The world wasn’t right. In a phenomenal, gut-wrenching, cosmos encompassing sense, the world was not right, and as much as Tessa wanted to keep sleeping, that wasn’t an option anymore.
“You’ll want to be careful with what you do next.”
The woman who was speaking sounded young. Not a child, but something closer to Tessa’s age. With each word though Tessa heard the walls of creation echo back from eternity.
“Careful with what?” Tessa asked, trying to grapple some idea of where she was into her consciousness.
It wasn’t so much that she couldn’t see anything, but rather a question of if she even had anything like eyes, or a body in general, to see with.
“With yourself,” the woman said. “Things could go very differently based on what you chose to do next.”
“I don’t know if I can do anything,” Tessa said.”Where am I?”
“Nowhere,” the woman said. “This isn’t so much a ‘here’. You could change that but the price for doing so is pretty high.”
Despite her lack of vision, Tessa wasn’t floating in a lightless, empty void. She was a sighted person, so she conceived of her world as built out of color and images and those hadn’t left her. The sky above her wasn’t blue, but there was blue within her which suffused her breath and joined hands with the idea of the sky.
Beneath her the grey of concrete and the green of fresh cut grass mixed and played with muddy browns, and glistening silver splashes of water. The ground offered no substance and no support but it also imposed no restrictions, serving only to give Tessa a point of internal reference.
“Who are you?” Tessa asked, casting around for the woman who spoke to her.
All of the colors and fragments of imagery were a projection shown on the inside of her skin, and a reflection not of a world around her but rather the one she carried within. In that inner light, she saw no trace of the woman who spoke.
At least not until she felt a warm hand rest on her forearm.
“I have a lot of names,” the woman said, appearing beside Tessa as their stories overlapped for a moment. “Most of them wouldn’t mean much to you, but I know how irritating it is to have nothing to call someone, so you can use ‘Jin’ if you need. It’s very possible you won’t though.”
“Why’s that?” Tessa asked.
“Because none of this, myself included, are strictly speaking real,” Jin said.
“But we’re talking right now, aren’t we?” Tessa asked.
“I don’t know,” Jin said. “Is a conversation in a dream a real conversation or something that never happened?”
“Oh, am I dreaming then?” Tessa asked.
“Maybe,” Jin said.
“As answers go…” Tessa said.
“It’s not terribly helpful, yeah, I know,” Jin answered. “Like I said, you need to be careful with yourself. You have a choice to make and while I can help make sure it’s an informed one, I can’t tell you everything about what will happen, in part because that information would corrupt your ability to chose.”
“That sounds really weird,” Tessa said.
“It is,” Jin said. “Weirder than you can imagine, but that’s kind of where we’re at. Welcome to the Wide World of the Weird.”
‘“Is that what it’s called?” Tessa asked.
“No. It doesn’t really have a name. Names aren’t exactly important here, where nothing’s real. But at the same time they’re also all that really matters. Stay here long enough and that won’t even seem like a contradiction. Not that that’s necessarily a good thing.”
“So how do I take care of myself?” Tessa asked. She wasn’t sure she could trust the person she was with, but by the same token she wasn’t sure she could trust herself either. It had been her own brilliant idea for dealing with the Formless Hunger that had left her in Weird World.
She remembered speaking to…what had she been speaking to before she wound up wherever she was? And had the voice she’d spoken with been her own? It hadn’t been Pillowcase’s, and something told her it hadn’t been Tessa’s either. But it had been hers.
Was she not who she thought she was?
“The big thing is to ask yourself what you really want,” Jin said.
Tessa bit back her first answer. “For everything to just go back to how it was” had one tiny problem – it was a lie.
Fighting monsters and running into horrors from beyond time and space sucked. She could do without that kind of stress completely. Her old life though? Could she even call it a life? All she did was work, eat, and sleep. She was surviving but was that what she really wanted?
And what about Lost Alice, and Rip, and Matt, and all the rest? Did she really want to leave them behind? Would being strangers on the other side of a monitor feel right at all?
A horrible wave of greed crashed over her and receded leaving Tessa feeling ashamed. She might be in a low spot in her life, but how could she question letting the others get back to their lives? Was she going to throw Rip and Matt into life threatening danger because she had a crappy job she didn’t want to go back to? Or Lisa? Would she let Lisa be killed…
Tessa felt a flash of horror tear through her chest.
Something was wrong with Lisa.
She’d been hurt.
Tessa fought to open her eyes, thrashing like a wildcat.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean,” Jin said.
“What’s happening!” Tessa asked.
“A lot,” Jin said. “In your absence the world’s falling apart. Don’t worry though, it’s been falling apart for a while now.”
“What’s happening with Lisa!” Tessa asked.
“The Formless Hunger ambushed you and her,” Jin said. “It scored a hit on her and that’s kind of bad.”
“How do I fix that?” Tessa asked.
“That’s what you’ve got to chose,” Jin said. “If you want, you could brush all the problems of the world away with a wave of your hand. The problem there is that’s not a real solution so you wouldn’t wind up being real afterwards. And there’s a decent chance the world wouldn’t be either. The dream of it would be perfect though.”
“That sounds kind of worthless,” Tessa said. “What’s my other choice?”
“You can go back. Wake up, but as yourself,” Jin said.
“Can I save her if I do that?”
“There’s a chance, but it’s only ever a chance,” Jin said. “Going back as yourself means you can change the world, but only if you put in the work to do so. And there’s no guarantee that the changes will stick, or be for the better.”
“That’s a rotten deal,” Tessa said.
“Yeah, it is,” Jin said, offering Tessa a shrug.
“What about you?” Tessa asked. “Could you save them?”
“What do you think I’m trying to do now?” Jin asked.
“So you can’t just wave your hand and make everything better either then?” Tessa asked.
“Not yet,” Jin said.
“Yet? What do you need to wait for?” Tessa asked.
“Your universes are in a delicate state, for lack of a better description,” Jin said. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to get worse before it gets better, but I think there’s still hope you’ll be able to patch things up. The alternative is that everything topples over the brink and I have to erase all of it.”
“Erase all it? What does that mean?” Tessa asked.
“Exactly what it sounds like,” Jin said. “I want your worlds to survive and prosper. They look pretty fun. I’m here in case that’s not an option.”
“Like you would destroy them or something?”
“Or something pretty much covers it,” Jin said.
“What are you?” Tessa wanted to pull her arm away but she was afraid to lose the friendly contact between them. Jin wasn’t destroying the world yet and maybe she wouldn’t as long as Tessa stayed with her.
“Mostly benevolent?” Jin said. “Like I said, I’m rooting for you to win here. I’m just a safety net in case you don’t.”
“How is destroying the world a safety net?” Tessa asked and her own memories answered her. “Oh, wait, I see. The Formless Hunger. There are a lot of things like that, aren’t there?”
“And worse. Much worse. They’re my problem to worry about though,” Jin said.
“Could you at least get rid of the Formless Hunger then?” Tessa asked. “That things a living nightmare. We can’t fight it at all.”
“Yeah, funny story there,” Jin said. “You’re not wrong about anything you said there, except for where you actually did fight it. That…well, it’s nice to run into surprises once in a while.”
“I didn’t do anything to it though,” Tessa said. “I just cast a spell on it and then it blasted me out here. To Weird World.”
“That’s not exactly what happened,” Jin said.
“I tore a tiny little piece of it too I guess,” Tessa said.
“Which is incredible as a note, but the surprising thing was how you made it so the Formless Hunger had pieces to be torn off in the first place,” Jin said. “What your were originally snared by essentially didn’t exist. Not as far as your reality was concerned. You managed to change that. You forced it to become real and bounded, at least somewhat, by what is real to you. I can’t explain just how amazing that is. And how dangerous.”
“You’re welcome. And I’m sorry,” Jin said. “This is one of those ‘you break it, you fix it’ sort of deals. By pulling the Formless Hunger into your world, you made it real enough that it’s a real problem, not one of the ones I can resolve without consequences.”
“So it’s my fault Lisa got hurt?” Tessa asked.
“Nope. Just because you’re part of a chain of events doesn’t mean you’re responsible for the actions other people in the chain take,” Jin said. “You get to own your actions, not anyone else’s.”
Tessa felt Jin’s words wash away the clods of guilt that had been piling up. It shouldn’t have been that easy. Tessa’s guilt was tied up with fear, and repressed hopes, and defensive anger.
None of that was going to help Lisa though.
And none of it was fair to Pillowcase, who would feel as much of the guilt as Tessa tried to carry on her shoulders.
“So how do I get back there for real then?” she asked. “Click my heels three times?”
“It’s not quite that easy,” Jin said. “The two big problems are that you can’t go back alone and that you chose this exile to resolve a point of impossibility with the world. For the first, you’d need to listen for a call to bring you back, and, oh, what’s that I hear now?”
From an infinitely far distance, Tessa heard a note of pure desperation rise from Pillowcase’s heartless chest.
“I can hear it too! How do I get there!”
“You don’t,” Jin said. “Not as who you were. Not as someone who’s just a regular human. To return, you have to become someone new. Some thing new.”
“Yes! Yes! Whatever it takes! I can feel it. She’s dying!”
“I have to get there!”
“Whatever it takes!”
Tessa reached out. She couldn’t touch the stars. They were too far. But she had to reach so far beyond them.
“This is all on you,” Jin said. “You sent yourself here. The person you were couldn’t send you back, so let her go. Become someone who can.”
It was gibberish. Meaningless words that offered no insight or direction.
She was reaching as far as she could and it was nowhere near far enough.
It will be.
But it’s impossible.
No. Jin’s right. I did this once. I can do it again.
There was a price.
This is the price. I was asleep. I was at peace. Living is the price we pay for being alive. And I. Want. To. Live.
New Class Created.
Welcome [Void Speaker] Level 1!