Broken Horizon – Vol 8, Ch 16

Tessa felt like she was tap dancing around the edge of an endless abyss. The shock of seeing a dialog appear in her normal vision, or more accurately, the shock of seeing proof that she was far from normal anymore, hadn’t been enough to send her tumbling over the edge into madness. 

On it’s own it wouldn’t have even come close.

But Tessa had been through a rather intense couple of days. 

She could forgive herself for being pretty wobbly.

Heck even if everything else had been unremarkable, hearing someone she liked say they liked her back would have left her spinning and off balance for a while.

Rip’s question wasn’t in that league. It wasn’t even intrinsically concerning or surprising. The simple answer to ‘can a monster join a guild’ was ‘no’. Monsters weren’t people. They weren’t even individually distinct. Most were generic copies of the same critter type like “Sand Crab] or [Hell Raptor]. The few named, and theoretically individual ones, like [Lashferelle the Forge Lord] still weren’t singular entities, since a dungeon party who fought to the center of the [The Forge of Sorrows] would encounter their own version of Lashferelle regardless of how many other parties were fighting their own versions of the final battle.

But that was what was true in the game.

“Who would like to join the guild?” Tessa asked, a suspicion rising from her bones that the answer would be different for the prospects Rip had found.

“You remember Baelgritz, right?” Rip said. “We ran into him and Illuthiz and Hermeziz.”

“And they want to join an [Adventurers] guild?” Lisa asked.

“They were curious if it was possible,” Matt said.

“Normally no,” Lady Midnight said. “Or at least it wasn’t in the game. Guilds were for players only.”

“I have a feeling things will work a little differently here,” Tessa said.

“I don’t know,” Lisa said. “I tried typing in Baelgritz name and nothing came up on the invite screen.”

“Try again, but do it from the search window,” Tessa said. “Don’t search for him directly though, just do an area search for ‘all’. That should show [Adventurers] and any other creatures we’ve encountered and know about.”

“Six years you haven’t played with this interface and you still remember that?” Lisa asked.

“Our tanks never wanted to make parties, so I always had to send out the invites and then promote the tank to leader once everyone was assembled,” Tessa said.

“I’m not complaining, I’m just impressed,” Lisa said. “Oh, and it worked. I can see him and invite him. If we want.”

“Why did you have to do it like that?” Matt asked.

“I’m guessing his name isn’t ‘Baelgritz’, not exactly,” Tessa said. “That’s probably close but it’s like ‘Olaf’ and ‘Ölaf’. We simplify the one with the umlaut when we type on American keyboards but the game client could be picky about the difference sometimes. I know we don’t have keyboards here, but I figured something similar might be happening.”

“I am glad you understood how to correct for that,” Starchild said. “It does leave us with the question of if we want them to be in the guild though?”

“We’ve talked a bit about adding crafters, this would be a big step beyond non-leveling [Adventurers] though, so we should put some thought into it,” Lisa said.

“I think the first question is whether anyone is definitely opposed to the idea,” Tessa said. Sheknew that trying to have a reasonable discussion when someone had already definitively made up their mind was an exercise in futility. 

Fortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case.

“I’m okay with it,” Rip said.

“Me too,” Matt said. “They’re nicer than they look. And they’re Science Nerds, which, you know, is cool.”

“If they would ally with us, I would welcome them,” Starchild said.

Tessa wondered how Pete felt about the situation. It had been a while since he’d spoken through Starchild. He wasn’t the next to speak though.

“I have a concern, but it’s not about them joining us,” Lady Midnight said.

“What’s that?” Rip asked.

“I take it you ran into them while you were out exploring?” Lady Midnight asked.

“We’re still in town,” Obby said, “But we’re poking around the outskirts. They had the same thought as us in terms of finding trouble before trouble decided to sneak up on us.”

“They’re not particularly high level though, right?” Lady Midnight asked.

“No. They were doing their best to manage in the starter dungeon we found them in,” Obby said.

“Do they know how dangerous that is for them?” Lady Midnight asked.

“They do, but Illuthiz and Baelgritz think there’s a lot here that they can study,” Matt said.

“And Hermeziz just seems to be crabby because he’s worried about them,” Rip said.

“He’s worried about them?” Matt asked.

“Yeah, can’t you tell?” Rip asked.

“Uh no?” Matt said.

“Look at them. Bael and Illu are both like an inch away from that plant and what’s Herm doing?”

“He’s been complaining at them non-stop since they started,” Matt said.

“Yeah, but look how close he is and how he’s keeping an eye out on everything they can’t see,” Rip said.

“So he’s just scared to be out here?” Matt said. “I mean I can’t blame him.”

“He’s not scared,” Rip said. “He doesn’t have his weapon drawn, and he’s not bothering to check the angle the other two can see. He trusts them. He just doesn’t trust what the world might do to them.”

“That’s a good enough argument for me,” Obby said. “These three might look like demons, but they’re good people.”

“Were you worried that they might need our protection?” Lisa asked.

“Not that specifically,” Lady Midnight said. “I don’t think any of us would mind watching over people who were in danger. I was more concerned that they might want to join us so they could follow us into places they really shouldn’t be going.”

“We might be able to protect them in a dungeon, but that’s a lot to hang a ‘might’ on. They don’t get second chances if we’re wrong about that,” Tessa said.

“We could leave that to them, and to Yawlorna,” Rip said.

“With how excited they are by a funky looking weed, there’s probably a good chance they’d wind up trying a dungeon on their own too,” Matt said.

“Or, we could bring them back samples to work with,” Lisa said. “So they wouldn’t have to go into the kind of crazy danger [Adventurers] can handle.”

“I could see that being appealing to them. Or at least to their boss,” Lady Midnight said.

“So does that affect your feelings on them joining the guild?” Lisa asked.

“Oh, I don’t have any problems with that,” Lady Midnight said. “I just wanted to make sure they weren’t getting into something that’d be dangerously over their heads.”

“Which means we only need one more vote,” Lisa said.

“Whose?” Tessa asked.

“Uh,” Lisa said and poked Tessa in the chest. “You get a vote too.”

“Oh, right, sorry, I’m used to being the one collecting the votes. I’m okay with them joining, but I think we’ll want to run it by Yawlorna first. I don’t want her to think we’re poaching her team away from her.”

“Probably good to have that as a group discussion with all of them present,” Lisa said. “Nothing secret, no hurt feelings, everything on the table in terms of what we can and can’t do.”

“We may want to include the crafters we have in mind to ask to join too,” Starchild said. “I gather what we are constructing will not be a very typical guild. People should have a chance to know what they’re signing up for.”

“Should we do that soon so other people don’t snap up all the good crafters before we can?” Rip asked.

Tessa’s pulse quickened at the idea. Competition for resources was something games had differing stances on. Some made it a foundational aspect of play, pitting players against each other for everything from gathering herbs to accessing housing. Others took a different approach and made the game’s resources accessible only through cooperation. 

[Broken Horizons] lived in the middle ground between those extremes but there was one resource no game could make freely available – other players.

“No,” Tessa said. “We can talk to the people who look like a good fit and let them know they’re welcome to join us. If there’s someone who’s really dedicated and they want to team up with another group though, that’s fine. We brought a lot of people through the gate from the [High Beyond] but we’re still a small community here. I’m sure there’ll be drama between the groups that form, but the friendlier we try to keep things, the happier everyone’s going to be.”

“It’s not uncommon for people to switch guilds a few times when they’re starting out too,” Lisa said. “If we want someone, we’ll do a lot better letting them know that and then respecting their choice rather than trying to pressure them to join us when they’ll be unhappy to be in the guild.”

“We talked about having a celebration tonight, didn’t we?” Rip asked. “Should we ask them all then?”

“That would give us a chance to see how well the people we have in mind seem to get along with each other?” Tessa said.

“We’ll want to plan for a reasonably short run into the fields then,” Lisa said. “If we spend too long hunting the [Cursed Walkers] everyone will be asleep when we get back.”

“There’s also the [Blood Fire] if we wanted to try that still,” Tessa said.

“We probably should,” Lisa said. “Assuming our injured people don’t turn into zombies before the party’s over.”

“Are we pushing things too far there?” Rip asked.

“Glimmerglass thinks we have some time,” Lady Midnight said. “I wouldn’t say the subjects are exactly stable, or that we have a good understanding of the pathology but based on how our healing spells seem to be interacting with their infections, it appears that we’re holding them where they are.”

“I suspect that will change if the main body of the [Hungry Shadow] manages to get through the gate,” Tessa said. “In that case though, we’ll probably have a lot more to worry about than people being zombified.”

“If they’re infected can the infection spread?” Matt asked.

“It hasn’t shown signs of spreading yet,” Lady Midnight said.

“We’ve got a theory that it’s a long term status effect,” Lisa said. “If that’s true, it may be that only a [Hungry Shadow] can inflict it.”

“Of course if the end goal of the status effect is to turn the victim into a [Hungry Shadow] then the problem can become exponential as quickly as it can convert people,” Tessa said.

“If the Shadows are offshoots from the main creature, that they’re not getting worse might be a sign that the [Hungry Shadow]  is too busy to try to possess them at the moment.” Obby said.

“We’ll have to hope that it stays that busy for a while then,” Tessa said. “I doubt our first trip to the [Blood Fires] is going to give us a [True Panacea] or anything like that.”

“With how the last few days have been going?” Lisa asked. “I’d believe anything at this point.”

“With how the last few days have gone, I’m thinking we’re more likely to come back with a whole new and exciting [Plague] of our own,” Tessa said. 

She was joking. 

Mostly.

“Is it okay to invite Bael, Illum and Herme to the party at least?” Rip asked. “Cause I kind of already did.”

“Nope,” Lisa said. “Now you’re going to have to break their hearts and tell them they can’t come.”

“What!?” Rip said.

“God you’re gullible,” Lisa said. “Yes, of course invite them. That’s what we should all be doing. If you’ve run into anyone who seems like they’d be a good fit with the rest of us, tell them to swing by.”

“We’ll have free loot and prizes to give out too!” Obby said.

Tessa could see the snowball starting to build and clung to the hope that it would roll up a bunch of good memories rather than rolling over them all and flattening them like disaster pancakes.

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 15

It was a small thing, the dialog hanging in the air in front of her, just a tiny aberration from her expectations of how the world worked. In the face of the other thing she’d seen and been through, one little square of light with a simple question should have barely even registered as a blip of strangeness, shouldn’t have evoked even an awareness of being unusual, much less left Tessa frozen in wonder and disorientation.

“What is it?” Lisa asked, seeing Tessa’s bone deep confusion.

“I don’t know,” Tessa managed after a moment.

Her hand was frozen halfway to the dialog, an unconscious reflex to click the ‘Ok’ button having carried it that far before her mind fully grasped what she was seeing.

“That’s something I would see,” Pillowcase said, her voice purely internal as Tessa scrambled to make sense of what was in front of her. “But…”

“But I don’t have your eyes,” Tessa said, answering herself and added on the party chat line for Lisa’s benefit. “I got the Guild invite.”

“It popped up in front of you?” Lisa asked, her eyes narrowing immediately in understanding.

“It’s still hovering there,” Tessa said, her hand unfreezing enough to gesture at the little scale of light.

“Isn’t that what it should have done that though?” Rip asked.

“It doesn’t sound like it,” Matt said.

“Not if she’s still an Earthling,” Lady Midnight said. “How are you feeling Tessa?”

“Good. Fine,” Tessa said. Existential dread wasn’t an unreasonable thing to be feeling, right? She didn’t voice that part but she didn’t need to Lisa read it in her expression.

“You leveled up,” Lisa said, putting a comforting hand on Tessa’s shoulder. “I wonder if that includes a passive ability that lets you see what would have been system messages?”

It made enough sense that it gave Tessa the lifeline to cling to that she needed. She hadn’t [Fractured] from reality again. There was a plausible reason that her silly human eyes were seeing things no silly human eyes should be able to.

Tessa wasn’t sure if the reassurance allowed her heart to start beating again, or if it allowed her heart to slow down to the point where should could tell that it was still beating.

“I really wish I could see my stats,” she said, shaking her head. A glance over at Lisa showed not to the reassuring expression she’d expected but a ghost of concern. “I’m okay though, really. I’ve been thinking I’m probably not exactly an Earth-standard human anymore for a while now. It was just a bit surprising to have it confirmed like that. I guess my Denial passive ability is stronger than I thought.”

She forced a grin onto her lips, which was made a touch easier by the pleasant lack of any special effect around ‘denial’. The last thing Tessa wanted was a supernatural ability based on that.

Lisa nodded but the ghost was still haunting her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Tessa asked, switching to their private channel.

“You sure you’re feeling okay now?” Lisa asked. “Any time you need to fall apart, I’m here to catch you okay? That’s part of the deal, right?”

“Yeah. And the same for you too, okay? I think we’re both due about a dozen freak outs each, and that’s just for the stuff we’ve run into since we woke up,” Tessa said.

“Good. So. How are you feeling?”

Tessa was about to say ‘Fine’ again but she stopped herself. ‘Fine’ was a rote response. It was what she was expected to say when people asked about her. Don’t trouble anyone with your problems. Don’t be a bother. Keep all the turmoil and mess that was in her head safely locked away from everyone else, because no one had time for her problems. Not when she was supposed to be helping them with theirs.

“I could be better, I think,” she said, each word more terrifying than the last, each one potentially too much of a demand, too ugly for Lisa to continue loving her.

“Even that much of an understatement is that frightening to admit?” Pillowcase asked, and from her perspective, Tessa felt vaguely ridiculous at her own worry and fear.

Lisa wasn’t going to hate her if Tessa told her the truth. Sure, spiraling around the same problem constantly could get tiresome but there was a wide gulf between that and letting Lisa see what was really going on when she was outright asking to know.

“I know I broke something, or lost something when I became a [Void Speaker],” she said, still on the private channel. The others wouldn’t condemn her for her feelings either, but sharing with Lisa was about as far as she could force herself to extend her trust in that. “I don’t regret it. Or at least I’m happy that I’m back here, and I still feel like ‘me’, like the ‘Tessa’ I’m familiar with being. And having a class? That’s really cool. And a new, special class? I mean, that seems awesome right? It’s supposed to be amazing. I’m all special and stuff and I shouldn’t complain.”

“But it’s scary isn’t it?” Lisa asked. She took Tessa’s other hand in her own, lacing their fingers together and holding it up to Tessa’s heart.

“Yeah,” Tessa admitted. “Very.”

“That probably shows that you’re more yourself than you’re feeling at the moment,” Lisa said. “Picture if you were totally gungho and couldn’t see anything wrong with become a god-tier [Void Speaker] as soon as possible. If you didn’t have any thoughts like the ones you’re having, would that be you or just someone who was, I don’t know, ‘inspired by’ you I guess?”

A real smile crept onto Tessa’s face. On the one hand, being defined by her fears and weaknesses didn’t sound terribly great, but on the other, that her fears had a purpose, were a sign that she was fighting to be herself? That made them a lot cooler than she’d given them, no, given herself credit for.

“Thank you,” she said. “You…that was what I needed to hear. Or needed to remember. Being afraid is okay, isn’t it?”

“Being you is okay,” Lisa said. “Afraid, excited, sad, whatever it is, if it’s you, it’s all good.”

“Even if I become some weird, otherworldly thing from beyond time and space?” Tessa’s relief let her switch to teasing-mode, but listening to herself she saw she wasn’t just being silly. She remembered the [Formless Hunger] and knew that the trauma of dealing with it was still something she was processing. 

“I’m a blood drinking fiend of the night,” Lisa said. “I kinda can’t picture anything you’d become that I wouldn’t want to hang onto.”

“I’m going to try not to become too much else,” Tessa said. “Being Pillowcase and Tessa is enough for now I think. I mean, I barely had a handle on being ‘Tessa’ and I had 26 years as her to work on that. I probably need put some more work into who I am now before I try to change class to [Cosmic Horror].”

Both she and Lisa heard the sound effect around [Cosmic Horror] and blinked.

“Really?” Tessa said, wrinkling her nose in irritation. “That’s a thing here too?”

“I think we can file that under ‘Not Our Problem’,” Lisa said. “At least not till we’re at the level cap, and maybe not even then. We’re still going to need a ton of the high tier raid gear before we’re really competitive there.”

“Ugh, that’s right,” Tessa said, memories of the raids she’d fought as Glimmerglass flooding back into her mind. “That’s going to take forever to get through, if it’s even possible with actually living in the world like this.”

It wasn’t uncommon for the mechanics of the raids to require add-ons to manage, things that could warn the player when special attacks were coming, or help coordinate a small army of 64 [Adventurers] better than voice chat could manage.

“It not only would need to be possible, we’d also have to find a group to run it with who’s willing to take us along,” Lisa said. “Most of the raid zones are locked off but Cease All said AoL probably wouldn’t be running them anyways, even if the Consortium wasn’t an issue. No one wants to try anything that hard when getting dipped in lava or melted by acid actually hurts and can kill you.”

“Uh, so is Tessa going to join the guild?” Rip asked on the party channel.

Tessa blinked and noticed that the dialog was still hanging in the air in front of her. Lisa had moved in close enough that the window was hovering in front her chest.

“Definitely,” Tessa said and tapping the ‘Ok’ button right over Lisa’s heart without extracting her hand from Lisa’s.

Guild: Second Stars Formed!

Status: Guild Founder Achieved!

Rank: Guild Master (Shared)

Guild Management interface enabled.

Tessa suppressed a squeak of surprise. She’d heard those words in what she knew in her bones was the voice of the system. 

“So we can talk on this channel now too?” Rip asked, and Tessa felt a subtle distinction to the sound of the words in her head. 

Intuition really shouldn’t have been able to identify that as ‘guild chat’ but she knew it was anyways. 

“Apparently so,” Lisa said. “Once we get some more people invited, this will be handy for keeping us all in the loop on what’s happening and for just chatting in general.”

“It looks like we can mute it if we need too,” Lady Midnight said.

“I guess that’s good if some of us want to talk all night and other people want to sleep, right?” Matt asked.

“Organization level channels are also good to silence when you’re working on a task that demands more focus,” Starchild said. “Exploring a dungeon for example.”

“Or if the guild goes off on a tangent you’re not interested in,” Lady Midnight said.

“How will we know if something important comes up though?” Rip asked.

“It looks like there’s a Guild Master channel,” Lisa said. “THIS PROBABLY GOES OUT TO EVERYONE.”

Her telepathic voice wasn’t louder, not precisely, but it did demand attention the same as a loud shout would.

“Okay, not going to use that one again unless we need to,” Lisa said.

“It’s definitely an attention getter,” Obby said. “I’m guessing you have controls to mute us too?”

“Yeah, either individually or globally,” Lisa said. “In AoL, we’ve usually used that during guild meetings. If you’re muted by an officer or a [Guild Master] you can signal us to remove the mute effect. It’s like raising your hand, though for big guild that’s still a pain since you can have five hundred people listening and fifty of them put their hand up every time a question comes up.”

“Hopefully we’ll have that problem someday,” Obby said.

“Aside from the Cooks we talked about earlier, were you planning to go on an invite spree?” Lady Midnight asked.

“Not a spree really,” Lisa said. “I thought we’d invite Kamie and her group since they seem pretty cool.”

“No arguments here,” Obby said.

“Beyond that though, I was thinking we’d be selective,” Lisa said. “I know Lady Midnight and Starchild’s first party didn’t work out so well and it seemed like some of the folks there were a bit toxic? If that’s fair?”

“Quite fair,” Starchild said. 

“Toxic and a couple of them were just bad players,” Lady Midnight said.

“I’m okay with growing slowly too,” Obby said. “We don’t need to be friends with everyone in the guild, but everyone should be able to respect everyone else.”

“Having similar goals and interests, or at least one’s that don’t conflict, is probably worth focusing on too,” Tessa said. “The Cooks may not be into leveling up or dungeon crawling, which means we don’t have room for people who think everyone needs to help them level up and run dungeons with them.”

“Yeah, if people have that mindset, they can setup their own guilds and we can coalition with them, assuming they’re not jerks otherwise,” Lisa said.

“What if we find a monster that wants to join us?” Rip asked.

It sounded like a perfectly innocent question, except for the part where Tessa knew it absolutely wasn’t hypothetical.

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 14

“Second Stars?” Rip asked. “Is that a reference to something.”

Tessa’s brilliant idea for a name for their fledgling guild hadn’t been the wild hit she’d imagined it would be. Or hope it would be. Or something. In truth she’d just been struck by the name as a spur of the moment though and had been delighted when it turned to be available.

“Peter Pan, right?” Lady Midnight said.

Tessa and Lisa were still wandering through the east side of [Dragonshire], getting the lay of the land, and enjoying each other’s company on what was a startlingly pleasant day. 

The shock and jangled nerves of their fight with the Misery Worm had faded away in the sunlight far quicker than Tessa had assumed it would, in part probably because they had a new idea to latch onto and, in part, because Pillowcase and Lost Alice brought a form of mental tenacity that Tessa and Lisa had never had the need to develop in their more mundane lives.

“Yeah,” Tessa said. “It’s a play on ‘second star on the right and straight on till morning’, which if my memory serves are the directions to Neverland.”

“Aren’t we kind of in Neverland already though?” Rip asked.

The party was still spread out, the others investigating their own corners of [Dragonshire]. It shocked Tessa to her core that none of them had yet managed to pick a fight with anything or cause any mayhem. Neither Lisa nor herself had mentioned the Misery Worm yet, and she wasn’t sure if admitting that they’d managed to stumble into trouble first was a good idea. The others already seemed to think she was a magnet for bad ideas, maybe it was best to keep the confirmation of that theory as limited as possible?

“What can lead you somewhere can also lead you back though,” Lisa said.

“Assuming we want to go back,” Rip said.

That was concerning, but hardly something Tessa wasn’t already aware of. Since a group chat wasn’t the best place to pry into Rip and Matt’s personal lives, Tessa tabled her questions about what their home life was like and listened to what they were willing to talk about.

“I kind of like it,” Matt said. “I mean we are sort of the ‘Second Stars’ of the show right? The headliners are all those people at the level cap who are out there liberating cities and things like that. We’re the second stringers, and that’s okay. It’s a lot less pressure, isn’t it?”

“It definitely is,” Obby said. “I’m not saying we can sit back and let the high levels take care of everything, but it is nice not to be the only ones who could with the problems that were piling up on us in the [High Beyond].”

“Speaking of that,” Lisa said. “Any sign of the [Hungry Shadows] following us yet?”

“Not yet, but it is still day time,” Starchild said. “It seems more likely we’ll have an issue with them tonight if they made it through when we did.”

“Why would they wait that long to attack us?” Rip asked. “Wouldn’t they have struck last night?”

“They pulled back from fighting us,” Tessa said. “They’ve definitely got some kind of plan in mind. The trick will be figuring out what that is based on the moves they make.”

“If there are any here at all,” Lady Midnight said. “We’ll want to be careful about jumping at…well, shadow, too much. Paranoia is a common traumatic stress response, and it’s okay, but leaning into it’s not going to help us in the long run.”

“That’s a good point,” Tessa said. “I don’t know how the rest of you are doing, but I know Pillowcase has helped the Tessa part of me a lot in processing what we’ve been through. If this all starts feeling like too much, that’s an entirely sane response, and I’d like everyone to feel free to call for a break. I’ve got no problem huddling up and hiding out for safety and recuperation.”

“Same from me,” Lisa said. “There’s a lot of things we can do that we’re skipping now because levels are so handy to get, but things like crafting, and item refining, and reputation questing can all be done in complete safety and really help out, even at max level.”

“Those are things a Guild will make easier as well,” Starchild said.

“That’s true, we’ll unlock a lot of extra possibilities and options as a guild,” Lisa said.

“But it’s okay if we want to keep leveling, right?” Rip asked.

“Oh yeah,” Obby said. “We’re already spread out a bit in levels, and most of the significant fights in this area will have a level cap on them anyways, so having more gaps won’t really slow us down.”

“How long do [Tabbywiles] usually live?” Rip asked.

Tessa was puzzled by the change of topic, but the Lore Nerd in her rose to the challenge anyways.

“They reach adulthood a little later than humans, at 20 rather than 18, and tend to live a little longer too, around 95 years rather than 90 for humans,” she said, her mind a wonderful repository for information that she’d thought would never do her any real good.

“I think someone on the dev team was a cat lover and wanted a world were the kitties would live really long lives, but not be lonely,” Lisa said. 

“What about [Metal Mechanoids]?” Matt asked.

“They’rew new to the [Fallen Kingdoms] so none have died of old age yet,” Tessa said. “The Consortium ones tend to be ‘decommissioned’ after a new model is developed, so every five to ten years, but a [Metal Mechanoid] body is designed to last for centuries, especially if given proper care. [Clothworks], like Pillowcase, are a similar story but their design life time is shorter, just a bit over a century.”

“What brought on those questions?” Obby asked.

“Just thinking how much time we have to worth with,” Rip said. “I guess if we wanted the long term package being an [Elf] would have been the best choice?”

“Yes and no?” Tessa said, “Elves sort of live forever, but their life cycle is weird. They basically ‘die’ once a year on their birthday but then wake up the next day as themselves, but with a new perspective on the previous year, like they’d spent a separate whole year reflecting on it. There’s bigger cycles and personality shifts that happen every decade and every century.”

“Then you’ve got [Adventurers] who are functionally immortal,” Lisa said. “I mean as a [Vampire] I’m not exactly going to grow old and grey, but given that we can recreate our bodies from scratch it’s probably not surprising that none of us really age.”

“If you follow the in game clock and the accelerated day/night cycle, I think Glimmerglass is close to 300 years old now,” Tessa said.

“Wait, what?” Rip asked. “We’re immortal?”

“Uh, you’ve died before,” Matt said. “We all have. Why is that surprising?”

“I thought that didn’t count or something,” Rip said.

“It was never an issue, or really highlighted in the game,” Tessa said. “And, I guess we don’t know how that translates to here yet?”

“Can’t we just ask Glimmerglass?” Matt said.

“Or any other high level character,” Lady Midnight said.

“I guess?” Tessa said, feeling silly for not remembering that they had a ready source for answers to questions like that.

The answer turned out to be ‘yes’, Glimmerglass was, 288, which was a bit old for an [Adventurer] of her level but not unusually so. Tessa felt a pang of guilt at abandoning her for all those years. By all rights, Glimmerglass should have been max level long ago and kitted out in at least the 2nd or 3rd tier of end game raiding gear. That Glimmerglass didn’t hold that against Tessa did nothing to alleviate the guilt pangs.

“You know, I think I’m starting to come around on Second Stars,” Rip said. “If we’re immortal then that makes us like the Peter Pan. Neverland is our home and the stars are guides that we use to go where we want.”

“That was basically my idea,” Tessa said. “And we can be the stars to help bring other people who are Lost to someplace better.”

“Have you read the original Peter Pan?” Lady Midnight asked. “Neverland’s kind of scary and Peter’s sort of a monster.”

“Not to point out the obvious, but this place is kind of scary, and, some of us are sort of monsters too,” Lisa said.

“Eh, works for me then,” Lady Midnight said.

“We should have a meeting tonight, or maybe before we head out to go over the general guild mechanics stuff and the bylaws and expectations,” Tessa said. “For now though we can probably just go with a flat structure where everyone’s basically equal.”

“Nope!” Lady Midnight said. “This idea was yours and Lost Alice’s. You two get to the guild leaders. I have tried to run a guild before and I am bad at it.”

“Rip Shot and I are new here too,” Matt said.

“Anyone want to have a vote for who should be the guild leaders?” Obby said. “I nominate the two who came up with it. All in favor?”

“They’ve got my vote,” Rip said, sounding inordinately pleased with herself.

“Mine as well,” Starchild said and then amended herself to say, “Ours as well.”

“I’m obviously in favor of that,” Lady Midnight said.

“Then it looks like we’re unanimous,” Obby said. “Congratulations to our new guild leaders.”

“But we didn’t get to vote,” Lisa said.

“Were you planning to leave Tessa to run the guild by herself?” Obby asked.

“No, of course not,” Lisa said.

“And it’s a safe bet that you weren’t going to leave her going solo on it either right?” Obby said, directing the comment to Tessa.

“Yeah, okay,” Tess said, shaking her head with a mirthful smile and a roll of her eyes that she shared with Lisa. “Thank you then, all of you.”

“I think we should be thanking you,” Lady Midnight said. “When Starchild and I first met you, our party with in the midst of disintegrating and it looked like we’d be going it alone from then on.”

“I grew up in a [Druid’s Circle],” Starchild said. “I have to confess, I’m used to there being people around who supported each other, but after my early partying experience with outsiders I was worried that wasn’t how [Adventurers] worked. I’m glad that you’ve proved that idea wrong.”

“We should do something to celebrate!” Rip said. “Can we have a party tonight? Oh, yeah, when we get back from hunting those ghost things. We can divvy up the loot and trade the junky bits for some of the food the [Cooks] are working on!”

“Usually you’d sell the junk equipment to someone like Mr. Pendant, or use it for your own crafting and then take the money you get and just buy food,” Tessa said. “But I like your idea better. Just because they’re focusing on crafting rather than battle, doesn’t mean the other [Adventurers] should have as good a set of gear as we can get for them.”

“You know you say trade the loot for food,” Lisa said. “But I’m thinking bribe some of them to join the guild directly. That gets us great food all the time.”

“And that is exactly why we want the two of you as our [Guild Masters],” Obby said.

“Yeah, you listen to us and then make our ideas better,” Rip said.

“Many brains are better than one,” Tessa said. 

She’d seen that in her professional life but only very rarely. Most of the managers who preferred that style of teamwork tended to be able to find better jobs than the thankless work her company demanded of its employees. Getting to manage a team the way she’d always wanted to be treated was a like a dream come true in that sense.

“So all we need to do now is make this guild real,” Lisa said.

“What do we need to do for that?” Rip asked.

“I’m about to submit the request,” Lisa said. “All your names will be on it as [Founders], all you need to do is click ‘Ok’ on the confirmation message that pops up and as soon as we have five signatures we’ll be officially recognized.”

Tessa knew they’d have six acknowledgements as fast as her party could click to confirm them.

What she hadn’t expected was that a screen would appear in front of her.

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 13

Sometimes an idea is terrible. Sometimes it’s preposterous. But sometimes it demands to be considered despite all that..

“You’re not going to try [Fracturing] yourself again are you?” Lisa asked, turning to regard Tessa with a wary gaze.

“No, no, no! Nothing like that,” Tessa assured her.

“Do you have another god soul in your inventory somewhere?” Lisa asked.

“Sadly fresh out of the those too,” Tessa said.

“Let’s hear this idea then,” Lisa said. She looked like she was ready to tackle Tessa on the chance that Tessa was planning to do something profoundly unwise.

It wasn’t an entirely unreasonable reaction. When she considered her idea, Tessa had to admit that there was more than a little risk in it.

“We already know how we can rebuild our bodies,” Tessa said. “When we got killed by the chain monster in the [High Beyond] we had to rebuild ourselves completely at the [Heart Fire].”

“We were ghosts then,” Lisa said. “And our bodies had been pretty much obliterated.”

“Yes, and allow me to say I have no interest in repeating that,” Tessa said. “What we also know though is that bits of the [Heart Fire] can be carried back to a body to restore it from the fatal damage it took.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right, the first time we died during the [Wraithwing] attack you ran back to your body instead of respawning at the [Heart Fire],” Lisa said.

“Not the wisest or safest thing I’ve ever done, but it did give us some good info,” Tessa said. “In this case, that the [Heart Fires] can not only build a new body from scratch, they can also modify existing bodies too.”

“To be fair, in both cases all that we know is that they can do that with dead bodies,” Lisa said.

She stood up and offered a hand to Tessa. They’d each caught their breath and if they lingered in the cellar for too long it was entirely possible that the Misery Worm would respawn and they’d have yet another fight to deal with.

“Fundamentally, dead bodies are pretty similar to live ones,” Tessa said, as they wandered over to the loot pile that [Miser Wyrm] had left behind.

“I am fully aware of the irony of a [Vampire] saying this, but I think living bodies have some fairly crucial differences from dead ones,” Lisa said. She accepted the staff from the loot pile that Tessa handed over to her but passed on the necklace since it wasn’t enchanted with any stats relevant for a caster.

“I can’t argue with that, though I will note that according to [Broken Horizon] lore, [Vampiric Undeath] is a trait which is entirely separate from [Death]. If anything, you’re more alive than I am now since you’re cells aren’t dying quite like a baseline [Humans] are.”

“That’s not helping your case very much though, is it?” Lisa said.

“There’s really only one thing that’s going to prove the theory out,” Tessa said.

“You’re going to jam your hand into the [Heart Fire] and see what happens, right?” Lisa said.

“Ah, yeah, my hand, that’s definitely what I should do,” Tessa said. “Cause lighting myself entirely on fire would be overkill and kind of silly.”

“You really want Pillowcase’s body back that much?” Lisa asked, a faint puzzled look in her eyes.

“I mean, there are definitely perks to being in this body,” Tessa said, running her fingers down the outside of Lost Alice’s arms. “But I want to have the choice to be whichever ‘me’ I need to for whatever situation I’m in.”

“Well, we could try to avoid situations like this one,” Lisa said. “I’m not unhappy with the idea of keeping you out of danger.”

“I wouldn’t be either, if I thought it was a viable option,” Tessa said.

“And that’s where I can’t argue can I?” Lisa said. “I mean, we can avoid doing stuff like taking on old random monsters we find – and we probably should – but this world isn’t built for safety.”

“Is it a bad sign that I’m happier to be in peril with you, than I can remember being at any time in the last year that I lived in safety?” Tessa said. “And that’s not just taking into account my Earthly life. Looking back at how Pillowcase spent the last year, I think being here with you is a hundred times better than what she had too.”

Lisa let a brief chuckle escape her lips.

“I can’t picture how that could be true. I believe you. Really. I just can’t…”

She turned and held her hand out, offering Tessa the last of the loot, a pair of matching gold rings, each enchanted to boost the wearer’s base magic rating.

“They’re a matched set,” Tessa said. She couldn’t see their stats directly, but the runes etched inside the bands were simple enough to parse.

“Yeah. I think they’re the rare drop from this encounter,” Lisa said.

“One for me and one for you then?” Tessa said.

“You’d be stronger with both,” Lisa said.

“No, I think this is the strongest choice I can make,” Tessa said, and slid one of the rings onto Lisa’s ring finger. “We tackle things together, right?”

“You and me, till the last boss falls,” Lisa said, replicating Tessa’s gesture.

“And then we do it all over again,” Tessa said, kissing Lisa lightly on the tip of her nose. Before Lisa could disagree, Tessa pulled her back up the stairs and into the bright, midday sun.

“We know there are two [Heart Fires] in town,” Lisa said. “Which one were you thinking of using?”

“You’re onboard with me trying?” Tessa asked.

“I have some reservations, but it is an interesting idea, and you’ve probably got the best chance of any of us of pulling it off,” Lisa said. “It might even level you up in [Void Speaker].”

“Huh, I hadn’t thought of that,” Tessa said. “Can you see what level I’m at now? I thought I heard the level up announcement message when I [Fractured] the Worm but we were still kind busy so I missed the rest of what it said.”

“From what I can see, you’re a level 9 [Void Speaker] now,” Lisa said. “Which is pretty amazing because you were level 7 when we went in there.”

“That seems odd,” Tessa said. “I didn’t put the numbers together before, but the level gap between me and the [Miser Wyrm] should have meant that my [Minor Death Bolts] did basically nothing to it. What level are you up to now?”

“I’m level 15 now,” Lisa said. “Close to 16 in fact. Around 15.9 or so. Up from the beginning of 14 before that fight.”

“We were definitely too low to handle that,” Tessa said. “Weren’t we?”

“Apparently not,” Lisa said. “Your attacks took it down fair and square. There didn’t seem to be any special mechanics there. Apart from what you did with the [Fracture], but you attacked before you [Fractured] it and those attacks hit as hard as your later ones.”

“Are my [Void Speaker] levels stacking with my [Soul Knight] ones?” Tessa asked.

“I don’t think so,” Lisa said. “Your health total is right for a 9th level caster.”

“Maybe the level disparity is calculated off the highest level I have?” Tessa said, though it was more Pillowcase’s observation.

“Pillowcase is level 13, right?” Lisa asked.

“The last I could see her stats, yeah,” Tessa said. “Could [Soul Knight] be leveling up too?”

“That would sort of explain things,” Lisa said. “You hit that thing with about two dozen attacks. A level 22 tank would have taken less than half that to take the Worm down and that’s with a tank’s weak dps. Adjust that for a 9 level difference from 22 to 13, add in that most jobs do more damage than tanks, so [Void Speaker] probably hits harder than [Soul Knight] and maybe you were hitting at Pillowcase’s level but my gut feeling is that few levels beyond 13 would be more believable.”

“That’s good news if so,” Tessa said. “It still wouldn’t put me in Obby’s league, but if we run with a full team of eight, having Obby as main tank, and me as the off-tank won’t be a bad setup.”

“That’s assuming you can pull off this whole magical girl transformation thing,” Lisa said. “And I notice you’re not leading us back to the [Great Hall]?”

“It occurred to me that messing with a [Heart Fire] might have some odd side effects,” Tessa said. “Since our fellow [Adventurers] are all out getting in their own piles of trouble at the moment, something tells me the [Heart Fire] at the [Great Hall] may be seeing some use today.”

“I wish that wasn’t so horribly predictable,” Lisa said.

“As terrible as this sounds, this probably isn’t a bad time for people to die off by the bushel,” Tessa said. 

“Sadly true,” Lisa said. “We’re getting settled in here still. Any trouble that people run into that kills someone will be taken more seriously by everyone else.”

“And there hasn’t been a lot of dying here lately, and there has been a lot of fighting basically everywhere else, so hopefully that means the [Hounds of Fate] are all busy out there somewhere and people can learn the routes for their death runs now rather than figuring it out if and when the Consortium shows up and we have bodies stacking up like cordwood.”

“I take it you’ve been watching for the quickest paths back to the [Great Hall] for our inevitable death runs?” Lisa asked.

“Yep. Same as you, right?”

“I’ve been trying to scope out when it’ll be faster to go to the chapel on this side of the river too,” Lisa said.

“It is so nice doing this with someone who’s got a clue,” Tessa said. “Seriously I would have paid buckets of gold to bribe you into our guild back in the day.”

“That’s a really interesting idea,” Lisa said, slowing to a stop in the middle of the road as she mulled over whatever it was that had occurred to her.

“You’re still worth the buckets of gold, but I have to admit that even Glimmerglass isn’t that loaded these days,” Tessa said. “Or at least I think she isn’t? I was pretty tapped out when I stopped playing. Maybe she’s been doing side projects on her own since then though?”

“What? No. I don’t want you to pay me,” Lisa said. “I meant the guild.”

“Glimmerglass should still be an officer in my old guild but from what BT said, she’s probably the only one still in it. And you’ve already got a guild don’t you? With Cease All and those folks?”

“That’s on my other alts,” Lisa said. “I never got a guild invite for Lost Alice. Which means I’m perfectly free to start a new guild. Here. With you.”

“You would want to do that?” Tessa asked, barely able to parse the idea.

When she’d last played her guild had meant everything to her. They’d been the support she hadn’t had anywhere else. When that guild had fallen apart, the loss had broken something in her. Part of her wanted more than anything to forge a replacement for what she’d had, but was terrified to try.

“I would, if you would?” Lisa asked. “I mean, we don’t have to. We won’t have a guild bank or anything here, and running a guild can be a huge hassle, and…”

“And I would love to be part of one with you,” Tessa said, her doubts pushed aside by certainty that together she and Lisa could do better than recreate Glimmerglass’s old guild.

“We’ll have to decide a lot of things before we officially register,” Lisa said. “Like who we’ll allow in, and what we’ll kick them out for.”

“And a name,” Tessa said.

“That’s always the hard part. So many of the good ones are already taken.”

“Can you check to see if something’s taken before we try to register it?” Tessa asked.

“Sure.”

“Then how about…”

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 12

It’s funny how grudges can live on. Objectively, Tessa knew that being angry about something that had happened to her almost twelve years ago was just silly. If anything, she wasn’t even the one who should have been upset. The right plan would have been to call Glimmerglass over so she could have the revenge she’d been so long denied.

But Glimmerglass was Tessa. It was harder to remember that when they were walking around in separate bodies with, at least temporarily, independent memories. Tessa had been there as much as Glimmerglass had though through the years of monster encounters and dungeon raids. They’d been through all the ups and downs, and it had been one persona, one set of intentions that had pushed them through the challenges they’d overcome. 

Tessa had never been fully wed to either a first or third person viewpoint when talking about Glimmerglass. She’d been as likely to say “I picked up an incredible new staff in the dungeon that me and the guild beat last night” as she was to say “Yeah, Glimmerglass wants to get some revenge on those Dire Wraiths that wrecked her armor.”

“You know, I should probably be scared of taking this things on,” she said as she and Lisa marched back to the storm cellar door. “I should be, but I‘m not.”

“Same here,” Lisa said. “I don’t think Misery Worms even have blood and I’m still getting this borderline bloodlust at the idea of ripping one apart.”

“Pillowcase and Lost Alice are up for a throw down I guess?” Tessa said. She hadn’t meant it as a serious explanation but it raised serious questions nonetheless.

“Yeah. That could be.” Lisa seemed to be pondering the idea with the same gravity Tessa was.

Tessa still thought of herself primarily as Tessa. But ‘Tessa’ had been a cubicle dwelling, wage slave, with a messy apartment, and an aversion of socializing outside of silly elf games.

Hadn’t she?

If someone had made the claim a week earlier, she would have been forced to agree with them. She would have too easily admitted that the description more or less captured the sum total of who she was.

Except it didn’t. Certainly not anymore, and, the more she looked at it, not then either.

The facts of her life were like a candle trying to illuminate an entire theater. They not only showed just a single side of her, they couldn’t even reveal very much about that.

“I was stitched for confidence,” Pillowcase said. “I was trained with a purpose, and when I was abandoned, that purpose wasn’t lost. I found it again by choosing it for myself.”

“That doesn’t sound like something I could have done on Earth though,” Tessa continued to herself.

“Maybe not,” Pillowcase said. “Not with the support you hadn’t been given. But what you’ve done doesn’t define all that you can do. Our lives led us to build different strengths, but the capacity to be you is just as much in me as the other way round.”

“And now that we’re together?” Tessa asked, feeling a space open inside her. 

She wasn’t the woman she knew herself to be. Not anymore. She wasn’t ‘Tessa’ as she’d understood ‘Tessa’ to be. But then she never really had been. The ‘Tessa’ she’d known was always an incomplete sketch of herself because she’d never had a wide enough the perspective to view all that she could be.

And she still didn’t. Two candles showed her more of the theater of her mind, but she could see from their light how much vaster the space was. How much more she could be. If she needed to be. If she chose to be.

“Let’s do this,” she said, a familiar resolve rising her heart.

“You and me and her and the other one?” Lisa said, apparently having had a similar conversation within herself.

“All of us,” Tessa said.

“I like being crazy with you,” Lisa said.

Tessa didn’t fight her urge. She threw an arm around Lisa’s waist and pulled her in close for a quick kiss.

“Time to have some fun,” she said.

In theory they should have had a plan. They could have laid clever traps. They could have used a variety of ruses to get the [Miser Wyrm] to leave the safety of its lair. They could have simply had a sensible marching order.

Instead Tessa hit the cellar door with both feet after a running long jump and smashed through the rotten wood.

“[Counter Death],” Lisa called, wrapping Tessa in a shell of protective magic.

Tessa’s human eyes were no match for Pillowcase’s nightsight adapted magical optics, but with the cellar door in a ruined heap at her feet there was plenty of daylight shining into the basement for Tessa to catch a glimpse of an undulating shape squirming along the far well.

“[Minor Death Bolt],” she said, though the invocation wasn’t strictly necessary.

A beam of purple twisting light flashed from the tip of her wand to the far wall, drinking in all of the light it passed by.

In the darkness, the shape writhed and screamed only to come bursting forth without warning or preamble.

The [Miser Wyrm] bore no resemblance to a dragon. There were no scales on its body, and it had no serpent or lizard-like features at all. It really was more properly named a Misery Worm, with a body that resembled an earth worm with a rather horrible fungus infection. A ten foot long earth worm, it was worth noting, with a maw that was filled with  serrated gold teeth which somehow lacked gold’s signature quality of being soft and malleable.

“Die! Death bolt!” Tessa screamed as the creature lunged at her. Her wand fired another stream of purple light but she made no assumption that it would stop the thing’s charge.

Before she could be slammed into the wall by the Misery Worm’s bulk or torn apart by its fangs, Lisa was there, diving through into the cellar, through Tessa and carrying them both out of the Worm’s path.

Misery Worms had strength and power but grace and dexterity were not exactly standard issue in their tool kit. Fighting in a confined space came with some challenges for it as a result, the first being that without a body to smash into a wall, it only had its own face to break its momentum with. 

“[Minor Death Bolt],” Tessa said, rolling with Lisa’s tackle and bringing them both back to their feet.

The purple bolts were having an effect on the Worm, Tessa could see smoke rising from it and splatters of gore on the floor where it had passed. What she couldn’t see though was it’s health bar, so unlike when she was graced with Pillowcase’s vision, she had no idea how effective the bolts were.

Smashing itself into a wall had stunned the Worm for a moment but it’s misery wasn’t the kind that ended easily. It’s next charge was slower and more controlled. Tessa blasted it again, punishing it for its caution, but the creature only roared in anger and surged forward to close the distance.

“[Fracture],” Tessa said, meeting the [Miser Wyrm] with her free hand.

What she’d pictured was breaking the Worm into separate piles of its component organs. 

What she got was something different.

The ten foot long body of the Worm smashed her into the ground, it’s fangs burying themselves into her armor but failing to puncture her.

That was entirely thanks to the quality of the defensive spells woven into the fabric, something Tessa had forgotten she could rely on.

The [Fracture] wasn’t without effect though. From the back of the [Miser Wyrm] an unformed blob of protoplasm splattered outward and began screaming.

“mine! Mine! MINE!” It’s wails were an approximation of human speech more than words but the meaning was crystal clear. It was mad to drink a cocktail of all of the wealth it could gather and all the lives it could steal. That was what kept it tethered to the world, and was both its power and its punishment.

Unfortunately for Tessa, acting on that was impractical since the body of the Misery Worm was still intent on tearing her to pieces. It’s thrashing and chomping was mindless but, when it’s prey was pinned beneath it, great tactical genius wasn’t required to land devastating attacks.

Tessa felt something go very wrong in her shoulder and her ribs begin to do things which held the promise of fatal results if the force on her continued.

Lisa had other ideas about that though. 

“Get off her!” Lost Alice growled and punted the Worm’s body a good ten feet away before beginning her spell. “[Casting spell: Lesser Blood Channel]”

“MIIIiinNNnEEE,” the protoplasm screamed, focusing on the two women in front of it and shooting ghostly tendrils at them.

“[Minor Death Bolt],” Tessa gasped out sending the purple blast towards the Worm’s ghost essence.

Normal ghosts are formed from necrotic energy, so Tessa wasn’t sure  the bolt would do anything, but was pleasantly surprised to see it blossom into a small explosion on contact with the protoplasm, blasting the monster back and evaporating the tentacles it had manifested.

The healing spell banished Tessa’s pain quickly enough that she was able to rise and throw out another bolt at the protoplasm before the monster lit up with an unearthly crimson light and belched fire at the two of them.

“[Knight’s Devotion],” Tessa said, letting Pillowcase channel one her skills.

It wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences to burn in (admittedly weak) hellfire while being healed, but it did give her exactly what she needed, filling the well [Knight’s Devotion] drew from so she could stop trying to dodge the flames..

Surrounded by a shield stronger than plate steel, she stepped into the continuous gout of fire, rammed her wand into the mouth the [Demonic Spirit] had formed and unleashed a volley of bolts as fast as she could fire.

The Spirit didn’t try to retreat, it only extended even more pseudopods which grasped at her, striving against the explosions to tear away the coins it sensed her carrying.

Tessa didn’t care about her gold though. Her entire focus became killing the damned thing in front of her. 

In the end, when it died, so too did the Worm body, both sizzling away in green fire as they were dragged, for a time, back to the nether realm they’d crawled out of. They’d be back – killing [Demonic Spirits] permanently was incredibly difficult, but that was a problem for some future [Adventurers].

In the wake of the battle, Tessa swayed on her feet and the flopped down onto her butt.

“Okay. That could have gone worse I guess,” she said, waiting to catch her breath.

“Next time, we should probably not try to surprise the monster that’s clearly waiting to ambush us,” Lisa said, collapsing beside her.

“What level was that thing by the way?” Tessa asked.

“Twenty two,” Lisa said.

“Wait, seriously? That’s a lot higher than we should have tangled with!”

“I will admit I was a little worried when I saw how strong it was,” Lisa said. “I think it was probably designed for a solo encounter though, so with two of us we had a better time of it. Also whatever your [Fracture] did seemed to work out really well.”

“Wasn’t what I’d planned, but we got the win, and that’s just fantastic in my book at the moment,” Tessa said, her heart slowing down to where it was pushing the blood through her system as something less than super sonic speeds.

“We got some treasure over there,” Lisa said, gesturing to a small pile that had been left behind in the ashes of the Worm’s body.

“Want to bet we can’t equip it yet?” Tessa said.

“No bet. It’s probably level 22 stuff like the Worm was.”

Despite the lure of the treasure, they sat there together for a long minute, gathering their senses as they quietly enjoyed the reassurance of the other’s presence.

“This is who we are now, isn’t it?” Tessa asked, not unhappy with the concept, but rather turning it over in her mind to regard it from all the angles she could find.

“It’s a part of us,” Lisa said. “For now. I’ve given up trying to guess what the future’s going to throw at us.”

“That seems smart,” Tessa said. “But I’m willing to bet we run into this kind of thing again. Not another Misery Worm, but more fights for sure, and probably more with just the two of us.”

“You’re probably right,” Lisa said. “We still need to get stronger, and I don’t think either of us wants to drag the kids into the worst things this world has to offer.”

“Definitely not,” Tessa said. “But I do want to be able to be what you need.”

She felt the softest of kisses on her neck, followed by a peck on her earlobe as Lisa whispered, “You already are. Believe me.”

Tessa couldn’t help but chuckle nervously. Accepting compliments was hard.

“Thank you,” she said. “But I was thinking in a more mechanical sense.”

“Mechanical?” Lisa asked.

“As in game mechanics,” Tessa said. “I want to be a real tank for you again.”

“How?” Lisa asked.

“I think I can get Pillowcase back.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 11

Fight or flight are not the only options when a predator surprises someone. Most people don’t consider ‘freeze’ as a particularly heroic or valuable response but the fact that many species retain it after millions of years of evolution testifies that it’s more useful than it may appear.

“What?” Lisa asked silently on their private channel.

Tessa wasn’t terrified. She wasn’t frozen mentally. She had simply halted and become a statue. In the darkness at the bottom of the stairs to the cellar, the flaming eyes closed and Tessa saw the shadows part.

“Something’s down there,” she said.

“Aggro’d?” Lisa asked.

“If it’s aggressive, yep.”

Lisa stepped in front of Tessa and peered into the cellar.

“It moved,” Tessa said. “Had burning eyes.”

“Threat level?” Lisa asked.

“Can’t tell,” Tessa said. “Stupid human eyes.”

The clipped conversation felt natural under the circumstances to Tessa. She was used to the days when voice chat wasn’t prevalent and intra-party communication had been done via typed chat messages. In the middle of a encounter long messages were both impossible to type and impractical to read. Technically they weren’t limited like that with their telepathic communications but each of them seemed to understand the need to limit the cognitive load of processing speech when a monster might spring out at them at any moment.

“Back up?” Lisa asked.

“Could blast it?” Tessa said, gesturing with her new wand.

It turned out [Void Speakers] were enough of a [Caster Class] that she was able to make us of some of the general [Mage] style weapons. 

Back when he was still a [Slime], Ashad had abandoned them when the first of the (then) [Formless Hunger’s] zombies had shown up. Tessa had been busy with enough things at that point that she hadn’t paid it any mind. As a [Slime], Ashad hadn’t exactly been a major tactical asset so his absence wasn’t particularly concerning.

What he’d been doing, it turned out, was bouncing off to acquire a suitable weapon for her. Being armed with a [Wand of Minor Death Bolts] wouldn’t have made a real difference against the zombies, but in the present circumstances, Tessa was rather glad to have it. Despite their name [Minor Death Bolts] packed a nice punch for things at her level.

That it was an open question of whether the thing in the shadows was even close to her level was something she was trying not to consider too strongly.

“Better not start shooting yet,” Lisa said. “Just because it looks scary doesn’t mean it’s kill on sight.”

“Right,” Tessa said, pointing the wand down at the ground rather that towards the cellar.

Fighting was a lot harder when she needed to care about who and what she was about to inflict violence on. Even the idea of turning to deadly force still made her head reel a bit, but she’d done it already, both as Pillowcase and as herself and it seemed to be getting easier each time.

“It’s supposed to,” Pillowcase said. “And we know that’s not good. We’ll just have to watch ourselves as best we can. And trust Lisa to help us there too.”

It wasn’t a perfect pep talk for herself but it kept her going.

“Let’s back up and see if it follows us,” Lisa said. She had her own staff out and seemed as ready to initiate mayhem as Tessa was.

“Plus side if it does, we might be the first to find some treasure here?” Tessa said.

“Or it will,” Lisa said. It was a serious concern, but her tone was openly amused.

Tessa found her heart lighten in response.

They were probably in danger. 

But they were [Adventurers].

They had this.

Together, they backed away a half dozen paces. Enough that they’d have time to react if the creature (or creatures, there could always be more than one, a fact each had encountered countless times before) came springing from the cellar-turned-lair.

“Did you hear that?” Lisa asked.

“No,” Tessa said, cursing her stupid human ears too.

“Cool,” Lisa said. “I kinda love Alice’s senses.”

Because of course [Vampires] could hear better than [Humans]. The lore had made a big deal about all the special perks [Vampires] got, but that rarely translated into any actual benefit in the game. Had they been sitting at their monitors, Tessa knew they either both would have heard the game sounds or neither of them would have. The real version of the [Fallen Kingdoms] didn’t seem to be quite so homogenous though.

“What was it?” Tessa asked.

“It sounded like a frustrated growl,” Lisa said. “Might have been human? Hard to tell from a growl though.”

“A human with flaming eyes?” Tessa asked.

“Here? Sure. There’s like half a dozen spells that have that as a special effect, not to mention all the cheesy vanity gear,” Lisa said.

“Eh, fair point,” Tessa said and then had an idea. “Does it smell like a human down there?”

“Can’t tell,” Lisa said. “All I smell at the moment is you – and you smell lovely before you ask.”

“I haven’t bathed in like two days though?” Tessa said.

“Perk of being an [Adventurer] I guess?” Lisa said. “I mean your hair looks fine too.”

Tessa ran her free hand through her hair and noticed it wasn’t greasy or itchy or splattered with blood or monster bits like it probably should have been.

“Huh, that’s unexpectedly nice. If we ever run into a developer here remind me to give them a tip for that one,” Tessa said.

“I think we kinda did,” Lisa said. “Isn’t that what the [Lord of Storms] was?”

“Oh yeah, probably, or at least the part of them from this world,” Tessa said and wondered if she could manage to meet anymore of the old gods. As a [Void Speaker] she might be able to do some useful things with them.

“Something moved down there,” Lisa said. “It went ‘clink’ and ‘clatter’ though. Like metal hitting the ground?”

“Let’s take another look,” Tessa said and waited for Lisa’s nod before proceeding forward.

She didn’t have any proper stealth abilities but as a caster who wasn’t decked out in heavy armor, she didn’t make much of a racket either.

Peering over the edge of the door frame, she saw a bit more of the cellar was visible. Apparently the creature’s body had been some of the shadows she’d seen and it had moved off to wait somewhere else.

Move away and left behind a pile of gold.

“Wow, that’s definitely not a trap,” she said, still privately but the temptation to taunt the mob for its obviousness was profound.

“That’s like [Adventurer] Bait 101,” Lisa said.

“We’re totally going to go down there to get it though, aren’t we?” Tessa asked.

“I’m mean, it’d be rude to turn down free money like that right?” Lisa said.

“Why would it want to lure [Adventurers] in though?” Tessa said. “That’s not a brilliant idea usually, and if it’s smart enough to set out bait, it’s at least somewhat intelligent.”

“Can’t say until we know what it is,” Lisa said. “Could just want to eat us. That’s reasonably common.”

“Hmm, you know, before we fall into its trap – and I’m not suggesting we pass that bit of fun up entirely – why don’t we check out what this place is, or was? That might give us a clue about what we’re dealing with.”

“You know ‘smart’ is just such a sexy quality,” Lisa said, running her hand tantalizingly up Tessa’s back.

“Let’s see if I’m even vaguely right,” Tessa said with a laugh. “The whole place could be either empty or something like a mattress factory which would tell us basically nothing.”

“It might be a demonic goose come to get revenge for it’s feathers being used in mattress pads?” Lisa said “It growled again as a note.”

“Perfect,” Tessa said. “If we’re lucky it’ll get impatient and try to eat us out here.”

“Death at high noon by demon goose, you know that doesn’t even sound that out there compared to the stuff the devs usually come up with,” Lisa said, stepping away from the cellar once more.

“I’m going to be so disappointed if its not a demon goose at this point,” Tessa said. “I think the front door’s on the next lane over. Want to cut over to there and see what the facade looks like before we head in?”

“Sure, as long as we’re pretty quiet I think I’ll be able to hear if the critter comes out of the cellar.”

Tessa wondered for a moment what the limits of [Vampire Hearing] were. Could Lisa act as a lie detector by listening to people’s heart beats? Could she echo locate and fight blind if they were in a totally lightless environment? 

Had she been able to hear all along how she made Tessa’s pulse quicken!

She was distracted from those thoughts by the large, and mostly intact, sign which was bolted over the main entrance to the building the creature lived under.

“Bank and Mercantile Exchange?” Lisa said. “I was expecting it to be a butcher shop or a chapter house for some random god.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure what kind of mob an abandoned bank would have in it…” She stretched the last word out as a terrible idea occurred to her.

“What are you…oh, no. You’ve gotten be kidding,” Lisa said.

“Yeah, they wouldn’t have put one of those things in here would they?” Tessa said. “I mean the devs aren’t…”

She couldn’t finish her sentence.

Lisa was groaning beside her.

The devs absolutely were that cruel.

“A Misery Worm?” Lisa said. “Seriously?”

Tessa wanted to protest but the developers of [Broken Horizons] were terribly predictable sometimes and since the real version seemed to follow their blueprint to an implausible degree, it pretty much had to be a Misery Worm.

Technically the creatures were named [Miser Wyrms], but the fan name had caught on for more readily than their official one.

It helped in part that Misery Worms weren’t relatives of [Dragons] at all, despite sharing a few similar qualities, so the “Wyrm” part of their official name was misleading.

Where [Dragons] and [Wyrms] horded treasure for a variety of reasons, [Miser Wyrms] gathered wealth because it was their only reason for existing.

Created from the spirits of dead mortals, [Miser Wyrms] were a type of demonic entity. They arose from lost souls who’d had more wealth than they needed in life and striven to gain ever more, without a care or consideration for the suffering they caused or overlooked.

It was unclear whether the dead misers were being punished for their greed or whether their greed had become a thing unto itself which outlasted their mortal lifespan.

“Why did the devs ever make those stupid things,” Tessa said, memories of infuriating encounters with earlier [Miser Wyrms] flooding back into her mind.

“It was supposed to be a joke,” Lisa said. “They were going to unleash them on April Fool’s Day, but then the game economy blew up with all the extra people playing and creating a ton of gold so their bright idea was to make a monster that punched you in your gold reserves in addition to your hp.”

“Oh god. I hated those things so much!” Tessa said. “I still remember running into one for the first time. It must have been about two weeks after I started playing and I’d finally gotten enough money together for a new staff that was on the auction house.”

“I know exactly where this is going,” Lisa said.

“No wait, it gets better!” Tessa said. “I was going back to the city and I saw another player who’d set themselves up as a traveling salesman. I figured I’d just peek at his inventory and guess what he had?”

“You hadn’t checked the area had you?” Lisa said.

“I’d been playing for two weeks! I figured if he was there, it had to be safe right?”

“How many Misery Worms were nearby?” Lisa asked.

“Just the one. That’s all it took. I went to buy the staff and before I could hit ‘Ok’ to confirm there was this disgusting centipede thing chewing on my character and eating all my gold!” 

“What did the other guy do?” Lisa asked.

“Nothing! He was AFK, or just laughing his ass off at me,” Tessa said. “I didn’t even manage to kill the thing. They still had that stupid flee timer. So it gobbled up all my gold and then ran off faster than I could catch it. I was broke and my gear was still horribly out of date because I hadn’t been buying anything so I could save up for that staff.”

“For what it’s worth, you’re far from alone. I know about a dozen people that went bankrupt from those things,” Lisa said. “And it was so stupid. All the rich players were high enough level and powerful enough that they didn’t have to worry about getting attacked. So the only people the worms feed on were the ones who were new or broke for some other reason.”

“I can’t believe they would put one back in the game though?” Tessa said. “The beta testers said nothing about that.”

“They did change them later on,” Lisa said. “Once the devs put in other, less rage inducing gold sinks, they patched the Worms so that they stopped stealing gold and just did more damage based on how much gold you had.”

“You know, the funny thing is, I don’t have all the much gold now,” Tessa said.

“So you’re thinking we go kill the hell out of that thing?” Lisa asked.

“That is exactly what I’m thinking. I want to lay that things corpse at Glimmerglass’s feet as an apology twelve years in the making.”

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 10

In the daylight, [Dragonshire] hid its particular brand of menace surprisingly well. Tessa wasn’t fooled by the pleasant, peaceful vista before her, but she did appreciate it. It was relaxing to at least pretend she was in a lovely environment, enjoying a lovely day, with the woman she…

“How much trouble do you think the others are going to get into?” Tessa asked, soaking in the joy of entwining her fingers with Lisa’s. 

Lost Alice’s flesh was usually slightly chilled to Tessa’s touch. Usually but not always, and even when it was, there was something refreshing and electric about the contact. Not that the reason was necessarily a great mystery. It had been months since Tessa’d broken up with Crystal. Or since Crystal had broken up with her (Tessa had to admit that the latter was the more accurate retelling of events). Months that she’d been on her own, slogging back and forth to work, and growing far more touch starved than she’d been aware.

A worried thought passed through Tessa’s mind that Lisa might not be in quite the same place, but the firmness with which she grasped Tessa’s hand chased that idea away immediately.

“The kids have Obby to look after them,” Lisa said. “So they’ll definitely be getting into trouble, but probably nothing that they need to be bailed out of.”

“Midnight and Starchild seem reasonably sensible, so we probably won’t need to worry about them either I guess,” Tessa said. 

“We could say the same about Kamie and her team since they managed to level and survive on their own just fine in the [High Beyond],” Lisa said.

“And the other [Adventurers],” Tessa said. “But we’d be wrong.”

“Completely wrong.” Lisa nodded and the mirthful sparkle in her red eyes mirrored the one in Tessa’s.

“We’re all going to die aren’t we?” Tessa said, swinging their clasped hands in a carefree rhythm which Lisa allowed.

“Several times,” Lisa said. “We should get a dead pool going.”

“First [Adventurer] to bite it?”

“And the first team to wipe completely. No. Wait. That’s a bad idea,” Lisa said, shaking her head.

“It would totally turn into a contest wouldn’t it. Who can die of the stupidest cause first.” Tessa guided them across the river, jumping in time with Lisa to clear the five foot gap of the broken bridge. 

She wasn’t athletic. Or she hadn’t been athletic before. [Adventurer] Tessa though could do a casual five foot long jump without thinking about it or quickening her stride at all. The likelihood that she was going to be brutal killed, several time, sucked. The rest of being an [Adventurer] though? It wasn’t too bad, it turned out.

“So did our common sense not make it over from Earth with us?” Lisa asked.

“I mean, that’s just them right? We’re not going to fall into any silly traps or go poking our noses where they clearly don’t belong,” Tessa said before a broken storm cellar door on one of the houses at the end of the lane they were walking down caught her attention. “Oh! We should go in there!”

Lisa pulled up short and searched Tessa’s face with a bemused expression on her own.

“Okay. You’re joking. I can see that. The smile lines around those cute eyes are dead giveaway,” Lisa said. 

“Aww, you think my eyes are cute!” Tessa said and gave Lisa a much too quick peck on the lips before moving to nibble on her earlobe and whisper, “But you know I kinda want to go in there for real too right?”

“You’re incorrigible,” Lisa said, sighing with her eyes closed. “And a bad influence.”

“Yay! That means we’re going!” Tessa said, drawing back to try to read Lisa’s expression.

“Yes. And did you notice the important part of what you just said?” Lisa asked.

“The ‘we’ part right?” Tessa said.

“Exactly,” Lisa said. “I don’t mind taking chances – reasonable chances – as long as they’re with you.”

“I’m not going to leave you behind again,” Tessa said and fought back to the urge to add ‘I’m not going to leave you ever.’ 

Her crush being reciprocated had left her falling hard. She knew she was basically drunk on a love cocktail at the moment, and her rational side wasn’t putting the brakes on it at all because she was loving each of the sides that she saw of Lisa and Lost Alice. That was fine, delightful even, but the voice of experience told her that extravagant promises or gestures weren’t really needed in building a relationship.

All she needed to do was give Lisa the truth. About who she was. How she felt. What she wanted. She knew the rest would sort itself out, even if it wasn’t always easy to believe that, or live up to what she knew.

“It’s…it’s okay if you do,” Lisa said, her hand changing from a pleasant chill to a deeper cold. “I…it’s okay if you need to leave sometimes. I get it.”

The pain that had bubbled up beneath the Lisa’s facade was still easy for Tessa to make out. And she had a fair guess as to its source.

“Hey, if I need to leave, you’ll know why,” Tessa said. “I can promise you that at least right?”

“Yeah,” Lisa said, with a nod.

But she wasn’t convinced.

Because of her ex-girlfriend.

Tessa wanted to smack the woman for hurting Lisa like she had, despite (or perhaps because of) Lisa’s protestations that their breakup had been her fault.

“Thanks for trusting me,” Tessa said, and gave Lisa’s hand an affirming squeeze.

“What?” Lisa asked, confusion nudging remembered sadness to the side a bit.

“You didn’t have to say that you liked me,” Tessa said. “Thanks for trusting me enough to let me in. I know we basically met by accident, so our chances of being right for each other were probably dismal, but I glad you were willing to give me a chance. I just hope I don’t mess it up.”

Lisa blinked a few times and then ducked her head. When she looked up it was with a soft chuckle on her lips.

“If you keep talking like that, I’m liable to take you back to that tea shop and just ravish you, you know,” Lisa said.

“I mean, I’m not exactly opposed to that, like, at all,” Tessa said. “But we would miss out on some potential loot?”

She gestured with a nod of her head towards the storm cellar door.

“Ooo, fantastic sex or new loot? This really shouldn’t be such a hard choice should it?” Lisa said, light humor returning to her tone.

“There’s always fantastic sex to celebrate new loot?” Tessa said.

“Loot which can buy some better accommodations than a bedroll and an empty tea shop floor? I like this plan,” Lisa said.

“Speaking of plans,” Tessa said. “Should we have one? For the cellar I mean.”

“I think it starts with ‘peek inside and see what’s down there’,“ Lisa said. “No sense working up strategies before we know what we’re dealing with.”

“At least we won’t have to do a mapping run on a cellar,” Tessa said.

“You did those too?” Lisa said.

“All the time.”

“And, let me guess, you put all the data together and formed a plan around it for your group because no one else could be bothered to right?”

“Yep. All the time.”

“And then, when you tried to present the plan, everyone would argue over it and come up with their own ideas based on superstitions and guesswork?”

“Are you sure we didn’t have the same parties?” Tessa asked. “But no. That’s not possible. I’ve seen your plans. They’re sensible. They’re based on observations and reason. Or in other words they don’t even vaguely resemble the plans my guild would cook up.”

“Even BT? She seemed like she had a clue,” Lisa asked.

“She was the worst!” Tessa said. “Okay, not the worst. The worst were the guys who felt the need to contradict everything I said no matter what evidence I had to support what I was saying. BT was just terrible because she seemed to think I had the power to heal us through anything and that insane risks were the only risks worth taking.”

“Oh dear,” Lisa said, sarcasm dripping from every word. “I can’t imagine what partying with someone like would be like.”

“Oh ha ha,” Tessa said, and pulled Lisa closer.

“To be fair though, I know exactly what you mean. Patience in team members was rarer than legendary drops from the first day I started playing.” Lisa said.

“What was it like then? What got you into [Broken Horizons] to begin with?”

“Niminay,” Lisa said. “I’d been reading fantasy books for a few years at that point. I got into them because I was into faeries big time as a kid for a while. Then I saw a game, a fantasy game, with this beautiful girl on the cover and on the back they had screen shots of the characters you could play and there were girls there too. It was like the books I was reading but for me.”

Tessa laughed as they walked down the lane towards the storm cellar.

“I remember reading so many articles on that,” she said. “No one expected [Broken Horizons] to take off like it did and everyone was wondering how it was possible. I think it was, what, like a year into the game’s release that EE published the first census and people discovered that ‘oh my god, girls really play this too!’. It was like the idea was unheard of at the time.”

“Yeah, I loved the people that tried to concocted crazy ideas about how it was all based on how romanceable the game characters were. Like if girls were playing it, it had to be because we were swooning over someone.”

“Well sure. Everyone knows that girls only want to find a man, right? We couldn’t possibly be as interested in adventure and camaraderie and overcoming challenges as a boy would be.”

“I used to feel bad about maining a healer for that,” Lisa said. “People pegged it as being the ‘girly’ role for some reason.”

“I worried about that too for a bit, but Glimmerglass is a badass. And, really, half the reason she wound up as my main was that no one else was willing to play a damn healer!”

“Or was even halfway capable at it,” Lisa said. “I tried to let other people do the job, but I would nearly put my head through monitor when they let the rest of us die.”

“Yes! It was like, even on a melee character, I’d still carry healing potions to chuck at people who were staying injured for too long!” Tessa said.

“I had a healer quit the team because, and I quote, ‘I wasn’t letting him do any healing’, and this was while I was on an [Elementalist]!” Lisa said.

“But potions have a longer cast time than any healing spell?” Tessa said. “What the heck was he doing?”

“I have no idea! He was standing in place, staring into the void of space, not moving, not talking in chat, and not casting anything, just letting the team die as we earned him xps and loot. It drove me absolutely nuts at the time, but I’m over it now. Mostly.”

“Is it considered lady-like to want to throttle people like that till the stupid’s been choked out of them?” Tessa asked.

“I think Miss Manners suggest a clean, quick kill,” Lisa said.

“I’ll keep that in mind if we ever run into the guy here,” Tessa said.

“Speaking of healing though,” Lisa said. “Let’s see if we can get away without needing any here if possible, okay?”

“I’m onboard for that,” Tessa said. “I think I can borrow some of Pillowcase’s skills if we need but I don’t think this body is as rugged as a [Clothwork] one is, even with my new levels.”

“Let’s not put it to the test,” Lisa said.

“Stealth it is,” Tessa said, as she peered into the dark recesses visible through the cracks in the storm cellar door.

And from the darkness below, two fiery eyes stared back at her.

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 9

Tessa wasn’t expecting an answer to her question. Part of her wondered if she’d thrown it out there just to see what kind of reaction she’d get. Another part though was quite serious about pitching herself back in a hellscape. She worried about that part, seeing a pattern in her behavior stretching back to well before she wound up in the [Fallen Kingdoms].

“You know, no one has ever asked us to drag them to the [Blood Fires],” Steelarm said. “I suppose we’d have to give it a try to discover how it would play out. Since I’m not sure why we weren’t able to drag any of your there last night, I wouldn’t suggest pining any hopes on it working tonight, but my troop and I are certainly willing to give it a try.”

“Come on now Steelarm, she wasn’t serious,” Daisywine said and searched the [Adventurers] around Tessa for backup on that assertion.

Tessa couldn’t fight the smirk that bubbled up onto her lips. Her party knew her too well at this point to mistake her for lacking sincerity.

“She’s not kidding?” Daisywine said as she saw the pained expressions on the faces before her.

“It’s not even the first time she’s done something like that,” Rip said.

“At least this time she’s didn’t jump in and then warn us,” Matt said.

“You’ve been to the [Blood Fires]?” Steelarm asked.

“Nope,” Tessa said. She’d heard of them, more info absorbed from reading about the Beta test, but since they’d been listed as a ‘future development zone’ she didn’t know much beyond their name and a brief description of the zone.

“Then why…?” Steelarm seemed as perplexed as Daisywine.

“We have some people who were injured before we escaped from the [High Beyond],” Lisa said, “We think the [Blood Fires] might be able to heal them, assuming it’s possible to get there and back without being burned to ash.”

“I don’t think the [Blood Fires] are intended to act as a healing spring,” Steelarm said.

“We don’t need the fires to restore wounds or injuries,” Lisa said. “We can manage that part on our own. What we’re expecting to have trouble with is a corruption in the wounds our people took.”

It was strange to think of the [Sky’s Edge] townfolk as ‘their people’, but Tessa couldn’t dent that it seemed to fit.

“We have some [Antidote] vials if you need them?” Daisywine said.

“This isn’t exactly a poison,” Tessa said. “Before we left the [High Beyond] we found a creature that was capable of converting people to mindless minions under its control. That’s part of why we all fled down here. Unfortunately some of  the townsfolk from [Sky’s Edge] were injured in the last battle we had with it.”

Tessa saw both Daisywine and Steelarm grow apprehensive at the news they were hearing. It wasn’t surprising in Daisywine’s case but seeing a ghost get worried made Tessa wonder if her frame of reference might have been knocked a little askew by her recent experiences.

“They’re not showing signs of zombification yet,” Lady Midnight said. “They’re also haven’t regained consciousness though and they have a couple of troubling status effects that we haven’t been able to dispel yet.”

“Are they a danger as they are?” Daisywine asked.

“There’s no sign of the status effects spreading, but we have people keeping an eye on them constantly to let us know if that changes,” Lady Midnight said. “They’re also quarantined. The status effects seem to be the result of the bites they received, but we’re isolating them for now as though it were an airborne contagion.”

“Do we have hazmat suits here?” Tessa asked.

“In this case we’d be using PPE’s back on Earth, but since we lack those, we’re using [Metal Mechanoids] instead,” Lady Midnight said.

“Oh, should I be helping out with that?” Matt said.

“No. We have enough people to cover all of the shifts already,” Lady Midnight said. “We need to keep the exposure rate as low as possible.”

“And delete the status effects before they transform into something much worse,” Tessa said.

“That does sound like a noble cause,” Steelarm said. “A word though on noble causes? Sometimes the price is a lot higher than you want it to be.”

Tessa considered how much of Steelarm’s personal experience that bit of wisdom carried. Being stuck as a ghost forever because she chose to do the right thing and defend a town seemed pretty unfair. 

Pretty unfair and great fodder for a quest to put right.

Not that they were at that point yet, but the idea settled into the back of Tessa’s mind for future review.

“It  sounds like the [Blood Fires] are something we won’t be able to pursue until tonight at the earliest,” Lisa said. “That means we might find another answer before then.”

“You sound like you’re okay with this?” Tessa asked Lisa on their private channel.

“I don’t mind you taking risks,” Lisa replied privately. “I just don’t want you taking them without me.”

“Don’t worry, I learned my lesson in the [Sunless Deeps],” Tessa said, struck once again by how lucky she was to have Lisa watching her back.

“I suppose we will see you tonight then,” Steelarm said and then shook her head. “It feels so odd to say that without the intent to menace someone.” With a shrug, she disappeared as noiselessly as she’d arrived.

“We should get back to work too,” Daisywine said. “Just wanted to stop by and say ‘hi’ to the newest citizens of [Dragonshire].”

“Thank you,” Starchild said. “I hadn’t thought of us like that yet.”

“If you need help with anything, let us know,” Lisa said. “[Adventurers] do a lot of work beyond monster-slaying and trouble shooting. We even have people who are decently skilled crafters.”

“Olwina was filling us in on all that,” Daisywine said. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty that needs doing in [Dragonshire], so I’m sure you’ll be hearing from us.”

With a few more general farewells, the contingent of [Dragonshire’s] residents departed back to the east side of the river, while the [Adventurers] wandered off into the  town or back into the [Great Hall], except for Tessa’s team who lingered outside the gate.

“That could have gone a lot worse,” Tessa said as she took stock of the town around them.

Broad daylight revealed a greater extent of the weathering and neglect the town suffered from, but it also showed signs of the life [Dragonshire] had once held.

Down the eastern side of the hill the [Great Hall] sat on, a small plaza remained, circled by a half dozen houses. Flowers of several varieties competed with each other to bloom to greater size and more vibrant color. 

Downstream from the wide bridge they crossed the night before, there was another, smaller bridge fifty or sixty feet away. It was in worse shape, with a three foot section missing at its midpoint, but the ornamental carvings on the side of the bridge and the posts where it was secured to the land were beautiful even from the distance Tessa stood at.

What most caught her eye though were the [Dragon Birds] that were playing in the sky and dashing into the river to snatch unwary fish. In place of scales, they had feathers in a kaleidoscope of colors and they moved with a grace that suggested pure weightlessness. Tessa was enthralled by them for a moment, drinking in the proof that there was wonder in the world as well as terror.

Some of her team however were still a bit spooked from their encounter at the gate.

“I almost shot that ghost when she showed up,” Rip said.

“Probably wouldn’t have done anything though, right?” Matt said.

“It might have,” Lisa said. “Steelarm had a health bar. That’s a sign that something can damage her.”

“Not me,” Rip said. “Or, I mean, I’m not going to be the one to shoot first and ask questions never.”

“That’s a good maxim to live by,” Lisa said, with a nod towards Tessa. It was a point they both agreed on as far as Rip and Matt were concerned.

In an ideal world, the two wouldn’t be anywhere close to a combat environment. That wasn’t an option in the [Fallen Kingdoms] but they could at least ensure neither Rip nor Matt had to make the choice to turn an encounter deadly.

“We should probably see what the rest of the town’s like,” Obby said waving to the hills which were dotted with buildings. “I’m not saying that it’d be good to know the layout in case we have to fight a giant battle here, but…”

“But given how things have been going that’s not exactly an unlikely event is it?” Tessa said.

“Between the Consortium, the [Hungry Shadows], the undead from the barrows, and whatever’s waiting in the forest, we’re sitting in the middle of a lot of crosshairs aren’t we?” Lady Midnight asked.

“I don’t think so,” Tessa said as a new idea took hold in her mind. “I know it’s tempting to think that there’s a whole world of problems lined up against us, but look at who we really are. In a word of demi-god [Adventurers], we’re swimming around at the bottom of the barrel. If the Consortium sends troops against us, it would have to be by accident, and the other [Adventurers] are drawing more than enough aggro to prevent that.”

“The [Hungry Shadows] were specifically after you though,” Rip said.

“It sent forces after me, but it had to have been focused on the Consortium forces up there too, otherwise it wouldn’t have had control of the soldiers it used as puppets,” Tessa said. “Plus, if it was worried about what I did to it, the fact that I ran away from the [High Beyond] to a place I can’t get back there from may make me seem like much less of a threat.”

“The undead and the forest dwellers haven’t been mass attacking the town yet either I suppose,” Lisa said. “They may get mad when we start messing with them, but it didn’t sound the like [Cursed Walkers] could formulate plans all that well?”

“Not according to the lore at least,” Tessa said. “If we see different then the lore’s wrong, but a mindless foe really shouldn’t be forming up in ranks against us.”

“So, are we really safe then?” Rip asked.

“Safe is probably too strong a word,” Tessa said. “We should still take care here. It is a different world, and there are definitely nasty things in it, but letting our paranoia run rampant could mess us up pretty bad too.”

“My suggestion then is that we take a walk,” Lisa said. “I know some of the other people are checking out the town, and if we split up we can check on them, or, maybe beat them to any of the treasures that were left behind when the town fell.”

“There are treasures here?” Rip asked, hopping off the short stone wall she’d perched herself on.

“It’s a ‘hybrid zone’, right?” Lisa said. “That means the devs had an open door for throwing in treasure chests, or mini-dungeons, or unique encounters. We just need to poke around and see if we can find any.”

“Why didn’t you lead with that!” Rip said, as she grabbed Matt’s hand and began pulling him off down the road to the south.

“Do we know where the [Heart Fire] is yet?” Tessa asked, suppressing the urge to run after the two kids.

“Yeah, there are two in town,” Obby said. “One’s in the basement of the [Great Hall]. The door was cobwebbed over but it’s open now.”

“And the other is in a chapel on the east side of town,” Starchild said. “It is quite easy to find. There’s a large aviary behind it where they are raising the [Dragon Birds].”

“We’ll be careful!” Rip said on the team channel since she’d already dragged Matt too far away for normal speech to carry.

“They are totally not going to be careful,” Lisa said, audibly for the rest of the team hear.

“Should we follow them?” Tessa asked.

“Nah, leave them to me,” Obby said. “If something comes up I’ll step in and give the rest of you a shout.”

“I’m guessing you’d like to get a closer look at the woods?” Lady Midnight asked Starchild.

“I was considering that, yes,” Starchild said and took Lady Midnight’s proffered hand, leaving Tessa and Lisa alone together once more.

“I think I love our new friends,” Lisa said, offering her hand to Tessa

“It seems almost anticlimactic at this point to tell them we’re…” Tessa stumbled for the right word. They hadn’t needed to put an official label on what their relationship had become when it was just the two of them.

“Together?” Lisa suggested.

“That works,” Tessa said, feeling like adding the word ‘forever’ would be a rather nice thing too. A saner bit of her knew it was still a trifle early to be thinking like that, but she couldn’t deny either how she felt or that it was a nice image to hold on to.

“Shall we go off and have our own adventure then?” Lisa asked.

“Get in trouble on purpose with you? Why I would like nothing better!” Tessa said. Anxiety tried to scream that she would regret those words, but for a change Tessa felt like she wasn’t smaller than her fears.

Bad things would come. Bad things already had. She could survive them though.

She was an [Adventurer].

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 8

The ‘neighbors’ didn’t turn out to a pitchfork wielding mob. Tessa was pleasantly surprised with that turn of events. That they were uniformly built like professional body builders possibly shouldn’t have been surprising, but it did scramble her thoughts a bit.

“That guy looks like he belongs in an anime,” Matt said in the team chat.

“And that lady looks like she could crush my head like a walnut with that biceps,” Lady Midnight said. 

“I kinda hate this place,” Lisa said. “I mean, there is no way there’s a gym within a hundred miles of here, and I will guarantee they are not eating the sort of diet that gives you ripped abs like that.”

“Gotta love magic right?” Obby said.

“Yeah, cause magic hard bodies never cause issues for the rest of us real people.” Tessa rolled her eyes and poked her abdomen. She knew she looked fine. Not exactly svelte, but she was fine with that. Most of the time. It was a teensy bit harder looking like a normal Earth woman when literally everyone else in the world had physiques designed by world renowned artists. 

Lisa traced a soft, wandering line down Tessa’s spine before wrapping her arm around Tessa’s waist. As silent gestures of support went, it was wonderfully reassuring. That it also revealed to anyone who was paying attention what had apparently been clear to everyone already was a nice extra.

“Who will we have speak for our group?” Starchild asked.

“Not me,” Obby said. “The last time I tried to lead a guild the results were…let’s just call them cataclysmic.”

“It should be Tessa,” Lady Midnight said. “She’s not a ‘regular human’ but she’s the closest we have to that among the [Adventurers].”

“I don’t think these people need a ‘regular human’ to relate to,” Tessa said. “Maybe if we had a Greek God or two to spare?”

“Let’s see what they’re like,” Lisa said. “Kamie said they wanted to meet all of us. Maybe we don’t need a leader.”

Tessa was glad for the reprieve, but she had a sense that it wouldn’t last.

“Ah, there they are! We thought the [Grand Hall] was still empty for minute there,” a woman who was easily seven feet tall said.

“Sorry there,” Tessa said, speaking first less because she had any interest in leading than because everyone else was somehow standing a half step behind her and she felt too self conscious to stay silent. “It seems like the [Great Hall] has a bit of dimensional weirdness going on in it still.”

Turning back she saw that the base layer for the [Great Hall] still looked empty, at least when viewed from outside the [Main Gate]. 

It occurred to her that the townsfolk were being rather polite. Waiting in front of the gate seemed somewhat unnecessary when the gate was more than half off it’s broken hinges and, to all appearances, an empty courtyard waited beyond it.

“It’s not the only place like that around here,” the giantess said. “You all really just sauntered in and setup shop in there though didn’t you?” It sounded like an admonishment until a smile broke across her face like tectonic plates parting and she added, “You all are just as wild as Olwina said you were. Incredible.”

“Yeah, [Adventurers] have some odd ideas about the sort of places we call [Home],” Tessa said, taking the giantess’s proffered handshake.

A part of her had expected to need a healing spell from Lisa once the handshake was done, but Daisywine, as the giantess introduced herself, was far gentler than her size and physique suggested.

Introductions were made between Tessa’s party and the dozen or so townsfolk who’d come with Daisywine. 

“There are other [Adventurer] parties inside too,” Tessa said. “As well as some other, less conventional, guests.”

“Like the [Vampires]?” Daisywine asked, nodding towards Lost Alice.

“They’re different than I am, but yes, we have a [Coterie] in residence, including a [Vampire Queen],” Lisa said.

“Probably no worse than the things that wander the hills at night,” Cowl, one of the townsfolk who seemed to be Daisywine’s second in command, said. His shrug was echoed by the other townsfolk. 

Tessa was baffled by their nonchalance until she consider exactly what sort of people would be inclined to move to a deserted town that was surrounded by the undead and a forest of evil mayhem.

“We have some of their people with similarly irregular backgrounds,” Tessa said.

“The other notable group is the [Shadowed Starstalkers],” Obby said.

“Never heard of those,” Cowl said.

“They’re living shadows who drain life energy from others to continue their unnatural existence,” Obby said.

“Huh. Do they like chicken?” Rivermoore, a townswoman who seemed to be a cook of some sort, said.

“Believe it or not, they prefer centipedes,” Obby said. “We went to the edge of the forest last night and they were practically salivating at getting to munch up the bugs in there.”

“Bugs?” Tessa asked.

“Eh, it kind of makes sense,” Lisa said. “In terms of biomass, insects have a lot more ‘life’ to offer than any sapient species could manage.”

“I’ve got a cellar or two I’d be more than happy to have them clean out then,” Daisywine said.

“They’ll be glad to hear that,” Obby said. “I had to talk them down from heading off on their own last night three different times. They thought people here would have problems living near them.”

“Well that’s just not the [Dragonshire] way,” Daisywine said. “As long as somebody’s not looking to make trouble for the people who are hear, we’re happy to have them around.”

“So you don’t mind that we’ve setup shop in the [Great Hall]?” Tessa asked.

“Not at all,” Daisywine said. “If you want to settle on this side of the river you can be our guests.”

“What’s special about this side of the river?” Rip asked.

“You haven’t run into the ghosts yet?” Cowl asked.

“I thought those were all out around the barrows?” Lady Midnight said.

“I think he’s talking about us,” a glowing, transparent woman said.

Tessa had seen apparitions materialize in front of Glimmerglass hundreds of times in the game. Dealing with it in real life was a different matter though. 

“I stopped up from striking her,” Pillowcase said. “I don’t think she means us harm. If she turns hostile, I believe I can lend you [Lesser Spirit Drain] though which should prove effective against her.”

Tessa relaxed at that thought. [Soul Knights] made rather excellent counters to angry spirits, and, from the reactions of the townsfolk,  Pillowcase seemed to be right about the ghost woman’s  intentions.

“Hi there Steelarm,” Daisywine said. “How goes the nightly hauntings?”

“Could be better,” Steelarm said. “Doesn’t seem like we can drag any of these people to the [Blood Fires].”

“The where now?” Rip asked. She had her bow in her hands, but hadn’t raised it. Yet. Apparently her Rip Shot side had made the same evaluation as Pillowcase had.

“The [Blood Fires],” Steelarm said. “It’s where we have to drag the living that we catch wandering around in the town at night.”

“Why?” Matt asked.

“It’s part of the [Task Left Undone],” Steelarm said. “We have to purge the taint of [Vaspe Breath Stealer].”

“We’re not a [Titan],” Lady Midnight said.

“No, but the living may carry the Breath Stealer in their lungs, can’t they?” Starchild asked.

“That’s what they told us,” Steelarm said.

“I thought the [Vaspe] guy was dead?” Rip said.

“They were gods, kind of,” Lisa said. “You know, sort of how the [Lord of Storms] is ‘dead’?”

“Dead can mean a lot of different things it turns out,” Steelarm said.

From the ghostly armor she wore, Tessa had a guess as to who she was and why she’d died.

“Being a ghost isn’t always a curse, is it?” Tessa asked.

“It’s not the greatest things in the world,” Steelarm said. “But I suppose I can’t complain.”

“Are ghosts normally like this?” Rip asked on their team channel.

“They can be,” Lisa said. “There’s plenty of ghostly quest givers out there, though usually they don’t threaten to drag people to other realms.”

“I don’t get any of that,” Matt said.

“Ghosts are usually bound to the material world for a reason,” Tessa said. “Either a cursed holds them there or they choose to remain to fulfill some purpose. Standard ghost stuff. The [Blood Fires] sound like a place setup to burn off any trace bits of [Vaspe] that survived his destruction. Always tough with gaseous types to be sure you got all of them after all.”

“Okay, so why drag the living there?” Matt asked.

“Probably because the land itself was purified of [Vaspe’s] essence, if not the mundane poison he carried, when he was killed,” Starchild said. “Living things can incubate spirits and other living things though, so if [Vaspe] escaped inside of a living host, he might bring them back here to collect any scraps of power he lost.”

“But they can’t carry us off?” Rip asked. “Why?”

“Don’t know, and it looks like they don’t either,” Tessa said.

“Well it sounds like you all will make great bedmates then,” Daisywine said. “And this doesn’t violate our agreement at all, does it?”

“It’s not much of an agreement,” Steelarm said. “But, yes, my people won’t try to cross the stream if it happens to run low. We were bound here on purpose. If we try going anywhere else, I honestly have no idea what would happen to us.”

“I suppose if you find us here after dark though?” Daisywine asked.

“Then we will definitely drag you to the [Blood Fires],” Steelarm said. “Sorry, it’s all part of why we’re hear. We don’t get to chose stuff like that anymore.”

“You said you couldn’t drag us to the [Blood Fires],” Lisa asked. “Who did you try to spirit away last night?”

“All of you at one point or another,” Steelarm said. “And the other [Adventurers]. And the [Vampires] and the regular folk you have in there. Though maybe calling them ‘regular’ is a bit off the mark in this case.”

“Not the Shadows?” Obby asked.

“We don’t really see shadows,” Steelarm said. “Or did you mean some type of creature?”

“They’re probably invisible to you,” Obby said. “Don’t worry, they don’t have lungs either.”

“Then they shouldn’t need purification,” Steelarm said.

At the mention of ‘purification’, an idea popped into Tessa’s head.

“Not to derail things, but could you tell us more about the [Blood Fires]?” she asked. “Do living people survive being pulled into them or is it more of a ‘burn everything up to be sure’ sort of deal?”

“We don’t get to see what happens to people who fall into the fires,” Steelarm said. “I’d like to think that they’re okay though. It seems like a lot of effort to go through just to kill someone.”

“But we’re safe from them, right?” Rip asked.

“Unfortunately, that does seem to be the case,” Steelarm said. “Not that we have anything against you. It’s just that it’s been a while since our existence has had any particular purpose and eternity is looking like it’s going to be very boring.”

“We might be able to change that,” Tessa said. “For a little while at least.”

“You have my undivided attention,” Steelarm said.

“Mine too,” Lisa said on their private channel. “What are you thinking?”

“We have the people who were injured by the [Hungry Shadows],” Tessa replied privately. “We all know they’re going to rise up as zombies or something worse, right?”

“With how things are setup here, that does seem pretty obvious,” Lisa said. “Oh, I see, you’re thinking we can use the [Blood Fires] to bake the [Hungry Shadow] out of them?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Tessa said. “If it’s safe.”

“Ok, possibly a workable solution,” Lisa said. “How are we supposed to figure out if it’s safe or not though?”

“So, Steelarm,” Tessa said speaking audibly again. “Do you think you could give us a tour of the [Blood Fires] if we went along with you willingly?”

Broken Horizons – Vol 8, Ch 7

Few things motivate [Adventurers] more than the lure of cool new loot. Tessa knew that, so she’d known how people would react to the news that there was a low level raid encounter in nearby. She also knew how they were going to react to the next thing she had to tell them though.

“Rip, put your bow down,” she said. “We can’t get started on leveling just yet.”

“Aww, really?” Rip kept her complaint from descending into a full blown whine but her pout was unmistakable (if also adorable on a Tabbywile’s face).

“Ah, right,” Obby said, offering Rip a sympathetic frown and a bop on the shoulder.

“What’s the problem?” Matt asked, after casting a glance at Rip that suggested they’d had a hasty discussion of their own.

“The big one’s that the mobs we need to farm to get up to level 20 only spawn at night,” Lisa said.

“The good news is that they’re all [Undead],” Tessa said.

“That’s good how exactly?” Lady Midnight asked. “I don’t think we have any [Plague] cures yet, do we?”

“Did I hear someone ask about [Plague] cures?” Mister Pendant said, wandering over to join their impromptu group. 

Tessa flashed him a smile and gestured to an open spot beside her as she scootched closer to Lisa to make room. 

Somehow neither cuddling up to a [Vampire], not inviting a [Skeleton] to sit near her struck Tessa as odd or concerning. If anything, Mister Pendant joining them was a reassuring addition to the group since it meant they could probably count on having access to the staggeringly large stockpile of items he’d managed to save from his shop. 

As for the [Vampire] beside her, Tessa felt reasonably sure that Lisa’s presence had been one of the few things that had kept her sanity together through the ridiculous stresses they’d both been under. And, Cuddling up with the woman she could finally admit she was more than crushing on felt like the best spot she could imagine occupying in any world.

“Plagues are a thing the [Undead] do?” Rip asked.

“Some of them,” Pendant said. “Moreso the fleshy ones. Not much room for disease when all you’ve got is bones and magic.”

“The ones who haunt the barrows and hills outside of town should be fleshy, if I’m remembering the screen shots right,” Tessa said. “But, unlike our esteemed friend here, they’re not sapient, and they should be too low level to carry the [Plague] effect.”

“Ah, [Cursed Walkers]?” Pendant asked.

“Yeah, have you run into them before?” Tessa asked, glad that someone else had some familiarity with them, especially someone who might know the real story behind them rather than simply their game stats.

“They’re a nuisance,” Pendant said. “Like a bunch of locusts, but bigger, and harder to eradicate.”

“Are they like bug zombies or something?” Rip asked.

“More like people zombies,” Tessa said.

“Not people,” Pendant said. “Some [Undead] retain their awareness and will. Others are no more than clusters of [Death Magic] bound together by curses or sorcery or the linger malice of the people who’s resemblance they’re cast in.”

“What spawned these ones?” Lady Midnight asked.

“These [Cursed Walkers] arose from a ‘great betrayal’, according to the lore,” Tessa said. “When the Titans came through, there was a force here, a small army I guess, who were meant to protect the town’s people. As [Vaspe Breath Stealer] was rampaging in this direction though, the army came up with a new plan; they setup pickets around the town in the dead of night so the residents would act as trapped bait for [Vaspe] while they marched away as fast as they could.”

“Wow, that’s pretty low,” Rip said.

“It didn’t work out so well for them though,” Tessa said. “[Vaspe] traveled a lot faster than they expected and it followed the weather patterns rather than cutting a straight path across the countryside. So they basically marched right into the Titan and their train led it right back to [Dragonshire].”

“I feel bad for the grunts who had no idea what was going on,” Lisa said.

“From the lore, there were soldiers who stayed behind to fight for [Dragonshire], so at least some of the army knew what was going on. Well, knew and objected to it,” Tessa said.

“What happened to them?” Matt asked.

“They died too,” Tessa said. “The [Titans] were god-tier enemies. I don’t think the actual game mechanics would have supported it but the story goes that the ones who stayed slowed [Vaspe] down long enough for some of the townsfolk to escape though.”

“Their fate after death was doubtlessly better than the betrayers,” Pendant said. “But you needn’t worry about any of them. Nothing in the living world can bring suffering to those who have passed beyond.”

“Speaking from personal experience?” Lady Midnight asked.

“I don’t believe so. You’re not dead are you?” Starchild said. She was regarding him with a searching gaze.

“You are quite perceptive honored [Druid],” Pendant said. “I have never been dead, nor have I ever lived. At least by some definitions of living.  As you see me now is as I have always been.”

Tessa wondered if that was because he was an NPC in the game but it occurred to her that all of the other NPCs seemed to have lived full lives rather than being created ex nihilo as they appeared in the game.

“Also he talks right? Zombie don’t talk,” Rip said. “Or do they here?”

“[Zombie Lords] and other higher tier versions can,” Lisa said. “The dev’s used that to put story dialog into dungeon encounters. I can’t think of any of the more mindless ones who could though.”

“No talkers among the [Cursed Walkers], I’m betting,” Tessa said. “According to the beta-tester there are no particular quests and storylines around [Cursed Walkers]. It was one of their complaints about the new starting area if you get here early. Basically just a bunch of mindless grinding to do till you hit the interesting bits. On the plus side though, there are a few different varieties of the [Cursed Walkers] though. Well, plus side for them. That may suck for us.”

“Not as much as waiting is going to!” Rip fidgeted with her empty bowl of porridge, but didn’t look like she was going to race off and do anything foolish.

Tessa decided to keep an eye on her anyways. She all too well how deceiving looks could be at that age.

“How about the dungeon?” Lady Midnight asked. “Do we know what we’ll be facing when we get in there?”

“We’ll want to tackle it in exploratory mode,” Tessa said. “We should be able to get the layout and mob spawns from the players who still have a connection back to Earth, but there was a plotline in the dungeon about a calling station that had opened communications with the [Consortium of Pain] and led them to this world. Since they’re already here I don’t know if we’ll encounter that or if things will have changed.”

“Oh, yeah, speaking about that,” Kamie said. “We’ve kind of lost contact with Earth.”

“We’ve….we’ve what?” Tessa asked as she felt one of their far too few safety lines snap and flutter away.

“It happened around the time we came though the portal I guess,” Kamie said.

“What about the other players here?” Tessa asked. “We can still communicate with them right?” She turned to Lisa for confirmation. “You talked to the Cease this morning didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” Lisa said with a quick nod.

“We’re good with the other players here,” Kamie said. “It’s just the ones back on Earth we can’t reach.”

“Does that mean we’re drifting farther away from them or something?” Rip asked.

“It means we’re on our own for the time being,” Obby said. “Fortunately, between Tessa and the people who played in the beta and are over here, it looks like we’ve got a lot of the critical information we need, especially since, like she says, what’s out there might have changed from the beta.”

“BT’s here too,” Glimmerglass said. “The team I was with was safeguarding her while she transferred information from your world about the Consortium and everything that was in the game version of this world.”

“That’s gotta be part of why things went well for our side last night,” Tessa said. “Maybe we should try to link up with her?”

“Cambrell said they were going dark with her,” Glimmerglass said. “She’s too high value a target to leave our where the Consortium could get her.”

“Or most of the [Fallen Kingdoms] either,” Lisa said. “It’s not like they’re usually super chummy after all. Once the Consortium’s invasion is over, it’ll be back to the same rivalries and backstabbing as always.”

“I wish I could be there to help protect her,” Glimmerglass said. “She tends to need it.”

Lisa cast a glance over to Tessa.

“She was in my old guild with Glimmerglass. BT liked to play chicken with the bottom of her health bar in the quest for the best dps she could get,” Tessa said.

“I always took it as a sign of trust,” Glimmerglass said. “At least when I wasn’t certain she was doing it to drive me completely mad.”

“And they gave someone like this all the information in the world, literally, why exactly?” Lisa asked.

“I don’t think that was the original plan,” Glimmerglass said. “I think BT kind of forced it on them.”

“Given that she somehow jumped into here with the GM permissions active on an account that wasn’t a GM account? Yeah, that sounds like a BT type of play,” Tessa said. “I’m sorry I dragged you away from her.”

“Eh, I’ll probably do more good here,” Glimmerglass said. “There’s at least a thirty percent chance I would have strangled BT to death for whatever she’s planning to do next.”

“It’d be nice to know what that was,” Tessa said. “Are we plugged into what the [High Command] is telling people to do at all?”

“I have a contact link for them,” Glimmerglass said. “Since we’re not in an active combat zone with the Consortium and no one has forces deployed in our area we’re supposed to either sit tight here or make arrangements with a guild we’re associated with to connect with them and supplement their forces.”

“I talked with Cease about us joining up with the [Army of Light],” Lisa said. “They’re onboard with having us, but all the people we have left got pulled back in for the new offensive against the Consortium. Cease thought they could spare some people to help us out but I didn’t them want to go into any fights short staffed, so I told her to hold off on organizing anything until things settle down.”

Tessa knew that part already but looked to the others in case any of the guilds they were part of on other characters might have volunteered to send help.

“It is the same story with Melissa’s guild,” Starchild said. “She and the other crafters were able to create equipment sets for us with their portable crafting stations, but they’re shepherding a large group of civilians, as well as harrying the Consortium forces. That seemed like a full enough plate to Pete and I, so we discouraged her from sending anyone here, the same as Lost Alice did with her guild.”

That seemed to be the common consensus. The people who’d made it to [Dragonshire] weren’t unimportant, they were just in a secure enough position that resources had to be directed elsewhere. Tessa could agree with that appraisal but it still left her feeling exposed and alone. 

“Well, the good news is, we’re no more alone than we were in the [High Beyond],” she said.

“Oh,” Kamie said, tilting her head as she listened to an internal message. “Turns out that’s definitely true.”

“What’s happened?” Tessa asked, expecting a disaster to be unfolding.

“Battler and Grail are outside the [Great Hall],” Kamie said. “Seems like our new neighbors would like to meet us. All of us.”