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Home » Encyclopedia » Kindred Crossing
Kindred Crossing
When you can't find your own path, borrow one.
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Sullenly following his mother, Umbrann trudged down the path to the Thorndark Alter, a well of darkness tended by the Shadowbinder’s brood for generations. Even though nothing noteworthy had happened in all the time he had been attending the lunar gatherings, Umbrann couldn’t shake the sense of foreboding he felt when his clan gathered around the pitch black pool. The concentrated slough of shadow seethed amidst the remains of once prominent architecture, long collapsed. There was an ancient omen associated with this dark void that shadow clans tended to fear and respect. He would too, if he could just get over the smell.

To his knowledge, the blackness never actually claimed any victims, but often looked as though it might, with dark tendrils occasionally protruding around the edges of the pool, searching. When he was a hatchling, Umbrann's mother would chide, "If you don't behave, I'll give you to the void." He didn’t much like his mother.

That night's gathering of the clans began like any other. The same crusty, old elders in stinking robes passed around a bunch of spectral candles, each of which was lit with purple flame and placed near the edge of the pool. After a series of unintelligible chants were dutifully uttered by the congregation, one representative of each clan stepped forward. They presented an old heirloom or relic, and - quite unceremoniously - dropped in their offering. The keepsakes hit the surface in complete silence, immediately disappearing beneath. Hand it to an ancient god to provide such an efficient garbage disposal method.

The intense boredom of the ceremony caused Umbrann’s mind to wander, until a pointed, painful sensation dug into his side. Startled, he looked around at the many wizened faces staring at him from under their black robes.

"It's your turn, voidling," his mother chided, retracting her arm.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize we’re on such a tight deadline,” Umbrann grumbled under his breath as he picked up the item he’d brought for the offering; a small, crescent-shaped stone, crusted over with glowing lichen. Not wanting to part with any of his own things, Umbrann had ‘borrowed’ the fist-sized stone from a sleeping tundra he’d encountered on a trail along the outskirts of his village. It’s not like the guy was gonna remember it, anyway.

Above, the moon had taken on an oddly pinkish tone, instead of the usual silver glow that pervaded the mists of the Tangled Wood. As Umbrann began to move toward the shadow pool, he turned his borrowed stone over once or twice and mused at its carvings. Good thing I found you, rock, or mother would probably be making me toss one of my collectible figures into the Shadowbinder’s hoard instead of a piece of garbage.

At the edge of the silent, black pitch, Umbrann decided he’d had enough ritual, and chucked the stranger’s stone into the pool, where it disappeared without a sound or ripple to mark its passing. That was that. The myriad of small purple lights began to wink out as the shadow denizens wrapped up their ceremonies and headed back to their dark hovels. Umbrann and his mother made to leave with the other ceremony participants, but stopped when he noticed more and more heads turning toward the sky, an unnatural purple glow reflecting in their eyes.

Umbrann turned to follow their gaze. The moon had deepened to a deep violet, a circular slice of darkness carved out of it. Lunar eclipses were extremely rare on Sornieth, and flat out unheard of on the night of a gathering. Finally, some excitement!

As the light from the eclipsing moon continued to fade, the shadows in the pool began to churn. Waves of darkness towered and fell in thick, angry heaps. Umbrann was mesmerized by the hypnotic, thrashing movement of the shadows as his hysterical mother tried to pull him further away from the void’s edge. The wall of shadow was moving rapidly, pushing out to the sides of the pool, revealing an ancient, sunken amphitheater. Flagstones that hadn't seen the light of day in a millennia were now peeking out from the epicenter of the maelstrom. As more of the darkness cleared from the eye of the vortex, a simple stone archway began to take shape, within it, a wall of solid, rippling shadow.

Umbrann looked around. Those who hadn’t fled outright were transfixed on the incredible event playing out, claws dug into the mossy stone as if trying to find purchase just in case the draining darkness tried to inhale them.

The dilapidated architecture around the shadow pool began to crack and fissure. Umbrann watched in awe as a column shattered down its midsection, the top half wrenching away and hurtling toward the churning din. Instead of being swallowed, however, the mass of marble came to a halt, hovering just a foot from the edge of the pool. Another slab followed suit, diving so close to the ground that Umbrann had to duck to avoid being smashed. This new mass fell into a position nearby the first, locked dead in mid-air about three feet lower, and several feet closer to the center of the loch.

This repeated as the world continued to darken, until over twenty stone wedges formed a floating stairway down to the heart of the pool, ending just steps from the stone archway at its center. It wasn't until that point that he also noticed a very small crescent-shaped object lying next to the arch’s base. His offering, the only gift to remain unclaimed by the pool.

This was it, his big chance to escape the mundanity of his life! A portal had opened up to the unknown, and wherever it lead had to be better than here! He moved forward, pulling free of his mother’s grasp. “So long, suckers! I’m going on an adventure!” His mother gave out a squawk of protest as he bounded down the floating stone steps, stopping momentarily to retrieve the carved stone. Turning back to his mother he shouted "Don't let Murken touch my action figures!" And without another moment’s hesitation, he dove through the wall of shadow in front of him.


--



The night was especially dark as the lunar eclipse reached totality. A chilling breeze tickled the webbing of Gleam's facial crests and a shiver worked its way from her horns to her tail. She moved to put away her parchments and quills, satisfied with the work she had done that evening. Mapping this quadrant had taken her the better part of a month, but in just a few day's time she'd be finished. When she was finally packed up, the studious guardian opened her wings, ready to glide home, until a deafening "whumpf" pealed the air and a shockwave knocked her off-balance. Tumbling a few feet, she regained her composure and frantically looked for the source of the attack.

She scanned the ruined landscape of broken columns and buildings, keeping her wits sharp and her body poised to defend. Following ringlets of thrown dust, her eyes settled on a deep purple mass of spines and talons, collapsed under a humble stone archway she hadn’t noticed earlier. Creeping cautiously toward it, she slowly made out the crumpled form of a young ridgeback. A primitive hook-shaped runestone lay not a foot away. She inhaled deeply, catching an unfamiliar scent.

"...h-hey. Are you... alright?" she nervously called out, not yet knowing whether the dragon was friend or foe. With her bad luck, it was an assassin from the shadow flight come to ruin her hard work.

The pile stirred, coming to. A serpentine neck propped up a sharp-featured head. After wrenching his eyes open, the ridgeback spoke. "...where am I?"

Gleam wrinkled her snout, unsure whether she should answer or not.

"You're in the eastern quarter of the Hewn City, and you've got a lot of explaining to do."





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