Lisa had jumped from orbit back to the planet’s surface and yet looking at Pillowcase was what made her feel like she was in freefall.
“You’re correct,” Pillowcase said. “I’m not the same person I was a moment ago. I am not exactly different either though. I am…a piece of who I was? I am having trouble communicating what has happened. The experience is outside any of the mission parameters I was designed.”
“I don’t understand, what happened just now?” Rip asked.
Lisa watched as the young girl in the body of an [Elven] [Archer] transferred her enchanted bow from one hand to the other. Rip could sense the difference too, and was having the same problem with reconciling the sense of peril at being around a construct of the [Consortium of Pain] with the memory of Pillowcase fighting by their sides and being literally willing to die for them all. Repeatedly.
Except was that really Pillowcase who’d done those things? A tiny voice in Lisa’s head asked venomously.
“That’s Pillowcase, but she’s not responding to her other name,” Lisa said. “The name of the woman we all knew.”
The name of the woman Lisa was pretty sure she’d developed more than a crush on.
She growled at the thought and at herself. This wasn’t the moment to be worried about things like that.
Except it was exactly when she always thought of her relationships wasn’t it? Right when it was too late to do anything about them.
The thought did nothing to improve Lisa’s mood or outlook.
“What’s her name?” Matt asked. He’d moved to stand beside Rip, hovering protectively while being careful not to interfere with her line of fire.
“I…I don’t know,” Pillowcase said. “I just know that she is missing from me.”
“But you know it, don’t you?” Lady Midnight asked.
“I do,” Lisa said, speaking as Lost Alice since she hadn’t shared her Earth-name with the rest of her team.
“Can you tell her what it is?” Pete asked, speaking through Starchild. “It might help Pillow bring back the memories she’s missing.”
“I don’t think so,” Lisa said, her gaze locked on Pillowcase’s face in a desperate search to understand who the woman before her was.
“You don’t trust me?” Pillowcase said, meeting Lost Alice’s gaze with a similar search for answers. Pillowcase reached her answer far faster than Lisa did though. “Understandable. A wise tactical choice.”
“What tactics? What do you mean?” Rip asked. “And what just happened? It felt like…I don’t even know. It just felt horrible.”
“That’s what was behind the [Disjoined],” Obby said. “When they corrupted the [Divine Spark] it let something into this world that wasn’t supposed to be here.”
“It felt like something was turning me inside out,” Matt said.
“It was like I was dissolving,” Rip said.
“Yeah, it was like that for us too,” Pete said. “I thought I was going to lose Star forever.”
“I thought we were going to lose both ourselves forever,” Starchild said.
Lisa cast a glance at the two of them, Pete and Starchild, two people in one body. It distracted from her analysis of Pillowcase or maybe she was just running away from a problem she couldn’t handle.
Like she always did.
That is not like us at all.
It was her voice, her thought.
You but not you. Isn’t that what Tessa described being with Pillowcase was like? Lost Alice asked.
Have I finally lost it? Lisa asked herself.
But the answer was obvious.
She wasn’t talking to anyone else. It was like when she was little and she’d play dress up. When you were wearing the cowgirl’s hat, you had to talk like the cowgirl and whatever you said was what the cowgirl knew. If you put on the firefighter’s hat though, then you could talk like the firefighter.
You’re a mask?
An adequate metaphor, Lost Alice agreed. We can work on it if the nuances become important.
This still feels weird.
It should. We’re not supposed to be separate are we? I mean why wouldn’t I want to be fully me?
Lisa paused for a moment, caught in her own head as the rest looked to her for answers that she not only didn’t have but wasn’t sure she wanted to have.
Compartmentalization. You’re a blood thirsty monster.
A workable theory. It would also prevent us from needing to integrate too much conflicting information at once.
What about her then? What would Pillowcase be?
We can’t know that, can we? And it’s not what’s important.
“She saved us didn’t she?” Lisa asked, locking her gaze back into Pillowcase.
“She saved me,” Pillowcase said. “And I think she did something to whatever was beyond the static there.”
“Can we go over that part again?” Lady Midnight asked. “And should we be moving away?”
“Yes,” Rip said. She looked like she wanted nothing more than to start firing arrows as the static field that remained of Sky’s Edge while simultaneously fleeing as far from it as possible.
“We’re safe here for the moment,” Obby said. Her gaze had drifted by to the static, which should have been worrisome given the strange compulsion it seemed to be able to inflict on people.
When Lisa appraised Obby though, there was a sense of calm control which radiated from Obby which put Lisa at ease as well.
“How do you know?” Lisa asked, wondering why anyone was looking to her for answers when Obby was right there instead.
“I was watching Pillowcase,” Obby said. “I saw what she did.”
“We cast a spell,” Pillow said, as though pulling the memory from a hazy dream. “[Lesser Spirit Drain].”
“That’s not a particularly strong one, is it?” Lady Midnight asked.
“It’s one of the first one’s a [Soul Knight] gets,” Pillowcase said. “So, no, it’s not very strong.”
“It shouldn’t have been able to touch the thing in the static,” Obby said.
“But it did?” Lisa asked.
“Yes,” Pillowcase said. “My other…she…we insisted.”
“Can you do that?” Rip asked. “Just say ‘no this is going to hurt you’ even if you’re punching, I don’t know, god or something?”
“Not usually,” Obby said. “I think that’s what [Fractured] Pillowcase. You much have pushed yourself so far to do that.”
“Can you fix her?” Lisa asked Obby without taking her eyes off Pillowcase.
“I’m afraid [Guardians] don’t come with a lot of psyche repair spells,” Obby said, shrugging.
“Does anyone? Maybe someone higher level?” Rip asked. She was fidgeting more as her concern continued to eat away at her and grow ever larger.
“I can give my wife a call,” Obby said. “I’m not sure what, if anything, she’ll be able to do under the circumstances but circumstances can change.”
“You should consider first if you can work with me if nothing can be done to change my present condition,” Pillowcase said.
“What do you mean?” Rip asked.
“If the [Fractured] condition is a permanent one, you will collectively need to decide if I can be trusted to be a part of this team anymore,” Pillowcase said. “I fill a role with too much responsibility to be allowed to continue in it if you fear I will turn against you.”
“Why would we be afraid of that?” Rip asked. “Isn’t it just like you’ve got amnesia or something?”
“It’s more than that,” Pillowcase said. “I am missing a part of who I am. A part I never knew was there when I was a tool of the Consortium. I don’t know if I can be what I’ve been since I awoken after I was discarded. She has always been with me since then. Until now.”
“You’re not going to turn back into one of their puppets,” Matt said. “The control threads in you broke when they discarded you, and they burned away entirely when you and your Earth-self combined.”
“Is that what happened to you?” Rip asked, a flicker of surprise rippling across her face.
“[Metal Mechanoids] are setup a little different from [Clothwork], but it’s a pretty similar story for all [Artifax].”
“So her loyalty won’t be compromised,” Starchild said. “What about your capabilities? It’s not fair to ask you to stand as one of our tanks if you’ve lost the skills or experience required to perform the role.”
“Mechanically, I have lost no levels or abilities, passive or active,” Pillowcase case said. “If anything I am likely stronger now than I have been in the past.”
“How about your instincts?” Lisa asked. “If a [Disjoined] rose up from the ground right now, what would you do?”
“The proper reaction when guarding a group from an unexpected threat is to close with the threat and deploy aggression compulsion abilities to ensure that the less defended group members have time to react.” Pillowcase answered instantly and without pause.
“And if two [Disjoined] rose up and were advancing on Rip and myself?” Lisa asked.
“Prioritization of resources defaults to defending healing and support units first,” Pillowcase said. “Depending on the mission objectives and remaining requirements, damage dealing units can be given raised priority.”
“So you’d save Alice and then me most of the time, unless I was needed for something important?” Rip asked.
“Those are the ‘instincts’ I was crafted with,” Pillowcase said. “I am not certain my other self would have evaluated things according to them. She might have been able to provide a deeper context for a more advantageous prioritization for all involved.”
Dammit Tessa, Lisa said, speaking on their private channel even though her words were disappearing into the void. That’s what you should do, but we both know I’d kill you if you let either of the kids die so I could live. Come on, are you really not in there?
There wasn’t even an echo in response.
Are you sure you’d kill her? Lost Alice asked.
I mean it is kinda nice how much she’s been willing to give to the group, Lisa said.
But hiding from yourself is a lot harder when that self isn’t willing to buy into the lies that would be so very convenient to believe.
To the group? Or to you?
Lisa remembered seeing Tessa as a ghost when they’d first arrived. Ghost-Tessa had looked as frightened and overwhelmed as Lisa had felt, but not a minute later Tessa had jumped into Pillowcase’s body just to prove whether or not they could. Because it was the kind of information they had to have if they were going to make sense of the impossible world in front of them.
Lisa felt Lost Alice’s cold, unbeating vampire heart twist at the memory.
Still think you should leave Pillowcase behind? Lost Alice asked.
But she’s not Tessa!
Just like you’re not me? Lost Alice asked.
Lisa flinched at the memory of “Lost Alice” taking over in the dungeon she and Tessa were trapped in.
It hadn’t been “Lost Alice”. It had been her. She’d been hungry, and angry, and it had been her teeth that had ripped a man’s jugular open.
Looking back she couldn’t even feel that disgusted by it. He was a monster, even if he was completely human, and he’d deserved exactly what happened to him.
But she’d done it.
She was Lisa Chen, fitness instructor, set designer, and gamer but she was also Lost Alice, [Bloodborne], [Grave Mender] and unrepentant monster.
And what would I repent? What should she repent? We are who we are. All that matters is what we’ve done and what we’re going to do.
And if we do terrible things?
There’s no ‘if’. We have done terrible things, Lost Alice said. And we’ll do more terrible things in the future.
Can I live with that? Should I live with that?
You have and you will, Lost Alice said. And you know why.
Because why I did them matters too.
Just like it matters why Pillowcase did what she did. You know why you’re afraid of her, don’t you? You’re not scared of what Pillowcase is going to do in the future.
Lisa looked at Pillowcase and saw a brave woman awaiting judgement. A woman who wasn’t sure she could trust herself in the light of the distrust Lisa had shown her.
I’m not afraid of what she’s going to do, I’m afraid of what she’s already done.
And why she did it.
She loves me.
Yeah. Think you’ll tell her you love her too?