Tessa could feel the breath of the world. Not the wind. There was no physical component to it. Not exactly. It was more like a long pulse that rolled through her, each gentle wave the periphery of an existence which she could only infer from the strength it seemed to fill her with. She turned inward for a moment, trying to put that into the words that would convince Penswell and the others the [Fallen Kingdoms] were alive in a non-metaphorical way.
Her inward journey was cut short though as the world drew in it’s breath.
“Something’s coming,” she said, glancing skyward despite the ceiling offering no view of the heavens above. “No. Someone.”
“Who is…” Lisa started to ask.
The meteor that interrupted her wasn’t a unique occurrence in the [Fallen Kingdoms]. It wasn’t even unique in the experience of some of those present.
“Oh no,” Hailey said, her gaze shooting from the meteor, or rather the men rising from the meteor’s crater, to Tessa. “You need to do the thing.”
Tessa wasn’t sure what ‘thing’ Hailey was thinking of, but seeing the two men who were climbing to their feet from the knee deep crater they’d made in the arena’s floor, a more pressing question arose.
Which one she was supposed to fight.
“Hold and engage on my mark,” Penswell said, the impact failing to rattle her in the slightest.
Tessa felt relieved to have someone else calling the shots, especially since it was singularly unclear which of the figures, if either, might be on their side.
“Oh, how very clever, you brought us back here to keep your little world safe?” said one of the men. Roughly two third of his body and both eyes had been replaced by static, suggesting along with his words that he and Tessa were not going to be particularly good friends.
“I…I…don’t…I don’t believe….believe…believe…that…I don’t believe that worked,” the other man, a lithe [Tabbywile] said. He wasn’t covered in static, which was likely a positive sign in Tessa’s books, but the record scratch repetitions of his words was gut wrenchingly familiar.
Why would a [Disjoined] be fighting a being made of static though?
“Oh, rest assured, it didn’t,” the static man said.
“You…you…sure about that?” the other man said. “You’re not exactly…exactly…you’re not…alone here.”
He waved an arm that flickered through its arc towards the [Adventurers] who surrounded them.
“An audience? How wonderful,” the static man said. “There’s so many thing I can do that I haven’t had the time to explore yet.”
“I think I know which one we should be hitting,” Rip said on the party’s private channel.
“Yep. Wait for Penswell’s signal though,” Lisa said. “She’s letting him talk so he’ll give us as much free intel as we can get.”
“Care…care to say…say why you wanted to…to erase the servers?” the other man asked.
Tessa’s vision sharpened as she tried to place where she knew him from. It wasn’t vision that made the connection for her though. It was his voice.
“Marcus?” she said, recognizing the voice of Hailey’s manager that she’d last heard something like a hundred million years ago.
While her question got Marcus’ attention, the sound of her voice had a far stronger effect on the static man.
With moving through any of the angles between where it was and looking directly at her, the static man snapped his gaze to Tessa.
“You.” Hatred, vast and overwhelming, filled the entire arena with that one word.
As though Marcus didn’t exist, as though no one else existed, the static man began to stalk towards Tessa, each step bearing the weight of a mountain, making his advance inexorable.
Until Unknown hit him with a left handed punch to the face.
Whatever mass the static man possessed, whether it was as much as a human his size, or the mountain he moved like, it was far too little to resist the impact.
Tessa didn’t see his flight. Even with her inhuman reflexes, she couldn’t really even say she’d seen the punch, just the aftermath, Unknown’s body in the posture of having thrown a colossal haymaker and the static man embedded in a new crater that been carved thirty feet into the solid stone seating area of the arena.
“This isn’t a fight for any of the rest of you,” Unknown said. “Now is the time you need to leave. Right now.”
“This one isn’t like the others,” Penswell said.
“He’s not,” Unknown said. “He was one of the prime castaways from my former self. He was the greater of the two.”
“Do we have the tools to fight him?” Penswell asked.
“No power you have can destroy him,” Unknown said.
Every other time Tessa had faced one of the Hungers, she’d fled from it. Fighting them wasn’t an option. She’d proven that with the god soul and her battle against Unknown’s former state.
But that had been before.
“We don’t need to fight him,” Tessa said.
“He’s…he’s looking to destroy…destroy us all,” Marcus said.
With her sharpened vision Tessa saw a familiar glow buried deep within him, and she smiled, offering a silent thanks to the [Fallen Kingdoms] for looking after her so well.
She was about to step forward and tell everyone to move behind her when she stopped herself.
“I think I know what to do,” she said on the private channel she shared with Lisa. “It’s maybe not a great idea though.”
“Are you asking permission?” Lisa asked.
“No, I’m asking for a sanity check,” Tessa said.
“Were you thinking of charging out there alone?” Lisa asked.
“That was my first thought, but I don’t want to do this alone,” Tessa said.
“You never have to,” Lisa said. “Tell me your idea, but know that I’ve got your back no matter what.”
Tessa swallowed a lump that formed in her throat and told Lisa what she had in mind. With the static man already rising from hit he’d taken, there wasn’t much time left, but they agreed that the rest of their team needed to know too.
Leaving that to Lisa, Tessa walked to Marcus, who was glitching out far worse than Hailey had been. She didn’t rush to his side, but spent each step clearing her mind and focusing on the burning light within him.
“I think we got a new perception ability from the [Void Speaker] line,” Pillowcase said internally.
“Maybe a few new abilities? Or one that senses a lot of different things?” Tessa said.
“Either is good. More intel is always valuable in battle,” Pillowcase said.
Marcus and the others were watching the static man recover, so he startle-jumped when Tessa reached him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I think I know what’s happening.”
“That makes…makes one of us,” Marcus said.
“If I’m right, I can fix this, but it will involved taking something from you,” Tessa said.
“What do I…I have to give up?” Marcus asked.
“The bit of divine power that’s stuck in you,” Tessa said. “It’s this world’s version of your admin rights.”
“But Mewlodious doesn’t have admin rights?” Marcus said, naming the body he was currently inhabiting.
“Right. But you do,” Tessa said. “We’re both sides of ourselves here.”
“You can…you can remove the admin rights? How?” Marcus asked. “No, just do it. I can’t fight that guy like this. Is it going to take long? Or hurt? Am I going to lose my memories or something like that?”
“Nothing like that,” Tessa said with a broad smile and a blazing golden glow in her hand.
“What’s that?” Marcus asked.
“A god soul,” Tessa said. “Or your admin rights. However you want to look at it.”
“You’re done?” Marcus asked.
Tessa nodded and turned to see the static man roll his shoulders as he got to his feet.
“Well, that was unexpected,” the static man said. “I was under the impression Gulini had already consumed you, Unknown?”
“Why are you all still here?” Unknown asked the [Adventurers] behind him, desperation twisting his flawless face.
“Because we’re done with running,” Tessa said.
“Creator?” Unknown asked.
“Thanks for stepping in there,” Tessa said. “You did good. Let me take it from here though.”
“But he…” Unknown began before Tessa laid a hand on his arm to shush him.
“We’ve fought already, a few times, remember?” she said. “And that was before I had any clue at all. Imagine how terrible I’ll be now that I think I know what I’m doing.”
Unknown’s eyes widen slowly, surprise giving way to amusement.
“As you wish, my Creator,” he said and bowed with a flourish to move out of her path.
The other [Adventurers] were being filled in on Tessa’s plan as she walked across the arena floor to confront the static man, and a part of her was surprised that they hadn’t charged forward with her. It would have been a disastrous action for any of them to take, but these were [Adventurers], taking incredibly ill-conceived actions was written into their DNA. If they were maintaining discipline, Tessa could think of only one reason.
There was a lot to be learned from observing a conflict between a high order Hunger and someone bearing a god soul and Penny was definitely not the sort to pass up such a chance at unique knowledge.
Or there would have been a lot to learn if Tessa had been intending to fight the static man.
“Do you think you can hurt me with that insignificant little speck?” the static man asked.
“What makes you think I intend to hurt you?” Tessa asked.
“Come now, lies and trickery are beneath you, aren’t they ‘Creator’?” the static man said. “We both know that there can be no co-existence between us. I will destroy you, or you will destroy me. There can be no other result of our meeting. Oh, except, I can’t be destroyed.”
“I agree. As you are now, you do not possess the ability to be destroyed,” Tessa said.
“It is such a shame you don’t share that quality,” the static man said, and struck.
Where the Gulini had stabbed at Tessa with daggers of static, the static man lashed out with a flood of it which slammed into her whole body at once.
“Are you sure about that?” Pillowcase asked, grinning as her [Transdimensional Integrity] rendered an attack of destructive nothingness into simply nothing.
“Oh yes,” the static man. “We have seen that trick before, haven’t we.”
“A few times now,” Tessa said. “It’s okay though. Those entities weren’t really you, were they?”
“Of course not,” the static man said. “I am something unique. I am something more than they ever were.”
He closed the distance between them and Tessa did nothing to stop him.
“Also, unlike them, I can learn,” he said and uttered a word Tessa had not expected to hear. “[Fracture]!”
There was a gasp from the small army of [Adventurers] as the light from the god soul Tessa was carrying went dark, and Tessa herself was blasted into discorporate motes of light.
“That wasn’t quite as satisfying as I hoped it would be,” the static man said. “But then I suppose nothing ever is. Guess I’ll just need to erase everything else too!”
“Or,” Tessa said, the scattered motes re-coalescing and the light of the god soul bursting into brilliant illumination once more, “You could just give up?”
The static man stumbled a step backward before catching himself.
“How?” he asked.
“I’ve already pulled myself back from the edge of oblivion once before,” Tessa said. “What makes you think I would find it any harder now?”
“Well that is a problem,” the static man said.
“No, a problem is what I can just about see lurking at the edges of what you are,” Tessa said. “You have a name. But you’re hiding from it? Interesting. I didn’t know you could do that? The important thing though, is that I think I can see…”
A look of stark terror had been growing across the static man’s face as she spoke but as Tessa got closer to perceiving his name the terror fell away, replaced by sharp determination.
“Nothing. You see nothing,” he said and drew forth a glittering spark of golden light, a weaker twin of the one Tessa held. “I really didn’t want to do this, but discretion and valor and all that.”
Before Tessa could react, the static man closed his fist, shattering the god soul and vanishing in the blinding flash that followed.