Tessa woke with a scream. It wasn’t surprising. She’d been focused on the scream, following it back from beyond the boundaries of the world. It was her beacon and her motivation. She could feel its pull on her heart even though more than light years separated her from its source. What did surprise her though was who turned out to be screaming.
“No! BT! Fight it off! Stay with me!” Glimmerglass’s words were clearer as Tessa ‘woke up’ once more, but the sense of desperation was the same.
Glimmerglass was fighting to keep BT on a medical cot while the other woman writhed, twisted, and worst of all, glitched out into brief clouds of static.
Cold purpose ran through Tessa.
She knew what the static was.
How long has she been like this? Tessa asked Glimmerglass. She didn’t need to use the world’s telepathic channels. She and Glimmerglass were two parts of a greater whole. They could talk to each other as easily as Tessa could talk to herself, which is effectively what she was doing.
What? Who… Glimmerglass started to ask, but understanding rushed in as fast as she could form the question. Tessa? Tessa! I know you!
It’s been a long time, Tessa said. Sorry.
Sorry? Oh! You’re my [Inspiration]! You’re timing is excellent! Glimmerglass didn’t give any sense of admonition for Tessa abandoning her years ago. She was too joyful to be reunited in a moment when a problem wholly outside of her experience threatened to destroy someone she’d once loved.
Did I love BT? Tessa wondered.
Of course she had. In hindsight it was blindingly clear. They’d never met, so there’d never been anything physical between them, but the long night’s they’d spent chatting away about everything and nothing? Maybe BT had held onto her heart, but Tessa hadn’t been in a position to hold back anything. BT hadn’t been Tessa’s first girlfriend but she had been special in a way Tessa had never consciously put a name to.
And she was dying.
“Wow, that is not fun at all,” BT said, her body rigid with tension but at least solid once more.
“We’ll fix you,” Glimmerglass said. “I don’t know how yet, but we can do it, I’m sure.”
She relaxed her death grip on BT’s shoulders and gathered up BT’s hands in her own.
“It wasn’t hurting before,” BT said. “I’d be fine with going back to that. At least until we can finish the file transfers to Penswell.”
“You’re still doing those?” Glimmerglass stared at BT in bewilderment.
“The fight against the Consortium’s not won yet,” BT said, her smile weak as she slumped back and sagged into the cot.
“We’ll be a lot better off if you don’t literally work yourself to death,” Mellisandra said.
“Yeah, let Glimmerglass heal you,” Damnazon said. “Like you said, this will be a long fight. We’ll need you helping at the end as much as we need you now.”
Tessa felt Glimmerglass’s memories suffusing into her consciousness. She knew who Mellisandra and Damnazon were and how all of them had arrived at the library they were encamped in front of.
What didn’t make any sense was how BT had arrived there.
She dropped in like a meteor? How did she managed that? It’s not one of the usual teleportation effects. Tessa asked.
That’s an excellent question I’ve been meaning to get back to, Glimmerglass said.
“Does it feel like you’re going to glitch again?” she asked aloud to BT.
“No, but there’s not a lot of warning for it either,” BT said. “Why is there something you can try?”
“I’ve tried all the healing spells I know,” Glimmerglass said. “You’re not injured or suffering from a status effect that we have spells to treat.”
“Sounds like I just need to deal with this then?” BT said.
“Maybe not,” Glimmerglass said. “We’ve run into a lot of things which aren’t covered by standard healing magic. Maladies and curses that can only be undone by specific rituals.”
BT gave a low chuckle. “I don’t think this is the start of a quest chain.”
“Maybe not, but maybe knowing more about it will point us in the right direction,” Glimmerglass said. “When did it start? Was it after you came here? Or were you glitching out before then?”
“Oh it was definitely when I came here,” BT said. “Before then I was on Earth and we don’t have magic problems like this there.”
“You were on Earth?” Tessa asked, speaking with Glimmerglass’s voice.
“Yeah, it’s where Marcus is. The place where this is all a game,” BT said, searching Glimmerglass’s eyes for why she was having to explain that again.
“I know what Earth is,” Tessa said. “But that means you’re Hailey? But Hailey’s a GM and there’s no GMs in this world?”
“Wait, Tessa? I thought you’d logged in with your new character? Did you figure out how to log out?” BT rose on the cot again, energy surging back in her.
“No. It’s…it’s a lot more complicated than that,” Tessa said. “How did you get here though? What did you do to yourself?”
“Who are Tessa and Hailey?” Damnazon asked, glancing between the two women holding each other’s forearms.
“Their [Inspirations],” Mellisandra said. “Though it sounds like it’s not quite that simple.”
“Yeah,” BT said and spent a half second vibrating in a staticy glitch. “I was able to get my regular account running before they locked down the login servers.”
“And BT got killed by something?” Tessa asked.
“She didn’t need to,” Hailey said. “The people we are here and the people we were there are connected. It doesn’t take death to unite us, just an awareness and the desire to bridge the gap.”
Tessa dismissed the idea. It was ridiculous. She’d felt the transition occur. She remembered transforming into light. She remembered the journey beyond space. She knew what it took to crossover.
She poked her memory for evidence to the contrary. She tried to turn away from the idea. Neither approach worked well. She could hold her curiosity at bay but the idea and its ramifications were feeding a host of new thoughts.
“So you chose to come here? I mean right here?” Tessa asked, still struggling to process the implications of what Hailey had said.
“More or less? I knew I needed to be here, and BT had a sense of who was in charge of the [Defense Coalition],” Hailey said. “We decided it together I guess? It just felt right. And, you know, you were here. Sort of.”
“[Me]?” Glimmerglass and Tessa both asked the question which, despite the fact that they were speaking with one voice, gave it a strange echoing quality.
“I was surprised to find Glimmerglass,” Hailey said. “I didn’t think she would be active if you weren’t playing her.”
“That sounds vaguely insulting,” Damnazon said.
“The last few days have been kind of a big deal,” Glimmerglass said. “A lot of us are picking up our gear again, even without our old [Inspiration].”
Tessa marveled at that too. She’d known Glimmerglass was active since the Coalition’s assault on the Consortium’s support ships. The implications of that were broader than she was ready to engage with too.
Especially when someone was still screaming for her.
Pillowcase! she recognized the wordless voice. Then she knew why the scream had rung out. LISA!
What’s wrong? Glimmerglass asked.
We need to leave! I need to leave! Tessa said. Pillowcase is in trouble. Lisa’s hurt. We’ve got to leave here. We’ve got to help them!
But BT needs our help too, Glimmerglass said.
It was Tessa’s turn to cry out. Too much was going wrong. She could handle it. Couldn’t fix any of it.
Any moment, people were going to start screaming at her rather than for her.
Let them, Pillowcase said.
What? It was Tessa or Glimmerglass or maybe both who asked the question, but neither needed the answer. Both felt Pillowcase’s steely resolve spread through them.
Crisis here. Do what we can.
Two simple, clear directives.
They didn’t banish Tessa’s fear or uncertainty but they gave her back the focus she needed.
How’s Lisa? she asked as she scrolled through Glimmerglass’s spell list and checked the status’s BT was carrying.
She took a hit from the [Formless Hunger], Pillowcase said. She’s down and she’s in intense pain. It took off her leg, so she can’t move, but the damage is worse than that.
Worse how? Glimmerglass asked.
She can’t heal the wound, Pillowcase said. And it left a damage-over-time effect on her.
Is she bleeding or is it an elemental effect? Glimmerglass asked.
Neither, I haven’t see the status effect before. It says [Unstable Rent].
Tessa focused on the words [Unstable Rent] and a description unrolled before her.
[Unstable Rent] – A [Rift] based injury which destabilizes the target’s core integrity and causes their health to drain away based on the size of the rent. The damage is said to be able to slay even the mightiest defenders as it attacks the targets on all levels of their being. Duration: Permanent.
The phrase “all levels of their being” bothered Tessa. She had a terrible sense the injury might be even worse than they thought.
Lost Alice took the hit, how is Lisa doing? Tessa asked.
She says it’s hurting her like hell too. Separate from the damage Alice took, Pillowcase reported.
Can she cast any channeled healing spells? Glimmerglass asked.
No. The damage from the wound is breaking her concentration before she even gets the spell off.
Can we share a healing spell with Pillowcase? Tessa asked. Like she shared the [Heart Killer’s Curse] with you?
I don’t know how we did that, Glimmerglass said, but I’m willing to try.
I may not be able to cast it, Pillowcase said. The [Formless Hunger] is still attacking. I’m standing over Lost Alice, and as long as I’m here it can’t get to her, but if I drop my guard to cast a spell it might take us both out.
On the medical cot, BT was wracked by another spasm of glitches. The static wreathed her whole body and within it, Glimmerglass and Tessa saw a new shape begin to emerge. It was humanoid, it was BT’s size, and it was laughing a staticky laugh which had nothing whatsoever to do with sanity.
How long can you hold off the [Formless Hunger], Tessa asked Pillowcase.
Not forever, Pillowcase said, but I’m not going to fall that easily either.
Is there anywhere safe you can withdraw to? Glimmerglass asked.
No, Pillowcase said, we’re fully engulfed by the Hunger. Only my new defense is holding it back.
We can’t send backup then, Tessa said. This is on us to fix.
We need something to damage the Hunger with, Pillowcase said.
And something to fix BT with, Glimmerglass said.
Because one impossible problem wasn’t enough. Life just had to be its own punishment after all. Tessa began to regret passing up the opportunity to wave her hand and make all her problems disappear. Having that kind of power might cause problems but it wielding unfettered might still sounded pretty appealing to her gamerly soul.
Tessa turned her gaze back to BT.
Could it be that simple?
“Hailey,” she asked tentatively. The last wave of glitching had been harsh but Tessa was more trepidatious about the answer to her question. “Were you still logged into your GM account when you joined up with BT?”
“Uh, yeah? We weren’t allowed to log out of those or we’d vanish. Why?” Hailey asked.
Is that why she’s glitching? Glimmerglass asked.
We can’t use that though, Pillowcase said, can we?
“Do you trust me?” Tessa asked Hailey, trying to suppress the tremor in Glimmerglass’s hands.
“Of course,” Hailey said. “You always had my back. And we’re still friends, right?”
“Always,” Tessa said. She didn’t think. Didn’t let worry or fear stop her. She simply placed the index and middle fingers of her left hand on the middle of BT’s forehead and spoke a single word.