Beyond the fields we know, just outside the field of vision, in the sins of mankind and the slow rot of entropy, there is another place. A place where the streets are ruined and the crash of rotting concrete as it falls from gutted buildings is just a whisper. A place where the sun is a faint red dwarf, barely brighter than the other stars in the blackened sky, and the moon is a void in the night’s sky which devours light, warping the twisted skies of this place around it. A place where the air hangs still and chill, where nothing lives and everything rots. A place where frozen Creatures of the Darkness, bereft of their contaminated life, line the streets, like corpses.
Welcome to the Dark World. Few among the Enlightened have been here more than once, but they feel its presence. Tainted areas connect to this place, like arterial wounds pumping light to this place, and in such areas, the Darkness within stirs to light. Its Taint leaks into the world, and in return, the sleeping monsters wake, and begin to make their way to the real world. This is the main source of Darkspawn - for men and women are not yet evil enough that they can be made in the numbers which Princesses encounter - and it is the secure bases used by Mnemosyne cult-leaders and Cataphractoi dark generals. And from within the depths of the Dark World, Dethroned howl at the blackened sky, the fallen Nobles and near-gods to monsters, and the Darkspawn shiver, for there are things that even monsters fear.
There are ways to the Dark World. All creatures of the Darkness possess the innate capability to both enter and leave it. Some of them can grab human men and women, and take them to their place as playthings and meals; certainly, all can take corpses, meaning that some people are forever lacking closure for a disappeared loved one. Certain blasphemous rituals and powers can open wider holes, and it is under these circumstances that a Princess may find herself in this cursed place. But, certainly, it should be understood that the Dark World is a terrible place, that nevertheless must be acknowledged, for it is the source of the most dire threats that the Enlightened must face.
The Nature of the Dark WorldEdit
The perpetual bane of Princesses who wish to understand this place is that, as creatures of the Light, they are not welcome here. Most of the knowledge which has been gathered comes from those who have dabbled in Lacrima, for it grants the ability to temporarily become a Creature of the Darkness, and that way it is possible to reach that place. Moreover, defectors from Tears have bought more hard-earned knowledge, from aeons of the Alhambran attempts to maximize the light they can steal from the world. Some knowledge has also come from the Queen of Storms, who hates that place in all its manifestations, and teaches her followers ways to cauterize the wounds in the world which are Taints. Knowledge is scarce, but some facts have been established, which are generally reliable enough to be used as rules of thumb.
Firstly, in most places, and certainly around Taints, the Dark World looks like the real world, reflected through a mirror darkly. The worst images of a post-nuclear apocalypse Earth do not equal this place of rot and cold and damp and decay, but they do at least provide some fuel to the imagination. Imagine your house, your street, every place you know and love. Now, kill all the plants, and leave their rotting, slimy remains to smear the frozen earth. Let water pool in every corner and every recess, freeze and melt, freeze and melt, over and over again, until the damage has cracked and weakened everything once solid. Let the buildings crumple from neglect, staying just upright enough to endanger those who go in them, and fill the air with the scent of decay. Make it eternally cold, a cold which bites at the soul and fills one with melancholy. And let it exist like this forever, always at the end of all things, never quite permitted to end. Around a Taint, things are lighter, warmer, less soul-crushing. And that’s where the Dark’s monsters are awake.
This is the Dark World, even before the more supernatural elements are bought in. And those are there en masse. Outside of Taints, all the worst Dark-tainted dregs of humanity sleep, dead, undreaming, for even Creatures of the Darkness cannot survive in this hellish place. It is a massacre of monsters, the hunting dogs of the Darkness betrayed by it, too. Sometimes fogs of Darkness come down from the void of the moon, and rot and corrode everything they touch, leaving empty scars on the landscape behind them. Sometimes Dethroned - who, alone, perhaps due to their former connection to the Light, can wake sometimes - pass through, and the Darkspawn are twisted into the figments of their insane dreams, along with the landscape. Sometimes everything freezes and the air snows down, in a moment of bitter purity, for the frozen air rots and melts almost as soon as it reaches the ground. And then there are the Other places, drifting through the sky and through the land, which do not mimic the world as we know it, but may be something that the Darkness is digesting. Some say that they’re remnants of the Kingdom. Other say that they’re other worlds. And as one gets further from the nearest Taint, things get stranger. More viscous, as if the world is melting. Maybe the Dark World is only a real place when it leeches light, but if that’s true, where do the Darkspawn sleep when a Taint is not around?
Some Princesses have claimed that this is the future, this is what the world will be like just before the Darkness wins. Even if they’re not right, it’s a good metaphor, at least.
The Nobility in the Dark WorldEdit
Entering the Dark World is almost suicide for most things. Even Creatures of the Darkness must cling to areas around Taints, if they wish to retain agency and free will, monsters huddling around a campfire. Mortals are doomed. But sometimes the Nobility find themselves in this place, and a few points should be noted.
Firstly, the Dark World is dangerous. This has been said before, but it bears repeating. It is not the Dreamlands which, for all that they were intended as a trap, have an allure and an elegance and a certain safety to them. They are not even like the stranger otherworlds which some Embassies can reach, for even in the place of the spirits that the members of the Ephemeral Embassy can reach, not everything is a foe. In the Dark World, everything, without exception, wants you dead. Even the world will seem to contort to kill a Noble within it, roads collapsing and buildings crumbling on their heads. Away from a Taint-lightened area, the entire World steals energy from every living thing in it, imposing the Extreme Taint Tilt. And that ties into the second point, which is...
Secondly, they know where you are. Technically, this isn’t quite true. Technically, it is merely the presence of the Transformed self which alerts the creatures of the Darkness in the Dark World. However, as previously noted, given that everything around you wants you dead, going unTransformed is not an option for anyone but the most subtle and sneaky of the Nobility. Moreover, evidence suggests that, although it is not a common thing, the mere proximity of a Transformed self for extended periods can wake the Darkspawn in an area, like a Taint does. Therefore, the Noble can be tracked like a beacon of Light by the things that are awake and so will face frequent attack, but they cannot rest, for resting will wake more Creatures. This gives it a feel like a survival horror film, with a depth and intensity few of the Enlightened will have felt before.
Thirdly, it's hard to get to, and can be hard to escape. Although Enlightened can’t normally get into the Dark World, they can get out at a Taint. If a Light-touched character has somehow ended up on the Dark World’s side of a Tainted area, she may return to the normal world by meditating, recollecting her tie to the Light, and willing her escape. This is an instant action, but it requires sacrificing Defense; the dice pool is the same as for a breaking point, but is penalized by the character’s current Shadows. A mundane character can’t escape alone, but may be part of a team led by a Light-touched character - use the teamwork rules, with the Light-touched as primary actor; each instance of the Tainted Condition inflicts a -1 penalty.
- Dramatic Failure: The character is Haunted; roll her base Sensitivity dice pool to determine the severity. If she gains the Haunted Condition, she can’t leave the Dark World on her own until it lapses.
- Failure: The character remains in the Dark World. She may try again, but later attempts in the same scene take a cumulative -1 penalty.
- Success: The character returns to the normal world, in the area corresponding to the place where she was. If she led a team, all her supporters go with her.
- Exceptional Success: The character's appeal to the Light banishes the Darkness. The Tainted area checks off a Hold box as she and her supporters (if any) escape.
This means, if you’re diving into a single, known, Taint to rescue someone, it can be possible, for the Darkspawn will tend to stay within the Taint, as to remain active. But Mnemosyne and Cataphractoi are smarter, and if they take someone - often as a lure - they won’t just keep them in the obvious Taint. They’ll move them, force Darkspawn to freeze to death to set up a position in one of the areas away from a Taint. And many of the ways to get there are sins against Belief, or just traps.
Why would anyone go there? That’s a very good question. Some among the Enlightened hold that there is never a good reason to go there. Ever. Even if a loved one is taken, at least they will probably die quickly. Most cannot be so cold-hearted. And that is the most common reason by far; rescues, which all too often turn into revenge when they find the person already dead. Some believe that there are secrets within the Darkness, a way to destroy Alhambra - which hides within the Heart of the Darkness, lost Queens trapped in the Dark World, secrets, even the remnants of the other cities in the Kingdom which it took so long ago. And to date, few of those explorers have returned alive, and even fewer with anything worth the losses to them and their hollow eyes.
The Darkness has such places. Let it keep them, and concentrate on stopping it taking anything else.