Broken Horizons – Vol 3, Ch 7

They were in the wrong dungeon.

“So, according to Zibby, this place isn’t anything like that dungeon they ran through?” Tessa asked.

“Yeah,” Alice said with a sigh of vexation. “It sounds like we went in the wrong cave.”

“How many dungeons are there around here?” Matt asked.

They were assembled around the [Heart Fire], having respawned there rather than risk rising again on an active battle field. From the steady stream of people in the other party who were passing through the [Heart Fire], Tessa was confident she’d made the right call.

“Usually?” Alice asked. “There should be only one. Or two at most, but in that case the second one is usually an end game expansion on the original dungeon.”

“That can’t be what we’re in now, right?” Rip asked. She was sitting beside Matt and hugging her knees. Despite that though, so looked a little less stressed than she’d been before they started planning their next move.

“Right,” Alice said. “If this was a max level area, those creatures would have killed the entire group of us with their first couple of swings. In fact the [Over-Damage] would have destroyed all our gear too. So, no, this isn’t an end game dungeon.”

“It doesn’t even seem to be particularly beyond us,” Tessa said. In the distance a dying scream rang out as another member of the other party went down before the [Soul Blight’s] attacks.

“Seems to be beyond them though,” Rip said, hiding a smile. It wasn’t a kindly smile but it did speak to the rekindling of her confidence and for that Tessa was quietly grateful.

“Should we stop them?” Matt asked.

“Probably,” Alice said. “We don’t know what the story is with the [Hounds of Fate] and dungeon areas.”

“Can they not come in here?” Rip asked.

“According to the lore, they can go anywhere people can die,” Tessa said. “No wards or walls can keep them out, no locked gates or guard may bar their way. That’s in their description text if I remember right. On the other hand, in the game, they were a mechanism to keep players from roaming off the map when in ghost form, and in a dungeon there’s no problem with that, so the hounds aren’t really needed here.”

“Yeah, what is it with not being able to walk through walls as a ghost?” Matt asked. “I thought we could get back faster if we did, but nope, just crashed face first into the wall.”

“You tried to walk through a ghost wall,” Tessa said. “The [Dead Lands] resembles the living world, and the things in it are as solid to ghosts as material things are to the living. Again, that was just easier for the devs to code up I bet, but it also makes some sense. If ghosts could pass through anything then why wouldn’t they fall through the floor to the center of the planet?”

“I sent a whisper to the tank on that other team,” Alice said. “No response yet.”

“Let me try the melee fighter I talked to,” Tessa offered. “She was at least observant enough to notice that we’d joined the fray.”

“Ok, I’ll show Rip and Matt how to repair the damage respawning here did to their gear then,” Alice said.

Tessa smiled. She’d rarely played with other healers, since most parties only needed one. It was such a delight to be with someone who  thought about helping others that she wanted to reach over and kiss Alice. Since that wasn’t exactly an option though, Tessa settled for enjoying the warm feeling in her chest at the thought that she really wasn’t alone in this.

Starchild? We’re regrouping at the [Heart Fire] point. Can you get your party to regroup here with us? We have to be careful about the [Hounds of Fate].

Tessa added the last bit just in case word hadn’t reached them yet of that wrinkle in their new lives. In truth though she was more concerned about stopping them before they ground out all hope from themselves. Repeated deaths tended to fracture parties and lead to rage-quits more than anything factor. Except there was no “rage quit” option at the moment, so despair seemed the more likely result.

Hi, uh, Pillowcase? It was Starchild who answered back from the text lines in Tessa’s chat log, but they were speaking with a deep baritone voice. One they hadn’t spoken in during the fight. I can try to stop them but some of them aren’t listening so well.

Ouch, sorry there, I’ve been with a lot of parties like that, Tessa said. Are they friends of yours?

I mean, they’re not my enemies. Yet, Starchild said, with a note of exasperation in his voice. We met up after we all got dragged into the game, so this is the first we’ve played together. My normal group is either still back in the real world or they were playing their mains over in the regular zones.

So some of them got pulled in too? Tessa asked.

Yeah, a couple of my buddies and my sister got pulled in before I could warn them. Unfortunately they can’t get to us. There’s a quest they need to do but it’s locked out at the moment.

I heard about that, Tessa said. One of our party is in a raiding guild and none of them can make it here either, for the same reason.

I forgot how hard low level partying was, Starchild said. I was planning to get power leveled up to 50 or so at least tonight but at this rate I’m going to be lucky to hit 5 before the servers crash and wipe us all out.

The servers do what now? Tessa asked. Did you hear that was going to happen?

Oh! No! Sorry, it was just a joke people were making given how the servers always seem to crash a few times on the night of a big new release. We figured it would be the perfect icing on the cake if that deleted us too, since it would make this suck even more.

I’ll pass on the whole getting deleted thing, thanks, Tessa said, picturing what a disaster a server crash would be even without that. 

From the sounds of it there were still plenty of people who were logged in and hadn’t been drawn into the game yet. Those people had the best chance of being “saved” since for all anyone knew, there might be a time limit on the World Shift effect, assuming someone couldn’t figure out what caused the World Shifts to occur and stop it from happening again entirely. If the servers crashed though, the best case scenario was that they’d all be drawn in just like the people who’d been drawn in the support staff had tried to shut down one of the map servers where the World Shifts were first noticed.

Same here on not being deleted, Starchild said. My name’s Pete by the way.

Nice to meet you Pete, I’m Tessa. I’m guessing you got a bit more of a change than most of us when you were dragged here?

Yeah. I mean, I love Starchild, but I wasn’t really look to be her. Not like my sister was with her character. Fair is fair though, I think Starchild’s kind of puzzled by me too. Oh, my party is going to gather at the [Heart Fire] now. Finally got them to listen. Thanks for giving us a rally point. That seemed to help focus them.

There were a number of things in what Pete has said that Tessa wanted to unpack, but she knew the sort of patience most pick up groups were ‘blessed’ with. Starving toddlers who were also somehow on an extreme sugar high could almost measure up to the typical group of players. On a good day for the players.

We respawned there, but if your folks want to hang out in the [Dead Lands] to save on gear damage we can form an [Alliance] and chat on the shared channel there? Tessa suggested.

I’ll check with them, Pete said. There’s…dissention in the ranks. Give us a minute okay?

Sure, and good luck, Tessa said. She didn’t have to be part of their party chat at all to know what was being said. Even though it had been years since Tessa played, something never really changed. 

People had run into a bad experience, specifically one which showcased their weakness. It was a wonderful chance for growth and reflection…which no one ever took. Unless Tessa missed her guess, there were recriminations flying everywhere in the other party’s chat log. Who was at fault, what was holding them back, how each person was doing what they were supposed to and it was someone else’s fault that they were failing miserably, all of that would be erupting like a popping pimple.

Calm heads could bring things back together. Sometimes. The problem was, could any of them really manage to remain calm with everything that had happened to them today?

Some of them want to give up, Pete said. They’re saying we don’t have the right skills and that we’re too low level to take on something like this.

That’s always possible, Tessa said, though she didn’t think that was really the issue. 

Sometimes fights were too difficult for a party to tackle. She’d seen it often enough. Maybe the boss healed faster than the party could damage him. Or maybe the battle required mobile characters and no one had movement abilities. Whatever the reason, some fights weren’t winnable with some combinations of characters, or were winnable only with such effort and at such great cost that there wasn’t really a point to fighting them.

Far more often though, she saw things like she’d seen with the other party. People who were each trying to do their own thing, but without any thought towards coordinating with each other, or learning the details of the encounter.

Being beat once was no shame. A lot of the fights were designed around beating the party several times with awful surprises they’d need to account for on their next attempt. 

Failing to learn though? Sheer stubborn stupidity could see a party through sometimes, butr simply bulling through an encounter was never pretty and only very rarely the right answer. 

It sounds like they want to head back to town, Pete said. Maybe focus on grinding some of the monsters near there until we’re a little stronger.

Never hurts to level up on things you can handle. Tessa’s agreement was honest. She could see options for how they could improve, but that would only happen if they were open to working on themselves and coming together as a real team. Even without those changes though, they could tackle easier foes and simply take a slower road to greater power, which in turn could make up for their lack of effective cooperation. To a point anyways.

If you see anyone back in town, can you warn them that there are multiple dungeons out here? Tessa asked. We know of at least two, both low level, so there could be more.

Yeah, I can do that, Pete said. I’ll try find some paper to work with to sketch out maps. Maybe Mister Pendant will let me hang one in his shop so everyone can see what we’ve found out here so far.

That’s a good idea. We don’t exactly have the game wikis to draw on, Tessa said.

We can if we need, Pete said. Some of my friends are still online right? I’ve been asking them to look up stuff as I go. If you’ve got any questions I can pass them along for you. Mind if I add you as a [Friend]?

Not at all, Tessa said. I’ll add you too. The more we can stay connected and informed, the better off I think we’ll all be.

Yeah, I think we’re going to be stuck learning a lot of this the hard way, Pete said. From what my friends are saying, this dungeon wasn’t in the Beta at all.

Did the beta testers just miss it? Tessa asked.

No, Pete said, This whole place was different. There weren’t any cave mouths at all here. Whatever this is, its not something any of the developers put into the game.

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