In the wake of a god soul’s destruction the arena was perfectly silent.
For all of two seconds.
Then the cacophony of questions of exploded from nearly every mouth present.
“It worked!” Lisa said on their private channel and Tessa felt her pulse descend from a nine digit number of beats per minute down to something that wasn’t giving her blood the pressure of a neutron star.
“I believe an explanation of what just occurred would be advantageous for everyone present to hear,” Penswell said, her voice once again only slightly louder than casual speaking volume and yet sounding clearly audible throughout the arena as every conversations were hushed to a whisper.
“If you could start with what in the actual hell that thing was, that would be really nice,” Cease said.
“We don’t have words to describe him. Yet,” Tessa said.
“But we can explain his history,” Unknown said.
“He can’t change that can he?” Tessa asked.
“No. None of them can,” Obby said. “They can cheat reality without limits along some axis but not others.”
“Those are words, but we don’t have enough context for them to really make sense yet,” Damnazon said.
“Let me start at the beginning then,” Tessa said, and gave Penswell and the small army of [Adventurers] who’d come with her a high level recounting of the various encounters they’d had with the [Formless Hunger] and the various permutations that it morphed through, finishing up with a description of fighting the [Broken Hunger] on the fleet’s capital ship and demanding its name with the force of the previous god soul she’d wielded.
Unknown stepped in at that point and explained the experience from his perspective, how he’d been slowing accumulated little bits of reality, like grit in a clam, becoming more real, despite his strenuous objections, with every passing interaction he’d had with anything and everything in the world.
It hadn’t been until he’d taken a name though that he’d become fully part of the world, and while he could call cosmic power to his fingertips, the [Transcendent] quality he had once possessed was forever lost to him.
He was a part of the [Fallen Kingdoms] and though he’d fought against it with lethal and absolute force, the self he’d gained had turned out to be the very thing, possibly the only thing, that had been able to fill the infinite hunger within him.
“So why isn’t that guy like that too then? Or is he just terminally hangry still?” Cease asked.
“His name was Byron,” Tessa said. “I saw that right as he was leaving. I don’t know what he is now exactly, but he’s the one who’s been pulling in the other Hungers.”
“And how did you see all of that?” Penswell asked.
“With this,” Tessa said, holding up her fist and the blazing light it contained.
“You called that a god soul?” Penswell asked.
“Yeah. It’s not it’s real name,” Tessa said. “You can hear that right?”
“I can,” Penswell said. “Though I can discern little else about it. Have you become adept enough with handling them that you can now carry that one safely?”
“Oh, no, not at all,” Tessa said. “I just have a fairly good idea how long I can stand it before it destroys everything mortal in me.”
“You said you were okay holding onto it?” Lisa asked privately.
“For the time being, yeah,” Tessa said. “But this isn’t something I can just put into my inventory and haul out as needed.”
“How long are you good for?”
“Another fifteen minutes, for sure, if I need to I think I can push it to twice that,” Tessa said. “So my plan is to ditch it in ten minutes or so.”
“If time permits then, can you explain what we just witnessed?” Penswell asked.
“I think that needs to start with Marcus,” Tessa said.
“Oh, my bit’s pretty simple,” Marcus said. “I got back to EE HQ and found some guy who looked like David Kralt – he was the original lead developer for the game – talking with a federal agent about taking the servers down all at once.”
“Wait? Kralt? That’s…that’s really odd,” Tessa said. “We ran into Kralt earlier. Up in the high beyond. He was a slime. I mean he was literally a [Slime Type] mob.”
“What happened to him there?” Marcus asked.
“I…uh, I kinda destroyed the pocket dimension he was in and then stuff him in my inventory bag.”
“We need to talk for several weeks about your adventurers to date,” Penswell said.
“Let’s hope the [Fallen Kingdoms] has that long,” Tessa said.
“So where is he now? Kralt I mean?” Marcus asked.
“Did I let him out?” Tessa asked searching her memories. So so so many more important things than Kralt had been happening though that she drew a blank. “No, I think he should still be here,” she searched around in her bag only to discover that, while it held many other things, it did not in fact have any [Slime Type Monsters] inside it. “Or not. He got out.”
“I just checked, I’m not seeing him as a listed [Adventurer] anywhere,” Lisa said.
“Byron got to him,” Obby said. “What you met was the skinsuit that remained of him.”
“Thanks. That’s going to be right up front in my nightmares for the next several forevers,” Marcus said.
“If you’re correct, then we have a rather sizable problem,” Penswell said.
“And an opportunity,” Tessa said.
“And those would be?” Cease asked.
“The problem is that Byron was able to crossover from this world to Earth,” Lisa said.
“And the opportunity is that might mean we can too,” Tessa said.
“You’re holding a piece of a god right? Can’t you just use that to get us back?” Cease asked.
“Maybe. Probably,” Tessa said. “But there’s a whole bunch of problems with it. First, any portal I open I can only hold for a few minutes at most. Out of the hundreds of thousands of players who got drawn over to here, how many do you think we could get through a portal in a couple of minutes. Let’s pretend we can magic up an acceptable answer to that, the [Fallen Kingdoms] is used to having portals opened in it. Earth isn’t. If I rip spacetime open there, how stable do you think things will be? We could wind up unleashing things like the [Formless Hunger] on Earth and there’s no one and nothing there that would have a chance to surviving them.”
“Uh, about that,” Marcus said.
Tessa looked at him and felt her heart sink.
“Oh do not say what you’re about to.”
“I was in Vegas a few hours ago. I ran into an [Armageddon Beast] there, and yes, the words sounded exactly like that after I figured out that was its name,” Marcus said. “We managed to get that one to destroy itself, but there are a lot of others showing up. Reports are coming in from all over the world.”
Tessa found herself leaning against Lisa as the strength went out of her legs.
“There’s not going to be an Earth left to go back to,” she said.
“Well, there might be,” Marcus said.
“How?” Tessa asked.
“This isn’t the only place monsters can be dragged too,” Marcus said.
“You ever played the Crystal Stars MMO?” Marcus asked. “Cause they started having people disappear too, just like we did. And they’re fighting monsters just like the ones we’re seeing here.”
“How is that possible?” Tessa asked.
“It’s not,” Obby said. “Or, more precisely, it wasn’t. Think about what we’ve seen here though.”
“I still have no idea what we saw here,” Cease said.
“My fight with Byron?” Tessa asked and Obby nodded. “Oh. OH! I think I see.”
Noticing that almost no one around, Lisa and the rest of her team excepted, seemed to have a clue what she was talking about, Tessa took a few mental steps backward and started to explain.
“When Marcus and Byron landed, I recognized that Marcus was carrying a god soul and that Byron was bad news,” she said.
“Yeah, the bad news part was an easy call to make,” Cease said.
“I also knew, or guessed, that the [Fallen Kingdoms] was hard at work on Byron and that with Marcus’s god soul, I could help push the process along.”
“What do you mean the [Fallen Kingdoms] was ‘hard at work’?” Cease asked.
“Well, we’ve got Unknown here as our proof of concept, and I know one data point does not make for good science, but I can kind of feel it, which, yes, also bad science but…”
“But what, just give us the theory,” Cease said.
“Okay, sorry, so the Hungers are [Transcendent Entities]. That means they are effectively unbound and definitionless. Like a null pointer or a cosmic divide by zero error. None of the rules of reality apply to them. It’s even deeper than that though. It’s not like they have infinite damage resistance. It’s that they don’t possess the capacity to be damaged. It’s a quantum spin axis they lack to completely mangle a metaphor.”
“So they’re impossible to beat,” Cease said.
“Yes. Except they don’t stay like that,” Tessa said. “There’s a weird balance they have. Right from the start they begin catching little viral bits of reality. With even the tiniest cells of reality, they start to fall prey to some of reality’s restrictions. Things like ‘time passes for them’ and ‘level caps effect them’. With each change that the [Formless Hunger] went through it gained new and more deadly power to resolve the problems it encountered but with each change it lost more and more of it’s transcendent capacities. I thought that was just a natural tradeoff when I first noticed it, like how if you jump out of plane you gain velocity but lose potential energy.”
“But now you believe the process has a guiding will behind it?” Penswell asked.
“I do,” Tessa said. “Some of this is guesswork, some of it is intuition from by a few oddball senses I seem to have picked up as a [Void Speaker], and some of it is just plain observation.”
“And what have you observed?” Penswell asked.
“When I fought Unknown, before he was Unknown, I tried to use a [Divine Mandate] to force him to reveal his name. It didn’t work – it couldn’t work – what he was then was still [Transcendent] enough to ignore trivial law of the universe like that – but he gave me his name anyways.”
“Is that such a big deal?” Cease asked.
“Yes,” Unknown said. “The me I was then hated her beyond all bounds of this world. Giving her anything was unthinking and a name? I fought against existing with infinite force, I tried everything, and yet still when asked, I was compelled at last to at last accept a name and finally become.”
“Become what?” Cease asked.
“Real. Before, I could have vanished. If I’d succeeded in devouring the cosmos, I could have returned to the silent tranquility of unbeing. I could have stopped being. By taking a name, by becoming real, I gave all that up. Imagine, if you can, infinite peace and forsaking it for strife, pain, and uncertainty.”
“But’s that not all that living is,” Cease said.
“No, it’s not,” Unknown said. “There is so much more.”
“It wasn’t me that showed him that,” Tessa said. “I challenged him, I fought him, but there was something much bigger than me that moved through me when I spoke. I don’t know what it was, or who, but it was vast. Vast and changing too. Just like the Hungers change to deal with the threats they face, I think the [Fallen Kingdoms] are capable of adapting too, of becoming familiar with the things that are trying to tear her apart and finding better and faster ways to make that not happen.”
“So does that mean that we can just leave things up to the spirt of the [Fallen Kingdoms] then?” Cease asked. “Basically just give it time to have a cosmic fever and burn all these infections out?”
“I think she needs us to fight for her,” Tessa said. “The [Fallen Kingdoms] story has never been one of evil defeating itself. It’s always been about us. Whoever we were, wherever we came from, and whatever talents we bring to the party, what matters is that we step up. That we [RISE] to the challenge.”