Anna was happy to see her teammates assembling, enough so to override the concern for what had brought them together.
“This is an interesting meeting place you have chosen,” Mezzinora said, peering over the edges of her sunglasses.
Anna followed the Dark Elf’s gaze as it tracked across the hastily arranged conference area setup in the unused rail station under the airport’s main terminal. The collection of people were a more motley group than any boardroom meeting Anna had ever chaired, but each of them also held more power than any corporation short of the now-defunct PrimaLux.
“I apologize for the somewhat ramshackle conditions,” Anna said. “Time is of the essence though, and this was the most accessible venue which could meet all of our guests needs.”
Jimmy B had boggled when Anna presented him with the list of requirements for the various attendees to her hastily assembled summit. Normally all he had to worry about was dietary restrictions and occasionally ley line issues which he could recruit James to work out. This meeting’s guests however had specific needs in terms of subterranean depth, ambient radioactivity, wavelengths of light which must and must not be present, and a dozen different compounds which were required to remain present in the air within fairly tight concentrations.
Anna had chuckled to see the look of disbelief that had crept over Jimmy B’s eyes as he read through the list. As expected though, when he got to the end he’d flashed her his usual smile, given a thumbs up, and said, “don’t see any problems here, I’ll have a spot for you in ninety three minutes.”
In the end, it had, in fact, taken him ninety two minutes and twelve seconds, but Anna suspected he’d hurried the last few preparations just a little to claim victory on his original prediction.
“There’s no need to apologize,” Mezzinora said. “I wouldn’t be here to represent my people at all if you hadn’t saved us from the Fire Servants.”
Anna looked out over the crowd and looked for the form of a miniature dragon composed entirely of lava that she’d seen earlier. Spying Xores speaking with one of the goggle wearing velociraptor’s off to one side of the group near the stairs, she drew Mezzinora’s attention to where the Fire Servant was floating.
“How is the reconciliation going?” she asked. “Our seating arrangements are still flux, so if you’d prefer to be on the other side of the chamber from Xores, that can be arranged.”
“That…that won’t be necessary,” Mezzinora said. “After you brought our peoples to the negotiating table we’ve discovered that we have quite lot in common. Xores and I came together in fact. We think we may have similar arguments to advance to the group as a whole.”
Anna blinked. It had been an unexpected task to prevent a war at the Earth’s Core (or one version of the Earth’s Core at least), and one that she hadn’t been sure she’d been wholly successful at.
No two peoples who have battled for centuries were likely to establish truly cordial relations within a span of a few weeks, but once the main source of their conflict (the limited space in the hottest areas around the core) had been addressed (by providing access to new hot spots for both the Dark Elves and the Fire Servants to grow into) there had been a road opened for them to find a new future down.
“And you each carry the full ambassadorial powers of your governments?” Anna asked.
“Yes, it’s what we commiserated about on the trip to the upper lands,” Mezzinora said. “Xores thinks you meant to punish us both for being the most strident voices against the Armistice when you set us up as the ones to speak for it in the end.”
“It wasn’t a punishment exactly,” Anna said, “You were just the most effective people to convince to change your minds.”
“Is that what you plan to do here?” Mezzinora asked.
“I think this is more of an informational session,” Tam said, joining them with her laptop open as she put the finishing touches on the presentation she’d put together for Anna.
“There must be some sort of argument you wish to convince us of though, is there not?” Mezzinora asked.
“I believe they expect the information they have be convincing on its own,” Duinella said, joining the group along with Tam, who she’d been speaking with a moment before.
Anna gazed up to take in the giant woman’s expression, which held the look of guarded concern Anna had expected to see there.
Despite her human appearance, Duinella was more of an alien than either the Dark Elf Mezzinora, the Fire Servant Xores, or any of the other attendees of the meeting. She hailed from another world where a group of tyrants who called themsevles “The Pure Holders of the Sky” held sway. The only thing “pure” about them however was their pure hatred of “less species” by which they meant anyone not part of their hierarchy.
That heritage provided Duinella with an insight into the problem Anna had assembled their guests to debate. If debate was the right word. Debates at least had the possibility of reaching a consensus something Anna suspected wasn’t going to be very likely when the topic was the impending end of the world.
Once those assembled had time to mingle, collect refreshments and sort themselves into their proper seating locations, Anna took the small stage in front of them.
“Thank you for coming,” she said, quieting them down without having to raise the volume of her voice noticeably. “I know you each face significant challenges, some of which we have been able to assist with, some of which still require attention. That is part of the reason I called you all here today. There is a more pressing overall concern though.”
“More pressing than finding a source for the dwindling wonder which sustains Our Realm?” Duke Wellbagun, the unique noble, asked.
“Yes,” Anna said. “In short, we are faced with the end of the world.”
There was a ripple of disbelief from the crowd as muttering broke out. Anna pointed at the screen to her left and clicked forward to the first slide Tam had prepared for her. It showed a vision, in picture perfect clarity of the Earth burning in a rain of Divine Fire.
“I am not speaking in general, or uncertain terms,” Anna said. “We are roughly six months away from an extinction level event which will destroy life on the prime Earth we are on now and any mirror or shadow Earths which retain a connection to it.”
“That’s not possible,” Sycorax, the Queen of Atlantis said.
Anna clicked forward to the next slide. Equations and arcane symbology covered the screen. A few gasps arose from those in the crowd capable of reading and understanding it.
“It is not only possible, at this moment it appears to be inevitable,” Anna said.
“But there are no signs or portents to herald such an apocalypse,” Xores, the lava dragon, said.
“The threat that can do this comes from worlds which are beyond our immediate sphere,” Tam said, stepping forward to support Anna. “You can see the warning signs, but you need to know where to look. Since the aggressors aren’t part of our realms, their fate is disconnect from ours and the usual future castings don’t acknowledge what we can do to each other.”
“This is all going well over my head,” Mezzinora said. “Could you give it to us in simple terms?”
“Of course,” Anna said, “For those who wish to discuss the more specific details of how we know what we know, Tam will be available until we break up for the day.”
“The simple version is this,” Tam said, stepping in front of the podium to more directly engage her audience. “Some of us come from very different versions of this world. At one point in the past, those different realms were more closely aligned with each other, with what we call ‘the Prime Earth’ acting as the foundation they were all connected by.”
She looked around and saw everyone was following her and continued on.
“Over time, the realms became more distinct and, in many cases, more isolated. There are ones where transit is still relatively easy, such as to the lands of your King and Queen, Duke Wellbagun. There are also ones where the transit is not so easy, such as to the Risen Atlantis you rule over Sycorax. In all cases though, there are paths that can be taken to get from one realm to another. We are all, ultimately, part of the same whole.”
“Well, not all of us,” Duinella, the giantess, said.
“Yeah, and that’s the heart of the problem we’re faced with here,” Tam said. “See, the multiverse is a lot broader than just Earth and the realms that grew out of it.”
She nodded and the presentation clicked to the next slide.
The image began with a view of the Earth, which separated into the mundane planet and a million overlapping shadow layers. As the camera pulled back, the solar system and the Milk Way galaxy became visible, rendered with artistic license but showing all the while the same bifurcations into separate but connected layers.
“On the physical plane, we have the cosmos of space,” Tam said. “Out as far as information can travel, and expanding faster than light, we have endless space, filled with endless varieties of peoples and places, though all bound by the same fundamental physical laws.”
The video had pulled back far enough that the superstructure of the universe itself was becoming apparent.
“Most of the diversity in the physical cosmos is unexplored, and beyond a certain distance, unexplorable. We can never travel by physical means to the farthest corners of our physical universe, and the isolation of distance acts as an insurmountable barrier to prevent many far flung worlds from ever meeting each other.”
The view in the video began to move back inwards, rushing through the Virgo super cluster, into the Milky Way and speeding towards the Solar system.
“So, aliens from another galaxy, or even from another solar system, aren’t much of a problem,” Tam said. “We’re not likely to run into them and even if we do, there’s so much space out there that we should be able to coexist.”
The display reached Earth and began to pull out again, this time passing through a scintillating crystal sphere that surrounded the planet at an unspecified distance.
Outside the sphere, there was a constellation of similar spheres, each with a different world inside, each with their own shadow layers.
“This is where our problem comes from,” Tam said. “Worlds beyond our own which are not part of our physical cosmos. Ones which should not be part of ours and yet…”
The video showed the crystal spheres touching, and occasionally overlapping, as the worlds moved in dizzying celestial dance
“And yet, sometimes there are connections that are made,” Tam said.
“Why is that a problem? Is one of them going to crash into us?” Mezzinora asked.
“No, for various reasons, worlds within different spheres don’t collide with each other,” Tam said. “The apocalypse that we’ve seen coming isn’t a natural or supernatural disaster. It is intentional and perpetrated with malice against us by the rulers of these worlds.”
The video highlighted a half dozen of the nearest crystal spheres.
“What motivation do they have to destroy us?” Sycorax asked.
A lightning bolt split the ceiling and cast the room into darkness.
As the thick haze of smoke and dust rolled away from the center of the room, the darkness was broken by the harsh white light streaming from the golden haired man who rose to his feet.
“You have transgressed against your betters,” the High One said, his voice crack the stone foundations around them. “Now you will pay for your presumptions.”