Lisa’s family turned out to be just a tiny bit surprised by the arrival of seven complete strangers and their eldest daughter in the middle of their living room. That their guests’ arrival was preceded by a ghost portal forming and fine, thin ice covering every nearby surface wasn’t quite as upsetting as the two feet of fog which rose from the ground or the trio of banshees who wailed loud enough to douse every light in the vicinity.
“Are we in the right place?” Rose asked, surveying a reasonably spacious living room with walls that were chock full of a lifetime of assorted collectibles.
The handful of people who were frozen in place with eyes wide and mouths open could have passed for extra-large collectibles given the absolute stillness they displayed, but Tessa was able to pick out the bits of family resemblance they shared with Lisa which suggested that they were more than life sized sculptures.
“Yeah. It is,” Lost Alice said, her tone flat and colder than the ice around them.
“Who are you?” the oldest man in the room said, rising from the recliner he’d been resting in. Lisa’s father, Tessa guessed?
“You don’t…” Lost Alice started to say, but then paused, rolling her eyes. “Oh, of course. Why would you. It doesn’t matter though,” she said. “We won’t be here long. We just need to visit your attic.”
“Our attic?” a woman who had to be Lisa’s mother said.
“You have a mirror up there that’s very important,” Lost Alice said.
“Wait. I don’t understand. Who are you?” her mother said.
“People who are working to save your world,” Azma said, her tone was plain and matter of fact, and while it provided no real answers, it was sufficient to halt further questions. “Where can we access this attic?”
“Over here,” Lost Alice said, taking a step towards the stairs at the far side of the room.
“The mirror will serve as a [Shifting Space]?” Azma asked.
“I used to get lost in it for hours. If the world is coming apart and reality is weakening, it should be very weak there,” Lost Alice said.
“Can you be sure?” Azma asked.
“My spell brought us here. I don’t think it could have if reality wasn’t significantly degraded already.”
Tessa understood that without needing to ask. Their magic was drawn from the [Fallen Kingdoms]. They’d been able to use it in the battle against Cthulhu because he was weakening the bonds of reality by the mere fact of his existence. To cast a teleportation spell though meant establishing an effect within an area where reality still held firm.
Unless something else was weakening it.
“Hey, Lisa, is that you?” one of the younger males asked. He was taller than Lisa but shorter than Lost Alice, and younger than either.
“James? How…?” Lost Alice asked.
“No fair, you were supposed to be done growing,” James said.
“James this is not…” Lisa’s mother began to say but stopped abruptly as Lost Alice’s form melted away.
“Yes it is,” Lisa said. “You have questions, but we don’t have the time for answers.”
“I can fill them in,” Tessa said. “Go ahead and check on the mirror. See if it’s what we need. If it is just give me a shout.”
Lisa looked spectacularly torn, but when Jamal tugged on her arm, she let herself be pulled into motion, leading the other upstairs and towards the attic.
“I don’t understand any of this,” Lisa’s mother said.
“You don’t have to,” Tessa said. “Just know that your daughter has been unspeakably brave and is doing everything she can to save this world and many others.”
“But what happened?” Lisa’s father asked.
“I can only give you the short form, but if you’ve been watching the news from around the world there are catastrophes happening everywhere. One of them happened to us, but it put us in a position to help fix things. The form you saw your daughter wearing is the person she is in another world. Think of it like a mask with super powers. She’s still herself but she looks different and can do more things.”
“Like this?” Lisa’s mother said, gesturing to the rapidly dispersing fog and ice.
“Among many other things, yes,” Tessa said. “Maybe even enough to keep us all alive.”
“Wait, she’s going into danger? Our Lisa?” Lisa’s father asked.
“She’s always been in danger Dad,” James said. “You just never wanted to see it.”
“Everyone is in danger now,” Tessa said, hoping to cut off what sounded like the beginning of an old argument. “The things you’ve heard about? The cities that have been wrecked and are being wrecked? Those aren’t isolated events. People are trying to fight back, but this is bigger than any of us.”
“Why is she out there then?” Lisa’s mother asked. “Why isn’t she being smart and staying somewhere safe. Is it because of you?”
Yes, I seduced your daughter with my amazing feminine wiles, Tessa thought, remembering a vast multitude of times she’d wished she had any feminine wiles at all. What she said instead of that was, “Lisa is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I owe my life to her genius and if we, and by that I mean the population of planet Earth, manage to survive beyond the next two or three hours, it’s going to be because of her insight and brilliance. Your daughter is an amazing woman with more courage than I think anyone will ever really understand.”
“She should be here though,” Lisa’s mother said. “And her sister too.”
“She should be where she can do what she needs to do,” James said.
“We need her here though. Look. You can see what’s happening outside,” Lisa’s mother gestured to the window which showed a stark and unearthly tableau.
Waves were cresting as tall as buildings, rather than water though, they seemed to be made of broken cars and chunks of destroyed skyscrapers. As the waves drew close to the house though they crashed down into a dusty mist that flowed outwards, never making contact with the ground or any other physical structure.
Tessa found herself drawn to the window, or to the unreasonable apocalypse beyond it, she couldn’t be sure.
“I need to go have a look at that,” she said, her gaze sliding over to the door as a storm of thoughts whirled in the back of her head.
“No!” Lisa’s father said. “You can’t go out there. It’s too dangerous.”
“Yeah,” Tessa agreed. “It is. That’s why I’ve got to go.”
She was out the door before she was aware she was even opening it.
Outside, the roar of the tidal waves of debris was deafening. Within it though was a familiar static crackle.
“Oh. So that’s what you are,” Tessa said and felt a nameless force within the not-yet-real apocalypse reaching out to her.
She could defeat it.
She’d faced worse already and she knew this sort of foe.
It would be so easy.
Just step into the storm and take mastery of it away from nothing at all.
She had an impossible foe coming, a creature she hadn’t been able to defeat when she held the power of a god in her hands.
But what could she do if she claimed a power that could not limited? That could not be overcome?
Byron thought he could destroy two worlds because there was nothing and no one that could stop him.
So what if she became no one?
She still had a piece of the [Formless Hunger’s] non-existence that she’d torn away from it. If she could tear one piece loose before, what could she manage now with all that she’d learned?
A vision spread out before her as she reached the edge of the tidal waves.
She saw herself cloaked in darkness and shadows, standing as an eternal, immortal guardian sheltering the Earth in her right hand and the [Fallen Kingdoms] in her left.
She’d dared to carrying the essence of a god before and it hadn’t been enough. Shouldn’t she dare more? Shouldn’t she sacrifice more? What was one life against the billions of lives on two worlds? If she was willing to die to protect a small party of her friends, then shouldn’t she be willing to do even more if it meant protecting not only them but everyone else as well.
The waves were calling to her. Leave behind her limitations. Leave behind her vulnerabilities. Leave behind herself.
Would it even be that big of a loss?
Had she ever loved being herself?
Had she ever even wanted to be herself? With all the time she spent pretending to be someone else?
And what was the alternative?
The vision shifted to show her.
A lifeless world. Barren rock scoured clean of even microbes, with the rock itself passing away to dust and then elementary particles and then nothing, the strings of the cosmos ringing no longer. Everything returning to nothing.
Unless someone stood against that.
Unless she stood against that.
Unless her hands held everything safe.
No one else could do it.
She was unique. Special. The only one who could save the world.
She wanted to take the final step forward, to embrace the destiny that beckoned her onwards to eternity and beyond.
But her feet didn’t move.
“No,” she said, her quiet word shattering the nearest tidal wave and bringing her back into her body, and herself, and the moment she was in, far away from eternity. “I said I wouldn’t go off alone.”
And then Lisa was there.
At her back.
Wrapping her arms around Tessa and crying into her hair.
Tessa wanted to say something clever, or profound, or even funny, but instead she simply breathed and relaxed back into Lisa’s embrace.
“You’re back,” Lisa finally said, without releasing the embrace.
“I am not leaving you,” Tessa said softly and hugged Lisa’s arms.
Lisa broke down into a short crying laugh before squeezing Tessa tighter and whispering, “You better not. You promised after all.”
Tessa enjoyed the embrace for another few moments before asking, “how long was I out here for?”
In front of her the tidal waves still raged, growing higher and roaring louder with every new peak.
“Not long,” Lisa said. “James came up and got me when you went outside. By the time I got here though you were just standing here and you weren’t responding and…and there was static in your eyes.”
Tessa winced. With what they’d been through, she wasn’t sure she could think of anything scarier than that.
“It was calling to me,” Tessa said. “It offered me basically everything it could. Enough power to stop Byron and save everyone on both worlds.”
“That’s a really blatant lie,” Lisa said.
“Except it wasn’t,” Tessa said. “Not exactly. What it offered, I could have had.”
“But you’re still here?”
“Yeah, for everything it could give me, it couldn’t give me you and it was going to take away everything I was to claim that power,” Tessa said. “I’d absolutely have the ability to stop Byron and all the armageddons, but without myself, why would I have any interest in trying?”
“You figured that out while it was possessing you?” Lisa asked.
“No. I’m just figuring that part out now,” Tessa said. “I was able to turn away from them because I didn’t want either of the futures they were offering me. They both suck. I want to build something much better.”
“Sounds like you’ve got plans,” Lisa said, relaxing her embrace.
“Not so much anything specific,” Tessa said. “I mean when you run into things like that, how do you plan for it?” She gestured to the latest tidal wave of debris. “More just a guiding principal really.”
“And that is?” Lisa asked, turning Tessa around to face her.
“I don’t have this, it’s too big, and it’s impossible to handle. But I don’t have to. I just need to do what I can, and trust that you’ll be there to help with what I can’t do.”