Extra Stories

Note: The following story contains no spoilers for Cronus Collection.

New Year + New Mission

January 1st, 1186.

Throughout cities across the world, cheering could be heard the precise moment the new year began. The instant the clock struck midnight and welcomed in the New Year was the most treasured time for every culture. Only those who lived far from civilization could be ignorant of that fact.

One woman, who knew nothing of the land she walked upon, could feel everyone’s great happiness. For her, it was an inexplicable moment of joy that she would never forget.

“Happiness overwhelmed this planet. Not for long, but long enough. The passage of time is valuable on this world, I believe.”

The woman was from another universe, Serra, where planets and stars existed in a variety of forms instead of just spheres. The entirety of her world was populated with multicolored cosmic matter. The astral bodies were alive and mobile and traveled across the universe as they pleased. The view from anywhere in that world would easily be described as majestic.

The woman waited a few minutes to confirm the wondrous moment had passed.

“Now I must return to my task,” she said. Criminals had escaped from her world to this one and needed to be recovered or executed. To be specific, her orders were to attempt to discover how they had traveled between universes and imprison or execute them if that proved to be impossible.

The three criminals that had escaped were of course not giant suns. The universe would’ve rejected such massive and disruptive forms. So they had transferred their souls into humanoid constructs and warped their way to this planet. The woman had done the same.

“The trail leads deeper into this frozen continent,” the woman was able to sense. She didn’t need to fear the cold due to the nature of her body, but it was difficult to walk properly in the snow. She was able to get used to walking on land quickly, but the deep snow presented a challenge.

“My targets come from Serra too. They shouldn’t be more skilled at this than I am,” she complained to herself as she made exaggerated steps through the deep snow.

Just as dawn was breaking, the woman reached the mouth of a shallow cave. Within was a rocky golem-like being. His aura revealed his true form to the woman. He was the criminal called Ly; the least dangerous of the three escapees.

“Avaradina,” the golem said. “You found me quickly. I’ve always had bad luck.”

“How did you arrive on this world? Within moments of escaping your prison, you and your allies were gone. You had no time to prepare after escaping which means you were prepared before you escaped.”

“You are a very intelligent star, but you’re wrong.”

“Enlighten me.”

“I think not. In our world, you are the most fearsome guardian. In this one, I think I stand a chance of defeating you.”

Ly punched the ground and a sharp spear of rock emerged from behind Avaradina. The spear would’ve pierced her heart if she hadn’t evaded.

“That reaction timing is impressive.”

Ly’s fist remained in contact with the ground. As his opponent ran toward him, he used his connection with the earth to summon more spears. Avaradina moved impossibly to avoid them. She sidestepped one spear and should’ve been pierced by the next, but her body propelled itself away.

“You shouldn’t be so skilled!” Ly yelled. “Have you had a mortal body before?”

“No. I struggle just walking through snowy terrain. The reason I can dodge your attacks is because this is a battle. My instincts and combat ability were fully unlocked the moment you attempted to kill me.”

“Unlocked? What kind of body is that? I don’t sense any great power beyond what mortals in this world possess.”

“Your inability to sense my capabilities will be your downfall.”

Ly felt excruciating pain. Something had slammed into his back and disrupted the magic spinal cord holding his body together. His foe was no longer in front of him and he would never see her again. His vision switched to black.

“I hit you too hard,” he heard before his auditory senses shut off.

Avaradina was unhappy with herself. She had intended to at least learn something from Ly about how the prisoners had escaped. The golem was now nothing more than a corpse and the remaining two criminals were far away.

Traces of their movements extended in opposite directions. One to the east and one to the west.

Avaradina projected a map from her palm. Her superiors had made contact with a few denizens of this world long ago. They had given the location of a base of allies known as Lem. If she traveled there, someone would help her to locate the remaining criminals.

She didn’t want to bother them on whatever holiday had arrived though. Despite having just killed someone, she thought only of that moment of great happiness. Whatever great event had happened, Avaradina could only think of this day as a holy day.

So she walked into the cave and sat by Ly’s fire. She enjoyed the warmth of the flames, closed her eyes, and fell into a peaceful sleep.

Note: The following story contains no spoilers for Cronus Collection.

The Darkness We Permit

The mages of Zekkyn study within the Colleges of Azoth in the great capital of Cronus. The seven colleges are: Elements, History, Mathematics, Science, Philosophy, Medicine, and Eschatology. Those who study and teach within these colleges are Existence Scholars. All capable of using some form of magic and allowed to pursue their own interests to reach the truth of the world.

The College of Eschatology is a place for those concerned with the ultimate destiny of the world. Some focus on the potential for apocalypse. Others focus on the potential for apotheosis. Within this college, a certain level of blasphemy is permitted. To prevent disaster, it can be necessary to understand the most heinous and villainous of forces. There are limits to what the scholars are allowed to study, but those limits are noticeably relaxed in the Eschatology department.

Those scholars are allowed to focus on questions that may have sinister answers.

For example, what if the world was created for a dark purpose?

For example, what if the world has no benevolent guardian deity?

Worst of all, what if this world is where people are sent to suffer?

Within the Existence Scholars, pessimism is on the rare side. There are not many who would even entertain questions such as these. These questions are useless to most yet unavoidable for those studying ‘the end’.

Victor Almos is one of the scholars who focuses on the darkness existing within the world. He is one who knows the planet’s true name of Qualia, but who has never had direct contact with the men and women of secret knowledge. He has been exceedingly lucky in his discovery of tomes of radical knowledge. Some, including myself, consider him to be a potential threat to others.

This is a story concerning Victor Almos composed from several scattered source documents. This story may contain small indiscrepancies, but I will assure you of its general accuracy. As always, I’m waiting for your thoughts my most valuable friend.

 

-Dylath Cross

 

***

 

Victor awoke at 11 AM to the sound of violins. He had crafted his own alarm clock to play a variety of musical pieces suited to his tastes. While the music played, the candles in his office would light themselves one by one. The office was pitch black at night, so the meager light provided by the candles was enough to help Victor wake up every morning.

Victor was a professor within the College of Eschatology. At the age of twenty five, he had published a dissertation on the nature of angels as understood by the Empyrean Seekers in Azgarbia. In some ways, Azgarbia could be considered the young sibling of Zekkyn. The two continents traded mainly with one another. In fact, Zekkyn only traded with the nations of Azgarbia.

In the city of Madriel within the Empire of Azgarbia existed the head of a religious order called the Empyrean Seekers. Victor didn’t care for their beliefs, but he desired to become a professor by writing about a safe topic that would guarantee him his degree. So he had spent a brief time living abroad writing his paper and when he returned it was accepted.

Since becoming a professor, Victor held the same schedule. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he taught two classes totaling three hours of lecturing on each day. The first class being the basic Introduction to Eschatology and the second being Musings on the Emperor’s Mandate. Both were low level classes he taught to fulfill the minimum requirements of the department head. This would be his fifth year teaching and his last year before turning thirty.

By becoming a professor, he was granted access to the most forbidden archives of the Colleges of Azoth. Most of the colleges had no forbidden books, however the College of Eschatology most certainly did. At the front of the forbidden archives was a small bookshelf containing books passing the President’s test of veracity. All the other books were marked as being of dubious quality, but Victor considered several of them to be the most important books he had ever read.

One contained passages stolen from the Black Books of Zenith and contained several rituals for summoning familiars. The true Black Books likely had more complicated and dangerous rituals, so the book within the archive served as only a small taste of the contents of the true volumes.

Victor had verified one ritual by successfully summoning a familiar to clean up dusty spaces. Since then, he had used it frequently. He spent nearly all of his free time in the archives or his office, so the accumulation of dust in his personal space was an annoyance that could be solved with a five minute ritual.

The knowledge Victor sought was nothing so simple as summoning a sprite to clean dust though. His favorite books explored more esoteric subjects. Two of his favorites being The Third Man and Dimensional Maneuvers.

The Third Man posited that the founder of Zekkyn, the great Emperor known as Prometheus (to conceal his true name), was not the only one gifted with the knowledge of civilization. It spoke of three men and one woman who were present when the knowledge of civilization was gifted to humanity. Each witness to this great event was given a number indicating the order in which they received this gift.

Prometheus was considered the first. Followed by a woman hiding under the name Tiamat. Followed by a man described as having a will like a great rock wall beneath a towering cliff. And finally, the eponymous Third Man; a lover of secrets and student to Prometheus for a time before vanishing and travelling to unexplored continents.

Dimensional Maneuvers was a book speculating about every method possible to reach other worlds. Victor hadn’t found any of the methods to work, but the book had a charming quality to it. While the methods for reaching other worlds were useless, there were descriptions of the other worlds and witness accounts that seemed to have some truth to them. Victor believed relying on some intuition was necessary. While he couldn’t prove Dimensional Maneuvers wasn’t a useless fiction, he treasured the book nonetheless.

Those two books were the ones Victor read most frequently. On most days, he would briefly prepare work for his students and review assignments they had turned in before class. Then he would teach and visit the archives until 10 pm or later. Then he would return to his office and speculate and write. The underground office was frigid and unwelcoming to most, but it was without question Victor’s home.

One night, just before he usually went to bed at 4 AM, he had a new idea. One of the techniques in Dimensional Maneuvers alluded to travelling to another world through the grave. He had always assumed this meant death, but what if it meant a literal grave? Perhaps the oldest grave in Zekkyn contained a portal to another world. This idea came to him like a revelation and he became convinced he should seek out the oldest grave on the continent. That night, as he slept, he dreamed of a grand mausoleum with countless portals to strange and novel worlds.

The next day, he scheduled as much time as he could to journey throughout all of Cronus. When the spring semester ended in May, he made a plan to venture out of the capital and across the entirety of the Empire. He felt an impulse to search every graveyard he could find.

While he never found the grave he was looking for, his activities were noticed. One hot summer day, he was approached.

A handsome young man in the finest of suits inquired about why Victor was visiting graveyards across the Empire of Zekkyn. The man told Victor others were speaking of him and spreading rumors. When he heard the answer, which Victor gave to him honestly, the young man smiled and introduced himself as the owner of a bookshop in the mountains. He didn’t give his name, but asked Victor to accompany him back to his store so he could offer him knowledge.

Victor sensed no malice from the bookstore owner. He had the ability to teleport back to his office in the Colleges, as all professors could, in case the man did turn out to be dangerous. So he accompanied him into the great forests at the edge of the Empire, through the nation of Thorndal, and into the unclaimed mountain valleys.

At the northern tip of Zekkyn, directly opposite Cronus at the southern tip, was a secret settlement Victor had never heard of. The bookstore owner took Victor into his store and walked directly to a book called Errors of the Existence Scholars.

The title almost made Victor laugh. The contents of the book made him eternally grateful to the unknown man who had journeyed with him across the continent. The book did in fact contain many correct answers to counter the errors in the beliefs of the Existence Scholars.

For example, when a student can use a sufficient amount of magic they reach the rank called Phantasm. The scholars believe this rank is when the body becomes magical in nature after repeated use of magical techniques. However, a true phantasm is something that never existed in the world with a physical body. And a few years of spells will not transform the body into something magical in nature.

Beyond the rank of Phantasm was the rare rank of Astral given only to those capable of using divine power. There were indeed several Existence Scholars who had reached this rank, but astral power is in fact the same as magical power. Astral power is magic flowing throughout space and has different affinities than terrestrial mana, but is still a force below the realm of gods.

Victor was fascinated by the book. So fascinated that he didn’t believe the bookstore owner when he said he wanted nothing in return for it. Victor offered money and the owner refused. He offered to work for the owner, but that offer was refused as well. After being rejected continuously, Victor prepared to leave after thanking the man once more.

That was when he learned that he could not leave. The secret community at the northern tip of Zekkyn was a town called Lem; established as a place for the sharing and practicing of arts deemed too advanced for the current state of the mortal world. While the planet of Qualia had many continents where great power existed, Zekkyn was still considered within the boundaries of the mortal world. Those who wished to experiment with the strongest forces in the world would be forbidden to do so in plain sight. Lem was a place situated near mortals, but sufficiently concealed so as not to defy <King of the World>.

Victor remained within Lem for the next several weeks. He learned that the bookstore owner was more like a librarian than a shop owner as there was no currency in Lem. Everyone lived the life they wished and helped others with what they needed. Victor became friendly with many people and they cooked for him and he told them stories from Cronus. In total, somewhere between one and two hundred people lived in Lem at any given time.

Victor didn’t want to stay though. As idyllic and wonderful as it was, as much as he was learning, he despised the idea of being trapped. He wished to return to his underground office and speculate in silence on all the new information he had obtained. So he began sneaking around Lem looking for a book that might inform him on how to escape.

There were times when he wondered if he was foolish for wanting to leave. The allure of forbidden topics was too strong to resist though. In Lem, more topics were considered taboo than in the Colleges of Azoth. Even if Lem could reveal the details of all the light in the world, what of the dark? Victor couldn’t live a life studying only one side.

Lem was surrounded by a powerful barrier. Something invisible and different from magic. It was not a wall that could be climbed over or tunneled under. It surrounded Lem and only permitted the chosen in and the chosen out. The bookstore owner was chosen to complete a task outside of Lem so he was allowed to leave for a time. Victor had not been chosen to leave, therefore he could not leave. He had only been permitted to enter at the recommendation of the bookstore owner and the consent of some concealed entity or entities.

For an unknown reason, Victor could not learn the name of the bookshop owner even if it was spoken before him. The residents of Lem knew his name and spoke his name, but Victor could not learn it. He suspected a charm had been placed on him to make him forget. He had tried to outsmart the charm by having a villager write the name down for him. When he looked upon the name on the piece of paper it was as if he had forgotten how to read.

This was unsettling, but Victor didn’t even mind that trickery so much. He simply wanted to return to his underground office with vast quantities of new knowledge. Eventually, he stumbled upon a book with a chapter describing an absurd technique. As the summer came to an end, and with no other option, Victor decided to attempt the irrational maneuver. He gathered all the books he could and performed a Fictional Art; a kind of technique that would either succeed entirely or kill him instantly with no other possible outcome.

The world around him felt impossibly strange for a brief moment and then he was back in his office. The books he had attempted to smuggle out hadn’t made the journey with him, so he began writing down what he remembered of their contents in his own special book. He would keep this book locked in his desk and would refuse to show it to anyone in his department. Perhaps he wouldn’t even show it to the President if asked.

In the following days, Victor became anxious. Victor believed that Lem, although a peaceful place, might authorize someone to journey to Cronus and wipe his memory or perhaps even assassinate him. No such event occurred as of December 2nd, 1185 (a full three months since his escape).

What did occur, in that underground office, was the practicing of techniques Victor had practiced in Lem. No absurd Fictional Arts, but blasphemous Dark Arts. Nothing strong enough to cause action to be taken against him. At least not yet.

Though there was one night, last night, the first night of December. The sound of a beast was heard briefly by a passing scholar. Some of Victor’s words were heard as well. Victor spoke to the beast that emanated a terrible dread just one sentence before it disappeared. The passing scholar was certain of this one sentence when he reported it to his colleagues and it began to spread throughout the Colleges as a rumor.

“Before our time, there was you.”

Caution: The three stories below are intended to be read after finishing Cronus Collection.

01: An Evening Out
February 9th, 1188 (Wednesday)

Peter was alone after he finished walking his girlfriend Nina home. The two had now been dating for almost half a year and they couldn’t be happier. At some point he would ask her to move in with him, but he didn’t know when would be appropriate. He didn’t know how she felt about the idea and he didn’t want to embarrass himself by asking too early.

As always, he thought about their relationship as he walked through the cold night air back toward his apartment. Luckily, they didn’t live tremendously far from one another and therefore Peter didn’t need to spend a ton of money on carriage rides. He preferred to spend his money on things Nina could actually enjoy like nice dinners and trips to the theater.

On this night, Peter saw something strange flickering in the dark. Not a light, for it cast no light, but something vaguely resembling a flame.

It disappeared as he got closer, so he ignored it and finished his walk back to his apartment. He quickly turned on the lights and then went to the heater. The model he owned wasn’t very expensive, so it would need time to heat the room to a comfortable temperature.

After he adjusted the dial on the heating unit, he stood up and turned around. That was when he saw it.

The black flame from earlier.

And it spoke.

“You are Peter Laplace, yes? I apologize for the intrusion.”

“That’s me,” he said, not sure if he should be panicking or calling for help.

“You were friends with Leo Ranatas. My condolences for his passing from this world, but I feel you deserve to know the truth.”

One month ago, Peter’s good friend Leo had completely vanished. Peter had assumed he was still alive, but it seemed something terrible had indeed happened.

“He can’t really be gone,” Peter found himself saying.

“Please take a seat and let me tell you of his heroic sacrifice. I myself didn’t witness it, but I am assured he played a key role in saving this city. Allow me to introduce myself as well. I am Seth.”

Seth hadn’t been involved in the great plans of Prometheus, but he had visited Prometheus’ realm in the World of Gods twice. The first time, he learned of Prometheus’ plan. The second, he learned of the outcome.

Seth explained the details of the battle to Peter. He included as much information as he had without holding anything back. While the journalist found it difficult to believe such a fantastic story, he couldn’t think of any good reason to doubt the false flame.

It was such a strange story, but Peter would rather believe Leo gave his life to save the city than think that he had been murdered by some common thug or died of some illness.

“Few will know what he did for Cronus and the entire world. You should not tell anyone else, but I wished to bring you peace. To be entirely truthful, there is something small I would like to ask of you in return.”

Peter was a little nervous. What could this unknown entity want from him?

“There is an Order dedicated to the Black Flames such as myself. When Zoth betrayed us all, I stopped communicating with humans nearly entirely. I believe this was an overcorrection. It is time that I started speaking with them once more and I would like you to consider joining the Order.”

“Why would you need that?”

“It is not something I need. I believe it would be advantageous to have more trustworthy allies. While we Black Flames may seem mysterious and dangerous, we are the embodiments of nothing. I assure you that no harm will come to you and you may leave the Order at any time you wish.”

Peter still didn’t understand. Seth wasn’t making his reasons clear, but after what he had learned from Prometheus it seemed only natural to befriend Peter. Leo had become the ultimate hero and he only had a very small group of friends. If this Peter was one of Leo’s only friends, then he must surely be a person of value as well.

Unfortunately, the Black Flames often failed to properly explain their reasoning. Peter would surely love to hear that he was held in high esteem, but Seth simply didn’t feel the need to explain any further.

“I’ll consider it, but I don’t want to invite anything dangerous into my life. I have people important to me as well.”

“Your beloved Nina. I must admit, I noticed her appearance in this city. She comes from a far away continent that almost no one in Cronus knows of. The land of Borea holds its own secrets.”

Agents of the Order of the Black Flame were scattered everywhere. In this case, a customs officer had notified Seth of the arrival of someone from a completely unknown place. Seth had then traveled to Borea to learn more about it.

“Her homeland may have secrets, but she has nothing to do with them,” Peter said to defend her.

“You are correct. She is a nice young woman and I wish you happiness with her. I wouldn’t jeopardize that happiness. Think on my offer and I will return in a week for your answer.”

With that, Seth was gone.

 

02: Vacation by the Sea
February 13th, 1188 (Sunday)

Peter and Nina were spending the weekend in Almor. Located on the eastern coast, the village was famous for its expensive resorts. Many of its residents worked in service industries and were accustomed to seeing wealthy patrons from the capital throughout the year.

Peter was only a young journalist, but he had been saving his money and was able to book a three night stay with Nina in one of Almor’s beautiful hotels. They had arrived on Friday night and so they were enjoying the last full day of their vacation.

“The ocean is beautiful like this,” Nina said. “There are so many ships in the Cronus harbor that it’s difficult to get a clear view, but you can see everything from here.”

From the beach to the horizon in the distance, there were no objects obstructing their view. Nina had seen the vastness of the ocean while travelling with her family from their original homeland, but Peter had no memories of ever seeing such a beautiful sight.

Last night they had eaten a wonderful lobster dinner while looking out at the ocean. The seafood in Cronus was fresh and high quality, but it was somehow even better in Almor. Everything about their vacation seemed perfect, but that didn’t surprise Peter because he knew exactly how much it was costing him.

When they finished talking by the sea, they returned to their hotel; the only hotel in the village.

The Grand Bird was its name. Named as such because of the Great Birds of Zekkyn who roamed everywhere outside of Cronus. Due to the hustle and bustle of the city, they were rarely seen by those who lived there. Outside of the city however, the giant magnificent birds flew freely. Rumors said that there was a time when machines that could travel by air were being invented. But when tested, the prototype machine was attacked by one of the Great Birds and air travel was considered too dangerous.

In the lobby of the white and gold hotel, they encountered a couple they had met the day before.

“Peter and Nina. How lovely to see you,” the gentleman said.

“It’s such a shame you’ll be leaving today,” his wife replied.

“If only we could afford to stay,” Peter said with a polite smile. “I hope you enjoy your week here.”

“I’ve never lived in such luxury,” Nina added. “I’d love to return in the summer, but I wouldn’t ask Peter to spend that much money on me.”

“There are plenty of wonders in your city,” the gentleman commented. “You can find luxury anywhere you go if you know how to find it.”

The gentleman’s name was Francis Albright. He claimed that he was raised on the other side of the world, but Peter and Nina took this to be a joke. Nina had come from a far away continent, but it still wasn’t even close to the other side of the world. There was no chance that an ordinary gentleman had come from such a mysterious place.

His wife’s name was Clarice. She had told them the story of how she met Francis the night before. She had lived in a village independent from both the Empire and the nation of Thorndal at the very north of the continent. Francis had arrived in a terrible lightning storm and she found him on the beach nearly dead.

After he was nursed back to health, he stayed with their family and the two of them became closer and closer. Francis told her he would be unable to return home and so she began dreaming of a life with him and before long they were married.

After exchanging some more pleasantries, Peter and Nina said goodbye to Francis and Clarice. Both couples returned to their respective rooms. Back in their room, Clarice and Francis conversed about many secret things that Nina and Peter wouldn’t understand.

Francis’ homeland on the other side of the world.

Clarice’s true birthplace.

The significance of Cronus.

“I wonder if this world is too big to be united,” Clarice wondered. “As time goes on, travel by sea will become more efficient and many nations will come into contact. But will the size of this planet prevent a global union in the far future?”

“Should the day come when magic has spread across the entire surface, ships will no longer be necessary. I think a sort of Qualia Global Federation is possible. The true question is: what waits for us in the void of space?”

“I should think there’s nothing out there,” Clarice commented. “The true mysteries are here upon the Earth.”

“The mysteries of this world and the mysteries outside of this world aren’t mutually exclusive.”

“The thought of exploring outer space is frightening to me.”

Francis smiled slyly. Clarice cared not for darkness. She was surely frightened of the evil moving about their planet, but also believed in the wonders across its surface. The thought of leaving the planet and encountering incomprehensible beings was only frightening and not interesting in the least.

Francis, in contrast, believed strongly in the system of light and dark. What he feared was something outside the system of light and dark. While Clarice feared the alien and chose to ignore it, Francis believed humanity would one day need to confront it.

Their conversations concerned the far future. Their conversations always did concern the future or the occult. That was the reason they admired the mundane life of people like Nina and Peter. Those were ordinary humans able to more fully enjoy the beauty of the world around them.

For Clarice and Francis, a stay in Almor was a vacation in the foreign world of the ordinary.

 

03: The Order
February 16th, 1188 (Wednesday)

When Seth returned, Peter accepted his offer. His vacation in Almor had brought him peace as well as a sense of security. He felt he would see many more happy days and vacations with the love of his life. That belief made the idea of learning more about the Order of the Black Flame less frightening.

Seth wasn’t a human, so Peter couldn’t read his personality. And despite that, Peter trusted his words. He believed no harm would come to him and he would be able to leave the Order at any time if he wished.

If that was true, why shouldn’t he at least join for a little while?

“The original entrance to the Order’s base was constructed in the Colleges of Azoth, but it isn’t necessary to use the physical entrance. There is a gift I can give you that will allow you to teleport there when you wish.”

Peter was briefly wrapped in darkness. A cold wind surrounded him briefly as he traveled through darkness before emerging in a beautiful underground library. Large extravagant chandeliers lit the space and provided sufficient visibility. Every bookshelf and alcove was filled with written knowledge.

“This is the library of the Order. The books here are varied. Some can be found in the bookstores and libraries above and others will never be seen anywhere but here. Regardless, it is forbidden to take any book outside of the Order’s base.”

“I have no need to steal from you.”

“Follow me and we will see if there’s anyone else around.”

On that particular night, none could be found. Seth showed Peter the dormitories, the kitchen and dining room, and empty rooms reserved for future use. He was allowed to see every room including the Shadow Sojourner chamber.

Within that chamber was a device that allowed the members of the Order to project an avatar of themselves into the world of darkness; the world closest to nothingness and filled with unlimited potential. While the world Peter knew was filled with light, it was still a world of shadow mixing both light and dark. The Shadow Sojourner allowed one to dive into deeper shadows and even further into darkness. Possibly even to absolute darkness.

“This is where most members of the Order spend their time. You step into this machine and close the door and operate it as you desire. The members of the Order enjoy studying the darker shades of the world and try to extract knowledge from them. The worlds below extend from absolute nothingness to shadows close to reality. You may find strange castles and people or nothing at all. You are completely safe while using this machine.”

The Shadow Sojourner machine looked like a coffin, but it was about twice as big as a standard coffin and had a seat inside. Peter wasn’t sure he’d ever voluntarily shut himself inside. The thought of leaving this world was frightening to him. He could handle reading books and discussing the unknown, but he felt very uneasy about leaving the world he was born in.

“You have now seen the main base of the Order of the Black Flame. I will tell the others you have joined. You may come here to read in the library or to explore the worlds without light. You may come here to speak with the others. You may choose to never come here again.”

“This place is a secret to most. I’m honored you invited me here, but I still find it strange you require nothing of me in return.”

“Similar to the Colleges of Azoth above, this is a place for scholars; those with an interest in knowledge and wisdom. It is more selective in its members, but it is not an organization seeking to dominate or change the world. Therefore, nothing could possibly be required of you. From time to time I may ask personal favors, but nothing is ever required of you.”

“I don’t ever want to go into that machine. I know that.”

“I believe you will change your mind, but I will reiterate that nothing is required of you. Your friend saved this world and I cannot bestow this gift upon him. Perhaps you may enjoy it instead.”

Seth disappeared. Peter was left all alone and began to feel a little frightened. He wished to be back home and was surprised another gust of frigid wind immediately carried him through the dark and back to his apartment.

Would he ever return? Did he even care to meet the human members of the Order? Perhaps he would read a book or two and learn some of the secrets of the world.

At that moment in time, Peter wished only to be with his love beneath the sun.