Kari was reasonably sure she was watching a world die, consumed by things that should never have been real, and the worst part of it was, it was far from the first time she’d witnessed such an event.
“Shouldn’t we just clean things up now?” she asked, standing at the L1 Lagrange point between the Fallen Kingdoms and their sun.
“Not yet,” Jin said. She was roughly ten trillion times larger than Kari, appearing as a diffuse yet still girl-shaped cloud as she observed various foundational aspects of the cosmos.
“If we wait too long, we could lose a lot of people when we transfer them to their new world,” Kari said. She’d been working on a replacement for the Fallen Kingdoms in her own little bubble of time. It had taken something like ten years of subjective time, but they’d been fun ones as she did her best to match the Fallen Kingdoms as they were, but better.
“Better”, of course, was a subjective thing, and she was sure there would be complaints at the elements she’d intentionally removed or simply overlooked. Expanding the speech capabilities to include all sapient races for example? Oh, she knew people were going to be cranky about that one. But, they could be cranky and understand each other, which seemed so much better than indiscriminate slaughter because neither side could perceive the other as being ‘people’ too.
“I’m still hoping it’s not going to come to that,” Jin said, her celestial eyes narrowing as she focused in on something Kari was presently too small to perceive.
It was tempting to join Jin in a cosmos-scaled view of the problem before them. Expanding back to the broad system level of a universe took away some of the sting from seeing the people within it placed against impossible odds.
It also made it so much easier to accept that the only option to save them all might be destroy everything and reincarnate their spirits in a new world where they could start over without the “end of days” hanging over them.
“Do you really think Way’s going to be able to pull off a miracle in there?” Kari asked. It was a silly question. Where Way was concerned, Jin’s faith was effectively infinite. Even the shards of themselves they sometimes left behind, who lacked any sort of reality authorship, those fragments still loved and trusted one another so implicitly that not even the personifications of Time and Fate were able to keep them apart, or make them doubt each other.
“I don’t think that’s the play she’s going for,” Jin said.
She shrank back down to standard human scale, to stand beside Kari in the vastness of orbital space. Had they been anything like real women the lack of environmental qualities like oxygen, pressure, heat, or radiation shielding would have been at least slightly problematic. Kari had made sure they were just outside the veil of reality on account of that, since it wasn’t particularly helpful to ignore the rules in world that was in the process of breaking down.
“If she’d not playing for a miracle, then we’re pretty much sunk aren’t we?” Kari asked. “We passed the tipping point with this world the moment Byron started pulling in more [Limitless Hungers].”
“Yeah, that wasn’t a good turn for anyone,” Jin said. “Not even Byron. Well, not in the short term I suppose. Long term’s still up in the air.”
“Is there going to be a long term?” Kari asked, watching another rent tear in the fabric of the world below her. “Even if we don’t step in, this place is going to fall apart sooner rather than later.”
“Oh, there’s still time to save it,” Jin said. “I mean we’ve seen worse than this before.”
“Have we?” Kari asked.
“Yeah. Remember the Glen of Unspeaking Bells?” Jin asked, still focused on something on the world below them.
“It was dead when we got there. And then we broke every bell that remained and you ate the remnants and spit them back out as a magical echo in the one of the variants of Hades we found later on” Kari said. “Is that the ‘saving it’ you have in mind for this place?”
“Not quite that dramatic, and if this place does need to good devouring, we’ve got your nice new world I can spit them back into,” Jin said. “But I don’t think it’s going to come to that. There are still a lot of people fighting to save this world and the other ones it’s connected too.”
“Isn’t that the problem though?” Kari said. “All of the worlds that are connected to the Fallen Kingdoms, even if its an indirect connection, are being drawn into this apocalypse.”
“That’s why I asked you to whip up the new Fallen Kingdoms. I was thinking we could either solve the problem here, or, worst case, we could draw all the Oblivion critters here and then sever just this world. The thing is though, I think this world is too resilient for that to work.”
“What do you mean ‘too resilient’?” Kari asked. “It looks to me like it’s literally falling to pieces.”
“It is,” Jin said. “In fact when you look at it from a solar perspective, it’s almost completely devoured already. Like there’s not a spot on it that isn’t been chewed on and corrupted.”
“On just the outside of the dreamlit veil though?” Kari asked, a sick chill passing through her at the thought of things being that much worse than she’d seen.
“No. Not just the outside. On both sides of the veil,” Jin said.
“But it would be too late already. Or, no, wait. It can’t be that bad or the world would have crumbled to nothingness already.”
“And yet it hasn’t,” Jin said.
“That doesn’t make any sense though. If the world’s been devoured, how is it still here?’
“That’s a really interesting question isn’t it?” Jin said with a smile and shrug as she disappeared.
The Nightmare Queen
The Nightmare Queen needed a drink. Slumped on her throne, ragged exhaustion pulling her eyelids down despite her stern disapproval of the fact, she was rather far from her best when it came to entertaining guests. That no one had completed the requisite quests to make the pilgrimage to her lair was no guarantee that she wouldn’t be receiving guests of course, but the fact that the world was soon going to dissolve into chaos and then nothingness was indicative that guests were unlikely.
So of course one showed up anyways.
“Hiya Queen!” Jin said, materializing from literally nowhere in mid stride as she walked into the Queen’s throne room. She was fiddling with something in her hands, a gem of incalculable worth, or perhaps something equally uninteresting, because when she glanced up towards the throne, the Queen’s condition seemed to capture all of her attention. “Oh, you doing okay there?”
The first time Jin had appeared before her, the Nightmare Queen had been painfully aware of who Jin was, and more importantly, what she wasn’t. Namely, someone small enough to fit within the Nightmare Queen’s dominion. Since the Queen’s dominion was ‘the entirety of the [Fallen Kingdoms]’ that was concerning.
Except that it hadn’t been.
Jin and her other half, had been cordial and unthreatening. They’d exchanged a few pleasantries, expressed a desire not to destroy the universe the Queen ruled over, and left peacefully and with kind words.
That Jin was back was not, the Queen was quite certain, a good sign. It should have been quite a terrifying one, the Queen found it difficult to work up the right level of trepidation at the prospect of Jin doing whatever the worst it was that she might choose to do though.
“It has been a rather challenging few days? Or weeks? I’ve lost track of them somewhere,” the Queen said.
“Oh. Sorry. That’s my fault. In part at least. I had to fiddle with the flow of time here. I hadn’t been thinking about how disorienting that might be for you,” Jin said.
“It was a blessing I can assure you,” the Queen said, sitting up straighter on her throne. She didn’t have to, Jin didn’t seem at all inclined towards formality, but the act reminded of her of when she’d had a mortal body, and it helped her focus as it would have if she’d still been incarnated in one.
“Apologies for being blunt, but you’re looking a little rough for someone who’s been blessed,” Jin said.
“Losing days into weeks is not the cause for my current state,” the Queen said. “If anything the lengthening of the time given to us is likely the only reason I can still sit on this throne.”
“That was kind of what I came to ask about,” Jin said. “Your world is in a state I’ve never seen before. It’s fascinating but also, I’m guessing, not terribly stable.”
“You guess correctly,” the Queen said. “Every moment the assaults on the fabric of my world increase. More and more creatures of dissolving nothingness are slipping through, and the lesser powers who serve me are falling and falling, one after the other.”
“What are they fighting for,” Jin asked. “Exactly I mean, not the general ‘defense of the realm’, I’m sure they’re charged with.”
“They are fighting to hold the line between the qualities they define in the world and the revocation or erasure of what’s real, so for each Power the fight is different, but the danger is all the same,” the Nightmare Queen said. “As each one falls, the idea at the core of the domain is snuffed out and not longer exists within the world. If the Power of the Oceans falls, there will be no more seas, or great bodies of water. If the Power of the Light falls, everywhere will be smothered in darkness.”
“Huh. Weird,” Jin said. “And you can feel each one falling? Their loss saps away your strength I take it?”
“By the time they are lost, the strength I have given to them is long spent,” the Queen said. “I bolster them so they can stand another day, or hour, or minute longer, until they finally can stand no more.”
“And how many did you say you’ve lost?” Jin asked.
“All but a few handfuls,” the Queen said. “There is so little left now, and once the last one crumbles away, they will come for me.”
“A few handfuls? Hmm. Have you looked at the world recently?” Jin asked, unconcerned at the end of the universe she was standing in.
“I cannot,” the Queen said. “If I leave my throne, my subjects won’t be able to draw on my power and the last bits of the world will vanish before I can take seven steps from it.”
“I think there’s something you should see,” Jin said and waved her hands in a small gesture.
Without flash or ceremony, the walls of the Nightmare Queen’s throne room became more transparent than glass.
And beyond them?
Beyond them lay the [Fallen Kingdoms].
And far, far too whole.
“What vision is this? Show me what this illusion covers?” the Nightmare Queen said.
“It’s not an illusion,” Jin said. “No more than any world is at least. These are your [Fallen Kingdoms]. As they are right now.”
“But, they can’t be,” the Queen said. “Nothing’s missing!”
“Almost nothing,” Jin said. “There are some tears and holes and more than a few people that we’re going to need to round up later.”
“But how can that be? I see mountains! The Power of Mountains was one of the first to fall. There can’t be mountains anymore.”
“And yet, there they are,” Jin said gesturing to the soaring peaks that ran down one of the continents. “So you see what I mean about this being weird right?”
“It’s not weird. It’s impossible. I know. I built this world. You can’t delete the Powers from it and have it continue. It would be like turning off gravity and having everyone stay on the surface of the planet because they all felt like it.”
A surprised smile crept over Jin’s face.
“Maybe that’s it,” she said. “Maybe that’s exactly it.”
With a quick turn she was gone, never having really been there at all, but still leaving the Nightmare Queen to wonder if Jin’s smile was because she saw a path towards the world’s salvation or because she was at last free to end it with a clear conscience.