Monthly Archives: September 2020

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 3


While a party of two suited Tessa just fine under the circumstances, she was forced to admit that it did present some issues. 

In theory those were manageable though. The numerical advantage the monster spawns were likely to have could be mitigated by simply avoiding the encounter for example. 

With neither of them wearing heavy armor, the detection radius of hostile creatures was a small as possible and with only two of them in the area there wasn’t supposed to be any penalty to their natural ability to move silently (and also very slowly). Lost Alice also had vision and hearing which were sharper than any creature which had any business being in a low level dungeon like the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]. Coupling that with the mini-map in the heads-up display, and the chance of anything sneaking up on them should have been effectively zero.

The glitch in that plan had come from Tessa. Tessa and her all too human eyes and ears and (most importantly) sense of balance.

In hindsight, she wasn’t even sure she’d tripped over anything more than her own two feet. One moment she was sneaking forward at her best speed though and the next she tumbled forwards, convinced for some reason that her foot had struck some kind of gelatinous slime.

The scream of surprise was a mistake. She admitted that immediately. An understandable mistake she felt, but still not the brightest move when one was attempting to get through an area which likely contained monsters in significant number who were also significantly stronger than she was.

“What happened?” Lisa asked silently on their private channel as she drew Tessa into one of the alcoves in the ornately carved walls.

“I tripped. Can you see anything there? It felt like I stepped into one of those little slime creatures.”

The hallway they were walking down was leading them away from where the others were supposed to be waiting for them. They’d picked it because it also looked like it would lead them around the area the [Formless Hunger] had invaded, and seemed to be clear of large concentrations of monsters.

Tessa had been intrigued by the work that had gone into the simple passageway. The whole thing was lit by a soft atmospheric glow that had the strength of a series of small candles despite there being no visible source for the illumination. Each alcove received a little more of the light than the stretches of hallway between them. 

With the amount of detail put into the miniature tableaus carved into the alcoves, Tessa was hard pressed to imagine the lighting designer hadn’t worked hand in hand with the crafters who created the carving. The scenes seemed to tell the story of the world’s creation, with each small patch capturing a unique event and each alcove being a single day containing hundreds of important moments.

From the alcoves they’d passed so far, it seemed that rather than seven days, the creation of the [Fallen Kingdoms] had taken years of incredible effort and been the work of far more than a single creator. 

And then, at some point, everything had fallen apart, and the beautiful carved hallways had become home to monsters.

“I don’t see anything,” Lisa said. “Can slimes phase through floors?”

“Not any of the normal ones,” Tessa said. She blinked trying to see more in the dim candlelight but as far as she could tell there was no sign of anything like one of the low level slimes she’d thought she was stepping on.

“It did feel like a slime,” Pillowcase said. “No acid burn or paralytic numbing to it though, so it would have to have been one of the lowest levels of slimes.”

“If you foot wet at all?” Lisa asked.

“No. The shoes are as dry as when I put them on,” Tessa said, surprised that her hand wasn’t covered in goop.

“We’ve got two choices then; move on and hope this was some kind of random glitch or we search around and see what we can find,” Lisa said.

“If we move on, we’ll have a better chance of getting to Rip and Matt before trouble finds them,” Tessa said, keeping a wary eye on the spot where she’d tripped. “But…”

“But if there is some kind of weird monster involved, we would be leading it right back to them.” Lisa sighed in a frustration which was all too familiar to Tessa.

Nothing was ever easy or simple.

“Can you see anything special about that spot?” Tessa asked, moving away from Lost Alice’s embrace to get a closer look.

“It’s just a normal, flat, section of…wait!” Despite Lost Alice’s vampiric reflexes, she still wasn’t fast enough to yank Tessa back before the portal formed in the air in front of her.

“Ok, this feels weird,” Tessa said with half of her body sticking through the rectangular of scintillating purple light which hung in the hallway in front of them.

“Are you ok!” Lisa asked, not letting go of the arm she’d grabbed onto.

“Yeah,” Tessa said, pulling herself back onto the near side of the portal and checking that her fingers and toes still seemed to be functional. “That just tingled. A lot.”

“What’s on the other side? Could you feel anything?” Lisa asked.

“It doesn’t go anywhere,” Tessa said, certain that was the truth, and completely unsure of where that certainty came from. “Not yet anyways.”

“What do you mean? Can you see something in it?” Lisa asked.

“No. It’s not in position. Here, let me do this.” Tessa reached out and push on the edge of the portal. Part of her expected her hand to pass through as it had before, but another part wasn’t surprised when the portal moved instead.

With a gentle shove from Tessa, the plane of purple light swung away from her like a door opening until it made contact with the wall in between two of the alcoves.

The first thing Tessa noticed in the room which appeared beyond the portal was the little tear drop shaped slime which was waiting for them. Then she noticed the books.

The endless shelves of books.

And the pot of steaming coffee which was waiting for them.


Snakes and blood drinking moths. Not exactly the kind of thing Rose would have guessed she would have been happy to be surrounded by. A lifetime ago, back before she logged in [Broken Horizons], Rose would have counted being swarmed by both sorts of creatures as the definition of a bad day.

Rip Shot didn’t try to suppress the giggle that escaped her lips. The old Rose had such a quaint and amusing idea of what a bad day was.

“Bipedal friend Rose, you may leave these to us,” Silkscrin said. Silkscrin was speaking in [Storm Tongue] so her words sounded like lightning tearing through clouds, but the meaning was crystal clear to Rose nonetheless.

It was nice to have Patrons who provided helpful gifts.

“It’s ok,” Rose said as the [Lightning Serpents] closed ranks to protect her from the swarm of [Gloom Drinkers] which descended on her party. “I’ve got this.”

As a [Lightning Archer], Rip had acquired a few new skills which were perfect for dealing with a large number of weak creatures. Unlike Matt and Lady Midnight, Rip didn’t need intense concentration to use her abilities either. She was perfectly capable of shooting arrows even with deadly moths swirling around her.

But Rose had a better idea.

“FOOF! Can you talk to these things?” Rose asked as she called her pet from the protective orb it had retreated to in response to the various terrors that had befallen them.

Unlike the [Lightning Serpents], FOOF could not communicate verbally. Rose guessed FOOF was as smart as a very clever animal but not quite fully sapient. Even lacking words though, FOOF was quite capable of commanding the attention of the attacking [Gloom Drinkers], first by emitting a high pitched whine that Rip’s [Tabbywile] ears could hear far better than Rose’s human ones could ever have managed.

[Gloom Drinkers] didn’t have the sort of facial structure to display confusion, but the sudden transformation of their high speed flight patterns into mostly stationary hovering spoke to the sort of puzzlement Rose had grown terrible used to since arrived in the [Fallen Kingdoms].

“What’s happening?” Lady Midnight asked, sounding as puzzled as the [Gloom Drinkers] were.

“FOOF is talking to them,” Rose said. “We don’t need to fight them.”


“She got a pet a little while ago,” Jamal said. “It’s like a baby [Gloom Drinker].”

“They’re listening to a baby?” Lady Midnight asked.

“FOOF is very persuasive,” Rose said. 

She knew FOOF was persuasive, in part, because FOOF’s level was linked to her own. Rose had noticed that the first time she’d leveled and wondered why a non-combat pet would have levels. It occurred to her that Pillowcase and Lost Alice had described the behavior of non-combat pets, but they hadn’t said specifically that [Lil Gloom Drinkers] couldn’t fight. 

Whether that was a change due to being in the game world for real or if even [Broken Horizons] had FOOF flagged as combat capable, Rose wasn’t sure, but what she did know was that since the [Gloom Drinkers] were all below level 5 and FOOF was ten levels higher than them, her pet could very likely solo the entire swarm.

Which also made FOOF’s commands a little more persuasive as far as the [Gloom Drinkers] were concerned. 

“Hostilities have ceased?” Silkscrin asked.

Rose chirped at FOOF, who responded with an acknowledging flutter as the [Gloom Drinkers] settled down on the various nooks and crannies of the rough corridor which could act as perches for them.

“Yeah, I think we’re good,” Rose said and then watched FOOF perform a rather intricate pantomime of wing flutters and body bobs.

It wasn’t exactly a language but it managed to convey a fairly detailed narrative none the less.

At least to Rose and Rip.

Everyone else looked baffled.

“FOOF says they’re running from the [Formless Hunger] too,” Rose said, acting as translator. “It’s taken one of the exits out, but they could hear it coming and escaped to hear before it could follow them. They thought we were more of the [Disjoined].”

“They know what the [Disjoined] are?” Jamal asked. He believed her, because he was awesome, but he was still struggling to accept a reality he didn’t seem to have any connection to.

“Not as [Disjoined] exactly,” Rose said. “I’m translating a bit there. FOOF basically called them ‘Wrong Scratchy Ones’, but I know that’s the same as the [Disjoined Ones] we’ve seen.”

“Do they know where the [Disjoined] ones came from?” Lady Midnight asked. “Is the [Formless Hunger] burping them out or is it calling to them?

There was an exchange of ultrasonic screeches between FOOF and a few of the [Gloom Drinkers] before FOOF reported back to Rose.

“FOOF says the [Disjoined] are being drawn to the [Formless Hunger]. The [Gloom Drinkers] saw enough to ‘fill a tunnel’, which I think is a dozen or so?”

“And they’re definitely working with the Hunger?” Jamal asked. “Cause last time we saw them, they were kind of in a ‘destroy all the things’ mode.”

FOOF bobbed a few times in answer to the question.

“It seems like they are,” Rose said. “The Hunger had stopped growing before it met the [Disjoined]. Then it sounds like it gave them orders and pulled back?”

“Orders?” Jamal said. “How does something like that give orders? And how do things like the [Disjoined] take orders?”

“They’re related,” Lady Midnight said, a note of creeping dread entering her voice. “We saw that in [Sky’s Edge]. They might even be the same thing.”

“That would be good then, right?” Jamal asked. “I mean we beat the [Disjoined] before, so if the Hunger’s made of the same stuff then we should be able to beat it too?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Lady Midnight said, her gaze distant as a terrible thought grew behind her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Rose asked.

“Why would the Hunger stop growing?” Lady Midnight asked. “What was it afraid of?”

“Can that thing even be afraid?” Jamal asked.

Lady Midnight’s terrible though began to grow inside Rose too.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s afraid of the person who stood up to it. The one it couldn’t kill.”

“And now it’s got minions to send after Tessa,” Lady Midnight said, giving voice to the eight worst words Rose had heard since she’d arrived in the [Fallen Kingdoms].

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 2


One nice thing about being full was that Lost Alice didn’t feel like devouring the comparatively frail woman who was nestled in her armors. Lisa appreciated that, and appreciated that no matter how strongly she leaned into being Alice, her ‘vampire instincts’ would never force her to harm someone she cared about. It was still nice though to feel the soft warmth of Tessa and not be distracted with thoughts of “Yum”.

Well, not “yummy blood” at least.

“How long do you think the others will be content to sit tight for?” she asked, not wanting to know the answer, but aware that it was something they had to take into account.

“Forever and ever,” Tessa said, a tired, dreamy haze blanketing her words.

After what they’d been through, Lisa would have been fine with that. Her body might have been healed but Tessa’s radical restoration procedure hadn’t included a dose of amnesia to help Lisa forget what losing a limb had felt like.

“Or they’re already on the move,” Tessa said.

“I can’t see any of them on the local map,” Lisa said. “But I think I saw the area they got blasted to on the one we got from Vixali.”

“Do you think they’ll try to head for us?” Tessa asked, turning in Lost Alice’s arms as though to rise.

Lisa didn’t hold her back. Much. The little tug was just meant to indicate that she didn’t need to move right away. It wasn’t Lisa’s fault that she wasn’t used to having the strength of a vampiric adventurer.

“We could let them find us I guess,” Tessa said, only slightly crushed up against Lost Alice.

Alice repressed her sigh and relaxed her arms so that Tessa could escape if she wanted to. Tessa didn’t seem entirely happy with that, and made no move to get away.

“We probably shouldn’t let them do that,” Lisa said, frowning at the thought of the kind of trouble Rip and Matt could get up to by wandering randomly through a dungeon.

“Not after all this,” Tessa said. “And not with the Hunger still out there and growing.”

“Could you tell how fast it was expanding?” Lisa asked, a chill creeping into her knees and knuckles at the thought of encountering any more patches of sentient static.

“I think we can circumnavigate it,” Tessa said. “And I don’t think it’s going to try hunting for me again.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be able to hunt you in the first place though, was it?” Lisa asked. “I thought it was supposed to be something like a zone of damage, not an actual creature.”

“It wasn’t even that to start with,” Tessa said. “The thing we first encountered in [Sky’s Edge] wasn’t even real, if that makes any sense.”

“It really ate that town, so no, it kind of doesn’t.”

“Picture it like something from another game,” Tessa said. “The [Fallen Kingdoms] have a lot of things in them but they don’t have Pac-Man. He’s not ‘real’ here, according to the metaphysics of this world. If he shows up anyways, there’s this friction with the rules which make up this place. It’s like this reality doesn’t have capacity of hold a two dimensional infinitely hungry yellow circle that can be killed by ghosts, so it glitches out, and none of the regular rules for creatures wind up getting applied to it.”

“So the Hunger is from somewhere else? Can we kick it back there?” Lisa asked.

“That’s the hard part. I don’t think it’s ‘from’ anywhere. I think it’s more like an untethered concept. Or maybe all that’s left of a reality that doesn’t exist any longer.”

“That’s pretty esoteric. How could you know that?” Lisa had wondered what had happened to Tessa after she vanished from Pillowcase at [Sky’s Edge], she just wasn’t sure if it was something Tessa could easily talk about.

 “I think it’s from my class?” Tessa sounded like she was trying the explanation out to see if it fit. “I’m not clear on how I got it, the class that is, but I think it’s supposed to be able to deal with things like the [Formless Hunger].”

“You can fight it now?” Lisa wasn’t sure if she was overjoyed at the idea of the Hunger being defeatable, or terrified at that though that Tessa would have to be the one to face it. Possibly alone.

“Not yet,” Tessa said. “I’m still a baby [Void Speaker]. I don’t think I have any attacks yet. And it’s probably still got a huge level advantage on me. But maybe someday? Yeah. I think if I can hit the level cap, a max level [Void Speaker] should be able to deal with something like that.”

“We need to get you to a power leveler then,” Lisa said. “Maybe we should head for Glimmerglass first?”

“I think it’ll be easier for her to reach us,” Tessa said. “Aside from the Hunger, nothing in here should be too dangerous for her.”

“The smart play might be to let her collect all of us,” Lisa said, not unhappy at the prospect of needing to wait for a rescue in this particular case.

“I could live with that,” Tessa said, “But you know Rip and Matt won’t sit still for that long.”

Lisa wanted to protest, but she saw too much of herself in Rip to honestly contest Tessa’s claim.

“Lady Midnight could keep them safe,” Lisa said, trying a different, and somewhat reasonable tack.

“I know,” Tessa said. “But I want to do it.”

Lisa had to admit defeat in the face of those small words.

“So do I,” she said and helped Tessa rise.

“Thank you,” Tessa said. “I’m not sure how safe we’ll be, but I’ll try to do what I can to help, ok?”

“You saved me from a monster from beyond time and space, you’ve already ‘helped’ more than anyone else possibly could,” Lisa said. “If we run into something, let me handle it. You just stay focus on saving yourself for a change. Understood? Lost Alice may only be a healer, but we’re not about to let any of our loved ones get torn to ribbons when we can just heal tank it instead.”

Lisa saw a flash of surprise pass over Tessa’s face before Tessa clamped her jaw shut and responded with a silent nod and a barely suppressed smile of absolute delight.


Jamal was following Rose. They were supposed to stay put and wait for the others to find them but that plan had gone out the window the moment the [Lightning Serpents] had appeared.

Jamal wasn’t surprised. Rose was involved. Plans general didn’t do too well when she was around, and since coming to the [Fallen Kingdoms] she’d been more herself than ever before. Almost like “Rip Shot” was the elemental version of Rose-ness. Or maybe just what Rose had always wished she could be.

He couldn’t say quite the same thing about Matt Painting. The idea of being a steam punk style clockwork spell caster hadn’t exactly been a roll he’d been dying to play. Although since they’d likely ‘died’ as far as their earthly lives were concerned, he had to admit that being Matt Painting, [Metal Mechanoid] and [Dream Spinner] wasn’t bad as an afterlife.

He wondered what his Imam would have said about that line of thought. Probably something insightful. Jamal hadn’t had much time to learn the faith he was trying to practice but in the short time he’d been able to seek out an education he’d been drawn to the simple clarity and kindness he’d been shown. He still wasn’t sure anyone had all the answers, but support and acceptance had been too rare in his life to not have an impact when they were offered freely.

Which, he knew, was why he was trotting along after Rose. They’d been friends forever. Without her, he was pretty sure he have had some kind of breakdown already. She’d been there when his dad had been killed in a stupid car accident, and she’d still been there years later when his mother had started dating again.

If there was anything Jamal was thankful for it was that he was much better at choosing his friends than his mother was. Rose respected him and care about his well being and was never violent. 

Or at least not violent towards him.

Rip had proven that Rose was more than capable of high quality violence when the need arose. Somehow though, blowing up giant monster bugs didn’t feel like real violence. They weren’t people at all and they were intent on nothing except tearing Matt’s party apart. If anything blowing them up felt cathartic. 

That was probably part of the reason it felt so strange to be jogging along with the [Lightning Serpents]. To Jamal and Matt’s ears, it didn’t sound like they could talk at all. They only made burst of sound that sounded like sandpaper being dragged over steel. Despite that Rose was happily carrying on a conversation with them as she jogged down the corridor the [Lightning Serpents] claimed would lead them back to where the refugees from [Sky’s Edge] had gathered.

“It’s not uncommon for characters to earn fluency in different languages,” Lady Midnight said. “But that’s usually with the other playable races. I’ve never heard of someone talking to monsters before.”

Without missing a beat or turning from the half dozen electrified snakes who were scuttling along with their heads at her shoulder height, Rose said, “They’re not monsters. They just don’t normally find many non herpa-forms who they can talk to.”

“Herpa-forms?” Jamal whispered on a private channel.

“Snake people I guess?” Lady Midnight whispered back.

The [Lightning Serpents] had rolled into the small area Rose, Jamal and Lady Midnight had selected as their ‘camp’ and before anyone had started their combat animations, Rose had been all up in the middle of them, chatting like they were old friends.

Apparently they were fleeing from the [Formless Hunger], much like everything mobile in the areas it had invaded. When they found that a “bipedal” could talk their language – or the “language of the storm”, Jamal wasn’t exactly sure what that meant – they were delighted to take her offer of protection and company. 

They knew the dungeon’s layout, and the adventurers were better fighters so it seemed like a good match for a traveling party. 

Aside from the part where they were doing the exact opposite of what they’d agreed to do, but Jamal reasoned that Tessa and Alice would be fairly forgiving if it meant they were all reunited sooner and with some new allies.

And hopefully none of them were snake-phobic. 

“Think we should tell the others about this?” Jamal asked Lady Midnight privately. He already knew what Rose’s answer would be, but getting a second opinion seemed like a wise move.

“Maybe when we’re closer to camp, or if something starts to go wrong,” Lady Midnight said. “They don’t have our precise location anyways so there’s no need for them to worry yet.”

“Yeah, the last thing we need is for anyone else to run into a trap or the Hunger trying to get to us.”

Sometimes Jamal felt cursed. It was like whatever universe he was in, there was always some force that was out to punish him for whatever he said. He knew it wasn’t true. He knew people weighed negative events more strongly than positive ones, and correlations were mistaken for causation because people really wanted to believe they were more in control of their lives than they ever could be.

All that said though, it still sucked when, immediately after he talked about running into a trap, they did.

One moment they were jogging down a corridor and the next there were [Gloom Moths] all around them, wings fluttering everywhere as dozens of them descended on the surprised party.

Jamal brought his arms up to cast a spell and took a mouth to the face, completely disrupting his casting.

There were too many of them.

He wasn’t going to be able to get even the simplest spell off.

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! ~

Special Update

This time the illness hiatus is on me. I’m hoping that giving myself a week should be enough, but I’ll update next week if it needs to be longer. I’m giving myself at least Thursday and Sunday to recover and likely Tuesday as well, so the next update is likely to be on 9/17.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 1


It was time to get moving. Tessa knew that, but she really didn’t want to. Not when the alternative was to stay where she was, wrapped up in Lost Alice’s arms.

“It sounds like we’ve got a plan,” Lisa said, addressing the others on the chat line as much as Tessa who was close enough to hear her actual voice.

They were still more or less sprawled on the ground of the room they’d been blasted into. A tiny, but surprisingly well lit cavern which had definitely been carved by someone with a plan for the space. The door at the far end was proof of that.

The closed door.

Tessa suspected that would be a problem, but it was a problem for a Tessa who’d decided to give up on Lost Alice’s soft and chilly embrace and that Tessa clearly had her priorities scrambled so she deserved problems like that.

“It’s not a great plan, but it’ll should keep them out of trouble. Hopefully,” Lisa said, limiting that comment to the private channel she shared with Tessa.

“It’s weird that I’m starting to think of Rip and Matt as our responsibility isn’t it?” Tessa said, giving voice to the thought as it stumbled  to the forefront of her exhausted mind.

“Probably,” Lisa said. “But I’m doing the same thing, and compared to everything else that’s happening I’m not sure adopting a pair of lost little fledglings really even cracks into the ‘Top 100 Strangest Things I Did Today’ list.”

“Now I’m picturing Matt as a little duck inside that armor.” Tessa laughed, needing the moment of levity more than she’d known.

“That would be adorable. Sitting in a little chair, with a little headset on, tapping buttons with his bill,” Lisa said. She hadn’t pulled her arms away yet and Tessa saw no reasons to bring this fact to her attention.

“Oh god, I’m going to trying to peek inside his armor every time we see him now,” Tessa said, shaking her head.

“What is in there?” Lisa asked.

“Gears I think?” Tessa said. “Pillowcase is full of enchanted fluff basically, and I think that sort of thematic construction is how all the [Artifax] are put together.”

“Was it weird being filled with stuffing?” Lisa asked.

“It probably should have been, but that was what Pillowcase had always known and since it felt normal to her, it felt normal to me. How about – I wanted to say ‘being filled with blood’ but I want it on the record that I realized how stupid that was before the words left my mouth.”

“You probably meant ‘being a vampire’, and it’s pretty much the same I think,” Lisa said. “Lost Alice has been a vampire for a while so she’s used it. Mostly. It’s a little weird for her still, so I get that too.”

“I’m glad it’s not too freaky for you,” Tessa said. “This place is hard enough, but at least whatever mind-body magic we got whammied with seems to be handling acclimating us pretty well.”

“So is this your real body? Or, I mean, is it Tessa’s real body. I know the other one was Pillowcase’s real body. Sorry Pillow,” Lisa said.

Tessa looked at her hands and glanced down her chest and legs. Everything seemed more or less what she was used to seeing in the mirror. She even had on one of her nice T-shirts.

Except it wasn’t the one she’d been wearing when she was drawn into the [Fallen Kingdoms]. 

Neither were the sweatpants the ones she’d been wearing. She had a similar question about her socks but they were non-descript enough that she couldn’t be sure.

“Yeah, this is me,” she said, feeling just a bit self conscious in the arms of the artistically perfect vampire.

“I like your shirt,” Lisa said, pulling back at last to get a better look at Tessa. 

The shirt in question had a top line which read: “1,000,000 HP” and a line below it in much tinier print which said: “(not really but it scares the literate monsters)”.

“Thanks,” Tessa said, not sure how to read the vampiric gaze which seemed to be drinking her in. “I don’t think it’ll do much to stop any of the monsters here though.”

“Yeah, these robes I’m in are probably a ten times as sturdy and I’m still a ‘squishy’,” Lisa said. “Do you have anything else you could equip? You’ll need some shoes if nothing else.”

“I don’t think so,” Tessa said and reached over to the bag which was hanging at her side. “I didn’t get a chance to pack I’m afraid.”

Reaching into the inventory bag was weird and unsettling and so far below getting blasted out of existence that Tessa wasn’t even consciously aware of how strange it felt. Her hand plunged into the extra-planar space and came back with a pair of sturdy boots in her exact size as well as a tunic, breeches, and cloak which was almost as soft as Lost Alice’s embrace.

“Where did you get those?” Lisa asked, running her finger down the intricate stitchwork on the cloak’s collar.

“They were in the bag, and, they’re mine. Like, I can feel they’re bound to me already. But I never had magic clothes before?” Tessa said, worried for a moment about what sort of contract she might be agreeing to if she put on her new garb.

“I think these are really only for you too,” Lisa said. “I called up the stats on this cloak and the only class that can equip it is ‘[VS]’.”

“[Void Speaker]? But that’s not even a real class in the game?” Tessa said.

“Apparently it is now,” Lisa said. “And maybe it was before too?”

“What makes you say that?” Tessa asked, feeling the comforting heft of the tunic. Even without seeing the stats, she was sure the fabric, or more precisely the spells woven in it, would protect her from lesser forms of damage. Things like minor claw attacks, peasant arrows, machine gun fire. The easy stuff.

“This is a [Heritage] piece,” Lisa said. “They introduced those to the game a few years ago. It’ll grow with you as you level. It’s basically the best stuff you can wear until you hit the level cap.”

Tessa knew that was good news, but the implication that there was someone else who held the [Void Speaker] class before her seemed ominous. She was only just learning what she could do and she’d already fractured a god’s soul off someone. What might a max level [Void Speaker] be capable of?


The blast from the [God Soul] had propelled Rose and Jamal and Lady Midnight upwards. It was strange though since even with as high as they’d been shot – and to Rose it felt like they’d been thrown a mile or two upwards – they’d still landed within the confines of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]. What was stranger was that the stone and earth they’d been blasted through showed no signs of being affected by their passage.

“So did things like this happen in the game version of [Broken Horizons]?” Rose asked. 

“Things like what?” Lady Midnight asked. She was fishing around in her inventory and came out with a small milky orb after a little searching. 

“The [God Soul] thing,” Rose said. “And the [Formless Hunger] and all the stuff we’ve been running into.”

Rose waved her hands to take in the world around them, but her thoughts were centered on the [God Soul]. She’d felt the power that Tessa had held and she had a clear and specific idea of what she would have done with it.

After saving Lost Alice of course.

She couldn’t fault Tessa for that. 

Lost Alice had to come first.

But if she could have maybe only used half the [God Soul] to heal Lost Alice? Rose shivered at the idea of what the [Lord of Storms] could have done with half a [God Soul].

Live again maybe? Even if it was only for a little while, that might have been enough to inspire the belief required to bring them back to life all the way.

“Yeah, we’ve had things like that before,” Lady Midnight said. “Not a [God Soul] specifically, but the high end gear gets pretty esoteric. The developers weren’t shy about hyperbole early on and with each expansion they had to add stuff that was that much more powerful than what we’d gotten in the previous one.”

“So we could find something like a [God Soul] again?” Rose asked, wheels turning in her mind to slot in the “[Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]” and the fact that they’d already met a god with the possibility that any further deific artifacts were likely laying somewhere relatively nearby.

“My other character’s an archer and she’s got a [Bifrost Bow],” Lady Midnight said. “When she needs to go somewhere she can summon a literal rainbow to teleport her there. And one of her arrows is called [Ra’s Wrath] which is, basically, a nuclear bomb. The flavor text says is strikes with the ‘fire of the sun’, which means a big ball of nuclear fusion.”

“How would you ever fire a thing like that?” Jamal asked.

“It’s got a limited area of effect,” Lady Midnight said. “Anything inside the area gets nuked, but if you’re standing two inches outside the area you’re fine. Also it’s only usable in cutscenes or for scripted events, so it’s basically just a mechanics cheat. Otherwise you’d be able to grief other players a little too easily.”

“Where do you get that?” Rose asked, her eyes alight with the prospect of being able to nuke enemies with her bow.

“One of the second tier raids, [Well of Infinity],” Lady Midnight said. “It’s one of the 64 man raids though and competition for the loot is ridiculous. I had to grind that one for a year and a half before I was able to get a drop. God, the stories I could tell about that whole mess!”

“Why don’t you?” Jamal suggested. “We’re supposed to wait here for the others to show up right? Might as well learn what the game was all about. Some of that stuff might still be true in this place.”

“Well in that case you probably want to hear about the technical stuff,” Lady Midnight said. “What kind of tactics we used and that sort of thing. All the guild drama ‘s hopefully a thing of the past.”

“Why would it be?” Rose asked.

“Because now what we’re doing actually does matter,” Lady Midnight said. “Raiding in the game was an exercise in perseverance, basically trading your time to gear up your character so you’d be judged as ‘worthy to hang with the cool kids’. Here though? I’m all too happy to let the cool kids throw themselves in the meat grinder fights.”

“Is that what the other players are doing now?” Rose asked.

“A lot of the ones I know,” Lady Midnight said. “Well, a lot of the ones I like. I know there’s a bunch who decided to scamper off and do their own thing. And a few who just didn’t want to fight at all, which is fair I think.”

“Yeah, this isn’t what they signed up for when they logged in, is it?” Jamal said.

“I mean, it kind of is, though, isn’t it?” Rose asked. “If I’d known I could log into a real fantasy world, and be like this?” She gestured to Rip Shot’s whole body. “I would have dove in here as soon as I could click the mouse!”

“Yeah, but some of them probably have jobs and stuff,” Jamal said.

“And bills,” Lady Midnight said. “I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to pay my rent with gold pieces.”

“So why go back?” Rose asked.

“We’ll have to, won’t we?” Lady Midnight said. “Or…”

“Or we can stay here,” Rose said. “I know Rip wouldn’t mind us staying together. Her and I that is. We were made for each other.”

“Same for me and Matt,” Jamal said.

“What about your families though?” Lady Midnight asked.

“I’m thinking we’re going to adopt Lost Alice and Pillowcase,” Rose said. “And anyone who else wants in.”

“It’d be nice to have a good family for a change,” Jamal said.

Broken Horizons – Vol 6, Interlude 4

Interlude – Grunvan

Grunvan wasn’t anything special as [Goblins] went. Average height, average strength, average smarts. She’d lived an average life and been, on average, ok with that. 

As a kid, the “call to adventure” had been something to knocked on other people’s doors, usually with disastrous results. She’d gone into the not-at-all lucrative career of wagon-driving with her eyes open to both the risks she was taking and the one’s she was stepping well out of her path to avoid.

[Wagon Town] was a big enough city that the roads leading to it were generally secure. The “big money” (for extremely modest values of “big”) among wagon routes were the ones which lead through places like the [Fire Fields] or the [Cryptmist Woods]. That a fair percentage of drivers on those routes didn’t live long enough to claim their big pay days was enough to convince Grunvan that she was happier with the common routes doing either regular deliveries within town or out to the constellation of small villages and communities which [Wagon Town] extensively with.

Despite her life long commitment to making sensible and safe choices though, Grunvan still found herself huddling behind an giant shield she could barely lift, clad in scraps of armor which showed in too many places where they’d failed to protect their previous wearer.

“They’ve got to be sending help right?” Argwin said after she snuck a glance over the hastily assembled battlements they’d finished throwing up an hour before.

Grunvan was reasonably sure Agwin was not looking for an honest opinion on that matter. None of the thirty or so goblins on their section of the defensive earthworks wanted to be where they were, and none of them really expected anyone else to throw themselves into the proverbial frying pan. Not with the horde of nightmares that had rolled up and begun constructing a camp right outside the small village of [Apple Plate].

There were unbelievable reports that the whole world was under attack by monsters from beyond the stars. Unbelievable except for the part where a few hundred yards away there was a giant horde of monsters from beyond the stars waiting to destroy [Apple Plate], [Wagon Town], and probably every other goblin town they could get their talons and tentacles on. 

Grunvan could imagine a lot of things, but imagining the armed forces from any of the other nations choosing to lend a forgettable little village like [Apple Plate] a hand was not one of them.

“Sure,” she said. “The [Silver Spears Gryphon Brigade] could still make it here before trouble starts.”

It wasn’t a lie if no one was going to believe it.

“I just don’t get why they’re waiting,” Argwin said, clutching her spiked war club as though a better grip would matter against the [Trainsaw Transport] that was fueling up on the other side of the apple orchard.

“They’re definitely afraid of these mighty thews,” Grunvan said and flexed her bicep for effect.

Flexing did give her arm a little more definition. Average strength for someone who spent their life hauling crates and fighting with ornery [Gum Lizards] was enough to swing a club with a decent amount of force. Against an indecently powerful enemy though it wasn’t going to mean anything. 

Argwin groaned out short laugh.

“You can take that big spikey thing then,” she said, gesturing to the [Trainsaw Transport].

“Oh, does that mean I can leave all the littler ones to you then?” Grunvan asked.

“Sure. That seems fair. You smash that spikey thing to bits and we’ll beat up the other ten million or so beasties out there. Typical wagon driver.”

Argwin’s smile wasn’t a sign that her fear was banished, only that she’d managed to shove it over so she could coexist with it.

“Just because we know how to take the jobs that let us sit on our butts most of the day is no reason for you to be jealous,” Grunvan said. “We can’t all be bakers who get up at the crack of dawn and then flounce off before lunch to spend the rest of the day writing bad love poems.”

“You’re just jealous you never got one,” Argwin said.

“Like I’d ever need one? You read them all to me!”

“Ah, not all of them,” Argwin said and let out of a long and slow sigh. “You know I think I had a really good one in me today.”

“Save it for tomorrow,” Grunvan said.

Not that there was going to be a tomorrow. At least not for either of them.

Grunvan had answered the call to arms because the news had reached [Apple Plate] of what had happened to [Stone Puddle], the village on the side of the far hill. 

For whatever alien reason they might have, the [Consortium of Pain] had chosen to portal their force in and around [Stone Puddle]. There hadn’t been any negotiations. The Consortium had simply arrived, corralled everyone they could, and thrown them into some kind of conversion machine.

The goblins who walked out were hollow eyes and drained of all color. As far as the survivors who’s escaped could tell, the converted were still alive, but it wasn’t the sort of life Grunvan ever wanted to experience. Better to resist with everything she had, even if all she had to resist with was very little.

Grunvan knew she wasn’t anything special, but her world had become one that needed everyone to save it, even if they could only do a little bit.

Interlude – Gabriel Santiago

Gabriel never had any luck. The whole world was exploding with the news that some “gamer rapture” was happening and he was stuck playing the wrong game.

“Teddy’s saying he read it’s all a hoax,” Luna said as the two of them banked in towards the Crimson Empire’s asteroid mining installation. 

Gabriel watched on the screen as the particle battery emplacements popped up from around the base’s perimeter as Luna’s faster fighter drew into range.

“So, you’re saying it’s definitely not a hoax then?” 

He fired a shield recharge at Luna’s ship to help her weather the barrage of fire and cranked his speed down to a sustainable combat velocity.

“One hundred percent real,” Luna said, as she danced her fighter in to score their first solid hit on the mining platform. “I mean given Teddy’s track record, it’s gotta be right?”

“Given the websites Teddy reads? Yeah, no way it’s not real, even if it’s ridiculous.”

“Can you imagine though? It sounds there’s like a hundred thousand people who all got swooped up. Like one second they’re playing and then bam, sucked right into the game.”

“This was their launch day wasn’t it? I bet it’s a lot more than a hundred thousand,” Gabriel said, though the idea of even a hundred thousand people doing anything was hard to picture.

“I think it was. That is a lot of people suddenly vanishing. I mean Crystal Stars has, what, a half million concurrent users? If we all went poof can you imagine the havoc that would cause?”

Gabriel wanted to say something slick. Something about how he would go poof with her any day, except not excruciatingly pathetic. Since he felt like he’d been born without any slick genes at all, he instead opted to engage with what Luna was saying.

“I know Andy works traffic control at La Guardia and I think there’s a bunch of others on his team that do too. Bet it wouldn’t be easy landing planes with three quarters of your staff vanishing into thin air.”

The mining base on screen launched a cluster of automated fighters as the last of its defensive turrets fell before Luna and Gabriel’s combined fire.

“He doesn’t play at work does he?” Luna asked.

“He claims he doesn’t, but I’ve seen him on checking his auctions out pretty much throughout the day sometimes.”

“Must be nice to not have to worry about getting fired,” Luna said.

“Oh, I think he should be worried, he just doesn’t.”

“That sounds like Andy,” Luna said. “How about you? You said you had a big project coming up didn’t you? I didn’t know if I’d see you on tonight?”

“I got ‘Part One’ of the big project knocked out already. It was just rough drafts really. ‘Part Two’ is taking those to a polished state but I can’t do that until the customer picks out the ones they like.”

“So you’ll have time for the raid on the Emperor’s Lost Throne tomorrow night then?” Luna asked, a note of joy in her voice which Gabriel hoped was a good sign.

He knew he should just tell her how he was feeling. That getting to play with her was one of the high points of his week and that he was crushing on her pretty hard. Unfortunately there were enough douchey guys like Teddy who he could be confused with if he presented things poorly and the last thing he wanted to do was make someone he liked feel uncomfortable.

Also there was the small factor that they lived three thousand miles apart, so it wasn’t like a confession would lead to them casually getting together for coffee to see where things went. He figured he had time to take it slow and see whether this would be a nice friendship or something more.

He didn’t have as much time as he imagined, but that was true of so many people that he was hardly unique on that count.

“Yeah, even if the customer gets back to us and wants a rush order I can push them off for a night. I mean you can’t rush greatness right?”

Luna laughed as they turned to face the mining base’s final defense, a Techno-Organic War Beast from the Old Centinium. 

“Do they usually buy that?” she asked, charging her shields and burning a cooldown ability to reload her missile bays instantly.

“The customers? Oh hell no,” Gabriel said, moving his ship ahead of hers so he’d be able to tank the War Beast’s heavy hits. “My boss is cool though. She knows we need down time or the staff gets cranky so she charges absurd rates for overtime work.”

“She sounds like my boss,” Luna said. “I must have gone through more than a dozen jobs before I got here and now I will stop working for Shanti about four days after I die.”

“That is the kind of praise you do not hear for bosses very often,” Gabriel said.

“I mean, she’s nice to us. She treats us like people. It’s not exactly hard,” Luna said. “Which I can’t say is true about this War Beast. Think we’re up for tackling it?”

“Probably not,” Gabriel said. “We should really have a full team for this.”

“Think we can jet before it evolves to its second form?”

“Maybe? We can definitely get away before it goes Third Form, but our repair bills will be ugly.”

“Eh, I’m pretty flush with cred,” Luna said. “And I’ve got a backup fighter I’ve been meaning to try out. Why don’t we give it a shot?”

That was one of the reasons Gabriel like Luna so much. She’d taken the words right out of his mouth. Flying through the vastness of space in Crystal Stars, he’d run into a lot of other players, but Luna was the first one who seemed to have the same instincts he did. Not just for when to attack or what to engage, but smaller things like how she flew and the locals she liked to hang out in while waiting for the game to finish automated tasks like ship repair or bot construction. He didn’t have to explain why the planet of floating pink octopi was relaxing. She just got it.

“Why don’t we indeed?” Gabriel said and queued up his reserve shielding as he powered in towards the War Beast.

The War Beast which was already morphing into a new form.

“How is it changing already? We haven’t even damaged it yet?” Luna asked.

“Stealth update?” Gabriel was sure he would have heard of one if it had happened but what he was seeing on the screen wasn’t anything like the War Beasts he’d encountered in the game before.

In place of the black and grey steel threads the War Beasts were constructed of, slivers of white and blue static were tearing through the creatures superstructure.

“That does not look right at all,” he got to say before an overcharged plasma beam lanced out from the mutating War Beast.

Gabriel was correct. It was not right at all. What was even less right to his eyes were the motes of iridescent light which began rising from his hands as his fighter on the screen disintegrated.