Monthly Archives: September 2020

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.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 1

Tessa

It was time to get moving. Tessa knew that, but she really didn’t want to. Not when the alternative was to stay where she was, wrapped up in Lost Alice’s arms.

“It sounds like we’ve got a plan,” Lisa said, addressing the others on the chat line as much as Tessa who was close enough to hear her actual voice.

They were still more or less sprawled on the ground of the room they’d been blasted into. A tiny, but surprisingly well lit cavern which had definitely been carved by someone with a plan for the space. The door at the far end was proof of that.

The closed door.

Tessa suspected that would be a problem, but it was a problem for a Tessa who’d decided to give up on Lost Alice’s soft and chilly embrace and that Tessa clearly had her priorities scrambled so she deserved problems like that.

“It’s not a great plan, but it’ll should keep them out of trouble. Hopefully,” Lisa said, limiting that comment to the private channel she shared with Tessa.

“It’s weird that I’m starting to think of Rip and Matt as our responsibility isn’t it?” Tessa said, giving voice to the thought as it stumbled  to the forefront of her exhausted mind.

“Probably,” Lisa said. “But I’m doing the same thing, and compared to everything else that’s happening I’m not sure adopting a pair of lost little fledglings really even cracks into the ‘Top 100 Strangest Things I Did Today’ list.”

“Now I’m picturing Matt as a little duck inside that armor.” Tessa laughed, needing the moment of levity more than she’d known.

“That would be adorable. Sitting in a little chair, with a little headset on, tapping buttons with his bill,” Lisa said. She hadn’t pulled her arms away yet and Tessa saw no reasons to bring this fact to her attention.

“Oh god, I’m going to trying to peek inside his armor every time we see him now,” Tessa said, shaking her head.

“What is in there?” Lisa asked.

“Gears I think?” Tessa said. “Pillowcase is full of enchanted fluff basically, and I think that sort of thematic construction is how all the [Artifax] are put together.”

“Was it weird being filled with stuffing?” Lisa asked.

“It probably should have been, but that was what Pillowcase had always known and since it felt normal to her, it felt normal to me. How about – I wanted to say ‘being filled with blood’ but I want it on the record that I realized how stupid that was before the words left my mouth.”

“You probably meant ‘being a vampire’, and it’s pretty much the same I think,” Lisa said. “Lost Alice has been a vampire for a while so she’s used it. Mostly. It’s a little weird for her still, so I get that too.”

“I’m glad it’s not too freaky for you,” Tessa said. “This place is hard enough, but at least whatever mind-body magic we got whammied with seems to be handling acclimating us pretty well.”

“So is this your real body? Or, I mean, is it Tessa’s real body. I know the other one was Pillowcase’s real body. Sorry Pillow,” Lisa said.

Tessa looked at her hands and glanced down her chest and legs. Everything seemed more or less what she was used to seeing in the mirror. She even had on one of her nice T-shirts.

Except it wasn’t the one she’d been wearing when she was drawn into the [Fallen Kingdoms]. 

Neither were the sweatpants the ones she’d been wearing. She had a similar question about her socks but they were non-descript enough that she couldn’t be sure.

“Yeah, this is me,” she said, feeling just a bit self conscious in the arms of the artistically perfect vampire.

“I like your shirt,” Lisa said, pulling back at last to get a better look at Tessa. 

The shirt in question had a top line which read: “1,000,000 HP” and a line below it in much tinier print which said: “(not really but it scares the literate monsters)”.

“Thanks,” Tessa said, not sure how to read the vampiric gaze which seemed to be drinking her in. “I don’t think it’ll do much to stop any of the monsters here though.”

“Yeah, these robes I’m in are probably a ten times as sturdy and I’m still a ‘squishy’,” Lisa said. “Do you have anything else you could equip? You’ll need some shoes if nothing else.”

“I don’t think so,” Tessa said and reached over to the bag which was hanging at her side. “I didn’t get a chance to pack I’m afraid.”

Reaching into the inventory bag was weird and unsettling and so far below getting blasted out of existence that Tessa wasn’t even consciously aware of how strange it felt. Her hand plunged into the extra-planar space and came back with a pair of sturdy boots in her exact size as well as a tunic, breeches, and cloak which was almost as soft as Lost Alice’s embrace.

“Where did you get those?” Lisa asked, running her finger down the intricate stitchwork on the cloak’s collar.

“They were in the bag, and, they’re mine. Like, I can feel they’re bound to me already. But I never had magic clothes before?” Tessa said, worried for a moment about what sort of contract she might be agreeing to if she put on her new garb.

“I think these are really only for you too,” Lisa said. “I called up the stats on this cloak and the only class that can equip it is ‘[VS]’.”

“[Void Speaker]? But that’s not even a real class in the game?” Tessa said.

“Apparently it is now,” Lisa said. “And maybe it was before too?”

“What makes you say that?” Tessa asked, feeling the comforting heft of the tunic. Even without seeing the stats, she was sure the fabric, or more precisely the spells woven in it, would protect her from lesser forms of damage. Things like minor claw attacks, peasant arrows, machine gun fire. The easy stuff.

“This is a [Heritage] piece,” Lisa said. “They introduced those to the game a few years ago. It’ll grow with you as you level. It’s basically the best stuff you can wear until you hit the level cap.”

Tessa knew that was good news, but the implication that there was someone else who held the [Void Speaker] class before her seemed ominous. She was only just learning what she could do and she’d already fractured a god’s soul off someone. What might a max level [Void Speaker] be capable of?

Rose

The blast from the [God Soul] had propelled Rose and Jamal and Lady Midnight upwards. It was strange though since even with as high as they’d been shot – and to Rose it felt like they’d been thrown a mile or two upwards – they’d still landed within the confines of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]. What was stranger was that the stone and earth they’d been blasted through showed no signs of being affected by their passage.

“So did things like this happen in the game version of [Broken Horizons]?” Rose asked. 

“Things like what?” Lady Midnight asked. She was fishing around in her inventory and came out with a small milky orb after a little searching. 

“The [God Soul] thing,” Rose said. “And the [Formless Hunger] and all the stuff we’ve been running into.”

Rose waved her hands to take in the world around them, but her thoughts were centered on the [God Soul]. She’d felt the power that Tessa had held and she had a clear and specific idea of what she would have done with it.

After saving Lost Alice of course.

She couldn’t fault Tessa for that. 

Lost Alice had to come first.

But if she could have maybe only used half the [God Soul] to heal Lost Alice? Rose shivered at the idea of what the [Lord of Storms] could have done with half a [God Soul].

Live again maybe? Even if it was only for a little while, that might have been enough to inspire the belief required to bring them back to life all the way.

“Yeah, we’ve had things like that before,” Lady Midnight said. “Not a [God Soul] specifically, but the high end gear gets pretty esoteric. The developers weren’t shy about hyperbole early on and with each expansion they had to add stuff that was that much more powerful than what we’d gotten in the previous one.”

“So we could find something like a [God Soul] again?” Rose asked, wheels turning in her mind to slot in the “[Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]” and the fact that they’d already met a god with the possibility that any further deific artifacts were likely laying somewhere relatively nearby.

“My other character’s an archer and she’s got a [Bifrost Bow],” Lady Midnight said. “When she needs to go somewhere she can summon a literal rainbow to teleport her there. And one of her arrows is called [Ra’s Wrath] which is, basically, a nuclear bomb. The flavor text says is strikes with the ‘fire of the sun’, which means a big ball of nuclear fusion.”

“How would you ever fire a thing like that?” Jamal asked.

“It’s got a limited area of effect,” Lady Midnight said. “Anything inside the area gets nuked, but if you’re standing two inches outside the area you’re fine. Also it’s only usable in cutscenes or for scripted events, so it’s basically just a mechanics cheat. Otherwise you’d be able to grief other players a little too easily.”

“Where do you get that?” Rose asked, her eyes alight with the prospect of being able to nuke enemies with her bow.

“One of the second tier raids, [Well of Infinity],” Lady Midnight said. “It’s one of the 64 man raids though and competition for the loot is ridiculous. I had to grind that one for a year and a half before I was able to get a drop. God, the stories I could tell about that whole mess!”

“Why don’t you?” Jamal suggested. “We’re supposed to wait here for the others to show up right? Might as well learn what the game was all about. Some of that stuff might still be true in this place.”

“Well in that case you probably want to hear about the technical stuff,” Lady Midnight said. “What kind of tactics we used and that sort of thing. All the guild drama ‘s hopefully a thing of the past.”

“Why would it be?” Rose asked.

“Because now what we’re doing actually does matter,” Lady Midnight said. “Raiding in the game was an exercise in perseverance, basically trading your time to gear up your character so you’d be judged as ‘worthy to hang with the cool kids’. Here though? I’m all too happy to let the cool kids throw themselves in the meat grinder fights.”

“Is that what the other players are doing now?” Rose asked.

“A lot of the ones I know,” Lady Midnight said. “Well, a lot of the ones I like. I know there’s a bunch who decided to scamper off and do their own thing. And a few who just didn’t want to fight at all, which is fair I think.”

“Yeah, this isn’t what they signed up for when they logged in, is it?” Jamal said.

“I mean, it kind of is, though, isn’t it?” Rose asked. “If I’d known I could log into a real fantasy world, and be like this?” She gestured to Rip Shot’s whole body. “I would have dove in here as soon as I could click the mouse!”

“Yeah, but some of them probably have jobs and stuff,” Jamal said.

“And bills,” Lady Midnight said. “I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to pay my rent with gold pieces.”

“So why go back?” Rose asked.

“We’ll have to, won’t we?” Lady Midnight said. “Or…”

“Or we can stay here,” Rose said. “I know Rip wouldn’t mind us staying together. Her and I that is. We were made for each other.”

“Same for me and Matt,” Jamal said.

“What about your families though?” Lady Midnight asked.

“I’m thinking we’re going to adopt Lost Alice and Pillowcase,” Rose said. “And anyone who else wants in.”

“It’d be nice to have a good family for a change,” Jamal said.

Broken Horizons – Vol 6, Interlude 4

Interlude – Grunvan

Grunvan wasn’t anything special as [Goblins] went. Average height, average strength, average smarts. She’d lived an average life and been, on average, ok with that. 

As a kid, the “call to adventure” had been something to knocked on other people’s doors, usually with disastrous results. She’d gone into the not-at-all lucrative career of wagon-driving with her eyes open to both the risks she was taking and the one’s she was stepping well out of her path to avoid.

[Wagon Town] was a big enough city that the roads leading to it were generally secure. The “big money” (for extremely modest values of “big”) among wagon routes were the ones which lead through places like the [Fire Fields] or the [Cryptmist Woods]. That a fair percentage of drivers on those routes didn’t live long enough to claim their big pay days was enough to convince Grunvan that she was happier with the common routes doing either regular deliveries within town or out to the constellation of small villages and communities which [Wagon Town] extensively with.

Despite her life long commitment to making sensible and safe choices though, Grunvan still found herself huddling behind an giant shield she could barely lift, clad in scraps of armor which showed in too many places where they’d failed to protect their previous wearer.

“They’ve got to be sending help right?” Argwin said after she snuck a glance over the hastily assembled battlements they’d finished throwing up an hour before.

Grunvan was reasonably sure Agwin was not looking for an honest opinion on that matter. None of the thirty or so goblins on their section of the defensive earthworks wanted to be where they were, and none of them really expected anyone else to throw themselves into the proverbial frying pan. Not with the horde of nightmares that had rolled up and begun constructing a camp right outside the small village of [Apple Plate].

There were unbelievable reports that the whole world was under attack by monsters from beyond the stars. Unbelievable except for the part where a few hundred yards away there was a giant horde of monsters from beyond the stars waiting to destroy [Apple Plate], [Wagon Town], and probably every other goblin town they could get their talons and tentacles on. 

Grunvan could imagine a lot of things, but imagining the armed forces from any of the other nations choosing to lend a forgettable little village like [Apple Plate] a hand was not one of them.

“Sure,” she said. “The [Silver Spears Gryphon Brigade] could still make it here before trouble starts.”

It wasn’t a lie if no one was going to believe it.

“I just don’t get why they’re waiting,” Argwin said, clutching her spiked war club as though a better grip would matter against the [Trainsaw Transport] that was fueling up on the other side of the apple orchard.

“They’re definitely afraid of these mighty thews,” Grunvan said and flexed her bicep for effect.

Flexing did give her arm a little more definition. Average strength for someone who spent their life hauling crates and fighting with ornery [Gum Lizards] was enough to swing a club with a decent amount of force. Against an indecently powerful enemy though it wasn’t going to mean anything. 

Argwin groaned out short laugh.

“You can take that big spikey thing then,” she said, gesturing to the [Trainsaw Transport].

“Oh, does that mean I can leave all the littler ones to you then?” Grunvan asked.

“Sure. That seems fair. You smash that spikey thing to bits and we’ll beat up the other ten million or so beasties out there. Typical wagon driver.”

Argwin’s smile wasn’t a sign that her fear was banished, only that she’d managed to shove it over so she could coexist with it.

“Just because we know how to take the jobs that let us sit on our butts most of the day is no reason for you to be jealous,” Grunvan said. “We can’t all be bakers who get up at the crack of dawn and then flounce off before lunch to spend the rest of the day writing bad love poems.”

“You’re just jealous you never got one,” Argwin said.

“Like I’d ever need one? You read them all to me!”

“Ah, not all of them,” Argwin said and let out of a long and slow sigh. “You know I think I had a really good one in me today.”

“Save it for tomorrow,” Grunvan said.

Not that there was going to be a tomorrow. At least not for either of them.

Grunvan had answered the call to arms because the news had reached [Apple Plate] of what had happened to [Stone Puddle], the village on the side of the far hill. 

For whatever alien reason they might have, the [Consortium of Pain] had chosen to portal their force in and around [Stone Puddle]. There hadn’t been any negotiations. The Consortium had simply arrived, corralled everyone they could, and thrown them into some kind of conversion machine.

The goblins who walked out were hollow eyes and drained of all color. As far as the survivors who’s escaped could tell, the converted were still alive, but it wasn’t the sort of life Grunvan ever wanted to experience. Better to resist with everything she had, even if all she had to resist with was very little.

Grunvan knew she wasn’t anything special, but her world had become one that needed everyone to save it, even if they could only do a little bit.

Interlude – Gabriel Santiago

Gabriel never had any luck. The whole world was exploding with the news that some “gamer rapture” was happening and he was stuck playing the wrong game.

“Teddy’s saying he read it’s all a hoax,” Luna said as the two of them banked in towards the Crimson Empire’s asteroid mining installation. 

Gabriel watched on the screen as the particle battery emplacements popped up from around the base’s perimeter as Luna’s faster fighter drew into range.

“So, you’re saying it’s definitely not a hoax then?” 

He fired a shield recharge at Luna’s ship to help her weather the barrage of fire and cranked his speed down to a sustainable combat velocity.

“One hundred percent real,” Luna said, as she danced her fighter in to score their first solid hit on the mining platform. “I mean given Teddy’s track record, it’s gotta be right?”

“Given the websites Teddy reads? Yeah, no way it’s not real, even if it’s ridiculous.”

“Can you imagine though? It sounds there’s like a hundred thousand people who all got swooped up. Like one second they’re playing and then bam, sucked right into the game.”

“This was their launch day wasn’t it? I bet it’s a lot more than a hundred thousand,” Gabriel said, though the idea of even a hundred thousand people doing anything was hard to picture.

“I think it was. That is a lot of people suddenly vanishing. I mean Crystal Stars has, what, a half million concurrent users? If we all went poof can you imagine the havoc that would cause?”

Gabriel wanted to say something slick. Something about how he would go poof with her any day, except not excruciatingly pathetic. Since he felt like he’d been born without any slick genes at all, he instead opted to engage with what Luna was saying.

“I know Andy works traffic control at La Guardia and I think there’s a bunch of others on his team that do too. Bet it wouldn’t be easy landing planes with three quarters of your staff vanishing into thin air.”

The mining base on screen launched a cluster of automated fighters as the last of its defensive turrets fell before Luna and Gabriel’s combined fire.

“He doesn’t play at work does he?” Luna asked.

“He claims he doesn’t, but I’ve seen him on checking his auctions out pretty much throughout the day sometimes.”

“Must be nice to not have to worry about getting fired,” Luna said.

“Oh, I think he should be worried, he just doesn’t.”

“That sounds like Andy,” Luna said. “How about you? You said you had a big project coming up didn’t you? I didn’t know if I’d see you on tonight?”

“I got ‘Part One’ of the big project knocked out already. It was just rough drafts really. ‘Part Two’ is taking those to a polished state but I can’t do that until the customer picks out the ones they like.”

“So you’ll have time for the raid on the Emperor’s Lost Throne tomorrow night then?” Luna asked, a note of joy in her voice which Gabriel hoped was a good sign.

He knew he should just tell her how he was feeling. That getting to play with her was one of the high points of his week and that he was crushing on her pretty hard. Unfortunately there were enough douchey guys like Teddy who he could be confused with if he presented things poorly and the last thing he wanted to do was make someone he liked feel uncomfortable.

Also there was the small factor that they lived three thousand miles apart, so it wasn’t like a confession would lead to them casually getting together for coffee to see where things went. He figured he had time to take it slow and see whether this would be a nice friendship or something more.

He didn’t have as much time as he imagined, but that was true of so many people that he was hardly unique on that count.

“Yeah, even if the customer gets back to us and wants a rush order I can push them off for a night. I mean you can’t rush greatness right?”

Luna laughed as they turned to face the mining base’s final defense, a Techno-Organic War Beast from the Old Centinium. 

“Do they usually buy that?” she asked, charging her shields and burning a cooldown ability to reload her missile bays instantly.

“The customers? Oh hell no,” Gabriel said, moving his ship ahead of hers so he’d be able to tank the War Beast’s heavy hits. “My boss is cool though. She knows we need down time or the staff gets cranky so she charges absurd rates for overtime work.”

“She sounds like my boss,” Luna said. “I must have gone through more than a dozen jobs before I got here and now I will stop working for Shanti about four days after I die.”

“That is the kind of praise you do not hear for bosses very often,” Gabriel said.

“I mean, she’s nice to us. She treats us like people. It’s not exactly hard,” Luna said. “Which I can’t say is true about this War Beast. Think we’re up for tackling it?”

“Probably not,” Gabriel said. “We should really have a full team for this.”

“Think we can jet before it evolves to its second form?”

“Maybe? We can definitely get away before it goes Third Form, but our repair bills will be ugly.”

“Eh, I’m pretty flush with cred,” Luna said. “And I’ve got a backup fighter I’ve been meaning to try out. Why don’t we give it a shot?”

That was one of the reasons Gabriel like Luna so much. She’d taken the words right out of his mouth. Flying through the vastness of space in Crystal Stars, he’d run into a lot of other players, but Luna was the first one who seemed to have the same instincts he did. Not just for when to attack or what to engage, but smaller things like how she flew and the locals she liked to hang out in while waiting for the game to finish automated tasks like ship repair or bot construction. He didn’t have to explain why the planet of floating pink octopi was relaxing. She just got it.

“Why don’t we indeed?” Gabriel said and queued up his reserve shielding as he powered in towards the War Beast.

The War Beast which was already morphing into a new form.

“How is it changing already? We haven’t even damaged it yet?” Luna asked.

“Stealth update?” Gabriel was sure he would have heard of one if it had happened but what he was seeing on the screen wasn’t anything like the War Beasts he’d encountered in the game before.

In place of the black and grey steel threads the War Beasts were constructed of, slivers of white and blue static were tearing through the creatures superstructure.

“That does not look right at all,” he got to say before an overcharged plasma beam lanced out from the mutating War Beast.

Gabriel was correct. It was not right at all. What was even less right to his eyes were the motes of iridescent light which began rising from his hands as his fighter on the screen disintegrated.