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Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 18

Grace / Kamie Anne Do

In Kamie Anne Do’s world any enemy you could defeat without losing all your hit points was a good enemy. Grace’s view was that the best enemy was the one you could defeat without taking any injuries. They both agreed that the [Disjoined Soldiers] didn’t fall into the category of ‘an enemy they really wanted to fight’ though, despite the increasing number of them which they are able to dispatch.

“Where are all these reinforcements coming from?” Battler X asked, fighting back to back with Kamie.

“The last wave were all with the 5th Gryphon squad. These ones are mix of the 5th and the 3rd,” Sergeant Pono said as she tossed her exhausted [Plasma Lancer] away and drew a knife  that was long enough to qualify as at least a short sword. Grace suspected the nimbus of vibrating blue energy around its edge was more than a shiny cosmetic effect, but knives had never been her thing.

“Are we going to see more of the 3rd roll in?” she asked, parrying a raking claw strike and counter attacking to break the [Disjoined’s] elbow in the hopes of taking the arm out of commission.

Her punch landed with more force than Grace’s human form ever could have delivered, enough to shatter the bones she hit. In any sort of reasonable fight she would have achieved her objective. What she was embroiled in was nothing like a reasonable fight though.

“We shouldn’t be seeing as many of them as we are,” Pono said. “We were supposed to be operating under [Apocalypse Security Protocols]. The Hunger couldn’t have gotten through those.”

Pono feinted at the soldier in front of her, forcing it back a half step, before spinning to her right and slicing a leg off one of the soldier’s Kamie was fighting.

“Is that what kept you safe?” Grace asked. She took advantage of the opening Pono created to boot the injured [Disjoined Soldier] back into the crowd, knocking down two others who were trying to capitalize on Pono’s momentary distraction.

“Don’t know that I’d call this safe,” Pono said.

“Fair point,” Grace said.

“You said we’re immune to them though?” Battler X asked. She had downed one but didn’t make the mistake of assuming it was going to stay down. Before the soldier could rise again or scramble away, she dropped a quick series of blows to make sure the body was definitely non-functional.

“I don’t know how,” Pono said. “It’s good that you are though. If the Hunger could get it’s claws into you, it could probably use all of the your powers, and then we’d be having more than a mildly bad day.”

“This is mildly bad?” Grail Force asked. She’d taken up a more secure location and was lobbing death down from above into the horde that was trying to push into the boss chamber the adventurer’s had selected as their battle arena.

“I haven’t lost any major organs yet, so, yeah, could be worse,” Pono said.

The other [Consortium Soldiers] who were still in possession of their own wits had been reduced to fighting with melee weapons as well but were acquitting themselves far better than their [Disjoined] comrades who’d been [Devolving] into forms with blades and spikes and bladders of acid under the [Formless Hungers] influence.

“You sound like an adventurer when you talk like that,” Battler X said. “You don’t have respawn points on your ships do you?”

“Our medtech is top notch but dead is dead,” Pono said. “Well, for people at my pay grade anyways.”

“You should definitely take up the adventuring life then,” Grace said. “Don’t even need dental when you could regrow your entire head.”

“That sounds handy, but I’m bound to my post. We all are” Pono said. “Duty before anything else and all that.”

“Seems like your former comrades disagree,” Battler X said, kicking a [Disjoined Soldier] over to Kamie.

“They’re only former because they had their comms open,” Pono said. “Against a [Transdimensional Entity] like a Hunger no amount of [Loyalty Compulsions] can hold someone to their duty.”

“Wait, [Loyalty Compulsions]?” Grace asked. “You mean when there’s magic forcing you to serve the [Consortium of Pain]?”

“It’s cheaper than yearly bonuses,” Pono said. She lost her knife by burying it in the head of the one of the enemies but in exchange she gained a freshly charged [Plasma Lancer] and was able to able to open fire immediately.

“Do we have anyone who can [Dispel] control debuffs?” Grace asked on the adventurer’s private channel.

“Yeah, I think so,” Grail Force said on the private channel. “Back at the refuge there’s at least a couple.”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Grace asked, sure that everyone could see the same opportunity she could.

“Yeah, definitely,” Buzz Fightyear said. “Only problem is I don’t see how we’re going to get them back to the refuge. If we leave this spot, the [Disjoined] will be able to get to a place where they’re not stuck under a level cap.”

“And there’s a whole bunch more of them coming,” Battler X said. She’d pressed through the crowd enough to be able to look down the corridor which led into the boss chamber. 

Grace wasn’t thrilled by the intel but she wasn’t surprised by it either. The [Formless Hunger] didn’t seem to be the sort of monster that was able to learn from its defeats. 

Or it has inexhaustible strength and simply didn’t care about the temporary victories Grace and her team were winning.

Either or both were possible, but Grace liked the first interpretation better.

“Maybe we don’t have to get them to the refuge,” Grace said. “All we really need is one of the dispellers to come to us as reinforcements, after all it looks like we’re going to be here for a while.”

No sooner had she said that than a wave seemed to pass through the [Disjoined].

“Whatever that was, I’m sure it wasn’t good,” Pono said.

Grace was inclined to agree with her.

The weird, hissing static in the [Disjoined] eyes and mouth was swept away by the wave. In its place a purple flame began to burn in their eyes.

“Brace for something bad,” Grace said.

And then the strangest thing happened; the former [Disjoined] began to flow out of the room, like a receding tide.

Something was calling them away.

Azma

The nice thing about an implacable foe was that they were so terribly predictable. Azma didn’t take that as an excuse to rest though. She was running a race against so many different forces that being able to ignore the [Formless Hunger] for a while only meant that she had time to plan out the moves she’d be taking in the hours and days to come.

She’d built up a variety of beautiful models in her mind, solid plans and wild alternates and subtle variations based on the range of responses from the Consortium and the defenders on the planet below. For the actions of those she commanded or could influence into action, she always assumed a statistically significant level of underperformance. Incompetence was a universal trait in her experience and while large, intricate plans were a path to victory in many cases, it was in all cases foolish to assume that the cogs which enacted those plans could be trusts with even the smallest degree of complexity. 

The only person Azma trusted to be able to see the scope of her machinations and keep the various threads straight was herself.

Which meant she was also the only one who could appreciate exactly how disappointing and terrifying it was what a fundamental aspect of those plans when horribly awry.

“Containment Unit 7 is showing a full burst detonation,” Grenslaw said. “Indirect telemetry suggests the personnel from Unit 7 were out of the blast radius when the burst occurred.”

“Good, good,” Azma said, paying only marginal attention to a result which she already knew was the only real outcome possible. “Has the Hunger overwhelmed Unit 7 yet?” 

The timing on the Hunger devouring the containment unit was slightly wobbly. It was possible the containment unit had expended it’s remaining charge in the burst and would fail instantly when the Hunger moved against it. Alternatively it might be able to put up a defense for a few dozen seconds. The more time the better since it would give the troops more time to leave the Hunger’s area of influence but ultimately all that was required was for the Hunger to shift itself out of position. That would leave it too far extended to reach the troops directly and they were all shielded for indirect contacts. Azma was ready for either eventuality but neither one required a change in her plans.

The report she received however did.

“Unit 7 is not being attacked,” Grenslaw said.

“That’s not possible,” Azma said, vague annoyance at the poor data collection available to them rising behind her eyes. “Whatever the Hunger seems to be doing near it is an attack.”

 “There is no sign of movement from the [Transdimensional Entity],” Grenslaw said.

“There’s…what?” Azma’s plans didn’t collapse then. She was used to incompetence and if she’d momentarily forgotten its prevalence in light of Grenslaw’s exemplary service, she still had it factored into several of her plans.

Also, denial is a powerful drug and a drug even the powerful can fail to avoid indulging in on the wrong occasions.

“Indirect telemetry shows no sign of movement,” Grenslaw said. “Shall I order one of the abandoned ships to perform an active scan?”

Azma paused, feeling her plans teetering.

If they used a downed ship to actively search for the Hunger, they would only get one set of responses back before they had to assume that the ship was contaminated after that.

“Yes. Do it,” Azma said. The cost was phenomenal compared to the data provided but if Azma couldn’t direct the Hunger, the value of a ship wasn’t going to play a meaningful role in her future.

It took a five second eternity before the answer appeared on Grenslaw’s monitor.

“No movement detected by an active scan either.”

Azma’s plans crashed down around her, brittle shards sending icy panic racing through her veins.

The combat squad she’d brought with her tensed.

The moment when the [Supreme Commander] learned that their careful plans had all failed was almost always the moment when Consortium leaders decided to vent their rage and disappointment in a bloody fashion.

Azma was the exception. 

She simply closed her eyes and began to think.

Had the initial analysis been wrong? Was it possible they hadn’t ever been dealing with a [Transdimensional Entity]?

No. Based on the Hunger’s destruction of the ships which its suborned, the first appraisal had been correct.

Was it possible the Hunger was faking? Playing passive to lure in more troops which is could take control of?

Again, no. That level of planning required capabilities which entities like the Hunger didn’t posses. Or rather couldn’t possess. A Hunger didn’t have a will. It was defined only be its hunger. For one not to respond to a chance to feed, it would have to no longer be a [Formless Hunger] at all.

Azma paused there, considering the implications of that thought.

Not a Hunger. 

No. Not a [Formless Hunger] any longer.

It had changed.

“Find another ship,” she said. “Do another active scan. I want a composition report this time.”

“The expected result for a composition scan of a [Transdimensional Entity] is a ‘Failed to Read’ error,” Grenslaw said. “I have one prepped now. Awaiting orders to trigger it.”

Azma smiled. Grenslaw was providing the proper feedback to ensure Azma wasn’t wasting a resource while also understanding that there was more to the request that was immediately apparent.

“Perform the scan,” Azma said. “I’m afraid it’s not going to be read failure.”

It was Grenslaw’s turn to take a moment of silence.

“The composition scan succeeded. Also indirect telemetry has provided new data,” Greslaw said, visibly stunned. “The [Entity] has begun to move.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 4

Lisa

Some thresholds are perilous to cross not because of the danger which lurks beyond them but because of the opportunities they offer. Lisa was too staggered by the sight of the library beyond the magic portal to process that thought, but Lost Alice’s reflexes were fast enough for her to grab hold of Tessa’s arm before Tessa could stumble through the door.

“You’re seeing this too, right?” Tessa asked, waving her hand at the cosy scene before them.

“Books, coffee, nice lightning? Yeah,” Lisa said. “Should any of that really be in a place like this?”

Tessa took a step back and finally glanced back at Lisa.

“There’s a slime in there,” she said, gesturing to one of the chairs near the table where the coffee had been laid out.

Lisa hadn’t noticed that at first, nor had Lost Alice. Even with being low level still, basic slimes didn’t register as a threat. Typically slimes filled the role of a cute collectible or odd pet but Lisa had never found them particularly appealing. None of that changed the fact that there was, indeed, a slime waiting for them inside the room.

At roughly the size of a basketball, with a body made of blue jello, it would have been hard to determine what the tear-dropped shaped slime was doing. It was the addition of lighter indentations in the shape of big, wide eyes, little eyebrows, and a remarkably expressive mouth that made it clear the slime was watching them and waiting impatiently for the two of them to enter.

“This screams trap, doesn’t it?” Lisa said. It was phrased as a question but she was certain she knew the answer already. 

Doors to magical chambers didn’t tend to fly open when random people walked by them unless the point was to lure those random people to their doom.

“I think you just described this whole place,” Tessa said.

“Yeah, I guess the Ruins are a dungeon.” Lisa had known it was perilous venturing into them but, as with many terrible decisions, it had seemed like such a good idea at the time.

“I was thinking more the world in general,” Tessa said. “That slime’s not normal.”

“Not normal how?” Lisa asked. It smelled like a slime, at least as far as Lost Alice could remember. It wobbled like one too. Even the fine details which made up its ‘face’ seemed to match other slimes. If it was an illusion, it was an exceptional one. 

“I don’t know. It just looks off,” Tessa said and then started forward. “Let’s go find out.”

Lisa could have stopped her. She was faster and stronger than Tessa, but more importantly, Tessa would listen to her. 

Walking into the room was a bad idea. At the least, it would delay they from reuniting with their friends, and if the trap was meant for higher level characters they might never manage to escape it at all.

But Tessa’s voice held a certainty Lisa hadn’t often heard in it. Her partner knew something, maybe not yet consciously, but if that was enough to get Tessa to walk into some new and strange hell, Lisa wasn’t going to let her deal with it alone.

“What are you,” the slime said as they crossed the magical threshold into the [Library Primordial].

“You can talk,” Tessa said.

Lisa was surprised to find the two glaring at each other with the slime apparently so focused on Tessa as to be unaware of the presence of a [Vampire] in front of him. Tessa still knew she was there though, as witness by her reaching out and threading her fingers through Lisa’s without taking her gaze off the slime. Lisa was touched by the gesture until it occurred to her that Tessa was probably trying to hold her back as much as seek comfort in her touch.

“What are you.” The slime was hardly in a position to be imposing. It was blobbed onto the chair and, presumably, capable of little more than bouncing to the floor. It’s tone suggested a far more imperious mindset than the body seemed capable of supporting though.

“Hmm, I wonder if these books are real?” Tessa asked, lifting her gaze from the slime to take in the endless stacks of books around them.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” the slime said. 

“And you’re not supposed to be able to talk,” Lisa said.

“Do you know who I am?” the slime asked as though it were impossible someone wouldn’t be familiar with him.

“The coffee’s probably not real either,” Tessa said. “That’s a shame.”

“Aptomos sent you,” the slime said. “Where is he? I am going to melt him down to sludge.”

“I don’t think so,” Tessa said, returning her gaze to the slime. “You need us.”

“You have no idea who I am, do you? I’ve never needed anyone. Now where is Aptomos?”

“You’re Dav’kralthrax,” Tessa said. “Also known as David Kralt.”

Lisa recognized both names and drew in a sharp breath, despite [Vampires] not particularly needing air.

Dav’kralthrax was a figure from the deep lore of [Broken Horizons]. In the backstory of the game though, he wasn’t a slime. He was the [First Dragon], born from the [Primordial Chaos] before the world was forged, or perhaps he was the [Primordial Chaos], the mythology of the [Fallen Kingdoms] was intentionally sketchy on the subject.

His fire was supposedly responsible for casting the stars into the sky and kindling the fledgling sun.

For all his vaunted place in the mythology though, Dav’kralthrax didn’t appear in the game at all, and had no items or areas which related to him. In theory that was a result of the lore which spoke of Dav’s destruction prior to the forming of the [Heavenly Kingdoms].

In reality though, Dav’kralthrax wasn’t reference in anything beyond the oldest development materials because the [First Dragon] was the avatar for the game’s original lead developer.

David Kralt. The man whom Egress Entertainment was contractually required to credit as the designer of [Broken Horizons] despite the fact that he’d been “moved to other projects” after the first year of development, four years before the game even launched, and who had contributed nothing to its growth or popularity thereafter.

Jamal

What had been a simple trek to meet up with their teammates a bit early had been a frantic rush to reach them before tragedy could overtake them. Jamal wished he could be surprised by that. 

“Hey, if we find more of the [Disjoined], let me be the first to engage them ok?” Rose asked on their private channel.

“If we find more [Disjoined], I thought the plan was to out run them?” Jamal said.

“It is,” Rose said. “But you’ve seen how our plans have been going.”

“Ok, fair enough,” Jamal said. “But what do you mean ‘let you engage them’? Why wouldn’t we both blast them to bits?”

“If they’re going to come after someone, it should probably be me,” Rose said.

“Cause [Archers] are tougher than [Dream Spinners]?” Jamal said with a laugh. “We’re both squishy as hell.”

“Yeah, but I can move faster,” Rose said.

“How? We both run at the same speed,” Jamal said. “Well, sort of.”

Rose was definitely moving faster than the baseline run speed all of the adventurers seemed to be able to maintain. 

“I picked up a couple of movement abilities,” Rose said. “I can use either one for a quick escape if I need it.”

“Wait, when did you level?”

“I didn’t.” Rose was moving through the cavernous passageways at a full run so Jamal couldn’t see her face but he still felt like she was shyly turning away from something.

“How did you pick up a new ability then?”

“My class changed.” She said it like it was a minor bit of trivia, which screamed at Jamal just how important it was.

He checked her entry in the party list and saw that she still had the same bow icon beside her name, denoting her as an [Archer], but when he pulled up her stat sheet he saw she was indeed telling the truth.

“What’s a [Lightning Archer] and how did you…oh god, wait, you didn’t?” Jamal knew exactly where her new class had come from with a moments thought but even knowing that he had no idea what it might mean for her.

“It’s a really cool class!” Rose said, her excitement bubbling out of her.

“You made a deal with the [Lord of Storms]? What did you have to give them?”

“Nothing!” Rose said a tad too quick. “Well, nothing specific. I just have to believe in them. You know, to like, feed them god energy.”

“You’re worshipping a living thunderstorm who we met one time?” Jamal asked. It didn’t surprise him all that much. Rose wasn’t adverse to cheating when she had to win. The thought that there was any actual devotion behind her pledge to the [Lord of Storms] seemed ludicrous though.

But then so did the fact that they were in a fantasy world, and he was joined to a mechanical man with a soul.

With his soul.

The part of Jamal’s brain that processed theological questions was so overloaded by everything around him that he knew he wasn’t considering even the simplest implications of it all but, despite that, the idea of saying prayers to a deity from a game seemed deeply weird.

“It’s not like there’s a whole bunch of rules,” Rose said. “I’m just kind of making it up as I go. I figure if I get something wrong, I can just go ask them.”

“Except they packed up their stuff and bundled themself away in some pocket realm that no one can reach for a thousand years,” Jamal said.

“Sounds pretty godly to me,” Rose said.

Jamal frowned. She didn’t usually tease him about religious stuff. 

“Not that they’re a big G ‘God’,” Rose said hastily. “I’m not taking this that seriously. The way I look at it, the [Lord of Storms] is one of the creators of this world. They’re probably the avatar of one of the original designers. That doesn’t make them all knowing or all powerful, but it does mean that they can act like a patron, kind of. So my job is to remember that they’re real and alive and part of the world.”

“Aren’t they dead though?” Jamal asked.

“Do dead people talk to us?”

“Does Lost Alice count?”

“No. She’s not dead. And she better stay like that,” Rose said. “And anyways we’ve been dead here. It’s not the same.”

“Yeah, nothing is,” Jamal said, thinking of the whirring gear noises he made as he ran, trying to keep up with Rose, Lady Midnight and the [Lightning Serpents].

“You are,” Rose said.

Jamal laugh briefly enough that the chat log just showed an emoji.

“This is what I normally look like to you?” he said.

“No, not that. Obviously,” Rose said. “I mean you. The real you. You’re still as awesome as you’ve ever been. Now you can just blow people up with spells too, which is even cooler!”

“You’re still you too though,” Jamal said.

“I don’t think so,” Rose said. “I feel like I’m a lot more like Rip Shot than I used to be. I could never be this brave without her.”

“Wait, have you ever met my friend Rose? Maybe looked in the mirror? Cause she’s like the definition of bravery,” Jamal said. 

Jamal had never understood why “you cry like a girl” was considered an insult, mostly because he’d seen Rose cry and knew exactly how bad an idea it was to drive it her to tears. She was his best friend. She was a kind and wonderful soul. God help you though if you made her cry. All her restraint and mercy flowed right out with her tears.

“I think I always had her with me,” Rose said. “She’s the me who can handle stuff like this. I just didn’t use to be able to call that part of me up so easily.”

“And I didn’t use to be able to hold my focus as well,” Rip Shot said. “Being aware of my ‘Rose side’ has definitely made me a better [Archer].”

“You sounded different there,” Jamal said. “Are there really two of you?”

“No,” Rip said and Rose continued, “This is all me.” Rip switched back in for “it’s just a matter of who I focus on being at any particular moment.” Rose finished up by asking, “Doesn’t Matt talk to you?”

“Not like that,” Jamal said and felt a strange ripple pass through gears.

“He hasn’t needed me to yet,” Matt Painting said.

Special Update – Part 2!

The good news is I’m feeling a lot better. Turns out that Lyme disease can wreck you pretty thoroughly, but doxycycline can turn that around nice and quick (if you catch it soon enough).

That said, I’m going to take a one week “vacation” to help recharge my batteries, so you can look for storytreader’s current ongoings resuming on 9/24 with the new chapter of Broken Horizons.

~ Stay healthy! ~

Special Update

This time the illness hiatus is on me. I’m hoping that giving myself a week should be enough, but I’ll update next week if it needs to be longer. I’m giving myself at least Thursday and Sunday to recover and likely Tuesday as well, so the next update is likely to be on 9/17.