It wasn’t every day that Oblivion stretched forth its hands to tear away the very fabric of you existence. Tessa was sure of that since she’d spent at least a week since a creature from beyond time and space had tried to erase the core of her being from the world.
“Yeah, no,” she said, shifting into Pillowcase’s form.
She didn’t really need to, but approaching the idiot in front of her as Pillowcase just seemed more appropriate. Pillowcase’s job was to protect the team and this creature would literally need to get past her dead body if it wanted to get to the rest of her team, and that was not going to happen.
The [Disjoined] in front of her wasn’t one of the garden variety glitchy post-[Adventurer] zombies. It had followed the link back from Penswell’s office, and was, unless Tessa missed her guess, using a cheap imitation of Penny’s self duplication trick to materialize in front of them.
She had to give it credit. It attacked without pause or hesitation. It was capable of talking but apart from a quick bit of gloating (which was probably intended to throw its quarry off their game), it got right to work.
Talons of deadly static speared forward seeking to pierce Pillowcase’s heart, or rather the central power cores that were woven into her.
Pillowcase didn’t call out the invocations for any defensive capabilities.
There wasn’t time.
“Heh. You’re mine,” the copy of Gulini said after closing the distance between them in less than a blink.
“You sure about that?” Pillowcase gesturing with both hands to the center of her chest. Specifically the spot where the Gulini expected to see his talons quickly disintegrating her from the inside out.
Confused, he looked down to see the tips of his talons failing to even dent the armored breastplate Pillowcase wore. It wasn’t the breastplate that was special though.
“Tessa!” Lisa screamed over their private channel, her view of the two of them obscured by Gulini’s form.
“I’m fine,” Tessa said, a giddy laugh bubbling up inside her. After dying literally countless times in the last dozen or more hours, it felt just incredible to be facing a foe who wasn’t able to tear her apart with a single hit. “[Transdimensional Integrity] remember?”
“How?” the Gulini demanded.
“Gee, I don’t know,” Tessa said, seeing no reason to enlighten her foe when his confusion was so delicious. “Let’s see if it works you can do the same thing.”
Maces aren’t as popular a weapon as swords are. Pillowcase wasn’t sure why people didn’t see the appeal in them though. Hitting people you didn’t like with a ball of spikes on a stick was a viscerally thrilling experience, especially when it made such a satisfying sound as it smashed into the side of their face.
The Gulini, it turned out, wasn’t a fan of maces either. Not that it much left to express that sentiment with after Pillowcase’s first swing.
The sad new was that, while it was basically a pinata filled with staticky death, there weren’t any candy or toys that came spilling out when Pillowcase finished her third swing and found nothing more to aim at above the neck.
Worse though, the Gulini didn’t stay damaged like a proper corpse would.
“What…you…what are…what are you?” he demanded, static coalescing into another head. “What…what…what…”
He began backing away but not fast enough to avoid a [Terra Volt Strike Arrow] blasting into him. That was followed by a [Greater Endless Torment] from Matt and attacks from Starchild, Glimmerglass, and Wrath Raven.
The Gulini didn’t retain much of its manifested form through the onslaught but none of the attacks had an observable effect on the static that lay under the false skin the creature wore.
“What is this abomination,” Snowcap said as he shifted from his [Demon] form to his [Angelic] one.
“This is one of the things we told you about,” Tessa said. “Like the one I tried to fight with the [Divine Spark].”
The Gulini laughed.
“Nothing like that one. I am nothing like that one,” he said, rolling his shoulders before speaking a word to destroy the continent they were on.
It didn’t work.
“Yeah, the one I fought didn’t make empty gesture like that,” Tessa said.
“Why? I am infinite. I am unbound by this world. I am…”
“You might want to listen to the exact words you’re saying for a second there,” Tessa said. There really wasn’t any sense in helping her foe figure out the nature of his predicament, or rather there wouldn’t have been for a normal foe. The Gulini was a special case.
“We can’t beat this guy in a fight,” she told her team on the party channel. “As he is now, he’s basically just ignoring any damage we can inflict.”
“I’m happy to keep shooting him,” Rip said.
“I would agree,” Lisa said. “Except let’s not give him any more chances to learn how to copy our abilities than we have to maybe?”
“My words?” the Gulini said.
The static snapped like thunder, loud and angry, but also diminishing as the Gulini’s gaze drifted outwards in confusion.
“He’s going to figure it out in a little and we need to have a plan ready by then,” Tessa said.
“We could run,” Lady Midnight said. “I know our [Angel] friends are limited in what they can do, but I bet they can at least fly.”
“We can do better than that,” Lisa said. “We could teleport back to [Dragonshire] or any of the capitol cities that are back online if we wanted to.”
“I’m a little leery of opening a [Warp Portal] to any spot where there’s a bunch of people,” Lady Midnight said. “This thing already portaled in here, seems like a good chance it could follow us.”
“It can,” Obby said.
“Then we need to fight it,” Matt said. It wasn’t a defiant statement, or an angry one.
Tessa felt a small smile spread across Pillowcase’s face. That wasn’t the voice of someone who was afraid. It was the voice of someone who’d been afraid of a lot of things for a long time, but, when faced with an impossible foe, found a bedrock of confidence to stand on.
Nobody knew how they could win, or if winning was even an option, but Matt believed they would and that belief inspired all of them.
“We’re in a good spot to do that here,” Tessa said. “Nice solid level cap means nonsense like that [World Breaker Curse] he tried are off the table.”
“I’m sorry, the what?” Lady Midnight said.
“I’ll explain later,” Tessa said. “Lost Alice and I had a breakthrough while I was recovering the [Heart Fire] chamber.”
“I thought you said they were making out?” Starchild asked, turning to Lady Midnight.
“That too,” Lisa said, unapologetically.
Tessa grinned and was delighted to find that Pillowcase couldn’t blush. Rip and Matt giving each other a covert high-five almost let Pillowcase manage it though.
“The important bit is that, like we’ve seen before, even these reality destroying monsters, are limited in places like this,” Lisa said.
“Limited but not killable,” Starchild said. “We can fight it endlessly if we pace ourselves properly, but spending eternity in a deadlock is not appealing.”
“We can help you battle, but in either of our forms, this is something we have no dominion over,” Snowcap said.
“That’s okay,” Tessa said. “I think you all should probably head out. I’m pretty sure Obby and I can keep his attention locked on us, but if I’m wrong, I don’t want him deciding to try corrupting one of you.”
“We are incorruptible,” Snowcap said. “Our makers made sure of that.”
“You may be, but it might still be able to steal some of your power, and the last thing we need is for it to get stronger,” Tessa said.
“It is our purpose to defender this creation,” Snowcap said.
“I know. But there’s a lot more that you’re supposed to protect than just this place,” Tessa said. “We’ve been burning up a lot of your time but there’s a whole world that needs you.”
“We have a debt to you,” Snowcap said.
“That debt is paid in full,” Tessa said. “You gave us exactly what we needed. We’re so much stronger now than we were when we came in here. Trust us. We can handle this guy.”
Snowcap glowed brighter for a moment and then nodded.
“Thank you,” he said and, along with the others, vanished upwards a streams of rising light.
“Gone?” the Gulini said, the departure of the [Angels] bringing it back to the world. “But I am not alone.”
“You’re starting to get it. Aren’t you?” Tessa asked.
“Yes. The hateful ‘I’. An accretion. A growth around what should be only lovely dissolution,” the Gulini said.
“Happy to destroy that for you,” Wrath Raven said.
The Gulini laughed again.
“Nothing any of you can do can destroy what I am,” it said.
“Happy to try,” Glimmerglass said and then glanced over at Tessa, awareness dawning in her eyes. “Or are we?”
“What he is now? Oh, yeah, that’s going away,” Tessa said.
“Impossible,” the Gulini said.
“That is the heart of the matter yes. And what’s going to be your downfall,” she paced to the side to keep herself in between him and the rest of her party. He wasn’t consciously trying to maneuver around her, but Tessa had spent an agonizingly long period of time making pretty much every mistake it seemed possible to make and those lessons were still quite fresh.
“You have no power over me!” The Gulini’s snarl was the surest sign Tessa could imagine that he knew he was lying.
“What makes you think I need any particular power to destroy you?” she asked, relishing down to the tips of her toes the growing certainty that her guesses about the nature of the menace in front of her were true.
“Weakness won’t save you,” the Gulini said, once again hearing but not understanding Tessa’s words.
“What do I need to be saved from?” Pillowcase taunted the Gulini.
“From me.” The Gulini’s voice was a low growl. A low growl with only the barest hints of static around the edges.
“And who are you?” Tessa asked, delight bubbling over as she spoke her next words. “What’s your name?”
She didn’t have the force of [Divine Power] backing the question this time, but as she’d suspected, she didn’t need that.
“I have no…no…I don’t have a name,” the Gulini said, his voice not breaking like a glitched datafile but pausing in short, fitful gaps, like someone struggling to deny a truth they couldn’t bear to admit.
“You sure about that?” Tessa asked.
“I will destroy you!” Rage was the predictable response, to the point where parrying the Gulini’s next attack was so trivial for Pillowcase that she only did it for the petty satisfaction of being able to crush his hand to pulp in the process.
“You’d have a better chance at that if you had a name,” Tessa said, offering the Gulini the honest advice that would seal his fate for good. To the rest of her team she added on their party channel, “Be ready for this to get fun as soon as he does give a name.”
“Why’s that?” Rip asked.
“Because he’ll become fully real then,” Obby said. “Which means he’s going to change from trying to kill us with ‘nothing’ and start using ‘something’, like real [Raid Tier Boss] nonsense.”
“Uh, why isn’t he using that now?” Matt asked. “I thought these things could do anything.”
“They can,” Tessa said. “But the [Fallen Kingdoms] has learned some new tricks.”
“The [Fallen Kingdoms]? What do you mean?” Lady Midnight asked.
“I think I know,” Glimmerglass said. “When my other self over there fought the creature that had corrupted the fleet, she got it to name itself and in doing so it lost access to its reality breaking power. That then became something that was true within this world.”
“I don’t know if it became true then, or if the world was waiting for ‘Unknown’s’ name as the final piece in making him part of the world rather than something inherently destructive to it,” Tessa said. “It might even be an inevitable process that the [Fallen Kingdoms] has just learned to speed up. Unknown seemed to be becoming more ‘real’ each time we ran into it – just like this guy has been the longer we talk to him.”
“Heads up,” Obby said. “I think he’s about to hit us with something.”
Tessa looked over to see the Gulini hunched over and shaking, not spasm or weird graphical glitches. It was laughter. And not the kindly variety.
“You did this to me,” he said, his voice nearly all but free of its static hiss. “You made me this.”
“Wish I could take credit,” Tessa said. “But this is all the consequences of your own bad choices.”
“My choices? I don’t choose. I am chosen,” he said. “I am [Hell’s Chosen] and I will destroy you!”
And with that his human form split away, revealing the nightmare he’d always been.