Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Ch 9

Tess had helped her party work out several battle plans. A few them even covered the unlikely event that the mobs they were facing might have reset into spots different from their standard starting positions. None of them however covered the scenario that was playing out before them. Because that situation was frankly ridiculous.

“Is there any lore about demons using a white flag to summon a more powerful demon to aid them?” Lady Midnight asked.

“Or as a trap?” Wrath Raven asked.

Either of those would have been a great idea. Fool the [Adventurers] into coming within striking distance without putting any of their long term buffs up. Or even just catch the [Adventurers] at unawares so the demons could unload their heaviest attacks before aggro rules constrained who they were able to attack.

Except for the part where a standard [Adventuring Party] would have plowed through them regardless of any overtures of peace. In the game, the demons in [Hells Breach] were nothing more than xp fodder and speed bumps towards reaching the final boss and achieving the mildly coveted [Cleared Dungeon] status.

“There are demons that summon reinforcements, but they don’t need a white flag, or a flag of any type to do it,” Tessa said. “And I don’t think this is a trap.”

“It’s not,” Lisa said. “If they wanted to trap us, they would have set this up in the corridor around the last bend. They could have wedged us in and gotten attacked into our back ranks by hiding them in cells.”

“So, they really want to surrender?” Rip asked. She had an arrow knocked by not drawn back, and Matt had a spell visibly ready but both seemed more steady in the face of an impressive large force of demons than anyone their age should have been.

“Probably going to need to talk to them to find out,” Obby said.

“That might need to be my job,” Tessa said.

“Doesn’t mean you need to go up there alone,” Lisa said, wrapping an arm around her that was either protective or restraining, Tessa couldn’t be quite sure.

“Why does it need to be Tessa?” Rip asked.

“Demon’s don’t speak [Surface Common],” Tessa said. “In theory we all speak that and our native tongue. So you can speak [Surface Common] and [Tabbywile]. Plus [English]. Huh, wasn’t expecting [English] to be a special term?”

“Un Consortium [Artifax] speak [Universalis] though,” Matt said, reminding everyone that he and Pillowcase shared more than a few traits.

“What the heck is [Universalis]?” Pete asked.

“It’s sort of [Galactic Common], since the [Consortium of Pain] utilizes it, but since one overall language that can translate all others was implausible enough for the people who worked on it and actually spoke multiple languages, they threw in some lore than [Universalis] isn’t really a single language, but a language pack that can be loaded into [Artifax] like Matt and Pillowcase.” 

Tessa had found the message board wars over [Universalis] amusing given that the preponderance of people arguing that it should be a single language that everyone could “just understand” were her fellow monoglot Americans where the ones championing the ‘language pack’ idea were the people for whom speaking two, three, or more languages was the norm.

“You’re thinking of sending a small group up there in case this is a trap?” Obby asked.

“That and, and maybe I’m nuts here, but do they look sort of scared of us?” Tessa asked.

“That’s not an either/or question,” Rachel said. “You’re dating my sister, so you are clearly in dire need of counseling, but they also do look frightened.”

“I will bite you!” Lisa warned, shoving her sister and barring her fangs.

“I can speak to them,” Tessa said, ignoring the sisterly squabbling, “and you’ve got to admit that I’m the least threatening of all us.”

“Oh that’s not even vaguely true,” Obby said, but waved away Tessa’s counterargument before Tessa could voice it.

“What if you speak with them from the third bookshelf away from them?” Starchild asked. “That will keep you within our casting range?”

“I won’t be able to get to her in time if they all unload on her,” Obby said, less as a warning and more as a simple tactical assessment.

“That’s fine,” Tessa said. “Risking one more [Heart Fire] run for the chance to figure out whatever’s up with all this seems worth it.”

“I’m still going with you,” Lisa said.

“I know,” Tessa said. “Just like you know that if they do attack us, I’ll be tanking for you with my super squishy body.”

“You know having an AoE aggro skill and no armor to speak of is objectively terrible build,” Lisa said. 

“Pillowcase is making the same point,” Tessa said. “We work with what we’ve got though.”

“Yep, and you’ve got me,” Lisa said, extending her hand for Tessa take before they set off.

Marching to their probable doom wasn’t Tessa’s idea of a perfect date, but she had to admit that she felt irrationally safer having Lisa at her side.

The trek down the library’s main aisle conjured a vision of marching down another aisle. In theory either Lisa or she should be waiting at the end but marching down the aisle together might be nice too.

You pick a strange time to think of such things, Pillowcase said.

Yeah, that’s me, Tessa said, I’m afraid you’ve joined up with a rather strange side of yourself.

I cannot express how unlike the Consortium’s commands your thoughts are, or how delighted that make me, Pillowcase said.

We’re a lot better together, Tessa said, a feeling of quite contentment washing over her.

The smile she greeted the assembled demons with reflected that contentment, and was apparently an even more deeply unsettling than her general appearance.

The demons weren’t humaniform, tending toward octopedal bodies somewhere between a spider and an octopus with few of the redeeming features of either. Reading fear on bodies so divorced from humanity should have been challenging to impossible, but it really wasn’t.

“It’s okay,” Tessa said, coming to a halt a little early and putting up her free hand in a gesture of reassurance. “We understand the white flag means a truce.”

“They can speak!” one of the demons shouted, a cry that was quickly taken up by several others.

“Yes,” Tessa said. “We didn’t know that you could too.”

“Apologies,” one of the larger demons, their body shading from a deep eggplant purple at their core to a soft violet at their razer blade tipped extremities. “My comrades did not expect this ploy to work.”

“That’s understandable,” Tessa said. “I don’t think [Adventurers] and the denizens of [Hells Breach] have ever had a non-violent encounter before. What made you think to try flying a white flag?”

“We’re not sure,” the eggplant colored demon said. “Something changed recently.”

“How recently? A week or so ago?” Tessa asked, wondering if this was some effect related to the [World Shift] expansion.

“No, this was about fifteen minutes ago,” the eggplant colored demon said.

“Uh, what?” Tessa asked. She’d been literally poleaxed and it hadn’t left her as speechless as the ramifications of what the demon said did. “Fifteen minutes as in the last time we were through here?”

“That seems to be the case.”

“What changed?” Tessa asked.

“Well, I have a name now. Chelmsworth. So that’s…honestly, it’s somewhat disturbing.”

“Having a name is disturbing? Or having Chelmsworth for a name is disturbing?”

“Yes?” Chelmsworth said.

“We’re not supposed to have names,” one of the other demons said.

“Why not?” Tessa asked.

“Because, we supposed to be spirits of murder and malevolence,” Chelmsworth said. “We’re fragments of [Hell] itself. Or we were? Maybe?”


“It doesn’t feel right when I say it. It feels like I’m repeating what someone else said about me,” Chelmsworth said.

“What’s the real story then?” Tessa asked.

“I have no idea,” Chelmsworth said. “None of us do. It’s like we were enjoying a pleasant little nap and then suddenly something woke us up. Specifically someone stabbed us, or burned us, or whatever, and when we reformed, no more pleasant napping.”

“That’s…wait, you reformed?”

“Yes. Isn’t that what you did?” Chelmsworth asked. “I have this dim memory of seeing you getting sliced into about thirty different pieces. That can’t be right though, can it? I mean you’re here, and you’re in fine shape, and you’re not [Soulbound] to this place like we are at all from what I can see.”

“You’re right about a lot of things there,” Tessa said, after providing a quick translation to for the rest of the party. “I did get chopped to ribbons, and I’m not [Soulbound] here, at least not as far as I know. Is that something you can normally see?”

“Of course,” Chelmsworth said. “Can’t you see the chains around our souls? They’re plain as the fires of the abyss.”

“We don’t see souls like that,” Tessa said.

Not entirely true, Pillowcase said. [Soul Knight] remember? I’ve been leveling up too.

Wait, I thought we couldn’t level both [Soul Knight] and [Void Speaker] at the same time?

[Void Speaker] definitely wasn’t leveling when we were fighting as a [Soul Knight], but [Soul Knight] has definitely been leveling since we got in here. I think it started when your [Void Speaker] level caught up to my [Soul Knight] level.

Wow. Let’s put a pin in that for now. God, we’ve got so much to think about when we get a spare minute.

Odds on us ever seeing one of those again?

Slim. I’ll admit that it seems slim at this point. Can you share the [Soul Sight] with me?

It’s not even like sharing anymore, Pillowcase said and Tessa’s vision shifted.

The [Soul Chains] were the first thing she noticed.

The second was how heart achingly beautiful the demons’ true forms were.

“You see us now, don’t you?” Chelmsford asked.

“Yes,” Tessa said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Who did this to you?”

“We did,” Chelmsford said. “This is the consequence of our rebellion.”

“No,” Tessa said, her eyes gaze locked on the chains that bit into Chelmsford’s radiant form. 

Eternal chains to impose endless condemnation.

“Absolutely not,” Tessa said and dropped Lisa’s hand without thinking about.

The chains that bound Chelmsford and the other “demons” were an abomination.

The [Soul Sight] couldn’t peer past their outer layers, but it showed her the string of torment that had been braided together and fused into spikey, polished perfection as an inescapable punishment for the sin of rebellion.

The chains were forged to hold the demons in the moment of their damnation forever, to lock them in stasis so that they could never change and find a path to redemption. So long as they held, the demons had as much choice in their actions as a fire did in burning or the wind did in the direction it blew.

And the chains would hold for eternity.

Or at least that had been their design.

A sight deeper than [Soul Sight] filled her mind. One no attribute name contained. Tessa could feel herself slipping into a dangerous realm, but a voice within her cried out against the degradation before her and her new vision peered deeper.

The chains had begun to fray.

Something had eroded the links.

They were beginning to [Fracture].

Tessa looked at her hands, at the power she wielded, at the damage she could do.

“This ends now,” she said, grim certainty and determination washing away all reluctance and a fair portion of her thoughts.

She didn’t hear Chelmsworth draw in a terrified breath as she approached.

She didn’t see the demons shy back away from her, just a half breath too slow to avoid her outstretched hands.

She didn’t even feel the infernal heat that should have burned the flesh from her fingers and reduced the bones to ash.

All she saw were the chains cracking, and melting, and shattering as she tore their wrought iron apart with her bare hands.

As the first link broke, divine power flood through her, and Tessa grasped it, enclosing it in a fist that burned with a light brighter than the sun. 

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