Monthly Archives: December 2020

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Interlude 5

The Lore of the Fallen Kingdoms (w/commentary)

In the beginning there was Chaos, primal and unbridled, and from the Chaos was born the Great Sage Dav’kralthrax. Vast was his power and fathomless his wisdom. It was he who called the gods into being and set them on the course of crafting a realm worthy of his unending majesty.

Rose: Wait, Dav’kralthrax? Is that the guy you found in the library? The slime?

Tessa: Was it the extreme ego-stroking that gave it away? I’d skip past this stuff, but he disappears soon enough, and it’s illustrative of why I want to punch his face in.

Lisa: Probably good not to skip too much, we could all use a refresher on the Fallen Kingdoms since we’re actually in them finally.

To perform so mighty of a dead as the creation of an entire cosmos however a noble sacrifice was required. Dav’kralthrax took the burden upon himself, sundering his vast power in two so that the world could be shaped by the labors of the gods.

Jamal: Were they creating a cosmos or a planet? Cause those are two kinda different things.

Tessa: Kralt was kind of sloppy with details like that. A planet, a moon, a solar system, a galaxy, pretty much all the same to him. Even the early drafts of the lore ditched him from the story pretty quickly though because of how incoherent his original version was.

From the Primal Chaos, the gods forged The Grand Design, a blueprint to guide them in the Ten Thousand Tasks required to build the world they hoped to forge.

Tessa: See, three paragraphs in and they’re already ignoring Kralt’s self-insert OC and going with a story where he had basically no input on the end product.

First they crafted the heavens and in that expanse placed a single shining seed. With no soil to grown in the seed remained dormant as the gods next constructed the land and the sea, and placed them beneath the vast heavens.

“We have labored for a thousand and one days,” the eldest of the gods said. “Despite our efforts, we have only a starless sky and a land untouched by sunlight to show for it. We must do more.”

Tired behind the ken of human minds, the gods pushed onward, adding more gods to their ranks and laboring at their tasks ever faster.

Tessa: I’ve worked those shifts.

Lisa: Did they make the lore a metaphor for the actual development cycle?

Tessa: Pretty much. It was a winking joke to the fanbase who knew what software development was like at the time, and I’m guessing a bit of kickback on how tight a deadline they were working under.

Above the lifeless world, they crafted the celestial Kingdom where they came together to live and work as one.

Tessa: Meaning the developers had to come in and sleep in the office for months on end.

Day by day the Celestial Kingdom grew in beauty and splendor. Tasks were completed and the Grand Design grew more realized. 

Of the setbacks the gods may have experienced, no record remains, their perseverance and the glory of their accomplishments being the only legacy which remains of that time before a mortal first trod upon their creation. 

Tessa: That sounds nice, but it’s basically code for ‘we can’t tell you all the messed up stuff that happened during the pre-alpha development’. Some of the devs talked about it later, once they were at other companies, and wow did the higher ups do their best to mess everything up before the game even launched.

In time their work was complete, and the gods rested. Below their Celestial Realm lay a world poised for the first break of day and the fledgling cries of life to stride across its lands.

Jamal: So were there fish or birds or did they only care about the people?

Rose: Yeah, what about dinosaurs! Didn’t this place have dinosaurs?

Lisa: Oh, it did. And does. The devs did a whole ‘Lost World’ type expansion where you fight fire breath T-Rex’s. We got the wildest costume sets from that one.

As the first dawn approached though, the gods came to discord. The people of the world were set to be born from the spirits of the gods’ divine servants. For toiling at their divine patrons’ sides, the masses of angels, elementals, and other powers had been promised the world as a playground, one they could experience across a myriad of mortal lifetimes as they reincarnated over and over, exploring every thread of the rich tapestry they had each woven small patches of. Nowhere in the Grand Design though had it been decided which gods followers would be allowed to step foot onto the world first.

The gods met in a great summit to decide the issue, and debated from thirty days and thirty nights.

Tessa: Yeah, I’ve had meetings that felt like they lasted that long.

In the end they emerged and issued their pronouncement. Having found a flaw in the Grand Design, the entire project would be scrapped and the world boiled back down to Primal Chaos so that they could begin anew.

That night the servants of the gods met in a conclave of their own and, when the first light of day touched on the shores of the heavenly realm, the war began.

With fire and magic and divinely forged steel, the servants rose against their masters for the sake of the world they had all labored to build.

And their masters cast them down.

So great was the wrath of the gods that they shattered the heavenly realm, and in its destruction the kingdoms of the divine crashed onto the nascent world below, driving the cities which had stood on its surface far below ground and forever altering the once perfect and pristine landscape of their masterpiece.

Rose: I have so many questions here. How were there cities before there were people on the planet? How did the ‘heavenly’ kingdoms fall onto the planet? Were they literally floating in the sky? And why were there heavenly kingdoms in the first place? I thought there weren’t any people up to this point? 

Tessa: You are far from the first person to be ask those. The general fan consensus, based on some later bits of lore, is that the gods had their heavenly realm divided up into the Kingdoms they intended to setup for the mortals. And, yeah, they were literally floating in the sky. The devs put a few dozen moons in the sky as the “vestiges of the heavenly sphere”. The High Beyond was the biggest of them so the players have been expecting we’d get there at some point long before they announced the World Shift expansions. As for the cities? A lot of the impractical dungeon spaces in the Sunless Deeps have the excuse that ‘a god made this’ to explain away the weird and useless bits of architecture. Like the corridors that go nowhere. And the bridges over lava that never, ever have railings.

As the sun set on the first day and the last rays shone on the ruined world, life at last stirred. Either as a blessing stolen from the gods, or a curse uttered in their dying breaths, the gods had given their rebellious servants exactly what they asked for; time upon the world in the bodies of the mortals which the Grand Design had spoken of as the ultimate goal of creation.

The first mortals cast their glance to their former home in the heavens to discover that their creators, their masters, their enemies, were no more. Some few might have survived the Fall but even they pulled away, offering no contact with the newly born mortal peoples. Of the rest, there was no sign, and swiftly their names were forgotten.

Tessa: This part is kind of sad. The original dev team knew as soon as they shipped, more than half of them were going to be downsized, so they wrote the gods as dying as a result of the war since they were losing their avatars pretty much.

Rose: Why the heck did they fire everybody? Didn’t they work crazy hours to make the game a success?

Tessa: Broken Horizons was the biggest game Egress had ever undertaken and it ran into enormous unexpected costs. Egress claimed they had to make the cutbacks to survive, but with the game taking off like it did within three month of launch, most of the industry observers say that Egress should have held on.

Lisa: Especially since the layoffs bit them in the butt. Within six months, the game had grown so huge that they were scrambling to bring people back, except a lot of developers had moved onto other jobs by that point. I think it took them three years or so to really hit their stride, right? 

Tessa: Yeah, that’s when I first joined up. They were making a new push to expand the game at that point. I mean they’d had expansions before then but I came in when they were really shifting back into high gear.

Lisa: It’s a shame we never met back in the day.

Jamal: Yeah, weren’t you both playing at the same time?

Tessa: Our play time overlaps for about six years, but you’ve got to remember how many people were playing the game at that point, and how may Shards they were runnings.

Lisa: Early on I don’t think we could have possibly met; they created something like three hundred shards in the first three years so I’m sure we were on different ones for a while.

Tessa: I think they fixed that and collapsed everything into “The Unbroken World” about a year before I stopped playing, so I guess we could have met then.

Rose: What’s the “Unbroken World”?

Lisa: It’s a tagline they used a while back. 

Tessa: They came up with some new tech that allowed them to bring everyone from all of the different shards together to play in the same space.

Lisa: Basically when you logged in you weren’t picking one of three hundred worlds to play on, everyone was able to play together. In theory.

Tessa: In practice they had some issues handling ten thousand people in the same city, and five hundred of them talking to the same vendor at the same time.

Lisa: We had so much lag at first, but once they got layering figured out things got a lot better.

Jamal: Layering?

Tessa: Part of their new tech. Basically in busy areas, they’d spawn multiple copies of the place invisibly to the players and so you could be standing at a vendor with a thousand other people but no one would see more than ten or twenty other players in the same space.

Lisa: Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? We could have been standing side by side so many times and just never have noticed it.

Tessa: Have I mentioned I’m not letting you out of my party?

Jamal: Is that layering thing still happening?

Rose: Yeah, does that mean we could be separated like that too?

Tessa: We haven’t seen any evidence of it yet. I was expecting we might when everyone funneled into the room Vixali’s throne room but the place just got seriously crowded. No one started disappearing.

Lisa: I’m hoping there’s another explanation for that.

Tessa: Why’s that? Do you think we can use the layers for something?

Lisa: No, I hadn’t considered that, but it’s a good idea now that you mention it. What I was thinking is that we’re missing a heck of a lot of adventurers. I really hope they’re on other layers from us, or that they got out of the High Beyond via some other means that we didn’t have time to discover.

Jamal: What would the alternative be?

Tessa: If they didn’t get out on their own, and aren’t invisible to us because this world does layering too, then they were either captured by the Hounds of Fate or…

Lisa: Or the Formless Hunger got them.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Interlude 4


Holding the world in the palm of your hand as you stride the cosmos sweeping galaxies from your path can feel amazing. Gods are born in your wake and history changes with each step you take. It is a perspective neither mortals nor celestials are privy to, and yet Jin found is irksome.

“Things looking okay on the macro scale still?” Way asked. She still inhabited the persona of Oblivion’s Daughter but the “telepathic chat channel” she shared with her wife relied on nothing as quaint as the underlying mystical realities of the world she inhabited.

“The world’s still holding together,” Jin said, frowning as she drew in close, her form collapsing from one scaled to the size of a galactic filament to a far more personable scale where the world could fill her hand. “Reorienting its universal coordinates doesn’t seem to have changed anything though.”

“It’s still conjoined with its Earth?” Way asked.

“Yeah, I was careful to preserve that,” Jin said. “I kept the local super cluster intact too.”

“I don’t think this place has any constellation-based metaphysics but that was probably a good idea. Has Kari said anything about how Earth’s holding up? I know we’re running low on time there right?”

“We’re out of time, unfortunately,” Jin said. “There are more breakthroughs showing up.”

“How bad?” Way asked, concern tinging her voice.

Jin knew how easy it was to develop a connection to the people whose worlds you joined. She’d left more shards of herself behind than she could count because she wasn’t willing to vanish from the lives of friends she’d made. With worlds that were in the process of crumbling away though that could be problematic, especially when their existence was linked to other worlds that could be pulled down too.

“It’s limited still,” Jin said. “Kari’s working to channel the Remnants into similar breakthrough points so the Earthlings will have the best chance to get a handle on them.”

“Are they making any progress there?” Way asked.

“Not really. They don’t have the tools they need to start interrogating something this far outside their fundamental physics. The idea of people disappearing into thin air is already fracturing some of the core underlying physical laws they’re built on.”

“Think we have any chance to salvage their original reality?” Way asked.

“Eh, maybe?” Jin said. “I mean, we could force the issue if we really wanted to.”

“Not without claiming both of the worlds though, right?” Way said.

“I mean, we have done it before, and it would prevent a lot of drama,” Jin said.

“We have,” Way agreed. 

Jin knew the agreement was merely giving her room to talk herself out it. Which of course where her mind went next.

“But then we’d coloring everything that happens in both worlds, and they’d become our stories, I know, I know.”

“And we’re not at that point yet anyways, are we?” Way said.

“Not yet,” Jin said. “Even if the Earth’s core reality needs to shift a bit, it’s still well within a range where it can stand on its own. I mean at this point it wouldn’t take more than a few tiny tweaks and it’d be fine.”

“We know it’ll get worse than that, but I have some good news to report!” Way said. “Tessa managed to finish the conversion on our local Remnant. It’s not fully instantiated in the High Beyond.”

“She did! That’s fantastic! What did she make it into?” Jin asked, being careful to set the world gently back into the firmament before doing a cosmic dance of joy.

“A new creature. It’s close to what it was but now it’s a ‘Hungry Shadow’. Just a beauty of a horror. Multi-bodied, decentralized intelligence, corruptive possession. It’s chased us out of the High Beyond and is going to be fighting with the Consortium’s forces for a bit.”

“Oh! I am so proud of her!” Jin said, shrinking down even further to get a better look at the High Beyond and the hijinks that were ensuing there.

“It’s an open question if she can do it again of course,” Way said.

“Well, sure, I mean that’s asking a lot of anyone,” Jin said. “I mean, anyone who’s not us. But she did it! That’s so cool! How’s she coming in her new class? Is it holding up?”

“Shockingly well,” Way said. “The world seems fine with the idea of a Void Speaker. It’s letting her do things and then calcifying them as abilities after the fact which is giving her a lot of leeway. Also there’s some cheats she’s gotten to use. She’s managed to get her hands on two of the left over bits of the creators. They’re temporary, and limited, but they’ve let her do a bit of reality rewriting without losing her connection to either world.”

“She’s still pretty weak though right?”

“Very. We’ve moved out of the High Beyond, so there’ll be people we can work with who can help fix that but it’s not a quick process, and I don’t want to rush it too much.”

“I get it. If we cheat for her, she’ll wind up without a real connection to who she’s become. Still, that’s fantastic news. With one Void Speaker in play, more should follow.”

“And even the people without that class should be able to help,” Way said. “The Adventurers seem to be able to develop a resistance to the partial-Remnants corrosions after even an indirect exposure. My team’s currently in the best state there, since we got a full blast to the face from the first Remnant up close, but none of other teams got possessed either when the Remnant grabbed a whole bunch of Consortium soldiers.”

“Meeting with the Disjoined was enough? That’s an encouraging sign too. We should watch to see how far they can push that. If the Adventurers in general could fight the Remnants as they begin to emerge into the world, they might be able to stabilize everything on your end of things.”

“I think the big holdup there is going to be the distraction the Consortium’s forces are causing,” Way said. “The initial invasion seems to have fallen apart due to a change of leadership and conflicting orders, but the troops are still there and the Consortium has got lots more they can send in. If the current leader gets booted for someone who knows what they’re doing, the war will shift back again real fast, and no one’s going to have the bandwidth to look into all the weird things that are happening on the edges of the world where the Remnants are nibbling at things trying to get in.”

“We could fix that couldn’t we?” Jin asked

“I mean technically we could erase the Consortium entirely,” Way said. “They’re already a part of this world though, so…”

“So removing them would be a bit blunt,” Jin said. “Fair enough. Can the Adventurers win it in the long term do you think?”

“For certain values of ‘win’, definitely,” Way said. “I’m guessing a complete eradication of the Consortium won’t be easy to achieve, but reducing them to a hostile faction, rather than a world-ending one, should be doable.”

“There just needs to be time to get that done, I take it?” Jin asked.

She felt Way’s surprise. When they spoke, far more than words were conveyed, and Way knew her well enough to understand the idea Jin had and the offer she was making.

“Are you sure you want to do that? It’s such a pain to coordinate when the worlds are out of synch like that,” Way asked.

“Yeah, I’ll give you a year spun into the space of day over on the Earth,” Jin said, reaching out to the world her wife was on once more.

“We don’t need that long!” Way shouted before Jin can whip the timestreams between the two world into whirling at vastly different rates. “Make it a month. If we don’t have the Consortium problem resolved in a month, you can spin things faster for a bit, but things should be very different here by then.”

“A month then,” Jin agreed. “And if you need me…”

“I always need you,” Way said.

“I love you too,” Jin said.

“See you in a month then!” Way said and went silent, though her light continued to gleam in golden radiance on Jin’s finger.

With a flick of her wrist, Jin sent the Fallen Kingdoms and the constellation of demi-planes and alternate universes tied to it racing into a future while the Earth they were joined to encompassed the passing of each of their days in less than a single hour.


Brendan was nodding off when the world on the other side of the monitor changed. It was like a burst of noise louder than being front row at a concert slammed into his head, but there were another feeling that accompanied it that was even worse.

“Melli!” The screen in front of him was showing only a blur of colors and he couldn’t hear anything from the speakers except a monotone buzz. “Melli, what happened? Are you still there?”

She was.

He knew she was.

A part of him could almost reach out and touch her, but even his instincts knew what the cost of that would be.

With a long breath, he put his hand down from reaching towards the screen.

Mellisandra was okay. If she’d died, he would have been swept up into Broken Horizons. So, she was, by definition, okay. He kept repeating that to himself. He even believed it. But his heart didn’t want to hear it. 

She was missing. A day ago, or two, or whatever the official count was, he hadn’t even imagined she was real. She was an avatar. No more than a queen on a chessboard.

Hearing her speak though? Fighting with her? Being a part of her world, even if it was immeasurably far away? 

He raised his hand again, gathering up his courage.

He wasn’t going to let her go. Even if it meant leaving his own life forever. Even if he was just a ghost standing beside her.

Except she didn’t want him to give up everything he had.

She wanted to come and see his world.

And if he left, he wouldn’t be able to keep coordinating things with the other players he knew. The best and most useful help he could be to her was right where he was.

The courage he’d been looking for sparked up in a different form than he’d intended.

He didn’t know what had happened. He could feel Mellisandra still, could sense a connection that went beyond graphics on a screen, and so he was going to believe in that. The bond that existed between them was real, even if he had no tangible proof and everything in the world said it wasn’t. It was real, and so was she, and she needed him to fight for her where her magics couldn’t reach.

Brendan turned to his laptop where he had roughly ten bajillion tabs open, and at least half as many Discord channels pinging for his attention.

It took three seconds to see that he wasn’t alone. Something had happened with the game. Players were still disappearing, but everyone reported the weird screen glitch at the same time and no one had disappeared at the moment when their connection to the game went strange. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a global disconnect and logging off still wasn’t safe.

But none of that mattered as much as what Brendan found next.

There were messages.

Hundreds of messages.

All from Mellisandra.

The chat log was a blur on the screen but the email queue was available in an offline app and it was bursting with unread notes. The timestamps on them were messed up, but that was fine. 

She was out there, and that was all that mattered.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Interlude 3


When the attack came neither Grunvan nor Argwin were ready for it. To be fair, they could have been given years to train and they still wouldn’t have been ready for a contingent of octopodial soldiers with razor teeth on their tentacles to split from the main force of the Consortium troops and come tearing towards the [Goblins] hastily assembled fortifications.

The sight of the horrid monsters flailing across the field towards her hit Grunvan not with a wave of terror but rather a profound sense of disconnection. They couldn’t be attacking. Not something like that. It was too unreal. Too ridiculous. This wasn’t something that could be part of her world. She just wasn’t ready for it.

Then the [Octopires] let loose the unearthly warbling which passed for…Grunvan couldn’t even tell? A battle cry? A wail of despair? A child’s night terror? None of those were right, mostly because the [Octopires] were making a noise that was nothing but wrong.

“Been nice knowing you,” Argwin said.

“I’ll remind you you admitted that for the rest of our lives,” Grunvan said.

She wasn’t calm. She wasn’t brave. She was just too scared to process her fear, so it got to sit over to the side while some other part of her took the reigns.

The [Octopires] didn’t take long to reach them. Writhing tentacles covered the open ground faster than any [Goblin] could sprint. 

And they could leap.

Which was a whole other bucket of “I’ll take none of those please” in Grunvan’s mind.

To her immense self-credit, she didn’t scream, or duck, or run. None of those would have done a thing to save her, but still, she felt a fierce pride in the fact that she stood ready to meet the [Octopire’s] razor tentacles with a spiked club of her own.

She was ready to swing the moment any of them came in range of herself or Argwin, reasoning that she wanted to make sure she didn’t she her friend come to any harm and the best method to ensure that was to be the one they killed first. It wasn’t a cheerful though, but after several hours of staring at a horde of monsters that couldn’t help to kill her and everyone she knew, Grunvan was fresh out of cheer.

Shock and surprise she could still manage though.

The [Octopire’s] first few leaps were little more than hops. Small jumps to let them clear the roots and shrubs in the field they were charging through. By the time they reached the fortifications though, they had gained speed and, at the last moment, enough height that Grunvan had to wonder if they could fly in addition to the rest of their alien powers.

They couldn’t. The arc of their final jumps were designed to clear the [Goblins] defensive line and land them well behind the fighters who were waiting to engage them.

As a tactical move, it wasn’t exactly brilliant, the [Octopires] were badly overextended, but given that they were horrible killing machines and the [Goblins] were [Farmers] and [Wagon Drivers], tactical supremacy wasn’t really a requirement for them to win the battle handily.

Except they weren’t fighting.

“Help! Help us!” the nearest [Octopire] said and placed all of its tentacles firmly on the ground in a move that made it clear it was not taking an attack posture.

“Wha?” Argwin couldn’t even finish her question. Grunvan understood. Her mind was jamming up too.

“They’re coming! Save us!” the [Octopire] said.

Looking away from the alien monsters was the worst possible idea Grunvan could imagine. They would obviously whip her to pieces and eat all of those pieces after dipping them in hot sauce. But despite not having much of a face, they were managing to give every impression of being in mortal fear for their lives. 

Which, seriously? How was that Grunvan’s problem? 

And what in the nether pits of the [Sunless Deeps] was she supposed to do about it?

She didn’t have razors on her tentacles! She didn’t even have tentacles! She was a bite sized morsel. Bit sized morsels were not what you turned to for protection against mortal dread!

It was unbelievably stupid. So of course, she turned to look in the direction the one she was talking to was gazing.

And there were a bunch of [Goblins] who were following the [Octopire’s] path.

No, not [Goblins]

Grunvan’s sense of disorientation ebbed as she saw something familiar that her mind could latch onto, only to notice that the [Goblins] who were charging after the [Octopires] were just as wrong as everything else that happening around her.

“What is happening!” Argwin took up a cry that was lurking behind the lips of every [Goblin] on the defensive lines.

Grunvan had no idea. 

Or, rather, she knew exactly what was happening and she very much did not want to face it.

“Attack! We’re under attack!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Those aren’t our people anymore! They’re Consortium things! Don’t let them pass!”

She wasn’t brave. She wasn’t brilliant. She was just there. In that moment. Doing what she could.

A roar went up from her fellow defenders. It wasn’t the most impressive bellow in the history of warfare. It didn’t strike any fear in the hearts of their foes. It didn’t summon unexpected allies to match the might of the force against them. All it did was allow the defenders of [Apple Plate] to join in something bigger than themselves. 

All it did was remind them they weren’t alone.

With a wave goodbye to the last bit of her sanity, Grunvan turned to the [Octopires] and pointed to the empty section of the wall beside her.

“Come on,” she said. “Get up here and fight with us.”


The news that [Wagon Town] wasn’t going to receive help from the its neighboring kingdoms didn’t surprise Cambrell in the slightest. It was disappointing to be sure. With the [Grand Coalitions] successes in reclaiming territory and cities which had been lost, it seemed like there would have to be some forces available to prevent the largest [Goblin] city on the planet from being wiped off the map.

From within the [High Commands] headquarters, Cambrell could see the tactical charts which showed the ever changing positions of the armies of the [Grand Coalition]. Teleportation networks allowed for redeployments far faster than any army could march which should have meant that saving [Wagon Town] was not only viable but strategically imperative. 

If left unchecked the Consortium forces would take the town, slaughter the inhabitants, and establish a foothold that very few of the [Grand Coalitions] troops would be equipped to dislodge them from. 

Except there were two important factors which seemed to be governing the choice of the leaders of the Coalition, though they were left entirely unspoken.

The first was the [Goblin] part of [Wagon Town] being a [Goblin City] and the second was that there would be a period of time, right towards the end of the Consortium’s sacking of [Wagon Town] when almost all of the inhabitants would be dead, but the Consortium’s forces were at their most extended and hadn’t yet had the chance to dig in and setup their own fortifications.

“That’s when they’ll strike,” Cambrel said, as he explained the situation to Damnazon. “It’ll mean the least loss of life in the army they send against the Consortium.”

“And the most loss of civilian lives!” Damnazon said, outrage making her grip on her axe turn white knuckled.

“That’s what the leaders are going to call a win-win scenario,” Cambrell said. “See it’s mostly [Goblins] in [Wagon Town], and a world where theres a lot fewer of us is a world a lot of people seem like they’d be really happy to live in.”

“That’s monstrous,” Damnazon said.

“It’s not exactly unhead of in our world either,” Hailey said. “Even without a formal factions system, our history’s got a ridiculous number of examples of one group of people deciding that some other group would be a lot better as fertilizer.”

Cambrell wasn’t sure if he should feel relieved that the other world his companions spoke of was one that was as bad as their current shared one. On the one hand, it meant the people he associated with weren’t uniquely terrible. On the other, it meant pretty much everywhere seemed to be generally rotten.

“That doesn’t make it right,” Damnazon said. “On Earth or here.”

“You can try telling them that, the Kings and Queens and Senior Councilors,” Cambrell said. “You’ll here the most verbose arguments about why it’s both right, and reasonable, and really the only proper thing they can do given their responsibilities.”

“How could they possibly justify letting that many innocent people die without doing anything?” Damnazon said.

“The usual lines are something like ‘I am pledged to protect the lives of my people’, who are of course not [Goblins],” Hailey said. “And sometimes they’ll throw in the ‘and are they really innocent, we all know what [Goblins] are like’. You know, if they’re feeling especially racist.”

“I wish they were hiding it even that well,” Penswell said as she joined the group. 

Cambrell had seen her arrive at the command station a few minutes earlier and immediately begin fissioning into separate copies of herself. The “Penny” who was speaking with them was probably one of a few hundred but, as far as Cambrell could tell, they had her full attention. 

“Some of the idiots are calling for moving an ‘expeditionary’ force in once [Wagon Town] is recaptured to ensure that the area is ‘properly defended in the future’,” Penny said.

“Defended from [Goblins] I take it?” Cambrell said.

“From [Goblin] rule,” Penny said., “[Goblins] would be allowed to live there still. Under ‘certain conditions’.”

“Nope,” Damnazon said and stood up.

“Nope?” Mellisandra asked. She didn’t stand but Cambrell saw her back tensing in the suggestion that she was ready to.

“Nope,” Damnazon said again. “That’s not happening.”

“There’s an army of Consortium forces that says at least the first part of it is,” Hailey said.

“We have the Coalitions chief [Strategist] right here,” Damnazon said, gesturing to Penny with both hands. “Make that not happen. Send them the help they need.”

“Sadly, I’m only the Coalition’s [Strategist], not it’s direct commander,” Penny said. “I’m explaining to them as we speak why they have to prevent loss of life at [Wagon Town]. I’m using the best selfish, and rational arguments I can. And the ones with the armies that I need are just not listening.”

Cambrell could hear the undisguised frustration in Penny’s voice. He’d been part of diplomatic delegations before and knew the stone walls that the powerful surrounded their minds with when threatened by an idea which didn’t serve to increase their power or prestige.

“I could kill a few of them if you need?” he offered. He didn’t like working for free, even for a good cause, but under the circumstances he felt the enjoyment factor might outweigh the loss of revenue.

“I have been keeping your talents in mind,” Penny said. “And thank you for the direct offer. For the time being however I believe that sort of pressure would yield worse results.”

“Worse than [Wagon Town] dying?” Damnazon asked.

“Using murder as a coercion tactic is emotionally appealing at the moment, but it would lead to a solidarity in nations who are in favor of eliminating countries under [Goblin] rule,” Penny said. “We could save [Wagon Town] today at the cost of a thousand times as many [Goblin] lives within the year.”

“Then we do it without them,” Damnazon said.

“Stop an army?” Mellisandra said. “That’s a lot for the three of us, isn’t it?”

“Good thing it’s not just the three of you then isn’t it?” Feral Fang said.

Filing into the room were a steady stream of adventurers. 

The nations of the [Fallen Kingdoms] might not be willing to save [Wagon Town], but the world is made of more the nations. At its heart, the [Fallen Kingdoms], and every other world, is made of people and as Cambrell watched the stream of [Adventurers] pour in he began to wonder if he’d discounted just how many good ones there were out there.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Interlude 2


An ice cream truck wasn’t the first place Marcus would have chosen to catch up his beauty sleep, but since Officer’s Astra and Smith had so kindly setup a cot for him in place of one of the ice cream freezers, he’d been incapable of saying no. Mostly because he’d been falling asleep as he got into the truck and hadn’t even made it to the cot before a deep, dreamless slumber claimed him.

Coming out that slumber was a bit harder than sliding into it had been. The sounds of the road seeped into his awareness first, followed by the typical rhythms of traffic.

The thought that he was in a moving vehicle entered his mind without arousing any particular awareness. At least not until it had sat there for what felt like several minutes.

“Wait? Why are we in traffic?” he asked, blinking his eyes against the daylight, and trying to sit up.

“Sorry,” Officer Astra said. “I didn’t expect the Strip to be this busy today.”

“The Strip?” Marcus asked, sitting up in time to see a box truck with an ad for a Penn and Teller show go by on their right.

That didn’t compute either. Penn and Teller didn’t have an act in California, they were in…

“The Strip? As in Las Vegas?” Marcus asked, rousing to full wakefulness at last.

“Yeah, we sort of kidnapped you,” Officer Smith said. She didn’t sound all that serious and she didn’t look particularly guilty but Marcus felt a growing alarm that he could only take what she’d said as being quite literal.

Except, now that he took a better look at her, Marcus wasn’t sure how Smith had managed to pass for an Officer. She was too young. Probably high school aged? Maybe early college at the outside? In theory that was old enough to be a police officer, but people didn’t join up and make detective immediately? Did they?

“Why? Where are you taking me?” Marcus asked, aware that if they’d driven him a few hundred miles across state lines he was potentially in a very bad situation despite the lack of bad vibes he was receiving from either of the “Officers”.

“There are some people who need your help,” Astra said.

“And you’re not really kidnapped,” Smith said. “Here’s your phone and your laptop. You should be able to get a good connection here. If you want to call anyone or check back in with the EE offices, go right ahead.”

“I don’t understand what’s happening here, but this is a really bad time for it,” Marcus said. “There are people, literally thousands of people who need me back there.”

“I know,” Smith said. “That’s why I made sure to grab your stuff before we left. Seriously go ahead and call in. It’s only been about five hours now since we left, and things had hit a quiet spot then, but that’s probably not going to last.”

“And what am I supposed to tell my team?” Marcus asked. “Sorry but I’ve been abducted by two women posing as police officers?”

“The truth is sometimes a good choice,” Astra said. “I’d say it’s 50/50 whether this case is one of them though.”

“We will get you back there,” Smith said.

“If I do something for you, right?” Marcus asked, anger kindling at the thought of being pulled away from a crisis that he could not afford to ignore. 

“No,” Smith said. “This isn’t for us. This is something you need to see to have a better chance at helping them people you’ve been working so hard for.”

“How does that…? Wait, do you know something about what’s going on with all this?” Marcus asked. “Do you know what’s happening to our players?”

“We do,” Astra said. “We’re not responsible for any of it, but we are trying to help. The same as you.”

“Clearly not the same as me, because no one I know has a clue what’s going on here,” Marcus said. He checked his phone and found that he had five bars of signal. The laptop was fully charged up too. He could dial in or get connected whenever he wanted to it seemed.

“I’m sorry,” Smith said. “I wish we could tell you everything you want to know, but there’s a lot we don’t know too. And a lot that’s just not known at all at this point.”

“Do you know what happened to the players? Do you know what’s really going on here?” Marcus asked.

“What happened to the players is just what you think happened,” Astra said. “They’ve been transported to another world.”

“Okay, then how? How did this happen?” Marcus asked.

“That we don’t know,” Beth said. “Normally that sort of thing is a very specific sort of ‘impossible’. At least in worlds like this one.”

“Worlds like this one? So there are other worlds out there? And you’ve been to them?” Marcus asked.

“A few,” Smith said. “This world is different though. It’s basically the same as mine. My original one. No fantastical elements, no monsters, and no magic. This sort of place isn’t supposed to ever experience an event like this one.”

“If you said that three days ago, I would have completely agreed,” Marcus said. “But whatever it is, it’s happening now, so do you have any idea how to stop it?”

“We’re not even sure if it should be stopped yet,” Astra said.

“What, you want more of these kids to get yanked over there?” Marcus asked.

“Possibly,” Astra said. “I’m guessing it’s going to depend on what we find here.”

Marcus looked up to see them pulling into a parking lot of an office complex. The sign at the entrance listed a few law firms, a fast food franchise, and a software development company.

Not just any software development company though.

K2 Squared. Also known as one of the main competitors with Egress Entertainment in the MMO industry, or, as Marcus thought of them, ‘the poor saps who get the people who can’t handle playing our game’.

He’d had lunch with the folks from K2 a few times during industry conferences, usually in Las Vegas as he recalled. They faced so many of the same challenges that he and his team did in terms of supporting a worldwide user base that their get togethers tended to be more about crying on sympathetic shoulders than intra-company rivalry, especially since it was always possible that any one of them would wind up working for the other’s company if a round of layoffs hit.

“Why are we here?” Marcus asked, his mind jumping to the possibility that the K2 team might be able to pitch in and help his people out. Some of the K2’ers played Broken Horizons, so they wouldn’t need much of a ramp up, and there were so many tasks that just needed a warm body to handle them.

Smith’s words put a stop to all those happy thoughts though.

“They need you,” she said. “Some of their players have started disappearing too.”


Hailey was invisible. And inaudible. And partially incorporeal. It wasn’t her favorite method traveling.

“We should be able to get to the inn pretty soon,” Mellisandra said. She spoke audibly for anyone to hear, and didn’t add anything telepathically on their party channel.

“I could definitely use a few hours of sleep,” Damnazon said. 

Mellisandra was speaking in code. The ‘inn’ was their codeword for the [High Command’s] base. Damnazon was not speaking in code. They were all ready to rest.

Which seemed odd to Hailey.

They’d been trekking overland to reach the [High Command’s] base all night, but that wasn’t unusual for an [Adventurer]. Thanks to the accelerated time rate in the game, when Hailey played BT, usually a week or more passed in the [Fallen Kingdoms] and BT was active that entire time. No rest, sometimes no food, and often wall-to-wall combat.

So why did walking for one night leave her feeling like crawling in a warm, comfy bed would be the nicest thing in the world?

Maybe it was the stress? The whole trip was driven by the knowledge that Hailey couldn’t be allowed to fall into enemy hands. No at any cost. The thought that being murdered would be both a good outcome is trouble arose, and something that wouldn’t hold her back in the long run, was somehow not as encouraging as Hailey had hoped it would be.

“We’ve got company on the other side of the ridge,” Cambrell said on their party channel. The [Goblin] [Assassin] didn’t look worried, but Hailey couldn’t tell if that was due to professional calm or an evaluation of the ‘company’ in question.

“Are they heading in our direction?” Mellisandra asked, also on the private channel.

“They’re paralleling us,” Cambrell said. “Probably making for the gap the [High Road] passes through.”

“They’ll reach it at the same time we do I take it?” Hailey said.

“We could slow down,” Cambrell said.

“I don’t like letting them get in between us and the base,” Damnazon said.

“If we hurry up, they’ll know we’re not the traveling villagers we’re disguised as,” Mellisandra said.

In order to travel in something approaching safety, the three visible members of the party were disguised as farmers like the thousands of others who were fleeing the fall of [Doom Crag] far to the east. The Consortium’s forces had advanced westward from [Doom Crag] at all, but the smaller villages could see the peril they lay in even without an overt sign of aggression from the invaders.

“I wish they’d been able to leave the teleportation network active around the base,” Damnazon said.

“I can’t blame them from imposing an absolute interdiction on dimension travel,” Mellisandra said. “We know the Consortium is using drop ships that deploy their troops via short range warps. The last thing [High Command] needs is a platoon of [Artifax] appearing out of nowhere in the middle of their strategy sessions.”

“Yeah, but it’s damn inconvenient for us,” Damnazon said.

“That’s how all clients work,” Cambrell said. “They never want things done the easy way. It’s always gotta be one headache or another.”

“I’m sorry to put you folks through this,” Hailey said.

“Hey, without you, we’d still have no idea about half the stuff the Consortium can do. Not to mention where they all are,” Mellisandra said.

“Yes. Keeping you safe is a fair transaction given what you’ve done for us,” Cambrell said.

“I’m hoping that’s still true,” Hailey said. “The more time that passes, the less reliable the data I gave you will become.”

“Penswell will be aware of that too,” Mellisandra said. “The last report we got was that the defense forces were moving on the intel you gave them immediately.”

“I wish we could find out how that went,” Hailey said. “I know it doesn’t solve the bigger problem of what’s happening with the Earthlings all being drawn here, but if we could get the Consortium assault sorted out, it’d be much easier to focus on the real problems we have to deal with.”

“Real problems?” Mellisandra asked.

“Yeah, I don’t think we’re experiencing this [World Shift] because of the Consortium attack,” Hailey said. “That was an event which the devs worked on for a long time, so it’s a big deal but it’s not an existential crisis for the [Fallen Kingdoms]. I mean the [Adventurers] here have fought gods, and demons, and the living embodiment of time gone wrong. An evil extra-dimensional mega-corporation is bad, but the plan was never for the Consortium to win. They’re just supposed to be there to put up a good enough fight to last until the next expansion is ready. Heck there was even talk about the [Fallen Kingdoms] eventually allying with a faction from the Consortium against the Big Bad they had in mind for the 20th Anniversary expansion they had in mind for 2024.”

“What was that supposed to be? The Big Bad I mean?” Damnazon asked.

“The joke around the office was ‘unrecoverable disk errors’, since that’s the nightmare scenario the IT folks are always warning the devs about in terms of making backups of the work on their local drives. With what’s happening now though? I’m not really sure if that’s a joke anymore.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Interlude 1


The night was coming to an end, and the first rays of daylight made it their purpose in life to sneak around the curtains in Penny’s room and stab her directly in the eye. Penny knew beams of sunlight lacked not only malice but also the intelligence required to form malicious thought. Penny also knew enemy action when she saw it. 

“The daylight hates me,” she grumbled, trying to turn away from it without fully rousing to wakefulness. Part of her knew that was a bad idea, but the sleepy, larger portion of her mind knew how much sleep was still required and fought valiantly to maintain a state of blissful ignorance. It was a battle which she mostly won, as it left her mind fuzzy enough that she wasn’t expecting to turn into a pair of arms when she flipped onto her side, or be drawn into a warm embrace by those familiar arms which were all too infrequently able to ensnare her as they had.

“I don’t think it does,” Niminay said. “It highlights your hair too wonderfully for it to mean you ill.”

Thoughts trampled a path into Penny’s awareness, cracking open the door to consciousness which, given Niminay’s proximity, Penny wasn’t quite as unhappy about as she might have been.

“What time is it? How long was I out? That was only supposed to be four hours!” Penny’s eyes flew open to behold a heart stoppingly  wonderful sight.

“We’re just at dawn,” Niminay said. “I checked in with your team an hour ago. There are no catastrophes which require your attention. You can rest in for another couple of hours before you go back to splitting yourself into a thousand pieces.”

“No catastrophes? In that whole time? That’s not possible,” Penny said, giving Niminay a small kiss before pushing aside the covers and getting dressed. “We have over a hundred active theaters of combat going on. We couldn’t have held on to our positions in them all.”

“We didn’t,” Niminay said, but the delighted smile on her lips didn’t match up with any outcomes Penny could imagine. “We’ve advanced. Not everywhere. There are still a lot of hot spots, but they were able to execute your contingency orders in at least half the battlefields.”

“Things got that bad and no one woke me?” Penny asked.

“Not that bad. That good!” Niminay said. “The openings that you told them to watch for? They found those and more. A lot more in fact.”

“I don’t understand. I must still be dreaming?” Penny said and called up one of her more esoteric skills to determine when she was under the effect of any mental compulsions or sensory manipulations. All the checks came back negative. Her mind was her own. She just couldn’t believe what it was hearing.

“I should let them explain,” Niminay said. “From what I was able to make out, your staff has every reason to be proud and they can offer you all the details you’re looking for.”

“What did they do though?” Penny asked. She was fully dressed, but still felt naked without a solid understanding of the situation before her.

“You left them with orders to carry out exploratory raids remember?” Niminay asked.

“Yes. We had to keep our awareness of the key locations up to date without indicating where we were planning to push back on next,” Penny said. “Those weren’t supposed to be turned into all out offenses though. We can’t afford to be overextended, even if…no, especially if the Consortium is making the efforts to recapture our assets look affordable.”

“I don’t think we’re over extended,” Niminay said. “They didn’t need to order the armies to move at all. Not to recapture the sites we’ve taken back at least.”

“How did they…oh, the [Adventurers]?” Penny asked, knowing it had to be them. Teams of [Adventurers] were the only force capable of retaking a major objective and retreating safety in the time that had passed.

“See, you’re out of bed for all of ten seconds and you already don’t need the briefing your team is preparing,” Niminay said.

“I’m pretty sure I do,” Penny said. “What your describing is alarming.”

“That is exactly what they said you’d say. I gather there was a lot of discussion regarding the wins we’re seeing. The general consensus has shifted from it clearly being a trap, to it being the action of some enemy of the Consortium which we happen to be benefiting from.”

“I need to see the charts,” Penny said and began pacing in the room.

“I’m sure they’ve got everything laid out for you already in the war room,” Niminay said. “Did you want to go there?”

“No. Not yet,” Penny said and continued to pace. “This is too big. I need to put things in order first. I need to work out the questions I should be asking.”

“Should I not be distracting you then?” Niminay asked and began putting on her own clothes.

“Yes, or no, or I could use you here,” Penny said. “I need to bounce ideas off someone.”

“You know I’m here for you,” Niminay said and sat back down on the bed in an attentive pose. 

“Okay, good, thank you,” Penny said. “Gods why aren’t we married yet?”

“I can have a cleric up here in like five minutes, three even,” Niminay said. It was a playful tease to help ground Penny’s thoughts, but Penny also knew that Niminay was also entirely serious. It wasn’t that the war didn’t matter to Niminay but she had an [Adventurer’s] mindset where no disaster was sufficient grounds for passing up how you wanted to live your life. Probably because for them, every day held its own disasters and triumphs and life had to happen somewhere. If that somewhere was in a crypt, or on a battlefield, or even a quiet bedroom for two, then so be it.

“No, they’d just muddle my thinking,” Penny said, feeling the wheels in her brain whirling up to full speed.

“Someday…” Niminay promised, looking like muddling Penny’s thinking was something she was very much looking forward to.

Penny considered letting her send for the cleric. 

They were still in a crisis but that didn’t mean Penny was dead. Or that she was going to leave Niminay hanging for a moment longer than she had to. She might not be an [Adventurer] herself but she wasn’t a fool either.

Temptations did need to be put aside for the greater good on occasion though, and this was such an occasion if one ever existed.

“So the exploratory raids went well?” She was talking to herself more than asking a question, priming the pump of her brain for leaps of understanding she needed to make. “The [Adventurers] met with unexpectedly low resistance.”

“Worth noting, apparently the troops they expected to face were there, the earlier intel we had was largely accurate,” Niminay said.

“The same units but judged to be an easy fight. That says their support divisions weren’t in place. Which in turn suggests a failure at the command level.”

“The early reports did mention that the responses to the provoking raids was much slower than expected,” Niminay said.

The “provoking raids” were ones Penny had designed in order to utilize even the purely combat focused [Adventurers] as an additional support troops. The idea was to send in a team of [Adventurers] to create real problems against enemy forces the [Adventurers] couldn’t hope to overcome on their own. 

The [Adventurers] didn’t need to win these battles though. All they had to do was pose a threat which the Consortium had to answer. The long term gameplan was to train the Consortium’s forces that when a team of [Adventurers] showed up the only possible response was to send out an overwhelming forces against the small group. That, in turns, would allow the regular armies to assault positions which had their ranks split and disorganized to the greatest extent possible.

Penny hadn’t been sure the strategy would pay off. Her counterpart, the strategist for the Consortium, was able to see through ploys like that with ease. Regardless of that however, sending in the [Adventurers] still made sense to Penny.

She was careful to select targets where the value of the damage they were inflicting was too high to discount or ignore and where the ease of the parties escape was sufficiently high. It wasn’t enough to win the war, or even greatly slow down the Consortium, but the losses would hurt them and create weaknesses in their capabilities at key points which could be utilized later.

More importantly though, it was the sort of counterstrike which didn’t present a high degree of risk. The [Fallen Kingdoms] lost too many [Adventurers] on the raid against the Consortium’s ships and Penny was determined to spend her resources as wisely as she could, which meant ‘not at all’ if that was possible.

A slow response to a provoking raid was highly out of character for the war’s architect though. If anything Penny had been concerned about traps set for the parties she sent in and troop response rates far in excess of anything the [Fallen Kingdoms] could muster. She’d scaled back almost all the operations with that in mind

“The [Adventurers] fought farther into the enemy encampments than they were supposed to, didn’t they?” she asked.

“Only in a relatively few cases,” Niminay said. “If you’ll accept about 40% as ‘relatively few’ that is.”

Penny almost laughed. For [Adventurers] that was a low number. Normally when given the chance for mayhem and looting, [Adventurers] would somehow manage a 110% disobedience rate.

“Did any of the parties report in-fighting among the Consortium’s forces?” Penny asked.

“How did you know?”Niminay asked.

“It fits a narrative,” Penny said. “If we succeeded on half of the raids I designed, then the Consortium’s defenses suffered a severely destabilizing blow in a short period of time. The only likely candidates include a change in leadership. But that doesn’t make sense at all.”

“Why trade out an effective leader for a terrible one?” Niminay said.

“That too, although we’ve seen Kings and Lords and Council’s do it all the time. There are far too many people who prioritize their personal needs over those of the people around them,” Penny said. “The part which really doesn’t make sense to me though is why the previous commander allowed themselves to be forced out of power?”

“The Consortium doesn’t seem like the sort of organization which cares much for loyalty,” Niminay said. “Maybe the previous leader, the smart one, made some political blunder and got ‘removed from power’ with extreme prejudice.”

“Not impossible,” Penny said. “I’m hard pressed to believe that someone bright enough to design the strategies we’ve seen wouldn’t be every bit as adept at manipulating the Consortium too. I don’t think anyone could arrive in a position of central authority in an organization like that without mastering its foibles.”

“We’ve seen dramatic shifts in power take down even the most highly placed people before,” Niminay said.

“Usually there’s a measure of hubris which precedes the downfall,” Penny said and added with a smile, “or they attract your attention on a bad day.”

“I killed one god like that!” Niminay said. “Only one!”

“What about [Gyr Rex]?” Penny said.

“Ok, two. Two gods. That’s not an every day thing though.”

“Both cases serve to illustrate my point,” Penny said. “There’s usually an up swing in power or influence preceding the downfall of a major power. They stride forth, seeming to be at the top of their game and able to accomplish all of their objectives with ease, but by stepping onto a new stage, they also expose previously unseen weaknesses which prove to be their undoing.”

“Isn’t that potentially what happened here?” Niminay said. “By trying to take on our forces, the Consortium started fighting on a new stage.”

“The pattern fits,” Penny said. “Except that I’m missing the most important part of it.”

“What the new incompetent at the helm wants?” Niminay asked.

“That’s something we’ll see in time,” Penny said. “I’m more concerned with what the previous leader’s weakness was.”

“Curiosity or do you think it will become relevant again?” Niminay asked.

“With as sharp a difference as we’ve seen between the two commanders?” Penny said. “I think it’s a very real concern that the previous one will be back in power before we’re able to destroy the foothold the Consortium has on our world.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 25

The path was clear, and it was quiet. No monsters assailed them. No traps delayed them. 

Tessa wasn’t the first to reach the [Vampire Queen’s] Throne Room. Oblivion’s Daughter had led the charge, venturing ahead of the refugees and the dungeon dwellers to ensure the [Hungry Shadows] weren’t lying in wait for them.

But none had been. 

Only emptiness filled the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave].

At least until a stream of hundreds began to filter into the massive space.

“The windows are how we left them,” Lisa said. “Do you still think you’ll be able to turn one into a portal?”

Tessa searched the shining, stained glass windows and tried to call forth whatever gifts she’d been given.

“I’m pretty sure I can use my skills to make us more resilient,” Pillowcase said.

“And I’m not going to let any part of us get hurt if I can help it,” Glimmerglass said.

Glimmerglass wasn’t  a part of their private channel but she didn’t need to be. Not anymore than Pillowcase did. Not given their close close physical proximity.

“I think I can do this,” Tessa said.

Lost Alice was holding her hand and gave it a soft squeeze. 

“You’re a blessing,” Lost Alice said.

Tessa laughed.

“I haven’t gotten us out of here yet.”

“We’re here at all,” Lost Alice said. ‘That’s substantially better than I thought we’d be doing at this point.”

Tessa squeezed Lost Alice’s hand back, unbothered by the chill of the [Vampire’s] touch.

People continued to flow into the room. Yawlorna’s crew came in escorting a large contingent of children. More than had been in Sky’s Edge? As the crowd continued to filter in that became a certainty.

“Did we pick up extra refugees?” Tessa asked.

“Yeah, there were other towns that needed to evacuate,” Buzz Fightyear said. “Some of the lower level adventurers went out and helped them gather up.”

“Some of the dungeon’s inhabitants too,” Balegritz said, joining the conversation as the end of the Yawlorna’s party filtered into the [Throne Room].  “We didn’t know any of them were non-hostile, but I guess the threat of the Consortium and that Hunger thing was enough to convince they play nice.”

“I think everyone’s still shook up from the [Hungry Shadow] attack,” Rip said. “Almost nobody was talking after that.”

“The wounded are even being quiet,” Lady Midnight said. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing though.”

“It’s probably not,” Tessa said. “The [Hungry Shadows] leaving after they got a bite of just a few people is not at all in character for the Hunger.”

“Think it’s like a zombie bite?” Lisa asked.

“What, like they’re going to rise up as those shadow things?” Matt asked.

“”It wouldn’t be the first time there’s been something like that in the game,” Tessa said.

“Or the hundredth,” Glimmerglass added. 

“The is a common answer to that sort of problem,” Lost Alice said.

“Head shots for everyone?” Rip asked.

“What?” Matt said.

“She’s right,” Lady Midnight said. “When you’ve got a spreading, lethal menace you contain it. Whatever it takes.”

“We can do better than that though,” Tessa said. “And we don’t know they’re a spreading menace. Not yet.”

“We’re not going to have a lot of time to determine what their state is,” Lady Midnight said.

“How about the three of us, Lost Alice, you and me, do an evaluation of one of them while Tessa works out how she can get us all out of here,” Glimmerglass said.

“We’re not level capped here right?” Lost Alice said. “Are we going to be any help to you?”

“I think so,” Glimmerglass said. “You’re both [Grave Menders] so you’ve got access to different spells and skills than I do.”

“Someone should watch over Tessa though,” Lisa said.

“We’ve got that covered,” Matt said.

“No one will harm her in my domain,” Vixali said. She didn’t appear out of nowhere, but until the moment she spoke, her presence had been no more noticeable than a thin mist.

Tessa had noticed her, which was puzzling because she had the sense that she shouldn’t have been able to, but she couldn’t pin down either why she felt that should be true, or why she’d been aware of the inconspicuous [Vampire Queen].

“Well, nothing that can’t obliterate us in one hit anyways,” Qiki said. “If we’d known about level capping, we would have picked a better spot to setup court.”

“Nothing can stand against the [Formless Hunger]. No battlefield will avail us if it ventures to find us here,” Gray-of-Endless-Mist said. The [Shadowed Starstalker] surprised everyone who was present, even Vixali and Qiki who reacted with the iron calm which proved that though they were predators, they were sapient ones.

“Oh, sorry Gray, I forgot to tell you,” Obby said. “Those [Hungry Shadows] we fought earlier? Those are what’s left of the [Formless Hunger].”

“That’s…I’m sorry what?”

Tessa had never heard an Eldritch-Creature-of-Realms-Beyond-the-Ken-of-Humanity be gobsmacked before. She suspected no one had. Gray-of-Endless-Mists however was beyond perplexed and into thoroughly bamboozled.

“The [Formless Hunger] isn’t what it used to be,” Obby said. “It’s become something new. Something significantly more material. At least to the extent that you can call a shadow ‘material’ I suppose.”

This was old news to Tessa but even Rip and Matt seemed surprised by the revelation.

“I thought that [Hungry Shadow] thing was something it did to the Consortium troops it caught?” Rip said. 

“They were its farthest appendages so they were the first to go,” Obby said. “Things like that don’t have a lot of resistance being made more real though. Everything and everyone here are setup to be a part of this reality. There’s a pressure we all exert to have the things we experience be real too.”

“I do not understand that at all,” Matt said.

“Eh, it’s all kinda fluffy,” Obby said. “The short form, is that what Tessa did to the converted Consortium soldiers, she did to the [Formless Hunger] too, since they were all part of a greater whole.”

“Then we can fight it?” Gray-of-Endless-Mist asked.

“I wouldn’t recommend that,” Ironborn said. “We fought those creatures in a level restricted area and they were using abilities no other level 20 mob has. In an uncapped area there’s no predicting what they could hit us with.”

“How are you holding up with your new identity?” Tessa asked him, looking for any signs of the glitching which might suggest Ironborn was going [Disjoined] on them.

“So far so good,” Ashad said. “Ironborn was always basically just me in a suit of armor, so we’re basically thinking the same on everything.”

“Give a yell if you start having problems,” Tessa said. “I might be able to fix it if I have time to see what’s happening.”

“You can fix broken people?” Olwina asked. The [Sky’s Edge] [Blacksmith] clearly had other concerns on her mind but was trying to join the conversation around Tessa as gracefully as possible.

“Not in general,” Tessa said. “But I think I might be able to help the [Disjoined]. At least if I can get to them soon enough. I don’t know what happens if someone’s in that state for too long, or even how long ‘too long’ necessarily is.”

“Speaking of ‘too long’, how long will it take you to get us out of her?” Olwina asked. “And more importantly where do these windows lead? People are starting to get worried another attack might be coming.”

“I’m trying to figure that out now,” Tessa said. “Do you notice how the lighting changes in the windows when they’re closed? I think the location they’re drawing from slides from place to place while the window is closed. When they’re open though, like those two are, the scene stays static.”

“So if we don’t like a spot we can just close the window and pick a new one?” Olwina asked.

“The catch is we’re probably only going to get one chance at where a portal opens,” Tessa said.

“Anywhere would be better than here, wouldn’t it?” Vixali asked.

“Not necessarily,” Tessa said. “If we pick a spot which doesn’t have a portal setup to receive us, we may not be able to close the gate on this side.”

“Which would mean that the [Hungry Shadows] could just follow up through it too, right?” Rip asked.

“That’s one of the worries,” Tessa said. “The other is that, without a receiver, we can’t be sure where exactly in the location we’ll end up. We’ve got a lot of people to send through and if they wind up scattered over a few square miles that could be bad all around.”

We should send people through together,” Balegritz said. “Some who can fight to guard those who can’t.”

“Are you volunteering to act as bodyguards?” Vixali asked.

“Um, no, I was hoping some of the adventurers would come through with us,” Balegritz said.

“I will see about organizing that,” Starchild said. “Even if we have to send the adventurers through solo to guard the groups of people, we can stay in contact via the [Alliance] chat.”

“Thanks Starchild. See if Kamie and Battler can help with that. They’ve been acting as a liaison with people since this place started filling up,” Tessa said.

I think the injured are safe to move,” Lisa said on her private channel with Tessa.

Thanks. I’ve been kind of stalling till we found out what the answer was there,” Tessa said. 

It wasn’t good strategy. There were so many people gathered in the [Throne Room], and delaying their departure at all could have had catastrophic consequences. 

There were decisions Tessa did not want to force people to make unless they were completely necessary though, and leaving behind a loved one was at the top of that list.

With a sigh of relief that at least one nightmare situation had been avoided, she brought Kralt out of her inventory again.

“If you hurt me…!” the slime began but faltered. He didn’t have any viable threats to make and had managed to absorb a tiny understanding that making threats carried consequences all of their own.

“This won’t hurt,” Tessa said, scanning around the room for a window until she found one that had just changed.

Pushing through the crowd of people, she opened it before the scene behind it could change and was rewarded with the sight she’d hoped for. A the image of village shrouded in night lay on the other side of the window. A blue white glow pulsed from a ring of standing stones in the central square. 

It was the blue pulse she would claim she’d been looking for, but the darkness of the night was important as well. Between the [Vampires] and the [Shadowed Starwalkers] and the other dungeon denizens who were traveling with them, Tessa wanted to both be careful that their arrival didn’t spark a panic and that the dungeon’s peoples didn’t burst into flame the moment they reached the other side of the portal.

“Ok, this won’t hurt,” Tessa repeated, “but it might feel kind of weird.”

With that, she placed her hand against the slime and then reached inside it. She didn’t pierce the slime’s skin. Her hand moved out of phase with the creature and from it’s center drew forth and back into corporeal reality as sputtered ball of light, somewhere between a spark and a flame.

The slime dropped from her hand, not dead but transforming, it’s teardrop shaped body reconfiguring into the shape of a beared and bewildered human man.

Tessa was unconcerned about Kralt’s return to humanity. The god soul she held was blazing brighter than the sun in her vision. Looking inside it should have burned her eyes out but through the light she saw a vast, breathtaking darkness – a night sky of endless depth, with uncountable sparks filling it with quiet radiance.

In her hand, she held not a key like Ashad had said, but the entirety of the world she stood on. Though the god soul was a broken, failing thing, it still help the raw power of creation. Authority over all that is, and was, and could be.

Tessa felt cold fingers slide into her free hand and the world came back to her.

She wasn’t a god. She wasn’t the architect of the world. 

She was a part of it.

Just a woman.

With people who needed her. 

Glancing over to drink in Lost Alice’s warm nod of support, Tessa thrust the god soul into the proto-portal and opened the path to their better tomorrow.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 24


Azma wasn’t overly fond of the unexpected. She spent a fair bit of her time and mental prowess planning strategies for managing an unmanageable environment. That she recognized the impossibility of accounting for every possibility and was consistently able to cope with the chaotic tumults which arose around her was a considered source of pride.

“There is no managing this one,” she said. She’d taken off her warded goggles and was looking at the pit where [Sky’s Edge] had once stood.

The pit where her suborned troops were casting themselves into some subterranean labyrinth.

“The units who were not converted by the entity are requesting order from the local commanders,” Grenslaw said.

“The fleet’s interdiction field has not been lifted,” Ryschild said. “So far there is no sign of ship movement to suggest that the operation’s parameters have changed.”

Azma took in both pieces of data and paused.

It was tempting to issue immediate commands and claim control of the forces who remained. Tempting but likely suicidal. 

She’s gone over the indirect data. She’d seen how the [Formless Hunger] had reacted to her gambit. Her ploy with the containment units hadn’t failed. It had been sabotaged. Someone, had transformed the Hunger. They’d stripped away the [Transdimensional] element of its nature and made it, effectively, real.

Which was a disaster.

As a real creature, it could be fought and corralled and put to a number of valuable uses. As a [Transdimensional Entity] thought it was worth as much as the rest of the campaign, even including the dual [Arcanospheres] the planet offered.

Azma had been planning to use that value as a tool to unlock the support of several useful individuals. Without it, her options within the Consortium narrowed considerably.

“Put out a general order for reporting,” Azma said. “All functional carriers now have firewalled data collection points where each squad’s official reports can be collated. Unit commanders are to review their squads reports for accuracy as well as sign off on the summaries of any squads in their zones of operation.”

“Now’s the time for paperwork?” Sergeant Fiori asked.

“We can’t evacuate the troops yet,” Azma said. “Our own ships would shoot us down. Also, our troops are currently low on trust. Anything we say will be rejected summarily.”

“I thought commanders had [Control Overrides] for all of the forces in a mission?” Fiori asked.

“We do. I need these troops functioning at maximum efficiency though,” Azma said. “Activating the [Control Override] strips the troops of the ability to react with situation appropriate responses. Mindless zombies who are never distracted may be useful in some circumstances, but these are not those circumstances.”

“As one of the potential mindless zombies, I thank you for that,” Fiori said.

“The paperwork serves a purpose beyond keeping them busy as well,” Azma said. “Soldier love to tell stories. In this case, those stories will naturally reveal the transformation our enemy has undergone. Once it’s clear that we are no longer fighting a [Transdimensional], we can open more communication channels and bring the local [Commanders] on board without them sending [Berserker] squads after us to satisfy protocol.”

“Some of the [Commanders] have reached that stage already and are requesting orders directly from you,” Grenslaw said.

“Have they tried to open communications with the fleet yet?” Azma asked.

“No. Several ships are in position for tight beam communications but no messages have been sent,” Ryschild said.

“Inform the commanders who request orders, that they are to bring their forces to our location,” Azma said. “We will be reviewing plans in person. No remote transmissions allowed.”

“That’s going to march a whole lot of them closer to danger,” Fiori said.

“We don’t know where the enemy has gone. So at this moment everywhere is equidistant from danger. Also, scattered we’re weaker,” Azma said. “Getting the troops together removes another issue as well, namely that transmissions can be intercepted. We don’t know what capabilities the entity retains but discussing our plans in the open presents too large a risk of the Consortium’s assets.”

That Azma considered her troops to be assets worth preserving was unusual in a [Supreme Commander] but then only an unusual [Supreme Commander] would be on the field Azma had chosen to join.

“Is there anything we should be preparing?” Grenslaw asked.

It was a polite method of asking ‘do you know what your orders are going to be yet or are you completely stumped by this frankly ludicrous turn of events?’

Azma wished the second possibility was an option for her. The thought of letting everything unwind on its own, of letting the whole world finally fall down, seemed so restful.

That wasn’t who she was though. 

Worse trials than the one before her had forged her into the woman she’d become, and none of those had been ones where she would have survived by taking an easy out. 

“Yes,” Azma said. “Before marching to our position, all troops are to be inspected, all wounds treated, and all weaponry recharged. If any squads have suffered partial personnel losses, their details should be communicated to the central data hub. [Commanders] are encouraged to combine like squads to reach optimal fighting strength under the command of whichever [Commander] has fewer forces to manage. If no viable options are present to restore the squad, or a chain of command for the combined squad cannot be agreed upon, we will handle the reassignment of those units when they arrive.”

“It sounds like you’re assembling as a fighting force again?” Fiori said.

“You have perceptive ears Sergeant,” Azma said.

“Will they be able to fight though?” Fiori asked. “They were routed pretty badly. That doesn’t tend to leave the regular forces in great shape. Even the speciality units like the [Artifax] may have command processing corruptions.”

“That’s why I want the troops brought here,” Azma said. “There are still too many of them to do full, individual reviews of, but a formation level review will tell me how far I can lean on them and expect the social cohesion of the group to keep them all functional.”

“Functional for what though?” Fiori asked.

“For the next stage of this campaign,” Azma said. “Our target has fled inside this satellite moon. We’re going to follow it in there. It’s either running to find something or it’s searching for an escape route Whichever it is, I want it.”


One of the great delights of Bryon’s life was watching other people’s plans implode. Under the current circumstances though he found himself at a loss for mirth.

“Why not just send an expendable ship in to verify that the moonlet thingy is safe to approach?” he asked, exhausted from listening to the endlessly whining from the Director of Xenobiology.

“This operation has turned into a total debacle, and it’s all on my accounts! I can’t afford to lose anything else!” Maldrax was capable of showing dignity, but apparently was choosing not to. 

Byron could see why. In a hurried effort to claim a prize beyond measure, Maldrax had gambled on taking control of an ongoing operation away from a popular and successful [Supreme Commander] and said operation was losing value faster than if the world in question had been set completely on fire. The timing wasn’t quite perfect to pin the blame on Maldrax, but that only meant that, when people went looking for someone to assign blame to, the blast radius would be large enough to include Azma, Maldrax, and everyone else associated with the incident.

Byron was outside that blast radius, because of course he was, despite being the one who’d engineered Maldrax’s takeover. If the blowback extended past Maldrax, it would reach no further than Byron’s pawn Whiteweather, who was blissfully ignorant that he’d been manipulated at all. 

Byron was safe.

He was sure of that.

He simply wanted to be more sure. 

Azma had been a potential problem for a long time. Not a direct threat, but Byron was cognizant of how deadly indirect enemies could be.

Which was why he was so diligent about eliminating them. Carefully.

Azma wasn’t dead yet though. 

Or at least wasn’t confirmed to be dead. 

Which meant she was definitely alive.

It was tempting to offer suggestions on how Maldrax could change that, but Maldrax was malfunctioning a bit too much to send in that direction.

At least not yet.

Byron was tempted to let the man melt down completely, and achieve the rare feat of being terminated while still in active command of a fleet. It would stop Maldrax’s whining which was becoming an ever larger and more desirable perk, but it would also cut Byron’s view into the evolving situation of the operation and Azma’s current state as one of the living. Worse, letting Maldrax self-annihilate would mean someone less open to Byron’s manipulations would be given command of the operation, and that would be no fun at all.

“The key, as I see it,” Byron said. “Is that you have an asset and a liability in play and your information concerning each of them is rapidly aging to the point of uselessness.”

“I know that!” Maldrax face bulged with a rage he couldn’t quite afford to spew onto Byron and they both knew it. “What I don’t know,” he added forcing calm into his voice, “is what options I have to alleviate that state.”

“Projected losses to date,” Byron said. He didn’t expect Maldrax to understand, in fact he hoped Maldrax wouldn’t. It was far more fun forcing a Director to beg for knowledge.

“How could money I’ve already lost possibly help me?” Maldrax asked.

“Given who the previous commander was, I believe you’ll find a discrepancy there between ‘Projected losses’ and ‘Reported losses’,” Byron said. “Azma is frugal with her troops and assets. You are under no such constraint.”

“I don’t understand?” Maldrax said, the stress of the day making him particularly thick.

Or perhaps that how he always was. Byron had to concede that Maldrax’s current behavior wasn’t that far out of line with his usual mode of operation. 

“The ‘Projected Losses’ for an operation are built into the operation’s budget. You’re not incurring any further costs by allowing them to happen,” Byron said. “Conversely any underrun in ‘Projected Losses’ is absorbed by Accounting for other projects that run over, so you can’t make any additional money for the operation by preventing losses.”

“Then why does that woman bother?” Maldrax asked.

“Currying favor with the accountants? Sentimentality? Who’s to know how the mind of so strange a creature works,” Byron said. “The important thing is that you can use the slack which Azma left you to discover the information you need about what has happened to our Transdimensional friend.”

“That could work!” Maldrax said.

“You may want to use some of your own people for that,” Byron said. “You’ll need sources who understand how to take the reading you need and whose results you can trust. That’ll cut down on the need to send multiple survey teams.”

It was also cut down on the forces directly loyal to Maldrax rather than the Consortium in general, which wasn’t likely to be lost on Maldrax.

“You make a good point,” Maldrax said, buying Byron’s argument without thought or question. “It will take time to get a proper team configured and outfitted though.”

“Then send in a low value crew for the initial pass,” Byron said. “Their results will be error prone and largely untrustworthy but even a small amount of verifiable data should be useful in refining what the actual team will look for.”

“We have ships holding position for emergency pick up it looks like,” Maldrax said. “Why would they bother with that? Oh well, I suppose it’s more of that woman’s inscrutable strategy. All the better for us though. I can have one of them move into place and begin reporting back immediately.”

“Excellent! That’s the kind of decisive action you need to stay on top of…” Byron began to say but cut himself off as Maldrax synched in the audio from the emergency pick up ship with the connection they were sharing.

“Yes commander?” a young ensign said.

“Wait!” Byron said. “Don’t make an open connection on a secure channel like this.”

“What is your current objective?” Maldrax asked.

“Direct observation of the troops,” the ensign said. “Of the troops. Direct. Of the troops. Observing. You.”

Byron moved to slam the cut off button for their channel but it was far too late at that point.

Behind him the shadows came to life and their eyes burned with purple fire.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 23


Despite the screaming and death that surrounded her, Lisa felt remarkably calm. 

“That’s probably partially my fault,” Lost Alice said. “I’m not exactly bothered by bloodshed.”

“You’re also not turning into a feral killing machine,” Lisa said, sparing a glance down the hall to where Vixali and Qiki had moved out of position and were shredding [Hungry Shadows] to ash and bone fragments with their claws.

Lisa wasn’t sure if they’d wound up deep in the fray in order to protect the less combat capable human behind them or if the [Vampire Queen] and her [Castellan] had simply succumbed to their bloodlust. In either case they seemed to be committed to the battle.

“I’d say I don’t do ‘feral frenzy’, but there was that guy in the [Sunken Deeps],” Lost Alice said. “I suppose it’s more accurate to say I don’t do it often. It’s one of the reasons I started learning to be a [Grave Mender].”

“And I thought I was just making a brokenly powerful build combination,” Lisa said.

“Maybe you were? We create ourselves right?” Lost Alice asked.

Their philosophical reverie was interrupted as one of the [Hungry Shadows] got past Ashad/Ironborn’s guard.

One of the effects of the Shadows gaining intelligence was that they understood how to prioritize their attacks much better. With Ironborn’s Taunt no longer in effect, the Shadow didn’t waste any time on the wall of indestructible steel that was the tank in front of it. Instead it dove on Rip Shot, it’s nightmare maw of fangs gaping wide to tear out her throat.

Lost Alice held her healing spell on Ironborn rather than drop it, knowing she could apply a [Counter Death] on Rip to buy time if need to. It was a cruel choice. Rip would find having her throat torn out exactly as unpleasant as Rose would have as a human, but mitigating pain was a secondary consideration for a healer, falling well behind keeping the party alive and able to function.

The cruelty of the choice was also tempered somewhat.

Before the Shadow could land it’s attack, Tessa had her fist slammed into the back of the creatures mouth.

Her fist wasn’t glowing.

She hadn’t transformed back to Pillowcase.

She wasn’t even using any special tanking skills to avoid damage.

“God I love that idiot,” Lisa said to no one but herself as her heart unclenched from the scare of something happening to Rip.

Tessa’s forearm didn’t do particularly well against the Shadows fangs of course and she wasn’t quiet or calm once she recognized what a bad idea her action had been. Fortunately Matt had her covered.

“[Casting spell: Summon Nightmare Hound],” Matt said, the words a bit more hurried than a spell’s invocation should be. It was okay though, the [Nightmare Hound] in question was a good boy and came howling up out of ground anyways.

The [Hungry Shadow] was a roughly man-sized monster with flaming eyes and a mouth full of terrible, glittering fangs beyond count. It feared nothing and no one.

Which was a mistake.

Something isn’t called a ‘Nightmare Hound’ because it’s easily dismissed.

The good news for Tessa was that after the [Nightmare Hound] bit the [Hungry Shadow] into two pieces, it turned to ash and she was spared the problem of trying to extract her still-mostly-human hand from its mouth.

“Oww,” Tessa whined, cradling her bleeding arm in her good one. 

“I’ll get you in a sec,” Lisa said. There was some tiny chance the experience might incline Tessa to think of her own safety for at least a half second before charging into danger, but Lisa was mostly just focused on making sure the gaps in Ironborn’s defensive skills were covered with sufficient healing.

As a max level character, Ironborn should have had no trouble with the [Hungry Shadows]. Except the caravan was traveling through a series of corridors which were all in a level capped area. Because if they weren’t the max level Shadows would have devoured them in a blink. Ironborn wasn’t perfectly setup to fight under the level restriction, but at level 20 he was still stronger than any of the other tanks they had available.

Except for possibly Obby? Lisa heard Obby carving a path forwards for the caravan and wasn’t sure there was anyone up there supporting her.

“If she needs help, she’ll call for it,” Lost Alice said. “She’s as familiar with party tactics as you are.”

“Yeah for all the lowbies we have here, at least there are plenty of us who’re used to this kind of raid-level nonsense,” Lisa said.

“It’s helping me too,” Lost Alice said. “It feels like the practical experience we have from my memories and the indirect experience we have from yours is working together nicely.”

“I wish that were true for everyone though,” Lisa said.

Chatter from farther back in the line reinforced Lisa’s concern.

“We’ve got Shadows dropping from the ceiling onto people after twenty feet ahead of us,” Kamie Anne Do called out on the [Alliance’s] part line. “We can’t get over there in time.”

Chaos erupted on the line as people offered to try to help, or wanted to know where exactly the Shadows were, or shouted for their allies not to leave them.

“We need a leader,” Lisa said, again to herself. Talking on any channel was a waste in all the chaos. 

“Or to strike off with just our team,” Lost Alice said.

It was tempting. Terribly, brutally tempting. As a healer main, Lisa had been on too many teams and seen too many people fall apart. It was a rough thing to fail, but giving up on people was even harder. 

Or it should have been.

Looking back, Lisa could see how jaded she’d become. [Broken Horizons] had lost a lot of its joy for her. 

And that was what Tessa, and Rip, and Matt had brought back. They were all terrified of the new world they found themselves in, but in some weird way, they were all happy to be in it together.

If the [Hungry Shadows], or the [Consortium of Pain], or the [Gods of Old] wanted to tear that down and spread misery everywhere? Well [Adventurers] weren’t good about fighting for their lives, but give them a treasure to win they actually cared about and they would string even the gods up and beat them like pinatas until the desired treasure appeared.

With a deep breath, Lisa felt her spirit move. 

She was an [Adventurer] now and her treasure was standing all around her.


Jamal had a dog. He’d always wanted one and now he had the best one ever.

The [Nightmare Hound] seemed to be happy to have been gotten too. He gazed at Jamal with eyes the size of Matt’s fist, a swirl of light specks flickering in their vast darkness like a galaxy tumbling through space.

“I think he wants to eat more of the Shadows,” Matt said.

“I don’t want him to get hurt though,” Jamal said.

“We can just summon him back if he does,” Matt said.

“Yeah, but I don’t want him to get hurt,” Jamal said. 

The protectiveness wasn’t entirely based on empathy for the living nightmare. Keeping the Hound close meant that if any other Shadows got past Ironborn, there’d be someone other than Tessa to keep Rose from getting torn to pieces.

“It’s important that pets get sufficient enrichment,” Matt said.

“Okay, the Consortium did not teach you about that,” Jamal said.

“Huh, no, I guess they didn’t,” Matt said. “Apparently I can access your skills like you can use mine?”

Jamal wanted to laugh at the idea of the [Metal Mechanoid] taking up pet care, but, the current situation aside, it wasn’t all that hard to picture.

“Rip!” Lost Alice called out on their team channel, shouting over the chaos of the battle. “The people behind us need help. You’re fast enough to get to them. Go. We’ll back you up.”

Rose didn’t need to be told twice to go play hero.

“Me too?” Jamal asked.

“Yeah, your [Nightmare Hound] can pass through people. Send him along with Rip and try to push through the crowd as fast as you can without trampling people,” Lisa said.

“We can’t send them in there alone,” Tessa said.

“I know. Get moving too,” Lost Alice said. “We can’t coordinate all the [Adventurers] but if we lead by example they might start copying us. I’ll follow once Ironborn has the next few whittled down.”

“You can go now,” Ashad said. “I’ve got potions I can use to cover the gaps.”

“No need,” Starfire said. “[Casting spell: Verdant Regrowth]. I’ve got him. Go and save the others!”

“This should help,” Glimmerglass said. “[Casting spell: Lesser Solar Barrier].”

Jamal saw Matt’s body, as well as Lost Alice and Tessa begin to glow with a golden light. Rose missed the effect because Rip had already disappeared with a thunderclap as she ran over the crowd by running along a wall and around the bend.

Pushing through the crowd was challenging given the beefy bulk of Matt’s body. For someone who wasn’t a melee class, being so stocky seemed a bit weird, but Matt’s built-in skills explained that the size of his body which made for the inexpensive storage of magical energy. Having a body made by the lowest bidder wasn’t always the greatest thing, even if the original design was well into the super human range for most qualities.

While moving through the crowd was difficult, keeping track of where to go was not.

Rose’s fighting style was effective, efficient, and energetic.

What is was not was subtle.

By the time he got to her, three of the [Hungry Shadows] were drifting to ash and one more was stumbling back as a [Lightning Shot] burned a hole through the center of its chest. Rip however was being grappled by three other Shadows and was not having a good time of it.

“Okay boy, get ‘em,” Jamal said, which put a wolf-ish smile on the [Nightmare Hound’s] face.

It ran directly through the dozen people directly in between Matt and Rip. Before the Shadows could drag Rip to the ground, the Hound was there, knocking one off and tearing into another.

“[Casting spell: Lesser Spectral Wounds],” Matt said placing a large and only somewhat illusionary gash through the Shadows arm and torse. The injury’s effects were limited, but they were enough for Rip to wiggle out of the Shadow’s grasp and place another arrow straight into the center of its body.

Matt wanted to cheer, but it was far too soon for that. As fast as she’d won free of the Shadow who was holding her, five more appeared.The horde of [Hungry Shadows] was seemingly endless.

Jamal didn’t let that dissuade him. He kept pushing through, casting spells and firing off attacks from his staff, but the melee was too chaotic and they were too outnumbered. They were going be overwhelmed and die again. Jamal wasn’t going to stop fighting, but he knew they were doomed.

Until the [Hungry Shadows] began fleeing.

And the [Alliance] chat went wild.

“They’re running!”

“We won!”


“Good game!”

The voices on the [Alliance] channel were a cacophony of cheers that Jamal couldn’t help but be swept up in. 

“This isn’t right,” Tessa said, putting a hand on Matt’s shoulder to get his attention.

“What’s not?” Jamal asked on their team channel.

“The [Hungry Shadows] shouldn’t be running away,” Lost Alice said. “That’s not a good sign.”

“Maybe their boss figured they couldn’t beat us here?” Rose asked.

“We should check the wounded and see if anyone’s missing,” Tessa said.

That idea got communicated out to the other [Adventurers] quickly and it wasn’t long before the answer came back.

“We’ve got everyone still here,” Kamie Anne Do said. “But there were injuries.”

“On the townsfolk?” Lost Alice asked.


“Let me see them,” Lost Alice said.

Their team pushed through a few more small groups of people before they found a group who’d been too far away from the higher level adventurers to avoid contact with the [Hungry Shadows].

Four of the towns people were down, unconscious from wounds which oozed with purple light and were slowly draining the color from them.

Broken Horizons – Vol 7, Ch 22


Getting a team to run somewhere could be an exercise in herding cats. Rather than simply following the plan, it was always a case where people didn’t listen, or wanted to go somewhere else, or were busy taking care of whatever had grabbed their attention three seconds ago. Despite all that though managing a team was still heavenly compared to getting a camp full of diverse factions to flee from a place of tentative safety and rush into the unknown because of a threat which they couldn’t yet see coming. 

“We’re never going to make it,” Tessa said, her hands clenching and unclenching on their own. “They don’t want to leave.”

She was speaking privately to Lisa while trying to project a calm and certain expression so that people would continue to take her seriously.

Assuming they were taking her seriously at all to begin with.

Yawlorna seemed to be onboard, but Vixali looks like she was mostly interested in dinner, with Tessa as the main course. Neither of them presented the challenge Olwina did though.

“If we leave the [High Beyond], we’re never going to get our homes back,” Olwina said. It wasn’t an unreasonable point. The towns people had lost a lot. Tessa just knew they were going to lose a lot more if they stayed where they were.

“Maybe not,” Lost Alice said. “[Sky’s Edge] is already gone. Even if we can take back the [High Beyond] later, the land may not be able to support life for a while.”

“We need to get rid of the Consortium too,” Rip said. “As long as they’re around, you’ll be completely exposed here.”

“Why not go to one of the other cities though?” Olwina asked. “[Star Throne] or [Godston] have defenses. We could rally there couldn’t we?”

“The cities are still standing but their residents are all gone already,” Obby said.

“The Consortium?” Tessa asked.

“Nah, the major city areas had one-way gates setup to take them to the surface,” Obby said. “As soon as the Consortium showed up, the majority of the population bailed out through them. We’d probably find a few who stayed, but those would be the same people who thought a [Formless Hunger] was no big deal, or a hoax, or something equally ill-informed.”

“Wait, they have working gates that can take us to the surface? That’s great! That might make this even easier!” Tessa said.

“I’m sorry to rain on the parade, but the ‘had’ there was intentional. Once everyone who was going to flee was through the gates, the cities destroyed them. If they hadn’t the Consortium could have used them or, worse case, the Hunger could have.”

“Ok, shoulda seen that one coming. At least it’s sensible,” Tessa said. “And probably something we’ll need to do too.”

“You know where another gate is?” Rip asked.

“We do,” Tessa said. “Or at least something that can be turned into a gate.”

“How does one turn something into a gate?” Vixali asked. She was sitting on a small outcropping from the wall which she somehow managed to make look like a regal throne through nothing more than her posture.

“With this,” Tessa said and drew forth a slime from her inventory.

“You can’t treat me like this!” Kralt said, his teardrop shaped body vibrating with anger.

“They can and have,” Ashad said. He was sitting on a small ledge too, but as a slime didn’t have the same majesty the [Vampire Queen] did, so for him it was just a stone perch.

“You led them to me! This is all your fault!” Kralt said.

“You’d be being eaten by [Hungry Shadows] at the moment if he hadn’t,” Lost Alice said.

“Save your breath,” Tessa said. “He only cares about himself. Which is fine. It makes the rest of this a lot easier.”

“What…what do mean? What are you going to do to me?” Kralt asked. He was the size of a basketball and though he didn’t physically shrink at all, he did seem to grow smaller as his fear finally cracked out through the mantle of his planetary scale ego.

“He’s the key,” Tessa said. “Or he has one. It’s mostly worthless, but I think we can use it at least once.”

“A key requires a lock,” Vixali said, leaning forward with her gaze fixed on Tessa.

Being the subject of keen vampiric interest was unsettling. Tessa wasn’t sure she was human anymore, but whatever she was did not enjoy the idea of being devoured by a [Vampire].

Well, not by that [Vampire] at least.

Receiving that sort of attention from…

Tessa mentally slapped herself. Just because Lost Alice was inches away from her did not mean it was okay to drift off into happy day dreams. 

“You showed us the lock in question,” she said, casting her gaze off in the general direction of Vixali’s lair. It was partially in answer to the question but also so she wouldn’t have to try to win a staring contest with someone whose powers probably included a magically mesmerizing gaze.

“We have no gates,” Vixali said.

“The windows?” Qiki asked. She was floating behind Vixali. Tessa couldn’t tell if she could actually levitate or if it was a combination of supremely good body control and superhuman strength. The [Vampiric Castellan] made it look effortlessly graceful in either case.

“Right,” Tessa said. ‘You have portals to other places there.”

“But they’re no more than a visual effect,” Vixali said. “You can’t pass through them.”

“You can if you have a god soul to work with,” Tessa said. 

“Uh, aren’t those dangerous?” Matt Painting asked. He and Rip were standing close by to Lost Alice and Tessa. It should have looked like baby birds huddling near the mothers they’d imprinted on, but Tessa more had the sense of the two of them as some kind of honor guard. They’d certainly been ruthless when it came to fighting on her behalf, which in the back of her mind Tessa wondered about. She was endlessly grateful they’d come to help her, but it wasn’t the sort of thing two kids should have had to do, or the sort of thing she should be asking them to ever do again.

Which was why she needed everyone to get through the gate.

“The last god soul was almost too dangerous,” Tessa said. “I’m just praying this one will be dangerous enough.”


They were going to get into a fight. Rose knew this because Rip knew it. Rip was low level still but she had battle experience, both from ones she’d participated in and from the many more she’d heard tales of. In none of them did an enemy who’d been stymied by a small party decide that they’d drop the matter there so everyone could live and let live. The Hunger was going to attack again, and it would do so at the worst time it could find.

“What do you think will happen if we can make it to the surface?” Jamal asked. He’d insisted on staying at her side as long as they (and all the rest of the [Adventurers]) were on guard duty for the caravan of people trying to reach Vixali’s throne room.

“More fighting,” Rip said. “The Consortium’s all over the place down there from what people have been saying.”

“Yeah, but aren’t they all like max level? We can’t even get close to that,” Jamal said.

“Not right away,” Rose said. “Lost Alice was talking about getting some of her guild mates to help level us up though.”

“Aren’t they all busy fighting the Consortium though?” Jamal asked.

“I guess they’ll take some time out for us?” Rose said.

“You don’t think they’ll try to ditch us somewhere ‘safe’, so that we don’t have to do any more fighting?” Jamal asked.

“I hope not,” Rose said. “They haven’t left us behind yet.”

“I know, but, I mean, what if we’re not good enough?” Jamal asked. “I was talking with Battler X and she has five other characters who are all max level. Leveling her up is smart cause she already knows what the high levels are like.”

“That’s why they need us though!” Rose said. “You remember what Pillowcase and Lost Alice were talking about right? How we’re going to develop different abilities than the usual high level ones because we’re actually living this? They need people who don’t know how the game worked so that we won’t limit our thinking to that.”

“You can find the bright side in anything can’t you?” Jamal asked, unable to keep the smile from his voice.

“I turned into an awesome catgirl [Archer], and then into a super lightning archer,” Rose said. “I know this is all ridiculously frightening and horrible, but it’s also deeply cool. You’ve got to admit that.”

“Hey, you were awesome before too,” Jamal said.

“But before I couldn’t hear creatures creeping up on us in the dark,” Rose said, her voice growing distant and wary.

“I’m not even going to question that,” Jamal said. “Where are they and how far?”

“There,” Rose said pointing down a side hallway the caravan of refugees didn’t need to pass down. “About a hundred yards away. They’re on the walls and ceiling too and they’re moving fast.”

“Incoming!” Obby said over the [Alliance] party line the [Adventurers] had put together. 

When the [Hungry Shadows] hit, it became clear how much they’d changed from the zombies or the [Formless Hunger] they’d evolved from. 

Gone was the disjointed movement and the unfocused meandering. When the [Hungry Shadows] arrived they flew forward guided by a single mind. There was no hesitation or confusion about what they were seeing.

Tentacles burst from the walls and floors, moving with them. 

And the dying began.

Thanks to Rip’s perceptiveness, she and Matt Painting were able to start striking back the instant the [Hungry Shadows] turned the corner and came in range. From various other parts of the caravan chatter burst onto the party channel that the [Hungry Shadows] were attacking from all sides.

“We’ve got this side,” Rose called into the chaos while Matt slung spell after spell at the encroaching hoard of [Hungry Shadows].

Behind them the villagers from [Sky’s Edge] were crying out in alarm and huddling back away from the obvious threats.

The obvious threats who were actually being effected by [Lightning Shots] and [Lesser Spectral Wounds].

Rose hadn’t thought about it before. The [Formless Hunger] had been impervious to damage. Even looking at it had nearly fried her brain. These [Hungry Shadows] though? They weren’t going down quickly or easily, but they were dropping as she and Matt blasted damage into them. They were smarter and faster but they’d lost something. 

That should have been reassuring, and it would have been, if the Shadows had been dropping quickly enough. For each one that fell though, the rest pushed farther forward.

“They’re going to be on us in about ten seconds,” Rip said. “We can’t hold them back.”

“You don’t have to,” Lost Alice said, stepping in front of them.

“Not alone,” Tessa said, stepping up to stand beside Lost Alice.

In her hands, she held Ashad’s slime body.

“Is this going to work?” Ashad asked.

“I was hoping we wouldn’t have to find out,” Tessa said. “Which one do you want to be?”

“Sizzleblam,” Ashad said. “No, wait, Ironborn, he’s just as geared up and we need a tank here.”

“I don’t know if I can switch you to any of the others later,” Tessa said.

“That’s fine. Do it!” Ashad said.

Rose saw a brief flash of rainbow light surround Tessa before she threw the slime at the far too close [Hungry Shadows].

The slime which was also wrapped in flashing light.

The slime which landed on the ground not as a teardrop blob but a tall man encased in an absurdly over-decorated suit of solid platemail.

“[Provoking Roar],” Ironborn bellowed, unleashing a skill which riveted the attention of the oncoming.

If Tessa couldn’t tank for the group, she’d apparently discovered a suitable alternative; summon a max level tank to handle the job for her.