The madness of a broken cosmos crashed down on Tessa, fetid, freezing air surrounding her as light in impossible colors filled her eyes and drove spikes of unreasoning terror into the center of her pysche.
“Absorbing cosmic interference,” Pillowcase said, bringing ghostly after images of otherworldly stitching partially into Earth’s reality.
“Wait we don’t need to use one of your [Soul Knight] powers to do that?” Tessa asked.
“For a Tier 3 Psychic Corruption effect?” Pillowcase scoffed. “Please, I was stitched better than that!”
Above them, the tentacled maw of the High Priest of the Great Old Ones loomed as Dread Cthulhu stretched forth his inhuman hands to grasp and devour them.
“[Death’s Uncrossable Divide],” Lost Alice called out, erecting a dome of necrotic force around them.
Great Cthulhu was used to death. He’d lain beneath the Pacific Ocean in the sleep of death for many strange aeons. Against Lost Alice’s spell however, his mastery over death availed him rather less than he might have expected it to. Rather than crumbling at his touch, Lost Alice’s magical barrier reach out and withered the cosmic monster’s hand.
Sadly that wasn’t even close to stopping him.
“He’s got a lot of life, that spell should be stripping him to a dead husk and it’s barely scratching his health bar,” Lost Alice said.
“He’s got a health bar?” Tessa asked, a hiccup of elation passing through her.
It was a widely known fact that the worst mistake an enemy could make in an MMO was to have combat stats. If they only appeared in cut scenes and were never directly targetable by the characters, an enemy could be as completely unstoppable as the lore suggested they should be. The moment someone gained a health bar though? As a wise man once said, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
“Not going to have one for long!” Rip said. “[Wrath of Heaven’s King].”
Above them ten thousand circles of blazing golden light flared open and from them fell a torrent of arrows made of fire and divine rage. Rip had aimed the barrage away from Tessa’s position, which was good because everything that wasn’t Cthulhu inside the radius of devastation was reduced to shattered powder and ash.
Tessa couldn’t see Cthulhu’s health bar, but from his outward appearance she guessed the attack had scuffed him at least little bit. Whether it was the damage, or Rip’s incantation alerting him to her presence, he turned his attention from Tessa and Lost Alice and over to where Rip was standing defiantly against him.
With a step that shook the city, Cthulhu moved towards his new prey, sanity blasting light swirling from his eyes.
“[Vault of Nightmares Unleashed],” Matt called out.
At first Tessa thought the spell had failed. It wouldn’t have been surprising. As a High Priest of the Great Old Ones, Cthulhu was proof against all but a few mortal spells.
He was not, however proof against being hit in the head with a boat.
The [Vault of Nightmares] held every fear and horror that could ever stalk the dreaming mind, and chose the manifestation of its attacks based on the target’s psyche. That Cthulhu had negative connotations concerning boats wasn’t terribly surprising. He was known for living in the ocean and as Tessa recalled the first story he’d appeared in ended with him being rammed by a fishing trawler.
As the alien monstrosity topped onto the wings on his back, Tessa noted that ‘proof against mortal spells’ was apparently useless against [Adventurers] which somewhat confirmed that they weren’t exactly mortal any more. The idea had frightened her originally – the thought of becoming something inhuman carrying some deep seated cultural bias against it. Reflecting on the past few weeks though, she had to admit that the nonhumans she’d encountered had been some of the best people she’d ever had the honor to get to know.
Also, her own inhuman side seemed to be pretty awesome.
Thank you, Pillowcase said.
Cthulhu tried to rise but Mel, the Guardian who’d been the first wave of the battle against him, slammed the giant monster to the ground. She was probably only one millionth of his overall mass, but the energy that wreathed her fist seemed to make up the difference easily.
“She must have fairly good mental defenses too,” Pillowcase said.
“I thought you said Cthulhu’s mind whammy power was only Tier 3?” Tessa asked.
“Tier 3’s typically enough to render a planetary population into a vegetative state,” Pillowcase said.
“And you were built tougher than that? Why?” Tessa asked, a thread of anger rising in her. How dare the Consortium put her other self into a situation where she’d need that much protection? She knew it was a silly thought, but she still felt oddly protective of Pillowcase despite the [Clothwork] being far tougher than a [Human].
“It was considered a valid tactic to send in a small army of [Artifax] troops and then detonate psychic bombs to turn the unprotected minds of the populace on a newly opened world into jello. Costly, but less so than facing some forms of resistance would be,” Pillowcase said. “I get how horrible that is now by the way, though at the time it just seemed sensible.”
“I’m just surprised they didn’t try that with the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Tessa said.
“Azma doesn’t seem to be that wasteful. Also too many [Adventurers] could have resisted the effect.”
“How is your spell going?” Fari asked, appearing within Lost Alice’s protective dome.
“I’ve found three threads so far,” Tessa said. “If I can find twelve more, I should have enough to bend around all the many angles in his core. Once he’s all wrapped up, I’m pretty sure I can kick him back to his own world and the threads will keep him bound there.”
In the wasteland beyond them, Cthulhu swatted Mel hard enough to send her into the stratosphere, before rising on membranous wings to eclipse the sky.
“What threads do you need?” Fari asked.
“Bits of his essence,” Tessa said. “Our friend Pete pulled one of the [Void Walkers] out of this world because he understood it enough to form a bond with it. He was able to grab the bits of that had become real here and carry them over to the world they were supposed to be in. Where they kind of want to be by their very nature. I need to do the same thing with the bits of Cthulhu that have become real already.”
“That sounds like data,” Fari said.
“It is. My working theory is that where things on Earth are built from fundamental information such as the spin of quarks and the waveform for the speed and velocity of particles, things like Cthulhu are built from another form of information – basically the data invested in him through the imagination of those who know his story. Up until a little while ago, that sort of information wasn’t substantial enough to be ‘real’ here in any sense, if that makes any sense?”
“Yes,” Fari said. “One moment. Processing feeds.”
“[Broken Horizons] had a storyline like that about four years ago,” Lisa said as Fari’s gaze went distant. “Creatures from the [Dreamlands] were manifesting in the [Fallen Kingdoms] when people slept near [Ruby Dreamstone Fragments]. The idea was that the fragments weakened the integrity of reality in general blending the two worlds together. If you slept near one though, the creatures that emerged were able to change from illusory to fully real by using the sleepers as a template on how to be real. We wound up having to fight them on the border between the two planes so that the two parts of them would go back to their right places when they were destroyed.”
Cthulhu renewed his attacks on Lost Alice indestructible shield.
Which began to crack under the pressure.
“How is he so aggro’d on us?” Lisa asked.
“It’s the spell I’m working on,” Pillowcase said. “He can feel me grabbing onto bits of his essence and he is not happy about that.”
“You haven’t been speaking any invocations though?” Lost Alice asked.
“That would be because I’m inventing this spell on the fly,” Pillowcase said.
“I’m sorry, what?” Lisa asked, justifiably concerned.
“The [Fallen Kingdoms] had banishing spells – well rituals typically – but nothing that could handle [Deity] class opponents,” Pillowcase said.
“But you can?” Lost Alice asked.
“If I can gather enough threads of his essence, and if we’re on a world the deity in question is not supposed to be on? And if I don’t mess something up? I think I can give it a solid ‘probably’ in that case,” Pillowcase said.
“You needed twelve threads of essence, is that correct?” Fari asked, her gaze returning to the present and her immediate location.
“If we can get them,” Pillowcase said. “I can try it with fewer but that’ll leave him a bigger opening to escape through.”
“Perhaps these will help then,” Fari said. “May I transfer some data to your mind? Directly?”
“Sure. If you can,” Tessa said.
Links to twelve fundamental truths Cthulhu had been able to make real on Earth so far flooded into Tessa’s mind.
Followed by twelve more.
And twelve more.
And twelve more.
The stream of information became a torrent and her mind reeled at the breadth and scope of the details on offer.
Under the onslaught, the spell she’d been working on frayed, but Pillowcase was there to grab hold of fragments that were threatening to tear apart.
And still more truths, and more data came pouring in.
We have to tell her to stop, Pillowcase said.
No! Not yet, I can deal with this. Just gotta chunk it all up.
Bits of information on Cthulhu’s weight and size and mass and heat and overall physicality went into one mental box. Details of the magic he bore, both active and passive, integrated with Tessa’s Earth and not went into another mental box.
As more data came roaring in, Tessa gave the weaving of the spell over to Pillowcase and focused on simply sorting and classifying what the information pertained to.
As each box filled up and she couldn’t hold any more data about that topic in mind, she dumped it into the banishment spell.
Outside her awareness, beyond the curtain of her eyelids, the battle raged on with ever increasing fury.
Mel descended from the stratosphere with enough impact to wipe out the dinosaurs. She could have erased San Francisco with her punch, but her magics focused and channeled all of the force squarely into Cthulhu, starting from his head down.
The ancient horror exploded under the blow, vaporizing into a cloud of toxic miasma.
From which he then immediately reformed.
“Aww, I hate things that can do that,” Mel complained.
Starchild called forth a [Subduction Earth Elemental] as large as a building to encase Cthulhu in an eternal tomb of stone, but at Cthulhu’s touch the elemental crumbled away as though exposed to an unfathomable gulf of time.
Eyes blazing once again with impossible light, Cthulhu rose again into the air, and this time when he opened his maw, a discordant chorus emerged and the space around him began to waver.
“Dimensional nexus forming,” Fari said. “We’ll need your spell online soon or I’ll have to unleash some of our ship’s guns to contain this thing.”
“No worries,” Pillowcase said as Tessa opened her eyes, from which light in the same impossible colors that radiated from Cthulhu shown.
You okay in there? Lisa asked on their private channel.
Yep. Sorry. Just took some extra time to handle all the data Fari dumped on me, Tessa said, a somewhat manic edge tinging her voice.
Was it enough? Lisa asked.
More than, Tessa said.
How so ‘more than’? Lisa asked, concerning rising in her voice to match Tessa’s mania.
I see him now. All of him. Tessa said. He’s not a giant anymore. Everything he is? I can hold it all in the palm of my hand!
She laughed, mad glee filling her to bursting.
I’ve done it before in fact! she said.
I don’t know if you should, Lisa said. You’re not sounding like yourself. Maybe you should drop the spell?
Tessa turned to Lisa, fighting to suppress the mirth she felt. Power was definitely a rush, and divine power even more so.
I’m okay, she said. Really. It’s just that this is so fun and its going to mess Byron up soooo much!
What is? Lisa asked.
Look! Tessa said, gesturing to the cosmic horror who was no longer hammering on the protective barrier in front of them.
The cosmic horror who was no longer either cosmic, or a horror.
“Did…did Cthulhu just get a makeover from Sanrio?” Lady Midnight asked.
“Who?” Yawlorna asked.
“He’s a Hello Kitty now?” Rip asked as the giant, and suddenly cute and cuddly puffy creature in front of them reached up to adjust the adorable pink bow at the top of its head before letting out just the cutest of squeaks.