Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 15

Meeting the living spirit of the Earth hadn’t been on Tessa’s agenda for the day, largely because the Earth wasn’t supposed to have a Living Manifestation of All the Life It Cradled at all, much less one who took the form of a farm girl. Tessa wasn’t quite sure how to react to discovering that not only was {Gaia} real, she was shockingly ordinary and unimposing. After struggling out of disbelief, passing through awe and panicky fear, Tessa settled on nonplussed as the proper emotional state.

The stunned clarity she enjoyed as a result wasn’t something Pillowcase, or Glimmerglass, or any other persona provided her. She’d simply been through too much, her mind blown by too many new experiences. Her mental circuits, as far as she could tell had been fused open, allowing her to accept almost anything fate tossed at her.

She knew that wasn’t terribly healthy and likely wasn’t going to be easy, or maybe even possible, to come back from. The person she’d become could probably never fit back inside the life she’d had. Since more or less everything, everywhere was in the process of failing completely apart though, that seemed like a problem some future Tessa would have to deal with if there was a future and she was lucky enough to see it.

“How did you get here?” she asked. It wasn’t the best question, and it wasn’t the most important one, but it was the question Tessa was capable of forming and that put her ahead of everyone else present.

“Someone very kindly left a convenient door open for me,” Gaia said. Her voice could have boomed loud enough to shake the heavens to their core, but instead she sounded like nothing more than the 20-ish year old human woman she appeared to be. “It is a really nice mirror,” she added. “I love the carvings on the frame, I’ll have to see if the artist made any similar works.”

Tessa’s mind itched as her [Void Speaker] senses strained to catch a sense of Gaia’s presence. She knew exactly who, or what, Gaia was but where the gods of the [Fallen Kingdoms] wore their majesty openly even in the human guises, Tessa couldn’t see any shape or metaphor of divinity radiating from Gaia.

Gaia wasn’t suppressing it, or hiding who she was either. As far as Tessa could tell, Gaia was open and at ease with the people around her.

“Sorry Tessa, I know this is confusing,” Gaia said, because of course she knew Tessa’s name. That wasn’t at all abjectly terrifying. “I’d be happy to explain everything, but I do have a mild case of imminent total destruction to deal with.”

“You mentioned another option?” Penny said, recovering her composure next, possibly because she was only in [Paradise] as a projection and so partially outside the various [Divine Auras] that were overlapping each other.

“You talked about bringing people from the [Fallen Kingdoms] to help me,” Gaia said. “That’s a great idea. You should definitely do that. First though, I need you to do something else. I need you to take me to the [Fallen Kingdoms].”

“You’re not running from your duties,” Azma said, surprise dancing lightly in her voice. “You see this path as the only option towards pursuing them, but how are you here at all? Shouldn’t your native sphere be crumbling without you?”

“It is.” Gaia said. “It has been doing that for quite a while though and I’ve gotten a bit tired of watching it happen. As for how I got here, they brought me.” She gestured to Tessa, Lisa, and the rest of their team.

“We did?” Rose asked.

“You are a part of me as much as I am a part of you,” Gaia said. “Where you go, Earthly life exists, and so I am there.”

“If you were able to pass through the mirror, we should be able to move through it with our divine powers intact too, right?” the [Lord of Storms] asked.

“I don’t think so,” the [Empress Over All] said. She was examining Gaia and searching for the signs of {Gaia’s Divinity} that Tessa knew were present. Worryingly, she didn’t seem to be having any better luck with that than Tessa was.

“You’re correct,” Gaia said. “I can help you with that however. Or rather, they can.” This time indicating Yawlorna and Azma.

“What do we need to do?” Yawlorna asked.

“Neither of you are natives of the [Fallen Kingdoms] or the Earth, but you have walked in both. If you return to the Earth, you can call your loved ones there and they bring along the people they’ve forged attachments to. The portal that forms from that effort will let basically anything from the [Fallen Kingdoms] through.”

“There is a problem with that scheme,” Azma said.

“I don’t have any loved ones in the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Yawlorna said.

“Nor do I,” Azma agreed.

Gaia narrowed her eyes and frowned at them both before gesturing them to come towards her. Both Yawlorna and Azma complied, though neither seemed to be able to guess what Gaia intended.

When they got close enough, she beckoned them to lean down and then finger flicked them each in the forehead.

“Stop being stupid,” she said as they stumbled backward, blinking their eyes more than the simply flicks should have warranted.

“Oh,” Azma said and quietly held in any other reaction.

“Oh no, not those idiots,” Yawlorna said.

“Stress bonding, it’s not just for bunnies,” Gaia said and left the two processing the revelations she’d ‘gifted’ to them.

“So they can do what you need?” Lisa asked.

“They have the tools they need,” Gaia said. “Whether they can use those tools? Well, that’s up to them.”

“But we all die if they don’t manage it?” Lady Midnight said.

“Sure, yep. There’s lots of things that can kill us all at the moment though, so I wouldn’t worry about them too much.”

“What will you need to visit the [Fallen Kingdoms]?” Penny asked.

“Shouldn’t she be there already?” Jamal asked. “I mean there are plenty of Earthling’s there now. And, isn’t this spot in the [Fallen Kingdoms] too?”

“We’re in a space apart from the [Fallen Kingdoms],” the {Lady of All Tides] said. “This place is basically the dream we had while we were developing [Broken Horizons].”

“You’re right that I’m there in the [Fallen Kingdoms] already,” Gaia said. “I’ve been there from the beginning since you all are a part of it.” She gestured to the assembled developers/gods. “That part of me though? The bit that’s in the [Fallen Kingdoms] now? She’s as distant from this part of me as your other selves were from you.”

After living with Pillowcase for what seemed like a whole new lifetime, Tessa followed Gaia’s point easily enough. When she thought about what it meant however, she really wished she hadn’t.

“You need to get to [Fallen Kingdoms], and you can’t simply choose to step across the void like Hailey did, can you?” Tessa asked.

“Part of me had hoped that coming here might show me how she and Marcus did it,” Gaia said. “Unfortunately that turned out to be true.”

“Did I do something wrong?” Hailey asked.

Gaia laughed and Tessa heard the distant echo of pain in it. She was dying, murdered by a thousand deadly wounds, but she wasn’t afraid or even bothered all that much. 

Tessa felt a tidal current as strong as the cosmic flow into a blackhole pulling her into contemplation of Gaia’s nature. The secrets to literally everything in the world rested within her.

Nope, she told herself as she and Pillowcase dragged her attention away from the endlessly captivating secrets.

“You did everything right Hailey. And you saved a nice little bit of me Marcus, not to mention several tens of thousands of my people. You both were amazing and I owe you nothing but thanks,” Gaia said. “But you also did what I cannot.”

“Why?” Rip asked. “I mean, why can’t you do whatever they did?”

“You, all of you, are in many senses far strong than I am,” Gaia said. “I didn’t create the [Fallen Kingdoms], or any of the other worlds in our constellation of overlapping realms. I am what is. You all create what will be, and what might be, and what can’t be but still holds truths nonetheless.”

“So can we carry you with us then? Like, wish ourselves back to [Dragonshire] and hold you hand so we drag you along too,” Rip asked

It was a tempting vision. Even if the trip back to the [Fallen Kingdoms] was difficult, they had the backing of the developers here to help make it possible.

Of course a mistake was likely to kill them all, including Gaia since each world was surrounded by a near infinite void of emptiness and even a world-spirit like Gaia couldn’t fill that, or find sustenance in it.

Tessa knew she was letting herself get drawn in by her [Void Speaker] senses, following a chain of awareness and information that would lead her too far outside herself if she didn’t turn back. 

But she had to know.

So she turned to Pillowcase.

Go for it, Pillowcase said, but not too far. I’ll keep us grounded here.

And I’ll help, Asset said.

Tessa opened eyes she hadn’t known she was keeping closed. [Paradise] was replaced by a glimpse of the Earth, as seen from far away. It was a breathtaking perspective but Pillowcase and Asset were both there with hands on her shoulders. Despite the pull of Gaia’s presence, Tessa felt safe. She wasn’t going to lose herself, not when her better selves were literally holding her together.

Gaia’s death, Tessa saw, would be somewhat inconvenient for the organic life on Earth. As the Living Manifestation of Earthly Life, Gaia dying would be similar to stabbing the Earth in the heart. Definitely fatal, though parts of the body would last for varying amounts of time before the entire system crumbled into a necrotic mass.

Even being apart from the Earth’s spiritual sphere would have catastrophic effects, some of which had already begun to snowball out of control.

And yet Gaia had come to [Paradise] anyways. Not out of any sense of self-preservation. If the Earth died, she would too, regardless of where she was. But that was how bad things had gotten. The apocalypse’s Byron had summoned were the simplest of problems besetting her. It was the [Oblivion Remnants] that represented the true danger and their numbers had been increasing.

It was a daring plan, to seek out help from the one source that seemed to be able to offer it. But the price was going to be almost unthinkable.

“You don’t need us to carry this part of you over, do you?” Tessa asked, hoping beyond hope that the understanding she’d absorbed from her vision was terribly, desperately flawed, while knowing with a dreadful certainty that it wasn’t.

“No. I don’t,” Gaia agreed. “I need to do more than to send an avatar to the [Fallen Kingdoms]. I need to be in the [Fallen Kingdoms]. All of me. Like you were.”

“You want to join with the living spirit of my world so that you can learn how she is able to deal with the [Oblivion Remnants],” Penny said, to which Gaia nodded.

“There’s a pretty large catch there though,” Tessa said. “Think about how we made our transitions.”

“We died or disconnected,” Lisa said and added a small, “oh”, as the implication of that hit her.

“How do we disconnect Gaia?” Lady Midnight asked. “It’s not like she’s got an account on the Egress Entertainment servers. Or do you?”

“Unfortunately I do not,” Gaia said. “Though that does give me an idea for the future.”

“Are we going to have a future?” Lost Alice asked.

“That’s more up to you than me,” Gaia said.

“Why wouldn’t we have a future?” Rip asked. “I mean apart from the obvious apocalypses?”

“We can’t disconnect Gaia,” Tessa said. “So we’re going to have to kill her. Or rather, we’re going to have to kill the [Fallen Kingdoms].”

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 14

Standing on the doorstep of the [Celestial Sphere] did not disappoint. The [Gates to Paradise] were an intricate lattice work of [Golden Orichalcum] and [Decanted Starlight] that rose farther than the eye could follow and were, at the very least, several miles wide.

“What could they possibly have needed something this big for?” Rip asked staring up, not exactly in wonder but more in disbelief.

“The joke among the team members was that we needed something big enough to graffiti all our labor complaints on and that this was a compromise being about half the size we needed if we used a small font,” the [Lord of Storms] said appearing before them as lightning arced up from the ground to create a vaguely human form.

“That was the second joke.” Beside the [Lord of Storms], a column of water bubbled up and settled into the form of a human woman, almost certainly reminiscent of her Earthly guise. “The original one was that Kralt built it that size because he needed something his ego would fit through,” the [Lady of All Tides] said.

“Looks a bit small for that,” Lisa said.

“Oh, you’ve met him?” the [Lady of All Tides] asked.

“Unfortunately. He was a slime at the time,” Tessa said.

“Not much of a change,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “He was a slime when we worked with him too.”

“You should invite them in,” the [Queen of Nightmares] said appearing in a form nothing like the one Tessa had last seen her wearing.

Gone were the trappings of darkness and horror apart from a single, deep purple, [Ring of Office]. The gem on the ring caught Tessa’s eye and drew her in, momentarily blotting out the world. In the all-encompassing reflection she saw the two halves of creation. The [High Celestial] world of light and hope, and the [Deep Chthonic] world of mystery and adventure.

Or were the two halves, the real and solidly material [Fallen Kingdoms] vs the dream of what they could be that lived on a million hard drives and servers on Earth?

Or was the divide…

She pulled herself back.

Apparently, one catch to the expanded awareness that came with being a max level [Void Speaker] was that being around divine or transcendent entities was like catnip for her brain and led her into cosmic level bouts of introspection.

In place of divine revelations, Tessa took in the [Empress Over All] who stood before her. She wasn’t any larger than her fellow deities, but it was hard to accept that. Their presences were like bonfires to Tessa’s senses. Hers was more akin to a neutron star. Dense beyond all reason and powerful enough to warp space and time around her.

Unlike a neutron star however, Tessa didn’t feel like she was being crushed into a paste. For all her unbelievable power, the Empress’s presence was a surprisingly gentle one.

“There is much we need to discuss and a dwindling quantity of time to act in,” Azma said.

“Welcome to [Paradise] then,” the [Lord of Storms] said and with a gesture, waved the colossal gates in front of them open.

Paradise was not what Tessa had expected. In the place of choirs of angels and fluffy clouds for the souls of the departed to float around on, there was a pleasant looking office. No cubicles were visible though. Everyone seemed to have their own rooms with doors that could close. In the center of the suite there was a kitchen area with [Infinite Coffee], an army of [Personal Chef-Valet-Life-Handling Minions], and a fleet of [Anti-Interruption Terminators] who stood in eternal vigilance guarding the gods ability to focus for more than five minutes at a time.

The others seemed perplexed by what they seeing but in Tessa’s estimation this was more or less the perfect representation of heaven from the point of view of someone for whom getting a big coding project done would literally determine the fate of the world.

In addition to the deities who greeted them, Tessa saw a few dozen other gods waiting, although inside [Paradise] they all seemed to be wearing their Earthly, human forms.

“Time’s not an issue for us here,” Grace, aka the [Empress Above All], said. “This is [Paradise], we never run out of time here.”

Tessa felt her knees go weak. If she died, and it stuck, she was absolutely coming here for her afterlife she decided.

“That will allow us latitude in planning, but we are still faced with a limited window to enact the initiatives we come up with,” Azma said.

“Do we need to make any plans?” Rip asked. “We’ve got the gods on our side now. You can just wave your hands and fix all this once we get you back to Earth right?”

“If we could, we would have fixed things in the [Fallen Kingdoms] already,” the [Lady of All Tides] said.

“Unfortunately our developer cheats just serve to weaken the fabric of the [Fallen Kingdoms] reality,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “We fixed a couple of apocalypses with them and managed to create five new eruption sites for more [Formless Hungers].”

“Wait, so you can’t help?” Jamal asked.

“Help is exactly what they can do,” Azma said. “What is beyond them, and beyond any of us, is to solve the problems directly by our own fiat.”

“So what can stop these problems then?” Starchild asked.

“Gee, I just can’t imagine,” Asset said, giving Tessa a knowing smirk.

For a moment, Tessa thought Asset was claiming that she, Asset, held the power to save them all by virtue of being a native of the realm the problems were coming from, or at least an adjacent realm. 

Asset rolled her eyes as the thought passed through Tessa’s mind and Tessa knew it wasn’t the right answer.

For a smaller fraction of a moment, Tessa felt a worse though rise in her mind. Was Asset saying that she, Tessa, was the one who could save the worlds? Was there some secret [Void Speaker] power she’d been missing that could wipe away the Hungers, Formless, Relentless, Shadowy  and all the other varieties?

No. She would need an ego too large to fit through the [Gates of Paradise] to believe that.

She knew the answer. 

She’d known it for ages. 

Ever since she arrived in the [Fallen Kingdoms]. Ever since she’d first played in the [Fallen Kingdoms] in fact.

“Connection,” she said. “It’s our connections that can win this.”

“Uh, what?” Rip asked.

“It’s what all of the apocalypses and all of the [Oblivion Remnants] have in common,” Tessa said as the idea filled her mind. “When I tangled with the [Formless Hunger] that first time, it [Fractured] me. It disconnected me from myself because that’s what they do. They break apart what is so that part of it can become what isn’t. What I did to it in return though was to break off a piece of it and form a connection with it.”

“For which I thank you,” Asset said.

“And think about what we all did?” Tessa said. “We heard the call from the [Fallen Kingdoms] and we connected with the parts of ourselves that were here so that we’d be strong enough to protect something we love.”

“That’s what Pete did too,” Starchild said, understanding dawning in her voice. “He saved us by drawing on his connection to the world the [Void Walker] came from.”

“Marcus did the same thing,” Hailey said, joining the conversation from one of the offices, with Marcus in tow behind her.

“I only guessed I could do that because you had to go and be a big show off by jumping over here right in front of me,” he said.

“Each time the [Formless Hunger] changed, it was because of a connection too,” Tessa said. “Even when it became Byron and Gulini.”

“Even when the original one became me,” Unknown said.

“And that is what these divinities can assist us with,” Azma said.

“Can you multitask?” Tessa asked, fragments of a plan leaping out at her.

“Not as well as I can,” Penswell said, her projection appearing before them.

“Wait, how did you…?” the [Lord of Storms] started to ask.

“Our creations have grown just a little beyond the parameters we first imagined for them,” the [Empress Over All] said, a delighted smile gracing her face.

“We’ve had just a few challenges to overcome and grow stronger from in the last few centuries,” Penny said. “Manifesting here was an interesting one though, and I probably shouldn’t do it for too long or Niminay will drown me.”

“Speaking of showing off,” Azma said, with either a hint of amusement or a professional jealousy in her voice.

“Credit where credit is due,” Penny said. “Without the tracing spell I put on you, manifesting here might have been impossible.”

“That was exquisite work,” Azma said. “I didn’t even notice it.”

“But you knew it was there anyways.”

“I’d hoped it was.”

“If all we needed was ‘connections’, why did we have to come here at all?” Rip asked.

“Two reasons,” Azma said. “First, while they cannot directly resolve the issues we face do not discount the impact these divinities can have. Tell me, for example, what is the current status of the five new [Formless Hungers] which were drawn in by your use of divine power?”

“We can’t see them directly,” the [Lady of All Tides] said.

“They’re all resolved,” Niminay said. “I have teams tracking each of the extent [Oblivion Remnants] that have crossed over.”

Tessa caught the sound effect around [Oblivion Remnants] this time and noticed that it had been there when she’s used the term too. Part of her had grown so used to hearing the ‘special term’ effect that she’d grown used to paying it little attention, but along with noticing the effect, she caught on at last to what it meant.

“Wait. Hold on,” she said, her nerves tingling with excitement as hope bludgeoned her like a battering ram. “[Oblivion Remnants]. [Oblivion Remnants]. Oh…oh wow. Is that for real?”

“I don’t understand what you’re asking there?” Yawlorna said.

“Holy…[Oblivion Remnant]. It is!” Lisa said, grabbing Tessa by the shoulders. “It is real!”

“Explain for the rest of the class please?” Lady Midnight said.

“The [Fallen Kingdoms] knows what [Oblivion Remnants] are now,” Tessa said, almost bouncing with glee.

“Yes, and?” Lady Midnight asked.

“The world has learned from us!” Tessa said. “It knows how to turn these undefinable, limitless things into creatures that are real and solid and, most importantly, bound by the laws of reality. No [Oblivion Remnant] that enters the [Fallen Kingdoms] will retain its [Transcendent] state any longer. Not even a bit of it. They might be monsters. They might still want to destroy everything, but they can be fought, and they can be beaten!”

“Translation; they’ll all have health bars and loot pools now,” Lisa said.

Everyone, even the various gods, were silent for a moment as that thought sunk in.

“Yes,” Penny said. “So if we can survive this storm of armageddons, we won’t have to worry about any repeat performances. The trick Gulini and Byron pulled isn’t one that can be performed again. Not in the [Fallen Kingdoms].”

“The key element of that statement however is ‘if we can survive’,” Azma said. “Despite the powers we have arrayed here, that is by no means a certainty and there is one other concern which brought us here.”

“The Earth,” Tessa said. It wasn’t really a guess, so she didn’t phrase it as one.

“Based on the scans I reviewed, the Earth seems to be foundation on which many other world rest. If its [Arcanosphere] falls, it is unclear whether the world which are joined it to it will survive either.”

“How do we prevent that then?” Rip asked. “Can we bring everyone there?”

“Unfortunately, that’s impossible,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “Our divine powers are here in the [Fallen Kingdoms] and even if we open a gate wide enough to bring us through to Earth, we’ll still only be able to bring as many people as we have connections to with us in order to fight the battles there.”

“Will that be enough?” Starchild asked.

“I don’t know,” the [Empress Over All] said.

“I may be able to offer an additional option,” a newcomer said. She was a dark skinned woman in dusty denim coveralls with bits of roots and leaves stuck in her unruly hair.

Tessa had no idea when she’d arrived or how and her [Void Speaker] senses were suggesting that the woman didn’t have a divine presence at all, although those senses also suggested that the overall ambiance of [Paradise] was somewhat different than it had been a moment earlier.

“And who might you be?” Azma asked.

“You can call me {Gaia},” the {Spirit of Earth} said.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 13

The mirror didn’t look like the focal point on which the fate of countless worlds rested. It was, from one point of view, nothing more than a simple wooden structure with carvings of generic Tinkerbell-esque fairies around the edges and a slab of silvered glass propped inside the oval frame.

Tessa didn’t even have to step close enough to see her reflection though for it to take her breath away.

“So, is this what we need?” Rip asked. Her fingers crackled with little sparks of electricity as she reached a tentative hand out towards it.

“We may need to call the gods to verify and activate it,” Azma said.

“Oh. No, no we don’t,” Tessa said. She’d just had a [Storm of Oblivion] try to seduce her with a mind expanding power trip, so keeping a handle on the awe she felt was a bit easier, which was good since looking into the mirror felt like she was standing at the doorway to Home.

Not the place where she lived, or the place where she grew up. Home. The place where she had always yearned to return, despite never having been there.

“You okay?” Lisa moved close to her, either for support or to stop Tessa from hurling herself into the mirror.

“Yeah,” and she was. Unlike the tidal waves outside, the mirror drew her in with no compulsion or enchantment. Unlike Oblivion, the mirror offered her back everything she gave to it. “I can see why you liked to be here though.”

“How do we make it work?” Jamal asked. He’d taken up a position behind Rip that was awfully similar to Lisa’s ‘I’ll just stand here so I can grab you if you try diving in there without me’ posture.

“Like this,” Tessa said and extended her hand to trace the edge of the oval, careful not to disturb any of the faeries.

The secrets of working a [Shifting Space] into the real world weren’t ones Tessa had any reason to know. 

No Earthling did.

As she finished tracing the outline, Tessa saw herself reflected back and gazed into her own eyes.

And Pillowcase’s eyes.

And Glimmerglass’s eyes.

And so, so many others.

They were all hers, despite being different colors, shapes, and sizes. 

Even the ones which were only pools of endless night.

Hey, I wasn’t sure we’d ever get to meet, Oblivion’s words were kindly?

Because you’re not Oblivion, Tessa said. It was similar to speaking on one of the telepathic channels she’d grown used to relying on, a sense of distance existing despite the fact that she was, in every sense that mattered, talking to herself.

Yes and no. Call me Oblivion-Adjacent Tessa. Or not. Ugh, that sounds terrible. I need a better name.

Are you sure you’re Oblivion-Adjacent? All the other things we’ve run into that crawled out of Oblivion seemed like they were hellbent on going right back there. And taking all of existence with them.

Oh, I was on board with that plan at first too. Burn it all down, go back to blissful unawareness of everything. No more suffering, no more yearning, and no more abject stupidity. Blah, blah, blah.

Sure. Sounds super appealing. Tessa had heard Oblivion’s arguments before and was keenly aware of the futility of trying to debate the points. So what changed your mind. Why are you…I don’t know? Me I guess?

You did.

But this is the first time we’ve met.

Like this, yes. But I’ve been with you for a while now. My whole life in fact.

I’m gonna need a bit more than that.

I’ll give you everything I’ve got, but I do need something in return.

Let me guess, ‘the entirety of my existence’?

Yick, no. That would be…okay, it would be super complicated, but basically if I take everything you have then there won’t be a you anymore, but since you exist and I don’t, mostly, that would mean that I’d be you, so you’d still be around, but there’d be no more me. 

Strangely I kind of get that. So what do you want then?

I mean, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, and you’ve given them out before, so I don’t think it should be, but maybe I could have a real name? It doesn’t have to be a big one, or anything cryptic or special. It’s just without a name, it’s hard to be a meaningful part of anything. The best you can do is be ‘the anonymous girl’ which sort of dissolves who you are into a sea of generic possible people and…

I get it. It doesn’t seem right for me to slap a name on you though. Shouldn’t you get to pick one out for yourself.

Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing. So pick one out already.

Uh, but what if I get it wrong?

Then give me another one. Or a nickname. Or I’ll just grow into it. Names aren’t really that important, you know, for being the most important thing in all of creation.

Can you tell me anything about yourself? I mean a bit of inspiration would be nice right?

Oh, sure. I think you know what I am right?

No, not at…wait a minute. You’re…

Yep.

The little bit of the [Formless Hunger] that I tore out of it. Your where my magic’s been coming from?

Not quite. I mean, you’re right that I was a bit of oblivion that you sort of grabbed and made your own, but that’s not where your power comes from. 

It’s not?

If your power came from me, then what did you use to rip the [Formless Hunger] into being?

I guess that is a good question. So where does my power come from then?

From you. 

But I wasn’t anything special.

You were to me. 

But that I was the first one to resist the [Formless Hunger] was just random chance.

Maybe you’re not unique then. Maybe everyone can do what you did and they just didn’t have the opportunity to try. All I know is that I’m who and what I am because I became a part of you, and that where you walk on the material side of the Dreamlit Veil, I walk on the other.

So are you my mirror then?

More like we’re counterpoints to each other, I think. I don’t have to do what you do but in reverse, anymore than I control your actions, or any of our many selves controls the others when we separated across worlds. You anchor down our existence in the places that are real and I anchor it out here, in the places that aren’t.

Okay that sort of makes sense. That’s why we can meet now, because a [Shifting Space] is where the real and unreal meet right?

That’s my best guess.

Which means, you can’t be fully real to me then? That kind of sucks.

Just because I’m not real doesn’t mean we can see each other. Case in point.

I suppose that’s…wait, you’re someone who’s not real who I can still talk to? You’re Asset! That’s your name!

You’re giving me the name of your imaginary friend from when you were five? Where you just spelled your own name backwards?

Is that okay?

Okay? That’s awesome! Asset said.

So, Asset, can you help us cross over to where we can meet with the gods of the [Fallen Kingdoms]?

Crossing over’s all you, but I can lead you to them once you all get here.

Cool! Oh, are there any dangers we need to aware of?

Not if you’re with me. Otherwise, yes, more than you can imagine. Literally.

I should bring the others over then, Tessa said. They must be wondering if I’ve lost it again.

Probably not. This isn’t exactly real, so time is what we want it to be. We could have just spent one second or one millennium talking. It’s all the same here.

I’ll take the one second this time.

Tessa drew in a breath as her hand parted from the mirror’s surface. Her reflection was smiling at her, and continued to do so even after she turned away.

“We have a guide waiting for us,” she told her team. “Please make sure to follow her. I think if we get lost that will be a more or less permanent status.”

“Who is she? The guide that is,” Yawlorna asked.

“Me. Sort of,” Tessa said. “You can call her Asset.”

Azma smiled at that and Tessa suspected that might be because she was mentally calling all of them her ‘assets’.

“You’ll explain all this to us when we’ve got time to catch a breath right?” Lisa asked.

“If we survive this, definitely. If we don’t, then probably?”

“So we just step through it?” Rip asked. When Jamal turned to see what Tessa’s answer might be though, Rip took the opportunity to hop directly into the mirror.

“Wait!” Jamal said as he hopped right in after her.

Everyone else followed suit in the order of who was nearest to the mirror or who had the fastest reflexes first.

Tessa was the last to go through, holding back for one very simple reason.

“Did you just close the door behind us?” Starchild asked.

“Yeah, had to,” Tessa said.

Azma blinked in surprise and fought a small smile that was threatening to spread across her face. “And why would that be?”

“If I didn’t Byron would absolutely follow us here and the [Fallen Kingdoms] gods aren’t equipped to fight him,” Tessa said.

Azma staggered a half step and lost the fight to keep the smile from her face. The calculating look in her eyes that followed though looked far more covetous than Tessa was comfortable with. Azma probably wasn’t considering forcibly recruiting Tessa, that didn’t seem to be Azma’s style. Making Tessa an offer Tessa might not even think to refuse though?

“We should get going,” Asset said.

“Going where?” Rip asked.

“The [Celestial Sphere],” Asset said. “We’ll need some transportation though. Yawlorna, could you help us out there?”

“How?” 

“You remember your ship still right?”

“I do. It’s in pieces though.”

“We don’t need that version,” Asset said. “Remember it like it was when you first walked aboard. Remember its speed and how it was able to take you exactly where you needed to be.”

“The [High Beyond]?” Yawlorna asked.

“No. Here. Everything you’ve done, it’s led you to where you can make all the difference in the world. In every world in fact,” Asset said.

“That not how things really work though,” Yawlorna said. “The crash wasn’t planned so I could get here.”

“Of course not,” Asset said. “The tragedies that befall us aren’t part of some grand plan to make everything better. They suck and they’re tragic and it’s right that we mourn the people we lose and rage against the injustices that happen to us. None of that changes the fact that our choices matter too though. You’re here because you chose to hold it together. And because you chose to trust these knuckleheads,” she pointed towards Tessa and the rest of her team. “So remember your ship. We have a new crew for it, and here, it can fly again.”

Tessa watched as a new smile put a crack in Yawlorna’s cynicism.

And around them the walls of a pristine spaceship began to form.

Ahead, the forward view screen. To the left, the navigators console. To the right, science and comms. And in the center, the Senior Researcher’s chair.

Which was occupied.

By a ghost.

Tessa glanced up to find Yawlorna back in her demon-esque form, though with eyes glassy with tears.

The ghost, the ship’s original Captain, gave her a silent nod of appreciation and signaled for the ship to get underway.

Which the ghost helmsman was all too happy to comply with. He flipped a lever on his console which brought the darkness on the forward viewscreen to life with stars that shifted and wheeled as the ship ship turned and found its proper course.

Yawlorna dropped to her knees and covered her face with her hands until the Senior Researcher rose and placed a hand on her shoulder.

She looked up and then towards the Science Station. With a grateful smile and a nod, she rose and took her proper position, the ghosts far more than mere memories as they sailed the cosmos toward one final frontier.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 12

Jin

Worlds that didn’t mind you splitting your attention into a thousand different shards weren’t that common. Jin was happy to see the [Fallen Kingdoms] were an exception.

“We..we made it?” Rachel, or rather Deadly Alice, asked, gasping for breath on her knees.

“Yep. First try. That’s pretty impressive,” Jin said. She had nine hundred and ninety nine copies spread out across the [Fallen Kingdoms] but each of them was holding back, observing the individual world ending events, but not interfering for now.

“I thought I was going to be ripped in half,” Deadly Alice said. “Or, no, maybe it was crushed into a singularity? Or both? How am I ever going to do that again?”

“It gets easier each time,” Beth said. “I didn’t have the torn-apart sensation that you did, but I can tell you that while everyone starts out with their own experiences in World Walking, after a while it all tends to converge and get easy. Too easy.”

“This was horrible,” Rachel said, “How can it ever be too easy?”

“If it becomes easy enough, you can do it without noticing,” Jin said. “And you can do it in your sleep.”

“So I could wake up in some other world?” Rachel asked.

“Or never wake up at all,” Jin said. “No worries though. You’ll figure it out. Now let’s go find someone for you to teach. That’s how you’ll learn the fastest!”

Mellisandra

The chasm behind Mellisandra didn’t stretch down to the core of the planet. The dead [Terravorlings] at the bottom of it had been angling for that, but both they and their [Nightmare Terravore] progenitor had made a terrible mistake. They’d developed [Supreme Fire Resistance] rather than [Fire Immunity]. The difference should have been negligible, they’re ridiculous healing factor could have easily covered the small trickle of fire damage that came from burrowing through magma to the core. 

What it couldn’t deal with was super charged [Lava Serpents].

Mellisandra had been one of the roughly 1,500 [Elementalists] who’d cast a near endless steam of max level fire spells, not at the [Terravorlings] but at the [Lava Serpents] who were able to absorb the blasts and grow exponentially stronger from them.

Even with that however the fight had still be a losing battle. Force of arms only went so far when your foe had near infinite spawning resources to draw on.

That changed rather abruptly however when Cambrell [Assassinated] the [Nightmare Terravore].

The Goblin hadn’t been alone. Damnazon, and the entire [Army of Light] under Cease All’s command had made the perilous trek up and into the Terravore.

It had been Cambrell though who’d penetrated into the swirling heart of the nightmare.

Mellisandra had asked ten different people what happened next and gotten twelve different stories.

In some, Cambrell has unleashed a secret [Goblin] technique where he self-destructed and took the monster’s heart out in one blazing explosion. In other stories, he’s carved a hole in time and space that drew in both the monster and himself. Variations of that one suggested that he’d known it would happen and resigned himself to his fate, or the monster had tried to hold on and Cambrell had pitched himself at it carrying them both through the portal, or the monster had made the portal and Cambrell had cut out its heart and carried it through to break its connection to the beast.

Whatever the truth was, the [Goblin] hadn’t made it back. Mellisandra knew that was absolutely not the same as saying he was gone for good, but she still found herself worrying about him. Just because someone might survive an impossible fate didn’t mean it would be pleasant for them.

Of course Mellisandra had plenty of her own troubles to worry about too.

With the victory over the [Nightmare Terravore], no time for rest had been given to them. Baelgritz and his crew had been recalled back to the defense of [Dragonshire], while the [Army of Light] had been assigned to act as rescue teams for parties that had been lost inside dead [World Serpents]. 

Mellisandra and Damnazon, along with the rest of their party and an raid teams worth of other parties had tasked with acting as forward spotters and dungeon cleaners for the [Wraithwing Air Assault] forces. 

“There’s a level 20 dungeon up ahead,” Damnazon said. “Not capped. Pretty small but there could be some [Death Shadows] lurking in there.”

“How’s your [Life Ward] holding up?” Mellisandra asked. Fighting [Death Shadows] was a fatal endeavor unless you had access to one of the moderately high-level charms against instant death effects. Once you took away the [Death Shadows] most prominent ability they were somewhat pathetic. An overly specialized menace easily rendered inert – provided you could get ahead of their breeding rate. With an ever dwindling number of deaths to spawn new shadows, Mellisandra felt like they were close to solving a second apocalypse in as many hours.

Then the [Phantom Coursers] they were riding on crested the hill that marked the border of the next zone over and she saw the rabbits.

In low level zones there are typically an abundance of minor enemies who are capable of respawning at astounding rates, the monsters who lack that trait having been driven to extinction by the mad stampede of beginners who will slaughter everything in sight.

What Mellisandra saw over the rise should have been the typical low level rabbit enemies that nearly all fledgling [Adventurers] tangle with many times over in their careers.

Instead however, she saw death.

As each [Blood Thirsting Bunny] died, it spawned two more, and the [Death Shadow] that killed it spawned two new progeny as well, who immediately slew the new rabbits.

“We’re going to need more [Sun Bombs]. A lot more,” Damnazon said, though Mellisandra was pretty sure there weren’t enough [Sun Bombs] in the world to stop the spread she saw before her.

Baelgritz

Being surrounded by monsters had never been Baelgritz’s idea of a good time. His strength and bulk had largely been a genetic legacy rather than something he’d trained for, at least not until recently. Despite all his recent experiences though, he still thought of himself as primarily a scholar, or if he was being honest, a student. Being surrounded by creatures out of nightmare, as he and the people he loved most in any world fought a desperate and, again if he was being honest, losing battle to save the world? That just wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

Supposed to be, or not, the end of the world was where he was standing though. In a small, only partially repaired fort that had delusions of being a castle, as sentient virus named the [Brain Scourge] drew the forces it had collected up to the door.

The [Brain Scourge’s] minions didn’t need to outfight the fort’s defenders, they just needed to touch them. That was all the contact the [Brain Scourge] required to infect and corrupt a host.

Behind Baelgritz’s forces lay a stretch of barrow hills and then the all-but-helpless town of [Dragonshire]. If Baelgritz’s troops fell, the [Brain Scourge] would roll through the town and gain the power of several thousand mid-level [Adventurers] who were busy training themselves up as fast as they could in order to join the battles to save the world.

They would be too late though, if Baelgritz’s tactical assement of their situation was even vaguely accurate.

“They got Gray,” Vixali said, noting the loss of one of their least vulnerable allies. “Which settles our bet on whether it can affect immaterial beings.”

“I’ll pay you when the battle’s over okay?” Baelgritz said.

“I will expect payment when I find you in Hell then,” Vixali said.

The [Adventurers] were going to be too late, but the one ray of hope was that the monsters Baelgritz was surrounded by were on his side.

Grunvan

[Wraithwings], it turned out, had a natural [Necro Immunity] effect. A nice wizard-ish [Adventurer] had explained that meant the [Death Shadows] couldn’t directly harm scary bird things, which in turn made Grunvan very happy that she hadn’t set off the load of [Sun Bombs] she’d been hauling to the staging point in an attempt to burn up the [Wraithwings] that had been chasing her.

Of course if there had been an army at the staging point like she’d been told there would be, things would have been perfect. Instead it turned out that there was an army there, but it was not an army of [Soldiers], it was an army of [Wagon Drivers]. Specifically [Wagon Drivers] who were being recruited to become [Wraithwing Pilots]. 

Wagons, Grunvan felt it should be pointed out, kept in contact with a solid surface at all times. Should they lose contact with a solid surface, they were sure to regain it within seconds. The more seconds there were, the worse regaining contact tended to be.

By that reasoning, climbing onto the back of something that would not be returning to solid ground for several hours seemed absolutely disastrous. 

Which was why she wasn’t surprised to find herself several hundred feet in the air on a [Wraithwing] that was loaded down with as [Sun Bombs] as it could carry and still fly. Today was a day for disasters it seemed.

“Apple Plate flight team, head northwest following the [Greenling River Basin],” Ryschild said telepathically to Grunvan and the rest of the [Wagon Drivers] from her home town.

“Copy that. Changing course to [Greenling River Basin]” Grunvan said, as she’d been coached to respond.

She’d made two bombing runs already, clearing [Apple Plate] and [High Mourn Monastery] of the [Death Shadows] that had invaded and taken root there. [Adventurers] had followed in her wake and done the final cleanup while she and the other pilots moved on to blast every other location with sunlight strong enough to fry a living shadow. It was terrifying work but also strangely fulfilling. Grunvan had no interest in pursuing it as a career but pitching in to prevent the end of the world filled her with a real note of pride.

Which was quickly nibbled away by anxiety.

“Does anyone else see that cloud formation ahead of us?” she asked over the pilots’ general channel.

“It’s pretty high up,” one of the pilots said.

“It’s red though?” another asked.

“And is it growing or am I just seeing things?” Argwin said.

“It’s not you, it’s definitely getting bigger and it’s moving fast,” Grunvan said.

“Apple Plate flight team, we have a situation at the end of the [Greenling River Basin]. I’m diverting all others flight teams to join you,” Ryschild said. “Do not wait for their arrival. Begin bombing runs as soon as you arrive and drop your entire payload. No aiming will be required.”

That sounded like exactly the kind of thing Grunvan did not want to hear, except the chatter on the pilots’ channel that followed was even worse.

“The red cloud’s over the basin,” a pilot said.

“It’s over us too.”

“Is it raining something there?”

“That’s not rain!” 

“What is it?”

Meteors. The cloud was raining flaming meteors on them. Grunvan jerked hard on her [Wraithwings] bridle pulling it into evasive maneuvers she had never been taught and it was barely capable of performing as the skies rained down balls of molten, rocky death on them all.

Grenslaw

Grenslaw’s plans were falling into ruin. Which was expected. They were plans drafted from incomplete information against novel threats. The victories the [Adventurers] were able to obtain were only barely due to Grenslaw’s tactical acumen. The lionshare of the credit there went to the [Adventurers’] ability to think on their feet and adjust to changing situations at a speed no Consortium troops could have ever hoped to match.

Similarly their losses weren’t an incrimination of their abilities. Some of the apocalypses had truly unfathomable structures. Others were overwhelming within narrow channels which the forces assembled to stop them simply didn’t have the power to mitigate.

Each loss was a catastrophe of its own regardless though, requiring rapid redeployment of the available forces and the expenditure of resources which could not be replaced and by all projections were not going to be sufficient to see the battles to their end.

Which meant Grenslaw wasn’t fighting for a victory any longer.

Victory wasn’t an option, but neither was failure.

Which left only one option.

Fight for every moment the world could get.

And hope for a miracle.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 11

Lisa’s family turned out to be just a tiny bit surprised by the arrival of seven complete strangers and their eldest daughter in the middle of their living room. That their guests’ arrival was preceded by a ghost portal forming and fine, thin ice covering every nearby surface wasn’t quite as upsetting as the two feet of fog which rose from the ground or the trio of banshees who wailed loud enough to douse every light in the vicinity.

“Are we in the right place?” Rose asked, surveying a reasonably spacious living room with walls that were chock full of a lifetime of assorted collectibles.

The handful of people who were frozen in place with eyes wide and mouths open could have passed for extra-large collectibles given the absolute stillness they displayed, but Tessa was able to pick out the bits of family resemblance they shared with Lisa which suggested that they were more than life sized sculptures.

“Yeah. It is,” Lost Alice said, her tone flat and colder than the ice around them.

“Who are you?” the oldest man in the room said, rising from the recliner he’d been resting in. Lisa’s father, Tessa guessed?

“You don’t…” Lost Alice started to say, but then paused, rolling her eyes. “Oh, of course. Why would you.  It doesn’t matter though,” she said. “We won’t be here long. We just need to visit your attic.”

“Our attic?” a woman who had to be Lisa’s mother said.

“You have a mirror up there that’s very important,” Lost Alice said.

“Wait. I don’t understand. Who are you?” her mother said.

“People who are working to save your world,” Azma said, her tone was plain and matter of fact, and while it provided no real answers, it was sufficient to halt further questions.  “Where can we access this attic?”

“Over here,” Lost Alice said, taking a step towards the stairs at the far side of the room.

“The mirror will serve as a [Shifting Space]?” Azma asked. 

“I used to get lost in it for hours. If the world is coming apart and reality is weakening, it should be very weak there,” Lost Alice said.

“Can you be sure?” Azma asked.

“My spell brought us here. I don’t think it could have if reality wasn’t significantly degraded already.”

Tessa understood that without needing to ask. Their magic was drawn from the [Fallen Kingdoms]. They’d been able to use it in the battle against Cthulhu because he was weakening the bonds of reality by the mere fact of his existence. To cast a teleportation spell though meant establishing an effect within an area where reality still held firm. 

Unless something else was weakening it.

“Hey, Lisa, is that you?” one of the younger males asked. He was taller than Lisa but shorter than Lost Alice, and younger than either.

“James? How…?” Lost Alice asked.

“No fair, you were supposed to be done growing,” James said.

“James this is not…” Lisa’s mother began to say but stopped abruptly as Lost Alice’s form melted away.

“Yes it is,” Lisa said. “You have questions, but we don’t have the time for answers.”

“I can fill them in,” Tessa said. “Go ahead and check on the mirror. See if it’s what we need. If it is just give me a shout.”

Lisa looked spectacularly torn, but when Jamal tugged on her arm, she let herself be pulled into motion, leading the other upstairs and towards the attic.

“I don’t understand any of this,” Lisa’s mother said.

“You don’t have to,” Tessa said. “Just know that your daughter has been unspeakably brave and is doing everything she can to save this world and many others.”

“But what happened?” Lisa’s father asked.

“I can only give you the short form, but if you’ve been watching the news from around the world there are catastrophes happening everywhere. One of them happened to us, but it put us in a position to help fix things. The form you saw your daughter wearing is the person she is in another world. Think of it like a mask with super powers. She’s still herself but she looks different and can do more things.”

“Like this?” Lisa’s mother said, gesturing to the rapidly dispersing fog and ice.

“Among many other things, yes,” Tessa said. “Maybe even enough to keep us all alive.”

“Wait, she’s going into danger? Our Lisa?” Lisa’s father asked.

“She’s always been in danger Dad,” James said. “You just never wanted to see it.”

“Everyone is in danger now,” Tessa said, hoping to cut off what sounded like the beginning of an old argument. “The things you’ve heard about? The cities that have been wrecked and are being wrecked? Those aren’t isolated events. People are trying to fight back, but this is bigger than any of us.”

“Why is she out there then?” Lisa’s mother asked. “Why isn’t she being smart and staying somewhere safe. Is it because of you?”

Yes, I seduced your daughter with my amazing feminine wiles, Tessa thought, remembering a vast multitude of times she’d wished she had any feminine wiles at all. What she said instead of that was, “Lisa is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I owe my life to her genius and if we, and by that I mean the population of planet Earth, manage to survive beyond the next two or three hours, it’s going to be because of her insight and brilliance. Your daughter is an amazing woman with more courage than I think anyone will ever really understand.”

“She should be here though,” Lisa’s mother said. “And her sister too.”

“She should be where she can do what she needs to do,” James said.

“We need her here though. Look. You can see what’s happening outside,” Lisa’s mother gestured to the window which showed a stark and unearthly tableau. 

Waves were cresting as tall as buildings, rather than water though, they seemed to be made of broken cars and chunks of destroyed skyscrapers. As the waves drew close to the house though they crashed down into a dusty mist that flowed outwards, never making contact with the ground or any other physical structure.

Tessa found herself drawn to the window, or to the unreasonable apocalypse beyond it, she couldn’t be sure.

“I need to go have a look at that,” she said, her gaze sliding over to the door as a storm of thoughts whirled in the back of her head.

“No!” Lisa’s father said. “You can’t go out there. It’s too dangerous.”

“Yeah,” Tessa agreed. “It is. That’s why I’ve got to go.”

She was out the door before she was aware she was even opening it.

Outside, the roar of the tidal waves of debris was deafening. Within it though was a familiar static crackle.

“Oh. So that’s what you are,” Tessa said and felt a nameless force within the not-yet-real apocalypse reaching out to her.

She could defeat it.

She’d faced worse already and she knew this sort of foe.

It would be so easy. 

Just step into the storm and take mastery of it away from nothing at all.

She had an impossible foe coming, a creature she hadn’t been able to defeat when she held the power of a god in her hands. 

But what could she do if she claimed a power that could not limited? That could not be overcome?

Byron thought he could destroy two worlds because there was nothing and no one that could stop him.

So what if she became no one?

She still had a piece of the [Formless Hunger’s] non-existence that she’d torn away from it. If she could tear one piece loose before, what could she manage now with all that she’d learned?

A vision spread out before her as she reached the edge of the tidal waves.

She saw herself cloaked in darkness and shadows, standing as an eternal, immortal guardian sheltering the Earth in her right hand and the [Fallen Kingdoms] in her left. 

She’d dared to carrying the essence of a god before and it hadn’t been enough. Shouldn’t she dare more? Shouldn’t she sacrifice more? What was one life against the billions of lives on two worlds? If she was willing to die to protect a small party of her friends, then shouldn’t she be willing to do even more if it meant protecting not only them but everyone else as well.

The waves were calling to her. Leave behind her limitations. Leave behind her vulnerabilities. Leave behind herself.

Would it even be that big of a loss?

Had she ever loved being herself?

Had she ever even wanted to be herself? With all the time she spent pretending to be someone else?

And what was the alternative?

The vision shifted to show her.

A lifeless world. Barren rock scoured clean of even microbes, with the rock itself passing away to dust and then elementary particles and then nothing, the strings of the cosmos ringing no longer. Everything returning to nothing.

Unless someone stood against that.

Unless she stood against that.

Unless her hands held everything safe.

Only hers.

No one else could do it.

She was unique. Special. The only one who could save the world.

She wanted to take the final step forward, to embrace the destiny that beckoned her onwards to eternity and beyond.

But her feet didn’t move.

“No,” she said, her quiet word shattering the nearest tidal wave and bringing her back into her body, and herself, and the moment she was in, far away from eternity. “I said I wouldn’t go off alone.”

And then Lisa was there.

At her back.

Wrapping her arms around Tessa and crying into her hair.

Tessa wanted to say something clever, or profound, or even funny, but instead she simply breathed and relaxed back into Lisa’s embrace.

“You’re back,” Lisa finally said, without releasing the embrace.

“I am not leaving you,” Tessa said softly and hugged Lisa’s arms.

Lisa broke down into a short crying laugh before squeezing Tessa tighter and whispering, “You better not. You promised after all.”

Tessa enjoyed the embrace for another few moments before asking, “how long was I out here for?”

In front of her the tidal waves still raged, growing higher and roaring louder with every new peak.

“Not long,” Lisa said. “James came up and got me when you went outside. By the time I got here though you were just standing here and you weren’t responding and…and there was static in your eyes.”

Tessa winced. With what they’d been through, she wasn’t sure she could think of anything scarier than that.

“It was calling to me,” Tessa said. “It offered me basically everything it could. Enough power to stop Byron and save everyone on both worlds.”

“That’s a really blatant lie,” Lisa said.

“Except it wasn’t,” Tessa said. “Not exactly. What it offered, I could have had.”

“But you’re still here?”

“Yeah, for everything it could give me, it couldn’t give me you and it was going to take away everything I was to claim that power,” Tessa said. “I’d absolutely have the ability to stop Byron and all the armageddons, but without myself, why would I have any interest in trying?”

“You figured that out while it was possessing you?” Lisa asked.

“No. I’m just figuring that part out now,” Tessa said. “I was able to turn away from them because I didn’t want either of the futures they were offering me. They both suck. I want to build something much better.”

“Sounds like you’ve got plans,” Lisa said, relaxing her embrace.

“Not so much anything specific,” Tessa said. “I mean when you run into things like that, how do you plan for it?” She gestured to the latest tidal wave of debris. “More just a guiding principal really.”

“And that is?” Lisa asked, turning Tessa around to face her.

“I don’t have this, it’s too big, and it’s impossible to handle. But I don’t have to. I just need to do what I can, and trust that you’ll be there to help with what I can’t do.”

“Always.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 10

Tessa

There were several million reasons why riding up to a hospital on the shoulders of an building sized eldritch abomination with her entire team was a bad idea. Tessa discounted them all for one far more important reason though.

Her building sized eldritch abomination was just adorable.

“Intriguing,” Azma said, greeting them from a fifth floor window. “I presume this will serve as a guardian for the hospital after we depart?”

On the one hand it was kind of maddening that nothing seemed to surprise Azma. On the other though, it was a relief to be able to skip explaining her plan once again.

She’d brought her team, and Mel and Fari up to speed on the idea of using Kitty Cthulhu as a basically invulnerable guardian for the residents of San Francisco who’d made the hospital their last hold out. Kitty Cthulhu had been delighted by the idea and the others at least saw the wisdom in leaving someone behind after they left.

“We can stay here if you need us,” Fari said, “but Captain Okoro has detected several other escalating calamities that we can help with.”

“You should go ahead and deal with those then,” Tessa said. “We’ve got this here.”

“Any chance you can call in more reinforcements?” Lisa asked. “It’s fantastic that you can pitch in, but we don’t seem to have a shortage of disasters at the moment.”

“Our getting here was something of a fluke,” Mel said. “We were testing out a new warp drive and, well, you can see how that went.”

“Oh no, are you going to be able to get home?” Rip asked.

“”Probably,” Mel said. “If we don’t, the kids will come find us.”

“We do not want that,” Fari said, an unspoke ‘again’ plain in her voice.

“No,” Mel agreed. “No, we do not.”

“Too dangerous here for them?” Lady Midnight asked.

“Too dangerous for here,” Darius said, joining Azma at the window.

“You saw the kind of things I was doing?” Mel said. “They’ve got all my power and most of my control.”

“Some of your control,” Fari said. “If we’re being generous.”

“We shall direct them to you if they should appear in this realm,” Azma said. “At the present however, we are all running somewhat late.”

“We have schedule to keep?” Tessa asked.

“We’ve got a meeting to get to,” Hailey said. “Several in fact.”

“With who?” Lisa asked.

“The gods,” Hailey said.

“Which ones?” Tessa asked.

“The ones that can help us!” Hailey said. “Hopefully.”

“You know that I will stab you, have you healed, and then stab you again right?” Tessa said. Given the healing capabilities they had access to, it was not an idle threat.

“We’ve contacted the original developers of the game which linked you to the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Azma said. “We need to meet with them, so that they can examine you.”

“Examine us why?” Yawlorna asked, the scientist in the giant, formerly demon-ish lady leaping to the fore.

“They built the bridges between the two worlds without a conscious awareness of what they were doing,” Azma said. “With you to use as guideposts, they believe they can open the pathways so that they will be able to travel freely between the two realms.”

“And that helps us how?” Rip asked.

“Yeah, I thought the [Formless Hunger] and the other things like it were beyond the power of the gods?” Jamal said. “Tessa had ‘God Power’ in her hands a couple times and it couldn’t hurt the first Hunger at all.”

“Dealing with [Transcendent Entities] isn’t a matter of destroying or controlling them,” Azma said. “Tessa and several others have discovered a far more effective approach. [Transcendent Entities] cannot be destroyed because they do not exist. That non-existence protects them and allows them to destroy virtually anything else. What Tessa and others have done is to give them what they’re missing. Essentially ‘creating’ them as something real so that they become inexorably a part of the realm they seek to destroy.”

“Wouldn’t that mean that they would be free to ‘really’ destroy the world though?” Yawlorna asked.

“That seems to be what they’re doing now,” Lady Midnight said.

“That is what they are trying to do now,” Azma said. “There is a wide gap between ‘trying’ and ‘doing’, and in that gap is where our victory lies.”

“Where are we supposed to meet them? They’re not all in the area are they?” Lisa asked.

“They’re kind of everywhere at the moment,” Hailey said. “I wasn’t kidding when I said we’re going to see the gods.”

“Explain further please?” Starchild said.

“The metaphysics of it are complicated and likely not completely co-tangent with similar phenomena the Consortium has observed – there seems to be a high degree of variation in divine powers across different worlds,” Azma said. “The important, and useful, information is that the original developers were called to assist the [Fallen Kingdoms], just as you were. In fact it was due to your efforts that the [Fallen Kingdoms] were able to reach out to them at all. The [Fallen Kingdoms] couldn’t support their direct presence however and so rather than the Earthlings going there, their divine selves joined them on this world, in the process dragging the two worlds even closer together.”

“So they have unfettered divine power here?” Tessa asked.

“No. Far from unfettered,” Azma said. “This world is highly resistant to divine or other supernatural powers altering it. The [Transcendent Entities] are not bound by such fetters though and as they began to chew away at the fabric of this world, your Earth’s limitations began to loosen.”

“So how much can these gods do then?” Yawlorna asked.

“Within the Earth’s arcanosphere? Very little still,” Azma said.

“That sucks,” Rip said.

“No. That’s fantastic,” Tessa said. “It means the Earth’s still fairly solid and mundane.”

“We were tossing around some pretty unreal effects there for a mundane place,” Lady Midnight said. “Not to mention our new friend here.” She gestured down at Kitty Cthulhu who gave a small, shy wave of his massive left paw.

“But we’re drawing those powers from the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Tessa said. “It’s like the fence around the garden has some holes in it now so stuff that was being kept out can get in, but it’s still a garden and not a parking lot or something.”

“And the Developer-Gods want to knock down the wall?” Rip asked.

“A more accurate metaphor would be that they want to build an archway in the fence,” Azma said. “One suited to allowing them to pass through it.”

“Can’t they just use the holes that are already there?” Jamal asked.

“Not without destroying a great deal of the existing barriers around this world,” Azma said. “The divine power they carry is too large to fit through the fractures which already exist.”

“And waiting for those fractures to grow larger means letting the world wind up in even worse shape than it is now,” Tessa said.

“Worse than this?” Rip asked, gesturing to the quarter mile of flattened buildings around them. “Yikes.”

Tessa though Azma might point out that the destruction they could see, while easily in the billions of dollars, was absolutely insignificant compared to the fate that could befall the Earth. Strangely the ruthless and practical absolute overlord of the Consortium’s attack forces merely nodded in response, sparring Rip from a nightmare inducing accounting of the possible futures that lay before them.

“If the gods you mentioned are everywhere, why do we need to go anywhere to meet them?” Yawlorna asked. “Aren’t they here already?”

“They are, or at least fragments of their awareness are,” Hailey said. “To meet them in person though we need to go to a [Shifting Space].”

“I’m going to guess that’s dangerous,” Lady Midnight said.

“For anyone else, it would effectively be a death sentence,” Azma said.

“Why?” Rip asked.

“Because it we walk outside the boundaries of the world, there’s no guarantee that we’ll every make it back,” Tessa said. “[Shifting Spaces] are where reality gets a bit fuzzy, so any path we walk will change as we walk on it, both where it’s going and where it came from.”

“How do you know that?” Lisa asked.

Tessa blinked. How did she know that? The knowledge was right there in her mind, clear as day, but it wasn’t anything that had been stitched into Pillowcase or anything Tessa had ever read, not even in the lore for [Broken Horizons].

“Must be some passive knowledge that came with my [Void Speaker] levels?” Tessa said, feeling like that wasn’t the answer but coming up blank for what the real one could be.

“Your description matches the explanation the [Fallen Kingdoms] gods gave us,” Azma said.

“How did you talk to them?” Lisa asked.

“We got their cell numbers from [The Nightmare Queen],” Hailey said.

“You just called them? Just like that?” Rip asked.

“Yeah, pretty much,” Hailey said.

“Well, okay then,” Rip said. “Wonder what their ringtone sounds like?”

“Sounds like the real question is where we can find one of those [Shifting Spaces],” Lisa said.

“There are millions of them now,” Azma said. “At least one for every location where someone has traveled to another world.”

“We need to find one we have some resonance with though,” Hailey said. “Otherwise we risk wandering off into no one knows what.”

 “What would it take for us to have ‘resonance’ with a [Shifting Space]?” Rip asked.

“That is something we should be able to discover when we find one,” Azma said.

“We won’t need to,” Lost Alice said. “I know where we need to go.”

Azma didn’t look surprised at this.

Because of course she didn’t.

“So the next question is, who wants to meet my family?” Lisa asked.

Byron

Flying across the Pacific Ocean at wavetop level was ideal for stealth. That was also why Byron was holding his speed at subsonic levels.

Sure, he could have blasted straight up into orbit and descended like the fist of an angry god.

Or teleported there.

Why, exactly, hadn’t he teleported to the creator? Wouldn’t that have made for a better surprise attack?

No. Of course not. That would simply have been foolish.

Teleporting to an enemy who had already proven that she possessed arbitrary and undefined powers? No, no, no. Far better to approach her at unawares. Take the opportunity to observe her before striking the final, truly fatal blow. Learn her weaknesses. Strike when the moment was right. When she couldn’t strike back!

That did seem more agreeable.

Indeed. Far better than exposing himself to the risk of her corrupting presence turning him into yet another new, and lesser, thing.

He plowed face first into a wave that certainly hadn’t been that tall a moment before.

Why did he retain human nostrils if salt water would burn them?

He didn’t know.

But it would be a shame to give up such a fine nose. It was nearly perfectly sculpted.

You never wanted perfect features. Those looked too uncanny. And far too generic. Better to have some slight and acceptable blemish. Some mark of distinction and personalization.

This line of thought was leading him to the creator how exactly?

Oh, it wasn’t. It merely seemed relevant to his consideration of noses. Wasting time was not at all the plan, so back into the air and onwards.

On the edge of his awareness one of his armageddon’s failed. A school girl stood over the crumbling body of a [Master Vampire] with a broken baseball bat rammed through his chest.

So. No unstoppable vampire plague. That was a shame. Byron had been looking forward to the endgame of that scenario where everyone was a vampire and they had only themselves to turn on for blood.

He did have to commend the schoolgirl though. Even splintered as it was, ramming a baseball bat through a torso could not have been easy.

But there was no more time to consider his other armageddons.

He had arrived.

He was in San Francisco.

And his creator had already left.

Of all the cursed luck. How could she have known?

Perhaps she could sense him?

Maybe he should stick to sending minions against her? Ones she wouldn’t see coming?

A giant hand swatted him into orbit.

Ah. He’d gotten too close to his old minion it seemed.

Far below, Kitty Cthulhu glared at him, eager for Byron to return, so he could ‘play’ with Byron some more.

Perhaps minions were not the right idea.

Perhaps he did have to deal with this personally.

If only he knew where to find her?

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 9

Byron

The monsters he’d summoned weren’t a part of Byron, but he was still able to feel the trials and tribulations they faced. 

What was the point of obliterating a world if you didn’t have front row seats to watch the destruction from after all?

As a storm howled over Cairo, Byron reveled with glee. As India became a staging point for intergalactic conquest, he cackled, delighted at the idea of an assault that would, itself, also be obliterated. Then there were the [Blood Blobs] which were dissolving half of Taipei. Those drew a standing ovation from him, which might have been awkward since the entire crew of the aircraft carrier was watching him with rapt attention. Given that he’d liquidated their minds he wasn’t overly concerned with any critiques they might make though.

It wasn’t only the Earth that was providing him entertainment however. He couldn’t reach back to the [Fallen Kingdoms] – because of that woman! – but he was able to catch tiny glimpses of it whenever anyone opened a portal between the two realms.

He should probably have been concerned about that portal business.

No.

No reason to worry about that at all.

Portals open all the time.

How else could the Earthlings have gotten there?

Plus it was going to make going back to finish up the job he’d started so much easier

Which made sense and was a perfectly plausible reason to ignore them for the time being.

Through the perfectly harmless and not at all interesting portals, Byron spied the thousand armageddon’s he’d unleashed on the [Fallen Kingdoms] through Gulini. 

Not that there were a thousand left any more. 

Which was to be expected.

Some of them he’d barely put any effort into at all.  Some of them he’d even let that foolish amateur Gulini have sole input on. And some had been solely for his own amusement. The world ending in a storm of [Infinite Paperwork]? Even he had to admit that would have been too silly to let stand..

More than just the silly armageddons had been averted though. From the peeks and glimpses Byron managed to catch, some of his more well crafted efforts had been overcome.

A single group of [Adventurers] had managed to transform the [Sun Eating Dragon’s Egg] into an [Adult Sun Eating Dragon] without the seemingly obvious step of allowing the dragon in question to eat their sun! Byron watched as the [Adventurers] and their new dragon friend exited the star system under the dragon’s inherent [Wyrmhole] powers, heading off to consume some of the other star, or have amazing galactic adventurers, or some other nonsense he was sure.

That was quite the disappointment but there were still hundreds of world ending threats moving at full speed to destroy the [Fallen Kingdoms] and Gulini had been correct, only one needed to be successful to clear a path to the true obliteration of the realm.

And then he felt it.

He’d been so happy a moment before. Watching a [High Wizards Tower] fall into ruin had been like biting into an ugly fruit and discovering it was a particularly tasty treat. 

But his attention had been ripped away.

To her.

She was here.

On Earth.

A chill passed through Byron. 

That’s just silly. Don’t worry about it. We knew she was here already. We’ve sent things to deal with her. Powerful things!

Powerful things like the most renowned horror of a sprawling dark cosmic milieu.

Yes. That Cthulhu thing. She was definitely dead.

No! Even Better! Consumed! Cthulhu devoured those who opposed him. She was gone, Byron was sure of it. Swallowed into the belly of a literally indestructible god.

That had been what he had felt.

Her being consumed.

Her being gone.

Her no longer being any kind of menace to him at all.

Definitely.

He risked a peek anyways.

And screamed.

Not a squeak of fright. Not a bellow of anger. The scream Byron let out was one of the ones that doesn’t really have an end date in mind. It was the sort of sound the suggested disbelief and rage had been cheating on each other with mind numbing terror and all three had just discovered the fact.

Human lungs have a significant limit on the volume they can produce. No matter how much cardio an Earthling might do, they would never manage to out scream a tornado, or hush a volcano, or out bellow tectonic plates crashing together to form a new mountain range.

Byron’s lungs were not quite so feeble however.

He didn’t know when he’d started thrashing on the deck of the aircraft carrier, but he did know it didn’t seem to be helping.

No matter how hard he banged his head into the metal, or through the metal, he couldn’t drive out the image he’d seen. He couldn’t pretend she’d hadn’t done exactly what he’d said she’d do.

It was the pretty pink bow that really got him though. He just couldn’t unsee that.

So he sank the boat.

It didn’t help.

Drowning was no good when you didn’t have to breath and pressure was meaningless to you.

He knew what he had to do.

He’d been trying to stay focused on the larger task, been trying to ignore the danger she posed to him in the hopes of avoiding Unknown’s fate. Byron was sure that it had been Unknown’s repeated and direct assaults on her that had led to each of the transformations he’d suffered, and was determined to learn from the mistakes of others. Especially the one where Unknown had succumbed to his current condition of ‘existing’ due to trying to battle against her.

How could his earlier self not have seen things clearly?

She was to blame!

She was always to blame!

So, given that, stay away from her had clearly been the most sensible thing to do.

And yet she’d followed him. Across worlds even! So, clearly, staying away was not a viable option. He needed to take the fight to her.

He threw up again.

It was a bad idea.

He did not want to face her again.

No. More than “did not want”. Because he wasn’t supposed to ‘want’ in the first place.

He simply could not face her. It was impossible. He literally could not risk it.

So, we’ll just accept that as a limitation? Just define ourself all neatly like that? We’re the one who can’t face our creator? Does the road back to oblivion go in that direction?

Of course it didn’t..

Which meant that, though it was impossible, Byron was going to face his creator once more.

Tessa

Trouble was coming. Tessa did need to be a genius to work that one out. Despite her certainty of that fact however, she couldn’t help but feel a little giddy.

“He knows how to dance?” Rip asked. From the uncertainty in her voice, she was still struggling to believe what she was seeing.

“He apparently knows the [Harlem Shuffle],” Matt said. “Wait? [Harlem Shuffle] is a magic word?”

The thought should have been worrisome. If parts of regular, old, mundane Earth history were receiving the [Fallen Kingdoms] special terminology treatment, it meant the two worlds were blending even more deeply than Tessa had imagined, which was probably an apocalypse in its own right.

But Kitty Cthulhu had summoned a building sized boombox and was busy entertaining the people he’d been trying to destroy just moments earlier. It was hard to do anything but laugh at that sort of apocalypse.

An unstoppable, indestructible, Elder God had become a cut and cuddly, if still absurdly gigantic, kid’s mascot character. 

And Tessa had been the one who’d stopped him.

“However much I mess up from here, at least I managed to do this,” she said on the private channel she shared once more with Lisa.

“I’m still curious how you pulled it off?” Lisa said. “You made a whole new spell up. On the fly. We’re not even supposed to be able to cast spells here, and even if we were back in the [Fallen Kingdoms] spell creation is something that only the NPCs can do, and that only happens during the reality ripples that come along with an update. So, how? Just how?”

“Partially, it’s because I was able to spend some time looking at how our spells work,” Pillowcase said. “And I’ve got several archives worth of enhancement theory woven into my brain.”

“Partially it’s also because I have a ton of unclaimed abilities as a [Void Speaker],” Tessa said.

“And partially it just seemed like an appropriate situation to take a ridiculously dangerous risk,” Pillowcase said. “Not to mention that Fari got us so many more connections to Cthulhu’s essence than we could ever hope to need or want.”

“You had mentioned that you were working on a banishing special though,” Fari said and added quickly, “Apologies if this channel was meant to be private? The encryption on it is weak enough that I couldn’t be sure.”

“It is,” Lisa said, “but you raise a good point.”

“The spell I was working on was somewhat loosely defined,” Pillowcase said. “I was counting on a lot of environmental factors to help it work. With what you gave me though, I had enough access to the heart of what Cthulhu is, which let me grab hold of the god spark within him.”

“Oh. OH!” Lisa said.

“It wasn’t enough for a full divine power up like the last one,” Tessa said. “I couldn’t have taken Cthulhu’s self away from him no matter what I tried. What I figured out I could do though was to use it to change him into something he already was.”

“The form we see before us is an alternate shape he can take?” Fari asked.

“It goes deeper than that,” Tessa said. “Cthulhu was created almost a century ago in stories from Earth. However the [Fallen Kingdoms] became real, the same thing or something similar happened to Cthulhu’s version Earth. The thing is though that there’s not just one version of Cthulhu out there. Other writers have told stories in his world, and about him. A lot of other writers in fact. So which one is the truth? If the original can be real, why couldn’t the others? Some of them are far better known than the first version is.”

“That is a very powerful spell you wove,” Fari said. “It crossed multiversal boundaries. That’s not something personal magics are capable of in my home universe.”

“It shouldn’t be something that magic is capable of here either,” Lost Alice said.

“I know, and that does worry me,” Tessa said. “The fact that I was able to do that..” she pointed to Kitty Cthulhu, who was helping clear some of the rubble from the battle. The buildings were a loss, but being able to move cars and trucks through the streets was still valuable. “..suggests that something in this world is breaking down badly.”

“That’s likely why we’re here I expect,” Fari said. “We have a few methods of multiversal transport but most of them are accidental, and while our current trip appeared to fit that category the odds are steadily diminishing given that we appear to have arrived precisely when we were needed most.”

“Believe me, we’re grateful for that,” Tessa said. “If you hadn’t shown up, I think all we might have managed would be to taste good before Cthulhu finished digesting us.”

“I’m glad we were able to help,” Fari said. “And I know Mel and Darius feel the same. Unfortunately, I don’t know that there is much we can do about the basic laws of reality unraveling. For problems like that we typically turn to the Crystal Empress.”

“I’m going to guess that’s not someone you can call at the moment?” Lisa asked.

“Not directly,” Fari said. “She does sometimes hear our prayers though, so if all other hope is lost…”

“I think if all hope is lost, it’ll be up to us to find some more,” Tessa said. “I could be entirely wrong, but the other thing that felt like it helped pull the spell together? It wasn’t the magicaI theory I know as Pillowcase, or the undefined powers I have as a [Void Speaker]. It wasn’t anything with power at all. It was just regular old, boring me.”

“Impossible,” Lisa said. “You are many things, but oh my god are you not boring.”

“I was,” Tessa said. “And that’s okay. I didn’t have to be anything special. I was just me, unexciting flaws, and unremarkable strengths, both stuffed into a pretty unexceptional package. Take away everything I can do, and maybe that’s what I’d go right back to being. It’s still a part of me after all. And an important one. One that has something none of my other personas do – a connection to how this world was without any magic, or super science, or anything else out of the ordinary. I anchored the spell on that side of me, so that it could be a part of that purely mundane natural order. I don’t think I could have done that with any magic that was going to change the world, but for a spell that was going to save it? I think that’s exactly what we needed.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 8

Taipei, Taiwan

When the sky starts raining blood, that’s usually a bad sign. When the blood is more corrosive than organic acid, that’s definitely a bad sign. When the pools of blood rise up as part of a sentient blood blob hivemind, that’s pretty much the worst sign possible.

Mei-hua wished she could still believe that was true. In the streets around her, the world was quite literally melting down. The blood rain had been enough to get people indoors before it started dissolving everything. That in turn had convinced the population of Taipei that they needed to be someone else. The army of blood blob monsters had hurried that notion along even as some of the population had begun to understand just how bad their day had become.

Fleeing from a city under siege by inhuman monsters raining down from space was a fantastic idea, but it did beg the question of where, exactly, they could flee too.

It wasn’t that Taipei was the only place on the island, or that passage off of Taiwan was impossible to come by. The problem was that there didn’t seem to be anywhere that wasn’t currently experiencing its own special little slice of armageddon.

Not to mention the fact that Mei-hua had lived in Taipei for thirty five years. Watching a horde of [Blood Blobs] melting down her favorite coffee house did not leave her in the mood to run away.

And she wasn’t the only one.

She’d head of the people who’d vanished to other worlds, drawn away into virtual realities, and how some of them seemed to have weaponized the effect and dragged away the monsters that were assaulting their cities with them.

Mei-hua didn’t have any alternate worlds that she felt particularly connected to though. She’d always been more drawn to fictions around the real world, mysteries, thrillers, romances, and action movies. It wasn’t that she couldn’t suspend her disbelief enough to enjoy a good fantasy tale but her early experiences with them had been soured either by the people she saw them with, or by the atrociously bad writing of the stories themselves. She still had friends who tried to convince her to play this fantasy MMO or watch that magical adventure film, but they just didn’t feel like they were for her.

Which wasn’t to say that the games she did play were ones people would have expected her to enjoy.

“Boom. Headshot,” she said as a round from the entirely real-looking rifle that she’d conjured into being exploded the top half of one of the [Blood Blobs].

“How can it be a headshot when they have no heads?” her friend and fellow FPS veteran, Chih-ming asked.

“They have a brain somewhere in there,” she said, lining up another shot. “It’s floating in the goo, but you can see a shadow of it if you watch them for a moment.”

“Bah. I don’t have your aim. I’m going to do it my own style,” Chih-ming said.

Mei-hua didn’t need to ask what that was. Despite being separated by three blocks, she fancied she could see the fiery glare the moment he opened up with his flamethrower.

They weren’t alone, and more and more people were starting to see that they could fit back, but Mei-hua had played a lot of horde annihilation style games and she didn’t like how the numbers she was seeing added up.

Santiago, Chile

Isabella felt like she was one of the unlucky few. So many of the other players in her [Broken Horizons] guild had been drawn over to the [Fallen Kingdoms] and yet because she had a modicum of skill and was talented enough to not let her character Stardancer die, she was stuck in the real world still, though the view outside her window left her questioning just how real her world could possibly be.

[Fire Zombies].

Those weren’t a thing that happened in the real world.

They weren’t even a thing that made sense.

That didn’t seem to be stopping them from existing however.

“I may need to come over to you after all,” Isabella said, speaking to Stardancer, however impossible that might be.

“Things are not what you would call great here either,” Stardancer said as she [Shadow Stepped] away from an attack by a [Dread Wormling] the size of a bus. 

The [Dread Wormlings] were spawning at a rate of “Solidly Far Too Many Much Much Too Often”. 

“Yeah, but you can handle that. You’re amazing,” Isabella said, watching a [Fire Zombie] climbing into a second floor window across the street to gain entrance to a room where it could find more combustibles.

The inhabitants of the building had seen it coming, [Fire Zombies] were just as predictable as another depiction of zombies that Isabella has seen, and were waiting with fire extinguishers. 

Not all of the buildings on the city had such sensible defenders unfortunately.

“We’re amazing,” Stardancer said. “If I lost you now, I would be so much slower. And deader.”

“Which is why I’m thinking I should figure out how to get to you,” Isabella said. “Without you dying.”

“I’d happily die if it meant keeping you safe, but I don’t know if we’re going to win this one,” Stardancer said, two of her [Shadow Wraiths] vanished as another [Dread Wormling] landed on them. The [Shadow Wraiths] managed to do their job and drain the wormlings of the last ounce of their life essence, but by the time Stardancer had called two more [Shadow Wraiths] into existence five more [Dread Wormlings] were in play on the field of battle.

“Trust me. You are going to win,” Isabella said. “The only time you ever lost was when I let you down. You’ve always been an invincible badass.”

“Far from it,” Stardancer said. “But it is nice that you think so.”

“I know so,” Isabella said. “But I’m starting to think we’ve only got enough badass between us to save one of our worlds.”

Mumbai, India

Gita wanted to celebrate her 80th birthday. She’d been looking forward to it. Her family had flown in from the far corners of the world they’d dispersed to and she knew it might be the last time she would see many of them.

There’d been all sorts of preparations made by her three daughters and four or five of her grand daughters, but just seeing her grand children and great grand children were sure to have eclipsed all of the other efforts people went to.

It was a simple thing to wish for, a very reasonable request of life in Gita’s opinion, but instead something unreasonable had happened.

An eclipse to be precise.

Not of the moon interposing itself between the sun and the Earth. No, Gita didn’t have to worry about anything as mundane as that. Her birthday present instead turned out to be a flying sauce.

Specifically a [Gem Locust Terraforming Arc]. 

It was larger than the metropolitan area of Mumbai and so the shadow it cast rather effectively turned day into night.

The military had been called upon to deal with it, but Earth weapons were proving to be laughably ineffective against the bugs’ galaxy spanning alien technology.

The reports that Gita listened to said the Terraforming ship had spent an hour irradiating an area just short of a kilometer in radius. The radiation, if it was radiation, seemed to be creating a selective green house effect that was spreading on its own, even after the beam turned off.

The rate of growth seemed to be slow, but it was picking up speed, and at the present rate of acceleration would overrun the city within the day, the country within three day and the world sometime before the end of the week.

Gita was not in favor of this.

Nor were several others.

She was pleased to see that while many people were lost in throes of despair, there were a few bright stars leading struggling to blaze a path forward.

A young boy rose above the city riding a disc of light. From his hands lightning flared and scoured the side of the Terraforming Arc.

One boy against an alien battle force was far from enough though, and no sooner had his attack begun than he was pushed back onto a defensive footing, zooming first high above the alien ship and then down low, seeking cover in the city he was trying to protect.

“That is not right,” Gita said, standing up with only a little help from her cane.

For a moment no one saw her. It was a forgivable error. Gita hadn’t been moving around all that much lately, and there was a giant alien warship hanging over head like an omen of doom seconds away from being fulfilled.

Gita made it to the front door before her oldest son noticed and caught up to her.

“Mother! Where are you going?” Ramesh asked her.

“Out there,” Gita said, as though it wasn’t perfectly obvious.

“But what can you do?” Ramesh asked, looking utterly bewildered.

“I imagine we’ll find out,” Gita said, feeling a calling within her that she hadn’t heard for almost a lifetime.

Niamey, Niger

Amina knew what snow was. She also knew it was absolutely not supposed to be falling Niamey or anywhere else in Niger. 

The snow wasn’t what bothered her however.

It was the voices that spoke through the snow. Those were what disturbed her. 

The snow storm was burying Niamey in ice heavy enough to start collapsing some of the weaker buildings, but it was the voices that were the true danger.

Listening to them invited them to you. They seemed to know who was paying attention and they spoke louder and drew closer the longer you listened until…

Amina didn’t want to think about that, but it was difficult to ignore the once-human snow beasts that were stalking the empty streets. 

She’d seen more than one person collapse after being assaulted by the voices in the snow, only to watch them rise a moment later, their skin transformed into a crystalline blue  substance that cracked with every movement they made.

“I’ve got the door boarded shut and I found these,” Nana, Amina’s most beloved friend said, offering a pair of ear plugs in her outstretched hand.

“Will we be able to hear each other though?” Amina asked.

Nana laughed and shook her head. “They’re not that strong. They just make things a little quieter. I don’t know if they’ll even help, but I thought we could try.”

“Oh, yes, certainly!” Amina said. The voices were terrible, but somehow the prospect of sitting in total silence seemed even scarier.

She fitted the plugs into her ears after watching Nana to see how it was done. 

“They feel weird, and I can still hear things,” Amina said.

“That’s good,” Nana said. “Just try to make sure they stay in.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Amina said. “If they fall out I’m sure I’ll feel it.”

She assumed she’d also hear the difference too, except everything sounded pretty similar to how it had before.

Similar but not the same.

“You can still hear the howling out there, right?” she asked.

“It’s quieter but…” Nana paused, listening more intently just as Amina was.

“But the voices, they’re missing something,” Amina said.

“The don’t sound as threatening somehow?” Nana said. “Does that make sense? I’m going to take the plug out  and…”

Amina grabbed her arm to stop her.

“No. This might be good. We might be able to use this!” she said.

“What do you mean ‘use it’? What can we do about any of this?” Nana asked.

“I don’t know,” Amina said. “And I don’t think anyone else does either. I was so scared before you found me. I just wanted to find some rock to crawl under and hide.”

“It would be a rock covered in snow if you went out there,” Nana said.

“I know,” Amina said. “That’s why I think we can’t wait here. If we do, the snow will eventually bury us, or one of the voices will come in here and pull the ear plugs out, or something else even more horrible. Because there’s no one who can stop it.”

“And you think we can?” Nana asked.

“I think we found something that might help,” Amina said. “Maybe somebody else found something else. Maybe together we can figure out something we can do to stop this. I think that’s our only hope now. This is so much bigger than us, and if we don’t save each other, there’s going to be no one who can.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 7

The madness of a broken cosmos crashed down on Tessa, fetid, freezing air surrounding her as light in impossible colors filled her eyes and drove spikes of unreasoning terror into the center of her pysche.

“Absorbing cosmic interference,” Pillowcase said, bringing ghostly after images of otherworldly stitching partially into Earth’s reality.

“Wait we don’t need to use one of your [Soul Knight] powers to do that?” Tessa asked.

“For a Tier 3 Psychic Corruption effect?” Pillowcase scoffed. “Please, I was stitched better than that!”

Above them, the tentacled maw of the High Priest of the Great Old Ones loomed as Dread Cthulhu stretched forth his inhuman hands to grasp and devour them.

“[Death’s Uncrossable Divide],” Lost Alice called out, erecting a dome of necrotic force around them.

Great Cthulhu was used to death. He’d lain beneath the Pacific Ocean in the sleep of death for many strange aeons. Against Lost Alice’s spell however, his mastery over death availed him rather less than he might have expected it to. Rather than crumbling at his touch, Lost Alice’s magical barrier reach out and withered the cosmic monster’s hand.

Sadly that wasn’t even close to stopping him.

“He’s got a lot of life, that spell should be stripping him to a dead husk and it’s barely scratching his health bar,” Lost Alice said.

“He’s got a health bar?” Tessa asked, a hiccup of elation passing through her.

It was a widely known fact that the worst mistake an enemy could make in an MMO was to have combat stats. If they only appeared in cut scenes and were never directly targetable by the characters, an enemy could be as completely unstoppable as the lore suggested they should be. The moment someone gained a health bar though? As a wise man once said, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

“Not going to have one for long!” Rip said. “[Wrath of Heaven’s King].”

Above them ten thousand circles of blazing golden light flared open and from them fell a torrent of arrows made of fire and divine rage. Rip had aimed the barrage away from Tessa’s position, which was good because everything that wasn’t Cthulhu inside the radius of devastation was reduced to shattered powder and ash.

Tessa couldn’t see Cthulhu’s health bar, but from his outward appearance she guessed the attack had scuffed him at least little bit. Whether it was the damage, or Rip’s incantation alerting him to her presence, he turned his attention from Tessa and Lost Alice and over to where Rip was standing defiantly against him.

With a step that shook the city, Cthulhu moved towards his new prey, sanity blasting light swirling from his eyes.

“[Vault of Nightmares Unleashed],” Matt called out. 

At first Tessa thought the spell had failed. It wouldn’t have been surprising. As a High Priest of the Great Old Ones, Cthulhu was proof against all but a few mortal spells.

He was not, however proof against being hit in the head with a boat.

The [Vault of Nightmares] held every fear and horror that could ever stalk the dreaming mind, and chose the manifestation of its attacks based on the target’s psyche. That Cthulhu had negative connotations concerning boats wasn’t terribly surprising. He was known for living in the ocean and as Tessa recalled the first story he’d appeared in ended with him being rammed by a fishing trawler. 

As the alien monstrosity topped onto the wings on his back, Tessa noted that ‘proof against mortal spells’ was apparently useless against [Adventurers] which somewhat confirmed that they weren’t exactly mortal any more. The idea had frightened her originally – the thought of becoming something inhuman carrying some deep seated cultural bias against it. Reflecting on the past few weeks though, she had to admit that the nonhumans she’d encountered had been some of the best people she’d ever had the honor to get to know.

Also, her own inhuman side seemed to be pretty awesome.

Thank you, Pillowcase said.

Cthulhu tried to rise but Mel, the Guardian who’d been the first wave of the battle against him, slammed the giant monster to the ground. She was probably only one millionth of his overall mass, but the energy that wreathed her fist seemed to make up the difference easily.

“She must have fairly good mental defenses too,” Pillowcase said.

“I thought you said Cthulhu’s mind whammy power was only Tier 3?” Tessa asked.

“Tier 3’s typically enough to render a planetary population into a vegetative state,” Pillowcase said.

“And you were built tougher than that? Why?” Tessa asked, a thread of anger rising in her. How dare the Consortium put her other self into a situation where she’d need that much protection? She knew it was a silly thought, but she still felt oddly protective of Pillowcase despite the [Clothwork] being far tougher than a [Human]. 

“It was considered a valid tactic to send in a small army of [Artifax] troops and then detonate psychic bombs to turn the unprotected minds of the populace on a newly opened world into jello. Costly, but less so than facing some forms of resistance would be,” Pillowcase said. “I get how horrible that is now by the way, though at the time it just seemed sensible.”

“I’m just surprised they didn’t try that with the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Tessa said.

“Azma doesn’t seem to be that wasteful. Also too many [Adventurers] could have resisted the effect.”

“How is your spell going?” Fari asked, appearing within Lost Alice’s protective dome.

“I’ve found three threads so far,” Tessa said. “If I can find twelve more, I should have enough to bend around all the many angles in his core. Once he’s all wrapped up, I’m pretty sure I can kick him back to his own world and the threads will keep him bound there.”

In the wasteland beyond them, Cthulhu swatted Mel hard enough to send her into the stratosphere, before rising on membranous wings to eclipse the sky.

“What threads do you need?” Fari asked.

“Bits of his essence,” Tessa said. “Our friend Pete pulled one of the [Void Walkers] out of this world because he understood it enough to form a bond with it. He was able to grab the bits of that had become real here and carry them over to the world they were supposed to be in. Where they kind of want to be by their very nature. I need to do the same thing with the bits of Cthulhu that have become real already.”

“That sounds like data,” Fari said.

“It is. My working theory is that where things on Earth are built from fundamental information such as the spin of quarks and the waveform for the speed and velocity of particles, things like Cthulhu are built from another form of information – basically the data invested in him through the imagination of those who know his story. Up until a little while ago, that sort of information wasn’t substantial enough to be ‘real’ here in any sense, if that makes any sense?”

“Yes,” Fari said. “One moment. Processing feeds.”

“[Broken Horizons] had a storyline like that about four years ago,” Lisa said as Fari’s gaze went distant. “Creatures from the [Dreamlands] were manifesting in the [Fallen Kingdoms] when people slept near [Ruby Dreamstone Fragments]. The idea was that the fragments weakened the integrity of reality in general blending the two worlds together. If you slept near one though, the creatures that emerged were able to change from illusory to fully real by using the sleepers as a template on how to be real. We wound up having to fight them on the border between the two planes so that the two parts of them would go back to their right places when they were destroyed.”

Cthulhu renewed his attacks on Lost Alice indestructible shield.

Which began to crack under the pressure.

“How is he so aggro’d on us?” Lisa asked.

“It’s the spell I’m working on,” Pillowcase said. “He can feel me grabbing onto bits of his essence and he is not happy about that.”

“You haven’t been speaking any invocations though?” Lost Alice asked.

“That would be because I’m inventing this spell on the fly,” Pillowcase said.

“I’m sorry, what?” Lisa asked, justifiably concerned.

“The [Fallen Kingdoms] had banishing spells – well rituals typically – but nothing that could handle [Deity] class opponents,” Pillowcase said.

“But you can?” Lost Alice asked.

“If I can gather enough threads of his essence, and if we’re on a world the deity in question is not supposed to be on? And if I don’t mess something up? I think I can give it a solid ‘probably’ in that case,” Pillowcase said.

“You needed twelve threads of essence, is that correct?” Fari asked, her gaze returning to the present and her immediate location.

“If we can get them,” Pillowcase said. “I can try it with fewer but that’ll leave him a bigger opening to escape through.”

“Perhaps these will help then,” Fari said. “May I transfer some data to your mind? Directly?”

“Sure. If you can,” Tessa said.

Links to twelve fundamental truths Cthulhu had been able to make real on Earth so far flooded into Tessa’s mind.

Followed by twelve more.

And twelve more.

And twelve more.

The stream of information became a torrent and her mind reeled at the breadth and scope of the details on offer.

Under the onslaught, the spell she’d been working on frayed, but Pillowcase was there to grab hold of fragments that were threatening to tear apart.

And still more truths, and more data came pouring in.

We have to tell her to stop, Pillowcase said.

No! Not yet, I can deal with this. Just gotta chunk it all up.

Bits of information on Cthulhu’s weight and size and mass and heat and overall physicality went into one mental box. Details of the magic he bore, both active and passive, integrated with Tessa’s Earth and not went into another mental box. 

As more data came roaring in, Tessa gave the weaving of the spell over to Pillowcase and focused on simply sorting and classifying what the information pertained to.

As each box filled up and she couldn’t hold any more data about that topic in mind, she dumped it into the banishment spell.

Outside her awareness, beyond the curtain of her eyelids, the battle raged on with ever increasing fury.

Mel descended from the stratosphere with enough impact to wipe out the dinosaurs. She could have erased San Francisco with her punch, but her magics focused and channeled all of the force squarely into Cthulhu, starting from his head down.

The ancient horror exploded under the blow, vaporizing into a cloud of toxic miasma.

From which he then immediately reformed.

“Aww, I hate things that can do that,” Mel complained.

Starchild called forth a [Subduction Earth Elemental] as large as a building to encase Cthulhu in an eternal tomb of stone, but at Cthulhu’s touch the elemental crumbled away as though exposed to an unfathomable gulf of time.

Eyes blazing once again with impossible light, Cthulhu rose again into the air, and this time when he opened his maw, a discordant chorus emerged and the space around him began to waver.

“Dimensional nexus forming,” Fari said. “We’ll need your spell online soon or I’ll have to unleash some of our ship’s guns to contain this thing.”

“No worries,” Pillowcase said as Tessa opened her eyes, from which light in the same impossible colors that radiated from Cthulhu shown.

You okay in there? Lisa asked on their private channel.

Yep. Sorry. Just took some extra time to handle all the data Fari dumped on me, Tessa said, a somewhat manic edge tinging her voice.

Was it enough? Lisa asked.

More than, Tessa said.

How so ‘more than’? Lisa asked, concerning rising in her voice to match Tessa’s mania.

I see him now. All of him. Tessa said. He’s not a giant anymore. Everything he is? I can hold it all in the palm of my hand! 

She laughed, mad glee filling her to bursting.

I’ve done it before in fact! she said.

I don’t know if you should, Lisa said. You’re not sounding like yourself. Maybe you should drop the spell?

Tessa turned to Lisa, fighting to suppress the mirth she felt. Power was definitely a rush, and divine power even more so.

I’m okay, she said. Really. It’s just that this is so fun and its going to mess Byron up soooo much!

What is? Lisa asked.

Look! Tessa said, gesturing to the cosmic horror who was no longer hammering on the protective barrier in front of them.

The cosmic horror who was no longer either cosmic, or a horror.

“Did…did Cthulhu just get a makeover from Sanrio?” Lady Midnight asked.

“Who?” Yawlorna asked.

“He’s a Hello Kitty now?” Rip asked as the giant, and suddenly cute and cuddly puffy creature in front of them reached up to adjust the adorable pink bow at the top of its head before letting out just the cutest of squeaks.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 6

Byron watched an island sink beneath the waves as the ground beneath it crumbled under the onslaught of the minion he’d placed at the center of the world. It was a victory of the concept, and the first tangible proof of the world’s inevitable demise. 

It was also blandly disappointing.

“I wouldn’t mind if had been a big island,” he said. “Or had people on it, but really, what’s the point of sinking some a tiny little dot in the ocean that no one cares about. If people can’t see what’s coming, and know I was the one responsible for their glorious dissolution into oblivion, then where, please tell me, is the joy in it?”

Arrayed around him the crew of the aircraft carrier the USS Taft stood at attention, alert to his every word, not out of choice or inclination but because he’d invaded the ship as a memetic virus and overwritten their minds. It really made for the best audiences when the people he was speaking to were incapable of do anything except listening to him.

Of course, the existence of people in general was something of a problem, but until he was ready for the big wrap up, Byron found having an audience an acceptable allowance.

Static ran through his mind at the thought.

Why was he a ‘he’ still? Shouldn’t ‘he’ be an ‘it’ at this point? Or something even less defined than an ‘it’?

The argument was one he’d be having with himself since he adopted the name Byron again.

Not that he was Byron.

An actual person? Even the thought brought a wave of distaste rolling through him, which in itself was wrong.

He wasn’t supposed to feel disgusted. Or delighted with his audience. Or anything.

Static, or Oblivion to be accurate, raged along what should not have been his nerves. It was agonizing, and terrifying, and a typical part of Byron’s day by that point.

He was a creature of nothing, something that did not and could not exist. And yet he most definitely was breathing in salt air, absorbing sunlight on his skin, and experiencing a variety of conflicting emotions.

Principally there was aggravation. He knew his current form was superior to the ones he’d worn earlier. As a [Formless Hunger] he’d managed to consume one tiny village before a perfectly normal woman had ripped him to pieces. That was embarrassing and as clear proof as any might need that reverting to a non-sapient existence before his task was done was not going to accomplish anything except offering his adversaries the chance to recast him into some other form once again. Worse, based on the evidence of the fragment that became Unknown, it seemed entirely possible that any new form might lead to embracing a continuing existence, and just how would the static that was trying to tear him to pieces like that?

The static quieted, Byron’s destructive essence lulled into temporary quiessence once again. He couldn’t tell if it was growing surlier or if he was simply losing patience with the process as well. Quite possibly both.

“But of course, what do I have to be concerned about?” he said, stalking across the deck in front of the mindless zombies.

It was a safe question to ask. They couldn’t know the answer, and were incapable of voicing it even if he let it slip.

And he was not going to speak those words, was not going to name his foes, not even to himself.

“I knew she would come,” he said. “I was prepared. That’s not why you’re here of course. I don’t need any of you to protect me.”

The hundreds of miles of ocean which separated them from the nearest land mass was something of a comfort, Byron had to admit. On Earth, he was sure her transportation options would be limited.

“She’s not even going to have any of her powers!” it was important that he convince the crew – his crew – that she was harmless. That they had nothing to fear from her.

It was true too, Tessa – damn don’t even think the name, he scolded himself – the woman wasn’t going to be the indestructible menace with powers designed expressly to thwart him. She was just a human here, just like all the humans he had assembled on deck. He could add her to their roster with no effort at all.

And then he could sail the ship into the whirlpool formed by the sinking of the next island to deliver her directly to the beast that was eating the world’s heart.

A chill ran through him at the thought.

She would defeat it.

No!

Worse!

She was convert it! She would somehow turn it against him, and turn it into something harmless. Perhaps even cute. 

In place of the world destroying ally, there would be a planet guarding entity.

Byron screamed and tore at his hair.

It was so damn unfair!

No. She wasn’t going to come for him. She didn’t know where he was. And she didn’t have the power to stop him. Or the power to change him.

He vomited a wave of static onto the ship that promptly obliterated the decks beneath and the hull. It wasn’t enough to sink the ship though. He was still okay.

“This place is so revolting,” he told his crew. 

It hadn’t been weakness and fear that overcame him. It was anger. Anger was a good emotion. It destroyed things. And that was what he did. What he was.

Artfully though. It was important to destroy things artfully. To make a proper presentation of it.

Why? They were going to be obliterated. Not only to no longer exist, but to never have existed in the first place. The entire cosmos around him was going to be unwound and undone, from its pointless beginning to its meaningless end.

So what was the point of art?

The static within Byron stirred. Was he tricking himself? Playing some game he couldn’t look at directly without it falling apart?

No. Of course not. That would be silly.

He played with other people, confused, deceived, manipulated. Those was all quite enjoyable pastimes, but he was never anything but scrupulously honest with himself. It was what gave him the edge to win. If he bought into his lies, he would be as vulnerable to them as his targets were. It was only by seeing himself as he truly was and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was committed to the evaporation of all the universes he could worm a path into that he would have the tools to survive…to overcome…to unmake that woman.

The static quieted, pleased to know that there was definitely no spark of the original Byron that still existed.

He was a new creature. A self-made one. No trace of the disgustingly real man he’d once been.

Why, even if he had retained aspects of the original Byron, it wouldn’t have mattered. Not really. Byron had always hated the world around him. No matter which world it was. There wasn’t anyone the original Byron would have had the slightest reservation of consigning to the depths of oblivion.

Except for himself of course.

Byron had found all manner of amusements in his life, and clung to it rather tenaciously. 

Which was only to be expected of course. All living things are wired for survival. Those that weren’t, didn’t.

Which was nothing to worry about.

No living thing could resist the touch of the [Relentless Hunger] that had consumed Byron. The original Byron. Who wasn’t in existence at all anymore.

The crew of the ship were proof of that.

Well, the crew and the various hordes of followers Byron had left behind to cause general chaos and excitement. It hadn’t been especially artful, he had to admit that, but as camouflage, a means to ensure that she couldn’t catch up with him? Top notch work.

He mustn’t think of her though.

But hadn’t she resisted the [Formless Hunger’s] touch?

No. Of course not. It had been a fluke, a weakness of that form, by the time he evolved into the form that met the original Byron he’d changed more than enough to be free of that frailty.

But he’d attacked her three times on the satellite moon.

Three times was more than a fluke.

Especially since she’d hurt him each and every time.

Forced him to change, each and every time.

If she could do that…

That wasn’t something to worry about. No one else had ever resisted any of his previous forms like she had. It was a fluke and nothing more.

And she was going to come back to the Earth and be destroyed here. So it wasn’t going to matter. When he unmade Tessa – no! “that woman” – her whole history would be erased along with her. There would never have been a time when she, or anyone else, resisted a Hungers effects.

It was a calming thought, but the static inside him still burbled and grumbled.

That was a bad sign for it. The heart of oblivion within him shouldn’t be aggravated. It shouldn’t be anything. It should focus on that first, destroy its own worries since it shouldn’t have them at all. Not if it was going to be what it was supposed to be.

As for the original Byron? He certainly wouldn’t be opposing the creature he’d become. He would be aiding it. There wasn’t anything worth fighting for after all and those who did choose to fight were simply deluded fools.

Life had no meaning. Byron had always known that. People created meaning from nothing and then were so surprised when their illusions crumbled away. 

So much angst and unpleasantness proceeded that though. It was the great struggle of those who couldn’t accept reality, that they beat themselves to pieces insisting that the world was what they wished it to be. That there was something, anything, anywhere in all the worlds that would answer their plea and complete them. That those with the power to change the world ever used it for anything except chasing a future that could never be, or, more often, forging a replica of the future they desired from the bodies and souls of those beneath them. 

“What we need is more monsters,” Byron said, which his crew gave their silent agreement to. “Do you know why?”

They did not. They didn’t know anything in point of fact.

“Monsters are not what people imagine them to be. Real monsters are not merely creatures who are terrifying to look at. Real monsters are terrifying to understand. A proper monster doesn’t just scare you, it violates your belief in the fundamental nature of the world. You all so desperately need to believe you understand your world, that your experience allows you to place what happens to you into an intelligible framework. That, on some level, everything makes sense.”

Byron spun dramatically a cast his arms out to encompass the vast ocean around them.

“But it doesn’t. And it never has. Effect follows cause, but you can never know all of the causes? Then how are you to know that sometimes, things don’t just break down? That sometimes, your safety is a lie? That sometimes what you are is a lie?”

“I could unmake you all, right this moment,” Byron said. “And I should. Click clack and gone you are. All your loved ones left with gaping, unexplainable holes in their lives. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?”

“I could do that, but not yet. Don’t feel bad. It won’t be long. She’ll be here. Far too soon. Maybe that gives you hope? A rescuer approaches? No, that’s not how it will be. When she arrives, you will first play the role of hostage. They you will play the role of horror. She needs to see just how monstrous I am. She needs to understand what I’ve done. What I am going to do.”

Because, Byron absolutely did not dare to think, how else could she stop him?