Broken Horizons – Epilogue, Ch 7

Tessa and Lisa

All the rush and clamor was far distant at last and in a little [Tea House] on the edge of [Dragonshire] all was, for a little while at least, peaceful in the world.

And that was driving Tessa nuts.

“You’re sure you don’t want to work on leveling your [Cooking] skill?” Lisa asked. “Even the failures aren’t too bad.”

She had a bowl filled with something that might have been cookie batter in her arms. That she was wearing a near equal quantity of flour from ‘crafting failures’ put a chuckle in Tessa’s heart, but she shook her head nonetheless.

“I’m still hoping I can put the time in on [Arcane Tinkering] but the supplies for that require [Gem Crafting] and it’s silly to work on that before we run the [Rainbow Diamond Mine] again.” 

From what the other players had reported, the [Risen Kingdoms] still had the limitation that, while you could level up every craft, you could only truly master one of them.

“I’m not planning to master [Cooking],” Lisa said. “We’ve already got plenty of [Master Chefs] in the guild. But you’ve got to admit that instant chocolate chip cookies are a nice option to have.”

“I can’t disagree, though I do feel compelled to point out that more than half the time, you’re a [Vampire] these days. Do cookies really do anything for you then?” Tessa asked.

“Not really,” Lisa said. “Lost Alice’s strain of vampirism allows her to eat regular food, but her sense of taste is pretty dulled. Which is interesting now that I think about it since her sense of smell is off the charts.”

“Is that something that got better as you leveled up?” Tessa asked. She’d stopped her and joined Lisa in the [Teas House’s] kitchen, choosing a seat by the food prep island in the center of the room.

“Definitely. Also I think her blood efficiency got better too, she gets hungry a lot slower than when we were starting out,” Lisa said, drawing a [Fire Hex] over the cookie dough and wrapping a [Shaping Hex] around it.

In theory that would complete the crafting and leave them with a bowl full of finished chocolate chip cookies. In practice the crafting magic wasn’t quite stable in Lisa’s hands yet and the entire contents of the bowl vanished in a bright puff, leaving behind only a single cookie for all her efforts.

“I wonder if that got all of the calories from everything in the mix or if the rest just got burned away?” Lisa said.

“Can I try it?” Tessa asked, taking the cookie from the bowl when Lisa nodded.

It wasn’t a perfect chocolate chip cookie, but it was definitely well into the acceptable range. Tessa looked up, casting Lisa a hopeful expression that there might be another one being prepped soon.

“I think the other ingredients got disintegrated,” she said, remembering that she was supposed to be testing the cookie, not just enjoying it. “This doesn’t taste like it’s got multiple cups of sugar in it.”

“But it tastes okay?”

“I don’t know. I think I’ll need some more to be sure. Maybe another dozen or so?” Tessa said with an impish grin.

Lisa flicked some flour at her, but did start assembling the ingredients for another batch.

“So what would you normally be doing on an afternoon off?” Lisa asked.

“For the last few years? Working,” Tessa said. “Believe it or not, I think dungeon delving is a healthier activity than working as a programmer. Well, no, I should be fair. I know there are decent companies out there. I never had the good fortune to work for one, but there are places that treat their staff like people rather than Employee ID Numbers who can be made to puke up code by yelling at them.”

“You are making me very glad I didn’t try to get into programming,” Lisa said.

“You had an interest in it?” 

“Sure. I played this game for over a decade. I think everyone imagines what it would be like to make their own. From everything I’ve heard though, the game industry is miserable.”

“I thought I was being smart by working for a financial company,” Tessa said, snagging a few of the chocolate chips that were left in the bag after Lisa poured out what she needed. “Turns out it’s less about what you’re doing and more who you’re doing it for though.”

“And now?” Lisa asked.

“Now I am enjoying some lovely cookies which a talented [Cook] is making,” Tessa said, watching with anticipation as Lisa manually finished putting together the batter.

“I meant how does it feel to be working for yourself,” Lisa said. “I couldn’t help but notice the pacing you were doing.”

“Sorry. It just that slowing down feels weird,” Tessa said. “We literally entered this world running and it feels like we haven’t stopped since.”

“Things are pretty quiet now though, or are you hearing something from the guild?” Lisa stopped stirring, concern flashing over her face.

“No, nothing from the guild,” Tessa said. “Nothing from anyone. As far as I can see, things really are okay at the moment. I guess I’m just, I don’t know, waiting for the other show to drop?”

“It did,” Lisa said. “A few thousand times I think.”

“I know. It’s silly. We’ve been through the literal end of the world. We’ve died. A lot. What could be worse than that?” Tessa rested her elbows on the island and let her head fall into her hands.

“It’s not silly,” Lisa said. “It’s the aftermath of trauma, and a major life change, and some very reasonable concerns.”

“Reasonable?” Tessa asked.

“Everything we thought we knew got upended. We’re not who we thought we were. That is a lot to take in. Being worried that something else might come along is just sensible. It’s allowing yourself to be aware of how uncertain all this is.”

“That does sound reasonable. And terrible.”

“We did say when this was all done we were going to find a therapist who could help us sort through all the stuff that happened to us, right?”

“Yeah. That was a good idea then and a good one now. Well, not right now.”

“Enjoying the cookies are you?” Lisa asked, conjuring another [Fire Hex].

“I’m enjoying all of this,” Tessa said, sweeping the room with a glance.

“Are you?” Lisa asked, finishing the batch and producing another single cookie. “You don’t have to pretend for me.”

Tessa heard an undercurrent in those words that got her up and off her chair.

“I’m not pretending,” she said, wrapping her arms around Lisa lightly. “I think I just forgot how to relax. If I try to imagine being anywhere else, all I can picture is trying to get back here. I know that we can go almost anywhere we can imagine and none of those other worlds seems even half as appealing as being in this shop, as being with you, right here and now.”

“Thanks,” Lisa said, her shoulders releasing a tension that had crept up on her without either of them noticing. “I know we won’t be able to curl up in here forever, but I think I need this time to recharge my batteries.”

“Time away from people?” Tessa asked.

“Yeah. I’ve never been that much of a party animal. It’s a little easier when Lost Alice is around. She’s got more stamina for the whole socializing thing.”

“Think she and Pillowcase are having any luck finding our other alts?” Tessa asked.

“I’d guess not yet,” Lisa said. “I think if they do manage to find one, they’ll be so excited they’ll send us a chat message immediately. I know that’s what I would do.”

“It’s a shame they’re missing out on these cookies,” Tessa said taking one from a previous batch Lisa had attempted.

“In theory I should be better by the time they get back. They can share experiences with us then and get the first hand version of them from our senses,” Lisa said.

“It’s neat that we have that to offer to them,” Tessa said. “I remember thinking I was going to be nothing but a burden to Pillowcase, or Glimmerglass, but even just being regular old me, I can do things for them they can’t do on their own.”

“I thought it was interesting how many people were interested in learning how to split and recombine like you do, even the ones who were heading back to Earth full time.”

“Confession time; I am not at all unhappy that a good portion of our guild chose to head home.” Tessa said. “I think we lucked into a good group of people but what we have now feels a lot more manageable than the monster group we had before.”

“I’m guessing we’ll see those numbers going back up over time,” Lisa said, beginning the next batch of cookies.

“You think people will be jumping ship on their current guilds to join ours?” Tessa asked. She could imagine that fairly easily given the rather draconian rules some guilds had in place in terms of enforced performance metrics.

“That, and I think we’ll see a fair number of the people who went back to the Earth returning here over time. Some may just vacation for a while, but I’m betting a good number of them will find the Earth’s not the world they knew either and move back to the [Risen Kingdoms] permanently.”

“I heard some of them saying they couldn’t live without their XBoxes and Doritos,” Tessa said. “I’m reasonably sure we’ll never have those here.”

“The Doritos would be doable but probably not the XBoxes. The thing is I’m not sure the Earth will have those either. With people traveling to different worlds, I think the Earth society we knew is going to change into something very different, and I don’t think it will take long.”

Tessa thought about that and caught a glimpse of the changes Lisa was envisioning.

“It’s even bigger than the change in population isn’t it?” she said. “No one’s going to work jobs like the ones I had. No one needs to stay in situations that make them miserable. If the people there don’t build a world that people feel happy and proud to live in, no one will.”

“That’s why I want to go back and visit in a year or so,” Lisa said. “It probably won’t be unrecognizable by that point, but people can change pretty quickly and I think we’ll see some clear signs for where things are going.”

“Do you think your family will stay there?” Tessa asked.

“Nope. They were some of the first people Rachel taught the [World Walking] trick to. They’re off touring some of my Mom’s favorite movies. They said they’d stop back in too though, and that they’d leave word where they’ll settle down once they decide.”

“How will they manage thatu? Isn’t there a chance that anyone they leave word with will be off traveling too?” Tessa asked, imagining families losing track of each other forever unless one side or the other could pull off a miracle or two..

“Rachel’s got that part covered,” Lisa said. “She and some of the other World Walkers are establishing cross world network connections. She thinks they’ll need to route those through Earth but it should be possible to have something like an extended version of our telepathic chat channels in place as humans start branching out into farther and farther worlds.”

Tessa blinked and then smiled. She wasn’t alone. They weren’t alone. There were other people working as hard as she ever had to keep the worlds going. 

Looking out the window, she saw big fluffy snowflakes starting to fall and felt something release inside her.

The same sense of relief that used to sweep over her when she was a kid and snow was falling on a school night sang down to her fingers and toes.

She could relax, she could be at peace, she could enjoy her wonderful new house and the woman she was in love with.

Then there was a knock at the door.

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