Tessa had meant to pass through Broken Horizons as a ghost, slipping quietly in, where no one could see her, and having some fun. To say that plan had gone somewhat awry would be similar to suggesting that the Titanic had “experienced some problems with ice cubes”.
> Pillowcase whispered: “BT? Are you on the support team now? What the hell is going on here?”
Tessa had intended to set herself to “Hidden” when she logged into Broken Horizons, in case any of the people she’d added to her Friend List were playing. She’d forgotten to do that in the rush of starting a new character up, and she was both deeply grateful and kicking herself for the mistake.
Burnt Toast was one of the people she’d been intent on avoiding. It hadn’t been BT’s departure from Tessa’s guild that had spelled its end – Burnt Toast wasn’t the very first to go and, looking back, the writing was on the wall by the point where she left – but her leaving had opened the gate for a lot of other people to find another guild or just stop playing entirely.
Six years later, a large part of Tessa was still angry at BT for violating the unspoken covenant that the guild would always have each other’s backs. She knew she should have been able to move past the feeling of betrayal but how else could she read someone abandoning friends they’d spoke with nearly every night for half a decade?
Drowning out the residual anger though was a wave of relief to be connecting with someone she knew again. Someone who had some real clout within the game (or at least as much official clout as a company would entrust to a junior support technician).
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “Oh I am so sorry Tess! I tried sending everyone an email as soon as we knew what was going on, but you must have already been in the game by then?”
> Pillowcase whispered: “Probably. I didn’t check my email once I logged in. What the hell is going on though? I’m literally IN THE DAMN GAME now!”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “I know! It’s impossible, but we saw it happen here! One of the other GMs went freaking *poof* right in the middle of our cubicle farm!”
> Pillowcase whispered: “What are we supposed to do? We’re dead here now and trying to decide if we should even rez.”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “We’re working on that. I mean as much as we can. At this point we’re collecting info and trying to make some sense out of it.”
> Pillowcase whispered: “What do you know so far?”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “Not a lot. It seems like anyone who logs in is World Shifted (for lack of a better term) if they try to log out, or, we’re hearing now, if they die in game.”
> Pillowcase whispered: “What about shutting down the servers so we just disconnect and don’t have to log out?”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “We had a glitch earlier that we had to reboot one of the map servers for. Everyone on it got World Shifted as far as we can tell. Oh, and trying to invoke GM privileges? Yeah, that’s an instant World Shift too. That’s how we lost Ashad.”
Tessa paused as a fresh sense of being in another world crashed over her.
> Pillowcase whispered: “Wow, this is really happening.”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered. “I’m so sorry. If I had any idea, I swear I would have warned you. And everyone else.”
“Who are you chatting with?” Lost Alice asked, noticing Tessa’s frantic typing.
“A GM,” Tessa said. “One of my friends from when I used to play.”
“Do they know what happened?” Rip Shot asked.
“Some of the “what” but I don’t think they know any of the “why” or “how” yet,” Tessa said.
“Can she message other players? My guild would listen to a GM,” Lost Alice said.
“Yeah, good idea, what’s their name?” Tessa asked.
“I know ‘Cease All’ is on the raid, and the leader is probably ‘Kozmos’, either of them should be able to get the raid to stop,” Lost Alice said. “They’re in [Lunar Reaches] if that helps?”
Tessa relayed all of the information to BT.
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “Give me a min. I can’t pull them out of the raid directly, but I can tell them what’s going on.”
> Pillowcase whispered: “Thanks. Message me back when you’re done.”
Tessa imagined that BT had a lot more people to take care of than just her. The help lines had to flooded with incoming requests at this point. That didn’t change the fact that Tessa still hadn’t gotten any answers on what they were supposed to do. Assuming there were any to be had.
“She’s going to try to get them to pull out,” Tessa said. “If they haven’t gotten to the first boss yet, they should be fine too. The early mobs are pretty simple from what I’ve read.”
“How far in is the first boss?” Lost Alice asked, doing the calculations on how long it had been since she spoke with Cease All.
“Assuming I’m remembering correctly? I think for [Lunar Reaches] you have to fight through the [Lunar Plains] and then up the [Moonfall Ziggurat] to get to the first boss. The beta-testers said the whole dungeon is about an hour, so I’m guessing it’s at least ten minutes to get to the first boss.”
Alice laughed, but it was a sound balanced between relief and fear.
“Knowing my guild it’ll be twenty,” she said. “There’s a decent chance they’re still gathering to go in, in fact..”
“Someone forgot to fix their armor, someone didn’t bring potions, somebody else is on the wrong character?” Tessa asked.
Alice laughed again, more humor creeping into her voice.
“It’s like you’ve run with before.” She stopped and turned a quizzical eye on Tessa. “Wait, have you?”
“I don’t think so,” Tessa said. “It’s been years since I played and back then I mostly only did raids with my guild. I had a couple of just wonderful experiences with PuGs, especially once they found out I was a girl on voice chat, that made me swear to only play with people I knew from then on.”
“You know a lot about the new raids for someone who’s pretty far away from taking part in them then?” Alice asked.
“That’s always been my thing,” Tessa said. “I love reading about the tactics and loot and everything.”
“Umm, we have a question,” Matt said. “Can the dead talk to the living here?”
“Like if we reincarnate, can we still talk to you if you’re ghosts?” Rip Shot added.
“In the normal game? Yeah, it should be fine, but we don’t know if it’s safe to reincarnate yet or not,” Tessa said.
“Yeah, it might get us trapped here permanently,” Alice said.
“That’s okay,” Rip Shot said, and glanced over to Matt, looking for confirmation.
“Yeah,” he said and looked down.
Tessa wasn’t an expert at child psychology or body language but it wasn’t hard to read either of the kids. She’d known people who played the game to escape from their life. She’d been that kid at times, and she didn’t like the echoes of her own past that she was seeing in their eyes.
“We don’t need to guess about what happens when we reincarnate,” Tessa said. “I can ask BT when she comes back. I’m sure there’ve been other players who’ve already been through this.”
“Better to learn from their mistakes,” Alice said.
“It’s just, it sounds like the Howling is getting closer,” Matt said.
Tessa only had to listen for a moment. From the scrapping of their nails and the moaning howls, the [Hounds of Fate] were circling around right outside the chapels walls.
The walls which were insubstantial as far as ghosts were concerned.
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “Ok, they’re not going in. We’re shutting down all of the raid maps too so that no one will be able to go into them. We think.”
> Pillowcase whispered: “You think? What’s going to happen in someone tries to go in anyways?”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “Don’t know. Don’t want to find out. We’re going to be making some more system announcements in a few minutes.”
> Pillowcase whispered: “You’re going to tell people what’s really happening?”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “Maybe? I think they’re still working out what to say. Word’s starting to get anyways though. You should see what the zone-wide chat looks like in [Kaptos].”
[Kaptos] was one of the starting areas for low level players from the original version of the game. The general chat there was legendary for being a cesspool of immaturity and a showcase for the worst behavior gamers indulged in. It was why Tessa had reflexively turned off zone-wide chat as one of the first things she did when she logged in with Pillowcase. The thought of being stuck in a world with a surplus of players like that made her reconsider every dream she’d ever had about winding up in a situation like the one she was in.
She pushed away those thoughts though. She wasn’t trapped with a bunch of immature idiots. Somehow she’d lucked into being stuck with some reasonable folks, or at least one’s who could fake it in a crisis which was better than most of the people she’d met, in game or out.
“You’re guild is safe,” she said to Alice, turning to watch relief sweep across the other woman’s face. It was a lovely expression to see after the worry that had dominated Alice’s eyes before.
“They hadn’t even gotten inside yet had they?” Alice asked, shaking her head at the concern which had gripped her..
“It didn’t sound like they had,” Tessa said.
A half a moment later, she saw Alice look up in surprise and begin typing on the air, replying, in all likelihood to a message from one of her guildmates who finally believed her. With that crisis in hand, Tessa turned her attention back to BT.
> Pillowcase whispered: “So, like I mentioned, we’re dead now, just hanging out in the chapel in spirit form. Is it safe to reincarnate? And if so, should we do it here in the chapel or go back to our character’s bodies?”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “I don’t know if it matters. I can check though. Who else is there with you? Anyone from the old days? I only saw you on my Friends List.”
> Pillowcase whispered: “No, just some new people I ran into during a bugged event. What the hell is up with throwing Wraithwings at a bunch of Level 1s by the way? Those things were one-shotting me every time they got close enough to hit me.”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “Wraithwings? What are you talking about we don’t have any low level Wraithwing events in the game. That’d be ridiculous. They’d slaughter everyone.”
> Pillowcase whispered: “It was, and they did. Or some people got away I guess, but the minute I screwed up kiting them, everyone in the town square died.”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “Ok. That’s not good. How many were there?”
> Pillowcase whispered: “Uh, like, all of them I think. Seriously my computer started to lag when they were still outside the draw distance. We just saw them coming in like a big cloud.”
> *GM Burnt Toast* whispered: “Let me go tell everyone about this. I think it’s really important. If you’re seeing stuff that we didn’t put in the game then I don’t know what you might wind up against in there.”
> Pillowcase whispered: “Thanks. That’s super comforting BT. Tell your devs they need to do a little bit more bug fixing before they release the next patch ok!”
“What did she say?” Rip Shot asked, her hand hovering near the [Heart Fire].
“She’s looking into it,” Tessa said. “I guess the Wraithwing attack wasn’t supposed to happen either, so things are kind of messed up.”
“Really? You think?” Rip Shot said, gesturing to her ghostly body.
“I still don’t get why we look like this?” Matt said. “How does the game know to make us look like ourselves and not our characters?”
“We’re not in the game,” Rip Shot said.
“That’s true, but something like this can happen in Broken Horizons,” Tessa said. “There was a faction back when I played called the [Plague Callers]. If you did a lot of quests for them you’d gain [Corruption] and it would change how your ghost looked because, according to the lore, your ghosts reflects ‘the true view of your soul’, and you were tainting it by helping out a straight up evil organization.”
“That makes sense,” Matt said. “What about us logging out though? Is that something that can happen?”
“Our best guess is not yet,” *GM Burnt Toast* said as she appeared inside the chapel. “Sorry, I’m supposed to get reports from all of you to make sure you all saw the same things, so teleporting in to talk to you all directly seemed like the easiest option.”
“I thought you didn’t have your GM powers?” Tessa asked. As a Game Master, BT didn’t look anything like her characters from the game. GM’s had a distinctive set of [Angelic Armor] and a radiance aura which wasn’t available to any players.
“I don’t,” BT said. “GM permissions are what let us reset things in the game or affect characters directly. Teleporting around is a built in ability for GMs to let us keep an eye on things without drawing a lot of attention.”
“What did you mean by ‘not yet’ on the log out?” Rip Shot asked.
“Try it and see,” BT said.
Tessa called up the control screen again with a wave of her hand and hesitated.
“Has it been the same for everyone or is this an experiment too?” she asked.
“So far, the same for everyone,” BT said.
Tessa swallowed and tapped the Logout button.
YOU HAVE A QUEST STILL PENDING