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Broken Horizons – Vol 10, Interlude 1

Azma

Azma found the chaos and calamity which surrounded her a great source of comfort. By all reasonable measurements, her own fortunes were dire, her goals impossible to achieve, and her plans a failed and tangled mess.

None of that was true of course. Her fortunes were excellent by virtue of the fact that her goals were still well within her reach and her plans were proceeding as close to optimally as she could have hoped for.

Also, she was herself.

She didn’t have problems.

Other people had problems, and she was typically the worst one.

“Our troops have finished the pacification of the [Stars Guards Fort], the [Bleakwater Basin], and the [Scouring Hellmaw],” Grenslaw said, entering the private, and tastefully appointed chamber, Penswell had set aside for their use. “The teams at [High Gutter] and [The Scarlet Cascade] are in place and awaiting orders.”

“What were our losses in Stars Guard?” Azma asked.

“No fatalities, fifty three serious injuries, and two hundred and twelve minor wounds,” Grenslaw said.

Serious injuries were annoying since it meant the troops in question were badly enough damaged that they wouldn’t be available for further fighting until they’d been through tha rejuvenation/repair period and been properly rested. The minor wounds were less troubling, but still worth noting. She’d send those troops into lighter combat duty for the next cycle since, while they were still capable, their performance would be lower as they recovered from the non-debilitating but still potentially gruesome damage they’d suffered.

No fatalities was a cause for celebration though, as were the relatively low numbers over all. Her troops were more than doing her proud, they were fighting at a level no General could have asked for or expected. Just like she knew they could.

“Excellent! They exceeded their performance margin by fifteen percent. Mark them all down for the high performance bonus,” Azma said. “Also, command the team at [High Gutter] that the town is no longer a hybrid area. They are free to proceed with a full burn cleanse of the area, but their injury metrics have been tightened to reflect the lower hazard of the operation.”

Authorizing the [High Gutter] team to reduce the isolated defensive post to a heap of cinders and ash was a relief for which Azma felt she owed the local [Adventurers] a nod of thanks.

[High Gutter] had originally been a strongpoint fought over between two rival kingdoms in the area. Both kingdoms were under the subjugation of the [Consortium of Pain’s] forces, which were in turn under the long distance control of the [Hungry Shadow]. 

Unlike on the Consortium ships though, the citizens of [High Gutter] hadn’t been corrupted into mindless appendages of the [Hungry Shadows] will. 

Which had meant that to secure [High Gutter] and block off both of the kingdoms from the rest of the region, penning in the Consortium’s forces, they were going to need to either kill all of the locals, or fight around them.

Penswell had been surprised when Azma had put forth a plan to fight around them. It was a costlier approach, both in terms of resources required and troops that would be lost to the effort. Or it would have been costlier to anyone else.

Azma was the one who had designed the Consortium’s strategy though and so she was keenly away of the importance of [High Gutter] and its weak points.

Saving the citizens within [High Gutter] wasn’t charity though. The forces Azma had deployed to the kingdoms [High Gutter] sealed away were rife of Necromancers. Her original strategy with them had been for the units to be self sustaining by using the bodies of their fallen enemies to both demoralize the defenders and act as a shield for her own forces.

Reversing that strategy meant, in part, denying the Consortium forces access to both dead bodies.and lingering spirits.

Thanks to the local [Adventurers] though, the people of [High Gutter] had been rescued and moved to a safer, more secure location.

Which meant Azma’s forces could simply annihilate the place.

It wasn’t a fair method of fight by any stretch of the imagination, nor was it one which paid dividends later, or allowed for the cost of the operation to be recouped in loot or land value.

Azma was in the joyful position of being unconcerned about recouping costs though since, by all calculations, the world she was on would be reduced to free floating subatomic particles within the week.

“Shall I inform Strategist Penswell of the change in plans?” Ryschild asked.

“That won’t be necessary,” Azma said. “She understands our goals and for the time being they are aligned with hers.”

Penswell had proven to be a delight. Where Azma was normally in the habit of unpacking her thoughts into diminished and more easily digestible chunks, with Penswell she’d been free to speak in something much closer to the shorthand which she thought in.

The need for pretense and artifice was largely absent as well, which was so refreshing Azma had given serious consideration to abandoning her other plans and simply remaining on-world after the current crisis was resolved in order to war against Penswell till they both got bored of whatever stalemate they worked themselves into.

In Penswell, Amza had found someone who understood their relationship, its boundaries, and opportunities without any need for Azma to spell them out or arrange for tedious object lessons.

They were both valuable to each other. They would extract what value was available, arranging at all times to place themselves in a favorable position in the long run, but – and this was the bit so many others failed to see – not mindlessly at the expense of the other.

It was fine for Azma to burn [High Gutter] to the ground. It was a loss for Penswell’s concerns overall, and a mild gain for Azma’s forces. In the long term though, the damage done to the holdings Penswell was responsible for was minor – nothing irreplaceable had been lost, and they had both gained a significant advantage over the Consortium forces in the region.

Penswell could trust that, for the time being, Azma would not injure her or her forces unless the injury paid a far higher yield for both of them since Azma needed Penswell and her forces to be as strong as they possibly could be if she was going to wield them as a weapon against her true enemies.

Azma turned to considering her forces around the [Scarlet Cascade] with that in mind. She refused to allow any fatalities, but with the exemplary performance of her other troops, she could risk a more aggressive posture against the [Battle Engines] at the [Scarlet Cascade].

The safe play was to disable the Consortium’s giant war machines in a pre-emptive strike, but she was feeling greedy and her forces would be in a decidedly better position if the [Battle Engines] could be captured rather than destroyed.

She was weighing the possibilities when Penswell appeared in the seat on the opposite side of the table from her.

“The [Battle Engines] are a loss,” Penswell said. No introduction, no prelude, no context setting at all really. 

Azma nearly swooned.

“A new enemy has arisen?” Azma asked. It was the most likely scenario, despite it being unheralded and relatively implausible. 

Had the machines been destroyed though, there would be no need to assault the [Scarlet Cascade] anymore and if the Consortium had received reinforcements to protect them, Penswell would have arrived with their layout and a gleeful expression at getting to crush such a concentration of the enemy all in one place.

“The local monsters are leveling up,” Penswell said.

Azma took a moment to process that.

It hadn’t been on her mental radar because it was apparently impossible in this world.

Quantized power rankings like “levels” weren’t a unique thing. The Consortium dealt with any number of worlds were reality was ordered with powers available in discrete chunks. A common trait of those worlds was that some entities had a fixed power state while others were fluid. Generally the ones that could grow though, grew along predictable and limited paths. The fixed entities, by comparison, tended to enjoy a broader diversity of abilities and powers at the expense of remaining unchanged.

The “monsters’ of this world were almost universally of the fixed power state variety, which meant they had a plethora of different abilities, though only a few manifested in each individual.

If those entities had gained the ability to increase their power states though…

“Have any broken the power cap for your [Adventurers]?” Azma asked. She could guess based on Penswell’s expression but for something this critical it was worth being certain.

“Yes. We’ve lost three teams so far and the Total Party Kill count is in the hundreds already,” Penswell said.

Ryschild and Grenslaw were both standing beside her, silent and watchful, though for a change Azma’s suspected that was because they had nothing to offer, rather than the sense to wait to be asked for their suggestions.

Azma didn’t blame them for that. She had to spend a few moments considering the implications of Penswell’s news.

“Having any of them broken the power cap for the highest extant ‘monsters’?” she asked, unsure which disastrous answer she would prefer.

“Unknown at present,” Penswell said. “Two [Alliances] are probing the matter as we speak.”

“At your request?”

“They began organizing before I learned of the situation,” Penswell said.

Because [Adventurers] had, at best, a passing and hate-filled relationship with personal safety.

Azma hadn’t counted on the extent to which that was true in her original plan to the conquer the world, which explained a rather large portion of the deviations in her initial assaults effectiveness. Seeing it in person, she was sure she could adjust her next attempt accordingly but also not looking forward to it overmuch. 

Fighting foes that were effectively unkillable was one thing. Azma had managed that a number of times. 

Fighting dealing with foes who were unkillable and extremely willing to throw themselves into a blender repeatedly was simply tiresome, as well as aggravatingly difficult to extract a profit from.

Azma was sure she could beat the combined forces of the world with her current nearly microscopic army. She was less sanguine about doing so without going miserably bankrupt in the process, and that was the sort of fight she tried to avoid at all costs.

“Either result represents an opportunity, but limited leveling would be preferable,” Azma said.

“I’m adjusting the disposition of my troops to absorb either eventuality, but the [Confidence Rating] of my plans is dropping to unacceptable levels,” Penswell said.

“Armageddon protocols?” Azma asked.

“Invoked and available,” Penswell said. “Still in reserve though.”

The newly empowered monsters might be limited to the power states already available in this reality or they might be capable of breaking all known limits and becoming mathematically unstoppable. In either case there was the possibility that they would overrun the world and destroy any hope of defending it, even apart the looming threat of [Hungry Shadow] or the potential arrival of a solar system destroying task force from the Consortium.

Should that happen, despite Penswell and Azma’s best efforts to prevent it, they intrinsically agreed upon the proper course of action. Namely, that the last action they would take would be to ensure the rampaging monsters were aimed in the correct direction to destroy their other foes.

If they were going to be destroyed, there was no chance they were going down without sending out a retributive strike capable of shattering the heavens and ensuring that those ultimately responsible for their downfall suffered a far worse fate than the one Penswell and Azma had been consigned to.

But of course that wasn’t going to happen.

“Good,” Azma said. “Invoking them sends the proper message but they will never need to come out of your reserve.”

“Of course not,” Penswell said. “Alone, either one of us could ensure that.”

Azma refused to cackle. 

It was rather tempting though.

Whatever strange fates controlled this world, they had made the absolute worst possible mistake in giving her an equal to contest against.

Because Azma didn’t fight against people like Penswell.

Not when allying with them would let her finally become the true master of her own destiny.

Broken Horizons – Vol 10, Ch 19

Lisa

It should have been cruel to have the possibility of a path home appear only to turn out to be a dead end and Lisa had the sense that for many people it would be. There were parents among the [Adventurers] who had been cutoff from their children, lovers who’d been split apart across the divide between the worlds, and people who were terrified of the world before them being real rather than a safe collect of pixels for them to play with.

Not everyone was resigned to their fate either. There were plenty of [Adventurers] both high level and low who were trying all sorts of things to find a path back. So far as Lisa knew though, none of them had yet succeeded. 

Even the idea of access the beta server had been tried from what her friend Cease All from her original guild had said. There was no established means of hopping between the servers though – that had always been an admin level function – but the [Fallen Kingdoms] were nothing if not littered with gates and portals and rifts to different times and places given how much the devs liked to use wild and inconsistent settings as part of their expansions.

That her kid sister had been the one to find the right gateway was more alarming than surprising. Rachel would attract all sorts of the wrong attention if it became common knowledge that she’d come from the beta server and knew how to get back.

Beyond that though, Lisa found that she was far more interested in the question of whether Deadly Alice, Rachel’s character was present but suppressed or whether Deadly Alice was actually as nonexistent as Rachel claimed.

The question of getting back home was interesting in an academic choice but with the possibility seemingly off the table, Lisa felt more relieved than anything else.

Going back to her old life was something she knew she should be striving for. It was the responsible thing to do. It was what was expected of her. It was the grown up thing to do.

The voice inside that cast those words at her weren’t her own. They belonged to all the people who had ever told her that she loved was worthless. Games didn’t make you money, so they were frivolous. Activities suitable for children. As an adult she was supposed to hussle. To always be striving to get ahead. 

“Making something of herself” had been a battle she’d fought her whole life, and she’d internalized enough of the arguments to believe some of them.

Living how she wanted to wasn’t practical. She did need money, which meant plugging into a game (or, realistically, several games) 24/7 wasn’t an option. It wouldn’t even have been healthy if she’d won a lottery and been able to forget about money. 

At the same time though, she couldn’t accept the idea that something’s value came only from what it could be exchanged for.

What she was doing in the [Fallen Kingdoms] didn’t matter to anyone on Earth. It wasn’t helping her get ahead, or pay off her debts, or win a new career for herself. But it was still important.

Lost Alice was important. Even if she no more exceptional in the [Fallen Kingdoms] than Lisa had been on Earth.

“I think a good long talk is in order,” Lost Alice said. “But I wouldn’t guess you have the patience for it. Also, we probably want to speak somewhere we won’t be overheard by a [Vampire Queen].”

She waved at Vixali who’d been sitting in silent contemplation as Lisa and Rachel held  an equally silent telepathic conversation.

Vixali’s eyes widened in surprise but she recovered quickly, offering Lost Alice a gracious smile and a small nod.

Rachel was more surprised by the revelation, a full body twitch running from her head to her toes.

“You may have the room if you desire privacy,” Vixali said.

“My thanks,” Lost Alice said as the [Vampire Queen] departed.

That didn’t mean Vixali couldn’t listen in on them, but Lost Alice wasn’t concerned. Vixali understood the power balance between the two of them and had reigned long enough as [Queen] to know not to press an issue that might anger a larger and less destructible predator.

“You sounds different now,” Rachel said.

“This is how I always sound,” Lost Alice said. “But, it’s not a part of me you’ve seen often, or ever before I suppose.”

“Why are you playing at that? Stop pretending and be yourself!” Rachel’s eyes were glossy with tears but in place of heartbreak there was anger.

“Rachel, my sister,” Lost Alice said. “This is myself. I can be many things. I’m this, now, because I need the knowledge I have from this life to evaluate the sort of [Vampire] you’ve become. And also, it annoys you, and Mom’s not here to tell me to stop.”

Anger turned to confusion turned to long standing sororal aggravation.

“Stop it,” Rachel said. “Just be yourself. This is serious. Stop joking around.”

“It’s not a joke,” Lisa said. “This is me. All of it. Another me. Not the one you grew up with, but me all the same.”

“But you can’t be an actual vampire. That’s just something you made up!” Rachel said.

“I am aware,” Lost Alice said. “My existence as ‘Lost Alice’ matches far too closely to the fiction I as ‘Lisa’ created. This whole world is riddled with that problem. Everything here matches what someone on Earth imagined, and the things that don’t are largely extrapolations from the things that do. Consider this however, the stone floor you’re standing on is no less solid because someone imagined it first. The smell of the cooking fires from above carries scents that neither of us ever experienced on Earth. Even the pain we feel when we fight is inarguable. This isn’t a dream, or a delusion. What we’re experiencing has the same solidity and weight as our experiences on Earth. For all practical purposes, where we are and who we are is as real as where and who we were.”

“But this is just a projection,” Rachel said. “Except you said your body disintegrated. But if it did that there’d be nothing to project from. You’d be dead already and the dead can’t linger here. The [Daemon] said that too.”

“So I’m neither alive nor dead,” Lisa said. “Sort of fits that I’m a [Vampire] then right?”

“It’s not funny!” Rachel said.

“It’s not,” Lisa said. “It’s perplexing, and confusing, and…ultimately, not that important.”

Rachel sputtered.

“How is you being dead not important?” 

“Because whatever the answer is, I’m not gone,” Lisa said. “I’m here. I can eat, and drink, and love, and still make a difference for the people who need me.”

Rachel looked at her askance.

“You can what?”

“Make a difference, I can..” Lisa started to say but Rachel cut her off.

“No. Before that. You can what?” 

“Uh? Eat? Drink? Oh! Love. Uh, yeah, umm, that,” Lisa said, unsure that she wanted to share anything at all about Tessa with her sister.

It wasn’t that she had any reservations about Tessa. It was simply that Lisa had poured out her heart to Rachel in whining about her past relationships. It was embarrassing and while Rachel had always offered love and support, she also hadn’t been shy about pointing just how terrible most of Lisa’s girlfriends had been for her.

“Wait. Seriously?” Rachel looked more put out than upset.

“This probably isn’t the best time to talk about that,” Lisa said, since they were, technically, still in the [Vampire Queen’s] court.

“Oh my god! You did!” Rachel said aloud, unable to hide even a shred of her surprise. “Have you told her yet? Or are you going all undead stalker…again?”

“What? I’ve never…” Lisa began to protest before cutting herself off. She’d had a vampire-phase and the less Rachel reminded her of it the better.

“Let me guess? She’s a [Vampire] too? Oh no, it’s not the [Vampire Queen] is it?”

“No! No. Tessa is a normal human woman,” Lisa said. “And, a [Clothwork]. Sometimes. When she’s Pillowcase.”

Rachel just gapped, seemingly unable to process any of that.

“That’s not what’s important now though,” Lisa said, trying to bring the conversation back around to the critical questions.

“You’re dating a ragdoll? Or you want to date a ragdoll?” Rachel asked, completely ignoring Lisa’s attempt to change the topic. “How does that even work?”

“Before I answer that, ask yourself if you really want me to go into graphic detail on my sex life?” Lisa said. 

“I…you know what, you’re right. I thought all of this was weird, but that…that is a bridge too far,” Rachel said.

“Good. Then if we could get back to talking about you for a minute?” Lisa asked.

“What about me? I’m the only one in this whole world that makes any sense,” Rachel said.

“Are you though?” Lisa said. “You said you logged into your character on my account on the beta server, right?”

“Yeah? That’s not new, I did that for like a month straight while you were at work.”

“Right. Notice the important element there – ‘while I was at work’. I’m not at work now, so how were you able to log into my account, when it should have still been running on the computer in my apartment?” Lisa asked.

“I don’t know. It didn’t give me the ‘already logged in’ message I usually see if your already playing. Maybe you got automatically logged out when you got pulled in?” Rachel said.

“I don’t think so,” Lisa said. “The GMs were still able to message us and appear in front of us even after we got drawn in. The GMs on Earth that is. They still saw us as logged in on their end.”

“Okay, so then it was a bug. You can’t tell me, with all this, that a login error would be the biggest bug they had with this release.”

“Fair point,” Lisa said. “Was there anyone else on the beta server with you?”

“Yeah. A lot of people. All projections like me as far as I could tell.”

“But you couldn’t tell that I was different?” 

“I mean, you seemed different, but then everyone here does, so I thought it was just a beta vs live server thing.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it’s because the beta server can be accessed, for whatever reason, by people from Earth still, where everyone here got drawn in because their character’s died or their connection was severed. Was there anything else different about the people on the beta server?”

“Not really,” Rachel said. “I mean a lot of them were speaking Mandarin, but they were talking about the same things as everyone else there. Basically how we were supposed to rescue the people we knew who got trapped.”

“Huh. That’s weird. The beta servers are in California. Plenty of Chinese-Americans there, but I wouldn’t expect them to be speaking in Mandarin anymore than we do?”

“I know, Mom would have been so happy,” Rachel said. “I don’t know if they managed to get anybody out either though.”

“How did you managed to cross over? I mean into the beta server in the first place?”

“I told you, I logged into Deadly Alice. There was a gateway icon in the start town. I clicked on it and that pulled me in here. I clicked on it again and I was back at my desk. It wasn’t exactly hard.”

“And when did you meet the [Daemon] who told you what the rules were?”

“He found me. Like one of those quest NPCs that comes running up to you as soon as you get close enough to their spawn area.”

“And you were still in [Sky’s Edge] in the [High Beyond] right?” Lisa asked.

“Yeah.”

“What did he look like?” Lisa asked, a cold worry growing in her gut.

“Pretty weird. I think the graphics department hadn’t gotten around to putting his final skin on him yet or something so he was just a human shaped blob of darkness.”

“Did he seem [Hungry] at all?” Lisa asked, her nerves balanced on pin tops.

“Yeah. That was one of the tags on his character info,” Rachel said, staring as Lost Alice went even paler than her usual self.

Broken Horizons – Vol 10, Ch 2

Rose

Breakfast-turned-lunch had been as excellent as promised. It turned out that where Rip was orders of magnitude stronger as a fighter, the [Cooks] who’d spent a similar amount of time and effort working on their craft had progressed just a wee bit as well.

“Is it wrong that I feel like I could run two marathons back to back?” Rose asked as she and Jamal wandered out of the [Great Hall], leaving behind what had been a mini-continuation of the party from the night before.

“I don’t even need to eat, but whatever magical engineer made it so [Metal Mechanoids] could get energy from absorbed food? They’re incredible, beautiful people and I love them,” Jamal said. 

“Check out your stats,” Tessa said. 

She and Lost Alice met them at the gate out into the city, and Rose was struck by how comfortable they looked with each other now. 

Early on, in the distant pre-history of ‘a few days ago’, there’d been a lot of tension in the group, though most of it came from external sources. No one could really believe what was happening too them, and (quite rightly it turned out) no one felt even a little safe.

When Pillowcase and Lost Alice had invited her and Jamal to group up, Rose’s only thought had been that being part of any group at all would be better than stumbling along alone.

Especially after the object lesson in peril the original [Wraithwing] attack had been. Everyone else had kind of lost their mind, but New Mom One and New Mom Two had held it together and managed to fight the indestructible horde of death birds. At least for a little while. 

Rose was joking when she referred to her party leaders as their “New Moms”. She knew she couldn’t escape her real family that easily.

It didn’t mean it wasn’t nice to pretend though.

And Tessa and Lost Alice didn’t seem to mind them too much.

If anything, they seemed willing to treat Rose and Jamal as real human beings so easily that Rose wasn’t entirely sure they hadn’t mistaken herself and Jamal for Rip Shot and Matt Painting.

Which would be an easy mistake to make. Rose herself wasn’t entirely sure where the line was between her two identities. She was Rip, sure, a young woman, a Tabbywile, an [Adventurer]. 

But she was also a teenage girl, a human, and an average, unathletic high school student with an amazing best friend and zero interest in romance or sex.

Of the two choices, Rip seemed like the clear winner of who she’d want to be at any given moment.

And yet, most of her thoughts were centered on herself as Rose.

It wasn’t really a mystery why either.

Rose was Jamal’s friend. As Rip, Matt was a solid teammate and one she’d stick up for and protect just like she would anyone else, but it was Jamal who really knew her.

And so she wanted to be Rose.

“We were thinking to do take another run at the dungeon tonight,” Tessa said. “But we wanted to check with you two first.”

“With us?” Jamal asked.

“We all leveled up a few times in there,” Lost Alice said. “I think we’re all level 34 now right?”

“Yeah, we both hit that,” Rose said, wondering where the conversation was going.

Were they going to ask if Rip and Matt wanted to retire now that they’d gotten strong enough to defend themselves in a pinch?

Were they going to suggest that Rip and Matt sit out because of the mistakes Rip had made? 

Were they going to tell them that they’d hadn’t leveled enough and so they’d found some other, higher level, [Adventurers] who wanted Rip and Matt’s spots?

Rose’s mind swirled like a hurricane gathering force as she fought against the terrible ideas that kept popping up.

Tessa and Lost Alice weren’t like that.

She could trust them.

Except that had always been a mistake before and the mere thought of ignoring her fears sent a fresh shiver of terror through her.

“With new levels, come abilities,” Tessa said. “And ‘in the middle of battle’ can be a rough time to get a handle of them.”

Tessa’s voice and expression were light and reassuring, which set off all sorts of warning bells in Rose’s head. No one cared to make things sound okay unless they were about drop a boot on her.

“So we were thinking we’d practice a bit with ours first,” Lost Alice said.

“Our friendly neighborhood battle nuns offered to let us practice with them again, now that we’ve got some new tricks to show them.” Tessa said.

“And we thought you might like to join us?” Lost Alice said.

“Or, if you had plans already, we could hold off on the dungeon run for now and help some of the lowbies we’ve kind of left behind work on building themselves up,” Tessa said.

For a long moment Rose’s brain sort of shorted out.

They weren’t rejecting her?

Why?

Wait, they want to do something with her?

Seriously why?

They even looked sort of nervous? Like they thought Rose and Jamal wouldn’t want to spend every waking moment with them?

Being thrust into a fantasy realm and merging memories with an alternate aspect of herself had been less jarring than embracing that thought.

“I think we’d love that,” Jamal said. “Uh, going with you I mean. For training. We could do the helping thing too. Or the dungeon. I…we don’t have any plans yet.”

“Oh! Good!” Tessa said. “I think you’ll get a lot out of the training sessions. I don’t know if they have any [Dream Spinners] there but at low levels a lot of the abilities are similar so they’ll have some great feedback on opportunities to look for and problems to watch out for.”

“That they’ll get to beat us to a pulp demonstrating a lot of what they have to teach is probably all the payment that they really need, but Tessa and I were figuring we’d drop a tithe on them to cover our whole party,” Lost Alice said.

Because of course that was how they thought.

Rose let Rip take the reins for a bit. 

She felt too good to be falling apart inside all of a sudden but that’s what was happening nonetheless and she was endlessly grateful that Rip was put together differently enough that she was able to carry on without letting that show.

“Hey, just the girl I was looking for! And about to go training too! This is perfect.” Mom Three, or Obby as everyone else called her said, catching up to the quartet of her teammates as they wandered down the roads toward the chapel. “Would you mind if I abscond with Rip for a bit? I’ve got some ideas I want to try out with her.”

“Oh, I could do that instead then,” Jamal said.

“Nope,” Obby said. “This is something special just for Rip. At least if she’d willing to take a chance on some unusual training?”

Yawlorna

Having someone who was roughly twice your size and looked remarkably similar to the iconography of an [Unholy Fiend] from your world’s mythology sit down beside you and place their hands on your badly injured body was, Yawlorna observed, probably not the least scary thing that one could be forced to endure.

That the badly injured [Farmer] wasn’t screaming out in terror was a testament to their bravery.

Bravery which Yawlorna was forced to note had wound them up in their current predicament.

“Did the [Boar] sneak up on you?” Glimmerglass asked.

“No, I saw it just fine,” the injured woman said through gritted teeth.

“Why…?” Glimmerglass started to ask.

“I thought I could earn my keep here if I brought in some [Meat] for the [Cooks],” the [Farmer] said.

“You didn’t have…” Glimmerglass began again.

“Of course I did,” the [Farmer] said. “It’s a matter of pride. Can’t be freeloading forever.”

“You didn’t have to take on something that tough,” Glimmerglass amended. “There’s plenty that needs to be taken care of here and in town. There are acres of land that no one is working at all, and plenty of other stuff you can do that will be at least slightly less painful.”

“Oh. Uh, I see,” the [Farmer] said. “Sorry about that.”

“No problem. You’re giving my apprentice her a chance to see how strong her magic really is.”

“Should I begin casting?” Yawlorna asked.

“Yes, but take it slow. Go with [Lesser Healing Touch] to start with,” Glimmerglass said.

“Even though I’m not having problems with [Healing Stream]?” Yawlorna asked.

“Trust me,” Glimmerglass said.

With a shrug, Yawlorna began casting as she’d been instructed to.

Working magic was still unbelievable to her. She’d never imagine how simple it was one that first dam of understanding broke. 

She guessed that Glimmerglass was going to have her practice a few dozen times with [Lesser Healing Touch] before repairing the woman’s injuries completely with one of her own spells.

Yawlorna had barely dropped a single mote of magic into the [Farmer] though when she sat up, a look of wonder and joy shining from her.

“I’m better!” she said. “All the pain? It’s gone? I’m not even punctured! And I feel so good!”

“I think you leveled up,” Glimmerglass said. “Tell me, have you ever had the urge to go on an adventure?”

Hailey

Hailey was helping rebuild [Wagon Town]. Tessa was doing some stuff with her guild. The majority of a planetary mass separated them. Despite all that, they were closer than they’d been in more than half a decade.

“Once things calm down and we get the [Teleport Gates] back online, I am so coming out there to power level you up to the cap properly,” Hailey said.

“We’ve been doing pretty good with leveling on our own,” Tessa said. “You might be surprised where we get to before the stuff with the Consortium settles down.”

“Okay, well that was just an excuse to come out and meet your new girl anyways,” Hailey said. 

“I could add her to this channel if you want?” Tessa asked.

“Noooo! No no no!” Hailey said. “We should meet properly. Not randomly over a chat line.”

“Uh, didn’t we meet everyone in game ‘randomly over a chat line’?” Tessa asked.

“Yeah, but it’s not a game anymore is it?” Hailey said. “These are all real people we’re dealing with now.”

“As opposed to before, when it was just real people behind a computer screen?”

“It was real with some people before,” Hailey said. “If you murdered someone in PvP though, you weren’t killing them for real, and you weren’t really a blood enemy of theirs.”

“But for people in the same guild?”

“Even there. Some people were more real than others,” Hailey said. “I knew you, we talked, we hung out, we did things together. So you were real to me. The guy who joined our guild for two days and raided the bank when no one was looking though? Basically a demon in my eyes.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not healthy, but I remember hating him enough that I can see where you’re coming from,” Tess said.

“I am serious about getting you leveled up though,” Hailey said. “This place is much too dangerous for even the high levels in some spots, especially the new areas. I don’t want to see you get eaten by some mid-level nobody when a day of decent grinding could have left you invincible to it.”

“We should work out something like that in general for all the lowbies,” Tessa said.

“There’s a lot of lowbies in the world. Believe me, I’ve seen the analytics,” Hailey said.

“I wasn’t thinking of trying to power level them all personally,” Tessa said. “More like setting up something so that people who don’t have guilds, or don’t have ones with anyone high level left in them have somewhere to turn to get setup with a high level player who can help them out.”

“There’s going to be people who hate that idea,” Hailey said.

“There’s people who hate every idea. The difference in this case is that there’s something out there that we’re going to need every possible [Adventurer] at max level that we can get to have a chance at standing against.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let me tell you about what we ran into in the [High Beyond]. You might want to find somewhere to sit down though.”

Summer Hiatus

Due to unexpected housing nonsense and the need to move almost immediately, Storytreader’s going to be on hiatus until the beginning of August.

Assuming the current nonsense can be resolved by then, new chapters will resume Sunday August 15th.

CORRECTION: I typo’d the return date originally as Sunday August 11th, but as 2021 does have a Sunday the 11th in August, it should actually be the 15th. (The good news is that the housing nonsense is complete, so resuming on the 15th should be a doable thing.)

Vacation Week!

No health issues, or problems this time, just a week of vacation that I’m going to take as a full vacation to rest and recharge.

New chapters will resume on Sunday May 9th with Vol 9, Ch 1 of Broken Horizons and then on Monday May 10th we’ll get the next chapter of Two Hearts One Beat.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 18

Grace / Kamie Anne Do

In Kamie Anne Do’s world any enemy you could defeat without losing all your hit points was a good enemy. Grace’s view was that the best enemy was the one you could defeat without taking any injuries. They both agreed that the [Disjoined Soldiers] didn’t fall into the category of ‘an enemy they really wanted to fight’ though, despite the increasing number of them which they are able to dispatch.

“Where are all these reinforcements coming from?” Battler X asked, fighting back to back with Kamie.

“The last wave were all with the 5th Gryphon squad. These ones are mix of the 5th and the 3rd,” Sergeant Pono said as she tossed her exhausted [Plasma Lancer] away and drew a knife  that was long enough to qualify as at least a short sword. Grace suspected the nimbus of vibrating blue energy around its edge was more than a shiny cosmetic effect, but knives had never been her thing.

“Are we going to see more of the 3rd roll in?” she asked, parrying a raking claw strike and counter attacking to break the [Disjoined’s] elbow in the hopes of taking the arm out of commission.

Her punch landed with more force than Grace’s human form ever could have delivered, enough to shatter the bones she hit. In any sort of reasonable fight she would have achieved her objective. What she was embroiled in was nothing like a reasonable fight though.

“We shouldn’t be seeing as many of them as we are,” Pono said. “We were supposed to be operating under [Apocalypse Security Protocols]. The Hunger couldn’t have gotten through those.”

Pono feinted at the soldier in front of her, forcing it back a half step, before spinning to her right and slicing a leg off one of the soldier’s Kamie was fighting.

“Is that what kept you safe?” Grace asked. She took advantage of the opening Pono created to boot the injured [Disjoined Soldier] back into the crowd, knocking down two others who were trying to capitalize on Pono’s momentary distraction.

“Don’t know that I’d call this safe,” Pono said.

“Fair point,” Grace said.

“You said we’re immune to them though?” Battler X asked. She had downed one but didn’t make the mistake of assuming it was going to stay down. Before the soldier could rise again or scramble away, she dropped a quick series of blows to make sure the body was definitely non-functional.

“I don’t know how,” Pono said. “It’s good that you are though. If the Hunger could get it’s claws into you, it could probably use all of the your powers, and then we’d be having more than a mildly bad day.”

“This is mildly bad?” Grail Force asked. She’d taken up a more secure location and was lobbing death down from above into the horde that was trying to push into the boss chamber the adventurer’s had selected as their battle arena.

“I haven’t lost any major organs yet, so, yeah, could be worse,” Pono said.

The other [Consortium Soldiers] who were still in possession of their own wits had been reduced to fighting with melee weapons as well but were acquitting themselves far better than their [Disjoined] comrades who’d been [Devolving] into forms with blades and spikes and bladders of acid under the [Formless Hungers] influence.

“You sound like an adventurer when you talk like that,” Battler X said. “You don’t have respawn points on your ships do you?”

“Our medtech is top notch but dead is dead,” Pono said. “Well, for people at my pay grade anyways.”

“You should definitely take up the adventuring life then,” Grace said. “Don’t even need dental when you could regrow your entire head.”

“That sounds handy, but I’m bound to my post. We all are” Pono said. “Duty before anything else and all that.”

“Seems like your former comrades disagree,” Battler X said, kicking a [Disjoined Soldier] over to Kamie.

“They’re only former because they had their comms open,” Pono said. “Against a [Transdimensional Entity] like a Hunger no amount of [Loyalty Compulsions] can hold someone to their duty.”

“Wait, [Loyalty Compulsions]?” Grace asked. “You mean when there’s magic forcing you to serve the [Consortium of Pain]?”

“It’s cheaper than yearly bonuses,” Pono said. She lost her knife by burying it in the head of the one of the enemies but in exchange she gained a freshly charged [Plasma Lancer] and was able to able to open fire immediately.

“Do we have anyone who can [Dispel] control debuffs?” Grace asked on the adventurer’s private channel.

“Yeah, I think so,” Grail Force said on the private channel. “Back at the refuge there’s at least a couple.”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Grace asked, sure that everyone could see the same opportunity she could.

“Yeah, definitely,” Buzz Fightyear said. “Only problem is I don’t see how we’re going to get them back to the refuge. If we leave this spot, the [Disjoined] will be able to get to a place where they’re not stuck under a level cap.”

“And there’s a whole bunch more of them coming,” Battler X said. She’d pressed through the crowd enough to be able to look down the corridor which led into the boss chamber. 

Grace wasn’t thrilled by the intel but she wasn’t surprised by it either. The [Formless Hunger] didn’t seem to be the sort of monster that was able to learn from its defeats. 

Or it has inexhaustible strength and simply didn’t care about the temporary victories Grace and her team were winning.

Either or both were possible, but Grace liked the first interpretation better.

“Maybe we don’t have to get them to the refuge,” Grace said. “All we really need is one of the dispellers to come to us as reinforcements, after all it looks like we’re going to be here for a while.”

No sooner had she said that than a wave seemed to pass through the [Disjoined].

“Whatever that was, I’m sure it wasn’t good,” Pono said.

Grace was inclined to agree with her.

The weird, hissing static in the [Disjoined] eyes and mouth was swept away by the wave. In its place a purple flame began to burn in their eyes.

“Brace for something bad,” Grace said.

And then the strangest thing happened; the former [Disjoined] began to flow out of the room, like a receding tide.

Something was calling them away.

Azma

The nice thing about an implacable foe was that they were so terribly predictable. Azma didn’t take that as an excuse to rest though. She was running a race against so many different forces that being able to ignore the [Formless Hunger] for a while only meant that she had time to plan out the moves she’d be taking in the hours and days to come.

She’d built up a variety of beautiful models in her mind, solid plans and wild alternates and subtle variations based on the range of responses from the Consortium and the defenders on the planet below. For the actions of those she commanded or could influence into action, she always assumed a statistically significant level of underperformance. Incompetence was a universal trait in her experience and while large, intricate plans were a path to victory in many cases, it was in all cases foolish to assume that the cogs which enacted those plans could be trusts with even the smallest degree of complexity. 

The only person Azma trusted to be able to see the scope of her machinations and keep the various threads straight was herself.

Which meant she was also the only one who could appreciate exactly how disappointing and terrifying it was what a fundamental aspect of those plans when horribly awry.

“Containment Unit 7 is showing a full burst detonation,” Grenslaw said. “Indirect telemetry suggests the personnel from Unit 7 were out of the blast radius when the burst occurred.”

“Good, good,” Azma said, paying only marginal attention to a result which she already knew was the only real outcome possible. “Has the Hunger overwhelmed Unit 7 yet?” 

The timing on the Hunger devouring the containment unit was slightly wobbly. It was possible the containment unit had expended it’s remaining charge in the burst and would fail instantly when the Hunger moved against it. Alternatively it might be able to put up a defense for a few dozen seconds. The more time the better since it would give the troops more time to leave the Hunger’s area of influence but ultimately all that was required was for the Hunger to shift itself out of position. That would leave it too far extended to reach the troops directly and they were all shielded for indirect contacts. Azma was ready for either eventuality but neither one required a change in her plans.

The report she received however did.

“Unit 7 is not being attacked,” Grenslaw said.

“That’s not possible,” Azma said, vague annoyance at the poor data collection available to them rising behind her eyes. “Whatever the Hunger seems to be doing near it is an attack.”

 “There is no sign of movement from the [Transdimensional Entity],” Grenslaw said.

“There’s…what?” Azma’s plans didn’t collapse then. She was used to incompetence and if she’d momentarily forgotten its prevalence in light of Grenslaw’s exemplary service, she still had it factored into several of her plans.

Also, denial is a powerful drug and a drug even the powerful can fail to avoid indulging in on the wrong occasions.

“Indirect telemetry shows no sign of movement,” Grenslaw said. “Shall I order one of the abandoned ships to perform an active scan?”

Azma paused, feeling her plans teetering.

If they used a downed ship to actively search for the Hunger, they would only get one set of responses back before they had to assume that the ship was contaminated after that.

“Yes. Do it,” Azma said. The cost was phenomenal compared to the data provided but if Azma couldn’t direct the Hunger, the value of a ship wasn’t going to play a meaningful role in her future.

It took a five second eternity before the answer appeared on Grenslaw’s monitor.

“No movement detected by an active scan either.”

Azma’s plans crashed down around her, brittle shards sending icy panic racing through her veins.

The combat squad she’d brought with her tensed.

The moment when the [Supreme Commander] learned that their careful plans had all failed was almost always the moment when Consortium leaders decided to vent their rage and disappointment in a bloody fashion.

Azma was the exception. 

She simply closed her eyes and began to think.

Had the initial analysis been wrong? Was it possible they hadn’t ever been dealing with a [Transdimensional Entity]?

No. Based on the Hunger’s destruction of the ships which its suborned, the first appraisal had been correct.

Was it possible the Hunger was faking? Playing passive to lure in more troops which is could take control of?

Again, no. That level of planning required capabilities which entities like the Hunger didn’t posses. Or rather couldn’t possess. A Hunger didn’t have a will. It was defined only be its hunger. For one not to respond to a chance to feed, it would have to no longer be a [Formless Hunger] at all.

Azma paused there, considering the implications of that thought.

Not a Hunger. 

No. Not a [Formless Hunger] any longer.

It had changed.

“Find another ship,” she said. “Do another active scan. I want a composition report this time.”

“The expected result for a composition scan of a [Transdimensional Entity] is a ‘Failed to Read’ error,” Grenslaw said. “I have one prepped now. Awaiting orders to trigger it.”

Azma smiled. Grenslaw was providing the proper feedback to ensure Azma wasn’t wasting a resource while also understanding that there was more to the request that was immediately apparent.

“Perform the scan,” Azma said. “I’m afraid it’s not going to be read failure.”

It was Grenslaw’s turn to take a moment of silence.

“The composition scan succeeded. Also indirect telemetry has provided new data,” Greslaw said, visibly stunned. “The [Entity] has begun to move.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 4

Lisa

Some thresholds are perilous to cross not because of the danger which lurks beyond them but because of the opportunities they offer. Lisa was too staggered by the sight of the library beyond the magic portal to process that thought, but Lost Alice’s reflexes were fast enough for her to grab hold of Tessa’s arm before Tessa could stumble through the door.

“You’re seeing this too, right?” Tessa asked, waving her hand at the cosy scene before them.

“Books, coffee, nice lightning? Yeah,” Lisa said. “Should any of that really be in a place like this?”

Tessa took a step back and finally glanced back at Lisa.

“There’s a slime in there,” she said, gesturing to one of the chairs near the table where the coffee had been laid out.

Lisa hadn’t noticed that at first, nor had Lost Alice. Even with being low level still, basic slimes didn’t register as a threat. Typically slimes filled the role of a cute collectible or odd pet but Lisa had never found them particularly appealing. None of that changed the fact that there was, indeed, a slime waiting for them inside the room.

At roughly the size of a basketball, with a body made of blue jello, it would have been hard to determine what the tear-dropped shaped slime was doing. It was the addition of lighter indentations in the shape of big, wide eyes, little eyebrows, and a remarkably expressive mouth that made it clear the slime was watching them and waiting impatiently for the two of them to enter.

“This screams trap, doesn’t it?” Lisa said. It was phrased as a question but she was certain she knew the answer already. 

Doors to magical chambers didn’t tend to fly open when random people walked by them unless the point was to lure those random people to their doom.

“I think you just described this whole place,” Tessa said.

“Yeah, I guess the Ruins are a dungeon.” Lisa had known it was perilous venturing into them but, as with many terrible decisions, it had seemed like such a good idea at the time.

“I was thinking more the world in general,” Tessa said. “That slime’s not normal.”

“Not normal how?” Lisa asked. It smelled like a slime, at least as far as Lost Alice could remember. It wobbled like one too. Even the fine details which made up its ‘face’ seemed to match other slimes. If it was an illusion, it was an exceptional one. 

“I don’t know. It just looks off,” Tessa said and then started forward. “Let’s go find out.”

Lisa could have stopped her. She was faster and stronger than Tessa, but more importantly, Tessa would listen to her. 

Walking into the room was a bad idea. At the least, it would delay they from reuniting with their friends, and if the trap was meant for higher level characters they might never manage to escape it at all.

But Tessa’s voice held a certainty Lisa hadn’t often heard in it. Her partner knew something, maybe not yet consciously, but if that was enough to get Tessa to walk into some new and strange hell, Lisa wasn’t going to let her deal with it alone.

“What are you,” the slime said as they crossed the magical threshold into the [Library Primordial].

“You can talk,” Tessa said.

Lisa was surprised to find the two glaring at each other with the slime apparently so focused on Tessa as to be unaware of the presence of a [Vampire] in front of him. Tessa still knew she was there though, as witness by her reaching out and threading her fingers through Lisa’s without taking her gaze off the slime. Lisa was touched by the gesture until it occurred to her that Tessa was probably trying to hold her back as much as seek comfort in her touch.

“What are you.” The slime was hardly in a position to be imposing. It was blobbed onto the chair and, presumably, capable of little more than bouncing to the floor. It’s tone suggested a far more imperious mindset than the body seemed capable of supporting though.

“Hmm, I wonder if these books are real?” Tessa asked, lifting her gaze from the slime to take in the endless stacks of books around them.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” the slime said. 

“And you’re not supposed to be able to talk,” Lisa said.

“Do you know who I am?” the slime asked as though it were impossible someone wouldn’t be familiar with him.

“The coffee’s probably not real either,” Tessa said. “That’s a shame.”

“Aptomos sent you,” the slime said. “Where is he? I am going to melt him down to sludge.”

“I don’t think so,” Tessa said, returning her gaze to the slime. “You need us.”

“You have no idea who I am, do you? I’ve never needed anyone. Now where is Aptomos?”

“You’re Dav’kralthrax,” Tessa said. “Also known as David Kralt.”

Lisa recognized both names and drew in a sharp breath, despite [Vampires] not particularly needing air.

Dav’kralthrax was a figure from the deep lore of [Broken Horizons]. In the backstory of the game though, he wasn’t a slime. He was the [First Dragon], born from the [Primordial Chaos] before the world was forged, or perhaps he was the [Primordial Chaos], the mythology of the [Fallen Kingdoms] was intentionally sketchy on the subject.

His fire was supposedly responsible for casting the stars into the sky and kindling the fledgling sun.

For all his vaunted place in the mythology though, Dav’kralthrax didn’t appear in the game at all, and had no items or areas which related to him. In theory that was a result of the lore which spoke of Dav’s destruction prior to the forming of the [Heavenly Kingdoms].

In reality though, Dav’kralthrax wasn’t reference in anything beyond the oldest development materials because the [First Dragon] was the avatar for the game’s original lead developer.

David Kralt. The man whom Egress Entertainment was contractually required to credit as the designer of [Broken Horizons] despite the fact that he’d been “moved to other projects” after the first year of development, four years before the game even launched, and who had contributed nothing to its growth or popularity thereafter.

Jamal

What had been a simple trek to meet up with their teammates a bit early had been a frantic rush to reach them before tragedy could overtake them. Jamal wished he could be surprised by that. 

“Hey, if we find more of the [Disjoined], let me be the first to engage them ok?” Rose asked on their private channel.

“If we find more [Disjoined], I thought the plan was to out run them?” Jamal said.

“It is,” Rose said. “But you’ve seen how our plans have been going.”

“Ok, fair enough,” Jamal said. “But what do you mean ‘let you engage them’? Why wouldn’t we both blast them to bits?”

“If they’re going to come after someone, it should probably be me,” Rose said.

“Cause [Archers] are tougher than [Dream Spinners]?” Jamal said with a laugh. “We’re both squishy as hell.”

“Yeah, but I can move faster,” Rose said.

“How? We both run at the same speed,” Jamal said. “Well, sort of.”

Rose was definitely moving faster than the baseline run speed all of the adventurers seemed to be able to maintain. 

“I picked up a couple of movement abilities,” Rose said. “I can use either one for a quick escape if I need it.”

“Wait, when did you level?”

“I didn’t.” Rose was moving through the cavernous passageways at a full run so Jamal couldn’t see her face but he still felt like she was shyly turning away from something.

“How did you pick up a new ability then?”

“My class changed.” She said it like it was a minor bit of trivia, which screamed at Jamal just how important it was.

He checked her entry in the party list and saw that she still had the same bow icon beside her name, denoting her as an [Archer], but when he pulled up her stat sheet he saw she was indeed telling the truth.

“What’s a [Lightning Archer] and how did you…oh god, wait, you didn’t?” Jamal knew exactly where her new class had come from with a moments thought but even knowing that he had no idea what it might mean for her.

“It’s a really cool class!” Rose said, her excitement bubbling out of her.

“You made a deal with the [Lord of Storms]? What did you have to give them?”

“Nothing!” Rose said a tad too quick. “Well, nothing specific. I just have to believe in them. You know, to like, feed them god energy.”

“You’re worshipping a living thunderstorm who we met one time?” Jamal asked. It didn’t surprise him all that much. Rose wasn’t adverse to cheating when she had to win. The thought that there was any actual devotion behind her pledge to the [Lord of Storms] seemed ludicrous though.

But then so did the fact that they were in a fantasy world, and he was joined to a mechanical man with a soul.

With his soul.

The part of Jamal’s brain that processed theological questions was so overloaded by everything around him that he knew he wasn’t considering even the simplest implications of it all but, despite that, the idea of saying prayers to a deity from a game seemed deeply weird.

“It’s not like there’s a whole bunch of rules,” Rose said. “I’m just kind of making it up as I go. I figure if I get something wrong, I can just go ask them.”

“Except they packed up their stuff and bundled themself away in some pocket realm that no one can reach for a thousand years,” Jamal said.

“Sounds pretty godly to me,” Rose said.

Jamal frowned. She didn’t usually tease him about religious stuff. 

“Not that they’re a big G ‘God’,” Rose said hastily. “I’m not taking this that seriously. The way I look at it, the [Lord of Storms] is one of the creators of this world. They’re probably the avatar of one of the original designers. That doesn’t make them all knowing or all powerful, but it does mean that they can act like a patron, kind of. So my job is to remember that they’re real and alive and part of the world.”

“Aren’t they dead though?” Jamal asked.

“Do dead people talk to us?”

“Does Lost Alice count?”

“No. She’s not dead. And she better stay like that,” Rose said. “And anyways we’ve been dead here. It’s not the same.”

“Yeah, nothing is,” Jamal said, thinking of the whirring gear noises he made as he ran, trying to keep up with Rose, Lady Midnight and the [Lightning Serpents].

“You are,” Rose said.

Jamal laugh briefly enough that the chat log just showed an emoji.

“This is what I normally look like to you?” he said.

“No, not that. Obviously,” Rose said. “I mean you. The real you. You’re still as awesome as you’ve ever been. Now you can just blow people up with spells too, which is even cooler!”

“You’re still you too though,” Jamal said.

“I don’t think so,” Rose said. “I feel like I’m a lot more like Rip Shot than I used to be. I could never be this brave without her.”

“Wait, have you ever met my friend Rose? Maybe looked in the mirror? Cause she’s like the definition of bravery,” Jamal said. 

Jamal had never understood why “you cry like a girl” was considered an insult, mostly because he’d seen Rose cry and knew exactly how bad an idea it was to drive it her to tears. She was his best friend. She was a kind and wonderful soul. God help you though if you made her cry. All her restraint and mercy flowed right out with her tears.

“I think I always had her with me,” Rose said. “She’s the me who can handle stuff like this. I just didn’t use to be able to call that part of me up so easily.”

“And I didn’t use to be able to hold my focus as well,” Rip Shot said. “Being aware of my ‘Rose side’ has definitely made me a better [Archer].”

“You sounded different there,” Jamal said. “Are there really two of you?”

“No,” Rip said and Rose continued, “This is all me.” Rip switched back in for “it’s just a matter of who I focus on being at any particular moment.” Rose finished up by asking, “Doesn’t Matt talk to you?”

“Not like that,” Jamal said and felt a strange ripple pass through gears.

“He hasn’t needed me to yet,” Matt Painting said.

Special Update – Part 2!

The good news is I’m feeling a lot better. Turns out that Lyme disease can wreck you pretty thoroughly, but doxycycline can turn that around nice and quick (if you catch it soon enough).

That said, I’m going to take a one week “vacation” to help recharge my batteries, so you can look for storytreader’s current ongoings resuming on 9/24 with the new chapter of Broken Horizons.

~ Stay healthy! ~