“Fight” or “Flight” works for humans. For [Artifax], who are constructed for no other purpose than warfare however there is only “Fight” and “Fight Harder”. That was why Pillowcase’s words in the face of the effect which had overrun the [Ruins of Sky’s Edge] were so unsettling.
We need to run away, she said as the static field which covered the former area of the town crackled in front of them. Her voice was suffused with the serenity which lies beyond the deepest of fear at the sight, despite the fact that nothing was moving in the perfectly leveled field..
Tessa could have challenged Pillowcase’s declaration. They’d escaped the destructive wave when it swept through over the town. The distorted, crackling space which remained behind couldn’t hurt them. It was just visual static and weirdly looping white noise.
It brewed terror in her soul.
But she couldn’t say why.
Just seeing something couldn’t hurt you.
She was wrong about that. Neither Tessa nor Pillowcase’s memories could come up with how she was wrong, but a deeper part of her psyche, one which underlay them both, understood that the thing before her was something she wasn’t ever supposed to see. It was broken, and it could break her.
Tessa could have argued against that with herself but Pillowcase’s fear was far from unfounded. The [Clothwork] [Soul Knight] had better command of the senses the Consortium had woven into her body than Tessa did. They were one mind, driven by one subconscious, which meant Pillowcase’s terror was Tessa’s terror, but through Pillowcase she understood where that terror can from.
The static wasn’t harmless. It wasn’t just a weird light show. There was something living within it. Neither Tessa nor Pillowcase could see it directly. It wasn’t the kind of thing that even could be seen. Its existence was a violation of too many fundamental properties of reality.
“Yes. Keep running. Now,” Tessa said, agreeing with herself and offering orders to her team.
Orders she found it impossible to obey.
“I…I can’t,” Lisa said, her voice wavering on the same precipice of hopelessness Tessa teetered on
Tessa wanted to look at Lisa, wanted to reassure herself that everyone had made it out of the town safely, but she couldn’t tear her gaze away from the field of distorted space in front of her. Before her eyes it flowed and rippled and at the end of each chaotic wave was the promise of something glorious.
This is ridiculous, she said fighting for control of her thoughts by talking them out with her other self.
We need to run away, Pillowcase said, breathless and mono-focused.
How are you afraid of this? Tessa asked. You’re unstoppable. You literally don’t know fear.
Everything knows fear, Pillowcase said. [Artifax] are designed to never be overwhelmed by it.
Then what’s happening here?
This is wrong. More wrong than I can process. We need to run away.
Tessa tried to pull herself away but nothing moved. Her arms were locked, her legs were frozen in place, and her eyes couldn’t stop drinking in the static. Like they’d all gone numb.
Or like they weren’t hers anymore.
I don’t think we can, Tessa said, even her terror feeling like it was being consumed by the thing in the static.
How could she turn away from this? It wasn’t a question she’d asked herself but the idea was waiting for her there behind her eyes. A part of her, but not her.
Possession? Was the thing in the static reaching out beyond the borders of the town? Had it hit her with some enchantment or mind whammy that she had to shake off?
Tessa felt something alien moving in her thoughts. Something that was neither her, nor Pillowcase, nor any other part of her.
Weaponized doubt bit deep fangs into the center of her brain and pumped its venom into everything she knew.
Had she really escaped the town at all? Was what she was seeing real? How could it be when the static in front of her couldn’t be any part of a real world. Not Tessa’s Earth and not Pillowcase’s [Fallen Kingdoms].
There was no voice asking the questions, but there was an external will. Something unfathomable that lurked beyond the static which remained of [Sky’s Edge].
Beyond the static? No. Within it.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t distant. Not any longer. Maybe once it had been kept where things that couldn’t be were able to exist. Some unreal land with no border on any realm world.
Tessa imagined a malevolent force peering into the world, but held back on the other side of a mirror, or beyond the veil of dreams.
Whatever was within the static now was that sort of horror. Something whose essential nature unwrote the bindings of reality.
Was air a thing she needed to breath? In the presence of the thing within the static, air might never have existed. Or it might change to razer blades. Or fire. Or become solid. And not just air. Blood. Electrical signals. The strong and weak nuclear forces. Time.
Any of those might fail or be distorted into something unrecognizable, and the thing was no more than a literal stone’s throw away.
Tessa felt her thoughts crumbling as unnameable fears formed from one memory attaching to another
Or wasn’t it closer than that?
Was the static in the town, or, since she was seeing it plainly, wasn’t it inside her eyes?
With each little flicker and pop wasn’t the static crawling inside her?
It was in her mind already wasn’t it? With all that she was thinking about?
Wasn’t that why she couldn’t look away? Because she wasn’t really herself. She was just more noise in static and how could she look away from the static, when it was a part of her, when it was her?
Could she look away from herself?
Should she even try to hold herself apart from it?
She’d been made for war. She’d had a purpose. She was so empty without that. Why not fizz away into the static?
Maybe she already had.
“Tessa,” Obby called out. No instruction, no request. Just that word.
Just that name.
Tessa drew in a sharp breath and grasped Pillowcase’s thoughts. Pillowcase was hers. No one else got to play her. No one else got to write her story.
Anger crashed over her. Anger from within the static. From the thing that existed in the hisses and the pops and the hungry flickering of the light.
Tessa should have run. With Pillowcase’s thoughts collected with her own, she could move her body again. She could even pull her gaze away from the static, and be wholly herself once more.
What she couldn’t be was brave or defiant. The thing she was facing was beyond that. It wasn’t behind any walls any more. It was right where she was. To face it was to be destroyed. it didn’t merely kill heroes, it wasn’t that kind or that limited. If Tessa tried to be a hero, to meet its anger with her own, it would pour through her and turn each particle within her into itself.
All she could do was run, and all that would do is put off the time before it eventually caught her. There was no escape from something which could unmake every barrier, and unravel even the concept of distance and time. It projected the certainty of its victory with absolute force.
It was too much. Tessa couldn’t summon her courage against something so overwhelming. She couldn’t deny that it would destroy her.
But she couldn’t forget who she was either.
The thing in the static wanted her identity to vanish into the noise it would fill everything with. It wanted nothing to exist that was not a part of itself. No reality but a void filled with seething, meaninglessness.
Tessa wasn’t having any part of that.
Beyond fear, beyond hope, there is an island where the survival instinct falls away and all that remains are the primal forces that form a psyche.
Tessa choose Hunger and Spite from all the aspects which made her up.
Did this thing want to eat her? Fine! Let it try!
A terrible laughter rang within her.
She had no hope, but that didn’t mean she had to leave the thing in the static with any either.
Humans were omnivores, she’d show this thing just what that meant.
“[Casting spell: Lesser Spirit Drain]”
It was a small spell. Just a tiny bit of magic. A simple bit of spellcraft to pull away a bit of an enemy’s life and use it to strengthen the caster.
The thing in the static had no spirit. Nothing for the spell to effect. It should have sputtered out without a valid target.
<Not gonna let it fail>
Was it Tessa speaking? Pillowcase?
It would mean consuming a portion of something that was not meant to exist. It was a supernova scaled bad idea.
The [Formless Hunger] within the static paused.
Something was wrong.
It was wrong.
And not in the sense of being wrong for the reality it would feast on.
It felt something in itself be ripped away.
The warrior of cloth had stolen something from it.
It was missing a piece of what it was.
It began to shake. Not for the loss. It hadn’t lost much. Just a single flicker. A infinitesimal spark.
But it wasn’t supposed to have a spark to lose.
It wasn’t supposed to have a self at all.
And it definitely wasn’t supposed to have a name.
The [Formless Hunger] backpedaled. It scrambled to escape, but there was no escape for it. It had a name now. It could never go back to the anonymity of unbeing.
It howled but only the laughter of the warrior of cloth answered it.
>> [Lesser Spirit Drain] morphed to [Primal Devouring]!
>> [Major Corruption Resistance] gained!
>> [Transdimensional Integrity] gained!
>> Condition: [A Monster Grows Within] gained!
>> Condition removed.
>> Aspect: [Disjoined] gained.
>> WARNING: Definition Error detected
>> Replace “Aspect: [Disjoined]” with “Aspect: [Fractured]” Y/N?
>> Aspect: [Fractured] gained!
>> Choose Primary Identity: __________
>> [Soul Knight] Level 12, [Fractured] is missing an identity.
>> Choose Primary Identity: __________
>> Identity accepted.
>> Level Up!
>> Level 13 attained!
Pillowcase opened her eyes to see a read out of her level 13 improvements waiting for her. The expected mix of stat increases were coupled with an additional spell point and an upgrade to fraction of health which [Heart Killer’s Curse] would return.
All was in order.
Except it wasn’t.
“I’m [Fractured]?” she said as she sat up.
At her side, Lost Alice and the others were gathered. Rip Shot and Matt Painting were both close by as well. They seemed concerned.
“[Fractured]?” Rip Shot asked. “What kind of status condition is that? Can we fix it?”
“I don’t know,” Lady Midnight said. “None of my spells say anything about removing something like that.”
“It’s not a status effect,” Lost Alice said. There was pain in her eyes.
Pillowcase blinked at that. Empathy wasn’t a trait she’d been woven with. It tended to interfere with processing orders efficiently.
But she could feel an echo of the pain she saw in Lost Alice’s eyes.
It felt right. Like understanding a language she hadn’t been able to speak before. She tried to think when and where and how she’d developed [Empathy]…no, just empathy, as a skill, but her mind was strangely empty. Like she was still waking up from a long nap and the post-dreaming disorientation hadn’t quite passed yet.
“How can you tell?” Matt Painting asked.
“Call up an info on her and you’ll see,” Lost Alice said. “It’s an [Aspect]. Like our racial traits.”
“What does it mean?” Rip asked.
“It means I don’t think this Pillowcase is the one we’ve known so far,” Lost Alice said. “Are you?”