Monthly Archives: January 2021

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 7

Few things motivate [Adventurers] more than the lure of cool new loot. Tessa knew that, so she’d known how people would react to the news that there was a low level raid encounter in nearby. She also knew how they were going to react to the next thing she had to tell them though.

“Rip, put your bow down,” she said. “We can’t get started on leveling just yet.”

“Aww, really?” Rip kept her complaint from descending into a full blown whine but her pout was unmistakable (if also adorable on a Tabbywile’s face).

“Ah, right,” Obby said, offering Rip a sympathetic frown and a bop on the shoulder.

“What’s the problem?” Matt asked, after casting a glance at Rip that suggested they’d had a hasty discussion of their own.

“The big one’s that the mobs we need to farm to get up to level 20 only spawn at night,” Lisa said.

“The good news is that they’re all [Undead],” Tessa said.

“That’s good how exactly?” Lady Midnight asked. “I don’t think we have any [Plague] cures yet, do we?”

“Did I hear someone ask about [Plague] cures?” Mister Pendant said, wandering over to join their impromptu group. 

Tessa flashed him a smile and gestured to an open spot beside her as she scootched closer to Lisa to make room. 

Somehow neither cuddling up to a [Vampire], not inviting a [Skeleton] to sit near her struck Tessa as odd or concerning. If anything, Mister Pendant joining them was a reassuring addition to the group since it meant they could probably count on having access to the staggeringly large stockpile of items he’d managed to save from his shop. 

As for the [Vampire] beside her, Tessa felt reasonably sure that Lisa’s presence had been one of the few things that had kept her sanity together through the ridiculous stresses they’d both been under. And, Cuddling up with the woman she could finally admit she was more than crushing on felt like the best spot she could imagine occupying in any world.

“Plagues are a thing the [Undead] do?” Rip asked.

“Some of them,” Pendant said. “Moreso the fleshy ones. Not much room for disease when all you’ve got is bones and magic.”

“The ones who haunt the barrows and hills outside of town should be fleshy, if I’m remembering the screen shots right,” Tessa said. “But, unlike our esteemed friend here, they’re not sapient, and they should be too low level to carry the [Plague] effect.”

“Ah, [Cursed Walkers]?” Pendant asked.

“Yeah, have you run into them before?” Tessa asked, glad that someone else had some familiarity with them, especially someone who might know the real story behind them rather than simply their game stats.

“They’re a nuisance,” Pendant said. “Like a bunch of locusts, but bigger, and harder to eradicate.”

“Are they like bug zombies or something?” Rip asked.

“More like people zombies,” Tessa said.

“Not people,” Pendant said. “Some [Undead] retain their awareness and will. Others are no more than clusters of [Death Magic] bound together by curses or sorcery or the linger malice of the people who’s resemblance they’re cast in.”

“What spawned these ones?” Lady Midnight asked.

“These [Cursed Walkers] arose from a ‘great betrayal’, according to the lore,” Tessa said. “When the Titans came through, there was a force here, a small army I guess, who were meant to protect the town’s people. As [Vaspe Breath Stealer] was rampaging in this direction though, the army came up with a new plan; they setup pickets around the town in the dead of night so the residents would act as trapped bait for [Vaspe] while they marched away as fast as they could.”

“Wow, that’s pretty low,” Rip said.

“It didn’t work out so well for them though,” Tessa said. “[Vaspe] traveled a lot faster than they expected and it followed the weather patterns rather than cutting a straight path across the countryside. So they basically marched right into the Titan and their train led it right back to [Dragonshire].”

“I feel bad for the grunts who had no idea what was going on,” Lisa said.

“From the lore, there were soldiers who stayed behind to fight for [Dragonshire], so at least some of the army knew what was going on. Well, knew and objected to it,” Tessa said.

“What happened to them?” Matt asked.

“They died too,” Tessa said. “The [Titans] were god-tier enemies. I don’t think the actual game mechanics would have supported it but the story goes that the ones who stayed slowed [Vaspe] down long enough for some of the townsfolk to escape though.”

“Their fate after death was doubtlessly better than the betrayers,” Pendant said. “But you needn’t worry about any of them. Nothing in the living world can bring suffering to those who have passed beyond.”

“Speaking from personal experience?” Lady Midnight asked.

“I don’t believe so. You’re not dead are you?” Starchild said. She was regarding him with a searching gaze.

“You are quite perceptive honored [Druid],” Pendant said. “I have never been dead, nor have I ever lived. At least by some definitions of living.  As you see me now is as I have always been.”

Tessa wondered if that was because he was an NPC in the game but it occurred to her that all of the other NPCs seemed to have lived full lives rather than being created ex nihilo as they appeared in the game.

“Also he talks right? Zombie don’t talk,” Rip said. “Or do they here?”

“[Zombie Lords] and other higher tier versions can,” Lisa said. “The dev’s used that to put story dialog into dungeon encounters. I can’t think of any of the more mindless ones who could though.”

“No talkers among the [Cursed Walkers], I’m betting,” Tessa said. “According to the beta-tester there are no particular quests and storylines around [Cursed Walkers]. It was one of their complaints about the new starting area if you get here early. Basically just a bunch of mindless grinding to do till you hit the interesting bits. On the plus side though, there are a few different varieties of the [Cursed Walkers] though. Well, plus side for them. That may suck for us.”

“Not as much as waiting is going to!” Rip fidgeted with her empty bowl of porridge, but didn’t look like she was going to race off and do anything foolish.

Tessa decided to keep an eye on her anyways. She all too well how deceiving looks could be at that age.

“How about the dungeon?” Lady Midnight asked. “Do we know what we’ll be facing when we get in there?”

“We’ll want to tackle it in exploratory mode,” Tessa said. “We should be able to get the layout and mob spawns from the players who still have a connection back to Earth, but there was a plotline in the dungeon about a calling station that had opened communications with the [Consortium of Pain] and led them to this world. Since they’re already here I don’t know if we’ll encounter that or if things will have changed.”

“Oh, yeah, speaking about that,” Kamie said. “We’ve kind of lost contact with Earth.”

“We’ve….we’ve what?” Tessa asked as she felt one of their far too few safety lines snap and flutter away.

“It happened around the time we came though the portal I guess,” Kamie said.

“What about the other players here?” Tessa asked. “We can still communicate with them right?” She turned to Lisa for confirmation. “You talked to the Cease this morning didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” Lisa said with a quick nod.

“We’re good with the other players here,” Kamie said. “It’s just the ones back on Earth we can’t reach.”

“Does that mean we’re drifting farther away from them or something?” Rip asked.

“It means we’re on our own for the time being,” Obby said. “Fortunately, between Tessa and the people who played in the beta and are over here, it looks like we’ve got a lot of the critical information we need, especially since, like she says, what’s out there might have changed from the beta.”

“BT’s here too,” Glimmerglass said. “The team I was with was safeguarding her while she transferred information from your world about the Consortium and everything that was in the game version of this world.”

“That’s gotta be part of why things went well for our side last night,” Tessa said. “Maybe we should try to link up with her?”

“Cambrell said they were going dark with her,” Glimmerglass said. “She’s too high value a target to leave our where the Consortium could get her.”

“Or most of the [Fallen Kingdoms] either,” Lisa said. “It’s not like they’re usually super chummy after all. Once the Consortium’s invasion is over, it’ll be back to the same rivalries and backstabbing as always.”

“I wish I could be there to help protect her,” Glimmerglass said. “She tends to need it.”

Lisa cast a glance over to Tessa.

“She was in my old guild with Glimmerglass. BT liked to play chicken with the bottom of her health bar in the quest for the best dps she could get,” Tessa said.

“I always took it as a sign of trust,” Glimmerglass said. “At least when I wasn’t certain she was doing it to drive me completely mad.”

“And they gave someone like this all the information in the world, literally, why exactly?” Lisa asked.

“I don’t think that was the original plan,” Glimmerglass said. “I think BT kind of forced it on them.”

“Given that she somehow jumped into here with the GM permissions active on an account that wasn’t a GM account? Yeah, that sounds like a BT type of play,” Tessa said. “I’m sorry I dragged you away from her.”

“Eh, I’ll probably do more good here,” Glimmerglass said. “There’s at least a thirty percent chance I would have strangled BT to death for whatever she’s planning to do next.”

“It’d be nice to know what that was,” Tessa said. “Are we plugged into what the [High Command] is telling people to do at all?”

“I have a contact link for them,” Glimmerglass said. “Since we’re not in an active combat zone with the Consortium and no one has forces deployed in our area we’re supposed to either sit tight here or make arrangements with a guild we’re associated with to connect with them and supplement their forces.”

“I talked with Cease about us joining up with the [Army of Light],” Lisa said. “They’re onboard with having us, but all the people we have left got pulled back in for the new offensive against the Consortium. Cease thought they could spare some people to help us out but I didn’t them want to go into any fights short staffed, so I told her to hold off on organizing anything until things settle down.”

Tessa knew that part already but looked to the others in case any of the guilds they were part of on other characters might have volunteered to send help.

“It is the same story with Melissa’s guild,” Starchild said. “She and the other crafters were able to create equipment sets for us with their portable crafting stations, but they’re shepherding a large group of civilians, as well as harrying the Consortium forces. That seemed like a full enough plate to Pete and I, so we discouraged her from sending anyone here, the same as Lost Alice did with her guild.”

That seemed to be the common consensus. The people who’d made it to [Dragonshire] weren’t unimportant, they were just in a secure enough position that resources had to be directed elsewhere. Tessa could agree with that appraisal but it still left her feeling exposed and alone. 

“Well, the good news is, we’re no more alone than we were in the [High Beyond],” she said.

“Oh,” Kamie said, tilting her head as she listened to an internal message. “Turns out that’s definitely true.”

“What’s happened?” Tessa asked, expecting a disaster to be unfolding.

“Battler and Grail are outside the [Great Hall],” Kamie said. “Seems like our new neighbors would like to meet us. All of us.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 6

Dawn was broken. The sun was well above the horizon. People were scuttling about, dealing with the practicalities of life and the worries which had been put off the previous evening. The smell of a rich melange of different breakfast choices wafted through the air and the melody of an impromptu troop of [Bards] provided a welcoming tune. Despite all that though, Tessa and Lisa didn’t appear back at the [Great Hall] until their friends called out to check on them.

“Overslept a bit?” Obby asked as she offered them both bowls of steaming hot porridge.

“I didn’t think we needed to sleep at all?” Kamie Anne Do said.

“We don’t,” Lady Midnight said. “Not physically at least. [Adventurers] health regeneration seems to be the same awake or asleep. The psychological impact of sleep loss is less well understood or measurable though.”

“Well, I know I feel a lot better this morning,” Rip said. “It’s like closing my eyes and dreaming for a bit wiped about a whole layer of fuzz that had been building up around my brain without me even noticing it.”

“Running in sentry mode did the same for me,” Matt said.

“After what we’ve been through in the last couple of days, I’m surprised any of us were able to sleep at all,” Tessa said.

“I don’t mean to suggest that yesterday’s events were minor or typical,” Starchild said, “but I believe your native aspects are more used to dealing with that sort of stress.”

“Yeah, the sides of us that come from this world are used to monster attacks, and magic, and running into an impossible thing or two everyday,” Obby said. “I’m just glad we got the night off.”

“Most of the people here did,” Glimmerglass said. “There were a number who stayed up to make plans, or watch over us.”

Tessa marveled again at hearing Glimmerglass’s voice ‘for real’. She sounded different than Tessa did. The pitch of her voice was shifted and her intonations weren’t quite the same, but the cadence of her speech was so very familiar.

And it was more than her voice that was familiar. Tessa had spent six of the most formative years of her life traveling the world of the [Fallen Kingdoms] at Glimmerglass’s back. 

They were the same person, she’d seen that and felt it when they’d been joined together with the god soul, but it also felt appropriate somehow that they walk the world in separate bodies. Sort of?

Glimmerglass had always been more than ‘plain old Tessa’, even when every word she spoke came from Tessa’s mouth and every action she took was Tessa’s direct choice. 

Without needing to ask, Tessa knew that Glimmerglass had been one of the ones who’d foregone sleep to watch over the others. It was how she’d always played Glimmerglass and, on reflection, how she’d been choosing to act since she arrived in the [Fallen Kingdoms].

“Thank you,” she said, on a private channel to Glimmerglass.

“We should talk when you have some time,” Glimmerglass said. “I have some so many questions and I think you’ve got a better sense of what’s happening with all this…strangeness.”

“Shame we’re not still sharing thoughts,” Tessa said. “Or would that make it weirder?”

“I don’t think so,” Glimmerglass said. “If anything this is what feels weird. I feel like I’m supposed to hear your voice in the back of my head all the time and talking with you is like writing letters from one side of my brain to the other. Slower, more deliberate, and missing so much context.”

“That’s my fault I guess,” Pillowcase said. “If I wasn’t in the mix, Tessa probably would have been merged in with you instead.”

“I saw that in her thoughts, I think? Was there a bit of guilt over making a new character rather than coming back to me?” Glimmerglass asked.

“I think that falls under ‘it’s complicated’,” Tessa said.

“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m glad you did, assuming that had any effect of our current situation,” Glimmerglass said and even without a shared mental space Tessa knew what she meant.

“Yeah, if you’ve been ‘real’ this whole time, then what did the choices I make in the game really mean?” Tessa asked.

“They may have been navigational, for lack of a better word,” Pillowcase suggested. “The Consortium has catalogued many different worlds, and one of the difficulties in cross dimensional travel is calibrating a pathway to a stable destination when there are many variations in timelines and dimensional resonances. It could be that there are a nigh infinite number of variations on the [Fallen Kingdoms]. Tessa’s choices may have simply been a matter of connecting to a specific variation where the both of us existed.”

“So there’s an infinite number of both of us that she picked from?” Glimmerglass asked.

“And an infinite number of hers,” Pillowcase said. “The alternative, and I do not have much information loaded on this, just enough to act as a surrogate pilot in the case of catastrophes, is that out of the infinity of variations, only a small set of them are ‘real’, with other, similar variations of timeline collapsing into the ‘real’ one if their probability of occurring is less than the one which we ultimately observe.”

“I think for the sake of our collective sanity it’s probably best if we just assume that we’re all real and any choices I made in ‘making you’ match who you really are by wild coincidence,” Tessa said.

“Agreed,” both Glimmerglass and Pillowcase said together.

“I still have a ton of questions though,” Glimmerglass said.

“You still with us?” Lisa asked aloud, bumping Tessa on the shoulder.

“Like about that,” Glimmerglass said privately

“Still here, sorry for zoning out there,” Tessa said. “Did I miss anything?”

“We were just talking about the things we need to tackle today,” Lisa said. “Seems like some of the big ticket items are already being handled.”

“Cool, which ones?” Tessa asked.

“We nominated Olwina and some of her folks to go talk with the townspeople,” Obby said. “We figured talking with some nice normal people might be a good start to help the locals get used to the idea that they have new neighbors.”

“We sent a few adventurers with them too in case the townsfolk weren’t feeling very neighborly,” Lady Midnight said.

“Calm ones I hope?” Tessa asked, visions of the sort of mayhem [Adventurers] tended to get up to dancing through her mind.

“Battler and Grail are pretty steady,” Kamie said. “They’ll get Olwina and the others out of there if things go south, but it sounds like Olwina’s just chatting nicely with the locals, so maybe we’ve got nothing to worry about?”

“Let’s see how the locals react when they meet the rest of us,” Lisa said.

“Did you tell them about our idea?” Tessa asked.

“Not yet,” Lisa said. “I wanted to you explain it to them.”

“Is this going to be one of those ideas we like, or one of the ones we have to tie you up before you run off and try it for yourself?” Rip asked.

“Hey! I don’t have ideas like that,” Tessa said.

“You jumped into a hole to hell with no backup,” Matt said. “I feel like maybe Rip and I should be going out to find some good solid chains now maybe?”

“No! I mean, it’s not like that,” Tessa said, and added privately to Lisa, “Can you believe these kids?”

“Yeah,” she replied, “who could believe they’ve been paying attention that well! I  guess there is hope for the youth of today.”

Tessa glared at her before continuing on out loud for the rest to hear.

“This isn’t a dangerous idea,” she started. “Or not as dangerous as it could be.”

“Great intro, I think I’m onboard with the chains idea now too,” Lady Midnight said.

“You people, I swear,” Tessa said. “I should run off and solo this, just to show you.”

“You are not doing that,” Lisa said, joking but also clearly not joking.

“Doesn’t mean she won’t try,” Matt said.

“Aww, come on,” Rip said. “I want to hear what it is.”

“Thank you Rip,” Tessa said. “We can duo it if everyone else is too scared to go.”

“I’m in!” Rip said.

“You don’t even know what it is,” Matt said.

“Yeah, but even her bad ideas work out okay,” Rip said. “Haven’t you noticed?”

“I still want to hear what the idea is,” Lady Midnight said.

“A dungeon!” Tessa said gasping out the word before anyone else could interrupt her. “There’s a dungeon hidden in the forest over there.” She waved vaguely towards the west.

“A safe dungeon?” Starchild asked.

“A level appropriate one,” Lisa said.

“Right. Hopefully,” Tessa said. “From what I read about the beta, this was meant to be the one of the new ‘starting towns’ for the players who’d hit level 20 and  left behind the [High Beyond]. There were quests in town, but since the devs knew some people liked playing dungeons more than questing, they included a ‘training dungeon’ around the starter towns to help teach new players how to handle the abilities and grouping and boss mechanics and all that stuff.”

“I see one problem we will face,” Starchild said.

“Yeah, none of us are level 20 yet,” Lady Midnight said.

“I am,” Obby said. “Well, level 22 to be accurate.”

“And I’m just a bit over level 20,” Glimmerglass said, vastly understating her actual level which had somehow reach 90 since Tessa had played her last. Apparently destroying a fairly large force that was occupying a city was good for a lot of experience. 

“So Glimmerglass can go in a clear every thing out for us?” Rip asked, not sounding terribly enthused by the idea.

“She could but I don’t think we need her to do that,” Tessa said.

“I’m more than happy to,” Glimmerglass said. “It’s basically no effort for me and no risk for you.”

“I know, and that’s why I think we want to put you to a different use if you’re up for it,” Tessa asked.

“Safety net?” Glimmerglass asked, her thoughts not all that far off from Tessa’s even if they didn’t share the same mind space.

“Exactly,” Tessa said.

“What does that mean?” Rip asked.

“We still need to level up to the point where we can begin to tackle the dungeon,” Tessa said. “That’s going to mean patrolling around and looking for enemies that we can handle. Glimmerglass can help with that by taking out any of the mobs that are too high level for us to deal with.”

“Could she just kill the wandering monsters for us?” Matt asked.

“I could but you wouldn’t have a chance to learn you spells and abilities as you gained them,” Glimmerglass said. “If I help you indirectly, you’ll earn more experience per fight too, so the leveling will go a lot faster.”

“There’s a few problems with that approach still,” Lady Midnight said. “First, we need to find mobs of the appropriate level.”

“The barrows to the east have us covered there,” Tessa said. “They’re supposed to be a spot where [Adventurers] who missed out on gear in the [High Beyond] could farm for a bit to be ready for regular play, so they’re filled with level 10 to 15 monsters.”

“Some of the [Adventurers] aren’t even level 10 yet,” Kamie said.

“Yeah, I know, some of them didn’t want to risk dying again and so they stayed in [Sky’s Edge],” Tessa said. “I think we can offer them a new choice though. Once we get the [Great Hall] repaired a bit, it’ll become a no-combat zone too, so they can stay here as at least a partially effective measure of safety. For the ones who do want to try leveling though, the rest of us can act as safety nets for them.”

“Like we’d kill the monsters for them so they level up?” Rip asked.

“At least for the first few levels,” Tessa said. “By the time they hit level 10, we’ll want to have them engage too so they can learn how to use their stuff, the same as we’ll be doing, and after that they’ll probably be able to start working in their own groups, and maybe even helping other people level up too.”

“And eventually we all take on this dungeon together?” Matt asked.

“Not the dungeon, exactly,” Tessa said. “The dungeon in the beta was an instanced area. So when we go in, it’ll be only as a single party, with each party that enters being shunted into their own version of the dungeon, with their own monsters, traps, and rewards.”

“At least until we hit the end,” Lisa said.

“What’s at the end?” Rip asked.

“A level 30 Raid Boss,” Tessa said. “And we’re going to need everyone we can get pitching in for that one.”

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.”