Tessa was dead. It wasn’t the best feeling. What really stung though was knowing that she’d failed.
“Well, that sucked,” Alice said, her ghost appearing in the [Deadlands] above the ground where she’d fallen. She rose, dusting herself off although none of the wispy grey smoke which blanketed the land clung to her.
Tessa hadn’t had time to peer into the living world but she could easily guess how things had gone.
The [Chaos Lasher]’s special [Explosion] move had been more than enough to shred a her, and once she was down the boss monster was free to eat the next person on its hate list, which was Alice thanks to all the healing she’d done.
Surprising neither Tessa nor Alice, Rip and Matt appeared in ghost form a moment later. Once the healer was down there was basically nothing preventing the Lasher from turning them into confetti, so of course it had.
“Hey, we’re alive!” Matt said, patting his once-again-human body. Or rather the ghost of his human body. “Well, maybe not alive.”
“That was as bad as the [Wraithwings],” Rip said . She looked less thrilled at having been knocked in a ghostly state, but also less surprised. Tessa’s first inclination was to correct that point, but there was a more important matter to deal with at the moment.
“We need to move,” Tessa said. “Back to the chapel.”
“But I don’t hear any of the wolves.” Matt had his head cocked, listening intently.
As if on cue, the howling of the [Hounds of Fate] echoed in the distance.
“At least we don’t have to go far,” Rip said as they ran from the farmhouse back into [Sky’s Edge].
They didn’t sprint the whole distance, but it was still a much faster jog than Tessa could have sustained in her normal body. Apparently despite looking like her human form, her ghost body wasn’t bound by the same limitations. Judging from how well the others kept up, the same seemed to be true for them as well.
For as convenient as being an untiring ghost might have seemed though, Tessa had no desire to remain in her ghost state any longer than necessary. With each step closer to the Chapel, the baying of the hounds seemed to draw three steps closer. Without discussion the party picked up their collective pace until they were outpacing the best sprint Tessa’d ever run in her life.
“How do they know we’re here?” Rip asked, scowling at the injustice of being chased after they’d already lost the battle.
“Maybe they can smell us?” Matt offered. He couldn’t shrug with how fast they running but the sense of one was there.
Tessa wasn’t immediately concerned with how they’d been detected, only with whether they would make it to safety of the chapel before the hounds arrived. She relaxed her pace a bit when they entered [Sky’s Edge] with time to spare, but then she caught sight of the other ghosts.
“Who are you? Where are we?” a tall and exceptionally thin man asked. Over his head a nameplate reading “Count MeIn” floated. Around him, five other people were clustered, with the same stamp of disbelief and bewildering punched into their faces.
“I’ll get them, you all get to the chapel,” Tessa said to her team. She wasn’t really a Tank, and she wasn’t a leader either, but sometimes circumstances make demands anyways.
Alice broke her stride and seemed to wrestle with following the order. After brief moment, and a glance at Rip and Matt though, her hesitation broke and she took off with them, shouting a quick “don’t waste time,” to Tessa as she left.
“What’s happening?” Count MeIn asked. He didn’t look like a leader either, but he was talking and the people around him were listening for a moment so Tessa jumped on the opening.
“You’re in the game, or somewhere that looks a lot like it. That howling means we need to get into the chapel over there for safety. Follow me.”
She didn’t wait to see if they would or not. Staying behind to answer questions or debate the issue would do nothing but get them turned into ghost doggie kibble. If the crowd was sensible enough to survive here then they’d follow her to safety. If not, then she wasn’t going to do anyone any good getting eaten with them.
Unsurprisingly, the new ghosts followed her, people being generally receptive to the idea of fleeing to a place of obvious safety when the world around them turns into a nightmare.
Inside the chapel, Tessa found all three of her teammates waiting for her. That gave her a brief ping of happiness. They could just as easily (and reasonably) have respawned within the chapel. They didn’t have to wait for her, and doing so was on some level a show of solidarity which Tessa wasn’t sure she’d earned yet.
“Ok, first, what the hell, second, no seriously, what the hell?” a woman named ‘Allwin’ asked.
“You were just playing Broken Horizons and your character died right?” Tessa asked. A chorus of affirmative responses answered her. “Let me bring you up to speed on what we know so far then.”
It didn’t take all that long, since there wasn’t that much Tessa could tell the new arrivals, but that didn’t stop them from asking a million and one questions anyways. A few dozen answers in, Alice whispered to Tessa telepathically to let her know she was going to take Rip and Matt into the living world to look for some things in [Sky’s Edge].
Sounds good, Tessa said. I’ll join you there once this bunch settles down.
We’ll plan our next move then, Alice whispered back.
“So, you said there’s a way back to Earth,” Allwin asked. “We just need to complete a quest?”
“That’s what my class guide said. Or that the quest would let us talk to someone who might be able to get us back. The quest requires access to a much higher level zone though, and there’s no guarantee that we can go back even if we finish it,” Tessa said.
“And communications with the support team are down?” Count MeIn said. “But we can messager each other?”
“Yeah, give it a try. We’re all telepathic now,” Tessa said.
There was a long moment of silence while the crowd around Tessa tried out their new abilities to communicate.
“Uh, I can’t do that,” a man named ‘Sly Blue’ said, tapping at the air in front of him as he tried to work his virtual keyboard.
Tessa was about to explain in more detail when she saw him stiffen, blink, and then nod.
“Oh, got it,” he said, responding audibly to instructions Tessa was sure had been provided telepathically.
From there the conversation grew much quieter as people discussed things privately with only the occasional question for clarification from Tessa. In the end she saw them come to a consensus when Allwin and Count Let MeIn nodded and turned back to her.
“This seems ridiculous,” Allwin said. “But hard to say its not real too. We’re going to respawn and take some time to get a lay of the land here.”
“We’d like to add you and your team as friends though, if that’s ok?” Count MeIn asked.
“Sure,” Tessa said. “Well, add me anyways. You’ll need to check with Alice and the others if they want to do that. I’m happy to act as a liaison in any case though.”
“Are you heading back out there?” Allwin asked.
“Eventually, yeah,” Tessa said.”We had a setback in the last fight though, so I need to see how the others want to handle it.”
“What happened?” Count MeIn asked. He seemed to be conscious of his size and took care to stand a little farther away to not be overbearing.
Tessa described the farmhouse battle and the [Chaos Lasher] which had all but ambushed them.
“Then it exploded and that was it for us,” she said. “We made it back here just before hounds caught up to us.”
“Oh, I don’t know that they were chasing you,” Allwin said. “Our party got taken out by a [Void Dragon] and we heard the hounds the whole time we were running back to town.”
“You fought a dragon! Where?” Tessa asked.
“There’s an invisible bridge about ten minutes north of town,” Count MeIn said. “We thought it was a glitch, but it took us into a new zone.”
“Fortunately when we died, we popped up outside the dungeon,” Allwin said. “I don’t remember seeing a [Heart Fire] inside it, so maybe we couldn’t? Anyways, we kind of panicked and all followed Sly back to town but then we had no idea what to do.”
“Have you played Broken Horizons before?” Tessa asked.
“Yeah, most of us have,” Allwin said. “I think we were just in shock.”
“Take some time to catch your breaths then,” Tessa said. “I’m thinking we might be in this for the long haul.”
“I can’t see how we wouldn’t be,” Count MeIn said. “Let us know if you need anything ok? We’re all low level nobodies, but we might be able to help you out with something.”
“Yeah, we’re in the same boat, so you call if you run into anything too. Worst case, we can at least keep each other in the loop on what’s happening in the world.”
With that, they each respawned, Tessa going first and leaving the chapel once she was embodied in Pillowcase’s cloth-like flesh again, with a mission to find her team as her next objective. Fortunately, [Sky’s Edge] wasn’t a large town, so it wasn’t an epic quest to discover their location. They were gathered at Mister Pendant’s store finishing up their transactions.
“When you’re ready to carry stronger gear, let me know,” Mister Pendant said. “And if you have any items you wish to sell I can handle placing them up for auction.”
“What cut do you take?” Alice said.
“Auction services include a 5%, non-refundable, listing fee, and a 10% cut of the final sales price, minus the listing fee,” Mister Pendant said, his voice as smooth and warm as honey.
“Interesting, I thought it was 20%?” Tessa said.
“They reduced it a couple expansions back,” Alice said. “Too many people weren’t bothering with the auction house and the population was starting to thin at the lower levels.”
“With more crafters available, merchants such as myself are able to get quality wares more consistently as well, so the need to hedge against a lack of availability has been greatly reduced,” Mister Pendant said, gesturing to the items on the counter.
“What did you get?” Tessa asked, not sure which of the items were part of the purchase.
“These to start with,” Alice said and passed Tessa an [Iron Sword] and a [Guard’s Shield].
“You bought gear for me?” Tessa flushed. Starting adventurers didn’t have much cash as a rule. She had a small pouch of gold coins she received as a subscriber benefit when making a new character but it was nothing compared to the loot a high level player could collect, and not terribly impressive compared to the cost of even basic gear.
“I sent some money over from my main character before I made Alice. So we’re all set there. This should help protect you a little better. I’d have gone for armor too but the weakest gear he sells is still too high level for us.”
“Why can’t we just put it on anyways?” Rip asked.
“You could,” Mister Pendant said. “It wouldn’t offer much protection though because you’re not able to empower it properly. And you wouldn’t be bound to it.”
“I understood none of that,” Matt said.
“Items such as the armor I carry derive their value from more than their material composition,” Mr Pendant said. “The clothes you are wearing now are every bit as protective as the [Chain Shirt] I have in stock, at least for you.”
“How is that possible?” Rip asked. “I’m wearing fabric. The armor is, like steel or something isn’t it?”
“The fabric you wear is reinforced with the magic you carry,” Mister Pendant said. “Against a weapon or creature unable to penetrate the charms woven into each thread, it would stop even a spear thrust from an Ogre.”
“Except that Ogre’s have inherent magic too,” Alice said.
“Ok, but it’d still be good to have it for when we do reach a high enough level right?” Matt asked.
“It would, except there’s decent odds that we can find better gear if we defeat the right monsters,” Alice said. “No sense buying something we’ll never wind up equipping.”
“What about Bows and Staves?” Tessa asked. “Did they have anything for the rest of you?”
“For me and Matt, yes,” Alice said. “For Rip?” She gestured to the new bow Rip was proudly holding in her hands.
“I got this in my inventory when we were fighting!” she said, holding out the weapon for Tessa to see.
“Oh yeah!” Tessa said, remembering the treasure which dropped from a centipede during the fight. “You must have been the last one standing?” Otherwise the treasure pool would have fallen to Matt.
“Yeah, I was a little farther from the Lasher,” Rip said, a ripple of guilt sweeping across her face.
“She was protecting us from the centipedes,” Matt said. “I tried to buy time against the Lasher but I don’t think two seconds helped much.
“That’s ok,” Alice said. “We’ll do better next time.”
“Next time?” Rip asked.
“Yeah. Unless there’s something else you need to get, I say we head back to the farm and murder that [Chaos Lasher] properly this time.”