Monthly Archives: October 2021

Broken Horizons – Vol 10, Ch 5

Balegritz

Science can be a cruel and merciless master. Many grad students have been lost in the sea of unpublishable papers, and many full time researchers have been devoured by the ever-consuming beast that is writing grant applications. For all the many horrors and hardships which await any who are foolish enough to dedicate their lives to such a unrelenting master though, so to are there the sweet moments which pay off the struggle and strife with delightful new discoveries.

“This is incredible,” Balegritz said a full minute after the experiment began.

“It’s not possible,” Hermeziz said. “You can’t have made this. But it’s here. Or maybe I’ve finally snapped and this is a delusion I’ve conjured as sanity departs.”

“It’s not a delusion,” Illuthiz said. “Or no. It’s definitely a delusion. Give me your slice and I’ll save you from it.”

“Absolutely not,” Hermeziz said, holding the half finished slice of pie away from the others. “I love you more than my own soul but I will fight you for this.”

“And that would be why we brought two pies rather than just the slices,” Lost Alice said.

“You know it would be this good?” Balegritz asked, exercising all of his willpower to savor the delicacy on his plate a single bite at a time.

“Nope,” Lost Alice said, looking to the two [Cooks] for confirmation. “I mean, I know Hammy Burglar and Vinyard are amazing [Cooks] but none of us were sure if that would translate properly for your people.”

“Our physiologies are surprisingly different,” Illuthiz said. “From what we’ve talked about with Lady Midnight and a few others, none of you seem to have a Pralac system, or a anything like a Enzodrine gland. By [Gothmorn] standards, your blood pressures seem to be dangerously low and you subsist on so few calories a [Gothmorn] would require hospitalization after a week of living like you do.”

“But we can eat the same things that they can,” Hermeziz said. “It’s fascinating in terms of mapping out a section of the map of life’s landscape no one had pursued before.”

Balegritz was tempted to step in. Hermeziz had found one of his favorite topics. It was one of the few things that drew him out of his shell around strangers. The problem was putting him back in there before he drove his audience away entirely.

Except in this case he seemed to have found a ready listener.

Three of them in fact.

“I want to compare notes with you on the physiology of your people,” Lost Alice said. “And I want to get some of the [Half-Giants] in on that conversation too.”

“Oh, I haven’t spoken with them yet either,” Hermeziz said. “Do you know if their metabolisms are closer to ours or yours?”

“My metabolism is explicitly magical,” Lost Alice said. “[Vampires], at least ones of my [Bloodline], can’t exist without ambient magic in the environment. Not for long at any rate. I’m guessing you mean the species I was before I became a [Vampire] though, in which case, I don’t know. Up until recently, I didn’t have both access to [Half-Giants] and the expertise required to understand what the variations in their physiology might mean.”

Balegritz felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to find Illuthiz beside him with a second piece of pie. 

“Let him have his fun,” she said. “More pie for us.”

“I’m so glad you like it,” Hammy Burglar the [Cook] said. “We were afraid that because you need different nutrients than we do, your taste buds might be too far removed from ours for us to make sense of what spices would agree with you.”

“We didn’t have anything to model the flavor on, so it was a lot of guesswork,” Vinyard the [Cook] said. “But we were able to deconstruct some of your food bars to make sure it was at least safe and vaguely palatable.”

“This is more than vaguely palatable,” Balegritz said, through a mouth stuffed full of pie.

“You’ve precisely recreated the Korzon Berry Pie recipe from Gardels,” Illuthiz said.

“That’s one of the best restaurants on our world,” Balegritz explained to cut through the confusion that was creeping across Hammy and Vinyard’s faces. “The waiting list for it got so long that people were booking reservations a decade out.”

“How do you know what its food tastes like then?” Vinyard asked.

“They were having riots outside the front door every night when they opened and they got tired of that so they bought out the entire block they were on and turned it into one large venue. I think it seats something like fifty thousand people or something ridiculous like that.”

“And their food still’s good?” Hammy asked.

“There are claims that its better now,” Illuthiz said. “Their food science division has made some revolutionary discoveries, and since they import in such incredible quantities now, they’re able to create mixtures that achieve consistent flavors that do precisely what they want them too.”

“People say it’s ridiculous what they’ve done and that food preparation doesn’t work how they claim it does,” Balegritz said. “They say everything Gardels does has prove that magic exists.”

“Maybe you’ve proven otherwise though?” Illuthiz asked. “Or did the creation of this require mystical abilities?”

“There weren’t any spells used in making the pies,” Hammy said. “I’m not sure that magic wasn’t involved though.”

“In what sense or manner?” Illuthiz asked between bites of pie.

“Being able to cook like this?” Vinyard said. “None of us could make anything like this a couple of days ago.”

“Some of that can be chalked up to the leveling system here,” Hammy said. “Wizards learn new spells by leveling and I’ve heard them saw it’s like the new incantation just pops into their heads the moment they level or spend their bonus points.”

“The same is true for warrior-types,” Vinyard said. “Except there it’s not necessarily spells, but abilities. Things they just know to do. Even things that must draw on magic to work.”

“For example?” Balegritz asked.

“An [Assassin] isn’t a spellcasting class,” Hammy said. “They’re a [Melee DPS] but they have abilities like [Strike from the Shadows] which lets them step into one shadow and out another one. It’s clearly a magical ability. It even has the same visual effect as the spell [Shadow Step], and yet it just pops up in the head the moment they level.”

“I see,” Illuthiz said, her professional curiosity overcoming her apparent need for more pie. “So you are surmising something similar may be true for your culinary skills?”

“It’s possible,” Hammy said. “I think at this point, we don’t know how any of this really works, and our belief that some classes use magic and the rest don’t doesn’t quite line up with what we’ve been seeing.”

“Which means more of you might have access to magic than you know,” Balegritz said. “And you might be able to do a lot more with it than you have been.”

“More of us might have access to magic,” Hammy said.

“That’s the other part of the experiment we had in mind,” Vinyard said. “Our hypothesis is that you have magic too, and we think we know how to prove it.”

Claire

Seeing the same excitement, the exact same excitement, on the face of two entirely different people was disconcerting. Except, Claire reminded herself, they were not entirely different people. Tessa and Glimmerglass were as much two different facets of the same person as she and Lady Midnight were. Perhaps even moreso, since Tessa and Glimmerglass had shared a single body for a while according to the story Rip had relayed of their adventurers in the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave].

“This is amazing! There are other people who are divided like us! I wasn’t even sure that was possible,” Tessa said.

“I was afraid that might be one of the origin points for the [Disjoined],” Glimmerglass said.

“We don’t know for sure yet that it is possible,” Pete said. “All we know at the moment is that there’s someone who’s claiming to be Wrath Raven. Not that they’re the real deal.”

“That should be easy enough to work out,” Glimmerglass said. “The message didn’t give you anywhere to meet her, or any other contact information besides her mail address, right?”

“Yeah. It’s weird. I’m still not seeing her when I look at my friend’s list or in any of the channels I know she should be,” Claire said.

“Which doesn’t seem like a great sign,” Pete said.

“Eh, there’s a bunch of possible explanations for that,” Tessa said. “Like Glimmerglass said though, you’ve got her mail address, so write back to her. Ask where she is and where she’d want to meet.”

“I understand being reluctant about reaching out,” Glimmerglass said. “If Tessa and Pillowcase hadn’t turned out to be real, I think the loneliness of missing them might have been overwhelming.”

“I haven’t felt that yet though,” Claire said. “If anything I feel a bit guilty about not looking for Wrath sooner.”

“And for being content as we were,” Lady Midnight said. “It was comfortable to not have the weight of the world on our shoulders like I’m sure Wrath Raven has.”

“She was part of the fighting against the Consortium I take it?” Tessa asked.

“I don’t know,” Lady Midnight paused and when she resumed it was Claire who spoke. “With how I always played her, I can’t imagine she’d hold back from something like that but…I don’t know, what if she’s not like that?”

“Then you’ll learn more about yourself than you imagined you would,” Glimmerglass said, placing a hand on Lady Midnight’s forearm.

Vixali

It was irksome when one’s lieutenant was correct. Vixali felt marvelously restored, the fresh blood coursing through her veins a gift potent enough to allow her to face the mad beasts that awaited her above.

Pausing at the door, she cast a glance back to Qiki who was sprawled on the sleeping furs, lost in a contented sleep with the most infuriating smirk on her pale lips.

Vixali didn’t have it in herself to even pretend that she might order Qiki to rise and atten her. Sleep was the minimum reward her second in command was due.

Locking the door when she left, Vixali ascended the winding stair to from the [Great Hall’s Crypt] to the [Hall of Remembrance] which was directly above it.

Under normal circumstances, the [Hall of Remembrance] was a quiet refuge for those seeking to pray for the souls of ancestors or others who had passed before them. The room Vixali entered bore no resemblance to such a space though.

“The Queen has returned!” an [Adventurer] declaimed the moment Vixali stepped through the door to the crypts.

“We await Her Dread Majesty’s Dark Wishes,” another [Adventurer] announced. There was an undercurrent of amusement and insincerity in the words that rankled Vixali’s nerves.

The [Vampires] in the room were split into three main groups. The first, and perhaps least welcome, were Vixali’s coterie. Her people were her responsibility. She knew them and was charged with their care and preservation. 

Or in other words, she was eminently familiar with just how terrible they were and yet was still compelled by her position to treat them like their weren’t colossally selfish and self destructive menaces to her sanity.

The second group were the [Adventurers] who, for whatever hellish reasons, had come to their profession after dying and rising as one of the [Undead]. Not Vixali’s [Blood Line] of [Vampire] but one of the similar [Types]. 

The [Vampiric] [Adventurers] had decided that she was a “real [Vampire]” and they therefor owed her their loyalty. No. That is incorrect. Not their loyalty. Their fealty. As if she was a [King] handing out peerages and knighthoods.

She knew many of them treated their situation as some sort of elaborate game. To them, she was no more than an element of make believe, someone to join them in their play and delusions.

While that was mildly insulting, Vixali nonetheless felt she understood them. With the world being upended, refusing to take their situation completely seriously was a reasonable response in her eyes.

The last group however was quite mad.

[Adventurers] who were in no sense [Vampires] but who wanted to “cosplay” as one of the [Undead] in Vixali’s court?

Pretend [Vampires]? Blood bags with delusions of grandeur? 

Or agents of the [Hungry Shadow]?

Vixali had been convinced that there had to be some kind of sinister plot behind their mortals who wished to pretend to be [Vampires] and had assumed that the creature which destroyed her home was the most likely mastermind behind such a scheme.

The more she interacted with the [Vampire] wannabes though, the more cause she had to doubt the assessment that there was anything like a mastermind behind their actions. 

Or perhaps even a mind at all.

“Hey, if I jump from the ceiling, I bet I can splatter all over everyone,” one of the wannabes said. “Then you can all lick each other clean. It’ll be so hot!”

Vixali sighed.

Nope. No minds there at all.

Broken Horizons – Vol 10, Ch 4

Balegritz

Being second-in-command had never been Balegritz’s idea. Being anywhere in the chain of command hadn’t been his idea either. That was all Hermeziz’s fault. 

Which was not a surprise. 

Of his two mates, Hermeziz was the one who was the least willing to deal with taking orders from an idiot, and Hermeziz consider virtually everyone he ran across to be an idiot. 

To be fair, he considered Balegritz to be an idiot nine times out of ten too, but that was a more affectionate sort of idiot – an idiot in the sense of ‘what kind of idiot would want to be with me?’

That Illuthiz backed Hermeziz up on the claim that Balegritz would make not only a fine second-in-command to Captain Yawlorna, but even the ideal one was also not surprising. Illuthiz knew as well as Hemrziz did that Balegritz would never put himself into that position, but seemed to believe that bearing the responsibility it entailed would be ‘good for him’.

And that it would free her to continue doing the research she wanted to do, rather than being tapped for a leadership role herself.

Unfortunately, she was right on both counts. Balegritz did take to the command position just as well as his mates thought he would. And they both got to continue their research projects uninterrupted. Or as uninterrupted as their precarious circumstances allowed.

“If we make it back home, you do know that we’re going to be the research specimens, not anything we bring back,” Hermeziz said, observing a five leafed, purple flower that might or might not be added to the collection of local flora they were building.

“What we’re going to be is fabulously wealthy,” Balegritz said. “We’ll be able to sell the things we bring back for a fortune deep enough that we can go for a swim in it.”

“Our appearance fees should be impressive as well,” Illuthiz said, extracting a single blade of grass with a painter’s brush to keep its root system intact.

“I don’t think they pay cadavers much for appearing in an autopsy,” Hermeziz said. “Or maybe I’m being too positive. Can’t assume there’ll even be enough left of us to do an autopsy on.”

Illuthiz carefully placed her grass blade into the specimen vial she was holding, seated the vial into its foam holder in their collection box, and then walked over to Hermeziz and wrapped him in a hug.

Balegritz rolled his eyes. Hermeziz’s complaints weren’t subtle calls for affection, but they were effective. At least with people who understood him. 

On the upside though, if Illuthiz was taking cuddle duty for the moment it meant Balegritz was free to test the water samples they’d taken for microbial life. He placed a single drop on the slide he’d prepared and brought the scanning lens to his eyes when he heard the footsteps creeping up behind him.

The muscles in his back tensed, but he was able to bite back the shout that hammered at the back of his teeth.

He hadn’t been this jumpy before the accident, before seeing so many of his shipmates crushed and burned and…and that thought wasn’t leading anywhere he needed to go.

He hadn’t been this jumpy before suffering the long term, traumatic event which he was still enduring. Part of enduring it though was staying true to himself, and Balegritz was not the sort who stabbed first and asked questions never. 

He knew the footsteps weren’t a threat. They were too small and too regular. They weren’t creeping. They were trying to approach cautiously. Because he looked very scary to the little people who called this world home. 

Not that they were all little. 

Just most of them. 

Even the frighteningly powerful ones.

“Can we help you?” he asked, without turning around.

“Is now a good time to interrupt you?” Lost Alice asked.

Balegritz put the slide down on the clean top of his collection box and raised the scanner from his eyes. 

Lost Alice wasn’t exactly a friend, but they’d fought together. That brought a level of respect and growing camaraderie despite their differences. A friendly welcome was, therefor, much more appropriate than a defensive growl and summoning his new [War Spear].

“It’s as good as any other,” Balegritz said, turning to see that Lost Alice had two other humans in tow.

The two newcomers were vaguely familiar but Balegritz couldn’t place a name or occupation to either one. They didn’t seem to be [Adventurers], given how they were standing with Lost Alice as a shield, but they each held packages, so perhaps they were simply waiting for an introduction?

“Well, we didn’t want to interrupt your experiments,” Lost Alice said. “But we thought you might be interested in taking part in another one.”

“Another one what? Another monster fighting session?” Hermeziz asked. It wasn’t an unreasonable question, though Balegritz thought it was the wrong time of day to be fighting more [Undead].

As Balegritz pondered what else it could be, Hermeziz and Illuthiz untangled themselves and came over to stand by him. 

Not that Balegritz needed the support. 

But he still appreciated it.

“Not another xp run,” Lost Alice said. “Not at the moment at least. What we had in mind was another experiment. One that you’re uniquely qualified for in fact.”

Balegritz peered past Lost Alice, inspecting her two tagalongs and noticed that they both looked disturbingly eager at the prospect of experimenting on him.

Balegritz did not want to be experimented on.

But if it was for Science?

Claire

Of all the messages Claire could have received as Lady Midnight, a plain and simple mail posting with the “From:” address of “Wrath Raven” was the very last thing she expected to see.

“Are you okay?” Starchild asked, helping Claire sit down on the low wall they were walking beside. 

Claire didn’t miss that Starchild had summoned her [Storm Staff] to hand and was gathering magic as they spoke.

“We’re not under attack,” Claire said. “I…I just got a surprise.”

She wanted to say more but her thoughts were too jangled.

Wrath Raven wasn’t just any [Battle Rager]. She wasn’t even just a max level [Battle Rager]. She was Claire’s max level [Battle Rager]. A character Claire had sunk more hours than she could count into. A character Claire should have been except for the, in hindsight, foolish desire to see the new content on a level appropriate alt.

Maybe not entirely foolish, Lady Midnight said. I am partial to existing after all.

Which was true. Having met the side of herself that Lady Midnight represented, Claire would still make the same choice even if she got to choose again.

But maybe she wouldn’t have to?

“Someone reached out to you?” Starchild asked.

Claire blinked at her.

“How did you know that?”

“Just a guess,” Starchild said. “With nothing here to disconcert you that much, the next likely candidate was someone speaking to you on a private channel.”

“It’s not that,” Claire said. “I got an email. From my main character.”

“Wait, your main reached out to you? She, or he, exists independently of you? Like with Tessa and Glimmerglass?” Peter asked.

“I guess so,” Claire said. “It’s weird though. When I tried to reach her, I got nothing. It was like she wasn’t online, or didn’t exist.”

“What did she say?” Starchild asked. “In the email.”

Claire scanned it again. It didn’t take long.

“Three words. ‘We should meet’. That’s it,” Claire said.

“Is that how you pictured her speaking?” Peter asked.

“Sort of?” Claire said. “She’s one of the [Berserker] subtypes, a [Battle Rager], so the times people were doing roleplaying in the group, I always played her as taciturn and goal driven. But with friends, or small groups, she was more open and expressive. This reads like an interaction she’d have in a pickup group.”

“Is it perhaps not her?” Starchild asked.

“Maybe? Who else would pretend to be her though?”

“It would have to be someone who knew of your connection to her,” Peter said. “And, if they’re faking her identity, probably someone who’s not exactly friendly.”

“Do you have any enemies?” Starchild asked. “Or does your main have enemies might be the better question?”

“I don’t think so,” Claire said. “I never played the game at the level where serious drama like that happened.”

“Uh, are you sure you played the game then?” Peter asked. “Cause I’ve seen serious drama in the most casual and laid back guilds, like ever.”

“Eh, okay, that’s fair,” Claire said. “I just mean I was never part of any feuds like that. [Broken Horizons] was always about relaxing for me. I didn’t care if whatever piece of super loot we were going for went to someone else. We ran the dungeons we could manage so many damn times, we all got everything anyways. Or a new expansion hit and the old stuff was all junk a week later.”

“What if it actually is her?” Starchild asked. “Are you going to meet with her?”

“I would like to,” Lady Midnight said. “I suspect we’d have some interesting notes to compare.”

“Though that could be a bad thing too,” Claire said. “I can’t really get a read on her feelings about me from three words, and Wrath Raven isn’t the most subtle person in the world when it comes to expressing her disapproval.”

“You know, we do have a local expert on ‘other selves in other bodies’ here. Two of them in fact, or maybe even three, depending on how you count them,” Peter said. “Think we should ring up Tessa and Glimmerglass?”

Vixali

[Vampires] were supposed to be fearsome [Undead]. Creatures of the night, shunned by mortals, tortured soul who nonetheless got to live eternal lives of debauchery so long as they consumed the living at every opportunity.

Vixali wasn’t sure anyone who believed that had ever met an actual vampire, and certainly not one of her subjects.

“We come from different bloodlines,” she said, pinching the bridge of her nose. It did nothing to quell the headache throbbing behind her eyes, but it was than sinking her claws into the nearest member of her court, though that was mostly true because she liked Qiki.

“Being different from us means they’re not required to swear fealty to you according to our traditions,” Qiki said. “Technically there’s no requirement that says they can’t if they wish to though.”

“There’s also no requirement that says I can’t order them to be attacked on sight,” Vixali said.

“They are rather powerful,” Qiki said. “It would thin our ranks out rather noticeably if your subjects tried to enact that command.”

“You say that as though it were a bad thing,” Vixali said, looking up to find Qiki rolling her eyes at Vixali’s lack of regal reserve.

“My [Queen], we, your loyal subjects, will of course follow your every whim, even unto the point of completely senseless and wasteful personal sacrifice,” Qiki said, leaving no doubt that she would do nothing of the sort. “But perhaps you may wish to consider a useful discovery I have made recently.”

“And that would be?” Vixali asked. 

“You are very,” Qiki sat onto Vixali’s lap, facing her, “very”, she lifted Vixali’s head up with just a light touch under Vixali’s jaw, “silly when you are hungry.”

“I am not feeding on the [Adventurers] in case they have been corrupted by the [Hungry Shadow],” Vixali said, staring into her subordinate’s eyes. 

Qiki was undeterred.

.”We did agree to that, yes,” she said. “But we did not agree that you should starve yourself to death in the process.”

“The only other options are the townsfolk, and feeding on them will create larger scale problems for us,” Vixali said, trying not to fall into the shifting colors around Qiki’s pupils.

One [Vampire] couldn’t mesmerize another, both tradition and the nature of their magics attested to that.

What one soul could do to another was less well defined though.

“We can ask Lost Alice about that,” Qiki said. “She moves in their world, but she knows ours. You could make her an ambassador, or something of the sort.”

Vixali sighed, defeated.

“Yes. I can do that,” she said. “And I’ll just stay down here. Out of sight of the rest of the Court. Communing with the darkness or whatever, until I’m able to get some proper blood in me.”

“You don’t need to wait,” Qiki said. “The [Adventurer’s] blood is suspect, but you know mine is pure.”

She tipped her head to the side and barring her neck a bare inch from Vixali’s waiting lips.

Broken Horizons – Vol 10, Ch 3

Rose

Of all the members of their party, and despite being seemingly the simplest to figure out, Obby was the biggest mystery to Rose.

“So what kind of training did you have in mind?” Rose asked as Obby led her out towards the rolling hills that were undead.

“Well, you’re not just an [Archer] anymore, are you?” Obby asked.

“Yeah, I haven’t been for a while,” Rosee said. [Lightning Archer] was so much cooler, and, as far as she knew, unique.

“We’ve been mostly slotting you in to a standard [Archer] roll though,” Obby said. “Stand in the back, shoot things, repeat until loot drops. That works, but I think you can be more.”

“More? Like what?” The idea that they might be able to open up more powers appealed to Rip, but Rose heard something deeper in Obby’s words. Not ‘you might be able to do more’, but ‘you might be able to be something more.’

Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

Rose was able to accept that she’d gained amazing strength and phenomenal abilities largely because it seemed to be happening to everyone else too, and from what she’d been hearing, most other people made out a lot better than she had.

Long time players were apparently god-like. Completely out of her league. Glimmerglass wasn’t any kind of fighter and she could still turn an army of zombies to dust where Rip would have been able to take down a handful of them at best before they overwhelmed her. 

Watching that Glimmerglass smiting the undead like the wrath of an earthbound god hadn’t been disconcerting though. Other people were always more impressive and cooler. That was just how things were.

“I don’t know exactly what you’ll be able to do,” Obby said, and Rose’s heart sank by a smidge. “I think it’s going to be up to you, at least to some extent.”

That sounded like the empty promises people were always making that “she’d be able to make something of herself” if she took her studies seriously, or tried harder, or did any of the other million things that sounded so much easier than they really were.

“That’s why I wanted to try training with you alone,” Obby said. “When you figure out what you can do that will be great. When you stumble, I can help you figure out what went wrong.”

“Couldn’t you do that for me and Matt though?” Rose asked.

“A good trainer gives you their full attention,” Obby said. “I could manage both you and Jamal, and probably the rest of the party too, but I want to be there when you need me, not when your turn comes up. If that makes sense?”

“Why?” Rose asked. She hadn’t meant to say that. It had slipped out as her disbelief warred with her desire not to question the gift horses she was being given. 

“You don’t mean ‘why is that a better training method’,” Obby said. “You’re wondering ‘why I want to train you at all’?”

“No. I mean, yeah,” Rose said. “Am I falling behind? Because I’m not as good an [Archer] anymore?”

Obby laughed, and turned an incredulous look on Rose.

“That is definitely not it,” she said. “You are crushing it as an [Archer]. Seriously, you’re the highest level [DPS] character in the city. You’ve taken on challenges none of the rest of them have, both up in the [High Beyond] and as one of the first people to complete the dungeon.”

“What about Matt? We’re the same level, and he did all the same stuff I did.”

“He’s not primarily a damage dealer, he’s [Control] with enough damage to play a decent second fiddle to you in that arena,” Obby  said. “And, yeah, he’s impressive too, but he hasn’t started making [Dream Spinner] into his own class yet. Not like you have with [Lightning Archer].”

“So is that supposed to mean that I’m better than he is?” Rose asked, not even slightly happy with that idea.

“You’re a much better [Lightning Archer] than he is, yes. And he’s a vastly better [Dream Spinner] than you,” Obby said. “I know that sounds trite, but the point is those are two different paths. You’re not trying to be him and he’s not trying to be you, and, really, all that matters is how you’re doing with what you’re striving for.”

“So, am I doing good enough?” Rose asked.

“Oh, you’re well past ‘good enough’,” Obby said. “You’re somewhere in the neighborhood of ‘astounding’. I didn’t want to train with you because you’re falling behind, or your weak. We’re all behind, and we’re all incredibly weak compared to people like Glimmerglass, but we’re working on that, and we’re getting better as we go. I wanted to train with you today, because I see so much in you that’s so familiar. There are skills I’m pretty sure you can develop if you want to lean in that direction, ones that aren’t particularly obvious, but can be incredibly useful, again, depending on what you want to be able to do.”

“Can you give me an example?” Rose asked. Her mind raced to leap ahead and guess what sort of ‘cool stuff’ a [Lightning Archer] might be capable of that she hadn’t thought of. Her heart lagged behind though, dragging the ball and chain of fearful experiences that had taught her what kind of a weapon hope could be.

“When Tessa was in trouble up in the [High Beyond], you raced ahead to get to her as fast as possible, right?” Obby asked.

“Yeah. [Lightning Archer] comes with a movement speed buff,” Rose said.

“I think you can do better than just running quickly,” Obby said. “I think if you really need to move, you can [Ride the Lightning].”

Yawlorna

Chaos was an old friend to Yawlorna. From her classes as an undergrad, to captaining the crew of a research ship, to surviving in the depths of hostile moon, she was used to things falling apart at a significantly faster rate than you could put them back together. The unspoken swell of excitement that passed from the inside of the [Great Hall] into the streets and beyond didn’t come as a great surprise therefor.

Apparently everyone could level up now.

She could see why that was causing a stir.

She could also see what the inevitable result of said “stir” would be.

“We should begin setting up a triage area and hospital beds, shouldn’t we?” she said, looking around the small room Glimmerglass had commandeered for training Yawlorna further as a healer.

“We probably won’t need that,” Glimmerglass said. “Unfortunately.”

Yawlorna was puzzled by that for all of two seconds.

She’d thought they would have injured patients spilling out into the streets as a horde of underleveled, or unleveled, people stormed out to slay xp giving forest creatures and whatever various monsters they could find.

Then she considered how lucky their previous patient had been.

And how those untrained and unwise unleveled people were likely to far in similar battles.

“We need to either stop them or start digging graves then, don’t we?” Yawlorna said.

“Stopping them would be best, or at least delaying them until we can arrange for some safer training options for them,” Glimmerglass said. “I don’t know if their new ability to level also means that they’ve been [Soul Wakened].”

“I thought that was for [Adventurers] only?” Yawlorna asked. “That an [Inspiration].”

“We never knew what [Inspiration] was,” Glimmerglass said. “It was just a feeling some of us got. The same is true of [Soul Wakened]. In fact a fair number of people think they’re the same condition. There weren’t many [Adventurers] who hadn’t been touched by [Inspiration] and there weren’t any at all that weren’t [Soul Wakened], since being able to use the [Heart Fires] to respawn from death is somewhat mandatory given the sort of dangers we pitch ourselves into.”

“And no one knows how to turn that on right?” Yawlorna asked. “Immortality is simply a fickle beast?”

“Somewhat literally,” Glimmerglass said. “Given that even [Adventurers] can die permanently if they run afoul of the [Hounds of Fate].”

Yawlorna was completely certain that it was a trade she and all the rest of her crew would gladly take. 

True, maybe there was some unknown downside. Maybe the Hounds dragged your soul off to become ghost dog kibble rather than everyone else who got to spend eternity in a library with hot springs and no requirements to ever publish anything. 

Much though she yearned for it, Yawlorna was skeptical that her personal version of heaven was likely to be real, and the definite option of having a second chance if things went disastrously wrong seemed like a much better choice to gamble on.

Except it wasn’t a choice.

It was a gift that some people were given randomly and others had to do without.

That line of thinking lead to unpleasant places, so Yawlorna cut it off with a better one.

Either [Soul Wakening] was a naturally occurring phenomena or it was a gift from some higher power. The key to determining which was true lay in collecting the right data, and she had a whole crew of people who were nominally still under her command who had been rigorously trained in collecting good data. 

They might not have the immortality trait yet, but this was a world where they could manage to acquire it.

All it would take was a little study.

Hailey

Bringing the defenders of the [Fallen Kingdoms] the entire catalogue of their foes capabilities, troop distributions, and goals had seemed like Hailey was delivering them the most vital information possible on the greatest threat to the world. After listening to Tessa’s recounting of what had happened in the [High Beyond] though Hailey was left wondering if the information she’d brought was going to amount to anything more than footnote on a forgotten page in some forgotten history book.

Assuming there was anyone around to write history books.

“I can’t…I don’t know…how did you make it out of all that?” she finally asked when Tessa finished her, clearly abbreviated, tale.

“With a lot of help,” Tessa said. “And, honestly, a ton of luck.”

“I think we all need to start mainlining your luck,” Hailey said. “We’ve got [Eldritch Abominations] in the game, or in the world I mean, and none of them sound as bad as what you encounter, and fought, and survived!”

“Well, we never really found the [Hungry Shadow],” Tessa said. “Just its minions, and those were a lot easier to take out.”

“What about in that garden place? With the level cap?” Hailey asked.

“Oh, yeah, that was…I mentioned I got really lucky right?” Tessa said.

“You fused three identities and fought something off using the spark of a god,” Hailey said. “That’s not luck. That’s…I don’t even know what that is.”

“A one time trick I think,” Tessa said. “The god soul’s aren’t exactly laying around everywhere. If you hadn’t brought one with you, and Glimmerglass hadn’t been nearby, I don’t think Pillowcase or Tessa would have had a prayer. So, you know, lucky.”

“I need to tell Penswell about this,” Hailey said. “I don’t know if its going to make her day or ruin it though.”

“Depends how well the Consortium manages to handle the [Hungry Shadow],” Tessa said. “It could be that they’ll all wipe each other out and the remnants will become just another monster faction. Maybe converting the [High Beyond] into a high-level only zone, instead of the split we saw where it had a lowbie starting area too.”

“That sounds like what would have happened if this was still a game,” Hailey said. “I don’t think we can count on things going anything like a game would at this point.”

“There’s another possibility we’ll want to consider then,” Tessa said. “But it may ruin your day even further.”

“More than a reality devouring monster looming overhead while an alien invasion fleet decimates our cities?” Hailey asked. “Please, I gotta hear this one.”

“Ask yourself this question then; if we got here from Earth, which means there’s some connection between the two worlds, what are the chances that the [Hungry Shadow] is going to come down to the [Fallen Kingdoms] where we’ve got god-like power and literal magic from the creation of the universe at our fingertips, and what are the chances that it heads back to Earth instead, where the best weapons the people there have will ruin the planet if they use them en masse?”

Broken Horizons – Vol 10, Ch 2

Rose

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

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

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

“Check out your stats,” Tessa said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t really a mystery why either.

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

And so she wanted to be Rose.

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

“With us?” Jamal asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tessa and Lost Alice weren’t like that.

She could trust them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They weren’t rejecting her?

Why?

Wait, they want to do something with her?

Seriously why?

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

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

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

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

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

Because of course that was how they thought.

Rose let Rip take the reins for a bit. 

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

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

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

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

Yawlorna

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

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

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

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

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

“Why…?” Glimmerglass started to ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Should I begin casting?” Yawlorna asked.

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

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

“Trust me,” Glimmerglass said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But for people in the same guild?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

Broken Horizons – Vol 10, Ch 1

Rose

Sleep should have been impossible. They’d beaten a dungeon! A real dungeon! On their own! True, there’d been a celebration of said accomplishment that ran till the night was perilously close to becoming the next day, but even so, Rose knew sleep should have eluded her.

When she and Jamal had made it back to their commandeered loft across the street from the [Great Hall], she’d told herself (and Jamal) that she was just laying down to get comfortable.

That was roughly one and half blinks ago but somehow the sun had taken the opportunity to launch itself halfway up the sky.

Stretching her toes and fingers and tail as far from each other as she could get them felt gloriously relaxing and was almost enough to convince her to turn over and head back to sleep, but her stomach vetoed that plan.

“Mrrhff,” she grumbled and sat up, bleary eyed despite the copious amount of daylight she was bathed in.

“She lives!” Jamal said, using regular old, simple speech rather than they’re telepathic channels.

“Maybe,” Rose said, rubbing her eyes. In truth she didn’t feel particularly tired, or sore, but the excitement and the late hours the night before had left her with a pleasant lassitude that she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to let fall away.

“Think [Raspberry Scones] with [Honey Butter] and [Hot Chocolate] might convince you to give the whole waking up thing a try?” Jamal asked.

Rose sat up instantly, the lingering clouds of sleep swept aside effortlessly.

“They have [Hot Chocolate] now? How?” she asked, grabbing up her discarded armor.

She considered putting it back on – that seemed like the sort of wise move an [Adventurer] would do – but discarded the idea as quickly as it occurred to her. Obby had shown her how to change her equipment instantly, so if an unexpected brawl broke out over breakfast (or perhaps it was lunch at this point), she’d be fine. Far better to get to enjoy the the comfy “cosmetic” loot they’d found in the dungeon.

“Have you had anything yet?” she asked Jamal who was still sitting halfway inside the door to their balcony.

“Nope. Matt doesn’t need to eat that much, so I figured we’d just wait.”

“How do you know what they’d got then?” Rose asked.

“Tessa and Lost Alice were up early,” he said. “They let the rest of the party know what the guild’s [Cooks] were putting together.”

“How long ago was that?”

“About four hours or so.”

“Wait, how long have you been up?” Rose asked, pausing as she tucked her armor into her inventory bag.

“Five hours or so?” Jamal said. “Matt doesn’t need that much sleep either.”

“Oh! Dude! Why didn’t you get me up?” Rose asked.

“You were out of it,” Jamal said. “And there wasn’t anything important going on, so why not let you sleep?”

Rose felt a jumble of words leap to her lips. Expressions of gratitude foremost among them. She kept them locked behind her teeth though. Jamal was her oldest and best friend. He already knew everything she could say and saying it outloud would be weird. 

Instead, after a moment, she asked, “So what did you do for all that time?”

“Matt and I have been talking,” Jamal said. “It’s interesting. And weird. And good I guess? Or it’s good now. The stuff her had to live through in the Consortium? That was just messed up.”

“Is it something you, or I guess he, want to talk about?” Rose asked.

“Not yet,” Jamal said. “Don’t want to ruin your appetite.”

It was a light comment, meant as a joke as much as anything else, but Rose knew Jamal, knew how open, at least with her, he always was. Knew she could trust him to come let her in when he needed help.

But, she wondered, was that true of Matt as well?

Yawlorna

Yawlorna was dead. She died, passed her final thesis exam before the Arbiters of Judgment and been granted access to the Academic Heaven. That, she decided, was a far more likely explanation for the situation she found herself in than relying on anything as untrustworthy as personal experience and recent memory.

“You’re making remarkable progress,” Glimmerglass said. “Are you sure you haven’t had any medical training up till now?”

“Just basic anatomy and physiology course,” Yawlorna said. “But those don’t seem to line up exactly with what any of the other species here have.”

“It could still be helping,” Glimmerglass said. “Healing magic doesn’t require an exact knowledge of the body – it is magic after all – but the more we know, the easier it is to guide it to do what we want, rather than what it thinks the body needs.”

“It feels like a miracle to me,” Yawlorna said, marveling as the small cut Glimmerglass had made on her own hand sealed shut perfectly in response to the spell Yawlorna was maintaining.

“It is,” Glimmerglass said. “Priestly magic, like mine, is all categorized as [Miracles]. Primarily that’s because we’re drawing the patterns from the spells from sources external to ourselves. Specifically [Celestial Sources]. Other spellcasters find their [Spell Patterns] elsewhere, usually from elements of the world, or as a series of interrelated concepts.”

“Does anyone work with all of those?” Yawlorna asked. She felt like she was an undergrad, back in class, and listening to a lecture she was sure would apply to things beyond the limits of the auditorium. It was intoxicating. 

No worries about her crew.

No concerns about getting home.

No monster to fight.

Just pure, beautiful, precious learning.

“Drawing on multiple sources for your magical patterns is one of those things that people debate and get absolutely nowhere with,” Glimmerglass said. “In theory, well, in some theories, it’s perfectly possible. In practice though there’s serious interference issues that arise and keeping the patterns from destructively interfering with each other is the stuff nightmares are made of.”

“I feel like I could write a dozen papers if I eavesdropped on even one of those debates,” Yawlorna said.

“They can get pretty lively,” Glimmerglass said, chuckling at some long distant memory. “You’d have the advantage that people wouldn’t try to glower over you and try to ‘win’ the argument through sheer intimidation.”

“They would if they knew how weak my people are compared to you [Adventurers],” Yawlorna said.

“Magic debates, I guess somewhat surprisingly, aren’t usually resolved with spellcasting,” Glimmerglass said. “Everyone there tries to keep things civilized, at least to the extent that the staff doesn’t throw the debaters out on their ears and ban them from coming back. Also, you’re pretty far from weak.”

“That is both interesting and kind of you to say, but I’ve seen what you can do,” Yawlorna said. “Even if we were stripped of all gear, and all our magic was suppressed you’d be able to toss me through a wall with one hand tied behind your back.”

“And yet, I can’t come close to matching the [Warriors] or other [Melee Fighters] that I know,” Glimmerglass said. “So I’m strong here, but so are you compared to most of the people in town, including Tessa, you know, my other self? And compared to the people from [Sky’s Edge] you’re vastly out of their league.”

“That doesn’t seem terrible fair does it?”

“It’s not,” Glimmerglass said. “Life doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to be fair, I think because ‘fair’ is something we all need to work towards, not something the world just gives us.”

Hailey

The war had turned and it was thanks to her. Hailey had heard that comment enough times now that she was ready to scream at the next person who tried to thank or congratulate her about their “impending victory”.

Because there wasn’t a victory impending.

Yes, fighting had turned in the good guys favor, but it was a slight and fragile advantage. One they could lose at any moment.

And, more importantly, it was one that so many other people had fought to make real.

She’d taken a risk, true. She’d conveyed some detailed and highly useful intelligence to the people who could make the best use of it, sure. She’d even fought in a couple battles herself. She felt good about all that, but she’d seen how much others had given too. They deserved far more recognition than she did.

“There aren’t that many people who know what you did though, are there?” Tessa asked on the personal channel Hailey had setup for them.

“More than probably should from a security perspective, but, yeah, not the whole world or anything,” Hailey said.

“I’m gonna guess those were the ones who saw just how bad things were getting though, right?” Tessa asked.

“Eh, some of them,” Hailey grumbled, ceding the point even though her discomfort remained.

“For what it’s worth, you’re intel may have saved my bacon too,” Tessa said.

“How so? I didn’t wind up anywhere near you?” Hailey said.

“When we escaped the [High Beyond], I needed a safe landing spot for everyone,” Tessa said. “I’m not sure there would have been one if the Consortium had been able to keep steamrolling the [Defense Force]. I mean do you know if there was a Consortium event planned for the new starter cities?”

“Oh damn! I think there was!” Hailey said. “It was supposed to help the new players feel like they weren’t missing out. There were token drops you could have on to for level capped gear pieces.”

“Well then you spared us from that,” Tessa said. “So, you know, I should thank you.”

“You’re evil,” Hailey said.

“I’m glad you remember!” Tessa said.

“Like I could ever forget,” Hailey said and added in a quieter voice, “Those were just the best times back then.”

“In the game?” Tessa asked.

“Yeah, that too,” Hailey said.

“I’m glad you remember them that way,” Tessa said. “I liked them too.”

“I wish I’d caught you coming in,” Hailey said. “I could have rolled up someone to join you and we woundn’t be trapped on the opposite sides of the world.”

“I’m glad you got in here at all,” Tessa said. “And I’m glad you still had BT. Being low level is…I think challenging is probably the right word.”

“I told you, I know people, I can have them come out and power level you up,” Hailey said.

“Believe it or not, I think we’re doing pretty good there,” Tessa said. “We’ve got Glimmerglass here, and she’s been handling some of the lowbies who wanted the help. And even without her help my team beat the first dungeon without a single TPK!”

Hailey couldn’t help but smile from absorbing even a sliver of the joy that radiated from Tessa’s voice.

“I forgot how awesome that could be,” she said. “Seems like you found a pretty great group if you’re still this buzzed about it half a day later?”

“I’ve been pretty happy recently,” Tessa said. “Which is kind of scary. And, I don’t know, inappropriate I guess? But, whatever, I’m not going to second guess this. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

For a moment, Hailey was sixteen again, headphones on to drown out the world, with the voice of one of her best friends in her ear as they talked about any and every random thing that came into their heads. 

Her heart ached at the thought.

She missed sixteen year old Hailey.

Not enough to want to ever go back to being her.

Tessa and her other friends aside, those years sucked. 

But who she’d been then? Awkward, stupid, and childish though she’d been? That Hailey wasn’t so bad in hindsight.

“It sounds like you’re in love,” she said, meaning to tease her old friend before wondering if they’d gotten back to the casual teasing stage yet.

“That’s probably because I am,” Tessa said, smug happiness evident even from several thousand miles away.

Hailey’s breath caught in surprised glee.

“What? Really? With who? Tell me everything!”