Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 12

It’s funny how grudges can live on. Objectively, Tessa knew that being angry about something that had happened to her almost twelve years ago was just silly. If anything, she wasn’t even the one who should have been upset. The right plan would have been to call Glimmerglass over so she could have the revenge she’d been so long denied.

But Glimmerglass was Tessa. It was harder to remember that when they were walking around in separate bodies with, at least temporarily, independent memories. Tessa had been there as much as Glimmerglass had though through the years of monster encounters and dungeon raids. They’d been through all the ups and downs, and it had been one persona, one set of intentions that had pushed them through the challenges they’d overcome. 

Tessa had never been fully wed to either a first or third person viewpoint when talking about Glimmerglass. She’d been as likely to say “I picked up an incredible new staff in the dungeon that me and the guild beat last night” as she was to say “Yeah, Glimmerglass wants to get some revenge on those Dire Wraiths that wrecked her armor.”

“You know, I should probably be scared of taking this things on,” she said as she and Lisa marched back to the storm cellar door. “I should be, but I‘m not.”

“Same here,” Lisa said. “I don’t think Misery Worms even have blood and I’m still getting this borderline bloodlust at the idea of ripping one apart.”

“Pillowcase and Lost Alice are up for a throw down I guess?” Tessa said. She hadn’t meant it as a serious explanation but it raised serious questions nonetheless.

“Yeah. That could be.” Lisa seemed to be pondering the idea with the same gravity Tessa was.

Tessa still thought of herself primarily as Tessa. But ‘Tessa’ had been a cubicle dwelling, wage slave, with a messy apartment, and an aversion of socializing outside of silly elf games.

Hadn’t she?

If someone had made the claim a week earlier, she would have been forced to agree with them. She would have too easily admitted that the description more or less captured the sum total of who she was.

Except it didn’t. Certainly not anymore, and, the more she looked at it, not then either.

The facts of her life were like a candle trying to illuminate an entire theater. They not only showed just a single side of her, they couldn’t even reveal very much about that.

“I was stitched for confidence,” Pillowcase said. “I was trained with a purpose, and when I was abandoned, that purpose wasn’t lost. I found it again by choosing it for myself.”

“That doesn’t sound like something I could have done on Earth though,” Tessa continued to herself.

“Maybe not,” Pillowcase said. “Not with the support you hadn’t been given. But what you’ve done doesn’t define all that you can do. Our lives led us to build different strengths, but the capacity to be you is just as much in me as the other way round.”

“And now that we’re together?” Tessa asked, feeling a space open inside her. 

She wasn’t the woman she knew herself to be. Not anymore. She wasn’t ‘Tessa’ as she’d understood ‘Tessa’ to be. But then she never really had been. The ‘Tessa’ she’d known was always an incomplete sketch of herself because she’d never had a wide enough the perspective to view all that she could be.

And she still didn’t. Two candles showed her more of the theater of her mind, but she could see from their light how much vaster the space was. How much more she could be. If she needed to be. If she chose to be.

“Let’s do this,” she said, a familiar resolve rising her heart.

“You and me and her and the other one?” Lisa said, apparently having had a similar conversation within herself.

“All of us,” Tessa said.

“I like being crazy with you,” Lisa said.

Tessa didn’t fight her urge. She threw an arm around Lisa’s waist and pulled her in close for a quick kiss.

“Time to have some fun,” she said.

In theory they should have had a plan. They could have laid clever traps. They could have used a variety of ruses to get the [Miser Wyrm] to leave the safety of its lair. They could have simply had a sensible marching order.

Instead Tessa hit the cellar door with both feet after a running long jump and smashed through the rotten wood.

“[Counter Death],” Lisa called, wrapping Tessa in a shell of protective magic.

Tessa’s human eyes were no match for Pillowcase’s nightsight adapted magical optics, but with the cellar door in a ruined heap at her feet there was plenty of daylight shining into the basement for Tessa to catch a glimpse of an undulating shape squirming along the far well.

“[Minor Death Bolt],” she said, though the invocation wasn’t strictly necessary.

A beam of purple twisting light flashed from the tip of her wand to the far wall, drinking in all of the light it passed by.

In the darkness, the shape writhed and screamed only to come bursting forth without warning or preamble.

The [Miser Wyrm] bore no resemblance to a dragon. There were no scales on its body, and it had no serpent or lizard-like features at all. It really was more properly named a Misery Worm, with a body that resembled an earth worm with a rather horrible fungus infection. A ten foot long earth worm, it was worth noting, with a maw that was filled with  serrated gold teeth which somehow lacked gold’s signature quality of being soft and malleable.

“Die! Death bolt!” Tessa screamed as the creature lunged at her. Her wand fired another stream of purple light but she made no assumption that it would stop the thing’s charge.

Before she could be slammed into the wall by the Misery Worm’s bulk or torn apart by its fangs, Lisa was there, diving through into the cellar, through Tessa and carrying them both out of the Worm’s path.

Misery Worms had strength and power but grace and dexterity were not exactly standard issue in their tool kit. Fighting in a confined space came with some challenges for it as a result, the first being that without a body to smash into a wall, it only had its own face to break its momentum with. 

“[Minor Death Bolt],” Tessa said, rolling with Lisa’s tackle and bringing them both back to their feet.

The purple bolts were having an effect on the Worm, Tessa could see smoke rising from it and splatters of gore on the floor where it had passed. What she couldn’t see though was it’s health bar, so unlike when she was graced with Pillowcase’s vision, she had no idea how effective the bolts were.

Smashing itself into a wall had stunned the Worm for a moment but it’s misery wasn’t the kind that ended easily. It’s next charge was slower and more controlled. Tessa blasted it again, punishing it for its caution, but the creature only roared in anger and surged forward to close the distance.

“[Fracture],” Tessa said, meeting the [Miser Wyrm] with her free hand.

What she’d pictured was breaking the Worm into separate piles of its component organs. 

What she got was something different.

The ten foot long body of the Worm smashed her into the ground, it’s fangs burying themselves into her armor but failing to puncture her.

That was entirely thanks to the quality of the defensive spells woven into the fabric, something Tessa had forgotten she could rely on.

The [Fracture] wasn’t without effect though. From the back of the [Miser Wyrm] an unformed blob of protoplasm splattered outward and began screaming.

“mine! Mine! MINE!” It’s wails were an approximation of human speech more than words but the meaning was crystal clear. It was mad to drink a cocktail of all of the wealth it could gather and all the lives it could steal. That was what kept it tethered to the world, and was both its power and its punishment.

Unfortunately for Tessa, acting on that was impractical since the body of the Misery Worm was still intent on tearing her to pieces. It’s thrashing and chomping was mindless but, when it’s prey was pinned beneath it, great tactical genius wasn’t required to land devastating attacks.

Tessa felt something go very wrong in her shoulder and her ribs begin to do things which held the promise of fatal results if the force on her continued.

Lisa had other ideas about that though. 

“Get off her!” Lost Alice growled and punted the Worm’s body a good ten feet away before beginning her spell. “[Casting spell: Lesser Blood Channel]”

“MIIIiinNNnEEE,” the protoplasm screamed, focusing on the two women in front of it and shooting ghostly tendrils at them.

“[Minor Death Bolt],” Tessa gasped out sending the purple blast towards the Worm’s ghost essence.

Normal ghosts are formed from necrotic energy, so Tessa wasn’t sure  the bolt would do anything, but was pleasantly surprised to see it blossom into a small explosion on contact with the protoplasm, blasting the monster back and evaporating the tentacles it had manifested.

The healing spell banished Tessa’s pain quickly enough that she was able to rise and throw out another bolt at the protoplasm before the monster lit up with an unearthly crimson light and belched fire at the two of them.

“[Knight’s Devotion],” Tessa said, letting Pillowcase channel one her skills.

It wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences to burn in (admittedly weak) hellfire while being healed, but it did give her exactly what she needed, filling the well [Knight’s Devotion] drew from so she could stop trying to dodge the flames..

Surrounded by a shield stronger than plate steel, she stepped into the continuous gout of fire, rammed her wand into the mouth the [Demonic Spirit] had formed and unleashed a volley of bolts as fast as she could fire.

The Spirit didn’t try to retreat, it only extended even more pseudopods which grasped at her, striving against the explosions to tear away the coins it sensed her carrying.

Tessa didn’t care about her gold though. Her entire focus became killing the damned thing in front of her. 

In the end, when it died, so too did the Worm body, both sizzling away in green fire as they were dragged, for a time, back to the nether realm they’d crawled out of. They’d be back – killing [Demonic Spirits] permanently was incredibly difficult, but that was a problem for some future [Adventurers].

In the wake of the battle, Tessa swayed on her feet and the flopped down onto her butt.

“Okay. That could have gone worse I guess,” she said, waiting to catch her breath.

“Next time, we should probably not try to surprise the monster that’s clearly waiting to ambush us,” Lisa said, collapsing beside her.

“What level was that thing by the way?” Tessa asked.

“Twenty two,” Lisa said.

“Wait, seriously? That’s a lot higher than we should have tangled with!”

“I will admit I was a little worried when I saw how strong it was,” Lisa said. “I think it was probably designed for a solo encounter though, so with two of us we had a better time of it. Also whatever your [Fracture] did seemed to work out really well.”

“Wasn’t what I’d planned, but we got the win, and that’s just fantastic in my book at the moment,” Tessa said, her heart slowing down to where it was pushing the blood through her system as something less than super sonic speeds.

“We got some treasure over there,” Lisa said, gesturing to a small pile that had been left behind in the ashes of the Worm’s body.

“Want to bet we can’t equip it yet?” Tessa said.

“No bet. It’s probably level 22 stuff like the Worm was.”

Despite the lure of the treasure, they sat there together for a long minute, gathering their senses as they quietly enjoyed the reassurance of the other’s presence.

“This is who we are now, isn’t it?” Tessa asked, not unhappy with the concept, but rather turning it over in her mind to regard it from all the angles she could find.

“It’s a part of us,” Lisa said. “For now. I’ve given up trying to guess what the future’s going to throw at us.”

“That seems smart,” Tessa said. “But I’m willing to bet we run into this kind of thing again. Not another Misery Worm, but more fights for sure, and probably more with just the two of us.”

“You’re probably right,” Lisa said. “We still need to get stronger, and I don’t think either of us wants to drag the kids into the worst things this world has to offer.”

“Definitely not,” Tessa said. “But I do want to be able to be what you need.”

She felt the softest of kisses on her neck, followed by a peck on her earlobe as Lisa whispered, “You already are. Believe me.”

Tessa couldn’t help but chuckle nervously. Accepting compliments was hard.

“Thank you,” she said. “But I was thinking in a more mechanical sense.”

“Mechanical?” Lisa asked.

“As in game mechanics,” Tessa said. “I want to be a real tank for you again.”

“How?” Lisa asked.

“I think I can get Pillowcase back.”

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