Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 15

There were enemies below them. Which came as a surprise to precisely no one. The enemies were invisible. Again, not a surprise. The enemies could fly. Tessa hadn’t known they could do that but her team was prepared for it nonetheless.

It was one of the problems the developers had faced in crafting new areas. People desired novelty. They wanted to experience the unexpected. But the surprised had to be ‘fair surprises’, otherwise the players would feel like they were being arbitrarily brutalized. 

Whether ‘invisible flying monsters at the bottom of a shaft deep enough to severely injure even mid-tier players’ counted as ‘fair’ was open to debate but it was enough in keeping with the dev’s general design philosophies that the seemingly ‘empty and safe area’ had been a pretty clear sign that something was up.

Twenty feet below the mushroom Tessa had gathered the party on, Obby engaged seven roughly humanoid tornadoes. The whirling winds of their body were visible mostly through the dust they’d picked up and the illumination from the swirling arcs of red lightning that formed an eerie approximation of a circulatory system.

Not all of the monsters were focused on Obby though. Two of the [Crawling Vortexes] had been too far away from her when the fight started and were rising towards the giant mushroom the rest of the party was gathered on.

“Gimme a sec and I’ll get those two back,” Obby said on the team channel. “Just need [Champion’s Challenge] to come off cooldown.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Tessa said. “This may work out better. If holding the ones you’ve got aren’t too bad to handle for a bit?”

“I’m doing fine,” Obby said. “I can block the physical stuff and Lost Alice is patching up the electrical damage faster than it’s coming in.”

“Good. Let me take these two then and we can focus them down.” Tessa met the approaching Vortexes at the edge of the mushroom cap.

By dropping into the monster’s nest first, Obby’s attack had bought the rest of party time to react without worrying about being immediately in danger. Tessa hadn’t wasted the opportunity and thanks to Pillowcase’s expertise, knew she was ready for what came next.

“I can throw a couple of HoTs on you,” Lisa said, queuing up a quick Heal-Over-Time spell as she did., “but it looks like most of my healing’s going to have to go to keeping Obby up.”

“I can backup heal,” Starchild said, pointing the glowing end of her staff towards Tessa.

“Don’t worry about that,” Tessa said. She slammed simple melee attacks into both of the Vortexes, and felt the numbing shock of their lightning arcing over to her hands. For any of the others, that would have been a problem, but as a tank, Tessa had no worries. The spells she’d cast ensured the attacks locked the Vortexes onto her even as she regenerated the damage the shocks had caused. “I can’t take what they can dish out. Just take them down quick.”

It was a better use of the teams resources. Starchild’s build was focused on dealing damage, with her healing being a side focus at best. It was definitely more Pillowcase than Tessa though who made the call to try to stand on her own.

Is this bravery, stupidity, or am I just not really ‘Tessa’ at all anymore? she wondered.

As long as we’re together, something’s probably wrong if we can’t draw on my combat training, Pillowcase answered herself. I suppose we could split apart like we did with Glimmerglass to see though?

Tessa blocked a fist made of spinning air that tried to slam itself down her throat and was rewarded for holding out when the Vortex burst into a shower of sparks following Matt and Rip’s attacks on it.

On her other side, Starchild drove her enchanted staff from the other Vortex’s center, grounding it out into the mushroom beneath them.

We could try to split, but I think I’m a lot happier being together.

“Obby, how are you doing?” Tessa asked.

“Fine,” Obby said. “Not a fan of the stun effect these jerks have, but it’s annoying, not deadly.”

“Think you can let another one or two go?” Tessa asked. “I’ll try to pull them up here.”

“Only tricky bit will be keeping it to one or two,” Obby said, “Should be doable though. If I run out of healing range for a bit, don’t worry, I’ll be right back.”

“Regening mana,” Lisa said, and downed a recovery drink.

It was a little eerie watching her work. Tessa recognized so many of the automatic actions she’d been in the habit of performing as Glimmerglass. It wasn’t that Lost Alice and Glimmerglass were reading from the same script, more that healers all faced similar challenges and all (or at least all the decent or better ones) had an awareness of how much they needed to shepherd their resources. Very little killed a party as fast as the healer running out of magic, though a painfully large number of them didn’t seem to have internalized that.

Or they hadn’t in the game. Tessa wondered if, in living the encounters, people were being better about minding that sort of thing. At the very least she hoped people had finally figured out why standing in the middle of a fire was a bad idea.

Obby’s flight at the bottom of the pit took her around the edge of the cavern and through the stream towards the pond that had claimed the western half of the room. The Vortexes followed her closely, right up until the stream and then stopped. All except the one that was closest to Obby, It was chasing her too quickly to stop and it paid the price for it’s mindless aggression.

With a blinding burst, the Vortex that touched the water shattered into a thousand shooting sparks that spread outwards in all directions before they changed course and were drawn into the one of the neatly planted flowers by the pond.

The flower that absorbed the Vortex’s essence glowed a soft, pulsing violet, and Tessa’s intuition perked up, giving her a hint what the flowers might be.

With a quick [Taunt] at the Vortex who was trailing at the end of the pack in chasing Obby, Tessa looked for a good landing spot.

“Obby found the mechanic,” Tess said. “We need to get down there. Land where I do.”

And with that she jumped.

Twenty feet onto a stone floor wasn’t quite the same as landing on a squishy mushroom, but Tessa didn’t feel any complaints from Pillowcase’s knees.

The Vortex she fell on had a somewhat different experience though.

“I don’t remember being able to do [Death from Above] moves with a mace in the game?” Lady Midnight said, landing near Tessa along with the rest of the team.

“Force equals mass times acceleration,” Tessa said. “And it seems like the physics engine works for that at least.”

Standing in the middle of the pond, Obby was taunting one Vortex after another to their watery demise. The monsters weren’t easy to persuade to march to their doom but with enough goading they eventually gave in to their rage and tried to rush to Obby’s position before the water ground them out.

“Don’t kill them directly,” Tessa said. “Try to knock them into the water if you can.”

She then splashed into the pond and joined Obby in calling the Vortexes to their doom.

The process made for a neat light show but Tessa was mostly concerned with how many of the flowers they could get to light up. In the end, the answer was ‘only four’ since the other two remaining Vortexes managed to fly far enough into the pond that their dispersed essences weren’t reabsorbed by the flowers.

“That wasn’t as bad a fight as I thought it would be,” Obby said, shaking the water out of her boots.

“It’s because you found the trick to it,” Tessa said. “Lightning plus water doesn’t tend to go well for lightning elementals.”

“Why would they even hang out here?” Rip asked.

“If this was a game still, I’d say it was because the devs wanted to punish people for falling or jumping down the pit, but not that harshly given that we’re not exactly in an end game raid here,” Lisa said.

“I could see that,” Obby said. “If one of you had fallen down here, kiting the Vortexes probably would have been your first impulse.”

“Unless I miss my guess, there’s another benefit to doing the mechanic correctly too,” Tessa said, plucking one of the glowing flowers and offering it to Lady Midnight.

“Should be safe,” Lisa said. “I’m not seeing poison or curses in it.”

With a shrug, Lady Midnight brought the flower to her lips and sipped the glowing, liquid within it.

On the party screen, Tessa saw Lady Midnight’s magic bar completely refill in an instant.

“Hey look, I’m useful again,” Lady Midnight said.

“Does that usually happen?” Rip asked. “That the cure for something is right nearby I mean?”

“Moreso at these levels,” Lisa said. “Later on, mechanics like that tend to punish you longer.”

“Or at least till the next raid wipe which is usually not far off if the healers get shut down,” Lady Midnight said.

“I guess that wouldn’t have been a problem here either,” Rip said, pointing towards the tunnel that lead out of the cavern.

A [Heart Fire] brazier stood a far enough inside the tunnel to be out of range of the Vortexes but not so far that someone who fell into the pit and was killed by the impact would have any problem seeing where their ghost needed to run to.

“That feels like the first break we’ve caught in this place,” Pete said.

“It’s more than a break,” Tessa said. “It’s a base. We can afford to explore a lot farther with that in play, even if we find an exit somewhere nearby.”

She looked at her team and found each of them checking in with the others.

“I’m happy to go on,” Rip said. “If everyone else is?”

“We have to be able to tell the others what to expect in this place, don’t we?” Lady Midnight said.

“A full clear’s a lot to shoot for on the first run of a brand new dungeon,” Lisa said. “If we don’t get stuck on that though, I’d say it’s worth seeing as much of it as we can.”

“What kind of things do you think they’ll throw at us next?” Matt asked and added after a moment (and probably some prodding from Rip), “Oh, I’m in too, I just thought it’d be good to be prepared.”

“You’re thinking like a good dungeon runner,” Tessa said. “So far we’ve hit more [Undead] than I expected, so it seems like it’s a safe bet that will continue.”

“Typical [Undead] at this level usually have one to two special abilities,” Lisa said. “If they look big and beefy, expect them to have some combo of exceptional damage resistance, regeneration, high health, and/or a self-rezz power.”

“Mage types typically use [Necromancy] spells,” Lady Midnight said. “Alice and I can buffer us against the health drain effects, but if you’re not a tank watch for their attacks anyways. Their bolts can [Disorient] or [Fear] you.”

“Same with the melee types,” Tessa said. “Also the melees usually have a [Feed] ability where they’ll try to eat you to gain health. It’s probably extra gross here and it’s not covered by the anti-draining spells the [Grave Menders] get.”

Though they were surrounded by danger on all sides, Tessa watched as the party formed a sort of ad-hoc school for Rip and Matt.

It was something she’d seen happen in the game as well, although only rarely. The more everyone talked though, and the more tales that were told, the more Tessa found the school wasn’t just for the two newbies.

Taken together, the party had an incredible amount of obscure lore to work with. Tessa knew most of it wouldn’t apply but every bit of it was still important. 

Every legend, every random factoid, every personal anecdote, they all defined the world around them in some way.

A shiver ran down Tessa’s spine and for a moment her vision blurred.

“Maybe this could be for an expansion area? For when we overhaul the area after the invasion event?” a developer said. 

Or had said.

There weren’t any developers here.

But Tessa heard their voice as a distant echo.

[Void Speaker Level Up!]

[Whispers of Yesterday] gained!

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