Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 16

Pillowcase wasn’t a [Void Speaker]. So she shouldn’t have been able to level as one. That was something Tessa could do as a human. Or a Fallen Kingdoms Person. Or whatever her ‘Tessa’ form had become.

Tessa looked at her hand. Her [Clothwork] hand. The one that told her she was definitely still in the form of her combat capable self. Still Pillowcase. 

“Could someone check what my class and level are in the status screen?” Pillowcase asked, as Tessa exchanged the mask of one of her personas for the other to more fully match the body she wore.

“[Soul Knight] level 31, oh hey, you leveled up, congrats!” Lisa said.

“I did,” Pillowcase said, “But the message I just saw come up wasn’t for [Soul Knight]. My [Void Speaker] class leveled?”

“I thought only one of your classes leveled at a time?” Rip asked.

“That’s definitely how it was before,” Tessa said, shifting personas again to see if anything would happen.

Part of her expected her body to morph to her human one. Another part was afraid that she might have lost her human form entirely.

“Maybe the gap between the two can only be so large?” Lady Midnight said, frowning as she chewed on the thought. 

“Oh, so like her [Soul Knight] class is dragging up the other one?” Rip asked. “Did that happen in the game?”

“We couldn’t have two classes like Tessa does,” Lisa said. She turned and began studying Pillowcase’s face. [Clothwork] faces weren’t built to convey a particularly wide range of emotional states, but Tessa felt like hers was particularly frozen at the moment.

“I’m okay,” Tessa said on their private channel. “Just a little freaked out. Right before the level up notice, I heard voices.”

“What kind of voices?” Lisa’s mental voice was slow and deliberate .

“The devs. They were talking about constructing this place. It was like I was listening to a recording from one of the original design presentations,” Tessa said.

“That’s not completely implausible,” Lisa said. “If there’s any class that would be able to find hidden dev logs, something they hadn’t planned to include like [Void Speaker] would make a lot of sense.”

It was a comforting thought. It also wouldn’t be the first time that Tessa had used the skills from one persona’s class while embodying a different one.

Maybe that had been enough to earn her the xps she needed to reach the next level of [Void Speaker]?

Maybe, but there was more to it than that. Something else had happened. Something she couldn’t see. Not yet.

Tessa tried to trace her thoughts back but she kept hearing the level up sound and feeling the tangle it left in her mind.

“I don’t think I got any new abilities as [Void Speaker] though,” she grumbled aloud to the whole party, keeping her voice light when she saw the concern on Rip’s face. Tessa had no idea what the [Whispers of Yesterday] ability could do and had no interest in experimenting with it around everyone else.

“If you can figure out how you did it, maybe the rest of us can get a second class too!” Obby said. “Unless, was it bad? Or, like, disorienting?”

Tessa met Obby’s gaze and was surprised by the intensity she saw there. Obby sounded like she thought it was a fun and maybe silly idea. She looked far more serious than that though.

For a moment.

Then Tessa wasn’t sure.

“I’m not sure I’d say getting a second class was all that fun, but this level up thing wasn’t painful or anything. Just surprising as hell,” Tessa said. “Hopefully Lady M’s right though and I’ll get level ups in [Void Speaker] every time [Soul Knight] levels. That’d save a ton of grinding later.”

“Grinding’s how you get all the good loot though!” Obby said, flashing Tessa a smile.

“Speaking of which, we should probably get back to this grind, shouldn’t we?” Lisa said and added to Tessa on their private channel. “Figured you wanted to put off any more discussion of this right?”

“Yeah,” Tessa said, responding privately as well. “We can talk about it later. When we’re not in the middle of a brand new dungeon.”

“We might see more when you’re able to shift back to your Tessa body,” Lisa said in a comforting mental tone.

“We do have one immediate issue to contend with if we’re going to continue on,” Starchild said. “Farther down the tunnel, the walls grow more brittle.”

“How brittle?” Lisa asked, her eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“Ready to fall the instant the supports fail,” Starchild said. “And the tunnel supports are not terribly strong.”

“This really doesn’t feel like a level 30 dungeon,” Lady Midnight said.

“Will it actually cave in on us?” Rip asked.

“The room upstairs did,” Matt said. He was looking down the tunnel as well, and Tessa could hear the tiny whir of his optical motors turning as he tried to make out the details at the far end.

“We were able to get out of there though. Where do we go here if the tunnel collapses?” Rip asked.

“If it kills us, we can always respawn at the [Heart Fire],” Tessa said. “Unless that gets buried in the collapse too. If that happens, our ghosts will probably be shunted either back upstairs, or out of the dungeon entirely.”

“Wait, so we can make it this far and then get kicked from the dungeon entirely?” Rip asked.

“I’ve never seen that in an early dungeon like this,” Lisa said. “For an endgame raid though it’s considered one of the nicer party-wipe related mechanics.”

“Why?” Rip glanced to the other members of the party in bewilderment.

“If things have gone badly enough that you let an important part of the dungeon collapse then you need to regroup and start over anyways,” Lisa said. “Forcing the issue means you don’t have groups that tear themselves apart because some people want to press on without a plan while the others try to figure out what went wrong the first time.”

“The key to avoiding all that drama though is to deal with the traps on the support beams before you run into a party wipe,” Tessa said. “Then you don’t need to worry about respawning at all.”

“How do you do that?” Rip asked.

“Depends on the trap,” Lisa said. “Some of them you need to carefully remove from the area.”

“Those can turn into weapons you need later too,” Tessa said. “Generally they’re bombs that you need to chuck at a boss to stun them or at a wall to be able to get into a special area.”

“That’s the most common gimmick they have,” Lisa said. “So good odds that’s what we’re looking at here.”

“They do seem to be reusing a lot of bits and pieces from other dungeons in this one,” Lady Midnight said.

Tessa thought of the recording she’d heard of the devs. It hadn’t been a recording, but she was happily suppressing any considerations of that so they could be future-Tessa’s problem. 

The dev log had sounded like it was from an initial prototype of the dungeon. Possibly even one made without official approval. Hence reusing existing assets in the design.

“I don’t think this place is meant to be like this,” Tessa said. “I think a lot of what we’re running into was meant to be a placeholder that would be refined later.”

“What makes you think that?” Obby asked, she’d siddled close to Tessa, maybe to present a united front to the enemies that could come running down the corridor, although Tessa had the strangest impression that Obby was standing close to catch Tessa if she should fall.

“The spider trap, and mushroom pit, and now the shaky tunnel? We’ve seen all those before and their not all that well integrated with each other,” Tessa said. “EE was always good about having some sort of lore support for their dungeons. There’s always a narrative to their design that explains why things are setup however that particular dungeon is arranged. This kind of has that, but only at a surface level. It feels like a Friday afternoon project that got out of hand.”

“That would suggest that this word truly was crafted by the people of Earth,” Starchild said.

“Let’s see if there are any bombs on those support beams,” Tessa said. “That’ll be a bit more evidence if so.”

“What does it take to disarm the bombs?” Rip said. 

“If they’re like the ones in the game? Speed to unclip the wires before they blow up,” Lisa said.

“Speed’s kind of my thing,” Rip said. “Can I give it a try?”

“It might be better to have someone who’s done the puzzle before try it,” Tessa said.

“I have steady hands,” Lady Midnight said.

“I was thinking more someone who’s built to be able survive the blast if they mess up,” Tessa said. 

“Surviving the blast is one thing,” Obby said. “That part’s easy, it’s surviving the roof collapse that might be a problem.”

“I can offer another alternative,” Starchild said. Beside her a growing collection of vines waved in the air.

“Ah, yeah, that could work,” Tessa said, seeing the possibilities of the [Nature’s Servant] spell. “Everyone step back a bit in case the tunnel does come down.”

Without further delay, Starchild sent the vines growing down the tunnel. They moved primary over the floor but plenty spread up the walls ass well.

When they reached the first of the compromised support beams, the vines began to grow in number and density. Tessa heard a tearing sound and saw the vines pull a familiar style of box from the backside of the support beam.

“That would be the bomb we were expecting,” she said. “Well, the first of the bombs. We’re going to find four more before the end of the tunnel.”

“So does that argue that this world isn’t real then?” Starchild asked quietly.

“I don’t think so,” Tessa said. “The presence of a few things from the game version of this world doesn’t change the fact that there’s so much more in this world than there was in the game. It’s like…it’s like the two world crashed together and bits from one created new impressions on the other.”

Obby was watching her, hanging on Tessa’s every word.

“Like us,” Tessa added chasing something unseen and elusive at the end of her train of thoughts. “We’re amalgamations of pieces of Earth and the Fallen Kingdoms. Maybe we fell into the Fallen Kingdoms because we always had one foot in each world.” And idea was coming together so Tessa let the words keep tumbling from her lips. “And maybe we’re not the only things that did. This whole place? The dungeon I mean. Do we know it existed here a year ago, or a month ago? What if the Fallen Kingdoms look so much like they did in Broken Horizons because the world’s are merging together somehow too. Like we did.”

[Void Speaker Level Up!]

[Twinned Apocalypse Vision] gained!

Tessa kept her face neutral and did her best to ignore the messages that had just appeared before her.

Her [Soul Knight] class had definitely not improved there. 

Nothing she was doing should have earned her xps.

She shouldn’t have leveled up.

And she wanted nothing whatsoever to do with anything named [Twinned Apocalypse Vision].

Instead she let the others take up the conversation.

“I’m not sure if we can prove or disprove any of that,” Lady Midnight said. “If it means we can make more accurate guesses about what we’re going to find in the rest of this place though, I’m all for it.”

“My spell can act as support for the beams,” Starchild said. “So I believe we can proceed and find out.”

“Depends if we’re all ready?” Obby said, looking to Tessa for confirmation.

“I think we’re good,” Tessa said. “Let’s go find out what’s waiting for us next.”

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