Broken Horizons – Vol 3, Ch 10

Tessa wiped off her blade and heaved a sigh of relief. The last of the [Soul Blights] was rapidly dissolving into a steaming puddles of purple ichor and she felt like an idiot. But a living idiot at least. So, that was nice.

“So I don’t get how they died like that?” Rip said, poking one of the remaining bits of monster flesh into the puddle to dissolve with the rest.

“I guess it turns out that [Soul Blights] are deathly allergic to [Gloom Stones],” Tessa said. “Lucky that Starchild was able to mail the one’s their party had collected to us.”

“But the [Soul Blights] melted,” Matt said, staying well way from the ichor puddles. “I mean they were huge and one rock hits them and they melt completely? How is that possible?”

“Magic,” Alice said. “Or maybe it’s natural for this world. The [Gloom Stones] might have initiated the equivalent of tissue necrosis like some poisons do. Just much faster than anything we have in our world.”

“But Pillowcase touched the stones too,” Rip said.

“Yeah, and so did Starchild’s party.” Matt edged away as one of the [Gloom Stones] was revealed in the rapidly dwindling puddle.

It looked different than when Tessa had hurled it at the [Soul Blight]. Originally it had pulsed with veins of purple light and been surrounded with a wispy layer of smoke. As it emerged from the receding puddle though it had turned a dull and inert black, streaked through with empty cracks in its surface.

“Clothworks have resistance to poison damage,” Tessa said. “That might have helped, but I’m guessing the [Gloom Stones] aren’t dangerous to us.”

“They looked pretty dangerous to me,” Rip said as she leaned down to stare at the remains of the [Gloom Stone].

“They were probably included just for this use,” Alice said. “We were meant to beat the [Gloom Drinkers] in the entrance tunnel, pick up a dozen or so of their stones and then figure out that we could use them to get by an encounter which was clearly too difficult for a low level party.”

“But we beat the [Soul Blights],” Matt said. “I mean without the stones, we took one of them down.”

“That’s because we’re awesome,” Tessa said. “Unfortunately being awesome can make you kind of thick too.”

“To be fair, we’ve been expecting things to be horrible after those damn [Wraithwings]. I know that’s why I wasn’t questioning how tough those things were or looking for a better answer,” Alice said. She was sitting down on one of the broken rock pillars with a oddly sly smile on her face.. 

Tessa couldn’t attribute the smile to anything but she noticed that despite the extended battle they’d fought, she didn’t feel tired or even winded really. 

Maybe Alice’s healing spells remove muscle fatigue too? Though if that was the case why would they ever sleep? Just keep casting healing spells and stay awake forever. Assuming she ever felt the need to sleep in the first place. She gave that thought a mental shrug. With how long they’d been in the Fallen Kingdoms, Tessa knew she should have been crashing hard from exhaustion but she wasn’t about to complain that Pillowcase had boundless stamina for her to draw on.

“I still feel silly for not even thinking about outside mechanics for this fight though,” Tessa said. “I mean that’s like Dungeoneering 101: Always assume bosses are ridiculous cheaters.”

“Really? All of them are like this?” Rip asked, turning to look at Tessa and Alice.

“No, no,” Alice said. “Most of them are a lot worse.”

Rip’s eyes narrowed in disbelief and flicked over to Tessa for confirmation.

“Sadly, there’s no lie there,” Tessa said with a shrug. “I mean some of them are just plain old beat downs, especially in the older dungeon areas, but those can come with ridiculous DPS checks.”

“Meaning either Rip and I can blow them up instantly or we’re dead right?” Matt asked.

“Nope, bursting down a boss in a second or two isn’t something anyone can do,” Alice said. “Well, no one can do it with level appropriate bosses. Even my other character, the [Solar Priestess], could have incinerated the guys we just fought, but there’s no point going after mobs that are that much weaker than your character.”

“Yeah for a boss who just relies being a big old bag of hit points, you’re looking at a long, drawn out fight. Where challenge for you comes in is overcoming any self healing the boss has and, if they have a timeout, dropping them before the timer expires.”

“What happens if we can’t do that?” Rip asked.

“It differs,” Alice said. “Originally, the fight would just drag on literally forever. You’d get these stalemate battles where neither side could beat the other so the players would have to just stop fighting and accept the defeat eventually. Later on they started giving the bosses things like ‘Rage timers’ where if you don’t beat them in an hour, or thirty minutes, or ten minutes, they’d go berserk and start doing like ten times as much damage as they had been. Other times they just have the boss teleport away, so that you can’t get their loot and whatever time you spent getting to them is wasted.”

“I guess that could have happened with these guys right?” Matt asked.

“Possibly,” Tessa said. “There’s something about this room, or maybe this dungeon, that empowered them. Like Alice said, nothing in Broken Horizons was truly immortal. The [Soul Blights] might have been able to regenerate in place rather than respawning, but to pop back up at full health? That had to be an external force that brought them back.”

“Or it’s possible they have a self-rez ability,” Alice said. “Those are typically on a timer of some sort, so if you kill the mob you need to re-kill quickly before the rez is available again, but I think you’re right, self-rezzes should be off the table for low level mobs like those guys.”

“So we should expect more bosses to be able to do that?” Matt asked.

“Yeah, typical dungeon design has the early bosses showing off abilities the later bosses will possess too, usually in a stronger form,” Tessa said.

“If this place is real now though, why is it following a developer’s designs?” Rip asked. She poked at the [Gloom Stone] remnant with one end of her bow and watched it wobble.

“Probably for the same reason that we have the same abilities and spells as in the game,” Alice said.

“The developers also put in a lot of work on making things hang together for verisimilitude,” Tessa said. “Maybe that’s why this place works as an actual world.”

“What do you mean?” Matt asked.

“Well take these guys,” Tessa said. “They were tough from our perspective but in the overall scheme of things they’re small fries. You wouldn’t even need a level capped [Solar Priestess] to solo them. I’m guessing anyone around level 20 or so wouldn’t have a problem.”

“We’re going to go that much stronger?” Rip said.

“Yeah, a few levels can make a big difference in a fight, and a bunch of levels can completely decide it,” Tessa said.

“So they were hiding here?” Matt asked.

“More like they picked this as their hunting grounds I think,” Alice said, gesturing towards the pile of bones at the far end of the room.

“Look at it from their perspective,” Tess said. “They need weaker creatures to prey on, so they’re eventually drawn to this dungeon because as a low level area, it’s filled with relatively weak creatures. They get in here and they discover, probably when they tangle with something unexpectedly tough, that the area has a constant resurrection field they’re capable of tapping into. Can you imagine a better hunting ground than that?”

“Yeah, my kitchen,” Rip said, throwing a rare smile out.

“Like you cook?” Matt said.

“Jerk,” Rip replied.

“Jerk who can cook,” Matt corrected.

Tessa felt bubbles of warmth sparkle up inside her. If Rip and Matt were able to relax into what seemed to be their old comraderie then they’d done more than come through the battle, they’d come through it as a team.

“The [Gloom Drinkers] fit in there too,” Alice said, looking at one of the [Gloom Stones] they still had left. “They’re obviously toxic to the [Soul Blights], and with them in the tunnel leading out, the [Soul Blights] would have been stuck here unable to exit out, at least not through this entrance.”

“Why would they need to though?” Rip asked. “Why would they need to hunt? Or even eat in general? If we can’t die, or if we can just respawn I guess, why bother with eating?”

“Pleasure? Habit? Because starving is no fun?” Tessa could think of a lot of reasons why someone might eat that weren’t sustenance related.

“Some debuffs carry over across death too,” Alice said. “Maybe hunger is one of them?”

It wasn’t a cheerful thought. Tessa pictured being trapped somewhere without food and simply dying over and over again from continual starvation.

Maybe there are times when you don’t run from the [Hounds of Fate], you run to them.

“Are they going to respawn on us or should we get going?” Rip asked, poking the dead [Gloom Stone] again.

The puddle of purple ichor had seeped down into the cracks in the rock floor following some form of physics which seemed at odds with how Earthly liquids flowed. With no ichor to diminish its motion, the [Gloom Stone] wobbled more than before. In fact, it wobbled a bit more than Tessa felt it really should have given Rip’s gentle tap on it.

“Boss respawn times are typically pretty long,” Alice said. “And, as long as the local [Heart Fire] is keyed for our use, they’ll have to find somewhere else to pop back from.” 

“Not to be greedy, but shouldn’t they have dropped some treasure for us or something?” Matt asked. “I mean the stones made the fight pretty easy, but those things wrecked that other party.”

“You mean like this [Treasure Coffer]?” Alice asked and hopped off the broken pillar she’d been sitting on. 

Or rather, the tall chest which had been cleverly disguised as one of the rock pillars in the room.

“You sure you’re not a [Rogue]?” Tessa asked with a teasing smile.

“Just checking if anyone would think to ask about it,” Alice said and turned to Matt, “Congrats, you passed.”

 “So what did we get?” Rip asked, after rolling her eyes at Matt’s pleased smile.

“Don’t know,” Alice said. “Let’s see if anything’s an upgrade.”

It was like her birthday had come early for Tessa after the lid rose.

“[Wyvern Scale Mail]? A [Shield of Frost]? And a [Mace of Crushing]?” Tessa had never been so glad to see random low level gear in her life.

“I vote that all goes to Pillowcase,” Alice said. “Rip and I can divvy up the coins and Matt can take the…” Alice paused as she cast an appraising eye at the last two items in the [Treasure Coffer]. “[Staff of Lightning Shock] and the [Ifrit Robes]”.

As treasure hauls went, it was far better than anything they’d encountered so far. The gold Alice and Rip were splitting was pocket change to a high level adventurer but it probably increased their personal fortunes tenfolk.

“It’s like this loot was designed for allowing us to deal with the [Soul Blights],” Matt said as he inspected the stats on his new gear.

The [Ifrit Robe] offered decent resistance to fire damage for a low level item and the [Staff of Lightning Shock] came with an enchantment which added a briefly paralyzing electrical effect to a casters basic attacks. Tessa’s new armor and shield similarly increased her resistance against fire damage and her new mace held an enchantment to weaken her foes resistance to damage.

“So of course we get it after we beat them,” Rip sighed. Tessa guessed that while a pile of gold coins would have been amazing in the real world, she’d probably been hoping for some magic items for her own use too.

“It’s fairly typical,” Alice said. “Treasure hauls like this are usually intended to make grinding the bosses easier, so that everyone can get better gear.”

“Should we do that then?” Matt asked as his new robe appeared around him. “Just wait for them to respawn and generate some more loot?”

“We could, but it would be a long wait,” Alice said. “Bosses are slow to respawn, and Treasure Coffers are even slower. We probably wouldn’t be able to pillage this one again for at least a day, or maybe a week or a month.”

“Things take that long to respawn in game?” Rip asked.

“In real time, it’s typically a hour, a day, or a week, depending on what it is, but game time runs a lot faster than Earth time, so if we’re looking at how long it takes to respawn based on that, then, yeah, months are definitely possible.” Tessa saw that the inert [Gloom Stone] Rip had poked earlier didn’t seem to be entirely inert any longer.

“Is that still wobbling?” Rip asked and stepped over towards it again with her bow held out.

“You might want to step back from that,” Alice said as she followed her own advice.

“Why’s that?” Rip asked as she bent down to inspect the stone more closely. She was holding the end of her bow against it to steady it but it was still moving.

Almost shivering.

Like something…

Tessa started to move towards Rip but the creature inside the [Gloom Stone] finished hatching first.

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