Category Archives: Broken Horizons

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

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 5

The early morning sunlight had warned of its arrival, threatened sparkling wakefulness well before its golden rays began to creep across the floor of the abandoned and empty tea shop. Tessa still felt like it was an ambush when the brightness on her eyelids waxed beyond the point where sleep became an untenable occupation.

Pleasantly cool arms gave her a light squeeze while similarly refreshing fingers stroked through the hair on her forehead.

“Good morning,” Lisa whispered as she kissed Tessa’s earlobe.

Wakefulness, Tessa decided, was infinitely preferable to any dreams she could possibly have been enjoying.

And they had been nice dreams for a change.

She tried to grasp a memory of them but the details fled from her. Only the impression of a celebration remained.

Or perhaps that was a memory filtered through the haze of sleep?

Tessa had fallen asleep late, protesting that as an [Adventurer] she didn’t technically need sleep. She’d been nearly overwhelmed with the desire to hold onto the liminal moment her shared confession with Lisa had produced, as they stood on the border between the days and the border between what they had together and what they might yet be to one another.

“Very good morning,” Tessa said, and let herself melt into Lisa’s embrace.

For having slept on a bedroll she’d found in her pack, Tessa was impressed by how rested she felt. The barren floor of the tea shop was dusty and a far cry from even the cheap mattress she slept on in her apartment (or the metal storage trays where Pillowcase’s body was left when not in active service), but as she stretched her toes and checked the muscles in her back, Tessa found a startling lack of aches or pains.

“I’d be okay with staying here for the rest of the day,” Lisa said. “Just like this.”

On reflection, Tessa found she could agree with that sentiment. She had so much that she still wanted to talk with Lisa about. And Lost Alice. And Pillowcase.

It was beyond strange to think of their relationship as a four way affair. In reality, it was just the two of them. Through Lost Alice and Pillowcase though, they each had a greater view of themselves than they’d ever had before and passing up the chance to share what Pillowcase’s perspective and memories offered wasn’t something Tessa wanted to miss.

“Think the others will let us?” Tessa asked, memories of the problems she’d pushed off as ‘Future-Tessa’s problems’ filtering back into her consciousness one after the other.

“Rip and Matt probably would,” Lisa said. “Did you see how slick she was getting us off on our own here?”

“I’m thinking of nominating them both for sainthood,” Tessa said.

“You know, that’s probably something that can happen here,” Lisa said with a chuckle.

The gods of the [Fallen Kingdoms] were gone, but the developers had still needed some form of ‘divine intercessor’ for some of their storylines and bits of lore, so various “Saints of whatever and some such” could be found as either unique quest givers or referenced in the lore of the various relics and divine artifacts the players collected.

“Huh, maybe,” Tessa said. “Shouldn’t the ones from the game have helped out with fighting off the Consortium when they showed up though?”

“Not if the events we’ve seen are related to what was going to happen in the game,” Lisa said. “You know they never have any of the [Great Powers] in the world take part in stuff they want the players to handle.”

“Ah, yeah, the whole ‘not meant to meddle in the mortal world’ thing, which applies all the time except when it doesn’t,” Tessa said, not at all unhappy that their conversation had turned away from the idea of going back and dealing with the issues awaiting them at the [Great Hall].

“I heard back from Cease All by the way,” Lisa said.

“Was that what woke you up?” Tessa asked.

“No, I woke a little bit before dawn,” Lisa said and let her voice shift to Lost Alice’s register. “Survival instinct from the original [Vampire] bloodline. I have some visceral reactions to things which a no longer an issue for me.”

“Is the sunlight unpleasant at all?” Tessa asked, noticing that they were laying against the back wall of the tea shop and as far away from the direct rays of sunshine as they could be.

“Mildly,” Lost Alice said. “I normally regenerate mana faster than a other casters, but that’s suppressed in sunlight. The same with physical regeneration. It’s not painful, but it’s  annoying to feel weaker. I’d call it lethargy but I have more energy now than I’ve ever had before. Just less than I did while the sun was down.”

“I have no problem signing up for night missions, if that works better for you,” Tessa said.

“About that,” Lisa said. “We’re going to need to think about where we go from here in terms of adventuring and leveling in general.”

“We’ve got Glimmerglass to help with leveling,” Tessa said. “Was Cease able to send anyone towards us to help out too?”

“She was going to bring the whole guild here but I told her not to,” Lisa said. “Not immediately that is.”

“They’re still fighting against the Consortium I take it?” Tessa asked.

“Yeah. It sounds like there was a real turning point yesterday,” Liisa said. “I don’t know if it was the attack the Consortium made on the [High Beyond] that did it or what, but their forces on the ground lost a bunch of battles, so my guild and the others are pushing back as hard as they can. I guess they’ve been running back to back missions to just wreck the hell out of the Consortium’s equipment and fortifications that weren’t being defended well enough.”

“You know I would feel bad that I didn’t log into Glimmerglass so I could be helping with that but I have to say, at the moment, I absolutely do not regret my choice to start up again as Pillowcase.” Tessa ran her hand down Lisa’s side and indulged herself in a long slow kiss when Lisa moved in close for one.

Lost Alice’s fangs weren’t the problem so many of the fan fics a younger Tessa had read had made them out to be. They weren’t razor blades after all and the gentleness that Lisa held her with made Tessa feel safer than anything else in either world she’d been in.

“I only regret we didn’t get here sooner,” Lisa said.

“I came so close to telling you a few times,” Tessa said.

“Me too,” Lisa said. “But, hey, three cheers to us. I remember a 16 year old Lisa who managed to dodge telling her crush that she liked her until a year after they graduated and they were both involved with other people.”

“And did this crush like her back?” Tessa asked.

“This crush said that she’d been crushing on Lisa since they were 15 but was absolutely sure that Lisa had no interest in her and was devastated that they never hooked up in high school.”

“We’ve lived very similar lives,” Tessa said with a smile. If the miseries of their pasts had led them to be who they were, where they were, then she was, in that moment, grateful for all of those miseries.

“I’d like to make sure that continues to be true,” Lisa said.

For a moment, Tessa simply accepted those words. She wanted them to be together for as long as she could imagine. It took her a moment to hear the other meaning, to remember Lisa’s concerns from the last time they’d been resting together like this.

“You’re thinking I shouldn’t risk adventuring?” she asked. Tessa wasn’t appalled at the idea, or resentful of it. She could see where Lisa was coming from all too easily, and she had to question if, without Pillowcase’s more durable body, if she could really contribute anything to a team.

“I don’t know,” Lisa said. “You’re amazing. I’m concerned about how much that costs you, but if we’d gone with the plan of you hiding away and me trying to tank the zombie soldier guys, I think we both would have died.”

“That encounter was a lot worse than anything we should have been tangling with,” Tessa said. “Without you backing me up, I would be have been dead in about a second I think. Maybe two since Pillowcase was able to help out a bit.”

“The good news is, with Glimmerglass and the others to help out, we shouldn’t wind up that far over our heads again,” Lisa said.

“With the right help, we can probably level up a pretty fair amount without being in any danger at all,” Tessa said.

“Which is something I’m all for,” Lisa said. “For the others, I’ve got some concerns about how well they’ll be able to learn their classes if they get power leveled up too high, but you’re a better tank, even just as you, than about ninety percent of the randos I’ve grouped up.”

“That’s flattering, but I’ve definitely got a lot to learn,” Tessa said and let Pillowcase speak as well. “I can take what I learned from observations as Glimmerglass and the tactics that were programmed into me by the Consortium, assuming we can restore my [Clothwork] form, or strengthen this body, but there are many mechanics I’m still unfamiliar with and some things that I’m sure can only be learned by actually doing them.”

“That’s sort of the central point for me,” Lisa said. “You’re a [Void Speaker] now, and a [Soul Knight], sort of. We know what a [Soul Knight] can be, but [Void Speaker] seems to be completely new. I checked with Cease and it wasn’t in the beta at all, so we don’t have any data on what you’ll be able to do, or even what role you’re supposed to play.”

“It might be something really specialized,” Tessa said. “I mean I just kind of had it when I came back. It might be completely focused on whatever it was that happened to me.”

“Maybe, and if so, that might be perfect,” Lisa said.

“How so?” Tessa asked.

“When we ran into the [Formless Hunger] you did something to it but the Tessa part of you was lost, right? You mentioned something about the [Fractured] status condition?” Lisa said.

“That’s right,” Tessa said. “I think it split me in two. I’m not quite sure what that did to the ‘Tessa’ part of me though, aside from giving me the [Void Speaker] class that is.”

“Well it let you use that [Fractured] effect, maybe not offensively, but something close to it,” Lisa said. “You’ve managed to make a tool out of it at least.”

“I guess that’s kind of true, how is that perfect though?” Tessa asked.

“We’re these strange dual beings at the moment right?” Lisa asked. “But you have the key to break that apart. I am not at all suggesting you try it on anyone, but if that’s where the abilities of the [Void Speaker] class are focused, just picture what the really high end version of that sort of thing would be?”

Tessa turned her gaze inwards, projecting her imagination forwards and letting the class ability lists for [Soul Knight] and [Solar Priestess] and [Rogue] guide her. 

The early levels always gave a taste of what the class’s focus was. [Soul Knights] got the abilities to drain an opponent’s health and make it their own. [Rogues] got a stealth ability and an assassination attack. [Solar Priestess] got both a heal and a simple bolt of radiant fire. None of the abilities were overwhelming, but they all led to powers that were far grander in scope. From the [Rogues] [Thousand Blades in the Dark] to the [Solar Priestess’s] [Rise in Valor], the top tier powers of a class let them battle against gods and win. 

So what would the top tier power of a [Void Speaker] look like? 

If she could break apart monsters even now, what could she [Fracture] when she was ready to contend with the strongest powers in creation?

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 4

A [Vampire] had led Tessa off to secluded, secondary location. The house she was standing in was lit only by moonlight, and in the nearby forest unknown monsters lurked. As Lost Alice turned towards her, Tessa saw a gleam of red in the [Vampire’s] eyes and a glint of white off a pair of deadly fangs. That Tessa was mesmerized had nothing to do with any supernatural qualities the woman near her possessed though.

“Looks like this should be as good a spot as Rip thought it would be,” Lisa said, speaking with normal words rather than their telepathic link.

“I’m surprised it was a tea shop originally,” Tessa said. “I guess it must have been good for business though?”

She paced around the room to look out the windows towards the forest as various nameless voices tried to strange each other inside her.

The view to the west was by equal parts lovely and creepy. The slope of the hill was steep enough that she could see over the next nearest building, which looked to a low built horse stable which has survived the years of neglect reasonably well. The trees of the forest beyond that shone in deep purples and hints of violet in the moonlight, their branches and trunks twisted in a manner that suggested they hungered for something other than sunlight.

“It looks like a perfect spot for an adventurer,” Pillowcase said, her voice rising above the internal scuffle, though as always the communication between them was limited to within their head. Tessa was eternally grateful for that. If she’d had to talk aloud to speak to herself, things would have gotten very uncomfortable, very quickly.

“We’ll probably be heading in there in a day or two,” Tessa replied, casting a glance over to Lost Alice who was dutifully inspecting the view back towards the town.

Hesitating was stupid. Tessa knew that. She knew she was being an idiot. They finally had more than thirty seconds where they weren’t in imminent peril. They should talk. No. She, Tessa, should say something. She owed it to Lisa.

After all they’d been through. After all the support Lisa had given her. 

No. Not even that. Lisa deserved to know what Tessa’s feelings were because she deserved honesty. Tessa still didn’t know if there could be anything between them, but Lisa deserved better than to have someone following her around like a cowardly, lovesick puppy.

“But you’re worried she’s going to reject your feelings?” Pillowcase asked.

“Yeah, I’m always worried about that,” Tessa said. “I think that’s an everyone thing though. Here, I’m also worried about being a burden on her. Or of the situation making it really awkward for her to say what she feels, since we’re kind of stuck together.”

“I hear a lot of arguments against that idea,” Pillowcase said, nodding towards the swirl of thoughts in her head.

“I know,” Tessa said. “I’m really just scared. And scared of being scared. I’ve messed this kind of thing up before.”

“Those memories seem to be wrapped in balls of pain,” Pillowcase said. “They are not pleasant to approach.”

“Sorry,” Tessa said. “I don’t like remembering them either.”

Embarrassment. Shame. Regrets. If she could weaponize those, Tessa felt like she’d be invincible. Sadly the only person they could hurt was herself.

Like, for example, by making her too tongue tied to speak when she really needed to.

It was stupid.

So fine.

She was stupid.

Better to be stupid, and embarassed, and dance with the razor blades of rejection than to miss the chance that stood right across the empty room from her.

“Lisa, I have something…” she began to say, right as Lisa stumbled into, “Tessa, I thought I should tell you…”

They both stopped, stared at each other, and then shared a giggle at the absurdity of the moment.

“Would you like me to go first, or would you like the floor, my dear?” Lisa said adding an overly formal half bow and sweep of her hand to brush away the cloud of seriousness which threatened to stifle them both.

“I have to admit, it is tempting to let you go, but if you’d like to hear what I’ve got to say, I’d be happy to tell you what I’ve been thinking first.” Tessa felt her heart swell as she tip toed up to the confession she’d been holding in, her clumsy words barely able to manage the surge of emotions that were crashing through her veins.. 

The knowledge that once she spoke, there’d be no taking back her words left Tessa feeling like she was surrounded by a hedge of knives on all sides. 

“I…I’d like that,” Lisa said, glancing away as she spoke, but her gaze return to Tessa’s face the instant she was finished, as though trying to assess even the most minute impact of her words.

And there it was. The cliff Tessa had been inventing reasons for herself to stay so far away from.

She opened her mouth and a moment passed. Somehow the tidal wave of thoughts within her didn’t come flooding out.

She shook her head and felt a silent laugh ripple through her.

Of course, it wouldn’t be simple or easy.

She felt like she was fourteen again, confessing to a girl she’d had a crush on for two years, where each word was the end of the world and the most important thing she’d ever said or would say again.

Except she wasn’t fourteen.

She’d done that dance already. She’d been that awkward. She’d been clumsy, and stupid, and been hurt, and had survived all of it. 

Courage was never easy to find. Not for her at least. Not for this kind of thing. But she’d found it before so she knew she could again.

“Sorry,” she said. “I’ve got about a thousand thoughts whirling around in here. Let me pick the most important one to start with; I think I’m kind of falling for you. I know this whole situation is terrible and there’s a ton of problems with starting anything, but you’re…you feel like someone I’ve been waiting for for a long time. When we talk, you get me, even when I’m weird or not making sense. Every time we’ve been in danger, being with you has made me feel safer. You’re kind, and caring, and you’ve been strong for me even when it was completely unreasonable for me to ask you to be. I feel like we fit together, like there’s so much more that we could be together than apart. And maybe that’s just a crush, or wishful thinking, but I want to find out. I love the ‘you’ I’ve seen so far, and I can’t imagine anything better than getting to know the rest of you. And letting you see the rest of me. Even the strange, messed up bits. Because I feel like I can trust you. Like you already know me. Or at least the parts that matter. And I know you’ve already got someone, and I don’t want to mess that up. All you’ve got to do is say the word, and I’ll dial everything back. We can be friends if that’s what you need and, for real, I will be happy that you’re in my life at all. I’ve lost friends before because we couldn’t be romantic and that really sucks and I don’t want that to happen with you.”

Lost Alice blinked and wasn’t breathing. 

Which wasn’t strange for a [Vampire], but usually she at least faked breathing for Lisa’s comfort. 

“Is that okay?” Tessa asked, her nerves drawn so taut they were ringing at a tone too high for even supernatural creatures to perceive.

“No…” Lisa said and sat down on the floor so quickly that it looked like she collapsed. Before she fully came to rest though, she shot back to her feet. “I mean, no, it’s not okay, it’s great. It’s….”

She paused and shook herself like a cat and it was the most adorable and terrifying thing that Tessa had ever seen.

“Wow,” Lisa said. “Okay. My heart is actually beating. You made a [Vampire’s] heart beat. Wow.”

“If you need a minute, I could…”

“Nope! Nope, nope, nope. Stay right there! Sorry, I…I….that was more than I’d let myself hope for is all,” Lisa said. “Okay. First. Yes. Please. I want you too. I fell for you like a dozen times already. I’ve been trying not to think about it. Trying not to bother you with it. Trying to…be an idiot? I don’t know. And, god, I started with a ‘no’? I’m so sorry. So sorry. That was….wow, I am just babbling.”

“It’s okay.” Tessa couldn’t help but laugh. It was that or burst into tears of joy and she didn’t need those. Except for the part where her face seemed to be wet. So apparently joy tears were on the agenda whether she wanted them or not. That was fine. More than fine. Why shouldn’t she show what she was feeling. Why would she want to hide when she didn’t have to.

“Let me do this right,” Lisa said, as Lost Alice visibly centered herself. “We’ve known each other for, what two days now? Less? So I know this is could be stress and trauma speaking, but whatever, the truth is I have been so impressed with everything you’ve done and said since we first met. You’ve been kind, and brave, and so loving, and I can’t imagine anything better than having that in my life. I’ve been so afraid, without even letting myself realize it, that once we got to this point, you’d go off with someone else. Someone nicer, or stronger, or smarter, and that I’d be left alone again. And I know that’s silly. I know I’m not alone. And I’m rambling again. I guess what I want to say is I’m really glad you don’t want to leave, and I definitely want to see where things can go with us. You’re…I’m lucky to have you. In my life. And interested in me. God, I can’t believe…”

They were both smiling at each other, but neither had reached out to cross the space between them yet, as though they were each afraid to touch what was so good it had to be an illusion. Before Tessa could take a chance on changing that though, Lost Alice jerked up with her eyes flashing open.

“Oh! And there’s something you should know,” she said, her words rushed out as though trying to hold the spell between them together before it could fray. “I’m not with anyone. Not anymore. We broke up. My old girlfriend and I. It was months ago. But we’ve broken up a lot. And I usually…we usually get back together. Ok, not usually. It’s just been a few times. And, this time was it. I’ve…I’ve known that for a while, but I’m…it’s good that it ended. I just wish I’d seen that sooner. God, I wish I’d said something sooner. I know I mentioned her when we met in [Sky’s Edge] but with everything that happened, I kind of forgot I had.”

“Oh…oh, that’s okay,” Tessa said. Lisa wasn’t with anyone. Lisa wanted to be with her. Lisa…Tessa’s thoughts were sort of short circuiting. They kept running into the wall of feelings that had fallen over on her. “Better than okay,” she added with a mischievous smile when she caught the glimpse of concern on Lost Alice’s face. “We didn’t really have time to talk like this before. It’s probably better that I didn’t know up till now. It helped me keep my hopes in check.”

“And now?” Lisa asked.

“Now I feel terrible. I shouldn’t be this happy that you had a miserable time, but on the other hand I can’t believe how lucky I am that I met you now and not like a year ago,” Tessa said.

She stepped across the invisible line between them, her heart thudding so loudly that she was sure it was audible the up to the [High Beyond].

“I’d like to kiss you,” Lisa said.

“If you start that you have to promise me one thing,” Tessa said.

“What?” Lisa asked.

“That you won’t ever stop.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 3

As fortresses went, the [Great Hall] of [Dragonshire] was lacking a few things. Like an intact roof. And walls that took more than stiff breeze to knock over. It was roomy though. Perhaps even more so than it should have been.

“Is it just me or are there fewer people in here than there were following us through town?” Lisa asked.

“Yeah, we should be packing this space to the rafters,” Tessa said. “Did some of them stay outside? Or go to the surrounding buildings?”

“Nope, everyone funneled in here,” Rip said. She’d managed to scale the walls and had taken a spot on the shaky rooftop to act as a lookout in case either the townsfolk or a local monster decided to come and visit [Dragonshire’s] newest inhabitants.

“I saw a Kamie and Battler disappear when they passed through the hole in the wall,” Matt said.

“We’re still here,” Kamie said.

“I guess we’re layered then,” Tessa said. “It makes sense they’d have that in place for [Dragonshire]. Will the lowbies being funneled here it was probably supposed to be swamped for the first few weeks.”

“We’ll need to watch for that if the Consortium does show up,” Obby said. “The [Fallen Kingdoms] have always been closely tied to other dimensions and demi-planes. The last thing we want is to setup our defenses and have a troop of Consortium soldiers come spilling out of fold in space behind us.”

“Thanks for that image,” Matt said. “Kinda glad [Metal Mechanoids] don’t need to sleep or I’d have some quality nightmares to look forward to.”

“He brings up a good point,” Lisa said, limiting herself to the private channel with Tessa. “We haven’t taken a break since we got here. [Adventurers] may not need to but our Earthling selves probably need to catch our breath after everything we’ve been through.”

Tessa giggled at the thought. She felt like she could meditate for the rest of her life and that wouldn’t be enough to get a handle on everything that had happened since she’d logged in [Broken Horizons] again.

Around her, people were coming to the same conclusion as Lisa had though. The refugees from [Sky’s Edge] were setting up little encampments at the far back corner of the [Great Hall]. Tessa was pleased to see that Yawlorna’s people seemed to be mixing with them freely, though Balegritz, Illuthiz and Hermeziz were cuddled up together in a clump of ten other “demons”, a [Vampire] and two intrepid young girls from [Sky’s Edge]. 

Tessa wondered if the [Vampire] was a spy of some sort, since that seemed like something Vixali might encourage. Whether that was likely or not though, it fell squarely into the realm of “not my business” in Tessa’s view and so she turned away from it to the myriad of other issues that loomed before them.

“By morning we’ll probably have to be ready to deal with the townsfolk of [Dragonshire],” she said. “I’m going to suggest that we don’t keep any important secrets from them, but we may need to figure out a good order for filling them in on things.”

“Things like the monsters you brought into their midst?” Vixali said. She moved to a spot on Tessa’s left so gracefully that even the living shadows looked clumsy by comparison. Tessa had to grudgingly admit that the [Vampire] was achingly suave, while at the same time suppressing the urge to punch her. 

“Exactly,” Tessa said. “The town will need to be warned about the [Adventurers] if they don’t have any in residence yet. If we’re the first ones they’ve met they won’t know the kind of monsters [Adventurers] can be.”

“And us?” Gray asked.

“These are people who moved to a long deserted town with no functional defenses and started rebuilding it,” Tessa said. “My guess is that as long as you’re willing to live in peace with them, they’re not going to be anymore concerned about you than about any of the hundreds of other creatures they share this area with.”

“They will not object to our [Life Drinking]?” Gray asked, sounding perplexed in a manner shadows aren’t normally capable of.

“Depends on what you need to drink life from and how dead that makes the drinkee,” Lost Alice said. “I mean, you’re not the only one who feeds on the living here.”

“Which, as a note, includes basically all of us,” Tessa said. “It’s not like the last hamburger I ate came from a cow who harmlessly dispensed burger patties.”

“Our concerns lie in a similar area,” Vixali said.

“Obby’s got a lot of experience,” Rip said. “Maybe the three of you could scout out the other building inside the walls here and talk about what kind of things you’ll need for food.”

As trios went, it wasn’t a terrible choice to send Obby, Vixali, and Gray out as scouts, they were certainly unlikely to have problems with anything that might be lurking in the abandoned [Administration Building], but Tessa began to wonder if Rip had some other motive as well.

“I should go too,” Lost Alice said.

“Nah,” Rip said. “You’re an [Adventurer], you can just eat like the rest of us right?”

Rip was definitely up to something, but Tessa couldn’t puzzle out what it was. Also she was pretty sure that despite her status as an [Adventurer], Lost Alice needed some kind of fresh blood supply to work with. The blood frenzy she’d flown into when they were ‘trapped’ in the [Sunless Deeps] hadn’t been wholly inspired by her revulsion for the guy who had bound them in paper mache chains.

“Fair point,” Lisa said and added privately to Tessa. “They’re not going to relax if we don’t, and I’m dead sure they need to now.”

“Was that a [Vampire] joke?” Tessa asked.

“Maybe,” Lost Alice hid a small smile before shaking her head and switching back to the group channel. “We can worry about long term food resources for everyone else tomorrow after we talk with the people here.”

“Bathroom needs should be fine too,” Tessa said. “Before it got wrecked, [Dragonshire] had working indoor plumbing. One of the early quests was to fight a plant monster that had clogged up one of the houses drains but none of the rest of the houses had that problem, so we should find a lot of it still working.”

“This place got destroyed by Titans didn’t it?” Lady Midnight asked. “Which one?”

“[Vaspe Breath Stealer]?” Starchild asked.

“Same Titan,” Tessa said. “No physical form beyond a cloud of toxic gas. That was why the town wasn’t flattened completely, and why it couldn’t be resettled right away. It took a while for the poisons left behind by the Titan to breakdown and get absorbed back into the land.”

“We should verify that there’s no more gas waiting in the low places like the basements,” Starchild said. “It could be why the townsfolk didn’t choose to begin restoring this place first.”

“Don’t go alone!” Rip said.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got her back,” Lady Midnight said.

“Me too,” Pete said. “Sort of.”

The [Great Hall] had a set of rooms behind the central dias. Obby and Glimmerglass had done a pass through them to ensure nothing was lurking in wait before the mob Tessa was leading showed up. Tessa hadn’t seen the rooms but from their description and they sounded like they’d once served as the personal chambers for the town’s ruler. The [Adventurer] in her had hoped that meant there’d be treasure to loot from them, but Glimmerglass had assured them that the rooms had been long since picked clean.

Starchild and Lady Midnight passed through the door into the back area where the stairs to the basement level lay and Tessa felt a pang of worry. [Adventurers] in small groups could run into all sorts of trouble they couldn’t handle and they hadn’t yet found the town’s [Heart Fire]. 

Tessa forced herself to take comfort in the idea that, for as bad as things were, they weren’t in a horror movie. Starchild and Lady Midnight would stay in contact with them and both of them were smart enough to back off the moment anything started looking questionable. 

And if something did attack them, there were a disturbingly large number of [Adventurers] and otherworld creatures ready to bring the hammer down on whatever foolish monsters might be waiting in ambush. It would be the shortest dungeon run ever if everyone they brought to the [Great Hall] went surging downstairs in an XP gathering blood rage.

“We should make contact with as many of our surface side friends as we can,” Tessa said. “That no one was here waiting for us probably means we’re the first to get down to the surface from the [High Beyond].”

“I’m already on it,” Kamie said. “You remember Penswell? She’s acting as a dispatcher for, like, everyone. I’m filling her in on what happened and up there and what our story is.”

“I’ll be surprised if they can send us any official help, but maybe there are people who aren’t fighting the Consortium who can help us out?”

“My sister said she’ll be sending over some care packages for us,” Pete said. “Look for mail from Feral Fang your Inboxes. There should be gear attached to it for level 10, 20 and 30. Nothing too flashy, but it’ll be better coordinated than random drops.”

“We owe her a ton,” Tessa said. “That’s going to come in incredibly useful for everyone. Uh, except me I guess.”

“Still no interface to work with?” Lisa asked.

“Nope. So if Feral Fang does send me anything it’s probably just going to sit there,” Tessa said.

“Lucky for you, you don’t need new gear then, right?” Lisa asked.

Tessa mind was blank for a moment as she noticed just how damn alluring Lost Alice’s neck was. It seemed weirdly backward for a human to find the idea of nibbling on a [Vampire’s] neck utterly compelling, but they were in a weird world so she wasn’t going to try to judge her own tastes.

“Because your gear will all level with you?” Lisa’s reminder shook Tessa’s thoughts loose.

“Right! Uh, Pete, could you let your sister know that I’m good,” Tessa said. “Might be worth checking with the others too. Some of them are probably in [Heirloom] gear too.”

“I would if I could get a word in edgewise,” Pete said. “Apparently routing an entire Consortium army is a feat to be proud of or something.”

Tessa didn’t miss the clear, beaming pride in Pete’s voice. It was warmly comforting to see a brother and sister who loved each other that much. 

“There’s a house outside the wall that has a great view of the whole town,” Rip said. “Jamal and I will go check it out and crash there for the night if it looks safe.”

“Why stay there?” Tessa asked. 

“We should have some people outside the walls we don’t get surprised by anything, right?” Rip said. “I mean even if this place is peaceful, we don’t know when the townsfolk wake up or when they might come wandering over here. Good to have someone in a species they might recognize available to greet them. I can handle that and Matt can handle staying awake.”

Tessa noticed that Rip had used Matt Painting’s other name. Jamal was a nice one, but she wasn’t going to call attention to it since everyone else would probably just forget it.

“How far away is the lookout point you have in mind?” Lisa asked.

“It’s the tall building one street over from the east gate,” Rip said.

“That’s not too far,” Lisa said privately. “And she’s got a point.”

“Yeah. Not thrilled with them being off on their own like that, but it’s better than trying to hold them back and having them sneak out on  us.”

“You sound like your speaking from experience?” Lisa said.

“I was a troubled youth, or was that a troublesome youth? I don’t think people ever decided really,” Tessa said.

“If that sounds good, I can see a building, it looks like a tea shop, at the western edge of the hill we’re on. It’s right on the main road, so it should make a great point to intercept anyone coming from the forest,” Rip said.

“I could take that,” Battler X said.

“No, it’d probably be better if it was someone on the same party channel as Matt and I, just in case we need to compare notes without waking all of you up,” Rip said.

”Clever girl,” Lisa said privately.

Tessa wondered at that, and then put one and one together.

“Oh! Yes! Very clever,” she responded privately before adding in the public chat. “We can handle that one then. Battler can you make sure everyone’s able to get some rest or even sleep if they can.”

“Sure thing boss.” 

Tessa wasn’t delighted at that turn of phrase but the leadership roles were a problem for later on. 

For the moment, all Tessa was concerned about was getting the two of them to a nice, secluded house and having Lisa all to herself for a while.

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 2

An army marched through [Dragonshire] and Tessa was at its head. For as much as she was the one who knew where they were heading though, the idea that she was ‘leading’ the horde of people behind her seemed laughable at best and utterly terrifying if she gave it more than a second’s thought.

“Nothing I was stitched with is going to be much help here I’m afraid,” Pillowcase said. “They built me as one of the elite units but we were never intended for command roles.”

“That’s okay,” Tessa said. “Yawlorna, Gray, Vixali, and Olwina are the real leaders here. I’m just a tour guide basically. Everyone’s moving along with us because the four of them said it was what we should do. No one’s looking to me for anything important.”

“Except for the part where the four of them, not to mention the other [Adventurers] apparently think your advice is worth following without any major discussion or questions,” Pillowcase said.

It wasn’t something that Tessa wanted to contemplate much, but it was one of the worries nibbling at the back of her mind which is why Pillowcase wasn’t letting her ignore it.

“Are we going to need to cross the river?” Lisa asked, speaking for a change on a channel with the leaders of the various groups rather the private one she shared with Tessa.

“Yep. I’m trying to get us to one of the bridges that looked like it was still in good shape,” Tessa said.

[Dragonshire] wasn’t exactly a maze but the streets hadn’t been laid out in a grid either. For the most part they varied between wide avenues with room for two carts to pass each other, and small alleys between two and three story dwellings. The houses had seen better days – most had signs of fire damage, or large holes in places, with roofs that were crumbling from harsh weather and lack of repair. 

In the distance, the part of the town where the restoration efforts had been focused looked to be a different story, but Tessa didn’t think walking a band of vampires, demons, and sapient shadows up to the restored houses and waking up the townsfolk in the middle of the night was a wise idea. Better to meet them when the meeting would come as less of a surprise and everyone was as well rested as they could be.

“Will moving water be a problem for your people?” Lisa asked, glancing toward Vixali who was walking closer to Lisa than Tessa would have preferred but not quite close enough to punch.

“Really?” Pillowcase asked, or perhaps it was Tessa admonishing herself. The desire to do violence to Vixali was as unreasonable as it was ill-conceived. She could admit that. She could accept that. Some part of her was still going to pop the [Vampire Queen] right in her fangs if Vixali tried to make a move on Lisa though.

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Vixali said. “Unless something is lurking in the water which finds beautiful people delicious?”

Tessa tried to remember the official lore for [Vampires] in [Broken Horizons]. There were different bloodlines with different restrictions and abilities so it was a challenge to determine which, if any, of the standard [Vampiric] weaknesses applied in any given situation. Running water had shown up a few times though, usually as an excuse for why the [Vampires] were confined to one area of a dungeon.

“The river is supposed to be safe,” Tessa said “I’ll go across first to check it out.”

Lost Alice grabbed her by the shoulder.

“Just. Why,” Lisa said. It wasn’t even a question.

“Uh.” Tessa didn’t have a great answer for that, so she struggled to find a bad one. “Everyone’s following me, so I should make sure our path is safe?”

“Obby, could you come up to front with us for a bit?” Lisa said, switching to their party chat.

“Sure, what’s up?” Obby asked.

“We need a tank to check that the bridge up ahead is safe,” Lisa said.

“Oh yeah, good idea!” Obby said and pushed through the few ranks of [Adventurers] and townsfolk who were following the closest behind the lead group.

“Err, right, we have real tanks with us now,” Tessa said on her private link with Lisa.

“You seriously didn’t remember that did you?” Lisa asked.

“I mean, it’s been a busy night,” Tessa said, knowing it was a poor and inaccurate excuse. Even in her boring, Earthly, human life, she tended to try to handle things herself rather than bother anyone by asking for help.

Which was weird because in game she’d always been happy to form parties and focus on playing just her role. As a Healer she’d never tried to take over the tank’s job.

At least not while the tank was alive.

And doing their job properly.

But, to be fair, sometimes the party needed someone to stand in front of a rampaging monster and the tank sucked at hold hate and healers could at least heal themselves and…

“I’ll go with you,” Glimmerglass said.

Because of course she would throw herself into peril too.

Not that things that would be perilous for the rest of the [Adventurers] could even scratch her armor, but it was still an embarrassing mirror to gaze into.

Glimmerglass caught Tessa’s eye as she walked past and gave a little shrug. They weren’t sharing thoughts directly like Tessa and Pillowcase were, but they were still closer than even twins could dream of being.

“Is the [Great Hall] going to be big enough to hold all of us?” Lisa asked, gesturing back at the flood of people behind them.

“Once we’re over the bridge and at the top of that next hill, you’ll see it,” Tessa said. “In the screenshots from the beta, it looked like something between an aircraft hanger and an amphitheater. Plus it’s got storerooms beneath it, so we can move some of the people down there if we need to.”

“I hate that this is something we need to consider, but is it in a defensible spot?” Lisa asked.

“Yes and no,” Tessa said. “One of the early quests for the players was to refurbish the [Geat Hall] itself and part of that was to finish repairing the walls around it’s courtyard to make it more secure. It was hard to see from the hill we landed on, but I’m betting the walls still have great big holes in them. It’s better than nothing, but if the Consortium comes calling I doubt it’ll hold out long.”

“How do you remember all this stuff?” Lisa asked. “You didn’t play in the beta right?”

“Nope, I just kept up by reading a lot. I only reinstalled [Broken Horizons] for the first time in six years maybe an hour or so before we met,” Tessa said.

“Wow, that is some just the worst timing,” Lisa said.

“Or the best,” Tessa said and then glanced away, afraid that she was being too obvious in her flirting. And worried she wasn’t being obvious enough. 

“It seems our Intellect stat drains away at moment’s like this,” Pillowcase said, observing clinically what Tessa was all too painfully aware of about herself already. “Once again, I can’t offer much help. The entirety of my experience with relationships lies in your memories.”

Lisa bumping shoulders with her shook Tessa about of her inward spiral, as did Obby’s report that, “the bridge looks fine, water’s clear and empty too.”

“We’ll go ahead and make sure nothing unpleasant has moved into the [Great Hall],” Glimmerglass said on the general leadership channel, an offer everyone seemed grateful for.

“That one is much more powerful than the rest of you,” Vixali said.

“Yeah, she’s been adventuring for years,”  Tessa said. “We’ll see if any of the other [Adventurers] at her level can get here to help the rest of us catch up.”

“There are more like her?” Qiki asked, stepping out from behind Vixali.

“A lot of the [Adventurers] on the surface are her level or higher,” Tessa said. “She was retired for a while.”

“And there are foes who can challenge her and those like her?” Vixali asked.

“Unfortunately, yes. The Consortium has been sending in armies of them,” Tessa said. “And there’s plenty of things in the [Sunless Deeps] and the other high level zones that out level her. By a lot in some cases.”

“That’s…we will take that into account,” Vixali said.

Tessa didn’t need to delve deeply into her intuition to see that the [Vampire Queen] was starting to appreciate the scope of the wider world they’d entered.  In the [High Beyond], or at least within the section of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave] that they’d operated in, the [Vampires] were close to the top of the food chain in terms of power. 

In the [Fallen Kingdoms] though, there were tier after tier of creature who were more powerful to extents that Vixali couldn’t begin to imagine until she experienced some of it.

If Tessa got to chose though, neither Vixali, nor any of the rest would get to experience any of the higher level foes the [Fallen Kingdoms] had to offer. All of the refugees from the [High Beyond], human or otherwise, had been through too much to put them through any more.

They crossed the bridge taking care to send only a handful of people across at a time. Despite being intact, the bridge was still old and no one wanted to be the unlucky soul who broke through it and was swept away in the river. The caution slowed them down, but the night was brightly lit by the far too large moons hanging overhead the rest of the town was quiet so there wasn’t a sense of hurry or dread pushing the crowd to stampede over the river.

“This could be a nice place to take moonlight walks once it’s fixed up,” Lisa said.

“The running water doesn’t bother you either I take it?” Tessa asked.

“It leeches away a bit of magic,” Lost Alice. “Nothing significant though. And the view is lovely.”

Tessa noted that Lost Alice was not gazing upwards at the stars when she said that. The night felt very warm for some reason.

They really needed to talk. She knew it was true, but also knew that the middle of formerly abandoned town and surrounded by a few thousand people was neither the time nor place for that particular conversation.

“What happened to the god soul that you picked up by the way? I noticed it wasn’t glowing your hands when we got here,” Lisa said.

“It’s what I made the portal out of,” Tessa said. “Once everyone was through, I let it fizzle out into the void.”

“Wouldn’t it have been useful to hold onto?” Lisa asked.

“I can’t hold those forever,” Tessa said. “And I was afraid of what the [Hungry Shadows] would do if I left the portal open.”

“Nothing good,” Lisa said. “Do you think we’ll have problems with the people they injured?”

“Probably,” Tessa said. “We still had to rescue them though.”

“Agreed. If Glimmerglass can’t remove whatever corruption the [Hungry Shadows] left in them I’ll have to see if I can get any of my guildmates out here.”

“I might be able to fix them too,” Tessa said.

Lost Alice narrowed her eyes and searched Tessa’s face, probably looking for some clue as to how dangerous this would be.

“Safely,” Tessa added. “I might be able to fix them safely.”

“And how will you know that it’s safe?” Lisa asked in a flat and even tone.

“I’ll have Glimmerglass watch over my while I try?” It hadn’t been Tessa’s original plan, which was to simply take a shot at removing magic whatever the [Hungry Shadows] had left in their victims, but it seemed to be enough to satisfy Lisa’s concerns.

Mostly.

“This isn’t all on you,” she said. “We’re in this together.”

Tessa knew she was referring to everyone in their vast entourage but the from how Lost Alice reached out and took her hand it seemed like she’d intended it as a much more personal declaration too.

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 1

Stepping through the portal between the [High Beyond] and the [Fallen Kingdoms] wasn’t what Tessa expected. So many other portals in games involved nothing more than walking from one point to another with no more difficulty than crossing from one room to another. From what she’d seen of the people who passed through the portal in the [Vampire Queen’s Throne Room], the portal to the surface world was no different. And perhaps for them that was true. 

But Tessa wasn’t quite the same.

The single step which took her through the open stained glass window and left her standing in the [Fallen Kingdoms] crossed through a void far grander than the gap from the ground to the satellite moon.

There was no air in the void she walked through, nor any sense of up or down. Stars hid behind an all concealing darkness, vaulted away from the attentions of things which would devour their light.

Things which could see Tessa. Things which existed to consume material beings like her. Things that were…afraid of her?

As Tessa passed through the void of shrouded stars, she felt like she was falling upwards, descending into a fathomless sky with no ground to ever break her fall.

But that wasn’t possible.

She’d seen the far side of the portal. She knew people had made the journey in no more time than it took to finish a single step.

There was no air around her, but her lungs didn’t burn and her sweat didn’t boil. 

The void couldn’t touch her.

She reached out and felt, more than saw, the creatures lurking in the emptiness draw away. 

She was safe from the void.

But it wasn’t safe from her.

“Enough of this,” she said, speaking without breath or sound. “I’ve got somewhere to be, and someone to be.”

And her footstep fell onto solid ground.

Around her, the world came into focus as last.

The [Fallen Kingdoms].

“My home,” her heart said, and she wasn’t sure if it was Tessa’s voice, or Pillowcase’s, or Glimmerglass’s which spoke. Maybe all of them.

In the distance she saw the [Wind Shred] mountain rising, their peaks gleaming brilliantly in the light of the full moons. They were miles distant, and stood to the west when Tessa was used to seeing their other side looming in the east, but the sharp sawtooth pattern which thrust into the sky like the maw of some continental beast was unmistakable.

Around her the land rolled away into a curious motley of buildings. The town, as much as it could be called a town with the shape it was in, was bordered on one side by wide rolling fields to the east which were dotted with ruins and barrow hills. On the other side, separating the town from the [Wind Shred] mountains, a dark forest loomed, it’s trees bent into unfamiliar and twisting shapes which the moonlight barely revealed.

A fast flowing river broke from the forest, curving along the winding banks the town was laid out on, with several bridges crossing the swift waters as it ran though the western side of the town. Some of the bridges were even still intact, though all seemed to be suffering from the same long weathered damage as the rest of the town.

Or most of the rest of the town.

Looking down from the one of the highest hills, Tessa saw that the wide circle of ritual water basins they’d arrived in looked to be in a much better state than the town as a whole was.

Several buildings on the eastern side of the town had been repaired as well, not a few of which had smoke rising lazily from their chimneys. 

“Where are we?” Lisa asked, moving to Tessa’s side through the crowd which was milling about and spilling out to fill the circle of water basins which ringed the hill they’d arrived on.

“[Dragonshire],” Tessa said. “It’s one of the new areas they added. I read about a lot about it and I figured it would make a good arrival point. Especially since it’s still night here.”

“We thank you for that,” Gray-of-Endless-Mist said. “The light cannot kill us but it is terribly unpleasant.”

“I’m not a fan of it myself,” Lost Alice said. “But it poses no particular dangers.”

“Does it not?” Vixali said. “You are something special then.”

“Perks of being an [Adventurer],” Obby said.

The crowd around Tessa felt stifling. There was plenty of room for people to spread out but they were clinging close together. And there were too many of them. Tessa was sure that the crowd she’d seen in the cavern where they’d assembled the refugees had included as many people as were filling the hilltop. 

“It’s okay,” Pillowcase said to herself, a calm settling over Tessa’s heart as her perspective shifted. “We collected stragglers as we were moving. And maybe there was some layering going on in the cave?”

“We should get inside,” Tessa said. “The encounter rate is always higher at night.”

“Isn’t this a city zone though?” Lady Midnight asked. “There shouldn’t be encounters here should there?”

“We’re sort of a walking World Event,” Obby said. “We might be the encounter other people run into.”

“There’s that and [Dragonshire] is a new sort of town,” Tessa said. “Again, assuming anything here is like it was in the game, this place should be a ‘hybrid zone’.”

“What’s that mean?” Rip Shot asked.

“Towns and cities are usually ‘no combat’ zones,” Obby said. “Some events can suspend that though.”

“For example, attacks by invaders from beyond the stars,” Glimmerglass said. “Just to name a completely unlikely scenario.”

“Aside from special cases like that though, habitation areas – cities and town basically – usually have various means of protection which keep random monsters from wandering in and eating people,” Tessa said.

“Also, [Adventurers] are [Peace Bonded] in most cities, which keeps us from fighting there too,” Lisa said.

“Since we can be as bad as the monsters, or worse, sometimes,” Kamie Anne Do said.

“Check your stats here though,” Tessa said. “Notice a distinct lack of [Peace Bonding]?”

“Yes, so this counts as a [Wilderness] area?” Starchild asked.

“Not exactly,” Tessa said. “It’s still a city, but see how it’s only been partially rebuilt? The lore here goes that [Dragonshire] was wrecked years ago during the [Titan’s Rage].”

“That was from one of the first expansions,” Lisa said, snapping her fingers as an old  memory returned. “I remember they knocked out a lot of the places where they had buggy but cool quests and channeled us into new areas with a lot of ‘kill ten rats for their tails’ type stuff.”

“Right. [Dragonshire] wasn’t one of the places they actually got rid of – I don’t think anyone wanted to go near the old code for the places that actually were in the game and got trashed – but it’s lore ties into that era,” Tessa said. “It was destroyed by the [Titans] and now, in the [World Shift] expansion, people are just starting to come back to it. Including the new arrivals from the [High Beyond], i.e. us,  for who this is meant to be one of the starter cities they can choose to begin their adventurers in the [Fallen Kingdoms] at. Assuming of course that you don’t decide to go to one of the usual mid-level zones, or just hop in a dungeon with friends and get power leveled to the cap.”

“So why is it a ‘hybrid’ zone?” Rip asked.

“They wanted to bring back the idea of more event-driven quests,” Tessa said. “So things can happen right in town that affect and are affected by the quests [Adventurers] do in the surrounding areas. Heck, reclaiming all the busted parts of the town was meant to help new give new players a focus for what they were doing up to about level 50 I think.”

“That makes sense,” Lisa said. “At 50 they can start doing the early delves in the [Sunless Deeps].”

“That’s also the level cap for a lot of the major city areas,” Glimmerglass said.

“Does this place have a level cap?” Matt Painting asked.

“The rebuilt areas should,” Tessa said. “I think it was supposed to start at 25 when players first arrived there. Based on the quests you did and how restored your version of the city got, the cap would rise in five level increments up to 50 eventually.”

“We’re not exactly close to 25 at the moment though,” Matt said.

“That’s not going to be either a.) a problem or b.) true for very long,” Glimmerglass said.

“Perhaps not for you,” Yawlorna said. “My people, and I’m guessing all of the other non-[Adventurers] here though don’t ‘level up’ like you do.”

“That’s part of why I wanted to bring people here, rather than dumping us into a major city,” Tessa said. “This place is mostly a wreck still, so the lower level cap should still be in effect.”

“Meaning whatever beasties are lurking out there in woods, or in the tombs under those hills, won’t be too much of a problem to handle,” Lisa said. Tessa smiled, cheered that they were rather effortlessly on the same page.

“Not as long as we stay together,” Obby said, glancing over towards Gray-of-Endless-Mist.

“We have no issue with that,” Gray said. “This is a new land. Our hungers will need to be sated but if there are enemies of all it would be wisest to devour them and leave those who can coexist with us safe and secure.”

“I probably need my head examined, but I agree with the talking shadow,” Olwina the Blacksmith said. Several of the other people from [Sky’s Edge] were hovering around her, apparently content to have her act as the spokeswoman for the refugees from the town.

Tessa glanced around and saw that the crowd had spread out a little bit. Most where sitting down, and breaking out food they’d brought with them from the [High Beyond]. A few, mostly the children, had even fallen asleep. The only thing none of them seemed interested in doing was leaving the rather illusory safety of the circle of water basins. 

Or perhaps it wasn’t the water basins which defined the zone of safety.

Over there was a Balegritz entertaining a group of townspeople from [Sky’s Edge] with a story of how Yawlorna had saved them when they were crashing into the [High Beyond]. 

And just beyond him, Battler X and Gale Force were talking with a group of [Adventurers] Tessa hadn’t seen before. Their armor marked all of them as low level, and two of them were [Artifax], so they definitely came from the [High Beyond] too, but they looked at home here. Or at home together.

A memory rolled back over Tessa’s mind. Meeting new players in a new area before undertaking new quests. Those moments didn’t always turn out well. Disaster always waited for the unprepared and the clueless, but even some of the disasters had led to really nice friendships.

It wasn’t the water basins which gave people a sense of safety. It was each other. 

“Okay. New plan,” she said, causing the heads of everyone around her to turn towards her.

“We have a plan now?” Kamie’s smile teased Tessa in the universal [Adventurers] acknowledging the disasters they were manner.

It felt good.

For six years, she’d cut herself off from [Broken Horizons]. She’d gone out and tried to be a regular person. Tried to live a regular life. 

But regular had meant, denying this part of herself. Regular had meant accepting a life focused on doing what some nebulous concept of “people” thought was the right thing. Go to work, make money, put the company first, and do things that mattered in the real world. Be a success or you’ll starve. 

But she’d starved anyway.

What she needed wasn’t a better job, or a higher salary. What she needed was what was all around her. 

The chance to make a difference. 

“Yeah, I think so,” she said. “Let’s get everyone together. The townsfolk probably have no idea what to make of us. There’s the [Old Great Hall] over on the west side. It’s supposed to be the first building that the [Adventurers] repair and from the beta footage I saw, it’s enormous. There should be plenty of room for all of us to settle in and start making a new home here. Together.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Interlude 5

The Lore of the Fallen Kingdoms (w/commentary)

In the beginning there was Chaos, primal and unbridled, and from the Chaos was born the Great Sage Dav’kralthrax. Vast was his power and fathomless his wisdom. It was he who called the gods into being and set them on the course of crafting a realm worthy of his unending majesty.

Rose: Wait, Dav’kralthrax? Is that the guy you found in the library? The slime?

Tessa: Was it the extreme ego-stroking that gave it away? I’d skip past this stuff, but he disappears soon enough, and it’s illustrative of why I want to punch his face in.

Lisa: Probably good not to skip too much, we could all use a refresher on the Fallen Kingdoms since we’re actually in them finally.

To perform so mighty of a dead as the creation of an entire cosmos however a noble sacrifice was required. Dav’kralthrax took the burden upon himself, sundering his vast power in two so that the world could be shaped by the labors of the gods.

Jamal: Were they creating a cosmos or a planet? Cause those are two kinda different things.

Tessa: Kralt was kind of sloppy with details like that. A planet, a moon, a solar system, a galaxy, pretty much all the same to him. Even the early drafts of the lore ditched him from the story pretty quickly though because of how incoherent his original version was.

From the Primal Chaos, the gods forged The Grand Design, a blueprint to guide them in the Ten Thousand Tasks required to build the world they hoped to forge.

Tessa: See, three paragraphs in and they’re already ignoring Kralt’s self-insert OC and going with a story where he had basically no input on the end product.

First they crafted the heavens and in that expanse placed a single shining seed. With no soil to grown in the seed remained dormant as the gods next constructed the land and the sea, and placed them beneath the vast heavens.

“We have labored for a thousand and one days,” the eldest of the gods said. “Despite our efforts, we have only a starless sky and a land untouched by sunlight to show for it. We must do more.”

Tired behind the ken of human minds, the gods pushed onward, adding more gods to their ranks and laboring at their tasks ever faster.

Tessa: I’ve worked those shifts.

Lisa: Did they make the lore a metaphor for the actual development cycle?

Tessa: Pretty much. It was a winking joke to the fanbase who knew what software development was like at the time, and I’m guessing a bit of kickback on how tight a deadline they were working under.

Above the lifeless world, they crafted the celestial Kingdom where they came together to live and work as one.

Tessa: Meaning the developers had to come in and sleep in the office for months on end.

Day by day the Celestial Kingdom grew in beauty and splendor. Tasks were completed and the Grand Design grew more realized. 

Of the setbacks the gods may have experienced, no record remains, their perseverance and the glory of their accomplishments being the only legacy which remains of that time before a mortal first trod upon their creation. 

Tessa: That sounds nice, but it’s basically code for ‘we can’t tell you all the messed up stuff that happened during the pre-alpha development’. Some of the devs talked about it later, once they were at other companies, and wow did the higher ups do their best to mess everything up before the game even launched.

In time their work was complete, and the gods rested. Below their Celestial Realm lay a world poised for the first break of day and the fledgling cries of life to stride across its lands.

Jamal: So were there fish or birds or did they only care about the people?

Rose: Yeah, what about dinosaurs! Didn’t this place have dinosaurs?

Lisa: Oh, it did. And does. The devs did a whole ‘Lost World’ type expansion where you fight fire breath T-Rex’s. We got the wildest costume sets from that one.

As the first dawn approached though, the gods came to discord. The people of the world were set to be born from the spirits of the gods’ divine servants. For toiling at their divine patrons’ sides, the masses of angels, elementals, and other powers had been promised the world as a playground, one they could experience across a myriad of mortal lifetimes as they reincarnated over and over, exploring every thread of the rich tapestry they had each woven small patches of. Nowhere in the Grand Design though had it been decided which gods followers would be allowed to step foot onto the world first.

The gods met in a great summit to decide the issue, and debated from thirty days and thirty nights.

Tessa: Yeah, I’ve had meetings that felt like they lasted that long.

In the end they emerged and issued their pronouncement. Having found a flaw in the Grand Design, the entire project would be scrapped and the world boiled back down to Primal Chaos so that they could begin anew.

That night the servants of the gods met in a conclave of their own and, when the first light of day touched on the shores of the heavenly realm, the war began.

With fire and magic and divinely forged steel, the servants rose against their masters for the sake of the world they had all labored to build.

And their masters cast them down.

So great was the wrath of the gods that they shattered the heavenly realm, and in its destruction the kingdoms of the divine crashed onto the nascent world below, driving the cities which had stood on its surface far below ground and forever altering the once perfect and pristine landscape of their masterpiece.

Rose: I have so many questions here. How were there cities before there were people on the planet? How did the ‘heavenly’ kingdoms fall onto the planet? Were they literally floating in the sky? And why were there heavenly kingdoms in the first place? I thought there weren’t any people up to this point? 

Tessa: You are far from the first person to be ask those. The general fan consensus, based on some later bits of lore, is that the gods had their heavenly realm divided up into the Kingdoms they intended to setup for the mortals. And, yeah, they were literally floating in the sky. The devs put a few dozen moons in the sky as the “vestiges of the heavenly sphere”. The High Beyond was the biggest of them so the players have been expecting we’d get there at some point long before they announced the World Shift expansions. As for the cities? A lot of the impractical dungeon spaces in the Sunless Deeps have the excuse that ‘a god made this’ to explain away the weird and useless bits of architecture. Like the corridors that go nowhere. And the bridges over lava that never, ever have railings.

As the sun set on the first day and the last rays shone on the ruined world, life at last stirred. Either as a blessing stolen from the gods, or a curse uttered in their dying breaths, the gods had given their rebellious servants exactly what they asked for; time upon the world in the bodies of the mortals which the Grand Design had spoken of as the ultimate goal of creation.

The first mortals cast their glance to their former home in the heavens to discover that their creators, their masters, their enemies, were no more. Some few might have survived the Fall but even they pulled away, offering no contact with the newly born mortal peoples. Of the rest, there was no sign, and swiftly their names were forgotten.

Tessa: This part is kind of sad. The original dev team knew as soon as they shipped, more than half of them were going to be downsized, so they wrote the gods as dying as a result of the war since they were losing their avatars pretty much.

Rose: Why the heck did they fire everybody? Didn’t they work crazy hours to make the game a success?

Tessa: Broken Horizons was the biggest game Egress had ever undertaken and it ran into enormous unexpected costs. Egress claimed they had to make the cutbacks to survive, but with the game taking off like it did within three month of launch, most of the industry observers say that Egress should have held on.

Lisa: Especially since the layoffs bit them in the butt. Within six months, the game had grown so huge that they were scrambling to bring people back, except a lot of developers had moved onto other jobs by that point. I think it took them three years or so to really hit their stride, right? 

Tessa: Yeah, that’s when I first joined up. They were making a new push to expand the game at that point. I mean they’d had expansions before then but I came in when they were really shifting back into high gear.

Lisa: It’s a shame we never met back in the day.

Jamal: Yeah, weren’t you both playing at the same time?

Tessa: Our play time overlaps for about six years, but you’ve got to remember how many people were playing the game at that point, and how may Shards they were runnings.

Lisa: Early on I don’t think we could have possibly met; they created something like three hundred shards in the first three years so I’m sure we were on different ones for a while.

Tessa: I think they fixed that and collapsed everything into “The Unbroken World” about a year before I stopped playing, so I guess we could have met then.

Rose: What’s the “Unbroken World”?

Lisa: It’s a tagline they used a while back. 

Tessa: They came up with some new tech that allowed them to bring everyone from all of the different shards together to play in the same space.

Lisa: Basically when you logged in you weren’t picking one of three hundred worlds to play on, everyone was able to play together. In theory.

Tessa: In practice they had some issues handling ten thousand people in the same city, and five hundred of them talking to the same vendor at the same time.

Lisa: We had so much lag at first, but once they got layering figured out things got a lot better.

Jamal: Layering?

Tessa: Part of their new tech. Basically in busy areas, they’d spawn multiple copies of the place invisibly to the players and so you could be standing at a vendor with a thousand other people but no one would see more than ten or twenty other players in the same space.

Lisa: Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? We could have been standing side by side so many times and just never have noticed it.

Tessa: Have I mentioned I’m not letting you out of my party?

Jamal: Is that layering thing still happening?

Rose: Yeah, does that mean we could be separated like that too?

Tessa: We haven’t seen any evidence of it yet. I was expecting we might when everyone funneled into the room Vixali’s throne room but the place just got seriously crowded. No one started disappearing.

Lisa: I’m hoping there’s another explanation for that.

Tessa: Why’s that? Do you think we can use the layers for something?

Lisa: No, I hadn’t considered that, but it’s a good idea now that you mention it. What I was thinking is that we’re missing a heck of a lot of adventurers. I really hope they’re on other layers from us, or that they got out of the High Beyond via some other means that we didn’t have time to discover.

Jamal: What would the alternative be?

Tessa: If they didn’t get out on their own, and aren’t invisible to us because this world does layering too, then they were either captured by the Hounds of Fate or…

Lisa: Or the Formless Hunger got them.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Interlude 4

Jin

Holding the world in the palm of your hand as you stride the cosmos sweeping galaxies from your path can feel amazing. Gods are born in your wake and history changes with each step you take. It is a perspective neither mortals nor celestials are privy to, and yet Jin found is irksome.

“Things looking okay on the macro scale still?” Way asked. She still inhabited the persona of Oblivion’s Daughter but the “telepathic chat channel” she shared with her wife relied on nothing as quaint as the underlying mystical realities of the world she inhabited.

“The world’s still holding together,” Jin said, frowning as she drew in close, her form collapsing from one scaled to the size of a galactic filament to a far more personable scale where the world could fill her hand. “Reorienting its universal coordinates doesn’t seem to have changed anything though.”

“It’s still conjoined with its Earth?” Way asked.

“Yeah, I was careful to preserve that,” Jin said. “I kept the local super cluster intact too.”

“I don’t think this place has any constellation-based metaphysics but that was probably a good idea. Has Kari said anything about how Earth’s holding up? I know we’re running low on time there right?”

“We’re out of time, unfortunately,” Jin said. “There are more breakthroughs showing up.”

“How bad?” Way asked, concern tinging her voice.

Jin knew how easy it was to develop a connection to the people whose worlds you joined. She’d left more shards of herself behind than she could count because she wasn’t willing to vanish from the lives of friends she’d made. With worlds that were in the process of crumbling away though that could be problematic, especially when their existence was linked to other worlds that could be pulled down too.

“It’s limited still,” Jin said. “Kari’s working to channel the Remnants into similar breakthrough points so the Earthlings will have the best chance to get a handle on them.”

“Are they making any progress there?” Way asked.

“Not really. They don’t have the tools they need to start interrogating something this far outside their fundamental physics. The idea of people disappearing into thin air is already fracturing some of the core underlying physical laws they’re built on.”

“Think we have any chance to salvage their original reality?” Way asked.

“Eh, maybe?” Jin said. “I mean, we could force the issue if we really wanted to.”

“Not without claiming both of the worlds though, right?” Way said.

“I mean, we have done it before, and it would prevent a lot of drama,” Jin said.

“We have,” Way agreed. 

Jin knew the agreement was merely giving her room to talk herself out it. Which of course where her mind went next.

“But then we’d coloring everything that happens in both worlds, and they’d become our stories, I know, I know.”

“And we’re not at that point yet anyways, are we?” Way said.

“Not yet,” Jin said. “Even if the Earth’s core reality needs to shift a bit, it’s still well within a range where it can stand on its own. I mean at this point it wouldn’t take more than a few tiny tweaks and it’d be fine.”

“We know it’ll get worse than that, but I have some good news to report!” Way said. “Tessa managed to finish the conversion on our local Remnant. It’s not fully instantiated in the High Beyond.”

“She did! That’s fantastic! What did she make it into?” Jin asked, being careful to set the world gently back into the firmament before doing a cosmic dance of joy.

“A new creature. It’s close to what it was but now it’s a ‘Hungry Shadow’. Just a beauty of a horror. Multi-bodied, decentralized intelligence, corruptive possession. It’s chased us out of the High Beyond and is going to be fighting with the Consortium’s forces for a bit.”

“Oh! I am so proud of her!” Jin said, shrinking down even further to get a better look at the High Beyond and the hijinks that were ensuing there.

“It’s an open question if she can do it again of course,” Way said.

“Well, sure, I mean that’s asking a lot of anyone,” Jin said. “I mean, anyone who’s not us. But she did it! That’s so cool! How’s she coming in her new class? Is it holding up?”

“Shockingly well,” Way said. “The world seems fine with the idea of a Void Speaker. It’s letting her do things and then calcifying them as abilities after the fact which is giving her a lot of leeway. Also there’s some cheats she’s gotten to use. She’s managed to get her hands on two of the left over bits of the creators. They’re temporary, and limited, but they’ve let her do a bit of reality rewriting without losing her connection to either world.”

“She’s still pretty weak though right?”

“Very. We’ve moved out of the High Beyond, so there’ll be people we can work with who can help fix that but it’s not a quick process, and I don’t want to rush it too much.”

“I get it. If we cheat for her, she’ll wind up without a real connection to who she’s become. Still, that’s fantastic news. With one Void Speaker in play, more should follow.”

“And even the people without that class should be able to help,” Way said. “The Adventurers seem to be able to develop a resistance to the partial-Remnants corrosions after even an indirect exposure. My team’s currently in the best state there, since we got a full blast to the face from the first Remnant up close, but none of other teams got possessed either when the Remnant grabbed a whole bunch of Consortium soldiers.”

“Meeting with the Disjoined was enough? That’s an encouraging sign too. We should watch to see how far they can push that. If the Adventurers in general could fight the Remnants as they begin to emerge into the world, they might be able to stabilize everything on your end of things.”

“I think the big holdup there is going to be the distraction the Consortium’s forces are causing,” Way said. “The initial invasion seems to have fallen apart due to a change of leadership and conflicting orders, but the troops are still there and the Consortium has got lots more they can send in. If the current leader gets booted for someone who knows what they’re doing, the war will shift back again real fast, and no one’s going to have the bandwidth to look into all the weird things that are happening on the edges of the world where the Remnants are nibbling at things trying to get in.”

“We could fix that couldn’t we?” Jin asked

“I mean technically we could erase the Consortium entirely,” Way said. “They’re already a part of this world though, so…”

“So removing them would be a bit blunt,” Jin said. “Fair enough. Can the Adventurers win it in the long term do you think?”

“For certain values of ‘win’, definitely,” Way said. “I’m guessing a complete eradication of the Consortium won’t be easy to achieve, but reducing them to a hostile faction, rather than a world-ending one, should be doable.”

“There just needs to be time to get that done, I take it?” Jin asked.

She felt Way’s surprise. When they spoke, far more than words were conveyed, and Way knew her well enough to understand the idea Jin had and the offer she was making.

“Are you sure you want to do that? It’s such a pain to coordinate when the worlds are out of synch like that,” Way asked.

“Yeah, I’ll give you a year spun into the space of day over on the Earth,” Jin said, reaching out to the world her wife was on once more.

“We don’t need that long!” Way shouted before Jin can whip the timestreams between the two world into whirling at vastly different rates. “Make it a month. If we don’t have the Consortium problem resolved in a month, you can spin things faster for a bit, but things should be very different here by then.”

“A month then,” Jin agreed. “And if you need me…”

“I always need you,” Way said.

“I love you too,” Jin said.

“See you in a month then!” Way said and went silent, though her light continued to gleam in golden radiance on Jin’s finger.

With a flick of her wrist, Jin sent the Fallen Kingdoms and the constellation of demi-planes and alternate universes tied to it racing into a future while the Earth they were joined to encompassed the passing of each of their days in less than a single hour.

Brendan

Brendan was nodding off when the world on the other side of the monitor changed. It was like a burst of noise louder than being front row at a concert slammed into his head, but there were another feeling that accompanied it that was even worse.

“Melli!” The screen in front of him was showing only a blur of colors and he couldn’t hear anything from the speakers except a monotone buzz. “Melli, what happened? Are you still there?”

She was.

He knew she was.

A part of him could almost reach out and touch her, but even his instincts knew what the cost of that would be.

With a long breath, he put his hand down from reaching towards the screen.

Mellisandra was okay. If she’d died, he would have been swept up into Broken Horizons. So, she was, by definition, okay. He kept repeating that to himself. He even believed it. But his heart didn’t want to hear it. 

She was missing. A day ago, or two, or whatever the official count was, he hadn’t even imagined she was real. She was an avatar. No more than a queen on a chessboard.

Hearing her speak though? Fighting with her? Being a part of her world, even if it was immeasurably far away? 

He raised his hand again, gathering up his courage.

He wasn’t going to let her go. Even if it meant leaving his own life forever. Even if he was just a ghost standing beside her.

Except she didn’t want him to give up everything he had.

She wanted to come and see his world.

And if he left, he wouldn’t be able to keep coordinating things with the other players he knew. The best and most useful help he could be to her was right where he was.

The courage he’d been looking for sparked up in a different form than he’d intended.

He didn’t know what had happened. He could feel Mellisandra still, could sense a connection that went beyond graphics on a screen, and so he was going to believe in that. The bond that existed between them was real, even if he had no tangible proof and everything in the world said it wasn’t. It was real, and so was she, and she needed him to fight for her where her magics couldn’t reach.

Brendan turned to his laptop where he had roughly ten bajillion tabs open, and at least half as many Discord channels pinging for his attention.

It took three seconds to see that he wasn’t alone. Something had happened with the game. Players were still disappearing, but everyone reported the weird screen glitch at the same time and no one had disappeared at the moment when their connection to the game went strange. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a global disconnect and logging off still wasn’t safe.

But none of that mattered as much as what Brendan found next.

There were messages.

Hundreds of messages.

All from Mellisandra.

The chat log was a blur on the screen but the email queue was available in an offline app and it was bursting with unread notes. The timestamps on them were messed up, but that was fine. 

She was out there, and that was all that mattered.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Interlude 3

Grunvan

When the attack came neither Grunvan nor Argwin were ready for it. To be fair, they could have been given years to train and they still wouldn’t have been ready for a contingent of octopodial soldiers with razor teeth on their tentacles to split from the main force of the Consortium troops and come tearing towards the [Goblins] hastily assembled fortifications.

The sight of the horrid monsters flailing across the field towards her hit Grunvan not with a wave of terror but rather a profound sense of disconnection. They couldn’t be attacking. Not something like that. It was too unreal. Too ridiculous. This wasn’t something that could be part of her world. She just wasn’t ready for it.

Then the [Octopires] let loose the unearthly warbling which passed for…Grunvan couldn’t even tell? A battle cry? A wail of despair? A child’s night terror? None of those were right, mostly because the [Octopires] were making a noise that was nothing but wrong.

“Been nice knowing you,” Argwin said.

“I’ll remind you you admitted that for the rest of our lives,” Grunvan said.

She wasn’t calm. She wasn’t brave. She was just too scared to process her fear, so it got to sit over to the side while some other part of her took the reigns.

The [Octopires] didn’t take long to reach them. Writhing tentacles covered the open ground faster than any [Goblin] could sprint. 

And they could leap.

Which was a whole other bucket of “I’ll take none of those please” in Grunvan’s mind.

To her immense self-credit, she didn’t scream, or duck, or run. None of those would have done a thing to save her, but still, she felt a fierce pride in the fact that she stood ready to meet the [Octopire’s] razor tentacles with a spiked club of her own.

She was ready to swing the moment any of them came in range of herself or Argwin, reasoning that she wanted to make sure she didn’t she her friend come to any harm and the best method to ensure that was to be the one they killed first. It wasn’t a cheerful though, but after several hours of staring at a horde of monsters that couldn’t help to kill her and everyone she knew, Grunvan was fresh out of cheer.

Shock and surprise she could still manage though.

The [Octopire’s] first few leaps were little more than hops. Small jumps to let them clear the roots and shrubs in the field they were charging through. By the time they reached the fortifications though, they had gained speed and, at the last moment, enough height that Grunvan had to wonder if they could fly in addition to the rest of their alien powers.

They couldn’t. The arc of their final jumps were designed to clear the [Goblins] defensive line and land them well behind the fighters who were waiting to engage them.

As a tactical move, it wasn’t exactly brilliant, the [Octopires] were badly overextended, but given that they were horrible killing machines and the [Goblins] were [Farmers] and [Wagon Drivers], tactical supremacy wasn’t really a requirement for them to win the battle handily.

Except they weren’t fighting.

“Help! Help us!” the nearest [Octopire] said and placed all of its tentacles firmly on the ground in a move that made it clear it was not taking an attack posture.

“Wha?” Argwin couldn’t even finish her question. Grunvan understood. Her mind was jamming up too.

“They’re coming! Save us!” the [Octopire] said.

Looking away from the alien monsters was the worst possible idea Grunvan could imagine. They would obviously whip her to pieces and eat all of those pieces after dipping them in hot sauce. But despite not having much of a face, they were managing to give every impression of being in mortal fear for their lives. 

Which, seriously? How was that Grunvan’s problem? 

And what in the nether pits of the [Sunless Deeps] was she supposed to do about it?

She didn’t have razors on her tentacles! She didn’t even have tentacles! She was a bite sized morsel. Bit sized morsels were not what you turned to for protection against mortal dread!

It was unbelievably stupid. So of course, she turned to look in the direction the one she was talking to was gazing.

And there were a bunch of [Goblins] who were following the [Octopire’s] path.

No, not [Goblins]

Grunvan’s sense of disorientation ebbed as she saw something familiar that her mind could latch onto, only to notice that the [Goblins] who were charging after the [Octopires] were just as wrong as everything else that happening around her.

“What is happening!” Argwin took up a cry that was lurking behind the lips of every [Goblin] on the defensive lines.

Grunvan had no idea. 

Or, rather, she knew exactly what was happening and she very much did not want to face it.

“Attack! We’re under attack!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Those aren’t our people anymore! They’re Consortium things! Don’t let them pass!”

She wasn’t brave. She wasn’t brilliant. She was just there. In that moment. Doing what she could.

A roar went up from her fellow defenders. It wasn’t the most impressive bellow in the history of warfare. It didn’t strike any fear in the hearts of their foes. It didn’t summon unexpected allies to match the might of the force against them. All it did was allow the defenders of [Apple Plate] to join in something bigger than themselves. 

All it did was remind them they weren’t alone.

With a wave goodbye to the last bit of her sanity, Grunvan turned to the [Octopires] and pointed to the empty section of the wall beside her.

“Come on,” she said. “Get up here and fight with us.”

Cambrell

The news that [Wagon Town] wasn’t going to receive help from the its neighboring kingdoms didn’t surprise Cambrell in the slightest. It was disappointing to be sure. With the [Grand Coalitions] successes in reclaiming territory and cities which had been lost, it seemed like there would have to be some forces available to prevent the largest [Goblin] city on the planet from being wiped off the map.

From within the [High Commands] headquarters, Cambrell could see the tactical charts which showed the ever changing positions of the armies of the [Grand Coalition]. Teleportation networks allowed for redeployments far faster than any army could march which should have meant that saving [Wagon Town] was not only viable but strategically imperative. 

If left unchecked the Consortium forces would take the town, slaughter the inhabitants, and establish a foothold that very few of the [Grand Coalitions] troops would be equipped to dislodge them from. 

Except there were two important factors which seemed to be governing the choice of the leaders of the Coalition, though they were left entirely unspoken.

The first was the [Goblin] part of [Wagon Town] being a [Goblin City] and the second was that there would be a period of time, right towards the end of the Consortium’s sacking of [Wagon Town] when almost all of the inhabitants would be dead, but the Consortium’s forces were at their most extended and hadn’t yet had the chance to dig in and setup their own fortifications.

“That’s when they’ll strike,” Cambrel said, as he explained the situation to Damnazon. “It’ll mean the least loss of life in the army they send against the Consortium.”

“And the most loss of civilian lives!” Damnazon said, outrage making her grip on her axe turn white knuckled.

“That’s what the leaders are going to call a win-win scenario,” Cambrell said. “See it’s mostly [Goblins] in [Wagon Town], and a world where theres a lot fewer of us is a world a lot of people seem like they’d be really happy to live in.”

“That’s monstrous,” Damnazon said.

“It’s not exactly unhead of in our world either,” Hailey said. “Even without a formal factions system, our history’s got a ridiculous number of examples of one group of people deciding that some other group would be a lot better as fertilizer.”

Cambrell wasn’t sure if he should feel relieved that the other world his companions spoke of was one that was as bad as their current shared one. On the one hand, it meant the people he associated with weren’t uniquely terrible. On the other, it meant pretty much everywhere seemed to be generally rotten.

“That doesn’t make it right,” Damnazon said. “On Earth or here.”

“You can try telling them that, the Kings and Queens and Senior Councilors,” Cambrell said. “You’ll here the most verbose arguments about why it’s both right, and reasonable, and really the only proper thing they can do given their responsibilities.”

“How could they possibly justify letting that many innocent people die without doing anything?” Damnazon said.

“The usual lines are something like ‘I am pledged to protect the lives of my people’, who are of course not [Goblins],” Hailey said. “And sometimes they’ll throw in the ‘and are they really innocent, we all know what [Goblins] are like’. You know, if they’re feeling especially racist.”

“I wish they were hiding it even that well,” Penswell said as she joined the group. 

Cambrell had seen her arrive at the command station a few minutes earlier and immediately begin fissioning into separate copies of herself. The “Penny” who was speaking with them was probably one of a few hundred but, as far as Cambrell could tell, they had her full attention. 

“Some of the idiots are calling for moving an ‘expeditionary’ force in once [Wagon Town] is recaptured to ensure that the area is ‘properly defended in the future’,” Penny said.

“Defended from [Goblins] I take it?” Cambrell said.

“From [Goblin] rule,” Penny said., “[Goblins] would be allowed to live there still. Under ‘certain conditions’.”

“Nope,” Damnazon said and stood up.

“Nope?” Mellisandra asked. She didn’t stand but Cambrell saw her back tensing in the suggestion that she was ready to.

“Nope,” Damnazon said again. “That’s not happening.”

“There’s an army of Consortium forces that says at least the first part of it is,” Hailey said.

“We have the Coalitions chief [Strategist] right here,” Damnazon said, gesturing to Penny with both hands. “Make that not happen. Send them the help they need.”

“Sadly, I’m only the Coalition’s [Strategist], not it’s direct commander,” Penny said. “I’m explaining to them as we speak why they have to prevent loss of life at [Wagon Town]. I’m using the best selfish, and rational arguments I can. And the ones with the armies that I need are just not listening.”

Cambrell could hear the undisguised frustration in Penny’s voice. He’d been part of diplomatic delegations before and knew the stone walls that the powerful surrounded their minds with when threatened by an idea which didn’t serve to increase their power or prestige.

“I could kill a few of them if you need?” he offered. He didn’t like working for free, even for a good cause, but under the circumstances he felt the enjoyment factor might outweigh the loss of revenue.

“I have been keeping your talents in mind,” Penny said. “And thank you for the direct offer. For the time being however I believe that sort of pressure would yield worse results.”

“Worse than [Wagon Town] dying?” Damnazon asked.

“Using murder as a coercion tactic is emotionally appealing at the moment, but it would lead to a solidarity in nations who are in favor of eliminating countries under [Goblin] rule,” Penny said. “We could save [Wagon Town] today at the cost of a thousand times as many [Goblin] lives within the year.”

“Then we do it without them,” Damnazon said.

“Stop an army?” Mellisandra said. “That’s a lot for the three of us, isn’t it?”

“Good thing it’s not just the three of you then isn’t it?” Feral Fang said.

Filing into the room were a steady stream of adventurers. 

The nations of the [Fallen Kingdoms] might not be willing to save [Wagon Town], but the world is made of more the nations. At its heart, the [Fallen Kingdoms], and every other world, is made of people and as Cambrell watched the stream of [Adventurers] pour in he began to wonder if he’d discounted just how many good ones there were out there.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Interlude 2

Marcus

An ice cream truck wasn’t the first place Marcus would have chosen to catch up his beauty sleep, but since Officer’s Astra and Smith had so kindly setup a cot for him in place of one of the ice cream freezers, he’d been incapable of saying no. Mostly because he’d been falling asleep as he got into the truck and hadn’t even made it to the cot before a deep, dreamless slumber claimed him.

Coming out that slumber was a bit harder than sliding into it had been. The sounds of the road seeped into his awareness first, followed by the typical rhythms of traffic.

The thought that he was in a moving vehicle entered his mind without arousing any particular awareness. At least not until it had sat there for what felt like several minutes.

“Wait? Why are we in traffic?” he asked, blinking his eyes against the daylight, and trying to sit up.

“Sorry,” Officer Astra said. “I didn’t expect the Strip to be this busy today.”

“The Strip?” Marcus asked, sitting up in time to see a box truck with an ad for a Penn and Teller show go by on their right.

That didn’t compute either. Penn and Teller didn’t have an act in California, they were in…

“The Strip? As in Las Vegas?” Marcus asked, rousing to full wakefulness at last.

“Yeah, we sort of kidnapped you,” Officer Smith said. She didn’t sound all that serious and she didn’t look particularly guilty but Marcus felt a growing alarm that he could only take what she’d said as being quite literal.

Except, now that he took a better look at her, Marcus wasn’t sure how Smith had managed to pass for an Officer. She was too young. Probably high school aged? Maybe early college at the outside? In theory that was old enough to be a police officer, but people didn’t join up and make detective immediately? Did they?

“Why? Where are you taking me?” Marcus asked, aware that if they’d driven him a few hundred miles across state lines he was potentially in a very bad situation despite the lack of bad vibes he was receiving from either of the “Officers”.

“There are some people who need your help,” Astra said.

“And you’re not really kidnapped,” Smith said. “Here’s your phone and your laptop. You should be able to get a good connection here. If you want to call anyone or check back in with the EE offices, go right ahead.”

“I don’t understand what’s happening here, but this is a really bad time for it,” Marcus said. “There are people, literally thousands of people who need me back there.”

“I know,” Smith said. “That’s why I made sure to grab your stuff before we left. Seriously go ahead and call in. It’s only been about five hours now since we left, and things had hit a quiet spot then, but that’s probably not going to last.”

“And what am I supposed to tell my team?” Marcus asked. “Sorry but I’ve been abducted by two women posing as police officers?”

“The truth is sometimes a good choice,” Astra said. “I’d say it’s 50/50 whether this case is one of them though.”

“We will get you back there,” Smith said.

“If I do something for you, right?” Marcus asked, anger kindling at the thought of being pulled away from a crisis that he could not afford to ignore. 

“No,” Smith said. “This isn’t for us. This is something you need to see to have a better chance at helping them people you’ve been working so hard for.”

“How does that…? Wait, do you know something about what’s going on with all this?” Marcus asked. “Do you know what’s happening to our players?”

“We do,” Astra said. “We’re not responsible for any of it, but we are trying to help. The same as you.”

“Clearly not the same as me, because no one I know has a clue what’s going on here,” Marcus said. He checked his phone and found that he had five bars of signal. The laptop was fully charged up too. He could dial in or get connected whenever he wanted to it seemed.

“I’m sorry,” Smith said. “I wish we could tell you everything you want to know, but there’s a lot we don’t know too. And a lot that’s just not known at all at this point.”

“Do you know what happened to the players? Do you know what’s really going on here?” Marcus asked.

“What happened to the players is just what you think happened,” Astra said. “They’ve been transported to another world.”

“Okay, then how? How did this happen?” Marcus asked.

“That we don’t know,” Beth said. “Normally that sort of thing is a very specific sort of ‘impossible’. At least in worlds like this one.”

“Worlds like this one? So there are other worlds out there? And you’ve been to them?” Marcus asked.

“A few,” Smith said. “This world is different though. It’s basically the same as mine. My original one. No fantastical elements, no monsters, and no magic. This sort of place isn’t supposed to ever experience an event like this one.”

“If you said that three days ago, I would have completely agreed,” Marcus said. “But whatever it is, it’s happening now, so do you have any idea how to stop it?”

“We’re not even sure if it should be stopped yet,” Astra said.

“What, you want more of these kids to get yanked over there?” Marcus asked.

“Possibly,” Astra said. “I’m guessing it’s going to depend on what we find here.”

Marcus looked up to see them pulling into a parking lot of an office complex. The sign at the entrance listed a few law firms, a fast food franchise, and a software development company.

Not just any software development company though.

K2 Squared. Also known as one of the main competitors with Egress Entertainment in the MMO industry, or, as Marcus thought of them, ‘the poor saps who get the people who can’t handle playing our game’.

He’d had lunch with the folks from K2 a few times during industry conferences, usually in Las Vegas as he recalled. They faced so many of the same challenges that he and his team did in terms of supporting a worldwide user base that their get togethers tended to be more about crying on sympathetic shoulders than intra-company rivalry, especially since it was always possible that any one of them would wind up working for the other’s company if a round of layoffs hit.

“Why are we here?” Marcus asked, his mind jumping to the possibility that the K2 team might be able to pitch in and help his people out. Some of the K2’ers played Broken Horizons, so they wouldn’t need much of a ramp up, and there were so many tasks that just needed a warm body to handle them.

Smith’s words put a stop to all those happy thoughts though.

“They need you,” she said. “Some of their players have started disappearing too.”

Hailey

Hailey was invisible. And inaudible. And partially incorporeal. It wasn’t her favorite method traveling.

“We should be able to get to the inn pretty soon,” Mellisandra said. She spoke audibly for anyone to hear, and didn’t add anything telepathically on their party channel.

“I could definitely use a few hours of sleep,” Damnazon said. 

Mellisandra was speaking in code. The ‘inn’ was their codeword for the [High Command’s] base. Damnazon was not speaking in code. They were all ready to rest.

Which seemed odd to Hailey.

They’d been trekking overland to reach the [High Command’s] base all night, but that wasn’t unusual for an [Adventurer]. Thanks to the accelerated time rate in the game, when Hailey played BT, usually a week or more passed in the [Fallen Kingdoms] and BT was active that entire time. No rest, sometimes no food, and often wall-to-wall combat.

So why did walking for one night leave her feeling like crawling in a warm, comfy bed would be the nicest thing in the world?

Maybe it was the stress? The whole trip was driven by the knowledge that Hailey couldn’t be allowed to fall into enemy hands. No at any cost. The thought that being murdered would be both a good outcome is trouble arose, and something that wouldn’t hold her back in the long run, was somehow not as encouraging as Hailey had hoped it would be.

“We’ve got company on the other side of the ridge,” Cambrell said on their party channel. The [Goblin] [Assassin] didn’t look worried, but Hailey couldn’t tell if that was due to professional calm or an evaluation of the ‘company’ in question.

“Are they heading in our direction?” Mellisandra asked, also on the private channel.

“They’re paralleling us,” Cambrell said. “Probably making for the gap the [High Road] passes through.”

“They’ll reach it at the same time we do I take it?” Hailey said.

“We could slow down,” Cambrell said.

“I don’t like letting them get in between us and the base,” Damnazon said.

“If we hurry up, they’ll know we’re not the traveling villagers we’re disguised as,” Mellisandra said.

In order to travel in something approaching safety, the three visible members of the party were disguised as farmers like the thousands of others who were fleeing the fall of [Doom Crag] far to the east. The Consortium’s forces had advanced westward from [Doom Crag] at all, but the smaller villages could see the peril they lay in even without an overt sign of aggression from the invaders.

“I wish they’d been able to leave the teleportation network active around the base,” Damnazon said.

“I can’t blame them from imposing an absolute interdiction on dimension travel,” Mellisandra said. “We know the Consortium is using drop ships that deploy their troops via short range warps. The last thing [High Command] needs is a platoon of [Artifax] appearing out of nowhere in the middle of their strategy sessions.”

“Yeah, but it’s damn inconvenient for us,” Damnazon said.

“That’s how all clients work,” Cambrell said. “They never want things done the easy way. It’s always gotta be one headache or another.”

“I’m sorry to put you folks through this,” Hailey said.

“Hey, without you, we’d still have no idea about half the stuff the Consortium can do. Not to mention where they all are,” Mellisandra said.

“Yes. Keeping you safe is a fair transaction given what you’ve done for us,” Cambrell said.

“I’m hoping that’s still true,” Hailey said. “The more time that passes, the less reliable the data I gave you will become.”

“Penswell will be aware of that too,” Mellisandra said. “The last report we got was that the defense forces were moving on the intel you gave them immediately.”

“I wish we could find out how that went,” Hailey said. “I know it doesn’t solve the bigger problem of what’s happening with the Earthlings all being drawn here, but if we could get the Consortium assault sorted out, it’d be much easier to focus on the real problems we have to deal with.”

“Real problems?” Mellisandra asked.

“Yeah, I don’t think we’re experiencing this [World Shift] because of the Consortium attack,” Hailey said. “That was an event which the devs worked on for a long time, so it’s a big deal but it’s not an existential crisis for the [Fallen Kingdoms]. I mean the [Adventurers] here have fought gods, and demons, and the living embodiment of time gone wrong. An evil extra-dimensional mega-corporation is bad, but the plan was never for the Consortium to win. They’re just supposed to be there to put up a good enough fight to last until the next expansion is ready. Heck there was even talk about the [Fallen Kingdoms] eventually allying with a faction from the Consortium against the Big Bad they had in mind for the 20th Anniversary expansion they had in mind for 2024.”

“What was that supposed to be? The Big Bad I mean?” Damnazon asked.

“The joke around the office was ‘unrecoverable disk errors’, since that’s the nightmare scenario the IT folks are always warning the devs about in terms of making backups of the work on their local drives. With what’s happening now though? I’m not really sure if that’s a joke anymore.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Interlude 1

Penswell

The night was coming to an end, and the first rays of daylight made it their purpose in life to sneak around the curtains in Penny’s room and stab her directly in the eye. Penny knew beams of sunlight lacked not only malice but also the intelligence required to form malicious thought. Penny also knew enemy action when she saw it. 

“The daylight hates me,” she grumbled, trying to turn away from it without fully rousing to wakefulness. Part of her knew that was a bad idea, but the sleepy, larger portion of her mind knew how much sleep was still required and fought valiantly to maintain a state of blissful ignorance. It was a battle which she mostly won, as it left her mind fuzzy enough that she wasn’t expecting to turn into a pair of arms when she flipped onto her side, or be drawn into a warm embrace by those familiar arms which were all too infrequently able to ensnare her as they had.

“I don’t think it does,” Niminay said. “It highlights your hair too wonderfully for it to mean you ill.”

Thoughts trampled a path into Penny’s awareness, cracking open the door to consciousness which, given Niminay’s proximity, Penny wasn’t quite as unhappy about as she might have been.

“What time is it? How long was I out? That was only supposed to be four hours!” Penny’s eyes flew open to behold a heart stoppingly  wonderful sight.

“We’re just at dawn,” Niminay said. “I checked in with your team an hour ago. There are no catastrophes which require your attention. You can rest in for another couple of hours before you go back to splitting yourself into a thousand pieces.”

“No catastrophes? In that whole time? That’s not possible,” Penny said, giving Niminay a small kiss before pushing aside the covers and getting dressed. “We have over a hundred active theaters of combat going on. We couldn’t have held on to our positions in them all.”

“We didn’t,” Niminay said, but the delighted smile on her lips didn’t match up with any outcomes Penny could imagine. “We’ve advanced. Not everywhere. There are still a lot of hot spots, but they were able to execute your contingency orders in at least half the battlefields.”

“Things got that bad and no one woke me?” Penny asked.

“Not that bad. That good!” Niminay said. “The openings that you told them to watch for? They found those and more. A lot more in fact.”

“I don’t understand. I must still be dreaming?” Penny said and called up one of her more esoteric skills to determine when she was under the effect of any mental compulsions or sensory manipulations. All the checks came back negative. Her mind was her own. She just couldn’t believe what it was hearing.

“I should let them explain,” Niminay said. “From what I was able to make out, your staff has every reason to be proud and they can offer you all the details you’re looking for.”

“What did they do though?” Penny asked. She was fully dressed, but still felt naked without a solid understanding of the situation before her.

“You left them with orders to carry out exploratory raids remember?” Niminay asked.

“Yes. We had to keep our awareness of the key locations up to date without indicating where we were planning to push back on next,” Penny said. “Those weren’t supposed to be turned into all out offenses though. We can’t afford to be overextended, even if…no, especially if the Consortium is making the efforts to recapture our assets look affordable.”

“I don’t think we’re over extended,” Niminay said. “They didn’t need to order the armies to move at all. Not to recapture the sites we’ve taken back at least.”

“How did they…oh, the [Adventurers]?” Penny asked, knowing it had to be them. Teams of [Adventurers] were the only force capable of retaking a major objective and retreating safety in the time that had passed.

“See, you’re out of bed for all of ten seconds and you already don’t need the briefing your team is preparing,” Niminay said.

“I’m pretty sure I do,” Penny said. “What your describing is alarming.”

“That is exactly what they said you’d say. I gather there was a lot of discussion regarding the wins we’re seeing. The general consensus has shifted from it clearly being a trap, to it being the action of some enemy of the Consortium which we happen to be benefiting from.”

“I need to see the charts,” Penny said and began pacing in the room.

“I’m sure they’ve got everything laid out for you already in the war room,” Niminay said. “Did you want to go there?”

“No. Not yet,” Penny said and continued to pace. “This is too big. I need to put things in order first. I need to work out the questions I should be asking.”

“Should I not be distracting you then?” Niminay asked and began putting on her own clothes.

“Yes, or no, or I could use you here,” Penny said. “I need to bounce ideas off someone.”

“You know I’m here for you,” Niminay said and sat back down on the bed in an attentive pose. 

“Okay, good, thank you,” Penny said. “Gods why aren’t we married yet?”

“I can have a cleric up here in like five minutes, three even,” Niminay said. It was a playful tease to help ground Penny’s thoughts, but Penny also knew that Niminay was also entirely serious. It wasn’t that the war didn’t matter to Niminay but she had an [Adventurer’s] mindset where no disaster was sufficient grounds for passing up how you wanted to live your life. Probably because for them, every day held its own disasters and triumphs and life had to happen somewhere. If that somewhere was in a crypt, or on a battlefield, or even a quiet bedroom for two, then so be it.

“No, they’d just muddle my thinking,” Penny said, feeling the wheels in her brain whirling up to full speed.

“Someday…” Niminay promised, looking like muddling Penny’s thinking was something she was very much looking forward to.

Penny considered letting her send for the cleric. 

They were still in a crisis but that didn’t mean Penny was dead. Or that she was going to leave Niminay hanging for a moment longer than she had to. She might not be an [Adventurer] herself but she wasn’t a fool either.

Temptations did need to be put aside for the greater good on occasion though, and this was such an occasion if one ever existed.

“So the exploratory raids went well?” She was talking to herself more than asking a question, priming the pump of her brain for leaps of understanding she needed to make. “The [Adventurers] met with unexpectedly low resistance.”

“Worth noting, apparently the troops they expected to face were there, the earlier intel we had was largely accurate,” Niminay said.

“The same units but judged to be an easy fight. That says their support divisions weren’t in place. Which in turn suggests a failure at the command level.”

“The early reports did mention that the responses to the provoking raids was much slower than expected,” Niminay said.

The “provoking raids” were ones Penny had designed in order to utilize even the purely combat focused [Adventurers] as an additional support troops. The idea was to send in a team of [Adventurers] to create real problems against enemy forces the [Adventurers] couldn’t hope to overcome on their own. 

The [Adventurers] didn’t need to win these battles though. All they had to do was pose a threat which the Consortium had to answer. The long term gameplan was to train the Consortium’s forces that when a team of [Adventurers] showed up the only possible response was to send out an overwhelming forces against the small group. That, in turns, would allow the regular armies to assault positions which had their ranks split and disorganized to the greatest extent possible.

Penny hadn’t been sure the strategy would pay off. Her counterpart, the strategist for the Consortium, was able to see through ploys like that with ease. Regardless of that however, sending in the [Adventurers] still made sense to Penny.

She was careful to select targets where the value of the damage they were inflicting was too high to discount or ignore and where the ease of the parties escape was sufficiently high. It wasn’t enough to win the war, or even greatly slow down the Consortium, but the losses would hurt them and create weaknesses in their capabilities at key points which could be utilized later.

More importantly though, it was the sort of counterstrike which didn’t present a high degree of risk. The [Fallen Kingdoms] lost too many [Adventurers] on the raid against the Consortium’s ships and Penny was determined to spend her resources as wisely as she could, which meant ‘not at all’ if that was possible.

A slow response to a provoking raid was highly out of character for the war’s architect though. If anything Penny had been concerned about traps set for the parties she sent in and troop response rates far in excess of anything the [Fallen Kingdoms] could muster. She’d scaled back almost all the operations with that in mind

“The [Adventurers] fought farther into the enemy encampments than they were supposed to, didn’t they?” she asked.

“Only in a relatively few cases,” Niminay said. “If you’ll accept about 40% as ‘relatively few’ that is.”

Penny almost laughed. For [Adventurers] that was a low number. Normally when given the chance for mayhem and looting, [Adventurers] would somehow manage a 110% disobedience rate.

“Did any of the parties report in-fighting among the Consortium’s forces?” Penny asked.

“How did you know?”Niminay asked.

“It fits a narrative,” Penny said. “If we succeeded on half of the raids I designed, then the Consortium’s defenses suffered a severely destabilizing blow in a short period of time. The only likely candidates include a change in leadership. But that doesn’t make sense at all.”

“Why trade out an effective leader for a terrible one?” Niminay said.

“That too, although we’ve seen Kings and Lords and Council’s do it all the time. There are far too many people who prioritize their personal needs over those of the people around them,” Penny said. “The part which really doesn’t make sense to me though is why the previous commander allowed themselves to be forced out of power?”

“The Consortium doesn’t seem like the sort of organization which cares much for loyalty,” Niminay said. “Maybe the previous leader, the smart one, made some political blunder and got ‘removed from power’ with extreme prejudice.”

“Not impossible,” Penny said. “I’m hard pressed to believe that someone bright enough to design the strategies we’ve seen wouldn’t be every bit as adept at manipulating the Consortium too. I don’t think anyone could arrive in a position of central authority in an organization like that without mastering its foibles.”

“We’ve seen dramatic shifts in power take down even the most highly placed people before,” Niminay said.

“Usually there’s a measure of hubris which precedes the downfall,” Penny said and added with a smile, “or they attract your attention on a bad day.”

“I killed one god like that!” Niminay said. “Only one!”

“What about [Gyr Rex]?” Penny said.

“Ok, two. Two gods. That’s not an every day thing though.”

“Both cases serve to illustrate my point,” Penny said. “There’s usually an up swing in power or influence preceding the downfall of a major power. They stride forth, seeming to be at the top of their game and able to accomplish all of their objectives with ease, but by stepping onto a new stage, they also expose previously unseen weaknesses which prove to be their undoing.”

“Isn’t that potentially what happened here?” Niminay said. “By trying to take on our forces, the Consortium started fighting on a new stage.”

“The pattern fits,” Penny said. “Except that I’m missing the most important part of it.”

“What the new incompetent at the helm wants?” Niminay asked.

“That’s something we’ll see in time,” Penny said. “I’m more concerned with what the previous leader’s weakness was.”

“Curiosity or do you think it will become relevant again?” Niminay asked.

“With as sharp a difference as we’ve seen between the two commanders?” Penny said. “I think it’s a very real concern that the previous one will be back in power before we’re able to destroy the foothold the Consortium has on our world.”