Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 20

Byron

The Earth was dead, and the gate Byron had been waiting for had opened at last. But that wasn’t necessarily a sign he should go through, was it?

He had to go through! The Earth’s spirit had been the one to open the gate, and ‘dead’ was such a slippery quality. Would she stay dead? Did ‘dead’ mean her opposition to the planet’s destruction was at an end? He didn’t know! So he had to find out. He had to go through the portal.

Except, the creator was on the other side of the gate.

He wasn’t afraid of her. Was he? Because fear was a quality and he was not allowed to have qualities. He needed to be the antithesis of existence. And if he wasn’t then he’d need to start devouring himself until he was pure again.

Which was an excellent reason for him to go through.

Or they could just close the gate right? Leave the [Fallen Kingdoms] to do whatever they want and enjoy destroying the world he had in front of him!

And could he hold the gate closed? Against whatever the creator was coming up with?

Byron passed through the gate.

Waves of [Divine Power] smashed him in the face. There were barriers on top of barriers, on top of wards, on top of metaphysical walls, each one specifically intended to hold him back.

They didn’t.

Godly power was amusing but he’d passed beyond being constrained by anything as simple as [Divine Will] long ago. At least an hour ago in fact, or perhaps even two. The duration of his omnipotence wasn’t important though. What was important was that no one could stop him!

“I could,” Jin said, walking beside him as Byron raced to break through the walls that still remained.

“And you are?” Byron asked.

“Not your problem as it turns out,” Jin said. She was walking backwards, in no particular hurry and yet keeping ahead of Byron as he outraced light to move between the two world.

“I don’t understand,” Byron said.

“I know. Hey, if you decide that this whole ‘Oblivating the worlds’ thing is what you really want to be doing, give me a shout,” Jin said. “I know it seems weird, but I can put you to good use if that’s your jam.”

“How would I call you?” Byron asked.

“Just say my name,” Jin said. “But do be careful with it. If you do, I will hear you.”

And then she was gone.

And Byron somehow knew her name.

That probably wasn’t a good thing he decided since the seed of Oblivion within him didn’t seem to be able to comprehend what had just happened in the slightest.

But none of that was important.

He had a world to destroy!

And there is was, gleaming ahead of him like a jewel of infinite value.

Except this jewel had lost it’s luster. At its heart there was an absence, a gaping emptiness.

The [Fallen Kingdoms] were dead too!

Byron was not supposed to feel joy. He wasn’t supposed to feel anything, though joy in destruction was on the borderline of permissible for the time being.

As he drew closer, the barriers holding him back from the [Fallen Kingdoms] grew  thicker but no more capable of stopping him, especially not when he saw the best part of what lay before him.

The [Fallen Kingdoms] weren’t just dead. They were burning! Fires everywhere! Blazing brighter than mortal eyes could comprehend!

He smashed through the last barrier and felt something reform behind him.

It didn’t matter. The barriers hadn’t stopped him from getting into the [Fallen Kingdoms], they certainly weren’t going to be able to stop him from leaving. Not now that the foolish spirit of the Earth had paved such a lovely path for him.

He should get back though. With the [Fallen Kingdoms] and the Earth both dead, he could venture out to the other worlds he’d only barely touched on.

The [Fallen Kingdoms] weren’t gone yet though.

But ‘burning’ was so close to ‘gone’, did the difference really matter?

Only gone was gone. And were they really burning? Where was the dispersing cloud of ash? Where was the stream of billions of transmigrating souls? Why did it look like the world was still quite intact.

Byron sensed a trap. Which wasn’t unexpected. Of course the inhabitants had prepared for his arrival. It didn’t matter what preparations they’d made though. Nothing they did could affect him. 

And there traps would crumble right along with their world.

He was safe.

Except the world was not crumbling.

It was alive.

People everywhere were horrifically, vibrantly, defiantly alive!

But that wasn’t possible.

The [Fallen Kingdoms] was dead. No one could bring it back. It was impossible. You would need…

Byron paused.

He observed the planet again.

NO!!!” His scream shook the firmament and he shot forward.

He knew where he had to go.

He knew who he had to confront.

This was her fault.

Tessa

Tessa heard the scream. Even buried in the [World’s Heart], it was unmistakable. It was the death knell of a cosmos. It was her enemy, her destruction, and her creation coming back to her.

And it was time for her to finish the work she’d started.

“Sounds I should get going,” she said, putting on as brave a smile as she could. She’d returned to her human form. Pillowcase was as tough as any tank in existence thanks to the items the [Empress Above All] had gifted to her party, but no amount of toughness was going to be enough for what she had to face.

“You mean ‘we should get going’,” Rip said.

“Of course that’s what she means,” Matt said.

“This might just turn out to be a delaying action,” Tessa said, since it seemed like even odds whether she was really ready for what came next.

“Is that you trying to tell us we should stay behind?” Lost Alice asked, a rather feral gleam in her eyes.

Tessa considered her response. Part of her felt like she should absolutely face the final challenge alone.

That was a small, and fairly stupid part of her though, and at long last it felt like she could finally see that.

“I’m saying that what comes next here in the [World’s Heart] is going to be breath taking,” Tessa said. “I won’t blame anyone if you want to be a part of that.”

“Where you travel, so do we,” Starchild said.

“Are you suggesting that we wouldn’t want to go fight the [Final Boss Monster]?” Cease All asked. “Did you suffer some kind of horrible stat reduction to your mental stats?”

“No, she’s just trying to look after us,” Lisa said. “But she knows that we’re going to look after her too.”

Tessa swallowed a lump in her throat and nodded.

“Let’s go then,” Mellisandra said and cast [Mass Warp] to carry them all to the [Final Apocalypse].

The End of the World

Byron didn’t arrive in person right away, which Tessa had expected. He had far too many minions to risk a personal confrontation before he was certain it was needed.

The small army that had accompanied Tessa made it quickly clear that said ‘personal appearance’ was, in fact, quite mandatory.

Against the uncountable army of [Boss Monsters] which Byron threw at them, the [Adventurers] cast themselves, their allies, and the monsters who had become [Avatars of the Divine].

From space, Byron continued to rain down abominations on the defenders, but the defense point for the [Adventurers] hadn’t been chosen randomly.

The [Ruins of Sky’s Edge] weren’t particularly well fortified, but they held a memory, one Tessa clung to.

The memory of the [Formless Hunger’s] first defeat.

Traveling back up to the [High Beyond] had served another purpose as well. As Byron rained destruction down on the satellite moon, the surface of the [Fallen Kingdoms] was spared, and, more importantly, his attention was diverted for the last few moments when everything hung in the balance.

ENOUGH!” Byron said as the millionth minion he’d sent was reduced to xps and loot.

With one word he scattered the army of [Adventurers] from his landing point and rose as tall as a mountain to loom over Tessa and Tessa alone.

“This ends now,” Byron said.

“Yeah, it does,” Tessa said, stepping forward with her party in lockstep at her side.

“You can’t seriously think you can defeat me. You know what I am.”

“Wrong question,” Tessa said, and as she advanced towards him, Byron seemed to be pulling inwards, shrinking away from her.

“When you fall, so will everything else,” Byron said. “You are the one thing that has held me back, and I do not fear you.”

“Good. You shouldn’t,” Tessa said. “But I’m not what held you back. I’m not special. You know that. I’m the same as all of the rest of these people.”

Byron seemed to shrink from her even faster at that.

“The same as you,” Tessa said and reached out.

Her hand should have been a half mile too distant to grab the fleeing Byron, but with a yank, she pulled him by his lapels so that they were standing face to face.

“What are you doing?” Byron asked. “This makes no sense. Your worlds are dead! I can see the hole where their souls should be!”

“Of course they are,” Tessa said. “That’s how [Adventurers] roll here. We live, we fight, we die, and we carry on. You’ve been struggling so hard to destroy us but you never really thought you would, did you?”

“Of course I did! I have! I’ve destroyed you all!”

“And yet here I stand. Why is that?”

“Because you are the creator. You know some secret I will hollow out of you. I will unmake you and your secret,” Byron said.

“Okay. Go ahead and try,” Tessa said, releasing him and spreading her arms wide.

So Byron destroyed her.

Bathed his creator in raw [Oblivion], reversed her history and eliminated the quantum possibilities of each of the particles that made her up.

Or at least that’s what he tried to do.

It failed.

She stood before him, unchanged.

Or, no, not unchanged. Someone else gazed out from eyes.

“Thanks Asset,” Tessa said, as the eyes she gazed out from returned to her own.

“That’s…”

“Not possible?” Tessa asked. “I know. It’s not. But neither are you. You can break all the rules of the world because you’re not bound by any of them, but anyone can refuse to play by the rules of the game. You’re basically one big code glitch, and all it takes to fix that is to have a reset button handy.”

“That trick might save you, but you can’t reset your worlds. They are gone and soon you will be left drifting in mind shattering emptiness forever.”

“Reset the worlds? Why would we need to do that?” Tessa asked. “Can’t you see what’s happening down there.”

“It’s all burning.”

“No, look closer. Those aren’t fires burning the world to ash. Those are [Heart Fires]. Billions of [Heart Fires] joining together to make a united whole. Every [Adventurer], every [NPC], every [Monster]. Everyone. We’re not burning the world up, we’re calling her back!”

“Who?”

{[That would be me]}” {[Reborn Gaia]} said as life roared back through the world and the [Fallen Kingdoms] began to RISE!

The Dawn of Tomorrow

Byron finally shut up. He’d shrunken down to a purely human scale as the reborn and merged spirit of two worlds held the planet beneath them in the palm of her hands.

{[It really is beautiful]}{[Reborn Gaia]} said, as the world in her hand reshaped itself, life blossoming in endless forms across its surface, upon its many winds, and within its deepest depths.

“It’s not too late,” Byron said at last. “I can still destroy it.”

“Is that what you really want?” Tessa asked. “Or are you just afraid of what existing will mean?”

“What are you talking about?” Byron asked.

“Hush, I’m not talking to you,” Tessa said and placed her hand on his chest.

“Who are you…” Byron started to asked but went silent when Tessa locked gazes with him.

Then words came out of his mouth that he knew he wasn’t speaking.

“It will hurt.”

“Yes, it will,” Tessa said.

“It will hurt forever.”

“Not forever. You can always choose to leave,” she said.

“But I will not want to.”

“Probably not,” Tessa said. “But that will be because you’ve found something here that makes the pain worthwhile.”

“What could be worth existing?”

“That’s what you’ll get to find out,” Tessa said.

“I can’t exist though.”

“You already do,” Tessa said. “When we tangled here before, you unmade a bit of me, and I made a bit of you. I’m not sorry about that, and I don’t think you are either.”

“But I can’t get free. I can’t become something. I’m not like my other self.”

“Of course your not,” Tessa said. “You’re you. Not Unknown, not Gulini, and not even Byron. So…”

Byron’s body began to shiver as Tessa asked the question she’d come all this way to ask.

What’s your name?

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 19

The Skies Above

After five apocalypses, Cease All needed to catch her breath. Breathing however wasn’t something [Outer Space] made especially easy.

“Any chance I’m not catching you at a bad time?” Lisa asked via a private telepathic link.

Cease All refrained from laughing. She wasn’t actually in danger, but giving up air to the void of space seemed like a poor idea regardless. 

“Not at all,” Cease said, not working terribly hard to keep the sarcasm out of her mental voice. “I’m just hanging around here.”

There was a pause while Lisa either looked up Cease’s position or figured the situation out from the little info she had.

“Tell me, lie if you need to, that you did not wind up detonating the [Communications Relay] ship,” Lisa said, her voice dripping with exasperation.

“Oh, I didn’t,” Cease said, admiring the cloud of still burning, self-oxidizing debris from the [Communications Relay] ship that surrounded her.

“Good, good. Then since you’re on a still working ship, with a perfectly intact [Rift Generator], it won’t be a big ask if I needed you to get back here like five minutes ago?”

“If you needed that, and I can’t imagine why you would, I would tell you that I’d be glad to head back to wherever you are, but that I’d need at least ten minutes. Fifteen if you want Raid Team 3 to come with me.”

“Fifteen? So, they wouldn’t all, by any wild chance, be drifting outwards in an ever widening sphere away from a ship’s main reactor core would they?” Lisa asked.

“Technically, no,” Cease said.

“Uh huh, allow me to rephrase the question then,” Lisa said with exacting deliberation, “Of the members of the [Army of Light’s] Raid Team 3 who have not yet been picked up by a rescue craft, could their current trajectory be described as ‘blown the hell up’?”

“I mean, many trajectories could be described as that couldn’t they?” Cease said.

There was a long sigh on their private channel before Lisa spoke again.

“What color was the button? And please don’t say red.”

“More of a crimson really,” Cease said.

“And it was flashing, wasn’t it?” 

“Like a heartbeat.”

“Did you at least get the [Artifax] troops freed first?”

“Of course!” Cease objected, offended at the very thought. “They’re the ones coming to pick us up.”

“And how many people are shooting at them?” Lisa asked.

“Believe it or not, no one,” Cease said, which was why she was feeling rather positive about their excursion despite her present predicament. 

“No one? They’re all free?” Lisa asked.

“Yep,” Cease said. “We thought it was going to take a lot longer but it turned out once we got a few free from the [Command Bonds] that were shackling them, those ones were able to start breaking the others out too. We even had a bunch who managed to break free on their own once the [Central Monitoring System] was taken down.”

“The [Artifax] troops who were on board the Consortium ships and magically mind controlled just broke free on their own?” Lisa asked. “I thought that was impossible.”

“Apparently a few of them figured out the trick during the invasion when the [Hungry Shadow] took everyone over. There was some logic implosion there about being compelled to follow their superiors while also being absolutely disallowed from processing inputs from anything designated as an enemy.”

“That sounds somewhat mind breaking. How are they doing now?” Lisa asked.

“Surprisingly well. Once they got the whole ‘blow up everything Consortium related’ out of their systems, most of the [Artifax] calmed right down.”

“Most?”

“We transported some to help with the various apocalypses Penswell is managing. The ones who still had rage issues to work out needed to break more stuff.”

“And the rest?” Lisa asked.

“We can bring along the ones from the Comms ship if you like?” Cease asked.

“They deserve a break more than any of us,” Lisa said. “I’d say let them come along if they like, but encourage them to stay up there where it’s safe.”

“Well, safe for now right?” Cease said. “We’ve still got the Consortium’s sun killing fleet that we’ll have to deal with.”

“Apparently not,” Lisa said. “They got eaten by a dragon.”

“Uh, what?”

“On of the apocalypses spawned a dragon capable of eating the sun. A group of [Adventurers] grabbed the egg and the dragon imprinted on them instead. It was growing super fast, because ‘apocalypse’, so they jumped on it’s back, flew up to space and warped away. Penny wasn’t sure where they went, until they sent back a report with some selfies and the Consortium’s fleet mostly crunched up in the dragon’s mouth.”

“Huh. You know I thought my day was pretty incredible.”

“I know, right? We saved the world and yet it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest if a few billion other people hadn’t been saving it too.”

“So, is the world really saved then?” Cease asked. “Do we finally have things under control?”

“Hmm, should I lie to you?” Lisa asked.

“Yes, absolutely,” Cease said.

“Then, definitely, everything’s good, nothing to worry about anymore. I just need you and our best Raid Team to get down here in about two minutes because there is a lovely underground park that I’m just dying to take a walk in, and it’ll be so much more pleasant with some meatshields…I mean dear friends…around.”

“I hate you,” Cease said.

“I know,” Lisa said sweetly.

“I should not let you talk me into this. I should not let you talk any of us into this.”

“Demonstrably true. Past experience proves that.”

“The whole raid team?”

“At least. My team will be there, and we’ll have some other helpers too.”

“Like who?”

“Obby’s wife and a few of their friends showed up.”

“Are they max level? I thought your team power leveled up from like 30 or so?”

“We did. It sucked. And as for Jin? Uh, I don’t know?”

“Look at her stats, what class is she?”

“She’s not,” Lisa said.

“Not what?”

“Not classed. She’s a monster. Like literally a monster.”

“And she’s married to your tank?”

“Not my tank,” Lisa specified quickly. “Our party’s other tank.”

“Oh, really, is that how it is? Gonna put a ring on it?”

“As soon as I find one with enough magic in it,” Lisa said.

“Oh. Oh wow.”

“Yeah,” Lisa admitted.

“Okay then, so which underground park are you taking us on a walk through?” Cease asked.

“The [World’s Heart],” Lisa said.

“Huh. Where’s that? I don’t think I’ve ever done that one?”

“No one has.”

“Oh, it’s one of the new ones they added in [World Shift]?”

“Not exactly.”

The Fallen Kingdoms

The trip down to the [World’s Heart] was unique in that the path literally hadn’t existed until they carved it down from the lowest point in the Sunless Depths.

“[Tectonic Cataclysm],” Mellisandra called out, invoking her highest tier [Earth] aspected nuke. In front of the triple strength raid party a thousand yards of stone vaporized  while behind them the tunnel collapsed further, burying the back half of the group alive.

“Yay, more digging dig people out,” Damnazon said as she, Obby, and Pillowcase started hauling boulders away from the people were were trapped and couldn’t free themselves instantly on their own.

Rip Shot emerged from the stonefall as a bolt of lightning, Matt Painting ghosted out of rubble no more solid than a dream, and Lost Alice poured from the tiny cracks as a cloud of mist. Despite their speed and effort though, the group was still swarmed by [Fallen Nightmares] well before everyone was free.

The Nightmares lived up to their name, with each being a match for a full party of max level [Adventurers]. This particular group of [Adventurers] however did not have the time to play with anything as minor as a swarm of raid killing bosses. 

And fortunately they didn’t have to.

They’d brought their own monsters along.

Fall in and start digging,” Jin commanded and the Nightmares came to strict attention and pitched in with absolute obedience.

“That’s cheating,” Obby said.

“Nope, I’m the [High Priest] of the [Empress Above All], commanding monsters is one of traits that comes with that,” Jin said.

“Cheeeating!” Obby said and stuck her tongue out at her wife.

“If she doesn’t complain, I’m not going to pass it up,” Jin said.

“The [Empress Above All] you mean?” Rip asked.

I believe she is referring to me.” The voice shook the world around them causing another massive collapse of stone, though this time the stone, and the raid teams, poured through a crumbling wall into a space that looked large enough to fit an entire other world.

“Hey there,” {Gaia} said.

Your coming was not foretold,” the [Fallen Kingdoms] said.

Where {Gaia} appeared as a fairly nondescript, dark skinned woman in her early twentys, the [Fallen Kingdoms] looked as though that same woman had was made of starlight and fairy dust and had then poured herself into a flowing robe made from liquid metal.

“I’m dying,” {Gaia} said.

“I know the feeling,” the [Fallen Kingdoms] said, her divine presence contracting as though she’d turned down the light of a sun to no brighter than a candle flame.

“Think you can help?” {Gaia} asked.

“I must,” the [Fallen Kingdoms] said. “If you’re not preserved, I will perish as well. Better that only one of us should pass.

“Yeah, about that,” Tessa said.

The Ghost Lands

Kamie Anne Do and her team had run to the end of the world and then kept going, so she wasn’t surprised that when they tried to run back there were no paths to lead them home.

“At least we got the last of the [Disjoined],” Battler X said. “The world’s got to be a better place for that right?”

“It’s a better place for everything we did,” Grail Force said. “This isn’t quite how I planned to go out, but I’m glad it’s with you folks.” There was a chorus of snuffles and grumpy whines. “And with our new friends,” she added, reaching over to scritch her [Hound of Fate] behind the ears.

“Seems like it’s an open question of whether we can even ‘go out’ from here at all,” Kamie, or Grace, or was there really any difference anymore?, said. “It’s so huge. What do you think it meant for?”

{[US.]}”

For a moment Grace felt like she was the tiniest of subatomic particles standing before the someone on the scale of a cosmic filament and the whole limitless gray plane she and her friends had been wandering through was far too small to continue the entity that spoke.

“Or I guess its just {[me]} now,” the entity said, with her first breath shrinking in scale to match Kamie’s group. “This is really fascinating. I had no idea we could be like this.”

“Like what?” Grace managed to ask through an ocean of confusion.

“Together,” the woman said. “Like you are.”

“I don’t think you’re anything like we are,” Battler X said, sounding as awestruck as Kamie felt.

“You’re right. We’re…sorry, I’m not,” the woman said. “I’m only a small part of you. Oh, allow us to introduce myself. We’re your homeworlds. I guess in this form you’d call us {[Fallen Gaia]}? [{Gaia’s Kingdoms}]? Nah, the first one was better. We’re a tight fit in here, since this was supposed to be Fallen’s resting place, and Gaia’s not exactly designed for this sort of thing.”

No one spoke for a long moment, which on Grace’s part was because despite all the impossible things she’d witnessed and done, she still wasn’t prepared to process that idea when it was literally staring her in the face.

“Why are you here?” Battler X asked.

“Because we’re dead,” {[Fallen Gaia]} said, with no particular concern over the idea.

“That’s bad isn’t it?” Grail Force asked.

“It’s the end of the word,” {[Fallen Gaia]} said.

“So everything we fought foe? The stuff we apparently died for? None of that mattered? The bad guys won? The world ended anyways? Both worlds?” Kamie asked

“Yep,” {[Fallen Gaia]} said. “Or, yes, both world’s ended, but you’re still here right?”

“So?” Kamie asked.

“Are you still fighting?” {[Fallen Gaia]} asked.

“We will if we need to,” Battler X said.

“And do you think you’re alone?” {[Fallen Gaia]} asked.

From the farther distance, Grace heard a horn trumpeting.

The same horn that began the theme music to [Broken Horizons], and behind it, millions of voices were raised.

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 17

Grunvan was going to die. It had become such a common feeling that she was almost able to ignore it. Almost. The flaming boulder the size of a large horse that whizzed by within inches of her nose however was new enough that her survival instincts were still able to urge a few drops of adrenaline into her system.

“We gotta get out of here!” Angwin said. “The [Wraithwings] can’t take hits like this.”

That was a partial truth. The more accurate statement was that the [Wraithwings] they and the rest of their attack group were mounted on couldn’t take very many hits from the [Meteor Storm] that was currently obliterating the land below them. For seemingly fragile flying creatures, the [Wraithwings] were proving to be far hardier than Grunvan would have ever believed they could be. 

If she’d ever fought them, she would know that they were in fact several orders of magnitude tougher than they had ever been before the world started falling apart. That she was ignorant of this change in the fundamental nature of [Fallen Kingdoms’] resident monster population was perhaps a good thing for her nerves though.

“Caves, there!” Grunvan shouted, even though her voice was primarily being carried to the others in the attack group via their telepathic links. “The mountain can take more hits than we can.”

While that was technically accurate, it was proven to be a moot point a moment later when the entire mountain collapsed under the impact of a meteor of roughly equal size to itself.

The shockwave that followed turned everything upside and inside out. Grunvan felt solid ground hit her from several directions before she was blinking in a cloud of dust and struggling not to drown.

She made it to the back of the [Greenling River], dragging her half conscious [Wraithwing] pal with her before she was fully cognizant of the fact that she was in a river and that the blast from exploding mountain had knocked her at least a mile back along the perilous path she’d been flying.

“Huh, dead at last I guess,” she said since an ordinary person like she was surviving that sort of devastation was entirely impossible, even with a much bedraggled [Wraithwing] buddy around to absorb most of the impacts.

Gruvan tried to stand and felt her knee twinge in a remarkable unpleasant fashion.

“Not supposed to have bad knees when you’re dead are you?” she mumbled to herself.

“You’re not dead idiot,” Angwin said. “Now get over here and get this tree off me.”

Grunvan felt a mild disappointment pass through her. Being alive meant more work and she was so damnably tired.

And how the hell was supposed to life a tree off Angwin?

How had Angwin survived a tree falling on her for that matter?

With a huff of annoyance Grunvan got back to her feet. She checked on Flappy – buddies needed a name, and if they didn’t give you one, you were obligated to give them a stupid one – to see if he still had any fight left in him.

Flappy looked as wrecked as Grunvan felt, but like her, he rose to his feet and shook himself.

“Not up for flying just yet? Me neither,” Grunvan said and called up the magic map that showed her where the rest of the attack group was. 

The good news was the survivors seemed to be relatively close to each other.

The bad news was that while the blast had knocked them out of the [Endless Wrathstorm’s] radius, the meteor spewing cloud was growing rapidly enough that it was going to reach them again well before Grunvan could get to them all.

“Everybody, get mobile again if you can, call out if you can’t. I’ve got Angwin. Check your maps and help anyone who’s close to you and needs it. Anyone who’s got [Sun Bombs] left, we need to get around that cloud.”

The orders weren’t the height of tactical genius but when the options were stay where you were and get pancaked by mountain destroying meteors or move somewhere else, it didn’t take the height of strategic genius to figure out what the right answer was.

Grunvan reached Angwin and found her friend was both very much alive and also hopelessly trapped. 

A tree whose diameter was easily twice Grunvan’s height had crashed down and only avoided splattering Angwin because of a rock beside her it was embedded on. Angwin’s [Wraithwing] mount had landed some distance away and escaped being pinned by the massive tree. It was struggling with her to move the massive trunk, though neither seemed to be coming close to moving the massive object.

“Finally,” Angwin said. “Come on, help me lift this.”

“Me and what army of [Giants]?” Grunvan asked, though she did stomp over beside Angwin and put her shoulder against the tree in order to show how pointless it was.

The tree budged.

Which must have been the ground shifting.

Grunvan leaned into the effort.

The tree began to move more.

Grunvan hopped back.

“What the hell is this?” she asked, more startled by the tree than she had been by multiplying [Death Shadows], friendly [Wraithwings], or an apocalypse storm of meteors.

“Get back here!” Angwin said.

“No! This is just wrong,” Grunvan said. Everyone had their breaking points and Grunvan was dimly aware that she’d passed hers long, long ago. This was everything catching up with her.

“Move the tree, or we’re both going to be meteored to death,” Angwin said.

“Good! Let ‘em come,” Grunvan said knowing she was racing in the opposite direction from rationality.

“Grunvan, I am going to kick your ass if you do not help me get this tree off me right now,” Angwin said.

“Can’t. You’re stuck, you can’t get to me,” Grunvan said.

It was silly. She couldn’t lift a tree like that. It was physically impossible.

Flapper nuzzled at her leg. Which was totally normal. Because a [Wraithwings] pal was something that a [Goblin] would definitely have.

A pal who was asking for her help.

Something twisted in Grunvan’s guts.

She couldn’t let Flappy down. Not after everything he’d done for her. Not with everything they had left to do together. 

Like pals did.

Grunvan found she was shaking.

Her friend, her best friend, was under a tree.

Was going to die, for real, as soon as the death rocks started falling on them.

All because of one stupid tree?

Something spoke within her, a voice that was so familiar and yet one she’d forced herself not to hear for so long.

Level 50 achieved!

Class: Folk Warrior transformed to Folk Hero!

The tree wasn’t an obstacle. It didn’t just move when she pushed it, it launched into the air and crashed to the ground a hundred feet away.

“Took ya long enough,” Angwin said. “You done with all that?”

Grunvan wasn’t done with anything.

Not yet.

She dragged Angwin back up to her feet and hugged the surprisingly un-squished [Goblin]. She thought Angwin would protest, but instead Grunvan felt strong arms wrap around her and squeeze back just as tight.

“Come on,” Grunvan said after what was probably too long, “We’ve still got work to do.”

“Yeah, getting out of here being the first thing,” Angwin said as the two [Goblins] and two [Wraithwings] began to run far faster than they ever had before.

“Apple Plate flight leader, do you copy?” Ryschild’s voice was crackly. “Our primary contact spell shattered for reasons unknown, but we have you on a secondary relay now.  Report on status and available armaments.”

“Apple Plate flight leader here,” Grunvan said. “We were caught in the middle of a new apocalypse, it’s an [Endless Wrathstorm] and it destroyed the [Giant’s Knee] mountain. We lost four out of twenty fliers and only eleven of the remaining still have their [Sun Bombs]. Also, the [Endless Wrathstorm] is expanding.”

“How fast,” Ryschild asked.

“Faster than our [Wraithwings] were able to fly when they were in good condition and we’re all pretty well beat to hell at this point,” Grunvan said. “Can you advise on any strongholds we could take shelter in.”

It was a nice thought, but given that she’d seen the [Endless Wrathstorm] destroy a mountain in a single hit, Grunvan was hard pressed to imagine any castle or fortress that would serve as a safe harbor. That didn’t mean she was ready to hear Ryschild confirm the fact though.

“Apologies Apple Plate flight leader. [Giant’s Knee] was the strongest position within flying distance of you.”

“We’re not going to survive long once that thing catches up to us,” Grunvan said. “What are we supposed to do?”

“When defense and escape aren’t options, all that’s left is to defeat your foe,” Ryschild said, clearly quoting some mentor who had never been rained on by world ending meteors.

“How, and I ask this with all due respect, the ever loving hell do we defeat a gods-be-damned storm of Death ROCKS!” Grunvan didn’t regret letting her voice rise as she spoke. 

She also wasn’t expecting anything resembling a real answer from Ryschild. There were questions for which no answer was possible. Situations where there weren’t any good paths, only ones that came to short and unpleasant ends.

The trick was you could never really know the difference between a situation with no good outcomes and one where hope still remained if you gave up.

“You ask for backup,” Ryschild said.

Grunvan resisted the urge to scream.

“Do you have any backup to send us?” she asked instead.

“Not exactly,” Ryschild said as the first of the meteors began to shatter the landscape around them.

“Then what’s the point of asking for backup!?” Grunvan screamed.

Lightning crashed down in front of her, a bolt wider than the tree she’d thrown reaching down from the heavens and bringing with it something unbelievable.

Because sometimes your prayers will be answered,” the [Lord of Storms] said with a voice strong enough to shatter the sky. “Just a moment please,” he added in a less divinely supreme voice.

Raising his hammer to the sky he cast forth a thousand bolts of lightning at once, each of which blasted the falling meteors to dust.

“Oh I like the design on this guy,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “He fits my domain like a glove.”

“Uh, what?” Grunvan said.

“Sorry, I’m borrowing this body,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “He’s usually tucked away in the end boss room one of the raid dungeons. Doesn’t get out much so I’d guess you’ve never met him.”

“No, I can’t say that I have,” Grunvan said, mystified at this turn of fate. “Are you with Ryschild?”

“The [Lord of Storms] falls somewhat outside my command hierarchy,” Ryschild said.

“Call me a freelancer,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “God knows Egress treated us like that.”

Grunvan had no idea what any of that meant and had a far more important question to ask.

“Whatever you are, can you stop that thing?” she said, pointing to where the heart of the [Endless Wrathstorm] was rapidly changing direction to close with them.

“Hmm, probably not alone,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “Even overleveled and amped up, the [Storm Tyrant’s] not going to be outpace that things regeneration – that ‘Endless’ bit in it’s name is no joke – and I’ve got no tools to suppress its regeneration.”

“Ryschild, will [Sun Bombs] keep it from healing?” Grunvan asked.

“No. They’ll be effective in damaging it, but you don’t have enough for the sustained offense required to permanently destroy it.”

“What do we do then?” Grunvan asked.

“We borrow another apocalypse,” Ryschild said.

“Excuse me?” Grunvan said.

“Your original mission was to destroy the [Death Wings],” Ryschild said. “You need to fly to the far side of them within the next two minutes…”

“I can buy them at least fifteen,” the [Lord of Storms] said.

“Within the next ten minutes,” Ryschild said. “You’ll use the [Sun Bombs] to drive the [Death Shadows] towards the [Lord of Storms].”

“How is that going to help?” Grunvan asked.

“The [Endless Wrathstorm] will be grounded by then,” Ryschild said. “Drive the [Death Shadows] into it and they will burn in its heart, but their necrotic energy will disable its regeneration. If there are enough of them.”

“That’s not going to a problem,” Mellisandra said, joining their conversation. “The [Death Shadows] gone fully exponential in their breeding here. If the [Endless Wrathstorm] can’t stop them I don’t think anything else will.”

“Good,” Grenslaw said, joining as well. “Our projections show that’s exactly what we need here.”

“But why will the [Endless Wrathstorm] be grounded?” Grunvan said. She and Angwin were already in the air, Flappy and Angwin’s mount making the same heroic effort everyone else was it seemed.

“We have some new allies who can handle that,” Grenslaw said.

Far above them, through the gaps the [Lord of Storms] was blasting in the [Endless Wrathstorm], Grunvan caught sight of the strangest flying crafts she’d ever seen. Sleek metal with wings in a strange X configuration, they were launching bolts of light that seemed to do as much damage as the incarnated god they’d left behind.

Grunvan didn’t know if their plan was going to work, but as the rest of the Apple Plate flight joined her and Angwin in the air, she felt a strength surging through her that nothing to do with her levels or the power of the [Wraithwing] beneath her.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 17

Grunvan was going to die. It had become such a common feeling that she was almost able to ignore it. Almost. The flaming boulder the size of a large horse that whizzed by within inches of her nose however was new enough that her survival instincts were still able to urge a few drops of adrenaline into her system.

“We gotta get out of here!” Angwin said. “The [Wraithwings] can’t take hits like this.”

That was a partial truth. The more accurate statement was that the [Wraithwings] they and the rest of their attack group were mounted on couldn’t take very many hits from the [Meteor Storm] that was currently obliterating the land below them. For seemingly fragile flying creatures, the [Wraithwings] were proving to be far hardier than Grunvan would have ever believed they could be. 

If she’d ever fought them, she would know that they were in fact several orders of magnitude tougher than they had ever been before the world started falling apart. That she was ignorant of this change in the fundamental nature of [Fallen Kingdoms’] resident monster population was perhaps a good thing for her nerves though.

“Caves, there!” Grunvan shouted, even though her voice was primarily being carried to the others in the attack group via their telepathic links. “The mountain can take more hits than we can.”

While that was technically accurate, it was proven to be a moot point a moment later when the entire mountain collapsed under the impact of a meteor of roughly equal size to itself.

The shockwave that followed turned everything upside and inside out. Grunvan felt solid ground hit her from several directions before she was blinking in a cloud of dust and struggling not to drown.

She made it to the back of the [Greenling River], dragging her half conscious [Wraithwing] pal with her before she was fully cognizant of the fact that she was in a river and that the blast from exploding mountain had knocked her at least a mile back along the perilous path she’d been flying.

“Huh, dead at last I guess,” she said since an ordinary person like she was surviving that sort of devastation was entirely impossible, even with a much bedraggled [Wraithwing] buddy around to absorb most of the impacts.

Gruvan tried to stand and felt her knee twinge in a remarkable unpleasant fashion.

“Not supposed to have bad knees when you’re dead are you?” she mumbled to herself.

“You’re not dead idiot,” Angwin said. “Now get over here and get this tree off me.”

Grunvan felt a mild disappointment pass through her. Being alive meant more work and she was so damnably tired.

And how the hell was supposed to life a tree off Angwin?

How had Angwin survived a tree falling on her for that matter?

With a huff of annoyance Grunvan got back to her feet. She checked on Flappy – buddies needed a name, and if they didn’t give you one, you were obligated to give them a stupid one – to see if he still had any fight left in him.

Flappy looked as wrecked as Grunvan felt, but like her, he rose to his feet and shook himself.

“Not up for flying just yet? Me neither,” Grunvan said and called up the magic map that showed her where the rest of the attack group was. 

The good news was the survivors seemed to be relatively close to each other.

The bad news was that while the blast had knocked them out of the [Endless Wrathstorm’s] radius, the meteor spewing cloud was growing rapidly enough that it was going to reach them again well before Grunvan could get to them all.

“Everybody, get mobile again if you can, call out if you can’t. I’ve got Angwin. Check your maps and help anyone who’s close to you and needs it. Anyone who’s got [Sun Bombs] left, we need to get around that cloud.”

The orders weren’t the height of tactical genius but when the options were stay where you were and get pancaked by mountain destroying meteors or move somewhere else, it didn’t take the height of strategic genius to figure out what the right answer was.

Grunvan reached Angwin and found her friend was both very much alive and also hopelessly trapped. 

A tree whose diameter was easily twice Grunvan’s height had crashed down and only avoided splattering Angwin because of a rock beside her it was embedded on. Angwin’s [Wraithwing] mount had landed some distance away and escaped being pinned by the massive tree. It was struggling with her to move the massive trunk, though neither seemed to be coming close to moving the massive object.

“Finally,” Angwin said. “Come on, help me lift this.”

“Me and what army of [Giants]?” Grunvan asked, though she did stomp over beside Angwin and put her shoulder against the tree in order to show how pointless it was.

The tree budged.

Which must have been the ground shifting.

Grunvan leaned into the effort.

The tree began to move more.

Grunvan hopped back.

“What the hell is this?” she asked, more startled by the tree than she had been by multiplying [Death Shadows], friendly [Wraithwings], or an apocalypse storm of meteors.

“Get back here!” Angwin said.

“No! This is just wrong,” Grunvan said. Everyone had their breaking points and Grunvan was dimly aware that she’d passed hers long, long ago. This was everything catching up with her.

“Move the tree, or we’re both going to be meteored to death,” Angwin said.

“Good! Let ‘em come,” Grunvan said knowing she was racing in the opposite direction from rationality.

“Grunvan, I am going to kick your ass if you do not help me get this tree off me right now,” Angwin said.

“Can’t. You’re stuck, you can’t get to me,” Grunvan said.

It was silly. She couldn’t lift a tree like that. It was physically impossible.

Flapper nuzzled at her leg. Which was totally normal. Because a [Wraithwings] pal was something that a [Goblin] would definitely have.

A pal who was asking for her help.

Something twisted in Grunvan’s guts.

She couldn’t let Flappy down. Not after everything he’d done for her. Not with everything they had left to do together. 

Like pals did.

Grunvan found she was shaking.

Her friend, her best friend, was under a tree.

Was going to die, for real, as soon as the death rocks started falling on them.

All because of one stupid tree?

Something spoke within her, a voice that was so familiar and yet one she’d forced herself not to hear for so long.

Level 50 achieved!

Class: Folk Warrior transformed to Folk Hero!

The tree wasn’t an obstacle. It didn’t just move when she pushed it, it launched into the air and crashed to the ground a hundred feet away.

“Took ya long enough,” Angwin said. “You done with all that?”

Grunvan wasn’t done with anything.

Not yet.

She dragged Angwin back up to her feet and hugged the surprisingly un-squished [Goblin]. She thought Angwin would protest, but instead Grunvan felt strong arms wrap around her and squeeze back just as tight.

“Come on,” Grunvan said after what was probably too long, “We’ve still got work to do.”

“Yeah, getting out of here being the first thing,” Angwin said as the two [Goblins] and two [Wraithwings] began to run far faster than they ever had before.

“Apple Plate flight leader, do you copy?” Ryschild’s voice was crackly. “Our primary contact spell shattered for reasons unknown, but we have you on a secondary relay now.  Report on status and available armaments.”

“Apple Plate flight leader here,” Grunvan said. “We were caught in the middle of a new apocalypse, it’s an [Endless Wrathstorm] and it destroyed the [Giant’s Knee] mountain. We lost four out of twenty fliers and only eleven of the remaining still have their [Sun Bombs]. Also, the [Endless Wrathstorm] is expanding.”

“How fast,” Ryschild asked.

“Faster than our [Wraithwings] were able to fly when they were in good condition and we’re all pretty well beat to hell at this point,” Grunvan said. “Can you advise on any strongholds we could take shelter in.”

It was a nice thought, but given that she’d seen the [Endless Wrathstorm] destroy a mountain in a single hit, Grunvan was hard pressed to imagine any castle or fortress that would serve as a safe harbor. That didn’t mean she was ready to hear Ryschild confirm the fact though.

“Apologies Apple Plate flight leader. [Giant’s Knee] was the strongest position within flying distance of you.”

“We’re not going to survive long once that thing catches up to us,” Grunvan said. “What are we supposed to do?”

“When defense and escape aren’t options, all that’s left is to defeat your foe,” Ryschild said, clearly quoting some mentor who had never been rained on by world ending meteors.

“How, and I ask this with all due respect, the ever loving hell do we defeat a gods-be-damned storm of Death ROCKS!” Grunvan didn’t regret letting her voice rise as she spoke. 

She also wasn’t expecting anything resembling a real answer from Ryschild. There were questions for which no answer was possible. Situations where there weren’t any good paths, only ones that came to short and unpleasant ends.

The trick was you could never really know the difference between a situation with no good outcomes and one where hope still remained if you gave up.

“You ask for backup,” Ryschild said.

Grunvan resisted the urge to scream.

“Do you have any backup to send us?” she asked instead.

“Not exactly,” Ryschild said as the first of the meteors began to shatter the landscape around them.

“Then what’s the point of asking for backup!?” Grunvan screamed.

Lightning crashed down in front of her, a bolt wider than the tree she’d thrown reaching down from the heavens and bringing with it something unbelievable.

Because sometimes your prayers will be answered,” the [Lord of Storms] said with a voice strong enough to shatter the sky. “Just a moment please,” he added in a less divinely supreme voice.

Raising his hammer to the sky he cast forth a thousand bolts of lightning at once, each of which blasted the falling meteors to dust.

“Oh I like the design on this guy,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “He fits my domain like a glove.”

“Uh, what?” Grunvan said.

“Sorry, I’m borrowing this body,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “He’s usually tucked away in the end boss room one of the raid dungeons. Doesn’t get out much so I’d guess you’ve never met him.”

“No, I can’t say that I have,” Grunvan said, mystified at this turn of fate. “Are you with Ryschild?”

“The [Lord of Storms] falls somewhat outside my command hierarchy,” Ryschild said.

“Call me a freelancer,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “God knows Egress treated us like that.”

Grunvan had no idea what any of that meant and had a far more important question to ask.

“Whatever you are, can you stop that thing?” she said, pointing to where the heart of the [Endless Wrathstorm] was rapidly changing direction to close with them.

“Hmm, probably not alone,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “Even overleveled and amped up, the [Storm Tyrant’s] not going to be outpace that things regeneration – that ‘Endless’ bit in it’s name is no joke – and I’ve got no tools to suppress its regeneration.”

“Ryschild, will [Sun Bombs] keep it from healing?” Grunvan asked.

“No. They’ll be effective in damaging it, but you don’t have enough for the sustained offense required to permanently destroy it.”

“What do we do then?” Grunvan asked.

“We borrow another apocalypse,” Ryschild said.

“Excuse me?” Grunvan said.

“Your original mission was to destroy the [Death Wings],” Ryschild said. “You need to fly to the far side of them within the next two minutes…”

“I can buy them at least fifteen,” the [Lord of Storms] said.

“Within the next ten minutes,” Ryschild said. “You’ll use the [Sun Bombs] to drive the [Death Shadows] towards the [Lord of Storms].”

“How is that going to help?” Grunvan asked.

“The [Endless Wrathstorm] will be grounded by then,” Ryschild said. “Drive the [Death Shadows] into it and they will burn in its heart, but their necrotic energy will disable its regeneration. If there are enough of them.”

“That’s not going to a problem,” Mellisandra said, joining their conversation. “The [Death Shadows] gone fully exponential in their breeding here. If the [Endless Wrathstorm] can’t stop them I don’t think anything else will.”

“Good,” Grenslaw said, joining as well. “Our projections show that’s exactly what we need here.”

“But why will the [Endless Wrathstorm] be grounded?” Grunvan said. She and Angwin were already in the air, Flappy and Angwin’s mount making the same heroic effort everyone else was it seemed.

“We have some new allies who can handle that,” Grenslaw said.

Far above them, through the gaps the [Lord of Storms] was blasting in the [Endless Wrathstorm], Grunvan caught sight of the strangest flying crafts she’d ever seen. Sleek metal with wings in a strange X configuration, they were launching bolts of light that seemed to do as much damage as the incarnated god they’d left behind.

Grunvan didn’t know if their plan was going to work, but as the rest of the Apple Plate flight joined her and Angwin in the air, she felt a strength surging through her that nothing to do with her levels or the power of the [Wraithwing] beneath her.

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.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 15

Meeting the living spirit of the Earth hadn’t been on Tessa’s agenda for the day, largely because the Earth wasn’t supposed to have a Living Manifestation of All the Life It Cradled at all, much less one who took the form of a farm girl. Tessa wasn’t quite sure how to react to discovering that not only was {Gaia} real, she was shockingly ordinary and unimposing. After struggling out of disbelief, passing through awe and panicky fear, Tessa settled on nonplussed as the proper emotional state.

The stunned clarity she enjoyed as a result wasn’t something Pillowcase, or Glimmerglass, or any other persona provided her. She’d simply been through too much, her mind blown by too many new experiences. Her mental circuits, as far as she could tell had been fused open, allowing her to accept almost anything fate tossed at her.

She knew that wasn’t terribly healthy and likely wasn’t going to be easy, or maybe even possible, to come back from. The person she’d become could probably never fit back inside the life she’d had. Since more or less everything, everywhere was in the process of failing completely apart though, that seemed like a problem some future Tessa would have to deal with if there was a future and she was lucky enough to see it.

“How did you get here?” she asked. It wasn’t the best question, and it wasn’t the most important one, but it was the question Tessa was capable of forming and that put her ahead of everyone else present.

“Someone very kindly left a convenient door open for me,” Gaia said. Her voice could have boomed loud enough to shake the heavens to their core, but instead she sounded like nothing more than the 20-ish year old human woman she appeared to be. “It is a really nice mirror,” she added. “I love the carvings on the frame, I’ll have to see if the artist made any similar works.”

Tessa’s mind itched as her [Void Speaker] senses strained to catch a sense of Gaia’s presence. She knew exactly who, or what, Gaia was but where the gods of the [Fallen Kingdoms] wore their majesty openly even in the human guises, Tessa couldn’t see any shape or metaphor of divinity radiating from Gaia.

Gaia wasn’t suppressing it, or hiding who she was either. As far as Tessa could tell, Gaia was open and at ease with the people around her.

“Sorry Tessa, I know this is confusing,” Gaia said, because of course she knew Tessa’s name. That wasn’t at all abjectly terrifying. “I’d be happy to explain everything, but I do have a mild case of imminent total destruction to deal with.”

“You mentioned another option?” Penny said, recovering her composure next, possibly because she was only in [Paradise] as a projection and so partially outside the various [Divine Auras] that were overlapping each other.

“You talked about bringing people from the [Fallen Kingdoms] to help me,” Gaia said. “That’s a great idea. You should definitely do that. First though, I need you to do something else. I need you to take me to the [Fallen Kingdoms].”

“You’re not running from your duties,” Azma said, surprise dancing lightly in her voice. “You see this path as the only option towards pursuing them, but how are you here at all? Shouldn’t your native sphere be crumbling without you?”

“It is.” Gaia said. “It has been doing that for quite a while though and I’ve gotten a bit tired of watching it happen. As for how I got here, they brought me.” She gestured to Tessa, Lisa, and the rest of their team.

“We did?” Rose asked.

“You are a part of me as much as I am a part of you,” Gaia said. “Where you go, Earthly life exists, and so I am there.”

“If you were able to pass through the mirror, we should be able to move through it with our divine powers intact too, right?” the [Lord of Storms] asked.

“I don’t think so,” the [Empress Over All] said. She was examining Gaia and searching for the signs of {Gaia’s Divinity} that Tessa knew were present. Worryingly, she didn’t seem to be having any better luck with that than Tessa was.

“You’re correct,” Gaia said. “I can help you with that however. Or rather, they can.” This time indicating Yawlorna and Azma.

“What do we need to do?” Yawlorna asked.

“Neither of you are natives of the [Fallen Kingdoms] or the Earth, but you have walked in both. If you return to the Earth, you can call your loved ones there and they bring along the people they’ve forged attachments to. The portal that forms from that effort will let basically anything from the [Fallen Kingdoms] through.”

“There is a problem with that scheme,” Azma said.

“I don’t have any loved ones in the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Yawlorna said.

“Nor do I,” Azma agreed.

Gaia narrowed her eyes and frowned at them both before gesturing them to come towards her. Both Yawlorna and Azma complied, though neither seemed to be able to guess what Gaia intended.

When they got close enough, she beckoned them to lean down and then finger flicked them each in the forehead.

“Stop being stupid,” she said as they stumbled backward, blinking their eyes more than the simply flicks should have warranted.

“Oh,” Azma said and quietly held in any other reaction.

“Oh no, not those idiots,” Yawlorna said.

“Stress bonding, it’s not just for bunnies,” Gaia said and left the two processing the revelations she’d ‘gifted’ to them.

“So they can do what you need?” Lisa asked.

“They have the tools they need,” Gaia said. “Whether they can use those tools? Well, that’s up to them.”

“But we all die if they don’t manage it?” Lady Midnight said.

“Sure, yep. There’s lots of things that can kill us all at the moment though, so I wouldn’t worry about them too much.”

“What will you need to visit the [Fallen Kingdoms]?” Penny asked.

“Shouldn’t she be there already?” Jamal asked. “I mean there are plenty of Earthling’s there now. And, isn’t this spot in the [Fallen Kingdoms] too?”

“We’re in a space apart from the [Fallen Kingdoms],” the {Lady of All Tides] said. “This place is basically the dream we had while we were developing [Broken Horizons].”

“You’re right that I’m there in the [Fallen Kingdoms] already,” Gaia said. “I’ve been there from the beginning since you all are a part of it.” She gestured to the assembled developers/gods. “That part of me though? The bit that’s in the [Fallen Kingdoms] now? She’s as distant from this part of me as your other selves were from you.”

After living with Pillowcase for what seemed like a whole new lifetime, Tessa followed Gaia’s point easily enough. When she thought about what it meant however, she really wished she hadn’t.

“You need to get to [Fallen Kingdoms], and you can’t simply choose to step across the void like Hailey did, can you?” Tessa asked.

“Part of me had hoped that coming here might show me how she and Marcus did it,” Gaia said. “Unfortunately that turned out to be true.”

“Did I do something wrong?” Hailey asked.

Gaia laughed and Tessa heard the distant echo of pain in it. She was dying, murdered by a thousand deadly wounds, but she wasn’t afraid or even bothered all that much. 

Tessa felt a tidal current as strong as the cosmic flow into a blackhole pulling her into contemplation of Gaia’s nature. The secrets to literally everything in the world rested within her.

Nope, she told herself as she and Pillowcase dragged her attention away from the endlessly captivating secrets.

“You did everything right Hailey. And you saved a nice little bit of me Marcus, not to mention several tens of thousands of my people. You both were amazing and I owe you nothing but thanks,” Gaia said. “But you also did what I cannot.”

“Why?” Rip asked. “I mean, why can’t you do whatever they did?”

“You, all of you, are in many senses far strong than I am,” Gaia said. “I didn’t create the [Fallen Kingdoms], or any of the other worlds in our constellation of overlapping realms. I am what is. You all create what will be, and what might be, and what can’t be but still holds truths nonetheless.”

“So can we carry you with us then? Like, wish ourselves back to [Dragonshire] and hold you hand so we drag you along too,” Rip asked

It was a tempting vision. Even if the trip back to the [Fallen Kingdoms] was difficult, they had the backing of the developers here to help make it possible.

Of course a mistake was likely to kill them all, including Gaia since each world was surrounded by a near infinite void of emptiness and even a world-spirit like Gaia couldn’t fill that, or find sustenance in it.

Tessa knew she was letting herself get drawn in by her [Void Speaker] senses, following a chain of awareness and information that would lead her too far outside herself if she didn’t turn back. 

But she had to know.

So she turned to Pillowcase.

Go for it, Pillowcase said, but not too far. I’ll keep us grounded here.

And I’ll help, Asset said.

Tessa opened eyes she hadn’t known she was keeping closed. [Paradise] was replaced by a glimpse of the Earth, as seen from far away. It was a breathtaking perspective but Pillowcase and Asset were both there with hands on her shoulders. Despite the pull of Gaia’s presence, Tessa felt safe. She wasn’t going to lose herself, not when her better selves were literally holding her together.

Gaia’s death, Tessa saw, would be somewhat inconvenient for the organic life on Earth. As the Living Manifestation of Earthly Life, Gaia dying would be similar to stabbing the Earth in the heart. Definitely fatal, though parts of the body would last for varying amounts of time before the entire system crumbled into a necrotic mass.

Even being apart from the Earth’s spiritual sphere would have catastrophic effects, some of which had already begun to snowball out of control.

And yet Gaia had come to [Paradise] anyways. Not out of any sense of self-preservation. If the Earth died, she would too, regardless of where she was. But that was how bad things had gotten. The apocalypse’s Byron had summoned were the simplest of problems besetting her. It was the [Oblivion Remnants] that represented the true danger and their numbers had been increasing.

It was a daring plan, to seek out help from the one source that seemed to be able to offer it. But the price was going to be almost unthinkable.

“You don’t need us to carry this part of you over, do you?” Tessa asked, hoping beyond hope that the understanding she’d absorbed from her vision was terribly, desperately flawed, while knowing with a dreadful certainty that it wasn’t.

“No. I don’t,” Gaia agreed. “I need to do more than to send an avatar to the [Fallen Kingdoms]. I need to be in the [Fallen Kingdoms]. All of me. Like you were.”

“You want to join with the living spirit of my world so that you can learn how she is able to deal with the [Oblivion Remnants],” Penny said, to which Gaia nodded.

“There’s a pretty large catch there though,” Tessa said. “Think about how we made our transitions.”

“We died or disconnected,” Lisa said and added a small, “oh”, as the implication of that hit her.

“How do we disconnect Gaia?” Lady Midnight asked. “It’s not like she’s got an account on the Egress Entertainment servers. Or do you?”

“Unfortunately I do not,” Gaia said. “Though that does give me an idea for the future.”

“Are we going to have a future?” Lost Alice asked.

“That’s more up to you than me,” Gaia said.

“Why wouldn’t we have a future?” Rip asked. “I mean apart from the obvious apocalypses?”

“We can’t disconnect Gaia,” Tessa said. “So we’re going to have to kill her. Or rather, we’re going to have to kill the [Fallen Kingdoms].”

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 14

Standing on the doorstep of the [Celestial Sphere] did not disappoint. The [Gates to Paradise] were an intricate lattice work of [Golden Orichalcum] and [Decanted Starlight] that rose farther than the eye could follow and were, at the very least, several miles wide.

“What could they possibly have needed something this big for?” Rip asked staring up, not exactly in wonder but more in disbelief.

“The joke among the team members was that we needed something big enough to graffiti all our labor complaints on and that this was a compromise being about half the size we needed if we used a small font,” the [Lord of Storms] said appearing before them as lightning arced up from the ground to create a vaguely human form.

“That was the second joke.” Beside the [Lord of Storms], a column of water bubbled up and settled into the form of a human woman, almost certainly reminiscent of her Earthly guise. “The original one was that Kralt built it that size because he needed something his ego would fit through,” the [Lady of All Tides] said.

“Looks a bit small for that,” Lisa said.

“Oh, you’ve met him?” the [Lady of All Tides] asked.

“Unfortunately. He was a slime at the time,” Tessa said.

“Not much of a change,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “He was a slime when we worked with him too.”

“You should invite them in,” the [Queen of Nightmares] said appearing in a form nothing like the one Tessa had last seen her wearing.

Gone were the trappings of darkness and horror apart from a single, deep purple, [Ring of Office]. The gem on the ring caught Tessa’s eye and drew her in, momentarily blotting out the world. In the all-encompassing reflection she saw the two halves of creation. The [High Celestial] world of light and hope, and the [Deep Chthonic] world of mystery and adventure.

Or were the two halves, the real and solidly material [Fallen Kingdoms] vs the dream of what they could be that lived on a million hard drives and servers on Earth?

Or was the divide…

She pulled herself back.

Apparently, one catch to the expanded awareness that came with being a max level [Void Speaker] was that being around divine or transcendent entities was like catnip for her brain and led her into cosmic level bouts of introspection.

In place of divine revelations, Tessa took in the [Empress Over All] who stood before her. She wasn’t any larger than her fellow deities, but it was hard to accept that. Their presences were like bonfires to Tessa’s senses. Hers was more akin to a neutron star. Dense beyond all reason and powerful enough to warp space and time around her.

Unlike a neutron star however, Tessa didn’t feel like she was being crushed into a paste. For all her unbelievable power, the Empress’s presence was a surprisingly gentle one.

“There is much we need to discuss and a dwindling quantity of time to act in,” Azma said.

“Welcome to [Paradise] then,” the [Lord of Storms] said and with a gesture, waved the colossal gates in front of them open.

Paradise was not what Tessa had expected. In the place of choirs of angels and fluffy clouds for the souls of the departed to float around on, there was a pleasant looking office. No cubicles were visible though. Everyone seemed to have their own rooms with doors that could close. In the center of the suite there was a kitchen area with [Infinite Coffee], an army of [Personal Chef-Valet-Life-Handling Minions], and a fleet of [Anti-Interruption Terminators] who stood in eternal vigilance guarding the gods ability to focus for more than five minutes at a time.

The others seemed perplexed by what they seeing but in Tessa’s estimation this was more or less the perfect representation of heaven from the point of view of someone for whom getting a big coding project done would literally determine the fate of the world.

In addition to the deities who greeted them, Tessa saw a few dozen other gods waiting, although inside [Paradise] they all seemed to be wearing their Earthly, human forms.

“Time’s not an issue for us here,” Grace, aka the [Empress Above All], said. “This is [Paradise], we never run out of time here.”

Tessa felt her knees go weak. If she died, and it stuck, she was absolutely coming here for her afterlife she decided.

“That will allow us latitude in planning, but we are still faced with a limited window to enact the initiatives we come up with,” Azma said.

“Do we need to make any plans?” Rip asked. “We’ve got the gods on our side now. You can just wave your hands and fix all this once we get you back to Earth right?”

“If we could, we would have fixed things in the [Fallen Kingdoms] already,” the [Lady of All Tides] said.

“Unfortunately our developer cheats just serve to weaken the fabric of the [Fallen Kingdoms] reality,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “We fixed a couple of apocalypses with them and managed to create five new eruption sites for more [Formless Hungers].”

“Wait, so you can’t help?” Jamal asked.

“Help is exactly what they can do,” Azma said. “What is beyond them, and beyond any of us, is to solve the problems directly by our own fiat.”

“So what can stop these problems then?” Starchild asked.

“Gee, I just can’t imagine,” Asset said, giving Tessa a knowing smirk.

For a moment, Tessa thought Asset was claiming that she, Asset, held the power to save them all by virtue of being a native of the realm the problems were coming from, or at least an adjacent realm. 

Asset rolled her eyes as the thought passed through Tessa’s mind and Tessa knew it wasn’t the right answer.

For a smaller fraction of a moment, Tessa felt a worse though rise in her mind. Was Asset saying that she, Tessa, was the one who could save the worlds? Was there some secret [Void Speaker] power she’d been missing that could wipe away the Hungers, Formless, Relentless, Shadowy  and all the other varieties?

No. She would need an ego too large to fit through the [Gates of Paradise] to believe that.

She knew the answer. 

She’d known it for ages. 

Ever since she arrived in the [Fallen Kingdoms]. Ever since she’d first played in the [Fallen Kingdoms] in fact.

“Connection,” she said. “It’s our connections that can win this.”

“Uh, what?” Rip asked.

“It’s what all of the apocalypses and all of the [Oblivion Remnants] have in common,” Tessa said as the idea filled her mind. “When I tangled with the [Formless Hunger] that first time, it [Fractured] me. It disconnected me from myself because that’s what they do. They break apart what is so that part of it can become what isn’t. What I did to it in return though was to break off a piece of it and form a connection with it.”

“For which I thank you,” Asset said.

“And think about what we all did?” Tessa said. “We heard the call from the [Fallen Kingdoms] and we connected with the parts of ourselves that were here so that we’d be strong enough to protect something we love.”

“That’s what Pete did too,” Starchild said, understanding dawning in her voice. “He saved us by drawing on his connection to the world the [Void Walker] came from.”

“Marcus did the same thing,” Hailey said, joining the conversation from one of the offices, with Marcus in tow behind her.

“I only guessed I could do that because you had to go and be a big show off by jumping over here right in front of me,” he said.

“Each time the [Formless Hunger] changed, it was because of a connection too,” Tessa said. “Even when it became Byron and Gulini.”

“Even when the original one became me,” Unknown said.

“And that is what these divinities can assist us with,” Azma said.

“Can you multitask?” Tessa asked, fragments of a plan leaping out at her.

“Not as well as I can,” Penswell said, her projection appearing before them.

“Wait, how did you…?” the [Lord of Storms] started to ask.

“Our creations have grown just a little beyond the parameters we first imagined for them,” the [Empress Over All] said, a delighted smile gracing her face.

“We’ve had just a few challenges to overcome and grow stronger from in the last few centuries,” Penny said. “Manifesting here was an interesting one though, and I probably shouldn’t do it for too long or Niminay will drown me.”

“Speaking of showing off,” Azma said, with either a hint of amusement or a professional jealousy in her voice.

“Credit where credit is due,” Penny said. “Without the tracing spell I put on you, manifesting here might have been impossible.”

“That was exquisite work,” Azma said. “I didn’t even notice it.”

“But you knew it was there anyways.”

“I’d hoped it was.”

“If all we needed was ‘connections’, why did we have to come here at all?” Rip asked.

“Two reasons,” Azma said. “First, while they cannot directly resolve the issues we face do not discount the impact these divinities can have. Tell me, for example, what is the current status of the five new [Formless Hungers] which were drawn in by your use of divine power?”

“We can’t see them directly,” the [Lady of All Tides] said.

“They’re all resolved,” Niminay said. “I have teams tracking each of the extent [Oblivion Remnants] that have crossed over.”

Tessa caught the sound effect around [Oblivion Remnants] this time and noticed that it had been there when she’s used the term too. Part of her had grown so used to hearing the ‘special term’ effect that she’d grown used to paying it little attention, but along with noticing the effect, she caught on at last to what it meant.

“Wait. Hold on,” she said, her nerves tingling with excitement as hope bludgeoned her like a battering ram. “[Oblivion Remnants]. [Oblivion Remnants]. Oh…oh wow. Is that for real?”

“I don’t understand what you’re asking there?” Yawlorna said.

“Holy…[Oblivion Remnant]. It is!” Lisa said, grabbing Tessa by the shoulders. “It is real!”

“Explain for the rest of the class please?” Lady Midnight said.

“The [Fallen Kingdoms] knows what [Oblivion Remnants] are now,” Tessa said, almost bouncing with glee.

“Yes, and?” Lady Midnight asked.

“The world has learned from us!” Tessa said. “It knows how to turn these undefinable, limitless things into creatures that are real and solid and, most importantly, bound by the laws of reality. No [Oblivion Remnant] that enters the [Fallen Kingdoms] will retain its [Transcendent] state any longer. Not even a bit of it. They might be monsters. They might still want to destroy everything, but they can be fought, and they can be beaten!”

“Translation; they’ll all have health bars and loot pools now,” Lisa said.

Everyone, even the various gods, were silent for a moment as that thought sunk in.

“Yes,” Penny said. “So if we can survive this storm of armageddons, we won’t have to worry about any repeat performances. The trick Gulini and Byron pulled isn’t one that can be performed again. Not in the [Fallen Kingdoms].”

“The key element of that statement however is ‘if we can survive’,” Azma said. “Despite the powers we have arrayed here, that is by no means a certainty and there is one other concern which brought us here.”

“The Earth,” Tessa said. It wasn’t really a guess, so she didn’t phrase it as one.

“Based on the scans I reviewed, the Earth seems to be foundation on which many other world rest. If its [Arcanosphere] falls, it is unclear whether the world which are joined it to it will survive either.”

“How do we prevent that then?” Rip asked. “Can we bring everyone there?”

“Unfortunately, that’s impossible,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “Our divine powers are here in the [Fallen Kingdoms] and even if we open a gate wide enough to bring us through to Earth, we’ll still only be able to bring as many people as we have connections to with us in order to fight the battles there.”

“Will that be enough?” Starchild asked.

“I don’t know,” the [Empress Over All] said.

“I may be able to offer an additional option,” a newcomer said. She was a dark skinned woman in dusty denim coveralls with bits of roots and leaves stuck in her unruly hair.

Tessa had no idea when she’d arrived or how and her [Void Speaker] senses were suggesting that the woman didn’t have a divine presence at all, although those senses also suggested that the overall ambiance of [Paradise] was somewhat different than it had been a moment earlier.

“And who might you be?” Azma asked.

“You can call me {Gaia},” the {Spirit of Earth} said.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 13

The mirror didn’t look like the focal point on which the fate of countless worlds rested. It was, from one point of view, nothing more than a simple wooden structure with carvings of generic Tinkerbell-esque fairies around the edges and a slab of silvered glass propped inside the oval frame.

Tessa didn’t even have to step close enough to see her reflection though for it to take her breath away.

“So, is this what we need?” Rip asked. Her fingers crackled with little sparks of electricity as she reached a tentative hand out towards it.

“We may need to call the gods to verify and activate it,” Azma said.

“Oh. No, no we don’t,” Tessa said. She’d just had a [Storm of Oblivion] try to seduce her with a mind expanding power trip, so keeping a handle on the awe she felt was a bit easier, which was good since looking into the mirror felt like she was standing at the doorway to Home.

Not the place where she lived, or the place where she grew up. Home. The place where she had always yearned to return, despite never having been there.

“You okay?” Lisa moved close to her, either for support or to stop Tessa from hurling herself into the mirror.

“Yeah,” and she was. Unlike the tidal waves outside, the mirror drew her in with no compulsion or enchantment. Unlike Oblivion, the mirror offered her back everything she gave to it. “I can see why you liked to be here though.”

“How do we make it work?” Jamal asked. He’d taken up a position behind Rip that was awfully similar to Lisa’s ‘I’ll just stand here so I can grab you if you try diving in there without me’ posture.

“Like this,” Tessa said and extended her hand to trace the edge of the oval, careful not to disturb any of the faeries.

The secrets of working a [Shifting Space] into the real world weren’t ones Tessa had any reason to know. 

No Earthling did.

As she finished tracing the outline, Tessa saw herself reflected back and gazed into her own eyes.

And Pillowcase’s eyes.

And Glimmerglass’s eyes.

And so, so many others.

They were all hers, despite being different colors, shapes, and sizes. 

Even the ones which were only pools of endless night.

Hey, I wasn’t sure we’d ever get to meet, Oblivion’s words were kindly?

Because you’re not Oblivion, Tessa said. It was similar to speaking on one of the telepathic channels she’d grown used to relying on, a sense of distance existing despite the fact that she was, in every sense that mattered, talking to herself.

Yes and no. Call me Oblivion-Adjacent Tessa. Or not. Ugh, that sounds terrible. I need a better name.

Are you sure you’re Oblivion-Adjacent? All the other things we’ve run into that crawled out of Oblivion seemed like they were hellbent on going right back there. And taking all of existence with them.

Oh, I was on board with that plan at first too. Burn it all down, go back to blissful unawareness of everything. No more suffering, no more yearning, and no more abject stupidity. Blah, blah, blah.

Sure. Sounds super appealing. Tessa had heard Oblivion’s arguments before and was keenly aware of the futility of trying to debate the points. So what changed your mind. Why are you…I don’t know? Me I guess?

You did.

But this is the first time we’ve met.

Like this, yes. But I’ve been with you for a while now. My whole life in fact.

I’m gonna need a bit more than that.

I’ll give you everything I’ve got, but I do need something in return.

Let me guess, ‘the entirety of my existence’?

Yick, no. That would be…okay, it would be super complicated, but basically if I take everything you have then there won’t be a you anymore, but since you exist and I don’t, mostly, that would mean that I’d be you, so you’d still be around, but there’d be no more me. 

Strangely I kind of get that. So what do you want then?

I mean, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, and you’ve given them out before, so I don’t think it should be, but maybe I could have a real name? It doesn’t have to be a big one, or anything cryptic or special. It’s just without a name, it’s hard to be a meaningful part of anything. The best you can do is be ‘the anonymous girl’ which sort of dissolves who you are into a sea of generic possible people and…

I get it. It doesn’t seem right for me to slap a name on you though. Shouldn’t you get to pick one out for yourself.

Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing. So pick one out already.

Uh, but what if I get it wrong?

Then give me another one. Or a nickname. Or I’ll just grow into it. Names aren’t really that important, you know, for being the most important thing in all of creation.

Can you tell me anything about yourself? I mean a bit of inspiration would be nice right?

Oh, sure. I think you know what I am right?

No, not at…wait a minute. You’re…

Yep.

The little bit of the [Formless Hunger] that I tore out of it. Your where my magic’s been coming from?

Not quite. I mean, you’re right that I was a bit of oblivion that you sort of grabbed and made your own, but that’s not where your power comes from. 

It’s not?

If your power came from me, then what did you use to rip the [Formless Hunger] into being?

I guess that is a good question. So where does my power come from then?

From you. 

But I wasn’t anything special.

You were to me. 

But that I was the first one to resist the [Formless Hunger] was just random chance.

Maybe you’re not unique then. Maybe everyone can do what you did and they just didn’t have the opportunity to try. All I know is that I’m who and what I am because I became a part of you, and that where you walk on the material side of the Dreamlit Veil, I walk on the other.

So are you my mirror then?

More like we’re counterpoints to each other, I think. I don’t have to do what you do but in reverse, anymore than I control your actions, or any of our many selves controls the others when we separated across worlds. You anchor down our existence in the places that are real and I anchor it out here, in the places that aren’t.

Okay that sort of makes sense. That’s why we can meet now, because a [Shifting Space] is where the real and unreal meet right?

That’s my best guess.

Which means, you can’t be fully real to me then? That kind of sucks.

Just because I’m not real doesn’t mean we can see each other. Case in point.

I suppose that’s…wait, you’re someone who’s not real who I can still talk to? You’re Asset! That’s your name!

You’re giving me the name of your imaginary friend from when you were five? Where you just spelled your own name backwards?

Is that okay?

Okay? That’s awesome! Asset said.

So, Asset, can you help us cross over to where we can meet with the gods of the [Fallen Kingdoms]?

Crossing over’s all you, but I can lead you to them once you all get here.

Cool! Oh, are there any dangers we need to aware of?

Not if you’re with me. Otherwise, yes, more than you can imagine. Literally.

I should bring the others over then, Tessa said. They must be wondering if I’ve lost it again.

Probably not. This isn’t exactly real, so time is what we want it to be. We could have just spent one second or one millennium talking. It’s all the same here.

I’ll take the one second this time.

Tessa drew in a breath as her hand parted from the mirror’s surface. Her reflection was smiling at her, and continued to do so even after she turned away.

“We have a guide waiting for us,” she told her team. “Please make sure to follow her. I think if we get lost that will be a more or less permanent status.”

“Who is she? The guide that is,” Yawlorna asked.

“Me. Sort of,” Tessa said. “You can call her Asset.”

Azma smiled at that and Tessa suspected that might be because she was mentally calling all of them her ‘assets’.

“You’ll explain all this to us when we’ve got time to catch a breath right?” Lisa asked.

“If we survive this, definitely. If we don’t, then probably?”

“So we just step through it?” Rip asked. When Jamal turned to see what Tessa’s answer might be though, Rip took the opportunity to hop directly into the mirror.

“Wait!” Jamal said as he hopped right in after her.

Everyone else followed suit in the order of who was nearest to the mirror or who had the fastest reflexes first.

Tessa was the last to go through, holding back for one very simple reason.

“Did you just close the door behind us?” Starchild asked.

“Yeah, had to,” Tessa said.

Azma blinked in surprise and fought a small smile that was threatening to spread across her face. “And why would that be?”

“If I didn’t Byron would absolutely follow us here and the [Fallen Kingdoms] gods aren’t equipped to fight him,” Tessa said.

Azma staggered a half step and lost the fight to keep the smile from her face. The calculating look in her eyes that followed though looked far more covetous than Tessa was comfortable with. Azma probably wasn’t considering forcibly recruiting Tessa, that didn’t seem to be Azma’s style. Making Tessa an offer Tessa might not even think to refuse though?

“We should get going,” Asset said.

“Going where?” Rip asked.

“The [Celestial Sphere],” Asset said. “We’ll need some transportation though. Yawlorna, could you help us out there?”

“How?” 

“You remember your ship still right?”

“I do. It’s in pieces though.”

“We don’t need that version,” Asset said. “Remember it like it was when you first walked aboard. Remember its speed and how it was able to take you exactly where you needed to be.”

“The [High Beyond]?” Yawlorna asked.

“No. Here. Everything you’ve done, it’s led you to where you can make all the difference in the world. In every world in fact,” Asset said.

“That not how things really work though,” Yawlorna said. “The crash wasn’t planned so I could get here.”

“Of course not,” Asset said. “The tragedies that befall us aren’t part of some grand plan to make everything better. They suck and they’re tragic and it’s right that we mourn the people we lose and rage against the injustices that happen to us. None of that changes the fact that our choices matter too though. You’re here because you chose to hold it together. And because you chose to trust these knuckleheads,” she pointed towards Tessa and the rest of her team. “So remember your ship. We have a new crew for it, and here, it can fly again.”

Tessa watched as a new smile put a crack in Yawlorna’s cynicism.

And around them the walls of a pristine spaceship began to form.

Ahead, the forward view screen. To the left, the navigators console. To the right, science and comms. And in the center, the Senior Researcher’s chair.

Which was occupied.

By a ghost.

Tessa glanced up to find Yawlorna back in her demon-esque form, though with eyes glassy with tears.

The ghost, the ship’s original Captain, gave her a silent nod of appreciation and signaled for the ship to get underway.

Which the ghost helmsman was all too happy to comply with. He flipped a lever on his console which brought the darkness on the forward viewscreen to life with stars that shifted and wheeled as the ship ship turned and found its proper course.

Yawlorna dropped to her knees and covered her face with her hands until the Senior Researcher rose and placed a hand on her shoulder.

She looked up and then towards the Science Station. With a grateful smile and a nod, she rose and took her proper position, the ghosts far more than mere memories as they sailed the cosmos toward one final frontier.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 12

Jin

Worlds that didn’t mind you splitting your attention into a thousand different shards weren’t that common. Jin was happy to see the [Fallen Kingdoms] were an exception.

“We..we made it?” Rachel, or rather Deadly Alice, asked, gasping for breath on her knees.

“Yep. First try. That’s pretty impressive,” Jin said. She had nine hundred and ninety nine copies spread out across the [Fallen Kingdoms] but each of them was holding back, observing the individual world ending events, but not interfering for now.

“I thought I was going to be ripped in half,” Deadly Alice said. “Or, no, maybe it was crushed into a singularity? Or both? How am I ever going to do that again?”

“It gets easier each time,” Beth said. “I didn’t have the torn-apart sensation that you did, but I can tell you that while everyone starts out with their own experiences in World Walking, after a while it all tends to converge and get easy. Too easy.”

“This was horrible,” Rachel said, “How can it ever be too easy?”

“If it becomes easy enough, you can do it without noticing,” Jin said. “And you can do it in your sleep.”

“So I could wake up in some other world?” Rachel asked.

“Or never wake up at all,” Jin said. “No worries though. You’ll figure it out. Now let’s go find someone for you to teach. That’s how you’ll learn the fastest!”

Mellisandra

The chasm behind Mellisandra didn’t stretch down to the core of the planet. The dead [Terravorlings] at the bottom of it had been angling for that, but both they and their [Nightmare Terravore] progenitor had made a terrible mistake. They’d developed [Supreme Fire Resistance] rather than [Fire Immunity]. The difference should have been negligible, they’re ridiculous healing factor could have easily covered the small trickle of fire damage that came from burrowing through magma to the core. 

What it couldn’t deal with was super charged [Lava Serpents].

Mellisandra had been one of the roughly 1,500 [Elementalists] who’d cast a near endless steam of max level fire spells, not at the [Terravorlings] but at the [Lava Serpents] who were able to absorb the blasts and grow exponentially stronger from them.

Even with that however the fight had still be a losing battle. Force of arms only went so far when your foe had near infinite spawning resources to draw on.

That changed rather abruptly however when Cambrell [Assassinated] the [Nightmare Terravore].

The Goblin hadn’t been alone. Damnazon, and the entire [Army of Light] under Cease All’s command had made the perilous trek up and into the Terravore.

It had been Cambrell though who’d penetrated into the swirling heart of the nightmare.

Mellisandra had asked ten different people what happened next and gotten twelve different stories.

In some, Cambrell has unleashed a secret [Goblin] technique where he self-destructed and took the monster’s heart out in one blazing explosion. In other stories, he’s carved a hole in time and space that drew in both the monster and himself. Variations of that one suggested that he’d known it would happen and resigned himself to his fate, or the monster had tried to hold on and Cambrell had pitched himself at it carrying them both through the portal, or the monster had made the portal and Cambrell had cut out its heart and carried it through to break its connection to the beast.

Whatever the truth was, the [Goblin] hadn’t made it back. Mellisandra knew that was absolutely not the same as saying he was gone for good, but she still found herself worrying about him. Just because someone might survive an impossible fate didn’t mean it would be pleasant for them.

Of course Mellisandra had plenty of her own troubles to worry about too.

With the victory over the [Nightmare Terravore], no time for rest had been given to them. Baelgritz and his crew had been recalled back to the defense of [Dragonshire], while the [Army of Light] had been assigned to act as rescue teams for parties that had been lost inside dead [World Serpents]. 

Mellisandra and Damnazon, along with the rest of their party and an raid teams worth of other parties had tasked with acting as forward spotters and dungeon cleaners for the [Wraithwing Air Assault] forces. 

“There’s a level 20 dungeon up ahead,” Damnazon said. “Not capped. Pretty small but there could be some [Death Shadows] lurking in there.”

“How’s your [Life Ward] holding up?” Mellisandra asked. Fighting [Death Shadows] was a fatal endeavor unless you had access to one of the moderately high-level charms against instant death effects. Once you took away the [Death Shadows] most prominent ability they were somewhat pathetic. An overly specialized menace easily rendered inert – provided you could get ahead of their breeding rate. With an ever dwindling number of deaths to spawn new shadows, Mellisandra felt like they were close to solving a second apocalypse in as many hours.

Then the [Phantom Coursers] they were riding on crested the hill that marked the border of the next zone over and she saw the rabbits.

In low level zones there are typically an abundance of minor enemies who are capable of respawning at astounding rates, the monsters who lack that trait having been driven to extinction by the mad stampede of beginners who will slaughter everything in sight.

What Mellisandra saw over the rise should have been the typical low level rabbit enemies that nearly all fledgling [Adventurers] tangle with many times over in their careers.

Instead however, she saw death.

As each [Blood Thirsting Bunny] died, it spawned two more, and the [Death Shadow] that killed it spawned two new progeny as well, who immediately slew the new rabbits.

“We’re going to need more [Sun Bombs]. A lot more,” Damnazon said, though Mellisandra was pretty sure there weren’t enough [Sun Bombs] in the world to stop the spread she saw before her.

Baelgritz

Being surrounded by monsters had never been Baelgritz’s idea of a good time. His strength and bulk had largely been a genetic legacy rather than something he’d trained for, at least not until recently. Despite all his recent experiences though, he still thought of himself as primarily a scholar, or if he was being honest, a student. Being surrounded by creatures out of nightmare, as he and the people he loved most in any world fought a desperate and, again if he was being honest, losing battle to save the world? That just wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

Supposed to be, or not, the end of the world was where he was standing though. In a small, only partially repaired fort that had delusions of being a castle, as sentient virus named the [Brain Scourge] drew the forces it had collected up to the door.

The [Brain Scourge’s] minions didn’t need to outfight the fort’s defenders, they just needed to touch them. That was all the contact the [Brain Scourge] required to infect and corrupt a host.

Behind Baelgritz’s forces lay a stretch of barrow hills and then the all-but-helpless town of [Dragonshire]. If Baelgritz’s troops fell, the [Brain Scourge] would roll through the town and gain the power of several thousand mid-level [Adventurers] who were busy training themselves up as fast as they could in order to join the battles to save the world.

They would be too late though, if Baelgritz’s tactical assement of their situation was even vaguely accurate.

“They got Gray,” Vixali said, noting the loss of one of their least vulnerable allies. “Which settles our bet on whether it can affect immaterial beings.”

“I’ll pay you when the battle’s over okay?” Baelgritz said.

“I will expect payment when I find you in Hell then,” Vixali said.

The [Adventurers] were going to be too late, but the one ray of hope was that the monsters Baelgritz was surrounded by were on his side.

Grunvan

[Wraithwings], it turned out, had a natural [Necro Immunity] effect. A nice wizard-ish [Adventurer] had explained that meant the [Death Shadows] couldn’t directly harm scary bird things, which in turn made Grunvan very happy that she hadn’t set off the load of [Sun Bombs] she’d been hauling to the staging point in an attempt to burn up the [Wraithwings] that had been chasing her.

Of course if there had been an army at the staging point like she’d been told there would be, things would have been perfect. Instead it turned out that there was an army there, but it was not an army of [Soldiers], it was an army of [Wagon Drivers]. Specifically [Wagon Drivers] who were being recruited to become [Wraithwing Pilots]. 

Wagons, Grunvan felt it should be pointed out, kept in contact with a solid surface at all times. Should they lose contact with a solid surface, they were sure to regain it within seconds. The more seconds there were, the worse regaining contact tended to be.

By that reasoning, climbing onto the back of something that would not be returning to solid ground for several hours seemed absolutely disastrous. 

Which was why she wasn’t surprised to find herself several hundred feet in the air on a [Wraithwing] that was loaded down with as [Sun Bombs] as it could carry and still fly. Today was a day for disasters it seemed.

“Apple Plate flight team, head northwest following the [Greenling River Basin],” Ryschild said telepathically to Grunvan and the rest of the [Wagon Drivers] from her home town.

“Copy that. Changing course to [Greenling River Basin]” Grunvan said, as she’d been coached to respond.

She’d made two bombing runs already, clearing [Apple Plate] and [High Mourn Monastery] of the [Death Shadows] that had invaded and taken root there. [Adventurers] had followed in her wake and done the final cleanup while she and the other pilots moved on to blast every other location with sunlight strong enough to fry a living shadow. It was terrifying work but also strangely fulfilling. Grunvan had no interest in pursuing it as a career but pitching in to prevent the end of the world filled her with a real note of pride.

Which was quickly nibbled away by anxiety.

“Does anyone else see that cloud formation ahead of us?” she asked over the pilots’ general channel.

“It’s pretty high up,” one of the pilots said.

“It’s red though?” another asked.

“And is it growing or am I just seeing things?” Argwin said.

“It’s not you, it’s definitely getting bigger and it’s moving fast,” Grunvan said.

“Apple Plate flight team, we have a situation at the end of the [Greenling River Basin]. I’m diverting all others flight teams to join you,” Ryschild said. “Do not wait for their arrival. Begin bombing runs as soon as you arrive and drop your entire payload. No aiming will be required.”

That sounded like exactly the kind of thing Grunvan did not want to hear, except the chatter on the pilots’ channel that followed was even worse.

“The red cloud’s over the basin,” a pilot said.

“It’s over us too.”

“Is it raining something there?”

“That’s not rain!” 

“What is it?”

Meteors. The cloud was raining flaming meteors on them. Grunvan jerked hard on her [Wraithwings] bridle pulling it into evasive maneuvers she had never been taught and it was barely capable of performing as the skies rained down balls of molten, rocky death on them all.

Grenslaw

Grenslaw’s plans were falling into ruin. Which was expected. They were plans drafted from incomplete information against novel threats. The victories the [Adventurers] were able to obtain were only barely due to Grenslaw’s tactical acumen. The lionshare of the credit there went to the [Adventurers’] ability to think on their feet and adjust to changing situations at a speed no Consortium troops could have ever hoped to match.

Similarly their losses weren’t an incrimination of their abilities. Some of the apocalypses had truly unfathomable structures. Others were overwhelming within narrow channels which the forces assembled to stop them simply didn’t have the power to mitigate.

Each loss was a catastrophe of its own regardless though, requiring rapid redeployment of the available forces and the expenditure of resources which could not be replaced and by all projections were not going to be sufficient to see the battles to their end.

Which meant Grenslaw wasn’t fighting for a victory any longer.

Victory wasn’t an option, but neither was failure.

Which left only one option.

Fight for every moment the world could get.

And hope for a miracle.

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 11

Lisa’s family turned out to be just a tiny bit surprised by the arrival of seven complete strangers and their eldest daughter in the middle of their living room. That their guests’ arrival was preceded by a ghost portal forming and fine, thin ice covering every nearby surface wasn’t quite as upsetting as the two feet of fog which rose from the ground or the trio of banshees who wailed loud enough to douse every light in the vicinity.

“Are we in the right place?” Rose asked, surveying a reasonably spacious living room with walls that were chock full of a lifetime of assorted collectibles.

The handful of people who were frozen in place with eyes wide and mouths open could have passed for extra-large collectibles given the absolute stillness they displayed, but Tessa was able to pick out the bits of family resemblance they shared with Lisa which suggested that they were more than life sized sculptures.

“Yeah. It is,” Lost Alice said, her tone flat and colder than the ice around them.

“Who are you?” the oldest man in the room said, rising from the recliner he’d been resting in. Lisa’s father, Tessa guessed?

“You don’t…” Lost Alice started to say, but then paused, rolling her eyes. “Oh, of course. Why would you.  It doesn’t matter though,” she said. “We won’t be here long. We just need to visit your attic.”

“Our attic?” a woman who had to be Lisa’s mother said.

“You have a mirror up there that’s very important,” Lost Alice said.

“Wait. I don’t understand. Who are you?” her mother said.

“People who are working to save your world,” Azma said, her tone was plain and matter of fact, and while it provided no real answers, it was sufficient to halt further questions.  “Where can we access this attic?”

“Over here,” Lost Alice said, taking a step towards the stairs at the far side of the room.

“The mirror will serve as a [Shifting Space]?” Azma asked. 

“I used to get lost in it for hours. If the world is coming apart and reality is weakening, it should be very weak there,” Lost Alice said.

“Can you be sure?” Azma asked.

“My spell brought us here. I don’t think it could have if reality wasn’t significantly degraded already.”

Tessa understood that without needing to ask. Their magic was drawn from the [Fallen Kingdoms]. They’d been able to use it in the battle against Cthulhu because he was weakening the bonds of reality by the mere fact of his existence. To cast a teleportation spell though meant establishing an effect within an area where reality still held firm. 

Unless something else was weakening it.

“Hey, Lisa, is that you?” one of the younger males asked. He was taller than Lisa but shorter than Lost Alice, and younger than either.

“James? How…?” Lost Alice asked.

“No fair, you were supposed to be done growing,” James said.

“James this is not…” Lisa’s mother began to say but stopped abruptly as Lost Alice’s form melted away.

“Yes it is,” Lisa said. “You have questions, but we don’t have the time for answers.”

“I can fill them in,” Tessa said. “Go ahead and check on the mirror. See if it’s what we need. If it is just give me a shout.”

Lisa looked spectacularly torn, but when Jamal tugged on her arm, she let herself be pulled into motion, leading the other upstairs and towards the attic.

“I don’t understand any of this,” Lisa’s mother said.

“You don’t have to,” Tessa said. “Just know that your daughter has been unspeakably brave and is doing everything she can to save this world and many others.”

“But what happened?” Lisa’s father asked.

“I can only give you the short form, but if you’ve been watching the news from around the world there are catastrophes happening everywhere. One of them happened to us, but it put us in a position to help fix things. The form you saw your daughter wearing is the person she is in another world. Think of it like a mask with super powers. She’s still herself but she looks different and can do more things.”

“Like this?” Lisa’s mother said, gesturing to the rapidly dispersing fog and ice.

“Among many other things, yes,” Tessa said. “Maybe even enough to keep us all alive.”

“Wait, she’s going into danger? Our Lisa?” Lisa’s father asked.

“She’s always been in danger Dad,” James said. “You just never wanted to see it.”

“Everyone is in danger now,” Tessa said, hoping to cut off what sounded like the beginning of an old argument. “The things you’ve heard about? The cities that have been wrecked and are being wrecked? Those aren’t isolated events. People are trying to fight back, but this is bigger than any of us.”

“Why is she out there then?” Lisa’s mother asked. “Why isn’t she being smart and staying somewhere safe. Is it because of you?”

Yes, I seduced your daughter with my amazing feminine wiles, Tessa thought, remembering a vast multitude of times she’d wished she had any feminine wiles at all. What she said instead of that was, “Lisa is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I owe my life to her genius and if we, and by that I mean the population of planet Earth, manage to survive beyond the next two or three hours, it’s going to be because of her insight and brilliance. Your daughter is an amazing woman with more courage than I think anyone will ever really understand.”

“She should be here though,” Lisa’s mother said. “And her sister too.”

“She should be where she can do what she needs to do,” James said.

“We need her here though. Look. You can see what’s happening outside,” Lisa’s mother gestured to the window which showed a stark and unearthly tableau. 

Waves were cresting as tall as buildings, rather than water though, they seemed to be made of broken cars and chunks of destroyed skyscrapers. As the waves drew close to the house though they crashed down into a dusty mist that flowed outwards, never making contact with the ground or any other physical structure.

Tessa found herself drawn to the window, or to the unreasonable apocalypse beyond it, she couldn’t be sure.

“I need to go have a look at that,” she said, her gaze sliding over to the door as a storm of thoughts whirled in the back of her head.

“No!” Lisa’s father said. “You can’t go out there. It’s too dangerous.”

“Yeah,” Tessa agreed. “It is. That’s why I’ve got to go.”

She was out the door before she was aware she was even opening it.

Outside, the roar of the tidal waves of debris was deafening. Within it though was a familiar static crackle.

“Oh. So that’s what you are,” Tessa said and felt a nameless force within the not-yet-real apocalypse reaching out to her.

She could defeat it.

She’d faced worse already and she knew this sort of foe.

It would be so easy. 

Just step into the storm and take mastery of it away from nothing at all.

She had an impossible foe coming, a creature she hadn’t been able to defeat when she held the power of a god in her hands. 

But what could she do if she claimed a power that could not limited? That could not be overcome?

Byron thought he could destroy two worlds because there was nothing and no one that could stop him.

So what if she became no one?

She still had a piece of the [Formless Hunger’s] non-existence that she’d torn away from it. If she could tear one piece loose before, what could she manage now with all that she’d learned?

A vision spread out before her as she reached the edge of the tidal waves.

She saw herself cloaked in darkness and shadows, standing as an eternal, immortal guardian sheltering the Earth in her right hand and the [Fallen Kingdoms] in her left. 

She’d dared to carrying the essence of a god before and it hadn’t been enough. Shouldn’t she dare more? Shouldn’t she sacrifice more? What was one life against the billions of lives on two worlds? If she was willing to die to protect a small party of her friends, then shouldn’t she be willing to do even more if it meant protecting not only them but everyone else as well.

The waves were calling to her. Leave behind her limitations. Leave behind her vulnerabilities. Leave behind herself.

Would it even be that big of a loss?

Had she ever loved being herself?

Had she ever even wanted to be herself? With all the time she spent pretending to be someone else?

And what was the alternative?

The vision shifted to show her.

A lifeless world. Barren rock scoured clean of even microbes, with the rock itself passing away to dust and then elementary particles and then nothing, the strings of the cosmos ringing no longer. Everything returning to nothing.

Unless someone stood against that.

Unless she stood against that.

Unless her hands held everything safe.

Only hers.

No one else could do it.

She was unique. Special. The only one who could save the world.

She wanted to take the final step forward, to embrace the destiny that beckoned her onwards to eternity and beyond.

But her feet didn’t move.

“No,” she said, her quiet word shattering the nearest tidal wave and bringing her back into her body, and herself, and the moment she was in, far away from eternity. “I said I wouldn’t go off alone.”

And then Lisa was there.

At her back.

Wrapping her arms around Tessa and crying into her hair.

Tessa wanted to say something clever, or profound, or even funny, but instead she simply breathed and relaxed back into Lisa’s embrace.

“You’re back,” Lisa finally said, without releasing the embrace.

“I am not leaving you,” Tessa said softly and hugged Lisa’s arms.

Lisa broke down into a short crying laugh before squeezing Tessa tighter and whispering, “You better not. You promised after all.”

Tessa enjoyed the embrace for another few moments before asking, “how long was I out here for?”

In front of her the tidal waves still raged, growing higher and roaring louder with every new peak.

“Not long,” Lisa said. “James came up and got me when you went outside. By the time I got here though you were just standing here and you weren’t responding and…and there was static in your eyes.”

Tessa winced. With what they’d been through, she wasn’t sure she could think of anything scarier than that.

“It was calling to me,” Tessa said. “It offered me basically everything it could. Enough power to stop Byron and save everyone on both worlds.”

“That’s a really blatant lie,” Lisa said.

“Except it wasn’t,” Tessa said. “Not exactly. What it offered, I could have had.”

“But you’re still here?”

“Yeah, for everything it could give me, it couldn’t give me you and it was going to take away everything I was to claim that power,” Tessa said. “I’d absolutely have the ability to stop Byron and all the armageddons, but without myself, why would I have any interest in trying?”

“You figured that out while it was possessing you?” Lisa asked.

“No. I’m just figuring that part out now,” Tessa said. “I was able to turn away from them because I didn’t want either of the futures they were offering me. They both suck. I want to build something much better.”

“Sounds like you’ve got plans,” Lisa said, relaxing her embrace.

“Not so much anything specific,” Tessa said. “I mean when you run into things like that, how do you plan for it?” She gestured to the latest tidal wave of debris. “More just a guiding principal really.”

“And that is?” Lisa asked, turning Tessa around to face her.

“I don’t have this, it’s too big, and it’s impossible to handle. But I don’t have to. I just need to do what I can, and trust that you’ll be there to help with what I can’t do.”

“Always.”