The illusion before her was falling apart and Tessa was sad to see it go. The endless library faded as she focused on it, the books and shelves turning turning transparent with only rare lines remaining to form a complex cage. At the center of the prison, the slime sat, wrapped in the thinnest filigreed chains which light could reflect off.
“How do you know who I am?” Kralt asked.
In Tessa’s vision, his form shifted between the blue tear-drop slime and a stubbly haired, pasty skinned fifty year old depending on where she focused.
“Class skill,” Tessa said, answering the question only for Lisa on their private channel. “Apparently I get some extra insight about out of context problems like this guy.”
“Well? How!” Kralt demanded.
“This cage? It’s one you made, isn’t it?” Tessa asked. She frowned as the illusion of coffee went flat when she took a long look at it.
“It’s not a cage,” Kralt said.
Tessa focused on a point well beyond the shelves and brought the lattice work of light which underlaid them into greater clarity.
“Yes it is,” she said. It wasn’t just a cage. She could see where the chains which ran around the slime weren’t binding it but were rather being woven from raw aether by the slime.
The [Library Primordial] was a construct and even without seeing it’s full scope, Tessa could guess at its purpose.
“I made this. I am not bound here. Not like you are.” The last was meant to be threatening but Tessa couldn’t repress a giggle.
Slime’s were never designed to be intimidating. Kralt was trying to assuming an aggressive posture but all he had to work with was a mostly spherical blue blob of a body. What was worse for Kralt though was that Tessa could see the little whirls and loops of the cage’s bars and how they could be taken apart without a lot of fuss. If it was a trap, it would have been more robust if it had been made of tissue paper.
“This is the only place you can live in the [Fallen Kingdoms], isn’t it?” Tessa said as she visually traced the pattern of the bars and found the core set which all led back to the slime.
“You know nothing,” Kralt said.
“Is it because he’s stuck in a slime body?” Lisa asked aloud for Kralt to hear as well
“Partially,” Tessa said. “He’s built this room and everything in it, the coffee included unfortunately. I think it’s some kind of extraplanar barnacle that he’s wrapped onto the [Fallen Kingdoms].”
“Why would he do that?”
“I’m guessing he had to,” Tessa said. “When he came over the world must have rejected him because he didn’t have a character. It was this or drop into that universe sized void we passed through when we got dragged here.”
“I had a character!” Kralt said. “I was simply too magnificent for this world to handle.”
“Did you actually play as a normal…no, wait, Dav’kralthrax. You tried to bond with the [First Dragon].”
“He tried to become a god?” Lisa asked.
“I’m betting he won’t admit it, but, yeah, I think it has to be that. Any regular character would have landed him with the rest of us.”
“When did you get here?” Lisa asked, addressing Kralt directly.
“You cannot fathom the depths of time I have seen,” Kralt said.
“Think he was the first one here?” Tessa asked aloud but addressing only Lisa.
“Could be, or maybe the trip left him delusional?” Lisa said.
Tessa examined the slime again. She could see the reflection of David Kralt’s human body which his current form held a memory of? She wasn’t sure if ‘memory’ was the right term. The impression she had of Kralt’s human body was similar to an after image of something that had dissolved into the essence of the slime that sat before them. It wasn’t lost, but she doubted Kralt would be able to call it back. Not how she’d been able to switch her form when she was holding the god soul. If he’d ever been able to take the form of Dav’kralthrax, the [First Dragon], it had been completely lost to him. Apparently even the [Fallen Kingdoms] didn’t have any interest in his nonsense.
“I am not…why are you here?” Kralt asked, moderating his tone after noticing that anger wasn’t getting him anywhere.
“We’re searching for our friends,” Tessa said, giving him a response but not her attention.
“And you seek to consult the All Sage? Of course,” Kralt sad. Tessa noticed the distinct lack of sound effect around the words ‘All Sage’. It wasn’t an official title or class. She wondered if David Kralt knew that?
“I know everything which occurs in my realm,” he said, confirming his ignorance. “And I will share this information. For a price.”
“No you won’t,” Tessa said, rolling her eyes. “You’re trapped in here, with no connection to the rest of the [Fallen Kingdoms]. You don’t know who are or anything that’s happened to us. You’re worthless.”
“I made this world!” Moderation burned in a heart of rage, but the fuel for that fire was as illusory as the [Library Primodial] was.
“You want to take credit for this place?” Tessa asked, her own heart kindling with stories of an old injustice.
When she’d been a fan of the game, it had been her life. She’d researched everything she could about it. She knew who the original development team had been. She’d listened to the interviews where they shared the passion that had gotten them through the long and brutal years of continual crunch time to release the original beta. She’d heard the pride in their voices as they created something that was far more than the sum of its parts and captured the imagination of a generation. And she’s seen the sorrow in their eyes for the leader who hadn’t made it to see the end of the project.
Gail Merriden had been an exception all her life, and taking on a project for which she would never receive the proper credit had been entirely in character for her. Her motto, which her team related in several interviews, was “make your mark here and now” and it had been a guiding principal in the early work on [Broken Horizons], as the team strove to make something that would surpass not only anything else on the market, but anything they’d ever imagined doing before.
For four years, she’d led the team, only for cancer to steal the final joy of releasing her game into the wild from her. When [Broken Horizons] shipped, it was labeled as “a game by David Kralt” with the development team’s credit printed in micro-type in the back of a setup booklet which no one was ever meant to read.
It had taken a change on management and the purchase of the game by Egress Entertainment to even partially address that wrong and give the original team’s story its due, and David Kralt had fought it at every step, demanding that the game was his legacy and no one else’s in every interview he ever gave.
Kralt must have seen that blazing in Tessa’s eyes, because as her hands clenched into fists, he moved back on his chair and his eyes at last shifted from indignation to a much sensible emotion; fear.
The crash came not as a terrible jolt but as a horrifying sound. Thanks to the inertial stabilizers, Azma wasn’t thrown from her seat, or even jostled much at all. She made a mental note to arrange a commendation for the shuttle’s engineering crew. She’d demanded they keep the equipment in top condition and from the results she was seeing they hadn’t skimped on their maintenance. It wasn’t their fault that the landing gear sheered off almost instantly, or that the shuttle’s bottom hull screamed as the lithoscape of the satellite moon ripped it to pieces. That wasn’t the horrifying sound however. It was the roar of fire which raised the spectre of mortal peril.
“Suppression systems are failing,” Grenslaw said. “Remain braced. Litho-braking is almost done.”
Litho-braking was a joke which had turned all too real. One did not stop a spacecraft by scraping it across the surface of a planet, especially not one with the wholly unnatural properties of the satellite moon. In order to arrive at their destination though, Azma’s crew hadn’t been given much choice.
On the plus side it had also meant that they’d been able to do a hard enough burn during their course correction that none of their friendly forces had shot them down, and, as far as they could tell, that the [Formless Hunger] hadn’t been able to react either.
“System, transmit purchase order for this shuttle, my account,” Azma said as a shower of sparks buried the shuttle in fire and light.
“Communications are completely down with the fleet,” Ryschild said. It was neither an admonishment or a question. Ryschild was merely providing a relevant status update for a system Azma had requested monitoring on.
“Yes, that command is meant for the shuttle’s black box. Should the Consortium recover it, they will find that I did not order the destruction of company property, but rather sacrificed a personal transport to fulfill a company objective. It’s the same cost, but so much less paperwork when it’s my ship.”
Azma decided that, while she would fight for any of her people, she was going to adopt Grenslaw and Ryschild into a rare circle in her life. She couldn’t trust them completely of course. They were all in the Consortium. Unconditional trust was madness in the Consortium. That said, her two proteges had earned the position where if someone moved against them in any way, Azma would arrange for the assailiant’s demise.
Murder was a tool she’d gained a certain notoriety for using, but the reality was she was always careful and discrete with it’s application. If she killed everyone who annoyed her, the lessons she intended to teach would be lost on those who remained. For her proteges though, a certain level of indiscriminate mayhem seemed more than reasonable.
It wasn’t an idle thought either.
They’d chose to come along with her. Chosen when by all rights and sensibility they should have betrayed her. That choice was going to cost them. The people who were moving against Azma were absolutely going to target her proteges as well, both to get at her and simply because they could.
Grenslaw and Ryschild were going to lose the Consortium’s official sanction, the same as Azma would, but unlike her, they hadn’t developed a reputation which might cause their adversaries to pause before trying to do something quaint like sell them for parts to the Restricted Value Medical Division.
On one level, Azma knew that both Grenslaw and Ryschild were adults and were quite capable of taking care of themselves. On another though, she knew that she was better at that sort of thing, and sometimes being ‘almost good enough’ just wasn’t enough.
“Litho-braking…complete,” Grenslaw said. “All bracings release. Personnel evacuate the shuttle through the remains of the primary loading entrance in the rear.”
Despite the danger she knew they were walking into, Azma didn’t countermand that order. One minute would have been enough to take stock the situation on the ground and formulate a solid plan to ensure their safety. If Grenslaw was ordering an immediate evacuation however, it meant that in one minute the shuttle would be a flaming ball of metal slag.
Once the three of them, plus the squad of guards Azma had elected to bring along had disembarked Grenslaw’s authority as pilot ended and Azma resumed control.
“Excellent. Ten yards to our target. Commendations,” Azma said, again counting on the monitoring devices she wore to record and transmit the commendation at a timely moment.
“The transports weapon systems have come online,” Fiori, the security team’s Sergeant, said.
“The correct response under the circumstances except for the part where their guns cannot angle down far enough to hit us in this position,” Azma said. “Let’s go see how well their enacting the rest of the security protocol.”
“They will be under orders to kill us on sight,” Fiori said.
“I should certainly hope so,” Azma said and began striding towards the transports boarding ramp.