The Altered, the other realm. A place only known by those who had ever been there. It is easy to imagine another fantasy world, one which moves on an axis of magic and mystery. Yet it is a place that defies true understanding. Most technology fails to operate there, simple mechanical devices or computers are redundant in the atmosphere that swells and whispers spirits. This adds to the mystification and fascination of the place; throwing up questions of origins and beginnings as much as endings. Did we crawl out of this land on our bellies? Did we rid ourselves of the magic and lore like flicking away the fins and gills of our ancestors?
The magic has continued though; transported through doorways and openings, brought back by the brave and knowledgeable who understood and hoped to help the world with it. Mystic passages and symbols scrawled out by something that echoes in our own history. It has its own essence, its own living and breathing being that moves to the thoughts and the whims of those in possession. Magic, though dangerous and dazzling, can truly reflect those who wield it. For good or ill. The magic from the altered is a mirror and an enhancer of the one who handles it. The incantations, the essence from the physical place can be used in such wondrous ways. Which is how the Order have been handling it. Respectfully. Treating it as a living entity that, like anything loved, is handled with care.
Aiko stood now in the Altered, himself covered in a black suit as if travelling through space. He wore a helmet which was transparent, giving him a 360 degree view of everything around him. That everything now though was clogged in a thick black fog which was beginning to swirl and descended upon him, blotting him out entirely. Something kept the fog at a distance however, a little green flame in his hand he held before him like an offering. The little fire was a concoction, a breathing into being of the magic that hung in particles all around him.
He was not stupid, he knew the construct of this place and how delicate the system could be. He knew how it reacted and contracted to other people’s presence. The Order. He had seen them here many times. Slithers of white and blue light that would transverse the plains; not so much as meddling, but going by their own designs. Aiko had once thought they could work together, their plans not so different. He had come there once too as a student, eager to learn, eager to overcome this place which had at first inspired and frightened him. But as he grew, both here and back home, his mind and resolve became hardened and addled. His thoughts of others evaporated and his intent became clearer.
There was much power here, one he could harness. Not just to rid the city of those who he wished to teach a lesson to, his great flood so to speak. But to capture the essence and magic of this place, to bridge it over to the other world. He would then be able to control more than he could ever imagine.
The fly in the ointment however was the organic nature of this place, this Altered where each action had a seismic reaction. His pillaging and raping of this place had resulted in this darkness, this fog which was withering and unstructering all. He could see it, he knew what was occurring. He wondered if the damage could be undone. He knew the Order were trying to do just that, but each time he came here he seemed to make it worse. He had delved into the books, the lore and the mysticism and to him it spoke in riddles. There was something he didn’t quite understand.
He came now to a place, the one he had been fearful to go to if he were honest with himself. Before him giant metal gates loomed up into the sky. To say it was forbidden to go there was not a true reflection of what the writings said. What they actually told of was a place in the Altered where those with heavy hearts feared to go. Where the gates we closed to hearts and minds that could never be opened. There was always danger in the altered, missteps and mistakes had taken people. Snatched them into a trapped existence tangibly in view but forever lost.
The gates loomed high before him, the blackness covering much of it now above out of sight. A quiet heavy sound of silence was slowly being punctured by a tap-tap, which was beginning to build somewhere off behind the gates. His little green flame flickered, reducing slightly and threatening to go out. A blue light moved beyond the gates. A flash and flicker, the tap became more prominent.
“Who is there?” Aiko demanded, his little green flame growing with his command.
Only silence returned.
He looked above him through his helmet, through the suit that protected him now from the fog that he had found corroded flesh. The fog above the gates was dispersing, blanketing off to the sides as if cleared by a giant hand.
“You cannot enter Aiko, you know this.” A voice came from beyond.
“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.” Aiko replied, definitely.
“This is nothing your heart isn’t telling you also.” The voice said, seeming to creep about him now like its own miasma of eeriness.
“Be that as it may, I will be entering.” Aiko said. His plan rested on what was beyond the gates, his own bridge to the world below.
“If you do that, there will be no world to bridge to.” The voice came back, almost mockingly. Aiko was not surprised; he knew the nature of the Altered, how it revealed things you may never speak. But it had annoyed him nonetheless.
“That is a chance I’m willing to take. If you take me for a fool, then it is your mistake.” Aiko said, taking out his little book that he always kept on him.
“I do not think you a fool Ai, I know you too well.” The voice said. This did surprise him. No one called him Ai anymore, few even used his first name so casually. Ai was his childhood name.
“Stop it.” Aiko said, yet showing no signs of surprise. He found the page he was looking for and tapped the symbols on the page. His own little green fire died suddenly, but before the darkness descended he muttered an incantation and beneath his feet little green particles began to emerge from the ground. On his left arm he swivelled a dial on his suit and the particles flew towards it like a magnet. They bubbled in place, building to a sphere in a split second before exploding upwards into the darkness above and around him.
The flecks of green light seemed to cling to the darkness, haltering its movement.
“You’re like the little child who dipped his dirty hand in honey to have a taste Ai.” The voice came again, followed by a flash of blue beyond the gates momentarily.
“I warned you.” Aiko said, now angry. He turned the dial on his arm which seemed to energise the particles, he pushed forward with his hand and the darkness contracted around him, beginning to move forward at his command towards the gates. As they touched them they began to steam the metal, hissing the bars like a million serpents escaping a nest.
“I still think you can be saved Aiko, you just keep choosing the hard way.” The voice came, this time from behind him. Aiko turned quickly but the light blinded him. A Blue and white flash engulfed him; swallowing everything, including the darkness. He fell to the floor in a daze as the voice dissipated everywhere, an incantation he had never heard melted everything away.
It was a long time before Aiko awoke. He lay there in his custom made suit as the blue light washed everything it touched, bringing a gleam to the gates and the Altered he found himself in. When he did wake, he could still see the darkness fogging his vision. This was not because it had returned, but because it now resided inside him; forever staining what he saw.