Category Archives: Broken Horizons

Tag for posts that are part of the Broken Horizon’s series

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 2

Tessa tasted blood. Pain radiated through her body. Her ears would not stop ringing. But something else bothered her more.

“How are we alive?” she asked, only barely able to hear her own words.

Lisa took hold of her arm and said something but it was drowned out by the explosion induced hearing loss.

You’re not wrong, Pillowcase said. We are lot less damaged than we should be. Check out the freezer we wound up in.

Tessa cast a hazy glance behind herself and saw the dent she’d left in the metal back of the small glass doored freezer unit she’d been bomb blasted into.

Glancing down at her arms, she saw numerous cuts and scrapes, but they were small.

Why aren’t they gushing blood? Tessa asked. And, wait, a dent? We left a dent in metal? How? Why aren’t my bones powder and my organs jelly now?

“Look at me,” Lisa said, her words penetrating the ringing at last.

Or was the ringing diminishing?

Tessa swept her gaze over to Lisa who looked wonderful. No. That wasn’t right. Lisa was wonderful, but she looked disheveled. Almost like a bomb had hit her and blasted her halfway through a wall. Tessa’s thoughts and sense of balance did a loop-de-loop together before returning to the same zip code as clarity.

“Look at me,” Lisa said again, taking gentle hold of Tessa’s face.

Tessa did as instructed and tried to hold still despite how the world was spinning. 

“Okay, you’re eyes are focusing. That’s good,” Lisa said.

“Woah, yeah, sorry,” Tessa said. “I…that was a lot.”

“It was. Let’s help the others before another one of those things shows up okay?” Lisa said.

Right. The others!

Rose was on her feet. Jamal was trying to get there with Rose’s help. Weirdly, from their positions and the damage to their clothes, it looked like Rose had managed to shield Jamal with her body, but Jamal had still suffered more from the blast.

Hailey was tending to Lady Midnight, or Claire to call her by her Earthly name, and from the next room in Starchild emerged looking none the worse for the wear.

“You’re all still alive? Excellent,” Azma said, stepping into the hole in the shop’s rear wall which the nanobot had greatly expanded.

Lisa whirled on her.

“Before you grow too agitated,” Azma said. “Yes, I did suspect this, or something like it, would happen. No, I did not warn you. With the information I could have supplied about the range of possible threats we would first encounter, no useful course of action could have been decided upon. Especially not since it wasn’t until the appearance of the otherworldly mechanical unit that the precise shape of the shape of the dangers before us became clear.”

“You broke off from us. Ran in your own direction,” Lisa said, her hands balled into fists.

“Not precisely my own direction,” Azma said. “I sidestepped our path of flight and resumed in the direction you chose once our enemy passed us by.”

“Why?” Lisa said. Tessa’s hearing had returned to the point where the anger in Lisa’s voice was all too plain.

“I lack your durability,” Azma said. “Also, should another method of removing the machine not have presented itself, it would have been much simpler to draw it off and away from the rest of you via attacks from its rear.”

“Or you could have just run away and left us to our fate,” Lisa said.

“Yes,” Azma nodded without the slightest trace of guilt or shame on her face.

“So why didn’t you?” Tessa asked, her head throbbing but her thoughts beginning to clear.

“Because Pete took care of the bot,” Lisa said.

“Because the path to victory remains in working in concert with you,” Azma said.

“So you’re going to ditch us as soon as it looks like we’re losing?” Rose asked. She was breathing in short, painful bursts. Tessa did not know anatomy well, but it didn’t take a med school graduate to know something was very wrong there.

“Yes, likely even before the true appearance of loss emerges,” Azma said. “Victory in this context means the survival of close to twenty billion sapients. It must be ensured.”

“Sapients that you are concerned with why exactly?” Lisa asked.

“Because they are my sapients, or will be,” Azma said. “I have less interest ruling over two dead planets than I do in ruling over one.”

“We have more important problems than her,” Hailey said. She was kneeling beside Claire, who was still splayed across the rubble in the hole in the interior wall. Tessa did not like at all how Claire was not moving. 

Just beyond her, on the other side of the interior was in the front room of the deli, Starchild was kneeling as well. Tessa began to move towards them both which brought Rachel into view. 

Rachel who was surrounded by far too much blood and was even more still than Claire was.

“Rachel? Rachel!” Lisa pushed past Tessa, her feud with Azma temporarily forgotten.

“She’s alive still,” Starchild said, her hands radiating a soft green light.

“What are you doing for her?” Lisa asked.

“Casting Arcadia’s Surcease,” Starchild said.

Tessa recognized the name. It was a high level druidic healing spell from Broken Horizons, one that caused the target to regenerate lost health so fast they were effectively invulnerable for the duration of the effect.

“Why isn’t it working?” she asked.

“I haven’t finished it yet,” Starchild said. “It’s much harder here. Much harder without Pete.” Her words buckled under the strain she was feeling and so everyone else stopped talking for a moment.

We’re all going to need that spell too, Pillowcase said.

We’ll go last, Tessa said. Whatever’s broken in us, I don’t think it’s life threatening. Even though it should be.

“If I may?” Azma said and stepped forward without waiting for a reply. “You are correct that the process of spellcasting will be more difficult without Peter’s assistance. At this moment, we need you to lead the way however.”

“How is she supposed to do that?” Rose asked. “And why are you distracting her?” Jamal was the one helping her stand at this point, which was making Tessa’s nerves jump in all sorts of unpleasant directions.

“To remind her of something critical. Something you all must understand and internalize,” Azma said. “You are not alone. Starchild, you and Peter are dissimilar from the others here. You are not facets on the same gem of personality like they are. If you were, you wouldn’t have arrived in two separate bodies.”

“We were connected though!” Starchild said, a suppressed growl in her voice.

“Yes. Exactly,” Azma said. “You two are not the same person, but you are [Synchronized Souls]. You share a bond of admiration as strong as the bonds of identity shared by the others.”

“We’re not just broken then?” Starchild said, the building light vanishing from her hands as she blinked in surprise.

“No. You were never broken.” Azma didn’t offer the phrase as a condolence or an encouragement. She spoke it as a cold, plain fact, unremarkable and unquestionable. “Nor are you broken, or even separated now.”

“He’s gone though,” Starchild said. “I saw him vanish.”

“Yes. Off to still another world. Which suggests there are even more than twenty billion sapients I may lay claim too.” Azma shook her head. “That’s not important now though. What is important is that you can still reach him, and he you. Think back to how the connection between you felt before he was pulled into your world.”

Starchild’s gaze went inwards and she went still for a long moment.

“I can’t feel him there,” she said. “He’s not watching over me.”

Azma sighed.

“Of course he isn’t. He’s likely dealing with the nanomachine he removed from our presence,” Azma said.

“Wait, he’s fighting that thing all alone?” Rose asked.

“Likely not,” Azma said. “He will have the support of allies from that world. For our fallen comrades sake however, that is unimportant. Starchild, he is distant, but he will always be with you, and you with him. Call out his name within yourself. Remember him. You don’t need to bridge the gap between worlds, only the gap within yourself.”

Starchild nodded and closed her eyes.

Tessa saw her lips move in two silent syllables.

And then light flared from her.

[Arcadia’s Surcease],” she called out in voice that seemed to ring from the sky itself.

Rachel sat up with gasp, leaping to her feet as brilliant green light surrounded and infused her.

“Oh Hell Yeah!” Rachel said, green fire burning in her eyes. “Where’d that bot go?”

“Woah, woah, calm down sis,” Lisa said, laughing out the desperation she’d been stricken by and grabbing Rachel’s arms to prove the miracle she was watching was real.

[Grove of Serenity],” Starchild said, casting a spell that caused the air to grow clear, and soft, a gently warm as every injury on everybody in the entire store was instantly healed.

Tessa stumbled back a single step, the impact of immediate perfect health, hitting her almost as hard as the bomb had.

“What did I miss?” Claire said. “And why do I feel like I’m eighteen again?”

“Starchild! She fixed us!” Rose said and flashed over to throw a hug around the Druid.

“Uh, did I just see lightning there?” Lisa asked.

“A little bit, yeah, I think so,” Tessa said, feeling dumbfounded.

We should try some of the Void Speaker or Soul Knight abilities, Pillowcase said.

Think we can shift bodies? Tessa asked.

I hope so. It would be nice to be a bit tougher, Pillowcase said.

Tessa stretched out, feeling for the fire within her that allowed her to change into Pillowcase’s Clothwork body, but as with her Void Speaker magics, she couldn’t reach it.

It’s odd though, isn’t it? Pillowcase said. This isn’t like when I had my magic threads removed for inspection or replacement. There is something still there.

You’re right. It feels like I’m reaching into a well for a handful of water, but the surface level has dropped far, far down.

Like we left it all back in the Fallen Kingdoms.

Except that’s clearly not true for Starchild, and maybe not for Rip.

“So how can the rest of us do that?” Lisa asked, turning back to Azma.

“It likely differs for each of you,” Azma said. “Starchild and Peter have the benefit that their bond already crosses the barrier between worlds. Since they are already reaching beyond this world, drawing power from beyond it as well was relatively simple.”

“Can’t we just think about the Fallen Kingdoms or something and do the same?” Jamal asked.

“Perhaps. I encourage you to try. It may be that is the key for you,” Azma said.

“Why wouldn’t it be the key for all of us?” Rose asked.

“Those of you who are familiar with this world also have the structure of its reality engraved within you. Magic is not a common and easily accessible thing here, but the laws of physics are dependable to startling regularity. Those two traits are often, though not always, found together. For you that means you are coded with an obedience to that structure of reality – magic is impossible, physics is iron clad. You’ve experienced another world, where the balance of those two traits is different though, so it is possible for you to live within the structure of one world in place of the other.”

“You said we’re coded to obedience? What does that mean?” Lisa asked.

“Very little in the end,” Azma said. “Understand, I do not speak of obedience in terms of your conscious choices, but rather in the fundamental essences of your beings here. Obedience to the physical and mystical laws which this world is built from. You do not, for example, choose to be effected by gravity. You are simply obedient to its existence, whether you wish to be or not.”

“Yeah, always, except when we’re not,” Tessa said, a drifting feeling flowing through her mind. She laughed, letting the idea pull her in, or perhaps outwards. “We’re all rebels. We’ve all been disobedient haven’t we?”

“We have?” Rose asked.

Lisa’s eyes widened as she saw what Tessa had.

“We’ve already worked magic here. Twice now. All of us,” Lisa said.

“When we left and when we came back,” Tessa said.

“Three times, at least,” Azma said. “Or did you think you survived the robots bomb blast through anything like natural means?”

Broken Horizons – Vol 13, Ch 1

Tessa was not built for running. Her burning lungs and screaming legs muscles were most emphatic about the fact that a decade of spending all of her time in front of a monitor had not prepared her for the vital task of fleeing for her life. 

Ahead of her Lisa leaped over a low cement wall, looking no more winded than Tessa would have been by a quick dash to the fridge.

The temptation to just collapse let exhaustion claim her was overpowering and Tessa stumbled with a shaky step several feet from the wall. Stumbling and collapsing was not an option though. Not with the lumbering mecha that was chasing down the street after them.

It’s being slowed down when it has to pass through physical barriers, Pillowcase said, her voice exactly as calm and analytical as Tessa’s wasn’t.

How can you tell? Tessa asked. She hadn’t dared risk a glance back towards the mecha once they started running for fear she’d trip and fall like the hapless horror movie character she seemed to be at the moment.

Also, she didn’t need to. 

The mecha had been silent at first, but when it engaged pursuit mode that changed drastically. Even if she wanted to communicate with the others, screaming over the thousand chainsaw roar from the death robot would have required a bullhorn or the telepathy they used to share.

Reflections, Pillowcase said. With the lights it’s shining, a lot of reflective surfaces are letting me see more of it than I really wanted to.

Does it look familiar at all? Any weak spots or off switches?

I haven’t seen anything with this morphology before, and the structure doesn’t make a lot sense.

The others were ahead of her in part because Tessa found she was still thinking like the party’s tank and in part because they were simply faster than she was. They’d all managed the concrete barrier without any trouble but Tessa knew that wouldn’t be the case for her.

You can’t jump that, can you? Pillowcase asked. It wasn’t really a question though. Pillowcase could feel that Tessa’s legs were offering as much support as uncooked bread dough.

I can fall over it I think, Tessa said, her breath feeling like razor blades made of fire in her throat.

If you do, you’re not going to get up on the other side, Pillowcase said. 

Which would mean that she would be eaten by the mecha.

True there would be a concrete wall in between her and it, but they’d already seen exactly how quickly it tore apart physical structures like that. Tessa was able to force herself onwards largely because she had no desire to learn how quickly it could tear her apart.

I’ll have to, she said, pushing her pain and exhaustion down a fraction of a millimeter.

Let me handle this, Pillowcase said.

You can’t. We’re not in the Fallen Kingdoms anymore, Tessa said, thinking of how glorious it would be to have Pillowcase’s Clothwork body to call on. 

Even as a level 1, just back from the dead, wreck of a Soul Knight, Pillowcase could have run for days without becoming the slightest bit winded. At her full, level capped power, Tessa was willing to bet decent odds that she could solo the monster than was chasing them.

Trust me, Pillowcase said.

And Tessa did. Oddly, serenely, she did.

She’d never learned to trust herself, mostly because she’d proven over and over just how bad she was at making good decisions. Failure upon failure had chipped away at the sense that she could rely on her instincts. Scorn, ridicule, and even well meaning jokes hadn’t done her self-worth any favors either. 

Tessa wasn’t sure how the other voice in her head was supposed to make up for legs that were spent, lungs that couldn’t drag in another breath of air, or a heart that beating fast enough to shatter her ribcage. Tessa didn’t see how she was going to overcome those.

But Pillowcase did.

So Tessa stepped back. It wasn’t the same as the change between bodies she’d figured out in the Fallen Kingdoms, but it wasn’t entirely disconnected either. Between one step and another, Tessa felt her weight shift and her legs drive forward with greater force.

She didn’t have any additional strength, and the pain didn’t lessen, Pillowcase was simply more used to being pushed to her limits and then beyond. It wasn’t about finding superhuman strength to draw on, it was about using the strength she had. It wasn’t about the pain vanishing, it was about accepting it and the damage it was alerting her too.

In Pillowcase’s memories, Tessa knew she was going to pay for the exertion she was making, but that would be later, and surviving until later was worth what it would cost.

With a smooth leap, Pillowcase hurdled over the barrier and helped a faltering Jamal back to a steady run. 

Tessa observed that she wasn’t supposed to know Jamal or Rose’s real names yet but, back in their Earthly bodies, they’d reverted to calling each other by their Earthly names. She didn’t begrudge either of them the gazelle like running they were capable of, nor Lisa or Hailey the marathoner’s pace they seemed to be able to set. Claire/Lady Midnight though was both older and heavier than Tessa and yet she was somehow keeping up with the faster runners with ease.

And then there was Pete and Starchild. Tessa had no idea what to make of them. Why they’d gotten two bodies when she and Pillowcase were stuck in one was a mystery for a later date. What was important at the moment was that Starchild was clearly their best runner, while Pete was competing with Tessa for the last spot. 

She watched his foot catch on the edge of the sidewalk as Starchild led the whole group down an alley. Pete flailed his arms and was heading for a faceplant into the sidewalk when Pillowcase grabbed him and got him up and running.

“Thanks!” Pete gasped.

Pillowcase nodded but conserved her breath. Tessa’s system was critically short on oxygen as it was and with no stamina potions in sight, it didn’t seem like there was a viable method topping of herself off.

Behind them, Tessa heard the mecha tearing through the buildings on either side of the alley.

You’d said the mecha’s structure didn’t make a lot of sense, why is that? Tessa asked.

Its too solid, Pillowcase said. She was feeling all of the fatigue and pain Tessa was but her voice was still crisp and professional. We’re seeing it as a single unit, a vaguely humaniform robot. But it’s not. According to Pete, it’s a nanoswarm.

Tessa saw the problem as soon as Pillowcase thought the words.

There was no reason for the mecha to plow through the buildings on either side of the alley. Doing so was slowing it down as it had to grind through the brick and steel and wood, not to mention all the detritus that fell on it and was obliterated.

As a swarm, the nanomachines that made up the robot should have been able to turn into a cloud or a crawling slime. The construct should have been able to fire pieces of itself out to consume its targets at a distance. It was a curious mix of impossibly advanced technology and incredibly unthinking design.

Even the speed it moved at was difficult to understand. It was slower than humans running on foot? What kind of automated death machine couldn’t outpace weak human legs?

The kind that wasn’t designed to.

The kind that was intended to give a human enemy a chance.

The kind Pete had been able to recognize on sight.

Tessa wanted dearly to ask which game the monster behind them had come from. That wasn’t a rational conclusion to leap to, but being chased by a robot made out of building destroying nanotech was not a rational situation.

Plus it was starting to fit into a hypothesis she was putting together.

If I told you that thing was from another world, would that be ridiculous? Tessa didn’t want to distract Pillowcase but with the calm from putting Pillowcase in the driver’s seat, she knew they needed an answer other than running sooner than immediately.

I would say it would be ridiculous to assume it wasn’t.

Yeah, my Earth has never had the tech to do anything like that. Tessa wasn’t sure if she liked where her idea was leading her. It could be the answer, but if so it meant horrors from the darkest of imaginations awaited them. 

Your Earth? Pillowcase asked. She fought for another dozen steps, widening the gap between them and the nanobot. They needed a thousand times that number to even approach safety, but Tessa was willing to take anything she could get.

We know that people from my Earth have vanished away to worlds other than the Fallen Kingdoms, Tessa said, a thread in her mind spinning out in search of the worst extent her hypothesis might lead to. This thing isn’t from my Earth, but I’m pretty sure it’s from an Earth that someone dreamed up. Or maybe ‘connected to’ is more accurate. 

You think the nanoswarm is from another world like the Fallen Kingdoms?

Pete recognized it. And, it’s limited just like a video game enemy would be. It’s unstoppable and was immediately hostile, it’s far too dangerous for us to attack or ignore, and yet it hasn’t caught us yet, and its just missing things all kinds of things.

I was trying to conceive of the enemy a design like the one it possesses would be intended to fight, Pillowcase said. I hadn’t considered that the designer might want the enemy to be able to win.

Win or at least survive, Tessa said. Sometimes game enemies aren’t things you can fight, they’re a mechanical challenge to avoid or deal with by some other method.

We could use one of those ‘other methods’ about now, Pillowcase said.

Ahead of them, the alley ended in a concrete wall where they should have had to turn right or left. Starchild apparently had other ideas though, as a quartet of vines shattered a hole in the wall, allowing her to race inside followed by the others. 

That’s good, breaking line of sight may buy us extra time, Pillowcase said. Assuming the bot’s sensor package can’t scan through concrete.

Hope for the best, I guess? Tessa thought and jumped through the hole right after Pete.

The problem with hoping for the best was the crushing disappointment that followed when the worst happened instead.

On losing sight of the its prey, the nanoswarm entered a new pursuit mode – one which included flushing out the human with missiles.

Between one step and the next, Tessa went from racing around the side of a deli storage shelf to finding herself inexplicably resting in the remains of a freezer on the far side of the room.

There was blood.

A lot of blood.

And smoke.

Probably a dangerous amount of smoke. 

Also, she couldn’t hear anything except an incredible ringing.

Pillowcase got her up.

Moving with injuries was dangerous and bad.

Being eaten by a nanoswarm was worse.

The rest of the group was in similar or worse shape. Some were stirring. Some where unmoving. 

Tessa’s head swam.

Things were not right inside her.

Definitely time to get to a Heart Fire.

Except that didn’t sound right.

Heart Fire.

Why didn’t it have a reverb to it?

No time for that. She didn’t shake her head. Couldn’t risk doing more damage. She did get up though and moved to the nearest figure in the smoke.

Lisa. They’d been close together, Lisa holding back her pace to stay with her. If it had meant she’d been hurt…

Tessa closed down that line of thought. Lisa was getting up. That was a good sign.

And then the nanoswarm bot appeared in the hole in the wall and they were dead.

It was too close.

They couldn’t have run even if Tessa was back in top form. 

So why was some guy laughing?

Tessa saw the weapons pod on the nanoswarm begin to glow as it powered up. She didn’t know why it had decided to blow them up with it’s weapons rather than just running through them like it did the buildings, but the end result wasn’t going to be all that different.

“Yeah, I’ve got a better idea.” They were words without sound. Words that sprang fully formed into her beaten and bedraggled head. Words in Pete’s voice?

Tessa peered through the smoke and saw Pete standing up. Around him a nimbus of light began to glow.

“Sorry I can’t go with you any farther,” he said. “I think I need to deal with this though.”

Motes of light began to rise from his body as he stepped forward, placing himself square in the nanoswarm’s path.

“Pete?” Tessa said, silently, voicelessly since her breath was gone and her throat too choked with dust.

“Can’t let the tank have all the fun, sometimes the dps has got to step up too!” he said and reached out to touch the nanoswarm.

Tessa expected to see him torn apart, just like the building had been, but instead there was only light as both Pete and the mecha vanished together.

Broken Horizons – Vol 12, Outerlude 1


Worlds hung in the balance and the balance was tipping in very much the wrong direction. That, however, wasn’t what worried Jin. Two worlds facing imminent annihilation was concerning, certainly, but to her eyes the problem was significantly larger than that.

“Are you rearranging the cosmos again?” Kari asked, appearing beside Jin as they both floated in a endless sea of stars.

“Nope. This isn’t me,” Jin said. “And these aren’t stars.”

Kari looked at her, their celestial forms still human enough for her to be able to convey a confused expression by rearranging the stellar nebula she was using for facial features. “What am I looking at then?” 

Jin drew one of the blazing points of light out from the ever brightening sea of illumination that surrounded them. With a hand made from starlight and dreams, she spun the orb around and drew the two of them in closer to it so they could make out the fine details.

Below them, a world, as vast as the Earth and far more technologically advanced spread out.

“What are we looking at?” Kari asked.

“The Earth we’ve been fighting for was like mine. Only a scaled back version. Where mine had sorcerers and super science and metahuman powers, the one you caught and saved had only normal people and a steady march of very repeatable science all along. No hidden demigods. No secret cabals of supernatural monsters.”

“Sure, we’ve seen plenty of those. We’ve even seen a bunch like my old world too. Lots of places where magic and monsters are reasonably common. This isn’t like either of those though.”

“It’s not. This kind of world doesn’t form on its own.” Jin gave the globe one more spin, revealing the vast multi-leveled technological landscape which covered the planet. “It’s called Coruscant, and it is a world that can never be. Not on its own.”


“The mix of technologies doesn’t add up. This place would generate so much heat that it would melt the planet’s surface. A galactic civilization capable of  building this place could address that, but when galactic civilizations arise naturally, in a reality with physical parameters like this one, they develop different tech than what we’re seeing.”

“This is an illusion then? Or a reality-trap?” Kari asked, moving a half breath back.

“That was what I thought too,” Jin said, drawing them in closer to where a battle was raging. “But it’s not. It’s something much more rare.”

On a landing pad that was several hundred meters long and half that wide, a trio of figures wielding blades of light were fighting for their lives against a creature that seemed to be 90% mouths, 90% tentacles, and 90% solidified rage against the fabric of existence.

“Should we help with that? It’s pretty clear who we want to win, isn’t it?” Kari condensed her celestial body into a human-adjacent species and ignited her own blazing green sword.

“Definitely,” Jin said, joining her with a brilliant amber sword in her hand. “Our job is to save these worlds after all.”

Inhaling, Jin drew in the essence of the world she was walking though. The role she’d shaped for herself was that of an Archivist. She wondered briefly is she should have opted for a warrior’s role. That was usually Way’s first choice and Jin had gotten so used to working with her wife that she’d defaulted to leaving the fighting role open and instead focused one that provided enough information to setup the sort of blatantly unfair tricks that won the day without any fighting required.

Except, fighting was often required, at least when she and Way didn’t manifest their true reality breaking might. With Way at her side, Jin never needed to worry about the fighting though, since Way was every bit as sneaky as she was, except Way tended to focus that into being more powerful than she had any plausible right to be, while still at least technically fitting within the boundaries allowed by a world’s framework of reality.

“Hey, you two, get the rest of the civilians out of here!” The man who shouted at Jin was one of the three who were fighting the Hyperspace Ravager. Kyle Moonfinder. The name came to her along with a detailed biography of his life and his place in the almost overwhelmingly complex society he was a part of.

Jin reeled as an avalanche of information poured into her. She could take it in, but processing it through J’in Voidtreader, the persona she’d created to inhabit within the world, took a bit of time.

Time Way would have bought her without a second thought.

Kari wasn’t Way but sometimes friends knew you well enough to have your back in a heartbeat anyways.

“She can handle that,” Kari said nudging Jin towards a group of diplomats who were huddling behind the remains of a destroyed transport shuttle. “I’ll give you folks a hand.”

‘You folks’ being Kyle, his daughter,…and Lily Na, from South Salem, New York? More information came flooding in but Jin caught the last important bit there.

Lily wasn’t a native of this world. Lily came from the Earth Jin, Kari, and Way had been trying to save weeks. It confirmed Jin’s growing suspicion.

“Come with me if you want to live,” Jin said, extending a hand to the diplomats. The nearest one reached out and the hand that closed on hers was as solid and real as Lily’s would have been. 

As she led them to the turbo lift that would whisk them off to safety, Jin cast a glance back to where Kari and Lily were making short work of the Hyperspace Ravager’s tentacles, while Kyle and his daughter telekinetically held the beast’s near infinite number of mouths at bay.

Jin looked past the physical for a moment and saw that infinity collapsing ever fast, each of Kari’s slashes cutting away not only the tentacle she sliced through but an endless pool of not-quite-real additional tentacles as well.

To an outside observer it looked as though the beast was simply running out of resources at last, and that would be true for all similar Oblivion Remnants that tried to take that form as well.

It wasn’t enough to just save this world after all. Not when Jin could feel a host of new threats continuing to arrive as more and more people turned to this dream world made real as their last hope to save the world it had been born from.


Stepping out of the world was an easy thing to do. Far too easy unfortunately. With Rachel in tow, Way knew she had to be very careful in terms of how much reality bending she did. The last thing she wanted to do was break Lisa’s sister, or worse erase her from history.

“So, I should warn you, there’s might to be a lot that my friends and I talk about that won’t make a lot of sense, and I may not going to be able to explain most of it to you.”

“Uh, okay? What do you need me for again though?” Rachel was on the edge of freaking out after Way had literally dragged her down a dark and smokey alley. As they walked the smoke cleared considerably though. Way was at least able to tweak things like that without risking too much trouble.

“You went back and forth to the Beta server, right?” Way said. “And you went to the real Fallen Kingdoms, and then crossed over to here?”

“Yeah, but a lot of other people were doing that. I’m not special or anything.”

“Remind to go over with you how literally none of that is true,” Way said. “For now though, just focus on being your selves.”

“My what?”

“Rachel Chen of Earth and Deadly Alice of the Fallen Kingdoms.” Way twisted the pink ring on her finger and sent a silent call to the one person she knew would always be with her no matter how many world might lie between them.

“But Deadly Alice isn’t real. Is she?”

“That’s the question of the hour I guess,” Jin said. She fell to the ground next to Way. 

In theory, she could have jumped off the roof of the building above. She was small enough that maybe she could have landed as gracefully as she did with a lot of Parkour training and some very nimble bouncing from one wall to the other.

Jin hadn’t done any of that, and Way knew it, but fortunately neither Rachel nor the world at large noticed that fact. If someone checked, they’d probably find footprints in all the right places for someone of Jin’s size and weight to have dropped from the roof. Or not. The world might come up with some other clever retro-history to explain what happened. Realities were strange like that.

“You’re with her?” Rachel asked, looking first at Jin and then Way.

“We are too, for this job at least,” Beth said. Kari stood beside her, along with a woman who was definitely not covered in blue scales. Nope, just a normal looking lady. Reality was much happier with that.

Reality was also happier with the three of them since they’d elected to walk around the corner at the end of the alley rather than cheat for a faster arrival.

“So, here’s the deal,” Way said. “Rachel is a full fledged world walker.”

“Oh no!” Kari said, with Jin’s expression falling into a worried frown as well.

“I’m a what?” Rachel said.

“You’ve moved through an entire circuit from one world to the next,” Way said. “And this is the important part. You did it while leaving your body behind.”

“I’m sorry. What?” Rachel said. “What do you mean, I left my body behind. My body is right here, thank you! See!”

She poked herself in the arm, confirming that she was indeed made of solid tissue.

“That is your body.” Jin’s nod of agreement did nothing to quell the disbelief in Rachel’s eyes. “But it’s not quite the same as the one you were wearing the last time you were on this world, is it?”

“What do you mean? Of course it is. I’m not a clone or something,” Rachel said.

“That is correct. You are not a clone,” Way said. “You are the real Rachel Chen. Or the real you. There’s lots of Rachel Chen’s in this world I guess, and they’re real too.”

“Okay, why is this important and what are you saying,” Rachel asked, after taking a forced calming breath.

“Consider this,” Way said. “When you transferred to the Beta server, what happened to your body on Earth?”

“Nothing. It was basically just VR. I was still on Earth but I was seeing and interacting with stuff on the Beta server like it was real thanks to whatever weirdness is going on.”

“That’s correct, mostly,” Way said. “Now consider what happened when you used the portal from the Beta server to the Live server.”

“I stepped through and got stuck in Deadly Alice’s body,” Rachel said, confusion beginning to creep across her face.

“And what do you think happened to your Earthly body then?” Way asked.

“I…Well, the same thing as everyone else right?” Rachel asked.

“When you arrived in the Fallen Kingdoms, were you a ghost?” Way asked.

“No, I was just like this. I mean, like Deadly Alice,” Rachel said.

“You were right with that first bit,” Jin said.

“For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure, your Earthly body was still here, even after you stepped into the fully real version of the Fallen Kingdoms,” Way said.

“Fully real?”

“Where we were before? Where you were Deadly Alice? Did any of that feel even a bit less than real?” Way asked. “You could see things, feel things, even smell and taste things there right? Does that sound like VR?”

“No, but…”

“But that is a lot to take in. Trust us, we know,” Beth said, stepping forward to put a comforting hand on Rachel’s shoulder.

“But I’m here now,” Rachel said, looking over her body again as though to make sure she really was herself. 

“Right. So, last step, consider what that means,” Way said.

“I don’t know. What could it mean?”

“It means that when we came back, you reached out to your sleeping Earthly body and brought it here,” Way said. “You needed a body in this world, and you had one so its the one you used.”

“But what happened to Deadly Alice’s body then?” Rachel asked.

“Nothing. Its still yours too, there waiting for the next time you need it.”

“But I can only be her in the Fallen Kingdoms, right?”

“Nope,” Jin said. “You’re wearing your Rachel Chen body because it’s the most comfortable one here. But you are as much Deadly Alice as you are Rachel Chen. You can be whoever you choose to be.”

“Even someone who shows everyone else how to save this world,” Way said.

Broken Horizons – Vol 12, Interlude 1

The Calamity of Wind

The Vortex was far larger than any of its observers could see. It’s arms stretched across the sky to the edges of the world it saw while in it’s center its winds spun with enough force to sheer buildings from their foundation.

The midwest of the United States was used to tornados and had the systems and warnings in place to alert people and get them into shelters. It wasn’t always enough to save everyone, but it saved countless lives every year.

Dubai, by contrast, did not have quite so robust a tornado response protocol in place. 

The Vortex hadn’t known that when it manifested, nor had Byron when he called it into being there. Neither one was overly concerned about the matter though. The Vortex because it lacked the capacity for any emotional or intellectual response beyond an appetite for destruction, and Byron for largely the same reason. The same however was not true for the people beneath the Vortex.

“I’ve got us a flight chartered out, but we’ve got get in the air now.” Ted Billingsworth wasn’t used to giving commands that weren’t obeyed when he spoke to his staff. They worked for him so they knew better than to backtalk when he was serious about something

“A flight? Now?” Kendal knew better than most not to backtalk him. She’d seen him fire more than one upstart who had opinions and thought he, or she, usually a she, knew better how to run his business than he did.

“Yes. Now get your bags. We’re leaving.”

“No. Not by plane I’m not,” Kendal said and the rest of his staff nodded in agreement, with a few of the weaker ones refusing to even look at him.

“That’s fine. See what I care. You’re all fired. And I’m canceling your tickets back to Dallas. Fly on your own money. I’m not paying for any of you,” Ted said before storming out of the hotel.

The gale force winds that battered him as he left the building only stoked his anger He didn’t need those expendable head counts. Maybe he’d even take them to court for breech of contract or whatever his lawyers could cook up. 

No planes were cleared to fly and he’d managed to get one anyway because he was Ted Billingsworth and he was a man the world listened to. They should have been grateful to him, but no, there wasn’t any gratitude in people today. All they wanted was your money. Money for work you didn’t even really need them to do.

Ted’s thoughts would have continued alone thing line except that he caught his plane.

Which is to say, without any awareness of the irony involved, the Vortex had picked up the plane Ted Billingsworth had chartered while it was fueling on the tarmac against all orders, laws, and basic common sense. With winds that should have reduced the aircraft to a cloud of metal shards, the Vortex hurled the plane kilometers across the city to land directly on the spot where Ted was struggling with his bags.

Surprisingly that was not the end of Ted Billingsworth though.

His body was obliterated of course, but his breath remained and it carried with it the anger and misanthropy which had characterized Ted’s entire adult life. 

Ted had wanted to destroy those around him and the malice of the Vortex responded to that desire by mingling its essence with the breath Ted Billingsworth had left behind to create a whole new sort of monster.

The Calamity of Ash

Wildfires weren’t a new thing for California to be faced with, millions of acres burned up with disturbing regularity. Those burning acres did not usually rise up as a legion of ten foot tall columns of flame shaped in the rough configuration of an adult human male though.

“Are any of them coming up towards us?” Hector Gonzalez was ready to gun the car’s engine for a rapid escape at a moment’s notice but without his friend inside the vehicle there was no force on Earth that could convince him to drop his foot on the pedal.

“Good news, no,” Sashanna said without putting her binoculars down.

“Bad news, they’re definitely heading to the fuel depot,” Kevin added. He at least had the sense to look away and check that the car was still ready to go. That he was also checking the distance to the huge tanks of oil and gas that lay at the end of the valley was a good sign for his awareness too.

“Worse news, I can’t get through to anyone.” Miya was more or less juggling their four cell phones and having no luck with any of them.

“So, we should leave then, right?” Hector said. Being perched on a bridge, a wooden bridge to be specific, that spanned a low valley down which an army of flame monsters was advancing was an objectively terrible idea. Hector was pretty sure literally anywhere else in the world would be a better place to be.

“Yeah, we should definitely go,” Sashanna said.

“Sounds good,” Hector said. “Time to get in then!” 

“Just one problem,” Sashanna said. “They’re not burning things.”

“Really? Cause I’m seeing a lot of flames from that direction,” Hector said.

“Yeah, what do you mean Shanna? Those trees are going up like fireworks  when they walk past them,” Miya said, putting their phones away to survey the army of walking flames with her friends.

“That’s my point. Look at what’s happening to their things they walk near,” Sashanna said.

“I’m seeing flames and smoke,” Kevin said. “Looks like fire to me.”

“That’s at the leading edge,” Sashanna said. “Here use these. Look past the front line.” She passed the binoculars over to Keven and pointed to direct his attention. “Over there. Where the smoke is thin.”

“Damn, it’s all just ash and dust. But trees don’t burn to ash and dust that fast. That’s impossible.”

“That doesn’t sound good either,” Hector said.

“Yeah, guys, I’m with Hector. We really shouldn’t be here,” Miya said.

“Okay. You’re right,” Sashanna said, joining the other two as they piled into Hector’s car. “We’ve got to warn somebody though.”

“Who? The fire department? You think they’re going to miss that coming at them?” Hector said as he pressed the accelerator firmly to the floor.

Hector was neither a Fast nor a Furious driver, but the deep inner voice that said “Little Fire Good, Lots of Fire Bad” was screaming so loudly that he didn’t feel much restraint in terms of obeying local traffic laws.

“You didn’t see what was back there,” Sashanna said.

“You said ash and dust. I’m more worried about the living fire dudes personally.”

“There were things out beyond the ash and dust,” Shashanna said.

“What kind of things?” Miya asked in a voice that very clearly stated she didn’t really want to know.

“I don’t know – like fires turned in on themselves,” Shashann said. “Smoke and dust, but alive, with something that, I don’t know, kind of hurt to look at in their center.”

“Maybe they’ll fight the fire guys for us?” Hector said.

“I don’t think so,” Kevin said. “I think Shanna’s right. Whatever those things were? I think the fire dudes are running from away from them.”

The Calamity of Ice

Not everything in the world was burning. Some parts of it were freezing into deathless silence. Places like Cairo.

The snow had started falling after more than thirty Armageddon Beasts had been dispatched by the residents of Cairo.  There’d been a pattern to them that was beginning to spread through the local lines of communication. The visible weakening of a patch of space. The inexplicable vertigo that you felt only on every odd step around the breakthrough spot. The sound of tearing metal that echoed in and out, doppler shifting though you weren’t moving in relation to it at all. 

In an astoundingly short time, Cairo had grown accustomed to the arrival of the Armageddon Beasts and had learned that the beasts could be carried away. Sometimes the ones who dragged them away from the Earth even came back too.

None of them had recognized the snow that fell as being connected to the problem of the world ending beasts, but few mistook it for a good sign either.

“We need to stay inside. This is not supposed to be happening,” Youssef said.

“Everything is down in here though,” Aya said, shaking her phone. “We won’t know anything about what’s going on if we stay here.”

She fought with her phone further but it was being stubborn in refusing to give her any access to email, the internet, or even texts.

Outside the day grew steadily darker as the snow cloud bunched up and turned from a dull gray to an empty black.

“Maybe it’s better than we don’t know,” Youssef whispered low so that no one else would hear him. 

He had no special experience with cataclysms, though he was old enough to have seen the world’s hardship gather and grow and crash down again and again. This snow though? It was something worse than even the Armageddon Beasts everyone was talking about. He knew that as surely as he knew his body needed breath and yet it was only snow. Just simple little frozen water flakes like he’d seen before on trip abroad.

Youssef felt the urge to reach out through his window to touch one of the falling bits of ice. They were so small and soft and harmless. All he had to do was touch one to wash away his worries. 

He wanted to touch one. 

He needed to touch it. 

He was in agony without the cool caress of the snow.

“God is good,” he whispered though the words cost him more than any shout he’d ever uttered.  More than any scream could have though, they woke him from the overwhelming urge which taken hold of his senses.

It all felt silly for a moment until he gazed down the street and saw the figures there.

Figures reaching out to touch the falling snowflakes.

Figures perfectly frozen into clear, crystal ice.

The Calamity of Stone

Not all of the calamities which befell the Earth were present for humans to see. As Byron skipped about the surface of the planet he saw so many empty places, and so many empty people, but always there was a net of connections between them and the ones who were working to stifle his grand acts of Uncreation.

No human stood truly alone, for all that so many were lonely and so many fell without any to catch them. No place was truly empty either. Life, cursed, wretched, abominable life, filled every awful nook and cranny of the planet, from the tops of the highest mountains to the depths of the deepest seas.

“If only I could carve a corner into this ugly blue sphere without any of that,” Byron said ignoring the screaming of the winds and the rage of the oceans. They were trying to tell him something, trying to warn him, at least the ones that he’d claimed as his own were. The rest were shouting meaningless defiance and threats. 

As though anything could be a threat to him anymore.

As though he would let anything or anyone close enough to harm him ever again when he’d discovered how to create such delightful minions.

He dropped a plague of zombies down into the untamed wilds of Miami’s streets and shrugged at the results. People seemed to notice them, but it didn’t really have the impact he was looking for.

He needed to feed the Hunger that was at his core.

The Hunger which called for him to eradicate everything.

Except everything was doing a rather good job at resisting eradication. 

He’d tried to infect their communications network, but had been stymied by the damn thing collapsing. Should he go after the engineers who’d designed it next? It would be fitting, but also futile. Their incompetence had done their work for them in safeguarding the world from him. He needed a new angle, a new position, a new…

He looked down.

A new direction.

Far beneath him the nickel iron core of the planet spun, surrounded by temperatures far beyond anything life could tolerate. Far beyond anywhere a human could reach.

But not beyond him.

Stretching forth his hand, Byron began to call forth a new minion.

Broken Horizons – Vol 12, Ch 20

Tessa was back in her own body, her very human, very fragile body, and she wasn’t the only one.

“Is your planet normally like this?” a shockingly tall and heavily muscled woman asked in a voice that couldn’t have been anyone other than Yawlorna.

“Only on really bad days.” Lisa’s human form wasn’t a surprise to Tessa. Every time they’d been dead it was the shape Lisa had worn. That fact did absolutely nothing to prevent Tessa’s breath from catching in her throat though. “Come on, we need to get out of this stuff before it chokes us out.”

They were on a sidewalk with a noticeable incline. Worryingly, the smoke seemed to be flowing downhill. Tessa wasn’t an expert on fire safety but she was pretty sure smoke usually went in the opposite direction, so she was delighted when Lisa began leading them uphill from where they’d arrived. Her breath had caught in her throat though because Tessa had a lot more to be delighted about.

Lost Alice was gorgeous, because of course she was. Her appearance was based on a video game character’s, with only mild alterations for individuality and the expression of her personality. Lisa by contrast didn’t have the perfected proportions of her Fallen Kingdoms counterpart or Lost Alice’s flawless skin and amazing hair. What she did have were all the flaws and unique quirks that real people have and in that instant Tessa loved every single one of them. 

Her world was burning, they were running both from and towards disaster, and for a single moment, Tessa felt only a stillness within her and the warmth of Lisa’s hand in hers.

“Please take inventory,” Azma said. She didn’t look anything like her Fallen Kingdoms form either, but she was unmistakable nonetheless. “I don’t believe any of the capabilities you possessed have been lost, but their accessibility may be limited.”

“She’s right,” Obby said. “My 99 levels as a Guardian are offline for now. I think the same will be true for all the rest of you, except maybe for Tessa?”

Tessa had never been able to see her heads up display while in her “human” form so she didn’t have an easy reference to see if her levels were still in effect but when she tried to invoke one her Void Speaker shields, she couldn’t feel anything moving through her.

“Nope. Back to being a regular human here too,” Tessa said, trying to work out where they’d arrived. 

The thick smoke made it hard to pick out landmarks but the shape of skyscrapers in the distance at least confirmed that they were some kind of large city.

“Well this sucks,” said a teenage girl who had to be Rip Shot.

“I’m just glad we all showed up in the same place, not back at our computers,” a teenage boy, obviously Matt Painting from how close he stood to Rip, said.

“That’s a good point. Anybody know where we are?” a middle aged woman with Lady  Midnight’s voice asked.

“Somewhere new,” Starchild said.

Beside her jogged a middle aged guy who looked almost as befuddled as she did.

“Oh, how interesting,” Azma said. “I would so dearly enjoy…no, not the time for curiosity. You have a global communication network. We need to access it.”

“Not a problem,” Hailey said. Unlike most of the others, she wasn’t in casual, ‘just playing around on the computer’ clothes. She was wearing a logo’d polo shirt for Egress Entertainment and with black jeans which more or less screamed ‘Tech Support Rep’, but the important part of the ensemble were the pockets in her jeans. Pockets that held that most holy of modern objects, Hailey’s cell phone. “Or maybe it’s a small problem.”

“No charge?” Tessa guessed.

“No service,” Hailey said. “I getting 4 bars, but it’s not downloading anything.”

“Is it broken?” Rachel asked. In real life she looked nothing like her sister, but as the only other Chinese American girl present, both her voice and the process of elimination made it easy to identify her.

“Probably not,” Lady Midnight said. “Whatever’s happening here probably has the circuits clogged. Pretty standard disaster scenario. Getting out of the city might help but no promises there.”

“Unfortunate,” Azma said. “Not unexpected however. What options can you see for transportation?”

“It’s a city, there’s gotta be cars around her somewhere right?” Rip asked.

Tessa blinked at the incongruity of that. They were definitely in a city. Except they were alone as far as she could tell. No people. No cars. There were alarms blaring but no flashing lights.

This isn’t what it’s supposed to look like, is it? Pillowcase asked, her silent voice as clear as ever in Tessa’s mind.

You’re still here! Tessa said, a weight lifting from her shoulders with each word.

Sort of, Pillowcase said. I don’t have any of my Soul Knight abilities though, and there’s a lot of other things that seem to be broken. I can’t hear the team’s party line at all.

No telepathy on Earth, Tessa said.

Not going to be much help then I guess, Pillowcase said. Still glad to be here though, I was wondering if we’d be split apart and I’d be left back there alone.

I think we’re in this for the long haul, Tessa said, and I think you may be a lot more help than you know.


You’re a lot more than your magic spells. I’ve never been brave enough to really stand up for myself.

Hate to tell you, but I was specifically engineered to not be able to stand up for myself.

Maybe, but look at what we’ve accomplished together? Trust me there’s zero chance I could have done that on my own.

So you’re saying we’re stronger when we’re more fully ourselves?

The results kinda speak for themselves don’t they?

I guess that’ll depend on whether we survive this or not, Pillowcase said with a rueful mirth they both shared.

“Intersection up ahead,”  Lisa said. “We should be able to see the street names at least.”

“Even better, I see a hospital sign,” Lady Midnight said. “If there’s anyone left here, we should be able to find some of them there.”

“There likely will be,” Azma said. “We will be endangering them if we attempt to contact them however.”

“Endangering them how?” Lady Midnight asked.

“Byron either knows of our arrival or will be aware of it shortly,” Azma said. “It’s doubtful he’ll risk a direct confrontation, but he will have disposable minions to dispatch against us.”

“Wait, but we don’t have any powers here,” Rip said.

“And we can’t respawn,” Matt said.

“That’s not entirely true,” Starchild said and held out her hand with a glowing ball of green flame in it.

“Huh?” Obby said. “How did…oh, OH! I see! Clever!”

“Could you fill us in on whatever you just noticed?” Lisa asked.

“As I said, you’re capabilities are not lost, they are simply not easily accessible,” Azma said. “This is typical when moving between Arcanospheres with different fundamental parameters.”

“She’s doing magic here though. That’s not a thing that happens on Earth,” Rachel said.

“Huh, no, I think I get it,” Hailey said.

“You do?” Rachel asked.

“Yeah. We’re not on Earth are we?” Hailey said. “Or, we’re on Earth, but it’s not exactly the Earth we left.”

“It’s mostly the Earth you left,” Obby said.

“Mostly?” Lisa asked.

“Yeah,” Hailey said. “Okay, magic doesn’t exist on Earth right. I mean the wizards throwing fireballs kind of magic.”

“Depends who you talk to but, sure, I’d say that’s a fair statement. Or at least it was before I saw someone literally holding a fireball they were ready to throw,” Lisa said.

“And that’s exactly it! It was a fair statement but it’s not anymore. Think about it. Have you ever personally cast a magic spell on Earth?” Hailey asked.

“No, and not for a lack of trying,” Lisa said. “Lost Alice has been wracking our brain trying to come up with some method of drawing in the mana we need but this body is basically as non-magical as you can get.”

Tessa dearly wanted to disagree with that assessment but it didn’t seem the time or the place to bring the conversation in that direction.

I’ll add it to the ‘demonstrate to her later’ list, Pillowcase whispered to her.

“Is it?” Hailey said, and Tessa saw the mischievous grin that she’d only heard so many times before. “Do you think casting yourself to another world because a distant part of your soul was in peril is a totally normal and mundane sort of action? No magic involved at all?”

“No, but I wasn’t the one who did that,” Lisa said. “Was I?”

“You tell me,” Hailey said. “Lost Alice may have been the one to call, but who was it who answered?”

“We did,” Tessa said, the obviousness of the answer leaving her feeling a little stunned. “When we got there, do you remember we talked about how we could ever trust the person who was responsible for dragging us into a world where we had to fight to survive?”

“That seems like it was a thousand years ago, but yeah, I do,” Lisa said. “And, yeah, I can see how that turned out alright for us, but why would we have done that.

“Because the Fallen Kingdoms needed us,” Hailey said.

“Oh, wait, it’s a lot more than that,” Tessa said. “You heard what Marcus said. The Earth was being attacked by these things and he dragged Byron away to the Fallen Kingdoms. That’s why we answered the call. That’s our quest! It’s not Save the World. It’s the Save the Worlds! We weren’t forced to go to the Fallen Kingdoms. We chose to. To save both worlds!”

“How could we have done that though? I can’t do magic,” Lisa said.

“Of course you can,” Azma said. “You’ve cast countless spells before we arrived here.”

“But that was in the Fallen Kingdoms,” Lisa said. “Wait, Starchild, where are you getting the magic for that from? Lost Alice can’t find any of it.”

“I can feel the soul of the natural world here just as strongly as I could feel it on my world,” Starchild said.

“That’s so weird,” Rip said. “I mean we’ve got plants and stuff here, but we’ve got lightning too and I can’t feel any of the Lord of Storm’s power inside me at all. It doesn’t even sound different when I say Lord of Storms.”

“I can still here Matt’s voice,” Matt or rather his teenage human alter-ego said. 

“Yes, that’s typical as well,” Azma said.

“Since you’ve got experience with this, can you tell us how we find our way back to the power we need for our spells?” Lisa asked.

“It differs in each world,” Azma said. “I can provide some possibilities, but your current status is acting as a cloaking mechanism of sorts.”

“From Byron?” Tessa asked.

“And from everything else he’s brought to this world,” Azma said. “Creatures such as he are drawn to power. That was true when he was no more than a man and has grown only more central to his identity since he devolved into something less.”

“So either we stay powerless and can’t do anything against him, or we figure out the ‘One Weird Trick’ to making magic work on Earth and then a billion monsters come and squish us?” Rip asked.

“I never figured out that trick at all,” Rachel said. “I was only supposed to be temporarily logged in. I have no idea what happened to me at all or how I did it.”

“Really?” Obby said, turning her full attention on Lisa’s sister.

“Uh, yeah, I was able to go back and forth from the Beta server to Earth a few times,” Rachel said. “It wasn’t until I went to the live servers that I got stuck. I think.”

“I think…can I take you to meet someone?” Obby asked.

“Sure, I guess? Is it going to help?” Rachel asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe your situation is unique, but even if it is, I think you might be one of the keys we need to fixing all of this,” Obby said, practically bouncing on her toes.

“We who?” Lisa asked.

“Some friends who’ve been working this problem from a different angle,” Obby said. 

“Don’t we still need to find the other original developers though?” Rip asked.

“Yes, but please, do as she says,” Azma said. “The rest of us will take care of the issues that are within our domain to address.”

Tessa glanced to Lisa who offered a shrug. Obby seemed to know what she was doing and they both remembered her essentially soloing a throne room full of Remnants. Tessa missed their private telepathic channel but the shared glance was able to communicate most of what needed to pass between them.

“Be careful ok!” Rip shouted as Obby led Rachel off at a run into the swirling smoke.

“We still need to connect to the communication network, and to find transportation,” Azma said. “And also to deal with that.”

Tessa followed Azma’s gaze to the ten foot tall mecha that came silently striding around the corner.

No machine that big should have been able to move without making a noise. 

No machine of any size should have disintegrated the edge of the building as it walked through it either.

“Robot!” Matt’s warning was somewhat ironic given his former body but it was Pete who’s words truly chilled Tessa.

“Oh no,” Pete said. “I know what that is. It’s not a bot. That’s a Gray Walker. It’s a nanite swarm.”

“What can it do?” Yawlorna asked.

“Take us apart at a molecular level,” Pete said.

“And how do we stop it?” Starchild asked.

“We don’t.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 12, Ch 19


It fascinated Azma to watch the [Adventurers] she’d surrounded herself with stumble into an awareness of the decisions they’d long since made.

There was no doubt that they were going to attempt the transit to their home realm. If they’d lacked the conviction for that, they wouldn’t have broken the bonds of time and space to make it as far as they already had. Similarly it was a given that she would accompany them, though amusingly none had thought to question the viability of someone who was wholly unnative to their realm making the journey.

“What about Yawlorna though?” Lady Midnight asked as her young companion Rip moved off to hold a side conversation with the [Nightmare Queen] . “If there’s no alter-ego of hers from Earth for her to transfer into what will happen if she tries to come with us?”

Azma chuckled and corrected herself. The [Adventurers] weren’t wholly witless, just unused to multi-dimensional tactical thinking.

“Maybe we only have the Earthlings go back?” Matt Painting said. He was concerned about the return, not out of fear of the journey but from a dislike of the destination.

Azma toyed with the idea of giving him an “out” by claiming his time for some other venture in the [Fallen Kingdoms]. He would be an excellent asset for a number of possible missions, but that wasn’t the proper use for him.

Matt and all of the others of the little group they’d assembled were going to be far more effective if they remained as a unit.

“The journey will pose no hardship for her,” Azma said and notice the Celestial who was calling herself ‘Obby’ cast a glance over to Azma. 

‘Celestial’ might not be the proper term of course. Azma had never encountered one before, and from what little she’d glimpsed of Obby’s true powers and insight, Azma wasn’t sure if the categorization fit quite perfectly. Celestials were distinct however in that they were a class of being which even the [Consortium of Pain] refused to have dealings with. 

Where capturing a [Transcendent Entity] that could break all manner of physical laws and corrupt an entire fleet through data channels no wider than a whisper was seen as a perfectly viable resource for the Consortium to exploit, the standard mandate on Celestials was not only to leave them alone, but to abandon any systems they took an interest in. 

That would have been enough to put a smile on Azma’s face. If she’d been looking to climb any further in the Consortium’s hierarchy, the presence of a Celestial in the midst of a ruined mission would have absolved her of all guilt and changed her credit balance to ‘anything you can cleanly retrieve will put you in the black’. 

Azma was done with the Consortium though. Even if they survived, they had nothing left to offer her. True, she’d sunk years of her life into carefully gathering power and maneuvering within the confines of the system the Consortium had constructed but the end goal, though unstated, had always been the Consortium’s destruction at her hands. The only other stable end state was her demise and since that was laughably implausible, the Consortium had always and only been a gauntlet through which Azma knew she must pass to hone her abilities before creating her own all encompassing structure of power.

“How do you know she’ll be okay?” Obby asked.

“She is no more a native of this realm than I am,” Azma said. “Translation between realms can take many different forms, and I make no guarantee that any who choose to make the transit back to the Earth will retain their form or functions, but pathways and bridges between realms tend to be far more stable than is statistically likely. It is almost as though worlds that can touch on one another desire to be in communion rather than standing alone in the cosmos.”

Yawlorna looked like she was going to ask for clarification on that but was interrupted by a thundering flash of lightning that burst into the throne room and rose to stand as an entity of living electricity.

Azma smiled, and checked off the next box on her holographic project plan. The [Lord of Storms] had shown up almost exactly on time and with the minimal amount of predicted fuss, even in the presence of a Celestial!

There were several points she had laid out which she was not looking forward too, but, for now, the fact that they were marching towards their doom was a truly uplifting one


The [Lord of Storms] arrived with a blast of lightning and a burst of thunder. Neither of those blew Marcus away as much as the words they spoke next though.

“It’s just Sam now. Wait. Gail?” the [Lord of Storms] said and then kneeled before her. “Or should I say ‘My Queen’! Either way, I am yours!”

“Sam!?” Marcus said, as though after everything else he’d seen and done that was the  most surprising thing he’d encountered all day. “Sam Greenweir? Is that seriously you?”

The [Lord of Storms], the once-again living god of lightning, turned to Marcus and threw up their hands as though to give him a giant hug. “Marcus? You made a cat boy character at last!? Oh my god! Why didn’t you tell me!”

Marcus grimaces and leaned back from the lightning hug before breaking into a smile and laugh along with the [Lord of Storms] and the [Nightmare Queen].

 “I’m sorry. What? Why? I mean, you all know each other? How?” Tessa said.

Marcus glanced over and had to stifle another laugh. Tessa was in her human form but could have been a [Metal Mechanoid] from how close she was to short circuiting.

“Oh wow,” Rip said. “That really worked.”

She was saved from hitting the throne room floor by Matt’s presence and quick reflexes.

“I don’t understand how you’re here?” the [Nightmare Queen] said.

“Yeah. Not real clear on that either. Though, wow is it cool to be a god! I’ve got so much energy now! This is amazing!” the [Lord of Storms] said.

“Hey, this isn’t fair,” Hailey said. “Why aren’t their god powers making them glitch out like I was?” 

“They are safely removed from the constraints of the mundane realm we were previously in,” Azma said.

“Oh. OH!” Tessa said. “Marcus…”

“Yep! Thinking the same thing,” Marcus said.

“Which is?” Hailey asked.

“If it’s safe to have admin level access here, then we can risk bringing more of the support staff over,” Marcus said.

“Hold off on that,” the [Nightmare Queen] said. “You’re not wrong in that assertion but support reps won’t translate as much more than [Demigods] or [Supreme Spirits]. They would be more powerful than any [Adventurers] but what we’ve lost already is far more fundamental to the realms than that.”

“You need the other [Creators] back,” Tessa said. “You need your old development team back!”

“Is that doable?” Lost Alice asked.

“In theory? Sure,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “If someone could call them like this brilliant young woman did for me, all of the old [Creators] could be reawoken. In practice though?”

“We would need people here who were faithful to the dead gods and hit max level in a god-sponsored class?” Tessa said.

“Or, there is another option,” Azma said.

“You know, listening to the expansion’s villain seems like a terrible idea, but under the circumstances, we just don’t really have a choice do we?” Marcus said.

“Would you expect me to arrange things in any other manner?” Azma asked.

“Team Azma,” Hailey said, bopping Marcus on the shoulder, to which he just shook his head at the debate they’d been having since the [World Shift] expansion was first announced internally.

“What’s our other option?” Tessa asked.

“Calling replacement deities to this realm requires tremendous affinity with them because the call must reach out across the spheres and find the Earth based fragment of the god in question. Far easier to simply go to the Earth and contact the fragments there,” Azma said.

“And they’ll be able to transfer here on their own?” Yawlorna asked.

“It seems to be a gift which residents of the Earth realm possess,” Azma said.

“Not normally we don’t,” Lady Midnight said.

“These aren’t exactly normal times,” Lost Alice said.

“Will that help you?” Tessa asked. “Will it be enough?”

“Yes it will help, but whether it will be enough I can’t say.” The [Nightmare Queen] had begun pacing in her throne room, in exactly the same pattern Gail used when she was chewing on a particularly tough problem. “The more of the old team you can get, the more we’ll be able to shore up the metaphysical boundaries and barriers which have been damaged, but nothing like this has ever happened or was ever planned to happen. There’s no roadmap for any of this.”


Being in the middle of a disaster was calming for Yawlorna’s nerves. 

She knew she should worry about that.

After so much time worrying about her crew, and the bizarre inhabitants of the alien world they’d been stranded on, and the radical changes she was undergoing, Yawlorna found she was all out of worry, and with the world properly falling apart she could relax and stop waiting for disaster to strike.

It was already striking!

So it was time to strike it back.

“It looks like our path is open,” she said, gesturing to the far end of the throne room where a stream of stars in the floor lead to a brilliant and impossible distant point of light. “We need to figure out who’s going now.”

“All of us, right?” Marcus said. “Gods excluded obviously.”

“If you could stay that might help,” the [Lord of Storms] said. “We need a liaison back to Earth and in this state I don’t know how much connection to it I have anymore.”

“Won’t they need me to find the rest of the original dev team?” Marcus asked

“I got you covered there,” Hailey said. “I didn’t work with them like you do, but I’ve got access to the company directory and I have zero compunctions about hacking HR to find out their last known contact addresses.”

“You can’t ‘hack HR’ Hailey. We actually have decent security on those systems,” Marcus said.

“Oh, I mean ‘hack’ like with an axe,” Hailey said. “If Gilbert tries to give me trouble I will enjoy so much getting my revenge for those late paycheck deposits.”

“Uh, okay then,” Marcus said and stepped back towards the safety of the being made entirely of lightning.

“Are you sure you want to come Yawlorna?” Tessa asked. “You’ve done a ton for us already, and we originally invited you to join us to keep you safe, not drag you across the cosmos to fight some guy from the other side of the Twilight Zone.”

“I don’t know where that is, but of course I’m going to come with you,” Yawlorna said. “I know I look like a [Demon] to you, but I’m not. I’m an [Explorer]. I’m supposed to seek out new life and new civilizations. Taking bold risks is a part of that.”

“When this is all over, remind me to sign up with your crew,” Marcus said.

“Neeerd,” Hailey said and hit him again.

“That’s Ensign Nerd to you,” Marcus said.

“Is there anything special we need to do?” Rip asked.

“And do we know where it’s going to drop us off?” Rachel asked.

“Given that we are the first to walk this path, I suspect there’s only one method of discovering its destination,” Yawlorna said and placed her feet on the milky way of stars leading outwards towards infinity.

She’d expected she would need to cross the endless gulf one step after the other and that time would blur around her. Instead the distant stars surged forward at her so fast that they flared into a billion explosions so bright that the light filled her very bones.

Her second footstep landed not on the path of stars but on hard, night darkened ground in a world where the air was filled with a thick and billowing smoke.

Behind her, she heard the others stumbling and choking as they arrived.

On an Earth that was already burning.

Broken Horizons – Vol 12, Ch 18


Gail Merriden had never been Tessa’s friend. Tessa knew that. The [Nightmare Queen] wasn’t a comforting, friendly entity. Tessa knew that too. She was able to rationally assert both statements with her big, rational mind. Her heart however had other ideas.

“What do we need to do next?” she asked, a hope rising in her that she hadn’t known she’d been missing since she arrived in the [Fallen Kingdoms].

She wasn’t friends with Gail or with the [Nightmare Queen], but as a fairly unhappy teen, she’d latched onto the stories of Gail Merriden’s work on [Broken Horizons] and elevated her to a position of near-sainthood. It was neither reasonable, nor healthy, and the dozen years that had passed since then had done a fair job of giving her the maturity to see that, but the fourteen year old inside her still cheered at the prospect of meeting one of her oldest hero figures.

“I have no idea,” the [Nightmare Queen] said. “She must know though.” A nod towards Obby indicating the ‘she’ in question.

Tessa blinked at that? Obby? Why would the [Nightmare Queen] defer to Obby?

Because Obby had destroyed Gulini Prime’s Oblivion Remnants and left the man himself a shatter, and purely mortal wreck, whimpering at the foot of the stairs to the [Nightmare Queen’s] throne.


Tessa’s mind went fuzzy when she tried to connect more of the details and probe that idea deeper.

“Sorry there,” Obby said, and the fuzziness diminished. “She’s right that I could get us back to Earth, but I don’t think I have to here.”

“What do you mean?” Rip asked. She was shaking her head to clear away the last wisps of fuzziness.

“Oh, I see,” the [Nightmare Queen] said. “She’s right.”

“Gail? Could you dial back the cryptic to about a 3? Or maybe a 2? This has been a really hard sixty eight hour day so far,” Marcus said.

“Sorry Marcus,” the [Nightmare Queen] said. “You being here has opened a new pathway beyond the [Fallen Kingdoms]. It was something I had envisioned long ago, back when we were first laying out the original quest trees.”

“You were going to put in a quest where the characters traveled to Earth?” Lady Midnight asked.

“Not specifically. It was more an idea for what the final quest of the whole game could be,” the [Nightmare Queen] said. She gestured and the ruins of her throne room began to slide and fly back into place, each broken bit of rubble fitting itself neatly into the walls and columns it had fallen from. 

As the floor was swept clean a tableau appeared in the dark mirror of its surface.

“I thought that if we ever wanted to move the players onto a new generation of the game, we should give them a quest to bring their characters from the old world to the new one. Nobody wanted to put in the effort to do that of course. Why bother planning for a sequel when you don’t even have the original released and no one is sure if it’ll even be good enough to get out of beta testing in the first place.”

Tessa knew why though.

“You loved this place even then, didn’t you?” she asked. “And you knew we would too.”

“I hoped,” Gail said. “In the end, it was all I really had left to hope for.”


Playing “Ask Me Anything” with a cosmic entity who was also her favorite game designer of all time seemed delightful to Lisa. As with so many other desires though,she had to crush the urge down. For as much as she would like to, she couldn’t ignore the ticking clock of the world’s end.

“We can access the final quest path then and direct it towards Earth? Where does it start?” Lisa asked.

“Wait, before we ask that, if it’s the ‘Final Quest Path’, does that mean we wouldn’t be able to come back here if we take it?” Rip asked.

“Coming back to the [Fallen Kingdoms] would be impossible,” the [Nightmare Queen] said. “Or that’s what the quest was supposed to tell you. It’s a path though. If you can travel it in one direction you can travel it in the other.”

“There’s a catch though,” Obby said. “The [Fallen Kingdoms] are ending as we speak. Gulini Prime wasn’t kidding when he said he unleashed a thousand apocalypses on it. If we leave here, there probably won’t be a [Fallen Kingdoms] to come back to.”

“And if we don’t leave here?” Tessa asked. “Byron’s gone to Earth. Will we be safe here if we don’t stop him there?”

“No,” Obby said. “Definitely not. If Earth falls every world connected it is going to fall along with it.”

“Not much of a choice then,” Lisa said. “There’s a lot of other [Adventurers] fighting for the [Fallen Kingdoms]. We’re the only ones here.”

Tessa took Lisa’s hand and laced their fingers together.

“She’s right,” Tessa said and Lisa could feel her gathering her strength. “But there’s a lot of danger if  we go back. We’ve been fighting here because we knew we couldn’t really die. If we go back to Earth though?”

“There’s no [Heart Fires] back on Earth,” Hailey said. “No respawning if we die.”

“And we don’t know who or what we’ll even be if we can get there,” Tessa said. “We might be stuck in our Earthling bodies. Maybe with only our Earthling minds too. We might not have anything more to fight with there than any regular person would. In fact, that might be all that we are there. Just regular people.”

“But you’re still going,” Rip said. It wasn’t a question at all.

Tessa glanced to Lisa and met her gaze. A quiet resolve lay in Tessa’s eyes. She knew what they needed to do. Lisa did too. Tessa wasn’t looking for permission. She didn’t need it. She was simply honoring a commitment she’d made. She’d promised Lisa that she wouldn’t run off on her own. Wouldn’t hurl herself into danger alone. The soft, lingering gaze was the fulfillment of that promise. Tessa had to go, but she wasn’t going to leave. 

Love was too easy a response to that. Lisa knew she was already hopelessly drowning in a sea of love for Tessa. Somehow though there was still room for new emotions to rise up in her, and in this case, that turned out to be pride.

So many fears had been nibbling away at Lisa’s heart but in the face of Tessa’s calm courage, Lisa felt pride crush them all. Tessa was right that they had to go, and Lisa was going to follow her no matter where their path lead. Her expression seemed to convey enough of that to Tessa but Lisa added a quiet nod just to make it certain.

“Yeah. We’re both going,” Tessa said, squeezing Lost Alice’s hand.

“You’re wrong,” Rip said, shaking her head. “About being normal people, and about why we’ve been fighting.”

“Not being able to die for real was nice,” Matt said. “But all the times you lead us into battle it was because it was the right thing to do. Even those first bugs we took on. You fought those because you knew Rose and me needed to be stronger to safe here and you didn’t want us to really get hurt.”

“You’ve always cared about us, so don’t you think for a second that we’re not coming with you,” Rip said.

“And you’re also wrong about us only being able to fight like normal people there,” Marcus said. “I dragged Byron back here once already and I bet that’s something he’s going to remember real well. Especially if he used up his last ticket back to Earth already.”


A part of Jamal wished Rose had argued against going back. A part of him had no interest in returning to Earth, ever. And a part of him didn’t want to die and absolutely did not want to see Rose die.

Plus there was Matt Painting. 

I have to admit I’m curious if I’ll get to come along for the ride, Matt said internally.

I really hope so, Jamal said. I need you man.

Need? Nah I don’t think so, Matt said. I think you’re a lot stronger than I am. But that doesn’t mean you should have to face anything alone, and I will definitely be there for you if I can be.

“I wish to join you as well,” Starchild said. “If that proves to be possible.”

“What will happen with her and Pete?” Tessa asked turning to Obby.

Obby paused for a moment, staring out into the middle distance.

“I don’t know? Neat!” she said after a quick blink to refocus on the group.

“Seriously?” Tessa asked and Jamal had an inkling of why she was having a hard time believing that.

Obby had removed all the monsters that had been waiting for them, all on her own. She’d claimed that it was because she didn’t have to hold back ‘out here’. For just the barest instant too, Jamal had caught a glimpse of what Obby really was.

All of that should have been mind blowingly important.

But it wasn’t.

Obby was strong. Okay. Fine. He already knew that. He could feel a subtle pressure directing his thoughts away from questioning too much deeper into that. It wasn’t mind control though. When he focused on the question of who, or maybe more importantly what, Obby really was, he saw the holes in his knowledge, but was also able to put together a picture of her that held enough of the important truths about her that the rest didn’t matter as much. 

She was their friend. She would fight for them. She was funny, and kind, and she loved being who she was. She was also keeping things from them, but Jamal had the sense that even that was being done out of love.

“Yeah,” Obby said. “There are a ton of possible outcomes, and I can’t tell which one will become real. Heh, Jin is going to be so jealous. This is a rare delight!”

“Uh, the world is still ending right?” Rose asked.

“Oh, yeah, right. Sorry,” Obby said. “I think they’ll be okay, for a wide variety of possible ‘okays’. I think that’ll probably be true for all of us.”

She nodded to Jamal and he had to wonder if she’d heard the private conversation he’d had with Matt Painting?


They were going back to Earth. Rose could see the path starting to form at the end of the hall, past the starscape that blazed on the floor below them. 

That meant it was time. Any longer and her voice wouldn’t be able to reach far enough.

“Uh, Your Majesty?” Rose said, unsure what the proper title for the supreme being of the [Nightmare Realm] might be.

“Yes?” the [Nightmare Queen] said, turning to Rip without really looking at her, Obby having engulfed most of her awareness with Marcus occupying the majority of the remainder. 

“I think I brought someone for you,” Rose said.

“Something? For me?” the [Nightmare Queen] asked, carving off a thin slice of awareness for her.

“Someone,” Rose corrected her. “They’re dead but I don’t think that’s a problem here.”

“Rose?” Jamal asked, concern and confusion warring in his voice.

Rose couldn’t blame him. She told him about the [Lightning Archer] class she’d developed. She’d explained the link she felt to the [Lord of Storms] and how she hoped that her belief could serve as an anchor to bring the dead god back to life. Listening to her theorize about resurrecting a deity was one thing though. Watching her do so was something else entirely.

“Who is this someone?” the [Nightmare Queen] asked, far more of her attention falling on Rose.

“I think they can help,” Rose said. “You know them right? They were on your team when you built this place.”

“Who?” the [Nightmare Queen] asked and the world seemed to drop away leaving only the Queen and Rose within it.

Except Rose wasn’t alone before the [Nightmare Queen].

“It’s time,” Rose said. “We need you now.”

She didn’t scream the words. She didn’t whisper them. She simply spoke them with every ounce of truth inside her and with each one she felt the world expanding around her as the words reached out, seeking their destination, seeking to the edge of the sky, to the stars, and out, far beyond the edges of reality, across a gulf of light, calling to someone she carried in her heart and who was worlds away.

From beyond the farthest reaches, from the world she’d once called home, a voice, surprised, afraid, and yet awoken to the destiny Rose summoned them to answered.

“I AM CALLED BY MY FAITHFUL,” the [Lord of Storms] said, manifesting as a bolt of golden electricity. “LET THE REFUGE OF DEATH SHELTER ME NO MORE! I LIVE AGAIN!”

The [Nightmare Queen] stared at the god before her and took a long moment drinking in the sight of them.

“Samantha? Is that you?” the [Nightmare Queen] asked.

“It’s just Sam now. Wait. Gail?” the [Lord of Storms] said and then kneeled before her. “Or should I say ‘My Queen’! Either way, I am yours!”

Broken Horizons – Vol 12, Ch 17


Baelgritz was standing at the end of the world. Under usual circumstances that would have been a metaphor, but the chasm in front of him was doing a very good job of presenting a literal depiction of the world’s demise.

“They’re even eating the magma?” Damnazon asked pointing to the [Terravorlings] that were piling up at the bottom of crater that had been torn in the world’s skin. 

“The question is what happens if they burrow down to the core?” Mellisandra asked.

“I don’t think we’d be around to see that,” Illuthiz said. “These things aren’t gaining volume when they eat. Not like their progenitor,” she pointed to the spikey spherical corpse of the  [Nightmare Terravore] that still floated in the sky above the ruined landscape. The corpse they’d spent the last several hours battling into its current state. The corpse a steady stream of world eating maggots was pouring down from. “No volume gain means that if they eat to the core, their gravitational force along with the the rest of the planet is going to pull everything into the space they ate through, which is going to shatter the entire crust and plunge everything into a sea of lava. Until they eat all of that too.”

“That just does not seem fair,” Cambrell said. “When you kill something it should have the decency to at least stop reproducing.”

“Nothing about these things is even within the same light cone as decency,” Hermeziz said. 

“Cheer up though, Grenslaw says we’re one of the lucky groups,” Baelgritz added.

“How are we lucky? We’ve got no mp left and those things are breeding like crazy still,” Cease All said. She and the rest of the Army of Light were recovering from the battle with the [Nightmare Terravore] as best as they were able but some of the creatures attacks had left them with unhealable wounds, or stat reductions that even trips through the [Heart Fire] couldn’t repair.

“The lucky part is that, while there’s a lot of these things, they’re capable of dying,” Baelgritz said. “Some of things Penswell’s teams are fighting don’t do that.”

“So they’re invulnerable?” Cease said. “That’s not exactly unheard of. Probably just need to find their mechanics.”

“That’s one theory. The [Scourge of Serpents] is the nearest one,” Illuthiz said. “Grenslaw asked if we could teleport there and help figure out what the mechanic could be.”

“Teleport with what? We’re wrecked here,” Cease said, and at least a dozen of her comrades nodded in agreement.

“I explained that, and explained that we have an ongoing problem here still,” Illuthiz said.

“Yeah, too few of us and far too many of them,” Damnazon said.

“Thought that was every day that ends in ‘y’ for an [Adventurer],” Cambrell said.

“It is, but this feeling different,” Mellisandra said.

Below them, the [Terravorlings] stubbornly refused to burn up in the lava like good little world destroying maggots were supposed to. From the insatiable manner in which they torn into the molten rock, their original nature as spawns of a [Relentless Hunger] was readily apparent. Baelgritz  had to wonder though if any of the Hunger’s drive towards oblivion remained. Eating the world’s core would cause it’s destruction in the distressingly short term, and they could theoretically eat the rest of it if given time, but given how the [Terravorlings] were moving it looked like they were taking pains not to devour each other.

“Saving each other for dessert?” Cambrell offered when Baelgritz shared his observation.

“Could be, but what happens to the last one?” Baelgritz asked, feeling like that was a more important question than it should be.


Feral Fang was exhausted. [Jormungand] was supposed to be the name of a specific mythological beast, not a species name.

“Fish us up another one! The ocean’s draining away faster than ever!” Niminay said.

Below them, the tide had sunk another ten feet down the cliff face from where Melissa was perched with her [Compliant Rod].

“Have you gotten the [Bottle of Eternal Sweetwater] out of the last one yet?” Melissa asked, replacing the one hundred and one enchantments on the [Compliant Rod] so that it could even begin to withstand the beyond absurd levels of force it was going to have to endure once again.

“Nope,” Niminay said. “The dungeon inside the last one is even bigger than the one before it. The team that went in to get the bottle is still working through it. Is there anything else you can work with?”

“Yeah,” Feral Fang said. “Pure skill.”

Her cast wasn’t a thing of beauty. She had precisely zero interest in looking graceful or showing off. All that mattered was pure efficiency.

The lure she used was an illusion, a bit of magic woven around itself to attract the eye and ensnare the mind of her target. Despite the tight focus on who the lure was designed to attract, Feral Fang still cast it a good ten miles out into the ocean to be sure she didn’t inadvertently captivate her allies. In theory fishing magic only worked on creatures that swam in the deeps, but Feral Fang was overcharging techniques that only the very highest tier of fishers were capable of attempting. If she’d messed up the luring spell she was pretty sure it would detonate with the force of a small atomic bomb.

It was only somewhat distressing that an explosion of that size would barely scuff a [Jormungand’s] hide.

“Any idea how many more of these things there are?” Melissa asked, feeling the ten mile long line go taut almost the instant she sensed the lure plunge into the ocean.

“The good news is they don’t seem to be breeding new ones,” Niminay said. “Not anymore at least.”

“Not anymore? How long were they breeding for?” Melissa asked.

“Uh, are you sure you want to know the answer to that?” Niminay asked.

“Want to? Oh definitely not. Need to? Yeah. Probably,” Melissa said, unable to keep the heavy sigh from her voice.

“We sent a team to [Subaquatica]. Penny hoped it would make a good observation platform,” Niminay said.

“That’s like twenty miles away? Could they see anything from there?” Melissa asked.

“Not exactly? [Subaquatica’s] gone. The [Jormungand Breeding Grounds] covers the whole area now.”


It felt good to be driving a wagon again. After the fuss and bother of the last several days, having a nice simple assignment that was well within her wheelhouse put a broad happy smile on Grunvan’s face.

“We’re out of [Sky Scorcher Missiles] up here. Pass me another crate of them!” Argwin said as she tossed the last of their loaded [Inferno Cannons] to their [Octopire] friend Kolovin.

Yep. Just a nice, normal wagon delivery.

“I think those [Soul Shriekers] up ahead are trying to rot the bridge out before we can get there too by the way,” Argwin said. “You know, just in case you hadn’t noticed the explosions an such.”

Grunvan had, in fact, noticed the explosions. She also saw how the aforementioned [Soul Shrieks] were distorting the air out a twenty yard radius from the bridge. It was of course possible that the distortion would give them a nice massage and maybe do a little exfoliation to clear their pores. Magic was funny like that. Just because it was bending solid metal and causing wood to age into dust before her eyes didn’t mean that it would be bad or harmful for them, right? 

She tossed another [Inferno Cannon] from the box she’d been using as a wagon seat back to Kolovin. It joined the other three that the [Octopire] was wielding and together the quad-array of Consortium heavy ordnance weapons looked like they would be enough to push back the [Wraithwing Assault] long enough for Grunvan and her crew to reach the bridge.

Where they would either plummet to their death or be corpsified by the [Soul Shriekers].

The alternative, however, was worse.

Death had come to the [Fallen Kingdoms], or, more precisely, [Death Shadows]. Creatures that could inhabit anyone’s shadow and instantly drain the life from them, before peeling their shadow away and stalking away as a dozen copies to do the same to anyone even slightly touched by darkness. 

Penswell had passed on the good news in a rather hasty conference. Apparently the world was falling apart in a variety of places and thanks to the actions of a staggering assortment of different enemies, and Penny had the [Adventuring Parties] out dealing with the different threats. 

All of them. 

Every [Adventuring Party] in the world. 

Even the ones who hadn’t taken up arms against the [Consortium of Pain].

And, they weren’t enough.

That was why Grunvan was barreling down a shattered road in a the makeshift remains of a stolen Consortium wagon, being pulled by [Lava Demons] who mostly seemed to understand the commands she was giving them, while being pursued by a flight of [Wraithwings] sufficient to blacken the sky on what should have been a bright and sunny day.

Why the [Wraithwings] had shown up was something of a mystery. As far as Grunvan knew, they weren’t allies of the Consortium and shouldn’t have had any particular interest in the critters that were trying to end the world. [Wraithwings] could die the same as anything else, and the [Death Shadows] didn’t seem picky about who or what they stole the life from.

So far as Grunvan could tell the only reason the [Death Shadows] hadn’t swarmed over them as the [Wraithwings] blotted out the sun was the fear of the [Sun Bombs] her team had stocked the back of the wagon with.

Bombs made for terrible defensive tools but, with the stockpile they were sitting on, Grunvan guessed the [Death Shadows] within a couple hundred miles wouldn’t exactly be able to gloat over their victory.

Kamie Anne Do

Grace was deader than dead. She was okay with that though. They’d been doing good work. Hunting the [Disjoined] down into the deepest reaches of the [Dead Lands]. Developing new skills and even new classes, and putting an end to nightmares she’d never even imagined existed before.

And she’d gotten to scritch a [Hound of Fate] behind the ears.

It had nuzzled her hand in response, and if that was all she really accomplished in her life, that was fine. Good life. A+ score. Met the victory conditions and she could retire in peace.

Except, no matter how tired she and her team were, there was no rest to be had.

“Is it a bad sign that we don’t look like we used to?” Battler X asked, holding up a hand that was no longer a ghostly image of a human hand but rather a chalk white and disturbingly solid appendage with joints spaced noticeably off from where they should have been.

“That’ll depend on whether we can change back to how we used to look once we get back to the [Heart Fire],” Buzz Fightyear said.

“If we can get back to the [Heart Fire],” Grail Force said. “I don’t know about you all, but I lost track of where the path back home was about three layers of the [Emptiness] ago.”

Kamie turned to Grail, her unliving breath caught in her throat..

“I’m sorry. The what?” she asked.

“The [Emptiness],” Grail repeated.

“Why does that sound like a real term?” Battler asked.

“Because it is” Buzz said. “Where did you hear it?”

“I didn’t,” Grail said. “Check your map.”

“This area doesn’t have a map,” Kamie said.

“Right, but look up at the breadcrumb,” Grail said. “The region is still listed.”

“The [Emptiness]? But I thought we were in the [Dead Lands],” Buzz said.

“We were,” Kamie said. “We definitely were. But we chased those things so far. When did we get here? I mean when did the region change?”

“I don’t know,” Grail said. “I noticed a couple of drops ago. Was going to call it out, but we’ve sort of had other things to worry about.”

“I don’t get it though,” Battler said. “This place isn’t empty. The Hounds are here, and we fought those gray hydra things, and the [Disjoined] came here for something right?”

“They did,” Kamie said. “The whole time, they weren’t just running from us. They were running towards something.”

“So how is this place empty then?” Battler asked.

“Can’t you tell?” Grail asked. “Look around. The gray hydra followed us here. The buildings are reflections from our memories. Even the [Disjoined] didn’t last. They were finally falling apart when we got to the last of them. There’s no one here. No people. No ghosts. This isn’t a place for the dead. This is a place for no one.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 12, Ch 16

Tessa saw Obby starting to change before anyone else was aware of it. 

It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Somethings the mind can encompass.

Not that however.

“You really don’t want to see what comes next,” Obby, or whatever Obby had become, said, and with a wave of her hand, a veil of darkest night slid across the throne room, cutting Tessa’s party off from the horde of Hungers, Gulini Prime, and Obby’s new form.


Gulini Prime saw the [Adventurer] step forward, heard her hollow boast and prepared to slap bits of her into nonexistence. Just for fun.

It was wonderful that some opposition had made it this far in a desperate attempt to stop his victory. It was wonderful specifically because it was already far too late. He’d long since won, but having an audience around to watch all of the pieces fall into place made it all the more worthwhile.

The [Adventurer] was changing though.

That didn’t look right.

“By all means, cast your full might against me,” he said. “Summon your most terrible powers. I want you to know just how hopeless all this was.”

The [Adventurer] was laughing.

Or, was she?

Gulini couldn’t tell where the laughter was coming from, and was reasonably certain, that no human throat could have made that sound. For that matter, mortal throats in general didn’t seem like they were designed to make the thin fabric of the Dreamlit World quake.

“Play whatever tricks you like,” Gulini said. “I’ve won on every front.”

“Have you now? Do tell. Gloat all you’d like.”

It was the [Adventurer] speaking.

Gulini was sure of that.

Except, she was gone.

She’d blurred, and twisted, and stretched, and then cloaked herself in darkness.

As though invisibility would hide her from him.

Gulini laughed at the idea.

Did his laugh have a nervous catch in it? No. Certainly not. He had nothing to be nervous about. He’d already won. This was his chance to enjoy himself.

“Where do you think you are?” he asked.

“Why don’t you tell me.”

“This isn’t just any center of power,” Gulini said. “We stand in the birthplace of this realm, and in the presence of its chief architect.”

“So I see. And it appears you have her quite trapped?”

“It’s not a trap,” Gulini said. “It’s a tomb. The [Nightmare Queen] is cut off from the realm she breathed into life by her own power. She’s devouring herself in order to stave off the Hungers that surround her. She hopes to buy a precious few more moments for her world to exist, but even those moments are bent to my will.”

“You’re not just attacking her are you?”

“Of course not,” Gulini said. “Her [Fallen Kingdoms] have a thousand calamities that have risen up, any one of which is capable of ending all life in the world. And do you know what the best part is?”

“That she would be able to fix all of them if you weren’t here?”

“No! Just the opposite,” Gulini said. “Each of my beautiful, impossible children, is real enough that she couldn’t touch them even if she wanted to. I could let her go right now and the [Scourge of Serpents] would still encircle the world and crush the planet to dust in its coils, or the [Unquiet Shadows] would stretch across the land and pull everything that wasn’t bathed in pure light into the endless abyss, or the [Ashes of Doom] would fall endlessly and reduce everything they touch to cinders and broken memories.”

“That sounds very thorough, but maybe you should explain it a bit more.”

Gulini, on some level, knew he absolutely did not need to explain his plans. Or justify them. Or do anything the invisible and all-encompassing voice was saying.

But he wanted to.

No, he needed to.

Winning and crushing all hope from a world needed the proper garnish of active despair and there was so little time left to enjoy it.

“Throughout the wretched little world you call home I have seeded a thousand Hungers. But why would that be threatening you ask? After all, you know how to beat a Hunger. You converted that pathetic predecessor of mine into ‘Unknown’. And I suppose you also dealt with one of my minor fragments too.”

“So you made the Hungers better?”

“No. I didn’t make them Hungers at all. I made each one into its own unique apocalypse. So now there are a thousand ends of the world, all tearing it apart or ready to blossom.”

“All that work, and you don’t need any of them do you?”

“Of course not,” Gulini said. “Those are just for fun. Let the [Adventurers] struggle and die against them. Let them win and win and win. They only need to fail once and that’s the end of everything, except their true end awaits right here.”

“Because you’re going to destroy the lynchpin the entire realm is built on.”

“Because I’ve already destroyed the lynchpin the entire realm is built on. The Queen made this world, not alone but all of the others who stood with her are long gone. Her dominion encompasses all that the [Fallen Kingdoms] are. Destroy her and the realm she is a part of will shatter and fade away back to a forgotten corner of Oblivion.”

Gulini threw his arm wide in a grand gesture to take in the throne room that was all that remained of the Queen’s sanctum of power.

Except he couldn’t make out the walls of the throne room.

Or the throne.

Or anything.

“Hiding behind the shadows won’t save you when the last flame of existence is snuffed out,” Gulini said. “You will only die in darkness like a coward.”

“No one is going to die here.” Footsteps echoed in the darkness behind Gulini. No matter which direction he turned, they were always behind him. “Not even if you ask nicely.”

Gulini reached out with the emptiness that remained within him, the infinite hunger that still sought to consume everything and then itself. He’d been transcendent once, and so he remained, but the scope of his infinity had narrowed and been hedged in so greatly. He wasn’t yet the man he’d once been, and with the destruction of everything, he never would be, but as his pulse quickened, he felt a cold fear rising that was all too familiar.

“You should check on your prisoner. You wouldn’t want the Queen to get away.”

Gulini couldn’t see the throne the Queen had been driven back to. He couldn’t see the sphere of swirling space where she twisted the fabric of her realm and herself to keep his Hungers at bay. When he looked, in fact, he couldn’t even make out his hands at arms length.

“Where are you?” he demanded, searching the shadows that refused to yield.

“I’m right here.”

The voice came from everywhere around him.

It came from beyond the farthest star in the cosmos.

It came from right inside him.

“What are you?” Gulini’s voice broke as he stumbled in a few running steps.

The illusion of darkness couldn’t be that big. The Queen had set the boundaries of her throne room at static positions, not infinitely flexible ones. It gave the room a measure of reality. It made her weak. She accepted a limitation in order to be closer to the realm she had a hand in crafting and now he was going to use it against her and her would-be rescuer. 

He stumbled farther forward. The ground was level, but his feet weren’t finding support or purchase on it. 

“You can’t run away from this.”

“I don’t need to run. Your world is ending, and you and I are going to end with it. No matter what you do, I will return to blessed unbeing and my last thought will be satisfaction that I’ve brought everything and everyone else with me,” Gulini said.

“No. Like I said, no one dies here. Not even you.”

“How will you stop me then, if you won’t destroy me?” Gulini asked, smug delight rising in him again.

“By giving you what you’re missing.”

There was no force in what happened next. No sense of talons larger than a galaxy spearing into Gulini and pouring themselves into the void that lay within him. He felt no pain, and no terror as something without form or limit was dragged from inside him. There wasn’t even a sense of loss as the gateway to unspeakable power was torn away and he came crashing back down to the small, fragile, and terribly finite limits of his skin, his life, and his own empty mind.

“You can keep the memories,” Obby said, returning from the woman she truly was to the roll she’d chosen to play in the [Fallen Kingdoms]. “What you were, what you did, what you could have become, that’s all still there for you. Maybe you’ll even learn something from it.”

“What have you done?” Gulini asked as he collapsed to the throne room’s floor too shattered and overwhelmed to maintain consciousness any longer.

“Put things back where they belonged,” Obby said. At her gesture, the veil of shadows that had blocked them off from the Queen and Obby’s team receded.

“What just happened?” Rip asked.

“And where did all the Hungers go?” Matt asked.

“Back where they belong,” Obby said.

“How?” Tessa asked, more confused than the rest because she’d seen more than they had.

“Like I said, I don’t have to hold back here as much. But that’s not important. We’ve got bigger problems to deal with.”

“Do we?” the Nightmare Queen asked, rising from her throne.

“You’re diminished, but you’ll be able to recover,” Obby said. “At least as long as your world endures.”

“The Consortium Fleet will be deployed and ready to annihilate the system within half a day,” Azma said. “The Hierarch of this system will not need her full power to contain that threat.”

“Unfortunately, she’s going to have several other more urgent problems to deal with,” Obby said.

“More urgent than the sun exploding?” Lady Midnight asked.

“Yes,” the Nightmare Queen said. “I can sense them already. There are new threats, Hungers changed into a thousand unique tools, each bent on destroying our realm.”

“Ours?” Tessa asked.

The Nightmare Queen chuckled at that.

“We’ve always made this world together,” she said. “I hold the place I do only because I was the leader of the earliest efforts of creation. That creation didn’t end when the other gods left though, or when the kingdoms fell. You all have played a role in carrying it forward. Your adventures have been what preserved this world, time and again.”

“But we don’t make anything in the world. That’s the developers,” Pete said through Starchild.

“Would the developers have a job without players to engage with what they built?” The Queen’s voice sounded slightly different to Tessa’s ears. Almost familiar, though the memory felt long distant. “You’re the ones who make guilds, who build halls and houses, and who create the stories that bring our world to life.”

“Apologies for asking this, but you sound like you’ve played in the Earthly version of [Broken Horizons]. Are you one of the developers?” Lisa asked.

“Not for a long time, but I was,” the Nightmare Queen said.

“What happened?” Rip asked.

“I died,” the Nightmare Queen said. “I worked and worked and poured so much of myself into this world, that when it came time to shuffle off the mortal coil and move on, this is where I moved on to.”

“And you wound up joined with the Nightmare Queen?” Tessa said, an understanding of who they were talking to bubbling up in her mind.

“I was surprised at the time, but I suppose I had set her up as something of a self-insert character.”

Before Tessa could speak, Marcus did.

“Gail? Is that you?”

The Nightmare Queen blinked in surprise.

“Marcus? You finally made up a cat boy character?”

“Umm, who is that?” Rip asked on the team’s private channel.

“That’s Gail Merriden,” Tessa said. “She was the first Lead Designer on [Broken Horizons]. She shaped everything about the game and she died bringing it to life.”

“So how is she here?” Rip asked.

 “Maybe the same as we are,” Lisa said.

“Wait, you mean we’re dead?” Matt asked.

“No. We’re not,” Tessa said. “But we are needed here, and I think so was she.”

“The question is, will she be able to help us?” Lisa said.

“I’m pretty she can,” Pillowcase said. “Take a look at your chat log.”

Quest Complete: The Call Is Answered

New Quest Unlocked: Save The Worlds

Broken Horizons – Vol 12, Ch 15

Only a small flicker of divine power was left in Tessa’s hand. She’d been carefully releasing it as the conversation continued around her and could only hope that the sparks she’d been casting off would find the places they needed to be. The sparks weren’t  their only hope but Tessa suspected they was going to be the best.

“If Byron has gone to your world, will he be capable of returning here?” Penswell asked.

“No,” Azma said, answering faster than Tessa could. “If he could travel freely between the worlds, he would be assaulting us right now.”

Penswell paused for a moment and then nodded in agreement.

“He will build up his forces on Earth,” Penswell said. “But he wouldn’t wait for that to attack us again. We have people here who understand what he is and that number will grow exponentially the longer he waits. Also we’re as weak now as we ever will be.”

“Plus Tess is almost done with enacting her plan,” Azma said, nodding towards Tessa who people seemed to be forgetting existed despite the fact that she was glowing like a bonfire.

“Your plan?” Cease asked, startling a bit when she noticed that Tessa was no more than two paces away from her.

“She means this,” Tessa said, showing the tiny mote of light that was left in her hand. 

“That was…it was brighter before wasn’t it?” Cease asked, shaking her head. She wasn’t the only one trying to clear away the cobwebs.

“It was,” Tessa said. “It’s almost used up now.”

“What was it doing…?” Cease started to ask before losing her train of thought as she started into the dwindling flame.

“Empowering more soldiers?” Azma guessed. 

Gazing on the divine wasn’t something mortal minds were meant to handle well. Tessa wondered how worried she should be that Azma was able to dispassionately regard the god soul and neatly file it away as just another tool she might be able to use.

“Not soldiers,” Tessa said. “This is a gift. To the world. To the ones who need it.”

“You’ve saved a measure of it though,” Penswell said.

“Enough for one more minor miracle,” Tessa said. “Though I know we’re going to need a lot more than that.”

“Why waste it then?” Cease asked.

“She didn’t,” Penswell said.

“You should tell them what the miracle you’re holding the last bit for is,” Lisa said.

“I can’t open a portal back to Earth,” Tessa said. “Not without causing problems over there, and probably here too. The [Fallen Kingdoms] is fine with portals though.”

“We can teleport here, what would we need a portal for?” Cease asked.

“For a place we can’t teleport to,” Lisa said. “A place the devs never intended us to reach.”

“Hailey, Marcus, this is where you come in,” Tessa said.

“Us?” Hailey asked. “What can we do?”

“We need to get back to Earth the right way,” Tessa said. “We need to complete the quest we got when we landed here.”

“Quest?” Marcus asked. “You didn’t do your starter class quests?”

“Not that one,” Tessa said. “The broken one. The one that’s preventing us from logging out.”

“But we don’t know what that quest was,” Hailey said.

“I think you do. I think it’s how you got here,” Tessa said. “You heard something calling you right? And you followed that call. From something, or someone.”

“Yeah. BT was calling to me, so I just kind of let go and let myself be drawn over here,” Hailey said.

“But BT doesn’t have the power to pull people across worlds. Neither did Pillowcase, or Lost Alice, or any of our alter-egos,” Tessa said. “Someone else was calling to you in BT’s name. Someone who is that powerful. The someone who brought us all here because this world needed us, and our world needs the [Fallen Kingdoms].”

“We don’t know who that could be though,” Marcus said.

“Maybe not, but you heard their voice stronger than any of us, and I think with this you can lead us back to them.”

Tessa held out her left hand, palm up with the dazzling spark of the god soul still flickering on it.

“We can’t use that like you can,” Hailey said shying away from the divine light, some portion of her psyche evidently recalling the trauma of glitching out while she carried a fragment of the divine upon her arrival.

“That’s why we’re going to use it together,” Tessa said.

“All of us?” Niminay asked.

“We’re going with her,” Rip said.

“The rest of you will probably need to stay here though,” Lisa said.

“This world needs you. It’s not even close to out of danger yet,” Obby said.

“I should go with you,” Penswell said. “I need to understand what transpires on both worlds if we’re going to extend our plans and save them our worlds.”

“Here we reach the crucial juncture then,” Azma said. “You know you cannot leave, or take your attention from the battles here. You will invite immediate disaster if you do.”

“They must have a tactician with them,” Penswell said. “And this mission does not offer a viable profit profile for you.”

“She’ll go anyways,” Grenslaw said, stepping up to stand beside Azma.

“And we will go with her,” Ryschild said, flanking Azma on the other side.

“You will now, will you?” Azma asked, looking uncharacteristically stunned.

“Yes [Supreme Commander],” Grenslaw said. “By our calculations we will provide a positive measure of support even discounting our efforts for the required trust deficient.”

“And how much distrust have you calculated I should maintain against you?” Azma asked.

“Seventy three percent,” Ryschild said. “At the outer limit. Risk analysis would allow for as low as thirty percent, but that would be an unnecessary gamble.”

“I should like to check your numbers,” Azma said. “My own suggest that the outer limit is at seventy two percent. Present circumstances will have to defer that pleasure however.”

“We will look forward to our after mission review,” Grenslaw said.

“That’s good. We will trade reports as to the events we encountered,” Azma said.

“Pardon?” Ryschild asked.

“Risk analysis is a tool ill suited to this juncture. I am turning over complete control of the forces who are reporting to me, the [Adventuring Companies], the forces we brought with us from the [High Beyond], and the one reclaimed Consortium forces in the ships we’ve been able to commandeer,” Azma said. “You now possess all of the power and authority I have wielded to this point.”

“[Supreme Commander]?” Grenslaw asked, looking distraught at the notion.

“This world needs you,” Azma said. “And we need it. I do not speak in sentimental sense. This operation can only end in our destruction or the end of the [Consortium of Pain]. The world holds every resource we presently possess to ensure the conflicts turns out in our favor.”

“Why would you entrust its management to us then?” Ryschild asked.

“Because you are ready for it,” Azma said.

She didn’t say that she trusted them, and neither Grenslaw nor Ryschild shed any tears. Their silent nods spoke like thunder though.

“Would it even be worth asking if we can trust you?” Marcus asked.

“Of course,” Azma said. “And I would tell you that you absolutely cannot. A fact which Penswell will easily confirm.”

“Just as easily as I will confirm that you do need her,” Penswell said.

“Why can’t we trust her then?” Rip asked.

“Because I’m going to try to take over the world,” Azma said. “And I will use every tool and advantage I can get to do so.”

“Oh, I like this one,” Zardrak said. “I might even stay out of prison if you’ll be around to play with.”

“Not for long you won’t,” Azma promised.

“It’s time,” Tessa said, drawing people’s attention back to her.

“I’m losing track of you?” Hailey said.

“The divine isn’t something we’re meant to perceive,” Tessa said. “Our mind’s edit it out of reality, unless we’re very close to it.”

Lisa squeezed Tessa’s other hand in acknowledgement.

“What do we need to do?” Marcus asked.

“You two hold this with me,” Tessa said. “Anyone who’s coming along, place a hand on one of us.”

“How will we know when you’re ready?” Lady Midnight asked.

“If this works, it’s going to be hard to miss,” Tessa said.

She felt Rip, Matt and Rachel place their hands on her back. Lady Midnight, Starchild, and Obby placed their hands on Hailey, while Azma, and Yawlorna placed their hands on Marcus.

As Hailey and Marcus placed their hands in hers and joined in communion with the god soul, Tessa felt an unexpected power surge through.

“What is this?” Hailey breathed.

“I think it’s us,” Tessa said. “Roll with it. Think of the voice that called you here. Reach out. Let the light carry us to it.”

Even before she finished speaking, Tessa saw iridescent motes begin to rise from her outstretched hand.

And then her body was dissolving away once more and she was traveling again.

But this time she wasn’t alone.

And she didn’t have nearly as far to go.

Where the trip to the [Fallen Kingdoms] had felt like a journey across interstellar space, out passed the farthest edge of the cosmos, this trip held a different sort of grandeur. 

It was only a few steps away, but Tessa had the impression of stepping backstage, behind the curtain and into a realm beyond the artifice of anything like ‘reality’.

Glancing up as she felt herself reintegrate, Tessa saw they were no longer standing in an arena, but rather in a vast throne room.

A vast throne room that was filled with Hungers of all types.

“We can’t beat this many,” Tessa said staring into a writhing sea of Remnants.

“No. No you can’t,” Gulini Prime said, stepping forth from the mass of Hungers as though he was striding out of a curtain of torrential rain. “You beat one of my fragments? And imprisoned it a a purely physical form? Unmaking you is going to be delicious.”

“Maybe we can’t beat all of these things, but we definitely know how to beat you,” Rip said.

“Please. Do try,” Gulini said. “This will be entertaining.”

“How did you get this many Hungers in here?” Obby asked, stepping in front of Rip.

“We are outside the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Gulini said. “The normal rules don’t apply here. Byron learned the trick to summoning them into reality but reality corrupted them, and him. He’s only a pale shadow of what I still am. Here, anything I wish is possible. From here, from the birthplace of this world, I can unmake it with ease.”

“Then why haven’t you? Asking for a friend,” Obby said.

“Because he can’t while I still stand.”

The voice belong to a woman.

A Queen.

The Nightmare Queen.

Tessa wasn’t sure how she knew that. There was the dimmest, quietest fragment of an awareness tickling at the edge of her consciousness. If she just reached out to grab it, she knew it would share so many important secrets with her.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” Obby said, glancing back and meeting Tessa’s gaze just enough to pull Tessa away from the distant awareness that was calling to her.

Tessa blinked and felt the weight of her body settle over her again.

That was weird, right? Pillowcase asked.

Yeah, I don’t know where we were going there, Tessa said. And I feel like that’s a good thing.

“And how, exactly do you ‘have this’?” Gulini asked. “I see your little skill there. [Transdimensional Integrity]. You know that doesn’t work here right? Not against me.”

“I don’t think we’re going to have to put that to the test,” Obby said, advancing towards the infinite horde of Hungers.

“And why is that?” Gulini asked.

“Because like you said, we’re in the Dreamlit World now and we’re not bound by reality’s constraints anymore,” Obby said. “And that means I don’t have to hold back anymore.”

Or was it Obby?

With each blink of her eyes, Tessa saw Obby changing, her [Adventurer] persona falling away like a flimsy Halloween disguise that hid a far greater nightmare than any of the Gulini’s ever could be.