Category Archives: Broken Horizons

Tag for posts that are part of the Broken Horizon’s series

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Interlude 7

Unknown and Undecided

What’s your name.”

The Creator had asked that question and, because she was the Creator, his creator, she was able to compel him to answer.

They’d stood past the end of the world, a co-joined pair of goddesses holding the newly reborn planet in their hand, faced by an army of unkillable, nigh-unto godlike [Adventurers] and none of that scared the former Oblivion Remnant as much as the three words his Creator had spoken.

“I don’t know, I can’t decide on one. I don’t know what I want to be.”

“It’s okay,” Tessa had said, her eyes filled with a compassion that didn’t make any sense at all. 

He’d tried to kill her. He’d tried to destroy everything she ever was and everything she’d ever existed in. She was supposed to want to destroy him. She was supposed to want to erase him completely. To give back what she’d taken and return him to the nothingness he’d once been.

Except, she’d seemed happy about what they’d done to each other.

And despite every chance at letting go of the world and accepting blissful peace, she’d clung tight to her lives and chosen to keep existing as she was, over and over again.

“You can be undecided on that for as long as you need to be,” Tessa said, “but you should let Byron go. He can’t help you with the rest of what you need to do. Are you ready to do that?”

“What do I need to do?”

“Become the person you choose to be,” Tessa said.

“How?”

“Like this,” and she placed her hand on his chest and said a single word.

[Fracture]

There wasn’t any pain, but there was a sense of loss. One moment he had a resilient shell wrapped around himself, layers of contempt and ego and self-assuredness which kept so much of reality safely at a distance. The next all that went away and he was alone. 

Entirely alone.

“Steady there,” Unknown said, catching him before he could topple to the ground.

No one caught Byron but that was okay. It wasn’t a long fall and he was fairly disoriented  so he barely noticed the impact.

“Why are you helping me?” It seemed like a valid question to ask his predecessor, especially given that he’d tried rather seriously to eliminate Unknown and was under no compulsion to not attempt that again.

Except he wouldn’t.

His Creator had been right. Something had grown in him. Something ugly and repugnant and terrible and disgusting. Something that was glad to exist. Something that answered the endless hunger inside him. Something that he wanted to protect, even from himself.

“Because you needed it,” Unknown said and stepped back, letting him stand on his own feet.

Because he had feet now. They weren’t stolen from Byron. They weren’t the fading memories of appendages which had been erased from existence. They were just feet. Normal, everyday feet.

Just like all the rest of him.

He wasn’t what he had been. Not anymore.

Without any aggression or animosity, Tessa and those with her had slain the last of the Oblivion Remnants and converted his remains into someone else.

His last transformation.

“It’s not,” Unknown said. “You’ll keep changing. This isn’t what you will be, it’s just what you are now. 

“Every change brought misery though.”

“Some of them still will,” Tessa said. “We don’t always change for the better. But we always can. It’s up to you now. You get to pick who you are and if you don’t like it, you get to choose to be someone different. The question you need to work towards answering is just who do you want to be.”

He thought about, and say the goddesses gazing down on him with faint amusement.

“I just need to work on it? I don’t need to have an answer now?”

“Most of us spend our whole life finding that answer,” Tessa said.

“Then I think you’ve already given me my name. I’ll be Undecided for now, and I’ll try to figure out who that is as I go.”

Way and Jin

Sitting on the shore of a lake of fire shouldn’t have been the most relaxing of picnic spots but with her head cradled in her wife’s lap, Way couldn’t imagine a more restful spot in any world.

“That felt like a pretty close one,” she said, accepting a tiny [Sugared Delight] that Jin offered her.

“We had more safety nets than it seemed but I’m glad none of them came into play,” Jin said, nibbling on the next treat herself.

“I suppose Tessa could have woken up,” Way said. “That would have fixed things in a hurry. I’m impressed she resisted it so well.”

“She really likes this world, or these worlds I guess now,” Jin said. “She was one of the last resort options though. I was thinking of some more ‘out of context’ solutions. Like the other worlds in this constellation coming together to create a solution.”

“Isn’t that more-or-less what happened? We had spaceships flying over the Fallen Kingdoms helping prevent the apocalypses here,” Way said, lifting her head to get a better view of Jin.

“Yeah, but that was all their doing,” Jin said. “Or almost all. We did help a little by training up a few World Walkers, but they all figured out how to do it on their own first. We just accelerated things a bit.”

“Ah, you didn’t want us to be the ones to merge things together or they’d have gotten stuck like that,” Way said. “We’ve left worlds is much worse shape though and called it a win.”

“True, but I didn’t think you’d want to leave this particular place that bad off,” Jin said, offering Way another [Sugared Delight].

“You’re thinking about staying, aren’t you?” Way asked. Normally she and Jin conversed via a mode of speech that carried far more than words could convey. While they were inhabiting a reality, especially one which had a recent brush with Oblivion, they dialed their more impossible aspects down and enjoyed existing as only a little more than the women they appeared to be.

“You are thinking of staying, I’m thinking of joining you,” Jin said, daring Way to correct her.

Given all the multi-world calamities that had been unfolding, Way hadn’t considered the notion of hanging around afterwards. Was that what she really wanted to do, or had she become too immersed in the role she was playing? Was Oblivion’s Daughter a side of herself that she wanted to explore further or just a fun mask she’d worn in order to see the end of the world from a ground level point of view?

“Is that something you would really want to do?” Way asked.

“Stay with you? Uh, I’ve literally ripped worlds in half when the wrong sort of people tried to prevent that,” Jin said, looking ready to do so again if she needed to prove her love and devotion.

“I mean stay here. This world isn’t all that much like your own,” Way said.

“True. The Earth-analog here is lower tech and definitely blander with no super heroes running around. But there are other worlds in the constellation that are like my old stomping grounds,” Jin said. “And, it’s not like we’ll be stuck here. We can go home and see my family and yours whenever we want. We won’t even upset this world if we pop in and out.”

“I thought we set it up that the worlds would spin back to their original positions though?” Way said. “Eventually that’ll cut off cross world travel all together.”

“That’s what we had in mind,” Jin said. “Turns out the locals have some other ideas.”

“They brought the world’s back together?” Way asked. “Do they want another breakdown of reality?”

“No, they’re being more clever than that. Kari was going to step in to throw up a few walls at first but she decided an experiment was in order instead.”

“Let me guess, turns out she likes what they’re doing?”

“I think you will too,” Jin said. “The World Walkers are searching for the natural routes between the worlds.”

“The what now?” Way asked.

“A lot of the worlds in the constellation have magic and/or tech sufficient to allow for cross-world transits. Even better than that though, there are natural points of congruency and counter-congruency that they can use as transfer points. Basically the worlds in this constellation have always been linked together, even before the Remnants began gobbling into the Earth’s core reality. The World Walkers are expanding on those connections and making them more real in the places where they won’t be in danger of breaking the worlds they join together”

“Oh, that makes sense. Those connections are how the Nightmare Queen got here in the first place.”

“Her and a lot of others,” Jin said. “I looked into the afterlife situation in this constellation and it’s seriously complicated. The neat part of it is that lots of people who’ve ‘passed on’ wound up taking their next lives on other worlds in the constellation, either in new bodies or in replicas of their old ones, usually with a fair bit of their previous memories intact.”

“And that’s why you want to stay?” Way asked. “Or why you think I want to stay?”

“I think you want to stay because this world, this constellation, will be good for you,” Jin said. “We’ve lived a lot of lives but they’re usually in the service of some goal. Sure, sometimes we just hit up a nice resort world for a vacation, but we don’t put down roots while we’re on vacation. And, more importantly, we don’t form connections and really become part of the story itself.”

Way sat up and twisted around to face Jin.

“You will always be the only connection I truly need,” she said and watched Jin blush despite all their years together.

“But not the only connection that you deserve,” Jin said. “You have friends here, and it’s okay to love them as well. We’ve been on amazing and wild adventures, but I don’t think we’ve given ourselves a chance to be part of a community like you are here.”

“We do have friends though. Kari, and Beth, and Astra as three fairly obvious examples,” Way said.

“We do. But the community of Dream Lords and Dream Walkers is a fairly small one, and our interests wind up being somewhat esoteric,” Jin said. “I love the friends we have now, but I don’t think they’d want us to shutter ourselves in with just them. Kari’s got her whole menagerie for example, and Beth and Astra have their College of the Unseen crew that they normally socialize with when we’re not dragging them off on escapades like this.”

“So you’re saying I should get some friends too so I’m not left out?” Way asked.

“I’m saying you fit in here. This world works for you and so do the people you’ve met. Unless I’m all wrong. I can only say how things look from the outside. If you tell me that this world isn’t really your jam and you’re fine with heading out to bigger and better things, I’ll be just as close to your side there as I will be here,” Jin said.

Way paused to drink in Jin open expression.

Way had once been lost to emptiness, a vessel of destruction far more efficient and successful than the [Formless Hunger] had ever managed to be. Even then Jin had believed in her, had loved her for who she was and who she could be. Part of her had wondered if it was the excitement of her impossible nature that had drawn Jin to her, but on some level she’d always known better.

Here was Jin offering her something adjacent to the ‘normal life’ she lost when Oblivion had first claimed her. A life where they wouldn’t be exceptional. A life where they would have friends, and enemies, and hardship, and joy. A life they would only step away from together, so that despite the unfathomable power they could draw on, they wouldn’t. At least not until they both decided to.

Neither of them could ever be fully ‘real’, but this would be close. Or close enough.

“I think…I think I would like that,” Obby said. “But if I get to keep being me, who will you be?”

“I thought I’d try being someone new too,” Dreamlit Wayfarer said, “Though I think you might need to power level me just a little bit.” In her hands she brandished a Level 1 [Apprentice’s Wand], the same tool all 1st level casters began their journey with.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Interlude 6

Grenslaw and Ryschild

The fighting was over, and yet the war had just begun. Grenslaw was glad to be getting back onto familiar territory. Ryschild was delighted to have more reasonable constraints on troops could be moved and apportioned. Thanks to them both, the mood in the [Apocaypse Revocation Office] was one of relative harmony and good natured complaints, despite the fact that at least half the nations of the [Risen Kingdoms] seemed intent on treating the post-apocalypse landscape as open land rush.

“This is all your fault,” Grenslaw said, offering Ryschild the carafe of [Dwarven Deep Mountain Brew] coffee.

“Is it?” Ryschild asked, accepting the carafe. “I would love to think so, but it seems an immodest claim, and likely unsupportable. If anything, credit likely belongs to Her.”

He didn’t have to give a proper name to ‘Her’, only Azma could hold that distinction as far as either one of them were concerned.

“Insofar as she entrusted this work to us? Yes, I suppose,” Grenslaw said and took a small pull of [Dwarven Deep Mountain Brew] before it could get cold and solidify. “That would make you merely the one immediately responsible for all this, rather than ultimately so.”

“Even there, I cannot help but feel that some portion of the responsibility lies on your shoulders as well,” Ryschild said, swirling the coffee and seeing strange patterns emerge from the ripples. The [Deep Visions] the coffee sometimes induced hadn’t been a problem yet, but the longer one relied upon it for the wakefulness it provided the more profound they became.

 “In what sense?” Grenslaw asked. “I’d rather not claim credit for work that was not of my own doing.”

“Yes. The grades from other’s works are always inferior aren’t they?” Ryschild said, offering a smile to go with the old, familiar joke between them.

“With one notable exception,” Grenslaw said, a nod and a return smile completing the memory.

“In answer to your question though, while it’s certainly true that no one would be massing for war had my strategy deprioritized the survival of the non-adventuring forces, it was your logistic and deployment plans which translated that strategy into an actionable reality,” Ryschild said.

“That was little more than basic workmanship,” Grenslaw said. “Without a flawless foundation, the entire enterprise would have come to ruin.”

“Flawless? Certainly not. I am fairly certain that She will be able to point out more than a few cracks in said foundation. I see several myself with the benefit of hindsight.”

“Such as?” Grenslaw said, sounding fully offended at the notion that anyone, Ryschild included, would cast aspirations on the plan they had implemented. A plan which had, in point of fact, saved a world that was not at all their own.

Or, not at all their own yet.

“The obvious failing was, of course, not sufficiently accounting for the current state of the [Risen Kingdoms] that would be as the result of my strategy. With armies of the [Great Kingdoms] mostly intact and the [Lesser Kingdoms] having borne the brunt of our initial invasion, it was relatively simple to predict that the [Great Kingdoms] would take the opportunity to grow someone what ‘greater’ at the expense of their former neighbors.”

“I distinctly recall you mentioning that in our initial planning session,” Grenslaw said. “Also, I feel compelled to point out that given that other constraints we were placed under this turn of events is still trending towards the most optimal outcome possible.”

Kashiren, one of their [Senior Communication Staff] members, paused on hearing that. He’d brought them a [Secured Crystal] with updated battle summaries and was decrypting it into the [Grand Tactical Table] Grenslaw had assembled.

“You had constraints beyond ‘save the world’?” he asked. “Are you telling me each of you did this with one hand tied behind your backs?”

“A closer analogy might be with one hand severed and the wound unstaunched so it could bleed out freely,” Grenslaw said.

“But we were facing the end of the world. No, scratch that, we were facing many different ends of the world. How did you have slack to account for anything but ‘fix things no matter what it takes’?”

“Fairly simple,” Ryschild said. “The ‘fix things’ part of the mandate negates the ‘no matter what it takes’ rider all on its own. We were already operating under many different constraints in terms of how we could approach solving the situations which had arise.”

“The key,” Grenslaw added, “was that we were able to leverage the constraints placed upon us to become strengths we could use to augment the whole enterprise.”

“I’m afraid you’ve lost me there,” Kashiren said.

“Me too,” one of the other nearby staff members agreed.

“The constraint we were requested and required to labor under was to preserve as much of the Fallen Kingdoms population as possible,” Ryschild said.

“Had we been able to consider the value of the various factions and group based on their capacity to contribute towards the effort of ending the apocalypses, many other paths would have opened to us,” Grenslaw said.

“In all likelihood however utilizing those safe and more conservative strategies would have resulted in the loss of sixty five percent of the global population,” Ryschild said. “The remaining thirty fix percent would have been the ones most optimized for fighting apocalypses and would have been at their peak strength for doing so.”

“That has a rather significant drawback however,” Grenslaw said.

“Yeah, two thirds of the world winds up dead,” Kashiren said.

“There are many warfare doctrines that would consider that a reasonable and acceptable casualty count given the situations that needed to be resolved,” Ryschild said. “There would have been far deeper problems that simply the diminished population however.”

“For example,” Grenslaw said, “a world full of apocalypse fighters is rather lacking in other essential professions.”

“Even more critically than that, had we attempted to reinforce the power of the strongest by sacrificing the weakest, we would have changed the internal tenor of the armies. Fighting for one’s own survival can yield optimal results, but with the challenges we faced, optimal efforts would have fallen far short of what was needed.”

“We needed people to go beyond their limits, to rise above what they were in the moment and grasp onto something greater,” Grenslaw said.

“Saving each other was a far more inspiring endeavor than allowing tragedies to compound,” Ryshild said.

“Grim resolve played a role too, to be sure,” Grenslaw said. “Those who died were still tragedies. That was unavoidable.”

“What they were not however, was victims,” Ryschild said. “Those who chose to fight against impossible odds? Their futures weren’t stolen from them. They spent all their tomorrows to buy the hours, minutes, and seconds we needed to ensure tomorrow came for those they left behind.”

“I wonder what they would think of the world now?” Kashiren asked. “It seems a poor memorial to them for so many nations to be intent on spilling the blood they died to save.”

“Some would be disgusted, some would be in favor of it, some would be unconcerned so long as the conflict didn’t affect anyone these cared about, and some would probably rise from the graves to protest the aggressive actions in a spectacularly violent manner,” Grenslaw said. “While it is tempting to canonize them as saints, those who fell in defense of this world were still just people, with all the variety and foibles personhood breeds.”

“Also, there won’t be any bloodshed,” Ryschild said. “Thanks in large part to my colleague.”

“That is certainly not true,” Grenslaw said.

“Yeah,” Kashiren said. “Take a look at the latest intel on the troop positions. We have sixty seven armies posed to invade forty three territories as soon as local conditions allow for a full offensive advance. By this time tomorrow, the entire world will be plunged into open warfare.”

“Sixty seven? I’m impressed,” Ryschild said. “I’d only projected forty two would be in place by now.”

“Your projections were correct,” Grenslaw said. “You were counting [Grand Armies]. The armies in this report count the fissioned segments of the [Grand Armies] as their own forces.”

“An understandable mistake,” Ryschild said.

“It’s going to a bloodbath around the world whether its forty two or sixty seven,” Kashiren said. “And this time we don’t have most of the [Adventurers] around to mitigate it.”

“Oh, they won’t be needed,” Grenslaw said. “Or, not for this at any rate.”

“They could at least cut down on some of the dying though, couldn’t they?” Kashiren asked.

“There won’t be any dying,” Grenslaw said. “I wasn’t objecting to that part of Ryschild’s claim, only that I should be allowed to take credit for it.”

“But…how? That doesn’t make sense,” Kashiren said.

“Trust us that from an external perspective, this entire world has only a passing acquaintance with sensible behavior,” Ryschild said.

“Accepting that was, admittedly, harder than it should have been, but once we got past that particular mental hurdle, working with the world’s nature rather than against it became relatively straightforward,” Grenslaw said.

“Uh, I’m still lost. What did you do?” Kashiren asked.

“It’s not what we did, which is why I feel I don’t deserve the credit for what is about to occur,” Grenslaw said.

“To provide some clarity,” Ryschild said, taking pity on the increasingly confused Kashiren, “In about ten minutes the [Pax Deus] will begin. It’s a rather complicated effect, and one which I suspect will be refined significantly in the weeks to come, but the simple statement of its intent is that no combat or assault of any kind is possible between those sapients who choose to accept the favor of the [Reborn Gods].”

“To begin with all sapients are opted in to the [Favor of the Divine], though renouncing it is as easy as saying so with a true intent in your heart,” Grenslaw said.

“What does having [Divine Favor] mean?” Kashiren asked.

“Aside from being protected from violence by other sapients, it’s also a necessary token for beneficial divine spells to affect someone,” Ryschild said.

“And It enables access to the [Heart Fires], even for non-adventurers,” Grenslaw added. “Apart from violence, people will still die to environmental hazards after all. On this world however they will no longer stay dead from such misadventures.”

“There is a wide variety of non-sapient ‘monsters’ as well, especially in the world’s hidden places,” Ryschild said. “The [Pax Deus] is meant to remove the perils of a population which has just been subjected to a cataclysmically large traumatic event. There is no shortage of other perils in the world though.”

Kashiren blinked.

And blinked again.

And fell off the seat he’d been sitting on when he tried to rise.

“Are…are you telling me, the wars are over? War itself is over? Wait! Are you telling me you have the GODS THEMSELVES on your payroll now?” he stammered as he tried to regain his footing.

Ryschild and Grenslaw both stood and offered him their hands to help him rise.

“Payroll? No of course not,” Ryschild said.

“We expect our budget to be slashes quite thoroughly once word gets out of the new global effect.”

“Okay. Okay, that makes sense, but, uh, why are you still here then? Shouldn’t you be off celebrating or something?”

“This is how we celebrate,” Grenslaw said flatly. Ryschild nodded agreement with perfectly seriousness, before they both cracked a smile to show they were joking.

“We’re using these last few moments before our irrelevancy is discovered to facilitate some logistical issues that will be time consuming to work out later.”

“What sort of issues?”

“The [Lesser Kingdoms] need resources to aid in their recovery,” Grenslaw said. “Thanks to Ryschild, the armies of the [Great Kingdoms] will be delivering those resources in the supply trains for their armies.”

“Some of the supplies will make it to the armies of course,” Ryschild said. “Don’t want to starve them, not after the fine work they did for us, but the majority is being directed to the cities and towns that need it the most.”

“People are going to love you for this,” Kashiren said, awe writ plain on his face.

“Oh, I very much doubt that,” Grenslaw said. “We’re the horrible Consortium invaders who used our ill gotten influence in order to undermine the [Great Kingdoms] so that we could take them over as soon as the [Pax Deus] ends.”

“Okay, yeah, there’ll probably be some of that too,” Kashiren said. “Still. Wow. It’s going to be hard to top this. Or impossible maybe. So what are you going to do now?”

“I suppose this is the point where we turn and kill each other before the [Pax Deus] can make that impossible,” Ryschild said, drawing an ebony dagger from a sleeve that should not have been able to hide it. “It is the Consortium’s modus operandi and certainly inevitable between any two people of equal capability.”

“Indeed,” Grenslaw said, drawing a similar dagger from a similar sleeve. “If we don’t kill each other, we’d likely be stuck together forever.”

They stood at attention for a moment before raising the daggers in a formal dueling salute.

“It was always going to come to this wasn’t it?” Ryschild said.

“For the longest time, I wasn’t sure,” Grenslaw said.

“And now?” Ryschild said.

“I am quite certain of this now,” Grenslaw said.

“Good,” Ryschild said and relaxed out of the dueling stance.

Grenslaw relaxed at the same moment and both gave secret smiles whose meaning was known only by the other.

“To forever,” Grenslaw said and drew a rune on Rychild’s offered palm with the tip of the knife.

“To forever,” Ryschild said and drew the same rune on Grenslaw’s palm, sealing the [Eternal Pact] between them.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Interlude 5

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Interlude 5

Pete and Starchild

The blasted runway had been destroyed long before anyone currently living on After Earth had been born. Under a purple and red sky though it still managed to capture a spark of the lost magic humanity had once held. At its far end, the skeletons of a mighty metropolis rose to catch the fading sunlight, age blackened metal and windows long since shattered to dust no longer glinting in the last rays of the day but still lit well enough to frame the memory of a skyline. 

At the nearer end of the runway was were the shadows lurked. Dark, ever growing things which cloaked the strange new vines and bushes of After Earth. The transition to a more natural setting should have been comforting but the vegetation which crept over the land was as much circuitry as plant life. 

“We should not be out here. Not now. Not ever,” Kevsmot said twisting the new Disintegration Lance in his hands like the world’s longest worry bead. 

When Pete had found him, he’d been trying to fighting building sized mechs with a rifle from the Before Earth. Getting the team fully equipped with the top end gear After Earth had to offer had been Pete’s first order of business and, happily, the caches he’d known about from the game had been mirrored in the actual After Earth as well.

A lot of his knowledge from the game had come in handy like that. Their current mission though benefited from none of his out-of-context knowledge. Not when what he needed was a miracle.

“It has to be here,” Pete said, motioning Kevmot and the others to hold their position. “This will only work at a boundary.”

He’d been with them for all of four days so far. Four days of standard Earth Time that is. As it turned, time on After Earth was a little different than on Pete’s Earth. After Earth’s days were 48 hours long, due to the weird science calamity that had transformed it into what it was  but they passed in just 2 hours of Earth time due to some weird dilation effect between the two.

The net result of that was that it had been almost four weeks of weird subjective time since Pete had left his Broken Horizons team and wound up fighting for the future of humanity on After Earth. 

There’d been victories and losses but none of them had worried him as much as waiting at the end of a runway, sheltered by the remains of a rotted and broken down Piper Cub, hoping beyond hope that something ‘not-of-this-world’ would be able to tear through the fabric of reality and manifest before him.

“I’m reading a power surge,” Kevsmot said. “A really big one.”

That sounded perfect to Pete’s ears. The power surge he was expecting would blow this world off its (metaphorical) axel.

“Multiple targets confirmed and closing from the city,” Kevsmot added and that did not sound perfect to Pete’s ears. That was not at all the direction the power surge was supposed to be coming from.

“What? How? From the city?” Pete whipped around and saw the bright sparks of afterburners blazing the darkness away from the ruined metropolis. “No! We cleared District 6 out yesterday! There aren’t supposed to be any machines left within a 20 mile radius of this place!”

He had fought so hard. They all had. The fifteen of them who were left were more a collection of wounds bound together by medkit gel and sheer tenacity than actual specimens of humanity anymore but the one redeeming grace had been that all their suffering and injuries had cleared them a safe refuge at last. They had desperately needed a spot they could regroup, rest, and replenish themselves, and they’d won it. He was sure of that.

So why was the sky rapidly darkening even though the sun was still hours from setting? 

Pete looked around for the cover that would shield them. The cover that had to be nearby. The cover that he certainly hadn’t walked them all away from on a foolish hope.

“Good news,” Kevsmot said, starring at the scanner. “They’re only Mark 3s.”

A Mark 3 Doombringer was manageable by a well trained squad, but Pete’s heart knew better than to unfreeze. It wasn’t going to be just one Mark 3 in the attack wing.

“How many?” he asked.

“Multiple,” Kensmot said, the nervous titter in his voice presaging some kind of fundamental breakdown.

Pete yanked the scanner from his hand.

It said “Mult.” in place of a number. 

One possibility was that the scanner had finally broken thanks to the miserable conditions they’d subjected it to. Glancing at the shadowed cityscape, Pete knew that wasn’t the answer. Beyond a hundred active contacts the scanner was simply incapable of reporting reliable results.

He laughed. It was infectious. They’d come so far, beaten a frankly ridiculous number of death machines, and this was going to be the end of their road. So close and yet still a world away from hope.

“Well folks, it’s been a fine run. Can’t say I’m happy dying here with you, but if they scrambled this many units against us, you know we had to have hurt Control One pretty damn bad,” Pete said, a wonderful calm falling over him. 

“Hey, upside, if Control One’s this pissed off at us, there’s not going to be anything left when those things are done to turn us into Revenants,” one of the troopers said.

That was a blessing. Pete wasn’t sure if his consciousness would wind up bound to a cyber-zombied version of his body and had no interest in finding out.

Raising his Disintegration cannon to his shoulder, he took aim at the rapidly closing machine, picked a target and began firing. He considered trying to world hop away at the last moment, but After Earth was a tech setting, not a magic one and he didn’t have the tech to make a jump out. His only hope had been to import some of the magic he’d used to reach After Earth in the first place and the dark and silent forest behind him suggested that the gap between the worlds had widened too far for that to happen again.

When the missiles arrived their aim was as lousy as ever. The first five fell so far short that Pete was only thrown ten feet back by the blast. Through the soot and smoke though he heard the next wave coming though. The familiar scream of the missiles tore through the air but this time there was no cover to hide behind, and no jammers to force the missiles off course.

This time there was only a bright light and then silence.

As deaths went, it wasn’t by any means peaceful but it was quick enough that Pete didn’t feel any pain.

Or he shouldn’t have. 

He’d been dead before.

A lot in the [Fallen Kingdoms] in fact. 

He knew what being dead felt like and it didn’t involve abrasion burns from being pitched across a rough patch of broken asphalt. Nor did it involve additional explosions. 

Or battle cries.

He blinked to clear his vision. Something was very wrong.

“I’m sorry, we would have been here sooner but the transit spell was blocked by something on this side,” the voice of an angel said. 

Or something was incredibly right.

“Starchild? Starchild!” Pete was on his feet despite rather more bloodloss than he could account for and hugged her for all he was worth.

A small army stood behind her, Specifically Lost Alice’s original guild, the [Army of Light], and around them all the dome of an [Unbreakable Aegis Shield] flared with brilliant light as thousands of rounds of ammunition slammed into it to no avail.

“Why don’t you take care of the the folks here,” Cease All said. “We’ll handle the bots out there.”

Pete let Starchild go and stood there slack jawed.

In his wildest dreams he hadn’t been able to hope for more than being reunited with her. The sum total of his plan had been ‘have Starchild get to After Earth, have her ferry people to literally any other world, end of plan’, and instead she’d brought a fighting force that was capable of taking on a hundred Mark 3 Doombringers like they were swatting a swarm of gnats.

“[All Life’s Embrace],” Starchild said, noticing the grizzly stomach wound Pete had acquired, and he felt every wound he’d ever experienced vanish as the high tier [Druidic] healing spell left him roughly twice as resilient as he’d ever been.

The spell spread out as Starchild maintained it, touching each of the members of his After Earth troop, and whether they were still living, hovering on the edge of death, or recently deceased, brought them all back up to as perfect physical condition as he was.

“What…how…who?” Kevsmot spoke the whole troop who were staring at the seeming goddess who, Pete noticed, was converting the forest around them from a techno-organic nightmare to a lush and almost disturbingly vibrant nature preserve.

“I think I mention I had a surprise I wanted to show you?” Pete said. “Well, here she is.”

“Only thanks to you,” Starchild said. “And almost not soon enough.”

“You’re timing was perfect,” Pete said. “How did you get the [AoL] to come with you though?”

“A lottery,” Starchild said and at Pete’s quizzical look. “We couldn’t take that many people and there were a lot of volunteers.”

Pete blinked again. Maybe he had died and this was what heaven looked like? Except After Earth’s heaven was a data storage center and it definitely couldn’t replicate what was happening around him.

“You look like yourself again?” Starchild asked, bringing his thoughts back to the present. “I was expecting to have trouble identifying you.”

“Oh, yeah, in the game this world is based on you play a fairly blank slate character and there’s no real customization options, so I’m just me here I guess,” Pete said. “A bit tougher than the regular me. And I know how to field strip a Disintegration Cannon in twenty seconds, but otherwise nothing special.”

“I’m pretty sure ‘nothing special’ is not even in the same kingdom as the truth, but it’s nice to get to see the regular you again,” Starchild said. “I was afraid I’d have to fight for you with your alternate self from this world.”

Pete chuckled, “it sounds like you ran into some of my other characters in the Fallen Kingdoms…huh, why doesn’t ‘Fallen Kingdoms’ sound weird anymore?”

“Because they’re the [Risen Kingdoms] now,” Starchild said. “And, no I haven’t managed to find any of your other selves in there yet.”

“I’m not surprised,” Pete said. “I don’t think we’re the same as Lost Alice and Pillowcase were.”

“Because we have our own memories?” Starchild asked.

“Yes but no,” Pete said. “I was thinking about it after I got here and wound up like this, with no ‘other me’ here at all, and how you weren’t ‘another me’ either, not like Pillowcase and Tessa seemed to be. They were the most obvious case because we saw them switch back and forth a lot, but some of the others like Lost Alice and Rip Shot were the same, I think. More like two different expressions of the same person than fully distinct beings. Pillowcase was Tessa and Tessa was Pillowcase, they were just different points of view I think?”

“But that’s not us?” Starchild said.

“I don’t think so? I mean, I’m not a metaphysician, I’m really just a gamer with a silly imagination, but with you it feels like we really are two distinct people but we make a greater whole as a result. Kind of like rather than one times one equaling one, we’re one plus one equaling two, or maybe even more.”

“Because together we’re greater than the sum of our parts,” Starchild said, her gaze going distant as she considered the idea.

“That and I don’t think it’s limited to just us two,” Pete said. “We clearly have the strongest bond at the moment since we’ve spent enough time together for you to do this.” He gestured to the army that she’d brought to After Earth. 

The army that was smashing through the largest horde of Doombringers that Pete had ever seen assembled.

He liked that army he decided.

“And the others then? Your earlier characters?” Starchild asked, some dim nervousness fading from her eyes.

“I think we can share the same kind of bond with them,” Pete said. “My characters have never been ‘me’, but they’ve always been my friends. The people I wanted to explore strange new worlds with, or fight alongside, or just hang out with.”

Starchild wiped at her eyes.

“I don’t know why, but that helps somehow,” she said. “I think I’ve been afraid this whole time that we hadn’t joined the same as Pillowcase and Tessa did because I was lacking somehow, or it was too uncomfortable for you to be seen as me.”

“Absolutely never,” Pete said. “Being you would be amazing beyond belief and I would jump at it in a heart beat except for one thing – if I was you, then you wouldn’t be. We’d just be me together and I’m so, so happy that you’re free to be the person you want to be, because you’re awesome in ways I never could be.”

“I’m glad you’re you too,” Starchild said. “Though I must confess it has been somewhat lonely not hearing your voice when I needed someone to talk to.”

“I think you saw just how much fun I was having without you,” Pete said. “Bleeding out on a runway gets zero stars from me, would not be blown up by death robots again.”

“Well if being blown up by machine isn’t your favorite passtime, what would you like to do next?” Starchild asked.

Pete looked up at the stars burning above the ruined world.

“Explore,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of games, and made a lot of friends. What do you say we go find them all.”

“I became a [Druid] because the [Wilds] called to my heart,” Starchild said. “And I can think of no more exciting wilds than the worlds you can lead me to.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Interlude 4

Marcus

Marcus stood in a ruined wasteland, the smoking remnants of once great buildings cast down around him as far as he could see.

“You know, the bay looks pretty nice like this,” he said, taking in the stark beauty of it all.

Normally ruined cityscapes were synonymous with mass gravesites. There were very few methods of wrecking a modern city thoroughly that didn’t involve massive fatalities. The ruins before him though held no ghosts. 

Or no new ghosts at least.

“You know I didn’t use to be able to see ghosts,” Anna said, as a parade of spectral figures passed by them. “What do you think they’re doing?”

“Admiring the view?” Marcus guessed. “[Gaia] said that most of them spend their time doing things they missed out on in life. Can’t imagine the last time when any of them would have had a view like this available.”

“It still feels unreal that we’re not marching along there with them,” Anna said. “When you straight up vanished with that monster I thought we’d reached the end of the line.”

“From what I gather we came real close. Very ‘cut the green cord one second before the bomb blows’ kinda thing,” Marcus said.

“What was it like being on the other side of thing?” Anna asked. 

“Ever been to Niagra Falls?” Marcus asked. “It was like being at the bottom of that. You have this sense of this massive, constantly moving thing and you are so, so small in face of it.”

“So not so different from here then,” Anna said. “I thought living through a few earthquakes meant I could handle natural disasters like a pro. Turns out I was not right.”

“To be fair, there wasn’t anything even vaguely natural about the disasters you lived through,” Marcus said. Behind him the ‘Egress Entertainment’ sign that had been mounted over the buildings main entrance lost its battle against gravity and clanged to the ground.

“I suppose not,” Anna said, wrapping her arms around herself. “Or about the rebuilding.”

In the distance, a gleaming spire of quartz glass rose into the sky as a parade of faerie winged creatures danced in a triumphant circle around it. From its base, flowering vines sprouted, enwrapping the spire in a myriad of colors.

“I gather we don’t have that long to enjoy treats like that,” Marcus said, nodding towards the building.  “The worlds are already settling back into their comfort zones, so all the magic we picked up from everything colliding is going to ebb away and leave us nice, and normal, and boring again.”

“I don’t think we ever were any of those things before, or that we ever will be either,” Anna said with a chuckle.

“Yeah. We’re never going to go back to what we were,” Marcus said, searching for some twinge of nostalgia for the ‘old days’ and coming up surprisingly empty.

“Would you really want to?” Anna asked.

A gravity in her tone made Marcus turn to her. They’d been casually chatting up till now, waiting for one of the Egress Entertainment IT staff members to find a truck or bus they could use to head to Las Vegas so they could connect with Anna’s team. In the wake of the Earth’s near destruction, the two teams, along with many others, had found themselves the nearest custodians of the dwindling gates between the worlds.

Where the Egress Entertainment servers had once stood there was only severely flattened rubble, and rising above it, thirteen wondrous gates to the [Risen Kingdoms] and various points on Earth (Las Vegas not being one of them, unfortunately). One of the QA leads had come up with the idea of cross-pollinating the teams so that the attempts to understand the gates, which seemed to be composed of code to some extent, would have as many talented perspectives as possible to draw on.

There was another idea lurking behind Anna’s eyes though. Marcus caught a glimpse of it and shuddered, though whether out of longing or fear he wasn’t at all certain.

“Would I really want to what?” he asked, knowing what her question really was and what his heart’s answer would be. Hearts were stupid things though, and denial rose as a shield to buy his brain precious moments to think.

“Go back to what we were before,” Anna said. “The long nights, the lack of respect, the endless whining from the executives and the customers?”

“You paint such a rosy picture,” Marcus said. “Are you sure you weren’t working on our team?”

“Am I wrong? For any game shop? Or software company at all?” Anna asked.

“There are better places,” Marcus said. “You just need to get the right boss.”

“And then hope they don’t get fired, or leave because they can’t deal with their higher ups,” Anna said.

“Maybe this is our chance to built it back better than it was?” Marcus said.

“Maybe. Probably even I guess,” Anna said. “And we know people will be doing that. I mean, you’ve heard the stories right?”

Marcus knew exactly which stories she was referring too though he didn’t know if he could actually believe them. 

There had been fatalities during the apocalypses. Hundreds of millions of people were dead across the globe, but not randomly as it should have been during a worldwide calamity. No, from the reports that Marcus had seen the Angel of Death had played favorites quite strongly. Prisons still held plenty of people but certain sections of them hadn’t fared well. Billionaires, as a class, were nearly extinct, as well as the ruling parties and their supporters in many countries across the globe. Smaller scale problems hadn’t been overlooked either. Crisis centers for domestic violence, hotlines for all sorts of violence, and even calls for the police (those of who were left) were showing a pattern that spoke to the most predatory and harmful members of the population having been effectively deleted from existence.

That didn’t mean the world was in perfect shape, or that the people who’d been victimized and abused were magically good to go with their lives, but it did seem like a more hopeful place to start rebuilding from than Marcus had ever expected he would see.

“Do you not think that’s a good thing? Assuming those stories are true?” Marcus asked.

“I think it’s a fantastic thing,” Anna said. “In fact I think without that the Earth would be empty before the end of the day.”

“Because everyone would jump at the chance to go to one of the other worlds that wasn’t full of enormous assholes?” Marcus said.

“There’ll always be people we don’t like on any world,” Anna said. “The key, I think, is being able to find a place where you can be who you most want to be.”

“Is that what we do?” Marcus said. “Make places where people can be, at least a little bit, someone else?”

“You’ve been there though. You know what its like to actually live it rather than just imagine it. So that’s what I’m asking. Would you go back to what we were? Could that really be enough anymore?”

“The gates are closing though,” Marcus said.

“If what we had was good enough, then we should let them. If going back to the lives we lead is where we can find our selves, then we might as well walk away right?” Anna asked.

“Yeah,” Marcus said, drawing a deep breath for what was coming next.

“And if it’s not? If the worlds out there hold something precious?” Anna asked.

“Then someone needs to keep them open. Or find a way to cross over even without them,” Marcus said and as he spoke, all the denial in him fell away. With a smile he offered Anna his hand. “Would you like to go on a bit of an adventure?”

“I thought you’d never ask!”

Claire

Walking through a new hospital wasn’t an unfamiliar experience for Claire. She’d worked in three different states in her nursing career so acclimating to a new facility was almost old hat.

Of course those hospitals had been ones where she was an official staff member and none of them had been research hospitals.

“Excuse me? Can I help you Ms…?” the nurse at the central station wasn’t quite sure what to make of Claire, or rather wasn’t quite sure what to make of Lady Midnight. Vampire’s were exactly common at Earthly hospitals even if fiction had them buying or stealing blood from blood banks as an alternative to killing random people.

“Yes. Can you direct me to any of your research staff. I have a limited window of power here, and I’d like to use to provide the data we need to eradicate a disease or two.”

“Oh, of course,” the nurse said. “Please follow me.”

That was not the response Claire had been expecting, and a hundred counterarguments died unneeded on her lips.

Instead, she followed Nurse Gaylor into the elevator and road up to the 5th floor with her.

“I’m not the first one to think of this, am I?” Claire asked as they passed the 3rd floor.

“Thankfully no,” Nurse Gaylor said. “We’ve got a central data clearinghouse running in Stuttgart that’s coordinating efforts from people like you.”

“That’s…that’s excellent,” Claire said, stunned at what a worldwide effort backed by magic and ultratech science would be able to accomplish.

“I’m hoping it puts me out of a job to be honest,” Nurse Gaylor said.

“Me too,” Claire said. “I was working at Conroy General before all this stuff started.”

“Really? Oh that’s fantastic! A lot of the people showing up to help are new to actual medicine. You’ll be a big help there.”

They exited the elevator to a scene of oddly controlled chaos. Whiteboards were everywhere. Autoclaves were running at a fever pitch. Microscopes seemed to be strewn out as far as the eye could see.

“Another one?” someone said the moment Lady Midnight stepped off the elevator.

“Yes, and she’s got nursing experience!” Nurse Gaylor said.

“Oh thank god!” Doctor Kevins said. “We got a new assignment in five minutes ago and everyone’s tied up on the other projects.”

“What other projects?” Claire asked.

“Cures,” Kevins said. “We’re finding cures for things that we didn’t even think could be cured.”

“Cancers?” Claire asked.

“Nearly wiped out,” Kevins said. “The first couple hundred people that we had show up were quite adamant about eradicating every form of cancer we knew about. We’ve made more progress in the last hour than we made in the last century.”

That was far beyond what Claire had expected to hear. She’d been hoping to help the science leapfrog ahead by a few years to maybe a decade at most, but the best projections she knew of put unlocking full cures to most cancers as either unattainable or decades away still.

“How?” she asked.

“Analyzing [Remove Disease] spells has yielded us cure after cure after cure. Especially when that analysis is done by nanotech swarms that can write the information on the effect and suggest non-magical analogues directly into our brains.”

“That’s…” she was tempted to say ‘impossible’ but far too much of her experience argued against that word having any meaning at all. She also remembered the lore from the Crystal Stars game where players could pay for ‘Instant Skill Upgrades’ for their characters. In game it was just a mechanism so the players didn’t have to wait a realistic period of time when their characters improved in their abilities, but drawn into the real world it had become a copying machine for miracles.

“Which other diseases do we have cures for?” she asked, trying to imagine what might be left for her.

“Lots,” Dr. Kevins said. “Heart disease is a thing of the past now. Same with three different forms of Chronic Fatigue. Oh, and Alzheimer’s? Full and complete recovery. In fact we have treatment for nearly all forms of Traumatic Brain Injury too.”

“Wow,” Claire said, feeling a bit woozy on her feet. “What do you have me then?”

“You missed Malaria by about ten minutes, but I just got in a test pack that we’re hoping will unlock the common cold, specifically the coronavirus variants.”

Claire imagined a world were no one ever got another coronavirus. That sounded like a world she wanted to see.

Broken Horizon – Vol 13, Interlude 4

Yawlorna

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.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Interlude 3

Kamie Anne Do

The afterlife was peaceful. No tortured, screaming souls. No spooky chills, or disturbing voices. Even the washed out shroud that covered everything in the [Dead Lands] seemed to be glowing with a gentle warmth.

“Never really expected to act as a midwife to a god,” Buzz Fightyear said. He was slumped against the ghostly wall of the [Great Hall] in the [Dead Lands] version of [Dragonshire]. The rest of Grace’s party was similarly relaxing after the most harrowing run of every one of their lives and deaths put together.

“Congratulations, she’s a bouncing, baby planet,” Battler X joke mumbled. She’d dropped her gear during the run from the farthest depths of creation, but they’d changed so much in the process of traveling out and back that there wasn’t any need to be modest. 

None of them were even vaguely human anymore.

“Not exactly a baby,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said.

She appeared mid-stride, and took a place along the wall, sinking down into the same sitting posture Grace was in before letting her head tip back to rest against the wall.

For the incarnate spirit of the planet’s life, the [Risen Kingdoms] hadn’t chosen to embody herself in a particularly Divine! and Powerful! form. Grace kind of understood that. They’d all had a really long, and really hard day, and everyone needed a break. Even the [Soul of the World].

“It worked?” Grace asked. She could have provided more context, but her dead eyelids were so heavy. She’d pushed herself so far, and lost so much of what she’d been, she had to wonder if when she let them close and allowed herself to drift off into dreams, if they would be ones she would ever awaken from.

“Most of it,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said.

“Only ‘most’?” Grail Force asked. “What did we miss?”

“You folks? Nothing,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “You went above and beyond the call. Far beyond. If [Gaia] and I had been forced to fight against the [Disjoined] while we were using the [World Fire] to reincarnate, what would have come back would have been very different.”

“How so?” Battler X asked, picking herself up into a seating position.

“We were merging in death, the walls between our spirits blurring so that we could share a deeper connection than was ever possible while we were tied to a physical world. With our barriers down like that though, other things could have crept in as well. If those other things had been the [Disjoined]?”

“You would have become [Disjoined] too?” Grace guessed.

“Sort of,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “We’re not exactly like you, but the self-annihilating strife that’s at the core of the [Disjoined]? That we could have been afflicted by.”

“I take it that’s not something we could have fixed later?” Buzz Fightyear asked. He tried to sit up too, but the [Hound of Fate] at his side nuzzled him to stay still for a little while longer.

“You all are capable of more than you realize,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “Cleansing us of that sort of infection though would have taken time and we did not have any at that point.”

“How are we doing now?” Grace asked.

“Provisionally, excellent I’d say. I’m here resting with you rather than needing to fight against the several hundred apocalypses that we’ve finally resolved,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “Also, [Gaia’s] back on Earth, and she’s got things pretty well in hand there too.”

“She’s stopped the Earthly apocalypses?” Grail Force asked.

“Stopped them and has been sharing the techniques we discovered for preventing them with our other selves,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “Well, most of our other selves, the other [World Souls]. Not all of them were receptive from what I gather.”

“What does ‘not receptive’ mean?” Grace asked.

“There’s several reasons someone may become [Disjoined],” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “When you have a world that’s founded on misery for miseries sake, it’s apparently possible for the entire world and everyone in it to become [Disjoined].”

“What happens then?” Grace asked.

“I think the [Oblivion Remnants] have a purpose,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “It’s what prevents them from being truly nothing at all.”

“They exist to kill [Disjoined] worlds?” Battler X asked.

“Or to start those worlds over,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “If my afterlife had been destroyed, I don’t know where I would have gone when I died. Maybe nowhere, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s something beyond that.”

“You don’t know where we go when we die for real?” Grace asked, ignoring the irony that she petting a [Hound of Fate] who was laying down beside her.

“I’m the soul of this world, not the next one, not yet anyways,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “We’ll see when it comes time for me to go for good.”

“Why can’t you just be here forever though?” Battler X asked.

“Because someday it will be time for me to become something else, and maybe something more,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said.

“Like us?” Grace asked. “Has that time come for us?” She gestured with a hand that had gone translucent and looked nothing like a human appendage anymore.

“I don’t know, do you want this to be when you leave? Is this how you’d like to go out?” the [Risen Kingdoms] asked.

“Not really,” Buzz Fightyear said.

“Me neither,” Grail Force said.

“I agree,” Battler X said. “But I’m having a hard time imagining going back at this point. I mean, sure, maybe we could jump into a [Heart Fire] and rebuild our normal bodies in the material world. Maybe we could even separate into our Earthly halves and the part that’s meant to be here, but…I don’t know, does that seem right? Or like what we want to do? Maybe it’s just me though?”

“It’s not just you,” Grace said. “I feel like this, me as I am now? I worked for this. We all literally died for it, and it mattered. It feels like walking away from it now would mean going back to pretend that what I was doing was important, when I’d given up on the most important thing I’d ever done.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Buzz said. “This feels weird, but also new and exciting. And I don’t want to leave Snuffy behind.” He scritched his [Hound of Fate] behind the ears.

“Snuffy?” Battler X asked incredulously.

“It was his idea,” Buzz said.

“He’s right,” Grail Force said and shook her head, “Not about the name, that’s…whatever. But about leaving this behind. I feel like there’s more for us to do here.”

“There is,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “With how much you’ve already given, I didn’t want to ask anything else of you, but if you want to stay as you are for now, I have a special position you could fill.”

“What would we have to do?” Grace asked.

“I’m going to be returning to a dreaming sleep soon,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “It’s how I can stay connected to all of you at once, but it means I’m not aware of acute problems that arise. Or people who may seek to exploit my existence for their own ends. Also, the [Hounds] don’t make exceptions, but sometimes exceptions may be called for.”

“So we’re be your protectors?” Grace asked.

“And the keepers of the Hounds?” Buzz asked.

“That and more,” the [Risen Kingdoms] said. “You would be my [Undying Knights] and to you I would entrust my world and all who walk upon it and within it.”

Vixali

The [Vampire Queen] felt the fresh blood coursing through her veins and the inferno of power that raged in her soul. It was an intoxicating blend but a persistent question nagged at the corners of her mind.

“You’re sure we lost none of them?” she asked for the twelfth time, hoping that perhaps with enough repetition she might earn a different answer.

“Quite certain,” Qiki said. “All the members of your Couterie are accounted for, and that’s not the best new either!”

Her cheerful tone was purpose built to drive Vixali to murder and they both knew it. They also both knew that after decades spent living in a murderous rage, Vixali’s restraint would not fail her over so small a provocation.

“What news, exactly, could be ‘better’ than that?” Vixali asked, too fiendishly annoyed that an entire army of monsters hadn’t been sufficient to diminish her flock by at least a few members.

She would have said ‘a few of the more annoying members’ but these were [Vampires], they were all annoying.

“You recall some of the [Adventurers] who were petitioning for admittance to your court?” Qiki asked.

“They died!?” Vixali asked, brightening at the thought. For as bad as the actual [Vampires] she had to deal with where, the wanna-be [Vampires] were a thousand times worse.

“What? Oh, no, of course not. They’re [Adventurers],” Qiki said, which, unfortunately, was explanation enough. “Or rather they were!”

Were? How could an [Adventurer] become an ex-[Adventurer] without becoming permanently corpsified?

The answer stared her in the face, but she resolutely refused to look at it.

There was simply no possibility…

That could not be allowed to be true!

“They’ve become townsfolk.” Vixali didn’t suggest it, or ask it as a question. She was a queen. It was a [Royal Edict].

Unfortunately, she was not the Queen of the [Adventurers] and hence her edicts, royal or otherwise, could not compel them.

“In a manner of speaking,” Qiki said.

“So they can be killed now?” Vixali asked. “We can drain them dry and no one will complain?”

“Not…exactly,” Qiki said. “You wouldn’t find their blood very nourishing.”

“Nonsense,” Vixali said. “I’ve drunk all varieties of vitae. The only blood we draw no nourishment from is…is…”

She absolutely did not want to complete that sentence.

“Is the blood of our own [Fledgling Vampires]!” Qiki cheered. “That’s the good news. Your domain is even larger now with all the new subjects, all [Fledgling Vampires] of our bloodline (and yes, I did check, they taste disgusting) who are ready to swear fealty to you!” Qiki bounced out of reach as Vixali lashed out with a flurry of claws.

“How!” Vixali seethed, her eyes a brilliant crimson.

“Apparently the massive [Heart Fire] that everyone assembled so that the [World Spirits] could be reborn gave the [Adventurers] some ideas. They spent a while playing with the regular [Heart Fires] and worked out how to come back as something other than the usual selves.”

“Why? Why would they do this?” Vixali wailed, the image of even more eternally backstabbing, and endlessly whining [Vampires] expecting her to solve all of their problem rising before her like the gates of her own private layer of Hell.

“Did you not watch yourself in the fighting? Did you not watch me?” Qiki asked. “We were incredibly bad ass. And damn hot! There you were all covered in blood, riping heads off and smiting people left and right. I promise you that is showing up in everyone’s dreams who got a good look at what you were doing.” In a quieter voice she added, “I know it showed up in mine.”

“They’re going to be a nightmare. An unmitigated, unbearable nightmare,” Vixali said, dropping her head into her hands. “It was bad enough with the court we already had. How am I not going to go insane with more of them!”

“Come on now, it won’t be that bad,” Qiki said. “Maybe they’ll form factions and fight against each other vying for your support.”

“You know that won’t happen. They would need someone to unite them and there’s not a pair of gray cells still active among the whole lot of them. The most they’ll do is preen at each other and then call me in to choose sides in a fashion show.”

“But what if they did have a leader,” Qiki asked. “Say a treacherous subordinate who was planing to usurp your throne for herself? Someone who could give them the direction they resolutely refuse to listen to from the person they believe is in charge? Someone who could be sure that they would forever and after be too busy tearing each other down to notice that you don’t actually favor any of them?”

Vixali’s non-existent breath caught in her throat.

“You…” a lump formed in her throat. “You would do that for me? Not just a game, but proper treachery? Believable. Compelling. You…”

“Me,” Qiki said, moving in close to draw Vixali into her arms. “It will always be me for you. Just as it will always be you for me.” 

Broken Horizons, Vol 13 – Interlude 2

Grunvan

The world was new, and bright, and packed with vibrant life, and all Grunvan wanted was to sleep like a rock for the next thousand years.

“So, we won, right?” Argwin asked, each word fighting through a heavy blanket of exhaustion. She was splayed out on the ground a few feet away from Grunvan with seemingly the same absolute lack of energy left.

Neither of them were broken, or even hurt though. The injured had been evac’d to a healing facility a half hour ago. The rest of the Apple Plate Air Guard, [Goblins] and [Wraithwings] both, were merely enjoying some direly needed downtime.

A few, the lucky ones with the strength to lift their limbs still, were using the global communications grid to talk with family members they’d left behind. The rest were collapsed into boneless heaps similar to the one Grunvan found herself  in.

They’d won. Or so everyone was saying.

And Grunvan didn’t disagree.

Not really.

She was happy to still be alive. Delighted Argwin had made it too. Even the world being in more-or-less one piece was an acceptable outcome.

It should have been a lot more than that though.

Across the planet wild celebrations were breaking out everywhere. The [Dead Gods] were back! The invasion from beyond the stars had been thwarted! New friends and allies had emerged! And, in a miracle beyond all reason, a countless number of apocalypses had all been cast down.

And Grunvan had been there for it all.

She’d ridden the fiercest of gales into the heart of the world’s end and she stood strong with so many others to form a fulcrum on which history had turned.

They’d won. Even though there’d been no hope of winning, no hope of surviving, no hope of even being remembered, they’d still won.

Grunvan knew all that. She could feel the awareness of it looming over her like the shadow of a vast wave. She knew it, but she couldn’t accept it. Not yet. 

Maybe it was that she still had too much left over fear to process. She was a [Wagon Driver]. She wasn’t cut out for saving the world, or being in dire peril, or almost losing everything and everyone she ever cared about.

Grunvan felt a sob go through her, silent, but still wracking her body from head to toe.

She could smell the mountain exploding around her. The terror of seeing the Consortium’s corrupted troops charging at them when all she had to defend herself was a spikey stick still lived in her heart. Each frantic report of certain dooms multiplying beyond count still rang in her ears.

It had all been real. Much, much too real.

“You know they’re going to have us report in tomorrow at the normal time, don’t ya?” Argwin asked.

Grunvan laughed.

“Report in for what?”

“Work still needs to get done don’t it?” Argwin said.

“Yeah, but I…” Grunvan started to say and came up short.

She…what? 

She wasn’t a [Wagon Driver] anymore. She’d seen that in the final battle.

Level 50.

[Folk Hero].

She wasn’t what she’d been. That was lost to her.

Just like the comfortable world she’d known was lost.

The new one she found herself in, the [Risen Kingdoms], they were magical, and wondrous, and new. Everyone was excited and amazed by them. Everyone but her.

She missed her old wagon routes. She missed knowing the turns of the road she would travel down, and which paths to take when the weather turned back, and where she could stop each night for a comfortable bed.

They’d saved the world but they hadn’t preserved it. There was a world out there for, waiting for her, but it wasn’t the world she’d fought for. It wasn’t worn, and broken in, and familiar.

“Yeah, I know,” Argwin said, a soft note of sympathy in her voice. She had her head propped up on her arm and was watching whatever expressions were playing across Grunvan’s face. “This wasn’t where we were supposed to be, was it?”

“I was supposed to be delivering pumpkins,” Grunvan said. “Had a nice little three stop trip all laid out.”

“Planning on bringing back a pie?” Argwin asked.

“Was planning to bring back two,” Grunvan said. “That’d let me eat one when it was fresh and still have one to share.”

“Sounds delicious,” Argwin said. “So what’s stopping you? Aside from how nice sleeping on this particular rocky bit of ground is?”

Grunvan sat up too. Argwin’s sarcasm was right about one thing; the pokey little rocks Grunvan had been collapsed on were starting to get a little painful.

“Who’s got pumpkins anymore? They probably all got blown up. Or turned into Jack-o-Lantern monsters or something,” Grunvan said. “Anyways, how can I go back to wagon driving? I’m not even a [Wagon Driver] anymore. I’m a stupid [Folk Hero] now. I’ve probably got to go off and kill monsters by the bushel now or something.”

“Do they measure monsters by bushels?” Argwin asked.

“I don’t know. This didn’t come with an instruction manual,” Grunvan said.

“Then who says you can’t drive a wagon?” Argwin asked. “The world’s saved right? Why not go drive wagons, if that’s what you want to do? You get to choose what your life is.”

“A lot of those apocalypses were ‘handled’ or ‘postponed’ rather than completely stopped,” Grunvan said. “From what the [Lord of Storms] said, we’re sliding to our doom anymore but there is still a lot of work to be done.”

“Sure. And we’ve got a lot of people who want to do the fighty parts of it,” Argwin said. “How many of them do you there are who want to make some simple, unexciting wagon delivers?”

“But what if…” Grunvan began to ask. Argwin interrupted her though.

“What if this happens again? Then we deal with it again. If we only live for the worst future that we can think to be afraid of, we’ll miss out on living for the future that actually winds up happening.”

Baelgritz

One of the more pleasant aspects of having inherent fire powers, Baelgritz had discovered, was that any reasonable sized body of water could become a hot tub if the occasion called for it. 

It seemed somewhat taxonomically incorrect to label the spacious pool the [Sisters of Steel] had reconfigured their training area to contain as a ‘hot tub’, but given that everyone who was soaking in it seemed at least mildly blissed out by the warm waters, it was at the closest description he could find for it.

“I still can’t believe we’re alive,” Hermeziz said. To anyone else the words would have sounded like a complaint, in part because they were. Baelgritz heard them for what they were though – the remnants of a bone deep fear easing themselves out of Hermeziz’s hard and brittle shell.

Baelgritz splashed some water at Hermeziz and caught Sister Cayman in the overly large wave he’d caused. That, in turn, provoked retaliation, which became a general free for all until everyone went back to blissful soaking a few minutes later.

Baelgritz cast a glance at Hermeziz when the frolicing was done to see a scowly frown waiting for him. That was a good sign. Hermeziz liked to frown when other people were around. It was a defense mechanism, though over time it had shifted from Hermeziz defending himself to defending Baelgritz and Illuthiz, thereby allowing the two of them to be more open and friendly as a sort of counterbalance.

“I heard we might be losing you soon?” Sister Cayman said. “Sounds like you all might getting one of the Consortium space ships that wasn’t destroyed.”

“Yawlorna’s still working out the details on that one,” Illuthiz said.

“They are not holding out on you are they?” Sister Cayman asked. “Not when you all saved the whole town.”

“We didn’t exactly do that alone,” Baelgritz said, recalling the dozens of times he’d seen Sister Cayman or one of the other [Sisters of Steel] fighting along beside them during the seemingly never ending battle against the [Brain Scourgers] forces. 

The addition of the [Cursed Walkers] had definitely turned the tide for them, but neither the [Brain Scourger] nor its forces had fled when the ghost army had shown up.

The fighting had lasted for several hours longer and showered the [Barrow Hills] with enough destructive magic for their official classification to shift to the [Fields of Desolation].

Then the [Fallen Kingdoms] had died.

Which was bad.

Something about the void the spirit of the [Fallen Kingdoms] left had helped the [Brain Scourger] to rally. It had grown to massive size and looked like it was going to be able to turn the tide of the battle all by itself.

Baelgritz was proud that they’d managed to hold even a foe like the [Engorged Brain Scourger] away from [Dragonshire]. It had been a supremely costly effort, and not one they could have sustained for long. Baelgritz had a dim memory of wrestling with the Brain’s frontal lobe – he’d been so overcharged at that point the whole world had been little beside fire and rage – when the [Fallen Kingdoms] returned to life.

That was bad. For the [Brain Scourger].

Baelgritz’s power was fading at that point, which cleared his mind enough so that he was able to watch the monster begin petrifying from the brain stem upwards.

It was out of power too, and without power it fossilized into completely inert stone. Except for its eyes. Those became gem stones. Beautiful, gigantic, hypnotically alluring gem stones.

Yeah, those were going to be a problem at some point in the future.

“You did more than enough,” Sister Cayman said. “You deserve to be able to go home as much as anyone else does! More even! This didn’t have to be your fight at all.”

“Oh, there won’t be a problem with us going home,” Illuthiz said.

“They got the [Dimensional Comm Array] on the Consortium ships working,” Hermeziz said. “Yawlorna’s been in contact with our university so someone finally knows where we are.”

“The discussion now is whether the university will send a ship out to collect us, or whether we want to claim one of the Consortium ships and head home ourselves,” Illuthiz said.

“Wouldn’t claiming the ship be faster?” Sister Cayman asked.

“Yes and no,” Baelgritz said. “We’d need a crew for it. One that knows the controls and how to navigate dimensional space with that drive.”

“Which means we would need to recruit some of the freed [Artifax] to help us,” Illuthiz said.

“Sounds like we’ve got plenty of volunteers though,” Hermeziz said.

“So, problem solved?” Sister Cayman asked.

“Yawlorna’s arguing that the ship should belong to the [Artifax], not us, and that they should be free to take it where they want,” Baelgritz said.

“And they wouldn’t want to take you home?” Sister Cayman asked.

“It would be a side trip for them,” Illuthiz said. “Most of them want to go hunt down the remaining Consortium forces and use the liberation techniques that they’ve worked out to free the remaining [Artifax] there.”

“Which Yawlorna is also in favor of,” Hermeziz said.

“So you wait for the ship from your university then? That sounds fine. We can certainly put you up while you’re here,” Sister Cayman said.

“There’s some danger in that though,” Baelgritz said. “I mean, we did crash here, so there’s something in this planet’s dimensional walls that we didn’t account for properly.”

“And literally no one want to see a repeat of that disaster,” Hermeziz said.

“So, I’m lost. What are you’re options?” Sister Cayman asked.

“We can work with people here and study the dimensional walls,” Illuthiz said. “It’ll take time, which the university isn’t in favor of because they want to publish our papers as soon as possible.”

“In other words before some other university sends a team of expendable grad students out here,” Hermeziz said.

“Wow. That’s a lot,” Sister Cayman said. “What do you all feel about that?”

Baelgritz looked over at his partners, who nodded back at him.

“We’re thinking we might stay,” he said.

“Until the university ship gets here?” Sister Cayman asked.

“A bit longer,” Illuthiz said.

“There’s a lot to research here,” Hermeziz said.

“And a lot we can teach,” Baelgritz said. “In fact, you wouldn’t happen to know a spot that would been good for setting up a nice big campus would you?”

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Interlude 1

Gabriel Santiago

Space was mending.

That the shattered and torn pieces of the galaxy were healing at all was a miracle beyond belief. That they were being restored so fast that Gabe saw an entire solar system swirling back into existence was something even harder to believe.

And yet in the soft glow of the system’s distant star, he felt a radiant peace reaching out across the cosmos.

“You still with me Gabe,” Luna asked over the comm connection they’d kept active as she navigated the newly restored byways of hyperspace.

“Always,” he said, resting his head against the backrest of his pilot’s seat.

“So, did we die and go to heaven or did heaven come to us?” Luna asked.

He could hear the awe in her voice. 

“I’m orbiting a gas giant with the most beautiful rings I’ve ever seen,” Gabe said. “It wasn’t here five minutes ago. I watched it being, I don’t know, born? So, I’m going to go with yes.”

“Have you seen the global channels?” Luna asked.

He hadn’t. The only thing he’d taken his eyes off Volkis IV’s rebirth for was to glance at the spatial displays where Luna’s ship was a tiny yellow dot closing with his own. A quick glance at the comms display showed the global channels were going absolutely ballistic.

“It’s like a fire hose of text, what are they all saying?” Gabe asked.

“We’re not alone,” Luna said. “This is happening everywhere. To everyone!”

Gabe blinked. 

“But they couldn’t have all beaten all the War Beasts that were out there right when we did, can they?” he asked.

“Not at exactly the same time,” Luna said. “I think we got World’s First on that, but yeah, they did.”

“How? We only managed it through total luck!” Gabe said.

His ship was operating at 1.5% capacity with all recovery modules flatlined thanks to the ridiculous maneuvers he’d put it through. Luna’s was at 2.25% and she was only marginally better off because her tactics had involved a warp jump that she’d timed slightly better than Gabe had. They’d each spent their entire payload of weapons, exhausted all their energy stores, and even performed some generally suicidal tricks with overloading and imploding their “spare” warp engines.

Ships, as a rule, do not have spare warp engines. What they do have were warp engines that could be jettisoned in the case of catastrophic emergencies. Engineering those emergencies had given them the last bits of firepower they’d needed to destroy the Warp Beast. 

Except it had been more than that.

Right before their final run, Gabe’s sensors had reset, flatlining for a second as though there was nothing in the universe outside his ship only to return with a fresh target lock on the War Beast’s central core.

Even with that Gabe hadn’t expected their final strike to work. They and Astra’s bomber group had dished out enough damage to the War Beast to kill ten of the largest capital ships in the galaxy. By Gabe’s calculations they could have even put a dent in a Crystal Star. The War Beast though had been undeterred. 

It had lost some of its superstructure. It had roared and writhed as though the moon-shattering explosions had hurt it but it’s attacks had only grown more powerful and their scans had shown that it’s inner structure was unaffected.

The final run had been an act of pure defiance more than a strategy for victory.

And yet they’d won anyways.

“They’re saying there are messages coming in from Earth,” Luna said. “There were disasters there too.”

“Disasters?” Gabe sat up in his seat. He’d been so consumed by the battle before them he’d forgotten there even was another world he called home.

“Yeah. Really bad stuff it sounds like. Rains of fire, absolute zero blizzards in the desert, literal zombies!” Luna didn’t sound worried about of those ideas. In fact she sounded rather giddy.

“Zombies?” Gabe asked, trying to wrap his head around the Earth, the real world having an actual zombie apocalypse to deal with.

“Yeah. Oh, several different kinds of zombies I guess,” Luna said.

“That’s bad, isn’t it?” Gabe asked.

“Terrible. End of the world stuff. Except…”

“Except what?”

“It stopped?”

“Define ‘stopped’?”

“They won. The people I mean, not the zombies.”

“What about the rain of fire, and the death blizzard, and all that?”

“Someone beat those too? I am not following this, but people are cheering about it and they’re so happy it’s ridiculous! I can help smiling too!” Luna said, and Gabe could hear the joy and relief in her voice.

He wanted to see her so badly in that moment.

“Hey, do you see that?” he asked as a new sensor contact appeared on his display.

“What…oh, a ring station? But this system is uninhabited? What’s a ring station doing here?”

“Claiming some prime real estate,” Astra said over their comms. The backtrace on her signal showed it originated from the moon-sized ring-shaped station that had appeared in standard space a few moments earlier.

“Did…did you just warp that in here?” Gabe asked.

“It was laying around in Hyper Space,” Astra said. “I figured the people inside would be happier here, so, yeah.”

With the galaxy nearly being torn to pieces, Gabe wasn’t exactly surprised that even a structure as large as a ring station could have been cast into warp space. In fact, since warp space took marginally less damage than standard space, the ring station had likely been safer there than trying to survive the galaxy-wide battle that had raged against the War Beasts.

“Anyways, plot a course to us,” Astra said. “You two have definitely earned the R&R, and I’ve got a suite set aside from ya already.”

Gabe noted the use of the word ‘suite’ rather than ‘suites’ but refused to consider the distinction. His crush had become something hopelessly deeper but he was not going to make even the first assumption that it would be returned. That’s what a nice dinner and a long conversation was for.

“Sounds good to me. How about you Gabe?” Luna asked.

“Punching in the course now,” Gabe said.

As he did though, he noticed another destination listed in his nav comp. 

Earth.

Even just looking at it, he could feel a pull tugging him back home.

“Luna, are you seeing a new destination in your list?” he asked.

“Yeah. I think it’s giving us a chance to head home,” she said, her voice distant as though her mind was already wandering back across the worlds.

“Do you want to go?” he asked, feeling unexpectedly at peace with the question.

“You know what?” she said, her voice clearing. “I think I’d like to stay. That is if you’ll be here?”

Brendan

Brendan was crying, sobbing on his hands and knees, and he’d never been happier. Behind him, Mrs. Yu hung up on a call with a “Yes, he’ll be fine. This has just been a long day for us all.”

As understatements went that deserved an award.

“They’re okay,” Brendan said, drying his eyes and fighting to get his breathing under control.

‘They’ didn’t need an explanation. He wasn’t the only one who’d broken down in tears as the reports from around the world came flooding in. ‘They’ were the people who’d been lost. The ones who stood before the ends of the world, who’d held the line when all they could buy was another minute or another second. 

Those minutes and seconds had been enough though.

The world had died, the sun had vanished and the stars had faded away, but Earth’s peoples hadn’t given up. Not the ones Brendan had been connected to.

It had looked like there was no way back, no future to hope for, and no one to answer their calls for help.

So they’d helped each other.

In a circle of voices that leapt around the world, they’d been part of something so much greater than any one of them. Some of them had fallen, lost to worlds unknown but saving so many more through their bravery. 

Then the final monster had emerged.

The beast had shattered the planet, breaking out of the mantle like the Earth was nothing more than an eggshell.

And they’d stopped it.

It hadn’t been a prayer. Prayers imply there is some distance between the supplicant and the divine. That the person in prayer must express their love and devotion in order to come into communion with a holy presence.

As the world crumbled, the people who were knit together and fighting to save it found that they’d already bridged that distance in the bounds they’d woven between themselves.

And then an actual goddess showed up.

{Wow, that was close}” {Gaia} said and the whole world felt her relief.

The Final Armageddon Beast had roared into the cosmos and tried to sink its fangs into her.

That was a mistake.

{Gaia}, it turned out, had returned from her trip through death with quite a bit more wisdom than she’d had before. Wisdom which included the exact knowledge for how to deal with Oblivion Remnants like the Armageddon Beast.

Her presence was also slightly larger, no longer constrained to the terrestrial sphere the life she represented was born from, she extended outwards to everywhere that life had touched, or even imagined.

Against a cosmos striding deity of that caliber, the Final Armageddon Beast was a rather small and insignificant little worm, and everyone who had fought for her watched through Gaia’s eyes as she peeled it from the broken shell of the Earth, gently wound the planet back together and called her missing children home.

Brendan hadn’t believed the vision at first. Almost no one had.

But then the reports had started coming in. From Brisbane, from Cairo, from San Paolo, from Beijing. The people who’d carried away the nightmares? The people who’d been struck down by them? The people who’d been lost before they ever knew the monsters could be fought? They all started coming back.

In some cases they reappeared where they’d vanished. In others, their shattered and broken bodies wound back, returning to full health, or vanished as well and were replaced by incarnations that were often better than they ones they’d had!

But not everyone returned.

There was a class of people who’d tried to cease power in the chaos. No one was sure where they’d gone to. 

Another category had attempted to profit off the misery and fear that had swept the world. Even the instances where those people had survived the world breaking resulted in strange and inexplicable disappearances as the planet was restored. 

And, lastly, there were those with whom connections had been re-established but who were choosing, for the present at least, to remain in the worlds they’d traveled to.

Brendan took his neighbor Jaquim’s hand and let himself be pulled to his feet…and into a tight hug.

“You did it man,” Jaquim said, squeezing him fiercely.

“We did it,” Brendan said as at least a dozen other people joined the group hug.

They were neighbors and friends of neighbors and people Brendan could only assume were a part of his world. In the mad rush to coordinate everyone and keep the world together, they and so many countless others had come together and become something more than they’d ever been before.

Or ever world be again.

The thought brought a fresh wave of pain to Brendan’s heart. 

How could he miss the end of the world? How damaged was he?

Incredible so, he had to guess, but he could see where his grief was coming from. Only some of it was the mountain of stress he’d been buried under. The rest was that despite the bounds they’d formed, everyone here would drift away over time. 

They wouldn’t forget each other, or ever be as distant as they had been before, but the intense connection they’d shared? That would fade. It would have to. And there was a part of him that was going to miss it. A part that yearned for a connection that deep. A part that yearned for…

A woman tapped him on the shoulder.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got any hugs like that left in you still?” Mellisandra asked, her arms open and waiting.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 18

Dragonshire

Baelgritz judged their odds of surviving the next two minutes at a generous three percent. The [Brain Scourge’s] forces weren’t that overwhelming – mindless husks didn’t tend to execute the most complicated of battle strategies. Under normal conditions, given the [Overcharging] powerup he, Illuthiz, and Hermeziz were enjoying, he suspected the three of them could have held the attacking forces away from [Dragon Shire] until the end of doomsday (so  a few more hours at least).  Unfortunately, conditions were far from normal.

With his new [Titan’s Fire], Baelgritz could incinerate even non-corporeal beings, boost his strength high enough to “lift the sky”, and shrug off injuries by reforming any damaged parts from the flames that burned within him. Illuthiz and Hermeziz had similarly unimaginable powers, and none of them meant a thing against a foe who could corrupt any mortal creature’s mind with no more than a touch.

Baelgritz was particularly annoyed that “mortal creatures” apparently even applied to things like the [Shadowed Starwalkers] which were otherwise unkillable living shadows.

“As last stands go, I have to say I hate this one,” Qiki, the [Vampire Seneschal] said.

“It’s not too late for us to stake each other in a flurry of mutual destruction,” Vixali, the [Vampire Queen] said.

“Do that and I’ll have one of the [Adventurers] resurrect you both,” Baelgritz said.

Beyond the barricades a new roar came from the [Brain Scourge’s] forces.

“Oh good,” Hermeziz said, after a glance over the barricades. “They have a [Dragon] now.”

“I liked it better when all the monsters were on our side,” Illuthiz said.

Within the barricades, the assembled forces were as motley a collection of creaturs as existed anywhere in the [Fallen Kingdoms], only a short minority of whom were among the ‘civilized’ races of the world.

Baelgritz was glad to have them all but he wished a few more were [Adventurers]. All of the combat capable ones from the [Great Hall] were with them – or at least all of the ones who hadn’t been drafted for work elsewhere – but there weren’t enough. If he’d had command of an army perhaps ten times the size of the force he was in charge of and all of them had been [Adventurers] and therefor enjoyed the immunity from [Oblivion Contamination] that seemed to come with that designation, then victory would at least have been on the table.

“Hey, big guy!” Sister Cayman, one of the [Sisters of Steel], drew Baelgritz’s attention to one of the lowest level [Adventurers] in their makeshift army. He was a kid and he never should have been within a thousand miles of a battlefield. Since the battlefield had come to him though, Baelgritz had let them join. Even the weakest [Adventurers] had some strength, so ‘they might as well use it’ was his thought.

The [Adventurer] approached with the oddest smile on his face, odd given the fact that everyone knew they were moments away from dying ugly deaths.

“You might want to have this,” the kid said and held out a tiny spark flame that was burning in the center of his hand.

It was a cute gesture, but Baelgritz was as much a being of fire as he was of flesh while he was [Overcharged], one more little spark was…

…going to change the world!

The moment before he placed a fingertip on the spark and the moment after was divided by an eternity.

Baelgritz thought he knew what it meant to burn hot, but he’d had no idea in the moment before.

From the single spark of flame, his whole being glowed like a star.

It was a [Void Speakers] gift.

An endless flame.

A [Divine Light].

He passed it on and his laughter drowned out the roaring of the [Dragon].

“We’re protected,” Illuthiz said as her own divine epiphany washed over her.

Hermeziz was hugging them both and crying mumbling over and over “you’re going to live, you’re going to live!” Because of course he hadn’t been worried about himself. Baelgritz shook his head. He was in love with an idiot.

“We are,” he said, “But [Dragonshire’s] not.”

Illtuhiz frowned.

“He’s right,” Hermeziz said. “Even if they get this immunity too, those things will still rip them apart limb from limb. There’s too many of them to hold back.”

“Then let’s buy them time,” Illuthiz said.

“How?” Hermeziz asked.

“Like Pillowcase and Obby showed us,” Baelgritz said. “We can’t fight defensively anymore. We need to make them fight us. We need to be out there. In the center of the worst of it.”

“If it’s with you…” Hermeziz said.

“There’s nowhere we’d ever be,” Illuthiz said.

Baelgritz had expected the three of them to run out into the swarming attackers alone.

He was very mistaken on that.

They’d made the mistake of talking where people could hear them.

And no one, not even the [Vampire Queen] or her [Seneschal] even hesitated to charge out after them.

It would have been a fantastic melee and a fantastic slaughter. For all their unbelievable might, Baelgritz and his forces were still badly outnumbered and the opposing side didn’t need clever tactics when the [Brain Scourge] had dragons and even stronger minions to call on.

As he cleaved through a half dozen foes with talons of fire, Baelgritz said a silent prayer that their efforts wouldn’t be in vain. Dying on an alien shore wasn’t a pleasant prospect, but dying to save the innocent people he’d come to care about and respect was a lot better than dying as a ghostly vanguard to lead them all to the afterlife.

“Won’t be any dying here today,” a zombie said, blocking an attack on Baelgritz’s left side. “We’ve already let that happen once. Time we stopped shuffling around and made up for past mistakes.”

And from the earth of the [Barrow Hills], burning the [Divine Light] of [Godly Avatars], the [Cursed Walkers] rose to fulfill at last their promise to defend [Dragon Shire].

The World

Melissa’s respect for the [Jormangadrs] was not in the least diminished when it turns out that the [World Serpents] were, in fact, vulnerable to [Nuclear Attack Submarines]. 

“I didn’t think subs were intended to fire their nukes at underwater targets though?” she said.

“On Earth? Not so much,” Tessa said. “In [Future State: Sub Commander] though they went a little wild with history and the capabilities of military hardware.”

“Technically those weren’t even nukes,” Lisa said. “They were firing [Zero Point Implosives], so no pesky radiation to worry about.”

“What the heck is a [Zero Point Implosive]?” Melissa asked. Her arms were sore but still surprisingly functional. Given that she’d hauled somewhere close to a thousand [World Serpents] up out of the depths of the ocean that seemed fair. She was still waiting for the official tally from the other [Legendary Tier] [Fishing Masters], but she was reasonably sure she’d edged them out on weight if not also on total catches.

“Most of the tech from [Sub Commander] is sci-fi babble gizmos,” Tessa said. “They throw words like ‘Quantum’ and ‘Zero Point’ around to sort of handwave why you’ve got Submarines fighting like World War II fighter jets. That worked out pretty well in this case because it was close enough to the weird fantasy tech that shows up in some corners of the [Fallen Kingdoms] that the world basically went ‘eh, I could buy that’ and treated it as just some new thing.”

“Some new thing which your fish friends hadn’t been able to include an invulnerability to,” Lisa added.

“I still don’t understand how you got them here, or the [X-Wings], or the freaking [Crystal Star]!” Melissa said, glancing at the moon-sized magical battle ship that was currently helping ‘resolve’ some of the thornier apocalypses.

A gift from the Empress of another reality, the [Crystal Star] had taken a geosynchronous orbit around the [Fallen Kingdoms] and was dispatching small armies of [Anima Casters] to support the local forces, or, when there were no local forces present, dealing with the apocalypse in question via [Orbital Bombardment].

“We have my sister to thank for that believe it or not,” Lisa said.

“Just doing my job to Save Everything Everywhere!” Rachel laughed triumphantly.

“Oh my god, you are going to ride that for the rest of your life, aren’t you?” Lisa asked.

“Oh, not just this life,” Rachel said. “I’m riding it for all of Deadly Alice’s life and every other alt-self I can find.”

“I don’t get it? What happened?” Melissa asked.

“We figured out that Gulini, the guy who started all these apocalypses, had accounted for all of the forces in the [Fallen Kingdoms] – people, monsters, spirits, everything – and then went far, far overboard on what was needed to destroy the planet beyond that,” Lisa said.

“He’d seen from absorbing the Consortium’s fleets assessments and logs that the [Adventurers] tended to rise above the challenges that were set before them, so he worked out what the highest over leveled threats there were in the world and then made sure that the apocalypses he spawned would destroy the world even if everyone fought at a level where they could beat those existing threats,” Tessa said.

“In other words, even if we all had our best days ever, we just wouldn’t have the raw power needed to fix everything,” Lisa said.

“So we brought the dead gods back,” Tessa said. “But it turned out Gulini had overshot things enough that even that wasn’t going to be enough.”

“That’s where I came in,” Rachel said.

“You brought back the…wait, so those giants over there, those are actual, literal deities?” Melissa asked.

“Deities or developers,” Lisa said.

“Sort of both,” Tessa said.

“Okay. I think I have about a hundred billion questions for them, starting with ‘Whyyyyy’?” Melissa said.

“There is a long line forming to ask that question, believe me,” Lisa said.

“The important thing though is that they, alone, weren’t going to be enough,” Tessa said. “So Lisa here figured out that what we needed was forces from worlds that Gulini hadn’t considered in his calculations.”

“We had a problem though,” Lisa said.

“I can imagine,” Melissa said.

“That was sort of it,” Tessa said. “We could imagine calling across the worlds for help – we’d already traveled to Earth and back so we knew it could done, but the problem was the people we needed to call on hadn’t made the trip yet, so even if they heard our call, they were too far away to make the leap to us.”

“We’d come from the Earth to the [Fallen Kingdoms], but that was only a single jump,” Lisa said. “We needed people to jump to Earth and then to us and no one seemed to be able to do.”

“Until I showed them,” Rachel said.

“Can we go back for just one quick second,” Melissa said. “I could swear I heard you say that you managed to get back to Earth?”

“Oh, yeah, back and forth. It was harder the first time than the second,” Tessa said.

“You got back to Earth? Seriously? Do you know how huge that is! There are people here who are dying to get back there,” Melissa said.

“They might wind up dying if they go back,” Lisa said.

“What do you mean? Is the trip dangerous? Wait, where’s my brother? Is he still there? Did something happen to him?” Melissa ran through the question so fast Tessa could barely head them all.

“The trip’s easier once someone shows you how to make it. Pete’s not on Earth, we think he’s off in the world the [Void Walker Mechs] come from,” Tessa said.

“You think?” Melissa looked ready to run back to Earth whether or not anyone showed her how to get there.

“He saved us,” Lisa said. “The Earth is in pretty bad shape. It’s got apocalypses rolling over it too. One of them is related to the [Void Walker Mechs]. We got attacked by one before we figured out how to use our [Fallen Kingdoms] powers on Earth and Pete saved us by grabbing the mech and transiting back to its homeworld with it in tow.”

“So he could be dead?” Melissa’s disbelief was like a wall of iron.

“Starchild says he’s not,” Tessa said. “She knows he’s still out there and she thinks he got caught up in something on the mech homeworld.”

“How do I get to him?” Melissa asked.

“Wow, you’re really close aren’t you?” Rachel asked.

“My brother supported me before anyone else did,” Melissa said. “He always believed in me and he always stood up for me. So, yeah, he’s pretty damn important to me.”

“Let’s get you reunited then,” Rachel said.

“Can you do that? We’re not as important as a [Crystal Star] are we?” Melissa asked.

“You know how Penswell can make copies of herself to manage everything?” Rachel said. “I have a friend who’s doing something similar for me, so that we can get everyone where they need to be in time.”

“Oh, how many copies do you have?” Melissa asked.

“Last I checked? Around ten million. When I saw everyone, I mean everyone.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 16

The suggestion that they kill the [Fallen Kingdoms] was met with just a few objections.

“Have you lost your mind?” Lady Midnight said.

“How would we even do that? Punch the planet?” Rip asked.

“You’re going to sacrifice one world to save another?” Yawlorna asked.

Support for the idea came from an unexpected corner though.

“The idea has merit,” Penny said. “But the timing will be challenging.”

“Agreed,” Azma said. “I believe we can open gateway to allow transit from the [Fallen Kingdoms] to the Earth soon enough to move the resources required to end the apocalypses there before the Earth is lost, but without {Gaia} obtaining the knowledge the [Fallen Kingdoms] has that would be only a temporary measure and would divide our forces when they need to be unified to prevail.”

“Until the [Fallen Kingdoms] has exited its current death spiral, any loss of forces will simple accelerate our untimely demise,” Penny said.

“So we’re doomed no matter what we do?” Rip asked.

Azma chuckled.

“We didn’t say that,” Penny said. “This is merely a situation which requires creativity.”

“Why are they both smiling like that?” Jamal asked Marcus.

“Don’t know. I’m hoping that it’s a good sign though,” Marcus said.

“The answer’s simple, right?” Tessa said. “We need to save the [Fallen Kingdoms] so that the [Fallen Kingdoms] can save the Earth, and we’re under a time limit on getting that done. Sounds like fairly typical game design.”

“Hey!” said the [Lady of All Tides] before amending, “Okay, that’s actually fair.”

“In this case the ‘game designer’ was a sadist however,” Azma said. “Gulini placed enough apocalypses on the [Fallen Kingdoms] to be sure twice over than the world’s armies and [Adventurers] would not be able to end them all in time.”

“And they’re each devastating enough that we can’t miss even one,” Penny said.

“What state is the salvation effort at presently?” Azma asked.

“Two apocalypses were averted within the minute before I joined this discussion,” Penny said. “That brings the current total down to eight hundred and forty two.”

“And our losses?” Azma said.

“Grenslaw is rotating units into and out of medical triage areas, while Ryschild coordinates the deployments and defense via the [Teleportation Network]. We’ve burned out all [Crisis Preparation] resources and are running on the troops personal reserves now. The projections say we will overcome another one hundred and ninety ‘unstoppable armageddons’ before all forces are exhausted, at which point casualties will become irreversible and troops strength is expected to drop exponentially.”

“That means you’re six hundred and fifty two armaggedons short,” Yawlorna said. “How do we cover that gap?” Yawlorna asked.

“We’ve got the gods on our side now! That’s gotta help,” Rip said.

“When we interfere directly, more [Oblivion Remnants] come through,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “But there’s got to be a whole lot of things we can do indirectly.”

“Resupple and replenishment,” Penny said. “If you can restore the casters in our depots, the exhaustion collapse can be postponed indefinitely.”

“Give Grenslaw unlimited resources and we can do more than postpone the collapse,” Azma said. “My strategy in that case would be to use the surplus to breed more replenishment depots and extend the [Teleportation Network]. I’m certain Grenslaw will coordinate with Ryschild to maximize the impact those resources can have.”

“Will it be enough to overcome the armageddons in time?” Lisa asked.

“It will buy us time, but, no, even with that we’re starting in too deep a deficit,” Penny said. “By the time we’re able to roll out our enhanced forces, I’m projecting at least three hundred armageddons will reach their end state.”

“They’re still smiling,” Jamal whispered to Marcus.

“What if we took the field ourselves?” the [Empress Above All] asked. “Most of my servants were unmade by Gulini but that means their powers and dominion have returned to me.”

“We’d just be making the problem worse wouldn’t we?” the [Lady of All Tides] said.

“Not necessarily,” the [Empress Above All] said and cast her gaze towards the [Adventurers].

Tessa considered if there was something she could do to allow them to operate in the [Fallen Kingdoms] without the oblivion backlash they’d suffered before. In theory there were higher tier versions of the [Fracture] power she’d been using. Could she mold one of the still undefined [Fracture] variants to split a god apart from the bulk of their divine power? Maybe? Was that even vaguely a good idea? Absolutely not.

Fortunately, the [Empress Above All] had a different idea and Hailey picked up on it.

“Avatars!” Hailey said. “Like our characters!”

“Yes, it you’ll show us how,” the Empress said. “We can embody ourselves in limited creations. Powerful enough to aid in the battles but not so much that we rip apart the world we made.”

“Hell yeah!” Hailey said.

“Do we know how we did that?” Rip asked. “Weren’t you the one who did that for us?”

“I amplified the call,” the [Empress Above All] said. “You were the ones who answered it though. How you did that is within you all.”

“What do you say Marcus? Think we can work out what we did?” Hailey asked, which made sense give that they’d had dev accounts to contend with just like the gods would.

“I think I can do even better,” Marcus said. “Ashad’s in [Dragonshire]. From that Penny told me, he managed to make the transition from god-souled developer, to a basic monster, and back to one of his characters. He’s seen even more of the process than we have him.”

Tessa thought back to the encountering “Aptomos” in the [High Beyond]. He’d been the one that had introduced them to David Kralt’s [Slime] based alter-ego. He’d gotten Tessa her first wand too. She’d lost track of him in the hecticness of the arrival at [Dragonshire] but she knew he was still a part of the [Second Stars] guild so contacting him wouldn’t be a problem.

Assuming he was still alive.

“Not to be morbid,” she said. “But does [Dragonshire] still exist?”

“Yes,” Penny said. “It is in a fortunate location.”

“They’re not in danger?” Rip asked.

“Not quite that fortunate,” Penny said. “They’ve had the good fortune that only two armageddons are headed towards them.”

“What do they have for defenders?” Lisa asked.

“Those you left behind,” Penny said.

“They’re all low level though,” Tessa said. “We’ve got to get them reinforcements.”

“There are none,” Penny said. “In they will need to serve as reinforcements for the main body of Azma’s former command.”

“They’re not going to make it,” Tessa said. “The [Adventurers] there were capping out around level 30 when we left. If they have to fight in an uncapped zone their going to be annihilated faster than their first powers can even execute.”

In her mind, images formed of the [Sisters of Steel], and the crafters in the [Second Stars], and Vixali, and all the other people who’d followed her to the “safety” [Dragonshire] had offered.

She was not going to let them die.

“Woah! Hold on there,” Lisa said, placing her hand over Tessa’s

That stopped the distortion that was beginning to form in space in front of her.

“Okay. That’s not supposed to be possible,” the [Lord of Storms] said.

Tessa noticed everyone had taken a step back from her. Except for Lisa, who was comfortingly close.

“Intriguing,” Azma said. “But not the time for such efforts. Rest your worries. If the forces of [Dragonshire] are being pitted alone against two different endings of the world, it’s because they have the capacity to overcome them. If they did not, Ryschild would be deploying them somewhere they’re efforts could achieve a meaningful result.”

That did not comfort Tessa. Half of [Dragonshire] dying permanently in order to stop an apocalypse would be a meaningful result and quite possibly a price worth paying under the circumstances. It just wasn’t one she was willing to have them pay.

“Perhaps we can do better than achieve a meaningful result there,” the [Empress Above All] said. “[Dragonshire] is surrounded by the [Barrow Hills of the Tormented] isn’t it?”

“Yeah, we leveled up a bunch there,” Lisa said.

“But the mobs started acting weird,” Rip said.

“They were leveling up too!” Tessa said, remembering all too clearly how frighteningly powerful the undead had become. “Is that one of the apocalypses?” she asked, terrified of what the logical conclusion of the undead leveling to the cap would be.

“Quite the opposite,” Penny said. “They’re projected to serve as a buffer to hold back the [Corrupter of Roots].”

“And you say that Ashad was a developer who incarnated in the world as a [Slime]?”, the [Empress Above All] asked.

“Not exactly a developer. He was in tech support, so as a [GM] he had access to the usual package of developer level hacks,” Hailey said. “When I came in with them, they translated as a god soul that was tearing me apart.”

“That may provide us with an opportunity,” the [Empress Over All] said. “We’ll need to conference on it though.” She gestured towards one of the rooms which seemed far too small to fit the assembled gods.

As the developers filed in though, Tessa saw them taking seats spaced comfortable far apart from one another with there being plenty of room to spare. [Paradise] was apparently whatever size it needed to be.

“Are they going to be able to turn this around?” Yawlorna asked.

“The idea they’re working on is a good one,” Azma said, despite the fact that no one had voiced what the developer-gods were planning to do. “It will bring us closer to where we need to be, but unfortunately there aren’t enough total forces in the [Fallen Kingdoms] to effect all the changes we need.”

“Then we need to find some forces that aren’t in the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Lisa said, the light of inspiration gleaming in her eyes.

“Exactly, and fortunately the Consortium sent just such a force,” Azma said. “The task force that was dispatched to detonate the sun and cleanse the system would be most efficacious at bringing planetary issues under control.”

“About that,” Penny said. “I mentioned two apocalypses being averted a moment before I joined you here? The Consortium’s task force was one of them.”

Azma paused, raised a finger to make a point, and paused again.

“How?” was what she eventually settled on.

“One of the armageddons came in the form of an egg which was going to birth a [Sun Eating Dragon]. A team of [Adventurers] hatched the egg and nurtured it instead, then flew off on it,” Penny said. “We thought they were heading for galactic space, and in sense they were.”

“They flew to the Consortium’s task force?” Azma’s question was tinged with exasperation.

“The good news is that there are pieces of the task force still intact and worth looting,” Penny said. “Some pieces at least.”

“And the [Sun Eating Dragon] is where now?” Azma asked.

“The [Adventurers] left a note saying they were off to make sure the Consortium, and I quote here, ‘won’t be a problem for any ever again’.”

“Wonderful,” Azma sighed. “That’s not going to go poorly at all.”

“It does mean that we’re short one potential interstellar army,” Penny said. “Though on the plus side that frees up the forces we would have used converting the Task Force.”

“Converting!” Tessa said. “What about the invasion fleet’s troops? You found a method of freeing them, didn’t you?”

“Oh yes,” Penny said. “Without them the [Fallen Kingdoms] would have been destroyed already. They’re among our fiercest defenders.”

“Which means, they’re already accounted for,” Tessa said, her hopes dropping.

“As are the unusual forces we’ve recruited,” Penny said. “Your friend the [Lava Serpent] for instance has been instrumental in several of our subterranean efforts.”

“It sounds like everyone in the world is already pitching in then,” Tessa said.

“Which is why we need some out of this world help!” Lisa said, the key to their salvation burning in her eyes.