Broken Horizons – Vol 4, Ch 5

When faced with an impossible task, normal people look for a more practical alternative. Over the years, Tessa had observed that players were definitely not normal people.

“If the area at the bottom of that pit is a a standard raid zone for the [Sunless Deeps], we might be able to have my guild clear it for us,” Alice said to her team and the demons.

“They won’t be able to get there,” Obby said. “At least assuming it’s still similar to what the beta-testers reported. According to them it’s a stand-alone area, without any active connections to the rest of the [Sunless Deeps] yet.”

“They also said it was empty though, didn’t they?” Lady Midnight said, leaning back and resting her chin in her hand as she nibbled on her lip.

“Something has clearly changed,” Starchild said.

“Even if it hasn’t, we do have another option. Possibly,” Alice said.

Tessa was pretty sure she could guess where Lisa’s thoughts were turning.

“You’re thinking we could [Recall] them into the area with us?” she asked.

“Yeah. Maybe. We’d have to see how removed that area is,” Alice said. She looked paler than Tessa remembered but there was a vitality in her eyes that could have been [Vampiric Mesmerism] if Tessa didn’t know that she’d always had a weakness for that look.

“What is this [Recall] thing?” Balegritz asked.

“One of the abilities we can learn is a teleportation effect,” Tessa said. “It’s got a whole bunch of limitations, but if someone is in the same zone, and they’re in our party, and the other conditions are right, we can pull them from where they are right to our side.”

“I don’t think any of us know that one yet though, do we?” Lady Midnight asked.

“Not yet,” Obby said. “If we level a bit we should be able to pick it up pretty quick though.”

“We can’t level here though,” Rip said. “Can we?”

“I’m betting there’s plenty of monsters our new friend have to contend with down here,” Alice said, looking over to Yawlorna who had been watching the conversation between Tessa’s party with calm, calculating ease.

“We do, but I’m curious how you know that?” Yawlorna asked.

“Deduction,” Alice said. “The first of your people we met was a patrol. People don’t tend to patrol inside their homes unless they expect to find problems fairly often. Or the problems they find are severe enough that they can’t let things linger or build nests. Also, dungeons like this tend have a medley of monsters in them.”

“How do you know so much about dungeons?” Hermeziz asked. “I thought you people were ‘low level’ and that most dungeons were too high for you?”

“Because I’m usually much higher level,” Alice said.

“You can change your levels?” Yawlorna asked.

“Not at will,” Tessa said. “Not anymore anyways.”

“We used to interact with this world remotely,” Starchild said, though Tessa guessed it was Pete who was speaking. “Since we were drawn into it, we can’t do some of the things we used to be able to. Like change to different characters.”

“Your ‘character’ is the body you wear in this world, correct?” Yawlorna asked. “What happened to the bodies you are no longer able to access?”

“We don’t know,” Tessa said. “They may not be here at all. Or they may be sleeping somewhere in a coma until we can reanimate them.”

“It sounds like you should be careful,” Illuthiz said. “Those extraneous bodies could be a liability. They would doubtless provide an excellent channel for curses and ensorcellments to be cast on you.”

It wasn’t a pleasant thought, but Tessa couldn’t deny that it sounded reasonable. If, in the real world, body parts like hair and fingernail clippings had the reputation for being ‘magical conduits’, then, clearly, having an entire body, bones, blood and all should be even more effective.

Tessa thought about Glimmerglass and imagined her poor, long unplayed character tied down to some evil wizard’s experimentation table like a scene out of Frankenstein. Maybe she should head back to where she’d last logged Glimmerglass out once her team got to older zones? If Glimmerglass was still there Tessa could figure out what to do with her.

Burn the body maybe? It was probably the smart move, but even the thought made Tessa’s stomache roll. She couldn’t do that, no matter what the risk was. Glimmerglass had meant too much to her for too long.

“That’s a problem we’ll tackle if it ever becomes an issue,” she said. “For all we know, our other characters, those ‘extra bodies’, they might be entirely virtual.”

“Virtual?” Balegritz asked.

“Imaginary,” Obby suggested.

“You lead very strange lives,” Yawlorna said.

For some reason, being told that by an eight foot tall, fire skinned, massive horned demon woman struck Tessa as hilarious. Pillowcase had the sense not to burst out laughing though.

“We have a couple of bigger problems than not having [Recall] yet,” Lady Midnight said. “First, we have no idea what level the stuff is down there, so we could be asking your guild to walk right into a meat grinder.”

“That’s possible,” Alice said. “Which is why we’d need to scout it first.”

“That will be extremely dangerous,” Starchild said. “If the area below is cut-off from the rest of the [Sunless Deeps] then it may not have access to a [Heart Fire] either.”

“We can always climb back up if we need to,” Obby said,

“That would be a long climb wouldn’t it?” Matt asked.

Tessa pictured trying to climb from the depths of planet to the aerial realm of the [High Beyond] with the baying of the [Hounds of Fate] getting closer every moment. 

We can’t let Rip and Matt go on this, she said to Lisa on their private line. Going down there is legit dangerous.

Yeah, I’m thinking, if we go at all, we send down just a scout or two first, Lisa said. And I’m not one hundred percent convinced we should go. Up till now the risks we’ve been taking have all been ones we can back away from. This one might not be.

Do you think we can win the demons over if we refuse to look for this ship? Tessa asked. And for that matter, do you think it’s worth winning them over in the first place? There could be problems with that too.

What, you mean being friendly with demons hasn’t worked out for people in the past? Lisa’s playfully teasing tone wrapped around her words like a hug.

You know, I’m not even sure ‘demon’ is a good name for them, Tessa said. They’re not acting like any classical demon I can think of, or the demon-ish things we run into in other parts of the game. I bet they have a name for themselves that we should be using instead.

We should, but it’s not going to change the conclusions other people jump to when they see us rolling around with an eight foot demon lady on our team.

I’ve got an idea for that, Tessa said. But it is contingent on Yawlorna’s group actually being on our side.

I think we can get them there, Lisa said. I mean, they’re talking with us, which is a lot more than I expected when we came in here. I thought they were going to be self-delivered fast food that had some loot drops in place of a toy surprise.

Some variant of that is probably how everyone here sees them, Tessa said. I think the only way around that is to take some of them with us back to [Sky’s Edge].

Huh, Lisa said and paused for a moment, considering the idea. I’m in. It could go bad, but you know what? Who cares. Yawlorna seems pretty reasonable. If people have a problem with her being who she is, then they’ll have to through me to get to her.

And nobody gets to you unless they go through me first, Tessa said. It’s the Number One Rule for tanks.

She cast a quick smile over to Lisa and turned her ear back to the conversation.

Yawlorna, Obby, Rip, and Starchild had been discussing how dead people could be hauled up from the [Sunless Deeps] the easiest. The demons had switched from their language to an accented version of what sounded like English to Tessa’s ears, which allowed the other members of her team to join in the conversation. 

“The portal to the [Sunless Deeps] probably isn’t as far down as it appears,” Obby said. “Those things mess with your perception all the time. It’s supposed to make them look cooler.”

“If the [Heart Fire] is just over in that room, then we wouldn’t have far to run once we hit the top,” Rip said. Her eagerness sent a pang through Tessa’s heart.

She’d pictured being a Mom from time to time. It was weird concept, something which she had a sense she was supposed to be, but which always felt too distant and removed to really apply to her. Rip and Matt should have been far too old to appear as her children too, and they certainly weren’t asking her to take care of them.

So why could she picture breaking heaven and earth if that’s what it took to keep them safe?

She’d known them for a few hours? A half a day at most? Why was she unable to think of them as anything but ‘her kids’?

We are meant to protect people and keep them safe, Pillowcase said. 

The words rattled around in Tessa’s mind awakening old memories in confirmation. She hadn’t felt safe as a kid. How much of her personality had grown out that? How much of who she’d become was a rejection of the examples other people had set for her?

We need to take a break just so I can get my head in order, Tessa said, though since she was addressing Pillowcase the words were, in multiple senses, only for her own benefit.

“Ok, leaving our safety aside for the moment, there’s another reason we may want to hold off on traveling down that pit,” Lady Midnight said and waited until she had everyone’s attention before continuing. “Notice how many entrances there are to the [Sunless Deeps] from here?”

“There’s only one,” Yawlorna said. “If there were others we would have been attacked through them already.”

“Right. And what have you done with the one entrance that’s available?” Lady Midnight asked.

Tessa rolled her eyes, feeling foolish for not having considered the point Lady Midnight had made.

“We’ve sealed it,” Yawlorna said. “The seal can be broken though.”

“It would have to be,” Lady Midnight said. “And even if you can remake it, you won’t be able to while we’re down there. So if we run into anything that’s beyond us – or if something just sneaks behind us – everyone here could come under attack again.”

“And if the creatures from the Deeps attack, it’s going to be more than snatch and grab raid,” Alice said. “They’ve seen your layout and they know what your troops are like. They’ll be ready for the fortifications this time.”

“Be that as it may,” Yawlorna said. “We need our ship back, and the longer we delay the less likely we are to be able to recover it.”

“Ah, they’re just stalling,” Hermeziz said. “They’re not able to help us. Or they just don’t want to.”

It was tempting to hear only the insult in Hermeziz’s words, but when Tessa pushed that aside and studied the ‘demon’, she saw something else before her.

He was afraid. Afraid and too desperate to allow even the hint of hope inside.

She could see it in how he held Illuthiz and Balegritz. She could see it in all the ‘demons’.

They were just as lost as she was, except for them the [Fallen Kingdoms] was an opaque and endlessly hostile mystery. 

And they only had one chance at surviving it.

“We do want to help you,” Tessa said, rising to her feet as certainty swept through. “Sometimes we talk too much, and sometimes we’re scared of what we have to do, but that doesn’t mean we’ll leave anyone behind, or to fend for themselves.”

She turned and began walking, and for a moment everyone was too confused and surprised to say anything.

Then her course became clear.

Where are you going? Lisa asked.

Where we need someone to go, Tessa said. Not the full team. Just a scout or two, right?

I didn’t mean you alone! Lisa said.

“Don’t follow me,” Pillowcase said. “More people means more risk and I can either tell you what I’m seeing or what’s down there isn’t anything we want any part of.”

Wait! Lisa shouted in their channel.

I can’t, Tessa said. They need to see who we are.

And with that she stepped over the edge of the pit and crashed through the wards holding it closed.

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