It fascinated Azma to watch the [Adventurers] she’d surrounded herself with stumble into an awareness of the decisions they’d long since made.
There was no doubt that they were going to attempt the transit to their home realm. If they’d lacked the conviction for that, they wouldn’t have broken the bonds of time and space to make it as far as they already had. Similarly it was a given that she would accompany them, though amusingly none had thought to question the viability of someone who was wholly unnative to their realm making the journey.
“What about Yawlorna though?” Lady Midnight asked as her young companion Rip moved off to hold a side conversation with the [Nightmare Queen] . “If there’s no alter-ego of hers from Earth for her to transfer into what will happen if she tries to come with us?”
Azma chuckled and corrected herself. The [Adventurers] weren’t wholly witless, just unused to multi-dimensional tactical thinking.
“Maybe we only have the Earthlings go back?” Matt Painting said. He was concerned about the return, not out of fear of the journey but from a dislike of the destination.
Azma toyed with the idea of giving him an “out” by claiming his time for some other venture in the [Fallen Kingdoms]. He would be an excellent asset for a number of possible missions, but that wasn’t the proper use for him.
Matt and all of the others of the little group they’d assembled were going to be far more effective if they remained as a unit.
“The journey will pose no hardship for her,” Azma said and notice the Celestial who was calling herself ‘Obby’ cast a glance over to Azma.
‘Celestial’ might not be the proper term of course. Azma had never encountered one before, and from what little she’d glimpsed of Obby’s true powers and insight, Azma wasn’t sure if the categorization fit quite perfectly. Celestials were distinct however in that they were a class of being which even the [Consortium of Pain] refused to have dealings with.
Where capturing a [Transcendent Entity] that could break all manner of physical laws and corrupt an entire fleet through data channels no wider than a whisper was seen as a perfectly viable resource for the Consortium to exploit, the standard mandate on Celestials was not only to leave them alone, but to abandon any systems they took an interest in.
That would have been enough to put a smile on Azma’s face. If she’d been looking to climb any further in the Consortium’s hierarchy, the presence of a Celestial in the midst of a ruined mission would have absolved her of all guilt and changed her credit balance to ‘anything you can cleanly retrieve will put you in the black’.
Azma was done with the Consortium though. Even if they survived, they had nothing left to offer her. True, she’d sunk years of her life into carefully gathering power and maneuvering within the confines of the system the Consortium had constructed but the end goal, though unstated, had always been the Consortium’s destruction at her hands. The only other stable end state was her demise and since that was laughably implausible, the Consortium had always and only been a gauntlet through which Azma knew she must pass to hone her abilities before creating her own all encompassing structure of power.
“How do you know she’ll be okay?” Obby asked.
“She is no more a native of this realm than I am,” Azma said. “Translation between realms can take many different forms, and I make no guarantee that any who choose to make the transit back to the Earth will retain their form or functions, but pathways and bridges between realms tend to be far more stable than is statistically likely. It is almost as though worlds that can touch on one another desire to be in communion rather than standing alone in the cosmos.”
Yawlorna looked like she was going to ask for clarification on that but was interrupted by a thundering flash of lightning that burst into the throne room and rose to stand as an entity of living electricity.
Azma smiled, and checked off the next box on her holographic project plan. The [Lord of Storms] had shown up almost exactly on time and with the minimal amount of predicted fuss, even in the presence of a Celestial!
There were several points she had laid out which she was not looking forward too, but, for now, the fact that they were marching towards their doom was a truly uplifting one
The [Lord of Storms] arrived with a blast of lightning and a burst of thunder. Neither of those blew Marcus away as much as the words they spoke next though.
“It’s just Sam now. Wait. Gail?” the [Lord of Storms] said and then kneeled before her. “Or should I say ‘My Queen’! Either way, I am yours!”
“Sam!?” Marcus said, as though after everything else he’d seen and done that was the most surprising thing he’d encountered all day. “Sam Greenweir? Is that seriously you?”
The [Lord of Storms], the once-again living god of lightning, turned to Marcus and threw up their hands as though to give him a giant hug. “Marcus? You made a cat boy character at last!? Oh my god! Why didn’t you tell me!”
Marcus grimaces and leaned back from the lightning hug before breaking into a smile and laugh along with the [Lord of Storms] and the [Nightmare Queen].
“I’m sorry. What? Why? I mean, you all know each other? How?” Tessa said.
Marcus glanced over and had to stifle another laugh. Tessa was in her human form but could have been a [Metal Mechanoid] from how close she was to short circuiting.
“Oh wow,” Rip said. “That really worked.”
She was saved from hitting the throne room floor by Matt’s presence and quick reflexes.
“I don’t understand how you’re here?” the [Nightmare Queen] said.
“Yeah. Not real clear on that either. Though, wow is it cool to be a god! I’ve got so much energy now! This is amazing!” the [Lord of Storms] said.
“Hey, this isn’t fair,” Hailey said. “Why aren’t their god powers making them glitch out like I was?”
“They are safely removed from the constraints of the mundane realm we were previously in,” Azma said.
“Oh. OH!” Tessa said. “Marcus…”
“Yep! Thinking the same thing,” Marcus said.
“Which is?” Hailey asked.
“If it’s safe to have admin level access here, then we can risk bringing more of the support staff over,” Marcus said.
“Hold off on that,” the [Nightmare Queen] said. “You’re not wrong in that assertion but support reps won’t translate as much more than [Demigods] or [Supreme Spirits]. They would be more powerful than any [Adventurers] but what we’ve lost already is far more fundamental to the realms than that.”
“You need the other [Creators] back,” Tessa said. “You need your old development team back!”
“Is that doable?” Lost Alice asked.
“In theory? Sure,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “If someone could call them like this brilliant young woman did for me, all of the old [Creators] could be reawoken. In practice though?”
“We would need people here who were faithful to the dead gods and hit max level in a god-sponsored class?” Tessa said.
“Or, there is another option,” Azma said.
“You know, listening to the expansion’s villain seems like a terrible idea, but under the circumstances, we just don’t really have a choice do we?” Marcus said.
“Would you expect me to arrange things in any other manner?” Azma asked.
“Team Azma,” Hailey said, bopping Marcus on the shoulder, to which he just shook his head at the debate they’d been having since the [World Shift] expansion was first announced internally.
“What’s our other option?” Tessa asked.
“Calling replacement deities to this realm requires tremendous affinity with them because the call must reach out across the spheres and find the Earth based fragment of the god in question. Far easier to simply go to the Earth and contact the fragments there,” Azma said.
“And they’ll be able to transfer here on their own?” Yawlorna asked.
“It seems to be a gift which residents of the Earth realm possess,” Azma said.
“Not normally we don’t,” Lady Midnight said.
“These aren’t exactly normal times,” Lost Alice said.
“Will that help you?” Tessa asked. “Will it be enough?”
“Yes it will help, but whether it will be enough I can’t say.” The [Nightmare Queen] had begun pacing in her throne room, in exactly the same pattern Gail used when she was chewing on a particularly tough problem. “The more of the old team you can get, the more we’ll be able to shore up the metaphysical boundaries and barriers which have been damaged, but nothing like this has ever happened or was ever planned to happen. There’s no roadmap for any of this.”
Being in the middle of a disaster was calming for Yawlorna’s nerves.
She knew she should worry about that.
After so much time worrying about her crew, and the bizarre inhabitants of the alien world they’d been stranded on, and the radical changes she was undergoing, Yawlorna found she was all out of worry, and with the world properly falling apart she could relax and stop waiting for disaster to strike.
It was already striking!
So it was time to strike it back.
“It looks like our path is open,” she said, gesturing to the far end of the throne room where a stream of stars in the floor lead to a brilliant and impossible distant point of light. “We need to figure out who’s going now.”
“All of us, right?” Marcus said. “Gods excluded obviously.”
“If you could stay that might help,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “We need a liaison back to Earth and in this state I don’t know how much connection to it I have anymore.”
“Won’t they need me to find the rest of the original dev team?” Marcus asked
“I got you covered there,” Hailey said. “I didn’t work with them like you do, but I’ve got access to the company directory and I have zero compunctions about hacking HR to find out their last known contact addresses.”
“You can’t ‘hack HR’ Hailey. We actually have decent security on those systems,” Marcus said.
“Oh, I mean ‘hack’ like with an axe,” Hailey said. “If Gilbert tries to give me trouble I will enjoy so much getting my revenge for those late paycheck deposits.”
“Uh, okay then,” Marcus said and stepped back towards the safety of the being made entirely of lightning.
“Are you sure you want to come Yawlorna?” Tessa asked. “You’ve done a ton for us already, and we originally invited you to join us to keep you safe, not drag you across the cosmos to fight some guy from the other side of the Twilight Zone.”
“I don’t know where that is, but of course I’m going to come with you,” Yawlorna said. “I know I look like a [Demon] to you, but I’m not. I’m an [Explorer]. I’m supposed to seek out new life and new civilizations. Taking bold risks is a part of that.”
“When this is all over, remind me to sign up with your crew,” Marcus said.
“Neeerd,” Hailey said and hit him again.
“That’s Ensign Nerd to you,” Marcus said.
“Is there anything special we need to do?” Rip asked.
“And do we know where it’s going to drop us off?” Rachel asked.
“Given that we are the first to walk this path, I suspect there’s only one method of discovering its destination,” Yawlorna said and placed her feet on the milky way of stars leading outwards towards infinity.
She’d expected she would need to cross the endless gulf one step after the other and that time would blur around her. Instead the distant stars surged forward at her so fast that they flared into a billion explosions so bright that the light filled her very bones.
Her second footstep landed not on the path of stars but on hard, night darkened ground in a world where the air was filled with a thick and billowing smoke.
Behind her, she heard the others stumbling and choking as they arrived.
On an Earth that was already burning.