Edge Cases

by

SilverLinings

Chapter 30 - Unstoppable Force, Immovable Misa

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As a general rule, almost all skills had some sort of range limit, even if that range limit wasn't stated. A fireball's range depended on its strength; the further it traveled, the more the fire or the magic that maintained it would dissipate, and the weaker the spell was. A melee skill's range depended on the size of the weapon you were using, and how much you could physically extend yourself.

More esoteric skills from rarer classes tended to bend the rules; they tried to obey the rules as they were written in the box. And while Misa had to be aware of an attack in order to block it, she was, in fact, aware of this attack.

But she was separated by the dimensional boundary that dungeons that were being actively delved had around them; she was aware of the attack only because of the particularly strange combination of scrying magics used to view what was happening in real-time across that boundary.

As far as anyone knew, physically crossing the boundary should have been impossible. It was an uncrossable boundary, dictated by the rules of the system.

And so the question became this: What were the rules-as-written, in this scenario?

Misa didn't know. There were strange interactions, sometimes, between skills; rarer ones especially rarely had a predictable result when tested against the boundaries presented by the system.

Misa rolled the dice.

There was a bare fraction of a heartbeat's worth of time that passed where the system seemed to freeze, uncertain. There was a moment that was stretched into eternity.

And then she was in the dungeon, in front of the necrotic bolt, her mace already raised in defense. The bolt clanged uselessly against the metal, but she still felt the bite of an impossible, shearing pain as the system ripped away her Health; almost as if in punishment for the abuse of her Skill —

— but it wasn't done yet. Her system was going wild, notifications pouring through the air in front of her.

<ERROR>
Theoretical range limit for skill exceeded! Attempting to compensate...
<ERROR>
Reality-displacement boundary found between user and skill target! Unable to compensate—
<WARNING>
Boundary weakened by unknown effect. Proceeding with skill...
<ERROR>
Skill conflict detected! Skill [Inexorable Bolt] conflicts with [To Fall Yet Hold the Line]. Resolving skill differences...
<ERROR>
Multiple errors detected during skill use. Resolution failed. Compensation failed. Local boundaries degrading. Engaging fallbacks...

Fallback resolution determined.

Skill [Inexorable Bolt] has succeeded. Skill [To Fall Yet Hold the Line] has succeeded. Averaging results along local reality axis.

What the fuck?

Misa scarcely had the time to think the question — she got her answer.

She blocked the bolt. She didn't block the bolt. The skill both failed and succeeded, and the average was picked between two possibilities; Misa was only half-present, one version of her blocking one version of an unerring bolt. The other version was never there, the bolt slamming into the orb, and what had happened in her vision immediately came true — necrotic energy washed into it like a black tide, turning it pitch black and exploding outwards in a searing wave of energy.

In one version of events, the delve team was unharmed, and Misa was there, having blocked the [Inexorable Bolt]. In the other, the bolt struck, and necrotic energy ripped through the entire team, and Misa had never been there.

A ripple pulsed, bringing together both possibilities into a single result — and every member of the delve team staggered and collapsed. Their flesh faded away like it had never existed, leaving behind only bone and empty sockets.

For a single, horrifying moment, it looked to Misa like she had failed. Like the only thing she'd succeeded in doing was bringing herself into the dungeon, with no backup and a dead team to show for it.

They're skeletons, Misa thought, dazed. I— I didn't block it? But I swear I fucking...

The skeletons moved.

"What the fuck," one of them shouted in horror; a skeleton of a human staring at his own hand with a morbid sort of fascination. "What the fuck—"

"Calm down," the captain barked — at least, Misa thought he was the captain. All she had to go off was the fact that he was closest to her, and to the pack on the ground. She'd seen two versions of him, both standing in slightly different places, and she still hadn't completely reconciled what had happened.

Were they all... undead, now?

The sight was horrifying enough to make her feel vaguely nauseated, and the fact that any of them had the presence of mind to stay calm was frankly astonishing. "Look at your notifications," the captain added. "And more importantly."

"Miss." The captain directed his gaze at Misa; she didn't know how to react, staring into empty eye sockets where she'd once seen life. "You're in a high-level dungeon now. No matter what happens, you need to keep your wits about you."

"I... Yeah. Okay. I can do that." Misa swallowed once, her eyes hardening. They were skeletons. But they were alive? She could work with that. But...

...no. There was a bigger problem. A bigger danger. She'd almost forgotten.

"He's still human," Misa hissed, pointing at the man that had fired the bolt. He was staring at the delve team in bemusement. Her senses screamed at her — this man was dangerous, he'd orchestrated the death of the entire team and hadn't changed in the resulting explosion, he didn't seem shocked or bewildered or even the slightest bit concerned —

"Well, of course I am. You think I'd do that if I couldn't make sure I stayed alive?" He yawned, bored. "But now you've gone and ruined my plans. I guess it wasn't a complete waste, though. This is pretty interesting."

"What the fuck," Misa said, gritting her teeth. All her worry about danger instantly vanished, replaced by anger. Treating lives like they were playthings? Fuck all of that. "Explain, or I swear to the fucking gods—"

"What, you think I'm just going to monologue at you?" The man smiled at her. "I got over that impulse two or three centuries ago. It's fun, but it's not really worth it." He sighed dramatically.

"That said, it looks like that thing is going to finish transforming any second now, so maybe it'll do my job for me, eh? I'd say good luck, but frankly, I kind of just hope you all die." The man waved, starting to step backwards —

The captain slashed forward in an impossibly fast movement, his blade sweeping out to catch the man's neck. The strike hit, Misa was certain it did, and yet the blade passed through the flesh like it wasn't there at all; instead, he finished stepping backwards, through the wall; the captain's followup strike slammed into the black stone and skittered off ineffectually.

They were left with an orb that was an average of two possibilities — which, as it turned out, meant that the necrotic energy wasn't completely taking over the orb. It was trying, stuttering in waves as it began to flicker over whatever the rest of it was, but then it would fail.

And cracks were forming along the orb — almost like it was starting to hatch.

The entire team was tense, staring at it as the magic gathered and became almost palpable. Misa repositioned herself — or more accurately, she had been repositioned near the back of the line. The captain was grateful for what she'd done, but her level still made her a liability in the upcoming fight.

Misa didn't argue. He was right. At best, her Skill allowed her to run interference. As powerful a skill as [To Fall Yet Hold the Line] was, Misa reflected, it had severe limitations.

She was grateful she had it. Whatever just happened wouldn't have been possible without the skill, and though the outcome was questionable, no one on the delve team seemed to be reacting strongly.

Yet, anyway. It was possible they were saving the hysteria for when they were out of a crisis.

But the limitations of the skill were showing themselves almost immediately. The delve team didn't have a healer on hand; they were all built with self-healing, self-sustaining skills, given the penchant dungeons had for separating people. Misa was a dedicated damage-soaker without any of those skills — any damage to her, for the duration of this fight, would be permanent. She could keep charges of her skill for emergencies, but it got progressively more dangerous to use it each time, and once she was too low on health she would be nearly useless in the fight.

She had a couple of health potions, and there was [Every Last Drop] to soak up some mana instead of health, but even those wouldn't last forever... It was too much to think about. Misa shook her head; better to focus on the fight.

The orb cracked in half.

A blinding energy that wasn't quite light erupted from within. Mana, Misa thought, dazed; it didn't interact with her eyes in any way, but they still watered from the sight. She saw streams of red from where the mana was so dense that it distorted light, saw the way it flowed outward in a mockery of the humanoid form in an eerie reminder of the Overseer.

Two arms, then three, then five. Three on one side and two on the other; the balance of the new creature was lopsided. Three arms were made out of red, arcane energy, the original color of the orb; two were made from the darker necrotic energy.

The torso was a thin, wispy thing that barely existed save to hold the limbs together, and the legs were barely present at all — two protrusions jutting out from below its torso, brushing against the ground. They weren't holding up any of the creature's weight, appearing to exist solely because it was mimicking some vaguely humanoid form.

"Get ready," the captain said, his voice grim.

The mana-creature, or whatever it was, screeched. A system display fizzed into being, oddly reluctant, above its head.

Level 73 Aberrant — Arcane + Necrotic


A level 73
typed elite. It was the sort of thing you heard about heroes fighting, every time there was a dungeon break of some sort and the monsters flooded out; not the type of monster Misa expected she would face for many years, yet. But she was here now, surrounded by a team of soldiers much stronger than her.

Soldiers that had just been turned into skeletons through a paradoxical skill interaction. Misa grimaced slightly. There was no telling if that would affect their fighting abilities; it shouldn't, but then nothing about that skill interaction should have happened. She felt guilt for what she'd done to them —

She put the thought aside. She could feel guilty later, as long as everyone was alive, for now. As long as she made sure everyone stayed alive.

Breathe. Watch. React.

The Aberrant attacked.

It moved in a clumsy, shuffling way that should have been uselessly slow; indeed, for a second or two it seemed to genuinely be tripping over itself. Then that movement turned into a fall, and the fall's momentum was somehow redirected and boosted, and it shot with blinding speed towards the lizardkin captain.

The captain blocked. Arms filled with arcane energy crashed into the edge of his blades, and the monster screeched again, a painful surge of sound that bled into Misa's health. It didn't seem to take any damage from his blades, even though he tried to twist and slice; the blades skated off the arcane energy like it was nothing, and then the Aberrant twisted, plunging both necrotic arms straight into the center of his chest.

A pause.

The Aberrant and captain both seemed briefly confused — and then something seemed to click. He somehow grinned, though his head was nothing but skull and bone. "Necrotic damage ain't gonna do shit to us now. Didn't think of that, did ya, ya bastard?"

The Aberrant screeched again, not understanding a word and yet still managing to sound just a touch alarmed. It understood enough to know that the fact that its prey had survived a hit made it dangerous.

The captain, of course, pressed his advantage. A blade spun and twisted in his hand, even as the other kept the arcane arms occupied; the second blade slammed into the Aberrant's center mass, directly towards the cracked glass orb that still hovered in the center.

But it skittered off yet again. They were almost at an impasse, except the Elyran delvers were all still vulnerable to the blades of arcane mana that masqueraded as arms.

Misa saw three other delvers lunge at the Aberrant, trying to score hits with their own enchanted weaponry; just as before, the blades seemed to deflect off the creature's body. It saw that its opponents couldn't hurt it, and the mana in the upper portion of its torso parted in a strange crescent —

Was it grinning?

Fuck.

 

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A note from SilverLinings

I feel like "what happens if an unblockable skill hits a skill that can block anything" is a question that obviously had to be answered in a story about edge cases, you know? 

As always, thanks for reading. A rating would be very much appreciated, and an advanced chapter can be found on Patreon.

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About the author

SilverLinings

Bio: I enjoy writing in my spare time. I try to envision a world where people that act in good faith have the power to enact change.

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