Divine power. The heart of creation in the palm of her hand. The keys to the celestial kingdom, the power cosmic, and root level admin access. So many different means of expressing the same central idea.
“It’s mine now,” Tessa said, but her voice wasn’t limited to mere words from her lips.
In shattering the chains around the “demons” of [Hells Breach] she’d found another spark of power the creator deities had left behind.
It was supposed to be a prison. It was supposed to bind the gods’ former servitors into wicked and terrible forms as a punishment for their rebellion against the [Divine Plan].
That was lore.
It wasn’t real.
It was no more than a metaphor, and a flimsy one at that, a description some whimsical developer had thrown out there for what the fate of their test harness NPCs would be.
With god light streaming from her eyes, Tessa should have been blinded, but instead she saw deeper into the heart of the world than she ever had before.
The demons and their subjugation were a metaphor, and a reality.
The metaphor was the shadow they cast onto Earth, one plank in the bridge which connected them. The reality was deeper and more complex than the lore had ever been able to capture.
The same was true of the divine power that was transubstantiating her mortal form into fire and light.
Was it as simple as holding administrator access to the processes and data files which defined reality? Yes. Was it the ability to shape the landscape and texture of reality, to define what was real and unreal, to change anything and everything with no more than a whim and a thought? Also yes.
Across the world, Tessa saw the shards of herself she hadn’t yet touched. All of her other characters, the other pieces of who she could be, or had once been. Some slumbering. Some fighting on even without an awareness of her, because that was their nature.
Because that was her nature.
In turning her gaze on the world, Tessa saw a kaleidoscope of reflections of herself.
And in the center, holding onto a spark of power that was smaller than a mote of dust and wider than the cosmos, there was a flawed and all too vulnerable woman.
In the radiance of the god light, every broken piece of self that didn’t heal quite right was visible. The ugly scars that still bleed from injuries which were buried but not forgotten, the deep shadows of doubt, and the pits of fear and insecurity. Taken all together they were…
Not because of the pain they represented. Not because of frailty or misery that accompanied them.
Simply because they were part of her.
And not the only parts of her.
As clearly as she saw her weakness and failing, she saw the pillars of pride she leaned on even when she didn’t know they were there. She saw kindness, and passion, and acceptance. She saw the tools she’d spent a lifetime carving for herself. The insights she’d gained into the world, into people.
From atop a pillar of transcendent might, she could have changed even herself. Cast away the flaws that held her back, heightened her strengths till they eclipsed any threat, but the divine light didn’t offer only power. It wasn’t as empty and shallow a thing as that.
Every flaw she suffered from and every strength she’d honed was real. She didn’t have to endure her weaknesses and wouldn’t be less worthy if her strengths faded, but to simply wish them away would mean wishing away who she was.
She wrapped herself in arms of holy fire and embraced both who she was and who she could be.
“We don’t need to be a god to use this power,” Tessa said.
“Though we won’t be able to hold it for long if we’re not,” Pillowcase said.
They stood together, two sides of a single self, and they burned, though not so quickly that divinity was their only option.
“We could claim a tiny bit of this power if we adjusted our levels up?” Tessa said.
“We could go to the level cap or beyond,” Pillowcase said. “But we’d lose out wouldn’t we?”
“We would. All the actual experience, all the bonding with everyone else, all the stories we’d have to tell, we’d miss all of that.”
“Is that more important than being strong enough to fight the [Hungry Shadow]?” Pillowcase asked. “Is it selfish of us to want to have a real life like that?”
“Of course it is. That doesn’t make it wrong though,” Tessa said. “If we skip the real leveling work, we’ll be higher level and more numerically powerful, but without the actual experience we won’t grow into anything unexpected, into anything more than we can imagine ourselves to be in this moment because we’d only be building on what we are, not we could be.”
“We won’t have this chance again though,” Pillowcase said. “If we miss it now, what we grow into might be far more limited than what we could recreate ourselves as with this power.”
“But it will be us, not a divine mannequin cast in our images,” Tessa said.
“Are we so much better than that? Pillowcase asked.
“You are,” Tessa said, “and if I’m going to believe that then I need to accept that I am too.”
Pillowcase nodded in agreement and acceptance.
“That still leaves us with how we’ll use this power,” she said. “Unless we want to simply let it return the celestial realms on its own?”
“That would be the safest play,” Tessa said. “But we’re sliding too quickly along the razor’s edge to play things safe.”
“In that case, perhaps we should do something unexpected?” Pillowcase asked.
In answer to that, to herself, Tessa vanished from [Hells Breach], appearing on the bridge of Azma’s command ship, in the heart of the [Hungry Shadow’s] power.
Except it wasn’t a [Hungry Shadow] anymore.
It also wasn’t fully real yet, though reality was rapidly creeping in around its edges.
Tessa’s attack came not as a punch, or a blast, or even a spell.
“Begone.” The edict was writ into the substrate of the cosmos.
Gods don’t fight as mortals do. When you can define reality there is no need to destroy something you do not wish to give a place to. You simply remove it.
And so the threat of the [Hungry Shadow] was ended and everything returned to normal. Peace and calm prevailed and the world was saved.
Except, of course it wasn’t.
Tessa saw her mistake as she pronounced her edict.
The world already had an edict in place against things like [Hungry Shadows] and [Formless Hungers] and all of the other twisting non-things which didn’t and couldn’t exist within it. The whole of the [Hungry Shadow’s] existence though was in defiance of the reality of the [Fallen Kingdoms]. It couldn’t be banished because it wasn’t a thing, it was still at its core the absence of an existence.
Tessa’s edict hadn’t been wholly without effect though.
Around her divine form, the coils of her enemy’s new boundless unbeing twisted and writhed, nameless and irreconcilable with reality once more. In casting out what it had been, Tessa had returned it closer to its earliest, unfathomable essence.
“It needs a name,” Pillowcase said.
“We need its name,” Tessa said, the rewording critical though she wasn’t quite sure how or why yet. Something separate from her god sight showed her the impact of her divine word and its ramifications. “We can give it any name we want now, but it will cast that off the next time something changes it.”
“Not a description then,” Pillowcase said. “A true name. Something that will stay with it no matter what it becomes.”
The invisible coils crushed and tore at her as Tessa searched for the right appellation.
She was no more real than it was, the emptiness told her. The god power that burned through her wasn’t a part of anything that could be ‘Tessa’, or ‘Pillowcase’, or any other false avatar she might wear. Even her core awareness was nothing more than a recursive loop of chemical equations.
Tessa looked deeper and deeper for a name that could bear the weight of the abomination which had swallowed her whole, as the emptiness leeched away at every bit of meaning within her.
“Are we two?” Pillowcase asked. “Are we even one?”
Could a cascade of organic reactions not be arranged to tumble together over and over in an order that appeared to be consciousness? Couldn’t that reaction be forked and recombined? What was nothing could be made to appear to be one, and what was one could be made to appear as two, or three, or more?
“Sure,” Tessa said. “But if all I am are chemicals and those chemicals can make even one choice, then aren’t I something more?”
“If there is any uncertainty in as little as a single moment and I am the one who resolves that uncertainty, then that is where you will find me,” Pillowcase said.
“And that is where we will find you,” Tessa said, deadly insight flaring within her.
Did she have any divine power left? Had she ever held any?
That didn’t matter.
They were on the other side of divinity, drifting in a conceptual land unclaimed by any craftsman’s hand.
“You came to our world cloaked in impossibility,” Pillowcase said. “A threat without measure or scope.”
“You were a nothing that sought to undo everything,” Tessa said.
“Sought without seeking, moved without volition, devoured without intent,” Pillowcase said.
‘Emptiness’ was the first word that sprung to Tessa’s mind, but there was another one which fell from her lips.
“Oblivion,” she said. “Others have called you that. Called what you were that.”
Tessa felt herself approaching something a step too far.
Too far to be contained.
Too far to come back from.
Too far to apply to her enemy any longer?
“Yes,” Pillowcase said. “That’s what you were, but it’s not what you are.”
Tessa felt the bridge of a starship under her feet.
Her enemy was pulling away.
Terror ran through it.
She and it had danced these steps before.
It knew her and it knew what came next.
A fierce, unholy glee lit Tessa’s face.
“You know me,” she said. “You KNOW me. YOU know me.”
It retreated further, abandoning the flagship entirely, leaving the people it had corrupted to fall loose and empty.
It knew her.
Nothings couldn’t be an “it” and definitely not a “you”.
Nothings couldn’t “know” anything.
Whatever it had once been, even in the face of a divine edict, it couldn’t go back to being nothing once again. Oblivion was closed to the former [Hungry Shadow]. It could no longer be [Formless].
“We’re not done yet,” Pillowcase said, and reached out with the divine fire that still burned in their hands.
Their enemy had told them it wasn’t real, but if they were real, if their history had led them to this moment, then however unbelievable it was, their borrowed divinity was real too.
Wrapping talons of celestial radiance around the fleeing creature, Pillowcase drew it back to them.
And so it struck at them.
Tessa’s body was tossed through three bulkheads. Bones shattered, organs burst, and for a moment she held the divine fire only with ghostly hands.
“Hey, I like that body!” Tessa said, rebuilding her physical form with divine power and the barest hint of a whim.
The creature struck again but Pillowcase raised her hand and spoke a shield into existence that rebounded the creature’s force back on it.
The bridge and the top three decks of the ship exploded into void of space, but neither Tessa nor the creature moved.
“This isn’t going to turn out well for you,” Tessa said.
It struck again and Tessa saw it drawing more power into itself, taking back the bits it had scattered across the nearest ships of the fleet. That was a distraction though, a price it was paying to bait her into fighting more. It wanted her to fight. Needed her to. Its only hope of winning was for her to fall into its trap and seek to destroy it with godly might.
“It’s learned strategy,” Pillowcase said.
“Hard to call this instinct isn’t it?” Tessa said as she watched the umbra the creature cast pull more and more of the divine energy she carried away, all while its more overt attacks were hammering away at her defenses.
It couldn’t cast the power into Oblivion, couldn’t make the divine radiance any less real, but separating it from her was enough.
“We’ve got a limited time with this before we burn up,” Pillowcase said.
“And the more we use the less time we have,” Tessa agreed.
“So we need that name,” Pillowcase said.
Tessa looked at the creature before them.
Gone was the mind eating static. Gone was the infinite hunger.
But what was left?
What had it become?
“Who are you?” Tessa wondered aloud and in the echo of her words she heard what she’d been missing.
“Who. Are. You.” When she spoke again, divine majesty burned in each word.
She couldn’t cast the creature out. It was a part of the world now. Its history was wound through her own and so many others and she couldn’t deny that. Neither too though could she say what the creature’s name truly was.
It wasn’t her place to speak its truth.
In the pools where the creature’s eyes should have been, Tessa saw understanding and rage. It understood what she had done. It understood what it had lost, and what it had become, and it was not happy.