Broken Horizons – Vol 12, Ch 3

Penny was being erased. It wasn’t how she’d expected to spend her day, but she had to admit it was nice that the other shoe had finally dropped.

“So easy…so…so…easy…easy,” Gulini said as talons of static plunged into Penny’s forehead.

Or rather the forehead of one of Penny’s temporary duplicates.

It was a ghastly sight to watch, though from Penny’s perspective also a somewhat amusing one. Even as Gulini ripped apart from pale reflection Penny had dodged away from, she could see that he had no idea he was destroying a fake.

“The leader..the..fallen..leader has..the leader has fallen,” he said, thoughts shredding in the storm of static which had hollowed him out. 

“Have I now?” another copy of Penny asked.

She couldn’t turn invisible, but redirecting someone’s attention to where you wanted it to be was the most basic level of strategy. 

Her second duplicate was shredded before she could utter another word, and Penny heard Gulini’s static growler louder. She threw another duplicate at it to buy time, and took stock of her situation.

The [Command Center] was a complete loss. Apart from her, everyone else had been corrupted and were moving towards her with the slow steps of a puppet in the hands of a fledgling puppeteer.

Azma wasn’t an asset either. They’d been speaking a moment prior but the connection was dead, either because Azma was dealing with a visitor like Penny was or because she’d been wise enough to terminate the connection the moment Penny’s attacker revealed himself.

She could issue a recall order, or send out a distress signal. That would get a significant number of [Adventurers] inbound, but with the defenses of the [Command Center] still in place they would take at least ten minutes to arrive.

She could last another two minutes and forty seconds. The destruction of her fifth copy confirmed that calculation.

Calling in the [Adventurers] wasn’t an option. Nor was leaving the comm channels functional. Once she fell, the attacker would have access to her authorization privileges. Based on Gulini’s demonstrated capabilities the entire world, apart from the [Adventurers], would fall under his control within an hour and three minutes, with every significant martial force being suborned within the first seven minutes. 

There was sufficient reserve power in the comm channels to backfire and reduce her body to an ash residue. That would prevent her own corruption and remove the most prominent avenue for the attacker’s influence to spread.

Except, of course, that the comm system had heavy and intricate systems in place to prevent overloads, since reducing its users to dust was counterproductive in most scenarios.

Penny looked at the comm’s console at the far corner of the room. Among the promising bits of info was the fact that she could make it to the console with thirty second of effort, and would be able to pass unnoticed there for at least a minute and twenty five seconds. 

Bypassing the safety mechanisms would require thirty minutes of work though.

Not a viable option.


Bypassing the safety mechanisms would require thirty minutes. Destroying the safety mechanisms on the other hand? That could be accomplished in thirty seconds. But doing so would hasten Gulini’s awareness of her real presence to within ten seconds.

Destroying the safety mechanism in a manner that destroyed her as well?


Twenty seconds.

And Gulini would need at least a second to close the gap between them.

It was a workable option.

Also one Penny wasn’t going to pursue.

“It was not wise to come here,” she said as her eleventh copy was eradicated.

“Came for you,” Gulini said.

“As I said, not wise.” Casting her voice through the duplicate made it that much more believable as being the real version of her, and Gulini was all too happy to spend extra time searching the shreds of the copy for any trace of a real person in them.

“You’re the key…the lynchpin,” Gulini said and Penny noticed the single stutter.

It was an interesting and promising sign.

But it didn’t buy her any more time.

“You think I’m important?” Penny said, making no effort to hide the mocking disbelief in her voice.

“You are the center,” Gulini said static hissing at the end of his words as he ripped her fourteenth copy apart. “They listen to you.”

“And when you take me, you think they’ll listen to you instead?”

“They will hear silence,” Gulini said. “They will hear nothing.”

“Like you hear nothing?”

“I hear everything.”

“How tragic then that you fail to listen to any of it,” Penny said and watched the anger roll off Gulini in waves of static.

She couldn’t pick up anything in the static to analyze. No specific power to build a countermeasure for, or to turn against itself. There was nothing to it. A nothing which nonetheless was disintegrating her copies as quickly as she could produce them.

Penny wasn’t a high level [Wizard] or [Warlock] or any other combat casting class. People often made the mistake of assuming that meant she couldn’t handle “complex” spells, or that “communication magic” was the only variety she could craft. The fact that she’d chosen to specialize in spells which were more subtle than [Fortress Wrecking Fireball] perplexed those people, but the ability to destroy a single castle had always seemed underwhelming when compared to the ability to destroy (or far more often save) an entire country.

It was with more than a little frustration therefor that she regarded the dilemma her foe presented. Subtle magics seemed completely wasted on it. [Fortress Wrecking Fireballs] wouldn’t have destroyed it either, but they would have allowed her to destroy the comm system, and potentially herself.

Penny rejected that idea again though.

Playing for the lowest impact loss was still playing for a loss, and while destroying herself might mitigate the immediate damage her attacker could do, to a degree, it would leave the [Fallen Kingdoms] in a likely unrecoverable state. Also it would make Niminay sad.

So, that wasn’t happening.

“You will be mine.” Gulini’s voice was an echo of itself, a growled memory of what he’d once been, or once had the potential to be. 

Around him, the [Command Center] was beginning to warp and flake away, his mere presence breaking down the fabric of space.

Which was going to be a problem.

Penny had a minute and eleven seconds left until he would break through her defenses and grasp the real her.

Options dwindled faster than her remaining time.

Which meant it was time to start considering the unpleasant ones.

“And what will you do with me if you get me?” Penny asked. She didn’t enjoy the prospect of talking with her attacker, but it offered several avenues of attack and she wasn’t in a position to pass those up.

“Gift you. With Obliteration.” The static was raw in his voice, tearing the words apart a moment after he made them.

Penny felt him trying to project his essential “nothingness” along on the sounds, but in passing through her duplicate’s ears, the static fizzled out into them and never reached her.

“And you’re hoping that I’ll return the gift to you, so you can escape the existence that’s consuming you. That’s making you too real.”

They weren’t guesses. She’d observed enough to understand the basic parameters of what she was dealing with, and from there working out its motivations was a trivial exercise.

“Yes!” Gulini said. “Yes. You understand. How do you understand? How do you know me?”

“Listen to yourself,” Penny said. “Don’t you hear it?”

“I hear everything.”

“But you’re not listening,” Penny said.

She really didn’t like what was going to come next.

She knew it was her best chance, but she really didn’t like it.

“No need to listen,” Gulini said. “I already know.”

Penny couldn’t help herself. She laughed. It gave away her true position, but that didn’t matter. She wasn’t planning to remain out of her attacker’s clutches for the remaining forty eight seconds anyways.

“Do you now?” she asked. “Let’s see about that, shall we?”

He didn’t run towards her. He rippled, statics jittering forward with ever fraction of a second that passed.

Penny, however, didn’t have time for dramatics like that.

She stepped forward and grabbed Gulini by the throat.

It wasn’t the best of moves.

The Oblivion within him surged outward, a dreadful wail escaping his throat, despite the hold she had on it.

Her hand was the first part of her to be drenched in the all destroying, all corrupting miasma that was wearing Gulini as a shell. She’d wondered if the process of being devoured by it would be painless. It would have made sense after all if being melted by nothing involved feeling nothing.

That did not turn out to be the case.

Agony unlike any Penny had experienced roared up her arm. She’d known she wasn’t going to like this part of her plan.

So she shut the pain off.

That was something you couldn’t do with [Fortress Wrecking Fireballs]. 

The other thing even the highest tier combat magic couldn’t do was help anyone survive contact with whatever Gulini had become. Penny wasn’t certain her magics could either, but she knew directly experiencing the phenomena was her best chance at discovering the truth behind it. For perhaps anyone else that would have been an impossible order but for as fast as Gulini’s nothingness was destroying her, Penny’s mind was faster still. To her perception, time slowed, and slowed, and came within the most imperceptible margin of freezing entirely. 

“Now let’s see what it is you’re doing to me,” Penny said, watching carefully as the outer layer of skin on her hand passed through a sort of phase change between reality and something else.

Penny sent her magic into the effect like a thousand scalpels but none of the spells registered anything. Each told her that there was nothing around her hands. That the hands themselves weren’t changing. That everything was exactly as it was supposed to be.

She checked for illusions, following the obvious trail because it would be far easier to convince someone that you controlled their reality than to actually be able to influence what was real. Sadly, those divinations came back empty as well. There were no illusions present, or at least none that she was capable to piercing.

“There has to be something here,” she grumbled, annoyance at the impossibility in front of her growing the longer an explanation for it continued to elude her.

She tried to come at the problem from another angle. She was the one being devoured, perhaps her spells could monitor what she knew she was and as that changed she would be able to discern what sort of transformation was taking place.

That didn’t work either.

She wasn’t being transformed.

She wasn’t being burned, or disintegrated, or mass converted. She wasn’t being anything.

She wasn’t being anything?

“I’m not? I am ‘not’?” Penny asked, the leap not one of logic but of pure intuition. “This isn’t happening, because it’s the unreal meeting the real. When my hands melt, it won’t be that they were destroyed, it will be that they became something that’s not real, that never was. I won’t ever have hands. All of my history will be corrupted. The world would need to encyst me, cocoon me into the shell of an identity, or the ripples of my broken reality would reach out and fracture the realities of everyone I ever met or influenced.”

But the [Adventurers] had proven to be immune to the effect. Or had gained immunity to it. What made them special? 

They were powerful, certainly, but even the new, low level ones, seemed to be able to resist the corruption effect.

Or at least the ones who hadn’t become [Disjoined] were able to resist it.

Penny reached for a spark of understanding and drew back a handful of fire.

[Heart Fire].

The element that was common to all [Adventurers].

Like a waterfall, the pieces fell into place.

Gulini’s improving speech. The [Adventurers’] immunity. How she was going to survive.

The battle between the real and the unreal didn’t have to go to the unreal.

Even as Gulini and his spawn spread like a cancer across the world, the world was resisting him. Even within himself, Gulini was bit by bit fighting to come back.

Where he sought to become a [True Horror] though, the [Adventurers] returned as the selves they dreamed themselves to be.

As the corruption spread up her arms, Penny turned off more of her sense to keep her mind clear.

She needed focus to find her center.

She needed to discover the [Heart Fire] within herself.

It was impossible. No one had ever summoned [Heart Fire] on their own.

Which meant Penny would need to be the first.

She just needed time.

Time which Gulini was not going to give her.

Time which had just about run out.

Until someone grabbed Gulini and began to drag him off her.

“I’ve had more than enough of you,” Unknown said, grasping Gulini’s shoulders and pulling hard enough that a seam began to rip down Gulini’s center.

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