Lost Alice was right. Tessa didn’t want to admit it. She wanted the world which lay around her to do more than look like the one she’d spent so much time immersed in despite only being able to glimpse it from the other side of a monitor. She wanted this version of the [Fallen Kingdoms] to be the place she’d dreamed of living in. To hold the adventure and wonder and meaning which had drawn her back after six years away.
But Alice was right.
The world around her wasn’t the one she’d played in for years, and she wasn’t the adventurer who’d risked life and limb in pursuit of fame, fortune, and a calling which felt higher than either of those. Not personal power for its own sake but the power to stand as someone who could make a difference, who could turn a tragedy into a triumph, who could stop bad things from happening in the [Fallen Kingdoms] in a way she never could in the real world.
Playing in this version of the Fallen Kingdoms wasn’t going to be the same though. It wasn’t going to come with the same guarantees that playing a game did. There was a critical line between make believe and reality and the inevitable result of being where she was meant that Tessa could feel that line shattering into jagged and dangerous shards.
So Alice was right, but what sets a flurry of razors dancing along Tessa’s nerves was that it didn’t matter.
“What do you mean we can’t play?” Rip Shot asked. She was sharp but she didn’t have the experience Alice or Tessa did. She was willing to accept the narrative the “game” was trying to hand them.
“I mean, if we engage with this place like a game, we’re going to either die, or wish we had,” Alice said. She cast a glance towards Tessa, maybe to see if Tessa was going to make another light hearted comment.
Tessa nodded silently instead. She could see where Alice’s thoughts were heading.
“It looks like we can’t die though,” Matt said, stepping forward to stand by Rip’s side.
“We can,” Alice said. “We might have a few more chances to escape death, but the GMs said we’ve lost contact with people. Until we hear that they’re back safe and sound in the real world, we have to assume that if you vanish like they did then you’re gone for good.”
“It’s still better than our world though,” Rip Shot said.
“Is it?” Tessa asked. She saw a hole in Alice’s reasoning but she wanted to work it out fully to make sure she wasn’t missing something which would undermine her own thoughts. “Consider this: why are we here?”
“Nobody knows that,” Rip Shot said. “We’re just here.”
“Maybe,” Alice said. “Does it seem like a natural effect could have swept us all into a game world though? I’ll admit that it’s pretty far outside anything we have experience with, but if it was a natural phenomena, why is it taking everyone. We’re all in different areas. We’re all connected to different servers. And in the real world, all of this is just ones and zeroes on our hard drives.”
“We’re all running the same game though,” Matt said. “What if there was just something wrong with it. Wouldn’t we all get hit by it?”
“It doesn’t seem like it can be the world’s weirdest bug,” Tessa said. “Converting a person to light and shooting them to another world isn’t a software glitch.”
“Well, maybe it’s magic then,” Rip Shot said.
“Sure. The question is who cast the spell?” Alice asked. “Whoever it was, they didn’t care about asking anyone if they wanted to come here. They just decided to move, what, a few hundred thousand people to a new world. One where violence is the answer to almost every problem, and there’s no consequences for any actions you take? What kind of behavior do you think that’s going to encourage in people?”
“But this game has been going for years,” Rip said, concern and doubt coloring her words.
“Yeah, and it’s had plenty of jerks in it for years too,” Alice said. “They’re only a small part of the problem though. The bigger issue is all the other people. The ones who played this for fun, who are going to be terrified or pissed off now.”
“I think it’s going to take a while to sink in for a lot of people,” Tessa said. “I mean, we were basically kidnapped. Whatever brought us here? It’s a lot bigger and more powerful than we are and if it chooses to mess with us again, there’s basically nothing we can do to stop it.”
“But the voice…when we were being called in,” Rip Shot said. “It was calling for heroes.”
“If it wanted heroes, would it have taken everyone?” Alice asked.
“The logout buttons say we have a quest pendings,” Tessa said. “Assuming the buttons work as a method of getting home, what kind of quest is someone who can drag a city full of people to another world going to want us to work on?”
“That’s what I meant by dead, or wish we were,” Alice said, nodding in agreement with Tessa. “If we complete this quest, whatever it is, we’ll be following the plans of someone who was willing to drag us away from our homes to fight and die for their cause. We can’t do that.”
“You’re right,” Tessa said, and turned to lock her gaze on Alice. “But you know we have to anyways don’t you?”
All three of the people around Tessa looked at her in confusion.
“Let’s say we decide to rebel,” Tessa said. “We go and sit in the chapel and refuse to engage with this world at all. Where does that leave us?”
“Alive and safe and not a party to whatever our kidnapper has planned,” Alice said.
“Does it?” Tessa asked.
“If they can take us from Earth, why would we be safe in the chapel?” Rip asked.
“There’s that, but more importantly, is sitting on the sidelines and letting something happen any better than trying but failing to stop it?” Tessa asked. “In either case whatever bad plan there is, if there is one, would still happen.”
Alice’s shoulders were tensed like fractured glass. Tessa watched her eyes flick back and fourth as she struggled with the question she’d been posed.
“We don’t know that there is a kidnapper here,” Tessa said. “This might be some magical disaster like a [Dimensional Earthquake] or something. It’s possible there’s no one and no plan behind this, but I don’t think you’re wrong to be considering whose interests we’re serving. It could be something monstrous, but if so, are we better off staying weak and hidden and trying to avoid it, or can we try to reach a better footing to deal with whatever’s in store for us?”
Alice was silent for a moment before dropping her shoulders.
“It’s not going to work,” she said.
“What? This world? How we deal with it? Trying to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing here?” Tessa asked. She wasn’t sure why but seeing Alice’s conflict play out left Tessa strangely happy.
“Yes,” Alice sighed. “All of that. And all of us. Goddamn it, why did I make a new character tonight!”
“I don’t think it has to work,” Tessa said. “Not right away. I know it sucks being low level. I wish I’d logged in on my main too, but I didn’t, and I’m here, and I’ve got to deal with that. And yeah, we don’t know how much here is like the [Fallen Realms] we know. At the very least there’s going to be a ton of new stuff just because of the [High Beyond] being a new zone. It might have a ton of new stuff and be deadly and be more than we can handle, but we’ve got some advantages too.”
“Like what?” Rip asked.
“Alice here is a veteran from the sound of things. If her guild is doing end game raids and she’s normally with them then she’s got the kind of experience with tactics and strategy that can take years to develop,” Tessa said.
Alice laughed but allowed her continue.
“I’m rusty but I’ve leveled up a lot in [Broken Horizons]. I know what a fight looks like when it’s starting to go bad and how to build our skills and spells to be effective in a team and solo,” Tessa said. “If we want to, I think we can make ourselves a lot more powerful. Maybe even catch up to the end game folks in time.”
“No,” Alice said. “Think about what we’d have to do to level up? It’s all fighting. That’s fine if we’re killing pixel people on a screen, but how is it going to feel to cut someone down here? How will we know they’re not real people like us?”
“It’ll feel horrible or it should,” Tessa said. “And I know that won’t stop some of the players. Unlike in the game though, I think we’ll have options that we can work with.”
“Like what?” Rip asked.
“Well, first up, we can simply avoid fighting people. If we’re the ones being proactive then if we see a camp full of bandits or some other typical human-ish enemy type, we just avoid it. Second, if we do run into people who want to fight we can always try talking to them, or fight to disable and then run away. There’s a lot of options that either aren’t available or don’t have a point in the game because we don’t have to care about anything that comes up marked as an enemy.”
“So what would you fight?” Alice asked.
“Monsters,” Tessa said. “I fought some [Radioactive Goo Rats] in the tutorial, which I’m pretty certain weren’t sapient, and unless I miss my guess there should be plenty of basic undead out in the wilderness.”
“That’s not going to be efficient,” Alice said. “No one else is going to want to level like that.”
“Maybe,” Tessa said. “I know it would be faster to grind through a big horde of weak enemies over and over, and they would probably be normal soldier types since they don’t have special abilities. Faster, in this case, isn’t better though. I think you’re right; if we want to hold onto the important parts of who we are we can’t turn into murder-bots who’ll kill anything to get stronger.”
“That sounds good to me,” Rip Shot said, and then cast a glance over to Matt. “I mean us. That sounds good to us.”
“Are you thinking to take them along for this?” Alice asked, nodding at the two kids.
Tessa hesitated, hearing the question Alice wanted her to answer; “Are you going to risk these two before you know what you’re getting into?”
“It depends,” she said, considering her options. If she turned down Rip’s offer, the two fledglings would venture off and hook up with another group in all likelihood. That might be for the better. Another group might be able to protect them and keep them safe more easily than Tessa could. But another group might also be a lot worse too. “It depends on if they’re willing to work with me and do things the right way.”
“What does the right way look like?” Alice asked before Rip could voice a similar question.
“It looks like following the plan we come up with,” Tessa said. “It looks like listening when someone who’s encountered something before tells them what to watch out for and what they need to do. And it looks like being patient enough to let someone – me in case I’m not being clear – scout out a situation before we go into it.”
“We can do that,” Rip says, a half a breath too quickly.
“And what happens when they don’t?” Alice asked.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” Tessa said. “If it’s minor, then we talk it out and review what we can do better next time. If it’s not, then we get back somewhere safe asap and I break the party up.”
“And you want me to join this?” Alice asked.
“Yeah,” Tessa said, restraining herself from reaching out to take Alice’s hand.
“Because I’m a healer?” Alice asked.
“No,” Tessa folded her arms to keep them from getting her in trouble. “I mean that’s nice, and it’d be great to have someone else with experience on the team, but I’m hoping you’ll join us because you get it. You get what’s important. Your first thought was to be concerned about what we were doing and what we might become in here, and I think we need that more than anything else in this world.”