That the [Formless Hunger] was a sufficient worry for a god to pack up his castle and run away from it made Pillowcase feel a bit better about her day.
“If you fine folks want my advice, heading anywhere but here would probably be a really wonderful idea,” the Lord of Storms said.
“Is the [Formless Hunger] going to begin growing?” Starchild asked.
“Yeah, we watched it eat a spaceship,” Matt said.
“That depends,” the Lord of Storms said. “It’s not growing now, which is a good sign. It might even mean the natural protection we built into this world to prevent things like that from becoming a problem are still working.”
“Why flee from it then?” Lost Alice asked.
“Because if the protections that are supposed to keep stuff like that were still functioning like they were supposed to it shouldn’t be here in the first place. Or it should at least be shrinking rapidly. So that’s a bad sign.”
“Like how bad?” Rip asked.
“Bad like I’m packing up a rather large and the entire pocket realm which contains it and moving it so far away it’ll probably take a few millennia before anyone’s able to find it again.” For a somewhat nebulous, if vaguely humanoid, cloud of mist and lightning, the Lord of Storms was still able to convey a fair amount of intensity with their body language.
“It can affect you too? Even with being dead?” Rip asked.
“Affect? Yeah. Things like that are just awful. The part you see which tore apart that ship is only the thing’s surface level. If you like having molecular cohesion that part of it is pretty dangerous, but it’s the parts that exist on the psychic plane and down in the lower substrates levels of this reality that are the real pain to deal with.”
“Our tank beat it up though,” Rip said, gesturing towards Pillowcase.
“She did what now?” the Lord of Storms asked and turned their gaze to Pillowcase.
Pillowcase didn’t share many of Tessa’s reactions or fears. She simply hadn’t been built with them. Under the Lord of Storms scrutiny though, Pillowcase understood Tessa’s infrequent dreams of being caught naked and on stage.
“I struck back at it,” Pillowcase said.
“Interesting. I guess you did.” The Lord of Storms had their head cocked to the side as though not quite able to understand what they were seeing. “Well, I should still move the castle, but possibly not quite so far.”
“The [Formless Hunger] isn’t as bad as you thought?” Rip asked.
“It’s possibly much worse,” the Lord of Storms said. “You tore a piece of it off, didn’t you?”
“Yes. A single mote of it,” Pillowcase said.
“And it return, it split your soul in two?”
“I was [Fractured], yes, but what I lost had been separate from me before,” Pillowcase said.
“Fascinating,” the Lord of Storms whispered, their voice the roar of thunder, but also somehow barely audible. “You’re not supposed to be here, are you?”
“What do you mean?” Pillowcase asked, wary that divine judgment might be incoming.
[Clothwork] were occasionally called on to fight [gods] . It was considered a good assignment since it carried a high likelihood of destruction with no expectation of performance. If things went as they typically did you could look forward to ending your career without underperforming in a manner which would get your entire production line liquidated. While bound to the Consortium’s control, that had sounded like a good deal, but Pillowcase found it less appetizing since that particular set of mental constraints had been shattered.
“You’re a [Clothwork], a soldier of the [Consortium of Pain], but you’re more than that too. The piece of you that was [Fractured], she didn’t come from this world, or one of the Consortium’s worlds, did she?”
“No, she did not,” Pillowcase said, bracing for what could be an irresistible blow.
“Huh,” the Lord of Storms said and looked away into the distance.
“Was this world supposed to be an open one?” Obby asked. “Or had you planned for it to be self contained?”
“Both?” the Lord of Storms said. “We didn’t have the best design committee when we were setting things up, but we did have a good process for eliciting ideas from everyone and making sure they were discussed with at least part of the team.”
“Ideas for what?” Rip asked.
“Pretty much everything,” the Lord of Storms said. “The strength of gravity, whether we wanted to follow the Standard Model for math or go with a non-Additive variation, I even remember submitting a paper arguing for life forms to communicate through modulations of compression waves – really nice to hear that working out for you as a note. In answer to the earlier question though, I remember there were proposals for this to be a closed system that could run on its own, without interference, and competing proposals that argued for a model which would allow for an interface between this world and some of the other ones we were working on at the time.”
“You made more than one world?” Rip asked.
“Don’t be silly, who told you that? It would take about fifty quests to learn that the answer was ‘of course we did’,” the Lord of Storms said.
“Which of the proposals was adopted in the end?” Obby asked.
“Neither?” the Lord of Storms said. “We had deadline issues – some of the areas were ready and developing and desperately in need of the rest before work was half done on things like the pressure dynamics behavior of atmospheric gases. Surprisingly things like that matter for more than just cloud formation. Apparently you land mammals enjoy being able to move air in and out of your lungs. Terrible idea, but not part of my development domain, so what do I know?”
“Everything?” Rip said. It wasn’t exactly a question, but it fell a little short of being a statement too.
The Lord of Storms laughed.
“Oh, far from it,” they said. “For example, until I really looked for it, I had no idea that you’re from somewhere else as much as you’re from here. Somewhere I don’t think anyone I know worked on either. Hmm. That’s really curious. I wonder…”
“It’s not their fault that they’re here,” Pillowcase said. She could see a vision of the Lord of Storms deciding that her team was a party of unwelcome interlopers and banishing them to some distant realm they would have even less chance of getting home from.
The only thing worse than that mental image was the possibility that the Lord of Storms would leave her behind and alone.
“I can’t imagine it would be,” the Lord of Storms said. “I’m not sure…no I’m quite sure I couldn’t manage whatever has happened to you. Well, maybe? No. That would turn you into a abstract shape. Hmmm.”
“Does that mean you can’t do anything about it?” Rip asked.
Pillowcase knew she wasn’t an expert on reading the emotional states of others, but Rip seemed gladdened by the possibility that the Lord of Storms wouldn’t be able to return them to Earth. Pillowcase wasn’t sure why that would be the case for anyone except herself. The others all had lives to get back to. For Pillowcase what they were doing was her life.
“I did mention I’m dead right?” the Lord of Storms said. “To be fair though, even if I was alive and at the height of my power here, the most I could offer would be to turn you into an abstract shape. I know that might sounds thrilling, but I don’t recommend it.”
“So noted,” Lost Alice said. “Could you hazard a guess as to who might have done this? Did one of your fellow gods stay behind after you…uh..died?”
“More than one,” the Lord of Storms said. “Remember when I said neither proposal regarding the accessibility of the world was officially adopted? Well I know the proponents of each side hacked together some prototypes so the rest of us could make more informed decisions. I don’t think any of them would be capable of this, but I didn’t follow their work that closely. Deadlines are like that. They might have an idea who would be capable of it though.”
“And where might they be now?” Obby asked.
“Oh, they’re all dead too,” the Lord of Storms said. “Which, I know, is a bit inconvenient.”
“Just a little,” Lost Alice said.
“Can you give them a call?” Rip asked.
“I feel like all of my answers should be prefaced with ‘Complicated’,” the Lord of Storms said. “Technically, no, I can’t call them. Or contact them via any other methods.”
“Ok, and in practice?” Lady Midnight asked.
“In practice, I can probably reach out to a few of them who I’ve worked with on other worlds,” the Lord of Storms said. “They’ll be cranky if I try to bring them back to an old project – nobody likes retreading old work – but it’s not impossible that I could explain things well enough to pique their interest. The only problem is that we’re all dead, so we really can’t do anything here. Not without causing more problems than we could possibly solve.”
“What about the Queen of Nightmares?” Lisa asked. “We were told to go looking for her and that she might be able to help send us back? Does that sound plausible? Or was that just a quest tree being foist on us because it was all the quest giver had?”
“The who now?” the Lord of Storms asked.
“The Queen of Nightmares? Major quest giver? [Quest: Bridge to a New Horizon]? Any of that ring a bell?” Lisa asked.
“Not even a tiny one,” the Lord of Storms said. “Sounds like it was added after my time. Or maybe by the adversary team? Yeah, could’ve been them.”
“So you can’t get us to her either?” Rip asked, again sounding far from disappointed by the prospect.
“Definitely not,” the Lord of Storms said. “I mean, there’s the whole dead thing, which I feel I’ve really got to stress is important, and I can tell you she’s not part of the [Cloud Realm] at all. So, assuming she actually exists, she’s not part of my domain, and I’ve got no access to her. Which makes sense. Dreams were much too fickle for my tastes. Give me something nice and material like a cumulo nimbus or a troposphere.”
“You have an odd definition of ‘material’,” Matt said.
“Oh there’s barely anything exotic about the atmosphere at all,” the Lord of Storms said. “It’s a nice simple set of particles with really simply interactions. Piece of cake to put together. Err, though don’t mention I said that ok? It’s kind of handy to be the only one on a project who understands fluid dynamics.”
“I’m going to guess that won’t be a problem for us to keep a secret,” Lost Alice said.
“That’s good because I believe my castle has finished packing itself up.” The Lord of Storms held out their hand and diamond sphere the size of an eye appeared hovering in the air. Inside, a tiny little castle was visible, with itty bitty points of light where fires were lit on its walls and lightning splayed from its highest towers.”
“Can we call you again?” Rip asked.
“You’re more than likely to wind up talking to no one, or just yourself,” the Lord of Storms said. “Dead gods aren’t supposed to answer incantations.”
“What about prayers?” Rip asked, and Pillowcase saw an idea forming behind her eyes.
“There’s not a lot of point praying to a dead god,” the Lord of Storms said.
“But you said if you had believers you’d be alive,” Rip said.
“Uh, not exactly?”
“Well, I can see you right here, so I believe in you.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence, but really, I’m not in a bad state now,” the Lord of Storm said.
“Too bad. You showed up. Now you’re stuck with me.”