Pillowcase made a discovery. Walking quietly made introspection so easy that it could happen without a conscious choice. Conversely, there was nothing quite like an immediate crisis literally sneaking up behind you to pull you out of your own head.
“Whu-What?” As a [Soul Knight], Pillowcase wasn’t designed for eloquence, but she had the suspicion that even if she still have Tessa’s talents to draw on, she still would have been as tongue tied. The only saving grace was that her monosyllabic question was more than anyone else seemed capable of managing.
“I was just curious if you’d scheduled a meeting with my [Major Domo]?” the Lord of Storms asked. “I have to confess that I didn’t have time to check my engagement calendar before I started packing up shop.”
“No,” Pillowcase said. “No, we did not do that.” An awkward heartbeat passed before she thought to ask, “Should we do it now?”
“Oh no, there’s no need to worry about that. I mean I’m already here, and I’ve got a bit of time before the castle will be ready for transport, so what can I help you with?”
The Lord of Storms, Pillowcase noted, lived up to their in a fairly literal fashion. They were vaguely humanoid, in terms of having an area that might have been a head, with two glowing orbs of lightning in roughly the right space to be eyes, and appendages that might have been arms and legs radiating from a central mass that could be called a body as easily as anything else. Rather than flesh and blood though, the Lord of Storms was incarnated as a living thunderstorm.
“You know, I kind of expected them to have a voice like crashing thunder,” Lisa said on their private channel.
That was possibly the oddest thing about the Lord of Storms – assuming ‘living thunder storm’ didn’t simply break the meter – when they spoke it was in a chorus of many voices, in perfectly clear [Consortium Operational Standard Terminology] rather than [English], and at a perfectly reasonable volume.
“Wait, can you understand them?” Pillowcase asked.
“Yeah, they’re speaking [English], aren’t they?” Lisa asked.
“Not to me,” Pillowcase said. “I’m hearing them in [COST]. It’s what all other languages translate to for me, but they’re definitely speaking it natively.”
“Ok, that’s creepy,” Lisa said.
The Lord of Storms looked from one member of the team to the next, waiting for a question or a request, but everyone seemed to be too momentarily overawed to put words together.
Or almost everyone.
Pillowcase caught sight of Obby, gazing at the Lord of Storms with a quizzical gaze. Obby seemed less overawed and more quietly amused and curious. Not a reaction which Pillowcase could make a lot of sense out of but then an actual god seemed to be in melee range, so make sense of things seemed like a foolish aspiration for the time being.
“We were hoping to talk to you about the invasion that’s going on,” Pillowcase said, remembering the mission objective and allowing her training to push away the confusion that was scattering her thoughts.
“I can imagine. Bit of bother there. Not strictly my bailiwick but I’ve got some tangential projects in my domain which relate to it,” the Lord of Storms said. “I’m afraid I don’t have much in terms of specific details I can share though.”
“Uh, what?” Rip asked. “You’re a god right?”
“I was,” the Lord of Storms said. “I’m dead now though, so it’s not strictly accurate to call me a god.”
“Could you explain that?” Lost Alice asked.
“It’s pretty simple. A long while back, I was one of the gods of this realm. Then I died. It happens. The upside to it is that all the responsibilities I had as a deity? Yeah, those (mostly) aren’t a hassle you need to worry about anymore once you’re dead.”
“You don’t exactly look dead though?” Lost Alice asked.
“Thank you! You’re looking pretty spry for a corpse too! I like the whole ‘living soul’ thing. It’s a great look.”
“That’s not what…hmm, ok, I guess I see your point,” Lost Alice said.
“So are you a ghost then?” Rip asked. “I mean if you get to a [Heart Fire] could you come back to life?”
“That’s not quite how the [Heart Fires] work I’m afraid,” the Lord of Storms said. “A god lives through their believers. I mean, it’s a lot easier not having any believers sometimes, let me tell you, especially since taking up my full domain against would mean more or less everyone would believe in me.”
“Do you have any power as you are now?” Pillowcase asked.
“That’s a complicated question, but I think I can give you the answer you’re looking for; no, I can’t jump into battle for you. Being dead limits how I can interact with this world.”
“How about your castle?” Lisa asked. “Can we go there?”
“Uh, okay. Maybe I should put a caveat on that,” the Lord of Storms said. “My castle is an ancient repository of my power. It’s not ‘safe’ by any metric really. For an aeon it has stood, empty and unreachable, waiting for the world to mature to the point where those who can rise to its challenges are ready to pass through its gates. And, hey, that day has finally come!”
“But we’re not those people, are we?” Lady Midnight asked.
“I’m sorry to say that you’re not,” the Lord of Storms said. “Not yet at least! But you are doing quite well! Keep up the good work and you should be able to dare passing through the gates in a decade! Or maybe a year? A month? You all look a bit crestfallen. Really don’t feel bad. My castle is a peril beyond anything this world has seen to date. No one could expect you to face it without the proper time to mature.”
“We understand,” Starchild said. “This does not come as a surprise. We had hoped to find aid in your realm against other problems which are beyond our capabilities but we foresaw that we might too weak as we are now.”
“And you came to see me anyways?” the Lord of Storms didn’t have a mouth to smile with or enough of a face to make any expression, Pillowcase nevertheless sensed an undercurrent of delight in the Lord of Storms form.
“Chalk it up to curiosity,” Obby said.
The Lord of Storms paused at that and looked carefully in Obby’s direction, seeming to freeze for a moment before relaxing again.
“And is your curiosity assuaged?” the Lord of Storms asked.
“I’m kind of endlessly curious,” Obby said.
Pillowcase felt like there was a conversation happening she wasn’t privy to. Something dancing behind and around the simple words that were being exchanged and she wasn’t sure if she necessarily wanted to know what that something was.
“What about information?” Lisa asked. “If you can’t fight for the world directly, can you help us out with intel on it? Or on the Consortium?”
“I’m not supposed to,” the Lord of Storms said. “Technically I shouldn’t even be talking with you now. Even revealing that a dead god is an actual thing counts as modifying the world, but under the circumstances I’m not sure the usual rules apply for little things like that.”
“So what other kinds of things could you reveal?” Rip asked.
“Well, I definitely couldn’t tell you that the Consortium has a limited time to complete their offensive here. I mean that would be revealing things about this world and about an extra-worldly organization which I shouldn’t know the first thing about,” the Lord of Storms said.
Pillowcase had a few very pointed follow-up questions to that response but the Lord of Storms continued speaking and Pillowcase wisely chose not to interrupt them.
“If I were to send you on a huge quest chain and make you fight a thousand different top level bosses, I could tell you that the Consortium’s greatest advantage and their greatest weakness are the same thing,” the Lord of Storms said. “Of course it would then be another ten thousand bosses before I could explain that capacity in question is their [Control Web] since it allows all of their forces to be directed according to one unified and overarching vision.”
“That’s incredible,” Lisa said, her eyes flickering back and forth as she processed the meaning of the information.
“I know. I mean, even a thousand boss fights is excessive, and the ten thousand thing is simply ridiculous, but I wasn’t involved in the dominion which covered that sort of thing.”
“How many bosses would we need to beat to learn the route out of the [High Beyond] and back to the surface kingdoms?” Pillowcase asked.
“Oh that one’s easy,” the Lord of Storms said. “There is no path back to the surface kingdoms. Or, well, not anymore.”
“What do you mean? We can’t be stuck here forever can we?” Rip asked.
“Ok, full disclosure here, somethings I’m pretty up to date on, other things, I’m working off the notes I took back when I was alive here,” the Lord of Storms said. “In terms of ‘how do we get to the surface?’ the answer is ‘you don’t’ because when I was a living god, the [High Beyond] was part of what you now think of as the ‘surface’.”
“What happened?” Matt asked.
“Well, you call them the [Fallen Kingdoms] don’t you? Ever wonder where they fell from?”
“Everything used to be up here? In the sky?” Rip asked.
“Kind of ostentatious, I know, but it really did seem like a good idea at the time,” the Lord of Storms said. “In hindsight though maybe parachutes would have been a good idea? Or just set gravity a little lower? Eh, none of that was in my domain and I know the surface architects were under some pretty tight deadlines. Sure there were five times as many of them, and my domain is still working fine while theirs is…well, a bit broken I suppose, but I’m not going to speak ill of the departed. Even if they were largely egotistical jackasses, who blundered into their own failings despite SOMEONE repeatedly warning them to check their damn work once in a while.” The Lord of Storms shook their head and massage the spot where the bridge of a nose would be. It was such a human gesture that Pillowcase tried to peer through the illusion that had to be before her, but, no, the Lord of Storms was exactly as deific as they claimed to be.
They’re speaking in my native language, maybe their mannerisms are similar? Chosen to put me at ease? I should check to see if the others are seeing exactly the same things I am.
Okay, but why would they have [Human] mannerisms if they were trying to set you at ease? You don’t remember what it’s like to be a [Human].
“Sorry, might be a little bitter about how all that turned out still,” the Lord of Storms said.
“I can see why you would be,” Lisa said. “Especially with the whole being dead thing.”
“That might be influencing me a touch,” the Lord of Storms said.
“Is it bad being dead here?” Rip asked. “Or do the [Hounds of Fate] leave you alone because you’re a god?”
“The what now?” the Lord of Storms asked.
“The wolf-things that chase you when you do a ghost run,” Rip said.
“They were supposed to keep players from going too far off track,” Matt said, repeating what Lisa had explained earlier.
“Um, yeah, I don’t know what those are,” the Lord of Storms said. “So I’m guessing they’re new?”
“I don’t remember the lore on them,” Lisa said. “How about you Midnight?”
“I don’t think there was ever an explicit origin myth for the hounds,” Lady Midnight said. “They were just a part of the system, like zone boundaries, so they didn’t get talked about much.”
“Well, they sound delightful, and also something I’m glad I won’t be running into,” the Lord of Storms said.
“You’re moving your castle somewhere the hounds can’t get to?” Rip asked.
“Yep. It is just not safe here,” the Lord of Storms said. “Better to move it onto a much deeper dimensional layer and wait a bit longer for the denizens of this world to be ready for it.”
“Wait, there’s something you’re not safe from?” Rip asked. “What does a god, a dead good, have to worry about.”
“Uh, isn’t it obvious?” the Lord of Storms said. “That!”
They pointed off into the distance and, before she even finished turning, Pillowcase knew what the god was pointing at.
The static field of the [Formless Hunger] crackled with displeasure as though it had been leashed and was ever so eager to slip free from its chains and devour the world around it.