Walking towards the collapsing building was not, by any conceivable measure, a good idea. Pillowcase knew this. She also knew that the enemy who towered over them despite being a half mile distant wasn’t one they had the option of running away from. Not when there was an entire hospital of injured and frightened people behind them, none of whom could possibly escape the cosmic horror that was currently demolishing the city.
Also, the woman she loved was right beside her, and Pillowcase was not going to look like a chump in front of Lost Alice.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Claire asked.
The rest of her team was there too, marching across the parking lot without an erg of Darius’s magic supporting them.
“We’ll protect you if it doesn’t,” Yawlorna said from their left flank. She tossed a nod over to Starchild who had taken the defensive position on their right flank and looked, if not certain of the result of their gamble, at least certain of her roll in it.
“That’s Cthulhu though,” Claire said. “You know that right? I mean there really aren’t many other big monsters with bat wings and tentacles on their face.”
“Mel and Fari seem to be doing okay against it,” Rose said.
She and Jamal were behind Pillowcase and Lost Alice. Tessa had made some very compelling arguments for them to stay behind in the hospital and help out there, arguments which Rose and Jamal had flat out ignored. Putting them in the rear of the party hadn’t seemed like anywhere near a responsible, adult decision, but if Pillowcase was correct, she reasoned it might turn out to be the safest place they could possibly be in a world on the verge of destruction.
Not that the local agent of destruction was faring terribly well against the defenders who stood against it. Slightly less than a half mile away, Mel picked herself up and out of the ruins of third story office Cthulhu had slapped her into.
Pillowcase watched as something like black fire ignited around Mel’s fists and then wreathed her whole body. She wasn’t able to follow Mel’s next move but she was fairly sure it wasn’t teleportation. One moment Mel was burning in the building and the next Cthulhu was falling backwards as the thunderclap from Mel’s punch sent him flying farther than he’d sent her.
“Are we really even needed here?” Lisa asked.
“She’s more than a match for him, but their battle is going to wreck a fair portion of San Francisco,” Pillowcase said. “We can help with that.”
“I checked the buildings. They’re all empty of sentients,” Fari said, appearing at the edge of the parking lot.
“That’s its own class of problem,” Pillowcase said. “Not something we need to solve now but, when we get them back, the million or so missing people are still going to need places to live, hence why we need wrap this fight up sooner rather than later.”
“We’ve been doing this a while,” Fari said, “which means we know better than to turn down local help. What do you have in mind?”
“Banishing him to the void, or at least his home plane,” Pillowcase said. “If we can access them, Tessa and I have some abilities that should do the job. We’ll just need enough time to reconnect with them and then cast the effects.”
“And we’re here to keep her safe while she does that,” Rose said.
“If our idea works,” Jamal said.
“And that idea is?” Fari asked.
“Starting to work already,” Pillowcase said.
She didn’t mean to be evasive. She had been sewn together with clear compulsion stitches to provide succinct and accurate reports at all times.
Except she didn’t have any stitching compelling her here.
She could do whatever we wanted.
Not without consequences though.
Consequences like putting an exasperated frown on the blue hologram woman’s face.
“Short form, we have powers we can’t access freely here,” Pillowcase explained, being cryptic was kind of fun, but tormenting potential allies seemed mean and foolish. “We’ve each done so already though, but it was in the presence of something from outside this world. Our theory, or my theory if it turns out to be wrong, is that if we get close enough to Cthulhu over there, his reality will start to overlap with the one we’re in now, and once we’re in a situation where we’re not locked into the Earth’s rules, we can call on the ones we know from the [Fallen Kingdoms].”
Fari blinked at the strange sound that accompanied Pillowcase’s last two words. Everyone else’s eyes lit up though.
“She was right!” Jamal said.
“Yeah! It’s working!” Rose said.
“Your anima auras are going wild. What are you doing?” Fari asked.
“Basically if he gets to cheat by existing here, so do we,” Lost Alice said, her cold hand clasping Pillowcase’s still human one.
“You transformed!” Claire said.
“It seemed wiser,” Lost Alice said.
In the distance another building fell and an inhuman, sanity destroying roar announced that Cthulhu was not at all happy with the abuse he was suffering.
Pillowcase shook her head as Cthulhu’s roar tried to burrow in behind Tessa’s eyes and fry the neurons of her brain.
It was a cute trick. It drew on deeper mysteries of the universe than any humanity had uncovered and blasted the unsuspecting mind with “Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know”.
Compared to the [Formless Hungers] assault though it was laughable. Pillowcase’s earliest defenses easily shielded her from the paltry attack.
“Heh. That almost tickled,” Rip Shot said. In her hands a bow of lightning crackled with enough power to destroy not just a building but an entire a city block.
“It is a relief to have you back as you were,” Starchild said.
“Agreed. I was not looking forward to tanking that thing,” Yawlorna said.
Pillowcase smiled. Yawlorna hadn’t transformed back to her demon-esque appearance but she was holding balls of [Scorching Soul Fire] in each hand. Pillowcase took that as confirmation that assigning her as one of the party’s damage dealers had been the right tactical evaluation. True, she towered over Pillowcase even as a human woman, as well as outmassing Pillowcase at least two to one, but size wasn’t the primary quality a tank needed.
“I am,” Pillowcase said, though she suspected Mel had that role handled well enough. “Fari can you tell Mel we’re going to be joining the melee. I can’t get a level reading on her, but I’m guessing we don’t want to get hit with the attacks she’s throwing around.”
“Already told her,” Fari said. “And no, you do not want to get hit with those Void Anima attacks. Mel’s good with them though. She also wants me to tell you not to worry about her, and that it’s her job to keep you all safe.”
“Noted. Let’s keep everyone safe though,” Pillowcase said.
“If you have traversal abilities, there is a parking structure two blocks in that direction. I can have Mel steer the monster over there. It should provide you with sufficient line of sight for any anima working you need to do,” Fari said.
“We can setup on the Subway beside it,” Rip said. “Our fallback will be the Starbucks and then the parking garage with you.”
Pillowcase felt bulbs of joy rising up. It had been a lifetime ago that she and Lost Alice had drilled Rip and Matt in the basics of positioning in battle. A lifetime or a handful of minutes, each felt equally true despite neither being as accurate as the Consortium would have demanded of her recollections.
“Starchild, can you setup with them. You can act as an off-tank and backup heal if they need it,” Pillowcase said. “That will help them stay remote where they can land the best damage.”
“How about me?” Yawlorna asked.
“You and Lady Midnight can setup a crossfire from the top of the Western Union. Fall back directly to Lost Alice and me if you draw aggro though,” Pillowcase said.
“I’ve got the [Gravewalker] spells to stay mobile with,” Lady Midnight said.
“I know. There’s an apartment building across the street from the Western Union though. If he chases you there we can kiss goodbye to a few hundred people’s homes.”
“Good point,” Lady Midnight said.
With their plans in place, the party split up, dashing off with [Lightning Chariots], and [Celestial Transporter Beams] and similar powers which the Earth would never have accepted if there wasn’t a literal cosmic horror from another universe destroying one its cities.
“You are a wonder,” Lost Alice said after carrying them to the top of the parking garage. “I don’t know why I didn’t let myself see it sooner.”
“I think I’m still becoming myself,” Pillowcase, or Tessa, or both of them said.
“Speaking of that, shouldn’t you be transforming too? You were the one who showed us it was possible after all,” Lost Alice asked, stepping back to inspect the very human, very fragile ‘Tessa’ body that Pillowcase was still wearing.
“I would but I’m feeling greedy,” Pillowcase said.
“Greedy? Explain please?” Lost Alice asked.
“We saw what happened when Pete took the Void Walker away right? He went with it. Marcus did the same thing, except we saw him on the other end of things,” Pillowcase said.
“You’re not planning to sacrifice yourself though,” Lost Alice said. “You’re not,” she repeated her eyes growing harder.
“I’m not!” Pillowcase assured her. “That’s the greedy part. I want to fix this problem, but I’m not willing to give you up to do so. Or to drag you with me and give up the kids, or our other new friends, or anything here. We got lucky finding a path back to the Earth. Until I know we can come and go as we choose, or that the Byron problem has been thoroughly solved, I’m not giving up on anything or anyone here.”
That won her a small but delighted smile from Lost Alice.
“Marcus and Pete were both in their Earthly human forms when they vanished though?” Lost Alice said after a moment’s thought.
“They were,” Pillowcase said. “And I think I know how they did what the did. To bring their opponents away they had to reach out and connect with a world strongly enough that they could not only bring themselves there but their opponent too. I’m betting that Marcus dragged Byron back to the [Fallen Kingdoms] because that’s where Byron was from. Pete recognized the Void Walkers, so he probably dragged it back to wherever they come from.”
“Cthulhu comes from Earth though?” Lost Alice said.
“Yes, but not from this Earth. Lovecraft’s books take place on an Earth where the Old Gods are real and ridiculous levels of racism are supported by anyone who wasn’t just like Lovecraft being some form of inhuman monster. That’s where we can send Cthulhu back to, but unlike Marcus and Pete, I plan to use a blend of [Soul Knight] and [Void Speaker] abilities to do so.”
“And being an Earth human puts means you can mix the two power sets without one dominating the other. I see,” Lost Alice said.
“I think my Earthly body can also act as an anchor to keep me here too,” Pillowcase said.
“And if it can’t?” Lost Alice asked.
“Then I’ll break whatever I need to in order to make it work,” Pillowcase said.
Lost Alice rolled her eyes and shook her head slowly.
“No. You will not break yourself,” she said. “You will however take me with you. I can lose my place on this Earth, but I will not lose you.”
Tessa gulped and fought down the lump that was forming in her throat.
“If we wind up on Lovecraft’s Earth, we’ll find a way back here,” Lost Alice said. “You know between the two of us we can manage that.”
“It’s not an especially nice version of Earth,” Pillowcase said.
“That will be its problem,” Lost Alice said, to which Pillowcase had to chuckle.
“Yeah. It will,” Pillowcase said, a fear drifting away from her and leaving her charged for victory.
Cthulhu burst through the gas station two streets away, with Mel in hot pursuit and the party’s damage dealers beginning to unload sky shattered havoc on him.
The cacophony of fire and thunder seemed like the end of the world unfolding before Pillowcase’s eyes.
So she stepped up to save it.