The digital numbers, like tribal symbols marked out in luminescent diodes, dim to unreadability. The radio's on, but the audio is garbled. The DJ isn't making any sense—words tumble out of the machine, but the meaning is as empty as crackling static. You look out the window. Dawn has come and gone, and the sun hangs in the air with the dull weight of an inconsequential weekday. You see faceless drone-creatures chained to the sidewalk, moaning in agony at their servitude—but realize it's only suits waiting for the bus. Their routine makes them seem almost inhuman: alien beings shackled to their own boredom.
Do I belong here?
The shower's wet, but it doesn't cleanse you. It's as if there's a film clinging to your skin, sticky and persistent, with a scent like tedium. You hide in the curling steam of the artificially heated water, hoping the sensation will melt away, that all of this will melt away, but the feeling doesn't come off for anything. Still, you find nothing on your towel but water. You carve a squeaky clear spot in the fogged-over mirror, but your profile is strangely unrecognizable. You can't see the person you usually see.
Or am I finally seeing myself for the first time?
You have plenty of responsibilities today, plenty of reasons to put your head down, be on time, and be a diligent little drone like the others. But that's just not going to happen today. As you conveyor-belt your way through the urban machine, the blasts of commercial product placement bleed together into a garish scream. The road signs are gibberish. The usual rhythm of your town is an idiot cacophony.
I have to get out of this.
Hollow stares latch on to you as you unbuckle yourself from the mechanalia; the other riders of this twisted carnival ride clearly disapprove of your attempts at freedom. You ignore their voices scolding you in that urgent monotone of theirs, as the language they speak is nonsense, and their advice probably was, too. Extricating yourself from schedule and habit is like solving a combination lock—avoid the authority figures, renounce insipid forms of transit, dance out of the way of mindless regulations—but somehow today you have every move exactly right. The straps of the straitjacket fly apart. You peck your way out of your old shell, the pieces falling away behind you.
What is this place?
The city falls away into quiet glory. A wooded lot reaches out like hinged gates, opening up to invite you in. The air sparkles—it feels unreal, or more real than the stale atmosphere you just left. There's the sound of water ahead, probably a brook. You wonder why you had never heard water before—you've heard pipes and faucets and polystyrene containers, but never water. No signs obscure the sky; instead you read symbols in the negative space between the leaves. The shapes spell words without letters, forming a web of meaning that is as old as the earth and as fresh as the whispering breeze.
There's no trail through the trees, but your steps find their way forward nevertheless. Bramble thorns never find your skin and spiders' webs never tangle in your hair; you're somehow fundamentally in step with this place, synchronized and naturalized. Your steps come to a halt as the trees open up like a curtain, revealing the basin of an ancient valley. Rocky slopes sweep up on all sides, surrounding a miniature meadow. Along the bottom of the bowl curls a brook, dropping waterfall by waterfall out of the mountains, feeding foxtail wetlands with its capillaries. All at once you—
What the hell is that?
Hanging in the air over the valley is a huge orb of force, big enough to swallow the sun. At first you perceive it to be made of shiny metal, reflecting a distorted gallery of the gorge around it, but its surface isn't solid. It's like a liquid, with imagery swimming across it like iridescence in a soap bubble, except it's the size of a hot air balloon. But it isn't a fluid either, more like a structure composed entirely of energy; infinitely dynamic, yet stable. Impossible, of course, but as you've always thought, possibility isn't as rigidly defined as the drone world would have you to believe.
On another day, this would be a phenomenon to report to the proper authorities, to get a series of camera-phone photos of, or to simply wipe out of your mind with a rub of your obviously mistaken eyes. But today you see those impulses as boundaries on your consciousness. Today those blinders have been ripped off, and you're choosing to trust your senses for once. Today, against the would-be better judgment of the self you were only a day ago, you're simply curious what this energy orb feels like.
Only one way to find out, right?
You hold your hand out, and walk down the valley slope towards it. As you get closer, you can tell it's floating too high in the air to reach—but you ignore that fact, and somehow your hand reaches its surface. It isn't solid, nor is it totally yielding. Your hand sinks into it at a rate exactly proportional to your will to be inside.
Your hand disappears inside of it, sending geometric tentacles in a radiating pattern out and around the orb from the point of contact. Then your elbow disappears, and finally your entire body follows. You feel like you've been sliced into a thousand cross-sections by the surface of the orb, and then re-merged as you slide inside.
The inside feels much more like outside. You emerge into a chaotic void, pulled in every direction by unfamiliar forces, warped and stretched, devoured by conceptual suction. Quickly you discover that by willing your consciousness this way or that, you can focus on certain singularities of awareness floating within the infinite madness. In a sense, you feel that you're perceiving other places, but at the same time you feel that your previous concepts of distance and spatial relationships, out in this void, seem altogether quaint.
Something new is happening.
As impossible as it would be to adapt to the metaphysical bedlam of this un-place, you can already tell that a change is occurring, something massive and fundamental. A seething roar of transformation is sweeping across the span of your consciousness. Is it a change within you, or without? The difference seems meaningless here. All you know is that expectations that you had only formed moments ago are being torn away again. The sensation is not pleasant. You wonder whether it's possible to be sick to your stomach here, or whether you even have a stomach. You wonder whether this change will alter certain realities you cherish, such as the fundamental fact of your existence.
I need to be somewhere. Anywhere.
You aim your thoughts at a cluster of impressions that feel reassuringly like the natural world, hoping it's the valley from which you came, or even the doldrums of the life you left behind this morning. A green-tinged tunnel of brightness rushes toward you, envelops you, and pulls you down into it like a bug through a straw. You escape the mutilating wave of change, but everything goes black.
Ugh, my head.
As you wake up, you find the air is breathable—implying that you, again, have actual lungs. It's a start. You're lying on a low, grassy hill under a sky of lazy blue. Things could be worse. Where is this, Yorkshire? Montana? Islamabad? Then you get a nagging feeling, like a loose tooth in your mind, that something is off. The air smells strange here—a strange pollen on the wind, maybe, or a little difference in the nitrogen mix. The sun is an idyllic lemon yellow, and fuller than you've ever seen it. The horizon is all wrong, somehow. You have just about wrapped your mind around the idea that you haven't returned to Earth, but to somewhere else, when reality confirms it for you.
A group of elves surrounds you.
Crap crap crap crap crap.
Their language is shaped all wrong to your ears, all alveolar fricatives and tongue trills. But curiously, you get the gist of what they're saying. Maybe it's the redrawn boundaries of your newly unshackled mind—or maybe it's just the way they're brandishing their spears at you. But somehow you're hearing loud and clear that they aren't happy.
You protest. You make the international gestures of "Sorry, I'm new here" and "I'm unarmed and harmless" but they're not calming down. In fact they're moving in on you. One of the elves gives an order to the others, and the communication sounds roughly like, "too ugly" in your mind. With that, they dash at you, spears first.
At that moment, a surge of transformation sweeps across the landscape. It's so rapid that it looks like the sun clicks off, as if someone had it wired to a simple switch. The air changes just as rapidly, from a sun-warmed fragrant breeze to a dank chilliness with undertones of rot. The grass that was under your butt is now scoured-bare mud. The sky slithers in shades of dreary and gloom, ringed by leafless trees in the shapes of old crones' twisted claws.
The elves—who, a moment ago, were rushing forward to kill you—are different now, too. Their once proud, aristocratic horns are now swept back in gentle curves. Their expressions of tyrannical cruelty have become simple, genuine concern. Where once they held spears, now they hold dried herbs, proffering them to you at arm's length. In a way they're the same beings that were closing in on you a moment before, but now only in your memory. They certainly show no sign of having noticed the world changing all around them, or of remembering their recent malice.
The strange thing is, you can tell that something inside you has changed as well. The sensation is not the same as a day-to-night transition, the way this world has changed. You are not of this world, and haven't had your body and soul totally rearranged the same way that the organisms here apparently have. But the event did amend parts of your mind. In particular, you have a sense of connectedness with other worlds beyond this one. Transformations may come naturally to this world, but this one happened off schedule, the toggle switch inadvertently bumped by some supernatural change happening throughout all of creation. In that moment when the wave of transformation struck this world, you caught flashes, brief strobing experiences, of changes happening everywhere. Some events were tiny, just nudges to the details. Others were catastrophic, jarring loose the fundamental laws at the roots underlying entire worlds. As soon as you see these events, you lose sight of them again, and they ebb away like a dream. But you remember the remembering of them, which in a way is enough.
Time to get home.
The elves are friendly, but their warbling words aren't what you want to hear. You realize that this, this bizarre place all around you, was the answer to the question you asked yourself when your clock radio blared at you this morning.
"Do I belong here?" you asked. The answer was more profound, and infinitely stranger, than a simple yes or no. The answer was a universe beyond your normal experience, one you found you could reach just by willing it to be so. The answer was a belief in your power to control your own destiny, to provide the substance and the form of your own life, and to know, in the sub-sub-basement of your soul, that reality is what you make it.
Most of all, you note as you will yourself home again, you've realized that the question was one you'll ask yourself again and again throughout your lifetime—and that, with the help of a little magic, you'll come up with a newer and more truthful answer every time.
Letter of the Week
Oona, Queen of the FaeDear Doug,
I'm wondering how the Aurora affected the rest of the Multiverse. Two small, but similar, questions for you:
1) If a planeswalker originally born on Lorwyn is visiting another plane when the Aurora occurs, what happens to him or her?
2) What happens to a planeswalker from another plane if he or she is visiting Lorwyn when the Aurora occurs?
If you were a Lorwyn native that was able to escape the boundaries of Lorwyn before it became Shadowmoor, I don't think much of anything would happen to you. The effects of the Aurora are restricted to the boundaries of the plane, so you'd be like Oona or the sapling of Colfenor, in that you'd retain your memories and identity across the Aurora. Meanwhile, back home, everyone else you knew would be changing. Planeswalking has its advantages.
Today's article is my answer to that. See above!
Note: I don't mean today's article to imply that it's canon that Earth is one of the planes of the Multiverse. I'm not making a claim about that one way or the other. That idea is used here as a convenient symbol or analogy to investigate the similarities between planeswalking in the Magic multiverse and the importance of independent thought here on Earth. Take a journey outside your conceptual "home plane," folks!
Thanks for the thought-provoking questions, Jeff!