Broken Horizons – Vol 10, Ch 20


Tessa wasn’t used to receiving an emergency summons from Obby. It was convenient because Tessa had wanted to assemble the team anyways, but she suspected Obby’s emergency was going to either take priority over Tessa’s plan or complicate it fantastically.

“You should see the other guy though,” Obby said, confirming Tessa’s suspicion and answering the obvious question of how she’d arrived in the state she was in.

The team had gathered in the [Heart Fire] chapel on the old side of town. It was where Obby had revived after what had clearly been an unusual battle. 

Testimony to the strangeness of the fight started with Obby needing to use the [Heart Fire] in the first place and was sealed with the fact that she was still bearing a handful of debilitating status conditions despite having died and resurrected herself.

Typically recreating your body from scratch was enough to resolve any minor issues like the loss of major body parts or total system decay.

In Obby’s case though, the effects she’d been hit with had apparently copied themselves onto her ghost as well. 

“Do we want to see the other guy?” Lisa asked as she, Starchild, and Lady Midnight worked to cleanse the debuffs from Obby’s prone form.

“Not really,” Obby said. “I mean, he is dead, so not a lot of worry there.”

“He started out dead though,” Rip said.

“True. So he might come back,” Obby said. “That’s not what concerns me though.”

“There’s something more alarming than a random undead encounter that’s able to drop our strongest tank?” Pillowcase asked. She had an ego, but it wasn’t a particularly fragile one when it came to assessing battlefield capabilities. 

“Believe it or not, yeah,” Obby said. “I mean it’s not surprising that a level 70 [Crypt Annihilator] took me out, right?”

“A WHAT?” Rip was frozen in place but there were tiny arcs of electricity playing over her body.

“What was a level 70 anything doing around here?” Lisa asked. “There shouldn’t be anything that tough in this entire country.”

“It wasn’t level 70,” Matt said. “Not to start.” He knelt down beside Rip who’d been sitting beside Obby. “And it wasn’t a [Crypt Annihilator] either.”

“What do you mean?” Tessa asked. She could see several scenarios for what was going on, and ever last one of them was terrifying.

“It leveled up and form changed as we fought it,” Obby said.

“Okay,” Tessa said. “That’s not unheard of. There’s a bunch of [Dungeon Bosses] who have multiple forms and at least a few I can think of that have a mid-combat level up mechanism. How many times did they one level up? They’re usually limited to about four or so right?”

“This one leveled up at least twenty times,” Obby said. “And it wasn’t just a form change. When it hit the level range cap for one creature type it’s base designation changed.”

“What did it start as?” Starchild asked.

“It was a [Crypt Killer] when we started fighting it,” Rip said. “It might have been below level 50 then too. I didn’t get a look at it’s stats right away.”

“[Crypt Killers] are not morphic creatures,” Starchild said. “It shouldn’t have been able to change like that.”

“Agreed,” Tessa said. “Not even [Dungeon Bosses] have that much flexibility.”

“They can’t,” Lisa said. “That’s an impossible encounter.”

“Perhaps not impossible,” Lady Midnight said. Behind her, a tower of muscle in the form of a woman nodded in agreement.

Tessa had met Wrath Raven briefly, but knew from that short encounter the difference the level capped [Berserker] could have made in the battle.

“Have we tried reaching out to the guilds we know?” Tessa asked. “Have any of the established [Adventurers] seen anything like this yet?”

“I just checked with Cease All,” Lisa said. “This is the first she’s heard of anything like this. She’s going to ask around though and see if any of the guilds we run with sometimes have run into it.”

“Have her ask if there have been any full party wipes where no one made it back to the [Heart Fire] too,” Tessa said and turned to Obby, “I’m guessing the run to the [Heart Fire] wasn’t all that easy with the debuffs in affect?”

“Getting there wasn’t too fun, no,” Obby said. “On the bright side though, I didn’t even heard any howl’s from Hounds.”

“That’s…I don’t know how to explain that,” Tessa said. “I know Kamie was doing some afterlife testing earlier and according to her the town was almost overrun with them.”

“Maybe they got full?” Matt asked.

“The Hounds don’t eat the people they capture,” Tessa said. “At least according to the game lore. Not that ‘game lore’ seems to be terribly reliable for the things we’re seeing.”

“If they don’t eat people, what are they doing?” Rip asked.

“Taking wayward souls to their proper resting place,” Obby said. “At least according to one of the quests I read.”

“Yeah, that’s supposed to be the gist of it,” Tessa said. “The devs never specified where the ‘final resting place’ was supposed to be, but there was a long running joke that bad players got dragged off to play [Boundless Stars].” Tessa paused as she heard the familiar if still strange echo in her words. “Huh, there’s link text for that?” 

She’d spoken with Penswell about other game worlds and had to agree that it was a bad idea to try contacting them before the [Hungry Shadow] was fully instantiated and brought down to non-infinite levels of power. 

“Wait, wasn’t [Boundless Stars] a space game?” Rip asked.

“It still is,” Pete said through Starchild. “It’s got a smaller player base these days but the longtimers are as or more hardcore than the most serious endgamers here.”

“Yeah, the attitude early on was that getting sent to [Boundless Stars] was a worse punishment than being sent to [Hell] because of how obnoxious the players over there were,” Lisa said.

“I mean, I played there early on too and that wasn’t exactly an unfair characterization,” Pete said. “It’s gotten a lot better over the years but most of that happened after a purge that scrapped like half the accounts in the game and put in some seriously strict rules on harassment. Between that and disabling PvP, the game kind of sealed it’s fate, or that’s what everyone was saying. In practice, I think it cost them a lot of subscriptions but if they hadn’t done that they’d have shutdown five years ago rather than continuing along with a smaller but more sustainable community.”

“Given that the [Boundless Stars] forums bought in to the joke, I’m half wondering if it’s true in this world, but it seems like it’s a one-way trip so testing it seems a little impractical,” Lisa said.

“Matt might be right about the Hounds being full,” Tessa said. “Not because they eat people but they were doing something to the [Disjoined] who were lurking in the ghost realm. That might have drained them, or left them busy dealing with whatever that was.”

“It seems like we could find that out pretty easily if we go out there and run into another one of those [Crypt Killers],” Obby said.

“Or some other mob that’s doing the same thing,” Lisa said, her voice hushed with concern.

“What?” Tessa asked. “What monster was it?” she clarified.

“A [Grim Salamander],” Lisa said. “You were right. There was a party that got wiped out. They were level capped and testing if there was anything they could do to break the cap. Only one of them got to the [Heart Fire].”

“Did it start as a [Grim Salamander] or end as one?” Tessa asked.

“Started,” Lisa said. “It ended as a [Void Breaker Wyrm].”

“A what now?” Pete asked.

[Void Breaker Wyrms] hadn’t been a part of the [Fallen Kingdoms] before the [World Shift] expansion, and Tessa was reasonably certain they hadn’t been added as one of the standard mobs that the beta testers had reported on.”

“One second,” she said, and pinged Hailey’s channel.

“What’s up? Filled your team in on the plan yet?” Hailey said, picking up an instant later.

“There’s a complication,” Tessa said.

“Of course there is,” Hailey said. “Let me guess, your girl’s been kidnapped and you’ve got go save her from a series of collapsing castles?”

“[Void Breaker Wyrm],” Tessa said. “Does that sound familiar to you?”

“Hmm, no. Should it?” Hailey asked.

“Could it have been a [Dungeon Boss] from one of the [World Shift] dungeons?” Tessa asked.

“Not that I’m aware of but, oh, the heads up display knows to highlight it,” Hailey said. “That’s not a good sign. Let me check the official docs.”

“Thanks. Let me know if you find anything okay?”

“Will do. Before I go though, how did you find that term? Is it related to one of your upcoming [Void Speaker] abilities?”

Tessa paused.

“Interesting question, but no, or not that I know of,” she said. “It ate a level capped party.”

“Yikes! Please tell me you’re going to stay away from the high level zones until we know what’s roaming around out there,” Hailey said.

“It wasn’t in the new zones,” Tessa said. “And it didn’t start as that. It was a [Grim Salamander] when the party started fighting it.”

“Explain,” Hailey said, her voice growing more serious. “Or better yet, let me get Penny looped back in. You are just a treasure trove of things for her today.”

“Sounds good. She’ll have the resources to look into this,” Tessa said and switched back to speaking aloud with her team.

“Any luck?” Lisa asked, guessing who Tessa had checked with.

“Does bad luck count?” Tessa asked. “[Void Breaker Wyrms] are not a monster that my friend Hailey is familiar with. Hailey, for those of you I haven’t introduced her to, was a member of the [Egress Entertainment] support team and has played this game pretty much since launch.”

“So she would definitely know if something like that was real then,” Rip said.

“She’s pretty likely to know if it was something that made it through the development process,” Tessa said. “It’s pretty definitely real whether it did or not, but if it was something like a boss from a dungeon that the beta testers didn’t get to, I’d feel a lot better.”

“Shouldn’t the beta testers have hit everything though? I mean what’s the point of having people test if they can’t even get to part of the stuff you’re releasing?” Pete asked.

“I’m hoping it’s something that was scheduled for one of the quarterly updates,” Tessa said. “A lot of that makes it into the code before it’s ready for live players to get to. They usually just seal up the entrance or make it inaccessible in some other way.”

“So you are hoping this Wyrm broke loose from an inescapable prison then?” Starchild asked.

“Yeah, believe it or not that beats the alternative,” Tessa said. “If it’s not an escapee, then there’s no reason to think [Void Breaker Wyrm] is where it’s going to stop leveling up.”

“What comes after that?” Matt asked.

“I think we’d have to let it keep evolving to find out,” Tessa said.

“But if it keeps evolving it would eventually become impossible for anyone to beat right?” Rip said.

“That’s the problem I’m worrying about,” Tessa said. “Past a certain point, things can become mathematically unbeatable by any number of foes that are sufficiently lower level. Like Wrath Raven could take on a functionally infinite number of first level [Hopper Toads]. If the [Crypt Annihilator] or the [Void Breaker Wyrm] can keep leveling up endlessly, they’ll reach a point where no matter how many [Adventurers] we throw at them we won’t be able to so much as scratch their health bar.”

“It’s not just [Crypt Killers] and [Grim Salamanders] we need to worry about,” Penny said, appearing before them all. “I’m receiving dozens of reports similar yours. Something fundamental is changing in our world. I don’t know if you’re plan will be viable anymore. I don’t know if any plans will be.”

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