Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Ch 19

Tessa had so much potential. Her teachers had told her that on countless occasions. Sometimes it was even meant as a compliment rather than a complaint. For a change, she believed that assertion though. She could feel the surging tide of possibility within her, a yearning vacuum of power just waiting for a hint of definition to coalesce into a specific and useful form. Discovering what those definitions might be was the goal of the brutal, not-all-mock “combats” she was taking part in. 

There was a catch though.

“What I seem to be discovering is just how limited my health pool is,” she said as she made her fourth trip back from the [Heart Fire].

“I’d be happy to get in there and do some aggro management,” Obby said.

Tessa wasn’t sure why having their best tank sit on the sidelines had seemed like a good idea. Emotionally, she wasn’t sure. Intellectually it still made sense, but being melted by [Acid Breath] was really not a fun experience.

And yet here she was, marching right back in to do it again.

“If you join us, healing will be too easy,” Glimmerglass said.

It was her own fault they didn’t have a tank. She’d insisted on it in fact. It was the right idea. And also kind of a stupid one.

“I could swap in,” Starchild said, casting a hopeful glance towards Tessa from the bench on the sidelines of the arena where the rest of the team was observing the massacres from.

“What do you think?” Lisa asked, also casting a glance in Tessa’s direction. 

Tessa paused, breathing in a fortifying breath, and observed her support staff. Lost Alice looked winded but recovering. Lady Midnight was in the same state, and Glimmerglass was already full rested again. Based on that evaluation, it wasn’t a hard call to make. The battle team was ready go. Before she could make that call though, someone touched her lightly on the arm.

“We could use someone else as the damage sponge,” Lady Midnight said.

“Me,” Wrath Raven offered immediately.

“Sorry Wrath. You’re too darn tough,” Tessa said. “And you cut through our friends there a little too fast for them to keep up the pressure like they can with me. The same’s true for you Starchild.”

On the other side of the arena, Tessa’s newest friends were huddled up, planning to murder her in a new and extraordinarily painful manner. 

Just like she’d asked them to.

Because now that they’d hit the level cap for the zone, how else were they going to be able proceed?

And how was she ever going to unlock all that potential that was screaming to become something, anything! 

“What about us?” Rip asked. “I’m just as squishy as you are if I stand still. I can swap out with you right now.”

The concern on Rip’s [Tabbywile] features cut Tessa to the bone. It wasn’t easy sitting out a fight, especially when you had a teammate in it who demonstrably could not handle the opponents. With Rip sitting at level 70 already though there wasn’t anything she stood to gain from further combat. 

At least not until Tessa’s idea either worked or they decided it was hopeless and gave up on it once and for all.

“Nope!” Tessa said. As bad as being melted into a goey puddle by [Acid Breaths] was, the prospect of watching Rip or Matt being melted was far, far worse.

Also it wasn’t their terrible idea, so why should they have to pay the price?

“If you stand still in a fight you’ll wind up developing some bad habits,” Lisa said. Which was also a valid concern, though Tessa could see that Lisa was really just being as protective of the two kids as she was. 

“Is it okay for Tessa to be doing that then?” Matt asked. He was, unsurprisingly, on Rip’s side, and Tessa was pretty sure if one of them was going to take her place, he would insist that it be him. Rip, of course, would not agree, but fortunately that wasn’t a quarrel she wasn’t going to let them have.

“Tessa’s powers seem to have a melee bent to them, as much as they make any sense at all,” Lady Midnight said. From her tone, she was simply considering the situation logically, but the glance she exchanged with Tessa suggested that the rest of the team was pretty much all in on the ‘no letting the kids get pulped’ idea as well. 

“That is true,” Starchild said. “She has the [Void Speaker] armor aura and she can draw on the [Soul Knight] skills Pillowcase has. Despite what she says, she’s probably as good an off-tank as I am.”

“We’re wondering if maybe we should only send in nine [Demons] this time,” Snowcap asked as he shambled into easy conversation range with Tessa and the healers.

As [Demons] went, Snowcap was oddly well spoken, especially given the fact that he seemed to possess no mouth. His body looked to be a badly fused collection of ice shards with two blazing sapphires where his eyes were supposed to be. From his forearms, razor sharp spikes of crystal blue ice were constantly fracturing away and regrowing. They gave the impression of being fragile but Tessa could attest to both their steel-like durability and just how painful it was to lose a lung (the left one) to one of the ice spikes.

Despite all that though, Snowcap was also a remarkably gentle soul, even in his [Demon] form.

“You folks are doing fine Snow,” Tessa said. “Keep on coming at me just like you have been. You’re still leveling up right?”

“We are,” Snowcap said, unhappy to confirm it. “We just…it doesn’t seem fair to you.”

“I appreciate that,” Tessa said, taking Snowcaps frosty hands in her warm ones. “I’m fine though. The [Heart Fire] is so close, everything you do to me is fixed up in a minute or less, and there’s no [Hounds of Fate] around here. Zero. So this really is the best place we can try this plan.”

“Okay. If you’re sure,” Snowcap said. “It just seems like a terrible repayment for freeing us though.”

“If this works, it’s going to free us all,” Tessa said. “And if not, we get data, so there’s a win there too!”

“We could take a rest break if you need?” Lisa asked on their private channel. 

“If I hadn’t gone and kicked the Unknown hornet’s nest, that might have been an option, but I did and I’m pretty sure that means we’re going to be seeing them a lot sooner than we’d prefer,” Tessa replied.

“You had to take the shot,” Lisa said. “I don’t blame you for that at all, and you shouldn’t blame yourself either.”

“I don’t know. I had the literal power of a god. If I can’t fix things with all that, what the heck is it going to take?” Tessa asked. 

She hated even considering that thought. And she hated dumping the question on Lisa, who had the added worry of having to look after her kid sister too.

“It’s going to take us,” Lisa said. “All of us. Together. We’ll get through this.”

“God I hope so,” Tessa said. “Even [Armageddon] with you is so much better than my life before.”

“You mean your life as a mind controlled slave of the Consortium, or as a wage-controlled slave of the company you worked for on Earth?” Lisa asked with a teasing laugh in her mental voice.

“Yes. To both,” Tessa said. It wasn’t the right moment for a public display of affection, so she added the impulse to a growing backlog for the next time they were alone together.

“Me too,” Lisa said. “I don’t know if I’m getting this from Lost Alice or if my brain is just ridiculously adaptable, but this? Fighting in a [Death Arena]? It feels comfortable. Like home.” She met Tessa’s gaze. “Because you’re here.”

“Let’s do this then,” Tessa said. “I think I noticed something last time. It’s not much, but it may not have to be. I mean, we’re not breaking the level 99 cap. This is just a little change right?”

“Yep,” Lisa said. “Just a little exception to one of the fundamental rules of this universe. Like telling gravity to take a five minute smoke break, bulling the weak nuclear force for its lunch money.”

“Ooo! Maybe we can do that next,” Tessa said. “I never got to be a bad girl in school.”

“Well we’re in the right company for going bad,” Lisa said, nodding towards the opposing team of [Demons] who’d lined up and were ready to begin the next round.

“Okay. Let’s do this,” Tessa said aloud, filling her words with roughly nine thousand times more bravado than she felt.

The assembled [Demons] erupted with a cheer at that, though Tessa noticed that they were all cheering for her, which was either a very good sign, or a very bad one.

“All healing spells on her starting now,” Lisa called out as Tessa began to layer on her own protections.

In addition to the [Void Speaker] shields she’d developed, one of which was a simple armor enhancement while the other used a strange spatial warping trick to redirect force and projectiles back at her attacks, Tessa also called up as many of Pillowcase’s [Soul Knight] defensive buffs as she could.

Her mistake in the first battle had been to try to ration out her abilities. It was the proper approach for a Tank since steady durability and the ability to amp up toughness in response to damage spikes was one of the most basic keys to surviving boss fights. Tessa, however, was not a Tank, and so she needed to do everything she could to survive the first five seconds of the encounter.

Not that ten boss-level foes was something she was realistically supposed to survive for five seconds against.

Especially not when they weren’t holding back.

“[Despair’s Clutches],” Lava Roil called, casting a multi-effect dispel at her as Rocktomb and the Eyeless Blade, two melee focused bosses, came in swinging.

Lava Roil’s spell stripped away a random selection of the protections that had been layered onto Tessa, just in time for Rocktomb’s [Death Shard Mallet] to slam down on her head.

Had she been lower level, or just not expecting it like she hadn’t been in the second match, that would have been the end of round and Tessa would be ghost running away from the greasy stain that remained of her body.

Even without her full suite of mystical defenses though, Tessa had her wits coupled with reflexes that would do a superhero proud.

And she had Pillowcase.

“Offense” Pillowcase said, and Tessa dodged forward, slipping inside the [Death Shard Mallet’s] strike to lay a solid palm strike into Rocktomb’s chest.

“[Touch of Endless Hunger],” Tessa said before jack rabbiting a dozen body blows into the same spot.

The strength of her debuffing effect had increased as had her raw physical strength as she’d leveled up. She wasn’t really a melee fighter, but with the extreme weakness she’d introduced into Rocktomb’s stone carapace, she didn’t need to hit all that hard to obliterate him.

He stumbled backward, belching blood before burning away to an ashy cloud that floated quickly to the stands and reformed outside the battle arena.

That the [Demons] could respawn as easily as she could was what let Tessa really cut loose. From the stands, Rocktomb joined the others in cheering her on, which was as weird as it was uplifting.

With Rocktomb’s defeat, Tessa felt a sparkle of energy flicker within her.

And die out. She was capped for experience. The world wasn’t going to let her gain any more power until that changed.

She tried to grab the spark, to fan it to life.

She reached deep within, urging the sea of untapped possibilities within her to rise up and create the solution.

And it didn’t.

Tessa gritted her teeth.

There had to be a way to change things.

What was coming for them was too strong.

They couldn’t fight it as strong as they were. 

Or even as strong as they could be.

The world of the [Fallen Kingdoms] came with well defined laws. Those laws had let her grow into an unimaginable amount of power, but it wasn’t enough.

As death closed in on her once more, Tessa began to wonder if the only chance she might have to save the people she cared for would be to destroy the world around them.

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