The emptiness separating Pillowcase from the one calling out to her wasn’t external. Even as she stumbled to the ground, she felt her focus pulled inwards at the same time as she reached out trying to bridge thousands of miles with nothing more than a whisper.
“[Heart Killer’s Curse]”
The invocation was a gift, an offering to meet the desperate need which washed over her as she answered the distant call.
“Pillow? What’s happening…” Lisa’s voice faded away along with the light of the billion stars that burned overhead.
Pillowcase knew she lacked the words to explain what she was doing. She didn’t understand it herself, except on an instinctual level. All she knew was that she had do something.
Glimmerglass stared at the remains of the [Elite Raider]. It hadn’t been her magics which felled him, and yet, it had been?
“Sorry, got lured out of position there,” Cambrell said, appearing at her side. “Nice work defending yourself.”
What? Wasn’t her?
Who else had given her the [Hearts Killer’s Curse]?
“It wasn’t easy,” she settled on, foregoing a more complete explanation in favor of keeping up with her spell rotation and providing the support her team so desperately needed.
The [Trainsaw Transport] made that need crystal clear as it shattered the [Shining Aegis Barrier] she’d erected and screamed forward, venting out a cloud of black gas in its wake.
“[Casting spell: Shining Aegis Barrier],” she said, expending more of her magic than she could afford to in the process.
It was a tactical choice – her party was severely weakened and in need of almost constant support. Draining herself of magic meant they would suffer and there wouldn’t be anything she could do about it. Leaving the [Trainsaw Transport] to plow onwards though would inflict far more harm, and lead to fatal results. If she’d been at full strength she could have dealt with the fatal outcomes too, but reversing death was a resource intensive process or required a long recharge time. That calculus of life and death computed to a solution in her head in under a second, long experience reducing or eliminating many of the factors involved.
For all of the fury of the battle though, the tantalizing touch of a deeper magic than she’d ever known tempted her to close her eyes and open herself to the connection the lingered just beyond the tips of her fingers.
Strong hands were shaking her back into her stitches.
“Hey. Pillowcase. Come back to us. Don’t do this again.” Lisa’s voice was a firm command wrapped around a dagger of anxiety.
“It’s ok. I’m here,” Pillowcase said, forcing her vision to focus on the face of the woman above her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize what the was.”
“What. What. Was.”
“Someone needed me,” Pillowcase said.
“Really? You don’t say?” Lost Alice seemed quite willing to resume her shaking. Given the Pillowcase was a [Tank] made out of magically reinforced fabric, Lost Alice wasn’t likely to do any real damage, but her expression said she was willing to give it her best effort.
The rest of the party didn’t seem to inclined to step in on either side. With Rip and Matt standing close by, though whether that was to intervene or take their turn when Lost Alice was done wasn’t exactly clear.
“I thought it was…my other self,” Pillowcase said. She knew names were a special thing and that most of the party wasn’t aware of her missing self’s name.
The answer was met with a general round of confusion, except for Lost Alice who grew still.
“It wasn’t? Or you couldn’t tell?” Lisa asked.
“What are you talking about? You just collapsed, did someone mind whammy you again?” Rip asked.
“No, its…I wasn’t built with the right words,” Pillowcase said.
She noticed she was laying under Lost Alice who was straddling her and, if her dim memory served, had been doing chest compressions as part of CPR work. It was an interesting gesture and somewhat understandable given that [Clothwork] didn’t have heart beats like [Humans] did.
And [Bloodborne] didn’t either. So they had that in common.
Pillowcase noticed her thoughts spiraling off on a distracted path thinking about Lost Alice and clamped down on them. There was too much going on and too many other things to think about.
She wasn’t going to push Lost Alice off though.
“Can you explain what you think it was?” Matt asked. “Cause it looked like you had a heart attack or something.”
“You were being attacked?” Obby asked, a quiet intensity in her gaze.
Pillowcase felt like whatever answer she gave would carry unfathomable weight, but she couldn’t tell why. To be safe, she leaned back before answering and collected her thoughts.
“Yes. Not here of course. I didn’t start seeing hallucinations or believing I was surrounded by enemies. It was more of a feeling that someone needed help. That I needed help.”
“But you said you didn’t think there were any enemies around you?” Rip asked.
“Not this me,” Pillowcase said. “A distant one.”
“Te…the other self you were [Fractured] from?” Lisa asked.
“That’s what I thought at first, but it wasn’t her.”
“But it was you, and you’re here? Is that supposed to make sense?” Rip asked.
“It sounds like magic,” Lady Midnight said. “Real magic I mean. Law of Sympathy stuff.”
“Real magic?” Rip asked.
“Well, magic beliefs from the real world,” Lady Midnight said. “One really common one on our world is the idea that if two things are very similar they can influence one another.”
“Like with Voodoo dolls?” Rip asked.
“That’s a pop culture example, sure, though pop culture Voodoo basically unrelated to the real thing,” Lady Midnight said.
“So someone’s got a little doll of Pillowcase?” Rip asked. “Or is she the big doll of someone else?”
“No. Not similar like that,” Lisa said. “The same.”
Pillowcase saw ideas flashing across Lost Alice’s red rimmed eyes.
“What’s the same as Pillowcase?” Matt asked. “Another [Clothwork] [Soul Knight]?”
“She wasn’t a [Soul Knight] or a [Clothwork],” Pillowcase said.
“She was a healer wasn’t she?” Lisa’s question was just louder than a whisper, for all that it seemed to thunder in her ears.
“Her other character.”
“I think so.”
“Oh my god. They’re alive too.” Lost Alice rocked back, her gaze distant and unfocused as she absorbed the implications of what Pillowcase had said.
“You talked to one of your other characters,” Obby asked as though intent on capturing perfect clarity on the subject.
“More than talked to her,” Pillowcase said. “I gave her a piece of myself.”
“The [Heart Killer’s Curse]?”
“It was all I had that might have saved her,” Pillowcase said.
“And did it?”
“How do you know?”
“I watched it happen,” Pillowcase said. “For a moment, I was her. Or I saw the world through her eyes and understood it from her perspective.”
“Wait, so you became this other character? Is that why you passed out here?” Rip asked.
“Probably?” Pillowcase said. “It felt like I was reaching completely beyond this body. My other self did the same thing when we were fleeing [Sky’s Edge] the first time, with the same result.”
“That means you’ve done it twice now,” Obby said. “Can you do it again?”
“I would suspect so, but so far it’s only been under conditions of great duress. I’m not sure it’s possible to reach across the distance I felt without a powerful motivation,” Pillowcase said. “And doing so seems to come with a significant cost.”
“Maybe we should let her up now?” Starchild said.
Lisa looked down with a flash of guilt and noticed at last that she was still straddling Pillowcase’s prone form. With a quick hop, she got up, stepped aside, and offered her hand to help Pillowcase rise.
“Next time you feel that call, give us a warning okay?” Obby said.
“I can still feel it,” Pillowcase said. “It’s different now though. I think Glimmerglass is still engaged in combat, but her team was rallying when I let go of our connection and came back to my senses. She’s not desperate for outside aid any longer. Just curious.”
“I can’t blame her,” Lady Midnight said. “I can’t feel anything from any of my alts. It must be incredible to tapped into something like that.”
“So why was Pillow able to do that? Or was it this Glimmerglass? Does she have some mind-link type spells?” Rip asked.
“I don’t think so,” Lisa said. “There wasn’t anything in the game that let you use another character’s special abilities. If Glimmerglass had [Heart Killer’s Curse], she wouldn’t have needed to borrow it from Pillow. This was something special.”
“Maybe it’s an effect of what happened to her before?” Matt asked. “A side effect of the [Fractured] status?”
“Except that she did the same thing while she was still whole,” Obby pointed out.
“She might not be the only one who’s managed it then,” Lisa said. “Pete, Lady M, can you two reach out to your friends? I’ll check with my main guild and see if anyone else has heard anything like this. If it’s possible for one person it should be possible for all of us, and sharing abilities might save a life.”
“I knew we should have started playing the game sooner,” Rip said.
“Because passing out randomly sounds fun?” Matt asked.
“It’s not quite random,” Pillowcase said. “And I’m pretty sure there’s a significant benefit you have as a result of just starting.”
“No cross class super powers is a benefit?” Rip asked.
“Focus,” Pillowcase said. “With only one set of selves, you can fully embody who you are in one person, rather than being scattered across multiple, disconnected selves.”
“How is that good?” Rip asked.
“I was crafted for warfare,” Pillowcase said. “Focus is one of the defining traits my makers sewed into me. As an [Archer] you need that same focus.”
“But it means I’ll only ever be an [Archer],” Rip said. “You get to be a [Tank] and a [Healer].”
“Are you sure of that?” Obby asked.
“We can’t change classes can we?” Rip asked.
“You couldn’t in the game,” Lisa said. “But this isn’t the game. We don’t know what would happen if you decided to throw on some [Any Level] heavy armor and start swinging a sword and shield.”
“You think I could be a tank too?” Rip asked.
“Each of us is already developing skills outside of the game,” Obby said. “Each time we level up, we’re getting abilities the game never had in it. Even the bad ones like the [Fractured] condition Pillow picked up. The usual limits don’t seem to apply.”
“It’s more than that,” Lisa said. “We’re not just developing randomly. The out-of-game things I’ve gotten have all been in relation to the experiences I’ve had. Like [Blood Sense] that let’s me tell when someone living is near. That’s not part of the standard [Bloodborne] kit but I was so hungry, and I was thinking about how I’d find blood that was safe to drink that it appeared back at level 11. It’s like a tabletop game where a live GM is able to customize things for us. Except we’re the ones who are making the choices that determine how we grow.”
“That might make us potentially more powerful than the people who were playing end game characters,” Lady Midnight said.
“Because we can adapt our builds better than they did?” Rip asked.
“Because we can become things the game never imagined.” Lisa said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be a long road still, but what we look like at max level may be something completely unique.”
“I think that’s very possible,” Pillowcase said. “I don’t think it will even require getting to the level cap.”
“Something else in you changed? Not just the [Fractured] condition?” Obby’s questions weren’t things she sounded at all unsure about.
“The [Lesser Spirit Drain] spell I used on the [Formless Hunger] changed,” Pillowcase said. “It became something different. Something a lot more I think. [Primal Devouring].”
“Don’t use that,” she said. “Not for anything.”