Only a small flicker of divine power was left in Tessa’s hand. She’d been carefully releasing it as the conversation continued around her and could only hope that the sparks she’d been casting off would find the places they needed to be. The sparks weren’t their only hope but Tessa suspected they was going to be the best.
“If Byron has gone to your world, will he be capable of returning here?” Penswell asked.
“No,” Azma said, answering faster than Tessa could. “If he could travel freely between the worlds, he would be assaulting us right now.”
Penswell paused for a moment and then nodded in agreement.
“He will build up his forces on Earth,” Penswell said. “But he wouldn’t wait for that to attack us again. We have people here who understand what he is and that number will grow exponentially the longer he waits. Also we’re as weak now as we ever will be.”
“Plus Tess is almost done with enacting her plan,” Azma said, nodding towards Tessa who people seemed to be forgetting existed despite the fact that she was glowing like a bonfire.
“Your plan?” Cease asked, startling a bit when she noticed that Tessa was no more than two paces away from her.
“She means this,” Tessa said, showing the tiny mote of light that was left in her hand.
“That was…it was brighter before wasn’t it?” Cease asked, shaking her head. She wasn’t the only one trying to clear away the cobwebs.
“It was,” Tessa said. “It’s almost used up now.”
“What was it doing…?” Cease started to ask before losing her train of thought as she started into the dwindling flame.
“Empowering more soldiers?” Azma guessed.
Gazing on the divine wasn’t something mortal minds were meant to handle well. Tessa wondered how worried she should be that Azma was able to dispassionately regard the god soul and neatly file it away as just another tool she might be able to use.
“Not soldiers,” Tessa said. “This is a gift. To the world. To the ones who need it.”
“You’ve saved a measure of it though,” Penswell said.
“Enough for one more minor miracle,” Tessa said. “Though I know we’re going to need a lot more than that.”
“Why waste it then?” Cease asked.
“She didn’t,” Penswell said.
“You should tell them what the miracle you’re holding the last bit for is,” Lisa said.
“I can’t open a portal back to Earth,” Tessa said. “Not without causing problems over there, and probably here too. The [Fallen Kingdoms] is fine with portals though.”
“We can teleport here, what would we need a portal for?” Cease asked.
“For a place we can’t teleport to,” Lisa said. “A place the devs never intended us to reach.”
“Hailey, Marcus, this is where you come in,” Tessa said.
“Us?” Hailey asked. “What can we do?”
“We need to get back to Earth the right way,” Tessa said. “We need to complete the quest we got when we landed here.”
“Quest?” Marcus asked. “You didn’t do your starter class quests?”
“Not that one,” Tessa said. “The broken one. The one that’s preventing us from logging out.”
“But we don’t know what that quest was,” Hailey said.
“I think you do. I think it’s how you got here,” Tessa said. “You heard something calling you right? And you followed that call. From something, or someone.”
“Yeah. BT was calling to me, so I just kind of let go and let myself be drawn over here,” Hailey said.
“But BT doesn’t have the power to pull people across worlds. Neither did Pillowcase, or Lost Alice, or any of our alter-egos,” Tessa said. “Someone else was calling to you in BT’s name. Someone who is that powerful. The someone who brought us all here because this world needed us, and our world needs the [Fallen Kingdoms].”
“We don’t know who that could be though,” Marcus said.
“Maybe not, but you heard their voice stronger than any of us, and I think with this you can lead us back to them.”
Tessa held out her left hand, palm up with the dazzling spark of the god soul still flickering on it.
“We can’t use that like you can,” Hailey said shying away from the divine light, some portion of her psyche evidently recalling the trauma of glitching out while she carried a fragment of the divine upon her arrival.
“That’s why we’re going to use it together,” Tessa said.
“All of us?” Niminay asked.
“We’re going with her,” Rip said.
“The rest of you will probably need to stay here though,” Lisa said.
“This world needs you. It’s not even close to out of danger yet,” Obby said.
“I should go with you,” Penswell said. “I need to understand what transpires on both worlds if we’re going to extend our plans and save them our worlds.”
“Here we reach the crucial juncture then,” Azma said. “You know you cannot leave, or take your attention from the battles here. You will invite immediate disaster if you do.”
“They must have a tactician with them,” Penswell said. “And this mission does not offer a viable profit profile for you.”
“She’ll go anyways,” Grenslaw said, stepping up to stand beside Azma.
“And we will go with her,” Ryschild said, flanking Azma on the other side.
“You will now, will you?” Azma asked, looking uncharacteristically stunned.
“Yes [Supreme Commander],” Grenslaw said. “By our calculations we will provide a positive measure of support even discounting our efforts for the required trust deficient.”
“And how much distrust have you calculated I should maintain against you?” Azma asked.
“Seventy three percent,” Ryschild said. “At the outer limit. Risk analysis would allow for as low as thirty percent, but that would be an unnecessary gamble.”
“I should like to check your numbers,” Azma said. “My own suggest that the outer limit is at seventy two percent. Present circumstances will have to defer that pleasure however.”
“We will look forward to our after mission review,” Grenslaw said.
“That’s good. We will trade reports as to the events we encountered,” Azma said.
“Pardon?” Ryschild asked.
“Risk analysis is a tool ill suited to this juncture. I am turning over complete control of the forces who are reporting to me, the [Adventuring Companies], the forces we brought with us from the [High Beyond], and the one reclaimed Consortium forces in the ships we’ve been able to commandeer,” Azma said. “You now possess all of the power and authority I have wielded to this point.”
“[Supreme Commander]?” Grenslaw asked, looking distraught at the notion.
“This world needs you,” Azma said. “And we need it. I do not speak in sentimental sense. This operation can only end in our destruction or the end of the [Consortium of Pain]. The world holds every resource we presently possess to ensure the conflicts turns out in our favor.”
“Why would you entrust its management to us then?” Ryschild asked.
“Because you are ready for it,” Azma said.
She didn’t say that she trusted them, and neither Grenslaw nor Ryschild shed any tears. Their silent nods spoke like thunder though.
“Would it even be worth asking if we can trust you?” Marcus asked.
“Of course,” Azma said. “And I would tell you that you absolutely cannot. A fact which Penswell will easily confirm.”
“Just as easily as I will confirm that you do need her,” Penswell said.
“Why can’t we trust her then?” Rip asked.
“Because I’m going to try to take over the world,” Azma said. “And I will use every tool and advantage I can get to do so.”
“Oh, I like this one,” Zardrak said. “I might even stay out of prison if you’ll be around to play with.”
“Not for long you won’t,” Azma promised.
“It’s time,” Tessa said, drawing people’s attention back to her.
“I’m losing track of you?” Hailey said.
“The divine isn’t something we’re meant to perceive,” Tessa said. “Our mind’s edit it out of reality, unless we’re very close to it.”
Lisa squeezed Tessa’s other hand in acknowledgement.
“What do we need to do?” Marcus asked.
“You two hold this with me,” Tessa said. “Anyone who’s coming along, place a hand on one of us.”
“How will we know when you’re ready?” Lady Midnight asked.
“If this works, it’s going to be hard to miss,” Tessa said.
She felt Rip, Matt and Rachel place their hands on her back. Lady Midnight, Starchild, and Obby placed their hands on Hailey, while Azma, and Yawlorna placed their hands on Marcus.
As Hailey and Marcus placed their hands in hers and joined in communion with the god soul, Tessa felt an unexpected power surge through.
“What is this?” Hailey breathed.
“I think it’s us,” Tessa said. “Roll with it. Think of the voice that called you here. Reach out. Let the light carry us to it.”
Even before she finished speaking, Tessa saw iridescent motes begin to rise from her outstretched hand.
And then her body was dissolving away once more and she was traveling again.
But this time she wasn’t alone.
And she didn’t have nearly as far to go.
Where the trip to the [Fallen Kingdoms] had felt like a journey across interstellar space, out passed the farthest edge of the cosmos, this trip held a different sort of grandeur.
It was only a few steps away, but Tessa had the impression of stepping backstage, behind the curtain and into a realm beyond the artifice of anything like ‘reality’.
Glancing up as she felt herself reintegrate, Tessa saw they were no longer standing in an arena, but rather in a vast throne room.
A vast throne room that was filled with Hungers of all types.
“We can’t beat this many,” Tessa said staring into a writhing sea of Remnants.
“No. No you can’t,” Gulini Prime said, stepping forth from the mass of Hungers as though he was striding out of a curtain of torrential rain. “You beat one of my fragments? And imprisoned it a a purely physical form? Unmaking you is going to be delicious.”
“Maybe we can’t beat all of these things, but we definitely know how to beat you,” Rip said.
“Please. Do try,” Gulini said. “This will be entertaining.”
“How did you get this many Hungers in here?” Obby asked, stepping in front of Rip.
“We are outside the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Gulini said. “The normal rules don’t apply here. Byron learned the trick to summoning them into reality but reality corrupted them, and him. He’s only a pale shadow of what I still am. Here, anything I wish is possible. From here, from the birthplace of this world, I can unmake it with ease.”
“Then why haven’t you? Asking for a friend,” Obby said.
“Because he can’t while I still stand.”
The voice belong to a woman.
The Nightmare Queen.
Tessa wasn’t sure how she knew that. There was the dimmest, quietest fragment of an awareness tickling at the edge of her consciousness. If she just reached out to grab it, she knew it would share so many important secrets with her.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” Obby said, glancing back and meeting Tessa’s gaze just enough to pull Tessa away from the distant awareness that was calling to her.
Tessa blinked and felt the weight of her body settle over her again.
That was weird, right? Pillowcase asked.
Yeah, I don’t know where we were going there, Tessa said. And I feel like that’s a good thing.
“And how, exactly do you ‘have this’?” Gulini asked. “I see your little skill there. [Transdimensional Integrity]. You know that doesn’t work here right? Not against me.”
“I don’t think we’re going to have to put that to the test,” Obby said, advancing towards the infinite horde of Hungers.
“And why is that?” Gulini asked.
“Because like you said, we’re in the Dreamlit World now and we’re not bound by reality’s constraints anymore,” Obby said. “And that means I don’t have to hold back anymore.”
Or was it Obby?
With each blink of her eyes, Tessa saw Obby changing, her [Adventurer] persona falling away like a flimsy Halloween disguise that hid a far greater nightmare than any of the Gulini’s ever could be.