Starchild was supposed to be peaceful. She was supposed to be in harmony with the natural world around her. She was supposed to be supportive and caring for her fellow party members.
“I’m pretty sure she’s going to start swinging any second now,” Peter said, speaking on a private channel to Lost Alice. “I’m guessing if they’re lucky, she’s stop while there’s still enough left of their corpses to respawn in place.”
“So you’re saying your character is a wholly separate person and that she’s talking to you?” Alice asked.
“More or less?” Peter said. It was beyond strange to be sharing a body with someone he’d made up, but given that he’d disintegrated into a glowing ball of light and then shot god knows how far across the cosmos, his capacity for being overwhelmed had run dry.
Plus he liked Starchild.
“So what are you then? A ghost who’s possessing her body?” Alice asked.
Peter envied her. Alice and Tessa and the two younger kids were still back in the dungeon that Starchild’s party had fled from. The four of them had apparently taken down the bosses who had crushed Starchild’s party repeatedly.
We should have stayed with them, Starchild whispered in Pete’s mind.
You’re not wrong. We probably still could? Pete was ambivalent about abandoning their party and if Starchild pushed for it, he wasn’t going to torture her to refusing to leave.
Might not be safe, and we don’t know if they have room. They’ve already got three spell casters, and their setup lets them keep only their tank on the front line. Everyone else is safe at ranged.
Starchild was her own person, Pete knew that, but he could hear echoes of himself in her words just the same. Every doubt framed as a rationale was one he would have rushed to convince himself of. Seeing them in Starchild didn’t make them any easier to cast aside though. If either of them had the courage to manage that, they were both more interested in saving it for some future calamity.
“I’m not really possessing her,” Pete said, speaking externally and yet silently since Alice was miles distant. “We’re more co-piloting? I’m not sure how to explain it exactly. It’s like whatever we are now is a fusion of what we were, without losing what we were. Isn’t that what it’s like for you?”
“No, I’m just hungry,” Alice said. “Some of my teammates though are experiencing something similar to what you described. You should compare notes with Pillowcase when we’re somewhere safer.”
“Not a bad idea,” Pete said. “I’m guessing everyone’s having a different experience, but there’s probably patterns that might gives us clues about what’s going on.”
“And warnings,” Alice said. “These other personas might be ok for you two, but I can’t believe everyone will get along well with their characters like that.”
That depends on how we’re related, Starchild said.
“I think I got lucky there,” Pete said. “Star and I are pretty copacetic.”
“And being in a woman’s body isn’t a problem?” Alice asked.
“It totally should be. I know that. I’ve seen the pain dysmorphia can cause,” Pete said. “My sister went through hell up until recently, when things started getting better. Then this hits and those problems went away for her. Now she’s got bigger fish to fry. Literally since she’s a max rank Fisher and apparently fishing up monsters in the city is giving people something safe-ish to do.”
Maybe it’s not bothering you because we’re in this together? Starchild asked.
Maybe? It’s only been a few hours though, so who knows what this will be like for us if we’re together long term? Pete said.
I can picture a year with you a lot more easily than I can picture another hour with these idiots, Starchild said, indicating the sullen party that was walking ahead of her.
We can leave, Pete offered. Even if we don’t connect up with Alice and Pillowcase’s group, we could go off and do something else.
What else is there for a soloist to do though? We’d never advance on our own.
Eh, we could. It would be slow, though not slower than this to be fair. Pete was still ambivalent about the idea, but he was growing more willing to be talked into leaving.
We should stay, Starchild said, her inner voice fatigued but resolute. They’re sort of terrible, but that’s mostly just their skill. They’ve been good so far as people. If they would just start listening and working together we’d be fine.
“It looks like we’re coming up on a trash mob, we’ll touch base as we go,” Alice said.
Pete knew he could keep sending to her but that she would almost certainly miss what he was saying in the rush of battle. Given that it was fairly rude to interrupt someone when they were fighting for their lives, Pete opted to not even send back an “Ok” acknowledgement.
“So where are we going to go?” Brick Spithouse was, perhaps, the most sullen member of Starchild’s party. And, Pete guessed, the youngest.
“Some place easy,” Lady Midnight, the party’s healer voted.
“We could go back to town?” Fire Falls, the party’s [Elementalist] suggested. “Our gear is pretty trashed and there might be people there we can talk to about better hunting spots.”
“And a better party.” Brick mumbled the words but they were clear as day in the party’s chat log.
Predictably, that spawned yet another heated argument.
“If you don’t want to be with us…”
“It’s not my fault, we just weren’t doing enough damage…”
“If people had just listened…”
“I don’t see why we couldn’t keep trying…”
“I don’t see why anyone thinks we’ll do better anywhere else…”
“Well, it’s not my problem that you all suck…”
“You’re the one who died the most! We all see who sucks here…”
“I see you both sucking…”
Maybe I’m wrong about staying because they need us, Starchild said as she and Pete stayed quietly in the back.
I could try to step in and cool things down before they go too far? Pete said.
It looks like we’re past that point already, Starchild said. I’d guess we were past that point the moment we gave up on the bosses.
The party that finally made it back to [Sky’s Edge] hadn’t lost any members but that was largely due to the very real fear of encountering monsters in before they reached the relative safety of the town.
“I’m going to check in at the Chapel,” Lady Midnight said, though no one seemed to have any illusions that they would remain together as a group.
Pete could see the simmering anger which lay behind the unhappy expressions most of the adventurer’s wore. Their beating had done more than bruised their egos. The loss had stripped away the paper thin belief that they’d landed in some kind of fun arcade romp.
They weren’t the Grand Heroes of the Realm, summoned to a magical world to wield fantastic powers and win all the loot. They were nobodies. Even with more strength than they’d ever had before and actual magic, they were still unimportant. Weak. Failures.
Should we let them go off believing that? Starchild asked. I mean, it’s not true. We just hit a bad break and didn’t manage to figure out the secret puzzle of how to kill one set of bosses.
I know, Pete said. For a good team, a setback like that shouldn’t be a big deal. I bet Alice and Pillowcase will be laughing over it tonight when they’re back here.
If they come back here, Starchild said.
I think they’ll be fine, Pete said. If they’re smart enough to figure out the [Soul Blights], then they’re probably smart enough not to mess with anything too fair beyond them too.
True, but if they beat the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave], why would they come back here?
Pete paused to ponder that. He’d played [Broken Horizons] for long enough that the idea of there being a leveling path where you went from a Level 1 village, to a Level 10 one and so on was so ingrained that he was sure something like that had to exist, even though he hadn’t kept up with the Beta Test information enough to know its name.
We should decide where we’re going to go too, Starchild said, gazing as the party she’d been part of split up one by one.
[Sky’s Edge] had grown more populated since they’d left. The townsfolk were out and generally hard at work repairing the damage from the previous night’s attack. They weren’t alone though. At each building there were anywhere from two to ten adventurers pitching in to help with the repairs.
We could do that, Pete said. It’d be a lot safer than going after monsters again.
Kind too, Starchild said. I’m sure the townsfolk will feel better just for having the extra help.
But they’d be even safer if there were people who could actually protect them when the next [Wraithwing Assault] occurs. They both knew it, but Pete felt the idea burning within him.
I feel it too, Starchild said. We’ve got too many reasons to keep going to give up now.
Do we? Pete asked. I mean, should we even try to be adventurers or are we just going to make things harder on people if we really die or have to get rescued?
He could hear the ever familiar doubts rising inside his words. Starchild stood her ground though.
Yes. We should try. Maybe you could be reunited with your sister if she can make it here, but it’s a lot more likely that we’ll be able to make it to her and that’s only going to happen if we level up.
Am I being unfair to you though? Dragging you into danger like that?
You’re not dragging me anywhere, Starchild said. I know, to you, I’m someone you made up. But I have a whole life and I don’t think you made up all of it. For as much as either one of us ‘really’ exists in this pace, I believe I’m real and I know that becoming an adventurer has always called to me. Yeah, there’s no guarantee that everything will turn out ok, but I have to try. To be myself, the me that I want to be, I can’t accept that this is my best. I can be more. And I think you can be too.
Pete choked back a breath at the fierce rush of emotion which accompanied Starchild’s words.
Let’s do it, he said. Even if we have to solo our way up to the level cap. We can make it work. I know this game, and you’re a freaking badass.
Melee [Druid] for the win right? Starchild’s voice sounded playful and Pete was forced to reflect on the unusual build choice they’d started heading down.
Typically [Druids] were a healer class, though one focused on indirect support more than directly restoring the party’s health. They’d received a few odd buffs in the [World Shift] expansion which had led to Pete experimenting with rolling Starchild up. He wasn’t sure it had been a great idea, but it did mean they had a wider range of tools to draw on than a lot of other characters.
Yeah. We can do this. Pete said. All we need is some method of staying alive long enough to get our spells into play.
“Starchild, are you still there? It looks like it’s just the two of us left,” Lady Midnight said.
Pete glanced at the party roster and discovered it had dwindled down to just the two of them.
“We can split up if you’d like,” Lady Midnight said. “I’m guessing you’ve got an offer to join that other party that was in the dungeon?”
“No, we’re not going to join up with them,” Starchild said, thinking faster than Pete could.
“Do you know what you’re going to do then?” Lady Midnight asked. “No one at the chapel wants to put together another party.”
“Maybe we don’t need another party,” Pete said. “We could try duo’ing things for a bit? It’d be a lot easier to coordinate things with just two of us. If you’re up for a working together still that is?”
“I…” Lady Midnight said, her relief almost palpable, “…would love to.”