Broken Horizon – Vol 13, Interlude 4


Dealing with the end of the world had been terrifying beyond measure. Yawlorna had been intimately aware of the razor’s edge they’d walked on and how close to absolute annihilation they’d been. It had taken a one-in-a-lifetime effort to hold back the hands of the [Armageddon Clock] and she was reasonably sure that if the situation was to occur again, the dice could easily fall in the other direction.

Despite all of that however, she was still praying for another apocalypse to arise.

“People wondered why I kept trying to take over the world,” Xardrak said from the comfy insides of his prison cell. “That expression right there? The one that says ‘for the love of the dead gods, please let this world burn to a cinder so I can stop dealing with this bureaucracy? That’s where it started.”

“The gods aren’t dead anymore,” Yawlorna mumbled as she flipped to the a new page in a stack of forms as thick as her torso.

“Ah, that’s right,” Xardrak said. “Good for them. I suppose we have them to thank for this bright new world that’s around us.”

“Not exactly,” Yawlorna said, letting the paper drop back onto the stack.

The University claimed nothing could happen until the reports, and waivers, and testimonials, and clearance forms were all properly filled out and reviewed. There were deadlines and penalty clauses and late processing fees that were already mounting up, but from what Yawlorna could see it was all just a delaying tactic, where everyone at the university was trying to pass the responsibility for the debacle of the ‘slight trouble’ the research team had encountered onto someone else while at the same time retaining the foremost rights to data the survivors of the research team were able to produce.

“I suppose you had something to do with it too, no?” Xardrak asked. “The tales I’ve been hearing are difficult to accept but the more I poke around the more confirmations I’m discovering.”

Yawlorna had only partially been listening but Xardrak’s last statement had caught her attention.

“How are you poking around?” she asked. “I thought this cell was supposed to be impervious, even to you?”

“Oh, it is,” Xardrak said. “Exceptional craftsmanship, even if its not my own. Is it designed to allow for communication though and [Million Seeking Eyes] I left around the world are still quite able to show me what’s transpiring, well, more or less everywhere.”

“Everywhere?” Yawlorna have him her most dubious expression. Spells rarely lived up to their grandiose names, though if anyone was going to be the exception to that, Xardrak was clearly the most likely candidate.

“Well, no, to be fair I still haven’t quite made sense of the journey you described to the other world, or was it worlds?” Xardrak asked. “Also, I’m reasonably certain that no spell cast from here could reach there.”

“How far can you reach?” she asked. Her desire to ask for some precision targeted [Fire Balls] was strong, but Yawlorna guessed that particular temptation would remain safely out of the bounds of possibility.

“I can’t blow up your University for you,” Xardrak said, reading her expression with perfect ease.

“How about small and specific parts of it?” Yawlorna asked, mostly joking. Mostly.

“Alas, no,” Xardrak said. “The arcane connections between the realms would fray and snap if that much magic was sent down them. Also the core [Arcanophysics] of your world are likely different enough from this world’s that a spell matrix for a [Fireball] from here would express itself as a shower of rose petals or something equally useless over there.”

“Probably better that [Fireballs] are off the table,” Yawlorna said with a wistful sigh.

“If I may, two questions occur to me,” Xardrak said.

“Why aren’t I having someone else do this? Or just return these things with nothing filled out and see if anyone ever notices?” Yawlorna guessed.

“Oh, no, those are easily answered,” Xardrak said. “You won’t ask anyone else to do that work for you because you lack the requisite cruelty to inflict such suffering on those who put their trust in you, and you won’t return the pages unprocessed because you wish to ensure a favorable outcome for those you are responsible for.”

Yawlorna wanted to object. She could be cruel and uncaring. 

Couldn’t she?

By omission, or when emotionally compromised? Certainly.

On purpose though? Merely to further her own ends? No. Even the thought made her feel slimy. She supposed Xardrak was essentially correct, or at least enough that arguing against him wouldn’t serve any useful purpose.

“What did you want to know then?” she asked, glad for the distraction, but dreading how much it was going to push off getting everything sorted out for her crew.

“First, you are doing all this work on behalf of your crew, in order that they can return home, and retain a place of honor, correct?” Xardrak asked.

“It’s more a matter of ensuring they retain their academic standing,” Yawlorna said. “If they can be reseated as students, they can submit papers that will revolutionize our world’s understanding of virtually everything. Their names won’t be lost and discounted if they are officially recognized, even just as students.”

“It’s a noble endeavor to preserve their legacies,” Xardrak said. “One thing though; have you asked any of them what their feelings on the matter are?”

“Have I what?” Yawlorna said. “Well, of course, I mean that was the whole point of their coming on the expedition.”

“That was the point of the expedition when it set out,” Xardrak said. “You, and they, are no longer those people though. Your experiences have changed you, quite literally in many cases. Before you rebuild their fates for them, don’t you think you should ask your crew what they might want those fates to be?”

Yawlorna tried to speak, but no words came out for a long moment. She wasn;t just stunned by the question, and the face that it had somehow never occurred to her to consider it, she was reeling from the notion that Xardrak had eyes and ears all over the world and she knew, she just knew, he wouldn’t have asked her that question if the answer wasn’t one he already knew to run contrary to Yawlorna’s expectations.

“What’s your second question?” she managed to stammer out after another moment.

“A much simpler one,” Xardrak said. “Why did you come to see me? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the company. Spying on the world is interesting enough, but it loses a bit of its luster when you can’t join any conversations. Or correct people when they’re clearly wrong! That would be another reason I kept trying to take over the world.”

“I…” Yawlorna began and paused. She wasn’t sure she wanted to say the words she’d been thinking out loud. It would make them too real, commit to them too much, maybe?

“I want to learn more,” Yawlorna said, the decision to move forward almost making itself for her. “We spoke of [Immortality] but that’s not the power that lies at the heart of this world. Is it?”

Xardrak laughed, a kindly tone to his chuckle.

“No, [Immortality] can be as much a burden and a curse as a gift, and over far less than ‘endless time’ it becomes both,” Xardrak said.

“It still seems nicer to have than not, but that’s not what I want to focus on anymore,” Yawlorna said. “I want you to teach me what you know about the [Heart Fires].”

Xardrak’s eyes burned bright in a sort of merry twinkle.

“And what do you believe the [Heart Fires] has to offer beyond [Immortality]?” Xardrak asked.

“Me. Or may I should say it as ‘Me’s,” Yawlorna said. “We’ve seen [Adventurers] rebuild their bodies from gas and dust. That’s simple with the [Heart Fires]. Even I can do that now. But there’s more to it than just remaking who we are. We can make ourselves into all of the other people who we are too.”

“And who is it that you would want to be so very badly?” Xardrak asked.

“Everyone,” Yawlorna said. “I like who I am, I like who I was, but there are so many other people I’ve dreamed of being. So many other lives I’ve imagined living. I want to learn what they’re all like. I want to meet those versions of myself and see what they can tell me about who I really am, and who the people around them really are.”

Xardrak glanced at the pile of papers.

“That’s not something you’ll be able to do back on your homeworld,” he said. “The magic of the [Heart Fires] only works here, on this world.”

“I know,” Yawlorna said. “I’m not filling any of those out for myself. I’m…I’m staying here while the others go back.”

Xardrak looked like he was suppressing a chest full of mirth.

“You should really talk to your crew,” he said.

Cease All

The [Army of Light] was dissolving. Not out of any animosity, or even a desire to form a new guild. People just wanted to explore.

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” Cease said, “but there’s a whole new world right here!”

“And it’ll be here when we get back,” Kozmos said. As one of the leaders of the [AoL] guild, Cease had expected him to take the guild’s dissolution the hardest, but he seemed to be one of the people the most excited about it.

“But it’ll already be explored by then,” Cease said. “They’ll probably setup gift shops outside the bosses lairs.”

Kozmos laughed at that. “Oh wow, can you imagine?”

Cease glared at him.

“It won’t be like that,” he said. “And if it is? All the better that we didn’t waste any time on it.”

“But we could see it while it’s all fresh and new. We could be [World’s First] for like a thousand different things,” Cease said.

“We’re not a [World’s First] guild though,” Kozmos said. “We never have been.”

“Yeah, I know, but we did so much! We saved the world. Like a dozen times over. Shouldn’t that count for something?”

“What? Of course it does!” Kozmos said. “This place will always be a home for us, and the [Guild Hall] will always commemorate all the greats we’ve played with.”

“But none of you will be here anymore,” Cease said.

“Come on now, we’re not all going. There’s a bunch of people who agree with you. They want to stay here too, for now at least.”

“A bunch? We’ve got like half a Raid team left, and some of them are already talking about running with some of the new guilds that are being put together now that we can talk to players from all over the Earth.”

It was an unexpected boon that while two Earthly players might have no shared languages, their [Adventurer] counterparts all spoke the common tongue of the realms, so a North American player partying with someone from China and someone from the Middle East became far easier.

“You could always come with us?” Kozmos suggested. “There are so many other worlds out there. Everything from books, and movies, and other games, and even wilder stuff.”

“I know, that’s problem,” Cease said. “There’s so much out there now, you’ll all scatter. What’s the point of going with you if none of you ever see each other again?”

“You graduated from school before the internet was really a thing, didn’t you?” Kozmos asked.

“Technically, no,” Cease said. “The internet’s been around since the 80’s.”

“I know, I was graduating around then too,” Kozmos said. “And I remember how all my friends promised to keep in touch. We’d write letters and get together for reunions, and everything.”

“And then none of that ever happened.”

“Exactly correct,” Kozmos said. “But that was then. Nowadays? You ‘friend’ all your classmates on social media and you follow their lives in excruciating detail basically forever.”

“So we’re going to be excruciating to each other?” Cease said with a small laugh.

“Almost certainly,” Kozmos said. “And I’m looking forward to it. I want us all to go out there and scatter into a hundred different worlds because I want to hear the stories of all those places. I want to imagine places I’ve never imagined before because I get to see them through one of my friends eyes. My friends who I am not going to lose track of this time, and who I will be reuniting with because we did more than pass a few tests together. We saved the damn world, no, the damn worlds. All of them, and that’s not something we’ll ever forget.”

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