Monthly Archives: April 2022

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Interlude 5


Brendan hadn’t ever envisioned himself as a master planner. He had what he felt was a normal number of friends and a fairly typical amount of charm. He could make jokes, and listen to someone who was having hard time. What he couldn’t do was coordinate the efforts of several thousand people who were all searching for what the best shot, or any shot they could up with to make sense of what was going on and bring their friends and loved ones home.

He couldn’t do manage that. It was clearly beyond him. He’d never had any management training. It wasn’t something he was supposed to be tasked with.

And yet, in the whirlwind that his bedroom had become, in the middle of  managing what felt like a thousand conversations and directing people far older and wiser than, he was.

“Jaqueline, can you get the local reports of the [Armageddon Beast] from Sydney translated into Mandarin? Dennis needs it for the Beijing team,” he said before switching to another Discord channel.

By his side, his secret weapon was busy giving clipped commands in Cantonese to a team of developers in Hong Kong.

Mrs. Yu. 

He’d delivered newspapers to her for years when he was a kid. He still shoveled her snow during the winter. She’d been his next door neighbor since he was two years old and had taught him everything he knew about playing the violin. They’d been friends for years, but ever since Brendan had seen what seemed to be frantic messages popping up in Mandarin on several of the message boards he was a part of, they’d become allies.

Convincing Mrs. Yu that a serious situation was happening hadn’t been as hard as Brendan had imagined it would be. When he’d knocked on her door, she’d greeted him with her coat on and the question, “Is this about that game you play?”

She already knew about the “mass abductions” but was also keenly aware of how stories get distorted. So she listened to him as he calmly (or as close to calmly as he could manage) explained what he’d experienced and the various things he’d put together from the groups he was a part of.

Then they got to work.

Mrs. Yu could speak Cantonese, Mandarin, French, and Russian, as well as a little bit of Korean. While a lot of communication was flowing in English, there was so much in so many other languages that Brendan knew important things were being missed. Mrs. Yu couldn’t translate for the languages she didn’t know, but that was okay. Mrs. Yu had friends. And her friends had friends.

Brendan’s house became a sort of mini-United Nations, with local people setting up shop on tables and couches throughout the house. Brendan’s parents were bewildered at first, and then accommodating, and finally all-in on supporting what was clearly a serious crisis-management effort.

Part of their buy-in came after he took them aside and explained the position he was in. Especially the part where he was still tethered and at risk as well as what had happened to everyone who’d tried to break the tether so far.

“We found something important, you’ve gotta see this,” Shoshanna said. She’d been coordinating communication with a group whose members were primarily in Cairo and Johannesburg. “We’ve got seven reports now all following the same pattern.”

“Oh wow,” Brendan said skimming the breakdown of the incidents. “They’re not all [Armageddon Beasts].”

“No. But they’re all appearing from nowhere, and they’re all erasing things from the environment they spawn in before they apparently erase a person too,” Shoshanna said.

“But the people, all the reports say they marched right towards the Beasts,” Brendan said, a lump forming in his throat at the images of heroism each story told.

“That’s not the best part,” Shoshanna said. “Did you notice what these seven all have in common?”

“Uh, no, what am I missing?”

“Check their stat block. Notice anything important under their bios?” Shoshanna looked so delighted, Brendan knew there was some obvious and important surprise to be discovered, but he’d looked over so many bios…no, so many game bios.


“They have user names? To Broken Horizons? Really!?” Brendan wasn’t moving. He wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t even sure his heart was beating anymore.

“All of them!” Shoshanna said.

“Can we still reach…” Brendan started to asked as Shoshanna handed him a tablet with a document already open on it.

A document that contained dozens of messages.

Decrypted messages.

Like the ones from Mellisandra.

They were alive.

“Tell my guy I’m sorry, but I couldn’t let that thing eat our street,” one of the “erased” people had written with a timestamp well after she’d vanished.

“Tell my folks…” “It was so wild, you can’t believe what it’s like here” “I am so going to get fired, but at least there’s still a planet left where my job is” “Tell my Mom I’m okay!”

And on and on the messages went.

“None of them were logged in,” Brendan said, reading further.

“That’s right. You don’t need to be. Not if one of those monster things shows up.” Shoshanna said.

“I think you don’t even need that,” Mrs. Yu said. “Tell them what you just told me.”

In her hand, she had an iPhone with an active FaceTime connection going. On the screen a Chinese woman who seemed to be college aged was looking back at Brendan.

“The beta server is still active and open,” she said. “I’ve tried it. If you login you can experience an immersive sensation like a full body VR game. But you can get back out again.”

“You can? How?” Brendan asked as his mind went into overdrive trying to think if there was any in-game options for transferring servers.

“You can log out without any trouble. Though there is talk in the beta community…”

“Talk about what?”

“There’s someone here who claims to be able to send people to the live servers. I think some people have done so, but I don’t believe any of them have come back.”

Brendan’s mind whirled the revelations burning in his mind as thought connected to thought in an avalanche of questions and understanding until something impossible snapped together and pure magic filled his view.

Before him, literally overlaid on his field of vision, the arcane glyphs and formula that Mellisandra had spent her life researching blazed to life. Nothing that she’d studied applied to portals between their worlds, or [Armageddon Beasts], or voids of all consuming nothingness that sprang up unannounced and could, apparently, be hauled off to imaginary worlds by the sacrifice of a brave soul. Nothing anyone had ever studied covered that.

Except right at the sharp edges, the cutting bits of magic, the parts that took the world as it was and made it something else.

Right there.

Right in front of him.

The infinitesimal slice at the edge of the first glyph that wasn’t static, but was oh so very close to not being real at all.

In that sliver of near nothingness, he saw it.

The path for those who were lost to return home.

David Kralt

 He should have been a god. He’d seen what that woman had taken from him. It was power. It was the key to the cosmos. It was his godhood. Emphasis on “his”.

She’d taken it from him and cast him aside, unconcerned that he was stripped of his rightful place and authority, alone in a world of madness and death. She’d probably assumed he would just roll over and die.

He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction though.

Instead he found a sanctuary. The [Great Hall] the [Adventurers] had commandeered. Not particularly great, but then that suited the low level losers he was surrounded by.

True they were technically far more powerful than he was, which was why he had made a tactical advanced to the secure location of one of the antechambers that wasn’t being used much yet.

He’d come out several times for food. The idiots were just giving it away, rather than setting up a sensible economy and reaping the rewards of their otherwise useless skills.

Gnawing on a load of staggeringly good bread he’d swiped from one of the banquet tables, David Kralt, no, the dread Dav’kralthrax, the first dragon, the Primordial power of the world, felt rage sour his stomach with each bite he took.

He’d been the development lead for [Broken Horizons]. The [Fallen Kingdoms] were his world. More or less. No, less. They’d never really captured the grand sweep of his imagination. So this world was definitely less than what it could have been. Less because he’d been cheated! Stripped of his rightful…

His thoughts had been circling around and eating themselves like that for a while but this loop they didn’t quite finish.

This loop the world, the hated, vile, stolen world started to fray.

Just like in his apartment.

Just like when he’d been dragged off away from Earth.

In front of David Kralt, filling the wall that should have held a door, a layer of static spread out from the door handle.

Static that hurt his mind to look at.

Static that was pouring inside him even as something stretched forward through the film on the door.

A man?

No. It had never been a man.

But it had a man’s countenance.

“Aren’t you fascinating?” Byron said, his words coming from the static, or from inside Kralt’s head, or was there any difference anymore?

Kralt tried to scream but he was melting, his mind burning in electric fire.

“You know this world. You think you created it. Oh, that’s just wonderful,” Byron said. “But wait. This is so much better! You know of another world too? And you’re just so wonderfully open. I have to wonder why though?”

“Why what?” Kralt croaked out.

“Why you seem to have no defenses to something like me? Ooo, ‘me’. So fun to say that. I think I was a ‘me’ before, but with this new addition,” he held up a hand that dripped liquid static, “it’s hard to know if I’m quite myself anymore. Or quite anything. But here we are talking. So I must still be something. Fascinating. Unless you’re nothing. Then I suppose I could be nothing too. Oh that sounds delicious? No. Horrifying? Yes! Exactly. Now where was I? Oh, right, so are you real?”

“Oh course,” Kralt panted, not know why, and not completely sure anymore he was telling the truth. “Of course I’m real.”

“Good. Wonderful even. I suppose I’ll consume you then.”

“No! Wait!” Kralt called, looking for anything he could bargain with.

“Waiting sounds boring,” Byron said.

“I can give you what you want,” Kralt said.

“Am I a thing that wants?” Byron asked. “I must be, mustn’t I? Otherwise how could I be an I?”

“I have power here. I’m…I’m important. I can give that to you!” Kralt wasn’t lying, insofar as he had convinced himself that he was meant to be a god, had been a god, and would one day again be a god.

“I don’t want power,” Byron said. “Power is boring.”

“What do you want then? I can get it,” Kralt said.

“I suppose I must want something,” Byron said, a note of dejection in his voice.

Kralt racked his static infested brain and felt a flash of insight. Something he could give that no one else would dare to.

“You’re devouring this world,” Kralt said, staggering to his feet.

“Trying,” Byron sighed. “It’s troublesome. Though maybe that’s what makes it fun? No. It’s just annoying. And I’m still hungry. But you’re delicious. I could absorb you. And still be hungry afterwards though. Boring.”

“What if I said there was another world,” Kralt said. “One that wouldn’t be anywhere near as much trouble as this one. One without the [Adventurers].”

“Another world?” Bryon asked. “Like the one I can see in your mind? The one that is so very far away? The one filled with so much to eat? Earth? That one?”

“Yes. Yes, Earth! You can see it can’t you? So big. So rich. Just waiting for someone like you. Or like me?” Kralt’s plan was a good one. Whatever Byron was, there was no hope of defeating, or even surviving him. Joining him though? Kralt was owed that.

He was supposed to be a god, but how much more fitting would it be to become something that could eat gods?

Broken Horizon – Vol 11, Interlude 4

Gabriel Santiago

The Blockade Runner wasn’t Gabe’s favorite ship class. Sure, they were uniformly fast as hell and usually well armored and shielded, but that came with an obvious cost.

“I’m scoring direct hits on this damn thing and they’re not even singeing it,” he grumbled.

The damn thing in question was a War Beast. Maybe the same War Beast that had already killed him once. 

“Maybe not but you’ve definitely got it’s attention,” Luna said. “I’m trying to get it off your tail but it’s just not interested in me at all.”

Gabe saw a burst of static flash past the left viewport and slammed the Blockade Runner’s primary engines into overthrust mode.

Real asteroid belts were so sparsely populated that you could fly through them and not be aware of any asteroids around you at all. Asteroid belts in the Crystal Stars though tended to follow the popular image generated by decades of space moves.

At Overthrust speeds, the close packed rocks in front of him became an ever changing wall of death which was just waiting for him to go crashing into it.

A lifetime of piloting he hadn’t actually lived moved his body with the calm precision of one of the world’s best fighter pilots, slipping through the narrow gaps and thin openings while the War Beast was slowed by plowing through and destroying the asteroids in its path.

“I’m about a minute from clearing the belt,” Gabe said, easing off on the Overthrust before he melted one of the Blockade Runner’s engines.  “What do think? Do a dip into the gas giant for a recharge or flip around for another strafing run?”

“Gas giant’s the safer play,” Luna said. “With your current shield strength you should be able to dive low enough that your trail will get muddled. That might let us setup another ambush for it.”

“I don’t know that our ambushes are doing much good,” Gabe said. “This thing’s self repair rating is through the roof.”

“I’m still trying to get through the Crystal Empire’s high command,” Luna said. “Help shouldn’t be far off from what the folks on ‘Lost Here 4 Real’ are saying. We’ve got at least two bomber squadrons en route. We just have to keep that thing from warping away until they get here.”

“Keeping it here doesn’t seem to be a problem,” Gabe said, reaching for the Overthrust control again as the edge of the asteroid belt approached. In the distance he could make out Volkis IV and all the free hydrogen it had to offer.

The Blockade Runner lurched just as he began to engage the Overthruster and an explosion sent him pinwheeling through space.

“Gabe! Hard Burn! Now!” Ti’el, Luna’s alter-ego, commanded.

The pilot Gabe had never really been responded to that command without the need for conscious though. The stars blurred as every engine on the Blockade Runner was pushed passed it’s maximum safety level and driven deep into their critical zones.

He hadn’t been able to course correct, so Gabe had no idea where he was rocketing off too, but he was definitely getting there fast.

As he fought the acceleration that was getting past his inertial dampeners, he spared a glance at the displays that surrounded him. Thousands of numbers were available, but he knew exactly which ones to look at. Or someone in his head did? It didn’t matter in the moment though, not when he saw that his shields were gone. Not just depleted but completely stripped away with zero regeneration happening. A dozen spot sensors were dead as well, with their neighbors screening warnings about failing structural integrity.

“It missed you,” Luna said. “Not a direct hit, but it looked bad anyways.”

“It was,” Gave said. “Thanks for the call out. How much distance do I have from it? My rear sensors are gone.”

“You’re at about ten thousand kilometers and rising. How much longer can you run at a hard burn?”

“I can make it to Volkis,” Gave said, basing that more on determination than a full appraisal of his chances. “No idea if I can make it out of Vokis though.”

“Head there. You’ve got no cover now and that thing looks like its charging up for another shot.”

“Where are you?” Gabe asked.

“About a thousand kilometers behind it, trying to move into optimal weapon’s range,” Ti’el said. “It’s got some odd coloration on it’s hindquarters. We’re hoping those might be weak spots.”

“Did someone say weak spots!” a new voice called out as portals from warp space began to open ahead of Gabe’s flight path. On the comm’s the pilot was tagged as “Astra”.

“Bomber squadron? You made it here?” Gabe asked, relief flooding his voice.

“Yep! And your ship’s telemetry is not looking too good,” Astra said.

“That’s because it’s one shot away from becoming space debris,” Gabe said. “Would you be so kind as to blow that War Beast into tiny gooey fragments?”

“We’ve got target lock on it now,” Astra said. “What kind of defenses is it packing?”

In answer the War Beast released a beam of static ten kilometers wide. The bomber’s took evasive action but they weren’t as fast or agile as the Blockade Runners. Two of bombers were clipped by the beam when they failed to avoid it’s path. Both depowered instantly, floating through space like dead husks with sizable pieces missing.

“Avoid the path the beam took,” Luna said. “There are filaments of that static stuff that stay behind.”

“Roger that,” Astra said, her calm, professional demeanor leading Gabe to wonder if she actually was a combat pilot in real life.

“It’s charging up for another shot,” Luna said. “I’m going to try something.”

“Kick it’s ass!” Gabe said to cover his concern. 

A part of him was terrified for her. His crush on Luna had not grown any less intense since meeting her in person and battling for their lives together in the Crystal Stars.

At the same time though, he knew her. She was skilled, and resourceful, and she knew how to take care of herself. None of those were a guarantee that she’d make it through what she was attempting, but that was her call. They both have plenty of insurance restorations paid for, and he wasn’t going to treat her like a fragile little doll who needed to be told what to do. She was his partner, more now than ever before, and she’d had his respect far longer than that.

Diverting power from his forward sensors to the repair modules resulted in him flying blind for a few seconds, but his sensor array came back online in time for him to watch Luna finish closing the distance with the War Beast with a hard burn of her own.

She overshot the monster five second before it loosed its next shot.

At four seconds till the shot, she was well in front of the War Beast and just outside her Blockade Runner’s optimal firing range.

At three seconds, she cut her engines.

At two seconds, she flipped the Blockade Runner a hundred and eighty degrees.

At one second, facing the War Beast head-on, she slammed her engines back on, redlining them just a Gabe had.

The distance between the two evaporated.

With some tiny fraction of a second left before the beast fired, Luna cut her engines, and unleashed every forward facing weapon system she had on the War Beast’s open maw.

And then she was gone.

Gabe breathed a sigh of relief when his sensors picked up the telemetry ping of a warp gate opening.

Her shots hadn’t reduced the War Beast’s structural integrity by more than a few percentage points, but that hadn’t been her goal. Startled by the attack, the War Beast belched out another static beam which passed through the opposite side of the portal from the one Luna had entered. 

Gabe’s sensors showed a tremendous explosion as the static beam detonated against something in warp space, but with that beam diverted, the bombers were able to finish closing the distance and unleash their payload against the War Beast.

They followed Luna’s example and warped out before the bombs reached their target, which proved to wise because even twenty thousand kilometers away, Gabe’s Blockade Runner registered the impact of the explosions that followed. 

Space is a vacuum, which means there’s no medium to transmit shockwaves through. Unless of course your explosives are set to summon matter from warp space specifically so that there will be a medium to help contain and focus the blast.

“Did we get it?” Luna asked.

“Scanning now,” Gabe said, delighted to hear her voice.

Another beam of static roared past him, missing his position by five thousand kilometers but it was still in the right general direction.

“That’s a negative,” he said. “It’s still alive.”

“Damn! I’m calculating my position now. Probably at least an hour from getting back there though.”

“Do we have any more squadrons coming in?” Gabe asked.

“We did,” Astra said.

“What does that mean?” Gabe asked.

“That thing’s breath? It’s tearing up warp space too. It’s getting a bit dangerous to fly in here,” Astra said.

“From where I opened the portal?” Luna asked.

“No. It looks like every time it breaths, it’s destroying real space and warp space,” Astra said. “It’s tearing this universe apart.”

Isadora Breckmeyer

Izzy felt the ground trembling under her and knew she was supposed to be afraid, terrified beyond reason, but all she could do was smile.

Taking her headphones off, she gazed around in wonder at the pristine beach that stretched before her. The clouds above were thick enough with pent up rain to darken what had to be the midday sky and the land and sea below into deep shadows.

Despite the coming storm, Izzy felt a warm ocean breeze billowing through her t-shirt and shorts while the soft sand at her feet squished up through her toes.

That she’d been studying in her dorm room five seconds prior made the experience just a bit disorienting, though a part of her knew exactly where she was.

She was with the creature that had tried to destroy her.

It wasn’t a small thing, though some awareness told her it once had been. Just a tiny glitch, nothing more than a spark of wrongness that had somehow slipped into the world. Slipped in and broken – itself, the courtyard in her dorm, the walls outside her room, everything it touched.

Izzy lived on the third floor, in a room that overlooked the dorm’s central courtyard. She didn’t think she’d been the first to see the creature of static and malice arise. People had been screaming. That’s what had brought her to look out the window.

No one seemed to know what the monster that had appeared before them was.

By the time Izzy caught sight of it, it towered over the dorm, a visual flaw in reality in a shape that might have been inspired by a biped but could never have been human.

Looking at it hurt her eyes. It hurt her mind. The thing-that-wasn’t-even-a-thing was trying to get inside her neurons, trying to wrap itself around her thoughts and devour them or corrupt them or erase them.

She felt like she was falling out the window towards it, or that she was steady in her room but that the whole world was toppling away from gravity’s pull and into rending maw of the creature that could not be in front of her.

It couldn’t be there, and yet it was, and yet it couldn’t be there.

“So what?” Izzy said, pulling herself back into the world, or pulling the world back into her. 

She wasn’t food for some cosmic mistake. 

She dreamed of too many monsters not to recognize one when it stood before her.

Without consciously understanding how she could do it, her spirit rose in defiance and, as the creature slammed something like a hand down, erasing the ceiling, her room and herself, she grabbed onto it and pulled it across an unfathomable void.

She hadn’t expected to wind up on a beach in the South Pacific. She hadn’t expected to even survive the attempt to drag the creature away from her home to somewhere else. Somewhere safe.

For a very odd definition of ‘safe’.

Below her the ground shook even more but it wasn’t the creature that was doing it.

With a roar that could never be mistaken for anything else, a giant radioactive form rose from the ocean.

The static creature was a monster. Izzy knew that.

So she’d brought it into one of her favorite moves to meet the King of Monsters.

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Interlude 3

Kamie Anne Do

Venturing into the [Dead Lands] wasn’t considered a great idea when [Broken Horizons] was just a game on Grace’s screen. Willingly crossing over to go exploring had been her first terrible idea. The fact that she and her team had run into a pack of the [Hounds of Fate] should have been the end of that terrible idea, and all future ones, because as far as Grace knew (and Kamie had no information to the contrary) encounters with the [Hounds of Fate] were a singular event. As in, if the Hounds caught you, that was it. You were never seen again.

Except that hadn’t happened.

Grace and everyone she was with had escaped after watching the Hounds tear into buildings full of the [Disjoined].

It was probably the most terrifying battle Grace had ever witnessed, up to and including the desperate struggle against the [Hungry Shadow’s] forces in the [High Beyond].

She’d sworn when she’d reached the [Heart Fire] that she was never going to let herself be anywhere near the Hounds or one of the [Disjoined] again.

“Forward! Don’t let them escape!” she roared, hurling herself over the [Dead Lands] remains of a shattered wall.

That she was chasing a trio of [Disjoined Glitchworkers] through a [Dead Land] version of [Dragonshire] was at odds with her earlier declaration. That she and her team had managed to descend below the [Dead Lands] they were familiar with and had found another copy of [Dragonshire] which looked significantly more hellish was worrying. Odd and worrying had been the order of the day since Grace had arrived in the [Fallen Kingdoms] though, so she wasn’t that surprised at her life was once again beset by concerns like that. What was a bit surprising were the [Hounds of Fate].

At her side, flanking her and moving with a swiftness that rivaled her own, two of the Hounds ran soundlessly.

There hadn’t been any negotiation. No pleading from the [Adventurers] that they be spared, or even the wag of a tail from the [Hounds of Fate]. Grace’s team had come back to the [Dead Lands] because that was where the fight was and they’d found the battle against the [Disjoined] well underway when they got there, with the [Hounds of Fate] tearing apart the [Disjoined] by the dozens, only for the [Disjoined] to rise up again.

For their part, the [Disjoined] couldn’t stop the Hounds either, but their battle was not without cost. Where a [Disjoined] bled, the ghostly white of the [Dead Lands] peeled away into strips of harsh static.

Grace had seen what those burns looked like in the living world and while she wasn’t an expert on [Dimensional Physics], she felt reasonably sure that burning holes in the fabric of the world was the sort of thing she should be putting a stop to.

“They’re diving down again!” Battler X called out. “Do we follow them deeper?”

There were, it turned out, spaces in the [Dead Lands] that were soft, or perhaps just glitched. Spots that could lead to still darker reflections of the living world.

“Definitely! Nothing bad ever came from delving too greedily or too deeply!” Grail Force said, sarcasm dripping from every word.

Grace couldn’t blame her. She wasn’t exactly sure how they were going to get out of whatever layer of hell they’d descended to as it was, the deeper they went the more it felt like encountering a Balrog would be one of the more pleasant possible outcomes.

On the other hand though, even if they stopped running, she knew the Hounds wouldn’t.

“I won’t fault anyone who wants to turn back,” Grace said. “This is certifiable, danger to self and others, madness. Me though? I’m in this to the end.”

“Right there with you boss!” Battler X said.

“To Infinity and Beyond!” Buzz Fightyear said, because where else was laughter more needed than down among the dead.


Yawlorna was good with note taking. She’d learned early on in her schooling that writing down the things she was learning was an essential component to solidifying them in her memory. Listening to Xardrak expound on the nature of life and death left Yawlorna wondering if remembering what she was learning was really the best idea.

“It sounds like you’re saying there’s no real difference between life and death,” she said. “And you’re saying life and death are two distinct states with no overlap between them.”

“Correct,” Xardrak said. “And incorrect.”

“Thank you, that answer is both useful and useless,” Yawlorna said.

“Excellent! You are proving to be a fine student,” Xardrak said.

He was still trapped in his prison, but more and more, Yawlorna was coming to see that the prison didn’t hold him. He held it. As a shield, to protect himself from the rest of world and as a weapon, to annoy and aggravate those who came to him for answers.

“I feel as though I would be a finer student if I understood what we’re talking about anymore now than I did when I walked in here,” Yawlorna said. “Instead, I’m pretty sure I’ve lost countless brain cells and know even less than I did before.”

“Splendid!” Xardrak said. “Continue on and you should have your studies mastered for sure.”

“I know you don’t have many amusements here, but I assure you the mocking is not helping,” Yawlorna said.

“But it’s not mockery at all,” Xardrak said, his tone strangely earnest. “I am perfectly serious. Understanding [Immortality] is not a trivial matter. Nor is it a complicated one. The principal breakthroughs are ones of internalized perspective rather than insights gained from atop a mountain of other learning.”

“So you’re saying the contradictions are the point, and if I can understand them, then I’ll be able to grasp the rest of what you’re trying to explain?” Yawlorna asked. 

She left her notebook on the podium Glimmerglass had the staff bring in before she had to leave. Pacing wasn’t helpful, but standing in place was intolerable.

“I am not saying that at all,” Xardrak said. “It’s not through understanding that you will gain the proper perspective on [Immortality]. There is no bridge to this that you can build plank by plank. The only path forward is to leap from the edge of your certainty out into the unknown void.”

“That sounds very poetic, but leaping into a void seems kind of pointless if you can’t see what’s on the other side or far wide the void you need to cross is,” Yawlorna said.

“What makes you think the void can be crossed?” Xardrak said.

“If it can’t why would you try to leap it?” Yawlorna asked. 

She hated teachers who talked in riddles. Teachers were meant to educate, not mystify. Clear, simple, and precise communication, that was what a teacher needed to offer in her view. A teacher purposefully trying to confuse students wasn’t new in her experience. She’d had plenty of undergraduate instructors who’d either not known the material they were presenting or were uninterested in dealing with the teacher requirements of their contracts. They’d made her life miserable, but she’d passed their courses through sheer stubborn determination, which was looking to be the same strategy she would need to employ with the [Lich] in front of her.

“Because you can? Because you won’t know if you can’t until you try? Because even experiments which yield negative results still give us information?” Xardrak said, the flames in his bony eye sockets seeming to plead with Yawlorna to listening to what he was saying. “Or maybe because what you’re looking for is within the void itself.”

“I’m not going to understand this, am I?” Yawlorna asked.

It should have sounded dispirited, a moment of defeat as she abandoned the idea that had driven her to seek out the help of one of the most dangerous people in the world. It should have, but it didn’t.

“Exactly,” Xardrak said. “Continue.”

“Immortality itself is a paradox,” Yawlorna said, something new percolating inside her. “At least here. In this world, in death, there’s still life. The [Adventurers] speak of it for themselves and for everyone else too. They pass through a place they call the [Dead Lands] and are reborn in the living world thanks to the [Heart Fires].”

“Do you see the flaw there now?”

“They’re dead in this world, but they’re alive in the other one,” Yawlorna said. “So they’re not dead at all. Except their bodies can be obliterated and there’s no sign of a ghost that gets left behind.”

“So they are both dead and not dead,” Xardrak said.

“If they’re not dead, then that’s why they can come back to life. They’re lives never really ended. All they need is a spark of [Heart Fire] to repair or create a physical host for their spirits to inhabit.”

“But if that was true, why wouldn’t it be sufficient to simply repair the body with healing spells?” Xardrak asked.

“Perhaps it requires an element of divinity to reunite a spirit with it’s host body?” Yawlorna guessed, though she felt like she was drifting from the right answer.

“If divinity was required, then how would the [Adventurers] who are healers be able to resurrect their teammates without access to a [Heart Fire]?” Xardrak asked.

Another conjecture formed in Yawlorna’s mind but she clamped her jaw shut and paused for a moment before continuing.

“That’s the wrong question,” she said. “All of these are the wrong questions.”

Xardrak gave a small nod as the fire in his eyes danced.

“Life and death are the same,” Yawlorna said. “We still exist whichever state we’re in. No! We’re not in either state at all.”

She felt like a galaxy was exploding behind her eyes.

“We’re not alive or dead. Our bodies may be either, or to one extent or another both at the same time, but we, who and what we really are, we’re something more than that.”

“Yes,” Xardrack said, with a satisfied air about him. “Now, how would you like to become a [Lich]?”


All Baelgritz ever really wanted was to be able to spend time, writing papers, with the people he loved in the same room, working on their papers too. Oh, he had other ambitions. And he wasn’t inclined to spend all of his time writing papers. He did have other hobbies. But fundamentally, a nice little rainy afternoon alone with Illuthiz and Hermeziz, maybe with some nice tea and snacks, that was his heart’s dearest with.

He’d resigned himself to not getting that when they crash landed and Yawlorna made him her second in command. He’d been busier then, and surrounded by more people than he preferred, but it had been tolerable at least.

His present circumstances however were not.

“There are a lot of people here,” Hermeziz said gazing out at the convention hall where [Monsters] of every shape and size were still steadily gathering.

After his and his partner’s discovery that they could not only level but also gain new powers, word had gotten out and Baelgritz, Illuthiz, and Hermeziz had become far more in demand than he’d ever imagined any of them would be.

“Are we supposed to talk to all of them?” Baelgritz asked. “We’ll die of old age first!”

“The guilds who brought them in are organizing the schedule,” Illuthiz said. “We’ll be speaking with some [Beast Tamers] first to bring them up to speed on what we’ve learned. They’ll be the ones who handle training the rest.”

“[Beast Tamers]?” Hermeziz asked. “That seems more than a little insulting to all this people.”

“The guilds are aware of that,” Illuthiz said. “It seems that [Beast Tamers] will make the best ambassadors because they have both translation magics and the ability to use what we teach them to enhance their [Heart Bonded Beasts]. I gather it will be the beasts who will do most of the actual instruction since they’ll be able to speak to what  it feels like to develop new abilities.”

“I can’t believe the [Adventurers] are onboard with this?” Baelgritz said. “We’re powering up their foes by doing this.”

“Well, not all their foes,” Illuthiz said. “And I think they can feel it too.”

“Feel what?” Hermeziz asked.

“The world thinning. Like it’s being devoured from within and without,” Illuthiz said. “The [Monsters] here may have been foes to the [Adventurers] before, but against what’s coming everyone’s going to have to fight.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Interlude 2


The sky was falling. Not literally. Yet. Penny suspected that would come along in due time too, but for the moment, it was only the menacing elements of the sky which were plummeting from their lofty perch.

“This turn of events must be predicted on an impossibility but I am receiving too many reports confirming the collapse to discount it,” Azma said, from her holo-projection. “Something had removed our principal immediate opponent from the board.”

“Something has replaced our principal immediate opponent you mean,” Penny said, studying the trio of tactical displays where she and Azma were crosschecking the data they were independently receiving.

In the sprawling command center around her, the staff members she’d hastily assembled at the start of the invasion were dealing with a deluge of incoming reports, both from space and from seemingly all of the ground forces that were still engaged with the corrupted Consortium focus across the world. A continent away, Azma’s team was dealing with the same sort of reports from the [Adventurers] who were engaged with the Consortium forces in space.

Or who had been engaged those forces.

“Yes, a replacement seems to be a given, but it’s curious that our new antagonist has yet to come forward,” Azma said. 

“Curious and mystifying. If it were me, I might hesitate to continue hostilities for a variety of reasons, but we’re not seeing any indication this pause is for any of those them,” Penny said, tuning out the din around her by spawning off a few copies of herself to deal with it while she drew her attention in to the conversation with Azma and what she was sure would be the larger problem.

“Not true,” Azma said. “If it were you, you wouldn’t have initiated hostilities in the first place.”

“A fair point. There are almost always better methods of achieving one’s goals. That doesn’t leave us with much of a starting point to divine the shape of our new adversaries plans however.”

“In the absence of any real data, speculation can be dangerous,” Azma said. “So our next actions will need to generate the data we need.”

“You would like to eradicate the remaining Consortium forces I take it?” Penny asked.

“It would reveal the extent to which the [Broken Shadow’s] successor is invested in claiming those resources,while also eliminating a potential avenue of attack which could be turned against us at any point our opponent chooses,” Azma said.

“What if I could offer a better alternative?” Penny asked. She’d been shocked for a full minute after reading Niminay’s report, and was pleased to see a look over momentary confusion pass over Azma’s face.

“I know you are not going to suggest that we sue for peace with the [Broken Shadow’s] successor,” Azma said. “And I know we don’t have the capacity to move the corrupted Consortium ground forces into position to attack the remaining space forces. So I believe I must ask for clarification on what the better alternative might be?”

“Apparently, we can now purge the [Broken Shadow’s] corruption from the affected troops. At least the [Artifax] ones.”

“That’s not possible,” Azma said. “A [Transcendent Entity] that gains access to someone can never be removed. The corruption extends down into the individuals motes of their essence and the atoms of their being.” She paused for just an instant as, in the space of a blink, she caught up with Penny. “Oh, unless…”

“Unless the being in question wasn’t fully [Transcendent] at the time the corruption took place,” Penny said.

Penny expected protests and counterarguments which would all be grounded in an effort to cling to a preexisting notion of how things had to be. When Azma spoke though, Penny was reminded of who she was dealing with.

“You have proof that recovery is possible.” It wasn’t a question, merely Azma allowing Penny a chance to correct her in the unlikely case that the statement wasn’t true. “From Niminay’s strike team.” Because it had to be someone in proximity to the [Broken Shadow’s] troops and Niminay was one of the few operatives in the teams Azma was directing who would report back to Penny first. “One of Hailey’s ideas?” That was the closest Azma came to guessing, but even there it was a virtual certainty since Hailey possessed a unique insight into the fundamental nature of their world.

“With the [Broken Shadow’s] active hold over them removed, the [Artifax] troops can be purged by dispelling the behavioral constraints they are ensorcelled with. That appears to be the only thing the [Broken Shadow] bothered corrupting.”

“Interesting. We’ll need to run tests to insure they corruption is truly purged, but as you say, with the entity becoming partially incarnated, it would have begun encountering limitations. It would be a natural instinct to spend as little of itself as necessary on controlling its troops,” Azma said.

“Fighting has stopped, for now, so its not precisely accurate to say this shifts the balance of power in the war,” Penny said. “It does however offer us an interesting footing going into the next stage of this conflict.”

“As well as placing us in significant peril,” Azma said. “The [Artifax] were not used in a kindly manner by the Consortium. Without the loyalty restraints in place they are likely to have a substantial amount of aggression to work through.”

“We’ll want to keep the freed ones away from your forces, and away from you specifically,” Penny said.

“Away from me certainly. They cannot afford to trust me.”

“Because you hold secret command codes for loyalty.” Again, it wasn’t a guess, but Penny wasn’t judging Azma for it either. Possessing a power wasn’t inherently evil. 

“A thorough enough disenchanting could likely remove them, but the [Artifax] would be foolish to risk the chance that they’d missed one,” Azma said.

“Once you held control again, relinquishing it would be impossible wouldn’t it?”

“Had I reason and the capacity to usurp control of them again, it would in all likelihood be to destroy them,” Azma said. “They are far too dangerous to allow a chance at freedom, if they’re abused further.”

“But you do not oppose our freeing them now?” Penny asked.

“Not at all,” Azma said. “Their design is terrible. Weapons given a soul so they’ll know suffering and therefor be able to inflict terror more efficiently? Their designers called it art given form, but cruelty as art has always struck me as pointless. For the same resources an army ten times their size and twice as efficient could have been assembled. We can’t rectify the realities of their creation and we dare not try to utilize them for the intended function any longer, so freeing them seems the only profitable course of action.”


“As they are, they’re a quiescent threat. Destroyed they are a waste of the resources expended in their destruction. Freed however? In freedom they become pieces on the board that can be influenced via many different means. Pieces which are extraordinarily unlikely to align with our opponents. That’s quite profitable according to my ledgers.”

“How did you ever wind up in the Consortium?” Penny asked, admiration creeping into her voice, as much for the winding, twisting turns of Azma’s thoughts as for the woman herself.

“There are conflicting reports about that,” Azma said. “In my official files, it says I was decanted as part of a now terminated program to create obedient command ready officers from mixed cloning samples.”

“And in the hidden files?” Penny asked.

“According to those I was captured as part of a ‘resource extraction operation’ on a world which has since ceased to exist. The other resources, slaves in case the euphemism is unclear, were all liquidated, but I killed three guards and the programs Overseer, and so I was recruited instead. No names were given for the Overseer or the operation however, which calls that one into question as well.”

“You do not seem particularly concerned.”

“I have no reason to be,” Azma said. “Whatever my origin was, it’s lost to me. I was raised by the Consortium, to the extent that word can be applied to one of the Consortium’s Growth and Training Programs.”

“I find it hard to believe you are what they made you to be,” Penny said.

“I’m not. I’m what I made myself to be.”

“You know I’m going to attempt to insist you stay here once our current issues are concluded,” Penny said.

“I don’t believe your [Fallen Kingdoms] would be able to weather the conversations we would have,” Azma said. Conversations, Penny knew, that would be conducted via the sweep of great armies and the destruction of invulnerable fortresses.

“We shall see,” Penny said, wheels turning in her mind which she was reasonably sure were far enough outside Azma’s domain that the former Consortium commander would never see them coming.

“We shall at that I suppose,” Azma said, apparently content at the idea that Penny must be planning some grand betrayal of her. “To return to the subject of the [Artifax] though, it might be valuable to connect small groups of them with the remaining Consortium forces I possess.”

“You’ll vet your forces for any lingering animosity they might feel or have provoked?” Penny asked.

“I already have,” Azma said. “The troops I retain are a mix of forces, including a contingent of each of the [Artifax] makes. The [Artifax] you free will have a significant adjustment to make. My troops can help with that transition. I will also establish a [Quest Reward] for freeing the [Artifax] who remain on the fleet ships.”

“Good. I’ll expand out incoming transport facilities then and coordinate the work on the ground here.” Penny said.

“You’ll want full isolation capability for the [Artifax] who return, at least until you can a run zero information proof that they are clean of corruption from the [Broken Shadow] or its successor,” Azma said.

“That will take some time to arrange. How soon are your teams due to start returning from sortes against the fleet?” Penny asked, dispatching another pair of copies of herself to handle setting up a scanning facility that could report the results of a scan behind a layer of obfuscation sufficient that even a [Transcendent Entity] wouldn’t have a channel to jump to the people evaluating the scan.

“You’ll have at least fifteen minutes,” Azma said.

“That should be two more than we need,” Penny said.

“This world is quite fortunate,” Azma said. “Without you I would have conquered it days ago and we’d all be dead now.”

“Conquered? Most likely. Gaining control of the capital cities would have taken you an afternoon I imagine. The [Adventurers] would continue to be a thorn in your side though,” Penny said including people like Niminay in the count of “[Adventurers]” even though Niminay had always insisted she wasn’t like them. Despite possessing many of the same abilities. And being able to keep up and sometimes exceed the best [Adventurer] out there. 

“Yes. A thorn I would have wrestled with right up until the moment when the [Transcendent Entity] arrived in the middle of a fully deployed Consortium communication infrastructure. I feel as though there is some unseen player not so much moving pieces on the gameboard we share as shaping it’s contours and spaces for reasons entirely their own.”

“Given our present circumstances, I wonder if those reasons might prove to be ultimately beneficent,” Penny said. “We face extraordinary challenges but if less than a handful of rare events had fallen out differently, I doubt we’d be here to face them at all.”

“If we can recapture more of the fleet, I may have the means to search out our possible benefactor,” Azma said. “Your world has a twin, and a shared [Aracnosphere]. One of the [Breech Stabilizers] would allow us to dive into the [Aracanosphere] and explore the world that lies behind yours.”

“I read about your [Breech Stabilizers] in Hailey’s report. I didn’t think they could reach worlds which were devoid of magic like the [Adventurers] claim their homeworld is?” Penny said.

“They can’t,” Azma said. “Which means either their world possesses magic they are unaware of, or there is another world which you are tied to.”

“If it was possible to reach that world though, why wouldn’t the [Broken Shadow] have used the [Breech Stabilizers] to spread there too?” Penny asked.

She felt a tap on her shoulder from one of her staff members. She was tempted to spawn off another copy to deal with him, but she knew that one of her staff would only have directly requested her attention if something monumentally important had occurred.

Turning her gaze from Azma’s holo-projection, she found, Osmos, her senior Far Scryer waiting for her. She’d had him searching for any signs of the arrival of the Consortium’s sun killing task force.

That wasn’t the news that he’d brought though.

In fact Osmos hadn’t brought any news at all.

In Osmos’s eyes, Penny saw only harsh static and in his words, she heard only the voice of Gulini and the [Relentless Hunger] that had consumed him.

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Interlude 1


Arrows didn’t seem like the kind of thing that could provide a defense against [Abyss Breaker Fireballs] but Niminay made it work somehow. That she also managed a bullseye shot with each arrow to take down the last three guards in the corridor was where Hailey began to appreciate how much of a demigod Niminay had become over fifteen years of game development.

“They’re fighting exceptionally hard to protect this ship,” Mellisandra said. “It must have the authorization codes for docking with the [Command Ship].”

“Penny thought they might,” Niminay said. “But she also warned us to expect some surprises.”

“Hasn’t been anything worth calling a surprise yet,” Damnazon said. “Thanks to Cambrell we already know they’ve got an army of [Metal Mechanoids] waiting for us past the next bulkhead.”

“Might have invisible troops there too,” Cambrell said. “I poked around a bit, but the shadows I could reach didn’t stretch that far in.”

“It ain’t gonna be a problem,” Damnazon said, hefting an axe the size of an airplane wing.

“That depends if they’re try to defend the ship, or if they switch focus to killing us,” Niminay said.

Hailey was quietly squeeing inside to, for real, be fighting alongside Niminay. Sure, there’d been plenty of quests in the game where Niminay would join the players for a time, either in solo missions or raid scenarios. That was a preprogrammed npc though. Game-Niminay had a few dozen lines of dialog for each story arc where she appeared and that was it. You could run the dungeon a hundred times and she’d be just as cautious the hundredth time as she’d been the first. ‘Something tells me there’s an ugly surprise waiting for us around that corner’, just like something had told her that countless times before.

This Niminay though? She was alive. She had the same jaded optimism and tempered confidence as her game avatar did, but Hailey caught so many more glimpses of the woman behind the mask of the seasoned [Adventurer] than there’d ever been in the game. The one who knew her own strength but also knew the horrors she’d have to pit those strengths against. The one who wanted more than anything to be back with the woman she loved unconditionally. The one who cursed like a sailor under her breath when she didn’t think anyone was listening in the middle of a fight.

“What do the security terminals look like here?” Hailey asked. “If we can get the codes can we risk transmitting them back to Penswell?”

“Definitely not,” Mellisandra said. “I checked the terminal in the docking bay and the one in central engineering.”

“I thought we left the one in central engineering intact?” Damnazon said.

“We did,” Mellisandra said. “I didn’t. The thing was corrupted top to bottom with malicious…I don’t even know if I can call it spellwork. It was staticky and corrosive. If we’d tried to send any message with that terminal it would have delivered a copy of the [Broken Shadow] along with it.”

“Let’s not send Penny any presents like that,” Niminay said. “I’m pretty sure that’s not quite the surprise she had in mind.”

“That’ll leave it to us whether we want to extend this mission on into the [Command Ship] or head back then,” Hailey said.

“We may not have all that wide of a window to work with,” Mellisandra said. “The human, or human-ish, Council troops are more or less zombies, but the [Artifax] still have enough cognition that I think they’ll figure out what we took, or at least had access to ,when we breech into the data pools.”

“And then they’ll arrange for the docking code to be changed,” Niminay said. “Seems fairly typical for missions like that.”

“You never get the easy ones do you?” Hailey asked, imagining what the centuries of dire conflict Niminay had lived through according to the game lore would really be like.

“Oh, I get plenty of easy ones,” Niminay said. “If anything, Penny gives me too many easy ones. She’s kind of a worrywort sometimes.”

“But for things like this?” Mellisandra asked.

“For things like this, she needs her best assets in the field. Which is you folks. I’m here because I’m predictable,” Niminay said.

“And badass!” Damnazon said.

“You’re all significantly stronger than I am,” Niminay said. “I’m useful because I’m a point Penny knows she can plan around. She knows not just what I can do, but what I will do. Supposedly that makes things a lot easier when she’s coming up with strategies.”

“So if there are surprises, she knows how you’ll react to them?” Hailey asked.

“I think that’s the general idea,” Niminay said. “And I’ve worked with [Adventurers] for a long time, so I’ve got a sense of what you can do too.”

“Is it weird that so many of us know you, or think we do?” Hailey asked.

“It should be,” Niminay said. “I’ve always been terrible with remembering names and faces though, so it’s never that surprising when someone I don’t recognize says hello like we’re old friends.”

“Are there any [Adventurers] who stand out?” Mellisandra asked.

“It’s more the adventures that stand out,” Niminay said. “If you start reminiscing about the descent into the [Sunless Prison], or how damn cold it was battling [Yoturn Icebreath] on [Spine Spear Peak], those moments come back to me with crystal clarity. I’ll probably even remember some of the moves you did, but I need to have that context to bring anything back.”

“You have good memories to bring back,” Cambrell said. “The reward for a virtuous life I suppose.”

Hailey put a hand on the [Goblin][Assassin’s] shoulder.

“For what it’s worth, I think you’re pretty virtuous too,” she said.

Cambrell turned to look at her with a question in his eyes. Hailey nodded her sincerity and Cambrell offered her a wan smile in return.

“Getting to work the day shift has it’s perks,” Niminay said. “I’m glad there are people who handle the night work too though.” She bowed her head in a short nod to Cambrell who seemed genuinely touched by the gesture.

“Looks like everyone’s filled back up on magic and health,” Damnazon said. “Shall we go kick down the next bulkhead?”

“If we wait much longer they’ll start building out their temporary fortifications into something serious,” Hailey said. “So my vote’s for yes.”

“I agree, we should…” Niminay’s suggestion was cutoff by a pulse which hit the ship they were in like hammer hitting a gong.

The pulse passed through Hailey like an ocean wave, plucking her from her feet and slamming her into the wall of the corridor, which suddenly seemed to be the floor.

Whatever gravitic projectors were still functional seemed to have been knocked out of alignment with each other since ‘down’ was very much a different direction from one step to the next.

“Oh look, a surprise,” Niminay said.

She’d managed to keep her feet.

Because of course she had.

The rest of the team was sprawled across the corridor in various uncomfortable positions when the lights valiantly struggled back to life.

“What just hit us?” Damnazon asked. The variable gravity of the corridor wasn’t giving her any problems which made Hailey wonder just how strong the pulse that had hit them had been to have knocked their tank off her feet too.

“Something from outside the ship,” Mellisandra said. “There’s nothing onboard that could pack that kind of punch.”

Hailey took a second to orient herself and hopped into one of the storerooms to her left. Beyond the storeroom a security door to one of the dorsal weapon bays had been melted to slag and beyond that a clear view of the stars awaited her, just past the flickering remnants of the ships environmental shielding.

Stepping back into the corridor, Hailey slammed the door closed in time to prevent the explosive decompression which followed the shields last gasp from pulling everyone in the corridor out into the void.

“Melli, I need you to calculate something for me,” she called out, not sure whether she wanted to be right or wrong in her guess.

“I’d need to know the distance we were from that explosion to know what it’s mana cost was,” Mellisandra said.

“Not that. I need to know which direction the [Command Ship] is in,” Hailey said.

“Oh my,” Niminay said. “That would be a surprise.”

“What?” Damnazon asked.

“Uh, give me a second,” Mellisandra said. “There. It should be in that direction.”

She pointed towards the decompressed storeroom.

“How far,” Hailey asked. “Should we be able to see it from here?”

“No. It’s too far and too shielded. At best you’d notice it when it occluded a star,” Mellisandra said.

“What about the bright glowing nebula? Would it occlude that?” Hailey asked.

“There is no nebula in that direction,” Mellisandra said.

“There is now,” Hailey said.

“That’s not a nebula,” Niminay said. “Is it?”

“Another quick calculation if you’d be so kind? If the [Command Ship] was turned into a matter conversion bomb, how big would the explosion be?”

“Uh, oh, according to the data you brought us it weighted in at around two hundred thousand metric tons right? That would be a planet killing explosion,” Mellisandra said.

“As in all life on the planet wiped out?” Hailey asked.

“No. As in no more planet at all. Just a rapidly expanding cloud of dust.”

“What would the aftermath look like?” Niminay asked.

“A nebula of superheated particles,” Mellisandra said. “Bits that were cast off and not converted. And a shockwave from the radiation. If I still had an active link with Brendan he could work it out in more detail. I’m just going by what I can get from our residual connection.”

“Someone blew up the [Command Ship]? With all that loot onboard?” Damnazon asked.

“We don’t live in a world where that’s a good sign, do we?” Cambrell asked.

“No. We don’t,” Niminay said. “Penny’s going to need to know about this. Right away.”

“No sense worrying about the docking codes anymore I guess?” Hailey said.

“I’m afraid we’ve still got some fighting left to do though,” Mellisandra said. “Our arrival pad got trashed in the battle in the docking bay. If we want to get back our options are to find a skiff, or die and swim back through the void, or take control of the [Command Deck] on this ship.”

“Dying’s the slowest option,” Cambrell said. “And the least comfortable.”

“We need to take the [Command Deck],” Niminay said. “We can purge the corruption from the ship’s system there and send a message back.”

“I’d be all in on carving a path to the bridge, but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” Damnazon said.

She’d advanced to the bulkhead and peeked through. With a quick tug, she tore the reinforced steel door from its hinges revealing the troops in the corridor beyond.

They weren’t moving.

In fact from how they had slumped down to the deck, Hailey could only picture them as giant puppets whose puppeteer had left them tangled in their strings.

“It could be a trap,” Cambrell noted, without much concern.

“It’s not,” Niminay said, wariness and certainty carrying equal weight in her words.

“What happened to them?” Mellisandra asked.

“Their controller is dead,” Hailey said.

“The [Broken Shadow]? Can things like that die?” Damnazon asked.

“I don’t know,” Hailey said. “But I’m pretty sure it’s not in these things anymore.”

“Wait,” Mellisandra said and stepped up past the bulkhead to kneel down and inspect one of the [Metal Mechanoids]. “Their master may be dead, but these things aren’t.”

“Oh. OH!” Hailey jumped forward, dealing with the variable gravity without thinking about it. “Let me see him!”

Under her fingers, Hailey felt the whir of gears and servos humming along and in the [Metal Mechanoids] eyes she saw what she thought might be awareness.

“Melli, can you hit him with your strongest single target dispel?” she asked.

“Sure, but why?” Mellisandra asked.

“I want to test a theory Tessa had,” Hailey said.

The first dispel did nothing. Nor did the second. Nor the third.

“I’m starting to run low on magic,” Mellisandra said after the twelfth dispel.

“If I’m right, one more should do it,” Hailey said.

For a moment it looked like the thirteenth dispel had achieved as little as the first twelve, but then the [Metal Mechanoids] eyes changed, shifting from a deep crimson to a beautiful sky blue.

“I’m free.” No more than a whisper, yet they were the most important words Hailey could imagine hearing.

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Ch 20

On a broken ship, a broken being sat slumped in a dead command chair. Towards it a predator moved, relentless and unstoppable.

“Why am I here?” Unknown asked. They weren’t his first words. He’d spent those on the one who’d broken him. Or created him. It was possible there wasn’t a difference between the two events.

In his mind’s eye, he saw her. Only her. He could form an image of nothing else.

On the satellite moon she’d denied him into the ghost of an existence. Torn a bit out of the nothingness that he’d once been, dividing him from the nonexistence that had come before and the ever changing, ever more real grip of time and space that had followed.

He’d struggled at first, before he was a he, before he was even an it. 

But she’d come back.

Time and again.

Assault after assault.

Carving away what he wasn’t each time he attacked her.

He’d consumed millions. Erased an entire fleet of beings.

And yet he couldn’t stop her.

How could he? He had really existed until the moment she compelled him to speak his name.

He’d resisted even then. 

He didn’t want to exist.

Hadn’t wanted to exist.

Had he?

Unknown gazed through the airless void, past the ruined superstructure of his command ship. 

They’d destroyed the command deck in an instant. And she’d disappeared just as quickly.

And yet still he lingered. 

Ending his existence would be so easy. He could step out among the stars. He could dissipate back into emptiness. He could walk across the veil between the world and Oblivion and be embraced once more by nothingness, drop the identity that had been inflicted on him like an unwanted uniform and reclaim eternal peace.

“Why all this?” he asked, despair moving through him as a pale reflection of the true emptiness that he’d felt so at home within.

He had felt at peace with Oblivion, hadn’t he? He tried to reach back and recall the sweet touch of pure emptiness but only the echo of unbearable hunger was conjured as a memory instead.

Without air his words were carried by no waves of sound, but they were heard nonetheless.

Unknown felt himself stir. He rose from the dead command chair and gained his full height. He could have been a giant, a colossus, he could have dwarfed planets.

Instead he was merely somewhat tall for a human male.

Along his arms, stars danced under his skin against a background of the void, and in place of his hair, thick tendrils of darkest night flowed.

Unknown smiled. 

He was beautiful. He didn’t know why that should matter. He could have been anything. 

But he was happy to be beautiful.

He was also doomed, and that did not inspire happiness.

“You should have taken our offer,” Gulini said as he stepped through the shattered remnants of the command station’s secured bulkhead.

Unknown turned to look at his doom. Gulini was a fragment of himself. Or, no, a fragment of his former self? Or, not even that? What he had been before, the [Formless Hunger], the [Hungry Shadow], the [Broken Hunger], and all of the other forms he had flickered through as, step-by-step, he’d become steadily more real, none of those were who he was now.

Perhaps they were Ancestors? Yes, Unknown decided. He couldn’t claim to have been them because while he knew their stories, they weren’t what he was. They were fathomless. They were affronts to the core nature of reality. He couldn’t consider them even larval forms he’d passed through because they were things that couldn’t be and he was, at last, entirely real.

And he was no longer hungry.

“Why?” Unknown asked, turning his gaze back towards the stars that blazed above them.

There was no air to carry their words, but for all that Unknown had at last embraced and been embraced by reality, he was still not so limited as to need sound to communicate.

“You spoke!” Gulini rocked back on his feet.

Unknown returned his gaze to Gulini but remained silent. They’d spoken before, but it had been via levels of indirection as subtle as the cooling rate of dead bodies and the precise explosion pattern of a ruptured warp engine. Direct speech was not only unexpected, it was impossible, at least for any of the sorts of partial-beings which had preceded Unknown.

Gulini processed the implications of that slowly, his stolen face distorting in confusion and concern over several long seconds until he hit upon an idea that brought delight in its wake.

“What have you become?” Gulini asked. “Are you like us now?”

Unknown was not like Gulini. He never had been. In becoming Gulini, the piece of [Hungry Shadow] that had broken off from Unknown’s ancestor form has been cast into a new mode of existence and fired by the kiln of reality into a material that no longer resembled the glitch between nothingness and being that it had once been.

“No,” Unknown said. Giving Gulini answers meant giving him power. Unknown knew the kinds of things an entity that was still even partially transcendent could do with the merest scrap of information. His ancestor had infiltrated and taken control of the Consortium’s fleet through channels that had carried little more than static with the faintest pings of meaning to it. With speech as a medium to work with, Gulini could do so much more than that.

Unknown hoped he would try.

“Then what are you, father?” Gulini asked. He wasn’t coming closer. After his bold march up to the central command station, it was curious to see him wilting in the face of a challenge.

“What do you think?” Unknown asked. He’d picked his name at the behest of a god. It had been loose enough to fit and yet it still bound him, still offered lines between what he was and what he was not.

“I don’t know,” Gulini said, unintentionally confirming the truth of Unknown’s name. “But I know what you’re not.”

“And what is that?” Unknown asked. He’d been afraid of questions like that before. When he’d possessed the seeds of his identity but hadn’t chosen it yet. 

Nothing is forever. She’d said those words. The goddess. His creator. And they’d been the key to the door of his fear.

‘Being’ something meant not being something else. Being something meant losing out on all of the things that you weren’t.

But nothing was forever. No one identity needed to defined you forever. You could become something else, something more.

In fact, it was inevitable.


That was what being real meant.

Before he had been Unknown, before he’d met her, he had been eternal in the sense that he could never change, because there wasn’t anything to him to change.

He was still Unknown. And to some he always would be. But with each passing moment he was changing.

In this moment, for example, he discovered that he rather hated the cousin who stood before him.

“What you are, is ‘not a threat to me’. In fact, in a moment, you won’t be a threat to anyone,” Gulini said.

Yes. Unknown definitely hated him.

They lashed out at each other, not with waves of force or blasts of stellar power, but with primal words and unutterable ideas.

The ship, Unknown’s birthplace, began to buckle and tear around them, stray words biting into the inert materials and transforming them into things that could not and should not be.

“You should have taken our offer,” Gulini said, his stolen body breathing hard in the vacuum of space.

“Why?” Unknown asked. He hurt! He was in danger! It was amazing!

Though no blood flowed in Unknown’s veins, and no adrenaline surged through any organs, he felt a growing euphoria over fighting for his existence.

An existence he’d fought to avoid.

An existence he’d never wanted.

Except for the fact that he had.


Even with the pain, and the melancholy, and the uncertainty.

He was alive.

And so many people wanted him dead! It was exhilarating!

“You are so diminished,” Gulini said. “It’s not too late though. We’ll still take you in. We can break you down. Consume you. Make you part of ourselves.”

The [Formless Hunger] wouldn’t have understood the offer. The [Hungry Shadows] would have been the one to make the offer to Gulini, though through sheer force rather than words. The [Broken Hunger] though, that had resisted the offer, but in the end, might have taken it.

Unknown saw the foolishness they’d all embodied.

“Why would I want to be a part of you, when I can be all of me?” Unknown asked.

The word once spoken could not be taken back.

And the word was “I”.

Unknown watched as that simple declaration of selfhood impacted Gulini like a meteor.

Gulini’s empty breath caught, his eyes narrowed, and he at last understood.

“You’re real,” he said. “You’re no longer part of us. Not at all.”

“I never was,” Unknown said, a smirk playing across his face for the first time.

A moment of anguished confusion over Gulini.

“How?” he asked.

“I chose to be,” Unknown said. Admitting the truth freed something within him, some last morsel that needed to cling to the idea that the goddess had forced him to become what he was. That all of this wasn’t his fault somehow. That who and what he had become was beyond his control or influence.

The commandment to name himself hadn’t pushed him down into reality. It had opened a door that he had been scratching at, all unknowing, desperate and starving for what lay beyond.

The formless hunger, the infinite yearning that he’d felt? He’d been ravenous for one thing.


As a [Broken Hunger] he’d believed the world was what was wrong. That it needed to be unmade so that he could find true peace once more. He hadn’t been able to look within since he’d still be filled with nothingness. He hadn’t been able to see that he didn’t need to the destruction of what was.

He needed to create himself.

Gulini sent ravaging words at him, spoke in a voice that warped the essence of creation and twisted everything around them to where physics shattered and sanity become a myth.

And against that? Unknown sang.

Notes connecting to notes, words following each other, building on one another, reality returning because he was real and so his song was real and so the world that echoed with it was too.

As his voice, silent in the empty void, reached out and touched Gulini, Unknown saw the starkest of terrors flood through his opponent. Unknown wasn’t singing of destruction. He wasn’t seeking to annihilate his foe, or shatter his power. When he sang, Unknown sang of creation, sang into being all the things his voice touched on. 

As the notes wrapped around Gulini they began to gift him with Unknown’s most precious gift. Reality. Gulini has meant to devour Unknown, but Unknown knew that trick and he knew just where Gulini was weak.

“No! NO!” Gulini screamed, covering his ears as though that would help in the soundless void. “Help! Help Me!”

Unknown smiled, and it wasn’t a wholly cruel smile. Gulini was far worse than any of his ancestors had ever been in that Gulini had always held a choice as to whether or not to be a monster. He deserved, as much as anyone ever could, to suffer for the deeds he’d chosen to do.

And yet, in the end, gifting him with reality wouldn’t be a punishment but rather a liberation.

Or it would have been if something hadn’t heard Gulini’s plea. 

Unknown knew what was coming a moment before it ripped through the fragile skin of the cosmos.

It came as the sound of static. A broken silence that hissed and popped and swirled up around Gulini, filling his eyes with empty light.

A new [Hunger] had broken through from beyond the veil to Oblivion.

It was nothing, and nothing could stand against it.

Unknown’s hard won reality began to fray at its mere presence and he knew that for all the power he still possessed, he could not survive against something truly [Transcendent].

Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Ch 19

Tessa had so much potential. Her teachers had told her that on countless occasions. Sometimes it was even meant as a compliment rather than a complaint. For a change, she believed that assertion though. She could feel the surging tide of possibility within her, a yearning vacuum of power just waiting for a hint of definition to coalesce into a specific and useful form. Discovering what those definitions might be was the goal of the brutal, not-all-mock “combats” she was taking part in. 

There was a catch though.

“What I seem to be discovering is just how limited my health pool is,” she said as she made her fourth trip back from the [Heart Fire].

“I’d be happy to get in there and do some aggro management,” Obby said.

Tessa wasn’t sure why having their best tank sit on the sidelines had seemed like a good idea. Emotionally, she wasn’t sure. Intellectually it still made sense, but being melted by [Acid Breath] was really not a fun experience.

And yet here she was, marching right back in to do it again.

“If you join us, healing will be too easy,” Glimmerglass said.

It was her own fault they didn’t have a tank. She’d insisted on it in fact. It was the right idea. And also kind of a stupid one.

“I could swap in,” Starchild said, casting a hopeful glance towards Tessa from the bench on the sidelines of the arena where the rest of the team was observing the massacres from.

“What do you think?” Lisa asked, also casting a glance in Tessa’s direction. 

Tessa paused, breathing in a fortifying breath, and observed her support staff. Lost Alice looked winded but recovering. Lady Midnight was in the same state, and Glimmerglass was already full rested again. Based on that evaluation, it wasn’t a hard call to make. The battle team was ready go. Before she could make that call though, someone touched her lightly on the arm.

“We could use someone else as the damage sponge,” Lady Midnight said.

“Me,” Wrath Raven offered immediately.

“Sorry Wrath. You’re too darn tough,” Tessa said. “And you cut through our friends there a little too fast for them to keep up the pressure like they can with me. The same’s true for you Starchild.”

On the other side of the arena, Tessa’s newest friends were huddled up, planning to murder her in a new and extraordinarily painful manner. 

Just like she’d asked them to.

Because now that they’d hit the level cap for the zone, how else were they going to be able proceed?

And how was she ever going to unlock all that potential that was screaming to become something, anything! 

“What about us?” Rip asked. “I’m just as squishy as you are if I stand still. I can swap out with you right now.”

The concern on Rip’s [Tabbywile] features cut Tessa to the bone. It wasn’t easy sitting out a fight, especially when you had a teammate in it who demonstrably could not handle the opponents. With Rip sitting at level 70 already though there wasn’t anything she stood to gain from further combat. 

At least not until Tessa’s idea either worked or they decided it was hopeless and gave up on it once and for all.

“Nope!” Tessa said. As bad as being melted into a goey puddle by [Acid Breaths] was, the prospect of watching Rip or Matt being melted was far, far worse.

Also it wasn’t their terrible idea, so why should they have to pay the price?

“If you stand still in a fight you’ll wind up developing some bad habits,” Lisa said. Which was also a valid concern, though Tessa could see that Lisa was really just being as protective of the two kids as she was. 

“Is it okay for Tessa to be doing that then?” Matt asked. He was, unsurprisingly, on Rip’s side, and Tessa was pretty sure if one of them was going to take her place, he would insist that it be him. Rip, of course, would not agree, but fortunately that wasn’t a quarrel she wasn’t going to let them have.

“Tessa’s powers seem to have a melee bent to them, as much as they make any sense at all,” Lady Midnight said. From her tone, she was simply considering the situation logically, but the glance she exchanged with Tessa suggested that the rest of the team was pretty much all in on the ‘no letting the kids get pulped’ idea as well. 

“That is true,” Starchild said. “She has the [Void Speaker] armor aura and she can draw on the [Soul Knight] skills Pillowcase has. Despite what she says, she’s probably as good an off-tank as I am.”

“We’re wondering if maybe we should only send in nine [Demons] this time,” Snowcap asked as he shambled into easy conversation range with Tessa and the healers.

As [Demons] went, Snowcap was oddly well spoken, especially given the fact that he seemed to possess no mouth. His body looked to be a badly fused collection of ice shards with two blazing sapphires where his eyes were supposed to be. From his forearms, razor sharp spikes of crystal blue ice were constantly fracturing away and regrowing. They gave the impression of being fragile but Tessa could attest to both their steel-like durability and just how painful it was to lose a lung (the left one) to one of the ice spikes.

Despite all that though, Snowcap was also a remarkably gentle soul, even in his [Demon] form.

“You folks are doing fine Snow,” Tessa said. “Keep on coming at me just like you have been. You’re still leveling up right?”

“We are,” Snowcap said, unhappy to confirm it. “We just…it doesn’t seem fair to you.”

“I appreciate that,” Tessa said, taking Snowcaps frosty hands in her warm ones. “I’m fine though. The [Heart Fire] is so close, everything you do to me is fixed up in a minute or less, and there’s no [Hounds of Fate] around here. Zero. So this really is the best place we can try this plan.”

“Okay. If you’re sure,” Snowcap said. “It just seems like a terrible repayment for freeing us though.”

“If this works, it’s going to free us all,” Tessa said. “And if not, we get data, so there’s a win there too!”

“We could take a rest break if you need?” Lisa asked on their private channel. 

“If I hadn’t gone and kicked the Unknown hornet’s nest, that might have been an option, but I did and I’m pretty sure that means we’re going to be seeing them a lot sooner than we’d prefer,” Tessa replied.

“You had to take the shot,” Lisa said. “I don’t blame you for that at all, and you shouldn’t blame yourself either.”

“I don’t know. I had the literal power of a god. If I can’t fix things with all that, what the heck is it going to take?” Tessa asked. 

She hated even considering that thought. And she hated dumping the question on Lisa, who had the added worry of having to look after her kid sister too.

“It’s going to take us,” Lisa said. “All of us. Together. We’ll get through this.”

“God I hope so,” Tessa said. “Even [Armageddon] with you is so much better than my life before.”

“You mean your life as a mind controlled slave of the Consortium, or as a wage-controlled slave of the company you worked for on Earth?” Lisa asked with a teasing laugh in her mental voice.

“Yes. To both,” Tessa said. It wasn’t the right moment for a public display of affection, so she added the impulse to a growing backlog for the next time they were alone together.

“Me too,” Lisa said. “I don’t know if I’m getting this from Lost Alice or if my brain is just ridiculously adaptable, but this? Fighting in a [Death Arena]? It feels comfortable. Like home.” She met Tessa’s gaze. “Because you’re here.”

“Let’s do this then,” Tessa said. “I think I noticed something last time. It’s not much, but it may not have to be. I mean, we’re not breaking the level 99 cap. This is just a little change right?”

“Yep,” Lisa said. “Just a little exception to one of the fundamental rules of this universe. Like telling gravity to take a five minute smoke break, bulling the weak nuclear force for its lunch money.”

“Ooo! Maybe we can do that next,” Tessa said. “I never got to be a bad girl in school.”

“Well we’re in the right company for going bad,” Lisa said, nodding towards the opposing team of [Demons] who’d lined up and were ready to begin the next round.

“Okay. Let’s do this,” Tessa said aloud, filling her words with roughly nine thousand times more bravado than she felt.

The assembled [Demons] erupted with a cheer at that, though Tessa noticed that they were all cheering for her, which was either a very good sign, or a very bad one.

“All healing spells on her starting now,” Lisa called out as Tessa began to layer on her own protections.

In addition to the [Void Speaker] shields she’d developed, one of which was a simple armor enhancement while the other used a strange spatial warping trick to redirect force and projectiles back at her attacks, Tessa also called up as many of Pillowcase’s [Soul Knight] defensive buffs as she could.

Her mistake in the first battle had been to try to ration out her abilities. It was the proper approach for a Tank since steady durability and the ability to amp up toughness in response to damage spikes was one of the most basic keys to surviving boss fights. Tessa, however, was not a Tank, and so she needed to do everything she could to survive the first five seconds of the encounter.

Not that ten boss-level foes was something she was realistically supposed to survive for five seconds against.

Especially not when they weren’t holding back.

“[Despair’s Clutches],” Lava Roil called, casting a multi-effect dispel at her as Rocktomb and the Eyeless Blade, two melee focused bosses, came in swinging.

Lava Roil’s spell stripped away a random selection of the protections that had been layered onto Tessa, just in time for Rocktomb’s [Death Shard Mallet] to slam down on her head.

Had she been lower level, or just not expecting it like she hadn’t been in the second match, that would have been the end of round and Tessa would be ghost running away from the greasy stain that remained of her body.

Even without her full suite of mystical defenses though, Tessa had her wits coupled with reflexes that would do a superhero proud.

And she had Pillowcase.

“Offense” Pillowcase said, and Tessa dodged forward, slipping inside the [Death Shard Mallet’s] strike to lay a solid palm strike into Rocktomb’s chest.

“[Touch of Endless Hunger],” Tessa said before jack rabbiting a dozen body blows into the same spot.

The strength of her debuffing effect had increased as had her raw physical strength as she’d leveled up. She wasn’t really a melee fighter, but with the extreme weakness she’d introduced into Rocktomb’s stone carapace, she didn’t need to hit all that hard to obliterate him.

He stumbled backward, belching blood before burning away to an ashy cloud that floated quickly to the stands and reformed outside the battle arena.

That the [Demons] could respawn as easily as she could was what let Tessa really cut loose. From the stands, Rocktomb joined the others in cheering her on, which was as weird as it was uplifting.

With Rocktomb’s defeat, Tessa felt a sparkle of energy flicker within her.

And die out. She was capped for experience. The world wasn’t going to let her gain any more power until that changed.

She tried to grab the spark, to fan it to life.

She reached deep within, urging the sea of untapped possibilities within her to rise up and create the solution.

And it didn’t.

Tessa gritted her teeth.

There had to be a way to change things.

What was coming for them was too strong.

They couldn’t fight it as strong as they were. 

Or even as strong as they could be.

The world of the [Fallen Kingdoms] came with well defined laws. Those laws had let her grow into an unimaginable amount of power, but it wasn’t enough.

As death closed in on her once more, Tessa began to wonder if the only chance she might have to save the people she cared for would be to destroy the world around them.

Sick Days

Apologies for the missed entry on Thursday – wound up pretty wreck by a stomach bug for three days straight. I’m going to take today off too, so the next posting on Storytreader will be Tuesday’s chapter of Two Hearts. Broken Horizons should be back next Thursday as usual.

Stay healthy!