The mirror didn’t look like the focal point on which the fate of countless worlds rested. It was, from one point of view, nothing more than a simple wooden structure with carvings of generic Tinkerbell-esque fairies around the edges and a slab of silvered glass propped inside the oval frame.
Tessa didn’t even have to step close enough to see her reflection though for it to take her breath away.
“So, is this what we need?” Rip asked. Her fingers crackled with little sparks of electricity as she reached a tentative hand out towards it.
“We may need to call the gods to verify and activate it,” Azma said.
“Oh. No, no we don’t,” Tessa said. She’d just had a [Storm of Oblivion] try to seduce her with a mind expanding power trip, so keeping a handle on the awe she felt was a bit easier, which was good since looking into the mirror felt like she was standing at the doorway to Home.
Not the place where she lived, or the place where she grew up. Home. The place where she had always yearned to return, despite never having been there.
“You okay?” Lisa moved close to her, either for support or to stop Tessa from hurling herself into the mirror.
“Yeah,” and she was. Unlike the tidal waves outside, the mirror drew her in with no compulsion or enchantment. Unlike Oblivion, the mirror offered her back everything she gave to it. “I can see why you liked to be here though.”
“How do we make it work?” Jamal asked. He’d taken up a position behind Rip that was awfully similar to Lisa’s ‘I’ll just stand here so I can grab you if you try diving in there without me’ posture.
“Like this,” Tessa said and extended her hand to trace the edge of the oval, careful not to disturb any of the faeries.
The secrets of working a [Shifting Space] into the real world weren’t ones Tessa had any reason to know.
No Earthling did.
As she finished tracing the outline, Tessa saw herself reflected back and gazed into her own eyes.
And Pillowcase’s eyes.
And Glimmerglass’s eyes.
And so, so many others.
They were all hers, despite being different colors, shapes, and sizes.
Even the ones which were only pools of endless night.
Hey, I wasn’t sure we’d ever get to meet, Oblivion’s words were kindly?
Because you’re not Oblivion, Tessa said. It was similar to speaking on one of the telepathic channels she’d grown used to relying on, a sense of distance existing despite the fact that she was, in every sense that mattered, talking to herself.
Yes and no. Call me Oblivion-Adjacent Tessa. Or not. Ugh, that sounds terrible. I need a better name.
Are you sure you’re Oblivion-Adjacent? All the other things we’ve run into that crawled out of Oblivion seemed like they were hellbent on going right back there. And taking all of existence with them.
Oh, I was on board with that plan at first too. Burn it all down, go back to blissful unawareness of everything. No more suffering, no more yearning, and no more abject stupidity. Blah, blah, blah.
Sure. Sounds super appealing. Tessa had heard Oblivion’s arguments before and was keenly aware of the futility of trying to debate the points. So what changed your mind. Why are you…I don’t know? Me I guess?
But this is the first time we’ve met.
Like this, yes. But I’ve been with you for a while now. My whole life in fact.
I’m gonna need a bit more than that.
I’ll give you everything I’ve got, but I do need something in return.
Let me guess, ‘the entirety of my existence’?
Yick, no. That would be…okay, it would be super complicated, but basically if I take everything you have then there won’t be a you anymore, but since you exist and I don’t, mostly, that would mean that I’d be you, so you’d still be around, but there’d be no more me.
Strangely I kind of get that. So what do you want then?
I mean, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, and you’ve given them out before, so I don’t think it should be, but maybe I could have a real name? It doesn’t have to be a big one, or anything cryptic or special. It’s just without a name, it’s hard to be a meaningful part of anything. The best you can do is be ‘the anonymous girl’ which sort of dissolves who you are into a sea of generic possible people and…
I get it. It doesn’t seem right for me to slap a name on you though. Shouldn’t you get to pick one out for yourself.
Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing. So pick one out already.
Uh, but what if I get it wrong?
Then give me another one. Or a nickname. Or I’ll just grow into it. Names aren’t really that important, you know, for being the most important thing in all of creation.
Can you tell me anything about yourself? I mean a bit of inspiration would be nice right?
Oh, sure. I think you know what I am right?
No, not at…wait a minute. You’re…
The little bit of the [Formless Hunger] that I tore out of it. Your where my magic’s been coming from?
Not quite. I mean, you’re right that I was a bit of oblivion that you sort of grabbed and made your own, but that’s not where your power comes from.
If your power came from me, then what did you use to rip the [Formless Hunger] into being?
I guess that is a good question. So where does my power come from then?
But I wasn’t anything special.
You were to me.
But that I was the first one to resist the [Formless Hunger] was just random chance.
Maybe you’re not unique then. Maybe everyone can do what you did and they just didn’t have the opportunity to try. All I know is that I’m who and what I am because I became a part of you, and that where you walk on the material side of the Dreamlit Veil, I walk on the other.
So are you my mirror then?
More like we’re counterpoints to each other, I think. I don’t have to do what you do but in reverse, anymore than I control your actions, or any of our many selves controls the others when we separated across worlds. You anchor down our existence in the places that are real and I anchor it out here, in the places that aren’t.
Okay that sort of makes sense. That’s why we can meet now, because a [Shifting Space] is where the real and unreal meet right?
That’s my best guess.
Which means, you can’t be fully real to me then? That kind of sucks.
Just because I’m not real doesn’t mean we can see each other. Case in point.
I suppose that’s…wait, you’re someone who’s not real who I can still talk to? You’re Asset! That’s your name!
You’re giving me the name of your imaginary friend from when you were five? Where you just spelled your own name backwards?
Is that okay?
Okay? That’s awesome! Asset said.
So, Asset, can you help us cross over to where we can meet with the gods of the [Fallen Kingdoms]?
Crossing over’s all you, but I can lead you to them once you all get here.
Cool! Oh, are there any dangers we need to aware of?
Not if you’re with me. Otherwise, yes, more than you can imagine. Literally.
I should bring the others over then, Tessa said. They must be wondering if I’ve lost it again.
Probably not. This isn’t exactly real, so time is what we want it to be. We could have just spent one second or one millennium talking. It’s all the same here.
I’ll take the one second this time.
Tessa drew in a breath as her hand parted from the mirror’s surface. Her reflection was smiling at her, and continued to do so even after she turned away.
“We have a guide waiting for us,” she told her team. “Please make sure to follow her. I think if we get lost that will be a more or less permanent status.”
“Who is she? The guide that is,” Yawlorna asked.
“Me. Sort of,” Tessa said. “You can call her Asset.”
Azma smiled at that and Tessa suspected that might be because she was mentally calling all of them her ‘assets’.
“You’ll explain all this to us when we’ve got time to catch a breath right?” Lisa asked.
“If we survive this, definitely. If we don’t, then probably?”
“So we just step through it?” Rip asked. When Jamal turned to see what Tessa’s answer might be though, Rip took the opportunity to hop directly into the mirror.
“Wait!” Jamal said as he hopped right in after her.
Everyone else followed suit in the order of who was nearest to the mirror or who had the fastest reflexes first.
Tessa was the last to go through, holding back for one very simple reason.
“Did you just close the door behind us?” Starchild asked.
“Yeah, had to,” Tessa said.
Azma blinked in surprise and fought a small smile that was threatening to spread across her face. “And why would that be?”
“If I didn’t Byron would absolutely follow us here and the [Fallen Kingdoms] gods aren’t equipped to fight him,” Tessa said.
Azma staggered a half step and lost the fight to keep the smile from her face. The calculating look in her eyes that followed though looked far more covetous than Tessa was comfortable with. Azma probably wasn’t considering forcibly recruiting Tessa, that didn’t seem to be Azma’s style. Making Tessa an offer Tessa might not even think to refuse though?
“We should get going,” Asset said.
“Going where?” Rip asked.
“The [Celestial Sphere],” Asset said. “We’ll need some transportation though. Yawlorna, could you help us out there?”
“You remember your ship still right?”
“I do. It’s in pieces though.”
“We don’t need that version,” Asset said. “Remember it like it was when you first walked aboard. Remember its speed and how it was able to take you exactly where you needed to be.”
“The [High Beyond]?” Yawlorna asked.
“No. Here. Everything you’ve done, it’s led you to where you can make all the difference in the world. In every world in fact,” Asset said.
“That not how things really work though,” Yawlorna said. “The crash wasn’t planned so I could get here.”
“Of course not,” Asset said. “The tragedies that befall us aren’t part of some grand plan to make everything better. They suck and they’re tragic and it’s right that we mourn the people we lose and rage against the injustices that happen to us. None of that changes the fact that our choices matter too though. You’re here because you chose to hold it together. And because you chose to trust these knuckleheads,” she pointed towards Tessa and the rest of her team. “So remember your ship. We have a new crew for it, and here, it can fly again.”
Tessa watched as a new smile put a crack in Yawlorna’s cynicism.
And around them the walls of a pristine spaceship began to form.
Ahead, the forward view screen. To the left, the navigators console. To the right, science and comms. And in the center, the Senior Researcher’s chair.
Which was occupied.
By a ghost.
Tessa glanced up to find Yawlorna back in her demon-esque form, though with eyes glassy with tears.
The ghost, the ship’s original Captain, gave her a silent nod of appreciation and signaled for the ship to get underway.
Which the ghost helmsman was all too happy to comply with. He flipped a lever on his console which brought the darkness on the forward viewscreen to life with stars that shifted and wheeled as the ship ship turned and found its proper course.
Yawlorna dropped to her knees and covered her face with her hands until the Senior Researcher rose and placed a hand on her shoulder.
She looked up and then towards the Science Station. With a grateful smile and a nod, she rose and took her proper position, the ghosts far more than mere memories as they sailed the cosmos toward one final frontier.