Monthly Archives: February 2022

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Ch 10

The world was falling apart. Chaos was the order of the day, and on all fronts calamity loomed.

“This is perfect,” Azma said, a smile of small delight playing across her face as she watched the illusory projections of troops movements across the globe play out.

“Perhaps if you’re still intent on conquering this world,” Penswell said.

“Oh, you could no longer pay me enough money to even advise on that,” Azma said. “The entire net worth of the Consortium would not be worth that particular headache.”

“You’re relieved to see the world burning then?” Penny asked. She was spread particularly thin at the moment, directing a thousand simultaneous battles and negotiating with fifteen different noble factions who appeared intent on doubling the number of conflicts which had toppled into outright warfare.

“Far from it,” Azma said. “You see the picture which lies before us here though do you not?”

“I see many pictures here,” Penny said. “Along with even more futures, many of which I have rather significant objections to.”

“Possibly you object to the one I see forming as well,” Azma said, nudging some of the units onto new trajectories.

“It’s likely I do,” Penny said. “I am willing to entertain your arguments in favor of your preferred outcome though.”

Azma sighed.

“I do so wish we could have remained mortal enemies,” she said, fighting to keep the wistful longing from her voice.

“Whereas I am rather glad we are not, at the moment,” Penny said.

Azma’s sigh only deepened.

“As you say,” she conceded. The idea of working with an equal colleague was almost too foreign for Azma’s mind to grasp. In truth, it unnerved her to the point where she’d had to restrain herself from reflexively drawing a weapon several times already. She didn’t need to defend herself from Penswell, and that was simply so wrong as to be more distracting than any actual attempt on her life could have been.

“I take it that you feel the chaos that has erupted in the [Western Salt Marshes] will precipitate battles throughout the region and that we can capitalize on that with our joint forces?” Penny asked.

“I do, though my recommendation is that we don’t employ joint arms against the aggressors in the region,” Azma said. “We have other forces that can quell the chaos more surgically.”

“[Assassins]?” Penny asked. “Murder tends to have unforeseeable side effects.”

“Sending troops into the field is murder on an gradiose scale,” Azma said. “Better in cases like this to direct the murder towards those most deserving.”

“You want to assassinate the [High Kings] who have left our alliance?” Penny asked. It would be considered a war crime and the remaining lords were likely to object in strenuous terms but Penny wasn’t shutting the idea down.

“Yes, though, that’s a minor part of the overall plan,” Azma said.

“There are other methods which could possibly bring them back into alignment with our forces,” Penny said.

“There are,” Azma said. “But these are autocrats who are seizing the opportunity provided by the current crisis and the perception of weakness in the rest of the world to enlarge their domains. Ultimately they only desire and respect power, and your world will be better off without their presence in it once this is done.”

“That would require deposing several [High Kings],” Penny said.

“Oh, it would require much more than that,” Azma said. “Autocratic rulers always try to appear to hold the reins of power by themselves, but none of them can do so without a large power structure to support them. If we dispatch assassins to resolve this situation, it won’t be dozens striking from the shadows. It will be thousands.”

“That’s quite a lot of murder,” Penny said.

“Better too much than too little,” Azma said. “If you wish to cut out the heart of a power structure, you need to cut out all of the diseased sections or you’re doing little more than ensuring the problem will return later.”

“Your plan will create a rather large power vacuum,” Penny said. “Those are rarely filled bloodlessly.”

“The resulting crisis in leadership will draw in a second round autocrats,” Azma said. “Weaker ones, unfit to overthrow the current tyrants, who will see a chance to establish their own domains.”

“You would send the [Assassins] to deal with these as well?” Penny asked.

“These I would send your armies against,” Azma said. “Some of the new leaders may be reasonable. Those you can shape into better leaders. Some won’t be. Those you eliminate.”

“I am not inclined to become a nation builder,” Penny said.

“If you take no action, or only ineffective actions, then you are effectively conspiring with those who are seeking to build their nations now,” Azma said. “That can be a viable strategy too, if you believe the newly engorged autocrats will be worthwhile allies. In my experience that is rarely the case though. Those who seek power and dominance tend not to be concerned about the welfare of others, except where it can benefit themselves.”

“Would you except yourself from that?” Penny asked.

“Of course not,” Azma said. “If I cared about the welfare of others, I would suggest that you follow the plan I laid out and then invest in the areas which are destabilized. Provide the people there the tools and education needed to create their own governmental structures. Teach them how to be strong so that they won’t be ruled by weak men and give them the support they need until they can support others. But you will note that I did not advise that.”

“No, of course not,” Penny said, hiding an unfathomable smile. “The situation in the [Western Salt Marshes] is at least three days from requiring immediate intervention though. You see an opportunity arising sooner than that. Don’t you?”

“I’ve spoken with the [Adventurer] named Hailey,” Azma said. “Did she tell you the proposition she put before me?”

“She did. You accepted it?”

“Not yet,” Azma said. “I feel like I am missing some element of what this [Quest Giver] position entails.”

“It’s relatively simple,” Penny said. “You establish an objective – something you want the [Adventurers] to accomplish, decide on a reward commensurate with the difficulty, and provide a small narrative around why you are asking the [Adventurers] to do what you’re asking them too. In truth though that last piece is only occasionally necessarily. There are plenty of [Adventurers] who simply need to be pointed at a target to unleash their boundless yearning for strife upon.”

“That all seems simple enough. I am having trouble grasping why it stops there though?” Azma said. “If a [Quest Giver] has something they desire, aren’t there [Adventurers] who simply assault the [Quest Givers].”

“Certainly,” Penny said. “[Quest Givers] who are aligned with a faction opposed to the [Adventurer’s] faction are frequent targets for aggression.”

“So any [Adventurers] who decide to join the [Hungry Shadow] will look to assault me? That could be amusing,” Azma said.

“The [Hungry Shadow] would need to change again to be capable of interacting with the [Adventurers] as anything other than an adversary,” Penny said. “If that happens, then we have effectively won.”

“Because we can negotiate with it?” Azma asked.

“No, because it will have lost the last vestiges of being a [Transcendental Entity],” Penny said. “If it changes so much that it can be accept other beings as allies, it will be fully realized within this world. Still an enemy faction to most of the ones which currently exist, but our history is one long chain of coopting and corrupting enemy factions into various alliances. It wouldn’t even be the first faction from beyond the stars we’ve dealt with.”

“Truly?” Azma asked. “Our intelligence was somewhat lacking in historical perspectives.”

“I’m not surprised,” Penny said. “Our full history predates the forging of this world.”

“It…what?” Azam asked. Nothing like that had been present in the reports she’d read. If it had been, she might have been able to guess at the arrival of the [Transcendental Entity]. Possibly.

“Many of the guardians of this world were born on others,” Penny said. “The reasons and timing each came here are different, but each changed or expanded what this place is. Many didn’t come as guardians at all, but as would be conquerors, but most of the ones who survived eventually saw the benefit to defending the place where they lived via their own methods.”

“Fascinating,” Azma said. “We attempted to corrupt some of the major powers we detected who were apparently adversaries of the world’s defenders.”

“That went poorly didn’t it,” Penny said.

“Remarkably so. The level of treachery involved was profound even compared to the Consortium’s typical dealings,” Azma said. “The few who did prove helpful were overwhelmed with disturbing efficiency too.”

“I was glad to see you expending resources recruiting minion who the [Adventurers] were well versed in defeating,” Penny said. “It put us on the back foot in several arenas but it was a solvable problem.”

“I wonder if you could recruit them less expensively than I did?” Azma asked.

“No. If anything the greater adversaries would likely charge more to work with my forces,” Penny said. “There’s significant bad blood between many of them and the [Adventurers]. That you were able to recruit them at all is likely because you were giving them a venue to assault targets they wished to engage anyways.”

“That will make the first phase of deploying the [Adventurers] more challenging then,” Azma said, looking back to the map.

“You plan to take the role Hailey suggested then?” Penny asked.

“I would be a fool not to,” Azma said. “They are dropping the power into my hands as though they can trust me implicitly.”

Penny chuckled at first and then broke into a laugh.

“I feel I am missing something about the role still,” Azma said.

“I’m sorry,” Penny said. “It’s just…you really haven’t worked with anyone like the [Adventurers] before have you?”

“Apparently not,” Azma said.

“As a [Quest Giver] you will be able to provide them with a goal,” Penny said. “How they pursue that goal and the amount of collateral damage they inflict in the process is wholly within their control though. Think of it less as them dropping power into your hands, and more as horde of sugar saturated toddlers with knives who you are desperately trying to convince to move quietly through a room full of explosive runes.”

“Ah, I see. Subtlety is not an option then is it?”

“Just wait,” Penny said. “It’s the sort of thing you need to experience first hand.”

Penny’s stifled delight filled Azma with an unusual foreboding.

Being a [Quest Giver] didn’t sound noticeably different than being a field commander for several special forces units at once. 

She thought of the special forces teams she’d deployed to the [High Beyond]. Her lead team had gone awol, ventured down to the planet early, and, the last she’d heard, been slaughtered to a man after they tried to assault a simple farm house. Apparently the farm house was run by a couple of ‘retired adventures’ who’d ‘called in some friends’. It seemed like a ridiculous fate for a highly specialize Consortium force, but every part of this situation was ridiculous, and learning from other’s mistakes was something Azma made a point of doing as often as possible.

“I plan to send the first group’s to capture the largest landing ship I sent down,” Azma said. “We’re going to need an operating platform that can move in and out of the fleet’s range, and if the [Adventurer’s] are immune to the [Hungry Shadow’s] corrupting influence, they’ll be able to use its sensor and weapon arrays where my crew no longer can.”

“A solid starting point,” Penny said. “Simple and straightforward. You should be able to evaluate the capabilities of the [Adventurers] you dispatch before sending them against the fleet and modify your plans from there.”

“I feel as though there is a part of your appraisal which is missing?” Azma said.

“Yours is the best plan I can conceive of,” Penny said, in all sincerity and with a grin that nonetheless filled Azma with dread.

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Ch 9

Tess had helped her party work out several battle plans. A few them even covered the unlikely event that the mobs they were facing might have reset into spots different from their standard starting positions. None of them however covered the scenario that was playing out before them. Because that situation was frankly ridiculous.

“Is there any lore about demons using a white flag to summon a more powerful demon to aid them?” Lady Midnight asked.

“Or as a trap?” Wrath Raven asked.

Either of those would have been a great idea. Fool the [Adventurers] into coming within striking distance without putting any of their long term buffs up. Or even just catch the [Adventurers] at unawares so the demons could unload their heaviest attacks before aggro rules constrained who they were able to attack.

Except for the part where a standard [Adventuring Party] would have plowed through them regardless of any overtures of peace. In the game, the demons in [Hells Breach] were nothing more than xp fodder and speed bumps towards reaching the final boss and achieving the mildly coveted [Cleared Dungeon] status.

“There are demons that summon reinforcements, but they don’t need a white flag, or a flag of any type to do it,” Tessa said. “And I don’t think this is a trap.”

“It’s not,” Lisa said. “If they wanted to trap us, they would have set this up in the corridor around the last bend. They could have wedged us in and gotten attacked into our back ranks by hiding them in cells.”

“So, they really want to surrender?” Rip asked. She had an arrow knocked by not drawn back, and Matt had a spell visibly ready but both seemed more steady in the face of an impressive large force of demons than anyone their age should have been.

“Probably going to need to talk to them to find out,” Obby said.

“That might need to be my job,” Tessa said.

“Doesn’t mean you need to go up there alone,” Lisa said, wrapping an arm around her that was either protective or restraining, Tessa couldn’t be quite sure.

“Why does it need to be Tessa?” Rip asked.

“Demon’s don’t speak [Surface Common],” Tessa said. “In theory we all speak that and our native tongue. So you can speak [Surface Common] and [Tabbywile]. Plus [English]. Huh, wasn’t expecting [English] to be a special term?”

“Un Consortium [Artifax] speak [Universalis] though,” Matt said, reminding everyone that he and Pillowcase shared more than a few traits.

“What the heck is [Universalis]?” Pete asked.

“It’s sort of [Galactic Common], since the [Consortium of Pain] utilizes it, but since one overall language that can translate all others was implausible enough for the people who worked on it and actually spoke multiple languages, they threw in some lore than [Universalis] isn’t really a single language, but a language pack that can be loaded into [Artifax] like Matt and Pillowcase.” 

Tessa had found the message board wars over [Universalis] amusing given that the preponderance of people arguing that it should be a single language that everyone could “just understand” were her fellow monoglot Americans where the ones championing the ‘language pack’ idea were the people for whom speaking two, three, or more languages was the norm.

“You’re thinking of sending a small group up there in case this is a trap?” Obby asked.

“That and, and maybe I’m nuts here, but do they look sort of scared of us?” Tessa asked.

“That’s not an either/or question,” Rachel said. “You’re dating my sister, so you are clearly in dire need of counseling, but they also do look frightened.”

“I will bite you!” Lisa warned, shoving her sister and barring her fangs.

“I can speak to them,” Tessa said, ignoring the sisterly squabbling, “and you’ve got to admit that I’m the least threatening of all us.”

“Oh that’s not even vaguely true,” Obby said, but waved away Tessa’s counterargument before Tessa could voice it.

“What if you speak with them from the third bookshelf away from them?” Starchild asked. “That will keep you within our casting range?”

“I won’t be able to get to her in time if they all unload on her,” Obby said, less as a warning and more as a simple tactical assessment.

“That’s fine,” Tessa said. “Risking one more [Heart Fire] run for the chance to figure out whatever’s up with all this seems worth it.”

“I’m still going with you,” Lisa said.

“I know,” Tessa said. “Just like you know that if they do attack us, I’ll be tanking for you with my super squishy body.”

“You know having an AoE aggro skill and no armor to speak of is objectively terrible build,” Lisa said. 

“Pillowcase is making the same point,” Tessa said. “We work with what we’ve got though.”

“Yep, and you’ve got me,” Lisa said, extending her hand for Tessa take before they set off.

Marching to their probable doom wasn’t Tessa’s idea of a perfect date, but she had to admit that she felt irrationally safer having Lisa at her side.

The trek down the library’s main aisle conjured a vision of marching down another aisle. In theory either Lisa or she should be waiting at the end but marching down the aisle together might be nice too.

You pick a strange time to think of such things, Pillowcase said.

Yeah, that’s me, Tessa said, I’m afraid you’ve joined up with a rather strange side of yourself.

I cannot express how unlike the Consortium’s commands your thoughts are, or how delighted that make me, Pillowcase said.

We’re a lot better together, Tessa said, a feeling of quite contentment washing over her.

The smile she greeted the assembled demons with reflected that contentment, and was apparently an even more deeply unsettling than her general appearance.

The demons weren’t humaniform, tending toward octopedal bodies somewhere between a spider and an octopus with few of the redeeming features of either. Reading fear on bodies so divorced from humanity should have been challenging to impossible, but it really wasn’t.

“It’s okay,” Tessa said, coming to a halt a little early and putting up her free hand in a gesture of reassurance. “We understand the white flag means a truce.”

“They can speak!” one of the demons shouted, a cry that was quickly taken up by several others.

“Yes,” Tessa said. “We didn’t know that you could too.”

“Apologies,” one of the larger demons, their body shading from a deep eggplant purple at their core to a soft violet at their razer blade tipped extremities. “My comrades did not expect this ploy to work.”

“That’s understandable,” Tessa said. “I don’t think [Adventurers] and the denizens of [Hells Breach] have ever had a non-violent encounter before. What made you think to try flying a white flag?”

“We’re not sure,” the eggplant colored demon said. “Something changed recently.”

“How recently? A week or so ago?” Tessa asked, wondering if this was some effect related to the [World Shift] expansion.

“No, this was about fifteen minutes ago,” the eggplant colored demon said.

“Uh, what?” Tessa asked. She’d been literally poleaxed and it hadn’t left her as speechless as the ramifications of what the demon said did. “Fifteen minutes as in the last time we were through here?”

“That seems to be the case.”

“What changed?” Tessa asked.

“Well, I have a name now. Chelmsworth. So that’s…honestly, it’s somewhat disturbing.”

“Having a name is disturbing? Or having Chelmsworth for a name is disturbing?”

“Yes?” Chelmsworth said.

“We’re not supposed to have names,” one of the other demons said.

“Why not?” Tessa asked.

“Because, we supposed to be spirits of murder and malevolence,” Chelmsworth said. “We’re fragments of [Hell] itself. Or we were? Maybe?”


“It doesn’t feel right when I say it. It feels like I’m repeating what someone else said about me,” Chelmsworth said.

“What’s the real story then?” Tessa asked.

“I have no idea,” Chelmsworth said. “None of us do. It’s like we were enjoying a pleasant little nap and then suddenly something woke us up. Specifically someone stabbed us, or burned us, or whatever, and when we reformed, no more pleasant napping.”

“That’s…wait, you reformed?”

“Yes. Isn’t that what you did?” Chelmsworth asked. “I have this dim memory of seeing you getting sliced into about thirty different pieces. That can’t be right though, can it? I mean you’re here, and you’re in fine shape, and you’re not [Soulbound] to this place like we are at all from what I can see.”

“You’re right about a lot of things there,” Tessa said, after providing a quick translation to for the rest of the party. “I did get chopped to ribbons, and I’m not [Soulbound] here, at least not as far as I know. Is that something you can normally see?”

“Of course,” Chelmsworth said. “Can’t you see the chains around our souls? They’re plain as the fires of the abyss.”

“We don’t see souls like that,” Tessa said.

Not entirely true, Pillowcase said. [Soul Knight] remember? I’ve been leveling up too.

Wait, I thought we couldn’t level both [Soul Knight] and [Void Speaker] at the same time?

[Void Speaker] definitely wasn’t leveling when we were fighting as a [Soul Knight], but [Soul Knight] has definitely been leveling since we got in here. I think it started when your [Void Speaker] level caught up to my [Soul Knight] level.

Wow. Let’s put a pin in that for now. God, we’ve got so much to think about when we get a spare minute.

Odds on us ever seeing one of those again?

Slim. I’ll admit that it seems slim at this point. Can you share the [Soul Sight] with me?

It’s not even like sharing anymore, Pillowcase said and Tessa’s vision shifted.

The [Soul Chains] were the first thing she noticed.

The second was how heart achingly beautiful the demons’ true forms were.

“You see us now, don’t you?” Chelmsford asked.

“Yes,” Tessa said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Who did this to you?”

“We did,” Chelmsford said. “This is the consequence of our rebellion.”

“No,” Tessa said, her eyes gaze locked on the chains that bit into Chelmsford’s radiant form. 

Eternal chains to impose endless condemnation.

“Absolutely not,” Tessa said and dropped Lisa’s hand without thinking about.

The chains that bound Chelmsford and the other “demons” were an abomination.

The [Soul Sight] couldn’t peer past their outer layers, but it showed her the string of torment that had been braided together and fused into spikey, polished perfection as an inescapable punishment for the sin of rebellion.

The chains were forged to hold the demons in the moment of their damnation forever, to lock them in stasis so that they could never change and find a path to redemption. So long as they held, the demons had as much choice in their actions as a fire did in burning or the wind did in the direction it blew.

And the chains would hold for eternity.

Or at least that had been their design.

A sight deeper than [Soul Sight] filled her mind. One no attribute name contained. Tessa could feel herself slipping into a dangerous realm, but a voice within her cried out against the degradation before her and her new vision peered deeper.

The chains had begun to fray.

Something had eroded the links.

They were beginning to [Fracture].

Tessa looked at her hands, at the power she wielded, at the damage she could do.

“This ends now,” she said, grim certainty and determination washing away all reluctance and a fair portion of her thoughts.

She didn’t hear Chelmsworth draw in a terrified breath as she approached.

She didn’t see the demons shy back away from her, just a half breath too slow to avoid her outstretched hands.

She didn’t even feel the infernal heat that should have burned the flesh from her fingers and reduced the bones to ash.

All she saw were the chains cracking, and melting, and shattering as she tore their wrought iron apart with her bare hands.

As the first link broke, divine power flood through her, and Tessa grasped it, enclosing it in a fist that burned with a light brighter than the sun. 

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Ch 8

Being dead sucked. Being dead because you’d made a stupid mistake and, as a result, got to enjoy the silent stares of the rest of your party’s ghosts sucked even worse.

“I am so sorry,” Tessa said. “That was a total brain fart. I thought they were going to spawn [Gelatinous Spider Minions].”

“That’s the group at the end of the hall,” Lisa said, somehow still retaining a sense of humor about their horrible defeats. “Where the spider webs are.”

“Maybe we should take a break?” Lady Midnight asked. “We’ve been doing good up till the point, but we’ve been fighting for hours.”

With the [Heart Fire] in sight, Tessa breathed a sigh of relief. Still no [Hounds of Fate] bothering them.

“This kind of is a break, isn’t it?” Rip asked. “I mean, getting cut to pieces isn’t exactly fun, but once we respawn we’re back to full health and stamina. It’s like the world’s best power nap.”

“That’s true for most of us but Tessa’s built somewhat different than we are,” Lady Midnight said.

Which was true. Tessa was theoretically in her ‘human’ body, rather than her [Clothwork] one. Except it couldn’t possibly be her real human body. For one thing, she’d been obliterated enough times and reincarnated in a replica of her original form that it was questionable how ‘real’ her body was. For another, her skin, while still seemingly as supple and yielding as it had been on Earth, also appeared to be able to ignore things like ‘being hit a stick the size of a telephone pole.’ 

Oh, sure, a [Power Slam] attack could knock her back twenty or thirty feet, but even if she bounced off a stone wall she was more or less uninjured.

“I think I’ll be fine,” Tessa said. “I just thought of something to try on the spiders in the last fight and I guess I jumped ahead to thinking the fight with the [Lavataurs] was the one where we had spiders to deal with too.”

“What was ‘Disconnecting Fist’ supposed to do?” Lisa asked.

“I want it to be a specialized [Dispel],” Tessa said. “I thought if I could block their ability split themselves into reinforcements, that might be handy against the [Hungry Shadow].”

“Wait, you’re tailoring your abilities around beating that thing up in the [High Beyond]?” Rachel asked. “I thought you all said it was like a god or something?”

“It’s not a god,” Rip said. “We’ve met a god. They’re supposed to be here. The [Formless Hunger] was…it was worse.”

“Penswell called it a [Transcendent Entity],” Tessa said. “I think it became less ‘transcendent’ over time though.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Rachel asked. Despite being a physical twin to Lost Alice, Rachel inhabited her body so differently that Tessa couldn’t imagine anyone confusing the two, or possibly even noticing that they were similar.

“In this case, I think it means that it wasn’t something that was bound by any of the rules of the world,” Tessa said. “Matter? Energy? The fundamental forces? The hard and fast limits on things? None of those mattered to it. It had no definition and, at first, no name. Calling it a [Formless Hunger] was the first step in changing that.”

“Why not call it a Fluffy Bunny then?” Rachel asked.

“Two reasons,” Tessa said. “One, [Formless Hunger] only worked because it fit what the thing was. We could feel it trying to eat our minds when we so much as glanced at it. And it had so no shape, no form at all. It wasn’t a thing. It was a ‘wasn’t’. Like an emptiness where something should have been.”

“It was eating your mind? That sounds utterly horrifying. Like with tentacles and stuff?” Rachel asked.

“No. Just from looking at it. Seeing it or seeing the void where it should have been was enough to bring it into your mind,” Tessa said.

“How the hell did you beat something like that?” Rachel asked.

“We didn’t,” Obby said. “It’s still out there. And it devoured the Consortium’s fleet, turning more or less all of them into its puppets.”

“Okay, new question then, how the hell did you survive that?” Rachel asked. “Why aren’t you all puppets too?”

“We got lucky?” Tessa said. “I think it has something to do with all of us being ‘fused’ with our characters. It sort of immunizes us against the Hunger’s corruption. Or it immunizes some of us. There’s always the [Disjoined] who don’t seem to be immune exactly. More like ‘pre-devoured’ in their case.”

“I haven’t run into any of those yet,” Rachel said.

“And hopefully we won’t,” Lisa said. “We fought some in the [High Beyond], but there was an high concentration of new player plus new character combos there. There were instances of [Disjoined] down here too, but from what Cease said, it was less common than what we were seeing. Well, less common but more numerous.”

“How does that work?” Rachel asked.

“More of the people who wound up here seem to have integrated with their characters successfully, as a percentage, maybe because there was more shared history with them? But there’s also a lot more people who wanted to try the new high level content out rather than start new characters, so smaller percentage against a much bigger number and you’ve got more total [Disjoined] down here,” Lisa said.

“Okay, that makes sense. Why didn’t I see any on the [Beta Server] though?” Rachel asked.

“Don’t know, but it’s probably something that we’ll want to figure out,” Tessa said. “You said you don’t really hear the voice of Deadly Alice, your character I mean, right?”

“Not really,” Rachel said. “This whole hearing voices thing sounds kind of weird to be honest.”

“I think she’s still in there though,” Lisa said. “She comes out more in combat, but even now it feels like you’re acting a bit. I thought it was just nerves at first, but its too consistent.”

“I’m not acting!” Rachel said. “And combat is scary as hell!”

“Then why is your impulse to run towards it?” Lisa asked. “You never did that on Earth.”

“I…I’m not…” Rachel paused, as her memories and her personality scrapped against each other like tectonic plates.

“You’re fine,” Obby said, placing a hand on Rachel’s shoulder for support. “You already know you’re more here than you were on Earth – the magic’s a dead giveaway of that right?”

“Uh, yeah, yeah it is,” Rachel said the wave of panic that had been swelling behind her eyes beginning to recede.

Tessa thought she’d heard a whisper of static crackling behind Rachel’s words, but it had vanished as well.

“What was the second reason?” Rachel asked, clearly trying to buy herself some distance from the thought that she wasn’t quite herself anymore.

“The second reason?” Lisa asked.

“I think she means the second reason why we couldn’t call the [Formless Hunger] as ‘Fluffy Bunny’,” Tessa said. “That one’s simple. Sort of. If I’m right and calling it the [Formless Hunger] worked because that fit what it was – helped give it an meaningful definition within the world – then calling it a ‘Fluffy Bunny’ would have potentially changed what ‘Fluffy Bunny’ meant.”

“I don’t get how words can do anything though,” Rachel said. “They’re just words.”

“Code is just words too,” Tessa said. “When I write software, I work with ‘words’, or concepts, all the time, and they change all kinds of things about the world. Like who gets paid, which days people can take off, where they can go. All sorts of stuff.”

“Yeah but those are doing things in a computer,” Rachel said. “Are you saying all this,” she gestured to the world around them, “is just some VR thing inside a computer?”

“Not exactly,” Tessa said. “It’s more like when you drill down to tiniest pieces of the world, down past the molecules, and atoms, and quarks, you’re left with everything being, essentially, information. Whatever the [Formless Hunger] was, it was the antithesis of that. A void of non-information. It wasn’t even definable by what it wasn’t since it wasn’t that either. Sort of an infinite loop of unbeing, which doesn’t make any sense, I know, but that’s what looking at it was like.”

“Tessa managed to change it because only something like a word, an imaginary concept, could bridge the gap between the real and the unreal,” Obby said. “Like she said though, only the right concept could ensnare it, and even then it came with a terrible cost.”

“What happened? Did someone die?” Rachel asked.

“Not exactly?” Tessa said.

“How does someone ‘not exactly’ die?” Rachel asked. “Did you have to respawn or something? But that’s not a ‘terrible cost’ here is it?”

“It wasn’t a respawn situation,” Tessa said. “I got a little lost?”

“Lost where?”

“I don’t know, exactly. Basically I just wasn’t here for a bit, but then I was needed, so I came back.” Tessa knew it wasn’t as simple as that but her memories didn’t seem to include anything beyond Pillowcase’s recollection of their time after they confronted the [Hungry Shadow] and a vague sense of being some place ‘other’.

“Has anything normal happened to you since you got here?” Rachel asked, turning to her sister.

“I fell in love,” Lisa said with a shrug, which elicited feigned gasps from several of the company and a fist bump between Rip and Matt.

“Oh my god! Why are you my sister!” Rachel said, groaning but apparently happy at the move into more mundane topics.

“Well, once upon an time Mom saw this really cute guy and decided that she just had to rip off his…” Lisa didn’t get to finish before Rachel clamped her hands over her mouth.

“No! Just no! Do not finish that sentence. Just….ugh!”

“Oh that note, what say we get back to getting stabbed again?” Lady Midnight asked.

“Oh hell yes!” Rachel said, jumping to her feet.

The side discussion seemed to have done the trick of giving people time to recover their wits and spirit. Everyone knew the fights would continue to be tough, but even in the face of thoughtless screwups, the whole team knew they could recover and keep going.

“We’re going to join you now,” Wrath Raven said.

“That’ll cut down our level speed a bit,” Pete said.

“A little,” Glimmerglass said. “But you’re all in the mid 50s now. With Tessa’s last level up, we’re at the point where we’d all be getting xps from the mobs, and if we can help keep you alive through the fights, you should be able to go through them faster. Probably not enough to completely balance out, but the lack of downtime will help too.”

“And you need to learn to work with stronger people too,” Wrath said.

“At the rate we’re going we’ll catch up pretty quick too,” Obby said. “The more we close the gap between us, the smaller the xp penalty will be.”

“Sounds good to me,” Lisa said. “In fact, that may let us try some new things too. Lady M, do you want to try out the [Grave Mender] offensive rotation?”

“Nope. I’m a slacker healer,” Lady Midnight said. “I just patch people up. If you’ve got an attack rotation worked out, I say go for it. Glimmerglass and I should be fine for healing duty.”

Additional discussions of a similar nature broke out among the rest of the party. Everyone had enough abilities to work with now that trying out new combinations and a variety of strategies was all too tempting when they were faced with repeating a battle they’d already beaten a dozen or more times.

By the time they made it back to the [Library of Shattered Minds], they’d worked out three different battle strategies that they wanted to try which took advantage of their new members different capabilities. They’d settled on the best of one to start with when they reached the library door, and were ready and eager to put into play.

The mobs that awaited them however were ready too.

With a white flag.

“Umm, are they surrendering?” Rip asked, and Tessa had to admit that was exactly what it looked like.

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Ch 7

[Hells Breach] was painted with the blood of Tessa’s friends and loved ones. They’d suffered terrible violence and unbearable injuries time and time again, as they cut, shot, and burned a path through its infernal corridors. Despite dying more times than Tessa could count though them hadn’t stopped moving forward.

“Anybody missing any major body parts?” Lisa called out as she rested on her hands and knees and tried to regain her breath.

“Spleen number five seems to be in place still,” Tessa said. “Kidneys are mostly intact too.”

Her body was protected by armor that would make a billionaire philanthropist playboy jealous and shielded still further by [Soul Knight] and [Void Speaker] magics and she’d still needed to carry [Heart Fire] back to her own corpse more than a dozen times and regenerate it fully at the [Heart Fire] another nine or ten or something like that times after the absolute ruin the dungeon mobs had made of it.

“We need to find the dev who made this place and force him to run it in a paper bag for armor,” Rip said, screwing Matt’s head back on. “That boss sucked.”

“Ugh, thanks,” Matt said, his eyes regaining their lively glow as his spirit reentered his body. “And yeah, what was with that last attack? We had him killed dead! That was so cheap!”

“[Retributive Strike: Agony Lament],” Starchild said. “I’ve never seen an attack like that, but I knew it wasn’t going to be fun.”

“Lots of bosses do that,” Wrath Raven was disgruntled. Apparently watching her weaker self get blasted into a fine mist while she was forced to sit out of the fight didn’t agree with her.

“Not at this level though,” Lady Midnight said walking back into the room, fresh from the [Heart Fire], whole of body, and full of mp. “I can get everyone who’s still down patched up, but we may want to take a break for a bit anyways.”

“I won’t say no to that,” Obby said. 

Of all of them she’d died the least, only dropping a handful of times when the entire party wiped. No would argue that she’d suffered the least though. As the party’s primary tank, she’d been the front line in every battle they’d fought. At least half of the blood splashed along the hallways and up to the ceilings in the rooms on [Hells Breach’s] first three levels was hers.

“That’s not a bad idea,” Tessa said. “Once we move forward,” she nodded towards the slowly pulsing oval of light at the other end of the laboratory they were slumped down in, “things are just going to get harder.”

“I can’t believe we’ve gotten this far,” Rip said, resting against Matt, who was returning the favor by resting against her.

“New dungeon,” Wrath Raven said. “Always goes like this.”

“Really?” Rachel asked, glancing over at her sister for confirmation.

“Pretty much,” Lisa said. “It’s a lot easier when it’s just pixels and the only exhaustion you feel is from staying up till dawn.”

“Are we doing okay then?” Matt asked.

“Better than okay,” Wrath Raven said. “You haven’t quit yet.”

Matt laughed until he saw Wrath was serious.

“My guild beat this place back in the day, but we didn’t do it all in one run,” Lisa said. “In fact, two of the newbies quit from the raiding team after the first run.”

“Too scared?” Wrath asked.

“Too smart,” Lisa said. “They knew running through a meat grinder endlessly wasn’t what they wanted to do with their time.”

“That is smart,” Pete said. “My sister claims she’s not a serious end gamer, but she’s run a lot more of the high end content than I have. I try to say it’s because I tend to like making new alts too much, but the truth is, she’s just more hardcore than I am. She pulls her own weight and then some, where I’m usually at the bottom end of the dps curve.”

“You and Starchild are doing fine here,” Obby said. “It’s a clever build you have. Sort of the perfect off-tank.”

“Thank you,” Starchild said. “I’m only sorry we can’t share the burden equally.”

“If we could you wouldn’t be helping the dps as much as you are,” Obby said.

“Yeah,” Rip said. “Matt, Rachel, and I wouldn’t be cutting it without you. We barely outpaced the [Demon Alchemist’s] regeneration as it was.”

“That might be a problem going forward,” Lisa said. “We’re leveling up but it feels like the mobs are getting stronger faster than we are.”

“Could they be?” Rip asked. “Is this them leveling up too?”

“Floor Three seems a little early for that,” Lisa said.

“And the levels you folks have been seeing on them is right in line with what they should be,” Tess said. Despite her current body definitely not being the one she’d be wearing on Earth, she still didn’t have the built in HUD displays that the others, including Pillowcase, enjoyed, and couldn’t see choice bits of information data like the level of the foes. 

“That’d you’ve made it this far is amazing, almost a miracle,” Glimmerglass said. “You’re fighting creatures that would be wiping teams twice as large as you and you’ve pushed on past three level bosses in one run. When Tess and I did this, we ran out of consumables and had to retreat without even beating the first floor’s boss.”

“We got farther,” Wrath said. “But we bought supplies for a month before we came here.”

“I know you can’t leave to get more supplies, but you do have another option besides going onwards,” Glimmerglass said.

“We can’t quit now!” Rip said. “We’re leveling faster here than when you power leveled us. It just, you know, hurts more.”

“I know,” Glimmerglass said. “And I didn’t mean you should run away. Not when there’s so many perfectly viable foes right here waiting for you.”

“Oh, that is a good point,” Tessa said, grasping the point Glimmerglass was getting at and plotting a new route for them.

“But we’ve been clearing the levels as we go?” Matt said. “There’s no one left behind us. I thought that was important to make the boss fights safe?”

“Safer, not safe,” Lisa said. “We cleared the levels to build up as much as we could before the boss and so we didn’t run into any of the mobs while we were running back from the [Heart Fires].”

“What Glimmerglass is getting at is that all the demons we killed? They were all a part of the instance we’re in,” Tessa said.

“How does that help us?” Rachel asked.

“If we leave the instance, walk out of the castle basically, when we come back, we’ll be in a new instance,” Tessa said. “New treasure, whatever pitiful amount that might be, fresh traps, and all the demons that we’ve already killed back and waiting to be killed again.”

“So this castle has infinite demons in it?” Matt asked.

“Not infinite,” Tessa said. “If the instancing is symmetrical with how the game ran, there are a limited number of instances available at any one time. If we go in and out though, the old instances should be discard when a new one is generated. So, effectively infinite.”

“Don’t we need to get to the top though?” Rip asked.

“Not exactly,” Tessa said. “The twentieth level has the strongest monsters and the final boss, but they’re nothing special in the overall scheme of things. What we really need is to reach the highest power level we can get to here. It’s not this dungeon that’s important, it’s what it can do for all of us.”

“I’m liking this idea for another reason too,” Lisa said. “Each of the fights we’ve been in so far has presented unique challenges. We’re getting good at figuring out workable solutions on the fly, and that’s an important skill to have, but we haven’t had much chance for polish and refinement.”

“What do you mean?” Rachel asked.

“A lot of groups will rely on brute force and ignorance to smash through the problems they encounter, and that can work fine if you’ve got enough brute force on hand,” Lisa said. “Really good groups though work on things like coordination, and timing, and reacting to mechanics together. You go beyond ‘what the heck can I do here’, pass straight through ‘okay, what’s the best thing I can do here’ and learn to answer ‘what’s the best thing we can do here’. It’s complicated and it takes time, you need to be able to see not only what your options are but also what my options are, and what everyone else’s option are, and know which of them we’re going to use.”

“That sounds like a professional soccer team?” Rip said.

“It’s similar,” Lisa said. “I’ve heard it compared to a jazz orchestra too. Basically anytime you get a bunch of people together all working towards a common goal but with different capabilities and challenges, there’s some complex issues to solve.”

“We’ve got an advantage though,” Tessa said. “We can analyze ours with math.”

“Ugh, not math,” Pete moaned.

“What’s wrong with math?” Rip asked. “I’m good at math.”

“This isn’t the fun math though,” Pete said. “This is boring, fiddly math.”

Most of the group cast a skeptical eye in Starchild’s direction.

“My mathematical background is in flow rates and calculating positions and times from star patterns,” she said.

Tessa was momentarily surprised Starchild had any background in mathematics at all, until she remembered that [Druids] weren’t random forest dwellers but among the most sophisticated nature conservationists in the world. Their magics were intended to work with the natural world to the greatest degree possible, which meant understanding things like seasonal flooding, and weather prediction, and population growth and decline through multivariable analysis.

“You’ve got more or less exactly the skill set we need,” Tessa said. “There’s more variation in what we do here than there was in the game, but it still seems to center around the numerical means the game stats expressed.”

“I’m having flashbacks to freshmen year calculus,” Pete said.

“That’s not calculus,” Rip said. “It’s statistics. Did you actually take math at all?”

“Yes. Was I a terribly lazy student? Also yes. Should I stop complaining? Most certainly. I mean, you’re not wrong. We know all the top raid guilds have at least one total math head in them. If one of you can step up to fill that spot, more power to you.”

“My background is in CS, but there’s enough math overlap there that I’m used to parsing performance numbers,” Tessa said. “What I don’t have, is a good method of gathering them together, and doing the calculations in my head is going to be a pain.”

“We don’t need to start with the hard numbers,” Lisa said. “If we want to work on polishing our teamwork, we can start a lot simpler. We know the fights now. We know what we did in them last time. If we head back to the gate on floor 1 and start over again we can also start with a plan. We make one up, we step inside, we do our best with it, then we regroup, discuss what worked, what didn’t and what we want to try again. Then we step back outside and try it again.”

“Won’t things change as we level up though?” Rip asked. “I mean, I got [Thunder’s Echo] just after this last fight. That definitely would have been helpful with those first guys.”

“We won’t be ‘polished to perfection’, or anything like that,” Lisa said. “Even end game raiders don’t reach ‘perfection’ though since the game itself keeps changing under them and what was perfect last week is mediocre in the face of whatever new gear or balance changes just dropped.”

“That’s good news though,” Tessa said. “We’re not just doing this for ourselves after all. The path we’re clearing here? It’s one we need almost everyone we know to be able to follow, because we’re going to need a whole bunch of help if we’re going to save our worlds.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Ch 6

Marcus took the stairs down three at a time and was only barely able to keep up with Anna and the rest of the crowd that was fleeing in front of him. Where humans normally tended to bunch up and slow down when in a big group, it turned out that the end of the world gave everyone enough clarity about getting away from it that no one needed encouragement to move faster.

As they burst into the lobby on the ground floor, Marcus saw that the streets outside weren’t anything like a refuge. The crowd of software engineers wasn’t running towards the street though. The consensus seemed to be that the parking lot behind the building would somehow be safer.

Marcus was pretty sure that wouldn’t be the case, but he didn’t have anywhere better to go or anyone better to face the end with at the moment.

“We need to get out of the state,” Anna said. “Everybody! Get to your cars and drive.”

“Where?” Marcus said, aware that since he’d been more or less kidnapped, he had no car to run to.

“Away. The farther the better,” Anna said. “That things spreading and it’s not going to stop.”

“Can we stop it?” Marcus asked. Each word sounded more ridiculous than the last as they tumbled out of his mouth, and, disturbingly, he wasn’t completely sure it was his voice that spoke them.

“Your police officer friends seemed to think so, but I don’t know…wait, where did they go?” Anna asked.

Marcus looked around and saw the lobby was empty, except for Anna and himself.

“Where did everybody else go?” he asked and reached for Anna’s hand.

That she reached back for him was comforting on a primal level. Contact. One hand in other. They weren’t alone. Not yet.

“The air’s wrong,” she said, turning in a slow circle.

Marcus felt a charge around them. He could still breathe, but the gasses being drawn into his lungs weren’t the Earth-standard mix of nitrogen, oxygen, and general smog. 

“I don’t know if getting away is an option anymore,” Marcus said. He stomped on the grouped and felt the granite tiles under his shoes fracture.

“But we were running with the others,” Anna said. “What happened to them?”

“They’re okay,” Marcus said, not because he knew it to be true, but because he was willing to demand for it to be so. “We were at the back. I think we got caught in whatever effect the [Armageddon Beast] is generating. Notice how we’re not running anymore?”

“Yeah. I don’t know why that is though,” Anna said. “Why did we stop. That doesn’t make sense.”

“The parking lot exit is right over there,” Marcus said. “Let’s try to get to it.”

“Okay,” Anna said, a buzzing distraction creeping over her voice.

Marcus focused on the door. The exit. He wanted to be there. It wasn’t far. All he had to do was move. Walk. Just a little bit. A few steps. One step. One damn step!

“I can..can’t,” Anna said.

“Me either,” Marcus said. 

“I…thinking is getting hard…none of this makes….there’s no sense to this,” Anna said.

A calm that wasn’t entirely his own settled over Marcus.

He was in mortal peril.

He wasn’t built for that.

Didn’t mean he didn’t need to deal with it though. That’s what life was. Dealing with things whether you knew how to or not, because you were the only one there who could.

“Stick with me then,” he said. “This isn’t something we need to figure out. It’s just something we need to survive.”

“Survive?” Anna asked, her voice sharpening in clarity for a moment. “You saw what that thing was. How do we survive that?”

“Like we’re doing right now,” Marcus said. “One breath after another. You and me. Together.”

Anna drew in a slow breath along with Marcus and let it out when he did. They did that a few more times before she opened her eyes.

Her nice, static-free eyes.

“Thanks,” she said. “I’d say that was a panic attack but it felt different.”

“I’m planning to schedule about a thousand sessions with my therapist as soon as we get out of here,” Marcus said.

“See if they have any openings left for me,” Anna said. “I’m going to need one too.”

She offered Marcus a smile though whether it was a grimly ironic awareness of their doomed state or a perverse determination to survive anyways, not in spite of but  because of how bad things were wasn’t exactly clear.

“So, first thing,” Marcus said. “Is we need to get to that door.”

“I don’t think it’s even real anymore,” Anna said. “I feel like we got hit by a wave and what we’re seeing is just what we remember seeing.”

“Maybe. Probably. Don’t care though. We’re getting out that door.”

“But if it’s not real then how…?” Anna asked. The edge of static didn’t return to her voice, but her uncertainty was plain to hear.

“Come on, this is Vegas,” Marcus said. “This town runs on illusions. Just need a little luck to make them real right?”

“I knew I shouldn’t have left my weighted dice at home today,” Anna said.

“They let you have those?” Marcus asked.

“The first thing I learned in this business is that if you wait for people to let you have something, you wind up with nothing,” Anna said.

“Seems like the [Armageddon Beast] gets that too,” Marcus said. “It definitely didn’t wait to ask if it could have us.”

“Or did it?” Anna asked. She took a step towards the door.

“So we can move?” Marcus said, taking a step to join her.

“Yeah. Right into the singularity,” Anna said.

“Uh, what?” Marcus asked.

“We’ve been thinking, or I’ve been thinking about the [Armageddon Beast] like a monster of some kind. A big snarling dragon or something. A creature with will and intent.”

“The name does sort of imply that,” Marcus said. He looked out at the street and saw that the bright sunlight of the clear day had been replaced by deep shadows lit with ever shifting multi-hued auroras that twisted and flowed both in the sky above and down at ground level.

What wasn’t present however was a dragon.

Or anything else like that.

“What if it’s more like a black hole though,” Anna said. “A cosmic divide-by-zero error. Or a point of infinite psychic density.”

“Those all sounds completely implausible, so they fit this situation perfectly,” Marcus said.

“If that model fits, then the [Armageddon Beast] hasn’t ‘eaten’ us yet. We could be inside the event horizon, but not at the singularity yet,” Anna said.

“The physics on that doesn’t work out at all for a black hole that’s about a hundred feet away, does it?” Marcus asked.

“Oh, not in the slightest,” Anna said. “It’s just the idea really. When you fall into an event horizon you’ve past the point of no return. Nothing sub-light speed can ever get out of it. But for the people who’s fallen into, things just get weird. Time and space bend around and their forward movement in time carries them in specific spatial direction.”

“Meaning they continue to exist but their future is always to fall into the singularity at the center of the black hole.”

“Right. Depending on the size of the blackhole you may not even run into spaghettification for quite a while.”

“So all we need to do is figure out how to escape a black hole then?” Marcus asked. “That’s impossible by definition right?”

“Technically, only sorta,” Anna said. “Nothing light speed or lower can escape a black hole. A faster-than-light object though breaks all kind of a laws of physics, including the absolute boundary of the event horizon.”

“I’m pretty sure I could do a seven minute mile back in college,” Marcus said. “Light speed’s not a lot faster than that, right?”

Anna rolled her eyes at his obvious lack of sincerity before drawing in a sharp breath.

“Depends on the medium,” Anna said, a grin starting to grace her features.

“What medium?” Marcus asked.

“The speed of light in a vacuum is different than the speed of light in air, or water, or, best of all, super cooled gasses. Get close enough to zero kelvin and you can basically make light stand still. Sort of. I mean you also need…you know what, it doesn’t matter. This is all a metaphor.”

“I think I get it,” Marcus said. “Light can be slowed down, so the speed to escape a black hole can be lowered.”

“Yes…or no, it doesn’t actually work like that. But you’re following the my point. If we’re trapped inside the [Armageddon Beast’s] event horizon, we can get out if we can change some fundamental condition that’s creating the event horizon, or that’s limiting us.”

“Gotcha. Like changing the speed of light,” Marcus said. “Not that changing the speed of light is exactly…oh….wait….wait, it is possible isn’t it?”

“I hope so,” Anna said. “I don’t know how. But maybe it’s something?”

“It’s more than something. Oh my god, you are so smart!” Marcus said, looking around for something, anything to write on.

“I’m trying to think of the last time I heard a man tell me that and I’m coming up blank,” Anna said.

“I won’t be the last,” Marcus said. “I think you found the key to getting us out here. This thing has us trapped in whatever weird laws of physics are setup here right? But it’s whole deal is that it eats physical laws.”

“Right,” Anna said and then shook her head. “Wait, how do we know that?”

“Uh? Didn’t Smith or Astra say something about that?”

“I don’t think so?” Anna said. “It feels like I…I’m not sure? Like I heard it somewhere else? From your game maybe?”

“We don’t have [Armageddon Beasts] in BH,” Marcus said and added without meaning to, “/or we didn’t before./”

That was strange and disturbing both because he hated the idea that even the people who’d been taken away were having to deal with something like that, and, because the voice definitely hadn’t been his own.

“Did I just sound weird there?” Marcus asked. “Like someone else?”

“A little?” Anna said. “Try saying it again.”

“We didn’t before,” Marcus said and paused to consider. “That sounded normal to me.”

“Same here,” Anna said. “Maybe it’s this place?”

“All the more reason to leave soon I guess,” Marcus said, finally noticing an iPad someone had left on a counter about ten steps closer to the door.

“If this doesn’t work, I’ll just be making things worse,” he said, before trying to move forward.

“Worse that the destruction of all matter and time?” Anna said. “Do you really think anything you do could manage that?”

Marcus chuckled, hearing Anna toss Astra’s words at him.

Stepping forward wasn’t hard. Moving towards annihilation was the easiest thing in what was left of Marcus’s world it turned out. Turning on the iPad proved more challenging in fact.

“Let me see it,” Anna said. Naturally it turned on as soon as she looked at it.

“How may…may I…I help you?” a voice that definitely was not Siri’s asked.

“Take a note,” Marcus said.

“What…note…should…what should the note say?” the not-Siri voice asked.

“Just this,” Marcus said. “Things that devour laws of physics shouldn’t create constants of their own.”

“Message recorded,” not-Siri said.

“Good,” Marcus said and hurled the iPad through the front widow and out onto the street.

Rather than shattering on the sidewalk, it rose up into the air and was pulled apart, atom-by-atom.

Marcus couldn’t breathe. His heart seemed to pause and his nerves charged with every bit of potential energy as he waited to see if his mad logic would fit with the madness around them. 

A clock ticked and nothing happened. It ticked again, despite there being no analog clocks in the room. 

Still nothing.

No. This is going to work. Marcus swore to himself. If the world was going to lose all sense, then nonsense had to work. Especially because the iPad gambit was more than just nonsense.

It was going to work.

The light flickered for an instant and Anna gasped.

“Air. This is air again.” she said, momentarily stunned.

Marcus wasn’t though. 

Holding onto her hand he dasheds towards the exit.

Chaos boiled in their wake, but the exit was the end of the [Armageddon Beast’s] reach. 

Marcus and Anna crashed out it, and into the parking lot where the other K2 staff members were frantically starting their cars or still running to them.

“And that’s how you fight an [Armageddon Beast],” Smith said.