The reasons leading to the end of the First Age of Magic make a very confusing tale. Magic is a powerful force, the most powerful in the universe, but its exercise has its price. It seems that every time an enchanter performs a spell, some part of the power in that spell is lost in shadow. The more powerful the enchanter, the more powerful this shadow becomes. A great mage ultimately creates a shadow-self that is dimly aware.

In 966 the leader of the Circle of Enchanters, who vanquished Krill and Jeearr, was the most powerful wizard of all, and his shadow had taken a real form, becoming very nearly as powerful as him. The Shadow had a dream: to hold sway over all of the world; to remold the universe in his own image and rule it, where in such a universe his merest whim would smash a star or slay a butterfly. But he was not powerful enough, as his existence was still but a shadow. To accomplish this goal he needed the elemental Cubes of Foundation, which he could only obtain with the assistance of his human counterpart. After searching old tomes and questioning the wise concerning their whereabouts, he gathered five Cubes, including the earth cube. But he could not gather the remainder. To achieve his desire, all seventeen had to be brought together. He found no better servant than the Enchanter which had given birth to him. The Shadow found it simple to perturb the Cubes in order to make the Enchanters’ rudimentary magics flicker or fail, knowing that this would set his counterpart on a quest to recover the remaining Cubes. In this way, the Head of the Circle would unwittingly be drawn into the Shadow’s game.

In a world founded on magic, where sorcerers ruled the land, creating the spells needed to do everything from making bread to taming wild animals, this tampering immediately produced great changes in the workings of magic. There was a steep increase on the rate of spells going strangely awry or ceasing to work altogether. Beer tasted like grue bathwater, pastries were thick and greasy, there was difficulty with writing poetry without magical help on the rhymes, huntsmen were unable to control vicious beasts which now haunted the streets and roamed the wastelands in numbers never before seen.

The populace was confused and restive, and rumblings were heard concerning the Enchanters, who themselves were baffled. Those who were most experienced in the arts in all Zork found magic to be unreliable and frighteningly unfamiliar. The very foundations of the kingdom were threatened, and some even thought that the world was menaced by the looming destruction of magic itself. The unreliability of magic caused by the Shadow would lead to an emergency Conclave of Enchanters in Augur of 966 to discuss the situation.

About this time, the Shadow dared even to visit Belboz at the Enchanters’ Retreat, hoping to obtain information. But the great necromancer was not fooled. This being betrayed its true nature as it did not know facts which would be trifles to even the rawest apprentice. It fled before Belboz could capture it.

To discuss the failure of magic, the leader of the Circle of Enchanters, the most powerful magician in the land, who had earned tremendous respect from all others in the kingdom, ordained that the great conclave of the Guildmasters from various guilds all over Zork be gathered together at the Council Chamber of the ancient Guild Hall at Borphee on Augur 14, 966. Every major enchanter attended, including Orkan of Thriff, Gustar Woomax, and Y’Gael (although she was not present at the opening). Several laypeople, such as Sneffle, Hoobly, Gzornenplatz, and Ardis, were also present to discuss the failure of magic. One by one, they stepped forward, describing the devastating effects of the diminished magic. The course of this discussion was interrupted when the Shadow of the Head of the Circle entered the Hall and turned everyone except his human counterpart into various amphibious creatures and slipped quietly out the door.

The Head of the Circle pursued the shadowy figure as it fled across Belwit Square. The sinister figure, its face hidden in the shadows of a dark cowl, turned to face him. It nonchalantly jumped into the air, where it was engulfed in a huge explosion. A thick and acrid cloud of orange smoke, which smelled vaguely of orange peels, filled the square. This was a fairly standard cloud which was a side effect of a certain class of teleportation spells, which were favored by those of a less than honest nature, as the cloud served to conceal their usually hasty departures.
The Enchanter attempted to remove the smoke with LESOCH (“cause gust of wind”), but the cloud was unimpressed. The wind built, slowly, but inexorably, to hurricane force. The cloud started to unravel at the edges, and then gave up and dissipated. Left behind on the ground was a small featureless white cube—the Earth Cube of Foundation. Marking the cube as such with his burin, the Enchanter BLORPLEd (“explore object's mystic connections”) the mystical object and was pulled within it. Thus the Shadow was successful at forcing his human counterpart to venture out into the world to seek some answers, even as his own powers were fading.

The Shadow was successful in tricking the Head of the Circle of Enchanters to unknowingly gather the remaining twelve Cubes of Foundation from all corners of the known world, and beyond. This eventually led him to the stronghold of the Shadow where he finally encountered his evil double. This shadow-being then attempted to meld all of the cubes into one, in order to give him power over the forces of the universe:

The audience chamber of the castle was high and spacious, and every proportion and decoration was intended to highlight the throne that loomed before me. The throne itself was bathed in light, but only featureless gray could be seen through the windows and skylights.

Mocking laughter echoed around me. About the throne a dark mist began to coalesce. It thickened into the outline of a human figure sitting nonchalantly on the throne. I could see the ghost of a cloak and hood as well. The figure spoke, “It’s been such a pleasure to follow your progress. Thank you for collecting the cubes. I was surprised to find you in Borphee when I knew we had an appointment here.”

The figure waved its arms in the air. Before you, rolling and tumbling in a bath of light, were four cubes. “When I gathered these and the earth cube, after searching old tomes and questioning the wise about their whereabouts, I conceived my plan. I could not gather the remainder of the cubes, but to achieve my desire, they had to be brought together. Who better than you to act in my stead?

“It was a simple matter to perturb the cubes I had to make your simple magics flicker or fail. I knew this would set you on a quest. For I know you well!” The four cubes disappear. The figure sat straight on its throne and removed its hood. I found myself looking at a shadowy, dark and transparent version of me!

“Magic is a powerful force, the most powerful in the universe, but its exercise has its price. Each time a great mage performs a spell, some part of the power in that spell is lost in shadow. A great mage ultimately creates a shadow-self that is dimly aware.” The figure grinned. “You have become the most powerful wizard of all, for I, your shadow, have become very nearly as powerful as you!

“But why, you ask, am I collecting the elemental cubes? It’s easy to answer. I am not powerful enough. My existence is still but a shadow of your own. My desires are unfulfilled. I wish power over all creation! I wish to remold the universe in my own image, and rule it. In such a universe, my merest whim would smash a star or slay a butterfly. You have brought me the tools of the remaking!

“Now for a small precaution.” The shadow gestured, and I was frozen in place unable to move even my littlest finger.

The shadowy figure deftly took the Earth cube from the sack and set it in the air between me, where it hung motionless. It then deftly took the Air cube from the sack and placed it next to the earth cube. They disappeared into a glowing line which appeared between them. The shadowy figure placed the Fire cube and the Water cube in the air, creating a square of glowing light. My little finger was full of pins and needles. I could again move it.

Four more cubes were placed above the square: the Soft cube, the Bone cube, the Light cube and the Dark cube. A cube of light shimmered before me. The shadow grew more excited, hopping around the structure to place the cubes. At the same time my feet and hands felt as if they have been asleep, but I could move them.

All the remaining cubes save one, the Magic cube, built another square, then the shadow added its own four cubes to make a second cube of light, which hung next to the first. My arms and legs became free, but I still could not speak or move my head.

The shadow grabbed the first cube of light, and twisting, chanting, squeezing, the cube was compressed and thrust inside the second cube. The points of the inner and outer cube connected, and it began to tumble, seeming to twist and distort as one face, then another, presented itself to me. The figure capered madly in front of its construction, laughing and giggling. It ignored me. I felt almost thawed, but my mouth felt full of cotton.

The shadowy figure deftly took the Magic cube from me and raising it high, thrusted it into the center of the tesseract! Cascades of light poured forth, blindingly bright, but I could still see the Magic cube at the center. The shadow was growing more solid, no longer transparent and dark! Chortling gleefully, it prepared to jump into the hypercube!

The freeze had worn entirely off! My contact with the Magic cube must have weakened it. I knew what I had to do—GIRGOL. As the words rolled off my tongue, the shadow froze in mid-leap! I could tell that the spell would not hold for long in this magically charged atmosphere. I tugged and pulled at the magic cube, trying desperately to remove it from its place in the center of the tesseract. With the last reserve of my strength, I freed it! Instead, I placed another object from my inventory into the hypercube, where it hung unsupported.

Time resumed its forward flight and the shadow, now as solid as a real person, performed a back flip into the tesseract. “No!” It screamed. “Stop! Fool, you’ve destroyed me! You’ve destroyed magic itself! All my lovely plains!” Now glowing as brightly as the construction it made, the figure approached the center. It grew smaller and smaller, and just before it disappeared, the hypercube vanished with a pop, and the Magic cube melted in my hand like an ice cube.

The Head of the Circle mysteriously returned to Belwit Square, whom all the Guildmasters and even Belboz crowded around. “A new age begins today,” said Belboz after hearing the wizard’s story. “The age of magic is ended, as it must, for as magic can confer absolute power, so it can also produce absolute evil. We may defeat this evil when it appears, but if wizardry builds it anew, we can never ultimately win. The new world will be strange, but in time it will serve us better.”

Although the Head of the Circle was able to prevent his “dark shadow” self from having power over the forces of the universe, he was unable to prevent the alteration of the Cubes in a such a way to halt the destruction of the very fabric of magic and hold back the Age of Science. Some arcane scholars have theorized that should magic have not been destroyed at that moment, the inevitable result of magicians wielding such unchecked power as existed before the end of the First Age of Magic would be the creation of another shadow. It too might be defeated, but eventually one would arise who would be victorious over its original. The outcome of such a victory is too terrible to contemplate. It is however hoped that no future generations will choose to gain control over the Cubes of Foundation. The first such attempt, described already, brought an end to the entire First Age of Magic. The next attempt might lead to the destruction of the entire universe as we know it.