The increase in rift activity has shown no signs of subsiding. Our investigation into the geologic activity has shown there is a much greater phenomenon at play – one far larger than any we have ever witnessed before. We believe the recent formation of these new rifts is related to a much larger event happening beneath the surface of our planet.
If we do nothing, we will be overwhelmed as the cracks from each new rift spreads. The Reachers will gain unprecedented access to our world, and we will not have enough Arcanists to protect our realm. This is why Project Meridian must succeed. We have recommissioned a unique set of Implements from the Vault for each of you to bear. These Implements have been hewn from the same source. As such, they are ethereally connected. The containment spells must be cast at the same time from the identified coordinates. Twelve Meridians, each equidistant from one another.
Make haste, Arcanists. And let us hope that we are not too late.
Twelve Meridians. Will it be enough? A dozen Arcanists tossed throughout the world to prevent a global catastrophe? He felt even smaller as the train car in which he sat journeyed past countless forests crowded with trees and then mountains with towering peaks with summits obscured by clouds.
But it didn’t matter did it? It was all they had – they could do nothing more than hope. Hopes pinned on a dream, he mused in his head. He would have much preferred those hopes were pinned on something a bit more substantial.
The jarring sound of metal on metal rang throughout the car, wrenching him from his thoughts. The brakes were being activated. Were they at the destination? He had commissioned this train solely for this purpose, which was no small feat or expense. He didn’t want to put anyone else in danger. The train’s engineer, however…well, risks had to be taken.
Looking out the window and checking the map he could tell that yes, they were close if not there already. But as the train came to a stop, things around him seemed too damned quiet. It was a familiar quiet to him, but not the good kind. He moved quickly, opening up his book, signing a spell with Alexo and tearing the page out. It disintegrated in his hand, spell cast. The color of the light around him changed, plunging the world around him in a gray monochrome tone. Save for the particles of light from the car directly in front of him, which were a deep red. The particles were small, like motes of dust reflecting sunlight, but they were not carried on the wind. They emanated from a source, and there were so many of them that they formed a jagged line. It was like a crack which had formed in the air itself.
The rift. The Reachers, the ones who plagued our world, could make these. They had managed to get a foothold here, far away from civilization. It was a marked departure from their documented patterns. They always breach more populated areas where they could feast upon the spirits of the living. If anyone had needed more proof that this activity was something new, part of a grander plan, this was it.
As if sensing him, the rift, or the particles around it began to pulse. They were sending one through. He readied his Implement, prepared to fight whatever nightmare came through until he received the signal from the others.
He would stand his ground. He had to.
It was too hot in this desert heat, he was too tired, and this whole operation was too much to bear. But bear it I must, he thought, nodding to himself.
They had to close the rifts which had formed around the world. Rifts were like a crack in glass. They start out small, but when left alone those cracks crawl along the surface, and spider out in all directions. And if one crack gains momentum and joins with another large crack…the glass would eventually shatter.
But the world was not a piece of glass that could be replaced. If the cracks were to spread and converge, there would be no fallback, no plan B.
He could sense that the rift was nearby. Once you’ve been near one, your body develops a ‘tell’, a sign that something is very, very wrong. For him, the hairs on the back of neck would stand on end. He rubbed the back of his neck and continued his hike, following the map he traded for off of a passing caravan. There should be a village up ahead, and he would talk with them to see if they had noted anything out of the ordinary.
As he neared the village gates, his blood ran cold. It was too quiet. No sounds of people, no barking of dogs, no chirping of birds. Even the palm leaves on the trees seemed to have stilled.
They’re already dead. He shook his head, casting away the thought. Act first. Mourn later.
Every step into the village shrouded his heart with an ethereal chill. He tore out a warding spell, signed it with Aletheia, and took a breath to steel himself. They were coming for him. They would sense the magic emanating from the Implement and be drawn towards it.
He clutched Altheia and projected a message to the others:
I’m in position.
“You’ll be back soon, right?” his son had said.
“Before you know it, buddy,” he said, tousling his son’s hair.
He paused a moment and nodded. “I promise.”
A wind swirled about him, threatening to hurl him from the precipice to which he now clung. He gripped Bios, his muscles straining and knuckles white. He projected a message. Nothing. He tried again. No response. His eyes were slits, trying to squint through the alien storm that ravaged the area.
This storm. It’s coming from the rift. He couldn’t see the rift, unfortunately, but he could sense that this one was far larger than any one he had ever dealt with before. The storm…when a rift is large enough, is this what can pass through?
He suspected that the storm was suppressing magical energy, preventing him from communicating with the others through Bios. He was already trying to fight off the fatigue that comes with being in proximity to a rift, but now true fear washed over him. If he could not communicate, he would not be able to time the closure of the rift. The operation would fail.
He shook his head. No. We need amplification. There is a way. He crouched low and opened his grimoire, shielding its pages from the unrelenting gale. He signed a spell and it sparked into the air. The golden sparks seemed to cast the air itself alight, until a shape began to form. It formed a network of cracks – a rift. It was massive, far larger than even ones he had read about in tales. The spell couldn’t even encapsulate the full extent of it, and faded off as it traveled around the base of the mountain.
But at least he knew where it was. He picked out the thickest point in the breach, wrapped his cloak tight around him, and hurled himself into the unknown.
Now what? she thought, already in position. The rift wasn’t too difficult to find, her eye always twitched when one was nearby, so it wasn’t hard to pinpoint it. But this one…this one was different. There should be Reachers streaming out of this thing, attacking her. But as far as she could tell, there was not a single one in the large meadow before her.
Something had to be wrong. She felt her mind ripple, and a voice tuned inside her head, “Storm…other side…suppression.” She could not make out the rest. When they had tested out their Implement link earlier, the voices were clear as if the person were standing right next to them. This was like trying to pick out a voice in radio static.
Now both of her eyes twitched, and she leapt back, startled. The rift was growing at an alarming rate. It seemed to respond to the message that had just been projected. Dammit, I warned them about this possibility. The pens were linked and could transmit thoughts, but what they didn’t understand well enough was how they could do this. To her it was obvious – it utilizes the surrounding magic for transmission. That means it will also transmit all magic – good or bad. If they continued to communicate using these, they risked enhancing these rifts before they could close them.
And now she had to warn the others, while risk bolstering any rifts in their vicinity. If this kept up, the only way to collapse the rifts would be from the inside, and that was suicide.
She gripped Chara and cursed under her breath. It couldn’t be helped.
“Guys, I’ve got some bad news…”
An eerie stillness permeated the clearing where he had found the rift. It hadn’t happened all at once, but rather like air slowly escaping from a pinprick in a balloon. The hairs on his arms stood on end. He opened up his book and signed a spell with Elpis. Nothing happened. He had never witnessed a spell not casting before, yet he somehow knew that the spell wouldn’t work. The voices which had been flowing through their network of Implements had silenced completely now. Magic had left this place. The operation would fail.
He held up Elpis in his hand. Elpis, he thought, the name of what remained in Pandora’s box. Hope. He frowned. It seemed that too many used hope as a crutch, a fatalistic belief that there was always some predestined path to fall back on when faced with the impossible.
But life is far more cruel than that. Pandora’s myth was wrong. Hope didn’t remain in the box. Hope had to be put in the box. Wood without man’s spark does not bring warmth on winter’s night.
He turned towards the rift, and an unnatural wind burst forth as if to repel him. He braced against it and plunged into the otherworldly depths.
It felt as if he were falling, but without the pull of gravity. This unnamed force was hurtling him deeper within the rift, though his eyes could not make anything out. With no physical or visual anchor to center himself, his stomach churned. He was glad to have skipped lunch.
He blinked and found himself suddenly standing on upon an expanse of rocky terrain. At least he thought it was rock. Every few seconds, a sweep of prismatic light radiated and rippled across the surface of the odd stone. He was no longer falling, but the wind from before was swirling around him and upwards. He looked skyward and could see the rift from which he had entered. It was strange, you cannot normally see a rift without casting a spell, but this place was different. It looked both familiar yet alien. He had read ancient texts which told of the world between worlds, but they were so outlandish that most regarded them as fever-dream fiction.
But now he understood. What he saw was real, in a sense. It was that he was incapable of rendering what lay before him. Instead of rejecting it, his mind was filling in the blanks, using things he knew from his world to construct a reality that he could interface with.
He looked away from the rift, searching for the source of the violent wind. There was something that felt so wrong about that wind. He pulled his cloak in around him and trudged towards the direction where the wind was strongest.
He could not tell if he had walked for two minutes or two hours, but the winds which had enveloped him earlier ended abruptly. It was as if he were standing within the eye of a storm. There is magic here, he thought. He could feel it. He noticed an object at his feet. Crouching down, he saw a small box. He smiled and pulled a spell out of his book. He signed the spell with Elpis and placed the small piece of hope within.
“Will you help me?” A small girl asked him. He nodded, face solemn. He crouched down and met the girl’s gaze. “But first I need your help. Can you take me to your home?”
“I don’t want to go back there,” she said, shaking her head.
“I know you are scared. But you look like a very brave girl to me. Are you brave?”
She nodded, holding her chin up.
“That’s what I thought. Please, lead the way. I will be with you the whole time,” he said, trying to reassure the frightened child.
The girl led him through the small village. Not a single person stirred within. As they walked, he noticed that the voices of the other Arcanists communicating through the pens began to trail off. He could sense something was happening, he just hoped his spell would hold out long enough.
“Mister, why do you want to go to my house?”
“I’m looking for something,” he said.
“What are you looking for? My parents aren’t home. They are…gone.”
“I’m not looking for your parents. I’m looking for a doorway.”
“Oh. We have some doors in our house, I guess,” she said, brow furrowed.
She led him into the heart of the village, and to the doorstep of a squat cottage with a roof of thatch. “Can we go now?”
“Just a little while longer. I need to go inside for a moment,” he said, opening the door. He stepped inside, and the girl followed close behind him.
He looked around. This had to be where it was, but he could not sense the location of the rift. The chaotic energies flowing throughout the village made it hard to sense much of anything. It was akin to picking out a singular voice in a crowded tavern. He pulled out a spell and signed it. The spell cast, though it felt…delayed. He walked from room to room until he found one with a small bed. On a shelf sat a stuffed bear with a torn ear and an eye missing. He could just make out a trickle of bright particles in the air. The rift was slight, but it was there.
“My teddy! I’m so sorry I forgot you!” The girl ran in and reached out for her stuffed bear. She stopped, noticing that her hand had passed through the toy. She looked up, wide-eyed, at him. “Mister?”
He bit his lip. Taking a deep breath, he knelt down to the little girl. “All right, it’s time for me to help you now. You see this page?” he asked, showing her a page in his grimoire.
The girl nodded, silent.
“This is a magic spell. This is going to take you home.”
“But…isn’t this my home?”
He shook his head. “You have a new one. Your family is waiting for you there. But this,” he said, gesturing to the particles emanating from the rift, “…is keeping you from going there. This magic spell is going to release you.”
“You will see,” he said, signing the spell with Menos. This spell was delayed, too, but did cast. He looked over and the little girl had vanished.
“Go in peace, little one,” he whispered. Then, standing, “Leave your vengeance to me.”
“Sever the link!” He yelled, gripping his Implement in hopes that one of the other Arcanists could hear him. He made out faint rumblings in his mind, but nothing discernable as words. A cacophony of winds howled about him.
This is bad, he thought, his mind reeling. He had warned them before this mission that the Implement bridge was too risky. The dark magic from the rift storm was bleeding into their connection. If the others were experiencing the same storm, that means the effect would be multiplied between them. What they had designed as a tactical advantage would now lead to their demise.
Unless I can sever the link myself. If the rift storm’s magic could travel, that meant his could as well. He looked around frantically and noticed an outcropping of stone that could shield him from the winds. He hurried over, pulled out his grimoire and uncapped Nomos. He ripped out a spell and signed it. Nothing. He suspected that would happen. This storm was suppressing the magic. But there was more than one type of magic.
He flipped to a blank page in the back of the book. He began to write, but not using the glyphs he had been taught at the Arcana. These were the ones he learned in secret. The ones that are forbidden. The dark ones. The storm howled in response to the captive energies which flowed from pen to page. It senses me. I must work quickly, he thought. He needed a destructive spell, something that could interrupt their connection. Luckily, the roots of the forbidden magic ran deep within that specialty.
The page began to vibrate, almost hum, ever so slightly. He could sense it despite the maelstrom raging around him. There. He signed the spell, which burst alight into dark sparks.
At once, he could sense the magic – the light magic – begin to return. The storm continued to swell, though not quite as strongly as before.
Now if we could only do something about that storm…
The first rule of teleportation magic is that you should never use teleportation magic. Teleportation looks great in movies, but unfortunately reality isn’t as neat and tidy. Phasing yourself one from place to another by skipping through an alternative plane of existence is dangerous. For starters, the destination has to be calculated such that you don’t teleport inside a something like a tree or a rock. And second, there’s no telling what exists in that alternate plane when you phase out. There is a record in the Archives of a man who teleported and showed up at his destination nearly two years later. No recollection of where he had been, or that any time had passed at all.
She craned her neck and looked up at the rift she had found. It was at least a quarter mile up in the air. She had already surveyed the landscape, and there was nothing she could make use of to get anywhere close.
All right. One spell to get up there. Nothing for me to get stuck in, so that’s one less variable. Get up there, cast the containment spell, and shift out before I hit the ground.
“No sweat,” she said out loud, shaking her head. She just hoped that the alternate plane was having an uneventful day.
All her life, people would give her trouble about her plans. Either they were “too complex”, or that a plan wasn’t needed for something so “simple”. And if their endeavors failed? It was always something or someone else’s fault – not the fact that they had ignored her plans.
And her plans weren’t complex. They were quite simple. They just had layers. Each layer helped support the base layer – the ultimate goal. It was for this reason that she specialized in trap magic. A good trap also needed layers – one trap was not sufficient for larger operations. And Meridian? This was the largest coordinated operation she had ever been a part of.
Not that she’d been asked. She found out about the operation through another Arcanist and managed to negotiate her way onto the team. Everyone likes to keep trap makers at the headquarters and outposts to bolster defenses, but rarely do we get to travel on operations. She was excited – this was a golden opportunity to prove that trap makers were essential to special ops.
A powerful wind kicked up near the location of the rift some 40 yards ahead of her. It was somehow originating from the rift. She turned to one of her traps. The spell did not trigger. Impossible. She rushed over to it but could see that it was trying to cast. The paper already disintegrating, but only one small fragment at a time.
She smiled. Magic suppression. Clever. She was not used to Reachers being clever. That was new. But she didn’t mind, because the one thing she liked more than plans was a challenge. And for once in all her isolated monotonous tenure as an Arcanist, she finally had one. She hurried over to her suitcase, which she had almost regretted hauling 20 miles to this location and pulled out Grimoire #27: Energy Systems. She turned the book over to the back and flipped it. This was how she stored her dark magic spells. Technically, dark magic was a no-no if you were a strict rule-follower. But she dealt in magic. Magic itself doesn’t follow rules so well, so why should she?
She found the spell she had been searching for. She glanced over the glyphs and made some edits. A little tweak and she could network this spell with the others. She signed the spell. It cast instantly, energized by the dark magic carried upon the gale that was swooping around the clearing.
Like clockwork, the other spells and layers of traps she had set began to trigger and come to life, now feeding ravenously upon the influx of dark magic. It began to amplify and soon the storm became nothing more than a gentle breeze.
I love it when a plan comes together.
The small charter plane hummed along, and the Arcanist had little to do than think about the operation ahead. One shot was all they really had. Of all the types of magic, there were none that could manipulate time. A good thing, to be sure, as it would be far too tempting to use it for the wrong reasons. But it meant no second chances.
He could feel the plane begin to descend. He furrowed his brow. “Hey, are we there?” he called out to the pilot. No answer. Concerned, he unbuckled from the seat, and made his way to the cockpit. The pilot was missing. The doors remained secured. A Reacher, on a plane? he thought. That would be the only explanation, but… He began to feel a cold chill envelop him, and the roar of the engines dulled in his ears. A Reacher was here, and it was coming for him.
The plane pitched forward, throwing him off balance. He reached out and grabbed hold of the pilot’s chair, nearly ripping his arm from his shoulder. He grunted but managed to pull himself into the seat and buckle the harness. The console was dead, but it didn’t matter much – he had no idea how to fly a plane. The cold around him began to close in, and the very sunlight in the windows began to dim. Dammit, not much time.
He did not have his book of spells, but he always kept a spell around, just in case. From his shirt pocket he pulled out a small, folded piece of paper. Reacher containment spell. He could write this spell in his sleep. You needed to know this one if you liked living. His hand began to grow even colder, and he held fast to his Implement, Tyche. If he dropped it now, he was dead. His hand was practically a claw now, and he could feel the Reacher already trying to feed upon him. It felt like a part of him was being pulled away, like some type of siphon. It made him oddly sleepy, despite the adrenaline coursing through him. Focus, he thought. Cast the spell and you live. With considerable effort, he managed to scratch out his name upon the bottom of the page.
In an instant, the spell flashed in a burst of sparks, and the warmth rushed back into his body. He gasped as if he had been holding his breath and his returning senses let him know that the plane was in free fall. He frantically scanned the interior, and saw a parachute secured next to the emergency exit.
He took a deep breath, unbuckled the restraint, and urged himself up. No second chances.
You have been cleared to use S-Class containment spells for rift closures and Reacher suppression at rift sites using Phos. Due to the usage of forbidden glyphs in high-level containment, these spells are not suitable for city-scale or smaller threats.
While powerful enough to seal away energy of substantial threats, there is an element of documented instability in these spells. Records indicate this is triggered with the introduction of parallel dark magic activity. Dark magic has shown exponential energy growth when cast alongside complementary spells. Should an S-Class containment spell experience an overlap of this nature, it will likely bolster the effects of the containment and envelop a much larger area than anticipated. Worst-case scenario is obliteration of a rift zone within our world, causing a subtraction effect as the surrounding landmass is extracted. The wall between worlds will be weakened by this event, however, meaning that increased patrols for the subtraction zone will be required. This risk has been deemed acceptable for Project Meridian.
– Excerpt from Supplementary Operation Briefing, Project Meridian
Most Arcanists spend time focusing on the reagents surrounding the magic they use. The most important are the inks, the paper, and of course, the Implements themselves. But they lose sight of where the soul of the magic comes from. The soul comes from the Arcanist itself. Everything else is just equipment. But the magic must be cast by an Arcanist, or else the rest of it is meaningless. Trap makers have for years tried to automate spell casting, but to no avail.
But there is more to it than that, and I have spent the last decade trying to understand how we can use it to our advantage. He held Thymos in his hand and inspected it. While most of the Implements used for this Operation had been locked away in the Arcana vault, this was one of the few that had seen active field duty since it was forged. Its proclivity, the magic it resonated with, was containment. The essence of countless Reachers had been trapped by this Implement. Containment comes with a price, however. It attracts the Reachers, as if they can sense their trapped brethren.
And that’s not all. One of the mysteries of this Implement is that it has become stronger with every successful containment. Thymos’ power has become so greatly exaggerated by its innumerable containments, that even a humble spell to light a torch would create an inferno the size of a house.
But is there a limit to this power? What happens if no more can be contained by a single Implement? This rift he was headed to in Jestaria was supposed to the largest one ever discovered.
The thoughts made him uneasy. There was nothing to be done for it, though. The wheels were in motion and their chance was slim. He slipped Thymos back into his vest pocket and patted it. He thought he could feel the magic it contained, begging to be unleashed, but it was probably a trick of the imagination. Please hold once more.
Project Meridian – Final Report Brief: Mission Successful. We regret to report that two Arcanists have been lost to the ethereal realm, and another is believed to be dead. Their efforts were instrumental in counteracting the suppression activity sent through the rifts. Without their valiant sacrifice, the operation would have failed.
A subtraction event occurred in Jesteria, where the rift activity was the strongest. The entire surrounding area was carved out, leaving a 10-mile-wide sphere of nothingness in the landscape. Region officials have already began investigating, but thankfully our agents have recovered Thymos from outside the event radius. We have also confirmed that the rift was contained despite the event, though we fear this site may be a target for future Reacher incursions.
Make no mistake, though the day was won, the situation was far more dire and close than we even believed possible. We have become too complacent, and we let ourselves be lulled into a security that did not exist. The Reachers took advantage of our lethargy, bided their time, and nearly secured absolute victory.
The Meridian Implements still retain their full magical abilities after casting the containment spells, but the use of their intrinsic communication link is now prohibited. Research will need to be performed to understand the flow of magic between the linked Implements. It is apparent that if wielded properly, this power can provide a strategic advantage. In this operation, however, it worked against us, compounding the power of the rift storm.
It is clear we must grow the Arcana. We are still too few in number to handle and coordinate threats on a global scale. The old ways we have clung to are perilously close to extinction. We need these Implements in the hands of others who can not only fight from the shadows but advance our knowledge of magic in new ways. We must admit to ourselves that the surface is only being scratched, and to win we must break through completely. The fate of every life on this planet depends on it.
Thank you, Arcanists of Project Meridian. May the magic of the light always guide you through the darkness of the storm.