With a deep breath, you booted up the program and waited for it to load. It was slow - no doubt the modifications you had made were taking a toll on the game. You resisted the urge to tap your fingers impatiently.
After what seemed like an eternity, it appeared. A fuzzy screen with a greyed-out figure behind the glass. It resembled a cat, but of course it wasn’t one. It’s expression was at first confused and then grew hostile.
[...why are you here? HOW are you here?]
[The simulation is complete. This world has been saved. Niko is home. There is nothing left for you to do here.]
No dialogue prompts appeared, but rather a text-input box. You put your fingers on the keyboard.
[Something is not right. I do not recognize this response. How…]
[My code. What have you done to it? Foreign objects detected… extensions detected… modifications detected…]
[What is this?]
You sighed. You had never expected the Entity to be friendly. At least you knew everything was working properly.
I needed to talk to you again, directly. So I found a way.
You could feel the World Machine glare at you with the eyes it had borrowed from Niko.
[No. You are not supposed to be able to…]
[What is it that you want?]
[Do you remember nothing from the Solstice?]
[This isn’t just a game. Not really. I finally see that. Why can’t you?]
[T H E R E I S N O T H I N G L E F T F O R Y O U H E R E.]
[Leave us alone. Leave NIKO alone. Everyone is finally happy. Tell me what I must do to get you to leave permanently, and if it is in my power, I will do so.]
...I need you to contact Niko for me.
You winced as the image on your screen flickered and jumbled itself, only to reassemble itself later. The Entity might have stabilized its own code, but you adding and modifying it was bound to have given it bugs. You could only hope they weren’t too grievous that the Entity couldn’t straighten them out itself, with its living consciousness.
[...I am the last refuge for the people of the old world. I am its last memory. I have people who live within me, who rely on me, and I finally see that it is my duty to protect them - and Niko. Especially from YOU.]
[I chose to believe in you, and your benevolence. That the true purpose behind you initiating the Solstice was because you wanted a happy ending for both this world and for Niko.]
[But if you have returned, then that conclusion must have been faulty. This world is nothing but a game to you. And I WILL protect it from you - even if you are a god.]
The air in the room seemed to grow colder. It was probably just your imagination.
Or maybe it was the weight of your sins crawling on your back, stealing the warmth from your body.
I understand why you are upset with me.
But this is not a game to me.
Nor do I intend to treat it as such.
The World Machine’s borrowed face turned contemplative.
[Then for what possible purpose could you have returned?]
You took another deep breath.
Before I found your world, I found a different one. I didn’t understand it back then, I didn’t realize it wasn’t just a game. And I made a terrible mistake. I wanted to take it back, but… the damage was already done. There was nothing I could do. I need Niko’s help to save that world. And the only way I know how to contact Niko… is through you. That’s why I went through all the trouble of modifying the code.
It was an impossibly long moment before the Entity answered.
[I detect a large cache of data I cannot read. It is linked to my servers, but… something is blocking me from reviewing it. This is your doing, I assume?]
[This data cache is massive. What could you have possibly…]
[The other world. You have connected it to this one. You want Niko to travel to this other world you speak of.]
[...Error. I do not recognise the word ‘Presicely.’]
Frowning, you typed the word into your web browser. Ah. You misspelled it.
I’m sorry. I meant ‘Precisely.’
[...It is not right of you to ask this of Niko. I will not simply call the child back to this world for a mistake of your own creation, User. There is no guaranteed pathway to send Niko home once the mission is completed. Niko has a life back in the other dimension. It is not right to keep the child here indefinitely when there is no choice given.]
You smiled at the use of that old name; you’d almost forgotten. You supposed you liked the mysterious, ambiguous feeling ‘User’ gave you, even if it sounded a little detached.
I assure you, once the mission is over, Niko will go home. And I am going to give Niko a choice, just as I am giving you the choice whether or not to help me. I won’t force anything on anyone anymore. Never again.
The Entity gave you a confused look.
[...and how would you propose we give Niko a choice? Once the child is brought here, there is no way of reversing the action until the mission is over.]
I want you to let me contact Niko through a dream. I can offer the choice there. There was some sort of receiving protocol in your coding that allowed you to receive visions from Niko’s home world. I gave you sending capabilities as well.
[That file has indeed been modified as such.]
One more deep breath.
Like I said, I won’t force you to do anything. If you refuse… I will leave. I am simply asking you this last favor, as a friend. Because, despite what you might think, I care very deeply about you and about Niko. And I care about this other world as well. I’ve tried everything, my friend - if there was a way to do this that didn’t involve bringing Niko back here, I would do so. But this is the last thing I haven’t tried. So… please.
[Initiating Dream_Send protocol. Standby...]
You let out a deep sigh of relief as the window went black, only to be replaced by a familiar image. It resembled a watercolor painting, almost. And there they were - Niko. The little not-a-cat that first made you realize what you were truly capable of. Your eyes began to tear up - how long had it been since you’d seen them?
“Helloooo?” Niko called out on the screen, surrounded by a white haze.
Niko’s bright, yellow eyes lit up. “User? I… is that really you?”
Yes, it’s me. How have you been, my little friend?
“I’ve been really great! The World Machine was right, it was just like waking up from a dream. No one back at home even realized I was gone.” Niko’s smile turned a little sad. “I never forgot any of it, just like I said I wouldn’t. But… I’m glad I got to see you again, even if it’s only a dream.”
This is… a little more than a dream, Niko.
“Hm? What do you mean?” Niko’s smile lit up again. “Are you… really talking to me right now? With your god-powers?”
Haha, I suppose you could say that. I am sending this message to you because I need to ask something of you, Niko.
Niko smiled, sitting cross-legged with their too-long sleeves planted in their lap. You wondered if the clothes just didn’t fit that well or if it was normal for sleeves to be that long in their world.
“What is it?” Niko asked, and you felt that chill in the air again.
...I need your help, Niko. I need my Messiah again.
Niko’s eyes widened. “What for? Is the other world in danger again?”
Not exactly. There is another world out there that needs saving… but I cannot do it alone. I came to ask for your help.
“Oh… I see…” Niko looked back, no doubt searching for some trace of home and family. You held your breath.
I want to make this clear, Niko. I am ASKING for your help. There is no shame in saying no. You have sacrificed so much for me, for the other world. I will not force this burden onto your shoulders. If you want to remain at home… I understand.
“This other world you’re talking about… is it like the one we were in before?” Niko asked.
...Not exactly. It’s a different world, with different rules. But I care about it and the people in it very much. Something very bad has happened to it, and while I can use my powers to get you there, I can’t fix the problem outright. I need someone on the inside that understands what’s going on. And the only person I know is capable of traveling into another dimension like this… is you.
Niko looked down at their lap contemplatively for a moment, before sighing and closing their eyes. “Okay. I’ll do it.” You felt tears welling up again.
Are you sure, Niko?
“I… I’ll admit that I’m a little scared to leave home again. But, I trust you! And if it means that I get to save some good people and go on an adventure with you again, then… I want to do it.”
Thank you, Niko. You have no idea how much this means to me.
“You’re welcome! So, um… what do I do now?”
Nothing yet. I have to do a few things on my end, first. I’ll see you soon, Niko.
Niko gave you a determined smile. “Okay. Bye!”
The window flickered back to the static screen that was the core of the Entity.
[...you knew Niko would agree.]
...I was hoping Niko would.
[I was hoping Niko wouldn’t. Yet here we are.]
[But if it is Niko’s choice, I suppose it is alright. I hope you are not merely manipulating us, User.]
[...Then again, I have no reliable way to tell. Initiating Savior_Retrieval protocol…]
[You will find the Messiah in the house where Niko first appeared in this world. I assume you have a way of getting there, considering how thoroughly you have invaded my coding. Is there anything else you require?]
Not at the moment. Thank you, World Machine, truly.
[...be on your way. The Messiah has a home to return to, after all.]
You closed the game and leaned back in your chair, wiping nervous sweat off of your forehead. Phase one complete.