by M.D Schultz
Another realm opens and with it is delivered a grave warning.
For many years I postulated that rifts were drawn to places, people, or objects in our world most closely related to the realm it is connected to. This, of course, was a hotly debated topic amongst more senior members of the Fifth Chapter. Many claimed that evidence of such was, at best, circumstantial and there were no concrete facts to support my hypothesis. This was certainly true as, with the discovery of the stapes bone, we had only just recently been cataloging the appearance of rifts on a broader scale. At the time, the data we had collected was correlative at best and, as all scientists should know, correlation does not always equal causation. Despite this, I clung to my belief for I had experienced life within the parallel realms and, to me, the connections were obvious. Take Niflheim for example, that realm was like a prison and perhaps it reflected the hearts and minds of the citizens of every city. People trapped in the routine of daily life working in office buildings and factories. To outsiders looking in, London would appear to be a massive labyrinth with its people akin to stone unmoving in their daily schedule. The Niflheim rift opened within the place most reflective of the realm it leads to. However, my explanation is more philosophical and my peers are often not swayed by philosophy. Yet, even my initial hypothesis was misplaced for never before had I thought that a Prism Gate could be drawn to a single individual and not based on similarity but necessity. Alfheim would forever change my understanding of rifts and sow the seeds of fear that I should have felt many years before. You see, this realm was drawn to me.
Unlike so many rifts before it, there was no warning of its coming and it slipped through even under the watchful eye of the Cathedral. From the safety of my bed, I was drawn into the world of Alfheim. I have crossed between worlds many times and I had become numb to its effects. The distress I once felt had abandoned me and so I crossed worlds without ever knowing it. When I awoke, I was already in the fields of Alfheim. I used to have many emotions when I stepped into a new world for the first time. Wonder, intrigue, and fear just to name a few. I thought about what I would have been feeling had I awoke this way before my ascension as a rift walker. With no equipment, I was completely unprepared and had no way to determine my location. The prism gate itself appeared to have moved a good distance away or, perhaps, it had even shut. Knowing this, I can only imagine the insurmountable panic I would’ve felt. However, things were very different from when I first started walking rifts. This was the first time that I was using my heightened senses to feel for the presence of an open gate. Through the Basilisk, I could touch the gate's energy which pulsed to the rhythm of a heartbeat some distance away. The rift was still open and I knew exactly where to go. There was no need to panic as the Basilisk wouldn’t allow the gate to shut. That creature had attained the power that we played at using the orsinium rods. I couldn’t say how, but the longer it remained connected to me the stronger it became. There was a time when the Basilisk could influence the physical world only when I was threatened but then it started to exert its power at will. There is an unmistakable connection between this creature and the prism gates and I had only just begun to understand my role and that I was a pawn in a much greater game. Little did I know that the world of Alfheim had come to warn me.
At first glance, this world appeared to be of little difference to our own. I had awoken next to a river on the edge of a forest. The air was clean and a single distant sun shown at its peak in the sky. A stark contrast from the word of Muspelheim in which the star was so close that little else could be seen. However, this is where the similarities ended as the water didn’t move and the trees were as still as stone. Next to me, an insect that I didn’t recognize perched motionless upon the pedal of a turquoise flower. It’s six wings were still outstretched as if the creature had just landed. The longer I stared the closer I came to feel that it was a statue or a bit of stone. However, this was the most lifelike stone I had ever seen. That’s when I saw it. One of its wings moved barely a centimeter like the organism was being watched on a video stuck in slow motion. The water too was the same. At first glance, the river looked to be a painting of whitewater rapids, but the longer you stared at the scene the more you came to realize that it was actually moving. This world’s time moved far slower than my own. When I touched the river’s surface, my finger passed through the liquid with little resistance. However, when I pulled my hand away there was a finger-shaped hole left in its place. The water simply wasn’t moving fast enough relative to my time to fill the gap. It was the same for the trail I left in the grass. Though my time was unaffected by Alfheim’s, I clearly had an immediate impact on the surrounding environment. My every footstep pushed the grass to the dirt and yet it would take many days or even weeks before it would return to normal. Those who existed in my plane could see a painfully obvious trail but, to the denizens of this world, I was moving so fast that nothing could perceive or have any meaningful interaction with me.
This became abundantly clear as I moved through the world. On my journey back to the rift, I came upon a hunt. A wolf-like creature with two heads and a poised stinger that hung just above its back was in pursuit of what appeared to be a stag. The animal running for its life was pure white and had antlers growing from multiple places along its spine. A likely deterrent from larger carnivores but did little to dissuade its pursuer. Like a sculpture, I could admire the majestic beauty of the stag or marvel at the strength and danger of the creature seeking to eat it. Neither organism could see or hear me as their time wouldn’t permit it. I began to realize that it would be so easy for me to interfere with the outcome of this hunt. I could dig a pit, build a wall, or even kill one or both of them and be out of Alfheim before their corpses touched the ground. To them, I was like a god and yet none would ever be the wiser of my existence. In this world, it didn’t matter how intelligent, powerful, or threatening a creature could be, I would always be one, or rather, a thousand steps ahead of them. The only difference between my divinity and their mortality was our respective times. Yet, tyrannical as a power from our world could be, that destructive force would last little more than a day in the world of Alfheim. Since my time moved so quickly, a single day in Alfheim would likely encompass the lifespan of any human. We could easily involve ourselves in the daily lives of its denizens but our mark upon this world, no matter how destructive, would be forgotten in a matter of weeks. Yet, I did not come seeking to play god. In fact, I didn’t come by choice at all. My entire reason for being there was a mystery. How is it that a rift had come to me? And what purpose did such a journey serve? My questions were eventually answered when I met the spirits of Alfheim.
Have you ever seen a ghost? If so, how could you be sure of what it is you are seeing? Fear often clouds our judgment and reasoning in an effort to save us from the unknown. The spirits of Alfheim were not at all as described in ghost stories or hauntings. Perhaps, they are not spirits at all but another life form that exists on a plane far above anything else alive. To my eyes, they were a clear mass in the shape of slugs that slowly migrated from one corner of Alfheim to another. I say slow, but slow in my time was still light years ahead of anything that existed in this parallel realm. They seemed drawn to me with many hundreds coming from all directions. I was stunned at first, unable to understand such a bizarre sight. Was it curiosity that drew them, or a sense of something that didn’t belong? Were they like white blood cells coming to remove a threat from their world? The Basilisk, as it did many times, came with a warning.
“staY yOUr hands from This world child of man less yoU be swallowed by it. i am youR shepherd aNd your shEep the enD of time is not yet upon us.”
The Basilisk’s words hung in the air as symbols I couldn’t quite make out and yet I didn’t have to. The part of me that was no longer human knew exactly what it was saying. The part of me that no longer cringed from the sounds of screams but waited longingly for the disembodied voice perched upon my shoulder. With each passing day, I was becoming something that I couldn’t recognize for no true human could. Though I was afraid of its power, it rarely gave bad advice. Being the Basilisk’s host afforded you privileges few could match. It had invested interest in my survival and so heeding its call was something I did often. After all, the eyeless cat likely knew far more than I about the function of these realms. Indeed, the spirits of Alfheim were motivated by far more than curiosity. They came to plug the holes that I left in my wake and determine any further damage that I posed. As the clear slugs moved across my visible footprints they vanished from Alfheim and the world was put as it was before my coming. However, there was something more to these creatures for, when I looked closely, they gave me visions of what would be. Whatever the slugs touched, time appeared to move much faster. When the clear mass enveloped the stag, both it and its pursuer sprung to life and I watched as the beautiful creature was torn to shreds by that vicious carnivore. Yet, when the slugs moved away, the scene was restored back to its original time with the white stag running in vain from death. I knew the outcome long before the hunt was over. That’s when I came to realise that these creatures were showing me what must be. They were the guardians of destiny having predetermined the fate of all the realm. These slugs protected that fate from any intrusion and worked as if restoring a painting back to its original production. Together, they amassed an army of thousands that blanketed the land and rested at my feet.
“theY see yOU, Run or they will eat you.”
Barely had the Basilisk’s warning registered before a slug touched my leg and pain shot up my ankle as if touched by a red-hot poker. I jerked away kicking at the clear mass that simply lurched like soft rubber. After one taste, the legion of Alfheim charged in force. The most surprising part of all was the speed at which they could move. Together they were more than just spirits that spoke of what may be. Together, they were an army designed to eliminate any outside intrusion. When they touched, their bodies fused together into one and many thousands became a tidal wave that blanketed the ground and consumed the hills. Just as before, whatever the creatures touched, time sped up and the world came alive around me. The water crashed against the shore, the wind howled in the distance, and every plant, bird, and animal lived and died in mere moments. Within the growing form of the spirit of Alfheim the fate of the entire realm was laid bare and it was coming for me. Whatever these creatures were made of they rejected our world and whatever traces I left behind. They were inspectors, cleaners, and destroyers. It was clear before long that I couldn’t outrun them. More and more came pouring out from the scenery. The slugs emerged from the trees, the water, the dirt, and the air. Within moments, the clear mass had become as large as a mountain and I was eventually swallowed. It was an experience akin to torture. I remember feeling like I was drowning in a pool of fiery needles. When I couldn’t hold my breath any longer, a searing pain traveled to my lungs in the place of air. Across the whole of my being was a pain that threatened to drive me mad. There was little doubt that I was being dissolved by these creatures. Kicking and clawing was futile for it was like being stuck in a clear rubber mold. No matter how hard I struggled the walls simply closed in around me. However, something changed when I opened my eyes. The pain all but vanished and I was greeted by a reflection of myself. No longer could I see the world of Alfheim nor the creatures that sought my destruction. I was alone with my mirror image. It was then that I saw visions of what had come to pass in my own life. I saw the creation of the first prism gate and then my journey to the world of Niflheim and how I came to be possessed by the Basilisk. I watched my flight from Jotunheim and my curious wanderings in the world of Muspelheim. Alfheim was a memory all to fresh and after that the visions showed me fragments of the future. They showed me the foundation of an empire at the peak of the Fifth Chapters strength. They showed me the keys that would lead to that strength and the perseverance required to wield them. They showed me mankind’s subjugation of the Prism Gates and our evolution as a dominant force. However, there was a warning here for at the peak of our dominance was a puppeteer directing us toward its own ambition. An ambition that took the form of a gaping black void that threatened to consume all of reality. At the command of an eyeless ventriloquist, men marched into the darkness with smiles and laughter. I looked on in disbelief as a powerful empire embraced its own demise. At first, I saw only the Basilisk guiding them to their doom. Yet, the longer I looked the more I came to realize that the white cat cast a human shadow. A shadow that was identical to my own. The person that I was had been engulfed entirely and only the Basilisk remained. This was my fate. This was my future. Even if I escaped the spirits of Alfheim, there was another threat far closer to home. That’s when I felt that perhaps it was better than I die here in this world. If nothing else, I would stop the Basilisk. Yet, I should have known better. That eyeless creature wasn’t going to let me die for it yet needed me. Enslaved by me as much as I was by it. To use its own words, I was both a sheep and a shepherd. At least for now. From the darkness of my mind came a familiar sound. A sound that bore the weight of written words. A sound that, at one time, I could hear only as screams. The Basilisk commanded and the spirits trembled.
“Begone petulAnt vermin, you Cannot Kill that which Obeys my commaNd. slither away from the spurned GOD’s judgement and know that I HArbor the end of all things. i am the key in search of the lock that binds Vacuous hungEr. you CannOt interrupt the endless Moving cyclE. begone peTulant vermin, fOolish are those who run From the InescapabLe fooLish are THosE who stand against the VOID.”
Upon hearing the words, I was thrust back into my own mind and returned to a world clouded by searing pain. I was completely engulfed when the eyeless cat intervened and, at the sound of its words, the clear mass shattered into many hundreds of thousands of pieces. Like a window smashed to bits by the careless toss of a baseball, the spirits of Alfheim were reduced to splinters crashing to the ground with the sound of an ear splitting crack. The concussive blast sent me flying into a hillside where a jagged rock neatly slid through the middle of my back and out of my abdomen. Most certainly a fatal blow for any mortal creature but not for me. Blood pooled onto the ground as I pushed myself free and collapsed to the earth. The pain of doing so was nothing compared to my previous experience. As it turns out, impalement was preferable to what those spirits had in mind. Several hours was all it took for the Basilisk to repair its vessel. Flesh knit together at rates only matched by the chimera and I was left with a burning hunger. When my strength returned, there was no evidence that I had been harmed. The blood that had once pooled beneath me had been restored to my body as with the bits of flesh caught on jagged stone. It was as if every part of me had a will of its own. The Basilisk waisted nothing and recycled every piece. Even flesh damaged beyond repair could be broken down for nutrition in order to speed up the regenerative process. Just like before, the moisture from the surrounding environment had been completely absorbed leaving little more than dust behind. My life was restored in exchange for the lives around me.
I never saw the spirits again on my way back to the rift. Whether the Basilisk’s words had killed them I cannot say. If not, its warning was potent enough that they dared not appear again. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that those creatures had come to deliver a warning. They clearly knew the Basilisk and the Basilisk knew them. There was a sense of familiarity that I couldn’t shake like I’d been warned before. It was almost as if I were part of a cycle that was repeating itself and I was only now becoming aware of it. Not long after my confrontation with the spirits of Alfheim did I come upon the rift opening. It was a fascinating sight for the gate struggled to close against an unseen force. The opening flexed from wide to narrow unable to shut completely. It was as if something were pressed tightly against the palate of a mouth that was trying to close and yet hadn’t the strength to do so. The power of the Basilisk was frightening.
My home was on the other side of that rift and, once I crossed, the gate snapped shut tearing a massive hole in my bedroom. It was clear to me then that Alfheim had come with the purpose of stopping me or, more rather, the Basilisk. Though we possessed the power to detect rifts through the stapes bone and keep them from shutting, the Basilisk couldn’t open them. Had the gate opened and closed without our awareness, we would have been trapped there forever. I couldn’t help but feel that, having failed, the spirits appeared to warn me in one last effort. This assassination attempt was sure to keep the Basilisk on guard and I highly doubted that another would ever be successful. Their warning, however, frightened me in ways I can’t begin to describe. The creature that plagued my thoughts, the source of my power and immortality, was humanity's greatest threat. If the visions were to be believed, I had to do something to stop the very creature that commanded my soul. This was the first world I had ever traveled too that gave me hints at my possessor's true nature and one thing was now abundantly clear to me. We were all in grave danger.