Even infinity can shrink. Power to span untold aeons can be leeched away, burned up, and radiated back to the celestial sphere until only enough remains to fill an endless moment.
“I am…” the creature before Tessa stumble into the endless moment that remained to her.
She watched as it grappled with finding an impossible answer. She’d asked it, or commanded it really, to define itself.
Alone the divine commandment couldn’t have compelled it. In the silent moment before it spoke its next word, the creature was balanced between what it had been and what it had just become. With it’s last touch on the sea of unreality, it could have dissolved anything real. No rules, no existence, could have constrained it. Her words, even backed by the power to shape all of creation to her will, couldn’t dictate the behavior of something that wasn’t real and never could be.
But the creature did answer. For one reason only.
It wanted to know too.
But of course, choosing a name, meant both choosing what to be and what not to be. Tessa understood the knife’s edge the creature was teetering on, where every choice sliced away what you might be before you knew how much you might have valued the choices you lost as a result.
“Nothing is forever,” she said, offering mercy to the foes that had tried to consume her deepest essence.
Escaping a name could be difficult, but nothing was impossible, and choices that were lost could sometimes be regained. The creature wasn’t binding itself to an identity forever, but this would be the one time when selecting one was as easy as speaking the word.
“Unknown,” the creature said, and Tessa felt her commandment complete.
Unknown left a lot of room open. It was the closest piece of ambiguity she could think of to Unknown’s previous state.
But it wasn’t a completely blank slate anymore.
“Unknown” was not “unknowable”. It was not “unreachable”, or “undefeatable” either.
“I will remember that you have done this to me,” Unknown’s voice dripped with enough rage to shatter a moon.
“Yes. You will,” Tessa said as the divine light within her flicked and sputtered out.
With the last dying spark, she cast herself back to [Hells Breach], back to the same space and time she’d been in when she grabbed hold of the god’s light.
Crashing back down from the dizzying heights of cosmic power back into her mortal shell carried so much away from her than Tessa wasn’t sure she was going to have anything left. Gone was the sense of all her other selves, fighting, waiting, or caught between the two. Gone was any memory of where she’d been when she’d stepped, briefly, onto the borders of reality, and gone were the reflections she’d seen of herself.
She’d lost the divine awareness of her flaws and strengths, and the self-acceptance that came from acknowledging her value apart from both of them.
“Hey are you okay?” Lisa asked, beside her though she hadn’t been a half moment earlier.
“Yeah, I’m…” Tessa started to say and then wobbled and tipped into Lost Alice’s arms.
“Not fine,” Pillowcase said. “We’re a little scorched at the moment.”
“I apologize,” the angel before them said.
They were painfully beautiful to gaze upon, but seemed to be dimming down the longer Tessa tried to see them clearly.
“What did you do to her?” Lisa asked. There was concern in her tone that was all too ready to morph into rage.
“Nothing,” Tessa said. “We did this to ourself.”
“In breaking my chains, she was exposed to our master’s might,” the angel said. “She is remarkable to have survived even a slight brush with it, and she may need months or years to fully recover from it, if she ever does.”
“Wasn’t just a slight brush,” Tessa said, increasingly glad that Lost Alice was there to support her.
“What did you do?” Rip asked. She and Matt had gathered closer too.
Tessa was sad to see the concern on their faces. She hadn’t meant to worry them, and with the rush of the moment passed she could see how that would be little to no comfort to any of them.
“Paid a visit to Unknown,” Tessa said. Staying awake was becoming somewhat challenging as the unbearable weight of fatigue from her, in hindsight rather foolish, endeavor caught up to her.
“That explains pretty much nothing,” Rip said. “Details please!”
“Yes, what do you mean? Did a spark of the divinity land on you?” the angel asked.
Tessa tried to rally but Pillowcase was right. They’d held the god light long enough that they’d been less than a breath away from losing their mortality entirely. Tessa had a dim memory that if she’d just help onto that last spark, she would have ascended to a divine form permanently.
But it would have cost her everything.
Lost Alice picked her up in bridal carry. Not having to stand anymore was wonderful. Being held so close to someone who would literally murdered anyone who tried to harm her, eased wounds in Tessa’s heart she hadn’t known were there.
Godly power was good, she decided, but sometimes being weak was better.
“Whatever happened, she’s exhausted,” Lisa said. “Can we take it as a given that we won’t be fighting each other?”
“You may,” the angel said. “She has given me a gift beyond measure or price. We know something has gone terribly wrong in the world beyond our walls. Once I have freed my companions, we would speak with you to learn how we may aid in setting things aright.”
“We’ll leave you to that then. I want to get her somewhere she can rest comfortably,” Lisa said.
“I’ll be okay,” Tessa mumbled in Lost Alice’s collarbone.
“Yes, you will,” Lisa said. “And you’re going to tell me exactly what happened there after you’ve had some sleep and we’ve all looked you over.”
“We should…” Tessa started to say. She’d intended to finish it with ‘keep going’ since the end of the world was rapidly approaching still. She trailed off mid-sentence though, her lips and tongue lacking the energy to form anything more complex than a grunt.
“Sleep soundly,” Lisa said. “My love.”
Tessa carried those two blessed syllables down into the darkness with her as sleep and dreams washed over her.
At first all she felt was quiet comfort. She was so tired she’d drifted away from herself. Away from all the problems, and all the responsibilities. Down into the depths where night folded over her like a cocoon in which she could do nothing but restore her body, mind, and spirit.
How much time passed like that was a question without an answer. She’d touched on eternity and yet each beat of her heart felt like it held the whole of the universe in it.
Dreams, when they came, crept in small and simple. A memory of a single programming text book, the cover image of a stylized grid of lights still stuck in her mind well over a decade later. The smell of the Consortium’s environmental suits and their artificially cleaned air. A glade of lilacs in the elven woods she’d visited as a child. Her favorite cockpit layout for her Interceptor-class Star Fighter. And on and on.
The more memories and conjured images she drifted through, the more they began to merge and cross over. People began to wander through her dreams too. Rip was there walking Tessa’s youngest cousin to school. Lisa was cheering her on as she graduated from a college she’d never been too and was fairly certain wasn’t even real to begin with.
Even Obby was there, waiting in Tessa’s favorite nook in her middle school library.
“How are you feeling?” Obby asked.
“Still pretty tired,” Tessa said, which seemed ridiculous in a dream. She was already asleep, what the heck was she supposed to do about feeling tired, be double-asleep or something?
“You gave up a lot of power,” Obby said.
“I know. If I’d just help onto it, I’d be fine now right?”
“Yes and no,” Obby said. “But you already know that. You saw what you’d have to give up to be a god, and you chose to stay as you were.”
“Was that good?” Tessa asked.
“Yes,” Obby said, without hesitation or ambiguity. “This world needs you, the real, full you. We need you.”
“Who’s we?” Tessa asked.
“Lisa, Rose, Jamal, and all the rest of the people you’ve assembled,” Obby said. “They’re so much stronger with you than without.”
“I couldn’t have protected them better as a god?” Tessa asked.
“A god could give them some protections, but she wouldn’t have been you. Not Tessa, or Pillowcase, or Glimmerglass, or any of the rest. You would have burned up and left something inspired by you behind.”
“How do you know all that?” Tessa asked.
“Because I’m not the girl I used to be,” Obby said.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Tessa said, imagining a deep chasm of loss that must be lurking within Obby.
“You don’t have to be,” Obby said with a gentle shake of her head. “I got really lucky. Someone rescued me from what I’d become, and together we became something new. That’s precious beyond words, but so is your life too.”
“I think I saw that,” Tessa said. “All the good and bad bits. They’re all important aren’t they?”
“All the bits are important, but none of them are more important than you. Embrace or reject anything else, even your understanding of who you are, but hang tight to yourself no matter what, just like you did with the god light.”
“Not sure I’ll have to worry about that again,” Tessa said. “But then I have run into more bits of divinity than is normal I suppose.”
“That’s partially my fault,” Obby said. “I’ve been tinkering with things a little, though honestly a lot less than I thought I was going to have to. You’ve been just full of happy surprises.”
“Why do I feel like I should forget you said that?” Tessa asked.
“Oh, sorry, that’s sort of subconscious field I’m manifesting,” Obby said.
“It’s been going for a while hasn’t it? Ever since we met?”
“Tampering with what’s real in a world comes with some significant dangers,” Obby said. “One of the biggest ones is that if someone sees it happen and starts probing it too deeply, they can, sometimes, wake up and gain the ability to do the same things, and in the process lose their grip on their world. That usually sends them spiraling off into a reality of their own making, where everything and everyone is a reflection of who they are. By preventing you from noticing or dwelling on the weirdness of my existence it keeps you a bit safer from that.”
“So why tell me now? Oh, am I going to forget all this when I wake up?” Tessa asked.
“Some of it,” Obby said. “That’s just where your mind is at now, not anything I’m doing though. It’s also not the reason we’re talking now. With what you did with the god’s light I think you’ve proven that you can hold on to who you are, and with all you’ve done apart from that you’ve definitely earned the answers to a few questions. ”
“Really? Oh. Okay, let’s start with the obvious one; who are you really?” Tessa asked.
“I am truly Oblivion’s Daughter,” Obby said. “Though that’s more of a description than a name. My real name is Way. You can think of me as something like Unknown, except I was much much worse before I met my wife.”
“How could you be worse than something that was devouring a world?” Tessa asked.
“Because Unknown didn’t succeed. I did,” Obby said. “I accomplished everything it was trying to and I knew what I was doing the whole time.”
“Why? Why would you do that? Or what changed you?” Tessa asked.
“I wasn’t myself yet,” Obby said. “I was under my father’s control and I was caught between my desire not to exist and his desire for nothing to exist. As for what changed me? Someone gave me the chance to and believed that I could.”