Forever winter (part 15)

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Travel

She had been young, and younger still in her father’s eyes. She had longed for the journey, the trip off of their moon if only for one cycle. Nobody her own age travelled off the moon, that she knew of anyway, and many of them wouldn’t even want to. But her father was who he was, and as such, gave their family certain privileges. She had longed to travel ever since she could remember. Her father’s contraptions lying around had given her the peak into the rest of the galaxy, pulling back the black curtain of space to a forming mind.  Oh, such wonders she had seen through those tinkering mechanisms, and some things so close to her. She saw the treasure box of beauty through those glass eyes, the flaming ruby of Mars; the emerald sapphire that was Earth. Earth held a special place in her heart, it was where she knew her mother had gone. A place that she had not returned from.

Her father was visiting nearby Ganymede, which for Europan’s they called L’ochn. It was to be a quick trip, it being so close helped for swift passage to and from. The brewing sea at the centre of the moon housed one of the major cities in their region, and the inhabitants were known as being a welcoming group. Diplomacy aside, the trip was one her father always looked forward to, due to the hospitality that could always be expected. Three shinos, that’s all it took to get there. A blink of an eye really. No need for long distance cocoons that keep them tight and safe. They shinnod down, using vibration waves, into the vast city that stretched high into the inside of the planet, like the remains of an eaten apple.

The lofty parts looked out over the turbulent ice sea which raged and howled to its own delight. Much like their own city, L’ochn was a brilliantly white city, its walls and surfaces gleaming like a polished tooth. Parts of the city structure were transparent where the waters ran through like a living creature. It was a beautiful place and offered her a sense of calm and loveliness that had perhaps been absent for too long.

He of course would stay in the ambassador house, her father usually enjoyed royal like comforts on his diplomatic trips. And while he was away, P’erl was afforded the luxury of freedom. To venture to the other side of the moon if she wanted, or even down deeper into the ice tunnels which held mysteries and fossilized bones of creatures many knew not what of. Though left to herself, at home she was only alone in her own quarters; the palatial residence required many to help run it efficiently. Alone in her room, she found time to rest and sleep.

‘P’erl’ came the voice. Softly, like a snowflake landing on her ear. Her eyes were closed still, she felt the webbing around her body, keeping her in place. She was hesitant to open them, such dreams she’d had, and they were in danger of slipping away if she opened her eyes. It was so rare for her to sleep, and when she did, the night flashes came, robbing her of any peace. She was unusual for her kind. The rest of Europa never had dreams, never suffered the nightmares of other worlds parade across her mind like she did. Calling out in despair and anger. She’d learned not to sleep. She had learned a lot just to live.

It came again ‘P’erl’, a little stronger, this time the other side of her head. Her eyes flickered apart and scanned, she found no-one there. Her room lay beneath her empty and quiet. She hung up in the rafters, encased in the white webbing that held sleep, and dreamless sleeps for everyone but her. She knew the voice now; she had known it before. Her inner self telling her, it was time to go. The voice, tinged with that of her mother’s, whispering that now was the time.

She had made her plan quickly and quietly. She had read her mother’s journals, recorded tablets that were kept in their library. She had discovered the need in the blood they shared to explore, to grow and to see. Her mother had been quite open about the stages of her life, and how towards the transition, it was not seen as departure, but of a rebirthing into something else. Like a butterfly leaving a cocoon.

P’erl knew her father would understand, but she knew also that loss and sadness would wash into those parts of him that loved her. Her time had come to go to Earth, to set off and shed what had begun to stick too cumbersomely to her as the year cycles had rotated. She needed to change, to become what she wanted to be. Not held within the ice cage of necessity. What would happen, she was unsure of, but her mother’s hand seemed to be guiding her, telling her it was okay. Her father would understand, it had happened to her mother also. This calling from beyond.

In space, we dream. And indeed, P’erl had seen such vision as her transport shot through the blankness of the galaxy. Visions of her mother and father, voices from a new world that sung softly in her mind. She was being pulled by a need to change, not just herself, but others too. That long burning desire to alter other lives, not just her own was giving the weight it needed to grow into something. Her departure had begun a chain of magic events which, she hoped, would conclude with a changing of self into something beyond what she could limitedly comprehend, and to perhaps save a number of others who she’d never even met; but knew were on the brink of something terrible.


Forever winter (part 14)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


Chaos cracked

The beam of golden light illuminated the front of the cottage. He saw it like a rising sun, casting deep shadows now over the backyard and the wreckage. His pockets were full, and his hands were numb. “Curse this coldness” He muttered, the snow continuing to fall. The light now snaked around the side of the building like a moving body, banishing the dark and the evil shadows. It crept closer and closer to him. He naturally began to edge backwards, as if a creeping hand of light was reaching for him, threatening to cast him into the open and explain himself. He backed up more and more before falling backwards into a huge snow drift.

The cold condensed snow stung his face and he scrambled to be free, like a cat stuck in a bag. “Curse you and your snow!” He spat towards the house. He turned hastily then and sped off into the woods. His pockets heaving and weighted down as if he carried gold, for the sapphire tears of the girl’s cocoon were heavy and clung to him like weights of guilt.

Ezra made his way quickly to the fire that still roared away in her little living room. Strong white and blue flames danced in the grate and he rubbed his hands hastily to warm himself. The girl watched him from the stairs, the small little boy in his pyjamas and his feet covered in snow.

“Next time, I’m wearing the coat before you freeze me back!” He grumbled. The lady hovered in the doorway smiling, the light from the flame in the jar dappled her face bringing forth a deeper warmth. Ezra concentrated on the warm fire. “So, you’re what all the fuss is about huh?” He said, not looking away from the fire. Theatrically shivering away. She was surprised he’d seen her but answered swiftly.

“I’m sorry for your coldness, I can help if you like.” She said, descending the little stairs and bringing forth a huge overcoat. Her skin shimmered in the light of the flames, and the closer she got it seemed to cascade away in huge chunks, repairing back like a tide of cells in different colours.

“Don’t go spoiling him now.” The lady said, going over quickly to the sideboard on the other side of the room. “A little cold never hurt anyone.”

“Thank you, glad someone has some manners.” He said, turning to the girl and taking the coat. He slipped it on and stuck out his hand. “I’m Ezra.” He said. She looked at his extended little hand curiously. He waved it a little impatiently.

“Nice to meet you Ezra.” She said, swooping down upon him and giving him a hug. This was unusual for both of them, but in the moment, it seemed like the better thing to do. Ezra was warmed further by her touch, and she was able to dive into his life in that short moment. She saw oceans of adventure and wonder, and little pools of sadness too.

“Well, you are the damsel after all. Even if you are much larger than usual. I suppose it befalls me to save you, and the old crone over there.” He said, stamping his feet now by the fire. The lady ignored him.

“Thank you.” The girl said, bowing humorously.

“My name is many things, but P’erl is one I wish for you to have.” The girl said, touching her heart with her forefingers and then touching his forehead. He smiled at this graceful and generous act.

“And you’ve come from the stars?” He asked. She nodded, smiling.

“Very well.” He said, as if used to the unexpected. “So, what is all the fuss?” He asked, turning to the lady, warmed now and eager to get started.

The lady of the jars was fumbling in the sideboard, reaching to the back of the cupboard now. She stuck her tongue out in an extended effort to stretch and reach into the very heart of the wooden beast.

“Well, we have to make our way to the Mondol stone. This is where the energy in this area pools and the magic is deep and expansive. You my dear will begin to change the closer we get,” She said, looking to the girl. “Layers will begin to lift, and meanings will come forth. You will evolve and reveal. Once there, I shall perform a rite of sorts, and if all goes to plan; what is meant to be, will be unleashed.”

“What do you mean, what’s meant to be? And that doesn’t sound too difficult, a quick trip in through the woods. Why do you need me?” Ezra argued, half-jokingly.

“Well, excuse me mister but I’ve never done this before you know.” The lady snapped, bumping her head on the cupboard and suddenly succeeding in her retrieval of a small box from within. “I’m not too sure what is to happen. I’ve only read about this in the book.”

“Well, that’s helpful.” He said. The girl laughed; she could see the ease between the two of them. She didn’t know it then, but Ezra had once come from the lady. A manifestation of a small part of her that she had conjured into being. The arguing, questioning side of her youth that was a source of strength and safety.

The Lady frowned.

“It will be some opening of portals and minds, a great wash over the land that will lift us all to new heights and banish that darkness. It will also bring forth her true purpose.” The lady said, peering now into the small box before putting it into the bag she had over her shoulder.

“In other words, you haven’t got a clue, but it’s something to be getting on with.” Ezra said, walking over to the door where a row of boots and shoes stood. “Sounds like a wild goose chase to me.” He picked up the brown hiking boots and begun to put them on.

The lady ignored him and bustled about the room putting things into her bag. The girl followed Ezra and chose a pair of boots also. She hadn’t need for them, but if she was here to explore and try different things, she could start by wearing shoes for the first time.

“Dimian.” The lady suddenly said.

Ezra looked over to her.

“Not them again.” He said, his brow furrowing.

“And the gentleman of the boxes.” She added.

“That old goat, what’s he up to?” Ezra asked.

“And I hadn’t mentioned it earlier, but we are also going to have to hurry.”

“Hmmm, because two challenges weren’t enough. Why the haste?”

The lady stopped and looked at them by the door, dressed now and ready to leave.

“Because, in two moons from now; I will have died”.


Forever winter (part 13)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


Fishing for light

It was not the nature of the lady of the jars to be idle. Though she lived a somewhat relaxed life, she was never one to shy away from work. Though her magical abilities helped in many ways, she believed hard work and action were the routes to get things done. She respected the powers that had come alive within, the knowledge that had been entrusted with her. Which is why she was keen to spring to action in helping the girl who had fallen from the stars.

There in her small kitchen, she watched as the girl curiously looked over her book of magic, wondering what they could both share with one another before the end. For she knew an end was coming, and every end has a start.

“Right, I think we’re going to need a little bit of help.” She said, looking deep into the azure wells that seemed etched with blue veins, the lamp light catching her eyes in a hauntingly special way.

“What do you mean?” The girl asked, no fright or reservation gave way in her voice. Just curiosity.

“Well, though we are protected here in my little cottage; and the snow will offer us more protection, there are things outside that I’ve begun to notice that might try and make things a little tricky for us.” The lady said, looking out the windows into the darkened grey beyond.

“Where are we going then?” The girl asked, holding her wrist the lady noticed. Her thumb on her skin and the fingers fanned out underneath as if she were taking her pulse. The lady hesitated.

“Do you sense them too?” The lady asked suddenly. The girl blushed purple, or seemed to blush, for she was actually in the process of travelling beyond the walls of the cottage. Projecting a version of herself outside to look around.

“I see a man, and things I do not know of.” The girl replied, the colour draining now away from her face.

The lady sighed slightly.

“He will never learn I fear.” She said, going over to the window to take a look for herself. But the snow was thick and heavy, and obscured much of her view. She turned back to the girl. “We need to go to a place where the energy centres collide. We need to conjure something which is much beyond what I can store in a little jar. It’s a place not far, at the centre of the forest. There is a clearing with huge trees reaching up to the sky encircling it. You will feel it before you see it. It’s a very special place but I’m afraid it does not hold the type of protection my cottage has. This energy, this magic is not owned by anyone. It’s powerful and magnificent. Like the electricity that runs in the big cities. Anyone can tap into it. We can light a room or power a bomb, it’s how we use it that matters.” The lady said, pushing the rim of her glasses back up her nose.

The girl looked on, thinking suddenly of her home planet Europa. Where the ice coral was used to power and give life to the subterranean cities. This power was never abused but cherished; a blessing that had come to them. And then she remembered the coral she had taken the day she left. That which she didn’t need but had spirited away with her. Why she had, she still was unsure of. Something within her had told her to. The same conflicting voices that sometimes forced her to act in ways she knew were different from everyone else.

“Are you okay?” The lady asked. Noticing how the patterns on her skin had changed suddenly, taking on a metallic colouring, covering the skin in an almost armoury sheath.

“Yes, I’m fine honestly. Sorry, I was thinking about something.” She paused, as if still elsewhere, then asked. “This place we need to go to, is it far?”

The lady watched as the metallic colours shimmered away, and the aqua blue hues began to dance and sway once more. She was concerned, it was the first moment she had seen as if the girl was frightened.

“No, it isn’t far really. But we will need some help to get there, and to shake off that man who is outside and who you have now seen. He’s the gentlemen of the boxes and he thinks you are here to help him with something.” She said.

“Can I help him?” The girl asked.

“Yes, you can. But you shouldn’t my dear. For what he wants, helps no-one but himself. Before this is over, I think he will learn perhaps the biggest lesson. For wheels are in motion now that cannot be stopped, even if the destination is still unknown.” She replied, going now to the cupboards in her pantry.

“Oh, I see. It’s funny how we slide so precariously on destiny’s string.” The girl said. The lady turned and smiled at her.

“Indeed, destiny brought you here. And its destiny that we can still have a hand in. Come, there are things to be done.” She said, grabbing a bag that was tucked away under one of the chairs. “We need a few things, but I must quickly go and wake Ezra first.”

The lady of the jars opened her front door, pushing aside the drifts of snow which had built up during the day. Out of habit, she kicked off the snow which had collected over her doormat, revealing a ‘Welcome’ that had been hidden by the snow which the overhang had failed to protect from. Stepping outside, she got a greater sense of what was now out here. She had known the gentlemen of the boxes was around, she had sensed him earlier. But now she felt something else, and she reached quickly into her pocket and took out two coloured vials.

They glowed there in her hand and in the dark. She took the red one and popped the stopper out with her thumb. The contents rushed upward and dispersed into a small cloud in front of her. In the blink of an eye the red vapour sped away and around the house. It collected back in front of her and she could see then in the smoke what it was. They had left their mark, staining the ground and the space where they had been.

“Dimian” She said, her breath dispersing the red cloud in front of her which drifted quickly up into the sky, lost suddenly in the snow which continued to fall. Dimian were old, ancient creatures which dwelled in the ground. They weren’t necessarily bad creatures, just all consuming. They gobbled and swallowed all the power they needed for their epoch slumbers, consuming vast amounts of previous ancient magic to keep themselves sustained. They did not discriminate on who or what they devoured.

The Lady of the jars had her own protections against these creatures, but the sheer number of what she had seen in the cloud gave her pause for thought. Clearly the landing of the girl, and her cosmic concentration had woken them, fuelled them to seek out this treasure trove of power. She would have to be careful.

Inside the cottage the girl went about collecting the items the lady had asked for and adding further layers to her clothes in preparation for their journey. The lady now walked swiftly to the middle of her garden and took the other vial she had in her hand. This one glowed strong with a yoke yellow light. She reached a mound in the middle where a small statue of a boy stood, a fishing rod holding up a huge lantern that flickered out a warming flame in the dark. This was one of her protective elements to her cottage.

The boy stood as a guardian, casting his light and power around her little home. But he could also do more than that. She cracked the vial over his head, sending the snow that had collected there up into the air like yellow dust. The vial smashed, but like that of an egg, the yellow contents dripping down his head and covered his body. With a final flash of light, the stone broke away and the boy came to life.

“Ezra, good to see you.” The lady said, as the boy swung the lantern on the fishing pole over her head.

“Brrrrr, it’s always so cold! Don’t you ever have a taste for warmer climates?” The boy stuttered out in the cold air.

The lady laughed. “Well, you are only wearing pyjamas. But you know me…” She said, a twinkle in her eye.

“That I do.” Ezra said, smiling a little and looking around. “Which usually means there’s a perilous task for me, right?” He said.

“Got it in one, but this time there is a damsel in distress.” She said.

“Really. Well, I would have put you more in the spinster in danger category myself.” Ezra said, putting the fishing pole under his arms so he could rub his hands together.

“You know, I could move for a more Grecian theme to your statured state, sans pyjamas!” She said, mockingly. Ezra looked around into the billowing snow.

“Alright, alright. Who needs saving this time?” He asked.

“Come, you can meet her and then I’ll show you what we need to do.” She said, taking the fishing pole from him and opened the little door on the lantern. She tipped out a little flame which she hurriedly captured in a bottle she retrieved from her pocket. And placed it on the ground where Ezra had stood just before. It glowed in the dark and gave a warmth which melted the snow slightly around it, before illuminating all around. A sparkling amber jewel in a sea of white.


 

Forever winter (part 12)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


Sunshine and sadness

The sunshine beat down, making the dead still air hum like static. Nothing moved. Nothing stirred. The whole forest and world rested in the maddening heat of the day. She looked up into the sky where this giant tangerine sphere blazed away, and she mopped her brow. She was hot and sweaty. Moving slowly back towards the sad little row of town houses where she called home. She heaved the panel of wood carefully and painfully slow to her house; the middle one in the row. The brightest of all the little homes, its white paint glistening in the hot sun. She thought of her house as the last good tooth in a rotting mouth. Rubbish and filth marked the other buildings, faulted by the need for their owners to work long hours just to survive rather than to maintain a nice home.

But she did, and she worked harder than any.

​She heaved the panel finally in through her door, propping it up for now in the hallway. She had gotten up early that day, putting her hours in early at the little shop in town where she worked, so she could leave before five to get to the wood shop before it shut. She knew the owner well enough, and knew he never did business out of hours. And she wanted the wood today. She wanted to fix the door tonight, while she knew he would be out.

​As she caught her breath in her little hallway, she sighed at the cliché of her life so far.

Married when she was just seventeen, to someone she never loved. Stuck, out of circumstance, to the man and the place for fear of having to start over with nothing. The money her parents had given her was swallowed up before she had even been married a year. Drinking and gambling away her inheritance it seemed was his favourite past time. And she let him; she knew she was indeed part of the problem. She allowed him to drink and stay out because it meant he wasn’t there, at home with her. Punching the walls and putting her down. Complaining and demanding things and putting his foot through the back door.

​She went now for a glass of water, fanning her arms to cool them down as best she could as she made her way to the tiny kitchen. Her house was cool, she made it that way the best she could, but in doing so it was dark and cave like, blocking out the scorching sunlight wherever she could. Their town: plagued by tropical heat and an unrelenting sunshine that cooked and boiled everything beneath it, was something she had come to despise.  She drank from a glass, looking now at the gaping hole in the door panel.

An easy fix and done before. This time she had made sure to get stronger wood, something that would   so easily be destroyed. But something had been different this time. A part of her heart had splintered and snared like the bits of wood that stuck out now like vicious thin teeth. Her heart, hardened over the years and placed under a cloud of criticisms and chaos, surprised her at making her feel something. Something where everything she thought was numb.

​But what was it; anger, remorse?

​She wasn’t too sure. Suffering so long in the dark, it’s painful to see the light after so long. She mistook the determination for her usual war-time mentality of getting things done, carrying on and making things right. Getting the wood panel for the door, fixing it so there was no longer the yawning reminder of the open wound that was her life. Letting the dank air in. Letting the light in.

Something within was screaming. Something determined to be heard and acted upon.

She filled her glass again from the tap, drinking down the cool water. Replenishing her fluids that had escaped in her long hike from the wood-shop, and the internal steam engine that was slowly gathering force to implore her to act.

And then she heard the door go.

​The front door slammed shut, not caught in any breeze that the deadened air around could muster. He was home early. Must have been a bad day. She heard the yelling in the hall, incoherent cries like the nightjars she passed on her way to work, gathering and chorusing in the trees above. Soon he was there in front of her, gesturing to the hallway, no doubt the wood panel caught in his way. He looked hot and red, his skin crumpled and dirty; burnt by the sun after the long day in the fields and the alcohol that dehydrated him. His hollowed cheeks, gaunt by a wicked life and bad teeth, threw shadows on his face making him look like an angry red skeleton fresh from the grave. He banged and blamed, flailing his arms around. Knocking things off the kitchen shelves. She would have to fix things, she always did. Clearing up his mess while he slept off his mood.

She ducked more than once, mindful not to be the target of his rage and waited for the storm to die. But she did something then she had never done before. The steam engine in her had reached its peak and burst, emptying out years of frustration and hatred in a single event. She launched the glass she held in her hand out into the air, and watched it sail over the kitchen and smash on the stone wall. She screamed loudly, like one would into a pillow, so loud it sounded like an air raid siren. Momentarily it confused him, like some animal. He stopped dead, unsure of what was happening. She was usually so passive. So subservient. Afraid to rock the boat which would lead her to drown in a deep sea of chaos.

But the mouse had roared.

​He acted fast, waiting for her screaming to subside. The chemicals inside kicking into gear to save his self-preservation of a life he had constructed. A life where he was the boss. He grabbed her roughly by the hair, spinning her around and pulling her backwards. He wasn’t a big man, or even strong. But fuelled by fury and drink, he handled her like that of a ragdoll, pulling her free of the safety of her little home. Their little home.

​Kicking free the remains of the broken door, and out into the scorching heat. Though the day was heavy, the sun drew up on them, an oppressive spectator in the unfolding drama. She didn’t cry out, too shocked and stunned into what was occurring. She was dragged out to the centre of the garden they had, and roughly shoved into the middle, finally free of his hands from her hair. He grabbed a chair that was propped up by the fence, unfolding the deckchair style and placing it on the grass that had shrivelled into a horrible rug of dirt and dry leaves.

​He pushed her into the seat. The silence signalling, she had gone too far with the glass. Too far, and too brave to have even begun a journey on him. She sat, motionless; waiting and watching to what was to happen. She watched him find some garden trellis string, some she had bought last year to help keep the cucumber plants steady and vertical.

He was quick tying her to the chair, binding her hands and then her legs to it. She began to protest, pleading half-heartedly that she wouldn’t do it again. A lie, she knew she would. She knew then that if there were ever a next time, she would smash the glass on his skull and be rid of him forever. But he was fast, and tied a rag in and around her mouth, keeping it in place with the string. The string, which she felt now digging into her wrists.

​When he was done, without a word, he stood back and quickly went back inside. She was left there, in the garden with the sun burning down on her, tied to the lawn chair. But his return was swift and carrying a bag of rubbish which he emptied all around and over her. Foul bits of food and muck covered her, lapped at her feet like a garbage tide. He returned two more times, fresh trash spirited from their neighbour’s houses, to be emptied on and around her. Crowning her as the queen of this new tragic kingdom. He threw the last empty bag away and came close, his eyes piercing hers as he bent low. Grabbing her cheeks between his fingers, pressing his dirty nails into her skin, he hissed at her.

“If you ever do that again, I will kill you.”

And he released his grip and stalked back inside the house. A diminishing monster, back into the depths.

The humiliation was as bad as the smell, but it was the flies and the sun which were the real torture. She was out there hours, cooking in a putrid heap as the flies nibbled and pecked at her like tiny vicious birds. The sun radiated an intensity that nearly caused her to faint, pushing down like the fiery hand of god.

But she survived.

Woken, out of the delirious dreamscape her survival mind had slipped her into reality, by a bucket of cold water thrown over her once the sun had set. He loosened her from the chair, not saying a word. Not able to look her in the eye. Before disappearing out, off to drink and spend more money.

In the aftermath, she collected herself best she could. She cleaned herself off and tidied the garden to keep the rats from overrunning the place. Despite her nausea, she had some bread to fend off the intense hunger and disgust that brewed and bubbled in her stomach. And then she went to her bedroom and began to pack. She did not want revenge, no good could come of that. But something had snapped within her like a broken twine around the wildflower feelings she had kept tightly bound. The spun sugar strand of patience had shattered.

She collected only what she needed, throwing it all into a bag and bringing the walls down to this part of her life. She cleared out the little box under the floorboards where he kept some money, the one he thought she didn’t know about. She put it back, empty, sealing the box to a grave of loneliness. She stripped the house of her, of the things she needed to go on with. Cutting the cord to an unhappy life there. She stood in the front room, wondering if all her life could really lie crumpled and stuffed in the small bag she held in her hand. And then she saw it, the snow globe up on the shelf.

Twinkling away through the dust at the higher realms of display. She had bought it herself, years ago. A winter market in one of the neighbouring towns had brought it into her life. She had been transfixed with the winter scene at the time, like bubbles of snow dancing in a small sea of dust in the wind. It was small, no bigger than her fist. And she had remembered placing it up on the higher shelf to give it a better chance in her life there, out of the danger zone of fists and fits.

She took it down now, unsettling the snow that had gathered in the bottom like pebbles in an aquarium. She couldn’t help herself, she shook it, making it and herself one with the disjointed feeling of a world in flux. How long she stood there, she didn’t know. No happy memories were there to be collected. Only dark shadows of the past that she wanted to put into the grave.

And then, she left.

The rest was a blur. She left the house, the street and the town. Traveling far on the little she allowed herself to spend. Finally settling in the little cottage that she lives in now, though much different from how it was when she arrived. Years of hard work had made it her home where now, she was, currently entertaining the girl from Europa. Unknowing, in part, of the little eyes who watched it all unfold, and the man of the boxes who skulked around her house.

​You may be asking yourself why she never used magic to save herself from a life so fraught at the beginning. Or why she never turned her husband fittingly to a bug to squash underfoot. That too is an interesting story. For you see, once she was married, she was taken away from her family and where she had grown up. The choking rights of marriage had labelled her practically property, and her husband had concluded that she needn’t have many things in their new home. His own were suffice. What her family didn’t know, and neither did she until later once she had left, was that he had used a bit of magic himself in the first place; to marry the lady of the jars who, at the time, was just the girl with the glass like beauty.

​This may sound all too convenient and easily explained away, but yes; sometimes life is that clichéd. He hoodwinked them all, sloppily as it turned out in the end. He had struck lucky one-night gambling and fretting away money that wasn’t his own. With a roll of unforeseen luck, he had acquired what he needed to enchant her and blanket them all with deception. It wore off of course, but by then she was cut off from her family and from the aged magic her own mother knew and possessed, which could’ve helped.

Things are sometimes hidden deep, before being rediscovered. Her mind had silenced all she had learned from her book growing up; and that’s the thing about the book itself, it needs to be with the owner. It needs to have a connection in order to tap that power and manifest. More importantly, it needs to come from a place of positivity. A submissive negative mind is not the soil in which miracles will grow.

But magic, and good magic, finds a way. Which is why the book came to her; posted by her mother when she knew she was safe and free. Knowing the how, or the why or the ways this magic helped find its way back to her, is inconsequential. Knowing why the sun sets and rises, won’t stop it doing so each day. What we do know is that once she was in possession again to such wonders, she did all she could to block out the sickening heat that reminded her of that horrible day. The magic she used for good, and to make an amends for the lost time where she was impotent of power which needed to breathe and thrive. Which is why it snows constantly there, and why she always feels happier cold and by herself rather than hot and suffering, surrounded by those flies.


 

Forever Winter (part 11)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


ORIGINS WITH Oranges

To an untrained eye, the book was nothing special. It did not scream magic or invitations to thumb its precious pages. It actually went out of its way to look ordinary. Tea stains and scuffed leather, what looked like dust was really tiny particles of used magic covering the book, misleading vestiges of wonder. She kept her magic bible on the sideboard in her kitchen, next to the wooden spoons and ladles. She usually had a bowl of oranges nestled on top, keeping the vast pages pressed down and crisp, the smell of citrus in the air. A quick glance at the book would not rouse a curious mind, yet within the pressed bits of trees held such secrets and magic; it was practically priceless.

​Although she may have handled the book in a casual way, the lady of the jars was very careful and appreciative of it. She did not take her powers for granted, and she knew that the book and she were intertwined on a fatalistic level. Over time, notes and incantations had been scribbled on the pages, adding a depth and personal quality to the spells.

They moved into the kitchen, the girl now dressed in trousers and a shirt with a huge pullover jumper keeping her warm. The cable knit had been something the lady had whipped up last year, enthusiastically knitting away with love and excitement and creating something which practically trailed the floor. Of course, there were snowflakes on the pattern.  The girl pushed up the sleeves and followed behind her towards the table which sat by the south facing window, looking out down towards the stream. Snow covered the ledge, but in the misty fog of the flurry you could make out the shapes of the world moving about in their winter havoc.

The lady dropped the teacups in the sink and went over to her book, picking up an orange with her and heading over to the table. She motioned for the girl to sit down, offering her the fruit while she took her own seat and flicked open the pages. The smell of the paper was enticing, spices and whiffs of exotic breezes drifted from the spine. She scanned the contents, gazing as if for the first time upon the words.

​“Imamiahi….My, they are rare aren’t they. I know my grandmother spoke of one in her life. That was around the time of the great enlightenment of course. Makes sense. How much darker things have gotten since? My my. People never learn I’m afraid.” The lady chatted, scanning the pages for what she was looking for. The girl watched her, rolling the orange back and forth on the oak table between her small hands.

“How much do you know of this then?” The girl asked.

“Oh, a little here and there. I know you don’t view this process as a death, or an ending.” The lady did not see the girl flinch.

“No, we do not die in that sense.” The girl spoke, almost as if frightened of the word death. The rolling of the orange had stopped.

“No, death is not the end, I believe that also; and I know what you’re here for is not to die; but to become. More like a phoenix. Are you familiar with that?” The lady asked, kindly.

​“Yes, very much so. I know of this bird. We have creatures on Europa that dwell in the ice caverns. They are a little like the birds on this planet, except their bodies are frozen vapour that move in orbs which grow. Each year they rise up out of the tunnels and caves to the warmer temperatures where the layers of vapour explode, reducing them down to their original forms. The vapour allows us to breathe, it’s the cosmic breath of the planet under the ice.”

“Amazing! I always wondered how life operates on the other worlds. You must be at home her with all the snow then?” The lady asked, expectantly.

“Yes, it reminds me a lot of what I do miss.” She said, adding, “But there is a lot to see here too. You for one. I know not everyone is like you. I’ve seen a lot of darkness here before. I only feel light here with you.”

“This world is everything, the light and the dark and the pulls of the in-between. There are good people who make bad choices, and there are bad people waiting to make the right ones. No one is fully lost or beyond change.” She suddenly made a little ‘Yelp’ which made the girl jump slightly.

​“…Ah here it is, Imamiahi!” She said, excitedly, before reading out the passage:

‘Imamiahi are very sacred beings. Travelling across the skies to dwell on earth. Sometimes their trips can be a time and age, others will be gone in a blink of an eye. The Imamiahi will pick the barer, they will travel from the edges of space to come to our material level and offer us the most wonderful gift. Though their intentions will at times be complicated, they are very empathetic and feed off the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the barer they have chosen. Be mindful, your consciousness will not only affect the Imamiahi, but the environment around you with them.

Their purpose here is always the same, to shed a layer of themselves or part of their celestial DNA that has ceased to operate to any purpose. They are well meaning, and through their own transformation, they impact those here on earth. The shedding of the layer forces time to flux, for deeds to be undone that were negative. A deep- clean of souls in order to go on with a clearer mind for change. For this to occur, certain practises must take place, and must be in place for it to happen…

The lady lifted the page briefly to see what was listed on the next.

​“There’s a note here.” the lady said, before reading out:

‘Though the Imamiahi will have a choice to decide when this is all to take place, certain things can propel the process to be forced or demanded. This can stem from fear, threat, duress or the instant salvation. In the worst case, this will take place to reduce everything back to the beginning. A time explosion.
As barer, you are the guardian as well as the watcher.

​The lady thought on this a second or two, before smiling at the girl.

“Well, prepare for the worst but hope for the best I say. Let’s see what we need to do then. I hope a good ole conjuring is needed. It’s been a while since I invoked some of the deep earthy magic.” She said, licking the lips in her mind to the thought of something exciting.

​The girl smiled back appreciatively, knowing deep inside she had chosen the right barer for her. She knew she hadn’t told her everything; the book itself said some Imamiahi would have complicated agendas; and hers were a little more than unusual. But she would tell her when the time was right. She looked out of the window, watching the snow tumbling down, the tufts of white resting momentarily on the glass before bleeding into the drifts already there. She watched the world there in that little cottage and lifted the orange to her mouth and bit into it like an apple.


Forever Winter (part 10)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


Watchers in the woods

The little cottage by the stream was a lovely thing to behold. It filled every notion of quaint and picturesque, and with the white snow whipping around it and settling on its old oak windowsills and thatched roof, it may have seemed magic was its maker. But this was not the case. The lady of the jars put much time and effort keeping her little home pretty and practical. She tended the garden when she chose the spring seasons, and at the rear of the paddock she kept a giant domed greenhouse, full of orchids, dahlias, hibiscus and all manner of strange and unique plants. All kept under the huge dome, now this she had bewitched, repelled the snow and kept the natural light shining in, bathing the plants with the life-giving ultraviolet rays.

Aesthetic wise, her house was all her own doing. But for the maintenance and security, the magic she knew dripped through every stone and brick. She was not against a bit of hard work, and she had known years of toil and trauma as much as the next person. She did use her magic to keep the house dust free (though she had some jars filled with dust that she tainted different colours, shaking them and watching the motes shimmer in the coloured light), and a little help with the laundry and such; was merely a perk of knowing the inner workings of such deep and sacred magic. She also held spells and incantations over her little abode which kept it safe and secure; warding off bad spirits and deeds which promised to slither in with the shadows. But inside she was safe, and she knew it.

Outside, creeping around the back and down towards the stream, the gentleman of the boxes pushed through the huge snow drifts that had piled up by the hedgerow. He knew the place was safe for her, he knew he would have a battle on his hands if he were to challenge anything here against the lady of the jars. And he didn’t want to do that now, or perhaps anytime.

A part of him knew something must be done, but for now his curious mind and eyes were searching the backyard for it. The place where she had landed. It had already been covered in so much snow that the scorched outline in the ground would be, to an average eye, hard to see. But with a magical twinkle that now twirled in his own lenses, he could see, even feel the place where heaven and earth collided.

He moved slowly, bending down every few steps to pick up a little piece. Digging his fingers into the white covering and extracting the soil, droplets of blue that permeated the thick black earth. They looked like tiny sapphires speckled in the ground, the residue from the cocoon craft that had landed not long ago. He knew that only a grain of this would be precious to him, to fill only one of his little matchboxes would give him foresight and energy, to be able to cancel out the retched snow and bring back the blaze of the summer sun.

He collected what he could, searching for the large chunks of matter that sparkled abnormally in the dead snowy light. Too concerned about his diamonds in the dirt, he did not notice the others. The eyes that had appeared in the woods all around him. For it was not just the gentlemen of the boxes who longed for the new gift from the stars, but others as well.

They watched him. His dominant gait slinking abnormally along the path towards the cottage. He moved like a shadow, whereas they moved like ghosts. Only noticeable if they wished to be seen. Spectres of the forest for now as they hid their figures and their intent. Woken from their slumber by the power dwelling now in the cottage by the stream, it had cracked open their hibernation and murmured within their DNA. They quickly gathered, shaking off the sleep of a thousand years and rattling like old bones in the clearing.

Collecting themselves and moving on mass to the throb of the heart that was warming itself by the fire, sipping tea and eating blueberry tarts. They watched, their eyes translucent like the stream that ran behind the cottage, following the shadowed man collecting the fallen shards of space, pocketing them in the deep caverns of his coat. They watched, they whispered, then vanished into the ground.

“And it is your home, as long as you want it to be. I know you mean in the bigger picture, the bigger sphere of this planet, this space in time. But my home, my little life, is here for you if you need it. I want to help you, and I know why you must be here. Please, let me be the guide for you in this place.” The lady of the jars said, her heart shifting inside.

“You know why I am here then?” The girl asked her.

“Yes, I know. It’s been foretold in a way. Well, I’ve read about it and I feel it within me. I’ve been feeling it for a while now, something on the horizon about to appear. Like a dream where I reach out and grab something like a rainbow, beautiful, but untouchable.” She added.

“I understand. I would like for you to help; I know this might be hard for you though.”

“It is time, I think. Locked away in my little cottage, doing good but not seeing the wider world. It is time for me, I think. So let’s get started. You need some decent clothes, and I need my book.” She said, heaving herself up out of the seat, quickly snatching up a stray blueberry from the tin and throwing it into the air, catching it in her mouth. “Time waits for no Europan!”


Forever winter (part 9)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


Blueberry tart and tears

“What’s wrong?” The girl asked, watching the lady step back inside and lock her door. She was muttering something under her breath when the girl asked again. “Are you okay?” Concern showing from a mask which beheld no emotion. It travelled in waves to the lady, she felt it in her bones. Looking over, she smiled back quickly, calmed by her presence.

“Nothing, I hope. We’re safe inside here my dear, I just felt some bad energy from outside just now, that’s all.” She said, putting the cane back to where she found it and coming back towards the fire. “I’ll let you know if it builds to anything we need to be alarmed by. But this little cottage can handle a lot thrown its way.” She came back over towards the fireplace, the flames roaring nicely still. “Why, you’ve drunk all your tea. That calls for more, and a little cake too I’d say.” She said, taking a little blueberry tart out of the tin she had brought in on the tea tray.

“Who was at the door?” The girl asked, curiously.

“That was a little rub of a boy called Timothy Sanderson. He came around today in the hope of tales and stories. But alas, one is being invented now as I sit here with you and might just be finished in time for him tomorrow when he comes back again….and gets the correct day.” She said, sneaking a blueberry tart for herself from the tin.

“I could feel his warmth for you, but also something else. Infatuation?” The girl asked. The lady couldn’t help but laugh at this. Bits of the cake spraying onto the copper coloured rug on the floor.

“Oh my, that would be his growing fascination with a little girl called Stacey Izzana. He really does have it bad. No, he sees me as the crazy old woman who tells stories and feeds the other children chocolates and biscuits when they should be eating fruit.” She said, eyeing up another cake in the small little tin.

“He seemed like a pure soul.” The girl said, tasting her own cake.

“Yes, they all are the ones that come here. Eager minds looking for adventure and intellect. These books fill them with both, and I’m happy to be the tool in which to help with that.” She leaned forward slightly, inching to the edge of her seat. “But you, you my dear are an Imamiahi, are you not? It is you that will bring us that adventure, and the change I’ve felt coming for some time.”

The girl finished her cake before replying, all the while looking deep into the soul of the lady before her. She knew where she was heading of course, before she even left Europa. She knew the journey would be the way it was and what type of soul who would greet her when she stepped out of her cocoon. Best laid plans. But the lady surprised her still. The house and the energy were not something she’d come across before. This woman only wanted to help. It was a selflessness that she had not come across in her previous encounters. She could read the makeup of another being like you would read the ingredients on the back of a cereal box. Formulating and registering the light levels that were contained within. But much like the box, it could not tell you the taste, the character or how it might make you feel. Inside the girl felt something she hadn’t felt before.

“Yes, I’ve been called that in the past. You are a kind person, I know that; I can feel it.” She said, blue tears leaving her eyes, falling upwards to the ceiling.

“This, this feels like home.”


 

Forever winter (part 8)

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The snow that had collected just above the window frame drifted down in a fine powder, dislodged by the loud knocking coming from the door. Inside, the lady and the girl looked over to where the banging was coming from. The knock was repeated, this time with more force.

“Stay here, and please; don’t say a word.” The lady said, and the girl nodded in reply, taking a sip from the glass; her throat changing colour as the liquid fell inside her like a fading rainbow. The lady ambled to the door and grabbed a walking stick she kept by the umbrella stand. She didn’t need the stick of course, her bones were weary, but her health was fine, she merely liked how it looked walking along in the snow sometimes; inspecting things with a gentle prod. Now, she held a tight hold on the top of the cane (shaped like a giant snow globe) and cautiously opened the door, catching the knocker mid-knock.

“Oh!” She said, a smile widening like that of the door. “Timothy, what brings you this way?”

She looked out into the snowy gloom; the disappearing light had blanketed the world in an encroaching grey, like soup lapping at a rim of a bowl. A small boy stood on her doorstep, his feet in wellington boots far too big for him. He was wrapped up against the storm, but his nose was as red as a holly berry.

“Oh, hey. Sorry, I didn’t think you could hear me, thought you might be sleeping.” Timothy shouted, compensating for the wind by yelling like only a child can. The lady chuckled.

“Well, if I were, I’m sure it would’ve woken me up. Anyway, come in come in.” She said, beckoning him inside out of the cold.

“Is Stacey here yet?” He asked, remaining on the doorstep.

“Stacey? Why would she be here?” She asked him, puzzled somewhat.

“Well, it’s Thursday. You said for us to come for the stories on Thursday, remember? I even brought some biscuits my mum made.” He replied, shaking a small tin he held in his hands, containing, now no doubt, shards of biscuits. “I just wanted to know if Stacey was here yet, if not I would go to her house now and walk with her.”

The lady could see the twinkle of opportunity in his eyes.  Her mind flickered to her calendar and checked the date. Nope, he was a day early. Timothy was always overanxious. She chuckled a little and told him he’d gotten the wrong day. As his face fell, she turned quickly and took something out of the small drawer on the sideboard near her. She handed him a small purple glove; its index finger was slightly frayed with a long loose thread which looked like a long woollen nail.

“She left this here last week though, perhaps you might be so kind as to drop it by to her today.” She said. His eyes grew large as he took the little mitten, holding it like a small treasure. He set off straight away back down the little path calling out to her as he went.

“Thanks, see you tomorrow!”

The biscuits beyond repair now, flung this way and that in the little tin as he rounded the corner of her fence and disappeared up the lane. She stood and watched him go, enjoying the scene of the darkening light and the heavy snow which spread a happiness inside of her.

But then it stopped. Cut off quickly as she saw the shadows. They reached up and under the little fence she had at the bottom of her garden. Tall and thin wisps of dark, like the fingers of a demon. It all grew suddenly quiet as the wind dropped and the silence that accompanies snow descended.

She couldn’t see him, she only felt he was there. The presence. The energy she could normally feel bubbling way off over the woods but marked on every page of her treasured magic book. Like a compass it pointed the way to the light and dark, and she felt the shadows creeping nearer and nearer to her. She shut the door hastily, warding off the nefarious nature by her own incantation and signs that kept her little cottage safe.

She never saw the gentleman of the boxes, though she knew he was there. His little eyes peering at her from the trees as he skulked around to her backyard.


 

Forever winter (part 7)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


Recede to reason

He’d consumed the book. Reading it hurriedly in the candlelight of his cave. He’d red it once through and went straight back to the beginning to read it again. Days passed and he’d not emerged from his cave, breaking his concentration only to hydrate and use the bathroom. The words and the knowledge mesmerised him. He’d never been one for books before. He thought stories and fables were just things to tell children before they went to bed. He’d seen the kids from the village, hurrying to that little house by the stream to sit and listen to tales and wonders. Foolish kids. They should be out working, doing, playing, being. Not stuck inside listening to yarns that only take place in the mind. What good could come of that?

But this book was different. This book showed him a way to be that was not fiction. These things he was reading told him how he could change his life for the better. How he could master the weather himself, make the wind blow the direction he wanted it to. To even stop death and bring the things he wanted back to life.

But there was a cost to be paid, like there always was.

He was smart enough to know a warning when he saw it, and the book was riddled with them. And he wasn’t foolish enough not to heed these warnings either. He practised in secret, squirreled away underground. Little things at first, then moving on to larger and more complicated ones. He left his body many times, if not his cave, and before long he was very knowledgeable about the ways of Lunamaji and where it all could take him.

The magic was old, and he’d found it hard to master it with his cumbersome closed off mind. His heart was not corrupt but shut down to a lot of ideas and things that at first made little sense to him. The nature of the magic was to do the impossible, and the gentlemen of the boxes was compounded by reason. He knew what was here though, a great store of energy that would help him change his circumstance. For though he had eked out a life underground, it was not really by his own choosing. If he could control and master the energy; then he knew his own destiny would be back in his own hands.

But the power that he craved at first, shifted and changed. In the beginning, he’d wanted to see if the magic worked, to see if reading something could arouse a change in the very makeup of the earth. To have a little power himself. But he soon learned, much to the cart seller’s warning, that it could consume and cause havoc. He could see how a life could slip away from him, if too caught up in the magic. He didn’t want that. He wasn’t an evil soul, merely bitter by the hand life had dealt him. If he could go back though.

So he had changed his mind, as so many do, and instead sought out the one thing he knew the book could help him with. Aside from stopping the damn snow.

And that one thing had fallen from the sky that very morning.


 

Forever winter (part 6)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


The gentlemen of the boxes

Though the perpetual snow covered everyone and everything in a magical flurry, some homes escaped the gingerbread icing of the winter dusting. Though treacherous at times, the snow that fell in the area of Ravensbrook was mostly welcomed. The small village itself was well known for its snow festivals which would be held often during the year. While the borders of the county were at the whim of the regular weather patterns, Ravensbrook enjoyed the snowfall of the mountain passes more than anywhere nearby. But not everyone was happy with the snow, and one in particular made sure to be out of it as much as they could.

He had once had a large cabin on the other side of the woods which backed on to the small cottage by the stream. His was a stern roughly built cabin, reeking of ash fires and masculinity. It’s coarsely built structure was a testament of his own strength, having built the place himself. But it did not appeal to the eye and was poorly landscaped. Fresh animal kills were strewn around, the bones of which would be stacked sometimes by an outhouse.  He lived there alone, stuffing small woodland animals with sawdust and brooding over a life that was slipping away from him. That is to say, lived there, for now the gentlemen of the boxes lived underground.

One day, on a particularly snowy afternoon whilst trudging back to his cabin, he’d stopped with his fresh kill slung over his shoulders. The snow had covered his face and was blotting out the view of the track he was following home. He’d stood there, a human snowman for much longer than an idle man should in the cold snow, thinking and pondering and wondering over the incessant weather. Raising his fist in the air, he cursed the sky and the lady who lived in that small little cottage, telling tales and playing god.

He stormed home and packed the few possession he could into a duffle bag and set off into the depths of the woods. Thick in thorns and thistles, the snow drifts piled high in the dark and gloomy woodland. But soon enough, he’d found what he was looking for. A small opening in the ground marked by two huge boulders which led down underneath the earth. He’d found this long ago, chasing a fox that had sought shelter from his murderous hands. The opening expanded deeper underground; a vast cave backed up with many little recesses built into the earth. Here he intended to live and be away from that infernal snow and cold which stung his bones.

Over time, his little cave house filled with things and skeletons. The shells of the creatures that he didn’t keep in his boxes. He would stuff them with sawdust and set them into little boxes and crates, depending on the size. He would mark them all and catalogue what he had. In his noahistic mind, he would covert two of each creature, stripping one of the fleshy casings where he could peak at the ivory bones underneath, and stuff and box the other. His collection grew in time, and much of his cave was taken over by the boxes that he would stack high to the roof.

One day, when he was in town selling some animal meet, he happened to notice the traveling cart man who’d stopped in the small village square. The man would peddle, in all weathers, around the villages with a huge caravan of objects pushed and slotted onto the back of his trailer. This travelling circus of curiosities was much welcomed where it went, for he was always known to bring treasures and wonders to that little part of the world.

The gentlemen of the boxes never usually bothered himself with that sort of thing, but something that day seemed to call to him, picking at his mind and heart. He’d trundled over to the cart, impossibly piled high that day with brass lamps, copper kettles, crystal glasses and books. One book in particular stood out to him; a purple bound one the size of a bible. He slid it out from between a jewellery box and iron fire grate and looked at the cover.

The image on the front was nothing new to him, he’d seen the real thing a hundred times, but the way it was drawn unsettled something inside him. Dislodging some idleness and bringing forth some action. The skull of a creature, that of a deer, stared back at him. The eye sockets glowing with a purple like flame tickled the hairs on the back of his neck. He’d just begun to open the book when the seller called over to him.

“Ah, I see you’re interested in the Lunamaji.” He came around the side of the cart and up to the man.

“Maybe. How much for the book?” He replied, gruffly.

“Ten Quartz to you good sir, anyone interested in such deep allurement deserves to get a good price.” The man held out his hand in a kindly way. The gentlemen of the boxes huffed, thinking it was still too much for a book.

He furrowed his brow and grumbled some more before tumbling some coins into the man’s outstretched hand. It was a steep price he thought, but he had the money. There was something interesting about the book, something he couldn’t explain, a gravity only he could feel and had never felt before. He had to have it, so he paid the price, which was reasonable considering what it offered. As he turned to walk away, the old man grabbed at his arm suddenly.

“Be warned though, this is not for the faint of heart or weak of conscience. There are many things in there that need to remain within those pages, and just to reside in the mind.” He’d said, hastening a smile to take the edge off his warning.

“Nothing about me has ever been weak.” The man replied and stormed off with the book under his arm.


 

Forever winter (part 5)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


detach and connect

Steam began to gather around them now, the snow and air evaporated temporarily while the remains of the comet and the contents hissed and spewed in the hole in the ground. The lady of the jars didn’t hesitate, she hopped into the hole and began pulling away at the stray tendrils that had not joined the body. She pulled and heaved, working it free and pulling it away like a tooth from a root. Her hands were raw from the cold, but the blue liquid quickly covered them, and the pain subsided. She was resourceful, years of chopping wood for her fire and toiling her own yard had given her strength and determination. She lifted the body like a doll off the floor, heaving it over her shoulder; the doll now a sack of flour to be carried into her cottage.

Snow began to cover the hole, the marked earth smeared black and blue began to be covered once more in the blanket of white the lady of the jars had always cherished. Soon there would be little evidence of any visitor. It was a secret she was eager to keep to herself, and with that thought she hurried quickly inside.

Closing the door, she took the body over to the fire in her living room. Her house was sturdy, and she could only just hear the howling blizzard outside, the fire crackling over the sound of the perpetual winter. She placed the body carefully, then stoked the fire before taking off her cardigan which was now wet with melted snow and ice. The blue liquid began to slacken, but it did not pool off onto the floor; instead it collected into droplets which lifted up into the air, disappearing like tiny ghosts.  She stood back and watched the transformation, the cocooned being separating into the body of a girl. The hair and skin humming to life with a florescent radiance which faded to a healthy glow.

The girl’s eyes suddenly blinked open and she sat up. Her eyes, those azure wells that pierced the room flashed and opened up a doorway to another space. A land beyond the stars. The lady of the jars handed her a throw which she kept draped across her good chair, and wordlessly the girl surrounded herself in it; embracing the warmth and kindness from the protection it offered. They sat there in the quiet for some time, having a conversation with no words, but levelling out their worlds.

“Tea, that always helps a situation.” The lady said, standing up slowly as not to frighten the girl. The ageless entity that sat on her rug in front of the warming heat. “You stay by the fire, I’ll bring it in.” She said, bustling out into the kitchen. She boiled the kettle and took down the jar of green chai, tipping the leaves merrily into the giant teapot she always had on the side. Though she lived alone, she always devoured copious amounts of tea, and the giant teapot was a testament to it.

She filled it up with the bubbling water, and added some crushed almonds, swirling them around inside. She grabbed some small glasses and returned to the living room with the refreshments, popping them down on the side. Though it had been snowing hard and the day was dark, it was now growing darker she noticed, finding the lamp light from her path gaining more strength in the encroaching shadows.

“You must have travelled far, here drink this; it’ll help.” She said, handing the girl a small glass of the tea.

The girl reached out with her swan like hand and the lady noticed it then, the etching on her arm. It was a pattern, words even, in some sort of language that looked beautiful and strange. She was sure her book could tell her; it always had the answers. These weren’t just dead prints like tattooed skin. The pattern and words swam with life, like a moving aquarium dance of blue hue and light, rippling across her skin; growing strong then faint like a conflicting idea.

“Thank you.” The girl said, reaching for the glass. Her teeth split apart for her to speak, having fused together on her journey. The words were understandable to her ears, but anyone else would have understood also, the language fitting the ear of the listener, wrapping around the mind and settling in the soul. A sweet whisper of a voice, like a feather landing on a petal. Delicate, but hiding a secret strength of flight.

“Are you…” The lady began but was interrupted by an abrupt and determined knock at her blue door. It wasn’t the pheasants this time, that she was sure of.


 

Forever winter (part 4)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


ICE AGE ON THE EDGE OF SPACE

She slept of course, that’s how she’d gotten there. Trapped in a dream that travelled across sky and time. It wasn’t far really, not within her scheme of things. Europa was really the backyard to Earth’s green and blue house; compared to other places she’d been and seen. The trip was quick, a blink of the inner eye for her. Sleeping, forming, and settling into something new in which to emerge from. No-one knew she had left, she made it that way. It wasn’t sneaking out the backdoor or running away, merely moving to the place she knew she would blossom. Unfold in the weighted gravity and expand like the sea coral in her mind.

Getting there was the easy part. She would not miss her home moon; she was not one for looking back. Too many shards of ice poking her into a position she knew she’d outgrown. She had breathed her last and stepped into her waiting transport, bidding a silent farewell to her gods, before becoming one herself. She had shaken her teeth out, burying them deep into the subterranean ice, like planting a seed without the expectation of growth. A silly ritual, one from her childhood. Sealing over the past and welcoming a new dawn. She’d marked the spot with taldium stones. Smooth onyx rocks that looked like fillings from a gigantic beast. This was all she left behind. New teeth grew inside her as she’d slept in the transport, hurtling across the cosmos as the milk teeth grew and fused together in the depths of space.

She slept a mindful sleep, dreaming of change and the freedom of the future. As her body was enduring such forces, she allowed her mind to run free, imagining the possibilities and allowing her history to melt away. Her change was coming at a price, it always did, but it was one she had to pay she felt. As she passed planets and moons, her little comet of curiosity sped and slowed depending on other forces. Varying gravitational pulls and the will of her own heart forced the object onwards, streaking across some many people’s skies.

Her heart had guided it. The comet that buckled and flayed in the pressures of the vast unknown. Steaming up in the re-entry to a land she’d never entered before. It had lit up the sky across a remote part of China, heralding change and ill omens to the many onlookers who captured it in their eyes as they gathered around their small communal fires. Her heart beat, her skin stretched. Her mind collapsed a million times only to be reborn and steer the transport to that spot. A spot chosen, not for its ease or any strategic opportunity.

It was chosen for its sole reason alone, the reason she had left Europa in the first place. It was where the one was, the one who could change her and perhaps, even save her. For a need had begun to spring inside of her, like a plant out-growing it’s pot, that she needed to change what had settled upon her. She needed to strip away all the attachments that kept her selfishly operating, and instead be a source of giving. This was her personal destiny; written in the stars she now flew past.


 

Forever winter (part 3)

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EUROPA DOWN

She pulled open her back door, the wind hurtling inside like an invisible hand knocking through. Though she had control over the weather, it wasn’t an on,  off magic that tingled in her fingertips. She knew there was a time delay in which to shift into a new weather pattern. Making the unnatural, reasonably natural. She hadn’t even gone to her small secret room to change the weather; her heart was hammering in excitement and she hadn’t bothered. Besides, the blizzard added to the drama that was unfolding in her backyard.

She stepped out into the cold and was suddenly covered with thick snowflakes. Her feet were icy, she had stepped out with only her slippers on, but the pull was hastening her forward; caring not a button for the numbing that quickly came in her legs. She pulled her jumper up over her mouth and ploughed on through towards the thing she could see now. She noticed the remnants of stardust peppered across the sky above her. Something had landed at the bottom of the garden. An asteroid, or could it be…… No, it was alive. Her blood told her that. It pulled and ebbed inside her seeking out the magic of life, seeking out the different.

She made her way forward, her eyelashes thick with snow and ice. Her heart was pounding, it drummed in her ears against the wind. The warm blood sloshing noisily against the wall to her skin.

Then suddenly, she was there. Standing over it. In shock for the sight before her eyes. Stardust splattered the snow around. Golden fragments coated the ground and the air, locked in a static tableau of exploding space. The gold drifted off into the air while the stained ground faded to a neon blue. The impact had made a large dent in the soil, like a giant ice-cream scoop had plunged into the earth. At the bottom, covered in strands of blue was what she knew it must be. The fallen. Some called them fallen stars, objects from the cosmos that littered the earth when they tumbled from heaven.

She looked in closer, her mind suddenly skimming that book she kept safe inside her cottage along with her jars. Then she saw the blue tendrils stiffen, like neon roots tightening around their precious cargo. Bits of snow and dust seeped down in-between each one, melting into a liquid that oozed and formed around the body. Encasing it in a protective shell.

Europa, that was what this was. Her mind had summoned the right passage in her book, she saw it now clearly in the bright blue font that had burst off the page. That book which had come to her from her mother. The secret to her magic and light in her heart. It had come before, once before long ago. All the way from another space.

The girl from Europa. Now in a small hole in the bottom of her garden. And she knew there, in the whistling silence that time was short, and things would always be different from here on out.


 

Forever winter (part 2)

The Story so far or Listen to this episode


The visitor

It was a strong blizzard that blew the snow and the ice that day. It blotted out the sunlight entirely, plunging the village in a darkening grey fog. No one left their house except for urgent business, and save for the howling wind, all was quiet. The lady of the jars was anxious, which explained the weather. She would sometimes open up a raging thunderstorm when the bad moods really took hold, but on the days when she was worried, the blizzards came to cover and dispel everything. The paradox of still and motion, certainty and doubt.

She had woken that day with a feeling. Something nibbling at her mind like a bird pecking at her finger. She had pottered about her cottage, finding things to do to occupy her brain. Changing the sheets, dusting the ornaments, cleaning the kitchen cupboards. All to subdue that fretful feeling inside. But her skull itched, and her fingers twitched. Something was coming, she felt it in her bones. She knew the something was different, a thing that was to impact her life and change her course drastically. This, in part led to her anxiousness. Though unafraid of change, she worried she might lose her power to bottle the wonders that she had kept hidden and safe. This was the one loss she feared, the change that worried her. Her own priceless art gone.

Her fear did not stem from any irrational place, the very threat of loss had loomed over her life since she could remember. Some things she felt she were merely the caretaker of, and when these things left then she felt she had done her service. Like the animals of the forest she helped heal and raise back to health. But other things, like her precious magic weather, the scar was much too deep to unpick; and which would ooze a hurt if the control was taken from her. For taken is the only way it was likely to leave. Forces seemed to swirl around her little cottage all the time, threatening to harm her, and put an end to her meteorological meddling.

She looked outside. The flurries had whipped up high on her window and she could barely see to the end of the small path which led to the dirt track towards the village. A lonely lamplight shone off in the distance, the one which swung over her path from the mound in the middle of her garden. It hummed and glowed pitifully in the blanketing white, like the heart of a huge beast teetering on the edge of eternal sleep. She sometimes liked to watch the huge fluffs of snow caught in that lamp, like little wads of dust that floated in the world like dandelion heads that were destined to send their seeds off too new places. The snow travelled seemed to float with its own journey in mind.

All of a sudden, a loud bang sounded above her cottage. It boomed in through her walls and knocked picture frames off the shelves. She let out a small yelp and clutched her chest, as if shook internally from some slumber. She knew it was beginning there, on that snowy day. At eleven o’clock in the morning. She knew, and she suddenly smiled.


 

Forever Winter (Part 1)

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THE LADY OF THE JARS

It was snowing. It always snowed. That’s how she liked it.

The swirling white that enveloped everything, dusting and smothering all in a wonderland. There was more variety in snow she’d always thought. A sunny day was nice, for a trip to the beach or a stroll in the park; but sunny days were predictable, ordinary. It was what everyone wanted. Snow, on the other hand, created such chaos and difference.

Her cottage was nestled right by the huge stream that swept through the core of the little village of Hamani. It was near enough for her to grab the things she needed from the stores and the like, but just far enough on the outskirts where she could find the solitude and quiet that she relished. That’s not to say she was lonely. She was always visited upon by someone knocking on her door and trampling their life into her small little abode. Each day brought something her way, but she always had the choice of opening that small blue door of hers to see what awaited. Some days she would sit by the fire, listening to the rhythmic knocking on the door, picturing not the tired salesman trying to entice her to part with her coins; but instead the small wood pigeons or pheasants tapping their beaks on the wood.

She had been called many things in her time. She wasn’t old, though some days her bones seemed to be. She would bustle around her cottage with the spirit of a teenager, ignoring the small ache in her joints. The cold heightened it, but she would never admit that.

‘Witch’, that name had been thrown her way once. Princess too, though that had been even more painful to hear.

Most saw her as a wise woman with magic, but of the good kind that you knew you were safe to enquire about. She knew the flowers and the herbs, the healing nature of the world that surrounded her small little cottage by the stream with the forest overstretching its reach to her doorstep. People came with their children who would play in the snow and then toast themselves by the fire while their parents would acquire an ointment or potion to help with some pain. Sometimes the kids of the village would come to hear the stories she would tell over huge bubbling cups of hot chocolate, and ginger snaps to munch and make a mess with. The towering piles of books that dotted her home loomed over all who came there. Hers was a place of possibilities, and it was called ‘Dustings’, and she was the ruler of her own little kingdom.

Though she was an honest soul, people had no idea of the true power that dwelt in her little home. They saw the plants and spices that filled every drawer and nook. The witch hazel and birch that swirled in its hued state on the walls. Secrets gained from the botany books and fables that stuck out of sideboards and were lodged under table legs. But they did not know, and they never would, of what she kept in her secret room.

It had always surprised her really. No enchantment had kept it hidden, and the noise and light that came from the tiny room at the back of her cottage was enough to entice even the most mildly curious pair of eyes. Yet secret it remained, an indication of the respect many had for her more than fear.

Locked by a tiny key she kept around her neck; the secret room was not large at all. More of a storeroom usually catering to stored foods or cleaning materials. But here, here is where she kept her jars. Luminous and terrifying, magical and mesmerising. The jars were small really, able to be held in the palm of your hand. Each one filled with light and motion. She bottled them you see, the weather systems. She kept all aspects of the elements, siphoned off into their purest forms and then bottled. Her own collection of small ships. How she had learned to do this, only she would ever know. But there they are, lined up next to each other on her shelves in her secret place. She would rotate them into seasons, or sometimes calamities. A good thunderstorm would go well with heavy wind and hail.

These bottles were most precious to her, and she never misused them. She was always mindful of the good she could do, and the darkness she would always be able to lighten. Most precious of all were the snow-scapes. The blizzards and the flurries raging away in their little jars which had cooled to a frosted glass beauty there on the shelf. These she kept in their own section, away from the heatwaves and the monsoons. She would sometimes come and sit by these little vials and watch the dance of nature there contained behind the glass. A snow globe of the most literal sense. She wasn’t playing god with her treasures; she was only capturing the beauty of god.

These names the people had for her, she always smiled when she heard them muttered in hushed tones. But to herself, she was always the lady of the jars.


 

Smartly dressed violence (part xxx)

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 XXX

SIN first appeared in the city in the guise of poverty, the weakened condition against the affluent. Cases were initially put down to malnutrition, poor hygiene and terrible living conditions. The age was presented with such a vast gap between the affluent and the poor, that sanitation, health care and all manner of civil services benefitted those least needing of them. A virus began to spread in the lower end of the populace, weakening them and forcing them to become more physically dependent on services.

It didn’t take long for those in power to descend on this arising circumstance and to manipulate it. Screenings were made mandatory, and a classification of conditions were regulated. The virus worked fast, spreading through at a rapid speed, almost like a plague from God. It changed people in an instant, forcing them into lives that they would not be able to break free from. For those smartly dressed souls who seemed resigned in their reason and status, their lives seemed to be validated by this new wave coursing through the land. Almost justifying what they always knew.

The Altered, a place of such wonder, was the harbinger of all this darkness. A place that offered such goodness and possibilities gave birth to something so maligned. In an allegoric tern, it was the fact that something so good released something so terrible perhaps to show that people could overcome darkness. It was the Altered that set forth SIN into the material realm. Not wantingly, but by the malpractice of those going in and out of the world and not understanding completely what they were doing. SIN came from a mishandling of the magic, set free and loose from a mind that did not understand what it was doing.

But in the poison, so in lies the cure.

When the light had finally faded, and the scene before them came into view once more, they all stood there unsure of what to do. Jess had tumbled back with Aiko, taking a hit of both his and Nina’s magic. When Akari had run and touched the Holy water, the reaction had catalysed everything in the vicinity, surging through her and Aiko. Akari lay on the ground by the Pandora machine, and Nina and Daniel went across to her as Jess shook herself to, sitting up and piecing things together. Aiko lay on the floor, his eyes closed. He was no longer the huge entity that had fled from the Altered. He was once again his usual size. Little sparks of white light snapped about him, like the aftermath of an electrocution.

“Jess, are you alright?” Eva asked, coming over to her now and helping her up. Jess nodded, her head still raging with an odd static sensation.

“Yes, I feel fine. Great even, just my mind is swirling like duelling dragons in there.”  Jess said, seeming to shake her head as if the beasts would fall from her ears. They both looked at Aiko on the floor, the little lights emitting from him.

“What about him?” Eva asked, nudging his feet with her boot. Nina walked over to where they were now. They could see Daniel and the other members of the order going to where Akari stood, light also still emitting from her.

“Are you okay?” Nina asked, her tone calm yet concerned.

“Yes, yes I’m fine. Really. That was something though.” Jess said.

“Your bravery indeed is something Jess, amazing.” She said, putting her hand on her back tenderly.

Aiko began to stir, his head that was lulled backward began to move from side to side until he opened his eyes. He looked around for a moment, then pushed himself up, sitting still before them.

“What is going on here?” He asked, groggily.

The others looked at one another, before Nina spoke.

“A lot is going on here Mr Tanaka.” She kneeled down to him, looking directly into the eyes which once were black and dead. They now swirled with a different light, a human window to his soul.

“Tanaka?” He said, quietly, puzzled over that word for a moment. Then he looked across to see the machine, and the order members. On spotting Akari, it was as if a realization had been set loose in his blood.

“Oh god.” He said, his head falling forward as if in shame.

“Aiko, it’s over. Everything is going to be fine.” Nina said, and she too put her hand on his shoulder, comfortingly.

“But, I…” He began, but stuttered off, shaking his head.

“Come, we all must leave now. This place has done what it was meant to, but now it is time to leave.” Nina said, and she helped Aiko up with the help of Jess.

Outside of the building, the divine light from the Holy water was ebbing away in the distance. The streets and the city below them shimmered as if it had been scrubbed clean and bathed in celestial bleach. They took their leave, making their way back to the temple, Karen’s team following; leaving the pandora machines where they stood.

Akari had been the key it seemed; she was the one that had been able to turn the dark to the light. Though they had successfully released the Holy water and changed the city forever, it was because of her that Aiko had been subdued. Once back at the temple, they were all able to take stock of the event.

Karen set about monitoring the effects the pathogen was having on the city, flashes of screens and machines flooded her lab with data. Other members saw to helping those hurt in the battle and arranging for everyone to be taken care of and comforted. It was a member of the order by the name of Sally who discovered them. She had gone to get some additional medical supplies from one of their containment units and had stumbled across the Tanakas. They were asleep at the back of the unit, huddled together but safe

Nina learned from them, once they were woken and had joined the others, that they had appeared in the temple when the events in the Altered had climaxed. With a flash they had been expelled, and sent to the temple, landing unceremoniously in one of the storage units. Dazed and bewildered, and scared for what was happening; they had remained there where it was safe. It seemed once the pathogen had been released, it had plummeted their energy levels after their transition, inducing sleep.

Aiko had embraced his family when they had entered the room. He and Akari hugged them, tears coming easily and copiously to all the eyes of the Tanakas. Anyone suspicious on Aiko’s change needed only see how he greeted his family to know that a paradigm had indeed shifted. Not only was he changed, it seemed he’d reignited the empathy within him that he had tried so hard to exorcise.

Nina looked on, seeing how Akari and Aiko embraced their family. Akari was the key, the siphoned off bits of Aiko that he thought he could control, but what was made in the Altered seemed to overflow into the material realm. She had indeed magnified Aiko’s power and magic, but he had not counted for the goodness and reasoning that was still apart of him, and prevalent in her. Though the light was tiny in regards to the overwhelming darkness he wielded, the tiniest candle it seemed would always banish the deepest dark. She looked at her now and smiled, knowing that hope was always worth having.

“So how did the Tanakas get back here?” Jess asked, coming to stand with Nina. She was happy, a sense of elation not abating inside of her. Nina thought for a moment, looking over to the happy embraces of the family.

“I guess it was The Pope, he must have tried to save them in the final moments.” She said, smiling.

“He must have known more about the Altered then anyone, knowing how to use it.” Jess offered.

“Indeed. Unlike Aiko who sought to control the power, Samuel always respected and understood the power and the magic of the Altered. It was like he took such blessings from merely being able to caretake the magic, He always use to say…..” But what, Jess never did find out. “I need to check something.” Nina said, touching her slightly on the arm and disappearing away.

Jess was stood alone only for a short moment, before Eva came to talk and help her process all the events. They were both happy, and proud of what they had accomplished. Both their fights had occupied their lives for years, much as everyone’s had in the order. Jess now not only had something to be happy and proud of, but she had a sense of belonging too. Her tribe, so to speak. And her thoughts turned to her own family, hastily making a call to them.

It wasn’t long for Nina to find Karen. She was sat down in front of a huge holographic screen, numbers and images flashing in front of her, the glow of which dousing her in a ghostly blue light.

“All good I’m hoping?” Nina said, coming over to her friend. Karen looked up and greeted her with a smile, one of relief and elation.

“I can’t belief this data. Well, I do believe it but it’s beyond what we had hoped for. Everything seems to be stabilised, all persons seem to be responsive. The was a cluster expansion in the west side, understandably, but the readings are off the charts. SIN is gone, it’s evolved into the best-case scenario.” She said, beaming.

“Wonderful, that’s such good news. It was as we hoped then?” Nina asked.

“And more, we can’t tell from the data the emotive responses from individuals naturally, but the cognitive recalibrations would suggest a higher state of empathy.” Karen said, scanning through a diagram before her.

“So people will give a shit more then?” Nina said with a grin.

“You better believe they will. And it’s about time. Nina, this is it. We did it!” Karen said, her eyes on the brink of welling. Nina stood forward and hugged her friend deeply. It had indeed been a long battle, with many casualties along the way. But it seemed that everything was worth it..

“So, Samuel…” Nina said, as she and Karen broke apart.

This shook Karen’s smile.

“The greatest loss.” Karen said.

“Maybe not. Jess just reminded me something he said once, about the magic and the Altered. There’s so much really with all this and what has happened, and no one is an expert. Except maybe you now.” Nina said. Karen brushed the comment aside humorously. “Samuel once said to me that we needed to embrace the death of death, that because things are always an illusion here in the material realm, nothing is what it seems.”

Karen began to shake her head.

“I know where you’re going, but it’s not possible. It happened in the Altered, there was no illusion there. He used to speak of things moving to stages, how we are all the same underneath really; and that when things die, they merely move on to something else. There is proof with the science, how atoms don’t die but reassemble. Death is an illusion I suppose. But Nina, this happened over there. The same as Levon. They’re gone I’m afraid.” She said, sombrely.

“I know it happened there, but that’s what makes it odd to me. I’ve been Levon’s teacher for years now, I know his level of magic and the gift he had. It was borrowed from there; it came by way of his father and the unlocking that was done for him. But Karen, Samuel came from the Altered. ‘’To it, he shall return!” She said, almost urgently, adding. “The blue light….”

Karen looked at her, realisation slowly spreading across her face.

“The light we saw, of course. Things from the Altered don’t ever die, they realign on the basis of consciousness.” Karen said, a new light dancing in her eyes now.

“He’s waiting.” Nina said, almost silently as if to utter it, might undo it.

FIVE YEARS LATER

Jess crossed to the midway section of the road as a huge gleaming tram silently slipped by her. The car was full, the people inside in good spirits as the sun beat down and called them to the sea. A boy inside waved to her as it passed, and she waved back, chuckling to herself. She crossed over to the beach side of the road. The tram stopped some way up and lots of people disembarked, heading to the sands and the refreshing waters of the bay. The day was hot, the temperature had climbed to record levels the past few months, signalling alarms across the city and the state that the climate had begun to turn on them.

Jess walked up a bit further, being sure to put some distance from herself and the masses. Despite the weather, she wore her army jacket, the green fatigue blending into the palms that she passed which punctuated the shoreline. Whereas before the pristine beach area was an ordered place of affluent control, since the great change the beach fronts had opened up to more creative expression and controlled chaos. Little areas now pocketed themes and cultures, with an eclectic mix of fusions and tastes. Jess made her way along the path, past a community hub which seemed to be having an outdoor art exhibition. Canvases and works peppered the boardwalk, where eager eyes were enjoying the artistic flares and social gathering.

She saw her brother Den first, then Akari, sat on a bench with a huge palm above them, shading them from the sun. Their spot looked out over the beach, elevated slightly as it looked down onto the sand and out into the bay. She knew this spot was good, as it gave an excellent view to the peninsular where you could see the lighthouse and marine club where the sailboats would dock.

“Hey guys.” Jess said reaching the bench.

“Hey, he’ll be back any second…” Akari had said, but just that moment Aiko came walking around the palm from the other direction that Jess had come.

“Hey! Speak of the devil.” Jess said, embracing him. He hugged her back, carefully trying to hold the ice creams away from her weather defiant jacket.

“Good to see you, do you want one of these?” He asked her, handing both of the ice creams over to Den and Akari, little spots of the red and white dripping then blotching the floor beneath.

“I’m fine.” She said, smiling. “You guys been waiting long?”

“No, not really. We took the tram down together, but we’ve only been here about five minutes.” Den said, already tucking into the ice cream before it melted into nothing.

“Shall we head up the beach then?” Jess offered, and they agreed, getting up and making their way down onto the warm sands.

“How have you been?” Jess asked Aiko. Den and Akari were off in front, drifting down to the water where the tide was slowly throwing itself against the shore quietly.

“Really good, it’s been busy this year so far but we’re making some headway I think.” Aiko said. He looked refreshed, and content. Gone were the deadened eyes of apathy, in their place were little coffee coloured pools which seemed to absorb the light from all around.

“The legislations have made it easier i imagine. It was surprising that so many wanted to forget the past.” Jess said, the sand sinking easily beneath her feet.

“I think everything came so quickly to everyone, back at the change. They were so fundamentally moved and disgusted with how they had been living and allowing. That goes for me also. It seemed everyone wanted to throw it all away and start again.” Aiko said.

“Oh yeah I know, they wanted to get rid of St. Patrick’s remember. Anything that reminded them of the old ways. It took a lot to convince them.” Jess said.

“Well, Nina still holds a lot of sway.” Aiko added, smiling. “But yeah it was hard to keep anything, and from Atone too, to show them all that there could be some good salvaged from all of it.” They watched as Den and Akari splashed in the water, the ice creams already consumed, part of Den’s washed out to sea.

“Well, I’m glad things are better now. We have to remember what we’ve come from; we can’t remove the uncomfortable for ease of minds. I think a lot comes out of guilt, but it won’t help to erase the struggles, nor should they. I’m glad the Towers have been preserved.” Jess said.

“Have you been there since they opened?” Aiko asked, referring to his two towers where the Pandora machines were stationed.

“Not yet, I said I would with Eva and Daniel, it will be interesting to see them as museum pieces.” Jess said.

“I still can’t believe it all to be honest. Part it feels like a surreal dream that I merely watched. I can’t mentally take myself to the place that I was the cause of it all.” Aiko said.

“It’s probably best not to, the past doesn’t offer you a future, or any of us. What happened needed to, without it we wouldn’t have what we have now. This understanding, this fairness. This was what we all worked to get.” Jess said to him, adding. “Well, you were a little late to the party.”

“Better late than never.” He said.

“Exactly. You were there to show that people can change, that things could be so different. Not just inside the genes but in their minds. It’s not perfect, it never will be. But we are all collectively moving forward with a shared consciousness now.” Jess said.

They walked on a bit more, going down to the shoreline and kicking some of the water playfully at the others. The beach was busier now, the heat and the time of the day luring people like a siren’s song.

“Your technology will have to find a way to sort this heat out you know.” Jess said, wiping her forehead.

“Well you aren’t really dressed for the day.” Aiko added back, pointing to her jacket.

“I go everywhere with this jacket; it’s brought me luck.” She said, and just as she was pulling at the cuffs, a beeping sound came from her left one. “Excuse me a second.” She said to Aiko and slid her finger across a sensor on her watch. Nina’s face popped to life, faded in the midday sun which shone through the hologram.

“Hey Nina.” Jess said, greeting her friend.

“Ah, you’re with Aiko. Good. Hi to you both.” Nina said, spotting Aiko. He returned her greeting cheerfully.

“Hope you’re both well, nice day to be at the beach.” She said, friendly.

“Wanna come down here? It’s a little busy but still nice.” Jess offered.

“Well, I would, but there is something here at the Temple which has taken my attention.” She said, mysteriously.

“What is it?” Jess asked, curiously. Aiko looked on too.

“You both know the Altered’s protection order allows it to complete it’s recovery without any interference. It’s taken longer than we thought, but it’s finally getting there.” Nina said.

“It has been much longer than I thought it would need, or anyone would’ve supposed. Thank god it was able to repair though.” Jess said.

“The fractom robots should show recovery levels and produce a completion timeframe.” Aiko added, having provided the technology to monitor all aspects of the Altered from a far.

“Yes, of course. They have been a treasure. It’s just, with the near completion of the recovery, we have had a bit of a discovery this morning.” Nina said.

“I hope a good one.” Jess added.

“Oh, I would say the best kind. In the realms of religious metaphor, it would be of a resurrection kind.” Nina said, and they knew what she meant.

“The Pope?” Jess asked.

“We think he’s back.” Nina said, a smile seeming to escape the bonds of the holograph and capture both of those looking on. Covering them in sparkling fashioned happiness.

THE END


 

Smartly dressed violence (Part xxix)

Click here for previous entries  or  Listen to this episode


 XXix

“What the hell is that?” Karen said, staring with Nina at the huge orb that spun and shook in the far corner of the room. They were back down in the temple, having left the topside church area for the more militant and scientific surroundings of their main sanctum.

“Oh my god, look at that.” Nina said, her usual calm voice wavering.

As they stared at the shaking orb, which represented earth, the Altered and everything in between, a violent green light erupted from part of the Altered. The swirling mists and fog of that realm had been blasted outward, like a huge mushroom cloud.

“What is happening?” Nina asked, unsure if an answer could be found. Before Karen could reply, a terrible boom shook the orb, and the point where the light was being emitted seemed to collapse in on itself, sucking up all around it like a monstrous green black hole.

“Something terrible is happening there, what do you think it is?” Nina pressed. Karen looked on, in horror too but with her scientific mind turning.

“My guess is that Aiko has unleashed something, a weapon we don’t know of; and it’s obliterating the fabric of the core structures. Look, that is where the bridge and the markers are.” Karen said, pointing to the orb which was humming and shaking frantically.

“We must do something! What if they’re still there?” She said, referring to Levon and The Pope.

“We can’t send anyone, it’s not safe. Besides, look what it’s doing to the fractom points.” Karen replied.

These were jumper points through to the Altered, over time they had learnt that the world was made up of a membrane of power, or magic across the landscape. These fractom points were how people could get across from this world, these points were congregated hubs that allowed movement. You could leave anywhere in the material realm to get across, but these points were where you would appear on the other side. Nina looked closer; the points stuck up across the globe like little pins. She could see the green glow pulsing through them now, pulling them away from the sphere like nails being pulled up by an invisible hammer.

“Shit. Well, we have to do something, what are our options?” Nina asked, a frantic level in her voice now that Karen had never heard.

“Well, I think our only choice is to go ahead with the Holy water. If Aiko has something planned, then now is our only chance to achieve our goal and hopefully by then it will be too late for him to change anything back. We have to move on and hope Samuel and Levon are okay. They’ll make it back if they can.” She said the last part with a faded hope, perhaps already knowing it was too late.

“You’re right, and we need to warn the others so they’re on their guard. We can’t get anyone over there, it’s too dangerous and unstable like you say.” Nina said, referring to the Altered. “But we can prepare them here.”

Karen nodded.

“I think it’s time for you and I to get our hands dirty.” Karen said. Nina agreed and they both made their way to where the militant suits and armour were kept.

The light on Jess’s suit began to glow, indicating an incoming call. She scanned her hand over a sensor and a hologram of Nina appeared, emitting from her wrist.

“Jess, how is it there?” Nina asked, Jess could see Karen in the background, suiting up. Nina was busying herself too as she spoke.

“Hey, well we’ve learnt that Aiko plans to bring some sort of weapon over from the Altered. We apprehended his assistant who has told us all he knows. Any news your side?” Jess asked, hopeful.

“Well, that makes sense. There’s been an event over in the Altered, we’ve monitored it from our Obs orb. We have to think the worst Jess, the world seems to be collapsing there. We’re putting the Order on its highest alert and we’re proceeding now with the Holy water. Karen and I are coming to the towers, but we need to move forward as soon as possible with our plan. We can’t wait any longer.” She said. She wasn’t matter of factly at all, in Nina’s way she seemed to convey much depth in her words, and each one struck Jess at different emotional points.

“I see, we’ll get things started then. Was there any word from Levon or The Pope before this event?” She asked, the hope shrivelling on the branch of her stunted sentence.

“There’s been nothing I’m afraid. The world is being engulfed in the green dark magic, there was only a faint flicker of a blue dot; but Karen seems to think this is residual energy from the bridge. It’s all being destroyed Jess.” Nina said, sorrow in her words.

Jess was stunned, not only at learning that she will no longer see Levon again; but that also the world she longed to understand was now collapsing in on itself. Never to be a place that she could go, or one that would be of a benefit for anyone this side of the realm.

“I, I…Can’t believe it. It’s been so quick.” Jess said, almost dazed. Nina could see her pain, but she was quick to act herself.

“Jess, we will have time to mourn and grieve. My heart is equally as heavy. But now we must act, time is a precious thing. I will be there shortly; Karen is heading to the other tower. Please start the preparations with the others.” Nina said, smiling. Letting Jess know that she was not alone, and that there was still some good left to source. Jess seemed to come back from the ledge, her mind returning to the now.

“You’re right, and of course. See you shortly.” She said, and Nina signed off.

The others had heard and seen the conversation and knew what needed to be done. Daniel set about calibrating the machine while others began the transportation of the Holy water. Nina arrived quickly, entering from the roof which had been cleared of all security. It seemed all the robots and security personnel from Atone had stood down, they had not had any altercations since they had secured the floor and the machine, this was mirrored in the other tower as the group there reported. Karen arrived there also swiftly, and they all set about to release the Holy water.

Though the pathogen was prepared, as with the test jess had done with her family, an incantation was also needed which would transfuse the Holy water. The Pandora machines would duplicate and project this out over the city, expanding the reach and infect everyone. It would move through all elements, so no one would be able to hide from it; but the magic and the science it seemed needed the elevated height to mix correctly. As was true for the virus Aiko planned to release. The pulse would flow like a giant egg had been cracked atop these towers, flowing across the city and changing everyone’s lives for good.

The little head of Karen bobbed on Nina’s wrist, her hologram swaying in the wind now that the huge glass doors had been opened and the machine had been pushed outside further. Daniel explained how it sucked the energy particles from the atmosphere like the giant turbines across the city, but few cared at this stage how it worked; just as long as it did.

The pathogen had been poured into the giant chambers, sloshing around like unicorn milk; glowing and changing form like mother of pearl beauty. It was a sight to behold, and as Nina coordinated it with Karen, there was a tense air all around those of the Order now. Years of battling and fighting had come to this moment, so much now rested on these machines.

“Ready when you are.” Daniel said to Nina, who gave the order to switch the machine on. This was done simultaneously at the other tower across the city. They could see it now, the tallest point in the landscape, Aiko’s tower scratching at the sky. Once the machines glowed to life, they could see from their own tower the luminous glow from the other groups Holy water, a giant lighthouse across the skyline.

“Karen, begin the incantation and release the pathogen.” Nina said. Much like Levon had, she had intricate markings on her arms, the powerful tools that bled the magic in this realm. She then rolled the sleaves up and tapped the black forms that peppered her arms. They began to glow blue as she recited, from memory, the incantation as the great machine whirled to life. The contents within churned and hummed, and with a blinding flash, a phosphorus luminescence began to drip out of the huge prongs, slow at first, then with much speed and haste; leaking over the side of the tower and massing in pools frozen in air. As Nina continued her spell, the globbing mass seemed to stretch and thin before crawling out over the city like a giant divine pancake.

The same was happening at the other tower, and when the two masses met, they sizzled with a blue electric before forging outwards into the surrounding areas and smothering everything beyond that the eye could take in.

Nina stepped back, catching her breath. She lowered her arms which she had held up, brought together during the end of the incantation. Instead of drained, she seemed fused with energy and life. Her eyes glistened, the white luminous reflecting like those of the others all around her. Jess too felt a cellular shift inside, like little workers were crawling inside of her, fixing broken pieces, and patching holes. She tingled and smiled, the energy humming in her bones almost lifting her off the floor. They all embraced each other, feeling a connectivity to each around them, a genetic tie and a shared existence as if the same light flowed through their own veins.

Only then, in this euphoric moment of completion did Aiko appear, a swirling cloud of dark mass bursting forth as if spat from a cave.

The Obs orbs were very useful objects, showing the viewer the state of both the Altered and the Material realm at that moment. It dispensed with the surrounding space or indeed the centre, the insides of these orbs revolved on a magnetic field, swirling at the centre like the molten core of the planet. The best example of these was the one Nina had in her library. The one Levon and Jess had sat by not long ago. It was able to be shrunk or expanded, and at this time Nina had left it in an expanded mode, dominating the space.

Currently it was showing the disorder of the Altered as it was sucked in on itself, the green and dark lightening playing havoc on the outer sphere. As the glow from the Pandora machines swept out through the city and surrounding areas, this was shown on the Orb in a delicate white glow, oozing organically across the surface. It was dispensing the dark that had gathered and coiled. A strange thing also began to occur.

The little blue dot which was barely recognisable had begun to shine up through to the material realm. Like a laser pointer, it began to draw a line from the Altered to the Material. Along this line the white glow from the Order’s pathogen began to feed down into the Altered. It crept slowly, like a small spider along the blue line, finally breaking forth and pouring outward towards the black and green hole. The crater left by Aiko which was destroying all there.

The glow fed into this hole, but instead of being swallowed into nothingness, it began to fill it. Spiralling downward until it had eventually stopped the destruction, and then began to lift out of the darkness, coursing over the Altered landscape with a blue and white glow. It seemed to be repairing, restoring and stabilising the space.

Aiko stood like a cobra, huge and ominous. His darkness and use of magic had transformed his body, growing it to twice his usual size. He loomed before them, the hatred and blackness spewing from his eyes. He held before him Akari, one hand menacingly gripped on her shoulder. The girl was not scared though it seemed, there was an awareness in her own eyes, and a movement that seemed to be looking for opportunity.

They all turned to look at him, some members of the order firing off their strange weapons towards him despite the presence of Akari. He flicked his wrist towards these, and a green emittance stopped the shots and disintegrated the weapons which lurched from their grips.

“Ah, the teacher.” Aiko said, but his voice was strange, devoid of any human traits. It echoed sinisterly like a cry inside a cave. They all shuddered, all except Nina who stepped forward towards him.

“Aiko. You have no power here now, your time has past.” Nina said, her commanding yet calm voice almost beating down Aiko’s presence.

“Is that so? Yet here’s me thinking it’s just about to begin. Maybe the teacher is misinformed for a change?” Aiko tauntingly jabbed.

“It’s too late.” Nina said, her eyes darting to the Pandora machines, showing him the Holy water had already been released.

“Congratulations, you took something someone else had done and made it your own. So the pathogen is released, and everyone is changed? Everyone down there in their little expensive beds or flea-bitten coverings are now the same? Too bad it will only be momentarily.” He said, the other hand now on Akari’s shoulder.

“You can stop whatever it is you plan to do now and just remain Aiko. We don’t need to destroy you for us all to win. Can’t you see this way is the very essence of the Altered, the magic?” She asked him. Jess could see it was in vain, and Nina herself knew it was also; but she had to try. Samuel had never given up on him, and she followed his path.

“Enough. Enough of it all; this, you, them. It ends here.” And he began to incant above Akari, who took on a green glow, something taking hold. They all stood back, unsure of what was going to happen. All except Nina who stood firm, her arms coming together, her own magic at the ready. Little blue sparks beginning to bristle from her fingertips. The force seemed to build further and further around Akari, Aiko’s power and hatred, all his darkness manifesting in that innocent body, waiting to explode onto this world.

Sometimes it takes just one action to tip the scales. One little moment to shift the paradigm. The moment Nina aimed her magic towards Aiko, was the same moment that Jess chose to plunge into the breach.

Jess took a run and dove towards Aiko, knowing she might take the force of his power that was building in Akari. She did not close her eyes in one last desperate act, but instead flung full force into him with her eyes peeled back. Nina had released her own magic, her own generation of positive power which launched towards Aiko and impacted just as Jess made contact. It short circuited the connection he had made, sparking off in jets of green and blue. As Aiko tumbled back with her, Akari seized her own moment, now fuelled with his strength. She connected to the essence of the holy water, touching it like the ‘creation of Adam’, gentle moments which begot such wonder.

As the explosion of light blinded them all, a powerful silence captured the moment, halting their heartbeats there in time for those few seconds. The power of the magic, and that of the human heart seemed to reach up and touch the infinite, washing over everything.


 

Smartly Dressed Violence (Part xxviii)

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 XXVIII

Nina had been part of the Order as long as she could remember. As long as there had been injustice there in the city, she and her family had worked tirelessly in countering all the abuse and mistreatment that those smartly dressed others unleashed on them all. Her pockets were deep, and her heart was deeper, and though she had little title within the order itself (she left the organising and structuring to others), she was a cornerstone in the fight for change. She trusted and loved those she worked alongside, offering her knowledge and tutorage to those she hoped could make a difference also. It pained her to see the world the way it was, the way it had been for too long. When casualties began to come, those kidnapped and executed, tortured for their cause; it moved an anger in her that needed to be directed somewhere positive.

With those members working on the science behind the change, and those field operatives who would expedition into the Altered for sources, Nina adopted the role of overseer. She put her own faith in the work of Dr Winkoski, and the lab team based in the temple to come up with something that could change things on a genetic level. Their task was long, and fraught with many setbacks. The Order needed to continue its assault on the deviant minded in the world, and especially the works of Aiko Tsutsumi and Atone industries which were the target of their rage.

Those fallen in this charge did not pass lightly through Nina’s mind. She remembered all those gone, and the latest with those who had died in the recent transporting of Levon and the Pope, and those securing the Pandora machines.

Nina lit the little candles that were encased in red glass in a small alcove in the church above the temple. To the world it was just another church, but to those in the Order it was their sanctuary and headquarters. Their operations ran from beneath St. Patrick’s cathedral. If she would have stepped outside its huge wooden doors, she would have been able to look up and see the looming towers of Atone industries which housed the Pandora machines. Secured now, but which had claimed some members. Though the battles were more muted than expected, the technology of Aiko and his robots were powerful and deadly.

She lit the candles respectfully, bowing her head in a silent prayer for those fallen.

Karen appeared behind her, Nina hearing her shoes echoing off the stone walls as she’d entered the cathedral from their secret door below. She did not turn to her, instead allowing her to come to her side and look at the candles that now glowed and bobbed in the cold night air.

“Too many now, and over the years.” Karen said, referring to the little flames that indicated a life.

Nina Sighed.

“Too many yes, but lost to a cause they believed in, and one that is just.” Nina replied. Her heart was heavy. They were close to something; she could feel that. But there were too many variables in play at the moment for her to be at any peace.

“It will be over soon; our work is coming to an end.” Karen offered, sensing Nina’s sombreness.

“I know, and I have hope for the best outcome. I just wish no others need suffer.” She said, quietly in her calm fashion. Karen understood, she knew how much Nina had lost personally in the fight over the years. They all had really. Nina was such an attuned soul, sensitive to a fault perhaps. It weighed on her heavily, having recruited so many in the past.

“Nina don’t lose hope or sight of what we are doing. This will correct everything, once it’s concluded. Think of all the good that will bring.” Karen said, hoping to lift her spirits.

“Yes, I know. I just hope we’re not too late.” Nina replied.

“What do you mean?” Karen asked her, confused.

“I hope that the people can still be changed, to something better. Their hatred is so ingrained, we do not know the psychology behind what they do. We can change the genetics and their make-up, but their minds and hearts. That I don’t know.” Nina said. Karen thought on this for a moment.

“ I’m sure Samuel will know what to do with that, he always has an idea about things out of the box.” She offered. Nina nodded to her.

“He did, he does. That’s why he has gone to the Altered.” Nina said.

“Then why are you so uncertain?” She asked her. There was a pause before she spoke again, as if caught in the dance of the candle flames.

“Because I fear it will cost him his own life to forward this change, and too many good souls have already fallen.” Nina said. They both remained quiet for a short time, staring at the flames, knowing that the end had perhaps begun.

“What is he going to bring back, what has he gone to get?” Jess asked Stefan, already anxious and now worried about what was happening. Stefan’s breathing was erratic, and it took some time to catch his breath before he answered.

“Before I managed to get away, he told me what he planned to do. He was so cold, detached almost. It was frightening to hear and witness. I knew I was about to die as he’d just murdered the doctor. He came up to me, and I saw it there in his eyes. Those black dead spaces filled with an essence so evil, evil is the only word I can describe it as. He told me his plans had changed, that the machines of god would now be the machines of Satan. He plans to bring a force from the Altered, bathed in this negative cloud that will destroy everything living.” Stefan said, now slumping to the floor.

Jess looked at Eva and Daniel, the other members surrounded him in rapt attention.

“Is this the dark entity that had been polluting the Altered?” Jess asked. Stefan shrugged.

“I don’t know too much about that world. Aiko was very secretive about it all and who had access to the information for his plans. I know he was to secure an essence originally, so I assume this is something similar. But he’s changed, corrupted. His eyes are poisoned by this darkness. I believe he will do anything now to have his revenge, or whatever he views it as.” Stefan replied.

Jess turned to Daniel now.

“Can this be done, over in the altered? Can a force be harnessed or weaponised and brought over?” She asked desperately. Daniel thought a moment. All members had been trained in understanding the Altered and its magical properties. With Daniel’s obvious technical proficiencies, she hoped he would know what Stefan was talking about.

“Well, we all use the magical to some degree as a weapon, but it’s scale is hard to quantify really. In theory he could manifest something from his own darkness if, like this man says; he has been so far corrupted. We know of the darkness there, but it wasn’t able to overcome the Pope’s power in the recent battle. He would need to defuse it into something from there that could be transported back, something of its construct.” Daniel offered, thinking things over.

“Like what, an organic object?” Jess suggested.

“Sort of, but it would need to be multilayered, able to contain and transition.” Daniel said.

“Like a person.” Jess said, a statement more than a question.

They all turned towards the bridge as they saw Aiko. The dark cloud that swirled above him was like a concentrated tornado, spinning and churning at a furious speed. It drew up into the fog of the Altered like a finger, blended away into the grey and the unknown beyond.

“Ai!” Exclaimed his mother, shocked by both his appearance before them and the sight of her son. His face was gaunt, shrivelled almost as if the cloud above him were sucking his insides out. He held a little green flame in his hand, the same he’d used at the Gates of Asher. They watched and waited to see what he would do. Aiko merely stood there, surveying them all; a hatred leaving him incapacitated it seemed.

“Ah, Ai; so good of you to join us.” Samuel said, in a jovial tone.

“Ai, what have you been doing?” Akari asked him, her eyes wide; perhaps prepared for anything.

Aiko turned, aiming his hand at the bridge. He let out what appeared to the others to be a scream, but to himself was a directed channel of energy. The green fire leapt from his hand, swirling in the black clouds from above and pulverised the bridge and the marker stones. The vaporized particles seemed to hover in their dismantled state for a second, before lifting off into the fog above like sand being tipped away upside down. A fracturing seemed to stem from the space, huge green cracks crawling out across the ground and reaching the others.

“Ai, stop this!” Akari screamed at him. But it did little good. The dark cloud, now energised further by the destruction of the bridge loomed toweringly, sparkling with Aiko’s green magic. He aimed it towards them, directing the force and the power straight at Samuel and Levon.

Levon was as quick as his father, tapping his wrist and uttering a spell. The words had just left his mouth as blackness covered them, washing over like a black tar.

Inside the vortex, a blue light glowed. Faintly at first, but it grew stronger. It thronged and pulsed as Aiko moved forward, closer to his family and Akari who were grouped together cowering from the onslaught before them. The fog of the Altered had peaked upwards, as if blown away by giant lips. A strange lightening storm raged up in the atmosphere now, strikes of green, white and blue punctured the clouds. Spitting and hissing like a giant snake coiling around them.

Out burst the white light which seemed to halt the dark which had attacked Levon and Samuel. It projected outwards, turning the dark matter to globs of stringy ash. Levon aimed his arms towards Aiko, a blue light streaking outwards towards him. But Aiko was quick and unrelenting, he aimed his own power back, slamming hard into Levon’s spell, stopping it in its tracks.

Akari rushed forward, breaking from her family, calling for Aiko to stop what he was doing. That it could all be better, but he must end this.

“It ends with me!” He yelled to her, aiming a strange green and orange fire towards her.

Levon reacted, lunging in her direction to protect her from what Aiko had sent her way. But the glowing fire had split, the green and orange separating. The green part of the spell shot towards Levon as he pushed Akari out of the way. The Orange part however caught her as she fell, encasing her in a strange, almost crystal-like confine.

Her family rushed forward, but Aiko aimed again. He was battling Samuel but managed to fire off further magical elements towards his family. Caught from his previous attack, Levon stumbled, half firing off some elements from his arms which now burned and singed green from the markings which ran up them. He missed his footing but dove with all his might to block the spell which was flying towards Aiko’s family. It collided with him in an array of green and black, and much like the bridge, Levon was broken outward into particles which hovered for a moment before pouring upwards.

“Levon!!!” Samuel yelled. He turned towards his son, but it was too late. In that moment, his own magic enchantment broke, and Aiko’s green and black torrent of cloud pushed him backward.

“All wars have sacrifices.” Aiko said, dryly. His words drifting over the strange landscape which now hung with loss. His family were scared to move, though his mother looked desperate to go towards Akari who was encased in her orange shell.

Samuel was on his knees, but he was not defeated. He spoke directly to Aiko, less tauntingly than previously.

“Aiko, please stop this. No one else need die for this.” He said, his hands out imploringly.

“Everybody needs to die for this. That’s what you don’t understand. I’m done with everything, none of this matters now.” Aiko said, twirling the green flame once again in his hands.

“It’s never too late to change, no one is ever too far gone. Despite what they have done.” Samuel said, casting an eye to where his son just stood.

“You’ve always been the ruler of this kingdom, and what a place to be king of. But look at it now, dead and empty. Just dust and fog. Why do you wish to save all this?” Aiko said, in almost a whisper but it tickled everyone’s ears.

“Because I believe this place can help change the material world and make it a better version then what it currently is. It’s not too late to do that still, with what you know Aiko; you can help also.” Samuel said, earnestly. But the others could see it was in vain.

“I don’t care.” Was all he replied, and he aimed his arms towards him once more.

In that moment The Pope surprised everyone. He leapt up from his space and dove towards Aiko’s family. He muttered a spell as he snaked around them pulling the ground up with his hands. The floor beneath reacted like elastic, moulding upwards to create a dome over them.

Enraged, Aiko fired off his own green flame and cloud once more, but it could not penetrate the forcefield that Samuel had created. Inside the dome, he suddenly produced a bright white flash and a few seconds later the family had vanished, and Samuel stood there as the dome broke away in patches, revealing him once again.

“Noooooo.” Was all Aiko could say as he charged towards him with such fury and anger that he leapt huge strides like a charging beast. The flames and the clouds bellowed forth, the storm raging above seemed to descend towards them in that moment. Samuel once again shot out his bright white light from his arms, the almost divine illumination shone through the dark, piercing it like tiny swords. A Little blue flash popped above his head and flew towards Akari, bursting at the top of her casing and slithering down like a broken egg.

Aiko charged and concentrated his full force towards Samuel, stopping moments before a concentrated pulse of his power emitted outwards and travelled towards him. Aiko dove out of the way of the retaliating magic and landed next to Akari. He muttered some words and dissolved away with her, leaving the space. It all happened in the blink of an eye. His final view of the Altered was of his powerful magic exploding with the Pope who fractured and erupted into a bright white flash. Just like the bridge and just like Levon.


 

Smartly Dressed Violence (Part xxvii)

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 XXVII

Jess stood there once the clatter and the smoke died away, wondering if it wasn’t all a bit too easy. They had managed to push through the guards and the armed robots which had been surrounding the machine and the top floor. The battle had been swift, with much of the attack coming from Jess and the order. The robots did what they were programmed to do, but the guards had seemed hesitant to really go at them. They had folded quickly, retreating and abandoning their posts relatively easily.

Jess said this to one of the other members, a small woman by the name of Eva.

“I know what you mean, it’s as if they were just going through the motions or something.” Eva said, throwing a robot to one side which had been sparking frantically.

“Are we sure this is the correct machine, or if this is the right place?” Jess asked, to both Eva and the others. They all surrounded the machine now, some of the members dealing with the stray robots which had been whirling and continuing on as the guards had fled. It was Daniel who spoke.

“Yes, this is definitely the machine. But having a look at it now, there isn’t anything set for release.” He said.

“Are we sure the timing is right?” Eva asked. One of the members contacted the temple to check in and to ask them this also, his wrist illuminating. Jess went across to the Pandora machine now. The huge apparatus looked like a giant upside-down wish bone, its two arms pointing up into the air. At its base there was an empty receptacle, presumably where the pathogen would go. It was voluminous, the size of a small hover pod.

“These conductors stimulate the contents and distribute them equally up these wands. The levels have to be equal or the distribution would malfunction here.” Daniel said, pointing to two valves up the sides of one of the wands. Jess could see a strip of little holes like that on a flute, with pressure lights pulsating underneath.

“So with ours mixture, we need to have the correct consistency also, or just for the distribution outward?” Jess asked him, not really sure of the science to it all. She was happy with the magic, and elemental nature which worked in a space she didn’t have to understand. But the nature of science always confused her.

“Both really, they obviously planned for a consistency of equality throughout the release, if it changes as it propels; it will shut down. I guess this was to avoid uneven distribution.” Daniel said. Jess looked at him like a child might, not getting what he was saying. He registered her confused expression.

“It means they were probably aware it was unstable, and they built in a failsafe. It’s good really that they didn’t want to just release something that was not controlled, or what they expected.” Daniel said, looking over the machine further.

“Very surprising from Mr Tsutsumi really.” Eva added, her brow furrowed.

One of the other members walked over to them, speaking to the temple and drawing the others to listen too.

“So we have the other machine, is that correct?” He asked into his wrist where a little image of a head floated.

“We have secured the other site yes, but there is an absence of material.” The little head replied, fuzzing in and out of clarity.

“Same here, we have the machine no problem. But there’s no agent to be seen, or even plans to upload one.” He said.

“Okay, remain with the machine, and let me get back to you as quick as I can. We’ve had some developments here, and we need to know if it’s safe to release the holy water still.” The head said. Jess could make out it was Dr. Winkoski. They all turned and looked at each other, wondering what to do next.

Karen clicked off the call and turned to face Nina, who stood holding two cups of tea. She handed one of them over to her.

“So we have the machines, just no presence of the virus. Were we off with our information, had Aiko not precured his source?” Karen asked her, she blew on the rim of the cup.

“No, it’s not that. We know he has his manufactured agent, and he needed a source from the altered to combine with this. This has been planned for a while. Something must have gone wrong. His encounter with the Pope must have changed things for him.” Nina said, sipping from her own cup.

“Then his plan has shifted since returning, presuming that he did. We don’t really know what took place there.” Karen said.

“No, not entirely. We know he was stopped entering the gates of Asher, but what state the Pope left him in is anyone’s guess. We can’t move forward with our own until he is accounted for. We don’t know what back up plans he has developed, or what reaction technology he may have devised. People like Aiko always have another route to take. We must locate him before we release ours.” Nina said, a worried expression hovering on her face for a moment before disappearing.

“What did he say when you spoke?” Karen asked, referring to the Pope.

“That they were to take Aiko’s family into the altered, and that he would follow. I said we’d buy him some time. We’ve got the machines secured now; we just need to wait to hear from him.” Nina said, looking at Karen in a way that conveyed her thoughts on the Pope’s communication abilities, or lack thereof.

“I see, well he does have Levon with him. Perhaps he will be more communicative.” Karen offered.

“I hope so too.” Nina said, sipping more of the tea, which burnt her tongue.

Levon felt cold there for the first time. Usually in the Altered there was little change in temperature, the atmosphere was always heavy and hung like a humid day, the temperature always warm. But he shivered, the fog swirling around them. He had long ago learnt how to manipulate the surroundings of the world there; the emotions and thoughts usually constructed the space around you. But here now, there was a cold deadness, as if the Altered was no longer receptive, but in a state of sleep. Reduced back to its default it seemed.

“You feel it also?” Samuel asked Levon, noticing him shiver along with Aiko’s family.

“I’ve never known it like this before.” Levon said. The girl before them then spoke.

“It’s trying to repair; something has attacked the fabric of this world.” She said, helping the older woman get to her feet.

“She’s right. Aiko’s darkness had spread too far and wide. When he tried to get through the gates of Asher, he unleased a huge amount of negative energy. The Altered is trying to heal, trying to shift. The test in the Limbo only made things more unbalanced. Like people, it can only take so much.” Samuel said.

“Who are you?” The girl suddenly asked him. She was young, around twelve. Much younger than Aiko.

“I’m Samuel, good to meet you. And this is Levon.” Samuel said, motioning to his son.

“I’m Akari. Thank you for rescuing us. I don’t remember much, but I do remember those horrible tubes in the facility.” She said. Her family were quiet, slowly understanding where they were.

“You’re welcome, and you’re all safe now. But what did you mean that you had come from the Altered?” It was Levon who asked, he had been watching the family; they all seemed relieved to be there and together.

“What do you think I mean? I came from here; it was where I was…constructed I guess you could say.” She said, matter-of-factly.

“You’re a spirit of this place, taken into form?” Samuel asked. The girl nodded.

“Wait, I don’t understand. Are you Aiko’s sister?” Levon asked, clearly perplexed.

The older woman put her hand on the young girl’s shoulder then and spoke.

“You have saved us, and we thank you. This is Ai’s doing, we know this.” She said, her accent heavy with Japanese. Samuel nodded in recognition. The woman muttered something, shaking her head.

“He denies us, he forgets us. He tries to bury us. But we cannot be forgotten.” She said, her eyes alert, betraying her sad, aged face.

“Ai isn’t my brother. I wouldn’t call him my father either, but he was the one who brought me over. I live in both realms, on separate plains.” The girl said, a fragile tinge to her words, yet she stood assuredly.

Samuel turned to Levon.

“Aiko unlocked the essence of spirits here, while exploring the magic. Reversed engineered somewhat. His scientific approach to this place, probably how he tried to understand things. Whenever we want something, we must give something back. He traded part of himself to absorb more of the essence of the Altered. He takes it to a dark place, because he does not know how to handle the power properly. The Altered, being what it is, created Akari here, from his particles.” He said. Levon could see a world of knowledge in his father’s eyes.

“The nice parts!” Akari said, smiling.

“You betcha.” Samuel added, smiling back to her.

“We care for her; we raise her as our own. But she deserves more than what we can offer. We cannot rid ourselves of the SIN which keeps us in place.” The old woman said sadly.

“And Aiko knows all this?” Levon asked?

“Knows and tries to hide. But he can’t be rid of us, or me at least. If I die, Aiko dies.” Akari said.

“You’d think he’d keep you safe, protected somewhat. Not living on the west-side where things are hard and dangerous.” Levon said.

“We live in love there, we survive.” The older woman said, almost defiantly.

“Ai does not know everything that we do, or where I am all the time. I know his movements, and when he is in this place.” Akari said.

“Then you should have known I was stood right over here then.” They heard from a voice over by the bridge. They looked across to see Aiko stood there in his suit, a dark cloud swirling above his head.

“What developments do you think she meant?” Jess said, anxious after the call with Karen.

Eva shook her head, not knowing herself. Daniel was examining the machine further, looking over the controls and the entry module for the pathogen.

“Well, at least we know they can’t release the virus now. That’s something.” She said, she was trying to convince herself more than the others. Something felt off to her.

“But where is it then, our information had them releasing both of them tonight.” Eva added, sharing the concern.

“We need to talk to someone, to get some information. Any of those guards conscious?” Jess asked, motioning to some of the security team they had already fought with.

“Nah, we did too good a job.” One of the temple members said, checking the guards.

Just as he said this, Jess spotted something out of the corner of her eye. Something moved off around the corner of a wall.

“Be right back.” Jess said, hurtling over a fallen robot and heading off towards the movement.

Jess was quick, and the person was slow. She seized Stefan by the back of his neck, spinning him around.

“Gotcha.” Jess said, and he let out a tiny yelp. She marched him back to where the other’s stood, the alarms had finally stopped, and an eerie silence had fallen on the scene.

“Who are you?” Eva asked him as he stood before them and the machine.

“Please, don’t hurt me.” Stefan said, looking around at the others on the floor and the remains of the robots. His suit was a mess, patches of oil sprayed up his leg, and his suit jacket was dirty and torn; a line of blood stained his collar.

“Don’t give us reason to.” Jess said, nudging him with her weapon. “What is happening here, where is the virus you intended to release?” She asked him.

“It’s all gone wrong, it’s all failed. Aiko has gone mad, he’s deranged.” He said. He was not hysterical, more of a defeated man who had his world rocked, and his illusions shattered. He had been brought up in a world where there was a clear system and order to the disapprobation of those with SIN. Aiko had fallen in his eyes, and everything now seemed unclear.

“We know this, but where is the virus?” Eva pressed.

Stefan looked around, as if surprised it was not up by the machine.

“If it’s not here, then the consignments weren’t moved up from the containment sector in the lower levels. We have the laboratories and higher risk units underground. Aiko didn’t ascertain the material from the other place for it to impart with our agent.” He said, letting his head hang.

“So we were right, it’s not set to be released now. We need to check the same at the other site.” Eva suggested.

“What happened to Aiko?” Jess asked Stefan as one of the members began to contact the other team, having been unable before.

“He surprised us, I was trying to save us all really. Keeping his family safe. He’d moved to a mental sphere that I couldn’t understand. His actions were beyond cold, calculated. But when the others took his family, he was enraged. He murdered the doctor, and I barely escaped myself.” Stefan said.

“What others.” Jess asked him, not concerned who the doctor was. Stefan looked more awkward, shifting nervously. Then he sighed heavily.

“We had intercepted some people from that other realm, we had some fatalities but two were kept in stasis. Aiko had plans for them, but they were able to get free. They attacked me and the doctor, before disappearing with Aiko’s family, presumably to that other realm.” He said.

“An old and younger man?” Jess asked, knowing who he meant.

“Yes, one who’s abilities I’ve never seen with such power.” He added.

“And they took them to the Altered? What about Aiko?” Jess asked, hastily.

“He is mad, insane. The things he wants to do now. No one is safe.” Stefan said, clearly shaken.

“But what is he going to do, where is he now?” Jess said, the urgency frantic in her eyes.

“He plans to kill everyone he can, he’s gone to the Altered after them, and he’s bringing back something that will do more damage then these machines ever could.” He shook his head, defeatedly.


 

Smartly Dressed Violence (Part xxvi)

Click here for previous entries  or  Listen to this episode


 XXVi

Jess could recall a countless number of times in her life when she had been attacked by ‘The Others’. Physically beaten, verbally assaulted. One time when she was a teenager she was pushed down a flight of stairs, backwardly tumbling step after step back down into the recess of the city and out of sight; all because someone thought she shouldn’t be somewhere where she could be seen. By those others who moved about in their own gilded self-contained world, always consuming; yet never giving back.

She thought of these instances as the faces of these others blurred past her. The smartly dressed ones who had been drinking coffee, and then cowered quietly out of the way. The more they made their way through the tower, Jess noticed more of a mix of people which was unknown for this location in the city. As many of the workers had relocated from other facilities, and those already operating and living in the tower prior to this; a strange fusion of peoples now occupied the tower. Aiko had inadvertently mixed the two groups together, maintaining control through a shared goal. She could tell they were mixed, something about those with SIN she could always spot right away, like an internal scanner she passed before them. It was a habit, something she did without thinking about it. She was now trying to save everyone, regardless of what their cells said about them, or how they had treated her in the past.

She passed them all now, those with and without residing in the tower that looked out to sea; climbing up to god.

She and the other members rode the elevator a certain way, then exited out again, making their way through further residential and office spaces. Their map projections were taking them a way that was to avoid any unneeded confrontations, accessing the areas where there would be more people but less security. They moved quickly and found themselves at some hover pods which would take them right to the top where they new the machines were located, both here and in the other tower.

They all climbed aboard, the scanner moving over them a few times, scanning fruitlessly until Daniel overrode the system once again. The scanner recoiled back into its compartment and the hover pod, which looked like the top of a glass, floated upwards towards the higher floors, carrying them silently. They were a much nicer way to move around, though none of the group sat on the luxurious white leather seats. Before too long they had reached the top and Jess could see that their job was about to get a lot harder.

There were guards and security robots everywhere they looked. The floor was a strange mix of open plan arrangements with little hives dotted about the place, rooms they guessed which were more private. Over to one side and encased in glass they could see a machine, jutting out into the outside part of the building which loomed over the city. It was dark, and the outside lights were turned off, though pulses of red flashed repeatedly from the red safety light that adorned the very top of the tower.

They all looked at each as the hover pod came to a gentle stop and hoped they enjoyed their time there. Jess and the order were able to act only a fraction of a second before they were spotted, and an incessive alarm rang out alerting everyone to their presence. Though Jess would regret anyone getting hurt, she was so struck by the adrenaline that coursed through her, that much of the fight was a blur to her. A frantic show of lights and flashes, of strange noises and robots descended in sparks and screams.

Stefan looked at Aiko’s family, all of them suspended in the same glass tubing that had housed both Levon and his father. The room was much the same, if not larger and with a window. Or what was meant to be a window, they were still underground and the vast glass space on the wall simulated outside views to give the working space a less subterranean feel. Synchronised to the time of the day, the current view was that of a harbour at night, the boats bobbing on the gentle waves as the lights of the dock peppered the water.

All of them were there, though this only amounted to a handful of them. Aiko had been able to pull himself out of the mud of his circumstance, but his family had not. They had withered and struggled, suffering more than most due to the compendium of hinderances and genetics that had cruelly disposed on them. His parents had survived, and one of his grandparents. But of his immediate family, there was only a sister remaining.

Stefan tapped the glass like he was in an aquarium, and the girl flashed her eyes open to him. He stepped back, alarmed.

“They can’t do anything, fear not. We’re controlling their muscles and brain activity anyway. I could make her if I wanted, but best not to play with them.” Dr Camogue said, pulling up a screen before her.

“So, they are all healthy and fine?” Stefan asked, looking across to the other bodies in the tubes.

“I don’t quite know about healthy, they lived over on the West Side. Their SIN levels are off the charts too, I can’t believe Aiko came from this?” She said, registering disbelief.

“But they’re fine?” Stefan pressed.

“Yes, you can see they are.” She replied, sliding the screen and looking over more information which glowed with red and white lights.

“They need to be strong for the extraction you said, I’m just making sure. And that they won’t be harmed.” Stefan added. She looked at him.

“Trust me, I know what I’m doing. They are fine for the procedure.” The doctor said. Stefan nodded.

“I know, and sorry if you think I’m being difficult. A lot rides on this. If everything falls apart, and Aiko doesn’t get the results he’s hoping for. We need them as insurance. There’s a secret locked inside of them, as these results show.” Stefan said, his hand pointing to the little hovering screens in front of the tubes.

It seemed to give a read out of the occupant’s vitals, along with a series of flashing numbers and signs. These, as Stefan had come to learn, were mutated coding markers in their genetics. Aiko had gotten out of the mud, so to speak, but the silty world of his family’s make-up held a secret about his own evolutional path that was unique to the Tanakas. For that mud had been sprinkled with its own magic.

“It’s fine, I get it. But don’t worry. We’ll extract what’s needed and keep them in stasis until everything unravels. This facility is protected anyway, so whatever goes on upstairs will not affect anyone here. They’ll remain unchanged.” Dr Camogue said, before continuing. “Though I am making sure that my own body gets that super boost Aiko is promising, even with a little help from mother nature.” She said, eyeing him.

“What do you mean?” Stefan asked curiously.

“Well, we can all do with a little enhancer; let’s just say I have my own little medicine to take when the process begins.” She said, almost proudly.

“You sure that’s safe. All of this is based on a magic that is still hard to comprehend.” Stefan said, unsure.

“There you go, doubting again. Don’t.” She said, and though was playful, Stefan sensed a nastiness lurking there. “It’s all under control.”

She said this with such certainty, it was a strong emotion that hung on her face as it, she and Stefan were frozen to the spot.

Levon and Samuel had entered the room and expecting to find someone; had come prepared. A quick incantation from Samuel had used the condensation from the tubes to collect and then snake across both Stefan and Dr Camogue. The magic had frozen their bodies in place as the water travelled across their skin.

“That’s Stefan Ruud, he’s Aiko’s assistant.” Levon offered, going with his father towards the frozen pair. “What do they want with the Tanakas?” Levon asked his father, who was looking at the Doctor.

“Could be many things, good or bad. I know the good doctor here has a history of experimenting, so it’s probably best we get them away from her.” He said, something in his eyes told Levon he knew a lot more about her.

“Are they able to go in this state, or do we need to release them first.” Levon asked, looking at the tubes which bubbled away slightly. He felt the solution on his own skin for a moment, reminded of his own confinement a short time ago.

“Well, they can…” Samuel began, but what they could do Levon never found out.

The door to the room had opened and Aiko Tsutsumi stood there, his black eyes taking in the scene.

“Your eminence.” He said, mockingly towards The Pope.

Samuel turned to look at him but remained calm, no sign of surprise took him.

“Ah, Ai. Good to see you, a little family reunion it seems.” He said.

Aiko looked at the glass tubes, which seemed to conclude his suspicions. Levon went to move forward in an attack, but his father held his hand up to stop him.

“And what is going on with these people then? As for family, I would be pressed to use that word.” Aiko said, moving further into the room.

“Well, it seems your friend Stefan and the Doctor here have a nice little plan for them. I hope it was to keep them safe while you tried to ruin the world, but I fear it might have been something more untoward.” Samuel said.

There was just a tiny flicker in Aiko’s eyes, but he shook it off and continued.

“They mean little to me.” He said.

“As do many it seems now, but it doesn’t have to be this way.” Samuel said.

“Yet it is. What are family but a letdown. What are others, besides an annoyance. A great purge is coming, and I believe I will be better off on the other side of it.” Aiko said, quietly.

“There is more than just you in this world Aiko. And indeed, another world where you are equally at odds.” Samuel said, watching both Aiko And Levon, trying to control both.

“That world will fall too.” Aiko replied, his hands moving to his arm slightly. Samuel noticed this.

“Don’t do anything that will mean you are forever lost Ai.” Samuel said.

“Don’t call me that.” Aiko replied, almost in a snarl. And he reached towards a dial on his suit, the same as he had worn to go into the Altered.

But Samuel was quicker.

He flicked his hand around, sending the water that had encased Stefan and the Doctor and flung it against the glass tubes. Both Stefan and Dr Camogue unfroze, staggering for a moment on the spot. Samuel then grabbed his son, and with his other hand tapped a sign on his wrist and muttered some words quickly.

A green vapour had begun to emit from Aiko’s own suit, but he was not matched with The Pope’s swiftness. They had vanished in a flash and Aiko was left with the vapour pooling around the room with the glass tubes now empty, and Stefan and the Doctor looking at him in surprise.

They arrived at the bridge; the huge marker stones loomed before them as the bridge spanned out into a fog. Levon stumbled, and he caught himself. He saw his father now, bent over, wheezing as one might after a huge run. Around them were the bodies of Aiko’s family, their eyes closed but they did not look dead, more like asleep. They had arrived hard, and some of them had collapsed onto each other.

“Are you okay?” Levon asked his father, who stood with his hands on his knees.

“Yes, yes…. just that took a lot to do.” He said, as if trying to catch his breath.

Levon went across to check on the family, and they all seemed okay. Indeed, the younger girl had begun to stir, opening her eyes and sitting up slightly.

“Hey.” Levon said, going over to her.

“What the hell is going on?” She said, angrier then scared.

“Far from hell, you can rest assure my dear.” Samuel said, getting himself together.

“There’s a lot to tell you, but you’re safe; so don’t worry.” Levon said, offering a smile. She returned one, calmed by his nature.

“Okay, but why are we in the Altered?” She asked.

Both Levon and his father looked at her, taken aback.

“You’ve been here before?” Levon asked.

“Of course.” She replied, getting to her feet. “It’s where I came from.”


 

Smartly Dressed Violence (Part xxv)

Click here for previous entries  or  Listen to this episode


 XXV

She couldn’t help it, it felt like going to war. This battle was to take place high above the city, looking down at the buildings that housed the inhabitants they hoped to save. Not that many cared or might even know of the lengths Jess and the order were to go to. They bustled about mostly in their ignorance, their little worlds the most important to them, theirs the most special. Once this was all over, Jess hoped that they could all start again. Her family had changed on a cellular level after the test, but their memories remained the same. They would never erase the years of mistreatment, oppression or injustice they had endured. Physically they hoped to change things, but people’s consciences and minds will be harder to evolve. That would be the next battle, Jess was sure.

But for now, her task lay before her. To get to the top of this building and put a stop to a machine that could end it all for everyone. Eyes on the prize she said to herself.

They exited out of a small wooden door that inconspicuously sat opposite the huge tower building. The HET facility had been completed a while ago but only recently had taken in the influx of staff who had relocated there. They had travelled through underground tunnels the Order used to maneuverer around the city unseen. They stepped from the forgettable small building they had arrived within, and down the laneway that led across to the tower. Their sources had told them of that all of Aiko’s sites had infused his technology with matter taken from the Altered. Unless you were looking, you would not be aware of such a system. Hiding in plain sight. But Jess and her small group of Order members were all too aware of how impotent somewhat they were now in using their magic.

They crossed the road and made their way into the transport hub that attached to the tower. The sheer glass frame housed the transport station, and they could enter the building here and access the floors they needed to. Aware of security, they moved almost stealth like through the station and were able to make it inside; despite their attire being a cause for alarm. It was late, and many people had left the building for the day. Despite this, many workers lived in the building, having been a part of the relocation project. So they had to be quick.

They made their way to the service areas where they came across their first obstacle. Security service robots had flagged their entry, and their lack of authorisation passes. They had descended quickly, and Jess and the members moved swiftly to disarm and disengage them. Now they were on the clock, as they knew their presence was no longer a secret. Jess took a final lunge at the remaining robot, pulling out its connective cording in its neck, the robot firing off it’s weapon at random as the sparks flew also from its head.

They left them where they fell and hastily made it to the service elevator and quickly ascended the building. Reaching only to level 89 their elevator stopped with a jolt and emergency warnings began to ring out exclaiming their breach of permission. They were quick and made it out of the roof of the elevator to get to a floor. They could see more robots descending down the huge shaft, their lights and metal glowing like a moving blur towards them. Like wild animals in a foggy night. They made it quickly through into level 90, prizing the doors apart and ducking out of the threat approaching them.

The floor was residential, and a café greeted them as they tumbled out onto the level. People were sat drinking their drinks, looking over to see the sight of Jess and the order members hurtling into their space. Nobody screamed or yelled, but frantic devices were reached for as they ducked out of sight. Jess thought this an odd reaction, a silent knee-jerk to an imposing threat. Maybe they had trained for something like this she thought, but she didn’t have long to think about it as the door behind them was heaved apart by the robots, and more seemed to swarm now across the way on the other side of the café.

They all bolted right in a unified front, escaping the robots from the elevator and discharging those that confronted them down the hallway. It was loud and frantic, shots and yells rang out, as lights flashed also. In an attempt to contain them, the security systems blasted the area with pressurised vapour, similar to liquid nitrogen. The order members were able to navigate through this, using quick self-contained enchantments which made them glow with a little blue film. The magic unheeded so far. The robots caught in the vapour were stuck and frozen to the spot, allowing them to slip past them and make it to another elevator terminal. Here one of the members, Daniel who as the youngest of the group aside Jess, overrode the operating system for the elevator and they bundled inside as it sped up again towards the 208th floor, where their next and final assault would take place.

Aiko moved across the large room, walking by the huge windows that opened out into the nights sky. If he’d had looked, he would’ve seen the lights of the bay over on the west side pulsing, the emergency warning systems initiating in locking down the area. Instead, his black eyes made their way quickly to the huge orb that rotated up on a small platform. Aiko eyed it closely. Much like the globe Jess had seen in Nina’s place, this one represented the Altered. Aiko had never seen it like this before. It spun and shook, vibrating manically as lights of green and blue flashed around it like little electrical storms.

The cloudy covering whirled and hissed, and he could see the very fabric of the space was being unstitched and re-stitched again, removing what was already there. The world was in a flux, or some sort of expunging. He wondered how this would reverberate in the material realm. Just as he thought this, he was drawn to the sky which was ripped apart with a huge bolt of turquoise lightning. It sped out into the bay before more forks began to snake across the sky, little dragons hurrying across the inky canvas.

He knew then he could not go to the Altered now. He barely survived his last trip, and now the whole structure of the place seemed to be regenerating to something beyond his understanding. He needed a source for his machines, but now this would not happen. He turned to look once more at the globe, seeing the little lightening dragons now over the material realm. He pinpointed his city there, his tiny speck of space that his empire resided. He thought of the people, those he was trying to change and those he wanted to seek revenge on. And then he laughed out loud, to no one but the empty room.

All his efforts had been to manipulate the magic for his own means. His own god complex, which he wasn’t too dissociated yet to not comprehend, it had made him make reckless and pointless choices. What did it matter if these people changed, or evolved? What did it matter if he removed the lower regarded ones and cleaned up the space for others? He found he didn’t care for anything or anyone now. People annoyed him, they hassled him, pulling his attentions always in another direction. He had hoped that similar minded and duplicated versions of himself, genealogically speaking, would make things better. But now he came to realise that this would never really end. He looked at the globe and realised how many people would need to be changed, how big the world actually is. How there would always be a resistance, a re-lapse, a revolution.

He dipped his finger into the orb, the static lightning and plumes of vapour nipped at his finger. He noticed that it turned black, staining his skin. He removed it from the orb and looked at this up towards the light. The blackness remained, like he had dipped his finger in ink. All black, as he blinked his eyes again, the clouding grey that had settled since his return shifted like a loose contact lens. All black. He would paint it all black, he decided. And with that he plunged his hands and arms deep into the orb until they too were stained with the blackness.

He no longer wanted to change these people, he no longer wanted to raise certain ones to a higher evolution like himself. He would be much happier without any of them he had decided. He now only wanted the world to burn. In sweet black fires.

“Nina, you’ve never looked lovelier my dear.” Samuel said to the effervescent version of Levon’s teacher.

‘So, you two are both alive, at least that is something.” She said. Levon watched as a huge bubble began and then popped out of her nose.

“Nothing broken, and we’re in the best place we can be.” Samuel said to her, turning the glass around so she could see Levon properly.

“Hey Nina.” Levon said, waving like a kid.

“You should be somewhere safe, like at the church or here. We’re about to take control of the machines at the sites. Where are you anyway?” She asked them.

“We’re at the site, BET I would imagine. And we have Aiko’s family in the next room.” Samuel said, happily as if it was all going how he planned.

“What, oh I guess that is where they would’ve taken you. Right well, we have the members taking control now. Where abouts are you in there?” She asked, calmly.

“Haven’t a clue.” Samuel said.

“Sub level 23. It says it here.” Levon said, exasperatedly, pointing to some signage over on the wall.

“Well, if you’re up to it you can assist the team; or return here. I think we need to be sensible about all this. If we can secure the machines, we can perhaps buy some time for anything else that you might have in mind.” She said to Samuel, seeming to know what he was thinking.

“Nope, I think what we need to do is to take his family to the Altered. There is a process I think Aiko will respond to.” He said, confidently.

“What, why? What’s the point, we can change everyone with our own Holy water. Why do we need to bother with Aiko?” Levon said, confused. Nina also looked as she was interested to see where he was headed with this.

The Pope sighed and looked off for a moment, taking in the room with all its contraptions and technology.

“You’ve seen how far we’ve come. How technology and ideas have pushed us further, yet more divided than ever before. Changing people into more evolved beings will not change the way they think. They allowed the world to become this way, they justified it with their own cellular developments. Aiko is the product of that ideology; he represents all that they hold dear. But we need to change the system that gave us Aiko Tsutsumi, or the way of thinking at least.” His father said assuredly.

Levon thought about this, almost comically scratching his head as it began to make sense to him.

“So if we can get to Aiko, he will represent what everyone else can do in the world, after the change. What the world will need to be.” Levon suggested. His father smiled back, nodding his head.

“Change Aiko, and you change them all then; fully?” Nina added, her face sloshing against the glass.

“Exactly.” Samuel replied. “But we need to get to them soon, as it sounds like others might have plans for them.”

“We need to get moving then. Is Jess with the order?” Levon asked, only just sparing a thought for his friend.

“She is with the team at the HET facility, so far so good I hear.” Nina said.

“And who is securing Aiko?” Levon asked. Nina paused a little.

“Well, no one. We couldn’t trace him anywhere.” She said, slightly defeatedly.

“No need to worry. He’ll come to us.” Samuel said, putting the glass with Nina’s head in it down on the side.

“He will?” Levon asked, uncertain.

“He will indeed, and probably within the hour.” He replied, and he stuck his finger into the glass. “Will be in touch Nina.” He said and swirled her face back into the clear water. Levon watched as her surprised features evaporated.

“So you have a plan then?” Levon asked him. His father looked to him, playfully offended.

“Levon, I always have a plan. It’s just people don’t know that I always do.” He replied, and with that, he set off towards the door they had watched Stefan and Dr Camogue had left through earlier. Levon couldn’t help himself, and he smiled as he sped on after him.


 

Smartly Dressed Violence (Part xxiv)

Click here for previous entries  or  Listen to this episode


 xxiv

Secretly, Jess was amazed with herself.  It hadn’t been that long ago that she was feasting on such small scraps from the magical world she knew lay beyond her door. So tangibly there yet beyond her grasp. But with everything that had happened, the thrust into the realm had forced her to think on her feet.

She had gotten everyone back safely, navigating through time and space and magical portals. The bridge that she had been so awed by and hesitant of was now the doorway that she could pass by on in ease. The Altered had a strange way of presenting both places and timeframes, but she had been able to pass through, out and over it all. The markings on Levon’s companion were the key. Like a reboot button it allowed her to return to the Order’s main hub beneath St. Patrick’s cathedral. She would never understand the science or the magic to any learned degree, but she had felt the electricity within her bones when she had conjured and brought her family back home safely, leaving the Limbo and tickling the fringes of the Altered.

They had stumbled forth from a huge stone doorway which spewed a blueish vapour around them. The doorway, or more of a doorframe, was centred in the middle of a room similar to the laboratory crypt she had been in previously.  Around them the familiar sights of a church greeted them, but with these there were huge storage boxes, screens and strange objects which seemed to have been plucked right out of the Altered. The room was a bustle with people hastily moving about with agendas and intent. Jess and her family were greeted by members of the order who were alerted to their incoming return. Not long after they had orientated themselves, Karen entered the room from a little door hidden away at the side. She swept on up to Jess and embraced her, taking her off guard momentarily.

“Thank goodness you’re alright. And that you got back!” Karen said, breaking out of her extended embrace.

“Yes, it was pretty wild. But it was a success of sorts.” She said, casting her hand to her family to show that they were all alive and well.

“Just to get back on your own Jess, from the Limbo. That takes some doing, even with Levon’s return function. You have a grasp for the magic, it must accept you on a cellular level.” Karen said, smiling at her family.

“But where’s Levon, he disappeared after we released the pathogen. Which had no adverse effects, asides his removal. Where is he?” Jess said, putting her hand on her little brother’s shoulder, warning him not to run away as he clearly was prone to go and explore.

“He’s not here, but we know where he is. Jess, he was snatched by Atone, they intercepted during our trial of the pathogen release. It seems they have machines that can monitor the Altered and can also materialise users and objects. We’re not ignorant to this technology, we have our own trackers for the Altered; but to dematerialise from there, this is new to us. The dangers involved must be insane.” Karen said, Jess read the concern all over her face.

“But he’s alive?’ She asked urgently, worried more now.

“Yes, we know he is. He’s being held at site Bet. In one of the facilities within the towers. They also have the Pope with them, it seems they intercepted the cross activity along with another member of the order.” Karen added.

“At least he’s alive, but the Pope too. Wow. Thought he was beyond getting ensnared. So it seems they are doing their best to stop anything in the way of their plan to release the virus then.” Jess said. Her family were becoming agitated. Karen noticed this too and offered them to follow her. As they walked, jess asked what the next step was.

“Well, we will send some members to free both Levon and the Pope, but we still need to replace the virus with our own pathogen, now that thanks to you we know it works.” Karen said, leading them all down a corridor and into a huge room which had a more welcoming feel than the harshness of the church. She said her family could stay here before heading back to their home, they would be safer, and Jess agreed it would be the best for them. They settled in, taking to the huge chairs and couches while her grandmother went across to a small drinks table to mix herself something strong. Karen asked for Jess to follow her back, and after hugging her family and bidding them farewell, she followed Karen back out through the door and down the corridor.

“You’ve shown you can handle things, and indeed the magic. Jess, we’ve asked a lot of you but there is still more to do.” Karen said.

“I’m ready.” Jess said.

“We need to rescue Levon and the Pope, but we also need to stop the pandora machines. There’s one in each of the towers at the sites Het and Bet.” Karen said. They rounded into a room that was just as busy as the main one, with order members hurrying around. “Will you go to the tower in Het and switch the virus with our own Holy water. The readings we got from your family and the results of the pathogen are amazing, so we know it works”. Karen said.

“You were mapping us then?” Jess asked.

“Yes, much like Aiko’s technology we can monitor the Altered. We know the pathogen is stable now and can be released.” Karen said, excitedly.

“Great, I’m really pleased it worked. Not least because it was my family. But okay, yes; Aiko needs to be stopped. His time has come to an end.” Jess said.

“You’re telling me. Okay, you and some members will head to site Het. There may be some, umm; resistance…” Karen said, and Jess knew what she meant. Not one to look for trouble, Jess knew what the Others were likely to be like towards them, having lived for years at the end of their boots.

“I’ll try not to hurt too many people.” She replied.

“I had a feeling you could take care of yourself!” Karen said, smiling. “A rescue team, and another similar to yours will head to site Bet to do the same. We can’t seem to locate Aiko, so we have to assume he’s still moving forward as planned. Which is good for us in a way, as we know his timeframe.”

“Will Levon be okay, after he’s rescued. No damage done and all that?” Jess asked.

“He should be. There may have been some temporary reactions to the dematerialising, but we assume they are keeping them in stasis over there for some reason. They are both powerful people, and Aiko is no fool. He’ll want to keep them alive and use them.” Karen said, bringing up a screen and typing something into a system.

Jess hadn’t really had chance to stop or take things in, but she was getting used to this. She knew what was ahead of her, but she hoped that no one would be hurt. In her experience, someone always was; but enough people had suffered over the years and now it was time to end that.

“Better suit me up then, and let’s get going.” Jess said, and Karen smiled as the huge storage boxes opened up offering an array of military gear and weapons.

Levon pulled off the sensors that were stuck all over his body, pulling away more hairs than he would have liked. Fortunately, they did not trigger any disconnection alarms, or at least he hoped they weren’t silent. He prised at the connecting tube in his cylinder, forcing them to part and release him. The fluid that had covered half his body sploshed out onto the floor and washed away quickly down some metal grates. He went across to his father’s tube and pulled at his casing.

“Not opting for the clothes just yet then eh?” His father said, motioning to a rack of clothes on the side wall.

“Do you want to get out or not?” Levon asked, not seeing the humour.

“Of course, thank you. I shall look away until you are decent though. Respectfully.”  Samuel said as his own tube burst apart and the fluid sloshed outwards much like the other. They both went across and found the clothing hung up. It wasn’t their own clothes but suits that looked like they were made for astronauts more than lab technicians. Levon’s was a bit on the small side, and he held his breath as he squeezed uncomfortably in.

“How the hell are you here?” Levon asked him suddenly. His father finished zipping up the side of his suit, it shrank as it covered his body, moulding to his shape.

“Snug.” He said as the same thing happened to Levon’s.

“Were you in the Altered also then? These snatching machines must have taken us from there together and materialised us here at Atone.” Levon said, having pieced things together.

“That is quite a thing really, if you think about it. Locking on to targets like that.” Samuel said.

“They must have marker trackers that sense the energy spikes. But I didn’t know about the transporting technology.” Levon said.

“Come now, it’s not much different to stepping over. The same rules apply. But the flux of the world is the trick I imagine.” His father said, looking about the room more. Levon thought about this and agreed, it was the same principle really. With the magic, it always seemed mythical and somewhat spiritual to him. Knowing that the cold soulless world of technology had grasped something similar, saddened and worried him slightly.

“So what were you doing to get taken like that?” Levon asked his father as he put on some boots which too clasped to the outline of his feet.

“Well, you know. Save the world, stop the bad guy. The usual stuff that you have a habit of following.” His father said.

“No one really knows what you get up to do they? You lord about like some messiah, never letting people in or come close. Never giving time to explain what you are doing or why.” Levon’s frustrations were getting the better of them.

“Does it matter?” His father said bluntly. Levon looked at him, somewhat stunned.

“Don’t look at me like that. Honestly, does it really matter if the job gets done, if no one gets involved or hurt. I’m the one who sacrifices things every day, I’m the one taken to places I never wish to go. Do you not think I would like to be around and be normal, be that father figure to you solely and not the order?” He said earnestly. Levon couldn’t remember him ever talking to him like this.

“I…, I know you do good. That’s not what bothers me. It’s just, I feel like such a failure myself. I don’t deserve the gift I have, not when I see what you do and what little I can achieve.” Levon said, hoping it didn’t sound too much like a child complaining.

His father stepped forward and put his hand on his shoulder.

“That is your own journey. You can’t live yourself through someone else’s eyes. You have come here to be tested and to change from the original one that entered this material world. The evolution in your cells hurried the physical change, but spiritually are you any better than you were before?” He squeezed his son’s shoulder, endearing a closeness that neither of them had shared in years. “We both have talents and gifts; it’s how we use them that matter. We equally give and take too much and too little. I know this too.”

Levon smiled, happy to see the emotional aspect to his father instead of the absent vapour entity he had come to know.

“I guess we both need to change more.” Levon said, moving in to hug his father.

“Exactly. Maybe you a little more.” Samuel said, grinning back to his son before he thought he was being serious. “This experience has crossed our paths; I recognise that as a sign. After this we can unpack our emotions, and how we go forward. For now, we must get moving and finish what had been started. Aiko has been weakened, but his intent has only strengthened.”

“So he made an attack on the altered then?” Levon asked, knowing a lot already of Aiko’s endeavours in the magical space.

“Yes, and it’s failure has changed him in this material realm now. He’s a lot more disconnected to humanity, and willing to do more than before.” Samuel said.

“Hmm, wasn’t he before!” Levon asked.

“Let’s just say now he has something clouding his judgements.” His father said.

“Look, we’re in the Bet facility which is great as it’s where we need to be to take down Aiko’s pandora machine. We need to let the Order know we are okay.” Levon added.

“I will let them know now. Chances are they are sending members to take control of the machines at both towers.” His father said, looking around the room more. He spotted a shelf of beakers and jars, and went across to them, taking one beaker down of the shelf.

“Well, that’s good. So we should be able to help them and take control of this facility.” Levon stated, watching his father as he went across to the broken tube that he had come out of.

“We could do that, though I think they have things taken care of. Our focus should be what’s in the next room.” He dipped the beaker inside the tube, scraping it down to the bottom, filling it with some of the fluid which had remained. He lifted it out and began to swirl it around, muttering something very quietly and quickly.

“What’s so important about the Tanakas now?” Levon asked him. He saw as the clear fluid in the beaker slowly changed colour, blooming into a blue liquid.

“Well, they are Aiko’s flesh and blood after all. They are yet to play their big part in this story.” As his father said this, Nina’s face began to appear in the beaker, sloshing about the liquid.

“Nice to hear from you Samuel.” Nina said, the words bubbling to the top of the beaker.


Smartly Dressed Violence (Part xxiii)

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“Where’s Levon?” Jess asked, the euphoric whoops of her family still reverberated around the orb. She hastily darted her eyes back and forth, uselessly scanning the transparent space hoping to find him hiding in a corner.

“Wait, what happened to Levon?” Ethy asked, noticing his absence and Jess’s concern.

“Look!” Walter said, picking up Levon’s companion and handing it to Jess.

“Oh no! I knew something would happen.” Came from her mother’s wife, she was pulling at her cardigan sleaves agitatedly. Everyone slowly became silent, looking to Jess for some word or explanation. She, after all, knew about this stuff. After a moment, her mother looked at her and asked

“Jess dear, is everything okay? What’s happened?”

She had concern yet warmth in her eyes, the warmth Jess had known and loved for her lifetime. She looked around once more, taking in the world they were floating in. She went across to the hole in the side of the orb, strange green scorch marks bruised the edges of the gap.

“Obviously something has gone wrong, he wouldn’t have left us.” Ethy said, pulling her grandson in closer to her protectively. Jess caught herself there for a moment, remembering what Levon had said to them.

“He must have tried to stabilise it or correct something that was happening. Remember, he said he can go into the Altered if need be. That’s it, I’m sure.” Jess said, convincing herself as much as the others.

“But where is he now then?” Her mother’s wife asked, nervously.

“Well, maybe something happened which prevented him coming back right away. The magic is like energy, it drains as well as bolsters. Maybe he just needs some time.” Jess said. They all looked at her unsure. Jess continued.

“Either way, we are all alive, and the test worked. No one has any missing or additional body parts, right? So, it was a successful trial, we now have to get back to let them know as the order can move forward with the plan. The timeframe hasn’t changed.”

“But what about Levon?” Walter asked, his face saddened as if missing his dog.

“The order will know what to do. We have to head back right away.” She said, determinedly. As if action can put away the little doubts that had begun to creep into her mind.

“And you know how to do that, right?” Her mother asked her. Jess thought for a moment.

“Yes, I can do it.” She said, opening her own companion.

“Would Levon’s be able to help?” Her aunt asked, pointing towards his that Jess held also.

“The companions are personal; they only benefit the …. wait.” Jess said and started to frantically flick through Levon’s little book.

“Perfect, I can get us right back and where we need to be quick as a flash.” She said, and with that she placed her finger on a large symbol on the back of Levon’s companion and uttered a quick incantation. It echoed around the orb as if they were in a huge cathedral. Little particles of light drifted off the small book and peppered everyone in the orb, and with one bright flash they disappeared; leaving the orb to float for a moment before popping into nothing.

Levon had known pain before, the intense kind that forced you to cry inside. The mental anguish that can latch onto you in your darkest moments. Pain can be like a boiling hot bath that you are unable to get out of, or one that just burns your toe.

The pain that had engulfed him as he was ripped from the Limbo was nothing like he’d ever experienced or would ever want to again. It felt like his bones had been broken individually, grinded up and sprinkled back into some human form. He’s skin had felt as if it had been hacked off by a dull blade. His mind throbbed now in the afterglow of agony, housed in the cylindrical tube that was his new prison.

But he was not alone in this new confinement.

The room was dark yet spacious, the ceiling vaulted upwards with an array of tubes and conducts snaking their way to different homes. Levon stood in a glass tube, held into position by metal jacks which poked into all areas of his body. He was naked, and he felt it; the cold, almost frigid air panted over him as a scanning device rotated up and down the glass, checking his status.

To his left there were two other tubes and he’d noticed another one to his right. This one was not empty like those on the other side, this one housed another soul, and one whom Levon recognised instantly.

His father was propped up inside the glass much like himself, yet he was not conscious; Levon could see that. His head hung forward and to the side, and for a moment Levon thought of the crucifixion images that had so captured, and fetishized Christ’s last moments on the cross.

Levon had only just come to, and his mind was trying to map together the events that had transpired. Aside from the physical pain that still ran through him, he felt something else, a tingling in his arms. He looked down and saw little particles dancing on his symbols and markings. The green and blue flecks peppered his skin, and he felt a slight numbing sensation over the marked areas. The red scanning device burst back and forth, sparking the particles into little jolts of lightning. His body tingled and ached, and his brain still felt sluggish.

The lights in the room bloomed to brightness, and two persons entered and came close to the glass. Levon closed his eyes, pretending his state of continued unconsciousness. Though muffled, he could just about hear what they said through the glass.

“So vital signs are all good?” Stefan asked to the woman who stood next to him. She was tall and wore a pale blue lab coat which seemed to fit her oddly, extending her neck and head upwards almost comically.

“Surprisingly so for what they’ve been through. The older is struggling a bit more, but the fact they survived was a miracle.” The woman said, sliding through a report which she projected up in front of them both. She slid along some screens that floated there, seeming to find what she was looking for. “For some reason the system can’t generate an age for Wexton senior, the gene maps are all over the place with him.”

“Not to worry, we have enough information as it is on these two. Mr Tsutsumi has requested certain, urm, procedures for these two.” Stefan said, his eyes darted back and forth.

“I’m sure he has, the extraction machine that’s been fitted to the facility is a big indicator of what he has planned.” The woman said, resting a hand on her hip.

“Dr Camogue, I’m sure you will be the epitome of professionalism.” Stefan said, sarcastically.

“As I break the law, of course I will be.” She said, smiling a knowing smile.

“It’s for a greater good, remember that.” Stefan added, almost marking the authority that he thought he had.

“Oh, I do indeed. There will be certain benefits to my own studies with this anyway. So win win I would say.” She replied.

“Good, then I will keep quiet about what you do with your little project, if you remain equally taciturn with mine.” Stefan said, turning to face her now. She seemed unfazed, as if expecting this circumstance.

“Certainly. Would you like to see them also?” Dr Camogue asked. Her eyes flared red momentarily as the scanners descended and ascended up the cylinders. Stefan nodded to her. She flicked some screens and reset the reports as the screen disappeared. Levon could hear some whirling sounds and felt the throb of the scanner going past him. Dr Camogue walked across the room towards another door, this vanished in an instant as the detector read her authority pass, shimmering the door away.

“I’ve kept the Tanakas isolated, as there is a different agenda for them. Best not to muddy the waters, but they are all in stasis, until you tell me what to do with them next.” She said, walking Stefan through the door and out of earshot of Levon.

The door returned and once more Levon was alone in the room with just his father. Levon watched as the lights darkened once more and then turned to look at him as he was stirring in his tube. His father rolled his head back and forth before opening his eyes. He seemed alert instantly, grasping his confines and predicament much quicker than Levon had.

“Ah, Levon. Fancy meeting you here.” He said, giving his son a friendly smile.


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Smartly Dressed Violence (Part xxii)

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Part xxii

Stefan picked up the glass of water, looking at the remnants in the bottom. Dark particles and flecks of green swirled in the glass, sediments that Aiko had dribbled back into. He took the glass away from the dimly lit room in which Aiko was resting within on a raised bed. He still wore the suit which he had used going across into the Altered, the helmet placed to one side.

Stefan returned moments later, the glass now devoid of the contaminants and refilled with fresh water.

“What else do you need?” Stefan asked, placing the glass down by the side. Aiko quickly reached across for it, his arm a mangled piece of flesh now, riddled with what looked like heavy burning but scorched black. Little flecks of green, like those in the glass, peppered his flesh like little emeralds.

“To hydrate, quickly.” Aiko spluttered, his mouth sparking little green sparks. “The hydrogen water is suffice, but for now I just need to recover.” He added, emptying the glass hurriedly.

Stefan reached over to take it from him.

“What else can I do?” He asked him, unsure of how to proceed. He had found Aiko slumped unconscious when he’d come to his home to collect some contracts. Aiko occupied the top few floors in one of his buildings on the Southbank, his main city residence. He preferred this one to his others as it was close to his business and could operate efficiently within the city.

Stefan had found him lying on the floor, surrounded by a small area of blackness, like powdered charcoal. He had got him into his bed just as he had regained consciousness. Aiko had ordered him to administer a medical robot to scan him over, checking his vitals and any signs of damage. Stefan had watched silently as the robot had done its magic, injecting and reporting until Aiko was more comfortable. He had placed the helmet near to the bed, noticing the scorch marks on it and the damage also to Aiko’s body. At first glance his injuries seemed to be burns, but the strange glows and the fine powder had troubled him. The most disturbing aspect to Stefan however were Aiko’s eyes, which now shone with an inky blackness covering the sclera.

Stefan was not an idiot, he knew of the Altered, in whatever form it had been known to him. Hearsay and whispering, subtle hints at another world and little tales of magic. He knew this was where Aiko went, this was also what he put some of Aiko’s power down to. How he was able to operate so successfully in this world. We all needed little aids. Aiko had never discussed this with him before, but he had guessed something of this sort. He had seen the machines and the technology the company produced, Aiko’s future plans and especially his latest venture, which relied so heavily on an ambiguous element. Discovering him how he did, he assumed something had gone wrong perhaps over in this place.

“What is the time-frame for EDEN?” Aiko stammered from the bed, ignoring Stefan’s question.

“Sir, you may need further medical….” But Aiko interrupted.

“I’m fine. What is the time-frame now?” He asked again. Stefan tapped at his wrist, files and images illuminated into the air, harshly in the low light.

“Six hours until we begin initiation of the final phase. Dependent on source deployment which has yet to be confirmed. Resettlement phase has completed, and operations are functional at full capacity. Two hours until the west side lock down comes into effect, as discussed; the disaster procedure framework will initiate the lockdown.” Stefan reported, his voice dry in the cold air.

“The source has yet to be contained, I need to handle this myself. It will require a four-hour window. Please factor this in.” Aiko said, sitting up slightly.

“In addition?” Stefan asked. Aiko looked over, the dark eyes revealing nothing.

“No, in unison.” He replied. He tapped some buttons on his suit, and this seemed to melt away; the textures caving in on each other like tiny bricks folding away. He moved the small disk to one side, the compacted suit now reduced down to the size of a playing card.

“Very well. Anything else?” Stefan asked, eager to get away from the room, which was now creeping over him ominously, like dark hands now scratching at his legs.

“I need to get some things together. They are here, but I will need your help. So don’t leave without telling me.” Aiko wheezed, as if struggling to talk.

“Perhaps….” Stefan began, but caught himself.

“I’m fine, the recovering will take about an hour. I need for you to begin the isolation solution, shift the power from site Het to initiate. The stockpiles should form within the time it takes for me to heal.” Aiko said, closing his eyes.

Here Stefan seemed to straighten up, eager to share some good news.

“These have already been done and finalised. The isolations have migrated the conflicting pathogens across. We did this as a test for the system, but they took such little power due to the new cells at the facility that we went ahead already.”

“What?” Aiko said, he voiced veiled any anger that may have been present.

“Well, we needed to move ahead with the timeline. And as we hadn’t heard from you, it was agreed to continue as planned.” Stefan replied, unsure now if this was the right thing to have done.

Aiko remained quiet, processing this information. He sat forward, looking at his arm now and the markings that were riddle up and down it. He turned to Stefan.

“Were there any by-products?” He asked.

Stefan nodded, as if expecting this question.  “Yes, there were, but we’ve isolated these away. It was as you said, anything in flux would be captured.”

Aiko then smiled, sensing a victory.

“How many?” He asked. Stefan tapped again at his wrist. Little lights danced out, projecting some images.

“Three individuals, one of which died through re-alignment.” Stefan said, unfazed by the information.

“Is one of them Levon?” Aiko asked suddenly, a strength coursing through his words.

Stefan looked again at his information.

“Yes, a Levon Wexton and Samuel Wexton.”

Something in the room changed then, though Stefan knew not what.

“What did you say?” Aiko asked, almost as if he’d been insulted.

Stefan repeated, checking the information as if searching for an error.

“I’m assuming father and son.” He added, hesitantly.

It was the first time Stefan had heard Akio Tsutsumi laugh, he who was closest to him had rarely seen him display any great emotion. It was the first time, and he hoped it would be the last as it slithered and coiled around him in the room in a disturbingly maniacal fashion. Making the space a place he longed to leave quickly.