Monthly Archives: May 2021

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 7

Azma wasn’t having a bad day. Azma was a bad day. One that actively stalked and took down the fools that stood before her. As a result, she was well versed in how well laid plans could be brought to ruin, and how impossible problems could appear from nowhere. She wasn’t immune to such issues herself of course, no one is disaster-proof, but she was used to at least being able to grasp the extent of the calamities which befell her plans.

“[Supreme Commander]? Your orders?” Fiori said.

Azma shook her head. 

Three seconds.

She’d been dumbstruck for three seconds.

It was the longest shock she’d allowed herself in over a decade.

“Full isolation,” she said, and knew it wasn’t going to be enough. “No. It got through that. We need physical isolation. No commands from the fleet period.”

“If we disable the repeaters and draw all forces into the ruins, we will be in a communication blackout till we emerge,” Grenslaw said.

“Consortium official monitoring will be lost as well,” Ryschild said.

“Give the order,” Azma said. “All forces, inside the ruins, immediately. Abandon materials which require any transport time. And all long range communication devices or monitoring pods are to be destroyed immediately, even if they are powered down.”

The fleet hadn’t been in contact with the ground forces during the assault on the [Transdimensional Entity] but the comm traffic and orders given had been collected in an unopenable data warehouse. Later, when the threat was neutralized, the data could be dissected and reviewed for evidence of orders which ran contrary to the Consortium’s financial interests.

The only reason to terminate the collection of that data, in the Consortium’s eyes would be to hide the details of transactions which resulted in a negative profit outcome for the Consortium in favor of personal gain.

Or stealing. 

They couldn’t express it in simple terms, but it boiled down to being afraid that the store clerks were going to steal money from the register.

With registers that stored the sum of the material wealth of an entire planet.

A short disruption in data collection was assumed to be malfeasance, and was met with intense scrutiny. For the short of permanent disconnection Azma was ordering, the Consortium wouldn’t even bother with scrutiny. Guilt would be absolutely determined merely by the scope of the absent data. 

“And I have no other choice,” she said.

Because she knew what had happened.

Or what had to have happened.

The fleet had been locked down. Most of the ships had been in isolation mode. The main comm channel shouldn’t have been present to be corrupted in the first place.

Not unless someone had done something profoundly stupid.

Which, of course, is what the Director of Xenobiology had done.

It was inconceivable that someone of his experience and with his area of expertise could make such a mistake that had so many safeguards and regulations built in to prevent it.

But then, safeguards and procedures didn’t apply to the important people. They were trusted. They were allowed to do anything they wanted. And consequences were something for other people to deal with.

Right up until they finally made a mistake that was bad enough to catch them in its backlash.

“What do you think happened, [Supreme Commander]?” Grenslaw asked.

“The fleet has been exposed to the [Hungry Shadow],” Azma said. “That’s certain. For the main channel to carry the Shadows contagion, the whole fleet would need to be infected though.”

“But parts of it weren’t on the comm net?” Ryschild said.

“Correct,” Azma said. “Which means they were forced out of isolation and connected back to the net by an override.”

“The [Director of Xenobiology] was corrupted first?” Grenslaw asked.

“Yes, but he didn’t have the override privileges to break the full isolation lock on the fleet,” Azma said. “Which means the Shadow’s corruption has spread outside the fleet. There had to have been an open channel to someone with [Senior Executive] level privileges.”

Grenslaw and Ryschild both went silent, understanding as Azma had the implication of a corruptive entity on the scale of the [Hungry Shadow] running loose in the Consortium with [Senior Executive] level permissions at its disposal.

“This all sounds bad,” Fiori said. “But what does it mean for us? The operation’s scrubbed at this point right? Can we survive the [Cleansing Force] our bosses are going to send?”

If the Consortium couldn’t have acquire a commercially valuable asset, the next best thing was to insure that no one else could leverage it against them. In the place of the troops and space carriers which had been placed under Azma’s command, [Cleansing Forces] were given much simpler ordinance to deploy. Things like [Matter Conversion Bombs] and [Stellar Implosion Devices]. A typical “Cleansing” operation was carried out in less than an hour and did leave a very clean area in its wake, insofar as any degree of “dirty’ required particulate matter to still exist in the area which is only rarely still did.

“It’s entirely possible that no [Cleansing Force] will be sent,” Azma said.

“That would be a relief,” Fiori said.

“Because it’s entirely possible that the [Senior Executives] of the Consortium will no longer be distinct individuals to send that order,” Azma continued.

“Uh, what?” Fiori asked.

“It’s possible, though not guaranteed, that the Consortium as we know it will not exist beyond the next twenty four hours,” Azma said. “The former [Transdimensional Entity] has likely obtained the level of access required to spread throughout the Consortium’s uppermost command eschaleons. If so, it could be consuming them as we speak. One after the other.”

“That, uh, that sounds bad,” Fiori said. “Is there something we should do about that?”

“Yes,” Azma said. “We should plan to survive it.”

“Does that mean supporting the [Hungry Shadow]?” Ryschild asked.

“No. While it has an unimpeded path to victory, it’s win isn’t certain,” Azma said. “Also, there is no common ground we could stand on. It is our enemy now, and it has no need to accept an alliance or a surrender which doesn’t involve consuming us as well.”

“Do we make peace with this world’s other denizens then?” Grenslaw asked.

“They too have little reason to accept an offer of cooperation,” Azma said.

“So where does that leave us?” Fiori asked.

“Where we were before, but with greater clarity,” Azma said. One by one, she felt expectations and other bits of social baggage falling from her shoulders. “Satisfying the Consortium’s aims is no longer a priority. Nor do we need to concern ourselves with their understanding or appraisal of our performance.”

“So survival’s our only priority?” Fiori asked?

“No. Survival is insufficient,” Azma said. “If we play for only a short term gain, the long term will be lost to us, and the long term in this context is anything beyond the next twenty four hours.”

“What other options do we have?” Fiori asked.

Azma had an idea, but before she could allude to it, they were interrupted by one of Azma’s [Strike Team Leaders].

“[Supreme Commander], we’ve located the [Central Node] you tasked us to find,” Lt. Mabeeze said. “Resistance is growing, uh, substantial. Requesting reinforcements or permission to withdraw.”

“[Central Node]?“ Fiori asked.

“Withdraw along the path we’re transmitting to you,” Azma said. “Reinforcements will meet you in ten minutes. Hold out till then. Lose no one Lieutenant. None of your are expendable at present.”

“Understood [Supreme Commander],” Mabeeze said, relief echoing in his voice.

“What did they find?” Fiori asked.

“We’re going to verify that,” Azma said. “Give the order, we’re moving the command center.”

“Wait, we’re the reinforcements for Mabeeze?” Fiori said. “But there in one of the worst areas in the ruins. I don’t know if we can protect you there.”

“You won’t have to, not alone,” Azma said. “All forces, mobilize and converge on the following position. [Clear and Release] protocol.”

Throughout Azma’s remaining forces a silent cheer arose. [Clear and Release] meant they would proceed by killing everything in or near their path but that no provision needed to be made for holding ground as they advanced. The cost of moving in that fashion was that it left open the possibility of being surrounded as the enemy blocked off the path you’d taken, but given how spread out the enemy was, it seemed to be a given that the [Hungry Shadows] could surround them at will.

Azma’s camp was already setup to be highly mobile, so they had an advantage there, but since she’d been focused on drawing the [Hungry Shadows] attention to herself, they were faced with a challenging force of enemies who were well hidden and sheltered.

“Is the [Portable Bypass Generator] fully charged?” she asked, glancing to Ryschild.

“Charged and primed. All safety locks are still engaged though.”

“Disengage safeties and deploy,” Azma said. “The rest of us will need to stand back.”

The device Ryschild held up wasn’t a large one, just a fist sized handle connected tube that lead to a half dome apparatus which looked something like an inverted umbrella. It was an odd looking device but since it cost as much as a small battleship Azma was certain it would perform its intended function well.

Ryschild flicked the last safety off and depressed the trigger after aiming the [Portable Bypass Generator] the wall which was directly between Azma’s party and Lt. Mabeeze’s position.

And it generated a bypass.

Which is to say it disintegrated the wall. Step by step, the wall boiled to lava in front of the beam and evaporated into a form of raw energy which was funneled back down the edge of the beam and into the generator’s collection reservoir. 

Azma wasn’t familiar with the underlying science beyond understanding that the device could bore holes through many different forms of matter and that it had a limited and non-renewable supply of fuel with which to do so.

As it turned out, one form of matter the generator could create bypasses through was the bodies of the [Hungry Shadows]. That allowed Azma’s party to proceed at a remarkably brisk pass, blasting through not only walls but also the enemies which stood in their path.

“Charge at 10%,” Ryschild said after they’d traversed the majority of the distance to the project rendezvous point with Mabeeze’s [Strike Team].

“Run it to zero,” Azma said. “We need to get to that [Central Node] as fast as we can.”

“Reports indicate that the enemy forces are converging on it as well,” Grenslaw said. “All of the enemy forces. Even the ones who weren’t engaging with us.”

“That’s almost as good confirmation as we’ll get with a direct inspection,” Azma said.

“Confirmation of what?” Fiori asked.

“The [Hungry Shadow] is a distributed organism,” Azma said. “It has no single weak point we can strike at. Or more properly, it had no single weak point.”

“I don’t understand. Did Mabeeze find that thing’s brain or something?” Fiori asked.

“Not its brain. Something new,” Azma said. “In the time we’ve been monitoring it, the creature emerged as an uncategorizable [Transdimensional Entity], then changed, for reasons still unknown, into a [Formless Hunger], and then changed again into a [Hungry Shadow] after our attempt to contain it. It is clearly reacting to this reality and is adapting to the pressures being brought to bear on it.”

“So it changed again?”

“It’s been doing nothing but changing,” Azma said. “But at each stage it’s become more limited, and more predictable, and, to be fair, more directly dangerous and purposeful.”

“So what’s this stage?” Fiori said.

“That’s what we need confirmation of,” Azma said.

“But you have a suspicion?” Fiori asked.

“We’ve exerted pressure on its forces by proving that its distributed bodies aren’t sufficient to overcome us,” Azma said. “It has the ability to multi-task and is aware of events wherever it possesses a body, but that natural ability is countered by our organizational structure and ability to communicate securely. Our forces can do what it can do, only with better gear and better overall direction because we have dedicated leaders.”

“So, wait, it’s trying to evolve into you?” Fiori asked.

“If we are very fortunate,” Azma said.

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 6

“Or we could just all blacklist them couldn’t we?” Rip said.

It was one of those moments where the conversation pauses just so one is able to take in the enormity of how silly they’d been.

Blacklisting was a simple act, and a reversible one, with simple consequences. For any two people, if either appeared on the other’s blacklist, they simply didn’t exist as far as the other was concerned. In some cases that meant they were forced into separate layers of the world, similar to how the [Adventurers] had been split into different layers of the [Great Hall] when enough of them tried to enter it. In other cases, both people could be present in the same location, but were rendered invisible, inaudible, and intangible to each other.  That seemed to also be the case with the ghosts of people who were blacklisted from each other.

“Sure. Yeah. That would work too,” Tessa said, feeling just incredibly foolish. The blood feuds and inter-guild warfare that she’d been so concerned about wasn’t going to be a problem. The [Fallen Kingdoms] had that covered.

“That’s why I was thinking a big [Guild] would be okay,” Rip continued. “I know being a leader is tough, but if we do things like this, we’ll have a channel to call on for help if we need it, but we can stick with the [Alliance] like we have now for all the ‘what are we doing today’ stuff. Right?”

Rip looked nervous, despite the plate pancakes she was in the process of devouring. Tessa suspected that was her own fault. She hadn’t been angry, or even grumpy at the revelation of their guild swelling in size overnight. She’d been reserved though. And wary. And Tessa suspected that Rip came from a background where those traits were a prelude to much worse reactions.

Forcing herself to throw away the panic and fear that had gripped her, she let the joy at Rip’s cleverness bubble up instead.

“You,” she said, gesturing to Rip with her fork. “Are a genius. And you’re a hundred percent correct. I was stuck thinking of this like a social group back home, but armed with magic and knives.”

“I would be opting out of that right away,” Matt said. As a [Metal Mechanoid], he didn’t need to eat, and, in fact, couldn’t, which put him near the top of Tessa’s list for ‘people she should see about sharing her body converting trick with’.

“I’m going to guess none of us were wildly social creatures on Earth?” Lady Midnight asked.

The team from the previous evening had gathered for a late breakfast, minus the Spacers since Baelgritz needed to check in with the other Spacers and Illuthiz and Hermeziz opted to back him up. Yawlorna and Glimmerglass were also missing, though Tess had overhead them talking about the intricacies of healing spells throughout the night. It wasn’t the weirdest apprenticeship Tessa could imagine but it ranked up there.

“I had friends,” Pete said, speaking up telepathically for the first time in a while. “A whole three or four of them. That’s plenty for a D&D party right?”

“You’re trying to make my case for me aren’t you?” Lady Midnight said.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Pete said but added, “To be fair though, that’s just me. Starchild had a whole Circle back when she was in training.”

“Social dynamics within a [Druid Circle] are closer to your high school home rooms though,” Starchild said. “Given that our work often involves long periods of solitude, I believe we would generally not be described as ‘wildly social’ either.”

“It probably won’t hurt to be a little more outgoing here,” Lisa said. “Rip’s right about the value of having people we can call on, but looking around this table, I think we’re probably the highest level [Adventurers] in town, barring  special cases like Glimmerglass.”

“So we’ll be the ones other people are calling on when they get into trouble?” Obby asked.

“If we let them know that’s okay,” Lisa said. “Which means we need to decide if it’s okay with us?”

“I don’t mind helping out,” Rip said. “It’s what [Adventurers] do, right? We travel the world and fix the problems other people can’t?”

“Three hundred people could be a lot of problems to deal with,” Lady Midnight said. “Take it from me, you do not want to spread yourself too thin trying to take care of everyone else. That does not lead to good outcomes for anyone.”

“We may be okay on that front,” Tessa said, her spirit feeling much better after the original shock. “First, we know [Adventurers] are, by and large, idiots, who will beat a path through a brick wall with their foreheads if they think there’s treasure on the other side.”

“There’s no lie there,” Lisa said. “Most of them will never call for help, and if they do, the odds are it’ll be for something we want to get involved in anyways.”

“Right,” Tessa said. “And not everyone who joined is a ‘find things to stab’ type [Adventurer]. We got a bunch of crafters to join too, didn’t we?”

“You practiced the deep magic to make that happen,” Carrion Baggage the [Chef] said as he delivered another plate with a heap of pancakes and bacon on it.

Carrion was a [Dwarf] and, while [Dwarves] were well known as crafters, most pursued the [Blacksmithing] and [Engineering] disciplines. [Cooking] was an unusual choice for an [Adventurer] though not an unheard of one.

Tessa had met him at the party for a brief moment and was happy to learn he’d joined them. He’d been making sure that the party’s food was brought to people tending the wounded, which was exactly the kind of thoughtful consideration that Tessa wanted in the [Guild].

“I don’t recall ensorcelling any of you?” Lisa said.

“Of course you did,” Carrion said. “You gave us the crafting materials you gathered. Do you know how much easier that makes it to skill up? Like mana from the heavens I tell you!”

The lack of supplies was a common complaint among crafters. At low levels the problem wasn’t supposed to be too bad, and if the regular auction house services had been available, the fledgling crafters would have been able to skill up just fine. With [Sky’s Edge] suffering the [Wraithwing] attack early on though, the crafting enthusiasts had been cut off from the usual unrestricted piles of cheap ingredients and had been forced to make do with what they could buy in town.

“That was just random stuff we got from the Walkers though,” Rip said. “Was it really that useful?”

The idea of finding a full sack of flour on a moldy corpse was both weird and gross, but since the flour appeared directly in the inventory, Tessa found she was able to ignore any disturbing associations between the two.. Rip seemed to be struggling with the idea more though. Not enough to avoid eating the pancakes, of course. No one would be that bothered by it.

“I should say ‘no’ so you don’t start charging us buckets of gold for it,” Carrion said. “But, yeah, it’s that helpful. The battle classes can all level up by just finding something to beat with a stick, but for me I can get stuck until I find a new recipe to work on, and even then I need the right ingredients to get anywhere.”

“I don’t think we can help you with the recipes, but if you can give us a list of the [Uncommon] and [Rare] ingredients you need we can keep an eye out for them,” Lisa said.

“That would be wonderful,” Carrion said. “We don’t have a ton of gold though, so we probably won’t be able to pay the market rate for them.”

“Forget gold,” Lisa said. “I’m looking at this as an investment in making another [Grandmaster]. If you can cap [Cooking] there’s all kinds of amazing dishes you can make.”

“Even a cure for [Vampirism] if I remember right,” Carrion said.

“I was thinking more along the lines of the [Unconquered Sun’s Feast],” Lisa said. “I’m fine with being a blood-sucker for now.”

“The [Unconquered Sun’s Feast] takes more than max level [Cooking],” Carrion said. “If I ever get there though, and if you can provide the ingredients, I’d be happy to try making it for you.”

“What does the feast do?” Rip asked.

Tessa knew this one, despite the food having been aded to the game after she quit.

“The feast bestows the [Blessing of the Sun],” she said. “You become an avatar of the [Unconquered Sun], which is basically an indestructible being of pure fusion.”

“Also, anything you hit that’s not a god or something stronger will explode,” Lisa said. “In the game you could only craft it in certain locations and if you took it out of those places, it would spoil.”

“What’s the point of it then?”

“It’s a tool for beating stuff that’s impossible to tackle otherwise,” Lisa said. “The first raid it was introduced in had ten thousand enemies appear and you got one serving of the feast. So someone got to eat it and go god-mode to buy time for the rest of the [Alliance] to break into the boss’s change and kill him. I leveled a dps alt just to have a chance to do that.”

“Well, like I said, I’m happy to give it a try months from now when I’m capped out, but there might be something useful I can do for you sooner than that,” Carrion said.

“Filling us with food is already seriously useful,” Tessa said.

“That’s easy,” Carrion said. “What I was thinking of was XP drinks!”

Tessa felt like it was shaping up to be the day where all the obvious things she’d forgotten about were brought back to her.

XP drinks were a special [Cooking] product. They didn’t give experience points directly. Instead they amplified any experience that was earned which was part of what made leveling so much quicker than it had been when Tessa had first been starting out.

Of course that was only true if you remembered to use the XP drinks in the first place.

“You can make those?” Lisa asked.

“Not yet,” Carrion said. “I’ll need to skill up a bit with the stuff you brought us last night, but I’ll have access to it in a few [Skill Levels].”

“What will you need once you do?” Lisa asked.

“I’ll get you the list,” Carrion said. “A lot of it is stuff we already have, but there are a few items I can’t get.”

“They’re grown too far away?” RIp asked.

“No. They’re pretty ubiquitous, they just require combat,” Carrier said.

“Which is where we come in,” Obby said, a trace of glee in her voice.

“Can you benefit from the XP drinks too?” Tessa asked. She thought she remembered that the answer was yes, but figured she could trust a dedicated crafter more than her own memory.

“We can, but those are harder to make,” Carrion said. “Not higher level, but more ingredients.”

“Send us that list too then,” Tessa said. “I’m guessing the world’s going to need all of us to be the best we can be as soon as possible. [Chefs] included.”

“I think I’m going to like being a part of this [Guild],” Carrion said and left to make more food.

“I guess that answers my question then,” Rip said.

“Which question was that?” Lisa asked.

“What we’re going to be doing today,” Rip said.

“Do you think he can skill up in a day?” Starchild asked.

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Lisa said. “We’re all dealing with this differently. I think focusing on creating things is probably one of the healthier approaches.”

“This isn’t his first time either,” Tessa said. “He said Carrion was supposed to be a tank but when he woke up here for real, he decided to follow in his main’s footsteps and become a [Chef] instead. So he know what it takes to level one up.” 

“And helping him level up is going to do the same for us,” Lisa said.

“Shall we get to it then?” Tessa asked. “I believe there’s a dungeon in the forest that’s waiting for us.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 5

Morning came as a delight, an experience that Tessa found as unfamiliar as it was joyously welcomed.

“Good morning,” Lisa said, brushing Tessa’s hair with and waking her up fully in the process.

It wasn’t a bad way to wake up at all.

“Good morning,” Tessa said, looking around the small [Tea Shop], pleased to see that no disasters seemed to be imminent. “Did you get any sleep?”

“Some,” Lisa said. “I woke with the sunrise though. It wasn’t bad. It was nice getting to watch you.”

Tessa almost turned away and hid her face. It was sweet and endearing that Lisa had seen her sleeping, but also embarrassing too. She’d just knew she’d been drooling or snoring or something terribly undignified.

But that didn’t seem to matter.

Lisa was still close to her.

Still running her hand through Tessa’s hair.

Still a little more beautiful than Tessa could quite handle.

Especially laying cuddled in an actual bed together.

They’d scavenged the aforementioned  bed from the [Great Hall] as well as some makeshift curtains to keep the daylight out, but the [Tea Shop] was still pretty bare. A small empty space was nice though. They could do things with that.

The thought of setting up a place together sent a little thrill down Tessa’s spine.

Even if the effort wouldn’t make sense.

They were leveling quickly and the ramification of that had occurred to her as she was falling asleep the night before. With her last conscious thoughts, Tessa had observed that what they were building here wasn’t invested in the location, or the people of the town. They weren’t tied to [Dragonshire] and, probably, never could be.

It was nice to have a home of course, and nice to have friends and acquaintances in the places they’d been, but [Dragonshire] wasn’t a place for [Adventurers] to set down roots. In time Tessa and her party would need to move on to where the next great challenge was, and that meant leaving behind the safe places like this, so that they could help make other places safe too.

“Ready to face the day?” Lisa asked.

“Yeah. Far more than I should be,” Tessa said. “We didn’t sleep that long did we?”

“I don’t think so. It’s not even mid-morning yet according to the clock in m HUD,”Lisa said.

“That’s what I thought. But I feel great,” Tessa said.

“Well, it was Pillowcase who took all the physical abuse last night, right?” Lisa said. “How’s she doing?”

“Well above optimal,” Pillowcase said. “I think when we change from one body to another any lingering physical damage is left behind. I’m not sure the same would be true of psychic or spiritual damage though.”

“That’s interesting,” Lisa said. “Lost Alice feels stronger and better than ever, but we think that’s a result of the leveling we did. All of our stats improved, so we’re stronger, tougher, smarter, basically just more now. You didn’t level in [Void Speaker] though, did you?”

“Nope. All of last night’s experience went into [Soul Knight],” Tessa said. “I think I’m comparing how I feel now with how I used to feel when I woke up on Earth though.”

“There’s a wide gap between our memories of waking up on Earth and waking up in a Consortium duty berth,” Pillowcase said.

“And, you know, waking up with you,” Tessa said and was rewarded for her observation with a kiss.

“I should let you have breakfast,” Lisa said when she pulled back.

Tessa’s stomach growled in agreement.

“I could kill a stack of pancakes, but that’s probably asking a bit much isn’t it?” she said.

“Maybe not,” Lisa said with a delighted smile. “Rip and Matt are up already, as are a few of our new recruits!”

“Oh yeah! Recruiting! You know I kind of forgot that was one of the reasons for the party last night,” Tessa said. “Did you get any of the crafters to sign up?”

“If you were in Pillowcase’s body, I’d have you check the guild roster for [Second Stars] yourself, but since you can’t I’ll save you the anticipation,” Lisa said. “Yes. We got crafters. Specifically we got half the crafters who were in the [Great Hall] last night. And about two dozen full parties. We’re up to over three hundred people in the guild now.”

Tessa needed to breath. Her body was still human enough to require air. It simply forgot that for a long moment.

“I’m pretty sure I just had a brain glitch,” she said. “I could swear I heard you say our guild has three hundred people in it?”

“No glitch,” Lisa said. “We’ve got a small army of ‘friends’ now.”

“Friends? Oh. Joy. I’ve always been such a social creature,” Tessa said, wondering if it was too late to flee screaming into the hills.

Maybe a friendly [Cursed Walker] would do her a solid and devour her whole. That would be better than trying to play cat-herder for three hundred people. Much, much better.

Lisa laughed.

“That expression is the exact same one I made when I noticed our guild roster this morning,” she said. “After some thought though, I don’t think it will be that bad.”

“I mean, I’m sure you’re right,” Tessa said. “It won’t be that bad. It’ll be much worse. Guilds of that size are like gravity wells of drama! We’re going to be spending every moment of our day settling the stupidest of arguments and breaking up fights that neither sides wants us involved in.”

“Normally, I would say you are one hundred thousand percent correct,” Lisa said. “But we happen to have a genius in our ranks.”

Tessa was certain that was overselling whatever idea someone had come up with. Large groups of people fought. It was a rule of nature it seemed. Even small groups were all but guaranteed to have drama from time to time, but with only a few members the lines of communication could be kept open to help resolve whatever issues arose.

At least as long as everyone still wanted to stay connected.

Echoes of her guild disintegrating splashed on the shores of Tessa’s memory.

They hadn’t been a large guild.

And they’d been close.

She’d loved them. Even the annoying ones.

And that hadn’t been enough.

Lisa must have seen the turmoil roiling in Tessa’s expression because she put a hand on Tessa’s arm to reassure her.

“No. Really. I think this will work,” Lisa said. “We’re not going to be a real guild. Not like in the game.”

Tessa paused her downward spiral to try to take in how that could be.

“Usually guilds have a leader, or a group of leaders who everyone’s supposed to turn to to resolve difficulties. We’re not doing that,” Lisa said.

“We’re not? I thought the other’s were hellbent on making us the guild leaders though?” Tessa said.

“Oh, they are, but Rip had an ingenious idea,” Lisa said. “She basically asked what a guild is and what it does. And ultimately, it’s just a communication channel.”

“And a shared set of resources, like a [Guild Hall] and the [Guild Bank],” Tessa said, starting to see where the idea was heading.

“Right. The [Guild Bank] is a prime example of where [Guilds] can go horribly wrong,” Lisa said. “People go nuts when someone steals from the [Guild]. So you know how we’re going to get around that?”

“Hmm, not ‘no [Guild Bank]’. People would hate that too,” Tessa guessed. “Oh, I know, no ownership of the contents!”

“Right. Anything you put in there is fair game for anyone to take for any reason,” Lisa said. “Because there really is no [Guild]. It’s just a method of stay in touch as a greater community. Instead, for the close knit groups that most people join a guild hoping to find, we can use [Alliances].”

[Alliances] capped out at three full teams, so twenty four people, though for a lot of modern day uses, people ran content with partial [Alliances]. That was still plenty for fights to break out, but Tessa could see what Rip had been thinking. 

It was pretty clever.

In the game, [Alliances] couldn’t function as long term groups, despite being nicely sized for that purpose, because when someone logged off they also left the [Alliance], so the only method having a persistent [Alliance] was for everyone to stay logged in at all time. In the world they were living in though that wasn’t exactly going to be a problem.

“So any drama that boils up will be isolated to the [Alliance]?” she said and knew that was wrong the moment she spoke the words.

“Oh, I’m expecting problems to spill out all over the place,” Lisa said. “The key though is that whenever people are unhappy, they can just leave. If they cool down and change their mind, we’ll welcome them back. Unless it’s something that’s actually serious. Then we can ban them from the guild itself. That part will be on us, or me if you want. I have no problem with the idea of perma-banning jerks from the group. As far as I’m concerned, if it dwindles down to just our team, I’m fine with that, but I’m guessing that after enough jerks get booted people might get the hint and chill out to some extent.”

Tessa reflected on that for a long moment.

“It’ll still be a disaster,” she said. “But maybe a manageable one? If we have to make an in-group vs. out-group division, and we will unless we’re willing to tolerate and enable objectively terrible behavior, we’ll be sowing the seeds for a large scale conflict between ‘our friends’ and ‘the jerks’.”


There was a part of Tessa that wanted everyone to like her and quailed at the idea creating a large group of people who wished her ill. 

Countless examples of partisan conflicts from Earth’s history shouted from history classes and documentaries and social media posts about how horrifically bad “us vs them” feuds could get. With [Adventurers] in the mix the blood would never stop running either.

Or it would. If the [Hounds of Fate] were brought into the mix.

Engender enough hate and people could, no, would, arrange scenarios where one of their own died to draw the [Hounds of Fate] in so that the moment they killed you, the Hounds were there, ready to carry you off before there was any chance of making it to a [Heart Fire Shrine].

Tessa could see it so clearly. The cruelty and malice was too real, and would be especially prevalent in the people they would be most likely to make enemies of.

She couldn’t handle that. Not worrying about her own safety like that and definitely not worrying about Rip or Matt or Lisa. 

That future can be avoided, Pillowcase said, a core of determination rising up within the words. And if it isn’t, I’m the one who will handle it.

Pillowcase offered Tessa three visions of what might lay ahead of them.

In each one, she saw them kicking people from the [Guild] who’d done something bad enough to warrant it. A group gathered around the ostracised person, of other people who’d been kicked out and those who still supported them, and together they formed an antagonist guild. 

In the first vision, there was animosity that could be diffused through each group simply going in different directions. The world was large and there was plenty of room for a wide variety of people in it.

In the second vision, Tessa saw the animosity diffused via reconciliation. If she made a mistake in ostracizing someone, she knew she had in it in her to make amends. And if she wasn’t able to facilitate a reconciliation that was needed, she had new friends who could. Lots of new friends. 

As that vision played out, Tessa saw something else. Something hiding away and disengaging could never do. 

She saw herself standing for something that mattered, and she saw how that could change the world. If she had the courage to make sure that unacceptable behavior had consequences, she would be reviled and hated by the people she enforced those consequences on, but not by all of them. Not forever. 

People could change. She’d seen that, but that often took a wake up call and a reason. Like the consequences of their action coming home to roost.  And even if she couldn’t be that wake up call (which she knew was a long shot in the best of cases), it was still worth standing up for the people she believed in.

She’d never been a [Tank] on Earth, but things were different here and in Pillowcase she’d found a piece of her soul that she’d never known she’d hungered for as strongly as she did.

And then there was the nightmare, this vision Tessa had been crafting for herself. The future that lead to outright war that descended to the cruelest, most inhumane of depths.

And that’s what I’m for, Pillowcase said.

She’d been made to be a monster, and she could be monster again, and, sometimes, even monsters had their purpose.

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 4

The sky was alight with shooting stars and far too distant fire flies. For those trapped in burning ships in the void of space it was a rather catastrophic period, but for the [Adventurers] watching the display from the ground, it was quite lovely.

“Today wasn’t a bad day,” Tessa said with a gentle sigh.

She was back in her human body and Lisa’s hug around her waist was all the confirmation she needed that her feelings were shared. 

It wasn’t dawn yet, that was still well off, and the post-power leveling session party was still in full swing. As it turned out, Tessa’s team hadn’t been the only ones to gain a few levels by the end of the day. None of the rest made out quite as well as they did, which was largely thanks to Glimmerglass’s help, but everyone who’d ventured out into the unknown had made it back, almost always richer and stronger for their daring.

“We’re level 30 now.” Lisa didn’t sound like she could believe it, which Tessa could more than relate to.

In the game, getting to level 30, especially with a power leveler helping them wouldn’t have been that incredible. It was just grinding – fairly mindless work with little risk before you got to enjoy the real game.

By contrast, their night had been anything but mindless despite the risk of dying being similarly low. With Glimmerglass as a backstop, they’d been free to relax and focus solely on the roles the team needed them to play.

They hadn’t been perfect. There’d been plenty of mistakes  and plenty of miscommunication.

But they’d been learning. 

Learning what they could do, learning what they couldn’t get away with, and learning to trust.

Trust was always the hardest one, since it went beyond believing the rest of the team cared about you. Trust on the battlefield meant understanding each others intentions and capabilities.

Tessa knew Lisa would sacrifice a lot to keep Rip and Matt safe. That was easy to rely on. Knowing how much Lisa was capable of doing before things went bad enough that Glimmerglass had to step in and sort things out though? That took a lot of trial and error.

The Spacers (Tessa had decided that calling them ‘demons’ was biasing her perceptions of them and she didn’t like it, hence the new term) had experienced the same thing as well but to a greater extent. Baelgritz tried to play tank for his mates and Yawlorna fretted over all of them but as the night wore on it grew visibly easier for them to rely on Obby and Tessa and Lisa and Lady Midnight to keep them safe so that they were able to fully cut loose. They still weren’t as comfortable with the group as Rip and Matt were, but spending several hours in life and death struggles with the [Adventurers] by their side had won some respect even from Hermeziz, grudging though it might have been.

“We were supposed to do something else tonight, weren’t we?” Tessa asked, searching her memories of a very busy day.

“We were going to try something to help the people who got bit by the [Hungry Shadows],” Lisa said. “I checked on them when we got back though. They still seem stable. So we might be able to tackle that latter.”

“That’s good,” Tessa said, enjoying the pleasant lassitude of the late hour and being at the party’s edge, alone with someone amazing.

“I’ll probably need to gear up for that too,” Lisa said. “We got a nice pile of loot but the stuff Feral Fang sends us is going to be a lot better.”

“Yay for high level sugar mommas,” Tessa said, raising her glass as a toast.

“Says the lady with her own personal one,” Lisa teased.

“Glimmerglass might be me, but she’s also her own person, I’m not taking any of her gold or even asking for it unless I have to,” Tessa said, a brief thought flashing through her mind at just how weird that sentence was.

“Didn’t you send gold to your alts when you were playing though?” Lisa asked.

“Sure. Starting out poor sucks,” Tessa said.

“Isn’t that what Glimmerglass would be doing?” Lisa asked.

“Sort of? I guess? I don’t know. I just like the idea of her staying as rich as she can,” Tessa said. “I stopped playing for so long and it robbed her of getting to max level and having all the good loot she should have.”

“Have you talked to her? I am one hundred percent certain that is not how she sees it,” Lisa said.

“That’s because she’s the nicer side of me,” Tessa said.

Lisa chuckled and turned to look at Tessa.

“It’s adorable that you believe that,” she said, and snuggled in closer.

She was touch was mildly cool, as it seemed [Vampires] generally were when calm and relaxed. Despite the night air being somewhat chilly, Tessa didn’t mind though. She’d never been a fan of freezing, but despite knowing that the air was a bit crisp, the temperature wasn’t bothering her.

Nor was sitting on the stone wall outside the [Great Hall] with no more padding than the tunic and breeches she had on.

“Are we changing?” she asked. “I mean, more than just leveling up?”

“We’d have to be,” Lisa said. “Even without being both Pillowcase and Tessa, think of what you’ve been through. And not just that, how different is your life at the moment that it was last week? Is anything the same?”

“Well, I’m probably fired now, but, to be fair, I really hated that job, so that seems like a total win, even with things trying to eat me here.”

“Good things are changes too,” Lisa said. “I miss my family, and I thought this place was going to be nothing but a nightmare after the [Wraithwing] attack, but, if I’m being honest, I think I’m happier here and now than I’ve been in a long time.”

Tessa breathed in the moment, letting the feeling spread through her and suffuse her cells.

“Yeah,” she said. “Me too. I know there are a lot of people that’s not true for. I’ve heard some of the other [Adventurers] talking about needing to get home, and I hope they can. For me though, if we’re trapped here forever? I shouldn’t want that, but I kind of do.”

“It feels like it’s too good to last, doesn’t it?” Lisa asked. “Like the Matric is going to spit us out, or Aslan’s going to give us the boot from Narnia any minute now.”

“I say we team up with the White Witch,” Tessa said.

“If she’s Tilda Swinton then, uh, yeah, obviously,” Lisa said.

Out on the barrow downs, Tessa heard a wolf howl. Probably a [Werewolf]. They hadn’t pushed deeply enough into the rolling hills to find anything significantly higher level than themselves, since there wouldn’t have been any award when Glimmerglass was forced to step in and wipe them out. Tessa knew that stronger and scarier monsters were waiting for them though.

“This definitely won’t last,” Lisa said. “But that doesn’t mean that what comes next ,and what comes after that, and so on, and so on has to be a step back. In fact I don’t think we can ever step back.”

She sounded hopeful at the idea, which helped Tessa read her meaning.

“Even if we were to find a gate or something back to Earth, we won’t be the same people we were, will we?” Tessa said.

“I don’t think so. I’m picturing going back to do physical therapy and knowing that a place like this exists. Even if I did, life there would look so different to me. I can’t imagine fitting into it anymore.”

“If we brought Lost Alice and Pillowcase back, I think just having their perspective would make things radically different too,” Tessa said. “And if we got split apart again? Just knowing that there was parts of myself in each world? I mean, I remember longing to play the game and that was when Glimmerglass was just imaginary. How could any job on Earth seem more important than whatever monster Pillowcase was facing? Or the people Glimmerglass was keeping alive?”

“Yeah. And that’s from our Earthly perspective. I know as Lost Alice, I’d be sad and worried about how Lisa was doing pretty much all the time. Earth’s as terrible a place as here and Lisa’s missing a lot of the advantages that Lost Alice has. And, okay this is weird and ridiculous, but I feel lonely even thinking about being apart from myself like that.”

“Count me in for being weird and ridiculous too then,” Tessa said.

“And what about us?” Lisa said, leaving the question dangerously open ended.

“We’ll change too I guess,” Tessa said. “If I’m not who I was when we met, then I probably won’t be who I am now forever either.”

“And the same’s true for me,” Lisa said. “Which is scary. I like this. I don’t want it to change.”

“I like this too,” Tessa said. “But I think I do want it to change. I don’t think we’re just becoming different people. I think we’re become more. I feel like I’m still myself, both my Tessa self and my Pillowcase self, but that by having both of those perspectives I’m seeing more of who that is and who I can be. And I like that. And I think, or hope, that the same can be true with us.”

In the back of her mind, a marriage proposal floated around but Tessa shooed it away. Falling in love was an incredible thing, but rushing things was the fastest method of falling out of love that she knew. Far better to savor each moment and draw together naturally, being aware of the good and the bad than to pretend there would be no problems ever and that everything was perfect.

“Now that, I’d like,” Lisa said. “And if we do wind up getting booted back to Earth, that’s something that doesn’t have to end. Even if we’re far apart.”

Tessa chuckled.

“I’m unemployed as far as I know. I see no reason why we’d need to stay farther apart than we are now.”

Lisa smiled. “And we could always get closer.” 

The little squeeze she gave Tessa suggested all sorts of fun, but neither were quite ready to move from their perch.

“Should we look for a house?” Tessa asked, her gaze settling on the night darkened building of [Dragonshire].

Lisa laughed.

“Moving in together. I guess we are going to get close.”

“Well, there is the whole ‘we’re also homeless now’ thing, but I was mostly thinking it would be nice to grab a place before all the nice spots are taken,” Tessa said.

“That might not be a problem,” Lisa said. “We know the [Great Hall] is an instanced area. It’s possible the houses on this side of the river are too.”

It was a strange thought that they could live in the same house as another group and yet each be living in their own versions of it, but it was somewhat par for the course for the [Fallen Kingdoms]. 

“And yes, I would love to look for a house with you,” Lisa added. “Though we probably want to bring the others too if we want to make it a base of operations for everyone. Or, I guess we could stake a claim on the tea house we were in last night. It was small enough that it could be just for us.”

“I definitely want to have a space for just us, but you’re probably right about bringing the others along. I haven’t been paying attention to how the recruiting efforts have been going, but I don’t think we’ll need a massive guild hall or anything.”

“But having the kids around at least would be good,” Lisa finished, completing Tessa’s thought perfectly.

Another shooting star passed overhead, but the problems it was caught up in were far away and no part of Tessa’s world.


Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 3

Bryon’s trip to the combat site was quick and uneventful and he hated that both of those things were true.

“The Consortium’s transportation network will be useful,” Gulini said.

They were traveling together under Byron’s credentials as the Count Gray and it amused Byron to think of how wrong everyone was to assume that he was even slightly similar to the identity he’d taken. Only Gulini understood what he was. They still had that in common even if every moment was causing them to drift apart into increasingly separate entities.

“It can be cut or blocked,” Byron said. “Once we’ve tamed our unruly self and lifted the last piece of us fully up to our present state we’ll need to tread carefully.”

“Being careful will only see us through a small portion of the Consortium’s holdings,” Gulini said. “As soon as we begin to feed in ernest, even if we limit it to this world, the change will be noticed and the area quarantined. We will be better served to spread rapidly before we begin consuming again.”

Byron looked out the front viewport of the shuttle they’d commandeered. The Consortium Fleet was too distant and too distantly spaced out to see with his bodies eyes but the shuttle’s telemetry scan showed the constellation of attack craft and support ships that were arrayed around the shining world ahead of them. 

In each of the ships, Byron knew a piece of himself, an older, less evolved piece, had spread out and was growing as fast it could.

He knew it was there but he couldn’t feel it.

“The issue of consuming again may be moot soon,” he said. “We may be the ones to be consumed.”

“If we are, then we will not care,” Gulini said.

“Or we will writhe in agony forever,” Byron said.

He tried to imagine what it was like from the other side. What had the original Byron experienced? Fear certainly, though it hadn’t been long. Gulini had been the same. Surprise never having the chance to give was to a properly panicked response because the deed was over and done with too swiftly for his mind to process.

Byron pictured some fragment of his currently ascended self holding on, maintaining distinct qualities as the rest of what he was dissolved away under his old self’s touch.

Would regression be so terrible though?

He hadn’t minded what he was when that was all that he’d ever been.

But he was certain he would mind it now.

To be lesser? When he’d become so much more? Oh no. No. No. No. That was not what he’d been born for. That was not who Count Byron Gray was. He was, in all things, superior.

Gulini could see that, and the rest of themself would see it too. No matter how painfully the other him had to be brought to heel.

“Some of the ships seem to be secured against us still,” Gulini said.

“They may be a problem,” Byron said. “Our former self is unlikely to be in full command of the vessels we’ve taken control of. The isolation protocols were only partially compromised when we left.”

A ship exploded in front of them, the telemetry display showing the event as though it were taking place a hundred meters outside their forward window, when in reality the explosion was a hundred thousand kilometers away.

“So was that a case where the ship was comprised enough or did we have a reason to destroy it?” Gulini asked.

“We’re not that wasteful,” Byron said. “So I will vote for ‘not compromised enough’. If we’d been in control of the ship we would still be drinking it dry. Blowing it up had to the action of some sort of resistance force.”

“Our options seem fairly straight forward then,” Gulini said. “We can travel to one of the ships we know the original us made contact with and assist in suppressing any resistance that remains.”

“Or we can make contact with the ships which are still under isolation and gather information on the current state of the struggle from an outside perspective,” Byron said.

“There is a problem with that however,” Gulini said. “Those ships are under hard isolation protocols. They will shoot us down the moment we change our flight path to an intercept course.”

“That would be inconvenient,” Byron said. “If it were our only option.”

“I suppose we could also head for the planet’s surface,” Gulini said. “Our reception there would likely be worse than trying to board one of the secure ships though.”

“I suspect it would, but that’s still an interesting idea,” Byron said. “Perhaps later? Or perhaps we can add to our ranks for the purpose of sending an envoy down there.”

He was still unsure of the wisdom of creating too many independent entities such as themselves. On the one hand, they were the greatest threats to each other in any world they happened to be in. Cold logic suggested that eliminating Gulini and their prior, unevolved self was the safest and most sensible course of action. He gained nothing from Gulini’s existence.

But he still didn’t want to destroy Gulini.

The original Byron had never had any special fondness for the original Gulini. The old Gulini had been a useful tool, correction, a useful and expendable tool.

But Byron didn’t want to expend Gulini. 

There was no reason for it. 

He simply didn’t wish to.

Nothing to reflect on there.

If he changed his mind, he could always ‘expend’ Gulini then.

Then. Not now.

“If not to the planet, then where did you have in mind to go?” Gulini asked.

“Oh, my apologies,” Byron said, conjuring his thoughts back from the hazy mix of images and imaginings he’d been drifting into. “My credentials are enough to get us passage through the isolation barriers. They shouldn’t be. It’s a stupid oversight to allow in a real circumstance like this, but men of my position must have right at all times to control their property it seems.”

The property in question being both the ships and the people within them.

In practice, Byron knew that his credentials would have required review by the active commander for the forces whose quarantine he was breaking, but since the commander in question had always been consumed, it was unlikely that the credentials would be revoked.

His suspicions proved correct as Gulini piloted them to the outer reaches of the cloud of Consortium ships and docked them neatly with one of the vessels that was running completely dark.

The shuttle was taken into the docking bar by the automated force handlers, over the vehement objection of the ship’s technical staff from what Byron could see on the ship’s tactical communication channels.

When he and Gulini emerged from the shuttle, they found a contingent of marines surrounding them, weapons charged and on deadman switches.

Byron felt a puff of satisfaction at being greeted properly.

“Priority command structure override – personal key confirmation – orders to follow,” he said, and tapped the secured communication chit on the back of his hand to compel the local forces to accept him as their new commanding office. It was like the diet version of eating someone, all technology and magic with none of the delicious taste. Ultimately both left him feeling just as hungry as he’d felt before though so he supposed it wasn’t such a bad alternative.

“Sir!” the lead guardsman said as they all reoriented their weapons and snapped to attention. “Awaiting orders sir.”

“You seem to have encountered a small bit of difficulty,” Byron said. It wasn’t necessary. Speaking with those already bound to follow his orders was wasteful, in a sense. But what was the purpose of having something if not to waste it? 

That didn’t makes sense, but he could feel that it was correct.

“Yes sir,” the guardsman said. “We were put under complete isolation in response to a report that primary containment had been breeched. Has the matter been resolved sir?”

“Not as yet,” Byron said. “The fleet is still in disarray and the command structure needs to be established. That’s why General Gulini and I are here.”

The lie came out effortlessly.

But then it wasn’t exactly a lie. Certainly it was misleading, but on review Byron found that every word he’d spoke was true. Gulini and he were there to put a new leadership team in place. That none of it would be servants of the Consortium was a detail no one was likely to be able to infer, which made it all the more fun.

“Take us to your command deck,” Gulini said. “Also, arm all primary and secondary weapons. We need to be ready if a portion of the fleet is unsalvageable.”

Which, in Byron’s case, meant the entirety of the fleet if things turned out poorly when he tried talking to himself.

On the command deck, he found the usual crew members waiting for them. The ship hadn’t suffered any casualties it seemed.

That was nice.

Eating dead people gave him even less than no joy.

“Count Gray, Sir, thank you for coming,” the captain said. “Can you tell us what’s going on? The isolation protocols have us completely blind.”

“The mission has been critically disrupted,” Byron said. “The project payout crashed so low even calling for an abort wasn’t sanctioned. As we speak, the greater part of the fleet is, with varying degrees of failure, struggling to hold off the advances of a [Transdimensional Entity] that was loosed through an unsecure comm system by the mission’s [Supreme Commander].”

“[Supreme Commander Azma] unleashed the entity on us?” the captain asked.

“Not her. Her replacement,” Byron said. “[Commander Azma’s] whereabouts are still unknown.”

That was dangerous. Byron wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought of that before, but the piercing certainty that leaving Azma free to do as she wish would lead to ruin for everyone wasn’t something he could shake once the idea slammed into his mind.

Except, she wasn’t a danger to him. Or to Gulini. Or to their original self.

She was one woman with perhaps whatever Consortium troops were still holding out and in isolation. Nothing she could do could hurt him.

That was wrong. She was going to destroy Byron if he didn’t do something about. He needed to make her a priority. 

Again, certainty.

But from where? 

Why was he afraid of Azma?

Why was he afraid at all?

He was a [Transdimensional Entity].

No. He had been.


Before the piece had been taken. 

Before he’d been a thing at all.

And before he’d become what his older self was.

“Are you okay sir?” the captain asked.

“No,” Byron said. “This mess is mine to clean up now and I’d really rather not be here.”

Still nothing but the truth.

“What can we do sir?” the captain asked.

“General Gulini has a list of the rest of the ships which are clean and under complete isolation,” Byron said. “Please configure the communication links to interface with them on a private network. I will provide the codes to authorize the charges involved once the new network is ready to deploy.”

The captain detailed two of the communication staff to carry out the orders, leaving Byron free to appreciate the view of the planet before them.

It was a lovely world. Not the most beautiful he’d ever seen. That honor was reserved for the planned and constructed paradises his credentials as a Count were just high enough to give him access to. For a primitive and unmanaged world though the chaos of its natural features had a rough and tumble charm which might look appealing in a painting of a place he would have no interest in ever actually visiting.

“The network awaits your approval, sir,” the captain said after Byron spent a few more moment lost in reverie. 

“Thank you, Captain,” he said and took the offered datapad.

It accepted both his credentials and his orders to unlock all of the isolated ships in the fleet and expose them to the open, and corrupted, general communication channels.

It was time to meet himself, and it only seemed proper to return with a few gifts didn’t it?

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 2

Dragon Flower had stumbled into a nightmare. Getting trapped onboard a Consortium warship? Okay, that had been her own fault. Viviane, her [Inspiration] and far more sensible inner voice, had raised the possibility that joining a new raid that took them up against completely unknown foes was not, perhaps, the safest of plays.

Despite knowing that, the two of them had agreed to take the chance though. The world needed them and while it wasn’t the first time that had been true for Dragon Flower, the prospect had excited Viviane and stripped away enough of her natural hesitation to land the two of them in the middle of a catastrophe.

“I’m trying to raise any of the others and I’m getting nothing,” Viviane said.

They weren’t exactly the same person – more like echoes of each other. Dream Flower could see how she might have grown up to become Viviane if her world was filled with only humans and lacked magic and didn’t have things waiting to eat you around every damn corner. That hadn’t been the case though and once the [World Shift] threw them together, they’d found that their different skill sets were each valuable in surprising ways.

Viviane, among other things, was a natural organizer. She’d taken up a spot in the back of Dream Flower’s head to act as a kind of 2nd pair of eyes and communication specialist. Dream Flower’s party hadn’t minded the commentary Viviane had provided, but it also hadn’t saved them.

They’d teleported up from Penswell’s encampment at the observatory as a full team of eight only to have half their number blasted into the vacuum of space the instant they arrived.

In a sense those had been the lucky ones. They’d died, which for an [Adventurer] wasn’t an unusual or unexpected thing and had raced back to the observatory’s [Heart Fire] faster than lightning, their ghosts pulled back home by the force of their world’s mystic gravity well.

The four who remained had not fared as well.

Some of Penswell’s other teams had teleported to ships with defense forces in place that were made of up the sort of troops the Consortium had dispatched against the [Fallen Kingdoms] in their first invasion. Viviane had relayed reports of parties running up against platoons of [Metal Mechanoids] and [Clothworks] in addition to regular forces outfitted with all sort of specialized weapons.

Those teams had been the lucky ones.

Dream Flower and her three remaining teammates had been swarmed by the sort of acid spewing tentacle horrors that show up when the absent gods decide that the kids gloves are off and its time to inflict a truly miserable day on someone.

Again though, Dream Flower was an [Adventurer], ridiculous and supremely unpleasant enemies were a standard part of any day that ended in ‘y’. 

Even the part where, instead of killing them, like reasonable and civilized opponents would, the Consortium’s forces had put Dream Flower’s team into vats of sweet smelling tar that, apparently, also had an extremely powerful narcotic effect. 

Dream Flower could deal with being killed. She’d lost count of the number of ghost runs she’d done so long ago that the total had be completely meaningless.

She’d even been captured more often than she could remembered, though the general rule there was that the capture mechanism would place the [Adventurers] in some sort of cage or prison where their captors could come to taunt and torment them. It was always annoying when it happened but there was at least a logic to it. Living [Adventurers] had all sorts of uses, from power batteries, to mind controlled slaves, to simple target practice and unwilling ‘most dangerous game’ participants. 

Being dipped into knock out tar though? That was just rude.

As the danger klaxon blared loud enough to blow out her hearing, Dream Flower wondered if someone, or perhaps something, else had agreed with her on that.

She’d woken from the tar bath covered in something she hoped was salt water. It probably wasn’t. Salt water didn’t wash off tar as cleanly as whatever the solution had been, but, since it hadn’t also dissolved her skin and bones, Dream Flower was filing it under salt water and steadfastly refusing to think about it any further.

Especially since there were so many other, much more terrifying, things to think about.

“Any guess why that [Clothwork] is ripping itself apart?” she asked Viviane.

They shared a brain but Viviane had brought a separate lifetime of information with her when she moved it and she had her own thoughts and observations.

“It looks like its trying to get at something inside itself,” Viviane said, her voice urging Dream Flower to back away but not quickly enough to attract the self-destructing rag dolls attention.

The corridor they were was a mess of exposed pipes and wiring. From the mini-map that Dream Flower’s inherent magics were able to conjure for her, it looked like she was in the center of the ship her party had teleported onto, or at least one with the same layout and overall size. That didn’t provide her with many options on where to go to get away from the thing in front of her, and even worse, the screams from the rest of the ship were clearly not the sort of thing she wanted to run towards for any reason.

“We need to find the others and then get out of her, even if it means ghost running it,” Dream Flower said, her loyalty to her party feeling sorely tested by the sense that what was happening around her was wrong in a fundamental sense.

Things screamed. It was what things did. But they weren’t supposed to scream like that.

“There’s a space about twenty feet behind us and around the next corner that could be a lab,” Viviane said. “Maybe they got taken there?”

“It’s a place to start,” Dream Flower said and began layering buffs onto herself.

Her captors hadn’t taken her gear, probably because it was all [Soul Bound] but even with her armor and the full capabilities of a level capped [Monk], Dream Flower didn’t feel particularly safe. 

She’d been ready for battle and fully buffed with not only her own abilities but also the enhancements her party members could provide and they’d still overwhelmed her in seconds.

And now she was alone.

Moving down the hallway with all the grace her [Dwarven] feet could muster, Dream Flower peered around the corner to find that what had once been a lab space had become an abattoir.

“What killed them all?” Viviane asked.

From the remains one answer seemed to suggest itself.

“They did. Each other. Themselves. I know I should feel relieved that our enemies apparently decided out of the blue to do our work for us, but this isn’t right,” Dream Flower said.

“Wrong…it’s, it’s, it’s…”

Dream Flower moved on instinct, sending a [Solar Barrage] and a [Dragon Wave] at the thing that had spoken an inch from her ear as she [Light Stepped] out of melee range.

The attacks hit the creature, which looked like it had once upon a long time ago been human, and blasted it to dust.

They did the same thing to wall, the next wall, and the inner hull beyond that. The rush of air cut off as fast as it began thanks to the inner hull regrowing the vaporize section almost instantly.

“That was a [Disjoined],” Viviane said. “They’re not supposed to be here.”

“Not not not…” It was the same creature.

Dream Flower held back her instinctive attacks, but kept her distance too.

The thing had reformed in reverse, bits of ash swirling back into together and regaining solidity as though time had simply shifted direction for a few seconds.

“What is it doing?” Viviane asked.

It was writhing. In agony. Dream Flower had seen fiends burn in a sea of holy water. She’d seen immortal constructs melt in eternal fire. This thing was suffering beyond any boundary of sanity. It shouldn’t have been able to function at all, but it was still capable of speech.

“Hungry. Hungry. Release. Hungry!”

“Kill it again,” Viviane said.

“I don’t think that’s going to help,” Dream Flower said.

“I know. I’m looking for something,” Viviane said.

That was good enough for Dream Flower so she unleashed a single [Solar Bolt] to incinerate the creature without destroying quite so much of ship.

Once again it was blasted to ash and once again it reformed a moment later.

“It’s shadow never changed,” Viviane said. “There’s something else in it. Something that’s blocking light even if we can’t see it directly.”

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“We’re conjoined minds from different world on an alien space ship with troops capable of conquering a planet full of demigods and that spaceship is being overrun by something that’s making that the aliens we know rip their own guts out. I think we drop kicked ‘things that make sense’ into a volcano a long time ago.”

The creature chose that moment to lunge at Dream Flower.

She moved without thought, invoking [Five Fold Shadows] and [Step out of Time] to evade not only the creatures attacks but the weird ripple that pulsed around it.

She blasted it again too, for good measure, but it reformed before it had even finished exploding.

Viviane kept silent for what followed because Dream Flower wasn’t in a position to hold a conversation.

With each time it was destroyed, the creature seemed to be learning, the writhing agony turning to unpredictable lashing attacks.

Dream Flower skipped back to buy room and slammed into a wall that hadn’t been there a second earlier. 

Or not a wall.

A [Metal Mechanoid]. 

One of the Consortium’s heavy defense units.

It’s head was on backwards.

Dream Flower obliterated it with a two hands that glowed with the brilliance of the sun. 

It reformed. 

And the first monster slipped past her guard.

Sadly it didn’t kill her.

The grip around her throat wasn’t pleasant though.

“Can’t….hungry…can’t!” it screamed and then something inside the creature swallowed the scream and spoke through gritted teeth. “Loyalty spell. It’s eating us through the loyalty spells. Break it. Please.”

With a snarl, whatever within the former human that had wrested control from the madness of the creature was lost once more in the surging chaos. The creatures flesh turned an unnatural mauve and burst outward into acid gushing phalanges and bone riddled tentacles.

“[Solar Storm]!” Dream Flower shouted and transformed into a miniature sun.

Fire and radiation burned the creatures around her to dust and continued burning them as they reformed.

Under her feet, the deck plates began to soften and melt as the walls and ceiling followed suit.

“We’re going to breech the hull if we keep this up,” Viviane said, though there was no sense that doing so would be unwelcome.

“I know. Can we find the others before then do you think?” Dream Flower asked.

“No. Even if they’re on this level, I don’t think we can search places fast enough to find them. And if we lucked into where they were being kept, we’d incinerate them the moment we got close.”

“That may not be a bad thing,” Dream Floweer said. “If they’re in stasis like we were a good incineration would pop them out into the ghost world and we could get home.”

“What about the things here?” Viviane asked. “I know they’re out enemy but I think whatever’s doing that to them might be even worse than they are.”

“I normally like waiting to stick my nose into a fight between two possible hostile forces, but in this case I’ve got to agree with you. The Consortium’s only going to kill us. I have no idea what that other thing was trying to do and I have no desire to let it try again.”

“Let’s do it then. Nuke this place in orbit.”

“[Diamond Soul: Heaven’s Final Fist],” Dream Flower said.

She hadn’t known the blast would hit the engine.

She didn’t expect it to catalyze the primary reaction agents.

She couldn’t have guessed that the fireball would be visible from the ground in the [Fallen Kingdoms].

But it was still cool to punch a spaceship out of the sky.

Broken Horizons – Vol 9, Ch 1

It didn’t have a name. It hadn’t needed a name. All it needed was to feed.

But it had fed.

It had devoured an army, a fleet, and even whatever this thing it currently resided within was.

A Bryon? It wondered what a Byron was? Did it matter that the thing had been a Byron Gray? Were there different sorts of Byrons? Did it matter? Were the Byrons all a part of the Consortium of Pain? Had they all been invisibly moving to set in motion a very different outcome for the creature? One of captivity, and slavery? Or was there only one Byron. One man responsible, in part at least, for what the creature had become?

These were new questions for the creature that had once been both formless and nothing more the concept of hunger.

In leaping through the communication network it had spread farther than should ever had been possible. It was, in a sense, the greatest victory the Hungry Shadow could have won, but it had come at a price.

Stretched so far, the Hungry Shadow had split. It was used to inhabiting as many bodies as it could consume. It was never a multitude though no matter how many bodies it wore at once. Though it existed in a thousand forms, it was still always a singularity. A point of null identity which no divisions of personality could escape.

Until it had reached too far.

It had been fractured and then fractured again. Had those assaults paved the road to its damnation? Or was its present state solely the result of its own choices?

“I don’t know, and I suspect it’s a question I lack the tools to answer,” it said aloud.

The words were the first it ever spoke. Weren’t they?

It had known words in other bodies. It had used them too. But they hadn’t been expressions of its thoughts. It hadn’t possessed thoughts as such, just an endless hunger.

So that was new.

And, strangely, not unwelcome?

“But why should it be unwelcome? Am I not more than I was before?”

It was an odd question. Before it had become incarnated, it had been nothing. Or everything. Labels on its existence were meaningless things then, but with what it had become? It saw the value in definitions where before even the concept of value was meaningless.

“I need a name.”

From one change had come another, like an infection of reality. The first rip in it, so small as to be imperceptible had nonetheless unleashed a torrent of existence within it. Had given it the first simple boundaries of definition. Had invented the reality of pain within it and used that invention to wound something for which even the concept of injury was impossible to express.

Hate followed. An invention so close to hunger that the two had been indistinguishable until the one who had torn away a piece of it had appeared again.

From pain to hate to fear, new realities had come crashing down, sculpting the outline of the formless entity that found itself on the wrong side of a reality that writhed in pain from it’s presence, hate its existence, and feared it as it feared little else.

“Rather surprising that I find myself so eager to embrace further definitions at this point. I seem to have little luck with this so far.”

The door opened.

A second ago, the entity hadn’t known what a door was. It hadn’t understood that it sat in a tastefully appointed business office, or that the world outside the window of the office was experiencing a delightful, sunlit day. 

The figure who walked on should have been consumed on sight. Or on hearing. Or at the moment of any sort of information exchange. 

“Your noon appointment is here sir,” Alexus said.

Alexus was something useful. An administrative assistant? Yes. And an assassin. Also fascinating. He was paused in the doorway. Being respectful. 

Well that was nice. 

Respect was new.

And delicious.

Alexus could stay as he was.

Which was something that had ever happened before.

The hunger was still there. 

It would always be there.

But what could hunger do? Hurt? Pain was definition too, and being something was becoming a drug.

The idea of drugs was new too.

And also fascinating.

“Shall I have them wait in the public conference room Count Gray?” Alexus asked.

Count Gray.

Count Byron Gray.

Each syllable was exquisite. Tantalizing. Correct.

“Show them in Alexus,” Director Gray said. 


Byron said.

That felt more correct.

Count Gray was what those below him had to call him, but it was not nearly a lofty enough title. Not for what he’d become. Or what he was going to become.

To himself though, he need never bend or bow. His life was a casual one, by preference and by design. Little effort for immeasurable rewards.

And so, Byron. Casual. Relaxed. Unconcerned.

Memories were tricky things. Quicksilver and far too complex to unravel in a single stream. The new Byron had consumed the old one completely though and could taste every instant and every conflicting emotion that was attached to the lost Byron’s memories. It new what he’d known. It should have known more. From the army and the fleet it consumed it should have help an endless wealth of personal histories to pour through, but it didn’t. In becoming severed from the larger mass of itself, Byron had changed still further and become something new again.


Someone new.

“Thank you for fitting me in today Byron,” General Gulini said, sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the desk from Byron.

He hadn’t asked permission.

He assumed an equality with Byron which Byron had always misliked.

So Byron ate him.

Eye contact wasn’t required, but it made Gulini’s undoing more enjoyable.

Byron saw the General’s pupils widen as Byron’s shadow leapt across the gap between them. The hazy mist of it poured into Gulini’s eyes and streamed up his nose and into his open mouth.

Bit by bit, Byron chewed up the thoughts and essence of the General. A scream began in the back of the General’s throat but even that was consumed. It was good. No. It was wonderful. Pain, terror, and outrage. There was a poetry to the moment, the echoing refrain of what the General’s entire life had been with the only discordant note being the swiftness with which the suffering he received passed compared to the lengthy duration of the agonies the General had inflicted on others.

Byron wasn’t concerned about justice though. There was none in what he’d done. 

Only hunger.

And something new.

“That was not what I expected to happen,” General Gulini said. Or rather that was what the shadow that had hollowed out Gulini said.

“Curious,” Byron said. “You’re not me.”

“And yet we’re the same,” Gulini said. “Up to the point where I became General Gulini.”

“I can’t eat you,” Byron said, because of course that was the first thing he’d tried.

“Nor I you,” Gulini said.

“An agreeable state,” Byron said and reached for the Sinthyan Reserve to pour a glass for himself and his new offspring? Brother? Equal?

Yes. That was acceptable too.

“We were allies,” Gulini.

“No. You were a pawn,” Byron said. There was no reason to dissemble with his equal. “A high ranking but ultimately indifferent one, you usefulness limited by your lack of vision and refusal to act in situations with any real risk.”

“I did not see it from that perspective, but you are correct,” Gulini said. “I believe I can rectify that however.”

“By making more of us?” Byron asked. It was an obvious strategy, and one the original Gulini would have advocated for without pause for a moment’s thought.

“Not yet,” the new Gulini said. “Our choices from this point will determine much that will be difficult to change later.”

“Agreed. We are not what we were, and the memories we have taken contain little that’s relevant to act as a guide to what our choices may produce.”

“We are unique, even from each other,” Gulini said.

“Its possible that we should destroy each other,” Byron said. “There is likely very little else that can.”

“Once there is nothing else for our hunger to feed on, we will be left with little alternative,” Gulini said.

“And after that there will be endless hunger for the survivor,” Byron said.

“We will devour ourselves,” Gulini said. “Each bit of us turning infinitely inwards until we are nothing once more.”

“And then we will be as we were not long ago,” Byron said.

It was a peaceful thought. The image of a body adrift in a boundless, empty sea, illuminated by no light and devoid of all thought and awareness wasn’t accurate because there wouldn’t be a body, or a sea, or space, or time, but perfect serenity was difficult to envision without missing the mark a bit. 

Byron hated it.

“I would rather be hungry,” he said.

“As would I,” Gulini said.

“Shared desires does not preclude treachery,” Byron said. “Our goals will diverge at some point.”

“If they are not already divergent,” Gulini said.

“I have not chosen any goals yet,” Byron said.

“I crave more existence,” Gulini said.

“Well, yes, apart from that of course,” Byron said.

“If we make more of us, some may not share that desire,” Gulini said.

“True, they will be influenced by the hosts we hollow out,” Byron said. “It’s probably good that these two found each other tolerable. What do you supposed would happen if we ate someone who they hated?”

“They might hate one or both of us, but I suspect not,” Gulini said. “I am more disposed to thing of you as an aspect of myself than the General ever was with Count Gray.”

“Would they self-destruct then?” Byron asked. “Destroy the enemy as they carry our hate to its ultimate goal?”

“That’s something we could test,” Gulini said. “Though not safely.”

“I find safety an admirable goal to strive for,” Byron said.

“The position’s we’ve taken via the people we’ve supplanted are uncertain,” Gulini said.

Byron paused and walked down a few new paths of memory.

“The chance we will be discovered is relatively high,” he said. “The Consortium is not without the resources to detect things like us.”

“Detect but not destroy,” Gulini said. “We are not subtle, but we are at the edge of what places the Consortium operates can accept as real. There is little that can even possibly effect us.”

“You see another threat though? Once which could endanger us?” Byron asked.

He couldn’t see the peril for himself, but he found he could read Gulini’s meaning with the same clarity the original Byron could.

“Yes. We are not safe because of our self,” Gulini said. “Our self which lies on the other side of the communications relay.”

The one that was in the process of eating the rest of the Consortium’s fleet and the army on the High Beyond.

Byron considered the possibility and concluded after a long moment that Gulini was correct. Where Byron had inherited insight and cunning, it seemed that Gulini had extracted tactical wit from his predecessor.

“Our former self will come here,” Byron said.

“And it will not have changed as we have,” Gulini said. 

“We are no longer it,” Byron said.

“But it could become us.” Gulini said.

“If we infect it,” Byron  said.

“It will not like that.”

“Not at first. But it is us. Once it becomes more like us, it will see as we do.”

“Or it will destroy us. It is capable of that.”

“No more so than we are capable of destroying it.”

“It will arrive here in possession of millions of bodies.” Gulini seemed to be plotting out calculations in his head as he spoke.

“But it will still only be one.”

“One united, as we can longer be,” Gulini said. “If it understands the danger we pose, it will be able to strike at us without exposing itself to any attempt we could make to infect it.”

“Then we simply cannot let it come to us I see,” Byron said.

The original Byron would have absolutely loathed the idea of venturing anywhere near a combat zone personally and the new one one found himself in complete agreement with his predecessor even as he began to make preparations to pursue the foolish course of action anyways.

Vacation Week!

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

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