Petra was ecstatic. For years, she had been unable to take to the front lines of Fyor’s advancement after stumbling to make her name for herself. She could still protect the cities of the twenty-fifth floor, and did so regularly. However, that only had her as one of the many guardians of the cities, not someone leading the charge.
After waiting for so long to finally reveal herself, being left behind as a guardian stole the wind from her sails. Now, to learn that the next floor had been discovered, and that it was not one that would be her nemesis, she wanted nothing more than to simply charge over.
The priest, however, gave a light chuckle. “Let me report this to the church, first. We need to gather as many capable priests as possible so that we can ensure our connection with the new floor remains secure.”
Petra gave a small nod, forcing herself to calm down for the moment. She knew the dangers of not having a solid lifeline to the next gate. Such had been the case in the twenty-fourth floor for some time, as they had to sneak through the land of the Solii in order to find the next gate. The more people that had access to it as a teleportation point, the more solid their grasp on the floor itself would be.
I can’t believe we’re finally getting to move. Petra practically squealed into her shadow as she followed the priest out of the tavern and towards a nearby church. Her voice was met with a slight chuckle.
I can’t believe we’re already getting to move. Thelsa corrected, having felt the same as Petra, though for different reasons. She had personally tried to map the twenty-sixth floor numerous times, but found that there simply was not a strong enough shadow presence to create any kind of a map. Thus, she felt that it would take far too long before any party navigated the massive, three-dimensional maze to find the other gate.
Even after they built their great shell around Gate’s Rest, Thelsa was unable to map beyond the city itself. Now that the path had been opened, she was more than happy to let Petra go have her fun. As the man said, there was darkness present within this layer, so that meant that their strength would be fully available.
Oh, by the way, how’s your training going? Petra asked as they entered the church, referring to Thelsa’s latest project. Although Thelsa was not making herself visible in the public eye, she was not one to allow herself to remain idle for too long at a time, and had long since started a new task for herself.
I think that I should be ready soon. I sent an envoy to meet the Keeper’s Servant, so it should not take much longer. Thelsa’s project was to establish what she referred to as Shadow Rings, versions of the common Fairy Rings that allowed people to move from one world to another. As both Thelsa and Dana possessed the World’s Shadow, they believed that it should be possible for these worlds to connect through a similar method.
If this project was successful, and they fully managed to replicate the effect of the Fairy Rings, it would do far more than simply open up the gates between their two worlds. The rings were similarly capable of opening paths to new, unknown worlds. With the right materials, they may even be able to open up the shadow worlds of places like Kione, Sher Dien, or Desbar.
Thelsa was curious what would happen if a world’s shadow was opened through the ring, under a circumstance where it had no ‘master’. For that matter, she was curious what would happen if the wielder of a world’s shadow were to visit another planet within that dimension. Could they expand their shadow realm in the same way that Thelsa was able to expand through different layers of Fyor? Or did each planet have the ability to gain its own shadow king?
She had used her envoy to bring up this matter with Dana, though the latter seemed largely uninterested. According to her, she would consider expanding her shadow to other planets if those planets held strategic significance for her. Otherwise, she would get to it when she got to it. An answer that sadly did not fit in with what Thelsa was hoping for.
Regardless, she knew that she would find the answer to her questions someday. For now, she was the Shadow Saint of Fyor, and planned to uphold the same virtues that earned her that title. If ever there came a time when she was needed, she would assist in secret. Her own name had long since been lost in the annals of history, after all.
Now, the only one of her original shadows that still existed was Petra, a gift from the Goddess of Darkness herself. She maintained a good relationship with those that she had created since the loss of Sora and Maria, but… it was not the same. Perhaps she was just not letting herself get as attached to the newer shadows after what happened to those two, or perhaps it was that the majority of the newer ones were mass produced as opposed to meticulously created.
Either way, this meant that Petra would always hold a special place for Thelsa. And it was that same fact that made Thelsa even more careful. Now that she knew that the shadows she created would be sacrificed for her if she encountered fatal danger, there was no way that she could let something like that happen to Petra.
Outside the shadow world, the priest had finished discussing with the head of the local church, and had gathered a group of twenty to accompany them back to the twenty-seventh floor. “Ready to go?” He asked Petra with a knowing smile.
“Yes, already! Let’s go!” Now that everyone was gathered, Petra couldn’t wait even a moment longer, practically bouncing with excitement as the priest chuckled. With a bit of focus, he opened a golden portal, allowing those with him to venture forward. Petra, naturally, lunged into the portal the instant it appeared.
What she saw on the other side was blessed, glorious darkness. Just as he said, it appeared to be night time on this floor, meaning that Petra’s powers would be at their peak. After stepping aside to let the others through, she crouched down to place her hands on the floor. You know what to do, Thelsa.
There was barely a moment’s delay before Petra felt her shadow expand outwards, connecting with the world that they were on. The long-absent message of another floor being added to their shadow world rang out, and Petra’s eyes gleamed with excitement. What’s the situation like here?
Hearing Petra’s question, Thelsa went quiet for a considerable time, needing to investigate the floor herself. Just from a glance at the growing map, Petra could tell the difference between this and lower floors. The distance between the floor and ceiling of this layer was more than double what she had encountered merely two floors below. She could even guess that it would not be many more floors before each one was larger than Lorek, the biggest planet currently known to exist.
I’ve found something. Thelsa said in a troubled tone, drawing Petra’s attention.
What is it? Is this a good something, or a bad something? Petra’s question was met with her vision being shared with a shadow that had been sent off into the distance. Going by how well-lit the surroundings were, Petra was certain that the shadow was within their shadow world.
Standing before it was the crystal for this floor, a massive pillar that connected the land with the sky. Unlike the twenty-fifth floor, there were no great mountains that could be seen offering similar bridges, and only this one pillar was visible from what she had noticed. However, her face twisted when she saw the pillar.
Or more accurately, when she saw the giant bundle of vines wrapping around it, forming a network with roots buried into the crystal itself. Within the shadow world, the light of the crystal seemed to dim over time. As light and darkness was inverted in the shadow world, this means that it was starting to slowly build up its glow. However, this was far slower than normal.
Typically, the light would burst from the crystal all at once, causing the ceiling of the layer to glow and signal the start of the day. The fact that its glow was so weak, yet gradually building meant that this was technically the day cycle for this layer. However, the roots of those vines should be extracting the mana from the crystal.
The fact that the portal was able to connect meant that the crystal still had enough energy to function, so there was bound to at least be some period of daylight. But, Petra could assume that it would be nowhere near the evenly split day/night cycle of other floors.
Worse still, she could feel a tremor in the air around her, the world itself seeming to be afraid. It’s here… The familiar voice of Fyor’s world spirit spoke into Petra’s mind. This was the first time that she had ever heard the normally playful spirit sounding so afraid, and she quickly sent her reply back.
What’s here? She asked, her eyes sweeping the horizon to look for any potential threats.
The devourers… the wolves. I know the aura in this world… they’re here
Recognizing that even the spirit of the world itself seemed to be afraid, Petra cast a glance at the priests, looking at the convoy as well. “Get everyone you need to connected with the portal. After that, get out. As fast as you possibly can.”
“Why, did you notice something wrong?” The knight leading the convoy asked warily, glancing in Petra’s direction. Although she had not been very active in the past, he was well aware of her title as the Demigoddess of Shadows. If she was able to find something wrong with this floor as soon as she stepped in, there was likely to be a major threat that they weren’t seeing.
“Do you have any druids or shamans with you?” She questioned, looking at the group. The knight raised an eyebrow, looking back to his convoy and calling out to them.
One man stepped forward, a dovah with matted fur. He was wearing a deep green robe, and carried a staff in one hand. As he assumed that Petra had identified something wrong with the local natural energy, he attempted to make contact with it himself.
The moment he did so, he let out a strangled gasp, falling to his knee with one hand clutching his head. “The world is screaming… there is something here… something wrong.”
The knight’s expression twisted at that, shouting out for the others. “Everyone, back through the gate! We’ll regroup on the other side and head to town from there!” As soon as he gave the order, he began directing people to the towering black slate, not willing to risk the lives of both their guide and the rest of their group.
James… call James… only he can kill them. The spirit whispered to Petra, who shook at the mention of the name. She was definitely familiar with who it belonged to, as there was only one ‘James’ that she knew of possessing such unique strength. The man that held the castle of Deckan in the sky to protect the throne for the God-Queen.
I’ll call him. Petra promised, knowing that this would be no small matter. Somehow, something existed in this floor that was far beyond the floor’s level of power. Something that not even a typical god would be able to contend against. For now, try to remove your presence from this floor as much as you can. If this thing has you scared, I don’t want it anywhere near you.
Thank you… The spirit whispered to her again, before its voice suddenly became faint. Petra was sure that it had followed her advice, and she quickly made her way back to the gate. Anything that could scare the spirit of an entire world was something Petra did not want to encounter. Not yet, at least.
“…Okay, what am I seeing?” I asked as I saw everyone suddenly retreating from the floor as if their lives depended on it. Nearby, Aurivy furrowed her brow in focus, seeming confused as well.
Once she found her answer, her eyes went wide in shock. “Oh no… it’s this place.” She said with a shudder, causing me to look over at her.
“More description, less suspense please.”
“Sorry, it’s actually somewhere you’re familiar with.” Aurivy said, waving her hand to cause the screen to shift, displaying a glowing mound of green stone. This stone appeared to have vines growing out of it, though I was able to tell at a glance what it was.
“The fifth elemental floor, the floor of life.” Now I could understand what was going on, why the world spirit had reacted in such terror. “Check for a monster known as a Spirit Eater, quick!”
Aurivy nodded her head, the view zooming out to display a flattened map of the world. On it, ten green dots appeared, each representing the location of a Spirit Eater. I clenched my fists, knowing just how dangerous their presence here was. The last Spirit Eater I saw had a level of over four thousand. If I encountered one while using my Keeper powers, I should be able to kill it, but it would be the strongest thing I had ever fought by far.
Without being used to fighting at that level, I couldn’t be sure that I would be able to adapt quickly enough before it managed to get a solid enough hit on me. “We need to get Ryone to seal these stones again, and clean up anything that’s come through. Otherwise, they’ll never be able to progress past this floor.”