This is the start of a story I wrote approximately two years ago and never finished. It was inspired by an idea for Hardcore Alchemy, that I never got around to implementing. I dusted the story off from my hard drive and made a few additions to make it feel like a whole chapter, although I'm not sure I'll ever make a second chapter.
If you are familiar with some of the magic mods from modded Minecraft, you may enjoy this. The story technically takes place in the Book of Dreams universe, but on a different continent in the far west, where modded Minecraft is a thing.
The house of cards had fallen. They had seen the writing on the wall. But they knew not how to react.
In all of the known history of equivalent exchange, not once had this anomaly ever been recorded. But if this anomaly truly represented a fundamental shift in the fabric of existence, why did it happen here? Why did it happen now?
The confused alchemist probed the pocket of darkness with their arm once again, observing how quickly the light turned to shadow on their skin, as if passing through some invisible shell. Within that shell, for reasons the alchemist could not understand, light seemed to be drained from the very air.
Of course, the alchemist had a theory as to why this was happening; they just refused to believe it. A row of four tier one energy collectors? No condensers? No relays? That meager energy flow, displaying the long-unproven energy conservation theory which all the covalence scholars feared to be true?
The alchemist, Cyanite, turned toward the younger alchemist, Stareye, who was responsible for crafting and managing these collectors.
"How long has this darkness been here?" Cyanite asked.
"Fifteen hours at most," said Stareye. "Everything was fine when I left last night. I rushed to tell you about it the first time I saw it."
"So it's expanded this fast..." said Cyanite, "in that amount of time. That is worrisome indeed. There are no other options, then. You must destroy the collectors."
"Understood," said Stareye, nodding and bowing as they walked toward the transmutation tablet, a colored slate engraved with runes and overlapping lines, and waved their hand erratically above it, causing an iron pickaxe to materialize onto the tablet. Stareye gripped the pick in their hand, and marched into the darkness. Shattered glass could be heard as the energy collectors ceased to function.
But the region of darkness remained.
Stareye's form became bright again as they walked outside of the shadow. Pickaxe still in hand, Stareye turned toward Cyanite, a look of concern in their eyes.
"What are we going to do about this darkness?" asked Stareye.
"I don't know," said Cyanite. "In all my years of alchemy, I've never seen anything like this before, nor has anyone else. But the scholars predicted it."
"Predicted it?" echoed Stareye. "I don't understand. What were they predicting?"
"The conservation of EMC in light," said Cyanite.
"Conservation?" said Stareye. "But that's preposterous! The light energy from glowstone is negligible at best! The EMC from collectors is generated from nothing."
"So we alchemists have assumed throughout millennia," clarified Cyanite, "because it was convenient. But not because it was true."
Stareye turned toward the darkness with a look of fear and confusion. "Will the darkness stay here?"
"It should have receded once the collectors were destroyed," said Cyanite. "You are right to be concerned. I am too."
"This is preposterous!" said Wandering as they sat behind their desk. "For all we know, a blood mage could have snuck in during the night and pulled some sort of prank! I simply refuse to accept that a patch of darkness appearing near such a small collector setup could be anything other than a coincidence."
"It's not a light source collection ritual," said Cyanite.
"What difference does it make?" said Wandering. "Which is more likely: a blood mage discovering another darkness ritual, or a tier 1 collector array ripping a dimensional hole in the fabric of existence?"
"If you saw it, you would understand," Cyanite insisted. "It's an unnatural darkness. Not only have all the light sources within it vanished, but all the light sources outside of it cannot illuminate it. Its boundary layer is abrupt. It fills half of the room. And klein stars within it are drained of their energy. Just like the theory predicted."
Wandering's eyes became wide. "Why didn't you say so in the first place? That's huge."
"So, do you believe me now?" asked Cyanite.
"'Belief' is the wrong word," said Wandering, standing up from their chair. "I know enough to take your situation seriously. I will send word to some alchemists more skilled than I to investigate it."
"The situation is serious," said Primrose in a military suit, standing up at their council table. "There are already dozens of reported cases of this spreading darkness, all originating from covalence energy collectors. We can't let this branch of magic continue unabated. We have to take control."
"And deny the mages their passions?" reasoned coalition council leader Cynder rhetorically. "Mages hate to be controlled. All attempts at coercing their behavior have ended in chaos. We must reason with them."
"And if they refuse to be reasoned with?" said Primrose.
"I refuse to discuss that with you at this juncture," said Cynder. "We should consider ourselves lucky that the mages in question hold high regard for logic and reason. I believe a meeting with the leaders in the field should be arranged at once. Are there any objections?"
The sun itself seemed to be dimmed by its light. The grass and shrubs within it were soft and rotting. The deeper one stood inside it, the darker it became, until it felt like the darkness was squeezing the air out of your lungs.
That is how the sphere of darkness appeared to the visiting high alchemist Kane as they stepped inside of the shadow, and then back out.
"How big did you say the region of darkness was when you first saw it?" Kane asked.
"Five meters deep," said Stareye, the younger of the two alchemists who witnessed the anomaly for the first time. At this point, the sphere had encompassed Alchemist Cyanite and Stareye's home and much of the surrounding cleared land. If the darkness expanded by just a few more meters, then it would start to kill the trees.
"And how long ago did you say that was?" asked Kane.
"A week." Stareye responded.
Kane looked at the sphere of darkness. Stareye was surprised to see no fear in Kane's eyes.
"It must be a dimensional rift," Kane concluded. "An aural disturbance caused it. And it caused the others too."
"Spoken like a Thaumaturge," Stareye remarked.
"Well, I wouldn't be High Alchemist of Impsblood if I hadn't studied many schools. But this certainly isn't going to be easy to fix. The other side of the rift may have an energy debt of thousands of years of covalence alchemy. And the aural diffusion constants of EMC have never been studied."
Stareye's face increased in its level of worry. "Supposing there was no way to close the rift... would pumping the rift full of energy be a viable option?"
"No, it absolutely would not," Kane said.
"Why don't we just hire some Southerners to build reactors and charge the rifts with energy?" Cynder, head of the coalition of Pan-Xenic defense, proposed as they stood in front of their chair at the roundtable.
High alchemist Kane rolled their eyes. "Because that will destroy the aura we have tried so hard to preserve and all depend on. And that in turn will destroy our economy and our way of life."
"I thought aural pollution was a Zalthoran problem," Cynder countered. "And unlike Zalthor, the nations we represent have full electric grids."
"Well, strictly speaking, we don't need aural energy in the form of vis to power our machines and our magic, but we need the aura nonetheless."
"This is unacceptable," Primrose countered. "The rifts are multiplying in number and the existing ones are continuing to grow, with no signs of abating. Magi have yet to provide an alternate solution -"
"The best alchemists in the region are searching for a solution to the problem as we speak," Kane countered.
"My point still stands," Primrose countered. "By the time they find another solution, it may be too late."
"We need to establish a deadline," Cynder proposed. "Some period of time that matches the risk we're willing to take. If the alchemists don't find a solution by then, our Elor friends flood the rifts with electricity."