Starchild was walking into mortal peril. She knew that people had died at the destination she sought, ripped apart by steel and fangs for no greater sin than because they’d been unwary.
“This should be a cakewalk according to Pillowcase,” Pete said.
“There were four of them though,” Lady Midnight said. “We’ll want to be careful that we don’t get overrun.”
“It sounds like if we stick to the outskirts of the farm, the [Chaos Centipedes] should be the only thing we face. The [Chain Lasher], if it’s respawned, shouldn’t be a problem if we stay away from the house,” Pete said.
“Worst case we end up back at the [Heart Fire] right?” Midnight offered with a shrug.
Things could go considerably worse than that from what Starchild knew but she wasn’t about to worry her new friend with thoughts about what the [Hounds of Fate] might do to them if they were too slow to reach safety after dying.
They would probably be fine anyways.
Pillowcase and her team had managed to recover from a Total Party Kill without incident, so it clearly wasn’t impossible.
It had been their first deaths of the day though (not counting the one that brought them to the [Fallen Kingdoms]). Starchild had never seen proof that multiple deaths made it more likely that you’d get caught by the hounds, but it stood to reason that if one death drew the hounds closer, then each subsequent one would amplify that effect. Probably until the hounds just waited around you in the [Dead Lands] knowing that you’d be back in a minute two based on your past performance.
“It sounds like the [Chaos Centipedes] should be fine for the two of us too,” Starchild said. “There were two other adventurers, Aiemethia and Zibby, who were leveling on them, and they were both lower than we are now when they did it.”
Starchild flexed her hand and felt the fraction of her strength that had returned. Once she’d been empowered by the grove to which she’d been bound through her [Druidic Initiation]. Together with so many others, throughout both the [High Beyond] and the [Fallen Kingdoms] which lay below them, she’d tended to the spirits and creatures who were part of ever-flowing [River of Life] from which all [Druidic] power flowed.
It had been so easy then. Spells and miracles came effortless to hand thanks to the connection the grove supplied.
Then the [Consortium of Pain] had come.
Starchild’s hand tightened on her staff as the memory of the black ash which remained of her home swept over her. She could feel it’s grit and smell the choking fumes.
And she knew it had been her fault.
That’s absolutely not true, Pete said.
I ran. I left my grove to die and I fled, Starchild said.
I saw what attacked your grove, Pete said, referring to the “cutscene” he’d mentioned earlier. You saved as much of your grove as you could have.
I only saved myself.
I stand by what I said. Nothing you could have done would have changed what happened there. Not then. The war machines they unleashed on you were orders of magnitude more than were necessary for victory. They were like something from my world, except also able to negate your magics.
That should make me feel better, Starchild said. But it still feels like I failed them.
I think the ones who fell would be overjoyed that some of their order survived. Wouldn’t you be if it had been someone else who made it out?
I’m not sure, Starchild said. My happiness for them might be a small thing compared to my anger at what the Consortium did.
That’s why we’re going to reach the level cap and do unto the Consortium as they did unto you. Pete said. Beating them won’t be enough. I’m thinking eradication via overwhelming force.
That’s not what my order preached, Starchild said.
I know, and I’m open to however you want to handle it, Pete said. If you want to look for a non-violent solution, I’m not going to push you to kill them all.
I said that’s not what they preached, I didn’t say I disagreed with you, Starchild said.
“Thats an interesting thing you do where you speak in two different voices,” Midnight said. “It all shows up in the same chat though.”
Starchild wondered for a moment if Lady Midnight was able to overhear her and Pete’s private conversation, but then she saw in the chat log that she had been the last one to speak to Midnight after Pete had been answering Midnight’s previous questions.
“This is how it sounds when I’m talking, me, the former-player,” Pete said. “The other voice you’ve heard is Starchild’s. She’s basically my other half I guess?”
“Wait, so are you two people or one?” Midnight asked.
“Two, at least as far as we can tell,” Pete said.
“I have my own set of memories which seem to be wholly distinct from his,” Starchild said.
Lady Midnight stopped walking and stared at them, tipping her head in one direction and then the other.
“You’re serious?” she asked.
“It’s not the kind of thing I would joke about,” Pete said.
“Ok. Do you have a history of…hearing voices?” Midnight asked.
“Not at all,” Pete said with a shrug. “I haven’t looked into Multiple Personality, or Dissociative Identity, but I don’t think that’s what we’re experiencing.”
“We’re both here at every moment and both in control,” Starchild said.
“How does that work? What if one of you wants to go left and the other one wants to go right?”
“It hasn’t happened yet,” Pete said.
“I think it would be like when you see two things you want,” Starchild said. “We’d pause and share why we want go in each direction, then pick the one that sounds better.”
“Wow,” Midnight blinked and shook her head. “That’s hard to imagine. Not the deciding which way to go, but the whole thing. Being two people at once.”
“We’re not entirely separate. I think Pete described it as a fusion before. How are your two sides arranged though?” Starchild asked.
“I don’t think I have two sides?” Midnight said. “I’m just me.”
“Do you remember learning to cast the spells you know?” Pete asked.
“I mean, not for real? If I think about it, I can kind of daydream about what happened but isn’t that like just making it up?” Midnight asked.
“How about fighting?” Pete asked. “I’m basically letting Starchild take care of all of that because I’ve never fought before and fighting for real is freaking terrifying.”
“I’m able to stay towards the back and things don’t attack me. Well most of the time,” Midnight said. “But yeah, I don’t know if I could jump on the front lines. Huh. Maybe if I was playing my main character, I’d be in the same boat you’re in?”
“I don’t know,” Pete said. “I asked Alice and she said her party is all different too. I think she’s more like you.”
“It’s kind of strange thinking that I’ve got two party members, but by comparison to the rest of today, I guess that’s not even in the Top 100 for ‘Weird Stuff I Didn’t Expect to Run Into’.”
“I feel like I have an advantage over you both,” Starchild said. “Something like Pete and my circumstance isn’t exactly common here but it’s not as beyond the pale as it seems to be on your homeworld.”
“Yeah, the whole ‘magic is real’ thing is pretty big change,” Pete said. “Not to mention, ‘this fictional world is completely real’. I still don’t get how this place can be so close to the game. Was one of the developers a wizard from here or something?”
“Sounds as plausible as anything else,” Midnight said. “I just hope I’m able to keep up with you.”
“That’s not going to be a problem,” Starchild said.
“Yeah, it’s the nice part about a duo,” Pete said. “We can make sure we go at each other’s speed.”
“That and we’ve seen how good of a healer Lady Midnight is,” Starchild said. “She was doing fine with five people to watch after on her own. If she’s able to focus on just me, we’ll be basically invincible so long as we’re fighting things that are reasonable for our level.”
“[Grave Mender] does seem to be a pretty good class,” Midnight said. “At least for pure healing. I was dreading trying to solo with it. I’ve got basically nothing for damage output.”
“This is such a good fit then. I feel like I capped my Luck stat when I came here,” Pete said. “Between being compatible with Starchild and then running into you, I don’t think I’d have dared to ask for all the good thing I’ve got now even if I wishing on a nice genie.”
“Well, we ran into that other group first,” Midnight said. “I’m not sure that I’m counting that in the ‘win’ column.”
“I’m willing to call that one a ‘learning experience’,” Pete said. “Plus we did get some xps from the [Gloom Drinkers] and we made contact with another, apparently more capable, adventuring party if we ever need to call on someone.”
“I wonder how they got that good so quickly?” Midnight asked.
“They’re probably all veterans,” Pete said. “I mean, I’ve played for a while but I was never much of a raider. If they got through those bosses, I’m guessing their mains are all in one of the guilds that raids like five days a week.”
“Maybe I can ask their healer for some pointers?” Midnight said. “I took a long break from the game and I only came back a few months ago, so I’m pretty rusty still. And my main is an [Archer] so there’s probably healer stuff I’m not even thinking about.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Pete said. “We’re almost at the farm house though so let’s see how we do first. That may give us a better idea what questions to ask.”
“Yeah, I’m sure they’d prefer not to have carry two noobs,” Midnight said. “And we do know something about the game, so we should be able to work out the basic stuff.”
“Maybe we should compare notes on what we can do, before we take on our first [Chaos Centipede],” Starchild suggested.
“That’s a good point,” Pete said. “The melee build I had Starchild develop is a weird one for a [Druid] but with the changes they made with [World Shift] it’s supposed to be kind of broken, in a good way. Everyone was expecting that it would be nerfed in the first patch, but, well, no more patches I’m guessing.”
“I’m wishing I’d read up more on the [Grave Mender] spells now,” Midnight said. “I usually piece my builds together from reading different guides, but I figured it didn’t matter early on because I would respec once they fixed the bugs and rebalanced the powers in a month or so.”
“Do you have any real life friends who are still on?” Pete asked.
“No. The guild I usually play with can only make Wednesdays and the weekend,” Midnight said. “Some of them talked about logging in tonight, but I didn’t see them on. That’s why I rerolled a [World Shift] character. I figured it was going to be solo time anyways.”
“Solo time and you rolled a healer?” Pete asked.
“Well, ‘solo’ as in my guild’s not here,” Midnight said. “Teaming is a lot better for xps and healers usually get teams fast.”
“And hopefully a team of two will work out ok in this case,” Pete said.
“I think it should,” Starchild said. “With my build I’m almost a hybrid between a DPS and a Tank. If Lady Midnight can keep me on my feet, we should be able to grind through centipede for as long as her magic holds out.”
“I’ll warn you when I start getting low,” Midnight said.
“Aww, isn’t that cute, they think the only thing they need to be afraid of out here is some bugs,” a [Half-Giant] in mismatched, bloody armor said as he stepped out from behind one boulders along the edge of the road to the farm house.
Starchild’s hand tightened on her staff as her limited selection of spells leapt to her lips. A quick glance around her left her questioning if they would be anywhere near enough.
From the shadows, seven other players emerged, the names above their heads shining with the ugly red light of someone marked as a Player Killer.