake.
People began to panic, fleeing their homes to escape the onslaught of darkness. They moved further into the countryside, away from the epicenter of Ichor. They poured from towns and villages in endless streams of carts and carriages packed to the brim, choking roads in all directions. The royal army tried to stem the chaos, barking orders and flashing swords to keep peace. But the pandemonium ensued.
Soon neighboring kingdoms closed their borders, doing whatever necessary to keep the shadow from invading their own lands: buildings walls, casting spells, digging trenches, all to no avail. The shadow simply slipped across, through, over and under, sneaking in. And the darkness crept on, and on, unbound, until every last corner of the landlocked continent was cast in eternal shadow.
In the end there was only one thing that keep the shadow at bay. Water. Vast amounts of water. Not lakes or rivers, but seas.
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