Kamie Anne Do
Grace did not have a death wish. Dying was unpleasant, and she had more to live for than ever before. There were answers that they could only learn on the other side of life though, and she was the one who’d had the brilliant idea to go searching for them.
“You think you’d get used to be torn in half,” Battler X said, her ghost showing her human form in a more intact form that her body was currently in.
A distant howl answered her before anyone else could.
“[Heart Fire], now,” Grace said, intrigued that her voice sounded like her own rather than Kamie’s.
It wasn’t surprising in the sense that her ghost had taken on her human form so how should her voice sound? On the other hand, it wasn’t as though her ghost had vocal cords. Or that the telepathic voice she spoke in over the party channel relied on any physical element of her body to produce the sounds that everyone else heard.
The distant howls drew closer but were still far enough away that Grace was able to focus more on the research they were doing that the immediate terror of being drag off by wild spirit dogs.
Grail Force caught up to her as the party ran back towards the safety of the nearest [Heart Fire] chapel. She directed Grace’s attention to the buildings they were passing by.
“There are other ghosts here, do you see?” she asked.
Grace only say empty and darkened windows surrounding them at first, but when she kept her eyes on one for more than a few seconds, she caught the briefest glimpse of light sparking from the other side of the window.
“See! There’s a ghost in there!” Grail said. As a human she was exceptionally tall, well over six feet, but Grace didn’t think that was why Grail was able to outpace her so easily.
In the game they would have moved at the same speed regardless of height. The devs had made that choice so that players could choose to play as either the very tall or very short races without receiving a free perk or penalty for their choose.
Grace let the mystery of Grail’s extra speed go though in favor of understanding what it was she’d seen.
In another window she got a second glimpse of the “ghosts” that were following them.
The staticky, flickering “ghosts” that were following them.
The “ghosts” that didn’t move at all like Kamie or her party moved.
“We need to get out of here faster,” Grace shouted.
Inside the building, eyes of static opened and turned to face her, as though they were woken by the mere awareness of their existence Grace possessed.
“What the hell are those things?” Buzz Fightyear asked. He was older than Grace had guessed, probably in his mid-forties, or even older if his spirit aged well. Despite that his human form had no problem matching pace with hers.
“[Disjoined],” Grace said. Buzz knew that. They all knew that. They’d fought plenty of them in the [High Beyond] though they probably all wished they’d left this particular monster type behind up there.
“How are they here?” Battler asked. “The ghost realm’s not supposed to have any monsters in it. I mean none of our powers work here!”
“Did we see [Disjoined] when we were dead in the [High Beyond]?” Buzz asked.
The [Heart Fire] wasn’t far away, and the [Disjoined] weren’t moving towards them.
So they were safe.
“No. We didn’t,” Grace said. “And we don’t know if the [Heart Fire’s] aura is going to keep them away or not.”
It definitely wasn’t going to.
Grace remembered [Sky’s Edge].
The [Disjoined] had done something with the [Heart Fire] there. Something that had brought the [Formless Hunger] into the world from what Tessa’s group had said.
Tessa hadn’t been clear on how they’d stopped the [Disjoined] or the [Formless Hunger].
Or not “stopped” since the [Formless Hunger] had continued it’s rampage and was probably still rampaging up there for all Grace knew.
But they’d survived it.
“Any guess what they’re doing here then?” Buzz asked.
“This is going to sound weird, but I think they’re hiding,” Battler said.
Grace slowed her team down, bringing them to a spot a hundred yards or so away from the [Heart Fire Chapel]. It was close enough that they should be able to make it there if the [Disjoined] went into “active rampage mode”, and if that occurred, Grace wasn’t sure she wanted to lead the [Disjoined] to such a critical resource as one of the town’s few resurrection points.
“Look, they’re glitching out, but they’re not leaving the building,” Battler said. “It’s like they’re trapped within them, but when they walk it’s like their doing short range teleports. Even little jumps like that should be able to get them past these walls.”
“Unless they don’t want to leave,” Grail said. “Watch.”
The distant howls of the [Hounds of Fate] wailed from a spot much closer than before and the [Disjoined] shivered in their wake.
“They’re afraid of the Hounds? Why?” asked Grace.
“Could they be dead?” Battler asked. “Like dead players?”
“Sure, maybe, and we should probably study them later,” Grace said. “Our time here is almost up.”
She turned to see that she was mistaken.
The [Hounds of Fate] standing between them and the [Heart Fire] meant there was nothing ‘almost’ left about their time being up.
“How…how did they get there,” Buzz asked, stumbling backwards.
“They don’t always howl,” Battler said, balling her hands into fists that would never be enough to save them.
Except, they didn’t need to be saved.
One moment, a [Hound of Fate] was glaring at Grace and the next it leapt.
And then it was past her.
Running not for her friends.
Running for the building Grace had been watching the [Disjoined] cluster in.
No walls stopped the hound.
No hesitation stayed it’s jaws.
And no [Disjoined] escaped the building.
Sometimes good plans sucks. Jin was all too familiar with that. It was the burden of being able to do basically anything. Sometimes, you had to let other people deal with things, let their efforts be what decided the course of events, for better or worse, if the world was truly going to be theirs.
With the Fallen Kingdom’s spinning so much faster that the Earth they were connected to, hours whipped by in minutes from her outside perspective.
“I could jump back in there myself,” she said, turning one of the dwarf planets in the Oort cloud into an origami crane.
“You could,” Kari agreed, spinning the dwarf planet back into a planet. “But last I checked, your wife seemed to be managing things pretty well there on her own.”
Jin rolled her eyes and gave the planetoid a ring of diamond crystals.
“Of course she is! When was the last time you saw Way have a problem with anything, ever,” Jin said.
“The last time she was the one on the outside while you were stuck in a world she didn’t have immediate access to,” Kari said, gathering the diamond dust in a swirl that sent the brilliant sparkles into the glowing golden ring on Jin’s left ring finger.
Jin puffed out a breath and let the dwarf planet drift along further on it’s orbit.
“It’s cute how even after all this time, you two just don’t like being apart,” Kari said, giving the dwarf planet an extra spin that sent its clouds swirling.
“I mean, it’s not the end of the world or anything,” Jin said, kicking an asteroid in towards the sun.
Kari squinted at her.
“Okay, so maybe it’s the end of this world,” Jin said. “But come on, you know we’re not going to let that actually happen.”
“That’s sort of our job description at this point, isn’t it?” Kari asked. “Something like ‘the Guardians of Reality’.”
“Except for the realities that we let fall apart on purpose, or destroy ourselves,” Jin said.
“Yeah, but those are hellscapes. There’s never anything there worth saving,” Kari said.
“Oh even the worst places have things that are worth preserving,” Jin said. “The places I let fall apart, or destroy myself if need be, are the ones that are take other realities down with them. And that no one wants to save. That’s the important bit.”
“So that someone else will do the work for us?” Kari asked.
“In a sense, yes,” Jin said. “If they do the work, the world stays theirs. And they get to stay part of it.”
“You still regret waking me up, don’t you?” Kari asked. “If you could do it over again, you’d leave me as just a normal girl, on my normal world, living a normal life.”
“If I could do it again, I’d make sure you were given the choice before you became something like me,” Jin said.
“That sounds like you think you’re something terrible,” Kari said.
“I am. Terrible. And Wonderful. And basically anything and anyone else I want to be. Except for someone fully real,” Jin said.
“You can live anywhere, as anyone, and live under the same restraints and limitations they would,” Kari said. “That’s a fair approximation of reality isn’t it?”
“It’s still a choice,” Jin said. “If I put myself in a position of weakness, I’m there because I’m choosing to be there. That’s entirely different than people who really have to deal with the problems I’m at best pretending to have.”
“So that’s why you don’t want to wake anyone else up to make them solve the problems we’re tangling with, but why not fix things ourselves and save them from the chance that one of them wakes up naturally? We can be subtle about things.”
“Even subtle work can shift the nature of a world,” Jin said. “Let’s say we bend a bit of probability here and there to ensure things work out okay without taking any direct action? We could wind up creating the concept of destiny within a world that doesn’t have any metaphysical layers. Things change from happening because of pure cause and effect, to being due to the machinations of a willful force that is seeking a particular goal.”
“That doesn’t sound like it would always be bad,” Kari said. “Not if destiny’s aim was the preservation of the world itself.”
“It’s not, and I’m not saying we should never do that,” Jin said. “I mean, we are meddling here already, so clearly I’m not arguing for us being totally hands off, but each world is unique, and how it helps and challenges its people is precious, even in an infinite landscape of worlds.”
“Providing it’s not going to wreck what makes another world precious?” Kari asked.
“And that they’re still someone who loves it,” Jin said. “Even if it’s a complicated, messy love. That’s still enough to be worth fighting alongside them.”
“Alongside but not in place of,” Kari said. “But that means you never really get to use your own strength to solve things, right?”
“Not never,” Jin said. “If what threatens a world is a danger from outside its reality, the restraints fall right off.”
“Isn’t that what we’re dealing with already though?” Kari asked. “I mean when I found this place there were already a dozen non-entities chewing into both of the worlds.”
“And you cast them all out right?” Jin asked.
“It was that or watch the worlds crumble into Oblivion,” Kari said. “I reinforced their dreamlit shrouds too. I thought that would keep them from getting chewed up again.”
“It did,” Jin said. “You’re the reason the worlds in this whole cluster are still here. But you can also see the problem right?”
“I would have to stay here and continually reinforce the barriers to make sure nothing from Oblivion ever broke through,” Kari said.
“Which you could do,” Jin said. “You could leave a shard of yourself here to act as a ‘Guardian of Reality’, except that wouldn’t solve the problem. It would, at best, treat the symptom for a while.”
“And you want to spare me from that,” Kari said.
“I’d like to spare all of us from that, though it’s not the worst fate imaginable,” Jin said. “But more importantly, I think it’s not the right answer because ‘how will these worlds survive’ isn’t the right question.”
“Ah, yeah,” Kari said. “What we really need to know is ‘why are they disintegrating in the first place’.”